Saturday, March 25, 2023

Music Reviews: Jimmy Donley

Skilled people aren't necessarily nice or moral people. Today many folks like to "cancel" people. Maybe the consumer doesn't like the artist's politics. Maybe the artist is abusive to family members or intimates. The artist might be racist or sexist. The artist might be violent. The artist might just be a low quality human being.

I don't think the value of a person's art or the level of their skill is determined by their morality. Flowers can grow from crap. We are all different mixes of good and evil. The worst and best of us are still human.

The troubled singer/songwriter Jimmy Donley (1929-1963), who committed suicide in 1963, was a mix of good and evil. The Mississippi born Donley was dishonorably discharged from the Army in the late forties/early fifties because of his racism towards a Black NCO. Think about how racist you had to be to kicked out of the Army in the mid 20th century! Nevertheless Donley later became good friends with Black rock-n-roll icon Fats Domino, occasionally writing for and singing with Domino in integrated bands. 

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Movie Reviews: Theatre Of Blood

Theatre of Blood
directed by Douglas Hickox

Growing up back in the day I always thought that if one wanted to be an evil overlord one could do worse than model yourself after Vincent Price. Price was one of the most famous practitioners of the now archaic Transatlantic Accent. 

Price was also an actor who could simultaneously bring a tremendous amount of gravitas to almost any movie he starred in while also, if the role called for it, chewing the scenery with an unmatched manic hammy intensity. Price never made any good movie bad but he made quite a few bad movies good. 

Many of Price's villains were often insane, inbred, murderous, lustful, scheming, and completely malevolent but they were also almost always polite and possessed of remarkably good manners. Just because Price's character might be preparing to serve you your own kidneys is no reason for him to be uncivil or mean to you. Perish the thought! Price's characters were gentlemen! And so was Price in real life. He was the opposite of villainous.

Movie Reviews: The World The Flesh and The Devil

The World The Flesh and The Devil
directed by Ranald MacDougall

This is an apocalyptic movie with statements on society, fear, and race. Superstar actor and icon of cool Harry Belafonte also produced the movie. As
 this film was made in 1959, what was then likely daring and risk taking may appear less so to modern eyes. Or not. 

There are certain storylines that Hollywood was and is squeamish about investigating, both in 1959 and in 2023. Still, this film was unusual in featuring a reasonably well developed Black character. 

Extroverted or not we all need some human contact. Ralph Burton (Belafonte) is a mine inspector in Pennsylvania who is investigating a mine tunnel that has been shut down. After a cave-in Ralph can hear people digging to rescue him but then they stop. 

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Giant Steps Explained

I enjoy listening to John Coltrane's piece "Giant Steps" but as I am not a musician or someone who understands much musical theory my eyes would always glaze over when musically talented people tried to explain to me exactly why the work was challenging. So I ran across this explanation and for a few brief moments I think I barely understood some of the basic concepts being discussed. Or not. Either way I liked this video. I liked learning how math, music, and physics are all linked. And I like John Coltrane's music.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Movie Reviews: The First Power

The First Power
directed by Robert Resnikoff

Hollywood created a number of eighties and nineties movies that shared the theme of a bloodthirsty killer being caught and executed before coming back from the dead, possessing other people, and continuing to murder folks. 

Often the obsessed hero detective who was the person who tracked the murderer down in the first place had some strange link with the supernatural murderer. Now, left grasping at straws, the detective must struggle with reality. Maybe he really did arrest and help convict the wrong man. Maybe the detective is hearing strange things or having nightmares. Maybe the detective's wife or brother suddenly is speaking in languages they don't know.

Maybe the detective's over the top sexy but profoundly strange new girlfriend knows more than she's telling him. Maybe there's a cult of killers. Maybe the detective himself is the killer. These movies can vary widely in quality. There was Deliver Us From Evil, Shocker, The Horror Show, Virtuosity, and Fallen (the last two both starred Denzel Washington and were at the higher end of the quality spectrum).

Friday, February 17, 2023

Racist Ukrainians

I don't eat meat. I never ate pork. I have never liked eggs. Can't stand them. I find eggs' texture, look, and taste disgusting, along with their very concept. Eating chicken ova? Yuck. No thanks. However, if I were starving I wouldn't be so picky.

If some Good Samaritan offered me a hot plate of ham sausage, bacon, and scrambled eggs, I would graciously accept the food. I wouldn't throw it back at the Good Samaritan as if the food were raw sewage. It wouldn't be my preference but it would keep me alive. That's important.

One would think that Ukrainian refugees, running for their collective lives from their war torn country, would be happy to be allowed into another nation to live. One would think they'd be wise enough to keep minor complaints to themselves. One would be wrong. Apparently some Ukrainians really hate Black people and Asian people--and aren't shy about making this known.

Flaco The Owl

As more and more animal habitats are destroyed or compromised by human presence or activity there may be an increased need for zoos, sanctuaries, or wildlife parks/reserves where animals can be allowed to thrive. Of course sometimes animals escape captivity and do just fine, showing perhaps they never should have been in captivity in the first place. One Flaco the Owl made a recent jailbreak--flew the coop so to speak--and has so far avoided the nets and traps put out for him.

Halley Barton was at a dinner party with friends on Saturday night when someone in the group shared the news that the Eurasian eagle-owl Flaco had coughed up a pellet of animal matter — rat fur and bones — in Central Park.

“It’s really exciting to see him learning how to catch his own rats,” said Ms. Barton, a health care case manager who was at the park around 1 p.m. Monday for her first look at the black-and-orange bird of prey. She had followed his activities online before then.

After Flaco flew off on Feb. 2 — his mesh enclosure had been vandalized — zoo officials, bird watchers and everyday people worried that he might not know how to fend for himself. He had never done so in his 13-year life. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Movie Reviews: The Family

The Family
directed by Luc Besson

How many serious gangster movies have you seen or least are aware of starring Robert DeNiro? Probably quite a few, right? Now how many gangster movies have you seen that feature a fish out of water gangster who is the often clueless focal point of the resulting comedy? More than a few, yes? Well The Family combined those two genres with mixed results. The Family is black comedy. The director invites laughs at serious but absurd situations. 

YMMV on this, given the subject matter and settings. The movie shows that even people who aren't so nice still face the same life challenges as us all. 

They get irritated at their spouse for not capping the toothpaste. They have sibling rivalries. They fume at repair men who are late, don't complete the job, or who try to cheat them. They pick up skills and knowledge from their parents' careers and life examples. And when things get tough families stick together against outside threats.

Movie Reviews: After.Life

directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo

Depending on your mood you might believe that this is an intelligent art film with a powerful message. Or you might think that it's a pretentious horror film that thinks it's smarter than it really is and uses tropes and cliches you've seen a million times before--including plenty of female star nudity-- to no great avail.

As referenced in HBO's Boardwalk Empire death will happen to us all eventually. But we don't know what it's like until we experience it. And once we do we can't tell anyone what it's like. All we know is that it's final. 

So it's important to live life to the fullest, to give and receive love while we're here, to live each day as if it is our last, because one day we'll be correct. That's this film's underlying message. However it's wrapped in a horror movie packaging, that as mentioned, feels old and dull. 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Movie Reviews: Danger Signal

Danger Signal
directed by Robert Florey

This short movie doesn't reach the level of a true film noir though it certainly looks like it thanks to the fantastic cinematography by James Wong Howe, a rarity in early Hollywood, a Chinese-American cinematographer. Howe's work, along with some of the acting, gives the film a gravitas that unfortunately falls apart at the ending or when you closely examine it. 

But since the movie moves fast it's entertaining enough I guess. In the sitcom Seinfeld there was an episode where the title character wanted to stop dating one roommate and switch to dating the other. His solution was to propose a threesome in the hopes that his current girlfriend would be disgusted and dump him while the other lady might be intrigued enough to become his new girlfriend. 

His plans fell through when both women expressed interest. Danger Signal was made in 1945 so it lacks lurid sex, but it does have a man, a far more dangerous man than the hapless Seinfeld character, who wishes to switch from one roommate (here the women are sisters) to the other. We already know that this man Ronnie Mason (a perfectly cast Zachary Scott) is no good because we see him leaving his murder victim, after stealing her wedding ring and some cash and placing a fake suicide note where the authorities are sure to find it.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Movie Reviews: Johnny Cool

Johnny Cool    
directed by William Asher
It's always interesting and maybe even a little unsettling in a fun way to realize that actors or actresses that you think of in only one way actually can have a wide range and be convincing in different roles. 

I remembered the actress Elizabeth Montgomery from being a child back in the Pleistocene period watching reruns of the bland tv series Bewitched in which Montgomery played Samantha. 

Samantha is a sorceress who despite being far more powerful and intelligent than her ordinary ad exec husband, is content to be (mostly) a compliant housewife who uses her magic to get her husband out of various silly jams or give folks lessons on how to be better people. She was a "good" witch.

In Bewitched Montgomery was often attired in relatively sensible clothing. Plain, staid, and blah were the normal descriptions for the Samantha character. So it was something of a shock to me to watch Johnny Cool

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Movie Reviews: Halloween Ends

Halloween Ends
directed by David Gordon Green

This movie, the conclusion of the original Halloween storyline, was disappointing. Seriously Freaking Disappointing. The serial killer Michael Myers has been terrorizing an Illinois town for over half a century. 

Michael seemed to be obsessed with town resident Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) one of the few people to survive his remorseless attacks. Now the thing about Michael, which has launched him from run of the mill murderer to force of nature, is that his strength, ability to endure pain, and ability to avoid detection have always been beyond that of any man. 

The films always played coy about this but the previous installment Halloween Kills made it obvious that Michael had consistently survived wounds that would have killed anything that was human. 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Book Reviews: Edgewise

by Graham Masterton

I picked up this novel from the stacks of unread books in my library. Like Richard Laymon, Masterton can be perverse but there was little of this here. Edgewise is a thriller novel based on the North American Indigenous legend of the Wendigo. 

The Wendigo is a forest spirit that possesses people and causes them to commit acts of violence and cannibalism, is created or summoned when people do evil all on their own, or that simply roams the forest eating people because it's cursed with never ending hunger. 
Stories and details differ. 

Although this is an older novel, having been released in 2007, it captures some of the fraught relations between men and women today, especially regarding divorce and resulting child custody battles. Lily Blake is a Minnesota realtor who has completed a divorce from her less successful husband Jeff, who saw his once promising IT career crater while Lily earned more than three times his salary. 

According to Lily, wimpy Jeff couldn't handle her awesomeness which is why he's her ex. But apparently Jeff has gone over the deep end. Some seriously twisted hateful men who say they're from FLAME (Father's League Against Mothers' Evil) invade Lily's home, kidnap her young children Tasha and Sammy, and attempt to kill her.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Movie Reviews: Five On The Black Hand Side

Five On The Black Hand Side
directed by Oscar Williams

From the mid sixties to the early seventies there was a cultural and artistic component to the US and associated diaspora civil rights/Black power movements. It
 didn't last long but for about a decade there was renewed interest--marketable interest--in Black centered stories and other art. 

This film's director and writer thought that there were too many movies which presented Black actors and actresses as gangsters, pimps, drug dealers, super studs, and foxy mamas all looking to "stick it to the Man" over a wah-wah guitar and congas soundtrack. The writer and playwright Charlie Russell, the older brother of NBA superstar Bill Russell, conceived this movie as an anti-blaxploitation corrective.

This film has no nudity, toplessness, or real violence. It's a broadly humorous, though not slapstick look, at issues impacting a Black Los Angeles family.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Happy New Year!!

I hope you have as good of a New Year as these wolves intend to have.