Quickie Review of WEATHER by Huey Lewis & the News

MTV actually did what everyone was afraid it would do to a 10 year-old child in the 80s, such as myself: lure me into The Devil’s Music. I saw this concert on cable TV late one weekend night, and that was it. Jesus — I mean, Satan — those harmonies! That harmonica! The Tower of Power! The end-of-concert tag line that I got to hear when I finally caught them live — “I’m Huey Lewis… and you just heard the News!!”

Fast forward mumblemubmlemumblesomething years later, and what else could I say about this quote from ESQUIRE except, “It me.”

So of course I had to pick up their newest album WEATHER. I have the rest of the catalog, so why not? Anyone’s opinion of a Huey Lewis & the News album will depend one’s opinion of the band. If you don’t like them, there’s nothing for you here. If you do, WEATHER is solid stuff, because it’s always solid stuff. I’ve never met a fellow fan who was like “X album sucked, compared to the rest of them.” (Not even their 1980 debut.) WEATHER maintains the groove from PLAN B (and the last 4 tracks of their TIME FLIES compilation, except a little more stripped down and not as “produced.” A couple of tunes like “Her Love Is Killin’ Me” have a little bit of hints of the 80s, but not enough to call it a retread by any means.

Now because of Huey’s current struggle with Meniere’s Disease, there could be some truth to the hype that this “could be their last album.” Now I thought of Johnny Cash’s AMERICAN sessions while I listened to this and thought I was being a little overwrought. No one was dying while this was being recorded. But then I heard the last track…

If WEATHER really is the last album we’ll get from Huey Lewis & the News, I’m really going to be sad.

Quickie Review of 1917 (2019) – Not Really for Me

Definitely one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen in a long time, even if most the beauty is in the grittier details of the horror and death of World War I. If you thought director Sam Mendes’s Bond films were good, you’ll really be impressed by this, I think. What impressed me the most was the single shot feel which felt completely different from what Alejandro Iñárritu does.

Personally, it wasn’t for me, though. And I tried. I wonder if it’s because I was in “Writer Head” the whole time, at the end of a very long work day.

Writer Head couldn’t find a reason to be invested in the characters. Writer Head checked off each perfunctory stiff upper lipped British soldier whose accent got more RP the higher their rank. Writer Head thought that every artfully placed corpse, every peaceful encounter, every act of violence appeared exactly when it needed to to keep the story moving.

Most of all, Writer Head told me that the film didn’t add to what any of the depictions I’ve experienced in TV, film, and literature (especially British TV and film) had already taught me about WWI. All the horror and trauma and death just to move trenches another six inches forward, yeah — World War I really sucked. We get it.

Quickie Review of KNIVES OUT (2019) (Slightly spoilery)

Believe every good thing everyone’s said about this film! And yes, I might be biased because I actually liked everything Rian Johnson did with THE LAST JEDI.

Like any good whodunnit, no plot or character point is wasted. Not on me, who grew up watching MYSTERY on the local PBS station in Cleveland waiting for classic DOCTOR WHO to come on. Every characterization, even the ones updated for the 21st century, had echoes of every character I’ve ever seen or read. And I can’t think of any detail that didn’t come back around whether or not it was directly related to the crime at the center of the film.

By the way, anyone who complains about Daniel Craig’s Southern accent has never heard Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. (Ugh.)

Okay, I’m going to get spoilery. I can’t help it, because it was my favorite part of the film and something that’ll stick with me for a long time…

I loved how Marta transcends the schemes of the well-meaning old White man who manipulated systems of race and privilege on her behalf the best way he know how and by doing so, ultimately wins by being true to herself. There aren’t too many pieces of pop culture that I can point to as an example of a nuanced view of how White people of privilege hurt, help, and even hurt by helping people of color.

Quickie Review: SWORD OF TRUST (2019)

B for effort, B- for execution. It met my barest expectations, namely watching Marc Maron play a version of himself as he did on his IFC show and on GLOW. And while the Maron snark shown in the trailer might’ve been my primary draw, SWORD OF TRUST teases me with the unspoken parts of his character Mel’s story. Of course, his story wasn’t the film’s story.

Writers Lynn Shelton (also the director) and Mike O’Brien compensate for what was lacking in Mel’s story by fleshing out almost every other character. Not completely, but enough for the story’s purposes. And I think the improvisational aspect of the film elevated the them above what could’ve been an utter trainwreck of southern stereotypes. SWORD OF TRUST’s biggest positive, I think, is how it (thankfully) baited and switched on anyone looking for a lazy, self-congratulatory endorsement of those stereotypes. Don’t bother seeing it if you’re expecting to just laugh at “dumb Southerners.”

Quickie Review // DEAR AMERICA: NOTES OF AN UNDOCUMENTED CITIZEN by Jose Antonio Vargas

It’s interesting–and perhaps a little narcissistic?–to think I see parts of my story, and the stories of other Filipino immigrants and children of immigrants I know, even the ones who didn’t go through what Vargas is experiencing now. The themes Vargas uses to categorize his experiences living, in his words, as an undocumented citizen in the U.S. are: Lying, Passing, and Hiding. I look at some of my family’s and others’ stories of adapting to life in these United States (not only the ones who were tago ng tago, but them too), and see those there elements in them, as well.

Surely this was unintentional, but Vargas’s book caused me to wonder if there are rites of passages that Filipino immigrants and/or their children must go through. Or rather, are fated to go through. Odd looks for bringing a lunch to school that wasn’t PB&J? Fucking up the rules of an American sport on the first go-round? Confusion about how everything is “Black and White,” when you saw how some Filipinos and other Brown folks talked stuff about both?

Other parts of Vargas’s story that I can’t relate to directly still had some resonance with my life, but the ones that didn’t had value as well. Vargas offers some education to anyone not familiar with immigration issues. The book certainly filled some gaps in my own knowledge. Vargas spells out why undocumented immigrants can’t “just get legal,” and has numbers on how much undocumented immigrants give, rather than take, economically. He illustrates how the Black struggle, and Black literature especially, informed his own thinking on the dynamics of White power and privilege that affected his life. And he draws a pretty straight line about how Asians benefited from a foundation in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, through the 1965 Voting Rights Act and up to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. That knowledge, that history alone is worth the cover price.

Quickie Review: THE ENDLESS (2017)

I knew nothing about this film when it was recommended to me with the explicit instruction not to Google anything about it beforehand. Not even information about the directors/stars Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Okay, fine.

Within the first five minutes of it, I knew this was something right up my alley, even when I saw some shots that seemed to have that stereotypical “first year film student” vibe. It was a mistake to think that. It had all the earmarks of exactly the kind of stories I’ve been striving to write.

I’m reluctant to write much more for fear of spoiling it. There’s very little extraneous information about THE ENDLESS that couldn’t give something away to the literate speculative fiction film-goer once they were actually watching it. Okay, at the risk of doing that, I’ll say this is hands down the best film of a certain particular pulp sci-fi/horror genre I’ve ever seen, with some fresh ideas thrown in. And if you want to know why (god dammit, I’m really biting my tongue here), you’ll just have to see it.

Quickie Review: LEAVE NO TRACE (2018)

This is a film I could write two reviews for, depending on my point of view:

One would talk about how the film shows not a single person of color. I feel like it bothered me less than it should have. Maybe because the film’s focus was, for all its Whiteness and White privilege, on a segment of people that are truly marginalized. But even when you look at the father’s problems, you can look at his circumstances and it’s obvious how much worse they would be if he was a person of color. He probably wouldn’t have lived past the first act.

The other would try to take the film at face value, and look at is as a story of two people in very vulnerable situations, any of which would go very badly for plot purposes in a Hollywood movie. And ultimately, how it’s a story of when even the closest parent and child must eventually separate. And yet, I still see an art-house film espousing the noblest virtues of White America. Of people–independent, everyday folk making their way in the Pac NW who “don’t want no trouble,” who are wounded warriors themselves, who are just trying to do the right by their community and church–moving out of their comfort zones to help a stranger driven by demons, and his daughter.

I really am of two minds about this movie. And that could be a sign that if someone’s privilege can be problematic, it’s my own.

Quickie Review // THE SKELETON TWINS (2014)

(I wrote this ages ago, left it sitting as a draft, and then apparently forgot all about it until I rediscovered it the other day. So I figured, why not just hit “publish”?)

It’ll sound like a backhanded compliment for me to say this, but it’s not: All THE SKELETON TWINS did was fulfill my high expectations.

Nothing in the plot explicitly waves its arms and telegraphs itself, yet it weaves through and touches all the areas you expect the film to touch on. And the ending is the sort I’ve come to expect from any Duplass Brothers project (cf. my review of THE ONE I LOVE): a small, smoldering fire, quickly resolved because, hey, it has to end somewhere.

To me, the thrill of this film is in the acting. I cannot see anyone else in the roles of Maggie and Milo playing out scenes that can switch on a dime into something heavy, surreal, or crude. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are that talented, so much so that their excellent performances aren’t exactly a shock. Am I that jaded? Maybe. Still, this film still gets high marks all for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is having validated my dedication to not have “peaked in high school.”

Backlog Catch-Up // “Knock” by Fredric Brown

Hi, I’m Don and I have a problem — I can’t stop accumulating short story collections and anthologies. A few, I actually finish. Some I start and never get around to finishing. Others sit gathering dust. So I’ve decided that once a week I’m going to blindly pull a book from my pile, read one story, and talk about it.

This is a day late and I’m cheating a bit this week because this pick isn’t all that random.

From my list of Items From the Nerd Canon I’ve Missed But Dread Admitting Lest I Lose My Nerd Credentials, this classic short story I haven’t gotten around to reading before now, despite having owned FROM THESE ASHES for quite awhile.

This piece is renowned for having one of the shortest stories in sci-fi. You’ve probably seen this reference before…

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…

With the way it’s been presented out of context sometimes, you’d think that was the entire story. What follows after this quote is, for the time in which it was written (1948), a short subversive tale about a scientist avenging the planet Earth in the aftermath of an alien invasion. Subversive because Brown knows all the questions you’ll ask yourself at the start – What does “last man on Earth” mean? Where’s the emphasis, on last or on man? – and he toys with them. Subversive because Brown takes some jabs at some Golden Age of Sci-Fi tropes. This isn’t the story of a stereotypical pulp scientist action hero smashing the aliens with technical ingenuity and  inevitably getting the last woman on earth in the end. It’s about a quiet, homely brainiac who wins with his brainiac knowledge combined with psychological manipulation, and leaves it entirely to the last woman on earth to make the choice to repopulate the planet with him… you know, or not… whatever…

And in that case, maybe it’s not all that subversive at least by today’s standards. But I would still call it an early baby step toward progress.

Quickie Review // IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (2016)

The film’s animation style is mostly understated, which is appropriate I think. We see the metaphorical cloud hovering over the place. We see the obvious foreshadows, and know how some of the characters’ stories will end, during and after the film. Still, I was compelled to watch as references to Hiroshima slowly built up my unease at the knowledge of a future of which the film’s characters are completely unaware.

The strength of this film is how it clings to the everyday POV of ordinary folks — not Tōjō or his adjutants, not Yamamoto’s admirals, not to anyone monologuing or otherwise giving too much thought to which side is right or wrong. The focus isn’t on the world stage. Just on a girl, her family, her community, and how they cope with life during wartime, with rationing, air raids, and much, much more.

IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD definitely gave me a new sympathy for Japan and what it went through. I know it’s a little counterintuitive, being an American and a Filipino, but it isn’t really. I was born almost thirty years after all of that. And despite everything my parents’ families went through during the occupation of the Philippines, it wasn’t as if I grew up inundated with vitriol against the Japanese. But neither was it ever suggested by anyone that I view the Japan of that period, and everyone in it, in any frame other than Axis vs. Ally, winner vs. loser, us vs. them.