Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Fourteen

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#14 — Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)

By the time I was paying attention, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was a holiday standard. The song, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, has been recorded countless times, usually presented as a sentimental ode to the joys of of the Christmas season, the tender melody imbued with sedate good cheer. That’s partially attributable to finessing done to the lyrics over the year, but I still found it remarkable, even jarring, when I first experienced the song in its original context, as one of the numbers in the movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis. It is no kind-hearted ballad. Instead, it’s sung by Esther Smith (Judy Garland) to her young sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) in a vain attempt to cheer her up as the family is experiencing their last Christmas in the Midwestern city they adore before being unwillingly trundled off to New York due to the professional needs of their businessman father (Leon Ames). Esther’s stab at soothing her sister doesn’t work, in large part because Esther’s own sadness seeps though. Tootie responds by racing out to the wintry yard and attacking the snowmen that represent her fellow family members with murderous rage.

My transformed view of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is emblematic of the ways in which Meet Me in St. Louis upended a lot of my preconceptions about films of a certain era. I first saw Vincente Minnelli’s musical early in my college career. At the time, I approached classic cinema reluctantly and with some skepticism. I viewed it as a personal shortcoming rather than some elitist badge of honor, but I was wrongly convinced that many older films — much of classic cinema — didn’t speak to me, that I was ultimately too moored to my modern expectations to properly appreciate more foundational works. Some of the truly towering works could send me into the same inner reveries as the favorites that were released closer to my generation, but I saw those as exceptions, easily dismissed as unrepresentative of the more stuffy and staid features that, to my stupidly blind eye, typified creaky old Hollywood as revived on cable superstations during sleepy weekend afternoons. I cite Meet Me in St. Louis as one of the first films that struck a devastating fault line across that feeble assumption.

In some ways the film is exceedingly simple. Joining the lives of the Smith family as they and their fellow St. Louis residents happily anticipate the 1904 World’s Fair, the film traces their various modest conflicts and sweet flirtations, all leading up to the rending crisis of needing to leave the place that is their defining home. Based on a series of short stories by Sally Benson (that were later lassoed together into a novel), the film is naturally episodic, which makes it all the easier to slip in the songs, including the other signature number “The Trolley Song.” That doesn’t make the film feel manufactured or forced. Under Minnelli’s vivid, lively direction, quite the opposite is true. It is buoyant and witty and deviously wise. It is exuberantly free in a way that the younger version of me found completely surprising. By now, I realize there’s nothing startling about greatness being found in films with a copyright date much earlier than my own. That doesn’t make the pleasures of Meet Me in St. Louis any less profound to me. Indeed, freed of my confining notions, I can see the film more clearly for what it is: a career peak from a masterful director.

My Misspent Youth: Avengers #221 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and Bob Hall

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

When I look back at the issues of The Avengers that were released across my first few years as a superhero comic book reader, it’s clear to me that I was a fairly fickle consumer of the adventures of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Maybe more than with any other series I read with any regularity back then, my attention was dependent on a cover that, for whatever weird reason, caught my eye. The Avengers battling some sort of evil disco ball that summoned zombies from the earth? Yes, please! A weirdly ugly rendering of Tigra howling over Molecule Man curled up with what appears to be a stuffed animal version of himself? Ummmm, maybe I’ll use my sixty cents to try out Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man this month. With that being the case, there was no cover better designed to get me to part with my precious pocket change than the one that adorned Avengers #221:

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I was a complete sucker for comics that suggested they might be momentous, making the promise of the Avengers experiencing a The-Old-Order-Changeth shift especially enticing. And just look at the possibilities promised on the ballot-like cover. Wolverine! Daredevil! ROM! Freakin’ ROM! How could I not snatch this one up?

As co-plotted by Jim Shooter and David Michelinie (the latter has sole credit for the actual script), the story is remarkably straightforward about the roster maneuvering that needs to take place, with the Avengers flat out deciding that they need to add some new heroes to their ranks. Of course, everyone has an opinion about what qualities are required in the new recruits.

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MORE GIRLS! The winsome Wasp has a point. There’s a whole lot of testosterone around that table. (Tony Stark, the man in the iron mask there, agrees with Wasp’s assessment, but it’s sort of gross when he does it.) The various active Avengers go about searching for candidates that suit their preferred criteria, with Janet Van Dyne, then officially the leader of the team, hosts a costumed girls’ get-together in her lavish home.

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Bob Hall handles the art on the issue. Providing pencils on The Avengers means drawing several different denizens of the Marvel Universe, but this particular issue takes that to a whole other level. As always, I especially appreciate it when Marvel superheroes get together for casual chats in full costume. Only the ever fashionable Janet Van Dyne thought to use the occasion to show off something else from her bursting closet.

I may mock that general sartorial choice, but there’s good cause for it. In the tumultuous realm of Marvel superheroes, most gatherings of such compatriots are promptly interrupted by some nasty cur trying to make their name in the cutthroat field of extreme villainy. In this instance, the intrusion came from a twerp named Fabian who was really invested in hassling Avengers.

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Naturally, he was dispensed in fairly short order. In the process, it became clear that the sensational She-Hulk was proper Avengers material. (Her own title ended that same month, but surely that was simply fortuitous coincidence.) At around the same time, other Avengers were seeking out and securing the services of Hawkeye, the archer who had a long history with the team. Just like that, in a mere twenty-two pages, the Avengers identified holes in their lineup and efficiently filled them in.

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Much as I liked this issue at the time, I’m certain I didn’t buy the next one. Must have been the cover.

Previously…

Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby
What If? #6 by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg
Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe
Stig’s Inferno by Ty Templeton

Top 40 Smash Taps: “Your Time to Cry”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

Joe Simon was a major player on the R&B charts during the late nineteen-sixties and early nineteen-seventies, including a million-seller that nabbed him a Grammy Award. As was too often the case, that success didn’t completely translate to the pop charts, where Simon had a respectable number of Top 40 hits (eight in total), but was largely unable to push his material to the upper reaches, usually stalling out somewhere in the double-digits. One song barely crossed the threshold. His 1970 single “Your Time to Cry” peaked at #40. It sure sounds good, though: bluesy, anguished, earthy, soulful. Simon’s biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 arrived a few year later, in 1975, when he borrowed elements from the burgeoning disco movement for the urgently titled “Get Down, Get Down (Get on the Floor).” Simon kept performing into the nineteen-eighties, eventually giving up the mainstream music business in favor of preaching and performing gospel, a choice that essentially brought him full circle, since he got his start, in the nineteen-fifties, with the Golden West Gospel Singers.

Previously…

“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks
“Love Me Tender” by Percy Sledge
“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies
“Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Olympics
“The Bounce” by the Olympics
“Your One and Only Love” by Jackie Wilson
“Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano
“The Last Time I Made Love” by Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne
“Limbo Rock” by The Champs
“Crazy Eyes For You” by Bobby Hamilton
“Who Do You Think You’re Foolin'” by Donna Summer
“Violet Hill” and “Lost+” by Coldplay
“Freight Train” by the Chas. McDevitt Skiffle Group
“Sweet William” by Little Millie Small
“Live My Life” by Boy George
“Lessons Learned” by Tracy Lawrence
“So Close” by Diana Ross
“Six Feet Deep” by the Geto Boys
“You Thrill Me” by Exile
“What Now” by Gene Chandler
“Put It in a Magazine” by Sonny Charles
“Got a Love for You” by Jomanda
“Stone Cold” by Rainbow
“People in Love” by 10cc
“Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)” by the Four Tops
“Thinkin’ Problem” by David Ball
“You Got Yours and I’ll Get Mine” and “Trying to Make a Fool of Me” by the Delfonics
“The Riddle (You and I)” by Five for Fighting
“I Can’t Wait” by Sleepy Brown
“Nature Boy” by Bobby Darin
“Give It to Me Baby” and “Cold Blooded” by Rick James
“Who’s Sorry Now?” by Marie Osmond
“A Love So Fine” by the Chiffons
“Funky Y-2-C” by the Puppies
“Brand New Girlfriend” by Steve Holy
“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by Bonnie Pointer
“Mr. Loverman” by Shabba Ranks
“I’ve Never Found a Girl” by Eddie Floyd
“Plastic Man” and “Happy People” by the Temptations
“Okay” by Nivea
“Go On” by George Strait
“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road
“Birthday Party” by the Pixies Three
“Livin’ in the Life” by the Isley Brothers
“Kissing You” by Keith Washington
“The End of Our Road” by Marvin Gaye
“Ticks” and “Letter to Me” by Brad Paisley
“Nobody But You Babe” by Clarence Reid
“Like a Sunday in Salem” by Gene Cotton
“I’m Going to Let My Heart Do the Walking” by the Supremes
“Call Me Lightning” by the Who
“Ain’t It True” by Andy Williams
“Lazy Elsie Molly” and “Let’s Do the Freddie” by Chubby Checker
“Second Fiddle” by Kay Starr
“1999” by Prince
“I’ll Try Anything” by Dusty Springfield
“Oh Happy Day” by Glen Campbell
“I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After
“Friends” and “Married Men” by Bette Midler
“Spice of Life” by the Manhattan Transfer
“You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” by Roger Miller
“Don’t Pity Me” by Dion and the Belmonts
“Ask Me No Questions” by B.B. King
“Can’t Leave ‘Em Alone” by Ciara
“All I Really Want to Do” by the Byrds
“Love Rollercoaster” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Just a Little” by Brenda Lee
“Sweet Maxine” by the Doobie Brothers
“Where You Lead” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel” by Barbra Streisand
“Charity Ball” by Fanny
“I’m Comin’ Home” by Tommy James
“I’m Goin’ In” by Drake

College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1995, 7

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7. Matthew Sweet, 100% Fun

Matthew Sweet was probably alternative rock’s official King of Power Pop in 1995, not that there were many combatants for that particular throne. Sweet bounded from obscurity to the upper reaches of the college charts a few years earlier, upon the release of his brilliant 1991 album, GirlfriendWith a big guitar sound and deliriously catchy hooks, Sweet scratched an itch most college programmers (myself included) didn’t even know they had, sending legs thumping as joyously as that of a dog whose human pal has found just the right spot behind the ear. This underserved subsection of the music scene so thoroughly belonged to him that when the band Velvet Crush released Teenage Symphonies to God, in 1994, that the music press rapidly and repeatedly cited Sweet’s involvement as producer as proof enough of the album’s legitimacy. Unfortunately for Sweet, things were shifting out of his favor by the middle of the decade. Grunge led painfully and inevitably to nu metal, meaning there was little room for the musicianship needed to craft power pop gems. If Sweet was doomed to one final burst of commercial significance, he at least had a dandy last hurrah with 100% Fun.

It’s unreasonable to expect Sweet to again reach the pinnacle of Girlfriend. 100% Fun is the closest he ever came. Lead single “Sick of Myself” can even make a claim to standing just behind the title cut to the earlier release in the procession of the performer’s very best songs. It also serves as the introductory thesis to the whole album, merging self-deprecation with lovelorn testimony and smashing it together with pristinely produced music. Sweet’s romantic cynicism is even more clear a couple tracks later, when “We’re the Same” notes the commonality arises “When we fail in each other’s eyes” (it’s also present “When we shine in each other’s sky,” but there’s still some pretty downbeat assessments of the relationship dominating the lyrics). Just because the music is pretty as can be doesn’t mean the sentiment of the words automatically has to follow suit, and Sweet gets a lot of mileage out of the contrasts he creates. That friction is usually within an individual song, though it occasionally twinkles into being through the progression through the tracks, as when the melancholy “I Almost Forgot” (“You would never turn around/ You’re laughing at everything that’s bringing me down”) presses up against the odd, thick, punchy “Super Baby.”

There are times when the album almost gets away from him, as if the temptation of label-funded studio time proves to be too much. The layering on “Everything Changes” distracts from the delicacy of the song, and “Lost My Mind” eventually swirls into a psychedelic freakout that comes across as a little ill-suited to Sweet. His craft is refined enough that songs are best served by a little more directness, just a touch of tenderness. I’m fond of the comparatively lean intro on “Walk Out,” which is reminiscent of a less ethereal “Under the Milky Way.” Sometimes when a performer is cracking his heart wide open, music that’s a little more unadorned best suits the material, something Big Star always understood no matter how lavish their tones could get. When Sweet sings “We tried to win/ At a game that has no winners/ We tried to learn/ When nothing can be understood,” on “Come to Love,” the chiming grind of the music provides the needed underscore of certainty.

As noted above, Sweet never quite reached this level again, either creatively or commercially. Radio was starting to lose interest by his next album, 1997’s Blue Sky on Mars. Sweet has tried a bunch of different approaches in the years since, including joining up with Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins to form the super(ish)group the Thorns and recording a bunch of covers albums with Susanna Hoffs.

Previously….

An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel
— 20 and 19: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Thread
— 18 and 17: Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and Rainbow Radio
— 16 and 15: Let Your Dim Light Shine and Day For Night
— 14 and 13: Tales from the Punchbowl and Sleepy Eyed
— 12 and 11: Post and Deluxe
— 10: Yes
— 9: To Bring You My Love
— 8: Garbage

From the Archive: The Good Shepherd

The late career of Robert De Niro has been an odd one, an almost entirely unexpected procession of choices from an actor who once intimidated everyone. There certainly aren’t an abundance of meaty roles for a guy in his seventies, but it’s still hard to think of the young De Niro getting excited about or even signing onto the gentle comedies that he’s stuck with now. In retrospect, I wonder if The Good Shepherd, his second and to date last directorial effort, was a sort of last stab at still making the sort of movies that better suited his sensibilities. This review was still fairly early in my process of rejuvenating my film writing, and it was one of the instances when I took advantage of the openness of the form to tack on some additional thoughts, something I never could have done in the old days of radio and print. I’ve gone ahead and included those extra words here. My predilection for using music lyrics as the headlines to reviews was in place by this point. I really stretched in this instance, using the opening lines of Wire’s “Outdoor Miner” (“No blind spots in the leopard’s eyes can only help to jeopardize the lives of lambs”) because the next few words are “the shepherd cries.”    

Matt Damon seems like perfect casting for the lead of The Good Shepherd. The new film, the second directorial effort from Robert De Niro, provides a fictionalized account of the genesis of the CIA with Damon playing the man at the forefront of counterintelligence development. Despite his star status, Damon virtually oozes a company man squareness these days. It’s actually pretty easy to imagine him fitting in a big sales conference or around a middle-management meeting table, so he seems a natural for this cold war era history lesson on the men in hats who made sure America ruled the world. The problem is, there’s no real performance to latch onto. Damon is a active witness with a close-mouthed impassivity. Sure, that distant chill suits the character, but there’s no undercurrent there, nothing behind the eyes to suggest an inner intelligence, passion or aptitude.

Now take those same observations and apply them to De Niro’s film as a whole. The Good Shepherd is well-meaning and stout, layered with information and complexities with a resolute, admirable confidence in the audience to sort it all out. It lacks any sort of propulsive spirit, the sort of tingly creativity that could make this material vivid. The film doesn’t build, things just happen and it never coheres into a meaningful statement. It’s not a requirement that the film celebrate or condemn the CIA, or find the right approach to use this backwards gaze to offer pertinent, sly commentary on the state of the world today, but anything like that would have given the film a welcome resonance. Instead we get a series of scenes, some admittedly well-executed, in search of a reason for being.

This has apparently been a dream project of De Niro’s for a decade or more; it’s construction bears no marks of a long-developed wellspring of ideas, but instead is weighed down by the measured care of a creator leery of getting something wrong. The film is like a big, underseasoned meal. It may provide sustenance, but there’s very little flavor.

Addendum (from the comments of the original post): After further consideration, I think De Niro was counting on flatly depicting the enveloping power of the CIA to be enough to carry the film, but it needs more drama to make that power feel real, for us to really connect with the thoroughness of the organization’s influence. If it’s not particularly surprising or shocking to consider the path of the world being set by those shaped by and still beholden to weird backroom rituals (and it’s not to me) there’s ultimately very little in the film that packs a punch.

Still, I think my desire to rush through the writing of this review led me to sell the film a little short, leaving out the paragraph or two that could have highlighted things I liked about it. While Angelina Jolie is now burdened with far too much personal baggage from her outside fame to completely settle into a role like the weary wife, I think she injects her character with an inner life and subtly evolving physicality that is a reminder that she was a very interesting actress not too long ago.

I also think when De Niro gets down to the nuts and bolts of the work of the CIA, it generally works well. Now that we’ve spent the past several years inundated with the high-tech miracles of “C.S.I.” and other procedurals, it’s fascinating to watch the agents break down the details of a grainy photograph and a warbling recording with comparatively primitive tools.

‘Cause when life looks like Easy Street there is danger at your door

uncle john

Uncle John feels like a first feature. In this instance, I mean that as a compliment. The directorial debut of Steven Piet (who co-wrote the screenplay with producer Erik Crary), the film has a small-scale resoluteness, a commitment to telling an understated story with care and calmness. While the occasional evocative shot springs up, the film mostly proceeds with a smart humility. Piet isn’t trying to dazzle the audience. Instead, he wants to tell his story well, which is a far more admirable goal than wrenching attention with anxiously gaudy visuals.

In assessing Piet’s commitment to the integrity of his narrative it may be more accurate to pluralize the word “story.” For much of the running time, Uncle John has two parallel paths. One follows the older fellow of the title (John Ashton), a Wisconsin carpenter and handyman who begins the film with blood on his hands, literally. Without much explanation, John is cleaning up a mess. He’s committed a murder, and it quickly becomes apparent that this is highly out of character, so much so that his unassuming small town community clearly never really considers him a suspect, even when the dead man’s disappearance becomes all the buzz of the local coffee shop. The other story takes place several miles north, as a computer animator (Alex Moffat, coming across as lost Duplass brother who’s taken a couple Nicholas Brendon booster shots) flirts with his new coworker (Jenna Lyng). For much of the time, there are only the barest of hints as to how these stories will converge, although the familial designation in the film’s title lessens the mystery.

The film’s depiction of the enveloping grimness with which criminal acts infiltrate modest lives owes something to the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple but with a tone more reminiscent of Carl Franklin’s One False Move. And its attentive depiction of mundane middle American lives is like something David Lynch might come up with after the fever dream breaks (Crary was formerly in the employ of Lynch). If the strain of some overheated movie mechanics sometimes creeps in, as with the telegraphed threat of the victim’s brother (Ronnie Gene Blevins, giving it his best Sarsgaard impression), Uncle John keeps grounding itself in the smaller moments: the police officer who takes a flexible approach to abstaining from beer while on the clock, the snoopy chatter of locals mulling over developments in the case, or even the relaxed process of getting to know another person across a barroom table. Some filmmakers try for a flashy bang their first time out. Piet opts for the better strategy of building something lean, wise, and infused with the promise of intriguing growth to come.

Beers I Have Known: One Barrel Brewing Company Bilbo Baggins Black IPA

This series of posts is dedicated to the many, many six packs, pony kegs and pints that have sauntered into my life at one point or another.

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In just a few weeks, I’ll be moving away from Asheville, North Carolina, the wonderful mountain town that began properly earning the title of Beer City, U.S.A. shortly after I arrived, some eight years ago. Leaving behind so many favorite local brews and breweries has stirred up some wistful feelings and inspired me to load down the car with cans and bottles on a road trip that also served as a first pass at moving items to the northern capital city that is my once and future home. Luckily, I also had time on this particular trip for a little reconnaissance, acquainting myself with some of the purveyors of delectable beverages that have arrived on the scene in the fourteen years I’ve been away. That included the good fortune of stumbling upon a beer that was whole-heartedly recommended by a friend as one of the best she’s ever tasted. If the Bilbo Baggins Black IPA from One Barrel Brewing Company is any indication — and I feel confident that it is — my upcoming move back to Madison, Wisconsin is going to have multiple worthy distractions from any dismay I might feel about necessarily saying goodbye to my favorite Tar Heel State beers.

Previously…
Point Special
21st Amendment Bitter American
Abita Restoration Pale Ale
Rolling Rock
Skull Splitter
Foster’s
Highland Thunderstruck Coffee Porter
Red Stripe
Rhinelander Bock
Samuel Adams Boston Lager
New Glarus Brewing Company Wisconsin Belgian Red
ABA Hoppy Saison
Hamm’s
Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager
Three Floyds Apocalypse Cow
French Broad Brewing Gateway Kolsch
Big Boss Brewing “High Monkey”
Stevens Point Brewery Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale
The Native Brewing Company The Eleven Brown Ale
Labatt Blue
Smuttynose Winter Ale
Point Beyond the Pale IPA
Guinness
Capital Brewery Supper Club
Highland Brewing 20th Anniversary Scotch Ale
Mickey’s
Central Waters Brewing Company Sixteen
Blatz
Pisgah Pale Ale
New Glarus Brewing Company Pumpkin Pie Lust
Asheville Brewing Company Rocket Girl
Sierra Nevada Blindfold Black IPA
21st Amendment Brewery Down to Earth
Point Bock
3 Sheeps Hello, My Name is Joe
Corona