February was a pretty great month. I won't belabor the point. And lucky you, now you get to add music to the list of things you can cherry pick off of me. Assuming you have spotify, I guess.
This month ending mostly being about alt-folk, I don't know why.
It's pretty insane to think how good Gillian Welch is as a songwriter that David Rawlins is not the best songwriter in that duo.
Even a second-rate Townes Van Zandt album is a pretty fabulous album.
I've been following Oddisee since the DC days and he still rules.
How did it take me this long to hear 'Gypsy Woman?'
The English Master of Arms from the Twelfth to the Twentieth Century by JD Aywlard – So I was in this antique book store in Downtown LA that was closing at the end of the month, and something about this book caught my eye, and then something about the idea that I wouldn't be able to find it if I didn't buy it just then forced my purchase. I've made worse spur of the moment decisions, any way you look at it. A history of the British practice of melee weapons over the course of the last half century or so, this was one of those amusingly niche sorts of history books which, having so slender a focus, are useful for getting one to think about the peculiarities of life in a previous era. I basically couldn't follow/didn't care about the evolving practice of arms per se, but there are a lot of fun side stories about the colorful lives of the different English masters, and Aywlard himself has a pretty sharp pen, there's some good throw away lines mocking the pretensions and absurdities of his subject. Yeah, I mean fuck it I'll keep it.
Bomarzo by Manuel Mujica Lainez– the autobiography of a hunchbacked, fratricidal, devil-worshiping Renaissance Italian noble, ultimately less fun than it sounds. There's a lot of lovely pageantry, and some effective existential/aesthetic horror (there's a lot of Borges and Silvina O'Campo here, appropriate given they were all from Buenos Aires) but it gets repetitive, both in terms of the narrative itself and as a character study for the Duke himself. It also does the thing that a lot of historical narratives do where like, Don Quixote or Paracelsus run across the page in some minor capacity, and I kind of hate that. It's not a bad book, but it would have been a much better one at 300 pages, as opposed to 700 or whatever. Library book but I don't think I'd bother to hold on to this in any case.
God Save the Mark – About a sucker who inherits half a million dollars, and the various folk who attempt to con it from him. This is not quite up to the standards of Aztec Idols,but it's funny and clever, Westlake has some great throw-away lines as well as a real insider's grasp of New York, which comes out nice on the page. Library, but probably I'd drop it just cause I've got better examples of him doing this kind of thing.
Seven Men by Max Beerbohm – Five character studies/short stories, mostly of writers/artists/creative types, often with a supernatural bent. They're...OK. Beerbohm had a light comic touch (and a lovely name) but some of these don't land that well and the one's that do land don't land all that hard. I did quite enjoy the first short story, in which a hack writer with pretensions of genius visits the future only to discover his descendants have no more appreciation for his talent than did his contemporaries. Keep, for the moment, but it's just because it's an NYRB book and my shelves are bareish.
Casablanca – I mean, I like Casablanca, but full disclosure I don't love it like you're supposed to. The early genre bits are a ton of fun, and the walk through Rick's is classic, all the quick-takes and weird characters, and Bogart's hard-boiled dialogue is, well, obviously, and if I need to tell you my feelings about Peter Lorre then you don't know me at all, man, you don't know me at all. But the central romance is just shticky, shticky as all hell, which is fine but people seem to talk about it as if it's filled with meaning and profundity and I just don't see it. Even this guy who couldn't stop talking the other night before the midnight showing (midnight showing's are fun) was like, oh as I got older and have had more love affairs this movie resonates more for me, and I was like really, you had a girlfriend leave you so she could more effectively sustain opposition towards the Axis powers? Cause mostly they just seem to want me to be nicer to their friends.
Edge of Heaven – There were a lot of things I liked about Edge of Heaven, a pair of intersecting stories revolving around a group of Turkish emigres to Bremen, a small city in the north of Germany in which I lived, once upon a time. It's very pretty looking, the cast is excellent, the dialogue is well-written, and the structure of the narrative itself is quite clever, there are legitimately surprising bits in this. On top of that, however, there was the great pleasure I took in getting to see those few bits of a city I have not had occasion to revisit since I fled, and the happy nostalgic feelings it provoked in me. All of this together more than made up for the, to my mind, somewhat mawkish third act, and I'll definitely take a look at another Akin in the near future.
Black Panther – I'm glad I live in a world in which black children can watch mediocre genre crud with characters that look like them, but that's all this is, the standard Disney/Marvel production with black folk instead of Norse Gods or whatever.
Blood Simple – I regard the Cohen Bros. with something resembling adoration, and this Freshman effort, about a couple of murders and a love affair and whatnot, has some excellent bits and demonstrates the style that they would develop so brilliantly later on—the action is thoughtful and horrific, the little bits of dialogue are on point--but the narrative doesn't make any sense, like, at all, and there's not much of the grand moral framework which is the most extraordinary thing about their later movies. Still, a fun watch. Also, the title is from a Dashiell Hammet line in Red Harvest, about the joy of murder making the hero go eponymous.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit – Another midnight showing, this movie is a ton of fun. Being me, I'd have wished they'd leaned a little more into the subversive, dark nature of the underlying ideas, and at a certain point the endless slapstick got duller than I remembered. That said, as far as a movie that can be enjoyed by a five year old and a full adult, it's hard to think of much to compare. There are so many clever little throw away bits here, Donald Hoskins is an inspired choice, I mean there's a reason you love this movie and so do I.
Blue – Pretty! Depressing! The color trilogy has been on my list since high school and I'm happy to be getting to it now. Blue is incredible looking and Juliette Binoche gives a ferocious performance as a woman grieving over the death of her husband and child, trying to bring herself back from the brink of madness. I'll admit I found it kind of slow going through it, but as the film continues and each scene proves a piece to the larger thematic puzzle of how Binoche deals with her newfound 'freedom', and gradually reattaches to human society, was striking and exceptional. Looking forward to seeing the next one.
Scarecrow – Gene Hackman is a thug, Al Pacino a friendly drifter, the two set out on a journey from California to Pittsburgh, getting into various misadventures along the way. Sort of a cross between Of Mice and Men (with a car wash replacing the Alfalfa farm) and Midnight Cowboy. Fun! And Pacino could really, really act, back before he started chewing scenery full time. Interesting to see him play against type here, quieter and more friendly, nothing of the rote heavy he started playing at some point in the 80's.