Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Heeeeere's Raaaaaaaandy!

I know that people think Judd Apatow is a comedic genius, that everything he touches is comedic gold. I'll admit that Apatow does have a talent with comedy, and that he's got a good eye for talent.

But I'm also extremely sceptical, because, if you look at his entire filmography, he's got more misses than hits, and they're BAD misses. (Oh, and he stole the entire online marketing campaign for Funny People from Ben Stiller.)

Now, there's something else that makes me doubt Apatow's comedic credibility. In an interview, Apatow claimed he's working on a script for a full-length feature for Randy, one of the minor characters in Funny People. For those of you not familiar with the internet phenomena that is Randy, just Google "Raaaaaaaandy" (with eight "A"s), and you'll be referred to a plethora of Funny or Die clips of Randy in action.

THIS is what Apatow wants to make a movie out of.

I get the joke: Randy isn't supposed to be funny. I mean, he's a comedian with a DJ, for Christ's sake. His non-hilarity is what's funny. But it's not. It's not funny at all, even in a not-supposed-to-be-funny way. And yet, based upon the response to this 15 or so minutes of footage about as funny as brain surgery, Apatow thinks Randy would be a good subject for a movie.

Ya know, Lorne Michaels has been doing this exact same thing for 20 years, turning sketches into full-length features, and everyone thinks he's an idiot. Judd Apatow wants to do the same thing with material that's not as funny as any given sketch of Mary Katherine Gallagher, and people thinks it's a brilliant idea. Add to that the fact that Randy is played by a douchebag who
can't tell the difference between a standard movie screen and one that's three stories tall, and I think you have the making of a movie that will replace Walk Hard as the biggest turd in Apatow's filmography.

But...what do I know. I'm sure it will be hilaaaaaaaarius.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I'm Reading

A couple of months back, I mentioned that I was so soured on reading that I was watching whatever I could find on TV. Now, we've reeeeally reached the dog days of TV, the point between the end of the summer shows and the start of the fall shows. So, I've fallen back on books. And I've managed to knock down quite a few so far (but nowhere near my record of 13 books during the three months of summer).

Here's a couple of things you can read during the waning summer months:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I realize that this won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but it's really a slog. Admittedly, I'm only about halfway through, but, fuck, this is a tough read; it makes Crime and Punishment seem like an easy beach read. There's a movie version of this coming out in the fall, and there's also a number of ripoff versions (like Book of Eli and Carriers) coming out as well. What the ripoffs seem to get is that just having people wander around in a post-apocalyptic world is boring, and that adding action scenes considerably livens up the proceedings. I wish McCarthy had realized that before he wrote this. To quote Homer Simpson: "That's boring. You're boring everybody! QUIT BORING EVERYONE!!"

Rollie's Follies by Rollie Fingers
A book of anecdotes from baseball Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers. This is really an enjoyable read, as, unlike most books written by sports figures, it has almost nothing to do with Rollie Fingers. It's just Rollie riffing on a bunch of obscure facts and figures from the history of baseball. It's an interesting and easily-digestible read; I read it in six days, entirely on the toilet.

Clint Eastwood: A Biography by Richard Schickel
The definitive Eastwood biography from an admitted Eastwood fan. It's a must-read for Eastwood fans, as it goes into great detail in all aspects of Eastwood's life, particularly in the making of all his films. And full cooperation by Eastwood helps greatly. Mind you, this book only covers Eastwood's life through Bridges of Madison County, but, hell, covering the first 40 years of a guy's career is plenty.

Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard
Even at 83, Elmore Leonard still cranks out a book a year. And, even at 83, he makes the tough guy dialogue that Quentin Tarantino tries to oh-so-unconvincingly emulate seem effortless. I hope he writes until he's 100, because it'll be a great blow to literature once he's done.

Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way by Bruce Campbell
Bruce Campbell's tell-all of the making of the Mike Nichols' film Let's Make Love. This book would be a scandal-maker on the level of You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again...if only a single word of it were true. Campbell has completely fabricated the movie, the making, even his own prima donna behavior. He's actually a pretty good writer, coming up with such a detailed and interesting story; it makes you wonder if he hasn't wasted his career playing second-banana to Sam Raimi.

But, after having read all of these great pieces of literature, the best thing I've read so far this summer was a bumper sticker that read, "Republicans for Voldemort."

That's some funny shit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Eloquence Not A Hall Of Fame Criterion

If you weren't lucky enough to be able to go to Cooperstown for this weekend's Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, chances are you missed Rickey Henderson's semi-literate induction speech. Here's an entertaining excerpt:

It's a good thing that Henderson's bona fides as the best lead-off hitter in the history of baseball is enough to get him into the Hall of Fame, because his inability to speak the English language certainly wouldn't put him in.

The story of John Olerud's batting helmet gains more credibility every time I watch this.

BTW, The Hall of Very Good has been Hall of Fame-crazy the past week, so check 'em out if you're a Hallophile.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Rock Of Ages

In my quest to see bands that I missed in their heyday 20 years ago, I went to a Def Leppard concert this weekend. Poison, another first, and Cheap Trick, whom I'd seen twice before, opened.

It was nice to see all these bands who have been around 20-30 years out there with their original lineups, still playing together after all these years. (Well, that's not entirely true in the case of Def Leppard, but Steve Clark's death precludes him from touring, so that's all right.) And it's actually a bit of an oddity for them to do so, because there are a lot of big-name bands out there from the '70s and '80s who aren't touring in their original iterations. Journey is without the services of long-time vocalist Steve Perry. Foreigner is basically Mick Jones and a bunch of guys he picked up along the way. Styx makes due by not playing the homo songs that Dennis DeYoung wrote before they kicked him out of the band. Dokken has been a revolving door of guitarists since George Lynch left. Ozzy Osbourne isn't on speaking terms with the original Blizzard of Ozz band. Even Van Halen hasn't toured with its original lineup for 25 years. The fact that Cheap Trick and Poison are still playing with their original lineups says a lot about these bands. And I'm willing to grant an "original lineup" exception to Def Leppard, since "new guy" Viv Campbell has been with the band for 17 years. (Much like how Brian Johnson is the "new guy" in AC/DC, even though he's been with the band for nearly as many years as Bonn Scott lived.)

The funny thing about these bands is that they outlived the thing that destroyed them. When Nevermind came out in '91, the music world changed, and all of the hard rock and glam metal bands that had dominated the previous decade just fell off the planet. Suddenly, alternative rock was the big thing. (I've always been been bothered by the connotation of "alternative" rock, because, when an "alternative" band is more popular than its "mainstream" counterparts, exactly what is it alternative to?) But, 15 years later, of all the big-name bands that dominated the '90s, only two still exist: Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots (who just got back together after a decade-long hiatus). Everyone else faded to black. (I don't include Alice in Chains here, even though they're giving it a try with a new lead singer, as, truth be told, they're a heavy metal band who just happened to have the right sound at the right time and were lucky enough to get lumped in with the rest of the grunge ilk.)

The fact that people actually still go to see Poison and Def Leppard tells me that these bands never ceased being popular; they were merely waiting for the "alternative" thing to die down. As bands that now make most of their money from touring, I'd say they're more popular now than the bands that usurped them in the '90s. I saw Soundgarden, at the height of their popularity, at the same arena back in '94, and there were not as many people at that show as there were at this Def Leppard show. And I'm betting that if Soundgarden DID get back together, they wouldn't pack as many in.

I hate to say it, as much as I hate the '80s, I'm starting to appreciate some of those bands more and more. I know: it's a scary thought, but they're starting to make the bands of the '90s seem like a bad joke.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Flying To St. Maarten Might Be A Bad Idea

During one of the random clickathons that comprises my usual internet sessions, I came across this video of a KLM flight landing at the airport on the Caribbean island nation of St. Maarten (as opposed to St. Martin, which is the other end of the island):

After seeing this video, I have two words to say about traveling to the Dutch Antilles:


I know that the Caribbean is a popular tourist attraction and that St. Maarten is probably a beautiful place. And I know a lot of people who have traveled to the various islands and loved it, but if there's a possibility that my plane is going to hit the runway with a car wrapped around its landing gear, I think I'll pass.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What I'm Listening To

Chickenfoot - Chickenfoot (2009)
What do you do when the band that was at its most creative while you were the frontman decides to go on tour with their original clown of a lead singer? Why, you take their bass player and start your own version of the band, which is exactly what Sammy Hagar has done with Chickenfoot. It's pretty much Van Halen, ver. 2.5, as it features the non-Van Halen half of the second iteration of Van Halen, as well as Chad Smith, the Will Ferrell-lookalike drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and guitar genius Joe Satriani. When I pressed play on this record, I was disappointed with the first track, as it's a pretty bad song, and Sammy's voice just wasn't sounding right, and the guitar work was fairly pedestrian, and it's just not good. I was so set to be disappointed with the rest of the record. But on the second track, Sammy starts to sound like Sammy again, and the Michael Anthony backing vocals kick in, and Joe starts to shred a little, and suddenly I'm listening to the best Van Halen-less Van Halen record ever. The key to this whole venture is Satriani. Like most shred guitarists who came up in the '80s, Satriani's style is heavily informed by Eddie Van Halen's. But, unlike a lot of those same guitarists, Satriani has actually gotten better than Van Halen. And, while Eddie is still working on those tired licks from a body of work that stops 10 years ago, Satriani is still writing music and still getting better. Eddie needs to realize that the two-handed tapping, the dive bombs, the staccato harmonics: all that was revolutionary 25 years ago, but eight year old kids can play that shit now. And guys like Satriani and his assorted disciples have all passed him by. The old Van Halen is dead; long live the New Halen!

Daughtry - Leave This Town (2009)
To paraphrase a Herman's Hermits song: "Second verse, same as the first." It's nice to see that Daughtry appears to be an actual band that writes its own songs, and not just a bunch of studio musicians with a Svengali like Max Martin doing all the hard work. Good for them. Aaaaaaaand I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I like this album.

Assorted Michael Jackson cuts
Because everyone in the world has busted out Thriller in the past two weeks and rediscovered why it's the best-selling album of all time. Although, on retrospect, I will say that Eddie Van Halen's solo in "Beat It" is one of the most slapdash pieces of shit I've ever heard. I'd say it was pieced together with Pro Tools, but that didn't exist back then, so it actually IS that shitty; talk about phoning it in.

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath & Paranoid (both 1970)
Even though no one in the band has died (that I know of), I felt the urge to bust out the old Black Sabbath records. Nothing new to report here, as both these albums are older than I am, except that, for being a crusty British white guy, Bill Ward was a pretty funky drummer.

Boston - Boston (1976)
Sometimes, I get going on the crackpipe and decide to listen to something I had really never considered listening to. This week, it was Boston's debut album. This is one of the few albums I can think of that every man, woman, and child has heard every cut off of. (Thriller, oddly enough, is another.) And while, in the '90s, I would have considered this album "gay," it's really not that bad; it's aged much better than a lot of the music from the '90s. Hell, if it's good enough for Kurt Cobain to steal the riff for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from, then it's good enough for me.

Oasis - (What's the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)
Even though they never got as big in the States as they did in the U.K., Oasis is still a pretty good band, despite the obvious Beatles comparisons. And this album is their most-consitently entertaining.

The History of Howard Stern
Sirius has been airing this while Stern has been on vacation. It's great to hear all the old stuff that not only made Stern into the monumental figure he is now, but wrote the playbook for every radio host from there on out. The work of true genius.

If I listen to anything else listenalbe, I'll let you know.

Monday, July 06, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Kobe Bryant was able to overcome the "Shaq Curse" and finally win a post-Shaq championship. I figured that maybe this would be the start of the new Kobe Era, where he's actually able to win championships on his own.

That was...until the Cavs traded for Shaq.

Mind you, I think that Shaq, as a basketball force, is done. Hell, I'm a firm believer that Shaq never had any basketball skill. But, he's a proven winner. Shaq can still travel his way to the basket and score points, and if you can find the right people to put around him to do the "skill" work, you'll win championships. And now that he's on a team that has already shown it can go the distance without him, I think the Cavs' chances for a championship just improved greatly. He may very well be the last piece in the Cavs' championship puzzle.

After that trade, I'd have said that Kobe's chances of a repeat just went down to zero...until the Kobes signed Ron Artest.

This is a real coup for the Kobes, as it now makes them a team that might actually be able to win a game should Kobe not be in the lineup. Artest is another player who, despite the fact he's a piece of shit human being, can turn a team around if you put the right players around him; he was what the Rockets, who had two All-Star starters in their lineup, needed to get over the hump. It's an absolute dream for Artest, who leaves behind a team that is very quickly literally falling apart.

However, Artest needs to realize that, unlike most of the teams he's played on in the past, he's not the go-to guy here. The Kobes are Kobe's team, and no one puts Kobe in the corner. If Artest can accept his role as a guy who may occasionally get the ball and have to put it in the basket (but only after checking with Kobe first), I think we may finally get the Finals that everyone thought we'd get this year.

All that being said, if Kevin Garnett comes back, the Celtics will be able to field an All-Star at nearly every position now that they have Rasheed.

And that won't make it easy for anybody.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Last Five Movies: Dead Celebrity Edition

In lieu of going on about the already-overreported rash of recent celebrity deaths (Karl Malden being the latest one), here's a more upbeat discussion of some recent movies I've seen:

The House Bunny (2008)
This is one of those movies where they try to make pretty girls ugly. But it would take some major deconstructive surgery to make me believe girls like Kat Dennings and Katharine McPhee are ugly. This may also be the only movie in history whose soundtrack is composed entirely of songs from iTunes commercials. The laughs are few and far between here, with the cleverest joke being one of the characters using the name "Cole Trickle" as an alias (and this single Days of Thunder reference was funnier than Talladega Nights). And, speaking of movies in need of a laugh...

Year One (2009)
You would assume that, when you cram this much comedic talent into one movie, there would be some laughs. You would be wrong. I laughed approximately twice. I realize that Judd Apatow only produced this, but considering nearly every movie he's produced has been garbage, I'm beginning to doubt Apatow's pedigree as a great comedic mind.

Transformers 2 (2009)
Rather than attempt to describe how bad this movie is, I'll instead ramble off some of the "best" bits:

Best Continuity Error - Sometime, it takes a Transformer minutes to transform; other times, it takes a second;

Best Racial Stereotype - The two "black" Autobots, who talk in jive, have gold teeth, and are constantly trying to kill each other. I'm sure that if Pennzoil made a malt liquor, they'd be drinking that, too;

Best Special Effect - Megan Fox's pants, which remain preternaturally white throughout the whole movie;

Best Balls - The giant Decepticon made out of construction equipment has testicles made of wrecking balls clanging around between its legs;

Best Nonsense - Any scene containing a Transformer. Or any scene involving humans. And everything in between.

Twice as big and twice as bad as the original.

Surveillance (2008)
A rather nonsensical and predictable thriller, written and directed by David Lynch's daughter. Only interesting turns from Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond keep it from being completely unwatchable.


Futurama: Into the Wide Green Yonder (2009)
How is it that a direct-to-video movie from a canceled animated TV show is better than most things that Hollywood can produce? Because it's fucking brilliant, that's how. It's the final installment of this great experiment, and the whole thing has proved so popular that Futurama is actually going back into production with new shows. That's great news, considering Futurama was one of the best shows on TV before Fox unceremoniously canceled it.

I can't wait.

Getting slightly off-topic...I haven't said anything about the recent celebrity deaths and don't plan on it, as every cable news channel has devoted all their programming in the past week to them. However, I would like to mention Karl Malden, an Oscar winner whose career spanned 60 years, whose death today will be completely overshadowed by the 24/7 Michael Jackson coverage. In sticking with the "recent movies" theme, I thought I'd mention some films I've seen recently that featured Malden and others who have joined the Walk of Fame in the Sky:

Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Michael Caine's third go-round in the role that would provide Mike Myers with oh-so-hilarious comedic gold for years to come. Malden plays the villain here, and does a fine job with it. Morbid fact: Ed Begley, Sr., who's also in the film, died two years later at age 69. Malden, who was 14 years younger, would outlive him by nearly 30 years. There's something to be said about good living.

The Swarm (1978)
Another terrible Disaster Movie from Irwin Allen, this one about killer bees. Notable for featuring a massive Oscar-winning and -nominated cast. Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray, José Ferrer, Ben Johnson, Richard Widmark, Alejandro Rey, Cameron Mitchell, Slim Pickens: all talented actors, and all completely dead (much like their careers when they made this). Oddly enough, Olivia de Havilland, who plays Johnson and MacMurray's love interest (!!), celebrates her 93rd birthday today.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Gore Vidal's bastardization of the Tennessee Williams play of the same name. There are a number of dead gays in the cast and crew (Williams, Vidal, and Monty Clift being the known ones), which is ironic, since Williams' original play was about homosexuality, but the movie makes absolutely no mention of it. Mercedes McCambridge and Katharine Hepburn, who was nominated for an Oscar, round out the late castmembers.

Burnt Offerings (1976)
Just another one of the million or so predictably stupid horror movies that came out in the '70s. Oliver Reed, Bette Davis, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart, and Dub Taylor are all survived by Karen Black, who, in another odd coincidence, celebrates her 70th birthday today.

Here's to hoping that every celebrity lives a long life.