Tuesday, January 01, 2019

'It' is not a very good movie

Is it the extreme anticipation associated with a cultural touchstone? 

Something has to account for mediocre movies getting a critical pass — I'm thinking of The Force Awakens, for one, and a more recent example is the 2017 adaption of the classic Stephen King horror novel It, which is about as much of a holy grail as Star Wars for King fans. It's stunning to me that this movie sits at an 85/84 on Rotten Tomatoes, and I think a lot of horror movies in recent years — Insidious and The Conjuring among them — have been pretty grossly overrated. I mean, we know going into a horror movie that most of them are bad, but have we set aside all expectations at this point? 

Here, Andy Muschietti's big-budget treatment gets off to a quite promising start in the opening scenes as the paper boat floats down the street in the heavy rain and Georgie pursues it; when it goes down the drain and Georgie comes face to face with Pennywise for the first time, it's captivating to see the solicitous monster trying to push just the right buttons to lure in his prey. Bill Skarsgard nails it in that moment, and I'm ready to go along for the ride. Sadly, though, the movie quickly descends into the usual jump scares, noise and nonsense of modern horror movies; long before the silly final confrontation mercifully arrives, I just wanted it to be over (my viewing partner wholeheartedly agreed). As plenty of others have pointed out, a real bright spot in the movie is Sophia Lillis as Beverly; she displays a gravitas beyond her years that hints at great things to come. 

If I had to watch one of the two adaptations of It again, I'd opt for the slow-burn TV version. I recall that King once said he should have called the novel "sh*t." I don't know about that, but, when it comes to this movie, if the clown shoe fits …

Monday, December 31, 2018

Music that moved me in 2018

Top Song
Foster the People claims the most-played song trophy with the sublime "Sit Next to Me," which has a really appealing, dreamy quality. This rekindled my interest in earlier single "Doing It for the Money," which lands at #21 in my year-end recap of most-played songs, new and old, as tallied by Last FM. The runners-up for songs released in or near 2018: "My My My!" by Troye Sivan and "Your Song," Lady Gaga's outstanding Elton John cover.

A year without scorchers
It was a cycle lacking in artist and album breakouts. My core artists didn't have new albums, and things that could have blown up, like Thompson Twin Tom Bailey's solo debut Science Fiction, failed to fully ignite. My most played "current" artist was Troye Sivan ("My My My!" #3, "Strawberries & Cigarettes," #51 and "Better Now," #83 for the year and currently in my top 10).

Double A-side
I loved that Paul McCartney called the lead single from his 2018 album a double A-side, as if that kind of thing still exists. Both excellent tunes, "Come on to Me" and "I Don't Know" (love that piano intro on the latter), finish in my top 50, along with one of his oldies, "Say Say Say." It's a tad surprising to find him thrice in my top 50.

What's so hot about the Hot 100?
Last year, my non-mainstream tastes yielded only two instances of crossover between my music of the year and that of popular consumption. Not to be outdone, 2018 has literally no crossover at all. It's not surprising, considering the Billboard Hot 100 of the year is a chart heavily infested with songs by Drake and Imagine Dragons. A close call, though, is Bruno Mars' "Finesse," finishing at #14 in Billboard and a bit outside my top 100 in the non-Cardi B version. Mars has become a bit boring, but I loved the overt musical references to Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" in that jam. Also worth mentioning is Troye Sivan's cover of Post Malone's "Better Now," which is currently charting in my top 10, while Malone's original finished at #13 for the year in Billboard.

// Go here for recaps from 2017 and prior years.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

RIP Aretha Franklin

The mid to late 1980s was a great time to be a teenager getting into music. While there were all of those new sounds happening, it was a time when radio was kinder to veteran artists, and the likes of Roy Orbison, Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin could still chart a hit. When I think of Aretha, I think of those '80s hits like "Freeway of Love," "Through the Storm" (with Elton John), "Jimmy Lee," and particularly the Narada Michael Walden collaboration "Who's Zoomin' Who?", a fine pop jam that hit #7 in 1985. Good times with the Queen of Soul, a great American, and one of those people who it seemed would always just be there.

There was no music video for "Who's Zoomin' Who?" …

Monday, June 25, 2018

New Miami Vice music package offers several treats

Jan Hammer's Miami Vice: Special Edition, a repackaging of Miami Vice soundtrack selections, quietly surfaced in May, and it brings a good bit of Vice synth-pop music to Spotify for the first time while also adding a couple of remixes and two tracks that did not appear on Miami Vice: The Complete Collection, which spans more than 40 tracks of dramatic chords and sunny synths. 

First, the new offerings: "Little Havana" is the better of the two; a pleasant, moody, salsa-ish number. "The Kick" is more of a driving rocker that sounds like it could serve as background for a guns-blazing chase through the Miami streets at night.

Special Edition opens with a new remix of the theme music, the XL Mix, which is largely faithful to the original but about a minute longer and with some additional guitar parts. The intro is also tweaked. It sounds like a new recording and, thus, cleaner than the original, which could stand a good remaster. 

"Crockett's Theme," which got a big boost in the '90s from its inclusion on the popular Pure Moods album, is not labeled as a remix or a remaster, but it is clearly a different mix than the original. In some regards, it sounds better (cleaner, like the theme), though there's a new little repeating electronic chirp that I don't love.

About 16 tracks of Hammer's Vice music were already on Spotify via previous collections Escape from Television and Snapshots 1.2. Some of the better Vice tracks joining them now are the likes of "Clues" and "Voodoo Dance." But this new collection curiously omits a few old favorites like "Chase" and "Evan," which were on the original soundtrack release in the '80s alongside the hits by Tina Turner, Phil Collins and Glenn Frey. They are, however, available for purchase through Hammer's website, along with all of The Complete Collection.

We need to talk about Westworld

In my entertainment universe, Westworld was one of my most anticipated TV shows of all time — right up there with the return of The X-Files. The concept has my tastes written all over it.

Quite by chance, I saw the 1973 Westworld movie not long before news broke that HBO would be making a series based on the flick. It's an excellent movie, and it's easy to draw a line directly from its future world to things like Terminator (the indestructible villain coming relentlessly for you) and Jurassic Park (an amusement world gone deadly wrong).

Most of season 2 of Westworld sits unwatched on my DVR because the first couple of episodes continued to be a tepid, boring slog, while the show ought to be a nonstop rollercoaster. Wouldn't it be fun to occasionally see guests arriving at the park (the still functioning other sections) and letting loose? Playing poker and bagging some hookers? Having a shootout with the drunks at the bar? Robbing the bank? Something, anything?

Sometimes I wish I could tell Dolores to stop talking … to please just shut up about her endless naval-gazing robot vision quest. And the same goes for Arnold/Bernard. I'm all for deep and thoughtful sci-fi — it's why the Battlestar Galactica remake is my favorite show — but not at the expense of anything fun happening. This version of the robot awakening puts me to sleep.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Party like it's 1989 with Paramore and Bruno Mars

A few weeks ago a song came on the radio and immediately stopped me in my tracks — a rare occurrence in the 2010s.

I was listening to an adult top 40-ish station, and I was like, "Whoa, somebody accidentally put on something from 1989." Shazam informed me that this curiosity is Paramore's latest single, "Rose-Colored Boy," which sounds, at least in that opening bit with the "low-key, no pressure" chant, like very late 80s dance pop (not so much new wave, as some have suggested). And, a bit later, it occurred to me that it actually evokes a particular song — Martika's first single, "More Than You Know," which went to #18 in 1989. Despite their apparent popularity, I wouldn't know another Paramore song if it humped my leg, but "Rose-Colored Boy" is a real treat amongst the mess that's on the radio these days. And, boy, does it stand out. Like many of my favorites, it's a clever juxtaposition of melancholy lyrics and upbeat music.

Another ear-turner for me is Bruno Mars' "Finesse" (without the Cardi B rap, thank you very much), which cleverly evokes Bell Biv DeVoe's excellent 1990 single "Poison" by using the same drum sounds that define the earlier song. Mars also pulled off a fine imitation of 1989 R&B balladry with previous single "Versace on the Floor."

Monday, April 09, 2018

Streaming Unsolved Mysteries

We've been having a lot of fun watching Unsolved Mysteries on Amazon Prime Video (it can be found elsewhere, as well) — it's a great trip back to the late '80 and into the '90s, a time when crop circles made us want to believe. "Fun" may not seem the best word, given that Unsolved Mysteries is essentially a show about tragedy, but it was presented with great dramatic style. There's the outstanding theme music — you could imagine X-Files composer Mark Snow was a fan — alongside the comforting narration of Robert Stack. And the stories were backed with good, old-fashioned reporting. The occasional paranormal and UFO segments were welcome diversions, although the long-lost family member stories did wear out their welcome. It's a show that, in this time of revival fever, ought to come back, focusing on crime and the paranormal.

The Dennis Farina revival episodes are also there for streaming, and it's pretty stunning how many of those there are. Nothing against Farina, but it's really all about the Stack episodes.

Each week, Robert Stack would dramatically wrap up each episode with something along these lines: "For every mystery, someone, somewhere, has the answer. Perhaps it's you." But what really kept us coming back was that strange human drive to indulge our fears as entertainment and knowing that a little turn of fate is all it takes to make us an unsolved mystery.