Four mini-reviews of page, screen, and speaker:
Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolás Obregón
If you’re looking for something a little different in detective fiction (but only a little different), Blue Light Yokohama might be for you. Nicolás Obregón, a dual citizen of Spain and the UK, has lived both in the US and in Japan on magazine assignments. He loved his time in Japan. Though the reviewer for the Japan Times notes a lot of local customs and quirks Obregón simply has wrong, on balance his multicultural perspective helps more than it hurts.
Newly appointed police Inspector Iwata, a troubled man with a barely controlled drinking problem, is assigned to investigate serial killings involving an apocalyptic cult that uses a black sun as a symbol. Iwata has a rocky professional relationship with Sakai, his female partner. He soon suspects a connection to the supposed suicide of his predecessor and also begins to believe he deliberately has been set up to fail. Most of the usual detective fiction tropes are in play here, but Obregón handles them well enough. Playing them out in a Japanese setting prevents them from seeming stale. Thumbs Up – not way up but up.
Dr. Strange (2016)
Yet another Ditko/Lee collaboration, Dr. Strange first appeared in Marvel comics in 1963. Though this was high tide of my childhood comic book enthusiasm, this character failed to appeal to me back then. Despite the passage of so many years, I still was inclined to be suspicious of the movie when I gave it a chance last week, but it turned out to be a great deal of fun. For those put off by mystical elements in film, rest assured that there is a quasi-scientific justification for the goings-on that is not a lot more silly than what we are asked to swallow in most science fiction.
Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant surgeon whose hands are damaged in a car accident. Medical science cannot restore their former dexterity. He hears of an accident victim who shouldn’t walk but does, and seeks him out. The fellow directs him to seek his answers and a possible cure in (where else?) Katmandu. There he joins a monastic order of sorts where he learns about other dimensions, mirror realities, mystical (in effect) forces, and, of course, a threat to earth. There is always that disgruntled former acolyte ready and able to wreak destruction, isn’t there?
The fx are marvelous and make more sense in context than the trailers make them seem. Above all, the script is witty enough to have saved even a less well-produced movie. Against my own expectations, Thumbs Up.
How the Hell Did This Happen? by PJ O’Rourke
In a fiercely tribalistic era when books with remotely political content are apt to be either shameless panegyrics or livid polemical rants (more often the latter), the former National Lampoon editor delivers an exasperated analysis of the 2016 election with mordant humor that is refreshingly 360 degrees. His endorsement of Hillary Clinton last fall was lukewarm to put it mildly: “She is the second-worst thing that could happen to America.” Accordingly, his perspective is not willfully blind to foolishness, malfeasance, and (yes) sagacity on all sides. If you want a book full of bluster and rage that decries opponents as not just wrong but evil and that finds humor only in the hypocrisies of others, this is not it. But if you’re one of the many nonplussed folks out there who have been asking the titular question not just since the election but for well over a year, this offers some answers while sharing bewilderment at the rest: Thumbs Up.
[Having received a few “if you’re not with us you’re against us”-style communications recently, I think this is as good a place as any for an aside: Those who know me personally are aware of my political philosophy. While those views inevitably seep into blogs about walks, novels, movies, sports, coffee, and so on – how can they not? – it is not my intent to bludgeon readers of this blog squarely on the head with them. Memes written by professional propagandists of every flavor are easy enough to find elsewhere. For those who find satisfaction writing and sharing those, by all means go at it. But in a kind of Gresham’s Law of discourse, circulating that stuff tends to crowd out all other coins. There are so many intelligent, thoughtful, and entertaining writers/conversationalists who hold philosophies with which I radically disagree that I dislike missing out on what they have to say beyond tired political arguments that never reach resolution but only run out of time. At bottom, differing ideologies, to the extent they are coherent, trace back to differing first principles about the nature of (to steal from e.e. cummings) man-unkind, which is why they always will be irreconcilable at any other level. Yet, they rarely are discussed at that level. Propagandists instead focus on swaying nonideological voters emotionally rather than philosophically on topical events; as long as more than one side does this, it is an unending task. Richard’s Pretension is one hill where I choose not to be Sisyphus. Sorry Albert, but I don’t think he’s happy.]
Samantha Fish – Chills and Fever (2017)
If you’re a regular visitor to Amazon, the site’s AI is likely to generate a “recommended for you” list that is pretty helpful, especially if you take the time to tweak the AI’s assumptions about you by telling it to ignore anomalous views and purchases. Its errors in my case are as likely to be omission as commission. It did notice, however, that basic blues-based rock-and-roll is the core (not the whole, but the core) of my music purchases, and it thereby recommended the 2017 Chills and Fever album by Samantha Fish.
I’ve been aware of Kansas City’s Samantha Fish since hearing and liking the Lay It Down track from the Black Wind Howlin’ album a few years ago. She is a capable guitarist with an appealing voice, but I didn’t buy that cd or anything else by her at that time. The new recommendation prompted me whimsically to check her tour schedule, however, and this Wednesday she appears in a surprisingly cozy venue in Teaneck NJ. I bought tickets and gave Chills and Fever a listen. The title song has more of an Amy Winehouse vibe than is typical for Samantha, though that is not a bad thing. Overall the album fits the pattern of her earlier work and includes solid covers of such blues numbers as “Either Way I Lose” and “Hello Stranger.” It’s not absolutely my favorite album of the past 12 months (that’s Rock is Dead by Dorothy) but it’s a good one. Amazon made a sale. Thumbs Up.
Samantha Fish – Chills & Fever