Sunday, December 4, 2016


I'm a sucker for alien contact, arrival, and invasion movie plots. In most cases, it's all about the anticipation– both because suspense is 90% anticipation, and because once the aliens show their ugly heads, fangs, or tentacles, they are almost inevitably disappointing, in spite of the technological marvels of modern special effects.

Arrival is an exception. The aliens are excellent. Why they have seven legs instead of the even number that any advanced product of evolution should have, I can't say. But it definitely helps that they live in a murky soup of foggy vapor that obscures their eyes (and therefore their facial expressions), and that their bodies are a mysterious compromise between the fluid plasticity of an octopus and the discrete jointedness of an old man's gnarled hand. Like cephalopods, they can squirt ink, and they are very good at it indeed. Cool.

The film is beautiful to watch, and beautiful to listen to. Amy Adams is truly a pleasure almost every moment her funny, lovely, intelligent face lights up the screen. And who am I to complain when the hero of the movie is a professor of linguistics! Still, I can't say I was nearly as enthusiastic about the rest of it. The other characters, the love story, the conflict, the woo-woo time-warp element... yawn. Don't expect too much... but go... and appreciate those heptapods.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 75

What makes one great Stevie song greater than another?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Good and hard

Well, Ez, point taken, but it's not what you and I asked for...

Ezra Klein:
It has been weeks since Donald Trump won the presidential election, and here is what we can say: he is still just himself. He is governing like he promised. He is appointing the loyalists, lackeys, and extremists he surrounded himself with during the campaign. He is tweeting the same strange, crazed missives, pursuing the same odd and counterproductive vendettas. His conflicts of interest have proven, if anything, worse than expected, and he has shown no shame, restraint, or interest in addressing them. America — through the electoral college — voted to make Donald J. Trump president, and we are getting what we asked for, good and hard.

We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service

The latest (and last?) album from A Tribe Called Quest is probably not deserving of the rare A+ that Robert Christgau awards it. Perhaps Bob's critical standards were clouded a bit by the election of Mr. Trump, who comes in for some choice dissection by the Tribe. But I'd agree with a solid A. Cool funky sounds from start to finish, and fine guest appearances from the likes of Kendrick, André 3000, and especially Busta Rhymes. Great humanistic, political hip-hop for anti-Trump white males like Bob and me, and presumably for other humans as well.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Trespasser

I've been a fan of Tana French's twisted, psychological crime novels from the beginning. Her latest is perhaps her most conventional: narrated by the tightly wound, brilliant, and borderline paranoid detective Antoinette Conway, The Trespasser is at base a standard procedural. The craft kept me going for the first two-thirds, even as the plot meandered some. And as is often the case with French, you have to accept that some key characters may behave in ways or reveal motives that push the boundaries of believable human behavior. But the novel's triumph is its final hundred pages or so, which hurtle along in the best tradition of "couldn't put it down" (at least I couldn't). No hostage taking, no gunfight, no damsel in distress, no ticking time bomb: just a sequence of "interviews" between Conway and her suspect, as she attempts to outfox him and close the case. P.D. James could only have approved.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Blessing

By James Wright. The perfect Thanksgiving poem. Wright wore his heart on his sleeve, unashamedly, and to great effect.

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness  
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.  
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.  
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me  
And nuzzled my left hand.  
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Today's political art message, 1973 edition

By Rupert Garcia, from an excellent exhibition of California art from the 1970s now at the Palo Alto Art Center. Also on display, Ant Farm's fantastic and funny Media Burn, more relevant than ever.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Now that we have lost Doctorow...

... we are blessed with his obvious successor Michael Chabon. We need them more than ever.