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Archive for August, 2007

OMGWTFLOL: Alvin & the Chipmunks – “Good Girls Don’t” (1980)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 31, 2007

You could’ve swore you thought you heard ’em sayin’…

All right, so I wrote about Alvin, Simon & Theodore pretty recently, but given the general frenzy bound to sweep the states with their movie’s release (or ‘Munkmania, as I like to call it), I figure I gotta get it all in when I can. Anyway, I’ve been curious about their slightly infamous Chipmunk Punk collection for some time now, mostly because in my head I was still picturing an album of Dead Kennedys and Sham 69 covers (I actually think the boys could’ve done a damn good “(There’s Gonna Be A) Borstal Breakout” if they were just willing to dig a little deeper). Unfortunately, the closest the Chipmunks get to actual punk is their cover of “Good Girls Don’t”.

Truth told, The Knack’s original “Good Girls Don’t” was pretty OMGWTFLOL in its own right. It’s doubtful that it ever would’ve even dented the charts had previous single “My Sharona” not been such a cultural typhoon of power-pop–six weeks at #1 at the very height of the disco era, the top song for the 1979 calendar year. Some may have wanted to Nuke ’em, but the rest of the world couldn’t get enough, and so “Good Girls Don’t” was able to make it all the way to #11–despite containing some of the dirtiest lyrics ever heard in pop music to that point.

See, by nature, power-pop is a very innocent genre. It’s a horny one, sure–god knows The Raspberries were more than a little preoccupied with being with you so they could go all the way with you tonight, but they sang about in such a sweet, good-natured way that their hits just sounded like a more realistic way to talk about teenage love and loneliness–nothing you’d have to turn down in front of your parents. Not so with “Good Girls Don’t,” which despite containing some pretty chords and some very nice harmonica, contains explicit references to oral sex, third-base makeouts and just sluttiness in general. Combined with later hit (err, semi-hit) “Baby Talks Dirty” and rumors about the underage inspiration behind “My Sharona,” The Knack’s career practically pushes Gary Glitter territory.

So the Chipmunks, then. First off, turns out that power-pop is a pretty lousy base genre when it comes to Chipmunkizaiton. Nothing really changes about the song except for the vocal (side note: did this album’s creators actually have to go through the process of covering these songs to have soundalikes for the Munks to squeak over? If so, did anyone ever list “played bass on Chipmunk Punk” on their resume?), whose high-pitchedness just sounds ridiculous and unintelligible over the relatively sedate instrumental backing. In any event, Alvin & Co. aren’t winning any Battle of the Bands contests anytime soon.

But you don’t care about this. What you want to know, if you’ve ever heard the song before, is if certain lyrics–one line in particular–have been altered from their original version. And the answer is no, no they haven’t. And by no they haven’t, I mean of course they fucking have–if the words “’til she’s sitting on your face” had ever come out of Alvin’s mouth, or from someone else’s Alvinized mouth, it would have incited revolutions that you and I would almost certainly have already read about in 10th grade History. Just what they change it to is sort of unclear, but I think it’s “’til she’s sitting in your place” (and “wishing you could get inside her pants” has predictably been changed to “get another chance”). Oh well.

In a way, I guess you could consider Chipmunk Punk (and its brother album, the not quite so cutting edge Chipmunk Rock) to be slightly ahead of its time, given the recent Kidz Bop craze, which has caused similar confusion as to how tricky subject matters as the “just want to make you cumma” part in “Hey Ya!” and the general lyrical weirdness of “Float On” should be treated (answers: cut out the part entirely and just add “YEAH!” after every line, respectively). You could say it destroys the soul of the originals, but think of how much it’ll blow the minds of kids raised on this stuff when they eventually hear the originals. It’ll be like the first time I saw Major League on Cinemax after growing up with the basic-cable version.

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Posted in OMGWTFLOL | 1 Comment »

Take Five: Best Jewish Movie Badasses

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 30, 2007

“The Jews have shifted their shapes!”

One of my favorite scenes in Knocked Up is when Seth Rogen and his roommates are chilling in the club before he picks up Katherine Heigl, and they have a discussion about underappreciated movies they recently saw, for which Rogen’s candidate is Munich. His evidence for this is that after a long time of being portrayed in movies as victims, it’s nice to some Jews in flicks that are actually kicking a little ass. “If any of us get laid tonight,” he concludes, “it’s because of Eric Bana in Munich.”

As a fellow Member of the Tribe, I definitely knew what he was talking about–there’s something that’s just really empowering about watching our Jewish brethren in roles that demonstrate some serious (and even occasionally villainous) badassery. You can keep your Schindler’s List, your Exodus, your Martin Landau in Rounders–nothing fills me with more religious pride than watching a Chosen One with a gun and a mean streak. Here’s five of the (unfortunately few) examples, keeping in mind that I’ve still yet to see The Hebrew Hammer:

  1. Greg Weinstein in Boiler Room. Not the movie’s out-and-out villain, per se, but given the last-minute pussing out of Vin Diesel and Ron Rifkin, the disappearance halfway through the movie of Ben Affleck, and the utterly inconsequential nature of Scott Caan, probably the closest thing you’ll find to one in Boiler Room. Nicky Katt always seems sort of evil, anyway–he’s rivaled only by Peter Sarsgaard in that sort of seething, constantly pissed off, fuck you for living look and voice. As J.T. Marlin’s most guiltless shiller, Katt steals almost every scene he’s in–it’s just too bad the movie didn’t really have the balls for him to ever really go all-out on Giovanni Ribisi for stealing his girl and job status.
  2. Sam “Ace” Rothstein in Casino. Marking the second time Robert DeNiro sort of played Jewish (the whole gang of the vastly overrated Once Upon a Time in America were nice Jewish boys), Casino doesn’t give too much outward indication of Rothstein’s faith, besides his last name, his nickname (the gloriously unsubtle “The Golden Jew”) and the countless times Joe Pesci refers to him as a “Jew prick”. However, his character employs that most prevalent of Jewish stereotypes, our handiness with the finance, to a degree that could almost be classified as a superpower–Ace can pick gambling winners in seemingly any field (except of course his marriage to ice queen Sharon Stone) with stunning accuracy. It’s doubtful that he learned his trade in Junior Congregation, but I think his schul would be proud of him nonetheless–he even manages to get out relatively clean at the end, which is no small feat for a Scorsese mobster.
  3. Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Pt. II. In the post-Mel Gibson age, it’s unlikely that Coppola would ever have been able to get away with a villain like Hyman Roth, played by legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg, who exemplifies just about every negative stereotype commonly associated with Judaism, minus the big beard and hand-wringing. Greedy, back-stabbing and extremely finnicky (“a smaller piece,” he reprimands a caterer cutting him a slice of birthday cake at his own party), Roth nonetheless plays one of the Saga’s craftiest and hardest-to-kill enemies, and for that he necessitates mention on this list. (Also worth noting: Alex Rocco as the regrettably arrogant Moe Green in I)
  4. Alan Kleinfeld in Carlito’s Way. Easily the most memorable Jewish villain in Modern Cinema, as well as (uncoincidentally) the most outlandish. The Jewfro’d lawyer Kleinfeld, played by Sean Penn, ends up going kilo-for-kilo with Al Pacino’s cocaine snorting in spiritual predecessor Scarface, and decides to throw over his private practice for the significantly more treacherous but significantly less boring mob world. Penn’s performance is so over-the-top that it arguably qualfiies him for retroactive Give-Back-the-Oscar charges, but the performance has deservedly become a cult classic, and manages to outshine not just Pacino, but even up-and-coming turns from Viggo Mortensen, Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, and that guy who played the fattest gangster to ever be goaded into a foot chase.
  5. The Entire Camp in Escape from Sobibor. By far the least well known of the movie’s listed here, it’s unlikely you’ve seen (or even heard of) Escape from Sobibor unless, like me, you saw it in Hebrew School. Starring Alan Arkin and Rutger Hauer (not like I knew who they were at the time), it’s not the only Holocaust movie to be taken from the prisoners’ perspective, and it might not be the best, but it’s definitely the baddest–the titular Escape, based on a true story, is not one accomplished without the Jews getting their fingernails dirty. A camp-wide effort, even after they slaughter the guards necessary to even attempt an escape, they have to scale fences of barbed wire, run through mine fields constantly exploding around them, and dodge the bullets shooting rapid-fire at them from the remaining guards’ towers. Approx. 300 of ’em make it, and another 300 don’t. It’s righteous badassery, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

Posted in Take Five | 6 Comments »

Time of the Season: S1 of Dexter (’06 – ‘07)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 29, 2007

“Do you feel anything? ANYTHING at all?”

Has there never been a regular TV show from the perspective of a serial killer before? None that I can think of, but it seems too dynamite a concept for there not to be at least some precursor. Of course, Showtime’s hit new series Dexter cheats a little in the basic concept by making the title character unquestionably a serial killer, but one that at least has ambiguous claims to righteousness. For despite his sociopathic nature, Dexter Morgan has a slasher code of ethics (mostly meaning he just kills bad dudes), inbued in him by his adopted father Harry–one that gives him some semblance of humanity, as well as one that tends to keep his work away from prying eyes. It’s a clever trick, and one that makes the show’s story compelling, despite being about the workings of an essentially evil man.

Unsurprisingly, the show’s formula could still use a little tinkering–which I intend to forgive before S2 since, hey, this is relatively uncharted territory, and first timers are bound to make some mistakes here and there. Here’s how the story goes:

The Good:

  • Michael C. Hall as Dexter. It’s of course a particularly novel performance for me, coming off a two-week shotgun of the entire Six Feet Under, where he played Nate’s gay, uptight brother David. His performance in SFU always sort of verged on crepey itself–something about the intensity of his stare and the frogginess of his voice, combined with his repressed personality, which made him seem like he might snap at any moment. Dexter Morgan is probably who David Fisher would’ve grown up to be if he had snapped when he was about four, and it’s a joy to watch the unsettling instability of his SFU character taken to such an extreme. It’s a great performance, if occasionally somewhat cheesy. and despite being a role that most actors would kill for, it’s hard to imagine what it’d be like played by anybody else.
  • James Remar as Harry Morgan, Dexter’s adopted father. Remar has been an unfortunately unacknowledged actor since he broke out in The Warriors almost 30 years ago, and this is yet another plum role (adding to his turns in Sex & the City, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Girl Next Door and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, among countless others) to add to his stunning That Guy resume. Remar has to contend with both limited screen time and having an already-deceased character that appears only in flashbacks, but he still manages to be the show’s heart, and the only show regular that can really contend with Hall.
  • The music. Most of it is dictated by the Miami setting, which means the show is peppered with (occasionally deliberately inappropriate) Salsa music, which adds to the show’s boiling-point atmosphere. But it’s the show’s two main themes that are the real treats, the title theme a jaunty (zither? plucked guitar?) number that sounds like a much creepier version of the Dead Like Me theme, and the closing theme a haunting piano ballad that could be from DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing if it had a breakbeat under it.
  • The finale. I don’t want to ruin it for those yet to see it, but it does a pretty impressive job of tying up all the season’s loose plot points in a resolution that’s half Marlowe and half Cronenberg.

The Bad:

  • The show’s over-reliance on wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments. Dexter spends so much time evil-hamming for the camera that it’s somewhat amazing that no one else in the cast seems to notice. Plus, the character has an annoying tendency to give himself too much credit–there’s a line about halfway through the season, something like not “I’m not human, and I’m not a monster, I’m a new breed…I AM DEXTER.” C’mon, Dex, save that shit for Spiderman or someone.
  • Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter’s sister, Deborah. As Dexter’s last remaining link to humanity (“If I could feel things about anyone, I’d feel them for Deb,” he says at one point, approximately), Deb needs to be a compelling enough character to be buyable as the character keeping Dexter sane. Unfortunately, she’s mosly just kind of annoying, and one she inevitably falls into danger, you’ll only be rooting half-heartedly for Dex to come to the rescue (“eh, on second thought, fuck it”).

The Questionable:

  • The title sequence. Using extreme close-ups of Dexter performing his ordinary morning ritual–meat getting chopped, facial hairs being shaved, eggs being fried–shot to look as disturbing and unordinary as possible. The intention is obviously to show the implied violence of Dexter’s (and, in turn, most other people’s) everyday routine, and I guess it sort of works, but it feels like it’s trying a little too hard. Plus I’m pretty sure it’s already been done in a Michel Gondry or Floria Sigismondi video or something.
  • The rest of the cast. There’s really not much going on there yet–Julie Benz as Dex’s confused girlfriend Rita, David Zayas as his good-timey Latino co-worker Angel, even Erik King as Sgt. Doakes, the one cop who can almost see through his mechinations, they all fail to make anything beyond superficial impressions. With a few seasons under their belt I could see them growing on me, but for the moment, this is the Hall and Remar show through and through. Maybe IITS’s newest compadre wants to make his acting debut as Dexter’s new partner–the hilarity and pop culture cache would be unimaginable.

Posted in Time of the Season | Leave a Comment »

Blog Hiatus: ???

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 28, 2007

Apologies, dear readers, for the scattershot showings here at IITS this last week–a combination of family obligations, out-of-town trips and finally getting my new computer (only took about 17 hours to transfer all my mp3s, huzzah) have taken their toll on my ability to contribute daily. Should be back to normal next week, but humor my intermittency until then.

-AU

Posted in Blog Hiatus | 1 Comment »

One Moment in Time: The “Grunge Speak” Scandal

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 27, 2007

World history, except without the plague and railway strike parts

Every year, it gets a little harder to believe that Grunge really happened. As a musical or underground movement, it makes perfect sense, but as a mainstream and pop cultural one, it’s ridiculous that it ever gained the power that it did–it’s hard to imagine a musical genre that was often so willfully difficult (musically, asthetically, even politically, sort of) ever being quite so popular again, especially considering the unapologetically extroverted musical genres currently domianating the pop charts. Now that it looks like the last of even the post-post-grunge bands have died out (and no, I don’t buy that Nickelback has any more to do with Nirvana and Pearl Jam than they do with Deee-Lite and C&C Music Factory), it’s likely only a matter of time before before the revival starts, especially considering the two-decade-cultural-cycling theory I believe in, which means it’s at most a half-decade away. But for the remaining years of recycled 80s arena rock memories (Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, the Apatow flicks, Chuck Klosterman), Grunge continues to feel like a fading, unlikely memory.

This distance makes bizarre occurences like the “Grunge Speak” Scandal of 1992 seem even stranger in retrospect. Though ’91 might have been The Year Punk Broke, ’92 was the year that the mainstream really started to take notice–when Nevermind and Ten peaked on the charts, when Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-set romantic comedy Singles first came out, even when the flopping of 80s superheroes Def Leppard’s much-anticipated Adrenalize made explicit rock’s changing of the guard. By the end of the year, the genre’s “Big Four” (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden & Alice in Chains) had been established, flannel and long johns were sweeping the country, and it was time for the press to take notice.

And so the New York Times sent reporter Rick Marin to get the inside scoop on the grunge scene. Her search for the scene’s perspective led her to Megan Jasper, a sales rep for Sub Pop records, the genre’s flagship record label. Jasper gave the Times just what they were hoping for–priceless info on the subculture from one of its key players, in the form of what eventually became a sidebar titled “The Lexicon of Grunge”: a series of slang terms specific to the Grunge scene, unknown to the rest of the western world, advertised by the NYT as “coming soon to a high school or mall near you.” The actual article is pictured above, but in case it’s hard to read, here’s the full list of the terms prosented (from the Wiki page, obviously):

  • bloated, big bag of blotation – drunk
  • bound-and-hagged – staying home on Friday or Saturday night
  • cob nobbler – loser
  • dish – desirable guy
  • fuzz – heavy wool sweaters
  • harsh realm – bummer
  • kickers – heavy boots
  • lamestain – uncool person
  • plats – platform shoes
  • rock on – a happy goodbye
  • score – great
  • swingin’ on the flippety-flop – hanging out
  • tom-tom club– uncool outsiders
  • wack slacks – old ripped jeans

Tom Frank, a reporter for Chicago cultural criticism mag The Baffler, realized that something was up with the sidebar, and eventually Jasper’s vocab lesson was revealed to be a sham–made up on the spot to punk the NYT, whom Grungesters like Jasper didn’t necessarily appreciate encroaching on their llittle subculture. Then, as Gen Xers were wont to do at the time, the article eventually became embraced ironically as a sign of Seattle’s media over-exposure and the inherent dangers within. Mudhoney even made a T-shirt out of it.

The funniest thing about this little sidebar (nicknamed “Grungegate”), aside from the fact that it actually got published, is the fact that anyone would believe it in the first place. I’m not saying that the Grunge scene was above a little semi-self-conscious ridiculousness, but these buzz words make the grunge scene sound as if it’s populated solely by the cast of Beverly Hills, 90210. “Lamestain”? “Harsh Realm”? “Swingin’ on the flippity-flop”? Did Marin picture conversations between Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell like

“So Layney, you bound-and-hagging it tonight?”
“Yeah, well Jer, just getting bloated, swingin’ on the flippity-flop, you know how it is.”
“Score. Well, rock on, you cob nobbler.”

Tempting as it is to picture Alice in Chains members gabbing like schoolgirls in between smack injections, it seems sort of improbable. But, in a way, this proves even moreso just how unbelievably huge the Grunge scene really was getting this point. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine Seattle folks like Soundgarden and Screaming Trees as anything but humorless, perpetually dour artist rocker types, but at the time, the mainstream press could just as easily have seen them as part of another rock scene (which, just like any other, would invariably be full of hanger-ons, teenyboppers and egomaniacal stars). Maybe it actually was, who knows.

The whole debacle is even funnier, though, when viewed in conjunction with the release of Robert Lanham’s The Hipster Handbook a decade later. Though largely satirical in nature, the book’s main selling point was a glossary of hipster terms for the education of non-Williamsburgers, like “deck” (cool), “bust a Moby” (dance), and “getting the cush,” “picking the berries,” “waxing Oedipal,” “parimony,” and “changing the diaper” (all getting a check from your parents). The influence of grunge speak on The Hipster Handbook is undeniable, marking a unique case of an article becoming more artistically influential after being outed as a fabrication.

Sort of have to wonder what happened to Rick Marin as a result, though. Can you get fired for not being cool enough to know when scenesters are lying to you?

Posted in One Moment in Time | 4 Comments »

OMGWTFLOL: The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ‘86″

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 25, 2007

To hurt they try and try

I used to find listening to The Police’s original “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” really jarring, because for a long time it wasn’t the version of the song I knew best. Like many, my first exposure to The Police was with ther mid-80s hits compilation Every Breath You Take, which surely rivals the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Billy Joel Greatest Hits sets for the most widely circulated hits comp among my generation. I remember whole days when I was ten of my brother listening to it on repeat while I played NHL 95 in the next room. I’ve had a little exposure to other Police since, but that whole CD I know back and forth.

I believe EBYT was originally conceptualized under the pretense of the band re-uniting to play new versions of all their biggest hits, but the only one they actually got to recording for the album was “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86.” At the time I first heard it, I thought it was fantastic–probably one of my favorite songs on the album, actually. So when I started to heard the original DSSCTM on the radio and VH-1, I hated it–what happened to the drama, the epic sweep? What was this lightweight skank-y shit? A decade or so passes without me hearing the ’86 version, and I start to acclimate to the original. So today I decided to listen to the re-recorded one again, to see how it held up in comparison.

Well goddamn. I don’t remember exactly what my listening habits were like before I discovered MTV, but if I thought this was great, Richard Marx probably would’ve been like The Beatles to me. The song is ponderous, overwrought, and unbelievably slow–the thing’s like five minutes long, and it feels even longer. And the airy, thin production is uttelry ridiculous–even the most neutered songs on Synchronicity are like “Next to You” compared to this. I mean, Sting would get to these smothering levels of unoffensiveness on his own eventually, but The Police actually used to be kind of badass (even in the original version, whose low bass intro is sort of legitimately creepy). I can’t imagine how dispiriting DSSCTM ’86 must’ve been for people who were actually fans of the band when this came out.

The most laughworthy thing about it must be the last verse, though. Even for his Police days, Sting receives a lot of shit for his lyrical gaffes, and he deserves most of it–as is well evidenced by the last verse’s last line, “It’s no use, he sees her / He starts to shake and cough / just like the old man in that book by Nabokov”. He even pronounces “Nabokov” wrong, a mistake which has made me look really stupid in at least one literary discussion at college. But the ’86 version takes it even further–“he starts to shake and cough” becomes “he starts to shake, he starts to cough,” and “that book by Nabakov” is now “that famous book by Nabokov.” Sting takes one of the most awkward lyrics in pop music history and makes it even more horrible. Amazing.

Nothing demonstrates the core difference between the two songs better than their respective videos. The video for the original is nothing terribly special–essentially just an excuse for the three guys to play dress-up (Schoolteacher Sting and students Copeland and Summers, of course) while they pranced about for a few minutes. Needless to say, there is zero prancing in the ’86 video, which featuers the lads solemnly spinning in circles against unfathomable computer-animated backgrounds that make the video for Mike + the Mechanics’ “Silent Running” look like 2001.The dizzyingly shaky part with the band’s silhouettes might be my personal favorite.

Listening to DSSCTM ’86, it’s not surprising that the band’s first reunion was so short-lived–frankly, it’s sort of amazing they made it as far as they did. No band could make a song and video like this if the members didn’t utterly hate each other.

Posted in OMGWTFLOL | 6 Comments »

Charts on Fire: 08-23-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 24, 2007

Sort of a slow chart week, but I’m still a little too emotionally exhausted from last night’s horror to write about anything much of consequence. Sean Kingston goes for week #4 at the top spot, in an extremely stilted top five (Kanye West’s “Stronger” is the only mover, up one to #5). Only new one in the top ten is Soulja Boy’s awful if somewhat fascinating “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” which moves 11-6. Has there ever been a year with more dance craze-focused rap hits than 2007? Lame, lame, lame, although at least this one’s video helps out the squares a little bit with its execution.

Disney’s newfound decision not to leave the pop charts their last unconquered pop culture corner results in the Jonas Brothers having a top 20 single, the irritatingly titled “S.O.S.” (a pop-punk Rihanna cover might’ve been pretty cool, maybe), up 65-17. To be fair, it’s a whole lot catchier than those High School Musical chartburners, and at a surprisingly clipped 2:33, it’s hard to be too objectionable. The other big winners this week: J Holiday’s “Bed” (42-24) a Polow da Don-sounding ballad interpreted by Wikipedia as such:

“The song is an R&B song about J. Holiday putting his girlfriend to bed. The song can simply be thought of him putting his girlfriend to bed or as many think, sexual intercourse. The lyrics “Wrap me up in your legs” state that there is more than putting her to bed involved aswell as “Then I’ma rock your body, turn you over, love is war, I’m your soldier, touching you like it’s our first time”.”

Deep, but I think I’ll stick with “Promise”. And then there’s Paramore’s “Misery Business,” whose re-entry at #34 is a real fucking headscratcher. I have no idea whether I like the song yet or not, but the angry, shrill and structurally dense song doesn’t exactly scream top 40 to me. In any event, props to lead singer Haley Williams for being arguably the first female inducted into the boys club of emo hitmakers, I suppose. That new 50 Cent Single with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake (now officially the Usher & Lil’ Jon of ’07), “Ayo Technology,” is up a few to #18 as well this week, and marks not only another notch in Timberrrr’s streak of awesome hits, but possibly the first interesting beat 50’s worked with on one of his hits since “In Da Club”. Bout fucking time if you ask me.

Aside from yet another High School Musical-related top 40 debut (Zac Efron & Vanessa Anne Hudgens’ “You Are the Music in Me” at #38, I’m not even going to bother trying to find the mp3 on Soulseek), the only other debut in the chart’s top half is that of Gym Class Heroes’ Jermaine Stewart-inspired “Clothes Off!” at #46. Having two straight hits with FOB crooner Patrick Stump singing the (stolen) hook almost guarantees that the band will never have another actual hit again (just ask The Game how well his solo singles ended up working out), but I guess it’s good to see some nice old-fashioned gimmickry on the charts again, as well as song titles with exclamation points!

Meanwhile, Modern Rock chart-topping new Foo Fighters single “The Pretender” is the best thing the band’s done in a half-decade (which means it’s like a seven instead of a five, hallelujah), Maroon 5 continue to surprise and impress with their above-decent blue-eyed soul, and Will.i.Am does the inevitable solo single thing, with predictably questionable results.

Posted in Charts on Fire | 3 Comments »

Time of the Season: (One Episode Of) S2-5 of Six Feet Under (’02-’05)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 23, 2007

Oh dear lord

There’s a part in season three of Six Feet Under, during the early days of Claire’s stay at art school, where her teacher and future mentor Olivier preaches something about how good art should make you want to vomit. I wish I had taken note of what the exact quote was, since it turned out to be the most prophetic piece of foreshadowing the show could have possibly had. The series’ finale, “Everybody’s Waiting,” literally made me feel ill–in the final minutes, I considered pausing it for a minute for fear I wasn’t going to be able to breathe by the end.

To be fair, the episode had help–a combination of over-indulgence on Chinese leftovers, fairly serious sleep deprivation, and mild to severe intoxication left me primed for such feelings. Still, the only time I can remember feeling a similar way was after watching Day of the Dead one night in High School, because both pecked mercilessly at all of my greatest, deepest fears in life–SFU = abandonement, rejection, alienation, death, family loss, DOTD = getting eaten by motherfucking zombies. And hey, at least Day of the Dead had a ridiculous happy ending, where all the characters escape to a blissful, safe existence on some island, presumably tacked on to keep patrons from walking out of the theater and straight into moving traffic. SFU ends with what is possibly the world’s first ever funeral montage. Judged solely on its own art = nausea standards, Six Feet Under must surely be considered the greatest piece of art to ever appear on TV.

Really, I’m not even gonna talk about most of the rest of Seasons 2 -5, which was largely good (with some minor issues and varying story arc success) but in retrospect seems basically just like a lead up to the series’ last five episodes, especially that fucking finale. It’s not my first time with truly emotionally painful TV–at least one or two Sopranos episodes inspired similar misery, as well as a certain episode of Seinfeld that I hope to talk about here at length sometime–but nothing quite like this. Starting about halfway through season five, I started racing through the last episodes as fast as I could to just get it over with already.

It started with Nate’s death about four episodes from the end, a death which, while somewhat predictable and anti-climactic at the time, set a chain of episodes in motion that just kept getting more and more miserable. But it wasn’t that bad quite yet–emotionally draining, sure, but manageable. And even when things started to go right again–with Claire moving on, Federico moving up, David and Keith making good with their kids Ruth learning how to live on her own, and Brenda finally being accepted as part of the Fisher family–somehow, that was still slightly doable. But at each of the show’s 100 could-possibly-end-here-endings (which make Return of the King seem like Crank by comparison), I started praying to myself end here, end here, let me out before any real damage is done.

And then, that fucking funeral montage. Choosing the most blatantly sentimental-sounding shit possible for the soundtrack (Sia’s “Breathe Me,” a piano + vocal number which has the sledgehammer effect of a combined Counting Crows x Cat Power x The Fray senso-wallop), it shows, in rapid-but-not-nearly-rapid-enough succession, scenes of each of the cast eventually growing up, living their full lives, and dying, while the remaining family members grieve in silence until only Claire is left, dying at age 102 in her house adorned with family photos. With each successive death, I thought “oh no, not [cast member], please just don’t show the death of [cast member]” I didn’t even like some of these people most of the time, but I just couldn’t bear seeing these fictional characters die. The show’s final message? No matter how well you live your life, you and everyone you know will eventually die. Which was probably the show’s message all along, although possibly in a more affirmative way than I’m interpreting it.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch this show again, at least not those last few episodes. I never quite had the balls to return to Day of the Dead, and I want these season five DVDs out of my living room first thing tomorrow morning. I’m not even sure if I’ll even be able to honestly say that I like the show, given the trauma-esque reactions I will have to recalling it. I’ve long said that certain shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office should be rated NC-17 for the horrific social awkwardness they portray, but for the neuroses and insecurities exploited in Six Feet Under, the show should be banned in 49 states and bootlegged in none but the most hardcore underground scenes. Why my parents didn’t try to forbid me from watching it, I’ll probably never understand.

Fuck it. Tomorrow I’m starting up season of two of Weeds. Is Flight of the Conchords on or something?

(Oh, and of course, huge retrospect-LOLs at the entirety of this. As always, can’t say I wasn’t warned)

Posted in Time of the Season | 3 Comments »

Listeria: Top Ten Lynch for Lynch’s Sake Characters

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 21, 2007

Let’s rock

Though I was stupid and missed my opportunity to see Inland Empire in the theaters (considering I was living a few blocks from one of the probably half-dozen theaters in the country that was even showing it), I finally got a chance to see it on DVD a few nights ago (“Sorry, need to watch three-hour David Lynch movie” was the text I sent to my friends wondering if I was up for hanging out). Can’t say I enjoyed it too much per se–after one hour, any attempts to humor audiences with something resembling a plot went bye bye, leaving two remaining hours of total weirdness free-for-all. But these movies do require a minimum four or five viewings before proper judgement (I didn’t even really like Mulholland Drive that much the first time I saw it, now I’d rank it as my second favorite of his), and there were a predictable number of sublimely creepy moments, so I can’t say I was too disappointed.

At the very least, it maintained the proudest Lynch tradition of all–that of the weird, unexplained and almost entirely irrelevant supporting characters, of which there were at least a couple canon-worthies. These characters don’t necessarily advance the story much–as a matter of fact, they usually distract from it a whole lot–but they provide the lemongrass for the Tom Yum Goong that is a David Lynch work. Ten of ’em should do it:

10. Irene and Irene’s Companion (Jeanne Bates and Dan Birnbaum), Mulholland Drive. These two overly friendly Mulholland Drive octogenarians are best remembered for their performance in the final scene, as the two mini-old people that crawl out of Betty/Diane’s blue box and essentially terrorize her into killing herself–a scene so utterly horrific that they’d probably deserve inclusion on this list for it alone. But for my money, the more unsettling moment is in the movie’s beginning, after they part ways with Betty at the airport, excitedly sending her on her merry way. The expression on their faces in the cab afterwards–smiling, but in a way so creepily stilted and exaggerated that it can only be described as “Black Hole Sun”-esque–are permanently burned into my soul.

9. The Giant (Carel Struycken), Twin Peaks. Probably the second most outre character in the Twin Peaks universe (the first, obviously, is coming up later), the Giant appears to Special Agent Dale Cooper in a series of prophetic visions, which eventually lead to his capturing of Laura Palmer’s killer. He’s seven feet tall, yeah, but that’s not even his most memorable visual characteristic–that wiry, protruding jaw and shiny bald head, the ghostly eyes, hell, the bowtie–a Lynch dream actor if there ever was one. Voice ain’t bad either, as his best line was memorably sampled by DJ Shadow for “Transmission 3,” the closing interlude to his classic album Endtroducing (“It is happening…again.”)

8. Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), Wild At Heart. The character on this list with the most actual consequence on the movie’s storyline, but since the great majority of his character quirks are totally unnecessary, I figure he qualifies enough here. Bobby gets the movie’s most disturbing (and hott, in an expectedly bizarre way) scene, where he spends five minutes tricking/coaxing/threatening Lula into asking him to fuck her, only to respond “Someday honey, I will…but I got to be goin’ now” and leave. Smooth.

7. The Man From Another Place (Michael J. Anderson), Twin Peaks. Possibly the most famous Lynch-for-Lynch’s-sake character, and understandably so. The sashaying, backwards-talking midget essentially became the catch-all for Lynch weirdness, because well, dammit, most TV shows just don’t have sashaying, backwards-talking midget characters. Plus, he was parodied by The Simpsons, in one of their all-time funniest scenes (one which a generation of fans, including myself, probably didn’t even really get until they at least got to college).

6. The Rabbits (Uh, I think one of them was voiced by Naomi Watts), Inland Empire. Sometimes, movies have certain moments that just make you say to yourself, “Oh, so this is going to be that kind of movie.” Sometimes those moments involve a family of talking, anthropomorphic rabbitrs that appear to be starring in an alternate-universe sitcom (with viewers who laugh at inappropriate times, even though there really are no appropriate times to be laughing). And sometimes, three hours later, you think to yourself, “Well, I guess I can’t say I wasn’t warned.”

5. Bum (Bonnie Aarons), Mulholland Drive. When non-horror directors resort to horror freak-out tactics, it tends to be twice as scary because you’re legitimately not expecting it, and no one who’s ever seen Mulholland Drive could possibly forget the moment where Lynch went for the big one. Two Winkie’s (the Lynchverse Denny’s) patrons are talking about a dream one had, where there was some ridiculously scary dude behind a wall behind the restaurant. They go to look behind the wall, to confirm there’s no one there and clear the guy of his fear. As they slowly, slowly approach the wall, you think to yourself no way, no way there’s actually gonna be someone behind that wall, what movie is this again? And then the Bum slides out, and you have a heart attack and die (probably). The scariest thing of all? In real life, Bonnie Aarons looks like this:

I know, right.

4. Mrs. Tremont’s Grandson (Austin Jack Lynch), Twin Peaks. Just a one-episode character, and even though Lynch evidently didn’t even care enough about him to give him a proper name, he might be my favorite dude in the whole series. Investigating Laura Palmer’s death, best friend Donna picks up her Meals on Wheels route, meaning she has to visit Mrs. Tremont (played by the always awesome Frances Bay), as well as her bizarro grandson, who dresses in uncomfortable-looking suits, does magic tricks and talks like a funeral director. His gravely surreal summation of Donna after she leaves (“She seemed…like a nice girl…”) is a series highlight, and obviously ex-Boston lead singer Brad Delp was a fan, as he cribbed the kid’s signature phrase, “J’ai une ame solitaire” (I am a lonely soul) for his suicide note. And oh yeah, he also happens to be Lynch’s son.

3. Cowboy (Lafayette Montgomery), Mulholland Drive. “Now you will see me one more time…if you do good. You will see me two more times…if you do bad.” The Cowboy, whose actual status in the world of Mulholland Drive is never given anything resembling an explanation, is still intimidating enough to put arrogant director Adam Kessler (Justin Theroux) in his place, and to be a total fucking badass. And he’s the one part of Mulholland Drive that really delivers on its promise, as Adam does good, and Cowboy only shows up once more, at a completely random and unlikely moment as if only to confirm that he’s a man of his word. Class act.

2. Ben (Dean Stockwell), Blue Velvet. Frank Booth may have commanded more attention and screen time, but it’s prototypical LFLS character Ben who truly won my heart. The ghoulish, Orbison-synching, sexually ambiguous druggie freak that stores Dorothy Vallens’s kidnapped kid and husband, Ben doesn’t stay around long, but still takes the time to punch Jeffrey Beaumont in the stomach and then ruffle his hair for no reason, and to make the greatest toast in cinematic history (“Here’s to your fuck, Frank.“) But the best Ben moment is when he first remarks to his (ugly, overweight) wife “Oh look, darling…Frank’s here,” even though he has no evident way to know this, being unable to either see or hear Frank approaching. Like the man says, damn, he’s suave.

1. Mystery Man (Robert Blake), Lost Highway. I never saw In Cold Blood, don’t know a think about Baretta, and I couldn’t identify a member of Our Gang to save my life. For me, acting/murdering double-threat Robert Blake is, was, and always will be, the Mystery Man from Lost Highway. It’s hard to explain just the impact this character had on me and my friends during high school, where we probably watched Lost Highway close to a dozen times with a mix of awe, frustration and condescension, but goddamn, goddamn, goddamn did I love that guy. I still probably have his exchange with Bill Pullman in the freakiest scene of icebreaking chitchat ever memorized to the preposition, and I can’t quote some of it without doing the whole thing, so I’ll refrain, but suffice to say–this dude knows how to craft a good mindfuck. Petrifying, stupifying, and somehow thoroughly hilarious, easily an all-time top ten scene for me, and my favorite Lynch moment ever.

Honorable Mention:

The Yellow Man (Fred Pickler) from Blue Velvet
Cousin Dell (Crispin Glover) from Wild at Heart
Arnie (Richard Pryor) from Lost Highway
Gene (Billy Ray Cyrus) from Mulholland Drive
The “Loco-Motion” Prostitutes (numerous) from Inland Impire

Posted in Listeria | 9 Comments »

OMGWTFLOL: The Alvin and the Chipmunks Trailer

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 20, 2007

The world ain’t ready

So this one is a long time coming, and possibly past the point of relevancy, but I couldn’t let this go by completerly without saying something, and what the hell else am I gonna write about at four in the morning anyway. I saw this trailer for the upcoming Alvin & the Chipmunks movie before The Simpsons Movie a few weeks ago, and I feel like ten years from now, I’ll remember pretty much nothing from the none-too-impressive Simpsons flick, but I’ll be able to recall my horror at this particular trailer with alarming clarity. I’ll never be quite able to properly describe just how weird and unsettling I found these 78 seconds of film, but here’s the rap sheet, more or less:

  • All this “they defined a generation, but now THEY’RE BACK!” business–huh? Aside from James Bond, George Carlin and the hideousness of the Rolling Stones, there is perhaps no greater constant in the last half-century of pop culture than Alvin and the Chipmunks. I grew up on the late-80s Chipmunk show, just like kids a generation before me were probably weaned on their 70s TV specials and/or Chipmunk Punk and my parents were raised with “Witch Doctor” and the original show. Bullshit.
  • In any event, if they are trying to stage a comeback and show how modern they are to contemporary audiences, couldn’t they choose a little better of an intro song than “Funky Town”? Nothing screams Youth of America like a disco one-hit wonder from 1980, I guess. Plus, Pseudo Echo beat them to it by like 20 years.
  • Does Jason Lee really need this? You’d think being the protagonist of a hit sitcom would generally encourage an ex-indie star like Lee to use his newfound success to make possible more personal projects, but, uh, not so. Unless he’s just getting really nostalgic for the Chipmunk bedspread he had when he was six, this seems like a strange time for him to being whoring himself out to the highest bidder. Sadly, this would still probably be the most boast-worthy recent accomplishment anyone would have to brag about at the yearly Mallrats reunion.
  • Say what you will about gross-out comedies like Freddy Got Fingered or Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, but I’m pretty sure no one actually ate shit in the previews–animal shit, no less. This is supposed to be a kids movie, no? Would your first reaction to a scene of talking, animated chipmunks eating each others’ feces be “Wow, this movie would be great for my five-year-old!” I can’t believe it got past the censors, or the filmmakers for that matter. Sick, sick, sick.
  • Even creepier, doesn’t the shit-eating scene sort of imply that Alvin is the cruel, dictatorial ringleader of his group/family? He immediately jumps in to answer the question Dave directly asks to Theodore, and then once Dave leaves, he harshly reprimands Theodore for his weakness, whose only response is to squeak in shame. In fact, neither other Chipmunk has a single line in this preview, or for all I know, maybe the whole movie. I mean, I guess that was always the subtext, what with Alvin even getting separate billing (even the picture above is sort of unnerving in its implications), but I’ve never seen it play out quite so explicity.
  • The shit-eating joke is pretty much the only joke in the entire preview. The A&TCs producesr are really putting all their eggs in one poop-munching basket here, so confident in the power of their crap-consuming gag that they doesn’t even feel the need to augment it with other hooks. Ballsy move, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off.

Posted in OMGWTFLOL | 5 Comments »