Saturday, April 24, 2010

Meco: Impressions of An American Werewolf in London



Meco - Impressions of an American Werewolf in London - 1981 (not available)

Well, Meco's left disco behind completely, and after Music from Star Trek/Music from The Black Hole, I couldn't be happier.

Meco only kept Lance Quinn around this time, the guy who had arranged The Empire Strikes Back for Meco, and promoted him to producer. Like Moondancer, this is an album of songs. Unlike Moondancer, this is a straight pop/rock album, not disco.

Impressions of An American Werewolf in London doesn't really have much to do with the John Landis movie (surprise, I know), but it's probably Meco's most fun album since The Empire Strikes Back. It's breezy, and probably makes a good listen around Halloween.

Side A starts off with "Blue Moon," a cover of the classic Marcels tune, but with an orchestral intro which is appropriately moody (and wolf howls and thunder; Meco still digs the sound effects). That song, as I remember, was actually one of several versions of "Blue Moon" heard in the movie. It's like a lot of covers from the very early eighties; it sounds exactly like the old song, but it's slicker and has heaver drums. It's not bad. "You Gotta Hurt Me" is an original (all of the originals are once again co-written by Maury Yeston) 50s pastiche that's pleasant but forgettable. The cover of Van Morrison's "Moon Dance" is okay. The last track, "The Boys," is an arranged version of part of Elmer Bernstein's score for the movie. It's probably the most beautiful track Meco's produced; it sounds like it was meant to be a radio single version of the score. Sweeping and lovely.

The B side opens with a surprisingly good cover of "Bad Moon Rising." I can't remember if it was in the movie or if it was the Creedence version in the movie. The gypsy music intro is fun; lots of reverb, but a really good cover. The original "No More Mr. Nice Guy" (not the Alice Cooper song) is okay, but the best song on the album is "Werewolf (Loose in London)." This is on The Best of Meco, and it's frigging fantastic. It's a staple of my Halloween mixes every year. It comes up out of the darkness like the Unfinished Symphony, and it gets so big and dramatic and 80s. Seriously, and not in an ironic way, this is one of the best things I've ever heard.

The album ends with a disappointing stinker, "Werewolf Serenade," in which someone or other doing a piss-poor Wolfman Jack impression sings about becoming a werewolf who doesn't have the heart to hurt anyone. It's lame. Guy sounds like a guy doing a bad impression of Harvey Fierstein trying to do a bad impression of Wolfman Jack.

Overall, though, it's a fun listen, and a great follow-up to The Empire Strikes Back. I hope Meco can keep this new sound going. As for this album, I'm going to put it on again at Halloween.

Grade B+
A Side: "Werewolf (Loose in London)," "The Boys"
BlindSides: "Blue Moon," "Bad Moon Rising"
DownSide: "Werewolf Serenade"

Cross-posted from Septenary.

The Meme from Barbarossa

Wednesday Wickedness is a new meme blog that takes 10 quotes by someone of note, and uses them to ask 10 random questions. This is the first one: George W. Bush:

1. "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it." Is your house run more like a dictatorship or a democracy?

It's a democracy; it takes both of us to run this place and keep it from crumbling over.

2. "America is the land of the second chance - and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life." Are you likely to forgive a transgression and give someone a second chance?

Yes, but of course it depends on what they've done. I have family members who will hold a grudge forever involving the tiniest things, and what does it get them? Move on with your life.

3. "Do I think faith will be an important part of being a good president? Yes, I do." Is faith a big part of your life?

No.

4. "The major role for the government is to create an environment where people take risks to expand the job rate in the United States." Do you feel your job (or your S/O's if you work at home) is safe?

Not lately, because it's been so hard to work. Will the world always need teachers? Yes. But it sure doesn't feel that way right now.

5. "I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman." Do you believe in gay marriage?

I believe that marriage is between two people who love each other. The end.

6. "I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." Do you think the current U.S. wars will lead to a more peaceful world?

Oh, Christ, no. We're not going to ever win in Afghanistan, and what's going on in Iraq right now is really just pillage. We've just ensured that another generation of Arabs grows up despising the United States and created more enemies for ourselves. America gave up its interest in justice for 9/11 when it turned to Iraq, anyway.

7. "I think we ought to raise the age at which juveniles can have a gun." At what age would you allow your child to shoot a gun?

I can't really say one age is more definitive than the other for shooting a gun. I didn't fire live ammunition until I was 16. What I think is most important is education and responsibility.

8. "It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it." Do you live on a tight budget?

Yes, very much so.

9. "Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called 'walking.'" Do you like people with swagger?

Not usually. Those people tend to be cocky jackasses with nothing to back their swagger up.

10. "The tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free." Is this how you view it?

No. I think Iraq has, sadly, traded a tyrant for another oppressor.

Too Big to Fail

I've been reading about the SAFE Banking Act that was introduced this week as an amendment to the Dodd bill. I think it's a good thing; the Dodd bill doesn't go far enough, like a lot of the legislation we're getting now, and this amendment helps remedy that by putting firm deposit caps on banks, limiting their leverage, and restricting the extent to which a bank can deal in non-deposit assets. This would also break up the largest banks in the country, the "too big to fail" ones, who have helped create our economic crisis.

So what I'm really curious about here is what the Republicans are going to do with this. Are they going to back new regulations that would keep banks from ever getting so big and risky again, or will they rush to defend Wall Street and show everyone that their constant cries for fiscal responsibility and small government are just a sham?

Because that's always the thing with the right: everyone says they want to cut spending and have a smaller, more accountable government, but no one wants to suggest we regulate businesses or, say, cut down on war spending, which is still the biggest drain on our economy.

The Republicans say they're against corporate bailouts. That's great. I'm against them, too. That's why I didn't like the health reform bill: it looked like a bailout of the insurance industry to me. So this is put up or shut up time, I think. If Republicans really want to end bailouts and promote free market competition, they're going to vote for this.

Right?

The top 6 banks in America currently hold assets equal to 63% of the total GDP. That's a lot of political corruption waiting to happen. That's a lot of predatory lending going on. The SAFE Banking Act cuts out monopolism and promotes stability, while precluding the need for government interference in free market banking

I'm amazed Republicans aren't leading the charge on this. I mean, if they really are the party of conservatism, this seems like real conservatism to me. It's an approach to banking that America can truly use. You want to promote fiscal responsibility and end banking bailouts, this is how you do it.

I hope this gets passed.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Color Me Surprised

Joss Whedon finally did something I completely, totally, and unequivocally loved.

The Double Standard Is Still Alive and Well on Network TV

Here's the Lane Bryant lingerie ad that ABC and Fox didn't want to air.



Nothing too outrageous, especially compared to the Victoria's Secret ads you see all the time. But where VS is trying to be edgy and hip (and a little too Maxim-oriented), the Lane Bryant commercial goes for sexy, a little sassy, and sophisticated. It's about time, I think, that Lane Bryant started advertising in that direction.

I think the defense of the not wanting to air the ad--"She has too much cleavage!"--is as weak as it is pathetic.

Read what Lane Bryant has to say about it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Deadliest Catch

ME: So, what exactly do they do on Deadliest Catch?

BECCA: They catch crab.

ME: ... That's it? Crab fishing?

BECCA: Yeah.

ME: ... Crab is the deadliest catch?

BECCA: Yeah. It has one of the highest fatality rates in the world.

ME: From what?

BECCA: Hypothermia, turbulent seas, machinery--

ME: Oh, so it's a deadly environment to work in, but not, per se, a deadly catch. I mean, they're not giant crab, right?

BECCA: They're king crab.

ME: And the crabs... have guns?

BECCA: No.

ME: Pssh. So it's a bunch of guys overfishing the crab to extinction and the crab are the deadliest catch? With that title, they should be diving naked into the sea and fighting sharks with knives, or basting themselves with barbecue sauce and letting lions chase them, or something. Deadliest catch, my ass. Really, they just have shitty working conditions.

Video Games and Art

I've been thinking a bit about Roger Ebert's latest contention that video games can never be art. I disagree with him, but I've never really thought to put down why I disagree. Lots of others have been doing it on the web, but I liked Jaquandor's response the best:

...I just can't see where Ebert's criticisms of video games as art don't simply reduce to "I don't like them, ergo, they are not art." I think what's ultimately at work here is that considering games art is to open a new concept of art as non-passive on the part of the person experiencing it, and that's a big part of Ebert's discomfort -- he seems to prefer a definition of art in which a creator or group of creators produces a work of art complete in itself, and then the viewer -- or listener, or reader, or whomever -- experiences the work, complete in itself. Games-as-art requires a view of art that allows for a much greater degree of participation on the part of the player in shaping the artistic experience than has really ever been the case before in art.
I have to agree here. I do love Roger Ebert, and I agree with him 85% of the time, but this argument falls into the other 15%. I think what Ebert is making a better case for here is that video games are not story.

I put this picture up at the top because I've recently played Super Mario Galaxy, and I think I'd be hard-pressed to argue that it isn't art, because it's the most artfully rendered game I've ever played. I think there are a number of games--Ghostbusters: The Video Game, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time or The Wind Waker, or any of my beloved LEGO games--that would qualify as art. Are they story? Well, yes and no. They tell a story, but it's a story dependent not only on interaction but on the active involvement of the player's emotions. Have you ever gotten emotionally involved in a video game? Because I have. Sometimes, when Mario goes flying off a cliff because I've done the wrong thing, I feel terrible for getting him killed. It only lasts a moment, but it's genuine emotional involvement. I remember my Mom used to hate watching me or Becca play Super Mario 64 for the same reason. If Mario drowned or something, she'd feel bad for him.

Does the ability to inspire empathy mean that video games are art? Maybe, maybe not. But I think Jaquandor puts it exactly right when he says that Ebert--and other critics, in my own experience--feel uncomfortable with a piece of work that the user or viewer or reader or whomever exerts a degree of control over. I remember when they were experimenting with interactive movies a couple of decades ago, and Ebert was loudly against the very concept that the audience should have some role in determining the outcome of a film.

Ebert raises the idea that chess cannot be art, but it is an artful game and can be artfully played. Does it tell a story? No. But does that alone mean it can't be art? Jaquandor gives the example of cooking as something artistic that gives the participant control over "their perception of the final dish," which is a fantastic example. Chess, cooking--yes, they're both art. Or at least, they both can be. Maybe shoving a Pop-Tart into the toaster isn't art, but there's another example: look at the difference between a game like Pac-Man and Super Mario Galaxy, and tell me that art hasn't developed over the years in the video game world.

I think part of the problem is the speech Ebert was reacting to. He focused on the somewhat awkward comparison between early video games and cave paintings, and on the speaker's focus on the commercial aspects of video games. I don't think it was a good argument. I think Ebert's argument isn't a good one, either. And I don't think mine is a good argument; frankly, I haven't formed my argument yet. I don't think Ebert has, either.

But I do fall on the side of video games as being art. And chess and cooking, and designing cars and buildings. These are all things we experience--look at a Pontiac GTO and tell me that can't be art, or at least artful--on an aesthetic level, and if that's not art, I'm not sure what is.

Food for Thought

(click to make bigger)

Dakota/Cherie

I just ran across a bunch of promo pics of Dakota Fanning as my favorite member of the Runaways, Cherie Currie. I still need to see this movie; it's not playing all the way out here yet, but hopefully it'll make its way here soon. And don't worry, because she's 16, this post is only about appreciating Dakota in a wholesome way. *



* Probably not an entirely true statement.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

FOUR CHRISTMASES (2008)
Well, that was... shrill and pointless. It won't win the movie any points, but does Mary Steenburgen just look fucking hot the last couple of years, or what? * star.

THE DEVIL WEARS NADA (2010)
Cute title, but the humor got sucked out of this softcore parody series a couple of years ago. It wasn't as terrible as Cleavagefield last year, but without Evan Stone being hilarious, and without the sense of fun, it's all a cynical skin exercise that doesn't hold my attention. Seriously, you're making boobs boring, WTF? No stars.

GRACIE (2007)
Quite a nice little movie about a teenage girl (Carly Schroeder, whom I always like) who wants to play soccer in 1978. After her brother, a high school soccer star (their father is demanding about their soccer abilities), dies in a car accident, Gracie tries to follow in his footsteps. When no one will help her, she loses her way for a while, until she and her father finally connect and confront a wall of sexism that will not allow her to compete on the boys' team (the school doesn't have enough interest to offer a girls' team). It goes more or less the way you think it will--we've all seen sports movies--but I think it's elevated somewhat by the performances (particularly Schroeder's) and the fact that it manages to be pretty honest about what girls go through as opposed to making it a soap opera. *** stars.

Why Yes, I AM Irritible This Afternoon

I've got a soft drink here from McDonald's, and as nearly everything I come across that's advertising, my hatred for copy writing burns.

Across the side of the cup are the words "PIPING COLD," designed to make you stop and scratch your head and think Wha? That's not how the saying goes. Best to investigate further...

Here's how this "clever" turn of phrase is justified: Don't think of that tubular thing as a mere straw. Think of it as your pipeline to instant, ice-cold McDonald's liquid refreshment.

...

What?

Look, I know they need to fill up space on the cup or else the world will spin into the sun, but is that the best they could come up with? I was going to say it sounded like a retarded seven year-old wrote it, but I've met and worked with retarded seven year-olds, and they'd never come up with something so lame. That is the work of a copy writer who is trying desperately to sound hip and clever, but is clearly being worked too hard or not paid enough.

Jeez, how about replacing that weak tea with something more useful, like facts about how to treat the diabetes you're going to contract drinking this shit.

Here's another suggestion, McDonald's ad people: when I kick off the top of your head and take a shit directly onto your brain in order to demonstrate the effects of reading that garbage, don't think of it as mere violent assault. Think of it as interactive customer feedback.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Victory of the Daleks

This third episode of the new Doctor Who series is my favorite so far. It's silly, yes, but gloriously so. I mean, we've got Winston Churchill with Daleks and WWII-era British fighter planes in space strafing a Dalek ship, all while the Doctor attempts one of his funniest bluffs ever and, all in all, the return of the Daleks. And Amy Pond being brilliant and, for the second time in a row, being the one to save the day. All with the intensity, running, and shouting we now expect from Doctor Who.

I loved it.

In a way, it was the best of both worlds. We have the typical elements of Nu-Who, while at the same time feeling a little bit like a throwback to a Peter Davison episode with its rather guileless ridiculousness. And it pulls it off completely. It's terrifically fun, and when something is this fun, it doesn't really need to justify itself as anything more in order to apologize for it.

I have to say, I am loving the Eleventh Doctor. Matt Smith has this sort of Scooby-Doo quality to him, all gangly and funny, but at the same time is capable of... I don't want to say seriousness, but a certain gravity that makes him just believable enough. This Doctor is confident--overconfident, really--and quick to moral outrage, but thankfully not as angsty as we've had previously. It makes him much easier to accept as the Doctor when we don't have to spend episode after episode thinking about the ramifications of the Doctor himself and what he does to everyone around him.

But the most important thing, for me, is that the Daleks are back. The half-breed Daleks we've been seeing for the past few years are now officially dead and gone--another bit of Steven Moffat throwing off the shackles of the previous series--and we've got real, proper Daleks back. So we won't have to be jumping through hoops every series to explain the existence of Daleks anymore. There's just Daleks out there now, and that's that. (And, frankly, I expect the Time Lords will be back good and proper eventually, too. And I think the Cybermen are returning, so there.)

And the most important bit about the new Daleks is, of course...

Multiple colors! Look at that beautiful blue Dalek! I love this! Just like this new series itself, so bright and colorful. (And this means there will be more Dalek action figures for me to collect. I am so in love with these.)

Yes, I loved "Victory of the Daleks." It really felt like the old series meeting the new, and I hope this keeps up. I hope it stays this silly and fun. I love Amy Pond. And I always, always like Bill Paterson and Ian McNiece. And I like that they've settled on a series-long mystery, which is something Moffat implied he might not do, but which does add something to the proceedings. Here we've got a crack in the fabric of reality, missing memories, discrepancies in perception, and--I just know this is going to become important--a Doctor who is always late.

Intrigueresting.

I am in love with this series.

Monday, April 19, 2010

80s Revisited: The Karate Kid, Part II

The Karate Kid, Part II (1986)
Directed by John G. Avildsen; written by Robert Mark Kamen; produced by Jerry Weintraub

When I revisited The Karate Kid a few months ago, I called it a classic movie from an underrated decade of filmmaking. And I still feel the same way. But it's unfortunate that such a great film was followed by a sequel that's so indicative of why the 80s are so underrated. See, the 80s are the decade when--as legend has it (and for the first time ever, to hear some people go on about it)--an artistic period of filmmaking gave over to the mass production of blockbusters designed solely for the purpose of making filthy, filthy cash. Sequel upon sequel was produced in order to squeeze every last drop out of franchises, not because there was another story to be told.

What's unfortunate is that The Karate Kid, Part II actually does have a story to tell, it just doesn't tell it in a very involving or convincing way. To be honest, I'm not sure what happened or how to put my finger on this movie's exact problem. It's made by the same team that made the first movie. But it never captures the viewer the way the original did, with its magic, almost universal story of not fitting in and learning responsibility.

In this movie, Mr. Miyagi returns to Okinawa to visit his sick father. He had run away as a young man to avoid fighting his best friend, Sato--now a powerful karate instructor--over their love for the same woman. Now, on his return (with Daniel in tow), he's going to have to finish the fight he skirted decades ago, as a matter of honor. And Daniel falls in love with Tamlyn Tomita, whom I've been in love with since I was in high school, so I certainly understand. And in the climactic action scene, Daniel has to face a rival in a real fight, no rules.

But there's something missing. The only scene that really connects is the opening scene, with Daniel and Mr. Miyagi running afoul of Kreese immediately after the karate tournament, which really feels like a leftover scene from the first movie (and probably was, before the decision was wisely made to end the movie with the moment of Daniel's triumph). After that, we get an explanation as to why no other characters will be appearing from the first movie, a tiny bit of Miyagi's unconventional style of teaching, and then... well, and then the movie just gets boring and never really recovers.

It's a shame, really. The first movie had memorable characters and a timeless story. It wasn't necessarily a very original movie, but it took a familiar genre and created a great film within it by being emotionally genuine and not being slick or gimmicky. It always remembered that at its core it was the story of a young man being bullied who learned to be a man. In this movie, there is no real core. There's a lot about forgiveness and honor, but not in a way that really connects.

It's probably unfair to spend so much of this post comparing the movie unfavorably to the original. But it tries too hard to bookend itself with the first movie, and in doing so, feels hollow. Perhaps the original was so much of a hit that it felt like a sequel was inevitable. But it does little to justify its own existence, and just feels halfhearted as a result.

Happy Birthday, James Franco!

Boy, have I got a present for you...

Kristen Bell Mondays


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Song of the Week: "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)"

It's a beautiful Spring morning, so here's a song that always makes me feel good. Edison Lighthouse, 1970.

Meco: Music from Star Trek/Music from The Black Hole



Meco - Music from Star Trek/Music from The Black Hole - 1980 (not available)

And we're back to disco versions of film themes.

Coming after the exquisite album The Empire Strikes Back, this one just feels routine and dull. The A side starts off with "Star Trek Medley," which features the Main Title and Klingon theme from Jerry Goldsmith's score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I appreciate the electric guitars especially, but this one just lingers too long (over 9 minutes) and doesn't ever really dazzle or come alive. It's good in fits and starts. Better is "Love Theme from Star Trek," which is a synth-heavy but pretty rendition of Goldsmith's theme for Ilia from The Motion Picture. The side closes with "Theme from Star Trek," a disco dance version of the Alexander Courage theme from the original TV series. It's just... not good. It goes on and on and on, making 3:16 feel like a half-hour. And what the hell is a rap break doing in there? Suddenly, a voice comes on, much like the droid voices used on Christmas in the Stars, and starts rapping/singing/talking about dancing and Captain Kirk. It's terrible.

The second side doesn't enliven the proceedings at all. "Theme from The Black Hole" sounds too much like another Star Trek piece to really distinguish itself, and doesn't sound a thing like John Barry's theme from the awful Disney movie. Three original themes that just sound science fictiony, I guess, follow: "Clearmotion" (dull, rote disco), "Space Sentry" (sound like a bad outtake from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), and "Meteorites" (the best of a bad bunch, but it's still filler).

Blurgh. There's really not much here that isn't a waste of time.

Grade D-
A Side: "Love Theme from Star Trek"
BlindSide: nothing
DownSides: Everything but "Star Trek Medley"

Cross-posted from Septenary.

Sunday Hottie 272

NATHAN FILLION