Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Favorite Michael Jackson Videos

I've been wanting to do a Michael Jackson post since he passed, but could never find the right words. Especially since there were so many better eulogies out there already. But since today would have been his 51st birthday (not to mention the revelation that he was murdered manslaughtered), I figured this is as good a time as any to remember the King. And I'd do so by running down my five favorite Michael Jackson videos.

These last two months, I've been listening to a lot of MJ's music. I mean a lot. I've gone back and rediscovered so many musical gems that I had either forgotten about or never really paid attention to. Bad was always my favorite album because it was the one that was out when I was old enough to anticipate it. Thriller and Off the Wall were constants in my life when they were out, but I was so little, I didn't realize how important those albums were. But with Bad, I still remember the feeling of peeling the plastic off of the cassette and popping it in to the boombox for the first time. It was a revelation.

Bad also had the fortune of being complemented by the completely awesome and nonsensical Moonwalker movie. I still don't know what the thing was about. I only know that it was awesome! And within it contains, to me, hands down, Michael's greatest accomplishment on film, Smooth Criminal. I always hated that MTV always played the Radio Edit version of the video because the sped up, blurry effects obscured the single greatest thing about this video: that insane, anti-gravity lean. I don't care if it was a special effect. When MJ and his dancers hit that lean, hot damn!

My second favorite MJ video comes courtesy of the Dangerous album. The video itself is actually kind of silly. Magic Johnson's delivery of the line "I present to you the stick man!" is as awkward today as it was 16 years ago. The other cameos, Eddie Murphy and Iman, feel dated (but Eddie's still hilarious), but the reason this is second on the list, is strictly for the choreography. When MJ and the other dancers start tutting and the music breaks down, it's exhilaratinng dancing.

Number three on the list is a video to a song I don't even really like. Also from Dangerous, "Jam" isn't a particularly good song. In the pantheon of New Jack Teddy Riley compositions, "Teddy's Jam 2" by Guy is still better. Also, Heavy D's rap interlude is pretty terrible, and the Kriss Kross cameo really dates this as an early 90s ditty. Still, this vid makes the list simply because of the appearance by the other MJ that impacted my childhood: Michael Jordan. The moment where Jackson tries to teach Jordan to dance is priceless!

A Michael Jackson video list would not be complete without "Thriller." I don't particularly like zombies, and this used to scare the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid, but you don't get more iconic than this. I mean, when Filipino inmates are recreating your choreography in prison, you know your video has touched people's lives everywhere. Plus, werewolf Michael is always cool.

Lastly, I have to go with "Don't Stop til You Get Enough to round out my list. I realized in my immersion in all things Michael that my favorite era is actually the late '70s MJ. Tracks like "Enjoy Yourself," "Shake a Body" and "This Place Hotel" are beautiful songs. And it all culminated in Off the Wall. I started this post talking about why Bad was my favorite album growing up, but as an adult, it's Off the Wall hands down. Michael's voice has never been as pure as it was on this record. And as you can see in the video below, in which he's simply singing/dancing alone on a blue screened, there's an innocence and joy in the performance that was never really there again once he became a galactic megastar. When I think of MJ, the picture I'll always have is the Michael in his late teens/early twenties with the little fro and the huge bow tie. That's my Mike. May you rest in peace. And Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Woke up this morning to the news that Ted Kennedy had died in the middle of the night. If there's anything that should inspire the Democrats to grow a backbone and actually fight for health care reform, it should be the passing of the one man who spent his entire career fighting for it.

It's also hard to believe that it was almost exactly a year ago that Sen. Kennedy delivered this moving address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver:

While it's fortunate Kennedy made it to January to witness the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, it's a shame that he did not live to see the sweeping change to the health care system that this country so desperately needs (which would have been the case had Kennedy not passed last night).

Maybe this will wake up and energize the left to take back control over the health care debate. Maybe the "moderates" will realize they're "negotiating" with a group of people who have no desire to negotiate. Maybe they will finally understand they've compromised too much already. Maybe the Democrats will actually pass real health care reform.

Do it for Teddy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Ballad of G.I. Joe

Whoa. This is the third G.I. Joe post in a row. Damn.

Anyway, I'd like to amend the post the other day called "The Greatest G.I. Joe Movie I've Ever Seen." I stumbled across this video at Funny or Die, and while I still think the stop-motion with the 3-3/4" figures rules all, the video embedded below is definitely the best live action G.I. Joe I've ever seen.

Seriously. When the FoD guys' casting choices trumps the big budget names at Paramount, ya know something's wrong with your movie franchise.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Greatest G.I. Joe Movie I've Ever Seen!

Okay, so The Rise of Cobra has been getting a lot of crap from the fanboys and the critics despite (or because of?) the fact that it opened at #1 with over $56 million at the box office. I've already said my piece on the movie. I liked it enough, though I will readily admit that it is not a good movie. In fact, it's pretty terrible, but it's one of the few terrible movies that I actually dig. So there.

Anyway, the title of this post is not in reference to the live-action spectacle that is currently dominating Hollywood. Instead, I recently stumbled across the following stop-motion videos that were used to promote the movie. (You can find the source for these vids at the official Rise of Cobra website here.)

To be honest, I'm sort of relieved that I caught these after seeing the movie. If I had seen this beforehand, I too would have been mightily disappointed in what we got onscreen. I mean, the stuff they do with a bunch of Hasbro's 3 3/4" 25th Anniversary figures and vintage Joe vehicles trumps everything they did on film. If the nine-year-old me geeked out watching the movie, he nearly passed out watching the coolness of the toys literally coming to life in the embeds below.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Half the Battle

Since I reviewed Transformers: ROTF LMAO back in June, I guess it's only fair that I talk about my thoughts on G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra as well. (Interesting/creepy side note: when I came home from seeing Transformers, I turned on the computer to find out Michael Jackson was hospitalized/dying. Last night, after watching G.I. Joe, Twitter tells me John Hughes had passed. It's true, the '80s are slowly disintegrating from existence.)

OK, first up, shocker of shockers, I actually kind of liked the movie. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't good (at all), but it was undeniably fun. (Full disclosure, I saw the move for free at a vintage-style drive-in with some cool friends, so these factors could have attributed to the enjoyment factor). I think I liked it on a visceral level (similar to why I was a fan of the cartoon, methinks--which also, when you really get down to it, weren't very good either). Of course, I would have preferred a movie that adhered a little closer to Larry Hama's epic comic stories (especially his version of the Snake Eyes-Storm Shadow relationship), but that's probably asking too much.

I'll say this, if you enjoyed the cartoons, you'll like the movie. My brother Raymond observed too that if you were a 12-year-old, the cinematic G.I. Joe experience would have been a revelation. And I can't disagree. There's just something geeky cool about seeing all the cool vehicles and weapons wreaking havoc and blowing up cities. And you can't leave out the badass katana fights--ninjas make everything better after all. The one thing the movie got right, unlike Transformers, is that each of the characters had a distinct personality. Even if they were all wearing black leather, X-Men suits, each character on the Joe team--Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Breaker, and Heavy Duty--had a unique role and function. I actually kind of wish the movie was more about them than the two leads we got--Channing Tatum's Duke and Marlon Wayans' Ripcord. Tatum takes the notion of "wooden acting" to a whole new level. Seriously, this dude makes Hayden Christensen seem like a dynamic thespian. And while Wayans' Ripcord was a likable character, I would have liked him more if he weren't channeling 1997-era Will Smith. I was also disappointed in Dennis Quaid's General Hawk. Hawk was one of my favorite Joes growing up, and Quiad just sleepwalks through the whole thing. And also, would it have been so bad to let him wear a brown bomber jacket and green camo pants for just one scene in the flick? Is that asking too much?

On the Cobra side of things, I thought Sienna Miller was okay as Baroness (though I would have preferred the vague, eastern European accent she had on the cartoon) and dug Christopher Eccleston's snively, conniving interpretation of Destro. I'm undecided about Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Cobra Commander. He was appropriately over the top, but I couldn't get passed the redesign of the character, especially during the supposedly iconic reveal of him as "The Commander." I think that scene would have worked better if JG-L was wearing a mask that actually evoked one of Cobra Commander's many looks and not the weird, clear skull-looking helmet they gave him. I guess my problem with Cobra Commander and the Neo-Vipers is the same problem I have with the robot model designs in Transformers, namely that they are over-designed. I mean, the Cobra Trooper look is pretty hard to mess up. They're wearing blue military uniforms and blue helmets with red or black scarves over their faces! Why make them look like Imperial Stormtroopers crossed with an armadillo? I figured the looks of the Joes and Cobras would not be so difficult to translate to live action, so I don't understand the need to redesign everything. Some designs are iconic enough to stay the same, no? I mean they got the looks of Baroness, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (for the most part) right, so why not the others?

So what did I like? Honestly, I liked the little touches. The most geek-out moment for me was when Breaker asked for a piece of gum and blew a bubble while in the car. I thought that was awesome! A nice little touch for the fans. I thought Snake Eyes was pretty cool (despite the mouth on the mask and lack of UZI. Seriously, Snake Eyes packs a glock? WTF?). I do wish the backstory of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow wasn't as simplistic as the movie made it seem. But it was serviceable. I hope there's more focus on them in Part 2. Basically, I want a Snake Eyes movie. (Hey, if all the X-Men movies can be about Wolverine, than all the Joe movies can be about Snake Eyes!) And Snake Eyes looks absolutely badass in a hood and trenchcoat!

I liked that the Night Raven, the C.L.A.W., the S.H.A.R.C.s, and the U.S.S. Flagg all made appearances. And Baroness' tricked out HumVee was essentially a modern version of the Cobra Stinger. The Pit was pretty cool too. I also liked that the Joe's arctic gear resembled Snow Job's.

Bottom line: it was a bunch of dumb fun. I really wanted to dislike the movie, but I have to admit I was entertained for two hours. It was definitely better than both Transformers movies, and there's a (naive) part of me that hopes they fix what they got wrong for the sequel. What can I say? At heart, I'm a diehard Joe fan. Larry Hama practically defined my childhood. I was gonna like it no matter what.

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