Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two (Review)

We want the performance. We don’t want the performer. We want the art. We don’t want the artist. It makes us uncomfortable. It’s easier, far easier, to laud the results of genius but ignore the often flawed process.

That is until someone lets us see the process. If done the right way, their confession draws us closer. Enter Netflix’s documentary on the creative process of one Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, “Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two.”

Gaga, as everyone calls her, has created a public persona that is as much performance art as her music. That makes it hard to separate the performance from the truth. Maybe she isn’t always sure herself. Where does the persona of Lady Gaga end and the individual begin?

Anything as aggressively billed as “authentic” as Five Foot Two leaves the viewer questioning what is truth versus what Gaga wants us to think is truth. In the end, isn’t that what we’re all doing?

Gaga’s process is meticulous. She thinks about details, like how the fit of a sleeve will affect a mid-performance costume change. She wants us to be moved, and expresses confidence in her ability to so. She knows she’s immensely talented, and she isn’t afraid to take big swings, even if she strikes out.

At the same time, she isn’t nearly as confident as she would have us believe. Here’s an example. She desperately wants her grandmother to be as moved by a song she wrote about her aunt as she is herself. It’s not clear that she was successful.

She has a chip on her shoulder about the music industry. It’s not clear that she can really get past the fact the Madonna finds her derivative. She holds a grudge or two against unnamed music industry players. She shouldn’t care. She knows that. But here we are.

She takes us to the doctor with her. She’s shows us her physical pain. Everyone can demonstrate physical pain, and no one who’s been a dance performer for more than a few years has a normal body. She’s in more pain than most even taking that into account.

That alone wouldn’t draw us closer, but combined with the candid moments of emotional vulnerability, we get to see an artist who wants to move us and will do whatever it takes to do so. That’s what makes for a compelling documentary.

For the first track of her album, Joanne, Gaga wrote, “I might not be flawless, but you know I’ve got a diamond heart.” In Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two, she shows us the truth in that statement.

You might like Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two if: You are intrigued by the creative process.

You might not like Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two if: Inside show biz documentaries, even well made ones, put you to sleep.

(C) 2017 D.G. McCabe

Dispatches from the Frozen Land: Prince and Making a Cultural Crossroads


One could make an argument that three of the top ten albums of the 1980’s are Prince records (1999, The Purple Rain Soundtrack, Sign o’ the Times).  No small feat.  Today, on the first anniversary of his death, much ink will be spilled (or pixels generated) on the impact of his life and music.  Interestingly enough, my thoughts today turn not to this legend of popular art, but to the city and state that he loved.

Minneapolis, and to a lesser extent the state of Minnesota as a whole, exists at a cultural crossroads.  For someone who’s understanding of this part of the country comes mostly from watching Fargo (1996), that might seem like an odd statement.  After all, we typically equate terms like “cultural crossroads” to more diverse, global cities like New York and London.  

Sure, the state of Minnesota is at once western, midwestern, and northern. That would be something, except the “we’re in three regions” argument falls flat when you consider that the same thing can be said of Texas and California.  The cultural cache of those states needs no long explanation: its engrained in the American psyche. 

So what am I talking about and what does this have to do with Prince? After all, can one artist make such an impact that we can change the entire categorization of a city or state in the cultural mindset of America? Why not?

The Coen Brothers once lovingly described The Twin Cities as “Siberia with family restaurants.” Due respect to Joel and Ethan, groundbreaking artists in their own right, maybe that describes the St. Louis Park of their childhood, but it doesn’t describe where I’ve lived for two years.  Here there are thriving theater, music, art, and brewery scenes, not just quirky folks with flappy hats.

I’ll admit, there is a tension here that shouldn’t be ignored. The old Minnesota is still with us, and sometimes it doesn’t really get along with the new Minnesota, Prince’s Minnesota. That’s a shame, since he was a figure that could unite the old and the new and bring out the best in both. 

The question remains, do we build on that legacy, or do we retreat into comfortable nostalgia? That’s up to us. But for today, let’s just listen to the music and see where it takes us.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe 

Author’s note: I’ve been toying with the idea of this column for a long time, but I don’t want to jinx it with my “first in a series” kiss of death. Still, I like the idea and will return to it from time to time.

Reflections on a Thursday in Minneapolis When Prince Left the Stage for the Last Time

Earlier today I was running behind schedule.  I had to visit three different parking garages to find a place to beach my car, navigate the Minneapolis skyway in order to avoid the rain falling outside, and find the location of my meeting in a non-descript office building.  So when I heard that Prince Rogers Nelson had passed away suddenly in his studio at the age of 57, I had just finished cursing the city that he loved so well.

It would be disingenuous to say that I’m a fan of Prince’s music.  Don’t get me wrong, I certainly appreciate his personality, style, artistry, and influence, and I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t.  I was busy with such mundane tasks as learning how to walk, feed, and dress myself during the peak of his popularity in the 80’s, and I didn’t grow up in Minnesota.  In fact, I have trouble recalling any of his songs from memory save the chorus from “1999.”

There are two ways to appreciate creativity.  The first is to appreciate the art itself.  It pains me to admit that really appreciating Prince’s music remains on my to-do list.  Fortunately, there is a second way to appreciate art, and that’s by appreciating the footprint of the art – the impact that the art and the artist’s very existence make upon their peers, their community, and their chosen craft.

“They” might tell you a couple of things.  The Twin Cities are a boring Midwestern way-station.  The genres of American popular music can’t be fused together without sounding incoherent.  You can’t fight city hall.  You can’t transcend traditional definitions of masculine style without making people uncomfortable.

“They” are wrong.  The Twin Cities are a vibrant and exciting community, home to the “Minneapolis Sound” and the most theaters per capita outside of New York City.  The genres of American popular music can be deconstructed and reconstructed at will.  One artist can stand up to the stuffed suits of his industry and win.  Traditional gender roles are false barriers.  Do you know why I know this?  Because I lived in a time when a man in purple made us see this for the truth that it is.

It’s been raining all day, but the sun is starting to break through the clouds.  And so, too soon, ends a story that parents should teach their children.  That one man can make a difference.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

David Bowie (1947-2016)

What is art?  Better still, who is the artist?  Is he Major Tom, floating out into space?  Ziggy Stardust, bringing us hope at a time of despair?  A Thin White Duke?  A Man in Berlin?  A Rebel? A Tin Machine?  Lazarus? Or is he just David Bowie?

To say Bowie is gone is like saying Picasso is gone.  The artist always remains.  He remains in the orchestra interpreting The Planets Suite.  She remains in adaptations of her tales of the English countryside.  He or she even remains in the cave paintings of Lascaux.

If you have the chance today, take a listen to Bowie’s last album, “Blackstar.”  Here, he uses his impending end as an opportunity to inspire us one last time.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

2015 Year in Review

Well we’re down to the last few hours of 2015.  It’s been an interesting year in Hollywood. Some movies and TV shows were good, some were the second season of True Detective.  Anyway, let’s get moving with our annual tradition:

2015 Was a Good Year to Be:

1) Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer had a good year.  A really good year.  Her Comedy Central series has been popular for a couple of years, but this year she became a movie star and got an HBO special.  It certainly hasn’t been perfect, but no one on this list had a perfect year.

2) Netflix

Sure Amazon and Hulu have arguably better content.  Sure there have been a few flops among its original programming.  But when Netflix hits on an original show, it changes the conversation on how we consume media.  And 2015 was its best year so far, with strong debuts (Master of None, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Daredevil, Jessica Jones) sitting alongside proven properties (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards).

3) Disney

The Empire of the Mouse is once again on our list.  Three of the top five movies of the year (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Inside Out, and Avengers: Age of Ultron) were made by Disney.  Ant-Man and Cinderella outperformed expectations.  Daredevil and Jessica Jones were well received on Netflix.  Although the ratings on ABC aren’t what they used to be, it still has strong performers in Scandal, Modern Family, and How to Get Away with Murder.  The only negative for Team Mickey?  Tomorrowland was an embarrassing flop.

2015 Was a Bad Year to Be:

1) Adam Sandler

With the box office flop of Pixels and the failure of his Netflix series to do anything except anger people, can Mr. Sandler finally retire to enjoy his giant pile of money and stop bothering us?

2) Josh Trank

He directed the worst comic book adaptation in years (Fantastic Four) and got fired from directing a Star Wars movie before a script was even done.  Full stop.

3) The DC Cinematic Universe

Has anyone seen the Batman v. Superman trailers and said, “Wow, that doesn’t look like hot dumpster fire at all!”?  It’s good that the DC Television Universe is already well received, so maybe Warner Brothers can blow everything up in one of their infamous “Crisis” events and start over.

Best Movies

1) Best Blockbuster – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

2) Best Artistic Movie – Brooklyn

3) Best Animated Movie – Inside Out

Dispatches from the Great Ale House in the Sky

The King is playing for us tonight, as in B.B. King.  His blues guitar sets the mood for our patrons this evening, and what a crowd it is.  In the front row is James Horner, getting ideas for his next great score.  Near the back, Maureen O’Hara and Omar Sharif look around and see a dozen of the other Golden Age leading actors.  Both think on the fact that there aren’t many more coming to join them.

Meanwhile, at the bar Christopher Lee and Wes Craven are comparing notes on how to terrify people.  They consider coming back as actual ghosts to haunt a house or two, but decide against it.  The King’s blues are just too smooth to leave.

At a window booth, Fred Thompson is having a good chat with Ronald Reagan on the pros and cons of leaving Hollywood to become a politician.  In the end, the conversation is a bit silly since there are no politics in the Great Ale House in the Sky.

Conspicuously absent tonight is Leonard Nimoy.  He’s busy exploring the galaxy with chief medical officer DeForest Kelley and chief engineer James Doohan.

Live long and prosper everyone.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe


2015 Oscar Nominations – Snap Reactions

Here are my initial thoughts on this morning’s announcement:

  • I wonder if American Sniper would have gotten its nominations if it had been released in, say, April.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on its merits, but it hasn’t gotten a lot of buzz from the other award groups (the HFP shut it out of the Golden Globes).
  • Ditto the Lego Movie, on the opposite.  If it were an April release instead of a January/February release, that’s how it gets nominated.
  • Selma was shut out of the acting and directing categories.  Again, I haven’t seen it yet, but this seems odd given the accolades it’s getting (it’s astronomical on Rotten Tomatoes), this puzzles me.  The Academy hasn’t lost its taste for portrayals of historical figures (see well deserved nominations for Redmayne and Cumberbatch).
  • The Best Actor category is wide-wide open.
  • Best Picture is an interesting one this year, but Boyhood has a ton of momentum.

Anyway with the Golden Globes behind us, the next real Oscar bell-weather is the SAG awards on the 25th.  We should get some information as to potential winners then.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

Video Game Preservation Week – NES Games

And so it’s come to this – Video Game Preservation week.  Video games have come a long way throughout their history and now run the gamut from mildly amusing time wasters (see Saga, Candy Crush) to epic visual experiences with the production values of Hollywood movies.

Are video games an artform worthy of preservation?  For the next seven days, I’ll be publishing articles that justify a resounding “yes” as an answer to that question.  Today, we’re going to start with this:

The beloved Nintendo Entertainment System.  Behold its glory.  Many of us have fond memories of spending hours of our youth playing video games on this guy, but were those games art worthy of preservation?  Yes they are – and here are five reasons why:

1)The NES and the Video Game Renaissance

The NES saved the very concept of video games from oblivion.

In the 1970’s, video game consoles first found their way into our living rooms.  There wasn’t a lot you could do with the technology at the time, but Missile Command, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and other arcade favorites were there.  Unfortunately, so were hundreds of awful games.  The final nail in the coffin of this era of gaming was the ET game for Atari 2600 in 1982 – millions of which were buried in the middle of the desert (or so the legends say).

Nintendo saved video games by maintaining strict quality controls, pioneering character based gaming, and marketing itself, at least at first, as an “entertainment system” and not as a “video game console.”  Operating in a commercial vacuum didn’t hurt either.

Now that we made the case for the machine, let’s look at some of the games:

2) Storytelling – The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Crystalis

We have started to expect plot and character development in our video games, but when we first experienced these concepts, it was absolutely incredible.  The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy have become video game phenomenon with every additional version, but I think it was little-known Crystalis that may have had the best story of any NES game.

3) Social Experiences – Blades of Steel, Tecmo Super Bowl, Super Mario Brothers 3

Early video games had two player modes, but they were too limited and repetitive to provide much re-play value after a few sittings.  Several NES games changed this dynamic.  I think the best part about Super Mario 3 was the cooperative two player mode, and Tecmo Super Bowl allowed us to play through a real NFL season for the first time.  Blades of Steel wasn’t as complex as those games, but it was just as much fun.

4) Insane Difficulty – Mega Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Contra

We’ve gotten away from intense and unfair difficulty in video games, but this makes these old NES games all the more interesting to me.  I’m not saying we should bring back ridiculously hard obstacles (the TMNT water level, having to fight Elec Man for the second time, or having to use the Konami Code just to get to level 2), but these games have their own special place in video game history.

5)  Creativity – Metroid, Punch-Out, Kirby’s Adventure

More quality control meant that the NES could push the envelope on creativity, as developers were no longer encourages to just churn out crap.  Metroid could have been a lot less interesting, Punch-Out a lot less colorful, and Kirby’s Adventure could have phoned it in as one of the last games on the NES.  Fortunately, none of these things happened.

There are dozens of classic games that I didn’t mention here, all worthy of preservation for their own reasons.  What do you think?

(c) 2014 D. G. McCabe