Having finished the latest seasons of Glow and Mindhunter on Netflix, and the six episodes of Chernobyl on HBO (those are all recommended series, by the way, as is the new Stumptown), Jean and I needed a new show to stream. I short-listed four:
When They See Us
Jean declared interest in all but the last (about the Central Park Five), which he thought he’d find too depressing.
We decided to start with the six-episode Good Omens, from Amazon Prime.
The premise here is that history as told in the Bible is actually true, and all that dinosaur evidence to the contrary is just God’s idea of a joke. Also, the apocalypse is nearing. An angel (Aziraphale) and a demon (Crowley), who have both been on Earth for quite some time, and have grown rather fond of the place, secretly team up to try and thwart it.
Four episodes in, we’re quite enjoying it. It’s quirky and funny. The cast, led by Michael Sheen and David Tennant–but also featuring John Hamm, Michael McKean, and the voice of Frances Macdormand–is terrific. The episodes don’t waste any time in speeding along toward the end of days. As an added bonus, it also happens to feature a great deal of Queen music.
If there’s anything the show reminds of me of, that would be my favourite network show, NBC’s The Good Place.
Currently in season four, with past seasons available on Netflix, The Good Place is a half-hour comedy starring Kristen Bell and Ted Dansen. It begins when Eleanor Shellstrop dies and finds herself in “the good place” (as opposed to “the bad place”). Only, given the wonderfully charitable lives the other inhabits of “the good place” have led, Eleanor fears that she has mistakenly been assigned there. And has to figure out how to avoid being found out and sent to the bad place.
But that’s just the initial setup. This series goes places in its four seasons, with twists you don’t see coming, unexpected alliances, and utterly bold time jumps and compression. The series is really better watched unspoiled, so I don’t want to give much away. But it does share with Good Omens the off-kilter look at religious themes, the representation of the forces of good and evil as largely banal bureaucracies, and a cartoon-like comedy approach to dealing with deep subjects. Like the best of fantasy series (hi, Buffy) both use the fantastical to comment on modern human realities.
Still, you can’t push it too far. Good Omens is a six-part series of one-hour episodes, based on a beloved (albeit not read by me) Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel. It’s largely about poking fun at the absurdity of literal religious beliefs. (I think. I mean, I still have two episodes to go.)
(But, one of my favourite parts of Good Omens so far is the look back at the time of Noah’s Ark.
[The following are not exact quotes, but…] “What’s going on, then?” asks Crowley. “God’s feeling tetchy. She’s decided to drown everyone. Big storm,” replies Aziraphale. “What? Everyone? Even the children?” The angel nods, mutely. Then adds, “Well, just the locals. I don’t think she’s mad at the Chinese. Or the Native Americans…”)
Whereas The Good Place is a completely original, four-season (all short seasons) sitcom. It does not take on traditional religion and its beliefs, but really digs into morality and philosophy: can people change? What does it mean to be good? It’s stunning that there is a half-hour American sitcom about that, isn’t it? (And yes, it’s hilarious!)
So, in summary, Good Omens and The Good Place are both good shows that are somewhat similar but also not really, except that both are deserving of your time and attention.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
It’s got to be “Shallow” from A Star IsBorn, 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…
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…
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…
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.)
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.)
What 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.
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?
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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…
My 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.)
As 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!
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.)
Just because I haven’t been blogging lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about stuff…
Not writing about news is good news
I’ve actually started a number of posts about current events, but it all gets so depressing. And it changes so fast.
Like after Charlottesville, I was going to write a thing about how Canadians could join the Sleeping Giant twitter campaign to discourage companies from advertising on the alt-right Rebel Media website. But within days, The Rebel seemed to be sort of falling apart anyway, and it no longer seemed, maybe, the best way to spend one’s limited amount of time for activism.
“We have a chipmunk living behind our TV cabinets”, I wrote to our catsitter.
That was mid-July, and it had already been around for a couple weeks. Nearing September, the chipmunk was still with us.
Yes, they’re cute. But they’re still rodents.
It seemed to have a developed a routine of leaving its hiding place mid-morning to drink water from the cats’ bowls (handily kept right near the TV cabinets) and scrounge for food—which it was clearly doing successfully, given its longevity.
[Something I just learned from “Interesting facts about chipmunks: “Chipmunks are diurnal. In other words, they only come out during the daytime. The reason is not because they are blind at night, but because everything is too dark for their main defense system—their eyes—to work to their advantage.” Would explain why I never saw it in the evening.]
The chipmunk became increasingly brazen, stopping to give me a look to determine that I still appeared unable to catch (it was right; there is no catching a chipmunk!) before scurrying up the stairs to see what treasures could be found on the main floor. The cats occasionally decided to give chase, but more often just watched it, bemused.
The chipmunk was too big to be caught in mouse traps, too small to set off the squirrel trap, which we’d find untripped, bait missing. (“Great,” I said. “Now we’re purposefully feeding it.”)
We’d leave windows open a crack, but it showed no interest in exiting.
Maybe we need a rat trap, Jean suggested.
Before going that lethal route, we tried one more live trap, this one apparently designed for chipmunks: The Havahart Model #1025.
It took three days, but it actually worked: Chipmunk out for its rounds, almost immediately entered the trap, and… Trap door shut!
Chipmunk not happy.
I was a little freaked out by the success, especially as the little thing was making a terrible ruckus trying to bang its way out. Then I got it together enough to throw a pillow case over the trap (that’s supposed to calm the animal), and cary it out and over to the park, where I released it into the woods.
Herein ends your unrequested lesson in how to get a chipmunk out of your house. Now if only we could locate its entry point, so it can’t find its way back in…
Beyond the Lights or under the radar?
It was nominated for an Oscar and won some BET and critic’s awards, but I’m not sure how many people have heard of the movie Beyond the Lights. I was sort of looking out for it when it was released in 2015, but if it came around, it didn’t stay long.
I saw it recently as a DVD loaner from the library (it’s also on US Netflix). It’s about a young black woman, Noni, whose latest single is a big hit and whose first album is hotly anticipated. But after an award-winning night, she goes off alone and stands on the balcony of her fancy hotel room, thinking about jumping. She’s rescued by the young black officer on duty to protect her. They really seem to connect…
So yes, this is a romance, but better-written than most. Their challenges as a couple—the paparazzi, parental disapproval on both sides, conflicting career aspirations (the police officer also has political ambitions)—seem believable, not just plot contrivances. That Noni has a stage mom is a bit of cliche, but the character isn’t just a cartoon villain. The movie also offers a critique of the highly sexualized way young women are marketed in the music industry. (The film was written and directed by a woman, Gina Prince-Bythewood.) The actors are good, and lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw does have a lovely voice.
So if this sounds like your kind of thing, I think you’ll enjoy it. (And if not, like Jean, you’ll likely still admit it’s a decent film.)
Also recommended—but I assume most people have heard of this movie—the “still in theatres” The Big Sick. Making comedy out of the unfunny matters of race and illness.
Amazon pricing: Maybe it’s a game?
So back in November, the first-ever official live Queen + Adam Lambert blu-ray was released, initially sold only from a Japanese website. I most definitely wanted this thing, but when I did the conversion from Yen, it was $120 Canadian for the single disc + CD, plus shipping from Japan, which seemed… pricey, given that your average blu-ray is about $20.
So I waited for it to be available from Amazon as an import, whereupon it was listed for… $145. This was not going in the right direction. I kept checking it periodically, but the price remained stubbornly high, and nowhere else (including ebay) seemed to offer anything better.
Then one day Amazon emailed me to inform me that the price had dropped. Which it had… To $101.
I was considering that, but wasn’t yet convinced.
Then a little over a week ago, I had a random look Friday at lunch time and… It was $48.
So, fine, I ordered it. (And despite them telling me that by not choosing Prime, I’d have to wait til Thursday to get it, it arrived on Monday, Prime time!)
But the thing is, when I looked at the price again later that very same day—when I happened to be logged in as Jean—it was $62.
And right now, for both of me and Jean, it’s $67.
I’ve heard that Amazon has these sophisticated pricing algorithms that causes pricing to vary at any given time based on your past purchasing habits.
Which makes me wonder: Did I cave too soon? If I had kept checking at random times and days, would I have eventually acquired this item at $25?
And does this mean that all Amazon items are cheaper for me at lunchtime? Or on Fridays? Or have I ruined both now by going through with a purchase at that time and day?
And what’s up with the wildly different prices on the same piece of clothing at different sizes?
One dress, but each of its four sizes is a different price with a $140 range!
Anyway. The blu-ray is a gorgeous thing, with the best video and sound I’ve ever seen and heard on recorded Queen + Adam Lambert material. So I’m happy with it, even if the camera operator doesn’t always know when it’s important to focus on Adam (like, when he’s getting on his bike, and riding!).
Netflix: Giving us the sitcom revivals we didn’t know we needed
I don’t know that the world was clamoring for a remake of the Bonnie Franklin-starring 70s / 80s sitcom One Day at a Time, but Netflix has gifted it with one anyway. I was surprised to see how high it appeared on lists of best Netflix originals, so I decided to check it out.
What has it retained from the original? Well, there’s still a single Mom living in an apartment with her two teenage children, and a building supervisor named Schneider. Also, the same theme song, only re-recorded in a cooler version.
With its live studio audience and typical sitcom wisecracks flying, the series initially lulls you into thinking it will be super-light entertainment. But though it never gets too heavy, almost every episode touches on serious and often timely subjects: Dealing with PTSD. The challenges veterans have getting help from the VA. Figuring out your sexual identity. Raising boys in the age of online porn. Crackdowns on undocumented immigrants. Pay equity. Affirmative action.
(Hey, I somehow circled back to news, sort of.)
It wasn’t the sort of addictive thing that I had to keep watching, but I enjoyed every episode and grew quite fond of the characters. Despite that list of Serious Issues, it is a comedy, and a funny one. I was sad to see the end of Season 1. Fortunately, it has been renewed for a second season.
We took a week off in July in lieu of the one originally planned in June, when Jean’s work commitments meant he couldn’t get away. We had to go to Toronto on Tuesday, July 18 anyway, because we had tickets to a Queen + Adam Lambert concert. We built the rest of the vacation around that.
The city can look purty
We’d first thought of going to Québec City after Toronto, but that’s a really popular destination this time of year. Finding a hotel was a challenge, and we started to think it would just be unpleasant with so many people crowded into the Old Town there. We switched over to Kingston, which is much less of a drive, so thought of adding a day in Toronto.
But Toronto is also a very popular destination this time of year. And while we could have stayed at our hotel an extra night, the price for that extra night jumped dramatically. (And this was for a hotel room that was probably the smallest we’ve ever had in Canada. Mind, the hotel itself—the Strathcona—was very conveniently located downtown, though something of a nightmare to drive to and expensive to park at.) So, we decided to stick with just two days in “The 6”.
At night also
We took some time while there to visit my sister and brother-in-law in their lovely new apartment. That didn’t leave much time for doing Toronto “stuff”. Mainly, during the day, we walked around various neighbourhoods: The Harbourfront area, the Distillery District (highlight: visiting the Soma chocolate store), Kensington Market.
Unofficial poster. Seems to be one of these for each stop.
You see this warning sign? This show has strobe lights, it has lasers, it has smoke, it has explosions. You name it, this show has it. You’re allergic to any of these things? I suggest you go home now.
It was the first time I’d had to go through a metal detector at an Air Canada Centre concert, but all the ACC staff (like the one quoted above) were really very cheery and nice, helping everyone out to ensure we all got through quickly and safely. This was a relief to Jean, who’d been worried on seeing the lineup when arrived. As was the fact that we had no problem getting his camera in (only “professional” cameras were banned, but what is that?).
We sat next to a woman from Newfoundland, a fan of Queen but especially of Adam Lambert, who’d flown up special for the concert. (Jean shared that we’d flown all the way to Berlin for our Adam Lambert concert.) Her husband was in town with her, but not at the show, which caused Jean to give me a look. Well, he couldn’t very well abandon me on our 25th wedding anniversary night, could he?
Our view was from here—and it actually wasn’t bad. Though Jean complained that they played more to the other half of the room.
And truly, it was a really great show. Would have been a shame if he missed it.
The staging, the lights, the effects
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen better. Before the show started, we could tell the stage was in a guitar shape, but were having trouble figuring out how things (like the projection screens) were laid out… Then the show began with this huge robot hand smashing through the screen, then looking out, then raising it with both hands to reveal the band playing “We Will Rock You.” Awesome!
Other highlights included Adam Lambert literally rising from the floor to sing the exquisite “Who Wants to Live Forever”; the stunning laser show; the effect of a simple disco ball in a stadium; the interesting, multi-level video background for Brian May’s solo (built around the Queen logo, deconstructed); and the stunning amount of confetti at the end.
Dynamite with a laser beam! Source: ror0roror0ro at https://www.instagram.com/p/BWthmNKDLlL/
That’s a lotta confetti! Source: lauracjthistle at https://www.instagram.com/p/BWtkqdOFbbQ/
Of course I love all the songs. But the band also performs them so well—without vocal modulators or click tracks. And, the sound mixing at the ACC was quite good. So I could hear Adam Lambert’s impeccable, incredible vocal flourishes on songs like “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Somebody to Love,” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” And the band’s excellent harmonies on songs like “I Want It All”.
One great band
The drum battle between Roger Taylor and new recruit (from Queen Extravaganza) Tyler Warren was fun. And the guitar solo—which I’d been dreading a bit, having found it somewhat long and dull at their last concert—was fantastic. It was shorter, for one, and all built around familiar melodies (at least to a Queen fan) from “Lost Horizon” and “Brighton Rock”. Kudos.
All the feels
The set list is designed to take you on an emotional journey. You start with the powerful adrenaline rush of a snippet of “We Will Rock You,” followed by the powerhouses “Hammer to Fall” and “Stone Cold Crazy.”
There is then a gradual segue to the fun and frothy part of the evening, introduced by Adam Lambert singing “Killer Queen” atop the head of Frank the robot, while wearing a hot pink suit. (“Gayest suit ever!” he proclaimed.) Included at the juncture was an Adam Lambert single, “Two Fux,” along with “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Bicycle Race,” wherein Adam rode around on a pink, flower-laded tricycle.
Adam’s groiny interpretation of Fat Bottomed Girls
But they really amped up to 11 on “Get Down, Make Love,” a welcome addition on this tour. The whole backdrop for this song was red, dripping, sexy imagery, which Lambert only enhanced with his orgasmic vocal prowess.
“Was it good for you?” he asked. (Umm, excuse me, I’ll be in my bunk.)
But Adam wasn’t the only significant contributor to this portion of the evening. Roger Taylor took lead vocals on another recent set addition, “I’m in Love with My Car,” a song that really shouldn’t be sexy, but somehow is, the way he sings it.
Brian May? Well, he introduced the poignant part of the evening, moving to the front of the stage to sing “Love of My Life,” accompanying himself on accoustic guitar. The effects here were a sea of cell phone lights, which was just beautiful. And though I knew that video Freddie Mercury would make an appearance near the end, the way they did that, with Freddie seeming to stand right beside Brian, I couldn’t help tearing up.
Stars in the cell phone firmament. Source: a_jm_v, https://www.instagram.com/p/BWtmDWGFpq-/
Through “Somebody to Love”, and “Under Pressure,” and “Radio Ga Ga,” [aside that I’m not listing every song they played], the band managed to create a more intimate feel in this large space.
So close you could touch them. (Not really.)
Of course, the ending was triumphant. I liked how they rejigged “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They included the usually skipped “Is this the real life?” introduction, with Adam taking lead vocals. He also sang both verses, instead of sharing those with video Freddie. Of course, the operatic part is still from the original video. Freddie just appears at the very end, trading off lines with Adam.
The crowd was really great (as I usually find with Toronto). I thought we’d spend most of the concert sitting, but no, they were up for standing for probably three-quarters of the show. Brian May’s birthday was the following day, when there was no concert, so we got the fun of singing “Happy birthday” to him, after he honoured us with a selfie stick photo (posted here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw6i-QMjSuY). At the end, Adam thought Brian should wear his crown (though that proved a bit of a problem, as it was sized for Adam’s bigger head).
(This is turning an epic post, but why stop now.) The evening before the concert, we’d originally hoped to dine at Canoe, but it was summerlicious time in Toronto (that is, specially priced meals at certain restaurants), which meant that Canoe was fully booked for two weeks. (And that likely happened on the first day summerlicious reservations were open.)
So, we went to Richmond Station, a new restaurant for us, even though we couldn’t get in til 8:30 pm. We’d read that they offered surprise, multi-course “chef’s menus”, but that wasn’t mentioned on their printed menu. Jean asked about it, though, and they confirmed that it was on offer, and the head chef was in that day, so it should be a good one.
They also asked us if we had any special occasion, and Jean mumbled something about, no, we’re just here for a darn Queen concert, but I piped about it being our 25th wedding anniversary the next day. That was good, because it resulted in a complimentary glass of bubbly each, to go along with our half-liter of (delicious) Oregon Pinot Noir that we thought should be generally food friendly.
The bubbly with our first course, oyster and trout tartar
What a nice meal we had there. All courses—eight of them—were prepared with care and delicious. The service was attentive. Our late start meant that we had a waiter switchover near the end, but that was handled very well. Tables were close together, so it was a bit loud, but that somehow didn’t bother us. And the whole thing was like, $200? Which seemed a great deal for a meal of this caliber in Toronto.
Beef tartar is not a thing I normally eat, but theirs was flavored very well. There was a small charcuterie plate. This amazingly light zucchini tempura. A set of two salads: one beet, one tomato, both great. [I feel like there might have been sweetbreads in here somewhere also?] Seared salmon with great vegetables. A smoky sirloin beef with potatoes (the smoke made it special).
It was all topped off by a very special dessert of ice cream, peanut butter, and hazelnut.
Before the concert on Tuesday, we went to our reliable Ki, where they once again did a really nice job of their “modern Japanese” food and excellent service.