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Archive for April, 2007

Take Five: Twin Peaks Tunes

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 18, 2007

“Chieeeef Wigguuuum….Dooon’t…eeeeeaaaat…the CLOOOOOZ!!!”

Much thanks to my roommate for buying the second season of “Twin Peaks” on DVD so I didn’t have to myself–worth keeping around for a second viewing, but I doubt I’d go back to it much after that, so the opportunity to save $40 by not buying it is indeed a fortuitous one. The season’s got moments that equal the highs of the first season (especially in the early episodes), which is no small feat, but once the principal mystery is solved, the characters just sorta hover around without much to do, and the little that Lynch does give them is often worse than nothing (James pulling a Body Heat with an unhappily married older woman in another town, Nadine going back to high school with super-strength, Josie and Harry going through one too many “Stay with me!” / “NO I CAN’T!!” exchanges).

Still, if nothing else, you’ve still got that music. One of the key identifying characteristics of just about any Lynch project is his stubborn refusal to acknowledge the last 40 years of cultural advancement–Twin Peaks technically takes place in modern day (I assume, anyway), but offhand there’s not a single piece of evidence I can point to to prove that–the vocabulary, attitudes, atmosphere and of course, the music, are all still stuck in the 50s, or early 60s at best. This can be frustrating in ways (especially when he does it for several consecutive projects), but it does a hell of a job in establishing a cultural disconnect, a feeling of something being not quite right. Plus, the late-50s and early-60s music Lynch tends to deal with is about the best possible soundtrack for cinema as dreamy and spooky as Lynch’s.

Julee Cruise – “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart: Lynch’s muse for most of “Twin Peaks” was Cruise, who provided much of the soundtrack for the series, as well as at least one song for Blue Velvet, with her tender, childlike voice. “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart” is my personal favorite of Cruise’s Lynch contributions, as well as the only one she ashowed up to sing in the actual series (at one of the key points of the season no less). It could almost be an early-60s Spectorian girl group ballad, if it was just a little more focused and a little less hypnotic (and didn’t have those bizarre horn intrusions halfway through). In any event, it’s as beautiful and nocturnal as any of the best Shangri-Las stunners.

James Marshall featuring Cheryl Lee & Lara Flynn Boyle – “Just You & I“: A largely unexplained musical number from one of the first episodes in the second season, in which James (Marshall), Maddie (Lee) and Donna (Boyle) recorded a teary love ballad in the vein of Del Shannon or Bobby Vinton. James, who sings lead, is clearly neither of these crooners, singing in a paper-thin squeak that nonetheless somehow manages to make the song more effective–more innocent, more naive. Boyle & Lee don’t do much, but their occasionally chimed-in backing vocals add the necessary haziness for such a Lynch ballad.

MobyGo!“: All right, so this isn’t technically from “Twin Peaks,” but it is based around composer Angelo Badalamenti’s main theme for the series, and shows just how effective and transmutable the score was. Moby even focuses on the score’s best part–the haunting (to say the least) synth moans, puncutated by the exclamation mark of that one pounded low piano chord. You might not hear “Laura Palmer’s Theme” and think “house anthem,” but hey, you’re not a descendent of Herman Melville either, so.

FantomasFire Walk With Me: Having only seen half of the original Fire Walk With Me movie, I can’t vouch one way or the other for the quality of the main theme, but Fantomas does a decent job of putting a metal spin on Lynch and Badalamenti’s normal sound, which actually ends up sounding pretty close to Deftones territory. Fact is that Fantomas (as well as Mr. Bungle and probably parts of Faith No More as well) owe much of their career to the Lynchian vibes they so readily cop, so it’s only fair they should pay tribute every once in a while.

Agent Vyper – “Twin Peaks Theme (Club Mix): In the 90s, everything had to have a lame dance remix, and I guess “Twin Peaks” was no exception. It’s not possible to deny how awkward Agent Vyper’s attempt to turn Julee Cruise’s “Falling” into a club banger, especially when compared to the fluidity of “Go!,” but as an artifact of its time period, it really can not be undervalued. At th every least, you can see where DJ Dado got his inspiration for his slightly-more successful “X-Files” jacking.

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That Guy Salute: Busy Phillips

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 17, 2007

An actress who gets biz-zay: Consistently, and thoroughly

Last week’s fine episode of “Entourage” reminded me of one of my all-time favorite fourth-tier actresses. Phillips played a dog lover getting macked on by Turtle, who throws him into a moral dilemma when she starts talking shit about Turtle’s dog Arnold (ultimately, Turtle chooses to defend the dog’s honor, much to the chagrin of Drama, who loses his shot at nailing Phillips’s friend). Bummer, though I’m sure the guys made up for it over Spring Break (while poor E had to endure an extended weekend of no sex with a pissed-off Sloan in Aspen or something).

Anwyay, it’s the kind of role Phillips always plays–the moderately, but concievably, hot party girl with an intimidating and easily brought out mean streak. Phillips has played this type, to varying degrees of success, in various roles which would make you smack your head and go “Oh, right! THAT chick.” This includes Audrey, Pacey’s occasionally alcoholic (and compared to the roster of other girls Pacey somehow managed to bed, not quite as impressive) girlfriend on “Dawson’s Creek,” one of the titular caucasian females in White Chicks, and the lead role in goddamnit-should-be-a-cult-classic-by-now female revenge flick The Smokers. Apparently, she also wrote the story on which Blades of Glory is based, though having yet to see it I’m not sure if that’s a positive or negative.

But all of this–the looks, the acting chops, the repertoire–is ultimately irrelevant when discussing Phillips’s legacy. The one, and essentially only, thing you really need to know about Phillips is this:

Her name is Busy Phillips.

That’s right. I don’t know how whoever happened to brand Philips as such got “Busy” out of the first names Elisabeth Jean, but bravo to them on such a gutsy, appropriate and ultimately rewarding choice. I can’t think of a single celebrity name that I prefer off the top of my head–it just rolls of the tongue, sounding at once sexy, aggressive and hopelessly fucking lame. It makes me seriously hope that the girl eventually graduates to big league status, or at least a role in some legitimate indies or something. I think if I ever heard the phrase “Academy Award Nominee Busy Phillips” uttered by anyone, all other humor would be completely dead to me.

Apparently, Phillips was also in a 2001 TV Movie entitled “Spring Break Lawyer.” How that never managed to take off is beyond me.

Posted in That Guy Salute | 3 Comments »

100 Years, 100 Songs: #93. Alice in Chains – “Would?”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 16, 2007

“Am I wrong? / Have I run too far to get home?”

There are no songs by Nirvana or Pearl Jam on this list. Both bands I would consider among the greatest of the last twenty years, easy, and both have about as many classics to their name as any other band of the era. But neither of them really have that one transcendent song that stands out from the rest of their catalogue, and yes, that includes “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” since this list only include songs that I don’t reflexively switch off on the radio because I never need to hear it again.

Alice in Chains’ “Would?” is the only song from the grunge Big Four (Nirvana, PJ, AIC, Soundgarden) on this list, maybe because it barely even sounds like a grunge song. Nothing against grunge in particular–the concept of melding metal’s sound with punk’s methodology was a smart, if inevitable one–but the genre produced few classic songs in its pure form, and most of the hit songs associated with grunge today have barely anything to do with Mudhoney or Green River.

First off, “Would?” is that unfortunate rarity among grunge, or really all hard rock songs–one anchored and propelled by a lead bass line. Outside of Weezer, The Breeders and a couple Green Day songs (and Primus, but they suck), the bass was heavily underused as a lead (or even audible) instrument in 90s rock, but in “Would?” it’s by far the most memorable part of the song, mysterious, pitch-black and bone-chilling. It sets the tone for the song perfectly, and remains just about the only reason AIC bassist Mike Starr’s name is worth remembering.

And anyway, there was a certain spooky, ethereal quality to Alice in Chains that made them always stand out from the grunge pack to begin with. Eddie Vedder occasionally seemed disturbed, Kurt Cobain was obviously genuinely troubled, but Layne Stayley often sounded downright evil. The druggy haze that early AIC songs existed in, combined with Stayley’s deathly lyrics and his and Jerry Cantrell’s piercing, unsettling harmonies, made AIC’s best songs sound disturbing and deeply disturbed; other grunge bands were tough, but only AIC seemed genuinely menacing.

What makes “Would?” the best AIC song is that not only is it one of their scariest, creepiest songs, but it’s also definitely their most cinematic. Short lulls of verse serve as lead ins to the song’s thrilling, action-packed but ambiguous chorus (“Into the flood again / same old trip it was back then / So I made a big mistake / try to see it once my way”) After two acts of this drama, including a brief instrumental intermission to build up tension, the song even has a twist ending of sorts, with the song’s hook dropping out and Stayley’s conviction turning to self-doubt (“Am I wrong? / Have I run too far to get home?”) And the song’s devestating finale (“IF! I! WOULD! COULD! YOU?”) is one of rock’s most haunting conclusions, 90s alternative’s “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

It’s only appropriate that a song this cinematic should have broken through to popular consciousness through a movie soundtrack. Ironically, it did it through the romantic comedy Singles, which despite being set in the grunge scene and featuring almost all of the genre’s leading lights, is about the movie’s diametric opposite in tone–sweet, heartfelt and unassuming where “Would?” was growling, scarred and practically apocalyptic. “Would?” belongs in a permanent-midnight flick like Se7en or The Crow, not a movie featuring extended ruminations on the importane of saying “God Bless You” after someone sneezes. More appropriate is the place of “Would?” as the closer to AIC’s ’92 masterpiece Dirt, a haunting (sorry, I’m out of synonyms for this extremely appropriate word and I don’t believe in thesauruses) conclusion to one of the most chilling (again) of the 90s.

The back catalogues of Nirvana and Pearl Jam ultimately own AIC’s several times owner, but with “Would?” they created a song at least as enduring and still-echoing as any those bands would create. And especially after Stayley’s unfortunately too-late-to-be-tragic drug-related death, it’s one whose place in the alt-rock canon is permanently cemented.

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Flim New York: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 15, 2007

So you thought that you might like to go to the show

I felt a certain obligation to see Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters the weekend it came out in theaters. I’ve written before on this blog about my problems with the latest season, but for at least two years, the show was one of my very favorites, and I probably have more episodes memorized front to back (or close enough) than of any other show since The Simpsons. Moreover, part of me definitely wanted to believe that the reason the last season had been so lackluster was because they’d saved all their good ideas for the movie–at least that was the go-to excuse for the show’s defenders.

Not like I really need to tell you, but this definitely wasn’t the case. ATHFCMFFT starts out impressively (and somewhat misleadingly) hilarious, with a parody of “let’s all go to the lobby” type ads that I refused to believe was actually a part of the movie until the heavy metal food band showed up and the lead singer headbutted the hot dog. This leads into an equally funny pre-credit bit that actually sort of explains (key words: sort of) the show’s credits sequence, with the three escaping from the pyramids in ancient egypt, and Abraham Lincoln strapping the three to a wooden rocket and blasting them off into space for some reason. It’s ridiculous, but it’s actually one of the more logical things that happens in the movie, and definitely one of the funniest.

From there, it’s just about anyone’s game. The plot very, very loosely involves the Aqua Teens building some super-exercise machine that goes insane and ends up (maybe?) trying to take over the earth, while the roommates try to uncover the mystery of where they come from (or at least Frylock tries to, kind of). Along the way they run into pretty much all of the show’s regular antagonists–the Moononites, the Plutonians, the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future, Dr. Weird and Steve, even a brief cameo from attic-dwelling onion man Willie Nelson (though no Frat Aliens, I’m very sorry to say). There are even some new friends, in the forms of Walter Melon, the watermelon slice who carries around a mini Neil Peart (yeah, that Neil Peart) who brings people back to life with his magic drum solos, and the Much Fabled by No One 4th Aqua Teen, the Bruce Campbell voiced Chicken Bittle. Good times are had by all.

Ultimately, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters is exactly what you’d expect. The show’s creators said that the movie would be about “an origin story that unfolds in a very ‘Aqua Teen’ way,” and that description really couldn’t be more accurate. Frylock comes to several revelations about his and his roommates’ origins, but none of them make any sense and all are undercut by a further twist five minutes further into the story. Ultimately it turns out (spoiler alert, maybe, possibly) that Walter Melon created the Aqua Teens, that Frylock is Dr. Weird’s dad but is actually a lesbian trapped in a man’s body, and that the Teens’ mother is a big-breasted bean burrito voiced by Tina Fey. Really, though, the whole thing is basically just an excuse for reapated usage of the intro to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” Fair enough.

Even though there are sporadic laughs throught ATHFCMFFT, it’s basically just an episode of the show stretched to 96 minutes in length, and considering most of the recent episodes ran out of steam six or seven minutes through as is (and that the movie doesn’t keep it up for much longer than that), it’s kind of a wonder that this movie ever got greenlit in the first place. At the very least, the movie’s probably the most surreal and disorienting thing I’ve ever seen in theaters, and for at least a half hour after the movie was over I was unable to have a logical converstaion with any of the people I saw the movie with without thinking something was horribly strange or wrong. Bizarre stuff.

Or, as one of my friends straightforwardly put it, “There was absolutely no reason for that movie to have been made.” Yeah, pretty much.

Posted in Flim New York | 8 Comments »

Time of the Season / TV O.D. : S1 of Friday Night Lights

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 14, 2007

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

Friday Night Lights ended its first 22-episode run on Wednesday night with a 4.1 rating–the highest it’d seen in about a half-dozen episodes, but not high enough for it to finish in the top 50 ratings-wise. In fact, Friday Night Lights has yet to place a single one of its episodes in the top 50–the best it’s managed thusfar is a #52 placing for episode 5, “Git ‘Er Done,” which was only because of the show temporarily moving to a more lucrative Monday night slot. Frankly, it’ll be a miracle if this show gets renewed for a second season.

But really, it’s something of a miracle that it was even on in the first place. The fact that FNL even exists is sort of crazy. To say that I’ve never seen anything like it on TV before (not to mention on one of the Big Four channels) would be a gross understatement–the show seems antithetical to what the very idea of TV is about. If the goal of most TV shows is to take real life and shape an idealized, smoothed out version of it, the goal of FNL is to take idealized, smoothed out television and create real life out of it. Nearly every episode follows some trite, TV-ready plot–the star running back is actually on steroids, the star quarterback gets in hot water with his nice girlfriend (the coach’s daughter, wouldn’t you know) when groupies whisk off his clothes at a team party, the troubled fullback tries to reconnect with his alcoholic father, who swears he’s changed but ultimately lets him down, etc.

But the thing is, even though nine times out of ten you can see what’s coming a mile away, it feels real. Your mind tells you not to trust it, it’s TV, but in your heart it all rings shockingly true–the writing, the direction, the editing, the scoring, the cinematography and above all, the acting, is good enough to make you believe even the lowest of plot contrivances. Don’t let the fact that it’s about a football team (strike one) in high school (strike two), based on a film that’s based on a book (strikes three and, if possible, four) fool you–Friday Night Lights is more Richard Linklater than Ron Shelton, and has virtually nothing to do with the preceding film and book, outside of being about Texas football.

And even the Texas football isn’t as important as you’d think. Sure, the show couldn’t survive without that link between all the characters, and regardless of how little you care about high school sports, you will care about the Dillon Panthers, and your heart’ll be pounding at the conclusion of every improbably tight, down-to-the-wire game they play. But sports fans aren’t necessarily more likely to enjoy FNL than non-sports fans–in fact, some episodes don’t even feature football at all, and you probably won’t even notice its absence in them until the very end. And the actual football shown is the show’s main weak spot–well filmed but very poorly edited, rushed through, as if the show’s creators don’t care enough about the games themselves to appropriately stretch the drama. They clearly find the behind-the-scenes drama more interesting.

That’s fine, because the cast of Friday Night Lights is one of the strongest ensembles in recent memory. Even though nearly every one falls into a type, none of the characters, with the possible exception of sleazy car salesman Buddy Garrity, is two-dimensional. The characters evolve, and they react to situations like human beings, which occasionally leads to genuinely unpredictable but believable situations, like Lyla Garrity going demolition derby on her dad’s dealership after she finds out about his serial philandering, or mild-mannered QB Matt Saracen storming out on the coach’s banquet speech in the finale after finding out the coach plans to leave next year. And the cast’s interactions are written in a way that borders somewhat dangerously on realism–the dialogue is filled with overlapping speech, incomplete sentences and incomplete ideas, awkward pauses and painfully visible thought processing, and occasional outbursts of genuine emotion. And the actors fill it out beautifully, without a weak link in a cast of teens and adults–an extreme rarity in dramatic television.

Still, the appeal of the show basically boils down to the two main couples. There’s the first love of teenagers Julie Taylor and Matt Saracen, whose beginnings provided one of the most awkward, difficult to watch, and ultimately heart-melting teen courtships ever presented on TV. It took Julie about half the season to even warm up to Matt, and you barely notice at first once she finally does, until episode 11 where it looks like Matt’s father is going to get him taken away from Dillon, and Julie meekly tells her mother through tear-stained eyes, “I just don’t want him to go.” It’s one of many disarmingly tender moments between the two characters in the show, and it still kills me to think about.

But really, Friday Night Lights is about Eric and Tammy Taylor, the coach and his guidance counselor wife, played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. Two of the strongest, most likeable and most well-rounded characters in recent memory, TV or otherwise, played by two actors utterly in control of every aspect of their craft and roles. Eric Taylor is the kind of coach and father/father figure that every high school kid wishes they could have, tough and uncompromising, but smart, sensitive and forgiving. His authority is absolute, he can level the other characters with one of his patented stone glances (which must’ve taken Chandler months to get down just right), and he can redeem their souls and spirits with a single gesture of approval. And Tammy is, of course, the kind of counselor and mother/mother figure every high school kid would wish they could have, if they realized how badly they needed one, offering solace, empathy and genuine care, while remaining down-to-earth and relatable–the kind of person you want to tell all your secrets to just so she’ll tell you, regardless of how implausable it is, that everything’ll be OK.

But the real sight to behold when it comes to Tammy and Eric is their relationship with each other. These characters not only feel like they should be married, but it’s incredibly obvious that they’re still very much in love with each other, a relationship of genuine equals (Tammy does the unthinkable on the show by refusing to fit into either the “you’ll do what you think is best, dear” or the “FOOTBALL, FOOTBALL, WHY IS EVERYTHING ALWAYS ABOUT FOOTBALL WITH YOU??” molds of sports wives, very much her own character and one who Eric clearly needs as badly as the rest of the charcaters on the show). Take the episode where the lesbian Senate candidate (or something like that, I don’t think they mention her again after that episode) asks Tammy to help with her campaign. She tells her husband about how she’s considering taking the position, and naturally, his first instinct is to wonder how his wife’s new association is going to affect their public image. After a few rounds of some heated verbal sparring, the two break out in smiles. “Never a dull moment with you, is there?” Eric asks. “That’s why you married me, right?” is Tammy’s somewhat canned response–obviously not the first time an argument of theirs has ended this way.

The primary responsibility of sports in movies and television is to make the impossible seem possible, and FNL is no exception. It asks audiences to believe that a second-string quarterback, coming off the bench for the first time in his career, can save the crucial first game of the season with a last-second, perfectly spiraled hail mary, and that a team can come back at the half at the big game trailing 26-0 and win the damn thing just because their coach’s halftime speech was just that good. But Friday Night Lights also makes the impossible seem possible in a more real-life sense–that legitimately great and artful television can survive on broadcast television. Let’s just hope it can survive for a little bit longer.

Posted in Time of the Season, TV O.D. | 2 Comments »

Adventures with Audacity: “The Connection is Made”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 13, 2007

Watch out, Go Home Productions

Thanks to the good people at the Sound Opinions Message Board for unwittingly turning me on to Audacity, a super-fine mp3 editing service that I’ve been playing with for the last day. Now, I’ve been craving something like this that I could fuck around with for some time, but it seemed like every program I downloaded either needed some protection code I didn’t have, or had some pointless fee attached to it, or just didn’t work right. But now, I have finally found the right digital scissors & paste I need to do things like isolate the intro to Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s “Fire” (‘coz let’s face it, the rest of the song–kind of underwhelming in comparison).

My second project of last evening was slightly more ambitious and considerably more time-consuming–I think it took maybe 6-7 hours total–but was probably even more gleeful. It’s a labor of love, certainly–whenever I can smell spring or summer coming up, my music listening almost reflexively regresses to 90s nostalgia, namely for the 90s alternative rock I cut my teeth on. This sensation has previously led me to design my four-disc ’92-’95 alt-rock mix What the World Needs Now in 2004 (which I’m actually still sort of proud of, though I must’ve really been hurting for material for disc four if I deigned The Connells’ “Slackjawed” worthy of inclusion), as well as Whatever, Dude, my seven-disc response mix to Rhino’s heartbreakingly lackluster seven-disc 90s set in 2005 (also pretty good, though a bit more of a mixed bag, and it turns out that I wasn’t quite ready to revisit The Vengaboys’ “We Like to Party” quite yet). I’m not sure what I did in 2006, I think I just listened to a bunch of Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. albums.

Anyway, in this same spirit, I present to you the first fruits of my Audacity labors–The Connection is Made.” It’s a rough assemblage of the intros to 35 of my favorite hits from the Alternative Nation, borne out of my attempt to prove that the intros to “Possum Kingdom” and “Santa Monica” would sound nifty mixed together. It’s kind of like a 90s alternative “Intro/Inspection,” except without all the cool beatmatching, layering, creativity and skill. You know how it is. Parts of it I’m kind of proud, though, even if there are definitely rough patches and transitions I couldn’t quite nail as well as I hoped I could. Could’ve done worse for a first time out.

For you alt-90s experts out there, see if you can name all 35 tracks–most are exceedingly obvious, but one or two might be kind of tricky. Get ’em all, and I owe you a coke, or at least front-row seats at the inevitable first DJ Stoopendous gig. Damn, I hope no one else has taken that name yet.

Posted in Adventures with Audacity | 1 Comment »

Charts on Fire: 04-12-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 12, 2007

So Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado return their long-owed favors to Timbaland’s career-rescusitating touch by lending him enough star power to send his “Give it to Me” straight to the top of the charts (with some ridiculous #, like 250k, of downloads in its first available week). Not that he doesn’t deserve it–“Give it To Me” is definitely one of the more successful songs on recent Timbo solo venture Shock Value, and let’s just say that his songs with The Hives and She Wants Revenge have more, um, limited commercial potential. Nonetheless, I’m sure Tim enjoys being on the left side of the f/ symbol for once.

The other big story in the top ten this week is Linkin Park. I once predicted that if any rock band was ever going to debut in the top spot it would be then, and it looks like I was about six off, as good-not-great new single “What I’ve Done” debuts at #7 this week (it does manage, however, to debut at #1 on the MR charts, good for them). Everyone else in the top ten slips a couple to make room for the new-ons, except for T-Pain, who manages a third top ten hit with “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” (14-10, dear lord).

Big risers elsewhere in the top 50–Pink’s “U + Ur Hand” (19-14), Hillary Duff’s “With Love” (now officially her biggest hit and deservedly so, 43-24), Huey’s “Pop, Lock & Drop It” (38-30), Bow Wow’s “Outta My System” (44-39) and Hinder’s “Better Than Me” (50-40). Three new, exceedingly unexciting entries to the top 50 this week– Daughtry’s “Home,” (51-43), Lloyd’s “Get it Shorty” (which actually isn’t half bad, 55-44) and Ne-Yo’s “Because of You” (54-46).

Got a handful of new entries to the bottom half of the chart, naturally. Dashboard Confessional’s “Stolen” is the highest (already the groups highest-ever charter at #65. not bad), joined by Ashley Tisdale’s “Kiss the Girl” (amazingly, it actually is a cover of the Little Mermaid song, and not a half-bad one either, #81), Fablolous & Young Jeezy’s “Diamonds” (another strive for cred, sorta, you’ll got there someday Fab, #83) and Maroon 5’s “Makes Me Wonder” (man, everyone’s going disco these days, #84). The last one is burning up the AC charts, impressive when one considers that it normally takes AC stations about two years to catch on to new music (I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure that Lifehouse’s “You & Me” is still the chart’s #1, unless they finally caught up to Daniel Powter).

Despite getting the top spot on the singles charts, Timbaland only gets to #5 on the album charts, predictably unable to defeat NOW That’s What I Call Music 24 for the #1. The tracklist looks OK, especially the weirdo middle run of Corrine Bailey Rae, Lily Allien, KT Tunstall, Hellogoodbye and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. I guess technically these songs were popular, but I gotta wonder how they sound next to the Beyonce and Ne-Yo cuts. Lily’ll probably make more money off of her appearance on this than she will for all of Alright, Still I guess.

Posted in Charts on Fire | 1 Comment »

TV O.D. : “Say Hello to Your Brother”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 11, 2007

(Spoiler Alert)

Or, “The Greatest 3:10 in Modern Television History.” Somehow managing to combine the awesomeness of the climactic fight sequences of action classics Die Hard and Commando, the final fight between Jack Bauer and Abu Fayed on Monday’s 24 was nothing less than jaw-dropping. It’s definitely the most engrossing 24 battle I’ve ever seen, and possibly the high point of the show thus far.

‘Coz let’s face it, the season’s been dragging like hell. No one’s expecting anything real left field from 24 at this point–obviously, most of the fun comes in knowing when there’s gonna be a twist, when simmering CTU sexual tension is gonna finally be unleashed, and when Jack’s gonna yell “DAMMIT!!” But when you’ve got yet another vice president trying to usurp the presidency to further his own agenda (Season 2), another torture of a possibly rogue CTU agent who lo and behold, turns out to be clean as a whislte (Season 3), and another retarded brother who turns out to be a computer idiot savant unknowingly passing on surveillance tips to Middle Eastern terrorists (uh, I’m sure there must’ve been at least one in there), it’s kind of hard to stay motivated.

But most importantly, it just feels like Jack’s heart hasn’t really been in it this season. After years of torture, the recent death of his girlfriend (well, maybe, more on that later) and the inability of the rest of the world to save itself every once in a while, Jack simply doesn’t seem to have the gusto he used to when it comes to getting the bad guys. This season, he’s mostly just going through the motions (which is secretly why I suspect that the once-sporadic “DAMMIT!” outbursts now come out essentially at the same time every episode–Jack just seems to think that it’s something he’s expected to say, it’s no longer really coming from the heart).

But you can tell that he really got his groove back with this one. I can’t remember the last time I saw Jack so aching to kill someone–so badly that upon arriving at the complex of Fayed and his men, he doesn’t even bother to wait or even call for backup. He takes out the lookout with less difficulty than I have cracking an egg–for me, that’s at least a three-step process, but for Jack, it’s just sweep, crack, done. Then he goes into the main facility, with Fayed and the rest of his men. He gauges the odds of the situation–roughly a half-dozen trained soldiers with machine guns, vs. him with his handgun–and he thinks for a few seconds, and then you can almost hear him think “ah, fuck it,” as he puts two in guard #1.

He takes out guards #2-5 with superhuman, nee supernatural precision, and then it’s time for Fayed. Instantly it becomes clear that this is gonna be that rarest of 24 phenomena–the extended hand-to-hand combat fight, last seen I believe in the stadium finale to Season 2–as Fayed foolishly throws his ammo-less gun at the oncoming Bauer (side note: does this ever, ever work? Has there ever been a tv or movie fight where an empty handgun, thrown at an assailant out of frustration, conks the foe square on the head, knocking him unconscious and eliminating him as a threat? Wouldn’t it make more sense to secure the gun in hopes of, I dunno, finding some more ammo?) The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been, with Jack looking to lay the smackdown on the man who tortured him, killed thousands of people and forced Jack to kill his partner, and with Fayed looking for some vindication for the death of his brother at Jack’s hand, as well as for Bauer’s continual foilings of his devilish masterworks.

After some strangulation, some knee blows and a couple good throws each, Bauer breaks out the giant wrench. At any other point in the series, this would be the point when you’d say “OK, fight’s over”–Bauer can kill a man with his teeth and no hands, being equipped with any hand weapon greater than two inches in size should mean automatic victory. But Fayed holds his own, enduring just one blow to his right arm before tackling Bauer and disarming him. Bauer floored and badly hurting, it looks like Fayed has the advantage, but he makes the same mistake that all supervillians seem to make in this situation–the overconfident, slow punishing of the victim to really enjoy his victory, meanwhile allowing him to regain his strength/resolve and/or find other weapons. Bauer does his trademark leg sweep and we’re back to even ground.

Then Bauer picks up a chain, Fayed picks up a pipe, and you know it’s fucking on. After some even sparring, both men clearly lose their patience and start with the dirty fighting–Fayed grabs Jack’s wounded shoulder, while Jack starts up again with the biting (those teeth’ll kill ya, mang). Then Jack gets in a prime headbutt, and it’s over–Jack wraps Fayed’s neck in the chain, and prepares for his finishing move, but not before brutally reminding Fayed of how badly he has failed, with what might be his first truly great one-liner in all the show’s six seasons:

Say hello to your brother!

I wish that the internet allowed for double-italics on a quote like that, because just single doesn’t nearly do the quote justice. Jack isn’t just relieved to have defeated his most recent nemesis, he’s practically getting off on it. So much does Bauer relish this opportunity that he risks a last-second escape from Fayed in order to really get the line’s maximum effect, before he raises the chain, hanging Fayed with it. My first instinct at this point was to assume that Fayed had managed to arm the nukes while Bauer was deploying guards #2-5, and now Jack had lost his only chance to get them disarmed (DAMMIT!). But apparently the 24 people were fine with just letting Jack have this one victory untainted, and after a season of losses and compromised wins, that seems only fair.

Of course that’s not to say that Jack’s work is done now–wouldn’t you know it, not two minutes after he’s done saving the West Coast from imminent peril, Jack gets a call from his previously thought to be dead ex-gf Audrey Raines, alive but not-so-well. She’s at the hands of the Chinese–that’s right, the same Chinese that Jack pissed the fuck off at the end of season four, the same Chinese that discreetly abducted him at the end of season five, and the same Chinese that tortured him for the three years leading up to season six–who apparently haven’t finished their business with Bauer just yet. Heeeeere we go again!

Really, though, I think the producers are going to regret wasting this fight in the season’s mere 17th episode. Even if Jack ended up single-handedly taking on the entire population of China in the final episodes–and for all we know, he very well might–it’d still be real fucking hard to top this.

(Amazingly, the scene is up on the internet in all its glory already–what did people do before YouTube, anyway? Even if you’ve never seen a second of the show before, do yourself a favor and watch this)

Posted in TV O.D. | 1 Comment »

I Sez: Grindhouse Turnout Disappointing, Movie Pretty Solid

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 10, 2007

Machine guns as prosthetic legs: Probably not as practical a choice as it might seem

When I made plans with a friend of mine to see Grindhouse on Saturday, I took heed of my recent experiences of seeing Zodiac and The Departed on opening weekend–barely getting tickets and the getting stuck in the worst corner of the theater. I made sure he bought the tickets first thing Saturday morning, for the latest showing possible (12:30), and we got there a half hour early, just in case. Of course, this all turned out to be wholly unnecessary–the theater turned out to be barely half full (and apparently the teller looked at my friend like he was crazy when he bought the tickets 12 hours in advance).

I gotta say, I’m pretty surprised. Grindhouse finished a paltry 4th in the Box Office last weekend, behind stellar efforts Meet the Robinsons and Are We Done Yet?, with an unexceptional 13mil in receipts. Now, I wasn’t quite expecting Wild Hogs numbers (I dared not even dream), but c’mon, new Tarantino mixed with new Rodriguez–I expected at least Sin City or Kill Bill type returns. What happened?

A critic for the Washington Post offered a possible explanation in his recent review of the movie, which said something to the effect of “the number of people who care about a Grindhouse revival amounts to about two–Tarantino and Rodriguez.” It’s a good point–the target market for these movies are probably single dudes between the ages of 18 and 35, and only guys towards the latter end of the spectrum would’ve been alive for the Grindhouse salad days, much less care to see it brought back. But I think such criticism misses the point somewhat. Most of the audience for this movie probably won’t give a shit about the actual Grindhouse format, but what it has to offer–mindless entertainment with hot babes, car chases, exploding zombie tongues, etc.–probably speaks to them just the same. It’s like the copious 80s film and TV references in fratboy TV favorite “Family Guy”–85% of the people watching probably won’t get it, but it’s the fact that the jokes are being made at all which is funny (or supposed to be, anyway).

Another theory is that due to the film’s poor marketing, a whole lot of people walked out after Rodriguez’s half and missed out on Tarantino’s side of the action. This makes more sense–if you weren’t a film geek and hadn’t read up on or discussed the movie with friends beforehand, the previews don’t really give you too much of an inclination that there are two different, completely individual movies on display here. Sure, there are clearly different story lines and color palettes on display here, but Sin City mixed plots, characters and visual motifs all within one feature as well–it’s entirely possible people made it through Planet Terror and assumed that was it.

Or, perhaps equally likely, people made it through Planet Terror and decided for themselves that that was it. Rodriguez’s flick is a lot of fun–if nothing else, you’ve got cameos from Bruce Willis and Fergie, lots of gunfights, and tons of performances from “Wow, so that’s what they’ve been up to?” actors of yesteryear (Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, and the still-blazing Rose McGowan among ’em). It’s not particularly interesting or exciting, though, and the thrills are as cheap and ephemeral as they come (in that respect, probably the film’s truest tribute to the nature of the Grindhouse flick). If viewers had limited patience for exploding bodies and machine gun limbs, it’s understandable that they might not want to sit through a similar 80 minutes straight after.

This is unfortunate, of course, since the Tarantino half of Grindhouse is almost infinitely superior to the Rodriguez. Smart, taut and unpredictable where Planet Terror was purposefully stupid, sloppy and crowd-pleasing, Death Proof proves what most fans going into Grindhouse probably suspected all along–that when it comes to going head-to-head with his buddy and collaborator, Robert Rodriguez is still thoroughly out of his league. Fifteen minutes into Death Proof and I could barely even remember the name of the first movie I sat through that evening.

So it’s unlikely that Grindhouse is going to start much of a revival of the long-dead format, and that’s probably for the best–in fact, the faux-trailers, faked “missing reels,” intentionally grainy footage and intentionally retro visual and sound effects are kind of cute at first, but ultimately distract from what could’ve been two (or at least one and a half) legitimately enjoyable movies in their own right. In any event, I’m sure the DVD sales will make up for whatever the film lacks in box office returns–once you can separate Grindhouse the movie from Grindhouse the best-forgotten phenomenon, it’ll probably be a lot more satisfying.

Posted in I Sez | 6 Comments »

TV O.D. : Return of the Macks

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 9, 2007

(Mega spoiler alert, of course)

So last night brought with it the return of the two best parts of summer television, The Sopranos (in the second half of its sixth and final season) and Entourage (in the second half of its third of hopefully many seasons to come). The last time I was this excited for a new release doubleheader might’ve been May 14, 2002, the Tuesday when the new albums by both Moby and Weezer were released. Of course both of those albums (18 and Maladroit, as most of you have probably already forgotten) ended up sucking–would last night suffer a similar fate?

First up was The Sopranos. When we last left the family, it wasn’t at a cliffhanger or anything that was really begging for resolution, but the uneasy calm that hung over pretty much the whole season had reached an almost unbearable point of tension. It felt like it might finally result in an explosion, and since we’ve already been informed that this will be the show’s last season, expectations for cataclysmic events to finally hit the family are higher than ever–so high that fans have started holding group “Soprano Death Polls” predicting who would be the inevitable family member to take the hit.

That hit didn’t quite happen in last night’s episode–in fact, most of the episode was spent continuing to build on the crazy tension of the season’s first half. It’s Tony’s birthday, and his first presnt comes courtesy of the local cops, who haul him off one morning on a two-year-old gun charge. The charges are quickly dropped (for now, at least), and Tony is free to drive up with Carmela to Janice and Bobby Baccalieri’s lake house to celebrate. The four have a blast, drinking, sailing, even doing karaoke (Carmela’s tremendously off-key rendition of “Love Hurts” is an episode highlight), but as it often does, a game of drunken monopoly goes sour when tensions escalate between Tony and Janice, and in a misguided attempt to stand up for his woman, Bobby pops Tony, starting a brawl that ends with Tony crashing through a table.

Few, if any shows could make a game of Monopoly seem as nerve-wracking as The Sopranos, and to see the tension finally actually end in an explosion for once is immensely satisfying. As should be instantly clear, Bobby’s decision to slug his boss has grave ramifications–Tony spends the rest of the episode sulking over his defeat, and sends Bobby on his first-ever hit out of revenge. Bobby performs the hit dutifully, but sloppily–he leaves part of his shirt with the victim, as well as the gun, plenty of DNA and possibly even a witness. Needless to say, this probably won’t be the last we hear about the hit.

Much of the episode is frustrating, but with a show like The Sopranos, a little frustration is almost inevitable–there’s just too many characters and too many plot threads going at any one point in the show to satisfactorally cover all of them. “Soprano Home Movies” probably does the smart thing in not even trying–Christopher, Sylvio, Paulie, Meadow, Uncle Junior, Johnny Sac and Dr. Melfi are all barely touched on, if at all, instead focusing on one of the show’s most underrated characters, Bobby Baccala. Bobby is, with the possible exception of Sylvio, the only really “nice” guy left in the family–he doesn’t hold grudges, he doesn’t do anything on the side, he doesn’t lose his temper and until last night, he didn’t kill people. To see Tony start to lead him on the path towards soullessness is heartbreaking, if unsurprising.

Heartbreak was the prevalent theme of last night’s Entourage premiere, “Less Than 30,” as well–that of Ari Gold, spurned agent. Since Vince fired Ari last summer, Vinny and the boys have shacked up with a new sugar mama, Amanda, played by Carla Gugino of Sin City and “Karen Sisco” fame. Amanda shares Ari’s ballsiness and his intense dislike of competition for a client’s attention and affection, and she doesn’t take kindly to Ari’s attempts to win Vince back–including his promise of hand-delivering Vince the lead role in Medellin, the Pablo Escobar biopic that Ari had blown for him earlier in the season. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual with the other three boys–E is wary of everyone’s clamoring for Vince’s attention, Turtle is put in charge of planning Vince’s birthday with E’s funding and goes overbudget, and Drama tries in vain to get noticed in connection with the billboard for his Ed Burns-produced show “The Five Towns” (which looks a whole lot like “The Black Donnellys”–let’s hope it does a little better, though).

As the old saying goes, episodes of “Entourage” are like pizza and Ramones songs–some might be better than others, but there’s really no such thing as a bad one. The show displays little to no interest in character development, far-reaching story arcs or really anything besides showing you the lives of a group of friends who have it way better than you and your friends do, and by now I doubt anyone still watching the show expects anything more. So did last night show you a bunch of dudes having a better time than you most likely did this weekend? Check. Therefore, a successful “Entourage” episode.

There were some genuine laughs to be had in the Ex-Agent-as-Ex-Girlfriend parallel, though, even if it was at times a little too easy. Ari’s seething about Amanda’s birthday gift to Vince (courtside Lakers tickets, which Ari claims he used to get Vince “‘coz it was a Thursday”) being infinitely inferior to his, E pointing out that Ari was the longest relationship Vince’d had outside of his bros and his mother, and Lloyd attempting to inspire Ari to “go get back his man”–it’s all pretty convincing that in fact, Vince’s relationship with Ari probably was more meaningful, and with greater fallout, than the great majority of his girlfriends. Hopefully the show won’t take it too much further–I can already see the show having Ari do drive-bys at the boys’ commode, making Cusackian tearful declarations of devotion in the rain, etc.–but for now, it worked fine.

So, all in all, not the strongest efforts either show has put up, but definitely way better than 18 and Maladroit. Even though I still think 18 had its moments.

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