Sunday, March 5, 2023

TV Snide: February 2023

TV Show of the Month: Sex Education - Season 1 (Netflix): This is one funny British ensemble high-school comedy. Asa Butterfield leads the way with his Mr. Bean-like awkward boy who seems to be following in the footsteps of his sex-therapist mother played by Gillian Anderson of X Files renown. Emma Mackey stands out as smart bad girl Maeve, as does Ncuti Gatwa as Eric and Connor Swindells as the stern schoolmaster's son Adam. Even the kids you're not supposed to like grow on you over time and seep into your caring conscious. All you could ask for in a TV show. 5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: Avatar: Way of the Water 3D (Wheaton AMC 9): This is no letdown from the epically classic first movie. I tend to favor dialogue and plot over action, but the war and adventure scenes are among the very best in cinema history. Jake and family have to move from the forest to the reef because the Colonel wants revenge for Jake’s desertion from his military and species. There are definite growing pains. Director James Cameron leans heavily on precedent, as this is a mash up of Star Wars, Titanic, Moana, Jaws, Free Willy, and more. 5 out of 5 stars

Better Off Dead (Showtime): I have to stand by my pick on this blog a few years back of this classic as the greatest rom-com of all time. John Cusack’s Lane, Little Ricky, Monique, the guy elsewhere known as Booger, and the whole gang juggle high school, love, and the K12 monster ski hill. The non-stop, and as my 15-year-old son says “random,” laughs never stop rolling. So wacky and funny. 5 out of 5 stars

Documentary of the Month: 1971 (Apple TV): This 8-parter is essential viewing for anyone interested in music, politics, and history. The focus is placed on the Rolling Stones, The Who, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, and a few others, but the story is so much bigger, placing the viewer smack dab into 1971. 5 out of 5 stars

Everything Everywhere All At Once (Showtime): This may be the most wildly creative movie I have ever seen. While 2.5 hours is a lot to take in terms of mind spinning-ness, every 5 seconds presents another amazing idea packed into the ride of a laundry-owning family that can shift into other universes at will. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Cunk on Earth (Netflix): An hilarious and beautiful BBC 5-part production that takes us in spoof form of history documentaries from the cavemen to infinite time loops we may be headed towards. This is really funny and well worth a movie length’s amount of your time. 9 out of every 10 jokes land chucklingly at the expense of all humans. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: No One Left to Come Looking for You by Sam Lipsyte: When lead singer Earl goes missing, Jack Shit of the Clinton-era band The Shits goes looking for his bass that has gone missing with him. Thus unfolds a series of Coen Brothers-like vignettes across Manhattan that include menstrual-blood-stained art shows, stitch-ripping-heroin-filled concerts, humbling visits back home, and some very bad thugs employed by Donald Trump. The baby-step progressions of late youth are well documented in a story that sags a little at times but has a rip-roaring last third. 4 out of 5 stars

The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Apple TV): Peter Farrell directs what starts as just a goofy (but somehow true) premise of a bonehead who wants to take beers to his childhood friends fighting in the Vietnam War. Zac Efron turns in his usual terrific performance, with great bit players all around, including Russell Crowe as a photographer and Bill Murray as a bartender. The horrors of the war are on full display, as we watch Efron’s “Chickie” transform into a significantly more critical thinker about how the world truly works. 4 out of 5 stars

Short Story of the Month: “The Reencounter,” by Isaac Beshevis Singer (1979): A doctor is called early one morning and told an ex of his has died and the funeral is that day. He goes, and when he arrives, he realizes he too has died. The two meet again in the funeral parlor as floating souls and realize that the intellectual pursuits each had chased throughout their lives were complete nonsense. The thing they despised the most - immortality - was in the process of happening to them. 4 out of 5 stars

“Taking Care,” by Joy Williams (1982): The American writer keeps with her theme of downward spiraling and loss in this short story about Jones, a preacher who stays afloat despite his wife dying in the hospital and his daughter leaving him with his baby daughter while she goes to have a nervous breakdown in Mexico. 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Kids in the Hall 2012 (Amazon Prime):The Lorne Michaels-produced comedy troupe never did it for me back in its original 1990s run. I don’t think anyone would ever describe me as a prude, but the gratuitous sex humor too frequently falls flat. I couldn’t make it all the way through two episodes. 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 26, 2023

R.E.M.'s Murmur gets a mix of academic and popular dissection in the 33 1/3 series

Even after all these years, I have yet to decide whether Murmur or Reckoning is my favorite R.E.M. record. But here are my favorite tidbits learned about Murmur by reading J. Niimi’s entry into the 33 1/3 book series:

  • Michael Stipe saw the word “murmur” on a list of the seven easiest words to pronounce.
  • It was produced by Mitch Easter in Charlotte, N.C. Easter also produced Reckoning, Pavement’s Brighten the Corners, and many others.
  • The studio where it was recorded was named Reflection and was mostly home to Southern gospel and soul recording projects. It had a certain church-like quality.
  • Guitars “were kind of out at the time” but the band wanted to have very clean sounding guitars, not fuzzy. Each band member recorded in different rooms and Stipe set up under the stairs because he didn’t want anyone to see him singing.
  • The second part of the book is the slog part for me, as Niimi mostly settles into a techie talk of what was happening with the gear and intricacies of each cut’s creation, with not nearly enough information about where these songs were originating from in the band member’s brains, which would have been more interesting to me.
  • Next, the author ruminates about the times of Murmur. Precisely, 1983. He bought the cassette at a suburban John Hughes-like Chicago mall and later bought it on CD.
  • The compelling and mysterious album cover art seemed perfect for R.E.M. Kudzu, a Japanese plant, had been placed throughout the South in the 1930s as part of the New Deal to get people working. The thought was that the plant would improve the soil throughout the region, but by the time of the album’s release, it had basically eaten the South.
  • Niimi then takes a sidetrack to explore if Murmur truly fits the alleged categorization of “Southern Gothic,” and he makes a good case that the album artwork certainly fits that genre. But I’m less convinced that it's an adequate description of the music itself. Stipe’s obscure lyrical style does feel at times in the tradition of Edgar Allen Poe and post-Civil War. However, the music, for me, has always hit more accurately as jangle pop - nothing much gothic at all. R.E.M. also became a major foundation of “college rock,” which I'm defining as the kind of music one listens to while investigating one’s self much more independently for the first time as an early adult more removed from the influence of parents (and their old Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young albums).
  • A fairly long examination of Stipe’s “bad grammar” lyrics concludes that the words of the band’s songs helps the listener create their own narratives for what is happening. In that sense, I agree that abstract lyrics by bands like R.E.M., Pavement, and Wilco may very much be a plus towards the levels of how much i appreciate them.
  • While he may have earlier been influenced by the likes of the New York Dolls, by the time of Murmur, the singer was moving away from their “brand of punk nihilism.”
Murmur only topped out at #36 on the U.S. album charts but was tops or among the tops for 1983 on most critic lists. While this is far from a definitive work on Murmur, it is a worthy read for R.E.M. fans.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Chuck Klosterman takes us back to what the 1990s means, Part 1

Chuck Klosterman has become one of the icons of contemporary pop-culture commentary. His latest, The Nineties, is an essential and fairly massive tome to a decade worth remembering through his eyes. Here are some of my favorite takes from the first half of the book. To be continued here after I read the rest ...
  • It was perhaps the last decade in history “when personal and political engagement was still viewed as optional.”
  • The worst thing you could be was a sellout and you needed to be some kind of your own brand of cool.
  • Richard Linklater’s Slacker, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, and Nirvana's Nevermind came together to form the general representation of young people in the 90s.
  • “It was a confusing time to care about things.” In Reality Bites, Gen Xers mostly wanted Winona Ryder to pick toxically masculine Ethan Hawke over beta male Ben Stiller, a choice that would have been reversed just about any other time in history. This was again a product of this time-specific fear of selling out.
  • Every generation is assigned a character. A difference for young people of the 90s is that it bothered them less than other generations.
  • Writers of their decade David Foster Wallace of Infinite Jest, Elizabeth Wirtzel of Prozac Nation, and Jon Leyner have mixed bodies of work, “as is the memory of why it mattered.”
  • Grunge was the most morbid genre in pop history, with too-early deaths by Kurt Cobain, Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, Mia Zapatista of the Gits, Layne Staley of Alice In Chains, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, Chris Cornell, and now Mark Lanegan and Van Conner of Screaming Trees.
  • While the movie Kids introduced a way of looking at teens as they possibly actually are and In the Company of Men looked at toxic males as they possibly are, Pulp Fiction kicked Natural Born Killers’ butt in helping define where the movies were at (the result of video store nerd and movie expert Quentin Tarantino) in the decade.
  • In the lengthy section (fittingly) on the rise of the Internet and the dawn of portable phones, it's interesting to note that area codes originated in a way so the densest areas had the lowest numerical area codes so all those people situated in the region wouldn't get such sore fingers from dialing high numbers on the rotary phone dial.
  • People were always findable before the internet. In fact, phone customers were charged a monthly fee if they didn’t want their home numbers listed in the phone book.
  • The X Files in the ‘90s truly mainstreamed conspiracy theories, with many viewers identifying with Mulder’s want and need to believe. Conspiracy theorists began to think of themselves as curious, open-minded, and normal.
  • Michael Jordan’s habit of sticking his tongue out was because his father’s tongue used to stick out when he was at work fixing car engines.
  • In the 90s, there were some who thought dumbness was smart, like the creators of Zima and Pepsi Crystal.
  • The 90s ushered in “new country” music when Billy Ray Cyrus hit big with the awful “Achy Breaky Heart.” Then Garth Brooks ruled the decade and had completely inoffensive stadium tunes that championed working class and gay people and never talked down to anyone or irritated anyone. Think of how far Top 40 has come since then, when it’s ruled by divisive racists like Morgan Wallen.
  • The reason Seinfeld’s characters could pitch a show (within their own show, very meta) about nothing was very insightful. Think of all the shows, like Room for Two and Major Dad, that pulled in millions of viewers but have completely and rightfully been forgotten. George Costanza was correct, people would watch their show because it was “on TV.” By the 90s, TV was an appliance designed to waste peoples’ time and distract. Much of pop culture, like Garth Brooks from music, was working the same. The popular stuff doesn’t even merit an historical footnote. The same can almost be said about Friends. The characters weren’t particularly cool, and maybe not even that memorable, but the show was obviously monumentally popular.
  • Part of the country’s obsession with the O.J. Simpson trial was that he was obviously guilty but we wanted to see if his Dream Team of lawyers could get him off the hook.
  • MSNBC and FOX News launched a mere 12 months after the Simpson debacle. Nobody much took FOX seriously because it was clearly partisan from the start. MSNBC, on the other hand, was taken seriously, as a new kind of news that merged Microsoft’s grasp of the internet with NBC’s expertise in broadcast news. It was only later that MSNBC became the polar opposite of FOX, as the home of Democrat talking points. We were slowly learning that viewers of these channels watched purely for entertainment and emotional reassurance and didn’t want to hear things that were different from their own beliefs.

Friday, February 10, 2023

TV Snide: January 2023

TV Series of the Month (Tie): The White Lotus - Season 2 (HBO Max)
: Creator Mike White pulls out all the stops for a second season of perfect TV. The seven episodes again bring together the lives of hotel guests and resort employees, as a body washes up on the beach in Italy. We have to guess which starring character it is for the length of the season. 5 out of 5 stars

TV Series of the Month (Tie) Succession - Season 2 (HBO Max): This is a can't-keep-your-eyes-off, old-fashioned shitshow that is fascinating to view. The whole Roy family (patterned perhaps off the Murdoch media empire) is worth throwing to the sharks. The non-family inner circle too. The drama lies in who will fall and how. 5 out of 5 stars

Short Story of the Month: “The Thirteenth Day” by T.C. Boyle: One of my favorite authors appeared with this story in the April/May 2022 edition of Esquire. Enough time has passed since the start of COVID-19 that it is enjoyable to read the tale of a couple stuck on a cruise ship for a month. The conditions are unappealing even in their 5-star balconied cabin. It’s hard to believe anyone would ever want to take a cruise again after reading this. A couple of Boyle’s best novels include Outside Looking In and Drop City. I really need to read The Road to Wellville too. 5 out of 5 stars

Documentary of the Month: McEnroe (Showtime): Favorite athlete ever. Check! Favorite sport ever. Check! I admit I'm biased on this one, but I really like the way the filmmakers blended their own creative vision with great chronological footage of the tenns great's career. 5 out of 5 stars

Belushi (Showtime): A worthy documentary of one of comedy’s legends. I think John Belushi falls in right after Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Gene Wilder, and Richard Pryor in my ranking of funniest 1970s comedic actors. The producers of this probably rank him higher, and this mixes footage with cool graphic treatments to tell his life story. 4.5 out of 5 stats

Novel of the Month: The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager: I really enjoyed this suspense/horror author's The Final Girls. This one is not as good but still worth a quick read. It centers around out-of-work, Upper West Side actor Casey, who is spiralling into alcoholism at her Vermont lakehouse after her husband Len's drowning death. She begins a Rear Window-like relationship with the tech leader/supermodel couple across the lake, and other neighbors in their midst eventually come along for the ride. I'm not sure the supernatural elements of the book work, but if you can get past those, the rest provides for a gripping page turner. 4 out of 5 stars

“Roy Spivey,” by Miranda July (The New Yorker): This short story ran in the magazine in 2007. July is relatively famous for her screenplays along with her fiction. The protagonist is flying first class and sitting next to a famous actor named Roy Spivey. They have a fun time together and he gives her his phone number. But much like with many other things in her life, she procrastinates, waiting to call him many years later while she is watching her husband out the window clean their car. The number is out of service, and probably has been for many years. This makes me want to read more from July, possibly her debut novel The First Bad Man. 4 out of 5 stars

Never Have I Ever - Season 3 (Netflix): This seems like more of a teen-girl watch than one for me, but ever since the debut of this series, having my tennis hero John McEnroe serve as the narrator was all the hook I needed. From there, the cast and storylines of navigating high-school love and relationships has gripped me. It’s based on Mindy Kaling’s own oft-awkward arrival from India to the U.S. and I highly recommend you give it a try. 4 out of 5 stars

Invisible Things by Mat Johnson: The author of this 2022 novel skillfully brings out most of the best elements of sci fi. The only thing missing are aliens, which is odd since the story is about a group headed to Jupiter to study a society of people kidnapped from Earth. The most alien element of these people, living under a dome, is that they and their society are just like those back where they came from. The first half is a rollicking read that bogs down a bit as it wraps up with the crews’s struggles to bring some of the inhabitants back to Earth. The “invisible things” keep the society from being able to progress in ways that classicism, racism, social media, demagogues, and other factors do in our own world. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Confess, Fletch (Showtime)
: The Chevy Chase Fletch movies are comedy classics, so this new entry had a lot to live up to. If anyone can handle it, it’s Mad Man Jon Hamm. And he is a truly great comedic actor. He holds the whole slightly messy whodunnit art-theft plot together as best he can, and he’s almost entirely the reason (along with somewhat bumbling police investigators) the movie succeeds. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Who Killed Santa? (Netflix): I will forever love Jason Bateman and Will Arnett for Arrested Development and their Smartless podcast, but this is lazy stuff. Oh, it’s still pretty hilarious in several spots, but it’s borderline experimental and Netflix would probably never air something like this if it didn’t have the two stars’ star power. Like an SNL skit, but not one worthy of drawing out for an hour. 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

You thought you knew everything about The Beach Boys ...

I don’t scroll YouTube all that often, and I don’t know why this video came up, but it’s an incredible 2005 BBC documentary called Wouldn't It Be Nice (part 1 and part 2) and it's well worth investing an hour into for the incredible story of one of my favorite bands, The Beach Boys.

Here are some of the best new things I learned from this movie:

  • Leader Brian Wilson studied The Four Freshman and obsessively learned to play all their songs. It kind of makes me want to do the same, or at least just listen to that early, pre-rock n’ roll band.
  • Members of The Beach Boys called into local radio stations wit
    h different voices requesting their first song Surfin’, which was a one-track recording.
  • The Wilsons’ dad was a talented expert of the music profession, but he often hit the kids. Brian was strong enough to eventually fire his dad from his position as the band’s manager.
  • They travelled to England and were heckled for not being hip enough in the burgeoning era of The Beatles.
  • In 1964, when Brian was 22, he married a 16-year-old girl.
  • It’s hard to believe that Carl Wilson, not Brian or Mike Love, was the lead singer on the band’s greatest song, “God Only Knows."
  • In 1968, the year Brian had a bad LSD trip and left the band floundering without him, Dennis Wilson began hanging out with the Charles Manson Family.
  • As Brian was coming out of his funk, he appeared in a short video with Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi forcing him to get out of bed to catch a wave.
  • Brian has re-entered the touring game with a Beach Boys cover band named the Wondermints that backs him. He agreed to finally perform songs from his lost album Smile, but still has hallucinatory angels and demons whispering in his ears each day.
  • Love says he would reform the original band but Brian is quoted saying "I don't like Mike Love at all" because he's "too egotistical." The film does end on a note that doesn't completely rule out a reunion. That would definitely be the only thing that would get me out to see Mike Love.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

My 132 favorite albums of 2021 (and some stinkers too)

Since my year-end album lists always come out so late, I found a way to beat the rush of year-end lists. Release my best of 2021 list right before all the best-of 2022 lists arrive! Well, even tHAT didn't happen. But I promise my best-of list for 2022 will be published soon!

Back in 2021, rock music continued to thrive. Enjoy the list and tell me your favorites and any that you think I missed.

The Weeknd
Biggest Disappointments
: There are three great songs on Foo Fighters' Medicine at Midnight, but the rest is gross alternarock. Mac McCaughan’s The Skin of Yourself has three perfect songs and the rest is instrumental soundtrack filler. I've loved all of BC Camplight's work, but Shortly Takeoff is a mostly painful stinker. I was excited for Julien Baker's Little Oblivions, but after several listens, I can't get past the sheer boredom of it. Loney Dear's A Lantern and a Bell didn't exactly have high expectations (the promising band has been absent for the past decade or so) but this was a particularly bumming return during a pandemic year. The Weeknd's House of Balloons is really unexciting, even more since it was released soon after he was given the Super Bowl halftime spotlight. Not that I ever expected much from Greta Van Fleet, but their derivative rock has fallen from Led Zeppelin homage to painful poor-man's Tesla. St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home is creative and even sounds a little like Pink Floyd at times but it’s just not catchy or memorable like her other releases. Lou Barlow's Reason to Live is really no different than some of his masterful lo-fi Sebadoh releases of the 1990s, but it's just kind of depressing and unnecessary in 2021. Fucked Up's Year of the Horse brings a sub-par release from one of the better pure punk bands around. Low Cut Connie's Tough Cookies: Best of the Quarantine Broadcasts is a mildly fun barrage of covers but also pretty unnecessary from a band that brings much higher expectations. Prince's Welcome 2 America is a let-down; despite a couple of fun tracks, this is mostly stuff lacking in originality. The Killers' Pressure Machine seems to have a rural concept going on, but there just aren't many good songs to go with the odd dialogue sprinked throughout. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's Georgia Blue is a very competent collection of covers about the Peach State but it lacks excitement. Parquet Courts’ Sympathy for Life is a repetitive math-rock-new-wave bore, which is hard to say for a band that has mesmerized me for a decade as New York post-Talking Heads rock. Willie Nelson's The Willie Nelson Family isn't bad at all, it's just non-essential considering the high bar he's set for himself. Pom Pom Squad's Death of a Cheerleader has some pretty good songs but I thought this band would become more of one of my favorites. Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Barn makes me realize I probably have about all the Neil Young I need in my collection, and while I really like "Tumblin' Thru the Years" and the rest isn't bad, it seems overall pretty unnecessary. Cub Scout Bowling Pins' Heaven Beats Iowa is not as special as hundreds of other releases from Bob Pollard of GBV. Bitter Defeat's Minor Victory is "middle-age malaise" punk from a great Brisbane, Australia band. I'm not sure if long-ago-great Cat Power's releases still qualify as disappointments, but exciting and vital would be a stretch for Covers.

Lara Jane Grace
Best EPs: The Linda Lindas
' self-titled debut EP would be in the running for best long player if it were a long player. This is as much fun as music gets. But the best EP of the year undoubtedly goes to Lara Jane Grace’s At War with the Silverfish, as she continues her unbeatable punk-pop streak. A close runner-up is L.A.'s CARR, with I'm So Bored, which could probably be a Taylor Swift-level megahit if weren't so down-to-earth and pottymouthed. Death Cab for Cutie's The Georgia EP is great because the band has such impeccable taste in covers from Georgia bands. Million Miles' Escape is smooth R&B with a mix of yacht rock. Def Leppard's Leppard on the Loose should be disqualified from this list on its cheesy name alone, but this is undeniably classic-style Lepp. dad sports' I AM JUST A BOY LEAVE ME ALONE !!! is a slice of punctuation-challenged perfect sunshine-pop out of Ottawa. beabadoobee's Our Extended Play is the 2020's answer to The Blake Babies and it's gorgeous. Car Seat Headrest offers great Bowie, Who, Nine Inch Nails, and Kate Bush covers on MADLO: Influences. Guster's two EPs (Rainy Day Guster and Happier Songs) keeps the string of great pop releases rolling for this Boston band. GospelbeacH's Jam Jam EP is more California sunshine pop from the Elephant 6-inspired band. Samia's Scout presents an atmospheric little indie-pop gem. Annie's Neon Lights is a welcome addition from an inventive dance artist who takes on Jesus and the Mary Chain alongside Patrick Swayze! The Black Watch is on fire, with an LP high on the list and these two, The White EP and The Nothing That Is EP. Landon Conrath's 2AM is total pop-party cheese that's impossible to dislike. The Airport 77s' Losers Win / The Illustrated Book of Cupid are DC power-poppers in the vein of the rocktabulous Urge Overkill and feature one member who plays in my music-get-together group. Boise Cover Band's Unoriginal Artists has Built to Spill's Doug Martsch weaving some of his most beautiful tapestries since the mid-90s. Beachwood Sparks' Sandbox Sessions is such smooth and good California sunshine rock. Frances Forever's paranoia party hangs beautifully together with the pop centerpiece "space girl." Bastards of Melody's Dover EP provides uplifting power pop, verging on the Beatles' "Getting Better," out of NYC. Nada Surf's Cycle Through is one of this immaculate band's lesser efforts, but it's still better than 95% of rock music. My Autumn Amor's Quiet Girl has two standout tracks and a few other good ones from a very L.A.-sounding songwriter of earnest soft rock. My Idea's That's My Idea features Lily Konigsberg and more of her hot streak of twee rollicking and background talk pop, this time with a perfect George Harrison guitar vibe. Teenage Dads' Club Echo displays an exciting Aussie pop sensibility, while harkening back to the early 2000s NYC sound. Hitsujibungaku's you love is dream pop with driving guitars from Japan with a deep catalog that I can't wait to explore more.

J Mascis
Best Reissues/Box Sets: John Lennon
's Plastic Ono Band (Ultimate Collection) is his best solo release song for song and this version brings in all the rehearsals that led to the also-included final versions. George Harrison's All Thngs Must Pass 50th Anniversary is bulging with great outtakes and alternate versions of the legendary first solo release of the Beatle. Nancy Sinatra gets her due with the best collection of her tunes yet on Start Walkin' 1965-1976. Rilo Kiley's self-titled 1999 debut gets a re-issue for the best reason of all in that I somehow never discovered it back when I was loving all their other classic releases (opener "Frug" gets a special call-out as one of the greatest pop songs ever). Dinosaur Jr.'s live show has been captured better than ever before with the mind-blowing Emptiness at the Sinclair. I don't cherish live albums often, but this one's a career-spanning keeper with a lot of versions of songs that add significant elements to the originals. As if that weren't enough, J Mascis blessed us with almost-Robert-Pollard levels of output in 2021, including his solo Fed Up and Feeling Strange box set, which includes a 1993 CBGB live acoustic set, the Martin + Me album, an unreleased track, and an unreleased 1998 live show from Copenhagen. The Beach Boys' Feel Flows box set collects all the sounds created during the Sunflower and Surf's Up sessions, which are two of my very favorite BB albums, and there is pretty much a full album of unreleased songs included. The Beatles' Let It Be (Super Deluxe) box includes many of the sessions from this year's epic Get Back documentary. It's for diehards, but really, who isn't a Beatles diehard (and if not, well, I probably can't help you by now). The Lemonheads' Lovey 30th Anniversary Edition features the near-perfect (the slightly muffled production still isn't fixed) original album plus an absolutely killer live set. The Rolling Stones' Tattoo You Super Deluxe is a fun listen with the great original album, some high quality rarities, and a 1982 live set. The Dropkicks from Scotland can be forgiven for sounding exactly like Teenage Fanclub since their songs are almost always completely perfect, as on display with The Best of. Voom's Hello, Are You There? is one of the more pleasant pop surprises of the year, with the reissue of this 2006 lost album spanning styles from the early Beatles to the late Beatles to Ween. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers rebooted a pretty loose and fun Angel Dream from 1996. Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Rarities Vol. 5 is a fun, poppy collection with duets by the likes of Dean Martin and Nancy Sinatra.

The Beths
Best Live Album
: The Beths' Auckland, New Zealand 2020 captures a band from a country that was able to stay open and have indoor concerts through much of the pandemic, and this great band chugs through with full-speed versions of their many greatest hits.

132. Kanye West: Donda (this hot mess is easily three times too long, but there are 7 to 8 excellent-to-great tunes buried amongst the over-inflated, puffed-up ruins of the increasingly unlikable Kanye)
131. Brix Smith: Lost Angeles (former Fall guitarist puts together an articulate 90s-alt style pop collection)
130. My Morning Jacket: My Morning Jacket (even MMJ's worst album is still good enough to make my year end list, this is groovy is a good way but jammy in not the greatest way)
129. SASAMI: Squeeze (there is some beautiful stuff here in the vein of Liz Phair meets a modernized Joni Mitchell, and including a J. Mascis appearance, but there is a fair share of unlistenable garbage too. The highlights are worth it)
128. Sleater-Kinney: Path of Wellness (this has a handful of really good songs but is not as good as I was hoping for from the trio's return, perhaps because Janet Weiss is no longer smashing the drums)
127. Matthew Sweet: Catspaw (the formula continues, with power-pop singing and melodies over laser shooting lead guitar, and this one starts a little slow but nails it by the end as another great MS release)
126. Aeon Station: Observatory (former member of the Wrens creates a new band and it's somewhere softer and poppier but with a similar sound to 90s greats Swervedriver)
125. Sarah Mary Chadwick: Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby (this quiet collection of pandemic raunch can only be taken in small doses, but any of those doses can be just what the doctor ordered)
124. The Natvral: Tethers (this is Kip Berman's band following the breakup of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart; it's different from his old band, a little more folky, and not as great)
123. The Orange Peels: Celebrate the Moments of Your Life (this indie-pop band is back after a long time away, and there are five or so absolutely gorgeous psych nuggets sprinkled through too much filler)
122. Flyying Colours: Fantasy Country (shoegazing Aussies release gorgeous sophomore album)
121. Sturgill Simpson: The Ballad of Dood and Juanita (not one of my favorite Simpson releases, but he's raised the standard so high for bluegrass and country that even this minor release still makes the list)
120. Glitterer: Life is Not a Lesson (this one-person band from my town of Takoma Park, Maryland puts out a big, spacerock sound that reminds me of Car Seat Headrest meets A Flock of Seagulls)
119. Willie Nelson: That's Life (Willie is the perfect person to cover these light and breezy Frank Sinatra classics)
118. Andrew Gabbard: Homemade (an Ohioan who uses the bright sounds of Big Star, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys to enhance his excellent songwriting)
117. Teen Creeps: Forever (this Belgium band doesn't really bring anything new to the mix but revisits the sounds of the indie-rock 90s nicely)
116. Ducks Ltd.: Modern Fiction (jangly wave from Canadian/Australians that just feels good to hear)
115. Gary Louris: Jump for Joy (two releases from former Jayhawks this year makes for a good year indeed; a strong pop album throughout)
114. Deep Sea Diver: Impossible Weight (I know nothing about this band but the album is catchy and complex new wave through and through)
113. FURS: When You Walk Away (another band I know nothing about other than they are from the UK and have a California/Beachwood Sparks via NYC/Strokes vibe)
112. The No Ones: The Great Lost No Ones Album (a very catchy version of the usual sounds brought to us from the collaborations of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and The Minus 5's Scott McCaughey)
Pacific Range
111. Pacific Range
: High Upon the Mountain (if what you need is a deadringer for a really good new Grateful Dead album, then this is the choice for you in 2021)
110. Azure Ray: Remedy (the duo is back after a pretty quiet past decade, and their usual style of serene pop is in tact and solid throughout, although there are no particularly standout tracks)
109. Admiral Fallow: The Idea of You (this Scottish band is back with its fourth album, and it's a great add to your Sunday morning vibes collection)
108. Robert Plant and Alson Krauss: Raise the Roof (an enjoyable trek through the styles of Plant circa In Through the Out Door-era Led Zeppelin and post-Zep mysticism; the old guy's still got it)
107. Billy Bragg: The Million Things That Never Happened (this is instantly one of my favorite Bragg releases, with catchy, semi-political pop throughout)
106. The Martha's Vinyard Ferries: Sun's Out Guns Out (a supergroup featuring members of Mission of Burma and Come sounds similar to those groups with splashes of Sonic Youth and Slint)
105. Another Michael: New Music and Big Pop (this is pretty pop from Philadelphia)
104. Bill Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Blind Date Party (a gorgeous and sprawling collection of collaborations that are super weird but essential for fans of either artist)
103. The Full Counts: Next Up (led by the guitarist of one of my 90s lost faves, Gumball, this ventures into Ramones/Velvet Undergound New Yawk pop punk)
102. Latvian Radio: Phooey! (this NYC power-pop band has been kicking around for a while; I just discovered them and this is a consistantly fun listen)
101. E.R. Jurken: I Stand Corrected (if you can stand the weirdometer of a mashup that sounds like Olivia Tremor Control meets GBV, then you will look under the hood here to discover some great psych-pop hooks)
100. Guided by Voices: It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them! (for readers of this blog, this is a shockingly low chart position for anything Robert Pollard/GBV-related, but much of this is dark with about five typical pop classics sprinkled in, but it's a definite lesser GBV release)
Kevin Rowland
99. Kevin Rowland
: The Beauty (this is the wackiest, and probably most likely to be hated, release on this list, but the former Dexy's Midnight Runners frontman's takes on The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and, especially, Whitney Houston, among others, NEED to be heard. The topper is the album cover artwork)
98. Rodrigo Amarante: Drama (this is an excellent listen for Brazilian tropicalia fans all the way through)
97. Tierra Whack: R&B?, Pop?, and Rap? (A series of releases that are nowhere near as classic as 2018's Whack World, but she is a hook machine who is close to mastering all three genres)
96. Katy Kirby: Cool Dry Place (a quiet release reminicent of a lo-fi Stevie Nicks highighted by the title track and a bunch of other really interesting story songs)
95. Exploding Flowers: Stumbling Blocks (jangle-pop from L.A. that provides a light-breeze laid-back summer soundtrack)
94. Wurld Series: What's Growing (a weirdo grinding-guitar pop release from New Zealand that is lots of fun)
93. Cub Scout Bowling Pins: Clang Clang Ho (this is an obscure, weird little side project from Robert Pollard of GBV, and it's actually quite an understated pop keeper)
92. Ex Norwegian: Hue Spotting (a mix of Elephant 6-style psychedelia and disco, which is definitely not a genre mashup you see often; oh, and the band is from Miami Beach (?))
91. Gnawing: You Freak Me Out (Richmond, Va. rockers with a distinct bent towards early Dinosaur Jr. sludge rock)
90. Yola: Stand For Myself (she's a true British rock star with big sounds in her music and voice, and a very deep soul)
Lil Nas X
89. Lil Nas X
: MONTERO (there's nothing as earth-shaking as "Old Town Road," but there's plenty to enjoy including the A Star is Born-like duet with Miley Cyrus)
88. Arrow Beach: Juicy Fruit Castle (this is a consistently strong collage of psychedelic upbeat pop by a band I know nothing about but dig a lot, and I think I'll like even more with more listens)
87. Corvair: Corvair (boy-girl pop from Portland that reminds me a lot of the reigned-in, understated dramatic indie pop of the great and dearly missed Velocity Girl)
86. High on Stress: Hold Me In (a great little alt-country band with a few songs here that should be big hits and the rest of it is totally enjoyable also)
85. Travis: 10 Songs (this band is back with its usual collection of beautifully orchestral pop)
84. The Hold Steady: Open Door Policy (this Minneapolis band always sounds a little the same, but there is a great addition of horns on this release and several standout, greatest-hits-destined tracks)
83. Lucero: When You Found Me (these country-mood rockers have hints of Afghan Whigs, Drive-by Truckers, the Del Fuegos, and the Church - a wide range for sure but shaped into their own cocktail)
82. Stephen Malkmus and Von Spar: Can's Ege Bamyasi (SM is perfect for this faithful cover of the German prog-rock band's classic album, I admit I like this more than the original)
81. Rosali: No Medum (Philly artist with some cool grinding guitars on top of a female version of Kurt Vile, in a laid-back canyon-rockin' sort of way)
80. Dirty Nice: Lobster (although much of this wave pop release might not totally stand up in a couple of decades, the first half is filled with insta-classic party hits)
79. Aaron Lee Tasjan: Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! (this reminds me a little of Alex Cameron, with swoon-worthy pop hooks galore, although it loses a little steam in the second half)
78. FRITZ: Pastel (this high-flying release is from Newcastle youths who sound like a cross of a noisy My Bloody Valentine and soaring Yuck)
77. Kings of Leon: When You See Yourself (I still, after all these years, feel I shouldn't like this band, but this album is filled with great songs and a handful that are rocking, bass-pumping party stompers)
Bottled Up
76. Bottled Up
: Crystal (the best release out of Washington DC this year is an art-pop release that is kind of all over the place, with the title track being one of the year's tops)
75. UV-TV: Always Something (this Queens three-piece plays very catchy power pop that takes several listens before its 80s-wave brilliance shines through)
74. Gruff Rhys: Seeking New Gods (this is truth in advertising as it seems the ever-reliable Rhys is truly reaching for some unattainable glory in the universe through music)
73. Wares: Survival (an exceedingly beautiful debut album with a hint of Arcade Fire feel to it)
72. Headlight Rivals: Mattson (ok, so this is from 2019 but I just discovered it this year; and it's throwback 90s power pop like the Replacements)
71. Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg (one of the more original new-wave/post-punk bands, out of Britain, with great cool-girl speak-singing)
70. Ryan Adams: Big Colors (his latest album was delayed for two years after serious allegations of abusive behavior, but this is nevertheless a thoughtful collection of alt-country/yacht-rock tunes)
69. The Riverbreaks: Forever (I don't know much about this band, which I think is from the Washington DC region, but it's a great mellow alt-country collection that sounds inspired by a trip to Mexico)
68. Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine: A Beginner's Mind (this release finally marks the return of Illinoise-style Stevens, with beauty and humor laced throughout)
67. Sleaford Mods: Spare Ribs (the coolest crunk-rap-rock out there is somewhere between the Beasties and The Jam, and it's totally addictive)
66. Descendents
: 9th and Walnut (these punks are back at full force after decades away, and this album is stellar throughout with a few tracks that are stone-cold classics of the genre)
65. Lily Konigsberg: The Best of Lily Konigsberg Right Now (this is the lesser of her two releases this year, but it's still a winning lo-fi pop keeper)
64. Juniper: Juniper (this album by a 15-year-old girl from New Jersey puts the fun into rock music; although it tails off a bit at the end, the first half is as good as any other album this year)
63. 2nd Grade: Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited (Philly band writes great and usually humorous lo-fi bedroom pop; beware: it's extremely catchy)
62. Secret Machines: Awake in the Brain Chamber (a beautiful return from the NYC space rockers, with "Everything Starts" among my favorite songs of the year)
61. Son Volt: Electro Melodier (this is one of Jay Farrar's best releases post-Uncle Tupelo, and sounds like Springsteen if Springsteen were a little better)
60. Cassandra Jenkins: An Overview on Phenomenal Nature (this former member of David Berman's Purple Mountains offers a complex and quiet painting of an album)
59. The Spires: Era Was (California rockers put together what sounds like a lost Pavement album, somewhere between Brighten the Corners and Terror Twilight)
58. Snoop Dogg: From Tha Streets to Tha Suites (ok, of course nothing will ever match Doggystyle, but this collection grooves all the way through nonetheless)
57. Julianna Hatfield: Blood (this could have been the best EP of the year, but even with some unnecessary songs, the good ones are as great as Julianna has ever been)
56. Flower: None Is (But Once Was) (like Julianna's album just mentioned, if this one didn't tail off so much at the end, it might have been the best NYC indie-wave-punk album since The Strokes' Is This It)
55. Tambourina: Tambourine Dream (this little-known gem of a band from Michigan delivers on a fully-formed long player that is perfect for pandemic daydreaming and is in the running for my best new band of the year)
54. Sofie: Cult Survivor (I don't know anything about this person, but the title is apt and sounds like something from a Manson survivor released back into L.A. to make sense of it all, and it's addicting)
53. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real: A Few Stars Apart (it’s somehow very comforting to know that we will have someone who sounds just like Willie Nelson to carry on for a long time)
52. The Felice Brothers: From Dreams to Dust (this is a criminally underrated band, touching this time on pop culture and Honda Fits plus a whole lot of other great lyricism and melody)
51. Close Lobsters: Post Neo Anti (another instaclassic from these way-under-heralded Brit poppers)
50. Dead Stars: Never Not Here (these Brooklynites crunch somewhere between Soul Asylum and Nirvana and make you long for the return of live music and sweaty crowds)
49. Dropkick: The Scenic Route (an exact replica of Teenage Fanclub; this band has been making albums forever and I just discovered them with this one. It’s every bit as perfect pop as TF)
Colleen Green
48. Colleen Green
: Cool (there is truth in advertising in the title of this one, from an L.A. indie songstress with pulsing pop bass lines who had been away for a few years - a few years too long)
47. Lucy Dacus: Home Video (I haven't been a huge fan so far, but this album hit me in the heart, with some of the best lyrical writing of the year)
46. Lindsey Buckingham: Lindsey Buckingham (the guitarist offers a subtle, adult-contemporary middle finger to his ex-bandmates in Fleetwood Mac with probably his most inspired full effort ever)
45. Disq: Collector (a lot of fun Weezer/Bright Eyes-type punk-lite from a group of Wisconsinites, and perfect for a pandemic with all the songs about screen time)
44. Weezer: Van Weezer (what a double threat year for these pop-pun jokesters. Not sure how they get away sampling all those hair-metal riffs but it makes for a fun ride)
43. Paul Weller: Fat Pop (the Brit is in yet another renaissance period of his career; this one rocks like The Jam and softens up like The Style Council)
42. Gary Olson: Gary Olson (the former Jayhawk comes back with a mellow winner, with "Navy Ships” probably being the best yacht-rock song since the 1980s)
41. Current Joys: Voyager (this is a deep, sometimes rocking and often gorgeous, release with hints of Okkervil River from a master songwriter from Reno whom I had never heard before and will eagerly look to in the future)
40. Boyish: BLUE RAIN (I don't know much about this band, but they appear to be from Japan and play Sea and the Cake-style jazz pop, heavy on the yacht rock and saxophone. Quite possibly different than the U.S.-based Boyish band that is also good)
39. The Lil Smokies: Tornillo (this is the best bluegrass pop of the year, or maybe in many years, and the Montana band offers a great mix of upbeat and heartbroken)
38. Momma: Two of Me (this grew on me and harkens back to lazy and catchy guitar bands of the 90s like Madder Rose; fits in easily alongside indie rockers like Snail Mail)
37. Keuning: A Mild Case of Everything (lovers of The Killers will be particularly excited about this super-catchy Killers-like release from an ex-member of The Killers)
illuminati hotties
36. illuminati hotties
: Let Me Do One More (this band is clearly a lot of Millennial brattiness to handle, but the first half of the release is as catchy as anything on this list)
35. Modest Mouse: The Golden Casket (this wonderfully weird rock return of Isaac Brock's is beyond welcome, with repeat listens providing endless rewards)
34. Wavves: Hideaway (yet another sneaky, little underrated release from San Diego's punk-pop laureate Nathan Williams)
33. Snail Mail: Valentine (this is an excitingly complicated record. It’s not easy to figure out but it’s not particularly complicated either. I don’t think it will go down as a classic like her first release, but it might end up just as good in reality)
32. Mike Polizza: Long Lost Solace Find (this artist teams up with Kurt Vile for a gorgeous laid-back version of J. Mascis in tropical desert mode)
31. Pip Blom: Welcome Break (she has been floating around the indie sphere for a while but this release finally lands a better punch than her previous ones, with a big-rock Courtney Barnett feel)
30. Rich Ragany and the Digressions: Behind Nostalgia and Heartache (I was turned on to the band in Classic Rock Magazine, which compared it to The Replacements' Don't Tell a Soul, which is true, with some mix of Bash N Pop and softer Guns N' Roses. A treat of a rock n' roll find) 
29. Simon Bromide: Following the Moon (this debut album mixes The Kinks with Paul Westerberg and a splash of Pink Floyd to create something entirely new from this Brit popper)
28. Daniel Wylie and the Cosmic Rough Riders: Atoms and Energy (this is a beautiful entry in the indie-rock sweepstakes, with a nearly flawless Beach Boys/America/CSNY/Teenage Fanclub-like first half)
27. Kasey Musgraves: star-crossed (the country/not-country star has produced her second straight album of stunning beauty)
26. Dean Wareham: I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A. (this slow-grower marks the beautiful return of the Luna leader, who has been greatly missed over much of the past decade)
25. Ladyhawke: Time Flies (her fourth album continues her pretty near perfect streak of dancey pop with a non-Top-40 edge that just makes you happy; for example, listen to "Adam")
24. Francis Lung: Miracle (this wins the award for most Beatlesque release of the year and often displays the brilliance of this former member of WU LYF)
23. Rosie Tucker: Sucker Supreme (the L.A. songwriter filled this item with pop hooks and great lyrics, and will open on dates for one of my faves, The Beths, in 2022)
22. Lily Konigsberg: Lily We Need to Talk Now (this is a fascinating mix of semi-experimental and weird-laced Top 40 pop, featuring a couple of the very best songs of the year in "Proud Home" and "Sweat Forever," in a Lemonheads/Liz Phair/Ben Lee/Kayne West vein)
21. Jesse Malin: Sad and Beautiful World (the title describes the music perfectly by this grizzled NYC rocker who just keeps staying hyper relevant to rock)
20. Kiwi Jr.: Cooler Returns (the modern iteration of Pavement, this release from Toronto - not Australia - was hard to top for non-stop pure joy in 2021)
19. High Waisted: Sick of Saying Sorry (surf glam rock doesn't usually make it this high on my lists, but this NYC band is firing on all cylinders throughout this banger)
Japanese Breakfast
18. Japanese Breakfast
: Jubilee (yet another of the many great new female artists on this list, ranging from beautiful offbeat ballads to party ragers, from this published author and former 9:30 Club coat-check girl)
17. girl in red: if i could make it all go quiet (Norway's greatest dance pop effort of the year brings exhibit A of how cynical today's youngsters are capable of being about love and life; really grew on me after a couple spins)
16. The Telephone Numbers: The Ballad of Doug (these San Francisco soft poppers have a lot of the same sounds going as Teenage Fanclub and is my favorite twee pop of 2021)
15. Teenage Fanclub: Endless Arcade (the Scots are the same as they've ever sounded: great. They matched my mellow yet rocking needs when I was 20 and they still do when I'm 50)
14. Liz Phair: Soberish (this one really grew on me and is on par with her classic first three albums)
13. Weezer: OK Human (it seems like I say that "this is Weezer's best release in a long time" for nearly all of this emo-pop band's releases, but this is truly in the mix for album of the year)
12. Silver Synthetic: Silver Synthetic (this is a bit of a New Orleans supergroup, featuring a member of one of my faves, JEFF the Brotherhood; like a sunshine version of the Allman Brothers)
11. Max Bloom: Perfume (it's great to have one of the leaders of the classic group Yuck back, with new music that sounds like a more laidback version of ... well ... Yuck)
Arlo Parks
10. Arlo Parks
: Collapsed in Sunbeams (this is the best album by a Brit on this year's list and the title sums it up, as a mellow thing of beauty worth listening to again and again)
09. The Black Watch: From Something That (it’s like the return of Echo and the Bunnymen, only this is the best album the Bunnies would have ever made, and this band is somehow not from England but rather Santa Barbara)
08. Olivia Rodrigo: SOUR (this was unlikeable upon the first couple listens, with its American Idol-type histrionic vocals, but repeat listens display the birth of a real superstar pop singer and songwriter)
07. Courtney Barnett: Things Take Time, Take Time (the Aussie is on as hot a streak as anyone these days in rock n'roll; this is another collection of essential storytelling songs with major, off-kilter hooks)
06. Taylor Swift: Fearless (Taylor's Version) (I knew several of these re-done songs seemingly like the back of my hand but never had this early Swift album in my library; it's hard to deny that this is perfect pop music)
05. Guided By Voices: Earth Man Blues (a perfect description of the pandemic year, this still-somehow-always-fresh collection from GBV even includes a Zoom reference; simply great and something that will likely grow greater with age)
The Goon Sax
04. John Mayer
: Sob Rock (I've never liked this singer-songwriter-bluesman much, but this yacht rock release is the best album from that genre in decades)
03. Taylor Swift: Red (Taylor's Version) (the queen of pop is on the hottest streak of anyone in music, with more than 15 of these songs being greatest-hits-level classics. Crazy)
02. Dinosaur Jr.: Sweep It Into Space (I’ll go so far as to say: adding another instant classic to one of the best catalogs of any bands in rock history)
01. The Goon Sax: Mirror II (these Aussies have been bopping around just outside the top 10 on my past year-end lists, but this weird, pop, dream release will be their masterpiece)

Monday, January 2, 2023

TV Snide: December 2022

TV Show of the Month: Flowers - Season 1 (has now left Netflix): This nutso British ensemble comedy is led by Olivia Colman. It explores a rural family whose formerly successful writer patriarch has fallen into a deep depression, and the startling dysfunction all around probably is not a huge help. I fell in love with these weirdos, including their visiting Japanese artist-in-residence. I don’t know what I’ll do now that the second season is proving hard to find. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Fleishmann is in Trouble (Hulu): The sadness and depression lingers and stays in this adaptation of a novel I read a couple years ago. It envisions the book’s storyline well, and you can’t keep your eyes off Jesse Eisenberg, whose life continually gets invaded by his kids, his missing wife, his hospital co-workers, and his online dates throughout this one-and-only-season arc. 4 out of 4 stars

Documentary of the Month: Meet Me in the Bathroom (Showtime): A nice reminiscence of the early 2000s in New York City, when the rock scene was ruled by The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, and Interpol. There is also a dark underbelly, with 9/11 ever present and Napster and the new era of pirated and streaming music looming. Since I never got around to reading Lizzy Gordon's book, this is a good happy medium. 4 out of 4 stars

Movie of the Month: Emily the Criminal (Netflix): A series of unfortunate job-related failures lead Aubrey Plaza down a different kind of employment path. She finally finds something she's good at. 4 out of 5 stars

American Underdog (Southwest Airlines): This is incapable of being a bad movie. Not only was I a huge St. Louis Rams fan before they moved back to L.A. (I even still, improbably, like them), but the Kurt Warner story from rags to riches and Hall of Famer is just such a good tale. While the movies slips into melodrama a bit too often, it is still well done and very well acted. 4 out of 5 stars

The Craft (HBO Max): This always ranked pretty highly among my favorite 1990s movies. It’s no cinema verite but it certainly is entertaining to watch with a 15-year-old son whose favorite genre is horror. It’s kind of Beverly Hills 90210: Witch Version, as four L.A. high-school girls get pretty deep into witchcraft, with some escaping relatively unscathed and some not. 4 out of 5 stars

Starship Troopers (Sling TV): The 1997 spoofy movie based off the Robert Heinlein classic novel follows a trio of friends on their path from "civilians" to "citizens," excelling as a military psychic/scientist, battlefield commander, and pilot. Their mission is to beat back a planet of bugs, led by a massive “brain bug.” If you go in accepting the ridiculousness, Troopers is entertaining and well done, and, after a poor box-office opening, has gone on to be considered a classic. 4 out of 5 stars

"China" (short story by Charles Johnson, 1984): A married couple in their 50s (but seemingly much older) have both lost their zest for life. The postman husband sees a kung-fu movie and begins buying fighting accessories and training. He loses his paunch and becomes a different person, whom his wife doesn’t particularly like. It is a tale of becoming something you never thought you could be. 4 out of 5 stars

Me Time (Netflix): People always tell me I’ve got to watch Kevin Hart movies and, every time I do, I’m underwhelmed. He is definitely a lovable guy, and his movies are likable, but they also seem like kind of a mess. The same is true of this ridiculous buddy movie with Mark Wahlberg. The story? I’m not really sure, but it’s something to do with stay-at-home dad Hart agreeing with his wife that it’s time for him to finally have some me time. Nuttiness ensues. Enjoyable enough, but seems it could have been funnier. 3 out of 5 stars