Sunday, August 13, 2017

Song of the Week: "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife"

Slowly coming back to life. Becca seems to be doing fine since the surgery. I don't want to talk about the world. Just... very angry. Angry and disappointed.

Glen Campbell passed away this week, and like everyone else, I'm posting my favorite of his songs.


Monday, August 07, 2017

Health Report Update

I lost another summer. Back in June, I started a new medication to treat my mental disorders, and I ended up developing early signs of neuroleptic malignant syndrome, My heart rate became irregular, I developed insomnia, and I experienced a lot of muscle stiffness, particularly in the arches of my feet. It became hard to walk, and because of all of the pain and lack of sleep, I got very, very depressed, particularly right after my birthday. That's never a great time for me, anyway, because I have this recurring late summer depression, but the addition of pain and lack of exercise just messed me up. I've actually been off this medication for over 40 days now, and most of the side effects have gone, but I still have a hard time being engaged in things. That's why I've been so quiet here.

This is in addition to the general malaise I've had since the election, where nothing seems that important or exciting anymore. I've had this dull sense of "blah" to varying degrees for a while now. I just feel so detached and it's hard to get enthused.

Some of this has to do with my wife being sick most of this year, too. She's having minor surgery on Thursday, and I'm so anxious about it that I just want to crawl out of my skin. It's fairly common, routine surgery, and she'll get to come home later that day, but... it's like this is the first major thing we're going through since her mother passed away, and it feels like we're going through it alone. I didn't really realize until this year just how much depression, anxiety and PTSD have isolated me from other people. I keep worrying about what if something goes wrong and I'm suddenly alone. I don't think I can survive without her. I don't think I want to.

God, I hate the summer. I hate it so much. I'm always up in my own head by the time my birthday rolls around in the middle of July, and then it's just nothing but depression and an overwhelming amount of sun until mid-September or so. I hate the winter, but it's the summers that kill me. But during those few months of fall and spring, I even out. It's like I have whatever the opposite of SAD is, especially during the summer afternoons, when I get so sleepy and just want to cry and go to bed for a month. Add a near-crippling amount of leg pain this year and it just feels like freaking nothing matters.

It's almost like I've forgotten who I was, or simply found there wasn't that much to me, and I just stopped being. It sucks. I'm not going to do mental medication for a while. All of that stuff about possibly being bipolar... I think everything--the anxiety, the depression, even the ADHD--just develops out from this PTSD. And that I'm focusing on more than anything with therapy.

I just want this week to be over, and fast.

I want to enjoy things again.

I want my wife to be fine.

I want 2017 to be done.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Song of the Week: "Livin' in a World (They Didn't Make)"

From Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, one of the best albums from the worst year of my life, 1989.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Song of the Week: "Whispering Your Name"

I just got this into my head a while back. This is Alison Moyet, from her 1994 album Essex, one of my favorite albums which I discovered because of Becca. This is one of two versions on that album, the more stripped-down version. There's something about the longing and sense of self-doubt to this song that I really connect with.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part IX: The Other Half of 1978

It's June now, and here I am in Des Moines visiting family. That's my cousin Brandi on the left, with my cousin Adam behind me and my Uncle Terry in the background. I don’t know when exactly this was, but I think it was the summer. That's when it comes up in the photo album, anyway. I don’t know if we just didn’t see my Dad’s side of the family as much or if there just aren’t many pictures, but it’s nice to see one here.

Aside: I wonder if we drove or flew or what. I don’t remember making a lot of trips at this age (nearly 2), but there are lots of things I don’t remember.

The month of June 1978 brought us some awful things (Garfield, Grease), but it brought some of my favorite things, too. For example, Space Invaders, one of the greatest arcade games of all time. Midway brought it to America. What was so great--for me--about the seminal game is that by the time I was old enough to enjoy arcade games (I had to stand on that little platform stool when I started just a couple of years later), the craze was for Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and other games, so there was never a wait to play Space Invaders. (And it wasn’t retired for a long, long time.)

Also: Miss June, Gail Stanton. (NSFW)

And the Speak & Spell debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show this month. Hey, look at what I actually dug out:
As you can see by the membrane keyboard, it’s not an original model. It looks like the 1986 model, but I was 10 in 1986, so I can’t imagine I had one of these then. I had one when I saw E.T., so it might have been one of the 1980 redesigns, but I can’t find any concrete info on when the membrane keyboards were introduced.

Here’s another one for you:
Speak & Math. This was introduced in 1980. Where my sister and I shared the Speak & Spell back and forth, this one was really meant for me and my horrible math grades. Much more on that in upcoming posts in this series.

Also in June: David Berkowitz was sentenced to 365 years in prison, and The Jungle Book was re-released. I don't know if I saw it then, I was pretty young. I think I caught the 1984 re-release. I actively remember seeing that one in the theater.

More importantly: the rainbow flag flew for the first time on June 28 at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade!

July was pretty slow historically, but I turned 2 years old. I don’t have any pictures from this year that I know for certain are on my birthday, so here’s a picture of me looking happy in 1978.

I was visiting my grandparents then, because my baby book says that I went to the Brookfield Zoo on my birthday. That’s still one of my favorite places on Earth.

Look back there: I’d almost guarantee that shark chart is from National Geographic, which my Grandpa Sage had a subscription to. Wow, I was into sharks even back then. I thought that came later. And I see a Star Wars poster, too.

I’m so small on that bouncy horse. We had that for so many years. I remember the day when I got on it and was just too big for it. That was a sad moment from my childhood. But until then, that thing gave me a lot of fun.

Hey, speaking of Star Wars, the 21st was the first re-release. I mention that specifically to point out this poster:
When I went to see Return of the Jedi (I can’t remember if it was the initial release or the re-release), my Dad bought me a reprint of this poster the theater was selling. I had it on my closet door for years, until my Mom got sick of it and threw it out. That happened to a lot of my stuff when I was a kid.

On July 25, the world's first "test tube baby," Louise Brown, was born.

On July 28, one of my all-time favorite movies was released: National Lampoon's Animal House. This movie is for me the real template of all modern comedy. Many have tried to imitate it, and very few have succeeded. It’s one of my favorites; I think I’ve seen this 287 times (warning: total guess pulled out of thin air), and I’ve laughed every time. It’s perfect.

I have nothing to say about August. Wish I had more personal pics from this year.

Let's head into the fall. There's new TV in the fall. For those of us who were kids at the time, we had the misfortune to be introduced to Scrappy Doo and Godzookie in the same fall season. *shudder* (Not that I was really watching shows that were a ton better: I was watching Yogi's Space Race and The Fantastic Four.) Also that year was a show that would later make a weird impression on me: The Adventures of the Little Prince. It started in Japan this year, but I watched it in the early 80s on Nickelodeon, I believe. That flower was unbelievably mean. I still think about this show when I play Super Mario Galaxy or Katamari.


I also have to mention the DC Implosion. Starting in 1975, incoming DC Comics publisher Jenette Kahn had moved forward with a marketing plan called “The DC Explosion,” which saw the introduction of 57 new titles. By early 1978, DC was experiencing a sales slump that partially had to do with extreme blizzards interrupting shipments. Around 30 titles were canceled in what has been sarcastically called “The DC Implosion,” including (though I wasn’t reading them at the time) what would later be some short-lived favorites of mine: Black Lightning, Kamandi, Firestorm, All-Star Comics, Mister Miracle, The Witching Hour, and Shazam.  Kahn even wanted to cancel Detective Comics! (There’s a fantastic article about it at Dial B for Blog.)

And there's more in September. The entire season of Doctor Who, season 16, is my favorite classic season, featuring the "Key to Time" season-long arc. You bring up Doctor Who, and this is what flashes into my mind first. I didn’t really experience the show until I was just out of high school; I kind of feel bad because I remember, back in the days when there was a definite (and unfair) nerd hierarchy, it was kind of understood in my neighborhood that the Doctor Who fans were the nerdiest of the nerds. Even nerdier than D&D players. Even then, geeks and outcasts could be stupidly cruel to each other.

September 5th through September 17th were the Camp David Accords.

On September 7th, Keith Moon died, soon after the release of one of the great singles of rock: "Who Are You."


Here's some other music from the fall of 1978 that I love: "Can't Stand Losing You" by The Police; Ace Frehley's cover of "New York Groove"; "The Promised Land" by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band; Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls"; Billy Joel's "My Life"; and Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone."

On September 12, the sitcom Taxi premiered. This was a show I used to watch with my Dad; we both loved Danny DeVito especially, and today I wonder if I got some of my more sarcastic and mean streak humor from him. It's certainly an influence. I still love that show today when I actually catch it. (It's still my favorite TV show theme of all time.) Also, I had a massive crush on Marilu Henner from a very early age that still has not died. Good night, Mister Walters!

I loved my baseball jacket. Kind of surprised I didn't grow up to be more of a basketball kid. Hey, speaking of baseballs, here's this:
I found this little baseball pillow that I had when I was a kid. I don’t know if someone made this or if it was bought for me. This was for when I started losing my baby teeth; I would put the tooth inside the pocket there and then the Tooth Fairy would usually leave me a dollar. Those were always exciting nights for me, but somehow I managed to sleep. I can’t even remember what I would spend the money on… candy bar, maybe, or a comic book. Doesn’t matter. It was the excitement of getting the dollar that was the bigger deal.

I don't care to keep up with papal politics, but it is noteworthy that Pope John Paul I died after only 33 days in office on September 28. On October 16, Pope John Paul II would be elected. My wife's grandmother was a big fan of that guy.

On October 12, Sid Vicious murdered Nancy Spungen.

Here's some more modern reference photos:
Many of the pictures of me that you’re seeing on this series were taken with this very camera. I still have it, in my big trunk of mementos and keepsakes and junk. This one still works, too! If it were possible to find any film for it, anyway. And those big cube flashes.

Late October saw the release of a few of my fave movies. In the US, Sidney Lumet's bizarre and fascinating film of The Wiz; in France, the wonderful La Cage aux Folles; and on October 25, Halloween. I never saw this movie until I was 20 and it still scared the hell out of me. That was back in the days when it seemed like no one owned the copyright and you could get it anywhere on VHS for about five bucks. I bought it on a whim and, a few days before Halloween, turned off the lights, left the window open for an unseasonably nice breeze, and lit a candle. From those amazing credits on, I was rapt with attention and devoured one of the great--and one of my favorite--horror films of all time.

Here I am, two years old and dressed up for my very first Halloween as a trick or treater!

My Mom’s plan was to take me out trick or treating for the first time when I was three. But I was apparently so fascinated by the kids in costumes coming to the door over and over again that my parents just couldn’t keep me from wanting in on this glorious racket. So they dressed me up in the baseball jacket and cap I wore all the time anyway, gave me a beach pail to carry, and took me around the neighborhood.

I wish I could remember it, but I really can’t. I was just a shade too young. Like I said, I don’t remember much more than feelings, images, and the occasional flash of something from our years in Texas. But look at me in this picture: uncertain but determined, and about to begin a lifelong love affair with the greatest holiday in the world.

I wonder if I got any Whatchamacallit that year... it was new for 1978, and it's my favorite candy bar of all time. Also new that year: Reese's Pieces, another favorite to this day. There was a while there where I wouldn’t go see a movie without getting a bag.

Oh, hey, look what's in my trunk:
I never did get rid of that baseball cap. I think I wore that for years, literally until it no longer fit on my head anymore.

The next day, November 1, saw the release of one of my favorite movies to this day: Watership Down.

Oh, this movie.

What an impression this movie made on me when I was very young. At some point, this movie was shown around Easter on network television over two nights. I was blown away by it. This was that time period when animation and films for children still had a dark side to them; the edges weren’t soft, and this is a movie that has a happy ending that you have to go through utter hell to earn. I have seen people watch this movie and need a hug afterward. It doesn’t delight in its hard details--including death, violence, and even the capriciousness of religion--but it doesn’t shy from them either. I love this movie, and even today have large chunks of dialogue memorized.

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince-with-a-Thousand-Enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you; digger, runner, listener, Prince with a swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”

“There’s a dog loose in the woods!”

“My Chief’s told me to defend this run.” “Your…Chief?”

“Come back, you fools! Dogs aren’t dangerous!”

“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.”

“I’ve come to ask if you’d like to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you, and I know you’d like it. You’ve been feeling tired, haven’t you? If you’re ready, we might go along now.”

You can not show this movie to my Mom or even play her the music unless you want to see her cry.

God, I love this movie so much.

This movie also started my love for rabbits, long one of my favorite animals. It also inspired me to read the Richard Adams novel, which I’ve read twice in my life. I read it the first time in 3rd or 4th grade, the first book I ever read that was over 200 pages.

November 2 was the US airdate for one of my favorite episodes of The Muppet Show: Season 3, Episode 7, starring Alice Cooper. It’s not that I’m even particularly a fan of Alice Cooper. It’s that this episode shows how much fun the Muppets could be without backing away from controversial material. Remember, for a lot of people (including me), the Muppets were never about safe entertainment for kids, they were about comedy.

Possibly the most genius bit in this episode is the way Alice plays it as having been sent by the Devil to steal the souls of the Muppets. That’s a great through-line. Mixed in with this are some great bits and performances, including “Welcome to My Nightmare,” a great Pigs in Space sketch, and a bizarre-but-wonderful performance of Cooper’s last great song (IMO) “You and Me.” The whole thing is capped by a great, high energy, balls-to-the-wall rendition of “School’s Out.” This was a time when a lot of radio stations still wouldn’t even play the damn thing!

Just a fantastic episode.

November 8 was the death of Norman Rockwell. I guess to some people it’s cheesy to like Rockwell’s paintings, but I love them. He represented an America that was idealized, sure, but it was an America I think he thought we were capable of creating. Not sure I believe that these days, but his paintings are lovely.

November 1978 was Mickey Mouse's 50th anniversary. He got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this month.

November 17 was the first and only broadcast of The Star Wars Holiday Special. This is one of those things that some people like to say is so bad that it’s good. Those people are wrong.

November 18 was the incident at Jonestown. I don't remember it from the time, of course, being only 2, but this one really shook up my Mom. To this day, she shudders just from hearing about it.

November 19 was the first Take Back the Night march (in San Francisco).

Here's some silliness that I kinda love:

I know, it’s the stupidest thing ever, but I love it. Pure late 70s cheese, served sleazy and stupid, just the way I dig it. The chick in this video was the kind of chick I grew up digging: made up, hair in wings, and dirty-minded. Too bad they only existed in music videos. Plus, you know, I was 2.

Also, since I know my wife is reading this, I have to add, as always: and featuring Rexor on drums. Because the drummer looks like Rexor from Conan the Barbarian.

Also, I bet that bass player is a cool dude to hang out with. Let’s the three of us go surfing and try to pick up some sleazy music video chicks!

What a time to be alive!

Also, another favorite Playmate: Miss November, Monique St. Pierre. (NSFW)

And another favorite movie: Debbie Does Dallas. Seriously. This is quite possibly my favorite adult film ever. It’s just so… innocent. I mean, I know it’s a hardcore skin flick about teenage hookers, but if there’s a hot-yet-innocent way to do that, this flick does it. It’s refreshing in today’s world of dead-eyed, too-toned porn stars to see people that look like actual people just having some fun sex!

Not all fun, though. Sadly, on November 27, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White. There's a great documentary you should watch called The Times of Harvey Milk.

December 3: Christmas Eve on Sesame Street aired. This TV special is still a great watch.

December 11: The Lufthansa Heist, as seen in Goodfellas.

December 13: The first Susan B. Anthony dollars were struck. I still see one every year or five.

December 15: Welcome to the party, Laserdisc. These things were always so cool and remote. “Serious” movie collectors had Laserdisc. The format lasted a long time, too; I was saving up for a Laserdisc player in 1998 when a friend told me not to buy it and gave me the first article I’d ever read about DVDs. I used the money on a DVD player instead.


And before Christmas, here are some more of my favorite movies:

Superman. I still think of this as the most perfect superhero movie of all time; one of the most perfect movies of all time. This is one of the few movies about ideals of heroism and fairness that don’t apologize for what they are and don’t beat you over the head with the whole idea. What the film does is take something that seems very hokey and outdated and deliberately transplant it to another time and say “You know what? When these things come from the heart, they’re not outdated.” People matter. Humanity matters. Goodness matters. I love this movie. And the music! The music!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It never makes me popular saying this, but this is my favorite version of this story. I just think the twists and turns are more interesting. Also, Nimoy should’ve been Oscar-nominated for this.

And I see Disney re-released Pinocchio. Again, I can’t say with any realistic certainty that I saw Pinocchio at this age. It was a pretty traumatizing movie for me when I was young… even now, I get the sounds and imagery of Lampwick turning into a donkey and it sends a chill through me. Of course, like many things that scared me as a kid, it’s now one of my favorite things ever.

Here I am on Christmas morning, 1978, with my Mom, who is just a few weeks away from having another baby! Yes, this would be my last Christmas as an only child.

Look at that snazzy robe. I look good.

This is at our house in Killeen, Texas, so I see my grandparents came to spend Christmas with us. Were they there for the birth of my sister? I've never thought about that before. Also, we had that end table for a very long time. We didn't have that rooster lamp for a long time, but seeing it right now sparks something in me. I kind of remember it.

I know this was a long one, but I decided to go through the six months at once because I just don't have the pictures and a lot of it's just listing stuff. I'm too young to have memorable experiences.

1978 ended with John Wayne Gacy getting arrested and the escalation of the war between Vietnam and Cambodia. I had no idea of such things. I was awaiting the birth of my sister and the next round of holidays.

Thanks for reading! Catch you next time.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Song of the Week: "About a Girl"

Nirvana, 1989.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Film Week

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

HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (2015)
Great documentary that uses Francois Truffaut's invaluable book about Hitchcock as a launching pad to discuss Hitchcock's impact on filmmaking and the artistry that went into it. I know I'm not alone in considering Hitchcock the greatest director of all time, so hearing guys like Scorsese and Fincher and Richard Linklater gush about him was fun for me. ****

BABY BOY (2001)
I didn't really notice this as it got released, but I think it turned out to be one of John Singleton's best films. Tyrese Gibson stars as an aimless bike mechanic who starts hustling stolen goods, drifting through life with two different kids by two different women (one is Taraji P. Henson) while the adults in his life try to push him to grow up. I'm sorry, but I'm going to default to quoting Ebert again, because otherwise I'll probably just end up paraphrasing him: "Baby Boy is a bold criticism of young black men who carelessly father babies, live off their mothers and don't even think of looking for work. It is also a criticism of the society that pushes them into that niche [...] [it] doesn't fall back on easy liberal finger-pointing. There are no white people in this movie, no simplistic blaming of others; the adults in Jody's life blame him for his own troubles, and they should." The emotions and the performances are so raw that they elevate the film, particularly Ving Rhames. ***1/2

THE BRONZE (2015)
Melissa Rauch co-wrote and stars as a former Olympic bronze medalist in gymnastics, drifting aimlessly and living off of her local celebrity. She ends up coaching a local Olympic prospect, and we watch as this aggressively unlikable and self-obsessed person actually finds herself giving a shit about other people. I'm surprised to see just how badly this movie was reviewed. I don't know why this one got singled out as bad while a piece of garbage like Napoleon Dynamite was so beloved by critics, but this is why I don't pay attention to critics. I found it compelling and funny. ***1/2

I SAW THE LIGHT (2015)
Nigh unwatchable biopic of Hank Williams that spectacularly fails to make him interesting. Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and Cherry Jones are all fine actors, but the movie is so unfocused that it's hard to care about what's happening, and it doesn't capture what is so appealing about Hank Williams that people still listen to him. *1/2

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Song of the Week: "Let the River Run"

My 41st birthday is tomorrow, and the first gift I received this year was a Carly Simon CD from Roger, so here's my favorite Carly Simon song. I knew who Simon was as a kid because my Dad always had a thing for her, and I liked the song "Coming Around Again," which had hit MTV two years before (and which I posted as a Song of the Week in 2015). I was 12 or so when this one came on the radio, written and recorded for the movie Working Girl, which is still a great movie. This one just filled me up in a way that still makes me feel good. Thanks for the gifts, Roger!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Film Week

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

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
Look, the Sam Raimi movies are *my* Spidey movies, hearkening as much as they do to the spirit of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko years. And though a lot of the Lee/Romita spirit is in here, where this movie really excels is in modernizing that spirit in a way that keeps the character fresh for his second reboot of the past decade. (In a way, you could also say that it tempers some of that Bendis/Bagley edginess with the sincerity of the character from the '60s.) At times, the movie really captures the spirit of the original Iron Man as far as feeling not only new (it's a nice shot in the arm for the MCU), but also in having a character who revels in the things he can do and who is desperate to prove he can do good things with them. This is the old overwhelmed-but-well-meaning Spider-Man that I remember from the comics, and even though I'll always just want Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4, I really enjoyed this one a lot more than I expected to. Tom Holland is an enthusiastic and likable Spidey, and Michael Keaton is a particularly nuanced version of the Vulture. In a lot of ways, it's Keaton's movie. I liked the way the movie combined pieces of the old mythos with Ultimate Spider-Man, in effect giving us new versions of the original characters, which provides a fresh, modern take (although I don't know why they turned Ganke into Ned instead of just letting him be Ganke), and it's especially nice to see Peter Parker living in an non-gentrified Queens. As for Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, I hear a lot of complaints that she's not the same as the comics, but it's 2017 and that complaint is freaking dumb. The high school kid who lives with his frail, elderly aunt is a post-World War II trope that doesn't work. Love the ending, too. Everything is such a new take on Spider-Man that I found it positively exciting. I'm rambling. Anyway, ****

THE VOID (2016)
Stylish, weird thriller about a group of people stuck in a nearly-abandoned small town hospital, surrounded by weird cultists. I don't want to describe it any more than that, because so much depends on mood and surprise. But if you dig Lovecraft, seriously check it out. ****

LOVE BY THE 10th DATE (2017)
So, the reason I watch Lifetime movies so often, besides the fun-dumb factor, is that I don't get a lot of chances to see actresses I like in prominent roles, particularly actresses of color. So I watched this movie starring Meagan Good as a graphic designer who gets a chance to work on an article about how long it takes for a man to realize he's in a relationship. And the movie also focuses on the relationships of her coworkers, played by Kellee Stewart, Kelly Rowland and Keri Hilson. Kudos for subverting the biphobia, but the take on open marriages was a little overdramatic, and the ending was... weird and didn't make sense to me, really. Otherwise, the whole thing is pretty predictable and cheesy. Good was good, though, and it avoids or subverts enough narrative traps. **1/2

BEACHES (2017)
The original wasn't good, either, and this is the breezy, Cliff's Notes version of that movie. Nia Long and Idina Menzel are pretty good in the roles originated by Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler, respectively, and of course it's always nice to hear Idina sing, but the whole thing is ephemeral and is gone from the memory the second it's over. I love Nia Long, though. Always have. **

BOY (1969)
Nagisa Oshima directed this movie about a boy in Japan who is being used by his father to run scams, pretending to get hit by cars in order to extort money from strangers. The family--his abusive, lazy father, his reluctant stepmother, and his innocent baby brother--as seen through his eyes in a sort of confused perspective, as the boy begins to realize their lives are not normal and he is hurting innocent people. Oshima's films are always so interesting, capturing the reality of post-World War II Japan for the young at a time when most of Japan's major filmmakers were making movies that were either asserting the strength of tradition or elegies for conservative values. Beautifully photographed and edited, and still vital today. ****

THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967)
Jacques Demy and composer Michel Legrand followed up their masterpiece The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, where everyone sang their dialogue, with a true musical. Real life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac play twins in small French town who wish to leave for Paris and work in music. A carnival comes to town one weekend, and it becomes a weekend of new connections, missed connections, opportunities, and the realization of dreams. Beautiful cinematography and art direction, and of course the music is wonderful. It's an old fashioned Hollywood musical spectacle, but filmed with the eye, sensibility and style of the French New Wave. Even Gene Kelly appears as a composer looking for inspiration. If anything, I found myself having a more magical time with this than I did with Cherbourg. ****

TURBULENCE (2016)
Dopey Lifetime movie with Dina Meyer as an FBI agent on a cross-country flight who sits next to a mysterious woman (Victoria Pratt) who informs Meyer that her family has been taken hostage and will remain so until she deletes a key piece of evidence in a criminal trial against a senator. The plan is so imbecilic that I have no idea how I'm supposed to believe any of this is going to work, so it kills any tension completely. Except for the two leads, no one's really very good here. (Poor Pratt is really trying to act the role hard, but the writing is so, so bad.) The whole thing feels like it was made on leftover porn sets with leftover porn actors doing some legit work on the side. It fills time and gives me an excuse to watch Dina Meyer and little else. *

BAD MOMS (2016)
Mila Kunis stars as an overworked mother who finds out her husband is cheating on her, kicks him out, and lets herself be a little less responsible for a while. For the first hour or so, the movie's hilarious, as she and her other mom friends (Kristen Bell and the indispensable Kathryn Hahn) get wild, but the last 40 minutes are the kind of predictable sitcom softness you expect. There's enough weirdness and genuine hilarity to make it a winner, but it doesn't really have the edge and insight to skewer the Perfect Mom culture in the way it thinks it is. It's a funny movie, though, it just had the chance to be more and didn't really go for it. ***

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Song of the Week: "Spider-Man"

Sure, I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it has the same flaw as every other Spidey movie: it doesn't use this track from Rock Reflections of a Superhero.


Silly? Maybe. But I love it.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part VIII: 1978 Begins

Well, whatever happens in 1978, let's just remember: my most favorite of candy bars, the Whatchamacallit, began life.

It’s January 1978, and there are blizzards in the Midwest and on the Atlantic Ocean, but I’m 16 months old and I live in Texas. I really don’t remember too terribly much of living in Texas; mostly I remember little images or feelings here and there. There aren’t a lot of pictures of me from this year, either, so you won’t be seeing as much of me.

1978 seems like a scary world, just looking at the historical events of the year. So much war in the Middle East, Zaire and Ethiopia. Even Vietnam was at war with Cambodia. So much unrest in Iran especially. And in the US, there are suddenly lots of fears about human cloning. That seems odd now. This is also the year of the Ford Pinto recall. So much can happen in a year.

There I am on the base with Dad: Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. We would go look at the old vehicles at the museum there. I see I'm wearing my old baseball jacket. I must’ve really dug that helicopter; I was definitely watching M*A*S*H on TV and probably not really understanding it, but I know I especially associated it with my Dad because he was in the Army. I’m looking at this picture now and thinking that this must be the reason why the helicopter right in the beginning of the M*A*S*H opening credits sparks something in me. I don’t even remember doing this, but part of me does, unconsciously. I totally thought M*A*S*H was where my Dad worked because, you know, 16 months old.

Dad seems to be having a good time with my Grandpa Sage here. Another good time: "Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra, which hit the radio around this time. Talk about a song that always brings me up when I’m down! I do love ELO and their heavy orchestrated arrangements, and this one pulls clearly into perfection territory for me. One of my favorite songs ever.

(This is actually a great time for music that I count among my favorite: "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas, "Take a Chance on Me" by ABBA, "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty, "What Do I Get?" by the Buzzcocks, and of course the eponymous debut Van Halen album, 36 perfect minutes of glorious rock.)

... and of course, "Wuthering Heights," a haunting song. I just dig the video and the way Kate moves her body. Movement is something that’s always sort of fascinated me, just as someone who was once interested in learning everything he could about puppetry and special effects.

Also in January: Sesame Street spent five episodes visiting Buffy and Cody in Hawaii (something which made a huge impression on my in reruns as a little kid), and Kenner started putting out their Star Wars action figures. I still have some of those original figures, but none of the first vehicles. A friend of mine had that Landspeeder, and man, did I want that. It was Luke's hot rod!

But I guess this began my need to own Artoo Detoo figures. They barely change, but I almost always get an Artoo Detoo figure from whatever new movie. He is my favorite character, after all. (Pic via.)

In February, Roman Polanski fled the country but Ted Bundy was captured, the Hillside Strangler claimed his final victim, and the blizzards continued. During the blizzard, the first bulletin board system goes online, courtesy of Ward Christensen and Randy Suess, two computer hobbyists. It reportedly connected 253,301 calls before being retired. And now, today, we have message boards and chat rooms. I admit, it’s a mixed bag.

Another of my favorite episodes of All in the Family aired on the 15th: "Two's a Crowd" (Season 8, Episode 16). It’s an ancient comedy set-up: two characters who don’t get along get locked inside something and have to wait for rescue, and as they brush up against each other they learn more about each other. But this is probably the most powerful and effective I’ve ever seen it done. As Mike and Archie snap at each other in a cold storeroom, thing start off funny-but-predictable. As Archie starts to talk about his childhood in the Great Depression, the layers peel back. And as Archie starts to drunkenly reveal painful truths--that he inherited his racism from his physically abusive father--Mike understands one of the painful facts that the entire series is meant to confront: that inside a bigot there can be a child who who was hurt too many times, and all bigots start as human beings.

Also in February: electrical workers in Mexico City find the remains of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in the middle of the city, the first GPS satellite is launched, the game Simon was released (I remember playing that at sleepovers into the early 80s), and Genesis released one of my favorite songs of theirs: "Follow You Follow Me." I really love Genesis. That band made a big impact on me as a lad.

Heading into March there are wars in Africa and Israel, Larry Flynt was shot and paralyzed, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy began airing on BBC Radio 4, and Charlie Chaplin's remains were stolen. What was I doing? Probably watching whichever incarnation of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour was on Saturday mornings. And The Robonic Stooges. Jeez, does anyone remember The Robonic Stooges? I would recommend not remembering The Robonic Stooges. Just... why?

Also around this time, Lego introduced its Town, Space and Castle systems. I was a still too young for them, but they were a heavy part of my childhood. That makes this the year the Lego Minifigure was introduced, too.

Oh, and the Trapper Keeper was first introduced. Had those throughout my school career, until I started high school.

Me and Dad, playing in the park. My Dad told me this was my favorite park when we lived in Texas; I didn’t know until recently (because I was too young then to remember it now) that we lived on a street called Alamo Avenue.

On April 3, Star Wars won 6 of the 10 awards it was nominated for, but not Best Picture.

On April 7, in an important moment of sanity, President Jimmy Carter decided to postpone production of the neutron bomb.

On April 19, James Franco was born. Why does that make me feel old?

On April 20, one of the greatest films of all time, Dawn of the Dead, opened.

On April 22, Saturday Night Live aired what I've always considered the most perfect episode of the classic cast: Season 3, Episode 18, hosted by Steve Martin and featuring The Blues Brothers as musical guests. One of Martin’s best hosting efforts, this episode features “Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber” and his classic performance of his single “King Tut,” as well as a Festrunk Brothers sketch, a Nerds sketch, and “Next Week in Review.” In addition to all that greatness, the Blues Brothers are the musical guest, Gary Weis’ short film features Toni Basil, and the episode features one of my top 5 sketches of all time, “Dancing in the Dark,” in which Steve Martin and Gilda Radner lock eyes across the room, everything pauses, and the two engage in a dance that is both funny and beautiful. Perfect. Episode.

On April 25, St. Paul, Minnesota, repealed gay civil rights. (Thanks again, Anita Bryant, much good may your loathing do you.) This was just a month after San Francisco had signed the most comprehensive homosexual rights bill in the nation.

One of Jim Henson’s best performances as Ernie is in this beautiful Jeff Moss song. I like the sentiment of this song: that no matter what place Ernie visits and no matter how far he goes, he will always want to return to the people he loves. This is just so lovely.

Some music from April: "Because the Night" by Patti Smith, "Magnet and Steel" by Walter Egan, and the wonderful album Stardust from Willie Nelson. Willie’s rough, gentle standards album--well, the first one--is an album his record company didn’t want to release, and they were wrong; when it became a success, they wanted more and more of them. But this album is the one that I’ve loved for a lifetime, and it never fails to comfort me. There’s a matter-of-factness to it that’s almost fatalistic, but that actually does comfort me. It sees that weariness and tradition can be beautiful.

Also in April: one of my favorite Playmates, Miss Pamela Jean Bryant. (NSFW link, obvs.) And the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was proclaimed.

Wish I had more personal pictures to share, but I don't, so let's just sum up May: Pete Rose hit his 3000th major league hit, wars and riots continue (including a civil war in Zaire), Charlie Chaplin's remains were found, Mavis Hutchinson became the first woman to run across the US, the first Unabomber attack occurred at Northwestern University, and the first legal casino in the eastern US opened in Atlantic City. I'm gonna stop there and pick up in June and head into my second birthday. If you've hung in until now, pat yourself on the back for enduring this.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Film Week

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

FINDING DORY (2016)
Beautifully animated follow-up to Finding Nemo. It's a seriously great-looking film, although I've found myself becoming harder and harder towards Pixar's emotional manipulation over the years. What I enjoyed more than the emotions were the visuals and the color palette. My favorite part of the movie--and what made it more than worth watching for me--was the octopus Hank, voiced by Ed O'Neill, who just wants a life of permanent comfort in an aquarium, but who comes through in the end. Hell, I bought his Pop! Vinyl before I even saw the movie.

Great characterization, great animation, okay movie. ***

THE BEGUILED (2017)
Delicate, fascinating version of the novel that inspired the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, about an injured Union soldier taken in by a girls' school in the South during the Civil War. Sofia Coppola directed, and as I've said many times in the past, I'm a big fan of her filmmaking. I like that her films are quiet and restrained, that we get to see a female viewpoint without being dragged towards a preset conclusion. Three of my favorite actresses give great, subdued-yet-lively performances (Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning), and Colin Farrell is sincerely insincere as their wounded charge. The film itself is made with surgical precision, trimming every unnecessary detail, while under the surface so much is happening that Coppola, I think, means for you to discern (and interpret) for yourself. But there's a richness to the simmer that I found visceral and exciting. ****

NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING (2016)
Ugh. This feels like two movies that were crammed together to make one piece of nonsense. The potentially more interesting movie stars Chloe Moretz as a college girl who wants to rush a sorority, but finds out that the sexism of the Greek system will not allow sororities to throw their own parties, but forces them to be a supplement and support for frats. She and her new friends decide to make their own sorority, and recruit Zac Efron from the first movie to help them set it up. I would watch that movie if it were fleshed out, rewritten, and actually paid more than lip service to considering the gender issues of college life and particularly fraternities. But they mash it up with a second movie which is garbage, in which Zac Efron uses this to gain revenge on the couple from the first movie, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, who are trying to sell the house next door, but with the same problems from the first movie. So, neither movie works, especially not as one movie (which feels like it was made up every day on the day of shooting), and I still don't know who I'm supposed to be rooting for... The movie wants it both ways. I can't root for the young women who want to buck a misogynist system and then also root for the adults who want to stop her so they can survive escrow. I mean, is this a real estate scare movie for adults or an empowerment movie for girls? It's nothing. The worst crime of all is, it's not even a little funny. Who the hell was clamoring for a sequel to the original? The original was barely a movie, too. *

COURS DU SOIR (1967)
A short film with Jacques Tati demonstrating the art of mime to students. Shot during the filming of Playtime, I've seen this short counted as a Monsieur Hulot movie, but there's really no connection other than the way Tati is dressed. It's a delightful short, though. Apparently some of the observational sketches performed were originally performed by Tati in the music halls in the 1930s. ****

Monday, July 03, 2017

Muppet Monday

In these nightmare times, one day before Independence Day, I invite you to head over to Tough Pigs, the Muppet site where they've got a nice write-up of the 1976 Sesame Street Calendar, including all of the great Michael J. Smollin art.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Song of the Week: "Little Bird"

The Beach Boys, from the underrated 1968 album Friends. Dedicated to the goldfinch I saw in my garden this morning.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy Liv Tyler Day

My beloved is 40 today.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen the past two weeks or so.

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR (2016)
You may remember that I really liked Snow White and the Huntsman. This part-prequel, part-sequel is utterly terrible. I guess they really wanted to keep Kristen Stewart out of it badly enough to make this half-baked, overproduced, forgettable trash that feels like someone really wanted to make an episode of Shelley Duvall's Fairie Tale Theatre, but has no idea why that show worked. (Hint: it's emotional sincerity.) Chris Hemsworth is fine as the Huntsman (the role's in his wheelhouse, and he's a charming guy), and Jessica Chastain is okay even with her variable accent (to her credit, she seems to think it's all bullshit, too). The movie brings back Charlize Theron as evil queen Ravenna, and this focuses on her heretofore unmentioned rivalry with her sister, the Snow Queen (Emily Blunt), who lost a child and now hates love itself and has dedicated her life to proving love is a lie, and yes, this whole subtext-as-text thing is really that dumb and plainspoken in the movie. It's just... not smart. And it's not fun, either. I liked Theron, but only because she's slipped her chain and gone so over the top in this one, like Frank Langella in Masters of the Universe. Blunt tries, bless her, to imbue her role with some kind of believable pathos, but the role is just so stupidly written that she can only do so much. It's unwatchable, and the big twist is totally predictable. Lots of talent wasted on this. *

DODES'KA-DEN (1970)
Akira Kurosawa film about the residents of a tenement and how they go about their lives. Keenly observed. I don't know why this isn't better thought of, because I really found myself wrapped up in the lives of people who are hopeless, and yet continue to dream. ****

CONFLAGRATION (1958)
Kon Ichikawa directed this film about a young man with a stammer who becomes a student acolyte at the Golden Pavilion. Haunted by the death of his father and the infidelity of his abusive mother, the young man struggles, but is overwhelmed to be studying at the place his father thought the most beautiful in the world. Reality, however, can be cruel and disappointing, and there's some interesting symbolism going on that speaks to Japanese culture and the preservation of its natural character post World War II. ***1/2

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 (1986)
Gonzo sequel to one of the greatest horror flicks ever made. I actually dug this, although I see it's not very well liked. It is much more over the top, mixing extreme gore with wacky humor in a way I found especially interesting. The mix of extreme styles is the kind of thing I don't always think horror directors get right, but this one worked for me as almost a spoof of the original movie. Hard to explain, but I liked it. ***

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016)
I love Tarzan, and this is definitely one of my favorite interpretations of him. I honestly don't think the character always works well on film, but this one has a real Edgar Rice Burroughs feel (thank you for remembering that Jane is American and that the Mangani aren't gorillas) and interestingly places the story within a historical context, dealing with real people like Leon Rom (played by Christoph Waltz) and his role in the terrors of the Belgian Congo, and George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and his role in exposing the slavery that ran rampant there. So, it's a pulp adventure with some serious touches that come both from ERB's novels and from history. Alexander Skarsgaard was not my first choice to play Tarzan, but he's very good, particularly with his physicality. He really seems apelike, wearing a suit comfortably, but not naturally. So much of his civilization is learned behavior, which contrasts with Rom and his utter (ironic) faith in the trappings of civilization. It's a surprisingly thoughtful movie, and I just really enjoyed it. ***1/2

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)
Not as terrible as its reputation suggests, but not a movie that really works, either. I like the mythology of it, I just wish the movie had done something with it. Too bad; it could have been the John Wick of Hellboy wannabes. **1/2

GLOW: THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING (2012)
My sister and I used to watch GLOW when we were kids. I was one of those "ugh, this is for girls" boys, but my sister absolutely loved the cartoony and exaggerated wrestling show. (I liked the WWF, which was no less cartoony and exaggerated, so no judgments.) Really interesting to get the oral history of how and why that show was put together, and what about it made it so special to the people who were into it. I love that we're getting these histories now on the sometimes ill-remembered pop culture of my childhood. ***1/2

ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS (2014)
Fast-paced, fascinating documentary of how Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus took on Hollywood with cheap films and made a killing, before reaching too far and bankrupting their business. One of the things I like about this is that it's entertaining as hell whether you like Cannon's product or don't (and it is hit or miss, to be generous). ***1/2

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016)
Beautiful stop motion-animated film about a young boy who journeys through the Far Lands with a monkey companion and a cursed samurai to piece together a suit of enchanted armor to fight his grandfather, the Moon King. Laika has made nothing but great movies, but this is the studio's most delicate and lovely so far, a tale of the powers of love and understanding and how seeing the world through in that way can be more powerful than magic weapons. ****

THE WITCH (2015)
Excellent horror film about a Puritan farm family in 17th century New England. I don't want to say too much about it, because I think not knowing much about it really helps the experience (it was acclaimed, but I avoided reading reviews and thinkpieces about it because I didn't want to know too much). It's not gimmicky and gory, but more of a reaction to Puritan repression. And the ending... I'll leave you to decide for yourself, but I have ideas about the ending and the price of freedom. A visceral movie that gets to its horror with much of the frills of fantasy sanded down, making it more real and, I thought, more involving. Artful, thoughtful, and a triumph of tone. ****

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part VII: Holidays '77

Heading into November 1977, we open with me playing with... pegs? with my Grandpa Sage. On November 3, Aria Giovanni was born. I just mention it because my wife loves her. On the 8th, a Greek archaeologist, Manolis Andronikos, discovered the tomb of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, and Harvey Milk was elected City Supervisor of San Francisco, the first openly gay elected official of any large US city. Quite a historical day.

A less historic occasion that same day: Suzi Quatro makes the first of her 7 appearances on Happy Days as bad girl Leather Tuscadero. I like that she got to be a pioneer of women in rock both in reality and on television. I don’t know exactly the process, but somehow Leather Tuscadero became my ideal type of woman, especially when I was a little kid. I loved the tough girls in leather who loved to rock. Didn’t see much of them in the suburb where I grew up, except for one high school girl I met at a birthday party when I was about eight… Anyway, Leather Tuscadero is where it started, and then Joan Jett was the promise fulfilled. (And continues to be.)

Here's a link: Bernadette Peters singing "Just One Person" from Snoopy: The Musical on that weekend's The Muppet Show. A favorite TV moment of mine.

Here's another: the Saturday Night Live soundtrack came out on November 10. It's just a great soundtrack, man. I like disco just fine. Here's my favorite song on the album, "More Than a Woman," by the Bee Gees. It might seem cheesy, but I genuinely find this beautiful. Overshare: I once saw a woman strip to this onstage, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I had pulled into the place to get a cold beer and a burger on a very hot and bright day (I have some photosensitivity), and it was like this little piece of magic in the middle of the mundane. Those kind of experiences are all you can hope for in life sometimes.

Actually, here's something really cheesy that I'm into:

I grew up on the album Folk Songs of Our Time by Roger Whittaker. My Mom always had it, and when we first got a car with a cassette player in it, she recorded her vinyl record onto tape and we listened to it so many times. Years later, she bought the cassette. And we listened to it even more. This album makes me so impossibly happy and fills me with such good memories. I seriously want this song played at my funeral. I remember a time when people used to look at me like I was crazy for digging Roger Whittaker. Now people barely know who I’m talking about.

Sadly, this album has never been available on CD. No one who has it has even put mp3s online. It’s a shame it’s not available digitally, because I’d love to have it to stream and keep listening to it forever and ever. But for now, I have my closely-guarded cassette. Which I stole from my Mom. And my closely-guarded vinyl. Which I also stole from my Mom.

Sorry, Mom.

(I’m not sorry, Mom.)

November 16: One of my favorite movies ever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Back when we used to have such a thing as hope in the way we imagined our first meeting with aliens. I liked this movie from a very early age; when I was a kid, I was so fascinated with the idea of meeting aliens. I used to stay up late and read books about UFOs, and they would always terrify me as much as they compelled me.

On the 19th, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to make an official visit to Israel. On the 22nd, the first internet protocol happened. On the 27th, The Hobbit aired. This animated TV special from Rankin/Bass (animated by Topcraft) is an early adventure for me. It aired around Thanksgiving this year, but they must have aired it a number of times after, because I remember watching it on TV with my Dad when I was about four. I like Peter Jackson’s movie, but this is seminal for me. Whatever the limitations and twee touches, I still think of this as great fantasy. Of its time, perhaps, but still great.

Huh, I have no pictures of me from this Thanksgiving.

Well, here's a picture from HR Giger's Necronomicon, a great art book from 1977. It's prettier than me, probably.

And hey, here's a picture of the sheets I always wished I had. Lots of cool Star Wars merchandise was coming out at this time... the cards, the iron-on book, and of course, those great action figures from Kenner. I still have some of them to this day.

December 2: the episode of The Muppet Show with John Cleese airs (season 2, episode 23). Just one of my faves.

Also Muppet-related: in late 1977, Fisher-Price started making a stuffed Kermit doll.

And would you look at that? I've still got mine! One of actually three stuffed Kermits from various eras that I've got here at the Swamp.

This Christmas season brought me some more great TV. Jim Henson's neat special Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas aired for the first time. All in the Family had an episode I still watch at Christmas, "Edith's Crisis of Faith." Once again, All in the Family nails it with a Christmas episode that forces you to think about the spirit the holiday is meant to embrace, and the way we actually are capable of treating each other. This is the episode where Edith’s friend, female impersonator (as the episode uses the phrase) Beverly LaSalle, is beaten to death during a mugging, leading Edith to question the existence of a God who would allow someone so innocent to die in so violent a manner. It’s especially hard to see Edith--a character who defines the entire family’s sense of gentle decency--suffer with her grief; so much so that it nearly tears the family apart. Just a powerful episode of television.

And here I am, in my Christmas '77 portrait, apparently wearing a leisure suit.

Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas day this year. Thanks for that, Captain Bringdown.

Well, since I am incapable of forming memories yet, that's all the Wikipedia helps me to know about this time period. And since I don't have any Christmas commercial faves from this year, allow me to place this earworm in your heads.


Hey, I loved these commercials when I was a mere babe.

Anyway, we rushed through the season, but not much is going on! Let's rush into 1978 in the next installment!

Run, run, run as fast as you can! You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man! See you next time!

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

DuckTales!

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.

WONDER WOMAN (2017)
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