Movie Review: On Happiness Road (2017)


Title: On Happiness Road
Release Date: October 15, 2017
Director: Sung Hsin-yin
Production Company: Happiness Road Productions
Summary/Review:

Chi (Gwei Lun-mei) returns home to Taiwan from America for the funeral of her grandmother (Giwas Gigo).  While there she imagines conversations with her grandmother and reflects upon her childhood (voiced by Bella Wu in flashbacks).  The non-linear structure is also punctuated by Chi’s youthful daydreams which are beautifully animated.  In addition to being a story about life and family, Chi’s story parallels the growth and changes of Taiwan (significantly Chi is born on the same day that Chiang Kai-shek died).  This is a thoughtful and beautifully made film about self-identity and nostalgia that I found very relatable even though I live half-the-world away.

Rating: ****

Album of the Week: Clouds by The Ballroom Thieves


Album: Clouds
Artist: The Ballroom Thieves
Release Date: July 15, 2022
Label: Nettwerk Music Group Inc.
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Lightning
  • Trodden
  • Harry Styles
  • Borderline

Thoughts: The Ballroom Thieves are Boston-based folk duo responsible for one of my favorite albums of 2020, Unlovely.  They were once a trio but have lost a member in the intervening years and are now Calin Peters (vocals, cello, bass) and Martin Earley (vocals, guitar).  Their sound has softened some and feels more meditative.  As one might expect, the lyrics deal with the isolation and disruption of the pandemic years and the hope to return to old habits like touring. In this summer when Harry Styles seems to be everywhere, they’re also thinking of him. What I like best is Peters’ sweet voice.

Rating: ***1/2

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Song of the Week: “Crystal Ball” by Jasmyn


Jasmyn – “Crystal Ball”

 

 

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Movie Review: The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)


Title: The Hotel New Hampshire
Release Date: March 9, 1984
Director: Tony Richardson
Production Company: Filmline Productions | The Producers’ Circle | Woodfall Film Productions | Yellowbill Productions Limited
Summary/Review:

Sorrow floats, too.

When I was in my early teens my mom told my sister and I about this weird movie she saw on tv about this eccentric family who have a flatulent dog named Sorrow who dies and then keeps popping up in taxidermied form. Eventually we watched it together and it turned out to be even weirder than imagined. In retrospect it’s strange that I watched this movie at such a young age.  You could put content warnings on this movie for rape, suicide, incest, anti-gay violence, terrorism and more, and yet it’s played for (dark) comedy.  I don’t think these things went over my head so much as they didn’t hit me as hard as watching it as an adult. In fact, the quirky transgressiveness of the movie appealed to me and for a time it was among my all-time favorites, and I also became fond of the John Irving book its based on.  It’s been a long time since I watched or read either, though.

The movie is about a family of oddball characters called the Berrys overall several years when they suffer several tragedies and strange events.  While it’s an ensemble piece, two of the five Berry children, John (Rob Lowe) and Franny (Jodie Foster), are the main characters.  Their father Win (Beau Bridges) is a dreamer who wants to recapture the happiest days of his youth by owning and operating a hotel. Over the course of the film, the Berry family run two hotels: first in an abandoned school in New Hampshire and later at a rundown hotel in Vienna. The stacked cast also includes Paul McCrane, Jennifer Dundas, Wilford Brimley, Seth Green, Matthew Modine, Wallace Shawn, Amanda Plummer, Dorsey Wright, and Nastassja Kinski as Susie the Bear.

The movie remains very entertaining.  However, while in the 80s it felt like it was pushing boundaries of how controversial topics are treated, now it just feels like it has a lot of shock for shock value.  Also as an adaptation of a very long novel, it tries too hard to tell the entire story so that as a viewer you kind of get whiplash moving from seeing only the highlights of various different plot threads.  The movie still has a lot of charms and some great acting performances, but it feels like an opportunity was lost to make something much better.

Rating: ***

Favorite Albums of All Time: 110-101


Having listened to every album on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I’m making my own list.  This list will be only 250 albums, although I had to make some tough cuts.  The list includes a mix of works of musical genius with the pure nostalgia of some albums I’ve loved throughout my life.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these albums and what your favorite albums are. I will continue the countdown every other Wednesday throughout 2022.

250-241 200-191 150-141
240-231 190-181 140-131
230-221 180-171 130-121
220-211 170-161 120-111
210-201 160-151

110

Artist: Various
Title: Camelot: 1982 Original London Cast
Year: 1982
Favorite Tracks:

  • Camelot
  • How To Handle A Woman
  • If Ever I Would Leave You
  • What Do The Simple Folks Do?

The First Time I Heard This Album …: mid-80s, sort of

Thoughts: Technically, the album I want to put in this spot does not exist.  As a child I watched and loved the HBO presentation of Camelot starring Richard Harris, filmed on Broadway as part of its 1981-1982 revival. While the movie exists there doesn’t seem to be a cast recording, so I go with this West End version which also stars Richard Harris but different actors in the other parts.

Bonus Sounds: Richard Harris’ most famous vocal performance, of course, is on “MacArthur Park,” one of the weirdest ballads ever composed.


109

Artist: Otis Redding
Title: Otis Blue 
Year: 1966
Favorite Tracks:

  • Ole Man Trouble
  • Respect
  • A Change Is Gonna Come
  • I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
  • Shake
  • Rock Me Baby
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
  • You Don’t Miss Your Water

The First Time I Heard This Album …: ca. 1987

Thoughts: I can’t remember the first time I heard Otis Redding, but I know I began a lifelong obsession with Otis after watching Monterey Pop on television celebrating the the 20th-anniversary of the festival.  Like a lot of R&B artists of the time, Redding focused on singles but this album is a concerted effort to interpret the top soul songs of the era, including 3 songs by the recently deceased Sam Cooke.  There are three original songs, although even Redding would have to admit that Aretha Franklin took ownership of “Respect.” On the flip side, Keith Richards would praise Redding’s take on “Satisfaction” as being how he envisioned the song.

Bonus Sounds: If there’s one Otis Redding song everyone should know, it’s his posthumous hit “Dock of the Bay.”  But really, you can’t go wrong with any of Redding’s recordings.  If you want to learn more about his life and artistry, read Dreams to Remember by Mark Ribowsky.


108

The Clash UK.jpg

Artist: The Clash
Title: The Clash
Year: 1977
Favorite Tracks:

  • Remote Control
  • I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.
  • White Riot
  • Career Opportunities
  • Police & Thieves

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 1991

Thoughts: The debut album from The Clash is hands down one of the greatest statements of punk rock ever.

Bonus Sounds: There’s one more very obvious selection from The Clash coming up in this list, but I also consider Sandinista!, Combat Rock, and Live At Shea Stadium to be among my favorite albums. Read my Music Discovery on The Clash for more of my thoughts.


107

Artist: Traffic
Title: John Barleycorn Must Die 
Year: 1970
Favorite Tracks:

  • Glad
  • Freedom Rider
  • Empty Pages
  • John Barleycorn
  • Every Mother’s Son

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s

Thoughts:  A little bit jazz, a lit bit folk, a whole lot of fusion.  It’s really a feast for the ears.  I remember the tape I got back in high school had all six songs on both sides.  In the streaming era, the album has gained two songs but they’re not as good as the original 6.

Bonus Sounds: I never liked what I heard of Traffic’s other releases.  Steve Winwood, of course, participated in another of my favorite albums with Blind Faith.  I remember really liking is solo song “Higher Love” when I was a kid, and listening to it now, it’s still not so bad.


106

Artist:Pete Seeger
Title: We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert, June 8, 1963 
Year:  1963
Favorite Tracks:

  • Banjo Medley: Cripple Creek/Old Joe Clark/Leather Britches
  • Mail Myself to You
  • What Did You Learn In School Today?
  • Little Boxes
  • Farewell
  • Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
  • Oh Freedom!
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Oh, What a Beautiful City!
  • We Shall Overcome
  • Guantanamera

The First Time I Heard This Album …: mid-90s

Thoughts: A live concert recording of Pete Seeger at the height of his career.  As always he turned the spotlight off himself, dedicating an entire set to music of the Civil Rights Movement and another to the songs of new artists (specifically Bob Dylan, Malvina Reynolds, and Tom Paxton).  I also love the audience singalong aspect.

Bonus Sounds: There are so many Pete Seeger recordings to choose from, but a good starting point is his children’s albums American Folk Songs for Children, Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Little Fishes, and Folk Songs for Young People.


105

Artist: Stereolab
Title: Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night
Year:1999
Favorite Tracks:

  • Fuses
  • Blips Drips and Strips
  • Italian Shoes Continuum
  • Infinity Girl
  • The Spiracles
  • Blue Milk
  • Strobo Acceleration

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Early 2000s

Thoughts: I was introduced to Stereolab by a co-worker in the early 2000s and associate listening to the their version of space-age bachelor pad music with the time I spent working in a windowless warehouse during a library renovation.  It’s good music to keep one’s sanity.

Bonus Sounds: There’s another Stereolab album coming up on this list, but in the meantime you can read my Stereolab Music Discovery.


104

Artist: Various
Title: Free to Be … You and Me
Year: 1972
Favorite Tracks:

  • The New Seekers – “Free to Be … You and Me”
  • Rosey Grier – “It’s Alright to Cry”
  • The Voices of East Harlem – “Sisters and Brothers”
  • Alan Alda & Marlo Thomas – “William’s Doll”
  • Marlo Thomas – “Glad to Have a Friend Like You”

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Infancy?

Thoughts: I didn’t have many records of children’s music when I was a kid, but I did have this album that Marlo Thomas made with the Ms. Foundation. The songs and stories focus on ideas of gender equality, growing up, friendship, feeling emotions, and compassion, but done in a way that makes it fun and funny (or terrifying, in the case of “Girl Land” which creeped me out as a child).  Surprisingly, my father (who voted for Nixon) loved this album and was the one who bought it for me and my sister!  A lot of great celebrities participated in making the album including Alan Alda, Harry Belafonte, Mel Brooks, Diana Ross, Tom Smothers, Carol Channing, Diana Sands, and Rosey Grier.  A couple of years after the album came out they made it into a tv special, but I never saw that.

Bonus Sounds: When my own kids were young we listened to a lot of the locals superstar of the preschool set Wayne Potash.  We even saw him at Club Passim!


103

Artist: Dimitri From Paris
Title: Sacrebleu
Year: 1996
Favorite Tracks:

  • Sacre Francais
  • Reveries
  • Dirty Larry
  • Une Very Stylish Fille
  • Un Woman’s Paradis
  • Le Rythme et le Cadence
  • Le Moogy Reggae

The First Time I Heard This Album …: around the turn of the century

Thoughts: DJ Dimitri From Paris’ tribute to his adopted city is a collection of electronic beats with samples from lounge and bossa nova tunes and classic movies.  It’s a very French vibe with a midcentury twist.

Bonus Sounds:


102

Artist: Carl Stalling
Title: The Carl Stalling Project: Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons, 1936–1958
Year: 1990
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Good Egg (1939) – A Vintage Merrie Melodie
  • There They Go Go Go (1956) – A Complete Road Runner
  • Anxiety Montage (1952-1955)
  • Porky In Wackyland (1938) / Dough For The Do Do (1949)

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 1990

Thoughts: Film composer Carl Stalling created over 600 tiny symphonies to score the Warner Bros. cartoon shorts from the 1930s to the 1950s.  His genius lay in drawing on his knowledge of classical music and the latest pop tunes and working them into his scores.  If you’ve ever watched a Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoon, you will know how essential the music score is to the comedy.  This album allows one to appreciate Stalling’s work without the visuals and most of the dialogue. The album includes collections of Stalling’s best musical cues tropes as well as full cartoon scores.

Bonus Sounds: If this album doesn’t fulfill your needs for cartoon music, a sequel album was released in 1995: The Carl Stalling Project Volume 2: More Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons, 1939–1957.


101

Artist:Yo La Tengo
Title: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Out 
Year: 2000
Favorite Tracks:

  • Everyday
  • Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House
  • Last Days of Disco

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Around 2000

Thoughts:

New Jersey indie rock trio Yo La Tengo took a turn for slower and more atmospheric.  Pitchfork even declared it one of the 30 Best Dream Pop Albums.  As slow as it gets, it’s never boring and it’s sonically rich.

Bonus Sounds: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Out came at the end of a streak of five albums that define Yo La Tengo’s best work (including one album we’ll see later on this list).  There output since 2000 hasn’t been as good, with the exception of I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006), although a friend of mine described that as sounding like a greatest hits album of the their 1990s work.

Movie Reviews: Before Sunrise (1995)


Title: Before Sunrise
Release Date: January 27, 1995
Director: Richard Linklater
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment
Summary/Review:

An American tourist, Jesse (Ethan Hawks), and a French Student, Céline (Julie Delpy) meet on a Eurail train.  Feeling a connection, Céline agrees to spend a night wandering around Vienna before Jesse flies home in the morning.  The movie is essentially a series of introspective and philosophical conversations held in front of the beautiful scenery of Vienna.  Hawke’s character is borderline douchebro but shows enough vulnerability to reveal that much of what he’s doing is posturing to hide his sensitive side.  Delpy, apart from her Gallic beauty, shows a lot of complexity and depth of character. There’s a certain artifice to their conversations, but even that feels real as it reflects the way people try to impress someone they’ve just met.  Over time their defences wear down and they find pure Gen X romance while drinking wine under the moon in a Viennese park.  They also make good use of the same iconic ferris wheel featured in The Third Man.  In sum, this movie is a collection of beautiful moments.

Rating: ****

 

Book Review: Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive History by Michael R. Virgintino


Author: Michael R. Virgintino
Title: Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive History
Publication Info: Theme Park Press (2019)
Summary/Review:

It sounds make believe, but for five seasons from 1960 to 1964, a theme park that legitimately claimed to be bigger and better than Disneyland operated in the northeast corner of the Bronx.  In fact, the park was designed by the firm of C.V. Wood, who had worked on Disneyland before having a falling out with Walt.  Many Disneyland veterans worked for Wood’s company as well. The park was shaped like a map of the lower 48 states and was divided into seven themed lands:

  • LIttle Old New York – an entry land in a late 19th-century style
  • Old Chicago – which included regular reenactments of the Great Fire of 1871
  • The Great Plains – which featured a replica army stockade and a stagecoach ride
  • San Francisco – home to an earthquake dark ride and the Northwest Fur Trapper boat ride (Freedomland’s answer to the Jungle Cruise)
  • The Old Southwest – where the park’s train ride was often boarded by masked robbers
  • New Orleans/Mardi Gras – opened before Disneyland’s New Orleans Square and had a pirate-themed ride called Buccaneer.  Also home to a Civil War reenactment.
  • Satellite City – The Future – where visitors could visit a recreation of a Cape Canaveral control room and watch a simulated space mission

This book includes detailed description of the lands, attractions, restaurants, and memories of park-goers and employees.  A lot of the book is written in list format rather in narrative that makes it less fun to read, but the material is fascinating nonetheless.

A lot of reasons are given why Freedomland failed.  The biggest is that unlike Southern California, the climate of New York meant the park could only operate seasonally.  Although Virginitino notes that proposals to open Freedomland for special holiday events for Halloween and Christmas were never followed-up on (the same types of things that regional parks in the northern climes do today for added revenue).  Another reason for the failure, one that the park’s owners harped on, is that Freedomland could not compete  with the New York World’s Fair (and its Disney-built attractions) which opened in 1964.  Virginitino notes that in reality, Freedomland was planned with the knowledge of the World’s Fair coming and the hope to piggyback on the fair’s success.  By 1964, Freedomland had already downsized considerably and sold off some of its most ambitious attractions, so that probably affected attendance more than the fair.

Virgintino also puts forward the idea that the property owners (real estate developers separate from the management of the park) had always intended for Freedomland to be temporary.  Plans for Co-Op City, which was eventually built on the site, were put forward in the 1950s.  The author’s evidence suggests that the the Freedomland structures built on the marshy landfill served the purpose of convincing the government to allow the variances to build the more profitable

Regardless, it’s hard to imagine Freedomland being able to persevere through the Bronx’s really bad times of the 1970s and 1980s. Also the the superpatriotic theming of the park would’ve been a hard sell as early as the counterculture era of the late 1960s.  Nevertheless, I wish Freedomland had survived. My mother, who grew up in the Bronx, has fond memories of visiting Freedomland in her teen years, and I wish I could’ve gone there with her when I was young.

Oddly, little bits of Freedomland have showed up in my life without me even knowing it. A sternwheeler that sailed at Freedomland was renamed the Mark Twain and was docked for many years by the Steamboat Hotel in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Two of the Freedomland trains were loaned by Edaville Railroad in South Carver, Massachusetts.  And a 20 foot cutout figure of Paul Bunyan later stood outside of United House Wrecking in Stamford, Connecticut during my childhood.

This video from Defunctland will give you a glimpse into Freedomland’s all-too-short history:

Favorite Passages:

Freedomland’s employees were slotted within 54 categories, some of which were not listed by big city employment agencies at the time. Many employees were required to possess unique skills, including buffalo wrangler, carrousel horse jeweler, totem pole carver, and stage coach harness-maker.

Other odd occupations at the park included pretzel bending, seal keeping, doughnut rolling, can-can dancing, glassblowing, and space tracking. The park also employed a skin diver who regularly inspected the Great Lakes for purity and maintenance

A new attraction was five new-born burros appropriately named Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Anina (2013)


Title: Anina
Release Date: 19 April 2013
Director: Alfredo Soderguit
Production Company: Rain Dogs Cine | Palermo Estudio | Antorcha Films
Summary/Review:

Anina Yatay Salas (Federica Lacaño) is a young school child who is teased for having three palindromes in her name.  One day at recess, Anina ends up fighting with another girl, Yisel (Lucía Parrilla).  The principal (Cristina Morán) gives them a unique punishment that teaches them a lesson in compassion.

This is a wonderful film full of heartwarming moments.  It basically captures the feel of a child’s everyday life along with vividly portrayed daydreams and nightmares.  The animation style is unique but simple, reminiscent at times of the work of Studio Ghibli or Cartoon Saloon.  Could make for a good family movie to watch with young children.

Rating: ***1/2

Album of the Week: Special by Lizzo


By https://open.spotify.com/album/1NgFBv1PxMG1zhFDW1OrRr, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71313872

Album: Special
Artist: Lizzo
Release Date: July 14, 2022
Label: Nice Life Recording Company
Favorite Tracks:

  • About Damn Time
  • Grrrls
  • 2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)
  • Naked
  • If You Love Me

Thoughts: Lizzo returns with her follow-up to the instant classic Cuz I Love You.  As the first single from the album (which has already become the Song of Summer) says, it’s “About Damn Time.”  I have to confess that I don’t like the songs as much as on the predecessor but it’s Lizzo, so it’s still irresistible.  She’s definitely feeling knowledge for the time of her infancy and before with the songs incorporating disco and 80s synth-dance sounds.  Makes me wonder what a Lizzo cover of “Let the Music Play” would sound like. Lizzo’s tireless positivity fills this album with joy and it can get a bit cheezy at times.  But it’s also a political at a time when the personal is deeply political.  Lizzo is also finding new ways of sharing her deepest self and discovering she loves what she’s found.

Rating: ***1/2

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Song of the Week: “Passion (feat. Nile Rodgers)” by Roosevelt


Roosevelt – “Passion (feat. Nile Rodgers)”

 

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