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Flatbush Zombies – now, more than ever – EP (2020)

July 21, 2020

Flatbush Zombies – now, more than ever – EP (2020, Rap)

1. “herb” – 3.5
2. “iamlegend” – 3
3. “quicksand” – 3.5
4. “dirty elevator music” – 4
5. “blessings” – 3.5
6. “when i’m gone” ft. Sophie Faith – 4

Spin Rate: 8.5
Most Played Track: “herb” (10x)
Average Song Rating: 3.58/5
3.5+ Percentage: 83%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: I haven’t heard much music from Flatbush Zombies that wasn’t dope. They consistently release solid projects and this EP fits the bill. All three emcees are capable, though I’ve always been partial to the gruff-sounding Meechy Darko, but after seeing someone negatively describing him as sounding like a B-Movie Monster, maybe he’s not for everyone. I love him though. These guys just make good music. “dirty elevator music” has an absolutely sick beat and I love how the “it’s like…” vocal sample is looped during the verses on “when i’m gone.” The track is plenty nice on its own merit, but that aspect really elevates it for me and it’s such a simple thing. now, more than ever is another extremely strong, but short project from a very talented and overlooked hip-hop group.

Verdict: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

July 21, 2020

Director: Wes Craven (Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4, Last House on the Left, People Under the Stairs)

Starring: Heather Langenkamp, John Saxson, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund

Anticipation Level: N/A

How Was It?

A chronological, as-I’m-watching-it review with MANY SPOILERS:

I absolutely love this movie. It’s easy to forget how great the original Nightmare is because of how bad many of the sequels were. Of all the horror franchises that I loved as a kid, I think the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies have arguably aged the worst. I think about half of them are nearly unwatchable as an adult. But not this one. This one is great.

Right from the jump, the theme music is unique and creates an unsettling tone. The opening dream sequence also does a great job of teasing an ominous presence while not exactly revealing what Freddy is. How about that close up shot of Freddy’s eyes behind the pipes? Ah yes, back when Freddy Krueger was actually scary.

The second dream sequence is AWESOME. I’ve seen this movie so many times that I feel like I know it shot-for-shot and Tina’s second dream just has so many iconic moments: Freddy coming out of the wall above Nancy; Freddy with the stretchy long arms; Freddy slicing his fingers off; Tina pulling his face off while he just laughs through it; and then the unbelievable death scene that sees Tina thrashing through the air as some unseen force slices her to death while her boyfriend Rod watches helplessly and then her body just drops to the floor with a thud. BLOOD IS EVERYWHERE. Holy shit, what a scene.

It’s a bit disturbing when the news report of Tina’s murder says that she was 15 years old. I mean… Tina and Rod were having some pretty loud, raucous sex off screen there. Granted, the actress playing Tina was 24 or 25 when this filmed, but still…

LOL @ Nancy getting private access to Rod, a murder suspect, when he’s in jail. How does that happen? Sure, her dad is a cop, but it’s obvious that he wants her nowhere near this guy and his co-workers should be aware of that. Later, we see Nancy barge in to the police station and demand to see Rod again, bullying the cop at the desk to let her through before dad puts a stop to it.

I have to say the acting in this movie is pretty good for an 80s horror flick. And by “pretty good,” I mean it’s not laughable like it is in a lot of the genre pics of the time. Interestingly, I’m inspired to type this by Heather Langenkamp’s super cringy delivery of “how can you say I don’t take her death seriously?” after her mother says, “I guess you don’t think murder is serious.” It’s a brutal moment in an otherwise reasonably acted flick.

I really like how Nancy’s teacher walks by her when she’s falling asleep in class and gives her a knowing touch. It feels like a rare authentic human moment from a meaningless character in a horror movie. It would just be so stereotypical for the teacher to walk by her and startle her awake for having the nerve to fall asleep in class like what she went through the night before is not public knowledge. Also, shoutout to Lin Shaye playing the teacher here. She will later star in the Insidious movies as Elise Rainier.

Another iconic scene from this movie: Freddy’s glove coming up out of the bathtub water between Nancy’s legs. Not sure how you can grow up watching these movies and not think about that scene when you’re taking a bath as a kid. I think this scene is also the first time we hear the famous Freddy nursery rhyme from the jump rope girls. This scene also has more awkward sexualization of a supposed 15 year old – you can see Nancy topless when Freddy pulls her under the water. Heather Langenkamp was really 20 (and it was probably a body double anyway), but Nancy is 15! Why are we seeing her breasts? It’s weird.

I love when Johnny Depp asks Nancy what happened to her arm and she replies, “I burned it in English class.”

Let’s give Nancy some props. She’s a fighter. How many heroines in horror movies do you see that are ready to take on their tormentor less than halfway through the movie? Nancy asks Glen to watch over her while she sleeps because she needs to go “look for someone” and that someone is Freddy Krueger. Her friends are being killed and she knows the dream world has real world ramifications. This is a BOSS move. Of course, Glen shits the bed and falls asleep. What an ass.

The sleep clinic is another nice touch of giving the main character some credibility. This is a scene where the stereotype would be for the results to show that everything is normal and Nancy is just making this stuff up… but instead, mom and doctor see that things aren’t even close to being normal. Nancy’s dreams are off-the-charts FUCKED.

This prompts mom to tell Nancy the truth about Krueger being a local child murderer and reveals that she’s been keeping his bladed glove in their basement furnace like a serial killer holding on to a souvenir from a murder. This part of the movie is a bit muddled. Fred Krueger got off on a technicality in a case that got the “lawyers fat and the judge famous?” Uh, okay. If you say so. And none of the teenagers in the area know about this obviously super infamous case that happened right in their own backyard? Uh, no. Not even in the pre-internet age is this even remotely believable. Literally everyone in that town would know about what Fred Krueger did.

Ugh, the ending of this movie is brutal. Craven really botched it. There is just so much going wrong. How is Nancy barricaded in her house exactly? Her mom is a semi-functional alcoholic and though it’s never explicitly said, all indications are that Nancy’s parents are divorced and her dad doesn’t live with them…. so who made their house an inescapable fortress? Mom? Yeah right. I guess it’s feasible that she paid some professionals to do this, but… I’m rolling my eyes here.

How absurd is it that Nancy is linked to three murders, she’s a police officer’s daughter, there’s a bunch of cops at a murder scene right across the street (including dad!), she’s screaming bloody murder at the top of her lungs and shattering windows trying to get someone’s attention… and her dad’s co-workers are just standing there looking at her like, “what’s that crazy kid on about now?” This is the kind of stereotypical bullshit that always happens in these movies that A Nightmare on Elm Street was doing such a good job of NOT doing. This whole sequence just blows.

There’s such a Home Alone vibe to Nancy’s final encounter with Freddy. She has booby traps set up all over and he runs right into them. She even says, “come and get me” at one point, a line straight out of the Kevin McCallister playbook. But Home Alone came out in 1990, so does that mean that Home Alone has an A Nightmare on Elm Street vibe?

How bad is the mom’s death scene? Nancy and dad walk in just in time to see a fake looking corpse descend into the bed and disappear. Then Nancy says to her dad, “now do you believe me?” with zero emotion or regard for the fact that her mom was just murdered. For a movie with tons of awesome visual effects, I can’t believe how pathetic her mom’s body looks here.

Finally, this conclusion just doesn’t work for me at all. How anticlimactic is it that Nancy defeats Freddy by simply turning her back on him and taking away his “power” by not believing in him? The fact that she turns around to see if he’s there afterwards is proof enough that she still believes in him. Somehow this ending also brings her mom and friends back from the dead, so essentially nothing that happens actually happened. But then they drive off in a Freddy-themed car and mom gets pulled through the door by Krueger, so wtf? I suppose Wes Craven answers this question in Nightmare 3 because when Nancy shows up her hair is streaked grey and she says her friends were killed by Freddy. I dunno. It’s all just so bogus and leaves a gross stain on an otherwise wonderful horror movie.

I forgive A Nightmare on Elm Street for all its flaws. The first 80 minutes of this movie are just way too enjoyable for the last ten minutes to ruin it. It is chock full of iconic moments and Freddy is a looming, sadistic, and scary figure. This Freddy gets off on scaring and toying with his victims before he kills them and the corny one-liners that he eventually becomes known for are nowhere to be found in this film. This movie is not completely absent of camp, but I think Nightmare 1 strikes the perfect mix of camp and scary.

I wish the ending was better, but this is still an all-time horror classic to me and its replay value seems unending. I’m sure I’ve seen this at least ten times and I still enjoy it thoroughly. Wes Craven created one of the most memorable villains to ever grace the silver screen. 35 years later and a decade since the last Freddy movie (and arguably 25 years since the last good one) and Freddy Krueger still feels relevant today. A must see horror flick and one of the best the genre has ever had to offer.

Replay Value: Plenty. I’ve seen it so many times and I’m still eager to re-visit it with each viewing.

Sequel Potential: None. Well, except for seven sequels, a remake, and endless amounts of merchandising. And it’s not going to stop there either – though we are currently in the longest stretch between Freddy movies since he debuted in 1984.

Oscar Potential: Nightmare 1 received zero Oscar nominations, but I think it should have at least been considered for Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects. Having watched both A Nightmare on Elm Street and (loosely) visual effects nominee Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom recently, I think Nightmare was clearly better in this department.

8/10 (Must See)

A Dark Knight Classic

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Group Home – Livin’ Proof (1995)

July 11, 2020

Group Home – Livin’ Proof (1995, Rap)

Release Date: November 21st, 1995

Song Rating Scale

1. “Intro” – N/A (really nice melody though)
2. “Inna City Life” – 3.5
3. “Livin’ Proof” – 4
4. “Serious Rap S**t” ft. Guru & Big Shug – 3
5. “Suspended In Time” – 3.5
6. “Sacrifice” ft. Absaloot – 3
7. “Up Against the Wall (Low Budget Mix)” – 4
8. “4 Give My Sins” – 2.5
9. “Baby Pa” – 2
10. “2 Thousand” – 3
11. “Supa Star” – 3.5
12. “Up Against the Wall (Getaway Car Mix)” – 2.75
13. “Tha Realness” ft. Smiley the Ghetto Child & Jack the Ripper – 3.5

Spin Rate: 4.1
Most Played Track: “Sacrifice” (6x)
Average Song Rating: 3.19/5
3.5+ Percentage: 50%
Cuts: 3
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: I came across this album in a hip-hop group I’m in on Facebook and since plenty of commenters consider it a classic and DJ Premier was behind the boards for most of the production, I decided it would be the next old school project I examined. I’ve never heard any of this before – except maybe the “Livin’ Proof” instrumental – so this was all fresh to me.

Honestly, I was underwhelmed. Premier does his part, but he really carries this album on his back. The beats on “Livin’ Proof” and “Up Against the Wall (Low Budget Mix) are flames. The rappers in Group Home are Lil Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker. Lil Dap has a cool voice and nice delivery, but Melachi is NOT a good rapper. There are tracks where he is almost unlistenable. I gave the first “Up Against the Wall” banger status, but that’s because the beat is crazy and Lil Dap sounds great over it, but Melachi’s verses on it are straight up embarrassing. Listening to these guys rap, I can’t help but wonder if they freestyled this whole album. It really sounds like Premo just put a banger on and they record off the top of their head and kept the vocals when they didn’t make any mistakes. There is zero substance, complexity, or creativity to any of the lyricism on this album. If they wrote most of this stuff, they should be ashamed. If they freestyled all of it, it’s kind of impressive.

Premo did every beat on the album except “Serious Rap S**t” (Guru) and “4 Give My Sins” (Jaz-O) and, unsurprisingly, those are two of the weaker tracks on the album. I gave the second version of “Up Against the Wall” a 2.75 because while it’s not a bad song, the beat is substantially better on the first version, the vocals are all the same, and it just doesn’t need to be here. “Baby Pa” also probably unfairly brings the overall score down because it’s a 3+ minute track that has almost no rapping on it – a clear cut.

Overall, I’m impressed with Premier, but that’s to be expected. The rappers on this album are just too weak for it to be considered anything close to a classic album though. It’s no wonder they basically disappeared after this project. I say check it out for the beats and because there’s some good tracks on here, but this is far from an essential 90s album.

Verdict: 6/10 (Very Light Recommendation)

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June 2020 Music Playlist

July 10, 2020

* indicates June addition

Notes: I made an adjustment this month. I basically keep every album in my Priority Playlist for ~4 months – and for the purposes of these blog posts, I will include all new albums for the past month – but as far as older recent albums, I don’t see much point in making anyone sift through the vast majority of stuff that never make it past a Courtesy Rotation and will exclude them from all future posts unless they rise up later on. Also, it’s probably worth noting that any album I post a review for got a big boost in spins because I spent extra time thinking about it, so G Herbo jumps into Heavy Rotation here even though I didn’t particularly like his album.

HEAVY ROTATION (heard whole album many times)

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
*Flatbush Zombies – now, more than ever – EP
G Herbo – PTSD
Jay Electronica (and Jay-Z!) – A Written Testimony
Lil Baby – My Turn
Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake
Planet Asia & 38 Spesh – Trust the Chain
Royce da 5’9″ – The Allegory
*Run the Jewels – RTJ4
The Weeknd – After Hours

STRONG ROTATION (listened to most of album 3-4 times)

*Baby B – Text at 2 AM
Chris Brown & Young Thug – Slime & B
Deante’ Hitchcock – BETTER
Freddy Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
Future – High Off Life
Grafh – Oracle 3
Jessie Reyez – BEFORE LOVE CAME TO KILL US
*Lil Brick – Road to Ouroboros – EP
Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake [Deluxe]
Kamaiyah – Got It Made
Kota the Friend – Everything
R.A. the Rugged Man – All My Heroes Are Dead
Sam Hunt – SOUTHSIDE
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
Westside Gunn – Pray for Paris

SOLID ROTATION (heard whole album at least twice)

*A Boogie wit da Hoodie – Artist 2.0 [Deluxe]
Buddy & Kent Jamz – Janktape Vol. 1
Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
J Hus – Big Conspiracy
Jadakiss – Ignatius
Jhene Aiko – Chilombo
Lil Durk – Just Cause Y’all Waited 2
Lil Simz – Drop 6 – EP
Lil Tjay – State of Emergency

COURTESY ROTATION (heard whole album)

*6lack – 6pc Hot EP
*John Legend – Bigger Love
*Kemba – The World is Watching – EP
*Wale – The Imperfect Storm

SKIM ROTATION (haven’t heard whole album)

*Big Ghost Ltd & Conway the Machine – No One Mourns the Wicked
*Bino Rideaux – OUTSIDE
*Black Eyed Peas – TRANSLATION
*G-Eazy – Everything’s Strange
*IDK – IDK & Friends 2 (Basketball County Soundtrack)
*Marlon Craft – Work From Home – EP
*R.A.P. Ferriera – Purple Moonlight Pages
*Robbie Perez – Obra: Inspired by 2020 – EP
*Teyana Taylor – The Album
*The High Note Soundtrack

TOO NEW/NO LOVE (zero listens)

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

Run the JewelsRTJ4

Bangerz Playlist Additions – Follow me on Apple Music @DarkKnight1717 to add my playlists

Baby B, “She Know”
Flatbush Zombies ft. Sophie Faith, “when i’m gone”
Flatbush Zombies, “dirty elevator music”
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist ft. Tyler, the Creator, “Something to Rap About”
G Herbo ft. Chance the Rapper, Juice WRLD & Lil Uzi Vert, “PTSD”
G Herbo ft. BJ the Chicago Kid, “Gangstas Cry”
J. Cole, “Snow on tha Bluff”
Lil Baby, “The Bigger Picture”
Lil Baby, “Woah”
Lil Baby, “Catch the Sun”
Meek Mill, “Otherside of America”
PARTYNEXTDOOR ft. Drake & Bad Bunny, “LOYAL (Remix)”
Planet Asia & 38 Spesh, “Juggernauts”
Planet Asia & 38 Spesh, “Tec and a Mink”
RMR ft. Future & Lil Baby, “DEALER”
Royce da 5’9″ ft. Ashley Sorrell, “Pendulum”
Run the Jewels, “a few words for the firing squad”
Spillage Village ft. EARTHGANG, J.I.D., Jurdan Bryant, Mereba & Hollywood JB, “End of Daze”

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Run the Jewels – RTJ4 (2020)

July 7, 2020

Run the Jewels – RTJ4 (2020, RAP)

1. “yankee and the brain (ep. 4)” – 3.5
2. “ooh la la” ft. Greg Nice & DJ Premier – 4
3. “out of sight” ft. 2 Chainz – 4
4. “holy calamafuck” – 3.5
5. “goonies vs E.T.” – 3.5
6. “walking in the snow” ft. Gangsta Boo – 3.5
7. “JU$T” ft. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha – 4
8. “never look back” – 3.5
9. “the ground below” – 3.5
10. “pulling the pin” ft. Joshua Homme & Mavis Staples – 3.5
11. “a few words for the firing squad (radiation)” – 4.5

Spin Rate: 7.64
Most Played Track: “yankee and the brain (ep. 4)” (10x)
Average Song Rating: 3.73/5
3.5+ Percentage: 100%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 4

Thoughts: At this point, it’s fair to say Run the Jewels are on a legendary run. Killer Mike and El-P have now put together four high quality albums in row and continue to stay politically and socially conscious and timely. Their music is consistently good and relevant, yet somehow they seem wildly underrated, especially by the general audiences. The rapping and production are really good on pretty much every track and there isn’t a song on here that I’d leave off the album. “A few words for the firing squad” is my favorite song on the album with Killer Mike putting together this set of bars that just rings so true:

It’s crippling, make you wanna lean, on a cup of promethazine
but my queen say she need a king, not another junkie, flunkie rapper fiend
friends tell her, ‘he could be another Malcolm, he could be another Martin’
she told her partner, ‘I need a husband more than the world need another martyr.’

Goddamn. Those bars just go so hard and the way he raps it makes it even better. These guys stay extremely consistent and this is just another feather in the cap of a legacy that is starting to be worth mentioning among the all-time greats.

Verdict: 8/10 (Must Listen)

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June 2020 Movie Reviews

July 5, 2020

Check out my profile on Letterboxd if you want to follow along as I write my reviews throughout the month and also because the site/app is amazing for film lovers.

Wow, this is getting a bit pathetic. My movie watching has gone way down. I went two weeks in between movies in the second half of June. I wonder how far I’d have to look back to find a gap that long between flicks? Of course, it doesn’t help that theaters have been closed for four months now. Even worse, my Martin Scorsese project has really lost steam – it’s been almost three months since I watched a movie of his! I’ve had Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore at home since April 29th. Yikes! I have just been preferring to watch T.V. shows instead movies when I have the time. Check out my TV Show Ratings page for scores for Dead to Me, The Crown, Hannibal and Ozark.

Long Gone Summer (2020, ESPN+)

I’m a baseball megafan… well I used to be. 2020 is challenging how I feel about the game. I’m not even sure I want a season at this point. But I remember the Summer of 1998, how magical and enthralling it all was, and how it helped restore interest in the national past time after the strike-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995. It seemed like someone was making an assault on Roger Maris’ 30+ year old single season homerun record on an annual basis and yet it still seemed like some magic number that could never be reached. 61 home runs? Are you kidding me? And then McGwire and Sosa came along in 1998 and not only made a run at the record, but both of them demolished it, with any suspense about whether it was going to happen pretty much erased by the end of August.

I actually have some memory of when I found out McGwire broke the record. I didn’t get to watch it live because I was on a road trip with my high school’s girls soccer team as an acting sports medicine athletic trainer and our bus was stopped at a gas station somewhere.

The whole thing seemed surreal at the time and that’s probably because it wasn’t real. It takes a while for this movie to get to steroid allegations and I don’t think it really asks the hard-hitting questions. Prior to this documentary, Sosa hasn’t publicly admitted to juicing and while he all but confirms he was using PEDs here, he still can’t just come out and say it. Sosa is completely unapologetic for his role in The Steroid Era and maybe that’s something that should be applauded instead of vilifying him while McGwire gets inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Are any of these guys really sorry that they juiced and put up crazy numbers, made tons of money, and entertained the hell out of us? I doubt it. They are only sorry because they got caught and are faced public scrutiny. You kind of have to appreciate someone like Sosa that doesn’t even bother to pretend like he gives a shit.

I really enjoyed this documentary and as a huge baseball fan, it’s something I’ll probably revisit somewhat regularly. Regardless of how they did it, the Summer of 1998 will always hold a special place in my heart and memory.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

The High Note (2020, iTunes rental)

I liked this well enough. It’s about a passionate music-lover that is a personal assistant to superstar singer but has aspirations of making a name for herself as a producer. This movie largely works for me because of Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. I just like what they bring to the table. Both of them have such natural screen presence and likability. Considering Johnson’s biggest role is as Anastasia Steele in the 50 Shades franchise, I didn’t see myself becoming such a fan, but I’ve really enjoyed her in pretty much everything else I’ve seen. Harrison Jr. builds on a breakthrough 2019 that saw him crush his roles in both Luce and Waves with yet another impressive performance – he can sing too! His song “Track 8” from this movie is a really nice song and possibly a certified banger. I think the rest of the music in this movie ranges from decent to good though, so I wasn’t exactly blown away by that aspect of it.

I felt like this movie dropped the ball on the ending. It just didn’t make sense to me and seemed completely unnecessary. It could have had a feel good conclusion without going in such a forced and unbelievable direction. Still, I enjoyed it overall, so I’ll give it a light recommendation.

6/10 (Recommended)

The Greatest Showman (2017, Amazon rental)

I wanted to see this at one point in time but ultimately skipped it with no plans to go out of my way to watch it because critical response was decidedly poor. But a friend of mine listed it as one of his Must See movies and was willing to put his rep on the line over it, despite resounding skepticism from our group chat. I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be good, but I showed him respect and watched it.

I knew 15 minutes and three songs in that it probably wasn’t going to win me over. It’s not like I have an aversion to musicals – I count Chicago, Moulin Rouge!, Dreamgirls, School of Rock, Frozen and Moana on my list of recent musicals that I really enjoyed. But The Greatest Showman immediately has a campy feel, the songs weren’t impressing me, and the actors didn’t even look like they were actually singing. Obviously, they record the songs separately, but it should still look like the words are coming out of the characters’ mouths.

It gets better. The song performed by Rebecca Ferguson’s character midway through the movie was pretty powerful and there were some other standout songs. Hugh Jackman is always pretty good and that’s the case here. I’m not a Rebecca Ferguson fan but I liked the rest of the cast, even if Zendaya and Yahya Abdul-Mateen are underused.

The Greatest Showman just never pulled me in. It’s all spectacle and no substance. It doesn’t help that it appears to paint P.T. Barnum in an inauthentic light. At least that’s what I’ve read. But I don’t know anything about him, so that didn’t influence my own viewing of the movie.

At best, I’d say this was mildly entertaining, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. You can probably find clips of the best songs/scenes on YouTube and save yourself 90 minutes. Somehow this Must See/Can’t Miss recommendation went 0 for 3 in our group chat. Take that for what it’s worth.

4/10 (Forgettable)

The Edge of Seventeen (2016, Netflix, second viewing)

Originally written December 17th, 2016:

The Edge Of Seventeen is one of the better coming-of-age films I’ve seen in years. Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a high school junior that feels like the whole world is against her, particularly after one of the few people that can relate to her, her father, passes away. Things are really turned upside down when her only friend begins dating her brother. While I can’t particularly relate to Nadine’s story, I do feel like the script paints an accurate picture of what it’s like to be a teenager – from feeling like your parents don’t understand you at all, to thinking of your sibling as your enemy, to making consistently poor decisions… basically, thinking of nobody but yourself. The Edge Of Seventeen features some amazing acting from the whole cast, but it’s no surprise that Hailee Steinfeld gives another performance worth of Oscar consideration. Having just turned 20, with multiple great performances under her belt already, Steinfeld has established herself as the number one actress 20 or younger. I found a lot of the situations in The Edge Of Seventeen to be quite authentic, like how Nadine swoons over the one dimensional guy she doesn’t know because she finds him attractive while putting the nerdy guy she actually relates to on the back burner. Even though I liked Woody Harrelson in his role as Nadine’s teacher, their relationship felt like a bit of a stretch. Do teenage girls ever share their pornographic text messages with their teachers and ask for advice? Especially when said teacher is a man? I’m thinking no.

There was very little not to like about The Edge Of Seventeen. It was interesting, frequently hilarious, and tells a complete story. Plus it features a ton of amazing acting. It’s not quite a must see film, but I found it very enjoyable.

Replay Value: I will enjoy watching it a second time.
Sequel Potential: I think that would be weird.
Oscar Potential: Steinfeld got a Golden Globe nom, but the Oscar buzz has been quieter. I think she’s deserving, but I haven’t seen all the best performances. A SAG snub is a bad sign.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Snowpiercer (2013, Netflix)

What a bizarre movie. Set in an apocalyptic future where all life on earth has become extinct because of a failed solution to global warming. The only survivors are on board a train called the Snowpiercer and what a strange world they exist in. The train is weather-proof and designed to withstand the cold of the Arctic and completes its trek around the world in exactly 365 days so the citizens on board know that everytime they pass a certain bridge it signifies a new year. This movie is from Bong Joon Ho, the writer/director of last year’s Best Picture winner Parasite, and is another commentary on social classes as the people in the back of the train are treated like sub-humans and fed “protein bars” while the people in the front of the train are the acting government and dine on steaks. This is one of the crazier movies I’ve seen in a while and I was definitely intrigued if not exactly enthralled. The art direction in the various train compartments was stellar, but a bit unbelievable. I didn’t love this movie, but it’s definitely worth watching and I’m at least somewhat interested in the T.V. series it has spawned.

6/10 (Recommended)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011, HBOMax, sixth viewing)

This review may contain spoilers.

Azkaban might be the best Potter movie, but this one is probably my favorite. The action is unrelenting and there are a number of scenes that still give me chills:

*Harry returning to Hogwarts and surprising everyone when he walks through the portrait

*Harry’s confrontation with Snape

*Harry going to the woods by himself to die

*Neville’s standing up to Voldemort

*Harry revealing to everyone that he’s still alive

and probably more that I’m forgetting.

The final confrontation with Voldemort left a little to be desired. Pretty much as soon as Harry obtains the Elder Wand, it’s game over. I did love how he called him Tom though. Such a nice touch that I don’t remember being in the books.

This is just such a nice cap to what is an absolutely wonderful film franchise. You have to give the filmmakers and studio credit for keeping the cast together for eight films and it was super cool seeing the kids grow up on screen. Some of them are pretty accomplished actors by the end of it.

This series is iconic. It’s inevitable that they will probably remake it at some point (hopefully not in my lifetime) but I seriously don’t want to see that happen. I think they did an A+ job the first time around.

8/10 (Must See)

Bloodsport (1988, Netflix, fifth viewing?)

This movie is pretty ridiculous with some hilarious acting – especially from JCVD – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t still a fun watch. Chong Li is one of the more memorable action movie villains from my childhood. I’d guess I’ve probably seen this movie 5+ times but this is my first time as an adult and I still enjoyed it.

6/10 (Recommended)

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J. Cole – Friday Night Lights (2010) – A Classic?

June 30, 2020

I’ve decided to scrap the idea of making a single post the review albums for an entire month. I finally finished my February reviews last week and I just sit on these things for too long. Going forward, I’m going to post one album review at a time. Each month, I’ll post a review for two older albums, representing two different time periods: modern and old school. I consider the old school time period to roughly stretch from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. There is so much old school rap that I’m unfamiliar with that I really want to focus on listening to some of the more iconic albums and artists I have overlooked. Those are the projects I’ll be highlighting for the foreseeable future. So I’ll be going into those reviews with basically zero exposure to those albums. I consider the modern hip-hop period to stretch from the mid-1990s all the way up until now. I will mostly be highlighting albums that I really enjoyed during this time period and could post reviews from albums that dropped as recently as last year or as early as the late 90s. The rest of my reviews will be focused on 2020 albums, alternating between very recent drops and the ones I’m still trying to catch up on. I think my review system is locked in enough that I feel comfortable posting reviews after listening to an album 2-3 times.

MODERN ALBUM OF THE MONTH: J. COLE – FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2010, RAP)

1. “Friday Night Lights (Intro)” – N/A
2. “Too Deep For the Intro” – 3.5
3. “Before I’m Gone” – 4
4. “Back to the Topic (Freestyle)” – 3.5
5. “You Got It” ft. Wale – 3.5
6. “Villematic” – 4
7. “Enchanted” ft. Omen – 3.5
8. “Blow Up” – 4.5
9. “Higher” – 4
10. “In the Morning” ft. Drake – 4
11. “2Face” – 3.5
12. “The Autograph” – 4
13. “Best Friend” – 3
14. “Cost Me A Lot” – 3.5
15. “Premeditated Murder” – 4
16. “Home For the Holidays” – 3.5
17. “Love Me Not” – 3
18. “See World” – 4
19. “Farewell” – 4
20. “Looking For Trouble” ft. Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, & CyHi the Prince – 3.5

Spin Rate: 4.89
Most Played Track: “Blow Up” (9x)
Average Song Rating: 3.89/5
3.5+ Percentage: 89.5%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 9

Thoughts: This mixtape is largely considered a classic among modern hip-hop heads and I can’t really disagree. I thought almost every song on this album was good and it has the most bangers of any project I’ve reviewed so far. I believe this is Cole’s third mixtape and dropped before his debut major label album to hold the fans over. Mixtapes are hard to get your hands on, so good luck finding it somewhere other than YouTube. This is the only Cole tape I’ve listened to and I’m unfamiliar with his debut album, so I’m still trying to get up to speed on Cole’s earliest stuff as I assess his overall placement in the all-time lists. He’s certainly earned a spot in my top 5 rap artists of the past decade at this point and this tape only cements his legendary status among current hip-hop artists. Cole’s delivery sounds incredibly hungry and the production on this project is extremely strong. A massive win and an album that people still giddily mention today.

Verdict: 8/10 (Must Listen)

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February 2020 Album Reviews (Part 2)

June 16, 2020

A good rule of thumb in order for me to rate an album is that I probably need to listen to it at least twice. Possibly the only exception to this rule is when I deem an album unlistenable and can barely (or can’t) even make it through the whole album the first time. Listening to and evaluating music is a pretty fluid process though, so all ratings are subject to change in the future as albums grow on me or I realize I initially overrated them. I’ve been sitting on most of these albums for about three months now, so I feel pretty good about these reviews. I will bold any song I added to my Bangers Playlist – usually at least a 4 on my rating scale.

SCALE

5 – Perfection – Elite on every level. Pure bliss in musical form. Literally perfect.
4.5 – Great – Mostly elite, but not quite on that all-time level of the best songs ever created.
4 – Very Good – This is basically the cut off for my Bangers Playlists, which are essentially a list of my favorite songs of the year. I feel like I should never want to skip a song I give a 4. Any album that can average a 4 is probably amazing.
3.5 – Good – I feel like this is where you want to sit as an artist. Making good songs. Sometimes you will make really good songs and sometimes you will make some not so good songs. An artist that consistently reaches this level is by no means average though… they are nice.
3 – Cool – When people say something is “not bad,” that’s what this is. It’s not exactly good, but it’s not really a weak track either. When I give something a 3, I like it, but I’m a bit lukewarm on it, whereas I’m 100% on board with something I give a 3.5. I basically consider a 3 to be “acceptable filler,” so I’m going to skip these tracks a decent amount of the time. You don’t want to sit here as an artist. The difference between an album that averages a 3.5 and one that averages a 3 is huge. A 3.5 is undeniably good while a 3 is decidedly mediocre.
2.5 – Decent – Any song I give a 2.5 to is something I’d cut from an album. It’s not good enough to be on there and megafans and completionists are the only people that ever needed to hear it. A 2.5 is the ceiling for weak songs though, so I guess I’d call them decent, but decent isn’t good enough to be album material. This is unacceptable filler – almost always a skip. An album that averages a 2.5 rating is almost certainly trash.
2 – Bad – These are flat out bad tracks. There are songs I don’t really like but I’d call decent and then there are songs I don’t like that just plain suck. That’s what a 2 is.
1 – Trash – No need for a 1.5. A trash track is worse than a bad track. We are talking pure garbage here.

Spin Rate – This is an important feature because not only does it show how much listening love I gave an album, but it also reflects how reliable my opinion on it is. I’m going to trust someone that listened to something 5+ times through a hell of a lot more than someone that just gave an album one listen. It’s not perfect. I just add up the total number of listens for every song on the album and divide it by the number of actual songs on the album (intros, skits, outros are generally excluded). But if my spin rate is a 5, then you can assume I’ve listened to most of the album at least five times through.

OLD SCHOOL ALBUM OF THE MONTH: Every once in a while someone challenges my early hip-hop knowledge and while I’m typically aware of the key artists and albums from the 80s and early 90s, my knowledge is not intimate. Like, if someone asks me to rattle off my favorite KRS-One or Rakim & Eric B. songs, I’d struggle to even name more than a couple song titles, let alone my favorites. I need to fix this. Last month I created a playlist of all the essential artists and albums of this era and each month when I post my reviews for current albums, I will also rate one album from this era. I do think this might be difficult since rap music sounds so different today and lyricism has evolved so much. I can’t pretend like it’s 1988 and I’m hearing something for the first time when it might sound groundbreaking; nor can I act like the genre doesn’t have 40 years of history. But I’ll do my best.

The D.O.C.No One Can Do It Better (1989, Rap)
1. “It’s Funky Enough” – 4
2. “Mind Blowin'” – 3.5
3. “Lend Me an Ear” – 3
4. “Comm. Blues” – N/A
5. “Let the Bass Go” – 3.5
6. “Beautiful But Deadly” – 3.5
7. “D.O.C. and the Doctor” – 3
8. “No One Can Do It Better” – 3.5
9. “Whirlwind Pyramid” – 4
10. “Comm. 2” – N/A
11. “The Formula” – 3.5
12. “Portrait of a Master Piece” – 3.5
13. “The Grand Finale” ft. N.W.A. – 4

Spin Rate: 3.45
Average Song Rating: 3.55/5
3.5+ Percentage: 82%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 3

Thoughts: Someone told me this was a classic and I had never listened to it before. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Classic is a pretty loose term. I consider the movie Home Alone to be a classic, but on my rating scale I’d only give it a 7 out of 10. I’ve come to think of “classics” as movies or albums that are either timeless, iconic, or extremely representative of a certain time period… but not necessarily 10 out of 10s. This album is definitely not a 10, but I did enjoy every song on it. The rhymes on this are pretty simple – as you’d expect from this era – but The D.O.C. definitely had an above average mic presence. This album was still a few years before Dr. Dre revolutionized hip-hop production on The Chronic, so while Dre has a couple of bangers on here (“It’s Funky Enough” and “Whirlwind Pyramid”), he was still a few years away from really leveling up. Considering how hyped this album was to me, I was expecting more – and the banger count certainly leaves something to be desired – but this album is definitely very good, if not quite a must listen.

Verdict: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Planet Asia & 38 SpeshTrust the Chain (February 2020, Rap)
1. “Body After Body” ft. Rasheed Chappell – 3.5
2. “Resurrected Pharoahs” ft. The Musalini – 3.5
3. “Mystery School” – 3.5
4. “God Degree” – 3.5
5. “Passport Player” – 3.5
6. “Snake Charmer” – 4
7. “Learned from Og’s (Remix)” ft. Fred the Godson and Elcamino – 4
8. “Tec and a Mink” – 4
9. “Juggernauts” – 4
10. “Winter Time” – 3

Spin Rate: 6.9
Average Song Rating: 3.65/5
3.5+ Percentage: 90%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 4

Thoughts: 38 Spesh does all the production on this and he nails it – almost every beat on this album is a banger. Planet Asia is plenty capable on the mic and together they create a really solid project. I actually had a hard time deciding between a 3.5 and a 4 for a lot of these songs so I went about 50/50 on the ones I was up in the air on. This is somewhat short but every song ranges from good to very good, so it’s one of the better releases through the first couple months of 2020. A very strong recommendation for those of you that prefer a 90s or 2000s type vibe over the current landscape of hip-hop.

Verdict: 8/10 (Must Listen)

Lil BabyMy Turn (February 2020, Rap/Trap)
1. “Get Ugly” – 2.5
2. “Heatin Up” ft. Gunna – 3
3. “How” – 2.5
4. “Grace” ft. 42 Dugg – 3
5. “Woah” – 4
6. “Live Off My Closet” ft. Future – 3
7. “Same Thing” – 3
8. “Emotionally Scarred” – 3.5
9. “Commercial” ft. Lil Uzi Vert – 3
10. “Forever” ft. Lil Wayne – 3.5
11. “Can’t Explain” – 3
12. “No Sucker” ft. Moneybagg Yo – 2.5
13. “Sum 2 Prove” – 3.5
14. “We Should” ft. Young Thug – 3.5
15. “Catch the Sun” – 4
16. “Consistent” – 3.5
17. “Gang Signs” – 3.5
18. “Hurtin” – 2.5
19. “Forget That” ft. Rylo Rodriguez – 3
20. “Solid” – 3

Spin Rate: 5.35
Avg. Song Rating: 3.15/5
3.5+ Percentage: 40%
Cuts: 4
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: Lil Baby has some talent, but you’re probably not going to like him if you can’t get into the mumble rap or trap subgenre of hip-hop. I’m not sure Lil Baby has etched out his own voice at this point as he reminds me of a lesser talented version of Young Thug. I like him though… but I can’t say I love him. For the most part, the songs I like the best are because of the production or the hook. Lil Baby’s voice and delivery take some getting used to and he doesn’t do it for me lyrically most of the time, but he is capable of impressing in that regard. I’m writing this in mid-June and he just released a banger called “The Bigger Picture” about current events and he’s speaking to me on that one. It would be the best song on this album if it was here… but it’s not. I had to reach a little to give Lil Baby a couple of bangers, as I think both those songs are closer to 3.5s than 4s, but I do really like that hook on “Woah.” I think Lil Baby is someone that could grow on me. I started “Gang Signs” at 2.5 and I now have it as a good track. It’s possible this album could grow on me even more, but at this point, I feel like Lil Baby is mostly making enjoyable, but not undeniably good music.

Verdict: 5/10 (Decent)

Royce da 5’9″The Allegory (February 2020, Rap)
1. “Mr. Grace (Intro)” – 3.5
2. “Dope Man” ft. Emanny & Cedric the Entertainer – 3
3. “I Don’t Age” – 3.5
4. “Pendulum” ft. Ashley Sorrell – 4
5. “I Play Forever” ft. Grafh – 3.5
6. “Ice Cream (Interlude)” – N/A
7. “On the Block” ft. Oswin Benjamin & DJ Premier – 3.5
8. “Generation is Broken” – N/A
9. “Overcomer” ft. Westside Gunn – 4
10. “Ms. Grace (Interlude)” – N/A
11. “Thou Shall” ft. Kid Vishis – 3.5
12. “Fubu” ft. Conway the Machine – 4
13. “A Black Man’s Favorite Shoe” – N/A
14. “Upside Down” ft. Ashley Sorrell & Benny the Butcher – 4.5
15. “Perspective (Skit)” ft. Eminem – N/A
16. “Tricked” ft. KXNG Crooked – 4
17. “Black People in America” – N/A
18. “Black Savage” ft. Sy Ari Da Kid, White Gold, Cyhi The Prynce & T.I. – 4
19. “Rhinestone Doo Rag” – 3.5
20. “Young World” ft. Vince Staples & G Perico – 3.5
21. “My People Free” ft. Ashley Sorrell – 3.5
22. “Hero” ft. White Gold – 4

Spin Rate: 11.75
Avg. Song Rating: 3.72/5
3.5+ Percentage: 94%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 7

Thoughts: Royce is an all-time great that has also been one of the most consistently awesome rappers of the past half decade. His lyrics, rapping ability, and rhyme schemes have always been elite, so any Royce project is going to be fire as long as the content and production are also good. That’s the case on The Allegory, an album that sounds even more relevant as I review it in June 2020 than it did when it came out four months ago – this is an album George Floyd might have even listened to. Also, when I listen to a song like “Tricked” three months into what has been a nationwide shutdown, I suspect that Royce and Crook might have had something to say about how the media has portrayed the coronavirus. The production on this album was handled almost entirely by Royce himself and it’s actually really good. Every member of Griselda stops by to help create a separate banger with Benny the Butcher stopping by for the best song on the album and an early song of the year contender. There’s not much to complain about here, but it would have been nice to see at least one real Eminem collaboration. I could also do without all the skits, but they actually fit the theme of the album really well. As you can see by my ratings, almost every song on the album is good and there are plenty of really good tracks, so, unsurprisingly, one of the best rappers in the world dropped on the best albums of the year so far.

Verdict: 8/10 (Must Listen)

Tame ImpalaThe Slow Rush (February 2020, Alternative/Psychedelic Rock)
1. “One More Year” – 3
2. “Instant Destiny” – 3.5
3. “Borderline” N/A (no longer available on my digital copy)
4. “Posthumous Forgiveness” – 3.5
5. “Breathe Deeper” – 3.5
6. “Tomorrow’s Dust” – 2.5
7. “On Track” – 3.5
8. “Lost in Yesterday” – 3.5
9. “Is It True” – 3.5
10. “It Might Be Time” – 2.5
11. “Glimmer” – 3
12. “One More Hour” – 2.5

Spin Rate: 5.3
Avg. Song Rating: 3.14/5
3.5+ Percentage: 55%
Cuts: 2
Bangers: 0

Thoughts: I really liked their last album Currents but this one didn’t do much for me. Maybe I’m not doing enough drugs? Do drugs make psychedelic rock more enjoyable? I’d say half this album is good and half of it I’m not into. I didn’t like any song on here enough to add it to my Banger Playlist and the album as a whole is pretty underwhelming for me. Not something I’m excited to revisit. For what it’s worth though, this album has a score of 79 on Metacritic with a user score of 8.5, so plenty of people are enjoying this album.

Verdict: 5/10 (Decent)

G HerboPTSD (February 2020, Rap)
1. “Intro” – 3.5
2. “Glass in the Face” ft. A Boogie wit da Hoodie – 3
3. “Gangstas Cry” ft. BJ the Chicago Kid – 4
4. “In This Bitch” – 1
5. “Death Row” – 2.5
6. “Party in Heaven” ft. Lil Durk – 3.5
7. “PTSD” ft. Chance the Rapper, Juice WRLD & Lil Uzi Vert – 4
8. “By Any Means” ft. 21 Savage – 3
9. “Gangbangin” – 2.5
10. “Lawyer Fees” ft. Polo G – 3.5
11. “Feelings” – 3
12. “High Speed” – 2.5
13. “Shooter” ft. Jacquees – 3
14. “Intuition” ft. Sonta & 2PRETTY – 3

Spin Rate: 4.43
Avg. Song Rating: 3/5
3.5+ Percentage: 36%
Cuts: 4
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: I can’t say I like G Herbo as a rapper. Pretty much every song I like on this album is because of the beat, the hook, or the features. A decent number of the better beats use instantly recognizable samples that have already been flipped more effectively by far more accomplished rappers. I thought I liked this album more listening to it when songs came up randomly. Every once in a while I’d hear a song that I thought was pretty good. Listening to it from front to back twice in a row was quite the chore though. There are a couple songs here you should probably here, but the album as a whole is not good.

Verdict: 4/10 (Lackluster)

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May 2020 Music Playlist

June 8, 2020

* indicates May release

HEAVY ROTATION (heard whole album many times)

Brent Faiyaz – F**k the World
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Jay Electronica (and Jay-Z!) – A Written Testimony
Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake
Planet Asia & 38 Spesh – Trust the Chain
Royce da 5’9″ – The Allegory
The Weeknd – After Hours

STRONG ROTATION (listened to most of album 3-4 times)

Boldy James – The Price of Tea in China
*Chris Brown & Young Thug – Slime & B
Grafh – Oracle 3
Lil Baby – My Turn
Westside Gunn – Pray for Paris

SOLID ROTATION (heard whole album at least twice)

A Boogie wit da Hoodie – Artist 2.0
Buddy & Kent Jamz – Janktape Vol. 1
D Smoke – Black Habits
*Deante’ Hitchcock – BETTER
Jadakiss – Ignatius
Jessie Reyez – BEFORE LOVE CAME TO KILL US
Jhene Aiko – Chilombo
Kamaiyah – Got It Made
*Kota the Friend – Everything
Lil Tjay – State of Emergency
R.A. the Rugged Man – All My Heroes Are Dead
*Sam Hunt – SOUTHSIDE
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

COURTESY ROTATION (heard whole album)

Berner & B-Real – Los Meros
Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
Conway the Machine & The Alchemist – LULU
DaBaby – BLAME IT ON BABY
Drake – Dark Lane Demo Tapes
dvsn – A Muse In Her Feelings
*Freddy Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
*Future – High Off Life
G Herbo – PTSD
J Hus – Big Conspiracy
*Kehlani – It Was Good Until It Wasn’t
*Lil Durk – Just Cause Y’all Waited 2
Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake [Deluxe]
*Lil Wayne – Funeral [Deluxe]
*Lil Simz – Drop 6 – EP
*Polo G – THE GOAT
Tory Lanez – The New Toronto 3
YFN Lucci – Corona Pack – EP

SKIM ROTATION (haven’t heard whole album)

Car Seat Headrest – Making a Door Less Open
*Dej Loaf – It’s a Set Up! – EP
Don Toliver – Heaven Or Hell
Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
*Geniio – Days B4
Guapdad 4000 – Platinum Falcon Tape, Vol. 1 – EP
*Gunna – Wunna
*Hailee Steinfeld – Half Written Story – EP
*Jacob Latimore – C3
Joyner Lucas – ADHD
Justin Bieber – Changes
K Camp – Kiss 5
*KSI – Dissimulation
*Larry June & Cardo – Cruise Usa
*Lucky Daye – Painted [Deluxe]
*Markis Precise – No Wings Without Scars
PARTYNEXTDOOR – PARTYMOBILE
*Pete Rock & Camp Lo – 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s II
Rod Wave – Pray 4 Love
Skyzoo & Dumbo Station – The Bluest Note – EP
Tech N9ne – Enterfear
Thundercat – It Is What It Is
Twista – Lifetime EP

TOO NEW/NO LOVE (zero listens)

*Joell Ortiz & KXNG CROOKED – H.A.R.D.
*Lady Gaga – Chromatica
*Problem – Coffee & Kush, Vol. 1

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

Freddy Gibbs & The AlchemistAlfredo

Bangerz Playlist Additions – Follow me on Apple Music @DarkKnight1717 to add my playlists

A Boogie wit da Hoodie ft. Young Thug, “Might Not Give Up”
A Boogie wit da Hoodie, “Calm Down (Bittersweet)”
Berner & B-Real ft. Paul Wall, “Prevail”
Boldy James, “Slow Roll”
Deante’ Hitchcock, “Growing Up/Mother God”
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats, “So.Incredible.pkg”
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats, “‘Cosmic’.m4a”
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Dua Lipa, “Love Again”
Jay Electronica ft. Jay-Z, “Flux Capacitor”
Jessie Reyez, “ROOF”
Joyner Lucas ft. Will Smith, “Will (Remix)”
Planet Asia & 38 Spesh, “Snake Charmer”
R.A. the Rugged Man, “Life of the Party”
R.A. the Rugged Man ft. Novel, “First Born”
Sam Hunt, “Kinfolks”
Tech N9ne, “On the Outside”

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May 2020 Movie Reviews

June 7, 2020

Check out my profile on Letterboxd if you want to follow along as I write my reviews throughout the month and also because the site/app is amazing for film lovers. Movies definitely took a backseat this past month as I focused on documentaries and TV series. In addition to the stuff I review below, I also watched season three of Ozark (elite) and season one of Dead to Me (elite), so not only a few movies in May and I didn’t even get one Scorsese film in. Boo. I also hit a serious lack of motivation to write reviews. It’s so much harder to do if I don’t write immediately after watching something and that was the case for almost everything below.

The History of the Seattle Mariners (2020, Documentary, YouTube)

I love that this is on Letterboxd because I absolutely want to spread the word on it. I’m a diehard baseball fan and I’ve lived in the Seattle area my entire life, so obviously this documentary is right up my alley. That said, it seems like plenty of non-baseball and non-Mariners fans have loved what Dorktown put together here.

First off, the presentation is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This is basically the coolest PowerPoint video ever created. The use of actual archive footage is pretty minimal and it’s basically two dudes narrating over a visual storyboard the whole time. Probably doesn’t sound awesome, but I can assure you that it is. The narrators are witty and often funny, making for a very enjoyable watch despite an almost total lack of actual footage.

Obviously, being a Mariners fan this hits close to home for me, but the reason this has been made is because the Mariners have such a unique and insane history. I’ve been an avid fan for 25+ years now and I was still surprised by some of the stats and anomalies presented here. I think any fan of sports can appreciate how absurd it all is and I’d consider this a must see.

But I am a Mariners fan so this meant so much more to me. I got to learn things about the team I didn’t know already (or forgot), plus I got to relive all the magical and heartbreaking moments this team has given me over the last quarter century. I had to hold back tears multiple times. This is a must see for sports fans – and especially baseball fans – but for Mariners fans… this is just pure magic.

10/10 (Perfection)

The Last Dance (2020, Documentary, ESPN+)

Another elite sports documentary that I spent the majority of May watching. This one follows the Chicago Bulls dynasty that dominated the NBA in the 90s and particularly focuses on Michael Jordan and the 1997-1998 season, but still manages to tell the full story of how that team came to be.

I was growing up when MJ was in his prime and he was still a pretty mystical figure to me. How many NBA licensed video games did you play as a kid that had every player in it except His Airness? Was he even real? Looking at pictures and highlight reels it sometimes seems like he might not have been.

All the key players get their moment in the spotlight, but Michael Jordan is certainly the focus, as he should be. I really just loved every minute of this 10-part series and that’s quite the accomplishment. I’m not the biggest NBA fan so plenty of this information was new to me (or long forgotten) and it was cool to see all the behind-the-scenes footage of what was going on at all stages of this dynasty.

Who is the greatest basketball player of all-time? Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Or someone else? It’s certainly a debate, but The Last Dance sure didn’t hurt the argument for Jordan. If nothing else, he was the biggest larger-than-life athlete of our generation (I’m saying that as an 80s/90s kid).

I thought The Last Dance was phenomenal and I’m not a big basketball guy. At minimum, I’d say this is a Must See, but I thought it was as entertaining as possible for nearly ten hours so…

9/10 (Sensational)

The Way Back (2020, RedBox)

I’m always on board with an underdog sports story and this one features a coach that has to overcome his own personal demons in order to help his ragtag team become something… respectable. You’d think this is probably based on a true story, but I can’t find anything that says that’s the case. Ben Affleck is pretty good in this and all the cussing he does from the sidelines of his religious school makes for multiple amusing moments. I liked this enough that I’d watch it again some day.

6/10 (Recommended)

Extraction (2020, Netflix)

A fun action movie that felt like a throwback to the good ole days of the 80s and 90s when action movies were consistently fun. Hemsworth is well suited to the be the face of the genre for this generation. Not a must see or anything, but worth watching if you’re browsing Netflix and can’t find something.

6/10 (Recommended)

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (2020, Comedy Special, Netflix)

I wouldn’t say it’s hilarious, but I found it entertaining at least. Seinfeld fans shouldn’t be disappointed, but it’s nothing special.

6/10 (Recommended)

Watchmen (2019, Mini-Series, HBONow)

I was kind of blown away by this. It took me a while to get to it because someone told me to re-read the graphic novel before watching because I would appreciate it a lot more, so I took my sweet time re-reading that while reading three other books, but I think it paid off because everything was fresh and I could easily pick up on all the subtle references to the original content.

Honestly, I think the way they continued this story was genius level writing. And the story is set in an alternate reality but still seemed so timely and relevant – especially in 2020. Is it blasphemous to say I liked it more than Alan Moore’s story? It’s totally engrossing, the characters are fully realized and believable, and I like the decisions the writers made with the older characters. It all just clicked together perfectly. And the presentation was stunning. Plus it had great acting – especially from Regina King and Jean Smart.

Huge winner. I’d love to see another season.

8/10 (Must See)

Above the Rim (1994, Netflix)

This review may contain spoilers.

Here’s a timeline of events:

March 23, 1994 – Above the Rim is released in theaters
March 14, 1995 – 2pac releases Me Against the World, his third studio album
February 13, 1996 – 2Pac releases All Eyez on Me, his fourth studio album
September 7, 1996 – Tupac Shakur is shot multiple times in Las Vegas
September 13, 1996 – Tupac Shakur dies from his gunshot wounds
November 5, 1996 – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory is released under the alias Makaveli, 2Pac’s fifth studio album

I turned 14 in 1996 and things just felt so different back then. Tupac was 25 when he died. Look at all he accomplished in his last two years on earth. Consider this: Eminem was 26 when his first studio album was released. Tupac still had the length of Eminem’s entire career ahead of him. Can you even imagine what that looks like if he doesn’t die?

A few things surprise me about this timeline. First, Tupac had a lot of success in the movies before he really blew up as a rap artist. I feel like Me Against the World is the album that catapulted him to rap superstar status and by the time it dropped, he’d already had prominent roles in Juice, Poetic Justice, and Above the Rim. It’s just strange to me how successful his film career was before he reached hip-hop’s stratosphere. Also, how crazy is it that the releases of All Eyez on Me and Makaveli and his death all happened in the same year? When I was 14, this whole timeline of events felt like it took place over a decade.

R.I.P. Legend

Tupac makes this movie. I don’t think it’s uncommon for people to list Above the Rim with other 90s classic hood movies like Menace II Society and Boyz n the Hood but it’s just not even close to that level of quality. The soundtrack is a hip-hop classic and I think that, along with Tupac’s presence, makes people remember this movie as being better than it actually is.

Tupac is great. He’s the reason I watched this again. The man just oozed charisma and superstar potential. He had it. You take him out of this movie and replace him with an average actor from back then and I just don’t think many people are looking back on this as a classic. The rest of the movie is fine, but nothing special.

Don’t get me wrong… Above the Rim is plenty enjoyable, but it’s also pretty silly. What exactly happened at the start of the movie? They were taking turns tapping the backboard and one of them accidentally jumps off the roof? LOL. It’s so ridiculous that at first I thought it was just meant to be a dream sequence and the kid must have died some other way. But no, they stuck to that story.

This movie is also guilty of the absurd sports montage where one team scores what appears to be like 40 unanswered points. I mean… you can’t show the good guys score ONE basket? We are supposed to believe they can come back from that kind of deficit? Also, Birdie threatened Kyle’s scholarship to Georgetown and Kyle was worried enough about it that he was throwing the championship game. But then old dude laces them up and suddenly he’s not worried about it anymore? I know Bugaloo ultimately took care of that threat, but Kyle didn’t know that was going to happen.

Watch this again to remember and appreciate Tupac Shakur. Listen to the amazing soundtrack. But let’s not pretend this is something it isn’t.

5/10 (Decent)

Big (1988, HBONow)

I thought this was a rewatch, but then I didn’t remember anything about it. The piano key dancing scene is something I know, but it’s an iconic scene, so I didn’t necessarily have to watch the movie to know about it. Also, I’m familiar with the Zandar machine that grants the kid’s wish to be big. Everything else? It was like I was watching for the first time. I probably watched this as a kid, maybe once, but I thought I watched it as an adult, but it seems like I would remember Celia Hodes from the show “Weeds” being in it if I did. Nope.

I really liked Big. In fact, I just enjoy this kind of concept in general – you know, where something magical happens and the main character(s) transforms into something else but still have their normal conscious. It might not be an original idea, but it never fails to amuse me when it’s executed properly and Big does just that because Tom Hanks is really, really great. Of all the performances in similar movies, Hanks in Big might be the best I’ve ever seen (not that I’m putting a lot of thought into that statement). I just totally buy him as a 13 year old kid. He’s wonderful. I’m actually somewhat surprised Hanks got an Oscar nom for this role… not because he didn’t deserve… Big just seems like the type of movie the Academy would overlook.

Big is great. Full of charm, wonder, and Tom Hanks’ first iconic performance, it’s a film you should revisit if you haven’t seen it for many years.

P.S.: My mind can’t accept the fact that the kid that plays the best friend in Big is not the same kid that plays John Connor’s friend in Terminator 2. How is that not the same person?

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

This is Spinal Tap (1984, borrowed DVD)

An all-time comedy classic that I had never seen until now. Did it live up to the hype? Honestly… not really. It’s possible this film created the mockumentary genre so I can appreciate it for being groundbreaking even if I can’t experience what it was like to see it for the first time in the mid-80s. It’s definitely funny though and some of the original songs are pure gems. I didn’t walk away thinking this is a must see comedy, but I still liked it quite a bit.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)