Tuesday, May 31, 2022

A LOOK AT THE CONTROVERSIES OF THE ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME... A DEFENSE OF THE INSTITUTION..., despite the fact that, it actually has A LOT OF PROBLEMS....!

 

Hmmm.... Man..., Taylor Hawkins...- 

(Forlorn sighs)  

Dammit.... So, like, there were two rock & roll bands last year, and I mean, bands, a group, with instruments, inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The Foo Fighters, and The Go-Go's, and both bands had all their members live long enough to all be inducted together, which, y'know, for many obvious reasons, is pretty rare,... and like not even a year later, maybe six months, we lose one, and it's the Foo Fighters who lose a band member first!!!! The Foo Fighters! The band that like, doesn't have any bad habits; they lose the band member!!! And it's not like I love one band over the other; I love them both, but like, all the drugs and sex and parties, and drugs, and debauchery, and drugs, seriously, all the drugs that The Go-Go's did, and they're the band that's still all survived, and we lose, sweet, likeable, talented Taylor!? 

The world likes to laugh at us somedays y'know....

(Sighs)

One of my annual television viewing traditions that I try every year to watch, is the Inductions/Concert for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I don't talk much about music here, mostly because it's not my area of expertise, which is of course, mainly film and television, but if I may go on a slight detour from those typical areas of media discussion, while I don't consider it my expertise, I definitely am knowledgeable about music, and especially rock & roll, and naturally, I like the history of music as much as the history of anything else, so yeah, if I've been able to watch the inductions and the concert, I will watch the concert. And participate, for a while now, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame includes a fan vote, and every year, I not only participate, but I post my thoughts and my ballot on Twitter and on Facebook. 

All I'll say this year is that, this is one of the most difficult ballots I ever filled out, and I think, easily, most of the nominees should be in the Hall of Fame, if not already, eventually, but for those curious, in alphabetical order, I voted for Kate Bush, DEVO, Eminem, Fela Kuti and yes, despite her insistence that she didn't want to be inducted, I voted for Dolly Parton. 

This was the big story that first got reported in that, that is the first time that Dolly Parton has ever even made the nomination ballot, which, on one hand is crazy, she's been around, for like, Jesus-, she's been recording music as far back as when she was a teenager in the late '50s, and yet, she's only now on the ballot!? On the other hand, she doesn't think she belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, because she's primarily promoted and thought of as a country artist. I'll get into why this argument is just bullshit, but most people who complain about the problems with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, inevitably, have points of argument revolving around the idea that so-and-so artist, or music is not rock & roll. 

(Sigh)

Look,- I'm gonna detail a lot of, actual issues with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and trust me, there's a lot, and the more you actually dig into it, you begin to really question, who exactly is in charge here and why, and I don't really want to go into this triviality of what is or isn't technically Rock & Roll, mostly because I don't care, also because, whatever somebody thinks Rock & Roll actually is, they're probably wrong to begin with. I'm gonna end this now, country music, basically is rock & roll. So is rap, so is New Wave, so is Pop music for that matter. So is jazz, to an extent.... Like, if you actually know the history of rock & roll, 99% of any argument that says something modern isn't rock & rock, sounds really stupid, and yes, that includes from you, Dolly! Sorry. I love you, but sorry, if you're not rock & roll then I don't know who is. 

Quick history lesson, rock & roll and country, both evolved from the Delta Blues, they literally have the same musical roots, and basically started evolving into their modern forms, at around the same time, and they often did this together, and not just on separate branches of the this roots tree. And delta blues, itself evolved from an evolution that started from slave pastorals and they evolved from African genres of folk music...- look, trying to pinpoint, what exactly rock & roll is, and where exactly it (finger quotes) "started", is kind of a fool's errand. I've heard some people argue that Elvis Presley's song "That's Alright, Mama" is the first "rock & roll" song, I remember at the height of Elvis, seeing footage of Fats Domino talking about how he's been doing his music for ten years, and then they started calling it rock & roll. VH-1's original poll of musicians listing their 100 Greatest Artist of Rock & Roll, had Robert Johnson on the list; who died in 1938!!!!!!!!! If rock & roll Artists say he's rock & roll, then, I'm sorry, short of classical composers from centuries ago, I think rock & roll is vastly more all-encompassing then some people actually think it is, or want to believe it is. And if you still want to say, Rock and Country still aren't close enough, there's already several artists, including Elvis, in both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame! Hell, one of the first people the Rock Hall inducted was Hank Williams! (Sure, as an early influencer, but still....) Look, I'm not a country guy, like, at all, but c'mon, these claims just don't hold up. I mean, "Rock & Roll" itself is a made-up term by Alan Freed a DJ looking for a way to describe, what was then, this new kind of music; it's basically like how there's like fifty different variant words to describe trap music now, whatever the fuck trap music is- I don't really-, 'cause I can't tell myself what differentiates that from any other EDM or whatever.... Rock & Roll's just a term that stuck, and was controversial at the time, because it was an African-American slang word for sex, (It had others noted uses too, but that was the big one that mattered at the time) and that, along with everything else, inevitably, was "scandalous" about the so-called Devil's music. So yeah, I don't like these arguments; they're very narrow-minded and unknowing about what rock & roll actually is. That doesn't mean I think every great modern artist from every popular modern genre should be in the Hall of Fame, or is rock & roll enough to be in, but no, that argument that one genre isn't rock & roll, that only exists if you still think rock & roll has to only be four chords and backbeat, and I'm sorry, that's just dumb.

So, yeah, all that did, was make me literally vote for Dolly more.... And she got in this year. She was seventh in the voting apparently, according to Amy Linden, the music writer and culture critic who is a voting member, and is a member of the Hall's Nominating Committee... (We'll get to them...) who announced the placement results on the podcast "ImmaLetYouFinish" despite her temporarily potentially hindering her own votecount, behind the top six inductees in order this year, Eurythmics, Eminem, Pat Benatar (along with her husband/guitarist Neil Gerardo), Duran Duran, Lionel Ritchie and Carly Simon. 

I do have a lot of thoughts on that list, who got in, who got snubbed, etc. etc., but I don't want to talk about my own musical tastes and whatnot, in that respects, it's not important what I think. That said..., um, how exactly, do they pick the people to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Cause,- there is some issues here.... Like, there's really some serious accusations about the corruption of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame selection process, as well as just, some very bizarre and outright concerning issues regarding the process and frankly, the whole institution. As well as just, a lot of other controversies behind the Hall of Fame, and again, none of these are gonna regard any particular opinion on who should or who shouldn't have been inducted. It's possible that I might toss out a penny's worth of a thought on some of these as we go down some of these rabbit holes and talk about them, but the issues with the Hall of Fame are definitely not the nominees or inductees. 

In fact, before we go through these, and really paint this, somewhat disturbing picture that will genuinely make you question everything about this organization to one degree or another, I want to add, one more positive thing about the Hall, and it's something that I think is a pretty indisputable truth about the Hall of Fame, and the music industry in general, and that is that, I consider being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the single greatest honor given out in the music industry. 

(Shrugs) 

No really. And I'm actually surprised more people don't think this, and yes, in many cases, I'm gonna include actual members of the Hall of Fame, who, for very good reasons, have particularly negatives and even antagonistic thoughts about the Hall of Fame, but really, what else is there? What else is actually worth a damn? Here's an award honoring, not one song, not one album, but a lifetime's worth of a career, that says that you're not only one of the greatest, most important, most essential people in our genre, so much so that, your work is worth preserving in order to tell the story of rock & roll! I mean, that's pretty big, and it's not like any other music honor or award out there is worth a fraction of that! I mean, what else can you make the argument for, Grammys? C'mon even at their best, they're one of the biggest jokes of any award shows, certainly the least credible of the EGOTs and they're still more legit then the rest of the music awards out there! Billboard Awards? BET Awards? VMAs? I mean, I guess Bob Dylan can win the Nobel Prize for Literature, or there's the Gershwin Prize, or a Kennedy Center award, but those aren't- but those are limiting, and they're not simply honoring rock & roll;  what we're looking for is just an absolute true honor in modern music, and to me, that's where the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame still has a considerable amount of weight, and why we do care about who has or who hasn't been inducted and I'd say, the most weight of any other comparable recognition that's given to our greatest musicians. If you want to say that there's no honor that can be given, that giving out any kind of recognition or prize that supposedly determines a quality of art, I get that argument too, and some people have made this argument specifically with the Hall of Fame, I'm just saying that all things considered, of what we got, it's still easily number one, and that's after everything else, including everything I'm about to talk about. So yeah, I stand by this, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is the single greatest honor/award one can get, in modern music; the absolutely definitive standard of a artists' greatness, importance and contributions to the art of music.  

That all said, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is FUCKED UP!!!!. It's shielded by some charismatic-yet-questionable standard-bearers, a distressingly secretive and possibly corrupt voting process, one that seems to include a ridiculous amount of wheeling, dealing, or in the case of some people, claims of just, outright ignoring the results to induct people that some of the heads felt, either needed to be inducted more for either publicity, public perception, or perhaps just because, and reportedly there have  been reports of artists kept off the ballots and weren't inducted specifically at the behests and the biases of those "in charge" as well. Admittedly, I don't know how reliable or speculative some of these claims are, but they're happening often enough and usually involve the same people most of the time, that I gotta believe, even regarding some of the dumbest of these accusation, that there has to be a certain level of truth to everything I'm gonna bring up here, and a lot of other stories that I won't because, I could be here awhile if I did. 

For lack of a better place to "begin", let's start at the beginning. Why do we have a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to begin with? Well, it started originally as the brainchild of Ahmet Ertegun, a legendary, promoter and songwriter who helped push the careers of, seemingly everybody from Duke Ellington to Frank Zappa, and was the head of Atlantic Records by the mid-'80s; he's the one who established the first Board and along with several other founders that consisted of other music industry executives, attorneys, and music media publishers, most notably on that last one, and the name that we're probably gonna here the most of, Jann Wenner, the famous co-founder and still, today, the publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine, Jann Wenner. (So, he's the guy responsible for those goddamn lists they put on the website every few months and those special double issues honoring, some artist from the past that you see in line at CVS but never buy.)

Now, they started inducting people right away, although most of the big deal regarding the early days of the awards, actually centered primarily around finding a location, and physically designing and building the Hall, inevitably, and somewhat controversially, ending up in Cleveland, Ohio. Believe it or not, there's still some people who are genuinely upset at this process, and the fact that the city paid out for this project. 

(Shrugs) 

I don't know, I think you could say that there's something to be said about bringing the government funding involved to finance what are private endeavors like this, and yeah, this does seem like a lot of money for a museum, but it's also, the only real reason I could ever imagine myself going to Cleveland. I would say that this is less important then some, but it strikes people the wrong way and yeah, the city actually still pays to help run the Hall of Fame, through taxes on cigarettes mostly..., you can definitely say it's manipulative, and it won't be the last time one can say that about something involving them, particularly Wenner.

Whether he actually technically is the guy (finger quotes) "in charge" or not Jann Wenner seems to have become the main arbiter of, what and who, inevitably gets inducted to the Hall of Fame, or for that matter put on the ballot. That doesn't mean that there's some illegitimate names that get in, but a lot of the names that get on the ballot, or don't seemingly...., ehhhhhh.... 

(Sigh)

So, the voting process of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is,- well, it's not terrible on the surface, but...- anyway, in terms of an artist, the only real rule is that an artist has to wait 25 years after their debut released recording. That's the simple criteria. Now, as to how you get on the ballot, well.... This is where the voting procedure gets tricky.... There's no official public count, there's some disputed figures, Wikipedia there's about 500 voters; that about how many their were originally, but most other counts put it around the 800-1,000 members range, so we're gonna go the rounding up of around1,000 official voters for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but not all of them have a say on who's actually on the final ballot. Apparently there's a select group, of, I don't know how many members, and from what I can find, it seems to be a rotating group, at least, supposedly a rotating group, that comes in with there lists of names and they decide who ends up on the final ballot. Now, this group,  again, there seems to be some who are apart of the group temporarily and then, there's some of the founders, and most notably, Jann Wenner, who seem to be permanent members of this group, and have at times been accused of some undue influence. This isn't specifically noted as the reason why certain artists who seem to never get on the ballot don't get on, or why others do, but in fact, the whole process seems to just be at Wenner's whim on some accounts.  

But, this nominating process to begin with, is kinda bizarre. Like, I can kinda think of some other voting groups in entertainment that have a similar structure, for instance, the Cannes voting panel is constantly changing and never consistent, but that's not like they're a permanent large group, it's only a panel judging a very limited number of film every year, and Cannes does it that way because they believe changing the panel every year leads to differing winners and decisions, so that no consistent group of the same kind of movies overtake the festival awards. But,-, like there's something weird here, like if somebody's good enough to be a voter for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, then, why aren't they good enough to select the nominees? Like, it's not like the Emmys or Oscars where it makes sense to have actors determining the acting nominees and not, who the best sound engineers were, but, there's only one honor here... And this, nominating committee, we don't really know who's on it, and what their process is, or who controls it. I mean, they talk about them being rock & roll historians, but even historians have some biases pro and against certain artists and subgenres of rock & roll, and by every other account, I can find, it seems like while this is supposed to be a rotating group, is mostly controlled at the whims, of Jann Wenner. So, if he doesn't like someone or something, then they are less likely to get in. 

And while we're at it, what does the nominating process entail. Are there votes gathered, is it a discussion, is it a combination of the two; there's never been an answer given that's like, totally accepted, and very few people have ever admitted to being voters and even fewer have talked about this part of the process in great detail, or for that matter any part of the process. I've found one or two varied anonymous voter ballots online, but those are on the after-nominations side and, even then there's issues that I'll get to, but it's actually shocking how little transparency there is here.

Full disclosure, I heard all this, many times before, and I still wasn't in the "Something's Really Wrong" Camp, until I was doing some research, and I decided to search for publicly-known Rock & Roll Hall of Famer voters, and while I suspect most of the people that we would think of as potential voters are in fact voters, but the first name I found, was-eh, well, kinda surprising to me.... 


Baby Booey. 

Seriously, Baba Booey, is a voter!!!!! In fact, he's one of the very few confirmed voters out there for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This sounds like a bad joke.... (Also, Jon Heim, the guy who's created with the term, "Jumping the Shark"? Whaaa?!-) 

Ummm, okay, to be fair, fairer then Howard Stern's actually being, Gary Dell'Abante has spent most of his career as an FM radio producer, admittedly most for Howard Stern, mostly in his New York days for I think it was WNBC and later for Sirius Radio with him, and I'm certain you don't go into that line of work without some knowledge and expertise of rock'n'roll; I mean, if you were to ask me of a group of people who should be included as voters for this, radio people, the people who actually play the music for the masses, and probably have to listen to more of it then all of us, experienced people in radio, would definitely be near the top of my list. I'm gonna say, there could be worst voters, then Baba Booey?! I guess. 

(Shrugs. Big, big shrugs!)

Eh....

To be fair, I get it, if I got the opportunity that Mr. Dell'Abate, clearly has gotten, to be a voter, no matter how unqualified I might seem, I would absolutely take it, so-eh, I'm not blaming him, nor saying that he's the reason why so-and-so is in or out, or whatever.... I'm sure, there's worst honors with worst voters out there, but.... Oh-kay, so, not only are there a lot of problems with the Nominating Committtee voters, there's definitely skepticism of the regular voters now, so, exactly how does one become a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame voter? 

Well, as far as I can tell, you have to be sponsored by a voter and then approved, presumably by Jann Wenner and/or whoever else is on the Founding Board, and then, wham, you're a voter, and you're a voter, presumably forever!? I don't know if there's any guidelines, or if you can lose your votership, or what,- I think they have taken away voting rights to members who just abstained or didn't vote after a few years, but, if you're sponsored, then you can vote. Other then that, I don't really know what other important criteria there is?! I mean, I'm certain that, if Elton John said he wanted to submit a ballot, nobody in the room is gonna tell him, "No," but as far as, what makes somebody qualified to be a voter, there's very little specific guidelines, and therefore, very much a lot of room to determine who's in and who's out at the top. I mean, there's a similar process to being an Academy Awards voter too, but like, even then, almost always you actually have to have, at least a few noteworthy filmmaking credits, of some kind, even if it's in a studio's bookkeeping office, or even working like, as an agent or something, as far as I can tell, with the Rock Hall, I'm not even sure there's, like, that minimum. It seems like, basically if you know somebody and they like you, you can get a ballot. 

But-, here's the thing whatever makeup this voting body is, whether they have any actual control whatsoever, is, kinda debatable...? Ehhh.... 

(Sigh) 

There's several claims and accounts of the voting process that, shockingly seem to contradict each other at many points, and I'm gonna outline a couple of them, and try to make sense of them, but....- it's just aggravating, looking up some of these things. Like, the first one, here, this story is infamous, and I've gone through all the details of that I can scrap together, and, I don't get it. Like, I just don't get what happened here, or why it happened...; either somebody's lying, or there's information that's missing that would solve this, but....- ugh!

So, apparently, in 1994, the Hall of Fame, inducted John Lennon, and Wenner eventually convinced Paul McCartney to induct him. Now, Wenner, is a huge John Lennon, fan, like, he's definitely a fanatic for John Lennon, and with his position of influence at Rolling Stone, he had gotten close to Yoko, and was known for really propagating and promoting John's work and legacy. Now, I don't blame him for this, in theory, but in practice this was apparently pretty disturbing in the nature of his arrangements, and Paul and Linda McCartney, at first at least, were not particularly intrigued by him. Eventually, for whatever reason, Wenner eventually convinced Paul to induct John at the ceremonies, but apparently, and I still don't get this, Wenner convinced him to do so, under the promise that next year, McCartney would be inducted as a solo artist. (The Beatles were inducted several years earlier as a group, and famously McCartney skipped those ceremonies, so it was a big deal for Paul to induct John, on top of all the other obvious reasons that it would be so....)

Okay, one of the links to this story is here, if you want to look into it more yourself, go ahead, but like,- so, apparently Wenner, has the pull to just, induct people into the Hall of Fame, on his own whims? He has that much power? He can make such a promise, to a fucking Beatle!? And here's the kicker, apparently, he doesn't have this power, because Paul didn't get inducted the next year and in fact wasn't inducted 'til 1999, which notably, is the year after Linda's passing, for whatever that's worth.... Paul was pretty pissed off at this at the time, but apparently that's smoothed out; McCartney has shown up several times over the years to the Hall of Fame Inductions, including inducting the Foo Fighters last year, and also, a few years earlier when Ringo Starr was inducted in the Musical Excellence category, an induction that, apparently was orchestrated and arraigned, by Paul himself, according to some reports.... So, like,- I-eh,- whatever this was at the time, it's probably a lot different arrangement between all the players now, and all of them are somewhere high up, in the ether of determining the Hall of Fame.

But like still, this is so headscratching to me, because it either indicates that Wenner, did indeed just lie to Paul, and he has complete control over who gets inducted and who doesn't, or he thinks he did, and apparently the committee overrode him, for years? This is the story that I find the most bizarre because, clearly, something and somebody's corrupt here, but like either way, this story just, shouldn't have happened. Either he shouldn't have promised or he shouldn't have screwed over McCartney, and either way, Wenner shouldn't be able to do either of these things. 

You can't be allowed to predict or preannounce who's in or not, right?!

(Sigh) 

Well,- I know there's at least one account where a voter has confirmed that even before the ballots were counted, that three inductees were basically already confirmed for induction, which, also, how, why?! WTF!? You're only allowed to vote for up to five inductees, if for some reason three- 

OMG!!!!! 

I swear, I'm trying to sort through all this, just to get everything in, but, like-, there's seems to be like, a weird issue with everything....

So, there's question among who's overseeing the count and the inductions, and then there's how much control they have, they're questions about the legitimacy of the equality of the process,... there's a nomination process that is secretive to the point where we barely ever know who or anybody on the committee, other then Wenner, and occasionally another name or two, (Tom Morello is apparently, which, for some, might explain Rage Against the Machine's constant appearance on the nominees list the last few years [And I say that as a huge Rage fan who think they should be in sooner than later]) then, there's the controversies of the several artists who are typically left off.

I know, some groups are more vocal about it than others, members of the Monkees for instance have noted several times that they feel they've been overlooked severely for consideration, not because they think they should be in, but because Wenner is personally bias against them, over some dumb arguments from literally 50 years ago, over whether or not they should count as a group or act.... (Shrugs) 

See, this is where that "What is Rock & Roll" argument actually does come into effect into this, not only because of Wenner's singular taste having, perhaps too much of an influence of the process, in general, but also...,- So, we gotta talk about Grandmaster Flash.

In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first rap act inducted into the Hall of Fame, and this was an important and groundbreaking moment in the Hall of Fame's history for many obvious reasons.... Or, were they? According to a few reports after the ceremony, apparently Wenner used, what can only loosely be described as a technicality to make sure Grandmaster Flash... was inducted. Wenner claims that not all the votes were counted because some of them arrived too late, and according to some anonymous voters with insight on the counting, The Dave Clark Five, counting those votes, actually had six more votes then Grandmaster Flash...., and technically finished in fifth place, which would've given them, the automatic induction slot, but Wenner was hellbent on making sure they inducted a rap act, claiming that it was time. Again, I have no idea whether this, when-the-votes-arrive-clause matters, whether this has come up before or not but it sounds like this was completely made up on the spot. And according to this report, it's not like people were campaigning against Grandmaster Flash, or for The Dave Clark Five, or vice-versa, apparently the room wanted Wenner to put both bands in, and for the record, there's a minimum of five, but there's often a maximum of eight performers inducted annually, but he claimed that there just wouldn't be time for both....

I- I don't know what-, I'm assuming he's talking about the television production, which is taped in advance, before being edited into the concert we see on television every year that currently airs on HBO and HBO Max; I mean, if it's edited, just edit it!- They've edited down whole inductions several times before;- I mean, Moby's speech inducted Steely Dan, was like 60 second, maybe on TV, and thank god it was, 'cause it went like fifteen agonizing minutes in real life..., and none of this was like, new at the time. This isn't like, impossible. There's very much a nonsensical manner in which these decisions are going about and being made, and it's very frustrating. Now, personally, without any other variables, if you were to simply ask me, who belongs in the Hall more, Grandmaster Flash or The Dave Clark Five, I'd pretty easily pick Grandmaster Flash, but that said, if The Dave Clark Five got more votes, then, shouldn't they have gotten in then instead? Clearly, there was support, they were inducted the next year! It's not even a matter of Grandmaster Flash, could've waited, he had an obvious out here! Just induct them both!? I don't know what their standard of how many votes, or how many people can be inducted, or any other such rulings are, but like, it's very inconsistent from year-to-year, especially without any real legitimate explanation on how many artists get inducted every year or not, this sounds insane!

That's another thing about this voting process, I don't know what exactly constitutes the results. I mean, there's voters and voting but the results, except for the fan vote, which, I swear, I'm getting to that, but except for that, none of the results are ever fully published, and more-then-that, we don't actually know what amount of the vote, constitutes induction. I was stunned when I ran across that Amy Linden podcast and she announced the order of the results; I literally don't know if that's ever happened before or since, but it's rare and it's not said out loud a lot, and even this is very incomplete. Like, let's give a comparative, example from the Baseball Hall of Fame, a generally much more-maligned Hall of Fame, even among sports Hall of Fames. Their rules are very rigid and yes their voters, which is the Baseball Writers of America, are very much under the extreme scrutiny of the public eye most of the time, but after the voting, there's a percentage of the vote that every nominee gets, and if a nominee gets a vote on 75% of the ballots for the Hall of Fame, then they're inducted, and every year, Cooperstown releases the results of the ballot. That's a surprising amount of transparency for a group that's pretty much decried by everybody who cares, and yet, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as far as I know, has little or no such standard. 

Like, I assume, whoever gets the most votes obviously gets in, but like, is there a percentage minimum, or a minimum at all!? Some years, they put in five performers, other times it's many more.... Sometimes, lately, they basically put performers into the Musical Excellence category, which, was a category originally was intended for Sidemen, people who weren't necessarily the main performers, but the big behind-the-scenes names of people who made the music that most of the general public wouldn't necessarily know....  (Think, people like Scotty Moore, who was Elvis's guitar player, or James Jamerson who's bass was the sound of Motown, or Hal Blaine who's was Phil Spector's in-house drummer, or Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry's pianist who basically invented boogie woogie piano, or more recently Randy Rhoades, Nile Rodgers, Billy Preston, the E Street Band, etc.) Those kind of guys, not, necessarily somebody like LL Cool J. This year, this inducted Judas Priest under that category, which, eh-, whether you think they should be inducted or not, that seems weird.

Who does decide this, and how is this decided?! Some bands have been nominated for the Hall of Fame, several times, Chic most notably, has been nominated, like eleven times and never got in, but we'll never know whether they were ever one vote away, or a hundred votes away, not only because we don't ever know the full results, but we also don't know, what exactly the result they needed to get was to begin with!!!! And there's a bunch of other artists like that as well, not-to-mention groups and bands that perhaps did get in under dubious voting circumstances, that we just aren't aware of yet. And I don't know how many people, or even how many of the voters themselves are aware! 

So, like, okay, this is why nobody likes or trusts the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame voters, or voting process, fine. But, y'know, they put on a show, and the musicians they honor they treat well..., right?! 

(Sigh) 

So, there's several incidents involving musicians and rock & roll hall of famers themselves, who's basically just, outright disowned or rejected the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and called them out on some of their bullshit, and you'd kinda be a little surprised, but most of their criticisms, actually stem from the fact that, unless maybe you are, one of Wenner's pet projects, (and probably not even then) they're treated pretty lousily by the Hall. It might seem on the surface that they have the artists intentions and admiration at heart and on the surface, and maybe they do in the most abstract of sense, but in terms of actually treating the inductees, they're infamously shit. That's one of the reasons there's a long list of artists, who've either not showed up for their inductions, or just flatout rejected them over the years. My favorite is the Sex Pistols, mainly because, of course they rejected it; what else would you expect of them to do!? And while, it might sound like, the most prescient one that's worth noting, particular since, it was Jann Wenner who ended up inducting them by reading their carefully-worded rejection letter that the band faxed to the Hall of Fame, which you can watch here, and they actually do make some great points, but probably the most noteworthy criticism of how the Hall of Fame treats it's members and inductees, is probably from Steve Miller, who made many headlines after he scorched the Hall of Fame after his induction. You can find a brief description of his experience getting inducted as told by Youtuber Rock & Rock True Stories:

 

Okay, there's a lot here. Let's start with, the charging the artists for them to bring guests, what the hell is this about?! 

Well, I don't have a great answer here, but I imagine, they might defend this practice personally, by bringing up their non-profit status, and talk about all the things that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame does, outside of just, their yearly, Induction concert. Which is true, they actually do have several other projects and charitable aspects to them, especially a lot dealing with locally as they're a major part of the Northern Ohio culture system. They have class programs for students, there's preservation efforts, they work with the local public library system; they have a lot going on. And that said, while they do make money, they are a museum and museums usually need people to, you know, donate to them. Especially if they're a contributing member of the community, and a non-profit. Think of the Induction Ceremonies every as they're version of the Met Gala, where even after you're invited, you still need to donate money to attend; it's a high-class affair, and events like that are thrown, in order for the museum to continue on with the work it's doing. That's, you know, it's steep, but it's understandable.

Except, it's not, because Steve Miller wasn't just invited, he was performing! He was one of the people being inducted! He was one of the Inductees, that they were honoring, and you couldn't give him a second seat?! WTF!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! And the way it was told by him, it seems like, nobody honored that year at least, was treated particularly well by the Hall of Fame! Like, c'mon, he's STEVE MILLER! Why aren't you giving this guy everything he needs! Like, I don't know, HIS BAND! Yeah, The Steve Miller Band, I think that's what they were called! You induct him, and not the band! He never recorded a solo album; he was always  Steve Miller Band; were you guys just cheap!!!!!! They've done shit like this many times before I might add. One year, they over-corrected and inducted a bunch of famous backup bands like The Blue Caps, The Comets, The Crickets, The Furious Flames, The Miracles and The Midnights, all famous backup bands and groups that were not inducted when Gene Vincent, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, James Brown, Smokey Robinson and Hank Ballard were previously inducted, so like, shouldn't Steve Miller be inducted as a member of Steve Miller Band? I mean, there's a bunch of members, but it's not like you've taken groups with several various members and then narrowed them down to the most important and induct, several freakin' times before!!!!! (I'm not even gonna try to list those groups; there's a bunch) 

I guess the second argument, one could make on behalf of the Hall, is that, while, yes, they are honoring these musicians, but these are incredibly successful musicians who can easily afford these extra tickets if they want them, and this is a gallery ceremony, why can't they buy the extra tickets for the gallery for their family?! And sure, that's true....- kinda.... Like, um, you know, not every musician, is like, rich.... I mean, go through the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and- you'll basically every year find at least one person who got screwed by the record company, or doesn't own their own music's publishing rights, or master recordings; I mean, for Christ sake, didn't Taylor Swift just start re-recording and re-releasing all her own albums, specifically because of bullshit like this! And she's been one of the top five artists for like, forever now....  So, yeah, they- might have some money, but, some of them do not, and like even if they do, you know, just, pure decency, would let you know that, you probably should charge the people you're honoring extra money, and at least be a little more lenient on who else they might want to bring to their induction, y'know?! Two tickets per person, including themselves, really?! And you know, I'm fairly positive that they don't do this for everybody; like, I'll bet they didn't tell, all, what all eight members of the E Street Band, when they inducted them,... (Not the least of which, because Steven Van Zandt is one of the members of the board, so yeah, I'll bet a buck of two that they got a discount on bringing their loved ones....) 

Speaking of licensing, the-eh, the legal paperwork..., what is that about?! Believe it or not, I think most of that has to do with television. Ever since, 1997, starting on VH1, and inevitably ending up on HBO, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, has been a televised, and not everybody is a fan of this, believe it or not. This is one of those, where it's technically a television production, but also kinda, not, depending on who's legal definition you believe. But yeah, the licensing to use artists' images and music, and of course, paid to perform, on television, those are things that the Rock Hall has been notorious for skimming on. Neil Young, was the first one who really objected to this; that why he and the rest of Buffalo Springfield didn't show up for their induction years ago, and that was back when they were only $1,500/plate nights, and he's certainly not the only one. And yeah, apparently, in really bad years, this whole production, especially since it became an annual television event, can be a real shitshow behind the scenes. And Miller in particular, was just not having any of it.

There was also, the induction itself. Steve Miller complaining about The Black Keys and not knowing them as he inducted them. According to the Rolling Stone interview mentioned in the video, he wanted to call and ask Elton John to induct him, and apparently that was rejected by the Hall, and-um, I have no idea why. 

There's no real rule on who should/should've induct artists, into the Hall of Fame. There definitely appears to be, some kind of meaningless politics between some of this, as the Jann Wenner/Paul McCartney story foretold, but generally, sometimes it's a fellow similar musician from the same era and genre to induct the artist, often a friend of the artist, Mick Jagger famously inducted The Beatles for instance, other times, it can be a more recent musician that was heavily inspired by the musician they're inducting, Taylor Swift inducted Carole King last year, or Miley Cyrus inducted Joan Jett and the Blackhearts a couple years ago, occasionally, you get an older legendary great artist to induct somebody they inspired and in turn, they love and appreciate, Ray Charles for instance, famously inducted Billy Joel. Sometimes, it's just a famous fan, David Letterman inducted Pearl Jam a couple years ago, and last year, The Go-Go's got lifelong superfan Drew Barrymore to induct them. Occasionally, like, when an artist is dead, (or in some cases, the artist, just doesn't care enough to even acknowledge the Hall, like Dire Straits famous a few years back)  and long dead at that, the Hall of Fame kinda have to do their best to figure out who to get to induct people; I remember hearing stories of how nervous Melissa Etheridge was when she had to induct Janis Joplin for instance. The point I'm making here though, is that, y'know, if the band/artist is alive, maybe they should have a little more say in it then what Steve Miller apparently had...! 

Like, what would've been wrong with getting Elton to induct him?! He's Steve's friend, just let him make the phone call! It's not like Elton wouldn't do it, he inducted, The Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and Leon Russell; those last three were after he himself was inducted; I'm sure if there was no other obligation preventing him from doing it, he'd gladly do it. Nothing against the Black Keys, but did it have to be The Black Keys inducting him?! Like, I kinda get it, I can somebody arguing that The Black Keys are this generation's Steve Miller Band, but still, if he didn't want them or approved of them, and he was showing and giving a speech and performing....-!

Like, I don't know how, honoring the greatest musicians in rock & roll turns into, just, absolute dumpster fires like this;- and this is just Steve Miller account, there's several others, some have been made public, others probably have not that we may never know about. I mean, let's think about it, perhaps other artists have just not said, when they didn't want to sign away their public image, or got somebody they didn't want inducting them, inducting them.... Something wrong happened here. I don't know when or how, whether this enterprise was always this inept, corrupt and lazy, or if it was always this way, and while they put on a shiny surface it's just a complete and utter mess, whether it's all the influence of Jann Wenner, or perhaps several others of it's founders, or the people currently officially running it, but the Rock & Roll Hall of fame is a goddamn mess. An ancient, incestuous group of mostly dinosaurs who may or may not actually know about rock & roll and music, selling a brand, under a promise of preservation, and then treating the artists and history like dirt, in a vague effort to scam, literally everybody they could out of their money, that probably don't all go to all their education programs. Including the fans, who they claim to put on their annual shows and put up their exhibits for, for whom, their vote of who should be in or not, only counts for one vote, and can easily be ignored completely, depending on the mysterious voting committee that didn't release their full results, and probably fixes the results in some artists favor, or not, depending on the whims and feels of a even small, more incestuous group of sycophants run amok.  

Oh, yeah, I swore I'd get to the Fan Vote; the Fan Vote, while this year, it did eerily correlate with the overall votes for induction, the Fan Vote, only represents the equivalent of one ballot. Could be millions of votes for Duran Duran, or whomever, but that still only counts for one vote. So, even if an act wins the fan vote, with over a million votes totaled, it's only one vote and that act doesn't necessarily have to get inducted. (And this actually has happened, in 2020, The Dave Matthews Band won the fan poll, and they were not inducted and haven't been on the ballot ever since) 

I said this would ultimately be a defense of the institution, didn't I?! Ugh. Yeah, like I said, this gets a lot harder when you actually..., and yeah, I'm probably just scratching the surface. A lot of this is just what I can find out, and there's a lot of insinuation that there's a lot else that we probably should know, but don't.... I don't think it's anything vicious or like really despicably illegal; I don't want to insinuate any conspiracies that the wrong people will take out of hand, but just the general sense of incompetence that you get when you hear people who know, talking about how the organization is run.... Yeah, there's a lot of corrupt, questionable, and sometimes just odd choices that the Hall of Fame makes, sometimes seemingly randomly and with little or not much or not good explanation or reasoning. Like I haven't even brought up all the weird quirks of the Hall of Fame over the years, like that weird time they started inducting songs, and then stopped for no reason, all probably because Stevie Van Zandt was upset Link Wray didn't get inducted, this was after they already had a list of songs that they forget they had, and also previously added to...., how they may or may not remember to induct people in their other categories, and how in recent years, they've been back door ways to induct artists/people who don't get the votes as performers.... I mention how they sometimes induct backup bands, but sometimes won't and sometimes they'll induct new members of bands, but forget other past members of others.... 

Yeah, so in these lights, it amazes me when people complain about the Hall of Fame and their main argument isn't any of this but, how something isn't rock & roll in it or whatever,- like,- yeah, that's so not a problem with the Hall of Fame. Like, even if I agree with that line of criticism, like, no, that's nowhere near an actual problem with the Hall of Fame. Like, the real problems are so systemic within the organization, that like, really, these trivial aspects, just do not matter at all. 

I can think of a lot of ways to "fix" these real issues, but Steve Miller is right, first and foremost, there has to just be a complete and utter overhaul of the entire organization. I'll explain what I'd do, and how I think these changes would mitigate a lot of the problems they have, but like, even if I read tomorrow that the Hall is incorporating every single one of my recommendations, I'd bet money that they'd screw it up even more. So keep that in mind, like they can incorporate these suggestions, if they want, or not. but even if they did, at this point, there has to be a completely different regime with a different way of doing things, and has different priorities before I'd even start to say that they're on a more correct path. 

For convenience and sanity's sake, I'll skip the more obvious, "treat the artists better", and "don't put on a shitshow backstage", "don't charge the artists' extra for their families", give them more then two tickets, counting themselves,- like, Jesus, that's like a Brady Bunch plot with that one, WTF....-  the things that shouldn't have to be said, but yeah, all that shit needs to be fixed! 

Anyway, first of all, we have to stop with this lack of transparency and inconsistency with the voters. Also, there should be more of them then there are. I get the exclusivity idea, and yes there's definitely questionable standards for some of the people who are voters, but that actually makes1,000 still sounds pretty low in my mind, like shouldn't there actually be more people qualified enough then that by now?! Granted, for the most part, we can kinda made educational guesses and probably figure out who most of these voters are, but they should still be adding more names, and they should announce who all the new voters are every year, just like the Academy Awards do. And, don't just announce, who the new voters are, give an explanation of why they qualify for being one of these exclusive voters, again, just like the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do. And it doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't have to be conspiratorial or secretive, like, say Taylor Swift gets a ballot, write down, "Musician" next to her name. Or, Music executive, or Producer, or in the case of Gary Dell'Abate, FM/Sirius radio personality/producer, or Pop Culture Critic, or Music Journalist/Writer, Music Historian,... whatever. Something that shows that there's a reason of recognition that they're selected to get a ballot, and sure, it just might be that it's because Jann Wenner just wants to give out ballots to all his employees at Rolling Stone, but enough information, that you go, "Well, okay, that's why he/she's chosen as a voter." And if you can't come up with a decent bullshit explainer like that, then, perhaps rethink why they're getting a ballot. There should easily be like, y'know, 50-100, minimum new names like that, every year, maybe 200 or so. Groups like these, need fresh blood every now and then, so constantly fill it up, y'know! 

Second thing, get rid of the so-called "Nominating Committees", allow every voter, to submit a ballot of 15 artists every year, that they feel are worthy being nominated for the Hall. And the fifteen with the most votes, get on the ballot. That's simple. (And if you want to make it more, say, top 15 or so, and anybody who's vote count is within a predetermined percentage of the 15th/last slot, in the final vote count, then sure, that'll work too.) Stop with these rotating committees, that may or may not actually be rotating that much, and having this mysterious commission that picks who should be on the ballot. This is just dumb. Like, I do understand in certain situation such a group can be useful, I'm on board with recommending we bring back voting panels for the Emmys, but that's sorting through entire year's worth of television, which is bigger then ever, and even then, I'm not in favor of, just, the voting panels, and in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's case, we've gotten at least 25 years of time to sort through all the possible nominees, so the appropriate time and available resources to determine a qualified entrant is actually already there for us, even those who aren't rock & roll historians or the like. It's not a step that's remotely needed here; it's an attempt to control the voting then it is an attempt to judge the quality of the works, and that just means it needs to stop. 

Now that said, while I don't think the Hall should reveal the complete results of the vote for the nominations, what they really should absolutely do, is after they announce their fifteen or so nominees, is also announce, every artist who receives at least one vote! You don't have to say how many votes they got, but if they really want to talk about their supposed transparency as an organization, then let's actually see it. Besides, wouldn't it be nice to know, that say, Slayer does indeed have at least somebody in there on their side? Or see if someone like Chic is still getting votes after all those times they fell short? Or maybe there's somebody like Johnny Ace, who hasn't been on the ballot since 1987, maybe it'd be nice to know if somebody's holding a candle for him. And, we'll find out if there's some asshole troll in the mix who keeps voting for Milli Vanilli or Vanilla Ice, or somebody like that. Wouldn't that be nice to know? Maybe they do this a couple years, and we see some names, we realize they're getting votes, the public looks back on them, and then they're like, "Oh, yeah, they were good, weren't they? They do belong in the Hall" and then the groundswell starts and then eventually enough voters start realizing they were good and eventually, they do get them in?! Or, that happens to somebody who, let's say, doesn't get any votes, who should. Like, what if turns out that nobody's voted for Foreigner, at all! That would be fuck'd up, and I'm sure somebody's gonna say something about it. I can think of a bunch of scenarios that we actually find out if this happens, and frankly it's in the Hall of Fame's best interest to really be as public and transparent with their process, as much as possible, and I don't think this is an unreasonable amount of transparency at all. 

Now, after we get to the final fifteen or so who are nominated; let's to the fan vote. Now, while I do like the fan vote, I usually am not particularly fond of fans having sway over honors like these. That said, that usually applies to other art mediums like film and television, and usually most of these honors are for yearly honors, and frankly, most people barely have the time or desire to look through every available TV show and/or film during that time period, and besides those are industry or critics awards mostly, and besides that, music is far less subjective than most those genres, but even if it wasn't, this is a narrowed shortlist of fifteen artists and we've had, a minimum of 25 years to sort through their work; I think even fans can sort through that with that much time, and you know what, the Hall of Fame is for the fans anyway. So, yeah, they should have a huge sway in this. Not all the sway, but I'll say this, if you have a fan vote, then the vote has to mean something, and something more then one single ballot. 

So, first thing's first, whoever in #1 in the fan vote, no matter what, should automatically be inducted. In my headcannon, this would retroactive induct The Dave Matthews Band, since they were first in the fan vote in 2020, and somehow were not inducted. Frankly, whether you think they belong in or not, that's ridiculous, so, yeah, congrats, Dave Matthew Band, in my mind, you're already in the Hall. (And yes, there's been some questions about the validity of the fan vote as well, perhaps some bot out there might be determined to bump up an artists chances or whatever, but I seriously think that's mostly minimum, but even still, like, there are defenses to identifying and considering such actions into the overall scoring,... yada, yada, yada, Fan Vote winner, gets in automatically, that should be a new rule.)

After that, then I think the fan vote should simply have more of a say in the overall total. Like, it shouldn't just be one ballot. So, my proposal would be that, for top five winners in the fan poll, they should receive one fan vote to be inducted, per every 100,000 voters. So, let's say ARTIST A got 1,000,000 votes, now he's the winner and is automatically in, but in that case, that should be ten votes for ARTISTS A. Now, let's say ARTIST B gets 900,000, and that's a lot, so they get nine votes. and so on and so forth, for the top five. 

(You can also count more then just the top five by giving leftover votes on ballots to the other artists based on how they finished. Like, ARTIST A got 1,000,000 ARTIST B gets 900,000, ARTIST C and D both get 700,000 and ARTISTS E gets 500,000. So, we get ten ballots, and the first five are the top five artitsts, but there's still a ballot slot open, so, let's say ARTISTS F, just missed, got 400,000 votes, then on the next ballots, ARTIST F, takes up the slot now empty because ARTIST E, didn't get more then that. And then go to ARTIST G and H, based on their vote count, when C & D finish up their seven, and so-on and so-forth. This way is arguably even better and gives the fan vote even more overall accuracy towards the true voting results represented in the overall voting, but either of these ideas are fine.)

Okay, so that's the fan vote, so ideally, how should they count the ballots? Like, how do you determine these results? So, first thing first, they should announce this process, and detail it.... Whether it's this process, or something else, they should say what it is, and explain why they're doing it this way. (This is also one of those rules I shouldn't have to say, but apparently I do....) Second, in terms, of my hypothetical, we're discounting votes for the fan winner, since they're already in. Now the current status quo for the Hall is that, a minimum of five artists, with the potential for more can get in every year. So, again, discounting the fan vote who's in already, the next five with the highest amount of votes in the total count, they should then automatically get inducted. (So, the minimum's gonna change from five to six, but there's still five elected, after the fan vote. So, the fans gain power, the official voters don't lose any of their choices.) Then, I would consider a rule that allows everybody else who can get within, a certain percentage, of the fifth place inductee's vote, would also get inducted. (A similar rule could/should also be applied to voting for the nominees as I mentioned earlier)

Let's say, in this examples, 2%. So, there's about 1,000 or so, ballots, including fan votes, let's that the fifth place finisher was on, 425 ballots. So, 425 divided by two equals 8.5, so anybody whoever else was on the ballot that got 417 votes or more, would also get inducted, and let's say it was closer this year and 6th place got 422, and 7th place got 418, they would also be inducted. but 8th place, got only 399, they'd be out. (Note: I wouldn't object to say, using 2.5% or even 3% as well, even 5% maybe; if you want this Hall to be as inclusive as possible, without everybody just getting in. I'm just using 2% as an example to show how it could work, but some small, but significant enough percentage.)

Now, maybe they do that percentage system already, maybe they don't; it sure sounds like they don't have a consistent ruling or standard regarding this. Consistency is definitely the first step. Whatever they want to do, their lack of consistency is just off-putting and frustrating to those who follow and confusing and scattered to those who only glance. Anyway, that's how I'd suggest they change, but again, none of these matter until there's some kind of real overthrow of the power in the organization and there's a complete reorganization of how this group is run, or else, none of these, or several other changes, like actually using the Musical Excellence category for people who fit the profile again, and instead of just as a backdoor way to induct performers, (And put the acts like LL Cool J and Judas Priest in as performers, like they should be....) 

I'd also recommend that for the Early Influencer, Ahmet Ertugan Awards, and the Musical Excellence Awards, there should also be a full vote from the voters for people to consider. Everybody should have the option of naming up to five artists/names/people, who should be considered for each of these categories, if they want to. 

Now, I don't think a fan vote, would help much here, and I also don't think there should be a full ballot for these category, especially a fan ballot for everybody would kinda miss the point of these categories, but I think all the voters should be able to come up with up to five people for consideration every year. Then, I think there should be committees that determine these honors; and we should know, generally who's on those committees. Ideally, I'd have primarily historians on the Early Influencer category, musicians on the Musical Excellence category, and-, well, generally you'd think producers when the award is named after Ahmet Ertugan, but that's- that's not technically all the category represents. 

Yeah, I was going to skim over this one, but before the award was named after Ertugan after his passing in 2006, the category was actually "Non-Performers"; now there are performers and musicians that have been inducted, but generally the category is for, basically anybody who's work is non-performing in the music industry. This year for instance, they're inducting among other Allen Grubman who is an entertainment lawyer.... (Shrugs) I mean, he is an important one, who happened to be one of the founders of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and he's far from the first member of that group to be inducted, but my point is that basically anybody from songwriters to disc jockeys, to journalists to record executives, qualify for this category. So, this category is a hodgepodge of a lot of different groups of people,- honestly as much as I like the tribute to Ertegun by putting his name on this award; I kinda wish they'd go back to calling category "Non-Performers". Every time I look through the list, I keep wondering why Phil Spector and Dick Clark's name are in the same field,- but- yeah, this is a category that needs a little bit of everybody involved. Producers, songwriters, executives,- just other people for whom the story of rock & roll can't be told without, even though they're contributions were often, outside the realms of performing. 

This is also an award that's ridiculously inconsistent; sometimes, like in 2010, they give the award to six different people, and then they'll go like, years without giving the award out at all!? Like, I kinda get how Early Influencer might not necessarily be a thing every year, (Although I think Kraftwerk and Wanda Jackson are some questionable entries in those categories..., especially Wanda Jackson, should probably be in as a performer instead....) but there's a lot of non-performers I can think of who probably should be mentioned and named in these categories and aren't, so yeah, like, I'm not sure who should be on these committees, but they're decisions should be independent from other main influential bodies within the Hall. (Or perhaps separate categories, for the types of non-performers.  Like, non-performers but people like producers who are directly involved with the creating of music, like producers or songwriters, and like a separate committee for others who weren't directly involved in creating music, but are still pivotal in telling the story of rock & roll.) Anyway, these categories themselves, are fine, as long as they're not just used by the heads who just want find some backdoor way to induct artists that those at the top want to manipulate into inductions, and yeah, to start that, all voters should be able to suggest/recommend up to five names every year for all these categories. 

And yet, all this said, I'm still gonna watch the special. Hell, I might even tweet it like I did last year. Despite all this bullshit with the organization itself, the honor itself, it still holds up, still legitimate, and I certainly don't think it's worth diminishing the actual accomplishments of the artists they honor. Even those who don't want it, or don't care, it's still nice to see them honored and their artistic contributions forever preserved. I don't begrudge the artists being honored and I don't think we should take away from their accomplishments because the people making the decisions to honor them are, sketchy as fuck. Besides, despite everything, I hope their actual goal is really sound and still pure. (I know, it's probably wishful thinking but...)

When I vote in the fan poll, and I don't know how everyone else votes, but the way I do it, is I think about the story they're telling. They're telling the story of Rock & Roll. It's a never-ending tale that's going to keep growing and evolving as the years go by, and sure, what that term means to some might not be reflected in the inductees to others, but it's a long story, with a lot of different end roads and evolutions as it goes on. When I fill out my ballot, I look at the names, and I try to decide, "Okay, of these names, if I'm telling this story of rock & roll, which of these names do I most need in order to tell a more complete story of rock & roll. Sure, some may think some names are more important than I do, we all have some biases, that would be the case if there was absolutely nothing wrong or skeptical or corrupt about the organization, but in terms of that overall objective, I think it's hard to argue that, they're at least trying to do their best. (I mean, their best still sucks ass, eh, it's not like there's anyway in the hall who I can't make an argument for their induction.)  

So yeah, as bad as the people running it are, and are in desperate need of a complete overhaul, I still think the Hall itself is a good idea, and maybe it's just because of their original strict 25 years afterwards original debut standard, but I certainly like the idea of a place where we can go and see and hear all of the most iconic images of rock & roll's past and in many case, it's present. Music is one of the few art forms that historically hasn't been able to be preserved; it wasn't that long ago, when most music preservation in the past, used to be in the form of sheet music. We'll never know exactly what it sounded like to actually hear what Mozart when he played piano. Even early movies were mostly silent, only had live music accompanying them, not recorded music; music is one of the least preserved art forms we have. Rock & Roll is one of the few genres where we really can document, pretty much to it's fullest, including a great deal of the music that directly influenced rock & roll. Any attempt at trying your damnedest to preserve that, and honor those who created it, and those who are the best of it, it should be encouraged. Like, I can kinda see the argument that putting any kind of standard of determining quality, especially in an art form as subjective as music is inherently flawed and just wrong, but I can't see the argument that that's not a good thing in general to honor and preserve those artists and their works that matter the most to us? Why the fuck not? In the grand scheme of things, there's no negative to this; there's no harm, why just be against it entirely? That I just don't get. 

So yeah, I don't like the people in charge of operating the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and it is absolutely fair that we call out them for all their bullshit, and I swear, I've barely scratched the surface of their bullshit; one of the reasons this post took so long is that every time I kept searching for something new, the more I dug, the more I found, but, y'know, we can still honor the artists and others who they honor. (Maybe honor them better then they do sometimes, it seems) We can still have the fun arguments about who should/shouldn't be in but y'know; we can take it seriously and have fun with it. Watch the ceremony every year, see how they put the show together, listen to some great music, see some performances you might never see again. You think just because of all of this shit behind the people putting on the show that I'm not gonna potential watch an Eminem and Dolly Parton mashup duet of "Islands in the Stream" and "Stan"; fuck no! I want to see that; you want to see that! And then I want to see Judas Priest perform after that, and I want to hear Annie Lennox doing a medley of her best songs. (Oh, Dolly, Annie and Pat, doing "Sisters Doing It For Themselves"!) I want to see what other artists or names get to induct them and possibly perform with them, or perform instead of them, if that's the case. And I like knowing that there's this strange pyramid in Cleveland of all places, I could visit and see the displays of some of the most iconic stuff associated with these great artists, and knowing that their music is getting passed down from one generation to another. That's how these people can get away with much of this bullshit, 'cause however they end up getting to there, that's really cool. 

So yeah, I'm watching the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductions this year again, and a lot of the Hall of Fame's past inductions and performances, especially ever since they started broadcasting the induction ceremonies and concert, is available to seek out on Youtube and other such places, I don't know, maybe I'm in the minority on this, but I appreciate it, for all it's faults, it's the best home we have for our music history and yeah, maybe some artists don't consider it much of an honor to be inducted, but, it's a museum that's supposed to be for the fans, and well, in this case, I think the fans have a better point, so... yeah, too bad. I'll say this in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's defense, whether the artists have good points or not, and they very much often do, I think they've always been right to absolutely not care about their own wishes on their inclusion or inductions. You don't want to be honored by us, screw you, we want to honor you anyway, and we're gonna do it, and damn them if they don't care. The Hall of Fame ultimately ain't for the artists, it's for the fans, and in this case, I'm on the fans side. 

(Devil horns) 

(Sigh) 

Still, though, they should be treating the artists way the fuck better than they do. The people running this thing are atrocious-; we gotta get them the hell out of there. They really are ruining it for everybody, including the fans. Like, Jesus,- is there anybody they're not fucking over over then themselves? Where's Jeff Jarrett to smash a guitar over people's head when you frickin' need him....




Monday, May 16, 2022

MOVIE REVIEWS #194: "THE POWER OF THE DOG", "WEST SIDE STORY (Spielberg)", "QUO VADIS, AIDA?", "THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN", "RED ROCKET", "BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR", "SUMMER OF 85", "ZAPPA" and "SHITHOUSE (aka S#!%HOUSE)"!

Sorry it's been awhile....

I didn't actually intend to take so long between blogposts; in fact I really didn't intend to do two movie review blogposts in a row, but a few things have happened to me. The main one is that, I got a screenwriting gig. It took up a few weeks of my time, and I literally put every project that I could put on hold, on hold to focus on it. Unlike other gigs, I'm not under any NDA on it, and if you want to look me up on IMDB, you'll find the project in pre-production and my name's attached, which-, I was just happy to be script doctoring again, so that alone makes me happier then most of the other projects that I've had some work on before. Certainly much better then all the projects that I have in development hell on my IMDBPro account, most of those I actually do have NDAs on and I can't talk about, but whatever.... I've been looking to get back into writing scripts more and I'm grateful for this opportunity. Hopefully this movie turns out good, and if anybody asks/wants me to help work on their script, it'll now cost you more then I previously charged. (You'll still probably get me for less then anybody else worth a damn, but yeah, let's say I'm charging based on what I'll report that I got for this gig, and not what I actually got for the gig....) 

After that, I started working on another blogpost, one that I will be posting, hopefully sooner than later, but it ended up taking more time then I intended. Ironically, it's not directly about film or television this time around, (Well, I have an end-around, 'cause there is a yearly TV special that's related to it, but..., without giving anything immediately away, it's more about music for a change, then film/TV) so it will probably get kicked out of many of the groups I post in, but it's on my mind, and the research and the writing actually got a lot more intense and thorough then I anticipated. That's not a bad thing, and I kept meaning to post on Twitter about it, but I kept putting it off, hoping in vain that I could get it finished at some appropriate time period, and that deadline long came-and-went. (In fact, after I'm done posting this, I have to go back and change a lot of it, 'cause some events happened after I started writing, so I gotta change some of the tenses to reflect the current situation.) 

Anyway, I will be posting that soon, so keep an eye out for that. Perhaps follow me on Twitter, or Facebook to make sure you see that post. I've got other projects, personal and professional in the works as well that I'm also, just not getting back into the swing of, so if I'm still more absent then I should be in the immediate future, I'm working on them. In the meantime, I finally got around to watching more movies, so, while I didn't plan on a reviews post now, well, I've gone enough movies to do one, so let's get to it.  


THE POWER OF THE DOG (2021) Director: Jane Campion

⭐⭐⭐⭐


There's a lot going on in Jane Campion's "The Power of the Dog"; a lot of it is so subtle that it's almost subliminal, but I'll tell you what I got out of it.... As somebody who, does often find himself, repressing certain instinctual emotions and desires, anybody, or anything that manages to, even minimally, let out those repressions, we basically, will covet and cherish that person in deep personal ways, forever. I know I do; I know that in the many ways that I myself am reserved personally, and I frequently hold close, sometimes to close, to those who helped spur those emotions and feelings out of me. I think I'm not alone either; my theory is that I suspect that's why writers of romances, bad and good ones, to keep falling into the "manic pixie dream girl" trope... (or it's several variants); well, that might just be my issue..., but I definitely think that same track of emotion is apart of "The Power of the Dog". 

And I also suspect that the movie is heavily warning us about this, which, yeah, seems like that's the current trend, and especially so with this period piece. It's an interesting period too; I can think of plenty of neo and modern-day westerns, but you don't normally see them takes place during the 1920s-ish era. That transitional time between where the Wild West of the outlaws of the past has long been replaced with folklore and traveling rodeo shows, and yet, the jobs of the cowboys and ranchers continues on in places like the Big Sky of Montana, even as horses are getting replaced by automobiles and trains. It's here we meet our two brothers, Phil (Oscar-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Oscar-nominee Jesse Plemons), who are doing pretty well from their ranching industry. Phil is the more outspoken, an old-style exhibit of the toxic masculinity of the Old West, the kind that probably led to way too many John Wayne films. His brother meets and later marries a widowed inn owner, Rose (Oscar-nominee Kirsten Dunst), and he begins drifting away from the day-to-day grind of ranching and moreover begins embracing a slightly more sophisticated lifestyle, that ironically both him and Phil originally grew up in. Phil even has an Ivy League education, but ended up ranching cows.

Why? Well, it has something to do with Bronco Henry, a long-passed mentor of his who he keeps the candle burning for, and perhaps much more burning for him. He also expressing some concern at the apparent feminine qualities of her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) an aspiring surgeon, who can create paper flowers, and occasionally dissects some rabbits for practice. A little creepy, on both counts, but still, definitely Phil transferring his own insecurities towards him moreso then really getting under his skin, per se, but eventually, after they begin taking an interest in each other, Peter and Phil begins their own kind of mentor/mentee relationship. This frustrates his mother, who at this point, has sunk into alcoholism. 

From here, there's a lot going on, at the odd edges of the screen, and I'll say that the movie didn't really have an effect on me, until the ending. Even then, I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, or why exactly, but while the movie might, by period status be a modern-day western, but in terms of narrative, it's more of a tale of, subtle manipulation. Like, some characters are playing checkers, some are playing chess, and some are playing poker, and you're not entirely sure who's playing what and who's got what, until the end, and maybe not entirely even then. It's based on a beloved novel by Western author Thomas Savage, but I actually think it felt more like a play at points, especially in it's narrative at how characters change, react and are manipulating each other. Actually a really unusual comparison I might make to this film is "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?". It's a very different kind of story between four main characters, but basically, it's characters and how they're constantly trying to establish dominance over each other. (Or how those characters might or might not think those characters are trying to do that.) They use the skills and tools they have available, and yet, each have differing ways of gaining power in the situations they're in. Phil has a more upfront, confrontational, masculine approach, George is more loving and empathetic, and he tries to approach uncomfortable subjects he has to bring up in those terms. The mother is also emotional, but is grief-filled, and is more keen to act frantically and sacrifice her own health, wellbeing and possibly sanity to get her point across, and Peter, well, he used his own soft-spoken approach to confront those, not with words or threats, but subtle manipulations of those around him; in a way finding the best of both George and Rose's approaches, as a way to penetrate and get closer to Phil, his ultimate target. 

In that sense, I wonder if the movie itself is as deep and profound as others have made it seem. I can see why some were kinda confused by it. It uses the visuals of the classic western, but the storytelling techniques of emotional melodrama, but I also think it kinda kept the shallow aspects of that genre as well, including some of the early aspects of that genre that involved homosexual behavior, and not in progressive or necessarily positive ways. I mean, I guess it's fitting that, considering the fate of most gay characters in modern literature from the time, that the story does indeed conclude at the end of a rope, but on the other hand, it's also another story about a gay character that ends with a rope.... 

(Sigh)

Not gonna lie, another movie I thought of with this film was "The Children's Hour".... I'm more conflicted on "The Power of the Dog" overall; I might appreciate it more on later viewings, but I can't help thinking that while the technical and emotional aspects of the film worked, the narrative kinda stumbled and relied too much on the subtlety of the tragedy of the moment and the time period, and I kinda wish it didn't. I know I shouldn't judge a movie on what it isn't but, I don't know, I'm not sure there's enough there for me to fully embrace or appreciate it for what it there. I know Campion tends to go more for the emotional truth and strength in her films, and sometimes, like with "The Piano" it works to amazing effect, but she can be capable of some missteps. This clearly isn't one of them; in fact, it's one of her better films, but even aiming for emotion over plot, means that the emotions themselves also have to be deep, and personally, I don't know if she fully succeeded on that level. Still, this is a very compelling film, one that does make you think long after you watch it, and I can understand why it was so compelling.


WEST SIDE STORY (2021) Director: Steven Spielberg

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


The story of Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story", in the eye of the media's attention span has seemed to be one of the most perplexing since the beginning. 

Spielberg, is of course a classic cinema nerd buff, so I'm not surprised that he's remaking a film from his youth of course, but, "West Side Story"?! Like, I thought I knew all of Spielberg's motifs, but musical is not one I think about, but I guess if you think about it, it is there. There's the musical dance number that opens "...Temple of Doom", there's a lot of music in "The Color Purple", and of course, John Williams music has been his ever-constant companion, so I guess it's not inconceivable that he would inevitably make a musical, and for that to be a remake, but still, why "West Side Story"?!  I mean, I guess I understand him having a connection to that movie, like "Schindler's List" and others in his filmography deal with discrimination and prejudice, so-eh, okay, we're getting there. It wouldn't have been my first thought, but the musical has never died out, it's constantly getting revived and some of the latest versions have probably made it better; most notably, the 2009 Broadway revival where Arthur Laurents himself, the musical original book writer, oversaw a bilingual production, dialogue and music, which I frankly felt was definitely an improvement. Spielberg I suspect thought that too, and decided to adapt it into this version, so, the potential is certainly there. It's the greatest director in Hollywood, doing a rare remake of a classic, beloved film, and arguably improving on it, and critics and most audiences who saw it, loved it.

So, why was everything about how the movie was a financial bomb?!

Well, there's a lot of issues here, first of all, the pandemic has still made going to a theater, not quite a thing of the past, but certainly not the be-all-and-end-all of movie-viewing experiences that it once was. More then that, apparently Spider-Man is the only thing that will get people, well, people other-then-me at least, to spend way-too-much money for a ticket to a big screen spectacle, and frankly I don't blame Spielberg for that. Well, not entirely...- Spielberg was definitely one of the last bastions of the theater screening over movies just being released on streaming platforms with limited theatrical runs, so he's a little to blame. Still though, like musicals are not exactly the most common or beloved genre on the screen anymore, and even under the best of circumstances, they're not guaranteed blockbusters, and it's not like Spielberg's ever really been a musical guy before. 

Also, "West Side Story", is that a movie that's...-, well,- it's a bit hard to say here, but has that film actually held up over the years?! It's kinda forgotten now, since the legend of lore of the original movie's been well-written into cinema lore, but "West Side Story", despite all the Oscars and accolades, and how it's taught alongside "Romeo & Juliet" in high school English classes (I've seriously seen books that just had both play side-by-side for comparison), but it wasn't actually universally beloved even at the time. Pauline Kael's review of the movie in particular has gone down as infamous for how much she goes after the film. Roger Ebert's great movie, review even notes how out-of-vogue the movie had been becoming, how it dropped severely on AFI's Revised Greatest Films Lists, how it's too often forgotten, even among great movie musicals of the time. The music, admittedly, has never really left us; I've definitely had "America" and "When You're a Jet" randomly spewing through my mind over the years, but the movie has issues, and I'd bet that if AFI did that list today, even before Spielberg, after years of rumor and production put his finger to the reboot, I think most of the public had been putting "West Side Story", in the more, admittedly important and at times very good, but not necessarily great tier of American movie musicals. 

So, this was always a weird mix to begin with, so, for me, I wasn't shocked that people kinda took to it, with mostly ambivalence, even if you took out the "Spider-Man" factor. 

So, how is the movie? (Shrugs) Well, it definitely starts better then the original. I'm not talking about the prologue number in the beginning, although, yes, I like that better here, but I actually only got around to finally watching the original Wise and Robbins "West Side Story", in the last year or so, because, it starts with a- what seems like a ten-minute overture of the movie's score over this strange kaleidoscopic,- lines over- I don't know what modern art idea the image is, but it keeps changing colors, we get an overture, and-, I don't know it's this weird, bare, line drawings that eventually reveal itself to be Manhattan, but-...- I don't normally get upset at overture beginning movies; I know it's very outdated and apart of an earlier time, and normally I can kinda just let it go as a sign of an earlier time in filmmaking when theatre-based elements like those were more accepted and whatnot, but I- just hate this opening. It goes on way-too long, it's mostly pointless, and I'm staring at lines, that make me think somebody in the editing room was hanging around Andy Warhol way too much; I always hated it and it always made me stop watching before it really got going. 

Anyway, after this opening in Spielberg's version, I was just zipped in. Robert Wise was a good director, but he was an editor first' Spielberg is a storyteller, and with a vastly better amount of talent and equipment around him, he manages to elevate this story to where I do get caught up more in the narrative then I ever did before. I like that a lot of the dialogue is in Spanish, and yes, that the cast is predominantly, cast according to their actual race. Tony Kushner's dialogue, overall, is vastly better than Arthur Laurents's original dialogue, which yes, admittedly faced some censorship in it's day, and yes, the modernization helps, a lot. A lot of the details give the story a lot more depth, and while the movie doesn't plug up every issue I had with the movie, I think it certainly improved a lot of them. Like, Tony (Ansel Elgort) being an ex-con who just got out of jail, being a major plotpoint; it explains a lot of his ambivalence to continue on fighting the stupid groundwar with the Sharks, and would much rather focus on trying to learn Spanish from Valentina (Rita Moreno), who replaces the Doc store owner character, and adds an extra layer of complexity making that previous Jewish character by making it an elder Puerto Rican woman that the community, including the Jets have associated with for their whole lives, really setting in the contradictions and irony in their xenophobic hatred that the Sharks are, "Not Like Us", that and the decrepit circumstances of their birth and life are basically their only real reasons for their hate. We rarely see parents, arguably the only "parental" figures are Bernardo and Anita (David Alvarez and Oscar-winner Anita DeBose), Maria's (Rachel Zegler) older brother and his girlfriend. Bernardo of course, doesn't want Maria dating a Jet. 

The big difference for me, and why I prefer this version, is that it places the story, firmly in the echoes of the past. One of things that I think ultimately dates and troubles me about the original is that, it basically takes place in, what was then, modern-day Manhattan. 1950s were one of the first eras where juvenile crime and street gangs were becoming a major thing, and while the movie is somewhat tepid in accurately representing the era as accurately and realistically as possible, "Krup You", was not exactly what the original words of that song were supposed to be, one of the reason it's aged somewhat poorly is because it's an interpretation depicting it's own modern era. One of the most underrated aspects of "Romeo and Juliet", one that isn't talked about much, is that the story specifically takes place in the past; even Shakespeare clearly placed the film, at least a century before his time, and there's a reason for that; it's a simple heartbreaking story that's told best as a morality tale of what, when everybody does the wrong thing, could happen, how everybody can be hurt in the middle of a strikingly dumb conflict, including those who aren't involved in it at all, especially young loved ones. Spielberg updated, but he didn't modernize, "West Side Story" is still about '50s street gangs, and the foreboding fear of the land that they're fighting on and for, will be torn down, sooner-then-later and overtaking and turned over, perfectly putting "West Side Story" as a haunting tragic-fable that it should be. In a way, I think Spielberg got the Shakespearean parts of this story better then any other version; whenever I saw the original version, I always saw the superficial comparisons between the two stories, how one is clearly inspired by the other, I never felt the actual Shakespearean tragedy of the story itself, and Spielberg brings that home in spades, and especially Tony Kushner's script. You might prefer the immediacy of the original, and for many reasons, it probably couldn't dive into the systemic governmental issues that also plague the residents of the West Side, but I can only give it, so much slack for that, and personally I prefer Spielberg's interpretation. I won't claim it's perfect, but his elevation of the material makes me enjoy it more; makes me wanna watch it a second time instead of just putting on a soundtrack album of it. 

Although I still hope "Birth to Earth, sperm to worm," doesn't catch on. 


QUO VADIS, AIDA? (2020) Director: Jasmila Zbanic

⭐⭐⭐⭐


Something that once-in-a-while occurs to me when looking through world history is that, periodically, at some point, and some place in the world, it seems that for whatever reason somebody or some people make a very conscious and deliberate decision, to, just, murder a bunch of people. Like, hundreds, thousands at a time, as much as they can, as quickly as they can. History is basically one genocide after another periodically interrupted with a few years or so, of, well, not peace, but just not genocide. I think we tend to like to think of these events as, something that's happened, long ago, or over there, somewhere in the ether whether nobody else actually is. I can go on, and pontificate about how and why any of these numerous events occurred and what situation led to such things, but you know, while those things are important, they're mostly important to people like me, amateur keyboard historians, who may indeed be the modern day Oracle of Delphi, that can see how one thing led to another, and how the circumstances would lead to the right conditions were evil and corrupt government systems and parties could take over and, blah, blah, blah, but, how much does any of that really matter to the people who are in the middle of it. On the front lines, who's life and those of their loved ones are in irreparable danger. Those who can't get out, those who are at the mercy of an incompetent UN peacekeeping force, or at the end of a soldier's gun? 

"Quo Vadis, Aida?" details one of these recent periods of history, the Srebrennica Massacre. which, is admittedly one that, despite living through it, and definitely remembering America's involvement in the Bosnia conflict throughout the nineties, I didn't have a particular recall on. There's a lot of details of that Bosnia War that, looking up, I totally must've blanked out on, but this movie, takes place entirely within a day or two of that massacre, where General Mlodic (Boris Isakovic) led a group of Serbian army into a declared UN safe space, and murdered over 8,000 men and boys, most of whom, refugees who were desperately trying to find a way out and trust the UN workers to help them, even though they're trying. The movie is told through the perspective of Aida, (Jasna Duricic) a UN translator, who's got a front row seat to everything behind-the-scenes, every step and misstep that led to the tragic day, as well as outside, where her family is caught in the refugee crisis as she struggles to try to get them out. This involves trying to get them on lists, without making her life and everyone else's in more danger, trying to sneak them into other means of escape as stowaways, and several other back channels and front channels she's trying to manipulate, all the while being in the middle and on the front line of the foreboding horror and carnage. 

It's a powerful and intense film. It's not entirely based on an actual person, but it's easy to see how such a story could've been biographical. Most of the comparisons in the reviews I've seen compare the film to Paul Greengrass's documentary-style work on some of his films like "Bloody Sunday" and "United 93". I'm not sure I see that, but that might be because I've seen some of director Jasmila Zbanic, especially her breakthrough debut feature "Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams", which actually seemed more autobiographical as it dealt with the postwar aftermath of living in Bosnia. Many of her other films also deal with the conflict between Muslims and Catholics, or just conflicts in general with the struggles of the area. She's able to do more then serious drama, her last feature, Love Island" was a romantic comedy, so I think she just approach and shot the material the best way the material needed. She's quite skilled and this is another good example of that. The film earned a surprised Oscar nomination for Best International Feature and I get why. Zbanic is one of the more observant and fascinating filmmakers coming out of the Balkans right now, certainly one of Bosnia's best filmmakers right now. "Quo vadis, Aida" definitely opened my eyes to a forgotten tragedy, at least a forgotten one in the West, and we really should be more ashamed of that, and shows just how people can be so helpless to stop it, even as everyone's trying their best to not let tragedies like this happen. 


THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN (2020) Director: Thea Sharrock

⭐⭐⭐


Okay, I've gonna give a little personal backstory...- um, so when I went into finally watching this film, I hadn't watched anything in about a week,... I was on a script doctoring job and I was on a deadline, so every other project of mine was put on hold and that included watching a regular movie to review for awhile. So, I hadn't watched a film in like a week, before I finally had the time to take a look at my list, compose myself and watch whatever was next, and that turned out to be something I only knew about because the movie got an Oscar nomination for it's special effects called, "The One and Only Ivan". So, when the opening shot occurred, and it was a 4th-wall breaking close-up of a giant gorilla introducing himself to me..., let's just say, I had a reaction. I-eh, was not expecting that. 

Oh-kay, so, what-the-hell is this? Um, well on first glance, it seems like Disney is trying desperately to finish off any of their animal projects that, might have some questionable implications involved in their narrative, and animals in any kind of circus is definitely not exactly kosher these days. I mean, they did remake "Dumbo" for no reason recently, which I haven't seen, but I gotta imagine, must've been at least, a little horrifying in hindsight. (That's probably why they haven't put old "Dumbo's Circus" reruns on Disney+ yet as well.) I mean, obviously, this is gonna be a story about how animals are going to leave a circus, although, no, this isn't exactly a circus that's gonna get raided by the Humane Society it seems, although it is a very low-end circus, one with a permanent, Big Top, inside a shopping mall, headlines by the aforementioned titular silverback gorilla, "The One and Only Ivan" (Sam Rockwell). It's an entire animal circus run by a very old-school carney ringmaster, Mack (Bryan Cranston), who fakes a British accent, wears the kind of rug you'd expect the father in "Malcolm in the Middle" to be wearing. He has a little poodle named Snickers (Helen Mirren) however, another dog, eventually named Bob (Danny DeVito) lives secretly with Ivan and roams around the backstage when Mack isn't around. The other most aged member of the circus is the African elephant Stella (Angelina Jolie), who only has to show up and get applause, back when elephants could just do that. (I remember once seeing Siegfried and Roy somehow make an elephant appear and do nothing, and yeah, that was amazingly impressive; to this day, I have no idea how they snuck that by me.) 

Admittingly, the other acts don't seem to have to do too much else. Frankie, (Mike White, who wrote the screenplay) is just a seal that balances a ball on his nose, Henrietta (Chaka Khan, um, for some reason.... um, okay...? ) is a chicken that plays baseball, that's a little more complicated I guess, but still.... Murphy (Ron Funches) is a rabbit that rides in a toy firetruck. This is a really low-end circus, is the point, with, weird, bizarre casting.... (Did she a song for the movie? No?! Oh-, oh-kay.- I-eh,- whatever, I'm sure there's a reason...; I just can't figure it out....) 

Anyway, after the show starts to struggle, a new baby elephant Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) joins the show, and becomes a star attraction. This does make Ivan nervous, but Stella's longtime injury on her foot begins to take it's toll, and Ruby needs to come in and start replacing her entirely. Stella's become like a mother to her, and to the rest of the animals as she has stories of being free. Something that Ivan, doesn't have much of, but he begins to remember after Ruby's arrival, and after he rediscovers his love of painting and drawing, he begins to make efforts to break free, and get Ruby, and ultimately himself, out into the wild, or at least, a very good facsimile in a zoo. 

So, what's the appeal of this story? Well, it's based on the Newberry Award winning novel by Katherine Applegate, aka K.A. Applegate, most famous for the popular "Animorphs" book series, and also, this is based on a real-life thing. It's not full of talking elephants and all, but there was a family that adopted a gorilla named Ivan in the Pacific Northwest years ago, who ended up becoming an attraction at a local mall for 27 years before finally ending up at the Atlanta Zoo, where he was a known attraction until his passing in the early 2000s. Applegate took that narrative, and it makes sense why, she's always been fascinated with the contrast between the human and animal worlds, and I can see why it would be popular among kids and appeal to Disney's classic stories vault. 

Is it any good as a movie? Ehh,- I don't know really. 

I don't think the movie's terrible or anything, but I'd be hard-pressed to recommend it offhand either. The Visual Effects are-eh, well, they're good, I just, don't know if they're beneficial. I'm usually the last one who thinks animation or visual effects have swan-dived into the Uncanny Valley, but, I guess we're kinda stuck with them now, and this movie, eh, I guess it edges up to it for me; this was one of those first times I really couldn't help but notice that all the animals are digital, and no, I've found mostly that I don't like it when that happens. I get it, but I don't like it, even conceding the exceptional skill here. Like, there's two other ways to make this movie, just complete animation, either 2-D or computer generated, or real animals, which is far more off-the-table, and considering this story, I think that this was the right call, but I don't know if that makes it better. There's story beats here that, you know, are just kinda cringeworthy and are always gonna be cringey today; just the idea of an all-animal circus, even in a mall,- like, you never thought to hire a clown at least? There's also the little girl, who instantly can tell what the animals are feelings and Ivan feels based on his paintings, played by Ariana Greenblatt, like, it's one of those things, and I get that it's a kids Disney film, but I don't know. It doesn't feel great to me, and I think it comes off weird. 

I've very torn on this one; I guess I'm gonna recommend it 'cause I can't think of something so wrong with it, that I can't recommend it, but I have a feeling this story might work better in book form. It is so strange and to some degree, very privileged that, for much of the last century or two, and probably a lot longer then that, we could be genuinely entertained by just, merely seeing an elephant or a silverback gorilla.  


RED ROCKET (2021) Director: Simon Baker

⭐⭐⭐1/2


I don't know what song I would've used for a-eh, hmm..., what's another word for a leitmotif, 'cause it's not exactly that..., uh, a-eh, recurring musical theme; I don't know exactly what song I would've used for a movie about-eh, a porn star returning to his home town, but, I will say, that I don't think I would've thought to use NSYNC's "Bye, Bye, Bye", like at all....

In four features, Sean Baker has become one of the most interesting and compelling independent filmmakers around, and he's clearly got a point of view and certain stories he wants to tell. He tells stories of fringe members of society, people on the lower class, people who are close to or are struggling for their own kind of fame and freedom, often conflating the two, and something that I never really realized before now, his characters are..., well, they're all, in some manner, in the sex industry. Now, for those who only know his breakthrough "The Florida Project", which I tend to agree as his best film, might miss this, I know, I forgot about it at first, but looking back,... His first feature, "Starlet", followed a young porn performer who befriends an older elderly woman after buying a vase from her at a yard sale that, unbeknownst to her, was filled with money, then "Tangerine", a film about a trans prostitutes as they strive for success in their personal endeavors, and to take out the pimp that hurt them, those are the easy ones, 'cause were from the perspective of people within the sex industry. However, "The Florida Project" was from the perspective of, the daughter of a sex worker, a fringe prostitute who advertises on Craigslist, back when you could do that, and turned tricks while her daughter was usually out getting into trouble, or taking a bath, in order to barely at the motels on the swampy outskirts of DisneyWorld. Sex, and the selling thereof, is as much apart of their survival and their world, as, well, fringe poverty usually is. It's not as prominent in "The Florida Project", so if you know that film only, then "Red Rocket" gonna seem like a really intriguing but bizarre leap for him. I mean, it kinda is that anyway, but no, it's consistent.

I'm not sure why it's called "Red Rocket," but the movie is about an aging porn actor who's returning, unwelcomed and down on his luck to his old Texas small town, of, um, Texas City.... (Yes, it's a real place, I'm just being a smartass.) Mikey (Simon Rex) kinda stumbles into town, conning and convinces his ex-wife and fellow former porn actress Lexi (Bree Elrod) to live with her and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss) and begins promising to pay rent and begins searching for work. This is before it's completely clear what his job was, which doesn't finally come out until he's challenged by his resume's lack of work for the last two decades or so. It does seem like, at first, that he must've just come out of jail, or at least spent quite a while going from rogue illegal job to rogue illegal job, but no, he just, apparently got blackballed by Brazzers, and apparently burned all his other industry bridges, which,- well, I'd say that that's not really a thing in porn anymore, especially with all the OnlyFans-type sites out there, but that might  not be entirely true...; I mean, I do remember all the ruckus at how they had to keep Ron Jeremy out of AVNs the one time I was-, well, not there, there, but ....(I live in Vegas, you hang around long enough eventually, you end up around porn; it kinda happens.) Naturally, the only real job he gets is as a drug dealer, but even then, he only manages to sell to people who his boss, Leondria (Judy Hill) specifically tells him not to sell to.... She, also, isn't particularly happy to see him again.

In fact, about the only character who seems remotely happy to see is Lonnie (Ethan Darbone), a young man who knew Mikey secondhand before he left, but is now the only impressed that he's back and tells his stories of the business, which, he can definitely wax,-, well, 'poetic' is probably not the right word when explaining the method-like preparation it takes it produce AVN-winning facefucking, but, he definitely does his best to, try to romanticize it. I'm sure Stanislavski would be proud of his commitment. He does eventually find a young love interest in a donut-shop worker named RayLee (Susanna Son), and, I do mean, young.... Young, in that, I kept waiting for the moment in the film where she does have that upcoming eighteenth birthday soon, and eh, well, it's definitely possible it happened offscreen, but they don't actually say out loud that it actually happened.... He immediately spots her for potential talent though; she even mentions that everybody already calls her Strawberry, which-, well, I guess they can't all be your first pet and the street you grew up on. It's hard to tell whether he's,- (Sigh) for lack of a better term, "grooming" her for porn,- well, he is doing that, you know, it's- like, clearly, she ain't exactly not into it, and, I think the real intention is that, somebody who's in that kind of industry, and for that long, probably has a better eye for the kinds of women who would be interesting, or even willing to jump at the chance to be in porn. Porn definitely is one of those businesses where, at least traditionally, people get into it because of somebody they know getting them in the door, (Although that door seems a lot more open then it did once upon a time.) but he's also, trying to use Strawberry as an easy access point back into the industry, possibly running his own porn studio, which, again, much easier to do now then it was back in the day, although it's nice to hear somebody talk about setting up an LLC. 

Baker and his longtime co-writter Chris Bergoch apparently conceived of this character years ago, when they were doing research on "Starlet", when they found an archetype of certain male performers in the industry called "Suitcase Pimps", male performers who, essentially couch surf through their careers, and essentially living off female performers, who generally have a lot more power, and a lot more influence and money, in the industry. That's not always true of course, in fact, it seems like male performers tend to be around a lot longer then most female performers. Again, not like it used to be where, if a male performer can't perform and takes up too much time and money, they end not working much longer. 

In terms of Baker's filmography, I tend to think of this as one of his weaker films, maybe his weakest overall. It definitely leans more towards his goal of getting us more intimately and knowing about people in the sex industry, but I suspect he created a character that, frankly I don't particularly find that likable in the industry. Simon Rex's performance is definitely the biggest standout; he's in most every scene and he's got a lot to do. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was playing a version of himself, a la  James Deen in "The Canyons" or Rocco Siffredi in those Catherine Breillat films they were in. Rex actually does have a little bit of a porn past, but most of his career is as a very competent go-to eccentric actor, and all his strengths are used here. He's seemed to be somebody who was lucky enough to be, well, blessed, to be in porn, 'cause he seems he'd be a nightmare to have landed in any other profession or way of life without it. He'd somewhere between Ratso from "Midnight Cowboy" and Dirk Diggler from "Boogie Nights" post-success, except, back then, people did care about the male actors in porn a little bit more then they do now. Still, I like the film and he was right to make it a comedy, but yeah, I felt a lot more for he previous characters then I did much for Mikey Sabre here, so for that, it's a more mild review for his film then normal. 

Also, yeah, he really should stop claiming that he also gets an AVN award for Oral Sex scenes when he's not the one giving the oral sex, especially if he's not the only guy in the scene, like, c'mon, as much of a joke as adult industry awards are, even they know better then that.


BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR (2021) Director: Josh Greenbaum

⭐⭐⭐1/2
 

One of the under-the-radar little gems of the last year was a film called "Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar", which automatically gets in my good graces, 'cause movies with interesting and unique titles are easier to look up and we need more of them. (The next time I see a movie called "Revenge", I'm gonna find the people who made it and shove their head into a fryer of peanut oil. Memorable titles help people!!!!! #FilmCriticProblems)  The movie itself, is also as freewheelin' and delightful absurd as it's title. It's the kind of movie where you could keep on in the background, catch a glimpse at some random scene, wonder aloud, "What the hell kinda crazy-ass shit is going on," and not really worry too much about, going back and rewinding to see if makes any sense, or see what you missed, 'cause you know it ultimately doesn't matter. Honestly, this is kinda the movie I wish "Mamma Mia" was, and for that matter, it should've been. (Either "Mamma Mia", now that I'm thinking about it.)  

Barb & Star (Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, the film's co-writers as well, reuniting for the first time since writing "Bridesmaids") are, well, basically doing their best versions of Amy Sedaris characters. Well, that's- actually kinda mean to both of them, and to Amy Sedaris, but these definitely feel like some extensions from some characters they've probably been working on since their sketch days. 

They're two lifelong, middle age, Midwestern friends, who talk and talk and talk, and basically about nothing, but they're always talking to each other, and occasionally in their own little talking group they have. They recently get fired from their furniture store jobs, which was really, just an excuse for them to go hang out and talk at a display set. They decide to go Vista Del Mar, a Florida resort town that's specifically designed to appeal to those middle age culotte-wearing kinds of people. Honestly, it does look quite appealing. 

Once there, they get caught up, first with Edgar (Jamie Dornan) after they had one wild night out with him, and then, inevitably, into a bizarre mosquito-based scheme to massacre the entire town that, it just, way to friggin' stupid to even bother trying to explain,- this might be the movie with the most ridiculous spy plots of all-time, also, but they commit to it. The movie, not remotely Barb & Star, they're devoted to their own world, and the movie is devoted to it's own absurdity. There's a big deal involving the town Shrimp Queen, there's a talking crab that seemed strangely has to have had Morgan Freeman's life and voice, there's several random cameos, credited and uncredited, there's even, a shocking double-performance from Wiig, who also plays the film's villain as though she's Cate Blanchett playing Rita Repulsa. I legit didn't realize it was her; it's actually a really good performance from her. Mumulo I haven't seen act that much until now, she's also quite good. This is a dumb, non-sequitur movie about how much these two like to work with each other, work off each other and just play with each other.

That last part came out weird, but yeah, these two just came up with a movie, that's whatever-the-hell they wanted, and I adore it for them. Yeah, it's not gonna be the universal film like "Bridesmaids" was, but I kinda appreciate the wackadoo zaniness and just pure id gall of "Barb & Star..." a little more. I was never the biggest Kristen Wiig fan in terms of her comedic instincts, despite some pretty good performances in a lot of comedy films, "Welcome to Me", and "The Skeleton Twins" come to my mind immediately, but in many ways, she's always been somebody who just kinda insisted on sticking with her comedic instincts over others, especially on "SNL", I thought some of her recurring characters seemed to just be too esoteric for me, and she stuck with them, and her own kinda glanced perspective on character-building comedy, and lately, I've come to admire her a lot more for that. Nobody, especially, no females comics especially will just commit to obnoxious absurdity better than her, and not I find myself appreciating it more then I previously had. "Barb & Star..." might just be a passion project from her and Mumolo to simply make each other laugh at their own jokes, but I can appreciate that kind of rebelliousness now. This movie, had they wanted to, could've been a much more traditional comedic narrative, and one that would still have their sense of humor and perspectives all through the film, and been as successful, maybe more successful even; they've shown they can do that, but I like that they don't here. It stands out better. I mean, I might prefer, say the more Apatow or Rogen/Goldberg approaches to modern Hollywood comedy, and their comedic films as a whole, but after a while, I find that they blur together and especially as more people talented and otherwise have copied them, those films have become far less distinctive from each other, to the point where I'm constantly trying to look up which film was which, but I'm not gonna confuse "Barb and Star..." with any other film, and that's the point of it. And I love that that's the point of it as well.  


SUMMER OF 85 (2021) Director: Francois Ozon

⭐⭐⭐1/2


Francois Ozon is one of modern cinema's most prolific and erratic directors. He's capable of some great films in several different genres, and makes and releases a new movie, about once a year or so. Even the pandemic didn't slow him down, arguably it sped him up. He's made three feature films this decade, already. And, for the most part, his movies have been pretty good..., for the most part. For every "Frantz", "The New Girlfriend" "Swimming Pool" and what I'd argue is his best film, "Under the Sand", there's a "Potiche" or an "8 Women" that are pretty-, umm, I won't say "bad" per se, but they're definitely divisive. Hell, even some of his best movies are divisive, "Ricky" is easily the most notable of that field, a movie about a newborn baby who turns into a literal angel. (Yes, that's one of his really good ones, but no, I do not blame anybody for hating it.) but there's also a lot of in-between there. Like, I know I've seen "Young and Beautiful" and "By the Grace of God" and I think I liked both those movies, but I wouldn't exactly pass a pop quiz on them if you challenged me, right this second them. 

"Summer of 85" is probably one of those latter movies that's ultimately gonna get caught up in that, "Wait, which one was that?"-list. For a while, I wondered what the hell the movie was gonna become. The movie begins with a young man talking about his friend's death while being taken in by the police. 

It's not nearly as salacious as that opening indicates, but the film, overall is still pretty good. It's a story of young first love, and-eh, there's a lot of eighties songs. Honestly, this movie really could just be another eighties teen romance; it's basically got all the plotpoints. Although, personally, the movie I was originally thinking of at first was, actually "Purple Noon". Yeah, that, French movie from the '60s, that was literally "The Talented Mr. Ripley" before "The Talented Mr. Ripley". That's a good movie, but yeah, that's only a film that's aesthetically related. The movie just has a luscious look and extravagant upper class characters who hang out and party at the beach and on yachts a lot. You still do feel like it's a Young Mr. Ripley story when you first seeing the meet cute of Alexis (Felix Lefebre) and David (Benjamin Voisin), where David saves Alexis from capsizing boat, but their relationship flourishes. It's one of those summer things, but it's a good one. David is the more stylized, world-weary, motorcycle-riding kid and Alexis is the young, emotional guy who's going through his first teenage love. 
Alexis, being the kid taken by police in the beginning, means that we know it's David who dies, and it's admittedly a bit of a bait-and-switch when we do find out the reason the police have him, but eh, I guess I've seen worst. 

I've definitely seen worst from Ozon, and for a director who can be so varied in quality, I guess I've learned to just take the average. And besides, most of the times, Ozon's basically just trying to re-imagine and recreate genres from the past, and this is his '80s teen romantic drama. It's not my favorite genre, but you know what, when it's done well, it's fine, and I guess we can use some more good LGBT stories with this genre. 

(Shrugs)

It might just be the movie caught me in a good mood, or I just feel like being nicer to Ozon for not completely falling off a cliff. (Shrugs)


ZAPPA (2020) Director: Alex Winter

⭐⭐⭐⭐


I wonder what Frank Zappa would think of this world today. I know, it's commonplace to think and say that about people who were ahead of their time in their medium or art, iconoclasts in their time, and whatnot, but honestly, think about it for a second; Zappa was only 53 when prostate cancer took him in 1993; like, he barely lived to see the Clinton administration. Can you imagine what he would've thought of streaming?! What he would've thought of the internet in general! He didn't live to see AOL, much less Spotify! The way music is made now, how it's distributed, how easy it actually is to be as independent as he was. At the time of his passing, he had released, 60 albums! 60 ALBUMS of original, new material. That's-, like an average of three a year! That was a ridiculous pace, even in an era where some of the busiest and biggest acts of the time did release albums every couple months or so, like-eh, Creedence Clearwater Revival did in their prime, for example, and he just kept going and doing this for decades, while doing a bunch of other stuff. Music scoring, making a movie, starting his own record label and finding artists and creating bands there.... Nowadays that sounds quaint when people like Drake release an LP or a seven-hour mixtape every month with an R in them, or whatever, but Zappa, was basically doing all that, on-, top of the line equipment at the time, but for our modern eyes; he might've well have been in the dark ages when he created his work. 

There's been several documentaries and other media on and about Frank Zappa since his passing; a couple years ago, I gave 4 1/2 STARS to a documentary a few years ago on him callled, "Eat That Question...", and I think that movie is probably better. Partly because it was almost purely, edited together footage of newsreel and other captured footage of him, and tried to tell a chronological story of Frank Zappa. It also, didn't have authorization from the Zappa estate, which "Zappa" actually does have. And Frank Zappa, recording and preserved almost all of his footage. All his recordings, all his home and professional videos, and everything else in between. Performances with John and Yoko, performances in Czechslovakia after he became their Special Ambassador to the West for Trade, Culture and Tourism", and you know, most of the highlights. If anything, while there is a bit more focus on his, freak years; I call them freak years 'cause he would never associate himself specifically with the hippie movement, especially when he was caught up in some of the, well, sex and rock'n'roll of that movement. Not drugs; he might've taken some pot or acid here and there, but Zappa, you know, I'm sure his kids didn't love hearing about how blunt he was telling his wife about the crabs he'd come home with after the tour.

His wife Gail is also apart of the movie, as well a lot of other notable talking heads including other family members and musicians he's played with. I like seeing interviews with the likes of Alice Cooper and Captain Beefheart and some of the other artists he played with, and I like the lessons on Edgard Varese, a pioneer in avant-garde music and probably Zappa's most direct and influential musical inspiration, and even enjoyed his more roundabout approach to music, despite having a distinction for it, but the movie, is very much, a typical biodocumentary. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Frank himself might not have enjoyed it, but I can easily see him saying that. I don't know how much of this is remembered now, but it is curious how little his kids are actually in the movie; only Dweezil and Moon Unit are mentioned in archive footage and Ahmed and Diva doesn't even get that; which I kinda find curious because, well-, I don't know how many people outside of my age remember this, but there was a prolonged period in the '90s where there many strained attempts to- kinda have them be celebrities in their own right. Not as much Moon Unit oddly enough, who famously is the reason that Frank ever did get an actual pop hit song with "Valley Girl", but Dweezil & Ahmet in particular would periodically kinda show up in weird places sporadically over television, and it was actually through them that I first heard of Frank Zappa. The movie doesn't get into a lot of the bizarre Antigone-like aspects of the ownership of the Trust in their fathers name; I won't go through it all here, but if you look it, there's actually a lot of conflict between, all four kids; it's apparently resolved now, but it took years, and just in general, all four kids have all had some interesting and fascinating lives. Since their mother Gail passed in 2015, this project was clearly in the work for years, and I definitely suspect that they're hoping this begins to make money for their trust. 

Like, I said it's not a bad movie, but I just don't know if it's a movie that Frank himself would've appreciated. The film was directed by Alex Winter, yes, Ted from "Bill & Ted..."; he's actually become well-known for his documentary filmmaking over-the-years and has had quite a bit of success on the indy and film festival circuits for his projects over the years. He's a good choice if all you want is a good, but straightforward biodoc of Frank Zappa, and that's fine and I like it for that, but yeah, when you all that footage and material that Frank himself left behind and provided for you, eh, I kinda think somebody like Frank would've wanted somebody to find some more inventive and creative ways to go through and sort it....? 

(Shrugs)

Eh, I guess I'm being too picky; if I want to see a movie from a Zappa that feel reminiscent of his musical works, I guess I could just watch "200 Motels". "Zappa" is good for what it is, and while we do learn a little, it's sometimes good to just be reminded of the genius of Frank. 


SHITHOUSE (aka S#!%HOUSE) (2020) Director: Cooper Raiff

⭐1/2


Y'know, I would've thought that a movie called "Shithouse" would've at the very least, been more interesting at least. Not necessarily good, but interesting. 

Don't be jarred by the movie's title, the title refers to a colloquial name of one of the frat houses in the college in the film, and even then, it's not like "Animal House" or anything like that. It's just a college romance story. It's not even like, a romance between like, a frat brother and a sorority chick or anything,- honestly, I think the title was just the most obvious one that would grab attention. The movie itself is apparently inspired by Cooper Raiff's student short film that got the attention of Jay Duplass of The Duplass Brothers, who helped him produce this longer extended version of that short, "Madeline and Cooper". I've seen the short, it's actually a way better look an college ennui romance and frustration then this film tries to be; it even has a cute insert from Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" to really get that mindset put into your mind, and more importantly, it actually focuses on both characters equally, and more poetically. Honestly, I'd rather be reviewing that film....

"Shithouse" stars Raiff as he reluctantly hooks up with his dorm's RA Maggie (Dylan Gelula) and the two of them have one of those "Before Sunrise"-type nights, assuming a star-filled romantic night around Vienna, and a drunken dorm excursion at the end of a drunken stumble around Occidental College are the same thing. Actually, is it a cute little romance, but or start of one, and it does kinda go somewhere later on, when they get into their argument at the end, after he believes the date meant something and she tries to play it off as a one-night thing that didn't mean anything, but honestly, I kept wondering, what exactly did this thing get to.
Basically, it boils down to, what exactly entails a "college experience" and how supposedly Cooper is still halfway in his mind, still at home with his family, which we see in phone calls he makes to his mother (Amy Landecker, who, other then a cameo by Duplass are the only real established stars in this films), and this is in conflict with Maggie who has been sleeping around, even on boyfriends since high school and has a bit of a troubled homelife. Arguably her best relationship is with her pet turtle, who just died. 

Honestly, I think the movie, just wasn't a good adaptation to a feature film, 'cause frankly, I vastly preferred the original short film. I don't think it's a great short, but it's more narrow in focus, and I'm more willing to overlooked the parts that I don't care about, like the obnoxious drunk stand-up wannabe roommate Sam (Logan Miller). Instead, the movie keeps trying to find so much other stuff to put in to extend it's runtime that, ultimately I didn't care much for either of these two leads. It has that feeling of the post-mumblecore romance, but if you actually go back and watch those movies, they were way more complex in the nature of the romances they documented. The Duplass Brothers knew how to create characters and put them in conflicting situations that showed off the best and worst aspects of them, and by comparison, "Shithouse" is just way too typical and boring. It focuses too much on the Cooper character, not nearly showcasing the possible motivations and emotions in Maggie until the end, goes for the easy happy ending as well, but frankly, I'm just not rooting for them, like, at all. Like a lot of bad indies, it's a 40-minute concept that I like, that doesn't work with an extra hour and forty minutes added. The movie's been titled differently elsewhere, most notably, "Freshman Year" in the UK, but I don't think the title would help much here. "Shithouse" will grab your attention; it's probably one of the most attention-grabbing disappointing titles since "Dirty Dancing", but mostly it just felt like, and made me want to track old episodes of "Undeclared" which, honestly I don't even think I liked that cult show, but I'll bet 2-1 odds they probably have an episode that's just this, but done better. 

I hope Cooper Raiff doesn't give up or anything, this is his debut student film and he's gotten the attention of Mark Duplass, who's definitely one of those people who's attention you want to grab, so hopefully his next project will be more feature-length and compelling, and he learns how to take a story and push it towards his strengths. This movie could've been better if he knew what to add on, and what to drop off, and knew what his strengths were as a filmmaker and focused on them. He clearly is talented, but this is a misstep first feature. To that I say, eh, welcome to the club, Cooper; you'll do better next time.