Saturday, November 14, 2009

Notes and Notions (November, Part 2)


The best thing about the newly remastered release of U2's Unforgettable Fire CD (and there are many great things about it) is the clean, crisp version of track 9: "Elvis Presley in America." This is one of my favorite U2 songs, but I never enjoyed it as much as I do now. Previous versions were muddy and flat and the otherworldly effect of the song was lost. Not anymore. To me, the song is endlessly captivating. Bono's voice rides the waves of accompanying music, rising into clarity one moment then dropping into ambiguity the next. His cryptic, improvised lyrics move from the meditative to the highly emotional. The result is a hypnotic song that is simultaneously ethereal and raw. Outstanding.

Speaking of remastered disks, another great new release is The Stone Roses' self-titled CD from 1990. (Actually, now, the more precise title is The Stone Roses 20th Anniversary.) I love all the songs on the disk, but I'm especially pleased to hear the rousing, "This is The One," in crisp, remastered clarity.

I haven't seen nearly enough films lately.  But all that's going to change!  The holiday season is upon us and there's a slew of movies that I'm eager to see.  First among them is Avatar.  I know, I know: there's a lot of James Cameron backlash out there right now.  Apparently the Avatar trailer doesn't live up to the hype (or the promise of the 3D technology). But talk about griping!  What do movie fans want?  They're disappointed with the Avatar trailer?  C'mon!  It's breathtaking.  Plus, if I'm going to plop down ten dollars to see a movie, I know James Cameron is going to deliver.  Nobody gives you a better bang for the buck.   Sure, Avatar will feature the same old Cameron cliches--a simplistic romance and a heavy-handed message about corporate greed.  But so what?  The special effects, the action, the attention to detail--film and genre geeks everywhere should be celebrating.  I think Avatar will be exhilarating.  It will also be one of those rare films that must be seen on the big screen.  There's no waiting for the DVD with this one! (For an in-depth profile of James Cameron and more info about Avatar, check out this New Yorker essay.)

More TV:
As long as Glee can provide episodes as great as "Wheels" this past week, I'll be eager to tune in.  But while "Wheels" shows how good Glee can be, it also underscores how uneven the series is.  Some episodes are cartoonish and slapstick with flat characterizations and buffoonish performances, others (like "Wheels") are captivating, well-acted, and moving.  Clearly, series co-creator, Ryan Murphy, is the real talent here.  He wrote "Wheels" as well as being co-writer on the season's other outstanding episode, "Preggers."  I hope he gains more creative control on Glee as the series goes along.  Of course, Glee will eventually face the dilemma of all "high school" shows:  Do the characters graduate or stay in high school forever?  The premise of the show demands the latter (it's all about high school glee club, after all).  But the young actors who play the students are already looking too old for their roles and certainly by season two it will be hard to accept them as teenagers, let alone high school students.  I guess we'll be seeing "community college glee" in the next few years.  (Still, right now I'd rather watch Glee, with its 25-year-old high school kids, than FlashForward or the god-awful V. Ughh.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Notes and Notions (November, Part 1)

I've had my nose buried in a book.  And not just any book, but the late Roberto Bolano's epic masterpiece, 2666.  I wish I had blogged about my reading experience, as 2666 was one of those books that, because of its length, takes a significant amount of time to complete. It took me six weeks to make it through the five separate "books" that make up the whole of 2666 and it would have been useful to note the various connections I noticed as I read and also to comment on how I thought the various pieces the larger work were going to connect.  Ah, well, a missed opportunity.  Of course I recommend 2666 without reservations, but be warned, this is a demanding book.  If you've read (and liked) other works by Bolano (especially The Savage Detectives) then make sure you carve out some time for 2666.  (By the way, there is a major Twin Peaks reference in the book--deliberate and direct--that comes at the half-way point in the story.  For days I thought Twin Peaks might have been a significant influence on 2666 and while I do think Bolano was attempting (in the third book) to emulate a Lynchian mood through his writing, I think the nod to Twin Peaks was just Bolano's way of acknowledging the genius of Lynch.)

Before reading 2666, I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dream.  This is Robinson's best book since his "Mars trilogy" of the 1990's and the best science fiction book I've read this year (so far).  Robinson seems to be channeling Gene Wolfe in the telling of his story as he reveals a surprise narrator well into tale.  This narrator also undermines a basic assumption I (as a reader) had made about the mechanics of Robinson's well-developed time-travel tale.  If it sounds like I'm being coy, I'm really trying to avoid spoiling the details. Galileo's Dream was great "hard" science fiction, an eye-opening historical account, and a poetic blending of science and spirituality.  Galileo's Dream shows why Kim Stanley Robinson is one of SF's most important voices.

I am rapidly growing weary of Flashforward which has put the soap-opera aspect of its story well ahead of its mystery.  I don't care about the melodrama! The most exciting thing about last week's episode was ABC's teaser for the new season of LOST. (You know what would be great?  If the characters who have seen the future realize said future is immutable and so, because they have a guaranteed six months to live, lead fearless lives.  Imagine jumping off a building and knowing--somehow--you'll survive?  Or that you can walk through traffic and not be harmed?  At the very least I'd like to see the characters get bolder with their actions, see them willing to take more chances as their certainty about an unchangeable future grows.  This week's episode supposedly deals with suicides and we can only hope the writers will touch upon these ideas.  But I'm not holding my breath.)

Fox will burn off the remaining episodes of Dollhouse in December and January.  Say good-bye to the most challenging SF show on TV.  (Whedon promises closure.  So there's that.)

Cartoon Network's Clone Wars is fun to watch and more exciting than the three Star Wars prequel films (I'm not the first to say that).  But the problem is, we can't forget the prequel films!  We know that Anakin is doomed, that he will betray the Jedi, and that all his battles in this series are for naught.  And why does the show insist on making the clone troopers unique individuals with sympathetic personalities?  We know they, too, will be re-programmed and lose their individuality.  I love the show but I always have a sour taste in my mouth after each episode. Does George Lucas even care that viewers might contemplate the larger narrative of Clone Wars?  Probably not.

Twin Peaks:
It's pretty rare to have Twin Peaks news these days.  But, as the twentieth anniversary of the show approaches, we may be seeing more.  Anyway, the big news right now is the upcoming book of photos by Paula K. Shimatsu-U.  According to the press release (which you can read here), the book, Northwest Passages: "contains a treasure trove of rare and unpublished photos from Paula's personal archive. It's all here, from deleted scenes, intimate portraits, photos that ended up as key props within the show to official publicity shots and cast and crew having fun on the set."  I looked up Shimatsu-U on IMDB and see that she was credited as "unit publicist" on Twin Peaks as well as assistant to Mark Frost.  My hopes are up for this book!

Ok, that's all I have for now.  More notes and possibly a few notions to come.