Archive | December, 2013

The Best of 2013: The movies

31 Dec



Again, I’m continuing into the new year by evaluating the old one.   This time movies.   So, to be clear, these are my favorite movies that I watched in 2013, most of them were not made or even released this year,.   I never feel comfortable saying anything is “the best” of a given year, because I won’t have watched everything.   However I can say something is the best of my year.   By best, I mean most entertaining and has stuck with me the most.

1.  Gravity–I’m sorry to all you pooh-poohers on this one–Gravity is one of the best popcorn movies I have ever seen and is a testament of style.  Yes the story is simple, but it needs to be so we can pay attention to all the movement and action on the screen.   Watch it on the big screen though, I have a feeling it will lose its power on a smaller one.

2.   Dr Who–The Pertwee Years:  This year was the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.  Unfortunately, the Matt Smith show floundered this year, seeming to lose direction.  I went back to Pertwee, and really found his era refreshing.    Pertwee was wanting Dr. Who to be more of a bond styled hero, thus the opera clothes and all the Judo.  Props to Pertwee for (mostly) doing his own stunts.  Besides that, Pertwee has the best luck with companions of any of them–Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, and especially Sarah Jane Smith are all classics that made the show as much as the Doctor did.  Even though the effects are very…seventies…the storytelling brings many of these stories as the best the series ever had.

3.  A Nightmare on Elm Street–Nope, never saw this until this year–and why didn’t anybody ever tell me this movie was so funny.  The mother in particular makes me laugh my heart out.   Eighties effects and Johnny Depp are just the icing on the cake.

4.   Waitress–I normally don’t like this sort of movie at all.   However, beyond it’s sort of Ya-ya premise, there is a definite darkness here.

5.  All That Jazz–This movie is the best classic film I saw this year.  Why isn’t this talked about more?  The main character’s fading and eventual death just works so damn well.   A film that is both mainstream and experimental, and it just delivers.

6.   Cloud Atlas–Beautiful storybook of a movie that is a nice ride.

7.  Robot and Frank–Terrific film–really terrific–I like how realistic the future is here, and the acting is just out of this world.   Spoiler:  The robot will make you cry.

8.   Beasts of the Southern Wild–a movie that flies with the strength of the characters.   A wonderful poem about strength.

9.   The Life of Pi–Another one of the big philosophical movies that  have been coming out lately.  I was very happy to hear that it has done very well.  Though the movie isn’t as deep as it wants to be, it is sweetly moving.

10.    Uncle Boonmee–Another movie about death, this time about how the “real world” and the “believed world” intersect.   Not an easy watch, but absolutely fascinating in its constant subversion of itself.

I also have a bunch of movies that are so bad they’re good:   Disco Godfather, Things, Blue Money (“red wine is my mouthwash”), The Pink Angels, Roller Boogie.  All of these are prime stuff for your bad movie night.

Also a very special acknowledgement to the That Guy With Glasses crew, particularly Nostalgia Chick, Todd in the Shadows, Phelous, Obscuras Lupa, and Brows Held High—this little group represents the best of online commentary there is, both by having fun, but also bringing some sense of meaning to what they do.  Honestly, they deserve all the respect in the world.  I couldn’t do what they do.  They have enriched many a dreary rainy night for me and my partner.

The Best of 2013–The Music

28 Dec



After a bit of a break, this year I’m going to make a best of list–this time I’m focusing on music, later we’ll get to music and books (and more!)  To be clear, this is the best music that I encountered in 2013, not all the music was made or released this year.   In fact some years most of the music that really hit my world was from other eras.  So here we go:

1.  Mother Mother, The Sticks:  I already reviewed this album, but since then I have returned to it again and again.  Something about its post-apocalyptic melancholy really puts its hooks in me.  Buy it now!

2:  Cast Album, A New Brain:  As this soundtrack is at least 15 years old how does it sound so fresh?  If you listen to this album, half the songs will embed themselves into your brain until you have to listen to them again.   Also, the story here is so forward thinking–a gay couple that isn’t tortured, the struggle of making good art–it’s all here.  Plus it’s a hoot.

3:   Ben  Harper, By My Side:  This best-of album just shows how damn cool Ben Harper is.   His laid-back vibe echoes a sort of music that hasn’t been around for decades.   Take this along for your next slow ride.

4:  Rebecca Karijord, We Become Ourselves:  Again I already reviewed this one, but if music was therapy this is what it would sound like.

5:  Vienna Teng, Aims:  Off-beat, up-beat, intelligent.   It’s almost impossible to have these three traits exist at once in any piece of art.   Vienna Teng makes it look easy.

6:  Rene Aubry, Steppe:  This year I found Rene Aubry becoming my studying/reading music.   Honestly I should put all his albums on here, but this one sticks in my head the most.  Relaxing, atmospheric music that takes shape just beyond the consciousness.

7:  Bach for Relaxation and Meditation:  I found this album on spotify–most albums like this do not call to me, but this one shows Bach in such a strong light that you could bring this on and dream in cathedral stained glass.

8:   Caravan, In the Land of Grey and Pink:  I went through a progressive phase earlier this year–this is the album that stuck.   Caravan is so charming here, and while taking up the good sides of prog, there’s playfulness without the pretension.  “Golf Girl” will just pop into my head as I’m walking around the city.

9.   Adam Guettel, Myths and Hymns:  This album is everything that art music should be, a huge scope, intimate moments, inventiveness galore.   This album is a storytelling epic, and well worth many listens.

10.  Galt MacDermott, The Human Comedy:  Of course I already knew Hair, but Galt’s kooky genius just spills out over all he touches.  He takes some getting used to, but I can honestly say there’s nobody like him.  The Human Comedy has the most going for it out of all his post Hair works.   Dozens of 1-2 minute songs rushing one after another, touching nearly every pre-rock music style, moving from touching to hilarious back to touching again in a lickety-split.   I ended up making a playlist of the best of the music on this, but the whole thing is well worth the experience.

11.  The Soundtrack to All That Jazz:  There’s nothing like this movie, and the re-imaginings of old classic songs (Bye Bye Love, Who’s Sorry Now, You’re Gonna Miss Me When You’re Gone) are mushed together to make an entirely new story.

Songs that mattered:  While these artists didn’t have albums that sucked me in, these songs were heavily played.   Some of these songs I already knew, but they gained importance this year.  You might call this my honorable mention list.

Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven” (it grew on me), Lady Gaga “Applause,”  “We Beseech Thee” from Godspell, “Magic to Do” from Pippen, Don Henley “The Boys of Summer,” Billy Joel “Laura,”  Miriam Mikeba “Pata Pata,” Drake & Rihanna “Take Care,” Bob Dylan “Duquesne Whistle,”  Ellie Goulding, “Lights” Joan Armatrading, “Me, Myself, and I”  A Flock Of Seagulls, “(I Ran) So Far Away, Visage “Fade to Grey”

Well that’s it!  I’m sure I forgot many other things and I’ll hit myself in the head later, but I’ve got to stop this list before 2014 comes!  Happy New Year and Happy Listening!

Farewell from Welfare Island, by Julia de Burgos

10 Dec

It has to come from here,
right this instance,
my cry into the world.

The past is only a shadow emerging from

Life was somewhere forgotten
and sought refuge in depths of tears
and sorrows;
over this vast empire of solitude and darkness.
Where is the voice of freedom,
freedom to laugh,
to move
without the heavy phantom of despair?
Where is the form of beauty
unshaken in its veil, simple and pure?
Where is the warmth of heaven
pouring its dreams of love in broken

It has to be from here,
right this instance,
my cry into the world.
My cry that is no more mine,
but hers and his forever,
the comrades of my silence,
the phantoms of my grave.

It has to be from here,
forgotten but unshaken,
among comrades of silence
deep into Welfare Island
my farewell to the world.

Little you probably know that Welfare Island was a literal place.  An island on the East River, leased by New York city, it’s a place that first had prisons, then workhouses, then insane asylums, then apartments for the poor.  It’s now known as Roosevelt Island.   For years this island was separated from the city, bridgeless and alone.
It’s hard not to see welfare island as a gigantic metaphor.   It’s common to see welfare as some handout, but the truth is, that it set these people off in an island of their own.   Just like welfare island was at the very heart of New York City, yet completely separated, so is America’s underclass.   It’s funny, they live in the same places as everyone else, yet still manage to be invisible.   And yes, they suffer, they suffer terribly.  There’s is a life that knows no safety.
And that’s the thing, this voice which cries out just to be heard–is it from a prison, a workhouse, an insane asylum, or welfare housing?   Would there be any difference?  Aren’t all four places where freedom is severely restricted?   And yes, the farewell to the world might be a suicide, but then again, it might just be landing in any one of these places, because your chances of getting out of these swamps once you’re in them is slim to none.
And there’s a certain irony here, that the people are in these low spaces so that the other places can be “cleaner” “safer” “better.”   There are people whose lives are wrecked, and it makes no difference if it’s their own fault or not–their existences are pitiable, barely human.

Movie Review: Waitress

4 Dec



This week I’ve been watching more mainstream fare, most of which has been unspeakably bland.  Then I was pleasantly surprised by Waitress.   At first when it began, I groaned.   It seemed just so twee–the pies she made with every emotion, the big haired waitresses, the bake-off.  And if the movie was just that, you’d be stuck into a Hallmark hell and I wouldn’t see the point of this movie.  However, and this was a BIG surprise, this movie has a serious center as a meditation on jealousy.

Jenna is the titular character with her two coworkers Becky (the sassy one) and Dawn (the lovelorn one).   She’s in an unhappy marriage in a small southern town and is about to have a baby.   Jenna does not want this baby–because to her it symbolizes being stuck in her marriage, and she has 9 months to get herself up and out of there before the baby comes.

Jenna’s husband is completely jealous of her.   Waitress really gets the idea of jealousy down–see, most people mix up jealousy, envy, and wishing together.  Jealousy is unease because of a fear of losing something.  Jenna’s husband has this–which makes him controlling and unlikable.  Not to mention that he really doesn’t care what she thinks or wants, and sees her as being there for him and him alone.     He even worries about the baby getting more love from her than he will.    He gets in angry spats with her, slapping her at one point, and coming into her work and raising hell.   Then he becomes so insecure that she agrees with him because she’s got no choice.

That’s the thing with Jenna, she’s got no choice.  She doesn’t have the resources to move on, and she sees the baby as another drain on her already tenuous resources.   She is also jealous.   She fears losing her clean start–even though she has money bundled away all through the house, and possibly has enough to make a clean break of it, she still hesitates.   She wants to move on, but she has nothing to move on to.

Paralleling this story is Becky, the long married waitress–however, her husband is severely disabled.  We never know why or how, but he barely functions.  So she has an affair with the cook.   This has no ramifications.  She can’t abandon her husband, she doesn’t really want another family or anything, but at the same time she has some needs to fulfill.    Again, jealousy keeps her down, because she does not want to be the kind of woman who leaves an invalid to fend for himself.

Dawn is viewed as less than attractive.   She goes on mini-dates, and one day a man falls in love with her.   She doesn’t fall in love back, because he becomes obsessed, writing poetry, crying, getting all gooey.   He comes off as a little ridiculous, and at first Dawn is very turned off by this.   However, though he may be a little strange, she falls for him.  The other waitresses see this as desperation, however their relationship becomes one that is full of love, and free of jealousy.  Her husband was envious of her, pursued her, and became a good husband and father.

Jenna’s arc goes through an affair she has with her Doctor, which is clearly acting out because of her unhappy marriage.   She gives her the attention and care that she craves.  Interestingly enough (SPOILERS) they don’t end up together.  He’s happily married, and she just needed someone to show her affection so she knew what it was like.   Once she gets that, the picture of the life she wants to have gets filled in.

Once Jenna has the baby, she finds something that is worth her attention and love.  She kicks her husband out, and her life clicks into place.

Also in this movie is Andy Rooney who is just remarkable as a crotchety old businessman.

Admittedly this movie is a bit gooey, but one thing I have to emphasize is that because the conflict is so real, the fey trappings makes it all the more understandable.  Of course Jenna would through herself into making pies, it’s all she has.  Of course the waitresses would have the same discussions over and over, they know each other that well.   So that at the end, when we get our fairy tale ending, it feels earned.  Jenna tried to leave many times, each time failing, but at the very end, she leaves for good.  And you feel good for her.

Poetry Reading: Galway Kinell’s, “Why Regret?”

2 Dec

Why Regret?

by Galway Kinnell
Didn't you like the way the ants help
the peony globes open by eating the glue off?
Weren't you cheered to see the ironworkers
sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable,
in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe
baloney on white with fluorescent mustard?
Wasn't it a revelation to waggle
from the estuary all the way up the river,
the kill, the pirle, the run, the rent, the beck,
the sike barely trickling, to the shock of a spring?
Didn't you almost shiver, hearing book lice
clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old
Webster's New International, perhaps having just
eaten out of it izle, xyster, and thalassacon?
What did you imagine lies in wait anyway
at the end of a world whose sub-substance
is glaim, gleet, birdlime, slime, mucus, muck?
Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song.
Didn't it seem somehow familiar when the nymph
split open and the mayfly struggled free
and flew and perched and then its own back
broke open and the imago, the true adult,
somersaulted out and took flight, seeking
the swarm, mouth-parts vestigial,
alimentary canal come to a stop,
a day or hour left to find the desired one?
Or when Casanova took up the platter
of linguine in squid's ink and slid the stuff
out the window, telling his startled companion,
"The perfected lover does not eat."
As a child, didn't you find it calming to imagine
pinworms as some kind of tiny batons
giving cadence to the squeezes and releases
around the downward march of debris?
Didn't you glimpse in the monarchs
what seemed your own inner blazonry
flapping and gliding, in desire, in the middle air?
Weren't you reassured to think these flimsy
hinged beings, and then their offspring,
and then their offspring's offspring, could
navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico,
to the exact plot, perhaps the very tree,
by tracing the flair of the bodies of ancestors
who fell in this same migration a year ago?
Doesn't it outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert
to wake in the night and find ourselves
holding hands in our sleep?

This mid-length poem is so dense in delightful imagery, it’s what I used to think all poems should be.  In fact Galway Kinell was one of those poets introduced to me as an undergrad where I felt like YES, he got it.  He understood where I was coming from, and there’s a hugeness to him–watching the parade of life.   His parade is not all pleasant–after all he has pinworms and Casanova as well as other things, but he paints the urgency of life, of the now, of the simple, of the life of  the mind.  One which many people profess admiration for, but few really delve into these little moments.  Even though all our lives, from the poorest scavenger to the strongest head of state, ALL of our lives are made from these little moments.

I imagine him talking to someone at the end of a love affair–and the question “why regret?” why end love affairs in such awful ways, wishing they had never been, sinking into depression?  Why cannot we sometimes enjoy a short relationship as well as a long one, and leave it like one would leave summer camp?   Isn’t that enjoying something because of precisely what it is?

Notice the constant reference to things that are very fleeting and small–on second reading, you can see how the speaker is probably much better at words than the lover, who is full of regret.   His Carpe Diem message is a bit self serving, and as he shows us these images you can’t help but think that this guy’s probably a rascal.  However, even while being a rascal, even knowing this, you still hear these words and get a little thrill from them.

My favorite line?

Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song.