Liz Phair, Horror Stories: The first and foremost thing you'll need to know before deciding this, particularly if you're a fan of hers is this: She doesn't talk about her own music at all. Her recorded songs, albums, etc. etc. are mentioned maybe three times in this entire 260-page memoir. The second thing that you'll need to know, whether you're a fan or not, is that this book completely epitomizes Generation X self-absorption, whining, self-pitying, loudly defending one's sins, neuroticism, bad faith, etc. etc. to a tee. (Also, she gives out salacious sex details and feminism at the same time, which you'd know from her music.) Phair was 52 when this book was published two years ago, but if you didn't know who she was, you'd guess she was half that or less, and she did Exile In Guyville when she was half that. Since she's not going to talk about her music, the title indicates that this is going to be about various terrible things that either happened to her, or which she saw happen to others and which she was depressed about. Stories range from somewhat compelling (she was in labor 32 hours when she had her son and ended up bawling for her mom) to passable moral grey areas (she details pretty much all her lovers in the book and goes over an affair she had while admitting that affairs are pretty much about achieving a high, while trying to get a friend not to do the same thing) to outright banal (she got caught in the 2003 Northeast blizzard, oh noes!!) The most effective story is at the end, when she talks about her obsession with her own memories and how she remembered a documentary about an old woman who hoarded antiques and then she died and they all had to be given away like nothing; that one affected me personally a great deal. So I can't write all this off--as with Phair's own music, sometimes whining can, sadly, be admittedly effective.
My Darling Clementine: I watched four Wyatt Earp/O.K. Corral movies for this review set, and since John Ford is the origin of the phrase "print the legend," there's a delicious irony at work in his version of the story being both the best movie made out of the O.K. Corral story as well as the least historically accurate; off the top of my head, the movie almost starts with the Clantons killing James Earp, who is presented as being Wyatt's youngest brother (he wasn't) and who lived until 1926; on top of that, we see his grave marked "died 1882," which means the movie didn't even get the year right. Victor Mature's Doc Holliday isn't terribly interesting, and neither are the Clantons (spoiler: none of the films I watched presented the Clanton gang in a terribly compelling manner; here, they're just dark ominous goons), nor are any female characters in the film worth discussing. What works, then? Nice cinematography, for one; decent storytelling, for another; a reasonably good Henry Fonda performance, for three; and it isn't overlong or overblown like the other films I watched. It's sort of the best by a kind of default. I wasn't blown away by it, but think of it as just another good Ford Western and you're in like Flint.
Gunfight At The O.K. Corral: This is from 1957 and represents a more mainstream Hollywood sort of take on the story; Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are fairly good, but it's here that I kind of realized that it doesn't much matter who plays Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday all that much more than it matters who plays Batman, it's more about how good the movie is. And this is...well, it's just a watchable but unremarkable 1950s gunslinger movie. Nothing particularly wrong with it but not much stands out; what I think I'm going to remember most is that DeForest Kelley plays one of the Earp brothers, a fetus-faced Dennis Hopper turns up as poor reluctant Billy Clanton, who doesn't want to be in a gunfight (guess how that turns out) and I think Kirk Douglas calls some bar floozy a "####" to her face, and I didn't know that word made it into movies in 1957. I'm neutral on this movie and will probably never watch it again.
Wyatt Earp: The weakest of the four Earp movies I watched. If you don't know the history, it came out around shortly after Tombstone, which was a troubled production and was actually savaged by critics at the end of 1993, but became sort of a box office hit anyway; this, a seemingly far more prestigious project, was projected to be a bigger hit due to Kevin Costner being in it and Lawrence Kasdan directing. Well, that's the problem right there--it's a Kevin Costner epic and it's boring as all hell, all three hours of it. So it's been mostly forgotten, and I'm pretty sure this was when the public started to get kinda sick of Kevin Costner. Truth be told, I can never entirely write off Costner--I don't think he's an explicitly crappy actor, just one that did too many dead serious movies and the whole stoic thing went to his head, so I have a hard time thinking of anything he's been in that I really like. At any rate, it further doesn't matter who's playing Earp, since Costner's really just playing Costner again. The movie has a fantastic supporting cast but aside from a flinty-eyed, drawling Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday (who I suspect is the most accurate portrayal), they're mostly not used all that well, and Earp's whole pre-Tombstone youth amounts to a bunch of blah (and yes, I'm well aware that most accounts of Earp's life now present him as a less than savory character for a lot of reasons.) A few things work well: aside from Quaid, I feel that the movie's version of the O.K. Corral shootout--a very brief, horrifying ambush that certainly seemed like lawmen operating semi-legally and sickening everyone who saw it--is...well, I don't know about the best (one plus of these films is that all four of them did indeed manage a good action scene out of the shootout), but I appreciate that it isn't presented as an epic scene in an otherwise boring epic movie.
Tombstone: This is better than Wyatt Earp, but not by that much, and only because Wyatt Earp is a big long bore. If you want the story told as a trashy 90s Hollywood action bloodbath, Tombstone's your man. Val Kilmer is amusing in a sort of Johnny Depp-ish manner as Doc Holliday, mumbling his lines and showing off a lot in a reasonably entertaining manner, but just as Costner turned Earp into a boring Costner character, Kurt Russell turns Earp into a modern good ol' boy Kurt Russell character that seems to have a bare minimum to do with the Old West at all. The supporting cast fairs slightly better than the Costner movie's, but I'm still detecting a lot of waste. Then there's all the tacky bloody stuff--Russell slapping Billy Bob Thornton in a bar, Bill Brocius (Powers Boothe) and Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) blowing away a Mexican wedding at the movie just to be a**holes (it also didn't happen IRL), Morgan Earp getting shot and Russell sobbing and stumbling out into the rain and lightning with blood dripping off his hands like he just delivered a baby. The OK Corral (depicted this time as a glorified high school beatdown with Ike Clanton running away like a terrified dog) is good enough, I s'pose, but after that, the movie turns into Rambo, with Russell and company hunting down and killing like thirty guys (in reality, it was only four), replete with a bunch of ridiculous montage shots of the gang on horseback repeatedly shooting their shotguns at NOTHING, and Russell yelling "NOOOO" like Darth Vader when he has to shoot Bill Brocius. Honestly, I'm kind of surprised this movie was even a hit, or is even still around. Watch for Charlton Heston in a lame cameo and Robert Mitchum doing lame voiceover narration.
Roar: As I covered below, this legendary 1981 disaster directed by Tippi Hedren's husband took 10 years to make, cost a fortune, and is best remembered for being the least safely-filmed movie of all time, with countless cast members and crew getting horribly injured by contact with wild jungle cats. The only reason to watch it is to see how jaw droppingly unsafe it was; as a "movie," it's awful, with no memorable characters, dialogue or plot, just lots of lions and lots of injuries. Frankly, I don't really recommend it; it's stupid as hell.
Falling Down: This is fairly good, but runs out of steam after about 70 minutes of a 110 minute runtime (after Douglas kills the neo-Nazi Frederic Forrest guy), so it's only little over half a good movie. The reason for this is that by the time Douglas finally gets around to killing someone, as opposed to just threatening it, that marks the point when the movie's intriguing moral grey area finally dissipates for good. After that, the movie doesn't really have any more particularly intriguing (let alone empathetic) situations for the Michael Douglas character to get into, and he's just some guy who's going on a rampage. The movie never should have been "controversial", not if it's going to have him gun down a psycho Nazi like the Forrest character, even after Douglas made a couple of pseudo-racist remarks himself. It also isn't very darkly funny anymore after that 70 minute mark, but I guess the movie is still more good than bad. Chalk one up for Joel Schumacher, I guess--RIP!! Also, I remember when so many 90s movies set in L.A. had to filter the movie through this orange/smoky haze; anyone who used to watch HBO a lot as a kid will have a flashback to 1992 when they see this.
The Beach Boys, That's Why God Made The Radio: This is my last Beach Boys album to listen to and since it's actually halfway good (i.e., mostly dominated by Brian's writing) I hope to God they end their career with it. Specifically, that they end with the last three songs, "From There To Back Again," "Pacific Coast Highway" and especially the "Caroline No"-like "Summer's Gone," a totally perfect elegy for the entire band that, in spite of being bizarrely cowritten by Jon Bon Jovi (!!) sometime in the late 90s (with Brian apparently intending it, even back then, to be the last song on the last Beach Boys album) is totally beautiful and heartfelt. Pretty much every critic (except George!!) singled out these sad-old-man songs as the best on the album, so the rest is feel-good pablum, but the best possible kind; if it were possible for any of their other albums from 1976 onwards to have actxually been good, they'd probably have sounded like this; I especially like the opener (shades of "Our Prayer," as every critic pointed out) and the title track, and even "Shelter," which rips off a couple of older Beach Boys songs. Oh, this album isn't a classic to save its life, but thank God for its existence; one more bad Beach Boys album and I've certainly have had to hunt Mike Love down and kill him.
The Cars, Heartbeat City: What George said in his original review--good album, but "I wouldn't be caught dead playing this thing." (When he re-reviewed the Cars, he trashed it.) Yeah, every Cars review I've read for their first four albums kept using words like "slick" and "soulless" and "mechanical" over and over again, which seemed unfair for such a teen-friendly band as this one, but then I got to this album and it all became clear--I haven't heard a more embarrassingly slick, shameless, sell-outish album since I heard R. E. M.'s Monster about 17 years ago. These songs are all SO calculated, SO sanded-off at the edges, and SO...er...catchy. I mean, "Magic" and "Hello Again" are the ones I like least, but I can still remember their melodies, as I can remember every single song here. "Looking For Love" and "Why Can't I Have You" are probably the best, but does it even matter with an album of pure 1984 MTV?
Radiohead, Pablo Honey: I sure am glad I never bought the CD--there's about five songs worth hearing here, but it's definitely an easy pick for their weakest album. "Vegetable" is the best with a sugary Smiths-style chord sequence, "Blow Out" sort of fans out with the guitar noise, "You" has a decent chord sequence and a bit of energy, and "Anyone Can Play Guitar" and "Prove Yourself" have passable, if very 90s choruses. The rest is completely generic 1993 alt-rock--not even particularly derivative of any of the American grunge bands--and while I often enjoy trips back to that decade, it's not really any "kick" to hear these guys playing generic 90s alt-rock. And, oh yeah, "Creep" can go straight to hell and rot in 2021: there's no way I can feel anything but pure cringe-o hearing Yorke wail away as this song goes on.
The Rolling Stones, Tattoo You: Supposed to be their last album that people generally agree is good, I guess...it's better than its predecessor but not by all that much. I was figuring that I'd like to hear "Start Me Up" again since I don't watch the NFL anymore, and I did kinda like it, but that's probably due to familiarity. "Heaven" was also a great experiment on their part, really glad to hear that one again. "Hang Fire" and "Waiting On A Friend" aren't bad, but "Black Limousine," "Little T&A" and "Slave" are a weak stretch. I don't have much to say about the album stylistically, but I was grateful to not have to read more dumb stories about Keith Richards using drugs in the reviews.
Van Der Graaf Generator, Do Not Disturb: If you make it all the way to the merciful end of this 57 minute bore, and therefore to the merciful end of VDGG's seemingly interminable catalogue of dingle berried horse apples (they apparently are finally done), you get to hear the somewhat haunting track "Go," a creepy dirge with like one instrument in it for Peter Hammill to whisper over. There's about a 1 in 25 chance I'll listen to this, or anything else from VDGG's post-2005 reunion, in the next year, so hopefully "Go" won't be forgotten. But the rest will, as will 90 percent of VDGG's catalogue. GOD am I glad to be done with these guys.
The Kinks, Word Of Mouth: A bit of a step down from State Of Confusion...it sounds okay while it's playing, but I'd have to dock it a point because I sort of realized by my last listen that the songs were pleasant because they were all based on really obvious, easy-victory crowd-pleaser chord sequences; hell, "Too Hot" seems to be based off of f***in' "Sugar Sugar"!! "Living On A Thin Line" (whoa, a good Dave Davies song), "Massive Reductions" (the one whose lyrics about 80s layoffs got Ray Davies blasted by critics who claimed he'd probably never been near a factory in his life), "Do It Again" and a couple others are fairly listenable, but I can't name a single big fat classic tune here. The production is also perversely notable because it's really weak and flat, in a very 80s manner, but in a very "dinosaur band who needed to get something knocked out quickly and didn't have much money" manner, which ironically means it avoids being one of those big embarrassing 80s boomer albums full of awkward synths and gated drums. Who woulda thunk it...
Kansas, Monolith: PUUUUUUKE. Their worst 70s album yet--you know what they did? They got into a combination of terrible late 70s synths (the kind that marred Yes and Genesis albums during this period, like the Polymoog, I think)--just listen to "People Of The South Wind," arrgghh--and Boston-ish arena rock bombast. BAD BAD BAD, though I did like the pleasant ballad "Reason To Be" at the end of the album, even if it too is based around an awful synth tone. Everything else here is puuuuuuure crap.