Does Late Night TV Still Matter? Jimmy Kimmel

In the third part of his never-ending odyssey of late-night talkers, the Rockist endures Kimmel and bits.

I want to root for Jimmy Kimmel. Like Jon Stewart, I watched him develop step-by-step up the comedy ladder. I root for all comedians who don't send Lorne Michaels birthday gifts or watch NFL Sunday Ticket at Judd Apatow's place.

In the increasingly vanilla American comic landscape, Jimmy is the refreshing mint chocolate-chip. Jimmy utilizes the same old-school joke building tools that Bob Hope and Milton Berle raised to an art form. He doesn't need you to like him. He just wants you to be the joke or react to the joke.

I want to root for Jimmy Kimmel. Here in Chicago, he does not come on until 12:05AM CST. Nightline bumps him back across the country. Right away, he starts the hundred meter dash 50 meters behind his competition.

After Nightline here, comes the rerun of that day's Oprah. Any remote stopping at Oprah's not going to stay on the coffee table too long. I don't think WLS, Chicago's ABC affiliate, could think of a worse lead-in to Kimmel. Celebrity manicures and celebrity midget jokes don't mix. As a devout denier of Oprah's salvation, just the sight of her one-black-lady-in-a-room-full-of-white-ladies routine puts me off ABC for the night.

I know I live in Oprahnistan, but come on WLS and other ABC affiliates. Give the guy a chance. My heart always finds a place for such unappreciated underdogs.

I want to root for Jimmy. I do. Except for one thing. His show is an absolute, 100 percent, no-doubt-about-it train wreck. And the worst part is, most of it's not Jimmy's fault. The man's just stuck in a terminally unfunny relationship with his employer. He's a modern-day borscht belt comedian posing as the ringmaster of an extremely rigid network dog-and-pony show.

ABC wants Jimmy to do Carson Daly (strangely enough, an intern of Jimmy's years ago) with bite. Even if that was not an oxymoron, Jimmy would never be anyone's choice for that assignment. Well, nobody who wasn't a congenitally clueless media conglomerate suit.

See, Jimmy Kimmel Live! never went by the usual rules for network talkers. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in 2003 surprised by ABC's choice. My whole life to that point the network shied away from late-night, leaving their affiliates to battle King Carson with movies. ABC gambled that Kimmel would take away Kilborn's young male demographic and offer a strong alternative to Letterman and Leno.

At first, it looked like that bet might just pay off. ABC/Disney handed Jimmy their swanky El Capitan Theater and a prime Hollywood Boulevard location. Then came the announcement that there would be a working, full-service bar in the theater for guests and audience. Jimmy Kimmel hosting a televised celebration of binge-drinking? Every night? Live? And the first guests would be Snoop Dogg and George Clooney??

Now this was must-see TV.

That first show did not disappoint. Clooney passed a bottle of vodka around. Snoop Dogg izzle-fizzled while heavily medicated. An audience member vomited. Watching the show, I thought Jimmy had cracked the code. Finally, a brave host would turn their back on Carson's evergreen format and steer late-night in a new direction (or maybe not. Ed McMahon spent most of the '70s stiff).

Alas, Jimmy's Proctor and Gamble sponsored kegger lasted only that one episode. It seemed his bosses at the Mouse House didn't exactly believe that broadcasting the live witticisms of one Cordozar Calvin Broadus, Jr. across the nation was the best use of their most visible media outlet. The bar left for good, as did the live concept soon after, and Jimmy learned to keep to the straight and narrow. Jimmy jumped the shark before the end of his first week. At home, I changed the channel.

The bar incident left a bad taste in my mouth. It smacked of publicity stunt. In the following years, Kimmel Live proved adept at generating viral videos, but not at developing a brand of its own. Jimmy's increasingly cynical attitude grew tiresome. The last impression a late-night host wants to leave with a viewer is that he/she couldn't care less if the viewer came back or not. You often catch that vibe from Kimmel. Some nights his enthusiasm looks like it would take a cattle prod to get to hungover.

I can't say that my week of watching changed my opinions. In two 'cold openings', Jimmy pushed a sponsor's super phone. Where Letterman and his writers would have found a clever way to slip the plug into a broadcast (or out-right refused to do it at all), Jimmy read copy surely ignored by him and his staff.

Jimmy, live by Larry Sanders. Let your Hank do the spots.

Jimmy opens with the monologue. Please, somebody, please- kill the monologue as a mainstay. Jimmy's writers are so sick of pumping monologues out, they're still making Howard Dean jokes. Howard who? Jimmy knows how to build a joke, but there was very little pay-off for me in terms of laughs.

Unless Vern Troyer drunk and falling down kills you. Then this is the show for you.

Jimmy suffered through pointless interview with ABC product after ABC product. You can almost hear his tears when he debriefed Michael Irvin and Mark Dacascos in their ridiculous dancing outfits. You can't tempt a comic like that and not let him deliver.

Pamela Lee followed. Jimmy reminded her of some home movies-”You make a great film, it stays with America.” Pamela showed up to promote her new perfume, which smells like 'patchouli and chocolate'. So basically a hippie on Halloween. The highlight of the Tuesday night show, though, had to be Manny Pacquiao singing 'Sometimes When We Touch'.

Jimmy's interviewing skills can best be summed up by this question to Joshua Jackson: “Is your mother involved in your life?” Umm... how is anyone supposed to answer that? Joshua responded well: “I don't know, Jimmy, is your mother involved in your life?”

Point, Jackson.

After Jackson, Kimmel's best booking of the week arrived- Big Bird. He classed up the joint and then some. Jimmy lobbed softballs up to Big Bird's bill. Until...

Jimmy: “Have you ever laid any eggs or anything like that?”

Big Bird: “I'm a boy!”

If awkward laughs equaled ratings, Jimmy Kimmel Live would have a Harvard writer on staff named Conan.

Ghostface Killah capped Wednesday night with an expert exhibition of his nonsensical rhymes. A harpist accompanied him. For the record. A harpist also accompanied the musical act on Thursday night. Is the harp the new Farfisa organ?

The week ended with a performance by Chickenfoot (the second 'foot' band that week), a 'super'group consisting of Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani, and Chad Smith. I don't know if the fact that I dug their performance indicated I really liked it or that I was just happy to be done watching the show for this column.

HBO and ABC need to make a trade. For who knows what reason, HBO committed itself to a talk-show with Fox Sports' Ryan Seacrest, Joe Buck. No, no, no. Give Joe Buck the show on Disney's ABC. Put Jimmy on HBO. Make it live. Bring back the bar. And let Mr. Kimmel do what he does best: go blue and encourage debauchery from his guests and audience.

Alright, enough saving the world for one night. I'm off to bed.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

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