Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Some random links and videos in stuff in lieu of a proper post

Oops, I haven't been doing so well with the blogging thing lately. It happens. I've actually been making decent headway on the Netflix Queue Challenge, but not posting about it.

And I'm not going to now. Just some quick links and things I felt like sharing….

First, of course, a bunch of Muppety things:

In case you missed it the other day, this video with OK Go and the Muppets is deeply weird and pretty great. I actually kind of hate the hipster arrangement of the song, but the video is fun, especially the very last scene. Rowlf and sheep are both pretty sure-fire winners.

I was surprised how much I like the rest of the album that's from, a collection of bands I've mostly never heard of covering songs the Muppets made famous. Doesn't it sound insufferable? But it mostly totally works for me! In the same way I find Jason Segal's Muppet love endearing, I like the idea that these musicians have been fantasizing about getting an opportunity to do this for their whole lives. Especially the guys who did "Movin' Right Along." You can, for now at least, listen to the whole thing at NPR.

Finally, Boy and I went to the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image last week. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more puppets, props, etc., but the focus was less on the Muppets and more on Henson as an individual artist. There was lots of fabulous artwork and insight into his thought and design process. And yes, there were Muppets - some replicas made for the exhibit by the Muppet Workshop, but also a delightfully worn Bert and Ernie, and some beautiful props and costumes from The Dark Crystal.

My favorite part of the exhibit was a bunch of old commercials they made in the 60s. They're deeply, deeply weird and dark! I guess nowadays we have the Schick bush-trimmer ad and pretzel M&M's, but I still found these somehow shockingly strange.

This one was my favorite:

This was a close second:

These are pretty great too:

(You can really fall down a YouTube hole with these.)

Okay, done with Muppets! Some more odds and ends...

Funny Or Die feels the same way I do about the Netflix price hike:

Last year when I posted about Facebook, I said that one of the only privacy things I'd like to see changed is the fact that tagged photos of you go live without your prior approval. And they just changed that! I'm sure it had nothing to do with me! Still, it's a good thing.

Last but certainly not least, Michaela is continuing her Buffy rewatch and writing great stuff. She's quickly catching up to me, which isn't why I haven't watched "Becoming" yet, but it might work out nicely. I wanted to share this story:

I remember, way back in 1997, the teasers for this episode promised that we would meet Buffy's very first boyfriend (of course, we learn in the actual ep that she just had a crush on Ford in 5th grade). And at the time, discussing with Adam807 how awesome it would be if it were a guest spot by Luke Perry as Pike. I share this anecdote merely to illustrate that we've ALWAYS been this way.

It's true, we have.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 17-20

I took a break from the Buffy rewatch for a few weeks (longer than it's been since my last post - I spaced the entries out a bit so as not to over-Buffy) and it's probably for the best, since after the four strong episodes of the last disc, this one is more uneven, with one of my all-time favorite episodes and one of my…not.

Oof, that is some bad Angel voiceover. And a truly tragic sweater on Willow. But this episode (by Ty King, a non-regular Buffy writer getting a pretty heavy mythology episode) gets better as it goes along, with a cute joke about how no one uses the library as a library, and a great scene between Giles and Jenny ("I know you feel betrayed." "Yes, well, that's one of the unpleasant side effects of betrayal."), then settling into some exposition-heavy setup for the end of the season. And hey, Willow's Jewish! And it's worth going over to Xander's to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas just to see him do the Snoopy dance! There's a great balance of lightness and darkness. The cast has really gelled and the writing and acting reflect where the gang is as friends, and how they're able to joke with each other, without ever forgetting the real danger they're in, and then showing us that danger in full force.

Jenny's death still shocks, even knowing now how much Joss Whedon likes to kill off his characters, especially right after they've reconciled with a loved one. Even after the lengthy chase sequence, the murder itself is so quick that it feels sudden, and it's violent in a way the show rarely gets (toward humans anyway). And I still remember how sad I was to see her go the first time around. Giles' discovery of her body, as orchestrated by Angel, is heartbreaking. Angel watching through the window as Buffy and Willow get the phone call about her death and Buffy's scene with Giles outside the warehouse, equally so. This episode is even better than I remember it - that opening voiceover really isn't fair to it.

I don't want to dwell on the clothes here - it's not my area and I wouldn't want anyone blogging about my high school wardrobe…or today's for that matter - but in one scene Xander is wearing a baggy flannel shirt and has boy band hair. In the next he has a color-blocked sweater that I can only describe as "Mark Cohen" (sorry, non-theater-people) and plaid…pajama bottoms? He is 1998.

And one nitpick I never noticed before: Why would a computer program that Jenny designed herself be called "Translator Pro" and have a ™ symbol next to it?

Killed By Death
Now this is just unfortunate. I don't even want to write about it (and hey, these posts are getting longer than I intended anyway). It manages to rip off both Freddy Krueger (even the score cribs from Elm Street) and the also terrible S1 "Nightmares" episode. After last week's great chemistry and raised stakes, here the cast is split up, and things move very slowly. Angel feels shoe-horned in. The one bright spot is this line from Cordelia: "Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass."

I Only Have Eyes For You
Now this is how you do it! This is basically a monster-of-the-week episode, but perfectly integrated with the season arc. There's even a blink-and-you-miss-it setup of next season's arc, with our first mention of the Mayor! Marti Noxon gives new viewers a little catch-up with Buffy's perfectly in-character line, "Do you remember my ex-boyfriend the vampire? I slept with him, he lost his soul and the demon that wears his face is killing my friends. The next impulsive decision I make will involve my choice of dentures." which tells them everything they need to know to understand what it means when Angel shows up later, and we're off.

This is one of my top ten favorite Buffy episodes (it may be one of my top ten favorite anything episodes) and every time I watch it I forget that Christopher Gorham is in it and get to be delighted again when he shows up. (I've liked him and found him adorable since long before he got buff and started taking his shirt off on Covert Affairs.) The ghosts reliving the night they died bit seems sort of old-hat, but it gets a nice twist here when Buffy and Angel get possessed, with both the clever gender-switch and the fact that Angel can't die like he's "supposed" to. Giles' giddy excitement over the possibility of paranormal activity, like we saw in Phases, is adorable, and his later insistence that the ghost must be Jenny is as heartbreaking as the Buffy/Angel scenes.

I hate to do this to an episode I love so much, but I have to play Continuity Cop for a second: Jenny's lesson plans were on her computer? But her computer burned, destroying the soul-restoring spell, two episodes ago. To be fair, I've never noticed this before in all the times I've watched this. I guess that's a drawback of the rewatch on DVD.

Ghost possessions aside, how much must it suck to be the janitor at Sunnydale High?

Go Fish
I almost didn't watch this one. And you know what? It's not so bad! It's hampered by two major things: Bad rubber monster costumes, and its bizarre placement at the end of the season. After the emotional bombshell of "Eyes," and with just two more episodes left in the season (arguably the two best episodes of the whole series), it's just weird to have a mediocre MOTW episode at this point.

But it's kind of okay! I mean, I'm all for swim teams after all. It's clunky both in concept and execution. For instance, they dress Xander in the baggiest clothes possible throughout the episode, presumably to highlight his Speedoed hotness, but it's not like we haven't seen his body before. Speaking of which, why is Cordelia so surprised that Xander has a good body? I mean, sure they haven't been naked together, but it's not like she doesn't grope him all the time. And speaking of groping, where has Oz been this whole disc?

And what a complete waste of the amazing Conchata Ferrell as a school nurse with maybe ten lines who becomes fish food. She could have been a really fun recurring character. She has great chemistry with Principal Snyder for the 30 seconds they're onscreen together.

And of course there's the overall clunk, with the whole "Steroids turn people into monsters!" thing. It's even worse than the "The internet is a demon!" thing. But compared to "Killed By Death" it's kind of genius.

"Becoming" is up next, and I'm going to save that for the weekend...or the next time I need a good cry.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Follow My Voice (With the Music of Hedwig)

I was a huge fan of Hedwig and the Angry Inch during its original off Broadway run, and it remains one of my favorite musicals with some of my favorite songs. A couple of weeks ago I saw a production of it on a work trip - my first time seeing it onstage in over ten years - so when I was browsing my instant queue, Follow My Voice, with its picture of John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig on the cover, jumped out at me. It's another one I'd forgotten existed.

Follow My Voice is a very confused documentary, about a handful of kids at the Hetrick-Martin Institute's Harvey Milk School, an NYC public high school primarily for gay and lesbian kids, about the school itself, and about the making of an album of the songs from Hedwig benefiting the Institute.

As lovely as all those things are, at least two of them don't really make the same movie. And the two movies they do make...both kinda boring. The kids are super-sweet, but most of them are not terribly interesting. Don't get me wrong: All of them come off as nice and smart, and they have genuinely heartbreaking backstories, but watching their lives at Harvey Milk just isn't very compelling. I think I'm a reasonably interesting person but I wouldn't want to watch a movie about me either. In some ways I think the movie suffers from its lack of budget. Much of it is made up of video diary entries by the kids, and it looks like other sections were also shot by them and their friends on those same cameras. Their families are much discussed but (not surprisingly) not present in the film at all. In one scene we see the school talent show, and are told that one of the subjects, an MTF transexual, is going to sing Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," but then we don't get to hear her do it, I assume because they couldn't afford the rights. I get it, but it's weird to set up what probably would have been a very emotional moment and then not actually show that moment.

That said, the parallel story about putting together the Wig in a Box album pales in comparison to the legitimately hard lives the kids have had, and the attempts to match up the music with their stories come off as forced. There's some nice performance footage. Watching The Polyphonic Spree record "Wig in a Box" was fun, and setting a montage of the kids getting ready for prom was maybe obvious but totally delightful to watch. Other song choices were less inspired. I really liked the segment about the unconventionally beautiful girl with the burgeoning modeling career, but scoring it with "Origin of Love" was a stretch at best, a bizarre disconnect at worst. But I'm not made of stone. Setting graduation to Cyndi Lauper's rendition of "Midnight Radio,"* and the protests on the first day of the Harvey Milk School as a fully accredited high school to "Tear Me Down" are both geniusly manipulative, weep-inducing choices.

So, not a bad movie, but one that seems like maybe it didn't need to be made. I'd have been much more interested in a deeper look at the school and the Institute, and the struggles of its students. Instead of watching this film, go buy the album to hear some great songs and support a great cause.

*I was lucky enough to see Cyndi Lauper live a couple of years ago during one of her big gay "True Colors" tours, and during the encore she did "Midnight Radio" with surprise guest John Cameron Mitchell. I nearly wet myself. I was compelled to look it up on YouTube during that segment of the movie, so now you can wet yourself too!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Dog Days of Summer Movies: Camp

My second - and last :( - "Dog Days of Summer Movies" post is up at Tomato Nation, this one on Camp. This one wasn't on Sarah's list; I'd seen it and loved it when it came out, and it seemed to fit well with the theme, and be an interesting companion to Summer Stock - one classic "Let's put on a show!" movie, one modern.

It turns out Camp has nothing in common with Summer Stock (both have songs and ill-advised romances, I guess) and also was a much worse movie than I remember it being, but it was still fun to watch again and write about.

Read it here!

Netflix Queue Challenge: Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure

I honestly don't remember putting Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure in my Netflix queue. But it keeps coming up in my suggestions of things Netflix thinks I'd like, and there was a trailer on the Tangled DVD. I finally gave in and it was already there. This explains a lot about my queue. There are things in it that I not only don't remember putting there, I don't remember they exist.

But I do love High School Musical. I am not ashamed. I DVRed the original one day at the height of its popularity because I figured I should see what all the fuss was about. I mean, I love and work in musical theater, and this thing was allegedly getting kids interested in musical theater, so I should take a look. And honestly, they had me at the basketball number. I watched the second one completely excuse-free, and saw the third one in the theater. I went to the ice show. (Okay, small excuse there: I was just deeply curious to know how the hell that was going to work, especially the aforementioned basketball number.) And I had a blast. For a while HSM was the only thing I could have a conversation about with Boy's niece. And then one day even she was like, "Wait, why do you know so much about High School Musical?"

I just like them. They know exactly what they are, and they're fun, and they're pretty well made. The songs are perfectly crafted, hopelessly catchy pop songs - not exactly Sondheim but they do what they need to do and make me happy when they shuffle up on my iPod. These are not great movies, or great musicals, but they're perfectly enjoyable fluff.

I also like Ashley Tisdale. She's very funny hamming it up as the "villain" of the HSM movies, and while I didn't stick with the show, I really liked her on Hellcats, taking a character who could've been a hateful cliche and making her both real and charming. So yesterday, as I enjoyed a very lazy solo Couch Saturday, I figured I'd give it a shot.

Turns out, a little Sharpay goes a long way. As you know, I watch a lot of crap. So it says a lot that I couldn't finish this, even as background to reading. It's not just bad, it's boring. This is not a character that needed to be revisited (none of them do, really — who wants to find out that Troy wound up mowing lawns at the golf course while Gabriella got fat having 5 kids? Oh come on, you know that's what happens!) and the new characters are even more bland than the original HSM crew. And look, I don't need something like this to be realistic (no one goes angry-dancing through golf courses either), but what is with people on TV befriending stage doormen and getting let into empty, perfectly lit theaters, completely unsupervised? This does not happen. I mean, I get it, it's a stupid showbiz fantasy movie, but all fantasy needs rules that make sense to be believable. And while I'm at it, Toronto does not look even remotely like New York, you can't rent furnished apartments in luxury co-ops (can you? I mean, there are luxury rentals, but a "plot" point here hinged on the co-op board), and casting directors don't cast dogs, animal trainers do. And all that was just in the 30 minutes I actually watched!

On the bright side, Sharpay's mom is Nan Flanagan from True Blood! And the Wikipedia entry for this movie (come on, I had to find out how it ended!) is one of most hilariously badly written things I've read in a while. Read that instead of watching this movie!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Clueless

I saw Clueless on video with friends in college not long after it came out, and I remember some of those friends being really into it and quoting it, and the entire soundtrack winding up on mixtapes, but I basically don't remember the movie itself at all. I remember enjoying it, but that's pretty much it. It's been on my list to rewatch for a long time, and was recently moved to the top after friends shamed me into it in that How can you not know Clueless ?? kind of way.

…And I sort of hated it. I know! I'm sorry!! This isn't me being contrary. I really wanted to like it! I assumed I would! I mean, I thought I already had once. Maybe you have to be a certain age when you see it? Maybe I actually didn't like it the first time and that's why I don't remember it?

Cher is sort of hateful. I kept waiting for her to get less so, assuming the point was that she started out awful and changed over the course of the movie, but no, she stayed pretty awful. The voiceover does not help this. She has good qualities: she's a good friend, she gives good makeover, she's not as dumb as she seems. But she remains such a brat throughout the movie, I really couldn't stand spending two hours with her. And I like Paul Rudd too much to want him to end up with her.

Mostly I was just bored. None of the famous quotes landed because I'd heard them a million times. Sometimes that results in an "Oh, that's where that's from!" or just a simple recognition of context, but here it made every other line feel totally artificial. (The one exception to this was "He's a disco dancing, Oscar Wilde reading, Streisand ticket holding friend of Dorothy" which I'd totally conflated in my head with this moment from Will & Grace.)

I saw a musical version of Emma earlier this year that was completely charming. Emma is actually intended to be unlikeable (I looked the book up on Wikipedia), but at least in this version she grows a bit and by the end you root for her. In Clueless, I was rooting for a car accident. And I don't really want t criticize the adaptation, because I don't care about Jane Austen, combining Knightly and Churchill into one character makes no sense. [UPDATE: Read the comments to see me get thoroughly schooled on this point.] The whole movie felt to me like someone got stoned and said "Hey, let's update Emma!" but then didn't really bother to do it. It feels cobbled together from so many different high school movies and other bits and pieces, none of which really fit together to make much sense or tell a compelling story or - most egregious - to be very funny.

I'll stop now. I know I'm upsetting some of you. Trust me, I'm as disappointed in me as you are.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Dog Days of Summer Movies: Summer Stock

I was delighted and flattered to be asked to participate in Tomato Nation's Dog Days of Summer Movies Festival with a bunch of really fabulous bloggers. We're assessing summery movies, not like summer blockbusters (so, more Dirty Dancing than Transformers), and having seen the line-up I'm super-excited to read everyone else's posts.

My first post is up today, on the Judy Garland/Gene Kelly not-quite-classic Summer Stock. It's not technically part of the Netflix Queue Challenge because I picked it off of Sarah's list and it wasn't actually in my Netflix queue, but I sort of feel like any classic movie I "should" have seen but haven't should count, even if it's not bringing my queue numbers down. And somehow I've lived 36 years, most of them openly gay, and had never seen a Judy Garland film except for The Wizard of Oz until now. That's not right. This probably wasn't the best place to start, but it does have this classic fabulousness, which, as part of the never-explained show within the show, is just as context-free in the movie as it is here:

Anyway, head over there for the full post, and keep following along all month for what promises to be a lot of fun.