Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)

A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do!

I admit that I know next to nothing about the blues.  I’ve listened to the blues performed live several times, in Chicago and New Orleans, but as a musical genre, I’m completely ignorant of its history and context.  Country music would be a close second.  (My mother decided country music was her thing in the seventies and eighties, so I have an unconscious awareness of its tropes and stylings.)

With this in mind, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a movie I can really appreciate for giving me some much needed schooling on the blues.  Not that the movie is a history lesson or documentary.  Ma Rainey is based on an August Wilson play of the same name.  Like the play, the movie is a work of fiction where the lead character is based on an actual person.  Born Gertrude Pridgett in 1886, she started out as a performer in black minstrel shows, then vaudeville.  In 1914, when she was roughly 28, she began performing as a blues singer, touring the south extensively.

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Control (2007)

As a longtime fan of New Order, I never really was into Joy Division.  Like most fans of post-punk and new wave, I was familiar with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, with its melancholy, romantic fatalism.  I’ve always liked that song, but I never really appreciated Joy Division’s other material.  Prior to seeing Control, the only other Joy Division song I knew was “Transmission”.  (Both songs are always in heavy rotation on SiriusXM’s First Wave channel.)  Most of my resistance was due to the underproduced sound of Joy Division’s songs.  Compared to the music produced by New Order from 1985 onward, Joy Division’s songs for the most part sounded as if they were recorded in Dracula’s basement.

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Unsolved Mysteries (season 15, vol. 2)

As was the case with volume 1, the six episodes released as volume 2 of season 15 are a mixed bag.  Back in 1981, the rock band Genesis decided to name their latest album after the grades they gave the songs contained within (ABACAB).  I’ve used their simple but effective method of categorization on the episodes included in volume 2, and grouped them accordingly.

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The Mandalorian (Season 2, Disney+)

This post is full of spoilers.  If you have not watched all of season 2 yet, you have been warned!

The arc of Season 2 of The Mandalorian shows the title character slowly changing his ways, acting less like an independent bounty hunter and more like a collaborator and friend.  From here on out, whenever I’m referring to the title character in The Mandalorian and not the show itself, I’ll refer to him as “Mando”.  This seems appropriate since most everyone who talks and writes about this show on the internet refers to him as “Mando”.  Heck, even a character within the show (Greef Karga) calls him by that nickname.  Mando actually has a name, Din Djarin, but calling him “Din” all the time would sound weird.  (Not as weird as calling someone “Greef”, but  weird enough.)  Rest assured, I’m going along with calling Din “Mando” out of expediency.  I still think it sounds too much like Lando, as in Calrissian.  Calling him “Man” would have been ridiculous.  But I digress.

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The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)

What exactly is “The Queen’s Gambit”?  According to Wikipedia, it is a chess opening by the white player.  This opening is mentioned once or twice in the series, and pieces are moved on the board accordingly. Since I’ve never played chess, I couldn’t explain to you what the strategy actually involves if my life depended on it, however.  Nevertheless, I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed everything about The Queen’s Gambit: the acting, the direction, the characters, the story, the fashion and music, all of it.  This has been one of the best, if not the best series I’ve watched all year.  I highly recommend it, regardless of your understanding of chess.

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Mank (Netflix)

While I’m no film school nerd, I have watched Citizen Kane several times over the past twenty-five years, and have read several articles on the making of the movie over that time as well.  I’ve also been watching David Fincher’s films since the early nineties.  And while some (Se7en, Zodiac, The Social Network) are better than others (Alien 3, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), his movies always warrant at least one viewing.  When I read about Mank, I thought the movie could be a great one.  Fincher is one of the best directors of his generation, and he’s making a movie about the making of one of my favorite movies.  The resulting movie is not among Fincher’s greatest, placing solidly at the top of the middle-tier films he’s made.

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