So I went to a Lana Del Rey concert…

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Due to strange circumstances that I won’t go into, I found myself at a Lana Del Rey concert last night. I had never heard a Lana Del Rey song, so I went in a blank slate. So what did I think?

Lana Del Rey’s voice is very appealing and she obviously has a real connection with her fans. Based on one live listen, some of her songs are quite good, some not. She is over-reliant on profanity, which struck me not as edgy but as juvenile.

You could often tell when she wanted to do a song and when she didn’t. After a listless performance of “Born to Die,” I noted to my companion that she seemed uncomfortable on stage (more on that in a second), at which point he informed me that she is a big introvert. I later noted during another song (I don’t know which) that she seemed to really be enjoying herself, and right after she ended, she said she still really liked singing that one. It showed.

And, yes, she really did not seem comfortable on stage.  Partially because of this, the concert never developed the momentum a great concert has–it was a bunch of disconnected songs rather than a show. It left me with the impression that she would have been much better served by a smaller venue. Arenas are tough to play.

None of this was at all helped by her reliance on backing tracks. She was singing, and the guitar, bassist, and drummer were playing. But they were all performing to loads of pre-programmed backing tracks. There were “backup singers,” but their mics obviously weren’t on. At one point they were “singing” with their backs to the microphones!

None of this seemed necessary. I’ve seen much smaller shows with a similar vibe (Ronnie Spector, for example) with a great band and great backup singers. She surely has a big enough budget to hire some musicians and singers. As someone not familiar with her work but definitely familiar with live music, it left me a little puzzled as to why she went the prerecorded route.

But I did love that voice, and a few songs. I’ll dig into her catalog a bit, see if she’s for me in recorded form.

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Movie review: The Cloverfield Paradox

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I liked Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. I was interested in seeing what came next. I did.

The Cloverfield Paradox is deadly dull. Like waiting in the doctor’s office for the entire length, but there aren’t even old magazines to distract you and your phone is dead.

This is one of those cases where the blog post is just a movie-watching diary entry. I saw it. It was awful. I have no interest in spending time writing even a perfunctory analysis of it. I have spent too much time with it already.

one-star

 

Movie review: Ex Machina (2014)

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Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young programmer, wins a contest to spend a week at the estate of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a tech genius who has developed an artificially intelligent robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb’s job is to interact with Ava to determine if she passes the Turing test and is truly conscious.

Ex Machina stretches an hour’s worth of plot into a feature-length film. The running time is only 1:48, which is short by today’s unfortunate standards, but it felt much longer. It’s essentially a big-budget “Twilight Zone” episode, but I doubt many people will watch it multiple times like they might with the best episodes of that classic show. Still, it is worth watching once both for the ideas presented on the subject of artificial intelligence and for some impressive visuals.

three-stars

365 days, 365 short stories – 1/21/18-1/27/18

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I continue to be behind in my 365 challenge, but I’m closing the gap.

I have no recollection of acquiring the anthology Glimpses: The Best Short Stories of Rick Hautala. I learned that I had it while going through my purchased Kindle items and putting short fiction into a collection so that I could easily find short stories for this challenge. It was probably free and I probably got it because the author’s last name is Finnish, and I grew up in an area with a heavy Finnish population. Maybe he was from my neck of the woods? (He wasn’t.)

So knowing nothing about the book nor the author but looking for a change of pace, I read “Schoolhouse,” the first story in collection.

I did not know what I was getting into. Wow. Outside of world-renowned classics, this is the best story I’ve read so far in this young year’s short story challenge. Intense, scary stuff. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this book.

I’ve been on one of my semi-regular Destroyer kicks, so I read two Destroyer short stories–“The Day Remo Died” by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, and “Terminal Philosophy” by Will Murray and Murphy (though likely really just Murray).

“The Day Remo Died” is a great story for Destroyer fans. It originally appeared in The Assassin’s Handbook (AKA Inside Sinanju) and recounts Remo’s origin from Chiun’s perspective. It’s free for Kindle.

“Terminal Philosophy” is a very short and pretty lame Destroyer short story that appeared in All-Star Action Heroes #1, an annual from Starlog publications. I doubt it made any new Destroyer fans. At least the accompanying artwork is cool.

Continuing on Robert E. Howard’s horror stories, I read “The Touch of Death” and “Out of the Deep.”

“The Touch of Death” is a bit Poe-like. “Out of the Deep” is a tale of Faring Town, a seaside locale where strange things happen. Howard set three stories and a poem there–it might be fun if someone else used the setting. This one involves a sort-of sea vampire. Both are solid pieces of Weird Tales-style horror fiction.

I also read “Hoverjack” by Nik Morton as Platen Syder, from Parade magazine, 2/6/1971. A quick and exciting, if juvenile, tale of Cold War espionage. Just the kind of thing I need more of as I try to get caught up on my short story challenge!

Movie review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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I have to admit that I was dragged to this one. The preview gave me the impression that it was in the One Righteous Woman on a Crusade genre with an extra scoop of hatred of religion, and I just had no interest in that.

Fortunately, I wrong. There is a woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), and she is on a crusade, although your perception of how righteous it is will likely change as the film progresses.

“Raped While Dying”

“And Still No Arrests?”

“How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

Those are the messages Mildred places on the three billboards, seven months after her daughter’s murder. They set tongues in the small town of Ebbing a-waggin’. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is a popular fellow, and it’s an open secret that he’s dying of cancer.

The film wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. The act of placing the billboards triggers a series of events that is often less about an unsolved murder than it is about life’s strange twists and turns. What looks on paper (and in the trailers) like a joyless affair is actually infused with a lot of dark comedy and even some joyful moments.

I wouldn’t have gone in with such trepidation had I realized that the film was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who previously did In Bruges. I haven’t seen In Bruges, but I know what it’s about and it has been highly recommended to me by people who are similarly unlikely to be interested in what I thought this movie was.

And let me in turn highly recommend Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to you. Great performances all around, and a good script that trips over itself a few times but manages to sell you on most of it anyway.

Four stars

 

Movie review: Hostiles

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Hostiles is a Western in the “The Old West is dying” sub-genre. The frontier is represented by the main character, Captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale), and Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi). Chief Yellow Hawk has been imprisoned for seven years and is now riddled with cancer. For political reasons related to the rising tide of public discomfort with the treatment of the Indians, Joe is ordered to escort the chief and his family to the chief’s ancestral lands in the Valley of the Bears in Montana. Joe at first refuses, because the chief had viciously killed some of Joe’s friends in warfare, but Joe’s colonel holds something over the captain’s head–that Joe, who is about to retire, will be court-martialed and likely lose his pension if he disobeys the order.

Good soldier Joe dutifully sets off, and quickly runs into Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), whose husband and children have just been slaughtered by a savage band of Comanches. Later joining them on this dangerous journey, and adding some menace to it, is Sgt. Charles Wills (Ben Foster), an axe-murderer who is being sent back to his fort to be hanged.

Hostiles is an art-house film that would have benefited from an attempt to make it a little more commercial. It is meditative in the extreme, which is appropriate for the material, but this leads to it at times being glacially paced, which sometimes caused this audience member to quit meditating on its themes and drift away into my own thoughts. Extending the (realistically) very quick and brutal action scenes and cutting back on the shots of scenery would have kept me more engaged with no harm done to the filmmakers’ intent.

Despite this, Hostiles ends up being a powerful film that will linger with the viewer after the final reel has ended. Writer and director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) resolutely refuses to make his characters one-dimensional and the moral quandaries reflected upon simple. The performances are terrific all around, but Christian Bale is especially superb–his ability to convey a world of emotion with a single look or expression is astonishing.

And, yes, although there is too much of it, that scenery is gorgeous. If Hostiles is of interest to you and playing in your area, try to see it on the big screen where it belongs.

three-half-stars

 

365 days, 365 short stories – 1/14/18-1/20/18

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This is the week I finally fell behind in my goal of reading 365 short stories this year. I shouldn’t have too much trouble catching up.

This week was all my continuing exploration of Robert E. Howard’s horror stories.

I started with “The Shining Pyramid” by Arthur Machen, a classic tale about supernatural nocturnal happenings in the English countryside. From there it was to REH’s “The Little People,” which uses the Machen story as a springboard. (“It’s all true!!!“)

“Rattle of Bones” is a Solomon Kane tale, with a nice twist.

“The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux” is an excellent supernatural boxing story, the best story I’ve read in The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard so far. The stories are chronological, which is great for people observing Howard’s evolution but lousy for the uninitiated who may give up before realizing that it takes Howard awhile to develop. This is from 1929, he has noticeably improved, and I am starting to get some classic REH.

The film Ring brought you a haunted VHS tape. Perhaps it was inspired by “Casonetto’s Last Song,” which brings you a haunted record. Short and atmospheric.

This week–get caught up, and continue with the REH but get a little more variety in there.