Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Anonymous review

Anonymous is one of those cases where I wish I wasn't really as *into* movies as I am. Once I watch a film, I'll generally check it out online to see what the critics are saying, what the buzz is, get background about the production, etc. This is the inverse of what I do before seeing a movie, which is try to avoid hearing about it in order to avoid spoilers and whatnot. Obviously I'll carry biases going into a screening based on expectations, but I always try to keep a clean mental slate whenever a film starts.

In the case of Anonymous, I'd seen the trailer, which prompted this analysis back in May….

This is the definition of bittersweet if you're an English major. Hollywood is making a movie, titled "Anonymous," about the Shakespeare authorship question, one of the most fascinating mysteries in all of literature. Frankly, it's long overdue.

Problem #1: The film centers solely on the theory that Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford) is the true author. Okay, well, that kind of gives short shrift to the other candidates (Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley, Sir Francis Bacon and my personal favourite, Henry Neville), but hey, okay, for the sake of a 100-minute film, I can understand the need to streamline things.

Problem #2: This is the trailer. Uh, it looks pretty swordfighty for a movie about playwriting, but still, ok, a movie's got to sell tickets and whatnot. Fair enough.

Problem #3: It's directed by Roland Emmerich. OH FUCK. As in, the guy who directed The Patriot, 2012, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and a bunch of other shitty action movies. This is a bad, bad, bad sign.

Problem #4: The tagline is "We've all been played." Oh jesus christ.

In short, you can probably skip Anonymous unless you like stupidity. I pity the poor English teachers of the world, who will no doubt be faced with hundreds of essays from students citing this film as a definitive source. "My thesis is how Iago and Othello's relationship is a metaphor for jousting, which Edward de Vere was a champion at (as cited on Wikipedia), since we all know de Vere was really Shakespeare!"

Anyway, my expectations were pretty low, but Anonymous ended up being a thoroughly ludicrous but entertaining film. It's not any stretch to call this Emmerich's best movie, which is a little like noting that a broken clock is right twice a day, but still, I enjoyed it. Vanessa Redgrave and Rhys Ifans (in a dramatic role!) did their best to add gravitas to the theatrics of the plot and Rafe Spall playing Shakespeare as a straight-up bastard was pretty fun. Maybe I'm just a sucker for Elizabethean and/or "Shakespearean" costume dramas, but Anonymous gets a thumbs-up from this guy. Not a full thumb, but maybe the equivalent of three stars out of five. Geez, I would hate to lose two-fifths of my thumb.

The real issue with Anonymous is not the film itself, but more with the odd fact that Emmerich isn't treating his movie as just historical fiction, but rather as the truth. While Anonymous isn't even close to being as good as Back To The Future, imagine if Robert Zemeckis went around saying, "Oh yeah, time travel is real, and our film shows how it would happen." Or if Steven Spielberg claimed Jurassic Park was a literal blueprint for how to clone dinosaurs. We'd think they were nuts. Emmerich, meanwhile, says things like, "That's why everybody in the Stratfordian side is so pissed off because we've called them on their lies."

Did William Shakespeare actually write the plays attributed to him? It's at least possible he didn't --- there are certainly gaps that exist in the public record about Shakespeare and his work, more than you'd think there would be for a playwright of his stature, even one who lived 400 years ago. The authorship question is a fascinating one but it's at best just a sidebar in any study of Shakespeare's work since (let's be honest) the plays and poems were with at least 90% certainty written by William freakin' Shakespeare. I can buy that they may have been somewhat altered or re-edited from the versions that eventually appeared in the First Folio, but the overwhelming amount of evidence suggests the man from Stratford is indeed the man.

And, if Shakespeare didn't write the material, I can sure bet his name didn't end up on the plays thanks to some byzantine conspiracy involving the Royal Family as Anonymous suggests. I was all ready to praise Emmerich for making a good movie but man, the "gotcha, Shakespeare!" attitude just makes him look like a dope. I'll keep this in mind in 2313 when someone makes a movie about how Jeff Goldblum actually directed Independence Day but Emmerich got the credit due to…..MACHINATIONS! *swirls moustache*

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Muppet Stuff

Needless to say, The Muppets was adorable. It's a great trip down memory lane for long-time fans and it'll probably be successful in rebooting the franchise for today's generation. The script was half-tribute to old Muppets projects and half-general "hey, let's put on a show!" plot, but really, any excuse to simply let the Muppets go nuts on stage is appreciated. One of the few criticisms I'd heard about the movie was that it was too fixated on Jason Segel and Walter the 'new' Muppet, but I didn't find this to be the case at all. Segel is smart enough to more or less sideline his character for the middle portion of the movie so we can just focus on Kermit getting the band back together; Segel and Amy Adams and Walter are just supporting players, though Walter does get his big moment as the climax.

I'm not sure why I'm bothering to review this film since it's basically just what you'd expect. If you've ever liked the Muppets, you'll like the new movie. There's no excuse for not seeing it. In the hospital in an iron lung? Have then wheel the iron lung to a theatre. Boom, doctored.


Given that one of the songs is titled "Man Or Muppet" and the overall theme is Walter finding his place within the Muppets collective, it occurred to me watching the film that I'm basically Fozzie Bear. Bad jokes, always wears a hat, bald underneath, and the less said about the body hair the better. There are worse Muppets to be, certainly. Better Fozzie than realizing halfway through the movie that my life and personality exactly reflects that of Rizzo the Rat.


Top Ten Favourite Muppets…
10. Sam the Eagle
8. (tie) Bunsen & Beaker
7. Link Hogthrob
5. (tie) Statler and Waldorf
4 Rowlf
3. Miss Piggy
2. The Swedish Chef
1. Kermit the Frog

I stuck to just characters from The Muppet Show here, keeping in the theme of the post. If it was the Muppet universe in general, you'd better believe some Sesame Street characters would be popping up here. Y'all know how much I dig the Street. Cookie Monster would easily hold down the #2 overall spot, though Kermit would still be on top.


And, to celebrate my two favourite Muppets, here's a great clip from Sesame Street. I could watch these Kermit/Cookie Monster sketches all day long. This one is particularly golden --- "arrivederci, frog," Kermit's look of disgust as CM is trying to butter him up, "just thought it might be a cookie, off-chance," etc.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beckett and Andre, Hangin' Out

As an English major/childhood pro wrestling fan, this story of the fabulous true friendship between Samuel Beckett and Andre the Giant delighted me to no end. Surely some type of play/film/sitcom/mystery show where they drive around in the truck solving crimes needs to be made from this scenario. I guess you could reference cricket just a bit...perhaps have Andre's catchphrase be "This is a sticky wicket," or have Andre and Sam be accompanied on their adventures by a talking cartoon cricket named Sir Donald.

I think you could have Paul Rudd as Beckett if you added enough old age makeup, since clearly, Jason Segel is the only choice to play Andre. Is "Waiting For Andre" too obvious a title?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Packers Aren't Unbeatable

I don't care if the Packers have a perfect season; I just want them to be perfect in January and February. An unbeaten record would, of course, be awesome and incredible and would be one of the top-20 events of my life --- despite my not, officially, having anything whatsoever to do with it, not counting the good karma from my wearing Packers colours on gamedays --- but, a Super Bowl is infinitely more important.

I'm hedging my bets now since if I was a betting man (which I obviously am, giving that I'm hedging them), I'd say Green Bay will drop at least one game the rest of the season. The team's weakness is the defence, which has a bend-but-not-break philosophy but has been bent really, really far a couple of different times this year. In three of their last four games, the Packers allowed 27 points to Minnesota, 38 to San Diego and now 26 to Tampa Bay, three offences that range from struggling to lousy. GB's ridiculous offense ensured that all three games were still comfortable wins, but even still, a really good team with an above-average offense and who can at least contain Aaron Rodgers definitely has a chance to beat the Packers.

The remaining schedule…

* at Detroit. The Lions' dip in form makes this seem like less of a monstrous game than it did two months ago, but the Lions will still be geeked for this matchup. Thank you, Thanksgiving afternoon scheduling.

* at New York Giants. A big possible playoff preview here. I still have trouble believing this team is actually good, but 6-3 speaks otherwise. New York is a good team that is prone to the occasional stinker (their opening week loss to Washington and their inexplicable home loss to Seattle that sunk many a suicide league pool) but is by and large solid week in and week out. That said, the Giants need 'the good Eli' to show up in top form in order to beat Green Bay since I suspect Rodgers will just feast on New York's garbage secondary. Let's not also discount the fact that if Green Bay beats Detroit in that huge NFC Central game, the Giants could be a bit of a letdown game afterwards. One would think a Super Bowl champion team on a (by beating Detroit) 17-game winning streak would be mentally strong enough to avoid a letdown, but they're only human.

* home against Oakland. And, wins over both the Lions AND Giants would make this one a trap game. The Raiders are tough and can play with anyone but I don't think they're good enough to go into Lambeau Field and beat the Packers.

* at Kansas City. The only gimme left on Green Bay's schedule. Arrowhead Stadium may be a tough road venue and the Chiefs could still be in the playoff hunt thanks to that crappy AFC West, but the Packers shouldn't have any problems winning here.

* home against Chicago. This is the big red flag. The Bears, against all odds, appear to be for real. The 13-3 team that was universally expected to regress has instead stayed tough and are probably a top-five team in the NFL. A Christmas evening game, Green Bay vs. Chicago, mah gawd. The Bears are 6-3 now and another 13-3 record is actually not out of the question -- their remaining schedule is San Diego today, at Oakland, Kansas City, at Denver and the absurd Tim Tebow, Seattle, at Green Bay and then at Minnesota. I doubt they'll run the table but it's at least possible. Wouldn't shock me at all to see the Packers and Bears meet for a third time in the postseason.

* home against Detroit. The rematch against the Lions could be a huge game for both teams, a huge game for just one team or a nothing game that carries bitter feelings for Lions fans. By the time Week 17 rolls around, the Lions could be playing for a playoff spot and the Packers could be playing for a) an unbeaten season and b) home field advantage in the playoffs. Conversely, the Packers could have lost a game but wrapped up home-field so they'd be resting starters against a Lions team gunning for the postseason. Double-conversely, the Pack would have things wrapped up and the Lions could have fallen out of the playoff race altogether. I think only this latter scenario would favour Detroit since even if the Packers had clinched home-field, they'd still want to play hard to keep their divisional rivals out of the postseason.

The other factor for Green Bay: the freakin' 49ers. San Francisco is 9-1 and has this remaining schedule: at Baltimore, at Arizona, at Seattle, home against Pittsburgh and a home-n'-home with St. Louis. Only the Ravens and Steelers games are question marks, so the 49ers look to post (at worst!) a 13-3 record. If they steal just one of those games against Pittsburgh/Baltimore, they'll be 14-2, so Green Bay would have to be at least 15-1 just to get home field. It's possible Green Bay would have the tiebreaker edge if both teams finished 14-2 but I'd rather not leave things up to the vagaries of the NFL's tiebreaking system. Even if the Packers lose the perfect record, they'd still have to play hard for as long as it takes to clinch top spot in the NFC over San Francisco.

With all of this pressure bearing down on them, a perfect record is too much to ask. Not even the most perfect football player ever could help Green Bay go 16-0, not to mention 3-0 in the playoffs. (Unless Curt Hennig could play defense. Which he probably could've, he was perfect, for god's sakes.) I'd almost feel better about Green Bay's Super Bowl chances if they dropped a 'dress rehearsal' game to New York or Chicago, just so the team could focus on resting a few guys and getting 100 percent for their second-round game.

The Super Bowl is the key. It would be absolutely, positively heartbreaking if the Packers pulled a 2007-08 Patriots and went 18-0, only to lose the big one at the end. Hell, if 19-0 is so important, Green Bay has already won 16 in a row dating back to last year --- just win the next three and phone it in against Kansas City. The overall record for consecutive wins is 21, held by the 2003-2004 New England Patriots, but what the hell, let's let the Pats keep that one, Tom Brady doesn't have enough other plaudits. Throw him a bone, which he will pick up with the hand that contains his three Super Bowl rings and his Gisele Bundschen wedding ring. Damn you, Brady.

So there you have it. Even this most fervent of Packer-backers doesn't think an unbeaten season is necessary or even realistic. All that matters is that 14th championship. Mercury Morris and Don Shula can drink more champagne for the time being, Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy just want another ring.

"Mark, was this whole post an elaborate anti-jinx?"


Thursday, November 17, 2011

UFC 139 Picks

* Brian Bowles over Urijah Faber, decision
The winner gets the next crack at bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, and both men hold losses to Cruz already. Faber, of course, has lost twice to Cruz, once by sub in the WEC four years ago and then by decision last July in Cruz's first UFC bout. You might wonder why Faber is once again in line for a title bout and the short answer is, he's Urijah Faber. He's the most well-known and marketable name in the bantamweight division so of course the UFC will go out of their way to line him up for one final crack at Cruz. It wouldn't surprise to see Faber and Cruz as the coaches on the next TUF season in order to build up the third fight of their trilogy and to get over the bantamweights.

So, with all this in mind, I'm picking Bowles because I think he's just the better fighter right now. Bowles' only loss was to Cruz and that was via a doctor stoppage when Bowles broke his hand in the second round. It's possible BB has what it takes to figure Cruz out, we just haven't seen it yet. Frankly, I think it might be better for the bantamweight division in the long run if more personalities and names besides just Faber and Cruz are promoted. I have no idea what Bowles' personality is like, but why not have him coach a TUF season? A Bowles win and the oncoming train that is Renan Barao could make things very interesting over the next year for the bantams.

* Kyle Kingsbury over Stephan Bonnar, decision
With four wins in a row, you'd think Kingsbury would have drawn someone higher up the food chain than Stephan Bonnar, which is why I'm picking Kingsbury to win. For all the guff Bonnar takes about being a C-level fighter who's kept around as a thank you by the UFC for his part in the original Ultimate Fighter finale, Bonnar is awfully hard to stop. In fact, he's never been stopped --- of his seven losses, five were by decision and the other two were TKO cut stoppages. Now, let's not kid ourselves and say that Bonnar is underrated but at least he deserves some credit for being a tough guy and avoiding getting finished by the likes of Jon Jones, Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin (twice). He can take solace in yet another decision loss here.

* Cung Le over Wanderlei Silva, KO, R1
This fight reminds me of that Simpsons scene when Homer is in hell's ironic punishment division. "So, you like knockouts, huh? Well, how about all the knockouts in the WORLD!" There is a 100 percent chance this fight ends with someone's unconscious head bouncing off the octagon floor. You have Cung Le, the mixed martial artist/former kickboxer/current action movie star who hasn't fought since June 2010 and has recorded all seven of his wins via knockout. Then you have Wanderlei Silva, the MMA legend who has 24 out of 33 wins via knockout and (perhaps more importantly) has an ever-glassening chin due to years of combat fighting. Yes, I realize 'glassening' isn't a word, bear with me. If it wasn't for the fact that Le hasn't fought in so long, I would pick him in an instant --- Silva just can't stand up to anyone who has any semblance of a striking game anymore. I'm still going with Le as my pick but the bottom line is, someone is getting KTFO.

* Rick Story over Martin Kampmann, decision
A real battle of hard-luck fighters here. Kampmann has lost his previous two bouts, both coming via questionable decisions; the bright side for Kampmann is if he loses here, the controversial nature of his losing streak will probably earn him one more shot in the UFC. Story stepped up on short notice to face Nate Marquardt in the main event of a Fight Night card in June. Unfortunately for Story, Marquardt dropped out due to his infamous lack of medical clearance the day before the show, and Story then was unprepared for substitute opponent Charlie Brenneman and lost a decision. Story had a six-fight win streak going before that loss, and I think he has somewhat turned a corner in his career where he can thought of as a legit lower-level guy in the upper-tier. (What a backhanded compliment!) Kampmann will be outwrestled to another decision loss, though maybe at least this one will be more straight-forward.

* Shogun Rua over Dan Henderson, submission, R3
Since losing to Anderson Silva in March 2008, Henderson is 6-1, with the only loss coming when he had a jacked-up back and lost a five-round decision to Jake Shields. Coming off his whipping of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko last July, Hendo is on top his game and back in the UFC. If he beats Shogun, another title shot is his for the taking.

So, why am I picking Shogun? In a word, I think Shogun is healthy. To go back to Shogun's past history of major knee surgeries, his first fight post-surgery is a loss or a near-loss (Forrest Griffin in 2007, the gas-fest against Mark Coleman in 2009, Jon Jones in March), his second fight is a knockout win (Chuck Liddell in 2009 and Griffin in August) and then by the third fight, he's back to being 'the old Shogun.' We saw the old Shogun beat Lyoto Machida and then robbed by the judges when they met on my birthday in 2009, and if that guy shows up on Saturday, that guy can beat Dan Henderson. Shogun in top form is arguably the top light-heavyweight EVER, and I would love to see a totally fit Rua get another shot at Jon Jones.

I see this going like Henderson's bout with Anderson Silva. Hendo will try to outwrestle Rua and take him down, but sooner or later, Shogun will catch him with a strike and then get a sub for the victory. I sound pretty confident in this result but (believe it or not!) I'm wrong about these things sometimes, so Henderson certainly has the tools to win or get a knockout himself. This is a fantastic, near-legendary matchup that I can't believe is only happening for the first time now and not years ago in PRIDE. I guess it'd be kind of funny if this one (like a certain heavyweight title bout) also ended in an 80-second knockout but at least if it happens here, we'll have enjoyed a full night of action beforehand. Well, wait, those of us in Canada did, since our version of the UFC's FOX broadcast featured the awesome Ben Henderson vs. Clay Guida bout. Man, it's great to be a canuck.

* Michael McDonald over Alex Soto, decision
* Chris Weidman over Tom Lawlor, TKO, R2
* Miguel Torres over Nick Pace, decision
* Danny Castillo over Shamar Bailey, decision
* Rafael dos Anjos over Gleison Tibau, submission, R2
* Seth Baczynski over Matt Brown, submission, R2
* Ryan Bader over Jason Brilz, decision

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Liam Neeson = Comic Genius

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's new series, Life's Too Short (starring Warwick Davis) debuted on the BBC and obviously if it's anything to close to The Office or Extras, it will be pure gold. This promo clip featuring Liam Neeson is a great start. It might even be up there with the legendary Patrick Stewart cameo from Extras, which I'm linking to again because it's just that fantastic.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Big Fight

Cain Velasquez hasn't fought in over a year thanks to shoulder surgery. While unbeaten and the world heavyweight champion, Velasquez's chin has been a bit of a question mark given that Cheick Kongo (admittedly a good striker) was able to wobble him in a few times in their 2009 bout. Cain overcame that by taking Kongo down and controlling him with wrestling and ground-and-pound en route to a comfortable decision victory, but still, one wonders what would happen if Cain got rocked and then found himself on the mat with, say, a BJJ brown belt?

Junior Dos Santos has a BJJ brown belt but we've never seen him use it, as all seven of his UFC victories have come via decisions, knockouts and one 'submission' from Mirko Cro Cop, who gave it up when Junior's punches broke his orbital bone. While there's no real reason to doubt that Dos Santos is good on the ground, we still haven't seen how effective his MMA submission game actually is. It's also worth noting that while Dos Santos packs a mighty wallop, he hasn't been able to finish Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin in his previous two fights, though he gave both men a hefty beating. Nelson and Carwin are tough, sure, but JDS didn't look at dominant facing higher-caliber UFC heavyweights. In fact, Dos Santos looked a bit winded as both of those fights went into the third round.

So you have long layoff and possible weak chin vs. question mark of a ground game and cardio issues. I'm focusing on the negatives since that's more interesting than just saying these are clearly the two best heavyweight fighters in the world, which they are, and why Saturday's fight is going to be such a huge tossup. I THINK, if all things were equal, I'd favour Velasquez because he can outwrestle Junior into a third round and beyond, perhaps tiring the Brazilian out. However, that year of ring rust is a big worry for me. I hate picking guys who have been out of action a long time, especially when that layoff is ended by facing the undisputed top contender for your championship.

Saturday's heavyweight title fight between Velasquez and Dos Santos is the biggest fight in UFC history. It will mark the UFC's network television debut and the entire show is (theoretically) just the one fight. So yeah, just a little bit of pressure on the guys to make things exciting, eh? This could put even more pressure on Velasquez, since his path to victory might come via some Randy Couture-esque dirty boxing and holding his opponent against the cage wall. It isn't the most exciting strategy in the world and wouldn't be what either UFC or FOX would like to see in this huge primetime debut. If Cain feels in any way pressured to keep things "exciting" and forced out of his gameplan, that would be very, very unfortunate.

Man, again I'm focusing on a negative when this is a legitimately fantastic matchup, one of the greatest in MMA history. You could hardly have a bigger potential fight for the UFC's first venture into network primetime. There's a good argument to be made that the epic Forrest Griffin/Stephan Bonnar fight on the first Ultimate Fighter finale 'made' the UFC as a legitimate televised sport, and if Velasquez/Dos Santos is even in the ballpark of that match, this will be a bonanza of a night for mixed martial arts.

Prediction: screw it, Velasquez's long absence scared me off. I'm picking Dos Santos via KO in the second round.


Allegedly the UFC is sticking to the plan of just showing the main event on FOX and leaving the entire undercard to the internet. I find this hard to believe. Say that there's an undercard fight that features 5-10 minutes of furious action and a crazy finish; you're telling me the UFC and FOX wouldn't show that bout if Cain/Junior ends with a quick first-round finish? Especially the Henderson vs. Guida fight, which is a #1 contender's match for Frankie Edgar's lightweight title. It boggles the mind that this important fight is relegated to an under-undercard, rather than on PPV. Hell, it's a better fight than Mark Munoz vs. Chris Leben, and that one headlined the free UFC 138 on Spike last weekend. Munoz/Leben was a very good fight but still, mind-boggling.

* Cub Swanson over Ricardo Lamas, KO, R3
* Clay Harvison over DaMarques Johnson, submission, R2
* Robert Peralta over Mackens Semerzier, decision
* Norifumi Yamamoto over Darren Uyenoyama, KO, R1
* Pablo Garza over Dustin Poirier, decision
* Mike Pierce over Paul Bradley, decision
* Matt Lucas over Aaron Rosa, KO, R2
* Cole Escovedo over Alex Caceres, submission, R1
* Ben Henderson over Clay Guida, submission, R2….Guida's wrestling and lay-and-pray style will be neutralized by Henderson, who will eventually catch him in a triangle or something.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Have The Muppets Host The Oscars

So now that Eddie Murphy has pulled out of hosting the Academy Awards and Brett Ratner has exposed himself as a dumbass (I know, right? What a shocker! The director of X-Men 3 turns out to be a dope.…who saw that coming?!), this spring's Oscar ceremony is suddenly having to start from scratch. Brian Grazer has already been brought in as the show's new producer but since the hosting gig is obviously more high-profile, that's where everyone is focusing their attention.

Now, I'll be honest, I love watching the Oscars just because it's The Oscars. Outside of the opening number and monologue, the host usually doesn't bring much to the actual show itself. Their duties the rest of the time are just to introduce people and maybe participate in one or two more skits over the course of the night, so even if the host is terrible (i.e. James Franco), their spotlighted portion of the ceremony is surprisingly small. So, frankly, the host isn't a drawing card for me personally, though I realize I'm in the minority on this one. I was interested to see if Murphy could bring back some of his old 1980's mojo to the job but if he hadn't, it certainly wouldn't have made or broken the show for me.

Given Grazer's lengthy career and number of major stars he's worked with in the past, there's no shortage of hosting options. They could bring back a former host (Billy Crystal has apparently already turned it down, but you could also go the route of Steve Martin, Ellen Degeneres, Hugh Jackman or Jon Stewart again), bring in someone like Neil Patrick Harris who's proven adept at hosting every other awards show on TV, or perhaps Grazer brings in the big gun of Tom Hanks, who can do comedy, bring gravitas and is Mr. Academy Award already. Oscar host seems like a natural move for Hanks as he settles into the "beloved Hollywood legend" portion of his career.

But, to paraphrase that guy from Blazing Saddles….never mind that shit, here comes Gonzo! I am 1000% behind the mounting online campaign to have the Muppets host the Academy Awards.

Talk about a perfect way to totally escape the stink of the Ratner controversy. The Muppets have the new movie out, the characters are universally beloved, and virtually every plot in Muppets history is about the gang putting on a show --- what better way to cap that off than to have them put on the biggest show in the business?

The possibilities are endless. The Swedish Chef cooking the food for the after-show party. Statler and Waldorf up in the balcony, cracking all the jokes that are too mean for Kermit to say. Miss Piggy comparing how she's dressed to the clothes of every actress in the building. Fozzy Bear delivering even hackier jokes than the ones Bruce Vilanch already writes. Rowlf and the Electric Mayhem in the orchestra pit playing people off. Amy Adams and Jason Segel can easily step in for the parts of the show that require actual humans, since it would be odd to have the list of recently-deceased actors be introduced by, say, Sam The Eagle. Then again, watch this clip, dry your eyes and try to tell me the Muppets can't pull off emotional moments.

A Muppet-hosted Oscars is a can't-miss, solid-gold idea. Sure, there's a chance it would somehow offend Sean Penn, but…..wait, that isn't a downside.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Achtung Covers

I probably won't buy the new Achtung Baby cover album, created to celebrate the original's 20th anniversary. U2's original record is, indubitably, my favourite record of all time. It's certainly one of my deserted island albums. Getting the covers version would be like cheating on your wife with a woman that looked 80% exactly like her --- what's the point?

This isn't to say the covers album isn't good. I've certainly listened to it (thanks YouTube!) and all in all, it's an interesting set of interpretations. Here's the track listing….

1. Nine Inch Nails/Zoo Station
2. U2 (Jacques Lu Cont remix)/Even Better Than The Real Thing
3. Damien Rice/One
4. Patti Smith/Until The End Of The World
5. Garbage/Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
6. Depeche Mode/So Cruel
7. Gavin Friday/The Fly
8. Snow Patrol/Mysterious Ways
9. The Fray/Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World
10. The Killers/Ultraviolet
11. Glasvegas/Acrobat
12. Jack White/Love Is Blindness

If there's a common element it's that several of the covers take the same tack of reducing vibrant songs to somewhat straightforward, more acoustic numbers. Snow Patrol's cover of 'Mysterious Ways' strips all of the danceability from one of the grooviest songs ever, which kinda ruins it. Conversely, Patti Smith's bare bones version of "Until The End Of The World" is quite powerful, giving it a Johnny Cash, American Recordings kind of vibe. Somewhere in between is Nine Inch Nails' cover of "Zoo Station" and Gavin Friday's cover of "The Fly," neither of which has nearly the rocking energy of U2's originals, but they carry JUST enough of that energy to pull it off.

The only tracks on the album I didn't care much for were Snow Patrol's tune and "Even Better Than The Real Thing," which wasn't actually a cover, but rather U2's version heavily remixed by Jacques Lu Cont. They couldn't find a band to do a proper cover? Seriously, I'm not sure Lu Cont's version is even in my list of top five EBTTRT remixes…oh yes, I've heard several! Besides these two songs, most everything falls into the category of acceptably good. Garbage's version of "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses," for instance, is exactly what you'd expect a Garbage cover of that song to sound like.

I've highlighted my three favourites below. There's Patti Smith, first of all. The Killers deliver a nice, playful version of "Ultraviolet," which I'd argue is one of U2's most underrated songs and a tune that, for most other bands, would've been a huge hit single rather than a semi-unknown song buried on the back of a record. Then we have what's unsurprisingly my favourite, given my love of the White Stripes. Jack White's "Love Is Blindness" is just raw and yearning and shredding guitars and pure awesome. God, do I ever wish the White Stripes were still active, or if Jack White did a proper solo album instead of submerging himself within the Dead Weather and the Raconteurs or producing covers of Mozart songs by the Insane Clown Posse.

"Until The End Of The World," Patti Smith

"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)," The Killers

"Love Is Blindness," Jack White