Previously on FTCH, Tom Sawyer was a detective and the Bunnymen were under a killing moon. There was a witch, bad blood, and an acceptable surrender. The highlight of the week was being able to see the recitals for the students that Dee has taught the past year. She’s a talented dancer and I love when I can see her passing her passion for it down to the next generation. This week we have all the great couples – Steve and Ali, Gene and Jezebel, and Willem and Robert. There are crackers, candy, and Columbo. Remember at FTCH, readers check in but they don’t check out.
Pop Culture Ephemera
- Stephen King – Billy Summers (2021) (Scribner): “Billy likes people, and he likes to keep them at arms’ length. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not.” What if Stephen King is our best current Crime Novel writer? Maybe we need to reassess the Horror moniker that we always put next to his name. Since the Bill Hodges Trilogy, his best work has been of the Crime genre. This story flexes his muscle by telling the subgenre “One Last Job” story. The book has two definitive halves of an assassin committing one last murder. The halves are linked by a constant story of Billy’s backstory including what becomes a secondary war story set in Iraq. The first half draws credible parallels to 11/22/63 as Billy blends into a small town while he waits to do the last job. It might feel like the book doesn’t quite get moving until it is a couple hundred pages in, but that’s a poor reading of the style of this genre. We need to see what is lost as Billy’s life returns to vengeance mode. The biggest change of King’s writing in the past decade as he writes more Crime Fiction is that his endings are much more satisfying. This book is really rewarding for a 500-page crime story. No horror (except for a nice recall of The Shining) but great characters.
- Columbo – “Try and Catch Me” (S.7 E.1) (1977): The seventh season starts with a wonderful mystery with Ruth Gordon taking a turn as Abigail Mitchell (wink wink Agatha Christie) who murders her nephew-in-law in a very Edgar Allan Poe way. Gordon is playing off her movie persona, especially that from Harold and Maude. The series took some interesting turns at the start of the sixth season (not coincidentally after Peter Falk starred in Murder By Death) where the series established some new tropes including more closed room endings a la Agatha Christie. The past few episodes, we’ve been led to develop a sympathy for the killer and watch Columbo match wits when both of them know the other knows about the murder. The other new trope over the past couple seasons is Columbo asking questions to a key person in a very loud environment where he has to shout. In a nice twist, it is multiple other characters who say Columbo’s “And just one more thing” line in this episode. Mariette Hartley has a great role as a stone cold assistant to Abi. This episode is really a standout because of the different emotions felt by the viewer. Ruth Gordon is a charming personality and while she is a killer, there is some doubt as to the role the nephew may have played in the death of her niece. Those little ambiguities make this one of my favorite episodes in a couple seasons.
- Gene Loves Jezebel – “The Motion of Love” (1987) (from The House of Dolls): “Hey listen, treasure / You know I’m waiting for you.” Another group playing Cruel World in a couple weeks. This is music that I only like on the periphery. This single and “Desire” are the only ones that still ring a bell. Jimmy Iovine put a bit too pop touch to the guitars. It worked for radio play but took away the Goth feel that some songs by this band had on earlier albums. It’s a guilty pleasure today and takes me back to my college years. This was what was playing at parties I attended in Ann Arbor in 1987 and 1988. Not sure I’ll go out of my way to see them at the festival but then again that voice is like a siren song.
- The Getaway (1972) (Directed by Sam Peckinpah): “You can’t trust a thing nowadays.” – Doc. Starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, with music score by Quincy Jones and direction by Sam Peckinpah, this is another example of a crime film in the “One Last Job” subgenre. Out of prison on parole (for dubious actions by his wife), Doc agrees to do one more job. Of course, as happens with last jobs, he is double crossed. The rest of the film is a noir-ish race through Texas that becomes equal parts chasing the money (a fun genre unto itself) and being chased (always make sure that dead is dead). Peckinpah has expanded his influences and the train chase has some nice Hitchcock touches. The “last job” genre hasn’t changed much from what I read in Billy Summers, written 50 years later. The lead character isn’t a good guy. The double cross comes from the top where they expect the lead character to have been killed and they are surprised when he isn’t. This film can be accused of not having much happen but that’s a misreading of the genre. McQueen is at his most McQueen here (leaving out the most misogynist scene that doesn’t play well in 2022) and he is not asking for redemption.
- The Lighthouse (2019) (Directed by Robert Eggers): “How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Where are we? Help me to recollect” – Thomas. Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas (Willem Dafoe) arrive on a New England island with a lighthouse in the 1890s to start the film. It’s clear that this will be a short trip to the end of sanity from the very start before there is any dialog. The black and white film is gloomy even at the best day and the storms are coming for the last half of the film. Much like The Witch, this film is allegory piled upon allegory as there are themes of sexuality, religion, loneliness, and tradition. Pattinson is wonderful in his role of the younger of the two men. They don’t like each other and moments when they seem to be coming together is just driving a wedge further between them. The film is shockingly shot in 4:3 ratio that gives it an even older feel and moves the sides in to give it more of a claustrophobic feel. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to thinking that Herman Melville wrote a screenplay. We need more directors with style and vision to do their own thing like Eggers.
Best of the Rest
- Imagine that you are invited to Whitby Abbey on May 26th to help set the record for “largest gathering of people dressed as vampires. I have a few questions. I understand that this is the 125th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s Dracula so I’m good with the “why”. It’s the rest of the scenario that throws me. I even understand trying to steal the record from Kings Dominion (a Virginia amusement park). I’m tickled that it’s at a monastery in northern England where Stoker once vacationed. The thought of Bram in cargo shorts, hanging out by a pond, and having a glass of beer is worthy of a story itself. I’m more curious about the note that you can’t cosplay as a vampire but that you have to dress as a traditional vampire. You can’t dress as Bela Lugosi but you should dress as the character that Bela Lugosi was portraying in the movie. Bottom line – wear black, all black, like everything black, yes even that should be black. And fangs. See you there.
- “We can book a show on the moon but my band ain’t playing no EDM.” I’m only semi-familiar with Anderson .Paak but I won’t complain if this is the jam of Summer 2022. Props to Budweiser for picking a serious groove.
- In the Peanuts strips, Schulz would address Peppermint Patty’s home life only tangentially. You knew that she was being raised without a mother and that her father traveled quite a bit. There was also Woodstock’s consistent longing to find his mother. These threads come together in a new Peanuts special, To Mom (and Dad) with Love (May 6) (Apple TV+) that addresses that families come in all shapes and sizes. There are going to be people critical of this as “not the Peanuts I grew up with.” And that’s a shame because that opinion is a misreading of the themes and subtext of the strips. Peppermint Patty’s competitive streak is born out of her familial relationships and how she is finding her identity in a confusing world.
Sunday Morning Tuneage Flashback
- On the Sunday Morning Tuneage of 12/2/2006, a 40-degree day and we were going to finally put up the tree. The kids had been sick the previous week and we had been binge watching Gilligan’s Island Season One. I was digging Scrubs and Friday Night Lights. There were a ton of Christmas-related shows coming across the television. This was one of the better ones that I didn’t watch then.
- Mythbusters: Holiday Special (S.4 E.27) In a break from the norm, Jamie and Adam aren’t trying to disprove a myth. They spend the episode building a 35-piece Goldberg machine that’s fun but a bit of a time waste. There’s a silly piece on if you can kill yourself with a frozen turkey. The only interesting test is how to make it so your tree loses the least amount of needles. It turns out that hairspray is one of the best methods. In fact, all but fertilizer are better than straight water. I appreciate their themed episodes but this one didn’t pack much punch.
Flash From The Past
What the Hell Did I Put In My Mouth?
Post Honey Bunches of Oats: Vanilla
“Now More Vanilla Flavor” is what the box touts. By “more” I think they mean “just more than zero.” There are granola bunches and flakes but vanilla is only about the 15th flavor I might have guessed. It’s too bad; this is a good cereal for fruit like bananas or strawberries. But as a standalone this just doesn’t cut it.
Kellogg’s Club Crisps: Sweet & Salty
The steady Club cracker has been around for my whole memory and longer. It’s a dependable buttery cracker. Not outstanding but a decent member of a crackers and cheese plate. It took me almost the whole bag to warm up to the savory taste that followed the initial buttery taste. And the “crisp” isn’t even much of a crisp. Another effort to improve upon a product that no one seemed to be calling for improvement.
M&M’s Munchums: Milk Chocolate / Salted Caramel
Did anyone really ask for a lower calorie M&M? Think of these as the Baked Lays equivalent to Regular Lays. First, let’s throw out the Salted Caramel. It isn’t worth a review. The Milk Chocolate is a decent product. But you can see those little balls don’t resemble M&M’s in any way. It’s a crunchy little dull colored ball of chocolate with a shell of chickpeas. It’s not a bad snack but it doesn’t even have a taste of a regular M&M. It makes me question what the essence is that makes an M&M an M&M. With 40% less sugar, you can debate it while chomping on these candies.
“I just want to kiss, just want to kiss
Your lips, your lips
I want to kiss, I want to kiss
Just a bit like this, oh yes” – Gene Loves Jezebel