Tim’s 5 Holiday Classics

“Look who’s comin‘ round the bend…with a ho ho ho and a hey, hey hey…it’s Santa’s Super Sleigh.”

Unlike Will’s dislike of holiday cheer in About a Boy (due to his father’s one-hit wonder), ‘tis the season I start getting excited about watching some of my favorite films…

Even though the holidays might not play a significant role in each, I’ve listed 5 films that remind me of the festive winter season (Thanksgiving – New Year’s).

Warning: Hugh Grant makes 2 of my top 5…neither one Love Actually.

In no order of importance, here are 5 films I enjoy watching on my couch wrapped in a blanket, Christmas tree in plain sight:

  1. The British Classic – About A Boy 2002

Hugh Grant finally gets a role he can sink his teeth into – a lead character very much like his true self.

Watch how he deals with a request to be guardian of his best friend’s child:


  1. The Canonical Classic – The Royal Tenenbaums 2001

Loved by critics and fans alike, this film is one of the best films of this century so far. And Gene Hackman’s last great performance.

Watch the dysfunctional tribe of (former) geniuses bounce off each other:


  1. The New Classic – Silver Linings Playbook 2012

The film that introduced the world to the charisma and chemistry of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

Watch two lost souls argue over which one of them is crazier:


  1. The 80’s Classic – Planes, Trains & Automobiles 1988

Steve Martin at the top of his game, John Candy as the painfully funny source of his irritation.

Watch Neal Page (Martin) snap and lay into Del “the shower-curtain ring guy” Giffith (Candy):


  1. The Y2K Classic – Bridget Jones’s Diary 2001

Blind dates, one-night stands, crazy fitness fads – this film captures what is means to be awkwardly single at the end of the 20th/start of the 21st  century.

Watch “Brenda” make one of the worst speeches of all-time:

I’d love to hear which films remind you of the holidays – and which ones you especially like watching this time of year.

Happy holiday viewing!

The Game

Texas. Baseball. 1980. It doesn’t matter. Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some feels like watching a home movie.

In the same way that you could relate to Boyhood if you’ve ever been a child or to the Before trilogy if you’ve ever been in a relationship, you can relate to this film if you grew up with any trace of competitiveness in your bones.

 

If ever there was an American film maker moving to the beat of his own drummer, it’s Linklater.

The only other artists that remind me of his storytelling style are Henry Miller (stream of consciousness novelist) and the late Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Incidentally, Julie Delpy features in both Linklater’s 3 Before films and Keislowski’s moody French trilogy, Trois couleurs.

HAVE I SEEN YOU BEFORE?

Funnily enough, it wasn’t until Before Midnight and Boyhood that the mainstream started to take notice.

In the era of the blockbuster and franchise movie (Avengers, Hangover 1-3), it’s amazing that a 2 1/2 hour film without a traditional Hollywood story arc can work, i.e. a story without a big unrealistic, show-stopping end…just like in real life. How novel!

Think about it. How likely is it that you go to Vegas for a bachelor party, get roofied and survive a night of mayhem in the city’s underbelly only to make it back for the wedding without a hitch?

Or getting pregnant in high school, deciding to have an abortion but then meeting the perfect barren woman to raise the baby just in time?

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed my ass off at pre-franchise Hangover and Juno is one of my favorite films of the past 10 years. Still, none of that happened to me.

Boyhood did. Before Sunrise-Sunset-Midnight did. And Everybody Wants Some most definitely did.

Growing up in a house with an older brother and a father whose life revolved around sports and games, most everything was a competition. And it was fun.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, rain was pretty much guaranteed on Thanksgiving Day – perfect conditions for the annual “mud bowl” (two-hand touch football between the Nashes and Spiveys in our big back yard).

Summer at the Nash house was like one long tournament – epic ping-pong matches long after dark, two-on-two (basketball) or whiffle (base)ball depending on the numbers. And when things had to be moved inside – Nerf basketball, UNO or boring Trivial Pursuit when grandpa was in town. Just like in the film, it didn’t matter.

I grew up wanting to win, no matter the game or sport (probably more a case of not wanting to lose, in retrospect).

With a brother 8 years my senior and a father who could outrun me despite our 31 year age gap, life could be hard…until I went to summer camp and held court on the ping-pong table.

Things really took off when I went away to college – I was surrounded by other guys who liked to play and didn’t like to lose either.

Ping PongYOU WANT SOME A THIS?!

And that is what the film is about – young men at the top of their game, testosterone raging in their veins, competing for the hottest chick in the bar, the longest bong hit, whatever can be made into a game. No one sitting around alone checking Twitter or Facebook.

If you’re expecting “Revenge of the Jocks” or “Texas Pie”, you’re going to be disappointed – there’s a little T & A but it takes a BIG back seat to the pre-digital, unadulterated gamification.

However, if you grew up around competition or had a strong desire to play and win, this is a must-see film.

And if you missed Boyhood or simply want to experience again a beautiful snapshot in the life of a regular, extraordinary boy named Mason, take 3 1/2 minutes and watch this:

 

So if you’re in the mood to see a film without big explosions or unexpected twists, a film about a time in the not-so-distant past when we had to think up stuff to play with EACH OTHER, not alone on our phones, this is a film for you.

Do yourself a favor and leave your phone in the car.

If and when you see it, I’d love to hear what it stirred up in you. Please leave me a comment below.

 

The Imitation Game

Sufjan Stevens Tangled Up in BlueTANGLED UP IN BLUE

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

– Charles Caleb Colton

Say what you will about Mr. Colton’s oft-used quote, but he was definitely on to something.

When Bob Dylan was starting out on the Greenwich Village coffee house circuit in the early 60’s, some critics dismissed him as a pale imitation of Woody Guthrie. As Woody was one of his heroes, I’m sure he wasn’t too bothered.

I wasn’t around for those remarks but I clearly remember ones hurled at Quentin Tarantino’s in the early 90’s – “Martin Scorsese clone”, etc.reservoir dogs

Anyone who’s heard Dylan’s pre-electric music or watched an early Tarantino film recognizes some truth in these observations.

They also recognize that both Dylan and Tarantino went on to craft their own distinct styles while building on the work of their heros.

After all, isn’t imitation a form of flattery?

Yes. And more.

I see it as a natural step to finding one’s own voice.

I’d argue that Dylan borrowed from the great Guthrie on his way to becoming even greater (I’ll let the cinephiles out there debate QT vs. Marty).

To become great in any field, i.e. an original thinker with ideas that make a real impact, you too will have to copy what you…[to continue reading, see The Path to Peak Performance]

MY TOP 3 ALBUMS OF 2015

Imitation and/or homage very much alive in the new music I heard last year, here are the 3 standouts:

1. Matthew E. White – Fresh Blood

You know how I feel about the big white Yeti from Virginia (if not, see “White Is the New Black”).

2. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

To sample the work of the Padre, check out these dance moves pre-Honeybear:

3. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Although I’ve casually followed this eccentric Brooklynite for a good 10 years, nothing prepared me for this.

sufjan-stevens-playing-guitar

Returning to ‘Greatness via Imitation’, Sufjan Stevens finds his own voice while somehow channeling the spirits of Jeff Buckley and Elliot Smith on his 7th studio album.

Inspired by the death of his schizophrenic mother, Carrie is both eerie and ethereal. His sparse guitar picking is pure Smith (no stranger to sadness) while his nuanced voice evokes Buckley at his most vulnerable and intimate.

Inspired by the death of his schizophrenic mother, ‘Carrie’ is both eerie and ethereal. His sparse guitar picking is pure Smith (no stranger to sadness) while his nuanced voice evokes Buckley at his most vulnerable and intimate.

If you’re a fan of either of these 20th century originals, give this a listen:

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these 21st century anti-rock stars. And what was the best thing you heard last year?

 

Bad Lieutenant

NETWORK OF SHAME.

Ray Donovan is a fixer. When one of Hollywood’s rich and stupid makes a mess, he cleans it up. We’re not talking about dirty dishes.

Ray’s in a bind. His ex-con father owes big money to the Armenian mob. And Mrs. Minassian and her boys are losing patience fast.

Ray DonovanIncidentally, Ray hates his father. However, a couple of his brothers are now involved. Mickey “Mick” Donovan has a bad habit of mixing clean family with dirty business – one reason Ray hates him.

The only Armenian Ray knows is Hasmik – a pop star famous for her curves and a spicy hot “Thighs Go Boom” (think JLo + Kim Kardashian).

Hasmik is currently promoting “One Night in Yerevan”, a ballad about the early 20th century genocide of her ancestors.

Sung in her native Armenian, it’s not getting a lot of airtime (or interest).

He’s obviously done a bit of “work” for Hasmik in the past, although we don’t know specifics.

When Ray approaches her at an after concert party, she’s happy to see him but offended by his assumption.

“You think all Armenians know each other – especially ones like these?!”

“Why should I help your family when your government refuses to recognize the genocide of my great-grandfather, my family!”

“Fair Enough. Sorry about your great grandparents,” he offers as he quietly slips away.

Ray proceeds to track down Flip, another former client who owes him a favor.

It just so happens that the former weatherman has a new prime-time talk show. The big premiere is the next day.

With a bit of strong-armed persuasion involving damning S & M photos, Flip reluctantly (“career suicide”) agrees to put Hasmik on the show, knocking off his big musical act. “Yeven”, not “Thighs”.

Here’s the in-your-face video summary of the Case of the Armenian Diva.

Later that day, Ray accompanies Mick to an over-due “sit down” with the Minassians.

He offers to pay off his father’s debts. Preferring LA without Sr. and Jr., they refuse and draw their weapons.

With a gun pointed at Ray’s head, Hasmik bursts into the room. Action stops. Hugs and kisses are dispersed. Near execution becomes silly misunderstanding.

Click here to continue reading “Good End, Bad Means: A Hollywood Case Study” from my other blog – “The Path to Peak Performance”.


REALITY BITES.

Yes, when I’m not waxing poetic about music, books or films I’m helping people and organizations achieve positive change. But I digress.

Back to the best TV I’ve seen in 2015. In addition to Showtime’s Ray Donovan (1 part Departed-2 parts Sopranos-1 part Californiacation), I’d highly recommend:

The Americans Season 3 (John le Carre writes The Ice Storm part 2)

Fargo Season 2 (“You Betcha” meets No Country for Old Men)

Mr. RobotMr. Robot Season 1 (Social Network meets Girl with Dragon Tattoo)

As a fan of Heathers and a few other classic films from the late 80’s/early 90’s, it was good to see Christian Slater pop up in Robot  – I thought he might have gone the way of the dodo.

 

What shows turned you on in 2015? If not TV, what movies, books or music lit a fire under you this past year?

Gotta Keep It New to Keep It True

The Ghost of Rock & Roll Past (Part Deux)

Dear friends,

Here are your cumulative answers to the Matthew E. White Tribute Challenge along with my 3 top (strongest influence) choices with corresponding links:

Song #1:  Steady Pace

Your artists-songs:

  • Mungo Jerry – In the Summertime
  • Stealer’s Wheel – Stuck in the Middle with You
  • Earth, Wind & Fire
  • J.J. Cale mixed with Jamiroquai
  • The Band – The Weight
  • Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 – I Want You Back
  • Van Morrison (match)

Your average score:  8

My artist-song:  Van Morrison – Crazy Love (live w Ray Charles)

My score:  7.5

Song #2:  Rock & Roll is Cold

Your artists – songs:

  • Derek & The Dominos (E. Clapton)
  • Eric Clapton – Lay Down Sally/Promises & Jack Johnson
  • The Faces/Small Faces
  • Terence Trent D’arby – Wishing Well + Jack Johnson, ZZ Top & Sonia Dada
  • Van Morrison, Jack Johnson & Warren Zevon (match)

Your average score:  8

My artist/song:  Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London

My score:  10

Song #3:  Feeling Good is Good Enough

Your artists – songs:

  • The Beatles – Hey Jude
  • Eric Clapton – Slowhand
  • Ben Harper
  • Hall & Oates (early)
  • Marvin Gaye meets The Band arranged by Becker and Fagan (Steely Dan) + The Beatles – Hey Jude
  • Hall and Oates – Sarah Smile + Elton John (match)
  • The Rolling Stones

Your average score:  6.8

My artist – song:  Elton John-Tiny Dancer (from Almost Famous)

My score:  8

Thanks for playing and have a great summer!

The Ghost of Rock & Roll Past

“I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

In 1974 music critic Jon Landau made this bold claim.

Well, I’m no Jon Landau nor have I been visited by any Dickensian Ghosts but I do believe I’ve just seen rock and roll past…and it resembles the Yeti…in white.

Matthew E. White

The missing link between Stevie Wonder ’72 & James Murphy ’05

Here’s the song that blew me away when I heard it a few months ago:

Big Love

Part soul man, part funk meister, this anti-hipster from Richmond, Virginia knows how to pay tribute to the greats without ripping them off.

And if White resembles any part of the future of rock and roll circa 2015, I’m in.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD.

For about 10 years between 1997 and 2007 there was no activity I spent more time on than reading about music. But before we go there, a brief history…

I came into pop music consciousness in late 1980, early 1981. I clearly remember listening to John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over climb up Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 shortly after his death.

Kasey Casem

One too many “long distance dedications”

If the warmhearted DJ was also a big part of your youthful weekends, you might enjoy Casey’s little studio meltdown (warning – contains explicit language):  Meltdown

Eventually my love for the iconic countdown waned, but not for music.

I spent countless hours practicing my fall-away jumper to the sounds of the Thompson Twins and The Doors blaring out my bedroom window.

In defense of my 14 year-old self, I recently heard the Twins’ If You Were Here and was amazed by how good it was…but that could very well be a case of nostalgia clouding judgement. Any thoughts?

Music was front and center of everything I did through high school, college and beyond.

WANDERLUST.

What changed around 1997 was the reading part.

Sure I’d picked up the occasional Rolling Stone in high school but it wasn’t until living in Far East Asia in the mid-90’s that I learned to appreciate the written word…

Finding an English book or magazine in Inchon, South Korea in 1995 was like finding high-speed internet in Siberia during a snowstorm.

However it was in a tiny shop close to the DMZ where I picked up an indie sampler CD featuring two artists that would change my life forever.

Jeff Buckley’s Grace would go on to become one of my favorite songs of all-time and Wonderwall, well, more on Oasis later.

A few years after my stint on the Korean border, I landed in the more pop-friendly city of Matsuyama, Japan.

Matsuyama even offered a full-fledged Tower Records where I made regular purchases of CD’s and magazines. The year was 1997 and the Union Jack was everywhere.

Brit Pop

Faster than a cannonball…

It was at this time I picked up a copy of The Beatles newly released Anthology 3 “warts and all” collection.

It should be noted that in addition to the comprehensive BBC Anthology series, the Gallaghers had played a big role in the renewed interest in the lads.

So while buried in Brit Pop at its drug-addled peak I was discovering late-period Beatles, beards and all.

The Beatles

Lennon’s suit look familiar?

It also happened to be the first time in my life I was living alone. I cooked, read, even exercised in the confines of my tiny flat, making for an intense listening experience – every word, every note, every joke intimate.

Here’s one from Paul Ramon, Winston Legthigh and mates circa ’68:  Los Paranoias

The listening had suddenly shifted from dorm room passive to Cracker Jacks box active – a familiar setting from my childhood.

A few years later I’d be living in a new country, no longer alone but with the reading part at full throttle. There was even a point at the dawn of the new millennium when I found myself subscribing to three music magazines at once.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of work getting done at the breakfast table. But after years of intense listening I was starting to connect some big dots…

“So before the Stones, Ronnie Wood was with The Faces…and before he was a Face, he and Rod Stewart played with The Jeff Beck Group…and what about that first band that turned into the Faces, those little guys? They were damn good”…and so it went.

Incidentally, the music I love most today was crystallized through all that digging.

As long as I’m alive I’m convinced that pop music will never be better than The Beatles between ’65 – ’69, The Rolling Stones from ’68 to ’72 and a handful of other greats during those same years – many of whom you just might hear in White’s humble musical output.

HEY HO, LET’S GO.

But rather than take my word for it, let’s play a little game.

It’s called “The Matthew E. White Tribute Challenge”.

Here’s how to play:

  1. Watch video, listen to full song (eyes closed if helpful).
  2. Which artist and song does White’s track remind you of (more than 1 answer possible)?
  3. On a scale from 1 – 10, how do you rate his song/tribute?

Please share your answers with me in the comments below and I’ll let you know if they match mine. Happy listening!