Friday, June 26, 2009

Top 5: Michael Jackson Videos

As I'm sure you're all aware (unless you, literally, live under a rock), Michael Jackson passed away this past week at the age of 50. Like a lot of people, I was shocked and saddened by his sudden death. Because, despite everything, the man did create some of the best pop music ever, tunes that I grew up with and still enjoy getting jiggy too this day.
But, along with awesome tune-age, Mr. Jackson was a master at the art of the music video and it was, undoubtedly, a medium that helped make him a cultural icon. So, with that, I bring you my Top 5 Favorite Michael Jackson videos. And yes, I realize "Thriller" is not on this list. But, honestly, that video scared the living bejeezus out of me when I was a small child, and I still haven't quite gotten over it.

# 5 - "You Rock My World"
The song is so-so, coming around at a time when Jackson was trying to make a sort of "comeback" in the era of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. However, the video is classic MJ, and is humorous and entertaining. As is typical, it's a kind of mini-movie, with Jackson and his pal, Chris Tucker, fighting over a girl, who's involved with some gangster (played by Michael Madsen), escalating into some crazy dancing and hijinx that occur in a sketchy bar, owned by Marlon Brando. Say what you will about Michael Jackson, but if he can convince Michael Madsen AND Marlon Brando to be in his video, I'm sold.
# 4 - "Beat It"
Obviously this is an iconic music video, with an appearance by the famous Orange Jacket. But I love it mainly because it shows that any conflict between rival gangs can all be solved through the POWER OF DANCE. Possible a lesson that Michael learned after watching "West Side Story" one too many times. Either way, awesome video.
# 3 - "Smooth Criminal"
Fedoras, awesome 1920s gangster style outfits, tommy guns, and the impressive, defying-gravity lean (shown above). What's not to love? And, again, the problems of mobsters can be solved also through the POWER OF DANCE. Really, that's the main lesson to be learned from Michael Jackson videos, people.

#2 - "Leave Me Alone"

This video shows Michael Jackson riding through a rollercoaster/rocketship car through a crazy, animated, amusement park while being confronted with headlines and reminders of all the crazy rumors about him. Along with dogs in suits, iguanas, and all manner of bizarre things. I thought this video was incredibly cool when I was a little kid. I still think it's a neat, creative video and shows MJ's ability to poke fun of himself and be a little tongue-in-cheek.

#1 - "Remember the Time"

This is another one of those epicly long, mini-movie kind of music videos. It starts off in Ancient Egypt with a Pharoah (played by Eddie Murphy) and his Queen (played by David Bowie's wife Iman), hanging out in their...pyramid/palace or whatever. The Queen proclaims that she is bored and Pharoah Eddie Murphy summons one of his henchmen (played by Magic Johnson) to bring in all manner of performers to entertain her. She is unimpressed with the first few, ordering them to be executed, long last...Michael Jackson shows up to save the day! Of course, Iman starts giving MJ lustful looks, and jealous Eddie Murphy orders his henchmen to chase MJ around the palace to kill him. But it all ends happily with a kick-ass dance number. But not before Jackson and Iman share an awkward kiss...only to be rivaled by Jackson's even more awkward kiss with his then-wife Lisa Marie Presley at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Still, awesome video and who doesn't love Ancient Egypt and excellent celebrity cameos?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Top 5: Dogs From Movies

Here's where I'll bring you my first installment of my White Hot Top 5! I've become keen on making Top 5 lists lately. Pointless as they are.

This week's top 5 will be my top 5 favorite movie dogs of all time, inspired by Megan's tweet about Dug from Up being the best movie dog ever.

And here they are...Top 5 Movie Dogs!

#5 (tie!) - Chance and Shadow from Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
I realize that the cat walked a gazillionty miles too, but this list is about dogs, people, OK? And these dogs walked REALLY freakin' far. And they miraculously made it home without getting eaten by mountain lions.

#4 - Perdita from 101 Dalmations (1961)
Perdita was also featured on The Rotten Tomatoes Show's list of Top 5 Bitches of all time. So I'll sorta steal their justification - She gives birth to a huge litter of puppies...which, you know, doesn't sound like an easy thing to do, then she rescues an even larger group of puppies and pretty much adopts them! What a great bitch!

# 3 - George from Bringing Up Baby (1938)
That little terrier caused so much mischief. You know, stealing priceless dinosaur bones and all. But in the end, he helped bring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant together. Jackpot! Interesting trivia, the dog who played George, Asta, was also in The Thin Man and quite a few other big movies around this time. Quiet a famous movie actor dog, he was.

#2 - White Fang from White Fang (1991)
My dad used to watch this movie quiet a lot, so I have fond memories of it. I suppose White Fang doesn't really count, since he's part wolf and all, but he's so bad-ass that I'm just gonna stick him on this list anyway.

#1 - Dug from Up (2009)
Yes, Megan, I'm stealing this from you. But, in all seriousness, I feel like if my dog had the ability to speak, he would sound like Dug. "My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Near-Cult Experiences

It is hard to describe The Mountain Goats. The Mountain Goats usually refers to a man named John Darnielle, a former nurse in a psychiatric ward who started out writing an recording songs on his boombox. These eventually evolved into something closer to an actual band, though it still is mostly just Mr. Darnielle and his guitar. Sometime during my freshman year of college, Mallary introduced me to The Mountain Goats, through the classic songs "No Children" and "International Small Arms Traffic Blues". After falling in love with these songs, I bought the album Tallahassee, an incredible 14-song affair chronicling the destructive relationship of a couple who will eventually drink themselves to death. I was hooked. I moved onto the gorgeously beautiful and fragile songs of The Sunset Tree (I might have to do a write-up of later, because I love it so much), then We Shall All Be Healed, then All Hail West Texas, then anything else I could find. Mallary was a huge, invaluable help in this regard, having a near-complete collection of Mountain Goats songs...probably somewhere around 300...I never really counted, but it's a good guesstimate that they constitute 1/4 of the content of my iPod, easily. That same freshman year that I got hooked on TMG, Mallary and I trekked all the way up to Haverford College in Pennsylvania one adventurous Sunday night just to watch Mr. Darnielle and Peter Hughes play a show in the basement of a dorm.

Let's fast-forward to

A little over a month ago, Mallary told me that it was confirmed that The Mountain Goats would be playing a benefit for Farm Sanctuary near the tiny lakeside town of Watkins Glen, New York, called Zoop II (there was a previous Zoop in 2007). A brief description of Farm Sanctuary - FS tauts itself as "the leading farm animal protection organization". It rescues farm animals from abusive situations, rallies against factory farming, advocates a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle - all that jazz. The festivies of Zoop II would ibe a weekend long extraganza with shows by John Danielle, Peter Hughes, and John K. Samson of another of my favorite bands, The Weakerthans. And, of course, since in the past Mallary and I have proven ourselves dedicated fans of The Mountain Goats, it seemed only natural (i.e. completely batshit crazy) that we drive up to Watkins Glen to camp out for the weekend with 200 or so other rabid Mountain Goats fans.

So here's a brief pictoral run-down of the weekend.

Here are the cabins where John Darnielle and company stayed in.

And here is our little tent village directly across.

The evening started off with an excellent set by John K. Samson (who I later sat next to briefly at the post-show bonfire)

Here's John's bandmate Peter Peter Hughes, who did a most energizing solo set with a lot of danceable disco-opera songs about Aregentinian race car driver Juan Manuel Fangio (look him up). They caused Zoop-goers to randomly shout "Fangio! Juan Fangio!" for a good chunk of the rest of the weekend.

And here's Johnny!

It was great, epic set. The crowd got very rowdy during "This Year".

Cultimating in John Darnielle probably very nearly getting hit by this broken beer bottle.

A bonfire followed the concert (not pictured in this blog entry)...30 or so Zoop-goers gathered around, guitars were brought out and people drank and sang Mountain Goats songs til the wee hours of evening. John Darnielle made a surprise appearance to join the sing along and Peter and John K. Samson also stopped by. I have to tell you, it was kind of surreal. The next morning, Farm Sanctuary gave Zoop-goers a free tour of their facilities, and an oppurtunity to meet all of the animals. Including adoreable, huge cows.



And Goats! (hehe) This goat here is Zoop, whom the event is named after. She only has 3 legs. She also likes to head-butt.

I see you.

A goat named Jerry Lee who most people simply call "The Pope".

This sheep fell in love with Mallary and wouldn't let her go.

And then a random goat escaped, causing staff to have the chase it and wrangle it back in.

This awesome woman and her husband made free t-shirts for everyone.

Now this the infamous "Request Only Setlist" board. People were asked to write down any songs they wanted John to play during the Request Only show that night. They also were asked to donate money (which would go to Farm Sanctuary) in order to encourage John to play their song.

It rained a bit, then cleared up, causing an awesome and gorgeous sunset over the hills.

People gather around for the Request Only show.

I love John's enthusiasm and unabashed joy when he plays. It gets me every time.

The second, Request Only show was my favorite of the weekend. It was here especially that encapsulated the ...for lack of a better word,"specialness" and surreal, magical quality of the weekend. It's hard to really put into words. Maybe it was the environment, the setting, the people, the fact that everyone had travelled hundreds of miles just to see this guy that we all admire play songs that we all love in a barn in beautiful upstate New York. It was just incredible. I'd say you'd be hard-pressed to find someone happier to play in front of an audience that couldn't be happier to see him. Having everyone sing-along to even the most obscure of Mountain Goats one point John jokingly referred to himself as a cult leader (Mallary and I and others were also joking about a vague "cult-like" atmosphere to the whole Zoop experience. Anyhoo, during the show a sort of boundary between artist and audience was broken briefly. Like when John's guitar string broke right before the encore and he came out and led everyone in a sing-along, a cappella version of "No Children". Just...incredible. What amazing people. What amazing music. What an amazing frickin weekend. I'm afraid I'm going to find going to normal concerts at normal clubs and bars and typical concert venues really disappointing after this.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

5 Movies That You Probably Haven't Seen (And Probably Should)

I'm glad that lately I've gotten back into my habit of going out of my way to see interesting films The new Netflix account also helps. Seriously, why have I been against Netflix all these years? It's such an amazing invention! Here I give you five movies that I've seen recently that I think you should check out. Some of these are out on DVD already, some should still be in theaters. Checkee out.

Sin Nombre

Starring: Edgar Flores, Kristyan Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Paulina Gaitán

Synopsis (courtesy of Flixter): "After murdering his gang's leader, a teenager joins a family of Honduran immigrants making the dangerous journey across Mexico to the United States, avoiding a fellow gang member who has been sent to kill him along the way. "

This is the debut feature from director Cary Joji Fukunaga and, based on this, I'd be really excited to see what he does in the future. Sin Nombre ("Without Name") concerns people who are on the edges of society (i.e. gang members and illegal immigrants). It also teaches you not to mess with MS13. Like, seriously. The cinematography is amazing, with some hard-to-watch scenes inside the dens of gang leaders, and wide shots of trains zipping up the countryside of Central America, with dozens of people crowded on top, desperately trying to escape to a better life. This is a gritty drama that'll stick with you long after you're done watching. Still in theaters, I think. Watch trailer here.


Starring: Caroline Ducey, Rocco Siffredi, Sagamore Stévenin, François Berléand

Synopsis: "Although deeply in love with her boyfriend - and indeed sleeping in the same bed with him - a schoolteacher cannot handle the almost complete lack of intimacy he will allow. Increasingly frustrated, she gradually finds her sexual appetites leading her into ever more risky situations, including a developing one with the headmaster".

I've been trying to get into the work of director Catherine Breillat and this is the third film I've seen of hers so far (along with The Last Mistress and Fat Girl) and so far the one I like the most. However, I would say her films are difficult to like and she's certainly not subtle in terms of her agenda. Even still, I'm not exactly sure how much I like this film, but I definitely think it's worth checking out, if only because of the questions it raises and the buttons it pushes. I'd also have to say that Breillat's films, this one especially, have some of the most explicit sex I've ever seen on film...and also the least erotic. It's hard to explain. But worth a gander.

(Probably not work-safe) Trailer here.

Let the Right One In

Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Synopsis: A bullied Swedish boy develops a friendship with the girl next door...who happens to be a vampire.

Rarely will you see such bloody carnage in a movie and go "Awwww, it's so cute!" But seriously, the relationship between Oskar and his cute lil' vampire girlfriend Eli is simultaneously morbid, touching, and utterly adoreable. The young girl who plays Eli has a precociousness and an odd charisma that reminded me a lot of the girl who played Miette in City of Lost Children (what happened to that girl anyway? Does anyone know?). Even if you're not into vampire lore or vampire cinema, this Swedish export is still captivating, odd, and very well-crafted.

Trailer here

Gegen die Wand (Head-On)

Starring: Birol Ünel, Sibel Kikelli
Synopsis: "40-year-old Cahit is brought to German psychiatric clinic after attempting suicide and sets out to start a new life, even as he longs for drugs and alcohol to numb his pain. There he meets Sibel, who is young, pretty and like Cahit, Turkish-German. She lives a lifestyle that is a bit too wild for her devout, conservative Muslim family and fakes a suicide attempt to try and escape them. But the incident brings shame upon her family, who insist that only marriage can save her. Sibel begs Cahit to marry her and he reluctantly agrees, perhaps in an effort to save her and to find meaning in his own life. Gradually, however, Cahit begins to fall in love with Sibel and she, in turn, comes to realize that she loves him - but not before an incident of jealous violence tests this fledgling romance."

I loved, loved, LOVED this movie. I only saw it a little over a month ago and I would already put it in my top five favorite films ever. Here we are presented with two very damaged people who you are compelled to like and root for despite a number of unlikeable traits and habits. And despite the fact that their relationship seems ultimately doomed from the start, you just really want these crazy kids to make it! This film just has an amazing rush of energy to it and takes you on a rollercoaster ride that keeps your heart racing until the very end. Seriously, cannot recommend this highly enough. Watch it.

Trailer here.

Goodbye Solo
Starring: Red West, Souleymane Sy Savane
Synopsis: Goodbye Solo is the story of Solo, a kindhearted 34-year-old Senegalese taxi driver in North Carolina. He is hired by William, a tough 70-year-old white southerner, to drive him in two weeks time to a mountaintop from which William plans to jump to his death. Solo decides to charm his way into becoming William's friend, and this odd couple's unexpected friendship grows. Now all Solo has to do is change the old man's mind before the two weeks are up.

This movie reminded me a little bit of Thomas McCarthy's movies The Station Agent and The Visitor, which both dealt with unlikely friendships. This movie quietly takes you to some unexpected places and ultimately leaves you uncertain about the fate of its characters. But I think that's what I liked best about it.

Trailer here

Still in theaters.

Now get watching!