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Archive for March, 2008

O-Watcher: Sexy Beast Accentuates the Negative

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 31, 2008

(Spoiler Alert)

Reader and friend of IITS Erick Bieritz commented on my Smokin’ Aces to chastise me for classifying Jonathan Glazer’s 2000 directorial debut Sexy Beast as being a film in the post-Tarantino mold, saying that it was in fact “more like having a really vivid dream about Rififi and then describing it to your therapist the next day.” He’s right, of course–about the Tarntino thing, anyway, having never seen Rififi (or attended therapy) I can’t exactly vouch for his correction. The reasons why I included Beast in the post-QT discussion were for the film’s superficial virtues–the slick photography and flashy editing, the use of quirky and off-color tough-guy characters, the retro pop music, and so forth. But obviously, Sexy Beast is not your garden variety action-comedy, and for what it is, it’s obviously far ahead of the Guy Ritchie and Joe Carnahan flicks I associated it with.

That said, I have no idea what exactly this movie is. It’s definitely about something (I think), but I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is. So much about this movie I find inexplicable, not the least of which being the film’s title, which as far as I can tell serves no purpose beyond providing a LOL-worthy caption to a credit-sequence Ray Winstone crotch shot. The real X-Factor in the movie, though, is of course Ben Kingsley, in an Oscar-nominated performance and with an all-time classic film character that elevates what otherwise feels like a relatively boring heist movie to unbelivably unsettling heights.

Kingsley is terrifying in this movie for so many reasons. The first half of Beast is mostly spent on Kingsley trying to browbeat retired ex-con Ray Winstone into joining him in one last heist, a proposition that Gal has no interest in whatsoever, living a blissful existence with his wife and friends in some desert estate in Spain and seeing no reason to give it up. The tactics Don (Kingsley’s character) uses to persuade Gal (Winstone) are part Crime and Punishment-style manipulation (as Gal notes) but mostly consist of straight up third-grade bullying tactics–resorting to lots of yelling, cursing, cheap shot insults, and a couple of well-timed punches. These methods should probably seem puerile and uninteresting compared to some of the smarter and more psychologically (and physically) intimidating villains of recent years, but Don’s methods are so straightforward, so unflinching and so unceasing that you feel almost as terrorized as poor Gal does, as memories of all Moe-type bullies you might have encountered who you feel you probably could’ve mentally outsmarted if you could ever get up the courage (or even get the chance) to get a word in edgewise.

What really makes Don such a scary character, though, is how obviously unhinged he is–and I don’t mean that in the “I’LL FUCK YOU UP MAN I’M CRAZY YO” sort of “unhinged” that just equates to “I’m relatively OK with the prospect of hurting people and/or myself.” Kingsley described the character once as “the most miserable person in the world,” a description which definitely helped me see the character for who he really is–a cripplingly insecure, lonely, and legitimately mentally unbalanced individual that probably equates the idea of getting Gal back on the team by using whatever means necessary to simply reconnecting with him as an old friend. He’s a sympathetic character, somehow, but not one you’d want to exchange too many syllables with. Watching him take each of Gal’s successive refusals more and more personally, you know it’s only a matter of time before he snaps (on a larger scale than he does in an average conversation, that is).

And then comes the O-Watcher. Well, not to get ahead of myself, it’s preceded by the movie’s second-best and funniest scene, where an extremely irritable Don, after poutedly storming off Gal’s estate, semi-intentionally gets himself kicked off his plane back to the UK by threatening various passengers and stewardesses and excusing his behavior to the authorities by claiming he did it in response to being sexually harrassed by the stewards. Then he’s off to the races, cabbing back to Gal’s place to give him one final piece of his mind.

This scene–it’s hard to put into words how effective Kingsley is in it. Every syllable, every bit of body language…he just couldn’t get it righter. The way he starts screaming from the moment he steps out of the cab, despite the fact that he has no reason to think Winstone and company can even hear him yet. The way he marches around Winstone while berating him, like R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. The way he connects various semi-thoughts and half-baked insults in a rapid-fire, almost stream of consciousness pace, sounding more like an Amiri Baraka poem than an actual human being. And then, the culmination of a half-film’s worth of futility:

“Not this time, Gal. Not this time. Not this fucking time! NO! No-No-No-No-No-No-No-No-NO! NO! No-No-No-No-No-No-No-No-No-No-No-No-NO! NO! NOT THIS FUCKING TIME, NO FUCKING WAY! NO FUCKING WAY! NO FUCKING WAY! NO FUCKING WAY YOU MADE ME LOOK A RIGHT CUNT!!!”

Kingsley makes The Zombies sound positively affirmative. His performancy is so inconceivably overpowering (THIS IS FUCKING GANDHI FOR FUCKS SAKE) that it actually leads me to believe that perhaps Ray Winstone’s performance is significantly undervalued, simply by allowing Gal to seem so meek and powerless by comparison. Look how little resistance he puts up when Don smashes a glass bottle over his head, despite him even warning “I’ma kill you, Gal. I’ma fucking kill you.” What choice does he have, really?

And that’s one of the main reasons you gotta watch this scene whenever it’s on–because, for reasons I’ll never quite understand, it’s the last one Kingsley gets in the movie. Though we don’t find it out for certain until later in the movie, Gal’s compadres end up killing Don, and the rest of the movie is Gal back in London working on the heist with Ian MacShane of Deadwood. Honestly, I barely even remember what happens in the rest of this movie–something with a drill and some underwater shit–because after Kingsley peaces out, who fucking cares? Imagine if one of those kids got the drop on Robert Mitchum halfway through Night of the Hunter, and the rest of the movie was just the two of them playing jacks at recess or something. I don’t get it.

In all fairness, it’s not so terrible to have a cable-frequent movie that you only ever really feel like watching half of–the world of TV is a wide one, and it’s nice to have a movie that allows you to get its O-Watcher out of the way and move on to bigger and better things. Still, it’s just one of the many things about this movie that leaves it as a fascinating question mark in my mental filing cabinet–maybe it’ll make sense once I watch Rififi. Or enter therapy.

Posted in O-Watcher | 2 Comments »

Commercial Break / Listeria: Ranking the GEICO Celebrity Commercials

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 30, 2008

“That’s a complete dramatization, of course…”

GEICO has nothing further to prove with its ad campaigns. Between the identity-solidifying GEICO Gekko character, the pleasantly surprising “I just saved a boatload of money on car insurance by switching to GEICO” ads, the phenomenon-inducing “So easy a caveman can do it” series, and a little commercial called “Tiny House” (which if you don’t rank as the greatest commercial of all-time, you certainly have to at least put in the top ten), there’s no question about it–GEICO is the advertising dynasty of the 00s. Anything further that it does at this point is just stat-padding.

That said, it’s been a while since GEICO’s ads have been consistently groundbreaking and hilarious. The GEICO Gekko commercials (which, to be honest, were never particularly hysterical to begin with) have become rote. The Caveman commercials have run their course, and in the shadow of the Caveman hype (or anti-hype, I guess), the premise has been sapped of all freshness. And their most recent regular series, the GEICO Celebrity ads, have been very, very hit or miss.

You know the ones. “[Non-Famous Person] is a real GEICO customer, not an actor, so to tell his/her story, we hired [Famous Person].” The reg tells their sympathetic, GEICO-fellating story, while the celeb punctuates their tales with exhortations meant to be representative of what the celeb is famous for. The purpose of this gimmick is obvious–to simultaneously present relateable stories praising the merits of GEICO while poking fun at the tendency of commercials to hire celebrity ringers for no particular purpose, and getting in some good, winking celebrity self-mockery while they’re at it.

Fair enough. But given the translatability of these celebs’ various skills to the commercial spokesperson format, the actual watchability of these commercials varies greatly from famous person to famous person. Given the ten I was able to remember / find on YouTube, I’ve ranked them from 10-1 in order of how bearable these commercials are, given that nearly all of them have been given the unenviable task of holding up to dozens and dozens of repeat viewings.

10. Joan Rivers. What a surprise that a celebrity otherwise as ingratiating and low-key as Joan Rivers should show up as the most annoying GEICO cameo on this list. Nonetheless, this takes on special proportions even for Mrs. Rivers given just how creepy this commercial is. Givn the fact that her countless visits to plastic surgeons now fills the entirety of the public’s perception of Joan Rivers (God knows I could barely identify anything else about her), all she does in the commercial is make bad facelift jokes that end up sounding positively frightening–“I CAN’T FEEL MY FACE!!” “Am I smiling? I CAN’T TELL!!!” Creates more sympathy for Joan than it does for whoever the jobber next to her is.

9 . Verne Troyer. Troyer isn’t really famous for anything besides being short, not talking much, and drunkenly, nakedly moroting around celebrity houses. So all he’s given to say here is to pointlessly echo the sentiments of the customer with what could be interpreted as “attitude” (“Yeah, that’s right. I was busy.”) They could’ve gotten just about any other famous person to fill these lines with equal amounts of character, and The Spy Who Shagged Me kinda sucked anyway, so fuck this commercial.

8. James Lipton. Lipton is a walking self-parody as is, so actually getting him to take time out of his busy schedule to poke even more fun at himself seems especially purposeless. Plus, even if it wasn’t, Will Ferrell’s exemplary SNL parody and Lipton’s brilliant appearance on Arrested Development should have closed the book on it anyway.

7. Michael Winslow. Not a particularly bad appearance–the sound effect guy from Police Academy pretty much has Pop Culture carte blanche for the rest of his life, and it’s a natural fit–but I can’t help but feel that he’s just kind of phoning it in here. His car sound effects aren’t particularly convincing, and the beatboxing and simulated hip-hop he closes the commercial with, meant to apprxoimate the sound of the customer’s car radio turning on, don’t sound like they’d be coming from that guy’s car stereo at all. Maybe if he had done his best Glenn Campbell impersonation.

6. Little Richard. A little Little Richard definitely goes a long way, so this commercial quickly outwore its welcome back when it was in heavy rotation. That said, watching this wide-eyed, falsetto’d lunatic is almost always a pleasure, and his “MASHED POTATOES, GRAVY, AND CAH-RANNNBERRY SAUCE!!!” is practically “Tutti Frutti”-worthy. Perhaps the best part comes before he even says anything, watching him quietly sip a cup of coffee. First time I’ve seen Little Richard silent and stationary for, like, at least five seconds. He almost looks human.

5. Burt Bacharach. This one’d be higher, probably, except I only watched it for the first time tonight. Don’t know why this one never quite caught on the way the others have, but it’s easily worthy of the list’s top half. The smooth sound of Bacharach’s piano is always appreciated, and the lyrics (“I hope I never get hit…IN THE REAAAARRRR…again…“) are appropriately inappopriate. Bacharach also behaves vaguely autistic throughout, which for some reason greatly adds to the commercial’s appeal.

4. Peter Graves. Once again, should maybe be a slot or two higher, but before this commercial, I didn’t really have much of a read on who exactly Peter Graves was (yeah, I know, I’ve been meaning to watch those Mission: Impossible reruns I see on the American Life Network every now and then). Still, his delivery of the commercial’s key line (“I was one verrry lucky woman”) and the awkward pause afterwards is practically flawless. Points to the customer for keeping a straight, even unimpressed, face throughout.

3. Peter Frampton. Of all the GEICO celebrity commercials, this one might have the most lingering effect in my Pop Culture consciousness. Now I can’t hear a Frampton song on the radio, or discuss him in casual conversation (which, in my world, happens probably way more than it should) without cupping my hands to my mouth and muttering “NOT-A-GREAT-WAYYY-TO-START-THE-MOR-NING…” or “I-WAN-TED-TO-PULL-MY-HAAAAIIIRR-OUU-U-UTTT…” Only thing keeping this from taking top honors is the bit where he works in a strained “Do You Feel Like We Do” reference, as if to remind audiences what he’s famous for. The talk box’ll do just fine, thanks.

2. The Pips. This one I think probably best achieves the idea of what GEICO was going for the whole time with this campaign–the mild but undeniable novelty of a bona fide Pop Cutlure icon (which the three Pips collectively add up to, I figure) doing what they’re famous for and using it to enhance a simple story of GEICO’s effectiveness. Plus, it definitely shares with the Frampton one the tendency to get stuck in your head beyond TV watching hours (I’ve been known to unconsciously drop a “WOO-OOH, FENDER BENDER” into accident-related conversation from time to time), and teaches these Amy Winehouse-bred kids a thing or two about what real male backing vocals should sound like.

1. Don LaFontaine. “Who?” Exactly. This gets the #1 if only by sheer virtue of it finally teaching me the name of one of the all-time That Guys, given an even further That Guy mythology by the fact that I would never have known before what he even looked like. Don is of course “That Guy from the Movie Previews,” perhaps best known for his “IN A WORLD…” introductory catchphrase, whose trademark intonation simply could not be further perfected. The introductory “IN A WORLD…WHERE BOTH OF OUR CARS WERE UNDERWATER,” coupled with LaFontaine’s dramatic hand motion, seals this one right from the outset. If only they were all of this quality.

Posted in Commercial Break, Listeria | 8 Comments »

Take Five: Unnaturally Glowing All-Music Guide Reviews

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 29, 2008

“You know when critics say, ‘Oh, I was so gone last night, I shoudln’t have written that review”? WE CAN BE THAT MISTAKE!!

As trivia geeks, nothing makes us giddier than statistical aberrations. Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel” becoming a top five hit in the year 2006. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ presumably being the only plotless, borderline sadomasochistic foreign language film to ever gross in the hundreds of millions. The year Adrian Beltre led the National League in home runs. So inexplicable were these feats that history couldn’t possibly allow them to happen again, and sure enough, they didn’t. (Well, at least not until Buckcherry’s “Sorry,” anyway). But this fact just adds to their allure, wondering what freak occurences made them possible at any point–history seems to try so hard to be linear, that any sort of spike is bound to be worth investigating.

No pop culture institution better exemplifies this principle than the All-Music Guide. For most music fans, the site is a given–before Wikipedia, and sometimes even still after, it was the go-to site for anything you wanted to know about music. Discography info, years, backstories, chart info, similar artists–the AMG had it all. It also had reviews and reccomendations, which I would pore over for hours on end, since back in the day–and I’m sure I’m not the only one here–it was the site I most trusted to give me an unbiased, if not always particularly articulate, picture of music history. Their ratings and prose didn’t always match my opinions, but it was usually a pretty safe bet that what AMG said was at least indicative of the general critical thinking about a certain album, and if they gave a particularly positive review about an album, it was almost always because that album had withstood the test of time in the eyes of most, and was probably at least worth knowing about.

But what the AMG didn’t–couldn’t, really–account for was upcoming reviews. When it originated in book form (I have a copy from about ’95 at home somewhere) it was simply a historical account, but once it went online, it was afforded the possibility (and thus, the obligation) to review music as it came out again. Most of the time, their reviews of new albums weren’t much different than those of the old–safe toeing of the general critical line–and a couple times, they even looked brilliant in their analysis, as when they gave Daft Punk’s Discovery a 4 1/2 star rating a good year or two before American critics started coming around to it. But, since they’re not always able to wait long enough before publishing their reviews to get a reliable critical consensus, every once in a while, maybe once a year if we’re lucky, they make an unequivocally salivating reccomendation that comes across as being downright insane.

Now, I haven’t actually heard any of these five albums, so in the interest of being fair, I’m willing to acknowledge the legitimate possibility that these albums are, in fact, as amazing as the AMG writers seem to think. But I believe they represent enough of a break from the standard thinking about their respective albums (assuming there even is a standard thinking about a couple of these) that they make for shocking, absorbing, and occasionally hilarious reading.

  • Daphne and Celeste – We Didn’t Say That! This one did get a bit of buzz from the UK press, if memory serves, so it’s not quite the 4.5 star rating that’s so surprising here. Rather, it’s just how unbelievably mind-blown AMG writer Dean Carlston seems to find the album conceptually. Now, I’ve actually heard a couple songs from this–“Ooh, Stick You” and “U.G.L.Y.,” and yeah, they’re a little weird, but “The most exquisite, evil, cloying, disturbing, fun, shameless, astonishing, perplexing, stupid, and “what the f*ck?” album you’ll hear in years” seems a little far-fetched to me. Whenever a review starts “Pop, there goes post-modernism,” you should know what kind of ride you’re in for, but this just isn’t the sort of thing you see very often on a normally very level-headed, even-keeled All-Music Guide.
  • David Cross – Shut Up You Fucking Baby The five-star album isn’t an uncommon sight in general on the AMG, but really only retroactively. For 99.9% of modern acts, 4.5 stars is the ceiling for new albums–even acts like Radiohead and Bjork started out with their most acclaimed albums falling a half-star short of classic status, before a few years later, after history had backed up the albums’ reps, that last half-star was added. I’ve only seen the 5 star rating off the bat twice–one for Aphex Twin’s remix collection 26 Mixes for Cash and one for this David Cross comedy album. Now, this may or may not be “one of the greatest albums in recorded comedy history,” but should such status really get it prioritized over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Funeral, Stankonia and any other number of other universally-beloved future classics? I guess those albums should’ve had more songs called “Shaving the Pope’s Pussy” and “Abortion Doctors from Hell”.
  • Joey McIntyre – One Too Many: Live from New York Yes, that Joey McIntyre. Frankly, I’m shocked that anyone at the AMG is on top of the country’s new releases enough to even recognize the existence of this album, much less enough to review it, much less enough to give it four and a half and call it “stunning, bewildering, hilarious, disarming, endearing, and utterly unforgettable.” I will say that of any of these five albums, this review is the one that most makes me want to actually listen to the album, since I just can’t imagine what a vital live album by an ex-NKOTBer (or his supposedly rabid fanbase) could possibly sound like. I wonder how pissed Jordan Knight is that his The Fix didn’t exactly get similar treatment.
  • Avril Lavigne – The Best Damn Thing This one isn’t nearly as ridiculous as the others, but it did the most to unwarrantedly raise my expectations for an album. After “Girlfriend” rocked my world and the AMG gave it this extremely impressed rave, implying the step above her previous LPs that I’d hoped for. Unfortunately, no one else really agreed, and the album ended up with a mediocre MetaCritic score of 66, actually two lower than that of Let Go. Still, it was worth it for the line “If you recognize the chorus of “Girlfriend” as a total lift from The Rubinoos’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” you’re an old guy, even if you’re 20.” Fair enough.
  • Counting Crows – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings An IITS reader once said of my tribute to Vertical Horizon’s “Everything You Want,” “No offense, but it’s really funny if you read it as satire.” I’m not going to say anything more about Thom Jurek’s review of Counting Crows’ new release, except that it was (as you can probably guess) the inspiration for this piece, and that if you’ve read this far in the article, you really have to read this review. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, or at least a once-in-every-year-or-so, experience.

Posted in Take Five | 6 Comments »

Undeclared: Handicapping the Regulars’ Chances of Escaping the Apatowverse

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 28, 2008

One of the less talked about positives about the recent unequivocal success of everything Judd Apatow has touched in the last three years (well, I guess I haven’t checked Drillbit Taylor‘s first-week receipts yet…) is how it has the possibility to foist a fresh new class of comedic talent into the general acting pool–a number of breakout comedic actors who, for the first time in ages, actually seem like they’d be tolerable in real life too. It’s not surprising that this doesn’t get mentioned more, though, since it seems like so few of them seem interested in joining said pool. Some are merely sticking to the general role types that shot them to stardom, and some prefer instead to stay in more Apatow-directed and produced flicks, staying inside the bubble, almost daring it to burst at any moment. How will they fare once (and if) they venture out into the real world?

Jonah Hill

Apatow Credentials: Roommate Jonah in Knocked Up, Seth in Superbad, Nate’s Ghost (Adult) in Walk Hard

Upcoming Apatow Projects: Matthew in Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Notable Non-Apatow Roles: Adam Sandler’s teenage kid in Click, Lionel in Rocket Science, the guy who yells “ASK ME ABOUT MY WIEEENERRRRRR!!!” in the preview for Accepted

Role Type of Choice: The high-strung, antagonistic, sex-obsessed fat dude.

Odds on Escaping the ‘Verse: Not great. Not his or Apatow’s fault necessarily, since having his body type certainly relegates him to certain types of roles right off the bat. But not only was his appearance in Superbad a career role, it was as a character who was significantly younger than Hill himself, despite the fact that you’d never know it from watching him. Doubt either of those are good signs. His best hope is to stay away for long enough until the memory of his Apatow roles is a little more distant and he starts to look like a person you could actually take seriously as an adult, and maybe he can be the Jackie Earle Haley of 2020.

Jason Segel

Apatow Credentials: Nick in Freaks & Geeks, Eric in Undeclared, Roommate Jason in Knocked Up

Upcoming Apatow Projects: Peter in  Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Noteworty Non-Apatow Roles: Mike in SLC Punk, Marshall in How I Met Your Mother

Role Type of Choice: The jocky-looking wimp.

Odds on Escaping the ‘Verse: Hard to say. In a way you could say he already has with How I Met Your Mother, in itself a show (and role) good enough to justify a career. My worry is that the overly sensitive twenty-something Marshall is too much a continuation of the overly sensitive high school slacker he played in Freaks and the overly sensitive frat boy he played in Undeclared, to be considered a true breakout role. And if the previews for Forgetting Sarah Marshall are any indication, he’s not looking to break further any time soon. At least he has his SLC Punk role to point to as at least being one example of him being decent in a different kind of role, more than we can say about some names mentioned in this article.

Seth Rogen

Apatow Credentials: Ken in Freaks and Geeks, Ron in Undeclared, Eager Cameraman in Anchorman, Ben in Knocked Up, Officer Michaels in Superbad

Upcoming Apatow Projects: Dale in The Pineapple Express

Notable Non-Apatow Roles: Uh, apparently he was in You, Me and Dupree. And Donnie Darko at some point (?!?!?)

Role Type of Choice: Sarcastic but generally well-meaning stoner underachiver

Odds of Escaping the ‘Verse: Poor to Even. He could be one movie away from being Will Ferrell at the age of 25 (despite looking like he’s at least a decade older than that), but that movie has to come sooner rather than later, and it has to not involve Apatow in any way. To be considered a comedic great on his own, he has to be able to be the strongest presence in a movie, and he’ll never have that if he never steps out from under the umbrella. There’s no shame in being the post-adolescent Anthony Michael Hall of the 00s, but a la AMH, his career might drop off as well once his partner in crime’s cachet ain’t what it used to be.

Leslie Mann

Apatow Credentials: Miss Foote in Freaks and Geeks, Nicky in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Debbie in Knocked Up, Lisa in Drillbit Taylor, Marriage in Real Life

Upcoming Apatow Projects: Untitled Judd Apatow Comedy (’09)

Noteworthy Non-Apatow Roles: Robin in The Cable Guy, Corinne in Big Daddy, Krista in Orange County

Role Type of Choice: Inconsistent, but usually involves being shrewish in some respect

Odds of Escaping the ‘Verse: It’s a little weird in Mann’s case, because she was the only one of these actors to be fairly established even before meeting Apatow. But now that she’s the Judd’s main squeeze, she seems mostly content to skate along with plum supporting roles in his movies–I even remember a small amount of Best Supporting Actress nod buzz, or at least yipping about her inevitable exclusion, in some Oscar predictions for her Knocked Up role. You could say that she’s had a long enough career to be established outside of hubby, but as long as she’s sitting right beside the throne, I can’t imagine her ambition will be much to reach that again.

Michael Cera

Apatow Credentials: Evan in Superbad

Upcoming Apatow Projects:  None

Noteworthy Non-Apatow Roles: George Michael in Arrested Development, Bleeker in Juno

Role Type of Choice: Extremely nervous and uncomfortable teenager.

Odds of Escaping the ‘Verse: Looking pretty good. Really, despite him having the best performance in Ap’s best movie, Cera’s connection to the Apatowverse is minimal, since its arguably still the least iconic of thre three roles everyone knows him for. His only downside is that he’s yet to play a character not in the George Michael mold, leading many to speculate that he might not even be acting that much. But look at some of his upcoming projects–The Year One, a bible comedy by Harodl Ramis, Nick adn Norah’s Infinite Playlist, with Cera as a queercore bandmember, Parental Guidance Suggested, a teen sex sketch movie by SNL people, and Scott Pilgrim, an action/adventrue based on the graphic novel of the same name. Is there any way they all end up being no good? Is there any way he still plays George Michael in each one? Think the future might be bright for young Cera.

Posted in Undeclared | 7 Comments »

In a Perfect World: Van Hagar Would’ve Operated Under Its Own Name

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 27, 2008

Only time will tell if we stand the test of time

One of the many classic scenes in the super-underrated 1994 radio station hostage comedy Airheads involves The Lone Rangers (Adam Sandler, Brendan Fraser and Steve Buscemi) fending off attempts by the cops to infiltrate their stronghold with an undercover posing as a record exec. To test his music mettle, they ask him a series of loaded rock opinion questions, one of which is “Whose side do you take in the David Lee Roth / Van Halen split?” The exec, of course, answers “Van Halen,” at which point the trio instantly deduces that he’s bacon incarnate. “Hey, they sold a lot of records after Dave left!” he (approximately) defends.

This, in summation, is the consensus opinion about Van Halen, Mk. II–appreciated by clueless listeners who wouldn’t know real rock if they got stuck inside a Marshall amp, dispised by everyone else. Consensus opinion is even understating the case, since I’ve never met ANYONE brave enough to defend Van Hagar, at least not to the point where they say they were a phase of VH’s discography worthy of being equated with the Roth-era albums. That’s not to say that these people don’t exist–considering that VH were nearly as popular with LV #2, someone must’ve been buying all these records–but unless you’re tailgating classic rock concerts with 45-year-olds or drinking with tequila afficianados, I don’t imagine you’re likely to find too many of ’em these days.

And there is an exceedingly simple explanation for this–Van Halen were a much, much better band with David Lee Roth. They played with far more energy and far more instrumental bravado, which in this semi-rare case is an unequivocal positive, and were led by a frontman with far more charisma, originality, and physical agility. But really, things like technical skill and innovation don’t even need to come into it. “Hot for Teacher,” “I’m the One,” “Unchained,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Panama”–there are no Hagar-era songs to equal these, period. There’s no way these two bands should be held in the same distinction.

But then there’s the thing–these are two completely different bands. This isn’t Journey replacing Steve Perry with Steve Augeri (or replacing Steve Augeri with Jeff Soto, or Soto with Arnel Pineda…), a simple substitution meant to minimize as much as possible the cognitive dissonance the switch would cause with fans, this was a band completely re-inventing its identity. Aside from the occasional Eddie solo (which, of course, became far more occasional as Van Hagar progressed) there was almost nothing to identify that this band, now the creator of overdramatic love songs and overwrought message sogns, was the same “band” that created “Ice Cream Man” or “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”.

But then there’s the other thing–Van Hagar as a band didn’t suck nearly as much as everyone remembers. OK, they weren’t going to win any critical hosannas, or hold much in the way of metal or underground cred, but the hate they receive is only as extreme as it is because no one can ignore the fact that these people are supposedly the same guys who cranked out some of the most fun, invigorating and hilarious (three things no one could ever accuse Mk. 2 of being) songs in the classic rock canon. But if you stop comparing them to the peers that the original Van Halen would keep in company with (Hall of Fame Rock Gods like Kiss, AC/DC and Cheap Trick, or first-wave hair metallers like Def Leppard and Motley Crue) and start mentally grouping them with other super-popular but retroactively fetishized 80s cheese-rock standbys (like Loverboy, Survivor and The Outfield), they’ve got a pretty formidable catalogue.

Take “Feels So Good,” one of their less-remembered hits, but probably my personal favorite post-Diamond D single of theirs. An undulating keyboard hook (stolen from the same faux-organ sound used on Pete Tonwshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” presumably) anchors a chugging beat that complements one of Sammy’s least cringe-worthy love lyrics, with lots of gorgeous backing harmonies from Eddie and Michael. By the time the song finally gets to the titular chorus yelp–which, by the way, they brilliantly hold off until two and a half minutes in, making it all the more rewarding–I challenge you not to smile (or at least not to chime in with E&M’s “SO GOOD!” confirmation).

That’s the key to me–there’s almost always one part in each Hagar-led Van Halen hit that puts that big goofy smile on my face with its almost-unbearable earnestness, infectious overenthusiasm and total lack of self-consciousness. The “Higher and higher!” chants in “Dreams,” that introductory first synth squelch in “Why Can’t This Be Love?,” pretty much every motherfucking note of “Right Now”–they don’t provide any of the adrenaline rush of early VH, but they do end up triggering a lot of the same types of endorphins just the same. They’re not a band that deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the original Van Halen, or any of the great 80s bands, but among the second-tiers, they could be considered top dog.

Which is why it’s so frustrating that they didn’t decide to change the band’s name when Sammy joined. If they had done that, sure, there’d still always be comparisons to the original lineup, and there’d still be a lot of assholes that held the split against Hagar for the band’s duration, but I don’t think it could be seen as nearly the level of travesty that most people attribute to Hagar’s replacing Roth. If they had been called something else, at the very least it wouldn’t seem like they were claiming to be just as worthy of the Van Halen name.

A good analogy to illustrate this point is the case of Guns n Roses & Velvet Revolver. It’s not exactly perfect, of course–a couple other, non-Axl members of GnR weren’t in VR, and actually Axl still held the GnR name for his own, meaning Slash, Duff & Co. couldn’t have used it even if they wanted it. But basically it’s the same deal–an enormously successful and well-loved band replaces their unreliable lead singer with an already established star, and goes on to formidable success themselves. But despite the fact that the transformation from what they used to be (going from one of the most pissed off, emotionally fucked up and overambitious frontmen in rock history to a guy content to sing basic-sounding metal songs about nothing much) was arguably just as drastic, VR don’t attract nearly the hate that Van Hagar do, because it seems like a totally separate entity from GnR. They’re not GnR, and they don’t claim to be. Consequently, not many hold the fact that they sound nothing like GnR against them. If VH had been smart and done the same thing, results could’ve been similar–not as much love, maybe, but not nearly as much hate. I think they deserved a little better.

Might be time for me to revisit the Gary Cherone years, too. “Without You” was pretty OK, right?

Posted in In a Perfect World | 7 Comments »

Livebloggin’: It’s Opening Day Somewhere

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 25, 2008


Admittedly it’s been a while since I cared enough to notice, but I don’t necessarily remember the MLB season starting at 6:05 in the morning in years past. However, in their ongoing attempts to go worldwide (one too many cracks about how arrogant calling a national series the World Series is?), the league has situated the christening series of the ’08 season in Japan, a far away land where apparently morning is night and hamburgers eat people. Last year’s reigning champs, the Boston Red Sox, take on a bunch of scrubs you’ve never heard of, called the Oakland Athletics, for a two-game series televised in the wee small hours of the morning.

Lest I spend the entire season like the guy who comes into a movie ten minutes late and spends the next two hours trying to catch up with what he missed, I’m setting my alarm clock early to check out the season opener. But if I have to sit through it on three and a half hours’ sleep, then you have to sit through me sitting through it on two and a half hours’ sleep, and I will be liveblogging. Will the Sox start off on the road to a second straight title, on the back of starting pitcher and hometown hero Daisuke Matsuzaka? Will the A’s begin the long and arduous process of rebuilding by shocking the world champs? Will I ever forgive the Sox for reminding me why underdogs are underdogs for a reason with their depressingly abusive dispatching of the Rockies last October? Will Matsuzaka and Manny Ramirez justify their auto-draft positions on IITS’s first ever Fantasy Baseball Team, the Ottawa Obfuscators? Stay tuned…

Oh, and I have a 10:00 start at Sirius today, and it takes me about 50 minutes to get down there, so let’s hope the game don’t go extra innings.

6:08. No JD Drew this morning, apparently. Looks like the Sox are gonna have to go without Grand Slams for a few games.

6:09. Ouch, Eric Chavez is injured? The A’s are gonna be like the Indians in Major League this year.

6:10. First pitch of the season, courtesy of Joe Blanton (who looks exactly like the ’08 A’s ace should look like like). It’s a strike! Well that’s it, the Red Sox are done for this season.

6:11. Pedroia singles up the middle. Never mind, they’re going all the way again.

6:12. Shit, I turn away for one pitch and I miss whether Kevin Youkilis’s beard has grown back yet or not. Games in Japan already look like they’re going to take about half as long as US ones.

6:14. Hey, the A’s catcher is named Suzuki! How come he’s not getting a standing ovation?

6:15. Ortiz and Manny fly out back-to-back. Soon enough, my pretties.

6:16. Daisuke Matsuzaka gets his Big Ovation. I dunno, I’m sort of underwhelmed–the way they were hyping this I was expecting nothing shorter than a minute of defeaning enthusiasm and no less than a dozen bras on the playing field. They do have bras in Japan, right?

6:18. Matsuzaka retires the leadoff A (missed the name–Ruiz, maybe?) on a first-pitch ground ball. “That’s what they want,” the announcer says, “They want efficiency.” Hey, that’s some borderline commentary right there.

6:19. Well hey there Mark Ellis–a rocket over the left field wall gives the A’s (and Major League Baseball) the first Home Run of the 2008 season. Ellis hit 19 dingers last year, he keeps this rate up, he should hit about 530 more this year. “Sayanora!” the announcer yells. Think they were hoping for that one sooner rather than later.

6:22. Dice-K walks batter #3 (missed the name again, dammit). Does it effect the national economy in Japan if he gets taken out before the 5th inning?
6:23. Jack Cust! I’ve actually heard of this guy a bunch of times. 26 homers in less than 400 at bats last year, .408 OBP…not too bad. Dice-K goes a little wild and hits him. Then another wild pitch to Emil Brown, and we’ve got two in scoring position. Put a leash on that puppy, Jason.

6:29. Yikes, is Dice crying already? Nah, he’s just sweating a whole lot and sniffling a little. Still, not exactly a face to inspire terror in the opposition. Not like Matsuzaka’s baby-face and quivering demeanor ever really should–dude could really use some lessons in stone-facedness from Okajima and some in Al Pacino from Papelbon.

6:30. Sac grounder Bobby Crosby, run scores, 2-0 Oakland.

6:32. Dice-K strikes out Chavez replacement Jack Hannahan swinging, third out. Big K for the Dice Man, and if memory serves from the World Series last year, the Sox score (on average) approximately two runs an inning, so they should get about four now to make up for the goose egg in the first. So I wouldn’t worry if I were him. I just pray for my fantasy stats.

6:35. Series MVP Mike Lowell lines into center, base hit. The Phils almost got this guy in the off-season! Can’t say I don’t blame him for staying in the town where he’s a guaranteed legend forever (in the town that guarantees legend status forever), but seriously–Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Mike Lowell. Tell me that there’s ever been a better offensive infield than that one. (Apologies to Pedro Feliz, I’m sure he’s the next best thing).

6:37. The A’s get Lowell on a force from Drew’s replacement Brandon Moss, then a very old-looking Varitek grounds into a double play. Well, the Sox got the leadoff thing down, #2 and #3 could use a little work.

6:39. I missed this Lou Pinella commercial during the off-season! Does this mean the Loren Wallace ads are gonna be making a comeback soon?

6:42. Suzuki / Matsuzaka showdown. SUZUKI WINS!! Blooper single into center. Suzuki apparently is the Hawaiian born second-year catcher Kurt Suzuki, so that explains the lack of homecoming support I suppose.

6:50. Varitek is really earning his keep with all these breaking-breaking-breaking balls and supersliders. Matsuzaka, on the other hand, is not earning his keep on my Fantasy team, leading off with a 10.8 ERA and a 3.00 WHIP. Maybe it’s not too late to swap for Tim Wakefield.

6:58. Dice-K gets himself out of a bases-full pickle by striking out Jack Cust for out #3. Phew.

6:59. You know, I really like these MLB 2k8 commercials (you know, the “I wanna…” ones), up until the point where it comes time for the “I SAID 2K. K?” catchphrase. LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAME.

7:01. Jacoby Ellsbury whiffs in the first at bat of his supposed Rookie of the Year season. I’m amazed pitchers can ever get by this guy without getting distracted staring into his eyes. Those arching eyebrows? Them shits is hypnotic.

7:02. Julio “Monkey Man” Lugo singles. This guy sure is fast for a heroin addict.

7:05. All right, I got a pretty good look at YOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUKKKK this time around, and it looks like the beard/moustache combo has indeed returned. Not quite up to the majesty of last season’s yet, but the fact that I don’t have to see what this guy looks like as a fresh-faced Greek, Jewish (!!) behemoth means that there is still some sense of sanity in the world.

7:07. Big Papi saunters to the plaet with two on, and the crowd goes nuts. Sox fan or no–is there a sweeter sight in all of pro sports? Grounds out to second, though, and the Sox go scoreless in three.

7:18. The Monkey Man saves the day (and Dice-K’s scale-tipping third inning) on a leaping grab of Kurt Suzuki’s high liner.  Flashback to Game 3 of the Series. Goddamn Lugo.

7:23. 0-2 for Manny. Not the most promising start for the Obfuscators.

7:25. Three up, three down for the Sox. This is gonna be about the point where I run out of any even remotely interesting things to say if the game keeps up the slow pace, so let’s hope for some good commercials at least.

7:28. Bud Selig says the league is making “Very Good Progress” with regards to steroids abuse. The problem with this guy is that he doesn’t take this stuff nearly personally enough. Come out swinging! “ROGER CLEMENS, YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED!”

7:30. Wait, the inning’s over already? Damn, I thought we were still on the leadoff hitter. Meanwhile, my bed is starting to coo to me, softly, gently. This is going to be a very long day.

7:39. Bottom of the Sox lineup retired in order. Well, at least we’re looking at a reasonable end time.

7:42. Shots of Cherry Blossoms and sounds of briskly plucked strings to remind us where the game is taking place (New Zealand, I think?) Unfortunately, I’m unable to ascertain the most important cultural difference of all–how the stadium Muzak compares to that in the US. I can hear the chintzy organ sound, but I can’t make out any of the familiar melodies. Hopefully they’ll do a little profile before the night’s over. Do they have “We Will Rock You” across the Pacific?

7:46. Matsuzaka retires the side in the bottom of the 5th, presumably his last appearance. The Dice Man finishes with two hits, two earned runs, five walks, six Ks and decent enough fantasy numbers. Ended a whole lot better than he started, so good for him. I imagine Japanese baseball fans aren’t any more forgiving than American ones, so it’d have been a shame to see their hottest recent export in a complete hometown meltdown.

7:53. Pedroia doubles, YOOUUUUUUUUUK walks, and we’ve got the scariest heart of the lineup in Pro Ball up with 0 outs and a very flustered-looking Joe Blanton. Ahhhh, so this is why it’s been such a long five months…

7:57. AAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNND WE’RE ON THE BOARD!! Not just the Red Sox but my Obfus as well, as Manny hits an line drive into the corner in left, scoring Pedroia and YOOUUUUUUUUUK.  Ramirez and Dice-K  point at each other like Liam and Jesus in The Big Lebowski. Ladies and gentlemen, the ’08 season has begun.

8:01. After Lowell goes down swinging, Brandon Moss earns his start by singling up the right, scoring Manny (looking somewhat unManny barreling around third) and giving Matsuzaka the chance at the Win. Things are suddenly looking very bright in Ottawa. Blanton gets pulled after five very impressive innings and one that might make them all for naught.

8:06. Alan Embree bails out Blanton by KO’ing Varitek, but the damage is done–3-2 Boston.

8:13. Well, so much for the win–the replacement players are getting it done tonight, with Chavez sub Hannahan hitting a towering two-run blast (possibly the most important of Hannahan’s four clobberoos to date, though I can’t necessarily vouch for the timeliness other three) to make it 4-3 A’s.  Sorry, Dice, I’m sure you’ll get us a bunch in time.

8:19. “Matt, you might wanna stick to passing.” Fuck you, Stacy, I happen to think Mr. Hasselbeck uprocks as well as any white boy should.

8:24. Red Sox go down in the Top of the 7th without much noise. I’m taking a shower break now, so keep an eye on the game while I’m gone and make sure that nothing important happenz, K? K.

8:34.  Aside from a pitching change, looks like I missed absolutely nothing. Good work, guys.

8:36. Keith Foulke is back! Not like I ever knew him in his prime, but it seemed like he was a pretty solid dude back in his day, and I was wondering where he had ended up. Good to see the A’s still have one established guy in their line-up, even if it is an injury-plagued, possibly washed up reliever.

8:37. YOOUUUUUUUUUK flies out to deep, deep, tantalizingly deep center. This might be the most obvious observation I make all article, but if they don’t play the beginning of “Crank Dat Soulja Boy” when he comes to bat in Fenway this year, it’ll be a waste of tragic proportions.  A close call fly ball for Ortiz, and a called third on Manny, and the clock is ticking on the Sox’s season opener.

8:47. I said goddamn! Ellsbury makes a jumping, backwards grab of a deep Emil Brown fly ball. If Coco Crisp’s calling card in his fight with Ellsbury for Center Field has been his defense, his case certainly ain’t being assisted muchly by plays like that. A couple meek grounders later and the Red Sox have one more chance to get back in the race here. As Izzy Mandlebaum would say, it’s go time.

8:50. “Hey Papi, why do we always have to have BP out here?”
‘Coz thees the only place I know the Green Monster in right field.”

I still don’t really get it.

8:54. Huston Street (not to be confused with Houston Street, one of my favorite stretches in downtown Manhattan) comes in to close the door on the Sox. He gets one in Lowell’s CF fly out, but then KABLOOIE–Brandon Moss, of all people, has been The Guy for the Sox today, officially earning Temp of the Week honors by hitting a one-run solo shot that ties the game and pretty well guarantees that I’m not gonna get to see the end. Thanks a lot, motherfucker.

9:00. Ellsbury teases with a clocker that looks gone but hooks foul, then actually lines out to left. I’d like the Sox to win, but if the A’s can wrap this up in the next ten minutes so I can at least have seen the whole game, I can live with that too.

9:02. I think the crowd actually digs Okajima, brought on to end the 9th for the Sox, more than Matsuzaka. Can’t say I blame ’em–outside of almost letting game three slip to the Rox, the guy was a stud in middle relief last year, and makes Dice-K look like Shelley “The Machine” Levene by comparison with his stone-cold killer glare on the mound.

9:09. Travis Buck hits a long, long flier to center that looks like it might put me out of my misery, but no such luck. One away from extra innings.

9:14. Ellis hits a chopper to Okajima for out #3, and that’ll do it for me. Hell of a game so far, but not quite good enough to start myself on the slippery slope of forced lateness and absence excuses from the workplace. In any event, a great way to start what should be a mad fucking exciting season of Major League Baseball.

Let me know how it ends. Oh, and Brandon Moss for Rookie of the Year–remember, you heard it here first.

Posted in Livebloggin' | 1 Comment »

I Sez: Maxim Knows Their Unsexxy Ladiez

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 23, 2008

“Because you treat me like a hag!”

Though I’ve always found their Hot 100 lists inordinately entertaining, I’ve taken my fair share of issues with the ladies Maxim has chosen as the hottest in the world over the years. General popularity often seems to take the priority over legit look-good skills, as such overrated, hot-but-not-especially-hott vixens like Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Garner and Eva Longoria (I’ll give her the one, fine, but she deserved her back-to-back about as much as her husband deserves a 4th championship ring) get top honors while more deserving contenders as Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel and Nicole Scherzinger have had to suffice with runner-ups and lower. OK, Maxim isn’t exactly Cannes and the H100 #1 isn’t exactly the Palme D’Or, but as far as the male majority perspective goes, there isn’t really a much better rep than Maxim, so it’s fairly important that they get these decisions at least close to right. (I mean seriously–Jennifer Garner?)

They do appear, however, to be fairly unpoint when judging the bottom of the barrel. Maxim recently released a list of the five unsexiest women (or, I guess, the Frigid 5), populated by Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, Sandra Oh, Madonna, and the crowned champion, Sarah Jessica Parker. Now, Madonna I don’t really agree with (I don’t think she looks any worse now than she should look as an entetrtainer pushing 50, and in her day she was about as hott as pop stars come), and I can’t confirm one way or the other about Amy Winehouse (looks great in video, but real-life stills can be horrific), but they definitely are fairly right on with Britney (not an iota overrated in her prime, but currently about as appetizing as a Big Mac left out in the sun for two weeks), Miss Oh (whose hotness has been debated among my friends possibly more than anyone’s, with I think only one person ever coming down “Pro”) and of course, Sarah Jessica Parker. Sez Maxim on SJP:

“How the hell did this Barbaro-faced broad manage to be the least sexy woman in a group of very unsexy women and still star on a show with ‘sex’ in the title? Pull your skirt down, Secretariat, we’d rather ride Chris Noth.”

Cheap shots aside, it’s kind of hard to find fault with this assessment. This, simply put, is not a good-looking woman, a fact which has caused me a fair bit of frustration over the course of my TV watching years. Wouldn’t call her ugly, per se–I probably feel about her the way Chuck Klosterman feels about Van Halen’s “And the Cradle Will Rock,” that she’s exactly in the middle of the road, with every woman better looking than her generally being attributable as “attractive” and every woman worse looking than her being attributable as “unattractive.” This in itself is not a problem–as someone of who at least leans towards the ugly persuasion myself, I generally root for the success of relative Nots in a hottie-dominated market such as TV, hence my appreciation of the careers of Jorge Garcia, Taylor Hicks, and Phyllis from The Office, among others.

But as Maxim touches on, SJP suffers from a problem of role expectations versus reality, which for discussion’s sake I’ll call the Glenn Close Syndrome. In the 1980s, Glenn Close was among the pre-eminent actresses of her generation, starring in several blockbusters and netting a truly astounding five Oscar nominations over the course of the decade (though winning none of them). Now, Close was surely a very talented actress, and her marquee status was hard earned and fairly well-deserved. But two of her most famous film roles–Alex in 1987’s Fatal Attraction and Marquise de Merteuil in 1988’s Dangerous Liasons–were in movies whose plots pivoted around the point that Glenn Close was hott. These were movies where characters made drastic, potentially life-changing decisions, because (presumably) they were so irresisitibly drawn to such a gorgeous specimen that the idea of throwing their lives away had little downside when weighed against the prospect of one night of getting Close.

In terms of acting, Close was exemplary in both films, and indeed, she received nods from the Academy for each. But still, I don’t think you could realistically consider her performances successes, and that’s because you can’t watch either movie without thinking every five seconds “wait a minute…these dudes are screwing up their lives for GLENN FUCKING CLOSE??” As plain-faced and physically unimpressive as star actresses come, this is not the kind of woman that makes your mind and conscience go blank with one “come-hither” look. This is the kind of woman you pass in the canned vegetable aisle in the supermarket without giving a second thought. It’s be like casting Ned Beatty as Rocky Balboa. Sometimes disbelief just can’t be suspended that far.

Hence the problem with Mrs. Matthew Broderick. Now, to be fair, I don’t quite think that anyone involved with Sex & the City was really trying to put forth the impression that SJP was the Sexiest Woman Alive–indeed, her appeal was that of the everywoman (or at least the woman you could potentially see yourself as being if you had caught every lucky break in life) and she wasn’t even cast as The Sexy One on the show. But still, this is a show with Sex in the title, this is a show whose every appraisal begins “Four sexy, independent women” when in reality it’s one, one-and-a-half tops, this is a show where Parker’s character writes a column about sex implying a certain desirability and expertise, this is a show where a number of reasonably good-looking and likeable guys jumped through innumerable hoops for her high-maintenance character and this is the show that made her a worldwide fashion icon, presumably because people like looking at her in nice clothes.

And…it’s just not there. Nor is it in State & Main, The First Wives’ Club, or any other woman positing SJP as a renowned hottie or trophy wife. The one movie I can think of that gets Sarah Jessica Parker’s attractiveness level right-ish is Ed Wood–that of the nagging, shrewish girlfriend who seems just desirable enough to put up with while focusing your principal attentions elsewhere–and she was kind of cute when she was playing the shy, unassuming girl next door in Square Pegs and Footloose. Otherwise, there’s just nothing about her physical appearance–long face, small breasts, unremarkable hair or figure–to suggest that she should be believable in all these supermodel-type roles.

Apparently, Sarah Jessica hasn’t cottoned much to being the recipient of this honor, and while I wouldn’t want to suggest that anyone should ever be happy about being voted Supreme Uggo #1 under any set of circumstances, I do think she could see this as sort of an extremely backhanded compliment. That she was able to not only subsist, but thrive tremendously in a role designed for a hottie despite her obvious physical shortcomings obviously speaks somewhat to her relatable personality and her skills as an actress. Plus, she could’ve rolled with it like Gilbert “At least I was voted #1 of something” Gottfried did when he topped the Boston Phoenix’s Unsexiest Men Alive list. Or she could’ve just thanked her lucky stars that no one had pointed this out much while the show was still on.

Here’s hoping Vogue or Cosmopolitan comes up with some sort of revenge list, probably starring Adrian Grenier at the top. Seems only fair.

Posted in I Sez | 3 Comments »

Popcorn Love: John Malkvoich in Being John Malkovich

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 23, 2008

“Shut up, you overrated sack of shit!”

First off, apologies for the erratic and qualitatively lacking posting as of late–I’m on Spring Break, which should be more of an excuse than it is, but since I’m not off trapsing around Cancun or Miami or Saudi Arabia or wherever it is the kids go these days, the best excuse I can come up with is that I had my wisdom teeth taken out this week, and when I’m not seething in pain and frustration at not being able to eat dumplings and pizza, I’m half asleep from the medication. Plus, all I’ve been watching this week has been NCAA stuff, and since I don’t even enjoy reading other writers’ thoughts on those, I figure there’s no way you guys would wanna hear mine.

I did manage to snag a viewing of Being John Malkovich for the first time in a few years, though. I was reminded of what a weird fucking movie it is–even much more than people give it credit for being. Too many people focus on the movie’s premise when discussing its strangeness, but while it’s certainly an odd conceit to have a movie centered around an unexplained portal into a random actor’s brain that spits you out onto the New Jersey turnpike after 15 minutes, once they start rolling with it, it’s one of the least weird things about it. There’s Catherine Keener and Cameron Diaz reversing their logical roles as frumpy housewife and devilish temptress, respectively. There’s the weird subplot of the Schwartz’s chimp, who has to get over his repressed childhood trauma to bail out Lottie at a pivotal momeont. There’s Malkovich’s agent, who keeps calling his receptionist a cunt and bats not an eye at Malkvoich’s claim that he wants to give up the acting life for his puppeteering pursuitsA (getting one of the movie’s best lines, “No problem, poof, you’re a puppeteer”). There’s the fact that there’s not a single really sympathetic character in the whole movie. There’s the weirdly dark tone the movie takes halfway through, continuing through the last scene, one of the most unsettling in recent memory.

And of course, there’s Malkovich himself. Off the top of my head, it’s hard to think of a better self-performance in movie history, especially not one on whom the main plot is so reliant. There’s definitely no other actor that would’ve worked better in the character–Malkovich is the perfect choice because everyone sort of knows who he is, but he has no definitive roles and no even particularly definitive characteristics (as evidenced by the fact that no one can seem to remember a thing he’s done besides “that jewel thief movie”). It’s certainly a technically impressive performance, as Malkovich not only has to play himself, but John Cusack as himself, and a whole room of random people as himself (the legendary “Malkovich Malkovich” scene, which surely ranks as one of the great moments in late-20th century comedy).

But the thing I like best about Malkovich’s performance is how amazingly self-effacing it is. Malkovich deserved some sort of Honorary Good Sport Oscar for this one–no other self-performance has asked an actor to portray such an unflattering version of himself, a guy whose most exciting daily rituals include reading lines into a tape recorder and ordering carpet samples over the phone, who appears to take himself too seriously and has a flair for the over-dramatic, and even has several disturbingly awkward  repressed memories, as evidenced by Maxine and Lottie’s tumble through his subconscious at the end of the movie. My favorite exchange in the movie comes when Maxine shows up at his place and waits for Lottie to jump through the portal before she jumps Malkovich, so she tries to make conversation:

“So…do you like being…an actor?”

“Yes…it’s very rewarding.”

It’s the dryest, boringest, most self-important sort of answer he could give, and it’s absolutely brilliant for his role in the movie. It’s also why it’s so hilarious to finally see him animated once he catches on to Maxine and Craig’s plan (smartly incognito in glasses and an “I Love NY” hat), yelling “IT’S MY HEAD, SCHWARTZ! IT’S MY HEAD! I WILL SEE YOU IN COURT!!” Even better is his reaction seconds later, when a car rolls by and someone yells “Hey Malkovich, think fast!” and pelts him with a drink or something (“FFFUCK!“) He spends the movie playing slapstick not only at his character’s expense, but at his real life persona’s expense. Not many actors would be up to it, and fewer still would nail it quite this spot on.

Of course, this will probably end up being the movie that shatters his anonymity forever and finally gives John Malkovich a definitive legacy.  Ironic, but hard earned well deserved.

Posted in Popcorn Love | 1 Comment »

OMGWTFLOL: Souljah Boy f/ Arab – “Yahhh!” (2008)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 20, 2008

“He’s a genius, man. It’s like catching Michael Jackson he actually hit wax. It’s that kind of talent.”

When I saw that Soulja Boy’s “Yahhh!” was climbing the Hot 100, peaking last week at #48, I was a little bit scared. “Crank Dat Soulja Boy” was my #1 single of last year–and by that I don’t necessarily mean I thought it was the best, or even that it was necessarily my favorite, but rather that it simply demanded such a slot and that ranking it any other lower would be an exercise in futility. But despite what Mr. Collipark may think, Soulja Boy was not meant to be Michael Jackson–he was that rare shooting star that, to paraphrase Dr. Tyrell from Blade Runner, shone so brightly that you couldn’t really wait to look at something else. To compare him to MJ was like saying Los Del Rio had the potential for Santana’s popular longevity, or that Nena was really going to give Madonna a run for her money as the definitive pop icon of the late 20th century.

The fact that both of these comparisons are with foreign language artists is only semi-accidental. Part of the humongous appeal of Soulja Boy’s era-defining hit was how little English appeared to actually be spoken in the song. Oh, sure, there were some actual words here and there–“SUPERMAN!” “SUPER SOAK!” “YOOOOOOUUUUUU!!!“–but the great majority of the song was totally unintelligible to all but the most aurally acute linguistics experts. But that was a good thing–the lack of comprehensibility just added to the undeniable hypnosis “Crank That” put audiences under, sounding more like an alien transmisison from Mars than a crowd-pleasing club jam. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a song, and to repeat it would’ve just cheapened its glory.

Luckily, “Yahhh!” fell out of the top 50 this week, and now that I finally actually listened to it, I no longer fear it providing any sort of threat to “Crank That Soulja Boy”‘s supremacy. To quickly summarize, if you don’t feel like clicking the YouTube or Sendspace links, Soulja Boy and his mini-Carmelo Anthony-looking pal Arab are frustrated with bystanders’ tendency to want to talk to them about stuff, and interrupt their intrusions by shouting “YAHHH, TRICK, YAHHHH!!!!” And naturally, they encourage you to do the same.

The thing that “Yahhh!” has really helped me to understand about Soulja Boy is that he understands aboslutely nothing about music–or at least, he doesn’t care to. There’s nothing resembling a hook, a melody, an interesting lyrical turn of phrase, nothing–as with CDSB, there’s just an idea and lots of non-sensical padding.  But whereas the idea of “Crank Dat” (whatever it actually was) felt new, intriguing, surreal, “Yahhh!” is nothing but assaultive and perplexing. And very, very hilarious.

Hey Soulja Boy, can I–


Does Soulja actually advocate this practice in real life? Does he think it’ll catch on in clubs and on the streets? Does he think that this is all that music is? You do some things that don’t make any sense, you put them in a song, put a skull-poundingly monotonous synth beat under it, and boom, hit record?  And even if he’s right with all this–and I refuse to believe that he is–how the hell does he justify the part in the chorus where he (or is it Mr. Collipark) just sputters out “MBUNGBAHMUGGAMAHBAH!!!” He just sounds like a crazy person. Sorry, MC, but this ain’t exactly “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”

Meanwhile, the video is yet another reasonable contender for ANDL action.  Are all white people in glasses just the same to you rappers?

Posted in OMGWTFLOL | 5 Comments »

Eugoogly: The Houston Rockets’ Winning Streak

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 19, 2008

“The worst team ever to win 20 in a row”

Check that video, a tribue to the ’07-’08 Houston Rockets entitled “That’s My Team.” As far as single-team/single-season tributes it ranks below Jim Jones’ ’06 Giantsified “We Fly High” and far above the ’86 Dodgers’ recent YouTube sensation “Baseball Boogie,” but less important than how good or bad the song actually is–what a weird team to have a song devoted to. Listen to some of those names. Steve Novak. Aaron Brooks. Carl Landry. Luther Head. If this song had been leaked a mere month and a half ago, it would’ve seen hilariously over-optimistic. Now some of these jobbers are practically household names.

And that was the 22-0 Houston Rockets. Of the dozen or so players namechecked namechecked in “That’s My Team,” I think it’s relatively safe to say that only four of them–Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutumbo and Steve Francis–are likely to endure in the public memory 15-20 years from now. And three of those dudes couldn’t even be considered steady contributors to the streak. Yao peaced out for the season 12 games into the streak, causing many (including myself) to predict the end not only of their streak but of their playoff chances, Deke only came in at Center after Yao’s absence and then rarely played more than 20 minutes a game, and of course Steve Francis was never even a factor at all, having season-ending surgery well before the streak started. T-Mac was the only star throughout the streak, and even he was no LeBron in terms of game-owning consistency, scoring 11 points or less four times throughout the streak.

Yet, 22 in a row. One more than a Bucks team with Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson could manage, and knocking on the door of the Lakers team with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. And they did it with a sole unreliable superstar, a 27-year-old Argentinian NBA n00b, a fundamentals-first ex-college star, a point guard who peaked on the New York playgrounds, a D-League pickup, an underappreciated rookie and a couple three-point shooters. To quoth Marlo Stanfield for the billionth time, “It just don’t seem possible.”

I guess that’s why everyone took so much to this story. When the Blazers won 13 in a row earlier this season, I got similarly swept up–a young team that no one expected much from managing to band together, overcome all odds and force the world to take notice. And it’s not like the Rockets lacked that kind of underdog likeability, whether it was Tracy bringing on the doubters, Shane Battier making sarcastically self-depcrecating comments about the team’s standing with the NBA’s other great streakers (is there any other NBA player right now whose career seems a mere prelude to a long and fruitful career doing color commentary on TNT?) or the entire team trying on their best Mutumbo voices–these were the kind of guys you wanted to root for, surely.

But I just couldn’t get into it. Possibly it was just my anti-Yao prejudice for the first 12 games, and my distress at their disrupting my otherwise potentially picture-perfect Western Conference playoff projections. Maybe it was that some of their more impressive wins just felt a little too convenient–facing the Hornets without David West, the Mavs the day of Dirk’s one-day suspension, and the Lakers a game after Pau’s twisted ankle, never getting that one solidifying win against a truly elite team at full power. Mostly, though, I just don’t think I could wrap my head around it. The Blazers going for 13, OK, good luck and a better schedule could explain that. But the Rockets, a team that was barely flirting with .500 halfway through the season, going for 22 with one-and-a-half stars and a bunch of role players? The cognitive dissonance was just too much for me to handle. It just didn’t feel like it should’ve been history.

That’s why it’s only fitting, I think, that their first loss in 23 games should come as it did last night. Not in some epic cross-state bout with the Mavericks, not in a down-to-the-wire shooters’ duel between T-Mac and Kobe, not even in an ironic loss to an even bigger underdog like the Hawks or Bobcats. Rather, it came at the hands of an utterly graceless trouncing by a shorthanded Celtics, a team that just straight-up outplayed the Rockets across the board for the entire second half. Because despite the confidence, despite the momentum, despite the synergy (dear lord, why would anyone outside of Dilbert willingly use this word), these were, with one or two exceptions, the same group of human beings that were barely even being considered as top eight contenders in the West just a month and a half ago. And teams like that have a tendency to get crushed by a 50+-win team every now and then.

Now, in my opinion, is when the real story begins. Do the Rockets manage to mostly keep it up? Does their sudden reversal in momentum end up sinking them in their potentially-deadly upcoming West tour of the Hornets, Suns and Warriors? Do they stay a #1 seed, or do they fall out of the playoffs entirely? In any event, now that all the hype is sure to die down, I’ll be interested in evaluating the team on its own merits, and see if they really are a group of loveable underdogs worth rooting for against a favorite like the Lakers or Spurs, or just a bunch of serendipitous supporting players lucky enough to have 22 games break their way in a row. Yet another reason to stay glued to the NBA for the next month and a half.

The Houston Rockets’ 22-Game Undefeated Streak, Jan 29. 2008 – Mar 19. 2008

Posted in Eugoogly | 2 Comments »