Wednesday, December 15, 2010
"Antz" was the second-ever computer animated feature film to be released in the United States, but somehow didn't gain even a fraction of the popularity of Toy Story. This may have something to do with the fact that Pixar released "A Bug's Life" a month after "Antz"; "A Bug's Life" did markedly better at the box office. Unlike the Pixar film, "Antz" was far more mature in tone and may have suffered financially for it. Woody Allen is the star and plays a neurotic and physically-inept 'ant' version of himself (seemingly ad-libbing most of his lines to hilarious effect); fans of Allen would agree his humor doesn't translate well to children. Woody is backed by an ensemble cast including Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken and many more. Add in homages to other grown-up films like "Pulp Fiction" and "Rambo" and you've got a recipe for a great film - for grown-ups. Overall, "Antz" is a great flick with lots of laughs and lots of big star voices. And for the record, "Antz" has a higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes than "A Bug's Life". Take that, Pixar.
DESPICABLE ME (2010)
I can't say tthis film didn't do well at the box office or didn't do well critically, because it certainly did. But considering it's most likely still new to people, I figured it's worth throwing on the list for those few people who didn't see it. "Despicable Me" is being hailed as one of the year's most likable family films, as it appeals to both audiences: nutty slapstick for the kids, and an intelligent examination of the post-modern family for the adults. It's quick, funny and original enough to keep both adults and children entertained. The ensemble cast of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett and many more are the voices of the film, many trying different accents and voices you wouldn't usually hear from them. Toy Story 3's dominance at the box office may have caused this original story of orphans, world domination and evildoings to slip under your radar a bit, but I highly recommend you watch this one. It's the perfect balance of intelligence, heart, humor and RIDICULOUS IN YO FACE 3D.
MONSTER HOUSE (2006)
This one has to be credited for its imagination and straight-up balls. Before "Monster House" I don't think a family-oriented animated flick existed that set out to not only make the audience laugh and impress them with visuals, but also scare the hell out of kids. Beyond the impressive suspense scenes and creepy design, the film is hailed as a breakthrough in motion-capture techniques, as it's beautifully detailed and smooth, making for an immersive, engaging concoction of film entertainment. If a good laugh and technologically impressive animation aren't enough for you, it also features a rich and layered script that pleases both children and adults.
FLUSHED AWAY (2006)
This witty, clever and original film with the Aardman trademark design (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromitt) had a bit more in it for adults but still gave plenty to the children. For the adults, it's all about dry British edge and intelligent dialogue, but the visual gags (particularly the singing slugs the main character encounters at various points on his adventure) were all for the kids. While most animated movies boast big-name, recognizable Hollywood (read: American) stars to get asses in seats, "Flushed Away" opts to cast less-famous character actors to bring their creations to life - including Bill Nighy, Ian McKellan (okay, he's kind of famous), Andy Serkis and Jean Reno (as a frog, of course). Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet round out the cast as the lead characters, so I suppose there's still a bit of star power there - though I have no idea what Kate Winslet has been doing since she got naked in "Titanic". Then again, does it matter? I'm gonna go watch "Titanic".
KNICK KNACK (1989)
Though not a feature film, Knick Knack deserves mention due to being the first computer animated film that gave genuine life to characters, on top of a smooth and crisp animation that had never before been seen. This short was the last animation Pixar created before hitting the big time with the original "Toy Story". John Lasseter's work way back in 1989 was also named in Terry Gilliam's top 10 animated film's of all time. If Terry Gilliam approves, need I say more? I submit that I do not, so I won't.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
It has come to my attention that Energizer has seemingly done away with their famous bunny. While I always liked the little pink furball, he has been going (and going…and going…and going…) for quite some time now, and could probably use a rest. Now the battery company features anthropomorphic household items, singing and dancing, and having an otherwise merry ol’ time, until they collapse into twitching heaps from over-exertion (and, of course, non-Energizer batteries).
In honor of the our long eared friend’s retirement, I thought I’d take a quick peak at some other famous advertising mascots over the years who have, at least to my knowledge, also been left behind.
Warning, dear reader – nostalgia ahead!
Fido Dido was originally a napkin doodle created by Joanna Ferrone and Sun Rose. The two later stuck Fido on t-shirts with the inane slogan “Fido is for Fido, Fido is against no one” emblazoned beneath him. For some inexplicable reason, these t-shirts were very popular in New York. Licensed by PepsiCo in 1988, Fido became a commercial celebrity by hocking 7-Up. He even had a video game based on his antics, created for the Sega Mega Drive, but it was about as successful as you would assume a video game for the Sega Mega Drive starring a commercial mascot would be.
The Great Root Bear (get it?) is still used for some A&W products, but his television saturation has become extremely limited. Sporting his orange sweater and pom pom hat, the Root Bear would often greet us on screen accompanied by his trademark theme song – a tuba driven jingle appropriately called “Ba-Dum, Ba-Dum.” The song was actually released as a single in Canada; the bear, however, was replaced by this guy.
Dave Thomas, the kindly old founder of Wendy’s restaurants (famous for their square burgers and terrible French fries) was also the kindly old mascot for the chain – appearing in over 800 commercials from 1989-2002. His old man charm combined with his old man looks made him the most adorable human mascot in the history of fast food. And then he died.
The Noid was red-suited, rabbity looking creature, who hated Dominoes pizza for some reason, and would stop at nothing to thwart their attempts to bring hot circles of goodness to the hungry masses. Like most things that don’t make any sense, he was created in the ‘80s.
Ronald McDonald’s Creepy Background Characters
I think the majority of these fine freaky folks may still be in rotation on TV - prancing around McDonald land, eating fatty foods and being generally creepy. The gang's all here - Grimace, the Hamburglar, that bird thing, the fluffy guys who I think are supposed to be french fries, some talking food...and yet, it's been a while since I've come face to face with any of them (other than the clown) for quite some time. Whether it's because they have been removed from distribution, or because I have just carefully avoided them for the past fifteen years, is, as always, debatable.
So there you have it, folks. Some long gone commercial celebrities from a bygone era...some fondly remembered, others...not so much. What are some of your favorite commercial mascots?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
You'll surely recognize Edgar Wright's trademark directing. His fast action-style editing including whip-pans, crash-zooms and clever transitions have been a staple in all his movies. His distinctive style clearly shows he has a grasp on modern editing techniques and a surprisingly impressive eye for the visuals.
Have I mentioned that he's also a writer? That's right: the blockbusters he's directed were also written by him. Wright has teamed up with longtime friend Simon Pegg to co-write the zombie-comedy "Shaun of the Dead" and cop-buddy-action-comedy "Hot Fuzz". Wright's deadpan humor and dry British wit and sarcasm have been critically acclaimed thus far, and have launched his career as one of the finest merchants on the comedy block.
I will now use these three examples to illustrate why Edgar Wright Is a Director Who Doesn't Suck. To celebrate Scott Pilgrim vs The World's impending Blu-Ray and DVD release (November 9th, 2010), I'll start with that....
EDGAR WRIGHT DOESN'T SUCK REASON #1 - Scott Pilgrim vs The World
I'm downright mystified how this movie didn't do incredibly well at the box office. It should've been an absolute hit. Were Americans perhaps turned off by the strong visual presence of Toronto/Canada in the film? Did people think it was a film meant for hipsters? Makes no sense to me. The film is based on Bryan O'Malley's series of graphic novels (comic books to you idiots). In my humble opinion it has been the funniest, most furiously action-packed film of the year (yeah, I totally stole that line from the very first review on Rotten Tomatoes, but still - it's true), and one not just for the Nintendo generation, but for all. Yes - it may include comic books, video games, grunge rock and geek drama, but in the end it caters to everyone's needs strictly due to the fact that Edgar Wright made it that way: through his stylistic directing and hilarious quick-witted writing. It's probably the closest you'll ever see a comic book coming to life. Watch the damn trailer, and then pick up the Blu-Ray/DVD on November 9th:
EDGAR WRIGHT DOESN'T SUCK REASON #2 - Hot Fuzz
Hot Fuzz is a parody of the cop-buddy action films of the late 80's and early 90's. But here's the thing; despite being a parody and comedy film, it's actually a genuinely impressive action film. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are surely proud of "Hot Fuzz" strictly for its action sequences, as it holds nothing back and in fact delivers even more than most comparable modern flicks. And then of course there's the comedy aspect. It's clear that Wright studied the action genre endlessly, as his roast of the genre was brilliantly executed. Edgar Wright's crew and style have been compared to Judd Apatow's a lot of late, and if Apatow's attempt at making an action comedy was through Seth Rogen's "Pineapple Express", Wright's "Hot Fuzz" makes it look like a complete joke. Don't miss the violent blow-out of a finale. Here's the trailer.
EDGAR WRIGHT DOESN'T SUCK REASON #3 - Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead has the distinction of being not just the greatest zombie parody ever made - but also one of the best zombie movies of all time, period. Wright's epic zombie romantic comedy - or ZomRomCom, if you will - is not only a funny and inventive new take on the genre, but also a genuinely frightening, touching and, of course, gruesome addition to the genre on it's own. It manages to combine the slapstick comedy of Return of the Living Dead (another great ZomCom) with the social comedy found in a Romero film (the opening sequence depicting non-zombified Londoners dazedly going about their daily lives is both hilarious and startlingly accurate), and never allows itself to descend into true parody. It's funny, inventive and mocking, yes, but it's also a gripping tale on it's own, making it a legitimate film. And a funny and unique one at that. Aaaaaaaaand the trailer...
For Edgar Wright fans in Toronto, the man himself will be in the area on Friday November 5th. He'll be at the HMV on 333 Yonge St. (Yonge and Dundas) for an in-store signing celebrating the upcoming release of Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Later that night he'll be holding a Q&A and screening of Scott Pilgrim at the Bloor Cinema. All the info is HERE.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
You don’t have to go to far to see how popular Iron Man is this year. Shelves in stores from Wal-Mart to Value Village are overflowing with cheap Iron Man/War Machine knock offs. Don’t be a lame follower, do what this guy did and put a fun spin on the classic Iron Man, or for that matter go as Classic Iron Man, he’s cooler anyway.
This is a costume that if done right will totally freak people out; a friend of mine did it last year. His makeup was done to make him look like he was made of plastic and he would randomly set himself up by ATMs or outside bars. People would come up and drop a nickel in the slot to get a fortune and he would suddenly animate and scare the pants off of them. The only drawback is that this costume is really bulky and a pain in the ass to carry around all night.
Best costume in a pinch. Uber cheap and depending on how much time you have and how much effort you're willing to put into it, you can really come out with some scary stuff!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Okay, name one kid who didn’t ever dress as a Ninja Turtle for Halloween. From 1987, when the cartoon came out, till I dunno, TODAY, kids have been dressing as the fearsome four. But it’s not just for kids, get your 3 best friends to order a pizza and get ready for the “Awww that’s awesome!” and “You guys are rad” ’s to start rolling in.
Teen Wolf - Special Mention.
This is a picture of my friend Dom who died last year. Halloween was his favorite time of the year and his costumes were always the best. We’ll miss you buddy.
Teen Wolf is a great costume not only 'cause it looks amazing but you can also go half the night as regular Scott (Michael J. Fox) then change into the wolf later on. You can even tell all your friends you forgot your costume then come out and surprise everyone! You’ll be the coolest guy around.
And now for the ones that suck...
I think it should be a rule of thumb that you stay away from spandex, latex or lycra unless you are a hot chick, then by all means spandex away. A wise man (or woman) once said “spandex is a privilege, not a right!”
Poorly Executed Star Wars Costumes
Star Wars is such an iconic institution that when your Storm Trooper sucks, it stands out. Take some time and plan these ones out, unlike these poor souls:
Well now that we’ve given you some kick ass (hopefully) ideas on the do’s and dont's of the holiday, (and I do consider it a holiday), get out there and get as much candy as you can. And here’s hoping you win a contest or two with some of our ideas (I expect a letter in the mail, some pictures and one of your tootsie rolls!)
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Ok, so every few years it seems that a Robin Hood movie or TV show takes up our valuable viewing time, and with tons of fantasy TV duds it’s like navigating a veritable minefield out there; you don’t want to step on a landmine. Enter the good folks at Turning Down the Suck to save your brain from the migraines caused by shitty entertainment. It’s our job to sort through all the crap, so you don’t have to. And so I present to you; Robin Hoods That Don’t Suck.
Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, William Keighley - 1938):
Considered the definitive version, The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of the great swashbucklers. Robin is again portrayed as the Earl of Huntingdon, this time outlawed for standing up for the common man and Flynn brings his own brand of devilish charm as well as a lightness of touch no other actor has ever managed to bring to the role. The Adventures of Robin Hood also features a ravishing Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) and a superbly choreographed showdown between Flynn and veteran actor Basil Rathbone playing Sir Guy of Gisbourne. If you know anything about Errol, his off-screen passions; drinking, fighting, boating and sex, made his film escapades pale in comparison. His love life brought him considerable fame, three statutory rape trials, and a lasting memorial in the expression "In like Flynn". Later in life serious roles eluded him, his lifestyle had eroded his youthful good looks, his career declined. Few good roles came his way late in life, usually aging alcoholics, almost mirror images of the man himself. This is a chance to see him at his prime.
Richard Greene in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-58):
Richard Greene starred in this popular 50’s TV series, this time as Robin of Loxley. Robin returns from the Crusades to find his land has been stolen from him. After preventing the Sheriff’s men from gouging a poacher’s eyes out, Robin is framed for the murder of a Norman aristocrat. Taking refuge in the forest, he seeks out the outlaws hiding there. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was one of the very first British productions to grace American airwaves and ran from 1955 to 1958 on the CBS network. A total of 143 episodes were produced. This Robin Hood was more wholesome than Flynn’s and used humorous skits to break up the somber subject matter. I still remember waking up early on Sunday and watching re-runs of this show, while eating my Cocoa Puffs. Great for the whole family.
Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964):
Called the “Rat Pack Robin Hood” Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack portrayal of gangster and racketeer Robbo in Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). Teaming up with Dean Martin as Little John, Sinatra becomes a hero after donating cash to a local orphanage run by Bing Crosby. The sheer hilarity of setting the Robin Hood story against the prohibition era Chicago gang wars as a musical makes it a must see. Sammy Davis Jr’s song “Bang, Bang” always make me laugh every time I hear it.
Sean Connery in Robin and Marian (Richard Lester - 1976):
Great date movie here, fellas. Though the story told in Robin and Marian is unfamiliar to most audiences, it is actually quite faithful to several of the ancient Robin Hood legends. During the Crusades, Robin (Sean Connery) is still loyal to King Richard the Lionheart (Richard Harris), but even he has trouble adjusting to the monarch's ever-increasing paranoia and lunacy. After Richard's death, Robin returns to England, his first visit to his home turf in 20 years. He looks up his beloved Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn, last seen in 1967's Wait Until Dark). The performances are hugely affecting. Connery has rarely been so fragile, while Hepburn matches him as Marian, now an Abbess and still angry with Robin for leaving her behind. Nicol Williamson is a wonderfully deadpan Little John, none so gentle, or as fierce, while Robert Shaw is a pragmatic Sheriff.
John Cleese in Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam - 1981):
Gilliam’s fantasy sees a boy called Kevin travelling through time with a group of dwarves. They arrive in Sherwood Forest to find a frightfully posh Robin Hood (Cleese) meeting the poor as if they were the guests at a Royal Film Premier. John Cleese is brilliant in everything. Need I say more?
Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Kevin Reynolds 1991):
Popular 90’s blockbuster enhancing Kevin Costner’s box-office standing, but turning him from a cool leading man admired by men and women to the epitome of loser almost overnight. Director Kevin Reynolds and Costner had a prior collaboration on the underrated Fandango (1985), but their relationship soured during the filming of Prince of Thieves when Costner shut Reynolds out of the editing room. This marked the beginning of the end of Costner's career. The supporting cast is awesome, and Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham is still, in my opinion, the best sheriff. His death scene is pure cinematic gold. I think everyone who grew up in the 90’s remembers the Bryan Adams hit (Everything I do) I do it for you. It was even spoofed on Family Guy.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves essentially reprises the opening of Richard Greene’s television show with Costner as a disinherited Robin of Loxley. Alan Rickman’s pantomime Sheriff steals the show and the gifted but abused Reynolds orchestrates some stirring action sequences.
Russell Crowe in Robin Hood (2010):
Ok, so I don’t really know a lot about this new Robin Hood, mostly what I could piece together from reviews on the net and press and how the actors promoted the film. I’m not a big stickler on historical accuracy when it comes to folk tales like Robin Hood or Camelot so when I’m reading a review and the writer's biggest critique is that they used anachronistic horse bridles or the wrong arrows, it really pisses me off. The last decent medieval film I saw was Pathfinder. When a guy rents a film set in the middle ages he wants two things, girls in plunging necklines and guys loping other guy’s heads off. Hopefully Ridley Scott's “Robin Hood” delivers in both categories. I’ll be watching it this weekend and will post a full review next week.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Now I know there's a lot of controversy surrounding this guy but hey, isn’t a little controversy once in a while a good thing? That’s right, I’m talking about Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan or M. Night Shyamalan as he is known professionally. Love him or hate him, one thing you must admit is that you’ve probably seen or at least heard of one of his movies. I mean, “The Sixth Sense” was nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. As of late, Mr. Shyamalan’s success has been less than stellar. None of the movies he’s been associated with since “Sixth” have even come close to reaching the mainstream success it did. Does that mean M. Night’s day is done? Is he forever banished to the land of suck? NO! M. Night’s movies do not suck. Here's why.
M. Night Shyamalan has an amazing way of immersing us into the world of his movies. While watching, you feel less like you’re on the outside looking in, and more like you’re a silent member of the cast, standing just out of frame. One of the ways I think he accomplishes this is by his use of color.
In his classic The Sixth Sense, he intentionally inserts bright red objects to symbolize that something ominous is about to happen.
In “Unbreakable” it was neon green and purple...
And in “The Village," colors again play a major role, with red attracting the monsters, and yellow keeping them away...
He Writes His Own Stuff And Sticks To His Guns
In 2006, in spite of Disney (the studio for which he had made his biggest previous films) rejecting his script over content issues, M. Night commented that they "no longer valued individualism... no longer valued fighters." He released “Lady in the Water” on July 21st with Warner Brothers Studio. All predictions indicated to M. Night that this movie was going to bomb; in fact, The New York Post wrote that the film was "dead in the water", criticizing Shyamalan as a "crackpot with messianic delusions." But he went ahead and did it anyway, following through on a promise he made to his children, that he would make their favorite bedtime story into a movie to share with other children. And for thumbing his nose at the industry and doing something to make his kids happy, he doesn’t suck.
Despite what you think about his skill as a director or an actor, you have to admit that his script writing skills are second to none. Despite whether or not the films received critical success, they were all superbly written. Aside from the “twists” he’s become famous for, M. Night has a way of creating characters that you can identify with. Whether it’s the security guard who knows deep down that he was meant for something more, the Father who loses his faith in the face of a horrible accident or the town leader who must reveal a hidden secret in order to save the man his daughter loves, something about his characters make us take a look inside ourselves and ask, what would I do in that situation, would I do the “right” thing?
Love him or hate him, M. Night gets the best of the best to work with. From Hollywood royalty such as Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson to Joaquin Phoenix, Abigail Breslin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo, it seems that Mr. Shyamalan has an uncanny way of assembling amazing people to work on his movies, even pushing actors out of their comfort zones ala Adrien Brody in “The Village," who plays a mentally handicapped man, or Bruce Willis stepping out of his tough guy persona to play a sensitive therapist in “The Sixth Sense." (Not to mention the fact that Bryce Dallas Howard is drop dead gorgeous and kind of looks like Christina Hendricks!)
So like I said earlier, whether you love him or hate him, most people have an opinion. Which, in a society where apathy seems to be spreading faster than Bird Flu, gives him a plus one in my Column. After a few not-so-successful trips to the box office, I have no doubts that “Devil” (the newest treat from Mr. Shyamalan) will be a hit. The story revolves around a group of people trapped in an elevator who realize that the Devil is among them. “Devil” is shaping up to be a who’s who guessing game filled with intrigue. Just watch out for the guy in the horns with the pitchfork and pointy tail. (SPOILER ALERT!)
Think you know who the Devil is? Put your clairvoyance to work and vote for your choice in the Poll on the Facebook page.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Posted By Liberty Valance
Now normally I don’t do the lists that some of the other reviewers here seem to be partial to, but I thought I might take a break from the “norm” and try it on for size. With the misfortune of Heroes being canceled, and the timing of Season 4 out on DVD earlier this month My super hero meter is going volcanic, so with that in mind I present you “5 comic books that don't suck”.
For those of you who have been stuck under a rock for the last 5 years, comic books (or graphic novels, as us connoisseurs prefer to call them) are hot. Multimillion-dollar franchises, with merchandise spanning everything from sugary breakfast cereals to trademarked toothbrushes (they’re hedging their bets), Soda pop to bed sheets (come on, you all remember your Justice League or Super Friends sheets). But finding a good Comic (or GN) these days, among the muck and mire at your local comic shop, can be a real pain. Story arch’s are massive, sometimes spanning over dozens of issues, and the actual “start” of a particular story may be difficult to pin point. Along with that you’ll have pretentious comic store employees who probably hear “Do you have the new Scott Pillgrim” so many times a day they want to year their hair out. So I thought I’d make it a little easier for you and give you “cheat sheet”
Ok, so I know those of you who have seen the movie are going to crucify me but we’re only talking about the books here. Jonah Hex is a Western comic antihero created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga and published by DC Comics. Hex is a surly and cynical bounty hunter whose face is horribly scarred on the right side. Despite his poor reputation and personality, Hex is bound by a personal code of honor to protect and avenge the innocent. This means Hex doesn’t always do the “right thing” and not always for the right reasons, but that’s what makes him great. In a world where “heroes” roles are usually so black and white, Hex is a man who’s all about the grey (pun intended), that and his only friends are death and the acrid smell of gun smoke, how bad ass is that? The series was canceled in ’85 and revived again in ’05 but I’m a fan of the original 70’s stuff, and when you read the showcase versions in black and white, it really reminds me of the old western serials that I remember watching with my dad on Saturday morning.
2.What Ever Happened to Baron Von Shock?
Rob Zombie has been one busy guy lately between Touring, producing movies and cartoons (El Superbeasto) he’s somehow found a way to produce a comic for Image entitled “Whatever Happened to Baron Von Shock? Now if any of you are familiar with Mr. Zombie's previous work you know he has a penchant for big breasted vivacious women, and blood, both of which I am also a huge fan of, so I may be a little biased in writing this, but I love Baron von Shock. It stars a Goofy Kid named Leon Stokes, who by a comedy of errors ends up guest hosting a late night “Elvira” inspired monster movie program, and chronicles the rollercoaster ride Leon partakes in when thrust in the public eye. If you like hard rock and cheap women then Baron Von Shock is for you.
3. The Walking Dead
Again, if you have not heard of “The Walking Dead”, you must be living under a rock. After the huge success of “Marvel Zombies”, writer Robert Kirkman decided to turn his attention to something a little less pie in the sky, a zombie apocalypse. What resulted is what many others and I would call the pinnacle in zombie fiction. Everything about “The Walking Dead” is amazing. From the deep, self-explorative and sometimes strangely Jungian plotlines, exploring the very nature of the human condition and what it means to be alive, not merely living, to the breathtaking artwork done by Tony Moore (#1-6) and Charlie Adlard (#7-present). If you love zombies, and I know you do, you’ll need to get this one in your collection ASAP.
4. Superman: Red Son
Now Red Son is not your average superman comic, it’s an elseworld production that posits the idea “what if, instead of Kansas, Kal-El’s pod landed in soviet Ukraine. Red Son challenges the established superman mythos, and does it head on, with the a skill only to be expected of a masterful writer like Mark Millar, while bringing back some of your old friends (bizzaro, Wonder woman, Green Lantern, and even Batman) in new, strange and compelling ways. Red Son is defiantly one of those books I think every comic fan should own, regardless if you’re a superman fan or not.
5. Ed Brubaker's captain America
Ed Brubaker has done for Captain America what Christopher Nolan did for Batman. Brubaker took “Cap” from the one liner spitting, Hitler punching, Nazi smashing, wing head of the 40’s through the 50’s, into a Deeper, brooding man who is haunted by his past and understands the weight of his actions, and what it means to the people who depend on him (though has trouble dealing with the magnitude). You get a since from reading that Steve Rogers is complicated man, and that years of wearing the cowl and shield have taken it’s toll on his body in more ways than one, and being Cap is more than a full time job, he’s more than just a soldier, he’s a symbol.
Alien Vs Predator: Eternal
Despite the horrible failure of the movies to stay true to the source material, AVP has some great issues. One of my faves is AVP: Eternal in it A 700+ year old man's uses technology from a salvaged Predator ship to gain fame, fortune, and uses Predator body parts to unnaturally extend his life. A self-serving reporter gets caught up in his schemes trying attracting a Predator hunting party by releasing Aliens and setting off a tribal war in Africa with the assination of a public figure. It combines Action, Suspense, Sci-fi, and Political intrigue. If you can get your hands on this four parter I suggest you do.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Hey there Turning Down The Suckers! You haven’t seen me around here before, so I figure I better introduce myself. I’m Willow Van Der Sweet, and this is my first-ever foray into blogging on the internets. You probably already figured out that I’m related to TDTS founder Van Der Sweet (his first name is a state secret, I’m afraid); actually he’s my cousin, and since there hasn’t been much traffic around here lately he got desperate and called me up to write a guest blog. Now, I’ve never done this before, so please be gentle!
I guess you could call me a hipster, if you really wanted to, even though I don’t think labeling people is a good idea, but it’s important for you to understand that my taste in music is extremely important in my social group. Hipsters, as you’re all aware, pride themselves on the fact that all their favourite bands are groups nobody else has ever heard of, and it can be pretty demanding to keep up with the trends – I came late to the party when the Arcade Fire got popular, for example, and I never lived it down.
The worst part about hanging out with music snobs is that they’re constantly judging everything about you – from the clothes you wear to the coffee joints you frequent (I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Starbucks) and especially the music you listen to, and that part is hardest for me, because I have a confession to make.
I love, love, LOVE pop music. I know, I know; time to turn in my membership card, right?
But here’s the really weird part. The bands I secretly enjoy are huge. Millions of albums sold all over the nation. And yet nobody I know will cop to buying those albums. I just don’t get why, you know? What’s wrong with liking popular music? I think we should all be able to fly our flags proudly no matter what other people think, so in the spirit of Turning Down The Suck I decided to write this little post about my top five favourite bands I can’t ever tell anybody I like. Maybe it’ll inspire other people to stand up for the music they like, and damn the consequences!
Might as well start as I intend to go on. Nickelback is a favourite kicking post for music snobs, mostly because they write catchy 90s inspired rock music and make loads of money doing it. Everybody gives Chad Kroeger a hard time for his grunge-era hair and his gravelly singing voice, but frankly I think it’s sexy as hell. I own every single album they have ever released, from “Curb” right through to “Dark Horse” and while I would never put “Someday” or “Photograph” on my iPod for fear of somebody seeing it on the display screen, I still come home from work and blast that grungey goodness out of my speakers.
#4: Colbie Caillat
Aw, shucks. Isn’t this girl just too darn cute? I picked up “Coco” after hearing the single “Bubbly” on the radio for the first of what would be many, many times. I just can’t get over how sweet she is, and for some reason she just never gets old for me. When I’m feeling down and I just don’t feel like listening to the soupy emotion of Bright Eyes or Belle and Sebastian, I sneak on this record and I immediately perk up. And she did a duet with dreamboat pop boy Jason Mraz, so that’s another checkmark in my book. Say what you want; sometimes songs get overplayed for a reason.
#3: John Mayer
The King of Snark has to have a place on my list, if only for his hilarious Twitter updates that range from the offensive to the truly weird. I know he’s probably an asshole in real life, and he’s a womanizer that puts Captain Kirk to shame, but that’s part of his appeal to me. I know he’s trying to get into my pants when he sings “Your Body Is A Wonderland”, but honestly it’d probably work. Have you seen that man topless? Nom nom nom. I’m torn between kicking him in the nuts for breaking Rachel’s heart and jumping for joy that he’s single again.
#2: My Chemical Romance
The undisputed heavyweight champions of the pop emo genre! I think what got me about MCR was how theatrical they were, and unlike what most of my hipster friends listen to they weren’t doing it ironically. They really meant it, and for some reason that really appealed to me back in the day. I remember telling a friend, stupidly, that “The Black Parade” was like our generation’s “The Wall”, and she looked at me like I just got my tits out on the streetcar. It’s still one of my “desert island” records even all these years later. Can’t get enough of that eyeliner!
I’ll admit it freely: when I heard Creed was going on tour again I immediately jumped on my laptop and bought tickets to go see them. Then I erased my browser history so my friends wouldn’t find any evidence. I don’t know what it is about Creed that I love so much, but the first time I heard them back in high school I was hooked. I must have listened to “My Sacrifice” on repeat a dozen times when I brought the album home, and to this day I still sing along, usually in the shower when nobody else is home. There’s something about Scott Stapp’s soaring vocals and beautiful smile and deep, soulful eyes and…sorry, I got distracted there for a second.
Actually, I think you’ll have to excuse me; there’s some…stuff I have to go take care of. Yeah…stuff.
Oh, before I go, thanks to Cousin Van Der Sweet and guest writer Alex James for helping me get into the world of blogging, and thank YOU for reading and letting me take over the blog for the day!
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Ah, summertime. Beers on the patio, attractive women parading about in varying degrees of undress, and for the more adventurous of us – camping. Now I'm not talking about real camping – the trip I just took bears little in common with the kind of camping experiences I've had in the past (which basically equates to “drinking in the woods”) but I still hold a special place in my heart for those lazy evenings spent tending an amateur bonfire, consuming unhealthy amounts of whiskey and strumming my guitar with my friends singing along. So today, in tribute to those simple, happy times, I present a very special Best Of list: the top ten Campfire Songs as chosen by my various Correspondents from Turning Down the Suck, State of Affairs and beyond.
House of the Rising Sun (The Animals)
Nothing speaks to a song's staying power like the number of times it's covered by other acts, particularly if nobody has any real idea who wrote the thing to begin with and therefore gives credit to the most successful of the apers – in this case that term is exceptionally clever since the band most credited is English outfit The Animals. But the list hardly stops there: “Rising Sun” has been covered by dozens of other artists including Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Shawn Mullins, Bachman Turner Overdrive and even Muse. With that many versions of the same tune floating around it's a guaranteed crowd pleaser because everyone around the fire has heard at least one of them about a million times. The only kicker? Getting everybody to agree on the gender of the song's narrator – turns out the infamous House has been the ruin of many a poor girl and boy in its time. Deciding this early on will also determine whether the gamblin' man is his father or her sweetheart.
Hey Jude (The Beatles)
No singalong anywhere would be complete without at least one obligatory Beatles tune, and John and Paul's ballad entreating the titular character to “take a sad song and make it better” has a big group wind-up at the end that ensures it a place on this list. The chords are pretty easy if you avoid the major sevenths (depends how drunk you are) and when it comes to singing along it doesn't matter how drunk anybody is – as far as lyrics go, it's extremely difficult to screw up “nah nah nah nah” and it still sounds pretty awesome even if nobody can agree on what key to sing it in. My advice? Just pour another drink and sing louder. The rest of the campers in the park will definitely thank you for it.
Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
This song is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all campfire songs, ever, thanks largely due to that Labatt commercial from a few years back. You remember the one: some loser serenading his obviously-disinterested girlfriend when suddenly all manner of colourful characters emerge from the woods to join in the chorus. At least, I assume that was what made it so popular, because at the end of the day “Sweet Caroline” isn't actually that great a song, nor does it have much to do with camping – granted, most of the songs on this list don't have much to do with camping either, but this saccharine pop number is probably unique in its mediocrity given it was written by Neil “What Else Has He Done Recently” Diamond. Doesn't matter though; as long as you can get through the “bap-bap-baaaa” part you'll probably enjoy it.
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Also known as one of the very few Pink Floyd songs people who aren't into Pink Floyd will actually know the words to. Also known as one of the very few Pink Floyd songs people who aren't David Gilmour can actually play on an acoustic guitar. Everyone has at least one stoner friend who will insist on dragging out this hoary old chestnut either by manhandling your guitar away from you and awkwardly trying to strum the tune while keeping hold of their gorilla-finger joint, or else by reaching for the sonorous ethereal harmonies and not quite making it, giving the whole thing a decidedly minor-key feel of impending doom. Oh, and they'll probably do the wind noise at the end by making ridiculous pucker-lips and eagerly blowing smoke in your face.
Wheat Kings (The Tragically Hip)
Since Drinking in the Woods is a fundamentally Canadian practice right alongside consuming maple syrup direct from the tree before cutting it down and using the wood to build a canoe, it stands to reason that campfire singalongs have to include mandatory Canadian content. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a more suffocatingly, moose-lovingly, leaf-wearingly, Molson-drinkingly Canadian outfit than the Tragically Hip. I was torn on which of their ballady acoustic numbers to include on this list since they constitute most of the Hip's catalogue; I almost went with “Bobcaygeon” just to hammer the True North Strong And Free backslapping even further into your moist frontal cortexes, but instead I chose “Wheat Kings” because the studio version of the song actually samples the ambient sounds of the woods. And it still mentions Prime Ministers and the CBC (and the song is about David Milgaard), which are all so principally Canadian they could only be outdone by the entire band appearing in a film cameo as a curling team. Oh, wait.
And It Stoned Me (Van Morrison)
Van Morrison has always been synonymous with the outdoors to me. My dad turned me on to Van when I was a small child; he recounted stories of listening to songs like “Into the Mystic” and “It Stoned Me” while sitting on the shores of Hudson's Bay when he lived next to a Manitoba polar bear research station in the 70s. Seriously. But regardless “It Stoned Me” is an ideal campfire track for two major reasons: one, the lyrics don't make any sense (“stoned me just like Jelly Roll”?) and two, the song requires precisely three chords to play through, and when you've consumed enough whiskey to kill an entire den of beavers, you'll be grateful for the simplicity. Besides which, I love this song, and it's my list, so I'm putting it on whether you agree or not. So there.
Mrs. Robinson (Simon and Garfunkel)
This one is recommended for the advanced campfire player only: the guitar parts are considerably more complicated than most of the rest of this list, and most people don't know any of the lyrics other than the chorus involving Jesus. Simon and Garfunkel are almost certain to be on the request list, especially if your fellow campers are any older than about 35, so you'd best be prepared, and if you have your eye on a Mrs. Robinson of your own, this song is guaranteed to impress even the most jaded cougar. By cougar, of course, I refer to a Kim-Cattral-Sex-in-the-City cougar, not the kind who'll leap from the bushes and eat you, guitar and all. I'm in no position to recommend a song that will save you from an untimely death at the hands of a ravenous mountain cat – maybe “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”? You can try it, but I refuse to take responsibility if you come back without a face.
Free Fallin' (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
Before all you nascent rock stars out there start jumping on my head for this – perhaps the most eye-rollingly obvious selection on this entire list – let me preface my choice with the disclaimer that if I never played this song again for as long as I live, you'd have to jackhammer the smile off my corpse. The number of times people request this most famous of Tom Petty's poppy ballad set comes in just ahead of “Sweet Home Alabama” and just behind “The Gambler”, and frankly I'd rather take a cheese grater to my own face than hear any of those three songs again. But even in a campfire setting, for better or worse the guy or girl with the guitar is relegated to “dancing monkey/human jukebox” for the duration, and it's their own damn fault for showing up with an instrument to begin with, so if somebody requests “Free Fallin'” (and they will) you will have no choice but to play it. Life's tough, get a helmet. If, however, somebody has the gall to ask for “Don't Stop Believing” you have my express permission to feed them to the chipmunks.
Sugar Mountain (Neil Young)
As The Mule made abundantly clear to me (and he's entirely in the right), if I didn't include Uncle Neil on this list I would immediately be required to hand in my Canadian Musician badge and then likely be executed for this inexcusable crime. Simply put, there is no scenario in which playing a Neil Young song is inappropriate or unwelcome. Bonus points if you can ape Neil's signature “I sound like somebody's granny” singing voice. I was particularly pleased to find a live version of this song to share with you, dear readers, if for no other reason than it features Uncle Neil in his prime. Check out those mutton chops, will you? Just look at them. They're magnificent. And you too will be this magnificent if you haul out a toe-tapping favourite like “Sugar Mountain”. Well, maybe not quite this magnificent, but if you find yourself being favourably compared in any way to the Godfather of Grunge, you're in august company of the highest order.
The Weight (The Band)
When I first heard of The Band my immediate thought was “golly, they'd better be some kind of amazing outfit if they want to call themselves THE Band”, and after watching Martin Scorsese's absolutely brilliant musical documentary “The Last Waltz” in which The Band is joined on stage by pretty much anybody who's anybody in the mid-70s music scene and proceed to play their asses off for two plus hours, I gladly acknowledged that The Band deserves to be The Band over and above any other Band I'd heard up to that point. “The Last Waltz” is on my list of desert island albums (post coming soon) and I don't see it being usurped anytime in the near future. “The Weight”, better known to amateur classic rock afficionados as “Take A Load Off Fanny”, is one of my all-time favourite songs by The Band, and nicely rounds out my top ten by virtue of being perhaps the most sing-along-able song on this entire list. What made the group windup at the end of “Hey Jude” so much fun is repeated in every chorus of “The Weight” - and there are no fewer than five choruses in the song. If somebody you know can remember every verse, you're guaranteed to win the hearts of not only your own campfire circle, but every campfire in the park. Believe me; I've seen it happen, and there is nothing cooler than an entire provincial park worth of campers screaming “you put the load right on me”. Guaranteed good times.
What Did We Learn?
Obviously this list is a suggestion only; one of the many things I've learned as an impromptu performer over the years is that you have to play to your audience, because as I mentioned, as soon as you pull out the guitar you're automatically Juke Box Man for the rest of the night. A lot of this list heavily favours 70s era rock and ballads, and sometimes you'll get a group who wants to hear something recorded more recently than 30 years ago; you might as well have the likes of “Wonderwall” and “Good Riddance” ready to go on your internal playlist in case somebody's taste in music sucks. But at the end of the day, remember to have fun – campfire singalongs are the kinds of memories you'll carry for a lifetime. Now get out there – the Great Outdoors is waiting.
Alex James is the head writer at State of Affairs, and can regularly be found chasing Will 'o the Wisps through the woods on nights when the moon is full.