Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Archive for July, 2008

Blog Hiatus: 7/24 – 7/30

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 24, 2008

IITS is officially on Summer Break for the next week or so while I’m out roadtrippin’ with some compadres.  Might get an update or two out from the road, but can’t promise anything. In the meantime, browse the arsenal, catch up on your villains, get to sleep early for once, and I’ll be back before you know it–with new layouts, no less!

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Say Anything: The Dark Knight

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 23, 2008

Spoilers like they’re going out of style

So after getting shut out on opening night, I finally got to see The Dark Knight today. When you go to see a movie at 2:15 on a Tuesday afternoon, get there early, and still have trouble finding a decent seat, I think it’s fair to say you have a hit on your hands. Obviously TDK is that and more, and doubtless most of you have already read the opinions of countless other writers more educated and insightful on the subject than myself. Still, it’s not a real blockbuster until I give my half-assed, uninformed take on it, so I’ll give you a short one-line summary on my thoughts (good, flawed, better than most but probably not as good as the last one) and then some general thoughts in no particular order.

  • I’d heard the “It’s not even like a superhero movie…it’s just like an art movie!” descriptor a bunch of times before seeing this. Mmmm…gonna have to say no on that. I think, at the very least, that art movies by law aren’t allowed to have the last line of the movie be the movie’s title.
  • Not like I need to say it, but Heath Ledger as The Joker…yeah, you could make a case for all-time best superhero movie villain. My personal favorite moment (besides the pencil scene, anyway) would have to be when he’s taunting one of the cops about his recent misdeeds, and asks him how many of his cop buddies he’s killed. The guy answers six. “Six?” The Joker mouths back at him with mock concern. It exemplifies the perfect mix of childlike glee, pouty emotion and nervy mania that Ledger steals just about every scene with throughout the movie.
  • Rachel Dawes — upgrade in actress (Gyllenhaal > Holmes, although not by as much as most think), but downgrade in character. Whatever people think of Holmes, her character in Begins was a legitimately important force in the movie, for what she said and did as much as for what she represented. Yet such a nothing it role it was in TDK that when she goes kablooie mid-sentence in her confession of love to fiancee Harvey Dent, it’s not as heartbreaking as much as it is hilarious that the movie appears to be telling her “SHUUUUUUUT UPPPPPPPPPPP
  • Prediction: Aaron Eckhart will go down in (very very unofficial) history as the best actor of his generation to never get nominated for an Oscar. Seriously, he’s already excelled in three career roles (here, Thank You For Smoking, and, uh, that other one), yet it doesn’t seem like he’s ever gonna find quite the right one for Oscar baiting–especially since he might never be able to play a guy that stays decent throughout an entire movie (besides that bizarro beardy turn in Erin Brokovich, anyway). He’s fairly deserving of one here, but Ledger already more or less has the category locked up, and for two actors to get nominated for a superhero movie in the same category just seems too weird.
  • So that was Anthony Michael Hall as a reporter in that one scene? The only reason I can think of why he could possibly end up in this movie is if Christopher Nolan had missed The Brat Pack entirely growing up and just responded to his tryout by saying “this poor, middle-aged, red-headed chap, if he still hasn’t made it in Hollywood, this bit part is the least I can do.”
  • Bruce Wayne’s gravely, sometimes shouty Batman Voice–totally badass in the first one (“SWEAR TO ME!!!!!!“), kind of chuckle-worthy in this one. I get why he uses it and all, but in his scenes with Commissioner Gordon, I kept expecting him to turn to the Bat and be like “y’know, you don’t have to keep doing that weird voice thing, I got you.”
  • Speaking of Gordo–what was the deal with his fake death? OK, so he did it to protect his family, fair enough–but how did he actually do it? I mean, he did get shot by The Joker, no? Did he plan on getting shot by an in-disguise Joker? Good thing no one in these movies ever aims for the head.
  • Speaking of Batman–was he even in this movie? TDK reminded me of Batman Returns in a number of ways, but none moreso than this–just like in Returns, where the movie was so overstuffed with screen-dominating, scenery-chewing villains (Catwoman, Max Schrek, Penguin) that Batman himself felt like a supporting character, Bale’s own personal struggles seemed relatively inconsequential in the movie’s grand scheme. Yeah OK, I get it, he’s tired of being an outcast, he wants a normal life, he’s worried about ultimately doing more harm than good. Now get back to Ledger fucking with cops’ heads already.
  • Props to the movie for the Two-Face makeup. When they do that supervillain-standard movie trick of showing the normal half of face for most of the scene before he dramatically turns to the camera to reveal the whole thing, I was gearing myself up–don’t be shocked, don’t be weirded out, it’s probably gonna be more gruesome than Tommy Lee Jones was in Forever, but it’s still just a PG-13 Superhero Movie. But when they finally rolled out skeletor-Eckhart, his face looking like it was a night’s sleeping on the wrong side of the bed away from falling off entirely, I defintiely got the willies anyway. Impressive.
  • The one thing these movies are really going to do to fuck the legacy of the Burton/Schumacher series is in their treatment of how these bad dudes first became deformed and evil. After all the thought, psychology, and character backstory that went into the evolution of The Joker and Two-Face in this one, to look back and see how Jack Nicholson just got accidentally dipped into some bleaching toxic waste and how Tommy Lee just had the misfortune of trying to prosecute some baddie who smuggled acid into the court (???) but was a bad toss, you kinda have to break down into hysterics. Burton and Schumacher’s defense: “uhh, well we had Prince and Seal megahits on our soundtracks, WHAT YOU GOT ON YOURS SUCKA”
  • The Honorary “New Yorkers Throwing Fruit at the Green Goblin” Award for Supremely Groanworthy Cheese in a Superhero Movie goes to the scene where ex-wrestler and ex-fictional president Tiny Lister throws the detonator off the boat, nobly dooming him and his prisonmates to a watery (well, fiery first, then watery) grave. Uh-huh. “Welcome to Gotham, pal! You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!”
  • I’ve heard some rumblings that Two Face might not be dead, and that they’ll trot him out for the next one to be the primary villain. Hope so, because the character just felt like it was starting to get going, crossing that all-important line between pissed-off, vigilantous anti-hero and just straight up supervillain. To only give him 1/3 of a movie to work with as Batman’s primary foe, after doing such a good job of building his character as a compellingly tragic figure, really seemed like they were selling him short.
  • The real innovation–or the real unprecedneted breakthrough, at least–of these movies is that the action scenes are so much worse than the scenes where the characters sit down and talk. When there’s actually a chase scene, it’s usually confusing, clumsy, and not terribly suspenseful. You spend the entire time hoping that it’ll end soon so you can see the characters get back to brooding  and pondering their misery for a little while. How many action movies in the past could you say that about ?
  • Anyone taking bets on who’s going to be playing The Riddler when he’s inevitably shoehorned in as a secondary villain in 3 or 4? I’m gonna say it might be time for Steve Carrell to stretch a little.

Posted in Say Anything | 9 Comments »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap / What Rick Ankiel Hath Wrought: The Era of the Two-Way Baseball Player h

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 22, 2008

Bisexuality puns forthcoming

In the Post-Game conferences after the All-Star Game this year, official NL manager Clint Hurdle joked about the possibilities that awaited his team if they had burned through their last pitcher, Phillies closer Brad Lidge, and still had more of the game to play. Hurdle claimed that if they in fact needed to go a couple more innings, he would’ve called on David Wright–the Mets 3B that Hurdle hand-picked as the NL’s last man in–to pitch from there. Later, AL manager Terry Francona admitted to have been contemplating similar desperation measures with one of his players (his own J.D. Drew, if I remember correctly). Both managers were joking–probably–but not only would something like that have had to happen had Justin Morneau not scored on that sac fly in the 15th (it was later made clear that MLB wasn’t going to permit the 2nd tie ASG of the decade under any circumstances), would it even have seemed that out of the ordinary?

Tonight, in the last inning of a 19-4 rout at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman decided to give shortstop Tony Pena Jr. a shot at closing out the meaningless top half of the 9th inning. This was met with bemused incredulity by the game’s home announcers (“He has a curveball, supposedly,” was about the best explanation they could come up with), since in a situation of such little consequence, anything less than a seven or eight-run inning would have to be seen as acceptable. But TJ was, incredibly enough, by far the most effective of the five pitchers for the Royals that night, working the game’s first 1-2-3 inning, getting his fastball in the low-90s, and even striking out future-Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez. The really remarkable thing about this, though, was that as a hitter, Pena has been utterly useless to the Royals this season, hitting .152 with a single HR. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but…” one of the KC announcers started as Pena was halfway through striking out Pudge. “Then don’t,” the other snapped back.

And this isn’t even unprecedented in baseball this season. A couple months back, back in the Long Ago when the Phillies could actually manage to score consecutively, the boys did dirt to the St. Louis Cardinals to the tune of 20-3. Mopping up at the end of the game, though, was 2B Aaron Miles, in his third career pitching appearance. Miles was and is having a significantly better hitting season than Pena, but his pitching did not suffer for it, providing a clean, three-up, three-down ninth for the Cardinals, the only St. Louis pitcher to do so. True, these are hardly representative sample sizes, and hitters might not be on their A games in the dwindling hours of a blowout, but they’ve met with enough success to come dangerously close to being a trend.

More notably, it goes the other way, too. Diamondbacks hurler Micah Owings caused a stir with a game-busting pinch-hit dinger earlier this year, at which point he briefly held one of the five highest career OPSs of any hitter in history (albeit with a minimum of 75 plate appearances). In addition to striking out 10 batters over the course of the game, newly added Brewers ace C.C. (err, CC) Sabathia also provided his team’s only offense for the first seven innings of his National League debut with a one-run blast in the third. And Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano currently has his team’s highest batting average (of players with at least 50 ABs, anyway), hitting .351 with a pair of HRs to go with it.

Friend of IITS Erick Bieritz recently referred to the fruition of this trend as the “Rick Ankiel Era,” after the Cardinal who saw his prodigious pitching career (11-7, 3.50 ERA in 2000, finishing 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting) slide away after a bizarre loss of pitching mechanics resulted in a stunning meltdown in the ’00 post-season (five wild pitches in one inning, yikes). Five years later, Ankiel decided to switch to being an outfielder, and the returns were staggering–especially this season, in which he’s hitting .278 with a tied-for-team-leadCentering 22 HRs. He’s even found decent use for his ex-pitching arm in Center, where he’s become a SportsCenter Top Plays fixture for his remarkable outfield assists. Basically, he showed that not only was it possible for an ex-pitcher to bounce back as a hitter, he showed that it was possible for an ex-pitcher to turn out as having been more natural as a hitter all along.

Ankiel’s example–which, to my mind, is significantly more impressive (or maybe just more interesting) than Josh Hamilton’s much-ballyhooed comeback–is now being used as a model for other pitchers unable to hack it on the hill anymore. Adam Loewen of the Baltimore Orioles recently blew out his arm for good, but rather than simply hang up his spurs, Loewen is going to attempt a return to the O’s as either a 1B or an outfielder. I mean, why not? He’s got nothing to lose, and Baltimore could always use a new bat, so what’s wrong with giving it a shot from one of the other eight positions on the field? Hell, back in the day, Bo and Deion could play two completely different sports successfully simultaneously–how hard could it possibly be to just work two sides of the same coin?

I’m not sure why this all excites me so much–and yes, I know, this is all far from unprecedented, Babe Ruth and all that. Maybe it’s just that the improbability of the whole thing is so damn novel, and once enough players actually prove themselves successful at being two-way threats (which certainly seems to be the way the league is going), it’ll no longer be particularly of interest. But now, I wonder who else would be wise to take a page from Ankiel, Pena, Owings and the rest. Barry Zito still has a couple hundred million on his contract left to justify; maybe San Fransisco should give him a few BP lessons and trot him out to their recently vacated position at 2B. Much-hyped Detroit newbie Dontrelle Willis was disastrous in his last few starts; give him a bat and see if he can work his way back up the Tiger farm system. Andruw Jones isn’t hitting anything but the concession stands as a Dodger; see if Jonathan Broxton can teach him the art of being a fat reliever in L.A.

Baseball is a sport full of possibilities, and to me, it seems like it’s only a matter of time that the sport’s schrewder tacticians start to take advantage of the possibilities here. At the very least, it’ll gear us up for the real era of the two-way threat–y’know, 10-20 years from now when we reach Gattaca time and ballplayers start to be genetically engineered from birth to be as proficient as possible in all positions. Might as well get a jump on the future now, huh?

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, What ____ Hath Wrought | 5 Comments »

HOT ONE(s): Chris Brown – “Forever” and Ne-Yo – “Closer”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 21, 2008

It’s like I waited my whole life

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. Do you realize how many different hits off of Thriller have been sampled or covered for hits within the last twelve months? Four. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” was snipped by Rihanna for the juggernaut of a main hook to “Don’t Stop the Music,” Kanye West pilfered a somewhat forgettable part of “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” for the hook to his future-classic “Good Life,” Tyra B. borrowed the synth-washes from “Human Nature” (via SWV’s “Right Here”) for her underrated “Givin’ Me a Rush, and of course, Fall Out Boy and John Mayer considered it a good idea to lay waste to “Beat It.” Oh, and there were those prisoners in the Phillipines dancing to the title track, Chris Cornell covering “Billie Jean,” and the album’s 25th anniversary hit deluxe re-issue. So yeah, I think it’s safe to say, that while Michael Jackson’s cultural capital might be at an all-time low–which gets more impressive every year–the pervasiveness of his musical influence is about as high as it’s ever been.

Enter “Forever” and “Closer.” Chris Brown and Ne-Yo will always be intertwined to me, by virtue of their  breakout singles coming within a few months of each other, their less memorable second-tier hits perpetually getting jumbled in my mind, and their prodigious talents reminding me more and more of different aspects of a young (in Chris Brown’s case, considerably younger) Michael Jackson. Ne-Yo is more of the thoughtful, concerned, songwriter side of of Michael, while Chris is the side who hears the music that just makes him wanna….OOOOHH! Their track records haven’t exactly been impeccable, but they had more good songs than bad, and they seemed like they just needed a little bit of direction to avoid doing lukewarm Stargate tracks to run out their careers.

And now I don’t know if we’ve had two hit R&B / dance hybrids this good since Michael ruled the Earth. Sure, we had a good run of Crunk N’ B about four years ago, when every fifth song on the pop charts was produced by either Lil’ Jon or Jazzy Pha, but even that lacked the sheer sense of unabashed disco unleashed by these two. Blame “Lean Back,” or a DJ Sammy backlash maybe, but it’s seemed recently that R&B singers have had to avoid anything resembling outright house music, since real gangstas don’t dance, and not even Fat Joe could get away with doing the rockaway to Black Strobe or Justice. Aside form the fluke DHT or Cascada hit, dance music didn’t really have a place in the US pop charts.

That’s why it’s such a relief to see these songs that not only integreate dance music, but don’t try to shy away from it either–Chris Brown even promising that tonight it’s going to be “[him], you and the dancefloor,” and Ne-Yo breaking out the choreographed routines in his video for the first time in recent memory. More importantly, neither sounds particularly retro while doing it–these songs don’t sound like a shout-out to the past, they sound like the next two or three years, the future of pop music. They’re catchy, romantic, kind of mysterious, and extremely danceable, and along with “Don’t Stop the Music,” they’ve got a chance of getting 2008 remembered as the year when America finally rediscovered the joys of the 4/4 thump.

If this really is the product of Michael Jackson’s influence–and I believe, through one way or another, it is–then that just makes it all the more unfortunate that we’ve had to completely divest the man from his music over the course of the last 15 years. But these two songs definitely go a small amount of the way to paying the debt for his weirdness. And they’re good enough for me not to get on Ne-Yo and Brown’s backs, Katy Perry-style, for using these titles and not providing KISS and Nine Inch Nails covers.

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For the Love of God: Get Rid of the SI Pop Culture Grid

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 18, 2008

Athletes are interesting, multi-faceted people, with unique interests and compelling opinions. This is a conceit that Sports Illustrated, as well as other sports magazines, expects you to buy into on a regular basis, none moreso than with their Pop Culture Grid, published every issue. The PCG takes a cross-section of athletes from different sports, and asks them to fill in the blanks to a series of easily answered first-person statements relating at least vaguely to pop culture, publishing their answers in grid format. Statements may include “Best show I watched last week,” “Please make ___ stop talking” and “If I were Kimbo Slice, I’d….,” as well as countless other potentially illuminating points meant to further the connection and relatablity of your favorite athletes.

Needless to say, this is generally not a good idea. There are some athletes with likely an interesting thing or two to say (though I think they all play basketball for some reason), but for the great majority, sports stars are a boring, predictable bunch, especially when it comes to pop culture. You’re not going to find out that Jarome Iginla is a huge Werner Herzog fan, or that Matt Leinart takes Yoko’s side in the Beatles’ break-up, or that Vlad Guerrero never misses an episode of Squidbillies. Even though I’d probably bring in Phillies reliever Brad Lidge to close out my own honeymoon, I have to make peace with the fact that he’s a big enough Drowning Pool fan to use “Bodies” as his entrance music. Nine times out of ten, you’d want to hear an athlete talk about his non-athletic interests and pursuits about as much as you’d want to have deep, meaningful conversation if you were on a date with a supermodel–just shut up and perform, plz.

For instance, here are some of the illuminating things we have learned about some of our most beloved sports stars in recent SI Pop Culture Grids:

  • Nothing is on White Sox LF Carlos Quentin‘s wall right now.
  • Pole Vaulter Jenn Stuczynski never leaves home without her wallet.
  • Giants Pitcher Tim Lincecum has never been to a concert.
  • Stars Guard Mike Smith believes Dierks Bentley should be named Entertainer of the Year.
  • Stars Guard Mike Smith says people say he looks like Dierks Bentley.
  • A phrase Tampa Bay LF Carl Crawford uses too often is “Man.”
  • Steelers WR Santonio Holmes can’t think of any chick flicks to name as his favorite.
  • Pirates CF Nate McLouth thinks a superdelegate is “Something in government.”
  • Packers DE Aaron Kampman‘s favorite pickup line is “Want to carry my books?”
  • D-Backs Pitcher Bill Murphy most recently read The DaVinci Code.
  • IRL Driver Tony Kanaan thinks he is allergic to “Fake people.”
  • When no one’s looking, Dodgers 1B James Loney likes to “sleep,” as opposed to Canadiens G Carey Price, who just likes to “take naps.”

Oooh, tell me more!

Not that I blame the athletes for this, necessarily. For one thing, athletes are forced to spend so much of their time and mental energy on their work–working out, studying playbooks, reviewing film, practicing, doing PR stuff–that I certainly can’t fault them for not taking the time to make their way through all five seasons of Six Feet Under. Plus, most athletes are trained so dilligently to give the most vanilla answers as humanly possibly when interviewed about their teams and performances and such that it’d be no surprise if they ultimately forgot how to be interesting human beings altogether. And finally, if you flipped it–grabbed, say, David Caruso, Amy Adams, Corey Taylor and Chris Crocker for a pop-culture cross-section–and asked them “PacMan Jones should be _____,” “The one game I always watch the replay of on ESPNClassic is ____” or “I think next year Greg Oden will _____,” something tells me they wouldn’t do too much better.

One day, perhaps the worlds of sports and the rest of pop culture can exist in mutually-knowledgeable harmony. But for the time being, there’s no reason to get a weekly reminder of just how far off this goal is.

Posted in For the Love of God | 2 Comments »

For the Love of God: Die, Will Ferrell Movie, Die

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 17, 2008

OK, so at least this one isn’t about sports, he gets a couple points for at least switching that up (and maybe another point and a half for the use of LCD Soundsystem in the trailer, though even Grand Theft Auto is doing that these days). Still, I have no idea what this movie’s deal is. Are Ferrell and John C. Reilly supposed to actually be retarded, or does this just represent the latest in a staggering series of gradual steps backwards for the mental capacities of Ferrell protagonists? Also–how in the hell is this the first of the Will Ferrell Stupid Guy movies to go straight to a theatrical R rating? They could keep Anchorman, a movie about a misogynistic ladies man in the 70s, to a PG-13, but a movie about two losers who spend an entire movie acting like pre-pubescents goes directly to R?

God help this movie if it has a series of fake commercials to go with it.

Posted in For the Love of God | 3 Comments »

TV O.D.: Generation Kill

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 17, 2008

Summer TV is Hell

It’s been so long since I watched a serious, dramatic TV show for the first time that I’ve almost forgotten what the experience is supposed to be like. The only shows I’ve been keeping even the loosest of tabs on this summer have been Weeds (surprisingly consistent) and The Venture Brothers (getting grotesquely self-referential), and now all of a sudden I’ve got this tell-it-like-it-is show about the early days of the Iraq War to contend with. Produced by David Simon, he of a show I might’ve written about once or twice on this blog called The Wire, Generation Kill is definitely 4 Real, but based on the first episode at least, it’s possible I might be better off keeping it light with my TV watching this summer after all.

It’s immediately clear that Simon is in comfortable territory dealing with a Marine outpost in the Iraqi desert–with the heavily-coded, nearly impenetrable soldier dialect, the high concentration of dudes offering their cynical and rough but highly verbose opinions on the matters at hand, and a decided scarcity of women at hand, it seems to be something of a promised land for Simon. And as with the beginning of The Wire, Simon refrains from giving the audience any sort of primer or decoder ring for the  fairly difficult-to-grasp proceedings, preferring instead to drop them in the middle of the action and let them fend for themselves. It’s an approach that generally worked for The Wire, but on the other hand, that show had 60 episodes to work with, while Generation Kill is already 1/7 of the way over.

Not to say that there’s nothing to work with in Generation Kill–Simon even gives us a fellow interloper to relate to as an outsider a Rolling Stone reporter, played by Oz‘s Lee Tergesen (who must have “Innocent New Guy” tattooed on his forehead by now). It’s just sort of hard to keep the soldiers straight, what with all the fatigues, the code names, and the huge number of characters introduced without any sort of formal introduction. The only one to really stand out thusfar is Corporal Ray Person, mainly because he is played by one James Ransone, better known to Wire junkies as S2’s Ziggy Sobotka. Ray and Ziggy are likeminded individuals, to say the least–both loudmouthed, antagonistic and highly opinionated, although Ray appears to be tolerated slightly more by his peers–a sad commentary on the mentality of the American soldier to begin with.

See, and that’s the real problem for me, not just with this show, but with the idea of doing a military-based TV show in the first place. American Soldiers, at least as generally portrayed in recent movies and TV shows, are generally quite unlikeable people–very possibly well-behaved Joes in day to day life, but introduced to an environment where the pecking order seems to be determined solely by who can act the most racist, homphobic, horny, and generally psychotic. This isn’t so much of a problem over a course of a two-hour movie (Jarhead being the most obvious point of comparison), but has potential for being an issue when you’re expected to keep coming back to these characters to see what happens to them. But why would you really care for characters that you never see doing anything but acting like jackasses?

Of course, judging anything about this show after one episode isn’t really fair, since Simon has never been one to hit the ground running, and tends to create properly emotional story arcs out of characters you’d never think you’d end up giving a shit about when first you meet them. There was definite promise to be had towards the end of the episode, as well–Ziggy’s (err, Ray’s) monologue about how the entire war is based on a lack of quality, readily available Iraqi pussy is a great hook speech, akin to D’Angelo’s drug-chess analogy or Stringer’s “shit is weak all over” speech early in S1 of The Wire. Plus, it looks like the GK boys are actually starting to see some action, which has far more potential for compelling drama than seven episodes of watching dudes trade dick-swinging insults and copies of Hustler.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think Wire comparisons are gonna do this show any favors. As good as Generation Kill could possibly be, it really can’t be expected to function as more than a stopgap EP after an epic, career-defining double-album. I’ll watch at least for another episode or two, though–even if it goes nowhere from here, I’ll take a stopgap EP from Simon over just about anything else out there right now. In the meantime, though, September really can’t get here soon enough. Those Fringe previews really look like something, huh? Lance Reddick!

Posted in TV O.D. | Leave a Comment »

Songs We Take for Granted: “New York, New York”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 15, 2008

Ryan Adams, you fucking hack

I didn’t get to do much to commemorate the MLB All-Star Game being in New York this week–the game and the HR Derby were prohibitively expensive, and I couldn’t drum up enough enthusiasm among my friends to go to the Club Fest or whatever. But it’d be somewhat remiss of me to not at least do something about it on this blog, and since I don’t have much to say about the game itself, I figured I could say a thing or two about the song unofficially adopted as the game’s theme–the Chairman of the Board’s version of “New York, New York,” possibly the most beloved song about an American city outside of Public Image Ltd.’s “Seattle” and the Drew Carey theme. The song has been used in numerous commercials and pre-game ceremonies for the game, most notably in a city-wide singalong, in which ex-Yanks like David Wells and Yogi Berra trade lines with local firemen, police, and other conerned citizens.

Now I don’t know if I’d say “New York, New York” is my favorite song about the Big Apple–the loner in me has a soft spot for both Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York,” and as I’ve previously written about, the Trade Winds’ “New York’s a Lonely Town,” while in terms of civic pride it’s hard to top Cam’Ron, Jay-Z and Juelz Santana’s “Welcome to New York City,” and for general ambiance I gotta give it to both Billy Joel and Nas’s “New York State of Mind.” But there’s no question that “New York, New York” is a classic, from those instantly can-can-inducing opening horns through to the final modulation. It’s the kind of song that feels like it’s been around for as long as the city itself, even though in reality it first hit the top 40 around the same time as Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” and Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu,” and was originally written for the Martin Scorsese mega-flop of the same name three years prior.

There’s all sorts of great stuff going on with the song’s lyrics. There’s the classic opening line, one of the all-time great song-starting pronouncements. There’s the punny wonder of the “I wanna wake up / in the city that never sleeps” line, whose irony I didn’t even realize until remarkably recently. And I really dig the song’s rhyme scheme, which remains consistent throughout multiple verses (“I wanna be a part of it” / “I’ll make a brand new start of it,” etc), a device I feel was used far more in Sinatra’s era than is currently, but which creates a neat little string of continuity throughout the whole song. And it’s one of the many songs that Frankie was born to sing–frankly, I’ve never even heard Liza’s version, but could it possibly compare to the sheer authority of Sinatra’s belting? (Yankees execs certainly didn’t think so, as old Blue Eyes’s rendition muscled out Lucille #2’s when the latter put the team to an ultimatum between versions).

Most interestingly to me, though, is how weirdly foreign the song sounds. For a song New York has so adopted as its go-to anthem, it’s written from a pointedly outsider perspective. It’s not the kind of song that reflects a great deal of knowledge about its subejct matter, as it doesn’t do the normal city-song trick of naming specific things or locations in the city that enamors it so to the singer–in fact, not only is it obvious that the singer doesn’t come from New York, it basically sounds like he’s never even been there before. New York is used more as an ideal than as an actual city, more of a point of contrast from “those little town blues” than an actual electoral district. And as such, it becomes almost a song more about American Manifest Destiny than an ode to any particular city–the idea of anyone being able to “make a brand new start of it,” and of it being just as much up to “New York, New York” as the person itself to do so.

Meanwhile, though–how about this fucking game? Bottom of the 13th right now, and if Brad Lidge is robbed of a chance to close this sucker out, I’m gonna fly down to Florida and harpoon Dan Uggla.

Posted in Songs We Take for Granted | 1 Comment »

100 Years, 66 Villains: Number One

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 13, 2008

Hey, I actually finished this one

Over the past few months here at IITS, we’ve reviewed 65 of the dirtiest, cringe-worthiest and most despicable barrel scrapers in the history of the film medium (or, more specifically, from its last 30 years or so). We’ve dealt with teenage bullies and full-grown thugs, abusive siblings and neglectful parents, bad friends and worse enemies, and it’s all come down to this–the lowest of the low, the scum of the fucking earth. Take a deep breath, distance yourself from all easily breakable items, and make sure the eyes of your loved ones have been sufficiently averted, because it’s about to get pretty ugly in here.

But first, a moment to address some of the villains I mistakenly left off the list, as well as some of the guesses and suggestions you all made in the comments box of our #2 entry. Kevin Spacey deserved some props as the sniveling, incompassionate middle-management type John Williamson in Glengarry Glen Ross. I remembered to include John Cassavettes selling out his wife’s womb to the devil in Rosemary’s Baby, but I forgot about Peter Masterson giving the town permission to kill wife Katherine Ross and replace her with a twin robot in The Stepford Wives. I still haven’t seen all of Purple Rain, but the parts I have seen leave no doubt that Morris Day and/or The Time deserve inclusion on this list. Die Hard is so overstuffed with villains of various stripes that I forgot all about the slimey Ellis (Hart Bochner), who tries to sabotage McClane (Bruce Willis) in an extremely misguided attempt at terrorist solidarity. And finally, as portrayed in Waiting to Exhale, the entire male gender probably merits inclusion somewhere near the list’s high-end.

As for those villains you all came up with, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) of Schindler’s List is undoubtedly as villainous as anyone here, but is disqualified by virtue of being a legitimate killer. Natalie (Carrie Anne-Moss) of Memento isn’t a bad choice (especially for the scene where she quite literally tells Guy Pearce, “I’M GONNA FUCKING USE YOU!!”) but really, she doesn’t do anything particularly destructive in the movie. Lovably vile as Anton Newcombe is in Dig!, I kept the list to non-fictional characters, and the Asian Doctor bitch in Juno is far too slight to be included among these heavy-hitters. Noah Cross (John Huston) of Chinatown and Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were included on the AFI Villains list, and thus ineligible. I went with Kittie Farmer over Jim Cunningham from Donnie Darko. As creepy as Benjamin (Rob Lowe) is in Wayne’s World, he doesn’t really do that much could be considered legitimately villainous (at least outside of Wayne’s paranoid fantasies), and Crisp from Kindgarten Cop is pretty clearly implied as a murderer. I tried to keep the list to human villainy, so no Gozer from Ghostbusters. Kathy Bates’ husband in Fried Green Tomatoes is no doubt a jackass, but is more clueless than he is abusive. I’m not really sure why I didn’t include Principal Vernon from The Breakfast Club, good call. I haven’t seen Con Air in a long-ass time, but considering I don’t even remember Colm Meany being in that movie, I doubt he was ever bound for our list.

All this said, however, one of you did manage to come up with a correct #1 prediction. And if you’ve seen the movie, and if you think about the character, and about all the characters that have preceded this one on this list, you’ll know that there’s absolutely no one else that this spot could’ve gone to. So, drum roll, please…

I guess I’m not sure that I felt this way before I saw In the Company of Men (though since I didn’t even remember the name of Aaron Eckhart’s character before I re-watched this recently, I’m guessing I did) but there’s just something about the name Chad that sends chills down my spine. Think about it–have you ever been friends with someone named Chad? Have you ever known anyone named Chad that was a half-decent individual? Are any of your most revered politicians, artists or athletes named Chad? (Norman Chad doesn’t count). Can anyone even tell me what the capital of the African country Chad is? Sorry if that little rant just alienated our entire Chad-loving readership, but point is, I can’t picture anyone thinking likeable, sympathetic, upstanding citizen when I think of the name Chad. More likely, you’re thinking despicable teen heartthrob Chad Michael Murray. You’re thinking mediocre butt-rock peddler and perpetual assassination target Chad Kroeger. You’re thinking of hanging chads in the 2000 election, even. And you are, whether you realize it or not, thinking of Aaron Eckhart in In the Company of Men.

Chad is not a nice person. He is, in fact, a very mean person, something made clear from the very beginning of Company, in which he convinces friend and co-worker Howard (Matt Malloy) to join him in courting the same emotionally fragile woman, then to dump her simultaneously in a gruesome act of vengeance and empowerment against All Things Vaginal, both having been recently left by their girlfreinds. They decide to prey upon Christine, a kind, deaf co-worker that immediately takes to both, but quickly begins to prefer the company of the handsome, sweet-talking Chad to the nerdier looking, more mild-mannered Howard. Things get predictably complicated when Howard realizes that he’s no longer faking his affection for Christine, and Chad moves in closer and closer for the kill.

To call Chad a misogynist is almost too easy. He is that, surely–he even makes countless jokes to that effect over the course of the movie (“Never trust anything that can bleed for a week and not die,” “What’s the difference between a golf ball and a G-Spot? I’ll spend 20 minutes looking for a G-Spot!”). But unlike Maxine’s extremely focused evil, Chad can not contain his hatred to only one person, or even to just one gender. Even calling him a misanthrope makes him sound a little cuddly, a little too romantic. What Chad is, simply, is an asshole. There’s nothing particularly deep about it, there’s no grand psychology to be had–Chad is just like any other asshole that you have to deal with in your day to day life.

The difference, however, is that Chad is really quite exceptionally good at being an asshole. He’s charming, he’s cunning, he’s incoscionably manipulative, and worst of all, he plans ahead. He’s capable of plenty of small-scale villainy, as when he pockets some of the change Howard drops in the office bathroom before giving him back the smaller coins. He’s certainly capable of mid-level villainy, as when he forces an intern underling to strip naked in front of him in order to unmetaphorically prove that he has the balls for the job. But it’s the big stuff–the arcing stuff, the villainy that really requires time, effort and patience to pull off–that earns Chad the #1 spot on this list. After all, Maxine, for all her cruelty, was still relative small-time in comparison, emotionally uncommitted and merely desirous for amusement. Chad, on the other hand, is the real-world Lex Luthor.

The scene everyone remembers, and justifiably so, is the movie’s climax, where Christine confronts Chad about Howard’s confession that he and Chad were just dating her on a bet. He tries to deny it, then to weasel around it, and when he realizes he can’t do it, he just lays into her. Much as you’ve seen Chad’s dickness first-hand over the course of the movie, you still can’t believe that he’s going to go where he does in this scene. You think some sort of humanity in him is going to be piqued by the amount of pain he’s doubtless going to cause Christine, that he’ll at least try to let her down easy. But Chad instead admits that he “can’t keep a straight face” during the scene, so not only does he cop to the con, he rubs it in as much as possible, even asking her, like Christopher Guest asking Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, to describe what the hurt is like. She lets out a small cry–not as emotional as either you or Chad expect, but one that’s all the more disturbing as a result–and Chad leaves. Compared to Chad in this scene, Troy in Reality Bites might as well be Rick at the end of Casablanca.

Just as bad, however, is the subplot I didn’t even realize was there until re-watching the movie recently–how Chad secretly and subtly tries to undermine the authority of Howard, his temporary boss on the company retreat. He screws up reports and loses important documents, using his “friendship” with Howard to get the blame shifted elsewhere, until it eventually starts to fall on Howard himself. You don’t even really realize that Chad is doing this until the movie’s penultimate scene, in which Howard confesses his real love to Chad, who, tired and extremely unsympathetic, explains that his girlfriend never actually left him at all, and that he only did the thing with Christine “because he could” (perhaps uncoincidentally, the same reasoning used by the Stepford husbands). By that point, it has also become apparent that Chad has leapfrogged the floundering Howard on the company ladder, and it makes you wonder if the whole competition was just engineered by Chad to distract Howard while angling for the superior position he feels he always should have had.

But, as with so many other villains on this list, what really makes Chad so villainous, so hateable, is that when you get down to it, you really still kind of like his character better than Howard. Sure, Howard is the nice guy (although he’s not that nice, agreeing to the competition, and even yelling “Look at you! You are fucking handicapped! You think you can choose?” at Christine), he’s the one who has the personal growth over the course of the movie, he’s the one with the legitimate romantic feelings. But he’s also boring, dorky and extremely charmless. Not even in the movies would it be feasible for Christine to choose Howard over the dashing, well-practiced Chad, even if she already knew how evil he was. The reason why Chad sucks is the same as the reason why life sucks–not only do the bad guys usually win, but most of the time, we actually root for them to do so. Let’s see if Harvey Dent can top that.

Congrats to reader Brent for accurately guessing that Chad from In the Company of Men would indeed be our #1 movie villain of all-time. You can redeem your $15 prize winnings at the IITS gift shop, or you can e-mail me your address at fadeout95@gmail.com for a direct cash payment.

(Now here’s the entire list, for those of you who’ve missed any piece thus far, all of which can be viewed in their entirety here):

66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy
5. Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), Dead Poets Society
4. The Egan Sisters (Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg, Julie Hermelin, Karen Hermelin, Lisa Spector, Hazel Mailloux and Mary Lynn Rajskub), Punch-Drunk Love
3. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo
2. Maxine (Catherine Keener), Being John Malkovich
1. Chad (Aaron Eckhart), In the Company of Men

Posted in 100 Years 66 Villains | 8 Comments »

The Good, The Bad & The Questionable: The UK

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 12, 2008

No dog’s body

So as I’ve alluded to several times over the last few weeks on this blog (just be thankful I didn’t keep a running diary or some shit, yeah?), I have been in England recently for about a week and a half on vacation with my family. Historically I haven’t been much for travel, since my interests were so horrifically limited and places that I couldn’t relate to Oscar-winners or 80s one-hit wonders held little interest for me. So the UK was an ideal travel destination for me–somewhere I could engage in familiar-ish customs with the comfort of the English language behind me, but with subtle differences enough to make it a new and rewarding experience. Plus, it helped me get back in touch with my long-dormant inner Anglophile, the days when I thought Q and NME were somehow more trustworthy than Spin and Rolling Stone and when I’d watch 24 Hour Party People seven or eight times in a month.

Unsurprisingly, as a similar-but-not-too-similar analogue to US culture, the UK proved to have its advantages, its disadvantages, and lots of shit that was just confusing. Here’s how I broke it down over the course of my week and a half:

The Good:

  • Uncensored Late Night T.V. I don’t mean Cinemax-type stuff, though I saw a tiny bit of that (not enough, especially considering that when I was France as a teenager they showed hardcore porn in the middle of the day). But it was nice to be able to watch movies on just about any channel without having to worry about whether they’d be bleeped, silenced or dubbed–I don’t think I ever saw anything that wasn’t presented full-on. Limited commercial interruption, too–all channels had commercials, but the movie ones only had like two breaks a year, which was a mad good deal.
  • Huge Towels. Huge. They were more like beach blankets than your average bathroom towels, even. I felt like I could walk down to breakfast in one of those things if I wanted.
  • Back Bacon. It’s like Ham Bacon, basically–strips with the salty, smoky taste of bacon but with the texture and substantiativity of ham. They serve it at most breakfasts, and it’s perfect for me, since I always thought bacon was kind of overrated as a breakfast food, especially the crispiness, which often made me feel like I was just eating bacon-flavored chips. I can’t reccomend this shit highly enough, although I have no idea where you’d find it in the States. if anyone has an idea…
  • Ridiculously Fast Tube Stations. I don’t think we waited more than two and a half minutes for a train the entire time we were there. In New York I practically assume an automatic ten-minute wait.
  • High Tea. I always thought that the British tea custom just meant that they drank lots of boring, tepid tea all the time for no real reason. I had no idea it could imply gourmet shit like this–delicate, crustless sandwiches (mozzarella! smoked salmon! egg salad!), savory scones with clotted cream (like butter, but without a guilty aftertaste), and pastries that aren’t a waste of time and calories. Even the tea kind of tasted good, and I hate tea almost as much as I hated the last half-hour of Hancock.
  • Music Video Stations. The Hits, the British TV channel that actually still shows videos all the time, did top 50 countdowns EVERY FUCKING DAY of various different qualifications. One of them, the Top 50 Ibiza anthems, was like video Godhead–a veritable treasure trove of quality dance hits whose videos you’d never see in a million hours of VH1 Classic in the US. It was a perpetual strugle not to stay in the hotel rooms all night.
  • No Katy Perry. Yet.
  • Witty Tour Guides. I guess there’s just a higher standard tour guides keep to in this country, because we didn’t have a one that wasn’t personable, dry, informative, funny, and (maybe) supermodel-level attractive. They were like stand-up comedians, except without the smugness and with much more practiced and honed routines. I would’ve gone on a guided tour of British linoleum warehouses if I found one.
  • Trusting Security. The attitude of most ticket-takers and security dudes was like “Yeah, sure, go ahead, we got you.” After 22 years of American regulations (and four years of NYU procedures), this was more than a little mind-blowing.
  • Britishisms. My brother and I were terrified that such extended exposure would nullify the endless potential for humor to be found in British accents and phrasing, but luckily our worries were entirely unfounded, and I’m happy to say that I still giggled every time someone said “inna-veh-tive” instead of “innovative.” Best moment by far: when my mom nearly got hit by a car speeding around the corner, and the driver hollered “STUPID BLOODY WOMAN!!!” at her.

Bad:

  • Lousy Toilets. Nearly all the urinals were water-free, and far too often public toilets just had troths for dudes to piss in. Plus, the hotel toilets usually required two flushes, and a lot of train station bathrooms were pay services. Once you start charging a man to piss, it’s only about two steps until official dystopia.
  • Sports. I bought a Liverpool jersey (mostly for the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” slogan) so I might have to start following soccer (oh, I’m sorry, football) more closely now, but God help me if I ever see Tennis, Golf, Rugby, Soccer and Darts as acceptable substitutes for the American Big Three. And there is definitely no sort of ESPN or Sportscenter equivalent over there (and yes, that is a bad thing).
  • Cumberland Sausages. Taking the opposite approach as the back bacon, sausages in the UK are generally a lot mealier and softer than sausage in the states. It’s kind of cool at first, but after a while it just starts to feel a little too British, for whatever reason.
  • Caseless Used CD Racks. The used CD racks are filled with sheets telling you what used CDs are available, which saves room I suppose but really makes browsing a challenge. I could never get through more than half a row without getting frustrated or bored.
  • Warm Beverages. This threw me more than anything, but apparently in the UK, getting beverages to be refridgerator-cold was rarely a priority. Which isn’t to say the drinks were served warm, exactly, but they were barely ever as cold as we wanted, and when my brother asked for ice a couple times he got looked at like he was totally crazy. I mean, yeah, it’s already pretty cold over there, but it’s not that fucking cold that drinks shouldn’t still be as refreshing as possible. Very disconcerting.
  • Short Ceilings. Obviously I’m a mite taller than most, but still, I found a disturbingly high number of times in this country that I felt like I was working on the 7 1/2th floor. I can’t count how many times I hit my head somewhere on the tube.
  • Ugly Tourists. Admittedly the Utz clan wasn’t helping out too much on this one, but I couldn’t get over how unattractive the country was on the whole. At first I thought it was just an ugly nation of people, but I eventually realized that this was especially true in the high tourism-concentrated areas, and maybe a little less so around legit UK campuses and the like. In any event, Girls Aloud is sadly unrepresentative of the looks of the British population at large.
  • No Tequila at Most Bars. I had to drink vodka. Vodka, I tells ya!
  • Nickelback’s “Photograph” is Still a Hit. Makes me really think twice about traveling to Japan within the next three years or so.

The Questionable:

  • “Picture Book” vs. “People Take Pictures of Each Other“. This was the one cultural difference I really couldn’t make up my mind on qualitatively. As we all know, in the US, camera ads are soundtracked by The Kinks’ “Picture Book,” but in the UK, they use a different Kinks song from Village Green about photography, “People Take Pictures of Each Other.” Hard to decide which works better, and frankly It’s sort of amazing that the Kinks had two songs from the same album that both work so perfectly in digital camera commercials.

Posted in Good Bad Questionable | 8 Comments »