Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Anti-Playlist

There are some songs I just can't listen to. In some cases, they're songs I hated from the moment they first tarnished my inner ear. Others are songs I used to like until they got overplayed. And overplayed. And overplayed. Some songs I just feel silly listening to. And still others I can't listen to because of the thoughts they stir up. Here's a playlist of six you'll never catch me listening to, with some context as to why:

"Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's

I really liked this song the first time I heard it. Though it was a simple song, its simplicity and emotional honesty set it apart from a lot of pop music at the time. Here's the problem: I was in college going for my Associate's degree at the time. I was logging about 100 miles per day. My tape deck did not work. I listened to the radio constantly. This song was played--constantly--sometimes multiple times on the same station within a few hours. It lost its charm VERY quickly, within about two weeks. I don't "hate" it in the strictest sense, but I can't listen to it anymore. Plus, my neighbor at the time, with whom a share a long and legendary rivalry, used to sing it--badly--all the freaking time. Nooooo thank you.
Besides, Delilah is a pretty name, but it has all kinds'a negative Biblical connotations.

"Duuuude! He finally passed out! Hand me the clippers--
he's going to be sooo ticked when he wakes up!"

"Fool in the Rain" by Led Zeppelin

I really hate this one. Like, hate-hate. It's dull, it's repetitive, it gets stuck in your head, and then, just when it can't go any worse, it turns into a very strange, fast-paced samba number with an excruciating traffic whistle sound that just. Won't. Stop. When I bought my mom a Led Zeppelin compilation CD for Christmas, I specifically sought one out that didn't have "Fool in the Rain" but retained all their good songs. Oddly, I found exactly what I was looking for (although it didn't have the wonderful "Houses of the Holy").

Because clinging to a metal pole during a thunderstorm 
seemed like a great idea at the time.

"Jump" by Van Halen

I'm starting to detect a pattern here. I'm not overly fond of upbeat music with a positive vibe. "Jump" is a synth-heavy disaster to my ears, which is perhaps the closest Van Halen has ever come to "bubblegum" aside from their cover of "California Girls." I'm not a huge fan of Van Halen to begin with, but this is just bad. As soon as I hear those opening electronic notes, I'm reaching for the tuner.

Kriss Kross'll make you jump . . . even though they 
have their heads screwed on backward.

"Fred Bear" by Ted Nugent

Have you ever really given this song a listen? The first time you hear it, it sounds pretty effing epic. The music is topnotch power rock, with some great guitar work. In instrumental form, I could listen to it all day. The lyrics, unfortunately, are what kills it.

I initially thought it was literally about a bear, which really killed its credibility when I first heard it. Years later, upon further research, I see that apparently Fred Bear was an outdoorsman, outfitter and media personality, which is very cool. The song, alas, is not cool at all. It is also vaguely homoerotic.

"Was I alone or in a hunter's dream? 

'Cause the moment of truth was here and now 
I felt his touch, I felt his guiding hand 
The buck was mine, forevermore"

Ermm . . . I don't want to know about Fred's guiding hand or what it is touching. Funnier still is the spoken monologue at the end:

"I hear ya Fred, 
Talk to me, 
It's all right 
Lets go hunting baby 
Say Fred, you go up that ridge 
And I'll go down in the swamp 
We'll get that buck."

Truly, it's a song of undiluted masculinity for the ages. Truly. And Kristin Stewart will win the Academy Award for Best Actress this year. 

Not even picturing this can make the song bad@$$.

"Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5

Okay . . . here's where we get into the ones I really can't stand. First off, Adam Levine has always struck me as a specific kind of @$$hat. The kind of smarmy, fiery showbiz liberal who acts big, talks trash and has an ego the size of a small continent. Second, listen to his voice. No man should be able to make that sound, and even if he can, he should keep it to himself (this coming from a guy who likes the Bee Gees . . . but it was the '70s, after all). Third, watch this video.

Aguilera is simultaneously hotter and more masculine. 
Odd how that works.

Now, what makes this song particularly upsetting is the fact that it is extremely catchy. But listen to it. Watch Levine's body language. All shirtless and smirking, he thinks he's evolution's gift to women (see what I did there?) and he's going to let EVERYONE know it. And he's going to get what he wants by invoking the holy name of Mick Jagger.

You know who has moves like Jagger? Mick Jagger. He's 70 years old, but he's untouchable. And this video looks less like a tribute and more like a parody. This song makes me think of all the creepy guys the impressionable young girls all want to be with, the controlling jerks who drain them of all the happiness and fun and dreams and ambitions they might have had otherwise. Now that you've listened to this garbage, pop in "Forty Licks" and hear how a real rock legend does it.
(DISCLAIMER: I will admit to, at times, singing along to "This Love" and occasionally inquiring if anyone is out there, because it really is getting harder and harder to breathe. But that was before the disco-influenced monstrosity that is "Makes Me Wonder.")

"Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" by Beyonce

This one dates back to 2010, when I attended my very first actual dance. There was one person and only one that I wanted to dance with, someone I had grown very close to although circumstances had kept me from actually expressing my feelings. She was involved in an on again-off again relationship with a guy, and it seemed like every time I got up the nerve to ask her out she'd be back with him again. At this point they were "off again," and I somehow talked her into attending the dance. When I saw her that night . . . she looked incredible. But, like me, she wasn't really sure why she was there or what she was supposed to be doing. We just kind of stood awkwardly by the drink cooler, and although I jokingly suggested that I'd dance if she would, nothing happened. That song--that abominable song by Beyonce--came on, and all her friends got up to dance. I thought that would prompt her to join in. I thought it was my chance. I thought that moment of closeness would give me the courage I needed to tell her how I really felt. And then, as I turned toward her to ask her once more to dance, seriously this time, she said, "Well, Chris, why don't you get out there with all those single ladies and dance?"
I stopped abruptly, stunned, and immediately smiled and said, "Nahhh," or something to that effect. She left. I stayed, in a daze. The moment was gone. 
I eventually decided to just go ahead and dance by myself, since I was there already. I threw caution and dignity to the wind and just made a complete fool of myself. It was caught on camera and posted on Facebook, and I ultimately turned it into a pretty stupid YouTube video. I wouldn't say I had a blast . . . if anything, I was venting my awkward romantic frustration into some pretty terrible gyrations. But it got me through the night. 
The thing is, I didn't want to dance with "all the single ladies"; I wanted to dance with her, and sometimes I think she wanted to dance with me, too. But neither of us knew how to ask, so all I have is speculation. And she's not single anymore.

So, that's why I can't listen to "Single Ladies."

EDIT: As of May 2013, there is a new addition to my Anti-Playlist: "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake. It's actually a very nice song, but the emotional context surrounding it is still a bit raw. In a year or so, I'll probably come back and add a funny anecdote about it, but for the time being, suffice it to say that I'll be changing the radio station whenever I hear it. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

My favorite comic book films (so far)

Right now it's just a list, but one I fully intend to flesh out over the next week or so.

10: Superman 2
"Kneel before Zod!" Seriously, how much more epic can it get? Although Jack O'Halloran's monstrous portrayal of Non (whose beard was unparalleled up until the NBA days of one Vlade Divac) will always be my favorite, all three Kryptonian creep-os beating the stuffing out of Superman made for an awesome film, indeed. Although Superman finally gettin' it on with Margot Kidder was . . . unsettling.

9: Hellboy
Guillermo del Toro had already proved his comic book film directing chops with Blade II (which was ever so much better than the other installments of the series). Hellboy, however, really let him go nuts with the prosthetics and the visual gags and the strangely steampunk reality he builds around his foam-rubber protagonist. On that note, Ron Perlman is deserving of particular praise because he is able to build such a likable, relatable human connection between Hellboy and the audience. As goofy as he looks, it's so easy to get caught up in his story that his appearance makes no difference. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is also an excellent (and very, very strange) film, but the first one set the bar really high. Also of note is Jeffrey Tambor, who goes from the hatable heavy to the very, very cool ally.

8: Daredevil 
The Director's Cut is better by a long shot because it eliminates some of the goofier elements and adds more action, but I honestly liked this movie a lot to begin with. Affleck is surprisingly believable as Matt Murdock, but it's the villains that shine in this one. Colin Farrell trades in his usual distant, troubled persona for a manic, snarling turn as Bullseye (brilliant casting), and Michael Clarke Duncan absolutely nails the character of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime. The first time you see him, standing proudly and coolly in the window of Fisk Tower, you know this guy means business and revels in his magnificent evil. Also, this is the film that introduced a lot of us to the glorious sound of Evanescence.

7: Iron Man
I loved Captain America, Thor and even Hulk (the Ang Lee, Eric Bana one, darn it! Not the one where Ed Norton looked like he wanted to go take a nap in his trailer rather than be on set), but of the past few years of Marvel's non-mutant, non-Spidey films, this is the one that ushered in the Avengers Initiative, and it is a thrill ride. Not only is Iron Man the ultimate symbol of Robert Downey, Jr.'s redemption as an actor and as a man, it brought humor back to superhero films without resorting to cartoonish buffoonery. Plus, look at Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger. When you first see him cruising around innocently on his Segway scooter, your first thought is, "Oh, it's just Obie, the supportive dork." Because that's what Jeff Bridges was typecast--he was never the villain. But for those who mulled over the sound of his name (OBADIAH STANE!!), even those who hadn't read the comics, it became clear that when this guy showed his true colors it would be explosive. And it was. That was a villain--the one you didn't see coming until it was too late.

6: Mystery Men
"Und a diet Pepsi with a little bit of ice." Oh, Casanova Frankenstein, you devil! This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, thanks in no small part to the ensemble comedic cast consisting of Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, Kel Mitchell, Wes Studi, Pee-W--er--Paul Reubens, Eddie Izzard and, oh yes, Geoffrey Rush. And Michael Bay, oddly enough. Not the most accurate adaptation of a comic, to be sure (where the heck is the Flaming Carrot?), but it has heart, and that's what puts it on my list. That, and, "We've got a blind date with destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!"

5: Batman Forever
How? How could I put this squealing, brightly-colored monstrosity on my list and leave out the Dark Knight trilogy? Simple. This one was the most fun, and, frankly, the best portrayal of Batman. First off, this is probably the only movie in which Batman doesn't straight-up tell the girl he's Bruce Wayne. That takes a lot of self-control for the old horndog, who freaking sleeps with Talia al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises. Val Kilmer, while not the perfect Batman, is the best we've seen so far, in my opinion. He has the big, strong build that Keaton lacked, the naturally deep Batman voice that Bale lacked and the self-respect Clooney lacked. Plus, the camaraderie between Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face and Jim Carrey's Riddler is screen dynamite. Their jewel heist and "Battleship" match are absolutely delightful, and the film has a dark tone (Riddler's humor is offset by his very chilling obsession with Bruce Wayne) without taking itself too seriously. The only weak casting is Chris O'Donnell as Robin (dare I say Christian Bale would have been better?) and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, the love interest. The older, smirking, earring-sporting Robin was annoying at times, and Kidman tried too hard to be vampish. Other than that, though, Batman Forever will "forever" (haw-haw) be my favorite screen portrayal of the Dark Knight.

4: Spider-Man 2
"Oops! Butterfingers!" Only Alfred Molina could have pulled off Doc Ock so perfectly. The build, the hair, the attitude . . . perfect. Tobey Maguire stepped up his game as Spider-Man, too, shedding some of the blandness and inserting more humor into his performance ("You threw away my comic books?"). And of course, more J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson--the best casting decision ever. This is the film in which Peter Parker really examines the consequences of being Spider-Man, most notably the loss of Mary Jane from his life as she finds his emotional distance to be too much to deal with. And again . . . Doctor Octopus!!!!

3: X2: X-Men United
The opening scene wherein Nightcrawler attempts to assassinate the president is creepy as heck, which is what makes his ultimate characterization as a meek, sweet-natured hero all the more enjoyable. Plus, Brian Cox is very, very hatable as the conniving General Stryker, a villain so sinister the Brotherhood must team with the X-Men to take him out. Seeing a controlled Cyclops take on the burgeoning Phoenix also kicked mega butt, and we also got to see both the milder and wilder sides of Wolverine. This movie expanded on an excellent foundation in the first X-Men and proceeded to best it in every way. The only complaint I have is that we didn't get to see a fight between Nightcrawler and Toad, who was no doubt nursing his blistered tongue somewhere.

2: Watchmen (The Ultimate Cut, preferably)
Settle down, irate fanboys and moviegoers. I know what you're thinking, how could this cult film beat out Nolan's entire Dark Knight trilogy as well as all three Spider-Man films AND Iron Man. Well . . . I really liked it. Zack Snyder paid enormous respects to the source material (lack of "alien" squid notwithstanding), directed a spot-on cast (although Matthew Goode's Ozymandias is a bit too easy to peg as the villain early on) and had arguably the most eclectic and wonderful soundtrack of all time (Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole and K.C. and the Sunshine Band all have excellent moments to shine). The script, by the way, is extraordinary in its reverence to the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, and is carried out to perfection by its actors. Jackie Earle Haley is Rorschach in the film, and even though the audience doesn't see his face for most of it, he conveys such raw emotion in his performance, and succeeds where Christian Bale failed miserably with the gravelly voice. Patrick Wilson's portrayal of Nite-Owl II is simultaneously pathetic and awe-inspiring. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan perfectly captures the senselessness and sensitivity of the Comedian.

1: The Avengers 
Part of me wonders if this choice is premature, if this pristine rose of comic book swashbucklery will lose some of its luster as time and small-screen, non-HD televisions take their toll and the novelty effect will wear off. But I've seen this movie three times, in 2 and 3-D, and I love it more with each viewing. It may not have been deeply psychological like Nolan's Bat-films, but it hit all the right emotional chords nevertheless. And it was fun.
That's the main thing--it was an exhilarating film that took a good 15 minutes to really get rolling, but once it did there was never a dull moment. Joss Whedon is to be commended for maintaining such a delightful pace of action, thrills and humor, along with the ever-difficult human connection.
The Avengers is one of those films that, statistically speaking, should not have happened (at least not successfully), but it is everything a superhero film should be and more. Plus . . . shawarma.


The Road to Perdition is the one I really wanted to add to the list. It has some of the finest actors of all time (Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci and even the wonderful character actor Dylan Baker), and they give it everything they've got. Also Thor, Iron Man 2 and Captain America (but not The Incredible Hulk), because they set the stage for The Avengers. The first X-Men was also a winner, thanks in no small part to the script by Solid Snake himself, David Hayter. V for Vendetta, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are also winners. And of course, the truly grand Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. They're excellent films, and the final installation was one of the best films I've seen this year, but they're not my favorites of all time. But, for the absolute darkest take on Batman, look no further than Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns. Nicholson's Joker, while not as "chaotic" as Ledger's, was ultimately scarier in his giddiness, and Returns had the absolute creepiest versions of the Penguin and Catwoman ever conceived.