Friday, August 07, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: Lionel Richie's stalkery music video for "Hello" is even creepier without the music.

:: Simon Pegg as a very drunk Ron Weasley wishes Harry Potter a happy birthday on The Tonight Show.

:: Undecided on this whole Deadpool thing. I watched the trailer for the trailer and the red-band trailer, and it looks like [long, snarky rant that just invites negativity that will be too emotionally draining for me to deal with that basically boils down to: probably not my kind of comic book stuff].

:: I thought Michael Keaton's episode of SNL last year was more off-putting than funny, so in that vein, here's an off-putting cut sketch.

:: This takes about 8 minutes, but it's well worth your time if you're interested in special effects. It's a defense of CGI effects, and it really makes the case that bad special effects aren't really the problem here. This is everything I've ever wanted to say about this thing, where people automatically write off CGI as bad and the sign of a bad movie, and practical effects as automatically good and wholesome. A lot of that always sounds like just old-fashioned tech-paranoia to me. (The horseless carriage will be the downfall of society!)

:: The Honest Trailer for Fantastic Four (Jessica Alba vehicle version). It's pretty right on. Although I am sick of everyone holding up The Incredible Objectivist Male Power Fantasy as "the perfect FF movie."

:: Dear White America: Your toxic masculinity is killing you.

:: This Smiths and Tears For Fears mashup is a perfect angst vortex. Also check out the one that mashes up the Commodores with the Cure. It works surprisingly well.

:: Someone unearthed this 1997 story reel for Shrek, back when Chris Farley was voicing the character. Very interesting to hear his take on the character.

:: Here's a preview for PBS' In Their Own Words: Jim Henson, which will air on September 15.

And speaking of Muppets... there's a new Muppet video and it won't wait till Monday!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Ranking Al: #20-16

20. "Like a Surgeon"
(Parody of "Like a Virgin" by Madonna; from Dare to Be Stupid, 1985)
As this list has gone on, I realize I've been leaning on the idea of having esoteric favorites. Well... lists are subjective, right? The problem is, I can't come up with a lot to say about this song. I love it--obviously, as it's number 20 on my list--but I don't really have anything interesting to say about it. It's just a very, very pleasant listen. (And a pleasant watch--the video is hilarious.) I will say that I've never much cared for the original Madonna song, but I've always liked this one. Maybe it's just that Al sounds like he's having so much fun through the song. Also, I'm one of (it turns out) a number of people who originally heard the lyric "Better give me all your gauze, nurse" and wondered: what the heck are "gozners"? I call band name.

19. "Amish Paradise"
(Parody of "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio; from Bad Hair Day, 1996)
I think this parody is especially interesting if you take into consideration that Coolio's original song is itself a reworking of Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise" from his 1976 masterpiece Songs in the Key of Life. That song was something of an attack on the sinful, materialistic society of modern times. "Gangsta's Paradise" goes further, illustrating an inescapable cycle of violence in a song that's as raw as it is dark. "Amish Paradise" goes in the opposite direction, flipping the coin over and giving us a culture that has eschewed modernity and lives a life that, as the stereotype goes at least, is relatively plain and uncomplicated.

I enjoy this song; I think it's funny. I've seen it criticized heavily for being weak (I think it was Entertainment Weekly who said something about the Amish being a pretty lame target for a parody), but those people are missing the point. It's turning Coolio's version on its head by reversing the premise. That said, I am a bit surprised I haven't seen Al criticized on this one for making light of a very real cultural problem of violence, poverty and racism. I don't think he's doing that--I think if he thought of it like that, he wouldn't have recorded the song--but I can see where people might find it misguided. Since I see "Taco Grande" called racist all the time, just something that popped into my head. Just food for thought, really.

(Also, this is the last listed track from Bad Hair Day.)

18. "Eat It"
(Parody of "Beat It" by Michael Jackson; from "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
I can actually remember the first time I saw this video, because I thought it was the original. "Beat It" got a lot of play on MTV, and the Bob Giraldi-directed video had become a staple. But then the guy at the bar spits out his drink, and I remember being surprised and wondering what was going on. I'm not sure if I even knew who "Weird Al" Yankovic was at that point (I was about 7 when this came out), but that's pretty much the moment I fell in love with his act: that one moment when his shot-for-shot music video parody began to deviate from the original. This was Weird Al's highest-charting single until 2006, and it won him a Grammy. It was a big hit. But for a 7 year-old, it was a world-changing pop culture moment.

To be honest, I'm not even a hundred percent sure what it is about this song that's so funny. Maybe it's just that it takes a cultural juggernaut and razzes it a little bit. Or that it takes the passion and urgency of Michael Jackson's then-omnipresent single and makes it about cleaning your plate because "other kids are starving in Japan."

17. "Ricky"
(Parody of "Mickey" by Toni Basil; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
I see we're really into the "Weird Al just makes me inexplicably happy" portion of this list, but, well... he does. In 1985, I bought all three of Weird Al's first albums on cassette, and discovered this song. I'm not sure how I missed it, but eh, I was 5 or 6 when it came out. Maybe it just didn't make the impression. I did, however, truly love Toni Basil's "Mickey." I still do. Like "I Love Rock and Roll," mentioned in the previous installment, it's one of my all time favorite songs. It just makes me feel good.

This song makes me feel good, too, in large part because the original just brings me joy. Al's version is one of those songs I've mentioned before, where he takes something culturally ingrained but kind of mundane--in this case, I Love Lucy reruns--and enshrines it in the heavens with a celebratory song. It's that misaimed passion that I really relate to. I've heard people complain about this song, saying "What's the point? That Al watched I Love Lucy reruns as a kid?" Well, yeah. Of course it is. And so did you, and so did I, and so did America. I still watch I Love Lucy reruns. So hearing that theme at the end of this song makes me as bubbly as... well, as hearing Al shred the riff of one of my favorite songs on his accordion, honestly.

Don't ever apologize about loving something that everyone else thinks is stupid. Those things are like horcruxes for the child version of you. Those should never make you feel ashamed.

(For those of you keeping track at home, this is the last track to be listed from "Weird Al" Yankovic.)

16. "Fat"
(Parody of "Bad" by Michael Jackson; from Even Worse, 1988)
Alright, look. I've been fat a long time. About 30 years now. It started somewhere around 1985 or 1986, when I was nine or ten. I had a lot of ear infections as a kid, to the point where I was in danger of losing hearing in one or both ears. My parents and my doctor decided to treat me with prednisone, which is a corticosteroid, and one of the side effects of that is weight gain. (And hey, other side effects include depression and anxiety, so that's fantastic. I was already having major--ignored--problems with those.) That's when I started gaining weight, and I've never been thin since. I went from being a fairly popular, or at least well-liked kid with friends to the kid that everyone bullied. It was not the best situation; I was already nervous and getting more and more fearful from a cocktail of bullying, abuse and possibly either ADHD or bipolar disorder (yeah, we're talking about that now), and now I was having my self-esteem lowered further every day by kids who made themselves feel superior by making fun of the sensitive fat kid.

In 1988, I was pretty tormented, but it was still new enough for me to not be used to it yet. My best friend had just ditched me--in as sudden and cruel a manner as possible--in favor of popularity, and my parents were fighting constantly to the point where my Dad moved out and never moved back in. It was a truly shitty time in my life, is what I'm saying. And there I am, getting teased, bullied, beaten, yelled at, made to cry, neglected and underfed every day of my life... and suddenly Weird Al comes out with a song called "Fat."

And it makes my year.

For a little while, it was like I had an ally. Hell, not just that, but a damn anthem. Someone called me fat? I've got a song and dance to deflect it. Sometimes it makes people laugh in spite of themselves. Here's all of the shit I've been taking daily put into a song, and it's not mean-spirited. It's actually funny! Eff you, world! I'll show you once again who's fat! I can't explain how much that meant to me. (Of course, all of that confidence would be shattered by junior high just months later, but that's pretty much how junior high works.)

I love the video itself, a direct parody of the Martin Scorsese-directed "Bad" video, and a little bit like a sequel to "Eat It." (To this day, I still occasionally say "Yo, Ding-Dong, man. Ding-Dong, yo.") Michael Jackson thought the song was so funny that he let Al shoot the video on the same subway set used in "Bad." (The pinwheel gag is my favorite.) Once again, Al finds a pop culture juggernaut and puts that passion somewhere totally unexpected. And for me, that really hit a place where I needed it.

I'll show you who's fat.

Until next time.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Film Week

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

The cop movie that walks like an exorcism thriller. It's actually pretty enjoyable, even though its jump scares are a little cheap. Edgar Ramirez as a Jesuit who helps cop Eric Bana unravel a series of killings is quite good, but sometimes it just feels like a little bit more stylish version of many other movies you've seen before. ***

Well, I finally finished this whole thing. I didn't think it could get worse than Eclipse, but it sure the hell did. Thanks to this awful, awful trend of taking the last book in a series and turning it into two tedious films instead of just one, this whole story is just a ton of filler surrounded by the occasional plot point. The first film basically doesn't even need to exist; it's barely a movie, and mostly wedding-and-honeymoon porn for the Twitards who will not rest until every last detail has been dramatized. You could do the whole thing in about 30 minutes of a competently-made movie, but instead it lingers on and on and on, basically serving as a trailer for the second movie, which at least has something of a story, even though it all leads nowhere and a lot of time is spent in central casting, giving us the background of characters who ultimately don't matter to the story in any way. But hey, at least we get a major side order of noble pedophilia in our series of romantic domestic abuse, so that's... that's just awful, I can't even make a joke about this sick shit. Just be glad it's over. Just be glad you aren't a person like me who is perfectly willing to waste five hours on a Sunday because, hey, I'm a genre fan, there's nothing on, and how bad could it really be? Really, really, really bad. Just... icky and uncomfortable.

Very interesting satire on American political theater. The tone really threw me at first: it's a serious movie, but it has a tone that's comic in a way that gets more and more cynical. Peter Boyle plays an election specialist who seeks out a Democratic candidate for US Senate. He sets his sights on Robert Redford, playing an idealistic lawyer whose father (Melvyn Douglas) was governor. He's told he can say whatever he wants--he's not going to win, anyway--but as he gains in popularity, he's forced to play the game of electability more and more. As his speeches get more and more vague, he becomes more and more popular with voters. Director Michael Ritchie and screenwriter Jeremy Larner had apparently both worked on political campaigns previously, and brought their experiences to the movie, perhaps exorcising parts of the process that they became cynical about. As such, they focus on the process itself at the expense of the characters, but it's a fascinating watch. I do like that the movie never loses its cynicism about politics, leading up to one of the most fitting and funniest final lines of dialogue I've ever heard in a movie. Side note: always great to see Allen Garfield in a movie. ***1/2

Monday, August 03, 2015

Muppet Monday

Here's a real character: Harvey Kneeslapper. If you're in the mood to watch 21 minutes of basically the same joke over and over again, then this is the video compilation for you. Enjoy your Monday lunch break!

Frank Oz started performing Harvey Kneeslapper in the second season of Sesame Street, but they only did the character for so long; his raucous laughter became hard on Frank's throat, and since he was a one-joke character, Harvey was retired. His segments were repeated on this show up through the 32nd season, though.

Harvey was the first character created by Sesame Street writer Norman Stiles. Stiles joined Children's Television Workshop in 1971, became Sesame Street's head writer in season 4, and continued to write there until 1995. He created, among others, Count Von Count and Forgetful Jones. (After leaving CTW, he and fellow Sesame alumni Michael K, Frith and Christopher Cerf produced children's show Between the Lions.)

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Song of the Week: "Stay with Me Tonight"

Jeffrey Osborne, from 1983. I don't know why, I just suddenly got this song going through my head and wanted to hear it again. I remember hearing it a lot on the radio in 1983, during the couple of years when my Dad was suddenly really into R&B. Even listening to it now, it makes me nostalgic. You ever hear something and just feel... safe, because it reminds you of a time when you were too young to really have any problems? Neat how some songs do that.