Walter Kirn, Thumbsucker: From 1999, written by the guy who wrote Up in The Air which later became the movie (there's a movie of this too, but God knows if I'm going to be able to find it anywhere.) About a 15-year-old-kid living in the early 80s with a dysfunctional survivalist dad and he has a thumbsucking habit for some reason and he goes through a number of mildly quirky adventures. Not the greatest, but not really full of coming-of-age cliches either, most of the second half of the book is about him failing to follow through on converting to Mormonism, he doesn't really seem like a 15 year old kid (too articulate as usual, which is more of a teen movie problem than a coming-of-age novel problem) and the thumbsucking stuff doesn't have much to do with what happens anyway. I guess Kirn is a decent writer. I kind of picked this book out at random but would not necessarily mind reading more Kirn if someone could recommend it.
John Knowles, A Separate Peace (RE-READ): I guess I've made a "separate peace" with this book, since I used to consider it the worst thing I'd ever read, but upon re-reading it after 20 years or so, it's not really that bad at all. Oh it's still not a particularly great read, but I'd mis-remembered what was wrong with it. In my mind, it took on a kind of vile immorality, about a stupid whiny wuss who jealously injures his golden-boy-jock friend and then mopes about it or something for the rest of the book, then the friend dies and Gene (main character) just decides to move on with his life. ( Actually, Gene isn't terribly "mopey" at all--he's supposed to be an introvert but he hangs out with this jock kid (Phineas) throughout the whole book, and much of the book is about the way people in general remember adolescence, which results in Knowles using a few jillion ethereal paragraphs describing the sky and the trees and the glow and the air and everything about the Ivy League prep school where it takes place, and that starts to feel like a bit of a crutch after awhile. What's really wrong with the book is that you can hear the plot gears grinding, much like Revolutionary Road; Phineas doesn't die because of what Gene does, Gene actually admits to hurting Phineas almost right away (and it's *Phineas* who is in denial about what Gene did), and then Phineas' death is caused by him later accidentally falling down some stairs, and while in the hospital bone marrow flows into his heart and kills him. Derp!!! The book does not have a particularly profound moral (it's better than Beloved, though, I suppose), the World War II backdrop is only used marginally interestingly, but I gotta say, it isn't poorly written for a book aimed at teenagers, it's not homoerotic like I remembered (and I'm not the only one who mis-remembers it that way), it's only 200 pages, and if I wanted real trash about Ivy League prep schools I could go rewatch Dead Poets Society or something. So yeah, the worst books I've read are now cemented as being Atlas Shrugged and I Am Charlotte Simmons. Gee, I sure am glad I did this!!
Candy: 1968 star-studded gonzo sex-comedy farce starring Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Walter Matthau, Ringo Starr (as a Mexican! Hah, hah! And in the same year as "Don't Pass Me By"--what's worse?) James Coburn, and John Huston, and some beautiful Swedish teenager with no talent as the title character, an allusion to Candide. No one acquits themselves terribly well. It's about a total innocent, the girl, who stumbles into a bunch of comic situations where men inevitably lust after her and, er, well, try to rape her. Burton has the funniest scene (drunken Irish poet type with his hair constantly blowing in the wind, even when there's no wind!) but the rest of it devolves into obvious gags, Brando turning up as a long-haired Indian guru in some scene that goes on forever and isn't funny (he later said it was the worst thing he ever did, and probably wasn't trolling us), and then a bunch of psychedelic blowout crap at the end that makes no sense. I watched this on Youtube because of a policy of watching the movie if I read the book, but I'd probably have sought it out anyway, it was a notorious bomb for years. Not really recommended--all I liked besides Burton's hair blowing in the wind was Candy's adorable little "nooooo"s!
The Gold Rush: My first Charlie Chaplin!! I watched the 1942 shortened version before reading a bunch of reviews and finding out that it's usually considered a total abomination by his fans, which is interesting because Chaplin said it was the definitive version! I did watch the original version too (which, on DVD, is a *reconstruction*--so it's a bastardization too!) I guess I'm not really a silent film expert so the differences didn't really mean much to me or bother me. The most entertainment I get out of the film are 1)Chaplin's subtle facial expressions and bits of emotion (like when he's sadly looking out the window while Auld Lang Syne plays), and 2)spotting things that have been referenced a lot, like when the big guy imagines Chaplin's a giant chicken. I liked watching this well enough but other times I have to admit I felt like I was watching a live action Looney Tune, even with Chaplin's noteworthy star power and talent. Have to watch the others, then...
City Lights: ....didn't like this one as much. Okay, yes, yes, the much vaunted ending is pretty touching (and could be read other ways besides the hopeful way--I actually kind of like the idea that the girl and Chaplin have no future together...which is not a reference to Chaplin's skunky personal life, something you'll learn the deatils of pretty quick if you read any Chaplin reviews at all--they ALL mention it!). I didn't get into the boxing scene or any of the seemingly interminable scenes with Chaplin and the rich millionaire and so most of my admiration for this film which EVERYONE utterly loves (I hate it when I'm wrong! I really do!) is historical/academic. I didn't know it took like only one year for "talkies" to completely take over movies so Chaplin was already making a huge risk by doing this in 1931, or that he took three years to make it, or that he had an unnatural degree of control, or that he did 342 takes of one scene--what is he, Kubrick? I'll just keep moving along here...
Edge Of Seventeen: I have to watch a new teen film at least once a decade just to see how the genre has, or hasn't, changed--I doubt I'll ever be as amused by newer teen films as I used to be by the classics (Hughes, Dazed & Confused, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, American Graffiti) but every once in awhile you get a Superbad to give you hope, y'know? So this: It stars Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit as a girl whose...best friend starts sleeping with her brother. She's really precocious, really articulate, totally self-absorbed and whiny, and while that's all probably true to the youth experience even in 2016, the film didn't do anything plot-wise that you haven't seen before. I also wasn't very amused by her scenes with Woody Harrelson, coasting through a role as a teacher that Hailee repeatedly bothers. This gets a neutral rating.
Super Dark Times: This is also a teen film, set in the mid-90s (which mostly results in there not being any social media or cell phones, and a reference to watching True Lies on VHS tape), and concerning a plot about some kids who are goofing around with nothing to do, and accidentally kill their loud, sort of obnoxious friend, and then run around all paranoid trying to cover it up and keep their mouths shut. The "plot" then concerns the friend that accidentally killed the other kid gradually turning into a psycho and possibly killing again--his performance is by far the best in the film. The other good thing about it is the mood--all grey skies, autumnal coldness, sparse atmosphere. That's about it. This gets a neutral rating too, but worth watching once for the mood it sets.
Zoolander: How'd this get such a cult? The character is sort of funny, but the jokes are all mild chuckles at best. Owen Wilson totally coasted through the whole thing, too (couldn't he not have used his usual Texas stoner accent?) I wish Milla Jovovich had been funny, she plays this Russian hitwoman sidekick b###h clad in a catsuit and she does these horrible constipated facial expressions the whole way through--I'd never seen her like that before. Funniest gag: Zoolander says he has a disorder where he can't turn left, Christine Taylor tries to comfort him by saying lots of people probably have that problem, then corrects herself when she realizes that probably only Zoolander has the problem. You all probably saw this film years ago, I was scared off at the time by the bad reviews it got. It's no classic and I'm skipping the sequel--I must have subliminally decided a very long time ago that Stiller is far better at small doses and cameos than full movies.
Jethro Tull, War Child: Overproduced bombastic crap. Ian Anderson trying too f***ing hard. Strings, accordions, horns, saxes, weirdo percussion, sound effects, comedy bits, all splattered messily and loudly onto a bunch of non-prog (fine) but totally typically Tull songs (not so fine). I'd already heard the two best songs on a compilation ("Bungle In The Jungle" and "Skating Away On The Thin Ice On The New Day") and even those weren't Godlike or anything. I've already forgotten the others. Didn't care for the bonus tracks either. Had I been a prog fan in 1974 I probably would have happily joined the throngs of critics who abhorred Jethro Tull if I didn't already know that critics abhorred Jethro Tull from day one! I also have a strong feeling that I'm going to get very sick, very soon, of hearing Ian-san delicately sing his airs over gently strummed high acoustic guitar notes, and I can't even remember which songs here he did that on, besides "Skating Away."
The Church, Starfish: The band's 1988 commercial high point, which they apparently hated recording (they went to LA to do it and supposedly didn't care for the smog, or something), and which they "achieved" by...subtracting the R. E. M. guitar-jangle (which they were doing before R. E. M. anyway!) and major-key "60s" brightness along with it, resulting in them sounding like Anonymous Mainstream Downcast Nondescript Everyband, Circa 1988. If you know any Church song, it's probably "Under The Milky Way," which is initially not very distinguished (sounds like The Cure's "Lovesong" without the church organ, no pun intended) but gradually turns out, in its own downcast way, to be the second best thing here. The best? A little-known song called "North, South, East, And West" which does this kind of aggressive, despondent minor-key melody and then almost destroys it with this nagging hammering lead-guitar line which keeps see-sawing over the entire song, driving you nuts but also making the song perversely memorable. Oh, and "Reptile," a fast, also minor-key song towards the end, stands out. The rest, not so much. I think I'm going to go backwards with the Church discography instead of forwards, which would force me to listen to like 20 recent albums anyway.
Aztec Camera, Stray: Proto-Britpop? Is Roddy Frame considered a forefather of Blur and Oasis? You can't really tell how old he was at the time (25) and you REALLY can't tell what year this came out from listening to it (1990) and he tries a number of song stylings on it, but what I'm going to remember are the proto-Britpop-sounding tunes "The Crying Scene" and "Good Morning Britain," which are the best songs here, and the latter spawned a cute video with Frame duelling with Mick Jones from the Clash. Elsewhere you get a Stonesy rawker ("How It Is") that doesn't at all beat the Stones, and two incredibly boring, never-ending jazz ballads, "Over My Head" and "Stray." And some other genres. Gotta give Roddy Frame credit for trying different things (since he was critically thrashed over repeating his debut album with Knife in 1984, right? Right?) but I'll just end up repeating what everyone else ever has said: nothing he did will ever beat High Land, Hard Rain.
The Chameleons, What Does Anything Mean? Basically - This 1985 followup to the somewhat acclaimed 1983 goth-mope "classic" Script Of The Bridge boasts similar cover art, similar songs, similar production, and an absolutely godawful album title. I liked SOTB and I guess I'll take what is essentially a slightly more major-key carbon copy, but I also gotta say that this band's albums are sort of excruciating if not played as background noise--POUND POUND POUND on your EARS EARS EARS with the constant tribal four four and distortion pedals and echoey guitars and minor key melodies, and they just end up getting away with doing the same thing over and over for 50+ minutes. Does anyone here listen to them? Again I don't dislike these guys but I'm probably talking to the ether here.
Stereolab, Margerine Eclipse: "Vonal Declosion" and "Need To Be" are really nice tunes! I couldn't tell you why! They're Stereolab tunes! I don't know how to describe a Stereolab tune in a way that would differentiate it for you! They didn't break any new ground on this album! They probably didn't intend to! Critics were mostly nice to it anyway, with only some of them admitting that it was just Stereolab being Stereolab yet again! Oh wait--this was the first album after the backing-vocals girl got run over while riding her bike! That's the historical footnote for this album! Death! I write this same paragraph every time I review Stereolab! You don't care! Do they have any albums left? I think I'd be fine with stopping here! I probably won't! I'm f***ing autistic! I'm turning into Trung! What does GREENBERG think!?!?
The National, High Violet: This got a lot of critical press, like 8 years ago, but no one here ever talks about it, so I listened. I liked it--a bit melodramatic and heaving (can't wait for the George reviews! He'll hate this!) , but I dig the Michael Gira-style vocals! So gimme your sobbing self-important epic drabberies like "Anyone's Ghost" and "Little Faith" and "Bloodbuzz, Ohio" and "Afraid Of Everyone"--I'm not ashamed to like melodramatic indie-rock epics!! I don't know the names of any band members or their history at all so I'll just say that I'll gladly listen to more The National in the future.
The Arcade Fire, Funeral (PURCHASE/RELISTEN): Did I just say I wasn't ashamed to like melodramatic epics? Yeah, that's mostly true--but in this case, only "Rebellion (Lies)" and whatever the song right before it is called. The one with the high flutey noises electronically floating through it. The rest is just too damn dramatic for me now, especially the album opener and closer--I recalled liking this a lot back in 2004, but it's a young man's album. Not a stupid one, mind you--they obviously put a lot of work into it. But its time for me, has sadly passed, and now you can all look at me the same way you did when George and Mark trashed Neutral Milk Hotel.
NP: Slick Rick - "Children's Story" (listen to his British accent disappear throughout the song)