Monthly Archives: January 2011

Michael Winslow, Eat Your Heart Out

When it comes to the abilities of animals which I am jealous of/covet, the list is super long.  They’ve got all kinds of sweet powers.  Mankind…big deal!  Besides our abilities to cast shadow puppets and our capacity to create sandwiches, being a human is rubbish–with our doughy flesh that goose-pimples in the slightest of breezes and our stumpy molars that can barely crack celery!  We’re not nearly as hard-core as we think we are.  There isn’t a race (besides maybe a motor one) that an animal couldn’t completely humiliate us in…running, swimming, slithering…hopping…eating offspring…beasts will best us 80% of the time all the time.   That’s why the superheroes of dynamic fiction are often inspired by nature–a man with spider abilities or that of a hawk, for instance.  I’d love to have a prehensile tail of a monkey, the razor-sharp teeth of a piranha, the outstanding night vision of an aye-aye, the flight of a swift, the camouflage of a chameleon, the healing horn of a unicorn,  and the ability to breathe under water of a fish.  Only one of those animals if fictional.  Can you believe it!  A horse with a magic horn seems far more likely to exist than a lizard that can change colors!  Isn’t the world weird?  It sure is.

Anyway, today’s great thing is an animal that is truly remarkable and has a super useful talent…which is probably why it is on the Australian dime.  Take that, Franklin D. Roosevelt!

160. The Lyrebird

…of which there are two types, The Superb Lyrebird and Albert’s Lyrebird.  Both are equally awesome as far as I can tell.  The main difference is that the Superb Lyrebird is bigger, whilst the Albert’s Lyrebird has an interesting piercing.

I'm a fancy MF.

Like so many weird and fascinating creatures who have seemingly taken a divergent path from straight-forward evolution…the kangaroo, the duck-billed platypus, Kylie Minogue…the lyrebird is from Australia

The birds don’t fly very well…they scratch at the ground with their feet to kick up leaves where they find worms, bugs, and seeds to eat.  Don’t be hating, I’m sure it’s delicious.  They are runners more than flyers, lovers rather than fighters, band geeks more than football jocks.  The special thing about the lyrebird is that their courtship displays are crazy amazing.  They put sooooo much effort into it.  It’s half karaoke and half choreography…but their vocal impressions are absolutely mind-blowing.  Have a look-see:

What a stunning display, yes?  How can one animal make all those different noises when I can’t even do a half decent British accent after living here for five years?  Gor Blimey!  It all comes down to the syrinx, which is a bird’s vocal instrument.    The word comes from the Greek for pan pipes.  Of all the Passerines (songbirds) in the world, the lyrebird has the most complex.  Still, what’s a syrinx and how does it work?  How does the lyrebird make its magic?  It’s a good question…in this case posed by an inquisitive beatboxer…and answered by a kindly scholar:  Answers

Yeah, that's a pretty good DeNiro. But EVERYONE does a DeNiro.

 

The thing is, they’re not just one-trick ponies, so to speak.  Beyond the mimicry, the birds are also accomplished hoofers.  Their courtship displays can be quite the marathon of tail-fanning and hot-stepping. (The tail feathers, by the way, take seven full years to develop.)  They’re also sort of slutty.  Well, man-hos at least.  The male of the species will impregnate as many females as they possibly can.  (This should be relatively easy as I don’t know how anyone could resist all the feather-swishing and chainsaw noises.)  The females are always left as the sole parent of the single egg.  All this behavior, the singing, dancing, preening, sleeping around and then taking off when things get heavy, pretty much makes the lyrebird the rockstar of the animal kingdom.  I think Albert’s Lyrebird should be renamed Brett Michael’s Lyrebird.

A group of lyrebirds is called a ‘musket’.  I can only figure that this is because they are as exciting as a bunch of guns going off.  They are beaked dynamite!

There is an interesting anecdote about human interaction with lyrebirds that I found on a few different websites and feel compelled to share.    This text is lifted from Avian Web, which in turn is sourced from: The Lore of the Lyrebird, by Ambrose Pratt, the Endeavour Press, 1933.  It involves food offerings, dirt mounds, and a hydraulic ram…

During the early 1930s, a male lyrebird, called “James”, formed a close bond of friendship with a human being, Mrs. Wilkinson, after she had been offering food to him over a period of time. James would perform his courtship dance for her on one of his mounds which he had constructed in her backyard — and he would also put on his display for a wider audience, but only when Mrs. Wilkinson was one of those present. On one such occasion, James’ performance lasted for forty-three minutes, and included steps to a courtship dance accompanied by his own tune — and also included imitating perfectly the calls of an Australian Magpie, and a young magpie being fed by a parent-bird, a Eastern Whipbird, a Bellbird, a complete laughing-song of a Kookaburra, two Kookaburras laughing in unison, a Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo, a Gang-gang Cockatoo, an Eastern Rosella, a Pied Butcherbird, a Wattle-bird, a Grey Shrike-thrush, a Thornbill, a White-browed Scrubwren, a Striated Pardalote, a Starling, a Yellow Robin, a Golden Whistler, a flock of parrots whistling in flight, the Crimson Rosella, several other birds whose notes his audience were not able to identify, and the song of honey-eaters (tiny birds with tiny voices), that gather in numbers and “cheep” and twitter in a multitudinous sweet whispering. In order to mimic the honeyeaters’ singing faithfully, James was obliged to subdue his powerful voice to the faintest pianissimo, but he contrived, nevertheless, to make each individual note of the soft chorus audibly distinct. Also included in James’ performance was his perfect mimicry of the sounds made by a rock-crusher at work, a hydraulic ram, and the tooting of motor-horns.

I just want to say…whilst in absolutely NO way condoning bestiality…I sort of hope that James the lyrebird got at least to second base after that.

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Hot Air Balloons Would Have Been Too Predictable

By my estimation, about 98% of music videos manufactured today are forgettable, tasteless, copycat crap.  Every time someone innovates, we wind up seeing approximately 500 knock offs over a few years of said innovation.  Using a fish-eye lens?  Trying out a flash mob type feel?  Putting your artist up solo against a wall of lights?  Sorry, it’s already been done to death.  Yeah, and so has open top car journey and the comedy sketch in the middle of the vid. The trick, I think, is to create something that is so unique to the song that it just can’t be replicated by some cheat who’s been assigned to direct the next Usher video.  It either needs to be keenly specific to the song or so odd that the rip-offery would be far too blatant to even attempt…so weird that it could never possibly become a trope.   Today’s great thing is a perfect example of that.  It is the hypnotically engaging and absolutely un-trope-able:

159.  The Video for Daft Punk’s Around the World.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Daft Punk would get a wholly original director to helm one of their videos.  They are, undoubtedly, one of the most unusual commercial acts around.  The two Frenchmen, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, rarely appear publicly out of their cool-ass robot helmets and have always emphasized visuals and story-telling in their music.  Though I could give a fudge-bar (yeah, that’s right…I think Fudge bars are Cadbury’s worst candy bar!) about seeing the new Tron movie, I am eager to hear the score that they’ve created for it.  Too bad the film looks like such kak–even if my friend Paul says it wasn’t that bad.  I’m convinced he’s only saying that so he doesn’t get all mad at himself for spending money to see it in the theater.

French robots use their electronica powers for good.

159.  The Video for Daft Punk’s Around the World.

It’s worth noting that Michael Gondry was the director in question.  Gondry has a pretty excellent track record when it comes to creating memorable videos for creative musical artists.  Just two notables include Bjork’s “Human Behavior” and The Chemical Brothers’ “Let Forever Be”.   He, of course, went on to helm such great pictures as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and maybe the slightly less good The Science of Sleep.   Fun fact, he utilized the bullet-time technique in film-making BEFORE it appeared in The Matrix.

“Around the World” was choreographed by Blanca Li (NOT the Blanka that we all know and love from “Street Fighter”.)

No...not Blanka, B-L-A-N-C-A

Blanca Li is a Spanish choreographer, silly.  Before I show the video, let’s chat about why it looks the way it looks?  (How do pin-headed athletes, “disco girls” in swimsuits, and mummies all wind up on the same stage?)  What Gondry focussed on when making this video was it’s simple but super hooky structure.  It utilizes only five instruments and each of those five instruments have different patterns…hence the five groups of characters.  If you watch closely, you can see how they all respond directly to their own instrumentation.  Here is a key:

Athletes–bass guitar

Skeletons–guitars

Mummies–drum machines

Disco Girls–keyboards

Androids–robo-singing voice

The platform itself is supposed to represent a vinyl record.  Neat-O!  Let’s watch:

It’s all so harmonious.  For once, the video matches how cool it sounds with how cool it looks (and vice versa).  Also, is it just me or does the choreography feels a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly.  I think it’s marvellous how they all keep time without distracting each other–especially considering the costumes they’re all wearing.  The mummies, especially, I think would draw my attention away from my rhythmic footing.

Not bad...AND the one on the left can juggle...or something.

 

I wanted to close out this blog post with a couple of tributes to “Around the World”.  Though with this next video, you might say that my earlier argument of this video being “un-trope-able” has just fallen down.  But to that, I say “Nay!” Take a look and I think you’ll understand why it still stands…perhaps even stronger than before.  I definitely  think we can label this as an homage as opposed to a copycat.  You can watch this Freemason’s video and still know that Daft Punk and Michael Gondry did it first.  You dont’ forget the original…whereas you might not remember who first did filmed their performer against a wall of lights thanks to the sheer numbers of parrots who have done so since.  Plus, unlike in the “Around the World” video, the dancers in this video don’t seem to correspond with any instrumental counterpart…they’re just dancing in time.  So, it doesn’t have that eerie cadence to the choreography that the original does.  It both celebrates and fails to match the original.

A more creative and fitting tribute comes in this cover by Señor Coconut and his Orchestra.  Based on the mellow awesomeness of this bossa nova (or samba?) version of the floor-filler, I think I’m going to check out Señor Coconut’s whole album.

Now, if I can just find four friends who are willing to invest in the materials, I think I may go as a tribute to this video next Halloween…or at least the next costume party I get invited to.  But I totally call the android costume.  I’m not going as the disco girl.

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Laughing By Myself

Few things in life are as disappointing as the discovery that a loved one does not find the EXACT same things funny as you.  Whether it’s a knock knock joke, a favorite comedian, or in this particular instance, a much-loved comedy film.  For example, when I learned that of the two classic Steve Martin films, Karey liked The Man With Two Brains better than The Jerk, I almost called the whole thing off.  (Those were the early ‘getting to know you’ days of our relationship–I’m in it for the long haul now…even if she doesn’t like Zoolander at all.)    I mean, The Man With Two Brains is amazingly funny.  But, come on…it’s not The Jerk. I’m picking out a thermos for you?  A dog called Shithead?  Milk-faced bastard?  Its superior status cannot be ignored.

Anyway, today I want to write about another film where we disagree.  And we disagree BIG time on this one.  I mean, she doesn’t even like it a teensy bit–zero tolerance.  My lady friend isn’t alone her dislike of this film.  It turns out that it’s quite a private little clique that enjoys Kung Pow! and I’m happy to be a member of that club.  I feel that the few of us are in possession of a secret understanding of weird comedy.  The guy at Blockbuster properly wigged out when I purchased a used copy.  He thought he was all alone in this world in his love of the film.  This, of course, brings us to today’s great thing:

158.  Kung Pow!  Enter The Fist

More about the unfunny things which appear on this DVD cover later...

For the uninitiated, Kung Pow! Enter the Fist is a film by Steve Oedekerk.  Oedekerk worked on the Ace Ventura films and he does these little ‘thumb’ movies…you may have seen Thumb Wars in the bargain bin at your local Blockbuster outlet.  Oedekerk used footage from the chop-sockey movie Tiger and Crane Fist.  He re-dubbed the voice track (he plays every single character bar one), and inserted himself into the film as well.  He also added a couple of  scenes that are completely his invention (some of which were shot in his pool and in his backyard).  It’s not a brand new strategy, to parody a film in this way.  Woody Allan, for one has done it as has Steve Martin.  However, when done right it is indeed effective and still a bit novel.  The plot is inane–perhaps not more so than the original kung-fu film’s plot–but that doesn’t matter.  Steve Oedekerk plays the Chosen One and he must receive training to battle a village’s monstrous tyrant, Master Pain, aka “Betty”.  That’s about all you need to know.  The rest is just them riffing on that set-up, the cheesy footage, and making silly voices.

Kung Pow is by no means a perfect film.  There’s plenty to drag it down…stupid gags like gopher chucks and ninja cows, a tired Matrix parody, a tongue with a face and mouth of its own that lives in our hero’s face (just watch the film).  Those things are all terrible.  But, when it’s funny it is pants-peeingly so.    It’s weird, actually, that those hack gags came out of the same brain as the person who thought of “That’s a lot of nuts!”  (One for the initiated there.)  They seem like such different brands of humor.  Indeed, that brings us to possible reasons as to why the film is so polarizing.

On IMDB, one user speculates as to why it was so hated by some (including most critics) with this:

One reason is how it was marketed… people wanted to see Gopher-Chucks and Cows doing piledrivers, they didnt expect such an absurd and random comedy based on voice-overs of an old movie.  edit: I just saw the trailer again to reming myself and wow..the trailer makes the movie look terrible! baby fighting, stupid tongue, one boob chick, cow, punching a hole in a stomach…TERRIBLE!! The worst parts of the movie!! Not even one line from Master Betty!

So basically, the people with the sense of humor that liked the trailer did not like the actual movie…and many of the people with the sense of humor that would like Kung Pow might never know it exists

Quote from another user: gopher chucks and the cow ruined it.  So, that’s a few of us Kung Pow scholars that are in consensus here.   The problem is when it verges into ‘zany’ territory.  Calling a cow “Moofasa”, tongue-y, the aliens at the end?  All that stuff is from the NEW bits that were added.    Ignore all that noise and focus on what’s excellent about the film:  the dub-over of the existing footage.  Everything the supporting characters say is pretty much fried gold.  Wimp Lo, Ling,  Betty, the two ventriloquists, they all elevate the movie to true cult comedy status.  The film occupies a weird niche in the catalogue of comedy…it sort of makes me feel stoned, I laugh at it that hard…even with nary a whiff of second-hand smoke in sight.  It lies somewhere between Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a really good round of Mad Libs…perhaps as produced by Weird Al.  If that sounds appealing to you at all, check this film out.

Here are three sample scenes with which to both give you a preview and to annoy Karey:

1.  Training with Wimp Lo (who the school has trained wrong–as a joke).

Apologies…you must click the link as the darned thing simply won’t embed…

Training Vid

Sometimes I like to go up to Karey and say ‘I challenge you..ahehe ahehehe”.  She does not like it and does not laugh.  But I do.

2.  Ling inexplicably and continuously makes a weeeooopeeeoooweeeooo sort of noise.  Watch this montage.  My fave moment is when she strikes–using WEEE and OOO as sorts of kiais…

3.  Master Betty defends his reputation and tells a joke:

I hope that there was something in at least one of those clips that made you laugh.  (Because then you can be part of my elite comedy-appreciation club–“The Chosen Ones”.)  You know…there HAD been a rumor that this was meant to be the first of a trilogy.  If enough of us clamor for it, perhaps it will happen.  Say Eeeeooo Weeeooo if you believe in miracles!

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