#2. Barry Levinson: The Director Who Masters Slice of Life Comedy/Drama Jumps into a Pool of Fantasy Awful
Barry Levinson is one of my favorite directors. Why? Well, he's made two of my favorite movies of all time: Diner and Avalon. Diner is a hilarious, heartfelt, perfectly executed coming-of-age story. It's also vital for any good game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon:
Police Academy 4? OK, um ... DINER! One Degree of Kevin Bacon!
Then Levinson made Avalon, which I've seen a few dozen times and which captures basically everything I feel about being a Jew and an American. Woody Allen, Philip Roth, and Neil Simon never spoke to me in the same way. These are some of the only Jews I've ever seen on screen that I recognized. The film has almost no narrative thread and is held together by major life events and Fourth of July and Thanksgiving celebrations, but it's still so perfectly executed and beautiful that I never tire of it. This trailer, containing mostly Randy Newman's amazing score, gives you a good idea:
Oh, Levinson also made Rain Man and Good Morning, Vietnam, so, y'know, he was good at making great movies that weren't autobiographical, too.
Then This Awful Thing Happened:
The 1992 disaster known as Toys. Picture Willy Wonka. Then make it a toy factory. Then kill Willy and give the factory to the guy who played the lesser Dumbledore, then have Robin Williams as son-of-Willy try to save the soul of the company. Or DON'T do that, because it's awful and looks like this:
Considering how much I love Levinson and most Levinson films, I tried really hard not to hate this. I failed. As hard as it is to believe, not even the comedic genius that is LL Cool J could save this movie! And while Robin Williams' nonstop mugging and riffing worked perfectly for films like Good Morning, Vietnam and Aladdin, here you're just kind of left to wonder if there shouldn't be some dialogue or something.
#1. Chris Cornell: One of the Most Talented Hard Rockers of All Time Sells Out Harder Than Any Whore in History
Now, I understand that many of you don't even accept the premise that Chris Cornell is one of the most talented hard rockers of all time. You don't accept Soundgarden as a '90s Led Zeppelin where Cornell could sing as well or better than Robert Plant and write as well as Jimmy Page. That's OK. I do. And then there's the work he did outside of Soundgarden, too, building a formidable collection of classics, from steam-powered metal like "Jesus Christ Pose" to plodding Sabbath-esque rockers like "Slaves and Bulldozers" to folk rock classics like "Preaching the End of the World" to sexy blues numbers like "All Night Thing" to one of my all-time favorite songs, "The Day I Tried to Live":
(Oh, by the way, notice how I didn't mention "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun"? Yeah, that's because those songs -- the only songs many detractors know -- are not very representative, but keep on singing "Black Hole Suuuuuuuun" as a clever response for why Soundgarden sucks. You'll also notice I didn't mention Audioslave, which I'll admit is pretty mediocre but for some shining moments, like "I Am the Highway.")
Anyway, there was a bunch of rock greatness ...
Then This Awful Thing Happened:
In 2009, Chris Cornell decided it would be a good idea to collaborate with Timbaland and release an awkward album of chilled overprogrammed pop bullshit. It's not just that it's poppy -- it's bad pop. This turd sounds like Cornell took "The Way" by Fastball, mixed it with "Smooth" by Rob Thomas and Santana, and then asked Timbaland to take a sequencer/canned drums dump all over it. The other amazing thing about this song and video is that it sometimes makes Rock Sex God Chris Cornell look like the least likely guy to get laid at a party.
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