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Jun

11

2016

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John Hughes didn’t think we’d want a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” soundtrack, so we don’t have one. We can recreate, playlist or bootleg it, but we can’t possess something that never existed. Here’s the open secret of this movie and its soundtrack-that-never-was, three decades later: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t waste time on something you never had, you won’t miss it.

Read the rest of my essay on Ferris Bueller's 30th birthday and the movie's missing soundtrack in Salon



Mar

23

2016

Over at Talking Pictures, the movie podcast I do with David Dylan Thomas, we've embarked on a 5-part series about race and movie genres. Between each episode, we issue a challenge to both ourselves, and you, our movie-loving listeners. 

Episodes so far...

 

  1. Race and Action Movies.

 The Challenge: Name 5 action movies where neither the hero nor the villain are white. 

     

       2. Race and Romantic Comedies.

The Challenge: Name 3 romantic comedies where neither member of the couple are white but their friends aren't all the same race either. 

 

If this sounds like your kinda podcast, you can drop this link in your podcast tool of choice or subscribe in iTunes



Mar

23

2016

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I wrote about Duckie and how he taught a generation of teenage boys (including me) all the wrong lessons...

Beyond Hughes’ other sidekicks, “Duckie” has become synonymous with “weird friend thrown over for safe, popular choice,” adolescent canon reinforced by a generation of boys who mimicked Duckie—in dress, manner and seduction—to joke and serenade their way into the hearts of their dream girls.

Disciples of Duckie, we had it all wrong.

Full essay at Salon.com. 



Feb

23

2016

Tips and tricks for how to love music, movies and book without feeling overwhelmed by them. 

1. Know your method and stick to it. I write best listening to music with an object near my left hand (a pen, a notebook, coffee cup). I never read, listen to or watch two examples of the same artist's work in a row. I don't know why and it doesn't matter. I found out it these methods work to keep me creating and appreciating culture at a steady clip. So I don't ask questions. 

Finding your best methods takes time, effort, experimenting and learning from those experiments. But once you've zeroed in on a way, that's your way. Don't torture yourself over "why."

 2. Catalog only if easy and useful.  I use Goodreads to keep track of my books, Discogs for my vinyl records. Both have kept me from buying something twice and remembering work by artists I admire but haven't checked out yet. Both are dead easy and quick to learn to use.

I don't catalog my DVDs because they fail these two rules: I can't find a need to catalog DVDs nor an easy program to do it. 

Cataloging is not its own reward. Don't make busy work for yourself. Do it if its adds something to your experience with the thing you are cataloguing. 

3. Sit in the back row. Lately when going to the movies, I've been sitting in the back row: low traffic, same visibility (I feel no need for the screen to fill my entire field of view as though its an oncoming train), easy to go to the bathroom and leave quickly at film's end. Try it. 

4. The 4 issue rule. If you have more than 4 issues piled up of a magazine, get rid of it. You won't miss them and having them around is torment you bring upon yourself. And why do that?  

Pop! Hacks! are a feature of my newsletter The Smoke Signal, which comes out twice a month. Subscribe if ya like. 



Jan

14

2016

Tips and tricks for how to love music, movies and book without feeling overwhelmed by them. 

1. Download and save playlists. Those of us who used the now-departed RDIO music service were relieved that RDIO gave members their playlists in a little downloadable bundle before they turned off the lights. Not everyone is so nice. Pays to take 30 seconds and export a favorite playlist from iTunes (say a playlist given to you by friend or lover) then upload the file it creates to Google Drive or Dropbox. 

2. Log movies you watch. I have a terrible time remembering movies I saw no matter how much I loved them. So I've taken to scrawling a few lines down about the movie I just saw on Letterbxd just so it's recorded somewhere and I can cycle back when someone asks "What's the best documentary you saw this year?" and the first words that come to mind are "Breakfast Burrito." 

Not an endorsement for Letterbxd as I haven't explored any of its competitors. A notebook and pencil work just as well. 

3. On that, unless you are a serial watcher of movies, once you've watched something on Netflix, Amazon, Itunes etc. delete it. Unless you are going to rewatch it, it's just taking up space. "I paid for it" isn't a good reason to keep it around. It's paying for the privilege of acting like a hoarder. 

4. If one of your 2016 resolutions is to "read more", give yourself time to read 10 pages nightly before turning on the TV. Unless you are reading Proust, 10 pages goes by super fast and if you've chosen a good book, you'll probably want more that 10 pages before turning on the TV. 

 

Pop! Hacks! are a feature of my newsletter The Smoke Signal, which comes out twice a month. Subscribe if ya like. 



Jan

5

2016

The last few years at sunrise on New Years Day, I've gotten up at read Lord Alfred Tennyson's "Ring Out, Wild Bells." This time I decided to read it aloud. 

 Setting intentions and whatnot.  



Jan

4

2016

Cribbed from my monthly newsletter The Smoke Signal, your guide to consuming pop culture smarter. 

 
December is the month of Best of 2015 lists, all 7 million of them. It can be crazy intimating which ones to pay attention to, how much and what to do with the three dozen, "ohh I missed that's" these lists are meant to stir up. So this issue's Pop! Hacks! will be all about how to make Best of Lists work for you. 

 

Music:  

 

 NPR Music's Best of The Year coverage is both thorough, varied and beautifully organized, by genrecurator, by song or album. Their website also has an app which will play their favorite songs of the year in random order. Let it run for a half hour while returning emails and see what new music you discover. Rule of thumb (ear?): Look to discover 2-4 new artists, half in your favorite genres, half in genres you  know less well. If you're music skews toward one genre, focus there. I usually take 30 seconds and crosscheck the artists I discover with the Village Voice's legendary Pazz & Jop poll, just to see if I'm being an over-40 white guy cliche' and swallowing whatever NPR hands me.

Once you've found 2-4 new artists you like, stop looking. Explore the other work of those artists on the  streaming music service of your choice. Make new friends not new music you say hello to in the hallway.    

 
Sit-down meals not snacking. 
 
 
Books: 
 
 
If reading 2015's "big books everyone talked about" is your priority, the New York Times Notable Books of the Year coverage will more than suffice. Again, 3-5 titles that stir your interest. More than that and by the time you finish them, it'll be March and 2016 bookish temptations will already be clawing at the front door. 
 
For a more personal  take, Maris Kreizman, who runs publishing projects over at Kickstarter does a magnificent Best Books list that I return to year after year.  

Drilling into genres, the NPR Book Concierge does a great job overall. Paste Magazine usually picks a few categories to dig into each year with great flair. The AV Club's best of coverage of comics and graphic novels is as dependable as an old friend. The folks at Book Riot do both great 30,000- foot Best-of-Every- Book-You-Can-Imagine reporting and strong by-genre lists as well. I also dig these Best Books by Women lists over at LitHub
 
 
Movies: 
 
Tempting here to just wait and see what gets nominated for your Oscars or Golden Globes's and catch up on films you missed. Don't. Award nominations too often focus on movies released after Thanksgiving and whose studios spend a king's ransom on publicity campaigns. Instead of catching up on great movies, you'll be wasting time catching up on 2015's Best Movies at Stuffing the Ballet Box. 
 
Instead, make a quick trip through Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 movies of 2015 or Roger Ebert.com's annual  Four Star Reviews feature. Focus on movies you've heard of but didn't get a chance to see. Then for films you haven't heard of but would like to try, watch their trailer on Apple Trailers.
 
If you like something, add it to your queue of record (Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, a legal pad) immediately to remember it.  
 
 


Aug

5

2015

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Had I felt about the Civil War as I felt about “Back to the Future,” this was my visit to Fort Sumter, Gettysburg and the Appomattox Courthouse all at once. And it was the first time I realized that although we see movies as distant, expensive objects made the year before by people we will never know, they were often born in the same world that we pass through every day — they weren’t beamed to us from a far-off kingdom, but lived here, among us, in places that belonged to us, too. Their permanence could be on celluloid or server farm, in the culture at large and in our own memory, but also in concrete, soil and steel.

On the occasion of the great movie's 30th birthday, I look at the time I tried to find the real Hill Valley



Aug

5

2015

An actor playing a real-life criminal adds a loud asterisk, not so much for how we then imagine them as John Dillinger or Aileen Wuornos but how we’ll perceive them afterward. The choice to play not just evil but infamy on screen may only extend as far as that movie. But when you look at an actor’s filmography, his or her performance as the engine of a true-crime movie never stays quiet; it always says something about their body of work as a whole. 

What happens when we see a performer we recognize in the skin of an infamous person we recognize? The answer is never “It didn’t really matter.” The five outcomes we’ve seen and outlined below are how it did.

Sarah D. Bunting, a writer I admire very much, asked me to contribute to a true crime publication she edits called The Blotter. Given those conditions, how could I say no?

Above then is a piece of an essay I filed called "Criminal Career Moves" i.e. what happens to an actor's when they play a real life thug.

Here the whole bloody thing.  

 



Jun

22

2015

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In February of last year, I mentioned I'd started on a new book called Brat Pack America, about locations made famous by 80s teen movies (Shermer Illinois, the Galleria Mall, the Goondocks and so forth). I predicted that book would be out by this fall. In actuality, it will come out next summer. 

That does mean, however, that it's done. At least the initial draft. Written, sent, and being edited as we speak. I'll get it back soon and be revising and editing this summer. 

Much work left to be done but the hard part's over. And I couldn't be happier