Friday, December 31, 2010

First season episode list for a fictional weekly TV series about me and my student loans

The New Year is just about here and optimism abounds for the prospects of next year. Even a pretty pessimistic guy like me has to admit that he still feels some degree of enthusiasm at the idea of a fresh new beginning. Unfortunately this year, it has been exceedingly difficult to build any momentum for the new year since January '11 is also the time when the rest of my student loan debt, built up over 7 years of higher education, finally starts becoming due. Some other loans that came due earlier have already taken much of the juice from Christmas; really there is nothing like sending a cool G to Sallie Mae to really get oneself into the spirit of giving (at least my high-paying legal job will help with the repayment...oh wait...). However as my mother always said "when life gives you lemons, make punny fictional lemonade", so here is the complete, totally made up, episode list for "Victor vs. A Life Time of Student Debt" season 1:
  1. Episode 1: Sallie Mae-hem! (Pilot)
  2. Episode 2: PLUS-sized Trouble
  3. Episode 3: Fun with Forbearance
  4. Episode 4: An "Interest"-ing Development
  5. Episode 5: Stafford Syndrome
  6. Episode 6: Subsidized Pleasure, Unsubsidized Pain
  7. Episode 7: Perkins Envy
  8. Episode 8: A Fistful of Late Fees
  9. Episode 9: Disaster Deferred?
  10. Episode 10: Showdown in Wilkes-Barre
Not quite sure what the tone would be. Tragedy? Comedy? Action? Vorshtein? Oh and to those rich/lucky sons of bitches who have no idea what all these student loan references are, I hope your butler spits in your fillet mignon tonight.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Re-Work My Heart

Quite often I'll find myself with a random idea or notion that, while sort of interesting (at least to myself anyway), is essentially worthless and infeasible due to issues of cost, time, logic, and overall pointlessness. I've also noticed I've been getting these ideas more frequently during my current post graduate unemployment period. Rather than just confining these useless fancies in my mind and letting them die a peaceful, honorable, death I figured I'd toss up an occasional thought or two on the blog and have it live forever in the limitless clutter of the internet. You can thank me later.

The setting is December 1996; weddings and Bar Mitzvahs remain trapped under the unrelenting iron grip of the Macarena, Bill Clinton optimistically looks ahead to a productive, distraction-free, second term, and Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart" is topping the Billboard Charts. Of course anyone around my age will recall the classic music video for "Un-Break My Heart" (which joins Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" as one of the two greatest music videos of women walking around their mansions singing about their love for and lamenting the motorcycle related deaths of their significant others, made in 1996). You know how the story goes: Tyson Beckford gets killed right off the bat by some random yellow Oldsmobile, countless shots of Toni grieving in various states of undress, Toni's flashbacks of sexy frolicking with Tyson Beckford in various states of undress, and that big concert at the end with the full orchestra and that weird dress with the hole in the side. The song itself was epic enough on it's own but then you add the over-the-top four minute melodrama to the music, you get a straight up classic.

At the time the video came out I found it to be probably the most nakedly erotic thing my 12 year old self saw on basic cable (at least until Fiona Apple's "Criminal" came out the following year). Watching it now nearly 15 years later (god I felt so old writing that out) the whole thing is a lot tamer and surprisingly sillier then I remember, particularly the sexy flashbacks. All the flashback to Toni and Tyson during happier times are obviously supposed to show a deeply passionate, sexy young couple, enjoying each other and for the most part they do, but looking at it now some of the scenes don't really work for me. Here's a breakdown of their activities ranked in terms of sexiness:
  • Doing it in the shower (Classic sexy. Can't go wrong with that.)
  • Sexy swimming/possibly doing it in the pool (Pretty sexy, very rarely done wrong [see pool sex scene from "Showgirls"])
  • Cuddling by the fireplace in matching black turtleneck sweaters (Sexy, but the sweaters lose points.)
  • Toni playfully shaving Tyson (Not all that sexy. There are ways one can make shaving sexy, but it doesn't really work here)
  • Sexy game of Twister (Not sexy and weird. With all the physical entanglements Twister can have sexy applications, but when you're an intimate couple like that why don't you just go have sex?)
  • Tyson playfully grooming Toni's hair (Totally not sexy. I can't imagine any scenario where that would work.)
So given all these memorable scenes, my ideas was that that if anyone wanted to make a parody of the "Un-Break My Heart" video it should replace the flashback activities with unambiguously un-sexy and increasingly absurd activities. What these activities should be is really left to the parodist but they should be the complete opposite of sexy behavior. Just brainstorming off the top of my head faux Toni and Tyson could be:
  • Doing yard work
  • Installing weather stripping
  • Filing their joint tax returns
  • Re-enacting Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House"
  • Eating gigantic sandwiches
  • Voting
  • Making a dress with a huge hole in the side
Well, I think it had promise. However given that neither this song nor Toni Braxton has been all that relevant for at least a decade (although Weezer's recent cover of it on their new album is kind of not terrible), it would appear that this idea is will only live on as a gloriously esoteric pipe dream. Then again, if they can make a mediocre SNL digital short based entirely on the opening lines of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5", perhaps there's a glimmer of hope.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thank You

It's that time of the year again to start breaking out the things to be thankful for (to have an "attitude of gratitude" as I recall learning once back in Sunday school). While I'd be lying if I said 2010 thus far has been a banner year for Ole Vic and that my life is exactly where I'd want it to be right now, there is always an abundance of things to be thankful for at all times. The big things are a given and it would be superfluous and redundant to go over the major stuff like people who care about me, my freedoms, my health, my looks, etc, etc. Believe me I am super grateful for those things everyday as demonstrated by my occasional bouts of anxiety that any of those things will suddenly be taken from me. However aside from the aforementioned big stuff, I have traditionally (well I actually forgot to do it last year) taken to time to appreciate the more subtle, but still quite important details to be thankful for this year.

So what am I thankful for this year?:
  • Learning how to hide status updates from specific people from my Facebook News Feed. You just click on that box at the right hand corner and the option is right there! It's crazy that it took me to like the beginning of this year to figure it out. This perfectly solved my longtime conundrum of filtering out the most irritatingly asinine and disagreeable updates in my feed without resorting to the nuclear option of harshly cutting off all Facebook ties with someone (just because I find you annoying doesn't mean I want to cut off all avenues of communication with you). Of course I'm willing to live with the other of the coin: the possibility that some of my "friends" are filtering me out (but really who'd do that to me?).
  • Brandon Lloyd's fantastic season. Not to jinx it or anything with the playoffs looming next month but I am currently enjoying my best fantasy football season ever (totally jinxed it), thanks in no small part to the completely unexpected breakout play of Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd. The formerly inconsistent journeyman wide out has done nothing but produce (already over 1000 yds, 7 TDs, and averaging almost 20 Y/D) for every owner fortunate enough to have picked him off the waiver wire earlier in the year hoping for one or two more quality games before he regressed. It really covered up my terrible Mike Sims Walker draft pick. Minor thanks also to fellow wavier wire pickup Steve Johnson who has been catching touchdowns like a boss as of late.
  • The hour long 4th season finale of "The Venture Bros.". "The Venture Bros." is one of the fews shows left on TV that I actually make an effort to follow. With every agonizingly belated season the show has really grown more weirder and more ambitious in their style, storytelling, and pop culture non sequiturs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails; but you always have to appreciate the effort. That said, the extended hour long running time of "Operation: P.R.O.M." really should be the ideal length of most Venture episodes since there is often so much new stuff getting introduced every episode along with the progression of the current season arch that it often times feels rushed or packed together. Without going into a summary, I feel this episode really struck a nice balance between exposition and action. Also, bonus points for the borderline obscene explanations of what a "Rusty Venture" is, the extended "Mr. Wendell" references, and surprise use of "Just Like a Friend" by Pulp at the end.
  • Caffeine Pills. I guess if I want to get really specific I would say the 100 ct. Prolab Caffeine Supplements from Vitamin Shoppe. For the price of a few cups of coffee I got a convenient and steady caffeine supply for the whole year. These were the unofficial MVPs in passing the NY and NJ bar over the summer. Hey, we all need our fix somewhere, I like to get it in a no nonsense pill. Unfortunately pep pills users still live under the ugly stigma placed upon them by the infamous Saved by the Bell episode,"Jesse's Song". Hopefully one day it'll be just as normalized and acceptable as getting a cup of joe. When it happens I'll be so excited.
  • Far East Movement's "Like a G6" going to #1. As a lover of pop music and as a Korean American, it filled me with great pride last month to find "Like a G6" by Far East Movement (sort of like an Asian Black Eyed Peas with 2 out of the 4 members being Korean Americans) featuring The Cataracs, DEV topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart; the first US #1 hit by a Korean artist. It also didn't hurt that the song was a great pop record with equal parts terribly stupid and insidiously catchy. Of course we can't forget all the great Korean pop pioneers who came before that helped paved the way for "Like a G6" like Joseph Hahn, member of Linkin Park who went to #2 with "In the End" in 2001, (half-Korean) Amerie who had a top 10 hit with "1 Thing" in 2005 and, straight up K-Pop act, Wonder Girls who hit #76 with "Nobody" in 2009.
  • And, as always, another year of "Lockhorns" comics. My Lockhorn blog may be on extended hiatus until the end of the year, but that doesn't mean I still can't enjoy their hilarious daily battles. It looks like Loretta has ruined another Thanksgiving.

Cue the song!:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gold Digging, part 6: Mellow Hits


Your eyes are not fooling you, dear reader, after over a year and a half long delay from my last A.M Gold digging exploration, I have finally come around to concluding what really should have been a week-long six-part series about some 70s compilation CDs I randomly bought. For those of you who are unfamiliar or have just plain forgotten, you can brush up at the archives. For those of you who've been eagerly waiting all these months upon months with bated breath and hopeful eyes, I am horrified beyond words. This disc is the third and final disc from the three CD box set entitled "Radio Hits '69-'74". I've noted in the review of the last CD that, even with the seemingly straightforward premise of creating a compilation of songs that were popular on the radio between the years 1969 and 1974, Time Life managed to include two songs released post-1974; you will notice as you make your way through this breakdown that it wasn't an isolated incident. As for the title of the disc itself, it's something called "Mellow Hits"; I'm not sure how much of a nuanced difference it is from the previous CD "Easy Hits".

It's the final countdown!:

1. "Sky High" - Jigsaw (1975) #3
There are at least two things that are completely wrong about the inclusion of "Sky High" on this CD. The obvious first error is that it doesn't qualify has a 1969-1974 radio hit since it was released in 1975. The second more subtle yet more egregious mistake is that there is no way any listener is going to qualify the song as anything close to "mellow". In a tight, just under three minute, package, the song soars higher and higher with a funky immediacy; euphorically rising with each successive chorus, but never quite leveling off. I also always thought it kind of sounded like a weird pop rock Bond theme and, as it turned out, the song itself was originally written for a 70s Hong Kong action thriller (with George Lazenby no less!). Given all that, it's hardly the kind of tune one would sit back in his basement beanbag and mellow out to. Terrible categorization aside, the song itself is an all time A.M. Gold classic; one of those amazing, totally unique hit songs that turns their artists into one hit wonders since they can never replicate the sound.

2. "Hitchin' a Ride" - Vanity Fare (1969) #5
"Hitchin' a Ride" will always remind me of the nostalgic 1995 coming of age movie "Now and Then", a movie I watched an inordinate amount of times in middle school, which then, oddly enough, makes me nostalgic for the 90s. It's quite weird considering how it's one of those classic songs that lazy movie and television producers often use to immediately signal that it's the 60s. Additionally there already is another "Hitchin' a Ride" from the 90s that really should make me nostalgic for the decade. Wild. As for the song itself, it's another great pop tune: fun, light, with an excellent use of flute (really more pop artists today should utilize the flute; reclaim it back from all those pretentious prog rockers who sucked all the fun out of it over the decades). It's almost impossible not to feel a little happier after listening to the song.

3. "The Night Chicago Died" - Paper Lace (1974) #1
I briefly mentioned "The Night Chicago Died" when I wrote about Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods' cover of the Paper Lace song "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" on disc 3; basically about the endearingly egregious inaccuracy of the song with regards to Chicago gangland history. In addition to the historical inaccuracy, the story is overblown and borderline nonsensical and the upbeat tone is in absurd contrast with the supposedly dire subject matter of the song, however all these elements work to make this a standout ridiculous story song in what was the greatest decade for ridiculous story songs ever. To change all these unique parts of the song would be to ruin it. Who would want to listen to a slow, somber dirge that accurately recounts how Al Capone was quietly arrested for income tax evasion? When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

4. "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" - Jim Croce (1973) #1
One cannot talk about "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" without also mentioning Jim Croce's earlier 1972 hit "You Don't Mess Around With Jim". Depending on who you're asking, "Leroy Brown" is at best a spiritual sequel to "Jim" and at worst a lazy, inferior, clone. Lyrically they're essentially the same song: a story about the titular, supposed, badass, who eventually gets his ass kicked by some new stranger that's an even bigger badass (I guess the lesson is that there is always someone better than you so don't get to high on yourself?). Earlier this year, friend of the blog Andrew U. wrote the most definitive statement thus far on which was the superior song and I was cited as an authority. While "Jim" narrowly edged "Leroy Brown" as the better song, I still stand by my roughly paraphrased quote:
"Uh, I guess Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. It's a little bit jumpier...it's got the piano...You Don't Mess Around with Jim, eh, it's a little more stripped down...plus, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown was my first love. They're basically the exact same song, though."
5. "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" - Dawn featuring Tony Orlando (1973) #1
Here's a weird observation. For the group's first #1 hit "Knock Three Times" (included in Gold Digging, part 2) in 1971, they were credited as "Tony Orlando and Dawn". By the time of their second #1 hit, the above titled song, they were now credited as "Dawn featuring Tony Orlando" and by their last #1 "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)" the group was back to "Tony Orlando and Dawn". I wonder what happened during that middle period where Tony got relegated to mere feature player status? Maybe it was like "Careless Whisper" where it was clearly a George Michael solo song but was credited as "Wham! featuring George Michael". Alas, I didn't catch the Tony Orlando "Behind the Music" back in the day. Like I mentioned when I wrote about, Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together", both that song and this have that unique quality of overt cheesiness and never sounding modern or cool even in their own periods. Oddly though, it's that unique anachronistic sound that also sort of makes the song kinda timeless. It's so unambiguously hokey and lacking in irony that it almost comes around to cool. And as long as there are veterans returning home from war or prisoners getting paroled, this gem will continue to live on.

6. "Without You" - Nilsson (1972) #1
Few songs reach the soaring peaks of gravitas and bombast as Nilsson's cover of Badfinger's "Without You". Given what a totally eccentric, weirdo, pop genius Harry Nilsson was, I wonder if he was being totally sincere in his over the top heartbreak or just cleverly pulling the listener's chain. Either way it is one of my all time favorite songs to karaoke, albeit a little hard on the vocal chords if sung towards the end of the night. My one minor complaint is that for such an epic sounding operatic number it really should be longer; by the time the song clocks out at just about quarter after three minutes I'm left wondering: it's over already? Song with this sort of Jim Steinman-esque grandness to them really should have a baseline of at least four minutes and work from there. Then again Nilsson was never much for fixed conventions.

7. "Light My Fire" - Jose Feliciano (1968) #3
Way back when I first found out that Jose Feliciano, writer and performer of my all-time favorite Christmas song "Feliz Navidad", had other hit songs and a prolific multi-decade long career, it was a bit of a surprise. I had always assumed that nearly all holiday song writers existed in a genre vacuum and, for the most part, were strictly one hit wonders (seriously how many other Elmo & Patsy hits can you name?). Felicicano's "Light My Fire" is a solid enough cover. It's definitely not one of those exemplary covers that overwhelm the popularity of the original, but it's also not just a lazy retread either, it contributes something as well. It's interesting to note that Felicano's version went to #3 just a year after the Doors went to #1. I think more up and coming artists should learn from this; forget covering old tunes, take the most current popular chart topper and immediately capitalize on its current fame by knocking out a cover of it as soon as possible. It still has to be sort of good but at least you have the benefit of the current wave of popularity.

8. "Shannon" - Henry Gross (1976) #6
The urban legend about the Barry Manilow song "Mandy" was that its overly romantic, heartfelt lyrics were actually about the songwriter's dog rather than a woman named Mandy, the story turned out to be was false. "Shannon" by Henry Gross, however, is apparently totally about a dog. In fact, it's not just any dog, it's about the death of Beach Boy Carl Wilson's Irish Setter. It's hard to tell through Gross's falsetto delivery of the chorus ("Shannon is gone I hope she's drifting out to sea") but when actually reading the lyrics, it does seem more obvious that the titular "Shannon" was a dog. It also makes me question the methods the family possibly used to dispose of poor Shannon; did they just dump her in the ocean? Dog or woman, the song still has a wonderful baroque melancholy to it that pulls off that difficult trick of being sad yet still pop. Also, Time Life, don't think I forget that this song is 2 years past 1974, pretty weak.

9. "One Less Bell to Answer" - The 5th Dimension (1970) #2
I have always considered this song to be the sad sequel to The 5th Dimension's "Wedding Bell Blues" (reviewed all the way back in Gold Digging, part 1). It would appear that commitment-phobic "Bill" from "Wedding Bell Blues" has rejected the singer's ultimatum to marry her and has left their home leaving the singer in the titular situation of having "one less bell to answer". It's actually quite depressing to think that the endless love and exuberance of the former song has given way to the daily crying and remorse of the latter, but then again I've always been a consummate pessimist. Despite the different tones, both songs are excellent and lead vocalist Marilyn McCoo really knocks it out of the park here.

10. "Everybody Plays the Fool" - The Main Ingredient (1972) #3
If you can't feel the slightest bit happier and positive about the state of your life after hearing this song, you must really be in some seriously dire straits. The whole song exudes an infectious air of "we've all been there before, let's dust ourselves off an look forward to tomorrow" positivity from the comforting lyrics to the perky flutes (once again, behold the power of the flute!). It goes along the same poppy "keep your head up" route as Billy Joel's "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" but while Joel's song was almost explicitly anti-suicide, this has a more implied approach. I always wondered what kinds of songs prevented more suicides: deliriously upbeat songs that expounded the pros of life or relentlessly dark and emotionally raw songs that sought to provide catharsis. I think it could go either way.

11. "In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)" - Zager and Evans (1969) #1
I could probably write a lengthy blog post alone on "In the Year 2525". In an era of weird and unusual hit songs, I don't think it gets any weirder or more unusual than this insane and poorly reasoned vision of the future. The whole song reads like almost intentionally awful amateur science fiction, journeying through 1010 year intervals (except for a brief stop in 7510 and 8510; I guess they didn't have enough lines that rhymed with five) of increasingly bizarre and awkwardly assembled rhyming couplets about man's increasing dehumanization; all through the contrastingly un-sci-fi medium of folk guitar and horns. Whatever attempts at deep questions of the future of mankind and its place in the universe are lost in the sublime ridiculousness. The whole thing really isn't for everybody, in fact, I know people who consider this song, hands down, their least favorite song of all time. For me, the mess sort of works. I like its earnest, albeit kinda awful, attempt at something different. It's an original.

12. "Oh Happy Day" - The Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969) #4
I initially thought this was weird choice for a closer, going with a hit R&B Gospel arrangement of an 18th century hymn; but in retrospect religious pop music was unusually popular in the A.M. Gold era. Although these 6 CDs didn't have too many on them, I've learned from my overall A.M. Gold listening experiences that there were a shocking number of nonsecular chart hits (one of these days I may do an entire post about "The Lord's Prayer" by Sister Janet Mead; a funky rock version of the Lord's Prayer that went to #4 in 1974 and which I couldn't get out of my head for days). Overall, I don't have much of a strong opinion about "Oh Happy Day", it's uplifting and well sung but really most gospel songs start to blend together for me. I do always find the sound of a gospel choir to be pleasing though (Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" would be nothing without the New Jersey Mass Choir).

Well, with that our long national nightmare is over. As for the CD overall, despite that fact I found almost none of the songs to fit into Time Life's ill defined concept of "Mellow Hits", song quality wise it was probably the strongest of all six CDs I've listened to (the best for last; it oddly worked out that way). On the flip side of that however is the fact that there weren't too many real discoveries here compared to the other CDs. Most of the songs were songs that I knew and enjoyed prior, but I can't really fault them for that. So in conclusion, I just want to say that I'm as surprised as you are that I actually managed to finish out the string; a year and a half long hiatus is liable to make anyone pessimistic. Interestingly in the time between the last CD and this one, I actually procured the entirety Rhino Record's Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day series; that's 25 discs worth of 70s AM classics. Maybe I'll start on that if I need something to do for the next 50 years.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lock(horn) Out

There is an old saying we have in the year long daily Lockhorn comic critical analysis project business: "better to end a year long daily Lockhorn comic critical analysis project a year early than a year late". Unfortunately I should have headed that old axiom after I somehow miraculously managed to complete the inaugural run of "Lockhorns vs. Lockhorns" in 2009. Perhaps drunk on champagne and hubris or perhaps hoping to see if Leroy could mount a comeback year, I decided to tempt fate again and go for another round.

Eleven months later, with the year rapidly coming to a close, and the blog hopelessly mired all the way back in the ides of May, I'm afraid I'll have to take the decisive move of putting the blog on hiatus for the remainder of the year. I know but a mere three months and five posts ago I promised I would endeavor to see my initial mission to catch up through, but it doesn't take any complicated number crunching to realize how overwhelming a task it would be to catch up on over 6 months of Lockhorn squabbling, spite, and scorn by the end of December.

So dear readers, it appears I have let you down and for this I apologize. However, while the Lockhorn project will be scrapped for the remainder of 2010, I am currently conceptualizing a new format for the blog that I will debut in the coming year (a sort of a Lockhorns 2.0 if you will). I don't want to over hype it or anything but let's just say it'll be the best year long daily Lockhorn comic critical analysis project of 2011. Tune in next year.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Tale of Two Johns (technically Jon and John)

Considering how this blog is so often cited as one of the most trusted and respected sources of breaking political news and commentary, I just wanted to note one particularly interesting pair of developments involving candidates with previous pop culture professions from last night's election results.

Down the parkway in New Jersey's Third Congressional District, former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jon Runyan running as the Republican candidate defeated incumbent John Adler. If his congressional career is similar to his football career he will prove to be a scrappy yet solid legislator with a reputation for an occasional dirty play or two and will post an impressive consecutive appearances streak, before injuries prematurely end his career. Additionally fellow former NFLer, Representative Heath Shuler, won reelection in North Carolina as well so at least he has someone who'll get his more esoteric football analogies.

Meanwhile in the next state over in New York's 19th District, Representative John Hall, a founding member of 70s rock group "Orleans" lost his hard fought bid for re-election to challenger Nan Hayworth. While the loss was obviously a disappointment for Hall and one of many setbacks for the democrats last night, the fact that anyone involved in that legendarily awful cover to "Waking and Dreaming" could live it down enough to get elected to Congress in the first place is an amazing feat on to itself.

Additional point: While I was writing this I just remembered that current ESPN commercial featuring the a fan of the Eagles (Runyan's signature team) and "Still the One" (Orleans' signature song). Cosmic coincidence?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This is heavy! Five random things I noticed while watching "Back to the Future" on Monday

If you haven't heard or read already "Back to the Future" just turned 25 recently and in addition to the new press, internet buzz, awkward cast reunions, and blu ray releases, the first film was brought back into select theaters nationwide for a brief two night engagement (last Saturday and Monday). Fortunately I found out about the limited run in time to catch the Monday night showing. While I had seen the "Back to the Future" trilogy (particularly the first and second one), far and away, more than any other movies in my life (I'm talking by a huge margin like Gretzky to Messier on the all-time points list), I never got to see it in an actual theater. Considering how the first movie is so deeply ingrained in my mind that I could probably do a one man scene for scene monologue of the entire film ("We enter to the ticking cacophony of the myriad of clocks in Doc Brown's cluttered home...") I really didn't expect any surprises from watching the big screen print of the film aside from the enhanced audio and visual experience (that old person makeup for Marty's parents, Biff, and Doc in 1985 did look a lot less convincing in high def). However, as is the case with all truly great and timeless works of art repeat viewings still manage to reveal new unseen subtitles and nuances.

I want to preface that my following observations have less to do with the endless number of complex and hypothetical issues and consequences regarding time travel that always arise from watching the film. As anyone who has enjoyed the films will agree, those complicated questions of why didn't this happen to Marty or what Doc could have done or how the time line really should have changed are a given (and part of the enduring nature of the trilogy). The following are more plot and character touches that I never considered in prior watchings (with maybe a few space time continuum issue sprinkled in there):

Doc Brown is crazy...in a disturbing, dangerous way
Watching the film as a kid, Doc Brown was hands down my favorite character, and really what kid wouldn't find him to be the coolest character? He's charismatic, lovably manic, entertainingly hyperbolic, has a Bill Nye-esque way of explaining situations with ease and amusement, and after all it's his creation of the time machine that sets all the events of the movie into motion. He's the classic friendly mad scientist. However, looking at his actions throughout the film I noticed he also carries the all too common mad scientist trait of extreme recklessness and utter lack of scientific ethics. Without even getting into his questionable actions in the sequels (excessive time altering, knocking people out with his date rape gun thing, train hijacking) over the course of the original film he:
  • Conspires with deadly Libyan terrorists in obtaining illegal stolen plutonium. Even before the post 9-11 era this is a monstrously unethical act. It's bad enough that the Doc is illegally possessing stolen plutonium, the fact that he negotiated with a terrorist group (even in bad faith) probably qualifies him for the highest level of treason.
  • Initially tests his time machine on his pet dog. Call it hubris or recklessness, but the Doc seems totally caviler with possibly vaporizing his loyal dog in dangerous new plutonium powered time machine. It's not like it's strongly implied that he has ever made an invention that worked up to this point.
  • Unnecessarily risks his and Marty's life. Once Doc puts Einstein in the Delorean he sets the car via remote to come barreling directly towards them with the assumption that the car will disappear into the future and not crush both him and Marty. Couldn't they just observe the experiment safely from the side? Once again, hubris or recklessness?
  • Total lack of lab safety training. Aside from the above noted examples of careless behavior, Doc does not even maintain a safe laboratory environment. In 1955, while he is showing his plan via models to get Marty back to 1985, he causes his model toy car to burst into flames and go straight into a highly dangerous piles of oily rags and flammable chemicals. Luckily he manages to get the flames out in time, but as we learn by 1985 he eventually ends up burning his entire house down sometime in the next three decades. At least he wears goggles?
  • Proves himself to be a total hypocrite. Doc gives Marty plenty of shit for trying to telling him one crucial piece of news about him in the future and lecturing him about the horrible dangers of messing with the time space continuum, yet he's the one who still irresponsibly builds a time machine so he can learn everything about the future. If Doc really cared about the ethical dangers of time travel he would have immediately stopped himself from devoting the next 30 years of his life to making a time machine! He sort of starts to get the idea that time traveling maybe irresponsible and prohibitively risky in the sequels but obviously abandons it at the end when he makes another time machine out of a locomotive to replace the Delorean.
Gee Mr. Strickland, that was kind of uncalled for.
Mr. Strickland is a fairly one note, single purpose character. He's a dick authority figure that pisses on the dreams of current day Marty and sort of shows the lousiness of his current situation. It's also amusing to see that he has remained unchanged since his father attended high school in 1955. When he catches Marty being late for school again at the beginning of the film he basically reads him the standard riot act. He issues Marty a tardy slip. Reasonable. Advises Marty to quit hanging around that dangerous lunatic Doc Brown. More and reasonable given the above points. Tells him to ship up and quit being a slacker like his old man. Fine. Then things get weird. He gets progressively angrier and unsettlingly up close and face to face with Marty (yeah like Hall & Oates H2O album cover close) and, in an excessively petty display, starts trashing Marty's band, telling him he has no chance in to succeed in the auditions for the school dance. Finally, he then goes a step farther by stating that no McFly has ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley, thus stating that Marty is destined for failure. Those last two statements seem quite inappropriate for a school principal to be making to a student. It's almost as if he has a personal vendetta against Marty to the point where he keeps tabs on him (like his band trying out for the dance) so he can belittle him later. His disdain for all McFlys may indicate some sort of personal anti-Irish sentiment. Well, at least he's not pointing a gun at him.

Biff is a lot more evil then I remember
We all know series antagonist Biff Tannen is simply and irredeemably evil (as are his alternate reality incarnations, descendents, and ancestors). The evilest incarnation of Biff is arguably his powerful and rich alternate 1985 version in part 2 who kills George McFly; marries, beats, and cheats on Lorraine, and somehow manages to turn Hill Valley into a Sammy Hagar blasting hell on earth. In light of the later incarnation, it's easy to write off original 1955 Biff as just a cruel, petty, bully; but really he's almost as heinous. In the famous skateboarding chase scene midway through the film where Marty cleverly causes Biff and his gang to crash the car they're in into a manure truck; I never realized that Biff probably intended to kill Marty by running him over with his car...essentially over tripping him and pushing him over at the cafe earlier, fairly psychotic. Then of course there is the obvious attempted rape of Lorriane at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance at the end of the film that was only prevented due to George's timely intervention (given this ugly incident you'd think George or Lorraine would have some objection to ever seeing him again let alone hiring him to wax their cars in 1985). Attempted murderer and attempted rapist, I can't believe I ever felt sympathy for his neutered sycophantic 1985 incarnation at the end.

What was up with that jerk at the dance?
Obviously Biff and his band of hoodlums are the main antagonists of the film, but almost no one gives any notice to the one other villain in the film: that douchey, red headed, jerk that cuts in on George and Lorraine's dance and nearly ruins everything. You'd think after conquering all the obstacles to Marty's parents finally getting together and George finally standing up to Biff, everything would be smooth sailing but then this dude comes along and before you know it they're playing that "Sonic the Hedgehog"-like drowning music and Marty's hand is disappearing; that's some scary shit. The whole sequence barely lasts a minute before George reasserts himself, pushes red aside, and subsequently seals the deal with Lorraine by kissing her but man it would have been something else if after all that some totally absurd unforeseen factor came in and ruined everything (perhaps if it was directed David Lynch or something). Unfortunately the guy is so overlooked that I couldn't even find a picture of him, so I had to substitute him with a shot of Rick Astley (which he does sort of resemble).

Marty, such a nice name...for our third child.
So at the end of the dance everything has worked out well: Marty got his parents to fall in love and ensured his existence, Biff got his comeuppance, and rock n' roll was inadvertently invented. Marty bids a hurried but heartfelt goodbye to his young parents before he has to ride the lightening back to 1985. After he leaves the couple briefly reflect on the exceedingly bizarre week they had with this mysterious stranger and Loraine thinks out loud that Marty is "such a nice name". You'd think that after that they would name their first son after this remarkable figure they briefly met who got them to fall in love and suddenly disappeared without a trace; but no they name him Dave. It's only by their second son and third child overall that they decide to settle on Marty. Obviously Marty wasn't as nice a name as Dave.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My god has it been that long?

I remember it vividly. I was ordering from one of those dozen movies for a penny clubs my Dad got into, it was a scam, I got to pick one, I checked off a film at the edge of the sheet. And weeks later when I came home I had a package, a VHS, a picture on the TV. A picture of this...this is what makes time travel possible. Back to the Future.

As a loyal fan of the trilogy, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that today is the official 25th anniversary of the premier of the first "Back to the Future".* While I wasn't really old enough to have seen it in theaters, it obviously ended up altering my life later on. While I idiosyncratically find the second film to be my favorite (what can I say it has the most per minute time traveling going on) I acknowledge that the first is the overall better film and the crucial genesis of the entire trilogy.

I also want to note that I've throughly enjoyed the new resurgence of "Back to the Future" awareness and activity that has been going on for the silver anniversary. With all the aging original Star Wars Trilogy fans and its dilution from the new movies, I think that "BTTF" is in a fine position to be the definitive widely referenced pop culture trilogy for this decade on (at least until those kids who watched Lord of the Rings growing up start taking over the zeitgeist).

Additionally this anniversary is bittersweet as it serves as a sad reminder that as old the the film becomes, I will always be one year older.

I'll see everyone in 2014 for the 25th anniversary of the sequel!


*Whoops, my bad, the movie actually premiered July 7th, 1985; October 26th, 1985 was the night (morning) of Marty's first trip back in the movie. Either way it's still 25 years.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Addendum!

This addendum is over a week out of date which in internet time is the equivalent of the Catholic Church addressing the whole "Galileo was actually right about the earth revolving around the sun" issue over 350 years after declaring him a heretic, but better now then never. So as some of you may have noticed, the last "Cathy" comic was published last Sunday in a bittersweet ultimate supernova of tiny hearts and anxious sweat beads. I just wanted to proudly note that the final strip ended with Cathy announcing her surprise pregnancy to her hysterical mother just as I had offhandedly predicted prior in August. Of course I can't really give myself too vigorous a pat on the back, in other serial media like TV shows, the news of a pregnancy or the introduction of a baby has often served as the final topper of a series (Friends, Perfect Strangers, Will & Grace, King of Queens, The Nanny) or a sign that the show has all but run out of life (Mad About You, Fresh Prince of Bell Air, King of the Hill, X-Files). In any case, with any luck this should hopefully be the absolute last mention of "Cathy" on this blog (unless of course Hollywood's creative deficiency reaches the horrifying point where they option it to be a live-action or CGI mixed feature film).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pop Culture Flashback: Carl's Mantra

Do you ever find yourself suddenly recalling some completely irrelevant, random memory that has absolutely no correlation or imaginable connection to anything you were ever thinking or doing? It's not a dream or thought triggered by some tangential stimuli or an eerie feeling of deja vu; it's just a totally out of the blue flashback in your mind, like some "Inception"-style planted idea, that makes you question why your subconscious would have even bothered to have devoted any effort in preserving it.

Well you know what I suddenly recalled earlier today that I (and probably most people) haven't thought of in well over a decade? That's right, that scene from the Season 4 episode of "Family Matters" ("Driving Carl Crazy") where an enraged Carl Winslow humorously screams his personal mantra in an effort to assuage his rage after Urkel drives his little clown car into his garage.


Even though I was a loyal TGIF watcher growing up and would consider myself a fairly thorough and reliable source of knowledge of the show, when I suddenly caught myself recently muttering this hauntingly familiar yet unidentifiable mantra I had to look it up. I was shocked when I found out where it came from. As soon as I saw it I immediately remembered the episode and the context but was still left puzzled as to why I even thought about it in the first place.

Was this tedious and trivial observation worth a whole blog post? Probably not. But hey that brain's a pretty interesting little mass of slimy matter. Here I'll even throw in both German and Spanish versions of the scene to add some extra educational value.



P.S.: Had I found one more comical, rage reducing, sitcom mantra to go with this and "Serenity Now" from Seinfeld, I could have done a full Rule of Three post.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Trial Separation

My dear fans of the blog and fellow Lockhorn lovers, let me convey to you may sincerest apologies. As most of you may have noticed, my daily Lockhorn commentary project "Lockhorn vs. Lockhorn" has been on an unexplained hiatus with no new updates since mid April. It has been quite a while. In the last few months I've been a bit busy with the end of law school, studying for and taking the bar exam, and a few other miscellany. As the days piled up I had said to myself that once all my major personal obligations passed I would eventually get around to doing, as I've done in the past, a mass update to get everything caught up. I now find myself a newly minted graduate (i.e. unemployed) with all my exams and tests completed with an excess supply of free time on my hands.

Even with my relatively open schedule though, the prospect of going back and spending hours upon hours updating over 4 months of daily Lockhorn strips (including those monstrous 5 part Sunday sections) totaling well over 200 panels was more than a little overwhelming (I'm pretty sure extended exposure to that much bitterness, anger, and martial dysfunction is fatal). I was actually contemplating the extremely tempting idea of calling it a year and starting fresh in 2011. However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that such an action would be in gross contrast to the Lockhorns' central theme of uncompromising masochistic stubbornness. Leroy and Loretta could swiftly put an end to their eternal domestic hell by getting a divorce or resorting to murder-suicide but it is their classic, spiteful, totally psychotic, devotion to making each other absolutely miserable via the institution of marriage that has sustained the comic for all these decades. Given that, the blog must go on.

Since there is definitely too much material to safely cover in one shot without losing my mind, I'm going to attempt to gradually everything up over the next month or so. I loosely calculated that if I can average about five updates a day I could get it done in a little over a month. Whether I will actually be successful in reaching that goal after going through my 100th or so joke about Loretta's bad driving or Leroy's drinking problems will be no guarantee. But as the Lockhorns manage to continue their failing marriage, I will manage to continue my failing blog about their failing marriage.

Friday, August 13, 2010

All good things must come to an AACK!!

So after thirty-four chocolate craving, shoe obsessing, yo-yo dieting, mother stressing years, it appears that long time comic "Cathy" will be acking off into the sunset. I can't say that it's all that shocking, the writing was on the wall when she married Irving in 2005. For a comic devoted to the daily travails of a miserable, love (and chocolate) starved, single woman getting Cathy to finally marry was the equivalent of Beetle Bailey being dishonorably discharged from the army, or the Lockhorns filing for a divorce, or Garfield being diagnosed with feline AIDS.

As a staple of the newspaper comic section I occasionally read a "Cathy" comic or two growing up and I, like most males and people under 50, had always written off "Cathy" as an unrelatable, unfunny, waste of ad space and printer's ink that had long since lost any relevance; living a lazy, half-assed existence recycling its tired old jokes and tropes while enjoying its comfortable tenure. During my recent Lockhorn archiving experiment (currently on hiatus), my perusing of the daily comics got myself a chance to reevaluate many of the old comics I grew up with, including "Cathy", and after looking at the antics of Cathy through the wizened perspective of an adult I must say it still sucks.

Why anyone would have any interest or empathy for this miserable, annoying, shrill troll of a woman who somehow manages to be both ugly on the outside and inside is a mystery. What's even more perplexing is how "Cathy" has a reputation as some sort of female cultural icon. So what exactly is there in this patently offensive hideous caricature of the modern female that fellow contemporary women can take to heart? Are women deep down all really that superficial/hysterical/whinny and "Cathy" is some common gender relating figure? If you did the old gender switcheroo and instead of Cathy Guisewhite it was her husband who created and wrote "Cathy", I don't think it would have been nearly as successful.

Then again, maybe I'm just unfairly picking on "Cathy" since most comic strips suck. I can't say I'm sad to see it go so this stops short of a eulogy, but for something that has consistently existed everyday for my entire existence to soon be gone forever, at least some attention must be paid. Now all that's left is to speculate about what the big finale would be October 3rd. There definitely isn't enough development time for a baby but I'm thinking maybe she'll get pregnant (as horrifying as the implications are). Although I'd be willing to completely reevaluate my comments on the entire series run if the ending is anything like the insane existential nightmare Garfield strips that ran the week before Halloween in 1989.



P.S. While google image searching for a decent sized picture of Cathy, I came across this horrifying "Cathy" parody that someone created for their blog. It is beyond "Not Safe For Work" it's more closer to "Not Safe For Human Eyes". Click at your own peril, but remember you can never unsee it.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

You know what I like about you English? "Octopussy". Man I must have seen that movie...twice!

If you haven't already heard the buzz around the internet, today, August 1, 2010 is indeed the foretold wedding date of one Lisa Simpson and Hugh Parkfield from the classic season 6 episode "Lisa's Wedding". I find it all too proper that Lisa's wedding immediately followed the high profile real life wedding of another notably nerdy 90s adolescent. As amusing as it is that today is actually the day noted all those years ago in the episode (the fact that the writers even got the proper day of the week shows the sort of admirable dedication and attention to detail that made those early era Simpson episodes so classic), it's also more than a little horrifying that this once oh so distant future has arrived and that it really has been 15 years since I first caught this episode in middle school.

Obviously while the episode's predictions about 2010 were greatly exaggerated for comic effect, it's still really interesting to note and compare just how completely far off the episode's world of 2010 is from today:

Trees, while endangered and threatened with deforestation all throughout the planet, have not thus far faced Lorax style extinction. In addition, our hologram monument making technology is also way behind expectations.

While gaining some measure of critical acclaim and a few golden globe nominations (and even a win) in the last two decades, Jim Carrey and his films have yet to enter the classic film canon. Also, as of 2010 he's only done about 33 movies.

Celebrities are not plaguing modern society (at least not through violent crimes). Heather Locklear did divorced long time husband Richie Sambora but has yet to marry Elizabeth Taylor's ex-husband number 8, Larry Fortensky.

America is still mired in two military engagements but World War III never occurred, with the British coming to America's aid.

We actually do have video phone technology but it never really caught on, additionally hardly anyone has a home phone line anymore. Maybe the new iPhone's FaceTime feature will really take off?

And despite all the exaggerated visions of the future, the Rolling Stones continue to be active and tour (although they don't seem to be tirelessly working to preserve historic buildings):

Well, I guess we'll have an additional 15 or so more years until the celebration of the not-so-classic "Bart to the Future".

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Frank Statement

In keeping with my recently emerging theme of tangentially relating old 90s television commercials I remember with recent events in sports; LeBron James' ill conceived, hour-long, painfully public divorce with the city of Cleveland last week (also known as "The Decision") reminded me of another highly publicized press conference announcement by a basketball legend:


You know, there would have been a lot less media speculation and confusion if he said he wanted a Hebrew National.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Week (and a Half) in Sports

I just wanted to make three quick points that were tangentially related to three recent events in the world of sports while there were at least mildly relevant. Each of them individually would have been too pithy to stand on their own so I figured why not haphazardly combined them into some sort of unholy Frankenstein post?

1. Farewell Manute Bol
Former NBA player and overall gentle giant (but really are there any other kinds of giants? Like mean, hateful giants? I always thought former Jazz big man Mark Eaton didn't look too friendly) Manute Bol unexpectedly passed away two Saturdays ago at the age of 47. While nowhere close to what one would consider a "good" NBA player during his 10 years in the league, he is a definite first ballot hall of famer in turns of sheer uniqueness. Sure Gheorghe Muresan was taller and there were better blockers but Manute will always have two particular records that will probably stand until the end of time: 1. He is the only player with more career blocked shots than points scored (a true testament to his amazingly one dimensional skill set) and 2. His glorious 1987-1988 circus sideshow season with the above pictured 5'3 Muggsy Bogues was the greatest height difference between teammates on an NBA team. In addition I will also remember him for his bizarre SNL cameo.

2. One More Game
By the unfortunate virtue of being played mostly during USA's thrilling yet ultimately futile extra time victory against Algeria in the group stage of the World Cup and just being tennis, the surreal, endless, first round Wimbledon match between Nicholas Mahut and John Isner did not get the proper spotlight it really should have. The whole thing took 3 days and over 11 hours of playing time, but that second day on the 23rd with the 118 game fifth set that took up 7 of those 11 hours was the thing to watch. I just followed the updates while in school so I couldn't tell if both players were that evenly matched or were both so inept/exhausted that neither of them could win two consecutive points to end the madness. The match oddly reminded me of the old commercial for the Fisher Price 3 in 1 Tournament Table which involved two kids eschewing basic food and sleep while locked in a never ending death match involving pool, table tennis, and air hockey (man did I want that sweet table growing up; definitely one of my top 5 Christmas wish list toys). I like to think that nearly 20 years later, those kids are still locked in eternal combat in that tense, dark basement; with the family dog eagerly following the action.

3. 0-0
Let it be known that I'm essentially a hater when it comes to soccer (and yes I'm calling it soccer, not "football"). I'll take it in as a novelty every four years and the national rooting interest helps, but really anything beyond that is an unbearable amount of "the beautiful game" to me. I'm not going to go off on one of those anti-soccer rants that many people do. We all know the classic knocks: low scoring, ties, lack of strategy, excessive flopping, foreignness, etc. What really sums up a lot of the worst elements of soccer to me is the 0-0 game decided on penalty shots like the one between Paraguay and Japan today. A soccer fan may categorize it as a tense, suspenseful duel, but for me it's over 120 minutes of total futility. In over two hours of play, some of the best players in the world couldn't muster one goal? I know scoring is at a premium but both teams should be ashamed of themselves. Even if it was a 1-1 draw or a 2-2 draw, I would give them some credit, but really not one goal? On top of the insult of a scoreless draw, instead of forcing the teams to man up and keep playing until one of them takes a lead, it goes to the shootout; which is like the equivalent of everyone agreeing that after regulation and overtime, neither side is capable of scoring a goal under normal conditions so we have to literally have the two teams take turns shooting in controlled, unfettered situations. It's like a little league game that gets converted to a t-ball game since no one can hit or a bowling match that turns into bumper bowling since everyone is chucking up gutterballs. I mean, even tennis will force its players to keep playing to the point of total exhaustion until things are settled.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

At the bottom of this mine lies one hell of a man


With all the excitement from all the 1-1 and 0-0 ties of this opening week of World Cup games (although I do have to note South Korea did win their opener against Greece 2-0, which is probably like a 25 point blowout in basketball terms), I must apologize profusely for my belated condolences for the recent passing of country singer, actor, and sausage magnate Jimmy Dean; a true modern day renaissance man. While not exactly a "triple treat" in the traditional mold of multi-talented entertainers like Gene Kelly or Mitzi Gaynor or Usher, for me personally he's made a lasting impression in every field he's been involved in.

In country music, his original trade, he topped both the country and billboard charts with his signature hit "Big Bad John"; one of my all time favorite country story songs (and believe me there are A LOT of country story songs) and definitely my favorite song involving pick axe sound effects.

In his brief foray into acting he had his memorable turn as reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte in "Diamonds Are Forever". Generally considered one of the worst of the Bond films, but I kind of liked the intentional campiness of it (am I the only one that liked Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd?). In the incredibly specific field of one-shot Bond allies I would have to consider Jimmy Dean as one of the best.

Of course, Mr. Dean's later innovations in the breakfast foods industry needs no exposition. I certainly had more than a few breakfast croissants growing up.

One of the sadder facts of the passing of Jimmy Dean is with the sharp decline of Kenny Rogers Roasters and what I'm pretty sure is the complete bankruptcy of Ted Nugent's licensed beef jerky product "Gonzo Meat Biltong" (seriously I can't even find of picture of it on the internet), it appears the days of the singer/actor/food baron seem to be going the way of home telephones lines and movie rental stores. On the other hand though it's a true testament to the admirably prolific and accomplished life the man lead.

Happy trails, Jimmy Dean

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Picture This!

I'm sure somebody has already mentioned it, but if a rushed, exploitative made-for-tv movie is ever made of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Disaster the obvious choice (if the producers could swing it in the budget) to play vilified BP CEO Tony Hayward would be:

Academy Award nominated British actor, Colin Firth. I even have the title already thought up: "Black Gold: The Gulf Oil Spill Disaster". You better believe the title credits would begin the with second tier Soul Asylum hit "Black Gold". Even way back in 1993, the band was able to predict that our exponentially demanding modern day energy requirements would soon lead to increasingly riskier and extreme energy extracting operations and greater environmental trade-offs...in an accessible, mainstream radio friendly, alternative rock sound. If this current disaster does indeed get turned into a movie and Mr. Firth gets on board he could take great pride in being the latest in a long and distinguished line of "made-for-tv movies about unlikable corporate CEOs" like:

"MASH" regular Mike Farrell as former Enron CEO Ken Lay in "The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth about Enron". Until I recently looked it up, I thought Brian Dennehy played the Lay role, but it turns out he played some over-the-top fictional character in the film called: Mr. Blue:
Pimp.

And Anthony Michael Hall as the Machiavellian founder of Microsoft Bill Gates in "Pirates of Silicon Valley"; a film that really jumped the gun in proclaiming the ultimate demise of Apple Computers. Considering that at the time of the film, 1999, everyone was rocking Windows 98 and the iPod was still two years away from coming out, it wasn't the most ridiculous of assessments. Also, Hall as uber-nerd Gates was a brilliant return to form for anyone who still had lingering doubts that he could still play geeks after his shocking turn as the evil jock antagonist in "Edward Scissorhands".

Thursday, June 03, 2010

J'accuse!: The Ending of "The Scout"

Purely obligatory (and frankly unnecessary) "spoiler alert": For all those people who have "watch the 1994 Albert Brooks/Brendan Fraser baseball comedy 'The Scout'" on their bucket lists, perhaps you should sit this post out (and seriously question why you have this on your bucket list). For everyone else on the fence, I just want to note that it's a pretty shitty ending anyway (hence the blog post) so you're really not missing out on much by having it "spoiled".

Obviously the biggest story in baseball right now is unfortunate Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga losing his historic perfect game bid yesterday due to an unambiguously blown call by the first base umpire (boy did Griffey really pick the wrong night to retire). This would have been the 21st perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball, the 3rd in the last 25 days, and the 2nd in 4 days. Try as I might at this time I still cannot muster the proper perspective yet to truly appreciate the fantastic odds of having two (almost three) perfect games, a confluence of circumstances so rare that in the hundreds of thousands of games of baseball played in the past 130 plus years it has only happened 20 times, in such a brief span of time.

This ludicrous rash of recent perfect games also reminded reminded me of the above pictured mediocre mid-90s baseball movie: "The Scout". As a kid, I actually liked "The Scout", it didn't reach the upper tier heights of 90's kid baseball fantasies like "Rookie of the Year" or "Angels in the Outfield" but I found it most definitely watchable. Brenden Fraser's usual affable mimbo charm, Albert Brooks playing the same self-obsessed, neurotic, poor-man's Woody Allen character he's played for the last 30 years, the multiple Oscar winning talents of the inexplicably present Diane Wiest, the ass load of baseball player cameos; all these combined to at least create something one wouldn't mind watching for an hour and a half. I'd say it's somewhere below "Mr. Baseball" and above watching 3 half hour episodes of "Arli$$" which sort of follows this formula (replacing Brooks for the even lower quality Robert Wuhl, but upgrading Wiest with the foxy Sandra Oh).

The thing about "The Scout" however is that the more one follows and learns about real-life baseball, the more insultingly ridiculous the movie becomes. Obviously sports movies are given some degree of artistic license and the classic kids baseball movie get a free pass because they're obviously for kids (although "Little Big League" comes off looking like Ken Burns' "Baseball" when compared to "The Scout"), but often a movie like "The Scout" stretches the bounds of plausibly to the point where you wonder why they even went through the trouble of incorporating real sports teams and players and setting it in our universe. I could probably write an even longer, more detailed "J'accuse" about the entire movie but it's really the ending which provides a brilliantly ridiculous climax built upon a mountain of flimsiness.

Unfortunately no clips outside of the trailer exist for the film, a testiment to either it's forgettable mediocrity or Twentieth Century Fox's skills at downplaying their film mistakes. We'll have to rely on my descriptions based on my memories built over many a repeat watchings of it on Comedy Central. To quickly summarize the film, Albert Brooks plays the titular baseball scout for the Yankees who after his latest can't miss prospect spectacularly washes out in his debut, is fired and ends up in some far off amateur baseball league in Mexico. It is there that he find Brendan Fraser, who is essentially an invisible baseball dominating robot who literally strikes everybody out with his consistent 100+ mph pitches and also homers in every at bat (I mean he's obviously supposed to be really good, but he borders on the absurdly superhuman). Of course there's a slight catch, apparently Brendan Fraser's character has some deep mental issues, I think some childhood abuse trauma (they really do a poor job of explaining it) that psychologist Dianne Wiest is hired to help with but really does nothing throughout the film aside from looking concerned.

In the movie's second most ridiculous sequence, Albert Brooks bring Fraser to America where he (as an unemployed, failed scout) manages to set up an individual tryout for Fraser in Yankee Stadium with with every MLB GM showing up to evaluate and eventually bid on this nobody from Mexico with absolutely no known past. In addition, he gets Keith Hernandez and Brett Saberhagen for him to strike out and hit towering homers against respectively. Somehow striking out a 41-year old Keith Hernandez who had been retired for 4 years at the time and hitting dingers off Brett Saberhagen, coming off his infamous "spraying bleach at reporters" season with the 103 loss Mets (in an even year no less!), impresses the GMs so much that they erupt in a huge bidding war. The Yankees end up winning by giving Fraser the biggest contract in baseball history (by far the most accurate part of the film) with the crazy stipulation that he will start the first game of the World Series if the Yankee make it.

Against all odds, the pre-dynasty era Yankees make it to the Fall Classic (mildly unbelievable at the time) against the Cardinals and Fraser is called in to pitch (which I'm sure to the resentment and disdain of no one on the team). Fraser's ambiguous mental demons initially prevent him from starting but eventually after a heart-to-heart with Brooks he makes his debut and pitches THE MOST RIDICULOUS BASEBALL GAME EVER!

Now there have been perfect games (even one in the World Series), there have been 20 strike out games, and pitchers occasionally hit home runs. Given all the scenes of Frasor's dominant baseball skills and the events that transpired in the film already I would not have found it too unbelievable that he does all those things in the game; which he does. What really breaks the camels back, obliterates the camels back, grinds the remains of the camel into a fine mist of bone and tissue, is the manner in which he does it. In addition to providing the only 2 runs of the game on a home run, he throws a perfect game by striking out all 27 batter on 81 consecutive strikes. So he never threw a ball and no one even managed to make contact with a pitch. He essentially obsoletes the game of baseball. In addition why didn't the writers just made him pitch to himself? Or have him strike out three people in succession with one slow pitch as well? Or catch a home run by following it to the top of the Empire State Building and throwing his glove in the air? All these options are just as cartoonish and impossible as this perfect perfect game he just threw.

As if the whole thing wasn't already enough of a farce, the film manages to somehow outdo itself once again by dementedly trying to instill suspense and tension in the last at-bat against the dangerous...Ozzie Smith ("Go crazy, folks!"). The same Ozzie Smith who was elected to the Hall of Fame overwhelmingly on the strength of his defense. The same Ozzie Smith who had 28 career home runs. The same Ozzie Smith with a career .262 batting average. The same Ozzie Smith who was 39 at the time and in the twilight of his career. He was a bigger threat to break up the perfect game with a bunt single than with anything else. I understand that the mid-90s Cardinals weren't exactly stacked with mashers but the producers really couldn't have gotten a slightly more plausible hitting threat ("Hard Hittin'" Mark Whiten? Ray Lankford? Todd Zeile?)?

You would think that director Michael Ritchie who also directed the "The Bad News Bears", a classic baseball movie with a notably unconventional ending, would have objected to such a ridiculously contrived conclusion. Maybe the ending was intentional, like some high-concept, absurdist, take on the typical Hollywood happy endings of sports movies that subversively mocked the concept by taking it to its grotesque extreme. Or maybe Jason Donald really did beat the throw. For a completely implausible sports movie ending that somehow manages to outdo an already implausible sports movie, all I can say is: "J'accuse!"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sign O' The Apocalypse: A Bigger Bang

Guess what aggressively mediocre, yet bafflingly popular CBS sitcom has just secured the most lucrative syndication deal in TV history? So get ready America, starting in the fall of next year, the offensive nerd equivalent of "Amos 'n' Andy" will be blasting at you from at least three different networks (Fox, CBS, TBS); that's almost "Family Guy"-like levels of television saturation (speaking of "Family Guy" I actually have to note their relatively recent spot on Big Bang Theory parody, definitely one of their occasional hits).

Also interestingly the article mentions that the show broke the previous syndication record held by "Two and Half Men", another illogically popular sitcom created by Mr. Chuck Lorre, who created other such classic fare as "Dharma and Greg", "Cybill", and "Grace Under Fire" (although "Grace" wasn't really all that bad, sort of a poor man's "Roseanne"). This extended string of perplexing success only furthers my pet theory that Chuck Lorre sold his soul sometime around the second season of "My Secret Identity".

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day...till you're bleeding!



Since it's always so close to my birthday, May 7th, especially years like this and next year where it gets dangerously close, there's always been a bit of tension between me and Mother's day (and to a lesser extend V-E Day). I'm sure other people with birthdays near major holidays feel similar discord; those near Christmas birthdays must be the worst. However, I am on the record as saying I am not opposed to mothers in general and the celebration of motherhood. I'll probably call my mother sometime today, I suggest you should too; it's a totally overpowered move for impressing your mom, like M. Bison's psycho crusher. Flowers? Straight up broken.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Helpful Tax Tips



So today is April 15th, "Tax Day". Maybe if I ever actually held down a job and earned enough income this would mean something to me. Until that terrible time, the Ides of April will continue to remind me of large chains giving out random free stuff and, of course, legendary WWE heel Irwin R. Shyster, better known as IRS.

I understand that since he's a heel the tips above are supposed to be unfair and unconscionable, but really from what I've learned in my basic federal income tax every one of those "tips" seem to be fairly accurate. You shouldn't be claiming your pets as household dependents. Tips from work and money made from garage sales are generally gross income and should be reported. He even includes the forward thinking green message of getting rid of your gas guzzler.

It's quite an admirable commitment to accuracy when compared to the outrageous antics of contemporary heels like the Repo Man (who would arbitrarily reposes random items from other wrestlers without any cause) or The Goon (just because he claimed to be a former hockey goon didn't explain why he would come to the ring in a full hockey outfit, complete with skates). For me, the only questionable move by IRS was teaming up with the Million Dollar Man to from Money Inc. Sure, it turned out to be a highly successful tag team partnership, but I always figured a tax stickler like IRS would always be at odds with an unscrupulous millionaire like the Million Dollar Man who you knew was working more angles than Exxon and GE to avoid paying taxes.