Great documentary

I saw a coach hustle out of the dugout after a recent well-played inning by the softball team on defense in the half-inning. His only word was, “Boom!” to express his delight at the crisp fielding.

After seeing “Life Itself,” I had the same emotion. Usually the comparison for a great film is a comment such as, “The director hit it out of the park.”

I’d like to echo the coaches’ word: “Boom!” It short, punchy, cheeky, argumentative and not quite what is expected.

That’s the work of director Steve James and Roger Ebert in this documentary. Both understand films. Both wanted to make a film that told the truth. I think the pair did that.

My attention never flagged, and the film moved me deeply in several parts. I got a good sense of who Ebert was as a person, not too white-washed, not quite idolized.

I wish I could have seen this work shortly after its release in a movie palace and been able to join the audience with a thumbs up, but with the coming of personalized entertainment, I was able to see it at home on computer screen, although much later than I would have wanted.  That will have to do, and, since Ebert was an enthusiast for the democratizing of film criticism, I can console myself that seeing it at home was acceptable.

Roger’s dream of seeing more film criticism is well under way. There are at least three blogs I follow of writers who seek out films not shown in popular places, so my enthusiasm for films is in no danger of thinning.

If you love film, see “Life Itself.”

A sad note

Advice radio is big these days, it seems.

Overheard this morning was a conversation in which the radio hosts opined that the person calling should seek out an older, wiser individual to get to the root of a fairly simple problem.

“That would be you!” said the caller.

There was a pause, followed by weary laughs (if that is even possible).

Ennui, even over the radio waves.

More music (and reviews) than you can shake a stick at

The Invisible Ink Music Blog is a wealth of reviews of singers, songwriters and bands you’ve probably never heard of. (Then, again, maybe you have. I don’t know.) The writing is concise, the opinions well informed and the attitude refreshing. My listening list just gets longer every time I access the blog.

Here’s a sample of the kind of review writing that keeps me coming back for more in the opening sentence of the review of “True Prayer” by Santiparro: “If Sufjan Stevens and Perry Farrell got together with Devendra Banhart to do peyote in the desert while making music, Santiparro would be the natural output.”


The whimsicality of XTC comes out in the tune “1000 Umbrellas” as a person tries to sing along. The melodic vocal line is deceptively simple. If you were to isolate it from the mix, it wouldn’t be all that hard to sing. But, mixed with the strings, the song becomes something else again. I don’t know to what degree it was meant to be, but the mix of Andy Partridge’s vocals and the strings are kind of unsettling.

Series put a human side to a struggle

The Middle East situation may seem intractable, and the conflict between the factions drags on with seemingly no end in sight. An eight-episode 2014 British television project puts people in the middle of it all. It is gripping television, one of the productions that will have a hand in boosting television’s profile.

“The Honorable Woman” is thrilling, addictive, and its characters developed marvelously in such a short time. The “good” and the “bad” are hard to suss out and its hard to predict where the story will go.

Hugo Blick is a gifted writer and director. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Lubna Azabal head up a marvelous cast. The production, even when it seems like it pauses, happens rapidly, and the story line has enough twists and turns to keep a viewer guessing.

It’s good television, and it’s a gripping story of idealism caught in the middle of realpolitik. And, when it’s all over, when you’ve reached its conclusion, it will unsettle you.

Passing it on…

A couple of things popped up on my Facebook feed today that I’m compelled to pass along, one relating to the practice of writing history, the other to a favorite group of mine, Soul Coughing.

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in my town, Orange City, Iowa, and her reflections on history and popular history are published here. Historians may be staid (not necessarily), but there is always those who write creatively about history.

And, tucked between Soul Asylum and Soul II Soul, right before my numberless collection of soundtracks are recordings by Soul Coughing, a group I’ve enjoyed for years, gritty, urban music. Now, it turns out, there’s a rock opera by that crew. It’s on my list of things to see.

Incidentally, the posts I mentioned, were each put up by historians. They are definitely not staid.