Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (Pevear/Volokhonsky translation): I have no complete opinion of this book yet, because I'm going to have to read another translation of it. P&V suck, suck, suck. I wouldn't even have needed that link TonyV sent me to come to that conclusion either, though finding out that one of them doesn't even really understand Russian illuminates a lot of the problem. I started trying to read 25 pages of this a day, but cut down to about 10 because 25 pages would take me two and a half hours due to the translation. P&V's translated Russian is like hacking through a jungle of English words with a machete. I wish I had done a "bits of bad writing I found" breakdown like I did reading Stephen King's 1000 page epics back in the day, this is the hardest I've had hacking through a book since William Gaddis' J R (or Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, heheh.) I agree that Anna and Vronsky's general plight is interesting enough to shed some light on 19th century Russian social mores, although the most interesting thing about Anna's suicide is that a)it happens for largely stupid reasons (she thinks Vronsky's cheating on her and he isn't) rather than the novel slowly or obviously building up to it, and b)the book IMMEDIATELY moves on from it for its Christian conclusion. That conclusion is mostly about Kostya Levin, who one could guess is a stand in for Tolstoy himself even if one hadn't been told anything about Tolstoy's personal life at all, and Levin often seems to be the main character anyway. Besides, the most powerful parts of the book for my money are all Levin's--his brother's death, his wife's birth, his struggle with his faith after Anna's suicide. And on top of that, there's no denying the book is larded down with filler, translation problems or no, all that surprisingly uninteresting junk about 19th century farming practices and serfdom and Levin trying to get into politics and such. But I digress--the translation is such painful slop that I cannot call myself done with this book until I've read a better one.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7: I might not have watched this if my mom hadn't bought me the screenplay for a Christmas gift for some reason, but I did read that, so I watched this twice. It's a typical Aaron Sorkin product through and through, so we should all know what to expect by now: the rapid-fire dialogue crackles and pops and is the main reason the movie gets its acclaim, the actors are all having a blast chewing away at it, and it's all really entertaining as long as you can ignore, or make excuses for, the same old big flaw: you guys will never, ever believe this, but Aaron Sorkin made a whole bunch of shit up that didn't happen and put it into the screenplay to make it punchier!!! I know, right?!? He has the pacifist dad defendant played by John Carroll Lynch punch a guy out, which never happened!! He has the prosecutor played by Joseph Gordon Levitt turn out to be somewhat sympathetic to the Chicago 7, which wasn't true in real life at all!! He has an undercover female agent attempt to seduce Jerry Rubin--what really happened wasn't so exciting!! Whatever. It's good enough entertainment. Of the performances, I liked Frank Langella and Sacha Baron Cohen the best, and was unfamiliar with the work of Eddie Redmayne, but he's good too.
Where Is Robert Fisher?: An amateurish documentary (the director, whose name I forget, has made a zillion documentaries in the last 15-20 years) from 2011 about former FBI 10 Most Wanted suspect Robert William Fisher, who probably went nuts and blew up his Arizona home in 2001, killing his wife and children, and then disappeared. I watched this on a whim. I'm always sort of fascinated by who makes the FBI Top 10, which used to have Bin Laden and Whitey Bulger on it but which is now occupied by MS-13 ding-dongs and some Bulgarian crypto beesh. I'm guessing the guy is dead now, but God knows where they'll find his body. His sister would like to believe he didn't do it, despite massive evidence to the contrary. It's on Youtube.
Fellini Satyricon: Couldn't get into this much. It's very free flowing and ends abruptly, both of which are true to Petronius' original writing, of which only part has survived from two thousand years ago. The parts I'm going to remember best are some of the decadent imagery (like a rotisserie of human victims being rolled repeatedly through a giant fire) and the aforementioned abrupt ending, which sees the main character being interrupted mid-sentence to turn into a painting on a rock. Cool! That said, it's hard to feel much emotional interest in what's happening onscreen--I'm sure many of the essays I skimmed about the film only to forget within the days after watching it a second time pointed out a lot about the film drawing a parallel between ancient Rome and the decadence of the 1960s, but that wasn't enough to make me care about the characters' adventures. I'm not opposed to Fellini doing a free-form, surrealistic carnival--if you can remember my last post, you'll know I really liked Amarcord--but Satyricon doesn't have that one's heart.
Macbeth (Roman Polanski): I wish I liked more of Roman Polanski's films. As such, I've only really loved Chinatown; with most of everything else I watched, any admiration I felt came from small things, or from critical essays about each work. Read any critical essay about Polanski's dark, bitter, ugly, grey 1971 Macbeth and you can play a little game by counting the seconds you spend reading the essay before Charles Manson's name comes up. Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth looks like Sharon Tate, the dead Lady Macbeth is laying on the ground in the same pose Tate was in after she was killed, the killing of Macduff's son is like the Manson killings, "from his mother's womb untimely ripped," dark despairing nihilism etc. etc. etc. Polanski loudly denied all this when the film came out (it bombed horribly, by the way, some people in part ascribing it to Polanski getting his funding from Playboy, who funded few feature films.) I dunno--the bitterness part certainly does come through, and it's effective from time to time, though Jon Frenzy Finch's Macbeth registers a fair bit better than Francesca Dune Annis does as Lady Macbeth. The real problem, at least for me, is that only in Chinatown did Polanski's long-winded meandering to the 130-minute mark ever fully hold my attention. That sure is one convincingly gruesome beheading for 1971, though--the only other beheading I know of from 1971 is from Dario Argento's Four Flies On Grey Velvet.
Pig: 2021's winner for title of Least Convincingly Acclaimed Sleeper is this Nicolas Cage film, about a bearded woods-dweller whose truffle pig gets stolen, thus necessitating him to visit Portland with a yuppie "jerk" (Alex Wolff) to find it. Critics fell all over themselves praising the film mostly because it never turns into the John Wick-type revenge vehicle, with almost none of Cage's obligatory Acting Explosions. Seriously, you won't find a single review that didn't mention that. Rah, rah. None of the subtext of this film interested me--the "yuppie" kid is a bit self-absorbed, so what. Cage dresses down a former colleague who has opened a trendy expensive pompous restaurant because the guy is fake and superficial, wow didn't see that coming. Cage has to go to an underground "fight club" involving people who work in the food industry where he gets pounded, whoopty-do how quirky quirky quirky. The moment I saw Cage playing a tape of a woman's voice, I knew the pig would be a metaphor for the woman, which turns out to be his dead wife, which is why he turned into a loner. I didn't enjoy a single scene in this film--at least Mandy, which WAS a big explosive stupid Cage revenge flick, was able to inflame me with dislike. I'd rather watch that film than this one, and this one's in better taste.
Navalny: A very new, but already dated documentary about Alexei Navalny, the social media superstar and poor bastard who has been trying to take down and defeat Vladimir Putin for the last few years. Good luck, broseph. Navalny is an affable guy in jeans who looks like Daniel Craig's brother, has a cute American-accented 19 year old daughter, plays Call Of Duty on his phone, might have had to associate with unsavory bigoted nationalists in his past (he mostly dodges the question when it's put to him on camera) and who didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of not almost being assassinated by poisoning goons near the beginning of the film, nor of being sadly thrown in prison for God knows how long at the end of the film, which also tries to throw in some uplifting fight-the-good-fight sentiment just so we won't die of despair when the credits roll. This is who Russia has to choose from? An affable social media cool guy, or the biggest dickhead on Earth? There's some perverse hope halfway through the film in the form of its most talked-about scene, when Navalny gets some computer geeks to figure out who tried to poison him, then calls the assassins up on the phone, who promptly blurt out their entire plot, word-for-word. And yet that hope has to be taken away immediately--these people are actually that stupid, yet they're winning. Parallels with the US, anyone, I guess? Bueller?
Rosemary's Baby (REWATCH): I didn't like this film much the first time around, but I always loved the "impregnation nightmare" scene, one of the most original horror scenes movies have ever come up with. I still love that scene. This time around, the meandering and hemming and hawing that I complained about above with Macbeth just ruined pretty much everything else, though I'm now able to more clearly see the final scene as funny satire ("HAIL SATAN!!!") Yeah, yeah, metaphor for a woman being betrayed by everyone around her, I know, I know. Boring talky scene after boring talky scene, and stuff like the names hidden in the Scrabble tiles prefigures M. Night Shyamalan type crap. I find that it's not building a hell of a lot of suspense or creepiness at all. I agree that the performances are good (Cassavetes sure was good at being smarmy!) and that the 1960s NYC setting is effective, but that's about all I like in this one, and I'm pretty set in my opinion that from here on out I'll only be rewatching the nightmare scene.
The Manic Street Preachers, The Holy Bible: This album was fairly good, but I don't know that I'm going to go any further with these guys. They remind me most of Fugazi, and while I liked some Fugazi, that's not necessarily a favorable comparison because what I really mean is that I personally find their sound to be, yes, very energetic, very very passionate, but also very colorless guitar-shredding punk anthems where I have to work to tell them all apart. (The Argument, the best Fugazi album IMO, isn't like that.) "Yes," the opener, is probably the best, with this heart-tuggingly romantic chorus that I can remember easily. "Revol," that one REALLY sounds like early 90s Fugazi. "Faster" stood out a lot too. I think the real reason I wanted to hear this was because I got the impression that its stature was one of acclaimed darkness--NME ranked it numero uno on some list of the Darkest Albums Ever (make of that what you will, it's the British rock press!) If you know anything about the Manic Street Preachers at all, you probably know that right after this album was released, guitarist-songwriter Richey Edwards disappeared, likely from jumping off a bridge and killing himself. Some of the lyrics get my attention--there's a song about male anorexia for God's sake (how many other bands have done that?!?) and "P.C.P." is a song blasting political correctness--hey, relevance alert! I suppose it's a perverse feature of the band's all-guitars-all-the-time sound that the album has aged very well--it's from 1994, but could easily have come from the early oughts or even there after. But I'd like any other Babblers to inform me if any other MSP albums are worth a crap. And of course, I'm almost certain I'd have loved the album a lot more if I'd have heard it before turning 23.
The Who, Face Dances: I used to dislike "You Better You Bet" as cutesy dinosaur-band synth-pop crap, but I ended up liking it best out of everything here mostly just because I recognized it. I also liked "Did You Steal My Money" and "Don't Let Go The Coat" and that's about it. The band entered the 80s very pussy-footingly, trying to lightly dabble in synths and new wave sounds but with such a soft touch so that you wouldn't think they were retreading Who's Next for the fifth straight time or something. Which they otherwise were, and why the rest of this is forgettable. And I've already forgotten.
The Moody Blues, Long Distance Voyager: This is interesting to compare and contrast with the aforementioned Face Dances: both are from 1981, both are by bands full of guys in their mid to late 30s who did their best work in the 1960s, and both are about those guys entering a new era for which they'd have to master synths and new technology to survive. But whereas the Who couldn't dip much more than a couple toes into the waters of the early 1980s, the Moodies hired Patrick Moraz from Yes (not that anything he plays here sounds like Relayer!) to douse their new music in electronic keys, and the results are all over the map--"The Voice" pairs a good melody with a terrible space-movie synth intro from Moraz which would make you cringe if the rest of the song were bad (but it's good). Then there's "Talking Out Of Turn" which is the best song on the album, but it pairs a stately 1970s orchestral melody with a surprisingly modern synth-pulse beat thingie underneath--seriously, it sounds like something from a 90s electronica album, go listen to it!!--and then we plunge into "Gemini Dream," which...well, you know "Gemini Dream" don't you? Disco synths plus a vocal melody that seems to have been the basis for ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man"? Gawd--I guess it counts as a memorable bad song. "Nervous," "Meanwhile" and "In My World" are good enough to pad out the midsection, but Ray Thomas' "trilogy" at the end did little for me, and I liked Thomas' much-maligned songs on Octave. This album counts as an interesting case study in how bands from the 60s could, and/or could not, get the early 80s right.
The Rolling Stones, The Rolling Stones, Now!: There's little greater proof that I'm out of my depth regarding 1964-65 albums by major rock bands than this album--most reviews I could find (either WRC or not) consider this the best of their early albums, five star reviews seemingly everywhere, but I couldn't formulate the difference between this and the other '64-'65 albums by the Stones at gunpoint, so I'll just arbitrarily list the songs I liked: "Heart Of Stone" is a nice ballad that you all know. "Mona" has a fuzzy rumbling guitar like it's the 1965 version of "How Soon Is Now?". "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," I guess. "Little Red Rooster," I guess. Just ignore me, I don't know what I'm talking about.
Oasis, Don't Believe The Truth: And with that, my adventures listening to Oasis come to an end. Yep, I sure am glad I heard their one awesome album (Morning Glory) because it's their only one that's better than "okay" (remember, I used to completely hate this band.) This one, meanwhile, is tied with Heathen Chemistry for the worst. I liked "Guess God Thinks I'm Abel" with its pretty chord changes and I'll grudgingly go for "Let There Be Love," even though it's a John Lennon knockoff so obvious that I actually realized it this time without any reviews having to inform me of that. Guess I can't defend my opinion, then. "Lyla" is a boring song that rips off "Street Fighting Man"'s vocal melody and worst of all is "The Importance Of Being Idle," which most reviewers figured for a Kinks pastiche, but which I immediately recognized as being ripped off from "Freedom Song," the one song on The La's that I didn't care for at all. (No mistaking it, either--Noel Gallagher contributed to the liner notes for that album's reissue!) The rest of this was a set of boring rock & roll anthems as usual--other band members besides Noel contributed to the writing, and I'm not hearing a lot of retreads, but the good melodies just aren't there, and the hour-long speed-run I spent reading through the Metacritic reviews confirmed that this "comeback" album was received with the same iffiness that marked every Oasis album from 1997 onwards. There's a bonus track called "Can Y'See It Now (I Can See It Now!)" which is Oasis doing shoegaze drone, which is appropriate for a song whose title steals from My Bloody Valentine's "I Can See It (But I Can't Feel It)". I'm glad I heard it!
Brian Wilson, In The Key Of Disney: I've claimed with every Wilson solo album I've heard so far that he never quite tipped all the way into total pabulum. There were always three or four songs worth hearing even on the weakest albums. Not this time. He doesn't even do "Wish Upon A Star" right, and you'd think if there's a Disney song Brian Wilson wouldn't slog through, it's that one. Elsewhere, he starts off "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" with the beat from "I Want Candy," rendering an already awful song even worse than before. At least "A Whole New World" wasn't in there. "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" is, though. Yack.
Kansas, Always Never The Same: This is a greatest hits, but backed with the London Symphony Orchestra. There are a couple new songs too, and I've already forgotten their names. Old songs? Wow, I got to hear turds like "Hold On," "Miracles Out Of Nowhere" and "Cheynne Anthem" again, but with strings boringly playing the songs' crappy melodies. And at the beginning, there's the worst Beatles cover I've ever heard, a big loud orchestral "prog metal" version of "Eleanor Rigby" which makes this death metal version I heard about 20 years ago look like Joe Cocker by comparison. DO NOT look that version up--it's so bad it's not even worth laughing at!