Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A book and a movie and a bunch more movies

Last week I spent a chunk of my commuting time reading a book entitled “Fire and Rain” (exhaustively subtitled “The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970” and please note that about one-fifth of that is severely abbreviated) which was an enjoyable but not really life-changing slice of American pop culture history. The premise was moderately interesting, hinging as it did on the fact that the break-ups of the Beatles, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and Simon and Garfunkel all happened within the same year. Sweet Baby James shot up the charts that year too, which is how James Taylor gets in the mix, a star on the rise at the same time all these legends were blowing apart. On the one hand that’s kind of a weak connection, but then again the three break-ups aren’t really connected, either. It’s not as if there’s a meaningful throughline, something in the political or cultural essence of 1970 that caused those acts to break up; they all just did, coincidentally within a short span of months. So ultimately what we have is an author for whom 1970 was a personally significant and noteworthy year, who remembered getting into James Taylor and saying goodbye to some big names of the 60’s, and who wanted to write a semi-scholarly book about that year so that he could both research and relive it. Thing is, I’m totally fine with listening to people talk about things they’re extremely passionate about, even if I’m not so passionate about those same things and even if the other person’s passion causes them to overreach in terms of placing judgments of importance. I just find other people’s excitement endearing and entertaining. So reading the book was far from a total loss.

One side effect of reading “Fire and Rain” was that I realized that while I take for granted that I know basically everything there is to know about the Beatles or CSNY or whathaveyou, it’s all fairly superficial stuff. My dad was a huge Beatles fan and big into CSNY (and Buffalo Springfield and other various predecessors and spin-offs) and Simon and Garfunkel, and played the classic rock radio station all the time when I was growing up, so I knew who he was talking about. But of course the classic rock station would play the one or two biggest hits of those bands, whereas author David Browne goes into each and every deep cut on albums like Déjà Vu and Bridge Over Troubled Water and it’s all new to me. Which of course makes me want to go back and actually listen to those albums instead of just the singles – yet another project for when I have a lot more time.

Chicken's not vegan?
When I finished “Fire and Rain” I turned back to the eternal make-use-of-Netflix cause and watched a recent movie I hadn’t caught yet: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s based on a series of indie graphic novels and it got mixed reviews from both comic book nerds and the general film-appreciating community. I was amused by it, in my typical fashion (meaning I could see a lot of the flaws that might bother other people but I either didn’t mind them or actively liked them for what they were) but perhaps the greatest part came in the first few minutes, when protagonist Scott introduces his high school girlfriend to the other members of his band Sex Bob-omb. The lead singer is named Stephen Stills. There is also a kid named Neil who hangs around as a roadie and emotional support, but while the rest of the members of the band are in their mid-20’s, Neil is just barely 20 himself, and so his nickname is “Young Neil”. I’m fairly sure I might have completely missed the Stephen Stills/Neil Young joke if I had not just finished a book chronicling some of CSNY’s misadventures the day before. But of course once I chuckle at a sly throwaway joke like that, a movie has pretty much gotten on my good side for most if not all of its running time.

Speaking of movies, though … as one of my pop culture resolutions for 2012, I’ve made the momentous decision to join a blogging club: the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Blog Club, to be precise.

What this means is that every couple of weeks I will watch a movie which has been included in at least one edition of the namesake book, and a bunch of other bloggers will be watching the same movie (many of them will be doing a different movie every single week, but I’ll be pacing myself), and then I’ll post a review of the movie, as will everyone else, all linked from a portal site for the club. I’ll try to remember to link back to the club so that you can see what other people have to say (if you’re so inclined). The 1001 Movies book includes a pretty broad range of films – American and foreign, from 1902 to the present – so I look at it as a good way to broaden my horizons beyond my usual fare. Since this is a typically geeky thing to do, the reviews will likely go up every other Wednesday, starting next week with Gangs of New York – mark your calendars accordingly!

(I know, I know, Gangs of New York is pretty mainstream and pretty recent, but trust me, the next one after that will be a Czechoslovakian headtrip from the 60’s. Good times.)


  1. I too recently got around to seeing "Scott Pilgrim." Rambling follows, because I haven't been able to talk about it with anyone.

    Parts of it worked brilliantly, and parts were...feh. Okay, one part. Scott. First, Michael Cera was a horrible miscast. For the movie to work even on its own terms, Scott has to be the sort of kid who was strangely attractive to the ladies. Cera's chinless pigeon look? Just couldn't buy it. Ramona gets wit Scott basically on a whim? She's so far out of his league that if his league exploded, her league wouldn't hear the noise for three days. As were all the girls in his life. I couldn't buy it. Which pulled me out of the story. Which sucks.

    Second, Scott's a selfish dick for far too long and his turnaround is both very quick and very late. I like that he was a clueless cad, a selfish dick who had no idea he was a selfish dick -- that's a brilliant angle -- but it was so obvious to everyone else that the longer it took him to figure it out, the worse he came across and the less I wanted him to win.

    That said, a ton of it worked great. The quick silly cuts (especially the recurring gag of Scott's hair and the mysterious earlapped hat that appeared when anybody mentioned it) the life of bad amateur bands, The final fight scene was pure awesome. The line "I'm a little bi-furious" was a keeper.

    Plus, there's the added bonus that Scott Pilgrim beats the crap out of both Chris Evans and Brandon Routh -- Captain America and Superman, respectively. Nice goin', Scott.

  2. Also: check out The White Album. One of the few works of art that really is as good as people say it is. Holy crap, yo.