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Archive for April, 2008

End of the Road: Comedy Night Done Right

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 30, 2008

Will TV ever TRULY be must-see again?

I had about a half-hour to kill late this afternoon, so I decided to pull out a new-ish episode of The Office I had downloaded recently. It had been a few months since I’d seen the show, and I was curious to see what the gang was up to since I had last checked in. The episode was last week’s I think, in which the Dunder-Mifflin employees are distressed about being forced to park in a far-away lot, and in which Michael tries to move on from Jan by becoming infatuated with a girl in a chair catalogue. It’s entirely possible that neither of these were the episode’s central plot point, but I wouldn’t know, because I turned it off about five minutes in–it was all I could take, pretty much.

What happened? Not only did this used to be one of my favorite shows on TV, but thinking on it a minute, I realized that The Office wasn’t the only show I’d soured on recently–all four of NBC’s Comedy Night Done Right regulars (Office, 30 Rock, Scrubs, My Name is Earl) had fallen out of my regular-watching favor. There was a time not that long ago–last year, in fact–that I barely ever missed a single episode of these shows, and when I did, I always caught up with Torrents by the end of the week. Now I don’t even know when these shows are airing new episodes or not. Part of it is due to the disruption Writers’ Strike, part of it is due to the fact that I work Thursdays now, but there has to be something more. Let’s break it down by show:

  • My Name is Earl: Of all the shows that have fallen in standing with me, this is the one that I find the least disappointing. I don’t really like Earl any less than I ever did, I just realized that it’s more of a show meant for re-runs. I’ve come to realize that this is an important distinction for shows, and not necessarily an insult–shows that arc less, have very self-contained per-episode plots, and are consistently enjoyable without approaching obligatory viewing just happen to lend themselves more to re-runs. The golden standard for this, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is King of the Hill–a show that’s on TV constantly, has enough episodes that you’ve got a farly good percentage of seeing an ep for the first time whenever you watch, and is almost always enjoyable enough to be worth watching. My Name Is Earl, already a breath of fresh air in TBS re-runs, is probably only a few seasons away from reaching similar status.
  • Scrubs: This one was the longest time coming for me. Of course it wasn’t just the new episodes that I stopped digging–it was the show in general, which after a period of about six months in which I watched the show maybe ten times a week (which, believe me, is only a fraction of the # of times I could’ve watched it if I’d really set my mind to it), went from charming to grating in all areas in about a heartbeat. It’s funny to watch nearly everyone I know who fell in love with the show around the same time I did go through the stages–the initial crush, the ballooning to near-obsession, and then the sudden, inexplicable cold shoulder. That’s not to let the new episodes entirely off the hook, though–one can only watch these people go through the same relationship motions so many times before it starts to feel like Grey’s Anatomy, and plot devices like the Musical episode and having Laverne die just weren’t doing it for me. The good news for me is that recently I became able to at least watch the old episodes again, though I’m trying to keep it in moderation this time, and maybe one day I’ll even catch up on how the series eventually ends.
  • The Office :What it is here is that the plot stopped being important altogether. I didn’t even really realize it until it wasn’t there anymore, but a big reason as to why I watched the show is because I legitimately wanted to see what happened with Jim and Pam–it wasn’t just a background plot to anchor the series a little bit, it was the big emotional pull for the show, climaxing in what I still believe to be maybe one of the greatest and most jaw-dropping scenes in TV history in “casino Night,” the S2 finale. But now that they’re together and happy…what is there left to watch for? Jan and Michael? Andy and Angela? Creed and his mung beans? It’s the eternal televisual connundrum–the consummation of the sexual tension between the male and female romantic leads, which you wait the entire series for, but once it actually happens, the show’s never quite the same again. The best the show can hope for now is to follow Earl‘s lead into King of the Hill re-run gold territory–or maybe more like late night replays of Cheers.
  • 30 Rock: This one I feel the least comfortable denouncing, because, to be fair, it’s still been a while since I’ve watched it last. The relationship between Jack and C.C. (Edie Falco) wasn’t really holding my interest, Liz’s plots were feeling a little redundant, and reliable supporters like Jack and Frank hadn’t really hit any home runs recently. But I don’t know if I can say for sure that the show’s had an across-the-board drop in quality, and a particularly inspired mini-arc, a quality guest spot or a good new running gag might be able to right this show in the space of an episode or two.

And of course, it’s worth mentioning that a lot of this is due to the fact that not only have the shows changed since last year, but so have I, at least in my TV habits. Partly due to a highly subpar new TV season, the ends of the short seasons to Friday Night Lights and The Wire, and the fact that I’m spending such a large percent of my TV watching on the NBA playoffs these days, there’s really very little on right now that I’m making a point to awatch–the unexpectedly compelling fourth season of LOST is all I have right now as a priority, augmented by occasional viewings of new episodes of How I Met Your Mother (also getting a little repetitive, but still fairly watchable, even if the whole Britney thing didn’t turn out too remarkably).

I’m actually fairly curious what readers out there have to say about this. Am I not giving these shows a fair shake? Have any of them picked it up recently? If not, what else new are you watching on TV? There’s gotta be something out there, right?

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Posted in End of the Road | 11 Comments »

Commercial Break: Hooray Red Stripe Ads

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 28, 2008

Man am I glad Passover is finished

I watch enough commercials in my day-to-day life that a good campaign–I mean, a really good ad campaign–should be able to convince me to purchase their product. An obvious point, seemingly, but I don’t mean that they should convince me as to why their product is the best, but rather, they should be entertaining enough that I feel the need to reward their efforts by purchasing the product. I don’t currently pay for car insurance, but if I started to, GEICO would certainly be the first company I turned to in deference to their numerous dynastic series. Likewise, I don’t feel my apartment is particularly in need of carpeting, but should I ever feel differently, Empire Carpets would get my phone call for the countless minutes of pleasure their ad jingle gave me. And finally, though if memory serves I don’t even particularly care for it, I’ll almost always opt for a Red Stripe over a replacement beer when the opportunity arises, because their commercials are that fucking good.

It’d been a while for me–a year or two even–before I saw Red Stripe’s “helping white people dance” ad on TV earlier today. I’ve always harbored a fondness for these commercials, but seeing this one in the arid desert that is contemporary beer advertising (Let’s vent? Let’s vent. Let’s vent? Let’s vent! Let’s Vent? Let’s vent! LET’S VENT???!?!?!? LET’S VENT!!!!!??!!!!?) was just as cool and refreshing as a Red Stripe itself, uh, probably should be. What happened? Where did they go for all this time? Are they back for good now? Will there be new ones??

It’s the simple, almost DIY feel that gets to me. The commercial concept itself isn’t particularly unique or interesting–in fact, it’s ripped almost wholesale from this oft-seen poster / t-shirt:

And this poster is a one-off novelty at best. But the commercial remains fresh just due to how diametrically opposed it is to most beer commercials. If Budweiser or Coors Light was doing the same campaign, it’d be set in a trendy bar or upscale apartment, soundtracked by mildly hip-sounding dance-rock and full of more moderately attractive twenty-somethings than you can shake a stick at. Red Stripe, you’ve just got a practically abandoned shack, some casio-sounding reggae, a pudgy white dude and an old Jamaican guy who looks and acts like he exists for the sole purpose of shilling this beer and is kept in a cage like The Gimp in Pulp Fiction (or just a former sinner stuck in permanent Red Stripe limbo, like Delbert Grady in The Shining) at all other times. Lo-fi isn’t an adjective most commercials would ever aspire to, but it comes off as charmingly casual here.

Even better is their short, stubby, ugly bottle commercial. It’s got the same DIY asthetic as the helping white guys dance one, but is conceptually brilliant as well. Its justification of the bottle’s admittedly ungainly appearance–that it will make you appear beautiful by comparison–is of course laughable, but it’s also so strangely logical that it actually makes you wonder “wait, is that the real reason the bottle is shaped that way?” (Can you think of a better one?) The fact that it features the caged-Shining-Jamaican guy yelling “YOU ARE VERY UGLY!!” at a timid bar patron (whose self-confidence is presumably shattered, at least until he gets another couple Red Stripes in him), and that that guy will have the dubious distinction of being “the Ugly Red Stripe Guy” among his group of friends for the rest of his life, just makes it more precious.

But the crowning achievement of this Red Stripe ad campaign is the tagline. Most beers try their hardest in their commercials to differenciate themselves from all other beers, whether it’s through catching customers with a catchy, easily identifiable slogan (like the frustratingly misleading Coors ads that promise you a taste of the Rockies), or whether it’s through trying to prove that you have a legitimately superior set of ingredients (like those insufferably smug Sam Adams ads). But Red Stripe’s main hook–“Red Stripe. It’s beer! HOORAY BEER!”–is ballsy enough to do the exact opposite. Because the truth is, for me at least, some beers are better than others, but at the end of the day, beer is beer–if it tastes beer-ish and does its part in getting me closer to drunk, then it’s probably good enough for me*. And so for Red Stripe to basically admit this straight up–that yeah, maybe there are things that make their beers taste different, but really most of that is usually bullshit and you probably don’t want to be insulted by all that nonsense–gets them countless points in my book.

Enough to drink their mediocre beer out of their short, stubby, ugly bottle, anyways.

*light beer not included under this umbrella statement

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100 Years, 66 Villains: #54 – #49

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 27, 2008

#54.


Jeanine Pettibone, This is Spinal Tap

Played By: June Chadwick

M.O.: “Bands shouldn’t have girlfriends…you never saw Wham! with girlfriends.” Murray not might quite have had Jeanine’s particular skill set in mind when outlaying the destructive power of females to rock and roll to Bret and Jermaine, but she exemplifies the principle better than anyone else in film. Driving a wedge in between boyfriend David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and the rest of Spinal Tap, advising on matters she has no knowledge about whatsoever, and manipulating her way into the band’s inner circle, Jeanine is not only pretty much the worst case scenario about a friend’s girlfriend (the kind that at best you can tolerate on a second-to-second basis, but only barely) but also veritable poison to band chemsitry and the rock and roll process.

Sympathetic Reading: “You know how John Lennon was better than the rest of the Beatles but didn’t realize it until he met Yoko Ono? Well, I’m [David]’s Yoko.”

#53.


Larry Sokolov, The Cooler

Played By: Ron Livingston

M.O.: Considering that Livingston will forever be most associated with his lead role in the most beloved anti-work flick of the modern film era, it’s doubly horrific to see him in such a slimy big business role in The Cooler, as the suit brought in to help modernize the Shangri-La, the old-school casino operated by Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin). Not that Shelly was such a nice guy himself, but his purist admirations were at least ideologically admirable, if a bit misguided and naive. Larry, on the other hand, was straight-up inconscionable in his new-school tactics, selling the point hardcore with his (evil) three-point plan to (evilly) upgrade the Shangri-La: Make the wallpaper more depressing, hire waitresses with bigger tits, and play a CD over the PA of “music, to be sure. Pleasant, non-intrusive. But blended in at a subsonic level is a mantra–‘Lose…lose…lose…'”

Partner-In-Villainy: Shawn Hatosy as Mikey, Bernie Lootz’s son-on-the-run. With pregnant girlfriend in tow, Mikey re-connects with Bern, hits him up for money, propositions his girlfriend, and then tries to cheat his casino, costing Pa thousands in debt-by-proxy. Oh yeah, and the pregnant girlfriend was actually just stuffing a pillow under her shirt.

#52.


Muriel Lang, It Could Happen to You

Played By: Rosie Perez

M.O.: OK, so if my spouse (Nicholas Cage) gave away half of a four-million dollar winning lottery ticket as a tip for a waitress (Bridget Fonda), I’d be pretty pissed off, too–especially if they progressed to fall in love with each other. But considering how much good they go on to do with the money–handing out subway tokens, taking kids to baseball games and the like–it’s hard to feel too sympathetic for the distinctly Grinchy Muriel, whose only concerns are self-grooming and cheating on hubby Charlie with a fellow lottery-winner (Seymour Cassell, apparently). Muriel ices her position on this list when she lies in a lawsuit hearing about having a dream that inspired her to get Charlie to play different lottery numbers with that ticket, and in an impressive piece of commercial cinema balls, she actually wins all four mil in the suit (though she later loses it when Cassell turns out to be a con man).

Impressive Resume: Honestly, with that voice, is there any Rosie movie where she couldn’t be considered at least slightly villainous?

#51.


Zachary “Sack” Lodge, Wedding Crashers

Played By: Bradley Cooper

M.O.: Wedding Crashers needed to snow audiences a little bit to the fact that its central characters, John and Jeremy (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn) are kind of assholes, so they brought back the very 80s archetype of the 100% Jerk-Off boyfriend (think the jock beau in Teen Wolf, except a little less scowly). Zachary “Sack” Lodge cheats on girlfriend Claire (Rachel McAdams) repeatedly and brags about it to his friend, while also insisting that she’ll be no more than a housewife after they get married. Oh, and he shoots Vince Vaughn at one point. Oh, and he wears goldenrod sweaters. Compared to this guy, Owen Wilson is a flat-nosed Prince Charming.

Small-Screen Equivalent: My friend used to insist that Roy was the unsung hero of the U.S. Office, but due to his questionable third-season run of mellowing out a little (before the bar freakout, of course), I’ll always prefer the unchecked evil of Lee, Dawn’s fiancee in the UK original.

#50.


Bert Jones, The Hustler

Played By: George C. Scott

M.O.: George C. Scott just looks like he was born to play villains like this, doesn’t he? Even in his two other most famous roles, as General Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove and uh, General Patton in Patton, he plays characters that could be described as morally ambiguous at best, but it’s in The Hustler that he proves his excellents at playing just outright bad dudes. As the stake of “Fast” Eddie Felson (Newman), Bert breaks Eddie’s spirit, fucks with the head of his girlfriend (Piper Laurie) enough for her to kill herself, and even demands a 75/25 split of Eddie’s winnings–a full 15% higher than Eddie himself would demand of a hungry Tom Cruise in the flick’s sequel, The Color of Money.

Classic Villain Quote: Four words, pitch-perfect delivery: YOU…OWE…ME…MONEY!!!!!

#49.


Little Bill’s Wife, Boogie Nights

Played By: Nina Hartley

M.O.: Serial cheating on your husband is one thing. Doing it with a group of porn stars is another. Consistently doing it in locations as public as possible is enough to assure your position as one of the 66 biggest emotional villains in film. We first meet Little Bill’s wife as she’s getting slammed by some dude at one of Jack Horner’s parties…in the middle of the driveway…surrounded by a group of people. Macy tries to get her to stop, but he’s shooed away by both wife (“you’re embarrassing me”) and crowd (“yeah, Little Bill, shut up”), leading to one of the most uncomfortable scenes I’ve ever seen, where Ricky Jay’s character attempts to have a conversation with Bill about cinematography while he can still see and hear his wife going at it (which also gives us the classic line, “My fucking wife has an ass in her cock in the driveway, Kurt”). Bill does get his revenge when she cheats on him at Jack’s next party, spraying her and her new lover with bullets, but he doesn’t exactly stick around for long enough to really revel in his moral victory.

Impressive Resume: Did anyone else know that Nina Hartley is actually a real-life porn star/polygamist/sex guru? Not exactly villainous, per se, but I suppose most Christians aren’t exactly big fans.

Posted in 100 Years 66 Villains | 1 Comment »

IITS Standing Offer / Commercial Break: “Hey Brad…Not Brad” .gif

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 25, 2008

This is gonna be fun…

Some of my more attentive readers may remember the time I offered $20 to whoever was willing to make me a .gif of the “Rip Things in Half” guy from the Dunkin Donuts commercial. Well, nearly a year later, there is once again a figure in televisual advertising that demands such treatment. If those four words up there in the post’s title automatically strike fear into the very pit of your heart, you’ll understand what I mean, and if not…probably best to navigate away from this page immediately and forget that I ever mentioned anything about it, for your soul will be far more restful without having those four words forever stuck in it.

Anyway, point is, I’m putting up the cash once more, so if you have a few seconds and a semi-decent grasp of web technology on your hands, do me and yourself a favor and make a .gif of that damn woman as she says the titular phrase, with the words appearing (two at a time, of course) on the screen as she says them. And since last time the person who actually ended up making me thing found my offer of $20 insultingly high, good news: this time I’m only offering $15. So I say to you, loyal IITS readers–get on that shit.

(By the way, the only thing more annoying than these Verizon commercials where Networks follow annoying people while they brag about how much they’re going to talk on their phones (??) — the AT&T commercials where the embodiements of peoples’ cell phones explain to you why their owners won’t be answering the calls. How innovative! How edgy! How brilliant of them to bring the word “dillweed” back into the popular vernacular! Has there ever been a good cell phone commercial?)

Posted in Commercial Break, Standing Offer | 3 Comments »

100 Years, 66 Villains: #60 – #55

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 23, 2008

“Oh, dinner at eight, Harold. And do try and be a little more vivacious.”

#60.


Coach Bud Kilmer, Varsity Blues

Played By: Jon Voight

M.O.: The first, but definitely not the last, of the evil school sports coaches to make our list, Coach Bud Kilmer was sort of the anti-Coach Taylor, opting instead for the cold, underhanded, and spirit-crushing model of leadership. Of course, this was in the era where Jon Voight could seemingly play nothing but cold, underhanded and spirit-crushing professionals of various sorts, having a streak of villainy in film from ’96 – ’99 that is practically unrivalled in modern times (count ’em: Mission Impossible, Anaconda, The Rainmaker, Enemy of the State AND Varsity Blues–five of the biggest Cable Classics of the late 90s). Still, as far as his low point in that run, it’s hard to choose against his work here, spewing epiphets like “never show weakness, the only pain that matters is the pain you inflict” and finally spurring his team to mutiny when he opts to have Evil Surgery (or something) on one of his star players after he gets injured in the big game.

Partner-In-Villainy: Thomas F. Duffy as Sam “I raised you to be a winner, so dammit boy, win!” Moxon, the father of James Van Der Beek’s character. Not quite as much a force of nature in his devilishenss as Voight, but he is responsible for inspiring the trailer-classic quote that may end up being the film’s legacy. Sing it with me, now: “I….DON’T WANT….YOUR LIFE!!!

#59.


Philip Stuckey, Pretty Woman

Played By: Jason Alexander

M.O.: If you ever questioned for a second that Jason Alexander’s role as George Costanza in Seinfeld was catching lightning in a bottle–a very, very small bottle at that–look no further than his work in Pretty Woman. Turns out, without the work of Larry David and Larry Charles behind him, Jason…not really so funny. He’s actually just a sad, warped, pathetic little man, seething in fury and jealousy as business partner Edward (Richard Gere) renounces his world of greed and pettiness for the love of prostitute Vivian (Julia Roberts). The nicest thing you can say about Philip in this movie is that he at least somehow possesses the strength to physically restrain Vivian while trying to rape her–how he manages that when she has about a nine-foot advantage on him is beyond me.

Sympathetic Reading: To be fair, Edward is kind of cavalier about the whole “I’m destroying our business because I had a revelation paying for sex with money” thing, totally leaving Philip out in the cold. You know, other people have to live in the world too, Richard Gere.

#58.


Mrs. Chasen, Harold and Maude

Played By: Vivian Pickles

M.O.: The insensitive mother was hardly a new role in film upon the release of Harold and Maude in 1971, but I’m not sure if there’d ever been a desensitized mother quite like Mrs. Chasen before–or again, for that matter. As Harold’s mother, who no longer acknowledges (or perhaps no longer even notices) her son’s repeated attempts to make it look like he has killed himself, Vivien Pickles embodies an extremely exaggerated version of the nightmare that we all have in our troubled times at youth–that eventually, our parents will just stop caring altogether. Worse, the fact that has stopped paying attention to Harold’s obviously unbalanced state of mind does not mean that she has stopped meddling in his life, setting him up on a series of doomed-from-the-start dates, with tragicomic results. Without Maude’s influence, it would’ve been Norman and Mrs. Bates within a year or two.

Modern-Day Analogue: The ultra-clueless and possibly insane parents in The Chumscrubber seem like descendants, although they lack the sort of willful ignorance and infinite patience of Mrs. Chasen.

#57.


Officer Coffey and Officer Graham, Boyz n The Hood

Played By: Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder

M.O.: John Singleton did more than anyone since Eric Wright to encourage the nationwide Not Loving of Police with the cops in Boyz n the Hood, who seem only marginally less evil than the gangbangers who
actually murder Morris Chesnutt for no particular reason. The black cops in Boyz are ironically racist, sure, but more pressingly, they’re just kind of huge assholes. Let’s take a soundbyte, shall we?

Scared now, ain’t you? I like that. That’s why I took this job. I hate little motherfuckers like you. Little niggers, you ain’t shit! I could blow your head off with this Smith & Wesson and you couldn’t do shit. Think you tough? What set you from? Look like one of them Crenshaw mafia motherfuckers.

Woof. No surprise it ends up resulting in Cuba Gooding, Jr. freaking out in one of cinema’s most memorable hissyfits, though it somehow results in sex with Nia Long.

Modern-Day Analogue: Immortal That Guy Tom “Tiny” Lister‘s priceless cameo in the video for Chamillionaire’s “Ridin.” “YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT. THAT MEANS SHUT UP!!!!

#56.


Oliver Slocumb, Igby Goes Down

Played By: Ryan Philippe

M.O.: You know, for a while there, Ryan Philippe was sort of the Michael Douglas of the turn of the millennium–Philippe was practically peerless when it came to portraying cold, ruthless, ultra-upper class white dudes. Frankly, I’m not sure why he wasn’t able to run an entire career out of it, but it looks like Igby was the end of his imperial reign–though he’s quietly rebuilt his career on a steady diet of Oscar-bait movie since, it’s just not the same thing. Oliver is arguably Philippe’s apex–condescending, heartless, pointlessly manipulative, and of course, super super rich. I’m still not even really sure why he seduces Sookie, the Claire Danes character that Igby is in love with, except that he feels he has a reputation to uphold. “God, you’re pathetic,” he dismisses Igby as he pleads for Sookie back.

Not Without Precedent: Anyone ever see Inventing the Abbots? Billy Crudup, seducing younger bro Joaquin Phoenix’s lifelong love Liv Tyler, just to finish his complete set of Abbot girls? That was pretty rough.

#55.


Rick Spector, Magnolia

Played By: Michael Bowen

M.O.: Fathers don’t come off looking too well in Magnolia. Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) molested his daughter when she was younger, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) abandoned his wife and son when she got sick, and Rick Spector (Bowen) is the showbiz dad that could’ve spawned a million E! Specials. Not particularly proud of or interested in his son’s astounding academic accomplishments, he is thrilled at the prospect of capitalizing on his prodigiousness, as son Stanley goes on a potentially historic game-show run on kids vs. adults trivia show What Do Kids Know? But when Stanley melts down one episode, literally pissing his pants on live TV (largely Rick’s own fault), he goes beserk, freaking out and breaking things in the waiting room, yelling “DON’T FUCKING DO THIS TO ME STANLEY!!!” Rick’s only redeeming factor is that when Stanely tells him that he needs to be nicer to his son at the end of the movie, he doesn’t seem to particularly disagree.

Impressive Resume: If you get that shivery feeling from one second of watching Bowen in Magnolia, it’s because it’s probably not the first time you’ve seen him in such a role–Bowen’s played scummers worthy of this list in Valley Girl, Less Than Zero and Kill Bill Vol. 1, as well as in a LOST mini-arc.

Posted in 100 Years 66 Villains | 5 Comments »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Game 1’s True Highlight

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 22, 2008

OK, so yeah, the Sixers took game one in Detroit. Very exciting, great game, gives hope that the whole series isn’t just a formality, etc. Still, I gotta give it up to one Rasheed Wallace, who in addition to being by far the most dominant player on the court, also had the game’s comedic highlight:

The greatest thing is how the Sixers don’t even particularly seem to notice that Wallace is trespassing on their little clubhouse, despite his obvious presence of blue in a sea of white. Don’t quite know if it’s professional (or even legal), but who among has the guts to stop ‘Sheed from having a good time?

Also: Anyone out there reside in the NY area and get NBA TV? I really don’t want to have to follow the game tomorrow with ESPN’s “real-time” updating.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap | Leave a Comment »

100 Years, 66 Villains: #66 – #61

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 22, 2008

“So, shall we leave it at that then?”

#66.


Ian / Ray, High Fidelity

Played By: Tim Robbins

M.O.: Ian was the rebound boyfriend of Laura, the latest of the many exes of Rob Gordon, John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, and he’s the ultimate “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” guy. Though I still think Rob should be thanking his lucky stars that his beloved Laura has chosen to follow him up with someone so obviously short term (what, would Rob rather she be sleeping with a French supermodel with a self-deprecating sense of humor?), it’s not hard to see why he lets Ian get in his head so much. Robbins only gets one full scene in the movie (linked to above), but just the sight of him, with his ponytail, tinted sunglasses and smug “It’s cool, I’m just fucking your ex” smile–that right there could drive a sane man bizz-erk.

Sympathetic Reading: When you get down to it, he’s arguably still a more likeable character than the shallow, self-pitying, and superior Rob. And while we’re at it, what the hell is so great about this Laura chick that everyone cares so much about who she is and isn’t screwing?

#65.


Jacy, The Last Picture Show

Played By: Cybil Shepherd

M.O.: No one really gets out clean in The Last Picture Show, which is one of the reasons why Jacy isn’t higher on this list. Still, there’s no question that Cybil’s ahead-of-her-time manipulative teen bitch character was the movie’s ultimate antagonist, aside from mabe that rich kid who refuses to sleep with Jacy due to her virginal status (my, how standards have changed since the 50s). She ditches Duane (Jeff Bridges) after using him for some unsatisfactory Out-Of-The-Way sex, then connives to get his best friend Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) to fall in love and even marry her before revealing it as a ruse to get attention from her parents (or something), breaking his heart and alienating him from Duane. At least Jeff Bridges got some sex out of it, Bottoms has to go crawling back to old Cloris Leachman–nothing against the MTM alum, but even Ellen Burstyn was way hotter in that movie.

Modern-Day Analogue: Tyra Colette on Friday Night Lights, before they decided the character should stick around for a while and was toned down from a high school Scarlett O’Hara to a slightly more intelligent Summer Roberts.

#64.


Jesus’s Entourage, He Got Game

Played By: Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella, Misc.

M.O.: As Ray Allen goes on what may very well become his first-ever championship run, it’s important to remember the little people that helped get him where he is today. Like Coach Cincotta (Nascarella), his High School mentor who bribed and essentially tried to blackmail him into tipping him off as to where he was planning on going to college. Like Lala (Dawson), his high school girlfriend, who cajoled him into taking counsel from the poisonous big-league agent D’Andre Mackey, whom she also happened to be cheating on him with. Like Uncle Bubba (Nunn), who when Ray most needed guidance, was more preoccupied with the car he would be receiving when Allen finally got paid. And hey, let’s not forget pa Jake (Denzel Washington), who pressured him (albeit for slightly more pressing reasons) to choose to go to Big State based on his own selfish needs. Really, it’s a miracle he ever even made the Pros.

Still Preferable To: Gene Pingatore, Arthur Agee’s real-life basketball coach in Hoop Dreams. An unsupportive, self-serving hardass, if real-life villains were eligible for this list, he’d be a top 20 for sure.

#63.


Sarah Mitchell, A Simple Plan

Played By: Bridget Fonda

M.O.: You could call Fonda’s ranking here as being sort of representative of all the Lady MacBeth figures of recent film, narrowly edging out Laura Linney in the overrated Mystic River and Rachel Miner in the, uh, less psychological Bully. Fonda’s performance is by far the sneakiest of the three, anyway–she seems the harmless little librarian until she starts taking too much of a vested interest in hubby’s (Bill Paxton) financial affairs. Her machinations (including her big monologue, linked to above, which somehow failed to net her an Oscar nomination) end up leading to the death of just about everyone in the movie, but her only emotional outpouring comes in the final scene of Paxton burning his dirty money. If NO MA’AM ever held a film festival to show why housewives should never be allowed out of the kitchen, this’d have to make the bill.

Sympathetic Reading: I suppose when you’re married to Bill Paxton, someone in the relationship has to take charge.

#62.


Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson, Die Hard

Played By: Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush

M.O. The ultimate “Not Anymore You’re Not!” villains–the unwanted higher-ups brought in to handle a delicate situation by pouring gas on it and then shooting it with a bazooka. Federal Agents Johnson and Johnson perfectly exemplify incompetent upper management, fucking things up for John McClane as much as possible and even coming close to shooting a couple times, all while playing perfectly into the hands of the two-steps-ahead Hans Gruber (“You ask for miracles, Theo, I give you the F…B…I…!”) Driving headfirst into stupid decisions for no particular reason (“Hey–lose the grid, or you lose your job!”), they even make Paul Gleason–the second-biggest stock authoritative asshole of the 1980s–look like one of the good guys. Wow.

Classic Villain Exchange:

Big Johnson (Shooting at Terrorists/Hostages): “HA HA HA!! Just like fucking Saigon, eh Slick??!?!”
Little Johnson (Chuckling): “I was in Junior High, dickhead.

#61.


Taylor Vaughan, She’s All That

Played By: Jodi Lyn O’Keefe

M.O.: I don’t remember Taylor Vaughan’s character having an equivalent in My Fair Lady or Pygmalion, but I guess that explains why She’s All That won so many more Oscars than either of those movies. The character of Taylor is hardly a unique one, but bravo to Jodi Lyn O’Keefe for really sinking her teeth into the role, as if she knew that a decade later, I’d have to google her name three times to write this article because I kept assuming she was someone more famous. She exudes bitchiness out of every pore, looking just hott and just psychotic enough to be a shoo-in for Prom Queen while secretly being despised from every corner of the cafeteria. Watch her just destroy Rachel Leigh Cook at the climactic party scene–“Honey, look around you. To everyone here who matters, you’re vapor, you’re spam, a waste of perfectly good yearbook space, and nothing’s ever gonna change that. Oh…you’re gonna cry, aren’t you??” I don’t know if any of the mega-popular girls at my high school were quite as vicious as Taylor (I also don’t know if we had an R&B megastar acting as our official school DJ, or if we had synchronized dance sequences at our senior prom), but I think I’d be kind of disappointed if they weren’t.

Not Without Precedent: Bennie in Pretty in Pink had a similarly unchecked mean streak, and even sort of looked like Jodi Lyn. Too bad she had to contend with James Spader.

Posted in 100 Years 66 Villains | 6 Comments »

GDB Essentials: 100 Years, 66 Villains

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 20, 2008

Here we go again

So, some of you more observant IITS readers may have noticed that I have long since aborted my 100 Years, 100 Songs project that I started back in February of 2007, getting as far as #78 (Blondie’s “Rapture”) before giving it up. The reasons for this were several, but the most important one was that all in all, it was a boring list. I thought I could write about relatively unwritten-about songs, or at least write about old hat songs in a new way, but ultimately, everyone knows why GnR’s “Welcome to the Jungle” is awesome, and there were too many songs I would’ve had to write about that were like that for me to see the list out to the finish. You just can’t write about a topic that broad and have it remain interesting to both read and write about.

With that in mind, I’ve set about on a new list, one slightly less ambitious (66 instead of 100, and I’ll be doing them in clumps of six) and one that I hope’ll be slightly more interesting. Now, I can hear your skepticism through the computer–indeed, the Best Movie Villain list is far from a new concept, as even that definitive Boring List fixture the American Film Institute has cranked out a top 50 already. But don’t navigate away just yet, because this isn’t your Uncle Jose’s Best Villain list. This is a list mostly devoid of your typical slashers, terrorists and psychopaths–this is more of a list saluting those greatest in emotional villainy. I’ll explain further, mostly by explaining the rules that disqualified many of the Usual Villainous Suspects from this list:

  • The most important qualification: To qualify for this list of villains, you couldn’t have killed anyone. Your actions could have resulted in others dying, and you could even have ordered the deaths of others, as long as it was abundantly clear that you yourself could not have carried out the kill yourself. Even if you never killed anyone on screen, if it was made clear, or even probable, that you had before killed someone in your life, you’re out. Basically, this rule was made to disqualify all bad-asses from this list–characters like Darth Vader, The Wicked Witch of the West or HAL 9000, because even though they’re technically villainous, they’re too cool to be truly despicable. So if you saw a bad guy in a movie and thought “man, that guy/chick/robot’s a huge asshole, but I’m sort of rooting for them anyway, because he’s so much cooler than the good guy” chances are he or she is not on this list.
  • You can’t be the protagonist of your movie–or, since some people on this list are technically their movies’ main characters, I should say that you can’t have the movie be shown from your perspective. If a movie’s from your perspective, then generally you’re already too sympathetic to be considered truly villainous.
  • You can’t turn out to actually be OK at the end of the movie. You’ve got to remain villainous, or at the least, morally ambiguous, until the very end of the movie. (You can’t turn out to be mostly a good guy in a later installment, either, so forget about Apollo Creed).
  • You have to be at least slightly effective in your villainy. So even though Farva from Super Troopers might technically be a more evil person than some of the people on this list, he’ll not be pictured here, because he’s too bumbling and incompetent to be considered a legitimate villainous threat.
  • Your movie has to have at least one likeable, sympathetic person for contrast’s sake for you to qualify. So while he may have created at least a dozen characters worth of mentioning here, the films of Todd Solondz will make nary an appearance on this list.
  • You definitely, definitely can’t have appeared on AFI’s Top 50. (Dammit, I had Mr. Potter in my top ten too!)

Basically what I’m going for here is a list of villains that really make you feel their villainy. They’re bad guys that you really don’t want to see do well in the end, because these guys aren’t gangsters or assassins or meglomaniacs, they’re the kind of bad guys you may have actually encountered in real life. So this list is instead rife with manipulative girlfriends, cruel boyfriends, abusive bullies, insensitive parents, despicable bosses, coaches and co-workers, and all the other sort of people that actually end up creating the largest percentage of the world’s misery.

I’ll be posting clumps of six intermittently, starting tomorrow. So start gritting your teeth, I suppose.

Posted in 100 Years 66 Villains, GDB Essentials | 6 Comments »

Banned For Life: “There, I Said It”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 20, 2008

For some, no statute of limitations is long enough

Martyrdom is a typical aspiration of sorts for pop culture criticism, or even mere discussion. Everyone loves to look like they are the ones brave enough to say what no one else dare even think, and one of the best ways to do that is to consistently drawn attention to just how unconventional your opinion on some oft-discussed matter is, while illustrating how much danger you are courting for yourself and your reputation by venturing so far out on a limb. This makes you seem both tantalizingly rebellious and refreshingly honest, and makes your readers go “ooooh, I wonder what other matters he can drop truthbombs on!” (Readers love the phrase “truthbombs”).

And that’s cool. It’s an accepted practice, and I’m probably as guilty of it as anyone. Observe my recent article on No Country for Old Men, in which I paint myself as a movie crit maverick of sorts for suggesting that the ending to NC is in fact not as flawless and innovative as everyone thinks. Were you to read my article with no knowledge on the subject, you’d think this was a thought specific to me and me alone, as opposed to, say, an opinion shared by roughly 1 out of every 3 or 4 educated moviegoers. But that’s just how we writers roll, and I’m not gonna start apologizing for that now.

Still, there’s a tactic often used in deploying such a method of argument positioning that I find so weak, so despicable, that I think it should be an automatic argument or opinion disqualifier should you be dense enough to use it.

There. I said it.”

This is used, of course, after the unconventional point is made, in order to make it seem like by sharing said opinion, you are getting a particularly heavy weight off your chest, as well as risking the unchecked wrath of others included in your discussion that do not feel similarly. It’s one thing to exaggerate just how unique and interesting your opinions are, but to bring it to the “There, I said it” level is entirely inexcusable. This is especially true since the people who most use it tend to do so with opinions that really aren’t even that uncommon, like “The Bends is better than Kid A–there, I said it” or “Donnie Darko actually kind of sucks–there, I said it”. An internet acquaintance of mine even used “[The preview for] Once looks terrible–there, I said it.”

Well, bravo to you, you trend-bucking, trail-blazing gunslinger. But these aren’t opinions nearly controversial enough to be considered “there, I said it”s. In fact, there really are barely any pop culture opinions that have the potential to be unpopular or inexpressable enough to merit a TISI. Edward R. Murrow calling out Senator McCarthy on Natioanl TV–that’s a “there, I said it”. Pee Wee Reese saying “hey, playing with this dark-skinned fellow really ain’t so bad”–that’s a “there, I said it”. Dylan stabbing his Newport folk brethren in the back by going electric–that’s a “there, I said/played it”. You talking about how overrated Heroes is–that’s just you saying stuff.

Suggested Alternatives: Merely craft long, rambling essays detailing the history of how uncontested the popularly held opinion has been over the years, as well as why you are such a badass for having balls enough to go against the grain. Or I suppose you could just let your opinions speak for themselves, but believe me, there’s no fun in that.

Acceptable Exceptions: Saying you hate The Simpsons, The Beatles or The Big Lebowski. If you don’t throw in a “There, I said it” with any of those, people might not even believe their own ears the first time around.

Exempt from Rule: David Spade, whose “There I Said It” column on his Showbiz Show plays so perfectly into his TV / movie persona (including how slightly annoying it is) that it’d feel wrong to try to censor him, and Bobby Vinton, whose mediocre 1964 #1 “There! I’ve Said It Again” arguably predates this practice and thus should not be held accountable for using the prhrase.

Posted in Banned For Life | 2 Comments »

Listeria / Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The Top Ten Reasons Why it is Stunning, Inexplicable, and Utterly Splendiferous That the Sixers Made the Playoffs This Year

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 18, 2008

DETROIT WHUT

One of the joys I’ve rediscovered about the ends of major sport seasons is that you get to go back to magazines you may have purchased at the beginning of the season and chuckle at the seismic differences between what was expected to happen and what actually happened. After going through my ESPN and Sports Illustrated NBA season previews, I have to say that while it’s perhaps regrettable that Acie Law IV did not have a Rookie of the Year-caliber season, that Andrea Bargnani is still maybe a year or two off from being the next Dirk Novitzki, and that the Bulls and Heat will not be enjoying home court advantage this playoff season (unless you count getting control over the remote while your friends come over to watch teams that were halfway decent this year in the playoffs, ZONG), it’s pretty hilarious and amazing that the 76ers not only didn’t come in the bottom two in their conference (as both magazines predicted), but they will in fact be suiting up for this post-season with the 7th-best record in the East. In fact, had certain games gone a little differently this past week, they might even have gone as high as #5. Forget the fact that this is an Eastern Conference that practically had to bribe teams into competing for the #8 spot, and that the Sixers would currently be sitting at #11 in the East right now with their 40-42 record–this is a season that exceeded expectations by any measure, and the Sixers deserve extreme props for it.

How they did it, of course, is anybody’s guess. Yeah, you’ll hear some hubbub about Mo Cheeks suddenly deciding to re-invent the Sixers as a run-and-gun team, a piece of likely apocrypha that ranks up with Nate McMillan’s infamous “let’s get physical” Trailblazer practice for Good Stories That Would’ve Won Their Coaches Awards if Things Had Ended Better. And you’ll hear lots of stuff about Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller really improving their game, which is probably true, but isn’t reflected in their stat sheets nearly as much as you’d think (Miller, despite being credited for stepping up as a team leader and distributor this year, actually averaged more assists last year, for instance). And you’ll hear plenty about how the young guys have started to play like pros, providing energy off the bench and coming through in the clutch, which is almost definitely true.

But none of that really comes close to explaining how it’s mid-April, and these guys somehow have engagements upcoming that are more pressing than getting manicures and planning their golf schedules. Here are ten reasons why this is so mindblowing:

10. Jason Smith. He looks like the exact halfway point between Jason Priestly and Luke Perry, he (allegedly) hooks up with porn star / political hopeful Mary Carey in clubs, and he sticks out like a well-groomed sore thumb on a team that mostly looks like they’d be filling up some basement pool hall in Cleveland if they weren’t playing basketball in Philly. He may cost the Sixers games with his bad foul timing and poor foul shooting (the last one, anyway), but we love our goofy back-up big-in-training nonetheless.

9. A.I.’d Be Better Off Back Here Now. Think about this–if Allen Iverson was a free agent next year, and the Sixers decided he was the best signing available, how would this not suddenly constitute both a really good idea and a potential elite team? Makes sense from A.I.’s standpoint–who would you rather have on your team, Andre Miller and an enthusiastic bunch of team-player young guys, or a bunch of think-later shooters and Eduardo Najera? Makes sense from Philly’s standpoint–imagine Allen and the two Andres making plays for themselves and each other with Reggie, Thad and Sammy around to play post, pick up rebounds and do the intangibles. It’d probably cause the world to fold in on itself, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea necessarily. Right? No? Maybe?

8. The Disparaty Between Their Pre-Break Losses and Post-Break Wins. Before break: Lost to New York. TWICE. After break: Beat San Antonio, Boston, Detroit, Phoenix, Orlando and Dallas. Unbelievable.

7. Even Their Unofficial Blogger Has Them Getting Swept. Forget Fo’, Fo’, Fo, Jon Burkett won’t even give us “One”.

6. The team has two members on the NBA’s All-Wire Lookalike Team:


Rodney Carney / Leandor Sydnor


Kevin Ollie / Norman Wilson

Not pictured: Deron Williams (White Mike), Josh Childress (Bubs) and Nate Robinson (Kennard).

5. Mo Cheeks’ Mono-Emotive Coaching Face. I can’t wait to see Cheeks in the playoffs. Dalembert gets called for a three-second violation with the team down two and half-minute to go. Cut to Mo with a stern, unimpressed look on his face. Andre Miller alley-oop from 35 feet to a racing Iguodala. Cut to Mo with a stern, unimpressed look on his face. He ain’t exactly Mike D’Antoni, but it’s working pretty OK so far I guess.

4. Finally, Some Nationally Televised Games. The Sixers, which when I last heard were operating out of a major market, did not have a single game that was nationally televised. Teams that were bestowed such honors include: The Seattle Supersonics, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and time and time again, the Miami Heat. Finally, I’ll be able to watch Andres & Co. operate in real time from my Brooklyn apartment, instead of just watching the ESPN update and seeing the replays later.

3. Reggie Evans is in the Starting Lineup. Fans, semi-including myself, love this guy for his scrappiness and heart, claiming he gives a “boost of energy” to the game. On a fantasy team, though, he’d probably be about half as useful as even Joel Przybilla, and there’s no surprise why–his truly horrific shooting. It’s so bad then he shoots, you’re not even angry at him for taking a shot, you’re angry at the other guys for letting him have the ball with enough time to consider making a play, something Reggie should never, ever do. Plus, have you seen that foul shot? I could probably do better. And maybe I could. Who wants to go bowling?

2. They still have this man:

Calvin, you may not be getting much time on the court, but you’ll always have my heart.

1. The Best Offensive-Rebounding Team in the League. They kept trotting this stat out during games I was watching at home in January, and it started to sound like a back-handed compliment of sorts. After all, you don’t get to be the number one O-Boarding team in the league without missing a ton of shots, something the Sixers never had a problem with doing. Their only half-decent three shooter (Kyle Korver) went to Utah shortly afterwarsd, and a month or two after he left, he was still leading the team in three’s made. This just didn’t seem like a team that’d be able to score, say, 85 points a game, much less finishing in the 100s (as I’ve often mentioned I’m sure), and leading the league in Offensive Rebounding–a stat which few ever actually use to judge a player by–is too perfect a summation of what could’ve and be probably should’ve made for a super disastrous ’07-’08 season.

Whatta series this is gonna be. Who’s excited for the weekend?!?!?!?

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Listeria | 4 Comments »