Wednesday, December 1, 2021

TV Snide: November 2021

TV show of the month: Squid Games (Netflix): This is a classic show. It has it all: humor, drama, deep character story points, and a good bit of bloodshed. But it really is an epic story of a chauffeur who falls hard on his luck and faces the ultimate tests of his bodily and emotional strength. It is so ultimately watchable that I put it amongst the greats Mad Men, Lost, and Breaking Bad. 5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the month: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I can’t get enough of this author, and even though I’ve now devoured her three latest novels, luckily I still have her first four to go. I’m not sure which is my favorite, but this one is a heartbreaking tale of the many many forms true love can take, following film legend Hugo through her career and marriages and the deep dark secrets she reveals only at the very end, through the eyes of a young journalist whom she trusts. 5 out of 5 stars

Graphic novel of the month: Saga Vols. 1-2: This is a rollicking space opera with two forbidden lovers, a ram-looking man and a winged woman, battling for survival against a parade of wildly imaginative bad guys. It’s like way better superheroes and villians, but not appropriate for kids. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the month: On the Basis of Sex (Sling TV/Showtime): Felicity Jones is stunningly great in this telling of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s historic win of a tax case aimed to stop the discrimination of a man, oddly enough, from caregiving duties to his mother. Her efforts to work at a law firm, any law firm, are detailed along the way with the full support of her husband, played by the exceedingly handsome (before accusations of abusive behavior surfaced) Armie Hammer. A very emotional and underrated rollercoaster ride. 5 out of 5 stars

King Richard (HBO Max): The story of Venus and Serena Williams is about as inspiring as any story could be. This is partially their story but it’s mainly their dad’s, played perfectly by Will Smith. This was a role he was meant to play and he would deserve best actor if he gets it in a few months. I love tennis with all my heart, but even if I didn’t, I don’t see how this couldn’t be a great flick, with rags in Compton to riches across the world. 4.5 out of 5 stars

1917 (Sling TV/Showtime): This movie would probably be a 20-page story in writing, but the slow-mission to get word to the British front, past German dangers all along the way, through the eyes of a couple of regular soldiers, really puts the viewer into World War I. It’s a spellbinding Oscar nominee. 4.5 out of 5 stars

2021 Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame (HBO Max): There are some epic performances that are great to see at least on TV in another year with extremely limited live music options. Foo Fighters inducted by Paul McCartney (and performing "Get Back" together) is the undeniably highlight, but the Go-Gos induction by Drew Barrymore and performance is incredible. Carol Kane (and Taylor Swift's accompanying performance) and LL Cool J's performances and inductions are well worth seeing. Todd Rungren's shunning of the Hall (despite still being inducted) is also pretty hilarious and awkward. 4 out of 5 stars

Val (Amazon Prime): If Renaissance man Val Kilmer had never done anything but play Jim Morrison in The Doors, he’d still be one of my favorite actors. Throw in Top Gun and his Mark Twain work and it puts a cherry on top. He’s a weird guy who has now lost most of his ability to speak, so it’s a sad and weird documentary, but well worth watching if you’re intrigued by Val. 4 out of 5 stars

Children of the Corn (Sling TV): Always one of my favorite horror films, its religious creepiness stands the test of time even if it’s very-80s-ness makes it hardly scary. The music, as in the best horror flicks of the decade, helps make it scarier. And Malachi and Isaac are unforgettable and iconic movie bad kids. 4 out of 5 stars

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This is a strange romantic story of a girl from Mexico City going to a mining ghost town mansion to retrieve an acquaintance who has married and begun to act strangely. The family she married into is indeed strange. Very strange. And dangerous enough that the two girls may never make it back to Mexico City, or even ever out of the mushroomy, moldy dankness of the mansion. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Things I learned about Dinosaur Jr. in The Big Takeover’s recent cover story

Jack Rabid does one of his typically great interviews in The Big Takeover #88 with one of my definite top 10 favorite bands of all time. Here are some highlights of the Dinosaur Jr. conversation:

  • Drummer Murph says they were so bad live in their early days, on the tour for their first album, that people would regularly boo them. Hard to believe based on all the shows I’ve seen of the band.
  • Leader J. Mascis says he ran sound for two shows in his life, and they were Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine. Pretty good resume item!
  • Kurt Cobain asked J. to join Nirvana. It obviously didn’t happen for whatever reason.
  • J. claims he’s not very good at figuring out how to play other people’s songs, despite having some of the great indie-rock covers such as The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way.”
  • Even still, no real answer emerges as to why Dino broke up the first time. In between the two band's stints, though, J. and Murph went to a Sebadoh show where Lou yelled from the stage at them as they simply tried to attend. It seems the reason for their breakup in the Green Mind era was for reasons that will always mostly remain a mystery.
  • They played a Craig Ferguson show as their first time back on national TV and they claim to have completely messed up the performance.
  • One of bassist Lou Barlow’s stipulations when they got back together was the he be allowed to bring his kid and wife, Kath, on tour.

And those are the nuggets. Luckily, Murph attended the interview because J. doesn’t say much in it.

Friday, November 5, 2021

TV Snide: For October 2021

TV Show of the Month: Only Murders in the Building (Hulu): I have a major soft spot for all things Steve Martin and Martin Short. Which made this show a can’t miss. Add the weird and compelling Selena Gomez and this is one of the great TV 3-person gangs. They produce a podcast to investigate a murder in their New York high rise. It twists and turns over the 10 episodes so much that it’s nearly impossible to explain, but the humor and suspense make this definitely one of the best shows of the year. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the month: James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes is the hefty first book in a series about the colonization of space. Holden is the “good” Skywalker-like sci-fi pilot and Miller is the Han Solo-like pulp detective. The two of them and their ideas about how to save the universe play off each other all the way until the explosive ending. It’s a space soap opera that is worth the investment if you have the 600 pages worth of time. At some point, I may venture into the second book. 4 out of 5 stars

Concert/Event of the Month: Trevor Noah at the Capital One Center in Washington D.C.: This was a surprise gift the night before my birthday and it was nice to see and attend a large indoor event. Noah riffed for about 90 minutes with his best pieces on how white people dance to the words instead of the beat, white people are great swimmers, and lots of social commentary. There were two decent opening acts as well. 4 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: The Lodge (Hulu): Theis 2019 slow-mover of a creepy religious flick, both haunting and suspenseful. Two kids go off to an isolated Colorado house with the dad and stepmother. Very bad vibes prevail. Alicia Silverstone and Rily Keough are both excellently not-quite-right and make this a nice addition to the modern horror cannon. 3.5 out of 5

Silicon Valley - Season 2 (HBO Max): The tech gang stays funny and bro-y in this season as they continue to barely keep their entity intact, a lot like the kids over at the real-life Facebook these days. 4 out of 5 stars

America’s Sweethearts (Sling TV): John Cusack is one of my favorite actors, but this team up with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julia Roberts stretches the bounds of worthiness. They all do as well as they can with what they’ve got, and that includes Billy Crystal and Christopher Walken too, but the story of Hollywood players trying to get former star couple Cusack and Zeta-Jones back together is mostly silly. Hank Azaria is another favorite of mine, from The Simpsons and Brockmire, but he’s lucky this turn as a Latin lover didn’t abruptly end his career. This hasn’t stood up well, and garners 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 4, 2021

TV Snide: For September 2021

Movie of the Month: Woodstock ‘99 (HBO Max): Part of the (big) problem was that organizers were obsessed with not letting crowds break down fences to get in, as had happened at both previous Woodstock festivals, so they located it on an abandoned air-force base, not ironically either. The lineup was another main cause of trouble. Suffering a hangover from the good glory days of Nirvana, awful stuff like Korn, Kid Rock, and Limp Bizcuit aggravated an angry mob of white boys swamping around in sewage because of the abyssmyl water and sanitation situation. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Concert of the Month: Hall and Oates/Squeeze at Merriweather Post Pavilion: My first time seeing Squeeze and they broke out about six of their 10 or so great songs. The sound was crisp and clear. Here’s the set list. The headliners continue to alter a lot of their songs to be a little jammier, which I don’t like as much as when they play them straight. The first two times I saw them, they were immaculate. The last two, just really good. How can you complain about a mega-hit set list that throws some deep tracks from War Babies and Bigger Than Both of Us in right before ending with I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), Rich Girl, Kiss On My List, Private Eyes, and You Make My Dreams. Here’s that set list. 4 out of 5 stars

The Hardy Boys - Season 1 (Hulu): An enjoyable romp of a twist and turn mystery that has beloved Frank and Joe Hardy searching for answers to their mother’s death, navigating a strange new family life in Bridgeport, and battling all kinds of bad guys, with the tall man being a favorite of the series. The complicated story line pays off for those who pay close attention and it will be interesting to see what the show runners come up with for Season 2. The spirit of the books, which I devoured as an early teen, is captured well. 4 out of 5 stars

A Walk in the Woods (Amazon Prime): This 2015 take on Bill Bryson’s classic book is perfectly cast, with Robert Redford as the crusty old Bryson, needing to shake up life a bit. His wife won’t let him hike the Appalachian Trail alone, so he hears from an old friend, classically played by Nick Nolte, who goes along with him, rekindling their once-soured relationship along the way. It’s a minor yet touching and funny buddy movie. 4 out of 5 stars

Graphic Novel of the Month: The Beauty (Vols. 1 and 2): This is a story about what would happen if people started catching a disease that made them beautiful. The first book is gripping but I started to lose interest as the story introduced a bunch of new characters in the second issue, without any real good sense yet of knowing how they fit in. Great premise helps earn it a 3 out of 5 star rating.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Hulu): Despite a few humorous moments, this is mostly an awful version of one of Adam Sandler’s worse offerings. The spy plot just doesn’t work with the middle-aged ladies’ stories. 1.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Pixies were obviously great, but they happened to hit at just the wrong time

One strong theory for why the Pixies didn’t exactly catch on fire during the time of their short-lived initial existence is that music and listeners were in a funk during that time period - the hair-metal-at-its-end late 80s into the very early 90s.

In this classic Puncture Magazine interview with leader Black Francis, one of the articles in Now Is the Time to Invent!: Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000, he claims the band’s music derives from listening to so many regular rock records, which they did a lot more than actually playing their own instruments.

The surly Francis doesn’t appear to like a lot of things, including most rock journalists (other than Lester Bangs and the British press) and Sting, with his rock-star-helping-to-save-the-Amazon persona.

Things he does like include the thought of making a documentary about the sea monkeys in the Great Salt Lake and Neil Young, although he doesn’t have a lot of Young’s albums.

Other nuggets from the interview:

  • Kim Deal apparently used to be named Kim Murphy in the early days of the band.
  • Eraserhead is Francis’s favorite movie and he prefers comics to books for reading.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

TV Snide: For August 2021

TV of the Month: The White Lotus - Season 1 (HBO Max): nobody has ever gotten into the mind of a beach resort as well as this show. Steve Zahn, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon are the biggest names of a powerful ensemble that digs into the class warfare that happens when the layers of the onion are peeled at a Hawaii resort. Jennifer Coolidge of Mrs. Stifler American Pie fame needs to be guaranteed a bunch of awards as the loony, spacey older single woman, and Murray Bartlett plays the best hotel manager since John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, and is even clearly inspired by the master comic Cleese. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel if she included hilariousness and shocking sex in her oeuvre. 5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month (tie): Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid: In any other month, this would be atop the pop-culture list by a mile. But this was an extraordinary pop-culture month. Reid’s follow up to her legendary Daisy Jones and the Six is likely her masterpiece. It centers on the biggest party of the year in Nina Riva’s cliff-side mansion but, in doing so, unveils the story of the Riva family through generations. Mick Riva is the centerpiece as the Frank Sinatra-like figure who has commitment issues with his wife June and their children. The kids - Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kat - are all surfers who make their way to the end of the story the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. 5 out of 5 stars 

Novel of the Month (tie): The Final Girls by Riley Sager: This is the first of three horror-thriller books already out from someone who has already vaulted near the top of my favorite authors. A true page-turner that would could make for the best film of the genre in years, it twists and turns through multiple mass killings, all of which have one thing in common: a lone survivor. The premise is perfect and the sociological commentary of our modern obsession with the news cycle and niche communities of people obsessed by some of those news stories and the characters involved is truly scary in real life, as it is in this fiction. I can’t wait to read Sanger’s next two thrillers. 5 out of 5 stars

Outer Banks - Season 2 (Netflix): This heart-pounding young-adult-aimed show keeps satisfying as one of the best things on these days. The lower-class Pogues continue their quest to get back the gold that’s rightfully theirs, but the rich folks keep foiling them at every turn. The biggest cliffhanger yet leaves us waiting (probably for at least a year) at the end of the season’s final episode. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Bridge and Tunnel - Season 1 (Epix on Sling TV): Edward Burns was one of my favorite indie rom-com actors and directors in the 1990s. He's back now as the dad in this story of kids home from college in Long Island and trying to figure out what's next in life, possibly in nearby NYC. 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 13, 2021

TV Snide: For July 2021

Novel of the Month: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain: Billy Lynn is on a victory tour for two weeks with his Bravo Company, which has won a major and treacherous battle in Iraq. Most of the gripping tale centers on the gang’s visit to a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving, where they negotiate tricky deals with stadium employees, fans, a cheerleader named Faison, and a Jerry Jones-like Cowboys’ owner, who is seeking the rights to their story to option as a movie with Hillary Swank. I’d been wanting to read this for a while and glad I did (it's also a 2016 movie). 4.5 out of 5 stars

TV of the Month: McCartney 321 (Hulu): This series is an extended conversation between Sir Paul and music producer Rick Rubin and it sheds still more light on why McCartney is truly to pop music master, who I can't imagine will ever be topped in terms of one human being so perfect (as well as so darn cool) at musicial creation. 5 out of 5 stars 

Never Have I Ever - Season 1 (Netflix): This coming-of-age story of Davi, an Indian-American girl in the Valley, is really cute and touching, and good for middle schoolers as well. Highlights of the season include the Model U.N. conference that ends up in drunkenness and a proposal for one country using nukes against another, the finale that leaves us in big anticipation for Season 2, and, of course, the narration by my favorite athlete of all time, John McEnroe (who I’ve oddly been dreaming about lately as a character from my childhood hometown of Edwardsville). 4 out of 5 stars

I Am Greta (Hulu): The impressive tale of 15-year-old Greta Thunberg’s quest to get world leaders to take notice and do something … anything, about climate change. The cameras follow her from starting out with simple one-person strikes in Stockholm to a rough boat ride all the way to New York, all the time battling her Asperger’s condition and the malaise of leaders and the public. But her messages touchingly begin to take hold. 4 out of 5 stars

Space Jam: A New Legacy (HBO Max): A big loud mashup of every pop-culture character under the sun, this is pretty entertaining but I can’t say it’s actually all that funny or even all that creative, but worth a couple hours with the kids. 3 of of 5 stars