7 min read

January: New Light

"Elementary," "The Eras Tour," "Wonka," Waxahatchee, "Atomic Habits," Picasso at MoMA, & Tom Munoz
January: New Light
Mt. Mansfield, Vermont

"I like starting projects in January. That's the best time to start something. It's so inward." - Carolyn Chute, author of the novel The Beans Of Egypt, Maine.


You know you are a Mainer when:

1.) These are the "dress shoes" you wear to the Metropolitan Opera.

2.) Your 130-year-old-plus house is cobbled together from way different decades and requires your attention all winter as if it were a listing wooden schooner on a frozen mooring.

3.) You carry a battery pack in the trunk of your car in case the cold kills your battery and you need to jump-start your own damn car.

4.) You wear long underwear every day just in case you get stuck at the side of the road.

5.) You often believe you are either permanently depressed, are dying, or have some kind of long covid that can only be treated with near-fatal amounts of chocolate, caffeine, and salty snacks.

6.) And it is February 1st and you are just now sending out your January Reviews. Not a great month here, felt like this:

"Annie's Dream" by David Cedrone

You get the idea – it's crazy. BTW the artist David Cedrone who painted "Annie's Dream" just recently left Portland, Maine, and moved south.

So for the January one-day-late Reviews, I sought out the most upbeat stuff I could find.

SCREEN: "Elementary" on HULU

I reviewed this series previously. It was on CBS from 2012 to 2019 totalling 154 Episodes. I just finished the series: 118 hours of my life I will never get back.

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson

Except for a few weak episodes in the middle years that stunk of CBS manipulation (this Sherlock Holmes said some strong things about corporate greed that rankled executives), the creator/writer Robert Doherty kept a firm grip on the concept and the writing quality in total: the interplay between Liu and Holmes provided some of the best dialogue ever heard on network TV.

In the end, it is a crime drama with those expectations, but honestly, I'm glad I took the time to watch the entire series. The last episode was moving and satisfying.

SCREEN: Taylor Swift's "The Eras Tour"

In my December Reviews I featured two programs about songwriting, and in other Reviews I've featured performers who are phenomenal in their live shows, so I knew sooner or later I would stream Taylor Swift's "The Eras Tour." When the opportunity came up to see it with a Swiftie on the big screen with good sound in a small theater with a quiet audience in a matinee show, I showed up.

Swift is a prolific songwriter. She not only writes her albums, she also writes in collaboration with other songwriters, for films, or for bands and other artists she likes. The following list is not in any way complete:

She wrote Renegade with Aaron Dessner for Big Red Machine, lyrics to the Andrew Weber tune Beautiful Ghosts for movie musical Cats, Two is Better Than One with Martin Johnson for Boys Like Girls, Both of Us with B.o.B, This is What You Came For with Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna, Babe with Patrick Monahan for Sugarland, Best Days of Your Life with Kellie Pickler, You'll Always Find Your Way Back Home with Martin Johnson for the film Hannah Montana, Better Man for Little Big Town, wrote Eyes Open and, with Jack Antonoff and Sam Dew, wrote Safe and Sound both for the Hunger Games movie, I Don’t Wanna Live Forever for the film Fifty Shades Darker and she wrote and sings Crazier with Robert Ellis Orrall for the Hannah Montana movie. In case my point seems scattered here. this incomplete list describes a major songwriting career without including Swift's own albums or performance history.

Swift relies on charming her audience, most of whom can't hear her anyway because everyone around them is singing or screaming the lyrics along with her. In what might be called the "rock" portion of her show, I found her vocal performance to be convincing.

The film is too long by a half hour or so, but she makes great choices overall and her sense of humor is upfront. She knows the whole thing is absurd and way too huge. Thankfully, there are no synchronized dancing numbers. No Madonna posing. Her backup singers and dancers are more like actors in the show and the live band backing her up can seriously play.

Taylor Swift deserves the acclaim and the rewards. This film is a statement of pure pop music ambition. There are multiple praise-worthy moments in this film.

SCREEN: "Wonka" Directed by Paul King

As I previously mentioned: chocolate. This film is a master class in getting the tone of a movie right and keeping it there. Timothee Chalamet is channeling the late Gene Wilder and is perfectly on target. It's a cliche to say it, but in fact, this film is an instant classic.

Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka

Paul King directed and developed this film as what he called "a companion piece" to the original Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. His television career consisted of directing edgy satirical comedies and his two Paddington Bear movies were successful to a point. (I can't watch them–the computer animation does not work for me), but for this film Warner Bros. Pictures got it right by selecting King and filming it in England.

Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa

King creates urgency without going dark and this film has laugh-out-loud segments. The casting of Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa is inspired.

MUSIC: "Right Back To It" Waxahatchee with MJ Lenderman

"Right Back to It" by Waxahatchee from the upcoming album 'Tigers Blood', out on March 22, 2024. Oh yeah. This is wonderful songwriting and the inclusion of the indie musician MJ Lenderman and his eccentric and wonderful guitar work really makes this song shine.

BOOKS: "Atomic Habits" by James Clear

I have an obsession that one day I will read, or listen to, a self-help book and suddenly feel better about myself and reorganize my entire messy life. It hasn't happened, yet, but about once a month I still get into this type of book.

What better month to begin my further evolution as a human being than January, the month of New Year Resolutions?

In truth, this book was not a waste of time and I did adjust a few things in my life to improve my productivity, which needs improvement.

James Clear

I recommend the book. I know nothing about the author except his personal story that starts the book and honestly, I do not want to know any more than that. It's not the author, it's the book.

ART: Picasso in Fontainebleau at MoMA

"Pablo Picasso spent much of the summer of 1921 in a garage. Inside this unlikely studio in a rented villa in Fontainebleau, France, he worked prolifically to create a startling body of work. Among his most astonishing creations were two radically different, six-foot-high canvases that he painted side-by-side within weeks of each other: "Three Women at the Spring" and "Three Musicians." Picasso in Fontainebleau will reunite these two monumental paintings, along with other works from the artist’s pivotal three-month stay at the improvised studio, complemented by photographs and archival documents." - from the MoMA catalog and website.

The above study and final painting are both seven feet tall and five and a half feet wide. They are both simply mesmerizing. Haunting.

These two variations of "Three Musicians" are six feet by six feet and were painted in the same three months as "Three Women at the Spring." The variation in style is incredible enough, but what fascinates me is the echo that bounces off the musician paintings and the women at the well paintings. Picasso was a new father and I believe something was troubling him here. I have my own ideas, but you should come up with your own.

The juxtaposition of the large painted canvasses directly across the gallery from the large sketched canvasses that he used as models is nearly beyond comprehension. Again, he did all this work, and all this variety of work, in three months.

Tom Munoz with HOBO takes us out this month. Yes, it's 1972, but it's a good song and the jam near the end is worth it. Makes me smile. Live music. Nothing like it.

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