Category Archives: Pop Culture

Ranking XTC: Less Great to Most Great

There’s a thing about lists ranking movies, TV shows, albums, etc. by their level of quality – subjectivity. These kinds of lists are just opinions and, no matter how reasoned the list-makers think they’ve been, someone is bound to disagree. At best, the list gives people unfamiliar with the topic an overview and recommendations on where to start exploring the theme. At worst, it gives the list-maker the chance to smack talk about a subject they might think to be overrated in general.

A list ranking the British Pop band XTC‘s albums from worst to best has surfaced on an XTC Facebook fan page. It has stirred up some controversy. First of all, even though I understand the technicality of language when describing a ranking list, how can a consistently great recording artist, such as XTC, have a worst album? In my opinion, they just don’t have one. They may have worst songs, some I flat out don’t like or even hate, but not a worst album in the bunch.

That’s why my list goes from less great to most great. I will handle this list in much the same way as my other ranking lists, but I might include a song pick which demonstrates a failure, in my opinion, in the band’s usual high quality. I’m also including the two albums by XTC‘s alter-ego: The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Again, this is my list, my opinion. Your results may vary.

xtc_white_music

14) White Music (1978) This one is a bit uneven, I think mainly due to the band attempting to find its voice. Overall, the album has all that quirkiness that defined the band in their early years, which works most of the time. It seems Colin Moulding is trying a little too hard to be quirky on two of the three songs he wrote, but I’ll Set Myself On Fire is a good early effort. Radios In Motion is a fantastic opening track and Andy Partridge also scores well with Into The Atom Age, New Town Animal, and This Is Pop? (I do agree with that other list-maker that the later single version of this song is much better). However, their cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower really does fall flat.

Favorite track: Statue Of Liberty

big-express

13) The Big Express (1984) Plenty of greatness to be found, but for me the album tends to go a little heavy on the bashing drums side, as on Reign Of Blows and Train Running Low On Soul Coal. However, there is some quiet subtlety to be found on This World Over. Other stand-outs include You’re The Wish You Are I Had and I Remember The Sun. And my favorite song on the album is another fantastic opening track.

Favorite track: Wake Up

xtc_go_2

12) Go 2 (1978) Released the same year as their first album, Go 2 shows Partridge and Moulding getting better at their songwriting. They are more focused on this their sophomore effort. Keyboardist Barry Andrews contributes two songs (My Weapon and Super-Tuff) which are early efforts for him and are OK. There’s some quirkiness still to be found on Meccanik Dancing (Oh We Go!), Buzz City Talking, and Jumping In Gomorrah; but more thoughtful songwriting emerges with Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian).

Favorite track: Are You Receiving Me?

dukes_of_stratosphear_psonicpsunspot

11) Psonic Psunspot – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1987) This is the second album for which the fellows donned their disguise as a 60s Psychedelic band. If you are a fan of 60s Pop and Psychedelic music, you will be a fan of the Dukes. Lots of catchy tunes and another terrific opening track : The Vanishing Girl. Other greats include Pale And Precious, Collideascope, and Shiny Cage.

Favorite track: Brainiac’s Daughter

510nbhjzs9l-_sy300_

10) Mummer (1983) Continuing in the direction of more a pastoral Pop sound that was started on 1982’s English Settlement (I’ll get to it!), Mummer was XTC’s first studio album after the band decided to stop touring. It sounds like an album that wasn’t intended to be played live. Softer, more acoustic songs (Ladybird, Wonderland, In Loving Memory Of A Name) dominate, with the exception of Funk Pop A Roll, written by Partridge when he thought the band was about to be dropped by their record label.

Favorite track: Great Fire

31v5at2kr3l

9) Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) (2000) XTC’s swan song album is better than some folks give it credit as being. It’s got plenty of catchy tunes, including what I think is Moulding’s best song since My Bird Performs from 1992’s Nonsuch (Yes, I’ll get to that one, too!): Standing In For Joe. The band’s tradition of excellent opening tracks continues with Playground. And there are other gems to be found: I’m The Man Who Murdered Love, In Another Life, and Church Of Women.

Favorite track: The Wheel And The Maypole

xtc_nonsuch

8) Nonsuch (1992) XTC’s last album before their seven year strike against and subsequent liberation from the Virgin label builds on the groundwork laid by their 1989 album, Oranges & Lemons. (Yes, yes! Be patient.) Some have said it’s a little too similar to that previous effort. Perhaps, but there’s still some really good stuff on here. Dear Madam Barnum, The Disappointed, That Wave, Omnibus, the aforementioned My Bird Performs, and Wrapped In Grey. All great tunes. But I was never fond of Rook and Bungalow. They just don’t work for me.

Favorite track: Then She Appeared

r-2093384-1279979715-png

7) Oranges & Lemons (1989) Another great opening track, Garden Of Earthly Delights, leads to an album filled with earthly delights: King For A Day, The Loving, Scarecrow People, One Of The Millions, Pink Thing… Whew! I haven’t even gotten to my favorite track yet. There’s also Poor Skeleton Steps Out, in which I learned I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought of our skeletons as separate living entities trapped inside our bodies. Andy and I are on the same page there.

Favorite track: (And just how the hell wasn’t this a mega-hit?!) Mayor Of Simpleton

dukes_25oclock

6) 25 O’Clock – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1985) This was the first time the boys adopted new identities and brought in Dave Gregory’s brother Ian to play drums to produce an homage to their favorite tunes and artists of the 60s. The budget wasn’t big, which is why it was kept to a mere six songs, but they put every penny’s worth on the vinyl. It’s great from start to finish.

Favorite track: The Mole From The Ministry

xtc_drums_and_wires

5) Drums & Wires (1979) Barry Andrews was out and Dave Gregory was in on this the third XTC album. Gregory’s entry not only eliminated Andrew’s manic keyboards, it expanded the guitar sound of the group. He also helped lead the band into their more pastoral, less quirky sound of their later releases. Moulding’s songwriting had greatly improved by this album and he steals the show by contributing all its best songs, which includes my favorite track and Day In Day Out, Ten Feet Tall, and That Is The Way. They all outshine Partridge’s songs. Not that Andy’s songs are bad. Oh, no. When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty, Millions, and the terrific Complicated Game are nothing to sneeze at.

Favorite track: Making Plans For Nigel

41wga5xv5dl

4) Apple Venus Vol. 1 (1999) It had been seven years since XTC fans had some new material from their favorite band. Did they break up? What had they been doing? The band went on strike against Virgin in 1992. They didn’t like their deal and the way Virgin didn’t promote them. The band finally won their freedom and went to work on this masterful album. Partridge called it an orchoustic effort, combining orchestral arrangments with mainly acoustic songs. It really is very good. Moulding’s songs, two in total, are fine, but they just don’t quite measure up to his prestrike songwriting. Partridge, however, is firing on all cylinders. Greenman, The Last Balloon, Easter Theatre, I Can’t Own Her, Harvest Festival are all lush and beautiful. The circular orchestration of the brassy River of Orchids may make it a challenging opening track, but it is a piece of excellent songwriting. Even the bitter and sad song about the dissolution of a marriage, Your Dictionary,  has its beauty and manages to uplift by the end. This album was worth the wait.

Favorite track: I’d Like That

xtc_english_settlement

3) English Settlement (1982) This is where XTC began to go into more acoustic and pastoral songs. A lushness began to find its way into their sound on songs such as Runaways, All Of A Sudden, Jason And The Argonauts, Yacht Dance, and Snowman. There’s even a couple attempts at straight up dance songs: Melt The Guns, Down In The Cockpit. This double album also has the distinction of containing both my favorite and my most hated XTC songs. I can’t stand, and never could, Leisure. Its herky-jerky, start and stop pacing punctuated by Partridge barking, “Leisure!” really puts me off. The song only gets going at the very end just as it begins to fade. But my favorite XTC song is there to balance everything out.

Favorite track: Senses Working Overtime

1952809

2) Black Sea (1980) This is the first XTC album I ever heard. It also contains the first XTC song I ever heard, Respectable Street. This album has the group almost completely losing their quirk factor and rocking out some very hook-laden pop tunes. I don’t think there’s a dud on the entire album. Partridge might disagree as he wasn’t too fond of Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me), but I think that song has a certain light-hearted charm. Moulding only contributes two tracks, but they do include the excellent Generals & Majors. But it’s Partridge who is in complete command of this album. Living Through Another Cuba, Rocket From A Bottle, Paper & Iron, Burning With Optimism’s Flame, No Language In Our Lungs…Whoa! Outstanding!

Favorite track: Towers Of London

skylarking

1) Skylarking (1986) That controversial list that inspired this blog at least got this one right. The writer also put this album at number one. And it is brilliant. Out of the struggles between Partridge and producer Todd Rundgren, came this loose concept album of the passing of a single summer day. Rundgren came up with the concept and the running order of the songs they were to record after listening to the demos, but before consulting with Andy. Contentious recording sessions still yielded this masterpiece. From start to finish it is a brilliant piece of Pop music. And it provided XTC their first radio hit in America. Sort of. The song was Dear God, but it wasn’t included on the first pressing of the album. It was a B-side for the first single, Grass. American DJs liked it and played it into a hit and onto the second pressing. Stand out tracks on an album of nothing but stand outs include Summer’s Cauldron, Season Cycle, The Meeting Place, and The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul. In 2010, the album was remastered and an audio problem was corrected and it was re-released on vinyl. The song Mermaid Smiled was returned to the album, it had been removed to make room for Dear God, but the atheist anthem was still included. The original album art concept by Partridge was also used for this reissue, but it’s a little too risque to go with here. You can Google it if you are curious.

Favorite track: Earn Enough For Us

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Tagged ,

Pods Looking Back: A List of My Favorite Nostalgic Podcasts

You know, I’m no different than anybody else. I start each day and I end each night. (10 points if you get this reference.) And like most everybody else, I listen to podcasts. Comedy podcasts, science podcasts, podcasts on skepticism, podcasts about movies. I even do my own podcast (Dimland Radio – look for it on iTunes) that has a little of all those things and more.

Well, I thought I’d recommend a few of my favorite podcasts that are nostalgic in nature and content. Are you game?

justone_box

Just One More Thing: A Podcast About Columbo Hosts Jon Morris and RJ White invite a guest to each show to help them examine an episode of the world’s favorite TV detective: Lt. Columbo. They give their impressions of each show, including the original episodes from the 1970s and the more recent ones from when the rumpled detective returned in 1989 and ran through 2003.

The show is funny and the hosts give plenty of production and background information of this classic murder mystery-solving program. They speculate about the existence of Mrs. Columbo (they’ve even done a review of an episode of the short-lived Mrs. Columbo series), they try to pin-point the moment Columbo catches onto who the murderer is, and they marvel at how the detective out-thinks his suspects as they constantly underestimate him.

RJ tends to excitedly blurt out interruptions of the others during the podcast, but it is part of his charm. The only other drawback I can think of is they actually liked Last Salute To The Commodore.

600x600bb

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast & Gilbert and Frank’s Colossal Obsessions Each show, comic genius Gilbert Gottfried is joined by Frank Santopadre as they alternate between the main show and the mini episodes. The main show features a guest, often with one foot in the grave, to talk about the old days of entertainment. The stories get very bawdy and we frequently hear of the strange sexual practices of celebrities of yore, as well as plenty of discussion of the size of Milton Berle’s naughty bit.

The mini episodes have Gilbert and Frank talking about a particular obsession with old movies, TV shows, songs, etc.

Be warned! Gilbert sings on virtually every show. Otherwise, the podcasts are thoroughly entertaining.

logo-v3_47

The Greatest Generation No, it’s not about Tom Brokaw’s favorite generation. This podcast is hosted by Benjamin Harrison and Adam Pranica, who admit they are both a little bit embarrassed to be doing a podcast about Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s silly and it’s fun with plenty of dick and fart jokes thrown in.

The hosts watch an episode, going in order, and try to figure out if it was a good show or not. They have running jokes about an inappropriate relationship between Capt. Picard and young Wesley Crusher (the boy?), Cmdr. Riker’s absolute need for sexual consent and his lascivious use of the holodeck, and how Data is way too dangerous to be allowed to remain in Star Fleet. And each host has their pick of a “Drunk Shimoda.” You’ll have to listen to learn what that is.

you-must-remember-this

You Must Remember This Host Karina Longworth takes listeners on a journey through the “secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.” Not as funny as the other podcasts on this list, but this show is well-researched and is endlessly fascinating. The production is very good with Longworth and other voice talent playing parts of the producers, writers, actors, and moguls of old Hollywood.

If you are a fan of old Hollywood and are interested in its history, this should go to the top of your list.

Each of these suggested podcasts use adult language and themes, so they may not be suitable for all listeners. All are available through iTunes.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Tagged , , ,

10 Excellent Alternative Albums From 1980…

I am continuing with my love of the alternative rock/pop music of my youth with the year 1980. 1980 was a pretty good year for alternative music, having so many excellent debut releases. In fact, half of this list is made up of first albums. You might disagree as to my rankings, but this is my list which, I admit, is completely subjective. Your results may vary.

So far, I’ve covered 1979 and 1985 each on their own. And I did a combo top ten pulled from the second half of the 1980s. Just in case you are keeping track.

Here’s my list for 1980:

r-2737401-1321464653-jpeg

10) In Combo – The Suburbs Part of that first wave of punk, New Wave, DIY bands from the 80s’ alternative music capitol, Minneapolis, The Suburbs are difficult to categorize. Staccato guitars, throbbing basslines, cascading keyboards, driving drums and inscrutable lyrics fill this fantastically slamdanceable debut album. These guys were a blast to see play live.

Favorite track: Cows

vapors-clear-new-days

9) New Clear Days – The Vapors Thought by most to be a One Hit Wonder, which they pretty much are, The Vapors did produce plenty of catchy guitar-driven tunes on this their debut album. Of course, there’s their one hit – Turning Japanese – but there are a few other highlights including News At Ten, Spring Collection, and Sixty Second Interval.

Favorite track: Waiting For The Weekend

echo__the_bunnymen_crocodiles

8) Crocodiles – Echo & The Bunnymen This is the third debut album on my list so far and it also is pretty damn good. Hailing from The Beatles‘ hometown, Echo & the Bunnymen had a sound more akin to The Doors. But, don’t hold that against them. They could produce aggressive punk songs such as title track and more arty tracks as demonstrated by Villiers Terrace. And they could craft a mighty good pop song such as my favorite track on the album.

Favorite track: Rescue

ramones_-_end_of_the_century_cover

7) End Of The Century – Ramones This is the godfathers of punk meets the genius of Motown album. The original punk rockers teamed up with producer Phil Spector creating a more lush sounding version of their high-powered punk. Stand out tracks include Rock’n’Roll High School, Chinese Rock, and the cover of The Ronnettes classic Baby, I Love You.

Favorite track: Do You Remember Rock’n’Roll Radio?

talkingheadsremaininlight

6) Remain In Light – Talking Heads Picked by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of the decade, Remain In Light had Talking Heads teamed once again with producer Brian Eno. The band continued to explore African rhythms and worked with other musical artists including Nona Hendyrx, Adrian Belew, and Robert Palmer.

Favorite track: Once In A Lifetime

cover_3835201692009

5) Peter Gabriel (Melt) – Peter Gabriel On this, the third of his four self-titled albums (fans called this one Melt due to the album cover artwork), Gabriel continued to craft artful pop and rock songs, inching closer to the highly successful pop sound realized on his fifth solo album, So. Much like Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel brought in several talented musicians to help record this album, including Paul Weller, Dave Gregory, Robert Fripp, and, former Genesis bandmate, Phil Collins.

Favorite track: Games Without Frontiers

r-396565-1365804346-7804-jpeg

4) Sound Affects – The Jam Intentionally spelled incorrectly to indicate the title is an action rather than a thing, this fifth release by the UK Mods introduced a funkier and heavier bass sound, as on Pretty Green and Start!, and a smattering of horns on the track Dream Time.

Favorite track: That’s Entertainment

1980_thepretenders

3) Pretenders – Pretenders Another fantastic debut album, one of the best ever, enters the list. Chrissie Hynde’s vocals and attitude were a breathe of fresh air in the male dominated world of rock music. Tough (Precious, Tattooed Love Boys) and tender (Kid, Lovers Of Today) describe this album. Awesome also describes it.

Favorite track: Brass In Pocket

61946gl4mfl-_sy300_

2) Underwater Moonlight – The Soft Boys This band was introduced to me by a DJ spinning records for the radio station on the Beloit College campus. She told me and two of my friends as we watched her work that The Soft Boys were a brilliant band and that we had to check them out. She was right. Led by British surrealist rocker Robyn Hitchcock, this album is great from start to finish. Catchy tunes, soaring guitars, tight harmonies, and some pretty odd lyrics make this debut so irresistible.

Favorite track: Queen Of Eyes

blacksea-e1394739391388

1) Black Sea – XTC It’s no secret this criminally underappreciated band from Swindon, England is one of my most favorite in all of rock/pop music. And this was the first album of theirs that I had ever heard. A harder, more straight forward rocking album than their previous releases, Black Sea still has loads of great hooks and pop melodies. The opening track Respectable Street was the first XTC song I ever heard and I loved it instantly. I cannot over-stress just how good I think this album is. It is well deserving of being number one on this list.

Favorite track: Towers Of London

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

How Did Star Trek: TNG Survive That First Season?

Note: Much of the following was pulled from my blog at dimland.com. It has been updated, revised, and corrected.

star-trek-next-generation

I recently discovered the podcast The Greatest Generation. No, it’s not about that generation of Americans of which Tom Brokaw is so fond. It’s a podcast focusing on the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series (1987 – 1994). It’s hosted by two fellows, Ben Harrison and Adam Pranica, who are a bit embarrassed to be doing a podcast about the greatest of all the Star Trek series. Yes, I’m including the original series. Oh, yeah. I went there.

I’ve been watching Star Trek: TNG on Netflix a lot lately and it’s really obvious that the series wasn’t very good when it started.  In fact, much of that first season wasn’t any better than the lousiest episodes of the original series. And that original series could get really lousy, see The Way To Eden, for example. I mean – space hippies? Seriously?! Was that Roddenberry’s idea to get the happening youth culture interested in the show?

star_trek_space_hippies

I’m sure this role was prominently placed on actor Charles Napier’s resume.

During most of the first season, the whole cast looked and sounded uncomfortable, especially when you compare them to how they seemed as the series progressed. By the third season, when I first started watching, the cast had better writers and a much better understanding of their characters. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) had grown a beard for season two (although he never lost that walking as if he had a board up his back), Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) became less bombastic, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) had his Klingon make-up improve, Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) finally got her hair under control, Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) had been killed off, and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) was less annoying and would, also, soon be written off the show. These were all among the character improvements.

Along with the acting, writing, and character development, many other aspects of the show improved as it became more popular and profitable. Some of those other improvements included better costumes and production values. I had heard that the cast wasn’t very happy with the costumes early on. Apparently, they were too tight and itchy. That may have contributed to the awkward acting in that first season. The set lighting was improved. And the surfaces of alien planets looked a lot less like the sound stages used in the original series.

Viewers of the first season were treated to some pretty awful storylines and dialogue. In an early episode we were introduced to Lore (Brent Spiner) , the evil “brother” of Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner). The producers wasted little time before using the evil twin cliché by having Lore behaving suspiciously and Data seeming conflicted. Lt. Yar, the Enterprise’s chief of security, asked Captain Picard if he could still trust Data. Picard said he could and then admonished the rest of the bridge crew about Yar’s question being a “perfectly legitimate security question.” Picard’s outburst seemed strange to me as I thought his senior bridge crew would already know that. Then Yar reacted like a blushing school girl. This rough and tumble, tough as nails Star Fleet officer was bashfully smiling and batting her eyes at Picard’s vote of confidence. Oh, brother.

In another episode, this one featuring Q (possibly the most interesting character of that first season) offering Riker the powers of the Q Continuum, a group of nearly omnipotent beings. John de Lancie, the actor who plays Q, still hadn’t quite gotten a handle on the character. He had moments of overacting, but he was still interesting. Anyway, he zapped a few members of the bridge crew to the surface of a sound stage where they were menaced by what Worf referred to as “savage animal things.” Really? “Savage animal things?” The writers couldn’t come up with something better than that?

Then there was Wesley Crusher, the 14 year-old son of the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). Wesley was probably the fans’ least favorite character. (He was mine anyway.) When Wesley wasn’t looking stupid or grinning ear-to-ear, he was saving the day. He must have saved the ship half a dozen times that first season alone.

wesley2

Lookin’ dumb there, Wes.

Wesley even suffered the not-now-I’m-too-busy-to-hear-your-vitally-important-information-because-you-are-only-a-child brush off on more than one occasion. This would happen despite Wesley’s track record of saving the day and the fact that a time traveling alien said Welsey was the next Newton/Einstein/Solock phenom. The phenom element, fortunately, was never fulfilled by the series for Wesley, although that alien did return a few seasons later.

There were a few interesting moments and developments in that first season, however. The Q and the android Data were interesting. Yar and Data having sex was… intriguing. And Patrick Stewart had some good moments of acting to balance out his more over-the-top moments. The episode with Q and the savage animal things had Picard verbally sparring with his godlike adversary, in which Star Trek‘s greatest captain delivered an impassioned speech quoting Hamlet. It’s a fine moment for both actors, but especially for Stewart. And that’s not surprising given his background as a Shakespearean actor. The scene was right in his wheelhouse.

One episode late in that first season did something rather ballsy, I thought. One of the main characters was killed about 15 minutes into the show. It was Lt. Tascha Yar. Her death was unceremonious. She was part of an away team confronted by a powerful and malevolent entity who just killed her when she attempted to walk past him. The entity cast her aside and she was dead. Just like that. Cut to commercial.

The ballsiness was somewhat diminished when, at the end of that episode, the main bridge crew all gathered on the holodeck where they watched a prerecorded message from their fallen crewmate. It was her chance to say goodbye to each of the cast… er… crew members. But, why would she have made such a recording? Her character couldn’t have been more than 28 years-old and she’s making farewell holo-images for her crewmates? It would have been better to have the main characters gather on the bridge or in 10 Forward to talk about their lost comrade. But then Denise Crosby wouldn’t have had her big goodbye moment, something I’m sure the show’s producers had to do to get her agree to be killed off so early in the episode.

Still, I like the series. But I didn’t watch it until it was in its third season. For some reason, I wasn’t interested. When I finally did tune in, the series had really gotten rolling. Which is fortunate, because had I watched the series when it began, I might not have stayed with it for very long.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Tagged , ,

“Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie!”

6a011570c3de61970c019b037f264c970d

Christmas is coming again, so I thought I’d reminisce a little about one of my favorite holiday movies: A Christmas Story (1983).

I didn’t see this movie until many, many years after it was released. It was in the mid to late 90s, when I was listening to a couple of talk radio show hosts praising this now holiday classic, that it first time it came to my attention. My curiosity peaked, I sought it out. Finding it wasn’t too difficult, because by that time television had turned it into a holiday programming staple.

“Oh, did you miss it? Change the channel. Someone else will be playing it.”

Television was great at taking modestly successfully theatrical releases and turning them into required viewing classics. It’s A Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz are two fine examples of television’s influence. A Christmas Story may be the most recent film to have television help it along in that way.

The story is set in pre-World War II Indiana and is viewed from young Ralphie Parker’s perspective as he attempts to influence his parents, terrifically portrayed by Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, into giving him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. But Mrs. Parker insists they are dangerous and that he’ll shoot his eye out. That’s a recurring phrase in the film. Adults were so worried about kids losing their eyes.

The movie is based on semi-autobiographical stories written by Jean Shepherd. Shepherd is the film’s narrator as the adult version of Ralphie relating this story of his youth. And he is wonderful. There’s a twinkle in the man’s eye, which you can clearly hear in his voice. The man can tell a story!

Although I grew up in a different era than what is shown in the film, the universality of the story – anticipating Christmas, coveted gift items, loving (if somewhat scary) parents, school, teachers, weird gifts from relatives, bullies, friends, and flagpoles –  appeals to my nostalgic feelings for my days as a kid. The way Ralphie feels about Christmas reflects the way I felt. And Ralphie’s fantasies, although silly and over-the-top, are good fun.

By far, my favorite character is Old Man Parker. He makes the film. McGavin is just so good as Ralphie’s furnace-fighting, foul-mouthed, major award-winning, gruff, but loving and lovable dad. Old Man Parker is the key to this movie, if he’s wrong the movie just doesn’t make it. And McGavin nails it.

His gruffness is all just bluster. He loves his wife and his boys. We see it in his reaction to the wife and kids bellowing out Jingle Bells on the drive home from getting their Christmas tree. Sure, he rolls his eyes, but there is love in there. We see it in Old Man Parker’s subtle smirk as he sends his oldest son back into the car after an unsuccessful attempt to help change a tire. An attempt that had young Ralphie accidentally drop an F bomb in front of his father for the first time. Hence the smirk. We also see it as the old man is almost as excited as Ralphie when… Oh, but that would be a spoiler.

old-man-admiring-major-award

“Oh, wow!”

And, of course, there is the leg lamp!

I just love this movie. I watch it every year and remember all those wonderful Christmases from my youth.

Hard to believe the director of this classic, Bob Clark, also directed Porky’s.

Packing Peanuts!

Fell free to comment and share.

Tagged , , ,

Where the hell is the parade?!

macys-parade

Allow me to complain just a bit.

But first, know this: Memory is not video tape. We may think we remember something vividly, but as the events we’re remembering recede into the past our recollections are influenced by other people’s stories of the events, we conflate unrelated events with the ones we are remembering, and so on. When we tell someone about a memory, our brains are recreating the story of that memory, not putting in a video tape and pressing play. Memories can’t help but change over time.

That said, remember when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was shown on television? Those were the days. The bands would play, the floats would float, and the massive balloon characters would… also float. It would be two or three hours of just watching the parade go by. Ahhhh.

“But, Jim,” you say, “the parade is still shown each year on television. In fact, it’s shown on CBS and NBC!” Sure, but it seems the parade is just coincidental, a backdrop for announcers who don’t appear to have ever announced anything before. Now the parade just helps to transition between the multiple interviews of the networks’ stars talking about the shows they are in or Broadway performers talking about their plays. They’ll cut to performances from hit musicals or pop and country artists. And I just saw a Pillsbury sponsored baking demonstration using, what else?, Pillsbury dough. As I write this, CBS is showing an extended ad for a website from which you can buy overstock items.

Where the hell is the parade?!

article-2514994-19b317ae00000578-482_964x537

NBC’s idea of parade coverage.

I will say CBS does show something of the parade. NBC just plants their cameras outside of Macy’s showing pretty much nothing but production numbers. So, if musicals and production numbers are your thing, watch NBC not show the parade.

Ugh, what’s a curmudgeon to do?

Well, let me relate my favorite memory of the parade. Remembering what I said about memory not being video tape, I’m still certain I have this right.

1050x591

The parade continues the tradition of ending with Santa Claus arriving at Macy’s, but waaaay back in the day Santa used to climb down from his sleigh/float and walk into the legendary department store. It was such an exciting capper to the parade.

One year, as the parade came to an end, Santa made his way into Macy’s while his pants made their way to his ankles. Whoops! Talk about wardrobe malfunction! I remember my dad and I sharing a special father/son bonding moment over Santa’s embarrassment.

The next year saw the new tradition of Ol’ Saint Nick just staying in his sleigh as the credits rolled.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Tagged , , ,

Yeah? Well, I like it!

maxresdefault

And so do a lot of horror movie fans, despite critics’ less than enthusiastic reviews at the time.

I’m talking about the 1982 sci-fi/horror classic John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was about 16 or 17 when I first saw it, so that might color how I feel about it, teenagers not necessarily being the most sophisticated of film connoisseurs. After all I thought Porky’s was hilarious when I saw it at roughly the same age. I haven’t watched Porky’s in a very long time, but I watched The Thing again just two nights ago.

And, for me, it still holds up.

It’s a terrific, if very intense and gruesome, popcorn movie!

Film critic Roger Ebert was bothered by the lack of character development and lack of intelligence of those characters. He wondered: If the creature prefers to attack individuals out of sight of the others, why did the fellows keep going off on their own? That is a good point, but I didn’t let that bother me. Good popcorn movies get a pass on such deficiencies. And, in recent years, the attitude toward this movie by critics has been changing. More and more it’s being lauded as one of the 80s’ best sci-fi/horror films.

The story involves a group of American men (no women!) stationed in Antarctica to do science or whatever they do down there, whose day is interrupted by a dog being chased by a couple of crazed Norwegians in a helicopter. The Norwegians, along with being crazed, are pretty bad with their weapons as they attempt to kill the dog. One couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his high-powered rifle and the other manages to blow himself and the helicopter up with a mishandled hand grenade.

Come to think of it. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need high-powered rifles and hand grenades? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

So, the dog is taken in and it is quickly discovered that it ain’t no ordinary dog. We learn that it is a parasitic creature from another world that creates exact duplicates of other living creatures. It duplicates members of the American team so well, right down to being able to talk and act just like the original, that it’s impossible to tell the difference until it’s too late. Well, Kurt Russell’s character, McCready, the hard-drinking, cynical, world-weary, helicopter pilot does devise a way to tell the difference. I won’t say anymore than that.

f9c0b8_931255d2bec94abeae1808bc50c960acmv2

McReady conducting tests.

Ebert mentioned that Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) handled the same basic story (a group of people in an isolated area with a powerful creature hunting them) much better. I agree. The suspense of Alien is more intense than the suspense generated in The Thing, still there is plenty of suspense as no one knows who can be trusted to not be the alien.

Let me praise the special effects of The Thing for a moment. They were excellent 35 years ago and they still look pretty damn good today. (There is a moment where the alien is clearly stop-motion animation, but it’s a fleeting glimpse.) The effects are all practical. There are no computer generated  effects in the film. In fact, in the film (set in the year it was released) we get to see that time period’s level of computer graphics sophistication in a scene with McReady playing chess on a computer. How far we have come in 35 years!

There is one particularly spectacular creature transformation scene. It is completely unexpected. It’s shocking, gruesome, frightening, and hilarious all at the same time. The alien might not be bothered by the intense cold or bullets, but it does burn, so the men use flame throwers to destroy the monster, which still manages to be able to escape. Well, part of it does, as we see in that exciting sequence. And the reaction shot as the men see the alien’s method of escape is terrific. It’s has to be one of the greatest “you gotta be kidding me” moments in cinematic history.

thingpalmer_400

Hang on. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need flame throwers? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

The ending is bleak. (Sorry if this is a little bit of a spoiler for you, but the movie is 35 years old.) The survivors realize that there is no chance of any of them getting out alive. And they certainly can’t let that creature anywhere near civilization, so they have to flush it out and destroy it once and for all. McReady determines they need to make the area as hot as possible in order to keep the alien from just allowing itself to freeze again and wait for the unsuspecting rescue team to arrive.

They gather up all the dynamite they can carry and blow up the compound.

The survivors, exhausted and not sure if the alien is still among them, decide to wait and see what happens…

Ummm. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need dynamite? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Tagged , , , , ,