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Archive for January, 2008
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 26, 2008
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 23, 2008
There will be duds
You’ve done it too. We all have. You’re watching The Oscars with friends and family, and some relatively unimportant category comes up, like, say, Best Costume Design. You don’t really care who wins, but it’s been an hour since they presented the Best Supporting Oscars, and another hour until they present the awards of actual consequence. So you boldly announce to whoever’ll listen not only your prediction as to what movie will win, but what movie should win–despite the fact that you’ve only seen one or two of the five movies nominated, and don’t remember anything about the costumes except that the movie took place a long time ago and you don’t recall anyone wearing actively anachronistic clothing. It’s a no-lose situation–if your choice wins, you look semi-brilliant, and if it doesn’t, well, whatever, who cares about stupid Best Costume Design anyways. But deep down, you know you’re even phonier than an actor trying to look excited about being selected to introduce the show’s Interpretive Dance segment.
Every year, as I continue to slack in my Oscar-geek duties in favor of catching Let’s Go to Prison or John Tucker Must Die on HBO2, I end up doing this more and more often. Well, no more, I say. In an effort to be absolutely fully informed for the first time in my Oscar watching lifetime, I have decided to watch every movie nominated for an Oscar this year in time for the 80th Academy Awards on Feb. 24th. Well, not every movie–in an effort to maintain something resembling sanity during this project, I’ll be forgoing movies nominated in Documentary, Foreign, or Short Film related categories. But besides those, I count 34 films nominated for at least one Oscar this year, only five of which I have seen and remember/understand enough to properly judge their Oscar credentials. That leaves 29 movies–or, roughly, one a day between now and the Big Show.
This journey will take me interesting places, no doubt. It’ll take me to movies that I’ve wanted to see but didn’t have time or opportunity to catch in the theaters (Gone Baby Gone, Michael Clayton, I’m Not There), movies I’ve seen but need a second viewing to eclipse their mind-blowingness (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood), movies I know I should have seen but kind of dread watching anyway (Away From Her, Sweeney Todd), movies I was planning on waiting to catch on TBS or TNT in three years (Charlie Wilson’s War, The Golden Compass) and movies I was kind of hoping I’d be able to avoid for the rest of my life (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End). And oh yeah, there’s also Norbit.
Far be it from me to start playing favorites, though, and by this time next month I’ll have seen all of them (glorious invention, that internet). I’ll be writing about them intermittently, hopefully in alphabetical order, running down their merits as movies and as Oscar contenders. Which is a more deserving Academy Award receipient, Surf’s Up or Persepolis? Can Janusz Kaminski out Cinematograph Roger Deakins? For which of the three nominees from Enchanted shout Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz be stocking up on their gold polish? For once, we shall know all these answers, and more.
Join me, won’t you? It’s not like there’s anything else TV-related that should be grabbing your attention at the moment.
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 23, 2008
No quitting puns please
One of my favorite things about 00s film was the way it gave me reason to full-out root for Heath Ledger. Even in his schlockiest days, I’d always suspected there was something a little more to him, and to watch him prove me righter and righter as the years went on was really a sight to behold. And that’s why when I heard of his death earlier today, I wasn’t just sad, I was downright pissed off. This wasn’t someone like Brad Renfro whose best days were clearly already behind him–this was someone who was only going to get better as the years went on, and for him to shuffle off before getting a chance to really prove that isn’t just tragic, it’s fucking annoying as hell.
Not to say that Ledger’s career was blemishless. He’s had his fair share of flops and under-performers in recent years, ranging from Ned Kelly to The Order and The Brothers Grimm (if you don’t remember what some of those were about, or that they were even released at all, you’re certainly not alone). But ignoring his missteps–and everyone besides Daniel Day-Lewis has aat least a couple of those on their resume–and Ledger accomplished with ease what seems to be virtually impossible for most. He matured from an above-average teen actor, to just an actor. And a damn good one.
Ten Things I Hate About You will always be the way I best remember Ledger (as well as Gabrielle Union, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and that asshole prettyboy guy who’s in everything), and that’s not such a bad thing. It’s Ledger’s chemistry with Stiles elevated Ten Things far above She’s the Man and nearly into West Side Story or The Lion King territory for mod-day Shakespeare adaptations. A Knight’s Tale and The Patriot followed, further proving Ledger’s skill at transcending mediocre product with his charm and acting (and the fact that the latter didn’t wreck his career entirely is perhaps the kindest eulogy of all).
Were such movies the sole claims to fame for Ledger, he would certainly have been lost to time. But Ledger lucked out on two iconic roles that should provide him with legend status on their own–Ennis in Brokeback Mountain and The Joker in The Dark Knight, the latter of which some say might’ve nonetheless driven him to desperation. Most actors are unbeievably lucky to get one such role, but to get two–straddling the critical and the commercial, the cult and the mainstream–cements your status as a legend. The fact that Dark Knight isn’t even out yet barely seems relevant, the screen caps look amazing, post-prod is over, and if the teaser doesn’t at least pique your interest, you need to trurn on your respirator or ESPN in the morning type stuff.
I wouldn’t say that Heath went down in his prime, exactly–he just died on the young side. I find this find most tragic of all–Heath still had so far to go, he could’ve been a Brando or a Norton at least if he had just stuck around a little longer. Cut down in his prime? Not even afforded that luxury.
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 21, 2008
“I don’t want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone’s *really* hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you’re not sure whether or not you like yet. You’re not sure where he’s coming from. Okay?”
Before the NFC Championship, you would’ve had difficulty finding too many people outside of the New York area rooting for the Giants to make it to Arizona. The pundits all wanted Green Bay–allegedly, because they wanted to see a classic slinger’s duel between Brett Favre and Tom Brady–the closest thing to the Brady/Manning rematch that the AFC Championship was robbed of when a group of half-power Charger punks somehow managed to beat the Colts in the semis. But I don’t think that’s the real reason why everyone was rooting for Green Bay. I think people wanted to see Green Bay in there to make the Super Bowl what its failed to be in recent seasons–a true battle between good and evil.
Even the most virulent Packers haters sort of have to give it up for the team’s undeniable righteousness. And that’s because of Favre, who manages to be not only the Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year, the newfound leader in just about every major QB stat possible (even a couple of the bad ones), and possibly the most likeable person in all of pro sports, but also someone profoundly human–flawed, overenthusiastic, sympathetic. Sure, there’s other stuff to root for on the Packers–Ryan Grant’s emergence as one of the most exciting new RBs in the league, Donald Driver’s loveably narcissistic stand-jumping, Atari Bigby kind of looking like Predator–but for all intents and purposes, Favre is the Packers and the Packers are Favre. And that alone makes Green Bay the most righteous team in the NFL.
And if you’ve been paying attention at all to the Patriots run of the last five months, you’d be hard pressed to label them anything but evil. I mean, individually, they seem like nice enough guys, perhaps–the difference between Tom Brady’s aw shucks homespun charm and Favre’s effortless everyman appeal is an admittedly thin line, even. But as a group, there’s a sense of creeping dread surrounding every move the Patriots make, and that’s because they seem to function merely as puppets at the hands of Bill Belichick, a man who hasn’t crafted the greatest team in NFL history so much as he’s crafted the sport’s greatest assembly line.
I must admit, it’s sort of impressive that anyone could bend the will of as many skilled professional athletes as has Belichick. He has managed to turn this group of NFL stars and veterans into nothing more than a group of finely-trained company men, willing to toe the corporate line at all times and at all costs. Look at those early post-game interviews when Brady was getting flak for running up the score against the Bills and Redskins, and count how many times he starts his justifications with “Well, Coach says…” Witness the innumerous times Matt Light or Junior Seau struggle to restrain their self-aggrandizing impulses when asked about the latest group of losers talking shit the Patriots, instead smiling placidly and insisting they do net let such DISTRACTIONS plague their minds. Note the lack, not just of emotion, but of any sort of surprise, on Belichick’s face after victories–as if he’d long since played the game out in his head, and knew its outcome far before kickoff.
Or, perhaps most tellingly, take the case of Randy Moss. In post-game Patriots interviews this year, he dressed flashy, he spoke arrogantly, and he generally conducted himself with swagger. In other words, he was the only person on the team who still acted a little like a free agent, as if his own self-promotion was still just as important to him as the unthreatened success of his team. And on other teams, this wouldn’t seem at all out of the ordinary–Randy Moss is an NFL superstar, and this is how NFL superstars are supposed to act. Sure, they care about winning, but just as much because of what it means for their own careers as what it means for the teams on which they play.
And that’s why I find this business with Randy’s recent battery charges so bone-chilling. Let’s think about this for a second. You’re Bill Belichick, you’ve built the perfect NFL Steam Engine, everything seems to be going as it should, but you can’t help but worry that your star Wideout’s priorities aren’t quite where they should be. So what do you do? You make sure that he’s kept in line. You get some woman to claim he sexually assaulted her, striking fear into his heart not only due to the legal and PR ramifications, but because of what this could mean for his place on a team where taking any sort of attention away from the immediate task at hand could be considered grounds for dismissal. So as we know, before the story leaks, Moss goes hat-in-hands to Belichick, pleading for understanding and forgiveness for his alleged transgression before it becomes a national issue. No doubt, Belichick embraces his sobbing WR, paternally soothing and re-assuring him, while silently celebrating that the final piece of the puzzle is now in place. And in the next couple games, Moss’s contributions are almost entirely marginalized, just to make sure he now realizes his place.
I’m not saying that this is what happened. It probably isn’t. But look at how realistic it seems. Notice how right it feels. That should tell you something, no?
So on one hand we have the Packers supplanting the Cowboys as America’s Team, and on the other we have Patriots establishing the NFL’s equivalent of the Third Reich. And then there’s the New York Giants. Ask people in Week 16–the week the Giants clinched a playoff berth–and I doubt more than 10% of those polled would have expected the Giants to have played any sort of prominent role in the post-season. They just seemed like a non-entity, a team squeaking by into the playoffs more because of an easy schedule and a few lucky breaks than because of any sort of legitimate cohesion or greatness. Just getting by Tampa Bay would’ve seemed like a huge accomplishment.
Watching the Giants play the Patriots in Week 17, however, you knew that something had clicked. Never mind how well they played–though they did play well, arguably better than they had in any other game that season. It was the fact that they came clear eyes, full hearts for the whole game–the fact that they clearly practiced and planned for this game like they would a playoff game, and that they played full-power for all sixty minutes. On a week where the Redskins dropped the Cowboys to the tune of 27-6 and the Colts played Jim Sorgi for three whole quarters, the fact that a team whose playoff status was just as secure as those two teams was still in it to win it should’ve been a sign of some sort.
Still, no one seems to have seen this coming. New York was the overwhelming favorite for elimination against Green Bay, against Dallas, even against Tampa fucking Bay. And so now that New York is one of only two teams left, having proven that Week 17 was no fluke, America is forced to think seriously about the Giants for the first time–what’s the deal with these guys? Do we like them? Do we want them to win? Do they deserve to win? Do they have a Packer’s chance in hell at beating the Patriots?
These are tough questions to answer, because the Giants seem like such a mixed package. Their defense is one of the toughest in the league, yet it’s anchored by a guy with a gap-toothed lisp who does commercials for Subway. They operate in a media market much renowned (and even more despised) for its near-imperialistic cockiness, yet the QB and team leader often seems one pick away from a nervous breakdown. Their coach is even more of a hardass (and looks even more like The Grinch) than Belichick, yet the team appears to be full of free-thinking, overzealous loose cannons. They have diametrically opposed and equally talented running backs. They have a wide receiver that occasionally seems like a Hall of Famer and occasionally seems like he’s playing for a completely different team. They have a kicker who misses field goals from 36 and 43 yards before nailing a game-winner from 47. It’s no wonder that no one’s predicted the Giants to make it as far as they have, since it’s impossible to get a line on what the team even is or does in the first place.
So now that everything finally seems to be going right for the Giants, now that Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride have learned to play Ahmad and Brandon as a tandem attack, now that the defense has perfected the fourth-quarter shutdown, now that Eli and Plaxico are looking more like Peyton and Marvin than Peyton and Marvin–can they finally do what they came closer to doing in Week 17 than any other team had all season? Do we finally have a team that can beat the motherfucking Patriots?
Personally, I don’t think so. I’d like to believe the Giants have a chance–and I do think that no matter who wins, it’ll be a much better game than it would be were any of the other NFC teams in the Giants’ place–but I just don’t think there’s any stopping the Patriots this season. However, there is one thing that gives me confidence in the Giants’ chances. And that’s because while I don’t actually know shit when it comes to predicting pro sports, I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to kids’ sports movies. And let’s look at the Giants’ season as if it was a kids’ sports movie:
A group of ragtags and misfits comes together, led by a guy with something to prove to his better, more popular older brother. Expected to go nowhere, they shank their first couple games, before finding something resembling chemistry over the rest of the season, just barely qualifying for the post-season. They face the team of big, evil bullies that everyone expects to win, and get beaten, but not before proving that they deserve being taken seriously. They have a Cinderella run through the playoffs, winning games in heartpoundingly close and dramatic fashion, until they finally get one more shot against the big, evil bully team, with everyone still doubting that they even have a prayer…
And you’re telling me the Giants are supposed to lose? What the hell kind of ending would that be?
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 19, 2008
When it comes to Pay Cable drama, it’s hard not to think of The Sopranos as the sort of Big Bang–it’s the show (along with comedy Sex & the City) that permanently put the channel on the map, that elevated it from a low-class, hotel-viewing-only station to a genuine TV powerhouse. It got all the ratings, won all the Emmys, made all the hedway in pop culture. But I guess it wasn’t really the first–for that we have Oz, which debuted about a year and a half before The Sopranos, and arguably forged even further into uncharted territory than HBO’s signature show.
Oz is a bleak, bleak fucking show. At least the sociopathic monsters in The Sopranos have the decency to dress up their evil in nice clothes, big smiles and warmhearted joking–on Oz they are given the permission to run rampant, and the moral black hole that the show seems to exist in also means that no one ever escapes for long. Jail sucks. To call it gritty would be something of an understatement (considering Tom Fontana–one of the creators of Homicide–and his Executive Producer credit, it’s hard to consider that too surprising)–there’s probably a rider in actors’ contracts that makes them sign off on both showing full frontal and getting shived at least once each before their contract is over.
No more is Oz‘s trailblazing streak evident than in its ensemble cast, which, simply put, would create an acting pool from which nearly every important TV drama to follow would draw. There’s The Sopranos itself, of course (Edie Falco), LOST (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Harold Perrineau), Dexter (Lauren Velez, supposedly David Zayas next season), The Wire (J.D. Williams, Seth Gilliam), even Law & Order: SVU (Christopher Meloni, B.D. Wong). Hell, one of the guys from 30 Rock (Dean Winters) is even in there. It’s amaazing to think of the shows that might not have been possible had this pack of actors not had their careers launched by Oz.
OK, so influence, importance, innovation, blah blah. And the answer to that is definitely yes–I was able to power through three seasons in a week, not bad even though that only makes a total of 24 episodes. Over those seasons, the show wasn’t always compelling–too much repetitive feuding, too many beefs that don’t really amount to anything, and a too-confined setting for such a wide cast (it’s remarkable what a difference geographical diversity can make in a visceral drama like this–see Deadwood for another show whose sparsity of scenery also got quickly frustrtating). And some of the dramatic right turns that characters take, seemingly unprovoked, over the course of the series, can be extremely frustrating.
Still, it’s hard not to like a show not only with drama this heightened, and with a cast this wide. Dean Winters’ Ryan O’Reilly was probably my favorite, for the first season at least–possibly the most manipulatively self-serving character in screen history, at least until he falls in love and his brother joins him jail and sorts of other things leave him unfortunately mellowed out. J.K. Simmons and Lee Tergesen also deserve props for their roles as Aryan asshole Vern Schellinger and quickly-crushed new guy Tobias Beecher–the feuds the two have over the course of the three seasons make for some of its most riveting moments. And like McNulty on The Wire, Terry Kinney’s Tim McManus is the glue keeping it all together, the sympathetic but highly flawed (especially in the sexual department) core of the show.
I’m a little too tired right now to right more on the show, and it probably deseres better, but to sum up: On the whole, I really only come away from Oz thinking one thing: I really, really, really don’t want to go to prison. So I guess it’s a success.
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 18, 2008
If you haven’t been paying attention to the career of Terius “The Dream” Nash, now might not be a bad time to start. Since he started off writing album tracks for artists like Nivea and Brooke Valentine (lol 2005), as well as the ill-fated Britney/Madonna duet “Me Against the Music” (SUPER-LOL 2003), he’s grown to be one of the hottest writers and producers in R&B, scoring hits with Mary J. Blige (last year’s fairly underrated “Just Fine”), J. Holiday (the almost suffocatingly lush “Bed”) and, oh yeah, some minor hit about bad weather by Rihanna. Stepping out in front of the mic, he even had one of the better chart hits of last year, “Shawty is a 10” (or “Shawty is Da Shit,” if you’re less politely inclined)–proving once more that listing a bunch of random girls’ names in a row is a surefire recipe for success.
“Falsetto,” the follow up to “Shawty,” suggests that the best is yet to come. I’m technically a couple months behind on this one, I think–Wikipedia has it listed as a Sept. ’07 release, and I remember seeing the video for the first time on BET’s Top 100 Videos of the Year countdown (it was only #84 or so). But “Shawty” hung around for a long time, and I’m only now really starting to hear “Falsetto” on the radio and on TV and such, and since I think it’s still climbing the charts, I’m counting it as the first HOT ONE of ’08.
It might be a kind of pre-mature judgement on my part, I suppose, since so much of the song’s success relies on the novelty of what could be called a gimmick hook. If you’ve heard the song once, you should know what I’m talking about–the nearly wordless chorus, which imitates The Dream’s girl “talking to him in a falsetto.” Of course, not much talking is done, and the chorus mostly consists of TD moaning “oooh, oooh, baby, ahhh, ahh, ahhh” in the titularly high pitch. In an admittedly young ’08, it’s by far the best hook I’ve heard yet this year–the kind of hook that’s so catchy it instantly makes the verses irrelevant, a deadly sufferer of what I like to call GTTP Syndrome (“Get to That Part!”)
But the hook isn’t the whole deal. Though Nash’s roots and main strengths are to be found as a songwriter, he’s grown tremendously as a producer in his collaborations with Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, the man most responsible for the irresistible beat that propelled “Umbrella” into the pop stratosphere. Here, Stewart crafts a beat for Nash worthy of the trip-hop legend he most likely isn’t actually named after–molasses-slow and thick, nearly as hypnotic as the almost amorally seductive groove to “Bed.” And Stewart clearly knows how to use his frequent partner’s voice as a weapon, layering his vocal tracks over each other as the song progresses, building the song to a brilliant…well, I guess climax is the word here for any number of reasons.
The best part, though? The dirty guitar solo. I didn’t realize how much I missed the presence of dirty guitar in R&B until I watched that Justin Timberlake FutureSex/LoveShow special on HBO, which seemed to have an old-soul funk dude doing some of the seediest, grimiest guitar shredding I’ve ever heard on almost every song. The dirty guitar solo in “Falsetto” reminds of just how possible it is to coax the sound of fucking out of six strings and an amplifier, invoking no one more than the dirtiest of all them all–the P-man, whose name I’m almost afraid to invoke for fear of jinxing the guy.
In an R&B world all too littered with lukewarm Timbaland wannabes and frustratingly tame post-“Irreplaceable” Stargate productions, it’s more than a little refreshing to hear a song as sort of classically-minded as this one. Here’s hoping The Dream doesn’t end anytime soon.
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 17, 2008
Gonna be honest–never liked Cheetos. Maybe a tiny, tiny bit, when I evidently had much lower standards for my snack food, but since I graduated to the 65 cent snacks in my middle school vending machine, I don’t think I’ve popped a single one. The paste in itself isn’t terrible, I guess–though I can think of a million cheese-flavored bite-size foods that taste much, much better–but it’s the substance underneath of which the Cheetos consist that bugs me the fuck out about it. I don’t know how to explain it–how would you even describe the taste of that substance? It’s too soft-feeling to really be crunchy, definitely too hard to be chewy, too stale to be satyisfying sober and not nearly indulgent enough a guilty pleasure to be enjoyable intoxicated. Even in the most sparse of available snack line-ups, there’s no circumstance in which they’d be an acceptable purchase.
Consequently, Chester Cheetah has never been a favorite food spokesperson of mine. Sure, he had the vivality of a Tony the Tiger or a Hamburger Helping Hand, but to me his spaced-out enthusiasm and Joe Cool costume seemed totally empty and forced, since there was no way anyone could possibly be that jazzed about Cheetos (and no way someone who claimed to be could possibly be considered a legitimate tough guy). Family Guy, in one of their last truly classic “Remember That Time When…” or “That’d Be Like…” type asides, nailed this sort of sleaziness perfectly in their sendup of Chester as a Rush-loving cokehead (or, more accurately, cheesedusthead), and though I’m not sure I appreciate the anti-Peart implications, it’s my favorite appearance of Chessie in all Pop Culture to date.
That is, until recently. I’ve only seen this commercial once on TV–it appeared to me out of nowhere, an oasis in a desert of Cadillac fetishes and “WAKE UP PEOPLE!!” demands. A woman is shown eating a bag of Cheetos washing several loads of clothes in a laundromat, causing a rude customer to snap at her, “You know, other people are trying to do their laundry too…” The woman, insulted but unsure of a comeback, is suddenly beckoned by a low, sonorous, vaguely British-inflected voice from across the room.
She turns, surprised but intrigued, and sees the source of the voice. Lo and behold, it’s Chester Cheetah, sitting across from an old man at what appears to be a dinner table. Must be one of them laundromat/diner combos I keep hearing about but never actually seem to stumble across. The woman now riveted, he offers:
“Those ARE her whites in the dryer.”
Felicia looks at him again, to verify that he’s suggesting what she thinks he’s suggeting.
Chester nods slowly.
Felicia reaches into her bag of Cheetos and removes several, putting them in the dryer with the rude woman’s whites. She then closes the dryer and starts up the machine. Wanting further explanation, she turns back to Chester. But Chester has disappeared, leaving only the old man at the table. Felicia stares intently, and pops another Cheeto into her mouth, never unfixing her eyes. Suddenly, a message:
“JOIN US: OrangeUnderground.com”
I don’t even know what to think. Companies don’t just start making awesome commercials after decades of shitty, low-class advertising–I mean, imagine if you turned on the TV tomorrow and the funniest ad you saw was for a Swiffer, or for Two and a Half Men. It’s that kind of shocking. But not nearly as shocking as the way they have re-invented Chester Cheetah–in one 30-second clip, he’s gone from being a grating, unreliable hype man to the Hannibal Lecter of the snack world. Even more intriguingly, the ad seems to suggest that Chester does not sport his trademark shades at all locations because he’s just that bad-ass, but rather because he either can’t see or has no eyes at all–what else could be inferred from a Chester that now has a white beard, hangs out with other old, dark-shaded dudes, and appears to have the voice of Ben Kingsley?
And to cap it with a final mind-blower, there’s the “JOIN US: OrangeUnderground.com” teaser at the end. If you go to the website, there’s a predictably surreal video that plays, where a Cheetos executive (scientist? officer?) informs you of the mission of the OrangeUnderground–to perform RAOC, or Random Acts of Cheetos. It’s a sort of mix between LOST, a bad spy movie parody and the plotty parts of a Resident Evil-type VG series. Elsewhere on the website, you can read a set of suggestions and instructions for such acts (including filling your boss’s car with Cheetos and making a Cheeto Blow Gun), or you can join them on their MySpace-ish page on YouTube, or you can even read their blog about the real-life performances of such demonstrations. “The 60s were a blast,” they say. “But they ain’t got nothin’ on what’s to come.”
Will young adults buy into this evolution of one of the most recognizable symbols of their childhood? Will ad companies actually be able to balloon ROACing into a real-world phenomenon? Do Cheetos actually taste edible all of a sudden? Truly, it’s a brave new world out there in the convenience stores and vending machines. I, for one, can’t wait.
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 16, 2008
“Turn those GODDAMNED LIGHTS OFF!!!”
People might say that the death of Brad Renfro, struck down from as-of-yet undetermined-circumstances at the seemingly ripe age of 25, was a tragic one. And though all deaths are probably tragic, you have to remember that ex-kid stars still in the public eye age in something equivalent to dog years (making Jodie Foster probably the oldest person on the planet–which kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?). Given that Renfro first appeared on the scene in ’94 in the Joel Schumacher-directed Grisham adaptation The Client at age 12–arguably the most high-profile role he’d have until his death–he led a long, full life, comparatively. So we need not weep his demise, but rather, celebrate his existence.
Come to think of it, I never actually saw The Client–one Grisham movie adaptation was all I had room for in my life at the time, I suppose, and I had already seen The Firm about eight times. I have vague memories of some of his other kiddie roles–Huck in Tom & Huck (JTT, that media whore, got all the attention at the time as Tom), Young Michael Sullivan in Sleepers (yet another to add to the thousands of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon connections I can use with that movie, hooray) and Todd Bowden in Apt Pupil (which I also somehow never saw, despite it being Bryan Singer’s follow-up to Usual Suspects, my favorite movie ever at the time)–but really, I didn’t associate him with being a child star until a question about him poked up in a Child Star category of the first year of the WSOPC (which, incidentally, I would never have gotten right).
Rather, the Brad Renfro that endures in my memory is the young adult of two 2001 releases, Ghost World and Bully. These roles suggested Renfro’s skill at playing the male equivalent of the dumb blonde–the convenience store worker lusted after from afar (and occasionally from uncomfortably close) by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johnasson in the former, and the surfer dude hatching the dumbest murder plot in history with the help of six of his closest friends and associates in the latter. Renfro was required to do little in these roles but play dumb and look good (appropriate enough, in the case of Ghost World at least, since it would also be one of the last times Johansson was required to do more).
If his real life rap sheet–problems with alcohol and drugs, climaxing in an attempt to flee from the cops on a boat that was still tied to the dock–is any indication, Renfro probably didn’t have to act all too hard at the roles either. Still, they earn him a place in pop culture history, for me at least, given that they give him pivotal roles in both one of the best teen movies of all-time and one of the worst (but most unintentionally hilarious). Who can forget him sobbing to girlfriend Rachel Miner about what a meanie his friend Nick Stahl is, while a glob of drool hangs from his mouth the whole time? Or the hysterical sulk-walk he does before gut-punching Stahl in a moment of inexpressible fury? OK, on the off-chance you even saw the movie, you’ve probably long forgotten both these scenes by now, but Bully was one of the biggest movie-night fixtures among my group of friends in High School–topped only by Jennifer Lopez’s spousal-abuse meisterwerk Enough and Fred Williamson’s blaxploitation classic The Messenger.
And at the risk of offending the more macho contingent of IITS’s readership, I’ll admit it–I was totally gay for the dude. He was like the Mark McGrath of the film world, dark, pouty eyes, So-Cal sun-tanned skin, muscular surfer body, the whole deal. Plus, Bully being a Larry Clark movie, he (like the entire rest of the cast) was featured half-naked for the great majority of the flick–though, luckily, he escaped the venture without being the recipient quite as many gratuitous crotch shots as Bijou Phillips. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make an impression. (And yes, I’m aware that dude attractiveness has been a rather frequent subject here recently–don’t worry, got an entire week’s worth of posts about cars, cigars and whiskey coming up after this one).
So long, Brad. Maybe I’ll try to track down a copy of Deuces Wild sometime this weekend–I always suspected that movie had great potential for underrated hilarity.
RIP Brad Renfro, 1982-2008
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 15, 2008
It’s really not confusing, I’m just the young illusion, can’t you see
Channel flipping on my XM the other day, I came across Toto’s “Georgy Porgy” for the very first time on The Groove, the smooth-oriented 70s/80s R&B station. This was shocking for a number of reasons. First, I had no idea that the version done by forgotten 90s crooner Eric Benet (famous for dating either Mariah Carey or Halle Berry, I can never remember which) was a cover–the song seemed too unremarkable (and too quintessentially 90s R&B) to be rooted elsewhere. Listening to Benet’s cover again, it’s almost stunning how faithful a cover it is, too–apparently the original made much more of an impression on Mr. Benet than it did the rest of the world.
Significantly more shocking, however, was the fact that this was Toto. ON A CLASSIC SOUL STATION. A lot of things come to mind when one thinks of Toto, but generally speaking, classic soul is not among them. But then again, how would one classify Toto, exactly? They tend to get grouped in with arena rockers and power balladeers of the time like Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and Styx, but looking at their biggest hits–“Hold the Line,” “Rosanna,” “Africa”–all they have in common with those guys is a member-wide tendency towards the hideous (the fact that “uggo-rock” never caught on as an acceptable genre demarcation during this time is severely unfortunate, it’s doubtful that the general median of male unattractiveness in rock music will ever be quite this low again).
Really, Toto’s hits don’t establish a consistent identity at all. “Hold the Line” was a grinding anthem, the closest the band got to chest-beating territory, but “Rosanna” was as jazzy a pop number as the 80s would see, and the #1 hit “Africa,” surely one of the most musically perplexing and lyrically obscure songs to ever top the charts (“But I know that I must do what’s right / As sure as Kilaminjaro rises like Olympus / Above the Serengheti”), is closer to the plodding, atmospheric pretentions of the Alan Parsons Preject and early-80s Peter Gabriel than anything else. The controversy over the fact that they won all those Grammys in 1982 probably doesn’t stem from the band being bad so much as it does from confusion over who the hell these guys were, getting so many hits and winning so many Grammys.
Plus, before finding success on their own, Toto had previously cut their teeth as the backing band for Boz Scaggs, establishing their diversity by playing on Scaggs hits such as the dorky white-boy stomp of “Lido Shuffle” (currently best known for soundtracking Chris Berman’s coverage of Eagles games prominently featuring cornerback Lito Sheppard) and, more importantly, the impossibly smooth soul of “Lowdown” (one of the best songs of the 70s, and one I could’ve sworn was done by someone like Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield for most of my life). Clearly, they had paid their blue-eyed soul dues, and could actually groove with the best of them (or with the Little River Band, at least).
Still, it’s surprising just how good this is. Aside from the title hook itself, which is kind of weak, it’s one of the most slithery, insiduously catchy things I’ve ever heard on the station–high praise indeed for one of the few non-rock XM stations I consider being preset-worthy. The playing is crisp and tight, as technically perfect as you’d expect from a band of studio pros like Toto, the production is shimmeringly immaculate (practically Steely Dan-worthy in its almost disconcerting spotlessness), and if lead singer Bobby Kimball (and you better believe I had to Wiki that name isn’t exactly a Barry White or even a Philip Bailey, he sounds convincing enough in the soul mold that the band never seems like posers–frankly, without seeing the XM artist info, I might’ve been fooled by this one for even longer than “Lowdown”.
Give it a listen, even if you don’t much care for Toto. And if you haven’t heard “Lowdown” yet…dear lord….
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 14, 2008
“This is the 90s. You don’t just go around punching people. You have to say something cool first.”
OK, so maybe it wasn’t going to win too many Oscars (though to be fair, what makes this movie so much less viable than ’91 winner Silence of the Lambs isn’t as obvious as many probably think it is), but I don’t get why The Last Boy Scout doesn’t at least get more love from action movie fans. Bruce Willis at his perpetually hungover, perpetuallier badass best, legendary car-flipper and house-exploder Tony Scott behind the camera, and most of all, a million-dollar script (quite literally) from Shane Black, maybe the most underappreciated (well, except financially) screenwriter of the last 20 years. I’ve already done a Top Ten lines from his more recent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but watching the movie for the eleventy-twelvth time last night reminded me how much this movie deserves its own. Bearing that in mind:
10. “What the hell is that number in the back of your head? What is that…like a license plate in case someone tries to steal it?”
“No, uh, that’s my high school football number.”
“Yeah? When do you graduate?”
9. “Good morning, gentlemen. Is there a problem?”
“Yes, officer. As a matter of fact, there is a problem. Apparently there are too many bullets in this gun.” (Shoots officer)
8. “I’ve got bad news, and bad news.”
“Give me the bad news first.”
7. “See, Jake, here is a man that knows when a situation is untenable.”
“You like that word? And you do have that envelope, don’t you?”
“Better give up, Jimmy, we’re dealing with a couple of geniuses here!”
[Jake punches Joe]
“Hey man, just leave him the fuck alone.”
[Jake kicks Jimmy]
“Leave him alone? Sure, Jimmy, whatever you say. Jake here takes his job with a certain exuberance.”
“Shit, we’re beaing beat up by the inventor of scrabble!”
6. “Wrong place, wrong time. Nothing personal.”
“That’s what you think. Last night I fucked your wife.”
“Oh you did, huh? How’d you know it was my wife?”
“She said her husband was a big pimp lookin’ motherfucker with a hat.”
5. “Can we get a formal introduction?”
“Who gives a fuck? You’re the bad guy, right?”
“I AM the bad guy.”
4. (To Himself in the mirror)
“Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re gonna lose. Smile, you fuck.”
3. “Now what are you doing?”
“i’m drawing them a picture.”
“It’s a bomb.”
“It doesn’t look like a bomb, it looks like an apple with lines coming out of it. What are they gonna say, “Don’t open the briefcase, it’s full of fresh fruit?”
[… Shows picture, gets shot at …]
“I forgot to tell you, “Bomb” means “Fuck You” in Polish.”
“Hey, that’s not funny, man. I nearly bought it there!”
“Tragic loss to the art world, let me tell ya.”
2. “Leather pans.”
“What’s something like that run?”
“Six hundred and fifty dollars??”
“You wear them?”
“They don’t, like, have a TV in them or nothin’?”
“…I am very old.”
1. “You think you are so fuckin’ cool, don’t you? You think you are so fucking cool. But just once, I would like to hear you scream in pain.”
“Play some rap music.”