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KSR’s take on recent non sports related happenings

The A Block E6: The Sale Ends Today!

The entire gang is finally back together. Hayley, Jacqueline and Claire catch up with another exciting edition of The A Block by touching on a variety of topics, from baby turtles to Christmas decorations. Highlights:

— Winter, GO AWAY!

— Oh no, not a Tennessee fan.

— A very important debate on La Croix.

— Top Five Thanksgiving Sides

— When is it too early to Christmas?

— See ya later, Instagram likes.

— This week in self care #TreatYoSelf.

You can subscribe to The A Block podcast feed on iTunes or Spotify to have the latest episodes go directly to your phone or other listening devices.

Thanks to our sponsor:

The A Block E5: A Community of Passwords

Are you ready for some A Block? The lovely Hayley Harmon returns but the crew is still down to only two for one more week. Find out why and enjoy a discussion about a wide range of topics, like…

— Positive takeaways from a bad time.

— Random celebrity sightings in Lexington.

— That time Hayley was a talent escort at the CMAs.

— Are we ready to buy yet another streaming service?

— Why millennials are comfortable going into debt during the holidays.

— Hayley’s conflicted feelings on the Kentucky-Tennessee game.

— The A Block’s Favorite Things!

You can subscribe to The A Block podcast feed on iTunes or Spotify to have the latest episodes go directly to your phone or other listening devices.

Thanks to our sponsor:

The A Block E4: ABCatastrophe

Jacqueline and Claire have given Hayley Harmon the boot! Okay, maybe it’s just a one-week absence. Even though they’re one woman down, just like the tango it only takes two to podcast. Buckle up and prepare to hear about…

— Did Claire lose another phone at Kroger Field?

— What’s more fun, the marching band or Bill Meck’s tailgate? Both are pretty LIT.

— The latest on the Real Housewives of NJ. A memorable sit-down with Andy Cohen.

— Claire’s connection to Selena Gomez.

— John Legend and Chrissy Teigen are the BEST.

— There’s a new ABC song. Bring your torches and pitchforks.

— Soup SZN.

You can subscribe to The A Block podcast feed on iTunes or Spotify to have the latest episodes go directly to your phone or other listening devices.

Thanks to our sponsor:

The A Block E3: Shocked and Delighted

In the third installment of The A Block, Hayley, Jacqueline and Claire dig deep to discuss mental health issues that do not get talked about enough. The trio is an open book throughout this insightful conversation. The serious talk is accompanied by plenty of laughs and…

— Life-changing pumpkin cold brew coffee.

— Who attended Jennifer Lawrence’s wedding.

— There’s a new documentary on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

— Things are not always as they seem.

— The debut of a dynamite segment: “Our Favorite Things.”

You can subscribe to The A Block podcast feed on iTunes or Spotify to have the latest episodes go directly to your phone or other listening devices.

Thanks to our sponsor:

The A Block E1: Welcome to The A Block

The A Block E1: Welcome to The A Block

There’s a new podcast in town. Introducing The A Block with Hayley Harmon, Claire Crouch and Jacqueline Nie. The talented ladies explain what The A Block is and touch on a variety of topics, from updates on the royal family to Kroger Field struggles, you’ll hear all of that and…

— “Podcast names are harder than naming a child.”

— How their careers led them to Lexington.

— Do they approve of Justin Bieber’s wedding attire?

— The Kardashians are at it again.

— Has someone already started watching Hallmark Christmas movies?

— European Road Trip!

— How to eat a cupcake and record a podcast at the same time.

You can subscribe to The A Block podcast feed on iTunes or Spotify to have the latest episodes go directly to your phone or other listening devices.

Thanks to our sponsor:

The Funkhouser Situation E64: BTS, VMAs and 6Lack ASAP

Lee Cruse and Chris Tomlin return for another week of The Funkhouser Situation. In the wake of an awards show you may have forgotten still existed, Chris and Lee let you know what happened at the VMAs, but that’s not all. They also talk about…

— Chris’ questionable wardrobe selection.

— An appearance from The Beatles!

— Big Spider-Man and Marvel news.

— Jennifer Aniston vs. Angelina Jolie

— How many VMA winners do Chris and Lee know?

— Taylor Swift has a new album, DON’T GEEK!

You can get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to The Funkhouser Situation podcast feed on iTunes or you can stream online or on your phone with Spotify.

The Funkhouser Situation E63: Bohemian Ancestry

The terrific tandem of Lee Cruse and Chris Tomlin are back to bring you another exciting edition of The Funkhouser Situation. This week’s main topic revolves around biopics, both on musicians and comedians,  but they also talk about…

— How would a conversation with Nicholas Cage go?

— A surprise appearance from a Funkhouser superfan.

— Lee finds new and creative ways to mention Tangled.

— Mixed emotions on Ewan McGregor.

— Who is alive right now that will one day have a great biopic?

— A new show with a huge cast that should produce fireworks.

You can get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to The Funkhouser Situation podcast feed on iTunes or you can stream online or on your phone with Spotify.

It was not a Big Day for Chance The Rapper

Image result for the big day

What’s up, Funkhouser? It’s been a while, but your boy is back with (oddly enough) his first album review on Funkhouser. I have posted plenty about music before, but with the ever-increasing workload of college and picking up on the sports side of KSR, I decided to do a little sabbatical from the fun hobby I have in writing music articles. I’m going to try to do more of these when I can. Usually, when there’s a big album drop or an album I have fallen in love with, I’ll try to review it. If you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen before that I have reviewed some videos of live reaction music reviews. Ideally, I can turn my written opinions about music into a podcast or a youtube series, but for now, with the busy schedule, these written reviews will have to do the trick. So, without further ado, my review on the debut album from Chance the Rapper: The Big Day.

We all love Chance the Rapper, right? Stand up guy, activist in his community, supportive of music in schools, family man, and holds three of the most classic mixtapes ever. He has revolutionized music and helped bring streaming to the forefront with Coloring Book, and marches to the beat of his own drum.

In a world that most music getting radio is centered around drugs, sex, and having a good time, incomes Chance the Rapper with a little bit of substance. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are PLENTY of rappers out there with substance in their music such as the Dreamville label, the TDE label, Meek Mill, Pusha T, so on and so forth. But, none of those rappers has a bigger audience than Chance.

From hosting SNL to Kit Kat Commercials, Movie soundtracks, and those God awful Doritos commercials. Chance the Rapper has turned himself into a household name and is one of the most marketable artists today. But, with that, the music changes and so does the marketing. Throw in the nearly three-year sabbatical from Lil’ Chano after Coloring Book, some REALLY underwhelming singles besides the Jamie Foxx sampled I Might Need Security, and a marriage and we get The Big Day.

When it was first announced Chance the Rapper was targeting 2019 for an album release I was pretty excited, to say the least. It seemed like all the star power was out in full force in 2018 (In my opinion one of the greatest years in music ever). So, that typically means 2019 would be a little dull in the music industry with a lot of artists taking the year off to tour, find inspiration or just flat out take a break. Therefore, this year could have been Chance’s year as he seemed to be the biggest star that would come out with an album this year. After the pretty solid, but crass, single I Might Need Security dropped the year prior I felt pretty optimistic about The Big Day…then Grocries dropped. Chance’s first single of 2019, and it was TERRIBLE.

Granted, the song coming out the same time as Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR didn’t help, but with a chorus that holds the lines “I used to carry all my groceries in one trip, Minute Maid gone in one sip, too much dip on my chip” it’s hard to make a case for it being any good. From there, I knew this album was doomed. But I Like Chance, Coloring Book was perfect, and the re-release of Acidrap and 10 Day getting everyone excited, I felt like it was worth a listen.

I quickly found out, it was not worth the listen. I regret I even gave it a stream because my apple music profile will always display that I listened to it.

Now, before we get into the what made this album so hard to listen to, I do want to highlight some of the good that came from this album. It’s sad to say, but the best part on this album wasn’t even Chance the Rapper. Instead, it was DaBaby’s feature on Hot Shower.

DaBaby has been on a heater in 2019 with his album Baby on Baby which features the hit song Suge and his feature on Dreamville’s Under da Sun was incredibleThankfully he and MadeinTYO saved this great Smoko Ono produced track with their verses. While Chance the Rapper was wasting a great flow by saying “DUDE!” and trying to get some sleep then taking a hot shower.

DaBaby actually came through with some funny lines about having a girl in a two-seater, taking a white man’s daughter, and then addressing his legal troubles through his raps. It made for the best verse on this album.

Another highlight (honestly the only amazing thing from Chance on this album) was the song We Go High. It’s a beautiful track with beautiful production, but even still Chance wanted to hit a high note that just threw it off for me. Regardless, the song as a whole was solid and I’ll give him props for that.

There were a few other decent tracks as well such as the beautiful Some Come Down, Slide Around, and Do you Remeber. Megan Thee Stallion had a solid verse in Handsome, and I thought Five Year Plan was passable. Then it took a HUGE nosedive.

For starters, the opening track was just John Legend over a Donnie Trumpet inspired beat that sounded like it belonged on Kidz Bop. However, its title All Day Long was fitting for the one hour and 17-minute monstrosity that succeded it.

I honestly don’t really know where to start with the rest of these tracks, but a safe bet would be the questionable bars on this record. Such as in the song Roo, which he dedicated to his brother who is also a rapper, Taylor Bennett.

It was actually a touching song, something I know I could relate to with my brothers. However, in the track Chance seemed to give a glorifying bar to the notoriously abusive Joe Jackson, when he said: “A lot of Dads left, abandoned the house/ My Dad Joe Jack, start a band in the house.” Now you guys know I’m for any and every Michael Jackson reference there is, but I found myself puzzled by this bar. Maybe Chance’s dad was an abuser? I can’t confirm nor deny, but when you’re trying to compare it a lot of dads leaving their homes, it makes it seem like you’re saying Joe Jackson was good? I don’t know, man. I don’t get it. Not to mention the chorus did not fit with that track AT ALL.

Then there was that verse in Ballin Flossin (As if that title didn’t lead it to be annoying anyway) where he dropped a Peanut Butter Jelly and the Baseball Bat Bar. Chance…dude…how do you expect people to take you seriously going forward in the music industry when you’re dropping bars that would only amuse a seven-year-old in 2011. That’s not even mentioning the Production on this track sounds like a vouge song played in a GAP.

Then there was the ultra-repetitiveness of Chance rapping about his marriage. Once again, in a world where it’s cool to have hoes, I like that Chance is going this route in his music and that he really does love his wife. On that same note, dude, we get it. Even in the album’s description, it said this album would be a reflection of his wedding and while that’s cool and all, but maybe try putting that it into a single. I don’t think we need an album that consists of 397 BARS DEDICATED TO YOUR MARRIAGE.

The thing is, it’s not like he has been married to this woman forever and it’s a true testament of undying love. They literally got married in March. IT HASN’T EVEN BEEN SIX MONTHS!!

When people have been waiting three years for this project, I don’t think that is the best time to bloat an album with throwaway songs about your special night. Again, it’s honorable, I’m glad he’s happy, but this isn’t what his fans have been waiting on.

Lastly, the production on most of these tracks is just eh. Chance the Rapper has proclaimed himself as Kanye’s best prodigy, and if he’s going to be that, he needs to stick with what made he and Ye famous. Soul beats.

I am all for rappers experimenting with new sounds and hopping on what sound is popular to the masses, and right now it’s trap beats. But, Chance just isn’t a “trapper”. Through and through he’s a man who loves Jesus, his wife, and his family. With a subject matter like that, it goes great over a soul beat..a la Coloring Book for crying out loud.

When Chance tries to go in on these trap beats infused with some vocal tones from Francis and the Lights and a little help from Donnie Trumpet, it just sounds forced and unnatural. If chance wants to get back to the standard he was held to in 2016-17, he must get back to his roots. But, if he’s going to change it up for the love of God PLEASE get some better bars and production.

Overall, this record is a bloated monstrosity. Twenty-two tracks, maybe five of them worth listening to, and it’s painfully obvious it is quantity over quality. It’s very reminiscent of a DJ Khaled approach to an album marketing scheme.

VERDICT: 3.5 out of 10 and it’s one of the worst records I’ve heard this year.

I am glad I will never have to listen to it again.

Follow me on Twitter for more Music takes and Reviews: @BrentW_KSR

40 Years After Highway To Hell, AC/DC Is Still Rock n’ Roll At Its Best

40 Years After Highway To Hell, AC/DC Is Still Rock n’ Roll At Its Best

July 27th marked the 40 year anniversary of one of the great rock records, Highway to Hell. The album pushed the up and coming Aussie act AC/DC to true stardom, being certified 7x platinum and creating a title track that – among a number of the band’s other hits – currently lives as one of hard rock’s most iconic songs. It’s impossible to overstate just how relentless this album’s attitude is. “Highway to Hell” is one of the slower songs on the album, and the punch of its three chord riff (the type of which AC/DC has perfected) leaves me seeing stars by the end of its brisk  three-and-a-half minute runtime. Producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange took the AC/DC’s talent for steady, balls to the wall bangers from and condensed them into crisply produced three minute tracks that made it an instant global success. (It also resulted in a medical milestone. Doctors discovered that if CDs and cassette tapes of the album were smelted in a furnace, they liquefied into pure testosterone that could be – and still is – used to produce booster pills and shots.)  Since then AC/DC has been a staple of the hard rock acts that owned the music industry for the last half of the 20th century.

AC/DC was my first pop-culture obsession. I was in 3rd grade when Guitar Hero II overthrew the U.S. government and brainwashed all of its citizenry into obsessively strumming their five-button controllers along to classic rock covers. The genius of Guitar Hero was its ability to convince players that they were rock gods, and 8 year old me fell hard for the ploy. I moved quickly into picking up a real guitar to manifest my inner power. AC/DC quickly became the band whose catalogue I burned through . Their riffs were more than easy enough for beginners, but the myriad patterns they produced with A, D, and G power chords, along with their breakneck speed, made AC/DC songs the ideal target for my early musicianship.

Of course, the reason behind my love for AC/DC as a budding musician (spoiler: I never truly bloomed) is the most frequent criticism against them: their songs all follow the same formula. The riffs center primarily on three to four chords, the chorus likely features some variant of the word “balls,” and the solo is some bluesy shred from schoolboy guitarist Angus Young. Young supposedly once said “I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.” Complexity is not their claim to fame.

I’m not here to deny that the formula exists, but there is more variety in the band’s catalogue than I think they are given credit for. Their whole ’70s career oozes a bluesiness that they shed in the Brian Johnson era. Songs like “Ride On” and “Gone Shootin'” owe as much to Robert Johnson as anyone. And “Beating Around the Bush,” while rooted in the three chord structure, has an adrenaline-fueled two string lick that makes me want to rip off my shirt and toss my brother through a wall. AC/DC may only five tricks up their sleeve, but the combinations of those tricks and the kineticism with which they perform them never cease to amaze me.

And they’re also just so fucking tight. It would be easy to think that, since the barebones of AC/DC’s tracks are so defined and seemingly simple, the band plays pretty loose with them. But if you listen closely to their albums, there is not a single missed note, no strum where Angus and rhythm guitar brother Malcolm Young are out of sync. The drummer (usually Phil Rudd, but Chris Slade took over from 1989-1994) and bassist are essentially breathing metronomes, rocking out to the 4/4 beats of the song and doing nothing else, but that is far easier said than done. The only moment of imprecision I found relistening to their discography comes at the beginning of the genius “Overdose,” where an appregio is simply but flimsily strummed. Otherwise the band is a finely tuned machine that cannot be stopped and cannot falter.

The AC/DC machine spent their first twenty-five years making every other hard rock band look like Duran Duran. Few bands have come close to holding the same power that AC/DC did. Even bands that were capable of rocking as hard as AC/DC did, like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Black Sabbath, only get to that level occasionally. While they are arguable much better bands, they just don’t make me lose my goddamn mind like AC/DC does. AC/DC reduces me to my most primal state, a very specific high where the little intelligence I have is no more useful than a dog turd in the summer heat and I am more than happy to rid myself of it.

And sure, there are times where they aren’t the rock gods I have made them out to be so far. At their worst they come off as lazy; their albums post-Razor’s Edge have been resoundingly mediocre, falling back on mid-tempo jams that have a fraction of the energy they rose to stardom utilizing. But they spent a shocking amount of time at their best, as they didn’t make a truly bad album until 1995’s Ballbreaker, and their albums up to For Those About to Rock are unimpeachable. When they are hitting their stride, AC/DC does not let me sit still. I headbang. I dance. I strain my vocal chords to poorly mimic Bon Scott’s seductive shrieks or growl along to Brian Johnson’s gravelly tones. I want to grab my cherry red Gibson SG – purchased specifically because it is Angus Young’s signature guitar – and plow through a song along with the two brothers. I want to fuck. I want to snort a mile long line of cocaine (okay, maybe that one is a stretch). I want to shed all of my stress and rock out like that’s all there’s nothing else in the world worth doing.

There aren’t many things that I ask of the media that I consume. At the top of the short list of questions I consider when critiquing something is “Does [insert media] know what it wants to be, and does it be that thing successfully?” AC/DC never once wavers from its goal of producing unfiltered, overwhelming, and gut-punching rock n’ roll. From the sex-soaked way Scott mutters “Cut this,” at the start of “Problem Child” to sadistic macho of “Hells Bells,” AC/DC exudes the juvenile rush of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll better than anyone else ever could. Nobody does what AC/DC does as well as they do. My tastes have changed radically since I was an eight year old, as you’d expect, but AC/DC sits comfortably on the Mount Rushmore of my favorite bands.  I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

For more of Adrian’s thoughts on one of rock’s greatest bands, follow him on Twitter @APBryant32.

PARKS from Keymaster Games – A Board Game Review

PARKS from Keymaster Games – A Board Game Review

In 2019, the board game landscape has never been better. New games are getting high value production with great components, engaging themes, and beautiful art. PARKS from Keymaster Games ticks all of those boxes, with one of the most beautiful games to come around in a long time.  However, does PARKS play as great as it looks?

PARKS is a 1-5 player game from Keymaster Games, and designed by Henry Audubon. In PARKS, “players take on the role of two hikers who will trek trails to see sites, observe wildlife, take photos, and visit national parks over the course of the game.” The game is played in four rounds, each of which represents one season of the year. As the year goes on, the trail of tiles will get progressively longer, adding more crucial decisions and special actions. To set up a each new season, you will flip over a season card, which gives everyone a shared advantage for the round, and seeds the trail with a weather pattern, represented by sunshine and water tokens. These provide an added benefit for the first hiker to reach each tile. Also, at the start of the game, every player gets a secret objective that they are trying to complete, which will give you either 2 or 3 points if you are able to attain part, or all of the goal.

On your turn, you will move one of your two hikers any number of spaces down the trail towards the Trail End tile. You will need to choose your movements wisely, as you aren’t allowed to double-back on the trail, losing out on any tiles you may have skipped. Each tile that makes up the trail provides a different action you must take. Some tiles will allow you to collect a number of tokens necessary for almost every other action in the game. These tokens are represented as water, mountains, forest, and sunshine. Other tiles on the trail will allow you to perform actions using said tokens, such as taking photos, collecting canteens, trading for different tokens, visiting/reserving parks, copying actions, or collecting wildlife. When one of your two hikers reaches the end of the trail, you may spend the tokens you have collected to visit parks, each of which require a certain combination of tokens to earn that park’s victory points (see the image below). Parks values range from 2-5 points each. You may also reserve a park that you are working toward, or buy gear with sunshine tokens, providing extra benefits for the remainder of the game

While those are the basics of the game, there are a lot of added actions and bits which add to the strategy of the PARKS. As you may only progress forward down the trail, you also may not go to a space where another player is located unless you use your campfire token. When you choose to share a tile with another hiker (even your own) your campfire is extinguished, and is only relit when one of your hikers reaches trail end. When you reach the “Vista” tile, you may either take a canteen, or take a picture. A canteen can be filled with water anytime you gain a water token, which will give you an added benefit, like extra tokens or a special action. By “Taking a Picture” you can spend any two tokens to take a photo, which is worth one point a the end of the game. When you take a picture, you also gain the camera, giving you a discount for the next time you snap a shot (unless someone else takes a pic and steals the camera). Use all of these abilities to help earn the most victory points on your travels, and the player with the most points from parks visited, photos taken, and personal bonus goal at the end of the game is the winner.

First thing first, this game is GORGEOUS. Already known for beautiful games (Caper, Campy Creatures, Space Park) Keymaster Games has collaborated with the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series, which has a series of posters celebrating the 59 National Parks in the USA. 48 of the 59 parks are featured in the game (yes, Mammoth Cave is in) as the remaining 11 parks have/had not been released at the time the game art was finalized. Five percent of Fifty Nine Parks sales of posters annually, as well as a percentage of sales revenue from PARKS will be donated to Tee National Parks Service . I encourage you to head over there after this review and check out ALL of the beautiful art their artists have put together of these amazing locations around the US. But, the beauty of the game is not just related to the art of the Parks cards. Every inch of this game is an incredible thing to look at. The individual tokens are perfect. The wildlife tokens, which represent wild resources *of course* are each a DIFFERENT wildlife animal. The first player token is enamel, there’s metallic ink on the cards, and the tray that holds all game components in the box are perfectly crafted (resource trays are made to look like stumps of wood). I seriously could go on forever about how good this game looks.

But, what’s most important is that the gameplay is SOLID. While the game seems like a very serene trip down a trail to visit national parks, there is a lot of strategy and gamesmanship to every turn. Your decisions are meaningful as you only have one trip down the trail with each of your hikers each season. You have to decide which tokens are most important to you, and if you’re willing to pass up other actions or tokens to get to them. If someone is on the spot you want, you have to make the choice to use your campfire. But, if you use it too early, you’re jammed up until you can get one of your hikers to the end of the trail. The ability to reserve parks not only lets you plan ahead, but you might take a park away from someone else who is working towards that park.

Also crucial for the replayability of the game, is the order in which special trail tiles come out. There are four of these tiles in the game, which provide special actions, and a new one is added to the trail each season. The first game I played with my wife, the tile to buy/reserve a park didn’t come out until the final round, so jockeying for the camera and bonus points became a high priority. But, in our second game, that tile was available from the very first season, meaning there were at least four opportunities to buy or reserve a park every season, so token collection was now of the utmost importance. While those games felt strategically different, the scores remained tight with no more than three points separating us each game. In games with 4-5 players, the trail fills up more quickly, meaning your campfires could make/break your success. Also parks are being snatched up faster which will alter your planning multiple times per season. With so much variability styles of play in both player count, as well as special tiles, there’s a lot to love in PARKS.

It was hard for me to find anything I didn’t like about the game. The game is a great weight for both families and experienced gamers. I do, however, think that all of the game concepts that are being combined in the game might be confusing for first time gamers with short attention spans. When going through set-up with someone new to the game, you need to explain canteens, seasons, secret endgame goals, weather, campfires, gear, taking pictures, and park actions. In explaining to someone new to gaming, you find yourself going “and also, and also, and also,” which might be a lot for someone new to more hobby style games. Once the game gets going, everything flows really, really well. But, if someone can’t stay focused during rules explanations, this might not be for them (or you might just have to take longer on rules explanation).

I highly recommend PARKS as a game you should add to your collection. The art alone is worth the purchase of the game, but it’s combined with a solid game that will attract both gamers and families alike. Since the last time I played, I keep thinking about the next time I can play PARKS and who I can share it with. It’s a great game to introduce to non-gamers with a pretty attractive theme, but implements the VERY beginnings of concepts you would see in heavier strategy games. This one is going to stay in the collection for a long, long time.

PARKS is available at Gen Con this week, and should see a retail release later this month. Check out the Keymaster Games website here.

** Just a couple of notes. 1) PARKS was provided as a review copy by Keymaster Games. However, I did purchase a copy in the Kickstarter campaign for the game, so the review comes a few weeks earlier than it normally would. 2) In the pictures of this review, the game is being played on an optional neoprene playmat. It does not come with the PARKS, but is available for additional purchase. The board that comes with the game will hold the cards for Parks, Gear, Canteens, and Seasons, while you will just put the trail tiles and token trays to the bottom and side of the board, respectively. The playmat is 100% not necessary to play the PARKS, it’s just a nice cosmetic touch.**

Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

You’re going to hear a lot of the overused term “love letter” thrown around in terms of Quentin Tarantino’s nearly three-hours long  drama/comedy Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and that shouldn’t and won’t surprise you. After all, even when Quentin Tarantino was making movies set in Germany (Inglorious Basterds), the Deep South (Django Unchained) and Old-West Wyoming (The Hateful Eight), he was really only repeatedly paying homage to past decades of American filmmaking. So turning the director loose in the playground of late sixties Los Angeles delivers what you might expect — a comprehensive, almost virtual-reality experience of what life, culture and “the scene” looked like on Sunset Strip at the corner of action-movie machismo and the free love movement.

One thing Tarantino has always excelled in, perhaps above all, is creating the parameters of a world and setting a voyeuristic spot for the viewer within it. In Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, for instance, he created a seedy world of low-budget crime and allowed us to see the mundane and everyman conversations even the most violent thugs chat up to pass the time. His Kill Bill films delivered a half-real life/half-anime world where it seemed completely plausible that an all-female team named after venomous snakes could move freely within its margins. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (a film destined to be abbreviated for the rest of time as OUATIH, because that’s just way too much to have to type out over and over again) is a complete visual feast, with no stone unturned; every kitchen cabinet item, every park bench movie ad, every store front seems to have been pored over and hand-picked by the director himself. It’s not just a world of which, after three hours, you feel a part — it’s a world in which you wish you could live.

OUATIH’s (see?) tandem protagonists this time around are has-been television actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his ex-stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Cliff’s main job is to chauffeur Rick around Hollywood, as his wellspring of work has dried up with Rick’s, and the two seem to spend an awful lot of time just bro-ing out. As Rick courts new work and desperately tries to cling to the last tendrils of television stardom, Cliff lives a simpler life as Rick’s valet, retreating to the outskirts of Van Nuys by night where he lives with his dog in a run-down Airstream camper. The duo’s day-to-day exists as the film’s main thread, with Pitt oozing McQueen-style bravado (though Steve McQueen himself is a character in the film) and a drunken DiCaprio killing it with comic pathos as Rick overzealously tries to make the rounds and stage his comeback.

Tangentially related to the duo’s exploits is the parallel storyline of Sharon Tate, played with bubbly sweetness by Margot Robbie. Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, have just moved in next door to Rick, which thrills the aging actor in hopes he’ll end up in one of the lauded Polanski’s next films.

Casting a queasy cloud over all of this is the inclusion of the fringey, cultish Manson family, which lives on an abandoned movie set outside of town. It’s difficult, knowing history, not to let this add a certain uneasiness to the proceedings — especially considering you know Tarantino features them in order to address the events leading up to Tate and Company’s brutal murders on the night of August 9, 1969.

And this is all I’m going to tell you about this film narratively, because you don’t need to know anything else. Trust me. Just forget it and let’s move on.

You will be happy to learn, however, that all of Tarantino’s most oft-visited fetishes are on display here. Mid-sixties television references abound, as do brutal violence and gratuitous, lengthy scenes of people driving in classic cars (at least twenty minutes of the film’s runtime is dedicated to POV of people driving). Soundtrack-wise it’s probably the director’s most populated yet, and here’s hoping an extended cut of it will include the classic radio banter between songs during all this aforementioned driving. Noticeably absent is a memorable long-form monologue scene, a la Walken’s pocket watch scene in Pulp or the guns-under-the-table tavern scene from Basterds, but the indulgences Tarantino in the past has funneled into hearing his own words have somehow, almost sweetly, been replaced in OUATIH by visual indulgences of old-school Taco Bells and clips from classic television. Rest assured, though, that there are still plenty of shots of bare feet. Dirty feet hanging over the backs of chairs, feet mashed up against car window glass — it’s all here in true QT fashion.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some argue that this is Tarantino’s best film — I think there’s certainly a case that a particularly rabid lover of it could make (personally, I don’t think anything can top the brilliance of Pulp Fiction). But while I don’t think it’s his best, it’s probably very close to the top of the director’s list. I do think it feels like his most loved film, in that it has a certain quality of feeling like a favorite child, a true pleasure for Tarantino to make. If you’re counting at home, this victory means Tarantino is nine for nine, which is no mean feat, and this gentler, funnier Tarantino may signify a more chilled-out and less violently frenetic latter half of his career. It may not be completely perfect but it’s pretty close and a lot of fun; at the very least, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one hell of a Hollywood Hills hang.

Eight Ways To View The Moon

Eight Ways To View The Moon

Last Saturday we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  There were a myriad of tweets, articles, news stories, documentaries and other forms of media coverage.  Many people looked to the moon landing as a means to wonder what could be the next great challenge we face as a country and as a people.  Many others debated whether or not the moon landing actually happened. (Spoiler alert, it did).  No matter where you fall on those topics, or whether you even cared much about the moon landing, one thing is certain.  That big gray rock has served as a backdrop for some awesome movies.  Even though the moon landing anniversary has passed there is no reason why the celebration of Earth’s lone natural satellite shouldn’t continue.  Here is a list of the best moon-related movies which you should pull up on your screens this week:

Dumb and Dumber

In case you’ve been living under rock, this is one of the greatest comedies of all time.  Lloyd’s discovery of the moon landing, 20+ years after it happened, is just one gem in a movie full of comic gold.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Some may think Moonraker is the best moon-related spy movie because it has the word “moon” in the title.  They’re wrong.  The Spy Who Shagged Me gave us Mini-Me, Fat Bastard, one of the best movie intros ever, and an actual base on the moon. Sure, many of the bits are recycled from the first Austin Powers movie, but they’re still funny.  If it’s been a while since you’ve seen this or you feel like you’ve lost a bit of your mojo, I highly recommend you revisit this one.

Independence Day

The film opens with an ominous shadow growing over the moon where we see the moon landing plaque and American flag.  As the spaceship travels beyond the moon we see Earth set in it’s sights.  What the aliens in that ship don’t know is that Russell Casse is there…waiting for them.

Man on the Moon

This one is for you conspiracy theorists out there.  Andy Kaufman was one of the most enigmatic entertainers of his time, maybe of all time.  He lived in the gray area between fiction and reality and nobody ever could really tell what was real with him, including his death.  The movie itself is pretty much like any biopic, but Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Kaufman is widely considered to be one of his best performances and makes the movie worth watching for that alone.

Star Wars

One of the most famous moons in film history.

Oh, sorry Ben.

An American Werewolf in London

There are a ton of werewolf movies but this one is tops.  As most know, the full moon is the catalyst which causes a human to transform into their werewolf form.  An American Werewolf in London takes the horror concept of the werewolf, sprinkles in some comedy and Oscar Award winning makeup effects to create what many consider one of the best horror movies of all time.

Apollo 13

The most realistic depiction of actual space travel on this list, Apollo 13 tells the story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission to the moon.  Still inspired by the success of the Apollo 11 mission, this movie tells the story of the astronauts as they prepare for their mission all the way its end.  The cast is absolutely fantastic with Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Kevin Bacon all bringing their A-games.  Not only is this movie one of the best moon-relate movies, it is also a cornerstone of one of my favorite games, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.


Perhaps one of the lesser known movies on this list, Moon is one of the best sci-fi movies I have ever seen.  Led almost exclusively by Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey’s voice, Moon tells the story of a man overseeing a mining operation on the moon.  After an incident which requires medical treatment, we come to find out that not everything is as it seems on the space station and an hour and a half of suspense and intrigue follow.  If you haven’t seen this movie and are fans of sci-fi drama, I can’t recommend this movie enough.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001 is the best of the best when it comes to moon-related movies.  It’s a classic and genre-defining movie.  If you haven’t seen it, now’s a good time to pull it up and give it a watch.