Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bates Motel

Here's a strange TV show. I don't mean that it's strange because of the events depicted, but because of its entire concept and execution. Oh, and also because of the events depicted too. It's just a strange show, but I liked it and enjoyed it and recommend giving it a try, since it's available to stream on Netflix. That's how I recently binged through the first season's ten or so episodes in a weekend. How did you spend your Valentine's Day?

It's ostensibly a prequel to the 1960 Hitchcock masterpiece Psycho... except it's really not. It's more of a reboot or revamp that uses a hotel setting, the familiar mansion, and the name Norman Bates, but other than that, it's such an entirely different story that it seems odd that they kept the whole Psycho connection at all. I knew things would be weird when the story opened and it was set in the present day. I guess I just assumed that it would take place in the 50s or 60s, but that was when I assumed it was actually going to be a prequel to the film. I understand why they didn't want to make a period piece, but somehow the transposition of the time period hurt the authenticity of the storytelling. In other words, I simply find it hard to believe that the Bates Motel exists in a world with cell phones, facebook, and GPS. What was a creepy, remote, isolated location in the film is now a retro motel that would be a hotbed of hipsters flocking from the nearby metropolis where everybody looks like a model from Abercrombie and Fitch. I just find it hard to believe a town of this size and obvious wealth doesn't have a Ramada or a Holiday Inn somewhere. 

And as though the youth of a delusional future serial killer wasn't enough to sustain audiences, they had to include subplots that involve warring mobs in town, drug dealers, corrupt police officers, and an underground Asian sex slave trade that uses the motel as their base of operations, all set against the backdrop of a typical highs chool drama. If Alfred Hithcock ever had the opportunity to return to life and check out an episode of this show, he'd be like, "what the fuck did they do to my movie?"

However, it's ridiculously entertaining, suspenseful, funny, and impossible to turn off once you get hooked. It's basically a soap opera that takes place in the Bates Motel. They even added in a brother for Norman who I don't remember ever being mentioned in the film, but he's also fun and gets into a lot of crazy shenanigans around town.

What really saves the show from getting too over the top in its insanity is that the cast of actors are all so good. I had my doubts going in that anybody could replace Anthony Perkins, but Freddie Highmore is really good and obviously studied the films because he completely nailed the character. He looks and acts just like Perkins, but in a way that somehow still felt organic and natural and not just a parody or an impression. I also liked Vera Farmiga as the mother Norma Bates, who was always fun to watch... although at times perhaps a little too fun, almost as though she was the only member of the cast who understands how ridiculous this show is and is just having fun with the role.  Then there's a bunch of other people, all of whom are fine and very good looking.

So, anyway, that's Bate's Motel. The first season is available to watch on Netflix and it's only ten episodes long. It has enough in jokes and references to Psycho to feel reverent and respectful, but it's so different that even if you haven't seen the movie you can enjoy it on its own. In fact, you might even enjoy it more. Give it a try. It's fun.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Yahoo! Has No Heart

In honor of Valentine's Day, Yahoo! compiled a list of the "Ten Cheesiest Loves Songs EVER," and it's just about the worst thing I've ever seen. You can read their list and explanations here, but allow me a moment to rebut their choices:

#10. Bryan Adams, "Heaven"
Right off the bat, I don't understand how Yahoo! staff writer Shawn Amos defines "cheesy." Seriously, how is this song cheesy? This is a beautiful, pure, heartfelt love song that is sold by one of the greatest pop voices of all time. I love this song. Who doesn't love this song? Cheesy? I dunno about that. I'd maybe admit it's corny. Perhaps even sappy. But it's a love song, and it stands out because Bryan Adams sells it and makes you feel like he means it. Anyway... This song is awesome.

#9. Stevie Wonder, "I Just Called to Say I Love You"
I'll give them this one, since it's fairly cheesy and saccharine, at least in comparison to the overall oeuvre of Stevie Wonder, one of the most gifted musicians of the twentieth century. However, I still call foul on their mean-spirited write-up, and would offer the rebuttal that this is still a great, catchy song. A sappy love-long by one of the greatest song writers of all time is still a great song. In fact, I would say this song excels and connected with audiences because it was cheesy.

#8. Lionel Richie, "Hello"
Fuck you, Yahoo! Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

I'd give them this one if it was a video of the cheesiest videos of all time, since it's really terrible and weird and creepy. But as a song, this is one of the most haunting and beautiful songs ever written... and it is most definitely NOT a cheesy love song, since it is about longing for an unrequited love. If anything, this is one of the most beautiful anti-love songs ever written.

#7. Extreme, "More Than Words"
I've never met anybody who doesn't love this song. Then again, I've never met anybody who wouldn't admit that it is one of the "cheesiest love songs EVER," but lovingly so. Check out the write up on this song:
"Extreme is one in a long, insipid line of '80s hair bands who got all sensitive by busting out their Washburn acoustics and unbuttoning their shirts."
Fuck you, Yahoo! Again, this is another song that works and stands out because it's cheesy, most notably because it's by a band that is most typically known for its hard rock ballads. Yahoo derides them for getting "all sensitive," while most of the world applauded them for it, and embraced this beautiful fucking song. And really... cheesy? It's sung from the perspective of a man who is tired of his partner mindlessly saying "I love you" without actually proving she feels that way. That's the antithesis of a cheesy love song.

#6. Bobby Darin, "If I Were a Carpenter"
What an odd choice. First of all, how many people have ever even heard this song? How many people even remember Bobby Darin? Personally, I love Bobby Darin and consider him one of the finest pop vocalists of all time, and while this isn't one of this best, it's still a great performance by a great singer. But, again, check out their write up"

"It has cred, because folk artists always seem to have cred (whether they deserve it or not)"

I honestly have no idea what the writer meant by that. First of all... Bobby Darin isn't a folk singer. Second of all, he doesn't seem to have cred, he fucking has cred. He's Bobby fucking Darin.

#5. Chicago, "You're the Inspiration"
Of course, any list of the cheesiest love songs EVER would be remiss if it didn't have something sung by Peter Cetera, but even here they fucked it up. You're the Inspiration? I'm not going to say this song isn't cheesy since it most definitely is, but I don't understand how it was chosen over "Hard to Say I'm Sorry," "Love Me Tomorrow," or "If You Leave Me Now," which is hands down the cheesiest song by any once awesome rock band. And just to be clear, I still love that song, but it definitely should be on any list of the cheesiest love songs EVER.

And don't get me started on the solo work by Peter Cetera, all of which is one thousand times cheesier than "You're the Inspiration," especially "Glory of Love," or "Next Time I Fall in Love," his duet with Amy Grant which is probably the cheesiest love song EVER. (I still love that song.)

#4.  Kenny Rogers, "Lady"
Kenny Rogers performed a song about a paraplegic whose wife is cheating on him, and yet this is his cheesiest love song. Look... I'm not saying Lady isn't a cheesy love song... but the fourth cheesiest love song of all time? It's cheesier than the six songs that came before it, sure, but I think I've proven that those songs aren't all that cheesy either.

#3. Bette Midler, "Wind Beneath My Wings"
This is a cheesy song to be sure. But one of the cheesiest love songs EVER? Is this even a love song? I always thought this was a song about friendship, not love. I would agree, however, that it's a really creepy song about using another human being and describing that as friendship, but it's really not a cheesy love song.

#2. Air Supply, "The One that You Love"
Let's say you were a Yahoo! writer tasked with the assignment to create a hack list of the cheesiest love songs EVER because it's Valentine's Day and they need to hit their bandwidth quota for the month, what do you do? Well, you pick a song by Air Supply song, of course. But wait... you've already picked a bunch of obvious pop hits, so you can't use the logical choice  "All out of Love," or even "Making Love out of Nothing of All," so you dig into Air Supply's catalog and choose one that nobody remembers or cares about or would ever rank among their cheesiest songs. 

#1. Chris De Burgh, "Lady in Red"
You didn't expect that one, did you? Of course not. Nobody did. The cheesiest love song EVER? Even in their description they admit that Chris De Burgh wrote it about his wife. That means it isn't cheesy, it's sweet and sincere. And even if you didn't know that, it's still haunting and beautiful. Seriously, Lady in Red as the cheesiest love song EVER? On a list that includes songs by people like Peter Cetera, Air Supply, and Lionel Richie?

This song is really cheesier and more cloying and trite than "Having My Baby" by Paul Anka, "Loving You" by Minnie Riperton, "Afternoon Delight" by Starland Vocal Band, "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright, "MacArthur Park" by Richard Harris, or "Muskrat Love" by either America or Captain and Tennille, which is literally about two muskrats who are in love?

Seriously, I could go on and on with dozens of other songs that are infinitely cheesier than any of Yahoo's picks... but I'm not going to do that because I'm not an asshole who creates lists just to mock people who are vastly more successful and talented than I am. And to be clear, even my previous paragraph is full of songs that were huge hits that I love as a listener.

Well, except for "Having My Baby" and "MacArthur Park," both of which are just awful.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Memoriam: Sid Caesar (1922 - 2014)

One of the funniest guys who's ever lived is now one of the funniest guys who's ever died. Now, that's a terrible joke, but Sid could've made it work. He could make anything work. There's a very short list of people whose work, art, worldview, and comedy stylings have shaped my life and made me the man I am today... and Sid was one of them.

Funny guy. Funny, funny guy.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Escape Plan

This isn't a movie I'd recommend to most people, since while it has a clever story, fun acting performances, nice set pieces, decent direction, and great production design, at the end of the day it exists -- and even succeeds -- for one reason alone: Nostalgia for the two stars. If you have never seen a film starring either Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, or, even worse, you have seen one and didn't enjoy it, this movie isn't for you. HOWEVER, if you are a fan of either actor, or, even better, of both of them, I'm happy to report that this movie is a lot of fun. I liked it. I'd even say it's good.

Stallone and Schwarzenegger need no introduction, but I'll give them one anyway by saying they are the two greatest and most popular action stars in the history of motion pictures. Maybe Errol Flynn is also on that list, or Douglas Fairbanks (both of them), Bruce Willis, Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood, Jackie Chan... you know what, I need to make this list someday soon, but needless to say, I'd put Sly and Arnold at the top... and forgetting about the two Expendables films that each had little more than cameo appearances by Arnold, Escape Plan is the real deal: A buddy action movie starring both men. The only real problem with this movie is that they aren't cops, preferably one who's by the book while the other is something of a loose cannon. Then again, they're both nearly 70 years old, so the idea of them playing people with actual jobs they didn't retire from is silly. Also, the concept of having them as convicts in a maximum security prison is kind of fun because Sly played one in Lock Up while Arnold did something similar in the Running Man, although as something of a self-proclaimed expert on both films (and anybody who knows me won't question my expertise on the films of these two men), if there were any inside jokes or references to either of these movies, they went over my head, much to my disappointment.

Anyway, here's the story: Sly plays a security expert who is secretly sent to prisons to test their facilitates by attempting to break out, but when he is sent to test a secret government prison for the world's most political prisoners, he realizes that he was betrayed and sent their for real, so he has to use all his skills to break out once more. Or something. Anyway, Stallone and Arnold plan a prison break, and it's a lot of fun to watch and the plan they hatch is very clever, even though the entire concept is ridiculous and everything that happens is impossible to believe. In other worlds, it's a perfect throw-back to an 80s action movie. And let's be clear: This is an 80s action movie. I don't mean that it was an homage to movies that were made in the 80s, but that its stars are both in their 80s.


Stallone is really the star of the film, since he is the main character who gets to do the most stuff and has the greater screen time, but that's balanced out by the fact that Arnold completely steals the movie because he's just better, or at least he seems to be having more fun. Stallone is the better actor by far (and my favorite actor, along with Jimmy Stewart, Orson Welles, and William Holden, all of whom are on my short list of those whose work I'll see just because they are in it, no matter what), but he kind of phoned it in a little here while Arnold really went for it, and probably gave the best performance of his career. Seriously, Arnold was great in this film, and actually gave a really good, really effecting and effective acting performance.

We also had nice acting performances from an oddly diverse supporting cast that includes 50 Cent, Vinnie Jones, Sam Neil, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Jim Caviezel. Caviezel was particularly good as the evil warden of the prison, but close your eyes whenever he comes on screen and prove me wrong that he was just doing a Christopher Walken impression. I'm telling ya, he was doing Chris Walken, and it was hilarious.

Anyway, I don't have much else to say about Escape Plan, other than that it was a joy to watch as a fan of Stallone and Arnold, although I probably wouldn't rank it amongst the best by either of the two. I also wouldn't rank it amongst their worst, and I recommend it for fans who finally want to watch these two guys on screen together. It's not the best movie ever made, but the talents and charms of both men is undeniable, and while their on screen chemistry isn't exactly electric, it's still pretty great and elevates the film beyond a simple action flick into something memorable and worth checking out.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Comic-A-Thon Part 7: Marvel Animated Memories

Blessed are the Geeks COMIC-A-THON Part 7: Marvel Animated Memories, where I do something a little different and just talk about the different Marvel Comics inspired cartoons I used to watch when I was a kid. Some hold up... some don't: