Robert Graysmith, Zodiac: Did I really need to read this after having read the later Zodiac Unmasked, and watching the Fincher movie (still my pick for the decade's best) like fifteen times? It's debatable but now I have a copy on my shelf; the Zodiac story is told straightforward here without Graysmith annoyingly jumping around in time or writing as if he were trying to scare kids around a campfire (this stuff REALLY sunk the followup book, IMO.) He does still fabricate stuff a bit and pass off speculations as fact from time to time but it is still a better-written book than his other one. That said, the only new information here for me amounted to tidbits, lots of which were the ugly details of loads and loads of early 70s California hitchhiker/teenage-girl-abduction horror stories that may or may not have been Zodiac. If you read one Graysmith Zodiac book, you probably don't need to read the other.
Stranger Things (season 2): I rewatched the first season, which I didn't like, to remind myself what all happened, which I probably shouldn't have, since what happened was still pretty mediocre and derivative. This second season, set in 1984, was a slight improvement, with Winona Ryder toned down somewhat (thank God), David Harbour still the acting highlight of the show (how on Earth he made a character like the police chief likeable should be considered grounds for an Emmy win) and Paul Reiser rehashing his Aliens character resulting in a more interesting shady guy than Matthew Modine's bland villain from the first season. The action scenes themselves rehash Aliens too, and not well. Even worse is when we get a ripoff of The Exorcist's climactic agonies to an effect of absolutely no "power" whatsoever. They really blew it with the Sean Astin character, too--the guy might as well have had a big fat target on his head. I'm halfway through the third season of this now and it's got about four episodes to convince me that it isn't the most underwhelming TV phenomenon of recent years, and I'm not holding my breath. You?
Better Call Saul (season 4): This show always has an ace in the hole in the form of Kim Wexler: since she's not in Breaking Bad but Saul is still in ABQ, there's always this halo of "no don't kill her!" over her head. She's a great character, too, far better than any female BrBa character. The Mike stuff remains slightly hit-or-miss; it wasn't fan service this season, but I was really starting to get annoyed with that German engineer guy by the time his story wrapped up, because they were really playing off your emotions by making him such a sad sack, though they did manage to do that far better than a lesser show would've. The Nacho stuff...uh, I kinda think he's dead weight. Everything about this show seems so professional, classy and well-written that I ought to love it but I remain at slight arm's length with it. It's good and all but I've never quite on fire with it. Nonetheless I do see the fifth season getting the usual terrific notices so I'll have to check that out; nice Godfather reference (Gilligan's? He loves that movie) in the last shot.
Traffic: Ahh, what innocent years the days before 9/11 were--to think, this was what passed for a brutal, unflinching, tell-it-like-it-is look at a deadly political issue twenty years ago? Sure, there's brutality and violence and horrors abound in the film, but think what it would have been a mere five years later--the body count would have been in the dozens, and I don't recall a single dead child or decapitated pregnant woman in the film or anything else that became de rigeur in the era of No Country For Old Men, Sicario, The Counselor, etc. I guess I thought the film was okay--reasonably well-written and acted and filmed enough (I'm no Soderbergh expert at all, but I do remember this was supposed to have been his peak, right?) to help you forget some of the creaky details on screen, like how quickly Catherine Zeta Jones turns into some sort of Scarface figure, or Michael Douglas' daughter ending up drugged and screwing a black pimp. The best scene in the movie belongs to Topher Grace for God's sake (because the character is simultaneously a whiny little jerk but also sort of on the money with what he says.) I'll try to watch some of Soderbergh's others, at least. But is this film dated? And if so, is it the good kind of dated?
The Artist: I can easily think of many far worse Best Picture winners, but I can't think of any BP winners as remotely lightweight as this one. There are a few cute scenes and ideas and Jean Dujardin is pretty good, so it's not like I hated it one bit, but this film's "success" is making me want to pull out my hoary "2011 was a weak year for film!" argument, which I know you guys could probably easily blast into the ether. Also what happened to the director? He won Best Director but I'm guessing the public forgot his name five minutes after he won.
YesYears: A two hour Yes documentary released in conjunction with a forgotten 1991 box set, this is worth watching once, but probably only once. They were making Union at the time, I s'pose, so you'd think they'd all be a lot more hateful, but they seem cordial and amiable in interview clips; in particular, I think I only had a passing understanding of just how far Jon Anderson was from his stage persona when they interview him. I watched it on Youtube and apparently there's about 15-20 minutes missing, mostly from the Trevor Rabin period, but I won't be desperately trying to hunt them down for completion purposes. Off the top of my head, hearing Rick Wakeman talk about how the press highlighted him being a beer drinking meat eater in contrast to the rest of the band was a memorable moment.
Go Ask Alice: A cheap 1973 TV movie based on the "classic" "Anonymous"-penned "teenage girl diary" about a "15 year old's" descent into "drug abuse"...well, let's just say everything I put into quotes is fictitious. This is what you'd expect it to be--melodramatic, phony, hammy (William Shatner, sporting a toupee and mustache, is unrecognizable enough, as if to cover up how bad he is) and aimed at scaring the crap out of gullible parents, because no kid could possibly have fallen for it even then. I mean, she's a drug addict like five minutes after her first party! Watch for Mackenzie Phillips, Charles Martin Smith and, playing a priest, Andy Griffith.
L'Avventura: I know I'm going to get a lot of s*** for what I'm about to say, so I'll list this film's qualities that I agree to be positive first: 1)Few movies before 1960 had probably been this subtle or unwilling to give the audience what they wanted; 2)Yes, the cinematography is pretty powerful and effective; 3)This is a very important, probably hugely influential film. But at least La Dolce Vita, from the same year, and about the same "sick empty soul of European's decadent upper class" subject matter, was able to sort of make me sick with depression; I had almost no emotional reaction whatsoever to anything on screen during my four hours and 46 minutes of watching this movie twice beyond "oh, I get it--the movie is totally empty because these well-off people are totally empty." Yeah....screw 'em. I couldn't bring myself to care about 'em. I hate watching movies about ennui and that's just who I am. I really hate myself for acting this way, because I really hate it when I seem to be the only one who doesn't like a classic--especially a foreign, arty, influential, art-house crowd classic--but you couldn't pay me enough not to watch this again. And I liked Blow-Up and would at least consider Zabriskie Point interesting and watchable, and I can think of dry, sad movies that I've appreciated too, so there.
The Outlaw Josey Wales: In some ways, this is a more depressing film than The Wild Bunch; at least the outlaws in TWB seemed to be alive for some purpose other than to kill or be killed from time to time. This....man, it's depressing. Clint almost gets killed, and his family dies, and then he kills and kills and kills and kills (and kills, and kills!) before uttering the "we all died a little in that war" line at the end, making a Vietnam parallel. And the Union soldiers are the bad guys and the pilgrims are going to get massacred and the Indians lost their land and children and you're going to have to see Sondra Locke
give a performance onscreen, making you wonder what in God's name Clint was so infatuated with her for get raped on screen, and...and...how many people died in Blood Meridian again? Probably more than 138 which is this film's total, but I was more depressed by THIS! Yeah, Clint slaps on something resembling a requiem for all that violence at the end, and it's not as blunt as The Great Silence's bitter ending, but not by much. Good movie anyway, perhaps the quintessential Clint-directed Western, containing a number of themes that he probably did a bit better in Unforgiven (note that this movie's scenes with Sam Bottoms are way better than the scenes with that kid in Unforgiven--way to use an actual ACTOR, Clint!)
The Rolling Stones, Black & Blue: A bunch of jams and a "let's get a new guitar player" contest, but I'm obnoxiously going to pick the two weepy ballads ("Memory Motel" and "Fool To Cry") just like I picked "No Expectations," "Wild Horses"/"Moonlight Mile," "Sweet Virginia" and "Coming Down Again" as their albums' best tunes. Don't know what it is--guess the Stones just do good ballads! Most of the rest is passable, with "Hot Stuff" and (yes, I know it's a stupid song) "Cherry Oh-Baby" standing out. I don't like "Melody" much, though.
The Cars, Panorama: This is supposed to be a "dark," "arty," critically-reviled-in-1980 fan favorite....which is all completely laughable. It's THE F***IN' CARS, PEOPLE. You know what the Cars sound like? They sound like THE CARS, and nothing else. They couldn't, anyway! Dark, arty my ass. "You Wear Those Eyes" is a weird song, I guess, and it's my pick for the best here, followed by the fast "Gimme Some Slack" and maybe "Misfit Kid." The first two songs are kind of off putting. What does it matter, it all sounds like THE CARS. Not a bad album but it does all blend together a bit and I can't think of much to say about it. Moving on!
Frank Black, Frank Black: I honestly don't know what in God's name happened here. Frank had a new name, a new backing band, a new set of subjects, a new purpose--he certainly is not rehashing the Pixies on this album, as far as I could hear--but...after eight listens, I, for whatever reason, don't love a single one of these songs. WHY?!? I mean, not a single one of them sucks or anything, but...but...I have no idea what to say here, or why I would be saying it if I did. These songs aren't too crazy, aren't too lacking in diversity, aren't too slapped together, aren't too...anything. I think I liked "Los Angeles" and "Two Spaces" and maybe a couple of others, God knows which--but I seriously liked that 2019 Pixies album better. Uh, anyone want to tell me where I blew it with this album?!? I'm going to listen to Teenager Of The Year and if that one isn't better than okay I'm not bothering with his solo career any further.
The Beach Boys, Summer In Paradise: This basically sucks alright, but I wanted SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS, the most hilariously, gruesomely dorky album in pop music history. Honestly, M. I. U. Album and The Beach Boys are still worse IMO, and Love You is only a couple rungs up the ladder. At least the dorky stuck-in-the-80s production results in those hilarious watery electronic drum cracks this time around--did you know this was supposedly the first album recorded using Pro Tools?--and it's almost amusing how it sounds like no humans performed on the album, as opposed to The Beach Boys which sounded like one guy in a room with a 1980s Casio keyboard and a LinnDrum and some BB vocal tracks. The worst song is still "Summer Of Love," which I'd already had the misfortune of hearing; the only other "monstrosities" are that dumb metallic "Surfin'" remake and maybe "Under The Boardwalk." I kind of liked "Still Surfin'" and "Strange Things Happen." The John Stamos version of "Forever" is...just a dull late 80s adult contemporary pop ballad, one I wouldn't be able to pick out of a police lineup (it's not like Stamos has a distinctively bad voice!) A big disappointment, because it wasn't a bigger disappointment.
Van Der Graaf Generator, A Grounding In Numbers: Yep, you heard that right, my least favorite of the major prog bands (excepting possibly Kansas) is not only still going at it with the same sound they had in 1975, they're doing a concept album about math. Maybe that's why you barely heard about this one at all, even from the "prog" crowd? They don't have the sax guy anymore and there's far more guitar than usual which is nice but really it's the same old ugly neurotic mess, albeit better than Godbluff. Uh, I sort of liked the short instrumental "Red Baron," "Mr. Sands" and maybe two other songs, out of 50 minutes. Two more albums to go and I swear to God unless they're miracles I'll never listen to VDGG again.
The Kinks, Give The People What They Want: Another weak album, made all the weaker because it works the same way Low Budget did, only not as well: it seems to rock really hard and with invigorated energy for a few moments and you THINK the Kinks are back, and that Ray Davies "has it" again, then it just peters out into a puddle of mediocre generic second-rate songs that you won't ever revisit in your life. I think I liked "Around The Dial" and the title track, and "Yo-Yo" is the best, but that's because it turns into Alice Cooper's "Department Of Youth" in the chorus. I lost interest so quickly that I didn't even notice that "Art Lover" has pedo-bear lyrics and I don't know why "Better Things" is a fan favorite either. What's worse, an immediately forgettable album like Preservation Act 1 or Soap Opera, or one like this where you think for 10 minutes that it'll be good? The former, I guess, but who cares?
Kansas, Masque: The other two albums Kansas put out around this time, Song For America and Leftoverture, are bad albums because they're cheesy, overblown, inadequately pompous and embarrassing; quintessential bad prog, in short. This one sucks because it's just boring. It has their one good prog epic--"Icarus, Borne On Wings Of Steel," which I heard about twenty years ago and sort of liked, but even it isn't something I'd consider masterful, just good. Aside from that, the first two songs, "It Takes A Woman's Love To Make A Man" and "Two Cents Worth" are the only remotely interesting pieces of music on this album. The rest I'll forget in a week.
Eloy, Ocean: This is a German four piece of moderate instrumental talents trying as hard as possible to mish-mash Pink Floyd with other prog-rock betters into something that doesn't completely blow. I didn't get into it much, but I sort of want to award them two or three points for trying? (For the record, Wikipedia says this sold 200K copies in Germany.) It's a concept album about the rise and fall of Atlantis, based on the writings of Otto Muck, a German who in the mid 19th century claimed to know that Atlantis had been destroyed on June 5, 8498 BC by an asteroid blowing open the ocean floor, which the band then contrasts with modern day nuclear fears, I guess...? The dude's vocals are really thick and German-accented to laughable effect and the "poetry" readings make Graeme Edge seem like Tennyson himself. I did this whole album after reading the review where George said it was the most pompous album ever recorded and sneaking a peek at the "Atlantis' Agony" 15 minute epic, which I said for its first few minutes sounded like "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" with the subtlety removed, and I still stand by that, but I also...uh, sort of like that part. The few reviews I could find on various prog rock sites mostly hate that part! So much for me! The other three songs are middling. I don't think I'm going to listen to much more Eloy, though Pugeye tried to get me to give some other stuff a try (and I found other, even worse "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" ripoffs on their OTHER albums!)