Archive | July, 2009

Murfins and Burgalinks

31 Jul

REU TELEVISION-AMERICANIDOL/–Captain TryHard Returns– It’s official – lamer Kara DioGuardi will be returning to Idol.  I’m not totally convinced that this is a bad thing; there’s a chance that she’ll take the off-season to reflect on what she could be doing better and will return with a newfound focus and determination to offer real critical feedback.  Orrrrr…. she’ll be the exact same, everyone else will be the same too, and without a Lambert, the show will be brutally uninteresting and I’ll stop watching.  Hmm.  Which do you think is more likely?  Anyway – Idolator’s got the scoop, and an interesting poll, too.

–Fantastic? Remains to be seen– The trailer for Wes Anderson’s new stop-motion film adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox is up, and Pajiba’s posted it, along with an interesting take on it.  I agree – it’s distracting to hear Clooney’s voice coming from Mr. Fox, and the whole thing has such an Oceans Eleven by way of Royal Tenenbaums thing going on that it’s hard to figure out what, exactly, the goal of the film is.  I’ll see it, though, that’s for sure.  At least Anderson’s not resting on his laurels – I majorly enjoyed The Darjeeling Limited, and have a feeling that when all’s said and done, Fox will be really good.

–The Last Child vs. The Little Children– If you’ve been missing out on Joe R’s Low Resolution Trailer Tournament, now’s your last chance to vote.  It comes down to Children of Men vs. Little Children, and is actually a kind of hard vote.  I didn’t see Little Children, but I read the book, and while I appreciate the trailer, it seems a little more intense than the actual story, and a bit misleading.  Children of Men’s trailer, however, is kind of an abridged version of the movie, but I totally, utterly love that movie, so… it’s hard.  I had to follow my heart and vote for Children of Men.  Go vote!

Palin Redline Detail–Find That Woman An Editor– I’m sure y’all have already seen this, but a week or so ago, Vanity Fair published an edited “Redline” version of Sarah Palin’s first resignation speech.  It’s pretty amazing – on one level, it’s funny because it points out all of the ridiculous errors in the speech, and on another level, it actually turns it into a good speech, which is almost more amazing. Also worth noting is that this is the same Vanity Fair that published the brutally incisive expose on Palin merely a week before she resigned her office.  Oh, whoops, I meant her “title.”

–I’ll Have A Bud Light Lime, Mr. President– Speaking of politics, The New Yorker published this imagined transcript of the conversation between Obama, Officer Crowley, and Louis Gates after getting together to have a beer.  Or, from the looks of it, a couple cases of beer.  This was published before Obama went ahead and actually made it happen, which is pretty funny – I’m not sure whether the tone of the article is “wouldn’t it be sweet if they actually did this??” but regardless, they did, and we can only hope that their conversation was one tenth as funny as the New Yorker imagines.

–Real Band, Fake Plastic Instruments– Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra and Sexy Videogameland, recently got together with Brooklyn beard-rockers Gunfight! to see if they were better at Rock Band than people who don’t play instruments.  While the answer to that question isn’t all that interesting (They are!  Some of the time!), the article itself is a fun read, particularly the band’s thoughts on the whole thing.

Eliza Dollhouse–How to Really Watch Dollhouse– Via MNPP, I’ve found this post at io9, which discusses some experimental, possibly optimal ways to watch Dollhouse on DVD.  It’s pretty wild that this show has been so altered by the network that it’s possible to watch the unaired pilot, the final episode, and the unaired bonus episode (which I just saw) and get a better sense of the show than you would just watching the 12 episodes FOX aired.  I mean, that’s 66.6% unaired material. The hell?  Get your shit together, FOX, and let Joss do his job in season 2.

–Joe Bagale, Joe Bagale, Joe Bagale– He is this guy, you know?  He plays several instruments, and he also sings a little bit.  Oh, wait.  I mean, he is a sick guitarist, burning drummer, and absolutely unbelievable singer.  The guy who practically stole the show at Adam’s Hip-Hop Symphony is performing all over the place with his own band, and it’s totally great stuff.  He’ll be playing at Yoshi’s in SF tonight, and I predict awesomeness.  Don’t take my word for it, though, check out this video – it’s like cliff’s notes for a whole show-

Should be a fun weekend, and let’s hope that this stupid flippin’ fog clears up.  Hasta Luego!

So You Think You Can Douche

31 Jul

Daily Show So You Think You Can Douche

Glen Beck! Sean Hannity! Lou Dobbs!  Who will go home tonight?  I thought that Hannity’s solo routine to Carmina Burana was pretty good, but, in a shocker, Beck wins the night with a double-toepick-contradiction that has the audience out of their seats!  This show, I’m telling ya – people say it’s just cheap thrills, but really, the level of douchebaggery on display makes it so much more than that. (Via)

So I Think Lil’ C Just Blew My Mind

30 Jul

Lil C Top Six SYTYCDWow.  I’ve said it before – I, for one, love SYTYCD’s Lil’ C’s particular brand of multisyllabic wordsmithery, but I believe that last night, the man really outdid himself.  At the end of Brandon and Kayla’s (outstanding, if a bit exhausting) Disco routine, we were treated to the following:

“Um… *sigh.*  Being out of your comfort zone represents unfamiliarity, and it also represents darkness.  And when faced with certain challenges, like being out of the comfort zone of your genre, you have to go and befriend characteristics of your challenge.  You have to go and see the music, and when you see the music, you have to see certain pieces of music with your ears, and when you see with your ears, there is no darkness, and I saw no darkness within this routine.”

When I watch C say it, it sounds like he’s sort of bullshitting, but when I read the words on their own, I gotta admit – it’s pretty brilliant stuff.  I don’t know what he means, exactly, but the gist is gotten. It certainly makes me wish I could see the world the way he sees it. He followed up with this gem:

“A lot of dancers they tend to forget that there’s a pocket of music; each specific piece of music has a pocket, and you have to get in between the instruments, you feel me?”

Yeah, C, we feel you. That was, as you might say, a total “Explosion of Excellence(TM).”  It almost feels as though C has heard the mocking/adoring clarion call of the internets and is now playing to the cheap seats, but I for one, don’t care. Between Nigel’s show-pimping, awkward divorce-referencing, goofy white-guy-dancing dorkiness, Mary’s yelling-tempered-with-shockingly-incisive-feedback caterwauling, and C’s stratospheric, meandering vernacular (not to mention Mia’s own brand of insane-cat-woman-from-mars critical devouring), I just love watching the judges on this show do their thing.  And dear lord, they’re so much more enjoyable than Empty Chair, Captain TryHard, Drugged Lady, and Pricky McTightshirt on that other FOX competitive reality show.

Kayla Brandon Disco

Whew.

Okay, um… other thoughts on last night…  I’m in the tank for Jeanine at this point, though I think that Kayla is a pretty phenomenal dancer.  I’m surprised that this year, I’m consistently enjoying the solo routines more than most of the duets – I thought that nearly every single dancer did really well with their solos, though Evan’s shrugging jazz stuff kind of grates on me a bit. I think that Melissa’s was really weak, too, which gives her two lame solos these past two weeks, and that she really should go home tonight.

And though I didn’t love his routines, Evan really impressed me – it’s easy to see the pasty little guy and think that he’s this pantywaist, no match for Ade and Brandon, but the way that he just rocked the moves in the guy’s group-dance speaks to his athleticism, as well as his cajones.  He should go home, but so should Ade, who is increasingly striking me as an empty shirt, a smiling dude who’s kind of shallow. Gotta love that eight-foot vertical, though.

Anyway, rambling complete – not a stellar night, but some good stuff. I predict that Ade and Melissa will go home, which seems about right. I’m really interested to see who wins this thing, though I’m not at all certain I’m ready for another season of this show to start in the fall.  This season has had its moments, but it’s just a B-minus for me, and following the A-plus that was season four, it’s kind of a drag. But hey, as long as they keep the judges around, I’ll tune in.

You say you want more detailed analysis? Well then, check out the as-usual solid write-ups by Vance at Tapeworthy (with whom I agree about just about everything this week) and Joe’s roundtable at Low Resolution.

Michael McKean Smells The Glove

30 Jul

Michael McKean on The Daily ShowI caught Spinal Tap’s recent performance on The Daily Show and damn, they sounded pretty good!  I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought of the band as a real performing entity, for whatever reason; hmm… actually, if you’ve seen the movie (tell me you’ve seen the movie), it’s pretty clear why.

As The Darkness proved, we Americans tend to have a hard time taking rock acts seriously if they’re the least bit funny; for whatever reason, we like our comedy music with props and acoustic guitars, thank you very much. Spinal tap was very funny, and American that I am, I just never considered that they were a serious performing rock group.

I was impressed with everyone’s playing (their hired gun drummer sounded really solid, though the gig must come with hazard pay), but the most impressive by far was Michael McKean, (A.K.A. “David St. Hubbins”). In addition to singing lead, McKean played a mean lead guitar, keeping some notey riffs going during the vocals and taking a pretty damn good solo.  Huh.  I always knew that all three of the guys in the band (McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest) were strong players – if nothing else, their acoustic performances in A Mighty Wind made that clear – but it was pretty cool to hear them hold their own in a straight-up rock performance.

best-higgins-mckean

"The French know nothing about shampooing."

I looked up McKean, and it turns out he’s known as much for his musical work as for his comedic roles.  After doing a ton of various musical variety acts in his early career, he was a musical guest on Saturday Night Live before joining the cast (according to Wikipedia, he is the only person ever to be a musical guest, then a host, and then a cast member). The guy is just always working – he’s a quintessential Hey It’s That Guy, currently playing Spinal Tap shows in support of the band’s new album, writing a musical for Broadway, and starring in various plays and TV pilots (one of which, “The Thick Of It,” sounds like it would have been great – Hurwitz! Guest! WTF, ABC? Get on it, HBO!)

Also cool – together with his wife Anette O’Toole, McKean wrote several songs from A Mighty Wind, including the title tune (“Yes, it’s blowin’ peace and freedom, it’s blowin’ you and me“), and the beautiful “A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow,” a song so great that it single-handedly makes that movie compete with “Best in Show” for my favorite of the Guest ouvre.

And perhaps best of all?  He starred in one of my all-time favorite movies, playing Mr. Green in “Clue”! Mr. Green has long been my favorite character in that movie, and I had no idea McKean played him, though, to be fair, it was long enough ago that he looks completely different.  I guess I’ll just have to force myself to watch that movie again.

So, ladies and gents, I give you Michael McKean -  Singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor, comedian, and undercover FBI agent. Comedy rennaissance man; king of the Hey It’s That Guys.  Props to you, sir.

Michael McKean Mr. Green Clue

"I'm gonna go home and sleep with my wife."

“The Exited Door” Gets Mad Men’d

29 Jul

Mad Men'd JoanIn honor of the coming third season of Mad Men (a program which I believe to be the best currently on television), AMC has set up a site at which a user can upload a photo of him or herself and be “Mad Men’d.”  Similar to past phenomenons like “Simpsonize Me” and “Obamicon Me,” it’s a snap to use, is a great promotional tool, and results in a flood of new Facebook profile pictures.

I have yet to Mad Men’d myself (improper grammar, I know, but that seems somehow better than “Mad Men myself”), because I do not have Flash Player 10, which is required to run the necessary web app.  The reasons behind my dated Flash pluginitude are Hulu-related and not worth detailing here, but the upshot is that, though I would love nothing more than to have a Mad Men’d photo of myself out there, I do not, and I just have to be okay with that.

Fortunately, my friends David and Sonia (she of The Sonia Show), are big fans of the show, too, and after Mad Men’d-ing themselves (o, how the language bends and twists to our desires), they then went ahead and added their Mad Men’d-icized pictures to the cover of The Exited Door, with a pretty amazing result:

ExitedDoorREMIX1

HA!  I’ve never looked so white (well, outside of a wedding reception dance floor, anyway), and Sonia has never looked so much like… Velma, actually. Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that I am incredibly stoked for the show to start back up on August 16th.  I’m ever so curious about what (and when) Don and the gang are up to, and it’ll be nice to once again be able to get all of my smoking and drinking done vicariously through fictional characters.

Dollhouse, “Epitaph One” – The Best DVD Extra Ever?

28 Jul

DeWitt and TopherWow, dudes. On the plane today, I watched the unaired 13th episode of Dollhouse, titled “Epitaph One.”  It comes bundled as a bonus episode in the just-released DVD set of the show’s first season, and holy hell, it’s probably the best, most crucial 50-minutes of “bonus material” I’ve ever seen.  I won’t write any overt spoilers in my reactions/thoughts below, but I will write a little a bit about the episode, so if you’ve yet to see it, you might want to steer clear… suffice to say, if you had even a passing interest in this show and especially if you watched through the finale, you owe it to yourself to rent the DVDs (or use other easier, less “legal” means) to watch this episode.

Epitaph One boots up in the year 2019, several years after the work that Topher and the Dollhouse gang were doing in Season One has reached its logical conclusion, brainwashing the majority of the human race and causing a global apocalypse. The episode stars, among others, Dr. Horrible’s Felicia Day, whose band of survivors stumbles upon the abandoned (or is it?) Dollhouse and begins to piece together what happened all those years ago.  In addition to this A-plot, we see out-of-order and context flashbacks to a still-functional Dollhouse as it reckons with the coming of the brainwash apocalypse.

It’s a brilliantly put-together, riveting hour of television; in fact, I thought it was far, far better than any hour of the show up to this point.  More than anything, watching Epitaph One felt like watching the pilot for a brand-new, upcoming Joss show. I’m kind of incredulous that FOX is really not going to air it, ever.  Can that be true?  It’s such a massive game-changer, imparts such a fuckton of new information, and… well… it’s just so good! Why wouldn’t they just air it?

Dollhouse Epitaph One: Whisky and Caroline

So yeah, killer, killer episode.  I absolutely can’t wait to hear what everyone on the internets thinks – Sepinwall already saw it, and has some choice, enthusiastic words to share, and I’m sure all the other Whedonites out there will chime in soon enough. Actually, they probably all already have.

But for the moment, ahem. I gotta say it. Back when I first wrote about Dollhouse, even while drawing heat from many who said the show was a waste of time, I said this would happen, and now, I just wanted to say:  Neener, Neener, etc. Y’all made me doubt, but here’s what I said at the time:

So, aaaanyway. I’m just sayin’. Provided the show is around long enough, Dollhouse will get good.  They’re going to break Echo out of the Dollhouse, she’s going to have a composite event and start remembering who she is (just look at the end twists in the last two episodes), and the whole idea of mind-reprogramming is going to be explored in new, uncomfortable, and likely awesome ways.

….aaaand BAM.  Without getting too specific or spoiler-y, I was right the fuck on. Maybe the show is still not for you, and maybe you got off the bus during one of the weak-sauce early episodes, but I’m glad I stuck with it.  Assuming that Dollhouse can keep this momentum going, and especially after taking into consideration all of the guest star rumors I’m hearing about (Alexis Denisorf, Summer Glau, Jamie… Bamber? Can that be right?), it seems awfully likely that Season 2 is gonna be some damn good times.

Dollhouse Epitaph One

Midwestern Summer Night’s Dream

28 Jul

Don’t worry, this post isn’t devoted to the content of my dreams last night or anything (though they were pretty crazy – copy-editing was involved), just a reflection on the absolute gorgeousness of summer in the midwest. Today I’m returning home from my second summer trip through/over America – from the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn to the quiet breeze of west St. Paul (sheesh, sounds like a Jeffry Eugenides novel or something) and I thought I’d reflect for a sec. For all the words spilled on the grandeur and beauty of the Pacific Northwest, there really is no more beautiful place than the midwest in the summertime.

Minnesota Sky

Long, rolling landscapes stretch as far as the eye cares to see, the sky full of huge, puffy clouds, windows thrown open to allow the air in… aah! Long evenings spent outside in short sleeves are something we experience with a depressing infrequency in San Francisco, and they make me profoundly nostalgic.

I wonder if there’s a place in the world where the climate combines the temperateness of San Francisco with the summer evenings of the midwest? And then, after wondering that, I roll my eyes and kick myself, because jeez, dude, way to just never be satisfied.

Anyway, today marks the return to San Francisco; back to regular blogging, preparing for the big Rickshaw show on September 3rd, starting work on a music video, writing charts for the kids for next year, and probably a whole slew of other things as yet unanticipated. Heeeeere comes August!

MInnesota Flower

Coraline, Coraline, Coraline

26 Jul

Coraline CatOn the flight out to Minnesota, I watched Coraline, which has just come out on DVD. I plugged in my earphones, fired up the movie, and then… just sat there, transfixed, for the entire running time. Woah. I can’t recommend seeing it enough – it’s an work of incredible, dark beauty, a painstakingly hand-made fairy tale in which no expense was spared bringing the director’s vision to life. What’s more, the film burrows straight into the viewer’s subconscious and delivers an experience that will haunt you long after the credits have rolled. It just might be my favorite move of the year.

As I’ve previously waxed rhapsodic about my love of The Nightmare Before Christmas, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was excited for Coraline – after all, it was written and directed by Henry Selick, the same guy who directed Nightmare, and it uses the same stop-motion technology. However, free from the (increasingly tired, IMO) influence of Tim Burton, Selick has, with Coraline, created something that works just as well, and at times, even better, than his previous film.

Nightmare was a really fun movie that leaned heavily on its incredible music and set-pieces, but the overarching story, the moral of the whole thing, always felt a little bit weak to me – something about being yourself, and being happy for that, but the implementation was just not quite firing on all cylinders. This is not the case with Coraline.

There is a noticeable similarity between the protagonists’ character arcs in both films – Jack/Coraline is tired of his/her existence and takes it for granted, finds magical portal to other world, wants to live in other world, realizes in moment of great peril that perhaps other world is not all it’s cracked up to be, finds way home with new-found appreciation for everyday life… However, the big difference between the films is what’s going on under the surface – in Nightmare, all of the little visual coups des graces, the fun details, seemed created in service of making a whimsical, fully-realized world. In Coraline, the same sorts of details feel designed to creep you the fuck out.

Coraline Doll Dissection 2

Take the film’s opening, which is one of the most brilliant, unsettling credit sequences I’ve seen in a long time. Spidery, metallic hands methodically disrobe, cut open, and gut a girl-shaped cloth doll, emptying out its innards, turning it inside out, and re-stitching it. The whole thing is just horrific – by showing us just enough to get us thinking about what it would be like should we be watching a real girl instead of a doll, the sequence sets the film’s tone right away.

Coraline Birth Canal

Paging Dr. Freud, you've got a call on three.

Coraline is filled with that sort of trickery – rather than merely showing the viewer something, it works at our subconscious, allowing us to come to our own (most assuredly not PG-rated) conclusions. In that way, it’s the most Jungian film I’ve seen in a long time. Modern Jackass alert: in a brilliant play on the idea of motherhood, Coraline crawls to the new world through a long, pink tunnel that not-so-coincidentally resembles a birth canal. She is then “reborn” into a world in which her mother is a freakish caricature of maternal love, in which, indeed (spoiler) that mother is really a soul-sucking metallic spider, a monster who will kill her by “loving her to death,” a process which we are left to imagine for ourselves. This world is initially thought by Coraline to be a dream, to exist only in her unconscious, And do I need to get into the deep, disturbing concept of cutting out a little girl’s eyes and sewing on buttons? At the film’s conclusion, once our heroine has realized the truth, saved her parents, and escaped, where does she throw the key to the tunnel? That’s right, straight down a well. Ahem.

There are other, smaller pokes at our subconscious, as well, several of which are literary in nature – in an homage to Alice in Wonderland (and I challenge Tim Burton’s remake to come close to capturing the magic on display in Selick’s film), we’ve got a grinning, know-it-all cat who appears and disappears at will, and there’s a brilliant scene in which a giant cockroach shuffles from the dark to block a doorway. (Are you there, Kafka? It’s me, Coraline.)

The edges of every scene are filled with subtle, violent imagery, like how Coraline’s Other Mother uses an oven mitt shaped like a rooster head (implying severing of said head), as well as more overtly disturbing stuff including a particularly memorable scene in which the gymnast from upstairs jumps down and lands over Coraline just after she’s picked up a pair of pruning shears, resulting in a chilling near-castration:

Coraline Almost Accidental Castration

Yikes. It’s onscreen for a fraction of a second, and film doesn’t even comment on it, opting to just keep on moving, letting anyone who caught it do the math.

From the beginning to the end credits, the music is absolutely incredible. Bruno Coulais is a French composer whose work I’ve never heard – he did the score for Microcosmos and Winged Migration, and while I haven’t seen those two movies, I’ve heard that they’re both great, and could see Coulais’ music working in a documentary. It’s all plucked harps, children’s choirs, guitars and percussion, marimba and hand drumming, with a brilliant sense of motion – sort of French lyrical song by way of Thomas Newman. The songs are mostly en Francais, which heightens the feeling that you’re watching an old-school European fairy tale. It’s really beautiful stuff – you can hear one of the main tracks here, and I recommend just putting it on, watching the images, and listening.

Other Father Song CoralineAs if Coulais hadn’t done enough to win me over with his score, at one point in the film the button-eyed “Other Father,” (voiced by John Hodgman), sings the wonderfully weird “Other Father Song,” which, about five notes in, I realized was written by They Might Be Giants and sung by John Flansburgh. The song is really fun, and just weird enough to seem celebratory while also relentlessly pinging viewers’ creep-out detectors. Bonus points for the lyric “She’s as cute as a button in the eyes of everyone who ever laid their eyes on Coraline.” Ha ha ha *shudder*.

There is so much more to love about this movie – I mean, a trapeze show is performed for an audience of 200-odd hand-made miniature Scottish Terriers – but if you’ve seen it, you already know what I’m talking about. It’s a work of incredible imagination and the product of an unfathomable amount of hard work. Ye gods, to hand-make so many miniature people, their clothes, their house and surroundings, and then to bring them to life one by one… it’s a labor of love the scale of which blows my mind.

I can’t recommend Coraline enough. It is without a doubt one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and seems destined to be one that I re-watch for years to come.

Coraline Other Parents

Murfins and Burgalinks

24 Jul

PaulaAbdul_Crying–Hey, Hey, Paula– If the warring sides of the rumor mill are to be believed, it looks as though Paul Abdul is possibly not coming back to American Idol.  I can’t say that’s a surprise – though I kinda doubt that we’ll really lose Pauler, it’s been interesting to read people’s reactions as the rumor has reverberated around the internets.  In particular, I was a bit taken aback by Salon TV Critic Heather Harvelesky’s thoughts on the subject. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Harvelesky’s opinions (I prefer the musings of her film-critic companion, the always-unique Stephanie Zacharek), and I think it’s surprising that Heather places both Randy and Kara above Paula in terms of usefulness to the show. I couldn’t disagree more. As I made clear a little while back, I think Randy is beyond useless, and Kara too – at least Paula offers moral support to the singers, and say what you will about that, as contestants are going through the Idol’s emotional gauntlet, they need that support. Get rid of Randy and Kara and bring in some producer-y badass like, I dunno, Quincy Jones or something, and the show would get cooking.  Hey, here’s someone who agrees – the amazing Michael Slezak from EW’s (incredible) Idolatry Videos has a column up that argues the point I just made far more effectively than I ever could.  Bonus points for pointing out how vastly superior the judges on SYTYCD are to those on Idol.

–You Taste Like A Burger– One of my favorite movie-review sites, Pajiba, has lately gotten into the habit out of reviewing older films. Their retrospective series Hangover Theatre is a great one, wherein they write about the movies that are always on on Sunday afternoons and are great to watch while on the couch after a crazy night.  Think Demolition Man.  This retrospective review, however, is about one of my favorite movies of all time, Showalter and Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer. Also, I can’t believe that The State is out on DVD.  I gotta get me a copy.

–Work On Your Stage Presence, Boys and Girls– Nervo sent me this Catch 22 productions compendium of things to be aware of when contemplating one’s stage presence.  I, for one, am always working on little things like engaging more with the audience and making eye contact, and as smurfy and calculating as this post gets sometimes, I actually really like it.  So many bands I’ve seen don’t get that it’s not about being real or phony, it’s just about being something onstage, being honest while actually putting yourself out there.  It’s tough, but it makes performing way more fun, both for the performer, and the audience.  Also, lead singers, stop swearing at the crowd in between songs.  We get it.  You’re cool.

Digbycouch–Pushing Daisies Lives On, Sorta– At least the vibe, creator, and half of the creative concept lives on, or lived prior, in the pre-Daisies Showtime series Dead Like Me. I never saw the show, but now that both seasons are now available for free on Hulu, I’m watching. And enjoying it quite a bit – it’s like a balm for my still-mourning-the-loss-of-Pushing-Daisies heart.  So much of the show feels similar, and with the whimsy dialed way down from Daisies, which is actually sort of nice. I think that Ellen Muth is hilarious as George, in particular her Sarah Vowell-esque narration and any scene that requires that she tell a lie (this happens often, and George is a horrible liar).  Check out a few episodes – you’ll know fairly quickly if it’s for you.  Oh, and maybe this will get you to watch – it’s got Digby!!

–Mazeltov! Take it off!– This is some hilarious shit.  Gladstone at Cracked has done a “Hate By Numbers” recap of the latest Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling.”  Which might truly be the worst song ever written.  Because listen to it, and tell me, is there a worse song?  I dunno. Check this out – it will make you laugh.

Chuck ComicCon Poster Detail–Bartowski!!– My favorite TV Critic, Alan Sepinwall, is off at ComicCon moderating the panel on one of my favorite TV shows, Chuck.  In honor of that, he’s sent a link to the ComicCon poster for Chuck, which, as much as I’d love to embed it here, really has to be seen in High Res to be believed.  So. Awesome. I can’t believe we have to wait until 2010 for season three!

–Blond, I Presume– My New Plaid Pants’ “Thursday’s Way Not To Die” this week concerns my favorite scene from a Bond movie as far back as I can remember – maybe ever.  Really, my favorite part is the entire opening sequence of Casino Royale, but JA’s screengrab montage gets at what made it so cool. A brutal, physical, gritty as hell reintroduction to the spy we thought we knew.  Good times.

–The Awesomest Love Story Of All Time– Okay True Blood fans, I’ve got somethin’ for ya – the DFW of TV Recapping, crazy genius Jacob Clifton, continues to knock his TWoP recaps of that show out of the park.  His last few, in particular, do a great job of theorizing and getting to the heart of each character’s shit, and with digression and meditations to spare…  His thoughts on Maryann, as well as my absolute favorite part of S2 (putting Hoyt and Jessica together) are just brilliant. Check out the shorter “recaplet” of an episode from a few weeks back and you’ll know if it’s for you – if you can hang, though, you’re in for a lot of fun reading.

True Blood Jessica and Hoyt Kiss

–And All The Children Are Above-Average– And with that, I’ll be taking my leave for the weekend, heading to the Twin Cities to visit with family and friends, and spend some time enjoying Minnesota when it’s not covered in snow.  Maybe I’ll run into Al Franken while I’m there – I can ask him how this Sotomayor business is really going.  Or maybe I’ll just eat BBQ and go see Harry Potter at the Mall of America.  Either way, it should be a pretty great weekend.  Catch y’all on the flippy!

So I Think I Want Jeanine To Win

23 Jul
Jeanine+Brandon+PopJazz

Bam Bam Bam

Hey, remember when I said I’d take the “So I Think” jokes out of my SYTYCD posts because they were tacky and unoriginal?  ….yeah.  I actually kinda hoped you wouldn’t.  Anyway, after last night’s strangely paced show, I wanted to weigh in with some thoughts, as well as a prediction – the finals are gonna come down to Kayla, Jeanine, Brandon, and Ade, and Jeanine is gonna win it.

Basically, girl is H-O-T, cool as hell, a badass dancer, and an amazing presence onstage. Who knew? I’ve always thought she was a beautiful girl, and she seemed funny enough in her interviews, but it wasn’t until that (jazz?) routine she did with Phillip a few weeks back that I really noticed how she brought all of that together in her dancing to such great effect. Her routines since then have bourne that out – in particular, her stomping, slamming performance with Brandon in last night’s Pop Jazz routine.

Jeanine Top 8 Solo Routine

Beautiful.

But the thing that sealed the deal for me was her show-stopping solo routine near the end of the night.  DAMN.  That was good.  She’s got incredible strength, and can do some amazing things with her legs – some of the knee-twists and holds just knocked me out. In the past, I haven’t loved the solo routines that much (and I still just loathe the drums/soyouthinkyoucanDANCE at the end), but this year, I’ve found that there’s a lot to like, particularly when they’re good.  And Jeanine’s solo routine last was totally, utterly good.  It was the most well-paced, measured routine I’ve seen fit into whatever kinda 45-second window they gave them, and it spoke volumes about her maturity as a dancer and an artist.  Seriously. Check it out.

I’ve thought for a long time that Kayla is the strongest dancer, but I’m gonna make my prediction now – Jeanine, with her curves, attitude, humor, and strength, is going to win it all.

Janette is Hot!! like Miami

LOL

Other thoughts: Brandon is pretty incredible, but he was at times almost too strong, particularly during his solo routine.  I thought that Kayla looked great, especially in Shane Sparks’ awesome hip-hop zombie routine (which is, sadly, about as close as SYTYCD is gonna get to an MJ tribute), and that Ade was cool, but, as Jaegle rightly pointed out, maybe a little bit of an emotional vacuum. Janette was great, though her biggest contribution to the night was the outstanding sign they kept showing that said “Janette is HOT!! like Miami.”  HA!  Melissa is probably going home, since her solo routine was surprisingly weak, and Evan will probably accompany her out the door.  God love him, but he’s just not in the same league with the other guys.

I thought that the Breast Cancer Routine of Heartbreak was a bit much, particularly the over-the-top reactions from the judges, who have seen these routines several times in rehearsals, and no, I do not believe that my reaction makes me a heartless bastard.  And speaking of heartlessness, oh, my Lord, did I hate what they’ve done to Kris Allen’s version of “Heartless.”  They took a tune that was cool as a stripped-down acoustic cover and have utterly neutered it – the fucking indentikit “smooth latin” drums, the horrible vocal overdubs, the lack of ANY TYPE of punch or groove… Jesus, it sucked so hard.  I almost can’t believe that that’s going to be on his record. Laaaaame.

Oh yeah, and I love Ellen.  So much.

So yeah, it was a strangely-paced night with some truly outstanding routines, and a breakout show for my new favorite dancer/future girlfriend. As usual, I direct those of you looking for in depth discussion of all of the dancers and their routines to Vance’s outstanding post at Tapeworthy and Joe R’s roundtable over at Low Resolution.

Jeanine is on my hot tamale train

Word.

Endless Possibilities Part 3: The Rock Band Network

23 Jul

Rock Band Network 1Lately I’ve been finding myself faced with creations, both artistic and otherwise, that suggest never-ending possibilities. Websites, video games, music applications, mash-up art… the more I see this stuff, the clearer it is that, thanks to the ubiquity of high-speed communication, an age of endless user-generated content is upon us, and it’s growing, growing, growing, with no escape in sight. Mwa ha ha.

Part one covered an online music mash-up called “In Bb,” and part two discussed the upcoming Nintendo DS game Scribblenauts.

line

Last summer, as the release of both Harmonix’s Rock Band 2 and Neversoft’s Guitar Hero World Tour approached, much hay was made about the differences between the two games.  Both games featured guitar, drum, and microphone controllers, but GHWT had raised cymbals on their drum set!  Both setlists featured tons of famous, great tracks, but GHWT had Tool songs!  Okay, so there weren’t really that many differences.

Though actually, there was one – the Guitar Hero Music Studio. Neversoft included the possibility to sit down with an in-game “studio” and author your own tunes for playing in GHWT (and uploading to their servers to share).  In theory, it was a game-changer – this would allow people to upload their own music, opening up the tracklists for the games to independent, creative musicians, and making GHWT a truly interactive rock band experience.  The press ate that shit up – from an October ’08 RB vs. GHWT comparison in IGN:

The biggest difference between the two is probably the fact that World Tour has a Music Studio. This really does elevate World Tour to a whole new level, and is Neversoft’s acknowledgment that people that want to play music probably also want to create it. Whether you just want to muck around or you want to create full songs, it’s a pretty impressive inclusion, allowing you to create bass, rhythm and lead guitar lines, as well as keys and drums, then sequence and edit them. We think it’s a brilliant inclusion, and we’re also stoked that it has heaps of electronic options too. Sure, you can create a full-on thrash track, but you can also create a house track or an old-school rave anthem. And even if you don’t use it you’ll be able to download other people’s creations, so it opens the game right up.

Gosh, sounds pretty promising!! I was a Rock Band fan to the core at the time, but even I was excited.  And then… the game launched, and reality happened.  The studio’s interface was impossibly clunky, the tones were limited and weak, the note tracking was inaccurate, you couldn’t add vocals to your tunes, and copyrighted material was completely off the table.

To my mind, there are two groups of people who would’ve wanted to use a feature like this in the first place: 1) Goofy dudes who want to re-create their favorite jams and novelty music and 2) Real bands/musicians who want to put their tunes into a game and play with their friends.

GHWT Music Studio Sucked

Ugh.

GHWT’s studio failed both groups – the first because they couldn’t share the theme from Mega Man without having it ripped from the servers for copyright infringement, and the second because the game’s interface was so clunky that the process of re-doing one’s music using plastic, five-button controllers is a prospect so nightmarish as to be unthinkable.  Also, maybe I mentioned this, but you can’t add vocals.  What the hell.

So, GHWT’s music studio was a flop.  To my mind, Rock Band 2 was easily the dominator of the two games (though I believe that GHWT may have sold more, just based on the guitar hero name).  The game caused me to write a lavish, painfully optomistic portrait of music gaming to come, and I even put RB2 in my top five games of last year. So, when Harmonix was asked about doing their own user-generated music studio, it wasn’t a surprise that they responded “There’s something in the works, but we don’t want to rush it, we want to get it right.”  When when I read that, I thought it was perhaps a bit of sour grapes at GHWT for beating them to the punch, but it turns out they were working on something – Harmonix recently announced the Rock Band Network, which looks to be a hell of a thing, possibly a knock-out blow in their ongoing battle with Guitar Hero.

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Pianist Henry Hey Makes McCain and Palin Sing

22 Jul
John McCain Sings

Flyeee me to the moooon...

I’ve been talking a lot about Auto-Tune the News this past week – everyone I’ve shown the video to (and my post on the subject) agrees that it’s pretty damn amazing.  My addiction to issue #6 remains, though I haven’t been watching it as many times as I was, and damned if I’m not still noticing little jokes (the singers are called the “Congressional Congress,” the way that MJ’s attorney and Katie Couric join the final stacked chord on “Waking Up,” etc).

While in NYC, my buddy Landon, a fantastic jazz pianist I went to school with, showed me a couple of videos made by fellow NY jazz pianist Henry Hey.  In the videos, Hey plays piano along with campaign speeches and interviews given by John McCain and Sarah Palin, to hilarious, fascinating result.  The first one features a McCain speech and a Palin Interview:

Amazing!  Seriously, listen to it again – the modulation at the very start of McCain’s speech, the way that it speeds up and slows down so effortlessly with his strange speaking cadences (particularly when he gets confused about agree/disagree, haaaaaa)… and Palin!  Wow, whenever I hear her jumbled, confused-sounding speaking style (particularly in interviews), I cringe, but when it’s put to music, it’s actually staccato and interesting!  Here’s another Palin interview, really great stuff:

I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into doing these – while ATTN wears its slick production on its sleeve, Henry Hey’s videos make music out of politicians’ words in a much more organic, challenging way – that is to say, he uses his accompanying skills to literally make music out of their words!  Brilliant.

Hey is a total badass on his own, and one gets the sense that he does these videos more for the hell of it than anything, but even taken on their own, they make a pretty compelling case for any jazz vocalist to hire him.  I mean, if he can make Sarah Palin sound good, imagine what he could do for someone with talent!

Incendiary Magazine Reviews “The Exited Door”

22 Jul

Incendiary MagazineAnd they liiiiiked it!  Well, specifically, reviewer Damian Leslie liked it. This is the first review of the record online, so it was, somewhat understandably, a bit terrifying to read at first.  Thankfully, after some initial kvetching about how lame theatrical music is, Leslie goes ahead and lets the album win him over. Groovy.  Highlights include:

This is one of those rare treats that is so impeccably put together and so effortlessly charming that you’ll be willing to follow it wherever the hell it wants to take you. It’s like no other album you’ll pick up this year. Daft as a brush in many ways, although by no means a comedy or novelty album, it’s a blast from start to finish.

As well as

Everybody needs something as ridiculous as Lock You In The Attic in their catalogue. “So you’re a strange Pygmalion/ And just a bit Australian.” Just wait till they try to rap in the middle of it. It’s hilarious, in a good way.

The full review is here – good times.  I actually didn’t ever watch “Fame” growing up, though I have a feeling I know what he’s getting at.  I’m happy that I could win over a theatrical music skeptic… one down, fifty jillion to go.

Things I Learned in New York

22 Jul

I just got back from a whirlwind tour of the Grande Pomme – six nights, six different futons/couches, two shows, four massive hangs, one wedding, two amazing bands, and not as much falafel as you’d think.  Along the way, I learned a few things that I thought I’d share.

Virgin Airlines1. Virgin Air is, Indeed, Pretty Great

Speaking of Big Apples, I’ve heard various descriptions of Virgin America Planes, all of them somewhat apple-centric.  My friend Karen mentioned that it’s like “traveling inside of an iPod,” and  Mindy Kaling tweeted that the plane reminded her of a “Douchey iMac.”  Well, the apple comparisons are right on – everything is white and shiny and slick, with cool LEDs lighting up the ceiling like it’s a nightclub and TVs in the seats.  Sure, anything you want will cost money (even snacks!), and the WiFi is ridiculously expensive, but hey, the ticket was cheap!  So, yeah – Virgin Air.

Compass2. The iPhone Compass Rules

From the moment I arrived at JFK, my iPhone was saving my ass right and left – the MTA map I downloaded was incredibly helpful, as was the GPS and google maps.  The most useful feature, however, was the compass, which I did not anticipate. I suppose that in retrospect, it should have been obvious, because how often do you come out of the train in Manhattan thinking “okay, which effing way am I facing now?” A lot, that’s how many. It saved my ass more times than I could count. Also, looking over my recent searches in Google Maps is pretty hilarious.  It’s, like, “CoffeeCoffeeCoffeeDinerCoffeeDinerCoffee.”

Jess Fine at Sullivan Music Hall3. Jess Fine Puts On A Hell of a Show

The night I arrived, I went straight from the Airport to Sullivan Music Hall (rolling suitcase at my side), where I got to see the lovely and talented Jess Fine perform a set – Jess and I went to Miami together, and she plays with a ton of the rest of the UM Gang. She did tunes off of her new EP (which is totally great), and sounded just killer – great hooks, nice piano playing, and the wisdom to allow her killer band stretch out. That band consisted of fellow UM alums Woody Quinn and Tommy Harron on guitar and bass, respectively, and Chris Smith on drums, who I just met this weekend, and who sounds great.  Woody was getting some killer, juicy-ass guitar tone from what turned out to be a little Fender Blues Junior Deluxe amp, and Tommy, well… wow.  I haven’t heard him play in a few years, and he sounded totally ridiculous.  Kenji and I were having fun trying to picture him playing something that wasn’t ridiculously grooving.  Great show, Jess – come to SF on tour!

Trader Joes Three Buck Chuck4. Trader Joe’s Labels Two-Buck Chuck Differently in NY

Interestingly enough, the TJ’s at Union Square labels it’s two-buck chuck quite differently than in SF – no “Charles Shaw” label, and a ton more words – “Trader Joe’s Presents: A Charles Shaw Production: Red Grapes in: WINE.”  Or some such.

Oh, and also, a bottle costs $2.99.  Transport costs are a bitch.

5. Oh, Yeah, and New York is AMAZING

Jeez, it is really the center of everywhere.  Maybe it was the iPhone assist, or the fact that I’ve visited before, but this time around, the city felt both smaller and grander at the same time. It was never too hard to get anywhere (well, discounting a two-train ride to Brooklyn at 3:30 in the morning), and there’s just so much awesome stuff to do, so many fantastic musicians to see and play with, and so much delicious food to eat… and so many old friends to see. And, thanks to Virgin and Southwest, so many affordable ways to get out there!  I’ll be back soon, and I already can’t wait.

NY Via Inbound N Express

I shall return to you soon.

Bad Poetry For Tuesday

21 Jul

The Restless Houseguest

We each of us invite change into our lives;
that restless, gentle houseguest
in the kitchen
brewing coffee
like he arrived ages ago

The Bronx is up, and the Battery’s down

15 Jul

nycpic

I’m heading to New York for the week – it’s been far too long, and I’m way excited. I’m also really looking forward to flying Virgin Air, since I heard they have WiFi on the plane and you can order drinks directly from the screen in front of your chair.

Since I’ll be on the go, posting will be limited through next Tuesday, though knowing me, I’ll find a way to get some stuff up. It is currently far too early in the morning for me to generate the appropriate enthusiasm, so suffice to say: hooray New York!

Also, hooray… coffee!

“Auto-Tune The News”: Satire, Remixed

14 Jul
Auto Tune The News Boehner Hell No

More like "Hell Yes!"

I’ve been aware of the YouTube phenomenon “Auto-Tune The News” for some time – I think that maybe Sullivan linked to one of their videos a while back, or someone similar. I knew it was similar to the impressive, if somewhat annoying, Slap-Chop remix that got so much play a few months back.  Take regular folks talking on the TV, run it through Antares Auto-Tuning software, and boom!  Instant remix.

However, I hadn’t really watched one until just this week, when my buddy Brian sent me a link to the sixth edition, named, naturally, “Auto-Tune The News #6.” I took his recommendation and watched it, and thought it was great.  Then, I watched it again, and thought it was really great. And then the addiction started to creep in… I found I couldn’t stop watching it, I’d finish it and then play it again, play it for friends, email it to other friends, unable to get over the hooks, the grooves, the ridiculous awesomeness of it all.

There’s really no point in talking more about this until you’ve seen it, so:

I mean, Holy. Crap. The strength of the writing, the jokes upon jokes, the tiny visual puns (The puppet!  The Pelosi cowbell! “Junkie Einstein” attempting to light up a piece of (bread?) as “Olga Barth” drools ice cream all over herself, all while a re-tuned John Boehner gets gospel and testifies about Freedom!) …this is some seriously amazing stuff.

The videos are the work of The Gregory Brothers, a band made up of the three brothers Gregory – Evan, Andrew, and Michael, as well as vocalist/guitarist Sarah Fullen.  They perform as their own pop/rock group (check out their Myspace Page for more info), and sound great. Fullen can really wail, and the few videos of them playing their own music show a solid, straight-ahead soul/pop sound.  So, while I’m sure that was going just fine for them, I’m not sure where, along the line, they started to start doing news autotuning, but damn – I believe they have found their calling.

After listening to #6 several times, I went back and watched several of the other ATTN videos. The most successful one was ATTN #2, which has over a million views on YouTube, and it’s funny, to be sure – a Kanye-esque remix of Sean Hannity, Fox News Roundtables, and Katie Couric, loaded with bleeps, bloops, and “shawtayee’s.”  But as cool as that one is, the newest video is an almost revolutionary step forward for a number of reasons.

Auto Tune News Bill Kristol All In

Bill's so happy to be gambling!

For starters, the group has clearly gotten a lot better at using Autotune – the range of each “unintentional singer” has increased significantly, which allows for much greater freedom in how their words are put to music.  In addition to that, whatever they’re using to rhythmically shift the vocals is doing more heavy lifting and being used more effectively, and the way that the speakers’ odd cadences have been “Beat Detectived” into the groove makes for some really left-handed, hip rhythms. I refer you again to John Boehner’s speech about the “Freedom to allow the American people to.. /live /their /lives.”  Nice.

Due to those two technical advances, ATTN #6 allows the politicians and pundits themselves to sing most of the lead lines, as opposed to the green-screened musicians from the band – which makes a humongous difference. In previous versions of ATTN, a lot of the vocal parts were performed by the Gregorys and Sarah, relying heavily on comedy material written after the fact, rather than the actual dialogue of the TV show being auto-tuned.  Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is really funny and they’re great singers, but the hook has always been that the NEWS was the thing being auto-tuned, and previous editions made me want more of that.  Maybe I’m spoiled by seeing #6 first, but the way that they coaxed some straight bitchin’ performances out of Michelle Bachmann and John Boehner was just amazing, and there’s no going back.

Which brings me to the last, and largest improvement made in ATTN #6 – the music.  The track is a remixed version of the tune “100th Sight,” from brother Michael’s side project Kaplukus (you can download the tune on iTunes here), and man, it burns. The unending modulations and builds, the hilariously over-the-top hi-hat, the layered vocal harmonies, it all makes for a pretty beastly tune.  You can actually download an MP3 of ATTN #6 here, and while with past editions, watching the news be auto-tuned was an integral part of the experience, this track is strong enough to stand on its own. Particularly a couple of the hooks – Boehner’s “Hell No” section is inspired, and the Michael Jackson-themed “Wake Up Dead” has been stuck in my head all day.

I think we may be looking at a rising force in satire here – much like Andy Samburg’s Lonely Island comedy group rose to prominence through their “Lazy Sunday” video, if SNL or some other major network show picks up “Auto-Tune the News,” (and I saw somewhere that Attack of the Show already played it), we’ll be hearing more and more from these guys, and on a grander stage.

Which would be just freakin’ fine by me – the incredible improvement that they’ve shown since their first edition speaks to The Gregory Brothers’ exceptional talent and hard work, and all but promises even funnier, crazier, catchier music in the future. Bravo.

Auto Tune Waking Up Is A Strange Reason To Die

Waking up is, indeed, a strange reason to die.

Reason #924 Why I Love Phoenix Wright

13 Jul

Each of the many, many (many) cases Phoenix tries in court is adjudicated by the kindly, spacey, reliably clueless Judge.  Throughout all of the games, this nameless man is the solitary face of justice:

Phoenix Wright Mr. Judge

Except! A single time, in the third game, in order to stop the proceedings in the courtroom next door, Phoenix barges across the hall at the last minute and interrupts the trial, coming face-to-face with a second Judge, who appears to be…

Phoenix Wright Canadian Judge

…Canadian.

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