Friday, August 29, 2008

R.I.P. The White Dude Ticket

If you haven't heard already, earlier today, presumptive Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, announced that his running mate will be current Alaskan governor (and total Tina Fey doppelganger) Sarah Palin. While this unexpected selection of a young political maverick and America's top GILF (just ever so slightly above Michigan's Jennifer Granholm) does immediately deliver the all important Alaskan hockey mom vote to McCain, only the coming months will tell if this surprise choice was a successfully savvy maneuver or just the sad first signs of oncoming senility.

Predictions for the future aside, with both major party tickets set, at least there is now one thing that is now certain. Due to the unprecedented racial and gender make up of the two tickets (black dude/white dude for the Democrats and white dude/white chick for the Republicans) the nearly 220 year streak of a white dude presidency and vice presidency will finally come to an end. Yes technically there is a theoretical chance that the all white dude Libertarian Party ticket of Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root may somehow prevail on Election Day, but barring that (hey I guess that's a pun!) it'll be one of the two major parties.

While I'm not really shedding a tear for the end of the white dude era, it is still a significant event and (like Linda Loman said) attention must be paid. It's not every day that a fundamental way of life that has existed without any change since the founding of the country is toppled. Slavery had a good century or so run, powdered wigs made it at least to the 19th century, and I guess we still like toting guns, but I can't really think of any other American tradition that has lasted for this long. I mean, people went nuts when Michael Phelps beat Mark Spitz's gold medal record and that's only been around for 36 years, so this is absolutely huge.

So in honor of this inevitable date with history that looms on inauguration day next year regardless of who wins, I thought I'd make a quick, hastily prepared tribute to the end of the white dude era at the top of the executive branch, Oscar Death Montage Style:

For any lazy middle school social studies students out there, I give full permission to pass this off as your own for your history project.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Even though I now concede that I was an official bust in the world of advertising (I guess you can consider me the Akili Smith of the marketing world), that still doesn't mean I don't have a bunch of uninformed opinions and criticisms about the often insane industry that rejected me (in that respect I guess I'm more like the Steve Phillips of the marketing world). A few of the ad related posts I've made in the past have touched upon the age old tension between making advertising that is memorable because it is innovative and creative versus advertising that is memorable because you've painfully hammered the viewer into submission.

There are various arguments for both sides. The extreme border of the hard sell, hammer side may argue that in the end the singular goal of advertising is to push the product and that an ad that is complicated and interesting is just going to confuse the consumer from the true message of knowing and buying the product. Their typical case in point would be the cool ad that you and your co-workers talk about around the water cooler but have completely forgotten what the actual product was. The far end of the advertising as art branch may say that condescendingly treating the buying public like children is a narrow and short sighted way to approach advertising. They would consider the positive, long term value of a truly inspired advertising campaigns like "Absolut" or Nike's "Just Do It" that have become permanent fixtures of the cultural fabric to be infinitely more value then some annoying aspirin ad that someone only remembers because they see it a hundred times a day.

Of course most ads just fall in the broad middle ground of this spectrum (those Greeks were really onto something with that whole "moderation" thing). However, in the context of this spectrum could an ad be just so awful and repugnant to the viewer that it somehow becomes memorable and effective? Is it possible to achieve the universal goal of the advertiser of communicating the product message to the consumer by horribly traumatizing them? After all , isn't scarring someone for life the ultimate way to imprint a lasting message?

Let's test that theory, shall we?:

While I know it's too late for an apology, I would still like to say I'm sorry that you lost about 1:45 to that disturbing display. That was the current advertising campaign for Orangina which just recently came to Britain via France and it is the single most mind blowingly awful piece of marketing I have seen in years. Suffice to say it's generating a fair share of controversy.

It's even more baffling when you stop and consider the fact that a multi-national advertising campaign like this took the efforts of a large amount of supposedly smart, professionals. It's not like "Bewitched" where Darren and the gang at McMann and Tate would just pitch goofy ideas to the company boss and he'd arbitrarily pick one to go with. A modern day advertising campaign is born out of thorough market research, testing, and constant polishing of every step of the creative process. How did it make this journey through the pipeline from "ill-conceived, terrible idea that never should have seen the light of day" to "let's air this nationally" without someone dropping a massive WTF? How did the production designers and computer animators create these abominations ("lengthen the legs on that sexy octopus and give that bear a bigger package!") with a straight face?

Or maybe this is exactly what the advertisers wanted. Perhaps this was all a calculated effort to stir up controversy. It certainly got some free mentions in the paper, an entire blog post devoted to it on this blog (the highest of privileges), and that YouTube clip has by last count gotten over 300,000 views. When was the last time you even heard someone mention Orangina, let alone drink it? Maybe there is something to this sort of "shock" advertising; a perverse combination of antagonistic creativity. While a lot less disturbing (and somewhat enjoyable), I still remember the controversial ads for almost a decade after the site went out of business.

However, it remains to be seen what the long term effects of approaching the consumer like this is. In the long run this may disgust and alienate large amounts of the drinking public (it has certainly not won much love from mothers and conservative groups). Then again perhaps after the initial disgust, the novelty will wear off and it'll be as bland as the next commercial. You can't really tell with these Europeans. After all it's the same continent that sent Crazy Frog to the top of multiple charts. On the bright side, even if they alienate every single on of their key demographics, they'll still have a lifelong stranglehold on the vaunted thirty furry fandom market.

P.S. Out of all the disturbing imagery (the Panda popping out of her dress, the hyper-phallic, ejaculating Orangina bottles, the Octopus woman squeezing the oranges) the one that bothered me the most was the fact that they picked two natural predator/preys (the bear and the deer) to fall in love. Now that's just plain wrong!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cincinnati by 200 points!?!

With every exciting breakthrough and cutting edge innovation in technology, man is slowly but steadily digging his own grave into obsolescence. Every computerized chess victory, every casual robotic step, every narrowing of the uncanny valley brings us that much more closer to a seemingly inevitable future where the human race, with its flaws and frailties, has been transcended in every way by the polished perfection of its own technological creations. I can only see three possible ways it'll go down:
  1. The machines become sentient, pull a Skynet, and wipe us off the face of the earth.
  2. Paranoid that the machines will become sentient, pull a Skynet, and wipe us off the face of the earth, mankind accidentally manages to wipe themselves off the face of the earth. The machines win by default.
  3. We finally perfect the ability to mass produce realistic and affordable sex robots. The human race entropies and dies out within a century.
Whatever the final scenario will be, thanks to all those hardworking eggheads at places like M.I.T. and Cal Tech, things aren't looking too good for the old human race.

However, until that faithful day when the last human being breathes their final breath and mankind enters the oblivion I'll take solace in the fact that machines still have an overwhelmingly long way to go before they start replacing people. One category where the mechanical mind is woefully over matched is the art of fantasy sports drafting. Oh sure, a website can crunch the endless amounts of numbers, assign rankings, and program in complex, logical algorithms; but we all know that your sports illiterate mother could probably pick a better team then your fantasy league's auto-draft feature. Some sabermatricians may view differently, but talent cannot be fully evaluated just on numbers and formulas alone. For all it's computational ability and refinement, an auto drafter can never have hunches, or take interesting risks, improve on the fly, apply personal experience, and (to use that tired cliche) factor in the "intangibles".

You see this played out almost every year. There'll be a draft and someone (perhaps even yourself) fails to show up and that unfortunate owner ends up with a mismatched, by the books, team that more often then not ends up having a terrible season. Even if you meticulously pre-rank all your choices, it somehow manages to screw it up. Unfortunately this was the case with my recent Yahoo! Fantasy Football team. Although I took great strains to remember to send my money in on time to the commissioner, I had all but forgotten that my draft was last night at 9. When the horrifying realization of missing my draft came over me this morning, I immediately signed onto my league to see the damage that auto-draft had wrath:

Rd. 1 Frank Gore RB - As it turned out I ended up with the 12th and final pick in a 12 team league. Given my position, the auto-draft's selection of Gore was not a ridiculous choice. Looking at the rather shallow depth at the running back position this year, this is at or below where he should have been picked. However, if I were running the show there is no way I would have picked Gore again after his incredibly underwhelming season last year sunk one of my fantasy teams.

Rd. 2 Marshawn Lynch RB - Since I had the final pick, the auto-draft got the benefit of picking immediately the first pick of the 2nd round. The Lynch pick is one I actually like and would have probably pulled the trigger on as well had I been present. He's young, was productive last season, and with the continuing "development" of QB Trent Edwards, will get an assload (and for the games in Canada a metric assload) of carries every game. Plus, I get the relatively rare added benefit of actually rooting for a fantasy player from my real life favorite team.

Rd. 3 Brandon Marshall WR - The auto-draft took the straight by the book path of getting the two RBs first and then moving onto the best WR available. Oh sure he's quite talented but what the auto-draft failed to account for was the three game suspension at the beginning of the season he is currently appealing (either way he'll serve at least one or two). Unfortunately, off-the-field arrests and frequency of incidents related to nightclub shootings are not one of the statistics that are posted for the auto-draft to evaluate.

Rd. 4 Plaxico Buress WR - Another classic example of the auto-draft picking a player that looks fine on paper but you personally just don't care for. While I can't deny that Plax is the star number one receiver of the defending champs I always have the lingering feeling that his perpetual "ankle injury" will screw me over the one year I draft him. Hopefully I'll be able to get one of the four Giant-centric owners in the league to give me a generous trade for him.

Rd. 5 Tony Gonzalez TE - Well I can't really complain too much about getting the most consistently excellent offensive TE of the last decade. Although he's starting to get up there in age, there is no indication yet of a slowdown. He's definitely more like the kind of players I gravitate towards in drafts (consistent, proven veterans over risky, high potential, younger guys). He'll probably continue to be the top target for the the two headed Huard/Croyle monster of mediocrity.

Rd. 6 Dwayne Bowe WR - The auto-draft must have felt I didn't have enough Chiefs players because it immediately picked, after Tony. G, my number three receiver Bowe. Despite the above mentioned mediocre quarterbacking of the Chiefs, Bowe actually had a pretty impressive rookie year (70 Rec, 995 yards, 5 TDs). So I guess he could only get better, right? I frankly would have taken this opportunity, if I hadn't already before, to get a QB which the auto-draft has neglected up to now.

Rd. 7 Jay Cutler QB - The long anticipated pick for the starting QB. It's fairly underwhelming, but what do you expect when you wait this long to pick your signal caller, so I guess the auto-draft had to make due with the best it could. Cutler does have a far higher ceiling then fellow late round QB options like the aging Matt Hasselbeck or the steady if not spectacular David Garrad. Hopefully his inconsistent play last year was due to his then undiagnosed type 1 diabetes and that this season, with proper treatment, he'll be due for a breakout.

Rd. 8 San Diego DEF - Yes the Chargers are full of talent, Antonio Cromartie is amazing, and Shawne Merriman is a 'roided up sacking machine, but Round 8 is a bit too early to be picking up defenses in my book. I would have used this opportunity to pick up some more depth on the roster. I'm a firm believer in the old rule that, outside of rare cases, you save the DEF and kicker for the end. Which means the auto draft will now select...

Rd. 9 Josh Scobee K - Season is over! Everyone might as well admit defeat and send me my winnings. I have won the Josh Scobee kicking sweepstakes!! Auto-draft must know something that I don't because unless the Jags decide to go with an all field goals offensive scheme, there is no reason to pick Scobee-Doo this early in the draft. Oh and did I also mention he missed half the season last year with an injury? A kicking injury! Thanks auto-draft!

Rd. 10 Rashard Mendenhall RB - After temporarily losing all its common sense for the previous two rounds, auto-draft unexpectedly rolls the dice a little bit on the rookie Mendenhall. As a frustrated Willie Parker owner last year I am looking forward to reaping the benefits of the other side of that Steelers running sheme where Parker gets all the yards and a bruiser like Mendenhall gets the fantasy point rich goal line touchdown carries.

Rd. 11 D.J. Hackett WR - Boy the WR position gets pretty thin around this point in the draft. I wonder why I don't have a better fourth WR? Oh yeah. Auto-draft was drafting Josh Scobee!

Rd. 12 Brett Favre QB - Wow, I did not expect him to drop this far. Perhaps it was all the ill will he built up over the summer or all the Giants fans in the league, but I'll gladly take Farve in the 12th round as my back up. Who knows? If things start gelling with the Jets, I just may give him the starting job. Do I sense a quarterback controversy brewing?

Rd. 13 Drew Bennett WR - What can I say? Like every white receiver in the NFL he has "good hands" and solid "fundamentals". Unless "The Greatest Show on Turf" returns to the dome, he'll be at best a bye week fill in.

Rd. 14 Greg Olsen TE - Now we're really heading into the dregs. Perhaps he'll suddenly have a big year. Perhaps the Bears will be contenders again. Perhaps Kyle Orton will prove all the naysayers wrong. And perhaps I'll grow another pair of eyes out of my nipples.

Rd. 15 Jeff Reed K - With the final pick of the draft, auto-draft makes Jeff Reed this year's Mr. Irreverent. And why wouldn't it be another kicker? With the modern state of fantasy football, you'd be a fool not to have a two kicker tandem! I'm surprised the auto-draft didn't just look up who Josh Scobee's backup was and go for the handcuff. The real tragedy is that it drafted two kickers and not one of them was my man, Rob Bironas!

So overall, the roster for ESPN Playmakers seems to be a prime example of inept textbook auto-drafting. Players that the owner hates? Check! Players with intangible off the field issues? Check! Mediocre choices taken far above their expected slots? Check! No consideration given to injury prone histories? Check! More than one kicker? Double check!

You know, maybe that future war with the machines won't be so one sided after all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shedding some light on "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"

Living the life of the modestly trafficked pop culture blogger isn't all glamor and champagne. With such privileged influence over the numerous handfuls of people that stumble across my little patch of the web everyday to read my irregularly posted entries, I have a duty to go beyond mere amusement. Along with the usual entertainment, I still have an obligation to educate; to use these fantastic modern instruments of communication to continue the noble tradition of informing one's fellow man that dates as far back as the invention of the printing press. With the internet revolution bringing with it the astounding ability to communicate with the world beyond the historical boundaries of space and time, I would be remiss to not utilize this Promethean gift of fire to occasionally provide some form of informative enlightenment.

That is why, as a public service to you the reader and the internet a whole I am going to finally sit down and attempt to clarify, to the best of my abilities, the storyline to "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia".

Given its difficulty I can kind of understand how, after allowing it to reign the top of the billboard charts for a week, the American record buying public quickly ran to replace it with the mellow, uncomplicated narrative of Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" for four long, confusion free, weeks. Since its release in 1972, this incredibly complex tale of Southern fried murder has baffled an entire generation of pop music fans (including the late Chris Penn). With its slew of twists and crosses and unreliable narrators all amazingly packed into a brief three and a half minutes, it makes fellow number one hit tales like "Ode to Billie Joe" and "Harper Valley PTA" as simple and vanilla as the ABCs.

Having seen for yourself the challenging nature of the song, imagine how disheartened I was to learn that there has yet to be any definitive academic literature on the subject. The 1981 synonymously titled film, despite being star studded (Kristy McNichol? Dennis Quaid? Mark Hamill?!) shares little to no plot elements with the song and thus fairly useless. Vicki Lawrence, meanwhile, has moved on with her career and has remained apparently silent on the whole issue (certainly not returning my calls).

Despite the lack of sources for primary and secondary information, I will still attempt to methodically separate the deeply tangled threads of this tune, using only my skills of deduction and the personal familiarity one gets from having listened to it about ten times more than the average person over the years.

Let the mystery begin:

He was on his way home from Candletop
Been two weeks gone and he thought he'd stop
At William's and have him a drink 'fore he went home to her

A crucial step in getting the song is realizing off the bat who the narrator is and who the protagonist is. For now we don't know who's telling the story (it'll be a lot more important later on in the story) and our protagonist remains nameless. He won't remain nameless for the rest of the song so we'll just call him Mr X for now. So at the start, Mr. X has returned home from a two week trip to Candletop and decided to go to a bar (William's) for a drink before returning home to his wife.

Andy Wolloe said "Hello"
And he said "Hi, what's doin', Wo?"
"Seth, sit down, I got some bad news, it's gonna hurt"
He said "I'm your best friend and you know that's right"
"But your young bride ain't home tonight"
"Since you been gone she's been seein' that Amos boy, Seth "

Our protagonist (now named Seth) has met a new character Andy who is his best friend. Andy will now start the main crux of the story by revealing to his friend Seth that Seth's Wife (note it's another new character) had not been faithful while he was away. He reveals that she has been seeing Amos. At this point it's standard soap opera fare: Seth's best friend Andy tells Seth that his Wife has been cheating on him with Amos. Now this explosive but simple scenario is further complicated by another bombshell revelation by Andy.

Well, he got mad 'n' he saw red and Andy said "Boy, don'tcha lose your head"
" 'cause to tell ya the truth, I been with her myself"

Right before the chorus bursts out Andy reveals that HE HAS BEEN SLEEPING WITH SETH'S WIFE! A lot of people also get fairly confused at this point since Andy's actions seem to make no logical sense at all. Andy's just told his best friend that his wife has been cheating on him, notices that he's becomes incredibly angry, and then proceeds to further tell him that he has cheated with his wife was well. Whatever feelings you may have for Andy have to admire his brutal level of honesty and candor with his best friend Seth.

Well, Andy got scared and left the bar
Walkin' on home 'cause he didn't live far
See, Andy didn't have many friends and he'd just lost him one

The focus of the song has now shifted from the original protagonist Seth to Andy. The camera now follows Andy after his outrageous confessional to Seth. He now heads home, friendless and scared. Note that we are never told what Seth's reaction to Andy's confession is. We can only assume that there was so much tension they just parted ways without any notable fisticuffs.

Brother thought his wife musta left town
So he went home and finally found
The only thing Papa had left him, that was a gun

The camera now shifts back to Seth in a series of critically important verses. While the focus may be on the startling action of Seth getting a gun from his home, take note of that clue laden first line. The narrator calls Seth “brother” giving a hint as to their relationship with the protagonist. Also note that the wife is currently missing when Seth returns home to retrieve his gun.

And he went off to Andy's house
A'skippin' through the backwoods quiet as a mouse
Came upon some tracks too small for Andy to make

The plot begins to thicken even more into a delicious Hitchcockian mold of gelatin. Seth now armed with a gun arrives at Andy’s house for what mysterious purposes? And who could have made those tracks indicating someone had arrived prior to Seth’s arrival? The smaller size of the tracks could indicate a possible female character perhaps?

He looked through the screen at the back-porch door
And he saw Andy lyin' on the floor
In a puddle of blood and he started to shake

Bombshell number two! Andy is now DEAD! But who killed him? Could it have been whoever left the tracks previously? Could it be the suddenly missing wife? Or Amos? Or perhaps another figure altogether? The song has now completely flipped the audience’s expectations by turning the possible murderer Seth into possibly another helpless victim.

Well, the Georgia Patrol was a'makin' their rounds
So he fired a shot just to flag 'em down
And a big-bellied sheriff got his gun and said "why'dya do it?"

So at this point Seth is wrongfully arrested for the murder of his best friend, who be may have been intending to kill in the first place. Meanwhile the real killer still remains free to terrorize the rest of Georgia.

And the judge said "Guilty" in a make-believe trial
And slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile
Said' supper's waitin' at home and I gotta get to it"

As it turns out Seth does not get an opportunity to pull a Richard Kimble and locate the small footed individual that framed him for murder and is railroaded by the crooked Georgian judicial system. Was this a possible reference to the then recent Supreme Court decision of Furman v. Georgia where it was found that Georgia’s inconsistent imposition of the death penalty violated the 8th and 14 amendments and constituted cruel and unusual punishment? I wouldn’t put it past the song.

Well, they hung my brother before I could say
The tracks he saw while on his way
To Andy's house and back that night were mine

Bombshell number three! The narrator who has been telling the whole story was indeed the sister of Seth! It was her tracks that were found by Seth at Andy’s house and it was she who killed Andy. However her twisted revenge plot inadvertently framed her own brother for murder and led to his innocent execution (I’m going to have to declare that mission a bit of a failure). But what about Seth’s missing wife?

And his cheatin' wife had never left town
And that's one body that'll never be found
See, little sister don't miss when she aims her gun

Yes that’s right, don’t fuck with the narrator! Not only did she kill Andy, she also murdered her brother Seth’s Wife who cheated with Andy. However, unlike with Andy she was a lot more careful in disposing of the body and evidence. While the question of the murders have been answered, many other questions still abound. What sort of sick, possibly incestuous relationship did Seth have with his sister that caused her to use such deadly force? And how lucky is Amos for getting out of all this apparently alive?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

...But Seriously

It was reported earlier this week that everyone's favorite pop superstar settled his divorce with wife number three Orianne Cevey in a London Court for a record sum of $46.5 million dollars. On a positive note, since it tops Paul McCartney and Heather Mills' previous record settlement by a cool million, he can in a way claim to be bigger than a Beatle (note to Kevin Federline: you may want to talk to your lawyers about getting a change of venue to England). According to the article, poor Phil has spent an estimated $84 million dollars in divorce settlements to his exes (that's a lot of copies of "No Jacket Required"). Also, after reading the line about how he divorced his second wife in 1994 via fax, am I the only one who immediately pictured it to have read: "Hello, I Must Be Going!"?

While there doesn't appear to be any private details on how or why they decided to split, one can only wildly speculate on their personal conversations using as many of the titles of his hit singles as possible:

[Imagine, an tension filled car ride home from an equally tense, awkward dinner]

Phil: Are you alright honey? I sensed that there was something wrong in the air tonight.

Orianne: ...I've been thinking a lot lately about life, the kids, about us and with all your recent touring and recording it just seems we're living separate lives.

Phil: Do you remember? When we got married we knew what we were getting into. We know what our situation was. We said we'd make it work. And we made it work; against all odds (take a look at me now)!

Orianne: I know, I know. You said you weren't going to be an easy lover; that you can't hurry love. And for the first few years I really thought we had made it work. It was heaven, but--

Phil: Something happened on the way to heaven, didn't it?

Orianne: I just can't take it. For a while we made do, we had a groovy kind of love. But I've had enough. You're never around, you hardly have any time for me or the children. While you're off touring around the world, winnings Oscars, and planning reunions, your family is home wondering we you'll be back!

Phil: You think this is easy for me? You think this is just another day in paradise for me? Being away from home, not being able to watch my kids grow up? You think it's easy being Phil Collins?

Orianne: You, you, you! That's all you're concerned with aren't you! I should have seen your true colors from the start. This is what I get for marrying a man who makes his face the center of every album he makes! Well let me tell you something, Phil. You may think it's all about you but it takes two hearts to make a marriage work.

Phil: Listen, honey you have to hear both sides of the story--

Orianne: Sorry, dear but I've heard it all before. I know forever you'll be in my heart but I think it's the best for both of us if we went our separate ways.

Phil: I think you're overreacting. I think we should just give it some time, at least one more night.

Orianne: We've already given it time, over 8 years of time and I just don't think we can go on. Please, just take me home to my mother's. Call me in the morning. I case you've forgotten I've written it down for you.

[The couple silently continue towards the mother's house. They arrive, Orianne opens the door and exits]

Orianne: Don't lose my number.

Phil: I won't...Well this have been one miserable night. It certainly looks like I missed again.

Orianne: Sussudio?

Phil: Sussudio.

...and scene!

P.S. For those of you who thought this post was more than a little ridiculous, just be glad I decided not to use any Collins-Era Genesis hit titles as well ("Our marriage is certainly trapped in a land of confusion!")

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Longshot

There is almost nothing surprising about a benign piece of cinematic fluff like "The Longshots." Every bit of it oozes formulaic, PG rated, family oriented, inspirational, film making. It's got all the elements: a plucky young protagonist (Keke Palmer of "Akeelah and the Bee" fame), a down on his luck mentor (played by a crazy, family friendly, motherfucker named Ice Cube), a team of lovable misfits, an improbable championship run, and of course the all important "inspired by a true story" pedigree. I'll even make an educated guess that there'll be an evil (possibly white) antagonist coach and a rival team of antagonists twice the usual size with half the dimensions. If I remember one ad I saw correctly the movie's promoters don't even bother feigning any suspense and mentioned that "it's the story of the first girl to win X championship." The modest run in theaters and DVD that awaits it is also a forgone conclusion.

Despite the forgettable lack of surprises that "The Longshots" appears to have; it has, without me having seen a single second outside the previews and a week before it is even supposed to be out, given me one of the most shocking cinematic twists I have ever experienced. Bruce Willis' ghost, that murderous red hooded dwarf, Keyser Soze, Rosebud, the remains of the Statute of Liberty on the beach are all ham fisted telegraphed conclusions compared to the bomb this movie dropped on me right from the promotional poster. For those who aren't in the know already, without looking it up on the Internetz, can you please identify this man, the directer of "The Longshots" as photographed at the Tribeca Film Festival:

If you haven't figured out the identity of this mystery auteur from this recent image. Perhaps this photo taken about a decade prior from his previous profession would help. That's right, it's every one's favorite late 90's relic Fred Durst. Please watch out for falling OMGs and WTFs.

For a man who for most intents and purposes vanished without a trace around the turn of the millennium, helming this rah-rah, heart cockle warming, family feature would be one of the absolute last places to find him working again. I would have thought a Surreal life appearance, or an mildly publicized arrest for weapons possession, or an unsuccessful comeback tour with a new band with the same name, or at least a niche line of personally licensed hard liqueur would have been the predicted path back. Instead here he is sharp, capless, looking like the long lost third Weinstein brother.

As shocking at it is, perhaps the most observant of his fans (all four or so of them) may have actually seen this coming. According to his wikipedia entry he has a surprisingly extensive music video filmography. He did all major videos for Limp Bizkit, a few Lincoln Park videos, Korn's "Falling Away From Me", a bunch of noteworthy Staind videos (including their immortal "I'm Been A While"), and Puddle of Mudd's megahit "Blurry". As much as I hate everything about the Nu-Metal dominance of my high school years, for better or for worse, some of these videos really defined the time for me. I unfortunately can remember a lot more about these videos then I'd care to. In a way he's sort of like the Hype Williams of turn of the millennium, angry white Nu-Metal, at least the Russell Mulcahy.

So will this be the modest first step towards a total career reinvention? From Family Values Tour to actual family values? Or will he suffer a similar fate as fellow double threat Fred Savage and his feature debut "Daddy Day Camp"? Maybe it's just a question of Faith.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Walden 2.0

If you ever wanted to know if you were really addicted to something all you have to do is ask yourself: what are the things you need automatically (aside from the whole shower, clothes routine) once you get up in the morning? Whatever that is, whether it be the bottle, the needle, the pipe, coffee, World of Warcraft, love, or potato chips; that is your addiction. In my case the first thing I usually reach for after getting my glasses on is the remote. I am fully aware that there is absolutely nothing worthwhile on or that whatever piece of possible morning news will be of little consequence in my usual daily schedule of doing nothing. However, from the moment I get up, I need the mindless chatter of Al Roker talking about diet tips or the opening guitar riffs of a Saved By the Bell rerun, or the optimistic pitch of a Body By Jake infomercial filling my room to truly start the day and make me feel right again.

Of course another good indicator of addiction is the five to eight hours or so a day I spend watching TV at home during the summer. You can also throw in the internet into that addiction checklist as well. It's a pretty substantial supplement to the TV watching and when I'm at school (where I have no personal TV) it basically acts as a total substitute. So yeah, my name is Victor and I'm a TV/Internet addict. Shocker! It could be a lot worse, I could be a heroin junkie or be obsessively into bodybuilding, or have an out of control addiction to inhaling computer dust remover.

Having just read this startling personal revelation of mine, try to imagine the sort of unspeakable red nightmare that I had just gone through in the past three plus days that my television and internet was out! That right, due to a freak thunderstorm early Monday morning the cable line to my house got damaged enough to completely cut me off until a repair crew could have been sent. Unfortunately the earliest the cable company could have sent someone was yesterday afternoon. These 72 or so hours I spent broken down on the side road of the information superhighway were just about the longest in recent memory. I have in the past gone just as long or even longer without access to both TV and the internet but usually I was distracted by vacation or camp or being four years old. This outage was during my prime summer weeks where I hardly do anything else but watch TV and go on the internet!

While this was a deeply scarring and traumatic ordeal for me, as with every trying crucible, one comes out of the fire with some hard earned personal insights and revelations. Fortunately my insights came in a convenient list form:

Insight 1: DVDs are as never as good as television. My attempts to while the hours away by seeking refuge in my DVD collection reaffirmed the old truth that a show or movie you catch on TV is always better than you putting that exact same show or movie's DVD in and watching it. There's a certain satisfaction of just casually running across an episode of Seinfeld that you've seen a million times over actually going to your shelf, picking that DVD and selecting it. Perhaps its the element of surprise, perhaps it's because that extraneous step of getting it all set up before watching it (like fumbling with a condom before sex) just ruins the mood by the time it starts, or the fact that you can skip to any part immediately makes it all too easy. There's just some unknown quality about it that makes everything taste a lot less sweet. When it comes to shows and movies I'm like a snake. I'll ignore the prepared, laid out dead mouse of the DVD and go for the chase of a real live mouse to the TV.

Insight 2: Microsoft Hearts is totally rigged. The loss of the internet was a particularly emasculating experience for my computer. This once wondrous gateway to wikipedia, sports scores, and pornography became basically just an elaborate word processor...and Solitaire/Hearts machine. I haven't this much Hearts since the first month we got Windows 95. I never really got down with he singular joy of challenging myself in Solitaire, when there was the opportunity for a tense, ruthless four way battle between East, North, West, and myself provided by Hearts. However after dozens of games of Hearts I've come to the conclusion that there must be some programed fail safe device that prevents anyone from winning more than 30% of their games. Whether it's hand after hand after hand of getting stuck with the Queen of Spades or the one side shooting the moon multiple times a game or losing by a single point in the final round; I am fairly convinced that there is some serious collusion going on between the other three sides.

Insight 3: Public libraries still have the crappiest computers around. Like Thoreau in Walden I was not technically cut off from all contact. I did manage to briefly check my emails one day at the local public library. It was like being teleported back to my middle school typing class. These seemingly ancient, glacier slow, sticky, computers with outdated software made for a frustrating half an hour of reserved time. I'm surprised it wasn't running on Prodigy internet and there wasn't a desktop shortcut to play "Sim Tower" (actually "Sim Tower" would have been pretty sweet). Of course in a perverse way these are actually the perfect computers for the overwhelming majority of the people that actually use them: old folks (and possibly tech savvy homeless people). A feature laden, modern computer with a complex interface and a lightening fast broadband connection would confuse and stupefy your average geriatric library patron as they try to sign into their AOL account to forward an amusing e-card to their grandchildren.

Insight 4: Life - (TV+Internet) = OMFG TOO MUCH TIME ON MY HANDS!! As I said before, these three days were really the three longest days I could remember. You never realize how much of a prodigious time sink TV and the internet are until you have to fill in the hours of the day without them. I could easily burn through hours and hours watching the tube or surfing the net but it takes a Herculean display of will power on my part to just sit still for one whole minute (try it yourself, it's a lot more difficult then it seems). It's almost like being in a coma, you don't move and a huge chunk of time passes, and at the end you have nothing to show for it. I don't even know what I actually do online or watch on TV; it's like seemingly instant bridge from the morning to the night. It should fill me with an incredible sense of sadness at the countless hours of my youth spent just staring at screens if it weren't for...

Insight 5: Even if I cut down on TV and the internet, I still probably won't do anything productive. This is the big final insight I gleamed. I shouldn't feel any guilt or shame about spending my days dicking around on the internet or flipping channels for hours on end, because in the end I most likely would not have done anything more productive with that time. The copious amounts of free time that were the by product of my cable outage did not open up a whole new outlook for me nor finally cleared my life of the distractions that were holding me back from accomplishing life goals or whatever. I didn't paint a portrait or run a 10k or write a novel. A significant part of my time (aside from all the Hearts games) was just spend staring the walls or sleeping. At least with TV and the internet I'm passively picking up new information (albeit 99% trivial and useless) and writing an infrequently updated blog for all you fans out there.

Regrets? I'm too distracted to have them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The soul lives on?

With the sudden passings of both Bernie Mac and Issac Hayes, it's been a pretty rough week for imposing, black celebrities. Fortunately Morgan Freeman survived the week but, alas, his marriage did not. Seeing as how such episodes of mass celebrity deaths have a tendency to come in threes we may not be out of the woods yet. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Tom "Tiny" Lister or even Della Reese were more than a little nervous right now. Looking back, I really can't remember another time since that crazy July 30th day last year when such a group of notable celebrities died in such a short span. Of course according to the Wikipedia Recent Deaths section, "notable people" (usually an esoteric collection of scientists, former politicians, and foreign athletes) die all the time. However as amazing a cricketer Bob Cunis was or for all the memorable roles portrayed by the late Terence Rigby, I doubt their passings have made the nightly news, at least stateside. Further compounding the tragedy of the loss is that in contrast to Snyder, Walsh, and Bergman; both Issac Hayes and Bernie Mac were relatively younger, active individuals with plenty of life and projects ahead of them. In fact one of the greatest losses in this may be the now unsure future of "Soul Men."

Now I'm not saying they were making "Citizen Kane" or anything. The film's plot of two former friends coming together again to achieve somethings is so old and tired that there are probably primitive cave paintings depicting that device. It stars Samuel L. Jackson in one of the 80 or so random movies he makes a year. The film also contains Sean Hayes who will no doubt will play his signature movie role as an unlikable, uptight, effeminate, white guy. Without any knowledge, I suspect it'll probably have a scene where one of the main character comically splits their old pants or jacket after trying it on for the first time in years. All in all this probably nothing picture; one that originally seemed destined for a quick run in the theaters and then straight to a modest retirement in rentals and pay cable, may now be the final sad testament that will link both passed celebrities together forever.

I can't recall any other film that lost two of their co-stars over a span of two days no less! Sure there are plenty of films that soldier on posthumously after losing one star (in fact I think there's one in the theaters doing pretty well right now) but two is down right unheard of. In my opinion though, assuming they have enough footage of Mac and Hayes completed to properly finish the movie without having to resort to Plan 9 style movie trickery I think the producers should go for it. What was once just a mere piece of pre-holiday cineplex fodder has, by a cruel twist of fate, become possibly something more. At its best it'll be a final documented farewell for fans of both artists (although more in the Phil Hartman "Small Soldiers" category than James Dean in "Giant"), at the very least there will be an element of morbid curiosity. In reality it'll probably be combination of the two. Regardless, it's always the more logical choice (and in most cases the more profitable choice) to go on and let a film play rather than have it die with the actors.

Will a Bernie Mac posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar petition on Facebook not be far off?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

He learned the game from his uncle James

As many of you out there may have already noticed from the small but growing number of ads and trailers, the latest Bond movie will be hitting the theaters sometime in November. While the ads and trailers may stir up a hunger for a "Quantum of Solace" for most, the ads abruptly triggered in me an inexplicable, acute episode of childhood TV nostalgia. Like some latent pop culture acid flashback, I suddenly recalled for the first time in years, the short lived "James Bond Jr." Saturday morning cartoon series. I was quite surprised (and a bit disturbed) at just how much I remembered: the words to the Bond pastiche theme song, the unnecessarily large, politically correct, mixed cast of sidekicks, the goofy looking updated Odd Job in the loud tracksuit, even the underrated but ridiculously difficult SNES game (that I totally now remember playing at my friend's house).

It does seem a bit surprising that someone who perpetually lives in a state of arrested pop culture development had until recently so throughly forgotten about such an obvious piece of childhood television. I think the best, most logical, explanation is that the show just wasn't all that good or memorable. Bond Jr. basically took the James Bond franchise and stripped it of most of its essential core elements. The violence was curbed to GI Joe levels where only buildings and objects ever really suffered causalities with the villains getting away all the time. There was the inability to do any characteristic Bond activity that required one to be over 18 (drinking martinis, entering casinos, playing adult themed video games). Most egregiously, Bond's legendary womanizing and general manwhoring was neutered to the level of G rated psedo-flirting. In the end Bond Jr. was a lot more "If Looks Could Kill" Richard Grieco than the spiritual successor to his "uncle" James. In fact how does one become the "Jr." to one's uncle? Obviously the implication is that Bond Jr. is the result of an illicit tryst between his mother and his uncle; which would place his nameless father just above Uncle Owen in the great pantheon of "loser brothers of famous father/son characters."

Regardless of the retrospective crappiness of the show, the fact that I did end up remembering so much about it points to the undeniable fact that as a kid I probably enjoyed it. It's like me and "Full House." No matter how much of a positive nostalgic twist I can put on it, I can barely make it through a re-run these days, even though as a kid it was probably one of my all time favorite shows. The older I get the more unappealing "Full House" becomes to me (although I suspect that once I reach a certain elderly age, I'll start to go back to liking it more). It is actually a pretty good yardstick in determining how much I've changed over the years. Such is probably the case with the old James Bond Jr. series. My eight year old self probably found every episode of Bond Jr. (along with episodes of "The New Adventures of Speed Racer" and "The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest") genuinely entertaining and exciting rather than derivative or hackneyed .

So I guess the real lesson in all this is children have generally low standards when it comes to entertainment. If you are a producer of entertainment and want to really exploit the youth market you have to hit them young before they begin to develop troublesome concepts like "taste", "criticism", or "irony." All this then begs the question: Why haven't they made a James Bond Jr. film yet?!? We've already gone through three Spy Kids (with a 4th in production for 2010) and two Cody Banks films. The producers of the Bond franchise have a perfect opportunity to cash in on this bizarre seemingly insatiable appetite for underage secret agent films. Slap together a cute kid, a few cgi stunts, some evil but ultimately bumbling antagonists, a special appearance by the Jonas Brothers and you've got yourself a blockbuster heir to the name!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Huey's too black sounding for me.

Try as I might, I really can't get a good read on the upcoming summer stoner blockbuster "Pineapple Express." Unlike last summer's Apatow/Rogen efforts "Knocked Up" and "Superbad," when I saw the film's trailer there was hardly a LOL to be found from me let alone any real desire to see it. The whole affair just looked kind of dumb, but not in a really funny way. I admit I do have a bit of a bias against the stoner film genre (it's kind of like soccer in that it's far more enjoyable to be doing the activity then watching other people doing it) and frankly I've grown tired of the Seth Rogan pothead film persona, which we can now safely conclude is his actual persona. From what I've gathered, the plot presented (two stoners getting chased by gangsters) also seemed so linear and uninteresting. Even the name seemed odd and ill fitting in a Quantum of Solace sort of way (the wikipedia article about the Pineapple Express weather phenomenon just confused me more). However, based on the stellar track record of Apatow and crew and the apparently positive reception I've been reading, I cannot completely write it off yet and am still cautiously optimistic that they've got another summer classic on their hands. Even the consensus around the people I talk to seem to be that it'll be a straight up bone fide hit and that whatever possible short comings that the movie will most likely get a pass based on all the positive rep the filmmakers have built up over the last few years.

Regardless of whether the film sinks or swims, it has already pulled off one major coup: "Pineapple Express" by Huey Lewis and the News! I had heard about a month back that the film's producers had reached out to Huey and the boys to write a theme song for the film, specifically in the general style of vintage 80s era Huey Lewis. However, I never expected that request to actually be answered, let alone result in such an awesome song!

The very fact that the movie has an actual theme song is a enough of an admirably rare throwback to the past. Outside of the traditional Bond movies, long gone are the days when high profile movies required high profile theme songs that referenced things right in the film. Sure somebody still wins the best song Oscar every year but they usual pale in comparison to movie song monsters like "The Morning After" or "Arthur's Theme" or "My Heart Will Go On". So for a film looking for a good old fashioned old school theme song it's an inspired choice to turn to a group like Huey and the News who know a thing or two about classic soundtrack hits ("Back in Time", "Power of Love", and depending on who you ask "Ghostbusters").

Of course the idea is well and good but it's the execution that really blows me away. HL&N has managed to flawlessly capture the band's classic 80s era sound. It's as if the song was originally written and recorded in 1986 to be the 11th track on "Fore!" and was just sealed away in some vault, only to be recovered twenty some odd years later. Every detail that makes up a classic Huey track can be found in this song. Uplifting horn section? Check! Sassy sax solo right in the middle? Check! The husky, psedo-bluesy, 60s R&B vocals of Mr. Lewis? Check! Completely literal, simple, straightforward lyrics without a trace of irony? Check! Unbearable catchiness? Check! A professional sheen of everyman, bar band-ness that covers the entire track? Double check!

In the end though, is it really any surprise that "Pineapple Express" seems like such a perfect throwback? While I can't speak for the rest of the News, if you look at Huey Lewis now, it is down right Dick Clark-like how little he has changed in nearly a quarter century. It's like he sleeps in some sort of specially made stay fresh hyperbolic chamber or bathes in the blood of a 100 virgins every night. The effect is even more dramatic when you look at how cruel father time has absolutely ravaged fellow 80s contemporaries like Billy Joel, Greg Kihn, and Eddie Money (although you got to admit the Money man never really had it all together in the first place). So given that Huey's body is perfectly preserved in the mid 80s, it is not all that surprising that Huey's music would be as well.

Now, I see a lot of petitions on Facebook demanding that the Academy honor the late Heath Ledger with a posthumous Oscar for his role as the Joker. I for one would like to see a global petition calling for the Academy to award Huey Lewis and the News with a posthumous career (as we all know the band's career died a tragic death, murdered at the hands of alternative rock right around to time of the release of "Hard at Play" in 1991) Oscar for Best Song. I mean such posthumous career awards certainly not unprecedented (Phil Collins in 1999, Melissa Etheridge in 2006) and I think the Academy owes them one for picking Lionel Ritchie's "Say You, Say Me" over "Power of Love" in '85.
I'm calling it here first. Come February the Academy voters will all be taking a ride on the "Pineapple Express."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Back...with a Vengence!

I just wanted to let everyone know that I made it back safely and soundly (albeit possibly a couple pounds heavier from living off the standard Midwestern diet of beer and cheese). Now before you think I'm getting all "Twitter" on you with these barebones micro entries, I just wanted to get the news of my return out of the way instead of being awkwardly shoehorned into another entry (which, as always, will be thought provoking and of the highest standards of internet based social commentary).

So to bookend this little week plus long hiatus here are the clips from the intro to "Welcome Back Kotter", Mase's "Welcome Back", and some random post writers' strike CBS Welcome Back promo.

It's kind of like a slot machine...except you lose every time.