Friday, May 08, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: I'm very excited to see a preview now for Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, the animated film by Roger Allers. This is the animation project I most want to see.

:: Some more trailers this week: Terry Jones' Absolutely Anything, starring Simon Pegg; Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary; Ricki and the Flash with Meryl Streep; Netflix's Sense8, from the Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer, and J. Michael Straczynski.

:: Neal Adams backed up Gerry Conway's post about how DC is screwing creators out of equity participation; DC responded; and Gerry Conway responded to DC with some constructive comments.

:: Arnold Acts Out His Films In 6 Minutes

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Ranking Al: #90-81

90. "If That Isn't Love"
(Style parody of Hanson; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
It's a pleasant enough song, with Al going back to the well of half-assing a relationship by doing the bare minimum and demanding praise for it. ("I almost never pretend you're someone else when I'm making out with you.") I don't know if he gets the sound of Hanson right, but Taylor Hanson is playing piano on the song. (If you never knew, Weird Al directed the video for "MMMBop.") As usual, what sells it is that Al delivers the lyrics with almost pained earnestness.

89. "Fun Zone"
(Original; from UHF, 1989)
Al apparently recorded this in 1985; it was meant to be the theme to a failed Saturday Night Live replacement called Welcome to the Fun Zone, and when you listen to this instrumental, you can almost see the variety show opening sequence, can't you? He reused it as Stanley Spadowski's theme music in UHF, and it's just a short, fun bit of music.

88. "Stop Draggin' My Car Around"
(Parody of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" by Stevie Nicks; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
Half the fun of Al's first album is hearing popular songs played at a faster tempo with an accordion in place of a guitar lead. Al sings this one as a full on lament, a cool guy with a crappy '64 Plymouth that's constantly getting towed away and impounded. He really sells it, too.

87. "Achy Breaky Song"
(Parody of "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus; from Alapalooza, 1993)
Look, we were all thinking it. I'll never forget the first time I heard "Achy Breaky Heart." I came into the living room to talk to my Mom about something, and she was watching the end of Entertainment Tonight, where whichever interchangeable empty suit was saying "We'll leave you with Billy Ray Cyrus performing the song that's been number one in the country for three weeks now..." After about 10 seconds, my Mom asked the question already forming on my lips: "Why?" I thought I'd never hear it again, and then suddenly it was everywhere. I know Billy Ray and even Al himself felt the song was a little mean-spirited, but we needed it to be. We needed justice for our achy breaky ears, Al.

86. "My Own Eyes"
(Style parody of Foo Fighters; from Mandatory Fun, 2014)
I really do love the Foo Fighters sound; they're one of the few bands from the mid-nineties that I can still dig on. Al gets the sound right, and I love the ridiculous lyrics about the strange things the song's narrator has seen. (Personal favorites; an old man dying of Bieber Fever, and a mime hacked to death with an imaginary cleaver.)

85. "Another Tattoo"
(Parody of "Nothin' on You" by B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
I'v actually never heard the song this is parodying, but the music sure is pretty. I love that Al juxtaposes the pretty music with an increasingly bizarre list of tattoos.

84. "Truck Drivin' Song"
(Original; from Running with Scissors, 1999)
A parody of those CW McCall-style country truckin' songs. The song's narrator is hauling while wearing high heels, a dress, jewelry and full make-up. Al walks a tightrope here, but I think he really pulls it off; a lesser comedian would have made cheap jokes about a man in women's clothes, but Al pokes fun at a pretty homophobic/transphobic genre of music (singing in a deep, cartoonishly manly voice) and then ignores any explicit gender implications by making the narrator's main concern how hard it is to drive while decked out in gown, heels and crotchless panties. I think it's incredibly funny.


83. "First World Problems"
(Style parody of the Pixies; from Mandatory Fun, 2014)
Love the off-kilter guitars in this one. Remember 20 years ago when rage was, er, all the rage in music? Well, my generation grew up and this is what we're complaining about now. It's hilarious because it's only a slight exaggeration.

82. "Homer and Marge (Love Goes On)"
(Parody of "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp; appears on the album The Simpsons: Testify, 2007)
Just a brief bit of silliness from the Simpsons episode "Three Gays of the Condo" that I've always liked. Al had wanted to parody the original on his first album. By this point, I didn't love The Simpsons, but the song reminds me of a time when I did.


81. "Weasel Stomping Day"
(Original; from Straight Outta Lynwood, 2006)
It's meant to sound like a song from a demented Rankin/Bass holiday special that perhaps happened in some alternate universe. And whatever that sound is, this song absolutely nails it. The sick sound effects are just the right punctuation of cheery gore. (I think my wife utterly hates this one.)

Until next time.

Michael Blake 1945-2015


Author Michael Blake passed away last week after an undisclosed illness. He was the author of the novel Dances with Wolves, as well as the screenplay, for which he won an Oscar. I wanted to mark his passing simply because Dances with Wolves is a particular memory for me.

In my freshman year of high school, I missed nearly two straight months of class when, during Christmas break, I came down with bronchitis for the first time. (I've had it four times in my life now.) If you remember me talking about it ever, this was the same Christmas my high school had a walkout over.

In my illness, I couldn't stay awake very often. I'd be up for four hours or so, and then sleep for eight, so I was never reliably up at the same time every day. It was a miserable time, especially considering it was the first winter we spent in the condo we moved into. Electives were picked for me at school because I wasn't there to pick them myself, and missing the first six or so weeks of Freshman English (combined with a failing grade in the previous semester's Speech class, mainly due to extreme shyness), convinced the school that I needed to be in a slower English class for the next two years.

But the consequences were still to come, and the only thing that really held my interest during those short days of sickness was a copy of Michael Blake's Dances with Wolves. It was the perfect book for those weeks--it was very readable and it wasn't overly complicated, which was good, because with a pounding head I couldn't really concentrate on very much.

Dances with Wolves is a fun book, but it's not a deep one. It's sort of a Boy's Own Adventure version of the Old West, a story that takes A Man Called Horse and sands off a lot of the rougher edges. It's eager and unsophisticated, but so what? For a 14 year old kid, it was the story that got him through a rocky sickness at a shitty time in his life. It was a fun read. I don't know if I'd consider it one of my favorite novels, but it was one of the most fun times I ever had reading one.

I just want to acknowledge Michael Blake's passing and say thanks for giving a sick kid the only enjoyment he had that stupid winter of 1990-1991.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Film Week

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

BITTER MOON (1992)
Truly lurid film about a game of sexual chicken between an American expatriate (a somewhat miscast Peter Coyote who, nonetheless, is totally committed to the role) and a young French dancer (Emmanuelle Seigner, perfectly cast) that grows more and more cruel. The relationship is explored in flashback as Coyote tells the story to a spellbound British tourist (Hugh Grant), who gets caught in the web of sadomasochism between the two. In some ways ridiculous (S&M scenes are always going to inspire laughter), and in some ways mesmerizing, I really appreciate the way director Roman Polanski approaches the whole thing without regard to taste and a certain honesty in the way it is exploitative. It's very much of its time--fevered, excessive, overwrought--but I liked it, often in a "I can't believe they're going for this" kind of way. It's audacious, that's for sure. ***

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)
I was going to write this long post about some of the movie's themes and why I felt the film pulled it off, but Devin Faraci beat me to it, pointing out most of the exact same stuff I was going to say, including why the Bruce/Natasha relationship makes sense. So I defer to his post, which you should read if you've seen the movie. I also highly recommend this post by Alyssa Rosenberg, about why the feminist critiques of Black Widow don't really hold up, because that was the other thing I wanted to talk about. Sorry, I understand the criticism, but I didn't read *that* line the same way.

The only other things to mention that aren't in those really thoughtful pieces? I loved James Spader as Ultron; his casting baffled me until I saw the actual movie, and now I see the important key there is that Spader is so human. I loved the revelation about Hawkeye. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision were all good, particularly Vision; the way they play him is just beautiful. It's a packed movie, and I wish it had been just a tiny bit longer, but it never felt rushed to me. I actually had more fun than I had at the first Avengers, but I don't want to write a long post about it, because my enthusiasm would transmute into defending it against a fan discourse that has become vile and toxic.

I've loved Phase 2 of the MCU even more than Phase 1. I can't wait for Ant-Man (coming out on my birthday) and then Phase 3. ****

THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014)
This is not my kind of humor. It's an absurdist parody of romantic comedies that doesn't have much more to say than "Wow, romantic comedies are kind of dumb, huh?" for an hour and a half. That kind of critique is already about 25 years out of date, and with nothing much to add to it, the film just swims in the shallow end of obviousness for what feels like a very, very long time. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler play a couple telling the story of how they met and fell in love to another couple (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper) and the whole thing plays out like a freshman film student's tired, predictable, film-length dissertation on why You've Got Mail sucks. The movie is a waste of a very talented cast--Jason Mantzoukas, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Melanie Lynskey, Noureen DeWolf, Michael Ian Black, Michaela Watkins, Randall Park, Jack McBrayer, Kenan Thompson, Ken Marino... and also Ed Helms is there. It's all wasted on a script that is easily as dumb as the movies it very smugly wants you to know it's better than. Writer-director David Wain sees through you, rom-coms. He sees through you and knows your tropes in a way no one ever has before, he thinks. Hey, everyone in a rom-com must be dumb, so what if all the characters were actually too dumb to function, but smart enough to stand around openly telling you what their characters represent? That would be funny, right? No. No, it wouldn't. It would be smarmy, but it wouldn't be funny. Some good gags occasionally, and some cameos at the end that are actually funnier out of context. Something that would have been a funny sketch on an episode of Inside Amy Schumer loses all of its insight or edge when blown up to ninety damn minutes. **

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

An A-to-Z Thing

Via Jaquandor and Roger.

A-Available/Single? Married and socially awkward, but if Kristen Bell is okay with that than so am I. (She's not.)

B-Best Friend? Carl and I have been best friends for an incredibly long amount of time now. Since sixth or seventh grade, so... 1988, I think. Maybe 1987? I do remember us going to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit together a couple of times in 1988. I just get pieces of my life mixed up, especially the order in which things happened. He and I actually became friends a little after my previous best friend, Shane, had unequivocally rejected me. Soon after, he and all the boys in my sixth grade class followed me home (I walked) in a circle surrounding me, taunting me and hitting me. This was the same time that my parents were splitting up, so that was not an awesome time for me.

Here's something Carl doesn't know and which hopefully won't ruin our friendship: that time period was so traumatic that I was blocking things out of my mind, which I now know has something to do with my anxiety and with my ADHD. When Carl came up to me at Sunday School one day and started talking to me (I remember it with surprising clarity), I didn't actually remember who he was. I think I'd spent some time away from Sunday School and when I came back everyone was turning into a popularity-and-conformity-obsessed douchebag the way kids that age do, and Carl was being nice to me and treating me like we were old friends. And then we were suddenly best friends, and as much as I try to hide myself deep in a hole so I never have to deal with the world, he just keeps on being my friend, which is kind of amazing for someone like me who, when he was 11, heard his supposed best friend say over the phone "No thanks, I'd rather not hang out with you" and then hang up. To this day, I figure that's how all of my friendships will end, so I sometimes don't put as much into them as I should. The fact that Carl's been my friend--my brother, really--for almost 30 years now seems absolutely extraordinary to me.

I really should have told that story at his wedding.

C-Cake or Pie? I'm dessert non-binary. I love them both. As a baker, I prefer baking cakes, but I eat them all.

D-Drink Of Choice? I've given up soda (yet again), so it's coffee for me. I don't care for alcohol.

E-Essential Item You Use Everyday? My laptop.

F-Favorite Color? Blue, usually.

G-Gummy Bears Or Worms? Worms.

H-Hometown? DeKalb, IL.

I-Indulgence? On my birthday, I have a Coca-Cola, a Chicago-style stuffed cheese pizza from Giordano's, and coffee cookies. Takes me a few days to recover, but fuck it, how long do I need to live?

January Or February? February. Much closer to winter being over, and it's short.

K-Kids & Their Names? No kids.

L-Life Is Incomplete Without? Curiosity.

M-Marriage Date? Uh, February something. It's on my Facebook page. Becca and I don't really celebrate it, since we were together for 15 years before we got married. (Plus, it's now my sister and her husband's anniversary.) We celebrate our first date, in December. It was 20 years last December.

N-Number Of Siblings? Three.

O-Oranges Or Apples? Apples.

P-Phobias/Fears? Well, I have anxiety disorder, so I'm always some level of nervous.

Q-Favorite Quote? "Don't worry about the world ending tomorrow. It's already tomorrow in Australia." -- Charles M. Schulz

R-Reason to Smile? Music. And pumpkin french toast with coffee and bacon.

S-Season? Spring.

T-Tag Three or Four People? I don't do that.

U-Unknown Fact About Me? I came in second in my school district's Young Authors Contest in second grade. I don't remember a lot of the specifics now, but that and another story I wrote for class were in the school library. I still have the cards. Remember those?


V-Vegetable you don’t like? Lots of them, but especially broccoli. Or brussels sprouts, which taste like what broccoli vomits.

W-Worst Habit? Boy, I'm not sure. A lot of what I considered my worst habits have turned out to actually be behaviors that result from an undiagnosed mental disability, so I have no idea now. Not an excuse, but an explanation.

X-X-rays You’ve Had? I had a head x-ray about 12 years ago when I was first diagnosed with high blood pressure. I also remember x-rays when I badly sprained my ankle in high school, broke my toe in sixth grade, and a chest x-ray from around 1997 or 1998. And constantly at the dentist, of course.

Y-Your Favorite Food? Breakfast. Just... breakfast.

Z-Zodiac Sign? Cancer.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Muppet Monday

This just popped up today. You don't need musical accompaniment when you've got Muppets.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Song of the Week: "Save the Last Dance for Me"

Ben E. King died on Thursday at the age of 76. He sang a lot of great "3AM songs." I'll never forget the first time I heard "Stand by Me" on Oldies 104.3. It was late at night and I was secretly up late, somewhere about 10 years old, with my radio quietly on, just enough to hear but not enough to fill the room. And then that song and that voice just rang out of the darkness and hit me. It made me feel good and warm and I was able to drift off to sleep calmly. A couple of years later, I had the soundtrack to the movie Stand by Me and could hear the song whenever I wanted.

As a kid, I didn't always know who sang what, and I was surprised to find out Ben E. King was in the Drifters when I was a little older. He was in the second incarnation of the Drifters, and not for very long, and even then he was forbidden by his manager from touring with the group, recording with them only before parting over a royalty dispute and pursuing his solo career.

This song is another of those great 3AM songs, with King's lead tenor piercing through the darkness, and that great, soft production by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrapping it up in a warm coat. This was the time when Phil Spector was working for Leiber and Stoller. You can hear the future of music on this beautiful record.

Thanks for your voice, Ben.