Tag Archives: movies

Monday Musings: A Paean to the “Shuffle” Command

Let’s begin with the obvious: Everything that’s old is great, and new stuff sucks. It’s important to get that out of the way before we move on. I mean who are we kidding? The way things were when we were young — well, not so much “we” as “I” — the way things were when I was young? That’s how it should all be now. Progress is bad. Innovation is bad. Technology ruins everything and the world was a better place before people invented all that stuff. By which I mean, anything that hadn’t yet been invented when I turned 21.

Sticky Fingers, by The Rolling StonesMusic isn’t meant to be sold song by song. We’re supposed to buy albums. We’re supposed to put up with the bad songs in order to enjoy the good ones. That makes the listening experience better. For every “Eleanor Rigby” and “For No One” we should have to endure a “Doctor Robert.” For every “Brown Sugar” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’?” we should have to suffer through a “You Gotta Move.” It’s only fair. No one is entitled to a perfect listening experience, and songwriters deserve the chance to have their crappy songs heard alongside the good ones. This is America, damnit!

And don’t get me started on CDs versus LPs. What ever happened to the art of piecing together a two-sided album, of figuring out the proper song order so as to make those horrible, vinyl-wasting tunes that we hated as hard to avoid as possible? I mean sure LPs warped and skipped, and got scratched, making them all but unbearable after a year or two of solid use, but that’s a small price to pay for the inconvenience of having to interrupt a pot-induced haze to get up, walk to the stereo, and turn the record over.

Songs are meant to occur in a certain order. That’s how God intended it. And by God, I mean Mick Jagger. Or John Lennon. Or Joni Mitchell. Or David Crosby. Or Aretha Franklin. Or James Taylor. You know. God. As day follows night and spring follows winter, “You Can Call Me Al” is meant to come after “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Except not really, because that album came out after my twenty-first birthday. But never mind that.

The point is, albums set the order of songs and never shall they exist in any other configuration.

Except for mix tapes.

Okay, I confess. Back when I still listened to LPs (Kids, ask your parents. And get the hell off my lawn…) I made mix tapes all the time. I loved the idea of cutting out those songs I didn’t enjoy. I loved the idea of putting my favorite songs from any number of artists and any number of albums in one collection and being able to listen to all of them together. I loved listening to a new mix tape, of savoring the lingering surprise of the next tune from a completely different source.

Sadly, even in my pot-smoking days that surprise lasted for all of two or three listens. After that, the mix tapes became too familiar, taking on the wearisome predictability of the albums from which I’d culled the songs in the first place. As Rob Gordon (the John Cusack character in High Fidelity) says, “the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art.” But even the best made mix can’t save us from the fact that we remember and anticipate.

Enter the “shuffle” command on our phones and computers.

That stuff I said before, about everything new sucking? I didn’t mean this. And that part about all technology after the mid 1980s ruining the world? I might not have meant that, either. And the stuff I said about how great LPs were — that was total bullshit. Not that a case can’t be made. I mean, cell phones and computers and the constant presence of social media and “connectivity” in our daily lives — there’s a lot there to dislike.

But the shuffle command makes all of it worthwhile. Hitting “shuffle” is like putting in the ultimate mix tape. Every song is one we want to hear. Every transition is a surprise. Every listening experience is destined to be different.

Nirvana.

The state of being. Not the band. They definitely came on the scene after my twenty-first birthday…

The other night, Nancy and I were cooking dinner, and we had my iPhone on shuffle. (iPhones are okay. They were invented way before I turned 21. Really. I promise. Same with Bluetooth speakers like the one we were using. I swear.) And, quite seriously, I was struck that evening, after the fourth or fifth excellent song in a row, by the absurd amount of pleasure I derive from the shuffle feature. Ridiculous, I know. The world is in the midst of a pandemic. The planet is melting. American democracy is on life-support. But I can listen to a collection of Eagles tunes without fear of hearing “Chug All Night.”

It doesn’t get better than that.

Monday Musings: Movie Favorites!!

Last week, I wrote a Monday Musings post about my rock and roll favorites. I meant it as a diversion, something fun to write (and, I hope, to read) that had nothing to do with the pandemic or politics or any of the other stuff that makes the news so fraught right now.

This week, I thought I would take on my cinematic favorites in a variety of categories. Some of those categories are “serious.” Others, as you’ll see, are pretty goofy. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Again, as with last week, these are MY favorites, and are not in any way meant to be statements of what is “best.” This is meant to be fun. I’m not looking for arguments, though I welcome other opinions offered in the same spirit of amusement and sharing.

That said, and without further ado….

My Favorite Drama: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is a movie that can tick a lot of boxes. Some might call it a comedy – there are a lot of laughs here. Somehow, though, when both your heroes die at the end in a hail of bullets… well, not so much a comedy in my view. This is also my favorite Western of all time, and my favorite Buddy Movie of all time. Stars Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Katherine Ross. Directed by George Roy Hill.

My Favorite Comedy/RomCom: High Fidelity. Based on the novel of the same title by Nick Hornby. If you’re a music lover, you should see this movie. Wonderful. I know John Cusack is a bit of a wacko, but he’s great in this (he’s great in everything, actually). Stars John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black, Joan Cusack. Directed by Stephen Frears.

My Favorite Oldie Drama: Casablanca. Yeah, not really going out on a limb here. But good lord, what a movie. Intrigue, forbidden romance, Nazis to hate, ex-Pat mysterious Americans to love. It’s got it all. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Dooley Wilson, Claude Raines, Peter Lorre. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

My Favorite Oldie Comedy: Philadelphia Story. Charming love triangle farce with a stellar cast. Really a fun movie once you get by the upper crust, high society classism of the thing. Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Ruth Hussey. Directed by George Kukor.

Movie that Makes Me Cry. Every. Single. Time: Field of Dreams. It’s not just the Dad-son thing, though yeah, that turns me into a puddle. But also that moment when Moonlight Graham has to choose between baseball and being a doctor. Damn. Got something in my eye just writing about it…. Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson.

Movie I Can’t Help But Watch Every Time It’s On: Tie – The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Brilliant movie making, spectacular casts, utterly compelling. The first movie is probably the best adaptation of any novel ever. And the second is probably the best sequel ever made. Al Pacino, Marlon Brando (I), Robert DeNiro (II) James Caan (I), Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, John Cazale. Directed (both) by Francis Ford Coppola.

My Favorite Movie That Led Directly to My Favorite Television Show: The American President. Written by Aaron Sorkin, this is the movie that basically gave us The West Wing. Similar themes, similar quality, in a really delightful romantic comedy/political drama. Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Richard Dreyfus, Anna Devere Smith. Directed by Rob Reiner.

My Favorite Animated Movie: Monsters, Inc. As a dad, I have sat through my share of terrible movies and TV shows. I have also been treated to some wonderful movies from the folks at Pixar and Dreamworks. This one is so funny, so touching, so exciting. Voiced by Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Mary Gibbs, Jennifer Tilly, James Coburn, Rob Peterson. Directed by Pete Docter.

My Favorite SF Movie: Blade Runner. Let me say first (and I know this is not a widely shared opinion) that I LOVE the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek franchise. I think those movies are marvelous. And I love, love, love Guardians of the Galaxy. But this movie is so atmospheric, so thoughtful, and weird, and noir. Love it. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos. Directed by Ridley Scott.

My Favorite Fantasy Movie: Excalibur. Similar to the SF films. I love the LOTR films, and also several of the Harry Potters, but this treatment of the King Arthur legend is an underrated gem. Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Cherie Lunghi, and a host of young future stars (Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Patrick Stewart). Directed by John Boorman.

My Favorite Caper Film: The Sting. Redford and Newman together again in a movie that won seven academy awards. The plot is complex, at times almost impossible to follow. But it is so, so good. Redford, Newman, Robert Shaw, Eileen Brennan.

Two Movies That Convinced Me Steven Spielberg is a Freaking Genius: On June 9, 1993, just in time for summer blockbuster season, Spielberg premiered Jurassic Park, which went on to become the highest grossing movie Hollywood had ever seen (to that point). Less than six months later, on November 30 of that same year, he premiered Schindler’s List, which went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. That combination of achievements in a single year is, I am certain, unequaled in cinematic history.

Best Movie I’ve Seen In the Last Six Months: Just Mercy. This was screened at the university here just before the pandemic, and followed by a lengthy community discussion. Fantastic, devastating film. Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

My Favorite Actor: This is hard. Let’s go with a list – Pacino, Denzel, Redford, Bogie, James Earl Jones, Jimmy Stewart, Dustin Hoffman.

My Favorite Actress: Cate Blanchett, Katharine Hepburn, Zoë Saldana, Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson.

Actor (and Role) Who Might Make Me Re-Think My Sexual Orientation: Robert Redford as Sundance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I mean, get real. He’s gorgeous.

Actress (and Role) Who Might Make Me Leave My Happy Home: Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa in Casablanca. She is luminous, strong but also vulnerable, and simply exquisite.

And there you go! Hope you enjoyed this. Have a great week!