Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

What’s your number?

Not sure when I learned about the Enneagram, but almost immediately after I did I knew I was a Five.  However flawed and subjective it is, I’ve found it to be a good model for understanding human nature as an individual and in relationship with others. Plus it’s easier to remember than the Myers-Briggs.

Discovering the Enneagram podcast Typology reignited my interest in it. (I’ve liked the episodes with Rob Bell, Shauna & Aaron Niequist, and the panel of Fives especially.)

It was through the podcast I learned Ryan O’Neal of the band Sleeping At Last is writing a song about every Enneagram number, as part of his ambitious Atlas project. He’s done One and Two thus far, and they are exceptionally beautiful.

Say hi to Mosul Eye

The AP has an incredible story about an Iraqi man named Omar Mohammed who courageously chronicled the savagery of the Islamic State as an undercover blogger, using the moniker Mosul Eye:

For nearly two years, he’d wandered the streets of occupied Mosul, chatting with shopkeepers and Islamic State fighters, visiting friends who worked at the hospital, swapping scraps of information. He grew out his hair and his beard and wore the shortened trousers required by IS. He forced himself to witness the beheadings and deaths by stoning, so he could hear the killers call out the names of the condemned and their supposed crimes.

He wasn’t a spy. He was an undercover historian and blogger. As IS turned the Iraqi city he loved into a fundamentalist bastion, he decided he would show the world how the extremists had distorted its true nature, how they were trying to rewrite the past and forge a brutal Sunni-only future for a city that had once welcomed many faiths.

Working at Mosul University when the city fell in June 2014 to the extremists, he decided to start gathering information:

By day, he chatted with Islamic State fighters and vendors, and observed. Always observed. By night, he wrote in his native Arabic and fluent English on a WordPress blog and later on Facebook and Twitter. The city turned dark, and Mosul Eye became one of the outside world’s main sources of news about the Islamic State fighters, their atrocities and their transformation of the city into a grotesque shadow of itself. The things IS wanted kept secret went to the heart of its brutal rule.

As you’d imagine, the IS thugs weren’t too happy about the Mosul Eye:

When the only Mosul residents left were fellow Sunnis, they too were not spared, according to the catalog of horrors that is Mosul Eye’s daily report. He detailed the deaths and whippings, for spying and apostasy, for failing to attend prayers, for overdue taxes. The blog attracted the attention of the fanatics, who posted death threats in the comments section.

Spoiler: he makes it out OK, but read the whole story to learn about a modern hero.

Little Women

I was a good amount into a post celebrating the 1994 film Little Women when I discovered I was basically writing Alissa Wilkinson’s appreciation of the film at Vox from last year. It’s one of many movies I watched a lot with my sisters as a kid, in rotation with other female-focused ’90s films like Ever After, Never Been Kissed, Return to Me and You’ve Got Mail. (Also the Ace Ventura duology.)

In my mind it was a Christmas movie, but after my latest rewatch I realized it’s not. Its Christmas and winter scenes might be the best ones, but they are only part of the story that follows the passing seasons and growth of a Civil War-era New England family.

This time around I understood more historical context than I could have as a kid, context that grounds the story in its particular time. Jo mentioning the March family’s adherence to Transcendentalism, for instance, and the gravity of Beth contracting scarlet fever in a time of epidemics and poor medicine, which forces uninoculated Amy to be sent away. And despite living in what looks like a nice, big house, the March family is struggling through trying times. Writes Wilkinson:

The Civil War is still taking place when the story begins, Mr. March is away with the military, and money and rations are tight. Meg is embarrassed about her clothing, Amy doesn’t have the faddish pickled limes that her peers trade and eat at school, and things are actually quite difficult.

Navigating these challenges while cohering as a family is what makes the film a delight, and much more than just a Christmas movie. A big part of this is its soundtrack by Thomas Newman, who also scored The Shawshank Redemption in the same year and got Oscar nominations for both films. (The Lion King beat them and Forrest Gump.) The score even sounds like Christmas, writes Wilkinson, with Newman’s

strings, bells, oboes, and some joyful melodic patterns. There’s a hum of happiness to Newman’s soundtrack that reminds me of the season, a buoyancy that portends a new year, new surprises, new life.

In addition to capturing a nostalgic Christmas feeling, the score is exactly what it needs to be moment to moment, throughout the seasons and circumstances. Lush and triumphant at a climactic encounter, tender and dramatic when Jo sells her hair to pay for Marmie’s train ticket to visit their ailing father. (Sidenote: Susan Sarandon was nominated for Best Actress for The Client that year, along with Winona Ryder for Little Women, but she could have earned a nod for that scene alone:)

In one sense: Duh, a good soundtrack should appropriately underscore moments and moods. A great soundtrack like this one, however, makes its film better.

Top films of 2007: will ‘There Will Be Blood’ be there?

Filmspotting’s recent Sacred Cow review of There Will Be Blood inspired me to rewatch it for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and go back and look at my top films of 2007. They were:

1) The Lives of Others (technically 2006, but released in the U.S. in 2007)
2) Once
3) Waitress
4) Zodiac
5) Michael Clayton
6) No Country for Old Men
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
8) Ratatouille
9) Juno
10) 3:10 to Yuma

As you can see, There Will Be Blood did not make the list. I remember in the theater being impressed but bored, which was not the case for its Oscar “rival” that year, No Country for Old Men. Because of that I predicted Blood wouldn’t win Best Picture; compared to the tight plotting and propulsive thrills of No Country, its sprawling scope and tonal opacity would be a tough sell in a popularity contest.

I’d still give Best Picture to No Country. But a second viewing of Blood brought it way up in my estimation. What P.T. Anderson’s films lack in scrutability they more than make up for in production design, soundtrack, and acting prowess. What superlative could I use for Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t already been beaten to death with a bowling pin? The man is mesmerizing. In a 158-minute movie, I couldn’t take my eyes off him for one of them. He shares MVP with the cinematographer Robert Elswit, who similarly has earned the hyperbole around his work.

So where would I rank There Will Be Blood now? Making a new list without rewatching all the films I rated highly but haven’t seen since then, like Waitress and Michael Clayton, is a bit of a fool’s errand. But as it stands now, including the 2007 films I’ve seen since making the list, here’s what it looks like:

1) The Lives of Others
2) Once
3) Zodiac
4) No Country for Old Men
5) Waitress
6) Munyurangabo
7) There Will Be Blood
8) Michael Clayton
9) Ratatouille
10) Into the Wild

Sorry, Juno, 3:10 to Yuma, and Sweeney Todd, but I had to make room for There Will Be Blood, Into the Wild, and Munyurangabo. Honorable mention goes to The Diving Bell and the ButterflyHairspray, and Enchanted. Pretty great year overall!

Favorite Christmas song lyrics, ranked

I’m terrible at remembering lyrics. Even for favorite songs I’ve heard dozens of times. It’s an annoying deficiency when I try to sing along as so often I end up having to mumble certain lines.

But now, my yearly Christmas music binge in progress, I’ve started paying attention to the lyrics that have peaked my interest over the years. A phrase, a couplet, a stanza—whatever somehow embodies the Christmas season with lyrical grace.

So, to separate the cookies from the coal, here are my top 20 Christmas lyrics:

20.
Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow!
— 
“Let It Snow”

19.
The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night

He will bring us goodness and light
— “Do You Hear What I Hear”

18.
Deck the halls with mistletoe

Let all your heavy burdens go
Up the chimney in a cloud of smoke
The fire’s burning bright
— “Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More” by Relient K

17.
It’s that time of year

When the world falls in love
Every song you hear seems to say
“Merry Christmas
May your new year’s dreams come true”
— “The Christmas Waltz”

16.
Then comes that big night

Giving the tree the trim
You’ll hear voices by starlight
Singing a Yuletide hymn
— “Mistletoe and Holly”

15.
Later on we’ll conspire

As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we’ve made
Walking in a winter wonderland

— “Winter Wonderland”

14.
These wonderful things are the things

We remember all through our lives
— “Sleigh Ride”

13.
May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white
— “White Christmas”

12.
Light and life to all he brings

Risen with healing in his wings
— “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

11.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
— “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

10.
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new glorious morn

— “O Holy Night”

9.
Faithful friends who are dear to us

Gather near to us once more
— “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

8.
Snowflakes a-fallin’

My old heart’s a-callin’
Tall pines a-hummin’
Christmas Time’s a-comin’
— “Christmas Time’s A-Comin'”

7.
Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace
— “Silent Night”

6.
Repeat the sounding joy

— “Joy to the World”

5.
But what is this music

That falls on my ear
It’s the very first snowfall
Of a very long year
— “First Snowfall” by Over the Rhine

4.
Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
— “Angels We Have Heard On High”

3.
Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love-light gleams
— “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

2.
Like the petals in our pockets

May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts
— “Snow” by Sleeping at Last

1.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

— “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

With special mention to:

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne
— “Auld Lang Syne”

Yes, it’s not really a Christmas song, but it’s in It’s A Wonderful Life and it’s the song I want played at my funeral, so it gets grandfathered in.

In praise of wedding reception air drumming

I didn’t realize I had a reputation. At a wedding recently, the bride and groom told me one of the things they were looking forward to the most was my air drumming. They had seen it in action at a previous wedding and had enjoyed it so much that they decided they would make time at their own wedding reception to watch me perform and even participate themselves.

Humbled though I was, I didn’t set out to be a beloved wedding reception air drummer. Out on those shiny faux wooden dance floors, air music is all I can do. Because I can’t really dance—aside from the slow-dance swaying that hasn’t improved much since middle school—my strategy for participating in reception dancing is to pretend to play the music well enough to appear united with the exuberant, sweaty throng of guests who are actually dancing.

This doesn’t happen at every reception. The right combination of people I know, complete strangers, and alcohol have to be in place for this very particular set of skills to be unleashed.

Without:

  • people I know, I wouldn’t have the comfort of a supportive home base in which to air-boogie;
  • complete strangers I know I’ll never see again, I wouldn’t be OK with making a fool of myself;
  • and alcohol and the liquid courage it provides, I wouldn’t be dancing in front of strangers and people I know at all.

Until I learn one day how to go beyond the simple side-to-side two-stepping many tall, lanky, self-conscious white dudes like myself resort to under dance duress, air drumming will have to do.

And you know what? I enjoy it. I’m good at it. Though I tend to stick to drumming because I was a drummer before anything else, my air talents aren’t limited to the percussive arts. I’ll thrown down a mean air rhythm guitar, string, horn, or bass line too, and make it look good. Any palooka can flail around pretending to play “Don’t Stop Believin'”; it takes a true air instrument craftsman to accurately mime the crunchy guitars in “Party in the USA” or the synth solo in “Shut Up and Dance”.

There are at least two weddings on the docket for me next summer, so I have a few months to get back into air shape. Once I am, you’ll find me out there again, planted in my air power stance—knees bent, left foot forward, leaning back slightly, and doing my part to keep the party going.

The Christmas Songs

It’s that time of year
When the world falls in love
Every song you hear seems to say
Merry Christmas
May your new year’s dreams come true

— “The Christmas Waltz”

For a while I only listened to Christmas music in December. This rule kept that music fresh, even sacred (something I like to do), and tethered to the season it’s meant for. But as a compromise to my wife—a Yuletide hedonist if there ever was one—a few years ago I bumped up the unleashing of my Christmas collection to the day after Thanksgiving. This allowed me to enjoy Thanksgiving before switching gears to the Christmas season.

This year we kicked things off, as I always do, with Christmas With the Rat Pack, followed by She & Him’s Christmas Party. It’s not even December and I’ve already listened to the Christmas albums of Nat King Cole, Relient K, Perry Como, Hanson, The Oh Hellos (quickly becoming my favorite), Count Basie, Marty Robbins, and the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. But I’ve got plenty of stuff left to accompany me to the end of the year, when I send them back into digital storage to await their annual calling.

Family Video to the rescue

Home for Thanksgiving weekend and in the market for a Christmas movie to watch, my sister suggested Die Hard. A great choice for many reasons, one of which being I hadn’t seen it in a while and was due for a seasonal rewatch. Plus my wife hadn’t seen it. (Perish the thought!)

The problem was we didn’t have a copy of it, the library was closed, and it wasn’t on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Instead of picking another Christmas movie, we did something I haven’t done since high school: rented the DVD from Family Video.

Until about ten years ago this was commonplace. I have many fond memories browsing the shelves of Blockbuster, Family Video, Hollywood Video and the like, taking too much time to decide as the evening’s movie-watching time dwindled. Frankly I’m surprised Family Video is still around, but this weekend I was happy for it and for its continuing presence in the cultural landscape.

Yippee-ki-yay, movierenters!

Great Olin’s Raven!

The first baby in my family has arrived. Behold Olin Charles:

olin

I’ve made fun of my wife for all the pictures and video she takes of her sister’s kids.

I get it now.

Move it, McDonald’s

The replica of Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois, where I used to work, will be torn down next month:

Kroc, considered by the company to be the founder of the modern chain, built his first restaurant in 1955 after franchising the brand from the original owners, Richard and Maurice McDonald. The Des Plaines restaurant was torn down in 1984, the same year Kroc died. The McDonald’s Store No. 1 Museum opened the next year, with the original restaurant’s sign out front.

Why is it being razed?

Repeated flooding led the museum to close off interior access in 2008, while still allowing tourists to peek in the windows. McDonald’s said visitors to the site have declined in the last decade since tourists have been barred from entering the space. Flooding in the area also continues to be a problem.

Can’t say I’m surprised. It’s in a terrible location (with a modern McDonald’s right across the street) and the mannequins inside look super creepy, especially at night. It’s also, as those who watched The Founder will know, not even the first McDonald’s.

Not sure if Des Plaines will be sad to see it go due to the historical significance and tourist draw, or happy to replace it with another business that actually generates revenue. I suspect the latter.

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