I love Christmas albums that do not sound like every other one out there. Bryan Adams has released a Christmas EP this year, titled ‘Christmas,’ and the best thing about it is that it sounds just like a Bryan Adams album. He penned a new song, titled ‘Joe and Mary,’ and it’s a great pop-rock song that I couldn’t get out of my ears after listening to it. The other new track here is ‘Must Be Santa,’ which I know from the Bob Dylan version from a couple of years ago. The rest of the EP has all previously released Holiday songs from Adams, and all in all, the recording has a very cohesive feel, and I have to say that even if I am not normally a ‘rock’ person I appreciated this. Your mileage may vary.
‘Todd Haynes has a new movie coming out,’ a friend of mine said to me about a month ago, and of course, I got excited. i do not love everything he has ever done, but more often than not, his films are interesting, and they all have very specific moods. Then I realized the film he directed was ‘Dark Waters,’ a movie whose trailer I had seen a couple of times already. My first thought was that it didn’t look like a Todd Haynes film. And after seeing the film, I surmise that it is, and it isn’t. ‘Dark Waters’ is a conventional thriller, and it had a specific thing to say, and it says it succinctly. It tells of a simple story, of how a large chemical company, int his case, Dupont, knowingly unleashed a chemical to the public – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – via its products, specifically teflon, which is used in cooking pans and carpeting, among other things. Even as they discover its dangerous effects on people, they concealed this information to the public, and did harm to their employees. Mark Ruffalo (who also produced this) plays Robert Billott, who single-handedly fights the corporation, seeking justice.
The film has marvelous pacing – two minutes into the movie and you are right in the middle of the story. The screenplay moves fast, and there are a lot of scenes that for me were difficult to watch. Ruffalo plays the character as a dignified hero – no big scenes, no monologues that will catch the Academy’s eye – and the result is muted, but not less effective. Poor bewigged Anne Hathaway is treated like decoration here, but in the handful of scenes she is in, she shines. All in all, I was all in from the start of the film, and didn’t let go until the very end. As a thriller, this is a fantastic watch. As a film, it skews on the subtle side, and for some, that may not be enough.
Like most everybody, Ana Gasteyer is known for her stint at Saturday Night Live. But I also know she is a pretty good singer, one who skews towards traditional Mid-Century Swinging arrangements. I should listen to her one other standards album called ‘I’m Hip,’ named from Blossom Dearie’s fun song, so you know she knows what she is singing about.
My initial impression from listening to her new Holiday album, ‘Sugar and Booze,’ is that it is really a fun album. Most Holiday albums contain one or more ‘sad’ Holiday songs but there is just joy in ‘Sugar & Booze.’ Looking at her track listing, the only traditional melancholy song here is ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,’ but in Gasteyer’s hands, the meaning is just pure joyous greeting. And there’s a lot of celebration elsewhere in the album, from the title track, which celebrates the best Holiday traditions: the time where people freely eat a lot of desserts and drink alcoholic beverages. I also loved ‘In The Market For A Miracle,’ which is a humorous take on Jewish people and Hannukah. And you would think that ‘Blue Black Friday’ would be melancholy, but it is hilarious – it’s about someone missing her love because she has no one to buy for during the Black Friday sales. There is so much original things in this record, like a salsa arrangement of ‘Sleigh Ride,’ and an updated take on June Christie’s ‘The Merriest.’ Her duet with Maya Rudolph, the tongue-twisting ‘Secret Santa’ is cute, but I wanted more (or maybe I had Everest-level expectations?) But all ina ll, this is a great Holiday album, topical but will prove to be timeless.
We should have more Murder Mystery Movies, so I welcome Rian Johnson’s ‘Knives Out.’ As a film, and especially as a comedy, I thought it was pretty entertaining. AndGod knows it has a cast from the heavens. Well, maybe it’s too big of a cast that I felt some characters were neglected. For example, I wanted more Toni Collette, but then again I *always* want more Toni Collette. The film moved briskly and has twists and turns for mystery fanatics. As a mystery, I wasn’t really bowled over, but then again I may not be the best judge of that/ An observation: why does Chris Evans – as gorgeous as he is – looks so waxy in some scenes? Too much foundation?
This is how behind I am in the times – I have no idea who Princess Nokia is. Apparently she is a very famous Nuroyican rapper, and she is one of the main stars in Peter Lee’s ‘Angelfish, ‘ which is also billed as ‘A New York Love Story’ Well, of course you put the words love and story to describe a film and I am there. And in that sense, the film delivers as it tells the love story between Eva (Nokia) and Brendan (Jimi Stanton) The story is pretty simple – they meet and they fall in love. In that sense it’s all formulaic but the film is elevated by authentic performances by the charming leads and they will instantly win you over. There’s not much more to the film besides that – the relationship encounters obstacles from the familial situations they are in – but the heart of the film is firm and beating. And it captures a very specific time and place – Bronx in the mid 90s – which enhances its authenticity. (Imagine a recent past where no one has cell phones!) Sometimes you just need to watch something simple and it will still touch you.
There are movies that make you cry, and there are some that make you feel good. ‘ A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood’ made me feel a lot of things – it made me miss my father, it made me want to show kindness and be a better person. Last year one of my favorite movies was ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me,’ because it touched me immensely, and Marielle Heller, who directed both that and this film, has done it again. (She is now one of my favorite modern filmmakers) The emotions in ‘A Beautiful…’ are expressed subtly, but their effects will blunt you.
Like probably everyone else, I thought this was a Mr. Rogers biopic. But of course, why do we need that when we already have last year’s documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor? This film is based on Tom Junod’s write up on Esquire Magazine, where he was ‘forced’ to feature Mr. Rogers, and how that experience enlightened his life. Well, ‘enlightened’ is probably a weak way of putting it. Mr. Rogers changed his life. In the film, the character’s name has been changed to Lloyd Vogel, and the experience made him a lot less broken. I thought Matthew Rhys was fantastic here – it’s a quiet but resonant performance, one of those wherein by the end of the film, you see an arc of what the character has gone through. And of course, the heart and soul of the piece is Tom Hank’s performance. He becomes Mr. Rogers before our eyes, with kindness and heart emanating from his pore from the very minute he shows up on screen. I think at this point, like Streep, Hanks has become a living legend, and his performance here is master class in fine acting.
We are all broken in some ways – no one emerges anywhere intact and untouched. But it is these imperfections that give us texture. This film celebrates all that, and finds ways for us to mend all that’s broken. After seeing the film, I got a incandescent sense of tristesse, thinking of all the ways my parents made me the person I am today. I am happy with how I turned out, because I have no other choice but to be.
Shannon Gaye grew up and lives in the Vancouver area and her middle name ‘Gaye’ was named from Marvin Gaye. While I wouldn’t really describe her new Christmas album as R &b tinged like, I did sense a bluesy vibe in her version of ‘Merry Christmas Baby.’ Otherwise, her Holiday album is familiar, in a pop-rock vein. I read in her website that she plays drums so there is a little bit of energy here. She is also a Singer-Songwriter so she has included two of he originals here. They sound pretty generic to me. The best track is the Vince Guaraldi ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ but otherwise this is all just a little too generic for me. And curiously, she titled her album with a verse from Joni Mitchell’s ‘The River,’ but does not sing that song. I mean, it’s not a Christmas song anyway, but still…