George R. R. Martin, A Game Of Thrones: This is, in book form, an EXACT DUPLICATE, almost, of the first season of the HBO show. I mean, like, nearly EXACT. I was shocked at first to find out the young ages of the characters in the book, which make a lot of this sadder (Danaerys = 13, Jon Snow = 14, Sansa and Joffrey= 12, etc.) But that really does seem to be the only key difference; I'm rewatching the show and have now seen the first season twice, and I'm really not spotting a single major difference between the first ten episodes of the show and this book. The problem, then, is GRRM as a writer.....he isn't a hack, but his chief strengths are weaving his big plots together and his penchant for sudden shocking tragedies. As a prose stylist, I'm afraid he's only a couple rungs up the ladder from Theodore Dreiser in terms of defining the word "workmanlike." I mean, I'm grateful he's not a blubberer like Stephen King at his worst, and the story does merit 683 pages, and he's not completely graceless, but...look, it's hard to describe, but I'll start with the fact that the guy uses the word "said" 50 times in every conversation like kids are told not to when they write papers in grade school. Do you remember that? I do. At any rate, I am continuing to read through these, and A Clash Of Kings, the second book, isn't any better; at one point Arya thinks to herself "you stupid stupid stupid STUPID!" in response to one of her friends getting killed. Yiiiii.
Neal Stephenson, The Big U (RE-READ): I have strange memories of getting this (along with A Trick Of The Tail) as a birthday present exactly 10 years ago, since I couldn't find any copy of it available in libraries. What I don't have: any memory whatsoever of what actually happened in the book, only that its protagonist was a 30 year old junior named "Casimir Radon." Upon re-reading it, I had good reason for that: the only good thing in the book is the setup, which starts out as a satire of college life at a fictional "Megaversity" based on Stephenson's time at Boston U, with all offices, classes and dorms set in a single giant building called "the Plex." That could've been good, but it devolves into weakly plotted satire of partying and sex habits and then devolves further into an overblown "real life" D&D game with people fighting giant rats and "Croatobaltislavonians" in sewers under the campus, none of it terribly good. Stephenson, who was 25 when he wrote this debut novel, is not proud of the book and only brought it back into print because he didn't like the idea of people paying thousands of dollars for copies on eBay. Honestly, it isn't worth whatever it's going for nowadays either. Will I give this a second anniversary re-read in 2030? Hayeeellll no.
King Frat: A disgusting fart/piss/belch filled grossout comedy from 1979 that rips off entire scenes, shots, lines and characters wholesale from Animal House, my all time favorite movie, which is the only reason I could ever watch this. Prindle talked about it on his Facebook as the grossest movie he'd ever seen. It's just really lame and stupid, skip it.
Parasite: I'm on the fence about this, and seeing other Bong Joon-ho films (did I place the hyphen right?) might help. It has GOT to be the weirdest choice for a Best Picture winner I could think of--not just because it's a foreign film, not because of the weird dark/satirical tone, not just because of the subject matter, not just because it's pretty hard to follow--all those things, too, but because I'm uncertain, even after reading so many glowing reviews, what's hooking everyone on it. The best things about it, I think, are the way the house is used as a setting, and that BJH skillfully makes the story unfold in a reasonably interesting way. I'm not quite as fascinated by the smaller details as a lot of other people seem to be and some of this is lost in translation for me, as I've seen few Korean films. I think the thing I liked the least was the last 10-15 minutes or so, which just seemed ironic in a way that left little interesting resolution to the plot and didn't affect me very well emotionally either; it just came across as weird. I will state that one thing that crosses cultural lines--for me, anyway--is the treatment of the rich family: I get this impression that they're supposed to be snobby, out-of-touch, naive, etc. etc., but as with a lot of other works that bash the rich, it just doesn't seem like they're really such bad people or particularly deserving of a bad fate. You tell me!
Wise Guys: Found a very cheap copy of this at a used DVD place (yes, they still exist!) and watched it because I wanted to see every Brian De Palma film. It's a very generic, weak Danny DeVito/Joe Piscopo buddy Mafia crime comedy of the non-edgy, not-very-funny sort that probably filled in late hours on HBO for many years following its 1986 release. I can't name a single joke in the film that really works that well anyway. De Palma himself seems to have little to say about the film today (he made it quickly to get something out for some reason I can't remember, between Body Double and The Untouchables) and his usual bag of tricks is deployed sparingly and probably wouldn't have helped the film rise above mediocrity anyway. Spoilers: don't be a Brian De Palma completist. I doubt he'd want you to watch this one these days anyway and frankly I'm surprised it was even reissued.
In The Heat Of The Night: I picked up a Criterion edition of 1967's Best Picture winner (with great Criterion cover art, beautifully updating the style of the movie's great original poster) and pretty much everything about it is wonderful, except for one thing. Poitier (pathetically not nominated for Best Actor, which went to Steiger) and Steiger (40 when the movie filmed but somehow looking 59) are both terrific, the cinematography does a beautiful job of evoking steaming hot Southern small-town nights circa 1965, the opening sequence is a glorious setup, the dialogue is mostly good, and the relationship between the two central characters and everything around them is delineated wonderfully, and the ending is great because Poitier and Steiger still don't really see eye-to-eye, the movie just has them making baby steps! So what's the big flaw? Well, it's pretty glaring: the resolution of the central murder mystery is 90 percent meaningless and one hundred percent lame, there's little reason I can think of for anyone to give a crap who killed that rich guy when it's finally revealed and why (it's also the only part of the movie with lame dialogue, with that teenage girl trying to sound sultry as she explains herself to the cops.) Oh, and Warren Oates is third billed but not used very interestingly, or even all that much, which sucks because I really like him. So yeah, while I'm glad I picked this film up, The Graduate and Bonnie & Clyde remain the best films of 1967.
Tenet: I didn't hate this, but it's honestly just Inception with a new cast and "dreams" swapped out with "moving backwards through time" and I don't even really feel like watching it a second time. And it's still a weaker movie than Inception, because I felt like thinking about that movie's dream-layering schtick for a couple minutes, whereas I will spend NO minutes attempting to figure out the rules and regulations regarding the time-travel silliness in this movie, and from a quick glance around the Internet, this is the case for most Nolan fans as well, in part because social distancing successfully kept most people away from the movie. The other part of that is that anyone who isn't a nerd hell bent on minutely breaking down how everything will work in such a movie will pretty quickly realize it's just an excuse to have action sequences (at least two of which pitifully recall Inception's "gravity fight" bit) where people run past explosions that are going back into the ground and buildings that are magically reassembling back together. I didn't hate Kenneth Branagh as the bad guy either, but I think Nolan should drop ever using "Russian goons" ever again. John David Washington does okay but his tailored beard looks like a scouring pad. The sound mix is awful--you often can't hear what people are saying for some reason, Ludwig Goransson's (sic?) score is no improvement over Hans Zimmer's bombast, and action scenes have so many cracking noises popping at your ears from all sides that I wondered if the brown noise had been slipped in there somewhere. This is the first Nolan flop and I don't think it's going to have much of a shelf life.
Under The Silver Lake: If it weren't for the godawful Nicolas Cage film Mandy, this would rate as the worst David Lynch knockoff I've ever seen. It's David Robert Mitchell's followup to It Follows, but that film used an unnervingly original visual style and strong shot compositions to make you forget that it was riffing on John Carpenter. That has almost been completely washed away; all we get here is nightmarish Mulholland Drive Lite, right down to a cameo from Patrick Fischler, the guy who knew the bum was hiding behind Winkie's. Unfortunately, whereas that film gave lots of excellent David Lynch scenes and a nice mystery to piece together, this is just a lengthy, dreary tribute to its own pop-culture meaninglessness. Andrew Garfield deploys his considerable talents to play the single most post-modern nihilistic empty loser in movie history that I know of, a guy so lonely, vapid, meaningless and creepy that he makes Travis Bickle look like Dwight Eisenhower by comparison. He is unemployed and wanders around staring at girls and trying to piece together meaningless "clues" to a lame mystery that eventually involves, among other things, hobo code, a stupid Goth-rock band, and the first issue of Nintendo Power. (This does not stop him from inexplicably having sex with three gorgeous women in the movie.) There are only two scenes in the movie worth watching and I'll spoil them for you now: 1)Garfield meets an old creep at a piano who has written every hit song in history, and gets so incensed over learning this horrible fact that he bashes the guy's head in with a guitar, which cracks open like Faces Of Death; 2)Garfield confronts the lead singer of the Goth rock band on the toilet and beats the crap out of him, as he whimpers like a 10 year old boy "why are you hitting meee?" This movie will probably not find its cult audience, just like the similar story of Southland Tales 14 years ago, another overblown auteur fantasy movie you've probably already forgotten all about, and to which UTSL was sadly repeatedly compared.
The Song Remains The Same: Opinions of this seem to be all over the place, both in terms of the actual performance quality to how it fits into the Zeppelin legend, which is to say not very well. I recall more negative opinions than positive ones, which is why I'm only just now seeing this (I was previously only familiar with the "No Quarter" and "Moby Dick" segments) in spite of having been a Zeppelin fan for 20 years; hell, they're the band that got me into rock music! The band themselves don't like it, having described it as a compromise (I didn't know it was a bastardization with parts being filmed on a soundstage later on by a different director!) and I think the other part of the reason I stayed away for this long is that I'm not really wild about classic era live Zeppelin, due to the drug-addled improvising, Robert Plant messiness (yep, he apparently lobbied to get "anybody remember laughter?" removed) and 29 minute song lengths. I've heard the performing here described as sloppy but that isn't really what comes to mind; I think it's okay but I know I'm not wild about the 27 minute "Dazed & Confused" which seems like they slapped a bunch of unrelated other songs into a medley with the real D&C, one of which is, uh, that "be sure to wear flowers in your hair" hippie song, for some...reason. Most people also hate the fantasy sequences, with Plant's "knight" fantasy deservedly being singled out as lame. We also get Peter Grant as a 30s gangster killing people for some reason at the beginning, and then Grant fighting with hucksters backstage and inspiring the Ian Faith scenes in This Is Spinal Tap. One viewing of this will probably suffice for me.
The Kinks, Preservation Act 2: Looking back through every record I've ever heard, I don't think I can easily recall a time I've ever felt sorrier for any rock hero than I've felt for Ray Davies upon hearing this album. If you don't know the story, Ray Davies had a breakdown onstage in 1973 (yelling at the audience that he was "sick of the whole f***ing thing"), his wife took his children and left him, and he released this 67-minute double album, the second part of a rock opera that nobody, fans or critics, seemed to like at all, and it didn't sell worth a crap. So yeah, a real low point, and here's the kicker: he still seems totally f***ing motivated to do the whole damn thing and see it through. Davies certainly can't be accused of lacking for energy or not trying very hard to see this mess through, and as such I'm going to have to say this is slightly better than both their last two albums, even if it's not really terribly good by itself. I dunno, I did like "He's Evil," "When A Solution Comes," "Scrapheap City," and small handful of others ("Mirror Of Love" seemed to get singled out as good but I'm not sure why.) The "announcements" are lame and if I never actually learned what the plot to the whole thing was I wouldn't die unhappy, but if anyone else would like to mention if they too cared for a few tunes on this album, be sure to tell me. Because I felt really sorry for Ray, man.
The Flaming Lips, American Head: I wanted to like this more than their last two albums, because the ballads on those albums, like "How?" and "Mouth Of The King" and "How Can A Head" were all still really great, easily the highlights of Oczy Mlody and King's Mouth--"proving that's the one thing the Lips can still do!"--and now here we have an entire album of wistful Flaming Lips ballads. Why, it should be a total return to form, right? Well...as it turns out, no, because it's like eating an entire cake made of just frosting and you just feel sort of gooey and sick at the end from how sugary it all is, so it's not really better than those previous two. I mean, the Lips have pulled off entire albums of "sugar" before....but this time, they're not "innovating" any more, which always seemed to be the one thing you could count on them to do, even when it was just a gummy fetus. Here's a trick: go read any review, or all of the reviews (only 21 at Metacritic this time) and see how many of the reviews even mention Steven Drozd, who is still writing 70-90% of the music (right?) You'll find little--the reviewers gave up on discussing wistful Flaming Lips ballads and all talked about Wayne's silly Tom Petty-themed lyrical concept! I did like "Will You Return/When You Come Down," "At The Movies On Quaaaludes," and "Flowers Of Neptune 6" but God help me I couldn't tell you what makes these wistful ballads better than all the other wistful ethereal ballads, and I frankly don't want to hear Wayne Coyne discussing drugs on every other song either. Keep going Lips, you've earned the goodwill to do so, but you gotta keep trying new stuff, too.
Van Der Graaf Generator, Still Life: This basically sucked just like Godbluff sucked, but I'm glad I heard it because it came up with one really good song, "Pilgrims," the opener, which has this neat thing where two stalwart organ chords repeat over and over while Peter Hammill does his usual schtick, but it works for his usual schtick really well. On that one song. The rest is the usual pile of musically uninteresting dank sax organ theatrical crud. I'll probably never listen to this ever again.
Wilco, Wilco (The Album): I was wrong--Sky Blue Sky, strong little album that it was, wasn't where the critics decided to stop fawning over Wilco, it was *this* album, because it's as nondescript as its title (and cover art--what does a camel wearing a little party hat have to do with anything?) It's actually a harmless, decent little album, but that's just it: I can't see anyone caring to write much about it, which was not really true of any other Wilco album up to that point, so what you get if you go read the reviews from back in 2009 amount to "oh, okay, Wilco are just putting out normal plain albums now. Uh...sure!" It also doesn't stick to any one general style. I liked "You And I," "You Never Know," "I'll Fight" and "Everlasting Everything" a lot, but don't feel like talking about why. They're just good Wilco songs! Do ya care, braahhhh?
Queen, The Game: This is okay, I guess, slightly better than the previous two or three, but still not great. Queen cut their hair a bit, and were diversifying their sound a little more and being a little less bombastic and segueing into the 1980s fairly nicely, but the only *great* song for me here is "Sail Away Sweet Sister," the rare great deep cut from Queen. I don't really know why, either. "Play The Game," "Dragon Attack" and "Another One Bites The Dust" are good to hear too, but "Don't Try Suicide" is just weird and silly, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" is cornball retro rock and I REALLY don't get why we needed to hear them do a Boston knockoff with a generic title ("Need Your Loving Tonight")--what the eff guys?
The Beach Boys, M. I. U. Album: Bleurgggh. Nearly worthless. I like Dennis Wilson's "My Diane" and don't hate that disco song at the end as much as most critics did, but the rest of this is just more 15 Big Ones style crap--and at 32 minutes long, it's not just bad but in such small portions! They can't even do my favorite 50s number ("Come Go With Me") right, and what were they thinking with "Peggy Sue"?!? Screw this album!!!
My Bloody Valentine, The New Record By My Bloody Valentine EP: History in the making: this four-song 1986 EP, still featuring the original lineup, is the first time MBV ever used white noise, coating the background of their already poorly-recorded lo-fi tunes with that "glass run through a table saw" white noise blast from Jesus & Mary Chain's Psychocandy. The songs are 60s pop style nuggets recorded lo-fi (no more Birthday Party/Lux Interior sounding stuff), so if you want GBV crossed with JMC maybe you'll like this! I liked "Lovelee Sweet Darlene" and "We're So Beautiful."
My Bloody Valentine, Sunny Sundae Smile EP: Same style as TNRBMBV, same number of songs (four). "Paint A Rainbow" and the title track stand out. You don't HAVE to hear these MBV EPs (and they still don't really sound like their great later albums much at all) but they're not bad while they're on, and in such small portions too!
NP: Bjork - "Unison"