Stephen King, Doctor Sleep: Most of my experiences reading Stephen King in the last decade or so have been painful disappointments: re-reads of high school favorites The Shining and Christine where I realized I no longer cared for either book, and the first four books of The Dark Tower where I only liked the first of the four. (Weak movie adaptations have not helped.) So this, which I read on a lark, was kind of a pleasant surprise; if you didn't know already, it's the sequel to The Shining, with Dan Torrance as a screwed-up alcoholic adult trying to work as a hospital orderly, who eventually overcomes his alcoholism to help a 12 year old girl with even greater "shining" than he has fight a Mansonesque gang of child murdering superntural vampire gypsies led by "Rose the Hat." The book starts out really good, with King offering a surprisingly strong depiction of the down-and-out Danny Torrance: King still "has it" during the first couple hundred pages. Then King introduces the 12 year old girl and does okay for a couple hundred more pages, then he gradually just plain crash lands with a final showdown where--spoiler alert--the heroes thoroughly rout the villains with barely any trouble at all. Lame ending to an otherwise good book! That said, I was surprised it was good at all, since I don't even like The Shining anymore, and yeah, I'd take this one over that without question. Did any of YOU read this?
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm: Sacha Baron Cohen's most ingenious stroke with this film was to turn most of the best gags over to Borat's daughter, played by Maria Bakalova. The Oscar nomination she received was no joke--she's hilarious all the way through and single handedly makes the movie worth watching (and thus reviving Baron Cohen's career in the process.) The cruel upshot of all this is that it kinda backfires on Baron Cohen, as one somewhat sadly realizes that the Borat character actually ran its course completely with the original movie 16 years ago (God has it really been that long?!?)--it was with good reason that Baron Cohen retired Borat. You've probably heard about the Rudy Giuliani scene, and while I think Giuliani is despicable, the scene's a fraud, he was clearly just tucking his shirt into his pants, not touching himself. Ignore that scene and concentrate instead on the hilarious scenes involving the daughter's makeover ("I need you to make a hotsie out of this little Nazi"), the father-daughter dance, the daughter freaking out at having a female driver ("nooo, nooo, it not true, you not drive car!!"), and her discovery on Facebook that the Holocaust never happened. Funniest time I've had with a movie in some time!
War And Peace (2016 miniseries): This seems professional and well-adapted enough at first, but I watched it all the way through twice and the more I think about it, the more I don't like it. For starters, it seems to be taking place in Britain instead of Russia, and a bigger problem is that many of the big dramatic scenes are just epic fails. The scenes where Pierre Bezukhov has to try and save a child from a burning building end with Paul Dano making those same high pitched girlie-vomit screaming noises he makes every time he gets his ass kicked in other movies. The scene where Anatole Kuragin tries to elope with Natasha Rostova collapses into a heap of incomprehensible bawling horrified nonsense. Prince Andrei's death is the worst offender--he just stupidly stares at a crackling bomb waiting for it to go off and then it does, and when he dies we get treated to a bunch of ethereal sub-Terrence Malick crap. Helene Kuragin's disastrous pregnancy is hilariously thrown into the movie as a pathetic afterthought in the last episode (come to think of it, I lost track of how many times I saw bloody bedsheets in this miniseries.) If you want W&P done up as big budget epic battle movie cliches, watch the 1966-67 Russian series; if you want it done as a boringly cliched soap opera, watch this.
The Many Saints Of Newark: This is probably a little better motivated than El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, but there's still a nagging feeling that it wasn't particularly necessary. Dickie Moltisanti and the new black hitman character Harold McBrayer are okay as new characters go, but--this is a big strike against the whole enterprise--whatever else you've been told by critics, teenage Tony Soprano is completely f***ing uninteresting. For some reason, even critics who slammed the film seem to think Michael Gandolfini gave some sort of great performance!! WHY?!?! All he is some whiny kid with 70s hair whose voice doesn't sound like his dad's and he helps steal some record players or something and he helps beat up an ice cream truck guy and he gets into a fight over a perceived insult....yeah, so? I guess the ending regarding what happens to Dickie is of some interest, and there are a few passable callbacks to the show (great impression there, Vera Farmiga!), and it's really well shot, but the parts that aren't about teenage Tony end up being about a love triangle between Dickie, Harold, and an Italian woman named Giuseppina who looks more like Penelope Cruz than Cruz herself and which has the most predictable ending you could think of--why didn't David Chase just paint a big bullseye on this character's forehead? This gets an okay, neutral rating, but unlike the show, I probably won't be revisiting it in the future.
Nomadland: Well, I won't have to watch Knight Of Cups ever again--I remarked that while I didn't love that film, its depiction of a main character who has had his fill of life and is pretty much now just wandering around aimlessly and sadly kind of hit me hard. That film had no real plot though, whereas this Oscar winner manages something resembling a story. And that story is about Frances McDormand's nomadic loner just totally and sadly fading away in the last 30 minutes of the film, which is what renders Knight Of Cups irrelevant for me, as these passages are far harder hitting. This is what the film is about for me, a person helplessly fading away, not social commentary, and not the depiction of (and it's certainly not a romanticization of) the RV "nomad" lifestyle. She is offered a home and new friends and new community and family and everything and...she instead is fading away by the end of the film. Sad stuff!! I don't even think the film's a masterpiece really, but I'll never forget the empty last half hour, some of the most effective "emptiness" ever filmed. It's better than Wild too, but you probably didn't see that one. Will I see other Chloe Zhao films? Not sure, but I think I'm going to pass on her superhero film, which she actually had in the can before Nomadland blew up.
The Keepers: A seven-part Netflix true-crime miniseries about Catholic church corruption (duh) and the creepy 1969 murder of a beloved young nun, this was recommended by Prindle, and...well, some of it's good, but I'll probably never rewatch it, it's way too damn long and the many abusive victims who band together to try and solve the mystery and expose a network of bad priests who did the usual stuff are no closer to knowing who killed the nun at the end of it than they were in 1969, and you can guess how frustrating THAT is. Most of the chilling true-crime details are in the first episode, with lots of red herrings later on and even questionable testimony from victims--one ex-priest says, in a total whopper, that a detective presented him with the dead nun's vagina, wrapped up in newspaper. Uhhh?!?!? There are also creepy stories involving a mysterious "Brother Bob" that may be lost to time. But for the most part, it's just like watching a 7-hour long Spotlight. If you dislike Catholicism, certainly you'll have your hands full here...
Scream (2022): Yep, caught in theaters. No, I didn't think it would be terribly good. It's actually mediocre. First of all, I may not even make trips to the theater even once a year from now on. $9 for a glass of fountain soda, COVID restrictions, and 45 minutes of commercials, warnings to turn off your cell phone and previews for silly stupid horseshit like Moonfall equal me starting to hate movie theaters and wonder if they don't deserve to be wiped out by the pandemic. The actual film is generally watchable, and manages a few passable but obvious jabs at toxic Internet movie-fan culture (Rian Johnson gets mentioned, natch) and "legacy sequels," but also continues the flaws that have plagued the series ever since the second film: too many dull supporting characters to be used as entrail-fodder, a dull reveal as to the killer's identity and motive, and lots of boring "Ghostface pops out of nowhere and stabs you to death!!" kills. I sort of enjoyed the countless references to the original film, and one big death halfway through mostly works (even if you know it's coming), but Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox are clearly phoning it in!! Let's hope there isn't a sixth film, but if there is, I'll certainly cave in and watch it. Shame on me.
The Rolling Stones, Voodoo Lounge: Well, it's 1994 and they got the production right after a whole decade of mistakes; they would have had to. There's no terrible songs, either. So it's only a "dinosaur" album in two senses: 1)it suffered from terrible CD-era bloat (62 minutes) and 2)it doesn't have any GREAT songs, either. "Thru And Thru," "Blinded By Rainbows," "Moon Is Up" and "Out Of Tears" are probably the best, but the odds of me listening to them outside of the full album are pretty small. Since this was the first album they made with everyone past 50, it could've been a lot worse, but as it stands, it's only a couple rungs up the ladder from a similar example of British Invasion CD-era bloat: the Kinks' Phobia, from almost the same year. Do any of YOU ever listen to this album, and if so, did you like it?
Oasis, The Masterplan: This is a (terribly incomplete) collection of B-sides that didn't make it into the band's first three albums; I *think* I'd take it over Definitely Maybe or Be Here Now, but that's kind of splitting hairs. "Underneath The Sky" has a great blaring downturned chorus, "Talk Tonight" is a pleasant ballad, "Acquiesce" is alright...oh, and apparently Noel likes the title track best of all Oasis songs. It could have been on a real album, I'd agree that far. But there's a number of songs on this usual bloated platter that I just don't get. What's the big deal about "Fade Away"? "Half The World Away"? I don't get these two at all! Isn't their "I Am The Walrus" a complete bomb? Isn't "The Swamp Song" pretty worthless? And hell, aren't I already getting sick of these guys' snotty 'tude and Big Blasting Guitar Mess on far too many songs, thus sending me back in the direction of disliking the band like I did before I gave their second album a try?!? I guess so. I have a very strong feeling that that second album is all I'm really going to end up liking.
Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn't Made For These Times: The short soundtrack to a 1995 documentary about Brian Wilson of the same name that I haven't watched, this is just 1995 re-recordings of some of Brian's lovelier compositions. "This Whole World" comes across probably the best, and "Caroline, No" now has an Ian Anderson-ish flute solo in it. The arrangements are kind of stripped down, not terribly "lush" at all. This is a novelty album at best, though--only diehards could really care. I mean, it's better than that Beach Boys country album from around the same time, but not by that much. I sure do listen to a lot of inessential stuff...
Kansas, Power: This 1986 album is only notable to me for one real reason: it's the first album I've ever heard, by any band, with Steve Morse playing lead guitar. I've only heard a few Dixie Dregs songs here and there, never a full album, and I haven't at ALL heard the Deep Purple albums Morse played on. He's talented, for sure, but a few finger-flashy solos aren't enough to make up for Kansas' shortcomings. I will say that this album isn't horribly embarrassing or completely boring like most Kansas efforts (not many 80s synths, for starters, let alone any sort of "heartland" feel)--it's solely in the middle somewhere, like an 8 out of 15 or so. It has a few decent choruses in some of the earlier songs, and later on you get one lame stab at prog, a short Genesis-ish keyboard instrumental called "Musicatto," but for the most part it's just bland AOR fare.
The Kinks, The Kink Kontroversy: I was originally planning on skipping the pre-Face To Face Kinks and just being done with them (I didn't do any Beach Boys album prior to All Summer Long) due to most bands not being able to make good albums before 1966, but I caved. You can see the Kinks inching towards their 1966-71 greatness here, but only inching--they've still got one foot stuck in a 1964 mentality. "Ring The Bells," "When I See That Girl Of Mine," "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" and the song I already knew, "Til The End Of The Day", are the standouts, and none of it explicitly blows, but it honestly doesn't seem like anyone out there really considers this a great album, and I wondered if anyone did, due to the album cover seeming to be kind of iconic. Face To Face is easily a lot better.
The Kinks, Percy: A thirty-minute soundtrack the band did to a forgotten 1971 comedy about a penis transplant, this actually does count as a real Kinks studio album, but it certainly doesn't count as an important Kinks album. "God's Children," "The Way Love Used To Be" and PERHAPS "Moments" are decent heartfelt tunes, but you also have to sit through junk like a kiddie-organ instrumental "Lola" or the silly "Willesden Green." Pretty weak and I wouldn't at all call it a must for anyone who isn't an OCD completist.
The Kinks, The Great Lost Kinks Album: "Lost," I suppose, but it certainly isn't "Great." I was planning on calling Percy the least important Kinks album before I listened to this--you wouldn't call Led Zeppelin's Coda a "Great Lost Led Zeppelin Album," wouldja? This is just some thing Ray Davies cobbled together out of stuff that didn't make it onto albums, and most of it would in the CD era as bonus tracks, meaning I had the pleasure of listening to the worthless "There's No Life Without Love"--gack!!--several more times. I guess "Lavender Hill" and "Misty Water" were okay, I don't have those as bonus tracks, but that's about all I could care about here. (Not "Groovy Movies" or "Rosemary Rose.") It still isn't their very worst--Soap Opera is still weaker--but yeah, their least essential, and I wouldn't have even heard it without the Internet, so, uh, bleurrrrgh.
The Kinks, Kinks: This was supposed to be terrible--a 3 star rating from the All-Music Guide is about as good a non-Amazon rating as I could find, and it sounds like it was recorded in 1948 (deurrrhhh, Shel Talmy!) but I actually kind of liked it. The band certainly seems to be having fun and in high spirits much of the time, even if you've heard about how albums made in 1964 were just the hit followed by a bunch of crap they recorded just to get an album out. At the very least I for one liked not only "You Really Got Me" and "All Day And All Of The Night" but also "Cadillac," "I Took My Baby Home," "So Mystifying," "Just Can't Go To Sleep" and "Stop Your Sobbing." That's more than the two followups, though I admit I listened to a 28-song version with a lot of mediocre garage-rock bonus slop that does admittedly drag things down a bit. Still, I can't help but feel some slight affection, so I'm glad I didn't skip this!
The Kinks, Kinda Kinks: ...and with this, my adventures throughout 2020 and 2021 of listening to every Kinks album I didn't have--something like 25 albums total--comes to an end. The best songs are "Tired Of Waiting For You," "Set Me Free," "See My Friends," "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy," "Something Better Beginning," and "Who'll Be The Next In Line," and...uh, those are a)all songs I'd been familiar with for a long time, and b)four of them are bonus tracks. It's a mite more sophisticated in terms of songwriting than the debut, but that doesn't mean the songs are actually better! I guess "Come On Now" and "I Need You" are okay, and the barely audible "Got My Feet On The Ground" is a bit different, but is it just me or is "Dancing In The Street" a terrible song that NOBODY should have covered? But all the British bands did? This'd get about a 5 out of 10, and oh yeah, "A Well Respected Man" SUCKS. It's important for being Ray's first British character sketch/social commentary, but the melody is those three descending notes over and over again and it DRIVES ME NUTS. Thank God I don't have to listen to the Kinks anymore!!