Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451: This was primitive compared to most sci-fi I've read since high school, and I should have read it in high school, but I'm not really sorry I read it at age 39. There are a few things in it that are still of interest: the scenes with the worthless, drug/TV-addled wife character may have inspired the "mood organ" stuff that opened Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? 15 years later, there's a long passage depicting how the world came to embrace book-burning that blames both anti-intellectualism AND political correctness (or whatever the 1953 fore-runner of that was) for the fall, and I have no idea how to react to the gone-in-60-seconds nuclear war that Bradbury employs as an ending. It's weirdly effective even though it's brief and primitive and the book gets past it as quickly as possible. I guess? Is the Truffaut film worth a damn?
Macbeth (1948): The Orson Welles version. It doesn't seem to be that widely viewed or talked about these days. The central fact of the film is that it was made in about three weeks on a shoestring budget, and for a studio (Republic) that was known for cheap Westerns. For the most part, this is a testament to how good Welles was, as the film still manages to be decent. He shoots in black and white and goes for minimal sets (both of these probably influencing the Joel Coen film from last year) and the only real evidence to my eyes that the film was cheap is that Welles-beth wears two crowns, one of which looks like a fast food takeout container with four spikes sticking out, and the other of which looks like the Statue of Liberty's headgear made out of plush. His performance as Macbeth involves odd facial hair, a slightly inconsistent accent and bugging his eyes and jaw out all tense-like the whole movie, though he hadn't really gotten fat yet (Macduff, meanwhile, is Dan O'Herlihy, the old guy from Halloween III, Twin Peaks and RoboCop, though I wouldn't have easily been able to tell it was him.) A decent adaptation overall but at this point I'd have to conclude the Joel Coen version is (a bit predictably, given my tastes) the clear winner and probably the only one of the four that I watched that I'll ever revisit. Oh also you see Macbeth's head on Macduff's sword, which I considered notable because the beheading was taken out of Treasure Of The Sierra Madre that same year.
Nixon (REWATCH): The last film of Oliver Stone's glory period. I don't think I like it as much as I used to. I'll defend Anthony Hopkins' performance to the grave, even though he doesn't look like Nixon and his Welsh accent pops randomly back into certain words, but it's a great performance anyway. Everyone in the supporting cast is good, too, and I'll never forget the great scenes that sustain the film--Nixon being belittled by his Quaker mother, Larry Hagman insinuating that Kennedy should be killed, the meeting with the students at the Lincoln monument, the creepy meeting with Sam Waterston's Richard Helms where his eyes turn black, and best of all, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Shenandoah" over the end credits. But...I've only ever watched the full director's cut of this film, and 211 minutes is pretty damn exhausting to 40-year-old me. I'm sorry, there's just too many damn scenes of Nixon fighting with people in his office that drag the thing out forever. I also didn't know until this most recent viewing that it totally tanked at the box office anyway and that only a few critics actually proclaimed it among 1995's best. I'd rate it a "B" now, if you care.
Trainwreck: Woodstock '99: This isn't as effective as the first Woodstock '99 documentary; it's a little longer (three 45-50 minute installments) and seems to concentrate a little more on the hubris of the festival's creators and a little less on the rape and feces and such, but ultimately I don't think I could much describe the differences between the two at gunpoint. I normally watch any new film twice just to absorb it well, but I didn't watch that first documentary twice and I don't feel like watching this one twice. Watching this film feels like it could count as a second viewing of the first film. Pick one or the other, I really don't give a crap.
Nightmare Alley (1947): This is decent viewing as a 1940s film noir, but not much more than that. Reading reviews reveal that it was mostly made so that Tyrone Power, who plays the con-man anti-hero Stanton Carlisle, could shed his pretty-boy image from the hit swashbucklers he starred in (I wouldn't know about those, I've never seen Power in anything else at all.) Since it's from 1947, I expected the book's powerful explicitness and nihilism to be toned down, but my biggest complaint--the lame plot twist that leads to the hero's downfall--is rendered even worse in the film. First, we get the twist itself. Then, Stanton reacts to it by very mildly berating his bimbo girlfriend/assistant out, as if she'd accidentally farted while trying to con the rich guy instead of screwing the whole thing up. Then Stanton takes one sip from a bottle and suddenly we cut to him under a bridge somewhere trying to con other homeless, bearded boozers. Then we DON'T get Stanton murdering a cop in self-defense, which removes a lot of the power. Finally, the bimbo girlfriend (played by Coleen Grey, the hottest actress I can recall seeing in a 1940s film, BTW) recognizes Stan when he's a geek back at the carnival, as a "comforting" ending. So yeah, they screwed that part up as much as possible. The only good part of it is when the femme fatale psychologist character tells Stan that he's only hearing the police sirens that come after him. While this wasn't a bad movie, I'm not sorry that I just watched it on Youtube, and didn't bother with the Criterion.
Nightmare Alley (2021): Yep, it's Guillermo Del Toro, and yep, it's yet again underwhelming. This bloated Oscar bait runs thirty-nine minutes longer than the 1947 film, and it's primarily due to Del Toro being too interested in the carnival stuff, which is actually only about a third of the book, but here it's more like over an hour, and it's all pretty much sub-Tim Burton stuff. Toni Collette doesn't seem to be a 1940s woman at all, David Straithairn looks like he's about to pass out and die of malnourishment, Ron Perlman barely registers, Rooney Mara is too pale and sad-faced to play an innocent scantily-clad bimbo who does a circus act involving electricity, and Bradley Cooper is just kind of inconsistent, far too old to be playing a kid who goes from "an Okie with straight teeth" to a con-man minister so quickly. Later on we get Cate Blanchett with her face frozen in a kind of Joan Crawford expression, she might as well have the words "FEMME FATALE" tattooed on her forehead. The Ezra Grindle stuff is better fleshed out than the 1947 film bothered with, but Del Toro and his wife rewrote the story so that there are now five gruesome deaths in it that weren't in the original, including a barely-explicable suicide involving a character one had already forgotten about by the time it happens, and two characters who weren't even in the book. About the best I can really say for this latest Del Toro disappointment is that it has really nice production design and cinematography, which is predictable. I bet his next film will be the same w--Pinocchio? Really? Oh, okay...
Q: Into The Storm: 6 hours of QAnon in six parts, like a lot of documentaries I watch, it barely needed to be half that. It's more good than bad, though, mostly immersing us in the lives of disabled, wheelchair-bound, teddy-bear sized (but strangely amiable and optimistic) 8chan founder Fredrick Brennan on one hand, and Manila-based pig-farmer/ex-porn-site owner/middle-aged Snoop Dogg quoter/"non-political person" Jim Watkins and his dead-eyed computer nerd son Ron, the last of whom, the documentary posits, is probably Q himself, if it isn't Steve Bannon. I confess to finding the quiet, slightly creepy Jim Watkins sort of fascinating to watch, even if what he did is probably terrible. There's also a lot of time devoted to Internet ugliness and scandals from 10 years ago (Anonymous, 4chan, GamerGate, Cicada 3301) to pad things out, and after watching the January 6 riot yet again followed by no concrete answer as to who Q was, I felt vaguely depressed, but not as depressed as when I read the actual Q posts for the first time...which are absolutely NOTHING but rumors, patriotic sentiments and boringly ominous slogans like "the storm is brewing" or "watch closely." People fell for this crap because they felt like it, not because there was any real reason to, but I already knew that and so did you. I guess I'd go ahead and recommend this film, though six hours is certainly a bit much.
ZZ Top, Eliminator: I'd wager I like this about as much as Back In Black, another 80s hard-rock super-best-seller that has contributed at least three songs we've all heard forty million times. Which is to say I'm generally positive but slightly lukewarm. I didn't mind hearing "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man" again--overplayed as they are, they're still two of the better songs here ("Gimme All Your Lovin'" I confess to not being very familiar with.) Elsewhere...well, there's a few interesting dark, minor-key songs that nobody seems to talk about, like the Miami Vice-ish ballad "I Need You Tonight," the plastic-sounding "Thug" with its weird drum part that couldn't possibly be a real person playing it, and the depressing, bitter "TV Dinner" with staccato synth taps. Much of the remainder is typical metallized blues-boogie stuff like "I Got The Six" or speed-demon-y stuff like "Got Me Under Pressure" and "Bad Girl" which is listenable while it plays but fades into the background afterwards, which, come to think of it, is my opinion of much of Back In Black. The only other realization, besides the minor-key songs, is that a)the synthesizers are not really as prevalent as the hits or the album's legacy would lead one to believe, and b)I guess this album was mostly put together by Billy Gibbons and a bunch of producers and engineers and synth people, with Dusty Hill and Frank Beard barely playing much of it at all?!? Well, what can you expect, 1983 was mainstream music's corniest year...
The Rolling Stones, December's Children: Again, I'm at a loss for words how to criticize a 1965 Rolling Stones album. The hits are the best songs--that'd be hey, hey, you, you, get offa my cloud, and "As Tears Go By." Uh, I kinda liked "The Singer Not The Song" (most reviews seemed to hate it) and "Gotta Get Away," which I'd already heard on their previous album. This seems a little weaker than the other 1964-65 albums, but God knows if I'd be able to tell you why.
Brian Wilson, At My Piano: This is a pathetic nadir, even if I don't mind listening to it. It's just 79-year-old Brian playing his classics (both Beach Boys and solo) on a lonely piano, no vocals (perhaps we should be thankful for that) or other instruments at all. It could be anybody playing the piano, and it might as well be a demo. This is SAD--I can't imagine an album that would have been more pathetic to release in a time when people actually paid money for music, and I can't name an album that more SCREAMS at you that its creator badly needs to retire. Oh, don't get me wrong--the songs still have great melodies, and it's a better listening experience than the Gershwin or Disney crap--but seriously, Brian had already DONE an album of re-recordings! Does he even remember that? Would you be surprised if there was a third documentary about him? If he's still alive in 10 years, count on it.
The Who, Endless Wire: It took people all of about 10 minutes back in 2006 to sniff this out as a Pete Townshend solo album that he'd goaded Roger Daltrey into singing on, and probably only 10 more minutes to write it off, but it honestly isn't half bad, and I didn't see a single review point out a major plus: none of the songs are over five minutes in length. There's no bloated, slow-to-midtempo anthems here like the ones that clogged everything the Who released from 1973 on! GOOD!! It's good to hear Pete writing shorter songs!! He's good at it! No, Roger doesn't sound too good (and the song where someone sings like Tom Waits is the low point) but you still get "It's Not Enough," "We Got A Hit," the lovely title track, "Fragments" (reusing the "Baba O'Riley" loop tone), "Mike Post Theme" and "In The Ether," to name a few. And that's more than I got off of any of their 1975-82 albums! Did anyone else like this at all?
Kate Bush, Lionheart: Kate herself apparently only cares for the song "Wow" from this album, which was recorded at a breakneck pace in about three weeks and released only a few months after The Kick Inside. She seems to have written slightly more complicated songs anyway--again, very impressive for a 19 year old!--but that's the only advance, as the material isn't as good as the debut. I liked the snarlingly theatrical "Hammer Horror" the best, and the fluttery parts of the Peter Pan song second. Throw in "Full House" and "Symphony In Blue" and all is not lost, though she's relying too much on the piano, which she already relied too much on on the first album, and I just don't get stuff like "In The Warm Room," "Kashka From Baghdad" (ooo scandalousss) and "Oh England My Lionheart." The melodies just kinda get lost here.
The Moody Blues, The Other Side Of Life: This is the point of no return into total 80s MTV dinosaur sell-out territory. Every ounce of personality and identity the Moody Blues ever had prior to 1986 is completely gone--only their vocal harmonies would ever make it possible to identify that they made this album, assuming you somehow didn't know. All of that had been slowly dwindling on their last three albums, but here we are presented with pure 80s dinosaur-band radio pop, made all the more embarrassing by the fact that I don't actually dislike the melodies to these songs. Not even "Rock And Roll Over You," the most hated song here according to the reviews, is all that forgettable, albeit cheesy. I don't really love any of the songs, though "The Spirit" and the hit "Your Wildest Dreams" are probably the best.
Kansas, The Absence Of Presence: One of the dumber album titles since the last two words are redundant, this brings my long trek through Kansas' mostly-worthless discography to a merciful end. It's slightly better than most of their others--I mildly enjoyed a track called "Circus Of Illusion" and a draggy song called "The Song The River Sang" at the end, and almost smirked at the silly neo-prog illusions in the 8 minute title track opener--but it barely matters, just like it doesn't matter that we have only two founding members (the drummer and the second guitarist) accompanying Yes touring keyboardist Tom Brislin and Ronnie Platt, David Ragsdale and Zak Rizvi (who, who, and who?--geez, even their NAMES sound like those of AOR/neo-prog replacement peole), as the music on the album is just the same old AOR. This finally proves how bad this band really was, as weak, boring imitation Kansas isn't any better OR worse than the real thing--you can't even tell! It actually, literally doesn't matter! Thank God I'm done with these guys, and if you were secretly wondering that George was wrong or something like that, don't.