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


Singing this Borrowed Tune

Singing this Borrowed Tune

Dear Imaginary Reader:

Racial hypnosis, red shoes and black sails, Jim Carrey and Tyler Perry.


“Get Out” (Jordan Peele). Finally got to “Get Out”- and it got to me. There’s nothing much I can add thematically to its point – other than that you might be surprised at the racist crap this “white Hispanic” has to hear during incursions into certain supposedly liberal circles, so I can’t even imagine how black people feel in those situations. Except now I can, because they made a movie about it!)But stylistically? I feel people don’t praise Peele’s direction enough! And it’s only his debut! Reminded me of the unnerving nightmare state of Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin.” (5)

redshoes“The Red Shoes” (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger). The British film industry during the 40s and 50s was about as good as the Argentinean film industry, and nowhere near as good as the Mexican cinema. Other than Luis Bunuel, the Filmstruck / Criterion collections are unaware of this. I’m not saying that they’re missing many Mexican masterpieces. (although one Cantinflas would be cool.) I’m saying British movies of the period were mediocre. Exception: the Powell and Pressburger films, and “The Red Shoes” in particular. Second only to “Black Swan” in the very-niche ballerinas-gone-crazy subgenre. (5)


“Black Sails” Season 2. Halfway through Season 2 of “Black Sails” comes a genuinely brilliant plot twist (you thought there were no more of those?) that is simple and obvious and yet makes us reassess everything we thought we know about some of the main characters of “Black Sails,” the very underrated pirate prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” and easily the best thing to have the words “Produced by Michael Bay” attached to it. (5) Black Sails 2014

neil young“Tonight’s the Night” (Neil Young). Phenomemal boozy night at a bar with a great, mad, sad band. I love the way “Borrowed Tune” pours out into its “Rolling Stones” admission. (5)






“Inspector Lewis” Series 3. I love me a cozy whodunit, but I should make sure never to watch “Inspector Lewis” in too close a proximity to its immediate ancestor (“Inspector Morse”), or to “Inspector George Gently,” or to “Midsomer Murders” for that matter, cuz honestly they just sort of blend into one bloody British blur. (4)

HW7A2501.CR2“The Whole Truth” (Courney Hunt, “Frozen River”). A great little legal thriller with Keanu Reeves and Renee Zwellwegger; it will strike many as contrived, but I loved the way it highlights the obvious: if you didn’t see it, don’t believe it. If you saw it, kinda sorta believe it, but not really. The whole truth makes very few appearances in a human’s life. (4)

jimcarrey“Jim and Andy” (Jim Carrey’s method-acting ways during the making of Milos Forman’s Andy Kaufman biopic, “Man On the Moon”) An old episode of “The Simpsons” posited the idea of a fancy “Jim Carrey Retrospective” as an absurd joke. Two decades later, there’s better actors and better comedians, but there is no better comedic actor out there. “Jim and Andy” documents the fact. (4)

madea“Madea Goes to Jail” (Tyler Perry). Judge me not, lest ye make Madea take off her ear rings and show you some righteous prison-chapel anger. What happened was that “Madea Goes to Jail” showed up on cable, I felt too slothful to reach for the remote, and I watcheth. There are enough good intentions in this preposterous melodrama that I eventually gave in to the scoliosis-inducing tone-shifting- and sort of enjoyed it. I think that applies to all of Tyler Perry’s movies. (3)

sinbad“A Flying Princess and a Secret Island” (Shinpei Miyashita ). “Arabian Nights” anime for kids, part of a Sinbad trilogy. Unfortunately any carpet flight of fancy is weighed down by under-budgeted animation. A poor man’s Ghibli show. (2)


I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans

Dear Imaginary Reader:

This week we have pubescent cartoons, Berry funny has-been actors, and (Hallellujah!) triple the Bob Dylan.

“Big Mouth”: Hilariously honest pubescent antics from both male and female perspectives. Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate, John Mulaney,  Jason Mantzoukas, Jessi Klein, Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen – and Jordan Peele as Duke Ellington. Is that Aimee Mann singing “Everybody Bleeds” at the end of ep. 2? Of course it is. Someone did point out the oddness of Peele’s Duke Ellington. It sounds off, like a weird impression of Cab Calloway. (5)

“Neo Yokio”: Much less animated. The idea of examining New York’s  stratified society through a “sci-fi anime” lens is not bad. The execution is. I simply don’t see what Ezra Koenig was aiming for- but I can tell he missed. This takes away from valuable “Vampire Weekend” time, man! “Neo Yokio” might be great for whoever thought Jaden Smith was worth following on Twitter. I do not follow Jaden Smith on Twitter.  (2)

toast of london

“Toast of London”: Cheesy scenery-chewer Steven Toast (the multi-talented Matt Berry, from “The IT Crowd” and “The Mighty Boosh” and “Snuff Box” and etc etc) is a West End boy facing theatrical disaster. Doing voice-over work and losing his shoes during a poker game with Andrew Lloyd Webber are the least of the many ignominies Toast suffers in this cheers-worthy goof. (5)



“America is the Greatest Country in the United States” (Judah Friedlander): Brilliant! There is a reason Tina Fey took in this trucker-hat wearing shlob under her umbrella. Deceivingly sharp. (4)

“How to Be Black” (DeRay Davies) : Expressive Chicago comedian, funny ghetto observations. Some of it feeds into pretty nasty stereotypes about blackness, though. (3)








“Triplicate” (Bob Dylan). Bob karaokes to his fave Frank Sinatra standards, once again. Hans tolerates it. And then grows to love it. Breeze past the too-familiar chestnuts (“As Time Goes By”? Yawn) to find great takes on “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan” and the new-to-my-ears “Braggin'”. Check out this great interview re: Dylan’s Sinatra-sycophant period.

“It’s a human story that builds to a climax and it’s personal from end to end. You start out wondering why you bought those blue pajamas and later you’re wondering why you were born. You go from the foolishly absurd to the deadly serious and you’ve passed through the gaudy and the nasty along the way. You get to the edge and you’re played out and you wonder where’s the good news? Isn’t there supposed to be good news? It’s a journey like the song “Skylark,” where your heart goes a-journeying over the shadows and the rain. And that’s pretty much it. It’s a journey of the heart. The best had to be saved for last.”

Also, wait for the moment in the interview when Bob Dylan is like: “Wait. Did you just say Taylor Swift recorded one of my songs?!? WHAT!!! WHY DON’T I KNOW ABOUT THIS?!?” And the interviewer clarifies he’s referring to the far-less-important Taylor GOLDSMITH. (4)


“Slow Train Coming” (Bob Dylan). Revisiting this difficult classic from 1979. It’s by far my favorite album of Dylan’s short-lived Christian phase, the only one that sounds like he’s genuinely invigorated by the enthusiastic adoption of all-American evangelicalism.  True, the brimstone preaching and merciless lecturing ruins otherwise beautiful songs like “Precious Angel” (“you either got faith or you got unbelief, and there ain’t no neutral ground“!) In the early ’80s, Dylan’s more secular fans turned on him, (“Judas! Again!”) It’s easy even for moderate Christians to cringe at the sheer apocalyptic venom in this couplet:

Can they imagine the darkness that will fall from on high
When men will beg God to kill them and they won’t be able to die?

But one has to forgive the man: has there ever been a convert to ANYTHING that doesn’t get abrasive and self-righteous for a couple of months before they mellow out and gain perspective? Besides, few listeners at the time gave Dylan credit for the lines in which he attacked religious quackery and hypocrisy:

Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition
The enemy I see
Wears a cloak of decency:
All nonbelievers and men-stealers talkin’ in the name of religion.


dylan“Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Volume 13, 1979-1981” (Bob Dylan). Still haven’t fully explored this selection, but so far what I hear deepens and justifies the two sub-par Christian albums of that period (I mean “Saved” and “Shot of Love”; “Slow Train Coming” is amazing and needs no justification). Most people remember “Christian Dylan” as over-bearing and/ or doomed by his relative inability to keep up with his gospel-choir back-up. “Trouble No More” suggests an alternate reality: what was going behind the studio tracks was far more inspired than whatever landed on the ready-for-Sunday-school wax.

And “Every Grain of Sand” remains goose-bump-inducing, even in this spare version. I’m sure there are Satanists out there weeping at its beauty. (4)

“In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of a perfect, finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.”