October 28, 2011

Hey Everyone, It's Trailer Friday!

Every other Friday (or so) we all get together to view bunch of the latest movie trailers. So check out what we watched and enjoy the commentary:

Warning: Explicit Content

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas [red band trailer]

"Yes! Harold's girlfriend [Paula Garces] is back, wearing lingerie and talking dirty!"

"Speaking of Kumar, Kal Penn is looking kinda old... and pudgy."

"This movie actually looks like it could be okay. Babies doing drugs is always good for a laugh."

Tower Heist 

"Tea Leoni's Hollywood career is like a Wack-a-Mole game. Every so often she pops up completely unexpectedly, then disappears again."

"It's been 25 years but Eddie Murphy's still got it. It's like as soon as you see his face, you smile."

"Is anybody else looking at Matthew Broderick and thinking, 'Wow, Ferris Beuller really let himself go."?

Piranha 3DD

"Was that Doc Brown from Back to the Future?"

"Cool -- Ving Rhames has guns for legs just like Rose McGowan in Planet Terror."

"Ten bucks says this movie never makes it theaters and goes straight to DVD."

"Campy, low-budget crap... But hey, can we watch that 'Double the D's' part again?"

The Mighty Macs

"The producers of this movie are targeting a very specific demo -- Catholic, women's college basketball fans."

"Isn't Marley Shelton supposed to be in this movie -- cause I don't think I saw her in that trailer."

"That 70s Show meets Hoosiers with a smattering of Sister Act."

In Time

"Interesting -- this is from the same writer who did Gattaca."

"Love the premise. Very Logan's Run-ny-ish."

"This could be a great movie. I seriously hope that puss Justin Timberlake doesn't ruin it."

"They had me the second Olivia Wilde's face hit the screen."

Related Links:
Trailer Friday for November 11th, 2011
Trailer Friday for November 25th, 2011

October 21, 2011

Signature Songs: The Bangles

Starting a new series today called "Signature Songs". In it, I'm going to be talking about the songs that are the best examples of the work of individual recording artists. For example, the signature song for Madonna would be "Like a Virgin. Why?... Because in addition to being a major hit, it includes many of the musical elements Madonna is best known for.

Making a determination like this requires a lot of generalization, because over the course of her  career, Madonna recorded songs in many different styles (as did many other longstanding artists.) For example, consider "Hung Up", which has that ABBA sample and is very "techno-ey"; "Take a Bow", which is a sad ballad replete with violins and other classical instruments; and "Physical Attraction", which is classic synth-ey 80s dance-pop.

But the reason "Like a Virgin" is Madonna's signature song is because it's the best representation of her "classic" self as a person and an artist. In other words, if you were forced to stereotype Madonna music, or choose one song to save in a time capsule so future generations could know what type of artist she was and what type of music she made, the best choice would be "Like a Virgin". And it has less to do with how big a hit "Like a Virgin" was than it does the fact that "Like a Virgin" includes the optimal combination of ingredients from Madonna's musical catalog. "Like a Virgin", for example, includes a lot of synthesizers -- as did most of Madonna's early hits ("Everybody", "Borderline", "Lucky Star", "Angel", "Dress You Up", "Into the Groove".) Like many Madonna songs, "Like a Virgin" is danceable, and perhaps most importantly, "Like a Virgin" is overtly sexual, both in title and lyrics -- and we all know that Madonna has certainly put her sexuality at the forefront of much of her music and her life.

Again, I'm generalizing somewhat and I understand that whether it's a solo act, a group or a band, an artist's music will likely evolve over time. Almost invariably, they'll start to explore different genres and musical styles, draw inspiration from new sources, perhaps collaborate with other artists, and otherwise begin to make music that's entirely (sometimes radically) different from what they're most well known for and/or were creating earlier in their careers.

Notice I said, "almost invariably." Mainly because there ARE artists who don't evolve very much and continue to churn out the same type of music. Their sound never (or barely) changes and they remain pretty much the same from the start of their careers to the finish.

Punk-oriented bands like The Ramones and Green Day come to mind. Certain "heartland" rockers like Springsteen and John Mellencamp also seem to be making pretty much the same type of music they did when they were first starting out. For example, recent Springsteen tunes like "Radio Nowhere" off 2007's Magic and "The Last Carnival" from 2009's Working On a Dream, would fit in perfectly next to cuts like "Badlands" and "Prove it All Night" on Bruce's 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. (And judging by the two photos above, it looks like Bruce's wardrobe hasn't changed much either!)

The presumption is that heartland rock and punk rock are extremely well-defined sub-genres that are closely married to very specific attributes, attitudes and ideals. Heartland-rock, epitomized by Springsteen, Mellencamp, Bob Seger, and Tom Petty, is often socially conscious and draws its themes from traditional American values like fairness, hard work, community, and loyalty. When the music an artist produces is so "rooted" this way, it's understandable how that music might only minimally change, even over a long haul (as opposed to what are perceived as more "disposable" or "manufactured" genres like glam rock for instance.)

Punk rock is also deeply rooted in very strong and specific ideals. It's stripped-down, fast-paced, angry, and anti-establishment. So as soon as a punk rocker begins making music that moves away from these core themes and attributes, that artist immediately loses their "punk identity" and starts to become something completely different. (They also run the risk of completely alienating their fan base and the core audience they worked so hard to gain.) This may help explain why bands like The Ramones, Social Distortion, and The Offspring made/make the same style music over their 20+ year careers.

Okay, that was quite a digression. I was talking about "signature songs" and the artist I'm going to begin with is The Bangles. Their signature song -- "If She Knew What She Wants".

No, not "Manic Monday", the Bangles first major hit and their most enduring song. And not "Eternal Flame", the band's only #1 record. "If She Knew What She Wants" gets the nod because The Bangles were formed largely based on founding members Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson and Debbie Peterson's shared love of The Beatles, The Byrds, and sixties psychedelia and "If She Knew What She Wants" represents the perfect blend of these three influences.

"If She Knew What She Wants" borrows the "jangly" Rickenbacker guitars found in the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" and the Byrds' "Turn! Turn! Turn! and "Mr. Tambourine Man", but also adds a ton of terrific harmonies, reminiscent of not only the Beatles, but the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas as well. Also, if you listen closely, you'll find "If She Knew What She Wants" is structurally similar to the Beatles' "Nowhere Man" (which also features Rickenbacker guitars by the way.)

I dug through the Pop Culture Fiend Archives and found this performance of The Bangles performing "If She Knew What She Wants" on Late Nite with David Letterman (circa 1987, I believe.)

I've heard the group sing this song many times (including live) and this is arguably their best performance. From Susanna's distinct croon, to their clothes (check out Vicki's 60s-style go-go boots and hairdo) to their impromptu dance moves, this was The Bangles at their peak. The only question is, as an all-girl band that almost certainly had to go through a lot to be taken seriously, why are they not playing their own instruments?...

Oh well, in any case, enjoy!

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October 12, 2011

Proof That Even Really Bad Comedies Usually Have At Least One Good Laugh: Coup De Ville Edition

The "Louie, Louie" scene.

Coup de Ville is road comedy about three brothers -- a military man (Daniel Stern), a nebbish square (Arye Gross), and a cocky delinquent (Patrick Dempsey) -- forced to drive from Detroit to Miami to deliver their mom's Cadillac. There's very little that's memorable about this film... except this one scene.

In it, the three brothers enter a RAGING debate regarding the true lyrics of the famous 1963 Kingsmen hit, "Louie, Louie". The argument centers on the largely unintelligible lyrics and whether the tune is a "dance song", a "hump song", or a "sea chanty".

As a whole, Coup de Ville is largely unfunny. But everything about this one scene is perfect -- particularly the dialog, the pacing, and the acting. Dempsey's crude analysis and explanation of the lyrics is nicely juxtaposed with that of Gross, and Stern is awesome as the oldest brother, who initially ignores his siblings, but then eventually gets sucked into the debate. You gotta especially love the part where he says, "Oh Bobby, shut up, you don't know what you're talking about." He's just so bullying, sarcastic, and dismissive -- just the way older brothers are in real life. Also comically realistic is how everything escalates and these guys get so worked up over something so trivial -- very Seinfeld-esque.

Related Posts:
Proof That Even Really Bad Comedies Usually Have At Least One Good Laugh: Dude, Where's My Car Edition
Proof That Even Really Bad Comedies Usually Have At Least One Good Laugh: Skin Deep Edition

October 7, 2011

Real Steel Review in Zero Words

There you have it... If you don't believe me, check the trailer:

October 4, 2011

The 20 Most Must-See Movies of the 90s: Part 2

Be sure to check out Part 1 

15. Memphis Belle
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones
Written by Monte Merrick
Starring: Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Tate Donovan, Billy Zane, D.B. Sweeney, John Lithgow, David Straithairn, Sean Astin, Harry Connick, Jr.

Excellent ensemble piece based in part on the true story of the crew of the "Memphis Belle", the first bomber in the 8th Air Corps to successfully complete 25 missions during WWII.

A vicariously thrilling tale of courage and comaraderie punctuated by some fine performances by some charismatic young actors, including Billy Zane, D.B. Sweeney, Eric Stoltz, Harry Connick, Jr. Matthew Modine as staid pilot Dennis Dearborn, and Tate Donovan as his glory hungry co-pilot Luke. The film so accurately captures the look of the period and the story is so engaging, you'll be on the edge of your seat for over an hour hoping the young crew can defy the odds and make it from their base in England to their German target and back.

Killer Sequence: Ironically, the film’s most powerful moment occurs not in the air with the young heroes, but back on the ground when John Lithgow, as an army Colonel working on publicizing the success of the Belle crew, reads through a collection of letters from the loved ones of soldiers killed in battle.

14. Shakespeare in Love
Directed by John Madden
Written by Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench

A very clever premise sets this film in motion as it provides a fictional account of a young William Shakespeare in the process of penning Romeo and Juliet (or as it was originally titled, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter.) With Joseph Fiennes (Ralph’s little brother) as the young bard and Paltrow (who won an Academy Award for her flawless performance as his treasured Viola) the
film expertly plays connect the dots and “What if it happened this way?” with the circumstances
surrounding the original production of what is arguably Shakespeare's most well-known play.

Paltrow’s character is slightly reminiscent of Julie Andrews’ in Victor/Victoria in its’ “woman dressed as a man playing a woman” theme but otherwise, Norman and Stoppard’s Oscar winning screenplay is uniquely original and sprinkled with clever literary references and in-jokes that add a rich subtext to the film. Some very funny supporting performances from Rush, Wilkinson, Firth, and a scene stealing Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I make the film even more of a must-see.

Killer Sequence: The film's climax sees Viola sail for Virginia with her husband. But as Shakespeare begins to write Twelfth Night, he imagines her shipwrecked and their love enduring for all time.

13. Groundhog Day
Directed by Harold Ramis
Written by Danny Rubin, Harold Ramis
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie McDowell

Refreshingly inventive comedy from one of the funniest and most
underrated filmmakers working in the comedy genre, Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, Analyze This, National Lampoon’s Vacation). Murray plays Phil Connors, a cynical and condescendingly obnoxious weatherman forced to relive the same day over and over until he gets it right. In a series of hilarious sequences, Phil at first fears, then exploits, laments and finally makes the most of his situation. One of the most original comedies in years, featuring a subtly brilliant comedic performance by the always superb Murray.

Killer Sequence: Phil uses his unique predicament to rob an armored car and seduce a sexy diner patron.

12. Braveheart
Directed by Mel Gibson
Written by Randall Wallace
Starring: Mel Gibson, Patrick McGoohan, Sophie Marceau

Scottish hero William Wallace is profiled in this sweeping Mel Gibson epic. In only his second directorial effort, Gibson manages to delicately balance the frenzied chaos of the riveting battle scenes with more quietly dramatic moments like those featuring Patrick McGoohan and Sophie Marceau as King Edward the Longshanks and Princess Isabelle, respectively. McGoohan delivers an Oscar-caliber performance as does Gibson, who wound up with two of the golden statues (Best Director and Best Picture.) Brilliantly photographed by John Toll (Legends of the Fall, Almost Famous) this film rivals David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia as the best of it’s genre -- the historical action/drama.

Killer Sequence: Any of the seemingly logistically impossible battle scenes, particularly the one after Wallace appears in blue warpaint and delivers an inspiring speech to his troops.

The Godfather Part III
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo
Starring: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Joe Mantegna, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach, Diane Keaton, George Hamilton, Sofia Coppola

Much (unjustly) maligned third installment in the Coppola trilogy based on Mario Puzo’s best seller about the rise of an Italian crime family. Coppola was justifiably criticized for casting his inexperienced daughter Sofia in the pivotal role of Mary Corleone (a part that was to be portrayed by Winona Ryder until she dropped out of the project.) But Sofia’s amateurish performance aside, Godfather III is a superior film that would be much more highly regarded if it weren’t for the fact that its’ two prequels are considered two of the best movies in cinema history.

In a film that was nominated for Best Picture (G3 haters always seem to forget that) Coppola tells the tale of a now repentant Michael Corleone and his attempts to extricate himself and his family from the mafia ties created by he and his father. Coppola cleverly weaves his story around actual historical events, placing Michael at the center of the rise of the Atlantic City casinos and the political/corporate upheaval of the Vatican during the early 1980s. Andy Garcia is charismatic as Michael’s loyal but ambitious nephew, Vincent, who wants to follow in his uncle’s footsteps, and there are fine supporting performances by Joe Mantegna as Michael’s slimy nemesis Joey Zaza, and the overlooked Richard Bright as Al Neri.

Despite production problems that severely impacted his ability to deliver a worthy sequel (Robert Duvall’s character, Tom Hagen, had to be killed off and Diane Keaton’s role as Kay was severely reduced -- reportedly because the pair each wanted more money) Coppola succeeded in making a film that stands on its own but is also true to its predecessors in both theme, characterization and visual style. A totally engrossing movie and one that provides closure on the story of the Corleones, the mafia family to which all others (both real and fictional) are now compared.

Killer Sequence: Every Coppola film has at least half a dozen, but nothing was more gut wrenching than witnessing Mary’s assassination (and Michael’s anguish) on the steps of the opera house.

Related Posts:

The 20 Most Must-See Movies of the 90s: Part 4