Friday, April 30, 2010

An Open Letter to the Creators of the XP Defender Trojan Horse Malware Program

You suck, I hate you, and I hope you die from lung syphilis.

I knew your little program was trouble immediately. Warning me that I had virus problems. Urging me that I had to act right away. You weren't McAfee. I wasn't fooled.

And I wasn't worried. Because there were instructions online that told me how to purge you. Delete a file here, change a registry setting there. No problem.

Ah, but you were crafty. You knew that people had figured out how to beat you. So you changed names. You latched on in new places.

So I turned to experts. First, the brain trust at Geek Squad, who offered to take $300 bucks, lock my computer away for 5 days, and see if maybe that didn't fix things. Lacking confidence in their plans, I turned to yelp, found a very reasonable and friendly storefront operation less than a mile away, and placed my computer in their capable hands. All in all, I've got you on the run, you rat.

Sure enough, the computer came back working just fine. Or so I thought.

The first warning sign was that Chrome, my browser of choice, wouldn't open. Puzzled, I did some research and discovered that the programs my repair guy had installed to keep your evil at bay were also preventing Chrome from working right. So I made a couple fixes. But it still wasn't behaving right. So I did a test. Just to see what would happen, I danced with the dark side. I opened Internet Explorer.

And there it was. XP Defender. You rotten bastard.

From that moment, everything has gone to hell. The tech guy said I might as well just reboot the whole system. But we have to save all our documents first, and my wife and I have just had the most delightful argument over how to accomplish that. This will probably culminate in buying a whole new computer, which I hasten to point out we can't really afford right now. But a computer is the only way we can conduct a job search in order to get the money to fix the computer that you broke.

So there. I'm sure you are delighted. You sent this thing out, and the little rogue hunted until it found me and struck. And while you didn't make the money off of me that you hoped to, that's no skin off your nose. Hey, you're just a cankerous criminal, trying to make a living by hurting others. Ain't that America.

You have ruined my computer.

You are destroying my personal economy, which is already a wreck.

You are trying to damage my marriage.

Die.

Friday, March 26, 2010

CANT GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD: You Shook Me All Night Long

The Song: "You Shook Me All Night Long"
The Singers: AC/DC
The Songwriters: Brian Johnson, Angus Young, Malcolm Young

Satellite radio has much to recommend it. No commercials, an incredibly wide range of genres, and virtually no hosts (save for the presence of all four surviving MTV VJs on "80s on 8"). But once you get past that, there really aren't a lot of surprises. All the hits gets dragged out for another run. And that includes songs like this.

She was a fast machine
She kept her motor clean
She was the best damn woman that I ever seen


Let's just stop right there, because right off the bat, this is one of the funniest, most epic failures in the history of rock lyrics. We kick off with this ham-handed car metaphor, but then, only two lines in, the guy just gives up. It's like, after he came up with machine and motor, he couldn't think of another entendre to save his life. So he just gave up. "That's it, mates. I'm tapped out." BUT HE KEPT GOING WITH THE SONG! What happened? Did he come up with it in a freestyling throwdown? Did they accidentally record his first draft? I mean, at least TRY to be suggestive.

She had the sightless eyes
Tellin' me no lies
Knockin' me out with those American thighs


Oh, I'm sorry. So the girl is blind. I feel terrible now.

Wait. What?

Takin' more than her share
Had me fighting for air
She told me to come but I was already there


Oh...oh, wait a minute. Hang on just one cotton pickin' minute.

Is this song about sex?

'Cause the walls start shaking
The earth was quakin'
My mind was achin'
And we were makin' it and you -

CHORUS:
Shook me all night long
Yeah you shook me all night long


Look, I realize that 98% of rock songs are about sex. But there's something so basic, so blunt about these lyrics that if you think about them for more than two seconds, you won't be able to stop laughing. It's like the guys from AC/DC just got out of their first day of "Introduction to Metaphor" class, and were so excited that they just couldn't wait to try out their new-found skills.

Workin' double time
On the seduction line
She was one of a kind, she's just mine all mine
Wanted no applause
Just another course
Made a meal out of me, and come back for more


These aren't even actual sentences anymore.

This is normally the point at which I say something about the band. Not gonna happen. I don't give a whit about AC/DC. They specialize in a brand of music that I've sometimes heard called "hard rock" and other times called "metal" but which I know best as "music Shane doesn't particularly care for". Some songs, however, transcend their genre to become truly ubiquitous. And then I hear those songs on satellite radio, and they attach to my brain like remoras, and I have to write about them to get them out. And here we are.

Had to cool me down
To take another round
Now I'm back in the ring to take another swing


And now it's about boxing. Let's see if the folks at Songfacts can help me out.
Johnson came up with the line "She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean" when he realized that cars and women were very much alike - they go fast, let you down, but then make you happy again when you see the new model. AC/DC has never been known for deep, meaningful lyrics.
Thank you, Songfacts. Thank you so much.

'Cause the walls was shaking
The earth was quakin'
My mind was achin'
And we were makin' it and you -

CHORUS:
Shook me all night long
Yeah you shook me all night long


I wonder what would happen if you didn't try to be coy about it (and I'm being REAL generous describing AC/DC as "coy" here) and just sang what you were actually talking about.

AND WE
WE HAD SEH--EH--EX
YEAH, WE
WE HAD SEH--EH--EX

Knocked me out and then you
Shook me all night long
Then you were shakin' and you
Shook me all night loooong
Yeah you shook me
Well, you took me

(guitar solo)


Speaking of guitar solos, I checked, and this song is available on Rock Band. But here's the thing: aside from the solo, it's a really repetitive song. It must be really tedious to play. And yet AC/DC has to play it at every single show. They can't avoid it. That must drive them nuts. It's like a hard-rockin', chick-bangin' Groundhog Day.

You really took me and you
Shook me all night long
Oaaaaaahhhhhh you shook me all night long
Yeah yeah you
Shook me all... night... long
Ya really took me and you
Shook me all night long


Is that it? Is that everything?

Yeah you shook me, yeah you shook me
All night loooong!


Okay, then.

Fun Fact: This is an actual thing. So is this. Makes you wonder how hard rock fans can live with themselves.

Friday, March 05, 2010

FINAL CUT: In the Big Blue World

So, I find myself in the awkward position of explaining why I think the highest-grossing film of all time doesn't suck.

(Just so we're clear, Avatar has only the 15th-highest gross when adjusted for inflation, and that's ignoring the huge surcharge attached to the 3-D glasses. No one cares about any of that, of course, but just so we're clear: box office reports? Lies!)

As one of the last 10 people in America to see Avatar (and that should go down to 9 if my wife chooses to see it instead of Cop Out), I'm well aware that I'm very late to the party to say much of anything about the movie. At the same time, that also means that I've had a chance to take in the observations of the rest of the civilized world. So I feel like I get to sit on a jury that is only just now learning the true facts of the case. So let's come to a verdict, shall we?

First off, we need to clarify which of two prevailing arguments about Avatar is true. It is either:

- A stunning achievement, using the most current movie technology to create visions never before seen in the most immersive cinematic environment yet devised.

or

- A tired rehash of hackneyed plots and pilfered set-pieces strapped to boatload of atrocious dialogue that no amount of visual effects can conceal.

Ha ha! I'm kidding! It's both. It is transforming AND unoriginal. It's breathtakingly wonderful AND sadly underwhelming. It's a floor wax AND a dessert topping. It is the London Symphony Orchestra playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." The pros and cons are so clearly split that it is a film almost guaranteed to polarize its audience. Oddly enough, with so many films being made that make you go "eh", I actually think that's kind of a plus.

This dichotomy may make you split your feelings about the movie just as cleanly. I spent a couple hours arguing with one of the proprietors of the Critical End! movie review podcast and blog. He thought the effects were lovely and the story was so rote as to be insulting. So he gave the movie a rating of 5 out of 10. And I guess I get that. 10 for visuals, 0 for story... it averages out.

"But the look and feel of the film is so revolutionary," argues I, "that you have to set petty concerns about clich├ęs and commend the film for its overall impact."

"The scope of the achievement," retorts he, "is exactly why I have to ding it for the crappy plot. With all that power comes great responsibility. It's like getting Renoir and having him draw Marmaduke. If you want pretty visuals without a compelling story, get a screensaver."

(Incidentally, Marmaduke is an actual movie. Coming this summer. With Owen Wilson voicing the title role. So...you know...that blows.)

We went on like this for a while, both of us respecting the other's position while still thinking him to be a raving nutcase. So here's my last stab at making a case for Avatar as worthy of the hype. To him, and to myself.

Is Avatar perfect? Hardly. There's plenty to pick on. The story is pinched from at least a dozen places. The subtitles are in Papyrus font. That song at the end is god-awful. Story non sequiturs abound, like an insubordinate pilot who is never punished for her dereliction. A giant fighting robot that, hilariously, has its own giant knife for up-close fighting. An extremely rare mineral which is given the accurate but still incredibly stupid and unoriginal name of unobtainium. Little things like this still nag at me.

And then there are bigger problems. The acting is mediocre at best. Our hero, played by Sam Worthington, sports an accent I can only describe as Australian-Brooklyn, which robs most of his big speeches of their gravity. Villains Stephen Lang and Giovanni Ribisi conceal their evil in no way whatsoever, depriving the film of potential suspense or character development. (Although Ribisi has several scenes where he appears to be conflicted, but for no obvious reason. It's like they're scenes of him playing a totally different character.) And Sigourney Weaver has it worst, trying mightily to come off convincingly as a peace-loving botanist whose every speech is in the tone of a hard-boiled Marine.

Ah, yes. The speech. Dialogue in this film is like a lead rainstorm. A character actually says "You are not in Kansas anymore." Another rallies the troops by telling them they will be fighting "for our children, and for our children's children." Plenty of people yell "Noooooo!" It is almost awesome to watch the film and see how many opportunities were not taken to find new ways of saying things.

So should we be critical of Avatar? Heck, yeah, and I hope it's clear that I am. But in the end, I am able to brush all that away. The plot, the characters, that stuff is not as good as it could be, but it doesn't ruin the film for me. And why not? Why am I willing to cut Avatar so much slack? The answer is a single word.

Titanic.

I haven't mentioned the name of the Grand Panjandrum responsible for Avatar yet. He's James Cameron, the film's director, writer (and lover of military jargon), editor, cinematographer, production designer, slavedriver, and all-around visionary. And the reason I've waited until now to bring him up is because he did all this exact same stuff on his last movie 12 years ago. A little thing called Titanic. And of course, the bastard's gone and done it again.

It has become fashionable to pick on Titanic for the lame dialogue (Tim Sniffen used to love throwing out the quote "Here's to making it count" at opportune moments), the lame romance ("I love you, Jack." "I love you, Rose." "I love you more, Jack." "Me, too, Rose."), the lame villain (ah, Billy Zane). But it was always clear to me that none of this was the point. James Cameron had one goal with Titanic: to put you on the boat as it sank. He enlisted every special effects trick in the book to bring that ship back to life in a way that made it impossible for you to doubt that you were seeing the real thing. Then he cobbled together a romantic couple that may not have been clever or original, but served the role of taking you to every essential part of the ship as it went down. Jack and Rose weren't characters. They were tour guides for history.

If Cameron is really copying anyone, it's himself. Avatar is all about this remarkable new world and these strange creatures. The Dances With Wolves storyline is good enough to get by. But the real goal is to put you on this planet, as thoroughly and convincingly as possible. Our protagonist, Jake...he doesn't have to be great. Once again, he's a tour giude for the fantasy. He's taking us to everything worth seeing.

I should say a word about the stupendous 3-D technology that makes you feel like you're enveloped in the film. The past few times I've tried to watch 3-D, it hasn't worked for me. I've gotten double-vision or blurring or dimness. Not so here. Cameron has broken the bank creating depth that really works, that is watchable without strain for nearly three hours, and he doesn't have to poke a single stick at the camera to let you know it's working.

So again, you may ask, "Why am I cutting him so much slack? So he makes great visual effects. So what?" And I guess the answer is because, to my mind, he's NOT making great visual effects. He's taking the visions in his head and putting them into ours. Look, a lot of filmmakers can give you special effects. Take hacks like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich. From what I've seen in the trailers, Transformers 2 and 2012 are just dripping with effects. I can totally picture Emmerich telling a bunch of animators, "I wanna see the Christ the Redeemer statue blow up. Can you do that?" And they say yes, and you've got yourself a movie. You can lump George Lucas in there, too. The Star Wars prequels are bad in their own right, but the bigger issue is that the visuals just share the screen with the story, rather than serving it. Those three movies are essentially promotional reels for ILM. But that's all these directors are really doing: ordering off a menu. They don't have a vision.

James Cameron, God love him, has vision. He has things in his head, and if he has to take 12 years and invent whole new camera systems and push the limits of computer technology way past its limits to get what he wants, he'll damn well do it. He's been pushing the edges for a while now. The water alien in The Abyss took us to the liquid metal killing machine in Terminator 2, which was a short trip to the fully-realized RMS Titanic, which finally took us here. He's redefining the movies, and amazingly, doing it in a way that works.

One last analogy, which I hope will somehow finally illustrate my point. As you may know, George Harrison first discovered the sitar on the set of Help!, where it was included as a funny prop. But he was fascinated by the instrument, so he finally bought one (because he was a Beatle, and that's what you did when you got a little curious about something). And he fiddled with it, trying to play it like a guitar, and the instrument's exotic sound debuted with the Beatles as the perfect accompaniment to John Lennon's tale of infidelity, "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)."

But Harrison wanted to know more, and he eventually studied with the world's foremost sitarist, Ravi Shankar. It was from Shankar that he eventually learned the right way to play a sitar. And that led to all kinds of other stuff, like Harrison's growing interest in Hinduism and the Beatles taking up with the Maharishi and whatnot.

But what's interesting here, I think, is that Shankar was never much impressed with Harrison's early dabbling on the instrument. Someone asked him why not, since George's sitar had lent such a stark and lovely counterpoint to the Beatles' music. Shankar replied that, for someone like him who knew the instrument so well, George's playing was still wrong, and it would be like praising a child for banging on a piano.

I guess what I'm saying is, in many respects, what filmmakers have been able to do with visual effects thus far has been very impressive. You need only look at this demo reel to see what visual artists are capable of, and how far-reaching and pervasive their work has become. But Cameron makes them all look like amateurs, dabbling on instruments they don't fully understand. He's Ravi Shankar, and everyone else is just banging on pianos.

I guess that's why I didn't think Avatar sucked.

Monday, February 15, 2010

CAN'T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD: Up, Up and Away

The Song: "Up, Up and Away"
The Singers: The 5th Dimension
The Songwriter: Jimmy Webb

So I'm playing a game called Songburst, wherein you compete against your friends by completing song lyrics. The words are printed on cards which, half the time, give you the wrong year, despite the fact that the correct year is printed on the bottom in really small type in the copyright data. Anyway, I was protesting one of the card's assertion as to how many times the word "balloon" actually appears in the refrain of The 5th Dimension's classic "Up, Up and Away" when I came to a bold realization: "Man, this is a stupid song." Don't misunderstand; I actually kind of like the song, in the way that I enjoy a number of cheesy things. But it's pretty stupid.

(Incidentally, you really must watch the video linked above. I'm not sure if it's more awesome because the costumes are so silly, because they're clearly lip-synching but still have to share microphones, or because the director insists on framing them so that they only fill the bottom half of the screen. It's as though the set designer told him, "I had better see all those giant dots I built, or I will kill you.")

Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
We could float among the stars together, you and I
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon


Brace yourself, folks, because this is pretty much the whole song. If they ever try to make a Mamma Mia-style musical consisting entirely of 5th Dimension songs, this will not be one of the tunes that "advances the plot". It's pretty much: I got a balloon, it's cool, let's ride. Perhaps it will be a seduction scene. A very easy-listening, unsexy seduction scene.

The Songfacts website, which purports to give you facts about songs, contains this gem about this particular tune: "This song, more than any other, is associated with hot air ballooning." Thanks, Songfacts. Way to do your homework there.

The world's a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon


It wears a nicer face?

It is almost a truism that white people will always end up trying to sound more black, rather than vice-versa. Proving a bold exception to the rule is The 5th Dimension, a group that boldly stands alongside The Carpenters and The New Christy Minstrels as purveyors of some of the whitest music ever produced. And I say this as a really, really white person. This is mean, what I'm about to say, and I'm just about positive that it isn't true and probably slanderous, but when I listen to The 5th Dimension, I feel like they absolutely would have played Sun City. You wonder how a group like this could happen. Did an all-Motown station accidentally play the Mitch Miller Singers, and these five people exclaimed, "What is that magnificent sound?"

Suspended under a twilight canopy
We'll search the clouds for a star to guide us
If by some chance you find yourself loving me
We'll find a cloud to hide us
We'll keep the moon beside us


Our songwriter here is Jimmy Webb, who is renowned for his, shall we say, unique approach to storytelling in song. Here, I'll give you the titles of a few of his little pop music symphonies and let you do the math -- "Galveston", "Wichita Lineman", and of course, God help me, "MacArthur Park". Yes, the same person responsible for "Someone left the cake out in the rain" also churned out this salute to hot-air ballooning. It all makes sense, really.

Love is waiting there in my beautiful balloon
Way up in the air in my beautiful balloon
If you'll hold my hand we'll chase your dream across the sky
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon
Balloon...
Up, up, and away.....


Fun Fact: "Up, Up and Away" won the Grammy for 1967 Record of the Year. That's right. Out of all the music that debuted in that pivotal year, this was the best of the bunch. Here's just a handful of the tunes it was judged superior to:

"I'm a Believer" - The Monkees
"Tell It Like It Is" - Aaron Neville
"Standing in the Shadows of Love" - Four Tops
"Ruby Tuesday" - The Rolling Stones
"Mellow Yellow" - Donovan
"Gimme Some Lovin'" - The Spencer Davis Group
"Happy Together" - The Turtles
"There's a Kind of Hush" - Herman's Hermits
"For What It's Worth" - Buffalo Springfield
"Groovin'" - The Young Rascals
"Respect" - Aretha Franklin
"Windy" - The Association
"Can't Take My Eyes off You" - Frankie Valli
"Light My Fire" - The Doors
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" - Procol Harum
"I Was Made to Love Her" - Stevie Wonder
"White Rabbit" - Jefferson Airplane
"Reflections" - Diana Ross & the Supremes
"The Letter" - Box Tops
"Higher and Higher" - Jackie Wilson
"Brown Eyed Girl" - Van Morrison
"Gimme Little Sign" - Brenton Wood
"Soul Man" - Sam and Dave
"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" - Aretha Franklin
"I Say a Little Prayer" - Dionne Warwick
"I Can See for Miles" - The Who
"I Second That Emotion" - Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
"Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)" - John Fred & His Playboy Band
"Chain of Fools" - Aretha Franklin
"All You Need Is Love" - The Beatles

Think about it. To be better than all those songs? My gosh. I mean, you know what it is? It's humbling.

Yeah, right. Here were the songs actually nominated for the award:

"By the Time I Get to Phoenix" - Glen Campbell (Jimmy Webb!)
"My Cup Runneth Over" - Ed Ames
"Ode to Billie Joe" - Bobbie Gentry
"Somethin' Stupid" - Nancy Sinatra & Frank Sinatra

Just...wow. I've never even heard of "My Cup Runneth Over." But no matter. The next time someone tells you the Grammys have become irrelevant, you say, "What do you mean, become?"

Additional Fun Fact: Dimension-ette Marilyn McCoo would later go on to co-host Solid Gold, the America's Best Dance Crew of the early 80s. The Solid Gold Dancers would, of course, go on to do lots and lots of cocaine.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hello, Old Friend

I can't believe, in all this time, I've never given you my Doritos rant. Well, isn't this your lucky day.

In 1964, the Frito-Lay Company introduced a new line of corn tortilla chips called Doritos. Their first flavor was called Toasted Corn, which is a fancy way of saying Plain. I'm telling you this because I suspect that you, like most people, believe that Nacho Cheese was the first flavor, which is wrong, and is quite frankly stupid. (That's right. I called you stupid. No one's actually reading this, so I intend to let 'er rip.)

Don't believe me? Wikipedia totally backs me up. Don't believe Wikipedia? (Well, I suppose that's fair.) Maybe you'll prefer the in-depth company history found at Funding Universe. Still not satisfied? Well, tough. I'm right about this. I mean, honestly, how could the first chip be the flavored one? It makes no sense at all. It's like saying that Mountain Dew Code Red came first. I mean, come on.

And while we're at it, do not go saying that plain Doritos are called Tostitos. First off, you're an idiot. Second, Tostitos came out in 1979, 15 years after their superior big brother. Third, Tostitos are made with white corn and are flaky and flimsy. They can't compare to the bold taste and stronger structural integrity of the yellow-corn Dorito. And finally, shut up. They're totally different chips and you're wrong, Mr. Wrong Guy.

(Incidentally, whatever you do, do NOT go to the Doritos website in search of any kind of information. It's a cacophonous mess, trying desperately to be hip in a way that recalls the character of Poochie being added to "The Itchy and Scratchy Show" on The Simpsons. Believe it or not, you're actually better off with the amusing entry for Doritos at Conservapedia, which even notes popular criticisms of other Doritos flavors. I'm scared to read their entry on Sarah Palin, but a site that lavishes so much attention on snack food deserves at least one tip of the cap.)

To be fair -- which I really don't have to do, this being MY rarely-updated blog and all -- Frito-Lay brought this confusion upon itself. There is no dispute that Nacho Cheese is by far the most popular flavor, with Cool Ranch a very strong second. Toasted Corn, by comparison, doesn't even rank. Of course, it might do better if Frito-Lay would SELL THE DAMN CHIPS EAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI. That's right, the flagship of the line, and you can't get it in half the country. Brilliant.

I love these beautiful chips, and I'm not alone. The blogosphere has several acolytes of the original flavor, and even the prissy experts at America's Test Kitchen rated them best in show. (The results are locked away in this subscriber-only article, but maybe I'll bust out the scanner and copy the page right out of the cookbook, just to prove it.) So the fact that I haven't lived somewhere where you can buy the damn things for almost two decades has really raised my ire on the subject. So much so that I occasionally call up the toll-free number to tell them what I think of their brilliant sales plan.

ME: Why won't you sell me these delicious chips that you make?

FRITO-LAY PERSON: There's not enough demand for it in your area.

ME: THAT'S BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS THEY EXIST, YOU IMBECILE!

Surprisingly, this approach does not work. And so I have been reduced to the occasional shipment of good ol' Plain Doritos from my father, but otherwise forced to relegate them to the Shelf of Beloved Foodstuffs I Can Get No More, alongside Hydrox cookies, Carnation breakfast bars, and the original five flavors of Life Savers.

Or so I thought.

The stunning happy ending to this story began last Tuesday, when I received a late-night text message from a former co-worker who had endured too many of my rants on this ridiculous subject. The message was a photograph of a pair of Toasted Corn Doritos bags sitting on a grocery store shelf.

I assumed he was in Texas.

To my astonishment, he was in a store right here in Chicago, only a few blocks from my home. After persuading him to sample them for himself (his verdict: "...that's a solid motherf****n corn chip"), I made a beeline to the store the very next day to see things for myself.

There they were. I bought two.

I have been gluttonously enjoying my chips ever since, and my confidence got another boost when I found myself in another supermarket here in Chicago and found them again. I'm a little nervous, because they could always go away again. But I'm starting to let down my guard. I think the Snack Lords have finally granted my wish. Toasted Corn Doritos are back, baby. Go buy some and celebrate.

I think I owe that toll free Frito-Lay person a call.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

THE HITCHCOCK PROJECT: #7 - The Farmer's Wife


Well, this is embarassing. I just finished watching #28 from the Hitchcock oeuvre, and since I haven't updated the project for ages, I wanted to check quickly to see how far I was backed up. And I look to see...5??? I haven't posted an entry since #5? Holy crap.

So anyway, these might get a little shorter for a while.


My endeavors on The Hitchcock Project are unavoidably doomed. We've already had to skip The Mountain Eagle on account of it not existing anymore. Now I've had to bypass #6 on the list, Downhill, because I can't find a copy of the thing anywhere. The closest I've come is a 5-minute clip on YouTube, and that clip doesn't make me very optimistic about the quality of the film as a whole. So I won't see them all. But that's okay. And you know why it's okay? Because I DO get to see movies like The Farmer's Wife, and that's more than enough punishment to make up for what I've missed.

The Farmer's Wife is ostensibly a comedy. It's a very Hitchcock kind of comedy in that it opens with someone on their deathbed. This somebody is the wife of farmer Samuel Sweetland, who urges him, before breathing her last, urges him to remarry. Sweetland, being a taciturn and very country-English sort of fellow, doesn't even want to be in the room, let alone contemplate taking a new bride. But anyway, she dies, and once Sweetland realizes that his wife is really gone, he resigns himself to making the rounds of his small village and hunting up a new wife.

Now, remember that this is supposed to be a comedy. Well, naturally, a sad widower isn't going to do the trick. So in order for this to work, our farmer is going to have to make a complete ass of himself. Well, goal achieved. After a rather charming little piece of filmwork in which Sweetland imagines each of his potential suit-ees sitting in his wife's chair, he rushes off to each of them, pretty much demanding that they marry him on the spot. This, needless to say, does not go the way he anticipates.

So Hitchcock's got a real uphill battle going here. We can't sit around feeling bad for the hero, because then we won't laugh. The flipside, though, is that he turns into a domineering bonehead, which means we end up feeling more sympathy for his dead wife because she doesn't have to deal with him anymore.

There is someone else we feel sympathy for, and that's Sweetland's housekeeper, Minta. It's pretty obvious to anyone watching that these two are meant to be together, but Sweetland can't know this, or else there's no movie. So we have to watch him consistently overlooking what's right in front of him, and once more, it's hard to find it funny.

This is best exemplified by the film's climax, when Sweetland has been rejected by all the women in town, and he finally figures out his maid should be his wife (since she's cooking his food anyway), and he's forced to go to her hat-in-hand, saying that if he he rejects her too, he'll understand. This is our arc: our protagonist starts emotionally-stunted, quickly develops into a big jerk, and finishes pathetic. Comedy, ladies, and gentlemen. Comedy.

The past couple movies serve as a harbinger for things to come in The Hitchcock Project. British cinema of the 1920s and early 30s is obsessed with class, and cheerfully sexist. These are the movies people wanted to make, and evidently that people wanted to see. So it's wrong for me to judge these movies too much on this basis. But I'm going to anyway, because it's an attitude that really makes them -- well, not unwatchable, per see, but definitely tiresome. And if The Farmer's Wife has anything going for it, it's that the movie is trying to have a laugh at attitudes which will soon become outdated. But I still didn't like it, and McGilligan can call it "charming" in his book as many times as he pleases, but he's not changing my mind.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

CAN'T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD: Judy's Turn to Cry

We're proud to introduce a new feature today, in which we over-analyze some pop song that we overheard in a 7-Eleven or showed up on the iPod or just randomly got stuck in our head. Because when you haven't posted anything in about a year, they're all new features.

The Song: "Judy's Turn to Cry"
The Singer: Lesley Gore
The Songwriters: Edna Lewis & Beverly "Ruby" Ross

'Cause now, it's Judy's turn to cry
Judy's turn to cry,
Judy's turn to cry
'Cause Johnny's come back (Johnny's come back, come back) to me

It's hard to believe, but in the early days of pop music, the mobsters in charge were even more mercenary than they are today. This manifested itself in the kinds of songs they rushed into the marketplace on a regular basis. Real chintzy, money-grubbing stuff. Gender switches (The Temptations' "My Girl" is actually a response to the charming-but-still-inferior "My Guy" by Mary Wells), answer songs (observe this stupefying reply to Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"), and, of course, the sequel song. And that's what we have here.

Oh, when Judy left with Johnny at my party (my party)
And came back wearing his ring,
I sat down and cried my eyes out
Now, that was a foolish thing

In case you're not up to speed, Lesley (our narrator) is recapping the plot of her first hit, the outstanding "It's My Party". The short version: at her own birthday party, she found out her boyfriend was with another chick. So she's sobbing, and clearly people are telling her not to, and she's basically telling them to bite her, which is awesome.

Also, you have to love those dancers in that clip. Hey, let's all do the Weep-Like-A-Little-Girl!

'Cause now, it's Judy's turn to cry
Judy's turn to cry,
Judy's turn to cry
'Cause Johnny's come back (Johnny's come back, come back) to me

That last line in the chorus is our first cause for concern. Johnny's come back, has he? Hey, Lesley? Remember back in Verse 1? When you said all the crying was foolish? I was kinda hoping it was because you figured out what a loser Johnny was. Judy was wearing his ring, honey. He's a dog. You don't take that man back. You move on.

Well, it hurt me so to see them dance together (together)
I felt like making a scene
Then, my tears just fell like raindrops
'Cause Judy's smile was so mean

Oh boy. She feels like she needs to explain the crying. Serious self-esteem issues. Lesley, it's okay. We've all been dumped. It hurts. We sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, we drink too much, we stop posting on the blog that we'd only just promised to start posting on again after a year. It's natural. You don't owe us an explanation.

But now, it's Judy's turn to cry
Judy's turn to cry,
Judy's turn to cry
'Cause Johnny's come back (Johnny's come back, come back) to me

As a general rule, sequels in all formats -- movies, books, carbonated beverages -- blow. And songs are no exception. But there are always exceptions, and from a musical standpoint, "Judy's Turn to Cry" is a sharp piece of pop music. I heard it today while enjoying my first Patty Burger, and was impressed how quickly and deeply it buried itself in my brain. And how I began deconstructing the whole thing while waiting for the damn 146 for forever. And how it made me return here, for god's sake. So kudos, Edna & Beverly "Ruby". I'm back.

(Instrumental Break)

And yes, I am a little link-happy, thank you very much. Sue me, I'm a little out of practice at blogging. Or writing in general.

Oh, one night I saw them kissin' at a party (a party)
So, I kissed some other guy
Johnny jumped up and he hit him
'Cause he still loved me, that's why

Aw. No, no way. Are you serious? This is the reason? Oh, this is wrong on multiple levels:

- So first of all, our Lesley turns out to be a slut. "Oh, you're with Judy now?" she says. "Well, then I'll just kiss this random guy." "Whoa! Well, hey there, Lesley. I'm Chad. Nice to meet you. Say, I know we've only just met -- and exchanged saliva -- but maybe sometime you and me could stop by the soda shop for a cherry phosphate, or even just go to a movOWWWW!"

- Not only that, but evidently she gets turned on by jealous violence. Sure, her boyfriend started passing out jewelry to some broad, but he's willing to start throwing haymakers the moment you try to get on with your life? Oh, yes, take this boy back.

- Why was I never at these parties? Where were MY random hot kisses? Followed by MY painful broken noses?

- What in the hell does Johnny have to be jealous about anyway? JUDY'S WEARING HIS RING! God, I hate Judy!

- He still loves you? Just so I understand: he hit this guy because he still loves you. He, who gave his ring to Judy, still loves you. And assaulted someone to prove it.

There it is, everybody. This is the moment that the Lifetime Movie was born.

- And just what do you think Judy's gonna do now, Lesley? She already stole your boyfriend once. She clearly has unlimited gall. You don't think she's gonna pull this crap again? You are caught in a vicious cycle, and you have to get out.

- Also, the way she has to cram in the last two words at the end is really sloppy, in a funny way.

So now, it's Judy's turn to cry
Judy's turn to cry,
Judy's turn to cry
'Cause Johnny's come back (Johnny's come back, come back) to me

Poor Lesley. She's a classic victim. First, Johnny dumped her -- without even telling her, mind you -- and she blamed herself. Then, even though he was unworthy of her, she schemed to get him back. Her plan worked, in the process revealing her beloved to be a feckless thug. I do not see things working out for Lesley and Johnny. In fact...

Fun fact: Lesley Gore is an out-and-proud lesbian. So there's always hope that she'll record a song about ditching Johnny and putting on Judy's ring.