Wednesday, September 14, 2022

TV Snide: August 2022

Movie of the Month: Pulp Fiction (HBO Max): I’ve long claimed this as one of my favorite 2 or 3 movies, and after not watching it for 15 years or so, it still doesn’t disappoint. It seemed like a good candidate to watch with my son on the eve of his high-school career. One thing I never noticed before is how surprisingly few of the main characters die. Also, just for fun, I would love to see the movie reworked into chronological order rather than all the time shifts that happen. 5 out of 5 stars

TV of the Month: Vice Principals - Season 2 (HBO Max): Danny McBride and Walton Goggins are immaculate as this story of the fight to lead the high school goes all-out drop-down and dangerous, even including a mascot tiger that mauls some characters. Its final season wraps up neatly, assuring this show’s place in TV comedy history. 5 out of 5 stars

The Righteous Gemstones - Season 2 (HBO Max): I did a lot of Danny McBride watching this month. And that can never be bad. He’s got to be my favorite comedic actor at this point, up with the likes of Bill Burr and Mike Myers (still). The family continues to show its mega-church evil, wackily obliterating anyone who dares to threaten the empire. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: L.A. Weather by Maria Amparo Escandon: This character-driven family story takes place over the eventful 12 months of 2016, held together by the wildfires and drought of Southern California. The patriarch of the Alvarado family is in a secretive funk and his wife is having an affair and wants to divorce him. Then their three daughters - Olivia, Claudia, and Patricia - all begin their own divorce proceedings. A brain tumor, stolen embryos, and drowning twin granddaughters all play a role in doing their best to take down this close Jewish-Mexican clan. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Crying in the H Mart by Michelle Zauner: I wanted to read this memoir because it got good reviews and I like the author’s band Japanese Breakfast. It is a moving portrait of the author’s loss of her mother at a relatively young age. The story bounces back and forth from the U.S (mostly Oregon) and Korea and it’s always guided by what her mother would have done and what food is being consumed. It’s a quick read and definitely inspired me to start shopping at H Mart, which is near tennis courts I often play on in Wheaton, Md. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Persuasion (Netflix): Dakota Johnson is cute in the very negatively reviewed update of the 1818 Jane Austen novel. She pines for a sailor she romanced eight year’s previously and, when he returns, things get interesting. Under-rated light fun. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

TV Snide: July 2022

TV Show of the Month: Stranger Things - Season 4.5 (Netflix): Legendary characters. Endlessly thrilling plot lines. So many strings were tied but so many still remain to be tied. Season 5 should have about 20 episodes, with each telling the deeper stories behind each main character. This is in the same league as Spielberg classics like E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark. 5 stars out of 5

Schitt's Creek - Season 1 (Netflix): After watching the first few episodes years ago, my 14-year-old son and I powered through this tidy and hilarious season. A rich family is banished to a backwater town that they hate but which they slowly begin to hate less. No wonder this was such a delayed phenominon a while back. 5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: Top Gun: Maverick (Theater): While non-stop adventure chase sequences are not typically my cup of tea, this was only the second movie I've been back to in theaters since the pandemic started and, even at a terrible theater, this one thrills. Way better than the first Top Gun, it's a mission that would be impossible to not love. 5 out of 5 stars

The Pentaverate (Netflix): Mike Myers may never top Austin Powers, but this is about as close as it gets. You've got to admire him for the creative wackiness that brims out of his brain. The Pentaverate is a group (mostly played by Myers) that rules the world, unless a nosy Canadian reporter (also played by Myers) can stop the conspiracy. The short series is a blast throughout, with at least a couple of scenes that had me falling on the floor laughing. 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Love Guru (Showtime): See review of The Pentaverate above. My son and I were on a Mike Myers kick this month, and this is another zany entry into the lots-like-Austin-Powers universe. 4 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close: A great story about the life changes the extended Sullivan family goes through as they lose their parents and seemingly their country after the 2016 election but win their first Cubs World Series. The kids, now in their 30s, now need to find themselves as they navigate Oak Park, Illinois and beyond. A must read for anyone who lives in the restaurant world. 4 out of 5 stars

The Mosquito Coast (Apple TV): This passion project from Justin Theroux, based on a novel by his uncle Paul, has the actor playing an inventor who decides to take his family on the run from a U.S. that isn't treating him well through Mexico, all the while hounded by drug lords. A lot of fun in a limited seven-part series. 4 out of 5 stars

The Worst Person in the World (Hulu): Through many trials and errors with different boyfriends and family relationships, the movie’s focus Julie finds herself and what she loves to do. A touching and deeply romantic movie filmed throughout Oslo. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Best Magazine Reads: The story leading up to the Violent Femmes’ classic debut album

MOJO Magazine recently told the story. Here are the highlights:

  • Bassist Brian Ritchey came up with the band name while he and drummer Victor DeLorenzo backed up other performing bands around Milwaukee.
  • A friend soon recommended they check out “pint-sized Lou Reed imitator” Gordon Gano.
  • In high school, Gano wore a bathrobe to school every Monday as if to say, “You got me out of bed for this?”
  • Getting shows was initially tough because Milwaukee loved heavy metal, so they started busking in the street. One day they did it outside the venue where The Pretenders were playing and Chrissie Hynde invited them in to play a couple of songs.
  • The album was made at a studio that had once been a Playboy club, and they had little hope anyone would ever buy it. But the recording made its way to Slash Records, which didn’t ask for anything to be changed.
  • Released in April 1983, it got tons of college radio play.
  • Gano is a religious guy who incorporated these themes and taboos into his songs, such as Black Girls, which he wrote because he
    liked black girls and they liked him and he married a black girl.
  • Gano licensed Blister in the Sun to Wendy’s Hamburgers and Ritchey sued him. But they’re still together as a three piece. In fact, I’ve got tickets to see them at the 9:30 Club in October.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Magazine Reads: The sad story of Big Star is nicely summarized by MOJO Magazine

Big Star has a deep and fascinating catalogue as arguably the founders of power pop (if you for some reason don’t include the Beatles, Stones, and Who). Further, the Nashville band was the bridge between those legendary groups and the explosion of power pop in the 80s, with the likes of the Replacements and R.E.M. MOJO Magazine recently had a great feature, and here of the best info nuggets from it:

  • Leader Chris Bell was sexually fluid, which probably isolated him a great deal at that time (the 1970s) and place.
  • Co-leader Alex Chilton, before he died, surprisingly said he didn’t think much of Big Star.
  • They were shunned on one trip to New York by a record exec as “Beatles wannabes.”
  • While the record label pushed back their #1 Record release several months, the band got antsy, with Andy Hummel punching Bell in the nose and Bell retaliating by breaking Hummel’s bass into three pieces. Then, Hummel poked holes in Bell’s guitar. Bell bought a new guitar and charged it to Hummel. Real healthy band. No wonder they didn't last long.
  • Part of the problem with Big Star never being as big as they should have been was that Ardent’s publicity department did a good job securing lots of positive press, but people couldn’t find the album stocked in stores.
  • Bell left before the excellent second record, Radio City, although some of the songs had been co-written by him, and Hummels’s exit made their third, Third/Sister Lovers, essentially a two piece.
  • In 1978, Bell’s car hit a telephone pole and he died instantly. This was after he had taken up working in a restaurant.
  • In 2010, Big Star was set to play a reunion show at SXSW when Chilton unexpectantly died and soon thereafter Hummel died of cancer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

TV Snide: June 2022

TV Show of the Month: Breaking Bad (Netflix): It took several years to finally finish, but once my 14-year-old son binged the whole series in a few weeks, I felt obliged to rip though the firth and final season. The Walter White story is one of the best TV shows ever. It's the story of a non-descript nobody played by Brian Cranston (the dad from Malcolm in the Middle of all people) turning into a family-loving, carwash-owning monster who can control cartels, neo-Nazis, the DEA, and the CIA. Gripping at every turn, all the way through the end. 5 out 5 stars

Stranger Things Season 4 Part 1 (Netflix): This show just keeps chugging along and perhaps getting better and better. The kids are almost no longer kids anymore as they fight creative new monsters and Hooper attempts to escape a Russian prisoner work camp. Can't wait for next month's release of the second half of the season. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: Licorice Pizza (Lufthansa flight): This coming-of-age tale is among Paul Thomas Anderson’s great films, like Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, and Punch-Drunk Love. His strength is never plot, but rather great vignettes that, when tied together, begin to form intriguing character studies. Alana Haim is mesmerizing as the older girl serving as the object of Cooper Hoffman’s affections as they swindle the likes of Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, and other big stars throughout picturesque Los Angeles. 4 out of 5 stars

The Lost Daughter (Lufthansa flight): Olivia Colman plays a selfish mother who reflects on her youth while vacationing in a small beach community. The flashbacks show how she left her new family to carry out an affair with another star of the Italian translation academic community while the present shows her subtlety sabotaging another young family led by mom Dakota Johnson. A minor story but a dark and moving take on the complexities of having children and the loss of freedom it causes. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy: I wanted to read something kind of set in the Tuscany region of Italy while traveling there this month, and I thought this was, but it turned out to mostly take place in the South of France. That said, what I imagined the swimming pool, one of the story’s protagonists, to look like in my head turned out to be exactly what my swimming pool in Tuscany looked like. All that may be a bit more interesting than this book, which is a minor but entertaining and quick tale of a poet who has an affair with a young, usually naked, muse right under the glare of his wife, daughter, and friends. Odd but better than ok. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Being the Ricardos (Amazon Prime): Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are compelling as the leads in this talkative Aaron Sorkin vehicle. It tells the story of Desi Arnaz saving Lucille Ball's neck from a rumor that she was a Communist, while their marriage and sensational TV show wound down. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Death on the Nile (Hulu): I love Agatha Christie novels, but this production with Gal Gadot and Kenneth Branagh was pretty unwatchable. Couldn't finish it. No rating.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

TV Snide: May 2022

TV of the Month: Ozark (Netflix): I’m sad to see this come to an end, and what an explosive ending it is. I place this among my favorite dramas, right up with the likes of Mad Men and Friday Night Lights. Jason Bateman’s Marty Byrde is the picture of stability as he and his wife Wendy fight through an endless serious of hoops to get the drug cartels to leave them alone and let them go about their hillbilly embezzlement schemes. 5 out of 5 stars

The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+): This Peter Jackson epic documentary may not be for casual fans, but it placed me, a diehard, into the seat of all those band practices and meetings I was part of in my 20s with my various bands like Dirt Loaded, Birmingham Squadron, Monotremes, and Fine Wine. It’s hard work being in a band and keeping it together. You can see Paul bordering on impatience while John and George goof off during recordings of “serious” tracks like Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road. These guys loved each other. There’s no doubt. Their serious professionalism is ultimately what kept them together for a decade, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness, even if this was after their prime, if it can actually be said that The Beatles had any time that wasn’t their prime. 5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: Raising Arizona (Sling TV): Nicolas Cage’s career highlight anchors this classic and heartwarming comedy from the Coen brothers about a couple of losers who steal the baby of an Arizona furniture magnate before heading down a long road of crises in conscious. 5 out of 5 stars

Watch Me Jumpstart (YouTube): At only 36 minutes, this film plays like an equally brief Guided By Voices album. Like those albums, this rock doc packs a lot in, telling the wonderful story of Robert Pollard and his band’s rise from the gutters and grade schools of Dayton into counter-culture rock icons. 5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anyu : Allie is finishing up college but first she somehow steals a Wonder Bread bag full of coke from a mean and perverted drug dealer, which sets her off on a series of adventures with a series of wacky characters up and down the California coast between Berkeley and Los Angeles. A great fun and fluffy read. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Speed (HBO Max): Keanu Reeves offers his usual cool self, matched up with the always excellent Sandra Bullocl and Jeff Daniel’s, as they try to end ex-bomb squad cop Dennis Hopper from maniacally killing everyone he can for a ransom. 4 out of 5 stars

Bill & Ted Face the Music (Amazon Prime): Keanu Reeves does his usual, can't-not-love self in achoring the hilarious and fun wacky ride through time as the pals try to locate a new song they need to write by mining the inspirations of their younger selves. 4 out of 5

Creep (Netflix): Ever since The League, Mark Duplass can do no wrong in my eyes. I didn’t picture him taking this turn, as a lying creep who lures a filmmaker to an isolated cabin to play mean practical jokes on him. It's a great performance and, at just over an hour, well worth your time. Keep the lights off for ultimate "creeps." 4 out of 5

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

McCartney in Baltimore continues to show how peace and love (and rock) can still win

It’s always a major life event when I have Paul McCartney tickets. That happened for the third time in my life last night (Indianapolis 1989 and DC 2013 were the others) at Camden Yards in Baltimore. And while our seats were up in the top deck, they were still pretty good and the sound was amazingly great.

It’s very tough to pick out highlights because the whole show was so immaculate, but here are some reflections:

  • One of the reasons Paul includes so many Wings songs in setlists is that they are so arena and stadium ready. Tunes like Live and Let Die (with its massive fireworks show), Letting Go, Junior's Farm, Let Me Roll It, Let 'Em In, Jet, and Band on the Run are McCartney concert staples. Probably the most glaring omission was Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.
  • I've Just Seen a Face and Lady Madonna were fun mid-Beatles choices. You Won't See Me and Here, There, and Everywhere would have been great additions.
  • In Spite of All the Danger was a cool choice from the pre-Beatles Quarrymen.
  • Getting Better, Blackbird, and Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! were huge crowd-pleasers from the mid/late Beatles era.
  • Playing Gorge's Something was a truly beautiful highlight. How great would the addition of John's Nowhere Man and In My Life be in future shows?
  • Speaking of John, having him duet on the big screen for I've Got a Feeling was genius and pulled off without a hitch.
  • Probably the biggest moments were the songs that I tend not to listen to that much but which are clearly traditionals: Get Back, Hey Jude, Let It Be, and Birthday.
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da works really well in the live setting, and Helter Skelter and She Came in Through the Bathroon Window (like just about the entire Beatles catelog) seem uncuttable.
  • Finally, I can't imagine there will ever be a better closer than Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.


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Sunday, June 12, 2022

McCartney’s Ram is one of many great primers for seeing him in concert

To celebrate seeing Paul McCartney (for the third time) tonight at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, I figured I would read MOJO Magazine’s recent feature on his breakaway album from The Beatles, Ram. 

Here’s what I learned:

  • Recording it with many-layered Pet Sounds-like tracks in Los Angeles, the follow up to his solo debut, McCartney, was aimed to be lush and far from the sparseness of that album. Also interesting because, with its pastoral sheep cover, I had always assumed this was recorded in Scotland.
  • One of the many session drummers who auditioned for the part thought Another Day sounded like Eleanor Rigby transplanted to Manhattan, where the auditions took place.
  • Linda was credited with co-creating the whole album, but rather than musical, most of her contribution seemed to be to get Paul off his ass to make it amidst his post-Beatles depression and funk.
  • That said, the interweaving voices of Paul and Linda throughout the release are no doubt a thing of beauty.
  • McCartney conducted the New York Philharmonic on the masterful (still one of my favorite Paul tracks) Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. Same for Long Haired Lady and The Backseat of My Car. And George Martin also helped.
  • Producer Eirik Wangberg was given a lot of latitude to edit down some of the orchestration and the track sequencing.
  • Despite Ram’s commercial success, major detractors at the time included Ringo, John, and Rolling Stone.

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.)