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Video Vault Friday: Holiday Edition

February 12, 2010

Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, with the usual amount of gnashing and wailing from both the single and those who want you to know that they’re not going to be suckered into some corporate nonsense to prove to their partners that they love them.  I’m relatively indifferent to it myself, but I can understand why it’s a bit of a downer if you’re alone.  However, take heart, my friends, because my gift to you for the holiday is this collection of snippets from 80s era video dating ads.

It’s really easy to see why most of these men had to turn to video dating services to find romance: it’s because they look like serial killers.  Seriously, I think the one guy who talked about wanting to take a bath with someone showed up on an episode of Dateline NBC several years after he filmed his ad.  It’s over four minutes of bad mustaches, acid wash clothing and profoundly awkward attempts at trying to make one’s self sound interesting.  It rarely gets any deeper than “I like to have fun,” which is pretty much the most meaningless thing anyone could say about him or herself, right up there with “I enjoy breathing” and “A good bowel movement can make my whole day.”  Fun is arbitrary, depending on what you like it could mean anything from playing skee-ball to kicking a puppy to death.  Or, in the case of some of these poor unfortunate souls, killing hookers and burying them in landfills.

Still, the guy dressed like a Viking was pretty awesome.  I’m sure he found his special someone eventually, most likely at a Star Trek convention.  So a happy Valentine’s Day to him, and to you too, particularly if you’re interested in most phases of data processing.

Save Me from the Nothing I’ve Become

February 11, 2010

THE BROKEN AMERICAN MALE AND HOW TO FIX HIM

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

St. Martin’s Press, 2008

Men suck. Men suck because their wives don’t do anything about it. Men suck, and its all women’s fault for being married to them. Men suck because women are too independant. Men suck becase their wives are too bound up in them. One of these is the message of a tome by Michael Jackson’s personal rabbi, the author of Kosher Sex, Shalom in the Home, Hating Women (surprisingly not a how-to guide), Kosher Adultery, and The “Shalom in the Home™” Cookbook and Feng Shui Desk Calendar: It’s The Broken American Male by Shmuley Boteach, Michael Jackson’s personal rabbi (a name he drops every 50 pages or so).

So what would Shmuley do? Well, get men married, for a start. While Boteach takes pains to note that broken American males’ wives are not at fault in their husbands’ brokenness—”one sinking ship cannot save another,” he says—he’s very clear that it is a wife’s responsibility to fix her husband. A wife has quite a few responsibilities to her husband, in fact, and a rather hard life overall, which is why it’s puzzling that he seems to find a woman leaving her husband (as is the case, he notes, in two-thirds of divorces) to be a fundamentally selfish act (particularly given his stated sympathy to feminism in general). His idea of “leaving” may be different from yours and mine; he seems to suggest that Hillary Clinton has done it, for instance, on what authority I know not; I tried to check but for some reason the State Department wouldn’t return my calls.

Now, as with many books of this sort, it tells us more about the author than about society in general. Boteach’s bête noir seems to be money. He is openly, obsessively jealous of rich people, and seemingly unable to imagine himself, or anyone, having enough money, and according to him everyone else feels the same way. Any man who’s self-pitying, emotionally unavailable, depressive, or otherwise troubled is beating himself up for not being Donald Trump (including Donald Trump himself, cited twice as “the most broken man in America”). This is what causes divorce, this is what causes drug use, this is what caused the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. I’m not sure the last one is quite the same thing; I’d say the Collier Township gym shooting is a better example. One wonders what Boteach would say about that. In fact, I did wonder. Answer: nothing anyone ever mentioned to Google. Then again, that shooter’s problem wasn’t money, and Boteach’s problem isn’t social maladjustment.

His other problem is with porn, although of course he knows nothing about it (he even uses the phrase “or so I’m told” nearly verbatim). I can readily believe he has no experience of porn, actually, because he describes it the way PSAs in the 1980s described drugs. Just as those spots were made by people who had never used drugs, knew only the bad about drugs, and didn’t understand why people did drugs—and were consequently unconvincing—Boteach’s approach to porn is that it’s a horrible, disgusting, anti-erotic thing that no one could possibly enjoy (ignoring the fact that millions of people do enjoy it). I know this because he says it over and over and over. I suspect his knowledge of porn comes almost exclusively from people for whom is is a problem, and so naturally he can only conclude that it too is a problem for everybody.

Now, I don’t think I’m nearly as jealous of my peers’ financial success (or their success in general, except Jessica Valenti’s, a high-school classmate) as Rabbi Boteach thinks I am. I’m not trying to display my virtuousness here—you’re not as envious of your peers’ success as he thinks you are either; I suspect my experience is closer to normal than his is. I’d say “good on him for recognizing that Avarice is his particular vice” (mine’s probably Wrath, or perhaps Sloth) except I don’t know that he does. He clearly thinks he has normal levels of avarice. It’s worse than the psychiatrist who declares “everyone’s neurotic” based on a sample consisting of their patients; Boteach declares “everyone’s overly materialistic” based on a sample consisting of Shmuley Boteach.

Don’t get me wrong, he does more than carp. In fact, roughly the last half of the book is his solution. I think. I’m sitting here trying to remember what the solution was and . . . I got nothing. And the book’s actually in my lap (nonetheless, I’m certain it’s halfway in, both because it makes logical sense and because that’s where the chapter “A New Definition of Success” begins). Perhaps it’s me; after all, as noted, his new definition of success looks a lot like a lot of people’s current definition of success. Still, after diagnosing most American men as emotionally withdrawn, American women as unloved career women, and American children as brats who need love (Boteach endorses the so-called “helicopter” approach to parenting), he offers very little in the way of a concrete solution.

Readin’, ritin’ and righteous indignation

February 9, 2010

FROM CRAYONS TO CONDOMS: THE UGLY TRUTH ABOUT AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Edited by Steve Baldwin and Karen Holgate

WorldNetDaily Books, 2008

When you become a parent, people just love filling your head with nonsense. No one ever tells you “Parenting will be endless bliss from one moment to the next,” choosing instead to focus on all the unpleasantness that lies ahead: sleepless nights, endless dirty diapers, teething, potty training, the terrible twos, temper tantrums, cleaning up hot dog laced vomit, not getting a single moment to yourself for at least ten years straight, stretched finances, snotty adolescence, the sullen teenage years, and in the end your child will grow up needing therapy and blaming it all on you, no matter how hard you try to be a good parent. However, what they usually fail to tell you about is the one true, inescapable hindrance to fully enjoying parenthood: other parents.

While childfree people can sometimes be smug, self-satisfied asswipes, parents are an altogether different breed of cat, self-righteous, judgmental, hypocritical and downright hostile when it comes to the choices other parents make for their children. When you become a parent, no, scratch that, when you become a mother, prepare to have every decision you make about raising your child scrutinized by other mothers aching to feel above someone. Breastfeeding, circumcision, cloth or disposable diapering, whether to let your child cry himself to sleep or not, attachment parenting, when to introduce solid foods, it’s all up for discussion, particularly on the internet, and more often than not the women whose parenting skills are being questioned find themselves lacking somewhere. It’s not all that different from the trial General Zod and his cohorts go through before they’re sentenced to the Phantom Zone in Superman II.

Alas, it doesn’t end once your children start school. In fact, children reaching school age seems to be when a lot of mothers’ previously dormant neurotic, control freak tendencies kick into maximum overdrive. It’s at that point that they become convinced that any outside influences on their offspring are potentially destructive, that no matter what they always know what’s best. What’s more, they not only know what’s best for their child, but for your child as well. This is when women with way too much time on their hands start going on “crusades,” often using faulty science such as “vaccines cause autism” and “peanuts will kill everyone” to back them up. Their weapons are e-mail lists and cell phones, and they’ll insist that if you really cared about your child, you’d join her in her crusade to remove Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl from school libraries because it mentions the word “vagina” in it.

From Crayons to Condoms is a book for these women. It’s a book for misguided, gullible schnooks who believe those urban legends and tall tales that are sent to them in e-mail forwards. They believe that their children will get stabbed with a hepatitis-infected needle if they play in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. They believe that there are thugs hiding under their cars just waiting for the opportunity to hamstring them with a straight razor. Hell, they even still believe that Marilyn Monroe was a size 16. And, of course, they believe everything they read and see in the media, particularly if it’s bad and/or salacious. In short: the typical Fox News viewer.

The book is essentially a collection of fairly ludicrous horror stories about the sins public schooling inflicts upon innocent children. You know public schooling, that insidious boogeyman decent people have been battling since time immemorial, even though millions of kids have gone through it for decades now and turned out pretty okay. From Crayons to Condoms suggests that ever since God was replaced by political correctness, children who attend public school end up drooling, illiterate cretins who can’t put a sentence together, because the teachers are too busy encouraging them to accept people who are different from them. Supposedly submitted by upset parents, here’s a sampling of some of the unspeakable tortures our young, impressionable minds have been subjected to by these so-called “educators.”

  • A high school teacher encouraging her students to come to her if they had any problems they needed to get off their chests.
  • Being shown a film that encourages children to keep money on their person so that, rather than having to ride home with a parent who’s been drinking, they can call someone else to come get them. Says the parent who submitted the complaint: “A child in this predicament might actually be in less danger riding with the inebriated parent than defying him.”
  • Having to study the book Ordinary People, about a teenage boy’s struggle with depression. The parent’s complaint? Her son had been having his own issues with depression, and the school should have changed the entire class’s curriculum to accommodate him.
  • Having to study a unit on female genital mutilation.
  • High school age students reading literature that makes even indirect references to sexuality, violence and/or rape.
  • Taking part in a lecture on suicide prevention. The parent’s complaint? Merely hearing about the concept of suicide drove her teenage daughter to become suicidal.
  • Being encouraged to embrace the concept of “multiculturalism.” The parent’s complaint? Teaching children diversity is un-American and suggests that there is more than one way to worship the Lord.

Then of course, there’s the inevitable “They taught my children evolution!” “They taught my children about sex!” “They let my child read a Harry Potter book!” “They taught my children about other cultures and religions without emphasizing that America and Christianity is number one!” and so on and so forth. Naturally, the largest amount of pearl clutching and monocle dropping is over our good buddy The Homosexual Agenda, which is worming its way into our children’s brains through such wily tactics as The Laramie Project and high schools allowing gay students to form support clubs. In virtually all the stories, the parents claim that their attempts to question what the schools are teaching their children were either shrugged off, laughed off or met with outright hostility, because public schools just don’t respect those poor, oppressed white Christians and their values.  The insistence that educators are “biased” against Christians is repeated so many times that it becomes a mantra of sorts, until it becomes as absurd a claim as the idea that atheists are trying to take Christmas away from salt of the Earth believers.

So what’s a “concerned parent” to do if they don’t want their children to be taught that a world exists outside their own home? Well, the book suggests that you become one of those annoying people who refuses to sign documents and school forms and constantly demands meetings with teachers, administrators and school board members until they change all their policies to suit your beliefs, even if those beliefs don’t likely mesh with the majority of other parents. Most of the parents who contributed stories ended up taking their children out of school altogether, before they could sink any further into the godless, degenerate quagmire of public education. That’s often suggested as a “solution” if you feel that your little Max or Madison is just too much of a delicate, special flower for public school, just send them to private school, or better yet, teach them yourself, that way you can be assured that they’ll learn only what you want them to learn, which for these people is probably limited to Jesus, basic math skills and maybe some reading, though only what pertains to the Bible.

Gentle Readers, I have a confession to make: I didn’t read this book all the way through. I read some of the stories, charting their progression from the merely questionable to outright steaming horseshit. I had to flag myself when I got to one mother’s claim that her son was told that not only could he not read his copy of the Bible in school, he was ordered to leave it at home, even though his classmates were being “indoctrinated” into Islam. It’s a myth that the Bible is not permitted in public schools, just as it’s a myth that students are not allowed to pray.  Students can pray all they like, they can pray before the math final, they can pray before the big game, they can pray that the cafeteria isn’t going to serve meat loaf again.  The only thing that is not permitted is teachers or administrators leading students in prayer.  Yet naive parents who have their heads filled with scary stories about Christian oppression and the destruction of family values by people like James Dobson and Pat Robertson continue to operate on half-truths and misinformation.

From Crayons to Condoms is one of those books, implausible as much of it sounds, that reminds me of just how far from the same page I am with conservative Christians. It’s story after story of hysterical parents and their pussified kids who were supposedly traumatized by the sight of a bare breast or at the realization that the world may not always be the Happy Fun Bear Awesome Time they were raised to believe it was. When would it be a good time for a young person to discover the existence of such unpleasant aspects of life as rape and suicide? When it happens to someone they know? Or to them, perhaps? If any of these people suggested that they’d rather be the ones to have those difficult discussions with their children, rather than teachers, that’d be one thing, but the message that comes across is that they don’t want their children being exposed to that kind of thing at all. After all, look what good came out of their patron saint Sarah Palin’s refusal to allow her children any other sex education but abstinence-based. Pretending things don’t exist–gays, premarital sex, people who worship God a different way–is the most important lesson of all.

Video Vault Friday: McDLT

February 5, 2010

There’s an unspoken competition between Baby Boomers  and those of us who identify as “Generation X” as to who has the most overly idealized recollections of their youth.  Baby Boomers have convinced themselves that people just cared more about the world when they were young, that no one was afraid to speak up when they witnessed an injustice while they were busy spreading messages of love, peace and brotherhood.  Every time one of them waxes nostalgic over his or her past, you almost expect to hear someone start singing “Come on people, now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.” Meanwhile, Generation X’s rosiest pictures of their younger days are more focused on pop culture.  Movies, music, television, books, it was all better than what these damn kids are crazy about these days.  Why? We don’t know why, but it probably has something to do with George Lucas and Kurt Cobain.

Every once in a while, though, we get a jarring reminder of how undeniably lame certain aspects of our childhoods were, particularly the 1980s as a whole.  Usually this comes by way of commercials.  Old commercials have long been a fascination of mine, and as I mentioned in last week’s Video Vault post, YouTube is an endless gold mine of them.  Some of them inspire warm, fond memories of my past, but more often than not they make me wince in discomfort.  What I’ve included in this week’s post is among the winciest.

McDonald’s and all its myriad, artery-clogging delicacies have so long been an innate part of Americana that it’s hard to recall all of its failed attempts at expanding its menu.  Nevertheless, there was the Arch Deluxe, which, despite it being pushed as “for adults only,” did not come with a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels or a copy of Playboy, McHotdog, McPizza, the McLean Deluxe, McSpaghetti.  McSpaghetti, I shit you not, served at restaurants in the south and New York State in the early 90s.  Contrary to popular opinion, not every food sounds even more delicious with “Mc” in front of it, but God love ’em they still keep trying ever few years, even recently reviving the horrifying McRib, made from the ribs of a creature whose existence is so far only speculated upon by cryptozoologists.

Another failed menu experiment was the McDLT, presumably created to compete with Wendy’s, whose claim to fame was cooking all of their burgers fresh to order.  McDonald’s wanted it both ways: they wanted to be able to cook dozens of burgers in advance to save time, but they also wanted to put toppings on them that weren’t going to be rendered a lumpy, sodden mess after sitting under a hot light for long stretches of time.  Thus, they created the McDLT, a burger served in an extra long, two sided Styrofoam container, “where the hot side stays hot and the cool side stays cool.”  It was up to you to put the burger together, as well as to figure out what the “D” in “McDLT” stood for (apparently it stood for “Donald’s,” which I didn’t realize until seconds before I wrote this sentence).

It certainly seemed like a reasonable idea, but the McDLT never really caught on with the public. I suspect this excruciating commercial, now something of a legend, had a lot to do with it.

Lettuce and tomatoes on your burger? Welcome to Mars! Before you ask, yes, despite the presence of hair, that is Jason Alexander, the least likable cast member of Seinfeld, which, unless you’re one of those people who soils themselves in glee every time Seinfeld is mentioned, is saying quite a lot.  And yeah, he appears to be wearing the sleeves of his suit jacket rolled up Miami Vice-style.  The McDLT commercial is a benchmark, nay, an apex in Lame White Person History, bursting at the seams with blissfully unself-aware Caucasians trying desperately to look cool.  I realize that we’re still trying, with most of us spectacularly failing at it, but this…this is both glorious and deeply painful to watch, sort of like watching a replay of a championship football game that ends with the quarterback snapping his leg the wrong way.  You want to watch, you want to watch, even though you know it’s going to be awful, and when it’s over you wish you had just turned away at the last minute.  And yet, you find yourself going back and watching it again.  To steal a phrase from the great Joe Queenan, it’s mesmerizingly heinous.

I was about 13 or 14 when the McDLT debuted, and I don’t recall ever trying it.  Perhaps it was because I was one of those odd ducks who was loyal to the Filet ‘o’ Fish, of all things, but it’s entirely possible that the commercial made McDLT fans look like such hopeless duds that I didn’t want any of it to rub off on me.  I was enough of a dud on my own without having to make it worse by eating anything associated with some singing and dancing asshole extolling the virtues of  a burger rendered edible by several extra inches of Styrofoam.  Rare has a commercial had the complete opposite effect on its market than was intended, but McDonald’s has achieved this a number of times: read about the “McAfrica” burger and give thanks that it never made it to the US.

Endurance Test Theater presents: ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’

February 4, 2010

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, 2009

Director: Patrick Tatopoulos

Screenplay by: Danny McBride, (the awesomely named) Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain, based on a story by McBride, Len Wiseman and Robert Orr

Starring Michael “no relation to Martin” Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux and David Aston

Back in 2008, I took on a writing endeavor in my personal blog called ‘Project Vamp Flick.’ Inspired by Netflix’s ‘Watch Instantly’ service, as well as the revival of the vampire craze, my intent was to watch and write reviews of vampire movies, both good and bad, mostly for the entertainment of my readers but also with the intent of eventually getting a book deal, which, let’s face it, is pretty much the main reason anybody does anything on the internet these days.

It became quickly apparent that I was biting off far more than I could chew. For one thing, Netflix adds dozen of movies to its ‘Watch Instantly’ queue every week. I was updating my own list with films at a far faster rate than I was watching them, rendering the whole thing, in essence, a project that would have no end. Also, I hadn’t thought out my plan very well. I intended on watching the movies in order, with those I had already seen before first, then from highest to lowest rated. This meant that while in the beginning I was able to watch some genuine gems like Let the Right One In, eventually I’d be stuck having to watch shit like Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires. Because the vast majority of vampire movies are mediocre to just plain terrible, it wasn’t long before I watched all the good ones, with literally dozens of piles of dreck still ahead. What started as a fun diversion now seemed like a disheartening chore. I let the project lapse for over six months because I just couldn’t bring myself to watch The Lost Boys 2. Eventually it was made no longer available as a ‘watch instantly’ choice, which offered some relief, until I saw that next on the list was something called Horror of the Blood Monster. In the end, I pretty much lost interest in the project altogether.

As part of Project Vamp Flick I reviewed Underworld: Evolution, the sequel to the surprise hit Underworld. In the review, I made mention of having seen the first movie in the theater, yet I couldn’t remember a single relevant thing about it, except that it had something to do with vampires and werewolves, and Kate Beckinsale in skintight fetish wear, all things you could have gleaned from the previews. I remember entering the theater, I remember leaving the theater afterwards, I even remember who I went with, but as far as the movie itself was concerned I might as well have been watching a blank screen for an hour and a half, that was how little an impression it made on me. The second movie didn’t fare much better; though it did remind me of what I had found so silly about the first one, that the whole thing seemed to be based upon the type of idea usually borne in pot smoke filled dorm rooms–what would happen if vampires fought their enemies with guns and technology, but mostly guns? Wouldn’t that be cool​? Well, not really, they’re vampires, why would they need to? They’re supposed to be super-strong and impervious to everything except sunlight, holy water and stakes, you’d think they’d be fighting their enemies with those long fucking teeth and claws. That would be cool.

Supposedly the fans of the Underworld series demanded a prequel, which is interesting because I didn’t know it had any fans. Nevertheless, someone wanted to know the origins of the feud between “Death Dealers” (a.k.a. vampires) and Lycans (you know them better as werewolves), getting to the bottom of all the nonsense about bloodlines and clans and elders, in a plot that manages to be both unnecessarily complicated and profoundly stupid. Len Wiseman, the director of the first two movies, as well as their star, Kate Beckinsale, wisely chose to sit this one out, replaced by special effects designer Patrick Tatopoulos and Rhona Mitra. Mitra looks and sounds exactly like Beckinsale, and even sports tight leather pants at one point, even though the movie takes place in some vague medieval-era setting. What’s slightly confusing is that she isn’t actually playing Beckinsale’s part, but rather a whole new character, Sonja, rebellious daughter of Viktor (Bill Nighy, reprising his role from the earlier films), leader of the “Death Dealer” clan.

The origin of the Lycans stems from Lucian (Michael Sheen, also reprising his role from the earlier films despite starring in quality movies like The Queen and Frost/Nixon between them), a werewolf who has the rare ability to change from human to wolf and back again at will. Viktor discovers Lucian as an infant and spares him his life, only to raise him in indentured servitude, eventually creating more Lycans to keep as slaves, which seems ill-advised, considering they all seem to be aggressive and uncooperative, two qualities you really don’t want in a slave. You can easily tell the difference between the Death Dealers and the Lycans: the Death Dealers are dour and pale, and they all dress like it’s Peter Murphy Night at the Roxy, while the Lycans are dirty, sweaty and enjoy showing off their ample chest hair.

Sonja sneers at Lucian in the presence of her father, but in secret they’re totally doin’ it, and trying desperately to figure out a way where they can be together forever. So you wondered what really started the centuries long conflict between Lycans and Death Dealers, thinking perhaps it was a land war or some non-specific power struggle? No, it’s just the typical, predictable “Romeo and Juliet” love story. You may be surprised and disappointed to discover that “Romeo and Juliet, but with werewolves and vampires” doesn’t turn out to be nearly as cool as it sounds. Viktor imprisons Lucian for disobeying him, and when he learns that he and Sonja are not only getting it on, but that she’s pregnant with a little werepire baby, he orders them both put to death. Though Sonja doesn’t manage to escape her fate, Lucian does, declaring war between his newly formed band of Lycans and Viktor’s Death Dealers, and thus a dull, derivative film series is born.

That’s pretty much the entire plot of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, in easy to read format with no big words, not that it’s hard to figure out what’s going to happen. Having presumably seen the earlier movies, you already know going in that both Viktor and Lucian are going to survive (even though Viktor gets a sword run right through his head), and Sonja might as well have DEAD MEAT written on her forehead in Sharpie. Does it add anything to the storyline of the series overall? Not really, and that’s my main problem with Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. It’s not that it’s good or bad, it’s that it’s entirely unnecessary. I could give a high holy shit about why the Death Dealers and Lycans hate each other, or all that horseshit from the earlier films about first vampires and second werewolves or whatever. “Origin” stories aren’t worth the celluloid they’re filmed on if the characters and their motivations are sketchy and uninteresting to begin with.

Though Bill Nighy gives an admirably hammy performance, all but spitting his lines at his c0-stars, it’s just not enough to make the vampires compelling. They seem to do little more than argue amongst themselves in a “Council” whose purpose is never fully explained, mostly about protecting the nobles, land interests and how to hold back the hirsute menace of the Lycans. They’re bitchy, they seem to die rather easily and they’re lousy fighters. They never once use, oh, I don’t know, being fucking vampires to defend themselves, instead relying on swords and crossbows. What fun is that? Then again, there are scenes in which Lucian’s ability to turn into a werewolf at will would have come in really handy, but he seems to forget he has it, such as when he watches Sonja as she’s executed. Up to this point he was able to kill people with his bare hands, survive several story falls and numerous arrows in his back (in fact he’s shot so many times with arrows that he should look like a damn pincushion by the end), but a couple of mere chains attached to his wrists manage to stop him from saving the life of his beloved. Why? Because the script declared it, that’s why.

Long stretches of “Jesus H. Christ this is boring” scenes of scheming, overheated dialogue, sneering and knowing looks, are occasionally broken up with fight scenes, but even those aren’t all that exciting, mainly because we’ve seen it all so many times before. It’s like the filmmakers went down a checklist: the Matrix-style slow motion jumps, the 300-style blood jetting out of wounds in scarlet beads, the Braveheart-style frenetic editing. Even the final, meant to be epic clash between Death Dealers and Lycans is merely a ripoff of the far more epic battle of Helm’s Deep. There’s even a Wilhelm scream. There is not a single scene in this movie that hasn’t been done before, and better, by other movies. It’s all set against the same murky, blue-black palette of the earlier movies, presumably so the CGI effects would blend in more seamlessly, and it’s all very fucking grim and serious. That’s another reason why the Underworld series has always left me cold, its complete and utter lack of humor. The first movie had werewolves shooting at vampires with bullets that were literally made out of sunshine, how they could possibly not have allowed a little levity into the situation? But alas, there is no levity, no fun to be found, and the least you can expect from “Romeo and Juliet, but with werewolves and vampires” is that it be fun.

The Grammys: sticking it in your ear for 50 years

February 1, 2010

The Grammy Awards were given out last night, which of course means today there was a lot of angry grumbling over who won, in this case guitar playing fetus Taylor Swift, who took home the top prize of Album of the Year.  Though being the most boring, blandest nominee in a category that includes The Dave Matthews Band is an achievement in itself, the general consensus is that Swift simply didn’t deserve the honor.  I grimaced a bit at the news myself, until it occurred to me that I really don’t give much of a crap about the Grammys, mostly because I no longer make much of a concerted effort to stay on top of the music industry.  That’s not from some misplaced snobbery, though I did at one point consider myself a bit of a music snob.  Mostly it’s because I’ve realized that I’m some fifteen to twenty years older than the target age to whom the music industry seems to be marketing these days, to the point where I’m almost a little embarrassed to admit that I find some of Lady Gaga’s music catchy.  I’ve fallen behind on what’s new and now.  I’m still stubbornly clinging to the idea that 90s alternative rock is a sorely underrated genre, not to mention that U2 is still the greatest still-performing band of all time, even though many hipster music blogs have told me otherwise.

My exposure to Taylor Swift is limited to exactly one song, which I found neither good or bad.  In fact, it made no impression on me whatsoever.  Her music seems to be the auditory equivalent of a dish of vanilla ice cream.  The only remarkable thing I can say about her is that at least she isn’t Miley Cyrus.  In other words, she’s exactly the type of act who usually ends up winning an Album of the the Year Grammy, performing the kind of music that crosses boundaries, those boundaries being fourteen year-old girls’ iPods, shopping malls and dentists’ offices.  Consider who else has won the same award over the past twenty years: Dixie Chicks, Norah Jones, the Santana album that had that godawful ‘Smooth’ song on it, Celine Dion, Tony Bennett and the soundtrack to The Bodyguard.  You know who won in 1981? Christopher Cross.  Yeah, the ‘Sailing’ guy, Mr. ‘Arthur’s Theme.’  Taylor Swift might as well be Wendy O. Williams.

The Grammys have a long, rich history of questionable choices for their winners.  Past ‘Song of the Year’ winners have included John Mayer’s creepy ‘Daughters,’ the previously mentioned ‘Smooth,’  ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ Bette Midler’s treacly ‘From a Distance’ (just a year after she won for the equally treacly ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’) and ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’  2001’s Best Rock Performance was Creed’s ‘With Arms Wide Open.’  That’s right, Creed, one of the world’s most hated bands, won a Grammy, as has Britney Spears, the Black-Eyed Peas and Linkin Park, as opposed to Queen, the Who, Bob Marley and Diana Ross, who won exactly zero times.  Rioting in the streets all but ensued when Jethro Tull won Best Hard Rock Performance in 1989, a category in which their competition was Metallica, AC/DC, Iggy Pop and Jane’s Addiction.  Finally, does anyone need to be reminded of this bicycle pants wearing embarrassment?

Sure, they had to give that Best New Artist award back eventually, but the stain still lingers.  Not to mention that they’re in good company with other “where are they now?” legends like Hootie & the Blowfish, Paula Cole, Debby Boone and Starland Vocal Band.  Oh, and Christopher Cross, again.  He won big that year.  The Grammys always make some half-hearted attempt at edgy relevance by acknowledging groups like Tool and Gorillaz, but in the end the major awards go to the safest, most inoffensive crowd pleasers, even if, in the case of Taylor Swift, the crowd now suddenly doesn’t seem so pleased about it (though she’s selling millions of albums, clearly someone must like her).  They’re much like the Oscars, smug and self-congratulatory over how hard they work to keep up with what’s new and innovative, yet pulling their punches at the last minute.  The nominees for this year’s Academy Awards are being announced tomorrow, and it’s all but assured that Sandra Bullock will score a slot in the Best Actress category for The Blind Side, which is a happier, more light-hearted Precious for people who can’t handle PreciousThe Blind Side is sort of like the Taylor Swift of movies, dull but harmless, a choice that is controversial only in how utterly predictable it is.  You want to stop being disappointed in the Grammys? Stop expecting anything from them.

Video Vault Friday: Leoncie

January 29, 2010

I must admit to being rather late for the YouTube boat, not really looking toward it as a source for anything more than the occasional movie trailer until the last two years or so.  Now I find myself there nearly every day, most often seeking out the old (I’ve been on an 80s TV promotions kick lately) and the odd, while not really bothering with whatever the popular viral video is of the moment.  I may not have much interest in whatever it is The Lonely Island is putting out, but Mae West singing ‘Rock Around the Clock’? I am all over that shit.  In this weekly feature, I bring to you some of my favorite treasures I’ve discovered along the way.

We’ll inaugurate the feature with Leoncie, who I actually discovered last year.  Well, I can’t really say I “discovered” her, she’s made the rounds elsewhere at such places as Best Week Ever and that Tosh.0 guy’s blog.  However, the more exposure she gets the better, because the whole world needs to be aware of this glorious songbird.

Described as “Iceland’s Madonna,” which is as arbitrary as being “Croatia’s Britney Spears” or “Guinea-Bissau’s Avril Lavigne,” Leoncie is a singer who looks to be anywhere between thirty-five and fifty.  She’s a veritable one woman show, writing her own songs and composing the music for them on what sounds like an 80s-era Casio keyboard permanently set on “samba.”  Going by the description on her YouTube page, Leoncie is an explosive talent just ready and waiting to, er, explode.

LEONCIE is an Incredible Singer Songwriter,Musician, Producer and a Dynamite Entertainer.  She is Very Mysterious.   Her Original music is a lovely range of Aggressive and yet Sensual Melodies that touch your soul.  Her music is a Stunning blend of Rock, Blues, Jazz, Soul,Powerpop fusion,combined with beautiful sounds from all over the world,like India, Europe, Portugal,America,Country -Western, creating an enormous musical package that leaves her audiences spellbound. Leoncie’s Music is full of Rhythmn and pulse. Her Music is More than a Singer, Leoncie is an all round Entertainer. SHE has composed many Hit songs…This hotblooded ScandinavIndian,SingerSongwrit er is very hardworking and credits God Almighty for her super inspiration in writing her amazing songs,which are extremely catchy and dancy and infectious.  Leoncie has been on many radio and tv stations worldwide and can entertain people without any lame props…Spectacular Leoncie is the Instrumentalist of all her songs on which she spends hundreds of hours perfecting her music,till every song has been thoroughly polished and improved repeatedly before recording them in studios,anywhere in the world, and after every minute detail,has been arranged to perfection, Leoncie produces and performs her music, like the Genius she is…My success is solely due to the fact that I’ve worked extremely hard, and professionally at everything I do, inspite of interference from pagans,racists and hypocrites. fm is full of superfakes,pals, and loudest noisemakers in the media.Leoncie does not want to be around junkies,because drugs are not her style.  Leoncie ‘s songs are timeless with great lyrics and compelling melodic hooks that Nobody even comes close to Leoncie’ s Mysterious Magic.

I’ve never been involved in the music industry, but I’m pretty sure that, when trying to create a fake press release to promote yourself, it’s not just a good idea to have a grasp on proper spelling and grammar, but also to avoid reverting back and forth between the first and third person persona, lest you risk looking like you have multiple personality disorder.  I’m not sure if MPD is Leoncie’s  problem so much as plain old delusion, but if people like William Hung can have a brief taste of fame as a performer, who can blame her for thinking she has a shot? In a way I kind of admire her, because I wish I had that kind of confidence. If she had any actual talent, she could have made it as far as being known as “Yemen’s Christina Aguilera.”

Enough of me, though, let’s let the music…speak, if you want to call it that, for itself.  Not only does Leoncie write and produce her own music, it also appears that she’s solely responsible for the videos as well, all of which look to be shot on a budget of approximately $37, most of which went towards wigs for the versatile performer.  My personal favorite is ‘Sex Crazy Cop,’ a blistering attack on a cheating partner, who bangs sluts all day while Leoncie is hard at work at someplace called a “disco bank.”  No, I’m not kidding, that’s actually in the lyrics, with the closest thing to a chorus being “Ohhhh, cheap sex!”

Another favorite is ‘Man! Let’s Have Fun,’ an ode to the simple pleasures of spending time with that special someone, in which Leoncie declares that she doesn’t really care if “you drive a furry.”  I don’t know how one drives a furry, but it sounds filthy and I don’t want to think about it any further.  Rebelling against corporate rock demands that a music video should have some sense of comprehension, Leoncie gyrates to her own phat beats while pictures of random objects and places, such as a Mack truck, cacti, a biplane, the Taj Mahal, an empty office and what appears to be an early 20th century street scene flash behind her.

Oh, and she also wrote a song about how much she enjoys watching professional wrestling.

While watching Leoncie’s videos, it took me a little while to put my finger on what makes them both hilarious and uncomfortable.  Secondhand embarrassment has a lot to do with it, and then I realized that it’s because watching Leoncie is like watching somebody’s middle-aged mother get liquored up and try to bump and grind with a man half her age at a club, or going up on stage and doing ‘Love to Love You Baby’ for Karaoke Night at the Dew Drop Inn.  You just want to go to wherever she is, throw a blanket over her and hustle her away before she does any more damage.  Nevertheless, to be honest, I feel like  a bit of an asshole for poking fun at her.  Clearly she had fun making this music, and has convinced herself that she is succeeding in the business on her own terms, “inspite of interference from pagans,racists and hypocrites.”  How many of us can make the same claim? In the end, Leoncie, I applaud you.  I’m not going to buy any of your albums, but I applaud you.  Keep on keepin’ on.  Maybe someday you’ll get to drive your own furry.