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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Very Important People at the Queen show

I’ve already written about how the stress of fast-moving Queen + Adam Lambert tickets led me to invest (sure, let’s call it that) in VIP tickets this time around. It was mainly for the better seats, but Jean wondered what else was included.

Not sure, I responded. Some kind of separate entry. Maybe a keychain or something.

Unofficial poster of the Toronto show. Design @nicole42.

We received an email a few days before explaining where to go for the VIP entry. There was still a line-up there, but a shorter one. They checked our name off a list, gave us tickets (the old-fashioned paper kind), and handed us each a Queen-logoed bag with something in it.

The something turned out to be this purple silk boxing robe with the Queen crest front and back. What could be more perfectly Queen? It was ridiculous, but also fantastic. Who needs a T-shirt if you have this? (It also allowed me to avoid the huge, huge line-up to buy merchandise!)

[To be inserted later: A photo of me wearing the robe. I can’t get a good selfie of this, and Jean’s not around to take the photo right now.]

We made our way to our seats in a very roundabout way (though we were trying to follow the instructions). We ended up 13 rows from the stage. Pretty good seats in a stadium regardless, but at a Queen show, it’s even better than that, because they use a catwalk that goes right down into the floor section. When they were on that, we were very close to them.

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This happened right by our row…

Talking to some other fans, I realized that the popularity of this show wasn’t only due to the movie, but also to the fact that this was one of only two Canadian shows this time out—they didn’t play Ottawa, Calgary, or even Montreal… Just Toronto and Vancouver. So we had a few travelers joining the new Bohemian Rhapsody fans (who skewed the age a bit younger than at past QAL shows, though they’ve all been multi-generational).

Unlike the last iteration, this concert began fairly punctually, counted down by the last, untitled track from Made in Heaven, which people cheered throughout its 22 minutes. Then a bit of “Innuendo” (by which I mean the song, I’m not insinuating anything), and they took the stage. Now they were here. Now they were there.

There wasn’t a ton of chatter during this 2.5 hour concert. They mostly let the music do the talking. The Bohemian Rhapsody movie was mentioned only once, when Brian asked if anyone had seen it, but it absolutely informed the set list. Every song from the soundtrack was included. Even “Doing All Right” (the song Smile performs). Even “Ay-Oh”—led by Freddie, of course. (Hey, first time I do “Ay-oh” with Freddie in a crowd, I think.) And including honorary soundtrack song, “I’m in Love with My Car.” So we can all judge for ourselves whether it’s “strong enough”. (It is.)

These three are so comfortable with each other by now…

This was great, because it meant hearing a lot of the early tracks that aren’t as often performed, to which they added “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “Lap of the Gods”. To fit everything in, many of the songs were shortened and medley-ed, which also suited me fine.

He’s a Killer Queen (this picture was super popular on Twitter!)

There were changes from past shows. Adam again noted the obvious fact that he wasn’t Freddie, but fairly perfunctorily, and only after noting that he’s been Queen’s singer for 8 years now. He did not comment about trying to find somebody to love, now that he has fallen in love (and this time he knows it’s for real.) He did not run around slapping people’s hands during “Radio Ga Ga”. (Was that disappointing, given that I was closer? Nah. I still wasn’t within hand-slapping distance.) The tricycle was traded for a motorbike (for “Bicycle Races”). The sexy “Get Down, Make Love” was absent.

But the omissions were made up for by the additions, which were not all movie-inspired. Brian performed the wonderful “39” to images of the Apollo astronauts, in homage to the anniversary of the moon landing. They performed the truly obscure track, “Machines (or Back to Humans)” (from 1989’s The Game), probably because its lyrics seem so contemporary.

The very photogenic Brian May

And everything you wanted to be there still was.

Adam Lambert demonstrating that he’s one of the best singers alive throughout, but particularly on tracks like “Somebody to Love”, “Who Wants to Live Forever”, and “I Want It All”.

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If you could hear this, you’d be very impressed

Brian managing to not bore everyone during a guitar solo, and only partly because of the very cool space effects.

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Not sure this is during the guitar solo, but a cool picture regardless

Brian singing “Love of My Life”, accompanied by the crowd, who also provided the lighting. And Freddie joining in at the very end, which somehow continues to bring me to tears.

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The best use of a cell phone, per Brian. (And this isn’t even peak lighting.)

The trio on the catwalk, performing “Under Pressure” (and a few other tunes).

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Costume changes (and not only by Adam).

This photo was even more popular on Twitter! I captioned it: I’m glad the fringes are back. And I was. Lambert meets Daltrey.

All the biggest hits–Another One Bites the Dust (with Adam dance), Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions, We Will Rock You.

The magnificent laser show during “Who Wants to Live Forever”.

Confetti. We were drowning in it!

Pre-confetti. Post-confetti, it’s all you could see!

The crowd was fantastic, on its feet through the whole show (and not only in the floor section), and ably singing along. The next day on Instagram, Brian May said that Toronto was the loudest crowd so far! Both Brian and Adam made comments about putting phones down, and there were times I wish people had, as they do block the view. On the other hand, the wish is a bit hypocritical of me, as I have the luxury of being totally in the moment and not taking a single photo, secure in the knowledge that Jean was taking over a thousand of them (with a camera, and not a phone, but…).

Being so close, I had to remind myself to sometimes look at big screen to see what the projected effects were. Very cool, as always–like in “Radio Gaga”, the band was integrated into what looked like scenes from the past. But much more prominent overall was a theme of forward movement, and looking ahead. Queen, founded in 1970 (or so), is one of hottest bands of 2019. Who woulda thunk.

Toronto set list (courtesy @JamieBester)

More Jean photos (no, not a thousand–he picked out a few): https://www.jean-cathy.com/CathysPhotos/Queen-and-Adam-Lambert-2019/

And thanks to “Fiercealien” here, you can see video of the entire Toronto show, from seats on the opposite side and just a few rows closer than we were. (If you’re hooked, Firecelian also offers video of the New York, Vancouver, and Los Angeles shows. Expensive hobby!)

Playlist of videos of the entire Toronto show


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And now, for something more trivial

Jean says I need a new post to replace the sad one. So, how about them Oscars, eh? (This is a topic Jean will find boring, but I assume that’s a preferable feeling.)

I have the PVR set to record the Academy Awards (plus the News at 11:00 pm that will, in fact, be the Academy Awards, continuing into overtime). But I do plan to watch the opening live. Because this:

Can you say squeee!!! (Even though the news has brought out the Adam Lambert haters. Get over yourselves!)

But, I can’t say how much of the rest I’ll watch live, since there are only some categories I’m interested in. And the show does go kind of late for a school night.

Best Picture

Unlike the actual awards, I’ll start here. No clear front runner this year! I don’t really expect Bohemian Rhapsody to take it, though if it did, I would be quite tickled. Can’t honestly argue that it deserves the honor, though. While I still think a lot of the criticism of it was on a weak foundation (that it should have aspired to documentary realism or portrayed Freddie in the way that individual imagined him to be), it remains true that some of the dialogue was clunky, and a number of the scenes were cliche (Freddie walks off in the rain, alone…[where is he going? Does he even have a wallet?]). It would deserve a Most Entertaining Picture award, but this is supposed to be Best Picture.

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Of the remaining contenders, I’ve seen four. Black Panther was a very smart superhero movie, and probably what I’d like to see win if not BoRhap. A Star Is Born hasn’t done too well this award season. I liked it, but it didn’t hit me emotionally the way it seems to have other people. BlacKkKlansman would be a real dark horse win, as most seem to admire it more than love it—me too, I suppose (though it was pretty entertaining, also).  And Roma? A real contender, they say, but too slow and low on plot for me. Of the ones I’ve seen, I’d rank it last in order of preference.

(And they do vote on Best Picture by ranked ballot, did you know that? Makes predictions even trickier, as people’s second and third choices can come into play.)

Of the ones I haven’t seen, it’s not due to lack of opportunity. Vice? Why would I see a movie about Dick Cheney? Green Book—actually, I’d probably like that one, and likely will see it at some point. It does sound rather Driving Miss Daisy, though, so I can see why it’s a controversial front-runner. And The Favourite? Is directed by the same person who directed The Lobster, which is not a selling point for me. The Lobster was creative and sort of compelling, but so disturbing! Too disturbing. And The Favourite is sitting at 94% with critics but only 65% with audiences. I remain leery of it.

The New York Times talked to 20 Academy Award voters about their Best Picture choice, and found no consensus (and a fair amount of mumbling about Bohemian Rhapsody being a guilty pleasure).

All 20, however, had the same pick for…

Lead Actor

And that was Rami Malek. So yes, he’s the favorite, and I would be disappointed if he didn’t win. He was so good in the role! And he gives the most gracious acceptance speeches, right up there with Alanis Morissette and Jared Leto.

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I don’t really care about the other acting nominations—I do think it would be nice for Glenn Close to finally get recognized, but I haven’t seen The Wife—so moving on to the key category of…

Sound Mixing

Admittedly, sound was one of the better aspects of Roma, with this surround thing happening that was something of an unprecedented experience. (But most people will see the movie on Netflix and miss all that.)

But Bohemian Rhapsody, people—that was one fine, fine-sounding film. Those were fantastic mixes of Queen songs, and they also did a great job of incorporating audience sounds (and making sure we could hear the dialogue)! I think it deserves this one.

Bohemian Rhapsody is also up for Sound Editing, but I’m not quite so sure what that is…

It’s also up for Film Editing, and I do know what that is, but also don’t feel qualified to comment on whether it merits that honor. (Though the American Cinema Editors thought it did, for what that’s worth.)

But getting back to sound…

Original Song

It’s got to be “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, right? And that’s fine with me. I don’t know any of the other songs, but I really like this one. Apart from Queen + Adam Lambert, the Lady Gaga / Bradley Cooper performance of it is the musical moment I’m most looking forward to.

And poor Mr. Cooper was snubbed for…

Director

Which most people think will go to Alfonso Cuaron for Roma. But I think it should be Spike Lee, for BlacKkKlansman. Because I liked that movie more, and because it’s absurd that Spike Lee hasn’t even been nominated until now!

Looking for anything else I at all care about…

Animated Feature

I only saw one of them, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but it was good, and is considered a leading contender. I’d be fine with that.

This weekend we might go see all the nominated…

Animated Short

films, but until or if that happens, I of course have no opinion here.

Well, that leaves a lot of Categories of Indifference. It would likely be wise to turn elsewhere after the Queen performance, and let the PVR pile up some footage that I could fast-forward through as required.

In the meantime, I shall distract myself with Adam Lambert’s new song, to be released tonight at midnight. (Bite me, haters.)


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Ticketmonster

I was on vacation in Seattle, and awake before Jean was, for some reason, when I got an email about a pre-sale for a Who concert in Toronto nearly a year later. Buying a concert ticket on a tablet while on vacation isn’t the ideal scenario, but I had the time, so I figured I might as well see what I could get.

As anyone who’s tried it knows, buying tickets from Ticketmaster is a roll of the dice. Who knows what seats it will cough up for your consideration, and at what price, at any given time?

But this time the dice landed landed on: Floor seats! In the front centre section! And at the normal price, no VIP / resale nonsense!

Stunned, I started the checkout process…

Only to lose the connection partway as the flaky hotel wifi conked out.

Cue the swearing. (Quiet swearing, as Jean was still sleeping.)

Wifi returned, I tried again, and… So did my luck! I was still able to get front center floor seats at the normal price! And this time managed to complete the purchase. (The show was great.)

View from the floor was pretty good!

I have no idea how or why that happened or how I could possibly replicate it. I don’t recall who I got  this presale offer for, except that it wasn’t the fan club and it wasn’t American Express (I’ve never had an American Express). Was it just that the sale took place so far ahead? Did The Who just decide not to hold back that many seats as “VIP”?

We know the deal with Ticketmaster, that it’s exceedingly difficult for any human to beat out the resell bots—that, it turns out, Ticketmaster is in cahoots with). And that presales (and even the general sale) only have a subset of seats on offer, giving a constant impression that they are going fast.

I have had great, even front row, seats at other rock concerts, but that involved either not dealing with Ticketmaster (Bob Geldof in Ottawa, Roger Daltrey at Casinorama), or paying for VIP (Adam Lambert, who, as a solo artist, at least has moderate prices. If you don’t count the expense of getting to Berlin.).

Views from the front row

But for big shows in arenas, I think that Who concert was my once-in-a-lifetime good ticket-buying experience that won’t come around again. Especially since Ticketmaster keeps finding ways to make things worse.

Their latest ploy is to not tell you what the ticket prices are ahead of time. I don’t buy tickets often enough to know when this changed, but I’m certain that in the past you could look up ahead of time what ticket prices would be at different levels, so you could plan. They seem to not do that now.

I thought their main motivation must be that, in the frenzy, people might spend more than they otherwise would had they been able to plan ahead. But according to the CBC report on Ticketmaster, it’s also because they sometimes raise the prices a few hours after they initially go on sale.

They’re taking their queue from the airline industry.

Then there’s the new “Waiting room”. Admittedly, it wasn’t ideal before, sitting on the ticket buying web page waiting for the on-sale time, then refreshing and hoping nothing crashed before you could get in there to roll your dice.

So now, about an hour before the on-sale time, you can click to go into a “waiting room”. At on-sale time, it refreshes and you are “randomly” assigned a place in line.

I had over 2000 people in line ahead of me. The only other person I know who’s tried this also started with over 2000 people in line ahead of her. Make of that what you will.

There’s a little animation of your place in line that moves along as the number of people in front of you drop. You daren’t go anywhere else, but it’s not the most compelling viewing. (I can’t find a screen cap of it. Everybody must be too stressed while waiting to take one.)

Finally, your turn comes up, you copy in your presale code, you see what seats come up! And how much they are!

My target this time was yet another Queen + Adam Lambert tour. It was awful. I switched between seeing what was available for general sale and what the “cheaper” VIP offered. You couldn’t seem to look at both options at once, and of course, every time I went back to one or the other, the available seating was less. (Also, the Best Available sorting? Really wasn’t in that order!)

I finally picked something. I winced at the total, but smiled at the seating chart.

I don’t have a solution to this. If you want to see a big rock concert at an arena, Ticketmaster and resellers are your only option. Queen + Adam Lambert are encouraging use of Twickets, where people aren’t allowed to sell the tickets at higher than the price they paid. So that’s nice, but they currently have 0 tickets on offer. (Admittedly, there’s a lot of time for people’s plans to change.)

In Europe, they seem to have many more places where you can still buy general floor seats, then end up with a good spot if you’re willing to wait in line for them. Not all that helpful for North Americans.

So, I’m just glad there aren’t that many artists for whom I’m willing to go through this.

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One of the few


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Bohemian Rhapsody: The movie, the critics

220px-bohemian_rhapsody_posterWhat I wanted to do, really, was see Bohemian Rhapsody, the new Freddie Mercury biopic, on its first day out, so that I could make up my own mind about it without the critiques or praises of others clogging my brain. However, a combination of it being released in Europe a week before North America (theoretically, I could have flown to London for the premiere, but that seemed a bit much) and a lack of willpower on my part meant that I did read some early reviews.

Which were not exactly sterling, let’s put it that way (Bohemian Rhapsody review – Queen biopic will not rock you).

But I at least managed to keep my UK reading to a minimum and get to the North American preview performance.

My friends, I loved the movie.

Now, my husband’s said that it was Queen, so of course I’d like it. So I would just like to point out that I do not, in fact, like every Queen-adjacent product. I have this Queen Symphonic Tribute CD that I can’t stand, because the musical arrangements are crap. I’ve slogged through horribly written Queen bios. I did not enjoy the combination of Brian May, Roger Taylor, and Paul Rodgers performing Queen songs.

But this movie? It felt that it was made for me. I enjoyed seeing how they compressed events and use allusions to cover a decade and a half of Freddie’s life in 2 hours 15 minutes. I reveled in all the little in-jokes and references that only real Queen fans would catch: Jim Beach mucking with the sound board at Live Aid. Adam Lambert playing a trucker who catches Freddie’s eye. And I was totally captivated by Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie, which at times nearly brought me to tears.

All the music performance scenes are outstanding. And that whole final scene at Live Aid. Man. That’s every bit as good as you hope it will be. (And I love Live Aid almost as much as I love Queen.)

Being somewhat masochistic, and having seen it now, I can’t help reading the North American reviews. Now, some of them were positive (like the Toronto Star‘s), even if grudgingly (my favourite of these being the Washington Post’s: Bohemian Rhapsody is bad. Go see it anyway). But more were negative, some scathing (Globe and Mail: 1 star! New York Times: Mud on your face! Big disgrace! [that’s at least a clever diss.]). All adding up to a mere 55% (now 60%) positive critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But a 92% (now 95%) positive audience score.

The most common complaint from the critics is that the movie is not that creative or edgy. And I’m going to grant that this is true. It’s pretty conventionally told, with a script that can’t seem to help but have its characters spell out its themes, however awkward the resulting dialog (The band is family. Freddie invents himself. Queen are a band of misfits.), rather than develop them through more natural interactions.

It’s just that I didn’t care. Cliches are cliches for a reason; they can be quite satisfying! The movie entertained me. But I guess when your job is to see all the movies, you need more from them to give them a good review. Fair enough.

But some other critiques? Deserve their own critique.

1. That the depiction of Freddie Mercury was disrespectful and inaccurate

The Globe and Mail review has that complaint, as does this Uproxx one. Interesting to me that these critics are so confident they know the essence of who Freddie Mercury was better than the people who actually knew and loved him, and who contributed to the film.

Yes, the movie depicts Freddie as, at one point, living a drug- and sex-fueled lifestyle while the rest of the band are settled with their wives and children. And this is a simplification—Roger’s marriages were rather turbulent, Brian fell in love with an actress he ultimately left his wife for, John used to drink vodka on stage, which doesn’t seem a good sign. But it’s a fact that the band was worried about Freddie’s behavior at this time, and that it did cause tension between them.

Overall, Malek plays Freddie as an essentially decent human being, one who struggled with loneliness, and who had a confidence in his talent that led to moments of arrogance. I’m OK with that depiction, and it squares with some of the stories I’ve read about him. I don’t get why it’s making some people so angry.

2. The movie skipped / condensed / reordered / simplified / added event x, y, or z

That it surely did, since otherwise the movie would have to be literally 15 years long. And admittedly, I had the advantage of knowing what was left out or added in, and just filling that in or correcting it mentally. And especially interesting are the bits they just assumed everyone knew and therefore didn’t bother depicting, like how enormously successful “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the song) was.

But OK, you can argue they didn’t make the best choices in how they selected or simplified events.

One common complaint was that it made Queen’s rise to fame look quick and easy, when in fact it was more of a struggle. That could have been interesting to show. But it probably wouldn’t have been as fun. Did you really want to see Freddie just hanging around with Smile for months, making suggestions, until Tim Staffell finally left? Or that one cute scene of him auditioning for Brian and Roger in the parking lot? Would it really be that interesting to watch the entire process of building a song like “We Will Rock You”? Versus just seeing it just go “whoosh” from studio stomping to stadium singalong?

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Then there are the things missing entirely: “How about his childhood in Zanzibar?” “What about all the drama with their first manager?” I could add my own: “What about Brian May contracting hepatitis and kiboshing their first US tour?” “What about Barbara Valentine, the other woman Freddie had a love affair with, in Munich? Wouldn’t that have added an interesting complication in this story?”

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The first cut of this movie was about 3 hours—maybe some of that is in there. If they ever release an extended version on DVD, that would be great. But I don’t think a theatre rock bio should be that long. And I’m not sure what I would drop from this version to add some of those other bits—though I would have scripted Freddie’s party scene differently. The band-mate fight they invented for the movie made them all look like asses; I think the other three getting alarmed at Freddie’s behavior and discussing that amongst themselves would have worked better. But some songs being out of order, the invented breakup… I can accept for the sake of drama.

Certainly the most controversial change was Freddie telling the band about his AIDS diagnosis shortly before the Live Aid concert. But in reality, that happened two years later. Some said that was unnecessarily manipulative.

But I don’t think it would have felt right if they had omitted AIDS from the movie entirely, to keep it in their selected time span. And, it’s an amazing scene in the film.

3. The movie isn’t gay enough

Likely fueled by Sasha Baron Cohen’s comments when he was dropped as the lead, has been the concern that Freddie would be “straight-washed”. Literally, before they even started filming, I read a whole ranty blog post rant by someone who was positive that would be the case. And then when the first trailer came out, and it showed Freddie with Mary Austin but not so much with dudes, same complaints.

But the movie very clearly (though not explicitly) covers the fact that Freddie had sex with men. Lots of men. And if it risks showing his being gay as a tragedy in his life (though that wasn’t, in fact, the easiest time to be gay), it certainly mitigates that by including the start of his loving relationship with Jim Hutton.

I’m too heterosexual to comment on whether the esthetic of this film is gay enough, but nobody’s going to come out of it thinking that Freddie was straight.

Conclusion

Freddie Mercury was a fascinating man. You could approach his life story from a lot of angles. I hope there are other movies, in the future, that have a different take, that focus on different parts of his life.

But for a first go, I’m satisfied. You might be, too.


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Bright spots in December (other than the obvious one)

The Christmas vacation post is coming, but Jean hasn’t had a chance to select and process the Christmas photos yet. So in the meantime, here’s a list of items that brightened the per-Christmas period for me this year.

Gel eyeliner

I’m a makeup girl. (Woman. Whatever.) I never wear perfume, I rarely bother with nail polish, and I don’t like spending much time styling my hair. But makeup, I find fun. It seems worth than 10 or so minutes lalmost every day.

But eyeliner has always been tricky. Liquid eyeliner is too dramatic for day use. And hard to apply corectly for night use. Pencil eyeliners are easy to apply but often result in a rather pale line that usually smudges during the day, producing that terrific raccoon eyes effect.

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Fortunately it rarely got this bad, but still… (photo from the Huffington Post)

I don’t know why I’m only learning this now, but makeup artists prefer gel or cream eyeliners—the kind that comes in a little pot. Having a good brush is vital, but with that, these eyeliners are pretty easy to apply. And they don’t set immediately, so if you don’t get it quite right, it’s easy to fix. And best of all, once you are happy with the results, it will set and stay with no smudging for the whole day. The line is distinct, but not as harsh as with liquid eyeliners. I love this stuff.

The brand I got was Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Gel Eyeliner in Stay Coffee colour. From The Bay. The brush that comes with it is fairly useless, but with a better one (that I already owned), the product itself is excellent.

 

T-shirt bra

The ThirdLove bra company advertised fairly heavily in the Washington Post this year, til I finally got intrigued. “Discover your best-fitting bra in 60 seconds.” No tape measure required. You just had to answer a series of questions about your breast shape and current bra-fitting issues.

Maybe other people have better mental self-image, but for me this took more than 60 seconds because I kept having to run from PC to the bathroom mirror to see which little breast diagram best reflected my shape and whether my current bra rode up or gapped. But it’s true I didn’t have to use a tape measure.

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Nor, fortunately, were any of these sorts of calisthenics required

Having completed the questions, I tried to take ThirdLove up on their “try free for 30 days” offer, but it didn’t apply to Canada, so I abandoned the effort. Only to then be emailed me and offered a discount. I then went ahead with an order, that was promptly charged to my card.

Some days later I realized I had yet to receive a shipping notification, which seemed odd. Some days more after that, they did email again say there was some issue with my order, but that it would come eventually. And also here’s another discount for my next order. Then there was more radio silence, with the added small aggravation that every time I visited their website to try to figure out what was going on, they’d email trying to get me to buy another bra!

So I was a bit predisposed to be skeptical of their product when it finally did arrive, but damn if it isn’t the best-fitting, most comfortable bra I’ve ever had.

BBC Live Aid documentary

Lo these many years later, I retain fond memories of the 1985 Live Aid concert. It was organized by a singer I really liked (Bob Geldof); my favourite band, Queen, were the stars of the day; and it featured so many other artists I also like (The Who, U2, George Michael, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, The Boomtown Rats…). And all for a good cause!

So I was pretty excited when YouTube coughed up this recommendation:

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I also found this buried in a drawer!

Though produced in 2011 or so, I had never heard of this Live Aid: Against All Odds documentary—a hazard of not living in the UK, I suppose. Being 3 hours long (there’s a Part 2 as well), I had to wait a bit to start it—because once I did, I predictably didn’t want to stop.

I’ve watched other documentaries on Live Aid, I’ve read books and magazines, but still, I learned more from this one. Like just how demented and troublesome a figure Bill Graham was. And that the hosts on the BBC side had never done anything on this scale before and were petrified. There’s also considerable time spent on the degree to which Midge Ure (co-writer of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”) was overshadowed by Bob Geldof—though Midge refuses to go into an all-out rant about it. (“That’s just Bob.”)

Definitely recommended viewing to anyone else who looks back on that day fondly.

Yoga mat and blender parts

These things are so prosaic, but still…

mat_group_sweep-COLOURFixMy old yoga mat was basically disintegrating. I was looking to add an item to an online order to get free shipping. I saw they sold yoga mats at what seemed a reasonable price, so I threw that in.

I guess I hadn’t particularly realized that, like anything else, some yoga mats are better than others. This yoga mat is just better than any I’ve had before (though admittedly, the “before” are all cheapie Canadian Tire ones). It’s thicker. It’s “stickier”. It just feels better to stand on. It’s the Halfmoon Studio yoga mat.

(Also, did you know you can clean yoga mats in the washing machine? Cold water, delicate cycle, hang to dry. Works great, no manual scrubbing.)

brevilleAs for the blender parts, I was just glad those were so easy to buy. I used to have Cuisinart blenders. The units worked great, but eventually the bowl or the lid would break, crack, chip—somehow become unusable. And Cuisinart just made it really difficult to buy replacements (at least at the time). Hard to find, expensive… Once I bought a whole new unit just to be able to use the parts with my previous unit.

Now I have a Breville. For which I needed a new small bowl and lid before the cracks spread to the point of making them unusable. Remarkably, all I had to do was go to their website and order those two parts, which were then shipped to my house. Imagine!

Glow

This Netflix series has been out for a while, but it was December viewing for us. Set in the 1980s, it’s about a group of women cast as wrestlers for a television series. Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) is the main character we follow through, but all the women get some time in the spotlight. Marc Maron plays the failed B movie director Sam Silvia, hired by rich-boy wrestling fan Chris Lowell to direct the show. All the actors are really strong.

I’m no kind of wrestling fan, but I still enjoyed the pace, drama, and humour of this women-focused series (as did Jean). I even gained some appreciation of wrestling. And as a bonus, it also has a great 80s soundtrack.

 


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100% fresh

We saw Lady Bird last weekend. This indie film is most famous for having attained a record 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that it got positive notices from all 195 critics who reviewed it.

It would be nicely contrarian of me to report that I didn’t like it… but I did. Set in 2002, it’s about a young woman named Christine (who prefers to be called Lady Bird) negotiating her last year of high school in Sacramento, California. Nothing epic or bizarre occurs. She tries to boost her college changes with extracurriculars. She dates boys for the first time. She abandons old friends for new. She consistently fails to please her mother.

But it works because her character and the supporting characters are so strong and appealing, with great acting that makes them all believable. And, because it presents a time of life and experiences that most of us (at least most North Americans) can relate to. Even Jean, who definitely prefers plot-driven films over character-driven ones like this, was able to enjoy the ride. For me, it didn’t hurt that it was centrally a story of women: Christine, her mom, and her best friend are the main characters. Dad, the boyfriends, the brother, were all supporting cast.


Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a new-ish Freddie Mercury biography called Somebody to Love, by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne. It’s hardly the first Freddie biography ever written (or that I’ve read) and I missed the fine print that this one would be particularly looking at his life in the context of the AIDS crisis. Which I pretty quickly decided was not the context I prefer to focus on. Sure, it was sort of interesting finding out just how far back the disease’s origins can be traced, and that Freddie had had an encounter with “patient zero”, and that Reagan wasn’t quite as bad on AIDS as they say (though he was pretty bad), but overall I found myself skipping over the pages discussing increasing death rates or what symptoms Freddie developed when, preferring the parts that talked about the music and the important relationships in his life.

Those parts were a reminder, though, of the extent of critical slagging Queen endured throughout their career. The reviews were not just negative—they were scathing.

A Day at the Races, 1976: “I hate this album…. All of these songs with their precious impotent Valentino kitsch mouthings on romance, their spotlight on a vocalist so giddily enamoured with his own precious image—they literally make my flesh creep.” NME. (Hey, NME: Homophobic much?)

The Game, 1980: “Less obnoxious than Queen’s last few outings, simply because it’s harder to get annoyed at a group that’s plugging away at bad rockabilly than with one blasting out crypto-Nazi marching tunes.” Rolling Stone (Yes, Nazi comparisons are always apropos.)

The Miracle, 1989: “Addresses the question how much bad taste it is possible to cram onto one album.” The Times.

Few critics at the time seemed to recognize that Queen wrote songs that would endure, become the soundtrack of people’s lives. That in the multi-layered vocals, they developed a sound unique to them. That they four song writers each capable of writing hit songs. That they had one the best rock vocalists. That this band would come to be seen as one of all-time greats.


Both of which got me thinking of the state of professional criticism today, compared with the pre-digital era. For movies, while the influence of any individual critic has diminished compared with the heyday of the likes of Pauline Kael, Anthony Lane, and Siskel and Ebert, as an aggregate, they seem to have Hollywood spooked!

I find it fascinating that Rotten Tomatoes, a site I’ve been using for years, has recently become this force: How Rotten Tomatoes became Hollywood’s most influential — and feared — website

Decades ago, the only way to evaluate a movie before its release was to read reviews in major publications such as the New York Times, the New Yorker or the Los Angeles Times. Today, moviegoers rely on the Tomatometer, a number that shows what percentage of critics recommend the film.

It’s no coincidence that the few breakout hits of the summer box office all have scores of 80% or higher… And for lesser films, a very low score can be fatal.

But for music? Aggregate sites do exist, like Metacritic—but I had to look up that fact, because I don’t use them, even though I do listen to music regularly. And the only thing I’ve read about recent music criticism is that it seems to be overly positive now. The original WSJ article is pay-walled, so here’s a report on (and critique of) that article: No, There Weren’t Only 8 Bad Albums in the Last 4 Years.

Why the difference? Well, movies are still something of an investment, aren’t they? Of time, if nothing else: two or so hours you won’t get back if you hated, hated, hated that movie. But often of money also: people still go to theatres to see movies, buy them on disc, pay to rent them, subscribe to movie channels. And they’re still expensive to make, so there’s only so many of them released each month. And there’s no Spotify of movies, really: Current movies are not in constant competition with movies of the past. If you’re into movies, you can focus on and make a decision about each.

But albums? They’re no longer distributed on vinyl discs you can play only on your home stereo system… And it’s really just about songs now, which are short, and you can listen to those anywhere, and (if you don’t mind the ads) it’s free to do so. Who needs to be warned away from a bad album when the skip button is right there? The danger isn’t in wasting time (or money) on bad music; it’s on missing out on great music because there is just so much music so easily available now. Of course music reviews are mostly positive: Recommendations are all we need.


So yeah, Rotten Tomatoes got me out to see Lady Bird, and I’m glad it did. I would point out that its 100% score doesn’t mean that all 195 critics thought it was the best movie ever, only that all agreed it was a good one. I would say that too. I liked it, but I don’t know if it’s the best movie I saw even this year: Get Out was so creative, The Big Sick did a great job of balancing the tragic and the comic. But Lady Bird was also a worthy two hours.

As for Queen, all those crappy reviews at the time never deterred me—I’m not sure how many I would have read, anyway, in the pre-digital era where British music magazines weren’t easily available. But the band read them, and yes, despite their success, it did bother them. So I’m glad that most of the group has survived to see the tide of opinion change, and that they can still play to sold-out arenas around the world (to positive reviews, at that). It’s just really tragic that Freddie didn’t live to see that, as well.

Fun way to end this:

Most of these kids actually have heard of Queen, which likely in itself says something of their legacy. But the most fun is the one little girl who hasn’t. “That’s the same band?” she comments, amazed, hearing “Killer Queen” right after “Radio Gaga”. “What is this?” she says, eyes wide, of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

That, my dear, is probably the greatest rock epic of all time.


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Camel camel camel

I’m probably late to this whole thing, but in case anyone else is too…

Earlier this year I’d written about the baffling and frequent ways that pricing on Amazon varies. My example was a blu-ray of a Queen+Adam Lambert concert. I’d described a price range of $145 to $48. And wondered if I should have waited even longer for a cheaper price.

Among all the Black Friday / Cyber Monday coverage this week, I read about the very handy camelcamelcamel.com website (this link will bring you to the Canadian site, but you can pick another country from there). Here you can paste in a URL of an Amazon item, and see just how much that item’s price has ranged in the last six months. Here’s what I got for that QAL blu-ray:

qal-super-sonic-pricing.png

Showing that not only had it at times been more than $145, I had indeed purchased it at a historic low price.

Clearly a handy tool if you’re wondering just how good a current Amazon sale price is. (Turns out I should have bought that toaster oven at $203 Friday; that’s just $4 above its historic low and now it’s at $230. Meh.)