Views on pop culture through my eyes

Summer 2018 Reviews 2

Here are my takes on CDs, movies, TV shows and more from the past few months.

CDs

Shawn Mendes — Shawn Mendes
Shawn is back with his 3rd major release. He won me over with his last album. This one is just fair to me. The first single “In My Blood” has grown on me. This is a more R&B tinged album than the predecessor. I am not sure I like that direction for him. I could hear Nick Jonas on some of the songs, but for me, it is not quite working for Shawn. Maybe it will grow on me. Grade: C

Sugarland — Bigger
Sugarland is back. After a few years apart and various solo projects — the duo of Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles is back with more music. They have some songwriting help from Taylor Swift on one song. I find that this one is on constant repeat for me. Catchy songs and beautiful melodies. I am loving it. Grade: A-

Eric Church — The Outsiders
This is the 2nd album I have from him. The first being “Mr. Misunderstood.” He’s got the country rock rebel thing down. Highlights include the title track as well as “Roller Coaster Ride” and ‘That’s Damn Rock & Roll.” Not sure what to make of the “Prelude: Princess of Darkness” — a long spoken word intro into another song. Grade: B

LeAnn Rimes — Lady & Gentlemen
LeAnn takes on the songs of male artists on her 10th studio album. She covers songs from Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard among others. Her voice sounds great as always. Vince Gill is one of the co-producers on the album. I like it. Grade: A-

Lisa Stansfield — Seven+
This is the remix album for “Seven.” Out of the 16 tracks, there are only 7 songs. So, there are multiple remixes for some of the songs. It is nice collection of silky smooth dance songs. There is a retro-soul feel to the production. And her voice sounds great as always. Lisa is coming to the US this fall, on her first tour in many years. I hope I can go! Grade: B

Toni Braxton & Babyface — Love, Marriage & Divorce
They have collaborated many times over the course of their careers, but this is the first time they have done a duets project. This is a concept album for sure. They are both given space to shine — Babyface has 1 solo song, to Toni’s 2. It is mostly slow to mid-tempo stuff, but there is one all-out dance number “Heart Attack.” I enjoyed it. Grade: B+

Kenny Chesney — Songs for the Saints
Sonically, this is a bit of a sequel to “Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates” which Kenny released in 2007. He was inspired by the hurricanes that hit the Caribbean islands this past year. It is a thoughtful, introspective collection of songs that celebrates life on the islands. It is more acoustic ,mid-tempo, folksy guitar songs than arena rockers. It does include one sure-fire hit “Get Along” — a feel-good anthem for these divisive times. Special guests include Ziggy Marley and Jimmy Buffett. Grade: A-

Boyz II Men — Collide
Boyz II Men mix things up some on this collection from 2014. It is strange collection of sorts — as the Boyz try their hands at modern pop, reggae, EDM, retro-soul and more on the album. They use Autotune on a few numbers, which I find really strange — they are good live singers and don’t need it. It is definitely eclectic — some of it works, some of it doesn’t. But I appreciate trying something different. Grade: C+

Movies

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
This is the 5th movie in the Jurassic Park franchise. Three years after the events of the last movie, the island is about to be destroyed by a volcano. Should the dinosaurs be rescued? A team comes in to help relocate them to another island. Instead, the dinosaurs are put on the auction blog to the highest bidders. The best I can say is that the movie is just OK at best. We’ve seen a lot of this before. And now I found myself not caring. Better luck next time. Grade: C+

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This documentary about Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rodgers) is sure to be nominated for Best Documentary at next year’s ceremony. It tells how a selfless, caring man, became the star of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” on PBS. He was able to talk to and relate to kids like no one else can. He covered such heavy topics as death, divorce and diversity. I found myself tearing up a few times in the movie. In this day and age, we could use more Mr. Rogers in this world. I cannot recommend it enough! Grade: A

Incredibles 2
Fourteen years after the last movie, we catch up again the Incredible Family. Dad (Mr. Incredible) is a stay-at-home Dad, while his wife Elasti-Girl is out saving the world and trying to rehabilitate the image of superheroes. Baby Jack-Jack is discovering he has super powers and daughter Violet is showing an interest in boys. Samuel Jackson is again the voice of their pal Frozone. I had fun. Grade: A-

Ant-Man and the Wasp
The latest Marvel movie brings back Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. This time he is joined by Evangeline Lilly as the Wasp. There are 2 main story lines: finding Hank Pym’s wife (and Wasp’s Mom) in the Quantum Realm as well as fighting a new baddie named Ghost. Overall, it was just OK for me. There are a few cute moments. But at this point, I am experiencing a bit of superhero overload this year. And the villain was pretty boring too. Better luck next time. Grade: C

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Ten years after the first one, we get the sequel. It is as much a prequel as a sequel. Sophie is just about to open the hotel that her mother (Donna) was developing. Plus, Sophie finds out she is pregnant. There are flashbacks to her mother (Donna) as she was meeting and romancing the 3 guys who are the baby daddies (Sam, Harry and Bill). Then we get to see the old gang arrive for the hotel opening on the island. This time they go deeper into the ABBA song catalog with tracks like “Angel Eyes” and “I Kissed the Teacher.” Plus, you get some return favorites like “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen” and “Fernando” (sung by Cher and Andy Garcia). Overall, I was just OK on this movie. It is not as fun or inspired as the first one. And (spoiler alert) I hated that they built the movie around the idea that Donna had died in the time that had passed. Lily James is no Meryl Streep, and Meryl’s screen absence from most of the movie is deeply felt. Wait for video. Grade: C

Mission Impossible: Fallout
This is the 6th movie in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is on a new mission to stop the sale of some plutonium cores to some bad guys who want to destroy the world. The globe-hopping story is filled with fantastic action sequences — on the streets, on the tops of buildings and in the skies too. Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett and Henry Cavill co-star. It is one of the better MI films and definitely something to see on the big screen. I recommend it. Grade: B+

Christopher Robin
Disney offers up this live-action fantasy film about a grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) and the animals from the 100 acre woods (Winnie the Pooh and friends). Christopher Robin has to leave the animals behind to go to boarding school. As an adult who is having struggles at work, the animals come back into his life — and remind him of what is really important in life. I liked the sequences with Pooh, Eyore, Piglet, Rabbit and Kanga the best. The humans not as much. I think the story could have been better. The movie wants to be Paddington, but it is not. Be sure to check out “Goodbye Christopher Robin” from last year — a drama about the creator A.A. Milne. That is a better movie. Grade: B-

DVD (or Streaming)

Loving Vincent
The life and mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh are explored in this Oscar-nominated experimental animated movie. The whole movie is told through re-creations of some of his most famous paintings. Each of the film’s frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same techniques as Van Gogh. This movie was definitely beautiful to look at. And the story is interesting too of a talented genius who only achieved success after his death. Grade: A-

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The sequel to 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” Considering how overrated that movie was, it is not surprising that this one is better. Rey is trying to lure Luke Skywalker back into the fight against the Empire. General Leia is trying to lead the Rebels despite a series of setbacks. Great special effects as always, the movie is too long by 30-45 minutes. Parts of it seem like ads for toys to me. I am ready to see a Star Wars without Luke/Leia/Solo. Grade: B-

All the Money in the World
Directed by Ridley Scott, and famous for having re-cast Kevin Spacey’s part with Christopher Plummer. This movie tells the story of the kidnapping and search for J. Paul Getty’s grandson — Paul. Michelle Williams is the boy’s mother and Mark Wahlberg is one of J. Paul’s employees — a negotiator and former CIA guy — who helps with the investigation. Plummer plays J. Paul Getty. An interesting true story that highlights the life of a very rich and complicated man. Grade: A-

The Disaster Artist
This is the true story of the movie — The Room. That movie is considered one of the worst movies of all time. James Franco stars as Tommy Wisseau (the star) and directs himself and his brother (Dave) as Tommy’s friend and co-star, Greg. James Franco goes all-in with his performance — is he retarded, delusional, or just crazy? Tommy was able to finance and produce his passion project — which has become a hit (if not the critical success he wanted) on the midnight screening circuit. You don’t have to have seen “The Room” to like or get this movie. Definitely worth watching. Grade: A-

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
This is the story of the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, and the 2 women who inspired his creation. It starts in the 20’s as he was a psychology professor, with his wife helping him out in the classroom. They hire a beautiful student, named Olive, as a research assistant. The 3 of them end up having a polyamorous relationship. And they continue their relationship through different trials with society. His relationship with the 2 women, plus his experience with creating the lie detector and DISC theory on relationships, helped him in his creation of the now-iconic super hero. It was an interesting story with good performances. Grade: B+

Stronger
This is the true story of Jeff Bauman, who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Jake Gyllenhaal portrays the working-class man who lost his legs, and becomes a local hero and a face of “Boston Strong” during his rehabilitation process. Tatiana Maslany co-stars as his girlfriend. Jeff has to contend with the physical challenges, as well as the emotional challenges of being a sudden celebrity because of a terrorist attack. Gyllenhall gives another award-worthy performance. This movie speaks to the strength of the human spirit. Grade: A-

TV

13 Reasons Why (Season 2)
The ground-breaking show is back. Season 2 focuses on the trial against the high school brought by Hannah’s parents. There are also many issues and loose ends with Hannah’s classmates. You will learn about them over the course of the season. Hannah herself appears to Clay as a ghost. What I love about the show is it’s daring to talk about tough subjects. It is one of the most of-the-moment shows that I know. And it is a show that you need to talk about. I was skeptical at first too, but I enjoyed season 2 very much. Grade: B+

Queer Eye
This is the reboot of the series from early 2000’s — originally called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” This Netflix show is basically a feel-good make-over show. The Fab 5 (Antoni, Tan, Karamo, Bobby, Jonathon) head out to make-over selected individuals — mostly guys. They did their first female make-over this season (which is season 2 already). Along the way, they help to break stereotypes and build bridges with the world at large. Worth watching. Grade: B+

The Kissing Booth
Netflix is getting into the romantic-comedy business. This teen movie has been getting a lot of press, so I decided to check it out. A teen girl (Elle) finds out that her crush is really into her. Complicating matters is the fact that the crush (Noah) is the brother of her best friend, Lee. Noah and Elle end up sharing a secret kiss at the kissing booth at the school fundraiser. The movie wants to be a modern take on a John Hughes movie — they even include Molly Ringwald in a supporting role and even play “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” during the prom sequence. It gets by on the likability of the cast (Joey King, Joel Courtney and Jacob Eloridi). I do think that Elle picked the wrong brother. She should have picked Lee. I liked this movie OK, the script definitely could have been better. But parts of it are cute and work — thanks again to the cast. Grade: C+

Books

Everybody Lies (Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are) — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Stephens-Davidowitz has written a timely book about the data gathered from Google and other big data sources. It covers everything from the 2016 election and unemployment numbers to abortion and sexual habits/preferences to predicting good baseball players. And it ends with ethical questions about how should we use the big data that we have access to. An interesting and informative read for these chaotic times. Grade: A-

That’s it for now. As always, comments are kindly welcomed. Thanks for reading.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

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Comments on: "Summer 2018 Reviews 2" (1)

  1. Guy Hubbard said:

    Hi Dan, i really enjoy these reviews. I have not seen all the movies and I don’t watch much tv if it is not on Netflix, Amazon Prime or DirectTV Now. I never heard of the book. I am going to have to get back to you for discussing specifics. I like sharing my reactions to your subjects. Thanks, again.

    Guy

    >

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