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Friday Request Line: You Don’t Mess Around With Jim vs. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 13, 2010

For this week’s edition of the Friday Request Line, reader and friend of the blog Kyle writes:

“I’m still waiting for my request of several years ago to see the “vs” column on Jim Croce.”

Indeed you are, Kyle. And not without reason–it is a tantalizing question of relative significance. For those of you not particularly familiar with this dilemma, in the 1970s, singer/songwriter Jim Croce had two huge hits with songs on the subject of folk-villain-type badasses: “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” Not only is the subject matter of the two songs basically the same, but the structures are identical, both have the same kind of 30s-retro feel, and the legacy of each ended up being almost the exact same. Unsurprisingly, the difference in quality between the two is marginal at best–but it is there, and as such, it must be determined. Now truth told, neither are by any means my favorite Jim Croce song–those honors would belong to “I Got a Name,” a slightly more understated number whose breakdown is responsible (directly or indirectly) for providing the hook to Stone Temple Pilots’ 90s alt-rock classic “Interstate Love Song.” But this is not one of the songs in question, and thus is immaterial to the debate. So let’s get down to business.

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There’s Gonna Be a Showdown: Mad Men vs. Sopranos Divorce Episodes

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 11, 2009

Sopranos WhitecapsDraper

After a season mostly consisting of tense meandering punctuated by brief moments of inexplicable action, we finally got a Mad Men season finale (“Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”) that justified just about everything that came before it this season. If you haven’t watched it yet, probably based to stop reading now, since there’ll probably be spoilers, although the actual result of the action really isn’t as important as the scene episode itself, which is quite possibly the best of the series to date. But throughout the episode, which largely focused on the demise of Don and Betty’s marriage (as well as a concurrent plot about Don and the other bigwigs at Sterling Cooper plotting their escape from the company before it gets sold again), I was reminded of another classic TV episode from this decade–“Whitecaps,” the season four finale of The Sopranos, which saw Carmela and Tony Soprano part ways for the first time.

The similarities between the two shows have always been striking to me–not entirely coincidental, since Matt Weiner was so heavily involved in both shows–especially in the protagonist and his wife. Tony and Don were hardly carbon copies of each other, but certainly cut from the same cloth–family men in an often shady industry who regularly indulged in narcissism and infidelity. Meanwhile, Carmela and Betty were both housewives who learned to live with a certain number of their husband’s known dalliances, but eventually reached a tipping point where they decided it was time for a clean break. “Whitecaps” and “Shut the Door” were both season finales that saw the tension bubbling under (and occasionally over) the surface in each relationships come entirely to the forefront, with transfixing and often devastating results. (In the most direct parallel, the final break in both relationships came with Betty/Carmela insisting “I don’t love you anymore,” although in Med Men that line actually came in the penultimate episode).

Of course, only one episode can go down as the greatest breakup episode in 00s television. Which one shall it be? Break it down, one time.

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There’s Gonna Be a Showdown: Point Break vs. The Fast and the Furious

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 3, 2009

Walker DieselReeves Swayze

Sorry to digress from our regularly scheduled programming, but I had to take the time to write about something that had been weighing on my mind recently. I’m not sure when it was that I first realized the many similarities between Point Break and The Fast and the Furious, but the more I thought about it, the more staggering the parallels became. I mean, I know that I’m far from the first to make this observation, but have you ever actually sat down and thought about how close The Fast and the Furious is to being a straight-up remake of Point Break? Loose cannon detective goes undercover with a group of extreme adrenaline junkies to uncover a ring of thieves, falls under the spell of both the charismatic frontman of the group and its intelligent maternal figure, participates in a final heist with them that goes horribly wrong, and has to decide whether his devotion to his badge is more important than his devotion to his new Xtreme family? How the hell is that two separate action gems could have that exact same plot without at least sharing stars, a director or a title?

But it’s more than just the general plot skeleton that makes the two flicks such spiritual bros, and recent cable viewings I caught of both just drove this point home further–it’s everything, from the characters to the twists to the set pieces to the names. Hell, look at the picture up there–they even dress the fucking same! However, which of the now extremely dated, but still classic flicks holds up better? Let’s get radical…

Better Mimbo Protagonist: Both movies made the risky but inspired choice of casting two of the prettiest, dumbest male actors of their respective generations as the leads in their respective movies. With his wavy, sandy blonde hair and penetrating eyes, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner had even the male characters in The Fast in the Furious swooning (“Ahh, he is beautiful!” remarks gang techie Jesse upon laying eyes on Brian for the first time). But when it comes to ditzy male action stars, there’s still none finer than ur-action dreamboat Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah. With Reeves, you’ll inevitably chuckle at some of his over-enunciations, but it’s never watching-through-your-hands bad like it with Walker, who even gets thoroughly outacted in scenes with Ja Rule in The Fast and the Furious. The proof is in the pudding: Reeves would go on to a twenty-year career stuffed with blockbusters, cult classics, and arthouse successes alike (though obviously not without a few bombs in between). Walker probably still can’t figure out why it’s taking them so long to make a sequel to Joy Ride.

Edge: Point Break

Better Beefcake Semi-Antagonist. This might be my greatest act of heresy in this article, but I was never all that huge on Swayze in general. He always seemed a little too old, scraggly and stiff to be cast in the hunky roles he made his bones with, and those roles in turn kinda killed the idea of him as a pure action star for me (the obvious exception of course being the immortal Road House). His Bodhi is cool and all, but a little too hippie-ish for my tastes. Vin Diesel, on the other hand, is the great lost action star of our time–never demonstrated better than here, as muscle man Dominic Toretto. He looks like a badass, talks like a badass, yells like a badass, has badass girlfriends (Michelle Rodriguez in her mainstream breakout), races like a badass, and gets in fights like a badass. (He might even be able to act a little bit, though admittedly next to Walker, just about everyone is going to look like Philip Seymour Hoffman). That our culture seems to have foresaken him in favor of…who exactly, Shia LaBoeuf?…is one of the decade’s great tragedies.

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Main Chick. My friends and I were talking last night about how generally surprising it is in general that Point Break, one of the dudest movies ever made, was actually directed by a woman, action auteur (auteuse?) Kathryn Bigelow. We concluded that the one way in which you could tell for certain that the movie was female-helmed was in the casting of Lori Petty, a shrill, irritating mouse of a woman, as Tyler, the surfer babe that Johnny falls in love with. What male in their right mind would look at this person and think “oh yeah, I would definitely risk blowing my cover with a bunch of insane bank robbers to get with her!” Yet we’re to believe that Keanu, one of the best looking men on the planet, was going to join in on a heist, get his partner killed, and jump out of a plane without a parachute…all for the ugly sister from A League of Their Own?? Yeah, might want to consult again with your casting director on that one, Kathryn.

Meanwhile, Jordana Brewster was a perfectly respectable, and arguably even somewhat underrated, hottie choice to play Dom’s sister Mia. Dark haired, tight-jeaned, vaguely exotic looking–Brewster was kinda like Megan Fox before Megan Fox, if lacking that certain edge that puts Fox totally over the edge. She can even act better than you probably remember, too–watching her date scene with Walker is like watching an acting exercise where Brewster was the one leftover good student who was forced to partner up with the class dunce. No contest here.

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Scenes of The Life: A movie about a cop going undercover with action junkies is generally only as good as its portrayal of the action junkie subculture. In this respect, The Fast and the Furious was something of a masterwork, balancing utterly implausible scenes of fantastically visceral excitement (Hundreds of people showing up in hot cars for organized illegal street-racing? I don’t think I saw one event like that in the “Things to Do in New York This Summer” feature in New York magazine!) with equally appealing down-home, family-style hanging out scenes (The Dees looks like he can cook up a mean barbecue, if nothing else). Point Break has some good scenes like that, too–the house party where Bodhi does the lime and tequila thing with his lady friend, the ridiculous beach football game–but I dunno, surfing scenes are just never gonna look that cool to me. And you can only jump out of a plane so many times before it loses its novelty.

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Quote About The Life: Each of the movies has a scene where, in a rare moment of quiet, the subculture ringleader gives their new inductee a speech about how much The Life means to them–as if to further sell them on it, just in case they weren’t quite sure just yet. Both climax in one quote that summarizes the entire appeal of their alternative lifestyle, and (not accidentally) seems to summarize their entire characters as well. Dom’s “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time” speech is quite nice, especially coming after his emotional confession about his father’s death and his own reaction to it (the action movie equivalent to Vin’s Oscar moment–his MTV Movie Award moment, maybe?) But I still prefer Bodhi’s “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you love” message. I often find myself thinking that thought since, though I’m not sure when exactly how it comes up while I’m playing Sporcle trivia or singing karaoke. Anyway,

Edge: Point Break

Better Villlainous Crew: You go a while without watching The Fast and the Furious and you can almost completely forget about Johnny Tran, the evil leader of a fellow racing team, and one of the great Asian-American villains in action movie history. Paired with his inexplicably gold pants-wearing sidekick Lance, some of the greatest joys of The Fast and the Furious come watching Johnny execute vehicle drive-bys, or torture fences with forced gasoline ingestion, or try to outmuscle and outmacho Dom (good luck with that, broheim). Like Walker and Diesel, actor Rick Yune can’t exactly talk convincingly, so he does well not to ruin everybody’s fun. The rival surf gang in Point Break is pretty good too, even turning in one of the movie’s similarly forgotten classic scenes with the cops’ surprisingly violent raid on their place (featuring a naked chick smashing Reeves’ head into a mirror, I think). But come on…those pants!

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Cops: Another thing you’re bound to forget about The Fast and the Furious even after seeing it eight times is that Ted Levine–Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and Agent Stottlemeyer on Monk–plays Brian’s main ally in the force, the emathetic and occasionally witty Sgt. Tanner. TFATF also gets some minor help from Thom Barry, the Cold Case star with an impressive That Guy resume, as Brian’s less understanding commanding officer. But really, who are we kidding here? Point Break gets an unbelievable boon from performances by two of the all-time greats, John C. McGinley in one of his many pioneering Asshole Authority Figure roles (and arguably his very best) as Utah’s supervisor Ben Harp, and Gary Busey, in the prime of his transition from I Was Nominated for an Oscar Once Busey into I’m So Crazy Somebody Give Me a TV Show Busey, as Utah’s wacky veteran partner Angelo Pappas. Not even the presence of Bill Duke could have swayed this one.

Edge: Point Break

Better Heist Gone Wrong Scene: Tough, because the on in The Fast & the Furious is pretty cool, and in general it’s hard for anything to beat a full-on, high-stakes highway chase scene. But my main problem with it is this: Why the hell would Brian risk his life to save Vince? This is a guy who’s in love with the girl you’re screwing, beefed with you from the first moment you ever showed your face, and in fact has been itching for an excuse to blow your head off just about ever since, and you’re going to casually jump onto a truck in the middle of a hijacking while the driver reloads his shotgun, to save this guy? Very possibly just so he can kill you later, once he finds out that he was right about you being a cop all along? I mean, I know he’s in love with Mia and all, but she didn’t seem to like Vince very much anyway, so really, why bother?

Meanwhile, I have my issues with the Point Break blown heist as well, mainly in that it’s a little too much of a downer for a movie that had been such great frivolous fun up until that point. But the heist also includes one of my favorite moments in the whole movie, where the undercover cop among the hostages in the bank tries to persuade the uniformed cop to follow his lead and try to take down the robbers with him–and the uniformed cop begs him not to try anything, because he knows it’ll get them both killed (and, indeed, it does). It’s a surprisingly funny and honest moment, because really, who wants to take on four armed gunmen just to try to prevent a bank from losing some insured cash? It’s enough to give it the close win here.

Edge: Point Break

Best Cameo from a Star Musician: Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis, no doubt a brah-in-arms of the So-Cal surfer spirit on display in Point Break (though he probably objected somewhat to Bodhi’s implicitly anti-drug stance), had a cameo in Point Break in the house raid scene, but by the end of that scene, Kiedis’s presence is maybe like the sixth most memorable thing about it. Who, however, could forget Ja Rule in the first racing scene in The Fast and the Furious, as his girlfriend promises him a three-way with a sideline hottie if he wins (“You get her, too”)? Or, for that matter, his ultimate cry of anguish as Brian blazes past him during the race, obliterating his chances of victory: “MOOOOONICAAAAA!!!!!!“? Somewhere, not far away, the future producers of Half Past Dead were taking notes.

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Most Ridiculous Scene: Point Break no doubt contains several of the canonical ridiculous scenes in action movie history, most notably being the scene where Johnny, having skydived exactly once in his life (earlier that day), nonetheless feels enough confidence in his ability to swim through air that he jumps off a plane, without a parachute, in the hopes of catching up to Bodhi and forcing him to deploy his parachute and arresting him once they hit the ground. (Apparently Mythbusters proved that Johnny could actually have caught up with Bodhi by streamlining his body, but couldn’t have freefallen (freefell?) with him for as long as he did, or conducted a conversation while doing so). I’m not sure what the most ridiculous scene in TFATF is–maybe the one where Dom and Brian race the asshole in the Ferrari for no real reason–but does it even matter?

Edge: Point Break

Better Last Scene: Naturally, it all comes down to the ending. Point Break‘s was a real good one–I always respected how Utah kept going after Bodhi, despite having no real motivation besides obsession and a sense of impuned justice. Everything about their final exchange is fairly pitch-perfect, from Bodhi’s cries for one last wave, to Utah’s “vaya con dios” send-off, and his oh-so-symbolic tossing of his badge into the sea as he exclaims to his fellow officer that Bodhi’s not coming back. And ultimately, this is where The Fast and the Furious falters somewhat. If Brian was really planning on letting Dom go the entire time, why go through that entire charade of racing him down that quarter-mile stretch, nearly getting both of them obliterated by an oncoming train, just to let him go after they both managed to survive it? Was his stilted, unconvincing, overused explanation of “I owe you a ten-second car” really good enough? Not for me.

The one advantage of the Fast and the Furious ending? It left the door open for a sequel–2 Fast 2 Furious, almost as good as the first. And hey, when the alleged Jan de Bont-helmed follow-up to Point Break comes out sometime next year, maybe we’ll have a new Showdown on our hands. But until then…

Advantage: Point Break


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Taking Sides: “If I Were a Boy” vs. “Like a Boy”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 15, 2008

2008: I think it’s time we switched role-switching songs

“If I Were a Boy,” the first single off Beyonce’s new album I Am…Sasha Fierce, is no doubt one of the more interesting hit songs out there right now. In her solo work as well as her Destiny’s Child discography, Ms. Knowles has certainly been no stranger to the angry chick song–I think between “No, No, No,” “Bug-a-Boo,” “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Say My Name,” “Girl,””Me, Myself and I” and “Ring the Alarm,” there’s enough scrubs, liars, cheaters and thugs to fill Waiting to Exhales two through seven (B even kills a dude in the “Me, Myself and I” vid). There’s something markedly different about “If I Were a Boy,” though–a greater thoughtfulness, maybe, definitely a greater maturity in emotion and songwriting. It’s not as affirming as “Girl,” not as self-righteous as “Bills, Bills, Bills” and certainly not nearly as furious as “Ring the Alarm,” but it feels a little deeper, more experienced. It’s a good song, and a pretty good video, too, despite the hokey intro. Just one problem: they already did it last year.

Ciara’s “Like a Boy” was one of the more underrated singles of 2007. It felt sort of unlikely coming from CC, whose previous hits were ultra lightweight (albeit supremely catchy) fare like “Goodies” and “1,2 Step,” none of which pointed towards the grittiness, attitude and originality of “Like a Boy.” But even in her crossover hits, Ciara always seemed a little bit less polished than some of her megastar counterparts, a little closer to street-level, which is why she could also get away with grimier, sultrier sounding hits like “Oh” and “Promise,” and why her sappy, super-sentimental hits like “Can’t Leave ‘Em Alone” and “And I” never really took off (I’m probably one of only ten people in the world who remembers the latter). In retrospect it probably shouldn’t have been so surprising a career evolution, but I doubt I ever would’ve expected her to take it as far as she did.

Both “If I Were a Boy” and “Like a Boy,” obviously, follow the same premise–in implied response to a deceitful, inconsiderate lover or two, the ladies pontificate on what life would be like if they happened to have penises. Naturally, the assumptions are not terribly complimentary–both seem to envision malehood as a non-stop hot mess of slobbing around, hanging out with your bros, and most importantly, cheating on your better half. Aside from having remarkably similar lyrics and titles, the songs also share several video motifs, both being in black and white, and both being based around the singer acting out their fantasy of conscienceless male sollipsism. Not to say the songs are carbon copies, though–they’re actually fairly different for two songs with so many superficial similarities. And while neither is without its merits, I think Ciara sort of nailed the way this song should be done the first time.

“If I Were a Boy” is about as textbook an example of a Take Me Seriously song as exists in pop music. Most major pop icons eventually get tired of all the frivolity and come up with one of these somewhere between five and ten years into their pop career–a song that shows that they’ve gone to the next level as a singer and icon, that they’re beginning their transformation from star to artist (major examples throughout pop music include Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and Janet Jackson’s “Again”). The song is amped up to maximum drama, complete with show-stopping emotional climax (“If you thought that I would wait for you / YOU THOUGHT WROOONG!!!“), and every element of Beyonce’s vocal is masterful in its control and dynamics (the way she barely ekes out the final “…but you’re just a boy” is impressively affecting). No doubt Beyonce had Grammys in her eyes when she first heard the final product.

However, the song’s a little wallowing for my tastes. Any song with a “oh to be male and an asshole” subject matter is bound to be at least a little sexist, but the anger and sort of vengeful slant on display in “Like a Boy” at least feels mildly self-aware in its irrationality. There’s no real self-pity in “Like a Boy,” just a whole lot of spite and frustration. If “Like a Boy” is a girl ranting to her friends at a bar, then “If I Were a Boy” is a girl crying to herself at home, trying to write a letter to her ex explaining exactly how she feels. Both are real situational emotions, no doubt, but Ciara’s irate sexism is at least explicable due to her impulsive and temporary fury, whereas Beyonce’s feels like a lifetime’s worth of pain coming out in a catharsis of misguided bitterness. And musically, “Like a Boy” just feels more appropriate–anger about differences in gender expectations doesn’t really seem like a subject worthy of the grandiose treatment of “If I Were a Boy,” but Ciara’s gravelly minor groove sounds about right.

It’s a surprising subject to get two hit songs written about it in as many years, and I’m definitely all about unconventional content in my pop music. It’s just a shame that “If I Were a Boy,” and its fast track to Record of the Year honors, seems destined to be the one that people will remember. Anything that washes the “Before He Cheats” taste out of our nation’s collective mouth is good news, though.

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Vs. / Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The Real Winners of the Boston-L.A. Finals (So Far)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 11, 2008

Do other cities ever get jealous that Boston gets all the cool rivalries?

So despite their win in Game 3 tonight, the Lakers are still down 2-1 in the NBA finals, with two more to go in L.A. before they (in a best-case scenario) have the unenviable task of having to steal a game or possibly two from Boston back in the Not-Garden. But who is really winning the series so far, in all the areas that actually count? Let’s take a look.

1. Best Pre-Game Introductions: I’ve become so enamored with the Boston pre-game introduction traditions in the games I’ve seen of theirs so far this playoffs that now I actually make sure to turn on the games in time to see them. You’ve got the Requiem for a Dream theme, Paul Pierce bellowing “LET ME HEEEAR ITTTT!!!!,” Ray Allen’s mimed jump shot, maybe the only good single off the last 50 Cent album, and of course that earth-shaking KG scream. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s communal. L.A.’s, which I saw for the first time tonight, just had some weirdly uninvigorating Boston/L.A. rivalry montage set to Jay-Z’s “Heart of the City” (which says “West Coast” about as much as Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” would) and a bunch of uncomfortable-looking teammates that seem like they actually prefer the ambivalence of away crowds.

Advantage: Boston

2. Least Embarrassing Legend Interview: To add even more historical weight to the series, the pre-game shows have taken to interviewing legendary players from both teams to gain their wisdom and insight. Before G3, Lakers great Jerry West made some points about the importance of the Lakers’ going to the hoop that seemed competent enough, if not particularly revelatory. Before G2, though, the Bill Russell interview continued the unwatchability of his series of discussions with Kevin Garnett, where he was just a little too far gone to make for an interview that doesn’t make you shudder with the thought of talking to some of your older, less coherent relatives. And the way Jon Barry kept over-cackling at each of his jokes just made things that much more uncomfortable.

Advantage: Lakers

3. Best Celebrity Crowd: L.A. had a bunch of definite a-list celebs–Steven Spielberg, Eddie Murphy, Jack Nicholson of course–to belie the point that this was Cali, baby! and that you shouldn’t be able to buy a hotdog without running into an Oscar winner. But as Bill Simmons (surprise) writes in his most recent ESPN column, what’s always so remarkable about C’s games is how many of the city’s local sports icons–baseball, football, soccer (maybe) alike–come out to support each others’ games, and in Game Two especially, it felt like half the Sox’s lineup was somewhere in the Not-Garden. Now I suppose the Angels and Dodgers technically had a game tonight while the Lakers were playing, but honestly, could you picture Joe Saunders and Juan Pierre giving a crap?

Advantage: Boston

4. Best Non-Celeb Crowd: There’s no question that Boston’s is the more excited, more supportive, more appreciative crowd–when they’re turned up to full blast, like in the second half of G1, it feels like there’s no way the C’s could ever lose. That said, if this category was about “crowd I’d least like to meet in a dark alley,” L.A. would take it in a walk–when they chanted “BOS-TON SUCKS!!” for the first time tonight, it nearly gave me chills, it was so legitimately vitriolic. Watch your back no the way home tonight, P.J. Brown.

Advantage: Celtics

5. Most Heartwarming Comeback: I don’t know why I became so invested in the ups and downs of Ray Allen in the first couple rounds of the playoffs, but more than anything in the conference finals, I was pulling for Ray-Ray to snap out of his funk and prove that he’s not at the end of his usefulness. He has, and then some, becoming arguably Boston’s most consistent offensive performer in the series thusfar, and positively keeping them competitive in G3. For L.A., the closest thing is the triumphant return of Trevor Ariza after a season of injuries, scoring four points in sixteen minutes and prompting approximately 500,000 questions along the lines of “Wait…Trevor Ariza plays for the Lakers now?”

Advantage: Celtics

6. Best Overachieving Back-Up Point Guard Performance: Maybe it’s just his general style, or an over-buying into the Laker myth, but Jordan Farmar doesn’t seem to know how to do anything the non-Showtime way. Of the 11 shots he’s taken so far in this series, I don’t remember a single one that wasn’t either a three-pointer or a swooping, on-the-run reverse layup. He even gave P.J. Brown a piece of his mind after receiving a little rough stuff, despite being about five feet shorter. Meanwhile, Sam Cassell seems to take his being inserted into a game “for offense” (and if you’re a C’s fan, you must die a little at the sound of that) to mean that he and he alone is responsbile for reviving the team, and that he should do so while wasting as few dribbles, passes and seconds as possible. He actually seemed to take his blocked air-ball in game two as a sign that maybe he should work more as a distributor, but tonight he was back in fourth gear, hoisting four shots in as many possessions. Farmar gets the edge for actually hitting a couple of those key threes in G2 and an important charge-draw in G3, whereas even when Cassell actually makes a shot now, you still have to groan a little.

Advantage: Lakers

7. Best Breakout Bench Performance: Smarting though I am over the lack of love Doc Rivers has shown for Glen “Big Baby” Davis this series, it was pretty inspiring to see back-up forward Leon Powe eke a superstar-level performance out of 14 minutes and change of playing time (good thing they had planned that Powe bio for halftime of G2, instead of 3, in which he played six minutes, scored one point and had his shot blocked twice). Still, his performance was no match for that of Sasha “The Machine” Vujacic in G3, who actually managed to score in double figures when it seemed like everyone on the court except Kobe and Ray was playing in 120 degree heat, including a three-pointer within the last few minutes that more or less sealed the quarter’s momentum for the Lakers. Can’t wait to see the video for this one.

Advantage: Lakers

8. Worst Refuting of Season’s Progress in Game 3. Now that Mark Jackson has officially dubbed Paul Pierce to be on Larry Bird’s all-around level, and everyone seems to have finally agreed that it is he, and not Ray or KG, that is Boston’s best offensive weapon, it seems only appropriate that he go for six points on 2-14 shooting and pick up five fouls in the process. And now that Kobe won an MVP largely for his newfound leadership, learning to share the ball and trust his teammates, what better time would there to be for him to go for 36 on his own, only hand out one dime, and seem to be snapping at his teammates at any possible opportunity? Still, 36 points is 36 points, and lord knows L.A. was getting that from a “confused” Lamar Odom and an apparently Kwame Brown-possessed Pau Gasol.

Advantage: Lakers

9. Least Embarrassing “What Is That You Do Here, Exactly?” Performer: One of my favorite subplots that no one is paying attention to in this series is the battle between Goofy Laker Back-Up Big Ronny Turiaf’s point tally and his personal foul tally–currently, points are outscoring fouls in a nine-eight squeaker. And what’s more, he seems prouder of his foul total. Look at him next time he gets a whistle–he’s positively beaming, raising his hand for all to know that it was he, and not some other braided seven-foot Frenchman, that hacked KG on a post-up. The closest the C’s have is Kendrick Perkins, who fans must no doubt be waiting to breakout like he did against the Pistons in G4 of the Conference Finals and rip a double-double on a thusfar sub-par L.A. front court, but has yet to get double anything, and in fact only scored one point in G1. Still, he’s Tim Duncan next to Turiaf this series.

Advantage: Celtics

10. Best “Don’t Ever Underestimate the Heart of a Champion” Moment: Well, I had to get what so far is undoubtedly the classic (or at least, the ESPN Classic) moment of the series, when Paul Pierce went down in the third quarter of G1 in what looked to be a possibly series-ending injury, only to come back by the end of the quarter to hit two consecutive threes and jump-start a Boston victory, drawing comparisons to Willis Reed* and inspiring some snarky t-shirts from unmoved laker fans. L.A. has nothing to match it as of yet, but really the only thing that would match it at this point would be if after an injury to Gasol in G5, Andrew Bynum came careening out of the stands, ripped off his suit and his cast, and finished the game as the Lakers’ center. And it seems unlikely that Phil Jackson would allow for such dramatics under his watch.

Advantage: Celtics

11. Best Post-Game Interview Moment: Tie between Phil Jackson referring to G2 hero “Leon Pow” and Kobe saying “shit” on live national TV. The only way I could see the Celtics being at all interesting in a post-game would be if Doc Rivers actually went for the grope at Michelle Tafoya’s ass during her interview.

Advantage: Lakers

Nonetheless, with three games down…

Total Advantage: Celtics

*You know that in that famous Game 7 Willis Reed comeback, he only scored like, four points? I was talking with IITS compatriot Andrew Weber about how different the history would read on that if the Knicks had lost that game–“Knicks blow key game, no thanks to selfish performance by badly injured star…

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“Summer of ‘69″ vs. “Night Moves”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 29, 2007

Copying & pasting an article I wrote that got published on Stylus today–apologies for laziness, promise not to make a habit of it

The Match-Up: Bob Seger, the post-garage rock and pre-Cybotron pride of Detroit, released Night Moves, a song about Segers first sexual experiences back in the early 60s, as the first single off his similarly-named album back in 1976. It became his national breakout single, hit the top five and was named Single of the Year by Rolling Stone. Eight years later, Canuck Bryan Adams released Summer of 69, a song about Adams teenage exploits, quoted by Adams as being a response to Night Moves, one of his favorite songs. Summer of 69 had a similarly galvanizing effect on Adams career, hitting #5 and essentially turning Adams into the American ambassador for Canadian culture.

Why They Deserve to Be Compared: When it comes to nostalgia-drenched summer songs describing the glorious follies of youth, no other song comes close to comparing to these two. Classic rock standards by now, both indulge in joyous, even rapturous recollections of youth firstsplaying in a band, starting shit with friends, and of course, getting laid. And both are so hopelessly enamored with the past that in the end, they actually come off as kind of depressing, since its abundantly clear that neither Seger nor Adams ever experienced such unbridled joy again. Consequently, if youre the sort of person who romanticizes the past (which, needless to say, I can be more than a little guilty of), the emotions wrought in both songs are pretty extreme.


This battle speaks to the general differing in attitude and methodology between the two songs. Night Moves starts with the gentle, breezy acoustic guitar riff anchoring the song, along with Segers incomprehensible lyrics, setting up the story of budding sexuality present in the next couple verses (really, the songs lyrics dont get that memorable until the first lines of the second verse). From there, the song builds and builds in intensity, until it hits a near-gospel pitch somewhere in between the second chorus and bridge.Summer of 69 starts with the same guitar-and-vocals only intro, but forgoes the slow build of Night Moves for a blast-out-the-gate intro. One drum crash, some electrified and electrifying two-chord riffing, and four lines that just about anyone currently between the ages of 18 and 48 could recite better than the Pledge of Allegiance. I got my first real six string / Over at the five and dime / Played it till my fingers bled / It was the Summer of 69! Adams lets the whole cat out of the bag in the songs first fifteen seconds, and though it ends up hurting him a little bit later in the song, he wins this battle easier than Screech doing “Celebrity Boxing.”Winner: Summer of 69

Description of First Love/Sex
Instead of most wistful songs about high school petting, Night Moves neither brags about a series of conquests or longs for one specific romance, but finds a strangely touching middle ground between the two, specifically recalling his first (or at least most memorable) lustful encounter, even stating that they werent in love, no far from it [] just young and restless and bored. He remembers their steamy backroom, alley and trusty woods trysts with the kind of reverence normally reserved for relationships with at least the pretense of love, remembering how just as memorable early romance-free sexual revelations can be. The concluding linesI used her, she used me, but neither of us cared / we were getting our shareare stunning in their simplicity and truthfulness.Adams, hopeless romantic that he is, goes for more of the sweet sixteen idealStanding on your Mamas porch / You told me that youd wait forever / Ooh, and when you held my hand / I knew that it was now or never. Its touching stuff, of course, but Bobby wins for originality (and phrasing) on this one.Winner: Night Moves

Less Troubling Factual Innacuracies
Segers story in Night Moves mostly checks out, aside from the songs somewhat dubious opening linesI was a little too tall / Couldve used a few pounds. Now, I dont know what the Seegs measurements were back in 62, but from the mid-70s onwards, the dude was practically half the size of the Motor City itself, and thats definitely his lasting image. Claims that he couldve used a few pounds make about as much sense today as if Dolly Parton had claimed to be jealous of Jolenes rack.Still, he probably wins this one due to the far more glaring misinformation presented at the very core of Summer of 69, which is of course that in the actual Summer of 69, Adams had yet to even enter his teens, and unless he was a particularly macking nine-year-old, the songs chronology is probably a little bit off. Needless to say, Summer of 78 probably doesnt sound as good, and it would definitely mean Adams couldnt spend the outro yelling Me and you in-a 69! (LOL!), and YES, Im aware that complaining about this anachronism is about as fresh as complaining that the situations in Ironic arent actually ironic at all! But hey, I dont make the rules.Winner: Night Moves

This is sort of a fallacy, since strictly speaking, neither of these songs really have a chorusthey both have repeating blocks of similar lyrics set to the same melody, but both are always shifting, aside from one consistent lineWorking on our night moves, and Those were the BEST days of my life! Much credit to both for creativity on this one, though it means I basically have to judge based on just the one line for each. On those grounds, Summer of 69 takes pretty easily, if only for the unmistakable enthusiasm Adams puts into the word besthe means it, yknow.Winner: Summer of 69
Music Video
This might seem like a win-by-default for Summer of 69, given the pre-MTV release of Night Moves, but not only did Night Moves have an after-the-fact video (helmed in 94 by video-director-to-the-stars Wayne Isham), its one of the most underrated videos of the 90s. You would have had to have been watching MTV pretty religiously in the mid-90s (or at least caught the Pop-Up Video episode where I first saw it) to catch it, but its a fantastically shot piece of early-60s nostalgia, set (where else?) at the drive-in theater, where boys and girls steam up backseat windows, fumble to unbutton each others shirts, and so on. Best of all is the concession stand scene, between those paragons of mid-90s television, Matt LeBlanc and Daphne Zuniga, which might even trump Courtney Coxs Dancing in the Dark sashaying for my all-time favorite “Friends” video cameo.Thats not to say that the Summer of 69 video is much of a slouch, though. From the unforgettable black & white first shot of Adams busting out of his (van? Trailer home?) and leaping the fence with his first real six-string, through shots of him and his buds hassling shopkeeps (watch out for those slippery apples, coppers!) and, once again, making out with his girl at the drive-in, the videos as romantic a testament to the glory of teenagedom as any (outside of the Pumpkins 1979, anyway). Still, the lame switch to color halfway throughand that weird scene where after sharing a tender moment with his girl, Adams randomly walks away and starts lip synching the chorus, leaving her character probably extremely confusedclinches this for the Seeg.Winner: Night Moves

Bigger Place in Pop Culture History
Sadly, this one isnt nearly as close as it deserves to be. Night Moves, despite its well-deserved eternal safety on classic rock radio, really isnt as much of a widely-accepted pop culture touchstone as it merits, and few people under the age of 30 could probably sing more than the chorus. Summer of 69, however, has proven to be unflinchingly preserving in the public consciousness, much to the chagrin of Ryan Adams and lots of other boring assholes out there. Its a universally accepted synonym for nostalgia and youthful immortality, its covered by a new pop-punk band every six months, and it was even name-checked by The Bravery in their new tale of nostalgia-envy and regretful woe, Time Wont Let Me Go. I still love ya, Bobby, but the Youth of America (and probably of that other big country up there) have spoken on this one.Winner: Summer of 69
Adams over-reliance on his intro as a selling point comes back to haunt him. As you probably couldve been guessed by the songs relatively ho-hum intro, Seger saves most of his really good stuff for the songs minute-and-a-half outro. Over the songs insistent two-chord strumming, and some appropriately soulful back-up singers yelping NIGHT! MOVES!, the Seeg lets loose his inner lonely, horny preacher, crying LOOOOOORD I REMEMBER!! LOOOOOOOOOOOORD I REMEMBER! and doing a damn good job of spreading the Night Moves gospel. Its exactly what the songs climax should sound like, and it doesnt even use strings. Pretty impressive.The 45-sec outro to Summer of 69, meanwhile, doesnt really do anything that we havent heard before. Aside from the cheesy yelps of Me and you in-a 69! mentioned earlier in the article, theres not much to distinguish this part of the song from all the other post-chorus sections of the song. Not that it really needs itthe songs already more than made its point and has more than earned the right to just fade away at the end. Thats not doing it any favors in this battle, though.Winner: Night Moves

More Potent Nostalgia
This might be the hardest battle of all to decide, since this is basically the point of both songs. Seegers yearning for the past is palpable in every second, in every guitar strum and every backing coo, and by the time of the LORD I REMEMBER! outro, its reached a fever pitch. Even when I was listening to the song back in my first years of high school, it made me feel like my best days were behind me, or at least that I better start living real good real quick, lest I not have anything to sing about with such passion when I reach my 30s.But Summer of 69 wins this for me, because its sense of nostalgia is more well-rounded (and for me at least) more relatable. I didnt do too much drive-in backseat steaming (regrettably), but I know the youthful power of music, of friends, of having that one summer where you feel so alive that you cant conceive of ever having to grow old and die. Summer of 69 manages to make room for those of us who didnt get laid as much as Bob Seger apparently did, and I do appreciate that, Bryan.Winner: Summer of 69

Better Now Section
But just as important as the nostalgia component for these songs is the comparison to present timeswithout that, theres no context for the nostalgia, and whats the point? Bryans Summer of 69 sure was great, but now it sounds like his life is pretty crappyit sounds like all he does is wonder about what happened to him and his band, him and his old girlfriend (who failed to wait forever, apparently), and why nothing lasts forever. Its actually surprisingly bitter when you listen to the songs third verse (which I always forget about for some reasonnave idealism, I guess), and it adds a nice edge and undercurrent of sadness to an otherwise extremely wistful song.But its Segers now that I prefer, and which in fact is probably my favorite section in either song. As the songs backup bass, drums and backup singers all cut out, Bob slows everything down, even reducing the steady guitar line to a mere single strum, and he sings plaintively: I woke last night to the sound of thunder / How far off I sat and wondered / Started humming a song from 1962 / Aint it funny how the night moves. Thats the framing of real nostalgia to me, or at least the kind I prefernot the oh noes, where did my life go?? despairing kind, but the unexpected and spontaneous kind, where something like the sound of thunder can instantly send flooding back a whole host of memoriessome pleasant, some not so, but all emotional and all real. Lord, I remember.Winner: Night Moves

FINAL SCORE: Night Moves 5 Summer of 69 4

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Vs. : The Wicker Man (1973) and The Wicker Man (2006)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 4, 2007

Like comparing apples and oranges, except the oranges are also apples

Those posters really say it all, don’t they? The first–mysterious, gothic, unsettling. The second–CREEPY EVIL KID. I had the pleasure of watching both the Robin Hardy-directed 1973 UK version and the Neil Labute-updated 2006 US version of The Wicker Man, and let me tell you, it’s hard to pick which I liked more. Both movies had their own rustic, disturbing, hilarious charm.

For the majority of critics, this Vs. would be something of a slam dunk–the UK version was named the sixth best British film of all-time in a recent Total Film poll, is apparently a big influence on the freak-folk music scene for its soundtrack, and won the 1978 Saturn for Best Horror Movie, while the only accolades the recent Wicker Man received was a slew of Razzie nominations (including Worst Picture, Worst Actor and Worst Screen Couple for “Nicolas Cage and his bear suit”). These critics just aren’t using the right criteria, though. That said:

(oh yeah, spoiler alert, btx)

Best Unhinged Protagonist: Edward Woodward makes for a great semi-unsympathetic protagonist in the original. He spends the film in various states of appalled disgust, ranging from aggravated disregard (“No, I doubt it, seeing you’re all raving mad!”) to outright horror (“Religious? With ruined churches, no ministers, no priests… and children dancing naked?!??“), bringing his outraged Christian superiority more to the extroverted forefront in every scene. Not to mention that the character is unmarried and thus a virgin, and spends a great deal of the movie losing his mind with lust for Britt Eklund.

Still, Nicolas Cage has gotten the character type down to such a science that he could put “Unhingred Protagonist” on his business cards. No man can play furiously aggravated the way Cage can, wide-eyed, flailing and of course, yelling. Watch him shout “HOW’D IT GET BURNT?!?!” four consecutive times at his ex-girlfriend–a fairly unimportant question about a somewhat innocuous plot point (he found a burned doll or something in what was supposed to be his daughter’s coffin), it’s inspiring stuff. Officer Edward Malus was clearly the unhinged protagonist Cage was born to play (and a montage of some of his character’s highlights can be seen here)

Winner: Wicker Man ’06

Best Sinister Crop: The people on the island in the original Wicker Man just grow apples and the like, making for the climactic quote “Killing me won’t bring back your apples!” Eh.

The people on the island in the ’06 Wicker Man, however, cultivate honey, so the island is filled with loud, deadly bees (and, wouldn’t you know it? Guess the one thing Malus is allergic to?) This makes for lots of unnecessary queen/drone bee metaphors in the island’s society, and more importantly, lots of Cage-panicked-over-bees scenes, including one where bees are poured onto his head through a large funnel for no particular reason. It also leads to the climactic line, “KILLING ME WON’T BRING BACK YOUR GODDAMNED HONEY!!” No contest.

Winner: Wicker Man ’06

Best Supporting Cast of Creepy Chicks: The original Wicker Man has this in spades, from the beautiful but probably demonic Willow (Britt Eklund’s character) to to Lord Sommerisle’s bizarre female companion and the too-cheery teacher and shopkeeper.

The Wicker Man has some good ones, from Deadwood‘s Molly Parker as the sinister schoolteacher, Ellen Burstyn as the island’s matriarch (who wears Braveheart facepaint in the final scene), and the underused Leelee Sobieski as a mysterious “I just do as I’m told” worker who randomly attacks Nicholas Cage at the end of the movie. But the transofrmation of Willow from creepy seductress to whiny Fiona Apple-lookalike clinches this for the original.

Winner: Wicker Man ’73

Best Evil Leader: Once again, you’ve got Ellen Burstyn doing a pretty solid job as the island’s Queen Bee in the modern Wicker Man, her steely eyes and white hair making her an especially good fit for detached lunacy. But then you’ve got a 70s-ed out Christopher Lee (a.k.a. Count Dooku Sarumon Scarmanga) as the original’s leader, spouting lines like “I think I could turn and live with animals. They are so placid and self-contained. They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins. They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God. Not one of them kneels to another or to his own kind that lived thousands of years ago. Not one of them is respectable or unhappy, all over the earth.” Could this guy ever play a normal person?

Winner: Wicker Man ’73

Biggest WTF Moment: Both of these movies have plenty of “…did that really just happen?” moments. The biggest from each have to be the two dream/fantasy sequences. In the first one, Sgt. Neil Howie (Woodward) sees Willow go into her room at night and fantasizes about a very naked Eklund singing a siren’s song to him, the scene of which is presented as if it’s actually happening (and for all I know, I guess it could be).

In the remake, Malus is consistently haunted by a memory of his trying to save a young girl who was killed in a car accident at the beginning of the movie (which gives his character motivation for wanting to save the girl on the island). He sees a young girl on his ferry ride who looks like the girl who got killed, and you can tell that he’s flashing back to the time of the accident, as he starts to walk towards her. But just before he can get to her–BAM! She gets clocked by a truck. (She’s actually all right, of course–people don’t get hit by trucks on ferrys very much).

Both are great, but really, for sheer WTFness, nothing can compare to the sight of a nude, singing Britt Eklund, sashaying around her room and pounding on the doors.
Winner: Wicker Man ’73

Best Furthering of the Director’s Agenda: It’s actually not quite clear who Robin Hardy was criticizing more in his 1973 original, Pagans or Christians. The Pagans are clearly not sympathetic people in this movie, but aside from the whole sacrificing an innocent thing, they don’t seem nearly as bad as Sgt. Howie makes them out to be. The Christians, on the other hand, as represented by Howie, are repressed, condescending, intolerant and ethnocentric, even if they tend not to murder quite so often.

Pagans and Christians are of no concern to director Neil LaBute, however, who singles out the enemy as clearly in the modern Wicker Man as he does in all his other movies–women. The matriarchal society of the modern Wicker Man is one in which men are barely used and are not allowed (or possibly unable) to speak. When asked about this gender divide, Queen Bee Bursyn answers “Why, we love our men! Breeding is one of the most important jobs in our society!” or something to that effect. Classy stuff, Neil. I really need to see In the Company of Men again.

Winner: Wicker Man ’06

Best Wicker Man: I was surprised at how few allusions there were to the actual Wicker Man in these movies–I figured you’d see parts of it, or hear lots of mentions of it, or at least see people working on building it before the climactic reveal at the end. Still, that probably makes it all the more shocking when you actually see what the Wicker Man is–of course I had the ending ruined for me in that 100 Scariest Movie Moments Special they rerun every Halloween (thanks a lot, Bravo).

Both rare pretty jarring, but I’d have to give this one to the original. The silent, steadily approaching camera is just more horrifying than the loudly soundtracked, played for maximum effect reveal of the original. Plus I feel like Nicholas Cage really could have knocked that fucker over if he had rocked back and forth hard enough. Dude didn’t even try.

Winner: Wicker Man ’73

Best Post-Wicker Man Coda: In the ’06 Wicker Man, after Cage gets burned to a crisp we see a card saying “Six Months Later,” and are now suddenly at a bar/club where Leelee Sobieski and one of her evil friends pick up two unsuspecting dudes looking to party. As Leelee propositions her guy, we hear the increasingly loud sound of bees buzzing (I half expected her to turn into a bunch of bees herself, “Triumph”-style) and the sound of Nicholas Cage screaming in the background. Then, the screen goes dark, and the movie’s dedication is revealed: “For Johnny Ramone”.

The original doesn’t even have a post-Wicker Man coda. Pffft.

Winner: Wicker Man ’06

Reactions of People I Saw Them With: Both Wicker Mans elicited their fair share of cheers, jeers and uncontrollable laughter from the crowd, but one of the girls fell asleep while watching the ’06 version (her reaction when she woke up: “Was that version really different? It sounded really different.”) The people have spoken.

Winner: Wicker Man ’73

Final Score: Wicker Man ’73 5 – Wicker Man ’06 4

I guess the critics might have a point after all.

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