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Gutterpunks Gone Gonzo

Justin Follin
The Music Box

What was Justin Follin doing in between seeing all those movies and cranking out all that copy? It seems he was out way past his bedtime (!!), cavorting offsite at bonfires with crazy New Orleans gypsy band the Music Box -- and somehow still getting his copy in before deadline.

The gypsies were drunk and pissed off in a parking lot off Trinity Avenue. I’d been drinking Lone Star at some film party where I sat in a corner on the phone with a friend from New York. She’d have to excuse my drinking alone, I told her -- it’s South by Southwest and I’m obligated to drink free beer. I’d just seen FrontRunners, a documentary about a magnet high school like the one we’d gone to together. I was trying to get her to quit her job and help me make a movie about our alma mater. That’s the thing about film festivals -- you spend the whole time thinking, “I could do that. Better!” She said it was 1 a.m. on the East Coast and she had work tomorrow. She suggested I quit drinking alone. So I found the gypsies shouting at each other, playing banjos, and chasing dogs around the lot.

Okay, they weren’t exactly the Roma people who travel European streets while tourists shift their wallets from back pockets to the front. They were American, and my age, and a gutter-kid acoustic band that called themselves the Music Box and sort of called New Orleans their home town but were pretty much living off Dumpstered scraps of food and the money they’d made on street corners around the country singing about freights and train grease on private parts. South By Southwest had drawn them here and fate had brought me and we were talking there between the homeless shelter and the church and they said hop in and drink this so I did. Ouch. Gypsy whiskey burns.

We pulled onto Sixth Street, this wreck of a van filled high with people and blankets and smells, heading east to the other side of the highway to follow the rumor of a bonfire. It didn’t take long to realize the driver, a long-haired kid with horn-rimmed glasses, had no idea where he was going -- a problem he tried to solve by downing the rest of the whiskey. As he made u-turns in the middle of Cesar Chavez, tired dogs slid from one side of the van to the other. When one appeared in the front seat, he reached his head down to give it a kiss and said, “I wuv you so much, Lady.” Whoa, watch the road, dude.

“Where the hell am I going? Where the hell is this damn bonfire?” he yelled, u-turning and kissing the dog and honking. Yes, where the hell am I going, I asked myself. What the hell have I gotten myself into? We stopped at a gas station and the tribe jumped from the van. One ran in for directions, one for beer, and one with a gas can in hand managed to convince a customer at another pump to fill it. They hadn’t paid for gas since New Orleans, they said. Just tell people you’re a traveling band, and the red can gets filled for free.

The bonfire actually existed. A generous old Austinite opens up his backyard every now and then for transient musicians to come out and jam. I’d just seen Throw Down Your Heart, a film about the banjo in Africa, and seeing all these pickers and train riders making music together around the flame felt somehow more important in a global sense. Folks had showed up from places like Arizona and North Carolina playing blues here in Austin just because this week, it’s where a musician’s got to be. I picked up a washboard and a tambourine and we sang songs about gypsy life and Appalachia and I pretended like I could sing the words with the same truth that the woman across the fire with those burning eyes and the sky-blue accordion could. But I had my laptop in my backpack, and a home to go back to. Unfortunately, my gypsy van left me and I couldn’t get back there.

Four in the morning, the gypsies had disappeared. The fire was still high and folks were still singing, but I had miles between me and home and the drunks had left me here. Where was I, anyway? The prospect of sleeping on the muddy floor inside the ranch house turned the night dark. There’s a scene in The Lost Coast where the three friends realize they’re drunk and stuck on the wrong side of the city when the sun comes up. We’ve all been there, and here I was, there again. A stumbling woman downing Steel Reserve said she was going where I was going, we could split a cab. She slurred and chainsmoked Parliaments and when the cab came two hours later, she yelled at the driver and complained that the Austin bus system sucks. She got really quiet, turned to me and said, “I hate smackheads.” What?

I woke in my room later that morning dreaming I was falling down a waterfall. My head hurt and the sun was noon bright. Shit, I’ve got movies to see. I caught a ride to the pressroom downtown and did my best to bust out a review of Humboldt County while politely declining the festival volunteers’ attempts to network. Deadlines make you mean. We can pass business cards back and forth like schoolgirl notes all you want, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the only “Check One: Yes, No, Maybe” question at this festival is are you famous or can you help me become it? Yikes, cynicism is an ugly reflection. I didn’t really say that about the note passing. But I was just a little stressed.

The pressroom was stationed on the second floor of the Austin Convention Center, which acts as some sort of base camp for skinny black jeans and faux-hawks for SXSW week. Conversations are half live and half iPhoned while badge-carrying pretty people shake hands: L.A. meets New York, halfway in the middle. Talk was fast and loud and always about people I’d never heard of, so I spent a lot of my time outside on the balcony where I could watch the city from above and breathe secondhand smoke from the free American Spirits burning all around me. Today I headed north to Sixth Street, to the mirage of pop bands that appeared like a smoke signal one morning and would leave nothing but ash and scattered flyers when it left five days later.

Downtown Austin feels electric. Stick your finger in a socket electric. It drags everyone in its path into a wake of beer and hangovers and music, chiefing mellows like three no-dozes and a drive from Amarillo to Santa Fe. It kicks your ass. Music pours from dive bars and laundromats and taco stands. Walking along the blocked-off street discombobulates the aural cavities with swells of drums and bass guitars indistinguishable from each other, like falling asleep in a crowd of talking people where the chatter becomes one rolling tide of inflection. Except here, you’re wide awake. And so is everyone who hasn’t yet found the bar with free Crown and rolled into a gutter or doorway to puke.

It was in this sweltering rumble that I found the gypsies again. They’d set up near the corner of Neches, right underneath a dive called “Treasure Island,” and looked like the kind of band that might have been waiting at a dockyard to play, sneaking on board and stealing the boat while the pirates were getting ripped in the Jolly Roger theme bar. It was a pleasant coincidence, I thought; I’d wondered what had happened to them. One of them later said they hadn’t left me: they’d just hidden their van around an empty building and passed out. I could have slept in the van.

The eight of them played their asses off out there on the street. Passersby yelled and locked arms and danced and walked off. Teenage girls with their mothers stopped to take photographs of this beautiful roving freak show. A clarinet player jumped in and they swung out to a celebration of their Sunny Side of the Street. It was an upright bass, banjulele, trumpets, and washboard throwdown. A camera crew set up their picture-perfect, halter-topped anchor lady in front of them and she struggled to say, “South by Southwest is just filled with all sorts of neat things,” above their collective chorus of “fucking, yeah, fucking on a freight train.” It happened like this until the police showed up and moved the party along.

I had to get to Lou Reed’s Berlin to watch Lou Reed lead an orchestra onscreen and come up afterwards to tell us about it. And then I was off to write about that when the gypsies came speeding down Congress, swung open their door and yelled, “we’re going!” I jumped in and we wrapped around the city, back to the other side of the highway, the East side, the OTHER side, where badges and wrist bands start to lose their meaning the further from I-35 you get. They had a gig at a backyard show, a place called Fuck by Fuck You, where the five o’clock shadows and hair-gelled, Paper Magazine, bad-boy look gets replaced with cup-sized ear gauges and face tattoos. There were goats and chickens and free kegs and five-minute set changes and crowd surfing and sweat stains on your clothes from everyone else’s pits.

The gypsies played and we kept moving, back in the van, pulling whiskey and rolling tobacco, headed SOUTH, to another show, to a place called the Enchanted Forest, a hidden arts collective tucked behind a guy’s house across from an Office Depot. A walk in the woods here revealed a breathtaking display of outsider art hung from the trees, painters displaying their trades, and a Pig Pen-like old man free-styling consciousness raps above a digderidoo and djembe. A main stage hosted a funk-playing clown band while a sequined goddess slithered through the most enrapturing hula hoop dance I’d ever seen -- two multi-colored lit hoops and a body that traced sex in the air. There was fire here. Fire breathers and fire fountains and fire works. And the gypsies played, too, and then, they disappeared like smoke or the chaos of this festival from the capital city of Texas.

I saw a movie this week called Gonzo. My apologies to Dr. Thompson.

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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