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Say Anything: Saturday Night Fever

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 16, 2010

Mostly as a result of it just being on TV a lot the last month or so, I’ve become obsessed recently with Saturday Night Fever. I always liked the movie and was always fairly fascinated by it–mainly due to the general disconnect between the movie’s remembered public perception (Grease set in the disco era) and the movie’s actual content (Mean Streets with a couple of scenes set in a disco). But since I’ve watched it a couple more times, I’ve come to appreciate it even further, both as a cool and somewhat bizarre moment in cultural history, and as an edgy, surprisingly dark, and just really fucking good movie. Some of the reasons for my recent infatuation:

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Say Anything: Bad Lieutenant

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 17, 2008

“I’ve done so many BAD things…”


Bad Lieutenant is a fascinating lesson in how a one-time polarizing, controversial art house success can become a movie mostly remembered for its middle-aged star showing his junk if you don’t actually bother to make the movie any good. Starring Harvey Keitel as the titular Bad Lieutenant (more on that later), the film shows a portrait of a corrupt, despicable man’s descent into the worst aspects of humanity, and his search for some sort of redemption before his excesses swallow him whole. Unfortunately, the movie is less a disturbing, cathartic update of Mean Streets for the 90s, as some critics/apologists have claimed, as it is an exceptionally hilarious piece of under-scripting and over-acting. Did I say unfortunately? I meant thankfully. We progress:

  • What. A. Title. It’s rare that a movie just lays its intentions so bare with its appelation, but Bad Lieutenant is really all you need to know about Bad Lieutenant. That’s the movie, right there, in two words. And as you watch Keitel throughout the movie (and his character doesn’t even have a name, avoiding any sort of confusion), abusing power, doing hard drugs, stealing and threatening and doing all sorts of nefarious shit, you just gotta say to yourself “WOW, that is one Bad Lieutenant!
  • Why, oh why, was their such a demand for Harvey Keitel’s dick in badly dated early-90s art house cinema? Between his work in this and The Piano, you could actually refer to “that kind of shitty indie movie from like 15 years ago where Harvey Keitel goes full frontal” and the person you’re talking to could say “Which one?” How the hell does that happen?  Was it just a case of supply and demand in terms of critically respected actors in their 50s willing to go buffo? Do Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson get gunshy?
  • The scene where Keitel pulls over a couple girls without drivers licenses and blackmails them into performing sexual favors for him….yeah, it’s sort of disturbing, yeah, it’s sort of shocking, but mostly, it’s just impractical. He makes one of them physically mime oral sex, while he talks dirty to himself and jacks off by the side of their car. I mean, as long as you’re going to take the time and effort to ghost-violate an underage girl, why not actually get in the car with her and remove the middle man? I mean, I’m sure this isn’t the first time he’s done this, so I guess he knows what he likes while sexually harrassing vulnerable lawbreakers, but still.
  • In his All-Movie Guide review of the movie, Brandon Hanley observes: “In 1992, Keitel was making quite a diverse career statement, starring in this movie, Reservoir Dogs, and…Sister Act.” Good point. Never really understood what Whoopi and Harvey saw in each other in that movie anyways.
  • The most fascinating sub-plot in this movie has to be the Bad Lieutenant’s gambling on the 1992 NLCS…between the Mets and the Dodgers. Watching this movie for the first time I kept saying to myself “wait, when is this movie supposed to take place?” Then the Mets came back from 0-3 to beat the Dodgers, and it became pretty obvious that this was a fictional playoff series. In reality, the Dodgers and Mets were two of the worst teams in baseball in ’92, the Dodgers going 63-99 (with Darryl Strawberry, the team’s star in the movie, having a miserable and injury-plagued season) and the Mets finishing fifth in their division and getting branded The Worst Team Money Can Buy.  Talk about your stories of redemption. Props to the movie for actually manufacturing realistic fictional radio broadcasts and editing pre-existing game footage to make it seem like the series actually happened.
  • Even more impractical than the masturbation-harrassment scene is Bad Lieutenant’s final plan, his hope for redemption by getting rid of the two jerks who raped the nun at the beginning of the movie. Rather than kill them, he decides to morally do right by the nun (who has since forgiven them, and taught BL about the importance of faith and open-heartedness) and simply force them to leave town. But all he does is make sure they get on a bus out of town, not even really doing any “if you ever come back” type threatening. Does he think they won’t be able to figure out that they can take a bus back? Or just say to the bus driver “yeah, that guy with the gun sorta forced us to get on here, can you just let us off at the corner or something?” If this is your grand shot at redemption, BL, maybe try a little bit harder.
  • The sounds that Harvey Keitel makes at the end of this movie must be heard to be believed. The obvious “whale-humping” comparison doesn’t even scratch the surface. Some can be heard here.
  • Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans starring Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes and Xzibit, directed by Werner Herzog, coming soon! I can’t think of anything I’m looking forward to more.

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Say Anything: The Unsinkable SAW Franchise

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 24, 2008

I want to write a blog entry…

Ah yes, two weeks ago it still felt like summer, and now it’s suddenly once again time for Halloween. While the rest of us are out carving ironic slogans into our jack-o-lanterns, assembling our Ministry and Bauhaus-laden holiday playlists and attempting to come up with as blissfully esoteric a costume as humanly possible (don’t bother, by the way, a friend of mine once went as The Bees That Killed Macaulay Culkin in My Girl, which will never by topped by me, you or anyone else), the powers that be are ensuring that for the fifth time in five years, the latest Saw flick will be raking it in at the theaters. By the time our kids are grown up, concepts like trick-or-treating, haunted houses and uh, getting killed by Michael Myers will all be antiquated notions–the only scares (or candy, for that matter) they will be getting will be courtesy of Billy and Jigsaw.

The brand loyalty and dedication here is what I find so remarkable. Sure, the concept of multiple horror sequels in the same franchise is nothing even close to new–there are probably enough Halloweens, Friday the 13ths and Nightmare on Elm Streets to occupy AMC’s entire October viewing schedule, after all. But in this day and age, when Event movies seem to necessitate six months of hype in between their trailers leaking to the internet and their actual release dates, the fact that these movies not only come out as regularly as they do, but are as consistently successful as they are….It’s something, all right, especially considering that none of the filmmakers or cast from the first time around are still in the picture (except , of course, franchise cornerstone Tobin Bell, who will once again be starring in this year’s Saw, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure his character has died at least twice already).

It’s remarkable, but I guess it’s not all that surprising. Saw has become nothing less than the ideal horror franchise of the early 21st century, a nearly self-perpetuating series that can formulaically crank out profitable movies at limited expense without leaving their constituents feel cheated. Like all the eternal horror franchises, Saw wisely bases its central premise around a concept, not a set of characters (which, for instance, is why the Scream series could barely stretch into a trilogy–by the end, no one really gave a fuck whether Courtney Cox and David Arquette lived to see a IV). Actors aren’t important to it, nor are directors or screenwriters, or even special effects. All that really matters is how unexpected and ironic the torture/escape sequences are.

Torture Porn,” the sobriquet that Saw, Hostel and their ilk have assumed, is a fairly appropriate moniker, but more for structural reasons than for visceral ones. The torture/escape sequences are laid around Saw like sex scenes in a skin flick, with just the necessary dialogue and character development to give context. Most decent horror franchises are like this to an extent, but most of them also have a central victim protagonist of some sort to provide some sort of stability, which Saw certainly does not. Jigsaw, played by the always supremely creepy Bell (his white-haired company villain in The Firm bumped up the movie at least a half-grade), is the Freddie/Jason/Myers-like antagonistic anchor to the franchise, but even he feels slightly expendable–what his character represents as a plot function is far more important than the character itself, or the actor who plays him.

This also brings me to one of the things that I initially found the most confusing about the Saw series–there is absolutely no one to sympathize with. None of the victims are ever particularly likeable, and while the movies often ask the audience to at least see Jigsaw’s mechanizings from his point of view (he redeems Amanda’s soul, he often claims to “have never killed anyone,” he punishes people that often deserve punishment of some sort), his dealings are so egregiously sadistic that even the idiots who look up to Tony Montana for having a “moral code” couldn’t possibly justify this asshole. The effect of having no one to root for in this movie is that people can either envision themselves in the struggles of these characters that are little more than placeholders at best, or they can simply root for Jigsaw’s contraptions to be as elaborate and gruesome as possible.

The other thing of these movies I find so confusing is how much I enjoy watching them. I got hooked watching the first movie on Sci-Fi tonight before Game 2 of the World Series, and as it progressed into the second movie, I kept finding myself flipping back to the movie in between pitches because I was so enraptured. Something about these movies is undeniably spellbinding–whether it’s the Fincher-like set grit and dim lighting, or the inevitable symmetry of the plots, or the fact that I can never remember which  twists and Rube Goldberg devices belong to which entry in the franchise. They’re tired, they’re largely predictable, and they keep getting worse–but when they’re on, they’re almost always the most compelling thing on TV.

I don’t get it. But I’m downloading IV for the first time as we speak, just in case. I hear Luke from Gilmore Girls is in this one.

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Say Anything: Pineapple Express

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 20, 2008

Only 13 days late this time

I was relieved when I first saw that a couple negative reviews for Pineapple Express were beginning to trickle in pre-release to balance out what were sure to be the dozens of glowing “Comedy of the summer” / “Apatow and company do it again” / “Best movie named after a Hawaiian weather phenomenon” type reviews for which the movie seemed destined. From the previews, I had gotten the sneaking suspicion that this was going to be one of those Borat type movies where if you didn’t think it was unfailingly hilarious, you may as well have branded yourself as a porn-hating, V8-drinking, McCain-voting Josh Groban fanatic in the eyes of many* (naturally I thought Borat was only sporadically funny, so). And basically, Pineapple Express lived up to my expectations–funny, but not that funny, and probably not deserving of placement in the upper echelon of stoner flicks. That’s the sum up, but obviously I gotta get a little more specific, so time to break out the bullet points…

  • Seth Rogen: Is this really the guy we want representing our generation’s quarter-life loserdom? I mean, I guess he’s as good as anybody, but I feel like I like him less with each movie I see him in. I guess it’s more the redundancy of the roles he plays than anything he does himself. Let’s have him play a Wall Street broker or an eccentric NBA team owner or something before he plays another barely-employed, hard-luck schlub like Dale here again.
  • Speaking of which, from the previews for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (dear lord), it appears that Michael Cera has most thoroughly neglected to take my career advice. Mikey, I love ya, but when you inevitably stop looking 16 and your shy, perpetually-nervous schtick ceases to look adorable and starts to look kind of sad, don’t expect me to loan you money for your Yoo-Hoo habit.
  • James Franco, on the other hand, looks like he finally got to play the role he’s been gearing for his entire career. He was always going to be more sellable as a loveable puppy dog than a brooding tough guy (watching him seething alone in his mansion while sipping a glass of red wine in the Spidey series never failed to bring the LOLs), and Saul, his super-stoner character here, is as perfect a Daniel DeSario 10 Years Later update as you could hope for. My personal favorite stoner moment in the movie: When Saul looks up at the night sky and just mutters “Space…” Best, most subtle filmic recreation of intoxication since that scene in Dazed and Confused where a drunk, woozy Cole Hauser gets up out of his chair, re-considers for a second, and plops back down again.
  • The action scenes: kind of boring, no? I mean, that first fight between the two protagonists and Danny McBride’s mid-level dealer Red had its moments, but the rest seemed like director David Gordon Green couldn’t choose a tone between basic action satire, fights between dudes who have never been in a fight before realism, and straight-up slapstick. Between this and the somewhat overrated Hot Fuzz, I guess I just prefer action movies with either clever, Bruce Willis-style quipping or straight-faced, Arnie-style OTTness than actual attempts at action / comedy hybrids.
  • Gary Cole and Rosie Perez: What a waste. Much love I have for both, but neither got a character worth a damn to work with. Same goes for Daryl from The Office (much better used in his Knocked Up cameo) and Ray Liotta’s brother in Goodfellas (much better used as the creepy guy in Superbad). Actually, aside from the admittedly pretty great Danny McBride (fine, I’ll torrent The Foot Fist Way or something), the only one of the movie’s That Guy-stacked cast actually given a half-decent role is Bill Hader, in the movie’s solid First-Stoner-in-History flashback opening. Bummer.
  • The least funny recurring element of the movie: Saul and Dale’s constant unintentional (OR IS IT?!?!) homoeroticism. Every Apatow outing (no pun intended, seriously) has at least a little bit of this, but nothing’ll make you nostalgic for Rogen and Paul Rudd’s arguably classic “You know how I know you’re gay?” bantering in 40 Year-Old Virgin like Rogen and Franco unconsciously miming gay sex while trying to escape captivity. As the friend I saw it with succinctly put it, “We get it. Dudes are kinda gay.”
  • The other least funny recurring element of the movie: All the Asians cursing and saying wacky Caucasian shit in subtitled foreign languages. I mean…really?
  • Movie gets mostly positive tallies for the soundtrack–use of BBD’s “Poison” and Bone Thugs’ “Tha Crossroads” not particularly inspired, but it’s still “Poison” and “Tha Crossroads,” and it’s hard to find too much fault with any movie that starts rolling (in both ways) with “Electric Avenue.” Bonus points of course as well for the Huey Lewis theme song over the closing credits. Only real fault to find here is that “Paper Planes”–currently the #5 song in the nation thanks to the exposure of being used in PE’s previews–is nowhere to be found in the actual movie. Disappointing, considering I’m finally able to stand the song again.
  • Props to the movie’s final scene, which strikes the “Uhhh did all that stuff really just happen? Huh, cool” vibe that I kind of wished the movie had done a better job of keeping the entire time. Extra points for the fakeout of Dale becoming a successful radio DJ, of no one really learning any sort of meaningful lesson, and for the movie just kind of forgetting about female lead Amber Heard, whose presence in the movie was pointless even by Apatow buddy movie standards.
  • Considering how much Rogen and Apatow have cited his True Romance character as inspiration for the movie, anyone else think the movie was badly missing a Brad Pitt walk-on?

I dunno. I feel like Pineapple Express tries to be all things to all stoners, but it doesn’t match the situational hilarity of Harold & Kumar, the gleeful absurdism of Dude, Where’s My Car?, the hazy brilliance of The Big Lebowski or the infectious enthusiasm of Half-Baked. I don’t even see it becoming much of a basic-cable classic, unless Comedy Central does a particularly inspired job with the censoring. It’s probably still be one of the better Summer comedy options out there, but if Apatow is the John Hughes of the 00s, then he’s moving out of Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink territory and solidly towards the Some Kind of Wonderful / Uncle Buck phase of his career.

*For the record, no hating on V8 from me. Delicious stuff.

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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.

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Say Anything: Cheap Trick – “I Want You to Want Me”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 16, 2007

“I wish it could just be simple, like a retro pop song, ‘I Want You to Want Me.’ Boom. End of story. We all live happily ever after. But it is never really like that, is it?”

The 1979 Power Pop classic, which languished in obscurity until it had the good fortune to be covered by Letters to Cleo on the Ten Things I Hate About You soundtrack. Here goes nothing:

  • I want YOU…to want…ME!” I always thought this was a particularly ingenious way to introduce the song, emphasizing both the title/hook’s simplicity and the urgent importance of the sentiments contained within. Then I actually listened to At Budokan, and I realized that this is just the way Robin Zander introduces pretty much all their songs (“BIG…EYES!!!” “NEEDYOUR…LOVE!!”) Oh well.
  • Does that opening drumbeat remind anyone else of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”? Whenever I hear it, I half expect Robin to start going “Are you ready Rick? (Yes, Robin) Are you ready Tom? (Yes, Robin) Are you ready, Bun E.? (Yes, Robin). Well all right then….LET’S GOOOOOOOO!!!!
  • Speaking of which: Bun E. Carlos–greatest name in the history of rock drummers? Or at the very least, most appropriate? (That’s him, third from the left in the pic above, as if you even needed me to tell you).
  • Speaking of which: Why does everyone preaching the greatness of Cheap Trick always seem to point out that they had two pretty boys and two ugly dudes in the band, as if that spoke to some brilliant tension in the band’s music, based on their two factions of warring attractiveness? “I dunno Rick, that hook sounds a little too pretty to me, let’s ugly it up a little, huh?” “Oh, Bun E. Carlos, that’s your solution for everything!
  • Most underrated section of the song by far: The “Shine up my old brown shoes, put on a brand new shirt” part, which does a brilliant job of providing the transition between the song’s two more unforgettable choruses. The bass dropping on the “If you say that you love me” line gives me chills, or at least it probably would if it was cold outside and I wasn’t wearing a jacket. The “come home early from work” line always struck me as highly irresponsible, though–c’mon guys, we’re not all millionaire rock stars who can skip out on our nine to fives at a moment’s impulse.
  • What’s with the Japanese audiences shrieking out “RUHHH, RUHHH, RUHHH!!!!” after every “Didn’t I didn’t I didn’t I see ya cryin’?” at the Budokan performance? Is that supposed to correspond to something musical in the song? Is it like a “Sweet Caroline” “BAH BAH BAHHHH!!!” audience participation thing? What do the Japanese know that we don’t?
  • Speaking of which: Is it really as easy as it seems to get big in Japan? Based on this album, as well as one of the best scenes in my all-time favorite non-fictional mockumentary, DiG!, it would appear that the answer is yes. But does that mean that bands that start out and stay popular in the US never make it over there? Have they ever even heard of Pearl Jam, for instance? Or is Japan just the great consolation prize of pop music?
  • “FEELINALLALONEWITHOUTAFRIENDYAKNOWYAFEELLIKEDYIN!!” How long did it take you to figure out what they were saying in this part of the chorus? It’s like they wasted all the rest of the song’s space on repeating the song’s two main hooks, so they had to cram all the rest into one measure. If it wasn’t for doing the song karaoke, I probably would still have no idea.
  • Lindsay Lohan’s cover of this song: surprisingly decent. Though I fail to see how it qualifies as either A Little More Personal or (RAW).
  • Speaking of which: Have you ever heard the original version of this thing? It’s fuckin’ WEEEEEIRD, man–all temperate and piano-y and with haromies and a terrible fadeout and such. Kinda endearing in its own way, though, and certainly worth a listen, I says.
  • Why, oh why, do versions of this song only exist with either the “I want you…to want…ME!” intro or the “This next one…is the first song..ON OUR NEW ALBUM!” outro (brilliantly sampled by them crafty BBoys for the beginning to “Jimmy James”), but never both? Might be time for some more Adventures with Audacity…

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Say Anything: The Songs from the Superbad Trailers

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 16, 2007

I have waited a lifetime, spent my time so foolishly

With tonight’s long-awaited release of Superbad, I feel sort of like Kent Brockman in “Deep Space Homer,” anticipating the inevitable with great trepidation. For it is unknown whether Judd Apatow will consume Hollywood or merely enslave it, or if dorky up-and-comers Jonah Hill and Michael Cera will use this is a stepping stone to coked-out DUI-laden 20-something infamy, or if anyone will ever have cause to utter the words “Christopher Mintz-Plasse” again. But one thing is for certain, there is no stopping it–Superbad will soon be here.

And I, for one, welcome our new frat overlords. Like to remind them that as a respectted member of the blogging community, I can be helpful in rounding up extras to toil in their profanity-laden, purple-hazed mid-and-quarter-life-crisis comedies. Anyway, yes, I will be seeing Superbad at midnight tonight, and forgoing an extreme dry in topic matter, I won’t be writing about it, because it’s a completely foregone conclusion—of course it’s going to be awesome. There’s nothing really even approaching room for error.

So instead, I want to write about an aspect of the Apatow wing of the Frat Pack that’s gone somewhat overlooked–the ingenious use of pop music. Apatow, Mottola, McKay et al. aren’t exactly at a Scorsese or Anderson (Wes or P.T.) level of soundtracking yet, but they sure know how to play a song for its maximum musical (and more importantly, cultural) power–“Afternoon Delight” in Anchorman, “Heat of the Moment” in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” in Knocked Up, the examples are countless. Rather than using the songs as a sort of Voice of God background commentary, though, the FPers have the characters actually interacting with the songs, responding to whatever social associations the songs carry for them, and inviting the audience to do the same.

From the trailers, Superbad looks to be a fine continuance in this tradition. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

The Bar-Kays – “Too Hot to Stop” At first I just assumed that this song, played as the badass background music for Hill and Cera walking off the schoolbus in slow-motion, was Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star“. It’s got the same slow-burn funk rhythm, the same opening horn blast, even the same chords, I think. Looking it up at Wikipedia tells me that it’s actually this ’77 Bar-Kays number, and bully for them for using it–it might be the funkiest of the Bar-Kays songs I’ve heard, replete with vocoder hooks and even a trombone solo. Can’t wait to hear the more full-length version used in the movie.

Van Halen – “Panama This looks to be the breakout retro hit from Superbad, and it’s about fucking time. All three of the big 1984 singles would’ve worked brilliantly, but “Panama” is the least obvious and probably best choice for a movie soundtrack. There was just something so propulsive and exciting about those Roth-era Halen singles, and Eddie’s riffing on “Panama” is some of his most white-hot (the pre-chorus riff sounds like he’s actually burning his fingers on the guitar). Custom-made for scenes of cops doing donuts with underage kids in abandoned parking lots.

Foreigner – “Feels Like the First Time What I expect the entire to feel like, pretty much.

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Say Anything: The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” (1986)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 24, 2007

Way oh

Recently, IITS’s brother-in-arms Victor Lee wrote about the ’86 Mets anthem “Let’s Go Mets,” the so-called “second greatest sports team song of all-time,” over at his excellent, if extremely lazy blog Victor Sells Out. Talking about the song’s video, he compares it to the fairly famous clip for The Bangles’ 1986 #1 hit “Walk Like an Egyptian,” claiming that the same New York extras were in each (without the Mets uniforms in the Bangles vid) and speculates that “there was just a period in the mid-80s where you couldn’t walk down a street in New York without being filmed for a music video.” It got me thinking about the song and video, which I find to be among the most interesting of their time period. Some thoughts:

  • A frequent topic of debate in pop culture spheres is about which 80s all-girl band was cuter, The Go-Gos or The Bangles. To me, the clip for “Walk Like an Egyptian” makes this answer extremely obvious–I mean yeah, Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin were both cute in their own sort of paradigms (chipmunky spunk and cool-for-her-age mystery, respectively), but Susanna Hoffs’ shifty-eyed wonder neutralizes all competition (plus, even well into middle age, she’s still surprisingly hot). I bet the eye thing drives ball-and-chain / Austin Powers auteur Jay Roach wild.
  • Whistle breakdowns–every 80s hit should have at least one.
  • How many other rock hits use the different-singer-on-each-verse method? Sure, Boyz II Men used to do it all the time, but you never heard John, Paul and George trading off lead on any one Beatles song. Though very cool, it’s sort of hard to understand why they just didn’t give the whole song to Hoffs, who clearly gets the song better than Vicki Peterson or Michael Steele (who particularly fails to properly sell the chorus chant). While we’re on the subject, who the hell names their daughter Michael?
  • The song’s lyrical content–particularly Hoffs’ verse–hasn’t dated particularly well. “All the Japanese with their Yen / The party boys call the Kremlin / The Chinese know / They walk along like Egyptians.” Most distressing of all, however, is her assertion that “If you want to find all the cops / They’re hanging out in the donut shop.” C’mon guys, plenty of our boys in blue prefer danishes.
  • Though it’s hardly surprising, I was a little bit disappointed to find out that there’s no historical basis whatsoever for the popular conception of Walking Like an Egyptian. What else would be the point of living in Ancient Egypt?
  • A large percentage of the New York extras in the video clearly fail to grasp the general concept behind the Walk. I mean, really, this isn’t the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies or whatever–how hard is it to rotate your wrists and move them back and forth a little bit? Even the Statue of Liberty totally fucks it up, and don’t get me started on that old woman towards the end–she just sorta glides down the street. Must’ve been Steele’s grandmother or something.
  • The song’s groove is ridiculously underrated–surprisingly funky for a bunch of ex-Paisley Undergrounders. A little tambourine really goes a long way.
  • “Walk Like an Egyptian” was apprently one of the dozens of songs Deemed Inappropriate After 9/11, presumably because Americans were not yet ready to be reminded that other countries still existed. Tragic, though not quite astragic as the banning of Everclear’s “Santa Monica” and Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525” (?????)
  • The Bangles wore some big fucking earrings.

Hope you’re enjoying your Costa Rica trip / Home Improvement pilgrimage, Victor. Write more shit when you get back.

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