William Goldman, The Princess Bride: This would seem at first to contrast a great deal with the beloved 1987 movie. That film has spawned a lot of meme-y quotes and jokes that have been repeated to death to this very day, while still seeming to work wonders on a heart-felt level, at least to its fans. The book, on the other hand, is a smirky work of early-1970s metafiction, with Goldman repeatedly interrupting his own narrative with stories about "S. Morgenstern," the supposed author of the book you're reading, alleged scenes that have been deleted from the story, and Woody Allen-esque vignettes from Goldman's own life, such as troubles with his wife and kids and publishing company and Hollywood goons, all of which are fictitious...and also, none of which are really all that witty or funny, but which I bet would have worked wonders if I'd been alive in 1973 (or at least a lot younger and more willing to pat myself on the back for "getting" metafiction) to read that sort of thing when it was fresh and new. There are things that didn't make it into Goldman's screenplay for the movie either, such as the actual depiction of Inigo Montoya's father being murdered, or backstories for characters like Fezzik and Count Rugen, so it's like 170 pages (out of a 300 page book) before you even get to "Inconceivable!!" It's all a moot point, though--for all the differences between book and film, I'm lukewarm at best on both, and for a surprisingly similar reason: not only do I not find much profundity in whatever Goldman is saying about how we need feel-good fantasy stories (and that they do, in fact, need to make us feel good), but I'm just not that wild about the humor.
Oppenheimer: I don't really have a big opinion of this for now; I'm going to need to watch it a couple more times on DVD, because it was hot in the theater and I nearly passed out a couple times over the three-hour run time. Although I didn't find the big boom scene to be all that amazing (David Lynch having done it better six years ago didn't help) it's nonetheless pretty amazing that Christopher Nolan can sell millions of viewers on three hours of people talking. So for now, I admire it, though I have a sneaking feeling that the lovefest this is getting now will dissipate over the next few years a bit, similar to what happened with Dunkirk. (Side note: critics fell all over themselves to overpraise Robert Downey Jr. for not playing Tony Stark again, but I didn't think he was anything mind-blowing.).
The Sparks Brothers: It's pretty amusing for me to be watching such a thing within just a few years of doing 90 percent of the Sparks discography in these review posts, because that's what it basically is: a run-through of the band's discography, spending a few minutes on each album with only small asides for, say, the Mael's childhoods, or scenes of their daily life, reserved for the movie's ending. Since Sparks don't really have a fascinating story, there were only a few really eyebrow-raising "I did not know that!" moments, like that they had film projects planned with Jacques Tati (mid 70s) AND Tim Burton (late 80s, which is why no Sparks album came out for six years), both of which fell through, or that Paul McCartney once dressed up as Ron Mael for a video. The strongest aspect would be Edgar Wright's lack of pretension in directing such a thing; he clearly made this just for fun, and keeps one's attention through a dizzying editing job pasting together countless Sparks interviews and videos and live footage, so that you don't get bored during the 140-minute run time. The weakest aspect would be the talking heads, the usual gallery of people you'd expect in a doc like this (Flea, Beck, Thurston Moore, and Dave Weigel, who has gained weight since posting here), but all they seem to say is "I was watching these guys and was like, 'whoa, what IS this?'"-type slop, and there's very little Todd Rundgren. It all adds up to something a little more entertaining than your average Sparks album...but then again, I'm only a casual Sparks fan--I never thought they made any masterpieces!
Vanishing Point: This is to Easy Rider what Night Moves is to Chinatown or The Long Goodbye: a passable movie living in the shadow of its counterculture-era predecessor, which doesn't earn its existential-nihilist brownie points as well as the predecessor. If Easy Rider is "we blew it," then Vanishing Point, as every review will gladly expound on, is "let's deliberately blow it, because there's nothing better to do, and without the damn idealism this time." I liked the black DJ character and all the shots of desert roads, but the ending is a facepalm that lands somewhere between Easy Rider (good) and The Wages Of Fear (bad), and a late-movie encounter with Charlotte Rampling doesn't work terribly well at all. Oh, and the main guy is honestly just kind of boring and stoic; he's played by Barry Newman, a generic actor who I only have seen elsewhere in, bleurggghh, What The Bleep Do We Know?!? Still, if you want that early 70s "we're on the road and we're free, but the hippie thing fell apart and we all know it" feel, you can watch this, but Two-Lane Blacktop is better.
Meat Loaf: To Hell And Back: 2000 VH1 TV movie detailing the life of the late Mr. Marvin Lee Aday (or was it Michael?), as played by W. Earl Brown, the big guy who played Dan Dority on Deadwood (or the retarded brother in There's Something About Mary, a movie I think the world has surprisingly kind of forgotten about.) I watched this on a lark, and it's just a basic rise and fall story, ending when Loaf scores his comeback hit, "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Get Vaxxed)." There's only one scene with some actor playing Todd Rundgren and he's facing away from the camera most of the time (I was hoping they'd include the anecdote where Rundgren allegedly told Loaf to go sit in the corner while he and Jim Steinman made a record, but no dice.) Brown does a good enough job so that this is better than turds like England Is Mine or Stardust, but that's a very low bar. I watched this on Youtube, which contained commercial breaks from 2000, so you could get a little trip back to all the MTV junk youth culture from 23 years ago, which was more entertaining than this movie. Also more entertaining than this movie: Meat Loaf yelling at Gary Busey on Celebrity Apprentice, that's a classic.
Memories Of Murder: This 2003 film is Bong Joon-ho's breakthrough, made in his early 30s, and beloved by pretty much every critic who ever reviewed it, but the real reason I just HAD to see the Criterion of this is because of numerous comparisons to Zodiac, which came out four years later. It's a very admirable and professional film, but I found it slightly disappointing. Most reviews seem to think it's a metaphor for South Korea emerging from its backwater 1980s reputation. It's a sort of bleak half-thriller half-comic police procedural about how a bunch of detectives working under the South Korean military rule in the 1980s had no chance whatsoever to solve a series of sickening rural rape-murders due to limited resources and experience, and the movie has a bizarre blackly-comic undertow concerning their, ahem, "methods" of interrogating suspects, like beating and threatening them and having a terrible time with evidence and whatnot. I dunno, but this sort of thing just doesn't translate terribly well for me somehow--I'm reminded of Parasite, which only partially worked for me because I couldn't tell what was supposed to be so satirically awful about that rich family. The bleaker parts however did work very well, with a number of effective scenes of the killer stalking victims, and there's an ending with the main character (the dad from Parasite) staring right into the camera that worked better than you'd think. It's also of note that this film gets away with a very ugly color palette, all wet dark greens and stone greys and dirt browns and almost no light. Although I'm a bit on the fence about this film, I will try to see some of Bong Joon-ho's others....
Mark Hollis, Mark Hollis: It really pains me to say this, but this was a huge disappointment, maybe the biggest I've ever heard. I love Spirit Of Eden and nearly love Laughing Stock, but Mark Hollis' only solo album serves as Exhibit A in the case that post-rock albums need to have dynamics, because the earlier albums did. Do you wish "Eden" didn't have "every body needs something to live byyyy!"? Would "After The Flood" have been better without that broken distortion break? Would Bark Psychosis' Hex be an even bigger masterpiece if it didn't change moods after its first minute? No, no, and no. If your favorite Talk Talk songs are "Myrrhman" or the beginning of "Taphead," by all means, dive in here, but if they aren't, I imagine you're going to either give up or be forced to admit at gunpoint that you find it boring. It's all gently brushed jazz drums and soft upright bass notes and spare gentle piano chords and maybe a dissonant horn or guitar note or two in there somewhere and Hollis' wonderful singing voice singing so softly that he's damn near muttering, and I don't know a single lyric on this album anyway--nor, for that matter, can I remember a single song--maybe the last two, "The Daily Planet" and "A New Jerusalem" come closest, but I don't really care to give it another try. Rest in peace, Mark, you're my favorite vocalist ever, but I sadly did not care for your solo album.
Dire Straits, Brothers In Arms: Well, it's the big 1980s MTV sell out, and the first album to sell a million CDs, but that makes it no better or worse than their typical albums. Predictably, the three smash hit singles at the beginning are the best songs (how often did this happen back then?), followed by a midsection of some 80s interest, followed by a somewhat weak final third. You hear "Walk Of Life" all the time anyway, but I did find myself grooving along to a part of it I'd sort of forgotten about (those backing vocals right before Knopfler gets to the title refrain!) You hear ABOUT "Money For Nothing" all the time, too, but I didn't realize until re-reading the reviews that you don't actually HEAR it anymore because of the word "f*ggot," which nowadays would...well, you know. (And it's *because* I hadn't heard it in forever that I didn't recall that the main riff rips off "Jumpin' Jack Flash" so obviously that I guess Jagger and Richards just didn't sue because they didn't need the money.) I did find myself sort of liking the song though, if only because of Sting's cameos, and because it's funny to get on MTV by putting DOWN MTV (and Christgau's response--"how DID you get on MTV, Mark? By spelling its name right?" was a funny one too.) The midsection caught my attention too, and I can't BELIEVE I liked "Why Worry," with its high school science-video synth break, but I did. "Your Latest Trick" is pretty 80s too, but it's good...and then after "Why Worry" the album just loses me, with only the title track, later covered by Metallica, catching my attention at all. Good rating! So much for that!
Aerosmith, Draw The Line: This album's reputation is right up there with David Bowie's Station To Station: "drugs, drugs, drrruuuuuuuuggggsssss!". Every review happily recounts for you the usual tiresome stories about band members not being in the same room throughout the making of the album, or nobody remembering recording anything, yada, yada, yada. Not only am I burnt out on such stories but in this case they're only relevant in terms of the album in question having a near-total lack of stylistic diversity: mired in the aforementioned drrrrrrruuuuugs, the band recorded an album consisting entirely of their typical bluesy 70s hard-rock, except for "Kings & Queens," which is predictably the difference-splitter amongst fans. I agree that the prog-lite lyrics to that song are pretty dumb, but I'm extremely grateful for the barn-burning minor key mood, which works both well in and of itself, and as an antidote to the rest of the songs, of which I only really enjoyed "Draw The Line," "I Wanna Know Why" and maybe "Sight For Sore Eyes." This is a step down from the previous four Aerosmith albums, but I will say that I'm already liking Night In The Ruts better...
Black Sabbath, Mob Rules: This isn't a "clone" of the previous Sabbath album, Heaven & Hell, but it is definitely "diminishing returns" from Heaven & Hell. It's not a very good sign that the best song is the opener, "Turn Up The Night," a chugging rocker that just gets away with rehashing "Neon Knights." There are, however, two epics, "The Sign Of The Southern Cross" and "Falling Off The Edge Of The World," neither of which would have made sense, IMO, on Heaven & Hell, so no, the album isn't a "clone." The dreary closer "Over & Over" is worth a look as well. That being said, I don't have much to say about this album, and it gets a neutral rating, as Heaven & Hell was definitely better, and God knows what else they could have done with Dio singing...
Black Sabbath, Born Again: ...but they could have at least made something better than what they made with Ian Gillan two years later. Really, I'm not sure what to rate this album, because I'm not sure what the hell it even really is. Not since I slogged through Genesis' Calling All Stations have I encountered a bigger case of a band being so clueless as to who its target audience at the time actually was. Think of all the "heavy" genres that existed in 1983 when this came out. Speed metal? Hair metal? Goth rock? Hardcore punk? AOR stadium rock, even? This doesn't sound like any of those, nor does it sound like Deep Purple, nor any previous version of Black Sabbath. It's doomy and bleak, but also flat-footed, clunky and unpleasant, like an album that wants to shock your parents but doesn't know how. Hell, I can't even really call it a "dinosaur album" (no, that'd be Lick It Up), and 1983 was about when "dinosaur albums" became a thing. What most people seem to hate about Born Again, besides the garishly colored cover art, is that Ian Gillan's screaming 70s rock-'n-roll vocals don't mesh very well with a doom-and-gloom style, and the critics are basically right about that, but to *me* he just makes the album even more faceless. This is partially because of the lack of stylistic meshing, but more so because he just doesn't pull of "eeevil" very well, and what kids were going to be scared of Ian Gillan, when they all had crap like Shout At The Devil to listen to? "Disturbing The Priest" is the song where he tries the hardest ("cackling" vocals), but I thought it was one of the worst here, and Iommi's clunking harmonics riff doesn't help. Some of the songs somehow aren't that bad, which is why I don't feel like thoroughly trashing the album--at the very least, I sort of liked parts of "Zero The Hero," "Digital Bitch," the bleak title ballad, and maybe "Keep It Warm." But really, whatever they were trying do here, they didn't do it terribly well, which is why I'd have to side with this album's critics more than I can't. (And of course, I'm now listening to Seventh Star, an album possibly even more hated than this one, and sure enough, it's generic 80s MTV metal.)
David Bowie, Outside: Yet again I find myself having to give a passable, non-hateful rating to a Bowie album that seemingly everyone despises...but looking up the reviews, you'll see that most critics were on the fence about it, not actually all that contemptuous in tone. Oh sure, nobody gave two craps about Bowie's "concept" here, some sort of Twin Peaks knockoff storyline about "art crimes" and "hypertext" that got Bowie dumped in with every other old timer (Billy Idol, Danzig, etc.) who heard about Nine Inch Nails and early Internet technology and subsequently went "cyberpunk" or "industrial" in the mid 90s in an attempt to update their image, but if you ignore that (everyone did, anyway), there are still a few decent songs here, even if you have to pick them out of the ridiculous running time to piece together a good album, like Bowie's Tales From Topographic Oceans. The best ended up in movies of the time--"I'm Deranged" was wonderfully used in the opening credits of Lost Highway and "Hearts Filthy Lesson" was wonderfully used in the closing credits of Se7en. When Bowie uses the 90s style to get energetic, it usually works, like "I'm Deranged" or the fast-paced "We Prick You"; when he tries the louder, pounding side of "industrial", we get failures like "Hallo Spaceboy." "The Motel" predicts "I Would Be Your Slave" from Heathen," so thumbs up for that one, and "Outside," "Get Real," "A Small Plot Of Land" and "Wishful Beginnings," based around a looping gagging noise, get better results than you'd think. So again, a decent album is salvaged from something I was supposed to hate, though it's better than Bowie and Eno never finished the sequels, which were amusingly advertised on Bowie's website in a Space Jam-like fashion long after they were supposed to be finished.
Beck, Stereopathetic Soulmanure: This is the same thing as Golden Feelings, but with more money involved. It's still a load of tossed-off lo-fo slop though, and still mostly like listening to one of the first two Ween albums, if they weren't very good (and I think those albums *are* good, so there.) "Ozzy" is a funny-enough joke, and a couple folk tunes like "No Money No Honey," "Puttin' It Down" and "Crystal Clear (Beer)" have a slight memorability to them, but otherwise, all I have to say about this 25-song junk drawer that Beck didn't put much effort into and probably doesn't care much about is that it sold in the six figures, which, as an Amazon commenter pointed out, is because Beck was a media darling. If he weren't, this wouldn't have sold 146 copies, let alone 146,000.
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Daylight Again: This is good enough, if nothing amazing, if only because it narrowly avoids dinosaurism. That's notable, because this is from 1982, which was just about the cutoff point for aging bands from the 1960s and 70s before they'd all be using the Tools Of Dinosaurism which would become prevalent in the 1980s (gated reverb on drums, Casio synthesizers, dumb MTV videos). The only thing you really need to know about the backstory will be immediately pointed out in any review: it was a Stills-Nash collaboration that the record company demanded be released as a CSN album, even though Crosby was quite out of it at the time due to his drug abuse. So an army of studio musicians and guest vocalists are there to prop the thing up, made all the more perverse because I think Crosby's two vocal performances, "Delta" and "Might As Well Have A Good Time" (sounds like an early 70s Elton John song, or maybe Don McLean) are, IMO, the two classics to be found here. Other decent songs includethe hit "Southern Cross" (the only CSN song I've ever heard in public that wasn't from the first two albums), "Too Much Love To Hide," "Since I Met You," and "Turn Your Back On Love," so that's a little over half the album. (I did not get the hype behind "Wasted On The Way," apparently a well-regarded hit, but I'd never heard it before.). There are no stinkers, but this might be the last time I can say that about CSN(Y)...