Friday, May 30, 2008

Movie Wrap-Up


Farrah’s uncle Bruce is an actor. You’d know his face and voice in a second because he’s been in tons of Mormon church videos and he’s the voice of Adam in the temple video. At Christmas this last year, he was telling us about a movie he was in with Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Joan Allen and his big scene with Bates. I almost didn’t believe him, even though he’d have no reason to lie. The film was Bonneville and I’ve been waiting for it to get released in Denver so I could go and support him.

Well, his scene must have been cut because I only saw him in the background once. Not a super loss since the movie isn’t that good. It’s basically, these three woman (all playing Mormons) who go on a road trip from Pocatello to SoCal to deliver Lange’s dead husband’s ashes. The typical road trip shenanigans ensue.

The film brings nothing new to the road movie genre, but the actresses are all watchable and do what they can with the innocuous material. Allen plays the buttoned up Mormon who shutters at the sight of coffee and the sound of a curse word. Bates is the more rebellious Mormon, who drinks the coffee and says the curse words that make Allen cringe. Lange is never labeled a Mormon, but it’s assumed. It’s awkward hearing them try to act and sound like us. It doesn’t feel natural at all, especially to those of us who know the difference.

Apparently, this film sat on the shelf for a couple years. Not surprised as it basically feels like a church movie, all fuzzy and innocent. It isn’t terrible, but also isn’t memorable in any way.

Score: 4

Indiana Jones 4

In preparation for Indy, I rewatched the 3 prequels again. Most people grew up with that franchise, but not me. I’ve seen Raiders maybe 4 times, but once in the last 20 years. I only just saw Doom about 7 years ago and Crusade I haven’t seen since the theater. Classics like Back to School were more my steez. Raiders is a masterpiece, Doom is so horrible I can hardly even stand to sit through it, and Crusade was a solid ending and good fun. I went into Skull sure that I was about to see another Doom. Luckily, I was wrong.

The actual story is so ridiculous and nonsensical I won’t even begin to recap it. The bottom line is, the action kept me on the edge of my seat and it was a good time, more or less, from start to finish. It reminded me of the last Die Hard. Totally over the top, but good fun nonetheless. Harrison Ford has almost completely lost his mojo, and manages to lug and crank his way through this one. Luckily for him, but sadly for us, there is so much CGI that he’s practically a supporting player. Karen Allen is wonderful and seeing her again made me wish she was in more stuff. Shia was fine, a nice jolt of sarcasm.

A part of me felt a little ashamed of myself for going. I felt like such a lemming to Spielberg and Lucas. Those two tell the world it’s time to jump and we all oblige. I normally know better, but there wasn’t much else to see on Memorial Day. It doesn’t make it any easier that the story is so stupid. It even includes martians and spaceships. The skull itself looks like a clear plastic football stuffed with tin foil. Still, I had a good time and was glad I saw it on the big screen.

Score: 7


21 is another example where the book, Bringing Down The House, was WAY better. 21 is clearly a dumbed down, Hollywoodized version of a much grittier, dirtier story. But, that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It works fine on its own terms for what it is.

The biggest surprise was that Kevin Spacey didn’t make me want to punch him. I actually kind of liked him. He and Laurence Fishburne were really the only jolts of interest, since the rest of the cast are mostly faceless and forgettable.

They make breaking Vegas look so easy and it seems the only recourse is for the pit bosses to just beat the bejesus out of someone until they leave. It’s as if Santa had a posse of elves who went out and beat people who stopped believing in him into submission to keeping the secret to themselves. I hear Tom Cruise approaches his homosexuality in a similar fashion.

Score: 7

Friday, May 23, 2008

Live in Concert: The Cure 5/21/08

Hard to believe the Cure are still kicking. Their output may not be as vital as it once was, but they remain endearing to their fans and a touchstone of a very profound period in many people's lives. The awkward adolescence stage when you're trying to find yourself. Robert Smith was the poster child for that. They bridged the transition from listening to top 40 radio as a kid to venturing outside the lines as a young adult and deciding you liked it better out there.

I went in with a mental wish list of songs I wanted to hear. "Hot Hot Hot", "In Between Days", "Never Enough", "... Edge of the Deep Green Sea", "Disintegration", "The Walk" and "Fascination Street" all of which were played except for Street. It's such a bonus when you see a popular band with hours and hours of hits and they hit the ones you were hoping for. Much of the show remained in the murky, highly emotional hues of dark blues, greys, greens and blacks of the Disintegration and Wish years. They probably played half of the songs from those albums. That's the stuff I could listen to for days. Give me 8 minutes of a Cure tidal wave of melancholy and I'm feeling groovy. The good old hits were sprinkled in here and there to keep people on their toes.

They came back for 3 encores and the last two dove deeper into the catalog. The band was only a four piece (with some obviously prerecorded synth stuff happening) which stifled songs like "Why Can't I Be You" and "Close to Me" which rely so heavily on keyboards and horns. It wasn't the same hearing them recreated on the guitar. Too hard. But, it was perfect for the final encore all of which were hits from their first album. It began with "Boys Don't Cry", then "Jumping Someone Else's Train", "10:15 Saturday Night" and "Killing An Arab" as a closer. It summed up the night perfectly. Kick it off with where we are now, and end it with where we came from. Something for everybody.

My one complaint was that there needed to be big screens. Every big show has screens so everyone can see close-ups, but this didn't. We were on row 46, about 2/3 of the way in, but it still would have been nice to see Robert's face and check out his hair and make up.

Everyone should see one show at Red Rocks in their lives. It's the greatest venue in the world. Check out this clip of U2 there that you've all seen to get my meaning. The best part of the night was having Farrah with me. We never get to do stuff like that together. Either it isn't a band she wants to see, or it's too expensive, or the baby gets in the way. This time, we made it happen, we got a sitter and we found cheap tix and that made for a perfect evening. We also went with our friends, the Montroys, who graciously saved us a great seat. Doesn't get better than that.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #6: Klaus Nomi - st (1982)

Don't get too excited. I'm sure all of you run out and buy my recommendations as soon as you read them (how can you help yourself?), but wait a sec on this one. It's too weird for words.

Klaus was a performance artist in NY in the early 80s who was making a name for himself in the underground and gay clubs for his otherworldly shows and appearance. Decked out in a plastic tuxedo shaped like a V, kabuki make-up, black balding hair spiked up, and operatic voice, Nomi looked and acted like an alien plopped in the middle of Manhattan (by way of Germany) to observe the behavior and activities of earthlings. His shows got some buzz, record labels came calling, and then he died of AIDS in 1983, making him one of the very first entertainers to succumb to the disease.

His self-titled debut is a trip. With only one original song, it's mostly weird versions of standards we all know, but with his freak opera flag flying. Take his version of "The Twist" for instance. His version is slowed way down and run through the Flux Capacitor. "Lightning Strikes" and "You Don't Own Me" sound like those karaoke booths they used to have in the mall. Remember those? Imagine some smalltown wannabe who sings in the local choir coming to the mall in like '82 and recording a couple faves with the idea that he's going to mail them to some label and become a big star. That's what this sounds like. Only, it's for real! Klaus wasn't a wannabe, he was actually paid money to sing and act this way!

If you click on only one link from this, make it "Total Eclipse". Your jaw will hit the floor. Keep in mind, this plastic androgenous alien opera singer act was for real! I guess everyone has to have an angle and he had several. This clip is from the indispensible 1981 doc Urgh! A Music War. This priceless bit of music history should be required viewing for everyone everywhere, as it's a valuable peek into the styles and cultures of the early 80s. VH1 Classic plays it every few months, look for it.

I find this stuff fascinating. I'm not going to pop on Klaus Nomi very often, if ever, but I find the story and ideas mind blowing. Check out those links and see for yourself. Also, if you want to dig more, there's a pretty good doc film about him called Nomi Song that fleshes out the story. It's on Sundance every now and again.

The Nugget - "Total Eclipse". 99% of this stuff is just for the curious, but you may listen to "Total Eclipse" more than once. Have fun with this!

I Suck

This weekend is the Bolder Boulder and I’m not going to be there. Another goal unaccomplished.

I was doing well, following the schedule, making the sacrifices. Then it just caught up with me and now I’m finding myself a couple months behind on the training schedule with a growing sense that I’ve plateaued. It’s so frustrating to feel like you aren’t improving at all. I’m currently on the run 25 minutes section. Sounds easy enough, but it totally blows.

Part of the problem is that I need to find a good place to run that I enjoy. Currently, I either run on the treadmill or the track at the rec center and that track is really just the periphery of the basketball court, so it takes like 17 laps to run a mile. The goal now is to get to a point where running isn’t such a big deal. I have friends who feel so good after they’ve worked out. The stress is relieved, their heads are cleared. They even set aside large chunks of their Saturdays (and get up early WILLINGLY!) to get out there and hit it hard. Not me. If anything, the stress to keep going and not start walking is so great that it makes it hard to go. For me, it’s just a big anxiety attack.

I’m going to stick to the schedule and see where I end up. One of the issues with this program is that you’re meant to run 5 times a week, and I’m usually able to get out about 3. Maybe by next year I will have figured this out. It would be nice to be able to do 5-6 miles and have that become the norm or the minimum. Of course, I’ve had that goal for about 10 years now and the closest I got was like 3. This feels like one of those riddles that, if I could just crack it (like understanding the stock market or computers), my life would be simpler and more meaningful if, for no other reason, than I’ve tackled one of the truly crippling obstacles of my life.

One of my favorite quotes is “The things we want most in life are just beyond the things we’re most afraid of”. I’m doomed by this concept.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Live in Concert: The Von Bondies 5/19/08

It sucks when great bands don't get the pub they deserve. This seems especially true of the Von Bondies, who were on the brink of stardom when Jack White kicked lead singer Jason Stollsteimer's ass in a Detroit bar in 2004 and derailed them for good, killing any street cred along the way. Shame, since they could easily clean the White Stripes' clocks on dirty, groovy, Detroit garage rock.

See, Jack produced their first album and the two were friends, hometown homies. But, then the fight happened and photos circulated on the Interweb of Jason's bloody, swollen face. Jack's a God, let's face it. So, Jason looked like the biggest nerd in school at that point.

That was just as their last album, Pawn Shoppe Heart, was about to be released. That thing is a monster, and could have been the biggest thing since White Blood Cells. Instead, they managed one sorta hit in the perfect and infectious "C'Mon C'Mon" which is one of those songs you've heard somewhere before.

I managed to see them play a bowling alley the other night with about 50-70 in attendance. Man, these guys and gals deserve better. The word that keeps coming to mind is "greasy". Like the Stripes or Strokes deep fried in 10 lbs of lard. That garage rock boom that started and stopped a couple years ago was the perfect foray for their sound, but they should have, and may still, last longer. The show was loose. No set list. They played what they felt when they felt it. 15 or so songs packed in about 58 minutes. That is the perfect show in my book.

The band is two dudes and two chicks and the chicks rock. The bass player, Lauren something, is a mammoth on her instrument, yet she's as pert and cute as Christina Ricci with a chin. The other plays the fuzzed out rhythm guitar like she was in Black Sabbath. Can't remember her name, but she looks like a pint-sized Courtney Love. Like miles of heroin soaked highways are in her history. The guys bring it. The drummer is Asian. Multi-culti, eh?

Check these guys out. Give them a chance. They're so good.

You Know How I Know You're Gay? You're Bummed "Men In Trees" Got Cancelled

I thought I'd save you all the trouble of making fun of me by casting the first stone. Yes, I will admit now that I've been a closet MIT fan since episode 1 and will be broken hearted to see the show go away, even if it had turned into a jumbled mess of contrivance. I even stuck around for the multiple month gaps between new episodes, changes in days/times, and plot twists that skirted further and further away from logic.

The appeal of the show was in the ensemble cast. A friendly group of characters with good hearts and good intentions. Anne Heche, who is so divisive to most people, was one of the least interesting people on the show. I'll be sad to see them all go. Even though this second season had lead some of them astray (memory loss due to being struck by lightning, bar owner buys a bad hockey team and moves them to nowhere Elmo, Alaska, ex-hooker starts dating a minister who tries to practice abstinence), they were still a nice group of people to catch up with once a week just like they did as they gathered at the local bar, The Chieftain. Plus, I was still holding out hope that they'd bring Justine Bateman back. I still have a crush on her from her "Family Ties" days. She's aged beautifully.

The show was total comfort food. Just a nice, breezy 40 mins of fluff (once you've FF thru the commercials). It will be missed.

And, I guess I wasn't quick enough to save "Aliens In America". That got the axe too. Shame. Why does everything I love leave me? Stay tuned for a rant on how VH1 Classic has left me a widower.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #5: Billy Squier - "Don't Say No" (1981)

OK, so I'm using the term "lost" loosely here, since Don't Say No has sold a few million copies and continues to sell pretty well considering the enduring appeal of hits like "The Stroke", "In The Dark" and "Lonely Is The Night". What's lost is not the album, but the artist.

Billy Squier flat out rocks. All the bombast and wail of Led Zeppelin, but with the pop mentality of Journey or Def Leppard, Squier continues to be a misunderstood and under appreciated artist. There are many reasons for that. First, he hasn't released an album in 10 years, and he hasn't released one anyone cared about in closer to 25, making him somewhat of a mystery. Secondly, he put out this career demolishing video for 1984's "Rock Me Tonight" and alienated the majority of his fans. There had always been something not right about Billy. He seemed a little gay or asexual for a guy in the hard rock world and that video put people over the edge. He never recovered.

But, he also never recovered because his music was never as good. Now, less confused fans would have probably been more forgiving if not for the weird "is-he-gay-or-not" thing. Btw, I've been researching the answer to that and there's a lot of speculation out there that he is, but more evidence that he is not. Apparently, he got married recently, not that that is always the final word (Ted Haggard), but it helps.

So, consider Don't Say No not just his masterpiece, but also one of the legendary releases of the early 80s FM rock era. Every beat drives and every chord thrives. Aside from the almost unlistenable slow jam, "Nobody Knows", Don't Say No can walk proudly alongside the best Zeppelin had to offer and hasn't lost a single ounce of credibility in the 27 years since its release. Now, if we could just get Billy to find his mojo again. Last I saw, he was playing in Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band about 2 years ago. Not exactly the most prestigious gig in the world (Richard Marx was also in that iteration of Ringo's band, if that tells you anything).

Come back Billy. We won't say no.

The Nugget: "In The Dark". It remains a blood pumping hit and hasn't reached the overplayed status that "The Stroke" has.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Loser Boozer

Even with as poorly as Boozer’s been playing, it hasn’t directly affected the outcome of a game, necessarily. Not a big one anyway. The Jazz would just be in a better position to win some games if he played better. That all changed last night. The Jazz had a million chances to take over that game and put the Lakers’ backs against the wall and they couldn’t do it, in true Jazz fashion. And, Boozer was mostly to blame.

In a close game like that when you’re on the road in the playoffs with a chance to steal a big game you need your best players playing like they should. Boozer couldn’t do it. Odom ate his lunch on virtually every possession. I never realized how bad a defender he is until this series. He just isn’t quick enough to compete. And, he’s being too big of a puss offensively to make up for it. Notice how rarely he is dunking. Such a big strong guy who did it a lot during the season has only managed maybe one or two the entire playoffs. If the Jazz lose this series, and they probably will, the target should be squarely on his enormous forehead. He’s to blame, totally and completely.

Well, Korver deserves some blame too. He can’t hit a 3 and that’s his sole purpose for living. He’s something like 6 for 30 from downtown. Every time he throws one up I well up with hope and faith and then deflate with a thud feeling stupid because I should know better after he inevitably misses.

I was the sickest I’ve ever been watching a sporting event last night during that game. I wanted to throw up. Impulses would try to propel me into hysteria, cheering for my guys, but they could never unlock it. They just managed to disappoint like they always do. It sucks to be a Utah sports fan.

Iron Man: The Good and Bad News

First off, Iron Man was great. It's nearly as good as the last Batman and the second Spider-Man and that's due, mostly, to Robert Downey Jr. and Director John Favreau. Oh, and for sheer eye candy, Gwyneth, who looks beautiful and classy as she matures into an older woman.

RD Jr. was a unique, but perfect choice for the role. He's so charismatic and cool, he's one of the easiest and most enjoyable actors to watch work. It helps that the Iron Man costume completely obscures his face and image that way you aren't seeing the bottom of his face or his cod piece or his nipples. Plus, he's too cool for lame sound bytes or catch phrases. And John Favreau, as in Mikey from Swingers, keeps it all loose and tight and on the up and up. He never lets the quality drop, which helps his team maintain it as well.

Did you guys know you're supposed to stay through the credits? I didn't and missed the big reveal. Apparently, they introduce the potential next villain, Nick Fury. I know nothing about the comic books, so me knowing the name doesn't mean I know or care about who that is, but here's the bad news. I understand Nick Fury is/was played by Samuel L. Jackson! If you read a few postings down from here, you'll know my feelings for SLJ. I'm SO pissed! Why do we need him in another movie, a franchise no less. He may be fine and I believe that if the same team is on board it won't suck. But, it would be nice to have something not touched by the dirty, nasty, funky SLJ hands.
Score: 8

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Movie Wrap-Up

Smart People
It should be called Smartass People since no one really talks like this. Or else they do, but I’m not smart enough to be around them. Someone gets called a “misanthrope” in all seriousness, and people say “But, I digress” with straight faces. You know you’re watching characatures of smart people, or smart people that are created by not-as-smart people.

I was hoping to see a Woody Allen-like movie, or maybe something like the excellent Wonder Boys, but not even close. Dennis Quaid, one of the most likable actors around, severely overplays his underplaying and never sounds like he’s living in his role. Thomas Haden Church is a scene stealer, but never acts or reacts like normal people do. But, then again, these are Smart People, not Normal People. SJP is fine, as she’s the only one that seems the least bit natural.

Which brings us to Ellen Page, who is on the cusp of becoming the next Kevin Spacey. She’s recycling that Juno snarky sarcasm and comes dangerously close to self-parody. Everyone loved Kevin, until they realized the guy does the same arrogant prick in every movie and now he can barely get a job. Ellen needs to seriously change things up or else she’ll find herself in the same boat.

Score: 4

Drillbit Taylor
I’ve become a sucker for the Apatow name accompanying a movie, which seems to happen every other weekend these days. Most of them are a lot of fun. He’s pretty much outdoing Cameron Crowe these days. So, I hoped Drillbit Taylor would be mildly entertaining and that’s about as good as it got, mildly.

Honestly, the film is a nonsensical mess. Too bad it was written by Seth Rogan from a supposed scrapped idea by John Hughes. You’d think it would be a can’t miss. But, it doesn’t make much sense and is only occasionally funny. He’s homeless and duping some kids to make enough money to take off to Mexico or something. Does it matter? Not really.

For some reason, I give Owen Wilson a long leash. He doesn’t make very many good movies, but I still go and enjoy his attitude and screen presence. So, admittedly, I have a soft spot for junk like this, even if I hold out hope that it’s going to be better, knowing full well it never will be.

Score: 4

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Another Apatow film, this one is way better than Drillbit, but still a far cry from Knocked Up or 40-Year Old Virgin. The premise is so unoriginal, but what the movie accomplishes is making a star of Mila Kunis, the chick who makes forgetting Sarah easier. I’ve never watched That 70s Show before, so she was new to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes a star after this. I went in with a fat crush on Kristen Bell, but came out loving Mila.

So, the film pretty much follows the Apatow template. It’s inconsistently hilarious, overly long, full of heart, saggy in the middle, and totally enjoyable. Pound for pound, that’s still a better formula than 90% of what else is out there.

Score: 7

Baby Mama
30 Rock is the best sitcom on television and Tina Fey is on the cusp of major stardom, all of which shows there remains some glimpses of hope for this country. Unfortunately, Tina did not write Baby Mama and that’s a huge fact because the vehicle is beneath her. She should write her own movies.

Maybe it was the audience I saw it with, but there were several awkward silences, where you knew a moment of silence was included in the film so as to allow for the outburst of laughter. When they don’t happen, movies tend to sink fast. The editing should have been snappier, the tone more consistent, and the story more fleshed out. Tina plays a professional who, you know, would never bond with someone like Amy Poehler’s character, so that’s the first mistake. Then, there is the whole sneaky plot about whether or not the baby will actually belong to Tina. There’s even an unnecessary courtroom scene to determine it. Plus, they commit my cardinal sin but basing a whole subplot on something that could be cleared up if someone just told someone else something instead of keeping it a secret.

Everyone’s so likable that you forgive a lot, but it isn’t honestly that good.

Score: 5

Speed Racer
The one and only reason to see this is the one and only reason I went in the first place, to see amazing visuals on the big screen. It’s the most vibrant and colorful film I’ve ever seen, almost cartoonish. Actually not almost, more like flat out. But, there is nothing else to recommend. Even the visuals get old after a while. It should have been in 3D or something. Think of this as a modern day TRON. Beyond being cool to look at, was TRON any good? Not really.

Speaking of which, everyone’s skin looks flawless, certainly a preemptive strike against HD, which is what this movie was ultimately created for, no doubt.

There’s a whole subplot around corporate corruption that will be lost on the kids that see this. Be warned, this is almost entirely a kid’s movie. I was amazed the Wochawski (sp) brothers were even capable of writing such a thing, especially considering one of them is now a tranny.

I have to say, poor John Goodman. He appears to may have lost a couple pounds, but I still worry that he’s going to explode at any second. You can hear him breathing, he just doesn’t look well. Someone just get him on a treadmill, we don’t want to lose him.

Score: 3

Lost Gem of the 80s #4: Some Kind of Wonderful - Soundtrack (1986)

Hopefully, you've voted in the poll on the right. It's one of the most important questions of our generation. (I am shocked, SHOCKED, Ferris is in first and BC in last. I would have totally had that reversed). My vote went to Some Kind Of Wonderful, but when I think about why, I come back to the soundtrack. Much of my affection for the film comes from my appreciation for the mood and attitude created by the songs.

The soundtrack is a collection of songs by mostly underground bands you've probably never heard of. The biggest names are the Jesus and Mary Chain (oddly the most forgettable song on the album, though still a good one), and maybe Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks lead singer) and Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy (an early member of Duran Duran, and sort of successful solo artist), but only die hards would know who those two are. The beauty of the album is in the strength of the tunes. While they do sound unmistakably 80s, they also sound like the best the 80s underground had to offer. It manages to sound of its time, but never dated.

There was one modest hit in Flesh For Lulu's "I Go Crazy" which is still one of the greatest new wave singles of the era. Chances are you know it and don't know you know it. The rest are all mysteries with names like the March Violets, Furniture, Lick the Tins, and Apartments. It would be interesting to research each of their output beyond this soundtrack because all of it is solid. The Lick the Tins track is especially cool, a sort of Irish hootenanny version of "Can't Help Falling In Love". It starts with some Burumbi drums, then introduces one of those Irish whistles, and then the lead singer's baby girl voice. Before it ends, you get fiddles and a Pogues-like jam erupts. Genius. Another song, "Cry Like This" by Blue Room, sounds like an eerie version of "Lady In Red". That doesn't sound cool, but it is.

Sadly, two of the best songs in the film don't appear on the album for some reason. Both Propaganda's "Dr. Mabuse" and Charlie Sexton's "Beat's So Lonely" are missing. Shame since they would have complimented what is there wonderfully.

Still, this remains a near perfect sampler of 80s underground new wave. It deserves to sit in a time capsule for discovery by future generations.

The Nugget - "I Go Crazy". It's the hit that deserves to whet your appetite.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Please Watch Aliens In America

I just need to give a shout out to a great show that is totally off the radar. Aliens In America is on the CW on Sundays right after Everybody Hates Chris (another great ignored show). It gets poor ratings and is considered “on the bubble” to come back next season.

I’m sure that doesn’t mean much to any of you because almost no one watches it, but it’s a great show, very funny and real and subtle and deserves a bigger audience. It’s very much in the same vein as Wonder Years, in that it’s about awkward adolescence, simple humanity, has no laugh track, is narrated by the main character, and it isn’t filmed on a sound stage.

It’s basically the story of nerdy high schooler, Justin Tolchuk, and his life and family in suburban Wisconsin. His parents are nice and loving, but goofy, and his sister is younger and hot and popular. His parents decide to try and broaden their kids horizons and agree to take in an exchange student, only to find out he’s from Pakistan. This is the source for a lot of great comedy, but the show is never one-note and it’s only one of many story lines they glean for laughs.

To best appreciate it, I would seek out the pilot. Maybe you can view it online. If not, set your DVRs and give it a couple weeks. Admittedly, even with as much as I like it, I often forget how much until I’m actually watching it. So, try it more than once. Chances are you’ll smile a lot.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I Liked That Song The First Hundred Times I Heard It

Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Walken have become parodies of themselves. They’re the acting equivalent of that song you liked the first few times you heard it and now you can’t stand it because you’ve heard it so much. You know what they are, they’re the human version of “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. Remember how novel that was at first? Now, does it even register with anyone anymore? No way. Ask yourself this, if an actor appears in everything, does their presence still mean anything? The answer is no.

While both have appeared in many hits, neither has anchored a hit by themselves for years, if ever. For SLJ, since 2000, he’s only anchored two hits, both modest (Coach Carter and Unbreakable and those are pushing it), while sinking several (Snakes On A Plane, Shaft, The Man, Formula 51, the list is endless). CW gave up headlining a film decades ago, in favor of lending his shtick to every project that would pay him. The guy averages 4 films a year. Four! And he’s the same in almost every one. Do people still find that fresh or funny? SLJ is even worse, averaging 5!! Their presence has become so ubiquitous that seeing Matt Lauer every morning carries more anticipation.

Why do film investors think having their names attached to something means better box office? Or, artistic acclaim for that matter? Neither of them have that kind of pull. And, what they do bring to a film is so marginal. We get it, Sam is going to act righteous and Chris is going to act twitchy and isn’t that funny for the millionth time. Is their something comforting about them that I’m missing? For instance, Alec Baldwin seems to have a hard time saying no to scripts these days too, but having him in something has come to be a reason TO see it, not to stay away. Do SLJ and CW engender similar feelings in film goers and I’m just not aware of it? If so, tell me the last time you went to a movie to see them? Wedding Crashers, Star Wars, Hairspray, and The Incredibles don’t count. No one saw those because of either of these clowns.

Like any artist that won’t go away (Elvis Costello, I’m looking at you) overload weakens your status and makes you invisible to consumers. If either of them took a year (or two) off and then came back with a juicy role in a good film, they may be able to revive their credibility. It may even become an event to see them act again. For now, they’re obviously collecting paychecks and they do it at our expense. Let us miss you, please! Now go away!

Dora's Negative Influence

Georgia will only watch two shows on TV, Pardon The Interruption (bless her) and Dora, and PTI she gives up on shortly after it starts. While I’m pleased she isn’t yet the TV addict her parents are, I sometimes wish it was a different program that caught her attention.

I know it means well, but I can’t help but feel like Dora is a subtle way of nationalizing illegal immigrants, sort of like when you have to choose English at the ATM. Seems innocent enough, but the fact that it’s there sheds some light on the annoying and infuriating reasons for its existence.

I don’t want them to be accommodated, I want them to LEAVE! I don’t subscribe to this “we’re all immigrants” philosophy and, crazy as it sounds, I worry that we’re at the beginning stages of letting our culture and quality of life get away from us. We’re basically handing it over. Eventually, they aren’t all going to be custodians and landscapers and burger flippers, they’re going to be in positions of power. That’s already starting to happen, and that’s great and better than the alternative, but pretty soon Americans will be the minorities in this country and by the time we see it, it’ll be too late.

Because money is what motivates this issue, it could also easily be the solution. If the government were to heavily fine employers who give undocumented workers jobs, they would stop. Once it became more expensive to keep them than to let them go, they would be gone. But, this doesn’t happen because, I believe, there is collusion going on behind the scenes. Politicians know it annoys most of us, but they’re totally influenced by money and lobbyists and big business so they can give us the lip service without actually being proactive about solving the problem because not solving it is in their (and their investors) best interest.

Now, I have no problem with legal immigrants. Just follow the rules, is all we ask. Consider, however, what the Mexican financial infrastructure would be like if all these industrious, hard working Nationals stayed put and built up their own country. They wouldn’t need to come here for a “better life”.

And I get that they do the jobs Americans won't do, at least not for better pay. I've resigned myself to that fact. But, one reason for that may be the stigma attached to such jobs. They now seem beneath most of us. That shouldn't be the case, but it is. Plus, don't we have enough workers in this country for our needs by now? With the housing market in the toilet, couldn't all those guys who were building houses and yards, now go do something else? What if they worked for Waste Management by separating our recyclables from the rest of our garbage, since most of us are too lazy to do it. That would be a noble endeavour at least. Actually, I've never understood why that isn't already a marketable skill.
I'm looking forward to voting for Mr. Obama (hopefully) in November, but this is one topic where he and I differ. In fact, we differ enough to almost make me want to vote for Hilary, but not quite. I'm not there... yet. Unfortunately, she has that unattractive quality that Al Gore had that caused me to vote for W that election. Of course, I've been regretting that move ever since.

So, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I say Cinco de MY ASS!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Flushed Down The Johns

A coworker and I were recently casting the movie of our office. There’s the guy that’s built like Brad Pitt, there’s the guy that’s short and dark like Tom Cruise, there’s the big bald guy like Vin Diesel, there’s the attractive working mom like Jennifer Garner, etc. When casting myself, the first and only name I could think of or want was John Cusack. I feel like I grew up with him and, based on some of his films, we seem to share similar tastes and sensibilities.

But, then I reflected on what John’s given us the last 10 years or so and I realized he may promote himself as the left-of-center thinking man’s (and woman’s) movie star, but he’s really as full of crap as the next guy. How can someone feel he deserves some some street-cred and then go on to star in Must Love Dogs, Martain Child, and Serendipity? John Cusack doesn’t even make movies that “John Cusack” would go to anymore.

There have been the occasional bright spot. Ice Harvest was great, but ignored. Being John Malkovich is an obvious classic, but I forget he’s even in it. I had to go back to 1994 to find two good and challenging roles in a row (The Road To Wellville and Bullets Over Broadway, both ensemble pieces (hint)). Instead, I see dreck like America’s Sweethearts and Pushing Tin.

Ok, I’m sure all of you are wondering why I would skip High Fidelity, since it’s such my kind of movie. Good point. I’m realizing HF is not aging well and I have a hard time even watching it now, after it was among my all-time faves upon its release. He just talks to the camera the whole time?! Plus, his character isn’t likable and seems to act selfishly and illogically a lot. The scene where he finds out his #1 married her childhood sweetheart makes me cringe every time now. Yes, it’s good and a definite highlight comparatively. But, it’s not as great as we thought it was when it came out.

John seems to still be coasting on the goodwill afforded him from his 80s work, specifically Say Anything, Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, and The Sure Thing. Back then he embodied the every-teenager and seemed to represent all of us on screen, whether we were cool or not. He was normal looking, normal acting, smart, had good taste, funny, and seemed vulnerable at the same time. Now, he’s a bloated, pasty bore who can’t make up his mind what color to dye his hair to hide the grey. I’m serious on this. Most of the time it’s black, but in the right light, like on his episode of Inside The Actors Studio (yawn), it’s a sort of cherrywood brown. It looks like he uses the same box of Clairol Paul McCartney is into these days. Plus, does he only wear black now?

And, honestly, he isn’t much of an actor. He has no range. It spans from “normal guy obsessed with a woman” to “normal guy obsessed with death”. Even when he does try to act, like in 1408, he’s hard to even look at. That movie was terrible.

His new movie is called War Inc. and he says it’s sort of “punk rock” Hmm, a punk rock war movie from a total sell-out, sounds riveting! Good luck, buddy. We love you, but we aren’t buying this act anymore.

Which brings me to the biggest sell-out of all-time: Johnny Depp. Oh man, does this guy work the most perfect con ever. He says he is anti-establishment, yet has no problem allowing his likeness to appear on Happy Meal boxes. He claims he only did acting to support himself while his band tried to get signed. Where’s that band now, John? Obviously, taking a backseat to pirate movies. He says he agreed to do the Pirates almost "as a joke", but he likes cashing $20 million paychecks as much as the next guy. He says he doesn’t want to sell himself on his looks, but he doesn’t think of that when he poses for the cover of countless magazines, including Rolling Stone like 3 or 4 times in the last 4 years. Of course, Rolling Stone is to hard news what Johnny is to rebellion – a total poser. Plus, how gay is that cover photo! These guys are nihilists?

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good actor. I would have given him the Oscar for the first Pirates, even if Finding Neverland and Sweeney Todd were boring mush. I’m just not buying this BS anymore. Put the necklaces and bracelets down, take a shower, and come clean. You’re a total poser and you know it.

Tune in next time for the second installment of “Actors who were once cool, but now are only mugging, clowning shells of their former selves” starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.

Lost Gem Of The 80s #3: Brian Setzer - "The Knife Feels Like Justice" (1986)

Never one to let a trend pass him by, Brian Setzer’s first post-Stray Cats solo album touched on the heartland rock he saw acts like Bruce Springsteen, REM, and U2 (and to a lesser extent, The Alarm and John Fogerty) making boatloads of money on; singing about the trials and travails of the American West. So, he traded in the rock-a-billy of the Cats for the jangly, Byrds-y guitars and earnestness of that same Farm Aid-ish 80s politics that was the style of the day. Knife finds him in a weird holding pattern (he would breakout the Brian Setzer Orchestra about 7 years later and reunite woth the Cats off and on), looking for a new identity (or muse, to be honest) to hook himself to. He would never go back to this sound again.

Knife straddles a fine line between curio and legit release. So, you can ask yourself, “after hearing it once out of curiosity, is it worth putting on again?” The answer is yes. It isn’t groundbreaking and it doesn’t compare to all the similar albums of the era, but the songs are strong and Setzer’s a pro no matter what genre he tries out.

A scan of the tracklist will tip you off to what you’re in for with titles like “Haunted River” (check out the pompi-mullet, not to mention the out-of-his-mind guitar playing), “Radiation Ranch”, “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”, and especially the title track. And, can you guess who the “Three Guys” are of the song by the same name? Yep, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, “three guys I like the most”. Huh? Brian Setzer is saying this? What happened to “Sexy + 17” or “Rumble In Brighton”? He traded in the Cadillacs for songs about “outlaws”, “raging storms” and “blood and whiskey” running through the veins.

The album is pretty hard to find, but it’s a good one.
The Nugget - "The Knife Feels Like Justice". It was the single and still sounds like a barn burner. Plus, Brian channels his inner Peter Buck, which is always good. "Haunted River" is also excellent.