Posts Tagged ‘movies’

The Best of 2012

I thought I’d wade back into the blogosphere by doing a bit of reflection. It’s the end of the year, dammit, and if everyone else gets to post their “best of” lists, then so do I! Well, maybe this isn’t a straight-up Best Of 2012 list, for (as you’ll see) there are things old & new on this list. It’s more of a list of things I experienced & liked, or as I like to call it, a List of a Few Favorite Things — 2012.


I’m regressing in my musical tastes as of late: I’ve been connecting to older music from decades past. I’ve spent a lot of time filling up my iPod with classics from blues, rock, jazz and, yes, funk and soul (I love good funk/soul music, XM Radio’s Soul Town channel is on heavy airplay in the house). I had a great time re-discovering artists like Ike & Tina Turner, The Temptation, The Kinks, Otis Redding, Smoky Robinson, T Bone Walker, Big Joe turner, and many more. This is beyond hits, it’s been historical research. These cats have all done some very interesting work, stuff you don’t hear on the “classic” radio stations, it’s just fascinating to hear their evolutions from early “greenhorn” years, to chart-topping hitmakers, to uninspiring has-beens, back to Senior Statesmen of Music as their best works withstand the test of time.

By far, my favorite “old time” re-discovery this year has been blues artist Jimmy Reed. Holy cow, this cat is good! I’m a big lover of blues music, it easily takes up the bulk of my iPod storage. But I actually never heard of this guy before, just saw his name on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame listing. So I grabbed a couple of his CDs from my favorite used record store, and gave them a listen, and was blown away. His stuff is crisp, fun, rollicking, and so innovative for a guy from the 50’s-60’s. I put about 25 of his best songs on my iPod, more than all but a few of the artists on my (humbly) eclectic list.

Jimmy Reed

As far as new music goes, well, I’m not the best judge. Yes, I do listen to XM Radio’s Sirius XMU and Alt Nation channels, both of which play new music. But although I like those channels and the music they play very much, no artists have really connected with me from those channels this year. I think the modern age of music has issues, chief among those being the difficulty to make that explicit connection with an artist (unless you’re a teenage girl jonesing for One Direction or something). There’s just too many choices, too much backscatter, and too much focus on that iTune/YouTube hit.

Here is how I connect with music: live shows. I’ve always been a huge fan of live music, in my youth I went to dozens and dozens of shows including some of the larger festivals. Nowadays, I don’t do the Big Show thing anymore, but I love a little place called the Main Pub. The owner of this downtown corner bar does a tremendous job bringing in small, independent, eclectic acts and letting them do their “thang”. This ain’t your dad’s Lynyrd Skynnard cover band, this is ground-level innovation at it’s finest. This is how to see live music: intimate little clubs, favorite beverage in hand, chatting with friends & strangers, and letting the band just rock the joint. Occasionally it doesn’t work, but the Main Pub has a damned good track record. I can only recall two shows that didn’t have something to offer in all the years I’ve been going.

This year, my favorite Main Pub act has got to be Love in Stockholm. They played there earlier this year, and I grabbed a couple of their CDs at the show. It’s in heavy rotation in the car, in the house, and in the earbuds. This is a band that combines great songwriting, strong lead vocals, fun-loving instrumentals, all set to a post-modern funk beat complete with horn section. They even manage to craft a song with the word “Massachusetts” (“Alston“, one of my favorite LiS tracks, give it a listen).

Love in Stockholm


There were quite a few movies I liked this year. “Skyfall” was a rollicking adventure, riveting with actual character development quite surprising for a Bond movie. Barbara Broccoli, Daniel Craig, and a collage of talented screenwriters & directors have resurrected the franchise, tossing aside the goofy, formulaic bullshit of the Pierce Brosnan era and replacing it with something far more visceral and crafty. “Argo” was a surprisingly good historic drama piece concerning the Iranian hostage crisis era (an event that strongly affected me — I was 13 and very impressionable at the time). I’m not a big Ben Affleck fan, but I feel he’s come back around to his indie roots (and away from shit like “Armageddon” and “Daredevil”), and that suits him well. “Ted” was a funny-as-shit (literally, in one case) comedy by the creator of Family Guy. “The Avengers” was my chance to regress into my childhood: it was the comic book I read as a kid, and Joss Whedon positively nailed it. I am also compelled to give a special shout-out to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” for being the movie to see when one has the absolute shittiest day at work and all you want to do is watch something goofy, campy, involving some dude swinging an axe & decapitating vampires. 🙂

Sadly, I also found myself wasting valuable cinema time on crap. “The Master”, a tale of mockery loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard and the early years of his cult, was just a sloppy, pointless mess of a film. “Total Recall” was a remake not worth making. How could anyone top the high-body-count glory that is the original? “Prometheus” was a prequel that came across like a contract commitment rather than a labor of love like the original “Alien”. By far, the worst one of the year, however, was “The Hunger Games” or, as I like to call it “The Film of the Screenplay of the Teenage Wangsty Fanfiction for the Highly Derivative Novel by an Untalented Marketing Major”. God I hated that movie! It’s on my bottom 10 movies of all time now. I relate it to hitting a skunk with your car: no matter how much you wash, you just can’t get the stink out!

But here’s my favorite film of the year: “Lincoln“. I love historical dramas, and this one wasn’t as much of a “drama” as a “highly well-crafted recreation”. The script is terrific, the set pieces are fantastic, but the performances are absolutely outstanding. It’s not just Daniel Day Lewis, either, it’s the entire cast. This was absolutely my favorite film this year, I strongly advise seeing it before it leaves theaters.


I didn’t meet my reading goals at all this year. I have got to step it up (more on that later). I did get through a couple of lackluster books on FDR and the French & Indian War. But I did read one incredibly gripping tale this year, one I reviewed here earlier: Midnight Rising. What a fantastic book: historical non-fiction told in a narrative, but genuine, style, that kept me reading and looking for more. This should be the next film project of The American Film Company (makers of the excellent “The Conspirator”). It has a great cast of characters, a good chunk of action, and great set pieces. It would make a great film.


This year, the best thing I did was disconnect cable TV. Went to a Hulu/Netflix/digital antenna model. Know what? I barely miss it. TV is just such crap nowadays. Before the Big Disconnect I tried (I really tried!) to get into current hits like The Walking Dead and Doctor Who, and found I just couldn’t get into them. Dead turned into Melrose Place with zombies, and (I’m sure I’ll get hate mail for this) Doctor Who is so jerky in plot, writing, filming, & acting I’m surprised it hasn’t been pulled from the airwaves for causing epileptic seizures. I’ve just lost interest in it after David Tenant’s fabulous turn as the Doctor.

I did get into a couple of things this year. I watched the entire re-imaging of Battlestar Galactica and enjoyed it immensely. I also heavily enjoyed Game of Thrones. What a fabulous series that is! Makes me almost want to start reading fantasy fiction again (I overdosed on it a couple of decades ago, wallowing in lousy Book of the Month club picks until my brain shouted at me to stop).

Current Events

I won’t go into Everything Politics, for I have a tendency to get on my soapbox straddling my high horse and no one wants that. But I have to shout out with glee that big money failed to elect their toadies. I consider it very heartwarming that personal fortunes and corporate funding resulting from the horrible Citizens United campaign finance decision failed to elect either Mitt Romney and Linda McMahon. Sure, you can hate Obama if you want (I’m not the biggest fan, believe me), but the day that big money can simply buy elections will be a horribly sad day for our country. Citizens United needs to be repealed. Only we the people should have the right to set our destiny, not the checkbooks of faceless conglomerates.

Personal Life

I managed to do a few cool things this year. I renovated my kitchen (laying tile is backbreaking work, I tell ya). I went to New York Comic-Con (a sloppy, overcrowded mess, but I did meet a lot of talented artists & bought way too much cool shit). I managed to eek out a trip to Cape Cod (where I badly sprained my ankle & used it as an excuse to get fat & lazy over the summer). I caught an interesting production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at the Hartford Stage. I learned to appreciate sake. I hung out with my good friends and had far too many arguments about guns, religion, the Republicans, and Guns ‘n Roses. But by far the best thing I did this year was go through a career change. I won’t go through the details, but my last job literally sucked the joy out of my life. I held onto it for about four years, and it was the worst experience in my professional career. It was just something I was not psychologically qualified to do. The good part is I met some really cool people while doing it, people I hope to keep in my life for a very long time, but the work itself was just not compatible with my personality type. It turned me into a monster, and I’m glad to be done with it.

Hopefully next year will see me back on track. I hope to finish my home renovations and get back to traveling this nation’s national park sites. I hope to read more. I hope to blog more. I hope to live more, and I hope you do to. Get out there and do something you love, whatever it is, and have yourself a happy new year and a great 2013.

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G, A, F, (octave lower) F, C? B flat, C, A flat, (octave lower) A flat, E flat!!

In 1977, I was twelve years old, smack-dab right in the middle of the target audience for a blockbuster movie. A movie about two people whose mundane lives are interrupted by visitations from extraterrestrial beings and the government conspiracy to cover it up. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a huge experience for me back then. Mega-huge!!! I was all over those ads with the bright light at the end of the deserted highway. “Close encounters of the first kind: visual sighting. Close encounters of the second kind: physical evidence. Close encounters of the third kind: CONTACT!”.

Close Encounters Poster © 1977 Columbia Pictures

Oof, cue the chills down the spine! The posters, the collectible cards, all that sweet, sweet geeky goodness. Ambrosia! It’s almost as if Steven Spielberg woke up one morning and said “Hmmm, I think I’ll write a movie that’ll appeal to that scrawny kid with the Coke-bottle glasses from Western Massachusetts.”  I was all over that film like stink on roadkill. A couple of years later, we were one of the first houses in town to get cable TV, and my dad bought all the pay channels. I watched Close Encounters 18 times in one month, and was damned proud of myself for it!

You can be damned sure that visiting Devils Tower (no apostrophe, contrary to popular belief) was high on my list of must-see sites in the National Park Service. And when I rounded that corner of State Highway 14 and saw that great monolith sticking out of the low eastern Wyoming hills, I was as giddy as a 12-year-old boy in a movie line the night of the big premier (after months of soaking in shameless & targetted Hollywood promotion). I’m actually glad I was alone, I could just revel in the giddiness without apologizing to anyone. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it was a pure geek fantasy come to life, and I was enjoying every rapturous moment of it!!

Tower and Clouds © 2009 America In Context

Devils Tower is truly a wonder to behold, even if you’re not into movies. It’s an enourmous volcanic extrusion that not only towers above the surrounding countryside but seems so alien to that landscape. It looks like it doesn’t belong, it’s like those Sesame Street clips: “one of these things is not like the other ones…” It’s almost as if those extraterrestrials placed it here millions of years ago as a signpost: “Gateway to the Stars — Free Anal Probes to the First 10,000 customers.”

A Shadow Passes © 2009 America In ContextIt’s easy to see how mankind has marvelled at it since the Bering Land Bridge first allowed humans to cross into North America. It’s held special significance to Native Americans for hundreds of years. The Cheyenne, the Arapaho, the Lakota Sioux, the Eastern Shoshone, and many other plains tribes revered the spot, and gave it names such as “Bear’s Lodge”, “Tree Rock”, and “Mythic Owl Mountain”. To this day, their descendants return to Bear Lodge for ceremonies and to tie prayer offerings to the trees.

Later, when European settlers and their descendents crisscrossed the west looking for furs, or gold, or a path to the Pacific, they gave it the dramatic name “Devils Tower”, and eventually the greatest environmental president, Teddy Roosevelt, signed the law protecting it as America’s first National Monument. How could you not?? To this day, I have yet to see a natural wonder of such singular, unique stature in the United States.

rock-scrambleNowadays, people think of Devils Tower and think of Spielberg’s film, and I guess that’s OK too. A nation’s culture is defined by its arts, and in America’s case, our arts is really defined by our films. So I’m cool with the fact that this great wonder of nature has been immortalized by a blockbuster movie and not by the simple fact that it’s so fascinating.

Of course, some people can’t separate film from reality: when I came back to tell folks of my visit, a lot of people asked “did you see any aliens when you were there?” Um, well, no, that was a movie. But I did dream up a sequel to Close Encounters called Close Encounters: The Return, wherein the extraterrestrials come back to Earth and return Richard Dreyfuss. “Please, take him back. His liberal politics and sappy, pedantic movies are ruining our culture!”

I don’t see that appealing to any 12-year-old kids.

Departure © 2009 America In Context

[All photos, except the Close Encouters poster, are mine and thusly copyrighted. Please do not use without my permission. More of my Devils Tower pics are here.]



Devils Tower National Monument

Close Encounters of the Third Kind on IMDB

Lakota Archives: Bear Mountain

Google map to Devils Tower

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I meant to post this immediately after my Denali posts, but forgot. Life kinda gets in the way of blogging, ya know? Anyway, Grizzly Man is a film, by noted director Werner Herzog, about Timothy Treadwell, a surfer-turned-actor-turned-grizzly activist who decided to spend several summers living amongst bears in Alaska, to “bring awareness to their plight”.

Grizzly Man

This recommendation dovetails not only into Denali, but also into my Chiricahua post. That post was about man’s stupidity (specifically my own stupidity) in the face of nature. That post and this film tell a valuable story: nature is not to be trifled with. It doesn’t care who you are, or what you do, or how “in tune” you think you are with it: when nature needs you to be food, you will become food, regardless of how high-minded you think you are or how many trees you hug.

So here’s the spoiler: Treadwell eventually gets eaten. Well, it’s not that big of a spoiler really, it’s pretty much said right up front this story is a tragedy. What makes this film so compelling is you see what’s coming, the ending is so patently obvious, yet Treadwell plods right along to that ending, making bad decision after bad decision, all leading up to a certain, gruesome fate. I won’t spoil it any more, it does have to be seen to be believed.

Some watch Grizzly Man and feel sadness for a poor, kindhearted soul who only wanted to do the best for the poor bears and paid the ultimate price. I see this as the story of an egotistical idiot who, like Steve Irwin, though nature was his playground, mealticket, and the means to inflate his own arrogant self-worth. In his case, like Irwin’s, nature turned its mighty claw and gave him a swipe.

Just to remind him, and us, who’s boss, I suppose.

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