Saturday, May 21, 2022

Riverfront Times relives my 21st birthday ... with Nirvana

St. Louis alt-weekly Riverfront Times recently published an oral history of one of the best concerts I ever attended (yes, I was really there). My main memories of Nirvana and Urge Overkill playing Mississippi Nights on October 16, 1991 are that it was my 21st birthday, I had one beer because that was all I could afford and my friends couldn't afford to buy me any more, the entire UO band walked right past us as we entered the venue, and much of the crowd famously got on stage at Kurt Cobain's invitation.

Here's how some of the others in attendance remembered it in the RFT article:

  • It had been less than a month since Nevermind was released and this may have been the last small, 1,000-person-size venue the band would ever play.
  • Jim Utz, who I remember from his days recommending great music to me at the Granite City Vintage Vinyl shop, saw UO the night before in Columbia, Missouri, recommended St. Louis vintage clothes to UO, and got comp tickets at Mississippi Night from the band because of it.
  • Nirvana beautifully opened its set with “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam.” The place went "batshit" when the second song, ”Aneurysm,” kicked in. "It was one of those times where I was being lifted off my feet merely from the fact that I was crammed between hundreds of people pogo-ing at the same time." Me, I was leaning on a high stool in the back slowly sipping my one birthday beer, but even from there, it looked like the whole building itself was bouncing.
  • When security tried to remove one of the first kids from the stage, Cobain called for everyone to come on up. The six or so members of the security staff then hid outside, claiming the crowd was "possessed."
  • Before the show, Cobain had mentioned to his bandmates that Guns N' Roses had recently started a riot while playing in St. Louis, and he would like to do that too.
In the end, Nirvana was able to finish up the show for us, going late into the night. Mississippi Nights, which I've occasionally gone back to in hopes of standing on hallowed ground, doesn't even exist anymore. It's apparantly a parking lot, and it's been tough to even locate its actual old location, which I've tried to do at least a couple of times.

Monday, May 2, 2022

TV Snide: April 2022

Psycho (DVD): It was time to finally introduce my son to perhaps my favorite movie. Alfred Hitchcock's greatest masterpiece of course had him afterwards shaking in the shower, and the brilliance and unpredictability of the film never gets old. I used to watch this every year or so, but this time hadn't seen it in probably a decade. Riveting. 5+ out of 5 stars

Avatar (Disney+): I gave this epic sci-fi tale a 5-star review back in 2010 the night it was winning best picture at the then-relevant Golden Globes. More than a decade later, it more than holds up, with trite dialogue but a classic script featuring the age-old battle between scientists, the military, and big business seeking to commit genocide in order to obtain valuable minerals. Watched this with my 14-year-old son, who loved it, as Avatars 2 through 4 prepare for their imminent release. (Still) 5 out of 5 stars

Velvet Underground (Apple TV): After a slow and fittingly trippy, weird start to this documentary by Todd Haynes, the story of VU, my fifth favorite band, lifts off. It’s an ultimately tragic and dark story of underground success, with Lou Reed and Andy Warhol essentially directing the whole shebang until all the other other players eventually couldn’t take it or faded away. 4.5 out of 5 stars

King Kong (Sling TV): I’ve had a special place in my heart since I saw this on the big screen as a 6-year-old while visiting my aunt in Memphis. The Empire State is replaced by the Twin Towers and Kong is epically pulled along from his lost island across the world. The seeds of Jeff Bridges as Lebowski are placed, as are Jessica Lange’s weirdo future American Horror Story characters. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Honey I Sure Miss You (YouTube): After Daniel Johnston’s 2019 death, a bunch of musicians video recorded their own versions of his songs. This very-pandemic collection highlights Johnston’s highly unusual but almost always catchy work. All the performances are worth watching, with highlights from Jeff Tweedy, Waxahatchee, and Beck. 4 out of 5 stars

The French Dispatch (HBO Max): This is a typically quirky Wes Anderson film that is pretty minor when compared with his early classics like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums. That said, the compilation of stories mostly succeeds, with Benicio del Toro, Timothee Chalamet, and Owen Wilson's being the most entertaining, in telling the story of life for the writers at a New Yorker-like literary magazine. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: There have been many others that have since told this story from an African (Nigerian) colonized perspective better, but it is indeed an enjoyable original. 3.5 out of 5 stars 

Call Me Joe by Poul Anderson: This is somewhere between a short story and a novella. It’s about a man in a wheelchair who, very much like in the later Avatar, is colonizing Jupiter through a one-man avatar. He eventually likes being on the planet much more than being in his science tank and the story ends with him being basically reincarnated as Joe, his avatar. Great idea but a little boring. 3 out of 5 stars. (This is the first story in the collection called Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century, edited by Orson Scott Card. The second and third pieces, by Lloyd Biggle, Jr., and Robert Heinlein, one of my favorites, aren't that strong either, so probably go elsewhere for your sci-fi fix.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

TV Snide: March 2022

Movie of the month: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (YouTubePremium): The final chapter of the first five Planet movies shows the origin of the bomb monster people who were so confounding in the second film (Beneath the Planet of the Apes). And the battle between the humans and the gorillas and the chimps (and even the orangutans) and the bomb society begins in earnest. A great ending to a great series of sociological studies. 5 out of 5 stars

The Silence of the Lambs (Amazon TV): Hard to believe it had been 30 years since I saw this slow creeper, but by the end of the film, the trio of Clarise Starling, Buffalo Bill, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter are spinning a minuet that is sure to leave at least one of them grotesquely dead. Not exactly horror, but horrifying nonetheless. 4.5 out of 5 stars

To Catch a Thief (Sling TV): Probably only my sixth or seventh favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie, it was heartening to see my 14-year-old son really enjoy this cinematographic masterpiece, with the also masterful Cary Grant leading the search for a cat burglar/jewel thief all around Cannes and the majestic South of France. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Sling TV): This 2011 installment is really the first of the modern series. Little Caesar grows up in the suburbs with “father” James Franco, who is working to create an Alzheimer’s drug that seems to work on his dad, played by John Lithgow, and makes Caesar and the apes he joins at a shelter smarter, more powerful, and in a place where they can rise up on the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Redwoods. As the storyline sets into place for the series, we see a virus created by the initial spread of the drug start to spread across the globe. 4.5 out of 5 stars

TV Show of the Month: The Morning Show - Season 1 (Apple TV+): A highly watchable show, with backstabbing galore from Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Mark Duplass, Reese Witherspoon, and Billy Crudup that devolves a bit into soap opera towards the end. Those actor are each compelling enough that the next season should provide more unlikely high jinx from a bunch of actors 4 out of 5 stars

Planet of the Apes (Sling TV): This film is kind of a retelling of the 1969 original. It stars Mark Wahlberg as the astronaut who’s trying to find his recovered spaceship after landing on a planet filled with apes. While it’s an enjoyable movie done with creativity by Director Tom Burton, it doesn’t truly fit anywhere into the original series or the new series of films. 4 out of 5 stars

The Terminal (Sling TV): Tom Hanks plays a man whose Eastern European country goes to war as he lands in New York. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a flight attendant and Stanley Tucci is the squirrelly head of airport operations in an endearing and epic tale of being stuck in an airpot for a very long time. Directed by Steven Spielberg. 4 out of 5 stars

I Want You Back (Amazon Prime): There has been a dearth of rom-come in my life, I realized, when I saw this. The ensemble cast stars Jenny Slate and Charlie Day attempting to break up their exes, Scott Eastwood and Gina Rodriguez, from their new partners so that they’ll be able to get back together. The movie luckily shies away from an easy-way-out ending, after a disastrous climax at a wedding on a boat in Savannah. The Good Place’s Manny Jacinto is hilarious as the odd-man out. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Mixtape (Netflix): In yet another tale of a kid attenpting to piece together the lives of her dead parents, this one predictably has a girl discovering a mixtape shared between her parents and attenpting to understand them better through the songs they loved. Harmless, incidental, and enjoyable enough to watch with the kids. 3 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: I should have known better than to waste the better part of 6 weeks slogging through this heavily praised work. Especially after my review back in 2016 of Groff’s Arcadia. The concept of Fates is brilliant but the execution is too much. The first half tells the near perfect bohemian relationship and marriage of playwright Lotto and his muse Mathilde. The second half switches from his perspective to hers and we learn that things were far from perfect underneath the sheen: she had been a prostitute, she had killed her baby brother, his mom refused to ever meet her, he had impregnated a girl who then got an abortion and killed herself. There, that’s the story. Thank me for saving you 6 weeks of your life. 2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

TV Snide: February 2022

TV show of the month: Succession - Season 1 (HBO Max): The twists and turns of a despicable media-empire family modeled after Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump is captivating. Who will do the next awful thing every 10 minutes? Exceptional character studies dot the landscape, with Brian Cox as patriarch Logan Roy, Jeremy Strong as son Kendall, Sarah Snook as daughter bride Shiv, Kieran Culkin as son Roman, and Matthew McFadyen as dufus corrupt son-in-law Tom. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ted Lasso - Season 2 (Apple TV): This season may have been slightly less revolutionary that Season 1. That said, it was great and rolled on waves of interesting concepts, from the assistant coach’s lost evening to Nate’s (spoiler alert) journey to the dark side and Rebecca’s growing and interesting friendships. So glad there’s another season planned; this show needs to keep going to provide as many good vibes to the universe as possible. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Mare of Easttown (HBO Max): This crime drama takes place in seven episodes and underlines how important it is to stick with community, religion, and family. Kate Winslet is one of those actors you just can’t take your eyes off of, and she turns in one of her best performances as a depressed cop in a Pennsylvania town who is a crime-solving master and a town icon. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the month: Respect (Southwest Airlines): We need more great rock docs like this! There are so many stories - like this one about Aretha Franklin - that are perfect for this kind of treatment. Jennifer Hudson is award worthy as she belts out the hits and how they were inspired by the nurturing but sometimes difficult family and often psychotic men in ‘Re’s life. This is an essential tale of the still-ongoing civil rights era. Both fun and important, and certainly inspiring. 5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau: A girl from a waspy family gets a job babysitting for the Cones, a hippyish Jewish couple in their Baltimore neighborhood. When rock star Jimmy and movie star Sheba move in for the summer to get Jimmy psychoanalyzed by Dr. Cone to help cure his drug addiction, Mary Jane gets a very different kind of summer than she ever could have imagined. Put it this way, the lifestyle at the Cones' house does not jibe with the 1950s ideals of Mary Jane’s parents. Great drama and pop references, including a killer one of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40, my favorite radio show ever. 5 out of 5 stars

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) (YouTube Premium): This may be my second favorite of the original Ape movies. Caesar grows and, 20 years after landing on Earth, in the 1990s, he begins to get the apes held in captivity as slaves to understand that they can slowly begin to take over the humans. It was a shame to see carnival leader Ricardo Montalban fall out of a skyscraper, but the takeover in an eerie government complex makes for a gripping tale. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) (YouTube Premium): The third in the original series sees Cornelius and Zira landing in a spaceship 2000 years earlier back on Earth. The human leaders realize they have come from a future in which humans have ruined themselves and are ruled by apes. (Spoiler) Our beloved chimps don’t make it out alive but they do leave little Milo/Caesar. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) (Amazon Prime): The second of the original five-film series is the weirdest of the batch, as the apes (spoiler alert) kill off Taylor, Nova, and Brent after they discover a nuclear bomb-worshipping society living in the remains of New York City's subway system. (Luckily this storyline comes back in the fifth movie to better explain what this society is all about and how they turned into monsters from the nuclear fallout and living undergorund for so many years.) The leader of the gorilla army also appears to die. Taylor pulls the nuclear lever at the end, making it a mystery as to how there will be three more films in the series, plus a whole new series in the 2000s. 4 out of 5 stars

Spider-Man: No Way Home (first time in a movie theater in two years): A captivating third part in the series that has Spidey (plus two other Spidey’s) working to get a host of bad guys of previous movies back to their respective universes. A little confusing and nonsensical in plot, but a popcorn movie to sit back and enjoy, somewhat brain dead-edly. 4 out of 5 stars

Maid (Netflix): I watched this because lead Alex (Margaret Qualley) was so intriguing as one of Manson’s girls in Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. She is a powerhouse of facial expression in this drama, which is all about spouse abuse and mental illness. Pretty heavy stuff but in a can’t-look-away style. Andie McDowell is also great as Alex’s mother. 4 out of 5 stars

Nonfiction of the Month: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho: The former NFL player presents a breezy argument for why conversations about race and equity need to happen. He uses pop-culture references to highlight past injustices to Black people and provides a practical way forward to talking more openly about racism. 4 out of 5 stars

Cry Macho (HBO Max): A minor little movie for a major actor in Clint Eastwood. Now in his 90s, he’s still a badass as a Texas cowboy on a mission to bring a teen back from his lousy mother in Mexico to his dad back in the States. Clint finds love, thugs, and hurt animals to care for (not to mention their pet, Macho the rooster), in a bit of a mess of a story but with likable characters nonetheless. 3 out of 5 stars

Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story (Netflix): The shock value of animal cruelty mixed with the jaw-dropping puniness of Joe Exotic made the original Tiger King a surprisingly compelling hit. But this throwaway three-episode sequel features hangers on-ers who have zero redeeming value and, worse, are uninteresting. Who cares? 1 out of 5 stars

Not my thing: Acapulco on Apple TV and Jersey Shore on Hulu.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

TV Snide: January 2022

TV Show of the Month: Ted Lasso - Season 1 (Apple TV)
Comedy seems to be a forgotten art in this era of too much TV to ever actually watch and all of it being dramatic masterpieces. So this not only came along at the perfect time of pandemic depression, but it would have been hilarious and overdue no matter what the timing. American football coach takes over British football team? Perfect premise. And Jason Sudeikis, whom I've never been that crazy about, brings the positive spirit, with just about every line he utters being laugh-out-loud. Then brilliant supporting players Hannah Waddingham (Rebecca), Juno Temple (Keeley), Brett Goldstein (Roy Kent), and Phil Dunster (Jamie Kentt) round out some serious must-see-TV for the 2020s. 5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the month: Planet of the Apes (HBO Max): Nothing makes me happier than when my 14-year-old son loves one of my favorite childhood movies. This classic from 1968 and its sharp analysis of the human condition (we destroy ourselves with our inability to show any intellectual consistency) instantly inspired my son to demand that I download Beneath, Escape, Conquest, and Battle for … Looks like February’s TV Snide will be heavy on Apes’ sequels. 5 out of 5 stars

Escape from Alcatraz (Sling TV): This has always been my favorite of the amazing Clint Eastwood collection. And my 14-year-old son really loved it too, so it stands the test of time. The mystique of that San Francisco landmark persists. 5 out of 5 stars

Don’t Look Up (Netflix): Leo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence lead an excellently casted production that finds them as Michigan State astronomers who try to convince the world that a comet will kill all life on Earth in a matter of months. Meryl Streep as the president leads the naysayers who refuse to believe that the scientists have it right. The movie substitutes our ridiculous political divisions about COVID-19 with the end of the world. The humor in the movie originates from the fact that we may be too far gone as a species to be able to save ourselves. Cheesy but also funny and powerful in an updated Dr. Strangelove kind of way. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Novel of the month: One By One by Ruth Ware: The British author has been called the new Agatha Christie and for good reason. This one bears a resemblance in plot to And Then There Were None. It’s told from the perspectives of two young women at a ski resort in the French Alps that is hosting a corporate retreat of startup Snoop, an app that allows users to hear what other people are listening to. An avalanche begins a serious of mysterious and grisly deaths among the group. Building in an intense and thrilling way, the story also develops its characters and their motives relatively well. I’m intrigued enough to read more by Ware. Oh, and don’t read this on a skiing trip. 4 out of 5 stars

Non-Fiction of the Month: Dave Grohl: The Storyteller: Mushy and full of dad-like comedy, the Nirvana and Foo Fighter living legend nevertheless reads the audiobook version of this tale of life affirmations he’s achieved through rock n’ roll. I love his bands, and his enthusiasm and his stories have all the right characters (Paul McCartney, Joan Jett, Tom Petty, etc.) even if this is only an above-average autobiography. 4 out of 5 stars

Charlie’s Angels (Hulu): Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Lui, and Bill Murray supply the goofball action antics in a movie that is short on plot but pretty high in stupid entertainment value and a fun soundtrack. 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Water Man (Netflix): A suspenseful kids movie that is worthwhile for the whole family. A kid needs to save his mom from dying of leukemia and must find a hopeful hero, the protagonist in the movies title, deep in the burning forest. 3.5 out of 5 stars

How about some “fair and balanced” with these masked singers?

Many people in the heated worlds of social media and in conversation are questioning why a TV show would make Rudy Giuliani one of its stars? The show also starred Sarah Palin a while back.

I would add, why wouldn’t it?

It’s some mindless program called The Masked Singer. I watched 10 minutes of it once and it was painful to me, not my cup of tea. But to fans of it, it makes perfect sense that such a spectacle would seek guests who would enhance that spectacle.

Giuliani, the ex-mayor who used to say “9-11” every time someone questioned his morals or judgement, has fallen about as low as it gets. Even the large handful of people who believe his work as Trump’s lawyer and his direction of the January 6 Capitol takeover is righteous stuff have to admit that someone else in those roles could stand a pretty good chance of seeming less seedy. I mean, he’s like a very poor man’s version of the Wizard of Oz. Add glowing white, perfect fake teeth. Dripping hair dye. All around falling-apart-edness.

Not that anyone should be a judge based on his looks alone. But, I mean, did you see Giuliani in Borat? C’mon, the guy’s disgraceful and without morals. Can we all just agree on that, even though we mostly shouldn’t give it too much thought?

All that said, what I’ve written here should be totally unnecessary. 

I’m not one to harken to the olden days, but remember when we all watched the same TV shows and read the same news sources? Then, people knew that the Vietnam War or JFK’s assassination or Watergate were the big deals they were because they had huge headlines on the front pages. Something like Giuliani on The Masked Singer would have appeared in a very tiny blurb deep in the entertainment section of the newspaper (maybe only in the TV Guide listings, remember those?). Same with Whoopi Goldberg’s misinformation about the Holocaust or the Wild West commentaries of Tucker Carlson and other TV non-newscasting entertainers of all political stripes.

Monday, January 17, 2022

TV Snide: December 2021

Movie of the month: Schindler’s List (Sling TV/Showtime): Of course I saw this years ago, but now it was time to watch with my 14-year-old son. The true story of the Nazi industrialist who did just about all that he could to save as many Jews from the Holocaust as possible is a heartbreaking and tear-filled story that is crucial to build empathy and caring in a world that seems almost as cruel as those days in some ways. 5 out of 5 stars

Borat (Hulu): What can you say? This is an essential comedy, possibly with more insightful social commentary on the United States than any other film ever. The dark side of our way of life is revealed in scene after scene of Borat traveling across the country to take best practices back to his homeland. Hey, the U.S. is great in countless ways, but as these undercover interactions with politicians, frat boys, and rodeo racists show, it seems he may have been better off picking another country for a leading example of good. 5 out of 5 stars

The Shining (HBO Max): Jack Nicholson still horrifies all these years later in Stephen King’s slow burner of a psychological breakdown. It’s doesn’t all make sense, but basically know that the murderous ghosts are alive and well at The Overlook Hotel. It may be the one King movie that is actually better than the book, but that’s a controversial take. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Babyteeth (Hulu): A teen girl is dying of a disease and she stumbles upon a local drug dealer who makes her end days better, leading to a complicated relationship with her parents, including the dad, one of my favorites, Ben Mendelsohn. A powerful drama. 4 out of 5 stars

American Honey (Showtime): This is the overly long but otherwise mesmerizing film about a rebellious teen who takes up with some hard-partying drifter/grifters. They ride around in a van selling magazines in various communities. It’s an impressive study of lost youth in a world when sometimes even the most skewed love of friends will have to do. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Amazon): I’ve never seen the Tom Holland series and this opener from 2017 sets a promising tone for the series, with Spidey battling his bullying schoolmates and a Falcon-like arms dealer bad guy played to extra evil effect by the excellent Michael Keaton. Looking forward to parts 2 and the new 3. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Audiobook of the Month: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino: This is overall pretty unnecessary since the movie is one of my favorites of Tarantino’s and it could hardly be topped. Audiobook, however, is definitely the way to go and, like the film, it’s filled with great scenes. The story even unfolds differently than the movie so it’s worth it for that. The long listings of old real Hollywood names can be tiresome, but a good story is a good story no matter how you deliver it. 3.5 out of 5 stars