Saturday, February 27, 2010

2010 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

Animated Shorts Program (80 minutes)
@ The Charles Theatre

In the lead-up to the March 7, 2010 Academy Awards TV broadcast, Baltimore's Charles Theatre is currently screening Shorts International's "The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2010" film program. In years past, I've attended both the live-action and the animated film shorts programs, but this year I went strictly with animation as I find that it's usually the stronger of the two programs and, well, animation is still the red-headed stepchild of shorts in today's Gen YouTube. And besides, live-action is all around us while animation is breaking new ground every day of the new digitized Millennium.

At least three out of the five nominated shorts could take home the Oscar with no argument from me (while French Roast and Granny O'Grimm are both excellent, unfortunately they're punching above their weight against the other three in this year's running), but for my two cents worth, Nick Park's latest Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death, looks likely to continue Aardman Animation Studio's Oscar nom/win streak alive with a perfect 6 for 6 record; for, like Michael Jordon, they seem to win every "final" they reach: 1991 Best Animated Short for Creature Comforts (actually beating out another Park film, A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit!); 1994 Best Animated Short for Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers; 1996 Best Animated Short for Wallace and Gromit in a Close Shave; 2006 Best Animated Feature Film for Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

(By the by, together with the theatrical run, the nominated short will also be available in iTunes Stores starting today, March 2.)


OK, for what it's worth, here are my picks for the best of the animated fest:

Dir. Nick Park (UK, 2008, 30 minutes)

Wallace and Gromit have a brand new "dough-to-dough" delivery business. The conversion of 62 West Wallaby Street is complete and impressive, the whole house is now a granary with ovens and robotic kneading arms. Huge mixing bowls are all over the place and everything is covered with a layer of flour. On the roof is a "Wallace patent-pending" old-fashioned windmill. The transformation is perfect. Although business is booming, Gromit is concerned by the news that 12 local bakers have "disappeared" this year - but Wallace isn't worried. He's too distracted and "dough-eyed" in love with local beauty and bread enthusiast, Piella Bakewell, to be of much help. While they enjoy being the "Toast of the Town," Gromit, with his master's life in jeopardy, must be the sleuth and solve the escalating murder mystery before the tally reaches a Baker's Dozen - in what quickly becomes a "Matter of Loaf and Death."

Just when you think you've heard every bread and baking pun imaginable, you see the end credits listing Nick Park's real-world writing partner, one Bob Baker. Can't make this stuff up!

Oh, and I didn't make the connection at the time but, as my friend Dave Cawley later pointed out, the hilarious "I've got a bomb in my pants!" scene is actually a direct reference to the "Sometimes you just can't get rid of a bomb!" sequence in the 1966 Batman movie. Actually, there are loads of classic film references throughout the short, not least of which are the frequent winks to Hitchcock and, of course, Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

Watch the "A Matter of Loaf and Death" trailer (YouTube).

2. THE LADY AND THE REAPER (La Dama y La Muerte)
Dir. Javier Recio Gracia (Spain, 2009, 8 minutes)

A clear winner in any other year, Javier Recio Garcia's computer-animated La Dama y La Muerte wordlessly tells the story of a sweet old lady who is waiting for the arrival of death so she can meet her dearly departed husband again. One night, while sleeping, her life fades out and she is invited to cross death's door. Bue when she is about to do so, the old lady wakes up inside a hospital's ward: and arrogant doctor has taken her back to life and he will fight hard against death to recover the old lady's life at any cost. Co-produced by Mr. Melanie Griffith, Antonio Banderas, it's been compared to Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal re imagined as a Merrie Melodie" cartoon, which is as apt a description as any I can come up with.

Watch The Lady and the Reaper (YouTube):

Dir. Nicolas Schmerkin (English, 17 min.)

Hi-larious and seditiously snarky, I'd give it top props in any other year that didn't include a Wallace and Gromit short and The Lady and the Reaper because, despite the brilliance of the concept and the high-tech artistry of the execution, it still is pretty South Park-sophomoric in its F-bomb-laced dialogue/narrative. Michelin Men police chase armed killer clown Ronald McDonald in a brand name version of Los Angeles comprised entirely of some 2,5000 (unlicensed) corporate logos and mascots - including iconoclastic shout outs to Borders, Bob's Big Boy, the Utz potato chip girl, a flamin' hot Esso gal...

...the mustachioed Pringles guys (both Original Flav and Sweet and Sour Flav!), a way-gay Mr. Clean, and even Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous Andre the Giant "Obey" sticker!

Andre the Giant has a logo posse!

According to web site Flux, the four-years-in-the-making short was created by a group of directors within H5, a French graphic studio renowned for its music CD front covers (Superdiscount, Air, Demon) and artistic direction (Dior, Cartier, YSL). Members François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and Ludovic Houplain directed many music videos (Massive Attack, Goldfrapp, Röyksopp), and, in fact Logorama initially started out in 2002 as an idea for a tribute music video for George Harrison!

"By George, I approve!"

Logorama is the H5 trio's first short film, and premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Kodak Short Film Discovery Prize at the 48th Critics' Week. The short even features a voice cameo by filmmaker David Fincher as the Pringles man.

According to co-director Herve de Crecy, the story had to take place in America's West Coast City of the Angels. "The perfect grid of the city, represented by the Burberry pattern logo, and the permanent earthquake threat matched with the concept we had in mind from the beginning: the opposition between order and disorder."

"People don’t realize they’re facing another reality behind the smiling icons they see everyday," adds co-director Francois Alaux. "You can drill for oil but have a green and yellow flower logo, [making people] feel like they’re in a field full of flowers. That’s no more and no less the kind of trick that we used in Logorama – this time not to tell a happy and smiling story."

And speaking of the perception vs. reality dichotomy, an earthquake-ravaged Los Angeles isn't the only thing connected to Logorama that split up; following Logorama's UK premiere, the H5 trio announced they were splitting. Houplain will keep the H5 moniker, while Alaux and de Crecy will work as a duo under Little Minx.

My only regret was noting the omission of Mr. Boh - I thought of him when I saw the Utz Girl (that's the power of advertising, guess I was thinking of that Smythe Jeweler's ad across from Penn Station that has Mr. Boh proposing to the Utz Girl!)...

...but I guess Mr. Boh was too regional to show up on the Transatlantic radar of French filmmakers.

This is easily the wildest and most imaginative short on offer, but with its potty-mouthed soundtrack, Tarantino-esque violence, and a plethora of unlicensed corporate logos, there's no way it'll win - it would need to win 100 Oscars just to pay off the legal team!

Watch the official Logorama trailer

Watch the full Logorama (from Garage TV).

Dir. Fabrice O. Joubert (France, 2008, 8 minutes)

In a fancy Parisian Cafe, an uptight businessman discovers he forgot to bring his wallet and bides his time by ordering more coffee.

Watch French Roast:

Official site:

Dir. Nicky Phelan and Darragh O'Connell (Ireland, 2008, 6 minutes)

Granny O'Grimm, a seemingly sweet old lady, loses the plot as she tells her version of Sleeping Beauty to her terrified Granddaughter.

Watch Granny O'Grimms Sleeping Beauty.


The Charles' animated program also features three bonus "Highly Commended" shorts: Pixar's Partly Cloudy, Poland's The Kinematograph, and Canada's Runaway.

Dir. Peter Sohn (US, Pixar, 2009, 6 minutes)

Very funny! I had seen this previously, as it was included as an extra on Pixar's Up DVD. I've always liked the concept that babies are delivered by storks (it's so much tidier than the real placenta-and-afterbirth conception mess!), but the idea that the babies themselves are created by clouds (previously only credited with creating White Cloud toilet paper) is even more intriquing; given England's perpetually overcast skies, maybe God is an Englishman?

Watch Partly Cloudy.

Dir. Cordell Barker (Canada, 2009, 9 minutes)

Happy passengers are having a great time on a crowded train, oblivious to the unknown fate that awaits them around the bend. When the train runs into a cow on the tracks, the captain is nowhere to be found and the poor fireman is forced to desperately improvise in order to keep the train going. Cordell Barker's Runaway depicts a vicious class struggle where no one wins aboard a runaway train and is at once both a cynical metaphor for an out-of-control world and pure anarchic fun. The manic retro-jazz soundtrack reminded me of The Triplets of Bellville and, lo and behold, when I looked it up on IMDB I found that it shared the same composer: Benoit Charest. Oh, the train captain is voiced by Barker collaborator (on Barker's 1988's Oscar-nominated The Cat Came Back) and fellow National Film Board of Canada animator Richard Condie (of 1985's Oscar-nominated The Big Snit).

Watch the Runaway trailer (NFB).

Dir. Tomek Baginski (Poland, 2009, 17 minutes)

Typically Polish in its sad existential resignation to - and obsession with - death, Tomek Baginski's tells the tale of a 19th-century inventor close to perfecting motion pictures who films his wife just before her death; when she dies, her memory - as well as her sound and image - lives on through the great artistic power of the kinema (get it?). It's the least imaginative narrative of all the shorts presented (you anticipate how it'll play out from the wife's first dramatic cough), but beautifully animated, especially the time-lapse sequence that has the inventor standing at his wife's hospital bed which then morphs into a cemetary and then into him standing alone outside his house. Strictly Old School Eastern European, though boasting images that could easily hang on the walls of Baltimore's Schuler School of Fine Arts. This is Baginski's second Oscar nom, following 2002's gorgeous Katedra(The Cathedral).

Watch The Kinematograph trailer.

See also:
Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 (Shorts International)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dave Cawley on "New Fist of Fury"

"A man should shed blood, not tears."
- David Cawley
(after watching "Marley and Me" but a code of honor applicable to all martial arts movies, as well)

I promised Dave Cawley I'd reprint his "Tightwad Video Guide" to neglected classics of the martial arts. No one knows kung-fu fooey like Dave Cawley and no one loves New Fist of Fury, the 1976 Jackie Chan remake of the 1972 Bruce Lee classic The Chinese Connection (aka in Hong Kong as Fist of Fury - but not to be confused with Fists of Fury) more than Dave Cawley. And, not to be outdone in his love of fisting, no one loves the 1994 Jet Li remake called Fist of Legend more than Dave Cawley - but that one came out after his '92 review and, so, from Skizz Cyzyk's legendary COUNTEROID Fanzine, I give you Dave Cawley's two-fisted review of the film men like to call...:

New Fist of Fury
"Tightwad Video Guide" column
COUNTEROID Fanzine (1992)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Look What They've Done To My Song

The 40 Coolest Cover Versions of All Time
City Paper, May 27, 1988

An incredibly dated piece on cover songs I wrote for the City Paper back in 1988 when these things were released on petroleum-based black plastic-with-a-hole-in-the-middle that we called "vinyl." Scanned in from the Xerox archives (because I can't find the original, yellowing newsprint version!). So, squint - and sing - along with me!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Geeks, Freaks & Scream Queen Peeks

Tom & Dave's Completely Mental Misadventures @
Chiller Convention 1996

I dunno how to make a .pdf file (I'm one of those over-educated, under-skilled, Luddite-leaning technology heathens who never found God in the details), so here's a posting you can "click on to enlarge" of an old article Dave Cawley and I wrote for Skizz Cyzyk's COUNTEROID fanzine about our experiences at the 1996 Chiller Convention in Secaucus, New Jersey. The lessons learned apply to any fanboy convention anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

GEEKS...Page 1

GEEKS...Page 2

GEEKS...Page 3

GEEKS...Page 4

GEEKS...Page 5

GEEKS...Page 6

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter of My Content

Big Chillin' in the Big Forge

The Rodgers Forge community came together during the snowstorm

No one likes shoveling or getting stuck driving in the snow or waiting for buses that never come while futilely trying to get to work, but...I rather enjoyed having most of this week off due to the record snow fall in Baltimore. Sure, I'll have to address the BGE heating bills, the restlessness-inspired On Demand Video bills, the loose shingles falling off my roof from the weight of the snow there, the backed-up trash awaiting pickup, fixing my car's busted electrical system (the cold temps froze three of the four power windows - which will only become an issue, say, mid-June), as well as that huge fallen tree branch as big as Long Dong Silver's namesake in my front lawn that'll have to be hauled off - eventually...but for the most part this week has brought out the best in my neighbors and community (like the Buddhist nurse next door made chili and cornbread and shared it with me) - although it sometimes has brought out the worst in the bargain-bin furniture my neighbors have used to save their shoveled-out parking spots.

I used my handy Sir Ernest Shackleton
memorial tombstone to mark my parking spot
during the blizzard

(The inclement weather also apparently brought out the worst in at least one Enoch Pratt Library crankster, who smashed one of the Central Library's glass doors and left a note saying "This is what you get for not being open!" Steve Martin would say: "Well, excuse me!" - for not being open during 24 inches of snowfall, ya ingrate!)

Yes, Baltimore's recent Snowpalooza has also given me time to reflect on the domestic front in my Rodgers Forge domicile and catch up on movies, books, and whatnot that would otherwise go neglected and unappreciated. My restless friend Dave may have been going out of his mind with boredom out in the Outer 'Burbs (making me think of Pascal's famous quote: "The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room"), but not me. I relished the down time in my townhouse.

Herein is how I kept myself amused...


Ha! Ha! Ha!
Original LP released October 1977; CD re-release 2006

Got this for my birthday, the best album of the John Foxx-era Ultravox! (back when they excitedly proclaimed the ! point in their name) and the one - thanks to the digital re-release with bonus tracks - that now contains their best-ever song, "Young Savage" (both the original July 1977 single and a kick-ass live recording that shows Ultravox! lost nothing in live translation). This was the album when they let punk-leaning guitarist Stevie Shears run rampant, before sending him packing for their artsy-fartsy synths-uber-alles third LP Systems of Romance (which is also great in its polar-opposite way), and along with Mssr.'s Warren Cann, Billy Currie, and Chris Cross the result is a "bruising backdrop of feedback, booming synthesizers and screeching violins"...with the stated purpose, according to drummer Cann, of making "...songs unpleasant and objectionable to listen to..." that would make listeners "very uncomfortable."

Background music to read J. G. Ballard by, in other words. (And that's a good thing, in my far-from-unbiased opinion.) Actually, far from being uncomfortable, I felt like I was listening to early Roxy Music - albeit with a bite. For this was the transitional Ultravox! album, the one on which they first experimented with fully electronic instruments like the synthesizer ("The Man Who Dies Every Day") and drum machine (the preset-beats of a Roland TR-77 on "Hiroshima Mon Amour"), the one sandwiched between their trad rock, Bowie-indebted/Eno-produced debut LP Ultravox! (1976) and the all-out synth attack of Systems of Romance (1978). Yup, this was the one whose Electronics-meets-Shears-heart-attack sound would later be echoed in Goth-Indusrial-friendly works like Depeche Mode's Songs of Faith and Devotion and Nine Inch Nails's Pretty Hate Machine.

No one packed more verbiage into rock and roll thought balloons than John Foxx - not even the equally verbose Dylan - and he walked the walk as well as he talked the talk, as born witness by his live rendition of "Young Savage" wherein the words don't just unfurl, they avalanche. "Money rents you insulation/Tenderness, asphyxiation/Someone else's flesh to borrow/Sling it from your bed tomorrow...Changing blossoms into piss/And taking bites from every kiss..." culminating in the infectious chorus "Think like a steel wall, stink like a dance hall, anything goes where no one knows your name."

Of course, it's interesting that a track such as "ROckWrok" (the title being a nod to Marcel Duchamp's "Rongwrong" Dada piece) got BBC airplay when released as a single despite lines like "Let's tangle in the dark, fuck like a dog, bite like a shark" but a song from the first album entitled "My Sex" got banned for its title alone. (No sex please, we're British!) Actually, it's probably a testament to Foxx's ability to spit out oral barrages so densely-packed that the censors couldn't decipher them! It's also interesting that a song entitled "Hiroshima Mon Amour" bears no relation to the 1959 French arthouse film of the exact same name by Alain Resnais (from a screenplay by Marguerite Duras), but Foxx claimed he had never seen it. Speaking of which...

One final thought: Though the original synth and electronic-drummed "Hiroshima Mon Amour" album track was much bally-hooed upon its initial release for its sophistico Euro-sound, the highlight of this 2006 CD re-release has to be the far superior "alternate version" that only appeared on the flip side of the 1977 "ROckWrok" single until its restoration's quite astounding and features Old School electric guitar histrionics courtesy of Mr. Stevie Shears. Shop and compare; it's no contest.


While the Bobcats plowed the snow outside, I plowed through the following eclectic reads I had stacked in knee-high piles around the house (courtesy of the downtown library and Daedalus Books)...

by David Peace

I hated the annoying narrative style of Peace's Tokyo Year Zero (his novel about post-war serial rapist/killer Kodaira Yoshio, who was executed in 1949), but back in the Occident, specifically the "hard north" of England's West Yorkshire county, Peace knows from more than nowt. I read 1974 (retitled Nineteen Seventy Four for its paperback publication) at the same time as I watched the filmed version of the first installment in his Red Riding Quartet of novels (alleged named both for Yorkshire's West Riding district and the color of blood - but also with a nod to the Brothers Grimm and their Little Red Riding Hood tale of innocents in danger from wolves in sheep's clothing) - this one modeled after Manchester's infamous Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the sex sadists who tortured and killed five young innocents in the 1960s. In Peace's novel, something's rotten in the state of Yorkshire, specifically Leeds and Fitzwilliam, as missing children are turning up with wings stitched into their backs. Yes, creepy as all get out. But wait, there's more - corruption, graft, sexual obsession, and that whole North vs. South, Us vs. Them thing the Brits have going on once you head north past the Watford Gap.

by Jack Seward

Fascinating read of unusual stories from Japan, from the famous story of Sada Abe (who strangled and then Bobbitt-cized her lover, as captured on screen in In the Realm of the Senses) to seven dramatic examples of ritual disembowelment. Many of these stories take place on Kyushu - the southernmost of the "Big Four" islands making up Nippon (and unfortunately most famous for being home of H-bomb target Nagasaki) - the place where my girlfriend's mom was born.

Much a-do about Kyushu

For example, it was in Kyushu that Grand Duke Alexander Romanov, brother-in-law of Russian Czar Nicolas II, took a Japanese wife and learned the hillbilly patois of her native Inasa dialect (an Ebonics-like dialect incomprensible to almost all other Japanese) that later embarrassed him when he visited the Imperial Court. And it was in Kyushu that the tradition of yobai (night crawling) was practiced; this was a variation on the Amish "bungling" ritual whereby young men and women get their first sexual experience by crawling under the covers to fool around in the dark with unseen partners. (Since the partners are unseen, it gives the participants "plausible deniability" should they wish to reject their futon feelers.) But the strangest story of all has to be the one from Yoshii, Kyushu, about the eels in the Chikugo River that have been known to crawl into women's coochies and escape rather violently, sometimes rupturing young lasses' maidenheads in their desperation to find an escape route. One such unfortunate woman was the daughter of a doctor who, to restore his daughter's lost honor, developed a surgical technique for implanting a man-made maidenhead (jinko shojo-maku). I kid you not - gynecologist-turned-plastic surgeon Dr. Kohei Matsukubo went on to win fame and fortune (from many a prospective "virgin" bride) for his pioneering "hymen retreading" procedure. Hmmm...I'm afraid I'll picture this story from now on whenever I eat inagi roll!

The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan
by Robert Whiting

Still working my way through this one, which I spied atthe library and couldn't put down.

"Through the eyes of Nick Zappetti, a former GI, former black marketer, failed professional wrestler, bungling diamond thief who turned himself into "the Mafia boss of Tokyo and the king of Rappongi," we meet the players and the losers in the high-stakes game of postwar finance, politics, and criminal corruption in which he thrived. Here's the story of the Imperial Hotel diamond robbers, who attempted (and may have accomplished) the biggest heist in Tokyo's history. Here is Rikidozan, the professional wrestler who almost single-handedly revived Japanese pride, but whose own ethnicity had to be kept secret. And here is the story of the intimate relationships shared by Japan's ruling party, its financial combines, its ruthless criminal gangs, the CIA, American Big Business, and perhaps at least one presidential relative. Here is the underside of postwar Japan, which is only now coming to light."

Once again, Kyushu figures in the narrative, with Zappetti's Japanese underworld career starting with his deployment to Nagasaki.

From Post-War to 1959
a Taschen book (natch!)

Every man and woman on Earth should read this epic undertaking on the history of men's magazines compiled by Dian Hanson (former editor of Juggs and Leg Show and author of The Big Trilogy: The Big Penis Book, The Big Book of Legs, and The Big Book of Breasts)...

Dian Hanson's works are always massive undertakings

...and published by the reigning king of coffee table books, Taschen. Finally picked this up at Daedalus Books after looking at it forever, and I'm glad I did, as it's the kind of book that keeps a man warm during a Snowmageddon. Seriously, this isn't really just prurient reading, it's actually a valuable history lesson about a lost age when American publishers sold the sizzle and not the steak, a time before Internet porn when there was some eye-winking style and (low-brow) wit in what has become today's tunnel-visioned, speculum-probin', gyno-moronic sleaze. A time of Benny Hill swinging bachelorhood, not Max Hardcore psycho-sociopathy. (See also Taschen description: History of Men's Magazines Vol. 2.)


Too many to detail, so I'll just list them...

RED RIDING: 1974 (2009)
directed by Julian "Kinky Boots" Jarrod

Moors Murders transplanted to West Yorkshire, starring Andrew Garfield, David Morrissey, Sean Bean, and the beautiful Rebecca Hall (Vicky Christina Barcelona). Plus Gerard Kearns (Ian from Brit TV's Shameless) as Leonard Cole.

RED RIDING: 1980 (2009)
directed by James "Man On Wire" Marsh

Yorkshire Ripper yarn starring the always excellent Paddy Considine and David Morrissey.

RED RIDING: 1983 (2009)
directed by Anand "Hilary and Jackie" Tucker

The Moors Murders and Yorkshire Ripper redux, plus a resolution, starring David Morrissey and Mark Addy.

directed by Sam Fuller

Only the anti-Commie sentiment dates this classic noir featuring made-for-noir star Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter - whose death scene near the end is still hard to top and is no doubt why she was Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

directed by David Munro

I wanted to hate this hipster-doofus slacker tale of much-ado-about-nothing, but the acting - featuring one guy who looked like NBA star Steve Nash and another who looked like a slightly slimmer pony-tailed Penn Jillette - and the writing kept me from switching off. Plus there were celeb cameos courtesy of Alan Cummings, Deborah Harry, and Amy Sedaris. The Steve Nash lookalike was Matt McGrath, playing 35-year-old hipster "Alby" whose wife kicks him out until he can prove he's grown up and can do more than relive his childhood by playing with his Action Jackson doll. Then he goes on a Pee-Wee Herman-esque roadtrip trip - the last ride to his cherished childhood memories - with his old school pal "Elias" (Judah Friedlander, from American Splendor), who now works with developmentally challenged youngsters. Those "retarded" kids were an annoying appeal to whimsical sentimentality, which I loathe, but the low point had to be the gratuitous use of the other kind of "little people" - the scene where Amy Sedaris' midget bouncers kick the shit out of Albee. Dumb. Again, I should really hate this hipster update of the Peter Pan story, but something about it fooled me into staying the course. OK, maybe it was the snowstorm.

directed by Werner Herzog

Sick of all the surfeit of documentaries about penguins and sea lions from the South Pole, Herzog instead turns his lens on the most fascinating creatures currently inhabiting Antartica: the humans. They're a definite different breed, a wack pack of post-Hippie New Age philosophers, nomadic world travelers, and science-obsessed social misfits, whose collective world views and life missions are given poignancy via Herzog's signature poetic narration and cinematography.

GUN CRAZY (1950) (aka Deadly is the Female)
directed by Joseph H. Lewis

I had forgotten just how great this film was, not having watched it in years, until I dug it out in anticipation of the film screening I was presenting later that week at the library. Along with Blade Runner and Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend, it's in my Top Three Holy Trinity of Cinematic Treasures. Lewis's other classic noir feature The Big Combo is also worth checking out (maybe next snow storm), as it features perhaps the first overtly gay gangster couple in cinema history: Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman). Not to mention the great torture-by-hearing-aid scene (heads up Gitmo interrogators, you missed this one!). Oh, and the young Bart/John Dahl character in Gun Crazy was played by none other than Russ "Rusty" Tamblyn, the acrobatic child star who would soon go on to dancing fame in Seven Brides for Seeven Brothers and West Side Story, and later excel as cult kook shrink Dr. Jacoby in Twin Peaks.


OK, back to shoveling. Good thing I stocked up on red wine and Naproxen.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Super Bowled Over

Super Bowl XLIV Succeeds, In Spite of Itself

This time, believe the hype

I hate football and rarely watch the Super Bowl for anything other than the halftime music performances and million-dollar commercials, but last night I have to admit the Super Bowl lived up to its perennially bombastic hype (which begins with the pretentious Roman Numeral naming convention, as if a football game were as historically significant or epic as anything from the Roman Empire - I mean, Barack Obama's election as the 44th President of the United States, and first African-American, is pretty historic, but we don't afford even him the XLIV designation!).

It was a great game, one that came down to the final 5 minutes, and one that I think the country wanted the historic have-nots, the New Orleans Saints, to win. They did. With balls out (going for it on 4th and goal, surprising everyone with an on-side kick). The Saints are no longer 'Aints, with the end-result that the Mardi Gras officially started at least 9 days early (and who knows how long it will last?). My Baton Rouge-native neighbor Tal was elated, telling me, as we shoveled snow the next day, that his mom was in New Orleans' French Quarter that night to see a play and that they had an extended 90-minute intermission during which free champagne was handed out while people got updated on the score. (She didn't get home until 2 in the morning what with all the post-game celebrating in the Quarter!)

Who R U?

Initially, I was only going to watch the game so I wouldn't miss The Who - as Roger Daltry and Pete Towshend call their Oldies But Goldies act these days (not much choice thanks to the Grim Reaper, mind you) - but stuck it out long after the final chords of "Won't Get Fooled Again" (which I didn't realize was a tie-in with the Super Bowl-broadcasting network CBS' latest "CSI" theme song). You could argue that The Who's set was a Vegas-like mixed-bag mash-up of abbreviated post-vintage melodies (I personally hate my namesake album Tommy, preferring almost anything on The Who Sell Out and Quadrophenia to their "classic" Rock Opera) - and including the predictable "Who Are You" from their latterday-lame '80s period was inexcusable - but it's hard to quibble with "Pinball Wizard" and especially the set-closer, "Won't Get Fooled Again" - an anthemic rocker that made me borrow the catchphrase my girlfriend Amy quips whenever she hears her beloved Queen and involuntarily shriek "I love rock and roll!"

Pete and Rog: Who'd a thunk it?

Sure, it wasn't as good as Prince's wild and inspired "Purple Rain"-highlighted set in the rain (how perfect was that?) from 2007, but it'll do - and anytime you get to see old Pete do his iconic windmill guitar power-strums it's, as the American Express ads put it, pricless. (Baby Boomer on a Soapbox Aside: I was lucky enough to have seen the original Who quartet 35 years ago at the Cap Center (Quadrophenia Tour?) and I got a chill flashing back to that eardrum-shattering moment thanks to Sunday's performance.) I just wonder who the Union Jack-jacketed drummer with the Mod target cymbals was? His gear was fab, even if he wasn't quite Keith Moon on the kit (but then, who - or rather Who - is?).

Ads Infinitum

But what really kept me from switching the channel - and boy was I tempted to tune out the bloviated pre- and post-game shoutfest-masquerading-as-analysis represented by the Joint Jarhead Jock Chorus of Boomer, Dan Marino, Shannon Sharpecheese, James Brown, and Bill Cowher (why do they make such a simple game so complicated? Why does Shannon Sharpecheese try to make us think it's Rocket Science with all his playbook talk of "3-4 Slant Routes" and "4-3 Zones"?) were...the commercials. Though many were the usual fratboy/jocko homo variety (especially the tire and Budweiser ads), and at least one totally missed the mark for this kind of audience (I'm referring to Google's "Parisian Love" ad showing how to use their search engine to take a trip to Paris, score a French girlfriend, and then plan the wedding - a cool ad to be sure but only for French-loving East Coast Elitists like myself...I mean, did the Google folks really think this fantasy scenario would speak to the football-loving yahoos in Alabama or Arkansas who only eat the rebranded "Freedom Fries" with their burgers?), for the most part they were really fun and imaginative. (OK, except Charles Barkley's lame Taco Bell (w)rap - and Sir Chunky Charles looks like he's been eating way too much at the Bell!)

Naturally, chips and tits always do well in the ratings with football's built-in Neatherthal mouth-breathers audience, with early surveys indicating that the Doritos ("House Rules") and Megan Fox-in-a-bathtub-for-Motorola spots did best. The other blatant sex spots hawking P-Power were for (always) and Bridgestone ("I said your tires or your life, not your wife" - Ha, ha, funny, because, see, guys will trade their wives for good tires...stop me before I laugh again!) (For more highlights, check out the National Post's roundup of the best ads, YouTube's Ad Blitz channel, or Mashable's Roundup.)

The best? Had to be the short-but-sweet (ah brevity - the soul of wit, yo!) "Worst Super Bowl Party Ever" Late Show spot:

I particularly liked the two Bud Light ads that referenced, directly or indirectly, the ABC-TV series Lost . First there was the "Stranded" spot that had a Kate Austen/Evangeline Lilly lookalike find a crashed plane's radio equipment, which instead of being used to signal for help is instead used to play music while her crashmates enjoy drinking Bud. (Hmmm, makes me think of Pris' line in Blade Runner when she realizes the jig is up: "Then we're stupid, and we'll die.")

Then there was the "Asteroid" commercial that featuring Dharma Initiative scientist honcho Dr. Marvin Candle (aka "Dr. Pierre Chang," played by Francois Chau) in his customary white lab coat announcing that an asteroid would destroy Earth (so naturally everybody breaks out the Bud Light to party like it's 1999); his bespectacled and balding sidekick looks like the guy who played the sadistic security staff hardliner in the Dharma Initiative.

Be a Pecker, Drink Dr. Pepper

And never ones to miss out on corporate shilling, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley once again donned their makeup to hawk "A Little Kiss of Cherry" for Dr. Pepper Cherry, all set (predictably) to "Dr. Love" and featuring (for their literally minded audience) "little people" (the real-life MiniKiss band).

Dr. Pecker Gene assures us, "Trust me, I'm a Dr." I trust only that he's a neo-con capitalist whore. But, hey, it's a very fun spot.

Of course, I was pleasantly surprised to see the "Hard Times" Simpsons ad for Coke, which perfectly reflected our current economic woes by showing erstwhile greedy billionaire-turned-destitute-old-rummy C. Montgomery Burns learning to appreciate the simple things in life.

And though I hate Dockers pants, I have to admit I liked their "I wear no pants!" ad. What is it about seeing men in their underwear that's so funny? (I swear, I'm not gay - "not that there's anything wrong with that," as Jerry Seinfeld says...) I dunno, maybe because male lingerie is so grotty, but I similarly enjoyed the Careerbuilder "Casual Fridays" commercial for the same reason.

Careerbuilder: "Expose yourself to something better"

And I loved FLO TV's "Injury Report" that featured sportscaster Jim Nantz giving a play-by-play of a man "whose girlfriend has removed his spine" going on a shopping spree with his beloved.

"How about lavender?" "How about not?"

I'm just sorry my (half-Japanese) girlfriend Amy had to miss kgb's first ever Super Bowl ad (no shopping spree for Amy - she had to pull a snowed-in double shift at work that night), because she would have enjoyed their "How do I say 'I Surrender?' in Japanese" sumo wrestler commercial.

Talkin' 'bout "My Appropriation"

And, harkening back to The Who, I liked FLO TV's the video mash-up of "My Generation" but wonder, as it's credited to Will.I.Am of The Black-Eyed Peas, just what the fuck did Little Will.I bring to the table? The music is all Who, the video is all whoever directed it, and Will.I.Am's Tell Overture consists of him speaking a scant 5 seconds of voiceover? Gimme a break! Even hip-hop hack P. Diddy at least adds a new drumbeat or bass line to his virtually verbatim musical lifts.

Talkin' bout My Appropriation:

Oh well, at least the proceeds go to Haiti relief fund.

Only really sour note of this entertaining night was the obligatory shout out to God from All-American Drew Brees and the comment from the NFL Today Joint Chiefs of Jarhead Jockdom that, when Drew Brees held up his baby boy Baylen Brees (try saying that during a sobriety check!), that this was the ne plus ultra of every man's existence, to hold your son up after winning the Super Bowl. Yeah, right, Capt. Cliche! And we all wanna f**k the Homecoming Queen. Only in your dreams, guys!