Non-Blog | Channing Whitaker

What I've Been Listening to: Sept 2019

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This one will be a little different. Instead of a cool band or album, I'm going to list an Audible exclusive that both interested and tickled me called Hi Bob. You guessed it, it is with Bob Newhart.

Bob mgiht have been a little before my time, but I remember sitting on the floor in front of my parents and watching Newhart as a little kid, and loving Larry, Darryl, and Darryl. I am literaly laughing as I write this, just thinking about them for five seconds.

I've also often been interested in comedy performance, and hearing comedians share their stories is fantastic. If you like Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, then I think you'll enjoy hearing Bob Newhart trade stories and quips with several of today's best comedic talents. I just happened upon this through Audible. It isn't a book, nor can it be found anywhere else, and it's audio only. It's merely excerpts of Bob talking with colleagues and friends about comedy in his gentle, poignant, and sneak-up-on-you hilarious way. If you like Bob Newhart and you like comedy, it's worth a listen.
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What I've been Reading: Aug 2019

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Someone recently compared my writing to that of David Mitchell. It's always flattering to be classified with a mainstream and successful author. However, I was only familiar with Mitchell to the extent of the movie adaptation of his novel, Cloud Atlas. Thus I decided to start there to acquaint myself better. It was a good choice.

Cloud Atlas interweaves six storylines, each from a different period spanning a few hundred years in the past to a few hundred years into the future. Each storyline bares intriguing characters and mounting conflict, but the intensity is only heightened by the books jumping from story to story. Just when you're getting to a climax, you jump away, only to get your appetite up for the next storyline, only to be pulled away again. Literary edging at it's finest.

On its face, the book's plot and characters are fantastic. No two storylines or characters are too similar, and they're all compelling. But what is perhaps the most exciting about the book is its consistent themes and overarching message. Criticism of slavery, or in more general terms human exploitation, run throughout the book. Michell also endeavors to remind us of our interconnectedness with others. This is never more prominent than in the connections tieing one storyline to the next, even across the expanse of time.

I loved this book, and if you love seeing people who abuse their power toppled by the oppressed, then you might like it as much as I did.
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What I've been Watching: Aug 2019

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I saw the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas back when it was in theaters. I found parts interesting but wasn't totally impressed. After reading the book recently, I decided to give the movie another look. It was worth it.

I'm not sure if I simply missed a few important details which undermined my first viewing. I consider myself an attentive viewer, but I actually watched Cloud Atlas the first time at the wonderful Bear Tooth Theaterpub in Anchorage, Alaska. At the Bear Tooth, you get to enjoy gourmet pizza, local brews, and other fare while watching your movie. I loved the food there, but I have some qualms with movie theaters that serve restraunt-like food. I find the food service is often a distraction. It's not bad for a high octane action movie, but for any sort of thinking piece, I find it a huge pitfall. Thus, perhaps my lackluster feelings for Cloud Atlas the first time were rooted in the venue.

Alternatively, it is also possible that the layers of Cloud Atlas, of which there are many, only become apparent upon repeat viewings. It's a complicated movie which jumps from storyline to storyline every few minutes.

Whichever the case, on my recent second viewing, I found the movie far better, more engaging, and profound. I recently read the novel, which I praised in my book review for its overall themes criticizing human exploitation, and praising human connections. The first time I watched the film, I definitely missed these elements. The film inevitably had to compact the stories of the book, but it retains the consequences and more importantly, the point of the story. Plus what the film loses in quantity, it makes up for in the power of cinema. Unlike the book, the film can overlap stories. Rather than just jump between them, we can hear a character speaking from one timeline, while we start to see the action of another, further cementing the connection across time.

The movie also cuts between the storyline more frequently and freely, thus bringing parallel crescendos to a climax simultaniously. The Wachowski siblings, directors on this film, are masters of their medium and they use what is unique to the cinema to accentuate rather than simply to bring a book to the screen. If one wants to make a case for movie adaptations or to see a good example of how to do it, look no further than Cloud Atlas.

If you've never seen it, I recommend giving a watch. If you have, I recommend giving it a watch again.
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What I've Been Listening to: Aug 2019

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I'd heard Lizzo interviewed on NPR a few months ago. Issues of gender, body image, and self confidence where all topics of her discussion. She is a larger woman who both figuratively and literally bares all on her recent album. All of this was interesting, but my attention wasn't thoroughly captured until I attended a wedding recently. Her music showed up on the rental car radio, in the club during a pre-wedding party, and even on the dance floor at the reception. She's a unique person with equally unique music, and I'm impressed.

The music starts with toe-tapping beats but where it stands apart is in Lizzo's willingness to push the limits of convention, which she does in three ways. First, in subject matter, the meaning in her lyrics are bold, critical of social norms, and unapologetic.

Second, she pushed the boundaries of what lyrics will fit in the song. Most of the time, singers strive to stay on beat with their music, but sometimes singers have too much to say to be limited this way. My all-time favorite band, Steely Dan operated this way. If there were too many words for a particular line of music, but they were profound, well they went ahead and jammed them in. Lizzo operates this way, and I love it. It grabs the listeners attention. When you hear her trample over her own beat, you have to ask what happened and pay closer attention to what she has to say.

Finally, Lizzo pushes the limits of her own voice. Now I'm sure she has a lovely singing voice when that is her aim, but on what I've heard of her music she often goes higher and lower than her range, cracking and losing pitch along the way. She holds notes she can't sustain and just keeps going. It gives power to her music, as if to say, yes this could be all fine and polished without so much as a blemish in the vocal execution, but it's too powerful and too relevant to worry about all that.

Lizzo won't be contained or held back by convention.
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What I've Been Reading: July 2019

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I read Martha Wells' All Systems Red last summer. I've had the second novella in her Murderbot Diaries series, Artificial Condition, in my "to read" pile since them. I finally picked it up last weekend. In short, it was a fun read.

As with the first in the series, it was an entertaining story. This book gets a little more personal with the main character, an A.I. security unit, and delves deeper into its mysterious past. So far, the first two books in this series have all been shorter works. I think this was a very conscious decision for Wells. The books feature the internal thoughts of the main A.I. character, murderbot, who is sarcastic, sassy, and cynical. Murderbot has a distinct voice, which is humorous, particularly when you think about it coming from a constructed, computer lifeform, not a natural-born person. But the personality also gets on my nerves a bit after a while. This is completely a matter of taste. I guess I don't like to walk around looking at the world pessimistically all day, so hearing this character's thoughts eventually grows tiresome. Thankfully, the story is as mentions, short. And thus, the tale wraps up about the time the voice has worn thin.

As for the plot, it was interesting and gave the A.I. character a chance to exhibit its newly free personality, while also learning of its own dark past. I wasn't wowed, but it kept my attention. There was a little fighting, a lot of computer entities talking and bickering with each other (which is an admittedly novel idea), and sufficient tension. As with the first book, I'll be giving this one 4 stars, and maybe after a few months, I'll pick up the next int he series. They're undoubtedly easy, fun, and quick reads.
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What I've Been Watching: July 2019

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You may have heard of Rip Torn's recent passing. I've long been a fan of his work. If you've never seen it, go check out Forty Shades of Blue (2005). Many of the mentions of his death referenced his performance in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), alongside the late David Bowie, but I'd never seen the film. I've also been making an effort in my reading to pick up a few classic, pentacle sci-fi titles, trying to better familiarize myself with the foundations of the genre. Thus, tracking down this movie seemed destined.

I want to say I loved it. However, I think this is one of those movies which is too layered and cryptic to merely react to. I think it's going to take some mental digesting to truly form a take on it. I know it is based on a novel by the same name, which I have not read. The story, if I try to outline it, is a relatively simple one, of an alien visitor (Bowie) trying to find a way home, but then the 2hr 19min film piles on layer after layer of the visitor observing, learning, and engaging human. I suspect there is some criticism of our society wound in there, but I have to admit it isn't jumping out at me a profound insight into our contrary nature.

The story reminds me of the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, which I read earlier this year. I'm sure I'm not the first to make such a link, and that book definitely tried to take humanity, our society, our religions, American capitalism all to task, but the film version of The Man Who Fell to Earth, didn't seem to do so, so handily.

The performances were great, especially for me, Candy Clark's, and indeed Rip Torn's. So I'm at a point where I need this movie to settle in a bit. Maybe I'll dig more. Maybe I'll go look into the novel. Maybe more depth will come to me. We'll see...
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