Music

Green Day: American Idiot

Tim O'Neil

American Idiot is a work of staggering ambition, made all the more impressive by the fact that they make it all look so damn effortless.


Green Day

American Idiot

Label: Warner Bros. / Reprise
US Release Date: 2004-09-21
UK Release Date: 2004-09-20
Amazon
iTunes


What the hell happened?

I mean it. I really wasn't expecting this. If you say you saw this one coming, you're lying. In all seriousness, who thought Green Day had it in them to deliver one of the best rock albums of the year?

Bands that have been around this long aren't supposed to be this creatively strong. Sure, every now and again there's a fluke like R.E.M. or the Flaming Lips, a band that continues to produce good music two or three decades after their initial success. But mostly, once a group hits their peak, it's a downhill slide. It's exceedingly rare to find a group capable of releasing their best album a decade after their commercial peak. Who in the hell thought Green Day would be that one-in-a-hundred? Not I.

Green Day is a group that showed every indication of being on the cusp of diminishing returns. Their last album, 2000's Warning, was released to mediocre reviews and middling sales. There was definite conflict in Warning's material, as the group's hard punk edge seemed increasingly at-odds with their steadily maturing songwriting acumen. Words such as "Beatle-esque" were bandied about by confused critics. Was this the same group that went Top 20 with an ode to serial masturbation? Was this the same Green Day who followed up their relatively poppy major label debut (the 10-times platinum Dookie) with the spitefully claustrophobic Insomniac?

There were four long years between the release of Warning and American Idiot, and in those four year's you could have been forgiven for believing that it looked as if Green Day might be close to the end of their strange and unexpected ride. The inevitable hits package (2001's International Superhits!), and the inevitable odds-and-sods compilation (2002's Shenanigans) did little to dispel the notion that the group was treading water.

Which brings us nicely to American Idiot. To say that this is a creative renaissance for the group would be a gross understatement: the fact is that with this album Green Day have finally cemented their position as one of the best rock outfits of their generation. I don't think that even their most enthusiastic fans could have predicted how fearsomely good this album would be.

Of course, every new Green Day album brings with it the perpetual kvetching over the soul of punk. Those who thought that punk died the moment Dookie hit the streets will find little hear to change their minds. Punk purists are perhaps the most loathsome gnats in all of creation. If you want to get technical, you can argue all damn day over whether or not the Ramones were really a punk band, or whether or not the Clash sold out when they went big, or whatever. Quite honestly, life is too short. Sure, we can all respect the Dischord records crews and their unswerving dedication to some pure Platonic ideal of Punk-with-a-capitol-"P". But honestly, most people just don't care. Call me a heretic all you want, but there's a reason why most punk bands worth their salt eventually change and grow. Punk is a journey, not a destination. If you want to record the same brutally raw and punishingly fast tracks over and over again, go ahead and have fun. But if that's all you want to do for the rest of your life, you're pretty weird.

But the fact that a bunch of noise fetishists wanted to turn punk into thrash metal's grim and ugly kid sister can't erase the fact that so many of the early, seminal punk groups were nothing if not adept pop songwriters. The Ramones wanted nothing more than to create a genuine tribute to the Bay City Rollers and the Ronettes. From the very beginning the Clash had a crystalline songwriting talent that belied their angry exterior. The Damned were obviously having a good time. The fact that smart art-pop groups like the Talking Heads and Blondie have as much of a legitimate claim to punk credibility as Sham 69 or the Buzzcocks has always meant, to me, that punk was only ever a state of mind. You can hem and haw about whether or not Blink 182 or Sum 41 are punkers or poseurs, but at the end of the day it only matters to anyone insecure enough to perceive the dilution of an arbitrary generic idealization as a personal threat. If Sum 41 think they're playing punk music, does it make your Minor Threat CDs any less enjoyable to you? If it does, that's an extremely petty worldview you've got there.

In any event, there are few things less "punk" than a rock opera. The very phrase connotes a level of pretension and premeditation that is alien to even the most generous conception of the genre. Certainly, Tommy is a classic, and the Who are considered among the progenitors of punk . . . but still. Concept albums as a whole are tricky business, and when you take the final step dividing concept from narrative, you are entering hoary pastures. There's blessed little air between Dark Side of the Moon and Tarkus. When I heard that Green Day were doing a "punk rock opera", I have to admit I thought it was a joke.

But it wasn't a joke. Apparently, the four years between albums were difficult for the group. They found themselves unhappy with the mixed results of Warning, riven by resentment and unsure whether or not to even continue. But the strangest thing happened: instead of allowing dissatisfaction to blow the group apart, they sat down and talked. Unlike fellow Bay Area natives Metallica, they didn't need a $40,000-a-month shrink to work through their problems.

The group's increasingly ambitious songwriting was openly addressed. The group wanted to place the straight pop which had begun to blossom on 1997's Nimrod and which had taken a more prominent place on Warning into a cleaner synthesis with the aggressive punk of their early material. Basically, the group realized that they needed to manage the almost impossible task of embracing a more mature sound without sacrificing their youthful vigor. Amazingly, they have achieved this precarious balance on American Idiot.

The album begins with the title track, one of the disc's harder punk tracks. It starts the album off on the right foot, with the group's familiar sound on display for longtime fans, as well as a blast of energy for newcomers. The second track, "Jesus of Suburbia", is the first of two nine-minute suites, containing five movements each. Obviously, the point of reference here is the Who's immortal "A Quick One (While He's Away)". The Who were able to pull off the rather absurd premise of a ten-minute long operetta based almost entirely on their musical prowess. They couldn't help but rocking, regardless of whatever the hell they happened to be rocking about. Green Day have discovered the same kind of infectious confidence on "Jesus of Suburbia". You don't notice that the track is nine minutes long, because each distinct suite has the energy of a distinct and coherent song. Every couple of minutes they lurch into another section, turning on a dime and heading off in another direction entirely. It's thoroughly engrossing.

Before I received my copy of American Idiot, I saw a half-hour television performance that the group recorded for the Fuse network. They performed every note of "Jesus of Suburbia" with perfect precision, perhaps even shaving a few seconds off the total playing time. They needed an extra set of hands to tackle the layered guitar parts, as well as to handle the stunt xylophone during "Dearly Beloved", but considering the complexity of the music it's impressive that the only needed a single set of extra hands. Although Green Day have always been an impressive live band, they have now evolved into something else entirely, tackling these dizzyingly complex movements with the exact same level of reckless enthusiasm with which they have always tackled their hardest and most unforgiving punk tracks. "Jesus of Suburbia" is just a damn fantastic piece of music, probably the best thing on American Idiot. I find myself wanting to listen to it over and over again, repeatedly pressing the back button on the Windows Media Player like a chimp pulling the lever for his food pellet.

The rest of the album is pretty damn good, too. The melancholy melody of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" will stick to the inside of your skull like salt-water taffy. "Give Me Novacaine" is a soft-hard bruiser of a track, with a sweet acoustic pop verse set against a sludge-drenched punk chorus. It almost sounds like half of "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" welded to half of "Geek Stink Breath" -- and as unlikely as that sounds, it works. There are even the soft, muted sounds of a Hammond organ purring softly as the track slides to a sweet close.

"Extraordinary Girl" is another early favorite. It's one of the least typically Green Day tracks on the album, with a strange retro-'60s vibe that almost reminds me of the Bangles with a tad more of a Carnaby Street vibe. "Letterbomb" features a brief cameo from Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna, and it is also one of the album's most incendiary tracks. This could easily be a hit in the vein of "Basket Case" or "Nice Guys Finish Last". I am still a bit torn on "Wake Me Up When September Ends". It's one of the album's most heartfelt and affecting tunes, but it's also the one most likely to end up used at the end of an episode of Dawson's Creek, or whatever show the kids are watching these days.

But at the end of the day, I really can't accuse Green Day of having compromised anything for the sake of recording more accessible pop music. The fact is that they suffered for the right to write whatever the hell kind of songs they want. The group almost imploded from the stress of trying very hard to be two things at the same time: an orthodox punk group and a burgeoning power-pop outfit. Ultimately, the only way they were able to make it through was by realizing that they weren't going to be happy unless they accepted the fact that their muse wanted them to go in some expansive directions. It's the same thing, really, that happened to the Clash and Wire and so many of the best punk bands throughout music history. They reached a point where they realized that the rigid strictures of punk were standing in the way of doing what they wanted to do. Not everyone can be the Ramones, and really, who else has ever approached that kind of Zen purity with their abrasively minimal songwriting? I'm glad Joe Strummer and Co. didn't give a second thought to these things before they recorded London Calling, and I'm similarly glad that Green Day were able to settle the matter in such a way as to enable them to record American Idiot.

What is that? There's no way American Idiot deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as London Calling? Well, don't get me wrong, the album isn't that good, but that's not saying much considering that by any measure London Calling is considered one of the top-five rock albums of all time. Sure, Green Day aren't quite in that league (who is?), but they are definitely playing in the major leagues.

The "Homecoming" suite which closes the album is, while perhaps a bit less cohesive than "Jesus of Suburbia", all the more maniacally inventive. Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool actually get to sing a section each. Dirnt's piece is an odd piece of punk-rock chamber music with martial drums, while Cool's bit is just a crazy piece of roadhouse rock and roll which reminds me of what Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band would sound like if you stuffed them all in a closet together and made them huff modeling glue out of a paper sack before they went on stage. It all builds to an impossibly preposterous and almost comically grand finish. While the influence of the Who is pervasive throughout the album, this track wears the influence most plainly. It didn't initially impress me as much as the rest of the album, but after a few listenings it has grown on me considerably.

The album ends with "Whatsername", a plainspoken and painful evocation of, well, growing up. Billy Joe sings "I remember the face but I can't recall the name / Now I wonder how Whatsername has been" with the honest emotion of someone who has lived through the disorientation of growing up and older and experienced the realization that the past can never be reclaimed. "I'll never turn back time", he sings wistfully as the albums comes to a close. It's as brutally affecting a line as I've heard all year.

Certainly, it doesn't really do you any good to try to follow the supposed storyline: like Tommy, it only makes as much sense as you're willing to suspend disbelief. But the fact is that despite some recurring motifs, the album would hold up just as well if you had no idea there was supposed to be any sort of common thread between the tracks. It's an album full of brilliant tracks that somehow add up to more than the sum of their individual parts. If there's ever a Broadway musical adaptation I'm sure it will all make sense, but until that day you will just have to be content with the album as is.

If, 10 months ago, you had told me that Green Day would release one of the very best pop records of the year, I would have laughed. Nothing against Green Day, but they have always been the underdogs. No one ever really expected them to be so unbelievably popular as they were in the '90s. No one really expected them to still be around and still selling records some 10 years after Dookie. The fact is that they are without a doubt the most successful punk group of all time, with all the contradictory baggage that such a dubious honor implies. They are also now one of the very best rock bands currently working. American Idiot is a work of staggering ambition, made all the more impressive by the fact that they make it all look so damn effortless. Considering the fact that Billy Joe is still only 32 years old, it boggles the mind to imagine just where the band can go from here.

Music

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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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans


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59. Everything Everything - A Fever Dream (RCA)

Everything Everything is a band of impossible ambition, apparent from even the name. Merely everything is not enough for this prog-pop quartet and frankly, the world may not be ready to oblige. "I want this planet, and I want it now / to beat like an anvil 'til the poison's out" begins "Desire", one of the album's early gut-punches. If these were times of hope and prosperity, maybe egos this size would be celebrated. But we've made that mistake before. Hovering in our minds is the expectation that we must repent for generations of excess with modesty, conservation, quiet introspection. A Fever Dream embodies none of this. It reeks of English imperialism and mulish masculinity. It's bombastic beyond belief, and it's exactly what we need.

Everything Everything's fourth record is its most personal and urgent yet. The lyrics seem to be a document for primary songwriter Jonathan Higgs' psychological condition, and it's a troubling one, to say the least. He wears his insecurities like armor, and his pride gleams like Excalibur. Enshrouding his big plans for this world gone mad are doubt and defeatism and a predisposition for hedonism. It's the battle of Jonathan vs. the world, but also of the world vs. the world, and of Jonathan vs. Jonathan. For us sons and daughters of the microprocessor, a mere trip to the grocer's forces us to contend with the unruly exponential growth of this absurdist empire—our neighborhoods and international networks, ids and egos are in constant need of rewiring

That concluding track of A Fever Dream rides out with the mantra: "Never tell me that we can't go further." The title of this track is "White Whale"—that impossible desire perpetually just out of reach. Whether for peace on earth or a little peace of mind, the struggle to satisfy it can lead only to insanity or death. But Everything Everything would never strive for anything less. - A. Noah Harrison



58. Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation)

Sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone and other times you don't realize it until it returns. Following an eight-year hiatus since Other Truths, Do Make Say Think's previous album, Stubborn Persistent Illusions is the boldest, most arresting progression of songs that the Toronto unit have crafted since Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn in 2003. Among the swells and cries of their heavier-hearted Constellation label mates such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the Silver Mt. Zion permutations, Do Make Say Think always set themselves apart by keeping spry and limber. The band was, and remains, a kind of compact jazz orchestra in rock band's clothing. Not a moment is wasted even in the record's tranquil stretches. This is fitting for an album whose concept comes from something as deep yet fleeting as an "image in a Buddhist poem about working with a wild mind." - Ian King



57. The Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti-)

Thirty years on from their last studio album, 1988's Ghost Stories, Steve Wynn has reconvened the Dream Syndicate to release what is arguably the band's best record ever. Yes, Days of Wine & Roses will always remain a touchstone for longtime fans, its surprises still fresh after decades, but How Did I Find Myself Here? distills every lesson Wynn had learned over a long and adventurous career into a coherent eight-song set that finds his band confident and playful in equal measure, amped up and in sync. Here, Wynn is joined by longtime drummer Dennis Duck and bassist Mark Walton and, as he has since the Dream Syndicate's 2012 reformation as a touring unit, Jason Victor (Wynn's longtime partner in Miracle 3) has replaced Paul Cutler on guitar. Further, Kendra Smith's surprising and welcome return on album closer "Kendra's Dream" evaporates time to connect past and future in a perfect psychedelic drift. It all adds up to a triumphant and fitting capstone for the legendary band.



56. Lee Ann Womack - The Lonely, the Lonesome, & the Gone (ATO)

Lee Ann Womack recorded The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone in Houston, not far from the small town where she grew up. The album is rich with a mythical Texas in the best possible ways. Womack sings with a twang and gets sentimentally soppy or wickedly mean as the songs suggest. She goes to the extremes one would expect of a Lone Star musician. It may not be the biggest state geographically, but Texans have always done things bigger. Like her fellow state-mate George Jones, whose gospel "Take the Devil Out of Me" she covers, she's pure country, meaning she probably won't be played on country radio these days. Womack wrote half of the songs here, and redoes classic material associated with Patsy Cline, Lefty Frizzell, and Johnny Cash. She covers them with a style that shows her respect for past masters and still manages to make their songs her own. - Steve Horowitz



55. Charly Bliss - Guppy (Barsuk)

On the first track of Charly Bliss' debut album Guppy, the pop-rock band, led by potent vocalist Eva Hendricks, makes a bold declaration of self. On "Percolator", Hendricks defines her artistic self and if that definition includes some uncertainty and some conflict, so much the better as Hendricks's confidence bursts forth in accepting all those elements. The rest of the album, a joyous bash of guitars and energy, pounds through related but non-repetitive territory. Hendricks takes on relationships, abuse, and harassment (and more), vocalizing complex feelings and ideas that need to be heard. She shifts quickly from anger to humor to questioning without breaking stride. The band and its sound of eating candy in the garage delivers catchy melodies and bright sounds that matches the sense of seeking and realization throughout the album. Guppy looks for sense in a demanding world while retaining a strong center, keeping a strong self-assurance in the face of various challenges. - Justin Cober-Lake



54. Tyler, the Creator - Flower Boy (Columbia)

After baiting the media with controversial, derogatory statements for years, the fact that Flower Boy was hyped as the album where Tyler, the Creator came out of the closet was, for some, reason enough to dig into it, to give him a second chance, to reassess his past statements or, you know, dismiss him all over again. Yet despite lines about "kissing white boys since 2004", the crux of Flower Boy isn't Tyler revealing his sexuality so much as he's revealing his loneliness. This is a profoundly sad album, where the immaculate production hits all of your brain's pleasure centers at once while distracting you from how isolated he feels. Happiness is always elusive, which is why he pulls out every trick he can to prevent us from seeing the real human beneath, from stacking the tracks with guest spots to releasing the worst song as the lead single. Yet the more time you spend with it, the more you wan to keep coming back to the emotional world he's constructed for himself. You'll share in his loneliness, too. - Evan Sawdey



53. Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life (Interscope)

The image of physically scaling the Hollywood sign's "H" encapsulates Lana Del Rey's ethos in that celebrity is not some abstract pinnacle one reaches but one that needs to be experienced in person. Chasing the rush of fame drove the impeccable Born to Die and, five years later, the feeling of having achieved it is evoked by the smoldering warmth of Lust for Life. Still, the disarray of the world broke through even to pop's foremost escapist, but she addresses it and her well-earned status with cryptic optimism; "Is it the end of an era? / … / No, it's only the beginning." What Lust for Life teaches is that one can – and, possibly, should – stay as vigilant towards the affairs that affect us all while also indulging in the selfish, beautiful act of seeking love. - Brian Duricy



52. Paramore - After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen)

Many bands know what a Herculean undertaking reinventing their sound is. This year, nobody did it better than former pop-punkers Paramore. Four years since their last release, Hayley Williams and co. released After Laughter, which fuses sleek elements of '80s new wave, funk, and synthpop while keeping their emotional foundations intact. The most important ingredient to Paramore's success is the return of founding member Zac Farro, whose musical direction in side project HalfNoise point to the influence he had on crafting the new Paramore. Although ten years removed from their breakout, Riot!, they're still "in the business of misery" with songs like "Fake Happy" and hit single "Hard Times". But if the misery business means more of these grooving bass lines and tropical marimbas and guitar riffs, sign me up. - Chris Thiessen



51. (Sandy) Alex G - Rocket (Domino)

Alex Giannascoli refines his paradoxical impulses on Rocket. On his eighth full-length overall, and second for Domino, he crafts a beautifully strange brew of haunting folk with a narrative that's oddly indistinct. He's learned to work within the constraints of an album, a format that he treated with some flippancy during his Bandcamp years, though he still finds any excuse to circumvent the format as he draws upon a patchwork of ideas. Giannascoli finds his muse in longtime collaborator, and partner, Molly Germer, an accomplished violinist who adds whim and character to his otherwise sparse arrangements. From yearning country ballad "Bobby" -- their voices entwined and harmonized to their lush, string-led compositions -- to the gliding melancholy of "Powerful Man", they provide a touching ode to traditional folk that comes across as some alien take on a Smithsonian Folkways recording. And yet Rocket is so much more, taking on a surfeit of modern and antiquated music styles set against a backdrop of bucolic terrain. But even at its most eccentric, Giannascoli has accomplished a winsome collection of handcrafted songs that leave a lasting impression. - Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

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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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.)

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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