Winter is no longer coming, but is here, and with a vengeance. I woke up to temperatures in the teens this morning. Oklahoma always has wonky weather. We get broiling hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter and the wind always blows.
Which makes it perfect for staying inside and enjoying some cool pop culture, so here’s five cool things I consumed this week.
John Denver & the Muppets – A Christmas Together
In 1979, John Denver joined the Muppets for a Christmas special on ABC. As far as I can tell, it only aired once and has never been released on home video. The soundtrack to the special has been released in numerous formats and it is that which I love.
My parents bought it on vinyl when I was a kid and we used to wear it out during the month of December. The album is filled with traditional (and not so traditional) Christmas carols where John Denver earnestly sings and the Muppets do their goofy best. It’s terrifically fun.
I bought the album on CD back when my wife and I were dating. It has become tradition in our family to make it the first Christmas album we play for the season and we do so while we are decorating the tree.
While I always remember the fun songs, I seem to always forget how many Denver-led ballads there are. I used to hate them as a kid, and honestly, some of them do drag a bit even as an adult, but there is a sweetness to them befitting the holiday. My favorite is now a rendition of “Silent Night”, which is first sung in its original German followed by Denver telling the story of how the song was written. It is then sung in English with the children in the audience joining in. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.
I love this album and the memories it has brought me over the years.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Amazon has a nice collection of James Bond movies to stream and after browsing through them I landed on the only one George Lazenby ever starred in. (And his first role in a film ever!)
It’s really quite good. After a few of the more outrageous Bond flicks, it’s nice to see them getting back to some basics. Bond actually does a little spying and the use of gadgets is at a minimum. Of course. the plot is still ridiculous.
Bond is once again set against Blofeld (this time played by Telly Savalas) who is living atop a Swiss mountain with a bevy of beauties. Bond infiltrates the resort pretending to be a genealogist investigating whether or not Blofeld is in fact a count. After some investigations (and much sleeping around with the beauties), he discovers Blofeld has created a potion that will stop any animal or plant to stop reproducing. He’s going to use the beauties (whom he is mind controlling through subliminal messaging while they sleep) to spread the potion across the globe unless a big ransom is given up.
Or something. It’s all really silly which is fun but kind of weird in what is actually a pretty serious Bond outing. The action sequences are both really good and a bit headache inducing. They are a lot of quick edits and I think there are times when a few seconds are cut out mid-take giving it a weird jumpy feeling. But they are staged well and feel very exciting.
It also has one of the most tender endings in a Bond movie ever, which I won’t spoil but finds me feeling real emotion for a character who has always been so cool. All in all, one of the best Bonds I’ve seen (you can read our full review of the film).
Wilco – Being There: Deluxe Edition
Wilco is quite possibly my favorite band ever. They consistently make absurdly great records and they are one of the best live bands around. Their second album, Being There, is arguably their best (and seriously, their discography is so crazy good that I argue with myself about this regularly).
The band has just released a five disk Deluxe Edition of the album (it was a double album to begin with so that’s three new disks) full of leftovers and alt-cuts plus a full live show from 1995. I’m still digging into it, but it’s a bundle of goodness.
Akira Kurosawa was inspired by western cinema especially the films of John Ford. For Yojimbo, he was inspired by another type of American film: the noir. There is a key scene in that film that is plays like a direct homage to the Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake flick The Glass Key. That movie was based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett and much of the plot of Yojimbo seems directly lifted from another Hammett novel Red Harvest. Yojimbo itself inspired numerous American films and practically invented the “Man with No Name” genre. Sergio Leonne used it as the basis of his film A Fistful of Dollars (and was subsequently sued by Kurosawa as Leonne didn’t bother to secure the rights).
No matter its inspiration or what it inspired, Yojimbo is a great film. Toshiro Mifune plays an unnamed samurai who wanders into a town plagued by rival, warring gansters. He skillfully plays both sides until nearly the entire town is drowned in its own blood. Kurosawa keeps the tone light and it is one of his most humorous films. Yet there is an undercurrent of seriousness to it. Late in the film, we see how Mifune’s ronin understands that things are changing in Japan, that the time of samurai has passed and his life has lost meaning. There is another scene in which the camera sweeps through the half-destroyed town, streets littered with corpses, and we glimpse the great horror of such violence. But mostly, Kurosawa works his magic creating a great film that is such fun to watch.
Though I read books in a wide variety of genres, my favorite type to read is that of the crime genre, or more specifically the detective novel. If I’m really getting into it, I’d drill down and say what I truly love is the classic noir novel. I’m a bit of a snob about it as I don’t really care for the easy-to-read, throw-away paperback stuff you might find at your local Wal-Mart or airport book shop. When it comes to crime novels, I want only the good stuff.
My heroes are the classics of the genre: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. I’ve recently discovered Jim Thompson and thanks to a library sale, picked up a bundle of his books for just a few bucks.
Pop. 1280 is told in the first person from the mouth of a small town sheriff. At first, he seems jovial enough, if a bit dumb, but as the book progresses, we find that this is just a mask he wears to hide an intelligent, calculating sociopath. He’s fooling everyone in his life, including the reader, at least for a time. Thompson is using this device to both entertain and to comment on some of our greatest social sins, including class warfare and racism. As such, it can throw you a little bit as what the narrator says doesn’t always match with what Jim Thompson means.
It’s a crazy, wild ride of a novel with lots of interesting things to say once you dig a little deeper.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The trailer for the sequel to Jurassic World (and the fifth in the Jurassic franchise) just dropped. It looks ridiculously dumb in the best kind of way. I maintain that Jurassic Park is a great film, but the sequels have not held up well at all. Still, nothing says summer (it opens next July) like rampaging CGI dinosaurs.