Five Cool Things and an Early Spring

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but once again sickness found its way into the Brewster house this week. I really think it was the remnants of the previous week’s nastiness, but my daughter spent the weekend with a low fever and I spent most of the week feeling completely and utterly exhausted. I was in bed by 9:30 every night like I’ve turned into my parents.

Still, some cool things came around and here’s five of them.

Grateful Dead: May 1977: Get Shown the Light

Barton Hall, Ithaca, NY, May 8, 1977. Those words mean a great deal to Grateful Dead fans. In various polls, that show has been consistently rated as the very best show the Dead ever performed. Those results are, of course, hotly contested for what’s a fan-based poll good for it not to make everybody argues over its merits? Legendary Deadhead and keeper of the vaults until his death Dick Latvala once proclaimed that not only was 5/8/77 not the greatest Dead show of all time, but that it wasn’t even the best show from May of 1977.

How that show, above so many others, became so often proclaimed the best is an interesting story. You can read all about it over at Relix, but the gist is that back in the mid-’80s high-quality soundboard tapes of the Dead’s concerts were not readily available. Through a fascinating turn of events, a few shows started making it into tape-trading circles. One of which was the Barton Hall show. It is a tremendous recording and the band were at the top of their game in May of 1977 so those tapes spread far and wide. giving it a reputation that lasts until this day.

Unfortunately, the band that made that music didn’t own the master tapes and so they were never able to officially release this most famous of shows. Until now. Deals have been struck and the Barton Hall show now resides in the Grateful Dead vaults and is being released alongside two other absolutely brilliant shows from the same run. I’ve owned these shows for ages but I’m super excited to see them finally get an official release.

Alien: Covenant – Prologue: Last Supper

Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien is one of my all-time favorite films. It’s a masterful bit of science fiction and horror that’s only gotten better with age. James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, made seven years later, doesn’t have nearly the depth of the original (and suffer’s from Cameron’s usual clunky dialog) but it’s a great little action flick. The two subsequent sequels have their merits but are not particularly good, and let’s not even get started with the Alien vs. Predator nonsense.

In 2012, Scott returned with Prometheus, a sort-of prequel that was ambitious and beautifully shot but a bit of a mess. So if we discount the Alien vs Predator series (which I have no desire to see), then that makes two out of five films in the franchise that are actually good. Yet here I am finding myself increasingly excited about Alien: Covenant. I can’t help myself; the series has such potential, and with the right script, I just know Ridley Scott can do amazing things.

They just released this prologue, which doesn’t really convince me of anything but is interesting enough. It doesn’t do much more than introduce our characters and call back to a couple of moments in the original film, but just seeing a similar dining room on a space ship makes me very happy.

Dark Passage

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall met, and fell in love while making To Have and Have Not. They made three other films together (The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo). Dark Passage is the least of those films but it’s still pretty good. It comes with an interesting trick, though one that grows increasingly tiresome as the film moves on. Bogart plays Vincent Parry, who wrongly convicted of killing his wife, escaped from San Quentin and tries to find out who the real murderer is. The escape makes continual headlines, putting his face on all the front pages, so about half way through the film, Vincent decides to get a face lift. The trick is that up until that moment the camera never shows Vincent’s face (with the exception of those newspaper shots).

It’s almost entirely shot through Vincent’s point of view, which is initially clever but after awhile, begins to feel clunky and wear’s thin after about 20 minutes. By the 60-minute mark, I was screaming at the TV to give it a rest. Luckily, it is not long after Vincent’s gotten his facelift that from the bandages appears Bogart’s iconic mug.

Other than the rather exhausting trick-camera work, it’s a pretty decent bit of film noir. The story doesn’t go anywhere you don’t expect it to, but both Bacall and Bogart do wonders with the material, and it’s always a joy to watch them on screen together.

The Nice Guys

Shane Black became one of the highest paid writer’s in Hollywood in the ’80s and ’90s penning a collection of wise-cracking buddy cop films such as Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. In 2013, he became one of the most sough after director’s after helming Iron Man 3 to much success. With The Nice Guys, he’s gone back to his roots and created a really entertaining crime adventure.

Set in Los Angeles in 1977, The Nice Guys stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as two private detectives trying to solve the murder of a porn star. The plot thickens quickly and the banter never lets up. It’s a retro-fitted modern take on the wise-cracking buddy cop films Shane has always done well. Definitely recommended.

Deadwood Opening Scene

Whatever this is I’ve had all week peaked last night to the point that I really thought it had finally transitioned into the flu. In order to not keep my wife up all night alongside me, I decided to sleep on the couch. To keep myself company, I started watching Deadwood for about the fourth time.

Show creator David Milch initially pitched HBO on doing a show about the beginning of the Roman civilization. When he was informed that they were already doing a show called Rome, Milch quickly reset his show to Deadwood, South Dakota in the late 1800s. Well, it wasn’t really South Dakota then, but Indian territory and thus not part of the United States at all. It might have stayed that way except they discovered gold in the Black Hills and a little community started up around the mining.

Deadwood is, at its heart, about how a society forms. It’s an incredibly show with some big ideas and a large cast of characters. Watching the pilot again, I found myself getting excited every time a new face appeared remembering just how wonderful each of their stories are. The pilot episode’s opening sequence is a great example of just how well the series knew from the beginning what it wanted to do. It begins in Montana where Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphan), a Federal Marshall spends his last night on the job watching over a convicted horse thief before he’s set to be hanged. The owner of the stolen horse comes to the jail liquored up with a mob of folks ready to lynch the thief in question. What unfolds perfectly sets up who Bullock is as a character. He’s a man of deep principle who believes in law and order and cannot be bribed or persuaded to let mob rule. Yet he’s quick to anger and his inability to bend against his principles will almost certainly cause him trouble down the road. It certainly does as the series progresses. It’s such a great series and now that I’ve started it I’ll surely be spending my nights binging through all three seasons yet again.

An Early Spring

It’s been an incredibly mild winter here in Oklahoma. We’ve had multiple 70-degree days over the past week. It’s been so warm our trees have decided it’s already Spring and have started to bud out and bloom. No doubt, this will all change on us quickly and we’ll probably get a 10-inch snow come March, but for now I’m really enjoying the beauty of fresh flowers and lots of green things.

Mat Brewster

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