5 Favorite Albums


The post title speaks for itself, so without further ado, here are my five favorite albums as of February 2020:

 
5. John Fogerty (1975) – John Fogerty 

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As a solo artist, John Fogerty never sounded as much like CCR as he did on his eponymous sophomore record. 
 
Uptempo anthem “Rockin’ All Over the World” and swampy “The Wall” both sound like they could’ve been from one of Creedence’s ’69 or ’70 masterpieces. Meanwhile, “Travelin’ High” plays like a funkier sequel to “Travelin’ Band,” and “Where the River Flows,” though not Fogerty’s most ground-breaking writing, is a fine country/rock ballad. Also as with CCR records, the cover selections here are excellent, featuring Fogerty belting out his own renditions of “You Rascal You,” “Lonely Teardrops,” and “Sea Cruise.” 
 
Unfortunately, the self-titled release was also the last time on an official album that Fogerty’s vocals were unmistakably recognizable as belonging to “the Creedence guy.” But that status as the last bastion of Fogerty’s classic sound is probably the biggest draw for me.
 
4. Get Born (2003) – Jet

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The Aussie rock ’n’ roller’s debut is a classic rock fan’s dream. 
 
From harder-edged Chuck Berrian sounds (“Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”), to pop/rock ballads seemingly ripped straight from The Beatles’ catalog (“Look What You’ve Done”), to Dylanesque country/folk ballads (“Move On”), the album sported one catchy, memorable, and listenable tune after another during a time when such a combination was scarce to come by. (Not that it’s any less rare now.) 
 
Though some may find the songs too derivative (or down right thieved), or point out that others had already done it better, I found Jet’s “new old music” on Get Born to be a breath of fresh air in the 2000s—and I still do today.
 
[Language warning on a couple of tracks.]
 
3. Redux (2019) – Me!

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Now, I know what you’re thinking—narcissism, shameless, cheap self-promotion—but bare with me. 
 
When I first started writing songs, I thought all of them were great just because they were songs. It wasn’t long before I realized that wasn’t the case, and I started making a concerted effort to detach myself from the perspective of creator and view the work from other vantage points. During the writing process, I began casting my eye as a music critic, attempting to determine the quality of creative choices while crafting the music. Then, after the songs were completed, I assumed the perspective of a music fan, asking the simple question, “If this were somebody else’s music, would I like it?” Although it’s been 6-9 years since their original composition, in the case of the Redux songs, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” 
 
I still like them. No, I love them, and that isn’t something I can say about every song I’ve produced. The tracks combine many of the elements I like most about music (piano pop/rock, acoustic folk, blues, ‘90s alternative), and, sonically, the Redux mixes/masters are the best the tunes have sounded. 
 
(And now for a true display of shameless, cheap promotion, check out these sweet liner notes for more album info!)
 
2. Abbey Road (1969) – The Beatles


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Though Let It Be was post-produced and released later, Abbey Road is truly The Beatles’ last record. And what a record it is! 
 
From classics “Come Together,” “Something,” and “Here Comes the Sun,” to an 8-song medley on the flip side, preceded by the haunting, 3-part. 9-vocal harmony track, “Because,” there isn’t a skipper in the bunch. The album also contains my favorite Beatles song of all time, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” I know many hated the track (John Lennon included!), but lyrics about a serial killer set to a peppy, vaudevillian jaunt? Now, who wouldn’t love that? Ok. Well. I still like it and think it’s genius. 
 
In short, I’m not sure there could’ve been a better swan song, or swan album, for the legendary group than Abbey Road. 
 
1. Cosmo’s Factory (1970) – Creedence Clearwater Revival


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My favorite album of all time by my favorite band of all time, containing my favorite song of all time.
 
For me, Cosmo’s Factory is the cream of the crop. In addition to the six—yes, SIX—Billboard Top 10 hits on the record (“Travelin’ Band,” Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Up Around the Bend,” “Run Through the Jungle,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” and my afore-referenced all-time favorite, “Long As I Can See the Light”), Cosmo’s also sports the original rockabilly/progressive-ish rock hybrid “Ramble Tamble” and an 11-minute jam version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” 
 
What else do I need to say? Cosmo’s is simply the best of the best. 
 
Honorable Mention:
 

I had quite a difficult time deciding between John Fogerty and The Beatles’ White Album for the #5 slot. Though Fogerty won out, if I had to choose only one of the two albums to listen to exclusively forever, I would sorely miss “Rocky Raccoon.”


 

 

January 2020 Watchlist

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Though there are a few excepted instances, I spent most of January’s limited viewing time strolling through the Disney+ library, watching both newer releases I had yet to see and revisiting some old favorites.
 
Aladdin (2019) – 5/10
 
An unnecessary rewrite of the original script results in an overly complicated plot, overly lengthy run time, and, ultimately, yet another superfluous live-action remake of a Disney animated heavyweight.
 
Amy (1981) – 7/10
 
While a competently produced period drama, Amy would’ve worked better either produced “as is” in the ’60s or with a better cast and crew in the 2000s.
 
Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) – 10/10
 
A witty, charming Irish fantasy, featuring spectacular special effects, a serious, frightening climax, and a pre-James Bond Sean Connery.
 
Dumbo (2019) – 7/10
 
Though there’s still little point to its existence, the filmmakers’ decision to adapt the original in the first 45 minutes of this rendition, then play the remainder as a sequel story, lifts the film above its live-action remake brethren; Dumbo is also the best and brightest flick director Tim Burton has produced in years.
 
It Happened to Jane (1959) – 7/10
 
This minor Doris Day rom-com with an anti-corporate message is elevated by it’s ever-likable leads, Day and Jack Lemon.
 
Joker (2019) – 9/10
 
Despite mass reports to the contrary, Joker is not extraordinarily violent, disturbing, or a groundbreaking piece of comic book cinema; it is, however, a well-crafted psychological thriller, featuring a mesmerizing performance from Joaquin Phoenix and a few iconic comic book names tacked on for good measure. [Language, Graphic Violence, Adult Content]
 
Lady and the Tramp (2019) – 2/10
 
The 2019 Disney+ equivalent of a ’90s ABC Wonderful World of Disney film, except not even that good; the worst and most pointless live-action remake Disney has produced to date.
 
The Lion King (2019) – 6/10
 
Although this pseudo-live-action version is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original, it lacks the wonder of that original animated classic, feeling instead like a rote, bland re-tread.
 
The Love Bug (1968) – 9/10
 
The endearing classic that started it all, The Love Bug isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it is a quintessential example of imaginative, Disney family fun.
 
Moon (2009) – 10/10
 
Steeped in 2001 second act vibes and boasting incredible acting from Sam Rockwell, Moon is one of the best sci-fi flicks of the 21st century so far. [Language]
 
Mr. Holmes (2015) – 9/10
 
An engagingly unique Sherlock Holmes tale, crafted with BBC/Masterpiece period drama sensibilities.
 
 
Venom (2018) – 7/10
 
Despite its glaring flaws, including a few tasteless bits and a reality-abandoning third act, Venom sports an early- to mid-200os CBM sensibility that, by this point in genre history, rings as charmingly retro-chic instead of gratingly outdated. [Language]

5 Favorite Novels

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During my school years, I wasn’t much of a novel reader. With non-fiction, however, it was a different story. As soon as my annual shipment of school materials would arrive, I’d pull out the history and science textbooks and begin voraciously perusing,
 
I think my aversion to literary works of fiction was a dual-faceted issue. First, I think I had a bit of a “chip-on-shoulder” about mandatory reading assignments. (“You must read this book.” “You must read a book in this genre.” Oh, really? Why?) Second, I felt, if these stories are so important, why can’t I just watch a film adaptation and get the same effect for a fraction of the time and effort?
 
When I reached adulthood, however, I put away that mentality and, several years ago, began attempting to read as many of the great literary works of fiction as I could. As I began this journey, I quickly discovered two things: 
 
1. I greatly prefer pre-twentieth century writing.
 
2. Charles Dickens and I get along swimmingly.
 
Though something as subjective as a favorites list is liable to change over time, below are the five novels I’ve enjoyed the most so far on my reading odyssey:
 
5. Dracula, Bram Stoker (1897)
 
Over 120 years after its initial release, Bram Stoker’s vampire tale is still inspiring fantasy and horror stories across media. For me, the most striking aspect of the book is the seriousness and realism of the narrative. The story is presented entirely through faux documentation—journal entries, letters, newspaper articles—which firmly grounds the fantastic tale in reality. A century before the “found footage” subgenre would become a cinematic craze, Stoker did it first and better. 
 
4. Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)
 
America’s only contribution fo the classical field of epic length novels. As someone who generally prefers a “lean, mean, and clean” narrative, I should have loathed Melville’s overly detailed descriptions and exercises in superfluity. Instead, I found myself engaged and enthralled with every page, and my favorite chapter is a gloriously written, diverting treatise on the color white. His style is just that good. From minor character names like “Peleg” and “Bildad” to a full blown sermon on Jonah and the Whale, the Biblical symbolism entrenched throughout is also particularly brilliant, though I must confess, I haven’t quite cracked it all. But I don’t feel too bad about it; Ishmael didn’t crack it all either.
 
3. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke (2004)
 
I have a hard time reading most books written after the close of the 19th century, even modern works with excellent plots, characters, etc. To me, modern writing in general lacks the beauty and intelligence of the prose of times bygone. As a general rule, current works are filled with short, droll sentences, rudimentary structure, and base vocabulary, all done in the name of “making it easier to read.” Well, what of us readers who feel insulted by the assumption we’re incapable of, or vexed by, reading sentences containing semicolons? Fortunately, author Susanna Clarke and publisher Bloomsbury knew there was a market for folks like me and produced a historical fantasy epic which reads like a collaboration between Dickens and Austen—an elegant style for a more civilized age. I could wax long on the virtues of Strange and Norrell, but for the purpose of this list, it’s sufficient to say that as person who prefers fiction speculative, prose classical, and stories unencumbered by hyper-descriptive minutia, I have yet to enjoy a modern book as much as I did this one.
 
2. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (1850)
 
Dickens is often lambasted for creating “caricatures” instead of characters and “implausibly” interconnecting these fictional people, but—and perhaps it’s my upbringing in the rural Southern United States—I, for one, find his character portrayals to be extremely credible and his plot interconnectivity to be highly plausible. In Jayess, Mississippi, everybody knows everybody else, and, therefore, it would be more improbable for our paths not to cross! And as for characters such as the eternally optimistic ne’er-do-well Wilkins Micawber, or the clammy, conniving Uriah Heap—well, I know these guys! Or at least, I know individuals eerily similar. For me, Dickens was a master at both creating rich characters and weaving seemingly disparate plot threads into a coherent, satisfying conclusion, and perhaps no other of his books displays these strengths as well as David Cpperfield. 
 
1. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1859)
 
 
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” A Tale of Two Cities was one of the first novels I picked up in a bid to expand my literary horizons, and that iconic opening paragraph struck me to the core. The book is not only one of the most thoughtful, beautiful writings in the English language, but it’s also an exceptional historical, political thriller that puts modern cinematic blockbusters of similar ilk to shame. The twist ending is shocking, even by today’s standards, and the unexpected climactic smackdown between the villainous Madame Defarge and the tenacious Miss Pross is a sequence for the ages. I’m still searching for a book that captures my admiration like this one did, but if my first reading of A Tale of Two Cities turns out to forever be my literary “best of times,” I won’t mind one bit.


December 2019 Watchlist

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Though I partook of a few Disney+ offerings and random sci-fi/fantasy outings, December was predominantly a month for annual Christmas movie binging. I apologize in advance for copious use of words such as “heart,” “holiday,” and “classic,” but, hey, it was Christmas!


Arthur Christmas (2011) – 10/10
 
Filled with heart, humor, and rich animation, Arthur Christmas is a modern holiday classic for the whole family. 
 
Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968) – 10/10
 
A gut-busting comedy anchored by a boisterous performance from Peter Ustinov as the titular spirit; possibly Disney’s best live-action comedy ever.
 
The Bishop’s Wife (1948) – 10/10
 
An unusual fantasy premise and stellar performances from its trio of leads solidifies The Bishop’s Wife as a holiday gem.
 
Captain Marvel (2019) – 6/10
 
A wasted period setting and forced humor aimed at turning Carol Danvers into the new Tony Stark makes for one of Marvel’s most lackluster outings to date.
 
Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – 10/10
 
Funny, touching, and unabashed in its themes of faith, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the best Peanuts special and one of the greatest Christmas specials of all time.
 
A Christmas Carol (Scrooge) (1951) – 10/10
 
Mostly faithful with a few tasteful addendums, this 1951 version of Charles Dickens’s legendary tale boasts a performance by Alastair Sim which sets a high bar for all Scrooge portrayals to follow.
 
A Christmas Carol (1984) – 10/10
 
An incredibly faithful, cinema quality TV adaptation, featuring a tour de force performance form George C. Scott as Scrooge; possibly the best Christmas Carol on film.
 
A Christmas Carol (2011) – 7/10
 
Though some of the visual choices for the heaviest fantasy sequences are questionable, if you’re Robert Zemeckis and directing an animated Christmas Carol, an all-star cast and state of the art motion capture effects doesn’t hurt.
 
The Dragon Prince, Season 1 (2018) – 6/10
 
A solid premise, rich world-building, and engaging characters are severely undercut by the juvenile-only humor and gaping logic holes; still, for a kid’s fantasy action cartoon, it’s not bad.
 
Elf (2003) – 10/10
 
A hilarious holiday flick that also checks the boxes of “heart,” “sentiment,” and “happiness,” requisite for any great Christmas movie.
 
Frosty (1969) – 8/10
 
Though the required logic suspension is a little much even for a kid’s holiday fantasy, Frosty is still a well-animated, charming Christmas classic.
 
A Garfield Christmas (1987)
 
Featuring the comic strip’s signature humor and the heart we all know underlies that sarcastic orange exterior, A Garfield Christmas isthe best special in the fat feline’s filmography and a true holiday classic.
 
Holiday Inn (1942) – 10/10
 
Memorable musical numbers, intriguing premise, competent plotting, and likable leads make Holiday Inn one of the greatest Christmas films of all time; a severely underrated gem. 
 
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) – 7/10
 
Though it’s essentially just a remake of the original, the gags are funnier, and Tim Curry’s presence is a definite plus.
 
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) – 10/10
 
Narrator Boris Karloff, director Chuck Jones, and writer Dr. Seuss combine their distinctive skills to spin an undisputed Christmas legend.
 
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – 10/10
 
Over 70 years later, Frank Capra’s thought-provoking fantasy drama remains the greatest Christmas-set film ever produced.
 
The Mandalorian, Season 1 (2019) – 8/10
 
Though it dips severely in the middle, the inaugural season of the first ever live-action Star Wars TV series is bookended by a set of generally spectacular episodes, anchored by the best sci-fi/western storytelling since Firefly.
 
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) – 10/10
 
An excellent adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, starring your favorite Disney characters.
 
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – 10/10
 
A brilliant, Academy Award-winning script and a spectacular ensemble cast unite to create a humorous, unique, and ultimately heartwarming Christmas flick.
 
Muppet Christmas Carol (1993) – 7/10
 
The title says it all.
 
Noelle (2019) – 6/10
 
A made-for-TV-type holiday movie with a larger budget and better cast, Noelle is fine for the kiddies but far from an all-time great.
 
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – 8/10
 
A dark, haunting, visually disturbing “historical” fairytale that loses points for glossing over the communist revolutionary undertones of several protagonists—or perhaps quietly championing them.
 
Red River (1948) – 10/10
 
Director Howard Hawkes delivers a western masterpiece featuring one of John Wayne’s career best performances.
 
Rio Grande (1950) – 9/10
 
The family dynamics between John Wayne’s Captain Yorke and his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara) and son are so well-played, the film feels flat when it actually gets to the typical cavalry vs. Indians antics in the last act.
 
Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) – 10/10
 
A feat of claymation, sporting legendary Christmas songs and some pretty weighty themes.
 
The Santa Clause (1994) – 8/10
 
A clever, Christmas comedy granted emotional depth by some serious family drama; just don’t ask too many questions about the fantasy premise.
 
The Santa Clause 2 (2002) – 5/10
 
Had the filmmakers jettisoned the ludicrous “robo-Santa” subplot and focussed on the story of Santa trying to win the woman of his dreams while bringing his son back from the dark side, they might have made a really good Christmas movie.
 
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006) – 1/10
 
An inane outing that barely resembles the thoroughly enjoyable original that started the franchise.
 
The Shop around the Corner (194?) – 9/10
 
Though Margaret Sullavan’s shrewish female lead makes the overarching romance plot a little implausible, Jimmy Stewart’s typically relatable persona and a fine supporting cast carry the intelligent comedy/drama script to a satisfying conclusion.
 
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) – 8/10
 
The best 1940s adventure serial homage since Raiders of the Lost Ark; features groundbreaking effects.
 
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – 7/10
 
Though continuity errors and plot holes abound, if you choose not to look too deeply, Skywalker can be enjoyable; at any rate, it’s still better than any of the prequel trilogy films.
 
That Darn Cat (1964) – 9/10
 
Disney’s stab a Clousseau-esque crime spoof stands as one of the studio’s best ’60s, live-action offerings.
 
White Christmas (1954) – 9/10
 
 
Not quite as good as Holiday Inn but still a touching classic with catchy, well-choreographed musical numbers.

Every Theatrical STAR WARS Movie Ranked and Reviewed in One Sentence or Less

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With Rise of Skywalker a mere hours away from hitting cinemas across the U.S., I’m taking a look at every big-screen outing in the galaxy, far, far away, with a rating, quick review, and theatrical trailer for each.


 
11. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) – 2/10
Overly long CGI battle sequences, rudimentary dialog, juvenile humor, contrived, often preposterous plot—this ill-advised cinematic retool of the originally intended inaugural episodes of The Clone Wars TV series is every terrible thing about the prequels, wrapped tight in a mind-numbing hour and 40-minute package.


10. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) – 4/10
 
Beyond Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon, Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, the villainous Darth Maul, and that trio’s epic light saber duel, the film is a half-baked, CGI-fest that goes all-in on selling toys to the kiddies.


9. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) – 5/10
 
It’s more mature, and overall better, than its immediate predecessor, but it’s still plagued by many of Episode I’s problems, as well as an ill-conceived and poorly executed romance plot, which is central to both the film and the Star Wars saga.


8. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) – 6/10
 
Writer-director Rian Johnson tosses franchise tropes in favor of expectation-defying non sequiturs and sociopolitical commentary, all to the film’s (and saga’s) detriment.


7. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) – 7/10
 
Though the best of the prequel trilogy by far, it’s overly-long and suffers from the same CGI-overkill that plagues its trilogy brethren.


6. Rogue One (2016) – 7/10
 
Though it isn’t exactly the gritty Star Wars, “heavy-on-the-war,” film we were sold, and the extensive reshoots are glaringly noticeable, Rogue One sports impressive moments, including a 5-minute finale that ranks as one of the franchise’s best sequences.


5. Solo (2018) – 8/10
 
For viewers who can accept the fact that lead Alden Ehrenreich isn’t Harrison Ford, Solo is a fun, fast-paced, space adventure that hearkens back to the original Star Wars in ways very few subsequent franchise installments have—though it may ultimately be a pointless exercise.


4. Return of the Jedi (1983) – 9/10
 
The final installment of the original Star Wars trilogy discards the darkness of the previous chapter for a more humorous, child-friendly adventure but still manages to serve as a satisfying closer to arguably the greatest saga to ever grace the silver screen.

3. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) – 10/10
 
It parallels, amalgamates, and inverts the best plot points and characters from the original trilogy, creating something familiar yet fresh, effectively washing away the unpalatable flavor of the prequel saga and paving the way for an exciting new era in the galaxy far, far away.


 
2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – 10/10
 
The first Star Wars sequel can’t top the original in…well, originality, but it does manage to surpass it in depth, scope, visual delight, and bleakness.


 
1. Star Wars (1977) 10/10
 
 
Still the standard-bearer for blockbusters, George Lucas’s original sci-fi masterpiece boasts groundbreaking special effects and a big dose of old-fashioned fantasy/adventure.


Every STAR TREK Movie Ranked in One Sentence or Less

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Before the internet gets swept up in The Rise of Skywalker tide later this week, we should all take a moment to commemorate an entry in that other important sci-fi space franchise, as Star Trek: The Motion Picture celebrates 40 years of life this month.  To that end, here is every theatrical outing in the seminal series, ranked, reviewed, and accompanied by an original theatrical trailer.


13. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) – 2/10
An occasionally tasteless and ultimately ridiculous attempt at skewering theism, The Final Frontier is a major blemish on the franchise and a disappointing effort from co-writer/director/star William Shatner.


12. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) – 5/10
An overly long, big-screen debut for the franchise that fails to live up to the heights of The Original Series and that other space movie with which it’s so obviously trying to compete.


11. Star Trek Beyond (2016) – 6/10
A generic, pop-corn auctioneer that inexplicably wastes the indomitable Idris Elba in the lead villain role; an abysmal capper to the Kelvin Trilogy.


10. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) -7/10
A writer completely obsessed with the source material and a director totally detached from it—Nemesis oscillates between too much and not enough but is ultimately salvaged by a young Tom Hardy as Picard’s evil clone and a gut-punch ending.


9. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) – 7/10
Heart, humor, intelligence, a formidable foe—Insurrection possesses many classic Trek elements and probably would have been stellar as two-part TNG episode, but as a big budget film, it’s a little flat.


8. Star Trek: Generations (1994) – 7/10
Though the writers were right when they said they should have saved the “Yesterday’s Enterprise” concept for the first Next Generation film, Generations is nevertheless an enjoyable installment, for the Kirk/Picard team-up if nothing else.


7. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) – 8/10
Suffering the most from an ethnical miscast in Benedict Cumberbatch as the primary antagonist, this Kelvin universe version of Wrath of Khan is an unfairly derided spin on a classic tale and a solid Trek flick in its own right.


6. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) – 9/10
The Enterprise crew goes rogue to get the mind of Spock out of Bones and into the former’s resurrected body, while fending off Christopher Loyd’s villainous Klingon captain in Leonard Nimoy’s wild and exceptional directorial debut.


5. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) – 9/10
An interstellar political thriller that deftly plays off the immediate post-Cold War era in which it was made.


4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) – 9/10
In a daringly comedic entry, adroitly directed by returning Nimoy, Kirk and crew travel back to the 1980s to appropriate a pair of humpback whales to save the 23rd century from certain doom.


3. Star Trek (2009) – 10/10
Director J. J. Abrams updates the franchise for mainstream, 21st-century audiences, while maintaining most of the elements that made Trek great form its inception.


2. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) – 10/10
The Next Gen crew’s finest outing is a deep, dark venture that serves as a worthy sequel to one of Trek’s greatest stories, while proving beyond a doubt that Jonathan Frakes was born to direct.


1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) – 10/10
Nicholas Meyer’s script and direction are near flawless, but it’s Ricardo Montalban’s tour de force return as the titular villain that solidifies this film’s place in Trek canon.


November 2019 Watchlist

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November was an unexpectedly robust month for viewing. In addition to finishing up my Halloween sci-fi/fantasy/horror stragglers, watching a couple of the rare Thanksgiving-themed cartoon specials, and getting the jumpstart on the annual Christmas movie viewing, I was able to re-watch some favorites and catch a few “never-before-seens.” 
 
Below is the complete, 26-title list, with each entry accompanied by a capsule review, objective (to the best of my ability) rating, and flags for any questionable content when applicable:
 
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – 9/10
 
A swashbuckling kid-flick with groundbreaking special effects by stop motion master Ray Harryhausen, Sinbad is as good it gets for fantasy adventure in the 1950s.
 
Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973) – 6/10
 
Not terrible, but lackluster and easily the weakest of the major Peanuts holiday specials.
 
Conan the Barbarian (1982) – 7/10
 
Though it suffers from ’80s pop sensibilities, it’s one of the best sword and sorcery pictures of the decade, and Schwarzenegger’s hulky-ness vs. James Earl Jones’s gravitas is an entertaining match. [Adult Content] 
 
Cool Hand Luke (1967) – 10/10
 
An engaging look at hard-labor prison life, with lessons to be learned on all sides.
 
Fiddler on the Roof (1971) – 9/10
 
A gorgeously shot and choreographed look at Jewish life in pre-Bolshevik Russia, though for me, it loses points for shying away from labeling the period’s growing unrest for what it was: the seeds of a violent Communist revolution.
 
Garfield’s Thanksgiving (1989) – 10/10
 
It might lack the ingenuity of the Halloween special and the heart of the Christmas outing, but it’s possibly the flat-out funniest of the fat feline’s holiday flicks.
 
The Godfather (1972) – 10/10
 
Long, but not overly so, dense, but not thick, and epic in every sense of the word, The Godfather is a masterpiece of filmmaking. [Language, Adult Content]
 
The Godfather, Part II (1974) – 10/10
 
Though Brando’s absence automatically precludes Part II from eclipsing its forebear, Coppola’s and Puzo’s script and Pacino’s performance bring the sequel almost, if not entirely, to equality with the original.
 
Home Alone (1990) – 6/10
 
Though it’s preposterous from top to bottom, and suffers from the worse side of writer John Hughes’s ’80s sensibilities, it’s a funny, family Christmas classic.
 
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – 9/10
 
Don’t expect to be able to root for Oscar Isaac’s lead—or anybody, for that matter—but the story (mostly a showcase of “what not to do with your life”) and performances are fascinating. [Language]
 
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955) – 9/10
 
Playing like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone (before that show even existed), the psychological- and philosophical-heavy Body Snatchers is one of the best sci-fi/horror films ever, even if it occasionally suffers from logic holes in the plot.
 
The Invisible Man (1933) – 10/10
 
Lead Claude Rains’s unhinged performance is a sight to behold (or not behold, as the actor’s visage is hidden for almost the entire picture), making The Invisible Man one of Universal’s best horror movies.
 
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2015) (Limited Series) – 8/10
 
Though almost every element is slightly off from the book, and it fumbles mightily in its finale, this BBC adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s masterpiece is nevertheless smart, entertaining, and filled with stellar performances. 
 
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949) – 10/10
 
Narrated and sung by the incomparable Bing Crosby, this back half of Disney’s “double feature” film Ichabod and Mr. Toad is an amusing, charming, spooky, and underrated adaptation of the Washington Irving classic short story.
 
My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) – 4/10
 
An excruciatingly ’90s rom-com, seemingly written to make it frustratingly impossible to root for its lead—quite the feat considering its lead is the usually relatable Julia Roberts. [Language]
 
The Nutty Professor (1963) – 10/10
 
One of the greatest comedies of all time, The Nutty Professor proves Jerry Lewis’s genius as an actor, writer, director, comedian, and innovator.
 
The Phantom of the Opera (1943) – 8/10
 
A lush Technicolor production of the well-worn story, featuring a usual masterful performance from Claude Rains in the title role.
 
The Rare Breed (1966) – 10/10
 
An unusual romance/western/adventure that is sadly overlooked and underrated; Jimmy Stewart and Maureen O’Hara star.
 
Sky High (2005) – 8/10
 
Though the ending is a little too ludicrous, even for a spoof, Sky High is a fun, funny, family-friendly superhero send-up, well ahead of its time.
 
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) – 4/10
 
Beyond Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon, Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, villainous Darth Maul, and that trio’s epic light saber duel, the film is a half-baked, CGI-fest that goes all-in on selling toys to the kiddies.
 
Star Wars: Episode II  Attack of the Clones (2002) – 5/10
 
It’s more mature, and overall better, than its immediate predecessor, but it’s still plagued by many of Episode I’s problems, as well as an ill-conceived and poorly executed romance plot, which is central to both the film and the Star Wars saga.
 
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) – 7/10
 
Though the best of the prequel trilogy by far, it’s overly-long and suffers from the same CGI-overkill that plagues its trilogy brethren.
 
Star Wars: Episode VII  The Force Awakens (2015) – 10/10
 
It parallels, amalgamates, and inverts the best plot points and characters from the original trilogy, creating something familiar yet fresh, effectively washing away the unpalatable flavor of the prequel saga and paving the way for an exciting new era in the galaxy far, far away.
 
Star Wars: Episode VIII  The Last Jedi (2017) – 6/10
 
Writer-director Rian Johnson tosses franchise tropes in favor of expectation-defying non sequiturs and sociopolitical commentary, all to the film’s (and saga’s) detriment.
 
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) – 2/10
 
Overly long CGI battle sequences, rudimentary dialog, juvenile humor, contrived, often preposterous plot—this ill-advised cinematic retool of the originally intended inaugural episodes of The Clone Wars TV series is every terrible thing about the prequels, wrapped tight in a mind-numbing hour and 40 minute package.
 
This Is America, Charlie Brown E1: “The Mayflower Adventure” (1988) – 8/10
 
An exceptional educational tool for teaching young viewers about the early founding of America.
 
Related: October 2019 Watchlist


 

October 2019 Watchlist

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I don’t watch as much television as I once did, but I’ve always been a huge film and TV fan and try to catch a movie or episode when I can. Though I like a variety of genres, my preference is sci-fi/fantasy, and Halloween provides the perfect annual excuse to view a plethora of silver screen outings in that range. Below is my alphabetized watchlist from last month, with a succinct review accompanying each entry. Before we go further, however, I want to clarify a few of things:
 
1. There were a few first time viewings, but I had seen most of these at least once (if not 50,000 times) before.
 
2. Although I’m sure one bias or another affects my opinion, I try to review films and series as objectively as possible, analyzing intent, technical execution, and result. Therefore, my assigning a high rating to something does not necessarily mean I liked the film, because “liking” comes from the realm of tastes and preferences—subjectivity, not objectivity. 
 
3. It also doesn’t mean I endorse or condone all things or any particular thing depicted in any given film, special, or episode—which is why I’m flagging in brackets all highly rated works sporting certain non-family-friendly content. 
 
The Flicks:
 
Being There (1979) – 8/10
 
Peter Sellers is a masterclass in this subtly humorous indictment of the inanity of politics and notoriety, still applicable today. [Language and Adult Content]
 
Beowulf (2007) – 5/10
 
The motion capture CGI is spectacular, but tasteless creative choices make for a sour take on a classical epic. 
 
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – 6/10
 
The dark psychological horror and meticulously crafted narrative of the original are largely replaced here with cheap thrills and non sequiturs, but the slam-bang ending is one of the best in the Universal creature feature stable.
 
Clash of the Titans (1981) – 4/10
 
Had it been released in special effects master Ray Harryhausen’s heyday—say, immediately following Jason and the Argonauts—it would’ve been a classic; in the ILM age, however, it’s an outdated curiosity featuring gratuitous nude shots to make it “current” (because it’s the 80s, man!).
 
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – 10/10
 
Effectively balancing horror, science fiction, and an ensemble cast, Creature is the last great classic Universal monster film.
 
Dragonslayer (1981) – 8/10
 
A well-staged, grounded, action/adventure take on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” tale, featuring sensational creatures effects from Industrial Light and Magic.
 
Dracula (1931) – 10/10
 
Though it isn’t quite as good as Frankenstein, the tropes (particularly Lugosi’s take on the titular undead) are so well-established in this version of Bram Stoker’s masterwork, they’ve informed horror movie plots for nine decades and counting.
 
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – 10/10
 
The first Star Wars sequel can’t top the original in…well, originality, but it does manage to surpass it in depth, scope, visual delight, and bleakness.
 
Excalibur (1981) – 6/10
 
When the Shakespearean theatricality works, it serves the film well; when it doesn’t work, it severely undercuts the gritty, grimy realism and spectacular set pieces. [Adult Content]
 
Frankenstein (1931) – 10/10
 
Though it deviates significantly from the source material, Frankenstein refuses to shy away from the biggest theme of the original book (man is not God), delivering a true horror masterpiece with philosophical, psychological, and emotional depth.
 
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985) – 10/10
 
The signature comic strip humor, a couple of great Lou Rawls-led musical numbers, and a genuinely spooky ghost angle make this one of the fat feline’s best specials.
 
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) – 10/10
 
Though it lacks the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the gags are funnier, the animation’s sharper, and there’s still some serious themes of faith embedded within.
 
A Most Violent Year (2014) – 10/10
 
Writer/director J. C. Chandor deftly presents his story about rival heating oil companies in 1981 New York as a gripping, gritty crime thriller, while Oscar Isaac spearheads a stellar cast. [Language]
 
Return of the Jedi (1983) – 9/10
 
The final installment of the original Star Wars trilogy discards the darkness of the previous chapter for a more humorous, child-friendly adventure but still manages to serve as a satisfying closer to arguably the greatest saga to ever grace the silver screen.
 
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003) 8/10
 
Though the occasional innuendo is totally unnecessary in a kid’s movie, the film is a gorgeously animated, well-scripted, action/adventure. 
 
Star Wars (1977) 10/10
 
Still the standard-bearer for blockbusters, George Lucas’s original sci-fi masterpiece boasts groundbreaking special effects and a big dose of old-fashioned fantasy/adventure.
 
The Wolfman (1941) – 8/10
 
Lon Chaney, Jr. may be ill-suited to the role of the human Larry Talbot, but he fits Talbot’s titular, canid alter-ego so well, the film is still a classic.
 
Yesterday (2019) – 7/10
 
Though a pleasing, late-film reveal actually undermines the film’s already-shaky fantasy premise, Yesterday manages to get by with a little help from its friends—namely, wit, charm, and Beatles music. [Language]


SPIDER-MAN: TAS 25th Anniversary Special – 10 Essential Episodes

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My generation’s iteration of Spider-Man hits the quarter-century mark tomorrow (UNBELIEVABLE!), and to commemorate, here are ten top episodes from the series, all now streaming on Disney+.
 
“The Alien Costume”  S1 E8-10
 
In this adaptation of the symbiote saga, Peter actually turns evil (not emo), and Eddie Brock actually becomes the Web-head’s perfect psychological and physical antithesis. 
 
“The Hobgoblin”  S1 E11-12
 
In a switch-up from the comics, Norman Osborn outfits the Hobgoblin (voiced by Mark Hamill, basically reprising his Batman: TAS Joker voice) before going green, commissioning the homicidal maniac to assassinate Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin, but things soon go awry.
 
“The Insidious Six/Battle of the Insidious Six” (Neogenic Nightmare, Chapters I-II)  S2 E1-2
 
Though the writers may have had to change the comics’ “sinister” moniker to please the sensors (which makes no sense, considering sister show X-Men featured Mr. Sinister with no problem), the evildoer team-up two-parter is no less a blast, and Peter inexplicably losing his powers during the ordeal raises the tension level significantly.
 
“The Mutant Agenda/Mutants Revenge” (Neogenic Nightmare Chapters, IV-V)  S2 E4-5
 
Honestly, in and of itself, the plot isn’t that spectacular. (Heh, heh. Get it? No? Never mind.) But it’s got the X-Men, and Cal Dodd’s Wolverine teaming up with Spidey is worth the price of admission (which, ya know, was free in 1995). 
 
“Enter the Green Goblin” (Sins of the Father, Chapter IV)  S3 E4
 
The Wall-crawler’s archnemesis makes his debut, and his introduction does not disappoint.
 
“Framed/Man Without Fear” (Sins of the Father, ChaptersVI-VII)  S3 E6-7
 
Possibly the best story in the entire series run, these dual episodes see Peter Parker framed for international espionage and lawyer/secret vigilante Matt Murdock/Daredevil come to his aid.
 
“Venom Returns/Carnage” (Sins of the Father, Chapters X-XI)  S3 E11-12
 
The titles say it all, plus Iron Man/Tony Stark joins the festivities, before Iron Man/Tony Stark was cool.
 
“Goblin War!/The Turning Point” (Sins of the Father, Chapters XIII-XIV)  S3 E13-14
 
First up, it’s Hob vs. Green, then the series presents a pretty shocking take on The Death of Gwen Stacy—except Gwen isn’t in this series, and the writers aren’t allowed to actually kill anybody. But those minor details aside, it’s still rather gripping.
 
“The Return of the Green Goblin” (Partners in Danger, Chapter VIII)  S4 E8
 
Harry picks up the Goblin mantle and loses his marbles along the way.
 
“I Really, Really Hate Clones/Farewell Spider-Man” (Spider Wars, Chapters I-II)  S5 E12-13
 
Years before Spider-Verse events would become a regular occurrence across media platforms, the ’90s animated series swan song saw the ol’ Web-slinger join with several alternate universe Web-slingers to prevent a crazed, Carnage symbiote-possessed Peter Parker (or possibly a Peter Paker clone; nobody knows for sure) from destroying all existence. ’Nuff said!


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GARGOYLES 25th Anniversary: The 10 Best Episodes

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Twenty-five years ago yesterday, I caught the last twenty seconds of an episode of a new animated Disney series airing in the early week day morning block on my local Fox affiliate. That series was Gargoyles, and those last few seconds hooked me forever. Sure, it’s ultimately a 90s kids show, but it’s one that holds up spectacularly on repeated, adult-aged viewings—personal experience speaking.
 
Incorporating almost every genre of fiction from Shakespearean drama to futuristic sci-fi, the series was dark and serious, with complex characters, intricate plot lines, and weighty themes. The show also boasted a stellar voice cast, including quite a number of Star Trek alumni, many from the main cast of The Next Generation. Plus, the science fiction and fantasy concepts featured in the series were just plain cool.
 
In commemoration of a quarter century of excellence, I’m counting down the ten best Gargoyles episodes, all of which will soon be available to stream on the new Disney+ streaming service, launching November 12.
 
10. “Vendettas” – S2 E46, 05/01/96
 
Having been an unintended victim of Gargoyle shenanigans, a hitherto unnamed, non-speaking background character (Jeff Bennett) sets out with a giant bazooka to “cream” Gargoyle leader Goliath (Keith David). A severely underrated, rare comedic episode. (Clancy Brown guest stars.)
 
9. “The Gathering” – S2 E44-45, 04/29-30/96
 
Though the episode is the least of the series’ multi-parters, the mind-blowing revelations of “The Gathering” make this two-part outing a must see. (Laura San Giacomo, Kate Mulgrew, and Brent Spiner guest star.)
 
8. “Future Tense” – S2 E43, 04/27/96
 
Goliath, best human friend Elisa Maza (Salli Richardson), and Gargoyle dog Bronx (Frank Welker), finally return from the mystical isle of Avalon to find that forty years have past and the villainous Xanatos (Jonathan Frakes) rules over a dystopian New York. But is this future immutable? It’s essentially Gargoyles’ “Days of Future Past,” but with a nifty twist at the end.
 
7. “Avalon” – S2 E21-23, 11/20-22/95
 
Though the tale’s three-part length causes it to be more rushed than it should be, not a single other Gargoyles episode can match the sheer audacity of the Medievalic fantasy tale that is “Avalon.” (King Arthur may or may not show up. Just sayin’.) (David Warner guest stars.)
 
6. “Eye of the Beholder” – S2 E7, 09/13/95
 
A halloween-themed episode that features the iconic “Beauty and the Beast” moment between Goliath and Elisa, “Eye of Beholder” is perhaps most interesting for showing Machiavellian villain Xanatos’s human “vulnerability”: love.
 
5. “Long Way to Morning” – S1 E11, 01/20/95
 
It’s villainous Demona’s (Marina Sirtis) youthful vigor vs. seasoned soldier Hudson’s (Ed Asner) aged wisdom, played out in two time frames—one of which packs in quite a lot of world-building that proves to be very important as the series progresses.
 
4. “Hunter’s Moon” – S2 E50-52, 05/13-15/96
 
The series comes to a bittersweet conclusion as many of the show’s best plot points converge for a riveting and heart breaking finale.
 
3. “Deadly Force” – S1 E8, 11/18/94
 
Broadway (Bill Fagerbakke), the lovable, over-weight, “teddy bear” Gargoyle, accidentally fires a slug into the abdomen of Elisa, critically wounding the woman. Ignorant that the culprit is one of his own, Goliath sets out to kill the mob boss he believes to be responsible for the deed. And, yes, I promise this is a Disney children’s cartoon!
 
2. “Awakening” S1 E1-5, 10/24-28/94
 
The five-part pilot that started it all, “Awakening” establishes the heroes, villains, backstory, frontstory, and everything else it needs, while juggling two disparate time periods, ultimately delivering one of the best blends of modern science fiction and Medieval fantasy to ever grace any medium.
 
1. “City of Stone” – S2 E9-12, 09/18-21/95
 
For me, Gargoyles is best when it’s simultaneously playing in both the Dark Ages and 1990s timelines, and the four-part “City of Stone” is the best of that best. Whether it’s the spectacular alt history take on Macbeth (John Rhys Davies), Demona’s emotional character arc, or the fact that a Disney children’s cartoon [SPOILER] unceremoniously wipes out an untold number of New York’s citizenry, this epic installment is a gripping and entertaining thrill ride from top to bottom.

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