Friday, March 16, 2018

My Favorite Music of 2017, part 1

2017 was one of the better years for music I can remember. Well, I should probably qualify that. It is a year in which I personally have been able to immerse myself in music more fully than I have in quite some time. Every year that I come around to making this list, I always start out thinking I’d like to say something about each of my entries. There are two reasons that I don’t. The first is that I’ve chosen 20 albums and 10 shorter format entries for this list and this is only part one. These are my popular music choices, while part two will consist of movie soundtrack entries. Were I to write about all 50 entries on this list, I’d be writing for most of 2018, and it’s already the middle of March. The second reason I don’t write about the music is that after going full bent on my favorite sounds for the past couple of months, I’ve come to the conclusion that the music really speaks for itself. This is my favorite music of 2018 (all in no particular order).

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Gringo / ** (R)

Amazon Studios
Harold Soyinka: David Oyelowo
Richard Rusk: Joel Edgerton
Elaine Markinson: Charlize Theron
Sunny: Amanda Seyfried
Mitch Rusk: Sharlto Copley
Bonnie Soyinka: Thandie Newton
Miles: Harry Treadaway
Angel Valverde: Yul Vazquez
Robert Vega: Hector Kostifakis
Jerry: Alan Ruck

Amazon Studios and STX Entertainment present a film directed by Nash Edgerton. Written by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone. Running time: 110 min. Rated R (for language throughout, violence and sexual content).

The Edgerton’s appear to be a family of many talents. Hailing from Australia, Joel Edgerton is the better known of the brothers in the United States. He stars in his brother’s latest feature Gringo. Most would recognize him from leading roles in films like Warrior, The Great Gatsby, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Blank Mass, Loving and The Gift—which he also wrote and directed. His older brother Nash Edgerton directs Gringo. Gringo is Nash’s second feature film after the 2008 Australian thriller The Square, which took the top spot as my favorite film of that year. Gringo has some of the earmarks of that film but lacks its sharp tone and strong protagonist.

Monday, March 05, 2018

My Favorite Movies of 2017

Just a few observations before my very late list this year. As I was compiling all the information for these films, I was struck by how many of the directors of these movies wrote their own screenplays. I believe we have entered the second age of the cinema auteur and I believe this observation supports that theory.

This would also explain why my list is so long this year. As I usually do, I originally placed these films in order from my favorite to my least favorite of… well… all the movies I gave four stars to this year, which always seemed like a strange practice because I think they’re all great. I realized this as I started to write about Get Out and noticed it had somehow fallen all the way back to number 9 on the list. I moved it back up to the top three, because somehow the top three are my top three, but really none of the films on this list are really in any particular order because they are all incredible movies. I don’t think I ever felt the movies I honored on this list each year were all on such equal ground before.

Here are my favorite films of 2017:

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Black Panther / **** (PG-13)

T’Challa/Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman
Erik Killmonger: Michael B. Jordan
Nakia: Lupita Nyong’o
Okoye: Danai Gurira
Shuri: Letitia Wright
Everett K. Ross: Martin Freeman
W’Kabi: Daniel Kaluuya
M’Baku: Winston Duke
N’Jobu: Sterling K. Brown
Ramonda: Angela Bassett
Zuri: Forest Whitaker
Ulysses Klaue: Andy Serkis

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Ryan Coogler. Written by Coogler & Joe Robert Cole. Based on the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Running time: 134 min. Rated PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture).

You’re going to read a great deal about the box office of Black Panther. You’re going to read many quotes from critics calling Black Panther “ground breaking.” You’re going to read that Black Panther is the best comic book movie ever made. For most people, none of this will really matter. For most people, Black Panther will just be a good time at the movies. It accomplishes this with a predominantly black cast in an international story that includes only two white supporting characters. That right there is the biggest reason why all of the previous things I listed are true. However, what is most remarkable about Black Panther is that all of those things said about it would also be true even if most people didn’t go to see it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The 15:17 to Paris / *½ (PG-13)

Spencer: Spencer Stone
Anthony: Anthony Sadler
Alek: Alek Skarlatos
Ayoub: Ray Corosani
Joyce: Judy Greer
Heidi: Jenna Fischer
Spencer (11-14): William Jennings
Alek (11-14): Bryce Gheisar
Anthony (11-14): Paul-Mikél Williams

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Dorothy Blyskal. Based on the book by Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone and Jeffery E. Stern. Running time: 94 min. Rated PG-13 (on appeal for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language).

The 15:17 to Paris, Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort, is a film of our times. The world has become violent. Terrorist attacks are becoming so common that we are teaching our children how to live in a world rife with them. We look for examples of how to survive them. More importantly, we look for examples to follow to inspire us to be better in the face of evil. Eastwood has found those examples in Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler. The first two service men, all three lifelong childhood friends who helped to thwart a planned terrorist attack on the Thalys train line from Amsterdam to Paris. There is no doubt that these three men are heroes. This, however, is not the movie they deserve. Nor is it the movie we deserve from their example.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Sam Shepard (1943-2017)

My first knowledge of Sam Shepard came while watching Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” (1983), in which he portrayed Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier and then some. Yeager was a hero of my father’s, who was a Marine Corps. fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. Despite the fact that the film was about much more than Yeager’s accomplishments and another American hero and fellow Marine, John Glenn, was also depicted, the movie was all Yeager for my father and I. As such, he became a hero of mine and in many ways so did the actor who portrayed him, who did so in such a cool, matter-of-fact manner that he may well have also informed the actor I would eventually come to be.
I really knew little else of Shepard upon entering my acting training at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. Within days of meeting people who would become my peers for the next four years of my life, the name Sam Shepard kept coming up around me. Apparently, I looked like and even exhibited mannerisms of a playwright and actor named Sam Shepard. I’m not even sure if I realized it was the same actor who portrayed Yeager at that point, although since my obsession with films was already underway, I probably did. But I had to pretend that I already knew that he was also a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. As such, he probably also influenced me to become a writer as well.
Words like “stoic” were being used about him in reference to me. An accomplished upperclassman looked at me and said, “You’re so fucking aloof.” But there was no derision in his words. It was a compliment of uniqueness, which most certainly could’ve been said about Shepard in his professional life. His early career was ensconced in the New York music and theater scene, quietly hanging in the background and co-writing songs with the likes of Bob Dylan and John Cale, even playing drums for the group Holy Modal Rounders, who once opened for the progressive rock group Pink Floyd.
I heard the comparisons, but I couldn’t really see Shepard in myself, looks or otherwise, until mere weeks into my student tenure when I found myself in one of the top floors of the Hofstra library high-rise immersed in Shepard’s pen. I read them all in a way I had never consumed plays before. “Buried Child”, “A Lie of the Mind,” and “True West” became not just potential productions, but something that connected with me on a more visceral level. The way Shepard lived and spoke in his matter-of-fact, almost classical western way, but explored the extremes of drug culture and somewhat psychedelic themes in his plays and his life was very much where I found myself at that time. That Christmas I asked for every Shepard collection and tome I knew of. His memoir “Motel Chronicles” could’ve been an alternate life of mine, at least in an oddly messed up romantic sense.
I still didn’t see the look that everyone else was seeing though, until I found a picture of him at 16 wearing a trench coat that looked eerily similar to a Canadian Air Force trench I wore during my last couple of years of high school. It was like seeing yourself in a picture that was taken years before your birth. We were definitely doppelgängers as young adults. I’m not sure I’ve aged as gracefully as he did. I certainly don’t have his hair.
I was lucky enough to weasel my way into the lead of a student production of “Fool For Love” at too young an age due to some unfortunate back problems of an upperclassman. Sorry, Jason, but in so many ways it seemed meant to be. I think I was able to channel Shepard pretty well if not fully understanding the maturity of his themes. I was never threatening enough in the role, but damn, I did look like him. I also played Doc in two different productions of “Crimes of the Heart”, the same part played by Shepard in the 1986 film.
Later, another actor I knew from Hofstra was lucky enough to meet Shepard at a NYC coffee shop. Shepard forgave him the rights to a production of “True West” he had directed when my colleague confessed that he had yet to pay for them. He informed me of the location of the coffee shop where Shepard was a regular. I took the cue to meet the man myself in what might’ve been the ultimate meeting of stoics. I told him it was an honor to meet him and he said, “Likewise,” which I don’t imagine it really was for him, and that was about all that was said. I like that it went down like that, though.
After college, the comparisons disappeared, but my connection to his work remained. I sought out the films of his I’d missed, like Terrence Malik’s “Days of Heaven” (1978) and “Paris, Texas” (1984), for which he wrote the screenplay. I even revisited film’s I hadn’t really thought of as his work, like “Baby Boom” (1987). Any time he showed up in a new movie, I was eager to see it—great films like “Black Hawk Down” (2001) and “Mud” (2012), and even terrible ones, like “Stealth” (2005). I ate up his own directorial efforts, “Far North” (1988) and “Silent Tongue” (1993), and more recent screenplays, such as Wim Wenders’ “Don’t Come Knocking” (2005). I loved seeing him in the first season of Netflix’s “Bloodline” (2015-2017). Probably more so than his performances, I enjoyed seeing him be himself in the documentaries “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction” and his nastier side in “Shepard & Dark”, both from 2012.

--> It seems we’re losing those psychedelic cowboys that refashioned the American western mythology into something much more complicated than a John Wayne film. First Dennis Hopper, now Shepard. Clint Eastwood, Kris Kristofferson, Stanton and Dylan are still with us, but when they go, there will be a huge hole left in the folklore of American entertainment. I feel like a part of me has died with this celebrity death, and it isn’t just because I looked like him a long time ago.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Favorite Music of 2016

20 Favorite Albums of ‘16

In all my years of music obsession I don’t think I’ve ever immersed myself in music so much as I did in 2016. I’ve never listened to so many different albums and so many different artists. The year was dominated with soundtracks for me, but thanks to some new Spotify features, I was introduced to many more bands than I had ever been before.

My year end music lists are usually dominated by early year releases. For some reason the first half of most years just seem to be filled with albums that hit me harder than the albums released later. I also tend to get much more listening time for the year’s early releases than I do for the late year ones. But this year was different. After Sturgill Simpson’s amazing not-really-country ode to his son “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth”, I figured nothing could surpass it in my mind. Then a few months later Car Seat Headrest hit me despite their questionable name. That one held my top spot for quite some time; then the new Leonard Cohen blew me off my feet, released like Bowie’s early year masterpiece, just before his death. Then A Tribe Called Quest’s triumphant return floored me, and then no one expected Run the Jewels to jump their 2017 release date the day before Christmas. The hits just kept on coming until the very end.

Anyway, the best I could whittle the list down to was 20, and there were still so many great albums I had to leave off the list. Here they are: