Category Archives: Film / Tv / Theater Review

Song of the Day #1971

Song of the Day: Sicilienne, Op. 78, composed by Gabriel Faure, was written originally as an orchestral piece in 1893, before going through several iterations culminating as part of a suite for full orchestra. Check out the piano and cello duet by Gautier Capucon and Michel Dalberto [YouTube link]. This “Song of the Day” is a preview of what’s to come on Notablog. Starting on January 1, 2023, I will begin a month-long tribute to the music of the “Breaking Bad” franchise on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the debut of “Breaking Bad“, which premiered on January 20, 2008. This composition is heard in Season 2, Episode 2 (“Cobbler”) of BB’s triumphant spin-off series, “Better Call Saul“. That episode begins with Jimmy’s brother Chuck McGill, sitting at the piano, attempting to play this piece [YouTube link]. A month from today, I’ll post the first of 31 musical highlights from “Breaking Bad“, “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” and “Better Call Saul“. Stay tuned …

Song of the Day #1970

Song of the Day: The Thriller Megamix, mixed by DJ Jason Nevins, highlights some of the hottest tracks from Michael Jackson’s masterpiece. On this date in 1982, the “King of Pop” released the all-time global best-selling album, “Thriller“. It would have an immeasurable impact on popular music and culture. It spent an unprecedented 37 nonconsecutive weeks at #1 (and is actually back in the Top Ten this week), was the first album to spawn 7 Top Ten Hits, and advanced the art of music video—from the sparkling “Billie Jean“, the first video by a black artist to air in heavy rotation on MTV, to “Beat It“, directed by Bob Giraldi, with its kick-ass Eddie van Halen guitar solo and its Michael Peters choreography, to the John Landis-directed iconic short film, “Thriller“, a 14-minute music-and-horror dance extravaganza. Many of the songs on this all-time best seller are staged in “MJ: The Musical“—a wonderful “jukebox musical” that I saw on Broadway this past summer. This megamix highlights five key songs from MJ‘s 40-year old masterpiece, an unforgettable part of the soundtrack of my youth and of my years as a mobile DJ: the title track, “Billie Jean“, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’“, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)“, and “Beat It“. It is not without some poignant irony that this anniversary comes during the funeral week of my sister, Elizabeth “Ski” Sciabarra. She and I both saw MJ with his brothers on the 1984 Victory Tour and the 1988 Bad World Tour. We danced to his music anytime it echoed through a dance club. And every time she took one of her dance teams to a national competition, she looked forward to hearing an MJ track on the bus—as a sign of good luck. I miss her. But these memories live on …

Song of the Day #1969

Song of the Day: Flashdance … What a Feeling features the music of Giorgio Moroder and lyrics of Keith Forsey and Irene Cara, who took this song to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Dance Club charts. This was the title track to the 1983 film, “Flashdance“. Cara died yesterday at the age of 63. Her sweet voice graced this film and the 1980 film, “Fame“. Check out the music video to this 80s pop gem [YouTube link].

Film Recommendation: I Am Not Alone (2019)

I finally had a chance to see the 2019 documentary, “I Am Not Alone“, written, directed, and coprodued by Garin Hovannisian, with whom I enjoyed much correspondence some years ago. Among its other producers is my friend Alec Mouhibian. The film details the makings of the 2018 Armenian “Velvet” Revolution, which commenced with the anti-government protests staged by Nikol Pashinyan (who went on to become that country’s Prime Minister in May 2018). The against-all-odds protests began in response to the third consecutive term of Serzh Sargsyan, the most powerful politician in the country at that time.

This truly outstanding film documents the power of bottom-up civil disobedience as a means to affecting political change. Highly recommended!

Happy 70th Ski Birthday (and Song of the Day #1961)

Song of the Day: Tangerine, music by Victor Schertzinger, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, was introduced to a broad audience in the 1942 film, “The Fleet’s In,” where it was performed by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra with Bob Eberle and Helen O’Connell [YouTube link]. It soon became a jazz standard. Check out instrumental renditions by Oscar Peterson, Jim Hall, The Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond, Chet Baker & Paul Desmond, Benny Goodman, Stan Getz & Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, Dexter Gordon, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and vocal renditions by Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick, Jr., Ilya Serov and Poncho Sanchez, and, of course, the Salsoul Orchestra [YouTube links]. Today, my sister turns 70, and judging by how many she’s had over the years, I’d say the tangerine has got to be her Favorite Fruit! A happy and healthy birthday, dear sister, with my love always!

“Ms. Ski” Turns 70

Postscript (9/3/22): The pic below was taken this morning. Thanks to everybody who expressed their love & support.

❤

See Facebook discussion here.

Film: We the Living 80 Update

I last wrote about the 80th anniversary restoration of the 1942 film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s We the Living back on April 28, 2022. Here’s another update from Duncan Scott.

We wanted to take a minute to say thank you to all of the great people who contributed time, money, and encouragement towards restoring We the Living.

This Labor Day weekend marks the exact 80th anniversary of the film’s premiere in 1942 at the Venice Film Festival. So it’s the perfect time to share some terrific news: All the finishing touches to the We the Living 80th Anniversary Restoration have been completed!

The last major challenge was restoring the audio. Previously, static, popping, and hum could frequently be heard in the film. After a six-week process, those defects have been almost completely removed. The movie now sounds as good as it looks—nearly as good as when it first played in theaters in Rome!

Next, the critical distribution and promotion phase begins. ​We the Living will enjoy a wide release that includes art-house movie theaters, DVD, and video-on-demand. In addition, it will be distributed to colleges and schools through educational distribution services. Audiences around the world will be able to discover this inspiring movie and the fundamental values it so powerfully dramatizes.

And if you haven’t heard the news: We the Living was honored at Il Cinema Ritrovato (Cinema Rediscovered) on June 27, 2022, in Bologna, Italy. Il Cinema Ritrovato is the world’s major festival of film restoration. This brought the movie to the attention of distributors of classic films. Discussions with three of those companies are underway.

Also, a sneak preview of We the Living was shown on July 5th at OCON, the Objectivist Summer Conference hosted by the Ayn Rand Institute. Over 350 people attended the screening and several hundred more attended a one-hour presentation on the history of the film. These events heightened awareness of the upcoming release among a key audience—fans of Ayn Rand’s works.

A theatrical booking service has been engaged and is now setting up art house theater engagements in New York City and Los Angeles. These two markets are critical to the successful launch of any film, but they are particularly important for bringing attention to a newly restored film classic. Other cities across North America and overseas will be added as the general release of the film gets underway. After the theatrical release, it will be distributed to home video, video-on-demand, and to educational markets.

The premiere engagement had been long planned for the fall of 2022, but for strategic distribution reasons, it will be a few months later. October to December is “award season” in the movie industry. During the flurry of award-qualifying screenings, theater availability is very limited and the movie would not get maximum attention from the media.

We the Living 80th Anniversary Restoration will open as early as possible in 2023. We will be excited to announce to you the specific theaters and dates as soon as these engagements are confirmed.

Stay tuned!

We the Living 80

BB, EC, BCS: A Dialectical Unity

There are no spoilers here, after the grand finale of “Better Call Saul” (BCS). But after finishing what is, in my view, one of the best written, well-acted, finely-plotted television series I’ve ever seen, I am now convinced more than ever that one cannot reasonably separate “BCS” from its predecessors, “Breaking Bad” (BB) and “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” (EC). There is an organic unity to these shows that deeply enriches one’s experience of each show, such that the universe they constitute is more than the sum of its parts.

Recently, I began re-watching BB, and noticed just how much more I am appreciating that series in light of the backstories the writers created with BCS. Likewise, BCS cannot possibly be fully appreciated in the absence of BB (and EC, which expands on aspects of the BB story). Each is an extension of the other; each could not be what it is in the absence of the other. They are the very exemplars of a dialectical sensibility, both constituting and being shaped by the wider context of which they are a part.

Above all, the universe that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould gave us is epic storytelling at its best. I will miss it—but return to it, and hopefully write about it much more extensively than I can here. Suffice it to say, I am not suggesting that the creators of this franchise had all the plotlines worked out from the very beginning. Of course they didn’t! But as their stories unfolded, as their characters came to life, there was an evolution in both the plot and its central players that was almost inexorable. That is what makes the achievement all the more remarkable—that its creators didn’t know from the beginning where it would go, even as they propelled us toward such a well-integrated conclusion.

Bravo to the creators, writers, directors, production teams, and to the terrific actors who delivered performances that humored us, enraged us, touched us, and broke our hearts. Bravo to this great franchise for delivering an unforgettable ride.

Check out the nice discussion of this on Facebook. Therein, I compare the BB/BCS “epic” to another: “The Godfather Epic.” In response to a point that Ayn Rand would have dismissed BB as the “dead end of naturalism,” I stated:

I don’t think BB should be dismissed because of its naturalism. Though Rand never wrote on it, producer Al Ruddy told me that he provided her with a private screening of “The Godfather”, which deeply impressed her. It is what convinced her that he could be the man to bring “Atlas Shrugged” to the screen. (This later fell apart because he refused to give her final script approval; as it happens, he now owns the film rights!)

Sometimes you can depict the importance of values by showing what happens in their absence, or, more tragically, what happens when you choose “bad” means of trying to preserve “good” ends. That is precisely what “Breaking Bad” depicts in painful detail. Indeed, I’d argue that there are very strong parallels between the “Godfather Epic” and the epic that constitutes the BB/BCS narrative. But that’s a post for another day.

Bob Odenkirk—who would go on to star in “Better Call Saul”—tells us, with regard to his final moments on the set of “Breaking Bad”, that Vince Gilligan provides people with an illustration of the ways in which bad decisions create severe unintended consequences that undermine the human ability to survive and flourish. (Indeed, I think Rand herself does this in her most ‘naturalistic’ of novels, “We the Living”, which shows how the “airtight” environment of totalitarianism destroys the human capacity to either survive or flourish.)

Check out Odenkirk’s comments here.

I made these additional comments on two other threads. In response to those who would attempt a chronological reordering of the BB/BCS landscape, similar to that in “The Godfather Epic,” I wrote:

It worked a lot better in “The Godfather Epic” IMHO than it ever could in the BB-BCS universe, especially because in the Epic, they added over 50 deleted scenes to the chronology and kept intact a key flashback scene toward the end. I understand why Coppola in “Godfather II” chose to counterpose the rise of young Vito and the loss of his son Michael’s soul … but I think a lot gets lost in the translation and so much is gained in the reshuffling of that story, chronologically, especially with those added scenes that were not in the theatrical releases. I think it would do a lot of damage to the artistry of BCS if somebody reshuffled those scenes, so I agree wholeheartedly on that score.

And in response to this article in The Guardian, which hails BCS as “more profound” than BB, I wrote:

Insofar as it is possible to evaluate BCS singularly, it is the greater achievement. But I don’t think that can be done reasonably. It would not have been what it became without BB, and BB is all the more enriched because we now have BCS. They constitute an organic whole, IMHO. Can’t be sundered or separated without doing damage to our overall conception of their universe.

40 Years Later: 1982 Films Still Having an Impact

Check out this NY Times article, “Five Sci-Fi Classics, One Summer: How 1982 Shaped Our Present.” This is a really interesting read on 5 films from 1982 that are still having an impact on the sci-fi genre 40 years later: “ET, The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Blade Runner,” “Tron,” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing“.

Also see the discussion on Facebook.

Song of the Day #1957

Song of the Day: I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time was written in 1920 by Albert Von Tilzer and Neville Fleeson. It was first recorded as a waltz by Nora Bayes. It was later covered by such artists as Artie Shaw (vocals by Tony Pastor) and Harry James and Helen Forest [YouTube links]. But it is most well known for having been performed by The Andrews Sisters, whose version was featured in the 1941 Abbott and Costello film, “Buck Privates.” Check out the film clip and studio version [YouTube links].

Song of the Day #1955

Song of the Day: One Bad Apple features the words and music of George Jackson, who originally wrote it for The Jackson 5 (no relation). By the end of 1970, the J5 had scored 4 consecutive #1 Hot 100 hits. This song was released in November of that year by The Osmonds, who took this track to #1 for five weeks on the Hot 100 and #6 on the R&B Chart. The Jacksons and the Osmonds would meet in 1971-1972, and Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson would become lifelong friends. Check out this video version of the single [YouTube link], which combines performance footage and clips from “The Osmonds” animated ABC-TV series. (Yes, “The Jackson 5ive” had an animated show too!)