Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Writing orgy

[Left] This picture doesn't have anything to do with anything, but I enjoy it. Maybe you will too.

At times, I'll just go into ridiculous writing sprees. The fact that I'm working a fairly easy slacker job at a driving range right now helps – I sit around for three or four hours, so unless I want to stare out at the grass, it leaves plenty of time for typing, reading or writing by hand. (Yes, I still do that from time to time.)

In a way, the lack of Internet is a good thing, because it forces me to be productive. I sometimes liken myself to Bill James, the baseball statistics pioneer who worked long hours as a security guard. When I read about that, my mind immediately thought, “So he was like me, and had plenty of down time to just sit around and think about baseball statistics.”

When I'm at the range, I am ridiculously productive, and I'm not sure why. As an example, in the previous three hours, I've typed 2,500 words. Most of these words were for three professional pieces that I'll actually be paid for and that people will actually read considering me a “professional” as they read it. That statistic doesn't include this entry, whose 200 words (as of this sentence) I typed in about five minutes.

However, these sprees lead to tremendous lows, and I'm not entirely sure why. For example, when I'm at home I'll often just stare at the empty Word screen for a minute or two, and then immediately find something else to busy myself with. Sometimes, it is in a productive way, such as playing a video game that I'll review later, moderating and posting at the Adam Carolla Show message board, or catching up on some decent journalism at Slate.com. But often, it's just sloth and wasteful on my part – Replaying Final Fantasy 4 or Earthbound for the 700th time, reading on Wikipedia about the X-Men, picking through Roger Ebert's archive for reviews on films I've already seen.

As I just suggested, these moments make me feel a bit slothful and wasteful, but should they? They sort of provide a subconscious reinforcement of my existing thought pattern and generate thoughts for my “idea bank,” for lack of a better term. If my writing and blog entries are full of random wanderings that people seem to enjoy, should I be trying to curb that rambling instinct in what I do in my “free” time?

... This is a sort of abrupt place to end an entry, since I normally go much longer, but that's the extent of my thoughts on the matter. I suppose I should start typing new. But maybe I'll play a game of Tetris instead. (See what I did there?)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

iTunes Running Diary – June 28, 2009

This week's artists.

- “I Got A Man” by Positive K. This song is great because the lyrics are utterly unbelievable. “I'm clean cut and dapper, that's what I'm all about / My man buys me things and he takes me out / Well you can keep your man because I don't go that route.” It is the ghetto, hip-hop version of ridiculous lyrics in songs like “All That She Wants” by Ace of Base; just so corny, you can hardly believe what you just heard.

If anyone wants another reason for the success of gangster rap, realize that this was the other crap polluting the airwaves outside of socially and politically-minded fare of Public Enemy, and the pure quality of A Tribe Called Quest and Run DMC. Even stuff like 2 Live Crew, Little T and One Track Mike (please excuse the stupid video), and The Great Adventures of Slick Rick show more lyrical and musical development.

- “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” by Nine Days. Some day, when VH1 does an update to their one-hit wonders list, I hope they remember this song. It is completely cheesy, but cheerful, and it seems heartfelt. I'll remember and like this song far more than a cheap, pandering song like “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer, even if that song did better because it was linked to a 1990s teen romantic comedy. (P.S. Linked off the YouTube page of "Absolutely" is Vertical Horizon, another awesome 1990s band.)

- “Start the Commotion” by The Wiseguys. I don't have much to say about the actual song, which is a good if repetitive, sort-of-techno song with a grinding guitar and bass. Instead, this is merely a song that makes me think of yet another commercial. (Like anybody with a pulse, I dislike commercials, but my pop culture obsessed mind never has trouble remembering them.)

Piggybacking off my post from a few days ago, this song is more frequently remembered because it was in a Mitsubishi ad. I have no idea what the point of the ad was, except that it featured a woman who seemingly would have sex with me (the one at the end). I mean, I think she is supposed to be attractive or hot, but she just comes across as kind of coked up and slutty. This does not make me want to buy a car at all, and it just disturbs me in general.

- “Easter Eggs” by Patton Oswalt (NSFW!). This isn't really music, but hey, it popped up, and hey, I like Patton Oswalt. No, you don't understand – I REALLY like Patton Oswalt. Although he definitely skews toward “nerd” material, it's incredibly well done. Feelin' Kinda Patton, the album this track comes off of, is shockingly dirty, horribly offensive to every group imaginable and hilarious throughout.

This track refers to the egg-coloring monopoly held by Paas, who in the 1970s had the little wire thing, the four color tablets and the box, which worked as an egg holder. And today it has... four color tablets, a little wire thing and the box. Patton talks about the hypothetical board meeting with Harry Paas the Fourth exclaiming, “We're not changing a god damn thing!” Ahhh, so good, so good.

- “I Just Wanna Love You” by Jay-Z, MTV Unplugged version (YouTube link is unfortunately the regular version). Yes, that's right, Jay-Z has an Unplugged album, and it is incredible. Either fact might surprise you, because it surprised me when I stumbled upon it a year ago. Without looking up the information on it, I have no idea when he did it. There are no songs from the black album on it, but that is such a monumental work that is deserves its own Unplugged performance anyway. (The gray album, with the Beatles as a sort of acoustic backup band, kind of suffices in that area though.)

I'm guessing this came out in that dark period between the last gasp of the video era on MTV (meaning when TRL briefly made them relevant again) and before MTV completely sold out to reality crap like endless Real World and Road Rules challenges.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I can't watch most of what's on MTV right now. I've always thought that networks lose their way when they make a grab at ratings as opposed to just focusing on quality programming; it's just that simple to me. NBC is in such a funk now because instead of replacing their aging programming (Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, ER) with good new shows, they got seduced by the ratings shit like Joey got because of its lead-ins. NBC used to have an unassailable block of programming on Thursday nights, but the lack of new blood allowed other networks to gain a foothold, and now, legitimately good shows like The Office don't have enough quality surrounding them to be a ratings winner for NBC.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How The Sausage Is Made: Journalism

Because of the success of shows like Dirty Jobs, and the good response to my old entry about substitute teaching, I thought I'd do a series of entries about how some professions work. Obviously, I'm going to stick more to things I have firsthand knowledge about, unless this gets really popular, in which case I'll reach out and try to (gasp!) actually interview some people.

Anyway, because it is one of the few “real” jobs I've had, let's start with journalism. There is also the very real possibility that by the time I finish typing this sentence, every paper but The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal will be shuttered. (And even then, The New York Times looked painfully out-of-touch in this recent Daily Show piece (video link). So maybe just The Post and The WSJ will survive the newspaper holocaust.)

I'll get to the doom and gloom later though. For now, I'll focus on how a newspaper is actually run. First, the key to remember is that practically everything is driven by advertisement sales. On a basic level, this means that the size of the paper is normally set by the number of display ads sold, since classifieds has its own section. Rarely is a paper's size driven by content, unless the story is so important (i.e. an expose on a local police chief's cushy benefits, the one real-life example I saw) that it demands it.

You would think this would create some sort of ethical dilemma, but there would be more practical problems during my three years or so as a news reporter on the college and professional level. For example, one week I would be furiously chopping all my eight stories I had to about 500 words, because that would be the only space left after the ads and photos were laid out. The next week, or even the same week for the sister community's paper, we might have double the size, meaning I'd have to stretch the stories I wrote. Often, I wouldn't know the paper's size until the day before deadline, so I'd have to scramble to shorten or lengthen stories on the night before deadline.

In my professional career, I wrote primarily for a weekly, which also carries time management problems that I admittedly didn't handle great. My inclination was to always wait until as long as I could to start a pressing story, whereas editors would encourage me to start as soon as I could. For example, start and try to complete a budget story at the start of the news week, Wednesday, even though it wouldn't appear in print until the following Wednesday.

My training was primarily with the Cigar, which printed four days a week, and another Rhode Island paper that was a daily. I think the immediacy of both helped me; I have an intense fear of failure, and with a daily deadline, I produced some good work for both. My time at the weeklies wasn't so great, because I knew that even self-imposed deadlines could be doing a disservice to the reader. I had problems just finishing (or even starting) something and then putting it aside, when it's possible something could have changed between when I started and deadline. And when the paper can swell to 30 or 40 pages during the summer, and you have two full-time reporters and a part-timer on staff, it means you have to be producing throughout the week.

Things started to get even tighter right before I was laid off, as the paper's deadline was pushed to the morning before that town's weekly council meeting. So much for the printed paper being the best source and watchdog for government action. Freelance budgets were also nibbled to the bone, management wouldn't pay out any overtime without a note signed in blood, employees were obviously being or about to be laid off, and for some reason, there was a resistance to using the local colleges for free intern support, except for one editor.

With such an ominous air hanging over the place, the quality obviously fell off a bit. It's almost impossible for anyone to work at maximum quality when you have the threat of the axe hanging over your head at all times. I can't say this was a factor in my own situation – I didn't think I'd get cut, since it meant the two remaining sports guys would have to cover about a dozen high schools by themselves. Uh, whoops!

Anyway, at most smaller papers – think The Chariho Times, The Narragansett Times, The Bristol Phoenix, Newport This Week – you generally have at least one staff reporter that will cover just town issues. This ranges from features on the town's oldest residents and bake sales by Girl Scout Troop 117 to investigative stories on corruption at town hall. Generally, this reporter will also shoot some of their own photographs as well. A staff photographer will help out with the bigger or better assignments.

Two to six pages are also normally cleared for sports, sometimes in its own B or C-section, although almost every Rhode Island paper now has their sports department split over several towns. i.e. One sports reporter or editor will cover Chariho, Narragansett and South Kingstown, while another takes Exeter/West Greenwich, North Kingstown and Coventry. (If you're a private high school or a college, don't expect regular coverage, unless you're having an unusually good season in a sport, or if a parent complains.) If two teams in the coverage area are facing off – NK vs. SK – then that game will normally be covered, regardless of the sport, and run in both papers.

There are a few layers beyond these front-line writers. Generally, there is a city / town editor, someone who will edit the work submitted by the reporters and work in conjunction with the layout personnel / design experts to decide how to fit things into the paper. This person will also sometimes function as a part-time reporter, or if they prefer to write, more of a full-time reporter than a full-time editor.

After that, most papers have a managing editor, who normally looks at each week's paper for a variety of towns. I think every paper in Rhode Island, excluding The Providence Journal, now belongs to a local chain, so the managing editor position exists pretty much everywhere. All papers have a publisher; think of them as the owner of a sports franchise. Some are incredibly hands-off and let their managing editors do everything, while others are the complete opposite. Most fall somewhere in-between.

This is the primary editorial (content) hierarchy for most places, which is the area I'm most familiar with. All papers also have a similar setup for their business and advertising wings, although I'm less versed in specific positions for that side, except at the collegiate level.

As far as salary goes, I started at the high end of the spectrum for an entry-level reporter at a small weekly... $25,000 ($12.00 an hour). Try not to laugh. For comparison's sake, assistant managers at McDonald's made more than I did. Even more sadly, most entry-level journalism work is closer to $20,000 than $25,000. Photographers, design and layout specialists earned similar salary, from what little shop talk I had on the manner. A typical pay raise is 3 to 8 percent, although in this market, you are luckier if your pay isn't slashed. Most companies still let you opt into health and 401k plans, although at such a meager salary, I couldn't afford either.

Before the newspaper industry began tanking, the best way to get a good raise normally was to just find a new job. Once you got that offer, you either forced your employer to match, or more often, moved to a new paper. Rhode Island is a bad example, because there aren't any real papers between the small weeklies and dailies, and the huge metro (Projo). But as an example, a reporter from a small weekly in Rhode Island might move on to a mid-sized paper in another state, then move on to a major metro, like The Providence Journal or The Boston Globe (which is getting its ass handed to it by The Boston Herald, by the way).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kinda, sorta professional - Monday, June 22, 2009

[Left] Studies show that an attractive woman increases traffic by 12,783%, even if she is only tangentially related to the original content. Picture originally from this list about Guitar Hero.

I've been busy lately, which is annoying, because it means I don't write as much as I should. Just so that I can keep track of it, and to allow my readers to share in my vanity, here are some of the things I've done the past week:

June 22 - Blog - Guitar Hero, Rock Band wish list - Blast Magazine
June 22 - Review - Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiles - Blast Magazine

Friday, June 19, 2009

Celebrity doppelgangers, part deux

Just a quickie entry for now, since I'm on my way to go mini-golfing with some friends. A full entry will (probably) be up later tonight. Anyway, recently the kids I substitute for have brought up two more "celebrity" doppelgangers for me. Number 1 is...

... Ned Schneebly (Mike White) from School of Rock. This comparison comes mostly from the high school kids - Since the movie came out in 2003, when they were in middle school, I'm guessing almost all of them saw it. Once one kid brings it up, pretty much all of them join in agreement. Seeing as I enjoy School of Rock, I'm not opposed to the comparison, although I'm not sure how I feel about dating Sarah Silverman. She is attractive, but unquestionably a fucking nut. Second recent celebrity comparison is...

... Ron Stoppable from Kim Possible. I've never seen the show, so I have no idea if this is a good thing or not. Damn middle school kids.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The art of commercial casting

[Left]: This woman is not actually a doctor.

There is a certain art to female television commercial casting. What it basically boils down to: the woman has to be attractive, but not TOO attractive.

For example, if the girl is ridiculously hot, it means the commercial is a farce. There are unquestionably hot girls in the Axe, Tag and Right Guard commercials, and all of them are farces. The exceptions to this are commercials featuring makeup or beauty products, but this is normally by accident, or feature “respected” hotties. Beyonce (good) vs. Carmen Elektra (bad).

The more common woman featured in commercials in the subtly hot girl, especially in birth control commercials. I'm not sure why this is; maybe BC companies figure people will have more sex if a good-looking woman is involved. Prominent examples are Yaz (the “I'm a doctor!” woman is foxy as heck) and Minerva (even though the redhead has like 14 kids in the commercial). This does not apply to condom commercials, which normally take from the “very hot” category (Trojan).

The “subtle hot” model is also sometimes cast by accident. For example, for years Dove had a campaign where they cast “normal looking” women in their deodorant and beauty commercials. This would have been a good idea, except that almost everyone they chose was still hot. Some might have been thicker than a normal television model, but pretty much all of them had great complexions and, to use a medical term, nice cans.

And finally, there is the “we have a message” commercials, which just have normal people because the story is more important. Gastric bypass surgery commercials have this sort of model, as do weight loss commercials, oddly. You would think that Jenny Craig commercials would have nothing but 10s, but more often, you have frumpier people involved. Same with Nutrisystem and the male workout videos, although they often rely on former professional athletes. Charitable causes – donating to the blood bank, fighting against juvenile diabetes – are also normally exempt from hotness concerns because of the message involved.

With the last category, I get the feeling that actual models aren't used, which is probably part of the reason why all different looks are incorporated. The other reason good-looking women are almost always cast is a practical one in my opinion – There is no economic incentive to cast a less attractive one.

If you go into a modeling agency, obviously Nikki Taylor or Carmen Elektra will set you back more cash, but there probably isn't much monetary difference between Unknown A and Unknown B. I tried to argue this point in Women's Studies classes once, but it got kind of brushed aside without an adequate answer. If you go to a restaurant and prime rib is the same price as sirloin, then there is no real incentive to get the sirloin.

To end this randomly, this whole subject percolated in my mind about six months ago, as I seriously thought about launching a web site called “That Chick In That Commercial” with a buddy. We didn't, mostly because I thought there had to be some site out there already like this; a la Knocked Up, when Seth Rogan finds out about Dr. Skin. But there are dozens of commercials out there with fetching women that nobody has heard of, but they'd like to know more about. (My current favorite would be the Alamo rental car lady customer, who is easy on the eyes and has a sort of nutty energy about her that is appealing.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

News - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Before and After.

Because I don't feel like formatting one of my already-typed posts, here is some news...

- In the serious Twitter news department, the State Department asked the company to remain running in order to help facilitate protesters of the Iran election.

- In the non-serious Twitter news deparment, Lindsay Lohan posted old nude pictures of herself. At this point though, I don't care enough to find them, knowing that they're probably after she started doing coke, losing weight and effing anything that moved. Back in the day, Lohan was SUPER hot, and now, I don't know any guys that would willingly stick it in without triple-wrapping it. Even Sam Ronson probably used a tongue condom.

- Here is a wrestling move that looks really awesome, Evan Bourne's shooting star press. And here is an example of what happens when it goes really, really wrong, such as when Brock Lesnar tried it at Wrestlemania and landed on his head. In other wrestling news, Donald Trump bought WWE Raw, but it's all probably an act. Next week's show will be commercial free too, which sounds neat.

- And finally, in stripper news... One in Minnesota on disability is suing White Castle because they won't let her go through the drive-thru in her motorized wheelchair. Fun times, fun times. And also, in what should be a major relief to everyone, a stripper's kids weren't eating dog food, contrary to initial media reports.

Kinda, sorta professional - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Also always awesome - Top Cat.

Since I know everyone is probably still reeling from the awesomeness that is the Steve and Danielle tag team effort, I thought I would keep it simple tonight and just brag about myself. Just so that I can keep track of it, and to allow my readers to share in my vanity, here are some of the things I've done the past couple months:

June 15 - Review - OurWorld - Gamezebo
June 14 - Review - Swords and Soldiers - Blast Magazine
June 8 - Review - Steal Princess - Blast Magazine

Later tonight, I'll also have a news post up, since it has been a while since I've done one. Sneak peek for the next two weeks: Entries on Hitchcock vs. Final Fantasy VII, the art of casting subtly hot chicks for commercials, how some of journalism works behind the scenes, and I'm currently in the opening stages of tag teams with two friends.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tag Team: Danielle and Steve on Butters, South Park and Disney

Butters - Greatest character ever, or just the best one?

To rip-off the disclaimer for Bill Simmons' BS Report, Tag Team is a free flowing discussion between two adults that sometimes touches on mature subjects. Today's correspondent (I haven't thought of a good term for it yet) is Danielle Membrino, a photographer, Corcoran College and Rogers High School alum, and a friend of a friend from college. Also, her mom apparently loved reading my police reports when I wrote for The Newport Daily News. Topics this week include how awesome Butters on South Park is, the best worst Cartman moments, Disney's slide and possible redemption, and the success of Pixar. Want to do your own Tag Team with me? Send me an e-mail or leave a comment.


Steve: Butters is probably my favorite South Park character, because he's really the only naive and innocent person on the show. The four lead characters are all super-aware for their ages, and Butters is kind of the innocent counter to them all, especially Cartman.

The difference is especially profound in "AWESOM-O." You know, the one where Cartman pretends to be a robot. It was after South Park had made the switch from a straight-up "gross out" show (the first couple seasons) to its current style, which is to mock trends getting headlines. It is also one of the few episodes where someone really does get the better of Cartman, although it takes forever to get to that point.

Also a strong episode from that season - "Woodland Critter Christmas," another Cartman creation, revealed at the end. The reveal in the middle of the episode probably makes it my favorite South Park episode of all-time, just narrowly beating out "The Jeffersons." Both of these, and "AWESOM-O," are from season eight, probably the best of all the seasons. Also in that season - "Good Times With Weapons," "Douche and Turd," and the Paris Hilton episode, another strong Butters' episode.


Danielle: I remember the first time I saw a glimpse of South Park was when I was like maybe about 13. My dad was watching it and I walked in the room, and I don't know what episode it is, but they're in class and Kenny tells Mr. Garrison (this is pre-sex change) that he has to go to the bathroom. So he lets him, and the bathroom door is in the classroom and Kenny goes in and you can hear him having REALLY bad diarrhea.

Then my dad noticed me in the room and changed the channel, saying, "You're too young for this." I was just like, whatever, looked pretty gross to me anyway, so what did I care?

I didn't get into South Park until my sophomore year of college. We only got like 20 channels in our dorms and one of them was Comedy Central. One weekend they were doing a south park marathon, so I watched it. And it was the episode I was telling you about before [on Facebook], where Cartman thinks he's a ghost. I fell in love with the show after that.

Butters is definitely my favorite character as well. He's the most innocent and child-like, and I love him for it. Even when an episode isn't about him, if he just has like one or two lines, it's hilarious.

There was the episode where Cartman tries to run away from home, and when he asks the other boys if he can stay with him, they keep saying no. So Cartman's like, "FIIIINE. I'LL JUST STAY WITH BUTTERS THEN!" and Butters replies, "No. My mom says I'm not allowed to bring homeless people home anymore."

I can't get over the adorableness of Butters. He tries so hard to do what he thinks he's suppose to do. Like when Cartman ends up getting him sent to that camp where they make kids "not gay" and Butters has no idea what's going on and admits he is "confused" but was really only confused about why everyone thought he was confused. Or when they take a class field trip to the 1800's town but Cartman wants to go to the amusement park next door and Butters is his field trip buddy, so Butters refuses to let go of his hand the ENTIRE time until they're back on the bus.

I love the naivety of all the characters sometimes too. It helps you remember that they're only suppose to be 4th graders. Like in season four when Cartman tries making "mature" friends online and ends up bringing his friends along to a NAMBLA convention. Amazing.

I'm also partial to season 10. I have it on my iTunes and I'm looking through it and I love so many of the episodes. "Make Love, Not Warcraft," "ManBearPig" ("I'M SUPER SERIAL!!!") and "Tsst" (the one where the dog whisperer comes to train Cartman, so good!), and of course, "A Million Little Fibers." Who doesn't love Towelie? "Don't call me shoeless, you're shoeless!" The episode involves one of my favorite characters and makes fun of that ridiculous incident of the guy who wrote the book that wasn't 100 percent true and people freaked out.

I also like how a couple times the creators have predicted things that would happen in pop culture. There was the episode with Britney Spears, like a season ago I think it was, and the media is OBSESSED with her, even after she blows half her head off. And then at the end the paparazzi explain to the south park kids that they don't want to harass Britney, they have to. It had something to do with they had to have one sacrifice every year in order for the crops to grow, or something ridiculous like that.

So then at the end after Britney dies, all the paparazzi are at a grocery store and the news comes on about Miley Cyrus being the next big thing, and the paparazzi are all ominously looking at it going "oooooo." And I found this funny because the episode came out only days before Miley was all over the media for that "scandalous" photo of her in a bra, and then she was in the news all the time for a while for stupid little things that no one really cared about. I thought it was pretty funny South Park put that episode out and then it actually happened.

Going back to Butters... Did you see the episode about vampires in the new season? I saw most of it, but I enjoyed it because Butters thinks he is a vampire and sneaks into Cartman's room to "bite" him and Cartman wakes up with Butters on him and shouts out, "Mooooooooooom (although it's really more like maaaaaaaaam) Butters is in my room trying to kiiiiiiisssss meeeee cause he's realized his sexualllllllity!" And when Cartman's mom comes in, Butters hisses at her and goes back out the window. I was laughing so hard.

I feel like I'm not making any points here really... Just kinda talking about how awesome Butters is, haha. But I definitely loved "Awesome-O" too. I loved it every time Cartman had to do something he didn't want to do, or something bad happened, and he would just say "weeak." And Butters is just SOOO excited for his robot; jumping up and down and clapping. I want Butters as my child.

Hahaha, probably one of the most memorable episodes for me, is when Cartman is (I think) getting revenge on some bully or something, and is pulling pranks on him. The last prank he does to this kid is to invite him to a chili cookout and after the kid eats it, Cartman tells him he killed the boys parents and made them into the chili. It's so funny, but so incredibly wrong at the same time.


Steve: Okay, sorry about the slight delay in responding to this. To switch gears for a second, I saw The Hangover earlier tonight, and it was as awesome as everyone else is proclaiming it to be. What are your thoughts on it? We seem to skew scarily close in terms of pop culture taste, so it wouldn't surprise me if you liked it a lot, but it is more of a "guy" movie in the vein of Old School as opposed to something like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which both sexes seem to like equally.

But getting back to South Park, I vaguely recall seeing the first
season as it was broadcasting. Even at the time, I recognized that this was something weird, bizarre and special, and the first couple seasons were nothing but the kids acting like assholes toward one another. The social commentary didn't come until later, once they exhausted most of the "Cartman's mom is a slut" jokes. Also shocking - Mystery Science Theatre 3000 came on after South Park, within a few hours on Sci-Fi, so that was always a solid block of television for me
growing up.

As far as favorite episodes go, as you point out by naming several, there are just so many great ones that deserve to be mentioned. It might be easier to name ones that aren't that great. For example, I thought the April Fool's Joke, "Terrance and Phillip: Not Without My Anus," was pretty bad. While I loved the fact that Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave the shaft to their own fans, the episode itself stunk. The same goes with this season's episode about the Queef Sisters.

Standout episodes that we haven't mentioned yet: "Deathcamp of Tolerance" features the triumphant debut of Lemmiwinks. Right before "AWESOM-O" they hinted that another Lemmiwinks episode was coming in some promos, but we're several seasons past that point and still nothing. "Cartoon Wars" is interesting and unique with its criticism and defense of Family Guy, which I found spot on. Yeah, Family Guy is full of ridiculous non sequitors, but sometimes it is good to just laugh instead of having to watch a show that gets all deep and preachy.

And finally, you can't go wrong with the ultimate Professor Chaos
episode - "Simpsons Already Did It" from the sixth season. I'm also a
big fan of The Simpsons, so seeing South Park skewer them a bit was
hilarious, and Butters being involved made it all the better. And in
the words of Cartman, Sea-people + Sea-men = Sea-ciety.


Danielle: You know, to tell the truth, I'm not all that interested in seeing The Hangover. It doesn't look like something I'd find as hilarious as everyone else does. Wouldn't pay to go see it, but I'll probably add it to my Netflix. Even though they're completely different movies, the hype around this movie was the same for Anchorman - Everyone thought it was soooooo funny. And I hate Anchorman. I wanted to see Anchorman, I was excited to see it, my dad and I went to go see it in the theaters, and I think I laughed like twice.

I honestly don't think Will Ferrell is all that funny. I liked Stranger Than Fiction, and Kicking and Screaming. That's about it. And really I only liked him as Alex Trebek on SNL. So, as for The Hangover, I will reserve final judgment til I see it months from now on Netflix.

I did go see Up yesterday though. I loved it. It also is as good as everyone says it is. I always have to commend Pixar for getting emotions across in non-speaking scenes. There's a montage in the beginning of the movie of the life of the old man and his wife that is just heart-wrenching. And the freakin' huge ass bird in the movie doesn't speak but is hilarious. And the talking dogs are really funny.

I love almost every Pixar movie. The only two I can say I was only meh about were Cars and Ratatouille. Cars was cute, but didn't really do anything for me. Maybe a little too kiddish? And Ratatouille just lacked the normal spark their movies usually have. It wasn't bad, just not as endearing to me. I also always love their film shorts they put before the movies. Did you ever see the Jackalope one? My family went to go see The Incredibles, and my mom and I were hysterical with laughter watching this short. We were pretty much the only ones laughing, which was slightly embarrassing because we were laughing pretty loud. Finding Nemo is definitely my favorite of all Pixar movies, but Monsters Inc. is up there too.

I also saw an interesting preview before Up that got me excited. Disney is making another actual cartoon movie! The Princess and The Frog. Now I'm super excited for another animated film. I'm kind of in love with classic Disney, if you weren't aware. I liked the computer animated movies, but it's just not the same. There's just so many memories attached to the classic Disney movies for me. Plus I do love my Disney songs.

I do like how Disney is trying to update their image though with this cartoon movie by not having it be just another white girl princess and white boy prince. Although they did have Jasmine and Mulan. But who are most famous? Ariel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty (Aurora) and Cinderella. But anyway, for this movie they have a black princess and the frog, who is a cursed prince, that I believe is supposed to be Spanish.

... Wow, none of that had anything to do with South Park, but I don't think I have much else to say about it. You're right that there are fewer bad episodes; I can't even really recall any because I generally forget things I don't like! I'm glad they're keeping up the good work though and keeping Butters as cute and naive as ever.


Steve: Well, ideally, the conversation should kind of ramble and get random, and not talk about just South Park, so we're doing well so far.

As far as The Hangover goes, yeah, if you weren't into Anchorman and Old School, then this probably wouldn't appeal to you. It is that sort of behavior, straight down to a performance by The Dan Band . I am a bit shocked that you hated Anchorman though - No love for Steve Carrell either? You don't love lamp? I haven't seen Stranger Than Fiction - I've wanted to, but never gotten around to it - but Kicking and Screaming, really? I saw that and was pretty bored throughout. There were only a couple laughs for me. A lot of Will Ferrell's films are hit or miss, yes.

The Bruno movie is coming out soon, yay or nay to that? While I liked Borat, it did make me cringe in so many parts that I never re-watched it.

Up looks awesome, and it has gotten awesome reviews, so I wouldn't have minded seeing that either. All the Pixar movies are good, although I admittedly have been slacking with my viewings of them; I haven't seen Cars or Ratatouille. For some reason, I only seem to get the urge to watch them as date movies, and normally watch other things before I get to them - North by Northwest, This Is Spinal Tap for the 40th time, The Brak Show and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.

I'm glad that Disney is getting back into the traditional animation game, though. As great as the Pixar films are, there is just something about the classic Disney animation that is timeless. One of
my "writer's block" entries is a comparison of the shitty Rugrats in Paris vs. the awesome Pinocchio, both of which I had to watch while substitute teaching. Even though Pinocchio was in Spanish, it was still much more watchable than Rugrats, which already seems horrible and dated.

I will hold my judgment for the new film until I see it, although I'll add the qualifier that Disney stopped with the whole animation thing because they had made so many clunkers. Even with this one, you should be fearful that they'll do something stupid like cast Miley Cyrus or Raven the Cosby Girl as the black princess, instead of a real voiceover artist.


Danielle: Well, Steve Carrell was the only person I found amusing in Anchorman. The few times I did laugh usually involved scenes he was in. I know Kicking and Screaming isn't a very good movie, but they showed it on TBS so much when I was in college, and that was one of few channels I had, so it grew on me. Plus, since I've worked with kids a lot, I get a lot of that humor. I don't really have any interest in Bruno either. I saw like the first 10 minutes of Borat and that was enough for me.

Pixar movies are great date movies, I have to agree with you there. In the theater for Up, there were actually almost no children. Mostly adult couples. Or a group of teenage friends. Or me.

Rugrats in Paris was pretty lame. I did use to like that show though. Nickelodeon was soooo freakin' awesome! I still enjoy a couple of their shows; SpongeBob Squarepants I still find amusing, and the little girl I nanny loves it, so it's a show I can watch with her and tolerate. I also find Drake and Josh fairly amusing at times too.

Don't worry about the new Disney cartoon - they've got some random people doing voices, not anyone too famous. Only name I recognized was Oprah Winfrey. What were the animated flops? Hmm, Atlantis was only OK. So was Treasure Planet. I did really like The Emperor's New Groove though. I think they don't do so well because there are no good songs! But The Emperor's New Groove was funny enough it was okay without songs.

Ok, I'm tired, so I'm done. Hope this was good enough!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

iTunes Running Diary – June 14, 2009

This week's artists.

Since it got a good response last week judging from the hit numbers, and because someone from Twitter and Blogger found me specifically because I mentioned Collective Soul, I thought I would make this a weekly feature. I also enjoyed making that weird cover graphic. So, every Sunday, expect to see an iTunes running diary, unless I get very bored with this or too busy one week.

1) "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure... or Goldfinger. Yeah, that's right, the guys who did "Here In Your Bedroom" and "Superman" and "I Really Missed You" covered "Just Like Heaven," and it was shockingly good, at least to my ear. They are pop punk, so it kind of makes sense that "Just Like Heaven" would be a good song for them to cover. The original lyrics by The Cure are evocative of longing and wanting, which is always a good pop punk subject.

That being said, the original is clearly the superior song, and one that I can always listen to. It strikes a great tempo balance, allowing it to feel like a ballad and just a good song in general. I remember being upset at some point because it was 22 on a VH1 1980s countdown, behind iffy songs by Hall and Oates, and "Come On Eileen". I think songs should get extra points if they are still being listened to 20 years later without irony, and "Just Like Heaven" fits the bill for me.

2) "Everything to Everyone" by Everclear. When this song first came out, I didn't like it. I'm not sure why, but I distinctly recall not being a fan. It might have been way overplayed when it debuted, but I've softened on it, unlike "Father of Mine," which I still dislike.

If I had to guess a reason why I disliked this song besides it being overplayed, my guess would probably be its ambling feel. Sparkle and Fade, Everclear's great debut success, is in my Top 10 of all-time. This is initially surprising to people, but really, have you listened to it?

From top to bottom, there is some diversity in the offering, but the majority of the tracks are hard-driving rock. "Santa Monica," the big radio success from the album, is actually one of the more mellow songs on the album. More customary are "Heroin Girl," a song with soaring vocals and driving guitar about its obvious subject matter, and “Chemical Smile,” a chaotically-fast guitar song that still features the smooth vocals of Art Alexakis.

"Everything to Everyone" is OK, but after the greatness of Sparkle and Fade, everything else that Everclear did feels muted to me. The only songs I heard on the radio that reminded me of their debut greatness are "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom" (funny video btw) and "So Much For The Afterglow." The band definitely made more money with songs like "Father of Mine," but the casual fans that flooded to them didn't have staying power, at least in my opinion, and Art's live performances – from watching some YouTube clips, and seeing and reviewing him for the Cigar a few years ago – leave a lot to be desired.

The other part of the equation here is that Art got clean at some point, and stopped writing every song about doing smack and abandoning / being abandoned by family members. I don't think his addiction is what made him creative, but rather, that his music was probably the only thing that allowed him to eventually get clean. The Beatles were a lot better before John Lennon did nothing but heroin with his friend and my celebrity double Harry Nilsson on the West Coast. And Kurt Cobain probably lasted as long as he did before completely bottoming because he had the music outlet.

3) "Dance With Me" by The Sounds. Honestly, I can't tell you much of anything about this band by cheating and looking them up on Wikipedia, which I won't do. The only reason I have this song downloaded is because it was good bumper music for a VH1 commercial at some point. I remember a few people being happy that I identified it on my old blog, because they also wanted to download it. (Other great semi-unknown commercial hits: "Huddle Formation" by The Go! Team and "Don't Want To Hurt You" also by The Sounds and "Start!" by The Jam.)

However, this song coming up gives me a good opportunity to rant about VH1. Specifically, what the F happened to you, VH1? Once upon a time, I remember being charmed by shows like I Love and Pop-Up Video. However, their current shows just seem like a dumping ground for snark and irony by Z-list comedians, and low and non-talent celebrities (Danny Bonaduce).

For example, I Love The 80s and 90s worked because they had the bigger stars of those decades commenting seriously about their roles in that decade. Sir Mix-A-Lot talking about the best booty of the 90s works great, because he would obviously have strong opinions on the subject and he has enough personality to make it work.

The celebrity guests also made more sense, and were better cast in general. While Chris Jericho is a professional wrestler (and I obviously have a soft spot for him), he grew up in the 80s, and he's an entertaining interview, so it makes sense to ask him about the influence of hair metal. Having Bill Simmons comment on sports and pop culture for the 90s made sense, as did inviting Rich Eisen and Stu Scott, since they were both heavily involved in the defining sports program of the decade. Michael Ian Black was a relative unknown when he started the show, but he had years of experience as a stand-up and doing improv, and it showed.

I was dismayed when VH1 essentially decided, "Hey, why don't we just run this S everyday?" Hence, we now have Best Week Ever, which is just quasi-celebrities dumping on actual celebrities. It would work if most of the people involved were more likable, but instead, it feels like a snarkfest reminiscent of the “Bitch please!” blogger spoof on Saturday Night Live.

It doesn't have to be like this, VH1. Hire some decent people for your shows. If E! can successfully revive Talk Soup as The Soup by casting Joel McHale (and believe me, they have), then you can loosen up the purse strings a bit and hire some actual talent for your shows.

4) "History Repeating" by The Propellerheads. (Weird, old school video too, that juxtaposes 1960s and 1990s culture amusingly.) This band belongs on the short list of artists that have one incredible album, then never came out with anything else again. If I recall correctly, the Propellerheads big CD, Decksanddrumsandrockandroll, came out just as the big beat techno movement started by The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim was cresting.

It's a shame, because this album is a strong effort from top-to-bottom whose tracks blend nicely into one another. Samples from old spy movies and Bill Cosby (seriously) create some bouncy tracks, and since its release, I've heard tracks from Decksanddrumsandrockandroll on the soundtracks for plenty of spy movies, appropriately enough.

The standout track is "History Repeating," which features the vocal work of Shirley Bassey and got some mainstream media play for a bit. I believe Bassey did some lounge singing and also was a big vocalist for the James Bond movies. Both make perfect sense when you hear her booming vocals on "History Repeating." It's not exactly techno or alternative rock or lounge, it's just good in general.

After this CD, the Propellerheads did some remixes and DJ work for various artists, but they didn't ever come out with another full-length album, which is a shame.

5) "You Get What You Give" by the New Radicals. Sticking along the lines of the previous song, although at a micro level. I don't know anyone who dislikes this song; maybe some A-hole really into Marilyn Manson or Hanson might find offense with it. But if I had to pick the pinnacle of pop rock / alternative from my formative years (1991 to 2002), this is my pick.

The odd thing is that the song didn't even sound "new" or fresh when it was first released in 1998. The first time I heard it, I thought, "Oh this song is great! I've gotta remember to download it, this is a classic, it's been a while since I've heard it..."

Well, except that the song was new. Yet there is something so familiar about the general sound of the song that instantly makes it resonate. If I was forced to give a reason for its success, I would argue that it is the ultimate refinement of the 1980s pop started by artists like Wham and Paula Abdul. While those bands were over the top gay (somewhat literal in George Michaels' case), "You Get What You Give" has a slight rock or Ben Folds feel to it that gives it some edge.

6) "Bang, Bang" by Nancy Sinatra. This song will no doubt forever be associated with Kill Bill, and for good reason. The song itself is incredibly simplistic, featuring just Sinatra's distorted voice and the somber tune of an instrument I honestly can't identify. However, when it is linked with the credits of the first volume of Kill Bill, and as you make connections on second viewing of first installment, the whole song is strengthened.

RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan did all of the music for Kill Bill, in consultation with Quentin Tarantino, I'm sure. It is probably my favorite movie soundtrack of all-time, because of how perfectly the action on-screen syncs with the inherent sound effects and tone of the music. Other standouts include "Ironside" by Quincy Jones (the robotic tone The Bride hears when she sees a target), "Crane and White Lightning" by RZA (plays as The Bride sizes up the hundred man gang standing between her and O-Ren Ishii), all of the smoky, Western-esque music during The Bride's triumphant scenes, and the general atmosphere music on the soundtrack like "Run Fay Run" by Issac Hayes.

Tarantino is a film nut, and it shows in the movies he has made. Kill Bill is a throwback to the "hero gets revenge" Westerns, and the only way it would have been better is if Eastwood had managed to sneak in somewhere.

At a certain point, Hollywood directors decided that you had to have heroes or main characters who didn't get a perfect resolution. I blame The Godfather movies somewhat; the first two were unquestionably great, but after them, every movie seemed to have some sort of nuanced, conflicted character. It wasn't OK for your film's hero to just kill and destroy without some severe consequences, unless it was some sort of mindless summer blockbuster.

Two great, semi-recent movies immediately spring to mind that buck this convention, the first obviously being Kill Bill. And because I mentioned Eastwood earlier, the other is Unforgiven. Yeah, Morgan Freeman dies in it. So what? At the end of that movie, Eastwood is an unquestioned bad ass, and Gene Hackman looks like a bitch.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Inexplicable movie review - In The Shadow of Love

[Left] This film is so obscure that Google Images came up with nothing. Instead, feast your eyes upon the first thing it did spit out, a bizarre picture of Michael Jackson. I believe this was his "woman" phase, which came shortly before he morphed into a nose-less monster, but after he was an awesome black dude.

So, In The Shadow of Love is one of those cheesy 1990s movies that teachers made me watch in health class. Except that the other day, they were still inexplicably using it for instruction in a class I was substituting for.

The quick plot synopsis: red-haired high school student (think the girl from Wild and Crazy Kids, but not her) is doing a project for journalism class, and wants to do some fluff piece. The "tough girl" from the streets convinces her to do a project on AIDS. She goes to a meeting and freaks out, but goes back and they do their project. Later, redhead girl finds out she has AIDS from sailor boyfriend. The end.

Like the other crappy health movie review I did for the Candance Cameron vehicle Freshman Fall (only time that sentence has been typed in history by the way), this film inexplicably passed for "quality" in the 1990s. On paper, it sounds ludicrous, and watching it, it is even more ludicrous.

I'm having trouble remembering why I found it so reprehensible, but luckily, I tried to keep notes while watching. Unluckily, they're a bit hard to decipher, but are great out-of-context. Here are some of the issues I had with the film:

The most cheerful AIDS movie ever. Musical montages. 1990s wardrobe fun. Popeye the sailor? Cringeworthy line: No balloons, no party (condoms). Harvey Fierstein on AIDS: Well that's one reason we have an epidemic *HUGE SMILE*. Rapping "turkeys". Blant ads with Peter Jennings.

So apparently, there was all sorts of fail going on with this movie, which is always nice. When people pick on the 1990s, they always go right for stuff like Vanilla Ice. While "Ice Ice Baby" stole the beat from Queen and David Bowie, it was an OK song in general. It wasn't shit, like plenty of songs I heard on WBRU in the late 1990s, stuff that makes Limp Bizkit look like fine art and that nobody remembers anymore.

In a similar vein, some guy on Slate.com slagged on a decent collaboration from my youth - Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. For those of you interested in watching or rewatching it, the full video is here on YouTube. It is absolutely shameless cross-promotion, but it is for a good cause, and I found it far more engaging and informative than anything I ever watched in health class. I think part of the problem is that the prick reviewing it for Slate looked like he was in his 30s, meaning he was probably too old to appreciate it.


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