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Books:

A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano by Katie Hafner. An absorbing experience! In addition to much about pianos and piano technicians, Hafner documents the career and personal life of a truly eccentric artist. Recommended.

The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child. I read piles of commercial thrillers and the Jack Reacher series is one of my favorites. I did notice something being “off” in the last book, Blue Moon, so it was not a surprise that his brother has taken over the franchise. Like many fans I was skeptical but…actually, it is just fine. I’ll look for the next installment. (The best “pure” Reachers include Without Fail, The Affair, and The Midnight Line.)

Eddie’s Boy by Thomas Perry. Amazingly, the Butcher’s Boy returns! God bless Thomas Perry. I need to read this again, but it’s certainly top shelf, although I admit I wonder if the master shouldn’t have left it at The Informant. (DTM: “The Professional.”)

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. As a long-time Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, it was time for me to check in with the source. There’s no explicit sex in the book but the whole thing is wildly erotic, with the act of sucking blood offering a coherent metaphor. A central triad of vampires, two men and a girl, is unlike anything else.

“But tell me one thing, one thing from that lofty height. What was it like . . . making love?”

I was walking away from her before I meant to, I was searching like a dim-wilted mortal man for cape and gloves. “You don’t remember?” she asked with perfect calm, as I put my hand on the brass door handle.

I stopped, feeling her eyes on my back, ashamed, and then I turned around and made as if to think, Where am I going, what shall I do, why do I stand here?

“It was something hurried,” I said, trying now to meet her eyes. How perfectly, coldly blue they were. How earnest. “And . . . it was seldom savored . . . something acute that was quickly lost. I think that it was the pale shadow of killing.”

“Ahhh . . .” she said. `Like hurting you as I do now . . . that is also the pale shadow of killing.”

“Yes, madam,” I said to her. “I am inclined to believe that is correct.” And bowing swiftly, I bade her good-night.

After reading the book I watched the movie, which I liked as well. Great music in the movie! When the vampires are playing Mozart-style fortepiano in the old days it is very effective.

I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. A famous YA thriller. I saw the forgettable slasher flick, the source original is subtle and far more chilling. Indeed, this slender volume is in perfect balance. Bravo.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I’ve read this three times, each time it is better, more amusing, more uncomfortably prescient. One of a kind.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Third time for this classic as well. Now that I am a little older, the arc of this perfect novel is even more resonant. The blend of humor and melancholy is truly exceptional.


Movies/TV:

Inception, Interstellar, Tenet. I like puzzles and I like action movies, so naturally I have a relationship to the Christopher Nolan collection. Jessica Kiang’s superb review of Tenet in the New York Times explained it perfectly: “…Nolan is, by several exploding football fields, the foremost auteur of the ‘intellectacle,’ which combines popcorn-dropping visual ingenuity with all the sedate satisfactions of a medium-grade Sudoku.”

None of these movies are “good” exactly but they do the job. Tenet is James Bond meets time travel; I saw the reversals coming a mile away, but it was still reasonably satisfying. The two leads, John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, are great.

Some of Nolan’s best moments are comic. I remember laughing out loud in the theater during Memento. The sardonic robot TARS in Interstellar is great; Michael Caine’s snobbish teasing in Tenet works perfectly. Upon rewatch, Inception disappointed by lacking any lightness of tone, despite the overall concept being patently absurd. If Nolan wants to take notes from a jazz blog, I’d advise him to lighten up a few degrees…

Deep Cover. I saw this in the theatre when it came out in 1992. I liked it at the time, but upon revisiting it stands out as one of the best crime flicks of the era.

Stranger Things. Sarah and I enjoyed the first season but that was enough; we didn’t need to press on. Too much yelling by the cast. The monster was amazing, one of the best monster reveals I’ve ever seen.

Dark. At first utterly compelling — incredible music by Ben Frost — but then it all becomes hopelessly convoluted. Recalls Killing Eve, another show that could have been a masterpiece if they had tied it all off in a single season.

Uncut Gems. Speaking of incredible electronic music, Daniel Lopatin does a wonderful job in this edgy Adam Sandler flick. Overall, the movie is excellent, but it’s also not quite the innovative masterpiece some of the critics claim it to be.

Mad Max. What the hell? I was not prepared for the unrepentant artiness of this low-budget action film. The more conventional sequels are all good too, but now I know the original has a truly modernist aesthetic.

Christine. Ok, this was great. I had no idea. Essentially perfect; as of now my favorite Stephen King on film and my favorite John Carpenter movie.

Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes. I’m not a true Holmesian; as a serious crime fiction fan I naturally know the Conan Doyle stories pretty well but haven’t paid attention to most of the adaptations. At the beginning of quarantine I tried out the Benedict Cumberbatch series again, and re-confirmed how the series squanders its remarkable flair by devolving into a soap opera/comic book aesthetic, where we spend all our time investigating the leads rather than crimes. It’s a terrible waste, for the best parts of the first two episodes offer some of my favorite recent television.

A friend has been praising the older Jeremy Brett series for a while, when I finally I tuned in last month, I was shocked at the depth of Brett’s performance and bowled over by the production values overall.

Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Wow, I’d never seen Showgirls before. “So bad it’s good” taken to extremes but the last act is violent and depressing. Basic Instinct, no masterpiece, satisfies with stellar Jerry Goldsmith score and intriguing puzzle plot. Both Paul Verhoeven movies are redeemed for being absolutely of their time and place. (Earlier Verhoeven RoboCop and Total Recall are in my pantheon of absurdist masterpieces.)

I had a little Joe Don Baker moment, watching Charley Varrick, The Outfit, and Edge of Darkness in sequence. Varrick is not quite as strong as I remembered, while The Outfit picked up a star or two in my rating. Both have amazing 1973-era American cars; I love early 70s movies just for the Detroit iron alone.

More significant is Edge of Darkness, the legendary 1985 BBC serial with Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker. Troy Kennedy-Martin created the story and script. Michael Kamen’s evocative score features Eric Clapton. (FWIW, this is my favorite thing Clapton’s ever done.) Directed by Martin Campbell (who also somehow did horrible Mel Gibson remake.)

Edge of Darkness is well in the tradition of a dozen ’70s paranoid thrillers, but with nuclear power as the worrisome threat. The subtleties of the characterizations recall British espionage televideo classics like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Sandbaggers. One of my favorite novelists, Ross Thomas, must have been an influence on Kennedy-Martin, especially on Joe Don Baker’s character, a CIA agent. It’s also very much of its time: Margaret Thatcher appears on TV.