Saturday, March 14, 2015

Tituss Burgess Is Telling You

I spent most of yesterday binge-watching all of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, and I really dug it. My favorite part of the show was Broadway star Tituss Burgess as Kimmy's roommate, Tituss Andromedon. He was just wonderful. He also appeared on a few episodes of 30 Rock as D'Fwan, a name I can't stop randomly saying yet.

I found this video of him at the 2013 Broadway Backwards show performing one of my all time favorite songs, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls, and I had to have it here. Incredible song, and a great performer.

Ranking Al: #135-126

135. "TMZ"
(Parody of "You Belong with Me" by Taylor Swift; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
Another case where I love the original, but the parody doesn't really have much to say. It has less to say about why we're obsessed with celebrities, instead opting for just pointing out that we're obsessed with celebrities. (Or at least that TMZ is.) Who knows; in the future, maybe we'll look back on this time and be grateful celebrities were demystified. Either way, this one just sort of sits there with pleasant music. There's a bit where Tom Kenny does a bunch of soft news reporter voices, and I do like his manic "Everything celebrities do is fascinating!"

134. "Lame Claim to Fame"
(Style parody of Southern Culture on the Skids; from Mandatory Fun, 2014)
I take back what I said in the previous entry; even with the internet and the 24 hour news cycle demystifying celebs, it also sets them apart and tells us they're better than we are. So this song, about our obsessions with even the tiniest celebrity encounter, is sadly accurate. (As a teacher, I've had teenage girls say to me that if they could just be friends with [x celebrity] their life would be perfect.) I can't speak to the style of the song, not being familiar with the band he's interpreting, but the music's pretty good.

133. "Airline Amy"
(Original; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
One of the things Weird Al does consistently is puncture modern narcissism. I don't think he always pulls it off really well, and this song is a great example of that. This seems to be one of his more popular tunes, but I'm not really so into it. The music--which is "inspired by" the songs of Nick Lowe and Jonathan Richman, but not really a style parody exactly--is pretty good, but the lyrics--about a man who's obsessively in love with a flight attendant and thinks of their flights together as romantic dates--don't really do a ton for me. It's not a bad song, but it doesn't really light me up, either.

132. "Cavity Search"
(Parody of "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" by U2; from Bad Hair Day, 1996)
I really did not like the original song when it was everywhere in 1995, but now I think it's okay. Al really gets the sound right, and it sounds different from a lot of the music in his catalog. Under his auspices, the song becomes a feverish nightmare about a trip to the dentist for a root canal. He ups the sonic ante here, too, by bringing in his actual dentist with a drill and a real human tooth and adding it to the mix. It's beautifully horrific.

131."Perform This Way"
(Parody of "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
Hey, remember Lady Gaga? Okay, okay, that's not fair, but given how much attention she gets now versus how much attention she got when she was still ripping off Madonna and David Bowie, it almost seems like a waste for Al to parody someone with that little staying power. And for it to be that song, too, which was a hit but which also turns out to have not had much staying power. And I actually do like Lady Gaga--she shows a surprising self awareness that she seems to be able to turn on and off, I love a few of her songs, and I even liked that Muppet special everyone hated. Oh, and that album she did with Tony Bennett. I did, I liked it. It's just weird how she's in that zone where we can't decide as a culture if we still love her or only put up with her on special occasions.

Creative video, but even if it's only Al's face superimposed on a model, he looks much more like Jane Krakowski than I'm comfortable with.

130. "I Can't Watch This"
(Parody of "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
One of Al's TV songs where he lists/complains about stuff that's on TV. Sometimes these things really just become lists, but--spoken as someone who has watched way too much television in his life--sometimes they also become time capsules. Listening to it now, it's kind of funny how I recognize every single commercial sound bite he throws into the breakdown section. I never understood the popularity of the Hammer song. This one has a bit of a rote duty to it, like Hammer was just so popular that he had to parody the song. By that time, though, In Living Color had already done a funnier and more clever version that actually parodied Hammer.

129. "Couch Potato"
(Parody of "Lose Yourself" by Eminem; from Poodle Hat, 2003)
Most of the same criticisms as the previous entry, but with better music. One of the things I think Weird Al doesn't get enough credit for is rapping. He's pretty good. Part of his music mimicry skills.

128. "Mr. Popeil"
(Style parody of the B-52's; from "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
When I decided to make this list, I knew right away that this was going to be the song on the bottom. I've never liked it, I've always thought it was overlong even at four and a half minutes, and I couldn't think of one that annoyed me more. And then I listened to it again, divorced from the context of the album, and... well, I admired just how damned good a style parody of the B-52's it really is. And I love that Al would do a song extolling the virtues of Samuel Popeil's inventions, because it's absolutely fitting. (Trivia: Samuel's daughter Lisa Popeil is one of the backup singers here.) I'm just old enough to remember Ron Popeil, Samuel's son, and his "But wait--there's more!" commercials, even though by my childhood they were more widely parodied than actually on TV, but they were alive enough for me to recognize the products listed in this song.

You know, I like a lot of the songs on the In 3-D album individually, but that album can be a slog to get through on its own. That's one of the interesting things about doing this list. I initially felt that a lot of the songs off that album would end up pretty low.

127. "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi"
(Parody of "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" by The Offspring; from Running with Scissors, 2000)
When I hear this song, I think of Richard Lewis on The Simpsons explaining "That’s what we call Jewish humor. You don’t have to understand it, ‘cause the words sound funny. 'Meshuggeneh.' Hilarious!" The original song this is parodying was pretty stupid, but in that kind of "Can you believe they're doing this?" sort of way that made it seem more audacious than it was, but somehow more listenable every time you heard it. The parody has some of the same feel to it, a ribbing of Jewish culture and the idea of a hip rabbi. I think it's funny, anyway. And that's Tress MacNeille doing the yenta voice. And extra points for using the Jambi spell from Pee Wee's Playhouse.

126. "Don't Download This Song"
(Original; from Straight Outta Lynwood, 2006)
Done in the style of an 80s charity song, and with all of the self-serving, faux-sincerity of those big hits. Al has left his feelings about downloading pretty vague on purpose, and does so here, flippantly referencing some famous cases (such as the elderly woman who was sued after she died, and the 10 year-old girl who was sued by the RIAA) and being rather snotty about how rich a lot of the artists are, anyway. It just gets the tone so right, and the anger a lot of us have when recording artists start crying foul with us when they should be doing so with their labels, who cheat them just as badly.

It's going to be very interesting to see what Al does as an artist on the internet, now that he's apparently given up CDs.

Until next time!

Friday, March 13, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

Lots of mash-ups this week, so here they are.

:: A couple of House of Cards videos: a supercut of Frank Underwood's asides, and a sitcom opening (with an original song, no less).

:: The grandpa from Princess Bride reading Game of Thrones is a very clever outpouring of NSFW scenes.

:: Empire (a show I have been eating up, by the way) with a Dynasty-style opening.

:: I was very satisfied by this post that shows how women in Disney and Pixar movies have the same face over and over again. I've really been chafing in recent years at all this praise the two studios have been receiving for supposedly having stronger, more diverse women when all I see is the same face on the same modern stereotype over and over again. I would've loved it if she'd gone a little farther and asked why, as Disney/Pixar women have gotten stronger, their features have gotten more and more delicate. Right now they all look like toddlers with their big heads, giant eyes, small hands and teeny tiny wrists. I think their lack of coordination plays into it, too, as if they have to infantilize women so we won't get intimidated by their independence.

:: The new trailer for I Am Big Bird, which finally has a release date! I can't wait to see this documentary about Caroll Spinney.

:: Sony has killed Genndy Tartakovsky's Popeye feature, which I'm greatly disappointed by. I was really, really looking forward to seeing it, and I loved the test animation that was released. There have been a lot of shake-ups and write-downs in the animation industry right now, so I guess this is the bubble of the animation boom finally bursting, but I really wanted to see this movie.

UPDATE 10:08 PM: Jerry Beck says Popeye is still in development, just that Tartakovsky is not longer directing, having opted instead to direct an original feature he's been developing called Can You Imagine? I would really like a Popeye feature that matches the energy and cartooniness of the test reel. I think CG animation desperately needs to go that route, anyway.

Ah, well. If there's one thing that can help me get over it, it's time. Also, here's a mashup of Earl Sinclair from Dinosaurs performing "Hypnotize" by the Notorious B.I.G. Made me feel damn carefree, anyway.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


9 years today since my sister Ellen lost her battle with bone cancer.

Usually, I'm a wreck at this time of the year. This is the first year when this date sort of snuck up on me. I think it has a lot to do with special circumstances--I've been in for some medical evaluations in the past couple of weeks that I haven't talked about, but my blood pressure really shot up as a result (203/110 at one point) and my anxiety was through the roof. So I guess I didn't really have time to feel the intense depression I usually feel throughout March. Or maybe the Wellbutrin is doing its job.

I miss my sister as much as I ever did, but I think I've been processing her death better this year. I never really processed until recently a lot of the feelings I've had about her passing. Not survivor's guilt, exactly, but a tremendous challenge to my deep-rooted belief in my lack of worth. There's a sort of PTSD that built up around it, and I've been trying to make peace with myself and get past it. I don't want Ellen's death to be about my tangled mess of emotions. I want to untangle them. I want this yearly remembrance to be about her and not about my depression, guilt and grief. I think I'm finally doing that. I think this is the first year when I've been ready to. She wouldn't want me to feel like this.

I love you, Ellen, I miss you. I'm glad we got to say goodbye.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Film Week

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

FEAST (2014)
Disney's short won the Oscar this year, and it's the only Oscar-nominated short I've managed to see so far. It's nice; a sweet little short about a cute dog that loves food. There's not much to it. I think it's got a lot of the same flaws as Paperman did a couple of years back: the animation is excellent, but the experimental animation comes with the cost of just being openly manipulative of your emotions. In internet parlance: the feels. Oh, the feels. Right in the feels. So many feels. This movie, just like Paperman and just like The Blue Umbrella, is just that: a big budget viral video made to hit people in their feels. I'm going *** because I dug the animation and it's legitimately cute, but it's nothing more than that.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne settle into married life to raise a baby, and then a fraternity led by Zac Efron moves in next door. The tension, of course, is that Rogen and Byrne are worried that being responsible parents makes them old and uncool, and a war erupts over the noise that escalates further and further. It's entirely predictable, but it's nice that all of the characters (even Byrne, which itself is very refreshing) feel like actual human beings. It also knows how much of its improvs to cut out, which is one of the major problems with modern comedy. However, that only makes another modern comedy problem much more apparent, which is the lack of any meaningful resolution. It takes an old comic premise (two neighbors in an escalating war) and tries to turn it on its head by making everyone involved understandable, but that just makes some of the cartoonish bits stand out in the wrong way. Then it just sort of tapers off at the end and everyone relaxes and settles in and no one really learns anything, but that's okay because the business of having a family and babies is really more important than anything else in life, so I guess that's the triumph? I dunno. It's just weird to me how comedies today--and for the last 15 or so years--have this weird thing where they pretend they're anarchic but just settle down into their conservative streak and don't really have endings so much as they just taper off and stop. That's not the same thing as a resolution. So, some genuinely funny bits, Rose Byrne is especially likable, Dave Franco is very cute, and I'll never have the urge to watch it again. **1/2

Truly skeezy Lifetime movie about a college girl who starts banging Peter Strauss in order to get money for school and her family's medical bills. I expected the usual Lifetime "let's exploit this thing for 105 minutes before condemning it morally and pretending we were concerned the whole time" arc, and I got that, but this added an over-the-top murder plot to the whole thing at the eleventh hour. Pales in comparison to watching Peter Strauss try and get a college girl to choke him in bed. **

This year's Rob Lowe true crime movie is about the murder of hotel heir Ben Novack, Jr. It's actually one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen on Lifetime, as it goes for this darkly comic tone and for the most part achieves it. To pull it off, it holds itself to higher storytelling standards and is a really good-looking movie. It's like Lifetime accidentally got hold of a real movie, which happens once or maybe twice a year. It's also the most violent movie I've seen on Lifetime since Big Driver, and the sexiest one since that Jodi Arias movie. Paz Vega plays Lowe's wife and eventual killer Narcy (this is not giving anything away), whom he meets when she's a stripper and pulls into his Catwoman fantasies. (He has the second largest collection of Batman memorabilia in the world, even if the movie does give him the wrong period Catwoman statue to show off to Vega.) Paz Vega is incredibly sexy, and this movie really uses it in a viewer discretion advised sort of way, and she ups the ante by giving a surprisingly likable, very dark but very funny performance. She's kind of the perfect actress for this. She's, well, beautiful and twisted. ***

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Site Stuff Revisited

Blogger has decided not to go ahead with their earlier announced policy of making blogs private if they have any porn or nudity on them. This announcement only comes (a) after a bunch of people made noise about it and (b) after I'd already deleted a bunch of stuff, so, oh well.

Things change. I've been getting rid of some of the old stuff, anyway.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Muppet Monday

I've just gotten home from therapy and read that the animator Jeff Hale has died. So while there are no Muppets in it, I decided to post this compilation of all of the Pinball Number Count films from Sesame Street, which he animated.

Jeff Hale (1923-2015) also animated the Ringmaster segments from Sesame Street, and one of my personal favorites, the Typewriter segments. Outside of the show, he also directed two notable shorts, The Great Toy Robbery (1963, for the great National Film Board of Canada) and the controversial Thank You Mask Man (1971), which takes its audio from a Lenny Bruce routine and, well, that's what makes it very controversial. ("Controversial" is often code for "a lot of swear words" although here it also means "jokes about homosexuality and bestiality.") And he also appeared in front of the camera as Augie "Ben" Doggie in the classic spoof Hardware Wars, animated the "B-17" segment in Heavy Metal, and worked at Marvel Productions where he was an animation director on Transformers, GI Joe, and best of all, Muppet Babies. And I see he even worked on Here Comes Garfield, the first Garfield special, before they were boring.

So, basically, this guy's work was all over my childhood. So why not say thank you with a Muppet Monday?

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Song of the Week: "Didn't It Rain"

Live in Manchester, England, in 1964, this is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the woman who invented rock 'n' roll. Read all about her.