Book Review: ‘Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk’ by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

I really don’t think that there is a better book on punk music.

Please Kill Me is pretty unique. It is a large book full of compelling and eye-opening stories told first hand by the artists and people who were there. It is a piece of work that delves deeper into the history of punk rock more than anything else I’ve ever encountered in any medium. It leaves no stone unturned and gives you more insight than you would ever expect.

Each chapter focuses on a specific subject or era in time throughout early punk’s history and it is told orally, albeit written down, by dozens upon dozens of those who were in the thick of this iconic cultural movement. The highlights for me were the bits told by or about Iggy Pop. Dude, was an even more interesting character than I had realized.

Whether you are into punk or not, this is still thoroughly enjoyable. If you are just a big fan of music in general or that period of time, this book is an eye-opener. The words and tales of those in this book are like a time machine, bringing the reader back to that exciting and innovative time. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other books on the history of punk and rock music: Richard Hell’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean TrampMeet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman and Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad.

Film Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Release Date: August 11th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Music by: Joseph Trapanese, N.W.A.
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr.

Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Cube Vision, Crucial Films, Broken Chair Flickz, Universal Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“They want N.W.A, let’s give em N.W.A.” – Eazy-E

*Written in 2015.

I have been waiting for this film to come out since I first heard about its development a few years ago.

N.W.A. is a group that I listened to almost since their inception and they had a big influence over me as a kid. Sure, my parents didn’t like me listening to them when I was in middle school but I really didn’t care and record stores didn’t really police their sale of explicit products to minors in the early ’90s. Well, some stores did but I avoided those.

This film was pretty fantastic. In fact, I’m going to go on and say that this is my favorite film of the year thus far. It was, by far, F. Gary Gray’s finest work as a director. Being that he has been a long time collaborator with the men who were the subject of this film, made it feel real personal and he had legitimate insight into the relationships of these guys. Additionally, with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube consulting heavily on this film, we got one of the most accurate music biopics ever made. Granted, I’m sure they filtered in their own bias.

This, above all else, was a film about friendship – even more so than the history of N.W.A., Ruthless Records and Death Row. It showed five close friends coming up together and challenging a corrupt and oppressive system. It showed how they fought for freedom of speech and how they became the voice of a generation that was fed up – transcending their neighborhood and their race: effecting millions of people all over the world. Even when friendship dissolved, in the end, the love was still there and through all the bullshit and really bad blood, they were still brothers.

The acting was on point. Ice Cube was played by his real life son and he looked and sounded exactly like his father. In fact, most of the time, you only see him as Ice Cube and get lost in the performance. Pretty damn impressive for a kid who has never acted. Jason Mitchell was perfect as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti was a great choice for Jerry Heller and Neil Brown Jr. truly felt like DJ Yella. Corey Hawkins was good as Dr. Dre but was the weakest of the main actors. Aldis Hodge was okay as MC Ren but I felt like Ren really got the shaft in this film, as he was just in it. He wasn’t shown as a character of significance and someone of Ren’s presence, which he has a hell of a presence, should have been featured more. This film makes MC Ren just seem like the odd man out of the group and maybe that is because he never found the individual success of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.

Arabian Prince was completely shafted. He wasn’t even mentioned in the film. But if you remember the cover of the “Straight Outta Compton” album from 1988, there were six men in the photo. He was the sixth man, lost to history and forgotten. And I guess his role was so minimal, they really didn’t need to include him in the movie.

I did like how they featured the D.O.C., Warren G, Snoop Dogg, 2pac and mentioned Bone Thugs. I like how they tied in the Rodney King beating and the L.A. Riots, showing how N.W.A.’s music was almost prophetic without the film beating you over the head with it. The scene featuring the unity between the Bloods and Crips against the police was beautifully shot and executed.

Moving on, there are a few things I have to nitpick about with the film. For one, in 1986, Eazy-E is wearing a black White Sox cap. Well, the White Sox didn’t wear the black uniforms until 1991 or so. In another scene, which takes place in 1993, Eazy-E is using a cordless phone model that didn’t come out until around 2000. I know, because I owned that same phone. Also, 2pac was recording “All Eyez On Me” in the studio with Dr. Dre while Eazy-E was still alive in the film. Eazy died in early 1995 while “All Eyez On Me” was recorded late in 1995 and released in early 1996. There were a few other weird discrepancies but I’ll stop being an asshole.

Besides, the film’s narrative was strong. The movie told a great story and that is the most important thing.

While I do feel that the film shows both the good and bad of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, I feel like this is through the eyes of Dre and Cube, which it is. I wish Eazy would’ve lived and would’ve been able to consult and flesh out his side of the story in the same way that Dre and Cube were able to do with the director. But to be fair, despite Eazy’s faults, he is still shown as a loveable yet tragic character and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube honored him for who he was.

The only big plot point that I felt was missing, was showcasing how heated the beef got between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. For those that experienced it, it was a big deal at the time and from a fan’s perspective, the beef felt irreconcilable. Dre and Eazy both expressed regret about it in the film but it wasn’t shown or discussed in any sort of detail.

Also, the film jumps over the whole NWA & The Posse era.

I feel that it is also important to point out how funny this film is. It isn’t a comedy but there are so many great comedic moments throughout the picture. Yes, it is a serious film that has very dark moments for each character but their is a light-hardheartedness about this film that really showcases the soul of these men.

In closing, Straight Outta Compton is a spectacular film whether or not you even care about hip-hop. For those that do care about this group, it gives you an intimate look into their lives and shows how everything went down, as accurately as can be portrayed on film. And being that I am a person that lived through all of this and remember it from the perspective of a fan, it is impossible to not fall victim to nostalgia. But in that nostalgia, one walks away feeling more intimately connected to something that has been a part of your life for a long time. This was a film just as much about those of us who rode along with N.W.A. from 1988-1992, as it was about the band itself.

F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube truly have a piece of work to be proud of. Don’t take your family though, unless you want Little Jimmy yelling “Fuck the Police” as he walks out of the theater. Then again, I was once Little Jimmy and I turned out just fine.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any top tier music biopic, really. This is just as good as the best of them.

Film Review: House Party 2 (1991)

Release Date: October 23rd, 1991
Directed by: Doug McHenry, George Jackson
Written by: Daryl G. Nickens, Rusty Cundieff
Based on: characters by Reginald Hudlin
Music by: Vassal Benford
Cast: Kid ‘n Play (Christopher “Kid” Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin), Full Force (“Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., Brian “B-Fine” George), Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Kamron, Iman, Louie Louie, Queen Latifah, George Stanford Brown, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Ralph Tresvant, Tony Burton, Helen Martin, Whoopi Goldberg (cameo), Groove B. Chill (Gene “Groove” Allen, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell) (cameo), Robin Harris (archive footage)

New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Man, that Kid would forget his dick if it wasn’t screwed on tight.” – Play

House Party was a favorite film of mine when I was around middle school age. At the time, I though this film, the first sequel, was also really damn good and in some regards, I liked it better than the first movie even though I consider the first one to be a better film.

This chapter in the film series takes Kid ‘n Play and pushes them into new territory. This is still a coming of age story but now we see Kid go to college and Play have to adapt to things changing around him. Ultimately, this is about growing up and learning to take on adult responsibilities.

Full Force is also back to be the great thorn in the sides of Kid ‘n Play that they were in the first movie. Luckily, they don’t try to burn everyone alive in this film. That was a little dark and bizarre in the first movie.

We also see Tisha Campbell and Martin Lawrence return and this is before they would both go on to star on the sitcom Martin, not too long after this. Robin Harris unfortunately passed away between films and he only appears in this through archive footage from the first movie. Still, it is nice seeing him in it and knowing that his spirit is still a strong presence in Kid’s life.

The film’s new setting adds in some new characters. There is Jamal, played by Kamron from the rap group Young Black Teenagers (they were all white kids, actually), as well as Zora, who was played by Queen Latifah, just as she was breaking out into becoming a big star. Iman and Louie Louie appear as the villains of the story. We also get Tony Burton (of Rocky fame), as a mentor character to kid. Whoopi Goldberg has a cameo too.

The story sees Kid get screwed over by Play and one of his schemes. He loses his college money and the film leads to Kid ‘n Play throwing a big pajama party at the college in order to raise money for Kid’s tuition. It’s not the best plot but this is a college comedy from the early ’90s and you have to suspend disbelief. The film is still funny, effective and ultimately, carries a good message and does so with heart.

Besides, the film is full of rappers and new jack swing artists of the time. Music is a driving force within the picture and it really captures the magic of the time.

House Party 2 isn’t House Party 1 but it brings us back to these characters that we fell in love with and is still amusing, lighthearted and pretty satisfying.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: House Party 1 and 3, as well as the other Kid ‘n Play film Class Act.

Book Review: ‘Not Just Another Thursday Night – Kermit Ruffins and Vaughan’s Lounge’ by Jay Mazza

*Written in 2015.

After getting back from my recent New Orleans trip and having seen Kermit Ruffins play live at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street, I wanted to know more about him and especially about his legendary run as a performer at Vaughan’s Lounge. I’ve been a fan of his music ever since discovering him on Pandora a few years ago and after seeing him play himself on HBO’s Treme.

For those who don’t know, Kermit Ruffins is one of the most charismatic performers that you will ever see play live. His shows incorporate his stellar and almost legendary trumpet playing, his vocals, his fantastic band and all sorts of other performers who he often times brings right out of the crowd. Kermit also comes off as a stand-up comedian with his sense of humor and hilarious monologues between songs.

Jay Mazza’s book captures the magic that surrounds Kermit Ruffins and the allure of the cozy Bywater neighborhood spot Vaughan’s Lounge. It chronicles the history of Vaughan’s and is also a condensed biography of Kermit. It talks about how the two forces came together and united – creating a New Orleans institution that ran for over two decades.

The book also discusses the impact of Hurricane Katrina and how the lounge and Mr. Ruffins worked through the mess and did everything they could to keep the positive spirit thriving in New Orleans despite tremendous adversity and challenges.

If you care about jazz, music in general or New Orleans culture, this book is a must read. It is pretty short and quick to get through but it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I’ve since added Mazza’s other books to my Amazon Wish List.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other books on New Orleans music: Ernie K-Doe by Ben Sandmel and Up From the Cradle of Jazz by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose and Tad Jones come to mind. Also, HBO’s Treme.

Documentary Review: Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012)

Release Date: September 4th, 2012 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Sophie Huber
Music by: Chris Robertson, Roland Widmer

hugofilm, isotopefilms, Adopt Films, 77 Minutes

Review:

Very few actors have as much mileage as Harry Dean Stanton did. He passed away late last year and it sort of feels like there is a massive void that no one else will really be able to fill. Sure, he was a character actor of the highest regard but those few times where he got to be the lead were pretty damn exceptional.

I’ve been working my way through a lot of the Stanton roles I still haven’t seen. For a guy that has 202 IMDb credits, as an actor, I feel as if there will always be some Harry Dean gem I haven’t yet discovered.

This documentary is sweet and initimate. It’s pretty short but we get to spend time with Harry, as he talks about himself, in his own words. We also get to see him reminisce with some of the people he was closest too throughout his career: David Lynch, Kris Kristofferson, Sam Shepard, Debbie Harry and Wim Wenders. He also hear from his personal assistant and see him interact with others.

The documentary also has some bits where Harry sings and talks about how he regrets not trying his hand at music professionally.

While the film does cover some of Stanton’s most notable work, this is more a character study of the man himself.

For fans of Harry Dean Stanton, this is a really cool little film to experience.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries about other famous character actors. That Guy Dick Miller, immediately comes to mind.

Film Review: Young Mr. Jazz (1919)

Release Date: April 20th, 1919
Directed by: Hal Roach
Cast: Harold Lloyd, ‘Snub’ Pollard. Bebe Daniels

Robin Films, 10 Minutes

Review:

Hal Roach may best be known as the producer of the Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang (The Little Rascals) comedy film series. However, before all that, he directed some short silent comedies in the 1910s and 1920s. Young Mr. Jazz is probably one of the most well-known.

The film is quick and simple but it is really amusing. It is only ten minutes but it uses that time wisely and gives us a fun and energetic look at the popular culture of Roach’s era.

The plot sees a young couple running away from the girl’s father in their car. The car breaks down in front of a dance hall. The establishment is run by crooks, which leads to the couple trying to stay one step ahead of the girl’s father while also evading the criminal element in the club that is trying to swindle them for all that they have.

It’s a cute and fast paced movie. While it obviously feels dated, it’s 99 years-old, the humor still works and the picture is quite hilarious.

The film stars Harold Lloyd, who was a pretty prolific actor in these sort of films and a regular collaborator with Roach. Lloyd would also go on to direct and produce like Roach and he carved out a nice place as one of the comedic giants of his day, alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

The collaborative efforts of Roach and Lloyd were pretty influential on comedy as a whole and they really helped set the stage for what would come after.

If you want to get into either the work of Roach or Lloyd, this is a good place to start and it is a short and sweet sample of what the two greats could do.

Film Review: The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Also known as: Diabolical Dr. Voodoo, The Incredibly Mixed Up Zombie, Cabaret der Zombies (Germany), The Incredibly Strange Creatures, Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary (reissue title)
Release Date: February 10th, 1964 (Biddeford, Maine)
Directed by: Ray Dennis Steckler
Written by: Gene Pollock, Robert Silliphant, E. M. Kevke
Music by: Andre Brummer, Libby Quinn
Cast: Cash Flagg, Carolyn Brandt, Brett O’Hara, Atlas King, Sharon Walsh, Madison Clarke

Fairway International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“We’ve got twenty beautiful girls and only ten beautiful costumes!” – Barker

My god, man… this is one of the worst films that I have ever seen!

I’m not really sure what the hell happened in the elapsed time of me watching this film. There’s scantily clad girls dancing, a weird psychic lady with an unattractive mole and just some bizarre shit.

I feel like I got sucked into one of the long and drawn out hypnosis moments in the film because I blacked out for an unknown amount of time, only to wake up covered in blood and bird feathers. I don’t think it was effective hypnosis though, I just think it unlocked some insane part of my brain due to how absolutely atrocious this psychotic shit festival was.

This was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. While I love that show, this is beneath them. Yes… something is beneath MST3K! In fact, I’m kind of mad at them for even resurrecting this pile of Sasquatch dung. It could have died a long time ago but they immortalized it.

There isn’t much to say about this other than to warn people away. But maybe I’ll use the time to list out five things that would be a better use of your time than watching this.

***Disclaimer: DO NOT actually do anything from this list. I am not responsible for you being a moron without a brain. So if you do these things and want to sue someone, sue your parents for raising a fuck up.***

  1. See how many pennies you can fit in your mouth.
  2. Throw darts at your foot.
  3. Kick a beehive and wait around for a second.
  4. Get ink for your quill by squeezing it out of a live octopus.
  5. Tell Brock Lesnar “wrestling is fake” to his face.

This thing really is friggin’ dreadful. That being said, it has to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”