Archive for May, 2017

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June Music Preview: Last Post Before WSOP Hiatus

May 29, 2017

I’m flying out to Vegas today, so this will be my last post until late June. Here’s a quick look at what music will be coming out next month.

Music:

Kool G RapReturn Of The Don (2nd) – One of the old school GOATs. Never really dug into his catalog, but his skills are undeniable. One of the first truly elite rappers.

Halseyhopeless fountain kingdom (2nd) – Someone said they were excited to listen to this. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll check it out now.

Katy PerryWitness (9th) – Not exactly my thing, but notable nonetheless.

RancidTroublemaker (9th) – Shrug. I liked them in the mid-90’s but I have to say metal/punk rock is difficult for me to listen to now.

MC EihtWhich Way Iz West (9th) – One of the weaker old school west coast rappers IMO.

NickelbackFeed The Machine (9th) – Again, not my thing, but maybe someone that reads this wants to know they have a new album coming out.

SZACTRL (9th) – Rumor has it the TDE singer will finally be dropping her album on the 9th, but I haven’t seen this made official anywhere. Needless to say, anything associated with Top Dawg Entertainment is a must listen and hopefully we get some new Kendrick, Schoolboy, and Isaiah Rashad features.

Avenue EightFunk Me Up (16th) – No idea who they are, but the album cover and the album title has put it on my radar.

Big BoiBoomiverse (16th) – Andre 3000 might not want to make music, but Outkast’s other half has been plugging away. Big Boi released a couple albums when I wasn’t paying much attention to music, but they were both critically acclaimed. “Kill Jill” is exceptional and I’ve liked everything I have heard from Daddy Fat Sacks the last few years. Also, this is apparently a double album. Mark me down as excited.

LordeMelodrama (16th) – Definitely will check this out after enjoying the early singles.

Gucci ManeDrop Top Wop (23rd) – I’ve been giving basically everything a change, but this should hit my trash bin in record time.

RadioheadOKNOTOK (23rd) – One of the most acclaimed bands of all-time and while I’ve tried to give them a chance, I just don’t get it.

Vince StaplesBig Fish Theory (23rd) – I think at this point, Kendrick Lamar is the only rapper I want to hear an album from more than Vince Staples. His last album, Summertime ’06, was incredible. My expectations are immense.

Calvin HarrisFunk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (30th) – If “Slide” with Frank Ocean and Migos (already on my Best of 2017 playlist) is what we can expect from this album, mark me down as stoked.

Also, for those of you that have Netflix streaming, here’s some of the more noteworthy additions for June:

Arrow: Season 5 (1st)
Full Metal Jacket (1st)
Rounders (1st)
The Queen (1st)
The Sixth Sense (1st)
Young Frankenstein (1st)
Zodiac (1st)
Dreamworks’ Trolls (7th)
Orange Is The New Black: Season 5 (9th)
Scandal: Season 6 (17th)
Disney’s Moana (20th)
GLOW: Season 1 (23rd)
Gypsy: Season 1 (30th)

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Alien: Covenant (2017)

May 27, 2017

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Director: Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner)

Bottom Line: Count me among the many that enjoyed, but was somewhat disappointed, by Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus in 2012. I only saw it once and if you’re thinking about seeing Alien: Covenant soon, I’d recommend taking another look at Prometheus first. Covenant picks up about ten years after the Prometheus’ ill-fated mission, with the crew of the Covenant landing on the same planet to investigate a signal that sounds like it could have a human origin. Having not revisited the previous film, I found myself confused about a number of things. Particularly, there’s a rather strange scene in the middle of this film that involves the alien DNA and it wasn’t clear to me whether it was some sort of dream sequence or an actual revelation. I felt like this scene was meant to tell us where the aliens really originated from, but it seemed so bizarre I wasn’t sure if we were meant to believe it. I can’t really expound on this confusion without getting too spoilery, but I’ll just say watching Prometheus again will definitely increase your enjoyment of this film.

Unlike Prometheus, Convenant is an Alien prequel through and through. If fans of the series were disappointed with Prometheus‘ audacity to veer off course and try to be something different, they will probably be happy with this film. After introducing us to the crew of the Covenant and sending them to the planet containing the alien pathogen, it’s not long before we have things exploding from abdomens and covering human faces. I have to say Ridley Scott does a great job of maximizing the tension, considering everyone in the audience understands the threat this time around. The alien scenes might not be scary, exactly, but they are taut and exhilarating and the film’s score really adds to the atmosphere.

I really have to give credit to the film’s creators for taking what started out as a very simple creature, the alien, one of the horror genre’s most notable monsters, and giving it an origin that is complex and interesting. It’s the kind of treatment that I hope Freddy Krueger gets one day. Am I the only one that thinks that there’s a great Freddy Krueger origin story out there somewhere? Additionally, Scott and the writers weave the events of Prometheus seamlessly into this film and makes them totally relevant, despite the fact that it was a film that stood completely on its own.

Michael Fassbender’s performance in Prometheus as the android David was universally acclaimed and he returns here as a new android named Walter that has some updated modifications to make him more compliant and Fassbender once again delivers top notch work. I’d go as far as to say he’s even better in this film and continues to rise of my list of favorite current actors. The rest of the cast is kind of unremarkable, but it’s worth noting that Danny McBride is in this film and he’s not trying to be funny. It’s weird and it feels miscast, but I didn’t hate him in the movie and he actually does a decent job of doing dramatic acting. Katherine Waterston’s Daniels is basically a clone of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and it’s kind of hard to ignore the similarities – or the failure to measure up. In a way, it’s actually kind of insulting.

Alien: Covenant lacks the originality of its predecessor, but it should give fans of the Alien franchise exactly what they are looking for. It’s fun, exciting, and, like Prometheus, beautifully shot. With great action and all the tropes you’d expect from the series, plus another fantastic performance from Fassbender, Alien: Covenant is a fun, if not amazing, time at the movies.

Replay Value: Prometheus has more replay value, but I never watched that again. I suppose at some time in the future, I will watch both films again…
Sequel Potential: …because there should at least one more movie before going full circle and reaching the events of Alien. It doesn’t look like anyone is officially attached at the moment, but it’s certainly in the works.
Oscar Potential: Prometheus got a Visual Effects nom, so I guess this should be drawing live at the same category. It would be strange for Michael Fassbender to get an acting nomination for a prequel sequel, but his work here is plenty noteworthy.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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Full 2017 WSOP Schedule

May 26, 2017

Vegas Tourney Schedule

Apologies. You have to click another link – I don’t know how to embed Excel on WordPress.

Notes:

-If anyone is going to Vegas for the first three weeks of June and wants to target limit/mix game events, this schedule is THE NUTS.

-Events highlighted in yellow I am 100% to play. The only way I won’t play something highlighted is if I happen to make a super deep day 3 run in something like the $1500 HORSE or $1500 8-Game and can’t make late reg of my next $1500 event. I’ll chalk that up as a very good problem to have should it arise.

-I have no idea which flight of The Colossus I’m going to play, but I will fire at least one bullet at it.

-I am 100% to play the first flight of The Giant – and so is Dina – but that tournament sounds like a blast and is relatively cheap so I might fire at the other two flights during my stay if I have nothing else going on.

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Are the Seattle Mariners the worst MLB franchise of all time?

May 25, 2017

Someone just messaged me suggesting the Mariners are the worst baseball franchise of all time. Curious, I decided to look into it. For simplicity, I ignored all defunct franchises, but franchises that continued on in different cities or with different names are included. Here are the facts:

-Only four teams have a worse win percentage than the Mariners (.469): Rockies (.468), Marlins (.468), Padres (.462), Rays (.462).

-Of those four teams, all of them have been to the World Series. The Marlins have won it twice. The Mariners have never played for the title.

-The only other current franchise with no World Series appearance is the Washington Nationals and they are currently on a run that rivals the only run the Mariners ever had from 1995 to 2001. The Nats have made the playoffs multiple times in recent years and are title contenders in 2017. The Nats also have a win percentage of .486.

-Only the Rays (2), Marlins (0), and Rockies (0) have less division titles than the Mariners (3), but all three of those teams have been around for 15-20 less years and have already been to the World Series. The Rockies also have a chance to crack that goose egg this year.

-Only the Rockies (3) and the Marlins (2) have been to the playoffs less times than the Mariners (4), but they’ve been around for half the time and have both been to the World Series.

-The Brewers have won as many division titles (3) and have been to the playoffs as many times (4) as the Ms, but they also have a higher win percentage (.477) and have been to one World Series. With about a decade on the Mariners, Seattle has some time to establish itself as the better franchise, but as of this writing, the Brewers are in first place in the NL Central.

-The Padres have been around as long as the Brewers and have managed two more division titles (5) than the Mariners and one more playoff appearance (5) and while they have a worse all time win percentage, they have been to the World Series twice.

-The Mariners didn’t reach the playoffs until their 19th season. The Padres reached the postseason and the World Series in their 16th year. The Nationals, then known as the Montreal Expos, made their first playoff appearance in year #13 and then they tortured their fan base with a 31 year drought before their current run of good fortune. The Brewers also made the playoffs in their 13th year and then the World Series in their 14th. Rays fans only had to wait 11 years to make the playoffs and immediately got a World Series appearance. The Rockies made the playoffs in their third year and reached the World Series in year 15.

-The Mariners have sandwiched a solid seven season run from 1995 to 2001 in between postseason droughts of 19 seasons and 15 seasons (and counting) – currently the longest playoff drought in all four major sports.

So are the Mariners the worst baseball franchise in MLB? You tell me.

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June 2017 Movie Preview

May 24, 2017

Anticipation Meter
6 – Epic
5 – Very High
4 – Strong
3 – Moderate
2 – Low
1 – Nonexistent

Wonder Woman (2nd) – Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was one of the few bright spots in the beleaguered Dawn Of Justice, so I had some anticipation that this could actually be good and break the current losing streak that DC films have been on. This will be an origin story and a period piece that finds Princess Diana of the Amazons embracing her destiny when a fighter pilot played by Chris Pine crashes on her shores and brings news of major conflict in the outside world. I’ve watched a trailer or two and, while my expectations have been tempered a bit, I still think this has a chance to be good and some early word indicates that it is. It’s worth noting that director Patty Jenkins hasn’t directed a feature film since 2003’s Monster and the main screenplay writer has a resume that consists largely of multiple episodes for “Party Of Five,” “Sex and the City,” “The O.C.,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” In other words, let’s hope Wonder Woman is the best thing he’s ever written. When considering box office success, it’s hard to find films to compare Wonder Woman to as there hasn’t been a superhero movie with a female lead since Catwoman and Elektra both bombed in the mid-2000s. Wonder Woman won’t do The Hunger Games numbers, but it should do significantly better than female-led action franchises like Resident Evil and Underworld – the most successful film in either of those franchises grossed a modest $62 million. Wonder Woman could approach that kind of number in it’s first weekend. I’ll say $43 million opening weekend with a total gross of $157 million. Anticipation Meter – 3.5

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2nd) – I don’t know much about this except that it’s an animated film from DreamWorks that features the vocal talents of Kevin Hart, Jordan Peele, and Ed Helms and the plot synopsis says two kids hypnotize their principal into thinking he’s a superhero. Sounds fun to me. Box office is hard to gauge here. I would never guess that The Secret Life Of Pets would do a whopping $373 million. Meanwhile, a movie like The Croods, which I enjoyed substantially more, only grossed $178 million. Kids have terrible taste, so whether a movie is actually good or not doesn’t necessarily reflect it’s box office success. I’ll take a shot in the dark and say this movie puts up numbers similar to Big Hero 6 $56 million opening, $222 million total. Anticipation Meter – 2

The Mummy (9th) – After Dracula Untold failed to jump start Universal’s revamped shared universe (now officially called Dark Universe) for their classic monsters, The Mummy has become the new opening act. From the looks of the trailers, this reboot seems similar in appearance to the Brendan Fraser run that started in the late 90s – although I’ll guess it has less cheesy humor and hopefully more legit scares – with Tom Cruise taking over as the male lead and Sofia Boutella as the film’s mummy. Russell Crowe is also part of the cast, taking on the role of Dr. Henry Jekkyl, as in Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde. The trailer for this looks okay, but I’m hoping it winds up being good – I want to see this shared universe succeed. The best Fraser-led Mummy movie opened to $68 million and grossed just over $200M and the 2008 entry – which I don’t even remember – opened to $40 mil and did over $100 domestic. It’s weird… with inflation and the star power of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe it would seem impossible for this movie not to do better than all previous Mummy flicks, but I just don’t sense a ton of excitement for it. It faces little competition, but I think it opens to around $50M and tops out around $175M. Anticipation Meter – 3

It Comes At Night (9th) – An interesting looking horror/mystery film that stars Joel Edgerton, who proved he can do creepy scary in The Gift. I expect a small opening and probably $30-$35M total. Anticipation Meter – 2

Cars 3 (16th) – I’m bewildered by this Pixar franchise. The movies have obviously performed well at the box office, but Cars and Cars 2 are probably my two least favorite movies the studio has produced… and here we are on film #3 while the far superior The Incredibles has taken 14 years to get a sequel. Pixar is actually on a little bit of a cold streak. While I did really enjoy last year’s Finding Dory, the studio hadn’t released a truly great film since Toy Story 3 in 2010 before that. This is going to be a skip for me but I suspect families will be heading out in droves to see it. I should perform similarly to the previous films, opening around $60M and finishing around $200M. Anticipation Meter – 1

All Eyez On Me (16th) – A Tupac Shakur biopic starring an unknown actor, written and directed by people that have done nothing noteworthy in their careers. I want this to be good and I’m interested in seeing Tupac’s story on the big screen, but I suspect the execution is going to be disappointing. Straight Outta Compton ($161 million) was a big hit and Tupac’s legacy is greater than anyone in N.W.A., but I think the lack of quality is already detectable here, so I think it will open to a disappointing $30M and fizzle around $75M total. As a hip hip devotee, lover of films, and fan of Tupac, I will see this even though it looks like it might suck. Anticipation Meter – 3

Rough Night (16th) – An R-Rated comedy starring Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon as members of a bachelorette party that has to deal with the death of the stripper they hired. Seems like an enjoyable combination to me, if not box office fodder. Bridesmaids ($170M) is the obvious comparison, but this film won’t sniff that kind of success: $18M opening, $55M total. Anticipation Meter – 2

Transformers: The Last Knight (21st) – This is the 5th Transformers movie and I’m honestly not sure how many I’ve even seen – probably just the first three. The visual effects of the robots transforming have always been the best thing about this franchise, but I’ve seen it done enough times now that it’s not enough of a draw for me to see the movies anymore. The stories have been lacking for a while and Michael Bay is a deservedly panned director. I’m a Mark Wahlberg fan, but my interest in this franchise is pretty much over. The public still likes to pack theaters for Autobots and Decepticons and even though interest has somewhat waned over the last two films, the least successful entry still did $245 million. I’ll wager that trend continues and say The Last Knight has the worst opening weekend since the original ($70M)and finishes around $215M total. Anticipation Meter – 1

Baby Driver (28th) – A crime thriller about a young getaway driver hired by a crime boss with an interesting cast that features the likes of Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal. More importantly, it’s an Edgar Wright film, the writer/director that has given us gems like Shaun Of The Dead and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. No Wright film has grossed more than $31.5 million, so it’s likely this will have a very small opening and finish right around that number. Anticipation Meter – 2.5

Despicable Me 3 (30th) – Reformed evil genius Gru and his adopted kids are still plenty of fun and even though last year’s Minions was total crap it was still a box office smash. In this entry, Gru meets a twin brother named Dru he never knew about. Steve Carell does some great voice work in this franchise and adding a twin brother could let his talent shine even brighter. My wife and I will go see this and it will be another megahit for DreamWorks: $105M opening, $325M total. Anticipation Meter – 3

Note: After spending several hours writing this (and planning separate entries for Netflix and music), I have to ask myself: is it really worth the time and effort to do stuff like this and the answer is a pretty easy no. My blog only gets a modest number of hits and I’ve struggled to expand my audience beyond my friends and family so I will be cutting the depth of my posts down considerably in an effort to spend my free time more effectively. My ultimate goal is to streamline my thoughts and opinions in a way that is still interesting but not as time consuming for me (or you).

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The Secret Lives Of Pets (2016) and 2017 Album Ratings

May 16, 2017

Added my rating for The Secret Lives Of Pets to the 2016 Movie Ratings page. I gave it a 5.5 which is somewhere between “Watchable” and “Recommended.” It was a cute, charming, and very short (80 minutes) kid’s movie, but make no mistake, kids are the target audience here. It’s not totally unappealing to adults, but it’s not nearly as clever or as funny as the Toy Story movies and it’s pretty obvious this movie wanted to be the pet version of Toy Story.

I have added a number of ratings for recent music releases to my 2017 Albums page and this seems to be the best way to organize them. I’m not really interested in writing full album reviews, but this is an easy way to see what I think the best albums are. I usually have to listen to an album two or three times to know how I really feel about it, so a number of new releases either take a while to get to that point or never do.

Thanks for all the awesome feedback on my DMX and Biggie profiles. The next artist I’m going to highlight is Brother Ali, one of the most overlooked emcees of all-time, fresh off another solid album release this month. I’m heading to Vegas for the WSOP in June and I’m going to try and be distraction free while I’m there, so the Brother Ali update won’t be published until July and it will be unlikely I make any posts while I’m in Vegas at all.

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DMX

May 8, 2017

After getting in some heated debates on Facebook, it became apparent that I needed to assess the career of DMX next to either support my claim that he’s overrated or discover that maybe I’m wrong and he didn’t fall off as hard as I think he did. 

 It’s interesting to me that so many people can consider DMX one of the greats considering that he’s still active but hasn’t really been relevant since 2001 – that’s over 15 years of making music no one is really listening to! It’s one thing to be talented and overlooked, but considering DMX’s tremendous success in the past one has to assume people stopped listening because he stopped making good music.

I can admit that I have skipped pretty much all of his music since The Great Depression was released in 2001, but it was my contention that if it was any good someone would have recommended it to me. Still, it is unfair of me to make that claim with certainty unless I listened to all of it myself, so I spent the last several weeks going through pretty much the entire discography of DMX in order to assess his place in hip-hop history with all the relevant information, and that includes all the music he’s released since his life has become overcome by drug addiction and frequent arrests.

Legacy: DMX actually grades pretty strong here. After the deaths of Tupac and Biggie, I would argue that X grabbed the torch as hip-hop’s premiere artist from May 1998 up until Eminem took over in November of 1999 on Dr. Dre’s 2001. His first three albums hold up well in 2017 and the fact that a number of his fans act like the last 15 years of his discography never happened almost makes it seem like the golden era of his recording career is all that matters – and if one wants that to be true, it actually can be.  DMX can’t tarnish his legacy no matter how hard he tries to.  All his personal issues are either ignored or forgotten and it really seems as though most people don’t even realize he’s released three bad albums since The Great Depression. B+

Consistency: And here’s where 2003 to 2017 can’t be ignored. Almost everyone would agree that It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot is the best DMX album. From there, I’d argue that each album that follows is progressively worse, all the way up to Undisputed in 2012 where he really had nowhere else to go but back up. Even though he peaked with his debut album, X was very consistent on his first three releases. However, he falls off a cliff after that and never even hints at returning to elite levels of rapping throughout the rest of his career. D

Longevity: Realistically, DMX had a peak that lasted from 1998 to 2001, when he released his first obviously disappointing album. He has sporadically released new music since then, but the general public has paid little notice and he has received no critical acclaim. Even his most dedicated fans can’t make strong arguments in support of his later work. DMX has been a recording artist for 20 years now, which sounds good for longevity,
but he has been irrelevant for more than half of his career now. D

Lyrics: Even at his peak, DMX was not a strong lyricist. On “Fuckin’ Wit’ D” – on what many would consider a classic album – he actually rhymes: “Stuck in a tree, is what you will be/ like a cat, and I’m the dog, at the bottom, looking up, ‘yo, what’s that?'” He rapped those lines when he was at his best. Check out this article that details the vocabularies of a number of hip-hop’s most notable artists. You can click the link and see how the survey is conducted, but I can save you time and tell you this: out of the 85 artists considered, DMX ranks last. DEAD LAST. Like, no one considered has a smaller vocabulary than DMX –  and Too $hort is the only other rapper that is even close. And when you listen to the music, you can see why: if Dr. Seuss was a gangster rapper, he’d sound like DMX. No matter which way you want to look at it – he wasn’t clever, he wasn’t funny, his rhyme structures were simple, and he wasn’t deep or metaphorical – DMX has always been incredibly simple when it comes to lyricism. F

Songwriting: Once upon a time, DMX was a great songwriter. In fact, X is a fantastic example of how different the elements of lyricism and songwriting really are: even though he was rarely saying anything of substance and his actual lyrics were elementary, DMX’s hit-making abilities from 1998 to 1999 were almost unmatched. To be fair, he was getting laced with some stellar production at the start of his career, but he had an uncanny understanding of how to capture a beat’s mood and craft a hook that made his songs memorable. Unfortunately, it seems as though drugs sapped that creative juice some time around the making of The Great Depression and never returned. I have to consider the whole body of work here – and more than half of it is bad – but in his prime DMX was probably an A- in this category. C

Rapping: Rapping was another strength of prime DMX, as he was able turn subpar lyricism into enjoyable and infectious music and that is something that wouldn’t be possible if he wasn’t rapping his ass off. DMX had an unmistakable presence on the mic and seemed to attack every verse with a fury that was rarely present in his contemporaries. But again, as he got involved with drugs and continued to get arrested throughout his career, he lost almost all of his vocal edge and on his later records he sounds like a ghost of his former self. C

Voice: DMX has one of the most distinguishable voices in hip-hop. Back in the late 90s, his verses were unmistakable. Grimy and gruff, with a strong mic presence and his instantly recognizable growling and barking ad-libs, you always knew when it was DMX’s turn to spit. B+

Replay Value: Having revisited his whole catalog over the last few weeks, it’s clear that his first three albums all hold up pretty well. I could put them on shuffle and listen to almost every song. The rest of his albums I could barely listen to once. C-

Features: DMX was a popular featured artist in the late 90s, but has very little memorable guest appearances since the turn of the century. He helps make The Lox’s “Money, Power, & Respect” and Mase’s “24 Hours To Live” true hip-hop classics and he was frequently awarded the coveted last verse on posse cuts. Perhaps the coolest feature I found in all my digging was on Mic Geronimo’s “Time To Build,” a 1995 boom bap rap song that also features Ja Rule and Jay-Z, before any of them blew up, and finds DMX doing a pretty good ONYX impression while probably still trying to find his own identity as an emcee. He has some other songs with Jay-Z and Ja Rule as the supergroup Murder Inc. and they are solid, but I’m not sad that concept never really materialized. B+

Discography:

It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot (1998) – Okay, I’m going to voice an unpopular opinion here, but this album is overrated. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, but it’s just not a real classic and most people I talk to don’t hesitate to give it that status. So how did that happen? I really think it’s because DMX debuted at a time when Puff Daddy, Mase, and No Limit Records were dominating rap music. Puffy and Mase were Charmin soft and, in 1998, the most popular No Limit artists (Master P, Silkk The Shocker) sounded like a parody of gangster rap, so when It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot was released, no popular rap artist was really making hardcore hip-hop. DMX filled that lane and he did it really well. He attacked the mic with passion and gave zero fucks about what he was saying: “and I’m gunnin’ for your spouse/ trying to send that bitch back to her maker/ and if you got a daughter older than 15, I’m a rape her/ take her, on the living room floor right there in front of you/ then ask you seriously – ‘what you wanna do?'” It’s wild that a multi-platinum artist could say something like that on a record. This album came out when no mainstream artist was making this kind of rap music and I think, because of that, people remember this album as being better than it really is. It’s definitely an enjoyable listening experience and really only has one weak track (“Crime Story”) but if you look at a true hip-hop classic – like Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle – you can find a number of songs that are better than every song on It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot and the weaker songs compare favorably with the best songs on this DMX album. Sorry X fans, this is a very good album, but it’s not a hip-hop classic. 7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Essential Listening)

Blood Of My Blood, Flesh Of My Flesh (1998) – This album is actually better than I remember and the fact that DMX released two good albums within seven months of each other is pretty remarkable. While “Slippin'” is the only song I think is truly great, X once again puts together an album with only one weak track, the ill-advised Marilyn Manson collaboration on “The Omen.” This album is a master class in crafting memorable hooks, as DMX takes multiple mediocre songs and makes them enjoyable with hooks you can’t help but repeat in your head. 6/10 (Recommended)

…And Then There Was X (1999) – Another album that was better than I remembered it being. I thought the noticeable slip started with this release, but this is actually pretty solid. “One More Road To Cross” and “What These Bitches Want” are excellent songs, “Angel” is very good, and most of the album is enjoyable. …And Then There Was X does contain one of DMX’s most memorable hit songs in “Party Up (Up In Here)” which, while not one of my favorites, is outrageously infectious. “Good Girls, Bad Guys” is the only song I hated, which means that DMX only has three truly weak songs on his first three albums. I think the highlights on this album are better than Blood Of My Blood… but overall this album is just a tad bit weaker. 6/10 (Recommended)

The Great Depression (2001) – And here’s where things really start to go bad. Of the 17 songs on this album (skits excluded, bonus songs included), I genuinely like four of them: “A Minute For Your Son,” “School Street,” “Trina Moe,” and “Who We Be.” The way this album is sequenced makes it sound even worse: the first three songs are good, the last song is good, and everything in between is mediocre. Actually, as I listen to it again, “We Right Here” is a good song too. I’d wager that if one made a greatest hits playlist for DMX, it would include zero songs from The Great Depression. In addition, DMX has nearly twice as many weak songs on this album (5, by my count) as he did on his first three albums combined. 4/10 (Lackluster)

Grand Champ (2003) – DMX had a chance to redeem himself here after disappointing on his last album and things start off promising enough, but this album’s sequencing mirrors that of The Great Depression as the best songs are the first few songs – and it goes downhill from there, although “The Rain” is a later track that is pretty good. “Where The Hood At” is a true banger, but the vast majority of this album is totally forgettable. To give an idea of how weak this album is, fire up “My Life” on iTunes or YouTube and realize it’s one of the best songs on here. 4/10 (Lackluster)

Year Of The Dog… Again (2006) – There were two songs on this album that I kind of liked: “Blown Away” and “Goodbye.” The rest of the album ranges from forgettable to pure torture. I really struggled to listen to every song on this album because it was so bad. If his previous two albums were disappointing but showed hints of his former stardom, this is the album that really puts the nail in the coffin of his career – he had nothing left. 3/10 (Crap)

Mixtape (2010) – I have to be honest here, after listening to two disappointing albums and an undeniably bad one, I didn’t have the heart to listen to an unofficial DMX release well into his demise. I skipped this and I’ve literally never heard one person even mention it, so I can’t imagine it’s worth listening to.

The Weigh In EP (2012) – See above.

Undisputed (2012) – I did give this a full listen and I have to say it’s better than Year Of The Dog, but X still sounds like a ghost of his former self. Considering everything DMX was going through in his personal life, it’s actually pretty remarkable that he even put out another album. He sort of touches on his issues on “Slippin Again,” but DMX was never a great lyricist and he has trouble conveying his feelings here. He keeps saying “I wish you knew” in reference to what his life is like, but even after writing a song about it, we still don’t know much. To some degree, DMX sounds reinvigorated on this album in comparison to his previous few releases, but it’s another forgettable effort from a man who needs to be in a rehabilitation center more than he needs to be in a studio. 4.5/10 (Lackluster/Decent)

Classic Albums: 0
Peak: 1998-1999
Current Status: Barely alive. He was actually found without a pulse and not breathing in February of 2016 from what seemed to be a drug overdose. I’ve read that he has cancelled shows in 2017 because of a “medical emergency.” X and Swizz Beatz have posted on social media about new DMX music coming in 2017 and it is rumored to feature Dr. Dre and Kanye West. While it would be cool for DMX to release something good, it seems unlikely at this point in his career and I’m honestly much more interested in seeing him get healthy than I am in hearing new music.
All-Time Status: Outside my Top 50.

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Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

May 8, 2017

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice)
Director: James Gunn (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Slither)

Bottom Line: I’m kind of surprised at the overwhelmingly positive reviews Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 has received because it was kind of disappointing to me and the actual critics have a tendency to be harsher, particularly on popcorn flicks. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad. I mostly enjoyed myself while watching Vol. 2, but the biggest reason the first film was so fun was because of how fresh and original it was – and that was made clear when repeat viewings hardly matched the joy of watching it for the first time. The action/comedy hybrid approach still works well here and Vol. 2 is plenty funny – hilarious at times even – but it’s not as funny as it wants to be. There were more than a couple of jokes that elicited no response from the audience. Dave Bautista as Drax The Destroyer really brings the laughs this time around and pretty much any time Baby Groot is on screen, you can’t help but smile.

Where Vol. 2 comes up short is mostly in the story department. It’s funny a lot of the time and the characters are as charming as they were the first time around but, without getting too “spoilery”, 90 minutes into the movie I realized we had answered the question of “Who is Star Lord’s father” and little else. What’s the point of a Guardians Of The Galaxy movie if there’s nothing to “guard” against? And because of that lack of conflict, the movie seems to drag in the second act as Star Lord gets to know his dad and the action screeches to a halt. On the bright side, Michael Rooker’s Yondu – the blue-skinned dude with the whistling arrow – is given a much deserved expanded role and his character is a surprising highlight in the sequel.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun time at the movie theater and because of that, general audiences are probably going to love this movie. If you were a fan of the first film, this sequel probably won’t disappoint you. It’s funny and charming, plus it has some emotional edge to it, but most of the movie plugs along without any real conflict and while Kurt Russell is great, as always, the character he plays feels more like DC’s Green Lantern than the quality stuff we’ve come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Vol. 2 is plenty enjoyable, but all the comedy really overshadows the other weaknesses in the script and I suspect this will be more apparent on repeat viewings. And really, this movie could have used more Groot!

Replay Value: Just like the first film, this movie will never be better than the first time you watch it.
Sequel Potential: Vol. 3 already announced and release date is hinted at for 2020. Plus, the Guardians will be in the next Avengers movie.
Oscar Potential: Groot and Rocket look amazing, but the rest of the visual effects were kind of a let down. The first film got nominations for Makeup/Hairstyling and Visual Effects, but I’d say Vol. 2 probably won’t get any nominations.

Grade: 6/10 (recommended)

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May 2017 Entertainment Preview: movies, hip-hop, and T.V. shows!

May 2, 2017

Sorry for posting this a day late, but it took me longer than expected to write.

THEATERS

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5th) – Marvel’s follow-up to their surprise 2014 hit, a film that made my top ten list that year. I’ve managed to avoid pretty much all the promotion for this movie, so everything should be fresh when I see it on Friday. It’s sitting at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, so that’s a good sign, and I have every expectation that this will be another hilarious and entertaining film. The original opened to $94 million and wound up grossing $333 million in the U.S. total. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this open to $150 million and gross over $400 million.

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (May 12th) – This movie has some good things going for it: King Arthur and his sword is a good story, Charlie Hunnam should be a star some day, director Guy Ritchie has some pedigree, and the film seems to be cashing in on the popularity of “Game Of Thrones.” Unfortunately, the trailer looked pretty suspect and I have a feeling this movie is going to disappoint, both critically and at the box office. I predict Guardians holds the top stop for the second weekend in a row and King Arthur opens around $22 million with a $70 million total gross.

Snatched (May 12th) – Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn star as a mother/daughter combo that go on an exotic vacation and wind up having an adventure in the jungle. I listened to and enjoyed Schumer’s book as recently as last year, but it seems like she is already wearing out her welcome. Her recent stand up on Netflix was undeniably lackluster and general chatter about her tends to be more negative than positive. Plus the trailer for this movie didn’t look good. This movie has bomb written all over it. Schumer scored a hit with Trainwreck and that movie opened at $30M and grossed $110 domestically. I really expect Snatched to open around $8M and fizzle out around $26 million total. I’m still an Amy Schumer fan, but this is going to be a dud.

Alien: Covenant (May 19th) – Ridley Scott, director of the original Alien in 1979 and its 2012 prequel Prometheus, returns for the prequel sequel (pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever typed that!). Rather than try to act like this is something it’s not, the powers that be decided to just come out and directly label it as an entry in the Alien franchise because that makes the most sense when it comes to cash money. Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, xenomorphs? Can I buy my ticket yet? This film should gross better than Prometheus simply because it’s being marketed as an Alien movie. I say $70 million opening weekend and $230 million total gross, the latter of which could approach $300 million if the film is actually really good.

Baywatch (May 25th) – I was never asking for a Baywatch movie, but then I saw the casting of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, and the decision to make the film an R-rated comedy, and I felt like genius might be at work. I’ve long been calling Baywatch the surprise hit of 2017 and the tone of the trailer – which I only half watched because they spoil so much these days – looks spot on. If they follow the blueprint set forth by the 21 Jump Street movies, this movie should be a big hit. I think it will open somewhat modestly around $40 million and get some legs through word of mouth and gross over $200 million total.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26th) – I remember being surprised by and really liking the first movie, but I can’t count myself as a big fan of this franchise. I’m not even sure if I’ve seen all of the movies to this point, but I don’t remember being too fond of any of the sequels, and the general public’s interest has waned too: the series peaked with Dead Man’s Chest in 2006 at $423 million, but the most recent entry, in 2011, On Stranger Tides grossed a relatively tame $223 million. I haven’t heard anyone talking about this movie, so I’m not sure a six year break has the public craving more Pirates Of The Caribbean. I will be at Disneyland a week before this film’s release, which is kind of cool, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to the movie. I suspect it will open solid around $70 million and probably gross around $260 million domestic.

NETFLIX:

While I didn’t watch either in entirety, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Gremlins were my go to films to fall asleep to in April and both titles are still streaming in May.

I watched three different comedy specials last month. Louis C.K.‘s 2017 Netflix show is hilarious. I also got around to watching the Jo Koy special that shot in Seattle and found it to be very funny. Lastly, I watched Kevin Hart‘s special and he continues to be absurdly overrated. I guess it was watchable… I didn’t turn it off or anything, but the funniest part was in the filmed intro interacting with Don Cheadle. The actual stand up wasn’t anything special.

Last month, my wife and I also completed “American Crime Story: The People Vs O.J. Simpson” and I thought it was excellent. While the case has been beaten to death, this show managed to bring something new to the table by offering perspectives from the various participants, rather than seeing everything through the media’s perspective. I had a hard time adjusting to seeing Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J., but Sarah Paulson was phenomenal as Marcia Clarke, and the guys that played Johnnie Cochrane and Darden also did great jobs. I highly recommend watching this show if you haven’t seen it yet.

And here’s what is new in May:

Chocolat (May 1st) – One of my favorite films of 2000, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, back when my tastes were more refined than they are now.

Don’t Think Twice (May 1st) – A solid comedy about an improv group dealing with one of their members becoming famous.

Forrest Gump (May 1st) – An all-time classic now available to stream whenever you want.

“Sense8”: Season 2 (May 5th) – Haven’t seen the first season and this series is pretty deep on my list of shows to get around to.

Norm MacDonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip, & Trickery (May 9th) – Seems like it’s been a while since we’ve heard from the old “SNL” alum, but I’ll give this a watch.

“Master Of None”: Season 2 (May 12th) – I really enjoyed the first season from comedian Aziz Ansari and I will definitely be watching this.

“Sherlock”: Series 4 (May 15th) – Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are back as Sherlock Holmes and Watson. I’ve seen the first three series, but I will probably rewatch them before getting around to this.

The Place Beyond The Pines (May 16th) – A highly touted film starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper that I didn’t like as much as the critics. I will give this another shot.

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt“: Season 3 (May 19th) – Still haven’t seen an episode of this yet, but it seems to be well liked.

Inglorious Basterds (May 22nd) – A Tarantino masterpiece that is always worth revisiting.

Southpaw (May 24th) – Haven’t seen this boxing drama starring Jake Gyllenhall yet, but maybe I will watch it now.

War Machine (May 26th) – A Netflix original film about war and starring Brad Pitt? That’s enough for me to be intrigued.

“House Of Cards”: Season 5 (May 30th) – After a disappointing season 3, the show came back strong last year and I’ll be tuning in again.

Doctor Strange (May 30th) – More Benedict Cumberbatch… this time as the mystical Marvel superhero. Funny and entertaining and definitely worth another viewing.

Sarah Silverman: A Speck Of Dust (May 30th) – I haven’t seen a ton of Sarah Silverman stand up, but I’d currently count myself as a fan so I’m interested to see how she does with this special.

MUSIC:

My entire April was spent listening to the new albums by Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick Lamar, both of which are highly enjoyable, at worst, and potentially classic, at best. Kendrick continues to keep a stranglehold on the #1 spot in the current hip-hop world with another incredibly strong release and Joey Bada$$ stepped it up a notch, rapping his ass off on a 12 track album where every song is either good or great. I did give The Chainsmokers album a full listen and while I found it to be pretty pleasant the only songs I remember now are “Paris” and “It Won’t Kill Ya.” As suspected, I didn’t get around to listening to much of anything else new, including the surprise release from Wale. When I wasn’t listening to K.dot or Joey, I was listening to The Notorious B.I.G. and DMX (write up coming soon) for my Rapper Profiles series.

Brother Ali – All The Beauty In This Whole Life (May 5th) – Once upon a time Brother Ali was my favorite rapper in the game. This was probably circa 2004 to 2007, on the heels of three consecutive amazing releases. Since then, he’s released a couple of LPs, a couple of EPs, and a number of “loosies,” and while it has all been mostly good, it doesn’t quite compare to the amazing content he was releasing in the mid-2000s. Ali has been mostly absent from the music scene since 2012, so it will be interesting to see what he has to offer in 2017. I have heard one song so far and I really liked it.

Logic – Everybody (May 5th) – Logic has released an album every year since 2014 and all of his stuff has been pretty good, if not spectacular. I didn’t give his last album a ton of play, but he’s still on my list of emcees I’m checking for.

B.O.B. – Ether (May 12th) – I liked the Adventures Of Bobby Ray back in 2010, but I haven’t really been checking for B.O.B. since then. I’ll add this, but it will have to grab me pretty quick to keep it in rotation.

Faith Evans & The Notorious B.I.G. – The King & I (May 19th) – New Biggie content? In 2017? 20 years after he died? The album is supposed to have both well known and unheard B.I.G. verses, but I’d say the chances of this being any good are pretty slim. Still, I’m intrigued enough after looking at the tracklist that I’ll be checking it out.

Snoop Dogg – Neva Left (May 19th) – I really liked Bush and the Snoopzilla album with Dam-Funk, but I didn’t give Coolaid much play, as every song that came up randomly in shuffle was kind of weak. I wouldn’t consider myself much of a Snoop fan these days, but he’s still plenty capable of making good music. I’m not sure what the album cover featuring a picture of a young Snoop from 1992 is supposed to indicate, but I have to admit it’s pretty cool.

Some other notable release dates that I don’t know much about, but will probably add to my library: Harry Styles – Harry Styles (May 12th), Machine Gun Kelly – Bloom (May 12th), Linkin Park – One More Light (May 19th)