George R. R. Martin, A Storm Of Swords: I guess this will probably be the best of the series; the first book had the freshest approach, but this, the third, has the best-known scenes from what went on to be seasons 3 and 4 of Game Of Thrones. The Red Wedding, Tyrion on trial, Oberyn Martell vs. Gregor Clegane, Joffrey's poisoning, yep, they're all here. I am, however, getting extremely tired of hearing about 1)rape and 2)characters' infamous reputations being repeated ad nauseam infinitum. Jamie's the Kingslayer, Tyrion is an imp, Jon Snow's a bastard, Brienne is ugly. I'm nearly finished with the fourth book now, which diverges from the show a great deal, so maybe this is a last hurrah.
Wiener-Dog: I'm not really an aficionado of Todd Solondz, but I do have Welcome To The Dollhouse and about a fourth of this movie is devoted to revisiting the characters of Dawn Wiener and the kid who bullied her, now played by Greta Gerwig and Kieran Culkin, which is the only real reason I watched this, and I'm mostly sorry I did. There's a scene at the end of the movie featuring Ellen Burstyn as a miserable old woman who hates her drug-addled daughter and she's visited by a hallucinatory chorus of identical little red-haired girls who tell her things like "I'm you if you learned to love other people!" and "I'm you if you learned to forgive your mother!" in the saddest sing-songy voice imaginable, at which point Burstyn begins weeping and they tell her that now she's going to die. It's BRUTAL--an utterly masterful scene of blackly comic irony, and it's the only reason this puddle of fish guts doesn't get a zero, because the rest of it is just tacky-cutesy 90s indie-comedy getting old and marching morosely to its grave. Here's what else Solondz has to offer us: a camera panning across piles and piles of dog diarrhea, the same "doooo....dooo" musical cue being used over and over in repeated succession, a married couple with Down's syndrome, and Danny DeVito as an aging film professor being mocked by a former student. It's also about a dog, or a series of dogs, and you won't care.
Tender Mercies: It's pretty funny to think that Robert Duvall won Best Actor back in 1983 for this film, as his performance is the polar opposite of that year's best-remembered performance (Pacino in Scarface.) Duvall plays a broken-down alcoholic country singer so sad, quiet and borderline monosyllabic who tries to get his act back together, and almost nothing really even happens in the movie, which I gather either isn't really remembered, or is only looked up these days by people watching every Oscar-winning performance, like me, since director Bruce Beresford doesn't exactly seem to have gone down in history as an "auteur." That performance is of a piece with the film, which is so quiet that one critic (and there aren't many--less than 50 external IMDb reviews, and only Ebert really seems to love the thing) said it was acclaimed by critics for the same reason a teacher might love a child that never speaks or even raises his hand in class. The film would probably qualify as Hallmark channel stuff at best today; there is only one mildly loud or melodramatic scene in the whole film, near the end, but Duvall responds to even that with almost nothing to say. I didn't hate this film but I'm probably only going to remember it for being the quietest serious drama I've ever sat through.
Ishtar: There's one funny joke in this legendary 1987 flop: Warren Beatty pronouncing the word "schmuck" as "smuck," and then Dustin Hoffman corrects him, and tries to get him to say it again, and Beatty says "smuck" again. I swear to God, there are more funny jokes in f***ing Beverly Hills Ninja...and God knows how this thing was one of the most expensive films ever made (between $36 and $55 million) in 1987, and I'm saying that after having actually looked up the stories myself. What's even stranger is that the film--which is Spies Like Us if it were written by a semi-retarded 12 year old who had done nothing but watch cancelled 1980s sitcoms his entire life--has a LOT of defenders, most of whom seem to hatch overblown conspiracy theories about director Elaine May being screwed over by her own studio and crew because people hate female directors. Trust me--this thing deserves the hate it got! And I watched it on BLU-RAY!!
The Last Movie: Dennis Hopper's 1971 follow-up to Easy Rider, which was a huge hit, so the studio gave him a hefty sum of money to go down to Peru and do whatever he wanted, which is sort of like the film equivalent of the record company giving Van Dyke Parks a ton of money back in that same time period to make Song Cycle. Predictably, the making of the film was a total haze of drugs and screwing around and it was described as a "wasteland of cinematic wreckage" and was little seen in 1971. So I had to see it. Given the release date I was expecting an entire movie of "we blew it" from Easy Rider--another major artifact of the "whoops, this counterculture thing isn't going to work!" period, like There's A Riot Goin' On or Two-Lane Blacktop, and suuuuuure enough, within 10 minutes Hopper is standing outside a drugs-and-sex party weeping by himself, so one can already imagine the lengthy essays that sites like Reverse Shot and what have you are going to have describing the death of the hippie dream....and suuuuure enough, those essays are there to be found, but they're not worth reading this time, because after about 30 minutes the "hippie failure" dream seems to dissolve and you just get a bunch of junk for the rest of the film. Plotlines about Hopper trying to look for gold, or trying to get his hot Peruvian girlfriend to make out with another woman, or villagers engaging in real-life violence after filming a violent Western (directed by Sam Fuller, playing Henry Hathaway!) just end up going nowhere. It isn't even "trippy" or "psychedelic" for the most part at all, aside from dumb (and totally nonsensical) insert shots of Hopper being squirted with real breast milk. It's just half-assed ideas. So I'm not recommending it. Unless you like women's legs, because Hopper shoots lots and lots of sexy female legs. LOTS.
Vice: That movie with Christian Bale playing Dick Cheney. It's just Oliver Stone lite and W. didn't go down as a classic did it? There are lots and lots of "arch" gags that seem like they should work, but Adam McKay can't seem to make any of it happen, so it all just comes out glib and obvious, not to mention a waste of a good cast. Christian Bale obviously put a lot of work into "transforming" himself as usual, but he forgot to do anything besides talk out of one side of his mouth in one tone of voice the entire movie, and Steve Carell is just plain silly as Rumsfeld. More importantly there's little to be found here as to what the hell was even really going on with Cheney, who was a gawdawful person to be sure, but was surely more interesting than this.
Wilco, The Whole Love: WHERE WAS THE DISCUSSION OF THIS?!? This is their second best album, people!! (That'd make it the best album I found out about in 2020, since my previous pick would've been Sky Blue Sky.) You don't just get great roots-rock and power-pop songs, you get better "art" stuff than even Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was able to come up with--did ANYONE here listen to "Art Of Almost"? THERE'S an "American Radiohead" epic for you, with awesome loops and Nels Cline's finest brain melting guitar solo. "I Might" is terrific 60s pop organ pastiche, "Dawned On Me" and the 12 minute closer are beautiful and "Born Alone" sounds like Pavement's "Grave Architecture"! I wanted to guess that the lack of discussion around here had to do with the critical lovefest leaving Wilco around 2009 but actually critics loved this album too--where were YOU people? I should've heard this nine years ago--anyone else?
Wilco, Star Wars: Alright, they disappeared for awhile (after such a good album, too) then came back and suddenly released this online with no advance warning, it's 33 minutes long and has a dumb joke for an album title and album cover, and the songs are really short and pretty experimental and spontaneous-sounding, too. (I said spontaneous-SOUNDING--I don't know how much work went into this.) "Where Do I Begin," "King Of You" and the beautiful "Magnetized" are the best IMO, but this after The Whole Love is a little like Amnesiac after Kid A, only four years apart. It's not bad though, just slightly trifling.
Wilco, Schmilco: This feels like a companion piece to Star Wars, still rather experimental and shorter songs and a short running time (36 minutes) and a jokey album title again, but Tweedy wrote a bunch of bleak lyrics too. I think this is the weakest Wilco album and the only one I'd give less than a 10 out of 15 to, I guess maybe a 9, so it's the only "subpar" Wilco disc. "If I Ever Was A Child" is really gorgeous, the song I'm most likely to revisit from either this or Star Wars; a better idea might have been combining the best songs from both albums into one disc. "Normal American Kids" did nothing for me (most reviews singled it out) and "Common Sense" was just senseless. As usual the band seems sort of will-they-or-won't-they with turning Nels Cline "loose" and there's a weak stretch in the second half. I liked "Shrug And Destroy" and "We Aren't The World" near the end, if anyone cares.
Wilco, Ode To Joy: With that, I've knocked out every Wilco studio album by the end of 2020; maybe some other year I'll listen to the Billy Bragg stuff and ten years after that I'll try Jeff Tweedy's solo albums? Who knows. This is a really somber, quiet album, probably their quietest. "White Wooden Crosses" has this wonderful little repeating piano flourish and the guitar-arpeggio'd "Love Is Everywhere" and Big Star-ish "An Empty Corner" (it reminded me of "I'm In Love With A Girl") are big highlights too. Lots of soft acoustic guitars and martial drumbeats, since Glenn Kotche helped Tweedy write a lot of this. It honestly doesn't much sound like they needed six people to play this, which speaks to my dumb idea that a big band needs to create really loud flourishy music, not that Wilco can't do that. "Bright Leaves," "Before Us" and "Quiet Amplifier" pump this up to "pretty good," meaning that Wilco have four really strong albums, six okay ones, and one mediocrity. Hey, that's still better than most people--America's Best Band, anyone? If they keep making 'em I'll keep hearing 'em!
Queen, The Works: I like "Radio_Ga-Ga" now due to Live Aid viewings, but can only thank God that most of this album doesn't sound like it--Hot Space represented a significantly more egregious dabbling into 80s sonics. There are quite a few synths here but I wouldn't say electronic overkill; lots of it still sounds like the late 70s. "Keep Passing The Open Windows" is a great tune that Queen fans don't seem to like, and I enjoyed "Hammer To Fall" a lot more than the Live Aid version for some reason. Queen's lyrics by this point were turning into banal life advice like "I Want To Break Free" and "It's A Hard Life" but I'll admit that what floats all their albums up to "average" (they never had a great one, as I found out the hard way) is that even their weak pedantic songs manage memorably schmaltzy pop choruses. While this isn't a mind blower it's actually one of their more passable albums; I was expecting it to be crap!!
Queen, A Kind Of Magic: So yeah Live Aid meant that now Queen were going for Big Worldy 80s Stadium Pop Singalongs (far more popular in the rest of the world than America for some reason) and then they had to stop touring and Fred got AIDS...it still isn't synth overkill yet though. Except for one song, which is "Don't Lose Your Head," which really IS synths/drum machine/robo-rock overkill...and I ended up liking it the best here, because it rips off, of all things, Tears For Fears' "Mothers Talk." They also ripped off Prince for the title track ("Baby I'm A Star"-type beat with "Computer Blue" style see-saw guitar soloing), and I listened to most of this without realizing it had a connection to Highlander, a movie I'll never watch because of the ridiculous "swordgasm" movie poster. "One Vision" isn't bad, and I guess "Who Wants To Live Forever" is sort of impressively ethereal. I doubt I'll revisit any of these Queen albums much though.
Queen, The Miracle: Okay, NOW begins the final slide into overproduced mediocrity. It's, again, NOT the most "badly dated" 80s sound you could think of--it's not Starship or anything!!--but the synths are now turning into adult contemporary ethereal echoey glop and Brian May's guitars, while still in abundance, could now just as easily be Trevor Rabin with harmonies. The band still sounds like it's TRYING really hard, and a zillion dollars must have been alotted for production, even if it doesn't sound like a "band," I dunno, what's the analogy here--comeback-era Aerosmith? George Michael? :"We Didn't Start The Fire"? We Can't Dance-era Genesis, maybe? Again, the best song is paradoxically a total ripoff--I enjoyed "Breakthru" even if the chorus is note for note the same as Don Henley's "Boys Of Summer." How was there no lawsuit? "Scandal" and "Invisible Man" are pretty bad, and I doubt I'll ever listen to this album again.
Queen, Innuendo: Again, nearly totally faceless except for Fred. Again, a zillion dollars of production and stadium synths and adult contemporary electronic goo slathered on, just huge huge huge sounding, along with the usual banal life-advice lyrics, and all I end up really liking is the dark sounding "I'm Going Slightly Mad." Most critics loved I don't shed any tears over "The Show Must Go On" for being a commentary on Fred's impending demise, but I don't like when stories about an album's recording are more interesting than the album. I liked "Don't Try So Hard" and "Headlong" a bit. God, so much effort for so little. But their last album is their worst.
Queen, Made In Heaven: As you probably well know, Fred made vocal recordings before Fred dropped dead, and the band came up with the rest of it afterwards...and by now the music is almost COMPLETELY "stadium adult contemporary." It's HILARIOUS to think of Fred surviving so something so 1988 could come out in 1995--only the Yes and ELP disasters from this era sound more out of time. "Made In Heaven" is a pretty good song though, and I'll cop to liking "I Was Born To Love You"'s bombast and the eerie vocal effects on "A Winter's Tale." But otherwise this is their worst album, excluding Flash Gordon which really shouldn't count.
The Beach Boys, Keepin' The Summer Alive: Mostly as bad as you've been told, although the worst for these guys was probably yet to come. "Endless Harmony" is great, or at least the bombastic part at the end, which really is worthy of Brian, if not the dumb electric pianos that make up most of the song. "Santa Ana Winds" and "When Girls Get Together" are actually pretty nice too, so this isn't a TOTAL loss. The rest?...err, well, it's just more post-15 Big Ones nostalgic Beach Boys by numbers slop. Especially the Chuck Berry cover!
My Bloody Valentine, Strawberry Wine EP: I don't know if this 1987 release is an EP or a single, but I'll count it as an EP, it's only about one minute shorter than the other EPs in 1985-87. "Strawberry Wine" is a really cool little college jangler with a gothy chord sequence; the other two songs I've completely forgotten already. How do I "rate" such a thing?
My Bloody Valentine, You Made Me Realize EP: Actually, that's just what people *call* it--neither this nor their other 1988 EP have an actual title. "You Made Me Realize" is a hugely important song in their discography (and this is a hugely important EP, as it finalized their classic sound) because of the infamously loud, never-ending live performances, but the actual *song*, a clangy dark tune, isn't really that much better than "When You Wake (You're Still In A Dream)," the song it most resembles on Isn't Anything. "Thorn" is all humorous and zippy with its guitar farts, but the real highlight is "Slow," with its weird echoey backdrop a la "Several Girls Galore." So in order to make Isn't Anything actually better, you could drop "Feed Me With Your Kiss" since that's the only song I don't like from it, and replace it with "Slow" and MAYBE the title track here. The other two songs, again, I've forgotten already.
My Bloody Valentine, Feed Me With Your Kiss EP: ...yep, there's FMWYK again, so I listened to it 8 more times for review purposes, which is pretty stupid since I've had Isn't Anything for 19 years now and have listened to it every year without fail. The other three songs aren't much to write home about either, possibly the Eastern-ish "I Believe" could hold some interest, but otherwise this might actually be their weakest release, as I don't really like any of these four songs, and I DID like a couple off of This Was Your Bloody Valentine! Huh! Disappointing.
Van Der Graaf Generator, The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome: This isn't a great album but GOD is it ever a breath of fresh air after the frankly awful 1975-76 crap, at least in my book--looking around, most WRC people and prog sites think this is one of their worst albums! Why?!? They replaced the dull saxophone guy with a violin player and tried to get some diversity in their sound instead of just Peter Hammill wailing his usual theatrical s*** over dull medieval jazz instrumental backdrops and it's a MISTAKE? I really liked the first three songs here, I know that much! The album would probably only get a 9 out of 15 or something like that because it kind of goes on forever and dissipates in its second half, but I'm so grateful that it wasn't just flat-out heinous that I'm wholeheartedly recommending it!
Van Der Graaf Generator, Vital: Yeah, you know this dark, boring melodramatic prog band that I keep listening to and not liking any of their albums except their debut? You know they ended their 70s run with a 75 minute live album that few people have even heard and which got their worst rating on George's website? You think I should listen to that? WELL I DID, and man did it ever blow--something like 10 hours of my life completely wasted! They even do "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" but just the intro, and they render it loud and flat and dull instead of eerie and mystical, and I know from their TV appearances on Youtube that they could do that just FINE back then! DIE!!!! I'll do the reunion albums some other time; right now, this album has left me Van Der Graafed the f*** out, bros.