May 212017
  May 21, 2017

Yeah, I know. No one needed this any more than they needed my list of Top 10 Kate Bush songs. But here it is anyway. A few thoughts first.

I think of art rock—as opposed to the larger category of prog rock—as a fusion of styles. It is rock and classical, with a touch of jazz and folk. Nowhere is that more evident than with ELP. Yes and Genesis blended the styles together. ELP did not. They just whipped them down and said, “lets go.” They’d cover symphonic pieces, sometimes as driving rock tunes, but sometimes as straight classical music. They’d pause one form to start another before drifting into a third. Lake would sing a folky ballad and then Emerson would play a concerto. And then why not a jazz tune? Your expectations were of little importance, which is how it ought to be.

The name, Emerson, Lake & Palmer was fitting as this was never a group, but three separate artists. They didn’t play WITH each other, but AT each other. I kept waiting for them to kill each other. And the power of their music came from that competition. Each made the others stronger.

How you feel about art/prog rock is a little like how you feel about Dr Malcolm from Jurassic Park. Me, I hate that dude.

“…but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I just wanted someone to say, “Malcolm, shut up.” Well, standard music critics, mainstream radio fans, and punk rockers were Malcolm, whining, “You musicians are skillful and talented enough to do all that stuff that I don’t understand, but you haven’t considered if you should.” Musically, the response from Genesis and Yes was, “Come on guys, we’re doing are own thing.” But ELP’s response was “Fuck off. We do want we want.” Every album (well, the first six) were clear, loud statements. There’s no shyness in ELP. They are giving the finger to the music establishment and wanted to make sure everyone knews it. Sometimes subtly is nice. Sometimes its dull. ELP had no conception of subtly.

The most self-assured of art rock bands died from trying to do too much. They reached the end of an artistic road, so set off with something new. But that something new didn’t go well with their perfectionism and touring. Emerson insisted they take an orchestra along and they all needed truck-loads of equipment if they were going to recreate their latest studio album. Even with 70,000 attendees, you can’t make money that way and everyone got pissed off. And that was that. They got back together from time to time over the years, but the edge was gone.

So starting with #12:
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May 172017
  May 17, 2017

No one asked for this, and I can’t think of why anyone would care, but I felt like it, so here you go.

Kate Bush is one of the great musical artists of the last ’50 years. She takes chances and when she gets it right, damn she’s good.

While she has a lot of good albums, I noticed my choices only covered a limited number. In some cases, their absence is because those albums are weaker (or were experiments that bore fruit later). In others, like for Aerial and 50 Words For Snow, it is because nothing stands above the rest. The albums are solid, but best listened to as a whole. Now it is also true that Hounds of Love is best listened to as a whole, being one of the greatest albums ever made, but its individual parts also rise above…most everything. So. starting at #10, my favs (after noting some honorable mentions of Wow, The Big Sky, Room For the Life, and This Woman’s Work):


#10 Cloudbursting

My first of multiple choices from Hounds of Love, Cloundbursting is a beautiful song of love of a son for his father, some strange science, and some nasty government action. It’s based on a true story, and the music video is pretty astounding too.

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May 092017
five reels

Under attack from the people they just robbed, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice: Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voice: Vin Diesel) are rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell), Peter’s long lost father. The team splits, with Peter, Gamora, and Drax going with Ego and his sidekick/slave Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to Ego’s personal world where Peter can bond with his father, while Rocket and Baby Groot become involved with Nebula (Karen Gillan), Yondu (Michael Rooker), and the violent infighting of the Ravagers.

Film reviews can be both useful and insightful, but with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we are approaching pointless. Before seeing this film, you should have seen 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy along with at least a half a dozen other Marvel Cinematic Universe films. So unless Director James Gunn really messed up or started hanging out with Zack Snyder, you know generally what to expect and if you will like it.

And James Gunn did not mess up.

Which means if you liked the first film, go see this one. If you didn’t like the first film, you are an inhuman monster who should meet your end at the hands of the coolest of all heroes, Mary Poppins.

What can I add? Well, not only did Gunn not fall apart, he improved. Guardians 2 is more fun than its predecessor. It is the first MCU film that I’d label a comedy. There is a constant stream of jokes and they are all funny. Yet we don’t lose the characters in the humor. Gunn is approaching Joss Whedon (The Avengers) in his ability to work with an ensemble. Every character gets his time to shine. This is done by not wasting a moment. Every joke also reveals something about the character. Every fight has an emotional core. Every action serves two, three, or more purposes. This is efficient filmmaking. A violent and exciting fight between Gamora and Nebula is about the nature of sisterhood, while being a call back to Alfred Hitchcock and The Fast and the Furious franchise, and also a frame for over-the-top humor, and a way to expand Gamora while completely changing our perspective on Nebula. Now that’s how you jam ten stories into a two hour movie.

The music is front and center again. Hopefully you like Looking Glass’s Brandy. It is part of the soundtrack to my childhood, so I loved it. Brandy and Come A Little Bit Closer are the standout numbers, not only musically but how they are utilized, but fans of the first film’s music should be happy with all the songs.

Baby Groot is as cute as they come (and I find human babies ugly as sin), the new characters all work, and there are dozens of repeatable lines. But there’s no point in me dwelling on any of them. Just go.

And yes, there are five—FIVE—“post” credits scenes.

May 082017
3,5 reels

A snotty, nasty sorority girl (Jessica Rothe), who is obnoxious to her roommate and cruel to every guy she meets, and is sleeping with her married professor and ignoring her father, is murdered by a killer who wears a baby mask. She then wakes up just as she had the day before, and lives the day over, only to be murdered again. And again. And again.

Well, that was a surprise. A Slasher that is fun, clever, and well made. Huh.

I hate to say what everyone else has said, but Happy Death Day is Groundhog Day as a Slasher. And while that sounds like a reasonable idea, it plays out much better than expected. Slashers are all about the kills, but those kills often pale because we don’t know or care about who is getting killed. So here we get the same person getting killed over and over again. We know her, so it matters. And as she gets up again, we get as many kills as can be fit into ninety minutes.

Our lead, named Tree for no good reason, but also no bad reason, is a handful of Slasher stereotypes, but she wears them so well. You’ve seen characters like her before, but never done so well. Rothe owns the part and the film. This girl is a star. She has charisma to spare. When she was doing the most horrible, petty things, I still liked her, which means I was completely onboard with her arc. I wanted her to learn and grow, not to mention survive. Film isn’t about plot; it is about character and sometimes it doesn’t matter if it has all been done before if it is done better. And how often does the slutty girl in a Slasher get to be the hero?

The rest of the cast of mainly newcomers is nearly as good as Rothe, which means credit needs to go to the director. Who knew the guy who wrote the Paranormal Activity moves would be a skilled director? And that shows not only in his ability to get good performances, but in the shots. This is a low budget horror film, and it doesn’t look it.

Beyond an ample display of talent, Happy Death Day works because it knows what it is. It knows that Slashers are brain dead by nature and we are all familiar with Groundhog Day. So it doesn’t try to pretend it isn’t a Groundhog Day ripoff, but dives into that. It doesn’t act like Slashers are scary or clever or are anything more than murder porn. Instead it plays with all that, ending up as much a dark comedy as a horror film. Within the genre it has chosen, it couldn’t have been much better. Okay, it should have been R-rated. One gag would have worked much better with nudity and a bit more blood would have given it a bit of a kick, but that’s being picky. Happy Death Day is one of the best Slashers you’ll ever see.