Department of Lists: 2018 Edition

(image by KangZeLiu)

Since it’s the end of the year, and there’s only so much champagne one can drink while watching Andy Cohen/Anderson Cooper and hoping that 2019 will show 2018 how things should have gone, it’s time to look back at some of the best that the year that was had to offer.

To that end, I contributed some pieces to a few different publications who make a point of cataloging this sort of thing:

Now you’ll have something to do this January besides catch up on new TV shows and ignore your dieting pledges.

Soundbooth: Return of the Replacements

Tommy Stinson (left) and Paul Westerberg bring the rock
Tommy Stinson (left) and Paul Westerberg bring the rock

riotfestlLast month, Chicago’s Riotfest — a three-day hootenanny already highlighted by great sets from The Selecter, the Violent Femmes, and many others — presented the return of the Replacements. Well, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson, at least. In short, it was everything you could have hoped for, a mere 22 years after they broke up.

Here’s part of my review from PopMatters:

A few minutes after the Pixies finished up a listless, Kim Deal-less set nearby, the Replacements stormed the stage. They cranked into their set like they were already a half-dozen shows into their latest tour, not like a group of guys who had only previously played together at Riot Fest Toronto in late August. That’s to say, things were a little raggedy at times, but only in the way that an outfit both tightly coiled and explosively loose-limbed like this could pull off.

Paul sported bright red short pants, a spiky jumble of hair, and a snarling smile that made him look like some moonlighting circus performer who hadn’t quite left his day job behind. There was no preamble to mop up the grateful applause from the gathered throng. They just slammed right into things…

New in Books: ‘Comandante: Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela’


book-comandante-rorycarroll-cvr-2001In 1992, a paratrooper named Hugo Chavez took part in a failed coup to overthrow the government of Venezuela. He was jailed but soon released, much to the chagrin of the nation’s oil-powered oligarchs. In 1999, he swept to power as a pseudo-socialist populist who promised to solve everybody’s problems and be a Simon Bolivar for the new millennium. By the time of his death in 2013, Venezuela was a near-collapsed, crime-ridden basket case, where years of empty rhetoric had failed to paper over catastrophic declines in nearly every institution.

My review of Rory Carroll’s excellent new book on Chavez and his cult of personality, Comandante, ran in PopMatters. Here’s part of it:

Blessed with a subject like Chávez, Carroll writes in Technicolor, his prose splashed with remarkable detail. He shows a ruler obsessed with image and symbol, but incapable at following through on an even the most mundane details of his job. Carroll captures the quiet and determined hum of activity in Miraflores and the hub of surrounding ministries known as “El Silencio”. which looks busy to the casual observer but actually obscured a government in which every decision funneled through one man and nothing was ever followed through on. (Chavez loved to create ministries; nobody could ever keep track of how many there were, much less what they were supposed to do.) …

You can read an excerpt of the book here.

New in Theaters: ‘On the Road’

on-the-road-posterYears in the making, with seemingly every young actor and hot director having once been attached to its adaptation, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is now a film, and a damn good one at that:

Walter Salles has conjured a movie that’s raging and serene, always looking over the horizon while grooving on the beauty of the here and now. This is no small feat. Salles made The Motorcycle Diaries, the only other great road film of recent memory, but still, there are many ways for a Kerouac film to go bust (see The Subterraneans), and this one avoids nearly all of them. Maybe it leaves too much of the book’s kinetic language on the floor; this is a story about words almost as much as it is about movement, the road. But as these burning, dreaming, and frustrated wanderers blast back and forth across postwar America in search of what they don’t know, the smoky poetry of its wide vistas and clangorous urban buzz provide a kick, a true kick…

On the Road is playing now in very limited release, and should expand wider in January; look for it.

My full review is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer here:


New in Theaters: ‘A Late Quartet’

Sneaking into theaters in a surprisingly clandestine manner—for a film starring the likes of Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, and Philip Seymour Hoffman—is the quiet melodrama A Late Quartet:

[The film] looks like one of those November films that speak to audiences interested in the finer things. Set on the Upper West Side in the deep chill of winter, it offers a seeming checklist of somber elements, from a teacher reading T.S. Eliot to his students to the onset of a dread disease. It even includes an initially odd bit of unexpected casting in Christopher Walken as a quiet paterfamilias. But the checklist turns into an outline for the film that could have been, an echo of class, taste, and meaningful art instead of the real thing…

A Late Quartet opened Friday in limited release, and features some superb acting, if not much in the way of a thoughtful script. My full review is at PopMatters.

You can watch the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Nobody Walks’

With much less fanfare than greeted her HBO show Girls, Lena Dunham worked on Nobody Walks, a kind of lo-fi hipster / L.A. trash bed-hopping melodrama that gets creepier the closer you look at it. My full review is at PopMatters:

At the start of Nobody Walks, 20something New York artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby) gets off a plane in Los Angeles and promptly gets into a heavy make-out session with the handsome man putting her bags in his car. Right there in the parking garage, he begins unbuckling his belt and she puts her hand on his chest and tells him that it was really great talking to him on the plane, but…. He cocks a “can’t blame a guy for trying” look at her, and then gives her a lift. It’s an innocuous and seemingly funny scene, the kind of fumbling comedy you would expect from cowriter Lena Dunham…

Nobody Walks is already playing in limited release.

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ’17 Girls’

My review of the new French film 17 Girls is running now at PopMatters:

Like any good story about an epidemic, 17 Girls starts with a wholly unremarkable incident. High school student Camille (Louise Grinberg, one of the troublemakers in The Class) finds herself in a family way. But instead of hiding in embarrassment or trying to ignore her swelling belly, she flaunts it. Because Camille is the queen bee, her pregnancy begins to look attractive to her buzzing followers. Within months, bellies begin swelling all over town, and the girls are making plans for what they’re going to do with their babies. Among the things they don’t include in their agenda: not smoking or drinking while pregnant, or considering any of the complications that come with being a single teen mother…

17 Girls is playing now in limited release; make sure to check it out.

The trailer is here: