Don DeLillo, Americana (RE-READ): I reread this one year to the month after my original reading, because I'd paid for a copy of it and I don't like to have books sitting around collecting dust, and because the whole thing was such a blur that I'd basically forgotten all of it...which I'll probably do a second time as well. It's still the closest thing DeLillo has to a gem in his early years, because the rapid-fire jokes are pretty funny, and it's aged better than, say, psychedelic films from the time period. I just wish I could remember the names of any of his characters in the book. Come to think of it, I could barely do that after Underworld.
Ian Fleming, Casino Royale: I know I've said in the past that Fleming basically sucks and is dated and crappy, and that his books could easily be forgotten, and that some of the racism/sexism stuff in the books are embarrassing even though I generally try to let stuff like that slide, but I had to satisfy my curiosity about the very beginnings of James Bond, and I heard this was a lot different than either movie, so I blew threw this pretty quickly. It's a little better written than From Russia With Love or Goldfinger, but most of the tension comes from gambling scenes, and even then not all that much. Le Chiffre only sort of registers as a nefarious villain. Bond is a cold bitter dick, but I think I already knew the books had him that way. I didn't detect any ugly racism like when Fleming trashed Koreans in Goldfinger, but the treatment of Vesper Lynd has to be read to be believed--off of the top of my head I can't remember a more misogynistic treatment of a female lead in anything. She goes from being an annoyance to Bond (who muses on how he wishes women would just stay home), to being a potential rape victim who gets Bond nearly killed (and Bond does get his nuts whipped just like in the 2006 movie), to being a lover that Bond can't get a grip on, to being a traitorous double agent who kills herself, to being the final line of the book, "This is Bond. The b*tch is dead." Holeee....
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited: I didn't like this much, except for the early parts and the very end of the book. I'm having a hard time putting my finger on why--I liked the other Waugh that I read (Scoop, Vile Bodies, and A Handful Of Dust, which does the whole "dying embers of the British Empire" metaphor thing better than this book does) and I've done okay, at least sometimes, with books set in British eras/milieux that I knew little about going in (Under The Net, Lucky Jim.) But a lot of this was just felt long-winded and dull, and I could feel the places where satire was taking place, but with the satire going over my head. I liked the depiction of the protagonist's college years, and I did pick up on the gay subtext, but Sebastian Flyte, the book's most interesting character, leaves the scene far too early, and then we have the long winded adult-affair stuff for what seems like forever until the book's surprisingly powerful final scenes, where Waugh turns into Graham Greene and gets all Catholic on our asses, concerning the death of Lord Marchmain. That was terrific stuff--why couldn't the whole book have been like that? I don't feel like a re-read, either. Anyone want to shoot me down over this?
Newtown: A brief documentary on the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, getting to the point, not mentioning the killer, Adam Lanza by name (fine, I guess--there's some creepy footage of the inside of his home) and just showing us some interviews with victims' families. Sad enough. I'm not sure why I watched this, it was sort of on a whim--it did direct me to some of the online conspiracy theories, which are so godawful and ugly that they kind of make me with the Internet had never been invented, but I know better.
Gimme Danger: Jim Jarmusch' perfunctory, straightforward documentary detailing the brief career and reunion of The Stooges, whom I like enough to feel like I shouldn't avoid a documentary about them (still haven't seen Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage!) Not bad for what it is, but it's better left to people who are new to the Stooges--there's almost nothing about the band's history that I couldn't learn from reading the liner notes to their CD reissues, which I've done several times, although I didn't know about Scott Asheton having to move back in with his mom after Raw Power bombed. Some details, like the Bowie mixing controversy, are mostly left out, as is, well, Iggy's entire solo career. And of course, the sad reminder that everyone except Iggy and James Williamson is dead now, and Iggy looks surprisingly good for a 70 year old man who lived one of the druggiest and most debauched lives in rock history.
After Last Season: This 2009 "film" was making the rounds awhile back as another Movie So Amateurishly Bad That Everyone Ever Should Laugh At It, like The Room or Troll 2, but I'm saying you should skip it. It's about super-amateur actors playing people who are doing psychic mind melds to solve a murder (?!?) or, uh, something, and it looks like it was filmed in a dirty warehouse being renovated, and it's periodically interrupted by bits of computer animation that would have looked old in 1985. Nothing too hilarious, really. Skip.
Sicario: Somebody here (Alpha Hammer?) really loved this and I think that's when I decided I needed to start watching all of Denis Villeneuve's movies in preparation for this Blade Runner 2049 thing. It's VERY well shot, and several moments are really powerful, but I wasn't really surprised by much of anything that happens in it--sudden random shootouts, horribly gruesome discoveries, totally heartless murders of innocent people, a cynical apocalypse-now outlook covering everything, total injustice, corrupt cops, "this war will never be won," total American-government arrogance, tragedy, blood, the desert, etc. The problem is that every Villeneuve movie seems to crash to some extent in its final act--Prisoners grew too convoluted, Enemy was too abstract, Arrival turned into Interstellar--and in this one the whole thing just ends up being "Benicio Del Toro is a psycho." Oh, sure, Del Toro gives a great performance, and you knew the Emily Blunt character was going to end up going through hell, but that's really all that the movie ends up going for--"Benicio Del Toro has lost his mind." Watch out for several Breaking Bad people--Brock's in there at the end, as are the two guys who Jesse was going to kill at the end of "Half Measures."
Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson. Get your forks out, it's time to eat some ham. Fair enough--the real Desmond Doss' story is pretty mind blowing as it is, in fact some people are claiming it's even more stupefying than what we see on screen here. I was prepared for a totally saintly protagonist, I was prepared for a Norman Rockwell depiction of Doss' Appalachian home life full of Australian actors doing their best with Virginia accents, I was prepared for Christ and salvation, I was prepared for a who-gives-a-f*** depiction of the Japanese, I was prepared for the bloodiest battle scenes you could possibly imagine, I was prepared for male butt cheeks on screen, and I was prepared for unintentional hilarity when Vince Vaughn shows up to play a drill sergeant ("You look half Indian--YOU WAGON! BURNING! SON OF A b###h!!!!") The movie's most effective parts, then, are when Andrew Garfield, as Doss, is still in training, and the military has to find out that he really does believe in his pacifism. What he has to go through in these scenes has more stake and substance than the exploding-head-count battle scenes, which I'm afraid come across like Mel Gibson has been playing too much Call Of Duty (a seemingly dead guy suddenly busts up out of the ground and screams "AAAHHHHHH!" in a guy's face.) Three stars for this ham sandwich and get me that ham on rye next time, Mad Mel.
Black Mass: Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. Do what I did, go to Metacritic, read the reviews, and see how quickly you lose count of how many of them spend at least two paragraphs whining about Depp's makeup job in this movie, and take a shot of whiskey every time one of them claims that he looked like a zombie or ghoul. It's not a bad movie, and I don't really give a crap about the inaccuracies, and I can give or take the obligatory (and widely varied) Baaahh-ston accents (Benedict Cumberbatch's is the funniest)--that's a great cast that showed up for this one, too. It's just that it's not really going to give GoodFellas or, duh, The Departed any run for its money. Best scene: Depp-as-Bulger tries to intimidate Joel Edgerton's wife, creepily (this follows a scene that every review immediately noted rips off the "I'm funny how?" Joe Pesci bit.) Worst scene: Depp kills Juno Temple, as a prostitute--you can see it coming three hundred miles away.
Joe: The 1970 John G. Avlidsen angry-white-guy classic, starring Peter Boyle (shockingly, he was the same age I am now--the total baldness made him look older) in a great performance as the title character, a right wing bigot who loudly hates everybody and takes to violence against some scummy drug dealers and, er, Susan Sarandon, who was about 23 when this was filmed and comes across, weirdly, like the bug-eyed waifish redhead precursor to Sissy Spacek more than anything else. Boyle isn't the main character, though--that's Dennis Patrick as Bill, an upper-class businessman type who loses his shit and kills a scummy hippie drug dealer that his daughter, Sarandon, is sleeping with. Then, Bill meets Joe in a bar, confesses what he did, and earns Joe's admiration before the two team up, hypocritically take drugs and engage in an "or-gee," then go to the drug dealers' commune and blow a bunch of hippies away. The movie hates Joe completely--it's really a Sam Peckinpah-ish code-of-honor thing about how Bill, spurred on by Joe, tries to become manly enough to the point where he blows his own daughter away at the end of the movie. In that way, it's actually better than Straw Dogs, which did far more to stack the deck than this movie does, although that movie is probably better at making one angry. (It should be noted that the movie does not depict the hippies sympathetically at all, and the orgy scene interestingly predates Travis Bickle's own hypocrisy.) The movie has not aged poorly in terms of style, IMO, although you *can* tell it's from 1970. I don't know that I'll revisit it though.
FFS, FFS: Am I wrong in guessing this is more S than FF? I'm filing it under "Sparks" in my mind. The Mael brothers strike yet again, coming up with yet another successful reinvention of their sound, although I just think it's an okay album, much like I only though Lil Beethoven was okay, once the effect wore off. Terse catchy pop sounds abound, but only two or three classics to be found: uh, let's see here..."Johnny Delusional" and, oh, say, "Save Me From Myself" and "Collaborations Don't Work" are probably the best. I'm not really sure what the Franz Ferdinand guys are really contributing here, as all I really know by them are "Take Me Out" and Mark Prindle violently hating them. Ken, get with the exegesis here, I don't have much to say, but I liked it!
Aztec Camera, Knife: I was expecting diminishing returns here from the masterful High Land, Hard Rain, and I got exactly what I was expecting--this album gets a B and I'll probably never return to it except for two or three songs. One is the keyboard-heavy "Still On Fire," another is the 8 minute drone of the title track, which EVERY review of this that I could find hatefully trashed (George in particular--the AMG review said that the album was trashed in 1984, too, but I could only find a wiffly old Rolling Stone review to back that up.) I dunno--the song goes absolutely nowhere, but it's glorious as background music! The keyboards aren't as awful as George's review would have you believe, either--this isn't Power Windows, for God's sake! It's no lost classic of an album though.
Badfinger, Airwaves: Tom Evans and Joey Molland get back together with some new guitarist guy, call themselves Badfinger, and write 31 piffly minutes of totally acceptable, harmless Badfinger songs, which sound like...a bunch of Badfinger songs yet again, sugary harmonies and descending-Beatles-chord-sequences abound, and leaving me with nothing to write, except that "Sail Away" at the end is the best song, making me think they already had a song called "Sail Away" as you knew they would--oh wait, no, they had a song predictably titled "Shine On." Duh. Oh, and the first song on the album sounds like they'd been listening to their disciples, Cheap Trick, producing one of those master-imitates-the-apprentice effects, except that Cheap Trick were better than Badfinger. The album is listenable but only as memorable as every other Badfinger album, Straight Up aside. I have yet to dislike a Badfinger album, but I'm seriously looking forward to being done with their discography.
Wild Nothing, Gemini: This 2010 debut album isn't as good as Wild Nothing's near stunning followup, 2012's Nocturne, but it's still probably a must for anyone who pines for the glory days of dreamy 80s wuss-rock music, like the Cure, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, etc. "O Lilac," "Summer Days" and "Chinatown" are the best songs, if you care--there aren't a lot of reviews of this out there, but there were a lot of the superior Nocturne--hey, I'm glad there's at least ONE of these twee little indie wuss bands I'm into, now that I'm basically embarrassed to have cared about the Decemberists. (Actually, the band is just one guy, Jack Tatum of Blacksburg, Virginia.)
Van Halen, Van Halen III: It's their worst album, which you already probably knew if you knew anything about it, so duh. Gary Cherone was a bad fit for the band, singing just like boring ol' Sammy, but more annoyingly so, because Sammy, much as everyone hates him, didn't sing like he was straining his bowels, which Cherone very much does. Cherone isn't really what sinks this album, though--it's just that this album, more than any other I can easily remember, epitomizes CD-Era Aging Dinosaur Band Bloat. It's 65 minutes of painfully mediocre music, and a teen power pop favorite like Van Halen should never make a 65 minute album. I *think* I like "Dirty Water Dog," and the strange Eddie-sung piano tune "How Many Say I" at the end is just kind of a strange curio and not the disaster that every critic pinned it as, but you'll forget all the rest of it--Van Halen's Union, if not as awful as that one.
Stereolab, Fab Four Suture: A 52-minute collection of 2005-06 singles. This sounds closer to 60s happy-pop elevator-music than Krautrock or Velvet Underground drone, though it still drones. "Plastic Mile" and "Get A Shot Of The Refrigerator" are the best songs. An okay, but not great album. I don't know how to write about Stereolab. Kill me.