Category Archives: Miscellaneous

2018: A Noisy Year, and Time for Changes

I’ve been writing the same, tired “Year in Review” article for a few years now. With the exception of one particularly creative dive into Boethius, admittedly a deep track reference if there ever was one, these write ups have been unremarkable and, I confess, lazy.

I’ve been doing this blog for almost seven years now. I don’t think our pop culture discourse has ever been noisier. It also, has never been less creative.

I read the same article about the same movie probably four or five times, every time. The assessment of film has become of an inescapable groupthink, which more often than not settles on analysis that is an inch deep and a mile wide. This problem isn’t unique to film, it’s in writing about television, sports, politics, basically all of journalism. We’re drawn to the hot take, the short article, the snarky humor, the bland repetitive analysis.

So what does this have to do with the state of popular culture in 2018? After all, 2018 was the year that brought us the best superhero movie (Black Panther), the best series finale of a television show (The Americans), Spike Lee’s return to form (Blackkklansman), and Steven Spielberg’s return to blockbusters (Ready Player One). The year’s biggest movie, globally, was the culmination of a massive series of films the likes of which we haven’t seen before (Avengers: Infinity War). These are real achievements, but something about them feels hollow. That isn’t right.

Film is about images. Roger Ebert understood this and repeated it often. What is lacking from the conversation is how those images make us feel. What they mean. In the moment, and more importantly, in the next moment.

Everything isn’t meant to be compared to everything else before it. With so many legacy movies, series, and filmmakers out there, we’ve been obsessed with just that – legacy. Legacy before the ink of history is even dry. This constant comparison makes art disposable. The art isn’t appreciated for what it is, but for how it measures up to other art. This, in case I’m not being clear, is a bad thing.

You could write about Blackkklansman and compare it to Lee’s earlier work, or you can talk about how Lee uses the film as a sledgehammer to shake the audience out of complacency. You could knock Spielberg as overly nostalgic, or you could point out how he uses nostalgia as a tool to reveal the humanity of an artificial world in Ready Player One. Black Panther is many things to many people, but instead of writing about what everyone is talking about, you can look deeper and see how and why Ryan Coogler’s best shot is when Killmonger walks into the throne-room. Ignore the noise – what does art mean to YOU? That is what I’m to endeavor to answer in the future.

That brings me to what’s changing on this page going forward:

1) I’m not writing traditional reviews anymore. See a movie or show, or don’t. I’m going to be writing about my impressions beyond simply answering whether art is good or bad.

2) Historical context needs time to develop. A new rule: a film or series needs to be at least five years old to have its influence discussed, ten to be understood, thirty to be fully appreciated.

3) I’m changing up the format a bit and working on a few other changes. It’s time.

4) I’ll still do Game of Thrones and maybe other Power Rankings, but I’ll be more thoughtful about a character or group’s story in the broader context.

5) I’m going to write about more random topics. I like to do that.

Thanks for sticking with this experiment that I started in 2012. I’ll do my best to continue making it worthwhile.

D.G. McCabe

December 21, 2018

(C) 2018

2017: The Year in Review

Well another year is in the books.  I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years now, which judging by some of the blogs I’ve encountered here on WordPress is an awfully long time to keep up a movie blog.  Anyway enough patting myself on the back – time to do the usual Year in Review Post:

2017 Was a Good Year to Be

Star Wars

Yes, 2017 was a great year for the Star Wars franchise.  Rogue One made a ridiculous amount of money.  The Last Jedi has wowed critics and audiences (well except for a few cantankerous Twitter eggs), and, also, has made a ridiculous amount of money.  The TV series Rebels is quite good I’m told.  Sure a few directors were sacked, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Narrative Inertia

It’s always a good year to be an abstract concept, but the concept of narrative inertia had a top flight year.  It can gather around the water cooler with all the other abstract concepts and talk a big game.  What I mean by this is that two of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones and The Americans had sub par seasons, but I still watched and I’m still excited for the final season of those shows.  I’m even probably going to watch the last season of House of Cards despite the fact that Season Five was a dumpster fire of epic proportions.

Streaming Services

The “big three” (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu) streaming services had a great 2017.  Netflix has been doing the original programming thing for a while now, but 2017 felt exceptional.  The Handmaid’s Tale won a well-deserved Emmy, and I’m currently sucked into the charming “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Good work internet people!

2017 Was a Bad Year to Be

A Scumbag

New rule. Every year should be this bad for scumbags.

Movies for People with 401(K)’s and Mortgages

Was it just me or was nearly every movie in 2017 a comic book movie, a “tent pole” franchise movie, or a cartoon?  Sure there were a few big hits like “Get Out” and “Dunkirk,” but those were few and far between.  Maybe once Oscar season starts I’ll be reassured that someone is still making movies for people over 30.

Tired of an Endless Barrage of Mindless Hot Takes

Sure there have always been opinion websites, but there seem like there are far too many of them now. Everyone has to have a unique take, and it just becomes noise.  Twitter, which was supposed to be bankrupt by now, is still the worst offender.  I kind of just wish the internet would shut up for five seconds and think before it talks.

Scenes from the Great Ale House in the Sky

After last year I considered not doing this one anymore.  Still I couldn’t help but imagine a sold out Chuck Berry, Gregg Allman, and Tom Petty concert.  It’s tomorrow.  Tonight Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Guillaume are giving a talk on what it was like being huge televisions stars in the days before so-called “peak TV.”  It’s called, “You’re Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Game of Thrones.”  Since that show has actual giants, the pun is clearly intended.

Jerry Lewis stopped by.  Sure, Dean Martin owns the place, but that particular beef is long squashed.  Long before people talked about squashing beefs.  Besides if he didn’t come by Don Rickles was going to zing him very hard.

Adam West is here, and yes he’s dressed as Batman.  Roger Moore is here too, although he is not dressed like James Bond, at least not officially.


Anyway, that’s our year in review!  Tune in next time for 2018!

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe





Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two (Review)

We want the performance. We don’t want the performer. We want the art. We don’t want the artist. It makes us uncomfortable. It’s easier, far easier, to laud the results of genius but ignore the often flawed process.

That is until someone lets us see the process. If done the right way, their confession draws us closer. Enter Netflix’s documentary on the creative process of one Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, “Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two.”

Gaga, as everyone calls her, has created a public persona that is as much performance art as her music. That makes it hard to separate the performance from the truth. Maybe she isn’t always sure herself. Where does the persona of Lady Gaga end and the individual begin?

Anything as aggressively billed as “authentic” as Five Foot Two leaves the viewer questioning what is truth versus what Gaga wants us to think is truth. In the end, isn’t that what we’re all doing?

Gaga’s process is meticulous. She thinks about details, like how the fit of a sleeve will affect a mid-performance costume change. She wants us to be moved, and expresses confidence in her ability to so. She knows she’s immensely talented, and she isn’t afraid to take big swings, even if she strikes out.

At the same time, she isn’t nearly as confident as she would have us believe. Here’s an example. She desperately wants her grandmother to be as moved by a song she wrote about her aunt as she is herself. It’s not clear that she was successful.

She has a chip on her shoulder about the music industry. It’s not clear that she can really get past the fact the Madonna finds her derivative. She holds a grudge or two against unnamed music industry players. She shouldn’t care. She knows that. But here we are.

She takes us to the doctor with her. She’s shows us her physical pain. Everyone can demonstrate physical pain, and no one who’s been a dance performer for more than a few years has a normal body. She’s in more pain than most even taking that into account.

That alone wouldn’t draw us closer, but combined with the candid moments of emotional vulnerability, we get to see an artist who wants to move us and will do whatever it takes to do so. That’s what makes for a compelling documentary.

For the first track of her album, Joanne, Gaga wrote, “I might not be flawless, but you know I’ve got a diamond heart.” In Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two, she shows us the truth in that statement.

You might like Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two if: You are intrigued by the creative process.

You might not like Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two if: Inside show biz documentaries, even well made ones, put you to sleep.

(C) 2017 D.G. McCabe

Dispatches from the Frozen Land: Prince and Making a Cultural Crossroads


One could make an argument that three of the top ten albums of the 1980’s are Prince records (1999, The Purple Rain Soundtrack, Sign o’ the Times).  No small feat.  Today, on the first anniversary of his death, much ink will be spilled (or pixels generated) on the impact of his life and music.  Interestingly enough, my thoughts today turn not to this legend of popular art, but to the city and state that he loved.

Minneapolis, and to a lesser extent the state of Minnesota as a whole, exists at a cultural crossroads.  For someone who’s understanding of this part of the country comes mostly from watching Fargo (1996), that might seem like an odd statement.  After all, we typically equate terms like “cultural crossroads” to more diverse, global cities like New York and London.  

Sure, the state of Minnesota is at once western, midwestern, and northern. That would be something, except the “we’re in three regions” argument falls flat when you consider that the same thing can be said of Texas and California.  The cultural cache of those states needs no long explanation: its engrained in the American psyche. 

So what am I talking about and what does this have to do with Prince? After all, can one artist make such an impact that we can change the entire categorization of a city or state in the cultural mindset of America? Why not?

The Coen Brothers once lovingly described The Twin Cities as “Siberia with family restaurants.” Due respect to Joel and Ethan, groundbreaking artists in their own right, maybe that describes the St. Louis Park of their childhood, but it doesn’t describe where I’ve lived for two years.  Here there are thriving theater, music, art, and brewery scenes, not just quirky folks with flappy hats.

I’ll admit, there is a tension here that shouldn’t be ignored. The old Minnesota is still with us, and sometimes it doesn’t really get along with the new Minnesota, Prince’s Minnesota. That’s a shame, since he was a figure that could unite the old and the new and bring out the best in both. 

The question remains, do we build on that legacy, or do we retreat into comfortable nostalgia? That’s up to us. But for today, let’s just listen to the music and see where it takes us.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe 

Author’s note: I’ve been toying with the idea of this column for a long time, but I don’t want to jinx it with my “first in a series” kiss of death. Still, I like the idea and will return to it from time to time.

Reflections on a Thursday in Minneapolis When Prince Left the Stage for the Last Time

Earlier today I was running behind schedule.  I had to visit three different parking garages to find a place to beach my car, navigate the Minneapolis skyway in order to avoid the rain falling outside, and find the location of my meeting in a non-descript office building.  So when I heard that Prince Rogers Nelson had passed away suddenly in his studio at the age of 57, I had just finished cursing the city that he loved so well.

It would be disingenuous to say that I’m a fan of Prince’s music.  Don’t get me wrong, I certainly appreciate his personality, style, artistry, and influence, and I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t.  I was busy with such mundane tasks as learning how to walk, feed, and dress myself during the peak of his popularity in the 80’s, and I didn’t grow up in Minnesota.  In fact, I have trouble recalling any of his songs from memory save the chorus from “1999.”

There are two ways to appreciate creativity.  The first is to appreciate the art itself.  It pains me to admit that really appreciating Prince’s music remains on my to-do list.  Fortunately, there is a second way to appreciate art, and that’s by appreciating the footprint of the art – the impact that the art and the artist’s very existence make upon their peers, their community, and their chosen craft.

“They” might tell you a couple of things.  The Twin Cities are a boring Midwestern way-station.  The genres of American popular music can’t be fused together without sounding incoherent.  You can’t fight city hall.  You can’t transcend traditional definitions of masculine style without making people uncomfortable.

“They” are wrong.  The Twin Cities are a vibrant and exciting community, home to the “Minneapolis Sound” and the most theaters per capita outside of New York City.  The genres of American popular music can be deconstructed and reconstructed at will.  One artist can stand up to the stuffed suits of his industry and win.  Traditional gender roles are false barriers.  Do you know why I know this?  Because I lived in a time when a man in purple made us see this for the truth that it is.

It’s been raining all day, but the sun is starting to break through the clouds.  And so, too soon, ends a story that parents should teach their children.  That one man can make a difference.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

David Bowie (1947-2016)

What is art?  Better still, who is the artist?  Is he Major Tom, floating out into space?  Ziggy Stardust, bringing us hope at a time of despair?  A Thin White Duke?  A Man in Berlin?  A Rebel? A Tin Machine?  Lazarus? Or is he just David Bowie?

To say Bowie is gone is like saying Picasso is gone.  The artist always remains.  He remains in the orchestra interpreting The Planets Suite.  She remains in adaptations of her tales of the English countryside.  He or she even remains in the cave paintings of Lascaux.

If you have the chance today, take a listen to Bowie’s last album, “Blackstar.”  Here, he uses his impending end as an opportunity to inspire us one last time.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

2015 Year in Review

Well we’re down to the last few hours of 2015.  It’s been an interesting year in Hollywood. Some movies and TV shows were good, some were the second season of True Detective.  Anyway, let’s get moving with our annual tradition:

2015 Was a Good Year to Be:

1) Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer had a good year.  A really good year.  Her Comedy Central series has been popular for a couple of years, but this year she became a movie star and got an HBO special.  It certainly hasn’t been perfect, but no one on this list had a perfect year.

2) Netflix

Sure Amazon and Hulu have arguably better content.  Sure there have been a few flops among its original programming.  But when Netflix hits on an original show, it changes the conversation on how we consume media.  And 2015 was its best year so far, with strong debuts (Master of None, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Daredevil, Jessica Jones) sitting alongside proven properties (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards).

3) Disney

The Empire of the Mouse is once again on our list.  Three of the top five movies of the year (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Inside Out, and Avengers: Age of Ultron) were made by Disney.  Ant-Man and Cinderella outperformed expectations.  Daredevil and Jessica Jones were well received on Netflix.  Although the ratings on ABC aren’t what they used to be, it still has strong performers in Scandal, Modern Family, and How to Get Away with Murder.  The only negative for Team Mickey?  Tomorrowland was an embarrassing flop.

2015 Was a Bad Year to Be:

1) Adam Sandler

With the box office flop of Pixels and the failure of his Netflix series to do anything except anger people, can Mr. Sandler finally retire to enjoy his giant pile of money and stop bothering us?

2) Josh Trank

He directed the worst comic book adaptation in years (Fantastic Four) and got fired from directing a Star Wars movie before a script was even done.  Full stop.

3) The DC Cinematic Universe

Has anyone seen the Batman v. Superman trailers and said, “Wow, that doesn’t look like hot dumpster fire at all!”?  It’s good that the DC Television Universe is already well received, so maybe Warner Brothers can blow everything up in one of their infamous “Crisis” events and start over.

Best Movies

1) Best Blockbuster – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

2) Best Artistic Movie – Brooklyn

3) Best Animated Movie – Inside Out

Dispatches from the Great Ale House in the Sky

The King is playing for us tonight, as in B.B. King.  His blues guitar sets the mood for our patrons this evening, and what a crowd it is.  In the front row is James Horner, getting ideas for his next great score.  Near the back, Maureen O’Hara and Omar Sharif look around and see a dozen of the other Golden Age leading actors.  Both think on the fact that there aren’t many more coming to join them.

Meanwhile, at the bar Christopher Lee and Wes Craven are comparing notes on how to terrify people.  They consider coming back as actual ghosts to haunt a house or two, but decide against it.  The King’s blues are just too smooth to leave.

At a window booth, Fred Thompson is having a good chat with Ronald Reagan on the pros and cons of leaving Hollywood to become a politician.  In the end, the conversation is a bit silly since there are no politics in the Great Ale House in the Sky.

Conspicuously absent tonight is Leonard Nimoy.  He’s busy exploring the galaxy with chief medical officer DeForest Kelley and chief engineer James Doohan.

Live long and prosper everyone.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe