Sunday, June 25, 2017

Song of the Week: "Sowing the Seeds of Love"

Tears for Fears, 1989. Ran across this yesterday and the nostalgia kind of hit. A bright spot on the radio during one of the shittiest years of my life.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Song of the Week: "Just the Two of Us"

Happy Father's Day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Disney XD released this opening credit sequence today, with the new version of the theme song. This is really wonderful. I am actually tearing up watching this. I love the comic panel motif and the fact that so many of the scenes presented here are from classic Carl Barks adventures, This doesn't premiere until August, and I can't wait for it!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Song of the Week: "Pour Some Sugar on Me"

Every time I hear this song, I think of the summer of 1988, which I spent a huge chunk of on Guam. This song was so damn popular that summer. My Mom hated it so much. I like Def Leppard, but I do remember this was the first time I'd ever heard of them. I was 12.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Happy Birthday, Donald Duck

83 years! And so looking forward to the rebooted series... I may already love it. That's such an Uncle Scrooge/Carl Barks thing to say.

The 2016-2017 TV Season

Thoughts on what I watched this season on TV, either too brief or not brief enough.

The Affair: The third season of this series has taken some surprising dramatic turns. As we go on, I find that more than ever I'm fascinated about what happens to the main character's ex-wife (played by Maura Tierney) and less in the main couple. Honestly, I just want the show to be her at this point. Also, loved the addition of Irene Jacob this season, B+

Agents of SHIELD: I stopped watching it. I haven't seen this season at all. What I plan to do is binge it on Netflix over the summer. It was just so not good in the previous season that I didn't want to spend time with it each week. I am looking forward to Ghost Rider, though.

American Housewife: Watched the first episode and, although I thought Katy Mixon was fun, it wasn't for me.

The Americans: Still a great show, but one that I don't have a lot to say about. A-

Arrow: Well, what I like about this show is apparently the opposite of everyone else. This show is heavily flawed all the time, but some people were really hailing this season as a return to form, whereas I hailed this season as terrible. I liked the maligned fourth season, when it was unapologetically a superhero show. This season was trying to apologize for the much more superhero-style leanings of the previous two and give us that gritty, "realistic," crypto-fascist feel that's been ruining Batman for a decade. And added a half-dozen new characters just to make sure nothing would get done. For this season, it's a D+. Not enjoyable to watch, and I'm only still here because I'm keeping up with the 'verse after a huge catch-up over last summer.

Ash vs. Evil Dead: Season 2 was further bizarre greatness... except for that ending. That ending was a disappointment, especially when you read about what the original ending for the season was supposed to be. The ending we got was an ending that says they're taking themselves too seriously, an it actually makes me hope there won't be a third. A-

Big Little Lies: This compelling event series was an excellent story about forms of abuse, as well as a chance to watch some great actresses together. A+

Black-ish: Still love it, but I didn't care for the backdoor pilot for the spin-off, which was a little too silly and sitcommy and, let's be honest, there's been more than enough of Chris Parnell for the world. I love Yara Shahidi and she's wonderful as Zoe, but I don't know about a series about her going to college without a little bit of an overhaul (and some recasting? maybe?). I hope it's not really lame because it means she's not on the parent show. B-

Bob's Burgers: I thought this past season stepped up the quality in ways the previous season hadn't; I know I complained about the show getting too caught up in catering to its internet fandom. I wasn't sure things were going to go so good when the season premiere was a fantasy musical episode... but overall this season was really fun and had a lot of plots that came out of character. Nice rebound. B+

Crisis in Six Scenes: Woody Allen's Amazon Prime series. It was okay, but nothing compelling. In fact, I'd forgotten I watched it until I checked my notes for this post. C

Cutthroat Kitchen: I'm so glad they've finally started airing episodes again! Just this week! It's been gone for a couple of months! A+

Dance Moms: Well, the toxicity got pulled back quite a bit this season, but there were some departures and some shake-ups. I know the last chunk they'll air is the end of the show. I've enjoyed it, but it's been rocky for a long time, so I'm more glad that those kids are getting away from their abusive relationship with both Abby Lee Miller and Lifetime. Great dancers. C+

DC's Legends of Tomorrow: Love it. This is my replacement for Doctor Who being so unwatchable now. And taking four of the Arrowverse's best villains and creating the Legion of Doom added some real excitement and campy mustache-twirling and sneering. My wife doesn't like Citizen Steel or Vixen and their whole love story, but I like them much more than Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Fun stuff. A-

Dear White People: Like the movie, but fuller and dealing more with the aftermath of the film's events. Much of the cast of the excellent film returns here. I missed Tessa Thompson a little, but Logan Browning was extremely good as Samantha White. It's an impressive series, and no, it's not racist to white people. Sheesh. A+

The Eric Andre Show: A+

The Exorcist: Watched the first episode and couldn't get into it at all.

The Flash: Though I am a Marvel kid, my favorite superhero is the Flash. This show does him justice in so many ways. It faltered a little here in the third season, but I still loved it. A-

Feud: Bettie and Joan: This is my favorite series so far this year. I love how Ryan Murphy took the feud between Bettie Davis (Susan Sarandon was amazing) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange, more Jessica than Joan, but very good) and turned into something representative of sexism in Hollywood. I never felt like he blamed one woman over the other. Excellent television. A+

Girlboss: It was okay. My favorite part was RuPaul playing the neighbor. B-

Girls: The final season surprisingly decided to give Hannah a pregnancy to deal with, but it turned out to be a nice farewell to the show itself. I've really liked this show, and I'm sorry it won't be around anymore, but it took a turn I didn't think I wanted it to this year and made it kind of a great ending. A

The Good Place: Cute, high concept series about ethics and morality, heaven and hell, and my love for Kristen Bell. Ted Danson is especially good on this series. I like it, I'm interested to see where they go from here, but I also keep forgetting it's a thing, which probably isn't a great sign. B-

Grace and Frankie: I had an emotional revelation during one episode involving my childhood abuse and how it's affected my life, so touche for me calling you somewhat inconsequential last year, show. B

Guardians of the Galaxy: I love how wild the show went this year with the whole Adam Warlock cocoon story, and I love that it involved the Avengers and the High Evolutionary. B

Halloween Wars: Fun as always. B

Iron Fist: Ugh, the worst. Just terrible and not fun. D-. Only David Wenham saves it from an F.

The Last Man on Earth: One of the things this show really excels at is its bleak imagery, and there was a lot of that this year in a way that made their world seem bigger. A nuclear reactor melting down in the distance, the sudden appearance of life in a drone camera, or the weird sadness of a man in a dinosaur costume walking down a silent street. Lots of sudden turns this year, but not in a way that made me feel jerked around. A-

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: A+

Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath: Important, emotional series exposing the "church." A+

The Librarians: Another fun season of this adventure series. B

Love: Okay, this season did a better job of showing why our main characters get along, making a relationship between them seem less scuzzy. Of course, that relationship is still going to be plagued by problems the two of them have with their own personalities, but this season was about being honest about those problems and finding ways to be supportive, and I really appreciated that. B+

Luke Cage: My favorite of the Netflix MCU series so far. A+

Master of None: It took it's time coming back, but I'd rather have it right than have it fast, and this season was right. A+

MasterChef Junior: Good overall, but the worst challenges on this series are the same as on the adult version: home cooks working as line cooks. I finally realized why I can't stand it: Gordon Ramsey can't handle the pressure. Once his reputation is on the line, he becomes a total mess, and there he suddenly is, screaming at an 11 year-old about consistency and throwing her steak on the ground as if that's a reasonable way to act. It's disgusting and I'm tired of that. She's a child, you ass. Either tell her what she's doing wrong and show her how to do it right, or recuse yourself from being in the kitchen during these challenges, because you melt down. Otherwise, A-

Masters of Sex: A surprise cancellation for a fascinating series. Like The Affair, I found myself much more interested in a character who wasn't the main couple (Caitlin FitzGerald as Masters' ex-wife, Libby, who is aptly named as her story was one of liberation). I'm sorry it just sort of stopped, but Libby's story had a satisfying end, so I'm okay. A-

People of Earth: Surprisingly emotional for a sitcom about people who were abducted by aliens. B+

Rick and Morty: Well, we got one episode, and it was awesome, so A.

RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars: Amazing to watch so many talented drag artists, and amazing to watch so many people whine about how it was less dramatic because everyone was so talented. Well, it's an All-Stars. And there was at least one person I would like to have never seen again who hung in there and started shit. Look, we all knew Alaska Thunderfuck was going to win, but she fucking deserved it. A

Saturday Night Live: Much better than the terrible season before it. Finally going in on making fun of Trump gave the show some teeth. It's not incredibly good satire, but it's occasionally pointed and a nice tension release. B

Scream Queens: I'm sorry but unsurprised that it got canceled. Loved the second season almost as much as the first, though. B+

Search Party: I talked about this on my most recent Pop Culture 50. This was a lovely surprise. A

Shark Tank: B-

Star Wars Rebels: Still one of my favorite Star Wars Things. This year saw a lot of neat stuff about the nature of the Force itself (I loved Tom Baker as the Bendu, somewhere in between the Light and the Dark), the return of Saw Gerrera, and the addition of the marvelously grumpy droid AP-5. It was nice to finally see Sabine Wren come into her own, too, and the Rebel Alliance become more openly organized under Mon Mothma. But the best episode was a quieter one, which finally saw the rematch between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi, which was lyrical and majestic in its simplicity. Only one season left, unfortunately. Here's hoping Cassian and K-2SO show up. A

Storage Wars: C

Supergirl: There was nothing wrong with this show that getting rid of Mon-El after five episodes wouldn't have fixed. Mon-El was played by a charming actor, but he dominated too much of the series with his story, and if there's one thing the Arrowverse ain't great at, it's satisfying love stories. The Mon-El Problem was almost as bad as James getting shoved to the sidelines for the entire season. I wish the upcoming Black Lightning was taking place on the same Earth as Supergirl, because we could just move James over there where he might have something to do. I still enjoy this show, but nowhere near the love I had in its first season. I did enjoy Teri Hatcher as the season's villain, though, just because she was so over-the-top and bitchy. She's obviously been studying this role her entire life. C+

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Still digging it. B+

Vice Principals: The kind of cringe my wife really hates, but I think this one is brilliant. A

Vikings: I'm okay with those character deaths. As long as you don't kill Lagertha, I'm okay. A-

We Bare Bears: These episodes with the baby bears are giving me, as the kids say, feels. A

Westworld: Recording all of this on the TiVo and watching it all in one weekend (the weekend of the finale) was really the way to go with this series. Then I could just absorb it and, having successfully ignored the media and the online reaction, not get caught up in answering the mystery of it. I just dug the story and didn't get caught up in the twists. Really atmospheric and compelling show. A-

The Young Pope: I was expecting something sleazy-but-historical like The Borgias, but instead got something that really moved me, a portrait of a modern Pope who is a true believer and who genuinely tries to re-shape the world into something better (not just something Catholic). I liked this very much. Excellent soundtrack, too. A+

And that's the end of that season.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Film Week

A review of the film I've seen this week.

Loved, loved, loved this movie. This is so much what I wanted a Wonder Woman movie to be. I think my favorite thing about it was setting it in World War I instead of World War II. It's pretty relevant to today, particularly with the refugee situation in the wold and the general hopelessness of the film's portrayal of the Great War. Certainly a lot of us feel powerless to the tide of history these days. In comes Diana, a beacon of hope, and besides its successful subversion of a lot of typically male action movie tropes, Gal Gadot's performance is just so charming and lovable that I just... I don't know, it made me feel good. Like love and hope counted for something, in a way I usually haven't seen in movies like this. What's so great is that the movie gets what Wonder Woman represents, but rather than remind us of it constantly with text-as-dialogue (my biggest issue with many of the DC movies), Diana is a character with things to learn about herself. It took me some time to realize that, wonderfully, I was watching a movie about women that didn't have a leering Male Gaze to it, that just took the character seriously. Chris Pine plays well off of Gadot, supporting her with his performance rather than trying to outshine her, content to let it be her movie, but he has some great moments of his own. I also love the collection of diverse men who help them along their way into Occupied Territory and across No Man's Land. (I was thinking to myself that Wonder Woman appearing in the trenches even plays to a lot of the mythology at the time and the stories of soldiers who thought they saw angels and goddesses and other such things on the battlefield.) The only misstep is probably the CGI in the finale, which is big and does bookend the film with its first act, but feels a little old hat at this point. I'm not going to go into the whole "DC vs. Marvel" bit or "What does this mean for the DCEU?" discussions going 'round, but I just really enjoyed the hell out of this movie and I can't wait to watch it again. ***1/2

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Hate for Sale

Directed and animated (in stop-motion) by Anna Eijsbouts, based on a Neil Gaiman poem. I just found this very affecting tonight.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Song of the Week: "Queen Bee"

Here's another piece of music from 1977, this one by Taj Mahal. Pretty stuff on a sunny Sunday.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part VI: Still I Dream of It

Well, here I am: one year old.

It feels weird to look back and be able to see what was going on in the world while I was puttering around and saying "Ernie" for the first time. There was the Libyan-Egyptian War, for example, or the massive flooding that killed 75 people in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on that very day. Lots of stuff bigger than a kid saying his first word. This is part of the way I internalize stuff, the way my mental disorders work, particularly PTSD: I feel kinda guilty looking back because, well, hill of beans in this world and all that jazz. I know, rationally, that you can't feel that way, but I also know it's still there. I guess I don't really feel it anymore, but I know it's something I do. And that's sort of a success.

Moving on into August 1977, the 4th finds President Carter signing legislation to create the US Department of Energy, the 10th sees the capture of David Berkowitz, and the 12th brings the first test flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

August 15: The Wow! Signal. While working for the SETI Project at Ohio State University’s Big Ear, Jerry R. Ehman detected a 72-second strong narrowband radio signal. The location of the signal is determined to be in the Sagittarius constellation, near the Chi Sagittarii star group.

The signal has not been detected since.

Also, on that day, I was given my first haircut.

The two are probably not related.

That we know…

Some other pop culture-y stuff this month: I want to mention one of my favorite songs, "Still I Dream of It," from an unreleased Beach Boys album, Adult/Child. I think this is Brian Wilson’s one true masterpiece from this time period, and his damaged-but-still-crisp vocals here shine through the serious problems he was having at this time in his life. Brian is one of my heroes.

Funnily enough, his brother Dennis released his beautiful solo album Pacific Ocean Blue in August, a damn masterpiece.

Also: Marvel's Godzilla series is first cover-dated in August, and I am very much a fan of Godzy being part of the Marvel Universe.

Also also: Julia Lyndon, Miss August 1977, is one of my favorite Playboy Playmates of all time.

On August 16, Elvis Presley died. My Grandma Davis and my Dad both loved Elvis; my Mom, however, can't stand him. I love a lot of the music. And on August 19, we lost Groucho Marx. A huge influence on what I love in comedy. I probably emulated him a bit too much in my younger days, when I was known for being incredibly sarcastic.

August 20, Voyager 2 was launched. By December, it would reach the asteroid belt.

August 23, VHS was introduced. Here's the beginning on an 80s childhood right here. I want to say we got our first VCR in 1982 or very, very late 1981. I can't remember it, exactly. It was a JVC and it worked into the 2000s. The next day my favorite Peanuts movie, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown. And that's I movie I watched a lot on VHS. You know, I have no idea how I learned about Charlie Brown. That stuff is so there from an early age.

August 29 was the release of the great Iggy Pop album Lust for Life, which is one of his two masterpieces this year (the other is The Idiot). I love both, but this one's a little sunnier and picks me right up. The Idiot is more about personal demons and tears me up. They really go together.

And let's end August with another post-punk classic, one of my favorite tunes, another Stiff riff, this one Ian Dury’s signature. Excellent stuff, drolly performed with a lifted funk bassline.

Just a little musical intermission.

Oh, hello. Didn't see you come in.

You may be wondering why August was mainly a catalog of stuff I liked that came out at the time. (I don't know why, because there's still going to be a lot of that, but maybe sometimes it seems excessive.)

Anyway, we were basically just packing up. September is the month we left Des Moines, Iowa and moved to Killeen, Texas. Having completed Basic Training, my Dad was now stationed at Fort Hood. Being so young, I don't have a ton of memories of Texas. I think I remember little flashes and images, but health professionals tell me it's impossible. We were only there for a couple of years, and my sister Jayne will be born there in 1979.

I do know that this is the place where I'll become a fearful kid. My Mom unintentionally warped me here by making me afraid of dogs. Apparently, there was a dog that someone had where we lived. Then as now, I had a habit of waking up very early, before anyone else, and I would slide out of bed and through the low, apparently screenless windows we had. Someone, another soldier I assume, had a big dog that was chained up outside, and my Mom, fearful that I would get mauled by this dog, told me that if I got too close, the dog would "get" me. Somehow, in my still-developing brain, this became a fear of ALL dogs. I never knew why I was so afraid of dogs until I was around 16 or 17, but I spent my childhood running from them and avoiding them. Eventually, it transferred over to most animal species, and then to other people, and to literally anything I was afraid of. If I was afraid of it, it must be because it wants to "get" me and that's the end. Doesn't matter what it is, either: could be dogs, could be aliens, could be Skeksis. I still carry a lot of fears around today because that's my inherent response. Today I have my fear of animals mostly tamped down, but sometimes there's that... twinge, you know? And that fear had to become a fear of almost everything, even going out in the world, before I could truly address it, and that was just five or so years ago.


While we take a moment from that, here's a commercial featuring Burl Ives for Buttermilk's Farm.

You go, Burl. He almost makes that horrible goop sound good.

On September 5th, Voyager 1 was launched. There had been a slight delay, so it was launched second. On the 18th, it sent us this picture:

On September 8th, the same day Interpol issued a warning (already!) against copyright infringement on video tapes, another of my great comedy influences, Zero Mostel, passed away. My first experience with Zero was on an episode of The Muppet Show.

The makings of a great 80s childhood continued on September 11 when Atari released the Video Computer System, or Atari 2600. I can't remember when we first got this, either, but it was probably later, around 1982 or even '83, because it did come bundled with that unfortunate Pac-Man port. I still have my system and all my games today. Just can't bring myself to get rid of them. I still have all of my game consoles. At the time, the 2600 was bundled with Combat, one of my fave childhood games. It was one of the most basic games for the console, I guess, but I always returned to it again and again. It was so much fun, and it was so easy to drive my sister crazy with it. Even now, I enjoy playing this game, though I play ports online.

The next day, Steve Biko was murdered by South African police, or whatever ambiguous way we're supposed to say that. And on September 16, Marc Bolan, the glam rock pioneer, was killed in a car crash. He was nearly 30.

A couple of TV events. First, on the 13th, Soap premiered. A fantastic show, until it falters in the fourth season and it doesn’t know where to go and Billy Crystal starts doing his elderly Jewish man persona because he’s just that bored. My Mom tells me I used to watch this show when I was little, but I don’t remember that at all. I somehow always knew who Billy Crystal was, though, even as a kid when he would show up in things like The Princess Bride. Weird. I assume she’s right. (My other favorite new show from this season when I was little was Scooby Doo's All Star Laff-A-Lympics.) And on September 20, Fonzie jumped the shark, and later we'd name it an official TV trope.

This is one of the surprisingly few pics we have of our time in Killeen. I know, because people have told me, that I was always fascinated seeing the tanks.

September ends with the Food Stamp Act of 1977 (and thank you!) and another masterpiece of an album, The Stranger. Billy Joel was my comfort music as a teenager. I identified with a lot of the emotions he conveyed, but I was cheered by the genre of music he chose to do it in. Listen to the lyrics; sometimes he’s downright angry and disgusted and you could miss it because he’s writing pop music. This is one of his supreme achievements, and an album I’ve actually bought three times in my life: once on cassette, once on CD, and again in a remastered CD. It’s just that good. Every song on this is perfect to me. But for me the real high point is “Vienna,” a song I always love listening to when I feel bad. It always reminds me: “Slow down… take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.” And the hard, but necessary, lesson: “Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.”

Then again, I also love Meco's "Star Wars Theme," so you can ignore me if you need to.

October? Well, I don't know what could be more fulfilling than that monster Anita Bryant getting pied in the face by four gay rights activists during a press conference in Des Moines, resulting in her political fallout from anti-gay activism, but I'll press on, anyway.

(Apropos of nothing, here's Queen's "We Are the Champions," which hit the charts around this time and is a deep fave of mine. Oh, and David Bowie's "Heroes," another classic of the time that I adore.)

I mean, it wasn't all great news. The Runaways put out their first album without Cherie Currie. Bing Crosby died.

Huh, I guess most of my stuff about October is music-related... After all, two more great albums, classics in my life, were released this month, different though they may be: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols and Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell. I find that me liking the Sex Pistols album surprises people (not sure why), but me liking the Meat Loaf album surprises no one. But hey, it's a work of pure, bombastic genius, with all of the elements connecting in a way they never really would again for Meat Loaf: his own operatic voice (mixing perfectly with Ellen Foley’s), Jim Steinman’s grand compositions, Kenny Ascher’s enveloping string arrangements, and Todd Rundgren’s production giving the entire show real credibility. It’s big without being pompous, audacious without being stupid, and soaring without reaching too far. A perfect album. Every number knocks it into the stratosphere. And look at that fantastic Richard Corben art on the cover! It's excellent! I stole the cassette from my Dad, and then I stole his CD, and then I bought it remastered on CD.

In non-music news, The Muppet Show had one of my favorite episodes this year (Rudolf Nureyev, then starring in the underrated-but-bizarre Valentino by Ken Russell), Marvel Premiere #38 featured the start of the all-too-short-but-awesome Weirdworld, and on October 26, in Somalia, the world’s last natural case of smallpox is diagnosed. In 1980, the World Health Organization would declare smallpox eradicated. It remains the biggest success of vaccination. Thanks to science, I was part of the first generation in human history who could grow up without the fear of smallpox.

Hopefully, the anti-vaccination crowd won’t end up throwing this achievement away.

Well, Halloween 1977 came. Here's a commercial for Monster Cereals (still love 'em) featuring a pretty flimsy disguise kit. People will still recognize you.

I don’t know why, but there’s no picture of me on my second Halloween. Unless I was going as John Denver, I don't think this is an official costume of mine. I don't even know whose glasses these are... my Mom's, maybe? She wears contacts but she has glasses. I didn't start wearing glasses until I was 16.

Boy, look how much I've grown just from July to October, pictures at the top and bottom of this very post. Wow, kids grow fast.

Next time, we'll do the holiday season and see what's up in '78.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Favorite Movies? Maybe?

A meme going around that asks you to list your favorite films. At nearly 8000 movies and with my memory problems, I don't know how accurate this will be, but I've been looking at Roger's list for a couple of weeks and thinking... why not just do it and see what comes to mind right off?

So, just right off the top of my head...

Most Hated Movie Of All Time: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Movie I Think Is Overrated: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Movie I Think Is Underrated: The Neon Demon
Movie I Love: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Movie I Secretly Love: I can't think of one where I've made a secret of it.

Favorite Action Movie: Die Hard
Favorite Drama: I find this one a little too general to answer... it's not really like a genre.
Favorite Horror: The original Halloween
Favorite Comedy: The Blues Brothers
Favorite Romance: Love Actually

Favorite Fantasy: The Dark Crystal
Favorite Disney Movie: Bambi
Favorite Science Fiction Movie: Time Bandits
Favorite Book to Movie Adaptation: The Lord of the Rings
Favorite Animated Movie: the "recobbled" fan edit of The Thief and the Cobbler

Favorite Superhero Movie: the 1978 Superman
Favorite War Movie: The Big Red One
Favorite Thriller: Vertigo
Favorite Cop Movie: The Fugitive
Favorite Musical: West Side Story

Favorite Chop-Socky: Rumble in the Bronx
Favorite Documentary: Night and Fog
Favorite Bad Movie: I like so many movies that aren't classically, y'know, "good," man.
Childhood Favorite: The Muppet Movie
Favorite Franchise: The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Best Trilogy: Star Wars, original trilogy
Guilty Pleasure: I don't feel embarrassed by what I like, so nothing
Favorite Director: Terry Gilliam
Favorite Actor: Christopher Lee
Favorite Actress: Elizabeth Taylor

Favorite Movie This Year So Far: Get Out
Worst Movie So Far This Year: I really didn't like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I've only seen a few movies in the cinema so far this year and I liked them all.
Movie I Have Recently Seen: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
What I Thought Of It: Pure magic.
Favorite Movie Of All Time: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Song of the Week: "I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)"

Every song I could think of this morning was kind of sad or dour. It's raining softly and dark, and somehow this song came into my head... and it sounds cheesy, but the rain's stopped and it's lighter. So that's the magic of Muppets, man. This is my favorite song from the wonderful (and apparently underrated) Muppets Most Wanted, and it's the official video, which replaces Matt Vogel's performance as Constantine, the World's Most Dangerous Frog, with the song's composer, Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords, hamming it up in a 70s/80s-inspired cheese fest. Have a brighter day, everyone. Son's even brighter since I started writing this!

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part V: May the Force Be with Me

That was a brief, 8-month depression and anxiety break from this series, but I'm back on it now, and pardon my language, but look how fucking happy I am about it!

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, and since I left off at the beginning of May 1977, what better time to just do some of this stuff and keep rediscovering the old life?

So, as we begin May, the 10th sees the passing of Joan Crawford, the 17th sees the election of Menachem Begin in Israel, the 23rd sees the announcement that scientists created insulin in a lab, and for four consecutive weeks America watched David Frost interview former president Richard Nixon, including Nixon's assertion that "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

And, of course, on May 25, there was this:

You can't really understate Star Wars' impact on pop culture and on filmmaking, and because of this one movie, I got to be a kid during a fantastic age of science fiction and fantasy flicks. Some of my friends who are a little older than me have some great stories about what it was like to see it as a kid or a teenager, but it also impacted those of us who were too little to have even seen it when it first came out. After all, I have no memory of the world pre-Star Wars. This movie affected the way I expect stories to be told, the way I played as a child, and even some of the ways I view the world... even my views on morality and spirituality can be traced back to this.

I'll have a lot more mentions of Star Wars, probably in every single one of these entries... for now, here's a link to my favorite piece from the score, "Princess Leia's Theme."

The day after this, George Willig climbed the South Tower of the World Trade Center. And the day after that, Space Mountain opened in Disneyland.

And that same day, Smokey and the Bandit opened. Fun flick. Other fun stuff from the month: Marvel published that KISS special that had drops of the band's blood mixed into the ink (it's actually a really fun special; dopey, but in that science-fiction-meets-glam-rock-in-an-arcade 1977 way which is my aesthetic), and one of my favorite Harlan Ellison stories of them all, "Jeffty Is Five."

Also around this time was the quintessential Runaways album, Live in Japan; the best album by one of my all time favorite bands. This one captures the original line-up of the Runaways at their hardest rocking and their peak of perfection. Just a perfect album, with the perfect, most appreciative audience.

And not that you asked, but my favorite Frank Frazetta painting, Kane on the Golden Sea, is from around this time.

June... not off to a great start. On the 7th, Miami-Dade County, Florida votes overwhelmingly to repeal gay rights. Thanks for nothing, Anita Bryant. God, I can't believe we're still fighting this fucking battle with you stupid bullies on the anti-gay side. Get over it, it doesn't affect your life at all.

And then on the 10th, James Earl Ray escaped from prison for three days. (Also, the first Apple II went on sale. Insert stock snarky take on the evils of corporations. Here's a commercial for the first one. That's a trip back in time.)

On June 12, the Supremes disbanded. I mean, this month, man... I think y'all were going to see Star Wars over and over in part due to how depressing the news must have been at the time.

Was there anything good? Well, Boston's "Peace of Mind" is one of my favorite songs. That song always makes me feel terrific. And there's a fantastic novel by Robert Mayer called Super Folks, one of the wittiest novels I've ever read, a deconstruction of the superhero mythology that pre-dates Watchmen by a decade, On June 15, Spain had its first democratic elections in 41 years! On June 26, 200,000 protesters marched in San Francisco to protest that hatemonger Anita Bryant. And on June 30, women were integrated into the Marine Corps. Not bad.

I feel the need to point out that I eventually did get the whole "footwear" concept down. That's my Grandpa Sage in the picture.

And now. moving into July, clearly the most important thing going on July 1, 1977, is that Liv Tyler, the perfect woman, was born. (I'm a huge fan, I'm being hyperbolic because I adore her, I don't need your unasked-for, buzz-killing comments about "not really" and "eh, not a fan," I do not care. Let me have fun and you can go be a prick somewhere else. Make your family deal with it for a change.)

But also, three days later was my first Fourth of July.

Here I am with my baby-faced Dad on the Fourth, just after he'd been through Basic Training. As you can see by the painting, this is still at my Grandma and Grandpa's house in Woodridge.

July 7th saw the release of The Spy Who Loved Me, a film often cited as the late Roger Moore's finest Bond film. I don't really agree--I find that at age 40 I don't really care so much about James Bond anymore, and I find this one a little dull--but I do absolutely love the theme song, "Nobody Does It Better."

Another song I love from 1977: "The Whole Wide World" by Wreckless Eric. One of my very favorite songs from the Stiff Records catalog of post-punk greats. Golly, is it already post-punk? Here’s something I didn’t know: Nick Lowe plays bass on this track, and Ian Dury plays drums. Not bad. This thing is just perfect. And remember, kids: If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth a Fuck!

Meanwhile, on July 13 (the day the Ethio-Somali War began), the New York City Blackout occurred. 25 hours without power, and it was partly responsible for the explosion of hip hop music (because a lot of people who couldn't otherwise afford it got their hands on some professional equipment and started experimenting).

And on July 17th, I turned a year old.

My first birthday came with an official portrait, man.

Well, what can I say? I loved frosting. And you see that plate with the fireman on it? Well, look at what I found in my baby book:

My Mom saved one of the napkins! That was a cool and unexpected find.

I love this picture of me and Grandpa Sage on my first birthday. This was in their finished basement. The carpet and the wood paneling never changed when we lived there, either. We even kept that oil lamp that you can see on the right, and the old-timey sewing machine that it sits on top of. We kept that stuff when we moved, too, although I don't know if anyone has the sewing desk anymore. Man, I can still smell the finish on it. My sister and I used to play and watch TV and listen to records down there. Oh, you can’t see it, but there was track-lighting, too.

And then, two days later, on July 19, I spoke my first word. Recorded for posterity, what was that word?

Seems very fitting to me.

That's all for this installment. When next you join me, hopefully in less than 8 months, my second year on Earth begins...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Happy Birthday, Star Wars

It's been an at-times difficult relationship, but I still love you and probably a day doesn't go by that I don't engage with you on some level.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Muppet Monday

What the hey, let's get some Muppets here again.

This is a sketch that appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on October 13, 1968. It features a character named Little Girl Sue (mainly performed by Jim Henson) and some monsters. It's a little clumsy in its execution, but I like the sentiment, and I think the monster-in-multiple pieces is really neat.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Song of the Week: "Same Drugs"

Chicago's own Chance the Rapper has a music video for the single "Same Drugs" from my favorite album of last year, Coloring Book. There's a little bit of a Muppet Show influence to this one. I'd love to see this guy perform something on Sesame Street.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week. But on Friday, because I forgot to do it yesterday.

Fascinating story, made into an almost unwatchable movie. I wish they'd made a documentary, because the story of Lacks and her stolen cells and how they gave birth to the modern biomedical research industry is an important story. This is the story of a Black woman and her family, exploited to advance the cause of science and turn medicine into a multi-million dollar business. And it has all of the worst aspects of a White Savior story, giving us Rose Byrne as a hapless, not particularly interesting, awkward white woman who is also a dogged reporter who wrangles this Black family and all of their weird quirks and resentments and blackness in order to tell their story for them. It's insulting to the intelligence and very frustrating, because everyone is a cartoon character and it's impossible to take seriously. *1/2

Three young people attempt to rob the house of a blind veteran (Stephen Lang). When they're interrupted during their burglary, things get violent, but not particularly tense. Fede Alvarez directed, and it's mildly better than his woeful Evil Dead remake, but it's not particularly engaging, and some of the twists it takes for shock value are pretty ridiculous. **

I don't love talking about the MCU so much online, because this has become another Pop Culture Institution that we all have to make Profound Observations about, and too often they're of the I'm Too Smart to Get Taken In By Actually Liking Anything variety. If I'm being honest, stuff like that is a big part of the reason why I haven't been blogging much this year. What I said on Sunday's Song of the Week post is more or less my reaction to the movie. I loved it; it was an emotional experience, a great build on the character dynamic established in the first movie, and I look forward to seeing it a few dozen more times in the next few years. The new high water mark for me with the MCU, and just a movie I adored so much. ****

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Song of the Week: "Sitting"

I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on Friday, and it was a real emotional experience for me. Without spoiling anything, there was a lot in there that I personally related to as an abused kid, and the excellent soundtrack is part of that. Most of the songs in both movies are songs that I grew up listening to a lot, because I grew up with my Mom and Dad's record collection. One of my favorite albums ever, one I listened to on a record over and over and over and then a cassette and then a CD and then MP3s and will never tire of was Cat Stevens' Tea for the Tillerman, and when "Father and Son" came up in the movie during probably the most emotional scene of any Marvel movie, I couldn't hold it in at all. It was a beautiful scene in a beautiful movie that featured a beautiful song. I still remember my Dad teaching playing that song on his acoustic guitar.

Now, I've had that song up as Song of the Week back in 2008, so I don't want to repeat myself. And even while watching the movie, I realized that I expected Stevens' song "Sitting" to play next, because that was the next song on the Greatest Hits album that I also listened to over and over again. Even though it's from a different album, Catch Bull at Four, it's long become the natural follow-up in my mind. So here's that song for this week. So many of his songs make me feel... almost like a fully realized person.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Song of the Week: "Someday My Prince Will Come"

Warm jazz and hot coffee on a cold and rainy Sunday morning. They say it's spring. Dave Brubeck Quartet from one of my ten favorite albums, 1957's Dave Digs Disney.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Film Week

A review of the film I've seen this past week.

I love the original Independence Day. I always did; I saw it a few times in the theater the summer I turned 20. Since then, I've never really seen the need for a sequel, and now having gotten a sequel, I still don't see the need for one. The first movie was a really fun B disaster movie. It played some tropes straight, it played some tongue in cheek... something happened with the tone of that flick that was just magic (and, having seenother Roland Emmerich movies, I have to assume purely accidental). This one doesn't have the same no-idea-too-stupid sense of elan that the original had. The movie doesn't just go for it. Instead, it tries to world build in a way that looks nice (some of the special effects are great, some are truly terrible) but is very, very dull. I think a major part of the problem is that the first hour of the movie just seems like set-up that, in a lot of cases, we don't need. The original movie had so much character packed into its first act, and the likable characters are what carried the hoary old trading card premise. But here the premise is taken with utter seriousness at the expense of characterization. It doesn't help that so much screentime is given to another generation of main characters, all of whom are lifeless, underdeveloped, and poorly acted. One girl's only character trait seems to be that she's Chinese. I know it got some press at the time, but having actually seen the movie, it's only more disappointing that Mae Whitman was replaced as President Whitmore's daughter, especially when the character is so prominent in the story. Whitman's performance, I think, would have been more entertaining than what Maika Monroe does with the character (she was ludicrous in The 5th Wave and she's just as bad here). Really, Brent Spiner steals the movie, but even Jeff Goldblum isn't as fun as you hope going in. It just feels like what it is: a rote cash grab that doesn't have any idea how to replicate the uplifting fun feeling of the original, but adds tedium, cynicism, and grim destruction to its boring saga of young actors struggling with technology, then screaming at it so it works perfectly. Even the plot is just "the same aliens as the first time, but bigger." I can't call it a disappointment, since I never wanted this thing, but for what it is, accepted on its own terms, it's just a big nothing of a movie. But hey, it ends with a sequel hook, so... see you in twenty years, I guess. **1/2

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Lifetime of Favorite Movies

Apparently, people have been making lists of their favorite movies. Specifically: their favorite movie for each year of their lives.

As I continue to attempt to think about easing myself back into blogging more often, this seems like the kind of list I always love to make. And when I saw Jason Bennion do this a few weeks ago, I thought, yep, got to do this one.

My only caveat, of course, is that "favorite" doesn't necessarily mean "best."

And away we go.

1976: Rocky

I love the Rocky movies. No matter how bad they get (and they get pretty bad), I love the series, but especially this first one. I guess when I first saw it in high school, the story of a loser who just wanted to prove he had it inside of him to go the distance resonated with me. I didn't need to win; I just wanted respect.

Some other contenders for me this year: Carrie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Tenant, Russ Meyer's Up!, Truffaut's Small Change, and Serge Gainsbourg's I Love You, I Don't.

1977: Star Wars

I mean, obviously. You all know me. The only other one that comes close from this year is Close Encounters of the Third Kind,  a movie I have to imagine my wife is tired of me finding while flipping channels and then watching the last 40 minutes of.

1978: Superman

Still the best superhero movie, to me. Even just hearing the music makes me feel great.

FWIW, I have a number of highly rewatchable faves from this year: Dawn of the Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, National Lampoon's Animal House, Watership Down and The Wiz (it's a mess, but I dig it).

1979: The Muppet Movie

I feel like you could've guessed some of these yourselves. Of course this is pretty much the most important movie from my early childhood. Nothing has ever really touched me like this one.

The runner-up only lost by half a point, and that's Alien. Some other contenders for me were La Cage aux Folles, Hair, Mad Max, Phantasm, Rock 'n' Roll High School, Rocky II, Time After Time and The Warriors. Also, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I know that's a maligned movie, and I know that I technically mean the 2001 Director's Edition and not the original release, but I still think it's great science fiction. It may not be great Star Trek (although, honestly, it plays like the original pilot for Star Trek: The Next Generation to me), but it's great science fiction.

1980: The Empire Strikes Back

Again, not much of a surprise. The only other one in serious contention was The Blues Brothers. I have also come to love Flash Gordon a great deal.

1981: Time Bandits

I saw this at a formative time and was as fascinated with it as I was creeped out by it. There's so much imagery in this movie--the cages hanging over nothing, the fight between Agamemnon and the Minotaur, the giant with the galleon on his head--that I didn't realize until I saw the movie again as a 19 year-old had been half-remembered as nightmares while growing up.

My close runners-up were Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior, Clash of the Titans and Arthur.

1982: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

My favorite movie of them all. I finally figured out recently why that is, literally just a week or two ago. As you may remember from my years of blogging, when I first saw E.T. at age 5, in the theater, I was so terrified that I ran into the lobby screaming. It was just too intense and mysterious for me in the first 20 or so minutes. When I saw the movie again during its re-release in 1985, I absolutely loved it. It didn't hit video until 1988, and I remember getting it for Christmas that year. That was the year my parents separated, and I had a defining experience with my mother that still resonates today and resulted in my closing off some of my emotions about it. That, combined with the terrible experience of junior high and moving to a new home and an attempt at family therapy that just made everything worse for me, and I felt very alone and unable to communicate about it.

But I had E.T. on VHS. And I watched that movie a lot. For a period of a little over a year, I watched that movie every day when I got home from school. To this day, I watch this movie when I feel at my lowest and my sickest, and I only just recently realized it was because that movie makes me cry so hard. I feel every emotion when I watch this movie, and the crying is not only cathartic, it somehow validates me. See, it turned out to be an acceptable outlet to feel feelings through. It was my security blanket, my substitute for confronting a lot of the issues that I have actually diagnosed PTSD about today.

Incidentally, this is a great year for fantasy and science fiction that I love. Tied for a very, very close second are Conan the Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, The Last Unicorn, Poltergeist, The Secret of NIMH, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and The Thing. I also really like Blade Runner, but I prefer the 2003 Final Cut version.

1983: The Right Stuff

Another movie I get completely caught up in when I pass it on cable. Well, attempt to pass. This wasn't really a strong year, though obviously I love Return of the Jedi, the movie that, along with the Muppets, fostered my love of creatures. I was obsessed with that one. Other favorites are The Big Chill, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, which has this moment of wonder, and The Return of Captain Invincible, which features something far more beautiful... RIP, Sir Christopher...

1984: TIE: Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

I couldn't pick just one. But it's my blog, so sue me. I saw Gremlins so many times in the theater between its first release and a later re-release. I was as obsessed with it as I was Return of the Jedi. Temple of Doom I didn't actually see in theaters (I had seen Raiders in theaters), but it is my personal favorite Indiana Jones movie. I never saw it in the theater until a midnight showing some time ago. But I know that movie now shot for shot. (In fact, it has my single favorite shot from any movie in it, weirdly enough.) I just couldn't choose between these two, I love them so much.

As amazing a year as 1982, with some of my absolute faves: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Amadeus, Ghostbusters, The Last Starfighter (not a great movie, but a sentimental fave), The Muppets Take Manhattan, The NeverEnding Story, Romancing the Stone, Splash, Starman, The Terminator, and This Is Spinal Tap.

And although I didn't see it until I was 14, shout-out to Trinity Brown, the first adult movie I ever saw and still my favorite.

1985: Witness

A tough choice this year, honestly. This is the year, after all, of Back to the Future, Explorers, The Goonies, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Re-Animator, Return to Oz and Silverado.

1986: Labyrinth

Easy choice for me. Besides the Bowie, and my 10 year-old crush on Jennifer Connelly, this was always just my favorite Jim Henson project of them all. And to find out a couple of years ago in Jim Henson: The Biography that it was Jim's favorite, too--the one he considered the best representation of what he wanted to do--was pretty validating. When I was a kid, barely any other kid had seen it or even knew what it was, which I found so bizarre because I saw it in the theater. I still remember being in my 20s and people talking about it like an embarrassing relic of the past. And now the nostalgia for it is everywhere. It's just... weirdly validating. Ahead of my time, again!

Tied for second: A Better Tomorrow, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Highlander, Little Shop of Horrors, Manhunter, Transformers: The Movie and Howard the Duck. Of course. Oh, and I still watch Back to School every time I see it on cable. I just really dig that one.

1987: Robocop

Not a year of incredible quality for me, and there are some other faves in here (Evil Dead II, The Princess Bride, Radio Days, Raising Arizona) but nothing came close to how much I love Robocop.

1988: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

A very, very close second is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, another movie like Return of the Jedi and Gremlins that I was just obsessed with the making of. Like a lot of movies on this list so far, it's the kind of thing that made me desperately want to create movies. I think discouragement and mental illness made short work of that, but I was just so obsessed with this stuff, and this movie really puts me back there. But The Adventures of Baron Munchausen just reached in my head and took out a big part of what I needed in a fantasy movie. It's basically my second-favorite movie.

Also need to shout out to Hairspray, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Beetlejuice. And My Neighbor Totoro, my second-favorite Miyazaki movie.

1989: Field of Dreams

Like E.T., a movie that moves me in a cathartic way. UHF is the runner-up for me this year, alongside Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Killer, and Batman. It's flawed, but I saw it at the theaters 13 times that year (the year my parents' divorce was final, so I was getting away from home as much as I could) and which still fills me with warm nostalgia when I see it. (I just got caught up in about a half-hour of it on one of the HBOs earlier this week).

1990: TIE: Dick Tracy and Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Apparently it will always be a tie with those Gremlins. But Gremlins 2 is, like, the most perfect movie ever made. It's my go-to answer when someone asks me to name the one movie that best defines my personality. And Dick Tracy, well... it lived up to the hype for me, anyway. I'm fascinated by it. It's a four-color monster movie. I've never cared a whit about the original comic strip, but that movie is amazing. I've gotten it in three different video formats. I own a small number of Blu-Rays, mainly Marvel movies, but I definitely own these two. Thank you, universe, for giving me a Dick Tracy Blu-Ray. There are few of us who want one.

The one that comes in second (third?) for me is Dances with Wolves, which I saw about a dozen times in the theater at age 14, over the winter of 1990-1991, a winter that stands out for me because of (a) this movie and (b) one of the worst cases of bronchitis I ever experienced. I also love Edward Scissorhands, The Hunt for Red October, and Mountains of the Moon.

1991: Beauty and the Beast

I remember the first time I saw this movie, I could not stop crying after. It took a while for me to calm down. It just really, really got to me. That was a time when I just didn't feel I'd ever be worthy of love. I felt like I was truly unloved in the world and to see a fairy tale where someone felt the same way and they were wrong was very powerful for me. This is one of the Disney movies I'm closest to for that reason. I'm an ugly, angry, unlovable guy. I relate.

The closest runner-up is Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again, which I've seen countless times and still dig. I also like What About Bob? a lot. Like, a lot. And LA Story, which I saw in the theater and have loved ever since, more for its surreal sensibility than the LA-specific satire, having been in LA a grand total of 20 minutes once for an airplane changeover.

1992: TIE: The Muppet Christmas Carol and Batman Returns

My first non-Gremlins-related tie, but I just couldn't choose between these two movies. One has a deep personal significance for my adult life (The Muppets Christmas Carol) and the other for my teenage years (Batman Returns is the kind of me-sensibility Grand Guignol freak show that I adore). Both of these movies hit me at my core.

Also, shout-out to Wayne's World, which has been on cable a lot lately and which still holds up as a great goofy comedy. Also I love Aladdin and The Last of the Mohicans.

1993: The Fugitive

Oh, man, this is the year. One of my favorite years. I was finally used to how much I hated school. I didn't spend as much time with my parents, spending most of the weekends at Carl's house. I went to see a lot of movies. A lot. And I really became obsessed with both making and watching films. I turned 17 this summer (the summer of Jurassic Park, another movie I became obsessed with the making of), and briefly had my first girlfriend. And what a fantastic year for movies. This was a tough choice for me. I could've chosen Gettysburg, Groundhog Day, The Joy Luck Club, Much Ado About Nothing, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Philadelphia, The Piano, The Secret Garden, Tombstone or True Romance.

But I went with this one. I loved it then, and I love it now. It's a perfect little mystery thriller.

1994: Pulp Fiction

A seminal movie for me and a lot of other film nerds. This is probably the last time in my life--other than Titanic, maybe--that I can remember people talking about a specific film for months. Everything has a much shorter lifespan today, but back then pictures would still get held over regularly. I had two different girlfriends during the course of this movie's long theatrical run. I saw this in the summer, the autumn, and the winter. And I loved it and, unlike many movies from this time period I thought I'd always love, it still holds up. And it holds up damn well.

The runners-up for me here are Sirens (a movie which challenged my beliefs and showed me a way to accept and mold life that I had a real affinity for, right at the end of high school), Little Women, and Clerks.

1995: Mallrats

Well, it ain't winning no contests, but there's just something about this movie that endlessly works no matter how stilted the dialogue or how silly the plot is. And it comes together clumsily as hell. But somehow the messiness is part of its appeal for me. It was like seeing Animal House directed at my generation, and even if it isn't as good, I just can't hate it. I've seen it a couple of times just this year (it flopped, so premium cable snapped it up cheap, and 22 years later, it's still on a lot), and it makes me laugh and smile every time. I mean... I did say "favorite" didn't mean "best."

Runners-up: Babe, Heat, Jeffrey, Stealing Beauty, Strange Days, 12 Monkeys and another terrible movie, Showgirls. It's a camp classic.

1996: That Thing You Do!

Becca's going to be both disappointed and unsurprised that I went with this one. I don't know anyone else who's ever really liked it much, but it just makes me feel good in some way. I love it. It makes me happy.

Some runners-up from this very good year, the first year I moved out (which only lasted a year) and in which Becca and I were going to the show almost every week: Flirting with Disaster (or as my Mom called it, "You sure like some weird movies"), The Frighteners, From Dusk Till Dawn, Hamlet, Independence Day, James and the Giant Peach, Mars Attacks!, Muppet Treasure Island, The Phantom, The Rock, and Trainspotting. And Dragonheart, which is not really a good movie but which I saw several times and was fascinated by the effects; I still have the making of book. And the far superior novelization by the original screenwriter, who also didn't like the movie.

And I have to mention The Thief and the Cobbler, which, in its fan-edit "recobbled cut" form is a goddamn masterpiece.

1997: The Fifth Element

No contest on this one. One of my all time faves. (Though Boogie Nights, Chasing Amy, The Edge, George of the Jungle, Jackie Brown, Men in Black, Princess Mononoke and Starship Troopers are all favorites for me.)

1998: A Simple Plan

A tight and involving crime thriller that I've had plenty an argument about over the years.

Other picks: The Big Lebowski, obviously; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Smoke Signals, Small Soldiers, and, yeah, I get read for this one, but I love the crappy Lost in Space movie, as I love many things Henson-related.

1999: Mystery Men

What was great and terrible during this time period is that I was working at a video store, so I saw everything. I've seen so much crap from the whole 1998-2001 period. And seeing a lot of crap, you really learn to appreciate the stuff that resonates with you but isn't perfect, over the stuff that's critically acclaimed but leaves you kind of cold. This is my favorite of the year; something about this story just totally does it for me. I also could have picked Dogma, Galaxy Quest, The Iron Giant, The Mummy, The 13th Warrior, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, or Tarzan.

And I will never get into it online again, but I fucking love The Phantom Menace.

2000: High Fidelity

Ha, it's another movie my wife hates. I borrowed the screener from work and I loved it so much I just never took it back. No one ever asked about it, so I guess it was okay. Recently, in group therapy, the counselor asked us to think of one situation where we're totally free of anxiety. The only thing I could come up with was listening to music. So this movie's delineation of how music can define moments in our lives that add up to a mix tape of our emotional history really stuck out to me for reasons I didn't quite understand at the time.

Also could've picked: American Psycho, Quills, The Road to El Dorado, Titan AE, or Wonder Boys.

2001: Spirited Away

My personal favorite Miyazaki movie. 2001 is a pretty solid year for movies, but this was an easy choice over, say, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mummy Returns, and Winged Migration (which is very calming). Another stupid flick I love: One Night at McCool's.

2002: Bubba Ho-tep

Or as my Mom called it, "Boy, you sure like some weird movies." Ah, bite me. I pick this one over About a Boy, About Schmidt, Frailty, Lilo & Stitch, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Men in Black II, Signs and Spider-Man.

2003: Love Actually

Also contenders: Finding NemoAmerican Splendor, Looney Tunes: Back in Action (I know it's not, like, good, but that's not the point), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Swimming Pool, The Triplets of Belleville, Kevin Costner's Open Range and Willard. I also adore Kill Bill: Vol. 1, but every time I watch that and the second movie I'm truly annoyed they aren't just one movie. Come on, man.

2004: Shaun of the Dead

Not the best year, but some solid faves, including Howl's Moving Castle, Jersey Girl (I know, but I think it's sweet), Spider-Man 2, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

2005: Brokeback Mountain

Easily my favorite movie of that decade. I think I made that list once, right? Trying to decide if I should redo that list or update it or just wait until 2020 and do one for the movies of 2011 to 2020. Because I'd probably change up what I had then with all the extra flicks I've seen. Either way, 2005 is a great year. I could easily have chosen Match Point, Sin City, Revenge of the Sith, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... maybe Peter Jackson's King Kong, which is extremely flawed but a movie I've seen dozens of times because there are parts of it I really, truly love. Well... no, I wouldn't have picked it for that reason, but Brokeback Mountain is such an emotional experience for me.

2006: Clerks II

The right movie at the right time. It came out right as I was graduating from college and realizing I had no idea what to do next. Resonated with me even harder than the first one, which came out right after I graduated high school.

Others I could have chosen: Casino Royale, Marie Antoinette, Mission: Impossible III and V for Vendetta. (Note: Jason picked V as his favorite movie from 2005--it's a great movie--but I always list it as a 2006 movie just because it came out here in March 2006. I didn't know it's actually considered a 2005 movie until now. So not a call-out, but a today I learned.)

2007: Death Proof

Specifically the director's cut version. It feels like a little bit of a cheat, or at least a bend. But still, it's my blog and I made that choice. Could've picked Gone Baby Gone, Hairspray, Hot Fuzz, The Simpsons Movie or 300, as well.

2008: Let the Right One In

In a rare case of "best" and "favorite" being one and the same. It's a weird year. Great for pop weirdness. I also like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, In Bruges, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Pineapple Express, WALL-E, Speed Racer and The Spirit. Yeah, I said it.

2009: Watchmen

I still think it's a masterpiece, but I also think Zack Snyder could've stopped with this one. Nearly there: Coraline, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Inglourious Basterds, Moon, The Princess and the Frog, Up, and I know it drives some of you nuts, but Star Trek.

2010: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Not a great year. Except for Somewhere and Welcome to the Rileys, my runner-ups are all animated: A Cat in Paris, Chico and Rita, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, and The Illusionist.

2011: Super 8

An homage to the kinds of flicks I loved in my childhood (and in the case of some, like E.T., saved my life), and it hits all the right notes in the same way. The joke is that it's Steven Spielberg Presents: Steven Spielberg Movies: The Movie, but, well... it's not like he's knockin' 'em out of the park in the 21st century. Although, funnily enough, my close second is a Spielberg movie I unashamedly love: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

Good year for fantasy-type movies. Besides Drive and the wonderfully demented Killer Joe, I also love Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Skin I Live In, Take Shelter, Melancholia, and The Muppets. This is a much better year than I remember.

2012: Life of Pi

What a weirdly divisive year. I liked a lot of movies in 2012 that people tell me I should hate. But I'm not about to apologize for liking Jon Carter, Prometheus, Rise of the Guardians or Snow White and the Huntsman. I also loved The Pirates: Band of Misfits, Seven Psychopaths, Ginger & Rosa, Dredd, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Honestly, the closest second here is The Avengers, because, come on, you know I love the MCU.

2013: Blue Is the Warmest Color

Also: American Hustle, Gravity, 42, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Spring Breakers, the flawed-but-action-packed Star Trek Into Darkness, Stranger by the Lake, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Under the Skin, Her, Iron Man 3 and The World's End.

2014: Guardians of the Galaxy

I've seen this wonderful movie so many times, and I adore it each time. Some close runners-up: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Babadook, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, The Grand Budapest Hotel, John Wick, Lucy, The Normal Heart and Muppets Most Wanted.

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road

I'm still getting to all of the movies I wanted to see in 2015, but I also love Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Cinderella, Dope, The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike XXL and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

2016: The Neon Demon

I'm waaaaaay behind on 2016 movies, but I do love Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Ghostbusters, The Jungle Book, Rogue One, Star Trek Beyond, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Moana.

In 2017, Get Out and Kong: Skull Island are the best ones I've seen so far. Can't wait to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in a couple of weeks.

Sorry to do whatever the blog equivalent of talking your ears off is. Typing your eyes out?

Song of the Week: "Sometimes It Snows in April"

Because Friday was one year gone. From Parade, 1986.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Song of the Week: "If I Can Dream"

As a non-Christian, Easter has never really been a holiday I've observed much, but this one feels particularly dour. Part of it is the dark, rainy weather. Also, part of it is the stuff in the news. Everything feels precarious, and there are people I know personally who are making it worse, and who are going to be Good Christians today even as they cheer on the destruction of people who aren't them. (I know, because I'm related to a few of them, which is a real punch in the gut.) So today's song is my favorite Elvis song, from his 1968 comeback special.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Tribute to Carrie Fisher

Lots of fans are sharing this tribute from Star Wars Celebration and so am I.

I'm not crying, you're crying. Also, I'm crying.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Song of the Week: "Take Me to the Pilot"

I don't know, sometimes you just wake up with a song stuck in your head and you've got to get it out. Great song for testing your speakers. Gosh, it's funny to me that this is only the fifth Elton John song I've had as Song of the Week in 10 years. Did you know I have his first 10 studio albums on CD? This one's from his self-titled second album, 1970.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Muppet Monday

Unlike most of the interactions I've had today, Billy Eichner on Sesame Street makes me happy.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Song of the Week: "A Better Tomorrow"

I've been so angry since the election, and probably since before that, about the politics of this stupid country. People are... ugh, I don't want to get into it right now. I've had some real hard times dealing with this nonsense. The bullies are in charge. I got so mad the other day I had to take a couple of Xanaxes and go to sleep. This 2014 Wu-Tang Clan song gives me some feeling of hope, and since hope is in rare supply these days, I need to hear it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past few weeks and keep forgetting to do, because when you're home all the time, time loses its meaning.

I enjoyed Days of Future Past, so it was a real drag to come back to one of the X-Men universe's worst flicks. Oscar Isaac is such a good actor and he's wasted in a non-performance of a non-character. Apocalypse was always one of the lamest villains in the comics--he's always talked up, but when it comes down to a fight, it's like he always just forgets he has basically every power there is. At least, I think that's it. To this day, after first encountering the character over 25 years ago and up through this movie, I still couldn't tell you what Apocalypse's powers actually are, other than being a thin copy of Darkseid. Michael Fassbender is probably the best of the actors in here, and he's barely trying. Jennifer Lawrence is particularly phoning it in. Some of the kids are okay despite the horrible accents, but they get sidetracked by a side plot that literally only exists to force yet another Wolverine cameo into the picture. There's also the usual X-Men problem of having 60 main characters and terrible continuity (aside from the baffling lack of aging some of the characters have done since First Class took place in 1961, where this one takes place in 1983, there's also the Quicksilver scene, which is the best sequence in the movie but also goes against what was established in Days of Future Past, when Quicksilver said if he picked someone up and moved them their skin would basically flay off from friction, which was why he couldn't just go into that prison, pick up Magneto, and run out). Bryan Singer has occasional moments of flair as a visual director, but for the thousandth time, the guy just can't tell a story. These movies are way too committed to their "a wizard did it" continuity patchwork that you just can't hold on to the story. **

This is the kind of story I tend to really dig. I still refer to it as the Michael Crichton Plot: you have a mysterious guy with money who wants to do some science, you visit central casting and get a bunch of various experts and heavies, and then you go somewhere mysterious and do an old pulp story (or in this case, Apocalypse Now) with some kind of weird creature or new technology in it. (Example: Congo is King Solomon's Mines with a diamond laser and a talking gorilla.) (And yes, I know Michael Crichton didn't invent this plot, I just happened to read a lot of Michael Crichton in my senior year of high school, so that's how I think of it.) Anyway, I had a great time. Loved the cast; I'm constitutionally incapable of not loving Samuel L. Jackson in everything, and John Goodman is always great. John C. Reilly is fun and even poignant as a pilot who has been lost on Skull Island since World War II. This takes place immediately after the end of the Vietnam War ("We didn't lose the war, we abandoned it," Jackson's soldier explains), with John Goodman leading a team of soldiers, researchers, a photographer (Brie Larson) and an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston) to the remote island to discover... something. Of course, they discover Kong, and then we get a jungle picture with an anti-war message rolled into it that is just overwhelmingly fun. ***1/2

Mostly it's an incoherent mess, which is frustrating, because there are a lot of good individual elements to it. You kind of know you're in trouble right away because the film dicks around so much in the beginning, wasting its entire first half-hour on introducing every character (some of them three times), and explaining the premise of the film twice. It sucks, because you can see how they could have streamlined it and turned it into the fun flick it clearly thinks it is. After it settles in and we get the characters together, it starts to get really enjoyable, and then it just hits a wall and draaaaags to the end. Some of the actors are decent in underwritten roles: Will Smith's a pro, Viola Davis is fiery but wasted and the way Amanda Waller is written is nothing like the strategic genius of the comics, Jai Courtney is alright, Margot Robbie is superb, Joel Kinnaman is effective, and Jay Hernandez is given a great arc but not enough attention to make it work. The action scenes are long and not very interesting; the film doesn't really seem interested in developing the characters' personalities, even through individual action flourishes. The need to have the Joker in this movie is 98% marketing driven, and 2% the need to explain to the 1% of the audience that doesn't know what a Harley Quinn is. Lots of racial and gender stereotyping. The stakes are alternately not pressing or ridiculous (a witch is going to destroy all life on Earth, let's send in the guy who throws boomerangs twice in the whole picture and a guy who is... deformed?... half-crocodile?... eh, who cares, here's a crazy girl in booty shorts), and the conflict that should be inherent isn't made much of. It has that X-Men movie problem of having 10 or 11 main characters so that none of the relationships get served. (That alone surprised me coming from David Ayer, because I thought Fury really worked, and that had a bunch of characters, too.) It's a real disappointment, because some of this stuff really does work, but it never comes together into the fun movie it could be. Instead it's Escape from New York with eight Snake Plisskens. It's not the awful failure that Batman v Superman was, but it's still not like DC has righted the ship here. **1/2