Category Archives: Pop Culture

2018 Year in Review: Movies

Prepping to write this final post about 2018 I realized that I may not watch as many new movies as I once did. While some of this is just due to my personality (I read a lot more than watch TV or movies these days) some of this also has to do with lack of interesting new ideas in film. Marred by remakes and Hollywood making a movie about every video game and toy from my childhood to try to cash in in a desperate attempt to regain their billion dollar industry of the past has filled the world of film with a lot of 300 lb turds in the last decade. My issues with the movie industry aside, here is a list of movies I watched in 2018 that I feel are worth mentioning.

infinity warAvengers: Infinity War:

The first part of the two part culmination of the past decade of Marvel movies brought about the full introduction of Thanos and his quest for the Infinity stones. Carefully crafting each movie previous to nudge the narrative in this direction has been on of the MCU’s strong points. With the introduction of characters taken care of in their own solo movies it allows the action and plot to move forward without having to get bogged down in a lot of character introduction and development. 

The movie employs the action and CG graphics that have made the MCU so entertaining but also plays at the emotions of people who have watched since Iron Man’s first movie. Alliance connections change and heal over the course of the movie to push all the respective characters universes together. The first meetings of the Guardians of the Galaxy with the rest of the MCU is a shining funny moment. 

The Russo brothers have managed to combine all of the worlds together to help craft a well thought out plot to end this phase of the MCU. The script is a brilliantly played out tragedy where loss and insurmountable odds leave you feeling that there has to be a great redemption coming. If Captain Marvel’s involvement in Infinity War Part II is half of what Black Panther’s was in Part I it will be an amazing ride as we will be forced to bid farewell to some of the actors that have inhabited the now beloved characters up to this point. Hopefully Marvel continues to push the narrative and envelope as well as they did so far and have another good decade build of movies to another great massive battle that were the most interesting reads of the books themselves. 

With Disney now owning a majority of the Marvel properties with its purchase of Fox in 2018 we can hope that we can see better versions of the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and X-Men coming in the near future.

mollys-game-molly_unit_03284r_rgb_wide-825457a813cdde23b3913c3441df14d79c4b7cb1-s800-c85Molly’s Game:

Aaron Sorkin has been one of my favorite screen and television writers for a long time. His use of dialog is emulated by many but none have mastered his caliber of wordsmith-ing in the realm of entertainment. Molly’s Game is his first foray into directing as well and was a key curiosity to me in regard to watching this film. 

Based on a true story, it manages to draw you in with wonderful story and editing which push the story forward while keeping the watcher caught in the web of wonderful dialog. The acting of Jessica Chastain is wonderful and shows the drive of the female character when she refuses to be bested by petty men. 

Idris Elba also turns in a great performance and once again shows how he is masterful at dropping his British accent for American characters. It doesn’t hurt that he has done this many times since being on The Wire over a decade ago. His character is empathetic as well as smart in his own right.

Great lighting and wardrobe choices as well as well placed editing manages to condense a multi year drama into a 2 hour movie without it feeling rushed or too drawn out. The narrative keeps you interested and invested in all of the characters and manages to convey a story of loss, rebirth, mistakes, and redemption excellently.

Three-Billboards-Outside-Ebbing-Missouri-Feature

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

A movie that was well worth the praise it received by the critics. A skilled drama in the vein of the Cohen Brothers (but no actually done by them) it manages to keep drama and plot high but also allows the irony and dark humor of certain moments to shine through. While the movie is limited to only a few different locations it makes the most of the space available to help tell the story of the characters.

Frances McDormand always manages to provide great performances. Once again she shows a character who has great strength as well as vulnerability. Sam Rockwell’s performance is amazingly understated but well distributed in its high points. Rockwell has been under appreciated as an actor for years and it was nice to see him finally put a performance out there that gained the notice he is so deserved. There are also great performances from Woody Harrelson and a great short (no pun intended) dramatic performance by Peter Dinklage.

A great story of loss, strength, mystery and forgiveness. While it did tend to drag for moments here and there, the deliberate pacing is great for the feel of the movie. The ending was somewhat a let down originally, however, after a repeated watch and some distance I realize now how great it is because it did not explicitly point the final narrative in a specific direction which allows you your own interpretation of what may have happened next.

the postThe Post

Being a history major who has studied both writing and journalism this movie was a no brainer favorite of the year. The story of the Washington Post’s decision to print the Pentagon papers which were still classified at the time. This movie shows the struggle over the decision to publish after obtaining the documents and the potential impact to both the personal and professional lives of Ben Bradlee as well as Katherine Graham (the chief editor and publisher of the paper, respectively). 

This was a pivotal moment in American history with the Vietnam War being highly unpopular and having been fought through three presidencies. The Pentagon papers brought to light the fact that the Government itself received assessments that were contrary to what they were telling the American people about the war for years. While mired in stalemate the Nixon administration pushed that there was a peace that was close at hand and that it was a winnable war, this all contrary to the professional opinion of his advisors as well as the RAND Corporation (a government think tank that was also studying and recommending actions).

As always Stephen Spielberg turns out a great historical period piece. The attention to detail and style is always something that the director has brought to his historical pictures. Teaming once again with Tom Hanks in a dramatic role he manages to put a contemporary perspective on events that occurred over thirty years ago. Not only does Hanks perform wonderfully, his interaction with Meryl Streep shows the trust that their two characters had with one another in terms of how to manage their business.

Few films manager to tell a story of the past and also show the parallels of events happening today. The attacks on the media by the paranoid President Nixon mirror those of President Trump. One of the main differences between the 70’s and today is the respect that investigative journalists and traditional media once commanded compared to where they are today. Although part of this is self inflicted after their handling of the 2016 election, an equal amount is due to the constant attacks by the administration. In the end the movie serves as a great dramatic film but also provokes thought of how history is repeating itself.

el royaleBad Times at the El Royale

A noir film to its roots, Bad Times at the El Royale manages to hit all of the marks. Small sets, varied characters and well thought out set production and lighting make this film a technically great film from the production standpoint. While some elements of cliche regarding the genre are used, they are employed with great skill and are looked at seriously as opposed to a trope of noir.

The film takes place at a fictional hotel that is on the border of California and Nevada and manages to inhabit both states simultaneously. While the hotel has seen better days it is an interesting set piece for the drama that unfolds over the two hour run time. The contrasting colors and styles that make up the separate sides of the hotel also manage to bring out the contrasting characters in the story.

The cast of this film would make you wonder if the plot and its execution could live up to the sheer ability of the actors alone. Including such names as Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and a short appearance by Nick Offerman, the movie has enough star power to keep you interested. The twisting of tales between the characters past brings a feel of a Tarantino movie with all of their paths coming together at a certain point. 

One of the great things about this movie is that nobody is who they seem at the beginning and those who you think will survive until the end don’t. This is one of the strong points of the movie as the predictability of other movies can get tiresome and the twists are easily spotted less than an hour into the story. However, Bad Times manages to keep you wondering where this will all end up. 

In some ways this movie reminded me of the film Identity, another great noir film, in that it is unpredictable. The characters are all forced into a situation that only originally was the problem of a few, and in the end the resolve of the film leaves you satisfied and calls for multiple viewings as it is enjoyable. 

While the film did not make a lot of money and was not as popular among theater audiences as industry standards would hav hoped these factors are not a valid assessment of the film. If anything this points toward the short attention span and the limited memory of the audience. Few people who go to movies today are interested in something that unravels at a deliberate pace and is subdued in its colors and tones. They want loud, splashy, visually energetic CG performances to keep them entertained without having to think. I feel that this film will find its audience on home video like so many great cult films do. 

the-death-of-stalinThe Death of Stalin

The majority of this list has been filled by dramatic movies, however, there were a few bright spots for comedy this year. I chose The Death of Stalin because it was largely underrated but a well done movie. The worst thing about critics of movies is that most of them see comedies as something that should churn out a laugh every five minutes which is why the concept of dark comedies are always lost on them. 

This movie is a political farce of sorts that manages to highlight the intrigue and backstabbing among heads of state that happens when great political change comes about unexpectedly. The movie begins shortly before the actual death of Stalin but the majority takes place in the aftermath. While a historical piece the film does take some creative license with the characters and the events. 

The cast is well put together and includes Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Jason Issacs and others. While the actors play their characters quite seriously this only manages to allow the irony of many situations to shine through. Another great thing about the movie is that it makes you think afterwards. You empathize and root for certain people and find humor in their words and actions, but then you realize at a certain point that each of these characters were really mass murderers who sent millions to their deaths or imprisonment at the Gulag. Some of this is made quite clear by the rounding up of people and the executions of others. 

While the subject matter is serious the movie manages to entertain and inform. The small bits of the movie that are intentionally funny are outweighed by the times where the humor is strictly  unintentional and ironic. The characters are well played and the plot well executed and the movie is worth a watch regardless of it’s reviews.

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Top 5: Christmas Movies

Christmas movies are a risky proposition in Hollywood. First you are limiting the palpability of watching the movie to a specific time of year and second, these films can be extremely good and become the yearly viewing of many people both on private media as well as over broadcast TV or, they can be forgettable film abortions that are banished to the realm of things that should not exist.

This is my list of my top 5 Christmas movies. Comments are welcome, however, please make them more varied than “Where is ‘Elf’?”

mixed-nuts-1994b

5. Mixed Nuts: Two movies on this list star Steve Martin but this one is always a fun watch. The supporting cast includes some short but memorable performances by Adam Sandler, Liev Schreiber, Rob Reiner, Jon Stewart, Garry Shandling, and Parker Posey. Written and directed by Nora Ephron this film has enough laughs and heart to put you into the holiday mood. 


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4. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles: The ‘Adult’ John Hughes film manages to combine holiday movie, odd couple, and road movie all in one. The second film on this list with Steve Martin is a classic film in its own right. Martin’s straight man Neal Page played against the warm and humorous character Del Griffith played by the amazing talent of the late John Candy manages to make the farcical situations seem grounded. 


grinch

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas: I’m going with the Jim Carrey version of this tale. Carrey was born to play the Grinch with his lanky figure as well as his hyper expressive style of comedy. There are enough laughs, mild innuendo for the adults, and heartwarming moments to make any Grinch in the real world feel a few seconds of warmth during the holiday season. 


die hard

2. Die Hard: There are two kinds of people in the world, those who think Die Hard is a Christmas movie and those who are wrong. Bruce Willis’ first big movie and also the first major role for Alan Rickman, this movie pits Willis’ good guy John McClain against the awesomely wicked performance of Rickman’s Hans Gruber. Those of us who love this movie can’t help but spout off lines like “Welcome to the party pal!”, and “Now I have a machine gun. Ho, Ho, Ho” to confused people who are not in on the joke. 


national lampoons

1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: The ultimate Christmas comedy. Forget ‘Home Alone’ because the Griswold family Christmas is far more entertaining than Kevin beating up the ineptitude of crooks with cartoon gags. The second film on this list written by John Hughes, it hits on all of the family tropes from the crazy cousin (Eddy) to the older relatives that make you uncomfortable. There are enough wacky situations and familial tensions that make Christmas a once a year event. 


Bonus:

scrooged

Scrooged: I don’t think any list of comedies can be complete without at least one movie with Bill Murray. It doesn’t matter what phase of his career he is in, he manages to bring the laughs and warmth to any film. Scrooged is a slightly scarier twist on the classic Christmas Story by Charles Dickens, but it is no less impactful, even if the 80’s styles tend to date the movie a bit.  

Throwback Soundtrack 2: 25 90’s Pop Songs that Refuse to Age

Anybody who has read any of my other posts knows that the 90’s were my decade. I came of age in the last decade of the 20th century so the music of that time holds a special place for me. When I first started cultivating this playlist I started out with a general concept of 90’s songs that refuse to age (much like my 90s Albums that Refuse to Age series) but once all of the songs I wanted to include were added the playlist ended up being a staggering 150+ songs totaling over 11 hours of music. Not wanting to subject my readership to that extensive of a listening experience and, personally, not wanting to write that much for a single post I decided to break this up over time. 

This time I’m starting with a list of 25 90’s pop songs that refuse to age. While you will notice that the list does manager to span over some different categories of music, the uniting factor of the list is that almost all of the songs on the list were pretty popular for their time. I’ve tried to mix up the tempo’s of the songs enough so that you don’t get stuck in a boring mix of songs. I hope you enjoy!

220px-Ready_to_GoRepublica- “Ready to Go” (Remix): Released in 1997 the remix of the original song is
a little more upbeat and a good opening to any 90’s playlist that wants to start out up beat and pumping. 

 


220px-Breathe_ProdigyProdigy- “Breathe”: Also released in 1997, this song was one of the few immensely popular singles released off of the UK Punk band’s electronic album Fat of the Land. Another great upbeat tempo song for any 90’s playlist.

 


220px-Billy_Joel_-_River_of_DreamsBilly Joel-“The River of Dreams”: Billy Joel had been around the music scene for a number of years by the time the 1990’s came, but “The River of Dreams” stands as his most popular song of the decade. I remember reading or hearing once that he recorded this song’s vocals while having a head cold, I think he still crushed it which tells you how much talent this guy has. 


ebtgEverything but the Girl-“Missing” (Todd Terry Remix): I’m not sure what it is about this song but it never ages for me. I remember listening on my Walkman radio to a dance/remix show that would air on Friday and Saturday nights on one of the pop stations where I lived and this was one of the two songs that I loved.

 


220px-Walking_on_Broken_GlassAnnie Lennox-“Walking on Broken Glass”: Annie Lennox was already a star from her first act the Eurythmics, but her early 90’s album Diva pushed her talents into the popular mainstream. This song was one of her first solo hits of the 90’s and the video featured a very early appearance of John Malkovich.

 


loteAerosmith-“Livin’ on the Edge”: Aerosmith’s post drug revival in the late 80’s and early 90’s produced a number of great songs as well as pop culture phenomena of the 90’s with the staring of both Liv Tyler (singer Steven Tyler’s daughter) and Alicia Silverstone in a few of their videos of the 90s. Not only did they bring their brand of rock back for the decade but they also cornered the sex appeal market by featuring the two actresses in their videos.


sttaThe Black Crowes-“She Talks to Angels”: The Black Crowes’ debut album stands as essentially a greatest hits package for the band. Although they did release a number of albums and had hits subsequently, none of their later work will stand up to the strength of the bands first release. “She Talks to Angels” is an emotional ballad that builds throughout. 


220px-Blues_Traveler_-_HookBlues Traveler-“Hook”: Blues Traveler seemingly came into the public consciousness out of nowhere. They managed to have a few hits prior to “Hook” but the song stands the test of time in regard to listenability. Somehow the band made having a blues band and playing harmonica cool again for a few years, something not seen since the days of Huey Lewis a decade earlier.


220px-Crash_Into_MeDave Matthews Band-“Crash”: The Dave Matthews Band was a cultural phenomenon in the 90’s. Becoming popular at the same time as other singer/songwriters and jam bands of the era, they stood out as one that had crossover appeal with both upbeat fun songs and great slower ballads. “Crash” may be a song about a peeping tom, but a lot of people have made it their relationship song with their significant others.


220px-DevilInsideINXS- “Devil Inside”: Unfortunately, INXS were only a huge band for a short period of time. The unexpected death of singer Michael Huchence cut the band’s time in the spotlight short, however, they made the most of their time there by releasing some of the best pop songs of the 90’s and this song is no exception.

 


canned heatJamiroquai- “Canned Heat”: Jamiroquai are an odd bunch from the UK that put out great pop/electronic albums. My first introduction was from the video for their song “Virtual Insanity” on MTV. “Canned Heat” has great production and is fun. You can’t really have a bad day if you listen to Jamiroquai in the morning.

 


Duranduran_ordinaryworldDuran Duran- “Ordinary World”: MTV darlings in the 80’s with songs like “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf”, the 90’s brought a more sober adult version of the band. “Ordinary World” is a great slower tempo song that doesn’t every really get old. Another great song I remember from the radio show of my childhood.

 


Janet_Jackson_Together_AgainJanet Jackson- “Together Again”: Janet Jackson has always put out great pop albums. 1989’s Rhythm Nation stands as one of the best produced albums of the era and her output during the 90’s was on par with that album. “Together Again” is an upbeat pop song that is just as easy to shake a booty to today as it was when it was release in 1997.


madonna frozenMadonna- “Frozen”: No 90’s pop playlist would be complete without Madonna. She managed to produce, what I consider, her best album with 1998’s Ray of Light and this song is one of the many highlights of the album. Stripped of the sexual content and speaking to more mature themes and having higher production value than her earlier work, the album still stands up.


220px-Life_Is_a_Highway_Tom_CochraneTom Cochrane-“Life is a Highway”: Long before Rascal Flatts made the song popular the original artist Tom Cochrane had a sizable hit with the song. More rocking than the countrified version that almost everybody knows, the song is great for 90’s as well as road song playlists.


220px-Handle_with_Care_SingleTraveling Wilbury’s- “Handle With Care”: A rock supergroup like the ‘Willbury’s wasn’t seen and has not been seen since. The combination of songwriters in the group alone is enough for any wanna-be to pack up and go home. George Harrison, Jeff Lyne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. Really enough said. The song is a great mid tempo rocker and Roy’s vocals are as hauntingly beautiful as anything ever recorded.


220px-BuildingaMysterySarah McLauchlan- “Building a Mystery”: If you lived through the 90’s you had to live through the folk/singer/songwriter revival. At one of the forefronts of both the movement as well as the Neo-feminist movement was Sarah MacLachlan. While a force for women’s rights in the 90’s she was also a pretty good songwriter. 

 

 

 


Tom_Petty_-_You_Don't_Know_How_it_Feels_Single2Tom Petty- “You Don’t Know How it Feels”: Taken from Tom’s solo album Wildflowers, the song was one of the first in MTv rotation that I noticed the lyrics were changed from the original version instead of bleeped out by censors. Although, now two decades removed and the more socially acceptable status of marijuana it may not have been the case if the song was released today. 


220px-U2_OneU2- “One”: Much like with Madonna, no 90’s pop playlist would be complete without at least one song from U2. The biggest rock band in the world for over a decade at that point the band managed to both alienate their core audience and re-find their sound within the same decade. “One” is a great slow song and a good representation of the band in the 90’s as well.


220px-The_Proclaimers_500_MilesThe Proclaimers- “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles): Anybody who lived in the 90’s has heard this song and mentally attaches it to the movie Benny and Joon which was one of Johnny Depp’s biggest movies of the decade in regard to popularity. Although released 5 years earlier the song did not become a huge hit until it was included in the soundtrack for the film.

 


220px-TheVervePipe-TheFreshmanThe Verve Pipe- “The Freshman”: Released in the midst of the post-grunge “Alternative” deluge of acts the Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman” stands out as one of the best songs of the time. Something bout this song just keeps it fresh and I have a great drunken memory of singing the song drunkenly on a new years eve with my friend’s the Pat’s. 


prgPrimitive Radio Gods- “Standing outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”: This is a largely forgotten song from 1996 but it still stands up for me. It wasn’t until about a year later that I realized that the song sampled B.B. King’s “How Blue Can You Get”. The song was featured in the Jim Carrey movie The Cable Guy, this is another one of those songs that just sticks with me through the years for absolutely no known reason.


one headThe Wallflowers- “One Headlight”: While they didn’t do much afterward that was as popular, The Wallflower’s “One Headlight” is one of the great songs of the era. The band, led by Bob Dylan’s son Jacob, manages a brooding well written song. Good thing Dylan’s son Jacob has a better sounding voice than him or else this band would have been a non-starter for the popular music scene.


220px-Closing_Time_singleSemisonic- “Closing Time”: This song really belongs in my list of great building songs because it starts out simply and just builds throughout the entire track to a more and more dynamic thing. The build of this song straight to the simple guitar solo always gets me in a good mood. 


220px-PM_Dawn_Set_Adrift_On_Memory_BlissP.M. Dawn- “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”: P.M. Dawn had this one really popular song in the 90’s and it is a good closing song for this 2 hour playlist. Mellow and laid back it provides a good ending to the trip down memory lane. Sparse in music with a solid beat and simple guitar chords making most of the track allows the vocals wind through their stream of consciousness feel.


Bonus Track:

220px-Enigma_Return_to_Innocence_single_coverEnigma- “Return to Innocence”: As a thank you to the people who make it this far I like to include a bonus song that some people may not know. A mellow electronic song from the early 90’s, this track utilizes a Native American style vocal line throughout. This is a good mellow song that was another standout from the radio show I listened to as a kid.

 

Like these songs or want to see what the fuss is about? Check out the playlist on Spotify.

Top 5 Post Apocalyptic Movies

Happy Halloween! Since I’ve already written a ‘Top 5’ for horror movies I thought that the next best thing to the horror genre is the ‘Post Apocalyptic’ genre of movies. This is a very specific genre that is set in the near or distant future after an world changing event occurs. In some cases this is nuclear war, in some it’s the rise of fascist totalitarianism, others it’s life after technology has become self aware and conspired to eradicate mankind. Whatever the cause, life is essentially bleak and survival is not guaranteed. This is a list of the movies that stand out to me as both entertaining but also serve as warning of potential fates of mankind.

The Running Man5. The Running Man- Set in the near future, this dystopian tale is about a reality where convicts are forced to survive a deadly game show in which they have to fight and outsmart ruthless criminals and murderers. A combination of Big Brother and American Gladiators but much deadlier. The sad thing is that this movie came out in the 1980’s but managed to predict the rise of “Reality” tv and the social breakdown of morality that we are now witnessing 30 years later.

mad max fury

4. Mad Max: Fury Road- Set in a world where natural resources are scarce and the region is controlled by a cult-like mass murderer that will stop at nothing to keep people under his control this movie is far more bleak than a future we want to view. However; with the rise of global warming and future effects of continued depletion of earths resources we could end up in a similar future. The only way I’ve ever been able to accurately describe this movie is to liken it to ‘paying to be punched repeatedly in the nuts for two hours while being entertained by it at the same time’. This isn’t my way of stating that the movie is bad (if it was it wouldn’t be on the list), instead it is my way of saying that the intensity of the film never lets up.

demo man

3. Demolition Man- Set in a future where a seemingly utopian society where everyone lives in harmony is essentially turned on its head when a mass murderer from the past escapes and the one cop that brought him down is the only one that can stop him. This movie may be corny now but at the time it was released it was a big action flick. Starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes it was set to be huge. Early performances by Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt and Rob Schneider are also highlights. 

The interesting part of this movie is that the premise is not far fetched (outside of cryogenically freezing prisoners). It is not impossible to see that within a few generations time the ability to survive and the skills needed today can quickly be forgotten to the point where the people are not able to properly cope with a situation outside of their norm. This is visible in society today where the gap between Generations X and Y is huge with that of Millennials in terms of skills and experiences that could help with survival in specific circumstances. Also, this movie serves as a warning that sometimes utopia may not be what it cracks up to be. 

brin_postmanmovie

2. The Postman- While, after Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves  believing anything that Kevin Costner does in a period is a stretch The Postman is a great movie. Set in a future time after nuclear war when basic services and old institutions lie in ruins the protagonist poses as a postman and eventually ends up joining a revolutionary force that is fighting against a feudal type leader (a great villainous turn of Will Patton) who seeks to maintain a stranglehold on resources and people. 

The movie manages to show a future where, again, an authoritarian type regime takes control in the chaos of the aftermath and is built on the promise of humanity’s need to fight against controlling forces to seek freedom. 

220px-Original_Guy_Fawks_mask_from_V_for_Vendetta_(5400848923)

  1. V for Vendetta- Set in a dark future London where a charismatic authoritarian leader controls the country. Certain books and opinions are outlawed and people are punished for speaking out publicly against those in control. This movie give a bleak look at a future where the future is controlled by state run forces and is very reminiscent of the Nazis with chosen imagery and propaganda. A man behind a mask manages to become the vigilante and face of a revolution and sacrifices himself in the name of freedom for humanity. Sadly, this could be our future if we don’t manage to recognize these kinds of forces building before they take control. 

Bonus Pick:

book of eli

The Book of Eli- Set in the post apocalyptic future where electronics are no longer useable and power sources and resources of all kinds are scarce, this movie follows the travels of a man who possesses one of the last remaining copies of the Bible. Hunted after by an authoritarian leader who wishes to posses the book, the protagonist manages to survive various attacks by marauders and henchmen alike while being blind. 

This movie shows the power that even a single book can hold in sowing the seeds of dissent and how, as a society, we cannot let censorship become out of control. 

Top 5 Under-rated Comedies

In the world of movies the comedy is always a good bet for an entertaining watch. Over the years comedy has went through many different incarnations, from slapstick to screwball to gross out to dramedy the form has always taken our common experiences and insecurities and shined a light on the ridiculousness of the who human experience. There are many comedies that are well known but I decided to focus on some of my favorite and, in my opinion, underrated comedies.

Back to school5. Back to School: (1986)

Starring Rodney Dangerfield this comedies premise is every kids nightmare, their parents going to college at the same time they do. Dangerfield plays a successful business man who wants to spend more time with his son so he enrolls in his son’s college. Not a previous college graduate but a graduate of the business school of hard knocks Dangerfield’s character comes at odds with some of his teachers but meets some unlikely compatriots in the history teacher (played by the amazing Sam Kinnison) and an English lit teacher whom he falls for. 

Some regular college hijinks happen throughout the movie which are coupled with the “fish out of water” aspect of Dangerfield’s character. There are some great scenes with a quirky early Robert Downey Jr. which steal the show and even a brief cameo by Kurt Vonnegut.

This movie is slightly dated in the 80’s with it’s soundtrack but still a good watch any time and I believe it is highly underrated compared to Rodney Dangerfield’s other known movie Caddyshack.


4. Dirty Work: (1998)42980-dirty-work-0-230-0-345-crop

This movie was directed by Bob Saget (yes, the dad from Full House) and stars SNL alum Norm MacDonald as well as a young (and less drugged) Artie Lange. The story surrounds a slacker and career prankster who starts a revenge for hire business in order to pay for his father’s surgery. There are some great cameo’s and casting throughout including a great scene with insult comedian Don Rickles, Chris Farley missing a nose, Chevy Chase and everybody’s favorite antagonist in the late 90’s Christopher McDonald (Shooter McGavin anyone?)

The movie is really a love story as well as a story about the strength of friendship. Playing to Norm’s strengths the movie has some great one liners and physical humor. Great jokes are sprinkled throughout as well as some great pranks pulled by the protagonist keep the movie entertaining and chuckle worthy.


Evolution3. Evolution: (2001)

The first comedic performance I ever remember seeing of David Duchovny is a good one. This Ivan Reitman directed film has a pretty solid cast which includes Orlando Jones (whatever happened to him?) and Sean William Scott (can’t be Stiffler forever) as well as Julianne Moore and Dan Aykroyd. 

Duchovny plays a disgraced former government scientist who is banished to a community college in the southwest. Things are going normally until a meteor crashes nearby that happens to have alien life forms on it which begin evolving at an accelerated rate. The ensuing hilarity is provided both in jokes, awkward situational comedy and the types of creatures thought up by the effects team. 

This movie never disappoints and always fills in a bored spot on a Sunday. As far as sci-fi comedies go my list contains Evolution, Galaxy Quest (another criminally underrated comedy), and Space Balls. If you’ve never seen this movie I highly recommend you do.


2. Men at Work: (1990)men at work

Quite possibly the only movie I ever remembering seeing the Estevez brothers in (yes, Charlie Sheen is actually an Estevez) it is an odd but lasting comedy. Based around a murder conspiracy involving illegal toxic waste and two bumbling garbage men who stumble upon it, there are plenty of laughs within the context of this thriller comedy. 

Along with Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez stalwart actor (and voice of many great cartoons) Keith David adds a level of hilarity while playing the straight man of the group. The rest of the actors are basically background character actors of the era but they serve their roles in the backdrop of this film well. 

This film is intriguing enough to rewatch and even has a few quotable lines that I still throw around to confuse co-workers who are a good decade younger than me. Another good matinee watch if you need something to entertain yourself for a while.


  1. PCU: (1994)

PCUA lot of people didn’t realize that Jeremy Piven had a career prior to Entourage, but he actually had been in a number of movies. Most notably as a secondary character in a lot of his friend John Cusack’s films like One Crazy Summer and Grosse Pointe Blank he managed to fill in either the typical college douchebag or quirky sidekick character with ease. However, PCU provided Piven with one of his first larger roles and proves that he had that “Ari Gold-ness” to him before he even read the script for Entourage. Great jokes and pokes at college life in the 1990’s are sprinkled throughout. 

Co-stars in the film include early performances by David Spade, Megan Ward, Jake Busey, Jon Favreau as well as a great performance by Bluth matriarch Jessica Walter and a cameo appearance by George Clinton and P-funk! This movie is an amalgam of insult humor, stoner humor, shots at social group humor and the political correctness movement of the 1990’s all rolled into a fun package. This is another movie I quote and get blank stares in response because I think I’m one of probably 5 people on the planet that still watch this film. This film is not overlooked due to quality, I think it was more that the humor was geared toward a specific generation and a target that small tends to get missed by a lot of people.



Bonus Obscure:

disorganized crimeDisorganized Crime: (1989)

This movie had one of the best ensemble casts of the late 1980’s. Corbin Bernsen, Ruben Blades, Fred Gwynne, Lou Diamond Phillips and William Russ play a crew of thieves who are called in for a heist of a small Montana town. Bernsen plays Frank, the leader of the group who is snatched by the FBI after sending out invitations to the remaining crew for the job. The remaining cast show up to the meeting house to find no Frank and no further details about the job. While dealing with their own dysfunctional relationships the group work to figure out what the job is and decide to pull of the job without Frank.

Frank manages to escape custody but is chased by FBI agents played by the great Ed O’Neil (AKA Al Bundy) and Daniel Roebuck who play their parts as bumbling flatfoots hilariously. While evading the FBI Frank encounters his own series of unfortunate events which make you feel for his character because nobody should have to go through what he does just to get away. 

Meanwhile the rest of the crew formulate the plan to rob the vault in the bank and evade the small police force. I wont give any more of the plot away but I will say that this movie is a great watch and is such an obscure movie that most of you probably never even knew it existed prior to reading this. 


Bonus Bonus Obscure!

10147544-0-water_michael_caine-dvd_f_830e7322-af07-4f81-905f-88cd04df242d_largeWater: (1985)

I remember watching this movie with my dad the first time and not quite understanding why I was laughing but over the years and subsequent re-watchings I’ve come to understand why this movie was funny. Written in the dry British humor Water is a movie that only got as big as it ever was going to but is an enjoyable watch for anyone who enjoys British comedy.

Michael Caine plays the governor of a small British island in the Caribbean whose rather small responsibilities and relatively freewheeling life are interrupted when an old abandoned oil well starts erupting mineral water with a peculiar quality. The fight ensues between the American company that owns the well and the British government who wants to cash in as well. 

While dealing with these warring parties and a dissatisfied wife, Caine’s character also has to deal with the antics of a local guerrilla group played by Billy Connolly and Jimmie Walker who seek to claim independence for their home island. Billy Connolly’s ‘singing rebel’ works to undermine all parties involved with hilarious consequences. 

This movie is great for anybody who loves the oddball comedy as well as has an appreciation for British humor and wants to watch something that is so obscure that they are part of a small club.

That’s it for this time. Hope you watch something on this list and find a new guilty pleasure! Comment below!!

Top 5 R & B/Soul Songs

In honor of the recent passing of the great Aretha Franklin I am doing a top 5 of my favorite Soul/R&B songs. Soul and R&B of the 1960s and 70s also encompassed part of the Doo Wop music that started in the 1950’s and was the first major mainstream success for a lot of African American musicians. For one of the first times in history the artist did not have to be re-recorded by a white artist in order to get attention for their songs. Motown became a hit making machine and the writers and musicians in these sessions managed to produce some of the most enduring and heartfelt performances by the artists that have ever been.

Marvin GayeMarvin Gaye- “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” 1971

While the majority know Marvin for songs like “What’s Going On” and “Let’s Get it On”, I’ve always gravitated towards his less played hits like Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)” and “Mercy Mercy Me”.

This song just has a silky smoothness that is synonymous with the genre and the time period. Coupled with it’s deep, thoughtful lyrics about the environmental issues in the late 1960’s and 1970’s before the formation of the EPA, this song managed to call to attention the issues caused by lack of regulations on industry and motor vehicles of the time. Sadly, the subject content is still relevant 47 years later as we deal with global warming and the environmental impact humans cause on the environment.

Marvin Gaye was a giant in the genre and is as venerated today as he was at the time of his death in 1984 and his music stands as a testament of what soul can and should be.


Tina Turner- “River Deep, Mountain High” (1966)tina-turner-black-white-photo-shoot-1960s-02

One of the lasting contributions of ‘Wall of Sound’ producer Phil Spector, this song really showcased Tina Turner’s ability. The power of the production only elevates the vocal performance of a woman who would later become one of the biggest names as a solo act in music.

This song employed the talents of the group of studio musicians known as the “Wrecking Crew” which included great artists who played on about a million great tracks over the 1960’s which included names like Glen Campbell and Leon Russell as well as one of the most under appreciated bassists in history, Carol Kaye. Check out the Documentary “The Wrecking Crew” for a great insight into this group of musicians.

Solomon BurkeSolomon Burke- “Down in the Valley” (1962)

One of the most overlooked in the genre Solomon Burke made a sizable (both musically and physically) contribution to the R&B and Soul genre’s. While his musical popularity was more isolated to the 1960’s he still remained a major figure in music until his death in 2010. Often cited as a major influence by a number of people still performing in R&B.

“Down in the Valley” is a great song which utilizes a plodding tempo coupled with horns and piano to make up the majority of the song. Solomon’s voice shines with smoothness and range throughout the lyrics. You can hear the emotion through the delivery on certain phrases and the strength of his voice shows the power that he encompassed in his singing.


Aretha Franklin- “Respect” (1967)aretha-franklin-1392048574-view-1

Originally written and released by Otis Redding two years earlier the song became a staple and one of the most well known songs of Aretha’s. I remember hearing it on the radio but it wasn’t until I saw her perform the song in the Blues Brothers movie until it became solidified in my mind to her. While there are some noticeable differences between the original and Aretha’s re-working of the song, the biggest difference is the change of tone and intent. Redding’s version was about a man who wanted respect from his woman, while Aretha’s became a soundtrack for the power of feminism and the changing attitudes of women at the time.

Aretha was a power in the genre and her recent passing was a major loss for musical heritage and history in the U.S. She will forever be one of the queens of Soul music and a strong voice for women’s rights with this track.


happy-song-otis-reddingOtis Redding- “That’s How Strong My Love Is” (1965)

For me the two titans of Soul singing are Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. Otis was a prolific writer and his songs have been covered by a great number of groups both in and out of the R&B and Soul genre’s. Most people know him for either “These Arms of Mine” or “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”, which was the last songs he recorded, however; “That’s How Strong My Love Is” remains my favorite despite the fact that it was not written by Redding.

There are a lot of songs profess their love to the subject, but Otis managed to put the emotion and power of love for someone into his voice. While some of the songs lyrics resort to cliche, he managed to bring out some of the great word choices with his delivery. Lyrics like “I’ll be the moon when the sun goes down, just to let you know that I’m still around” bring a poetic sensibility to the music and are only made that more impactful with the emotion you can hear in his voice. The great guitar work of Steve Cropper accompanies the vocal track in a way that highlights passages without overplaying or overtaking the importance of the vocal track.

Sadly, Otis died in a plane crash at a young age, but his musical contributions and voice were not lost upon the world thanks to the technology of sound recording.

That’s it for this time. As always, comments are welcomed.

Top 5 Nu Metal Albums

Nu Metal was a musical trend that only lasted a few years in the grand scheme of things but managed to produce some great bands that managed to transcend the label. Korn, Deftones, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit managed to be on the forefront and most popular bands of the era but the widespread meshing of music managed to produce some surprising combinations of music and metal. This list includes many of these names, however; while not entirely definitive, this is the list of my favorite albums from the era.

220px-Limp_Bizkit_Significant_Other5. Limp Bizkit: Significant Other

While their debut earned some recognition due to it’s spirited cover of George Michael’s “Faith”, it wasn’t until Significant Other that the Florida NuMetal squad managed to make an impact on the scene. The confluence of hip hop beats and rapping with the heavy of metal managed to combine into one of the biggest and catchiest songs of the era “Nookie”. The album actually manages to have some great songs on it (it spawned 4 top 20 singles) mixed with some short skit tracks that are commonly associated with rap albums. Songs like “Break Stuff”, “I’m Broke”, “Re-arranged” and the Scott Weiland and Jonathan Davis Guesting Track “Nobody Like You” are all great songs and show a versatility that touches outside of the hip-hop/metal mixture the band was known for.

Ultimately Limp Bizkit became a victim of their own success and imploded shortly after the Nu Metal craze burned out. They did manage to release a few albums after their last successful effort 2000’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water but have never managed to get back to a top heap status. The band does still occasionally tour and legions of ex-jocks still pump to “Break Stuff” while waiting for the band to release their long awaited Stampede of the Disco Elephants album. 

220px-Mudvayne_lost_and_found4. Mudvayne: Lost and Found

Mudvayne remained an enigma throughout their short (9 years) yet productive career. They burst on the scene as the nickname monikered painted Nu Metal act and evolved in a short time to one of the most progressive metal acts out there. I can think of few bands that could mix together the intensity of Pantera with the highly methodical writing of Tool to come out with a cohesive and catchy sound. Each member was highly skilled at their craft and brought new elements that were lacking in metal. I’m a big fan of Ryan Martinie and Matt McDonough as they held down the bottom and added complexities of timing and funk of slap bass into the metal mix. 

Lost and Found is the first album I ever remember being so excited about that I pre-ordered. While Mudvayne had two great albums that preceded, 2000’s debut L.D. 50 and 2002’s The End of All Things to Come, but with 2005’s Lost and Found they finally found a sound that was more representative of their collective efforts. From the jump the album is heavy with the opening track “Determined” followed by “Pushing Through”. The third song and first major single “Happy?” Is heavy yet catchy with lyrics that speak to anyone who has ever had a bad relationship. The bands complex song writing can be heard in songs like IMN, Rain. Sun. Gone. And Choices. The album has the commecial appeal of more radio friendly songs such as the aforementioned “Happy?”, as well as “Forget to Remember”, “Fall Into Sleep” and “Pulling the String”. Lost and Found stands as a testament to how missed this four piece is on the metal scene since their hiatus as well as remains one of my favorite albums to listen to from the era.

220px-Static-X_-_Wisconsin_Death_Trip3. Static-X: Wisconsin Death Trip

Nu Metal managed to combine a number of seemingly opposing genres of music with metal, but Disco? Wayne and crew managed to meld the industrial metal of Ministry, NIN and Fear Factory with a pop orientated dance music to created their self proclaimed “Evil Disco”. Static-X was the first band that I had ever met in person and as such they hold a pretty special place for me. I met the band prior to them becoming huge on MTV and in the Nu Metal scene. At the time the guys were all jovial and friendly and were just enjoying themselves. Wayne was highly intelligent if not a little quiet. Tony and Ken were two of the funniest nicest guys you could ever meet and I have a fond night of hanging out and laughing with them. That being said, I can be a little biased with my love for Static-X’s music, however; their debut album Wisconsin Death Trip was an amazing first step for a band that would evolve and become heavier as time went by. Members changed as well as the sound but the groundwork set in their debut album would still come through in their sound throughout the bands lifetime. 

The mix of metal guitars, hooky riffs, and funky pop orientated rhythms managed to give you two things that bring together metal heads and girls, heavy music to mosh to and groovy beats to shake your ass to. The band managed to put together a cohesive sound with two musical movements that always seemed at odds with one another.

The album’s biggest songs come on the front side of the album with “Push It”, “I’m With Stupid” and “Love Dump” being three of the first four songs on the album. I am a big fan of some of the album’s deeper cuts. The hypnotic “Stem”, the dance hop of “Sweat of the Bud” and the album’s two trance-inducing final tracks “The Trance is the Motion” and “December” close out the album on a mellow yet satisfying end as it fades into white noise.

I never got to hang out with the band again but I bought every album they ever put out and saw them live every time they were in town. Some of my best memories are Static-X shows and while I still listen to the albums regularly, I have done so with a heavy heart since Wayne Static’s death. Their music still endures in this day and age and did not date itself with sound or content and that is one of the things that makes a great band.

Deftones_-_Around_the_Fur2.  Deftones: Around the Fur

The Deftones were one of the bands considered one of the founders of the Nu Metal movement and, even though they have long since shed their Nu Metal classification by continuing to evolve, they still managed to produce one of the best albums in the movement. 1997’s Around the Fur is one of the most solid sounding albums they produced in the 1990’s. This album had the atmospherics that would be utilized more on 2000’s White Pony coupled with the metal intensity that they had showcased on their debut album Adrenaline. 

The sound is more focused and production better on Around the Fur than their debut and the album really shows how their progression was going to continue beyond the confines of the genre. While it is impossible to figure out what singer Chino Moreno is singing about you cant help but love the anthemic choruses that litter the album. From the opening track “My Own Summer (Shove It)” anybody who had listened to the first album knew that they were going to be going down a rabbit hole to something altogether different yet familiar enough to not drive fans away.

The riffs are tight and move the song, the rhythm section is solid, and the choruses are anthemic and catchy. The band manages to meld so many different sounds and dynamics into the albums tracks that it is almost unfair to listen to any album released at the same time with similar expectations in experience. This album is great to put on if you want to rage or if you want to chill and relax. Heavy songs like the “My Own Summer”, “Rickets”, “Lotion”, “Headup”, and “MX” keep the blood flowing enough to satisfy the metal fan while down tempo and slightly chill tracks like “Lhabia”, “Mascara”, “Around the Fur”, and “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” keep a groove and funkiness that you can sit back and tune out to.

The Deftones have put out some pretty incendiary albums so far in their career, White Pony and Koi no Yokan for instance, however; the mixture of laid back tunes and heavy burners that make up Around the Fur will always make it stand out in my mind as an ultimately listenable album that set the Deftones apart from the heavily hip-hop inspired Nu Metal that followed.

hybrid theory1. Linkin Park: Hybrid Theory

When it comes to quintessential Nu Metal albums Linkin Park’s debut album is considered the top of the list for almost anyone who was a fan of the genre. The group managed to combine all of the elements of hip hop, groove, metal and pop and successfully manage to produce albums that were poppy enough for the mainstream yet metal enough for the longhairs. 

Carefully calculated raps from Mike Shinoda juxtaposed against the emotional and painful lyrics and scream-singing of Chester Bennington became the forefront of the mix. Catchy riffs layered on hip hop beats with the addition of tasteful atmospherics and dj scratching were all held together with a solid rock and roll foundation. The combination of all these elements managed to strike multiple platinum success for the band as fans packed stadiums and bought everything they produced.

Linkin Park is also another band that managed to transcend the genre and ultimately shed the label of Nu Metal to produce more widespread musical albums and it is a testament to the band that after two massively successful albums with one style of music they were willing to take a right turn on their third album and manage to keep a lot of die hard fans. While the death of Chester Bennington may have put the bands activity on indefinite hiatus, the band’s catalog to date is more than enough to satiate the want for Linking Park. 

The album was a hit factory for the band as almost every song on the album stood a chance at being a successful single only four songs were release as singles for the album. While “One Step Closer” became a staple on hard rock rotation it wasn’t until the success of “Crawling” and “In the End” that the band really took off. I don’t know anyone my age that doesn’t know pretty much every word to “In the End” and I hear the occasional failed attempt of the song at karaoke, however; the song became so popular that it almost became a victim of its own success. 

The overplaying of certain tracks aside, the album is packed with great material. The non-single tracks pack a lot of punch with tracks like “Papercut”, “With You”, “Points of Authority”, “Place for My Head”, and “Forgotten” moving the album forward and keeping the listener engaged with emotional lyrics and easily to remember raps to get stuck in your head. Even the non-lyrical track of “Cure for the Itch” manages to showcase Mr. Hahn’s skills as a dj with a fun and every evolving track that goes from samples and scratches to a solid catchy melodic track. The album closer “Pushing Me Away” is one of my favorites and a fitting end to an amazing debut album. 

Hybrid Theory was so good that it was questionable that the band would be able to follow up with a decent album. To beat the sophomore curse Linkin Park bought themselves some time by releasing an equally amazing remix album Reanimantion while writing their follow up. This proved to be a winning strategy as Metora came out and was just as catchy and prolific as Hybrid Theory was. 

For all their changes in style and substance, Linkin Park managed to keep an emotionality with their content that endeared fans to the band and their albums. Hybrid Theory came out at the right time and had the right mix of elements to be a massive album. There was a whole generation of people in their teens or late teens going through emotional changes and heartbreaks that were going to gravitate toward the introspective and emotional lyrics of Shinoda and Bennington. The emotional gravity of Hybrid Theory is what, in my mind, puts this album as the #1 Nu Metal album on this list and dare I say all time.

Your favorite Nu Metal album not make the list? State your case below! Comments are always welcome.

Musical Roadmap Part 9

Teenage years are often the most enlightening time in a young persons life. I’m not just talking about bodily changes and attitudes being solidified but also the exploration of ideas and the general rebellion against establishment that happens in the middling years. The seeds of later life opinions and tastes are becoming solidified in the teenage era. Mentally, you are past the whimsical early years where nothing mattered to the extreme opposite side of the spectrum where everything matters. 

I was a teenage outcast. I didn’t fit into any particular subgroup of people in junior high and high school. Too nerdy and un-athletic for the cool jock kids, too rebellious for the nerds and so eclectic in my musical choices to fit into anything remotely normal. Eight grade was a bit of a turning point. In eight grade I became friends with Mike. He was cool to me. He played in a band, was a great artist, and just a great guy to know and be around. He was funny and fun to hang out with. 

That year I went from being a mostly religious nerd to an inductee into a strange world where all of the kids that didn’t fit into any group seemed to collectively land. Our group of friends ran the gamut from nerd, to goth, to punker, to hippy and (at one time or another) I fit into every one. Out of this group came the strongest high school friendships I ever had (on one side my smart, goth, outcast friend JohnRobert was always there to talk about industrial music and Lovecraft books and the other was Mike, my punk rock, band geek friend). 

This year also began my transition from just a fan of music to a musician. This was the first year I was in a guitar class (even though it didn’t last the entire first semester due to some shady shit from the teacher). My friend mike helped me to understand reading tablature and fumble my way through the first songs I ever learned. Ever patient Mike would help me in class learn how to play the main riff from Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” on my cheap little classical guitar. 

Outside of class, my friend Mike helped me explore a new world of music that I had yet to discover. Through both his own family band SPUD (I grew up in Idaho) he introduced met a number of punk and ska bands that were still moderately underground at the time. At the time in our little Boise suburb there was a healthy youth underground punk and ska scene with kids from all over town either playing in bands or producing their own Fan-zines. 

Much like the punk scene in DC in the 80’s, we were the producers, consumers, and journalists of our own universe. The 90’s were great for kids learning instruments because the grunge and alternative music genre’s showed us that anybody could play an instrument and write songs. Punk and Ska were gateway’s to a fun time and it allowed both the traditional instruments of bands to flourish with new talent, but also allowed the brass band kids to have fun outside of the notes on the page of decades old music. 

Where am I going with all this blabbering about my adolescence you may ask? Well, in the pre-internet days, we shared music through either tape dubbing or in some cases early cd burning. It happened one day that I was hanging out at Mike’s house after school and listening to music that he put in a tape by a band called Green Day. This was my first listen to Dookie (Green Day’s 1993 major label release). 

From the get go I loved the songs on Dookie. This was slightly before the band’s wide spread success from when “Longview” broke out on MTv. The songs were catchy. The melodies were great, and the lyrical matter spanned a lot of the same topics that my friends and I would talk about. From being bored, to relationships, to feeling like you’re going crazy it was like Billy Joe Armstrong had tapped into the teenagers at the time and just wrote whatever the pulse was. It also helped that the guitar parts were simple enough to learn and the vocals were not particularly difficult. 

220px-Green_Day_-_Dookie_cover

Dookie stands the test of time and could have populated my 90’s Albums That Refuse To Age list, but I’ve included it in my musical roadmap for the sheer impact it had on my listening. When we finished listening to Dookie all the way through I asked Mike if Green Day had any other albums and they did. I brought Mike a tape the next day and asked if he could record one of Green Day’s other albums for me and after a few days he ended up handing me the tape back with Kerplunk on it.

Even earlier than Dookie, Green Day had the formula down for great songs. Every song on Kerplunk was just a good as everything on Dookie, the only difference was the production quality. Dookie was a gateway album for me to a lot of punk that I ended up finding on my own later. Everything from The Offspring to Pennywise and Bad Religion. 

green day

Dookie was so good that it could have been a ‘Greatest hits’ album by itself. Not only was “Longview”, “Welcome to Paradise”, “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case” the radio staples, but other great songs such as “She”, “Pulling Teeth”,  and “Burnout” were sprinkled within the tracks. The album proved that a band could have the aggression and speed of punk, but also the pop sensibilities to create anthemic sing along songs.

I have to thank my friend Mike for a lot he did in those days. Not only did he help me with guitar but he also helped mentor me on double bass in orchestra. He also helped open the door to the world of punk rock that I dove into and still inhabit today. While he provided the starting point I later discovered other great artists on my own like Fugazi, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, MXPX, The Clash, The Ramones and tons of others. 

I identified with punk back then because it spoke of everyday life in its lyrics. I continued to identify with it even more deeply as my attitudes and stances on things became more intellectual and sometimes even anti-authoritarian. Music is a thermometer for your own feelings. It can identify your current sickness and provide a relief to it through aggression, silence, noise and a myriad of other dynamics. 

This article is both an exploration of an influential album in my life but also an opportunity to thank my friend for his influence and help. While I may have let my passion for the instrument of guitar wane over the years my passion for punk and my love of Dookie have never waned. So to that, Thanks Mikey!

Until Next time.. Keep listening!

Top 5 Dramatic Television Shows (in the last 20 years)

Television is a medium that waxes and wanes on its quality. It is also one of the hardest mediums to write a piece on the “best of” because tastes are so varied. I decided to put out a list of my top 5 dramatic television shows released in the last 20 years because a good drama can make you question whether you were paying attention. When the twist hits sometimes you stop and go “Wow… the whole damn thing was building to that!”

5. Billions- A New York lawyer in a battle of wits with a hedge fund billionaire with questionable morals. This premise could have fallen completely flat if it were not for the excellent main cast and the chess-like game played out with brilliance over both Season 1 and 2 (so far).

Paul Giamatti is brilliant as is Damian Lewis in their roles opposite each other. The show doesn’t get stuck in the minutia enough to bore but puts enough thought into both the legal and financial worlds to educate as well as entertain.

4. Justified- Law and order and hillbillies and drugs. Nothing ever got tired on this show. Throughout its five seasons the twists turns and standoffs between the main characters produced some of, if not THE best, dialog on television for a long time. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins were amazing as rivals. The supporting cast was excellent with the inclusion of  Jere Burns as Wynn Duffy, as well as Nick Searcy and Jacob Pitts (that guy from Eurotrip). Sam Elliot made the final season just as interesting to watch as characters came and went. Season 2 stands out with the brilliant acting of Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett.

3.The Newsroom– My God. Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston were amazing in this show. The drama and humor were well balanced. While depicting events in the past, it created an interesting dynamic with the audience knowing what will happen next in the news events while the characters work their way through news stories such as Casey Anthony, The Horizon Spill, and many other important historical events unfolding on the screen.

The show was written by Aaron Sorkin (by far one of my favorite screenwriters) and blends the smart dialog and dramatic tension that he is known for in his other work. Oh yeah… The show also opens with probably the best 5 minutes on television ever.

2. The Wire– This show wasn’t super popular at it’s beginning, but man what a monster it became. The Wire broke the mold of normal serial television and was one of the first “anthology” shows out there. Each season explored a different aspect of society through the eyes of the city of Baltimore. From the drug trade, the death of the American Dream, to corruption in politics and the broken education system you learn the many layers that comprise the systematic failure of the institutions of major cities.

Season 1 was gripping and built an excellent foundation for the subsequent seasons, however; Season 2 is a standout because the cast, story and scope was so amazing and heartbreaking at the same time.

1. The West Wing- Another show written by Aaron Sorkin. I blame The West Wing for making me go into student loan debt in college. The dialog and interaction with events that, while fictional, could be just as real in the White House today. The show had heart. Strong characters and actor that brought an otherwise potential snooze fest about politics to life with wit and charm. One of the biggest things that stands out on this show for me is Martin Sheen’s portrayal of President Bartlett. While his character can be called a “liberal’s dream”, President Bartlett struggles with real decisions and moral questions throughout the entire series and really embodied what a President should be, fictional or otherwise.

Honorable mentions:

True Detective-This show did not make it into my top 5, but it stands as one of the great anthology series. Season 1, which starred Woody Harrelson and Matthew Mconaughey was epic. The story unfolded in different times and in different areas and the humanity of the characters drew you in.

While Season 2 was marred with some pacing issues that caused issues with the viewership. However; the standout performance of Vince Vaughn alone was enough to keep tuning in episode after episode. Hopefully the upcoming season 3 will finally restore this great show back to its previous height.

Fargo– Another anthology series loosely based off of the Coen brothers universe. The first and second seasons were amazing. The ensemble cast, from Billy Bob Thornton and Martin freeman held down the quirkiness and dark humor of the series. Season two included the likes of Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson and Jeffery Donovan. However, it was surprising standout performances by Nick Offerman and (crazily enough) Bokeem Woodbine that stole a lot of the episodes.

As always, comments are welcome. Weigh in on your favorites!

Punk: The Soundtrack to the Next Great Social Revolution

Music is more than a reflection of our own lives, it also serves as a reflection of society as a whole at a certain point in history. There have been great musical movements in the past which have often been in direct response of the opposing opinions between the counter culture and the mainstream. Rock & Roll was a response to social conditions between the races in 1950’s America. Parents didn’t want their white teenage children listening to music from black artists, so the musical community’s response was to put a pale face on black music with the likes of Elvis Presley and others.

Rock & Roll of the 1950’s and early 1960’s was called “The Devil’s Music”… hard to think that songs like “Love Me Tender” or “She Loves You” would be associated with Satan, but this argument/classification has been tied to whatever new forms of music that went against the mainstream’s opinion of what is ‘acceptable’.

Music has always been the vehicle for change. The hippies had the free love peace movement as a response to the Johnson, Nixon, the Warhawks and Vietnam. The decade of the 1960’s started with the hope of Kennedy and ended in the mire of Nixon and an unpopular war. Atrocious events both at home in the form of Kent State and the attacks on non-violent racial protests and the mounting issues abroad coming in daily from the battlefields of Vietnam provided some of the first truly socially active music.

Songs ranging from Country Joe and the Fish’s “Fixin’ to Die Rag” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Edwin Star’s “War” put both the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War in the consciousness of every listener. Through both increased civic participation as well as the popular music movement of the time, Civil rights laws were put in place to finally strip away the age of Jim Crow and the pressure from the masses finally brought about the end of the stalemate of Vietnam and the fall of Nixon.

Punk Rock in England spread out of the high rates of unemployment and growing social frustration of the youth at the time. Bands like the Sex Pistols flew in the face of the class norms in England that had been largely unchanged for centuries. Bands like The Clash brought about the imagery of the inherent class warfare and discrimination of youth that were the norm at the time, as well as putting world issues in the view of the masses as well.

Punk Rock in America was a direct response to the masses being tired of the overthought, high musicality that was the center of “Corporate Rock Radio” with bands like The Eagles, Journey, Steely Dan, and Boston. It was also an antithesis to the Disco movement of the late seventies. Bands like The Ramones proved you didn’t have to be pretty or over-skilled at your instrument to write good songs. And punk/glam bands like the New York Dolls pushed the boundaries of sexuality to a state that was no longer binary.

From the Greasers to hippies, punk rock to heavy metal, from Rap to dubstep. Anything not understood or considered outside the tolerated norms was considered evil. To conservatives this ‘evil’ music reflects the decay of societies morals. To liberals, (if used properly) music can be an instrument in which change is reached at a larger scale.

For years the establishment has tried to put limitations on free speech and prevent artists that they didn’t approve of from expressing themselves.The battle of the PMRC against the music industry in 1985 eventually put a label, literally, on music that they deemed offensive. Had they known what would come later in the forms of Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and many other groups less than a decade later they may have been truly horrified.

In the 1990’s the last great music revolution (in this writer’s opinion) happened. Again the mainstream was overrun by bands and music that was counter to what was acceptable. The counter-culture won in the Grunge and Rap movements which spoke of situations and social topics which were the reality of a majority of Americans. Popular music produced by record companies remained popular among the conservatives, but anyone who was not upper middle class or white were listening to the songs that reflected their reality.

The history lesson is over for now, but its purpose was to underscore the point that we are in turbulent times my friends. Public trust in government, the police, and the media are at an all time low. Racial tensions are higher than they have been in 25 years. There is the largest income gap between the classes since the Gilded Age and the feeling of being a united people is all but gone. Hate and mistrust are seeds that have been sown over the last 30 years and here receiving ample sunlight and water from the current administration.


We have been in this position before and yet we did not learn our lessons from the past. Many people today have no clue or care what happened 25, 30 or even 40 years ago but the fact remains that the old lessons are in a need to be retaught. Some may question if society today is too fractured to produce a united front against something. There are so many subdivisions of movements that they seldom last long enough to make an impact on a large stage. People may question the ability to unite but, I believe that it is only the spark that is needed to bring people together.

We should not wait for some great injustice to take place in order to act. Even as I write this our rights are being infringed upon by the ruling class and party in America. The bounds of decency are being crossed by the people that we elected and while it is not gaining as much attention now as it was a year ago, the racial tension in this country is still bubbling under the surface. We are indeed overdue for our next musical revolution… and I think it will come in the form of Punk Rock.

I believe that punk rock will be the vehicle for the next musical movement that spurs a larger social movement in America and my reasons are simple. To put it simply, Punk Rock is one of the very few forms of music that is still socially conscious. While Pop and Rock music are pre-occupied with being ‘artistic’ in their endeavors, Punk Rock is still putting the social and global issues up front in their lyrical content.

Bands like Bad Religion, Rise Against, and others continue to speak to reality, both locally and globally, and they aren’t the only ones. Both M.D.C. and Body Count continue to write songs about social issues and politics in America. Punk Rock statesmen like Henry Rollins continue to write and talk about social and political issues and provide world views to domestic issues.

While there are a very few Pop or Indie Rock acts that do write political songs, the Pop songs are generally on the establishment side. Indie acts like 30 seconds to Mars have done a good service of putting global warming and social issues into the mainstream but one voice is often drowned out by the crowd.

The more basic reasons for why Punk Rock will lead the social movement is because of factors that have been often overlooked by the majority:

  1. Punk rock has always been more cerebral than it has been given credit for. There are a lot of smart people that play Punk, people with doctorates and degrees not only play but listen to Punk. While often written off as buffoons, if one actually pays attention to the lyrics of a lot of Punk bands they would find a lot of satire and thought.
  2. Punk rock has always been anti-establishment. Born against the grain and proud of it, Punk rockers are more socially aware and politically active than people give them credit for. Even Punk in the 90’s provided a vehicle for social change in the new “Feminist” movement. Punk Rockers and their listeners often read and interact more with news and society.
  3. Punk Rock is DIY. This has been a badge of honor for a genre of music that the masses never wanted and the venues never booked. Shows, promotion, recording, and press were always done in a Do It Yourself fashion. From recording, packing and shipping their own albums at labels like Dischord to journaling their own scenes in ‘Zines’, to designing and manufacturing their own merchandise, Punk Rock artists have always been self motivated and producing individuals.
  4. Punk is one of the last forms of music that is still being cultivated by the youth and aged alike. While a large majority of youth are content of with being consumers, punk rockers (and even metalheads) are still the very few that write and play their own music. While it has never been a genre that is thought of as being filled with “skilled” musicians, this is what makes it one of the strongest forms of music for the socially conscious and politically active to start a band in.

Punk has never been as focused on the flair as it has the presentation and the message. You don’t have to be a guitar god to be able to write a punk song. Harlan Howard said that all you need for a great song is “Three chords and the truth”. Punk Rock took that to heart.

5.  Unlike a lot of other genre’s of music, Punk Rock is all inclusive in who can do what. The music is not male dominated nor has it’s voices always spoken to a specific masculinity or femininity. The thing that makes Punk strong is that it is a group and community effort and is not as fractured as other genres of music.

6.  Lastly, Punk Rock has never truly been “in style” so it is difficult to kill. With the exception of the mid-late 90’s Pop-punk movement, the genre has always been just beneath the surface. It is hard to fall out of fashion when you are never really the mainstream.

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While I will admit that I may be wrong, history has shown us what the power of music and social movements can have if they are focused and working in tandem to institute change in society as a whole. We are due a great social and musical revolution and I strongly believe that Punk Rock will be the soundtrack that drives both.

Now is the time for we as a society and a brotherhood of ‘humans’ to come together and shake the pillars of the establishment. We must remind them that they do indeed work for us and need to remember what our concerns and interests are. Music, while the effects may be violent, is one of the most blatant forms of non-violent protest. Putting words of truth to powerful music has the ability to move mountains without raising a hand. Together we can change the world, and it will only take three chords and some truth.

Until Next Time, keep listening.