Lazy Sunday XCVI: More Movies: Movie Reviews, Part I

Way back in “Lazy Sunday LVI: Movies” I looked back on some movie reviews and posts analyzing movies.  That was long before I began Monday Morning Movie Reviews as a semi-regular feature on the blog.

Since then, I’ve dedicated more of the blog to discussing culture, especially music.  I’ve also written more about films and the cinema.  Even with large theater chains still closed and film-viewing shifting increasingly to streaming services, movies are still a powerful way to convey ideas and to shape cultural attitudes.  Indeed, I think the importance of film has only increased in The Age of The Virus, as we’re able to consume more and more of it in quarantine.  That our political elites have essentially recommended we just sit around watching television as some heroic form of self-sacrifice is suggestive—of what, I’m not sure, but it can’t be good!

Regardless, during this quieter, slower season, I thought it’d be fun to look back at some Monday Movie Reviews (to be be fare, not all of these were published on Mondays or in the morning, but they’re still movie review!—one out of three ain’t bad, to very loosely paraphrase Meat Loaf).

Here are three for your enjoyment:

  • Monday Movie Review: The Empire Strikes Back” – Seeing The Empire Strikes Back (1980) on the big screen reminded me powerfully just how great Star Wars used to be before the new trilogy ruined it with SJW nonsense and incompetent direction.  Empire is widely regarded as the best entry in the history of Star Wars films for a reason.
  • Morning Movie Review: Brazil (1985)” – This one had been on my RedBox wish list for some time, and I finally rented it on-demand back in October.  It’s a great, dreamlike flick about an excessively bureaucratic dystopia.  Brazil captures the thousand tiny tyrannies of bureaucratization beautifully—and scarily.  That we’re heading down a road towards mandatory vaccination passports and ever-growing globalist conglomerates suggests we haven’t learned the lessons of Brazil.
  • Movie Review: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)” – I stumbled upon this flick on Hulu, and it was one of those rare gems among the garbage that streaming service typically serves up (and yet, I continue to pay my $2.15 every month for the pleasure of streaming terrible horror movies and Bob’s Burgers).  It stars a very young Jodie Foster as a young teenager living completely on her own in a hostile New England town, attempting to avoid Martin Sheen’s inappropriate advances.  The film is a bit of a thriller, but also an endearing coming-of-age story in which the young Rynn—Foster’s character—learns that life isn’t meant to be lived alone.  As I wrote in the review, “It’s a lost gem, one worth unearthing.”

That’s it for this weekend.  Happy Sunday—and Happy Viewing!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

food snack popcorn movie theater

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Doodles for Christmas

Seeing as it’s Christmastime, I’m taking a more light-hearted approach to posts this week, focusing on Christmas and the fun and music surrounding it.  To celebrate Christmas (and Festivus, which is today), I decided to share some of my favorite Sunday Doodles with you.

Normally Sunday Doodles are exclusive for $5 a month and higher SubscribeStar subscribers (and $3/month subs get doodles the first Sunday of the month), so think of this retrospective as a small Christmas present to you, my loyal readers.  If you want the full commentary on each doodle, though, you’ll have to subscribe.

The Very First Sunday Doodles – “Rose-Tinted Glasses” & “Cheeks”

These two doodles were from the first Sunday Doodles, dated 11 November 2019 (Veterans’ Day!).  “Rose-Tinted Glasses” has appeared as the “featured image” on posts before, but the Peter Griffin-esque “Cheeks” is new to the free site.

Sunday Doodles II – “Disco Dracula” and “The Hardcore Monsignor”

You can tell early on I was still going strong with my doodling A-game, as this second Sunday Doodles—from 18 November 2019—suggests..  “Disco Dracula”—who looks like a character from a 70s Blaxploitation film—and “The Hardcore Monsignor”—derivative of Monsignor Martinez from King of the Hill—are both awesome looking dudes.  “The Hardcore Monsignor” has been on the free site before, though I can’t remember the context.  “Disco Dracula” looks particularly spooky—and funky!

Sunday Doodles V – “Sophisticated Baby” & “The Toxic Drooler”

These doodles from the fifth Sunday Doodles (8 December 2019) feature two chunky babies of wildly different backgrounds.  “Sophisticated Baby” cracks me up every time I see it, especially the martini and the cigar.  “The Toxic Drooler” is what happens when I find a green pen on the ground and have time in a faculty meeting.

The Latest Sunday Doodles – #58!

As you can see, dear reader, you’ve missed out on a lot of Sunday DoodlesThe most recent edition, from this past Sunday, 20 December 2020, features some Christmas cheer, so I figured closing out on “Snowman” and “Christmas Tree” would be a fitting end to this post:

There you go—a small taste of the fun you’re missing.  I love a good doodle, and I’d love for you to get more of them every Sunday.

Subscribing is a great Christmas gift to yourself—and to yours portly!  ‘Tis the season, after all.  *Ding!*

Merry Christmas!

—TPP

Sunday Doodles LVIII, 20 December 2020 - Snowman

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The Virus and Live Music: The Story of The Roasting Room Lounge

Christmastime always puts me in a musical mood, as blog posts this week suggest.  Christmas is the perfect season to illustrate the power of music, as so much wonderful music has been written about Christ’s Birth.

In The Before Times, in the Long, Long Ago, before The Age of The Virus, it was also a lucrative season for musicians.  Other than wedding gigs (a market I haven’t managed to crack into yet), nothing pays better than a Christmas party.  They’re fun, full of free food, and they pay well.  The spirit of free-flowing generosity (and the generosity of free-flowing spirits) results in some warm winter paydays.

Of course, this year has been particularly tough for musicians, as I’ve detailed many, many times before.  Revenues from private lessons and gigs seem to be bouncing back (at least for me), and the struggles of The Virus brought forth a burst of generosity.  Bandcamp Fridays really helped inject some much-needed cash into the coffers of independent musicians (myself included).

Musicians have also had to get creative.  That’s why I hosted my annual Spooktacular from my front porch.  Venues are constrained by various local and State laws (and sometimes dictatorial edicts) limiting their capacities, and many eateries have been slow to resume live shows.  That’s created real limitations on venues and artists, but it’s also opened up opportunities.  My Spooktacular was mildly profitable, but it also brought people together for desperately-needed fun and camaraderie (and put a few bucks into the pockets of the musicians involved).  I don’t know if that model will endure once The Virus is defeated, but it’s something for musicians to consider in this strange new world.

But for all I’ve written about the damage The Virus has caused to musicians’ finances, I haven’t looked at the impact on venues at all.  That’s an unfortunate oversight on my part, because a venues’ success or failure can directly impact that of an artist.  Many musically-inclined venues are coffee shops or small restaurants, so they largely cut live music as they went to take-out-only and delivery formats.

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Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Last December I dedicated several posts to reviewing and analyzing some of my favorite Christmas carols.  It’s the season for playing and singing them, and the more I dive into their histories, the more I appreciate them.

One carol that escaped my notice last year was “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  It’s one of my favorites, so I’m surprised I didn’t write about it (although it did enjoy the spotlight in my Christmas Day post).

Apparently, my pastor noticed—not that I didn’t write about it on this blog, which I’m certain he doesn’t know exists, but that I didn’t play it at church.  In one of his sermons, he said, “One of my favorite carols is ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’ I didn’t hear it this Christmas season.  I don’t know why they didn’t play it, but…” and then he went on to make whatever point he wanted to make.  Of course, all he had to do was ask, and I would have played it!

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Hand it to Handel

One nugget of wisdom I’ve heard before is “if you want to learn something, teach it.”  As a private school educator who taught pretty much every course in the standard high school social studies curriculum and a plethora of music courses, I can attest to the Truth of this statement.  I essentially taught myself, for example, the highlights of Western philosophy from teaching a Philosophy course for many years (a course I very much wish the school would revive).

I’m shifting increasingly towards teaching music exclusively (though I’m still teaching a couple of American History survey courses), and teaching a Pre-AP Music Appreciation class has been one of the great joys of that transition.  Years ago I created and taught a course called “History of American Popular Music,” which covered the early Tin Pan Alley tunes all the way through blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and beyond.  This Pre-AP course is focused on the great works of Western music, going back to the medieval period.

Currently, we’re wrapping up a big unit on Baroque music.  The Baroque style—as epitomized by greats like Bach, Monteverde, Corelli, Handel, and others—delights in contrasts.  Just as Baroque paintings highlight stark contrasts between light and dark, Baroque music revels in sudden contrasts in dynamics.  It also loves to play around with complexity, as any Bach fugue will quickly demonstrate.

The last composer in our unit is George Frideric Handel.  Handel, a German-born composer, made a major splash upon his arrival in England in the 1710s, where he sought to introduce Italian opera to sophisticated London crowds.  What was meant to be a temporary visit turned into over four decades, and Handel is interred at Westminster Abbey—a huge honor.  It’s one of those delightful twists of history that Handel the German became one of the most English composers in history—and one of the greatest composers of all time.

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Rock in Peace, Eddie Van Halen

It is with a heavy heart that we bid a fond farewell to the Mozart of our time, Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen passed away after a lengthy struggle with lung cancer.  He is survived by his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, and his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, who joined the band as its bassist in 2006.

Van Halen was truly one of the guitar greats of the twentieth century, the second half of which witnessed the rise of many guitar heroes to the pinnacles of superstardom, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

But Van Halen’s licks didn’t stop with memorable riffs.  He could play neoclassical passages with ease, weaving them into songs about partying and and lusting after one’s teacher.  Learning his signature solo, “Eruption,” became a rite of passage for budding guitarists in the 1980s and beyond.  Van Halen also dominated on the keyboards—much to the chagrin of perennial showman David Lee Roth—as is clear from the entire album 1984, one of the best albums of all time.  Who can resist jumping when hearing the opening strains of “Jump“?

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Soda City Market

This week’s posts are going to be a bit more treacly than usual, as I’ll be out of town later in the week and am pressed for time (it’s the end of the quarter, which is always crunch time).  I will hopefully be able to cover the vice-presidential debate this week, but otherwise, I’ll be sticking to more lighthearted fare.

To that end, I thought I’d share about my visit Saturday to the Soda City Market, a weekly farmers and crafts market in the tradition of “European street markets,” per the market’s website.  It reminded me a great deal of Aiken’s Makin’, just in downtown Columbia:  lots of wood crafts and foods you’d only eat a festival.

I’ve missed festival season thanks to The Age of The Virus, so it was good to get out and see throngs of people buying wooden bric-a-brac and eating fair food.  Many festivals have been cancelled this year, or have seriously downsized (the Ridge Spring Harvest Festival, for example, just put on its “Battle for the Ridge” barbecue cook-off this year, and cancelled the other festival events) to comply with health and safety guidelines.

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Monday Movie Review: The Empire Strikes Back

The brouhaha over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court will provide ample blog fodder in the days ahead, but there is plenty of time to get into senatorial wrangling.  Mondays should be eased into a bit, so I’m taking today to write a short review of one of the best (and probably most over-reviewed) films of all time, The Empire Strikes Back.

Growing up as a chubby kid in the 1990s, I was a huge Star Wars fan.  That was long before the new trilogy retconned/soft-rebooted everything and destroyed the legacy of classic Star Wars, and even before the prequels made the flicks even more cartoonishly ridiculous.  I’m not even a huge critic of the prequels—they were never going to live up to the perfection of the original trilogy—and I enjoyed some of the fun world-building and thorny trade blockades of Phantom Menace (although that’s all a bit too technocratic for a space opera).  But the magic of the original trilogy is more than the sum of its parts, and it’s based on rich storytelling and exceptionally strong character development, with nearly every major character growing and evolving over the course of the three films.

That was readily apparent in Empire, which my girlfriend and I saw (for five bucks!) on the big screen Saturday evening.  It has been many years since I’ve watched the original trilogy, and I’m regretting that now.  Empire catches the main trio of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo at transitional points in their development:  Luke at the beginning of his Jedi training with Master Yoda; Leia assuming great command responsibilities in the Rebellion while also wrestling with her feelings for Solo; and Han feeling the tug of his old life (and debts) while maturing as a man capable of great self-sacrifice for his friends.

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Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”

This year, I’m teaching a new Pre-AP Music Appreciation course at my school.  The goal of the course is to teach students the language of music, as well as the different instruments, along with a broad survey of Western music from the Middle Ages to the present.  For the first week, we discussed dynamic contrast, tone color/timbre, and began going through the instruments typically found in the orchestra.  We’ve also listened to some excellent music, including a particularly dramatic performance of Franz Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig.”

After we covered the different orchestral instruments, we listened to Benjamin Britten‘s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under the direction of Jukka Pekka SarasteBritten’s piece takes a theme from seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell, an important Baroque composer with a distinctly English sound.  Britten has the entire orchestra play the Purcell theme, then each section takes a turn.  Then each instrument in the orchestra—including auxiliary percussion pieces like the triangle—take solo or soli sections, starting with the piccolos and flutes.

It’s a charming bit of modern classical music, and this performance is a particularly good one.  The camera crew makes sure to highlight each section of the orchestra and each group of instruments as they perform (the oboes are particularly fun, as one oboist looks like his head is about to burst from concentration).  I remember Ben Shapiro recommending the piece to a listener who wanted to introduce his young children to symphonic music, and stating that his own young daughter loved it.

After thirteen (!) variations on Purcell’s theme, Britten introduces a lively new theme, starting with a jaunty, acrobatic piccolo solo, and then slowly building back in the woodwinds, strings, brasses, and percussion in turn.  The whole thing swells to a mighty crescendo, with a powerful, full orchestra finale.  When I played it for my Pre-AP Music Appreciation students Friday morning, a few of them were awe-struck.  We finished listening in the closing minutes of class, and one student left saying, “This is my favorite class”—always satisfying to hear as a teacher.

Of course, who couldn’t love a class that involves listening to and talking about great music?  As our primary resource, I’m using Roger Kamien’s Music: An Appreciation, the eighth brief edition.  We’re also using YouTube heavily to locate quality recordings of music, such as the WDR Cologne Symphony recording featured in this post.

I’m hoping to sit my niece and nephews down soon to listen to Britten’s piece, as I think they’ll enjoy all the instruments.  It might be a tad long to hold their attention, but it can easily be enjoyed in small chunks.  My niece is particularly musically inclined, and I think will have fun seeing and hearing the different orchestral pieces in turn.

After all, if we’re trying to save Western Civilization, that means learning to appreciate some our highest cultural creations—and sharing that love with the next generation.