Archive for March, 2012

Shit That I Love – Sara Bareilles

March 20, 2012

And now here’s the part where I apologise profusely to Sara, wherever she is, for referring to her in the same sentence as ‘shit’…

Authors Note: An inauspicious start…

Let’s move on.

Sara Bareilles is a new passion of mine, a fantastic Californian musician that I stumbled upon thanks to the wonders of YouTube and network television. For those of you who have never heard of Sara (which is most of Australia, it seems), her biggest claim to mainstream fame at this point in her career is the song ‘Love Song’, which released a shit-ton of radio airplay in 2008.

Ahh, 2008… what with your Pussycat Dolls, your Kings of Leon and Gabriella Cilmi… t’was a simpler time.

Now, once again, there’s every chance 82% of you just experienced an eye-glazing, brain-numbing feeling of “Meh. What do I care? I don’t like that song. I don’t even like this kinda music. Hell, I don’t like YOU, you simian freak! Stop wasting my time!”.

To which I shall respond by metaphorically jingling my keys in front of you momentarily to try to distract you.

This is literally the first Google image result for 'Distract with keys'

Sadly, I am not musically gifted in any way. It’s a source of deep, personal shame, being that I come from a family literally FULL of musicians. And my Dad’s also a drummer (Zing!). Other than the 6 months of saxophone lessons I quickly realised weren’t for me when I was 13, my musical output has been almost solely confined to Car-Singing™. Yes, Car-Singing is now officially a hyphenated, trademarked term. Deal with it.

What has fascinated me over the years (and bear with me while I sound like Stoney McBluntington for a moment) is why two seemingly extremely similar people can have such radically different taste in music. I grew up in the exact same environment as my younger sister. We have the same genes. And yet why does she enjoy the musical stylings of the Hanson brothers, whilst I can’t seem to tolerate them?

Uhh... YOU ask 'em to sing Mmmbop...

I have an uncle that plays every now and again in a Beatles tribute band. His daughter, my cousin, is a gifted musical theatre performer who can belt out ‘Cabaret’ with the best of them. And his eldest son is the drummer in a Melbourne metal band called ‘Blood Line’.

????

Is one’s taste in music born entirely of environment? Is it genetic? Is it some combination of both, plus external influences like your friends, the cliques you join, or the way in which you choose to self-identify? Why do I hear a melody and react positively, when the person next to me hears only blasted loud noises, dagnabit! Why does dance and trance music make some people just —

-- psst... the reason's ecstasy...

Oh… I guess I’m just circling my point now anyway. I’m sure there exists a scientific study of sorts that would provide me with some explanation (that admittedly I probably wouldn’t understand). Perhaps I’m not even interested in what the answer truly is. Why should I so suddenly be enraptured with Sara Bareilles, and yet still have no time for a million other female pop singers?

First and foremost, one of the hooks that caught me – she’s a singer-songwriter who plays the piano. Very important. I’m a sucker for a woman tinkling the keys of a piano. I’m not sure why. I blame an old school buddy, Dave. Dave was a hard-drinking, party-throwing jester, charismatic and lots of fun. And, strangely enough, he was also an earlier adopter of the ‘Pieces of You’ album by Jewel, back in 1997. I listened to enough of Jewel at Dave’s house to realise that while she wasn’t for me, there were some of her peers that I DID enjoy. Jewel led me to other great female singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Ben Folds…

So talented, PLUS she's so pretty...

Over the years I’ll admit to dabbling in some Norah Jones, maybe even sampling some Alicia Keys. But it was extremely rare that something new crested my musical horizon. I reached 30, and worried if what I’d read somewhere really was true… that the music and musicians you listened to at 16 inevitably formed the bedrock of your entire musical appreciation. Would I be doomed to listen to the diminishing returns of every Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chilli Peppers album until my retirement years, when they would inevitably begin annually promoting one ‘farewell tour’ after another?

Take a good look, Grohl - you're Glenn Frey in this analogy

Sure, as far as things worth worrying about, it ranks pretty low. But immature fan-boys need something to keep them awake at night when they’re not fretting over whether Greedo shot first.

Until one day, when I’m watching one of my favourite TV shows, ‘Community’, and the music gods delivered me a gift, by the way of Dan Harmon’s writing team. Here’s a scene containing perhaps my favourite musical montage sequence from television of all time, effectively parodying romance as depicted in an entire genre of shows aimed at teens, like ‘The Vampire Diaries’, or ‘One Tree Hill’:

WOULD YOU GET ON WITH IT!

Oh. Sorry, Inner-Monologue.

Well, the song from that montage, is ‘Gravity’, an early composition by *gasp* a singer-songwriter who plays the piano *squeal* named Sara Bareilles.

WELCOME BACK FROM YOUR TANGENT, DICKHEAD! WAS IT A NICE TRIP?!

Lordy, I wish the voices would just shut up sometimes…

Anyhoo, I loved the song, and immediately found the music video on YouTube. And thanks to the Suggested Video’s, I was soon adrift in a vast online ocean of official music videos, live concert clips, and 4 minute photo montages.

I quickly discover I can watch Sara Bareilles clips all day. She has a beautiful voice, is an extremely talented lyricist, and as well as great stage presence seems to not take herself too seriously. By that, I mean that she can poke fun at herself without resorting to tired, completely OTT, Katy Perry-style wackiness (“I’m so pretty, but sometimes I dress like a nerd, because I’m not obsessed with my looks, but look at my cleavage, and aren’t I pretty!!).

Plus it doesn’t hurt that she’s kind of gorgeous, in an intelligent, spunky, geek-chick kind of way. If only she would throw on a pair of librarian glasses, and rock that ‘adork-able’ style Zooey Deschanel seems to have the market cornered on, it would only be a matter of time before she ruled the world…

I don't care if her vision's perfect, that's not the point! LIBRARIAN GLASSES FOR ALL!!!

Original songs. Covers by artists as diverse as U2, Amy Winehouse and The Beatles. Slow ballads. Up-tempo catchy pop tunes. I was enjoying YouTube’s rather random playlist. And then I find the latest single from her most recent album, ‘Kaleidoscope Heart’.

The song’s called ‘Gonna Get Over You’. It’s an insanely catchy, can’t-get-it-outta-my-head, doo-wop pop song. It’s a breakup song, with a truly optimistic heart and a real sense of playfulness. Plus it’s also one of my favourite, simple music vids of all time. Check it out:

One location. One outfit. No Beyonce-esque focus on just-how-pretty-I-am. It’s a fantastic 4 minute storyline, with some nice performances, especially from Bareilles who will be the first to admit that she’s NOT a professionally trained dancer, which makes her moves and the choreography that much more impressive. It’s also extremely well-directed by a young man with practically zero directing experience, a guy you may recognise…

Yes, that IS Academy Award nominated actor Jonah Hill

All that, and a nice little button at the end of the clip from Bareilles, making the leap from fantasy back to reality as she’s escorted out of the supermarket by a tired, Latino security guard.

It was THIS clip that cemented my affection for Bareille’s music, and basically guaranteed allll of my moneys for her future albums, forever and ever, ad infinitum.

But why? Sure, it’s a good clip. But how did it manage to press my buttons on such a profound level?

I’m not entirely sure. But I think it’s a combination of the song itself with a little bit of what my American friends like to call ‘inside-baseball’.

See, anybody who’s been on set of a film, a television show, or in this case, a music video, knows that filming is a real drag. Seriously. People imagine filming to be this dynamic, exciting process. It’s movie magic, right? Well, not exactly. Visit the set of any television show, and you’ll quickly discover that production is surprisingly boring. So boring. It really is just actors saying and doing the same shit, over and over again.

That extends to music videos. For example, this particular video for ‘Gonna Get Over You’, shot almost entirely at one location with minimal cast – I’m going to say it would have taken at least 3 or 4 shooting days to get all this footage. And we’re talking 12-14 hour days. Every shot is pre-determined, every sequence containing multiple angles, multiple camera set-ups. It’s exhausting, oftentimes tedious work.

And despite this… despite the fact that Bareilles isn’t someone who’s had dancing lessons her entire life, despite the fact that in a day 3 behind the scenes clip she admits to being physically as sore as she’s ever been, despite all the 6am crew-call times, and the multiple take’s, in every frame of this music video Sara Bareilles genuinely looks like she’s having an absolute blast. In this video, as in practically ALL of the clips I watched, she exudes a love of where she is and what she’s doing.

You'd be pretty stoked too if you got to spend a prolonged amount of time dancing with these guys. Am I right?

I’ve admitted here before that I’m someone who often has to force himself to find the bright side of life. And to my detriment, I’ve only grown increasingly cynical over the years, as the world around me becomes seemingly more and more manufactured. Much of the time I’m not exactly sure what is it in life I’m searching for, especially on a professional or material level. What I DO know is that the purest encapsulation of what I’m trying to find is joy. Joy in the moment that I’m in, joy in the people around me, and joy in the things that I love.

This video, to me, seems a distillation of joy. It makes me feel like everything’s going to be alright. It’s a soundtrack to the world as I want it to be.

And for that, I deeply appreciate the song, and truly appreciate the artist.

That’s hard to explain or justify to people who don’t have as emotional a connection with pop entertainment and culture as I do. And there’s every chance that as I grow older, that connection will be replaced by other things, and other people. But for now, it sustains me in a way that not much else does.

That connection, for better or worse, is what this blog is really about.

So thank you, Miss Bareilles.

Once again, if you made it this far, then a winner is you. Thanks for stopping by, and until next time…

May your hot rods be lowered, your greasers in leather jackets entirely non-threatening, and your Latino supermarkets prone to spontaneous well choreographed dance routines.

BPM

Shit That I Love – ‘The Monster Squad’

March 15, 2012

Because what better way to start documenting the things I’m into right now than by bringing up a 25-year-old movie?

Yep – 25 years. A movie released in cinemas (in the U.S, at least), on my 7th birthday. Wow… now I feel old AND a little lame…

Just briefly, the plot concerns Dracula enlisting the help of a crew of legendary monsters to search for an amulet that will DUH-DUH-DUUUUHHHHHHH… allow him to rule the world. The only thing standing in his way? 12-year-old Sean, and his rag-tag crew of monster hunting enthusiasts… THE MONSTER SQUAD!

Author’s Note: That paragraph is wayyyyy more effective if you imagine it being read aloud by Vincent Price.

Author’s Note #2: But then, everything sounds better being read by Vincent Price.

Let’s push on.

Most people who haven’t seen ‘The Monster Squad’ (and let’s face it, a lot who have) would just write this film off as a family friendly, post-‘Goonies’ era rip-off. And in many ways, they’re not completely wrong. Both movies feature a pre-teen protagonist, who along with a small group of loyal friends, become involved in a thrilling adventure with life-and-death stakes. Hell, once you replace the Fratelli’s with some classic (albeit uniquely designed) Universal monsters, is there any real difference between the two flicks whatsoever?

If this kid does the truffle shuffle, I'm asking for my money back...

Well, yeah. There’s a huge difference, really. First and foremost, check out the ‘written by’ credit on the poster above. One name might stick out… Shane Black. This was one of Black’s first scripts produced after he graduated from UCLA. A few other films written by Shane you may have heard of? Well how about ‘Lethal Weapon 1 & 2’, ‘The Last Boy Scout’, ‘The Last Action Hero’, and ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’. Combine that with the fact that Black managed to talk his way into starring in ‘Predator’ with Arnie while he was doing punch-up re-writes on the script for Joel Silver, and… well… there’s a reason why I’d kill to have a career like Shane Black.

Pictured, the only male cast member of 'Predator' that took a REASONABLE amount of steroids & growth hormone

Black’s script for ‘The Monster Squad’ (once director Fred Dekker talked him out of an opening sequence that would have supposedly cost the entire film’s budget) is positively FILLED with Shane Black-ism’s. He includes the following exchange between 2 cargo pilots, flying a light aircraft (which, SPOILERS, contains Dracula’s coffin & Frankenstein’s remains):

PILOT #1 (dejected)

I’m depressed

 

PILOT #2

What for???

 

PILOT #1

What do you mean, what for? I’m flying a world war 2 bomber, with wooden crates in it and a dead body. I should have a party?

 

PILOT #2

Do they complain? Do they get airsick? Do they ask for more of those little almond things?

 

PILOT #1 (suddenly cheery)

You’re right. This is a great job. I’m really happy.

 

The movie is full of these little asides between the adults, moments that make it especially to clear to the intended audience, ‘Hey – the grown ups… ? They have no idea what they’re doing either!’ Bear in mind this is ostensibly a kids movie, the only one Black would ever pen.  

Which is a damn shame. Because Black’s script, and Dekker’s direction, pulls absolutely zero punches. This is a family film that, unlike the current crop of sanitized ‘products’ marketed to kids, is unafraid to be a little ribald, a little honest, and a little goddamn scary when it needs to be.

I love the fact that (within reason) these kids curse – 5-year-old Phoebe gets to tell her older brother and his friends to stop acting so chicken-shit. Perhaps the most famous sequence in the film…

… involves the Wolfman getting kicked right in the nards. Yes, that’s right – the nards.

And Dracula? He’s a real bad ass villain, totally prepared to call a little girl like Phoebe a bitch if she gets in his way!

For realsies.

Rudy, the smooth, leather jacket-wearing, teenage member of the gang , makes smoking look as cool as cool gets. One of the team has an older sister who’s recruited to recite an ancient passage to vanquish the monsters, one that can only be read by a virgin (a plan that goes slightly awry when she’s pressed on the subject of her virginity “Well… there’s Steve, but he doesn’t count!”). Kids handle a shit-ton of weapons, including guns, bows and arrows, explosives, shotguns, and a garlic pizza. NONE of which would make it into a family film anymore.

It also has Jason Hervey, the older brother from 'The Wonder Years', calling Fat Kid a faggot. I'm not sure which is more offensive these days, the 'f' word, or Jason Hervey

Cast wise? There is practically no one that was recognisable in 1987, let alone 2012. Nope, no Sean Astin. No Corey Feldman. No Josh Brolin. It DOES feature a moment of Goondocks cross-pollination though. Mary Ellen Trainor plays an extremely similar Mom character to ‘Monster Squad’s’ Sean as she did to Sean… sorry… Mikey, in ‘The Goonies’. It’s no huge coincidence however, when you see Mary’s face…

I AM the 80's, Bitch!

And realise she starred in approximately 87% of all movies made between 1984 and 1989 (like how about ‘Romancing the Stone’, ‘Die Hard’, ‘Lethal Weapon’ 1 & 2, ‘Action Jackson’, ‘Scrooged’, ‘Ghostbuster 2’ & ‘Back to the Future 2’?).

In fact, the biggest name cast member in ‘The Monster Squad’ didn’t even make the final cut of the movie. He wasn’t even filmed. His character, a Renfield-like minion of Dracula’s, was cut by Dekker from the script just before filming, after casting had already been completed. It was a way to save time and money during the shoot. No big loss, just some young Irish fella named Liam Something-or-other.

Consider it a bullet dodged, Monster Squad

Perhaps one of my biggest joys when it comes to the movie? The creature make-up by the one and only Stan Winston. The guy who, in my opinion, remains the greatest creature artist in the history of American cinema.

He was a genius. And rather than continue making this entire blog post one IMDB bio after another, I’ll just post this embiggenable picture that I’d strongly urge you to click on. THIS is one of the boardrooms at Stan Winston Studios in California…

You can also click here to visit an interactive studio tour to see the room in greater detail, where up in a corner, you might just happen to see the Wolfman, the Mummy, Gillman & the Frankenstein monster taking 5.

See, although Dekker’s film would feature an array monsters from Universal’s classic horror films from the 1930’s & 40’s, the ‘Monster Squad’ was produced by Tri-Star Pictures… not Universal. Enter Stan Winston, Monster Creator (yes, that is his actual credit from the film). So as not to violate Universal’s copyright on classic characters like the Frankenstein Monster, Winston was tasked with creating a new, idiosyncratic look for each of the creatures.

He succeeded. In spades. Cos he was Stan F'n Winston!

Winston’s creatures were fresh yet extremely familiar, visually interesting, scary but not too scary for a young audience. And while they never surpassed the original monster designs of the 30’s and 40’s for me (even as I type this I’m wearing a t-shirt I bought at Universal Studios featuring Lugosi, Chaney, Karloff & Co… #NERD!), they did play an important part in my maturation as a horror fan.

As a 7 or 8-year-old, I’d quickly become fascinated by the film ‘Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein’. As I watched, and re-watched the movie on our Beta video player (the VHS would not enter the Monkey household for a year or two yet) I was formally introduced to some of these classic horror characters, whose monstrosity was filtered through the usual Bud & Lou shenanigans. I remember watching the whole movie end to end countless times, all the while marvelling in my head that it was scary AND funny.  I loved the scenes set in Dracula’s old castle, in his secret dungeons, and in the misty forest nearby. More than anything the monsters actually DID in the movie though, I loved the potential for unspeakable horror each creature represented.

Enter ‘The Monster Squad’, which I saw at my friend Matt’s place when he rented it from the local video shop. A year or two older and wiser, I was impressed by how much bigger the movie was than A & C’s dabble into creature features. How much scarier, and bloodier the monsters were. Sean was the kid that I wished I could be (smart, brave, a leader… oh, and slim – very important to a chubby kid). Again, I watched from start to finish, sitting next to Matt on his couch, even sitting through the god-awful end credit music all the way through. I didn’t know it, but ‘The Monster Squad’ had changed me.

And then I didn’t watch it again for almost 20 years.

What can I say? The only movies we owned in my house were the ones we’d taped off the television, commercial breaks and all. None of our local video shops had a copy of ‘The Monster Squad’. Besides which, Matt was busy introducing me to other video’s over the next few years… movies like ‘Evil Dead II’, ‘Jaws’, ‘Clerks’, ‘Brain Dead’ (or Dead Alive, for my American friends)… all amongst my favourite movies of all time, even to this day.

But even so…

‘The Monster Squad’ had been an important movie in my young life. It was my ‘gateway drug’ to more horror. More movies. More books. An adolescence writing stories, and filming horror-comedy short films with my friends. Sam Raimi. George Romero. Stephen King… boyyy, did it lead to Stephen King. Eventually I’d head off to university, where the only thing I wanted to pursue was more cinema. A post-grad screenwriting course. And now a career (admittedly, a career tilting at windmills) working my way up in the film and television business.

Was it all because of movies like ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’, ‘Grease’, and ‘The Monster Squad’? Who knows. I do know that there is still no other industry I’d rather work in, no other dream I’d want to chase. Even if said dream is more often than not a slippery, incredibly elusive, heart breaking she-bitch, capable of making you metaphorically crotch-punch yourself to tears. Or become a Production Runner. 

"Sorry? No, of course I can pick up fresh organic blueberries, 8 litres of goats milk, a high viz vest and a power adaptor for a 2002 Macbook on the way to set without being late"

I was on Amazon.com in 2007  when I saw that ‘The Monster Squad’ was finally being released on DVD to commemorate it’s 20th anniversary. And you better believe I ordered that shit faster than you can say ‘exorbitant international shipping rates’. I popped the disc into my Samsung DVD player one sunny Saturday afternoon. Grabbed a Pepsi from the fridge. Plugged a few more companies in hope of some sponsorship dollar dollar. And pressed play.

82 minutes later… the verdict?

Judging by the smile on my face you’d have thought the film had been remade, starring all of my favourite actors, set in my hometown, and featured an all new love interest played by Scarlett Johansson, who repeatedly mistakenly called Sean by my real Christian name (hint: it’s not really ‘Button’).

Nostalgic sentiment washed over me, coupled with the realisation that the movie actually held up pretty goddamn well (at least in my eyes). It’s not a perfect film by any means – there are a few awkward cuts, the score is probably best left in 1987, and some moments manage to transcend cheesiness, attaining a state of being that I like to call IncrediCheese™! 

Rock on, Van Helsing!

And yet, it’s gone beyond a guilty pleasure in my house. It rests atop a pretty short stack of DVD’s that I can throw on as white noise, or for my (much younger) siblings when they visit, that I can watch intently, or that I can ignore while I go about my day. I know that I never actually feel like a kid again when I sit down for what must be viewing # 214. But it does enable me to remember who that kid was, what he thought about, and the things that he enjoyed. It reminds me of the joy he felt when he realised half way through a movie that he was discovering something that he loved for the first time. It reminds me why he started chasing his/our dreams in the first place.

It was one of the best 20 dollar purchases I ever made, and a movie experience I hope all of you get to have, at least once in your life.

So… what do you think about that, Van Helsing?

Man, he's really stoked he finally caught that toothy bastard, huh?

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I’ll do my best to remain a little more concise, and on point, next time.

Until then, remember to secure your clubhouse, it’s always handy to have a tough, cool older friend, and most of all…

Wolfman’s got nards!

BPM

And now for something completely different…

March 8, 2012

Alternative Title: Self-Indulgence and Introspection

Sounds kind of like a late 90’s, alt-rock album title, doesn’t it?

I was struck rather forcibly last week by one of those periodic moments of self-awareness, not long after I posted my last blog entry. I’d spent most of the week slogging to meet an honest-to-goodness writing deadline (I harbour dreams of writing about more than Lady Gaga and photoshopped Velociraptor images… who knew?), a deadline I managed to meet on Friday afternoon. Still invigorated, and chock-full of writerly endorphins, I promised myself that it was time for the latest post right here on Button Pushing Monkey.

So… what was happening in the world of pop culture that pissed me off?

Just like that – a totally instinctual response. Not what was I excited about. Not what was I looking forward to. Nope. Instead my brain totally bypassed a few synapses along the way to “What’s shitty that you can write about, Monkey?”

If my Facebook news is to be believed, this guy is EVERYTHING that's shitty

And now, a personal ‘revelation’…

** watches 90% of his readers click on to a LOLCATZ site **

It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me, or to the 6 of you left reading, that I’m by and large a glass half empty glass mostly empty who took my fucking glass?!? kinda guy. I spend way too much time going straight to my mental default setting (clickclickclick… selecting ‘Intensely Cynical Neuroticism’), without putting up too much of a fight.

Pfft... lightweight...

And to be honest, it’ s not like I’d be hard up for material at the moment. Yes, I could quite easily sit here and write about the Kony 2012 movement

Or about the news that a Hulk Hogan sex tape has reportedly leaked to Vivid Entertainment

Or about Kirk Cameron’s latest foot-in-mouth incident regarding comments on homosexuality, comments that lets just say have made another ‘Growing Pains’ reunion a little bit less likely…

Or about the ongoing ‘Yumi-gate’ saga encircling TV show ‘The Circle’, and the way George Negus’ on-air brain fart seems to have been completely brushed aside, so as to more easily create a hate campaign about Yumi Stynes… 

But most likely it'd probably just be this image, and 1000 words about 'Hulking up'...

And you know what? It’d be easy. Nothing anyone would ever confuse with especially well-written, or well thought out prose. Just a series of little digs about famous people, doing ridiculous shit, in a 24-hour news cycle world. And that’s fine.

Yeah, I could do that.

OR…

Or I could set the bar a little higher than usual for myself. Try something different. Perhaps instead of stewing in my cyber-corner of the world, forever slinging hate at the shit that I cant stand, I could take the approach of writing about the shit that I love instead? For a while, at least.

Because yes, I really AM the last guy in the room to accept that it takes way more guts to put yourself out there and tell people about the things you enjoy, as opposed to the ‘crap’ you don’t.

That’s not to say that BPM will be forever turning it’s back on pointing out stupefyingly weird news articles, or the incessantly dumb thing another celebrity done did.

What I will be doing, is a brief series of posts, entitled ‘SHIT THAT I LOVE’. I’ll be touching on a movie, TV show, musician, book and a ‘mystery box’ category, that I’ve enjoyed recently. Without being too effusive, I’ll try and drop a little science on the stuff that I’m into right now, and then invite YOU, the reader, to agree/disagree/show complete ambivalence/call me a TTL RETARD N ALL CAPS!!!  

Let my best attempts at positive thinking, passion and emotional honesty begin!

Right!

Right?

Sigh… maybe I should’ve just stuck to dick jokes about the Hulkster…

Coming Soon: Shit That I Love Movie Edition – ‘The Monster Squad’

BPM