“Come Sail Away” – Styx from “Freaks and Geeks” (1999)

First of all, you need to understand how much I loathe “Come Sail Away” by Styx.  If it were a federal hate crime to discriminate against a song, I’d be doing hard time in federal prison for committing crimes against this one.

But … this song works soooooo damn well in this wonderful scene from the first episode of “Freaks and Geeks,” the greatest show in television history about teenagers … and if truth be told … kicks the a– of any of the “best” feature films ever made about teenagers.

This is a scene from the Homecoming dance, where freshman Sam Weir shows up at the dance because his crush, cheerleader Cindy Sanders, promised him a dance.  She fulfills her promise and the dance between these two always lifts my mood.  Some moments are so incredibly sweet that if you dislike them, there is something seriously wrong with you.   As awkward as Sam is here, he has bigger balls than I did at the age of 14.

“Rev Meets God” from the BBC TV series “Rev”

This scene is the arguably the emotional climax of the BBC series “Rev.”  If you haven’t seen it, you probably should watch the entire series on Hulu Plus (if you’re in America).   It’s a funny, but also dramatic and complex show about a well-meaning, but seriously flawed Anglican priest played by Tom Hollander.  This scene comes near the end of its final season when the priest is at his lowest point, personally and professionally.

I’m not particularly religious, but this scene sums up what I understand God means for many people.  I realize women already think Liam Neeson IS God, but if God were to take human form, we as humanity could do a lot worse than Neeson’s characterization here.  There’s a good reason why Steven Spielberg picked Neeson to play Oskar Schindler in “Schindler’s List” over his alleged first choice, Alan Thicke.  No, I can’t quite figure out why Spielberg wanted Thicke for that role either.

“Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam” – The Vaselines / Nirvana

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The Vaselines’ most famous song, mainly thanks to Nirvana’s memorable cover on their MTV Uplugged Live performance in 1993. Released in 1988 on the EP “Dying for It,” the song is a bitter answer to the traditional children’s hymn “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” on par with XTC’s “Dear God” and Patti Smith’s psycho-sexual “Gloria” in terms of its anti-religious sentiment. However, “Sunbeam” may be more powerful because the music is so deceptively mellow, the lyrics hit like a fist. You can now find it on the excellent Sup Pop released compilation “The Way of the Vaselines.”

Oddly, the song is called “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” on all the Vaselines’ recordings even though the lyrics say “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam.” Nirvana’s cover is titled the same way as the lyrics.

I’ve included Nirvana’s version below:

Trivia note: Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love named their daughter Frances after the Vaselines’ Frances McKee.

“True Porn Clerk Stories” by Ali Davis

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Who knows you better than your spouse or significant other?  Doctor … Therapist … Pastor?  Maybe … But did you also consider that clerk at the video store?  You know … the one you never make eye contact with, especially when you’ve visited the back room.  Well, you may not know them, but they sure know you.  And they make mental notes.  And sometimes even discuss you and what you’ve rented amongst each other.

“True Porn Clerk Stories” is Ali Davis’s extremely funny and insightful memoir of working as a video store clerk and her accounts of dealing with the customers who seem to rent only from the backroom.  Despite her frustrations with some customers (especially the ones who are either rude or … well … leave an unfortunate surprise in the video box when the video has been returned), she’s not as judgmental as you might imagine.  She uses her experiences with the backroom customers as an opportunity to understand their relation to sexuality and relationships … and also get a little revenge on the ones who were jerks (relax, no real names are given!).  It’s also a requiem for a part of the entertainment industry that’s all but disappeared, as streaming and renting by mail have dominated home entertainment delivery.

If you have a strong stomach and great sense of humor, it’s a really fun and fast read.

“The Headache Factory: True Tales of Online Obsession and Madness” by Jim Goad

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Stalking is a misunderstood phenomenon.  People generally don’t spend a great deal of time stalking those they dislike.  Because if you don’t like someone, why waste your time, right?  No, the nastiest, most vicious stalking typically stems from love that is spurned or not reciprocated in the way the sender feels they deserve.  This is the phenomenon that Jim Goad discusses in detail in his new book “The Headache Factory: True Tales of Online Obsession and Madness.”

Goad is a writer who has engendered a great deal of controversy since the publication of his justifiably famous (and infamous) “zine” from the early 1990s “Answer ME!”  I won’t go into Goad’s roller coaster career and life since then, because it has been documented to death in other places.  But to put it mildly, Goad is a polarizing figure who people either love or hate.  I haven’t agreed with a lot of what Goad has said over the years, but he does argue his points extremely well and like him or not, has always been a riveting read, a cross between Christopher Hitchens, Michael O’Donoghue, and post-1992 George Carlin. 

Which is why he probably engenders such an extreme reaction from all sides, most significantly from people that allegedly “love” him.  As Goad writes “Nearly all of my harassers display a pattern of intense idealization followed by extreme devaluation.  One day I’m the Messiah; the next day I’m Satan.”   The most heinous of Goad’s harassers are cataloged extensively in “The Headache Factory.”  Some may question why someone always seems to attract these types of followers, but to be fair, that’s a question that could be asked of any figure in the public realm.  It’s hard to say why certain people obsess over others.  Especially when the person being obsessed over has made it clear “On any given day I am typically trying to avoid people rather than befriend them.” 

But obsess they do.  Goad uses pseudonyms for all but one of his stalkers. The one he addresses specifically by name is a person who, arguably, is better known than Goad.  I won’t reveal this person’s name, because … you need to read the book.  But unlike most of Goad’s stalkers who have done little of note on their own (typically the scenario for most stalkers and trolls), this particular person is a real shocker.  Seriously, why would someone of this notoriety waste their time … and potentially risk their career … harassing Goad?  In addition, there’s another revelation about a best-selling writer from the 1990s who didn’t stalk Goad, but who employed one of Goad’s stalkers.  The revelation didn’t surprise me that much, but it does shed some insight over this particular author’s suicide in 2006.

There’s a thin line between love and hate.  The people who ride that line are examined in detail in “The Headache Factory” … all of them “fans” who didn’t like being ignored or didn’t get the recognition they felt they deserved.  Like a lot of Goad’s writing, “The Headache Factory” is a harrowing, but sometimes funny read.  Dave says check it out.

“Manhunter” (1986) dir. Michael Mann

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This was the first film featuring Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter character, approximately five years before Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. Based on Harris’s novel “Red Dragon”, director Michael Mann directed this extremely suspenseful, intense, and atmospheric tale of a troubled FBI agent called back into duty to find a serial killer the top FBI officials can not find. William Peterson does a masterful job playing the troubled FBI agent, Will Graham, a man physically and mentally scarred from an earlier assignment where he captured the infamous Lecter. It was a job where he had to think like Lecter in order to capture him … and this process landed him in a mental hospital.

While there was a decent, but ultimately unnecessary big-budget remake of “Red Dragon” in remake made in 2002 with Ed Norton as Graham and … that’s right … Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter … Michael Mann’s 1986 version is so much better. As iconic as Hopkins’ characterization is, Brian Cox may actually be a scarier Lecter, based on how low-key he plays the infamous mad man. Watch this incredibly intense scene where Lecter meets with Graham where Lecter tries to dominate Graham and oh-so-casually asks Graham for his home phone number.

The attached scene is the climax of the film with major spoilers, but it has one of the best uses of rock music and film ever committed to celluloid … Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” used to absolute sinister perfection.

“Manhunter” … along with David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” … were the jewels in the ill-fated DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group studio’s late 1980s forays into filmmaking. An ironic jewel, because “Manhunter” was not successful … but Hannibal Lecter was a movie star in the making … and Dino DeLaurentiis got his money back in spades with the 2001 film “Hannibal” as well as the 2002 remake “Red Dragon.”

If you have any love for this film at all … or are just fans of the Hannibal Lecter films … please check out the Projection Booth’s recent podcast on this film:

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/06/episode-170-manhunter.html

Trivia note: David Lynch was the original director attached to this film. As much as I love what Michael Mann did here, my mind is blown over the prospect over what Lynch would have done with this material.

“Tessie” – Dropkick Murphys

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Disclosure: I’m only moderately interested in baseball. As far as the Boston Red Sox are concerned, I have no opinion about them, positive or negative. But “Tessie” by the Dropkick Murphys is, hands down, my favorite sports anthem of all-time. It sounds like a drunken collision between the Pogues, Mott the Hoople, and Social Distortion … a collision that also describes what the Dropkick Murphys sound like. That’s a huge compliment, by the way.

In any case, this song has a wonderful history. “Tessie” was originally written for a turn of the 20th century Broadway musical called “The Silver Slipper,” where it was called “Tessie (You are the Only, Only, Only).” The song was adopted by a fervent group of Red Sox fans called the Royal Rooters and sung at Red Sox games until around 1918, when the Rooters stopped singing it. Coincidentally, 1918 was the last year the Red Sox won the World Series for several years.

Cut to 2004 … Boston punk legends the Dropkick Murphys recorded a cover of “Tessie,” explaining that they recorded it to “bring back the spirit of the Rooters and to put the Red Sox back on top.” I’m not saying that the Murphys were responsible for helping the Red Sox break the “curse of the Bambino,” but that year, the Red Sox finally did win the World Series for the first time since 1918. Now the Murphys’ “Tessie” is second only to the Standells’ “Dirty Water” as the song played after every Red Sox victory. (I’d rather not mention the third song).

If you’re a Red Sox hater, there is probably nothing I can do to convince you this is a great song. But I love it and “Tessie” is justifiably a classic.

“The Godfather Part III” (1990) dir. Francis Ford Coppola

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A lot of people vehemently dislike this movie and I can’t really understand why. Is it as good as the first two “Godfathers”? Absolutely not. Is Sofia Coppola’s performance as Mary Corleone so bad that it brings down the entire picture? OK, it’s not what I’d call a good performance, but it certainly doesn’t sink the picture. I am prepared to defend this film, but please allow me a minute to put on my hardhat and my trashcan lid as a shield before I proceed …

Incidentally, there will be spoilers aplenty, so if you’ve never seen any of the “Godfather” movies, stop here, bookmark this page, watch all three, and then return to review my twelve-cents worth.

OK, first off, even under the best conditions, it would have been exceedingly difficult for Francis Ford Coppola to top, let alone match, the first two “Godfather” films. They are considered two of the best movies ever made and some would argue that there was really no need for a Part III, as Part II ends with the moral and spiritual death of Michael Corleone, a dramatically appropriate ending, considering how Michael started off idealistic and had to destroy his soul (specifically ordering the death of his brother) in order to stay in power. When you add the fact that Paramount gave Coppola an extremely short time period to get “Godfather III” made and in theaters by Christmas Day 1990, you can begin to see where some of the problems started. Adding insult to injury, the original actresses hired to play Mary Corleone, Michael’s daughter (Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder) had to back out for reasons best left to internet rumors, so Coppola had to act fast to cast the pivotal role.

Let’s get the Sofia Coppola issue out of the way first. Coppola hired his daughter to play Mary, who had little to no acting experience. The choice has been considered foolhardy by many. However, if you listen to the audio commentary on the DVD for “Godfather III,” you’ll understand why Coppola felt this story was so personal to him and that his reasons for casting his own daughter made a certain artistic sense to Coppola. Objectively, Coppola’s artistic sense has been … well … bats–t crazy from time to time … but he has pulled magic out of disaster many times in the past. It was a huge artistic gamble that many people believe didn’t pay off … including myself. But … it’s also what makes Coppola … Coppola. The man has absolute conviction in his own heart, soul, brain, and balls. He has never played it safe and that’s why he will never be dismissed as an artist, despite his missteps.

Sofia’s performance is considered one of the most legendary “bad” performances in movie history. Which I believe isn’t fair. No, it’s not a good performance, but it’s certainly far from the worst in movie history. When you consider that she’s acting against the likes of Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach, Andy Garcia, Helmut Berger, etc., her performance can’t help but suffer in comparison. Plus, the role of Mary is an extremely difficult part and I’m not convinced Julia Roberts or Winona Ryder would have done much better at that time. Yes, they were technically better actresses than Sofia, but I can’t imagine either one of them pulling this role off at that point in their careers. People openly laugh at Sofia’s “valley girl Mafia princess,” but I also cringe at hearing Roberts’ pretentious deliberate way of speaking, in addition to Ryder’s mixture of earnestness and snarkiness that was her style at the time. Maybe someone of the caliber of Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone could have pulled it off, but it was not an easy role by any means. So, let’s cut Sofia some slack.

With that out of the way, many people complained about the convoluted plotting regarding the Vatican, conspiracy theories behind the death of Pope John Paul I, etc. To which I would respond, THAT folks, is my cinematic wheel house. I LOVE conspiracy movies and while “Godfather III” is not as good as Oliver Stone’s “JFK” or Costa-Gavras’s “Z,” it comes pretty damn close. This is one of the best conspiracy films ever made and I love how Coppola threw all kinds of paranoid religious, criminal, and political conspiracy theories into the hopper here.

This is a very flawed movie, but I think it’s a worthy companion film to the first two “Godfather” films. As Coppola has asserted, the main story is “the death of Michael Corleone.” It’s about a man who has made many horrible choices in his life and desperately wants to make amends as he enters the last years of his life. But despite his good intentions, the totality of his bad choices can not be overcome and it leads to more misery and despair. I also like the fact that the more he has tried to enter “respectable” society, “respectable” society is just as vicious and nasty as the one he’s trying to leave behind (i.e. the Vatican corruption angle).

This is a very good film and one that I will always enjoy watching. The scene I’ve included here is the ending, which is one of the saddest endings of a film I’ve ever seen. Pacino’s anguish in this scene breaks my heart every time I see it, especially since I’ve become a father. It’s so good in fact that I wanted to beat the crap out of some snarky idiots at a college screening back in the day who laughed their asses off because Sofia didn’t act her death scene in the same way Meryl Streep would have. Pacino’s performance is so good, so real, so f–king raw in here that if you’re going to let Sofia’s not-so-great performance ruin it, then you’re one of those unfortunate a–holes who prides themselves more on being clever and ironic than someone who appreciates something real.

“Me and Bobby McGee” (2006) by Angela Kalule from “The Last King of Scotland” soundtrack

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One of the more pleasant highlights from the excellent, but brutal and upsetting 2006 Idi Amin docudrama “The Last King of Scotland” was this unique and beautiful cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” sung by Ugandan singer Angela Kalule. This is tied with Janis Joplin’s famous cover in my book. Oh, and do yourself a favor and pick up the soundtrack. It’s a stellar mix of African pop and rock from the 1960s / 1970s.