Friday, July 31, 2015

Rowdy Roddy Piper 1954-2015

Sad, sad news that wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper has died of a heart attack. The guy just survived cancer. Roddy was probably my second favorite wrestler when I was a kid. I especially loved it when he would host his show Piper's Pit during broadcasts. He was mouthy, and he was sassy, but he was damn funny. I also loved him in films of varying quality, from John Carpenter's They Live to Hell Comes to Frogtown and the terrible Body Slam.

Man, he's only a year older than my Dad. That's hard to think about. I can't imagine what his family is dealing with right now. He was just a piece of my childhood puzzle, you know? Sad, sad news.

This Week in Neat-O

:: I hope you watched those cute cat ads from Studio Ghibli last week. Here's a collection of some more animated TV ads from Studio Ghibli.

:: Tough Pigs has been doing a tribute to Sesame Street's Maria this week. Here's a collection of sketches that tell, over 40 years, Maria's life story.

:: The Muppet Mindset, meanwhile, has a great post remembering Guy and Brad Gilchrist's Muppets comic strip from the eighties. I used to love that thing. I really wish someone would reprint those in a collection.

Well, it wasn't a big week this week. So go do something neat-o today!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #106

"The Thunder God Strikes Back" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Chic Stone
(July 1964)

When we last left Thor, the Cobra and Mr. Hyde had him cornered at a machinery exhibition and had managed to get him hammer out of his hands. Thor now has sixty seconds to regain his enchanted weapon, or else he turns into Don Blake!

So, he... turns into Don Blake. He hides in the crowd during his transformation, and then Cobra and Hyde recognize him and demand he take them to Thor. This is yet another reason why I think Thor having a secret identity is balls. His enemies already know that there's some kind of a weird connection between Blake and Thor, anyway.

Don agrees to take the two to Thor, but only if they recover his antique cane, which is trapped inside a piece of heavy machinery. A large part of this story is concerned with the two villains trying to recover this cane on behalf of Don Blake, each trying to outdo the other, never suspecting that Don needs the cane in order to become Thor once more. Cobra tries to slither into the machine, but can't quite contort himself enough to work, so Hyde rips apart the machine. Don, cane recovered, rushes back into the crowd and transforms into Thor.

The rest of the issue is pretty much fighting. It looks great, of course, it just goes on for a lot of pages. Thor defeats the Cobra pretty easily, but Hyde is a real fight, super strength vs. super strength. The hammer is again wrested from Thor, but he fights on, choosing to prove that he can defeat Hyde with his strength alone because "If I cannot defeat this evil being bare-handed within one minute, I am not worthy of the name Thor!!" And he does. Seriously, great art.

But don't worry! The story still ends on a bittersweet note! When Don returns to the office to find Jane, she's watching the news and has seen that Don agreed to help the Cobra and Mr. Hyde find Thor. Not knowing that the whole thing was a trick, unable to tell her--by Odin's edict--that he is Thor, she walks out on him yet again, leaving Don Blake lonely once more...

"Tales of Asgard: Balder the Brave" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta

Interesting to see Colletta here; I love his collaboration with Kirby on Kirby's Fourth World comics for DC in the seventies (particularly Mister Miracle, my favorite of them). His inks add something to the weird, very Kirbyesque Asgardian garb.

This is the story of Balder, Odin's most beloved warrior. Angered at the lame excuse Balder gives for deserting his troops during a battle (he saw a bird that had fallen out of its nest and returned it to its mother), Odin orders Balder to face mortal death. Everyone protests, but it doesn't matter; nature itself keeps intervening, so that Balder cannot come to harm. When Balder refuses to move out of the way of a threatened hammer blow from Thor, Odin is satisfied that Balder truly is brave--and compassionate--and gifts him with invincibility.

Of course, if you know Norse mythology, you know what's coming...

Nicely rendered. This is probably the Norse myth I'm most familiar with, and I can't wait to see the second half of this.

Next Marvels: the Howling Commandos get a new member and a new regular artist.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Film Week

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

I've talked in the past about why I despise these smug shrugs that pass as cultural events. This is the cinematic equivalent of a Chipotle-induced shart. It's so sure you love it that it doesn't even bother with anything like fun. It's just cool, man. It's a commercial for Universal Studios Orlando, but hey, have some Subway and get on Twitter and pretend you just had your mind blown, god damn it. Just... just fuck this thing and this whole cynical enterprise.

Ah, something genuinely fun. Only the third Godzilla flick, this is one of the most enjoyable of the original Godzilla series that I've seen. It's silly, sure, but it doesn't take itself seriously, and it adds considerable comic relief over the first two movies. I do wish I could just see the Japanese version... I don't know what it is with the American edits, but whoever looks at a movie where a giant rubber gorilla and a giant rubber lizard beat the crap out of each other and says "You know what this movie needs? Lots of momentum-breaking footage of laid back, clearly bored white Americans explaining what's happening to the audience because apparently King Kong fighting Godzilla needs contextualization to prevent boredom!" needs a hard, bracing slap. Especially loved Ichiro Arishima adding a comic layer as Mr. Tako, the high strung, inept TV exec. ***

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ranking Al: #30-21

30. "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies"
(Parody of "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits; from UHF, 1989)
The theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies, adapted to the Dire Straits classic. Mark Knopfler and keyboardist Guy Fletcher actually play their parts on the track. The video is brilliant. One piece of neat trivia: Simpsons director David Silverman designed the computer-generated characters.

29. "UHF"
(Original; from UHF, 1989)
The single from Al's movie, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Still have great memories of going to see that in the theater with my Dad the Saturday after it opened. Good thing I did, because it flopped so hard that it was out of theaters by something like the next weekend. Dad and I needed some fun... That was the summer my parents' divorce was finalized and I was undergoing a major depression that saw me sleeping a lot during the day, and my Mom's brilliant idea was to yell me into feeling better... God, my childhood sucked. Still dealing with it today. Anyway, I like this song. Sorry for the digression there.

28. "Lasagna"
(Parody of Los Lobos' version of "La Bamba," traditional; from Even Worse, 1988)
I'm married to an Italian-American woman. One of my favorite things to talk to her about is Italian food, because I'm kind of fascinated by how a word can be spelled "procuitti" and pronounced "pro-ZHOOT." (Last summer, I watched the first season of The Sopranos On Demand and had a lot of conversations about all of the food I kept seeing. Wow, if nothing else, that show sure made me hungry for Italian food all the time. And I already like Italian food way, way too much.) So I like this short little song, because it reminds me of having dinner with Becca when we were dating and her grandmother used to make a lot of these foods. She didn't talk in the cartoon accent Al uses in the song, but she did have a Chicago accent that made her sound like a B picture from the thirties, and this song just makes me laugh because of it.

27. "Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung"
(Original; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
Oh, my Mom always thought this one was mean, but this was the whole smart-assed, snotty, MAD aesthetic of early Weird Al. I was one of those obnoxious kids who thought stupid things were hysterically funny. Not sure that's changed, actually... This one was a bit of a litmus test for me, I think. If you thought this was funny, you were "in" with me.

26. "Albuquerque"
(Style parody of The Rugburns; from Running with Scissors, 1999)
Al's longest song, a hard-driving rock spoken word narrative that rambles on for almost 12 minutes and which is absolutely brilliant. It's another of those songs where he takes something totally mundane (winning a trip to Albuquerque in a radio contest) and exaggerates the hell out of it, creating this bratty, fabulized odyssey about crashing planes, donuts, weasels and true love. It's funny that he wrote to just annoy the listener and it became one of the most loved songs on the album, but it's not surprising. It's just an amazing comedy construction. (I love the liner notes on this one... the lyrics would be so long to write out, so at some point they stop in mid-sentence and Al just goes into an apology.)

25. "Theme from Rocky XIII"
(Parody of "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor; from "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
The reason I think this parody especially works is that it's not mean-spirited about Rocky Balboa; he's clearly proud of his little deli and the panoply of meats he has available. I mean, I know this sound kind of strange to say, but I like the idea of an old, retired Rocky with his little delicatessen and saying things like "It's the thrill of one bite," like he's got a sense of humor about not being on top anymore. That's life, you know? Stallone should make this movie, just old Rocky running a deli. No boxing, no street fights, just catering the Stampatello wedding or something. (Weird, now I'm hungry for crackers and summer sausage.)

24. "Pancreas"
(Style parody of Brian Wilson; from Straight Outta Lynwood, 2006)
This sounds like it could be a missing track from Smile. Subject matter and all. A perfect style-alike of 1966 Beach Boys, so of course I love it.

23. "Another One Rides the Bus"
(Parody of "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen; single, 1981)
This song is always going to sound fresh to me, I guess. It's just pure novelty record smart-assery, but it's never stopped being fun to me. I linked to the live appearance Al made on The Tomorrow Show in 1981, back when he was just 21 years old.

22. "Bohemian Polka"
(Polka version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen; from Alapalooza, 1993)
I didn't really put two Queen parodies together on purpose. Huh. In fact, I didn't realize I was doing it until just now. That's pretty funny. Back in 1992/1993 "Bohemian Rhapsody" was back on the charts because of its appearance in Wayne's World. Being 16, I hadn't heard it before, but I absolutely LOVED it. I still remembered Queen from their early 80s hits from when I was a little kid and I knew "We Will Rock You" from going to sports games. And I knew "We Are the Champions." But by the end of '93, I felt the song was getting a little overplayed, and then suddenly I heard a polka version and... yes. The brilliant antidote. And now it's just one of my favorite funny little bits of nonsense. Little bits of nonsense used to get a lot of play on my mix tapes.

(Note: This is the last track left to list from Alapalooza, so that's another album down.)

21. "I Love Rocky Road"
(Parody of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts' cover of "I Love Rock and Roll" by Arrows; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
I love the original song so damn much. When I first saw it as a kid on MTV, that was sort of the moment my love of music (and Joan Jett and girls like that) was set in motion. It's the ultimate rock song in my heart. I love how Weird Al takes it, speeds up the temp, and turns it into an accordion-led ode to ice cream. It's the kind of brilliant parody that I feel like no one really gets right very much in our reference-heavy pop culture; rather than simply make fun of the original, Al matches the original's passion but focuses it on something simple so the passion seems totally over-the-top and out of place. When I was a kid, I wanted Joan Jett (or someone similarly tight-jeansed and leathered-up) to see me standing there by the record machine. But I have to admit, I also wanted all the soda jerkers to know my name. Kids, man.

Huh. I've never tried rocky road.

Just 20 songs left. It's possible that I may have more to say about the next 20, so these entries may be shorter. Or they may be just as long, but have fewer songs. Or worse, they may just get longer and be about fewer songs.

Until next time. Hopefully before summer ends.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Muppet Monday

In the face of overwhelming fan demand, ABC released the 10-minute pilot presentation for The Muppets which was shown at Comic-Con, and I have to say, things are looking great! I can't wait to see the series when it starts in the fall. After you watch it, The Muppet Mindset has a breakdown of the presentation. And Tough Pigs has some posters ABC put out today. Very excited about this show!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Song of the Week: "Instant Coffee Blues"

Guy Clark, 1975, from his great first album Old No. 1. This is a great song for what is a very cloudy, very quiet Sunday morning. (New girls downstairs had a party last night, so they're sleeping in.) I don't really have the words for the progression of the music and why I like it so much. It's just the right combination of sound somehow. I always make fun of my Mom because she likes everything in a minor key no matter the quality, but we all have the right notes, you know?