Sad Futures, Serious Saints, Funny Sinners

Sad Futures, Serious Saints, Funny Sinners


“Black Mirror” s. 4 (Charlie Brooker) How amazing and prescient is this show??? “USS Callister” takes on “Star Trek” gate-keeping and Gamergate genderism, and turns it all into a fun, heart-breaking, tense adventure that is probably the best covert tribute to Gene Rodenberry’s vision of a humanist future imaginable. / “Arkangel.” We can’t save our children from living life- we just give them the tools so they can’t blame us when they inevitably screw things up. / “Crocodile” A fairly standard bleak morality tale of things getting worse and worse, but all we can glean from it is that it is best to leave the past in the past, instead of dredging stuff up. Yeah, forgive and forget is not something people are good at. / “Hang the DJ”- An all-happy Black Mirror?!? This tale of true love resonated and broke my heart./ “Metalhead”- “Duel” meets “The Terminator” meets “Cujo” in black and white. / “Black Museum”- where it all comes together! Favorites: “Callister” and “Hang the DJ”. Least favorite: “Crocodile,” which was fine, but surprisingly predictable by “Black Mirror: standards (5).

whathappened“What Happened to Monday?” (Tommy Wirkola). Like a “Black Mirror” episode that never was. Noomi Rapace black-orphans her way through a dystopia where siblings are not allowed… but she has six! One of those thrillers where the future is entirely centered on whatever the one premise is- starts fine, devolves fast. Rapace is fantastic though, reminds me of Sigourney Weaver in her ability to combine model-like elegance and ass-kicking athleticism. With Willem Dafoe as a finger-cutting Grandfather and Glenn Close as the Power-Mad Female Politician TM. (3)

fallout“Fallout 3” (Bethesda) Want to experience the apocalypse with minimal radioactive exposure? This expansive, grim-looking classic from 2007 is very similar to the Bioshock aesthetic, but almost excruciatingly realistic, which matters when you realize you’ve picked up an excess of cool items and their cumbersome weight makes you a sitting duck. (5)


y1“Y: The Last Man” (Brian K. Vaughn) (Re-read) Such a classic, so well paced. After all the animals with a Y chromosome suddenly die, only escape artist Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand survive. The reasons why this is so are not immediately, if ever, clear, but the aftermath allows Yorick to say things like: “I thought when all men died, women would hold hands at the UN! Since when did women get to so petty and POWER-HUNGRY?” To which his mother replies: “Didn’t you vote for Hilary?” Yorick: “Point.” (this in 2002.) (5)


The second arc, “Cycles” ties motorcycles, menstrual cycles, and Yorick’s stay at a blissful community of ex-prisoners. Brian K. Vaughn does impressive writerly hoops to make us forget how unrealistic it is for Yorick, who is such an immature brat, to NOT take some advantage of the situation sexually… or for any of the heterosexual women around him to take advantage of HIM. (5)

y3“One Small Step” brings a TWIST: two astronauts, (well, one astronaut and one cosmonaut) survived in a Soyuz spacecraft! Will they land safely on Earth and ruin the comic book’s name? (5)













“Safeword” is kinky good,  and perfectly addresses the nagging problem: “Oh come on, he’s the last man on Earth, someone let him get laid already”!(5) (this covers up to #26)



louis ck

Speaking of famous self-pleasers! “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” This is one of the first web-shows of quality, originating in, of all places, Crackle. Its limited length allowed for Jerry Seinfeld to have inexpensive, amusing little encounters with fellow celebrities, not always of the comic variety. Think Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” but with an inoffensive, people-pleasing vibe to it. Note that the Louis C. K. episode was initially tastefully excluded- then re-added last month, perhaps after Netflix realized that if potentially offensive comedians were wiped from existence, we might be left under the totalitarian tyranny of Jim Gaffigan. And no one wants to know what’s in HIS Hot Pockets. (4)

“St. Francis of Assissi” (G. K. Chesterton). Not everyone can be a saint- unless you lived between the years 900 1,400 A.D., during which pretty much every other Pope was canonized as a given, and the popularly elected saints numbered over 10,000- meaning every other European village had a local pious miracle worker. By contrast, the last thousand years have seen a meager 7 popes become “saints,” and the number of Mother Teresas among us is not impressive. (The logical reason: the Saints were typically those who had died as Martyrs during the Roman persecution of Christianity. Once Christianity got the upper hand in history, they, er, took over over the role of persecutors.)

In recent years, Popes have gotten back into the canonization biz, with John Paul II canonizing almost 500 peeps in two decades- consider that only 300 had been canonized in THE PREVIOUS SIX HUNDRED YEARS of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict, not to be beat by his predecessor, also went in a “You’re a saint! And you’re a saint! Everybody is a saint!” spree.  No reason to get excited: the world has not gotten suddenly saintlier. A bulk of that number merely consists on sainting up historical Christian heroes in bulk, such as the “Martyrs of Otranto,” the men of an Italian town who, in 1480, was besieged by an Ottoman Army. The siege took over 12,000 lives overall. Over 813 of the survivors were given the magnanimous option to convert to Islam. They refused, at which point the scimitars went to work overtime on the ungrateful Christian necks. The slaughter at Otranto  so outraged both Italians and Spaniards that it inspired a renewed, successful push against the Ottoman invaders. So I suppose anyone who dared wonder why Jesus had failed his flock could rationalize it by deciding it happened for the larger good of Christendom.


They don’t celebrate Halloween in Italy, but if you’re visiting the old country during October and crave a creepy display, stop by the Church of Otranto, where the 800 skulls watch over the altar.


In any case, the average modern person can consider themselves devout if they can name four or five saints: St. John the Baptist who was beheaded? St. Peter the Apostle, who was crucified upside down? St. Catherine of the Wheel, who died, (funny coincidence) on a Catherine Wheel? Still, most Westerners are somewhat aware of St. Francis of Assisi, the leper-kissing, tree-hugging, bird-baptizing Italian proto-hippie. (He is the patron saint of ecology. How progressive!)


G. K. Chesterton’s wonderful, opinionated, smug biography charts Francis’ emotional growth, telling it all with unquestioning devotion, and with weak history that is full of bizarre biographical ellipses (“Francis then suffered from the illness that would hamper his dreams.” And the illness is? Fever, stumped toe, gonorrhea? Diagnosis is avoided, and one suspects Chesterton simply either doesn’t know, or is too ashamed to tell.) Non-believers and non-Catholic Christians alike will love the flowing style and passionate erudition that Chesterton displays, but cringe at his overbearing religious zeal. If the creator of “Father Brown” ever had doubts about faith, they’re not conveyed here: he, like Peter, holds the keys to the truth when it comes to putting Catholics far above the misguided Protestants, the heretic Islamists, and especially over his “honest atheist” friends, who may mean well but are blinded by their “scientism.” The DIShonest atheists fare worse than all other creeds. (4)


“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” (Neil deGrasse Tyson). One of the more prominent purveyors of what Chesterton called “Scientism,” Tyson gives us a new brief history of time… Or attempts to anyway. Truth be told, it feels a lot more like a hurried cash-in,  collecting old essays from Natural History Magazine. I don’t feel any smarter after reading it, given that a lot of this material can already be found verbatim in “Death by Black Hole,” which I recommend instead (3).





Magnetic Detectives

Magnetic Detectives


“The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club” (Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey #4) Lord Peter Wimsey stumbles upon the corpse of an old foggy who has, improbably, died of perfectly natural causes on his chair at the Bellona Club. OR HAS HE? (Spoiler: The second Sayers I’ve read where we are meant to dislike anybody who makes any claims on behalf of science.) (5)

“The Red Thumb Mark” (Austin R. Freeman, Doctor Thorndyke #1) Sayers just mentioned this medico-legal detective, hero of a long saga. In Thorndyke’s debut, a mysterious thumbprint points the way to an innocent man./ “The Eye of Osiris” (Austin R. Freeman, Doctor Thorndyke #2) An Egyptian amulet can help determine the time of death. (4)


“The Enigmatic Mr. Barelli” (Bob de Moor) Barelli is an actor, a master of disguise, a detective- and given to pratfalls. Essentially a more mature Tintin, (that magazine published his adventures.) De Moor is close to Herge in the “ligne claire” pantheon, and seamlessly collaborated with the master in Tintin. (4)





apaleview“A Pale View of Hills” (Kazuo Ishiguro) Maybe I want my Nobel prizes to rise above pedestrian declaratory sentences? At first glance I thought Ishiguro’s first novel was pretty damn meh. And yet it stuck with me, as I thought about the disputable ambiguities of the narration. Reading interviews with Ishiguro, he himself will admit he didn’t quite pull off the desired effect. It’s clear Etsuko is lying about a number of things, and Sashiko and Mariko are either entirely imaginary or real people upon whom she’s projecting her own story. Less clear is whether Ishiguro was going for a larger tale of how Japan, in an attempt to become Westernized, killed off a part of its “Japanishness”- or how much of that is Ishiguro’s own tale, told through the imaginary Etsuko. Better as a discussion topic than as a novel. (4)

TaylorSwiftAlbumDeluxeTaylor Swift (Self-Titled Debut). Just a small town girl in a lonely world, her endless adoration for a pretty boy with a pick-up, and her endless contempt when he disappoints. Classics: “Teardrops in my Guitar,” “Tim McGraw,” “Our Song”, “Picture to Burn”. (5)

holiday“Holiday” (The Magnetic Fields). “On the Ferris Wheel, looking out on Coney Island/ Under more stars than there are prostitutes in Thailand.” “The Magnetic Fields” in a couplet: Romance and cynicism going at each other.  This stuff has always appealed to me, but I mostly avoided the Stephin Merrit catalog until now because his mega-albums sounded like threats. “10,000 Ballad Chronicles,” etc?! Yikes! But the lo-fi carnival of his writing beckons. “Desert Island,””Take Ectsasy with Me,” “Strange Powers.” (5)

The Magnetic Fields: “The Charm of the Highway Strip.” If Holiday had a “get away from it all” theme, here Stephin Merritt takes to the pleasures of the road. A lite concept-album./ “Get Lost.” Lots of songs about the moon! Does Merrit stick to images or what? (4)

parks and rec 4

“Parks and Recreation” (Season 4 re-watch) Pawnee stride and pride! Leslie Knope and her gang of lovable government miscreants keep wasting tax-payer’s money in a good 2012 season that is marred by some chemistry free liaisons. No one is writing fan fics about Amy “Not Tina Fey” Poehler and Adam “Are We Having Fun Yet” Scott, or about Azis “Bad Dater” Anzari and Rashida “Quincy’s Daughter” Jones. We’ll always have Aubrey “Deadpan April” Plaza and Chris “I Went to the Gym and Now I’m an A-Lister” Pratt.  (4)

wilwheaton“Will Wheaton’s Table Top” (From the Geek and Sundry channel on YouTube). Love to learn about games I don’t get a chance to play, but the awkward nerd humor grates; I can do awkward and nerdy with my own peeps. (3)


campus“Campus Notes: Forget Me Not.” Visual Novel about a Japanese University that is best interpreted as a long Orientation class. (3)




Armored-Warrior-Iris-Free-Download“Armored Warrior Iris”. Another slow-paced eroge ordeal, but the visual novel genre interests me so much that I endure. Here, a robot-suited girl fights bad guys- and they defend themselves in naughty ways. (3)








“In a Valley of Violence” (Ti West). Delightful Western pastiche, “Hateful Eight” on a budget. Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, Burn Gorman, Karen Gillan, Toby Huss, John Travolta. (4)


“Super Dark Times” (Kevin Phillips) Pre-Columbine tales of a handful of 90’s teenagers, one katana, and a million mistakes. But it doesn’t get as good as the dead deer on scene 1. (4)


“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales.” (Joachim Ronneng,Esper Sandberg, POTC #5) As usual, garish special effects, a nonsensical myth-mixing plot, odd rock star cameos (this time, it’s Sir Paul McCartney) and Jack Sparrow in a fun bit with a rotating guillotine. There is an overwhelming sense of desperate replication, though, and the new leads (Effy from “Skins” and… some guy) are not quite Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.



Tales from Tel Aviv, and other matter

Tales from Tel Aviv, and other matter

Filmstruck does a great curatorial job for serious movie lovers. They currently host the Criterion collection but also provide TCM-like intros and supplemental material for other art-house films. They appreciate the way films can be strung together almost as much as I do, and I encourage those with the extra 9 or so monthly bucks to splurge on stuff that’s more nourishing than what can be found Netflix’s increasingly shrinking film selection. (No knock on Netflix, no blasphemy from me, but it’s just no place for Flix anymore.) I don’t know a lot about Israeli film but Filmstruck’s collection of stories set in Tel Aviv gave me a glimpse of a chaotic, troubled, charming city. These are all, be warned, decidedly low-key, low-budget movies by Hollywood standards. Best for the curious tourists of the global mind.


“Alila” (Amos Gitai) is a very Kiarostami movie, based on a novel by Yehoshua Kenaz’s and following the messy lives of a scattered cast of working-class oddballs. Engrossing and illuminating even if no character surfaces as particularly likable. (3) Similarly, “Jellyfish” follows the coincidental connections in the slicy lives of several women in Tel-Aviv. Directed by the wife-and-husband team of Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, this one is less emotionally detached than “Alila” and I would recommend it as a starting point. (4)


Arik Kaplun’s “Yana’s Friends” is a nice, breezy, romantic comedy against the background of the Gulf War. How many of those have you seen? (3) More campily cheerful is “Cupcakes,” by Eytan Fox. As sweet as the treat in the title. Five gals (+1 gayfriend) “accidentally” enter a “Eurovision” style song contest. If you’re not into people singing into their hairbrush and all that, this is not for you.(4)


Dana Igvy is part of an ensemble in “Cupcakes,” but she is fearless in “Or (My Treasure)” a tough, honest look at the symbiotic relationship between a mother consumed by prostitution and the daughter who continually tries to save her mother only to follow along same patterns. (5) Of all these movies, “Or” will stick with me the longest.



“Life is Strange: Before the Storm”. “Overwatched” a friend play through this game. Basically the same immersive mechanics, but by setting it up as a prequel (we know where the characters will wind-up) and by withdrawing the mystical element of time-travel, I felt some damage was done to the concept (as a purist). I am not, as a rule, fond of prequels. It’s still a powerful examination of teenage friendships. Emotion is the future of gaming. (4)

Christophe Chaboute is a master of bleak, black-and-white Walpurgis nightmares that are a thrill to succumb to. (4)


creep 2

Creepy too is “Creep 2”. Once again, the underrated multi-talented Mark Duplass shows his stretchy range in a very squirmy movie. “Creep 2” asks the important question: who’s creepier, the creep, or the person exploiting the creep?!? More importantly, in the current sexually fraught climate: can a woman out-creep a man? (4)

Ben Koepp

“The Big Sick” (Directed by Michael Showalter) Based on Kumail Nanjiani’s real life courtship. A little fakey, a little self-serving, warm and fuzzy and all, but I kept on thinking: “You’re a grown man. In America. Your big problem is that you can’t tell your parents that you’re dating an American woman?” Two hours on how Kumail stopped catering to his parent’s racism? Highly overrated. “Loving” this ain’t. (3)

Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Paggliaci”! Been sampling several recordings / performances. I suppose soon I’ll jump to do the same with “Cavalleria Rusticana.” Hopefully my Italian improves with each opera I tackle, at least as far as recognizing words goes. (5)

Kill, Hell, Water, Wind, River

Kill, Hell, Water, Wind, River


Taylor Sheridan is one of the most interesting creators out there. He began a remarkable streak with his script for 2015’s “Sicario.” Emily Blunt is our point-of-view in a gripping you-are-there story about the Juarez cartel that is equally beautiful and terrifying to look at. Josh Brolin is the beyond-jaded American link, and Benicio del Toro is the inscrutable guide to this vicarious trip through hell. The director (Denis Villeneuve) really has an eye for grand views, and his lens soaks in the Mexican panorama. This is a movie I will watch again soon (5).


“Hell or High Water” doesn’t have that kind of directorial mastery, but David Mackenzie does a fine job with Sheridan’s script about bank-robbing brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) who make a last stand in an economically devastated Texas, to a soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (4).


Sheridan’s own directorial debut, “Wind River,” is about a frozen reservation in Wyoming. There, a hunter (Jeremy Renner) and an FBI agent (Elizabeth “The Non-Twin” Olsen) team up to investigate the death of a young woman who is found in the snow. This dramatic thriller is as tense as a long walk on weak ice, and as chilling as crashing through: It ends on the note that no one collects statistics on missing Native American women. (4)


Kemco releases tonloads of simple, terrible, old-school RPGs that scratch some atavistic need for grinding like it’s 1993. “Aeon Avenger” is one such game I threw valuable Earth time on. (2)


On the other hand, I was very thrilled to spent casual gaming time on Devolver Digital’s “Reigns” and its feminist-minded sequel “Reigns: Her Majesty.” In these wonderfully simplex games, you must swipe left or right to make yes or no decisions while keeping a balance between pleasing the Church, the Army, the People, and your  Budget! It’s like Tinder for Kingdoms. (5)


The third season of “Broadchurch” makes up for a meandering second season that threatened to damage the show’s initial impact. Still, this is one of the best acted, most dramatically wrenching small town stories ever told. Olivia Colman and David Tennant is one of those buddy cop pairings for the ages. I’ll watch Tennant in anything, though, he was really the actor who sold on me on the “Doctor Who” concept. (4)


“Seven Deadly Sins” is just shonen done right; great animation, great story, lovable characters, and a gigantic woman with the accompanying gigantic breasts. (5)

“The Tales of Hoffmann”.  English version of Jacques Offenbach’s opera based on a trio of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s romantic, fantasmagoric tales about Olympia, Giulietta, and Antonia. The relative low-budget of any Powell/ Pressburger product may turn off the less amenable to opera and / or faded prints ( I saw the un-restored version) but one can only imagine what Powell and Pressburger could have done with MGM money. (5)


This lead me to re-reading a handful of Hoffmann’s tales (I don’t see any readily available, comprehensive, scholarly English translation of his complete works, which is a shame.) Loved “The Violin of Cremone,” which gives its subject matter to the “Antonia” segment in the Offenbach opera (and the above movie). Hoffmann is a real visionary of dark fantasy, (he invented “The Sandman,” darn it, and ballets like “Coppelia” and “The Nutcracker” keep him alive; Tchaikovsky based his perennial Christmas ballet on Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Neil Gaiman and Cirque du Soleil both owe a lot to Hoffman. (5)


voltaCirque du Soleil: Volta” (soundtrack). More (auto-) tuned in to the times than some of the previous CdS’s shows I’ve seen/ heard. By which I mean, it all sounds like Imagine Dragons. “Ants Dancing” (4)



wmc“2nd Chance” (Women’s Murder Club #2, James Patterson. Well, Andrew Gross, really) Entertaining enough. This time, the four ladies investigate what appears to be a hate-crime at a mostly-black Church. But is the mass shooter up to something else? (3)





“The Mystery of the Yellow Room” (Gaston Leroux). There is more to Leroux than “The Phantom of the Opera,” such as the Joseph Rouletabille detective series. Rouletabille is an 18 year old reporter with a pool ball shaped head and a Peter Parker-ish glee, who here solves one of the earliest, and best, locked room mysteries. (5)






Spirou and Fantasio are funnier than Tin Tin so there. In “The Heirs,” from 1954, Fantasio tries to fulfill the demands of a rich relative’s will by inventing a rotocopter, winning the Grand Prix, and capturing the famed Marsupilami in the South American country of Palombia. Marsupilami, with his spotted fur and his prehensile tail would, of course, become a fan favorite. In “The Marsupilami Thieves,” which picks up right after, the Marsupilami is stolen from a zoo and displayed on a circus, so Spirou and Fantasio must go behind the scenes to rescue the critter. (4)

Cubitus“Cubitus” (Dupa) A punning Belgian puppy that loses a lot of his surreal, aphoristic charm when translated to English, which he was in the ’80s, as “Wowser.” (4)







fito63Fito Paez, “Del 63”. The politically-tinged debut from the Argentine rock legend. “Del 63,” “Rumba del Piano,” “Cuervos en Casa.” (5)

raw“Raw” (Julia Ducornau). It’s a spoiler to say what kind of movie this is, but fine: the best recent coming of age, sister-bonding, body horror thriller. It’s Ducornau’s directorial debut, but she’s as assured and thematically fearless as the title threatens.  (5)










The Mysterious Howl of the Spider-Man

The Mysterious Howl of the Spider-Man


Here we have a series of web-slinging classics that offered no trigger warnings for those of us who suffer from arachnophobia. Unless, of course, the title counts as a warning.

“Spider-Man” (Sam Raimi, 2002) One of the first truly successful harbingers of the Superhero Era that we’re improbably still going through. (Technically, the second, after Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.”) Raimi loves slapstick even when it ruins a mood, but his visual wit compensates for a heavy-handed David Koepp script that rewards-and-punishes comic book fans by putting them again through every trite beat of the Stan Lee / Steve Ditko origin story with little variation. MVPs: J. K. Simmons as cigar-chomping J. Jonah Jameson, and Willem Dafoe as the rictus-faced Green Goblin. Of course, the all-time winners of the “Best Upside-Down-in-the-Rain Kiss” are Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.

spider kiss

The CGI in “Spider-Man 2,” from 2004, has not aged gracefully, but that doesn’t matter because all of the best moments are human. The flick does rely on call backs to the instantly iconic scenes of the original (upside-down kisses! Spidey as volunteer firefighter!) But it matches / improves the first with a goofy, innocent energy that is kept throughout. The fights with the well-armed Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) are fun and effective. Michael Chabon somehow contributed to script, most likely in some extraneous lines about T.S. Eliot being more complex than advanced physics. (At the time they were 5 and 5, now I feel like they’re 4 and 4)


“Spider-Man 3” is unquestionable the lesser of the original trilogy. Still enjoyable, but its separate threads take too long to weave themselves together. The non-Neil-Gaiman Sandman story-line could have been excised to the movie’s improvement. Mary Jane’s Broadway career shouldn’t be more emotionally interesting than the Green Goblin’s revenge. (3)

howl“Howl” (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010) It’s appalling that someone had to pretend in court that “angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night” wasn’t a terrific accumulation of words. James Franco may be replicating Allen Ginsberg’s mannerisms just fine. It’s young Ginsberg, before Tibet and fame. That doesn’t mean that Allen Ginsberg’s mannerisms at that period were engaging. The performance is so restrained as to be uninspired. But the court case doesn’t feel as urgent as it could have felt, and the animation that accompanies the poems doesn’t always rise up to the lyrical potential. (3)

The_Mystery_of_the_Blue_Train_First_Edition_Cover_1928“The Mystery of the Blue Train” (Agatha Christie). The Blue Train is not the Orient Express. It is one of the few Poirots that can be easily guessed, for instance, and this train runs through the Riviera, carrying a dead girl. Also, French swindlers and stolen jewels. This time around, Hercule Poirot’s sounding board is Katherine Grey, from St. Mary Mead, like Miss Marple. This was Christie’s own least liked, weak novel written before and after her “disappearance” period. (3)



coverface“Cover Her Face” ( P. D. James) Inspector Adam Dalglieh’s debut. James’ whodunits have relative psychological depth, and excel from a literary angle. However, she’s a damned Tory classist, and some of the snobbish British viewpoints annoy me: the victim is a “peccant delinquent”- a lower class woman who had the temerity to have pre-marital sex and become a single mother. (Still 5)



atypical“Atypical.” Pretending that autism is just a personality quirk is insulting to autistic people. By this show’s standard, autistic just means awkward at reading social cues. So, everybody at some point? The rest of the show is fine; I might change my mind with more viewings. (3)

the-carmichael-show“The Carmichael Show” (Brilliant but Cancelled but now with Netflix you can Always Watch Its 3 Seasons so It’s Fine) I love almost everything about this old-skool sitcom except Jerrod Carmichael’s acting. He’s limited in the ways Jerry Seinfeld was. But his show managed to tackle modern political conflicts within today’s middle class African-American family in a TV set-up that has felt creaky to audiences for 20 years, and it does so vibrantly. It’s funny! (4)

CraigFerguson_Netflix_ticklefight“Tickle Fight.” The new stand-up by Craig Ferguson, who has a dashing beard and is not all talking about Trump. (4)






juddapatow“Judd Apatow: The Return.” Judd Apatow’s stand-up is not top-tier, (he’s been away from the game too long) but it’s pleasant enough. He probably doesn’t need to name-drop as much as he does, and he definitely shouldn’t brag so much about how he married Leslie Mann. “You won’t believe this love-conquers-all story! Even a normal-looking millionaire can marry a second-tier actress!” Judd Apatow dating Beyonce? Ok, then I would be intrigued. (4)





Solemn Perverse Serenities

Solemn Perverse Serenities

This time I have blind crime fighters, exceptionally well-sighted assassins, and nuns living in the moral darkness of their mad prisons:


“American Horror Story: Asylum” (s. 2) (Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck.) Jessica Lange is superior here. (Ha! cuz she’s a nun, get it?) Joseph Fiennes as a polished Monsignor; James Cromwell as a madly perverted scientist; Zachary Quinto as a forward thinking psychiatrist; Evan Peters as the Bloody Face killer (maybe); Chloe Sevigny as a nymphomaniac; Sarah Paulson getting a cure for wellness, etc etc. All these, plus microcephalics, little green men, and armless Adam Levine. What’s not to like? (5)


“Daredevil” (s.2) – As the second season opens, it looks like Wilson Fisk, “the Russians, the Chinese and the Japanese” are history. The Irish look ready to step in! Unless the Punisher’s artillery has something to say about it. Also in the mix: Elektra. (I still hate that lazy, ethnically-derogatory writing. When a liquor store gets robbed in Ohio, do local cops mumble, “It was probably the Americans,” and call it an act of detection?) (4)

“Zatoichi 4: Zatoichi The Fugitive.” (Tokuzo Tanaka) Ichi, the original Daredevil, antagonizes Yakuza, re-encounters old flame, but his memories of her ain’t what they used to be. “Zatoichi 5: on the Road.” (Kimiyoshi Yasuda) Ichi protects an innocent girl and a not so innocent woman on the road to Edo. (4) (Not sure who Zatoichi or Shintaro Katsu here? Start here.)


“Yajuza Kenzan.” 1600s, the red-light district of Gion. A samurai named Kyriu (or is it Musashi Miyamoto?) decides to professionally protect a young girl, on the way to becoming one of the most legendary of Japanese heroes. Prequel to the big-in-Japan “Yakuza” open-world fighting series. (5)

way of shadows

“The Way of Shadows” (Brent Weeks) : First in the “Night Angel” Trilogy, an assassin- centered fantasy series. Kylar (say it outloud) is a Dickensian orphan who learns to artfully dodge and twist through the grime of Westeros – Apologies; Midcyru. Midcyru is half European, half Japanese, half Arabic, and a further half of any culture that Weeks might need for his Assassin’s Apprentice plot. A fun read in between George R. R. Martins, but it’s trope-heavy and I don’t know if I will devote myself to the lengthy follow-ups, especially since Weeks already has a second, more accomplished fantasy series out there, “Lightbringer.” Incidentally, the term “wetboy” is an unfortunate choice for designating top-notch hitmen. (3)

norton anthology

“Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.” Been making my way through this for millennia, snacking here and there on its brilliance. If this doesn’t get 6 Cherries, what else could? (6)

she's gotta have it

“She’s Gotta Have It” (Spike Lee). Enthusiastically filmed, the new Netflix adventures of Nola Darling (a winning DeWanda Wise) try too hard to keep #Fresh- except the mishandled taboos of the 1986 film have given way to whole new waves of mishandled taboos. It’s Lee’s most relevant work in a while but still dips into lecture mode, specially in a subplot regarding big booties that would have made Sir Mix-A-Lot convulse. (4)


Also on Netflix: “The Babysitter” (McG; “Charlie’s Angels,” countless ’90s music videos.) A fun and gory “Home Alone” with Satanists, and a vibe that will strike many as misogynist. Unless they happen to be males and aware of the demonic power of boobs. (3)


“Rave Master.” (Hiro Mashima, “Fairy Tail”) Young Haru must go on a quest to collect the scattered Dragon Balls Rave Stones, accompanied by a “dog” called Plue. Standard Shonen epic, not as well drawn as the subsequent “Fairy Tail.” I hear it improves as tankobon accumulate. (2)


“Supreme” (Rob Liefeld, Alan Moore) Standard ’90s Superman knock-off, only remarkable once Alan Moore stepped in to subvert the heck out of every Supes trope. (2 before Moore, 4 after)


“Madame Xanadu” (Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Headley). Wagner’s attempt to resuscitate DC’s fascinating, fortune-telling witchy woman for Vertigo. Unfortunately, the historical anthology nature of the series doesn’t allow for characters to grow, or for any one scenario to reveal much. More to be commended for the subtle shojo influence in Amy Reeder Hadley’s artwork. (3)

Assorted Singles (Nico Vega). Fun vocalist (Aja Volkman) in the Karen O mode. Good scream out-loud songs (“Gravity,” “Beast”) but, to my ears, the guitars simmer without resolving their buzz into any hot riffs. (3)
nico vega


“Live Santa Monica ’72” ( David Bowie): Bowie’s live side is sadly underrepresented in official albums; the best one chronicles the “Reality” tour. The other couple we have have a myriad of sound issues, or else capture too faithfully the messy drugged out delivery he kept off his meticulous studio work. “Live Santa Monica ’72,” a bootleg, ranks as Bowie’s second best. And Mike Garson’s piano shines. Shiniest of all? Check out those $5.50 tickets on the cover!!! (4)

“Lifeforms” (Future Sounds of London). Eerie and beautiful, but requires a certain mood, possibly involving massive amounts of ketamine. “Lifeforms.” “Eggshell” (4)

“Coco” (Disney/ Pixar soundtrack). Pixar’s favorite non-Randy-Newman scorer, Michael Giacchino, delivers. Fine as the individual songs are, the repetive nature is tedious as a listening experience. No one needs 11 different versions of “Remember Me.” (2)

“Sunday School Musical” (Director’s Name Omited out of Christian Charity.) Somewhere out there, someone decided that “High School Musical” didn’t have enough Jesus in it. (1)

Velvet Claws, Sulky Girl, Lucky Legs

Velvet Claws, Sulky Girl, Lucky Legs

“In man there is implanted a sporting instinct to side with the underdog, but this is in man, the individual. Mob psychology is different from individual psychology, and the psychology of the pack is to tear down the weaker and devour the wounded. Man may sympathize with the underdog, but he wants to side with the winner.”– Erle Stanley Gardner

Perry Mason! The once omnipresent law pugilist, now impossible to find.”The Case of the Velvet Claws” keeps Perry Mason outside of the courtoom, playing a cat-and-mouse game that puts him on the rodent side of things. Mason is a force for justice but, like a good lawyer, doesn’t so much as blink without charging a hefty fee. Della Reese is fantastic as the secretary who sees things with clear eyes.

A “Sulky Girl” is bound to inherit from rich uncle- as long as she doesn’t marry anyone. Which she already has. The courtroom twist will be very familiar to modern readers. Love the way the novels end with a teaser for the next mystery.

A “Lucky Legs” contest scam has swindled a small town. The alleged showbiz conman is found dead, knife protruding from chest. But then, why is there an unused blackjack in the room?

Gardner has been objectioned out of the mystery/ noir canon but that’s a crime. (4)


“Master of the House” (Carl Theodor Dreyer) : A gentle, empathic dismantling of the patriarchy, ahead of its time both thematically and structurally. (5)




Lots of Harold Lloyd shorts on Filmstruck! (5)

beny“Greatest Hits” (Benny More) : “The Barbarian of Rhythm” doesn’t sound like a compliment in English, but in Spanish, Benny More ransacked tired salsas, mambos, and sons and revitalized them for some very Bright Ages, before his early death in 1963, when he was only 43 (let’s just say that, like many musical geniuses, he partied hard). His wide-ranging, genre-hopping influence in the Cuban tradition parallels that of Louis Armstrong’s in American Jazz, and I doubt there are many Cubans, heck, Latins, who can’t swing to “Bonito Y Sabroso” (“Look how sexy and sweet Mexicans dance mambo! They move hip and shoulders exactly like Cubans!” doesn’t sound like a particularly deep observation except that its international inclusiveness presages similar city-shouting/ globe-trotting dance hits. Oh, and he could also sing boleros like “Como Fue.” (5)

“Coco” (Soundtrack) : The folkloric Mexican canciones are individually wonderful.  As a listening experience, though, does anyone need 17 iterations of “Remember Me”? Yo no. This version with Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade will do: (2)


It would be odd if I didn’t root for Camila Cabello: She’s from Cojimar, Cuba, a little village just outside my native Havana, so SHOUTOUT TO QUASI-HOME-GIRL GONE RICH! She’s already got an ok duet with Shawn Mendes and two hot solo songs: “Crying in the Club” (with its Christina Aguilera echoes) and that “Havana” hit that Benny More would have gone crazy for. It’s too soon to say that Camila :: Fifth Harmony as Beyonce :: Destiny’s Child. But who knows? (4)

As for Fifth Harmony as a group, they actually beat Destiny’s Child in production, and they don’t indulge in the more ridiculous linguistic distortions of Matthew Knowles’ spawn. That means they don’t coin words like “Bootylicious”  but it also means they’re “Worth It” and “Boss”. Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Dinah Jane, Lauren Jauregui still troop on sans Camila Cabello but they should hold auditions for an addition, because the name’s bound to sound dumver as time goes on. The empowerment by way of narcissism and materialism may be what the arket demands, but young people, specially young women, deserve better. No, your cute, over-priced brand-name purse and your Oprah name-dropping have no correlation with your character, except perhaps a negative one. (4)

fifth harmony

“Thor: Ragnarok” (Taika Watiti): An extra dose of comedy makes this superior to the previous Thor, but two weeks after the fact, it’s already a forgettable,  glib blur of jokes that land as heavy and obvious as Mjolnir. (3 for non-geeks, 4 for geeks)



Procedure-heavy, informative, and dull as a Power-Point presentation on the history of criminal profiling, “Mindhunter” is David Fincher’s self-cannibalization: a shiny, sterile, lesser “Zodiac” for TV. And yet the topic will lure in fans of true-crime, (the series is based on a no doubt superior non-fiction book tracing the history of the FBI’s involvement in serial-killer investigations.) But the dialogue is stiffer than a three-week-old corpse, and the bland acting by the lead, Jonathan Groff, is some of the the worst I’ve ever seen on a show that wasn’t “Mulaney.” Groff (“Spring Awakening”, “Hamilton”) may be okay when seen from the balcony doing his “Look, Ma, I’m on a  Broadway Show!” thing – but on screen he looks like (here comes the painful truth) the kind of guy that would have beaten the crap out of his candy-ass on day one of training at Quantico. If you can survive the pilot, there’s an amazing turn by Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper in episode 2. Except if you saw “Zodiac,” you already saw Fincher doing this exact same blood-chilling scene. (3)

mindhunter 2