Pop Culture Ephemera
- Kicking and Screaming (1995) (Directed by Noah Baumbach): ” I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday.” – Max. You might recall that I watched Reality Bites (1994) recently and while that represented a very specific place and time experience of Gen X post-college graduation. This film shares that timeframe in common but the experience feels more timeless. Films in the ’90s talked more. Today, talking like this is limited to Wes Anderson, newer Noah Baumbach-directed films, and art films by A24. Baumbach’s directing debut might have him too close to the subject for any objectivity, but the dialog is spot on. He’s establishing tropes that he’ll explore in future films like the writer using their real life experiences for stories, broken family lives and Europe as a spiritual escape. These friends hanging around the campus after college graduation aren’t the slackers of other films of this era. These are intelligent people who are introspective and looking for meaning in their lives. This film is an observation of the pause in their lives, but you have no doubt that they will have moved on to better things in the next five years.
- Mayans M.C. – “My Eyes Filled and Then Closed on the Last of Childhood Tears” (S.5 E.6) (FX) (2023): In the hands of director Alison Anders, this show has the depth of emotion that it is too often missing. Reacting to things that happen is too often used as a replacement of thoughtful emotional response. This episode has quiet moments where the world seems big and the people feel small. E.Z. and Angel have different reactions to the anniversary of the death of their mother. Most of the major characters are at emotional crossroads here. They aren’t happy or sad as much as self aware. This is exactly the type of episode that is going to propel the mayhem of the final four episodes. I don’t expect many of these folks to get out alive.
- America – “Muskrat Love” (1973) (from Hat Trick): “‘Honey, would you please be my missus?’ / And she says yes with her kisses”. For much of my youth, “Muskrat Love” was symbolic of a joke title of a song. Thanks to the Captain & Tennille version of the song, it became synonymous with treacle sweet rock. This is far from the truth when you listen to this America version of the song. The harmonies and instrumentation (especially that keyboard) gives me the vibe that this could be a Beatles’ cover song. There’s a funny version on the Muppets where when Kermit sings “nibblin’ on bacon” that Miss Piggy stops the song with a “What did you say?” and karate chops him. Polarizing at best but this version is in the win column for me.
- Margot at the Wedding (2007) (Directed by Noah Baumbach): “Stop picking on me.” – Margot. The premise is simple. Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her son, Claude (Zane Pais), are going to Long Island to visit her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as she prepares to marry Malcolm (Jack Black). There isn’t a direct line here to Kicking and Screaming (1995) but the characters could easily have existed in parallel. Margot is a writer who pulls from family events for her writing. Baumbach populates his films with complicated family relationships that like in real life affect the current behaviors but aren’t directly discussed. We sense why Margot and Pauline have been estranged but we never get to the heart of it. In Kicking and Screaming (1995), sexuality was always at the surface in the college atmosphere. Here, sexuality drives so many behaviors but with the threat of punishment at every time a character gives into desire. Baumbach’s ear for dialog is still among the best in the Industry. He smartly lets Jack Black be funny in his serious role. Critics will want to compare this to a Woody Allen film but the roots of this film are with Eric Rohmer and Ingmar Bergman. Woody might have set a film on Long Island but he was also channeling Northern European directors.
- Frances Ha (2012) (Directed by Noah Baumbach): “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.” – Frances. Director Baumbach’s tribute to French New Wave films should have received more praise. Greta Gerwig as Frances is impossible to take your eyes off of which is impressive for a character that doesn’t have a “real” job, a home, a plan, a romantic partner, or even a full name as her postal box cuts her last name to “Ha”. Filmed in and around New York City with lots of dialog, it’s easy to see the Woody Allen comparisons. That ignores the Truffaut, Chabrol, and Godard references throughout the film. The location shots, the constant movement of characters around the set, the quick edits, and self-aware dialog put this film squarely in that French scene. Greta Gerwig is who anchors it in this century. Her running around NYC to find an ATM when the restaurant won’t take her card could be right at home in a Truffaut film. The film manages to cover similar ground to Kicking and Screaming (1995) with a larger time since Noah was in that age and the results are less funny but more insightful. This is the best of this week’s trilogy.
Best of the Rest
- From 7-Up (1964) to 63-Up (2019), we’ve watched Nicholas Hitchon grow from a cute young schoolboy to a professor at the University of Wisconsin. His passing recently feels like losing a friend that you are able to only catch up with every seven years. Nicholas was a rural youngster who might be among the most successful of the group as far as how far he came from his upbringing. Just another reason to revisit this series.
- The original version of “Muskrat Love” is “Muskrat Candlelight” by Willis Alan Ramsey. There’s some lo-fi charm to this version that exists on almost an early ’70s country border. I could see this having an alt.country life if it hadn’t gone pop.
- The Best Clean, Pants Down. If you are going to promote a product called Dude Wipes, you are going to have to have a pretty good sense of humor about your wipes. The jingle is straight outta chewing gum or deodorant ads of 20 years ago. And I’m still humming it . . .
Sunday Morning Tuneage Flashback
- On the Sunday Morning Tuneage of 3/23/2008, I was just back from the rainiest week ever in Missouri with the family where we got lots of cabin time. My 79th Favorite Movie of All-Time was The Silence of the Lambs (1991). That felt high at the time but upon reflection I think it’s accurate for what the film has meant to the next generation of thrillers and crime films. Director Jonathan Demme knew just how to use the Hannibal character for maximum effect without it being too much. Baseball season was just getting started this week and American Idol was starting to wind down. I made a list that was not as informed as I feel about the director now.
- BEST AKIRA KUROSAWA FILMS OF ALL-TIME (March 2008)
- 10. Sanjuro (1962)
- 9. Stray Dog (1949): Kurosawa dips into the Noir genre.
- 8. High & Low (1963)
- 7. Ikiru (1952): I have come to view this as Kurosawa’s thoughtful take on Capra films.
- 6. Red Beard (1965): The final team up with Mifune is worthy.
- 5. Kagemusha (1980): Lucky enough to have seen this on the big screen growing up.
- 4. Yojimbo (1961): Inspired partially by Shane (1953).
- 3. Ran (1985): The source material of King Lear is brought to another level.
- 2. Rashomon (1950): His first huge hit on an International level.
- 1. The Seven Samurai (1954): Defines the term “epic” on every level.
- BEST AKIRA KUROSAWA FILMS OF ALL-TIME (September 2023)
- 10. The Bad Sleep Well (1960): It’s a bit of Hamlet and lots of family and corporate intrigue.
- 9. High & Low (1963): This perfect little morality play shows off another level of Mifune’s talent under Kurosawa’s eye.
- 8. Dersu Uzala (1975): A late career film has Kurosawa at some of his most introspective about human relationships.
- 7. Hidden Fortress (1958): A major influence for Lucas on Star Wars (1977) and shows off Kurosawa’s beautiful camera moves.
- 6. Kagemusha (1980): Some of the most beautiful battle scenes ever filmed.
- 5. Throne of Blood (1956): This has really grown on me recently. It’s Macbeth but the feudal Japan setting gives it even more juice.
- 4. Ran (1985): Some very slow moments in the middle of the film make this slightly flawed and not a good introduction to the director. I like it better now than I did upon my first viewing.
- 3. Rashomon (1950): Still his most influential film as far as copied technique of the unreliable narrator.
- 2. The Seven Samurai (1954): Still an enjoyable watch. It’s a lesson in letting the story unfold at its own pace.
- 1. Yojimbo (1961): Kurosawa, Mifune, and the Western traditions come together in perfection.
- BEST AKIRA KUROSAWA FILMS OF ALL-TIME (March 2008)
1973 in Review
- September – Avengers #115 (Marvel). Written by Steve Englehart. Art by William Robert Brown. The long drawn-out search for their comrade, The Black Knight, continues into England.
- September 1 – George Foreman retains his World Heavyweight title by defeating Jose Roman in two minutes of the 1st Round.
- September 17 – Tom Osborne is in as head coach at Nebraska. Despite beating UCLA in his first outing, pundits are worried that he’s too young and inexperienced to coach at Nebraska.
What the Hell Did I Put in My Mouth?
Count Chocula (2023)
The first sign that fall is really upon us is the appearance of this year’s Monster Cereals. First up for me is (as usual) the old dependable. My preference is for the white box that really makes the monster pop out. The design isn’t bad but the Count has a nice manicure and the tooth and tongue placement both feel odd. Taste is perfect as usual. It’s just simply the most perfect chocolate cereal ever.
Doritos: Late Night – Loaded Taco
The Late Night brand has had Cheeseburger and Tacos at Midnight flavors over the past decade. I don’t remember if Tacos at Midnight tasted like these but they are definitely different than your run of the mill Doritos Taco flavor. This is definitely a Taco Bell, fast food hard shell taco. The taco-seasoning vibe on the chips is overwhelming. There is a hint of the rest of the toppings that might “load” up a taco but it’s still mostly a seasoned-beef flavor. I’m not waiting until late night to finish this bag.
Funyuns: Spicy Queso
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Funyun other than saying the name. This new Spicy Queso version might make me a convert. There’s not a ton of heat to them and the onion ring and cheese combination goes really well with beer and football games.
“And now he’s ticklin’ her fancy
Rubbin’ her ties
muzzle to muzzle now
as they wiggle
and Sue starts to giggle” – Willis Alan Ramsey