Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween III: Season of the Witch--It's Actually on YouTube

Actually, they have to be at home for the horrifying plot twist to pop off...also doesn't Michael Myers look weird?  Oh yeah, about that...

Halloween III:  Season of the Witch came out in 1982, four years after the classic original and one year after the inevitably inferior but still quite good part II.  Producer/director/writer John Carpenter intended for the villain Michael Myers to die for good at the end of the second film, and to continue the series as an anthology of films unrelated to each other save for the obvious connection in the title.  However, the masses were disheartened at the lack of Mike, and the producers gave in and brought him back for future installments.

In case you thought artistic integrity had anything to do with any of this.

Halloween III is not just a Halloween sequel, and not just a horror film.  It's every 80s movie ever.  The feelings this irrefutable fact engenders inside of you will definitely determine how much you enjoy the film, if at all.  It is 1 hour and 38 minutes of a decent story sunk by unimaginative directing and cinematography, turgid dialogue, and acting that fulfills a contract.

It's actually up on YouTube for your possible enjoyment, and in the spirit of the Top Chef finale reviews I did back in the days when I cared, I present a timeline review of Halloween III.  Meaning I had to watch the damned thing a second time.

0:33  The opening credits design reminds me of the Swordquest games for Atari, namely the screen that would pop up featuring the numbers a player would need to write down so's to complete the quest.

1:09   Dan O'Herlihy portrays Conal Cochran.  Oh fuck, that is a lot of Irish.

2:55   NORTHERN CALIFORNIA.  We're out West here.  Remember this.  I mean they put it up on screen, so they clearly want us to store it in our mind grapes.

3:09   THE 23RD--my birthday!  Wow, this is a feeling of pride almost as fulfilling as when part of the Patsy Cline biopic Sweet Dreams was shot in my little-ass elementary school, and the filmmakers didn't even mention us in the end credits.  Assholes.  We worked our little hands very hard on that paper mache barn Jessica Lange "sang" in front of, I'll have you know.

3:22   The music is spooky.  Anytime now, pieces of cobalt sky will plummet and impact the earth below with all the force of a steel elephant.  Possibly it will hit this Disheveled Guy who is being pursued by a non-speeding car.

5:09   It's Gary Numan!  He's gonna kill Disheveled Guy.

5:43   Gary Numan ends up dead instead, crushed by a car.  Yep.  The fact that he crunches so much should tip us off to something...

6:46   Nine months on, no one knows what's happened to Stonehenge.  It apparently just disappeared.

7:13   The most important moments of the entire movie.  It is at this time we are introduced to the Silver Shamrock commercial.  You will always remember the first time you heard it.  Set to the tune of "London Bridge Is Falling Down," this jingle is not an earworm.  It's an ear-anaconda.  Be forewarned, one listen is all it takes.  Once it sinks the hooks into your brain, they cannot be removed.

8:36   Disheveled Guy practically attacks Black Gas Station Attendant as he rasps out, "They're coming!"  In his hand, he clutches a pumpkin mask that looks very much like the one in the commercial.

9:09   Enter the alleged hero, Dr. Challis, portrayed by Tom Atkins, who's usually busy playing cops.  Either way, the moustache remains, and it is easily the second-scariest thing in the entire film.

9:56   The way Challis' kids put their stupid Silver Shamrock masks on and start dancing around whilst singing that goddamn commercial jingle makes my forehead pulse.  However, it does come on the heels of some fantastic emasculation as delivered by the ex-Mrs. Dr. Challis.  Nothing's gonna convince me to ever push out some brats, though.  What if they grow up to have poor taste in music?  What if they don't like to read?  What if someone catches me tying them to the highway median?  Too much possible hassle.

10:17  Second time the commercial has appeared and I'm already prepared to impale myself on a dead man's penis if it pops up again.  The commercial, I mean.

11:09  Fucking ad runs on the hospital TV while Disheveled Guy is being tended to!

11:46  They keep showing another Gary Numan hovering around.  I don't like the film.  And I don't like the scenery.  And I don't like the set.

13:40  In all the trips I've had to take to (the) hospital in all my time as a mentally ill asthmatic, I can tell you:  doctors and nurses do not respect you unless you're being kept in a room with a door.  That sheet shit is for the birds, and they know it.

14:10  New Wave revenge, as Disheveled Guy dies via skull ripping.

15:43  This man is able to blink his eyes even after dousing his entire head in gasoline.  This seems to indicate something, perhaps.

17:13  I bet Tom Atkins and Stacey Keach used to get together at big ol' Hollywood parties and have stache-offs disguised as friendly conversations.

17:32  Absolutely pointless voiceover of Disheveled Guy's last words, uttered minutes previous as the Silver Shamrock commercial made doves cry:  "They're going to kill us."

19:16  Not even one minute after she first appears, I can already tell that Challis is going to bang Disheveled Guy's distraught daughter, Ellie.

19:43  The 27th!

20:57  The 29th!

21:21  The TV references a vague-ass "Big Giveaway" to be held by Silver Shamrock Novelties at 9 PM PST, after a showing of--yep--Halloween.  They even show clips of the flick.

21:55  This Ellie bitch has the same blow-dried Brillo poof hairdo and mime-corpse makeup that so many bitches in the 80s did.  When Mimi Kuzyk was introduced as the new female cop on Hill Street Blues, you knew it wasn't just because Steven Bochco was kowtowing to network pressure re: gender representation, it was because while Betty Thomas' character kicked ass, she was pretty much a six-foot blonde dyke from the Midwest, and goddamnit, we need our female cops to be glamorous.  Mind you, such a character insulted men as well as women, 'cause the implication was transparent that you'd have to be utterly ruled by your penis to even want to stick it into such an ambulatory mannequin.

That's why Captain Furillo, married yet separated as he was, turned down the new woman cop's advances.  'Cause of standards.  Decency.  And it was in the script.

24:17  Tom Atkins' and I have the same thought: Damn, this woman cannot act.

25:06  That song is worse than "American Pie."

25:39  Ellie's desire to find her father's murderers and Challis' desire to take a nap inside Ellie's vagina lead them to Santa Mira, CA.  Info dump included, of course.

27:17  "I'm not ready for this, we need a plan."  She says right as they arrive at the Silver Shamrock factory.

27:54  "Good evenin' to ya!"

29:03  Everyone loves Conal Cochran!  Despite the fact he drives along the main road at 3 MPH.
Or is it because of the fact?  Irish people!

29:40  It's the Kupfer family!  Buddy, Betty, and Little Buddy!  They happen to be checking into the same hotel as our heroes.  Big Buddy is obese and wearing a mismatched shirt/sweater/golf hat combo, while his wife has a perpetually-distracted face and a body like Violet Beauregard after gastric bypass.  When she attempts to flirt, it looks for all the world like Bell's Palsy has set in.

30:11  The Elaine Benes of the movie has arrived!  GO TO HELL!

30:29  "This place is a zoo!"  I wish.  There'd be komodo dragons, pandas...

31:10-31:18  Some brief discussion about sleeping arrangements leads to, "Where do you wanna sleep, Dr. Challis?" and the response, "That's a dumb question, Miss Grimridge," and then face-sucking commences but thankfully it's not for very long.

I get the feeling the Challis phallus was a co-defendant in his divorce case.

31:41   Of all the people I thought would incur a 6 o'clock curfew, the Irish would not have been in my top 5.  Swedes for sure...Russians...Canadians...but the Irish?

32:44  This portion of the soundtrack has always reminded me of John Carpenter's work for Christine.

33:22   Challis is leaving a store.  Um?  He has alcohol.  UM?  Curfew!  What the hell.  Movie, why aren't you trying?

34:18  Bummy Guy lets out an impassioned "Fuck you!" and the profanity is like spotting an emerald glistening from the viscera of a dead deer.

34:38  Bummy Guy lets Challis know Silver Shamrock is bad news, man.  In fact, he's gonna firebomb the place, with bottles of gasoline that he will ignite with his revolting homeless-dude breath.

36:16  Draco Malfoy rips a dummy's head off.  More believable sound effects would have done this scene a galaxy of good.

37:25  Elaine is actually named Marge, and she's a motormouth saleswoman with some questions for the Silver Shamrock people.  The answer she receives will be definitive.

38:12  Gratuitous partial nudity and faux-sex sounds when no actual sex is involved.

39:31  This bitch packed lingerie.  Out on a frightening mission, in a strange Irish-Amish town, hunting the people behind her father's murder, and she packs lingerie.  'Cause this older doctor dude has a stache that makes her lady parts all tingly and she can't just can't help it.

39:41  Terrible alleged sex scene.  No one has sex like this.  They act like they're moving in a tub of gravy.  It's like the director showed them Don't Look Now and said, "Do the opposite of that."

40:24  Post-coital bliss shattered by the bedside radio:  "Silver Shamrock!"

40:43  The fact this Dr. Challis has a face that says, "Punch me till your fist breaks" means nothing because he has a sexy thick moustache!  I could never trust such.  You may think the presence of a face brush would mean the man would be down to shuffle as well as deal, but I'm of the mind it indicates the opposite.  Poor Ellie.

41:58  A female Macgyver would have an endless supply of bobby pins.  Just like a hillbilly Macgyver would have a bottomless reserve of duct tape.


42:22  Marge's face is superbly mangled.  Where once was a mouth is now a fleshy crater that a bug escapes from.  That's actually creepy and disgusting!  Well done, movie.

I wanna dedicate this one to the movie!

44:09  First appearance of Cochran.  Lamentably, not a splash of green on him.

44:16  Challis and Ellie would have the ugliest kids, inside and outside.  His stache, her poof hair.  Her desire for answers, his willingness to humor her.

47:16  Ellie's got that face like a child watching a clown die.

48:04  The Kupfer family!  How great of them to show up at the Silver Shamrock factory at the same time as our protagonists!

48:40  Buddy Kupfer is the number one salesman of Silver Shamrock masks.  And yet he's still so humble!

48:57  Pressed to improvise a fake last name, Challis comes up with "Smith."  Wow.  Post-coital wet brain really endures in some people, huh?

50:53  Conal Cochran is apparently the "all-time genius of the practical joke."  He invented sticky toilet paper and the sloth chainsaw.  Huh?  Did he invent one I've heard of, at all?  Like snakes in a can?

51:22  Little Buddy goes nuts over a pumpkin mask.  Exactly why is weird, for two reasons.  First, all three of the masks Silver Shamrock offers are pedestrian in both concept and execution:  skull, witch, jack-o-lantern.  The only reason they're selling as well as they are is that vague-ass "big giveaway" which itself is only appealing to people because A)  ooh what if it's money I bet it's money ooooh a lot of money and B)  that goddamn Hell-song.  Second, this boy's dad is the number-one Silver Shamrock salesman in the country and he hasn't already hawked one to his own spawn?  Come on.

52:06  Something about the sound of an Irish man laughing makes my soul vomit.

52:40  Cochran's evasive bullshitting technique is weak, but still better than Dr. Challis' naming abilities.  Smith, indeed.  You cunnilingus-denying premature ejaculator, you.

54:14  These people are so dumb.  I'm beyond thrilled that death shall soon come to them.

55:21  THE 30TH!

56:16  Oh no, it's Kraftwerk!  They've come to kill!

58:10  The chase through the streets has all the drama of a snowball fight, but like three times the comedy.

1:00:35  Robots!  Knew it!

1:01:34  Ewwwww, robots are gross.

1:02:39  The way Cochran says "It'll be morning soon" immediately puts me in mind of Torgo from Manos Hands of Fate.  And I wish so much the MST3K guys had gotten to this one.

1:05:27--1:05:34  Cochran stole Stonehenge!  And has it in his factory!  "We had a time getting it here.   You wouldn't believe how we did it!"  Unbelievable.  They just put that in a script and got human beings to recite it, film it, and release it to other human beings.  One of my favorite plot holes ever.

1:05:49  I seriously can't believe he didn't explain it--he's the villain!  The villain always overexplains their sinister machinations, that's how they're thwarted.

1:07:24  Relocated to a "test room" with a nice comfy chair, a nicer comfier couch, a lamp, some schizophrenic artwork, and a TV, the Kupfers are ready to watch a new Silver Shamrock commercial.  Also, to die.

1:08:14  Betty Kupfer is forever drunk.  One of those unsatisfied housewives with fat ugly hubbys and incorrigible brats, so to dull the agony they dress far too young for their age and bolt straight to the bathroom right after they wake up in the morning to take a hearty swig from the liquor bottle they've surreptitiously stashed behind the toilet.

1:08:48  This version of the commercial is the one that will air across the country on Halloween night.  Cue repetition of already-redundant melody and a flashing J-O-L face.  The voiceover asks that the kids put their masks on, and Buddy does so without hesitation.

1:09:13  As Challis and Cochran watch from a security camera, drunk Betty starts laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of the entire setup.

1:09:22  Down goes Buddy!

1:09:28  This movie just killed a kid!  His head is pumpkin mix!  It seriously has that consistency.

1:09:30  And NOW the parents notice their son is twitching and his head has been destroyed.  Bad news, Kupfers--your only child is dead.  Good news--you get free pumpkin mix!

1:09:36  Ah, shit no, BUGS!  Like hundreds of them.  Spawning from what was once Buddy's head.  The dad's face is so good.  That was the first take or I know nothing.

1:09:48  Down goes mom!

1:09:51  Snakes!  RATTLESNAKE?!  How?  This is all down to Druid magic, I guess?  I see...Stonehenge slivers in the mask's trademark.  Commercial triggers laser.  Which in turn triggers ANIMALS.

1:09:54  Ol' Buddy Kupfer loses it here.  Despite the presence of a dead boy, his dead mother, his soon-to-be-dead father, and oh yes, bugs and snakes a-poppin', the scariest thing about this whole sequence...the song is still playing.  Faster than ever.  Oh my Samhain!

1:10:22  The culmination of Dr. Challis' horror, as brought to life by Tom Atkins, is a wonder to behold.  I think the figures behind him are actual robots, 'cause real human beings would have blown every single take from laughter.

1:11:35  Montage of children across the country trick-or-treating, and herein the most blatant plot hole of the whole film lies bare, waiting for you to fall on in.

1:11:55  That girl is wearing an SS Pumpkin Mask whilst dressed up as a ballerina whilst riding a skateboard.  If only she'd ollie'd over a rampaging tiger.

1:15:10  Movie, the hell?  We can bear witness to a guy getting his head ripped off, and a little kid's noggin disintegrating and birthing fucking insects, but seeing a woman taking a drill bit to the head is too much?

1:15:58  Conal Cochran has Dr. Challis trapped and decides to explain his "joke on the children."

1:16:10  Basically, the Celtic traditions of Samhain demand a sacrifice on this Halloween.  With the help of magical Stonehenge sliver power, Silver Shamrock is going to kill millions of children as they stare hopefully at their TVs.

Conal Cochran is like Linus Van Pelt, all grown up and Irish.

1:20:41  So of course Challis escapes and of course the means by which he does so are complete movie bullshit.

1:23:52  He saves Ellie.  And maybe, eventually, the day?  Vagina naps for all!?  Ooh, let's all hope.

1:27:10  Wow Ellie sure seems subdued.

1:27:57  Killed by your own Druid-infused trademarks.  Classic horror movie staple.

1:28:42  Cochran actually golf claps before he dies.  Aw, come on, wherefore art thou, diabolical laughter?

1:28:57  Wuzzah?

1:29:05  Huzzah?

Dude, Cochran just went out like an ELO song.

1:29:46  Ellie sure is traumatized.  Hasn't even spoken yet.

1:30:06  Oh shit she's a robot.

1:30:09 YEP.

1:31:21  The fact Challis left Ellie with no head just hearkens back to the observation I made about three fucking hours ago when they were in the hotel making the bed tremble.

1:33:05  Gas station again!  Circle of life, man, I tell you.  Attendant must be thinking, Another crazy white motherfucker.  

1:33:30  Challis actually sputters out, "Life and death!"  Sentence fragments, yeah!

1:33:43 to the end  Yeah...this is where we get amazingly ridiculous.  You may have thought, as I did, that the ending to Halloween III would be anticlimactic.  Like what tops disintegrating young boy head bringing forth animals out of fucking thin air?  How about, crazy guy gets on the phone to a major TV network screaming about how everyone's going to die if they don't take that annoying fucking commercial off the air and it actually almost works?

What network is he calling?  Not all networks are even affiliated.  Why would they trust him?  Because he claims to be a doctor and he sounds out of breath?  And see, here's the kicker.  It's 9 o'clock on the West Coast.  It was 9 on the East Coast three hours ago.  Two hours ago central, one hour ago Mountain.  Millions have already died.  You mean to tell me there's no chance maybe someone who was around an exploding little brat managed to escape and run screaming for help?  You mean to tell me Stonehenge slivers have the power to lock doors as well?  No.

Now I understand, having lived through that time, that communication back then was not what it is now.  Social networking was not a thing.  Twitter, Facebook, Internet in general, none of that was going on.  But we did have phones.  Okay so running screaming to a payphone to call the cops and tell them that the Amazon jungle just exploded in your living room isn't as quick and effective as tweeting, "OMG my lil bros head just turned into #pumpkinmix!" but my point is, someone would have known something and told other people.  It would have made "breaking news" across America.  They would have interrupted regularly-scheduled way-better Halloween movies.  The people out West would have received warning.

Of course, logic doesn't work when it comes to so much of our entertainment.  And rather than obey the laws of "oh of fucking course," Halloween III gives us an ending for the ages, a five-layer conclusion to one of the most enjoyably cheesy movies I've ever seen.

OH MY GOD, that's good.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Why, Charlie Brown, Why?"

AIRDATE:  3/16/1990

STORY:  It was Sylvia Cook, an RN at Stanford Children's Hospital, that sent a letter to Charles Schulz in December 1985, with a bold request:  a Peanuts short featuring the kids talking about cancer, to be shown in hospitals.  Schulz was intrigued by the topic--he'd lost his mother years ago to the disease--but was discouraged by the potential production costs.  Cook then contacted the American Cancer Society for assistance, and Schulz was soon convinced to expand her initial idea into a full half-hour special:  Why, Charlie Brown, Why?

Linus has made a new friend:  sweet, shy Janice Emmons.  Janice loves getting on the swings at school, and Linus loves being right there to push her on them.  All is idyllic, except...Janice has been bruising a lot lately.  She's also been feeling more tired than usual.  Sent home from school, the kids learn Janice is in the hospital--she has leukemia.

Linus and Charlie Brown--along with Dr. Snoopy--visit Janice, where she answers their questions about her mysterious illness.  Despite her outward optimism, Linus becomes bitter and sorrowful as the months pass.  Clouds lift and part when Janice returns to school, a pink cap covering her bald head.  Inevitably, a bully boy harshes the marsh when he makes fun of first her hat, then (after the hat falls off) her hairless head.

Janice gets the last, heartiest laugh in the end, when spring comes and the swing set is accessible for the students at school again.  As Linus pushes her upward, she lets her cap tumble to the ground--revealing that all of her hair has grown back, thick and lush as ever.

Given the circumstances surrounding this specials origin and the very nature of the show, assigning number grades may strike some readers as tacky...but I have chosen to keep the tradition going.  It should go without typing, but Why, Charlie Brown, Why? was wonderfully executed.   For handling a sensitive topic with intelligence and heart--and not forgetting to inject some humor--this one gets an absolute 10.

MUSIC:  Judy Munsen keeps it harmless...for once, that's good.  Starts up upbeat, then, as the story takes an uncertain turn, so does the soundtrack.  Including the hymn "Farther Along" is another example of Schulz and co. inserting religion tastefully into a kids show.  8

ANIMATION:  Very standard for the time in which it was produced.  Visual histrionics not needed here.  8

VOICES:  Brandon Stewart and Olivia Burdette are the stars here, as Linus and Janice respectively.  Stewart does a fine job getting Linus' fear and confusion across when faced with his new friends diagnosis, but what makes this a 10 are the moments when Linus must endure the ignorance of his peers.  Whether it's just barely keeping from screaming from his own sister when she insists that Janice caught leukemia because "she's a creepy kid" or going ballistic on a schoolyard bully who finds Janice's chemotherapy-induced hair loss a total laugh riot, Stewart hits all the right notes.  Burdette is a comfortable 8 as the poor Janice, keeping on a brave face even as a brutal disease steals months of her childhood from underneath her.

Adrienne Stiefel's Sally is depended upon to provide some comic relief, and she certainly does.  She spends almost the entire time angry, whether it's over school and her mandatory attendance or her abandoned lunch sack.  No one ever tells Sally, "Hey, it could be worse!"--that's one lesson the producers decided to let the young audience learn on their own. 9  Her blockhead brother is portrayed by Kaleb Henry, who rocks Ny-Quil in his lunchbox.  Oh that's a bit too much...he has a very true Charlie Brown "blah" voice.  5.5

Jennifer Banko is an 8 as Lucy.  We'll get to her later.  Likewise Dion Zamora's performance as the bully.

                                            MARIE TALLEY BENNINGFIELD

--Faced with their bed-bound friend in the hospital, Charlie Brown and Linus are forced to speak questions no child should ever have to ask.  The topper is when Chuck plainly asks Janice, "Are you going to die?"  Linus is horrified his pal would even mouth such a terrible sentence, but Janice answers with equal bluntness.  Thank you, Charles Schulz, for helping kids feel a little less scared.

--"You get well, Janice, and I'll push you on those swings forever." 

--Linus' shining moment as a friend any child would love to call theirs comes when the bully (he even has a "B" on his tee!) decides to pick on Janice her first day back.  What kid can't relate?  If there's something a little different about you--facially, sartorially, bodily--there will always be at least one other someone there to call attention to that.

Janice has just gone through months of debilitating cancer treatment, so Linus takes it upon himself to be courageous in her stead.  If he'd had that trusty blanket on him (and note, his famous lucky charm is absent the entire show) that bully would walk away missing a butt-cheek.  But as another lesson, Linus doesn't resort to any physical retaliation, aside from grabbing the bully's collar as he screams in his face, letting this stupid kid know exactly what Janice has been through.

The bully watches as Linus leads a crying Janice towards the school, his repentant words ringing ineffectually behind them.

(Although Why, Charlie Brown, Why? shows this one possible outcome, kids should also know that the appeal to suffering does not always work, because some people are that heartless and self-absorbed.  But it's nice to think this one kid learned not to be so judgmental and hurtful towards people and things he doesn't immediately understand.)

--Damn, can we have some comic relief up in here?

                                            EDGAR LAMONT BENNINGFIELD

--The re-growth of Janice's hair is unrealistically portrayed--it would take a longer amount of time for it to be back thick and long as it was before chemotherapy--but this is a half-hour long show.

--Wow, bloggers will nitpick anything.  When Linus and Charlie Brown go to visit Janice, they are told she's in Room 402.  The boys are momentarily relocated as the nurse comes in to give Janice a shot.  When they are told they can return, they enter a door clearly showing Room 404.

--There is no way around this:  Lucy Van Pelt is a monstrous little bitch in this special.  She is the exemplar par excellence of puerile ignorance and intolerance.  As Linus brings her a glass of milk he notes that he visited Janice in the hospital.  Lucy immediately freaks out, voicing her concern that leukemia is contagious and refusing to drink the "tainted" milk.  Sympathy, empathy--none of these silly affinities apply to Lucy.  As I mentioned earlier, she actually voices her theory that Janice's condition is the direct result of her being "a creepy kid."  There's ignorance that makes you shake your head...then there's ignorance that makes you shake the shit out of someone else.  Linus is enraged, but decides to leave his older, not-wiser sister to stew in her own crude insensitivity.

--There's a pretty amazing sequence where Linus stops by the Emmons household to drop off a gift.  Her sisters come to the door, and instead of accepting the present gratefully, decide to let vent their frustration over all the attention their sick sibling is receiving, not to mention how cautious they have to be around her. Linus can't believe it...and so challenged, they admit that they aren't really resentful towards Janice, just confused and helpless.  Adding Linus' present to the many already gathered underneath the Christmas tree, the sisters reach a collective epiphany:  instead of feeling resentful that Janice is getting all the extra attention, they come to appreciate that so many people want her to get better.  It has nothing to do with them.  Empathy is a huge lesson for kids to learn, and the sooner the better.

Frankly I think Janice's sister has bigger fish to fret over.  Like how she has Frieda's hairstyle, Peppermint Patty's hair color, and Lucy's wardrobe.

Why, Charlie Brown, Why?  was the first animated program to openly address the horror of cancer.  It would take another twenty years for those murky waters to be broached again, by the PBS hit cartoon Arthur.  The success of any children's show aiming to talk about very important issues depends on how the creators honor the emotional and mental intelligence of the target audience.  The Peanuts crew hits all the right notes.  Children will have many of their questions answered, but not all.  As it should be.  This show is not a stand-in for the parents.  If you pick this one up on VHS, or find it online, be prepared.  Do not throw this one on for your child and think you're off the hook.  Get ready to talk with them.  Do not be afraid.  Linus is missing his blanket in this special for a reason.

Above all, be there.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Discography Party

With my final write-up on Duran Duran's 1980s output published this week, another Trapper Jenn Discography Review has been completed.  I've done quite a few of these, and only one more looms on the horizon:  reviews of every studio album released by the so-called "Big 4" of heavy metal--Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax.  This series will begin sometime next year, as I have bigger fish to catch and then summarily fry, but trust that the series will begin.  And end.

In the meantime, let's reminisce.

Duran Duran Discography, 1980s only 
Devo and The B-52s
Shonen Knife
The Beatles
Sonic Youth

Once the Big 4 review series is completed, that does it for these extensive breakdowns of a band's catalog.  It's fun, but exhausting, and the rewards no matter how gratifying (and they are) are never monetary.  So.

The next two music-centered posts I have in mind (both of which will precede the Big 4) will be for my top 10 hip-hop albums of all time and a look at three solo albums by Sonic Youth members and the impact they made on my life upon their release.

The suspense is delicious, yes?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Glamour Boys: Duran Duran in the 1980s (Pt. 6--Sometimes You Kick)


It's not Duran Duran, you see, it's Duranduran.  Oh the mega-filthy life of inexhaustible luxury!  You sounded so damned pant-worthy on the earlier records; now you just sound pants.  Could be the permanent introduction of the Linn drum machine into the family.  That's the same poisonous breach of the citadel that doomed Devo, you know.

"Big Thing"--1988 was the year INXS released their sixth album, KICK, and saw their standing in the States catapult from cute white-boy funk-pop group from Koalaland that a lot of people knew about to one that everyone knew about.  While INXS at their best fell well short of DD at their apex, it was clear by the time Big Thing and Kick were allowed out in public, MTV and their millions of impressionable viewers had a new band of catchy, flashy bastions of groove to obsess over.  The likes of "Need You Tonight" and "New Sensation" were vivacious if not exactly vital, and honestly, Michael Hutchence was more shaggable at that point than Simon LeBon.

The song "Big Thing" reminds me precisely of Kick's introductory "Guns In the Sky."  Both are calls-to-arms, but while INXS concocted a riff that is positively Lenny-esque in its dunder-headed charm, "Big Thing" is majorly sloppy, an ostensible populace pleaser that peters out pathetically before the midway point is reached.  It also features the worst chorus of any song in the Duran oeuvre. 

"Hang it up hanging out hanging on a big thing….Bang it up bang it out banging on a big thing."

That's anti-sexual.  That's ANTI-DURAN DURAN!

"Shake it up shake it out shake it all the time."

Oh how I loathe the ambiguous IT of the faux pop anthem!

"I Don't Want Your Love"--Phony-ass techno, move along, nothing to dance to here.  I mean it could be worse, it could be phony-ass reggae (or even genuine-ass reggae).  Hey, you could have lost your whole arm instead of just the one finger!  

I give "Love" credit for a punchy, staccato verse and fluid chorus, but I always need to be reminded of them.

"All She Wants Is"--Compares unfavorably to Wham's "Everything She Wants."  Cut from the same cloth Martin Gore sold at a premium back in the 80s but the boys unfortunately spilled cheap champagne all down the length of it.

"Too Late Marlene"--The piano-heavy soundtrack to that Ed Hooper painting that isn't an exterior view into a diner.  The shading is slight and the lack of real danger rather dispiriting.  All these people must have stories, but they must not be very interesting, 'cause damned if I wanna take my time out to hear them.

"Drug (It's Just a State of Mind)"--A cause of internecine dissent:  John Taylor wanted the original mix to make the final product, but was outvoted, and nearly quit in protest.

What the majority ruled on is basically oatmeal for the dance floor.  No charisma, no thrill, and honestly now, those horns should be broken up and melted down.  All in all, even worse than their lubeless ass-fuck of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines."

"Do You Believe In Shame?"--The first in an eventual trilogy of heartfelt and thoughtful songs dedicated to LeBon's doomed childhood friend David Miles.  ("Ordinary World" and "Out of My Mind" were to follow.)  "Shame" is easily the highlight of Big Thing.  A full-body lament from an utterly helpless friend trying not to become utterly hopeless, it brings out the best in LeBon lyrically and especially vocally, his voice a smoke-enhanced curl that seems wary of coming across too strongly and is all the more unfortunate and relatable for it.  

"Do you believe in love?
Do you believe in shame?
And if love can conquer all
Then why do we only feel the pain?"

"Shame" seemed incredibly familiar to me from the very beginning, and after a bit of time, I figured out why.  

"Palomino"--Welcome to the blue edge of the record.  I simply do not care about this Palomino woman.  She has not a thing on our beloved Rio.  If Rio represented the United States, Palomino represents Canada.  

"Interlude One"--Wow, it's "Honey Pie" and the ending of "Baba O'Reilly," together at last!  A grander union cannot be imagined!

"Land"--"Baby, I'm really sorry to break your dream."  Simon, are you getting analogous again?  Pardon me while I fetch the alagesic.  

No more pioneers, no more heroes, the wolf's stomach is full and aching, and Duran Duran are now putting out records that Chris DeBurgh could feel smug listening to.

"Flute Interlude"--Should be sampled by Clams Casino for eventual misuse by Li'l B.

"The Edge of America"--DD can talk crap on the States 'cause at least they've spent considerable time within these borders.  They're not the type who are convinced that reading The Guardian online and watching the BBC makes them worldly people.  Snide, sarcastic, cultural hermits who have such a distorted view of the land they loathe that they express genuine disbelief when presented with the reality that there are millions of avowed American atheists, 'cause, I mean, not believing in God is illegal over there or summat, innit?  

"The Edge" isn't precisely intellectual, but it's a tolerably observant cautionary tale of entrenched military complex culture driven by another familiar melody.  The drums are virtually absent and the song shivers all the more for that.

"Lake Shore Driving"--A medley with a tremendous ending--it just stops.  This was not a purposeful dramatic gesture; the tape in the studio just ran out.  Duran Duran are the Kool G. Raps of European pop music!  

I haven't spoken much on Warren C.'s contributions here, and there's a reason for that, he's bland as baby babble throughout, but here he actually unveils some personality, gliding nice figure-eights over the ice.  Still waiting for T'Pau to come in and sing.

At least Big Thing ends better than it began, but that's a small victory, seeing as how it began with rubbing away rheum for three or so minutes.  Duran Duran's prior records aroused grunts, whoops and shouts.  You were asked politely, loudly, and sometimes cryptically to buy into the emotional healing power of motion, and the reward exceeded the effort almost always.  Here?  An indifferent murmur is all I can muster.  Duran Duran said goodbye to the decade they owned sounding as useful as a burned out neon tube.

Glamour Boys: Duran Duran in the 1980s (Pt. 5--Three Against the World)


Roger Taylor bowed out after the recording of "A View To A Kill," citing "burnout."  Andy Taylor stayed, but strung along his band mates as he completed a solo LP in Los Angeles.  With session drummer Steve Ferrone and Zappa/Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurillo brought in to facilitate the recording of wreck-hard number four,  the Duran Duran that fans knew and smothered with maniacal obsessive love essentially vanished from the planet, vamoosed the caboose, and exited left of stage in apoplectic rage.

Fresh off the hells of two ill-fated side projects (and Simon LeBon's brush with death in a yachting mishap), stylistic whiplash was inevitable, and perhaps inevitably painful.  The presence of band hero/one-time savior Nile Rodgers on the boards and on record helped to shrink the swelling somewhat.  John Taylor yearned for funky horns all over Notorious like cheese on macaroni--Simon LeBon, not so much.  In a violation of the standard rock-star rulebook, the singer did not overrule all here.  Notorious is nothing if not brazenly brassy.

"Notorious"--A top 3 smash in the States (top 10 in their homeland), "Notorious" is perhaps best known these days as either Sparkle Motion's last-minute soundtrack in Donnie Darko or as Diddy's so-obvious-it-blocked-my-nasal-passages sample choice for yet another tribute to his long-deceased yet still-valid meal ticket, Notorious B.I.G.  

Too bad.  This is how you kick off an album, confidence and intelligence covering every inch.  "Notorious" is a vigorously defiant "V"-up to any and all second-guessers and would-be underminers of the double D juggernaut:  "Lay your seedy judgments/Who says they're part of our lives?"  Their ex-band mate is also a target:  "Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit?"  Damn, Simon, GET 'EM.

There's actually nothing to not love.  The chicken-scratch guitar at 2:00, the horny embellishments to the chorus starting at 2:56, the way they sing the word "notorious," it's all filthy good.  Back-against-wall is a good position for the boys.

"Girls will keep the secrets/As long as boys make a noise."  That line is peach pie amazing.  It can go in so many different directions.

"I'll leave you lonely/Don't monkey with my business."

I wish I didn't care about being factual and doing research, otherwise I'd love to sell you on the theory that this was a George Michael dis.

"American Science"--Oh shit, kid, drama is afoot.  The band were going for dazzling here, but misspelled it with an extra "z."

"Skin Trade"--For a song whose purported concept is "There's a little hooker in each of us," this walks the streets far too leisurely.  Taking inspiration from a well-drained writer's catalog (in this case, Dylan Thomas) does not give one license to underwhelm.

The Duran Duran of even two years prior would have made "Skin Trade" sexy and complex, as well as sultry, sensual, salacious, and many other words that begin with the letter "S" and all mean more or less the same thing.  But times change, people change, and tastes change.  Years under white-hot spotlight aged our heroes rapidly.

"A Matter of Feeling"--Oh, fame is alienating!  Weep for the isolated rock god!  Where hath his soul gone?  Why is it such a chore to just feel anymore, damnit?!  

Fuck that.  Nick Rhodes bought a Picasso on his AmEx card.  You think I can go to MOMA and throw down my fucking Visa and walk away with that Braque piece I love so much?  Do you think they'll accept my generous offer of one million payments of five dollars spread out over 370,000 years?  Will they HELL.  New York assholes!

"Hold Me"--Oh man, I thought "In a Big Country" was starting up and got excited.  Then the real song happened and I was crestfallen.

"Vertigo (Do the Demolition)"--Simon's stern and heartfelt lecture to John concerning the latter's worsening dependence on chemical comforts.    In other words, a dabbler tut-tutting a full-blown.

The sounds conjured are a fit companion, leaving sleaze trails so positively of the decade that Crockett and Tubbs could trawl strip joints to them.  Despite the title's promise, the proceedings remain steady...perhaps a lesson by example?

"So Misled"--A cornucopia of insignificant ideas.  But enough about Rebecca.

"Meet El Presidente"--What a Prince-ly falsetto on display here, Mr. LeBon.  Slower than it is simple, but harbor no query, it is simple.  Thatcher?  Reagan?  Castro?  Heroin?  Is it heroin?!  Throwing out a bait-less hook into the open waters, oh I don't approve of that at all.

They released "El Presidente" as a single and it tanked.  But but, where was Nile Rodgers to shore up their hit potential?  Oh, that's right--he was already there behind the boards.  You're' telling me he never once thought to futz with the pitch or add kazoos?  

"Winter Marches On"--"To drink from her breast of fortune."  Because just coming out and saying "big tits" is anathema to masters of 80s pop music.

Faux-emoting doesn't derail the train, thankfully, free as it is of BIG DRAMATIC DRUM CAR, leaving orchestral elements to sink along the rails.  Like so much of this album, "Winter Marches On" passes through my ears leaving little impact other than it wasn't an unpleasant listening experience to have.

"Proposition"--Nick's shuffle keeps distraction at bay, chiming insistently, a Morse Code missive reminding fans why they ever gave multiple bothers about the boys to begin with.  Only problem, there's more sway than thrust apparent, and that's no way to reach satisfactory climax.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

62 Years of Peanuts

The greatest comic strip ever debuted 62 years ago today.  On October 2, 1950, a mere seven U.S. newspapers gave their readers the option of Peanuts.  At its eventual peak, the strip would appear in over 2,600 papers worldwide.

Some time ago I listed my favorite Peanuts dailies and Sundays, and if you missed it or would like to revisit, I've compiled all the posts here in one helpful "link-bomb."  Please enjoy.

The Honor Bag
Greatest Dailies, 50-41
Greatest Dailies, 40-31
Greatest Dailies, 30-21
Greatest Dailies, 20-11
Greatest Dailies, 10-1
Greatest Sundays, 20-11
Greatest Sundays, 10-1