“Licorice Pizza”: West Coast Comfort Food

Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in "Licorice Pizza".

“Hey, wanna get some Fun Dips and go see Last Tango in Paris at Grauman’s? I have to bring an adult so they’ll let me in.”

It’s a bit early but I’m counting down the days till this year’s Academy Awards nominations are announced on February 8th, which will begin my annual Oscar Quest to see all the Best Picture nominees before the big ceremony on March 27th. These past couple years, the streaming era has made it easier than ever to make a side quest of catching nominees in the other categories as well. A few weeks ago I decided to get a head start by catching possible contenders in advance and thereby easing up my viewing load during the season itself. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza was one of a few ballyhooed works to convince me after the fact that, on second thought, I’ll wait till AMPAS voters tell me which ones I “have” to see and go from there.

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Yes, There’s a Scene After “The Matrix Resurrections” End Credits

Matrix Resurrections Red Pill Blue Pill Poster!

The grand return of the world’s favorite equivocal metaphor for every us-vs.-them feud ever, in which the beholder is somehow always a hero of “us” and never a lackey of “them”.

It’s hard to muster up enthusiasm for a conditionally beloved old series which had one really, really good film that made a groundbreaking impression on me in a packed theater, followed by two expensive letdowns. That means the series previously had a 33% success rate with me, a failure in any rational classroom. Sure, the animated follow-up had its fans, but it wasn’t quite the same thing even if one feels compelled to argue that it indeed “counted”. Here we are again in 2021 with a revival that perhaps some were wishing for, the studio execs more so than the public at large, inviting a few familiar faces to train a batch of promising newcomers in the ways of their franchise. The digital effects have been upgraded and more money has clearly been invested than anyone in the 20th century would’ve dreamed might ever be possible or necessary for a single movie. Just the same, the thought of sitting through such a perfunctory revival felt less like a joyous homecoming and more like that childhood dread of being forced to visit distant, smelly relatives — that sense of “Awwww, do I HAVE to go?”

In conclusion, that’s why I skipped Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

So why did I give The Matrix Resurrections a shot? Good question.

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My 2021 Reading Stacks #5

George Takei and Gene Luen Yang!

Once again, patterns emerge from this year’s pile: in this case, Asian-American graphic memoirs.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read lately that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, cut out one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my recent reading results…

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“Last Night in Soho”: Eloise’s Adventures Through the Looking-Glass

Last Night in Soho!

The Doctor vs. Illyana Rasputin: who wins?

As a kid I spent a lot of summertime Friday nights with my mom and grandma at the drive-in down the street. For a poor family like ours, drive-ins were cheaper than indoor theaters, especially if you stayed late and caught two or three films for the price of one. The concession stands served fried grub as affordable as any contemporary fast-food joint. Until the feature presentation rolled at sundown, free preshow entertainments abounded. Audience members could set out lawn chairs and mingle with folks they know in the next parking space over. Kids could goof around on the playground in front of the screen. And in the years before some entrepreneur figured out how to patch the soundtrack into a short-range FM signal, you could hang one of the drive-in’s own heavy, tinny, awkward mono speakers on your window, crank up the plastic white knob, and listen to the prefab radio program spinning the exact same songs at every showing for years until the drive-in closed in 1982 and was demolished to make way for boring medical offices.

The track listing in general — borne from the post-disco days of “easy listening” lullabies, country/western crossover hits, and ’60s leftovers-turned-standards — was a parade of inoffensive AM-radio earworms cultivated for my elders who liked their sonic backdrops as plain as a pus-colored Tupperware cup of sugarless lemonade on a wind-free porch. In the years ahead I’d come to develop my own musical tastes as the opposite of all that. To this day they’re why I respond poorly to slow jams, twee ballads, and somnambulist Starbucks-CD jangle-pop. Despite my youngster’s apathy, one single would catch my attention above all others every time: Petula Clark’s “Downtown”.

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When Words Failed the Spelling Bee Contender

Charlie Brown in the spelling bee!

That time in February 1966 when Charlie Brown thought he’d win friends and respect through good spelling. Today’s internet would eat him alive.

A lot of other middle-aged guys have cherished memories of the good ol’ days when they were on sports teams and won games and fame and attention, followed decades later by the deep frustration with how their athletic-hero phase was temporary, the pinnacle of those wonder years left far behind.

Me? For a few proud minutes, I had spelling bees. Recent headlines, in particular the exciting news that the National Spelling Bee at long last had its first Black American winner this week, dredged up a few of my own recollections and regrets.

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Our 2003 Road Trip: The Lost Photos

Yosemite Sam statue at Six Flags America.

Hanging out at Six Flags America with Yosemite Sam and avoiding the fashion police in my backwards cap, fanny pack, and souvenir T-shirt from our 2000 road trip to a sci-fi convention in St. Louis.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college.

Sure, a lot of couples prefer to spend their downtime at the nearest beach, book passage on a cruise, or max out their credit cards on a Paris dream trip. We have our own agenda. Finding creative ways to spend quality time together. Searching for tourism options that wouldn’t occur to our peers. Digging for gems in unusual places — sometimes geek-related, sometimes peculiar, sometimes normal yet above average. We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

We’ve shared stories and photos from all our annual excursions here on MCC. The experiences that predated this site were recaptured in hindsight from the photos, memories, and previous online write-ups at our disposal. In a few cases our archival searches were disappointing, as we could’ve sworn we took more photos than what we found. Once I’d finished reposting every single vacation, I assumed that was that and moved on. Then a few months ago, Anne happened to be combing our library for something and stumbled across a pair of forgotten, small, old-fashioned photo albums that had been buried behind or beneath other albums and scrapbooks in some overshadowed nook. Within those mini-albums we rediscovered a secret stash of unused pics from our 2003 road trip to Washington, DC. Suddenly my completed online project had a gaping hole in it.

Mind you, they’re not the best photos ever. They were taken by amateurs on cheap cameras using 35mm film before we switched exclusively to digital photos in 2009. No one was filling our inboxes with requests to revisit our road trips. But in my mind, now that I can see these did exist after all, the omission of these unintentional outtakes leaves the original MCC miniseries incomplete. And the older we get, the more excited we get at the thought of restoring missing memories, grit and blurs and all.

Presented here, then, are bonus images from that time my best friend and I drove my son out to DC, learned a bit of American history, found a lot of places shut down for post-9/11 renovations, walked too many miles, and came to hate Subway sandwiches because it was the only cheap restaurant we could find near our hotel.

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Best CDs of 2020 According to an Old Guy Who Bought 5

Five new CDs I bought in 2020.

Per tradition, my annual personal tiny album chart.

It’s that time again! The annual entry where I look back at the previous year as one of six people nationwide who still prefers compact discs to digital. I don’t splurge too much because it’s increasingly tougher for new music to catch my ear as I grow older and more finicky, and as my favorite acts of yesteryear die, stop recording, or turn toward musical directions that take them beyond my zones of interest. That usually means missing out on what the majority loves, thus further dragging me down the long plummet into total irrelevance. Story of my life.

Even in 2020, though, I tried my best to keep abreast of the latest in album-sized tune collections and found a handful of artists and labels releasing new distractions and rays of hope amid the pandemic. It took until September before I finally spent a dime on new music, but the feeling was one of relief that at least one aspect of life had found a way to proceed as normal, or a close approximation under duress.

The following list, then, comprises all the CDs that I acquired last year that were 2020 releases. None were bad, but we’re not into 5-way ties here on MCC, so somebody has to give. Curiously, the longest one clocks in at 42 minutes; the shortest barely saunters past the half-hour mark. I’ve never been one to complain about getting the most bang for my buck out of every CD, so I can deal with it. Part of me is pretty okay with bloated 70-minute albums being a thing of the past if it means we’re hearing more finesse than filler.

On with the countdown!

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2020 Makes 20 Years

Chocolate Cupcake!

What better way to celebrate a special occasion in 2020 than a cupcake topped with the emoji that best describes 2020.

2020 took casualties on every level, literally as well as metaphorically. Lives have been lost. Survivors have had their lives changed for the worse by lingering coronavirus side effects. Jobs have been suspended or eliminated. Businesses have closed. Families have suffered. Special events were canceled….or worse, continued on schedule but infected and killed their attendees. Plans great and small were waylaid. Happy times were postponed for safety’s sake and downgraded to a form of delayed gratification to be fulfilled in what will hopefully not be an even worse year to come.

Milestones on the calendar came and went — some without fanfare, others with drastically reduced celebrations. My own example at hand: 2020 marked my twentieth anniversary at my day job.

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11 Random Pieces of Joel Schumacher

Joel Schumacher!

Excerpt from the Tigerland extras.

Once upon a time the phrase “director Joel Schumacher” was a handy punchline and/or an unpleasant flashback trigger in many geek circles. Y’know, after what happened with the one (1) film. Never mind that he amassed over three dozen other credits over the course of his career, quite a few of which were eminently watchable and in some cases even respectable. Granted, that most notorious failure derailed a beloved film franchise for several years, hobbled a zillion-dollar merchandising machine for about ten minutes, and was a ludicrous betrayal to those of us who were perhaps a bit too unyielding in our stoic allegiance to Super Serious Super-Heroes.

I let that go years ago. Sooner or later all punchlines gets tired upon incessant repetition, most grudges get pointless as time passes, and some axes don’t need any more grinding.

I was sorry to hear of Schumacher’s passing on June 15th at age 80 after a year-long battle with cancer. Cancer sucks. Much as I’d love to write a definitive summation of his career, that’s best left to professional websites who underpay collaborative teams to compile such listicles from their combined viewing experiences. The following is a personal recollection of my encounters with his works from my teenage years to two months ago. It’s not a long list, or a logically organized or comprehensive one, but it’s mine.

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Our Superman Celebration 2008 Experience: The Mostly Remastered Edition

Anne & Superman!

It’s virtually Metropolis town ordinance: every Superman Celebration photo gallery must include a shot of the world-famous Superman statue.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

At the southern tip of Illinois and across the Ohio River from Paducah, KY, the small town of Metropolis devotes the second weekend of every June to their world-famous Superman Celebration. More than just a carnival acknowledging their local heritage and history, the Celebration invites tourists from all walks to come join in their festivities. Their Main Street’s center of attention is the also-world-famous Superman Museum, dedicated to their most important fictional resident, the great and powerful Superman. Also major draws: the special guests from various Superman movies, TV shows, and other related Super-works who drop by for autographs and Q&As.

At least, that’s how it normally works. That means this year’s Celebration would be this coming weekend. Regrettably here in 2020 Anno Diaboli, the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce announced the show’s cancellation back in mid-March, when pre-planning should have commenced if not for the writing on the wall. We hadn’t yet committed to the 2020 edition, but it sucked to hear they pulled the plug. We understood and lamented…

We’ve attended the Superman Celebration six times. Previous MCC entries covered our other five experiences and meet-ups with the following special guests from the multimedia world of the Man of Steel:

  • 2001 (three chapters): Valerie Perrine and Jeff East from Superman: The Movie, and Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran, two of the Phantom Zone Villains from Superman II
  • 2006 (a single, 4500-word long-read): Michael Rosenbaum and the teen Clark Kent from Superman Returns
  • 2012 (one chapter of modest size): John Glover and Cassidy Freeman from Smallville, and Gerard Christopher from The New Adventures of Superboy
  • 2016 (five chapters): a special Crisis on Infinite Jimmy Olsens starring Mehcad Brooks and Peter Facinelli from The CW’s Supergirl; Marc McClure from all four Christopher Reeve Superman films as well as Helen Slater’s Supergirl; and Michael Landes from Lois and Clark
  • 2017 (four chapters): the Margot Kidder from the Reeve Superman films, who then passed away in May 2018; an encore with Sarah Douglas; Dean Cain from Lois and Clark; and James Marsters, relevantly a.k.a. Brainiac from Smallville

And now we complete the set at long last for MCC readers, despite a couple of hiccups.

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