A few months ago, I debuted this column in which I review pertinent cultural manifestations such as books, movies and records without actually reading, seeing or hearing them. I figured as long as I had a forceful perspective that I stated very loudly (OFTEN IN ALL CAPS), then I would be commended as someone who wasn’t afraid to “TELL IT LIKE IT IS!” It’s one of the most American things I’ve ever done (aside from having little to no pertinent sex education as a youth, only speaking one language, and not having health insurance for long stretches of time). Of course, even as I presented myself as someone who’s unquestionably relevant to today’s popular culture, I went on to review movies and books that came out decades ago (like The Matrix, The Godfather, and Windows 95 For Dummies). That’s not exactly living up to my self-proclaimed status as a person who has his finger on the pulse of what the kids are calling “lit lit.” (And I’m not even sure kids are still saying “lit” twice to denote that something is cool cool.) ANYWAY, in this column, I will review only the current vegetables of our cultural stew — so to speak — without actually tasting said metaphorical vegetables. Consider it my desperate attempt to convince myself I maintain any sort of relevance to modern pop culture despite the fact that I am way too old to think new things are even a little bit lit. All ratings are out of five stars.
Warner Bros. Pictures
The first one is easy, since I vaguely remember playing the video game when I was a kid (which I totally sucked at). Whenever I played, my brother always kicked my ass, no matter what character I picked to fight him with — though I have to admit I did okay when I chose Blanka. Although, now that I’m recalling the specifics, I might be thinking of Street Fighter II and not Mortal Kombat. Either way, I was awful at video games back when the players were referred to as “dorks who are into Nintendo” instead of “gamers,” like they’re called today. I’m not sure who the video game dorks put in charge of PR, but bravo! That’s one hell of an upgrade. Anyway, I suspect the movie will include some type of threat to the world, some fighting, perhaps a love interest, some cool special effects, and an ending that’s all badass and makes the gamers go, “Aw, hell yeah!” I give it two stars. ★★
Apparently this movie combines two things that I simply don’t care for — horror movies and competitive reality TV shows. The former utilizes talented actors, tight camera shots, and elaborate movie sets with the sole purpose of scaring the absolute shit out of you. While the latter pits overly competitive people against each other, weaponizes their absolute worst personality traits, and encourages them to act like self-absorbed shitheads in order to win obscene amounts of money. Okay, so I know it’s all fictional in the case of this movie, but I would still hesitate to call it “entertainment.” It kind of reminds me how people go to amusement parks to ride scary roller coasters and play carnival games in the name of “entertainment.” Are there not drugs, concerts and bars in these people’s lives? Apparently not. All that said, I bet watching Funhouse is not as much fun as going to concerts and bars, and sure as hell isn’t as cool as doing drugs. Because of this, I give it a single star. ★
Killing the Mob
I’m just over 98 percent sure that Bill O’Reilly didn’t write this book. At this point, he’s just a brand name that lesser-known authors write under. And since the sheer amount of units they move is nothing short of impressive, the shit obviously works. It reminds me of a New York Times article called “James Patterson Inc.” about how the prolific author James Patterson basically comes up with an idea for a series of books and then hires teams of writers to fill in the gaps. From the article: “The way it usually works, Patterson will write a detailed outline — sometimes as long as 50 pages, triple-spaced — and one of his co-authors will draft the chapters for him to read, revise and, when necessary, rewrite.” That’s one hell of a gig! If I ever get to oversee a book factory like that, I’m going to hire writers who are proficient at far-ranging topics such as punk rock, hallucinogens, navigating open relationships in a gender-fluid society, and international intrigue. (I put that last one in to boost sales, since that’s what drives mass market fiction these days.) Anyway, Bill O’Reilly’s brand of books takes complex historical figures and events and dumbs them down into a black-and-white, good-versus-evil mindset that serves as the foundation of modern conservative politics (if your entire political philosophy can’t fit on a bumper sticker, it’s not worth believing!). So there’s no way this book is any good. I give it negative two stars. -☆-☆
Kennedy’s Avenger: Assassination, Conspiracy, and the Forgotten Trial of Jack Ruby
Dan Abrams and David Fisher
I do believe you can file this book under, “Hmm, interesting. Perhaps I will read the Wikipedia article about this particular topic.” Then of course, you forget about it and never read the Wikipedia article, because there are about 25 topics in your head that you’ve been meaning to research further and you just keep forgetting about them. For example, you still haven’t checked the page about Easter’s Pagan roots, despite the fact that the holiday was months ago. You’re pretty sure you know the story, but still, you’d like to be able to talk knowledgeably about the topic at all these parties that are starting to spring up because everyone’s been vaccinated. Of course, you cut yourself some slack because who’s going to be bringing up Easter in the middle of the summer? Some asshole who just read the Wikipedia page about it and now he thinks he’s some all-knowing badass? What a prick! Doesn’t he know that you’ve been meaning to read about that very same topic? Why is everyone so mean? (I might be projecting a bit on this particular review.) Two stars. ★★
Would anyone else be surprised if the new Moby record was just him yelling at you for eating meat and dairy? Maybe some recipes and directions to his LA restaurant thrown in for good measure? Now I’m not trying to come down on vegans here, since I am one myself, but sometimes you meet people whose identities are a little too steeped in their diets and you say to yourself, “Well now, that’s a bit much.” I’m told this record is actually different versions of songs he’s already released. I think in the industry they call these albums “alimony releases” or “bills don’t pay themselves records.” And since Moby has brought so much negative attention on himself lately — from lying about relationships with Natalie Portman to getting shitty neck tattoos — I can’t in good measure give this more than a star, which is too bad, because my highest rating this month is a meager two stars. I guess my partner is right and I really do hate everything. That being said, one star. ★
Brian Polk is a Denver-based writer, publisher of The Yellow Rake, and drummer for Joy Subtraction and Simulators. He’s the author of Placement of Character and Turning Failure into Ideology. He likes writing, muck raking, yellow journalism, zines not blogs, cheap booze and punk rock.
Tyler Gross is an award-winning illustrator and graphic artist. He has worked for a growing list of national and international clients including The Boston Globe, WIRED UK, The Globe & Mail, Sierra Club, United Way 211, and more. Contact him here for commissions and collaborations. Check out more of his art and work on his site and on Instagram.