Brooks Brown with Rob Merrit, No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death At Columbine: Okay, after this I'm pretty much Columbined out, but I had to read a better counterpoint to Dave Cullen's book than Ralph Larkin's. Brown has been accused of acting like Columbine happened to him and him alone in this book (he was accused falsely of being a co-conspirator after the fact) but I didn't believe it; his stories about the bullying at the school seem more or less believable, with the only bunk moment being when he told off the school's principal for turning a blind eye to said bullying. He also isn't a particularly great writer, I suppose, but I'm still more or less glad I read this book,
Richard Matheson, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet And Other Stories: A 2000 compilation containing the well known Twilight Zone classic and a bunch of other, similar stories: the Shatner debacle sets the tone for a series of tales mostly concerning similar plots, where someone gradually goes insane. One interesting story is "Old Haunts," about a guy who goes back to places he remembered from college only to be driven insane with the realization that he's sort of a loser; another one that really worked for me is "The Distributor," about a guy who makes everyone in a neighborhood go nuts on each other. Less effective? I dunno, I wasn't as into "Prey" or "The Children Of Noah" as most people probably are. He's not as formulaic as H. P. Lovecraft, but I will say that I could give or take the formula either way--it doesn't guarantee that one of his short stories is good OR bad. What it does mean however is that I feel like I've basically gotten my fill of the guy, but any additional recommendations from his dozens of short stories will be noted.
Jerzy Kosinski, Steps: There's a great story about how this 1968 book, published between Kosinski's better known (and just plain better) The Painted Bird and Being There, won a National Book Award in the late 60s, only to be so forgotten later on that a different writer copied down the first few chapters, sent them to several publishers under his own name, and was rejected by all of them, including the book's actual original publisher (Random House, I think.) The actual book is quasi-postmodern late-60s then-relevant dated sex fantasy stuff, only lasting about 150 pages and broken up into several dozen fragements, with seemingly little continuity between narrators. As that sort of thing goes, you'd probably be better off reading Robert Coover's Pricksongs & Descants. Kosinski killed himself in 1991, and if you didn't know this already, his work was often accused of being ghost-written; whoever wrote his books, I think I've read everything relevant that "he" wrote.
Prisoners: Denis Villeneuve. This film is a mixed bag. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are both terrific; the supporting cast, however, is kinda put to waste (Hi, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis! Bye, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis!) The movie is certainly bloated at 2 1/2 hours; it's beautifully shot and powerfully dark and haunting....until it stops being about the Jackman character's issues and sort of shifts gears and gets back to solving the plot's mystery, which winds up with an ambiguous note that felt kind of meaningless to me.
Arrival: Denis Villeneuve. More good than bad, which is par for the course with alien-arrival stories: they almost always weaken when it's time to either show us the aliens or conclude the plot. Again, a fine movie visually; no problems there, and this is easily one of Amy Adams' best performances (Jeremy Renner is just there for plot purposes.) For the first roughly three fourths, there's a halfway-profound look at the mysteries of language and communication, and a decent plot buildup with news arriving elsewhere of how other nations are communicating with their "heptapods." Then, in the last 20 minutes, the f***ing thing turns into Interstellar, and I have to chuck it. (SPOILERS) Note to every writer in the world who isn't Kurt Vonnegut: the idea of "four-dimensional" existence, where people can somehow see their pasts and futures at the same time as the present, would probably render our lives completely meaningless and obnoxious, and works as a cheap solution to any book or movie. Come to think of it, it didn't really work for Vonnegut, either.
Miami Connection: This almost-never-seen 1987 flop, resurrected in 2012 by some Alamo Drafthouse guy who bought a rare print on eBay or something, deserves its place right next to 'Manos' the Hands of Fate, Troll 2 and The Room in the Cheesefest Hall of Fame. Rarely will you see a film so simultaneously violent and yet so wide-eyed and optimistic at the possibility of the world being saved by everyone in it learning Tae Kwan Do. To boot, you get to listen to bad optimistic Tae Kwan Do-themed 80s-poptunes performed by the film's terrible cast, and watch diminutive writer/star/TKD guru Y. K. Kim speak in such stilted Engrish that he makes Jackie Chan look like Sir Ralph Richardson by comparison. Go see it immediately if you like that sort of thing AT ALL. Or at least watch the songs on Youtube.
Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck: What's in this film that we haven't seen before from the Cobain story? Some audio clips, footage, interviews....? Guess I'll just take what I can get. Well, there's Kurt's mom and dad, for one. They were very young (18 and 20 respectively) when Kurt was born and were divorced before they were 30. Mom doesn't come across so well, she says "I thought because I liked Don (the father), I loved him" and spouts some stuff later about how she "knew" bad things were in store for Kurt after Nevermind became a success. Dad, meanwhile, is interviewed in the company of his second wife, and is a completely doddering old blank. Kurt's sister is interviewed; I didn't know she had one. Courtney Love is Courtney Love as always; no surprise there, but you also have to see some rather embarrassing home-video footage of Kurt and Courtney raising their daughter. I'm pleased to see Frances Bean Cobain turned out well, since you see Kurt holding her while Courtney cuts her hair and changes her diapers, and Kurt is obviously drugged out of his gourd. You also have to see Courtney flash her drooping ape tits at the camera, replete with gigantic dinner plate sized two-inch nipples. Gag. There's also a dumb Kurt-narrated story about his first sexual encounter, with a retarded heifer girl whose vaginal odor repulsed him. Nice! Oh, the point of the film, aside from all this "new" stuff? Well, I think it's mostly interesting because, without even trying very hard to do so, it makes Kurt look....kind of bad. I guess I can live with that--I still like Nirvana, but had long ago decided that Kurt Cobain, as a person, shouldn't really be much of anyone's hero. So yeah, I guess I can recommend this...
I'm Not Ashamed: I know I just said I was "Columbined out," but this 2016 film is the only feature Columbine has spawned to date, since you technically can't count Elephant (which sucked anyway); it's also the only Christian-studio film I've ever made it all the way through, and probably will remain that way. It's basically weak, but it actually could have been far worse--it's about Rachel Scott, the first Columbine victim (and by now, the most famous, what with the Cassie Bernall story having been debunked) and I was expecting a really awful hagiography. It's actually not that, so it deserves better than one star, and I really hope the actress playing Rachel breaks out of the Christian-movie ghetto since she's actually faintly talented, but I'd never watched a full blown Christian movie before and so the scenes where she has to tell off all of her friends, etc. over minor drinking/sex vices are pretty hilarious (and the Goth makeup on several girls serves as a reminder of how long ago 1999 actually was.) Oh, and the story about the killers asking Cassie Bernall if she believed in God before killing her has now been placed onto film, as happening to Rachel. Whoops.
Not Quite Hollywood: 2008 documentary about the rise and fall (late 60s through late 80s) of Ozploitation (Australian) exploitation films. They look like fun....as a montage of clips, which give you the general idea of what was going on: lots of gratuitous nudity, lots of shots of desert roads with gangs of bikers/tricked-out cars, lots of red-finger-paint gore, and lots of leather-clad dirty biker punks. You can guess yourself what the crazy stories are: drunken stars, stunts performed that could have actually easily killed stuntmen, real biker punks that could have killed people hired to play biker punks who could kill people, and loads of drugs and sex. I hope the people making them enjoyed themselves; aside from a couple of obligatory clips of Walkabout, Mad Dog Morgan and Mad Max, I hadn't even HEARD of any of these movies, let alone seen their moldering corpses in video stores, or even seen them referenced anywhere. That's probably for the better--I bet they're passable fun at best and derivative crap at their frequent worst. Oh! Quentin Tarantino's in it, and doesn't say anything terribly interesting, but just spazzes out like his usual fanboy self.
Pod People (MST3K): This is my 20th MST3K viewed and will probably be my last, unless anyone wants to recommend any I haven't seen. It's about a crappy 80s pop band played by terrible overdubbed Italian actors who encounter an alien in the woods; the alien looks sort of like a midget in an aardvark suit, and befriends a badly falsetto-dubbed little blond boy in an attempt to cash on E. T., which had come out the previous year. You get to watch the cast perform a terrible song, which is always worth it, but that's about all I can claim to like about the movie, on any level. I think what's getting to me is the MST3K guys themselves; this was supposed to be one of their best commentaries, but it's just the usual gaggle of nerd pop culture references! Disappointing.
Pearl Jam, Yield: Huh?!? Were these guys actually getting BETTER towards the middle of the career? In 1998? And people said they tried to be EXPERIMENTAL?!? Because of what--"Red Dot"? The 60s-pop chorus in "Push Me Pull Me"? (Yeah, where were these critics when poor dumb Stone Temple Pilots tried the same thing!!) PMPM is one of the better songs here, but it's just Pearl Jam as usual--this perfectly good album is no more perfectly good or "experimental" or "diverse" than Vitalogy or No Code, so it'd get the same rating. Whatever--I don't give a crap one way or the other if PJ branched out as long as what they were doing was good, and on "Faithful," "Push Me Pull Me," "Pilate" and "Low Light," they were doing fine. "Brain Of J." and "All Those Yesterdays" are songs I'll go to bad for, too. It's a tribute to how little effort I'm putting into actually listening to PJ though that I didn't notice until reading reviews that "Given to Fly" is ripped off directly from "Going To California" by Led Zeppoff themselves.
Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables: Good enough for me. Everyone loves "Kill The Poor," "Holiday In Cambodia," and "California Uber Alles," and so did I. "Drug Me"? Anyone want to stand for that one? I do--great guitar line. Uh, the political sentiments....well, they're what you'd think they are. They're mostly tolerable, but I guess I'm fairly forgiving of stuff like that as long as it doesn't turn into Bikini Kill. Do you think the lyrics to "Holiday In Cambodia" are at least partially meant to deflect criticisms of Jello Biafra himself, that he'd be the same kind of person he's talking about in that song? I hope not, but could be. As for the rest, it's the rest--I forget about the average songs on most albums I listen to as background while browsing, in particular those on punk albums.
Sparks, Hello Young Lovers: It's...another...okayish album. Moderately inspired, with the Maels trying to cross Lil Beethoven with...some Sparks album that's a little less repetitive than LB, I guess. "Baby Baby Can I Invade Your Country" and "As I Sit Down To Play The Organ At The Notre Dame Cathedral" are the big highlights. "Here Kitty" is, uhm, not.
Badfinger, Badfinger: It's a Badfinger album by Badfinger so it's BADFINGER. Meaning I can't talk about it. What do you want from me? "I Miss You" is this cute fluttery opener, "Song For A Lost Friend" does that loud descending Beatles chorus thingy that they rip off so well, "Shine On" is cute country rock, and the rest is....well, it's a bunch of BADFINGER SONGS BY BADFINGER ON BADFINGER. You know the drill! Decent album, but probably nothing I'll ever buy.
Van Halen, Balance: Totally mediocre. Nothing offensive on it at all that I can think of, and Sammy Hagar gets by again with another vocal performance that I don't care about at all, but am not really offended by either, and the songs are all average Van Halen. This would be their weakest album (5150 was Bad 80s alright, but had two or three songs I liked) but I already know Van Halen III sucks worse, so.
Stereolab, Switched On: A 1992 compilation of early 1991 singles/EP thingies, this started off wonderfully with the utterly beautiful "Super-Electric" and "Doubt," then crash landed with the eight minute bore "Contact" and its 16 minute boring bonus track sequel, "Contact + Reverse," which I guess doesn't really count as part of the album. This wasn't shit but I liked Peng! better...