Intensities in Ten Suburbs

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Archive for February, 2007

TV O.D. : The Black Donnellys

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 28, 2007

Between Heroes, Friday Night Lights and the Comedy Night Done Right lineup, NBC has officially become my network of choice among the big four, replacing FOX’s golden boy status. And whereas my love of all things FOX persuaded me to take my chances with some iffy newbies during their ’04-’05 golden age, NBC’s winning streak gave me cause to check out the pilot of The Black Donnellys, NBC’s new drama focusing on four brothers (they’re not actually black, they’re Black Irish, like Thin Lizzy. No, wait…) coming of age or something in the seedy Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. And yeah, it also happens to be written by Oscar winning scribe of Crash and Million Dollar Baby, Paul Haggis.

Haggis is not a man who fears the cliche. In the first fifteen minutes alone, you’ve already got references, conscious or unconscious, to about a half-dozen different movies (ones about crime, growing up in New York, or just about being Irish). In fact, Donnellys begins with an almost completely unnecessary flashback sequence featuring the Donnellys as kids, supposedly there to show the event that made lead badboy Jimmy Donnelly who he was (his leg got run over and now he walks kinda funny! OMG!) but really just there to echo the kids-before-they-were-badasses scenes in A Bronx Tale, Goodfellas and above all, Sleepers, which was also about four kids growing up as petty criminals in Hell’s Kitchen, and even starred Jonathan Tucker, now present as protagonist Tommy Donnelly.

Tommy is the only one of the Donnellys who has aspirations beyond the New York crime world, studying to be an artist (possibly at NYU–he’s seen at one point walking across Washington Square with a girl, talking about Blow Up). But alas, Tommy cares a little too much about his brothers, and when they start fucking with some higher ups, he can’t help himself from jumping back into their world to save them. Tommy’s transformation from family peace-keeper to Michael Corleone seems way too fast way too soon–the show’s principal conflict, at least as pitched by the previews, was Tommy’s struggle to keep himself decent without abandoning his family, and by the time the bodies start to pile up by the end of the episode, it seems like he’s pretty well cast his lot.

Another conflict which seems like it should have been kept in the background for at least a few episodes longer is Tommy’s love for Jenny Reilly, the unrequited paramour of his youth and adolescence. By the end of the episode, Jenny, played by Olivia Wilde (who will forever be known as the chick Mischa Barton hooks up with for a few memorable episodes of The O.C.) had already confessed her love for Tommy, leaving him dumbfounded. If their long-term unspoken love had been given a few episodes to simmer, it might mean something, as such, this half-hearted declaration of love just feels underwhelming.

The one thing about the show that demonstrates promise–besides the always-interesting function of the unreliable narrator, provided here by neighborhood friend Joey Ice Cream under the premise of a police interrogation–is the finale, in which Tommy takes out a trio of high-power New York mob figures in an attempt to protect his brother from his imminent assassination. Set to the risingly anthemic strains of Snow Patrol’s “Open Your Eyes” (thus establishing SP as THE go-to band for TV climaxes, here’s hoping this is as big a hit as “Chasing Cars”), the show demonstrates the directorial verve and actual edge badly missing from the rest of the episode, and hopefully provides more of a taste of things to come.

Even this scene, though, is plagued by mob movie past, clearly echoing The Godfather, down to the presence of a McLusky-esque crooked cop. Ultimately, there’s really just nothing fresh about The Black Donnellys whatsoever–the family and cultural dynamic is nothing new (basically amounting to “brothers love each other unconditionally,” and “Irish people really like drinking”), the humor is forced (Joey Ice Cream says he spent all night with a lady who wouldn’t stop and GUESS WHAT HE WAS ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT HIS NAGGING MOTHER!!) and as a network TV show, just about every sentence without cursing feels insincere (the one thing, besides mob dudes, that all the movies mentioned thusfar have in common).

The Black Donnellys is blessed with a great time slot (10:00 on Mondays, right after Heroes, one of the hottest and best shows on TV right now), so it’ll probably get a few weeks’ clemency to try to pick up steam and viewers–apparently the first half was watched by a respectable if unspectacular 10 million viewers, but about four million of those had tuned out by the second half. And though I’m not willing to completely rule out the possibility that it could get its footing by then, unless they turn things around real quick, it looks like NBC’s winning streak might be nearing its end.

Advertisements

Posted in TV O.D. | 2 Comments »

The GDB Essentials: 100 Years, 100 Songs

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 27, 2007

Sometimes ten just ain’t enough

I’ve decided to introduce a regular column to this blog, which will be the counting down of my choices for the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time. These will be counted down one song-per-post at a time, in no faster a rate than two a week, meaning I’ll probably finish sometime around March of next year. I’m aware of how presumptuous this pacing is, as it assumes that:

  1. I’ll still have the same exact opinions in a year that I do now
  2. I’ll still be updating this blog regularly in a year
  3. I’ll still be alive at all in a year

But for now, at least, I’m gonna assume that these three assumptions will not provide too much of an obstacle.

Equally, I am aware how presumptuous it is to assume that I know what the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time are, much less to be able to do them justice in countdown form. And in fairness, I am not saying that these are, on an objective scale, the 100 most worthy songs ever written by anyone. However, I’m also not saying that these are necessarily my 100 favorite songs of all-time (though at the very least, I absolutely love every one of them). Rather, these are just the songs that I think are the 100 best ever.

The difference between a critic’s favorite songs and what he thinks are the best, or whether there in fact is a difference at all, is a tricky thing to quantify. Many, many critics insist that no such difference exists, and that if a song is your favorite, you automatically think it’s the best song ever, and to say anything else is hypocritical or dishonest. Others insist that they can be objective enough to separate the two distinctions. The divide between these two groups is often as extreme as that between Red States and Blue States, and hostility between the two factions can be just as bilious.

Honestly, I think both groups are right. It’s unreasonable to assume that there are any objective criteria by which a song can be rated aside from your own personal enjoyment of it, and yet, could I ever really rate Eamon’s “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)” on an all-time best songs list over a song like Split Enz’s “I Got You” just because the former puts a bigger smile on my face? Probably not, because my experiences with the former are so personal, and have so much more to do with what the song represents than with the song itself. So I really don’t think it’s that simple.

In this list, I tended to skew slightly away from the personal favorites and more towards the important and paradigmatic. That’s not to say that I threw myself out completely–believe me, there are plenty of songs here that virtually no other writer would list as one of the 100 greatest songs ever–but this list is all about greatness, and there are some songs that despite my having much love for, I just don’t think exist on the same plane as the other songs mentioned.
Speaking of which, 100 songs really isn’t that much when you consider that I’m dealing with about 50 years of music (I think the oldest song on the list is from ’57)–meaning that on average, an entire year of tunes should only be represented by two tunes. Of course it doesn’t work out quite like that–the 80s and 90s are probably far more represented than any other decade here (sorry, I’m only human)–but nonetheless, there are plenty of amazing songs and artists from all decades that I was forced to exclude. This includes the following list of artists and songs, some of which I didn’t include because I felt my love for them was too personal, some of which I didn’t include because I forgot about them until now (I deliberately did this list without consulting my vast supply of previous Best Songs of _______ lists, and it’s too late to turning back now), and the great majority of which I didn’t include just because, well, I just didn’t have room:

The All-American Rejects’ “Move Along,” The Arcade Fire, Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr., Prince, Art of Noise, Pink Floyd, Blur, Pulp, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Folk Implosion’s “Natural One,” The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Posies’ “Burn & Shine,” Fall Out Boy, The Prodigy, The Future Sound of London, The Tornadoes’ “Telstar,” Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” The Human League, En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind,” James Brown, 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Electric Light Orchestra, Bob Seger, Bryan Adams, The Ronnettes, Peter Gabriel, Newcleus’s “Jam On It,” The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, The Orb, Ron Grainer’s “Dr. Who Theme,” The KLF, Avril Lavigne, Extreme’s “More Than Words,” Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike,” Everclear’s “Santa Monica,” Green Day, the Beastie Boys, 2Pac, the New Radicals, the cocteau Twins, Jimi Hendrix, Split Enz’s “I Got You” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Broken Social Scene, Lilys, Ash, Third Eye Blind, the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” and Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing,” Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock’s “It Takes Two,” The Delfonics, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Iggy Pop solo and with The Stooges, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, the Jackson Five, The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child,” Elliot Smith’s “Needle in the Hay,” The Yardbirds, Acen, Shy FX’s “Original Nuttah,” Roni Size, Violent Femmes, “Spirit in the Sky” by both Norman Greenbaum and Doctor + the Medics, Manic Street Preachers, dNTEL’s “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan” and The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” The Field Mice, Public Image Ltd., The Ramones, The Diplomats or any Diplomats solo artists, Guided By Voices, Harry Nilsson, Massive Attack, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps’ “6 Underground,” Brian Eno, Oval’s “Do While,” The Eagles or any Eagles solo artists, KoRn, The Sundays’ “Here’s Where the Story Ends,” N.W.A., Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks,” Blow Monkeys’ “Diggin’ Your Scene,” Justin Timberlake with or without *NSYNC, The Rapture, !!!, LCD Soundsystem, Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in L.A.,” LEN’s “Steal My Sunshine” or Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More,” Lipps Inc.’s “Funky Town,” Freeway’s “What We Do,” Go Home Productions or any mashups whatsoever, Tortoise, Nas, The Verve, 311’s “Amber,” Edwyn Collins with or without Orange Juice, T.I., Le Knight Club’s “Soul Bells,” Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” David Banner’s “Like a Pimp,” Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You,” R. Kelly, Ludacris, Mobb Deep, Notorious B.I.G., Boards of Canada, Boy Meets Girl’s “Waiting for a Star to Fall,” Cornershop, Lush, Basement Jaxx, Simple Minds, The Alarm’s “Rain in the Sumemrtime,” Big Country’s “In a Big Country,” Soul Asylum, Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories’ “Stay (I Missed You),” Mariah Carey, The Replacements, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” Boz Scaggs’s “Lowdown,” Neil Young, Robert Palmer, General Public’s “Tenderness,” Thompson Twins, Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl,” The Modern Lovers, The Jam, The Raspberries, Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” The Chi-Lites, The Association, The Classics IV’s “Spooky,” Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, MFSB, The O’Jays, The Ohio Express’s “Yummy, Yummy, Yumy,” Herb Alpert, Deep Purple, Derek & the Dominoes’ “Layla,” The Human Beinz’s “Nobody But Me,” Curtis Mayfield, Peter & Gordon, The Four Tops, The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today,” Martha & the Vandellas, Del Shannon, The Kinks, The Everly Brothers, The Zombies, The Crystals, The Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Also, I have to give a special shout out to Depeche Mode, who have at least a half-dozen songs who very easily could’ve been #101 on this list, but for some reason, I just couldn’t pick one to go on the list.

Looking at the list of exclusions (which I’m sure is ridiculously incomplete, and I’ll think of a hundred more songs tomorrow that should be on here instead), can I really say that this will be a list of the one hundred best songs ever written? Fuck no, this list is woefully incomplete, completely unbalanced, biased, and just out and out wrong, and once people see some of the songs that are on here instead of these artists and songs, they’ll want my head for it, and rightfully so–if I was reading someone else’s list and they left all that shit out, I’d probably want the same thing. Still, it’s the best I can do, and in the end, all it really is one man’s opinion. If you don’t like it, well, I’ll try harder next time.

(First entry will be posted tomorrow, hopefully)

Posted in GDB Essentials | Leave a Comment »

TV O.D. : Highlights From The Oscars

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 26, 2007

So The Oscars happened last night. Some movies won awards, some didn’t. Other movies won some awards and lost others. More importantly, the Awards were, in my opinion, more watchable than they’d been in years. Host Ellen Degeneres was on and off–her opening bit mostly fell flat, but her audience interaction stuff was all right–but the in-between award bits, the montages and musical numbers and such, were mostly pretty entertaining. Here were three of the best parts:

The Intro: A salute to “The Nominees,” as directed and assembled by famed documentarian Errol Morris. Apparently something of a sequel piece to his 2002 Oscar intro piece, the four-minute short features extremely brief (often no more than a second or two) interviews with all 177 Oscar Nominees in attendance this year. Cleverly assembled and breezily edited, the piece is a nice tribute to the bittersweet (and often repetitious) honor of only being nominated for an Oscar, with many of the highlights belonging to complete unknowns (“So you have failed to win an Oscar eight times?” one is asked. “No, I’ve failed seven times,” he responds. “This will be my eighth.”) Top honors still go to Eddie Murphy though, who merely stares contemptuously at the camera. “But you’re funny doing that!” the man behind the camera insists. “Really?” he asks, dejectedly.

“A Comedian at the Oscars”: It seems like every year at the Oscars, the Frat Pack gets thrown one honorary segment to sort of acknowledge their existence, ‘coz God knows they’re not gonna get it through nominations. This is of course the main joke of “A Comedian at the Oscars,” which sees Will Ferrell and Jack Black do a stirring musical number bemoaning this exclusion and threatening to take on the nominees in fisticuffs, only to be interrupted by John C. Reilley (a nominee himself for Chicago), who calms the duo by insisting that you can do “both Boogie and Talladega Nights.” The highlight, besides the numerous Helen Mirren come-ons, is during the call-out section, in which actors like Ryan Gosling and Leonardo Dicaprio are told to get in the ring. “MARK WHALBERG!! WHERE ARE YOU?!?” Ferrell calls out. “I won’t mess with you, you’re actually kind of badass. Once again, I hope we’re cool–you are very talented.”

“Elements & Motion”: The most interesting (and thankfully shortest) musical interlude The Oscars has produced in a while. A vocal choir is conducted (like, actually conducted, with a baton and everything) as they make their way through mimicing dozens of popular sound effects, from wind to helicopter blades to creaky doors and such. Watching a dude lead an entire choir in this pursuit as if they were performing gospel hymns is the sort of surreal experimentation you’d more expect from a Frank Zappa concept video than a major awards show. Cool.

Posted in TV O.D. | 1 Comment »

Listeria: The Ten Least Deserved Oscar Wins of the Last Ten Years

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 25, 2007

Life is more interesting in list form

Well, Oscar is only human. Historically, they’ve been known to make some calculations in judgement–deeming movies like Driving Miss Daisy, Kramer Vs. Kramer and and Chariots of Fire more worthy of top honors movies like Field of Dreams, Apocalypse Now and Raiders of the Lost Ark–which might not have held up all too well over time to scrutiny. Those are some of the big ones, but in recent years, there have been plenty of Oscar wins, some in less well-publicized categories, that can stand up with these historical snubs.
Limit to one per movie, so as certain movies are not able to dominate this list. You know who you are.

10. Nicole Kidman winning Best Actress for The Hours (2002). Also known as “The Nose Oscar.” A fairly solid performance from Kidman, to be fair, but merely one of a troika of solid lead actress performances from The Hours, and one that doesn’t particularly stick out. That is, of course, except for The Nose–Kidman’s normally cute-as-a-button facial appendage, flattened to unrecognizability, posisbly because in real life, apparently legendary writer Virginia Woolf wasn’t quite as much of a hottie as Kidman (Impossible!) While Kidman certainly deserved a pat on the back for her looks sacrifice, I think giving her an Oscar for it was going a little overboard.

Who Should’ve Won That Year: Diane Lane for her powerhouse performance of a housewife gone astray in Unfaithful, or Julianne Moore for Far From Heaven

9. The English Patient winning Best Editing (1996). The movie won a whole host of awards that are somewhat questionable (Juliette Binoche certainly goes down as one of my least favorite actresses of the last 20 years), but this one probably takes the cake. Did anyone actually see this movie and say to themselves “wow, this movie did not go on a second longer than I wanted it to”?

Who Should’ve Won That Year: Fargo moved by pretty briskly.

8. Russell Crowe winning Best Actor for Gladiator (2000). Yeah, Crowe was pretty good in it, but considering that grunting and looking tough consisted of half the performance, and that the non-grunting part of the movies kinda sucked, did anyone really thing this was the performance of the year? And it’s too bad, because Crowe actually has given a couple of Oscar worthy performances (The Insider, Master & Commander, arguably A Beautiful Mind), the last two of which he probably missed out on due to having won already.

Who Should’ve Won That Year: I think Tom Hanks actually deserved to complete the hat trick for his sporting goods-loving loner from Cast Away, probably the performance of his career.

7. Ron Howard winning Best Director for A Beautiful Mind (2001). “Well..There’s this story about a killer robot driving instructor from the future that travels back in time…for some reason. And he must choose wether his best friend lives…or dies.”

“Eh.”

“His best friend is a talking pie!”

SOLD!

Who Should Have Won That Year: I think it’s kind of crazy that David Lynch was even nominated for Mulholland Drive, a win would’ve been the coolest thing ever.

6. Phil Collins winning Best Song for “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan (1999). In recent years, the Best Song Oscar has actually proven itself to arguably be a more hip music award than say, THE GRAMMYS, which have yet to even nominate Three 6 Mafia for much of anything, I believe. Still, this was not always the case, as proven by this 1999 winner, the kind of song that would make any reasonable music listener watching Tarzan want to rip off a vine and strangle the signer with it. Plus, now he can officially announce himself as Academy Award-Winner Phil Collins, an unnecessary hubris-booster brilliantly parodied in at least one episode of South Park.

Who Should’ve Won That Year: In a possible first for the Best Song Oscar, there were actually two worthy nominees in this category in ’99, Aimee Mann’s “Save Me” from Magnolia and Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman’s “Blame Canada” from South Park: Bigger, Louder & Uncut, making this win all the more tragic.

5. Michael Caine winning Best Supporting Actor for The Cider House Rules (1999). The “Glorified Old Guy” Oscar is an Oscar standby if there ever was one, giving statues to actors like Henry Fonda, Don Ameche and George Burns for performances they didn’t necessarily deserve it for, but were given away as part of a Lifetime Achievement and “congratulations for making it this far and still being pretty good” reward. Still, not only did Michael Caine certainly not deserve the award for his performance in The Cider House Rules, one of the worst Best Picture nominees of recent years, but he already won one of these, for a much better performance in a much better movie, ’86’s Hannah and Her Sisters. Ridiculous.

Who Should’ve Won That Year: Haley Joel Osment for giving one of the best (and hardest to follow-up) kid performances in film history for The Sixth Sense.

4. Kolya winning Best Foreign Film (1996). I find it somewhat incredible that I even saw this movie in the first place, but I think I caught it on TV at the height of my Oscar kick and decided to give it a try. What it is, for the 99% of you who haven’t seen and/or chose not to remmeber this movie, is essentially the Czech Republic’s version of Michael J. Fox vehicle Life With Mikey, or Kramer Vs. Kramer with a daughter instead of a son, or, I dunno, EVERY FUCKING DOMESTIC COMEDY EVER MADE. Sometimes I think Oscar voters’ sense of equivalency goes out the window when dealing with movies in another language, as if they couldn’t possibly be held up to the same set of standards as American films, but this movie sucks no matter what language its in.

Who Should’ve Won That Year: Uh, one of the other movies. Ridicule sounds like a good title.

3. Rachel Weisz winning Best Supporting Actress for The Constant Gardner (2005). I consider it one of the great cons in film history that this woman somehow managed to convince people that she was a) beautiful and b) a halfway decent actress. This was all well and good as long as Weisz was starring in movies like The Runaway Jury and Constantine, but then she was cast in this overcooked Fernando Meirelles disappointment, and suddenly it was Oscar Time. She looks funny, she talks funny, she’s thoroughly unconvincing and she’s extremely unexceptional. Her success will befuddle me until the day I die.

Who Should’ve Won That Year: Didn’t see any of the other nominees, but Michelle Williams deserves a Lifetime Oscar due to her work as Jen in Dawson’s Creek, so I’d probably give it to her.

2. Million Dollar Baby winning Best Picture (2004). Half Rocky and half Terms of Endearment, I suppose it was inevitable that this triumphant feel good-turned suicidally depressing downer flick would take home top honors. Awkward, cliched, and totally uninspiring, I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person who was willing to go to bat for Million Dollar Baby. Did you like this movie? Do you know anyone, critics aside, that did like this movie? Another victory for the Silent Majority, I suppose.

Who Should’ve Won That Year: Not the strongest year for Best Pic nominees, but I would’ve been more comfortable with surprise hit Sideways getting the gold.

1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King winning Best Adapted Screenplay. All right, so I hated this movie. In fact, I hated all three LOTR movies. And visual effects aside, I don’t think this ugly, boring, INTERMINAL goddman movie deserved to win a single one of its ten Oscars. But all of them were forgivable compared to the Best Adapted Screenplay win, an award it took strictly on the basis of its unstoppable momentum. Are you fucking serious? None but the nerdiest of Rings geeks would defend the trilogy’s dialogue as anything but ridiculous, and now we’re handing out OSCARS for it??? Let’s examine the evidence, shall we:

“We shall have peace, when you answer for the burning of the Westfold, and the children that lie dead there! We shall have peace, when the lives of the soldiers whose bodies were hewn even as they dead against the gates of the Hornberg, are avenged! When you hang from a gibbit for the sport of your own crows…! We shall have peace.”

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”

“You think you are wise, Mithrandir. Yet for all your subtleties, you have not wisdom. Do you think the eyes of the White Tower are blind? I have seen more than you know. With your left hand you would use me as a shield against Mordor, and with your right you would seek to supplant me. I know who rides with Theoden of Rohan. Oh, yes. Word has reached my ears of this Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I tell you now, I will not bow to this Ranger from the North, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship!”

And this is the cream of the crop.

What Should Have Won That Year: The incredibly creative screenplay for American Splendor, or the Scorsese-worthy screenplay for City of God, those might’ve been better choices.

Posted in Listeria | 5 Comments »

OMGWTFLOL: KoRn f/ Amy Lee – “Freak On a Leash (Unplugged)”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 24, 2007

Life can be pretty strange sometimes.

I’ve missed the MTV Unplugged format since it more or less fizzled out at the end of the 90s, Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill aside. Not that it was usually particularly revelatory–I dunno if hearing an unplugged version of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Big Empty” is really gonna give you a greater appreciation for the non-acoustic one–but it was the one show on MTV that was always about the music, maaan–no visual pyrotechnics, no annoying VJs weighing in with their opinion, just a band/artist and their best songs. And occasionally, yeah, there were some worthwhile surprises.

Surprising, however, barely begins to cover the reuniting of the MTV Unplugged format with its fellow 90s MTV relic, nu-metal forerunners KoRn. While it’s understandable that the band should need a jolt to their system (or their fans’) to help re-ingratiate themselves into the sphere of commercially and artistically relevant rock bands, one which they left a good long while ago, KoRn going Unplugged makes about as much sense as DJ Shadow Unplugged, or Dragonforce Unplugged–the Plugging In is more or less the whole point.

The reason KoRn is doing an Unplugged is probably for the same reason as about half the artists who have done one–they want to prove that under all the distortion, under all the screaming and under all the heavy, heavy production, there are just some really good songs, maaaan (sorry, last time, I promise). Now, to be fair KoRn are very arguably a great band–especially for their place and time–and certainly, they have at least two or three songs that will go down as stone metal classics. But to strip away all the shouting, the crunchy guitars and basically all the songs’ power to reveal the great songwriting underneath…I think ill-advised is the word I’m looking for here.

Especially for the song they chose to be the first single, the Follow the Leader MTV mega-hit “Freak on a Leash.” Not to say that “Blind,” “A.D.I.D.A.S.” or “Got the Life” would’ve done much better, but “Freak on a Leash” is just…well, it’s a very, very stupid song. It is absolutely not the kind of song where you want to draw more attention to the lyrics than necessary–in fact, it’s the exact sort of song where you want to distract from them as much as possible, which is what the band did on the original version, piling on the distortion, production tricks and generally incomprehensible singing from Jonathan Davis, as well as slapping on an eye-catching (and heavily acclaimed, at the time anwyay) music video to help out matters.

But so confident is the band in the strength of this song in its bare-bones form that they even thought it wise to bring on fellow nu-metaller Amy Lee of Evanescense to help out with vocals (and make it seem more like an actual song, I guess). And while she does provide some nice harmonizing on parts, and the orchestration is pretty nice, there’s really just no getting around that chorus–“SOMETHING TAKES A PART OF ME! / YOU AND I WERE MEANT TO BE! / A CHEAP FUCK FOR ME TO LAY! / SOMETHING TAKES A PART OF ME!”–even Davis and Lee seem to realize this, respectfully going mute and turning away from the mic on the “cheap fuck” part. And I’m sorry, but it just isn’t “Freak on a Leash” without the “DA-BOOOMM BAH BAH UHHHHMMMM NA NA EMA!!!” scatting part in the song’s break–it’s like taking the “bananas” part out of “Hollaback Girl.” What’s the point?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an Unplugged revival–or a KoRn revival, for that matter. But it has to be on less utterly ridiculous terms than this.

Posted in OMGWTFLOL | 3 Comments »

Eugoogly: The O.C.

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 23, 2007

All things must pass

The O.C.

I made a conscious decision at the end of the last season to stop watching The O.C. The show, which had once been the leading (and for a while, only) light of my primetime TV watching had stagnated–plots were getting redundant (Marissa finds another dude to play nurse to, and is shocked, SHOCKED to find out that he’s actually in love with her–pattern recognition was never a strong suit for the Coopers), new characters were unwelcome (a pox on anyone who ever thought Taylor Townsend was a good idea) and the show’s freshness just wasn’t there anymore. To be fair, this is as much personal as anything else–my happiest O.C. related memories are of watching the show with my friends in high school, and watching it on my own just wasn’t the same. So, when Mischa Barton jumped ship to start a movie career (how’s that going, by the way?) it seemed like as good a time as any for me to take off as well.

And obviously I wasn’t the only one, as ratings for season four of The O.C. were an all-time low for the show, and halfway through the season, FOX made the (probably wise) move to cancel it. So low was the fanfare for the show during its final days that I totally forgot that it was even airing its series finale last night (not that I would’ve watched anyway, I was busy with NBC). But I figured that I owed the show enough for the two-three seasons of joy it gave me to at least give the finale a watch, so I decided to download it.

And though it definitely confirmed that letting go had been the right decision, I gotta say, it was a pretty good series finale. Much has changed since I last left off, most of which I knew about through Wikipedia–Summer temporarily dropped out of school and moved in with Seth, Taylor and Ryan had gotten together for some reason and then broken up, Julie and Kirsten both got pregnant, and an earthquake destroyed the Cohen house, forcing them to move in with the Coopers temporarily. The plots aren’t the only things to change–everyone looks so different from what I remember, way more than a year older–it’s almost eerie how much Caitlin looks like Marissa now, even down to the way she dresses. And Ryan, he actually talks now–even when not being spoken to first. It’s ridiculous.

Still, The O.C. is The O.C., and the finale pretty much trots out the time-honored plots you’d expect–Julie is supposed to get married to another super-rich suitor, but begins to have second thoughts, Taylor and Ryan pretend they don’t want to get back together but hook up anyway, Seth and Summer wonder if they need time apart, Sandy and Kirsten wonder if maybe it’s time to leave Newport, etc. Lots of goodbyes, lots of crying, lots of new beginnings–it’s a finale for certain. It even climaxes with that shot-of-shots for a series finale, where a character looks around a space that holds memories and begins to hear and see those memories as if they were currently happening. It’s cliched, sure, but it’s also exactly what a show as rooted in comfort and tradition as The O.C. calls for.

On the whole, The O.C. will probably go down as one of the definitive shows of the decades, an I Love the 00s first-tierer. People might say it was the Beverly Hills 90210 or Melrose Place of its day, and that’s probably true to an extent, but not completely, since what I always found so interesting about this show is that it had the exact reverse trajectory of those shows. Whereas 90210 or Melrose started out as semi-believable family and freind dramas and just got more and more scandalous and ridiculous as time went on, The O.C. did the opposite, starting out at a scandalous peak–the first episode had threesomes, modeling shows, copious drug and alcohol, and stupid catchphrases and fistfights to spare, all except the last of which were totally gone from the show by halfway through the first season, unless they were being all Very Special Episode about it.

Instead, the show turned out to at its core being a testament to the importance of family and freinds, to Ryan and Seth’s brother-bond and Kirsten and Sandy’s superhero parenting. As such, it was a show that didn’t take kindly to outsiders–outside of the Cohens, the Coopers and Summer (and I suppose Taylor, though I’d like to believe she’d have gotten the axe eventually), no one else lasted on the show for too long, especially those (ex-lovers, shady business partners, other assailants) who threatened the family unit. At heart, The O.C. probably has more in common with The Cosby Show than Laguna Beach, which is why so many people who don’t normally find themselves going for melodrama, teen or otherwise, found themselves so drawn to the show.

Well, that and the indie rock. If there’s another legacy that The O.C. leaves behind, it’ll be in helping to establish the genre as one with certifiable commercial potential, thanks to Seth’s constant namedropping and the bands the cast would regularly see at the show’s fictitious and super-improbable hangout The Bait Shop. Since the show’s premiere, two of the bands in the Seth Cohen Starter Pack, The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie, have had #2 debuts on the album charts, and the other, Bright Eyes, sent two albums to the top 20 simultaneously. Sure, there were other factors at play–a certain life-changing movie obviously one of them–but the importance of The O.C. in establishing these guys, as well as radio breakthroughs like Modest Mouse and The Killers, really can not be understimated.

And perhaps most importantly, The O.C. had a tremendous impact on my life. Not that I started wearing wifebeaters and picking fistfights at random, but before The O.C., I don’t think I had ever really cared about watching a primetime TV show with regularity, at least not a non-animated one. I could probably attribute my current interest in TV, which has continually grown since the show debuted four years ago, to the one fateful night I decided to watch the series premiere with a bunch of kids from my Boston summer program–and though you could argue about whether or not that’s a positive thing on the whole, I certainly don’t regret it.

The O.C. ends with a flash-forward, showing Julie going back to school and Caitlin graduating, Kirsten and Sandy settling into their new Berkley home with their blonde little girl, and Seth and Summer getting married. But the show’s final scene is one of Ryan, now an apparently successful architect, seeing a troubled-looking kid hanging alone by a telephone, an immediate callback to Ryan’s appearance in the show’s first episode. “Hey kid!” he calls out. “Need some help?” California, here we come, right back where we started from…

Posted in Eugoogly | 9 Comments »

For the Love of God: Get Rachel Dratch Off of 30 Rock

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 23, 2007

Some matters require divine intervention

All right, so I haven’t watched a full episode of Saturday Night Live on my own volition in many, many years, and I’ve never seen any of the skits that this woman is involved with. So I’m willing to allow that it’s possible that maybe you have to understand the kind of characters that Dratch plays on SNL to appreciate her sort of humor. But given that her most famous role was playing someone named Debbie Downer, a character known for making the kind of faces as pictured above, I’m thinking maybe I’m better off not understanding.

This woman infuriates me to no end–just looking at that picture for more than a second is enough to get my blood boiling. And it was cool as long as her ridiculousness was confined to SNL–that show is hopeless anyway, save for the skits good enough to get filtered down to me through internet buzz and whatnot. But now she’s mucking up 30 Rock, a show which I very much enjoy, and that’s just unacceptable.

Supposedly Dratch was originally meant to play the part of Jenna Mulroney, the star of The Girlie Show, the SNL-type live comedy show produced on 30 Rock. Luckily the show’s producers came to their senses and instead cast go-to dumb blonde Jane Krakowski in the part instead, which makes much more sense as a contrast to the brainy Liz Lemon (the Tina Fey protagonist, who is Jenna’s best friend), despite the fact that in actuality, Fey is probably hotter than Krakowski. In any event, Dratch in the role would probably have been a disaster, and thankfully the producers thought better of it.

But as some sort of consoloation prize, Dratch was allowed to stay on the show as a regular, whose role would shift every episode, depending on what characters needed to be filled in for that week’s script. Unsurprisingly, most of these characters can be easily summarized as “Irritating Person #1”–whether she’s playing a cat enthusiast, a cheap prostite or a tabloid reporter, this woman is annoying, annoying, annoying. For each character, she puts on that screwy face, she talks in an exaggerated, affected accent, dressed in bad makeup and an unconvincing wardrobe, and she just sucks the life out of whatever scene she’s in.

And worse, she drags the show down to SNL level with her. One of the main thing that puts 30 Rock a level above the disappointing Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which attempts to make SNL-style skits of their own and pass them off as “good” or “funny,” is its willingness to openly mock the show it’s drawn from. But check this video from episode, in which Dratch plays a Barbara Walters-type TV host interviewing Jenna about her new movie The Rural Juror, the title of which is an ongoing gag, since none of the characters can ever understand what the name is when it is said out loud. See how Dratch’s character takes that gag–which was sort of funny at first–and just stretches it and streches it and stretches it until, lo and behold, the comedy is gone. It’s the exact sort of tactic that keeps me from watching SNL.

30 Rock has yet to prove itself to be a great show–needs to hold up for at least another season first without the characters starting to grate or the plots starting to recycle–but at the very least, it’s an exceedingly entertatining show, and one proving to be a highlight of NBC’s already-stacked Thursday Night line up. But as long as Rachel Dratch is on the show, its potential for greatness is crippled. The girl has got to go.

Posted in For the Love of God | 1 Comment »

Charts on Fire: 02-22-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 22, 2007

3/3 for Justin Timberlake, as the excellent (though not quite as excellent as the first two–what could be?) third entry from his FutureSex/LoveSounds album, “What Goes Around…Comes Around” shoots 8-1, most likely on the back of Timberlake’s Grammy performance last Sunday. The last artist to go three-in-a-row was Timber’s King-of-Pop rival Usher, who actually squeaked out a fourth too, so let’s see if he can keep it up.

In the meantime, if you haven’t seen the nine-minute video co-starring Scarlett Johanssen and Sean Hatosy, you probably ought to give it a shot. It’s not really that good by any means–unless I’m grossly misreading it, the video pretty clearly implies that Johanssen deserves death for cheating on JT (maybe you need to watch it on TV for it to make sense?)–but it’s fascinating to see an artist still trying to carry on the MJ / GnR / Puff Daddy tradition of the biggest musical artist of the time period making appropriately gigantic videos to match. If nothing else, it’ll make you nostalgic for the days when Scarlett Johanssen actually seemed like something resembling a human being.

Meanwhile, tons of action in the top five, as Ludacris and Mary J. Blige advance three to the runner-up position, Akon squeaks into the top five, and the Dixie Chicks, riding their Grammy sweep, see their “Not Ready to Make Nice” re-debut at #4, almost 20 higher than it had peaked last year. Yikes. Room is made for their coup by Gwen Stefani (3-6), Beyonce (2-9) and Fall Out Boy (4-10), and alas, controversial GDB HOT ONE Gym Class Heroes slip a bit, sliding 7-8.

Having better luck is fellow HOT ONE “Icebox,” which moves 18-13 this week (I’d settle for top ten on that one). Also advancing this week are John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World to Change” (Grammys again, 24-14), RHCP’s “Snow (Hey Oh)” (guess who?, 29-22), Nickelback’s “If Everyone Cared” (dunno who to blame for this one, 39-27) and Mims’ “This is Why I’m Hot” (he’s hot ‘coz he’s fly, you ain’t ‘coz you not, 46-32).

Biggest new arrival to the top 50 is Diddy and Keyeshia Cole’s “Last Night” (kinda cool stuff, huge step up from the last two, 52-41), Young Jeezy and R. Kelly’s “Go Getta” (not bad but I still don’t really get the appeal of this dude, 62-46), Martina McBride’s “Anyway” (can’t find an mp3, 98-48) and Lumidee and Tony Sunshine’s “She’s Like the Wind” (I mean I know it’s Dirty Dancing’s 20th anniversay and all but c’mon, 58-50). Meanwhile, HOT ONE “Throw Some D’s” remains landlocked in the bottom tier of the top 50, falling 45-49 this week.

New ons to the top 100 come courtesy of 2/3 of the recent Grammys singer/songwriter block, with Corrine Bailey Rae’s fairly lovely “Like a Star” (#56) and John Mayer’s fairly unimpressive “Gravity” (#71) providing the two highest debuts of the week. Elsewhere, we got two more debuts from Toby Keith’s “High Maintenance Woman” (do country fans not use soulseek or something?, #73) and from recent iPod endorsement The Fratellis’ “Flathead” (lets hope it gets at least as big as that Jet song, #75)

Not much happening on the other charts this week (except now Three Days Grace is on top of BOTH rock charts, dear lord). The album charts are much like the singles charts this week, with lots of Grammy winners (Dixie Chicks, Mary J. Blige, RHCP, etc.) getting enormous boosts, though none big enough to hold Norah Jones’ Not Too Late from #1 in its third week. Meanwhile, I would like to take a moment and look at the second highest debut this week (the second being Gerald Levert’s posthumous album at #2, way to go Casanova), Van Morrison’s At the Movies, which compilates all the work of Van’s that has been featured in film soundtracks. Now honestly, who thinks to themselves “hm, I loved those Van Morrison songs I heard in my three favorite movies, The Outsiders, The King of Comedy and Patch Adams–if only I could find a CD that had them all in one place!” (29,0000 people apparently–what a world)

Posted in Charts on Fire | 4 Comments »

Take Five: “Throw Some D’s”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 21, 2007

A representative sample of the latest wonders rocking The Good Dr.ís world and plaguing his mind.

As you probably know by now, I’m a big fan of Rich Boy’s breakout single, “Throw Some D’s.” It just has that feel of an instant hip-hop classic to it, the way Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’” felt last year or Three 6 Mafia’s “Stay Fly” did the year before. And like those two songs, “Throw Some D’s” has already spun off a number of remixes and alternative versions, with more experienced rappers feeding off the energy of Palow dan Don’s supremely masterful beat. Here are some of the more interesting examples:

Throw Some D’s (Kanye West Freestyle): Kanye West tries his hand at the beat, reinventing the song as an ode to the female form (“Throw some D’s on that bitch”–ya see?). It doesn’t always work, but Kanye should know by how to ride a jubilant, string-heavy soul sample better than anyone, and he does a pretty damn good job at it. Some pointless lyrics about popping breasts with a needle at the end almost ruin the good times, but it’s definitely worth a listen regardless.

Throw Some D’s (Remix featuring Rick Ross & The Game): This remix takes out the chorus (“I got the beam on that tip,” Rick Ross substitutes, whatever that means), which is sort of unfortunate, but it’s still a compelling listen, mostly thanks to The Game’s verse, which sounds as at home here as it did over the similarly blissful, life-affirming groove of his ’05 hit, “Hate it or Love It“.

Throw Some D’s (Lil’ Jon Remix featuring Jim Jones, The Game, Andre 3000 & the St. Lunatics): Maybe the best of the remixes, most likely due to Lil’ Jon’s actually tweaking the beat a bit–it’s subtle, but it adds a nice new texture to the production–and the opening verse from Andre 3000, whose increasingly spare raps are always a pleasant surprise on remixes like this. Who knows what the St. Lunatics have been up to in the last five years, but even their brattiness is unexpectedly welcome here.

Throw Some D’s (Remix f/ Lil’ Wayne): This remix is the closest to the original, just substituting a Lil’ Wayne verse for Rich Boy’s opening, but since people can’t seem to get enough of Lil’ Wayne these days, I figured it was worth inclusion. It’s not his strongest verse, but it’s still worth hearing the “best rapper alive” work over a beat this smooth.

I Call Your Name (Switch Original): Not a remix of “Throw Some D’s,” but rather the 1980 soul original that the main hook in the song is sampled from, even the “I used to think about immatoor things” spoken word intro. It’s a pretty solid number in its own right (and it only dwells on that hook for about half a minute), with the musical sophistication of a Prince ballad and the innocence and simplicity of a New Edition ballad. Definitely the last piece of the puzzle for appreciating the Rich Boy song’s greatness.

Posted in Take Five | 2 Comments »

Geek Out: The Five Types of Bad Buzzing

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 20, 2007

Some thoughts are best kept to yourself. Unless you have a blog, anyway.

(Warning: Post contains severe trivia geekery and is not recommended for the faint of heart)

Probably because I’m about to go to practice as I started to write this, but I feel like writing about College Bowl today. It’s the collegiate extension of the quiz bowl-type trivia club that pretty much every High School had except mine, and it’s one of the more important things in my life, especially because it has a pop culture division as well, known as TRASH (or Total Recall About Strange Happenings, though it’s fairly obviously a forced acronym).

Anyway, my favorite part about the way College Bowl trivia is structured vs. the way most trivia works (like bar trivia, Trivial Pursuit or your average trivia game show) is that for the most part, the questions aren’t strict Q&A format. The questions, called tossups, are traditionally about a paragraph long, and rather than just asking you to recall one answer, they describe something–a movie, a song, a TV character, an athlete, a company, etc.–using clues, which get more and more obvious as the question progresses.

The key is to buzz in when you think you know what they’re describing, which is often before the question is finished and in some cases, is when the question has barely started, and give the answer they’re looking for. If you do this, and you’re correct, your team gets ten points and then a set of bonus questions, which only your team can answer and are more in the traditional trivia format, and is worth up to 30 points. If you’re wrong, however, and you buzzed in before the question was finished being read, your team loses five points, and no one else can ring in on your team until the next question.

These pre-mature incorrect buzzes, traditionally referred to as “negging,” are heartbreakers, and the words “neg five” coming out of a moderator’s mouth after you give your answer is the thing CBers tend to fear the most (that and knowing everything about an answer, except the answer’s name). Still, they tend to be a lot more interesting than correct answers, and to paraphrase Matt Damon in Rounders, a College Bowl player will rarely remember the buzzes he gets right, but will recall with vivid detail the ones he got wrong.

Much of the time, negs are reasonable–you thought the answer was one thing, but it was actually something else–but the most interesting and memorable types of negs fall into a category known as Bad Buzzes, buzzes that aren’t quite so justifiable, buzzes that make your teammates go “What were you thinking??” Ken Jennings, an ex-CBer himself, talks about bad buzzes a little bit in his trivia book Brainiac, but I’m gonna go into a little more detail–I’ve figured that bad buzzes more or less break down into five sub-categories of misjudgment. It might not be interesting to non-College Bowl players, but I’m writing about it, so to hell with you.

1. The Zone-Out Buzz. This is probably the most frequent type of bad buzz. It happens when you’re already a good deal into a question–and possibly you’ve stopped listening because nothing about what they’re describing sounds familiar–but you hear one detail, a name, or a location, or something you could swear you’ve heard before, and you reflexively buzz, mentally zoning out whatever came before in the question. You begin to give your answer, but by then you’ve had a second to think about it, and you realize that the answer you’re prepared to give makes no sense whatsoever given the rest of the question, and unsurprisingly, you’re met with a “neg five” response.

This happens all the time in College Bowl, because since speed is such an important component, if you take the time to think your answer over before buzzing, often someone’ll have beaten you to it by the time you commit. So you end up answering “The J. Geils Band,” when the question already said that the band formed in Australia in 1998, or something equivalent.

2. The “Go For It” Buzz: This buzz happens when you hear a detail near the beginning of a question that strikes a chord with you, but it’s not quite enough to buzz in on, so you wait for another corroborative detail to confirm that the answer that popped into your head is indeed the correct one. But, as the question goes on, you’re not hearing anything else that locks your answer as the correct one, and meanwhile, you’re worried that someone on the other team might be thinking the same thing you are, and maybe this stuff does sound familiar to him. So you decide to ring in with your answer on just the one detail and a hunch.

This isn’t always a bad idea. Recently I heard a detail at the beginning of a movie question that made it obvious that the answer was going to be a Jean-Pierre Jeunet-directed film, so I was thinking it would probably be Amelie. As the question progressed without giving me much more to go on, I decided that to go for it, since I couldn’t think of any other Jeunet films that were likely to have a tossup written about. And it turned out to be right. However, it’s very risky–even more recently, a song question started about Otis Redding doing the original version, and I knew Otis had done the original of “Respect,” so that simmered in my head until I eventually went in on it. But I was wrong, and the answer turned out to be “Hard to Handle,” which I would have known if I had just waited on the question a little longer.

3. The Category Buzz. This happens when you get a question about a category that you’re extremely confident in your knowledge of–for me it’s music and occasionally movies, for other people it might be sports or comics or TV. You’re gearing down to the end of the question and no one’s buzzed in yet, and none of the clues are sounding familiar. But in College Bowl trivia, almost every question ends with a clue that more or less gives the answer away–if it’s a song, they’ll give you the artist, or if it’s a sports team, they’ll give you the most famous athletes who’ve played on it, and so on. So when they give that giveaway, you can buzz immediately after hearing it, before you’ve had time to mentally process the information, and hope that in the time between buzzing in and giving your answer, you can pull it out.

This is even riskier than the “Go For It” Buzz, because you’re not going on anything except self-confidence. Sometimes you do a category buzz and then just stare blankly at the moderator because even though you buzzed in, you don’t have a clue what the answer is, even after you’ve had that second to process (which happened to me on a tossup once about a Kid Rock album that wasn’t Devil Without a Cause, and I had no idea whatsoever). Still, when the split-second of mental processing could mean someone else beats you to the tossup, it can occasionally be a good idea, as long as you don’t get too cocky (which, ironically, was the name of the Kid Rock album) about your abilities.

4. The Vanity Buzz. This is the most despicable and quickly regrettable type of bad buzz. It occurs when you don’t reall have that much to go on–one or two vague details at best–but you have an answer that seems logical, and you buzz in in an effort to wow people with how quickly you got the question. Certain players are more likely to do this than others, but I’ve definitely been guilty of it on at least one occasion–a question mentioned that a song was recorded in 1956, and I could only think of one logical song from that year that they would ask about (and my team was ahead and could afford the risk), so I buzzed and said “Rock Around the Clock.”

This was stupid for any number of reasons–not the least of which being that in retrospect, I’m pretty sure “Rock Around the Clock” was recorded in ’55–and I knew the answer shortly afterwards (it was Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” and the other team didn’t even get it). I just thought I would look like a badass (well, as close as you can come in the trivia spectrum) by getting a song just from the year. Not the sort of mistake I hope to make again.

5. The “I Should Have Gotten This By Now” Buzz. This is probably the most rare of the five types of bad buzzes, and the most difficult to explain. Sometimes, you get a question where everything they’re saying is vaguely familiar, but it isn’t quite congealing into a logical answer. But you get more and more frustrated as the question goes on, because you don’t understand why you’re not pulling it. Finally, you buzz, even though you have no answer in mind and no giveaway clue to process–if only just to get a small chance to clear your head and see if you can tie it together.

The “I Should Have Gotten This By Now” buzz rarely turns out well, and it turns into a similarly embarrassing situation to the Category Buzz, where everyone’s staring at you wondering why you buzzed in if you don’t even have a logical guess. And you can’t really even say why–it just felt like the right thing to do.

By the way, that Ken Jennings book is great. Those with even passing interests in trivia should probably check it out.

Posted in Geek Out | 1 Comment »