Friday, June 19, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: New trailer for The Peanuts Movie. Turns out I'm really looking forward to this movie. I mean, I liked the teasers already, but this looks charming.

:: Spider-Man Can't Be Gay or Black suggests that Spidey's cinematic heterosexual whiteness is a contractual obligation. At this point, there are so many Spider-Man and -Women in the Marvel Universe that there's a whole mythology. Honestly, I'm waiting for a secret order of spider knights from the future at this point. In other words, Spider-Man comics have been totally unreadable for years, with the exception of Miles Morales. I agree with one thing for sure from this article: Spider-Man is a movie character is totally stale. That's the one thing coming from the MCU I'm not remotely looking forward to.

Well, that's actually it this week. Given what's dominating the news, we're all a little weary. Or we should be. Go do something neat-o this weekend.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Film Week

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

STRANGER BY THE LAKE (2013)
I want to call this French film a thriller, but it's not, exactly, and that's one of its most fascinating aspects. It has a thriller plot but unfolds like a character drama. It's about a young gay man named Franck who is spending his summer days at a lake where men come to bathe in the sun and have anonymous sexual encounters in the nearby woods. Franck meets two men: Henri, who has just lost his wife, and Michel, a very sexy man that Franck is immediately attracted to. For a time, it proceeds like a drama about life among French gay men, but it soon becomes evident that all is not what it seems with Michel. The thing is, Franck knows this, but he is completely under Michel's spell and unsure what to do about it. So, it's a thriller, and it's a thrilling movie, but it plays out slowly, without even a score, just observing things at the lake (it never leaves the location, which is both isolated and crowded), letting its landscape serve as a backdrop to an emotional drama about (mostly unsimulated) sex and the way powerful lust clouds our judgment. So nice to see a movie about gay people that doesn't demonize gay sex; it celebrates lust as a positive just as much as it shows how lust can make it hard to think rationally. A taut narrative and an excellent film. ****

BONE (1972)
Larry Cohen's first directorial feature is a bizarre, mostly fascinating movie. Yaphet Kotto (in one of his most interesting performances, which is saying something) stars as Bone, a Black man who just sort of appears in the backyard of a bickering white couple. He wants their money, but quickly finds that they're living well beyond their means and are backed up in debt, and the whole thing becomes a commentary on race, relationships, trauma, America's debt-based economy, society in general, and even the war in Vietnam. For the most part, Cohen is really able to walk the line between social satire and exploiting racial fears; he criticizes the couple for racially profiling Bone, but Bone is also a criminal and rather proud of it. The middle section is a tad uneven, but the first and third acts are very strong, and the film overall is surprisingly funny and darkly satiric, and still very relevant (especially in this economy). Just sort of showed up on TCM Underground a couple of weeks ago, but I'm glad to have seen it. ***1/2

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ranking Al: 50-41


50. "Craigslist"
(Style parody of The Doors; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
Al nails the sound of The Doors dead-on. The song winds through the dark, bizarre, and frankly terrifying world of Craigslist. I remember my Mom laughing her ass off at how accurate this song was, because she's one of those weirdos who still uses Craigslist for just about everything, even now in 2015. So, you know, what I'm saying is that my Mom is a future murder victim. I wonder if this funny song will take the sting out of that...

49. "Virus Alert"
(Style parody of Sparks; from Straight Outta Lynwood, 2006)
I live in fear of something derailing my computer--it's one of my triggers, seriously--so I found it funny. (Although my iPod playing only Jethro Tull doesn't sound bad to me--my wife would hate it, though.) What excites me most about the song is that it's a pretty damn good parody of the Sparks sound, and I love the Sparks sound from about 1974 to about 1984.

48. "Velvet Elvis"
(Style parody of The Police; from Even Worse, 1988)
Another one of those great songs where Al takes something mundane that's weirdly popular with a certain niche and just celebrates that it exists and that the world is so weird. He also nails that late-period Police sound, to the point where the song almost becomes a little tedious the way the Police sometimes did. Your mileage may vary.

(Aside: I remember playing this album while visiting family in Des Moines in the summer of '88, and my cousin Crystal singing "Velvis Elvis he's a Pelvis" for days. Weird.)

47. "Frank's 2000" TV"
(Style parody of REM; from Alpalooza, 1993)
What's the big thing in TV now? Before it was all about HD resolution, it was all about having the biggest screen you could possibly find. What I love about this song is that it's very silly, but really does capture what we imagined the euphoria of having something like a gigantic TV would be. IMAX, Omnimax, big-screen television... we just want to be immersed in somewhere not here.

46. "That Boy Could Dance"
(Original; from "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
This one has always sounded to me like a cross between a Frank Zappa song and the kind of sax-driven pre-British Invasion throwback that was popular in '84. It always reminds me of Zappa's "Be in My Video," despite sounding nothing like it.

45. "I'll Be Mellow When I'm Dead"
(Original; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
Al angrily rejects the hippie/yuppie lifestyle. I used to consider this one of my theme songs, especially the title sentiment, but frankly I'm too exhausted now. I listen to this song and wonder when I ever had this much energy, but anger and anxiety will do that to a person. I still love the song, but more as a reminder of that youthful anger that I've really tried to let go of. It's funny that I've always loved this one, and yet the people online who remind me of this kind of silly, over, always-on-display, defining-myself-by-boldly-stating-how-much-I-dislike-something-I-could-ignore anger is the kind of tiring thing that makes me stop listening to people online. But hey, the song has a great construction and a fun middle-section with ukuleles. It's all about presentation sometimes.

44. "Polka Power!"
(Medley; from Running with Scissors, 1999)
I remember hearing most of these songs (full list here) on the radio CONSTANTLY when I was driving a delivery truck for a living, I wouldn't say many of the songs themselves are actually good (although one is actually on my iPod right now), but it's a strong batch of songs that Al does something really fun with.

43. "Mission Statement"
(Style parody of Crosby, Stills & Nash; from Mandatory Fun, 2014)
It was pretty brilliant, from a satire standpoint, to use the crunchy, folky CSN style for a list of corporate buzzwords and business bullshit. I remember back in '95 when I first started working at Barnes & Noble and hearing people use those words for real like they actually meant anything, and wonder what they're doing now post-economic collapse.

42. "Whatever You Like"
(Parody of "Whatever You Like" by TI; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
The TI song is about a man wooing a woman with whatever gifts she could want; Al's version is adjusted for economic circumstance, offering his intended such budget-conscious treasures as ramen and the pizza toppings of her choice. It's a song that could easily sound insulting, but Al's delivery--that any woman should be impressed by his Hyundai, his stolen cable, and his low-paying job at Kinko's--just makes the song. It's nice to be able to laugh about being really, really poor sometimes without feeling attacked.


41. "Tacky"
(Parody of "Happy" by Pharrell Williams; from Mandatory Fun, 2014)
I love that, in a song listing gauche behavior and fashion missteps, Al ends up escalating it all the way to taking selfies at a funeral (something which apparently someone from a reality show just did) and not telling his friends that he's been bitten by a zombie. The original song is one of my favorites from the last few years, and this send-up is just as fun. I have to note the music video; all of the actors are good, displaying different shades of tacky behavior. Eric Stonestreet sure has that aggressively douchey swagger down. And Jack Black is exactly the right actor to showcase obliviously tacky.

Until next time!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Muppet Monday

Lots of thunder and lightning here today, so what the hey, here are the two Thor, God of Thunder sketches from Muppets Tonight.


Brian Henson performed Thor. I'm curious who performed Zeus in the first sketch; he sounds a lot like Richard Hunt, but he had passed away several years earlier.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Song of the Week: "Just a Gigolo"

David Lee Roth, 1985. This is legit my favorite music video of all time.