Monday, December 23, 2013

Number 12 Looks Just Like You (Twilight Zone Series, #137)

I want to start off with a confession: I am currently in the midst of a serious Young Adult novel kick with no potential end in sight. Specifically as of late I've been reading up (though to be technically accurate I've been listening to audio books) on the monstrously popular dystopian/post apocalyptic end of the YA spectrum; the kinds of stories, usually told written in trilogies where tough but vulnerable teen girl protagonists are put through horrifying and gruesome amounts of trauma all while falling in love with some hunky boy. It kind of started after I saw the second Hunger Games film (which reignited my interest in the books which I got through last year) which in turn compelled me to power through the entire Divergent Trilogy (short review: it really is a poor man's Hunger Games). Side note: bet heavy on the star of the upcoming film adaptation, Shailene Woodley she looks primed to follow the Jennifer Lawrence path to world domination (or at the very least be a respectable poor man's version of her). I'm currently reading though "The 5th Wave" (the first of a planned trilogy) which trades in future dystopia for modern post apocalypse. So far I'm digging the brisk pacing and the setup; plus I'm quite surprised at the horrifically detailed description of a decimated planet earth where 97% of the population has been killed off, shades of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road". It's tailor made for a film adaptation and I would be surprised if one isn't announced soon.

It's just in my nature to go off on these random pop culture obsessions for indefinite periods of time. I think this time last year I was seriously in an all things David Mitchell British comedy hole in which only now am I starting to recover from. Then there's my long time on again off again infatuation with the romantic comedy genre which finally peaked with the completion of my own rom-com script (still waiting for that call Hollywood!). So yeah that's the state of affairs with me, Victor is now into YA novels. This whole thing might blow over quickly like a 24 hour bug or it might settle into a long term condition, I don't know.

I think a big part of what drew me to rom-coms is what currently attracts me to these YA books. They're both genres with strongly established, almost rigid rules and conventions. I find something attractive in that, the idea of being creative in a more narrowly defined space and with certain preconceived expectations by the audience established from the start. I've found that I'm paradoxically way more apt to be creative myself when given restrictions. I also dig that both genres have a certain loose formula to follow, though the best examples are by no means formulaic, and that both types of stories are escapist fantasies that almost always end in a crowd pleasing manner (though obviously one has a much higher body count than the other). Who knows, maybe once I really sink my teeth into the genre and get a through understanding of its ins and outs I might even try my hand in writing my own; the barrier certainly isn't all that low. That's another thing rom-coms and YA dystopian series share, for every stand out example there is a flood of derivative follow ups. For every Love Actually you get a New Years Eve. For every Hunger Games you get The Testing (that's right it's Hunger Games meets the SATs).

Anyways I had to do that longish set up to get to my main point and that's how I've come to notice that the Twilight Zone episode "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" has all the elements of a solid dystopian YA novel. The plot of the episode is that in a future society everyone at age 18 undergoes a process known as "the Transformation" where their face and body is altered into one a of a small section of models. Everyone becomes generically beautiful while becoming more resistant to disease and living far longer. Apparently ugliness has been the sole cause of societies ills since it's implied that since the transformation system was established there is no longer any crime or war or suffering of any kind in this world (it's a good thing too since I'd imagine identity theft would run rampant considering everyone looks the same and you're only distinguished by your name tag).

The main protagonist Marilyn who is scheduled to for the transformation is a nonconformist type who has grave misgivings about the procedure and doesn't want to go through with it, much to the dismay of her friends, family, and those in charge of the transformations. Obviously it turns out there is more to the transformation than just a change in physical appearance and things like individuality and free thought are conspicuously missing in this utopia. We later find out that Marilyn's deceased father, who was a free thinker himself and gave her banned books to read, committed suicide because he couldn't deal with his transformation. Though Marilyn struggles, in the end she is forced into the transformation and becomes just another unidentifiable pretty face; one of the sadder Twilight Zone endings.

There obviously needs to be a few tweaks to the plot but essentially you can convert the story (an adaptation of a short story by acclaimed TZ writer Charles Beaumont) straight into a solid modern trilogy. Even after almost 50 years the major themes still resonate with today's teens: society's obsession with beauty, the importance of being yourself, the dignity of being human, thinking forself is beautiful, etc. The lost parental figure is a common trope (it could be revealed that the father was actually alive as a twist in the second book). I would probably add a cute little brother or sister that the protagonist is always looking out for. Of course the original ending would have to change. She would run away before her transformation and maybe find some secret underground anti-transformation movement living in the fringes of society and they'd teach her of the "old days" when everyone looked different and aged naturally. There she might meet some handsome (maybe give him a small flaw like a scar since we don't want him to go against the story's theme) boy with whom she falls in love least until she meets the other attractive teen boy transformation escapee that she knew from high school who shows up later in the book to complicate matters. Two books of bloody civil war between the evil leaders of society and the insurgents where she watches a bunch of friends get brutally killed, suffers a bunch of painful but ultimately non-lethal flesh wounds, impales the malicious leader of the future society with a shattered mirror (because symbolism), picks a boy after an excessive amount of anguished first person contemplation, and society is once again free to be you and me. Call up Elle Fanning to helm the film franchise, watch the millions roll in.

Note: As I found out shortly after writing this post, there actually was a YA dystopian series "Uglies", published between 2005 and 2007, with similar plots and themes. So I guess my instincts were correct. Maybe for my next post I'll write up a treatment for a YA adaption of the less than classic episode "Black Leather Jackets" about an alien invader who unexpectedly falls in love with a young girl and decides humanity is worth saving.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Live Más

A sad bit of new I read earlier. The apparent driving force behind the creation of Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Tacos, a 41 year old Little Rock, AR resident named Todd Mills, passed away from cancer today. According to the article, Mills, who had no ties to Frito Lay or Taco Bell, was just a dedicated dreamer who doggedly pursued the epiphany of creating a taco shell made of Doritos after watching a Doritos commercial while eating a taco in 2009. After launching a one man facebook crusade, he eventually got the attention of Taco Bell in early 2012 and the rest is nacho cheese encrusted, low grade, beef filled, history.

While there's no information on how long is battle with cancer was, I'd like to imagine a heroic narrative in my mind along the same lines of Kurosawa's 1952 classic film "Ikiru". Like the protagonist of the film, after being given a terminal cancer diagnosis, he struggles to find meaning in his life and finally resolves himself to accomplish one worthwhile achievement with the time he has left (in the case of the film it's a simple neighborhood park for children and in this case the greatest innovation to stoner cuisine since in invention of Combos). Highly unlikely scenario I know, cancer is more often than not pretty damn unromantic.

Though he never received any compensation for the idea that went on to sell a $1 billion worth of tacos, his remarkable legacy lives on throughout the world. It's an inspiring testament to the power of following through on your dreams.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Movies at 8: Twins

I have always said that if I ever wrote an autobiography there would be an entire chapter devoted to watching the 8 O'Clock Movies as a kid on the old WPIX 11. It wouldn't be a huge chapter or anything. It would cover about the first 2/3rds of the 90's up to my middle school years before my parents got cable and WPIX phased out its nightly movies for original programming after becoming WB 11 (and now CW), a time when the nightly 8 o'clock was my main exposure to the medium of film.

The movies I saw then, a pretty good mix of mainstream blockbusters (though they did play "Howard the Duck" quite often) generally from the 80s to the early 90s (I think maybe 1991's "Terminator 2" was the most recent movie I ever saw on there), are the movies that will forever be burned into my mind; the ones I will remember 50 years from now. I also can't help but think they had a big, although indirect, affect on my artistic sensibilities. Anyone who knows me will attest that the kind of art I enjoy (music, TV, film, literature) and create myself (hey, I've been known to create a little art here and there on rare occasions) steer towards the mainstream, the populist, the generally crowd pleasing. You know, for all its negative consequences I think we're better off that "Jaws" and "Star Wars" killed New Hollywood. It's not to say I'm against thing high culture, I like smart, original work but really most times I rather be entertained than challenged, be clever than intellectual.

Where was I? Oh right, 8 O'Clock Movies, they were great, I watched a ton of them. I figured I'd go back and give some impressions on some of my favorite films of the era. I don't want to jinx this by calling it a series, given my history of not posting for weeks at a time. I would like to revisit this topic again in the future but also don't be surprised if this turns out to be one of one.

So without further interruption I present tonight's feature presentation: "Twins"

"Twins", the well known 1988 comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman and staring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito is the 8 O'Clock Movie I remember seeing the most. Maybe the distribution rights were cheap or something but it just always seemed to be on; especially during the weekends when they'd throw in an extra movie in the afternoon.  

As a kid I found the movie to be straightforward fun. The juxtaposition of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as twin brothers is so extreme in every way that it can't help but be at the very least amusing. Thinking about the plot of the film now however as an adult, I realize that it's batshit insane!

For those of you not familiar with the movie, just viewing that linked trailer, what would you think this movie was about (at this point I suppose I should drop a 25 year old spoiler alert)? That intro is pretty strange right? Some kind of government created perfect man (Schwarzenegger) finds out he has a weird little brother, they meet up, hangout in matching suits, and beat some guy up. It gives no insight at all into this film with the broad title "Twins".

The trailer makes it look like this film is a 105 minute sight gag, sort of like a feature length movie version of that picture of Manute Bol and Mugsy Bogues. To the filmmakers' credit there is much more to this movie than that, in fact the film has so many disparate genre elements that it becomes a fascinating Frankenstein of a a mostly good way.

Let's start with how the titular twins came to be. Yes, instead of them just being wildly disparate, natural fraternal twins; their existence is due to a top secret U.S. government experiment. Off the bat you have a science fiction movie, an extremely terrifying sci-fi thriller even, about the U.S. government developing a highly unethical eugenics program where they attempt to engineer a perfect man using sperm from multiple donors (given Arnold's background and accent, it might have made more sense if we was a German product). We later find out that after the experiment concluded Arnold was sent off to be raised on some freaky Dr. Moreau island, DeVito (essentially the unexpected leftover crap from the experiment) was tossed into an orphanage, and their mother was told they both died at childbirth, so yeah that's horrifying.

When Arnold finally learns about his brother, he catches up to him in LA where he's some kind of shady conman with a side business in stealing cars. From their initial meeting until DeVito ends up stealing a car with an extremely valuable MacGuffin (more on that later) it becomes a buddy picture with fish out of water elements involving the sheltered Arnold being introduced to modern 1980's American life (like driving a car and using microwave ovens) by the street smart DeVito. Along they way Arnold beats up some loan sharks who are after DeVito. Some love interests are thrown in with a pair of blonde sisters falling far the two brothers (the one that's into Arnold is played by Kelly Preston).

Now this could have been the whole movie and it would have been perfectly adequate, but "Twins" doesn't stop there. The second act of the story and the main conflict begins when DeVito discovers some kind of stolen prototype fuel-injector engine thing (that MacGuffin I mentioned) in one of the cars he stole. As it turns out is was supposed to be delivered to some shady industrialist in Houston (the late great Trey Wilson playing basically the same character he played in "Raising Arizona" the previous year ). DeVito negotiates a deal with him to deliver the thing to him for a cool $5 million. Unfortunately he's forced to bring along Arnold who wants to stop over in Los Alamos to track down one of the original scientists and possibly locate their mother. The girls tag along too for fun I guess. So now it becomes a road picture.

Things get even more complicated when the original delivery man, Webster (Marshall Bell who would memorably star with Arnold in his next film "Total Recall" as Kuato), a remorseless professional killer/MacGuffin delivery man, starts to track the group down. The movie starts to oddly resemble the 2009 Best Picture winner "No Country For Old Men". They both involve a long chase through the American Southwest in the 1980s between an unsuspecting holder of stolen millions and a psychopathic hitman (Bell's character actually has a code of killing any associate who has seen his face, you would never guess that this movie has a body count of at least 5) bent on retrieving his lost package. Plus, in both cases the hitman is hired by an industrialist in Houston. This turns into an action/chase/thriller with maybe a little suspense thrown in.

To make a long story short (too late?) Arnold saves Devito from Webster, they do the right thing and return the stolen thing to the original owners, meet their long lost mother, and simultaneously marry both women who (of course) both give birth to TWINS! Nothing in a innocuous looking movie poster hints at the kind of intense cinematic experience one would experience. It's no wonder it took four people to write this thing!

Also, if the insane rumors turn to be true, there may be a sequel in the work "Triplets" with Eddie freaking Murphy playing another long lost twin. Considering the obvious race and age differences I don't know how it could be explained (alien? robot? alternate dimension?) but when it comes to "Twins" I have learned that there are no storytelling boundaries. If it does happen I eagerly await whatever new genres get modified and combined to form a perfect sequel.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Man, poor Vaughn Meader

November 22 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While that shocking event would have historical consequences and ramifications that would ripple throughout the country and the world; perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the death of President Kennedy would be the almost simultaneous death of the career of comedian Vaughn Meader

Quick trivia question, what album won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1963? I guess if you didn't know you may have inferred from the title and above picture that it was indeed Vaughn Meader's comedy record "The First Family" (and as bizarre as it is for the Album of the Year to go to a comedy album, this was actually the second such winner. Only two years prior Bob Newhart brought home the prize, plus the Best New Artist award!). Released in November of 1962, the album featured a series of recorded sketches with Meader giving his uncanny impersonation of JFK dealing with family, his cabinet, other leaders, etc (it didn't really blow me away but maybe you just had to have been there to really get it). It would go on to sell over 7 million copies, becoming one of the best selling comedy albums of all time. A sequel album came out early the following year.

It sort of blows my mind how apparently successful this guy become all on the back of one trick. I mean who bases their entire act on the impersonation of one person (aside from maybe Yakov Smirnoff who barely survived the untimely death of his act when the Soviet Union fell)? For all the acclaim and popularity Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impersonation garnered circa 2008, it was just one facet of her talent. I feel like if someone like Vaughn Meader came up now he would at best be a viral youtube sensation. I guess he'd have a whole series of Obama sketches on his channel. If he's lucky he might get to briefly meet the President. He would be nowhere near as big has Meader was in 1962. In his mid 20s, Meader found himself a multi-platnum, award winning comedian with magazine covers and television appearances; a meteoric rise to popularity not unlike his target of parody.

Then of course by November of the following year the President was gone and so was his career. The story goes that when legendary stand up Lenny Bruce came out to perform a set hours after news broke of Kennedy's death, he walked on stage, stood there for a few minutes, and sadly said, "Man, poor Vaughn Meader."  Copies of his albums were pulled, television appearances were cancelled. Having built his entire career on his spot on impersonation of JFK and being so thoroughly typecast, there was no other opportunities available. After initially sinking into depression, drugs, and alcoholism, he eventually settled into a modest career as local bluegrass and country musician in his native Maine (now that I think about it he must be the best selling recording artist from Maine. What's his competition? Ray LaMontagne? Howie Day?) and passed away in relative obscurity in 2004.   

I find the tragic tale of Vaughn Meader beyond fascinating. I recall a few years ago that Bill Hader was involved with a possible biopic, but there hasn't been much word since. There's potential there for a really interesting film. It's such a stark example of the unpredictable and extremely tenuous nature of fame. George Burns was right, show business is a hideous bitch goddess. Here you have this young comedian who stumbles onto the amazing windfall of being able to perfectly imitate the popular new President and it turning out to be a runaway hit with the public; but then the one singular act that the public demanded of him was the reason why the public had to reject him en mass. 

So I guess the lesson to be learned here could be that fame should never be taken for granted and that the possibility of it all falling apart hangs tenuously like the Sword of Damocles over one's head. Or maybe one should workshop some new characters/material just in case.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Boo! Four more supremely esoteric Halloween ideas for your consideration.

Here's a scary factoid for you, the last time Halloween fell on a Thursday was back in 2002. I don't know about you but the fact that 2002, my freshman year at NYU and my first Halloween in the city, was 11 years ago is downright terrifying. My god did I really let myself get that old? Spooky.

The cruel relentless march of time aside, I believe that Thursday Halloweens are the most difficult Halloweens to plan out later weekend festivities around. On one hand it does feel a bit odd to be having the "official" weekend Halloween after the actual holiday in November, but the weekend prior seems a bit far off too. There doesn't seem to be a true consensus among people as to which weekend is proper. Even Wednesday Halloweens despite being awkwardly right in the middle of the week, seem to have a general agreement to have it the weekend prior, since it'd be going too far into November. As for me I'm going with the Halloween in November crowd. I do want to be clear though that celebrating on Halloween to any degree itself is a given, just speaking about the weekends as well.

With that said and with Halloween a mere four days away I figured I would hand out some treats in the form of another four spot of last minute super esoteric Halloween costume ideas for the iconoclastic, yet still undecided costumed revilers. Remember, these are for the folks that seek true originality and uniqueness; who boldly shun the topical and the trending and are willing to risk an entire evening of confused inquiries and repeated, futile explanations. If anyone wants to know what I've decided on this year, I will just say it would have been a pretty dated reference...50 years ago.

Karl Malden from the American Express Traveler's Check Ads

The late Academy Award winning actor had a seven decade long career that included classic movies like "On The Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" and TV work like "The Streets of San Francisco". If you ask your parents they'll tell you that during the 70s and 80s he was also in a series of well known advertisements for American Express Traveler's Checks, uttering the now famous line "Don't leave home without them". I also wanted to mention that there was episode of "Tiny Toons" that had a ridiculous reference to these ads that no child in the 90s would have ever recognized; this reference is even more absurd given the fact that this was the famous episode that was allegedly written by a trio of 8th grade girls. A snappy vintage suit, an imposing fedora, and a printed out copy of an American Express Traveler's check is really all you need to pull the whole thing off. If you wanted to add a dash of flair, you may want to put on a large fake nose to reference his famously prominent proboscis. Hopefully you may run into a couple who've had their wallets stolen and you can cut a promo right there (which I'm sure will comfort them for their loss).

The "I'd Buy That For A Dollar" Guy From Robocop

Is there any movie character that has gotten as much pop culture cache out of so little screen time than the bizarre catchphrase spouting television character seen in the movie "Robocop"? I think that clip is just about the entirety of his screen time in the movie. Despite the microscopic screen time and his superfluous relationship to the film's plot, every Robocop fans recalls that gross looking middle aged man. According to a Robocop Wiki the character's name is Bixby Snyder and the show within the movie is called "It's Not My Problem!", some kind of crude, low brow sitcom that's still widely popular (so it's kind of like "Two and a Half Men"). The costume itself is pretty low maintenance, you just need to get the proper specs and mustache. It would help if you're balding, but you could style your hair close to it. Slap on a cheap suit and a bow tie and you are ready to the evening. Be prepared to say you're catchphrase, a lot; it's pretty much the only thing he says. If you had truly dedicated friends you can get two of them to be the blond bimbos that he's flanked by to really complete the effect.


Fans of the Mortal Kombat series are familiar with the easter egg of the digitized image of game sound designer appearing in the lower-right corner of the screen saying "Toasty!" after a particularly vicious uppercut (you also got to face the secret character Smoke if you hit down and start when he appeared in Mortal Kombat 2). This is by far the simplest Halloween costume imaginable. You just wear a dark colored shirt (I guess black if you want to be Mortal Kombat 2 and the more prominent purple from Mortal Kombat 3). It really helps if you're an average white adult male. Additionally the costume would only work if you're popping up from people's lower right field of vision and saying "toasty!", whenever you're not doing that, you'll just look like someone who didn't wear a costume. Still, the amazing photobombing opportunities alone on this outfit make it worth the trouble. This costume would also be well utilized at events where people are actively cosplaying Mortal Kombat characters.

Simon, who is from Space

For those unfamiliar, this costume is from the reoccurring "Numberwang" sketch from the UK sketch comedy series "That Mitchell and Webb Look" (full disclosure, I was utterly and completely obsessed with this show, and generally all things Mitchell and Webb, for about a year after coming across the series on Netflix Instant a couple of years ago...alas the show is now longer available). The sketch revolves around a nonsensical game show "Numberwang" that mainly involves the same two contestants (Julie and Simon) naming random numbers and getting points if it's a "numberwang" with each sketch adding a weird new rule or round. This costume is for the third episode where contestant Simon is introduced as being "from Space" with accompanying t shirt. While not the most memorable of scenes I was drawn to it mainly because I found multiple websites selling this shirt; and since these suggestions are for those with a bit of a time crunch I thought it was an interesting choice. I just want to point out that since it's a comedy duo show there are whole bunch of esoteric duo costume possibilities; just off the top of my head "The Helivets", "Sir Digby Chicken Caesar and Ginger", "Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit". Seriously maybe I should just do a whole post on "Mitchell and Webb" costume ideas. 

Once again I would like to mention that all the above costumes are all technically for males, but modification for female variations are encouraged. Have fun, stay safe, and remember to trick or treat with the kid with the peanut allergies, you get all his Reese's.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Old El Paso

So this post (which I'm just sneaking under the wire for September so I can still claim some measure of regular activity on this blog) is sort of in line with the rule today that everyone on the internet has to write something about the conclusion of "Breaking Bad" but not really. First things first, I just wanted to say it was a wholly satisfying finale though some of the events were more than a little implausible. All I'm saying is a lot of things had to break a certain way for the show to have concluded the way it did; it kind of reminded me of the convoluted antagonist's murder scheme in "Vertigo".

That being said what I really wanted to mention what a pleasant surprise it was that Marty Robbins' signature classic "El Paso" got to play a significant role in the finale. Badfinger's "Baby Blue" may have gotten the choice final cut (alas, five seasons and we never got to hear "Blue" by Eiffel 65) but "El Paso" got multiple references in the episode and the title "Felina" along with sort of setting the theme of the finale itself. It was odd seeing all these people on the internet suddenly listening to and discussing a song that I often find myself the only one referencing in any given social sitaution (I have found that as a karaoke song it's a great value pick but sometimes you might find yourself with an audience that doesn't quite want to follow your epic ballad of love, murder, and redemption). Overall, amazing song and one of the all time greatest story songs.

The interesting thing for me about "El Paso" is that it's the only song I know that's part of a trilogy. Sequels are uncommon but there are numerous notable standouts; but I can't recall any song with a narrative spread over three or more songs (maybe all those Chubby Checker "Twist" based songs, but I don't think there was much of a story arch there). Additionally the three songs aren't just part of some concept album or a suite but they're spread out over 17 years and 3 decades (1959, 1966, and 1976), so you can't even accuse the man of just making a quick cash in on the original success of "El Paso". It was some sort of extended idea he couldn't shake.

As for the second song, 1966's "Feleena (From El Paso)" comes in at over 8 minutes, nearly double the length of "El Paso" and details the life of the "Mexican maiden" Feleena whom the protagonist of "El Paso" falls in love with and eventually dies for. The song really flushes out Feleena's back story from her birth to her running away from home to her wild Santa Fe days, and eventually to the tragic romance with the young cowhand. It also reveals that right after the protagonist dies in "El Paso" she herself was so overcome with grief that she committed suicide. The song eventually concludes with them together as ghosts so I guess it's a happy ending? For me this is weakest of the trilogy. Even a prodigious lover of country story songs like me feels like the story kind of drags out. Plus, Feelina doesn't come off as all that sympathetic, see seems like a serial flirter prone to wild mood swings.

The concluding song in the trilogy, 1976's "El Paso City", is really fascinating. Instead of just continuing the story from the last two songs (though with all the main characters dead there really wasn't much more story to tell) the song switches to a current day narrator singing about a mysterious connection he feels with the tale of "El Paso". The whole thing has an odd sort of meta element to it. The narrator sits in a plane flying over the city of El Paso and has a vague memory of hearing the song "El Paso" years ago and then he starts to piece together the plot of the previous songs. Suddenly he is gripped by the sudden feeling that he was the actual cowhand from the previous songs in some kind of reincarnated form returning to his city to possibly die again. It all comes off as a lot freakier than the light country strings and crooning would imply and a totally unexpected way to conclude the trilogy. It's fitting that it was Marty Robbins' final country number one.

So yeah, that's it I like Breaking Bad and the story songs of Marty Robbins. Now I wonder what swan song "Mad Men" will use for its finale. Assuming it ends in 1969, might I suggest the Archies?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Say Hi To Your Mom For Me

To be a fan of the "Back to the Future" trilogy is to be forever pondering. Take all the questions you would have after watching one standard scifi movie about time travel and then multiply it by three. There are just so many complexities and "what if"s that come along with Doc and Marty's adventures through the time space continuum that you just have to raise your hands up, admit it's just a movie and allow for its fair share of plot holes and ambiguities (though I still don't know why Doc couldn't have written another letter to Marty to bring along a spare gas canister to 1885...but I digress).

Issues of time and space aside, one thing I did start thinking about recently as I was re-watching the films was about the background of the trilogy's main antagonist, all world mega bully, Biff Tannen. Throughout the films Marty encounters Tannen at various ages, various alternative states of existence, and even deals with his ancestors and descendants. During all these encounters with the latter I started to wonder, what are the Tannen women like?

As horrible and despicable as Biff and his male family line are, apparently they all found women (whether through marriage or other means) and managed to pass down their Tannen asshole genes through the decades. Who are these Ava Brauns? What kind of women are drawn to these uniformly awful Tannen men. They seam to lack any redeeming quality that would make a rational woman say "I want to start a family with that guy". And clearly these Tannens aren't adapted, they share a disturbing amount of genetic similarities.

In the series there is only one brief instance of a female Tannen, in "Back to the Future 2" when Marty, spying on Biff's house, overhears the voice of Tannen's grandmother arguing with him as he leaves. I always thought this scene humanized Biff just a little bit. I imagined him as an unhappy teenager without parents, being raised by his mean (perhaps even abusive) grandmother; this in turn fueled his bullying in school.

According to this totally unscientific Tannen family tree from a BTTF wiki, Biff's grandma is listed as the daughter of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen from the third film. So somewhere in his life as a notorious outlaw and murderer of at least 12 men (not including Indians or Chinamen) he managed to pass on the family name. I would think it must have been before the events of BTTF 3 since he ends up going to jail at the end for robbing the Pine City Stage. As for Biff himself, he must have gotten over the heartbreak of being rejected by Lorraine and the humiliation of being knocked out at the dance by George to find someone to settle down with which eventually leads to his doppelganger grandson Griff.

The family tree gets even more complicated as you can see when you throw in other BTTF media like the 90's cartoon and the recent PC game. The cartoon series is especially ridiculous since nearly every episode Marty or the Brown family would travel through time and meet a different past relative of the Tannen family from Roman era Bifficus Antanneny all the way to Ziff Tannen of the year 2091. In the series, the Tannens' are less a family line than an eternal fixture of time itself. Maybe that's how we should view Biff and the rest of the Tannens as the constant corporeal manifestations of man's inescapable dark side. Perhaps there never was a time and, until man can overcome his inhumanity to man, there will never be a time without a Tannen in the world.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eight Is Enough

I had a random thought recently. It was awkwardly too big for a quick tweet but not quite big enough for a real blog post. Still I'll just write about it here before I forget.

As anyone who has seen even a modest amount of cartoons will know, most cartoon characters share the common trait of having only four fingers. Apparently this practice grew out of the plain fact that four fingered hands were easier and simpler to draw than five fingered hands. That made me wonder: in a world where everyone has only eight fingers and toes, shouldn't that world's number system be a base-8 system? I mean, our base-10 system has to be influenced to some degree by what we can count on our fingers, right? Asking a cartoon to count in a system of 10's would seem as awkward as us only counting in a system of 8's.

Oddly enough according to Wikipedia this base-8 system, called octal, and has been used sporadically by people and cultures throughout history. Apparently the Na'vi in "Avatar" use an octal system due to the fact that they only have four fingers on each hand.

This is probably the most math I will ever get into on this blog. And no I am not high.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

That Borgnine Guy

I just realized that it has been a little over a year since classic Hollywood actor Ernest Borgnine passed away. For me it was one of the sadder celebrity deaths of the past decade. Sure, he was 95 but it weirdly felt like he left too soon. From all appearances he was still pretty sharp and he was still working regularly (perhaps there was some validity to his personal "secret" to staying young). I just assumed that he would always be around, just popping up in random roles on TV, usually playing a lovable, smiling, old guy.

In addition to being one of my all time favorite actors, Borgnine's guest cameo on the Simpsons' 5th season classic, "Boy-Scoutz 'n the Hood" is in my top tier of Simpsons guest cameos. In fact, his first appearance in the episode is my all time favorite introductory scene of any guest star on the show.

The mere 20 seconds from when Ned addresses poor Warren to when the children cheer the arrival Mr. Borgnine contains at least six points of humor:
  • First there's the initial reveal that Warren's father can't make it to the father/son Junior Campers rafting trip because he's in prison. 
  • At the announcement of a special celebrity dad being assigned, Warren tries to offer his older brother as a substitute; which Flanders promptly writes off. 
  • It's revealed that the "celebrity" is Ernest Borgnine; a choice that's equal parts random and brilliant. 
  • Borgnine then makes his big entrance out of the adjacent bathroom, indicating that he's been in there the whole time. I also love the additional detail of him still wiping his hands and then just balling up the paper towel and casually tossing it aside. 
  • Borgnine then mentions how he assumes this room full of 8 year olds would know him best for his early role as Sgt. "Fatso" Judson from the 1953 Best Picture winner "From Here to Eternity" (in reality a contemporary room full of 8 year old would probably know him best from his voice work as Mermaid Man on "SpongeBob SquarePants"). On a personal note, for years I could have sworn he said "the lovable Sgt. 'Fatso' Judson" which would have been extra ridiculous considering the character is a sadistic villain in the film.
  • After Borgnine makes his introduction, the scene ends with all the kids (with the notable exception of Bart and Warren who wonderfully maintain their respective expressions of bewilderment and unhappiness throughout the whole scene) inexplicably bursting into cheers.
The whole brief sequence is a fantastic example of the amazing attention to detail and density of jokes that made the "classic era" of the show so acclaimed and memorable. Killer stretches like this were just routinely being throw out by the show week after week for most of that first decade and it was all the more sweeter that the great Ernest Borgnine got to be a small part of it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Double Threats

Those of you who follow the Billboard Hot 100 every week (and of course who doesn't?) will have no doubt noticed that quirky little hit that just won't quit "Cups (Pitch Perfect's When I'm Gone)" by Anna Kendrick from the movie "Pitch Perfect" has made it all the way to an astounding #10 on the charts. Now those of you who follow this blog (and of course who doesn't?) will recall that I posted about my strange fascination with the song in April back when it was at #59 on the charts; which I had thought at the time was equally unbelievable. Despite the movie having been released in September of last year, this unusual tune just keeps on steadily climbing up the charts for one reason or another. Apparently this latest surge was due to the premiere of the film on HBO. Also, I'm sure Billboard's recent move towards counting Youtube views didn't hurt them either.

That being said, I started to wonder if there were any other cases of an Academy Award nominated actor/actress (from the four major acting categories) with a top ten hit in the modern Billboard era to their credit. So I spent the better part of the end of work last Friday thinking up and checking out possible nominees.There were a bunch of nominees/winner that came to mind who were originally successful musical artists (I think they've all had at least a #1 hit) that also successfully dabbled in acting: Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, Cher, and Will Smith (who I guess is now primarily an actor at this point). I didn't count them.

Then there were a few notable borderlines cases. Best actress winner Gwyneth Paltrow had an Adult Contemporary #1 with her cover of "Crusin" with Huey Lewis in 2000 and just missed when the Glee Cast's "Forget You",which she was a featured artist, topped out at #11 on the Hot 100 in 2010. Dan Aykroyd (would you believe he got a best supporting actor nomination for "Driving Miss Daisy"?) was technically part of charity super group USA for Africa of the chart topping "We Are The World" fame, but I don't think it's fair to count charity singles (this also disqualifies Oscar winner Jeff Bridges who was part of Artists for Haiti which took "We Are The World 25 for Haiti" to #2 in 2010. I assume the lack of Dan Aykroyd this time around caused it to stall at #2). To his credit Aykroyd did have a #1 album with the Blues Brothers and their cover of "Soul Man" was a #14 hit. UK #1's also don't count for Oscar winner Nicole Kidman who had one with a duet of "Somethin' Stupid" with Robbie Williams in 2001 and nominee Telly Savales whose insane, Shatner-esque spoken word cover of Bread's "If" somehow was a chart topper in 1975.

This leaves five actors that I believe fit my requirements. Two time nominee John Travolta had a #10 hit with "Let Her In" in 1976 and of course "You're the One That I Want" with Olivia Newton-John from Grease was a #1 in 1978. Best actor winner Jamie Foxx probably has the most successful music career for someone that is primarily an actor. He as two featured #1's ("Gold Digger" with Kanye West in 2005 and "Slow Jamz" with Twista featuring Kanye West in 2005) in addition to two top 10 hits of his own ("Unpredictable" at #8 in 2005 and "Blame It" at #2 in 2009). Eddie Murphy's lone top 10 hit "Party All the Time" in 1985 came 22 years before his Oscar nomination for "Dream Girls" in 2007. Then you get to two personal favorites of mine. Two time nominee, the late Richard Harris and his gloriously ridiculous #2 hit from 1968 "MacArthur Park". And then there's legendary character actor Walter Brennan who won a record three Best Supporting Actor Oscars between 1936 to 1940, including the first one ever given, whose single "Old Rivers", an old timey mostly spoken word story song, bafflingly reached #5 in 1962.

Kudos to you Anna Kendrick, you're in some distinguish, and strange, company.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Victor's Ultimate Birthday "Meh"-ga Mix '13

You heard the best, now hear the rest! Yes, unfortunately, it is once again time to break out Victor's Ultimate Birthday "Meh"-ga Mix for 2013. I suppose one positive that can be drawn from this year's batch is that it's only 8 as opposed to the usual 10. I thought about upping the quota to three tracks per mix but that would have been needlessly critical.

Every year when I put together the "worst of" I struggle to really make a consistent determination between memorable terribleness and the forgettable mediocrity. Is it better to be a fiasco than just boring? It's a tough distinction; a distinction made even tougher when the mixes don't contain glaring examples of either kind. Sure every once in a while there'll be a track that just does not jibe with me at all and it's an easy call (difficult post-punk is often a strong bet). However, most of the time the cuts are tough. I mean by the inflexible cruel rules of the "Meh"-ga Mix it is impossible to have a perfect mix. Even if I loved every song two tracks have to be sacrificed in the name of parity.

Harsh, but we all know we look forward to it every year.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Victor's Ultimate Birthday Mega Mix '13

Just when you had all but given up hope after it didn't arrive at the start of June, Victor's Ultimate Birthday Mega Mix finally returns for 2013! Various factors came together to cause the extra long release delay this year including a late birthday party, a certain tardy mix contributor (for privacy sake, let's call her "Lisa B."...No that's too obvious..uuh let's say "L. Berlin"), and of course the 17 year return of the cicadas. Additionally this year's edition will be a bit shorter, exactly 1/5th to be exact, since one of my usual contributing friends was unavailable.

So there you have it, longer wait with less content, thanks Obama!

Seriously though, this was another solid batch of tunes. In fact, the selection process was the most difficult for me yet. This either means the quality has gone up across the board or that I've started to become less choosy in my old age. Still, thanks to everyone that participated. Making a good mix is a time intensive task and I am always appreciative when someone takes that time to make one for me. The period after my birthday where I get all these new tracks to listen through as I commute to the office is one of the real highlights of my year (I had to break out the old portable CD player this time since I commute by public transportation now). I hope to see another round of mixes next year from you guys and anyone else who wants to throw their disc in the ring.

Oh and in case you thought I was getting soft and sentimental in my old age, the 2013 edition of the "worst of" mix will become arriving soon enough.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

News & Views

Norm MacDonald's Larry King impression during his stint on SNL wasn't all that good in terms of technical proficiency (since Norm a handful of other SNL players have done more detailed impressions most notably Fred Armisen in recent years), but then again none of his celebrity impressions were all that good, that's what made them awesome. While straight impressionists like Phil Hartman or Darrell Hammond took pride and won acclaim for the accuracy of their impersonations; Norm's characters were great because they were just variations on his idiosyncratic style. For me Norm's versions of Bob Dole or Burt Reynolds (aka Turd Ferguson) with all their inherent Norm-ness come off as far more interesting and funny than had they been done with an emphasis on accuracy.

Norm's sketches as Larry King aren't that well known or numerous. In fact, as far as I can tell, he only performed as Larry King on the May 17, 1997 Jeff Goldblum hosted episode and again on the October 23, 1999 show which he had returned to host (one of the greatest opening monologues I've ever seen where he triumphantly trashes the show for bringing him to host despite firing him a year and a half prior for not being funny). As for the sketches themselves they were just these short ads promoting Larry King's "News & Views" column in USA Today. Norm as Larry would just shoot off a series of short viewpoints ranging from the absurdly obvious to the ridiculously non sequitur, previews of the kind of viewpoints one would apparently get from his column, from his desk towards random cameras  (here's a just an audio version).

Based on their inherent weirdness and delivery of the jokes, I would bet that these sketches were conceived and written by Norm himself. What I really find fascinating about these sketches are how eerily the random viewpoints he spits out sound like twitter posts. The whole thing comes off as if he's reading outloud his daily roll of twitter updates one after the other ("Red wine is a terrific wine, but so is white wine!", "Is it just me or is anyone else sick and tired - of the Special Olympics?"). Had this sketch been done a decade later, it'd likely be an ad prompting people to follow his twitter account and have him typing away on a Macbook; perhaps some sort of joke about hashtags. The more I think about it, these series of sketches could may well be the primordial ancestors of modern twitter humor.

And of course since this is the internet and whatever esoteric thought or unique notion you have has been previously thought of as well by someone who has way more free time than you; while researching for this post I came across an actual fake twitter account "King's News & Views" which provide a constant stream of parody Larry King viewpoints.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Domo Arigato Buster Roboto

Like nearly all my more time sensitive blog postings, I would have liked to have written this up earlier but hey beggars can't be choosers here at "Victor Sells Out". Let's be happy that I didn't wait so long that it wasn't even worth putting up. Maybe I'll eventually devote a whole month to all my severely belated postings (that eulogy for Horshack is almost approaching a year).

So in anticipation of the much hyped return of a new season of a certain critically acclaimed though ratings challenged Fox comedy from the mid aughts on Netflix, I went ahead and caught myself up on the previous 3 seasons of "Arrested Development". Truth be told, I was never all that into the show when it aired and I only become at best a casual fan during its hiatus. I have to admit I didn't even finish watching most of the third season before last month. I liked it, I definitely admire it as an achievement in televised comedy, but I didn't love it like most of my other friends and people I know. Actually this is probably why I, watching this new Netflix season, don't feel all that let down or disappointed as some fans who were working under the massive weight expectations based on their devotion to the first 3 seasons. Having watched about half the season, it's pretty good like all the other episodes I've seen; though the plot can get pretty complex at times, also Portia de Rossi does look a little off. That's the whole of my views on the current season.

Going back to my catching up on the show, all this re-exposure to the spastic comedic talents of Tony Hale (Buster Bluth) reminded me of his early role in a popular 1999 Volkswagen commercial (Wow an 8 speaker cassette stereo system...standard!), looking young and kind of like a white version of Abed from "Community" 

That commercial was actually responsible for my first mp3 download, "Mr Roboto" by Styx. While there are a lot of "firsts" I don't recall completely, I do remember most of the details about my first encounter with digital music. Starting out just before the arrival of Napster (and eventually Kazaa), I used the Scour Media Agent from of which not much information is left online. Utilizing a 26K dial up modem to download an ambitious nearly 5 minute long song took roughly my entire second semester of high school freshman year. I think I also had to cull some data to find room in my PC's overburdened 2 gig hard drive. I even remember my second mp3 was "We're Not Gonna Take It' by Twisted Sister (I think that was after seeing a "Pop Up Video" of it).

Interestingly enough I believe whatever mp3 copy of "Mr. Roboto" I have on my phone and computer is likely from that original download. I'll have to listen for the one second blip error about halfway through the song to make sure. 

I was pleasantly surprised when I got to the sixth episode of season 3 "The Ocean Walker" and saw the clever little reference to Hale's role in the commercial. It's these little details that really distinguishes the show.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cops and Robots

In my previous post, I remarked about how the the upcoming Fox series, "Almost Human", which takes place in a near future where police officers are partnered with advanced androids has a passing resemblance to the intentionally terrible fictional show "Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E." that Joey briefly starred on in "Friends". After doing a little bit of research since then, I was surprised to discover that there have been at least three network TV series based around the seemingly novel concept of a buddy cop show featuring a a human officer being partnered with a robot.

Unfortunately for "Almost Human" the unsuccessful history of these cop/robot shows does not bode well for its own future prospects, as none of them made it through an entire season. Like the scene in "Robocop 2" where the OCP scientists present a series of failed attempts at creating a new Robocop, every one of these prior series have been utter failures, only varying in degrees of awfulness. If "Almost Human" meets the same fate as these previous shows, they just may have to add another rule to the Three Laws of Robotics: A robot may never have a successful network series when teamed up with a human cop.

Holmes & Yo-Yo
Detective Alexander Holmes, who apparently has a knack for getting his partners injured, is assigned a new partner Gregory "Yo-Yo" Yoyonivich. Holmes soon finds out that Yo-Yo is actually the police department's new top secret android crime fighting machine; hilarity supposedly ensues. The original cop/robot buddy show, "Holmes and Yo-Yo" ran on ABC for 13 episodes during the 1976-77 season. Based on the the intro and a random episode it would appear that the show was written as a broad wacky comedy. This high concept, low brow mess is pretty terrible, like 1983-84 NBC season terrible. It actually came in at 33 on TV Guide's 50 Worst Shows of All Time list. Much of the humor derives from Yo-Yo's intermittent failures in understanding human nature and idioms and sight gags from his frequent malfunctions. The whole thing comes off as a bizarre mix between "Dragnet" and "Small Wonders". I could see it possibly being somewhat successful as a children's show but by the late 70's there really wasn't much of a demand for such gimmicky silliness in prime time. Also, if the police department was going to develop this highly advanced robot crime fighter, why would they give it such a schlubby looking body?

Future Cop
Apparently ABC went slightly mad with the concept of robot cop shows during the 1976-77 season since, in addition to airing the genre defining "Holmes & Yo-Yo", ABC later premiered the lazily named "Future Cop". The show does seem to be more of a straight action drama with the sci-fi angle of another secret robot police officer partner. Ernest Borgnine looks a bit too old to be here but he always brings special charm to whatever role he's given. John Amos seems to be in full token black guy mode ("man, that's the fastest white boy I've ever seen") as his other partner. As for the robot, Haven, it would seem a lot more believable that it would look like a young, fit, rookie cop than Yo-Yo's goofy appearance. There wasn't much else I found out about the series, I think a lot of the non-crime story line revolved around Borgnine keeping Haven's secret from Amos and others on the force. The series lasted for all of 7 episodes on ABC and for 1 episode on NBC after it was moved and retooled as "The Cops and Robin" (that promo has a baffling amount of adjectives for a 20 second spot!).

Mann & Machine
Just when everybody thought that Cop/Robot series had gone the way of disco, Dick Wolf and company comes along in 1992 and for nine episodes reactivated the genre with the aptly titled "Mann & Machine". For a show that aired in the 90s, there is hardly any evidence of the series available online. I think the whole of it is this crude video of the intro (utilizing the most cutting edge early 90s TV title graphics technology). The show's premise seemed pretty straightforward and free of any ridiculous gimmicks from the past shows; maverick human cop (Mann) and straight laced female robot cop partner (Eve) team up to solves crimes in the future. Making the robot a female, and a sexy one at that, (a young Yancy Butler in her first major role) seemed like a good decision and it added an extra layer of potential romantic tension between the leads. There seems to be more depth to the characters as Eve is continually learns and develops human understanding and emotions. Apparently in the penultimate episode Eve even gets placed in charge of an infant which activates unexpected maternal feelings within her. This show would appear to be the most similar to the upcoming "Almost Human".

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Robo. Cop.

This past week was the network TV upfronts. For those of you not familiar with the term, it's the time of the year (the third week of May) when the major networks announce their prime time schedules for the upcoming year,what new shows that have been picked up, what existing shows have been reordered (welcome back "Community"), what existing shows that have been cancelled (so long "Smash"): so advertisers can decide where to buy commercial airtime. I guess if you're the odd sort that's really into network TV programming it's like a mini-Super Bowl for you.

I read an article about Fox's upfront announcement of an order of four new drama series for next season. One of those series "Almost Human" caught my attention:
From Emmy Award-winning executive producer J.J. Abrams and creator/executive producer J.H. Wyman and starring Karl Urban, Michael Ealy and Emmy Award nominee Lili Taylor, ALMOST HUMAN (working title) is an action-packed police drama set 35 years in the future, when police officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. An unlikely connection is forged when a cop with an aversion to robots and a robot with unexpected emotional responses investigate cases in a brave new world.
So basically it's like "Alien Nation" except you replace the alien hating human cop and his new alien partner with a robot hating human cop and his new android partner. A buddy cop series with a human and a robot teaming up to solve crimes, now where have I seen that before...

Now I imagine the actual series is going to be a bit more polished and not terrible, but I think it would be cool if J.J. Abrams just decided "fuck it, let's make this as ridiculous as possible. This'll make 'Short Circuit 2' look like cinéma vérité!"

Bonus question: What did C.H.E.E.S.E. stand for? Because I certainly cannot be bothered to look it up.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Crunchy Numbers: Birthday Edition

Now that all the mild hullabaloo over my 29th birthday had dissipated, I can now go back to the business of quietly dying slowly of old age. Before I close the book on another public acknowledgement of my birth, I thought I'd throw out some hastily prepared, random numbers regarding all the birthday greetings I received. I didn't feel like messing with PowerPoint to crank out some hideous chart of teal shades this year. Had I the infinite time and actual talent maybe I could have tarted them up into a visually pleasing "The Oatmeal"-esque info-graphic but alas I'm just going to drop them in a simple list (you're lucky to even get bold numbers).

Note: Despite the modest numbers these stats were still pretty haphazardly tallied and organized so I would say they're closer to estimates:
  • 31 - Birthday greetings written on my time line. It's one more than last year so it would appear I am stagnating in terms of Facebook friendships.
    • 20 - Facebook birthday greetings that ended with one exclamation point. Not much variation this year in terms of punctuation. Are we getting set in our ways as we get older?
    • 3 - Facebook birthday greetings that ended with two exclamation points.
    • 1 - Facebook birthday greetings that ended with three or more exclamation points. Indicates a distinct lack of manic enthusiasm.
    • 5 - Facebook birthday greetings that ended with no punctuation at all.
    • 2 - Facebook birthday greetings that ended with a period.
  • 2 - Facebook message greetings. Facebook messages always get lost in the communication mix, more personal than a wall post but not quite as personal as a text message or possibly even an email. 
  • 3 - Emails with a birthday greeting.
  • 5 - Automatic emails from random forums and websites I signed up for years ago that still remember me and send my crappy discounts. You'll never be alone on your birthday if you give a website your date of birth.
  • 3 - Text message birthday greetings.
  • 5 - In person birthday wishes. These were limited since I never told anyone at work that it was my birthday.
  • - Phone call birthday greetings. What a novelty!
  • 1 - Alleged "gift" being mailed to me. 
  • 1 - Early birthday greeting.
  • - Belated birthday greetings.
  • 2 - Birthday greetings that were sent from abroad, to the best of my knowledge.
  • 6 - Birthday greeting that were variations on me being old.
Alas, no singing telegrams or skywriting, perhaps for the 30th...

Monday, May 06, 2013

Saturday Night Baseball

When Ken Griffey Jr abruptly retired in the middle of the 2010 MLB season, in addition to marking the end of a Hall of Fame career, it also marked the end of the last active player that guest starred in the 1992 all time classic Simpsons episode "Homer at the Bat". The squad of major league ringers Mr. Burns assembled to play for the plant softball team contained an absolutely amazing collection of Hall of Famers, MVPs, and All-Stars.

When the likely retirement of another former Red, Scott Rolen (who as of now remains a free agent for the 2013 season), becomes official, it will also mark the end of the last active player that guest starred in the above, not so classic "Baseball Dreams" sketch from the Helen Hunt hosted December 13, 1997 episode of Saturday Night Live. Although, by virtue of the obvious needs of the sketch, the group of MLB talent assembled pales in comparison to "Homer at the Bat", it does surpass the former in terms of sheer numbers and depth of players.

The sketch itself is a simplistic one note affair and actually isn't all that funny. The whole thing would have been fairly forgettable if it weren't for the impressive drop ins from all the random major league players comprising a sort of bizarre tableau of mediocre to good late 90s baseball talent. I am utterly fascinated by the casting and wished I knew what kind of behind the scenes machinations when into getting everyone for this sketch. Since the premise of the sketch required a gradual decline in quality of players from the best to the worst, I would say that casting this sketch may have been more difficult than the Simpsons who had the narrower task of just rounding up superstars. To make the sketch work SNL had to pick an accurate sample of unheralded everyday pros, veterans, journeymen, and not yet established youngsters. So how did they end up with these 15 players from 9 different teams? Was there some player's union event going on in NY at the time or did they specifically fly everyone in for this one bit? Did any of the players being introduced in the bottom half know that they were supposed to be viewed as relative scrubs?

Breaking down the lineup in order of appearance:

Todd Hundley - Since the first player to appear is supposed to be a "star" that Danny would be excited to meet, the former Mets backstop was an ideal selection. First off he's part of the local team  and he had just come off his second consecutive All-Star year in 1997. Prior to that in 1996 he set the single season record for home runs by a catcher with 41. These two years were by far his best stretch in an otherwise good but not great career. Additionally, Hundley comes off as a pretty decent actor (it's a relative distinction since the whole sketch is a master class in wooden line delivery), which maybe why the writers gave him more lines.

Scott Rolen - The aforementioned Rolen is a nice progression. He had an impressive Rookie of the Year winning season playing 3B for the Phillies in 1997. Overall, Rolen had by far the best career out of all the players featured. His supporters would have an unlikely but not laughable argument for his induction into the Hall of Fame. His comic timing however could use a lot of work.

Mark Wohlers - Wohlers had just completed his third successful year as the Braves closer, racking up 33 saves in 1997 for another first place Atlanta team. He was an All-Star the year before so we're still in the realm of quality players. He is by far the best actor of the bunch and he seems to have been given the most lines because of it. From a historic perspective, his calling Danny a "fag" predate future Braves closer John Rocker's infamous politically incorrect Sports Illustrated interview in 1999. Unfortunately for Wohlers, he suffered a psychological block the following season that rendered him unable to control his pitches (the dreaded Steve Blass disease), essentially  derailing his career. Could the stress of his cameo on SNL have been responsible?

Marty Cordova and Jeff Fassero - Now we start to get players introduced in waves. Marty Cordova was still considered a potential star, he was AL Rookie of the Year in 1995 and had a career year in 1996. His injury plagued 1997 would be more representative of the rest of his career. He only gets one line. Jeff Fassero on the other hand is the worst performer of the whole bunch, his introduction of the next group of guys is particularly robotic; also it appears he can't be bothered to wear a full uniform (pretty sloppy Fassero). Baseball wise, 1997 was probably one of his best seasons, he went 16-9 with a 3.61 ERA. He is the oldest player of the bunch at 34, but he managed to outlast many of the other others, hanging around until 2006 and retiring at 43.

Gregg Jefferies, Rondell White, and Mark Grudzielanek - At this point Danny doesn't want or care about any more ballplayers, particularly Expos. Greg Jefferies was a serviceable outfielder for the Phillies at this point in his career, which was clearly on the downturn. He did fine as the spokesmen of the trio. CF Rondell White actually had probably his best year for the Expos in 1997. He may have one of the shorter lines but I thought he nailed it. Expos 2B Mark Grudzielanek also had himself a fine 1997 (apparently he led the league in doubles with 54) and was a year removed from an All-Star appearance. I feel White and Grudzielanek could have moved up above Cordova and Fassero but their lack of exposure playing for a fading Expos franchise (both of them don't even have full uniforms, White is just in a t-shirt for crying out loud) held them back. At least Grudzielanek got his choice moment with Helen Hunt ("I'm Mark Grudzielanek"), despite the lack of audience response I thought it was one of the funnier moments.

Todd Zeile, Russ Davis, and Cliff Floyd - One of the all time great baseball journeymen, Todd Zeile was entering the middle part of his career which would lead to him eventually playing for 11 different teams before he was through. At the time he had just finished up a productive full season as the Dodgers third baseman. A young Cliff Floyd was still a year away from begining his productive years as a full time OF, however he was the only person there from the then current World Series champions, the Marlins. Both Zeile and Floyd get minimal lines, though I appreciate Floyd's efforts to sell "where's the food". Russ Davis had just finished his first of three aggressively decent years as the Mariners' starting third baseman (a lot of representation for the hot corner in this sketch). He is one of three players who don't even get a single line in.

David Howard and Mike Sweeney - Poor Howard and Sweeney don't get any lines to introduce themselves or even adequate face time. Howard was just a unassuming utility player who fit well at this point in the sketch. Sweeney was just an underutilized young catcher and DH, however he would break out in 1999 and would go on to have great stretch for the Royals in the early 00s as their first baseman, making 5 All-Star teams in 6 years. Interesting fact, according the records Howard and Sweeney were teammates on the Royals in 1997 and Howard signed with the Cardinals as a free agent on Dec 4, just 9 days before the sketch.

Gerald Williams and Pedro Borbón - Mediocre utility outfielder Gerald Williams seems about right to play one of the final pair, though I think he had a better career than David Howard. Like Howard, Williams changed teams right before the sketch aired. After spending 1997 with the Brewers he was traded on December 11th to the Braves for Chad Fox. His introduction is about as uninspired as his play. Pedro Borbón (son of 70s Reds relief pitcher Pedro Borbón) was an all together forgettable relief pitcher of little consequence, quite apt to be one of the last introduced. I think he was playing up his lack of english abilities, his bio says he went to high school and college in the the US so it's not like he's some fresh off the boat Cuban defector or anything. That said, it was quite believable so perhaps he may be the best performer of all. 

To close I just have a few additional random points to make:
  • Helen Hunt has hardly aged at all in the 15 plus years since this sketch aired, amazing.
  • What team does Danny actually support? His room contains a confusing collection of both Mets and Yankee pennants plus a poster of Ken Griffey Jr.. Is he some weirdo who considers himself a fan of the game of baseball in general?
  • I am surprised that MLB would allow such a sketch to be aired. The main message is that baseball players are all uniformly terrible role models who are preoccupied only with drinking, smoking, girls, and partying; and any positive messages they say are just empty, banal, boilerplate.
  • Todd Zeile, Cliff Floyd, and Gerald Williams would all end up playing for the Mets in the 00s. Also Greg Jefferies was a former Met at the time of the sketch.
  • As a kid I thought they also trucked in real basketball players for that final punchline.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Charms Blow Pop, Take 2

It's a real shame that I am not ludicrously wealthy. Not just for me personally but for the state of the world in general. Because if I had a massive personal fortune; I'm talking obscene, outrageous money that could finance whatever ridiculous passing fancy that came into my mind, the world would be a more interesting place. Whether it would be a better place would be debatable but it would definitely be a more interesting place.

One project I'd like to tackle with my inexhaustible millions would be to a shot by shot reenactment of this ubiquitous Charms Blow Pop commercial from my youth:

I saw this commercial so many times growing up that I can probably write out the script and storyboard it just from memory. It's another one of those silly childhood things that have been so deeply branded into my brain that I'll remember it on my deathbed. Aside from being overplayed, the commercial itself was pretty unique. The whole thing had a sort of meta-behind the curtains angle to it; kids were messing up lines, there was frantic editing, kids were commenting on the commercial as it was going on. I found the whole thing to be quite jarring as a kid. 

The product itself was also pretty awesome. Although I haven't had one in years, growing up it was one of my top 5 candies. The idea of it was so elegant in its simplicity that I wondered why there weren't more copycats. I know Tootsie Roll pops had the tootsie roll center, but that always seemed more like an unfair punishment for getting to the middle rather than a treat. With a Blow Pop you got a solid, flavorful lollipop which was a pretty good deal on its own but then once you got to the middle: BAM! Bubble gum! The gum was only a shade better than Bazooka Joe but still, you were getting gum right after you finished a lollipop! Easy does it, Caligula! Additionally, the taste and mouth feel of that initial first chew where you have the gum mixing in with the thin layer of hard candy is a wholly unique and singular sensation.

So instead of casting a new group of child actors I would like to bring back all the original kids and have them act their roles again as adults; the nerdy kid in the glasses, kid who forgets to say "sour apple" on time, the token black girl, everyone. I think it would be fascinating to see the stark contrast of all the grown up actors acting within the exact some background and direction as the original; a sobering reflection of our lost childhood...or something like that.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

2 Points 1 "Cups"

For those of you who don't participate in a pop music charts fantasy league and scan the Hot 100 every week, the current number 59 song on the Billboard Hot 100 charts is "Cups (Pitch Perfect's When I'm Gone)" by Anna Kendrick from the "Pitch Perfect" soundtrack. It is definitely one of the more unusual songs to chart on the Hot 100 in recent memory. There's the obvious novelty of the credited artist being a film actress with no prior singing career. Even odder still is the actual song which is Kendrick's rendition of a roughly 90 second a cappella tune accompanied by a percussion routine involving the titular cups; a viral video that she randomly taught her self and was unexpectedly incorporated in the film. Even with some extra padding the radio version barely goes over 2 minutes. Overall I sort of dig the song. It's short, catchy, and cute, plus Anna Kendrick has a pleasant enough voice. Additionally I find it to be an excellent little button to end a mix CD with, especially if you have around 2 minutes of spare space.

With that being said I have two additional points I wanted to make about the song (and you thought  that title was just for cheap crude humor):

First is the ridiculousness of the recently released music video for the song. The video has nothing to do with the film, which sort of makes sense considering the radio single version is now being released almost a year removed for the actual film soundtrack. The real craziness of this "director's cut" music video is that they manage to stretch an essentially minute and a half long song into a 4:22 video. They use every trick in the book short of adding extra lyrics. There's the extended intro and outro scenes, extended breakdowns, and of course just straight up repetition of the limited verses. It's one of the most impressive displays of padding since "A Night at The Roxbury". On a personal note, that diner in the video looks like my dinning equivalent of hell. I don't think there is a single filled cup in that entire establishment. I'm a fairly demanding restaurant patron when it comes to water and refill service. In fact, it may be the the most important criteria for me when eating out. I think I will forgive sub par food if my glass never goes empty. So to watch this exceptionally poor display of refill service is quite distressing.

Secondly, according to one of those bizarre facts you find casually thrown into a subject's Wikipedia page that you just can't believe, "Cups" is the official song of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. I had to find another source that corroborated and it appears to be true. For those of you non-soccer fans (i.e. Americans) it's a biyearly soccer championship between the nations of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean; and your guess is as good as mine in figuring out why the organizers decided that this song fit so well with the tournament. I suppose "Pitch Perfect" could also be the name for a soccer movie. I mean are they really pipping this song in at the stadiums to get the crowd psyched? Does the decision process really come down to picking the most prominent contemporary song with the word "cup" in the title (I suppose Toby Keith's "Red Solo Cup" was too specific)? Did they have to out bid the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs? The Ryder Cup? The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series? I suppose there is past precedent for "cup" related pop songs being incongruously selected as themes for soccer tournaments as was the case for Ricky Martin's "The Cup of Life" being selected as the official song to the 1998 World Cup. Maybe if "Cups" can hold on for another year it can make it to Rio.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Blast From The Past

In the aftermath of a horrible national tragedy like the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this week, initial shock turns to questions of how, why, and particularly who. As the investigation as to the parties responsible for this terrible attack continues I can't help but find myself being reminded of another bomb attack at a prominent sporting event. I am of course referring to the Olympic Park Bombing at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

One of the lasting lessons to be taken away from that whole tragedy is the sad story of Richard Jewell. Jewell as you may recall was a security guard in Olympic Park who first identified the planted pipe bomb. Although the bomb would eventually go off leading to 2 deaths and injuries to over a hundred bystanders, Jewell's initial actions of alerting the police and helping to evacuate the area prevented more harm. Unfortunately for Jewell, it was leaked that the FBI considered him a possible suspect and despite never being officially charged he become all but guilty in court of public opinion. He was sued by victims, unfairly portrayed in the news, mocked by late night; and essentially his life was wrecked.

With time the real bomber was eventually arrested and while Jewell was publicly exonerated by the authorities and received settlements from a bunch of libel suits; it was probably small consolation compared to all the personal grief he had to endure. At least by the time he passed away in 2007 he was properly acknowledged as a hero by the governor of Georgia. So while the search to identify the suspects continue, the media, the internet, and we the public at large should strive to execute a little bit of due diligence before doling out instant judgments (I'm looking at you Reddit).

That being said, while looking up his details I found the totally bananas fact that he made a guest cameo in a 1997 episode of SNL:

It really is as bizarre and awkward as one would expect from an SNL cameo by Richard Jewell. First off, why did they go through all the effort of even getting him on the show? He doesn't really bring anything to the table as a comedic presence and you could see poor Norm McDonald is doing all the heavy lifting. On top of him being a comedic brick wall, the writers didn't even bother giving him funny lines, just standard yes or no responses like some kind of deposition. They could have slapped a mustache on Darrell Hammond maybe put together a segment that would have been at least semi-humorous. Was this part of the undisclosed settlement between him and NBC? A generous cash payout and quick drop in on Studio 8H? 

Personally I suspect that this was just all part of the writing staff's general overarching plan during the Norm McDonald Weekend Update era of giving Norm the worst material possible and seeing how he can try to make it work (that stillborn Ike Turner joke at the end of the clip is a good representative of the period). I mean they start off with a segment based around the inherent humor of the 1996 Olympic Bombing and the trials of a man who become an unwitting victim of the media circus surrounding it, then hilariously throw in some references to the still fresh death of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa (waka, waka!). All I can say about Jewell here is, at least he can take a joke.

Odd as that appearance was, apparently Jewell made another appearance that night in another sketch where he punches Janet Reno as played by Will Ferrell. I couldn't find a clip or picture of the skit but even something as broadly humorous as having the then current Attorney General getting beat up seems funnier than the Weekend Update appearance.

One final note about the episode. I was extra surprised that I didn't remember seeing this cameo on the show considering this was during my late middle school/early high school SNL watching hey days of the late 90s and that the episode he appeared on was the 1997 Sylvester Stallone hosted season premiere. That episode in particular is a favorite of mine and contains among others the "Orange Julius Skit" which I've long since acknowledged I'm obsessed with.