Wednesday, November 18, 2020

TV Snide: For November 2020

A Hard Day's Night (HBO): It had been a looong time since I saw this, the best of the Beatles films. It's no wonder they are timeless. Their energy, humor, and likeability are far more than enough to mesmerize a viewer for 90 minutes. Not to mention the wack-ball supporting cast. 5 out of 5 stars

The Go-Gos (Showtime): Belinda Carlisle and gang are, like many other rock bands, well worthy of the full documentary treatment. Their story is one embedded in the L.A. late 70s and early 80s punk scene, with the fascinating ups and downs of crossing over into the pop mainstream. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Borat 2 (Amazon Prime): This provides more damning evidence about how incredibly stupid and anti-fact many people across the U.S. remain. How Borat wiggles his way into these people's lives (pretty easily it turns out, whether they are local yokels or the vice president and president's lawyer) is worth the price of the ticket alone. Add to that the belly-laughing comedy of it all and this is one of the year's can't-miss releases. Almost as good as the first Borat. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

High Fidelity (Hulu): I went ahead and watched the first season even though its cancellation will mean no season 2. Any music geek like myself would do so. Zoe Kravitz is great and intentionally unlikeable in a show with a very high bar set by John Cusack and Nick Hornsby. 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

My Sister's Sister (Showtime): Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass are always great, and you have to pull for them in this indie rom-com that goes fairly deep emotionally while remaining light and good-hearted. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Mega-stars deserve to be mega-mega stars after Ballers

I finally finished all 5 seasons of HBO’s Ballers after watching it over the past couple of years.

I never thought it would be my bag. Too over-produced and glitzy. But, for anyone who's either a football fan or simply likes to take a dip in the glamour pool, it's perhaps an underrated gem. Once I started, it was impossible to put down.

NFL players, team owners, and mega-agents dot the story. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is really one of TV's most lovable and noble heroes, as ex-NFL linebacker Spencer Strasmore, determined to right the many wrongs foisted upon his battered and beaten player colleagues. I consider him one of the great anti-heroes, like Don Draper, Walter White, or Tony Soprano, but in an actually-not-evil way.

Rob Corddry plays Strasmore's buddy for life (in his post-NFL career). He's far from perfect, but his arc is extremely well written.

It’s unfortunate the movie Tenet has been hindered by the pandemic, because star John David Washington is deserving of becoming a mega-star, no matter whether that movie is any good. His performance as wide receiver Ricky Jerrett alone is worthy of Denzell's son, who actually played for the Los Angeles Rams in the 2000s, becoming a household name.

5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

John Lennon's sense of humor, Tina Turner's diva-ness, and much more from Elton John's book

I recently wrote a review of Rocketman and a list of my favorite Elton John songs. While that movie was pretty good, I heard John's new autobiography Me is better.

So I read it an, indeed, it has lots of juicy nuggets, including:

  • Blues guitarist Long John Baldy more of less discovered, or "nurtured," both Elton AND Rod Stewart. In fact, Baldry was in Stewart's early band Bluesology, which split when a member threw red wind on Stewart's white suit.
  • An element the movie went into some: Elton didn't have much confidence in his early name (Reg Dwight), his talent, or his writing (hence his long arrangement with Bernie Taupin).
  • Taking his new name from two bandmates, "Elton" and "John," his then newly ex-band laughed and wished him luck.
  • His mom was pretty mean, toilet training him by hitting him with a wire brush until he peed.
  • One of Elton's most exciting memories of childhood was a school trip to Annecy, down in the French Alps, where I incidentally vacationed for a wedding in 2019.
  • Ever since he was a kid, he has followed the charts daily: music, movies, you name it, any charts.
  • By age 19, even as a touring musician in the swinging 60s, Elton still had no idea what sex was about. All he did was play shows and buy records.
  • While making Caribou (think "Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me"), Elton claimed to have seen Stevie Wonder driving a snowmobile in the Colorado Rockies.
  • John Lennon was one of his best friends, although Elton thought the Dakota, where Lennon was eventually murdered, was a dark and sinister place for him to semi-retire to, having been where part of Roman Polanski's very dark Rosemary's Baby was filmed.
  • He was also very close to Billie Jean King, who asked him to write a song for her tennis team the Philadelphia Freedoms.
  • Two other things about Lennon: one, after his death, Yoko asked Elton to sing the songs that would go on Milk and Honey, but Elton refused and so Yoko released the home recordings as is, sung by Lennon; and two, Lennon's humor was exactly like the scene from Monty Python's Meaning of Life, when the guy explodes in the restaurant due to eating too much.
  • Elton talks about the many things he’s been criticized for throughout his later career, including saying that Mick Jagger’s face looks like a monkey‘s face, suggesting that Jesus may have been gay, and also siding with people like Axl Rose and Eminem whom he feels were representing homophobic characters rather than their own views.
  • Tantrums and Tiaras was Elton John’s celebrity reality show, which he suggests spawned reality TV.
  • Princess Diana was one of his best friends, the best dinner party partner one could have, and an incredible gossip, and the only thing really peculiar about her was the way she talked about Prince Charles.
  • Tours with Billy Joel and Tina Turner didn’t go so well. Turner was a diva who refused to acknowledge any of the band. And Joel was drinking too much.
All these tidbits and many more make for a great read for any student of rock n'roll history.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The history of GBV’s Alien Lanes

Guided By Voices is my favorite contemporary rock band. They might have more songs than any artist ever, and by my count, at least 2/3 of them are worthy of my “favorites” folders in my Google Play library. Many hundreds (!) are classics and should be favorites of any fans of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. Why they aren’t could arguably be one of rock’s great mysteries.

Many people are indeed onboard with GBV and its ever-I creasing legacy. Website Uproxx recently had an excellent oral history of the making of the classic 1995 Alien Lanes release. The most interesting tidbits include:

  • Leader Robert Pollard never left Dayton, Ohio because he has so many friends and family there from growing up, playing sports, and teaching school there.
  • He doesn’t consider it “writing” songs, it’s more “making up” songs about stuff that’s going on around him.
  • A lot of the early GBV bass lines were played on a tuned-down guitar because they didn’t have a bass.
  • There was a garage sale going on upstairs while the band recorded weirdo classic “Hot Freaks,” which must have confounded several of the customers.
  • Matt Sweeney of Chavez gave everyone he knew, including Kurt Cobain, tapes of Propeller and Vampire on Titus, which are my favorite lo-fi albums of all time (especially when paired with their monumentally explosive live performances). 
  • Sonic Youth and Pavement were in the audience for GBV’s first-ever show in New York, at CBGB’s.
  • Alien Lanes is named after a bowling alley about 50 miles away from Dayton that Bob got the name wrong on; it was actually called Astro Lanes.
  • Awesome bassist Greg Demos played violin on some of the band’s best songs.
  • Pollard: “I wanted Alien Lanes to sound like a late-night radio show without a DJ. I wanted Bee Thousand to sound like a bootleg of Beatles outtakes.”
  • Pollard: “Abbey Road is my favorite album of all time. Also, the silliness of a lot of the songs is similar to the Abbey Road suite.”
  • Rolling Stone had a glowing review of Alien Lanes, and it remains the longest review ever in the magazine’s history.
  • The band got in a fight with Billy Corgan over a basketball game they were playing during Lollapalooza 1994.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Highlights from a beautiful little book about Prince

Prince’s The Beautiful Ones is a great, fast-read book written mostly by him and consisting of many photos, scratch paper with famous lyrics scribbled on them, an 11-page early treatment of the storyboard for Purple Rain the movie, and various other memorabilia.

Touching insights into Prince from the book:

  • He called Michael Jackson’s music all about magic, and Led Zeppelin’s all about law breaking. He called his own music all about healing.
  • He sat upright and was an “impeccable” turn signaler when driving.
  • He often rented out a local movie theater after hours to watch films like Kung Fu Panda 3.
  • He wanted his voice and that of the author’s to blend together, creating an unusual kind of memoir, in honor of building a community, a brotherhood, unlike what he felt like most rap artists, like Kanye West, were doing in being selfish and Ayn Rand-like greedy.
  • Prince was his given name.
  • As a toddler, Prince loved the outdoors and his little girlfriend and he performed a long tap dance and also had seizures.
  • He was diagnosed as a child as schizophrenic after his alcoholic mother killed his abusive father, a scene painfully re-enacted in the Purple Rain movie.
  • His real name was Prince Rogers Nelson.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

My new coronavirus TV schedule

As boredom continues to wend its way into all our socially distanced lives, I figure one of my hours each day should be devoted to catching up on all the peak-era TV I've missed over the years, especially in the last dozen since committing so much of my life to my kids.

After all, I'm still only halfway through The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. The tricky thing is that it may be tough to watch those shows when there is so much amazing new television being released at a raid-fire pace.

I started this week by adding to my RSS feed the awesome can't-miss TV list prepared at the start of each week by TVLine. This should help me from wavering on what I'm going to watch each time I turn on the TV and instead go right to what I've already decided upon. Then I'm trying to watch one or two things as they are released each night.

So far this week:

  • Monday - Ozark: The final episode of season 3 continues masterfully a show that is quickly leaping up to threaten Mad Men as my favorite drama of all time. And Jason Bateman reports that there will be a season 4, thankfully.
  • Also Monday - Stranger Things, Season 1 Episode 4: Even though I already watched Season 1 (but I haven't seen subsequent seasons yet) a while back, my son and I started it over so we can watch the whole E.T./Close Encounters/Spielberg thing of beauty again.
  • Tuesday - Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill: Of course this is hilarious, like having a new hour of his TV show's jokes firing at you, all focusing on the absurdities of the little, everyday things in life.
  • Also Tuesday - I watched the first half of HBO's new documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind because I'm fascinated by all things Robert Wagner, who played "self-made millionaire ... quite a guy" Jonathan Hart in another one of my all-time favorite dramas, Hart to Hart.
Coming up ... the rest of the Natalie Wood movie (it's gripping even if you don't have a Daddy Wagner crush like I do), Brockmire, the Dead to Me season 2 premiere, and episodes 4-6 of the Chicago Bulls documentary The Last Dance.

Speaking of Michael Jordan, maybe that's why I suddenly have all this time to catch up on peak TV. No sports.

What are you watching? Any good recommendations?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Best Magazine Reads: Morrison Hotel was the last and best hurrah for The Doors

Morrison Hotel is, by far, my favorite Doors album, and I’m not too sure how normal that is. It stands to reason that it would be a stinker, since Jim Morrison was in the throes of alcoholism before taking off for Paris and his eventual death Further, he is under the microscope of the law for exposing himself in a concert in Miami.

Other albums by The Doors may have had better songs, but the spectrum of psychedelic pop across sides A and B of Morrison Hotel are untouchable: Waiting for the Sun, Peace Frog, The Spy, Queen of the Highway, and Indian Summer, to name a few.

In an article in the under-rated British magazine Classic Rock, lots of great nuggets are revealed about the making of Morrison Hotel:

  • As early as 1967, the lead singer’s prima-donna tendencies were already surfacing. The Doors, according to their manager, did not appear at Woodstock because they were “only headliners.” 
  • The album was originally supposed to be called Hard Rock Cafe. 
  • They were quickly becoming blacklisted throughout the country so they went into the studio to “work out their demons.” 
  • The night before starting to record Morrison Hotel, the singer was arrested in Phoenix after being disorderly on a plane en route to see a Rolling Stones concert.
  • In one session, Morrison drank 36 beers. The group had an intervention and he admitted to his alcoholism but then suggested they go get a drink. He then came back with the Roadhouse Blues lyrics, “woke up this morning, got myself a beer.” 
  • The album’s cover photo was one of the rare instances in 1969 that Morrison was actually clean-shaven. 
  • The band’s final album hit #4 on the U.S. charts, but Morrison was rapidly approaching the bottom and, soon, death.