Looking Out Across Our Lego Land

The Lego Movie – There really seems to be a trend in the past few years to make Lego everything. The Simpsons recently did a Lego-themed episode, and there are all kinds of video games like Lego Star Wars. I hear they’re fun, but I can’t quite understand why the gimmick is necessary. This movie, however, was excellent. It was computer-animated, but made to resemble stop-motion, with the Lego pieces moving in realistic ways. There are references to many different popular Lego sets, including some based on major properties, so the whole thing has a giant crossover feel to it. It’s not too surprising that a Warner Bros. film would include DC superheroes, but Star Wars characters also showed up, and aren’t they Disney property? I wonder how much it cost them to make that happen. Incidentally, Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels both reprised their roles, but Harrison Ford didn’t. Maybe they didn’t even try to get him, but if they did and he refused it makes him sound like a spoilsport. Also making brief appearances were Milhouse, Gandalf, and Dumbledore. I’m not sure why they gave the latter an effeminate voice, however. I’m hoping it’s not simply because he’s gay. As for the plot, it focused on a rather dull construction worker named Emmet Brickowski who tries his best to fit in with his highly structured and artificially cheerful society. When he accidentally finds the mystical Piece of Resistance, he teams up with a girl named Wyldstyle, the wizard Vitruvius, Lego Batman, the artificially cheerful Unikitty, an astronaut figure from the 1980s, and the cyborg pirate Metalbeard in an attempt to take down the villain Lord Business, who wants to Krazy Glue everything in the universe into place. We eventually find out that the plot is reflective of a guy with really rigid thinking who doesn’t like his son mixing up his Lego sets. My wife joked that this movie was against her, since she never mixed toys from different lines when playing with them. Rainbow Brite wasn’t going to meet the Wuzzles on her watch. I was never that strict about such things, although I do recall making some of my stuffed animals play other roles. I remember my brother’s duck was R2-D2 at one point, and his Cat in the Hat was a superhero. I don’t know that I’m all that cool with the kid messing with the stuff it obviously took his dad a long time to build, but I can’t fault a celebration of creativity and an open universe. Why shouldn’t Harry Potter meet Han Solo? The kids playing with them don’t have to pay licensing fees, after all. Anyway, the film had an epic feel while remaining light-hearted and funny, sometimes even satirical. And I appreciated the personality quirks that the characters had, like Wyldstyle’s attempts to reinvent herself, Vitruvius’ ability to be encouraging and bitterly sarcastic at the same time, the spaceman’s obsession with spaceships and outdated technology, and Unikitty’s repression of all her negative emotions. Seems to me I’ve met too many people who resemble Unikitty in insisting that everyone should be positive all the time, and when they finally DO get angry it comes out in absurd amounts, like the time Ned Flanders went on a rant against everyone in Springfield. And Batman was a perfect parody of the character, constantly pointing out how brooding he is and how his parents are dead, and wanting to make bat-themed everything. In retrospect, I’m sorry I didn’t see this one in the theater.

Posted in Cartoons, Comics, Harry Potter, Humor, Star Wars, Television, The Simpsons, Toys, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Tip-Top of the Mip-Mop

Hollywood Said No!, by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross with Brian Posehn – Most of the content of this book is made up of two Mr. Show movie scripts that never went anywhere. Bob and David Make a Movie has the same basic structure as a Mr. Show episode, with the main plot segueing into various sketches, including a send-up of jam bands and a bit poking fun at guys who think strippers are actually interested in them. It’s a movie ABOUT making a movie, and doing so in a very absurd manner. Hooray for America!, which was actually written first, satirizes corporate control of politics with a plot in which the Globo-Chem Corporation has David elected president as a convenient dupe to distract from their plan to construct an exclusive new planet by digging the ground out from under much of the world. You may recall that their 2002 tour used this same premise, although they took out a fair amount of the plot to work in both new and classic sketches. Apparently they didn’t want this to be their first movie because it was too inside and relied too much on people knowing who Bob and David were. The actual film they DID make, Run Ronnie Run, turned out to be a flop. Beth actually owns a copy, but we haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. Unfortunately, its failure probably means it isn’t at all likely for another Mr. Show movie anytime soon. Anyway, if you like Mr. Show, you’ll probably like the book. The audio book might well be even better, but I can’t say I’ve heard it.

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I’d Tell You Why, But Then I’d Have to Kill You

Since I did get a request for it, I’m taking a step back to look more closely at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 2011 album, Alpocalypse. This is the second album title to play on Al’s name, and the cover shows him riding with three of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It doesn’t relate to any of the songs, though. A significant number of the songs on the record were released online some time before the album went into production. I wrote a brief review of this one when it came out, but since I haven’t done a song-by-song take on it yet, here it is.

Perform This Way – Not long before the release of the album, Al announced on the Internet that Lady Gaga’s management wanted to hear the finished song before giving permission, and when they did they denied it. After this, they apparently changed their minds. I think Gaga claimed she hadn’t been asked, but there’s no way of knowing whether that’s true. Although this was the lead single, it might actually be the least funny song on the record. That said, it does make a few amusing observations, including Gaga’s tendency to suddenly sing in French for no apparent reason (the bit Al says translates as “excuse me, who farted?”) and the fact that “Born This Way” is very similar to Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” The parody definitely seems to have been written with the video in mind, and said video has Al’s face superimposed on a woman’s body, which is kind of disturbing. Since it’s hard to get more bizarre than Gaga’s actual outfits, a lot of the costumes mentioned in the lyrics and shown in the video are ones she’s actually worn, although a few are Al’s own ideas.

CNR – This song is basically the spawn of all those intentionally ridiculous Chuck Norris Facts, although I personally don’t know that any of them are quite as ridiculous as how he apparently thinks he needs to pay less in taxes and minimum wage workers should pay more. Anyway, Al continues his interest in somewhat campy celebrities by making the facts about Charles Nelson Reilly of Match Game fame. Musically, it’s a style parody of the White Stripes, although the main riff very much reminds me of “Iron Man.”

Sorry, Charles.

TMZ – Hey, two songs in a row that use a set of three initials. This one makes Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me” into a song about the celebrity gossip website. While mostly making fun of the tabloids, it does mention a few genuinely bad things celebrities have done (“It’s getting to the point where a famous person can’t even get a DUI or go on a racist rant”). The spoken part really gets to some of the most annoying things on tabloids, like the weird obsession with how much celebrities weigh and the term “baby bump.” (Have I mentioned how much I hate that term?) They sometimes have the TMZ television show on when I’m on break at work, and a story not too long ago mentioned Al “ambushing” Iggy Azalea. They discussed whether she even knew who he was and talked about his past hits, but for some reason didn’t even mention that he had a song CALLED “TMZ,” maybe because it doesn’t present them in a very good light.

Skipper Dan – Al has said he intended this one to be funny (well, obviously) but also kind of sad, as you can sympathize with the promising young actor who could only find work on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. I went on that ride at Walt Disney World and thought it was pretty amusing, but I can only imagine how much it would suck to have to do that spiel over and over again.

Polka Face – This one is unusual among Al’s polka medleys in that it starts and ends with the same song. Al mentioned that he thought the title might be a little too obvious, but he went with it anyway. Apparently Lady Gaga’s management was okay with one of her songs being polkafied even when they didn’t want a parody of her work. Also worthy of note are that this was the first time Al did anything with a Britney Spears song (although he had done a fake interview with her before) and that the tune he plays right before Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is called “Tick Tock Polka.”

Craigslist – A Doors style parody with organ work by Ray Manzarek, addressing a topic that Jim Morrison obviously couldn’t have known about. The anachronism inherent there is part of the joke. It’s sort of a combination of Doors songs, and comes off as more rambling than I usually think of them as being, although admittedly I’ve really only heard their radio hits. Each verse is in the form of a Craigslist posting, taking on some of the more absurd things you can find there, like missed connections between people who only ever glanced at each other, totally unreasonable complaints about alleged bad service, and offering a trash can of Styrofoam peanuts without the trash can.

Party in the CIA – I think this is the only time Al has parodied the child of an artist he’d previously parodied. Here, Miley Cyrus’ rather cloying “Party in the USA” becomes a cheerful song about torture and assassination. It was very apt for the time in which it was released, particularly the line “We only torture the folks we don’t like/You’re probably going to be okay.”

Ringtone – Like “Craigslist,” this is another one that uses the style of a band from yesteryear when joking about a current topic, in this case Queen (particularly “Don’t Stop Me Now”) and cell phone ringtones. There’s another variation of the obsession over a paltry amount of money here, as the narrator refuses to give up his ringtone that everybody in the world hates because he paid $1.99 for it. I’m not entirely sure why, but I find it particularly funny that the list of people who hate the ringtone includes “all the Wayans Brothers.” I believe the song is available as an actual ringtone, but it presumably isn’t the one everybody hates. THAT tune is best left to the imagination.

Another Tattoo – I don’t think I’d heard the song this was parodying, “Nothin’ on You” by B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars, before hearing Al’s version (I’ve heard it since then), but I still found it really funny. I guess it helps that I’ve never been a big fan of tattoos. I guess I’ve come to accept them more as I’ve gotten older and generally more tolerant, but there are just so many terrible ones. I like the lines about how some of the narrator’s tattoos are misspelled (you’d think that would be something you’d be really careful about before getting a permanent marking, but apparently not for some people) and the shopping list tattoos (shades of Memento, perhaps?), but I think my favorite part is when the line “At job interviews they’re just so impressed” is followed by the backing vocal “Really?” I wonder if any of Al’s tattoo ideas have (ironically?) inspired any actual ink. Boba Fett playing clarinet sounds pretty cool, for instance.

If That Isn’t Love – I believe Al has said this is intended as a style parody of Hanson, with whom he’s worked on a few occasions. You wouldn’t think Al would have anywhere else to go when mocking love songs, but he managed to find a new twist by having the narrator profess his love in ways that are well-meaning but totally clueless. It might be my least favorite of the originals on here, but that’s more because it has tough competition than because there’s anything wrong with it.

Whatever You Like – This is the only Weird Al parody to use the same title as the original song, and I’m really not sure why. Seems like he could have at least called it “Whatever You Like (Recession Version)” or something. It was almost three years after this song was first released on the Internet that it appeared on an album, during which time T.I. served all of one prison term and most of another. Al spoofs the original’s theme of a guy willing to buy his girlfriend expensive things by downgrading it for the poor economy. The fact that it was still relevant three years later is rather depressing, but it’s still hilarious. I especially like the way he says, “My wallet’s fat and full of ones.”

Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me – Another Internet-themed song, this time addressing all the stupid e-mail forwards that most of us have seen at one time or another. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s been a long time since I received one of these, but people who are new to the Internet and/or particularly gullible probably still send them. I think a lot of that kind of stuff has moved to Facebook, however. This song is the album’s epic, and while it’s really not that long compared to stuff like “Albuquerque” and “Genius in France,” the Jim Steinman style of production gives it the right feel. I had thought that “Mr. Rogers never fought the Vietcong” was just a bit of nonsense on Al’s part, but apparently that’s actually a quite persistent online rumor. I appreciate how over-the-top the anger is in the lyrics, particularly with “Send me more top ten lists and I’ll slash my wrists.”

I suppose that’s it as far as Al-bums go, and from what Al has said there might not be any more in the future, but I’m sure I’ll be addressing his work in the future. I’m quite pleasantly surprised by how well he’s managed to stay relevant throughout the years, and I hope he continues for many more.

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Six Swans Bespelled

Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier – This book was recommended by Marie Richardson, who knows of my fondness for fairy tales. It takes the story of “The Six Swans” into the setting of ancient Ireland, at the time when Christianity was just started to take root. The story is narrated by Sorcha, daughter of the Lord Colum. The wicked witch Oonagh, seeking to take control of the land of Sevenwaters, hypnotizes Colum and turns his six sons into swans. According to a forest fairy, Sorcha can only restore them if she makes a shirt out of nettles for each of her brothers and doesn’t speak during the time she’s making them. After some harrowing experiences including being raped, she ends up as the guest of a Briton. While this particular lord falls in love with her, not everyone in her household is so welcoming. Most troublesome of all is his uncle Richard, who seeks to have her killed in order to further his own plans to expand into Ireland. If you’re familiar with the fairy tale, you know basically how the story turns out, but there are hints of some deeper political intrigue. We never do find out what happened with Oonagh, and how she is connected to Richard. I’m not sure whether this is addressed in later books in the series or not. There are many references to Celtic mythology and fairy lore, although the portrayal of Christianity is generally positive. I’ll probably read the others at some point, but I have some other books I want to finish first. I do have to say that the chapters were quite long, which is not inherently a bad thing, just that I tend to prefer many shorter chapters to a few long ones. Oh, well.

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One True Parody

In a recent NPR interview with “Weird Al” Yankovic, he responds to a question about Cookie Monster‘s parody of “Call Me Maybe” with “Yeah, Cookie Monster is my No. 1 competition right now.” Apparently he’s forgetting that Cookie Monster did “Hey Food” back in 1982, a year prior to Al’s first album.

My family had a 1983 Sesame Street cassette that had that song on it, as well as such parodies as “Born to Add” (performed by Bruce Stringbean and the S Street Band), “(I Can’t Get No) Co-Operation” (by Mick Swagger and the Sesame Street Cobble Stones), and “Letter B.” None of them used the exact original tunes, though, while I believe “Share It Maybe” did.

Of course, song parodies have a rich history, dating back to the thirteenth century when someone named Madde Albert wrote “Grummore is Acumen In” about Sir Grummore from the Arthurian legends. No, seriously, according to Wikipedia, the term “parody” was originally used for any imitative work of music, only more recently coming to mean one with humorous intent. Weird Al has cited several other parody artists as influences, although they varied somewhat in how they approached the idea. Spike Jones was known for arrangements of popular songs that incorporated silly sound effects and unusual instrumentation. Stan Freberg usually kept the styles the same, but made fun of particular elements of the songs, often with arguments between two people. Allan Sherman changed the lyrics to songs (or occasionally added funny lyrics to instrumental pieces, as with his biggest hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!”, sung to the tune of part of Dance of the Hours), usually making them about fairly mundane aspects of culture rather than making fun of the songs themselves. Tom Lehrer did a few songs using existing music, like how “The Elements” used the tune of “The Major-General’s Song” by Gilbert and Sullivan (which, of course, was already supposed to be funny), but mostly stuck to mocking the conventions of different musical styles. Lehrer was particularly known for being intellectual, perhaps even pretentious, in his parodies; but it’s not surprising that a lot of musical comedians come off as rather nerdy. After all, parody requires a certain amount of separation from popular culture in order to recognize its absurdities, although at the same time there’s also a level of immersion in that same culture. One thing I do find interesting about Weird Al when compared to his predecessors is that he seems to be more willing to adjust to changes in popular music. These earlier artists seemed to share some level of contempt for rock and roll. On the other hand, when rap became popular, Al embraced it. Indeed, I would imagine he pays a lot more attention to what the youth are listening to than most people in their fifties.

Despite my interest in musical parody, I can’t say I’ve come up with much on my own. I can think of lots of parody titles, but that’s about as far as it goes. I remember back when I was hearing Ace of Base’s “The Sign” and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” pretty much constantly, and thought good parody ideas in the Weird Al vein would be “The Line” (about leaving a store because the lines were too long) and “Mail Away,” but I never attempted actual lyrics. I think it’s an art form that seems a lot easier than it really is.

The picture at the top of the entry is The Persistence of Cookies by Joel Schick, obviously a Salvador Dali parody, which I found on this page.

Posted in Albums, Art, Beatles, Humor, Muppets, Music, Sesame Street, Television, Weird Al Yankovic | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oz-Crossed Lovers

L. Frank Baum was known to have said that he didn’t want romance or “mawkish sentimentality” in his children’s stories. Of course, Baum was also known for breaking pretty much every writing rule he came up with, but he was generally faithful to this ideal. When he wrote about the marriage of Gayelette and Quelala in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it was a sidenote to the main story and told from the point of view of a character who was wronged by Gayelette’s desire to have a perfect wedding. Baum’s Oz plays and movies, which weren’t as specifically geared towards children, were more likely to include stage-style romance. The play of The Wizard of Oz had an older Dorothy in love with a poet, the troubled relationship of Pastoria and the waitress Tryxie Tryfle, and the Tin Woodman’s old lover played as a parody of Ophelia from Hamlet. The Patchwork Girl film added in a subplot about the engagement of Dr. Pipt’s daughter Jesseva to a man named Danx, and made Jinjur her rival for his affections.

The Tik-Tok Man of Oz had a few different pairings, but the only one that made it into the book Tik-Tok of Oz was that of Private Files and Ozga, and it was largely downplayed.

Indeed, near the end, Ozma merely says that the two of them are “good friends.” Their relationship is developed a little more in Melody Grandy and Chris Dulabone’s Thorns and Private Files. The romance of Pon and Gloria in Scarecrow, this time based on the film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz, is more significant to the plot.

It’s basically the typical sort of stage romance, with the princess in love with a gardener’s boy when her uncle wants her to marry a creepy old rich guy. Still, we largely see it from the point of view of the young Trot, who tells Gloria, “Well, never mind; Pon isn’t any great shakes, anyhow, seems to me. There are lots of other people you can love.” Finally, Tin Woodman has the title character seek out his old sweetheart, who in the book continuity hasn’t become a Lady Lunatic. Nick Chopper assumes she’s still pining for him, only to find that she actually dated another man after him, and eventually married a man made of both of their old body parts. Nick is angry when he learns this, even though he didn’t seem to have any interest in her anymore. Strange how such things work out.

When Ruth Plumly Thompson took over the Oz series, she tended to give it a bit more of a traditional fairy tale flavor, which included fairy tale romances. Kabumpo and Grampa both have one of the main characters unwillingly seeking a princess to marry, becoming close with an enchanted girl, and then finding out that she was a princess all along. In Silver Princess, Randy, who had earlier decided “to marry a princess as lovely as Peg Amy,” falls in love with a girl made of metal.

All three of these women are restored (or in the last case, converted) to human form, but it does show that being made of flesh and blood might not be strictly necessary for romantic love, at least in Oz.

I’m actually not entirely sure why the characters thought it was so urgent to restore Urtha’s humanity when she appeared to be practically indestructible when made of flowers.

Maybe they worried that the sex would be awkward, although of course this wasn’t actually mentioned in the text. Jack Pumpkinhead has Baron Belgaygor of Bourne trying to rescue his fiancee Shirley Sunshine, but again we mostly see the relationship from the points of view of other characters.

There’s also Speedy, easily the most hormonal of the Americans to visit Oz. In Yellow Knight, he develops a crush on Marygolden, an enchanted girl he discovers in Subterranea, and plans to take her home with him.

Since he lives on Long Island, this might well have left her pining for the eerie underground cavern. Once her memory is restored, however, she ends up with Sir Hokus of Pokes, who had set out to win her hand 500 years previously. When Speedy’s friendship with the Princess of Umbrella Island in Speedy develops into something deeper, however, there’s no sign of any competition. And while they don’t end up as a couple (they’re still children, after all), there’s an indication at the end of the book that they’ll likely get married someday.

Romance is sparse in the post-Thompson Oz books (the official ones, anyway), but there is the case of Jenny Jump and Number Nine in John R. Neill’s stories. In Wonder City, he develops a crush on her and she exploits it, but she becomes more willing to reciprocate over time. It’s interesting to note that, as of the time of this book, Number Nine is said to have stopped growing at twelve, while Jenny starts out being fifteen and has her age reduced to eleven. In Neill’s other books, they’re very close companions, and Number Nine becomes more mature. I wouldn’t be that surprised if they were to eventually marry, but it would likely mean aging a few years first.

Posted in Characters, Chris Dulabone, Fairy Tales, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Melody Grandy, Oz, Oz Authors, Relationships, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Watching the Watchmen

Watchmen – I actually read the graphic novel on which this film was based a few years back, but I don’t recall if I wrote about it at the time. I had to return it to the library before finishing it and then read the end at a bookstore, so my memories of the rest of it weren’t so great by that time. The movie refreshed my memory about a lot of it, though. The comic was sort of a deconstruction of the idea of superheroes, and while I liked it, I wasn’t quite sure what the message was supposed to be. Not that there has to be a message, but it was interesting how so many of the characters seemed to be nihilists. The Comedian is a jerky rapist who considers everything to be a joke, Rorschach someone who hates humanity and has a particular distaste for liberal philosophy, Dr. Manhattan separated from mankind by his super-powered brain (although he’s still human enough to leave his girlfriend for a younger woman), and Ozymandias thinks the way to help the world is to kill a bunch of people. I don’t know that it’s necessarily promoting a nihilistic worldview, but it didn’t appear to be totally against it either. Apparently writer Alan Moore identifies as an anarchist, as well as an anti-tonsorialist.

Although gritty superhero stories were certainly nothing new in the 1980s, there does seem to be a general sense of idealism to the genre, and Watchmen is largely but maybe not totally rejecting that. The movie was made more than twenty years after the comic had been finished, with a few different directors having given up on the idea of filming it. From what I remember of the graphic novel, the film was pretty faithful, with the biggest change being the ending. I think that might have actually made more sense in the movie, though, as it returned to the theme of impending nuclear war. I didn’t know most of the actors in the film, although I do remember Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and totally misrepresenting the character as far as I’m concerned. I think he used pretty much exactly the same voice for Rorschach. Speaking of voices, Dr. Manhattan’s struck me as the kind someone might use when reading to a child. I seem to recall Richard Nixon having been elected for a third time as something that didn’t come up until later in the comic, while the movie mentioned it right away. Speaking of which, Back to the Future Part II had a newspaper from the altered version of 1985 mentioning Nixon running for a fourth term.

Not sure how Biff being rich would have had any impact on that, but I do wonder if it was an intentional Watchmen reference. Also, there was a clever joke at the end of the graphic novel about an actor with the initials RR preparing for a presidential run in 1988. This turned out to be Robert Redford, but the movie just flat-out mentioned Reagan, probably because the gag would have been harder to pull off in a different medium.

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