Of monsters and men

'Godzilla: King of the Monsters' is out this week, so enjoy a photo of Opal as the titular reptile.

Opezilla storms through Dallas, while chomping on a carrot.

Welcome back to Jacob’s Letter, a free pop culture newsletter full of puns and badly-PhotoShopped dog photos. Hope everybody had a reflective Memorial Day, if that day was a holiday for you.

This issue will focus on one of my favorite bands and will hew a little bit more on the serious side, but there will also be a new news segment later on down that I’m excited about, plus a review of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which I finally saw this week.

With that, let’s get started.


A Tornado Warning: Turnpike Troubadours are on ‘indefinite hiatus’ as Evan Felker seeks help

In their decades-long career, Oklahoma country act The Turnpike Troubadours have been defined by two things: A steadfast commitment to quality in songwriting and a frontman constantly held back by his own demons.

Review: Turnpike Troubadours’ ‘A Long Way From Your Heart’ is a rousing, thought-provoking country short story collection

This isn’t a takedown of this band. I love Turnpike, and I hate it when fans think they are entitled to know everything about a celebrity’s personal life. But when the celebrity’s personal life is the reason for a series of band problems that affect fans, then there’s a problem.

That was the case Friday when Turnpike posted the following message announcing its “indefinite hiatus” to all of its social media platforms

To Our Fans,

We want to again apologize for the abrupt cancellations of our shows this past weekend. We can assure you that the situation was not in our control.

We want nothing more than the opportunity for to heal, and to not put all of you through this ever again. To have a chance for any of this, we need to cancel all of our remaining tour dates. Turnpike Troubadours will go on an indefinite hiatus until a time we feel that everyone is of strong mind, body and spirit and can deliver what our fans deserve.

Refunds for all scheduled shows can be made at point of purchase. 
To all of you who have given us so much, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You believed in us, you raised us up, you stuck by us and you gave us more unconditional love than any band could ask for. We are humbled.

We ask that you please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we work to support and encourage.


Thank you all for everything. We love you!

This isn’t the first time the band has had to cancel shows, mostly due to lead singer Evan Felker being too drunk to perform.

The band’s history of cancellations started in 2016, when fans started mentioning Felker’s drunken performances at a New Years Day show and a booze-fueled Music Fest set in Colorado. They would go on to cancel shows for undisclosed reasons occasionally throughout the next few years, but the cancellations started up more and more frequently last summer.

More: Turnpike Troubadours on their songwriting process

The group pulled out of performing an opening spot on Miranda Lambert’s Bandwagon Tour last August after a rumored romantic relationship between Lambert and Felker fell apart. Last-minute cancellations for the next nine months would include shows in Chicago and Bossier City, and some sets they did play were marred by Felker’s inebriation. Occasionally, they would be back on the right track. When they’re on track, they’re one of the most kinetic bands I’ve ever seen; their Dec. 2017 ACL Live show in Austin remains one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in any genre. But they’ve seemingly cancelled as many shows as they played in 2019.

Videos of Felker slouched over his guitar as he tried to remember the words to his own songs are hard to watch, but a small comfort is that nearly every comment on the band’s hiatus announcement said something to the effect of: “Go get better. We’ll be here.”

More: Turnpike Troubadours' self-titled album improves a winning formula

Felker needs to get himself right, and I hope he does; I love this band and would love to see them record and tour for decades to come. But I’d rather never hear another new song from them if it meant Felker got the help he needs right now.


Movie review: Another biopic bites the dust

At one point in the middle of the music video montage that is “Bohemian Rhapsody” (calling it a “film” would be an insult to better films like “Popstar” or “Walk Hard”), Freddie Mercury and Co. walk out of a meeting with their record label, dismayed at the suits’ fundamental misunderstanding of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody.” There is then a montage of Queen performing the 6-minute opus on tour as fans rapturously applaud them, all while film editor John Ottman overlaid seemingly every negative review the band ever received for the song’s release on screen.

The effect is distracting and off-putting and feels like a giant middle finger to the audience’s intelligence, but it’s the film’s thesis: Screw you if you don’t like it, because you just don’t get it.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” was nominated for five Oscars at this year’s ceremonies, and won four: Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Actor, for Rami Malek as Mercury. It was also the source of much controversy after director Bryan Singer was removed from the film after reports of tardiness on set, and, more importantly, was the focus of a series of sexual assault and harassment lawsuits going back 20 years. (Nobody bothered to mention that during the acceptance speeches at the Oscars.) [I also saw this film by checking it out from the library, so as to not give any of my money to this thing.] But more on those awards later.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” the film is an insipid, timid, lifeless paint-by-the-numbers biopic about a band that was anything but.That it shares a name with one of the most inventive pieces of music this century is a travesty.

Somehow it manages to make a standard rise-rise-drugs/fame probems-fall-rise plot point film out of a band whose meteoric rise wasn’t quite so linear, and manages to make every other member of Queen feel like merely a supporting character in Freddie Mercury’s life.

The film is not subtle with any of its cliches or wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments, either. “We’re under pressure” is something a band member actually says before getting the idea to write the song. When the film decides it cares about Mercury’s sexuality (a topic it seems scared to broach, which is weird, given how unafraid it is to examine everything else), the visual cue to signify this is Mercury staring at a restroom that says “MENS” while on the phone with his wife. Scenes aren’t set here so much as they just happen, one biopic event tumbling into the next without much context, or forethought.

This is a script where in a later scene, Mercury’s now ex-wife, upon seeing his office in shambles while trying to complete his solo album, remarks, “Why Freddie, you’re burning the candle at both ends!”

Nobody here seems to be having any fun, except maybe Malek. I’ve never seen a film that so willingly didn’t want to be a film anymore and instead felt content to merely check boxes off of a studio checklist for a mass audience. Apparently it worked; the film grossed $903,655,259 worldwide.

And the Academy seemed to like it, too, going so far as to nominate “Bohemian Rhapsody” for Best Picture — the only category in which it was nominated but did not win.

As for Malek’s award: He’s not even singing the Mercury songs, and his performance largely rests on imitation. But it was either that or award Bradley Cooper for “A Star Is Born,” which the Academy largely snubbed that night. I hope Malek gets recognized for more throughout his career.

I will concede the Best Editing nod. After Singer was kicked off set for being an alleged sex criminal and for being absent from the film, director Dexter Fletcher (who also directed Elton John biopic “Rocketman”) took over. Editor John Ottman cobbled together the final cut from both versions of the film, resulting in a series of montages set to Queen’s music that’s nothing but hagiography. The award was probably the Academy throwing Ottman a bone for finally finishing this movie, even though they had films with more editorial flourishes like like “BlackKklansman” and “Vice” sitting right there.

At least the music’s good. The Live Aid show that ends the film (even though its chronology in Queen’s timeline is wrong) is magic. But that’s because it’s music performed by the real Queen, with a verve for life that this film never fully conjures up.

My rating: 1 songwriting montage out of 5


All the news that’s fit to print that I missed this week

I have pulled not one, not two, but three 12-hour shifts at work this pay period, so I haven’t had as much time to keep up with the news of the week. So this is going to be a rapid fire round of the highlights I missed, with a short analysis of each. Here we go.

  • Rachel Held Evans’ funeral is this Saturday. It will be livestreamed here. This is an incredibly generous act on behalf of her family. May she rest in peace.

  • Netflix and Disney are threatening to pull out of filming projects in Georgia if that state’s restrictive abortion laws go into effect in 2020. Other studios are threatening to follow suit. If they leave, it would cost the state $2.7 billion in economic growth as a result of those projects. I doubt these studios will actually walk away from all of these tax credits, but who knows.

  • Apple today announced that it will be shutting iTunes down, and the company will instead create separate apps for TV, music, podcasts and movies. Can it also create an app that works half the time I need it to?

  • More Disney remakes! It was just announced that “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb will remake the first animated Disney movie. I expect at least three change.org petitions about how the movie “fails to capture the magic of the original.”

  • Ridley Scott is coming back with a new “Alien” prequel. I don’t care what anyone says, I love the “Alien” prequels, and “Alien: Covenant” is one of my favorites of the franchise.

  • Chris Rock is making a new “Saw” movie. After watching Jordan Peele and Jody Hill/Danny McBride effortlessly movie from comedy to horror with “Get Out” and “Halloween 2018,” respectively, I’m on board with this.

  • Robert Pattinson is all but confirmed as the new Batman. Here for it. If you have to make another Batman, get real weird with the casting. For those complaining about how he’s not a “conventional choice” like Michael Keaton: Keaton was largely a comedic actor before being cast as Batman. Pattinson’s post-Twilight choices have been increasingly left-of-center but always good, and I’m excited to see what he can bring to the Caped Crusader.


Trailer Park

Want more trailer news for all the movies coming out this summer? I have just the thing: Read my summer movie preview here at jakeharrisblog.com.

“The Goldfinch”

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book about a boy who survives a bombing that killed his mother at a Dutch art museum, this looks like it’s going to kick off Oscar Movie Season. Look at that cast: Ansel Elgort. Sarah Paulson. Luke Wilson. Nicole Kidman. Jeffrey Wright. Finn Wolfhard. Wow. I haven’t yet read the book this is based on, but now I want to.

“Rambo: Last Blood”

And here in the Year of Our Lord 2019, at the end of the month of May, we have been given the first movie trailer to be set to Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Why? Who knows, other than to ride the back of a phenomenon. This trailer doesn’t really look like much, but I’m expecting insane levels of problematic violence from this movie. 2008’s “Rambo” is maybe the most violent and gruesome film I’ve ever watched, and I’m not expecting Sly to slow down just because John Rambo may possibly die.

“Onward”

Pixar’s first original feature since “Coco” just got a teaser trailer. Starring the voice talents of Chris Pratt and Tom Holland as elf brothers on a modern-day quest, this looks like a lot of fun.

“The Art of Self-Defense”

I’m getting a big “Fight Club” vibe here. That film saw the growing masculinity crisis and mistrust of consumerism at the end of the millennium and mined it for satire. This seems like it will do more of the same with today’s discussions about toxic masculinity and manhood.

“The Black Godfather”

This documentary on the life of Clarence Avant, a music executive who influenced everyone from Bill Withers to Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron to Snoop Dogg and Bill Clinton to Barack Obama looks like my favorite type of documentary: An intriguing subject that I know nothing about, but have probably heard of before, with a ton of talking head interviews.


Letter of Recommendation

Movie: The Lonely Island just dropped a “visual poem” on Netflix (think Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”) called “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience.” Set in Oakland during the height of Jose Canseco’s and Mark McGwire’s fame, decades before the BALCO scandal, the random series of music videos attempts to examine why they felt the need to do so many steroids and hit so many dingers. It also features Sterling K. Brown doing arm curls in a kimono and Maya Rudolph and Haim as A’s groupies. It’s only 30 minutes long, so it’s easy to watch again and again, which I have done a lot this week.

Music: Luke Combs is quickly becoming the most successful of his peers, with the continued chart dominance of “This One’s For You,” now at 103 weeks on the Billboard Country Album charts, 36 of those at No. 1. His latest single “Beer Never Broke My Heart” hearkens back to his kiss-off hit “When It Rains It Pours.” It’s infectious, and the way the chorus slows down, then speeds up on “loooong-neeeeck iiiice-cooooold beer never broke my heart” is so much fun to sing.

Comic Book: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run on “Captain America” is a stark examination of the America we want to be and can be, and the America we currently are, all wrapped up in a superhero plot involving Nazis, evil witches, Russian spies and a Black Panther crossover. I’m 10 issues in so far and loving it.

Game: It me, the Nintendo Switch shill. “Baba is You” is a cheap, independent puzzle game (there’s just so many good, cheap independent games available in the Nintendo Shop) that allows you to change the rules of the puzzle in order to finish it. It sounds confusing, but it’s addictive once you get the hang of it, and it’s so satisfying when I figure out a solution that’s been staring me in the face for 15 minutes.

TV show: “Fleabag,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s TV adaptation of her one-woman show about grief and the single life in London, really is as good and heartbreaking and funny as everyone says it is. I’m only two episodes into the second season, but it’s a BBC show, so there’s only six episodes a season, and there’s only two seasons. Available to stream on Amazon Prime now.


Friday News Dump

A list of online stuff I really liked this week:


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See you next week,

Jake