Thursday, January 3, 2019

My 2018 in Movies

Early in January last year, I started my account on tracking my movie viewing and keeping my to-watch list. This was one of several factors (also including the opportunity to share in a friend's Filmstruck account -- RIP -- and the replacement of my ailing Blu-Ray player) that led to what I'm quite certain was a personal record year for film.

Letterboxd compiles a year-end statistics page, and here's mine:

In addition to 6 short films, 9 stand-up specials, and 6 miscellaneous shows (making-of features or tv documentary miniseries) contained in the Letterboxd database, I watched 120 feature films last year. I'm pretty sure this blows away the only other possible contender: 1998, when I spent my summer watching much of the AFI Top 100 American films list and various other movies that viewing suggested.

I also tried to write a little something on everything I saw. This was almost entirely for my own benefit, to try to work out verbally what I do or don't like and why. So for all 120 of those, and a few others, I wrote between a sentence and several paragraphs on each. You can see that writing if you click on any of the poster images at the bottom of the stats page. I've enjoyed seeing what friends and other Letterboxd users have to say about a lot of these, and the social aspect of the site has suggested a lot of viewing as well.

Breakdown of my viewing:

  • 33 rewatches of movies I'd seen before
  • 87 movies new to me
  • 14 new Criterion Collection feature films (and 3 shorts)
  • 13 features on Filmstruck (and 4 shorts)
  • 13 theatrical viewings
  • All 11 Star Wars theatrical feature films, all of them with Max, plus additional viewings of The Last Jedi and Solo, and two making-of-Star Wars features
  • 5 Spielberg films (3 new). If you expand the year to include New Year's Day 2019, you get a 6th.
  • 5 Scorsese films (4 new)
  • 6 films written or directed by Lawrence Kasdan
  • The list of performers is kind of overwhelmed by actors who were in those Star Wars movies, but there were also 4 Kevin Costner performances and 6 by Jeff Goldblum. Expand to 1/1/19, and you get 4 Richard E Grant performances.
  • Two films featuring improv guru Del Close.
  • A five-film cycle of Berlin-set films, spanning from the late Weimar Republic (Cabaret) to just post-war (Phoenix) to beginning of the Berlin Wall (Bridge of Spies) to late in the Cold War (Wings of Desire) to the fall of the Wall (Atomic Blonde).
  • Several movies that had been on a little handwritten watch list I kept in my wallet for years starting in 1998
  • One Polish mermaid horror sex musical.

And some of my favorites:

  • My favorite film I saw this year was Phoenix, a 2014 German thriller in a Hitchcockian mode about a death camp survivor who, following extensive facial reconstructive surgery, returns to the ruins of Berlin to find her husband. The twists and turns and the knowledge of which characters know what information at what times makes it very satisfying.
  • I fell absolutely in love with both Wings of Desire and The Age of Innocence. The latter I tried to watch in college, and just couldn't get into it. The former I knew was supposed to be wonderful, but I worried would bore me. Both knocked me on my ass. Both are romantic, and subtle, and reward patience.
  • Also in my top 4 this year was It Follows, one of the scariest movies I want to watch again in the future. Its premise is tailor made to frighten me, personally, as it taps into a recurrent childhood nightmare. Its production design seems intended to be as disorienting as possible. And its use of the film frame is brilliant.
  • My favorite 2018 film was Isle of Dogs. Wes Anderson has his limitations, but he's also got my number.
  • Other standouts that are still occupying space in my brain long after watching them, even if they weren't my highest rated: Locke, Chungking Express, Annihilation, War of the WorldsSpeed Racer, The Witch, and Blade Runner 2049.

I don't know that I'll get anywhere near 120 films again this year, but I hope to continue writing as I watch, and if you're interested, I hope you'll follow along, join Letterboxd, sign up for The Criterion Channel when they start it up again, and let me know what you're watching!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Annotated Beukemix, 2017

Liner notes!

If I know you and you'd like a copy of the mix, hit me up however you might normally do so.

1. Soothing - Laura Marling
A sultry, string-rich song in which Marling wrestles with the choice of letting an ex-lover (apparently Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons) back into her life, or not.

2. Heaven - Talking Heads
Appeared in the season two finale of "Halt & Catch Fire," a criminally-underseen cable drama that finished its run with its fourth season this year. It's an amazing show and uses music really well: songs chosen never pull you out of the moment by either being too obvious a choice or too out-of-place.

3. Come - Jain
Jain is a French singer who spent musically formative years of her childhood in the Middle East & Africa. I went back & forth on whether to go with the airy bounce of "Come" or the bass-heavy "Makeba." Both are fun.

4. Many Moons - Janelle Monáe
This is from Monáe's debut EP "Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase)," though I didn't stumble upon it until hearing it on The Current this year. It's terrific, which is no surprise considering how much I loved her two full-length albums. The vocal hook at the beginning felt very familiar -- it's the Pointer Sisters' "Number Pinball" melody ("1-2-3 4! 5! 6-7-8 9! 10! 11-12.") from Sesame Street.

(Incidentally, I still really want a sci-fi RPG set in Monáe's Metropolis -- her world building on her albums and in her videos is amazing.)

5. Demon in Profile - The Afghan Whigs
There are moments where I feel like I'm settling into the dad rock stereotype. But when there's a straight-ahead rock tune with some horns and a few strings and lots of ride cymbal and a sweet little guitar solo backing up the chorus, and that great major-key shift near the end, how can one resist?

I don't know what I expected from the video, but it wasn't a starring role for Har Mar Superstar.

6. Rain in Soho - The Mountain Goats
Doom. And. Gloom. And sideways references to Smiths lyrics. I love it. The referenced "Batcave" is a seminal London goth club (so that answers the question of which Soho we're talking about).

7. Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards - Billy Bragg
And now the clouds part for a very sunny anthem about socialism, capitalism, and Bragg considering his own politics and music career. I saw Bragg perform at my college my junior (?) year, and it was a great show (I probably saw him perform this song), but I haven't really dug into his music. I should.

8. Track Suit - Minor Mishap Marching Band
The third season of Fargo was not as immediately pleasurable as the second. It seemed to be dealing with stickier themes that happened to resonate with our present political moment: corporate rule, extreme inequality, Russia... And where the second featured about a dozen covers of songs used in Coen Brothers movies, this one used styles and moods connected to each major character, even winking at this by using the music from Peter and the Wolf in an episode. Nikki Swango, the good-hearted grifter played by Elizabeth Winstead, generally gets music with a lot of swagger, like this.

9. Let The Mystery Be - Iris DeMent
This was the opening credits music to most of Season Two and one episode of Season Three of "The Leftovers," which ended its phenomenal run this year. After the emotional wringer of the first season, the song feels at first like a joke, and then like a lifeline. And it fits better as the series goes on and gets more comfortable being weird and funny in addition to heartbreaking.

10. Junk Bond Trader - Elliott Smith
I didn't listen to Smith's last album released in his lifetime until a couple years later, during the semester of grad school that remains the most stressful time in my life. I would listen to it when I would stay up until 2 in the morning correcting 60 Linear Structural Analysis problem sets or working on my own heavy load of homework. Around the same time that I discovered the record, we went to Washington DC for my grandmother's 80th birthday. My grandfather was not himself: his chronic pain had sapped his outgoing nature. I don't know if I expected it would be the last time I saw him, but the lush arrangements of Smith's songs paired well with the emotional melange of that time. (We lost my grandfather four months later, and I miss him a lot. Coincidentally, the world lost Smith another eight months after that.)

Anyway, one day in 2017 I was riding the bus home after work and this song in particular struck me as beautiful, so here it is.

11. The Morning Papers - Prince & The New Power Generation
Had one of those SIRE (Sudden Instantaneous Recall Effect) moments hearing this on the radio during the Current's top 89 Prince songs marathon, and realized that I'd heard it as a single on KDWB back in junior high. The song is apparently about when Prince fell in love with Mayte Garcia, who he would eventually marry. The Revolution remain my favorite Prince backing band, but they didn't have the NPG's horn section, so nobody's perfect.

12. Snake Eyes - Trouble
13. No Stars - Rebekah Del Rio
With a David Lynch project, you know you're going to get some combination of the following in the soundtrack:
a. 1950s throwbacks (bonus points for guitar arpeggios)
b. Spaced-out singing
c. Emotional ballads, potentially involving Roy Orbison
d. Heavy, aggressive, and/or sleazy instrumentals
e. Saxophone freakouts
So, here are two songs that were performed in the 2017 revival of Twin Peaks. The first, by David Lynch's son Riley's band, Trouble, is (d) & (e). The second, a beautiful song by Rebekah Del Rio touches on (a) and (c), but unlike her jaw-dropping Spanish performance of "Crying" in Mulholland Drive, this one does not involve Roy Orbison, though it does feature Moby on the guitar arpeggios.

14. Riding (Night) - Manaka Kataoka & Yasuaki Iwata
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild contains a lot of references to the previous games in the Zelda series, including in its music, but the score is very stripped-down, stepping away from orchestral bombast in favor of small, pointilist arrangements led by a piano. This piece, which plays if you're riding a horse at night in the game, includes one of the few statements of the original musical theme of the series. Given the scarcity of the melody, it gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it.

15. Fatal Gift - Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
Great multi-part rumination on success and its trappings by Emily Haines of Metric in her solo side project The Soft Skeleton. I already liked the simple piano-driven opening, but smiled broadly when the electronics kicked in halfway through.

16. Can I Sit Next To You - Spoon
If this had just been another fine Spoon song in the same vein as some of my earlier favorites, like "I Turn My Camera On," it would have been lovely. But! Then we get these amazing string bits in the bridge and the outro, with these fantastic, long, sustained notes that *slowly* bend into a resolution.

17. Bellbottoms - Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Before I'd seen Baby Driver, I was listening to Matthew Perpetua's Fluxblog 1990s Survey Mixes. This Jon Spencer cut appeared 1994 mix, and was a standout among the songs I didn't already know. Then, it was the basis for the fun-as-hell opening robbery and chase scene of Edgar Wright's movie. Wright has said in interviews that he fully conceived of the scene the first time he heard the song, shortly after its original release.

18. Dear Life - Beck
Perpetua also hipped me to this great new song from Beck. I'm glad he did, because I've otherwise been having a hard time with how, as Perpetua put it, "the surface of Beck’s Colors is glossy and upbeat, as though Beck and his collaborator Greg Kurstin went out of their way to make a record that would sound mainstream and contemporary." The vibe of songs like "Wow," and "Up All Night" just don't compute in my brain with the idea of listening to a Beck song. My problem, not Beck's, I suppose.

Perpetua also said something on Twitter (I'm having a hard time finding it to link to now) to the effect of how this song's piano and guitar make it sound like Beck stole it from the Scissor Sisters. Works for me.

19. Anyone Who Had A Heart - Tim Curry
My brother let me steal this from his 2017 mix CD, having selected a different song from his 1978 debut album, Read My Lips. We all knew Curry could sing -- we're all familiar with Rocky Horror and The Worst Witch, after all -- but this Bacharach and David interpretation kind of knocked me on my ass. (I was unsurprised to learn that Pink Floyd's The Wall collaborators Bob Ezrin and Michael Kamen produced Curry's album, given his turn as the Crown prosecutor in the 1990 performance of the album in Berlin.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Coen Brother Ephemera Remixed in Fargo Season Three - Episode 4

If the first two seasons of Fargo are any indication, series creator Noah Hawley and his writers and directors will have littered the scripts and the corners of the frame with references to the Coen Brothers' entire catalog. As with last year, I will be taking notes on these connections during each episode and sharing them here.

If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

Episode 4: "The Narrow Escape Problem" (5/10/17)

A relatively light week on references: good thing, since I've fallen behind!
  • To begin with, we get Billy Bob Thornton (The Man Who Wasn't There, Intolerable Cruelty, Fargo Season One) narrating the introduction to Peter and The Wolf.
  • Once again, as in the movie Fargo, we get a Gophers name drop.
    The bag (receptacle? vessel?) in Emmit's safe deposit box is labeled Luverne, also the MN town in which Season Two was set.
  • The Luverne bag is, of course, filled with cremains, which Ray gets more willingly close to than The Dude with Donny's in The Big Lebowski.
  • "Preferred nomenclature": "cremains" here, but not "Chinamen" in Lebowski.
  • And speaking of Lebowski, New Chief seems just as eager to shoehorn in an Iraq War story about his compatriots "face down in the dirt" as Walter is to make everything about Vietnam and his friends "face down in the muck."
  • In his interview with Gloria, Ray seems to be Jerry Lundegaarding it up (Fargo), but he is ably out-Lundegaarded by Sy in his encounter with Officer Winnie Lopez.
  • "Dingus," again a Hudsucker Proxy word choice, but this time in its anatomical use.
To be continued...

Season 3 Episode 3
Season 3 Episode 2
Season 3 Intro and Episode 1
Season 2

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Coen Brother Ephemera Remixed in Fargo Season Three - Episode 3

If the first two seasons of Fargo are any indication, series creator Noah Hawley and his writers and directors will have littered the scripts and the corners of the frame with references to the Coen Brothers' entire catalog. As with last year, I will be taking notes on these connections during each episode and sharing them here.

If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

Episode 3: "The Law of Non-Contradiction" (5/3/17)

Gloria's trip to Los Angeles means we're in for a lot of Barton Fink, and The Big Lebowski, with a a little Hail, Caesar for good measure.
  • Barton Fink:
    • This episode's themes of writer's block and of artistic promise curdling into frustration and failure have appeared a couple times in the Coen's work, most relatedly in Barton Fink, in which a young writer comes to LA, lives out of a hotel, and tries and fails to make it writing for the pictures.
    • The bell on the counter at the WGA rings without attenuation until stopped by hand. I wonder if the WGA lady inherited it from Chet (Steve Buscemi) at the Hotel Earle in Fink.
    • Similarly, the long down-the-corridor shots at the WGA are reminiscent of Fink's hotel.
  • The Big Lebowski:
    • "Moon Shadows on the Trail" echoes the use of cowboy song "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" in the opening of Lebowski.
    • The LAPD cop responding to the theft of Gloria's bag is about as optimistic about its recovery as his departmental colleagues were about the the tape deck (or the Creedence) from The Dude's car.
    • Gloria telling Donnie to tell New Chief that she saw the ocean and it was wet has a similar folksiness to The Stranger's "I can't say I've seen London, and I ain't never been to France. And I ain't never seen no queen in her damned undies, so the feller says."
    • As a function of being set in postwar LA, there's a lot of Googie architecture around. In Lebowski, this is exemplified by the bowling alley. Here, we get the diner where Vivian works, and the motel.
  • Hail, Caesar:
    • The date that Thaddeus and Vivian go to is set in a very similarly-arranged restaurant (Boardner's) to the one where Hobie Doyle and Carlotta Valdez go on theirs.
    • The aforementioned cowboy song also recalls Doyle's song in his movie that he and Carlotta attend.
There's also a lot of A Serious Man this week:
  • ...with the casting of Fred Melamed, who brings the same mellifluous tones to smoothing out his betrayal here as he did as Sy Ableman in A Serious Man
  • The montage of Thaddeus' fall from grace is set to Santana. Not SantanaAbraxas, but Santana nonetheless.
  • Ray Wise quips that ancient soldiers and their wives spent the war simultaneously in a state of married and not, a twist on Schrödinger's Cat Paradox, previously taught by Larry Gopnik to Clive and his classmates.
And some other miscellaneous connections:
  • "Hold up the dingus!": Extruded plastic dingus. (The Hudsucker Proxy)
  • UFO imagery returns to the Coen universe. (The Man Who Wasn't There)
  • Gloria almost has a Brad-Pitt-hiding-in-the-closet moment in her motel room. (Burn After Reading)
  • The giant poster of a raven suggests Howard Zimmerman is a fan of Poe, though perhaps not as much as Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr, Ph. D. (The Ladykillers)
  • The quantum mechanics talk comes back in the same scene with the elderly Zimmerman, this time more in tune with Freddy Reimenschneider's discussion of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in The Man Who Wasn't There.
  • Something about Gloria's floral shirt strikes me as being just as out of place in her terrible date with the LAPD cop as Marge's maternity blouse in Fargo.
  • And, like Marge or any other good Minnesotan cop, she can appreciate some hard-earned Arby's.
  • The poster for THEY CAME on Howard's office wall seems to depict a scene from Fargo Season 2 as a UFO descends on a 2-story motel courtyard.
    To be continued...

    Season 3 Episode 2
    Season 3 Intro and Episode 1
    Season 2

    Thursday, April 27, 2017

    Coen Brother Ephemera Remixed in Fargo Season Three - Episode 2

    If the first two seasons of Fargo are any indication, series creator Noah Hawley and his writers and directors will have littered the scripts and the corners of the frame with references to the Coen Brothers' entire catalog. As with last year, I will be taking notes on these connections during each episode and sharing them here.

    If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

    Episode 2: "The Principle of Restricted Choice" (4/26/17)
    • A lot of Big Lebowski DNA in this episode:
      • Eden Valley's number-two cop shares a name, and a general befuddlement, with The Dude's bowling pal Donnie. I pray Hawley named him that just to set up a "shut the fuck up, Donnie" down the road.
      • In his overly-loquacious greeting to the parking lot attendant, VM Varga says "guten tag, if German's your thing." Since brevity is clearly not Varga's thing, I guess he'd call The Dude "El Duderino."
      • Things "micturated" upon: The Dude's rug, Ray's boots.
      • Nikki Swango seems to have the same gifts for strategy, tactics, and jumping to an over-reactionary conclusion, that Walter Sobchak does.
        • That said, Walter tends to underestimate his opponents ("these fucking amateurs!"), and Nikki to overestimate hers ("oh, he's good!").
        • Her... gambit... with the tampon... reminds me of Jackie Treehorn's thug Wu peeing on The Dude's rug in the first place. Same sort of instinct.
      • The conversation in the funeral home recalls The Dude and Walter's encounter with the mortician after Donnie's death. Hawley doesn't put too fine a point on it, though: the urn is a "vessel," instead of a "receptacle."
      • Sy Feltz taking out his anger on Ray's red Corvette echoes Walter's crowbar beating of little Larry Sellers' red Corvette.
        • Red Corvettes! Another connection!
        • And Sy's anger ends up damaging a bystander's car, as the Corvette wasn't really Larry's but his neighbor's.
    • And several connections to Fargo (the movie):
      • More overhead parking shots this week.
      • Stan Grossman! Jerry Lundegaard's father-in-law's lieutenant (his Sy Feltz) Stan Grossman is still apparently bouncing around the commercial real estate game in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area 23 years after the events of the movie.
      • The gas station clerk watching the Gophers is, I suppose, only as much of a connection as any other marks of Minnesota life. But it's there.
      • Ray's boss Scottie shares a name with Jerry and Jean Lundegaard's kid. Head canon: the nerdy accordion-and-hockey-playing kid turned into this douchey parole officer.
    • Gloria's interview of the gas station clerk comes from a line of awkward convenience store proprietor encounters, stretching back to Raising Arizona and including the station owner's near miss with Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.
    Not Coen connections, but some stray observations:
    • Random signs that we are in Alberta, and not central Minnesota:
      • The UFA (United Farmers of Alberta) gas station.
      • The URL when Irv Blumkin ill-advisedly tries to lookup VM Varga online.
      • Wherever the Oak Bridge lot (ground lot, under the highway) is supposedly located (St. Cloud?), it seems to have an elevated commuter train nearby.
    •  Miscellaneous thoughts:
      • There appears to be one of Emmit Stussy's parking ramps right out the window of Ray's boss Scotty's office. Can't be fun for Ray.
      • Goran Bogdan (pictured above, on the left), who plays the violent Cossack Yuri Gurka (which is the same name as the missing East German murder suspect in the season's opening scene -- can't be the same kid, right? He'd be too old in 2010, right?), is listed in the credits as a series regular, like Ewan McGregor and Carrie Coon, as opposed to a guest star, like Michael Stuhlbarg. Seems to suggest he'll be a major presence this season. Maybe he's the unstoppable force of evil this year.
    To be continued...

    Season 3 Intro and Episode 1
    Season 2

    Thursday, April 20, 2017

    Coen Brother Ephemera Remixed in Fargo Season Three - Introduction, Episode 1

    Season Three of FX's expansive adaptation of the Coen Brothers' 1995 film Fargo premiered this week. If the first two seasons are any indication, series creator Noah Hawley and his writers and directors will have littered the scripts and the corners of the frame with references to the Coens' entire catalog. As with last year, I will be taking notes on these connections during each episode and sharing them here.

    If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

    Before we get into the episodes, here's what we knew about the season's Coen bona fides before the first episode even aired:
    • The whole series, of course, borrows the title, Minnesota/Dakotas setting, genre (an inciting event blows up into desperate, bloody fiasco, while competent cops chase down the perpetrators), and tone of the namesake movie.
    • Like that film, all three seasons claim (facetiously) to be based on true stories, and include the same opening disclaimer regarding names having been changed but details preserved.
    • Via Season One, the series has a plot element that suggests a shared narrative universe: Carl Showalter's (Steve Buscemi) ice scraper and suitcase of buried ransom money.
    • Composer Jeff Russo's score frequently (but not always!) works in the mood and style of Carter Burwell's score to the film. There's a recurring motif used as a main theme to the series, that follows the chord progression of "Fargo, North Dakota," the theme piece from the film. That theme was directly quoted once each in the final episodes of the first two seasons, and I would be shocked if it didn't return this year as well.
    • Casting announcements tell us that at least three Coen veteran actors will appear in the season: Michael Stuhlbarg and Fred Melamed (Larry Gopnik and Sy Ableman in "A Serious Man") play Sy Feltz and Howard Zimmerman, respectively, and David Thewlis (video artist Knox Harrington in "The Big Lebowski") plays V. M. Varga.
    Episode 1: "The Law of Vacant Places" (4/19/17)
    • We start with a prologue in a foreign place, language, and time, in this case 1988 East Berlin. Hawley has said that he likes the idea of beginning with a distinct scene that, while disconnected from the main story, explores the same themes. He cites the opening story of the dybbuk impersonating Reb Groshkover in A Serious Man.
    • Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) is the "Parking Lot King of Minnesota" (Side note: Oliver Platt in Season 1 was the Grocery King of Minnesota, Nick Offerman in Season 2 was the Breakfast King of Loyola, and now we've got the Parking Lot King, and a reference to the Storage Queen. I like to think that there's a statewide department keeping track of these titles). In Fargo, Jerry Lundegaard wants his father-in-law to invest in a parcel of land on which he intends to build a parking lot.
    • Speaking of that movie and topic, we get a straight-down shot of Ray Stussy (McGregor) parking his car, reminiscent of several shots of Jerry.
    • Red Owl grocery store in Eden Valley, a reference to the Red Owl in the Parable of the Goy's Teeth in A Serious Man. There was a Red Owl in my neighborhood when I was little. Wasn't a terribly impressive grocery store, but I have always loved the logo. Supervalu bought the brand and converted the remaining stores in the late 1980s.
    • Maurice pulls a Jeffrey Lebowski in trying to throw a joint through a closed car window, with opposite results vis-a-vis the finding of pieces of paper.
    • Maurice also pulls a The Big Lebowski case of mistaken identity in robbing the wrong E. Stussy in a town with Eden in its name, with far more deadly results. Too bad: Gloria's stepfather really tied the room together.
    • Minor or tenuous connections: 
      • "Vouch" -  Shep Proudfoot for Carl and Gaear in Fargo, not Buck Olander for the Narwhal organization in Fargo S3.
      • The valuable 2 cent stamp recalls the three cent duck stamp for which Marge's husband Norm won the design contest.
      • "Bona fide" - Not Narwhal organization in Fargo S3, nor Ulysses Everet McGill in O Brother, Where Art Thou
      • The bridge team bowling shirts of course put me in mind of The Dude's bowling league in Lebowski
    •  References to previous seasons of the show Fargo:
      • Somebody help me out: I swear there was a Fjord's restaurant elsewhere in the series. Maybe the place in St. Paul where Molly meets her old friend in S1?
      • The afore-mentioned stamp also features the image of Sisyphus rolling his rock up a hill. The myth of Sisyphus (and Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus) both figured prominently in Season 2.
      • The page Maurice tore from the Yellow Pages has an ad for Dazzle Beauty, the salon where Peggy and Constance worked in S2.
    • I love this paragraph from Sean T. Collins about how the Coen elements function in this show:
    • "I still find it absolutely enthralling how Hawley has used the original Fargo as a pivot point for a whole “Songs in the Key of Coen” performance. Take the LeFey character, seemingly a one-and-done affair. In this one person Hawley has managed to create a sort of The Big Lewbowski golem who combines everything going on in that movie in a single role. LeFey is a long-haired stoner fuck-up with a cool t-shirt and a worrying tendency to drop a lit J in his lap while driving. He’s also a two-bit criminal who breaks into the wrong house and roughs up the wrong guy in a case of mistaken identity in order to kick off the action. His storyline involves a confrontation with a nude man in a bathtub, a glamorous woman standing before him in the buff, and a page torn from a notepad with an obscene illustration on it. None of this feels like cheap heat from fanservice, mind you. It’s just a deft demonstration of Hawley’s understanding of the Coens’ source material, and his ability to recombine its constituent elements in new forms like Legos."

    To be continued...

    Thursday, January 26, 2017

    The Annotated Beukemix, 2016

    Liner notes!

    1. Magnets - Disclosure ft. Lorde
    Lorde's voice pairs well with the big, striding beat here.

    2. One Time - Marian Hill
    I like the idea of a vocal jazz group with an electronic mien. The Jeremy Lloyd's manipulation of Samantha Gongol's voice fills the role that a sung improvisation might take in a traditional jazz song.

    3. All The Young Dudes - David Bowie
    I struggled with what to put on here to represent Bowie. Something from "Blackstar" seemed the logical choice. But the early-70s Bowie is my favorite, and though for a while I had his cover of Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play" in this slot, I've gone with "All the Young Dudes," maybe his most famous song that was originally recorded by someone else (give or take having co-written "Lust for Life"). Bowie famously gave the song, originally intended for "Ziggy Stardust," to the band Mott the Hoople to help prevent their breakup. The song became something of a gay pride anthem, despite being part of the apocalyptic story line of "Ziggy." I was delighted this year to have found a fully-produced version of the demo Bowie gave MtH.

    4. Lake Song - The Decemberists
    I hate that I love this song. It's so twee and precious and pretentious and is even kind of about being twee and precious and pretentious and I just love it and want to take a nap in my college dorm room with the window open on a spring afternoon while it plays. Stupid Decemberists.

    5. I'll Be Haunting You - They Might Be Giants
    TMBG mined their yearlong 2015 Dial-a-Song project for three albums worth of content, and though that year's "Glean" represented the best of those, their 2016 release "Phone Power" had a few gems, including this one and their cover of Destiny's Child's "Bills Bills Bills." Incidentally, I'm just watching the "Haunting You" video for the first time, and I love it.

    6. Tempest - Lucius
    My song of the year, hands down. I love how Jess Wolfe & Holly Laessig shift back and forth between a tight unison and harmonies. I love the gently driving beat. I love the lyrics, about a couple with one partner wanting to work on their issues and one (the male vocal in the bridge) insisting they bury their problems.

    7. Get Myself Arrested - Gomez
    I wonder sometimes what kind of indie rock stuff I missed after Rev 105 disappeared from Twin Cities airwaves. This seems to be the answer. I'd have taken this over Eve 6 any day of the week in 1998.

    8. I Am Chemistry - Yeasayer
    Took notice of this song when it made its left turn into the apparent children's chorus at the end. I made the mistake of reading up on the lyrics late one night after watching a Frontline documentary about ISIS, when I was already in a really dark head space. The whole song is about poisons, including incredibly specific references to particular toxins, both natural and man-made, in some cases using full chemical formula. I found this both fascinating and incredibly disturbing, and though this song was on the bubble for inclusion, I spent so much time thinking about it, it felt dishonest to leave it off.

    9. untitled 06 | 06.30.2014. - Kendrick Lamar ft. CeeLo Green
    Smooth as hell.

    10. Sometimes It Snows In April - Prince
    Prince's passing was the kick in the pants I needed to finally move beyond just knowing his hits + Purple Rain and dig into the albums. This song got a lot of play in the wake of his death, both locally on The Current (which was amazing to listen to last spring), and nationally, as when D'Angelo covered it on The Tonight Show a week later. It's a sad and beautiful song about the death of a friend, with a B flat suspended 2nd chord (I had to look this up) in the chorus that feels like a stab of grief in the middle of a search for acceptance and closure.

    11. Alone Again Or - Love
    Shortly after Prince died, The Current ran their 893 Essential Albums list, as voted by listeners. I'd be interested to know how the list would change had the voting come after he died -- I suspect it would have shaken things up a bit. Anyhow, it was a fun week of radio to listen to, and hipped me to this song from the mid-60s I couldn't remember having ever heard (turns out I had, years ago; it's used to great effect in Wes Anderson's debut film Bottle Rocket), and it's gorgeous. The trumpet solo is on the list of bits I'll sit down and puzzle out on my horn when I'm old.

    12. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
    I'd long resisted Fleetwood Mac as Dumb Music for White Boomers: music for Al and Tipper to make out on stage to. I liked Gold Dust Woman and Tusk, the latter because of its use in The Americans' pilot, but that was about it. Rumours ended up near the top of that 893 albums list, and I finally watched Dave Grohl's Sound City documentary, which I recommend to all, and which talks about the Nicks-and-Buckinghamification of the band and the recording of their self-titled album. So, I finally gave that disc and Rumours a shot, and, dammit, I loved about 2/3 of both. The bass in this one is especially great.
    Update: I forgot that The Americans had also used The Chain. (Warning: some violence in that clip)

    13. Burn the Witch - Radiohead
    I've run hot and cold on new Radiohead for a while now, but really like this one, in large part because of Jonny Greenwood's orchestral arrangement. The percussive orchestral thrum throughout is a string section playing "col legno battuto," literally "striking with wood," meaning they play with the wooden backs of their bows, rather than the bow strings. The technique tends to produce a more brittle sound, and is typically used to create a feeling of harshness or tension. It was used most famously near the finale of the "Witches' Sabbath" movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (at 9:16 in that clip), but I've just today learned is also indicated at the opening of "Mars, The Bringer of War," from Holst's The Planets. Not quite sure how I made it 20 years with that as one of my favorite pieces of music without knowing that.

    14. I Decide - The Julie Ruin
    It's always good to hear from Kathleen Hanna. The lyrics aren't explicit about any issues, but are an important statement of independence: I might be in a bad situation, but it's my choice, not yours.

    15. Changes - Charles Bradley
    Learned after I'd picked this song that it's a Black Sabbath cover. Huh. Go figure.

    16. Step Into My Office, Baby - Belle and Sebastian
    The guitar line as the song winds back up after the bridge reminds me a bit of The Beatles' "For You Blue," from Let It Be.

    17. These Words - The Lemon Twigs
    More songs need to have a xylophone-and-guitar-led freakout jam in them. If Zappa had lived longer, more songs would. I was not surprised when I found out the D'Addario brothers of The Lemon Twigs are a couple of NY theater kids.

    18. Smile More - Deap Valley
    This song sounds like a lost track from the early/mid 90s.

    19. Ball of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today) - The Temptations
    Heard this on The Current the morning of the election. Swiftly became more appropriate.