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Friday, July 25, 2014

Fight, Fight, Fight!: You're Wrong, Jonah Ray.

This feature is called Fight, Fight, Fight!—you remember the ancient chorus of yore, when five to ten middle schoolers would form a circle around two other middle schoolers, and a shoving match would ensue—and concerns your intrepid Editor-In-Chief (i.e. me) picking a (mostly) petty fight with a faceless stranger on the internet. Most likely, this fellow blogger/clueless celebrity/out-of-touch company will never know that we’re fighting, and that’s OK. This isn’t about solving the world’s problems or reaching an understanding with a fellow human being. Fight, Fight, Fight! is strictly about getting pissed off about something that (mostly) doesn’t matter and writing funny swears about it. So, circle up, jerks! I’m ready to fight.
In a recent addition of the AV Club’s “Hatesong”—a feature in which in notable personality from the world of entertainment discusses a popular song he or she hates—comedian Jonah Ray expresses his disgust for Sublime’s “What I Got.”  Let me first say, Mr. Ray is not wrong.  “What I Got” is certainly worthy of one’s hate.  I wouldn’t say I hate “What I Got,” but I’m certainly indifferent to it, which I’ve been told is a lot worse.  I’m willing to admit that I bought the eponymous album on which “What I Got” is featured when it first came out, but that was more because I had enjoyed past albums by the band and not because “What I Got” was some kind of revelation. “What I Got” is a cheesy crowd-pleaser, and while I’m not opposed to those kinds of things, I’m also not their greatest advocate.

So, why post this piece under the “Fight, Fight, Fight” banner?  I can’t disagree with Mr. Ray’s assessment of “What I Got,” so what right do I have to beef?  Am I mad at AV Club for essentially ripping off “100 Songs I Hate?” Of course not!  I’m sure there are countless blogs on which aging hipsters and surly music snobs post lists of sucky songs through the ages.  Is it because in his decimation of Sublime’s biggest hit, Mr. Ray proves to be nothing more than a surly music snob akin to the character he played on a recent episode of Maron?  A million times no!  Ray was awesome in that episode, and I simply assumed that it was a heightened version of himself, as I understand he is well-versed in the realm of quality music.  My issue with this whole thing and the reason I’ve decided to (not really) pick a fight, is how Ray describes fans of Sublime’s music.  He views them as "piece of shit surfer jock[s]," "assholes," and "people who think that Guy Fieri is badass."  

Well, sir, I am not, nor was I ever, a surfer asshole or a shitty jock or a Fieri devotee.  Granted, I don’t listen to Sublime much anymore—though I did break out my copy of 40oz. to Freedom for the ride into work this morning—but I used to, in that magical time of life known as my “high school ska phase.”

Surely there are worse bands.  C'mon!

I didn’t grow up in Los Angeles or Hawaii (like Ray).  I came of age (i.e. yawned my way through high school) in the suburbs of Charlotte, NC.  I don’t know what Sublime’s West Coast/Hawaiian Islands fandom looks like. Maybe it was all jock dickheads.  The people I used to listen to Sublime with were outcast weirdos like me.  I remember sitting in my friend Gordon’s messy bedroom listening to Robbin' the Hood, the one where every other track was a mental patient ranting into a tape recorder and lead singer Bradley Nowell sang a duet with Gwen Stefani.  This wasn’t a post-football practice listening sesh, this was simply two dudes lounging on a crumby carpet strewn with books and notebooks half-filled with teenage poetry, listening to Sublime and maybe flipping through a porno. 

I bought, listened to and enjoyed the hell out of 40oz. to Freedom when I was a teenager, not because it was about weed (which I’ve never smoked and have been around exactly once), alcohol consumption (I waited until I was at least at the cusp of 21 before having my first beer) or surf culture (not a lot of places to surf in Charlotte).  I liked it because it was this weird mix of ska, hip hop, quirky sampling and lo-fi.  It sounded like Sublime had recorded it in a series of garages, bedrooms and coffee houses, and then pieced it together as an album, not for jocks and bullies, but for weirdos and outcasts like me and my friends.  I suspect Sublime felt this way to me because I grew up in the suburbs in the South. 

I don’t doubt that jocks, douchebags and bullies gravitated to Sublime, but that’s true for all bands.  Kurt Cobain famously lamented that assholes were showing up at Nirvana gigs, screaming out requests for “Polly” because it was a song about sexual assault.  I’ve seen Ween twice, and the mix of people at those shows (49% blissed out druggies, 49% drunk jocks, 1% guys who can’t stand up because they might have overdosed on something, 1% me and my friends who have been tasked, against our wills. to hold the aforementioned OD guys up as they slump in slow-motion to the venue floor when we’re just trying to enjoy “Spinal Menengitis (Got Me Down)”) is insane.  There are always gonna be dicks that like the same things you like, and that is always going to be frustrating.

In summation, I just want Mr. Ray to know that I am not a jock (I’m very bad at all sports), I’m not a bully (I have the broad shoulders and body hair of your classic tough guy, but I’m a push-over) and I’ve never set foot on a surfer board.  I have played songs on an acoustic guitar around a campfire (well, small charcoal grill), but they weren’t Sublime or Jack Johnson songs (they were Ween songs).  And somehow, while not being any of those things, I found that I enjoyed the music of Sublime.  Also, Mr. Ray, I am a big fan of yours and I don’t want to fight.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

My 2014 Songs of Summer

What tune will be crowned 2014's official Song of Summer?  It's probably too early to call, but there is already a long line of candidates in the running apparently.  I say "apparently" because as I read through a list of potential Song of Summer 2014 winners recently, I realized I had only heard of three of them, and of those three, I had never actually heard the entire song.  I've been off Top 40 radio for awhile now--regular readers are already aware of my love/hate relationship with the medium--so I'm sorry (?) to say my only association with these songs (i.e. the 3 I've actually heard of) are the twenty second clips they play on the podcast Who Charted?.  Before publishing this vitally important essay to the internet, however, I thought it was important to at least give a handful of the Song of Summer 2014 frontrunners a chance, so, I did, and here are my thoughts, accompanied by each song's length and how much of said length I actually made it through:

"Fancy" - Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX (song length: 3:24; listened to: 1:35): I don't care for Ms. Azalea's, how you say, "rap style?"  Does that make sense?  Her voice is irritating, the beat is pedestrian and the song is boring and draggy.  Why is this such a big hit?

"Summer" - Calvin Harris (song length: 3:53; listened to: 3:53): Typical EDM, tics off all the usual, mundane boxes.  Is this in the running just because of its title?  You'll notice, however, that I did listen to the whole thing.  Well, that has 100% to do with the song's video.  I'd be a fool to ignore the pure art of filmmaking involved in its creation.  I'm not a philistine.

"Turn Down For What" - DJ Snake & Lil Jon (song length: 3:36; listened to: 2:17): Dumb.  But, the video is, without a doubt, the Video of Summer 2014, if that's also a thing.

"Ain't It Fun" - Paramore (song length: 3:47; listened to: 0:42): To answer your question, Hayley, no, it isn't.

"Wiggle" - Jason Derulo ft. Snoop Dogg (song length: 3:43; listened to: 1:30): Considering its subject matter, I should be a huge fan of Jason Derulo's "Wiggle."  Unfortunately, the lyrics are silly and add little-to-nothing new to the long, proud history of hip hop booty worship anthems.

There are a bunch more, but there is only so much my tender ears can take.

Look, just because a music blog or rogue ex-Mtv VJ or Top 40 computer DJ declares one song the official 2014 Song of Summer, doesn't make it so.  I invite you to shout "Not my Summer Song!" with me when the final word comes down in August.

Oh, did you want to know my 2014 Summer Songs?  Well, I'm so glad you asked.  Here they are, with commentary if needed:

1. "Tacky" "Weird Al" Yankovic

2. Super Sonico Theme Song

I've been watching a lot of Super Sonico: The Animation (What a title!!!) lately, and the theme song just makes me happy.  As does the show itself.  I've almost finished the series.  I'll be writing an article about it that you can all ignore in the next couple of weeks.

3. Improv4Humans

Not a song, per se, but what I'm probably listening to if you catch me with my earbuds in, which is, roughly, 95% of the time.  I just started listening regularly at the start of this year, and I've been making my way through the back catalogue.  Without a doubt, one of the best comedy podcasts out there.  The clip I've included is actually one of my very favorite moments from an episode I've recommended to several people (well, people who I know are also David Bazan fans, as he is the musical guest and all of the scenes are inspired by his songs, which he plays live and beautifully).  Maybe doesn't conform to "Summer Song" structure, but, eff it, Matt Besser is awesome and his show is essential listening.

4. "Gu Cruise!" Howard Kremer

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Most Horrific Thing I've Read This Week

For as long as I can remember, I've had an irrational fear of ventriloquist dummies and collector's dolls (i.e. the kind of dolls my maternal grandmother kept on a series of shelves in the spare room my sister had to sleep in when we'd visit).  Because of this fear, I, weirdly enough, find myself inexplicable drawn to stories about murderous dolls and dummies with minds of their own (they are usually quite murderous as well).  I can't explain it, but I recognize it as a fact, thus I have a greater understanding of myself than most people.  I'm terrific.

This week I came across something in the "creepy doll/dummy" oeuvre that I am decidedly not a fan of.  Meet online stripper, Veronica Chaos, and her dummy, Slappy.  They have sex with each other.

"For the past year, the 26-year-old former stripper has been doing online ventriloquism shows that climax with her having sex with a dummy...
"He's bad cop and I'm good cop. He's the misogynist and I'm the battered wife," is how she describes their dynamic to The Huffington Post. "The idea is, I put up with him because I love him so much.""
Chaos and Slappy sometimes role play (ew) as well.  She'll play Slave Leia to Slappy's Jabba the Hutt.  Or Alice to his Mad Hatter.  Or my personal favorite, pictured below and teeming with creep shivers:
And what kind of show can viewers expect when they visit Chaos n' Slappy's weird, icky corner of the Web?

""We sing a duet and I give him oral sex," she said. "I debated whether I should do full penetration, but it takes a while to get him into me and that's difficult when I'm also singing a song.""

Because it's easier to sing a song with a puppet's wang in your mouth?

You know, as I was writing this, I started to feel bad.  Everybody has their own "sex thing."  I mean, "puppet on stripper" sex may be the exact thing that gets you off, and that's OK.  I don't want people to think I'm some kind of stuffy, conservative, "sex-in-a-bed-and-only-in missionary"asshole.  I have fetishes.  I have proclivities.  In my opinion, Veronica Chaos and her wooden pal are doing the Lord's work.

Luckily, just when I was about to scrap this whole article and adjourn to my bed to watch Super Sonico on my phone (I genuinely enjoy the stories, guys!), I saw the following clickable headline:  CREEPY: LONELY GUY TURNS HIS SHOWER HEAD INTO A GIRLFRIEND.  You know before when I said whatever turns you on (within reason!!!) is OK?  This is not OK.

This dude fashioned a "girlfriend" out of his shower head...

...and proceeded to do this with her: 

Because who doesn't enjoy it when his/her significant other vomits a steady stream of warm water onto his/her head?  Ick.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

2014 Summer Movie Stomp Down: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

This summer I had three movies I was really looking forward to seeing in the theater, a box of popcorn nestled on my crotch, a bucket of Coca-Cola coursing through my veins and Sour Patch Kids powder dusting my beard like a blanket of fresh snow atop a peaceful mountain.  Those movies were Godzilla--which, as you know, I've already seen and didn't particularly enjoy--Guardians of the Galaxy, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  So excited was I to see those apes hooting, sign languaging and firing machine guns on horseback on the big screen, I bought a ticket for opening night.  I couldn't wait to see those apes!!!

So, was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes everything I hoped it would be?  And did I enjoy it sans popcorn, soda pop and sour candy (I'm on a weird diet right now and I can't have sugar and a bunch of other stuff nobody cares about)?  And why were there so many babies in my theater?  I went to a 9:40 show and there were about a thousand hours of trailers, so the movie didn't even start until super late.  Babies shouldn't be up that late, right?  My 3-year-old goes to bed at 7:15 every night.  Is that crazy?  Am I a mean dad by forcing my daughter to go to bed when the sun is still out and while certain babies in the community are getting dolled up for a night at the multiplex?  I'll answer some of those questions below.  

And, as always, be on the look-out for spoilers, if you care about that sort of thing.

3 Sentence Plot Synopsis: Most of the planet's human population has been killed off by a mysterious plague, referred to unfairly as the "simian flu."  Meanwhile, Caesar, our beloved hero chimp from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, has created a peaceful society in the woods with his fellow escapees from the laboratory.  One day some humans wander into ape territory, and everything pretty much goes to shit.

Stuff I Liked

We all know the endgame here:  Earth, generally believed to be the sole property of mankind and its various corporate sponsors, will eventually belong to the apes.  There will be very few human beings left, and the majority of these survivors will work as slaves for the planet's ape overlords or live out their days dressed in animal pelts, living in caves and eating moss.  So, honestly, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is pretty much a placeholder, a two-hour-and-ten-minute exercise in wheel-spinning.  But, dammit, is that wheel-spinning super fun to watch!  Don't get me wrong, there is some dark stuff going on here (most of the world's population is dead; angry monkeys with nothing to lose and access to the largest warehouse of weapons ever committed to film), but Dawn never takes itself so seriously that it turns into a relentless slog of sad, moody bullshit.  Dawn is fun!  And exciting!  It might be populated by a bunch of bland human characters you can barely care about--like a certain giant god-like lizard creature movie I could mention--but its CGI ape stars are so engaging and so brilliantly rendered, it doesn't really matter.  The hunting scene that opens the film, the man vs. ape melee in the middle of San Francisco (I'm assuming in the areas not already destroyed by Godzilla and his MUTO pals), Caesar vs. Koba atop an unfinished skyscraper--fun scenes all!  I know that seems like such a nothing description, "fun," but it's the word both myself and my movie-viewing companion used during our post film discussion, so I think it's apt.

Dawn, as I may have mentioned earlier, is fun, but it is also a really solid, great film.  And a lot of the credit for that needs to go to Andy Serkis, the motion-capture superstar responsible for Gollum and Kong from Peter Jackson's re-imagining of King Kong.  Serkis plays Caesar--as he did in Rise--and he's brilliant.  The expressiveness of this CGI chimp is amazing.  I keep pointing out the apes are CGI, but that's kind of an asshole move.  First, the CGI is really, really good.  Second, I kind of forgot I was watching apes created on a computer about ten minutes into the film.  And a lot of that comes from the superb motion capture work done by Serkis and his fellow ape stand-ins.

Adding to the fun, "c'mon-guys-don't-take-this-dark-stuff-too-seriously" attitude Dawn seems to have, is the film's score.  It's downright whimsical in places, which whisked me back to the original Apes series, but in a good way.  

Stuff I Didn't Like

Look, I completely understand that the Carter character is a catalyst for a lot, if not most, of what transpires over Dawn's 130-minutes, but that doesn't mean I still don't find him utterly nonsensical.  Mind you, I have nothing against Kirk Acevedo, the actor hired to portray Carter.  The performance is fine; Acevedo plays an asshole admirably.  It's just that, sigh, I don't know.  If Carter didn't act like/resemble the aforementioned bodily orifice so much, the Planet of the Apes might have remained a Planet of the Apes and the Few Remaining Human Beings That Didn't Die of Simian Flu Living Together in Peace.  We could've all lived in relative harmony maybe.  

Here's why I don't care for Carter and the way the movie stops making sense for using him.  [Possibly spoiler territory] Carter shoots a monkey dead fairly early in the film.  The apes, understandable, don't like this, and demand that Malcolm, TV's Felicity, Malcolm's weirdo son with an excellent taste in graphic novels, Carter and the rest of the crew leave the forest and never, ever, ever come back.  Malcolm and friends do return however, and, you guessed it, they bring Carter along.  WHAT?  There is a throwaway line about how Carter is the only person who knows how to repair a dam or something, but that doesn't even matter, because when Carter inevitably pisses Caesar off a second time, Malcolm locks Carter in the car and fixes the dam without him.  So, Carter wasn't necessary?  Wait, what?  You knew bringing him along would cause static with the apes, but you also knew he was the only dude living at the colony who could properly repair a broken dam, but then you ended up not needing him anyway?  Dumb.

And let's talk about the colony (i.e. Neo San Francisco) for a second.  I'm not super clear on what's going on over there.  Commissioner Gordon seems to be in charge, and they've got a warehouse packed to the rafters with machine guns, rocket launchers and tanks, but then, like, what does everybody do?  Every time we encounter the citizens of the colony they're all kind of just milling around in this tiny, makeshift town's square.  They don't seem to be doing anything but shuffling around, albeit with positive attitudes and smiling faces in defiance of their current situation, and bumping into one another.  There's really no place to go or, like, stores to shop in or money to have or anything.  It kind of reminded me of trying to leave the Magic Kingdom at noon to take the monorail to Epcot for lunch in Fake Germany.  No matter what time of day it is, you feel like you're the only person exiting the park.  Main Street is a nightmarish hellscape of families from all over the planet fighting, yelling, farting, spitting crumbs all over the place and snapping dumb pictures with their telephones, and you're just trying to push through and get to that schnitzel buffet.  The colony doesn't look like a swinging place to be, is what I'm trying to convey.

And I can't fault the filmmakers for this, but why did Dawn of the Planet of the Apes seem to be functioning as a beacon for parents of infants and not enough foresight to hire a babysitter?  Seriously, four to five babies in a theater at a 9:40 PM show is way too many babies.

Arbitrary Grade: B+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes vs. Edge of Tomorrow vs. Godzilla

Obviously this is better than Godzilla, because Godzilla is garbage.  It's weird, the further away I get from my Godzilla viewing experience, the more my dislike for it grows.

Because Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn't shit the bed with it's ending, I gotta put it a couple titches above Edge of Tomorrow.  Both films are engaging and easy to lose yourself in, but where Edge of Tomorrow drags a little in it's penultimate scene (the raid on the Louvre) and then completely falls to pieces at its nonsensical end, Dawn keeps an even pace and concludes satisfyingly, considering we all know what's going to eventually happen.

So, that's three down.  What next?  There are plenty of films I want to check out (Snowpiercer, They Came Together) that probably won't ever play here, so I'm thinking the next time I check in will be to discuss Guardians of the Galaxy.  They Came Together is on demand, so I may try to squeeze that one in next week.  In the meantime, just read this review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes over and over until you get dizzy and fall and hit your head on the coffee table.  Movies!

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Is It?: Happy/The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)

Hey, dudes, it's time for What Is It?, the Giant Electric Penguin feature in which I catch up with something (phenomenon, musical artist, TV show, video game-inspired breakfast cereal, etc) that everybody else on the planet is pretty much sick of, but that I missed for some reason.

First up, Pharrell Williams' impossible-to-avoid-yet-somehow-I've-successfully-done-just-that song "Happy." 

Chances are, you didn't need to click the above "play triangle" and listen to "Happy," because you've already been subjected to it 50-million times since its release last November.  I will further assume--and not for any reason other than it seems to be the normal, observable reaction to "Happy" and songs of its unmistakable ilk--that you love it.  And if you love it, that's awesome!  I hope whenever "Happy" plays on your radio or pops up on whatever music-stealing app you've downloaded onto your smartphone, you don your own weird Arby's/Jellystone forest ranger's hat and dance down the block to the delight of your neighbors.  I hope "Happy" takes you back to that afternoon you took your kids to see Despicable Me 2 and nobody dropped their popcorn on the floor or pooped their pants.  I hope "Happy" makes you think of those Twinkie-shaped Minion creatures and you smile.  I want all of these things for you.  I hate this song.

I don't hate "Happy" because everybody else likes it, and whatever the general public embraces I immediately deem as stupid and write it off as a useless pile of sweaty garbage.  I don't hate "Happy" because I, in fact, abhor happiness and wish only sadness and pain upon this world and every dumb idiot that inhabits it.  I hate "Happy" because it's a terrible song.  Just an awful, repetitive, awful, awful thing.

So, why does everybody like this song so much?  I'm not that out of touch with the general populace, am I?  I watch just as many cooking competition shows and trashy reality programs, listen to as much crummy Top 40 and inhale as many McDonald's French fries as everybody else, so why doesn't "Happy" ping any of my "happiness zones?"

Maybe it's all the hand clapping.  "Happy" is more an ode to clapping than to its titular emotion.  A lot of it has to do with lines like "clap along if you feel like a room without a roof."  Or all the other lines that don't mean anything, but because they include the word "happy," we're supposed to assume are boiling over with positivity and self-helpy reminders that "happiness is the truth," whatever the hell that means.

I think the reason America loves this song so much is the video.  Americans love to see people who look like themselves dancing and lip synching in music videos.  It's a scientific fact.  The "Happy" video is crammed full of "real world" weirdos shimmying and pop-locking and two-stepping all over the place, and Pharrell knows--because he's privy to scientific facts and such--that this is exactly what people want to see when they listen to their favorite Oscar-nominated song.  That's right, "Happy" was nominated for an Oscar, and if Frozen didn't exist (perish the thought!!!), it probably would've won.

Anyway, now that I've turned 98% of my Facebook friends against me, let's take a look at this "The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)" thing.

When I first starting hearing about "The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)" on Facebook, I thought everybody liked/like-hated it because it was some goofy thing from Europe and they don't do things the right way (i.e. the American way) in Europe, so let's laugh at them.  Turns out it isn't.  Turns out "The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)" is an intentionally silly song with an intentionally silly video created by a legitimately funny Norwegian comedy duo named Ylvis.

I really like "The Fox."  It's a pretty brilliant parody of electro-pop earnestness and weird, cheesy pop song earnestness in general.  The subject matter is ridiculous--but also super thought-provoking, because, seriously, what kind noise does a fox make?--and is presented so seriously, well, I mean, that's just comedy gold right there.

I do admit that the initial shock of how truly funny "The Fox" is does wear off.  I watched the video three times over the course of writing this piece, and the third time I found myself laughing less.  It was still funny, but I kind of got it now.  However, the grandfather shouting Ylvis' proposed fox noises into his grandson's ears in the middle of the forest, makes me laugh--and laugh so hard--every time I see it.

In summation: "Happy" makes me unhappy and "The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)" makes me happy.  Simple.  Done.

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