Reviews by Ken Burke
Burning (Lee Chang-dong) not rated
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): This South Korean feature, adapted from a Japanese short story, offers a mysterious attitude in which certain plot assumptions are never expressly verified, although it’s clear enough what’s happening even if you have to think about it for awhile after the screening’s over. A young man in Seoul wants to be a writer but so far hasn’t gotten his subject matter under control, then he gets reacquainted with a young woman he used to know when they grew up in a rural city. He quickly falls for her, agrees to care for her (unseen) cat while she’s off on a jaunt to Africa, is let down immensely when she returns in the company of another young Korean man who has the advantages of material comfort, personal satisfaction, easy attraction for women—oh, and every couple of months he locates an abandoned greenhouse, then burns it down just for the joy of it. Beyond this brief setup, I can tell you nothing further in the realm of my spoiler-free zone, although if you don’t happen to live anywhere near the roughly-2-dozen-theaters where this fascinating film’s currently playing you might be tempted to plunge into the fully-revealed-plot just below. This story unfolds in a quiet, never-rushed manner (although it picks up a bit right at the end) that may seem a bit removed from your rapt engagement at first but, at the very least, the more you think about it, the more there is to think about. I highly recommend it, encourage you to find it in whatever format's available to you, then keep an eye out when the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees are announced as Burning’s now a contender, rightfully so.
Here’s the trailer: (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this:
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is a young man barely getting by (he always looks tired to me) in Seoul , South Korea, although he has aspirations of being a novelist (if he can just decide what he wants to write about). One day while walking through the commercial district he comes upon 2 attractive young women trying to attract customers into their shop, one tactic being an instant lottery which he wins, although the prize is a pink-strapped-woman’s watch. One of the attention-gathering-gals, Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), tells him she was a former classmate of his in their rural town, Paju (so near the North Korea border you can easily hear the daily propaganda broadcast through loudspeakers), although he doesn’t recognize her now after plastic surgery (she tells him he called her ugly when they were kids). He gives her the watch, then they go for drinks after her shift ends at which time she (also short on resources) shares various things with him: she’s practicing to be a mime, demonstrating the illusion of peeling a tangerine (which, if convincing enough, she claims she could eat when she’s hungry); she has concerns about hunger, both the Little Hunger of physical deprivation and the Great Hunger of philosophical yearning for understanding life; to explore these hungers she’s off to Africa for awhile, which means she needs someone—Jong-su will do nicely—to feed her cat, Boil (found in a boiler room), while she’s away.
They go to her tiny apartment (one room) where she initiates sex to seal the deal (no rush in the depiction, even as he fumbles with a condom); she admits the cat’s very shy so it may take some time before he shows himself (Jong-su begins to wonder if the cat’s as imaginary as the tangerines). While she’s away he returns to Paju to help maintain the small family dairy farm because Dad’s in jail after assaulting a local official, refusing to apologize (Mom left when Jong-su was a child, tired of her husband’s anger; the elder Lee forced his son to burn his mother’s clothes), then drives Dad’s dilapidated truck back to the city to care for the cat we never see although the food bowl’s always empty, the litter box’s full. By the time Hae-mi returns Jong-su’s besotted with her (having regularly masturbated in her apt. while thinking about her), but she’s now in the company of another young Korean man, Ben (Steven Yeun), whom she met during an extended-layover at the Nairobi, Kenya airport; he proves to be a regular presence with Mae-mi, attracted to his good looks, confidence, and displayed wealth although he won’t say how he comes by it (Jong-su likens Ben to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s protagonist in The Great Gatsby : young, rich, yet lost).
What Ben does divulge to Jong-su one day when they're all at the Paju farm (the urbanites suddenly dropped in, then Hae-mi naps after they’ve all smoked some pot and she did a topless dance for them at sunset after telling Jong-su of an incident when they were small children: she fell into an abandoned well, was rescued because he heard her screams [he has no memory of this]; she also cries easily but Ben’s not moved, says he never cries) is his hobby of choosing abandoned greenhouses, then setting them on fire; he says his next one will be close to Jong-su’s home in Paju (adding further mystery to Ben’s situation, with an earlier scene where Jong-su wandered into a party at Ben’s lavish dwelling, finding a drawer full of women’s jewelry in the bathroom). At the farm, Ben tells his new-found-male-buddy (at least Ben seems to imply such) Hae-mi considers Jong-su to be a true friend (he admits to Ben he loves her) but our confused protagonist calls her a whore for the way she acts so she breaks off contact while he checks the abandoned greenhouses in his neighborhood daily for arson but keeps finding them all intact. ⇒A call finally comes in from Hae-mi, but it quickly cuts off with no call-back-response, then a disconnected-number-reply. Appealing to the landlady, Jong-su enters the apt., finding it cleaned up for a change, a suitcase in place indicating Hae-mi hasn’t left town, once again no cat but now not even a sign of one. Jong-su tries to get info from Hae-mi’s mother and sister; however, they haven’t heard from her in quite some time, they even dispute the well-rescue-story. Ben claims no knowledge of her either, then invites Jong-su (who’s been stalking Ben lately, although his battered truck’s easily spotted) to visit, introducing his new girlfriend. While at Ben’s apt., though, his new cat gets out which Jong-su rescues as the kitty responds to the name Boil; Jong-su also finds Hae-mi’s pink wristwatch in Ben’s jewelry drawer, which convinces him Ben’s a serial killer, Hae-mi his latest victim (Ben claims he did burn a greenhouse near Jong-su, although all those old buildings continue to be untouched).
Events in this troubling story begin rushing toward conclusion at this point (changing the previous deliberate pace of this 2 hr. 28 min. film) with scenes of Ben doing lip painting of his new paramour; Jong-su meeting his mother (Ban Hye-ra) at her request after 16 years of separation (she needs money, he can’t help, but she seems to confirm the well story); Jong-su in Hae-mi’s apt., first having sex with her sister (Lee Bong-ryeon) who's masturbating him from behind, then she's not there, then he's finally typing his novel; Jong-su inviting Ben to meet him at a generally-deserted-lot where our hero turns killer, viciously stabbing Ben before pushing his-now-dead-enemy into his expensive car which Jong-su sets on fire while throwing in his own blood-soaked-clothes, followed by driving away naked in his old truck as we reach final fadeout quite stunned by all of this rapid resolution.⇐
So What? Burning’s adapted from a Haruki Murakami* short story, "Barn Burning" (this link is a 13-pp. pdf of it, first published in The New Yorker , then part of a collection of 17 Murakami stories, The Elephant Vanishes ) which has similarities to, differences from Lee’s version (unless various cultures of East Asian names have been transposed for English style—as with author Murakami but usually not with film directors, for example Lee Chang-dong here—you’ll find Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese call themselves by surname first, then given name): set in Japan; narrator's a writer (older, married) but only meets the young woman at the beginning of the story; pantomime scene with a tangerine; trip to Africa; new boyfriend upon return; shared marijuana smoking; new guy says he burns down barns; narrator keeps tabs on local barns but nothing’s burned; woman disappears. Murakami also uses the same title as a 1939 William Faulkner short story with no connection to this film’s plot (except it’s about a barn being burned by an antisocial, often-angry man, yet there’s no conclusive public proof he did it), although Jong-su does note Faulkner as his favorite author which leads to Ben reading one of Faulkner’s books to get some insight on the motivations of his new acquaintance (I’d hardly call them friends, as things turn out).
*He’s an internationally-honored-author who writes even longer tomes with his novels than I do with these reviews. The shocker here is that I’ve read one of them, the 928-pp. Book 1 of 1Q84 (title indicates parallel worlds of Tokyo set in 1984 with the odd-named-one providing challenges for a character who inadvertently crosses over into this other reality; there’s also a young man/aspiring-author character but with entirely different circumstances from Jong-su—except he’s also a childhood acquaintance of the main female, an assassin in this story), a fascinating read, but so far I’ve declined attempting the other 2 Books of that trilogy, each equally long from what I understand.
As for my deciding to attend this film, it’s a useful example for me of gaining trust in "official" film critics by knowing from direct experience a wide selection of their opinions (as I do with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle) so as to have some reasonable idea as to whether their positive or negative comments are likely to square with my interests or not. In the case of Burning, had I just accepted the Chron’s G. Allen Johnson's mid-range-review at face value (I read him regularly but often don’t see what he’s reviewing for various reasons, so I don’t yet know too well how our tastes sync up), I’d likely have skipped this film (“But it all leads to an ending that satisfies no one, especially after 2½ hours […] Still, with Lee’s exacting eye, the off-kilter tone and top-notch performances by an attractive young cast, it’s not a waste of time.”) with a sense I don’t have all that much time to possibly waste on new releases, given I usually see only 1 or 2 of them per week. However, there was just enough in what he recounted about this odd presentation that I consulted the critics’ collective sites of Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic where I found superlative responses: 94% positive reviews at the former plus an unusually-high-average-score of 90% at the latter. Therefore, taking a calculated chance, I went to see it, which turned out to be a good choice (the ending wasn’t unsatisfying at all in my opinion, just interestingly-ambiguous), not only for me but for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters because they’ll have a chance to consider this work for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film next year, as it’s now South Korea’s entry in that competition (it’s also already won/been nominated for a good number of other awards worldwide).
In addition to not yet having enough context on Mr. Johnson’s cinematic worldview, I also don’t know much about economic inequities in contemporary South Korea, apparently an undercurrent in this film, a thematic worked into director/co-screenwriter Lee’s adaptation which you can get better insights on from this article, as it explores the metaphorical relationship between Jong-su and Ben (whose Americanized-name, with its high-finance, high-tech implications further sets him off from his economically-struggling, aspiring-but-not-yet-manifested-artist acquaintance). Further, if you find that lengthy exploration of situations in this film to be intriguing, here's a video (16:31) with some additional analyses of themes explored in this narrative: absence-presence, fiction-reality, subjective-objective (along with other related oppositions and concepts), but be aware both of these resources inevitably contain plot-spoilers. Among many other fascinating aspects of this stealthily-complex-narrative is the crucial importance of Hae-mi, even though she’s not around nearly as often as the 2 main men. It’s her initial description of the tangerine pantomime to Jong-su (“It has nothing to do with talent. What you do isn't make yourself believe that there are tangerines there. You forget that the tangerines are not there. That's all." [she says it this way in the short story; the screenplay was similar, if not exact]) that sets us up for all to come later, ⇒especially Ben’s seemingly-tricky-dislocation with the concept of burning abandoned greenhouses (spaces designated for growth that have lost their intended usefulness) when he really seems to be referring to killing young women, so what he destroys in our story is someone “very, very close” to Jong-su’s heart, not a building close to his countryside home. Further, her apparent death leaves us with a dislocated-sense of melancholy as she yearned for a passionate command of her life (the Great Hunger), even as she was willing to simply vanish after returning from Africa as Ben tells Jong-su she’s seems to have disappeared “like a puff of smoke” (extending his fire analogies).⇐ Her disappearance conjures up (for me, wandering mind that I have) 2 of Michelangelo Antonioni’s masterpieces, L’aaventura (1960) and Blow-Up (1966), with a main character, Anna (Léa Massari), never seen again after about halfway into the film leaving the plot to move on in unanticipated directions in the former while it’s a dead body (we assume) that’s here, then gone in the latter, ultimately leading us to question the very nature of reality by the film’s conclusion (just as we’re never really sure about Hae-mi’s story of rescue from a well). I’m not equating Burning with the lasting importance of either of these Italian classics, but it does give us plenty to ponder while watching it (the pace never rattles us, as does the agitated-flow of the latest Fantastic Beasts … [see below], so we have time to contemplate the why of what we’re seeing) as well as in retrospect.
Bottom Line Final Comments: Considering all the critical accolades Burning’s received, it would be wonderful if more people could see it as it’s currently only in 25 domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters (down from its “high” of 27, even after a month in release) so box-office-receipts have been a pittance of only about $300,000 (again, domestically; I have no clear info on international ticket sales, although I know this film’s been embraced in South Korea, including among the cinephiles who chose it for the 2019 Oscar contest next spring). I admit I had some confusion about what happens toward the end of this story (which got reasonably clarified in an after-screening-conversation-with-cocktails featuring me, my wonderful wife, Nina, and our 2 regular viewing companions, where we figured out what Ben’s “burning greenhouses” was all about as well as assuming images of Jong-su in bed with Hae-mi’s sister in Hae-mi’s tiny apartment, followed by Jong-su finally typing away on his long-delayed-manuscript also in that location were likely just dreams/projections by our troubled protagonist before he chose his final encounter with Ben), but I was more confused about what rating to give it, as I found Burning intriguing while watching it, although a bit too slow and confusing in some of its elements, which was steering me toward 3½ stars as being a filmic experience I’ve defined in my Summary of Two Guys Film Reviews as “there’s a lot to like here but something worth noting just isn’t fully right.” However, as I’ve continued to think about it, been influenced (I must admit) by those links I cited in the paragraph just above, come to understand how intentionally-ambiguous/elusive/allusionary it is, I eventually elevated my initial opinion to 4 stars, as there’s just so much to quietly think about here. I also have to think about what’s more honest in trying to assign ratings to any film (often comes easily; sometimes—as with this one—more of a challenge): sticking with my initial response (as I’m sure professional critics must do, usually rushing to a keyboard as soon as possible after a preview screening, typing up a review to meet a publication deadline) or letting the viewing experience simmer for a bit, coming to closure a few days later when I finally get time to reflect/write/post, possibly allowing that pure first reaction to either improve or degenerate with the addition of time. Given my “publication” circumstances, I’m satisfied waiting a bit to assign my ratings even though some could well be influenced by intervening information, including my own later ruminations. At least by doing it this way (plus glancing over the previous star-clusters at that Summary link to attempt inter-category-equivalence) I’ve found I’m more likely to feel justified with my decisions long after the fact rather than frequently questioning them, as I doubt I'll ever do regarding Burning.
What came much more quickly was my choice for a Musical Metaphor to close out this comment-cluster. If you’ve read any of my reviews before—if not, why don’t you spend the next 2 months working your way through that Summary page to catch up on such brilliant prose (just as long as you mercifully disregard the atrocious layouts of many of the earlier years of Two Guys in the Dark [while also wondering if the other guy, Pat Craig, will ever write anything for our mutual blog, but in his defense I’ll note he’s preoccupied with some valid concerns so I’ll suspend joking about his absence for now, although I hope to soon return to that line of inquiry; by the way, November 21 is his birthday if you want to send him a greeting on Facebook, but I'm not sure he checks it very often], which I’ve tried desperately to make better in more-recent-times, hoping I’ve succeeded)—you know I like to wrap them up with some inclusion from the aural arts just to offer another viewpoint, even if the chosen song’s lyrics may be stretching the whole concept of “metaphor” to a breaking point. In this case, I think the tune will be understood as appropriate, although I did a bit of a metaphorical leap myself in getting to the actual choice. Given the conceptual power of unseen-but-dreaded-fire-allusions (except for the film’s conclusion and a Jong-su dream where he sees himself as a young boy fascinated by a roaring greenhouse blaze) permeating this film I immediately thought of the jungle-on-fire-scene as part of the the opening moments of Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), set to The Doors’ “The End” (from their self-named 1967 debut album)—well, I guess if I’m going in that direction I could also have just used “Light My Fire” (same album), but that’s too rooted in passionate romance to really get to what Burning’s all about, just as “The End” is too nihilistic, too bitter about a sense of loss to quite be right for how I’d like to conclude these ruminations about Burning.* So, what was the answer to this perplexing quandary?
*Although I do agree “The End” deserves a fuller consideration in the context of Burning, more so than the brief clip noted above; thus, just for an opportunity of fully wallowing in its lyrical misery, here’s the entire song with additional footage of “the horror, the horror” shown in Apocalypse Now.
Fortunately, those dangerous Doors (don't let them slam your butt on the way out of this posting) still have even more to offer, leading me ultimately to “Riders on the Storm” (from their 1971 album L.A. Woman) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZT_OxPRmSw (video of the song with some interesting images added) because I think what we’re really concerned about here is how self-appointed-evildoers such as Ben lurk unchallenged among us, so even though we may hope to be cautious “Riders on the storm [… of the chaotic societies we’re forced to inhabit because] into this world we’re thrown [… we must constantly be aware] There’s a killer on the road [that Hae-mi could have avoided had she heeded the Metaphor's advice of] Girl you gotta love your man [but pick the guy who truly cared, Jong-su, rather than attractive-but-atrocious Ben, who's just] An actor out on loan.” We, mirroring Jong-su, may be “Like a dog without a bone [… but as we understand] Into this house we’re born [… we must become enlightened, active] Riders on the storm,” although it’s a open question of just how violently we should actually respond to all those challenges hurled at us.
SHORT TAKES (not really, but this next movie’s not short either)*
(please note that spoilers also appear here)
*If you’d like to see a truly short review of what's down below, with the same general response as mine—delivered in about 1/20 of the space—check out this dismissal from Outtakes with Fiore.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
(David Yates) rated PG-13
(David Yates) rated PG-13
A continuation of the Harry Potter prequels, set in the 1920s, focused on zoologist-wizard Newt Scamander, in this story working with various associates—including a young version of renowned wizard Albus Dumbledore—to defeat powerful, evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald; there’s a lot of flashy special effects here but not much coherence in this overstuffed plot (except for you dedicated fans).
Here’s the trailer:
Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
As I’ve often noted in recent postings, I realize my choices for what to review lean toward independent/foreign fare reasonably-available to me (after about a 40-min. ride into Berkeley, a bit more all the way to San Francisco) even though such accessibility may be severely lacking in most other parts of the country (or the rest of the world), with Burning egregious in this disparity as it’s now playing in just those 25 venues noted above, so, when I can tolerate (hopefully embrace) something from the upper end of the ticket-sales-spectrum I try to make an effort to include it, recognizing many of you readers either have different tastes from me or just have more limited local screening options than I do so you might see what you can for now, wait for video re-release later. In the last few months, though, such an effort has mostly led to reviews in the so-so 3-3½ stars range (of 5) as I wasn’t all that taken by what I saw in such options as Crazy Rich Asians (John M. Chu; review in our August 30, 2018 posting) or Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer; review in our November 7, 2018 posting), although the new version of A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper; review in our October 11, 2018 posting) played considerably better for me. Well, with … Grindelwald, the newest chapter of the expanded Harry Potter universe, I’m back to “I came, I saw, I can take it or leave it” territory, although I imagine more-dedicated-fans of this wizard-based-franchise would be more supportive than me. Then again, I wasn’t all that thrilled with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Yates, 2016; 3-star-review in our November 24, 2016 posting) either, maybe because after the previous 8 Potters I've had about enough of these special-effects-extravaganzas (I’m also getting saturated with Star Wars and Avengers movies), as this latest entry in the "Wizarding" series is again a whole lot of bluster supporting a small bit of necessary plot as Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) continues the events of the previous Fantastic Beasts … with many of the same characters, now joined by a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) of later Hogwarts fame recruiting Newt to recapture evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who escapes in a spectacular/ sensual-overload opening scene (one of many in this 2 hr., 14 min. exercise in cinematic-bombast).
After a lot of running around through London and Paris in 1927, including Newt (occasionally along with some of his associates) getting rides on huge Chinese dragon/cat or seaweed/water-monster beasts, we get down to the essential core of this story (if you need more details than I’m about to offer, including updates on various recurring characters I haven’t even mentioned, here's a site with considerably more specifics [I can vouch for its accuracy]): ⇒The mysterious Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) from the previous movie is actually (supposedly?—according to some commentators, citing possible canonical discrepancies) Albus’ brother, Aurelius, who joins up at the end with Grindelwald in a pact to kill his respected sibling, given that neither of the more-powerful-wizards (Albus and Gellert) can directly battle each other because of a blood pact they made years ago when they were very close friends (maybe more, given original Potter-books-author/current Beasts-screenwriter J.K. Rowling has revealed, after the fact of the release of all the Potter narratives, that Albus was gay); further, some research shows Albus at an earlier time accepted (possibly due to the wiles by his silver-tongued-devil-companion) Gellert’s project of wizards taking control of non-wizards (us!) for the supposed good of all involved (a point up for legitimate debate late in the story when Grindelwald shows his followers a future projection of the horrors humans will unleash in WW II]) a concept Albus later renounced, while in a minor aspect of this overall plot Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) has turned away from her lover, Muggle (you know, ordinary humans as we’re called in Europe; American humans are known as No-Majs, as in “no magic”) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), along with Newt and the other upstanding wizards, having been seduced by the charming encouragements of Grindelwald, so we end the episode set up for the next entry in this series of 5 which will possibly take us up to the beginning of events transpiring in the later-set-Potter-tales.*⇐
⇒*As a warning (to both you and me) I may not see all the upcoming Beasts episodes because a little spoiler-based-research (necessary for me, as I haven’t read any of the Potter-related-novels nor remember all that much detail from those previous Potter movies—all of which came out before I started taking extensive notes/writing reviews for this blog—with their events all largely running together for me approaching the climax) reveals Grindelwald’s fate as ultimately being defeated/ imprisoned by Albus in 1945, ultimately killed by the dark Lord Voldemort during the events of Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows—Part 1 (Yates, 2010). I don’t yet know what becomes of Credence Barebone in upcoming Beasts movies, but I have a hunch he'll somehow be subdued by Newt.⇐
If you should be among the few who didn’t rush out to see … Grindelwald in its opening days (when it took in $253.7 million worldwide [$62.2 million of that domestically])* and intend to do so soon—despite a general sense of dismissal from the critical community, with a misery 40% positive reviews at RT, a most-surprisingly-higher 53% average score at MC—I actively encourage you to refresh yourself on the happenings of … Where to Find Them, something I didn’t bother to do for some obscure reason, leaving me a bit overwhelmed at times with what was occurring on-screen, even though it does reasonably extend what had come before, so your present viewing experience didn’t have to be as jumbled as mine was, but even if I were fully aware of who all these folks are, as well as how what they’re doing has viable continuity, I still wouldn’t be all that much more impressed with the result as it clearly feels to me to be filled with unnecessary extensions of the basic plot points, padded out for maximum financial reward, just as the 3 Peter Jackson-directed Hobbit movies (our reviews in the December 20, 2012, December 17, 2013, December 23, 2014 postings) were likewise an overbearing adaptation that milked its concept for all it was worth (although Rowling’s not [yet, anyway] writing novels of each of Newt’s adventures, just screenplays, with the first one adapted from what she did create for print , the supposed Scamander textbook called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, mentioned briefly in the Potter movies).
*Yet, even with all that box-office-bonanza, …Grindelwald had the lowest (hard to say “smallest,” given the amount of money involved) domestic opening of any of the 10 Potter-related-movies so far; here’s an analysis of possibly why this happened: none of the beloved Potter characters show up except Albus Dumbledore, concerns about the casting of Depp due to abuse allegations from ex-wife Amber Heard, generally poor reviews (despite the continuing involvement of Yates and Rowling). Still, as you can explore in detail at this site, the Scamander/Potter Wizarding World franchise has done extremely well overall with a worldwide total (still climbing, as these prequels keep marching on) of about $8.8 billion. (Topped only by the Marvel Cinematic Universe [$17.5 billion worldwide] and Star Wars [$9.2 billion] franchises, both of those still adding on also; although all of this becomes compromised if you want to consider adjusted for inflation grosses for any of the involved movies, which I’ll leave to your calculations item-by-item from this latter link if you like).
The above comments leave me with only one other topic to pursue which is my standard, closing Musical Metaphor, in this case inspired by a little performance bit done by me and my undergrad roommate/musical collaborator (thank heavens he could play an astounding guitar to balance out my limited options with bongos, harmonicas, and tambourine, although we did harmonize well), Jerry Graham, at various small-scale-venues around the U. of Texas at Austin in the late 1960s when we’d do the Four Tops first hit (from 1965), “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” then explain how we wanted to demonstrate the Tops' versatile repertoire, jumping right into “The Same Old Song” (on their 1965 Four Tops Second Album)—another hit for them literally composed/ recorded in a rush to capitalize on their initial success, so we weren’t being any more cynical than they were. I’ll present the original guys (only Abdul “Duke” Fakir of that quartet’s still alive, performing with the group in a show I saw not too long ago in Oakland with the Temptations, also down to their last original member, Otis Williams) with “… Song” at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=uS2nWLz-AbE,* in recognition of how Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald to me continues to attempt to recycle the Potter “magic” but just keeps singing “the same, same old song.” I know this tune’s about a broken romance with the singer lamenting his loss, reminded of “a tender love that used to be” by hearing what once was “our favorite song,” yet it speaks to me of these Beasts ... movies where the established experience of the Harry Potter stories “keeps haunting me Reminding me how [fascinating all this wizard lore] used to be [though now] It’s the same old song But with a different meaning since [Harry, Hermione, and Ron are] gone.” Unless the reviews for the next Fantastic Beasts … episode are heartily encouraging I’ll probably also be gone from paying for the next couple of follow-ups, although just out of morbid curiosity I’ll probably watch the last one even as I already know about some of the crucial events that must happen in it.
*With all due respect to the marvelous performers who preserve the legacies of the Four Tops and the Temptations—satisfying us oldsters who prefer hearing “greatest hits” showcases rather than encouraging these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to produce new work—there’s the reality these groups’ over-50-year-careers also amount to the “same old song,” with little effort to achieve anything beyond memory recall for their audiences as briefly illustrated by the current Tops in 2013, but given the constrained-quality of that clip I’ll honor their impact on pop music with this better-recorded Tops and Temps medley from the 1983 Motown 25 celebration (although most of the guys you see on stage at that huge anniversary special aren’t the ones carrying on the traditions of these legendary groups today for however long they still continue to find appreciative audiences).
As many of us will have the great opportunity to rejoice that we're living in peaceful, fully-employed (or retired), comfortably-sheltered, well-fed times this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, looking forward to days of tasty leftovers, shopping bargains, many big-time sports events, I hope we also remember—as well as donate to the needy whatever we can—those who’ve lost most, if not all, they had in these recent, horrible California wildfires in Butte County (my wife’s cousin along with her daughter and son-in-law all found their homes completely gone, something not to be forgotten when considering the fictional flames of Burning) and the Woolsey blaze spread from Ventura County down toward Malibu, as well as the thousands of Central American migrants now bottled up in Tijuana, Mexico hoping to be able to apply for asylum in the U.S., while others around our country and the world deal with mass killings, war, famine, the devastations of natural disasters. Those of us who can celebrate all we have to be thankful for (which is plenty in my case, both personally [love you, Nina] and materially [bless you, long-needed-rain]) will hopefully relax into a restful, joyful break, but let's not forget others recently deceased or struggling to get by as these disasters continue to plague so much of our globe, whose opportunities for thankfulness are more difficult for them to find or retain.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Burning:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjAiEEDuFok (24:15 interview with director Lee Chang-dong who speaks in Korean but we get translations)
Here’s more information about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyD3m2qb3Yk (10:03 video of Easter Eggs in the movie, presented at such a pace you'll likely need to be a Harry Potter-universe-nerd to follow—let alone understand—most of what’s said most of the time, but it does give you a sense of how this prequel-series will eventually connect to the latter Potter stories [be aware there’s a short ad at about 5:00])
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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of email@example.com. (But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website, https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)
By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker. But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
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a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from in the previous week (once again, we’re happy to see 5 hoped-for-continents represented within our highly-appreciated-worldwide-readership although still waiting for Africa [unless that Unknown Region is Wakanda]):