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I Sez: Ain’t Nothing Like the Real “I Kissed a Girl”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 7, 2008

I think we can do better

What is it with all these modern hits sharing titles with old, semi-classic pop songs, anyways? It’s bad enough that no one besides American Idol contestants has hits with covers anymore, now pop artists are cruelly teasing us pop nerds like this? I’ll let Sara Bareilles’s “Love Song” go for not being a Cure cover–that’s an ambiguous enough title that it could even be purely incidental. And Natasha Bedingfield’s “Love Like This” not being a revival of Faith Evans’s underrated 90s R&B hit, I guess that’s forgivable too. Rihanna calling a song “Take a Bow” when it has nothing to do with the Madonna’s biggest chart hit, though, that I have a little more trouble dealing with. And now new it girl Katy Perry titling her hit “I Kissed a Girl,” without so much as referencing Jill Sobule’s glorious 1995 relic of the same title–that just about deserves an all-purpose shun in my book.

Jill Sobule, for thus of us who don’t remember or were not around for the Buzz Bin era, was a singer/songwriter with a respectable cult and Wiki comparisons to Randy Newman and Warren Zevon. Unlike those two, her albums have not quite endured past her prime decade, but like those two, she managed to eke out a couple hit novelty singles before fading from the limelight. The better remembered of these might be “Supermodel” (“I don’t care what my teachers say / I’m gonna be a supermodel….”), which due to its use in Amy Heckerling’s immortal teen flick Clueless, became an anthem for young girls that likely had little awareness of the song’s satirical bent (much like how Lakers fans and PA operators seem blissfully oblivious to any sarcasm apparent in Newman’s “I Love L.A”).

However, Sobule had only one legitimate chart hit in the 90s, and that was the gentle, almost folky “I Kissed a Girl.” The song is like a much less tragic version of the Julianne Moore plot in The Hours, in which Sobule welcomes a female neighbor into her abode, discusses with her the relationship issues both are having, and ultimately realizes the neighbor might be more her speed after all. Predating If These Walls Could Talk and Ellen coming out of the closet, “I Kissed a Girl” was one of the first examples of explicit, non-exploitative female homosexuality to break into the mainstream, writing large what was frequently implicit in hit songs by artists like Melissa Ethridge, K.D. Lang and the Indigo Girls. Just as memorable as the song was its gleefully cartoonish, VMA-nominated video, which even seemed to recognize what a timestamp of the 90s the song was inevitably going to become by casting decade icon and senior citizen fantasy Fabio in the lead role.

The song was a hit, but not a big one, peaking at #67 and eventually getting lost in the sinews of time. 13 years later, here comes Miss Katy Perry, already a phenom of sorts thanks to her Madonna-approved underground hit “UR So Gay.” Apparently not satisfied with one alternative-sexuality-themed song, Perry follows it up with “I Kissed a Girl,” a song which bears much thematic similarity to Sobule’s hit (same basic conceit–straight girl tries making out with a chick, kinda digs it) but has much less in common with Sobule’s musically or attitudinally. Perry’s version is a smash right out of the gate, thanks to a little help from Gossip Girl and a flirty, Moulin Rouge-looking music video, and has already catapulted to #5 on the pop charts, invariably displacing the Sobule song from public memory for good.

Needless to say, this will not do. I’m not going to say that it’s really at all surprising that Perry’s song is a hit, or even that it’s already a much bigger one than Sobule’s. Perry’s song is a jam, for certain–working a Schaffel stomp (think Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” or almost any Goldfrapp song) to maximal pop-release, the song smacks you in the brain upon first listen and has a nasty habit of getting stuck in your head long afterwardes. And the same thing that made Sobule’s song so memorable–how slightly ahead of its time it seemed–is what may have ultimately damned its commercial fortunes, as it was met with a fair share of controversy, which Perry’s version seems to have avoided thusfar.

To me, however, it’s a much shallower and far less ingratiating song. Sobule’s version, whether satirical or not (and to me it seems more satirical of basic male-female relationships than it does of gay ones), whether legitimately first person or not (and I have no idea what Sobule’s actual sexuality is), seems to me a perfectly innocent story of a girl realizing there might be more to her sexual preference than her garden variety Fabio romances. It’s cute, it’s charming, it’s novel, it’s unassuming, and it’s got a decent 90s-style guitar solo. In other words, it’s absolutely everything that a forgotten one-or-two-hit wonder should be. I hadn’t even heard it all the way through in probably close to a decade before the Perry song brought it back to my attention, but it sure did put a smile on my face once I listened to it again.

The Perry song does not illicit such a reaction from me. I hate to get all feminist critical theory in here, since God knows I hated when my professors did while I was just trying to enjoy Alien, but Perry’s story of her lesbian flirtaiton seems designed only to attract dudes (the male gaze, if you will), as is made abundantly clear by the song’s video. It’s hott, yeah, maybe, sort of (although I maintain that without that weird, Princess Leia-ish bob thing, Sobule would probably have been more attractive than Perry), but much more so, it’s just annoying–in this song, Perry willingly plays the part of the hipster-ish girl you know that constantly mentions the one time she hooked up with a girl because she thinks it makes her look experimental and wild, and knows mentioning it will turn the heads of every guy in the room. Maybe it’s intriguing the first time, but after a while, the tackiness and arrogance just becomes too much.

Sobule’s song could be interpreted to be similarly trend-hopping, I suppose, but in her version it seems  more like the experiences detailed are a genuine revelation as opposed to one night’s revelry. Perry even takes great pains in her song to express that this is not what she’s normally about–references to becoming brave after getting drunk, calling her paramour “my experimental game,” and including the qualification “don’t mean I’m in love tonight” in the chorus. And the musical tones of the songs speak volumes, too–the understated way Sobule almost whispers the song’s title, as if embarrassed but gleeful nonetheless, and gets more and more comfortable with it as the song goes on, compared to how Perry shouts pretty much the whole thing, practically boasting, because she knows that once she sobers up, this’ll just be a distant memory, and it’ll be back to a steady diet of dudes.

What will be interesting to me, though, is what the song will come to represent sociologically now that it has become such a gigantic, somehow contoversy-free, megahit. Are drunk girls going to be screaming along to the chorus to this in clubs and in concert, and what, if anything, will that mean? Is this going to inspire an “I Kissed a Boy” response song? Is the long overdue t.A.t.U. revival finally on the horizon? It’s all more thought-provoking (and has far greater possibilties) than say, your average Ray J top ten hit, and that’s always appreciated. I just wish it could’ve hapened with Sobule’s song instead. Or at least a decent cover of it.


Posted in I Sez | 1 Comment »

I Sez: About Time for “I Love the New Millennium”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 1, 2008

No country for old nostalgia

In my last few minutes backstage in my VH1 sojourn, I was talking with either WSOPC exec producer Michael Davies or someone else who worked directly for the station, I can’t remember. I made an insinuation that when the channel got around to doing I Love the 00s, they should call me and the other two TMers to be commentators. “Well, I’m not sure if we’re going to be doing one of those…” the guy insisted. “Oh, come on,” I responded, “you know you guys aren’t going to be able to resist.”

Well, doesn’t seem like they followed my commentator advice, but at least I had them dead on in their  nostalgic clip show impatience. VH-1 announced recently that later this month, they will be debuting their latest entry in the I Love the ______ series, and sure enough, it’s I Love the New Millennium, looking back with rose-colored glasses on the last eight years in pop culture. According to the press release, topics will include My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, and Sisqo’s “The Thong Song,” among many other PC relics and relics-to-be. The show will take place from June 23rd to the 27th, done two episodes a night like all the others.

It’s rare–well, maybe not that rare, but yeah–to see satirical punchlines so openly embraced by those satirized, but with characteristic aplomb and shamelessness, VH1 has responded to criticism and jokes about them bottling nostalgia for events almost instantaneously upon their occurence by doing just that. Hey guys, remember when Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run? Or when police and medical procedurals ruled the airwaves? Or when that Flo Rida guy had a #1 hit? I know, it feels like it was just last year!!
And oh man, what about those GEICO Cavemen commercials, or when Dick Cheney shot that guy? Hell, I must’ve only been, like…20 when that happened!

It’s understandable, of course. The I Love the ____ series is about as reliable a bread-and-butter show as VH1 has in their arsenal, and they’ve just about exhausted all their other decade options–two 70s, three 80s and two 90s, so unless they wanted to resort to talking about Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Living in a Box and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, they were probably going to have to find some new material to cover. They might’ve been able to get away with doing the 60s if they had started with them six years ago, but now they’re more or less committed to the Decade Under the Influence and onwards, so that doesn’t leave much left but the double-0s. And to their credit, culture is so accelerated these days that it really does feel like a pretty long time since the Yanks-Sox ALCS, or when “Vote for Pedro” shirts swept the nation, or when I was forced to learn what the word “Uggs” signified.

But really, why should I even have to make excuses for VH-1? Regardless of the era covered, it’s still an I Love the ____s clip show, and that means I’m going to be watching. After all, it was the original I Love the 80s and I Love the 70s series that first got me thinking about pop culture in canonical terms, when I first realized that there was just as much to the history and timeliness of popular entertainment as there was of the critically acclaimed music and movies I was digesting almost exclusively at that time. And more importantly, they made me realize just how much fun pop culture, and the discussion of pop culture, could be, how engaging it was, and how much greater the possibilities of reviving such items were than evoking shallow nostalgia.

These shows, for better or worse, helped make me who I am right now. So even if I Love the New Millennium asks me to feel nostalgic about stuff that feels like it happened a couple hours ago, I’ll still be watching it opening night, a smooth drink in my hand, clicking my tongue and rhapsodizing “Ah yes, I remember it well…

Posted in I Sez | 7 Comments »

I Sez: Maxim Knows Their Unsexxy Ladiez

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 23, 2008

“Because you treat me like a hag!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in I Sez | 3 Comments »

I Sez: The Sun Will Rise in CBS

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 14, 2008

I need a hit, baby gimme it

Well, if you haven’t heard, everyone’s favorite former pop star and current nutso umbrella assailant is going to be making a guest stint on that sole justification for CBS’s existence, How I Met Your Mother. It’s Britney, Bitch will be appearing as the mild-mannered receptionist for Ted’s dermatologist, who falls for Ted while he falls for his doctor. This will be IBB’s second TV appearance and first in her current incarnation (she appeared on a Will & Grace episode back in the Brit days), though many will no doubt forever associate her with her lone film starring role in Crossroads, back when she was just Britney.

The more I think about this move, the more it seems almost exactly analogous to the Phoenix Suns trading for Shaquille O’Neal earlier this season. Both moves introduce one-time all-stars who are far, far past their prime, but can still produce a fair amount on a smaller, less ambitious scale (decreased minutes for O’Neal, a short mid-season arc for IBB), and both of whom are still guaranteed to draw a crowd. Both moves threaten to damage the fragile equilibrium of very smooth-operating systems, and both result in painfully damaging casualties for the team (the Suns lost Shawn Marion, an eight-year vet and four-time all-star for the team, HIMYM lost a guest arc from Alicia Silverstone, who allegedly balked at the prospect of sharing court time with IBB). And needless to say, both moves court a fair amount of controversy, and cries of Jumping the Shark.

However, in both cases, the argument could just as easily be made that both needed to make such a move. Despite strong regular-season runs the past few years, the (current) Suns never made it past the Conference Finals, and with contracts expiring and their core of players getting older every year, the clock is ticking on that championship run. Similarly, despite an incredibly strong first two seasons and a devoted cult following, How I Met Your Mother has still yet to pick up the necessary popular audience or the necessary critical respect to be considered an established show, and with the first round of season renewals passing it by, it could be make or break time for the gang. Not to mention how with the already-strong Western Conference stockpiling arms and with the third season of HIMYM beginning to feel a little stale, neither was probably going to make it as is.

But lest we forget, both stars needed a lift just as depserately as their respective units did. Shaq’s stats at Miami weren’t nearly as terrible as you’d think–plenty of teams would kill for a veteran big guy that averaged 14 points and eight boards–but he was unhealthy and dispirited, watching him play like a shadow of his former self on the worst team in the NBA was a truly miserable experience, part of a practical NBA Seniors’ Ward on the bench with Penny Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning. Similarly, Britney’s career actually wasn’t technically that terribly off–“Gimme More” was her biggest chart hit since “Baby One More Time,” and Blackout debuted at #2 and has since sold over 2 mil–not a blockbuster, but pretty good numbers these days. But as an icon her status couldn’t be more in jeopardy, as the sweet, virginal-bordering-on-curious Britney America fell in love with had been replaced by an overweight, oversexed, and horribly overexposed lunatic, who showed no remorse and no self-consciousness about her disturbing transformation. Shaq needed the Suns to remind him why he should still care about playing, Britney needs HIMYM to remind her (and everyone else, I suppose) that she is still a human being.
So now that Shaq has (probablymaybearguably) appeared to have started to carve a niche down in Phoenix, does that mean that the Britney revival is similarly eminent? Well, to be fair, the analogy isn’t a perfect one, and as I see it, there are three areas where this doesn’t translate so well. The first, and most unfortunate, is that TV stars don’t really get to do press conferences (or at least, not nationally televised and endlessly re-run press conferences), which means that we probably won’t ever get to see a smiling Britney holding up an Urban Outfitters wardrobe for the cameras while spouting sound bytes like “You just don’t really wanna get me upset. When I’m upset I’m known to do certain things–like win Video Music Awards.” The second, and arguably more pressing one, is that regardless of her past or present musical prowess, Britney isn’t exactly the Shaq of the acting world, and unless it’s a meek receptionist that has nightclub singing and dancing aspirations, she’ll be headed into relatively uncharted waters here.

But the third and perhaps most important difference is that it remains to be seen whether the public really wants Britney back. Regardless of his sub-par days with the Heat as of late, and regardless of how badly most people predicted trading Marion for him would turn out for the Suns, I think most people still were essentially rooting for Shaq to succeed–he does one press conference, turns a couple phrases, and the NBA-viewing public is putty in his hands once more. But with Britney, the territory’s a little murkier–she’s burned a lot of bridges over the last few years, disappointed a lot of people a couple times too many, and might have come so far in her It’s Britney Bitch mutation that the public might not really want her back anymore. Can the people accept the notion of IBB as just a regular New York girl?

In any event, I can’t wait to see how it plays out–be sure to watch on March 24th for her auspicious beginnings. Good call scoring Sarah Chalke for a one-episode buffer zone, too.

Posted in I Sez | 2 Comments »

I Sez: No Country for The Good Doctor

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 26, 2008

Mad Spoiler Alert

“You know, Lee, most of these movies that win a lot of Oscars, I can’t stand. They’re all safe, geriatric, coffee-table dogshit, y’know?…All those assholes make are unwatchable movies from unreadable books. Mad Max, that’s a movie. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, THAT’S a movie. Rio Bravo, THAT’S a movie.” -Clarence Worley, True Romance

I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot since No Country for Old Men took home the Best Picture Oscar last night. As I’ve now stated all too forcefully on this blog now, I did not expect No Country for Old Men or its partner-in-crime, There Will Be Blood, to take home the Best Picture. Because for at least the last decade-and-a-half, safe, geriatric, coffee-table dogshit movies made from unreadable books seem to be about all that’s been winning. And now, this marks two years in a row (The Departed for those of you with less long-term Oscar memory) where movies that Clarence would almost surely have whole-heartedly endorsed have taken home top honors, marking the longest such streak since Silence of the Lambs and Unforgiven won in back-to-back years in ’91 and ’92. Pretty remarkable, if you ask me.

But when I think about it, past Oscar transgressions weren’t the only reason why I predicted No Country to be upset by Juno, or even Atonement. Partly, it’s because even though NCFOM winning is one of the coolest things to happen to the Oscars in ages, and even though it might’ve been my favorite movie of those nominated (only Blood gives it competition), I still kind of wanted it to lose. In a weird way, No Country losing would’ve validated the nagging feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction that No Country left me with–the kind of feeling that no Best Picture winner as strange and untraditional as No Country should really leave me with.

“There wasn’t a single thing about that movie I didn’t love,” one of my friends exclaimed about No Country while discussing it during the Oscars last night. I smiled and nodded, even murmured a half-hearted agreement, even though it wasn’t really the truth. Because I wanted it to be the truth. I wanted it so, so very badly to be the truth. Moreover, because it fucking should have been the truth. Because it seems like everyone loves No Country unreservedly. Because the Academy, the same group of know-nothing know-it-alls that elected Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas and Gladiator over Traffic, were bowled over enough by it to overlook that it was a cynical, understated and extremely violent thriller and not some poncey bullshit that happened a long-ass time ago. Because there seems like no good reason that I shouldn’t love it unreservedly.

And because, for the first 90 minutes of the movie, I did love it unreservedly. Those first 90 minutes were basically the Coens and company putting on a clinic, so to speak–displaying such unbelievable verve in every filmmaking category that counts that it could almost be interpreted as showing off. It was THE perfect thriller, an unbelievable mixture of technical innovation, fascinating storytelling and good old-fashioned suspense. Those 90 minutes ensure Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin as inductees in the all-time badass canon, cement the Coens as being among the most relevant filmmakers of their generation once more, and prove once-and-for-all that it doesn’t matter what accent she’s doing, there’s not an actress on the planet more heartmeltingly adorable than Kelly McDonald. Those 90 minutes ensure that No Country For Old Men is a stone classic, no matter what.

And then…the turn. You remember the first time you saw Mulholland Drive? It’s kind of hard to remember now, for me at least, but the first time I was watching that movie, I was totally with it for about as long as I was with No Country, and I absolutely loved it, the coolest, freakiest and hottest neo-noir I had maybe ever seen. And then there was the scene with the box–you know the one–and everything I thought I knew about the movie changed. Technically, my eyes and ears followed the rest of the movie to its fruition, but mentally, I checked out of the movie at the beginning of the turn. Because I was pissed off. Because I liked that movie–the movie of the first 90 or so minutes, that is–so unbelievably much, and I was furious that David Lynch had robbed me of the opportunity to see how it would’ve ended. I didn’t care nearly as much how this new, unrecognizable movie ended.

Now, a few years later, a whole bunch more late-night viewings, a whole lot of theory reading, and I understand. I get why the movie–the whole movie–ended the way it did, I think it’s as brilliant as anything Lynch has ever done, and I don’t begrudge the turn anymore. So I’m willing to acknowledge that with time, with viewings, with perspective, I might feel similarly about No Country‘s detour. But what infuriates me is the way that no one seems willing to discuss it, that no one even seems to care. Suggest that maybe No Country would have been better served with a more conventional ending, and you may as well be suggesting that Raging Bull should’ve ended with Jake LaMotta hiring Burgess Meredith, losing 50 pounds and fighting his way back to the top to the strains of Bill Conti.

But let’s compare it to another movie from Clarence’s That’s a Movie canon. Let’s say you’re watching The Good, The Bad & the Ugly. You’re about up to the scene where Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach blow up the bridge to sabotage the fighting soldiers on both sides so they can get across unfettered and get to the treasure buried in the nearby graveyard. Only, say this time, before Clint and Eli get there, Lee Van Cleef sneaks up on Eli when he’s alone and kills him. And then, off-screen, we hear Clint getting winged by some enemy fire, and then we see his bloody corpse. Meanwhile, turns out there’s been a nosy sheriff that’s been following all three the entire time, only he’s more interested in eating breakfast and telling metaphorical stories than actually doing any effective detective work, and he never even encounters any of the three main players. Lee Van Cleef slinks back to his dark hole wherever, and the treasure stays buried forever.

OK, so it’s not the same thing. OK, so there’s a deeper meaning to the way the Coens’ movie ended, one more concerned with matters of death and fate and inevitability than with who gets away with the sack with the dollar sign on it. OK, so there’s actually a fairly respected source text that the Coens are referring to here, and they couldn’t very well shape out a completely brand-new, crowd-pleasing ending without fans, critics and anyone else who knows enoughto give a damn screaming bloody murder. I’m willing to concede all of these things. I’m even willing to admit that it makes me an essentially shallow film watcher to demand such instant gratification, especially from filmmakers I claim to love as much as the Coen brothers.

But just for a second, step forward to the monitor. Look me straight in the eyes. And tell me the truth–weren’t you just a little bit disappointed that the movie ended the way it did? Wasn’t there a part of you that was absolutely heartbroken that you didn’t get to see some super-tense Mexican Standoff between Bardem, Brolin and Harrelson, or at least some grand-scale shootout between the first two to determine, as Brolin would put it, the Last Man Standing? Weren’t you a tiny bit flustered when Bardem didn’t even have it out with Tommy Lee Jones at the end? Fuck the Oscars, No Country had the potential to be, straight up, the best thriller maybe ever made, a popcorn classic for the ages, a thinking man’s T2. Are you actually going to tell me you weren’t even slightly angry when that dream was shot full of holes with Brolin?

Well, then, mister, you’re a better movie watcher than I. And hey, maybe you’re part of the contingent that actually gave a great movie the Best Picture Oscar for only the second or third time this decade, so more power to you. But I’m sorry, I guess I’m just not ready to say OK. I’m not ready to be a part of this world yet.

Posted in I Sez, Oscar Sweep '08 | 6 Comments »

I Sez: Bravo, LL

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 20, 2008

Obama no doubt pissed at stolen thunder

I remember reading a rant from some random blogger a good number of years ago about the potential consequences of Jennifer Love Hewitt doing a Playboy spread. The general theory was that JLH going buffo in printed form would eventually bring about world peace, through a sort of chain reaction started by the fact that the great majority of male teenagers (and probably a healthy number of females as well–this was back in Hewitt’s prime) across the country would take at least one whole day off from causing mischief and just masturbate in their bedroom instead. The logic of the mechanics was a bit off, but the sentiment was there–there’s just something extremely special about the moment you first see a celebrity naked.

As no doubt all of you with the internet and a couple of mouse clicks to spare know by now, Lindsay Lohan has recently participated a semi-nude photo spread for New York Magazine, in a tribute to a famous photo shoot done of Marilyn Monroe at the Hotel Bel Air (entitled “The Last Sitting”) done just weeks before Monroe’s death. Hearing about this–and seeing the first photo in the spread–I figured this would mean nude the way that much-hyped nude Vanity Fair spread of Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johnassen that somehow ended up being about as erotic as My Dinner With Andre meant naked. But no, there’s some actual nakedness going on here–fairly clear breast shots, some impressively-hinted at frontal–enough at least to make you go “This is what New York Magazine has been hiding all these years??”

Now, this being the internet, of course, the pictures have started the debates flying–over whether or not people dig her heavily-freckled body, whether the tits are real or not, whether she’s as hot as she was a couple years ago (which, I might point out, is an exceptionally difficult complaint to raise without being creepy). It reminds me a little bit of that Meg White dorm room sex video that leaked a few months ago, where everyone was complaining about how chubby and/or dispassionate (yes, this was actually a frequently levied grievance) Meg looked in the video, while I was just going OMFG MEG WHITE. Of course it turned out not to be Meg White at all, something everyone basically knew while watching it. But the fact that it could have been, that for a second we could believe it was–that made all the difference.

Point is, hotness quotient aside, there’s something so much more rewarding about seeing famous people naked. In this age of easy access to truly limitless pornographic possibilities, the idea of celebrity nudity should probably seem laughable. After all, why would (or should) anyone bother suffering through two hours of About Adam for that split second of naked Kate Hudson when they can probably find videos of completely naked girls probably almost as attractive as Hudson performing countless scnadalous sexual acts for hourson end for free and with less effort? It seems about as quaint a proposition as taping songs off the radio in the age of MP3s.

But there’s an advantage to seeing a disrobed celebrity that the experience’ll always have over random anonymous pornography–the sense of accomplishment. For, lest we forget, famous people (with the possible exceptions of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jim Morrison) spend the great majority of their lives with clothes on, usually with little in the way of means, motivation or opportunity to change that status. So when you finally do see that person clothesless–whether on sceen, in an unsolicited gotcha shot, or a classy spread like this–you sort of feel like you’ve beaten them in the battle of not getting to see them naked. It’s a small victory, but in situations like this, it makes all the difference.

Not to say that the attractiveness is irrelevant–regardless of who you are what you think of her particulars, Lindsay Lohan is pretty well guaranteed to be hotter than 95% of the girls you know, and unless you’re Justin Timberlake or Derek Jeter, 99% of the girls you’ll ever sleep with, and that makes this spread a significantly more momentous occasion than it would be were, say, Tilda Swinton in her place. But this is still why I have more interest in Killing Me Softly than I probably ever will in Pirates. And why I won’t be going to sleep for at least another 5-10 minutes.

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I Sez: A Great Moment in Grammy History

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 11, 2008


Flash back to some of the more incredulous award show wins in recent memory. Crash beating Brokeback Mountain for the Best Picture Oscar. James Spader beating James Gandolfini for the Best Actor Emmy. Panic! At the Disco beating a bunch of  slightly less shitty nominees for the Video of the Year VMA. Well, next to this one, these all seem like choices as inspired as Three 6 Mafia winning three Best Song Oscars in a row (with a couple Best Supporting Actor grabs to boot). This is history, people.

OK, so maybe you didn’t watch the Grammys tonight. More likely, you were tempted, maybe even flipped to it a couple times, but ultimately your conscience and sense of good judgement got the better of you (or you just wanted to watch American Gladiators, whatever).  Truth told, the Grammys are generally not worth watching–I’ve learned this the hard way time and time again, but usually the Grammys aren’t even entertainingly pitiful enough to be worth watching. They’re a half-hour of worthwhile performances and worthwhiler LOLs stretched thinly around a few hours of self-congratulatory scruff and painfully humiliating public displays of musicality.

But if you’re lucky, if you catch it on a good year, when the moon is in the 7th house or some such, you might get one moment so baffling, so unbelievably contradictory, so debasing to common sense that it keeps you wondering if maybe you should still watch it the next year. And that’s why, if we are prescient in such matters, we don’t root for the critical favorite, and we don’t question why Ray Charles continues to win more of these bad boys from beyond the grave than Kanye West ever will in his lifetime. Rather, we hope and pray for the most unstable artists to perform, and for the most inexplicable artists to take home the gold. We watch for those moments of infamy.

There was one this year–oh dear lord, was there one this year. And I almost missed it too–flipping around on TV I missed the list of nominations, and even missed what category was being awarded.  But I heard those magic words:


The Record of the Year had just been announced. I looked at the clock and noticed that the show’s airtime was running out. I knew it had been nominated. Could it be? Could Herbie Hancock have just won the 2008 Album of the Year Grammy?

The speculation had been abound as to who would take home top honors. Kanye was the favorite going in, but Amy Winehouse had taken home Best New Artist, Song of the Year and Record of the Year, and looked to be in position to sweep the Big Four. Plus, the Foos had just performed and had already won Best Rock Album. Yeah, sure, some of us joked about how if we knew our Grammy history, the award would probably go to Herbie Hancock or something, but…c’mon. No one’s actually gonna give a jazz pianist, who’s twenty years past his commercial prime and thirty years past his critical prime, who recorded a cover album of a female singer/songwriter’s songs that absolutely nobody talked about, who hadn’t even had a movie made about him recently–NO ONE’S ACTUALLY GONNA GIVE HIM THE FUCKING BEST ALBUM GRAMMY???!?!?

I laughed. I laughed until I cried tears of joy. Because this was the apotheosis. This was as good as the Grammys were ever going to get. Put this one up against a clip of Sawdust & Mildew winning Best Picture at the Oscars in Naked Gun 33 1/3, and ask someone who didn’t know award history which one was the fictional scene, and I can’t imagine how they’d choose. How could you even believe this wasn’t totally intentional? How could you not believe that the Grammy Election Committee didn’t look at their sagging ratings from recent years, say to themselves “all right, well I guess the only people that still watch only watch us hoping some ridiculous shit goes down,” and decide to stuff the Best Album envelope with the most hilarious choice possible? Sly Stone playing at the ’06 Grammys with a green mohawk, acting like a crazy person and fleeing the stage halfway through the performance? NOTHING on this.

In a world where even our supposedly most esteemed tastemakers can’t be trusted, in a world where the phrase “Credible Award Show” rings about as true as “Credible Celebrity Dating Show” and “Credible Carlos Mencia Special”–this is why we still watch celebrities hand out symbolic statues to other celebrities. This, paradoxically, is how the Grammys stay relevant.

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I Sez: Put Michael Cera in a Big Budget Action Flick

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 22, 2007

The hurting’s on me, yeah, I will never be free

You know an actor’s really made it when his role in his new movie is hilariously overinflated for advertising’s sake. Michael Cera’s part in Juno is an obviously integral one to the movie’s plot (spoiler alert: he knocks up Kitty Pryde from X3), but he’s got maybe ten, fifteen minutes screentime tops in the whole movie, Still, the previews put him on equal billing to legit protagonist Ellen Page, even making the movie sort of look like a romantic comedy between the two. Considering that I had no idea Jennifer Garner–a legitimate A-list actress (at one point at least), whose role in the movie is probably more substantial then Cera’s–was even in the movie sort of speaks volumes.

This is great news, of course. Like no other young actor in recent memory, Michael Cera invented an entirely new character type–that of the shy, overachieving, perpetually maniacally awkward loser. OK, maybe that doesn’t sound that unique on paper, but no other teen has ever acted quite like this before–he conveys more emotion when he swallows nervously than most actors do in an entire movie. And in some ways, the fact that he’s only played the same single sort of character in his three most high-profile roles–George Michael in Arrested Development, Evan in Superbad, and now Bleeker in Juno–doesn’t really matter. Like Brian Cox tells Kevin Costner at the beginning of For Love of the Game (which, yes, is a movie worth randomly referencing), “you got a seat waiting for you at Cooperstown.” Cera could play nothing but this character for the rest of his career, and he’d still be Pop Culture Hall of Fame-bound.

Still, Cera is just so good that you have to wonder if there isn’t something more to him yet to be tapped. He’s not like Anthony Michael Hall, where his success was too tied to a time and place to ever move on, or like Jaleel White, where the character far outshadowed the actor, or even like Adam Brody, where his definitive character was perfect one time for one show, but you know would’ve been grating anywhere else under any other circumstances (and that he’s probably kind of a prick in real life). Cera is likeable, obscenely talented, proven both critically and commercially, and somehow not too overexposed. In a perfect world, there’d be no reason why his career shouldn’t just be revving up.

So what should Cera do next? Well, if you’ve read the post’s title, then you no doubt already know–Cera needs to give good friend Jerry Bruckheimer a call and get hisself cast in the big action flick of Summer ’08. And I don’t mean as the wimpy sidekick, or as the lead’s estranged son, or one of the nerdy behind-the-scenes guys. I mean John McClane, Jack Bauer, hell, Chev Chelios if Cera is feeling particularly energetic. I mean months-of-previews, $150 mil-budget, $250 mil-returns, and two-and-a-half-star reviews. I mean big.

Why would this be a good idea? Well, it’s the only sort of movie I can think of where Cera could really wipe the slate clean. If he goes to serious drama next, he’ll invariably end up playing at best a thinly dramaticized version of his Juno character. Going to thriller or horror would invariably end up with him looking nervous in too many scenes, proving no real range from his previous characters. And visibly playing against nerd type–like, say, Anthony Michael Hall in Edward Scissorhands–would fossilize him instantly. Playing the lead in a big budget action movie is, as I see it, the only real chance Cera has to break out of typecasting at this point–the only move that does not feel like a spin-off of or reaction to his previous body of work.

Could he do it? Well, that’d be the test, wouldn’t it? A big budget action movie would force Cera to either sink or swim, career-wise–swimming would cause his celebrity to take off with the velocity of Shia LaBoeuf or Toby Maguire, sinking likely means we’d never hear from him again. But before he shows up to talk about his glory days on the 2018 edition of VH1’s 100 Greatest Teen Stars, I figure he deserves at least this one chance to prove that he can do James Bond just as easily as he can do James at 15.

At the very least, we’d get some memorable one-liners out of it.

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I Sez / Clap Clap ClapClapClap: “Icing the Kicker” Technique Trend Inspired

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 20, 2007

*Disclaimer: The Good Dr. still does not wish to appear to believe himself any sort of expert on matters athletic, therefore he acknowledges that his opinions on the matter continue to be self-indulgent and often largely suspect, unlike with all other matters, on which his word is final

I was watching that Bills – Cowboys game on Monday Night Football a month or two ago–or at least, I was watching the last quarter–and I was amazed by the zaniness of the whole thing. The Cowboys were clearly the superior team, but they just kept fucking up–QB Tony Romo had something like five interceptions, and it was still an eight-point game for the Cowboys with only a few minutes to go. They get a touchdown with a half-minute left, but screwed up the two-point conversion, which should’ve ended the game. But then an onside kick, a couple good downfield passes, and Dallas kicker Nick Folk was in range (well, sort of, 53 yards) for a field goal. Folk kicked it, and it was good, for a last-second victory over the Bills.

That run alone would’ve been enough to make it a Little Giants-worthy sequence of dramatic athletic unlikeliness. But then, it turned out the kick had been invalidated by Bills coach Dick Jauron calling timeout just before Nick Folk geared up–forcing Folk to go through with the 53-yard beauty of a kick, only to have to do it all over again. Turns out that the move was somewhat irrelevant, as Folk somehow had a second one in him, nailing the second kick even more precisely. But my mind was blown just the same–can you actually get away with shit like that in the NFL?

Much to my surprise, this move was not illegal, and not even unprecedented. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan pulled the same move against the Raiders in week two, who, inspired, went on to pull the move themselves against the Browns the next week. Both times, the move–known as “icing the kicker”–had the desired effect, nullifying successful FGs and generating flubbed second attempts. There are probably examples that predate ’07, too, but I’m pretty sure it’s only in this year that it’s fully registered as a legitimate trend (and if even that’s not true, fuck it, it’s worth writing about its awesomeness anyway).

I love it. That it’s not blatantly illegal is amazing enough, that it’s actually becoming a socially acceptable last-ditch coaching manouever is just hilarious. Can you possibly imagine how frustrating this would be if you were a placekicker? The closest equivalent I’ve heard drawn to it is base runners going on a 3-2 count with two outs–since if the batter walks or strikes out, it’ll have been pointless, and if he hits it foul, they’ll have to go back and do it over again, but they can’t afford to look back at the batter themselves to see. But even that–the game isn’t relying on the base runner, really, its on the batter, and he’ll know whether he hits it or not. Imagine what it would feel like to split the uprights from 53 yards to win a come-from-behind game, to start your mental celebration, only to find out you have to do it again. Imagine what it would feel like if you missed a second time. Imagine how impossible it would be not to resist the urge to strangle the opposing coach for pulling such a cheap stunt and costing you the glory and the game.

Bottom line is, this sort of out-in-the-open under-handedness is what’s so badly missing from sports right now, even in the NFL. For such a rough-and-tumble league, where bodies are destroyed and dreams are shattered practically every week, it seems like everyone is altogether too polite. In the media blitz leading up to the Pats-Colts game, it was like both sides were in competition to proclaim the other team the superior one. Seemed like every day, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were talking about how scared they were of the other, and Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy were trying to prove their team was taking the other one more seriously. Huh? When did football, of all sports, start to get so terrified of showing a little hubris? Even after they won, the Pats remained calm, continuing to insist that they were taking their schedule “one game at a time,” as if no one on the team was thinking HOLY SHIT 16-0. This isn’t the NFL I was promised.

What this icing the kicker mishigas does is to serve as an actual drawing of a line in the sand. It’s saying “yeah, I’m screwing you on a loophole, ‘fuck you gonna do about it?” It’s challenging the sport to be as confrontational mentally as it is physically. It’s doing what the Pats have been doing on the field, if not off–running up the score to 56-10*, going for it on the fourth down in the fourth quarter, generally just scoring as much as possible even in irrelevant situations, because they can. If the rules allow it, and if it works, then why the hell not? Shady, sure, and probably somewhat immoral, but it makes for great sports and riveting television, which is always truly the greater good.

That’s not to say that this move is as infallable as it is sinister, however. Coach Shanahan to catch lightning in a bottle with the move again tonight against the Tennessee Titans, icing Titans kicker Rob Bironas from 56 yards out. But this time, it had the opposite of the desired effect–Bironas missed his interrupted kick, but nailed the follow-up, making Shanahan a life-saver for Tennessee. Only fair, I suppose, that a move so underhanded should have such a high potential for backfiring.

Nonetheless, icing the kicker is a move guaranteed to up the drama, frustration and ridiculousness of any given football game. And if these guys aren’t going to give us the drama, frustration and ridiculousness they should be required to be giving us off the field, they better start doing their damndest to be doing it in-game.

*Also against the Bills, currently in the running for the second-most put-upon team in the NFL today

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, I Sez | 6 Comments »

I Sez: Holy Fucking Shit on Southland Trailer

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 12, 2007

“This is how the world ends…”

Though I doubt there’s been a single ad for it aired on TV thusfar, it seems like everyone I know has seen the trailer for the upcoming flick Southland Tales. I’ve had so many conversations about it in the last couple of weeks that whenever someone brings it up now, I think, “wait, didn’t we just talk about this?” And everyone who I talk to about the trailer seems to have roughly the same reaction to it:Holy fucking shit.

Not that I’m any different. Holy fucking shit is really the only way to react to the Southland Tales trailer, and the Southland Tales backstory at large. Written by Richard Kelly–best, and only, known for the ’01 cult classic Donnie Darko–shortly before the Sept. 11th attacks, the flick was soon updated to be more topical, and bounced around in production for a few years until actual filming commenced in 2005. Premiering at Cannes in 2006, the 160-minute film was booed by festival audiences, sending Kelly back to the cutting room, where he re-ordered some of the movie’s scenes and trimmed a good 20-25 minutes. Now IMDB has the movie coming out this Wednesday, which feels like it couldn’t possibly be right, but with a movie with such a plagued backstory, who even knows?

But given what the movie actually looks like, any less troubled a development would seem practically bizarre. Much like Donnie before it, Southland looks entirely classification-proof–from the trailer alone, I can count action, adventure, comedy, science-fiction, romance and even musical as among the genres being miscegenated. This is a trailer that includes images of blimps exploding, mirrors giving incosistently-timed reflections and what looks like a dance number atop a row of skee-ball machines. Uh-huh.

And then there’s that cast. Let’s see–The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean William Scott, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Moore, Amy Poehler, Christopher Lambert, Mirandi Richardson, Cheri Oteri, John Laroquette, Curtis Armstrong, Kevin Smith, Jon Lovitz, Jeneane Garofalo, and of course, thespian extraordinaire Justin Timberlake. I don’t think I’ve seen an ensemble cast of this depth that still appears to have absolutely no rhyme or reason to it–no general organizing principle, a just sort of grabbag approach that seems to be willing to take just about anyone it can get.

This movie seems pretty unmissable. Where else in 2007 are you going to see The Rock delivering lines like “I’m a pimp–and pimps don’t commit suicide“? Where else are you going to find a movie that realizes what an awesome song Elbow’s “Forget Myself” is? Where else are you gonna find a movie willing to give Sean William Scott one role, let alone two? I’m not even saying it’s going to be great, good, or even anything but an abject failure–if nothing else, the confused word-of-mouth buzz the movie is getting reminds one a little too closely of Snakes on a Plane and what could have been–but this just looks like a movie that demands to be seen. Where else in 2007 are you going to find a movie that makes you say holy fucking shit?

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