Friday, March 30, 2007

OWR: The 40 Year Old Virgin

84: Eruptive

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Explosions in the Sky w/ The pAper chAse and Eluvium @ Metro

I was more geeked for this show than any in recent memory. I’ve come to this band somewhat recently, but been thoroughly impressed with everything they’ve released. My pals and I decided that this would be one of the rare Metro shows where it would be best to be in the balcony. We arrived early and managed second row, just to the right of the middle.
The first act was Eluvium, who is really just Matthew Cooper, or as I like to call him, the Prince of the ebow. A one man band of sorts, he looped various sounds through an i-mac, making some impressive compositions. To say that he had no stage presence is putting it mildly – at one point he leaned forward in his chair and did something behind the card table he had set up so that no one could see him. But the music was quite good. I would imagine that the albums are probably a better way to experience Eluvium, but I still enjoyed it.
I had checked out The pAper chAse via their website earlier in the day and didn’t really know what to expect. I suppose I would best describe them as halfway between Mission of Burma on vodka and Primus on crystal meth. Yes, I realize that that could mean a lot of different things, depending on how you choose to interpret it. Frontman John Congleton had a ton of energy, contorting his body in violent jerks, but never missing a beat. Initially, they sounded abrasive and somewhat scary, but as their set continued, they definitely won me over. Their drummer was pounding so hard, he broke his snare drum and had to finish one song without it. In general, the packed crowd did not seem very interested. I’d really like to check these guys out at their own show in a smaller venue.
An extremely eager and devoted audience greeted Explosions in the Sky, who took the stage a few minutes early (love that). After a brief introduction by guitarist Munaf Rayani, they opened w/ First Breath after Coma and went from there. Playing just over an hour, their set alternated between big, dynamic crescendos and close, soft intimacy. The intensity during the big parts was impressive. I’m tempted to claim that the difference-maker is drummer Christopher Hrasky. While he clearly drives that intensity, it would be unfair to ignore the volume generated by the other members. At the biggest peaks, everyone in the band was playing as fast and loud as they could, resulting in an overwhelming sound, provoking emotion without the need for lyrics.
The quiet parts were inherently the same as on their albums. The impressive thing was not only that they could keep that same atmosphere of closeness, but the crowd was completely rapt with attention – to the point that in the closer Rayani was tapping his foot, and it was the only audible sound in the entire building.
I mentioned that one of these guys is going to get tendonitis. Well I now know who it is. Bassist/Baritone Guitarist Michael James strummed furiously, particularly when playing bass. There’s no way he makes it past 30 without some problems. During "The Moon is Down", Rayani taped an ebow down on his guitar and smacked a tambourine against the stage, becoming more and more violent as the song progressed. As it ended he fell back in exhaustion. The last three songs played were “Greet Death”, followed by “Catastrophe and the Cure”, with “The Only Moment We Were Alone” as the closer. The last peak was the largest of the night, with both band and audience apparently having given everything they could.
When I was in high school, I once had a band teacher who referred to a moment of that particular day’s rehearsal as a “musical orgasm.” While that moment was creepy for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which were his bad mustache and pockmarked face, it has somehow stuck with me. I suppose if a band heard that and tried to create what a musical orgasm would sound like, that band would play exactly like Explosions in the Sky did last night. I can’t wait to experience them again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

OWR: Cinema Paradiso

87: Bellissimo
(note that this is not the director's cut which I hear is overly long with an unnecessary coda, but I haven't seen that one)

Monday, March 26, 2007

OWR: Date Movie

16: Worthless

Friday, March 23, 2007

OWR: Oldboy

74: Alive

Unyielding Commissioning Wonders Where to Buy Music Now

We love lists here, but... You may have seen this floating around the internets lately. I first saw it on frequent poster PMaz’s page, and it keeps rearing its ugly head.

Seriously. This is an atrocity. Check out this link.

When PMaz first brought it to the world’s attention, I assumed it was just a crazy list some guy put together. You know, like a Top Ten Worst Songs Ever list or something. But eventually I learned that this was on the homepage of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now, I’m sure you’re expecting me to go off on the Rock Hall for supporting a list as insipid at this one. However, this is far from the worst crime they’ve committed. I don’t believe that anyone with any interest in music will give the Rock Hall any credence, anyway. We all know that it was really just created to give people a reason to visit Cleveland. For about four hours. OK, if you’ve been there you know I’m exaggerating. Two hours. So who cares what they think?

Webster’s defines definitive as "serving to provide a final solution or to end a situation." The implication is that we are to cease discussion of music not included in this list. It was actually compiled by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, and on their website, they state:

The Definitive 200 is a list of 200 ranked albums that every music lover should own… celebrating classic recordings by favorite iconic and contemporary artists. Complete your collection!
The list speaks for itself. I don’t need to tell you how bad it is. There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from this list, and it is that the people who sell us music don’t know a damn thing about it.

NARM is a non-profit trade organization serving the music retailing community. I’m all for trade organizations sharing ideas and working together to improve their industry. But the publication of this list indicates that they don’t know their industry so well. My father spent the bulk of his career working for the National Automatic Merchandising Association. I bring this up because three of those words are the same. But NAMA is the national trade organization for the vending machine industry. Perhaps that's how these people view their product. Highly processed, shelf-stable, often unhealthy sustenance.

The message is clear. They think that if they put a list together, you’ll run out and purchase Carole King’s “Tapestry.” Remember that when you’re at Best Buy and they have a pile of them sitting at the end of every aisle. I trust the fact that you're missing #7 from the definitive list to end all listing lists won't tempt you to make a purchase.

Lots of new albums out! The new Andrew Bird is excellent. I've given the new Modest Mouse a half-listen and it seems pretty darn good. No first blush coming on that one, but you may recall that I was somewhat obsessed with the first single, Dashboard. It has not lost any luster since then. Also out this week: Ted Leo, Low, and The Shins. So if you're into those folks, check 'em out.

Here there be tygers!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

First Blush: Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha

On all of his releases, Chicago’s Andrew Bird plays both guitar and violin, sings, and whistles. Yet he has shifted gears for each of his previous albums. And each of those albums has been better than its predecessor. I picked up The Swimming Hour for two bucks at the ALS Foundation’s Mammoth Music Mart not long after it was released. I certainly liked it, but sometimes when you only spend two dollars, you can take an album for granted. Three and a half years later, I snagged his next two albums at the same time from the late, great, I found both to be enjoyable listens, but over time, I was able to appreciate the many layers of his work. At this point, I listen to The Secret Production of Eggs almost as much as I do Funeral. His songs get stuck in your head and you find yourself whistling or singing them long after you remove your headphones. Recently, Bird has teamed up with fellow multi-tasker, Martin Dosh who is heavily featured on Armchair Apocrypha. The album comes to us with a great deal of hype and a show schedule for the Riviera on 4/20. Let’s check it out.

Track 1 – Fiery Crash
0:05 – Strummy guitars greet us – somehow I find this reminiscent of the White Album. I’m not certain which track from it or why.
0:44 – Bird is almost rapping, it’s low-key with various overdubs
1:14 – The drums are very complex, letting guitar carry the rhythm
2:14 – We get the first whistle, but it’s not carrying the melody like usual – just adding a little sound in the background for us.
2:32 – The drums have now become very straightforward. Was I confused before? Perhaps.
3:21 – We finally get to the chorus and Bird finally really sings – but only for one line

Track 2 – Imitosis
0:04 – I love it. The track is called Imitosis and he pulled the lead riff directly from his track “I” on Weather Systems.
0:27 – OK, it’s actually the same song redone. He did this before, covering his own instrumental “Skin” (from Weather Systems) with “Skin Is, My”, including new lyrics.
1:17 – This version is way more bluesy and has all kinds of vocal overdubs. It is absolutely coooool. Curtis would dig it.
2:22 – Dosh is snappin’ it on up.
2:38 – Perhaps it’s the familiarity (although the song is completely different), but I am grooving on this one.
3:49 – Abrupt end. I can’t recall if “I” did that.

Track 3 – Plasticities
0:23 – Beautiful instrumental at this point. Quiet and close.
1:20 – “We’ll fight for your music halls and dying cities…” “They’ll fight for your neural walls and plasticities and precious territory.” Is this his version of In Defense Of: The Artist? Of course I really don’t have the first clue what this song is about.
2:24 – So much going on, every which way in this one, but it’s all blending with nothing taking the lead and overpowering the rest of it.
3:52 – The first Websters Definition of Apocrypha: writings or statements of dubious authenticity. In case you’re curious.

Track 4 – Heretics
0:25 – Guitar and violins are playing together with thumpy drums and Bird’s voice coming in over the top
1:19 – This is the first song where his vocals have really been featured in the mix.
1:34 – The chorus is “Thank God it’s fatal. Not shy of fatal.” Well, that’s kind of brave. And ironic I suppose.
2:54 – And now he sings out for the first time, “Don’t you think we might have heard that before?”

Track 5 – Armchairs
0:08 – My favorite Andrew Bird track is “Tables and Chairs”, so for no other reason, I have high hopes for this one. Yes, I know that makes no damn sense. Thanks.
1:05 – After a paced buildup, everything slows and quiets.
2:13 – This is definitely a crooner. I think this may be some sort of nighclub fantasy of Andrew’s. That’s not to say it isn’t good. But he’s able to meander his words around in the space the song is providing him. He sounds nearly almost drunk, which means that he’s had a couple, but is playing it up a bit.
3:18 – First the first time, he put actual pictures of birds on the album art this time. But all are taken from behind each bird’s head. And of course there’s one of the back of his head. If I were an ornithologist, perhaps I could identify each bird. Since I’m not, I’ll name them now (going left to right): Stretch; Fredo; Andrew; Pearl; Paco; Horatio. Surprisingly, Fredo could kick all their asses.
5:58 – We’ve built up to more sound, but it’s still a very deliberate pace. The album kind of came to a halt with this one. We’ll see how he pulls out of it.

Track 6 – Darkmatter
0:03 – First track that begins with only whistling (with a neat echo)
0:38 – ...and now the guitars and drums come rolling in. He’s pulling out of it nicely!
1:19 – Again more vocal overdubbed harmonies, and it sounds rich. This is Bird’s first album without Nora O’Connor, and I have to say that so far I miss her. I realize that sometimes you gotta go do your own thing, but they just sounded great together.
3:40 –I’m once again reminded of some much older song. I can’t place it. It might be an old U2 track, but in a really oblique way.
4:38 – This song is downright uplifting. I bet the lyrics are probably about something really horrible.

Track 7 – Simple X
0:23 – I can’t tell if that’s a drum machine or Dosh is just that good. But there’s some wacky stuff going on.
0:52 – Both his whistling and his singing sound like a musical saw.
2:05 – I don’t want to say that this is a “filler track”, as it sounds good enough. But I also don’t see it being the hit single. It’s all kind of flat – which in the great scheme of things is probably OK. But I’m already looking forward to track 8.
3:08 – Webster’s second definition of Apocrypha is: books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament. In case you're curious.

Track 8 – The Supine
0:17 – This feels like Bird’s attempt to get indiefolkrawkheads to listen to classical music. And it sounds pretty darn good…
0:58 – and the song just ended. Baby steps, people.

Track 9 – Cataracts
0:53 – The vocal mix is the highest of the album here, and the pace is deliberate. I feel as if he’s singing directly to me.
1:28 – this could be movie music – it definitely provokes a feeling of serenity.
2:21 – “Light will fill our eyes like cats.” Man, it’s going to take me a while to figure out the meaning behind this one

Track 10 – Scythian Empires
0:25 – Lots of fingerpicking guitar with pizzicato violin.
1:26 – So far, my One Word Review for this track would be “light”. Take that to mean what you will.
3:30 – Well, he means it, and the song sounds nice. But for some reason, it’s not taking me anywhere.

Track 11 – Spare-Ohs
0:02 – We start with actual birds chirping. I suppose he is truly embracing his name. And if you say the track name out loud…
0:18 – With the whistling and guitar melody, this has all the makings of an Andrew Bird classic. Tell me more!
1:45 – For the chorus we do get a female voice, but it’s Haley Bonar. I don’t know who that is, either. But I’m glad that he hasn’t abandoned the concept, even if it’s with a new lass.
2:21 – Yeah, this is classic Andrew Bird. The guitar is coming in hard downbeats.
3:55 – And the whistle takes us out.

Track 12 – Yawny at the Apocalpyse
0:00 – No lyrics in the liner notes on this one, so it’ll be instrumental (although Bonar is credited with vocals on it, so maybe not). Sorry. I’ll stop reading ahead.
0:53 – The violin is featured with spacey orchestration below it.
3:07 – I’m not yawning, even though this track really acts as a come-down more than anything else. It’s certainly relaxing. Birds chirping to take us out of the album.

That went quickly! First Blush gut reaction says this album is superb. It is not as “songy” as his previous releases, but goes more for the creation of a mood on each track. This will definitely be in heavy rotation in the coming weeks. I recommend checking it out.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

OWR: Grizzly Man

81: Obsessive

Monday, March 19, 2007

Schwarzenegger Sunday: True Lies

For more about Schwarzenegger Sunday, see Marching Orders above. There will always be spoilers.

Arnold was coming off of 1993’s poorly attended, tongue-in-cheek action-comedy, Last Action Hero. One could argue that spoofing his entire career would be a regrettable decision leading to a decline in popularity. In True Lies, Arnold plays Harry Tasker, some sort of government anti-terrorism spy. The movie begins with him infiltrating a high-falutin’ party in Switzerland in order to steal some files from a computer. When his cover is blown, he blows up a tool shed and makes a run for it. His partner, Albert Gibson who is played by Tom Arnold, helps him escape and they head back to DC where Arnold greets his mousy wife, Helen (played by Jamie Lee Curtis). Helen has no idea what Harry does for a living, assuming that he is the computer salesman he has always claimed to be. Helen nearly has a romantic encounter with Bill Paxton, but Harry discovers what is going on and uses U.S. government surveillance resources to not only spy on his wife, but to scare the living daylights out of her and Paxton. Just as he is about to reveal all to Helen, they are kidnapped by the same terrorists he is trying to stop. They are taken to an island in the Florida Keys where a terrorist group named Crimson Jihad has several nuclear bombs and plans to persuade the United States to stop bombing Arab nations by threatening to blow up US Cities. The government stops most of the terrorists from reaching mainland Florida, and Harry is able to pull Helen out of a moving limousine via helicopter, just before the car crashes into the sea. However, the terrorists have set up shop in a Miami building and are threatening to detonate a nuclear bomb. They have also managed to kidnap Harry and Helen’s daughter and bring her from DC to Miami. Harry flies in on a Marine Harrier, saves his daughter, and blows up every last terrorist. One year later, Harry and Helen are both government spies, going to parties to dance the tango together.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Harry is more of a subdued secret agent in this one. Most of the film’s best lines go to Albert Gibson, but here are a few of the Harr's top ones:
After bashing two Doberman’s heads together: “Stay!”
“You see, that’s the problem with terrorists. They’re really inconsiderate when it comes to people’s schedules.”
Helen asks, “Have you ever killed anyone?” Harry responds, “Yeah, but they were all bad.”
As he shoots the main terrorist into a helicopter via a missile: “You’re fired!”

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: Again, Harry is really not that style of character, but here are a few more:
“Just trying to get a closer look at Beavis and Butthead.”
“There is no us – you psychopathic bitch.”
Helen asks, “Are we gonna die?” Harry says, “Yup. They’re gonna shoot us in the head or torture us to death or leave us here when the bomb goes off…” Helen interrupts, “Harry!”
“Put me through to the White House!”
“OK, Marines. It’s time to kick ass.”

“I’ll be back.”: I think due to fear of the Last Action Hero hangover, this was wisely avoided. n/a

Smarmy Villain: Art Malik plays Salim Abu Aziz. I can’t really figure this guy out. He’s certainly evil, but he’s no evil genius. His plans seem wholly inconsistent. If you’re a terrorist and your goal is to get some nukes, why on earth would you try to hunt down a sole government agent yourself? And how do you expect to get the US to change their tactics while you’re sitting on a rooftop in Miami? It almost seems like the Crimson Jihad made things up as they went along. But he does go around slapping women, riding motorcycles into hotels and jumping them into swanky pool parties on other rooftops. So I suppose he’s smarmy enough. He’s just kind of an angry loser. 6

Rough and Tumble Henchman: When the movie was released, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee was irate, staging protests and boycotts. I can certainly see why. These terrorists are idiots. We don’t have any kind of henchman as Aziz is clearly the man in charge. However, there are probably about sixty random guys who all look like they badly need a shower and have shaved exactly six and a half days ago. And they’re all incredibly incompetent terrorists. Since there isn’t one single guy, this has to be n/a, but if anyone of these guys had a few lines, they might have made it in there.

Diminutive Sidekick: Tom Arnold is listed on the IMDB at 6’1”. Who knew? He is actually superb in this movie, somehow playing a convincing government agent, and throwing a lot of quality lines. He sets the tone early when he sees Harry’s daughter wearing a motorcycle helmet in the morning and says, “Yeah, I remember the first time I was shot out of a cannon.” Who could say that line better than Tom Arnold? 5

Rejected hot love interest: Juno Skinner is an art dealer involved with the terrorists and is played by Tia Carrere about eight hours after she left her peak. I’ve always found her to be extremely attractive. She’s not looking particularly fit in this movie, but still a gorgeous woman. I believe we’re supposed to assume that she’s attracted to Harry, but there is nothing in the way of onscreen chemistry. Furthermore, her character is puzzling because she’s already a wealthy art dealer, but continually claims that she has hooked up with the terrorists solely because they are giving her a lot of money. That still doesn’t make it clear why she’s going on excursions with them. 7

Not nearly hot enough love interest: On the other hand, Jamie Lee Curtis got herself in phenomenal shape for this movie. She pulls off the mousy housewife role perfectly, but when she is forced to do a striptease for Harry (without realizing it is him), she’s quite put together. However, every time I see her, I can’t help but be reminded of that picture she did in her grandma underwear with no makeup which was wholly disgusting. Because of that, we’ll knock her down an extra peg or three, giving us an 8.

Arnold yelling: Nothing really stood out here. He’s much more subdued as a spy than as a Kindergarten Cop. n/a

Arnold cursing: Harry throws a few curses out there, but it’s Helen who has the powerful, poignant curse word: “I was reckless and I was wild. And I fucking did it! Frankly, I don’t give a shit whether you understand it.” 5

Arnold crazyface: First of all, it is immediately clear that Schwarzenegger had a facelift sometime before this movie. I was concerned that we wouldn’t get much expression from him because of that issue. However, there’s a lot to choose from here, people. I’ll give you a handful: But here’s my winner 7
Superfluous Explosions: Oooh boy. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves 10
Director: We’ve heard form James Cameron in this space before. By the time True Lies came around, he already had the reputation for making the most expensive movies in Hollywood, yet those movies always made a ton of dough, anyway. This is his final collaboration with Arnold. His next movie after this one was Titanic.

Franco Columbu/Sven Ole-Thorsen: This is the first Schwarzenegger Sunday without a sighting of either gentleman, so they’re both n/a. But we do get a look a this guy! Look at ‘im!
Shirtless Arnold: Near the end of the film, his shirt is ripped a bit, but at this point in his career, I think Arnold was finally starting to display a little modesty. n/a

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: Terrorists are dispatched quickly and efficiently throughout the film. There’s an extended fight scene in the bathroom, but Harry isn’t even the one who ends up killing the guy. Very little severe brutality. n/a

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: First Aziz is embarrassed by having landing on the plane’s tail for what we can only imagine is a brutal crotch shot. But then he is sent zooming to his death while attached to a missile. It’s somewhat brutal, but nothing compared to what we’ve seen in some other recent outings. 5
Plausibly implausible plot: We’ve already gone over how the terrorists’ plans make no goddamn sense whatsoever. Are we to believe that Tom Arnold is some sort of professional, let alone a government spy? Are we to believe that Helen never had a clue that her husband worked for the government? And why couldn’t he just tell her the truth? That issue is never really discussed, and we take it at face value for a while, but eventually, there just seems to be no point in the secrecy. And how the hell did they get the daughter down to Miami based solely on seeing a photo in Helen’s purse? The stuntwork is fantastic, and I suppose that adds credibility to the action scenes, but at its core, this movie doesn’t make much sense - to the point where it’s hard to get over it, making the plot merely implausible. 3

Ambiguous ending: Things are pretty buttoned up. We even get a Bill Paxton sighting and discover that he has not learned his lesson. But we don’t really know what the Taskers are doing at the fancy party or if Helen is really a full spy after one year of training. But I suppose we don’t really care, either. 2

Much of this movie is horribly dated, even though it only came out thirteen years ago. Gibson says, “Kids these days are raised by Madonna and Axl Rose.” He talks about watching Sally Jesse Raphael, and there’s the aforementioned Beavis and Butthead comment. The music also sounds like it’s from Raw Deal or something. The movie should probably have been about a half-hour shorter, as the plot was extremely convoluted and didn’t tie back to a sensible patter, anyway. They were supposedly working on a sequel for a while, but at some point it was scrapped. That was probably a sage choice. This was the start of Arnold playing more “mature” characters (Junior notwithstanding), and I think we’ll find that it doesn’t lead to better movies.

Friday, March 16, 2007

OWR: Deathtrap

76: Sly

The Ten Worst Songs Ever

A while back, Top Ten lists were all the rage. Perhaps it was when High Fidelity was released to theaters that everyone really jumped on the craze. Not immune to social pressure, yet somewhat ahead of the curve, I made a few lists myself. Most of them were rather vapid and meaningless without much thought put into them. I certainly was not a blogger and it was more just about me organizing my thoughts. However, at some point in the year 2001, I put a little more effort into one of my lists.

When contemplating the worst songs of all time, you have to come up with some criteria. We can certainly agree that some songs are simply terrible, but they’re also rather harmless. If we all sat down and really put our heads together, I’m fairly certain that we could all agree that Rick Dees’
Disco Duck is inherently the worst song ever recorded. While it was apparently a number one hit, thankfully time passes on and we’re never going to have to deal with this song again. But there are other, nearly as terrible songs that for some reason have enough legs to haunt us to this day. At the time I referred to this aspect as “unstoppability” which sounds very much like something Joe Buck would say. All the songs below made the list partly because they’re awful and partly because they won’t go away. So, without further ado, here is what I thought and how I said it way back in 2001.

10 – Keep on Rockin’ me, Baby by The Steve Miller Band I spent an entire weekend at Michigan State and heard the “best of” no less than seven times. That did me in for life.

9 – Crocodile Rock by Elton John I have always liked Oldies, but could never figure out why this song was even written, let alone mixed in with such good music on the radio. I hearken back to the “Chef Aid” episode of South Park and the song, “Cheddar Cheese Girl”; it was meant to be a joke, but no worse than this inanity.

8 – Hey Mickey by Toni Basil The worst example of the 80s crap that will never go away until everyone who was in high school then dies.

7 – Crazy by Aerosmith This is exemplary of their album Get a Grip, which was the other CD they played in East Lansing (see #10). Never has a band fallen so drastically far. Not that they were ever the Beatles, but this garbage was just ridiculous.

6 – Pianoman by Billy Joel People who think they like music love Billy Joel. It’s like some kind of rule. If you think you’re a music fan, but actually know very little about music, then BJ is the man for you. If I never hear this damn song in a bar again, it’ll be far too soon.

5 – Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus The only thing worse than a line dance is old people doing a line dance. The only thing worst than that is old rednecks doing a line dance.

4 – Anything by Garth Brooks I can’t believe I forgot to include him initially. I think I’m going to have to go with the Dr. Pepper commercial that’s out now. It’s just so horrendous and it keeps interrupting my football games and TV shows. However, I doubt that will have the lasting presence of “Friends in Low Places”, so that would probably have to be the choice.

3 – All the songs from The Grease Soundtrack It’s hard to pick one from here. There are so many options. It’s all so horrible. I mean if guys didn’t want to hook up, this would never be allowed to exist, right? Perhaps I should use the “Mega-mix”, but then again, that might not qualify as a single song. So if I have to choose, I’ll go with that damn “Greased Lighting” nonsense.

2 – Cheeseburger in Paradise by Jimmy Buffet I’ve long said that out of all the concerts someone could try to drag me to, Jimmy Buffet would be the last one they’d ever convince me to see. This has to be one of the dumbest and most inane songs ever. Not to mention the fans, the fans, the fans…

1 – Y.M.C.A by The Village People It will never go away. We’ll always have to hear this song at ballgames, weddings, dances, business meetings, and wakes. You’ve got line dancing (ish), bad kitsch, and disco. What a combo!

Songs that couldn’t make the list because they surely won’t be around in five years:
Push by Matchbox 20
With Arms Wide Open by Creed
Nookie by Limp Bizkit

2007 me again here with a Springer Final Thought. Was I angry back then? Perhaps I was particularly harsh on 80s fans and Billy Joel fans. But then again, maybe they deserve it. I’m especially glad that the bands I expected to be out of the picture in five years, actually are. When’s the last time you heard anything by any of those bands? And you never will again (fingers crossed). Feel free to chime in with your “least favorites”.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

OWR: School of Rock

61: Aggressive-passive

Monday, March 12, 2007

Oscar's Greatest Gaffe

In the wake of a very successful Academy Awards, where there were no major complaints about the winners (outside Melissa Etheridge, of course), I thought it worthwhile to note when Oscar has blown it. Those occurrences have been frequent throughout the award's history. You may have your "favorite" result that bothered the hell out of you. Was it when Dances with Wolves beat out Goodfellas? Or perhaps when Forrest Gump won over both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption? Or maybe a year ago when Crash won any awards at all! I could go on. But rather than dwell on the obvious, I’d like to take you back to the 47th Academy Awards and the biggest misstep we’ve ever seen from the Academy.

1974 was a particularly strong year for American film. The Godfather: Part II was released to great critical and box-office success. Roman Polanski and Robert Towne created the exquisite Chinatown. Sidney Lumet adroitly directed an all-star cast in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Martin Scorsese proved he was no one-hit-wonder with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Bob Fosse’s Lenny was an honest and poignant look at the life of Lenny Bruce. Gene Hackman’s most understated performance was the center of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. John Cassavettes helmed his finest work, A Woman Under the Influence. In years like this, there often are not enough awards to go around. But you would at least hope that the awards that are available go to deserving recipients. This did not occur when it came to Best Actor. Permit me first to examine the performances that did not win.

Al Pacino was for the most part an unknown actor when he won the role of Michael in The Godfather. While that performance put him on the map, the movie was more of an ensemble piece. After starring in Lumet’s Serpico in 1973, his next role was once again as Michael in The Godfather: Part II. He is the film’s driving force, and Michael becomes the clear protagonist of the saga. He plays Michael as a determined, powerful, sad man. This is truly the movie that made him “Al Pacino.”

Similarly, Jack Nicholson had been around for quite a while before starring in Five Easy Pieces in 1970. That role got him noticed as a leading actor before he turned in other fine performances in Carnal Knowledge and The Last Detail. Similarly to Pacino, his role as Jake Gittes in Chinatown made him a top star. Nicholson appears in every scene, as the voice of sanity in a chaotic world where ultimate truths are just beyond his reach. Gittes is tough, yet tender, out for himself but not without a conscience.

Dustin Hoffman was already an established star, having been nominated twice for earlier films. In one of the best bio-pics ever made, he embodied Lenny Bruce, the most controversial comic of all time. It is clear that Hoffman put all of his energy into this performance, able to adeptly capture Bruce’s persona at various times in his life.

Albert Finney played a character 20 years his senior as Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express. Not only did Agatha Chirstie claim this to be the only film adaptation of her work with which she was completely satisfied, she felt that Finney’s performance came closest to her ideal of Poirot. Finney had been a leading actor for nearly 15 years, but most people did not recognize him in the role given his makeup and spot-on Belgian accent.

Which brings us to the winner. Art Carney will always be best known for his portrayal of Ed Norton on The Honeymooners. But he appeared in over 35 movies, many of which were made for TV. In 1974, he had the starring role in Harry and Tonto, and won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Having seen the above four movies, I was always baffled as to how one of those performances did not garner Oscar gold. However, I really could not judge fairly as I hadn’t seen his effort. Until now.

I rented Harry and Tonto solely to make the comparison between this performance and the other four, but I went into my viewing with an open-minded attitude, not knowing what to expect. Carney plays Harry Combes, a not-quite elderly man who takes his cat, Tonto, on leashed walks around his New York City neighborhood. His building is being demolished to put in a “fancy new parking lot” and Harry is forced to move in with his son. While there, he bunks with his grandson who has taken a vow of silence (sound familiar?). Eventually, relations become strained in the household and Harry decides to visit his other two children in Chicago and Los Angeles. Of course, traveling with Tonto creates interesting problems and the movie quickly becomes a road picture. Harry is full of witty remarks and literary references along the way, and he finds a wide array of character actors who are quirky, but good-hearted and friendly to him. After finally meeting his bankrupt son in Los Angeles, he decides it’s the right place for him and ends up staying there. Sometime after, Tonto passes away at the age of eleven. Harry spends the rest of his time hanging out on the beach. The movie ends with him picking up a stray cat that resembles Tonto, and then creepily helping a random little girl with her sand castle.

I found it to be a decent movie, and I’d probably OWR it at 61: Meandering. If you’ve already seen the other four above, I’d first watch Chinatown again and then finally give this one a gander.

But the real question is whether Art Carney deserved the Oscar. I can assuredly say, at least with thirty years of hindsight, that he did not. I really don’t know what kind of actor Carney is, as I’ve probably seen him in roughly two episodes of The Honeymooners prior to watching this film. All four of the other performances were supreme. His was merely adequate. Firstly, he spends most of the time acting opposite a cat. A cat with no dialogue. I suppose one could say that this is challenging for an actor. But Carney plays it like he graduated from the Jim Rome school of acting (for more on Jim Rome, click here). He mutters short phrases with brief pauses between them for minutes at a time. Here’s one example early in the film when he is “discussing” his neighborhood with Tonto. Note that between each sentence you should be mentally inserting a two-second beat.

“Paper Route. Yeah, we had paper routes in those days. Get up early in the morning. Help the boy make some pocketmoney. It’s a wonderful neighborhood. It’s rundown. It’s running down. It all runs down sooner or later. Where would I go to live? I still know a lot of people around here, Tonto. You know people. That’s home.” [sigh] [yawn] [nod off to sleep]

Later in the film while driving a car with Tonto relaxing on the dashboard, Carney explains the world to his cat again:

“You know, Tonto, when I was very young. I thought about driving, cross country. Never made it though. Met Annie and that was that. Kids. Family. Work. Wasn’t Annie’s fault. Oh we had good times. But you know maybe.. … maybe I thought there just wasn’t enough… time. Or enough money. On the other hand, there really was. We had good times, though. Good times. Lake Saranac. Cape Cod. Beautiful summers. Annie loved to swim. Much better swimmer than I was. Powerful strokes. People used to wonder… how that little body… could churn through the water that way. Wonderful. I’ll let you in on something, Tonto. I have a great fear of pain. I would rather go… like that… than suffer for a long time. Oh, how Annie suffered. The suffering was worse than the dying. I dreaded seeing her in the morning. She never complained. Never complained. That was my specialty. Hell. You know you never really feel… somebody’s suffering. You only feel their death. [A police car appears in the rearview mirror] Just act normal, kiddo. Just act normal.”

Does that seem like an Oscar-worthy performance to you? Because of Carney’s deadpan delivery, the film comes off like a made for TV movie of the week. Now, one could note that he is in every scene. However, the same could be said of Finney, Nicholson, and Hoffman. One could also say that he carries the picture. This would be a falsehood. Much like a lot of 1970s road films, it’s the quirky side-characters who drive everything. If anything, all the other actors around him show his ineffectiveness. (Incidentally, the last quirky character Harry encounters is some sort of California beach-lovin’ cat-lady played by Sally Marr. Sally Marr just happens to be Lenny Bruce’s mother and was heavily involved in the movie based on his life – I wonder who she was pulling fer.)

Harry goes through few non-geographic changes and is the same curmudgeon at the end of the movie that he was at the beginning, only in sunnier climes. There has been no dramatic story arc, and Norton only chooses to “emote” in one totally misplayed scene at the morgue after his friend dies. Honestly, I have to say that the cat acts circles around him.

Look, I know the Academy skews elderly, and that was probably the case in the mid-70s as well. I’m sure the story of an older man trying to figure out how his life became sad is somewhat compelling. But to vote for him against the other four options is unconscionable. I just wish we had some footage of the event to see if anyone pulled a Faith Hill. I’m sure I would have.

Hoffman and Nicholson both won Best Actor twice (and Jack only had to wait one year). Pacino finally got his in 1993. Finney has yet to win one, but has had a long and successful career. I’m sure none of them are sweatin’ it at this point. But the next time people talk about how so-and-so got robbed, think of the 47th awards and remember Art Carney with reverence. And little Tonto, too.

OWR: Match Point

77: Crafty

Friday, March 9, 2007

OWR: Gladiator

35: Banal

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

OWR: Touching the Void

84: Gripping

First Blush: Aracde Fire - Neon Bible

As previously mentioned in this space, I’m kinda into these guys. I have been eagerly awaiting this album for a while. I wanted the deluxe edition (which does not truly appear to be worth the extra four dollars – unless you really like flipbooks and those baseball cards that look like they move if you tilt them back and forth), but upon arriving at Best Buy, there was one lonely copy of the standard version. I made a skinny guy go check in the back and he found some buried treasure. Apparently, there’s been rampant internet availability, but I have not heard these songs yet. So without further ado…

Track 1 – Black Mirror
0:02 – Growing thunder or something
0:13 – Suffragette City riff in effect.
0:49 – Win starts off with a whisper and keeps it there. I can barely make out what he’s saying outside of the chorus which is simply “Black Mirror” repeated.
1:21 – Win kicks it up a notch with a lot of low notes behind him.
1:55 – “Black mirror knows no reflection. It knows not pride or vanity.” I’m totally lost on what this is about, but that’s nothing new.
2:18 – Shouting in French!
2:37 – This definitely has the feel of an “intro” track. They’re not trying to blow their wad too early. There’s definitely a richer level of production than in their previous releases.

Track 2- Keep the Car Running
0:01 – String section tuning up leads into a banjo(?) and then thumping drums.
0:28 – Feeling very snappy!
1:18 – Win’s voice hauntingly echoed all on its own
1:47 – “Hoooo-ooohohoooho” That’ll stick. I’ll sing along once I get it down.
2:19 – Second time they’ve built the bass drum up and then backed off into another verse. I’m craving a taller peak.
3:21 – It could be a single, although not a huge hit. That track had more pep to it.

Track 3 – Neon Bible
0:41 – This one’s very low thus far.
1:14 – I feel like we’re being told a story here, but obviously I don’t know what it’s about yet.
1:58 – Well, that’s the least I’ve ever written about a track in First Blush, but it’s a short ‘un.

Track 4 – Intervention
0:10 – Beautiful-sounding pipe organ (which I believe was recorded in a church if I recall correctly – liner notes confirm this)
1:15 – “Workin’ for the Church while your family dies.” So this one’s a tad bleak.
1:38 – Drums kick in and we’re groovin’ now. This is the first single, and I can see why.
2:00 – Win’s voice picks up as the strings come in.
3:04 – The lyrics are now echoed by Regine, sounding very far away.
3:24 – Most fired up Win’s been yet. This song is a winner, despite how slick it sounds.
3:54 – We finish with the repeated line, “Hear the soldier groan, ‘We’ll go it alone.’” With the organ holding on at the end. Best song so far.

Track 5 – Black Wave / Bad Vibrations
0:10 – Reminiscent of some 80s song from Karate Kid or something – like there’s a Casio keyboard, even though I know that’s highly unlikely with this band.
1:12 – The track is kind of dull at this point. It’s almost like the whole thing is in the background.
1:39 – Now Win comes in and the drums have more to it. This must be the second section, although he’s clearly saying something about a Black Wave. Maybe they reversed the titles to throw us off.
2:59 – We can almost hear the Black Wave crest - something in the percussion breaking over everything.

Track 6 – Ocean of Noise
0:07 – It’s living up to the billing so far. I’m picturing the sounds from a 60s exploitation film. Some sort of chase down a dark alley (not the music from that movie – the sounds).
1:06 – Another dark track, this one is almost groovy in its gloom.
2:08 – “Now who here among us, still believes in choice? Not I.”
3:01 – “All the reasons I gave were just lies to buy myself some time. Can we work it out?” As evidenced by the lyrics, this song seems more personal. Win’s voice sounds closer, and the music is more supportive of it than battling with it for prominence.
4:30 – All strings and trumpet at the end. Almost a woozy sadness.

Track 7 – The Well and the Lighthouse
0:04 – Speedy intro here, and the track continues that way. It’s nearly Bloc Party-esque.
1:43 – The chord progression is very sing-songy, with the beat staying consistently peppy.
2:20 – It breaks down to half-time with the song swaying back and forth almost in a 1960’s Fats Domino kind of way. The song is taking me with it. I just don’t know where we’re going.
3:25 – It’s practically Motown now.

Track 8 – (Antichrist Television Blues)
0:06 – Mama’s got a squeezebox, Daddy never sleeps at night!
0:35 – I hate that I keep just comparing these songs to different artists, but this reminds me of Bruce Springsteen (after that Who-ey intro).
1:45 – It looks like they’re only putting half their lyrics into the liner notes. Not for half the songs, but half of each song. Interesting. The question is, are the ones that are written more important or is it the ones that aren’t – and how did they decide which ones to include in the first place?
3:38 – Soaring in kind of a whiny way.
5:07 – EXTREMELY abrupt ending to the song. Like whoah.

Track 9 – Windowsill
0:10 – Just a little bit of guitar and one drum and Win singing about what he don’t want.
0:48 – We’ve added some singers
0:59 – When they put that intro Youtube out a month or two ago, this was one of the points that really stuck with me. Subtle and sudden at the same time.
2:05 – “Because the tide is high. And it’s rising still. And I don’t want to see it at my windowsill.” One could call this song political, but it’s more societal. It’s the richest song thus far, even if it’s condemning my country (or is it just the people in my country – if that’s the case, then yeah – 4 million of them went to see Wild Hogs last weekend). I can’t say I disagree with the issues it’s raising.
3:07 – There’s the Freedom Horn! Been waiting for that.

Track 10 – No Cars Go
0:08 – Hey, I know that guy. He’s a nihilist. What gives? Thought this was a new album?
0:38 – OK, the version is clearly different – but do I judge it on its own merits or compare it to the original. Because I love the original and on a First Blush, I’m probably not going to like this one better.
1:20 – I think the “Hey!” is better in the original. It’s too front-and-center here. I’m sure I’ll get over that.
2:07 – Bass is being played by some sort of horns? It’s an interesting sound, either way.
2:20 –I guess they have to play this one at every show since it’s on two-thirds of their releases, right?
3:49 – Yeah, I really don’t see the point. I realize the instrumentation is a bit different and so is the mix, but if it ain’t broke… ‘Cause I’m either going to never appreciate this one or it’s going to make me like the other one less. And I don’t want to do that.

Track 11 – My Body is a Cage
0:01 – A cappella beginning.
0:45 – Win is going for soul and he’s not doing too badly with it, even though it’s clearly not his forte.
1:33 – It’s all organ, vocals and little drums. Totally different from any AF we’ve heard before, but I’m digging it.
2:10 – Damn! All the sound just came crashing in.
2:24 – Snare drum is kicking things up, now.
2:50 – I’m calling this track a masterpiece right now. I will clearly listen to it over and over again.
3:13 – I’m already uncontrollably singing along…
3:37 – Win at the absolute top of his range, pleading, “Set my spirit free.”
3:58 – We finally get a “Woh!” from Win – first on the album if I’m not mistaken.
4:44 – Song fades out very quickly and that’s the end of the record.

I’m not sure what to think yet. Funeral took me several listens to even begin to appreciate what it was all about. So I don’t want to judge too quickly here. You folks who downloaded off the internet three weeks ago might have a better opinion. Feel free to let me know how it’s digesting for ya. On Funeral, you could sense the sadness for each track. That’s not the case here. There are certainly at least a few standout tracks for which I eagerly await getting all the nuances. The question is if the others that seem “duller” (I don’t mean boring, just not as emotional) will sharpen up over time. I’m willing to put my faith in the band and say “fer sure.” After one listen, it’s clear that any publication saying this is crap is out of their minds (there have been several).

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Unyielding Commissioning Doesn’t Know Either

My mind's made up: Yes folks, we have settled on Unyielding Commissioning for our random posting/newsworthy item. Expect to see the these updates a bit more often as we press on.

Arcade Fire Update: Neon Bible comes out today, so if you didn’t steal it off the internet, you will want to go and buy it now. Apparently there are two versions, a plain Jane one and then another with a “booklet”. I have no idea what this means, but you can be certain that I’m procuring the deluxe one. For the standard version, best deal around appears to be Circuit City ($7.99). The bookleted version is cheapest at Best Buy or Target ($11.99), although Target’s website is not as clear. I’m sure these deals are going fast, so get it done ASAP. Oh, and if you didn't get tickets to any of the three shows they're playing at the Chicago Theater, you'd better start being really nice to your friends who grabbed extras... New Stooges (The Weirdness) out today as well (11.99 at either BB or CC). Also new Antibalas.

Color me baffled: You may have noticed that Wild Hogs was not only the number one movie of the weekend, it actually nearly grossed $40 MM. What is wrong with you people?!? David Fincher’s Zodiac made only $13.4 MM, and Black Snake Moan came in at a piddling $4.1 MM. According to Yahoo,

“It was Walt Disney Co.’s biggest March opening ever. It was also the largest-ever debut for the 53-year-old Travolta as well as the best non-animated movie debut for Allen, who is also 53.”
I loathe the weekly news roundup of the “big winner at the box office” because that movie often makes something like twelve million. But they nearly cleared $40 MM! How could this have happened? First, let’s review what we know. Metacritic says it’s a 27. The Tomatometer says 18. So clearly the movie wasn’t well-reviewed. And unlike Norbit, there isn’t a star doing something people have loved seeing him do in the past. Regardless of Norbit’s shortcomings, I could see why folks wanted to check it out. But this is just shocking. The only thing I can come up with is that this was a brilliant exercise in demographic coverage. Tim Allen has his followers (white people from the deep suburbs – er, make that the rural suburbs – who watch TBS during the afternoon). William H. Macy has his followers (indie movie fans who love that he can play a wide range of characters who stammer). Martin Lawrence has his followers (drunk people). And Travolta has his followers (Scientologists? Really, I can’t imagine that anyone is actually a Travolta fan, right? I love Quentin Tarantino, but because of him, we've been subjected to more Travolta than is reasonable). In any event, they must have overlapped fan bases perfectly. If it still doesn’t add up, all I can say is, chicks dig bikes…

Here There be Tygers...

First Blush: Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

As mentioned earlier, Circuit City screwed me by not having this one in stock. So consequently, we’re nearly two weeks late on First Blush. This is the Explosions’ third or fourth album, depending on how you look at things. Their previous efforts have been superb instrumental, avant-garde rawk. I expect more of the same, but now that they have more attention, we’ll see if they either try to perfect their previous sound or mix it up. Either way, we know that I will not be able to quote any lyrics because there won’t be any. So this may be an exercise in futility. Here we go!

Track 1 – The Birth and Death of the Day
0:01 A low howl goes into super-distorted strumming with echo.
0:28 Now that’s an explosion – boom! They are building this intro and I’m ready to be thrilled.
1:47 It all fades out to some finger-picking with a kick drum and now some slow-building guitar progression. Oh, and a little tambourine for good measure. Davey Jones would be happy. Things keep building…
3:42 Now we’re down to just two guitars before launching into thumps from the guitar and drums.
4:36 Really rolling now. I’m totally digging this song. It’s somehow more musical than what they’ve done before. I realize that doesn’t make sense. Maybe this is how Explosions in the Sky does a pop song.
5:59 Everything is feeling triumphant!
7:39 All is quiet now, and I have to say that I’m quite pleased with how the album has begun.

Track 2 – Welcome, Ghosts
0:14 There was no break between songs, we just turned right into it.
0:25 Christopher Hrasky (drums) is carrying the track in the early going.
1:33 The drums here are literally thudding on the off beat – like they stuffed them with plush children’s toys or something.
2:45 All is quiet – this is the smallest part of the album thus far.
3:07 I don’t know how they get their guitars to sound the way they do, but right now it sounds exactly like a piano. Often times, they sound like bells or wind chimes. It’s amazing.
4:58 Thick finish to this one, pounding drums, cymbals and tons of distortion on the guitar. It will be fantastic live methinks.

Track 3 – It’s Natural to be Afraid
0:10 It begins somewhat reminiscent of Money For Nothin’.
0:34 That doesn’t last long, though as things start to get very dark. I just realized this track is over thirteen minutes long.
2:04 Nothing new to report. Still loading more sound as we go, but it’s a slow build.
2:31 There are scant few liner notes in this album, but the artwork is superb. You see the cover above. Clearly there has been a tremendous flood and we only see one person standing at the bow of a small boat, looking across the water’s surface while holding a lamp. They’re looking for someone, most likely anyone. The only companion they have is a bird, caged at the stern. Off in the distance, we can see what might be the light of someone else. Or perhaps might be the sun setting, or maybe just a streetlamp that somehow still has electricity. However, when we open the booklet inside, we see the same picture, but it is surrounded by other images – most likely memories from this fellow, wistfully going over the major and minor points of his life before everything changed. He plays basketball, watches TV with his brother, celebrates a birthday alone, and shares romance at the deep end of a swimming pool. However, if we flip that picture over, we see a scene that must be ten minutes after the previous one. The other light has proven to be a boat with three people aboard. However, our protagonist is now looking directly down into the water, apparently not even noticing the other boat despite their raised hand and presumed call. Perhaps they were not the people he was hoping for, or maybe he would prefer to gaze down, preserving his memories as they are.
7:06 The song portrays more of an image of hope now, picking up the pace and volume.
7:26 Another low section here.
9:19 Now we bust out suddenly with two guitars working against one another at very high ranges – it’s not dueling banjos by any means, but the interplay is subtly brilliant.
12:03 It’s a lot of feedback and floating guitar notes as the song winds down, somehow giving a peaceful and eerie quality at the same time.

Track 4 – What do you go Home to?
0:09 Again these are guitars sounding almost exactly like a piano.
1:17 OK, I think that actually is a piano. This is new for the band if I’m not mistaken.
2:12 This track has nearly a Phillip Glass feel, but not quite so atonal. Each contribution stands on its own, as opposed to earlier when they were dancing with one another, all the elements are doing their own thing so far.
4:16 This is the mellowest track on the album – there are no unified crashes or tremendous builds.
4:47 We end with a single low piano note struck with the left hand.

Track 5 – Catastrophe and the Cure
0:20 Already cooking at this point, clearly ready to bounce things back up
0:43 Drums are driving this one right now, although the whole band is playing “busy.”
1:46 Someone in this band is going to get tendonitis for sure.
2:21 The calm before another impending storm, I can only assume.
3:04 Echoey drums lead to…
3:17 Not a storm, but a progression into a sparse but quick echoed section. Teasers!
5:47 More sound now, but it’s not violent by any means. Tons of snare drum here.

Track 6 – So long, Lonesome
0:00 Again, no break between songs here as the finger picking from the end of the last song goes right into this one.
0:56 The piano is featured.
1:21 There are no drums, but all instruments are circling around one another, with the piano leading everything, picked and strummed guitars mixing in and then guitars way up in the background almost singing notes.
2:47 The drums kick in and the song finishes slowly, but powerfully and perhaps peacefully.

I can’t wait to listen to this thing again. They have gone for more of a themed release than in the past – as opposed to a collection of songs – and it is to their credit. If you love music, and I know you do, I highly recommend checking this out. Of course, Explosions in the Sky always gets better after multiple listens, but so far, I’m quite fond of the album. If you act fast and buy it from them directly, you can get a limited edition bonus CD with each of the songs remixed by various people.

Monday, March 5, 2007

OWR: Casino Royale

78: Manic-depressive

Schwarzenegger Sunday - The Running Man

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

We find ourselves in the far-off year of 2017. America is manipulated by a government that rules with an iron fist, controlling the populous, the media and all other aspects of daily life. Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a former police officer who was wrongly imprisoned and apparently forced to grow an awful beard after the Bakersfield Massacre. After helping orchestrate a jailbreak, he happens upon the apartment of Amber Mendez, kidnaps her, and attempts to flee to Hawaii. However, he is caught at the airport and then forced to appear on The Running Man, the world’s most popular TV show, hosted by Damon Killian. “Runners” are pursued by “Stalkers” who dole out justice by chasing down the Runners and killing them. Richards and his two accomplices are able to fend off the early Stalkers, but both minor characters are eliminated soon thereafter. In the meantime, Amber has gotten into trouble by pulling the true footage of the Bakersfield incident, so she is then forced to join the Runners. Richards and Amber manage to find the resistance base within the game zone and override the government controlled satellite feed. They lead a team that storms the TV studio and takes over the show just in time. Killian is sent hurtling to his death and Richards and Amber have a rather forced makeout session.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: More than any other Arnold movie, the quality here really depends on the viewer. There are a slew of truly horrendous lines, but there are enough good ones included that I’m willing to take the good with the bad. They include:
“I’m going to throw up all over you.” “Good, it won’t show on this shirt.”
“Don’t forget to send me a copy” (as he stabs his court-appointed “agent” with a pen)
“Hey light-head! He Christmas tree!”
“Hello cutie-pie. One of us is in deep trouble.”
“Well that hit the spot!” 6

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: As stated above, the cheeky lines abound in this one. Arnold also gives a lot of philosophical speeches about all kinds of things, and it comes off as pure comedy. Some of the lesser ones:
“Here lies Subzero. Now, plain zero!”
“Yeah, he was a real pain in the neck!”
“What happened to Buzzsaw?” “Oh, he had to split.”
“How about a light?”
“What a hothead.”
“You bastard! Drop dead!” “I don’t do requests.” 9

“I’ll be back.”: Just as he is about to be shot out into the game zone, Richards calls Killian over and tells him “I’ll be back.” Killian retorts, “Only in a rerun.” 9
Smarmy Villain: Richard Dawson of Family Feud fame plays Killian, and completely steals the show. Without his contribution, this movie would fall flat on its face. He is as smarmy as can be, flippantly letting random actors die and constantly making sure the show must go on. At one point, he says of the District Attorney, “Just give them an evasive answer. Tell them to go fuck themselves.” He comes at this role as part game-show host, part evangelist, part snake-oil salesman, but arrogant and totally in control. Whether it’s exhorting cheers from the audience, motivating the Stalkers or generally keeping things moving, he never loses sight of the bottom line – keeping those ratings up. 9
Rough and Tumble Henchman: This movie is loaded with ‘em. We see badass Stalkers in the following order. Subzero, a gigantic Japanese hockey player with a goalie stick that can cut through a gong. Buzzsaw, a roid-raging, motorcycle-riding chainsaw wielder who constantly looks as if he will pop a vein in his neck at any moment. I mean, look at this guy! Dynamo, a chubby, blonde opera singer whose armor appears to be made out of a Lite-Brite, but somehow allows him to shoot lighting out of his fingertips. He drives quite possibly the dumbest vehicle in history. Fireball, played by Jim Brown sporting a Bride of Frankenstein hairdo. He flys around on a jetpack and attacks runners with a flame-thrower. Finally, Captain Freedom who is played by Jessie The Body Ventura, but he never actually tussles with Richards. Any one of these characters is somewhat fearsome. Well, OK, not dynamo. I really can’t believe that’s the best they could come up with… 9

Diminutive Sidekick: Richards is rarely onscreen with his two accomplices, Weiss and Loughlin. Plus, they didn’t appear to be all that short. n/a

Rejected hot love interest: The best we can do here is the Running Man dancers. When Richards appears on stage, they dance around him, taunting him in a somewhat flirty manner. This hardly qualifies, although it is notable that Paula Abdul was credited as the choreographer. n/a

Not nearly hot enough love interest: When I was younger, I found Maria Conchita Alonso to be somewhat unattractive. It could have been the horrible outfits or maybe the fact that she chooses to work out in lingerie. Either way, she’s clearly very good-looking, if a bit screechy. Richards could do a hell of a lot worse. 2

Arnold yelling: Surprisingly, there’s really no scene where he lets out a normal howl. However, he takes it up a notch when he tells Killian: “I live to see you eat that contract. But I hope you leave enough room for my fist, because I'm going to ram it into your stomach and break your goddamn spine!” 5

Arnold cursing: Arnold curses a fair amount, but never in a way that carries any significance. However, audience member Agnes McCardell has a fantastic one when she says, “I think the next kill, will be made by… Ben Richards. I can pick anyone I choose, and I choose Ben Richards. That boy's one mean motherfucker.” This line changes everything, as people begin laying bets on Richards and rooting for him. 7
Arnold crazyface: There are crazyfaces galore here. None are an all-time winner, but I give you several to choose from: 8
Superfluous Explosions: There are several moments in the movie with explosions. About half of them are totally superfluous. The footage of the Bakersfield massacre is particularly over the top. I have no idea how a helicopter could make this happen, but apparently in the year 2017, we will have that technology at our disposal: 8
Director: Paul Michael Glaser is best known for playing Detective Dave Starsky on the 1970s police show, Starsky and Hutch. Most of his direction credits are for either television or sports movies. He never worked with Arnold again.

Franco Columbu: You know, I can’t even tell if this is really Franco or not, but he’s in the credits as 911 Security Officer #2. If he’s in the first scene, responding to the riot, he has to be the middle of the three men pictured here. I think. 5While we’re at it, it should be noted that Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa have somewhat major roles in this film. I have to think that favors must have been owed. Or perhaps they just wanted all those Dweezil fans to show up for the box office. Also, are we sure that this is not Jim Harbaugh?
Sven Ole-Thorsen: Not only is Sven all over this movie, and not only is his character named Sven, he gets a line! This has to be his career role, besting his performance as Olaf in Overboard. However, for years I had no idea what his actual line is. Something about steroids. My best guess is, “I go to zcore zum steroids.” 10

Shirtless Arnold: Surprisingly, Arnold is never shirtless in this movie. I know, it’s crazy. You’d think being imprisoned several times, it would have happened. He does wear tank tops a few times, but clearly he did not have much creative control on this one. n/a

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: Each Stalker’s death gets progressively less brutal. Subzero is strangled to death by a barbed wire fence. Buzzsaw has his chainsaw enter him in the most sensitive of areas. But then Fireball is merely blown up (sir). Finally, Dynamo is killed by a sprinkler system. 7

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: Speaking of superfluous explosions, I will forever be baffled by the ending. Instead of killing him directly, Richards sends Killian through the zoomy tunnel thing, but somehow the nets designed to stop the sled are not up. It skitters across the ground before inexplicably going airborne, flying through a Cadre Cola sign and then blowing up. In 2017, do we keep C4 behind billboards as a precautionary measure or something? Also, it is at least peculiar that everyone watching is so excited to see Killian die. Mere minutes before the satellite takeover, he was everyone's favorite celebrity. One guy watching even says, "Yeah Damon!" So the guy was cheering for him - as he exploded. In any event, this is hardly the brutality we have come to expect. 2

Plausibly implausible plot: I’m not sure where to begin here. Clearly we are going to make some leaps of faith when we tune in to a movie about a TV game show where criminals are hunted for sport. So we have to accept a lot going in. But if we are going to wonder about the plot, I have many questions. When breaking out of prison, why didn’t they just go around the area with the decapitation devices? Amber moved into her apartment and it still had the same security code from when Richards’ brother lived there? Wouldn’t Amber also share the uplink code with Richards in case she is killed along the way but he is not? Dweezil Zappa is in a movie? But on the whole, it’s an exercise in farfetched fun, and we buy it all, mainly because we want to. I suppose when things are set that far off in the future, you are willing to accept a lot of changes in our way of life. 7

Ambiguous ending: It certainly seems like all is wrapped up at the end. Richards and Amber kiss on live television, Killian is dead and Sven went to score some steroids. But wouldn’t the government have a response to all of this? Was freedom restored through the magic of live television? Sadly, they never made a sequel, so we don’t know. We must take it on faith that Richards went on to be some kind of popular figure. Maybe even Governor of California or something. 7

While it’s on TV all the time, I hadn’t really sat down to actively watch this movie in quite a while. It is horribly dated, and much of it is so improbable it comes across as hacky. It’s still enjoyable, but mainly because of all the dumb lines and that Sven is in half the scenes. If Schwarzenegger was not in this movie, there's a very good chance that no one ever would have seen it.

Friday, March 2, 2007

OWR: Big Fish

55: Corny