Wherein unreasonably free time is dedicated to proving Jonah Hill is funnier than you.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Alien Costume: Part 1

Why I Wanted to See it: In anticipation of Spider-Man 3 I rewatched the beginning of the 94 cartoon's alien symbiote saga. Why this series isn't on DVD in its entirety, or why I don't know of a blog devoted to it is beyond me.[1] Granted SM[:TAS?] lacks the groundbreaking seriousness of the Timmverse Batman, the convoluted comics wonkery of FOX's 'X-Men'[2], or the animation fluidity of post-Saturday Morning ghetto superhero shows like 'Teen Titans' but it had its own charm and, in any case, is likely the source text for the movie.[3]

Why I'm Glad I Did: Much like Spider-Man's origin, there's no way to explain his black costume that's not stupid.[4] That doesn't matter, though, because it's simply awesome: shape-shifting, strength augmentation, turning one into a jerk and, I mean, look at it: it's black! How is that not enough?

The best part is the nightmare Spidey has when the not-yet-revealed as a symbiote takes over his body as he sleeps: he envisions the suit and his original red-blue-threads battling it out 怪獣 style. Once the black suit wins by shoving the original on some power lines, it swallows Spidey-as-Peter Parker, and then he wakes up hanging upside down in the "emo" outfit. If that sounds familiar, it's because the movie trailer clearly swipes it. Whichever of the six writers[5] for this episode came up with that, you better get your residuals.

Why I Wish I Hadn't: Every animation misstep in this episode has stuck in my mind for the past 13 years because it vacillates between excellent — Message to Sony Imageworks: this is what Spider-Man looks like swinging webs — and blatantly cost-cutting. No other series so shoddily reused animation: when the super-villain Rhino fights Spidey in a space shuttle teetering on the edge of the GWB[6], they used the same footage of the shuttle tilting back and forth a half-dozen times within two minutes.

'Alien Symbiote' is actually one of the better episodes in that regard, so my main problems are little script issues. Why does Peter Parker just leave his Spider-tracer-locator in his closet? How did transforming the symbiote into a police uniform let Spidey escape, when he did so in the middle of daytime traffic? I don't see how the security guarding "the specially enhanced control rods" the Kingpin was stealing for Alistair Smythe expected to stop The Rhino[7] by (irony of ironies) randomly charging.

Why I'm Ambivalent: Spider-Man's voice actor is really unconvincing as someone with edge, and this approaches ludicrous heights in the next episode. It's very uncomfortable to listen to, but haunting in its own way. Picture Greg Brady maniacally screaming "I'll tear you limb from liiiimb!" and you should get my point.

[1] Given how large the comic sub-blogosphere is, there might be lots, but I'm just not indie enough to get into that set. I do follow a decent blog on the Spider-Man newspaper strip, though.
[2] They revealed that Immortus was the main character behind this huge time/reality traveling story arc...except they never explained who Immortus was.
[3] Simply because there's no space for either the Beyonder or Richard Parker in a movie already packed —
Batman & Robin style, it seems — with three villains.
[4] I don't know what was worse: Todd McFarlane's rationale in Spider-Man #13, or Bendis' rationale post-Civil War.
[5] Stan "The Man (aka The King's Second Banana)" Lee, Avi "Got Out While the Gettin Was Good" Arad, Len "Wolverine" Wein, Meg "I'm Sorry But I've Never Heard of Her" McLaughlin, Stan "Paul Dini Don't Run This" Berkowitz & John "Oh Shoot, He's Black!" Semper
[6] An equally awesome and unreasonable setting
[7] Wow, y'know, the cast list for this episode actually seems to be a lot longer than the movie. There's hope yet.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Contemplating a Fandom-Lead Critique of Canon

Thousand Year Door has been tough for me to get through because it seems designed to avoid/prevent grinding, and I'm very big on over-preparation.[1] I want to ditch it altogether and go onto Super Paper Mario, but I need to follow protocol. However, leaving the ol' blogspot lying fallow all week has left me feeling like an absentee landlord, so I provide two fillers:

1) Nearly three weeks ago I promised to report on a Wii-pole and, per my prediction, Wii-voters prefer comedy movies (62%) to action (38%) ones. More to the point, I wondered what this would say about the gendering of the Wiilectorate, as men would obviously be more likely to prefer action.[2] Indeed 42.2% of Wii-men prefer action to comedy, while only 25.5% of Wiiwomen do. The most interesting thing out of all this is that only 58.4% correctly predicted the preference, which means some good chunk of people who prefer comedy thought they were weird outliers. Come on people: try some statistical analysis of box office receipts, why don'cha[3]

Another current question asks if Wiivoters wear perfume and/or cologne, which will test the metrosexuality of Wii-men. I'm torn between the stereotypical wussyness of Wii-owners and the stereotypical poor hygiene of gamers, but I'm going with the latter. For the record, I'm 21 for 26 with predictions.[4]

2) Even though Comcast claimed to have the final Spider-Man 3 trailer last month, on Thursday "Trailer 4" popped up on Apple's Trailer site. It's pretty much the same thing as what's on the Comcast site, but they use different clips of the villain Venom. At first I decided to write an entire post about this, but then I was reminded of this XKCD comic.

With Spider-Man 3, Transformers, and — to a lesser extent — The Simpsons Movie and The Order of the Phoenix — young professionals are seeing their fandoms realized on the screen in a big way this summer. Although fandom has been allowed to take over the official before,[5] the fandoms I was part of haven't. Venom is coeval with my interest in comics and Transformers: The Movie has been my favorite video to watch for the past two decades years; I am fairly certain I know more about these characters than any of the screenwriters, but do I know more about it than the reviewers? The depth of niche knowledge that some reviewers have never ceases to amaze me.

So, I wonder, is there a professional reviewer out there who will invoke Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen when describing the CGI in Spider-Man 3, or will debate picking Peter Cullen over Gary Chalk to voice Optimus Prime in Transformers?

[1] It's what makes me a such a great PokeMaster, but that's a story for Tuesday.
[2] One could quibble about the masculinity of Men-who-use-Wiis — or Women-who-play-video games for that matter — but I will only do so through apophasis.
[3] Based on Box Office Guru and IMDb data from July 1997 through November 2003. I had yet to discover the beauty that is BoxOfficeMojo.
[4] Who knew so many people owned furry fish?
[5] FTR, I don't claim to add anything to what people already know about the interplay between fandom and "canon."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jody Rosen is DEFINITELY Stylin' on Akon

Back in my grad school days, I performed [warning: cussin!] a Foucaldian analysis of Akon and Snoop Dogg's I Wanna [fsck] You, which is to say I've thought about their music critically, and recently. I'm thus not so surprised that Slate's resident Christgau[1] would come out against Akon so vehemently. He holds that Akon's stardom arose due to the short-attention span of both modern music technology (i.e. the ringtone) and the cultural Zeitgeist (e.g. this blog). However, not only was Akon already a star, but Rosen's got the causality on ringtones and popularity completely bass ackwards.

This is, essentially, my gripe with NYTimes take on Timbaland[2], but remixed. Nobody's stepping up to defend Akon's lyrics, and one could argue Rosen didn't go far enough in hating on Akon's, let's say, retrogressive writing style. What people need to acknowledge is that just because a guy doesn't chart #1 on Billboard, doesn't mean he's not a big deal.

Hitting up the good-ol-RIAA database, we see Akon went platinum with his debut album, and he had three gold singles: "Locked Up," "Lonely," and "Bonanza." Now, this was in 2005, a year when The Game came in #16th despite going double-platinum. Akon came in 66th, above Rod Steward but below Hilary Duff. Those two slices of bread in the Akon sandwich are stars, right? So why isn't Akon?

Rosen does make a stronger argument than "Akon is star;" he's saying Akon is the preeminent superstar, that nobody else can really touch him right now. I'm going to consciously hate on Rosen twice here: Akon's not "B-List" but he's not the best-n-brightest either. He basically lucked into a hot song with "I Wanna [fsck] You," he had Eminem's blessing on "Smack That" and "Don't Matter" — while no way better than the chimpunk-Pole of "Lonely" — simply requires less self-loathing to listen to than other current Top of the Pops cohabitants like Fergie, Mims, Avril, and Timberlake.

For further proof Akon's style isn't emblematic of the e-era, look no further than the Billboard Ringtone chart, on which "Don't Matter" isn't even outselling "Locked Up," and both are buried in the 20s. Rosen's whole "Lord of the Ringtone" hook doesn't make any sense when you consider that, Buckherry, Gym Class Heroes, Henry Mancini, and 近藤 浩治 are all beating Akon. Next week that may change, but, at least when I'm writing, he was hardly dominant, and the other ringtones don't really seem like catalysts for anything. In fact, the most recent song in the Top 10 right now is "Cupid's Chokehold," which has been charting for 9 weeks, but the song is over 2 years old. Are we going to blame ringtones both for the hip-hop braggadocio's invasion of "R&B"[3] and for emo-tion couched in a rapper's cadence?

[1] I.e. How do I describe Jody Rosen? This is why all online papers should have bios.
[2] Revisiting that, arguably Sanneh was right about Timbaland not being a star, as he only shipped ≈140k units his opening week. Granted, he had the 2nd best digital-single opening
ever, but it's no coincidence that the #1 song is another Justin[ / ]Timberland-track.
[3] Pretty much code for "Black people singing." Akon ain't exactly Fats Domino.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Love as Parable for Pot (NOT the Other Way Around)

We've all heard songs that speak about relationships through metaphors, be they food, vehicles, precipitation, or soda & soap [1]. I'm more interested in when the referentiality is flipped and love is a stand-in for something else. There's this joke that if you switch "girl" for G-d, then all of a sudden a Christian song sounds exactly like a secular ballad. Rap runs rampant with artists loving music as a person. Apparently it's all the rage nowadays to compare cocaine to Caucasians.

Amy Lee Isn't Asian, Is She?Mostly, I'm interested in weed.

The most famous marijuana-metaphor song is undoubtedly "Mary Jane" by Rick James.[2] James is being pretty obvious with that song, however, what with the titular pun. I prefer it when artists are crafty.

Jaheim's Styles P collaboration "Fiend" is a pretty good example of this, and what really attuned me to the possibility of sticky-icky songs. I had to listen intently a couple times before deciding if lyrics like
She gets me all chocked up /I can barely catch my breath /Don't want to pass her around /I keep her to myself was about a woman or some spliff. Maybe I'm just slow?

Upon the first listen of Lloyd's "Hazel," however, I knew it was about great ganja.
Ya got my eyes so low/And they damn near closed was a dead giveaway — if only because I learned from "Fiend"[3]— and once Lloyd started talking about Hazel's purple highlights I was cracking up.

Fidelity is a somewhat disturbing theme in all of these songs. "Mary Jane"
likes to spread her love, although Jaheim warns All of my dogs wanna hit her/Right after I'm with her, Styles P lets the team take a stab at her, and Lloyd admits usually I'd share you. Now this is all well and good if we're talking about bud, but if you read the lyrics solely by their denotation, you end up with a patriarchal polyamor of the worst kind. The mere fact that it is so easy to express the consumption of cannabis in terms of dating suggests something twisted about the state of modern relationships.

Although Lloyd, Styles, Jaheim, and James all laud la cucaracha for lifting them up, what do they give her in return? Lloyd is the only one who offers to prove his affection, but in saying he loves Hazel so much he'd
scrape the guts out a dutch for her leaves us with this weird Goofy/Pluto image of some anthropomorphic THC blazing a blunt. Granted, burn one tree and there's still the forest, but that leads to a big Kantian question about abstract conceptions like Hazel versus intuition of a high/woman and I'm pretty tired as is.[4]

[1] "Soda and Soap" might be better considered a foo-as-metaphor-for-anything track in the vein of "Taxi Driver," or Kanye's verse on "Hold On," but it was the only thing I could think of that didn't involve R Kelly A.K.A. the real monster of the double-entendre. Okay, I'm going to stop before I get trapped in a recursive loop of indexicality.
[2] Wikipedia claims that "Purple Haze" is actually the eponym for weed, and not a reference to it. Of course, Wikipedia ain't exactly the pope.
[3] Also Chingy, or possibly 欧阳靖. Wow, I can't believe Chingy got away with that.
[4] Just want to point out that I'm tired and not high. I mean, I don't even drink caffeine.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Worldwide Wii Poll #f00: The Future

I'm prepping for the release of Super Paper Mario by giving its GCN predecessor a test-run. This requires firing up the not-so-ol' Wii, and I love checking out the Everybody Votes "channel." As a bit of a numbers n3rd, I'm always trying to uncover variations hidden by the macro yes/no numbers. DYK:

Arulpragasam—Michigan and Kentucky really love basketball, but Vermont is non-plussed
—Puerto Ricans have weird teeth-brushing habits
—Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado residents are the only ones that prefer mountains to beaches.[1]
—Females are significantly more likely than males to think a woman will win 'American Idol'

I bring this up because the latest result fascinates me: 58.9% of Wii users worldwide[2] would rather know their own future than the planet's future. Given humans' tendency to ignore what happens past their lifetime, that shouldn't be surprising. The funny part is which countries are most self-interested: Austria, Germany, US & the UK. We all know the US is selfish, and the UK just bites America's style. Austria and Germany, though? While the obvious joke to make here is about WWI alliances, this breaks down once you consider that the US didn't really care about Europe's infighting until Germany courted Mexico and that, in any case, I have heard only one funny joke about WWI.

For the record, Denmark, Scandinavia, and Portugal are running the bottom. I presume Scandinavia just cares about global warming. Portugal, I don't know, I'm lost. There's something funny in all this; I just can't find it yet.

On the current round of polls, I would rather meet Einstein than Edison, prefer the window to the aisle, and am pretty sure comedy beats the action. The last one is a real test of the Wii's gendering, though. I'll make sure to check back in four days from now. Meanwhile, much respect for/hate on "Mark" for getting to Everybody Votes before I. Honestly, I wanted to cover this in print but I can't convince an editor[3] that it's important enough.

[1] New Mexico seems torn. So much for "the grass is always" greener, non?
[2] The non-response bias on these questions may be crazy high, and without sample size the polls' validities are anyone's guess, but I don't feel like qualifying the statement more than I already have so nyaaaah.
[3] Of course, I just barely convinced myself it was worth blogging about.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Is Kelefa Sanneh Stylin on Timbaland?

Surprisingly, I've yet to turn up anybody on either Technorati or Google Blog Search that gets at NY Times music critic Kelefa Sanneh for his retrospective-cum-preview of Timbaland's career. With "Can the Star Maker Make Himself a Star?" Sanneh simultaneously lauds Timbaland's music production as "the most exciting in pop music" while claiming he could never be as entertaining a lyricist as Kanye West, as iconic as Lil Jon, or as as bombastic as Mannie Fresh[1], and thus could never be as famous.

Scott Ain't SummersI'm with Sanneh on the first count, as I am an unabashed Kanye stan. On the second, Lil' Jon is more famous for 'The Chappelle Show' than anything else; I refuse to believe anyone can actually tell his music apart from, say, Mr Collipark's. When it comes to Mannie Fresh, though, Sanneh is effectively son-ing Timbaland. Take a look at the Google Trends for Timbaland versus Mannie Fresh, Jazze Pha, DJ Clue, and Swizz Beats. As "unscientific" as Mountain View claims that is, we can be reasonably sure Timbaland is killing those cats for mindshare.

Maybe Sanneh thinks they aren't famous, either, though. As one-half of the Big Tymers, Fresh was a hit performer, but if you ask anybody who the star of the Cash Money clique was, they're definitely not going to pick him. Swizz Beats doesn't even show up in the RIAA's online gold/platinum status databse. Clue and Jazze don't rap. Ditto DJ Dangermouse, who is too busy pulling a Chad Hugo to ever try and be star.

Which brings up the current composer[2] best-compared to Timbaland: Hugo's fellow Neptune Pharrell Williams. Both have around a half-dozen albums between collabos and solos, and both have failed be as a big a hit performing as they have been producing. You can say that's because Pharrell was just too weird with N.E.R.D. to go beyond gold, that last year's "In My Mind" did okay considering how weird 2006 was for rap. In any case, Pharrell's famous, right?

Now ask yourself, is Pharrell more famous than Timbaland? Does unleashing the post-ska Gwen Stefani on the world somehow make Pharrell more recognizable than the Justin Timbaland Frankenstein monster? How could Sanneh not bring up Pharrell in his article [Interrobang]

[1] Presumably Sanneh is using Mannie Fresh as but one example of a producer who talks enough over a beat that you can't ignore him. Why he didn't go with DJ Clue is beyond me.
[2] Sanneh mentions Dr Dre, which in turn lead me to think of Warren G. Both long gave up rapping, though (you don't really think Detox is coming out, do you?), and the current era has a different standard of success. 5 years ago, Press Play would
have gone umptuple-platinum.