Five Cool Things and Gillian Welch's All the Good Times Are Past and Gone

Some of the cool things from this past week.
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Hamilton

I finally got to see the show everyone has been talking about for five years.  When Hamilton first became a sensation on Broadway, it seemed like everyone was talking about it.  All my podcasts and entertainment critic Twitter friends were raving about the show and it was some sort of rite of passage for them to see it live.  My real-life friends all seemed to have been listening to the original cast album.  I listened to the first few songs through YouTube and while I liked it, I could never listen to the whole thing (it is 2 1/2 hours in length and I sometimes can't make it that far into a Grateful Dead bootleg, and I'm a hardcore fan of that band). 

Thomas Kail recorded the show in its initial Broadway run over a few nights.  He asked the players to do another run without an audience so he could get some close-ups, then he edited it together to create this film of the live musical.  It was initially planned for a theatrical run but due to most theaters remaining closed during the pandemic, Disney+ released it to their subscribers.

I can add to the many fans and say it is really quite good.  I love that Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken this story of a rather forgotten Founding Father and cast it full of people of color.  Then made it a musical full of rap, jazz, soul, and a wonderful blend of traditionally black music. 

I don't imagine I'll ever watch it again.  I am not a lyrics guy.  There are songs that I've loved for decades and if put on the spot, I couldn't tell you a single lyric from them.  That's just the way my mind works.  I listen to music not the lyrics.  A musical that is nothing but music without any traditionally spoken roles means you have to pay attention to the lyrics.  Numerous times, I found myself drifting away and then forcing myself to pay attention to the lyrics.  They are often very clever lyrics, but for a guy like me, it is hard to stay that focused. It isn't particularly cinematic.  It doesn't do anything a typical taping of a live musical does.  So as a film, it is perhaps a bit lacking.  But again as a musical performance, it is quite a thing to enjoy.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

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Several years ago, some online retailer or another was selling a new boxed set of all the Halloween movies on Blu-ray for like $40 or something.  All of my friends were talking about how great a deal that was and I got swept up in their excitement and ordered it. At that time, I'd only seen the original Halloween from 1978 so this was almost completely a blind buy for me.  As it turns out, the deal was too good as the retailer pretty quickly realized they were selling the set at a price way too low for them to turn a profit.  They sent out an e-mail apologizing for their error whilst also rescinding all orders but offering us a 10-percent discount for the trouble.  That was that and I moved on.

It wasn't until last October that I finally watched any of the Halloween sequels, that being Halloween II.  Though that one didn't live up to the original, I quite liked it.  In one of those random movie-watching moments, I decided to watch Halloween III: Season of the Witch last Friday.  I liked that one too and wound up binge-watching the entire franchise (save for the Rob Zombie remakes and the 2017 reboot) over the long 4th of July weekend.  Most of them, I regret to say, are not good so I'll only be talking about two of them this week. 

After the enormous success of Halloween (1978), a sequel was inevitable. John Carpenter wasn't really into the idea but he agreed to write and produce Halloween II, yet refused to direct. Later, he seems to have regretted having anything at all to do with it.

When a second sequel was proposed, Carpenter once again pushed back against the idea but ultimately agreed as long as the character of Michael Myers wasn't involved. He believed that there could be an interesting set of films based around the Halloween holiday that would work well as an anthology series, but was done with the original characters.

He got his wish and Halloween III: Season of the Witch was born. It did poorly at the box office (actually it made money, just not as much as the previous two films did) and initially, fans and critics alike didn't like it. Everybody wanted Michael Myers back. They got their wish a few years later with Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers.

Halloween III has become a cult favorite and I finally caught up with it this weekend. It is a bit cheesy (ok, it is a whole lot of 1980s cheese), the acting is a bit stiff, and the ending is a bit silly, but it also really works.   With no Michael Myers or Laurie Strode or Dr. Loomis to be found, this one has to create an entirely new story. It involves witches, robot monsters, and Halloween masters that turn little kids' faces into bug and snake-infested pumpkins.

Our two heroes (played Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin) aren't very good actors and don't have a lot of chemistry together, but they get the job done. It all concludes with some pretty 1980s cheeseball effects. But it delivers a mood that is creepy and effective. I really wish they had moved further with this anthology idea. There are so many interesting ways it could have gone using Halloween as a basis for good horror storytellings. But alas next we get more Michael Myers and from what I've seen that is rarely a good thing.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch bombed. Michael Myers was apparently the reason everyone went to see these films and the idea that a Halloween film could exist without the masked killer bummed everyone out.  So the next film returned with Michael Myers, in fact it is called The Return of Michael Myers just in case anyone was in doubt.  In a lot of ways, it feels like a soft reboot.  Mike is back, as is Dr. Loomis.  Laurie Strode is gone but her heretofore unknown daughter takes her place. It's basically the same film as Halloween but amped up a few notches.  It isn't a great film, but it works well enough. Each sequel seems to follow the same course of action and they get consecutively dumber.  Late in the game, they tried to add in some mythology, they even throw in some kind of goofy Michael Myers cult, but none of it remotely works.

As the title implies Halloween H20: 20 Years Later both take place on and were released on the twentieth anniversary of the first film. I think I just lied to you a few paragraphs up. I had actually seen one of the Halloween sequels before watching Halloween II last year.  I caught Halloween H20 in theaters when it first came out.  I had watched the original film just a year or two prior and decided it didn't matter that I hadn't watched any of the other sequels, this one looked like fun.

Two years prior to Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Wes Craven's Scream hit the theaters. I adored that movie. It felt so fresh and new. Naturally, all sorts of copycats came out of the woodwork.   So I came to this film with no knowledge of the franchise save for the original and expectations for it to be something like Scream. That is to say, I wanted it to play with horror conventions, be self-aware, and yet remain true to its roots and deliver genuine scares.

I walked away very disappointed.  It wasn't like Scream at all.  It was much more of a straight-ahead slasher at a time when that felt like a genre that should have died a horrible death.  Watching it all these years later, with most of the sequels under my belt, I found I liked it quite a lot.

This film basically does away with all the sequels save the first one. Jamie Lee Curtis is back as Laurie Strode, a survivor. She's now living in California as a headmistress of a posh, private, secluded school with her teenaged son (Josh Hartnett in his first film role, not as bad as I remembered). She's also an alcoholic and a pill popper, barely making it through the day to day. Which does bring up the question of how she got the job in the first place.

Michael raids the home of Doctor Loomis' nurse (and we get a loving tribute of the good Donald Pleasence in picture form) for info on Laurie. Apparently there were papers saying she moved to California for some reason even though she faked her death. If you remember Halloween 4, then you'll remember it had Laurie dying in a car crash which this film seems to retcon which then doesn't make the sequels entirely removed. But then did the events of those films happen? If so, why doesn't Laurie seem to know anything about Michael Myers killing so many more people? Or having a daughter? I guess maybe the death by car accident is the only thing leftover. Or something. Trying to put all the pieces of these films together is impossible.

Michael drives from Illinois to California, killing a few people along the way then he starts killing everybody in the school. Luckily, most of them are away on a field trip. Yada, yada, yada, a showdown with Michael and Laurie. She chops his head off. The end. Right? The sequel will crap all over that idea, but we won't be discussing that.

I do like that much like the most recent Halloween (2018) film, this one focuses on Laurie's trauma. So often horror films fail to deal with the aftermath of the horror they've put their heroes through. Laurie is tough but fragile. She's strong but broken. People keep telling her to move on but trauma lingers. I dig that.

The sections with the teens fill like filler. We don't learn much about any of them except for the son and they are killed off unspectacularly. But Jamie Lee is great and that's enough.

America as Seen by a Frenchman

america as seen by a frenchman arrow academy.jpgIn the late 1950s, French director François Reichenbach toured the United States with his camera.  Then he created this lovely little documentary about it.  It gives a fascinating look at what my country looked and felt like during this time period.  That it is being told by a foreigner makes it all the more interesting.  You can read my full review here.

The Train

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Burt Lancaster stars in this World War II film from director John Frankenheimer.  Towards the end of the war, German Colonel Franz von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) loads up a whole bunch of stolen art from all the French Masters onto a train to take it across the border to Germany where he hopes it will be safe.  Lancaster is a French train conductor who has been tasked by the Resistance to make sure those art pieces never make it to Germany.

Honestly, I found the plot a little confusing because the trains keep moving from place to place but it always seems to wind up at the same French village.  But it doesn't matter as Frankenheimer keeps a tight leash on the tension and the two stars' performances are top-notch.  Shot in glorious black and white, it looks fantastic too. 

Gillian Welch - All the Good Times Are Past and Gone

gillian welch - all the good times are past and gone.jpgFolk singer Gillian Welch does not release an album of new music very often.  In her 24-year career as a recording artist, she's released a total of six albums (nine, if you count the albums she recorded under her partner David Rawlings monicker).  Fantastic she is, prolific she is not.  Which is why it was quite a surprise to get an e-mail yesterday that she has dropped a new album, All the Good Times Are Past and Gone, this week. 

Apparently while she and Dave have been under quarantine due to Covid19, they decided to record a bunch of cover songs.  The liner notes state that most of them were finished in one take, with the rest needing a couple of tries to get right.  As such, the album feels like a back porch recording.  There isn't much production value and everything isn't perfect but it is really lovely.  Those two have always sounded at home with one another and there is a beautiful coziness to this record. 

You can find links to various ways to stream the new record on her website.

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