Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar Eve Thoughts

As I type this, looking out my window, it's a bright, sunny day, but my Facebook feed tells me that it's actually snowing, or at least hailing, in Los Angeles. So let's just get this out of the way: if Salma Hayek or Scarlett Johansen show up on the read carpet tomorrow wearing parkas, God and I will no longer be on speaking terms.

So let's get into this. I still haven't seen The King's Speech, The Fighter, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine, Toy Story 3, Rabbit Hole, or a lot of the others, so I probably shouldn't be doing this at all. Last year, I made an effort to see all the shorts and the songs on YouTube, but I didn't really have time for that this time. Here's what I'm rooting for.

Picture - My first choice is Black Swan, which seems to have gone from dark horse to no chance over the last few months. Barring that, I hope The Social Network beats The King's Speech.

Director - I'd be perfectly happy with Aronofsky, Fincher or the Coens winning this.

Actor - I've been a fan of James Franco going back to Freaks and Geeks, so I'll root for him.

Actress - Well, my first choice is to root for Natalie Portman. Again, I've been a fan since Leon, and it's a great film. I'm not sure she's really the best actor here. Jennifer Lawrence might be just as good. And it's very possible that Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman might be better. One thing I'm pretty sure about: Annette Bening shouldn't win. She's good and all, it's just not an Oscar-worthy performance. In fact, Julianne Moore gives a much more interesting performance if you ask me. From what I gather, Annette Bening is just a really nice person who people in Hollywood really love. I'm sure she's a fine person, and a fine actor, but come on.

Supporting Actor - John Hawkes, a great character actor who's been doing great work for a long time, and who gives a fantastic performance. I actually didn't recognize him until about halfway through the film.

Supporting Actress - Hailee Steinfeld. Easy choice, especially considering she's really the fucking lead actor in the movie.

Original Screenplay - Hmmm...I expect this to probably go to Inception.

Adapted Screenplay - The Social Network.

Animated Feature - The Illusionist. A dark horse, for sure, but I could see it winning. I haven't seen the other two. I should note that, as terrible as the trailers work, I have heard from many respectable people that How to Train Your Dragon is a great film, and maybe better than Toy Story 3.

Documentary Feature - Exit Through the Gift Shop. This isn't a dark horse like The Illusionist. Exit is just not going to win, period. Exit is documentary-as-art, and the Academy believes in documentary-as-social-statement. That's just the facts. So this will probably go to something like Inside Job. And as long as we're on the subject, let's talk about the obvious snub: Waiting for Superman. What annoys me about this is that it seems as though the academy may have snubbed this documentary because it's an "anti-union" movie, which seems like a bizarre way of looking at it. I haven't seen it yet, so I could be totally off on this, but I'm also a person who doesn't really think The Corporation is an anti-corporation movie. Superman seems to be a film about specific crimes of one particular union. The idea that the teacher's union has stood in the way of education reform isn't really some subjective opinion, it's kind of a fact that's been obvious for over 20 years. Does being pro-union mean thinking workers are always better off having a union, or does it mean thinking that anything a union ever does is good? Well, I'll hold off on saying more until I've actually seen it, but that's my take on it.

Cinematography - True Grit.

Editing - The Social Network, obviously.

Sound mixing/editing - I'll give 'em both to True Grit.

Art Direction - Either True Grit or Harry Potter.

Visual Effects - I think Harry Potter might be my fave, but it would be foolhardy to root against Inception on this one.

Makeup - Barney's Version.

My top 10 of the year, since I haven't done it yet:

1. Black Swan
2. Valhalla Rising
3. The Illusionist
4. Winter's Bone
5. Kick Ass
6. Exit Through the Gift Shop
7. The Social Network
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe
9. The Kids Are All Right
10. The Other Guys

Well, I'm seeing Four Lions next week, and I expect that to knock something off, but that's pretty much it. I liked Splice a lot, too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

90's Hit Parade #85

Public Enemy w/Anthrax (or Anthrax w/Public Enemy, depending on your fandom) - Bring the Noise

If I were writing this list in January of 2000, this song would be much higher. In fact, in 1991, it would have been impossible for me to imagine that this song would not be in my top 10. Well, as time goes on, the funk metal sound gets more played out, but I still think this is as good an example of the sound as has ever existed. Anthrax start shit off with a pounding, Motorhead-inspired intro, then proceed to back up Chuck and Flav's raps with some seriously heavy body blows of metal. Pity that they couldn't just concentrate on their own strengths and leave the rapping to the professionals, but fuck it, they seem to be enjoying themselves.

Bonus Beat:

Speaking of rap metal, hard to beat this remix.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

90's Hit Parade #86

Len - Steal My Sunshine

If you hadn't guessed, the germ of the idea for this series was planted by Pitchfork, who published a "Best Songs of the 90's" list last year. Pitchfork stole a bit of my thunder by including this song, a minor hit from c.1999 that I was sure few people liked and almost nobody remembered, on their list. Pitchfork pretty much got most of what's great about this song, the way it's summertime vibe and catchy bubblegum lyrics work so well with it's cheap-sounding white funk arrangement, so I won't go into that, but hey, look at the video! Like Goldfinger, this is the first time I've seen the video, and I'm again surprised to find that the guys in this band look like a bunch of douchebags. I was expecting skinny indie kids. But unlike Goldfinger, I think I actually like this song better knowing that it comes from these beefy frat boys riding around on goofy scooters with muscle shirts and backwards baseball caps. Maybe it says something about the mainstreaming of "indie culcha" or whatever in the post-Nirvana, post-Beck world of the late 90's, or maybe it's just another fun juxtaposition in a song that's already juxtaposed half to death.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Daytime TV Was Once Awesome

Growing up in the 70's, I didn't watch a lot of late night TV. I remember seeing The Tonight Show a few times, but my parents were fairly strict about that 10:00 pm bedtime on school nights. But something that I think a lot of younger people aren't aware of is the daytime talkshows from that era. Before Oprah and Ellen, before Maury and Montel, there were daytime talkshows that were a lot more like late night shows. There were three of them: The Mike Douglas Show, The Merv Griffin Show and Dinah!. Dinah Shore was a former pop/jazz singer (Wikipedia identifies her as the forerunner of Doris Day and Patti Page). Merv Griffin was a former singer and game show mogul who got rich creating Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! (his mansion in the Hollywood Hills, visible from West Hollywood, is a local landmark), who had a strange, effeminate speaking style. And Mike Douglas was, again, a former singer who came off as the most square dad type. These shows were all on in the late morning/early afternoon, around the time The Price is Right was on. I didn't watch any of them religiously or anything, but I do remember seeing them all plenty of times back in the day, and I particularly remember The Mike Douglas Show, which was filmed on a dayglo set with big asterisks and stuff (Seinfeld payed tribute to the Merv Griffin set in the 90's). These shows basically followed the same format as the Carson-era Tonight Show. I saw some interesting things on these shows, and in fact they gave me my first exposure to standup comedy. I remember seeing David Brenner on those shows quite a bit. He didn't exactly ignite my mind the way Steve Martin would a year or two later, but he was funny, and the idea of somebody whose job was just to go out and make people laugh was very appealing. I used to try to get laughs by repeating routines I'd seen him do, probably getting them all wrong. Brenner was the go-to guest host for Carson in the late 70's.

One routine I remembered trying out on my friends was a complicated joke about a stuttering, epileptic guy going duck hunting. Just a few weeks ago, I was searching YouTube for "David Brenner Duck Hunting" trying to find this joke that I had a vague recollection of, with no luck. Then, I came across this. Turns out that joke was not David Brenner, but Charlie Callas, who apparently just died.

The funny part is that, as a kid, I thought all the funny voices in that routine were hilarious, but I didn't quite get the joke. I thought if I found it and watched it now, it would make sense, but you know what? I still have no idea what the fuck the point of this joke is.

I don't remember seeing any rock bands on these shows, in those days when I was still unaware of rock music, but via YouTube I've found a lot of great clips of pretty obscure rock artists. Remember, this stuff was on in the afternoon, the equivalent of the Ellen show now. Amazing to see who was being programmed at that time.

Iggy Pop and David Bowie, performing the Oedipal "Sister Midnight":

Tom Waits:

Frank Zappa:

Of course, this classic clip of Gene Simmons being interviewed by Mike Douglas is familiar to KISS fans. "You can't hide the hook, honey!"

As far as I can recall, the last time this format was really tried (and I don't think Ellen or The Rosie O'Donnell Show were exactly the same thing) was in the 80's, when David Letterman had an afternoon show. I only saw it twice, but it was a great show, basically the exact same show he would launch on late night the following year. Perhaps predictably, it flopped and was quickly canceled.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spittin' Wicked Randomness, Part XXXVII

I haven't done one of these in a while, so here's some fun stuff from around the webiverse.

If, like me, you're lamenting the loss of Chris O'Leary's Locust St. blog, you'll be mighty happy to find the Just One More Song Tumblr. Jonathan Bogart is taking an exponential trip through the 20th century: he'll write about one song from 1901, two from 1902, and so on until he gets to 99 from 1999. Good writing, good music, plus the added fun of trying to guess how long it will be before the guy quits (I'm guessing he'll make it to the 30's).

Joe at Last Days gave me a shout out in this post, but check it out anyway cuz it's a great pair of songs and Joe's writing is always sharp.

More great Florida swamp punk from the Voodoo Idols on KBD Records!

New York Times, 1874: Happy Nigger Day! (Yes, this is real.)

The calendar dates for 1977 and 2011 match up, so you can totally use this Vampirella calendar this year!

Occult symbolism at the L.A. Library. The comments section reads like the inside of Glen Beck's brain.

Guide to Blade Runner locations in L.A.

"Charlton Heston's three post-apocalyptic movies make sense when played simultaneously
." I'm not sure if I agree with that claim, but it's still pretty cool.

Some early Patti Smith recordings I'd never heard

Another great Marxist interpretation of Ferris Beuller's Day Off

I don't know what the fuck Ebert was smoking when he called the great spaghetti western Death Rides a Horse a good bad movie, but this is a hilarious review anyway. Ebert also linked to this video from a 1990 screening of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, with cast and crew Q&A, and where you can watch the surreal British comedy The Bed Sitting Room for free.

Palestinian hip hop, Egyptian metal.

The Sundance screening of the A Tribe Called Quest documentary
. Let's get this released soon please! And while we're at it , let's get this movie made. I totally want to see it!

40 Train robbers vs. one Ghurka
. This should totally be a movie. But it would probably not be as good as Bollywood Robocop.

Great starter guide to the L.A. taco scene

How Tapatio Sauce took over

Punking the shitty Belgian phone company.

The most psychedelic images from science
, the best sentences in English.

"Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem were an interracial rock n’ roll band that broke racial barriers, headed by Dr. Teeth who was born of a black mother and green father..."

The lowdown on Hannah Barbera's lost Rock Odyssey
. This is hilarious, yet still kind of awesome, in the way only something from the early 80's can be.

OK, just one political post, because I think it's just spot on like a motherfucker, even though I'm probably looking at it from the opposite side of the equation: modern American liberalism has absorbed a lot of libertarian critiques, and really doesn't resemble at all the socialist totalitarianism that right wingers imagine. "The top income tax bracket in the 1950s was north of 90 percent. Today, the debate is whether the top rate will be 35 percent or 39 percent." Via Sullivan, who adds a few good insights.

Yma Sumac on the Ernie Kovacks show:

Friday, February 18, 2011

90's Hit Parade #87

R.L. Burnside - Snakedrive

OK, couldn't find a video of the version of "Snakedrive" from R.L. Burnside's album A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, on which the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion served as his backup band. Here's an earlier version, the Ass Pocket version is embedded above, and the video above is another prime cut from the album. The combination of Burnside's raw houserockin' blues and JSBX's blues-inspired punk rawk is like wish fulfillment to those of us who hunger for such things. I'm sure there are plenty of blues purists who find Jon 'n them's contributions obnoxious and distracting, but fuck them. Think of this more as an extension of JSBX's noisy raunch-n-roll sound than any kind of "authentic" blues preservation project, and just enjoy that moment at the end where Jon's scream suddenly comes in.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

90's Hit Parade #88

Brand Nubian - Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down

How do I resolve a song like "Punks Jump Up" with my own morality? I have no desire to be the PC police,* and I listen to plenty of politically incorrect music, but the homophobia on most rap records, or on punk songs like The Angry Samoans' "Homosexual" (they attempt to let themselves off the hook by crediting it to "Jerry Foulwell") or The Descendants'"I'm Not a Loser" is mostly of the playground taunt variety, and a song like The Meatmen's "Tooling for Anus," with even more violent gay bashing lyrical content than this one, is (at least in my mind) sung with ironic detachment from the homophobic character to whom the words belong. But when Sadat X raps "fuck up a faggot, don't understand their ways, and I ain't down with gays," there is no sense of irony, no excuse. How do I justify bobbing my head to such a threat? And yet, how can I resist a track this rousing? The music is as intriguing as the lyrics, powering it with a sample of the triumphant Rocky theme, yet never allowing it to reach it's crescendo, resulting in a musical track that's as frustrating as it is exhilarating.

*I'm all about examining whether a piece of art has disturbing messages, but that's not my definition of "political correctness." PC means rejecting a piece of art because you find a disturbing message in it, rather than engaging with it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

90's Hit Parade #89

Tricky - Ponderosa

The first time I heard this song, I was hanging out with some friends at our friend Allison's apartment in Athens after a night on the town, where she played us some of both his debut Maxiniquaye, from which this song is taken, and his collaborative project Nearly God, and I have to admit that Tricky's music has never sounded quite as good as it did in that late night listening session. There's something about Tricky, and this song in particular, that seems very specifically late night. The percussion drips like multiple leaks from a damaged ceiling on a rainy night (Beck ripped this beat off the following year for "Derelict"), and the lyrics describe a series of images that drift by, repeating themselves and landing on different beats at different points in the song. It's a song that you wander through like a David Lynch dream sequence.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

90's Hit Parade #90

Low - Hey Chicago

Great summer songs are easy to come by. Great winter songs are far more rare. And Low are definitely a winter band (they're one of the few rock bands to have recorded a Christmas album). When they sing about Chicago, is there any doubt that they're picturing it covered in a blanket of snow? "Hey Chicago," the final song on they're best record, has a pretty vocal melody that reveals itself gradually, rewarding patient listening. Low's trademark slow and quiet sound was unusual, but they still fit right into the 90's indie rock sound.

Friday, February 04, 2011

90's Hit Parade #91

Outkast - Rosa Parks

I've listened to this song many times, and I'll be damned if I can figure what it has to do with Rosa Parks outside of the "Everybody move to the back of the bus" hook. Is it a dance step? Are we "doin' the Rosa Parks?" Well, Southern hip hop has never been particularly concerned with consciousness raising. The point of the song is in the ludicrous efficiency of that party starter chorus, the pimp flare of the vocals, and most of all that dead funky harmonica breakdown on the bridge, one of the funkiest moments in recorded hip hop. It's kinda cool that Outkast could make the great civil rights icon into a dance step. Bonus points for including one of my favorite Southern idioms, "or either," in the lyrics.