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Category Archives: Holier than Thou – Lists and Reviews

Sports Fandom Lessons from My Mother

Sports Fandom Lessons from My Mother

Football season is now here, and you know what that means: It’s time for those of us in real civilization to unleash our inner beasts! We’ll get drunk at the oddest hours of the day, get in drunken fights for no reason, and refer to specific teams in the first person as if we have anything to do with their success on the gridiron. At least it certainly seems that way. The truth is, there are good and bad ways to be a decent fan, and the people who get highlighted in news reports just happen to be on the animalistic side of things.

Football was one of those personal hand-me-downs from my mother to me. She was the true football fan in the family, and the one who taught me how to be a good fan. Here are some of the things I learned about being a good sports fan that came from her.

1 – Your love for a team should spring from a love for the sport itself. Sports are ultimately entertainment, so your civic pride doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re forcing yourself through a sport you think is a screaming bore.

2 – Yes, it’s perfectly okay to be loyal to more than one team. In fact, it’s the far more sane option if one of your teams is going through a rough patch. It doesn’t matter which team it is, either; mom was loyal to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets for her whole life, as a Long Island native who settled in Buffalo. Just make sure you abide by that key word: Loyalty. No stopping your fandom for one just because they’re bad, and no adding the team of the moment just because they’re good.

3 – It’s okay to skip a game if you don’t think it’s going to be much of a contest. In fact, this is another great way to keep ahold of your head during a rough patch. At the very least, you can find another game to watch which will hopefully be better.

4 – Along those same lines, it’s okay to flip off your own team’s game and do something else altogether if the contest gets out of control. If the game is boring, or over after ten minutes, or both, what’s the point in trying to sweat it out and endure? My mother admitted to having a soft spot for the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago because, “They’re the one team I’ve never seen give up in a game.”

5 – Even if you hate a team with every fiber of your being, if they’re truly good, show them a little respect. This goes back to the previous rule about loving the sport more than the team. Really, it’s what fans will sometimes say about hating players, but loving them if they’re on their team.

6 – Watch the game with a sense of objectivity. Really, there’s little in sports fandom than having the mindset that the league is against your team. A lot of blown calls by the “refs against your team” are in reality the result of your team blowing a play. Much we all hate to admit it, football fans all know The Forward Lateral was simply a lateral and that it was the result of piss-poor kickoff coverage. I’m MUCH harder on the No Goal fiasco of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, but even I’ll admit that Brett Hull makes a few points in its defense.

7 – Tempting as it may sometimes be, don’t hold grudges for bad things other teams did to yours ten years ago. That’s just immature. (Mom never quite got over the Wide Right game, but she never held it against the Giants, either.)

8 – Perplexing as it may be, other people might not necessarily be fans of the same team that you are. Although I myself am of the idea that opposing fans should not be allowed to get too settled in at your team’s stadium, that doesn’t mean they should ever be personally assaulted. As a corollary, they should be treated like guests again once the game is over.

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The Best of Chicago in Ten Years

The Best of Chicago in Ten Years

Seattle Weekly ran its Best of 2017 issue today. On the introductory page, they ran a piece predicting the future. What would the Best of Seattle be in 2027? I liked that idea and knew I had to rip it off. Here is the Best of Chicago in 2027.

Best News Story

Be honest: When Chicago’s street gangs, underground activist groups, and police colluded in 2024 because they were sick of getting abused by National Guard soldiers here by Donald Trump’s martial law edict, we thought it would be a tenuous alliance at best. They would barely get along, do just enough to fight back, and return to their prescribed places after everything was over, win or lose. But that didn’t happen! Everyone got along swimmingly, and the tide of the war turned as the Red Star Alliance smashed the Guard’s front lines on every street from Madison to 95th. They chased the Guard out for good with a quick and decisive victory against the Bronzeville Bulge, coming within a hair of killing Trump himself when he showed up to lead his henchmen in Bronzeville… And failing only because Trump boarded the first helicopter out when he realized that hey, war is dangerous.

After that, the Alliance stayed together. The violence and murder rate dropped instantly, and notoriously dangerous Chicago was suddenly one of America’s safest cities almost overnight. The Alliance’s quest to rebuild Chicago’s ruined neighborhoods has resulted in an influx of adult education centers, after school programs, and job services for anyone in need. But nothing they’ve done so far is on the level of what they’ve created this last year: A set of independent banks and credit unions which found a way to offer loans out to wannabe homeowners and wannabe business owners without any interest. Between that and the residents of the South Side now getting in touch with their creative dreams, the ruins of the Martial War are sparking back to life faster than anyone could have imagined.

Best Real Estate Story

Willis had to know that its attempt to buy out the name of the Sears Tower wasn’t going to go over very well. But the latest sale of the iconic building has finally placed it in the hands of an owner who has decided to restore the tower’s rightful name. The Sears Tower has finally returned to us, and the city has taken the extra step of declaring the name of the building – not the building itself, but its NAME – a historic landmark so this kind of thing never happens again. The city has also decided to punish Willis by attaching its title to the now-former Trump Tower, a move meant to be just as permanent so Willis has to keep its name on a building of shame.

Best Sports Story

In a year of great sports stories – Jonathan Toews retiring a champion after defeating old linemate Patrick Kane and the defending champion Buffalo Sabres in the Final, the Cubs winning their fourth Fall Classic since 2016 over the Seattle Mariners with a 109-win, all-time squad – the best sports story may be the most unusual sports story. When the Bears announced their move to San Diego two years ago, every NFL pundit imagined Chicago would be up in even more arms than the ones the Martial War was being fought with. But the people hardly raised a peep at all. A year went by with no football, then the McCaskeys announced they would bring Bear football back to Chicago!… Only, in an odd twist, “Bear football” meant an entire team of cardboard cutouts of the 1985 Bears. The cutouts stand out on Soldier Field every Sunday and do nothing. Despite that, though, the McCaskeys have made the Bears a financial success, charging $500 a ticket, and Soldier Field sells out every Sunday as the cutouts do nothing and the scoreboard slowly runs the score up to 46-10 over the course of a few hours.

This is more than a fanbase trying to compensate for a lost team. This is one of the most dedicated fanbases in the world apparently not even realizing the team is gone. The cardboard team is more than enough to placate them. A staffer went to one of these football “games” and tried to interview fans. When they pointed out that the team was literally made of cardboard, fans looked downright confused. When they said these Bears aren’t even playing football, the fans simply said that it was BEAR FOOTBALL, REAL FOOTBALL, not the pansy passing game they play today. It’s almost as if the fans don’t even know what football is.

Best L Line

The Circulator would be awesome if the city managed to get around to actually building it. At least there aren’t any construction delays, so that’s a plus.

Best Political Story

Rahm Emanuel is out of office. But what makes this story unique is that the people of Chicago VOTED him out! No other city has even done corrupt politics the way Chicago has done corrupt politics, and Chicago frequently responds to corrupt politics by opting for the evil they know over the evil they don’t know. Now, just to set the record straight, no one thinks the Buck O’Hare Scandal is why people got fed up with Emanuel. His crime was trying to get away with replacing the sweet relish on a Chicago dog with KETCHUP.

Best Art Exhibit

The Real Capone, which got the city to take a hard look at the reality of one of its mythologized heroes. Chicago sells so many little knickknacks with Capone’s face on it, you would think he was some great champion of the people, but Capone was a nasty character. This art exhibit showed the side of him that all the cheap souvenir shops don’t show you: The victims and their families, all in graphic detail. Several souvenir shops around the city have announced that they will cease selling Capone’s merchandise.

Best Architecture Story

Remember how the Sears Tower lost its title of the tallest building in the United States to Freedom Tower years ago on a silly antennae technicality? Well, as it turns out, Chicago was right to lose its mind over it. Several members of that committee were found to have taken bribes from the New York City Government to vote in Freedom Tower’s direction. The committee ended up being rather blatant about this; when a new bank tower in Tallahassee, Florida, which was clearly shorter than both ended up becoming the tallest building in the United States, we knew something was a little fishy. They all lost their chairs and the rightful place of the Sears Tower was restored.

Best Theater Story

The restoration of Englewood from its wholesale destruction during the Martial War has people across the country wondering if Englewood is going to turn into a new Harlem. The notoriously violent pre-War neighborhood has gotten a makeover and a hell of a reputation to go with it. The Halsted stretch of Englewood has given rise to a series of alternative theaters which run every kind of theater known to man. There’s an emphasis on African-American work, of course, with such iconic plays like A Raisin in the Sun and A Soldier’s Play, theater based on the books of Richard Wright and the life of Malcolm X, and poetry interpretations. Much is the district is painted up and down with colorful murals which would have been illegal before the War. The new Englewood Theater District has attracted so much attention that notable African-American playwrights such as Adrienne Kennedy and Ntozake Shange have recently announced their decisions to debut new, never-before-seen works there.

Best Pizza

Giordano’s. Eight years running.

Best Hot Dogs

Franks ‘N’ Dawgs. Nine years running.

Best Newspaper

The Chicago Tribune. They own this newspaper, after all.

Best Street

Milwaukee Avenue. The Milwaukee Strip between Ashland and California remains the city’s best-kept secret if you’re looking for unique, out-of-the-way swag.

Best Ice Cream

Margie’s. It’s probably just time to retire them from contention by now.

Best Donuts

Glazed and Infused. Not only excellent donuts, but they deserve credit for the low-key role they played in the Martial War. Alliance spies used to drop off phony donut deliveries from Glazed and Infused under the guise of gifts from those supportive of Donald Trump and the martial occupation. Guard troops loved the things so much and ate so many that they ended up slowing down and being easy pickings for the Alliance.

Best Cafe

Ipsento. Not so much for the coffee as for their version of London Fog.

Best Bar

The California Clipper, which also doubles as an excellent and popular music venue.

Perhaps the Worst Movie: The Room

Perhaps the Worst Movie: The Room

“I do not know just how to write about or describe this thing. I have never in my life seen such a horrific mishmash of elements which are very bad in and of themselves, very badly executed, very badly mixed up with each other, completely out of left field, nonsensical as hell, and ramped up to about 13 on the manic madcap scale to top all the rest of it off.”

I wrote that back in 2011, a couple of years after Netjak’s demise and before my short stint at Filmdumpster; back when I was still a critic who had some sort of clout. It was about Howard the Duck, the famous bomb that signified the start of George Lucas’s downward trajectory. Now, here I am in 2017, trying to finish off a degree and back to square one as a writer, and it once again applies to a movie I just saw: The Room. The Room doesn’t have the balls-to-the-wall mania Howard the Duck did, but Howard the Duck was about a sentient duck from a different dimension, so that’s not a trick you would want to see repeated.

There are movies about which the stories of all the chaos on the set are legendary: Steven Spielberg couldn’t get the robot shark to work for Jaws; George Lucas couldn’t get anything on the set of Star Wars to go right except the score… Those movies overcame the long odds to become beloved eternal classics anyway. Well, The Room didn’t overcome all the long odds. It was looking like a clunker at every stage in the process, and it’s a clunker. It became such a clunker that one of the stars of the movie, Greg Sestero, wrote a book about the making of the movie. (The book, for those wondering, is called The Disaster Artist, and it quickly became my favorite book about the movie industry ever.) Tommy Wiseau, the man who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in The Room, had a private toilet made up for him on the set; two film crews quit on him; Sestero had to serve in a variety of other positions…

The mootness of The Room is something to behold. Wiseau has earned comparisons to Ed Wood, but you get the feeling watching Wood’s movies that he was trying to make a tangible point. There are so many plot points in The Room that are ultimately of so little consequence that you would think Wiseau was a nihilist. The Room comes with a collective total of about 20 minutes of sex scenes in an hour-and-a-half running time. There are also a lot of scenes of the characters throwing around a football, at least three scenes of characters making “cheep” noises at each other after calling each other chicken, and two characters – one named Peter and one unnamed – who seem to pop up out of nowhere. And this is coming from a movie with an excess of unresolved plot threads: One character DEFINITELY (emphasis hers) has breast cancer. Another character owes money to a drug dealer. Two more randomly break into the main character’s apartment for quickies. All three of those threads are precisely one scene long.

In The Disaster Artist, Sestero confessed that at some point, most of the actors just stopped trying. Sestero, who invented a backstory for his character in an attempt to be able to play the random aspects of him, was convinced that The Room would never make it to the theaters. This is reflected in the performances of most of the other actors too, save Carolyn Minnott and Robyn Paris. (Paris plays her role as Michelle in a way that looks like she’s really enjoying herself. According to Sestero, she was possibly the most-liked person on the set.)

The thin strand of plot that exists in The Room revolves around Creep One, Queen of Evil, and Plain-O. Okay, their names are respectively Johnny, Lisa, and Mark. But Johnny has a creepy side, Lisa is evil, and Mark is so plain that the script projects features onto him almost at will. Johnny and Lisa are engaged. Lisa is bored and decides she doesn’t love Johnny anymore. Lisa starts having an affair with Mark. That sums up the movie. Yes, there are a lot of scenes in this movie that try to trick you into thinking it has depth, but since they’re the aforementioned no-go plot threads, you’re not going to buy it. Let’s call them what they are: Padding. The Room is padded because nothing about the main plot makes any sense.

Let’s meet Johnny. Johnny is the main character, and he’s a pretty great guy. We know he’s a great guy because everyone else in the movie is a walking billboard about how great he is. In fairness to everyone, though, they have reason to think he’s great: He treats Lisa like a princess. He has a great job with a future, he supports a sort of adopted little brother by the name of Creep Two (okay, his name is Denny, but holy SHIT is he creepy), bought Lisa a car, and is pretty much a saint. Lisa has decided she’s bored with him, even though she’s known him for five years. But since she has all the emotional maturity of a cheeto, instead of simply speaking up to Johnny, she talks to Mark, who is Johnny’s best friend. Lisa starts seducing Mark on a regular basis, and although Mark is initially reluctant, he decides at one point that he’s suddenly not. The affair gets revealed at a big birthday bash for Tommy, and Tommy, despite everything else that’s been going right with his life, decides that all the walking testaments to his greatness have turned against him. Since his emotional maturity isn’t much better than Lisa’s, he swallows a gun.

There are lies aplenty told by Lisa for… Well, attention, I guess? I don’t even know. I do know that Lisa tells some whoppers, like getting hit by Johnny to being pregnant, and she’s at it through everything. Out of pure boredom, apparently. Like Mark, she seems to be written with convenience to the writer rather than a full character in mind. Unlike Mark, though, she does come with a defining characteristic: She’s the Queen of the Harpies. Her mother, Claudette, also gets a lot of crap for being manipulative, but I didn’t get that out of her; I got that she’s probably the biggest Johnny cheerleader in the movie. She’s the one advising Lisa to stay with him because he’s just such an awesome dude. So here’s what we come down to: One character betrays Johnny, another kinda, sorta, mighta, but it’s difficult to tell whether or not he’s betraying Johnny. When Johnny has the grand “realization” that everyone is against him, really he’s just pissy about getting dumped. Denny still loves him. Claudette still loves him. Peter still loves him. Michelle still loves him. Mark has a last epiphany and decides he still loves him. The weird person who only came into the movie in the last 15 minutes and gave a great lecture on how much Mark and Lisa’s shenanigans would hurt him still loves him. And yes, that’s a thing that happens.

I’m convinced that all the go-nowhere threads were brought into the movie in an attempt to give it more depth, and that the reason they don’t go anywhere is partly because there are way too many of them, and partly because Wiseau didn’t have any idea what he was doing. Sestero wrote in The Disaster Artist about Wiseau’s attraction to Marlon Brando and James Dean, who are the vintage Method actors responsible for changing the way movie acting is done. Sestero believed that Brando and Dean were magnetic figures because they had an instinct for knowing when to go big and when to hold off. Wiseau seems to have missed that aspect of their performances. Sestero’s take is that Wiseau believed the best approach was to go big at every possible moment, and it’s hard to argue. (In Wiseau’s defense, that was the approach that worked for Charlton Heston.) Everything Wiseau does in The Room, he does with maximum intensity and enthusiasm, and this is one case where cooler heads didn’t prevail. So Wiseau created The Room trying to do his personal interpretation of what a movie should do, and not what a movie really does.

That means The Room is something that creates a lot of memorable scenes, even though they fail repeatedly as scenes. There’s a scene where Johnny visits a flower shop. That’s 20 seconds long, but it’s one of the defining scenes of the movie because the script seems to be written backwards. Yes, Denny owes money to a drug dealer named Chris-R, but that never goes anywhere. Yes, Claudette has breast cancer, but that’s hand-waved.

The Room is either awesomely bad or badly awesome. When it became an unexpected classic of midnight cinema, Wiseau got his ultimate wish – to make a classic movie that people would see and love and talk about – in the most perverse way possible. Everyone in this movie has seemingly been able to eke out a living based on it. Wiseau and Sestero have been making the rounds from it forever. Robyn Paris is working on a web mockumentary about what happened to the cast (which I can’t wait to see). People recognize everyone who was in the movie, and they’ve all spent time appearing at fan conventions and film screenings. No, The Room isn’t a work of bad movie genius – you’re thinking of Sharknado. The difference between Sharknado and The Room is that the people making Sharknado KNEW everything about their series was hackey. The Room is a bad movie made as a misguided attempt to be a good movie, and it’s the over-the-top sincerity of it combined with its master and commander’s lack of talent that sends it over the top. If you have any love for bad movies at all, you need to see this thing. It’s required viewing.

A Short List of New Classic Songs that Really Suck

A Short List of New Classic Songs that Really Suck

I guess it’s important to pick and choose the works of art our society decides to preserve because they set the bar that all future art is measured against. Well, sometimes society blows that call, and the bar ends up being set rather low.

This happens in every medium, but music is arguably the most egregious offender. Music has a sort of ubiquity that other popular mediums don’t, because it can be played and filtered into anything and everything. While you can simply flip off a bad bit of episodic television that pisses you off and avoid movies that you hated, when that shitty song wafts into your local coffee shop, you have to grit your teeth and stick it out. Usually, it’s not that big of a problem; songs are typically only a few minutes long. But then you have the super-epic classics like Don McLean, whose fucking “American Pie” is a highly regarded epic about loss of innocence on The Day the Music Died. Maybe I could put up with McLean’s warbling yern of nostalgic melodrama for a never-actually-existent time if it ran regular length, but there are over eight fucking minutes of McLean’s shit.

The following list isn’t a typical anti-classic list. This is a list of classics from my generation that blew up and are still in heavy radio rotation. I’m not sure myself if all of them will be declared classics, but the point is that people like them, so there’s a very real chance they will be one day. And my point with this list is to point out that none of them are worthy of being classics. If you claim to like them, you’re only lying to yourself. I know they suck, you know they suck, and I’m only writing out the things about them that you’re too afraid to point out: Namely, that they fucking suck and that all of them, plus their demos, remixes, and negatives should be on top of a garbage fire and not on FM radio. (PS: “From my generation” in this case means songs that I’m old enough to remember when they were new.)

“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”

Green Day

Here is one of the prime examples of how the misuse of bad string power chords can totally destroy a song. “Good Riddance” starts out strong – it’s a more stripped-down sound than you expect to hear from Green Day. It has no bass or drums, and Billy Joe Armstrong sits, plucking away at an acoustic guitar, singing a song which is both written and performed well. Upon a listening, it sounds like it’s destined to go on to eternal life as one of Green Day’s greatest and quirkiest… Then those fucking strings chime in. Those chords are minors in a typical progression, and they add nothing to the song. What they do instead is wreck a pointed reflection of a relationship gone sour by turning it into a standard 90’s-era weeper. A unique pop-punk song ends up turning into a piece of personified melodrama, but you do have to admire what Armstrong accomplished with it: He created a terrible 90’s weeper through bad under-composition rather than bad over-composition. That’s a hell of a trick, especially coming out of a decade where the prevailing attitude was “fuck subtlety TO THE XTREME!!!”

What’s Getting Shafted

Okay, I get it. The entire Nimrod album was a stylistic change for Green Day that everyone forgot about. But is that any excuse to forget the fun, stray cat stutter of “Hitchin’ a Ride?”  

 

“Iris”

Goo Goo Dolls

Here we have one of the big hits of 1998, a massive stomper of a single which is now the only thing anyone remembers about the time Nicolas Cage was a legitimate headliner. “Iris” was from a movie he made called City of Angels from those days. It  involves some weird time signature changes – the Dolls switch from 4/4 to 6/8 and back again on a few measures, and frontman John Rzeznik keeps most of his guitar strings tuned to D, which lends the instrument a chorus-like effect. Unfortunately for listeners everywhere, that chorus-like effect is what makes the song so overwrought and dripping in tearful sentiment that when listeners cry, their snot has the density of pancakes. What with Rzeznik’s wailing guitar, tantrum-like singing, and slow cadence, it’s tough to get the idea that the narrator of the song is HAPPY. It’s sad that it’s “Iris,” of all things, that finally got Rzeznik out of a dire case of writer’s block.

What’s Getting Shafted

A Boy Named Goo is where the band broke out, so it’s easy to forget how old they are. Before “Iris,” the Goos had a pair of hits off that album, “Name” and “Naked,” which sort of began their shift from an ordinary punk band to the mature adult themes that dominate their work today. Both songs are excellent works about lost time and aging and they both deserve as much airplay as “Iris.” But the bigger loss is their album previous to A Boy Named Goo, Superstar Car Wash, which brings out their maturity and combines that with a pop-rock catchiness. Superstar Car Wash was poised to be the breakout that A Boy Named Goo was, and there’s not a weak track on it. I want the singles from it to be heard.

 

“The Reason”

Hoobastank

Maybe you’re sensing a theme here – I can’t fucking stand overwrought love ballads. And this is not just an overwrought love ballad, it’s one with such a juvenile sense of what makes an effective love song that you would think a teenager wrote it. The lyrics include every staple of bad teenage love poetry ever written. Not being a perfect person? In there. Reason to change who the narrator used to be? The reason being the significant other? Yeah, stop me if you’ve never heard any of that before. Show a side the other person didn’t know, yada yada yada… There’s even a long shout at the end of the song, just when it starts to hit its peak. The production and instrumentation are both syrupy builders with a lot of flat, monotone power measures that of course go big during the choruses. Does that sound like every bad love song you’ve ever heard? Well, it should – that’s because “The Reason” is so trite and cliched in lyricism, instrumentals, and production that if the band playing it wasn’t so solemn and weighty, you would think they were Yankovic-ing a style parody.

What’s Getting Shafted

Literally anything at all that isn’t this fucking song.

 

“How You Remind Me”

Nickelback

Yeah yeah, we all know about how much Nickelback sucks, so you would figure it would be left off a list like this. It really goes without saying. If sales figures and acclaim are to be believed, though, “How You Remind Me” is apparently one of the best songs that came out in the later post-grunge years. Billboard and Kerrang! Both put it in top ten lists for its decade, and it’s the song responsible for giving Nickelback a career. So what sucks about it? Well, the trouble is that it grew to a point that it symbolizes what grunge turned into during the mid-90’s: The stripped-down elements which defined grunge are given a brand new polish and cleaned up. More than perhaps any other song of the era, “How You Remind Me” plays right into the expectations of grunge music better than any other band. One of the things that made grunge great was that the musicians kept playing flawed music, and so the message we get from Nickelback is that they don’t mean what they’re writing. They come off like the high school jock bad guys in an 80’s teen movie trying to be a grunge band.

What’s Getting Shafted

The Foo Fighters, for one thing. Nirvana’s former drummer is their frontman, and their music can easily be described as grunge without the anguish. The wave of post-grunge bands was led by Bush, who are also getting a raw deal from Nickelback’s continued popularity. I’m not sure they were any more authentic than Nickelback, but at least they tried to sound that way.

 

“Just Dance”

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer that I truly respect and love. When she first entered public consciousness in 2008, though, I wrote her off because “Just Dance” was her first single. Maybe this is because I don’t like or understand dance music, but the clipped marching beats, R and B-infused beats, and soaring electronics that comprise this song don’t make it sound like any major production breakthrough. In fact, it holds a resemblance to any dance club song where the deejay took a popular song from any other genre, scrubbed off the production and instrumentals, and ramped up the drum machine. Furthermore, Gaga’s interpretation of the song doesn’t help matters. Ostensibly a song about being drunk in a dance club, Gaga herself has said that “Just Dance” is there to speak for the joy in our hearts and about having a good time. Which makes it a dance version of “Don’t Worry, be Happy.”

What’s Getting Shafted

Well, we don’t hear a whole lot of the divine Lady G’s later singles on the radio right now. And some of her early singles are getting left on the curb as well. It would be nice to get an occasional “Telephone” call, you know?

 

“All the Small Things”

Blink-182

There’s only one reason people like this song, and it has nothing to do with the song. It has more to do with a clever video which jabbed and mocked every music video being made by the boy bands which took over the mainstream in the late 90’s. “All the Small Things” was recorded strictly for the point of giving the record company something basic, and in that, it succeeds; the chords run a normal progression through C, F, and G, all of which are overdubbed by extensions. Unfortunately, they all lend the song a tiny rhythm, accompanied by vocals which are just as tiny, and taken for what it is, it goes by in a sequence that feels longer than it lasts and doesn’t have any punch. The instrumentals and vocals sound like they’re fighting with each other and they take turns drowning each other out.

What’s Getting Shafted

Enema of the State wasn’t a good album, and I’ve never been a Blink-182 fan, but they did produce a gem: “What’s My Age Again.” Yes, it’s “All the Small Things” with a different chord progression, but it’s clever, has more prominent vocals, and the band doesn’t sound like it’s fighting with itself.

 

“I Will Always Love You”

Whitney Houston

This was the dawn of that weird era in the 90’s where every high-octane action movie on the planet had a powerful love theme to accompany it. And those love themes had one thing in common: They would progress and build to a sudden time signature change which the singer would then use to change octaves and blow your head inside out. “I Will Always Love You,” which came from The Bodyguard, is the point where that trend began. This isn’t so much a song as it is a tool for Whitney Houston to show off her voice. It begins with her singing in a soft a capella, and sounding pretty damn good. It might be worth listening to if it had stayed with that, but it builds into a vehicle that Houston uses to switch octaves numerous times and extend her notes. Houston wasn’t the only singer guilty of this back then – if anything, she managed to repeatedly restrict herself in many of her other songs while Mariah Carey and Celine Dion built brands on doing it. But Houston turned this kind of song from a novelty into a blight against good music, and “I Will Always Love You” was the trendsetting song as well as the most overplayed of the ones that did that. (Although Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” is a heavyweight contender in that department.)

What’s Getting Shafted

Women singers everywhere. There are a lot of versatile and talented singers who are women, but it’s rare enough that one breaks into the mainstream as it is. Now it’s even harder because this sort of cranial explosion is not just expected, but required for women. There’s some hope for the future with the success of pop stars like Taylor Swift, Tove Lo, and Carly Rae Jepson, who are all more restrained singers and who all contribute their own writing to their discographies. But if you’re looking for attention from casual music “fans” in suburbia, you still need to blow up a glass factory or three.

 

“All Summer Long”

Kid Rock

Leave it to the only rapper-rocker who was any good to pull a full Puff Daddy. Now, I’m not a fan of Kid Rock, but I do have a tremendous respect for him for two reasons: One, even with his native Detroit fighting for its life, he chooses to live there and try to return it to its former glory; and two, once the rap-rock trend was finished, he changed his entire style and emerged as a country artist with a set of pipes that’s legitimately good. That being said, “All Summer Long” ends up stealing from Warren Zevon, whose “Werewolves of London” is the musical base for “All Summer Long,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” is so ingrained into the song that Kid Rock keeps shouting out to it. Why do we keep hearing it?

What’s Getting Shafted

Warren Zevon was one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived. I’m not keen on Lynyrd Skynyrd – if they weren’t out of my generational loop, “Free Bird” DEFINITELY would be on this list, and “Sweet Home Alabama” might have made it too – but they had their moments.

 

“I Gotta Feeling”

Black Eyed Peas

I don’t even have to get into the standard rant about how the presence of Fergie ruined this group. Before she came into the group, the Black Eyed Peas were one of the most exciting and innovative groups in rap. Fergie seemed to come with the addition of the autotuner, which in turn came with a willingness to sell out. “I Gotta Feeling” is the sound of the Peas saying fuck it, time to sell, Sell, SELL! Composed in G major, the bulk of the song is a throbbing dance beat with futuristic synthesizers and a tick-tock rhythm. The lyrics keep saying the Peas get the feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night, and for some reason, they spend a bulk of time saying Mazel Tov. This song is an exercise in how much hammering your skull can take.

What’s Getting Shafted

The early work of the Black Eyed Peas.

 

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)”

Beyonce

I swear, this idea that Beyonce is some groundbreaker is one idea I’ll probably never come to understand. “Single Ladies” is another heavyset dance song, in which the apparent queen of female empowerment sings about how a guy she was once committed to never bothered to marry her, so she left him. That’s at least part of a narrative, but it gets drowned out by robotic sounds and echo chorus. The true narrative of the song gets lost by the only part of “Single Ladies” that people remember, which is the part that says if they liked it, they should have put a ring on it, and the fact that Beyonce’s voice is overshadowed by more layers of her own voice. For something that’s supposed to have depth, that’s hardly the point the listeners should be taking away from the song.

What’s Getting Shafted

Beyonce’s voice, which is incredible when taken for what it is. Since production seems to be the bulk of what makes Beyonce who she is, a stripped-down bit of work could show music aficionados that she really is more than a voice and some studio wizardry. As it is, I’m not seeing her as much more than a former girl group star.

 

The Definitive Ranking of Every Star Wars Movie (Including The Clone Wars)

The Definitive Ranking of Every Star Wars Movie (Including The Clone Wars)

With the recent selling of Star Wars to Disney, we Star Wars fans know what we’re all about to get: Star Wars up the ass. A few weeks ago, the first movie is a series of canonical spinoffs, Rogue One, appeared. Last year we received The Force Awakens, the first in a line of direct sequels, and still before that, an animated series called Star Wars Rebels began a run on The Disney Channel.

Naturally, that gets one wondering what the best and worst Star Wars movies are, especially if they’re one of the few who have somehow managed to avoid exposure to Star Wars. Well, being a major league Star Wars nerd myself, I started asking myself that very question as well. If every Star Wars movie was to be ranked, what would be the best one? What would be the worst? How would everything look in between? So I sat down and thought, and this was the list that eventually popped up. Before getting to the list, here are a couple of things to remember: First, these are movies only. To qualify, they have to have made a run in theaters. That means anything shown only on television doesn’t count – not the original Clone Wars movie or the Holiday Special. Second, the pilot episode of The Clone Wars TV show DID visit the theaters, so it counts.

9: The Phantom Menace (Episode I)

Yeah. You already knew what this one was going to be, didn’t you? Even in a media universe as expansive as Star Wars which has so many differing opinions about what is and isn’t worth your time, hatred of The Phantom Menace is something that’s as universal as returning to The Force.

If you were a newcomer to the Star Wars universe watching this and then asking hardcore fans their opinions, a lot of them would be pretty Star Warian: The whole Midichlorian issue, the apparent virgin birth of Anakin Skywalker, the fact that Anakin was now the creator of C-3PO, and a few other things tend to rub fans the wrong way. But you would also notice that there are a few hallmarks of filmmaking which is just bad: Jar-Jar Binks might be the face of everything wrong with The Phantom Menace, but he’s not the only problem. A lot of character development is just off. We got nothing about Darth Maul – although he proves to be one of the most badass characters of the EU, he’s just a figurine-pusher in the movie that introduced him. Anakin himself – the boy who would become Darth Vader – isn’t evil enough to hit back a cheater in the pod race. The space shootout at the end seems composed of bridge shots, and it’s pretty disgusting that Anakin destroys the space station by accident.

I’m one of the few people who doesn’t completely decry The Phantom Menace. It does have a few redeeming values. I always thought Qui-Gon Jinn was one of Star Wars’s most underrated characters, the final action sequence is great, and even Episode I’s loudest detractors think highly of the pod race and lightsaber duel. But the movie does keep getting bogged down in things that it’s not. Ultimately, there are a number of problems that glare brighter than Darth Maul’s lightsaber. The first is that despite the Clone Wars and the friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin being noodle incidents, George Lucas focuses more on bringing the Star Wars universe full circle when he really should have been concentrating on telling the story of a friendship blossoming and going bad. The second is that with The Phantom Menace, Star Wars forgets its identity and tries to be a kids’ version of Star Trek. Jar-Jar is another figurine-pusher, no one wants to see a kid Anakin when they dreamed of being Han Solo while growing up, and The Phantom Menace gets bogged down in politics. Politics doesn’t work for Star Wars, which has always been a classic good against evil tale.

8: The Clone Wars

The Clone Wars were first mentioned in the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. They were a noodle incident: They were mentioned and implied to be something huge, but otherwise left to the imagination. We knew two things about the Clone Wars from there: First, there were clones. Second, they were wars. No need to be descriptive. Then the Prequel Trilogy came along, and for a set of movies that delves into the Star Wars backstory, we didn’t actually get to see a whole lot of them.

Since Star Wars has always been a classic tale about the battle between good and evil, it usually shows us its best when the two sides are duking it out in the traditional fashion. That’s what The Clone Wars is, and holy hell, what a spectacle. The Clone Wars is bare-boned, straight-laced action rushing at you in a form video game designers from the 16-bit Golden Era would have appreciated. A fan of a well-done action movie will love every waking moment of it, and there are plenty of blasters, lightsabers, duels, and all that other great jazz we know from action movies. Taken as that, The Clone Wars is pretty fucking awesome. It lets us view the spectacle of the legendary conflict right up front, starts giving out details of why Anakin Skywalker was the great pilot and warrior Obi-Wan first described in the original, and introduces us to Ahsoka Tano, one of the greatest characters in the Star Wars universe for my money.

The reason it ranks so low is because it barely feels like a Star Wars movie. Aside from the lightsabers, there are almost no hallmarks of Star Wars anywhere to be found, and so a movie nut who has never seen anything Star Wars (a stretch, I know, but bear with me) would never figure out just from watching The Clone Wars why it is that Star Wars stands out. Lest that be written off as the ranting of an outsider, there are a few things in The Clone Wars to piss off Star Wars fans too: The Jedi are working for the Hutts? How many Sith are there anyway, and where do they keep coming from? Padme was almost certainly shoehorned in, the twists are clearly in the movie to extend the running time, and I’m not sure many fans are all that interested in more of Jabba’s relatives. But this movie was the pilot to an animated TV series – yes, even though it was a feature film – and what it blossomed into was incredible. The TV series showed us the full potential of what The Prequel Trilogy should have been drawing out, the conflict and the friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin.

7: Return of the Jedi (Episode VI)

Few fandoms are weirder about their fandom than Star Wars. For everything Star Wars envelopes, there are still legions of fans who proclaim that true Star Wars consists solely of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and The Clone Wars TV series. Vaunted though The Original Trilogy may be, there’s a surprising mass of fans who hate – and some who even refuse to accept – Return of the Jedi. Yeah, it can be tough to take Star Wars fans seriously when they refuse to defend the entire trilogy that started everything.

It’s confusing, but Jedi was written to be the grand finale of what was back then expected to be the only Star Wars media that ever existed. George Lucas and director Richard Marquand wanted Jedi to be a testament to finality, and holy shit did they deliver. Episode VI is littered with some of the biggest and grandest sequences the whole series has to offer: The revelation about Luke and Leia’s relationship, the speeder bike chase on Endor, the death of Yoda, the Sarlacc Pit, Luke fighting the Rancor Monster, Darth Vader’s return to the light, Wedge and Lando navigating the tight innards of the Death Star in a race to its core, and a Rebel Alliance pilot guiding his terminally damaged starfighter in a kamikaze attack against the Executor. There’s plenty here that screams out for attention, but despite so many scenes that carry heft, there seem to be only two things scenes that people remember: Anakin coming to the rescue of Electroshock Luke and Leia’s official and permanent embossing as a teenage fantasy.

There’s good reason for that, too: Jedi’s structure was a clear rush job. The movie’s entirety goes like this: Jabba the Hutt’s palace, Dagobah, Rebel meeting, Battle of Endor. The Dagobah and Rebel meeting parts run a collective total of about 20 minutes. So what we’re left with is Tatooine and Endor sequences bookending 20 minutes of blah. It was like George Lucas was in a hurry to finish up Jedi so he could get to his other landscape-altering projects like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and, ah… Willow and, er… Howard the Duck… It’s a blatant example of trying to put style over substance, at least in terms of the story. As if that wasn’t offensive enough, Return of the Jedi also marks the spot where Lucas came to fully realize the marketing potential of his onetime sci-fi serial pet project. Gold Bikini Leia? That was done to appease the crowd adolescents. The Ewoks were there to sell to the kids. To really drive the kid angle in, an animated TV show was later created about the Ewoks. When Jar Jar jumped to the small screen, he did so as an important but bit player on The Clone Wars, not as some Alf clone wannabe.

6: Attack of the Clones (Episode II)

After The Phantom Menace hit audiences with a loud thud, George Lucas started making a push to bring Star Wars back in The Original Trilogy’s direction. Attack of the Clones doesn’t miss what his goal was, but it doesn’t quite hit it, either. It may be the best movie in the series as far as pure action movies go – at least the live-action movies and exempting The Clone Wars, anyway – and it brings the series back in the proper Star Warian direction it had to return to after The Phantom Menace’s bad reception.

Attack of the Clones is good at holding your attention. Unfathomable action scenes are sprinkled everywhere, Christopher Lee gets to play the villain, Yoda finally goes into combat himself and shows us why he’s the ultimate Jedi Master, and Jango Fett gets to be the badass everyone thinks of Boba Fett as. At the same time, it starts to plant the seeds of the Star Wars universe of The Original Trilogy, right down to the Death Star. As with Return of the Jedi, Lucas seems to be taking the big-scene-of-impact approach. The difference is that the statement scenes don’t seem to contain as much heft. It’s also in Attack of the Clones that we start to see the dark side of Anakin Skywalker. He comes out in an arrogant and angry fury, especially in a scene where he slaughters a group of Tusken Raiders.

And then there’s that damn love story. Because of course there is. The story between Anakin and Padme is pretty trite and cliched – it ranks in the wretched annals of love stories right along with Romeo and Juliet. It slows the movie down, makes no fucking sense, and has water/oil chemistry. And the delivery of Hayden Christensen, who plays Anakin, doesn’t help matters. Now, this is just the delivery I’m talking about. In every other respect, Christensen actually does a great job portraying Anakin. He has a sense of regret, sadness, and anger which drives Anakin into doing a lot of things a proper Jedi wouldn’t do, and it’s through his array of gestures, unsure postures, and facial expressions that Christensen gives a performance which is actually very effective. Acting is about much more than line delivery. Unfortunately, line delivery is often the most noticeable part of a performance, and Christensen is so bad at that part that it overwhelms a lot of the other aspects of his performance. It’s almost as if Christensen himself can’t believe the load of shit he’s being told to recite. But he doesn’t deserve all the blame for it. Do you honestly believe that even Marlon Brando could have ever rescued the atrocity that was Anakin’s sand monologue?

5: A New Hope (Episode IV) (AKA Star Wars)

And lo, we have it – the phenomenon that started it all. The original Star Wars movie that came out in 1977, Hope was expected to be nothing more than a quick cash-in B-movie. It was supposed to run a familiar trajectory: Plop it into all the theaters, let it make a few million bucks for the local studio, then put it on this new thing called a VCR while it dissipated in the backwoods, forgotten by all but the biggest bad movie nuts. No one was expecting Oscar nominations, let alone Oscars. No one was expecting Star Wars to break every box office gross intake record known to man. No one was expecting a massive multimedia empire with stories in a fictional universe that dated thousands of years. And no one was expecting Star Wars to be influencing movies and filmmakers 40 years after the fact; even the great hit movie of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy, was a clear nod to Star Wars.

Being the first of a long running series, you know what that means: Early-installment weirdness! Except in the case of Hope, there’s not as much of that as you would probably think. A lot of the regular Star Wars Easter eggs are in there. Lightsabers, The Force, the Millennium Falcon, hyperspace jumps, Star Destroyers, the grandiose score of John Williams, X-Wing and TIE Fighters, Stormtrooper aim, and all those other things. The installment weirdness is less in retcon than in simple tone – the dramatic heft of most of the other movies is notably absent in Episode IV. Luke’s aspirations of Jedi-dom are a quick vocal McGuffin; he’s more interested in getting off Tatooine. The original lightsaber duel happens between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader; it’s clearly shoehorned in so a couple of earlier scenes featuring the lightsaber have some sort of significance.

There’s not a whole lot to hate on here. Hope is two hours of condensed fun and awesomeness which is as joyful as an adult as it was as a kid. The problem comes when you go back and watch it, and it sinks in just how many of the lines in it no longer make any sense. George Lucas himself clearly had no idea of what Star Wars would become, and his attempts to retcon it in the ensuing two movies were just clunky. (See, he was doing it back then too.) Darth Vader wasn’t originally Luke’s Father – in Star Wars, he’s described as a former student of Obi-Wan’s who murdered Luke’s father. Although Lucas finally got around to explaining it in Jedi, it was given a single-line throwaway so hasty that it pretty much pegged Obi-Wan as a puppet master. Luke and Leia’s relationship comes out of nowhere, and Obi-Wan and Darth Vader seem rather benign toward each other after what they went through. (Well, okay, there was 20 years since their last meeting, but still…) Did I say early-installment weirdness? Yes, I did, a couple of times. And this can’t be said enough: HAN SHOT FIRST!

4: Revenge of the Sith (Episode III)

Here’s the end of The Prequel Trilogy, where Darth Vader makes his transformation into Darth Vader. It doesn’t happen the way The Original Trilogy would have had us believe, where the cool suit is part of the identity and went with everything, and I think that may be something that a lot of fans are upset with. But I think one of the big parts of the issue fans often take with Revenge is that, once again, they were expecting something that was quite different from what was actually shown.

George Lucas did a lot of things right with Revenge that Menace and Attack got wrong, and one of those things was placing the full circle of The Original Trilogy on the backburner while focusing on telling the story. This is where Anakin’s fall into the Dark Side finally happens – and it’s pretty anticlimactic. Remember Obi-Wan in A New Hope telling Luke that Vader was seduced and tempted by the Dark Side? Well, Revenge of the Sith shows us that it’s more like he was tricked into joining it out of his love for Padme, whose health he was fearing for. More to the point is that it’s presented in such a way that we don’t really blame him for doing it, either; Palpatine offered Anakin a real way to cure her while the Jedi sat on their worthless asses and told him to not do anything. (In the EU, we learn that the story Palpatine tells Anakin about the Sith Lord who found a way to live forever was true.) From there, we have to wonder if there was any sense of nuance from Anakin – he goes from wanting to save his wife to greasing a group of little kids in nothing flat.

Revenge is Palpatine’s great show more than anything. The slimy, two-sided power monger is the standout star, and Ian McDiarmid has the time of his life playing him. The movie gives a full display of exactly how powerful Palpatine is and why the people in the Star Wars universe fear him. The way he gradually slides himself into greater evil and power is something McDiarmid portrays with such mastery that it’s worth it just to watch Revenge for him alone. This is a character so powerful that when four Jedi Masters are sent to arrest him, he quickly slaughters three of them in no time, and the fourth is Mace Windu, the greatest lightsaber master in the galaxy. He manipulates the entire senate into consolidating its power and giving him absolute control and no one thinks twice. He lies to his personal pet project – Darth Vader – about how Padme dies so Vader completely loses it. He fights Yoda so hard that Yoda gives up. (And yes, Yoda just plain fucking gives up in that lightsaber duel.) In the meantime, Obi-Wan and Anakin give us one of the greatest scenes in all of Star Wars. The only thing that drives me crazy about Revenge – besides Vader’s big “NOOO!!!!!” – is Padme’s death: She “gives up” while her damned kids are being born? Wouldn’t having her kids turn her into a stronger, more resolved Mama Bear? What the fuck, George? That’s even worse than the virgin birth of Anakin!

3: The Force Awakens (Episode VII)

Remember all the lines in A New Hope – and, hell, the entire Original Trilogy in general – that don’t make any sense in hindsight? The Force Awakens is that ridiculously expansive – and expensive – Youtube video that goes back and corrects all of them. At the same time, it also serves as Hope’s gritty reboot and the remake millennials pissed off with The Prequel Trilogy didn’t realize they wanted until it came out. Director JJ Abrams doesn’t do anything to hide it, either. Even Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill were tapped to show up and say, “Hey, look! Star Wars is gonna be good again real soon!”

Despite the blatant tributes, though, there was also more than enough inside The Force Awakens to bring back the old Star Wars magic that captured imaginations in the 70’s and 80’s. It was pretty cool that one of the main characters, Finn, was a reformed Stormtrooper. Rey is a great character too, and the way she spends the movie slowing learning and growing in the ways of The Force is a good way to show the kind of person she is and the kind of character she can grow to be. Of course, those are also callbacks to Episode IV – Rey, like Luke, spent the movie trying to learn and use The Force, and the way she comes out using it is more overt than what we saw at the end of Hope. The reformed Stormtrooper angle of Finn is a way of redoing Han Solo, the reformed smuggler. And I know I’m not the only one wondering about the issue of Luke’s old lightsaber. The plot revolves around the old blue-bladed lightsaber Obi-Wan gave Luke in Hope and which Luke himself finally wielded in The Empire Strikes Back; you know, the very same lightsaber last seen taking a swan dive to the bottom of Cloud City’s repulsorlift shaft with Luke’s severed hand still attached. It would explain Luke’s look at the end of the movie. He’s thinking, Who in the name of The Force went to pick THAT up?!

All in all, though, The Force Awakens cured the collective cynicism and doubts of Star Wars fans left disenchanted by The Prequel Trilogy. After three movies which were drowning in computer effects that are starting to look dated, Episode VII brought us a return to a Star Wars defined by characters we don’t have a whole lot of trouble thinking up general descriptions for. It gave us back the special effects and classic action of The Original Trilogy, brought back a lot of our favorite old characters to show us that our opinions were heard, and basically showed us that Star Wars can still have plenty of life left in movie form after all. I’m sure there were several Star Wars fans who walked out of every movie in The Prequel Trilogy wondering if the problem was on them, and that Star Wars had lost its magic because they were now grown up and critical. The Force Awakens showed us that that wasn’t the case after all. The problem with The Prequel Trilogy really was the movies themselves. And Disney and JJ Abrams took Star Wars and said, “We know you love Star Wars, and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. We got this.”

2: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V)

The second movie from The Original Trilogy, Empire was the movie that raised the bar on the series. It still stands tall today as the movie that every other Star Wars movie is judged against. More to the point, Empire is the movie in which Star Wars truly became STAR WARS. The universe hinted at in Hope was fully realized, and a lot of the series’s mythos that we know and often take for granted was first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back.

Remember how we all assumed Darth Vader was the supreme universal bad guy after seeing Hope? Empire was the movie that showed us that he himself had to answer to Emperor Palpatine. Remember how Obi-Wan told Luke all about his Father, the best fighter pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend? Empire brought on the plot twist that Luke’s Pop wasn’t dead at all, that he was the one who fell to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader, and that turned into a million terrible plot twists in a million bad movies afterward. It developed the love story between Han and Leia and introduced Yoda and the Force Ghost of Obi-Wan. Lando was seen for the first time, and we got the true scope of how dangerous the Galactic Empire really was and how The Force could really be used in the hands of a capable user. Most importantly, it was Empire that went out of its way to bring the characters to the front and center in an effort for us to better KNOW them and understand them. What we saw in every piece of Star Wars-related media from here on out was based on character traits from Episode V.

While Empire revolves around Luke’s quest to become a Jedi while Han and Leia search for safety from the pursuant Empire, this movie is Darth Vader’s show. Think about it: What did Darth Vader DO in Hope that was so bad besides kill Obi-Wan? You could build a good argument that Grand Moff Tarkin was the true villain – Vader answered to him, and he was the one who ordered the demolition of Alderaan. But in Empire, it’s Vader who takes out Echo Base, invades Cloud City, chokes two of his Admirals to death, carbon-freezes Han Solo, and nearly kills Luke. And don’t forget, he’s still taking orders from Palpatine. It’s because of Vader’s coming out that Empire takes a more operatic tone than Hope. It plays out like a tragedy, and by the time it ends, the only good thing about what the Rebels just went through is that they’re still alive after it all. It’s an incredible testament to Empire’s staying power that it still holds up among the fans as the highest-regarded Star Wars movie, but once more, I have a wild disagreement with the general consensus…

1: Rogue One

The fact that Rogue One is the newest Star Wars movie doesn’t detract from its quality. I take nothing away from the other movies in the series, but there’s a new champion. Yes, Rogue One is an unusual feat among Star Wars movies. Whereas the other movies in the series essentially centered around the bad mojo of the damned Skywalker family, Rogue One is the movie that gets us to wonder about the scale of a full-fledged rebellion and what the sentient cost of it would really be. We’re looking at a war movie set in space, among characters who are somewhat aware of their roles as cannon fodder.

You remember the opening crawl from A New Hope? About Rebels striking from a hidden base stealing plans to the Death Star? Rogue One is about that battle. The buildup to that battle, though, provides some nuance to the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire that much of the Star Wars series has been lacking. The Rebels in Rogue One are frequently prone to use techniques which would be condemned if the Empire tried them. There’s an entire scene late in the movie where the Rebels argue about whether or not trying to keep going with their fight would be worth it if the Empire to build something as powerful as the Death Star. Many of the battles are sudden and random and make it difficult to tell who’s on what side, alliances among characters are formed at random and very shaky until loyalties are proven, and the bad guy isn’t a face of traditional Star Warian evil. The main villain is Grand Moff Tarkin, our old pal that got himself blew up with the Death Star in Episode IV and was never seen again. Tarkin has always been a representative of more bureaucratic evil than the more light and dark forms of it, and it makes him a downright chilling villain. So no, this isn’t a typical Star Wars movie.

What Rogue One does do is successfully give us the trench viewpoint. Few standards from the other movies are mentioned at all. Darth Vader makes only a short cameo. But where Rogue One succeeds is placing us on the ground with the Rebels who fight even knowing their time is going to come. The AT-AT walkers from The Empire Strikes Back return in this movie, and the look like the giant monstrosities they were supposed to be. Darth Vader’s cameo is short, but he takes on his original role as a menacing terror who cuts through a swath of Rebel Alliance soldiers with ruthless efficiency and immunity; Vader is finally faceless again. The Rebel Alliance, as Rogue One points out, is built on nothing but hope. Throw that mix in with an in-your-face final space battle which sets up the famous opening scene in Episode IV (and includes a spectacular scene of two Star Destroyers smashing into each other), an explanation for why the Death Star had that silly weakness at all, a very funny reformed battle droid played by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk, and an array of well-developed characters, and Disney has delivered on its ultimate promise: Star Wars is back. Surely anyone who remembers falling in love with The Original Trilogy at an early age remembers how overcome they were with the incredible scope of it all. Then we got older, started tacking adult meanings to everything, and were pissed off at various points with subsequent Star Wars media, and that original magic was lost even among the best Star Wars stories. But I never forgot four-year-old me and the way he felt watching Episode IV. And I’ll never forget how, seeing Rogue One for the first time, the surrounding world dropped out of sight and, for two and a half hours, I was that four-year-old watching Star Wars for the first time once again.

 

The Annual One-Percenter Christmas Gift List

Well, it’s that time of year again: You rush out and buy gifts for everyone you know. And then you come to the realization that you have that one rich friend who lives the life you envy, and can’t figure out what to get them. Then you get into a big funk about it and start to wonder if you should even bother trying to buy a gift for a person who has everything. And then you come to the conclusion: Yes, of course you should! The incoming president is an egotistical billionaire, so if anything, thinking of your One-Percenter pals is going to be more important than ever! And that, readers, is why I’m here: To give you all a decent starting point for what to buy for Christmas for your One-Percent friends. After all, it’s not the gift, it’s the thought, right? Except in their case, it’s also the gift.

Panavision PSR 35mm Film Camera Used to Film Star Wars

I feel almost bad about including this, just because I’m a huge Star Wars freak myself, and this is an honest-to-god piece of real movie memorabilia. It’s not some cheap junk camera that you’re going to use to try to make your own home porn movies. It’s something that you’re going to toss into an out-of-the-way corner of your house to show all the visitors to make yourself feel cool. Think of all the iconic scenes that could have been filmed using this thing: The Cantina scene in Mos Eisley, the trash compactor scene, that big fucking Star Destroyer flying overhead… It would be harder to come up with a set of the more inconspicuous scenes in Star Wars to dissuade you from buying this. This is something ANY movie nut would love to have. And it recently sold at auction for $625,000, which makes it the most expensive vintage movie camera to ever be sold at auction. The big problem with nabbing this for your One-Percent friend should be obvious: There’s only that one right now. So if you’re thinking of trying to pick it up at auction yourself, you should take a knife or a silenced gun and learn how to sneak to the room’s light switch VERY quickly.

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Kopi Luwak Coffee

What we have here is a One-Percent answer to a very common need: Coffee! Coffee is the robust, smoky, bold liquid that wakes us up in the morning, and therefore it’s something your One-Percent friend will find essential to hold onto their One-Percent status and not end up giving it all to a megachurch Minister who is more One-Percent than they are. But you can’t be cheap and buy your everyday Folger’s for your friend. They have exquisite tastes, which means you should go out and buy them a nice pack of Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee. A little bit of this coffee will impress your One-Percent pal not only for the price – $600 per pound and $50 per cup – but for the bean collection. Kopi Luwak is from Indonesia, and it comes from beans which were eaten by the common palm civet, partially digested, and then let out the other side. The name of the coffee comes from the Indonesian word for coffee – Kopi – and the local name for the animal – luwak.

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Dussault Apparel’s Trashed Denim Jeans

Let’s be honest: I’m not sure what business your One-Percent friend would be doing moving around among the blue jean-wearing plebes. Anything that can be taken care of can be taken care of on the One-Percent oasis, right? Or if not, surely someone can be hired to run the common errands for them. But oh well, some One-Percenters have certain eccentricities, and when the need to satiate them arises, they can’t go out in their usual velvet and silk ensembles because the regulars can smell it. A good pair of blue jeans is essential camouflage, but surely you don’t plan to go out to Poor Palace or whatever it’s called for a mere $100 pair of the blues, right? Well, Dussault is here for them with a pair of $250,000 jeans that come studded with rubies, diamonds, and rose gold. Surely no one will notice.

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Tod’s Alligator Skin Cover iPad Case

Damn near everything these days is about the iPad. They’re good to conduct business transactions, they’re just plain good for business, and they’re important if that business revolves around legitimate business transactions of the white collar sort involving offshore holding accounts. An iPad, though, is only as good as its casing, which means you can’t just send your One-Percent buddy’s butler to the mall for a cheap Star Wars case to attach to it. You have to go with the good stuff. Tod’s, a luxury firm in Italy – you’ll want to remember that no quality goods have ever come out of Slovakia – hand-makes these cute little iPad cases out of the world’s finest alligator skin and sells them for $4900 apiece. Be sure to get one in every available color: Blue, brown, or tan!

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Hastens Vividus Bed

Sleep is another one of those great universals which no good One-Percenter dares acknowledge. Sleep is for the rich and work is for the poor, right? That’s why a One-Percenter needs a bed that lives up to the wealth they inherited. Hastens presents the Vividus bed, designed in Sweden, which has been described as sleeping on a cloud. It certainly sounds nice, and it will sound even nicer to your One-Percent friend with a $59,750 asking price. It will sound even better to them yet one your friend ganders at the $700 concrete slabs the people who do the work all sleep on.

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Chopard 201-Karat Watch

Yes, it’s pretty easy to keep time these days with everything up to and including your own eyeballs having the ability to keep time digitally, but sometimes you just can’t beat that old retro charm. A good mechanical watch can be a nice little addition to a good power suit, as well as a cool gadget that your geek friend can use to show their love for all things steampunk. This cute little accessory from Chopard, will allow your One-Percent friend to both flash back to the simpler days of Victorian yore while being glittery and ostentatious at the same time. This Swiss watch features a pink diamond of 15 karats, a 12-karat blue diamond, and an 11-karat white diamond, presumably because they decided making it a white diamond somewhere between 12 and 15 karats would have been pushing it. After making those heart-shaped diamonds the centerpieces, Chopard then threw in 163 karats of white and yellow diamonds just to be on the safe side. You know, in case the original three weren’t enough. And I’m going to assume it tells time according to the atomic clock! At least, for $25 million, it fucking better.

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Pear ANJOU Speaker Cables

If you think all cables do the same thing and work the same way, you must be part of that OTHER percentage of people. The Pear Cable Corporation is here for your One-Percent pal with the ANJOU Speaker Cable, a good 12-foot length of cable which Pear says will “allow new levels of sonic accuracy to be explored.” Obviously, you, the 99-Percenter buying this for your One-Percent friend, probably believe the $7250 price tag is there to cover the advertising tagline that’s telling us that. And that a combination of “proprietary hybrid geometry,” “ultra low electrical resistance,” and “fully annealed 99.999% pure oxygen free copper” are what’s allowing these levels to be explored. Dave Clark, an editor for the high-end audio magazine Positive Feedback, said these cables were “very danceable.” Perhaps the best part of getting this gift for your One-Percent friend is that the James Randi Educational Foundation is giving you an opportunity to join the exclusive One-Percent if you get it for them! How, you ask? It’s easy: Just prove beyond any reasonable doubt, or questionable doubt, or really any slight facsimile of a doubt at all that these cables work better than any other cables on the market!

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William Shakespeare’s First Folio

This is a first edition of Shakespeare’s original plays, and like the Star Wars camera up there, it’s a pretty damn cool collectible for literature buffs which needs to be bought at auction. In 2006, it went off for $5.1 million, so be sure you have your little trick with the light switch and silenced gun mastered before tracking it down. If you manage to get ahold of it, this sucker has some priceless words written on it. It was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare died, and it has a treasure trove of 12 plays he wrote that were never printed anywhere again, as well as a lot of the favorites you’ve come to know and love. So pony up so your One-Percent friend can speak with the erudite “thous,” “verilys,” “thines,” and “thys” the upper crust was known to speak with before Donald Trump killed all but about 100 words in our wonderfully quirky language. And maybe if there’s a time continuum snag involved here, you can convince your friend to burn the original copy of Romeo and Juliet and fucking rid the planet of it for good.

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Team in the National Hockey League

Okay, we all know nothing excites a One-Percenter more than a new opportunity to make more money hand-over-fist without doing a whole lot, but your friend will almost certainly be disappointed at your cheap-shotting them here. This is a hockey team, after all, and it requires they make an effort to establish the team in the public consciousness; as opposed to a football team, which would make money even if they blew up the stadium during a game. But it’s still a professional sports team, which is always a good opportunity to gouge an entire city. And an NHL team would be comparatively cheap to run. It’s the NHL which is expanding to try to include teams in every city with populations of 100,000, and the ever-thinning talent pool means your friend can be as cheap as they want with the roster because there soon won’t be enough superstar or even starting-caliber players to go around. On your end, to get them the team, the application is $10 million, $2 million of which is non-refundable. Then the franchise fee is $500 million, which is considerably less than the $700 million the National Football League’s newest team cost the city of Houston. Yeah, they might have to do some work to get the team visible, but if even if they blow it, they can always take the team to Canada. Or Tucson. Knowing the commissioner’s line of thinking, probably Tucson.

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LELO INEZ 24-karat Gold Dildo

The very same one recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow, because a list of nice gifts for your One-Percent friend just isn’t complete without a GOOP gift from Miss Gwyneth. Right? Right!

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With thanks to The Most Expensive Journal at most-expensive.com.

The 2016 Extinct List

The 2016 Extinct List

And so, after a year off so I could relocate and get settled, it’s time to start writing my annual shit list again. Yes, I know this is something I would ordinarily save until the proper time – that being December – but 2016 has been unique in how rotten it was. (Besides, I always wrote these at the beginning of the year anyway until now. From now on, it goes properly near the end of the year so no one gets confused. Especially me.) All the early Christmas shit is driving me crazy, but if anything can serve to hasten its arrival and signal the end of the year, I’m all for it. Hence, I’m doing this a little bit earlier this year in the hope that there’s going to be some weird Back to the Future Part II timeline split. Why not? The Chicago Cubs just won the World Series, after all. If you’ve seen Back to the Future Part II, you know that Marty McFly took a trip to the year 2015 and saw a headline where the Cubs won the Series. Michael J. Fox, who played Marty McFly, tweeted after the Fall Classic this year that the movie was only off by a year. (“Not bad!” he said. Of course, in the movie the Cubs beat Miami for the title; there wasn’t a team in Miami when the movie was made, and even though there is now, they won’t play against each other in the World Series because they’re both National League teams.)

So today, my list of little things that drive us all nuts through our everyday lives. These aren’t necessarily big problems, but they’re the things you get exposed to often enough that they get under your skin, no matter where you live. That means they tend to hit home on a more primal level and have an existing probability of creating a version of you that wanders out into the world and starts creating the bigger problems.

The Simpsons
It’s over. Done. Kaput. With any long-running show, you’re going to get a few bad episodes, and there are reasons for that: Writers lose interest in a story, draw out the quirkier aspects of their formerly well-rounded characters, get Writer’s Block, fly off into segues, or have an idea fly off in a direction they didn’t see before. But The Simpsons raised this into an art form DECADES ago, and I’m being literal when I say “decades.” It doesn’t help that, since The Simpsons is an animated show, the characters don’t grow, mature, or age, and the revolving door of writers has to keep up with the changing youth culture. What does that mean? That The Simpsons hasn’t been good in a long time. I don’t know how the show keeps lurching on by now. There’s no way around it: The Simpsons is so far past its fresh date that it has turned into craptacular show in the overall picture that just happened to start with a few good seasons. You can’t bring seasons two through eight to the forefront as a case for what The Simpsons can do anymore because those were seven seasons out of well over 20, and they get swamped by everything else. You can watch a daylong marathon of The Simpsons and not stumble into one of the show’s classic episodes. It’s time that someone hit Matt Groening over the head with a hammer a few times. Anything to get this shitshow off the air.

Travel Food
You do realize there are places that hold food licenses from professionals, right? Your favorite means of travel don’t seem to be one of them. Freeze-dried quick-heater snacks seem to be the order of the day while you’re on the road, and all of it is overpriced. The more you eat while traveling on a train or plane, the more you start to think the food available there has one purpose: To keep you awake so they can get you off the vehicle in a hurry once you’re wherever you’re going. This is the kind of food that gets in and out quickly. Most, if not all, of it is staleWhen it gets heated, it’s not for the warmth; it’s to make it soft so you can chew it. Once it’s warm, you then have a limited window to get it into your body before it goes from soft and chewy enough to be edible to being tooth-breaking again. Most travel places also offer a grab bag of junk food which is also wildly overpriced, but it’s probably better to go with that anyway because at least you have a better idea of where it came from.

The United States Flag Code
You know all those little rules you think you know about how to respect the flag of the United States? Yeah, someone sat down, thought about, and then had the spare time to write that shit up and have it edited and published. And now, when you’re not wearing the flag – which is a direct violation of the Flag Code – you revere it and treat it like you would your third kid. The fucking Flag Code has come to mean so much that you have the most powerful professional sports league in the country trying to feed us the idea that a kneeling quarterback is the reason why its ratings are down. You know this story: A quarterback doesn’t like the way his people are being treated, and so he rebelled by practicing his right as a patriotic American to not perform a meaningless gesture at a time when a piece of cloth is being waved. This says something about us. None of us stopped watching football when the NFL was lenient in cases of spousal and child abuse. Guy beats his wife, he gets a two-game suspension from the league and the fans don’t give a shit. A player beats his kid, and the league didn’t do anything – it was his team that took action, by suspending him for one game. We keep watching football and don’t mind. A quarterback takes a knee and NOW we want to forget the NFL? You do realize those flags are made in China, right?

Quentin Tarantino Imitators
God love his movies, but as says the mythology of Highlander, there can be only one. The problem with redefining filmmaking is that it can spawn a glut of imitators, and Tarantino’s imitators have always been on the egregious side. Your script isn’t good or imaginative just because you’re taking the time to place all the emphasis on every curse word and forbidden slur and anatomical term on the planet. Your movie isn’t cool just because you’re wrecking the structure on purpose. Placing a few funk tunes here and there isn’t going to spark a style revolution. If you want to enter the world of independent movies, you have to understand a couple of things about Quentin Tarantino: First, his movies in the 90’s worked because he was able to create a style from merging foreign directors which placed punctuation in every scene and every shot. Second, his style works because of a merging of factors which Tarantino happens to be good at. The style of his 90’s movies never went away. Even though he moved beyond his 90’s movies to create more period, epic work, he still sticks his own trademarks into his movies and they work just fine for him. If you’re trying to imitate him, that’s what you’re going to look like: An imitator.

Air Pockets on Painting Surfaces
These things can drive you crazy if you’re ever done any construction or decorative painting. The paint you’re using for the job has to get all over everything and into every nook, because if it doesn’t, you’re going to end up with a series of little tiny dots all over your new surface. Getting everything entails spraining your hand and your wrist in order to make sure your paint of choice gets into everything so the surface looks covered, and the next thing you know, you now have carpal tunnel syndrome without ever having touched a keyboard and you’re soaking your hand in a bowl of ice. You would think that with all the modern technology we have, it would be possible to get a perfectly flat surface without any of those annoying little pockets, but nope. Or a paint that could get into those pockets without you having to press your hand against the surface so hard that you’re practically drilling into it.

Automatic Spell Correction on Computers
If you write a lot, this is something that can drive you crazy. If you spell a word wrong, it automatically corrects the word you misspelled. It seems like a great idea, right? The problem is, the people who program these things don’t get every word in the language. They don’t get every slang word in the language, which is a bigger problem when you realize how much your writing style depends on slang and made-up words in order to make it pop. Worse are those times wen you don’t know how to spell the word you’re trying to use. You type it in, expecting the computer to get at it and correct it right off the bat, and you know you don’t have it right, and the computer properly calls you on it. Yet, it doesn’t correct you – it only points out that you got it wrong. But when you go back and start trying to type in every possible alternate spelling, the computer still points out the error rather than just correcting it because it can’t figure out what you’re getting at, no matter how common the word is.

Daylight Savings Time
There’s no use in trying to save energy by kicking the clock back an hour once a year anymore. The way we use energy has changed too much since those days, and the only thing daylight savings is worth these days is an hour of lost sleep. So why do we still do it? I guess that’s because somewhere along the line, it became a tradition, and since people are a bunch of fucking sheep, we stopped questioning tradition and just assume they’re right and that things have always been this way. The main thing I want to know is that, since daylight savings was created during World War I as a way to save energy, how the hell was it not outlawed the second the war was over? Who did all the governments that adopted it think they were saving energy for?

Tribute Records
There’s only one reason these things are floating around: Money. Tribute records are a bad idea by their very nature. Think about it: You take a legendary rock back that hasn’t done anything in awhile and probably lost a few key members to a decades-long cocaine binge. Then you take of bunch of cool singers and bands du jour who everyone knows now – talent optional – and get them to sing the old rock band’s tunes, which you then compile and toss together on some ridiculous compilation CD. The first thing to object to on these things is obvious: Exploitation of the band itself. The second is also obvious: Exploitation of a group of fans which is probably too smart to fall for the trick. The third is with the songs themselves. All of the songs from the original band were meant to be performed in a certain tone to convey a particular meaning. A song that goes into immortality is remembered because of the way it’s performed as much for just the music and lyrics. And when you’re making a record that strictly sounds like the original, a lot of that gets lost. Yes, there are successful covers of songs, but when a good cover works, it’s because the new artist found a meaning hidden in the original that opened up a new way of hearing it – think Bob Dylan throwing out his own version of “All Along the Watchtower” to start performing Jimi Hendrix’s cover or Trent Reznor saying “Hurt” wasn’t his anymore after hearing Johnny Cash’s cover.

Belts
I just don’t like them.

Six Hot Dog Buns Per Pack and Eight Hot Dogs Per Pack
You can tell this was a thing that caught on before anyone had any idea what math was. Or what parallel meant. But you would have to buy four packs of buns and three packs of hot dogs before the ratio was properly aligned. It’s one of those what-the-hell things that can, once again, be chalked up to useless tradition and no one being smart enough to say, “Hey, wait a minute, what are you guys trying to pull here?” You have to wonder if this is something that came out of some kind of collusion or whether the two industries just started a war with each other which the consumers just got stuck in the middle of. It seems to me like the hot dog bun industry should start losing ground to the bread industry because of this, but that would probably invite a whole new slew of problems. Of course, maybe this is just me, and everyone else is too busy eating to pay attention.