Arrested Development 2013: 3 Things I Loved, 3 Things I Didn’t

WARNING: Minor spoilers in the form of spoiling a couple of punchlines

The most hyped television event of the year didn’t occur on a network or cable station. Netflix, a company that appeared to be going down faster than the Hindenburg two years ago, resurrected themselves through the revival of Arrested Development.  Their new-found approach to viewing television through on-demand original programming is revolutionary and somewhat exciting to watch unfold. While they’ve had original shows prior to Arrested Development such as the popular House of Cards, you can’t help but feel this was the Big Event to show off the New Netflix to the world and test the waters for this uncharted territory in programming. Of course, this uncharted territory is only revolutionary if the show is worth the purchase of a subscription.

So, was it worth it? In my opinion, yes. Due to the scheduling conflicts of cast members, writing around said scheduling conflicts, dealing with a different model of television-viewing, and working with what I’m assuming was a much smaller budget, the long-awaited season of Arrested Development was sure to be a different experience from its network television days. To be certain, the show wasn’t free of problems, but the fans who stuck through all 15 episodes were treated to soon-to-be classic scenes, extremely clever writing, and the luxury of watching a marathon of new episodes at their own pace.  Below are a few of the things I loved about this new season and a few that didn’t quite work for me:

What I Loved:

  1. The Multi-Layered Storyline. After the first couple of episodes, I looked over to Chris and frowned. “I’m not feeling this. At. All.” He shook his head. “Neither am I…” I recalled that the most recent season of Archer started off slow but we wound up loving it as it progressed, expressing my hope that this would too be the case for Arrested Development. I am happy to say it was. By the time they got around to telling Lindsay Bluth’s first story, you began to see a glimpse of the greater story they were weaving. Imagine each episode as a single cartoon cel: as the season progresses, you see one cel layered on top of another until you get to the final episode, where the entire image is complete. The writing is brilliant in that it was a creative way to work around the real-life scheduling conflicts of the actors and use the Netflix on-demand format to its fullest potential. I doubt this layering of stories would have worked on a traditional programming schedule; the episodes seemed designed to be watched back-to-back, where one doesn’t need a long memory to recall a subtle joke or remark in earlier episodes. The storytelling was very ambitious while still clever and funny, so the writers get an A+ for effort.
  2. They Didn’t Overdo the Meta Jokes. Well, not more than Arrested Development typically did in its original run, at least. Let’s face it – Arrested Development works because it’s so meta, but unlike many shows and movies, it’s meta done right. While some of the Ann jokes got a little tired, as a whole, the recurring jokes on the show were used at the right times. There are few things I hate more than excessive meta-writing, and for a show as quotable as Arrested Development it would have been too easy for them to just make this a retread of “greatest hits.” Instead, they ran with a few of the recurring jokes, added onto old jokes (the Fakeblock storyline is a great example – I didn’t see that coming at all), and created a slew of new great moments. My personal favorites all seem to revolve around the Fünkes – whether it was the goose scenes or the cornucopia of Tobias double entendres, they created many moments deserving of a rewatch and a YouTube supercut.
  3. Michael Cera / George-Michael. I want to give serious props to both Michael Cera and the writers for advancing the character of George-Michael while managing to still make him the Charlie Browniest. It’s easy for a character like George-Michael to get lost  in the mix when put next to the grandiosity of Tobias or GOB, but they did a fantastic job of subtly passing the baton from Michael to George-Michael to be the star and the sort-of “straight man” for the season. This had to be done; Michael has to have his family next to him to not come across as a selfish, self-righteous (hilarious) asshole. They did a good job of highlighting this in the first couple of episodes of the new season – it was painful to watch how awful Michael was. Cera jumped back into the role of George-Michael more seamlessly than I would have expected, and did a great job of interpreting him as an adult – who is still a Charlie Brown, despite his mustache and sexual um…awakening? I thoroughly enjoyed his scenes. And? “Make me cry!” “You’re a bad mother!” – huge laugh in our house.

What I Didn’t Love:

  1. Moments of Poor Production. Like I said, this new season wasn’t perfect. Now, I am not a “movie person.” I’m not typically the kind of person who spots the digital watch on the caveman, or sees the cameraman visible in the reflection of someone’s sunglasses. I seldom read the “Goofs” section of imdb, because that’s not my thing and I normally can’t spot the mistakes anyway. That said, there were a few really sloppy aspects to the production that I noticed. Because I don’t look for these things, I feel like if I notice them, they must have been pretty bad. There were some very noticeable continuity mistakes (for example, when Maeby is writing on the whiteboard during the real estate scene), some of the camera tricks they used to hide that the actors weren’t physically in certain scenes together were distracting, and the makeup work was really bad at times. On both Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, the yellow concealer under their eyes was very noticeable. Additionally, I felt like there were moments the camera moved away from something too quickly (especially when the viewer needed to take in a single image or read something) Did this ruin my experience with the show? No. Do I understand they had a tighter budget and the quality would be a little lower? Yes. And I appreciate how many obstacles they had to deal with to film the scenes, however I’m hoping for any future seasons or movies they can get a little more money or have a little more time to clean up these little things.
  2. Seth Rogan as George Bluth Sr. Generally, I was not feeling the flashback scenes of Lucille and George Sr., but I have to tell you: I really, really didn’t care for this casting decision. And I love Seth Rogan (I’m a big Undeclared fan; I pretty much root for anyone who was on that show). I just couldn’t get past thinking, “That’s Seth Rogan in a wig.” Kirsten Wiig did a pretty good Lucille, but it was more of her doing an impression of Jessica Walter’s Lucille than really being Lucille, if that makes sense. I didn’t love this. To be fair, who could be a young George Bluth? I hope they don’t do this for the movie (or any future seasons – I know they didn’t really talk about future seasons, but I’m just throwing it out there. Like The Secret – throw it out into the universe, and it will become so. Right?)
  3. The Lack of the Ensemble. I know there wasn’t much of a way around this, and as fans this was the only way we’d get our Arrested Development, but the show was missing something by not having everyone together. The chemistry between everyone on the show is phenomenal, and not having them share more scenes was removing one element of what makes the show magical. Tying back to my point about the production issues, the camera tricks to make actors appear in the same scenes became distracting, and I feel like some of the scenes would have had a bigger payout if they could have acted off of each other more. Funny enough, I think the Fünke scenes worked so well because the joke is how disconnected they are from each other, so this format worked perfectly into that.

Despite my quibbles, I absolutely enjoyed the season when all was said and done. I can’t wait to see what they have planned next – hopefully we won’t have to wait another 7 years to see it.

What did you think? Add your opinions in the comments below – to those who haven’t seen the new season yet – assume that the comments will contain spoilers.

Angry Birds

I am a huge football fan.  A big reason for this was how I was raised – my dad was a high school football coach for nearly 30 years, and I have been going to games since I was a fetus.  I remember being a kid and not wanting to be a cheerleader because they always faced away from the game.  I remember a few exciting last-second wins and my mom and I waiting on the sidelines while my dad finished up interviews.  Oddly one of my strongest memories was from when I was about 7 or 8.  For one particular game, some guy sat in front of me in the stands.  I never got a good look at his face, but saw the back of his head.  He was balding, and I watched his entire head turn purple from anger.  He sat alone.  He screamed onto the field, as if someone could hear him and would throw the playbook to the ground to take his advice.

“RUN THE BALL THROUGH THE SEAM! RUN IT UP THE SEAM!”

“DAMN COACH DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE’S DOING! PROTECT THE POCKET! PROTECT THE POCKET!”

“BLITZ! YOU NEED TO BLITZ MORE, YOU BUM!”

Between these brilliant suggestions for a high school team from the state known for its great football legacy – that’s right, Connecticut, bitches* – he had a mantra:

“IMPEACH THE COAAAACHHHH!!!! IMPEAAACHH THE COAAACCHHHH!!!”

Behind me of course, was my mom and a couple of the other coaches’ wives muttering under their breaths, “this is high school football, asshole; not the NFL”  Not loud enough for him to hear, of course, but loud enough for me to hear and smirk.

“IMPEACH THE COACH!!!”

The word puzzled me.  I pictured a bunch of people throwing peaches at my dad, and it didn’t really make sense, so I turned to my mother.  “Mom? What does impeach mean?”

My mom looked frustrated and kept her eyes on the field while responding to me.  She deadpanned, “It’s a word used by people who don’t know what they are talking about.”

“But what does it mean?”

Mom explained the definition to me.  And that is how I learned what the word impeach meant.  I kid you not – every time I hear that word now, I flash back to that jerk’s angry, purple-y bald dome screaming his rage towards the field.

Maybe it’s this memory that makes me grumble inside when I hear about fans booing their own team, like this past Sunday in Arizona.  If you follow football at all, you know Arizona has a bit of a quarterback issue; long story short – the Cardinals paid a large price to acquire Kevin Kolb, who was beaten out for the starting position by John Skelton this year.  Admittedly, on the field, Kolb didn’t look like the player fans hoped he would be.  His passes lacked zip and accuracy and his decision-making looked poor.  Skelton had similar problems, but he seemed far more patient and relaxed on the field.  The offensive chemistry seemed to be better with him on the field.

In the first game of the season this past Sunday, Skelton went down with an ankle injury and had to be carted off.  When they bring out the cart for you, that’s kind of a bad sign. Like, players start praying and shit. You could call the cart the You’re Fucked Wagon, because that’s usually what it means.

Anyway, Skelton was writhing in pain, he got YFWed [he’ll be okay – low ankle sprain].  So, anyway, you kind of need a quarterback on your team if you want to play this grand game known as football, yes?  So who comes in? Kolb.  And what do some fans do?  They boo.

They freaking booed.

So let me ask you this – what kind of person boos the players on the team they are supposedly rooting for?  I just don’t get this.  Okay, if someone killed a man, raped someone or kicked puppies – yeah, fine; boo.  Those are serious things.  But booing someone because they didn’t have a good year? And booing them when they are replacing an injured player at a critical moment in the game?  How exactly do you think this helps “your team?” Do you really think a coach rubs their chin and says to himself, “well gee, I guess that fan booing between drunken Miller Lite vomit attacks was right; let’s just fire the guy and throw away a few million dollars for no reason whatsoever. Boooo! Boooo!”  Do you seriously want a coach who would listen to you and your stupid ideas? I sure as hell don’t want them listening to mine.

I’ll tell you who these Boo Birds are: they are the trolls on the internet.  They are the random angry drunk bros who pick fights at 1 in the morning on the Vegas Strip because some other bro looked at them funny.  They are the people who feel like the world owes them a favor.  They are the people who belittled me when I waitressed at Friendly’s.  They are men who sit by themselves at high school football games in Connecticut and scream from their perch.  They don’t even have a “favorite team” – they have a vessel that keeps them angry, raging and indignant every Sunday.  When you look at it that way, you kind of feel sad for them.  Because this thing – this angry, booing, screamy, trolly thing?  This is all they’ve got.  This and bad, cheap beer.  Tragedy.

And one ticket to Sucksville for them – Kolb kicked ass yesterday and won the game. That’s the best kind of “F-you” a person could give; remember that when you run into your own Boo Birds.

*I say this noting the exception of Greenwich High alum Steve Young. As a side note, Young had one loss his Senior year.  That loss? My dad’s team. Not like that is a huge event in the grand scheme of things, but as a coach’s daughter, I always thought that was kinda cool.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Menacing Kitten Services You: Little House Edition

One of the joys of adding Google Analytics to your site is seeing all the strange ways people find your site through search engines.  As I reviewed the list of search terms used to find the site over the past year, I realized I had an opportunity to be service-y and answer a few of the questions and queries posed by those who search for my site.

One of the most commonly searched for items that lead people to my site are Little House on the Prairie inquiries, many of which I am more than happy to answer:

“Did Adam get his sight back before or after Mary had the baby on Little House?”
After.  See? Service-y!

“Mrs Garvey broke the window with Mary’s baby”
Yes, yes she did.  Fucked up isn’t it?

There is also a contingent of people obsessed with Michael Landon.  Would you believe one of the most searched for queries on my site is:

“Did Michael Landon get a perm?”
To answer this question, I turned to pre-Little House pics of him on Bonanza.  After careful photographic analysis, I think it’s fair to say that no, Michael Landon did not have a perm.  He had naturally curly hair, and just kind of let it go wild for the Little House series.  He was also quite the looker in his Bonanza days.

People really want to know about the deep, dark world of Michael Landon, if that even exists:

“Michael Landon hated”
Are you looking for things he hated, or that he was hated? I don’t know much about him, but Melissa Gilbert was quite fond of him, and Johnny Carson adored him.  And clearly, he hated Mary Ingalls.

“Michael Landon’s secret life”

Tell me, what did you hear?

“Michael Landon pedofil”
Yeah, no.  And really, spelling?

“Michael Landon and kittens”
Wait, what?

Of course, not all queries are sad and negative.  Maybe part of that “secret life” was a signature move I was unaware of:

“Landon fuck move”
I have heard rumors that Landon was quite the Cassanova back in the day.  I suspect the Landon Fuck Move does not involve Little House On the Prairie, but upon reading it, I get a very disturbing image in my mind’s eye of Pa’s apple-cheeked quiverface getting down and I do not appreciate that.  Especially since he’s still wearing suspenders.  Damn you, Asshole Brain. 

It could be that there is an entire world of Little House slashfiction that I’m unaware of [Oh.My.God. It exists. And I’m not linking to it because it’s just wrong…*shivers*  WHYGODWHY and Albert and Sylvia fanfic? Really?].  I think that’s what someone was getting at when they wanted to find:

“Mary and Adam Kendall Wedding Night”
Okay, Mary was super pretty and Adam Kendall was dreamy, if not a little dorky.  The episodes where they fell in love were hands-down my favorite episodes of the series.  I feel you, Little House On the Pervy, I do, but there are certain things you need to leave be.  This is one of them.  Might I interest you in Albert and Sylvia Mime Porn?

Note: The videos below do not contain Mime Porn.  But season four does introduce dreamy Adam Kendall.

     

Rhythm Nation: Music, Poetry, Dance, Unity (Part 2)

If you are just joining us, we’re covering Janet Jackson in the late 80s and early 90s.  Last time, we discussed her breakthrough album, Control.  Today? We are a part of the Rhythm Nation.

Coming off the success of Control, A&M wanted Janet to continue the momentum by releasing an album to be called Scandal, which would continue with the theme of separating from her family.  Jackson was ready to move on from that part of her life, and instead desired to create a concept album about social injustice with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis again at the helm.  The result was Rhythm Nation 1814, an achievement in its innovation of programming and sampling as well as its unique voice in bringing social issues to the dance-pop-R&B arena.  What is remarkable about Rhythm Nation is its ability to maintain a consistent and cohesive sound while exploring different genres.  Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are able to tie together songs like new jack “Alright,” the poppy “Escapade,” and the hard rock “Black Cat” seamlessly.

As a companion to the album, Jackson put together a long-form video telling the story of two friends whose dreams are ruined due to drug use.  Admittedly, the story not very memorable, as my friends and I recalled it being about “gangs or something.”  It did succeed in introducing a distinct look and feel for Rhythm Nation, creating an image for the album that still holds to this day – black and white shots of gritty streets and warehouses juxtaposed with a military-style community of dancers.

To support the album, Janet kicked off her first-ever world tour, which remains the most successful debut tour by an artist to this day.  The tour not only promoted the image and message of Rhythm Nation, it also furthered Janet’s image as a role model for young women – many a teen in the early 90s would don the “Janet Jackson Look” of white shirts, black leggings and black jackets.

Janet did her best to make Rhythm Nation a way of life and a positive message for her young fans.  The album kicks off with the title track.  In a sense you can say Control is about the responsibility of taking care of yourself, and Rhythm Nation is about the responsibility of taking care of others.

The video again has a great look to it, but in terms of message, I’m not sure how helpful a Rhythm Nation is in fighting substance abuse.  It’s like, I’m at the lowest point in my life; it’s literally raining on my face, and I’m scared and afraid – how will I go on?… RHYTHM NATION DANCE TEAM, ASSEMBLE! Shoomp-Shoomp “Ho!”, Shoomp-Shoomp “Ho!” – ??? Joking aside, the music and dancing is pretty badass for Miss Jackson.

Continuing on with the social themes, we have “State of the World” and “The Knowledge.”  “State of the World” steps up the lyrics from the previous track, providing more of a landscape for the message of injustice.  “The Knowledge” is another good choice lyrically, fighting against ignorance and drug use.

Then? The album really takes off with the infectious Chaka Kahn-ilicious “Miss You Much.” It’s songs like this, “Escapade” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” that make you forget this is only one album.  On one hand you have the socially conscious songs, but you also have these feel-good songs about love and camaraderie.  These are solid pop songs with catchy melodies and a danceable beat.

If YouTube existed back in the day, I so would have tried to learn all the moves in this video and danced all day in my basement.

After the thoughtful “Livin’ in a World (They Didn’t Make),”  camaraderie and good times continue with “Alright.”  The song is worth mentioning for its delightful video featuring legends Cab Calloway and Cyd Charisse (whose legs deserved a separate credit even at 67 years old):

The highlight of the “B side” of the album is the Jackson-penned “Black Cat.”  Crisply-produced with a touch of guitar-rock edge, the song gave Jackson crossover appeal and showed that like her brother Michael, she was fearless in exploring sounds outside her wheelhouse:
(video)

Finally, as a tie to the coming of age underlying theme of Control, Rhythm Nation and Janet, we have the smooth and breezy “Someday is Tonight,” which is a companion piece to “Let’s Wait a While.” It’s lyrics directly referencing the latter song off Control, this song is subtle and breathy, with Janet dipping her toes into the waters of sensual R&B.  In its quiet way, it is an introduction to her next album, an album that is a much more vocal celebration of  sexual liberation.  It really, really, celebrates the sexy. Next time? Get your hand fan and fainting chair ready, because we’re taking on Janet.
   

Janet, Miss Jackson if You’re Nasty (Part I)

Let me go on record as saying Janet Jackson ruled the universe between 1986 and 1994.

For any girl hitting her formative years in the late 80s and early 90s, Janet’s recordings during this time were a soundtrack for life.  She was a different kind of female role model compared to her contemporaries – strong, self-assured and self-efficient.  The three albums in this time frame, Control, Rhythm Nation and Janet represent a coming of age – the awakening that occurs when you see a world available to you that you never knew existed, with each album representing a different stage of this awakening.

With Janet’s name being tossed around as a potential judge on American Idol, this is as good a time as any to do a retrospective on these three albums.  After the Super Bowl brouhaha and a few albums over the past 10 years that didn’t leave an imprint on the music scene, it’s easy to forget how important Janet Jackson was in the late 80s and early 90s.  She not only helped influence and usher new jack swing into the Hot 100, she inspired young women everywhere.  Today we’ll start with her breakthrough album, Control.

Control
A story of liberation from family

To give you a little background on Janet, prior to this album, her career was managed by her father Joe Jackson.  Joe Jackson’s “management style” for his children is both well-documented and well-speculated upon, containing lovely vignettes like how he demanded Janet stop calling him “dad” when she was seven because he was her manager.  Her two albums prior to Control were under his grip, containing music she had zero input on.  Ultimately, while still a teenager, Janet made the difficult choice of firing her father.  She escaped his world in Hollywood to join Prince proteges Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in Minneapolis to create an album far from the distractions and hauntings of L.A. Six weeks later, the 19 year-old Jackson gave us Control.

If there was ever a more suitably titled album, I cannot think of it.  From the start, the vision of the album is clear; it’s a statement of believing in your own power and not letting anyone get in your way.  This is a vision that is realized through lyrics and through an infectious sound you simply did not hear on the radio in 1986.  The opening track, “Control,” is the story of declaring your independence from family; it’s a statement that everyone must leave home and find their own way.  The opening dialogue to the song introduces the theme of the entire album: “This is a story about control, my control.  Control of what I say, control of what I do.  And this time I’m gonna do it my way.”  She then sings about the importance of calling your own shots and not letting people make decisions on your behalf.  She wants to  “take you by the hand and lead you in this dance, ‘cause what I’ve got is because I took a chance.”

You’ve got to hand it to Janet – to fire your own father, specifically a figure like Joe Jackson, was probably the hardest and scariest thing she ever had to do.  Fans of Janet like myself are grateful she took the chance, because where would she be if she didn’t?  I’ll give you a hint – you probably didn’t even know she had two albums prior to Control, did you?

Here’s Janet rocking it out in video:

Ironically, during the making of this video Joe Jackson was said to be a holy terror on set.  He reportedly lashed out at several people and physically threatened the producer of the video, Sharon Oreck.

Next up on the album is “Nasty”, a song inspired by men who harassed Janet when she was walking to and from the studio. It’s like “These Boots are Made for Walking” in that it is a rare song about a woman who demands respect and proper treatment – she’s not asking you, she’s telling you.  With a fantastic beat backing it, she lets young women know it’s okay to tell someone to BTFO, and you’re not a prude for demanding someone treat you appropriately.  If you look at the top 100 songs of 1986, I challenge you to find another song that has this level of assertion.

Plus? It has some killer choreography from Paula Abdul in the video (who also plays one of Janet’s friends):

If you did check that list of top 100 songs, maybe you did find one other song on the list to challenge “Nasty”: The third track on this album, “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” This is no “Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine.”  All too often in pop music we have songs that are about women who oh-so-adorably-tee-hee can’t leave their asshole boyfriends because, OMG, they’re just so cute and amazing when they don’t completely suck.  The most extreme example of this is the worst song Carole King has ever written, The Crystals, “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).”  Janet turns this sentiment on its head and and puts the asshole boyfriend on notice.

This video has another appearance by Paula Abdul, and again features her choreography.  When you watch and listen to these videos it really drives home how lazy today’s pop music is as a whole – people have their bland voices auto-tuned onto bland, uninspired music, and their dancing is just…well, it ain’t this.

The final song I’ll cover on the album today is “Let’s Wait a While,” although if you are unfamiliar with this album I also recommend checking out Janet’s video for “The Pleasure Principle” – it is another great song, and I particularly love that this video is simply Janet dancing in a studio.  It’s mesmerizing from start to finish.

On “Let’s Wait a While,” Janet makes another important assertion – the song promotes abstinence and waiting for the right time in a relationship.  In the three albums we discover, this is the first song in a series of songs Janet covers about sexual intimacy.  For the final line of the song, she sings “I promise, I’ll be worth the wait.”  You kind of get the sense on Janet that she kinda followed through on that one, because, damn.

But, that’s a story further down the road – next up? We have Janet’s liberation in full bloom and her desire to shine her light on that path for others.  We’ve got Rhythm Nation 1814.
  

N.F.W.: Our New Gossip Commentary!

Even Stock Photo Girl Says, "No. F-ing. Way!"

Here at Menacing Kitten Headquarters, when we’re not drinking Chocotinis, heating inedible frozenstuff, or drooling over James Marsden, we are talking gossip.  We love our blind gossip from Crazy Days and Nights, our “Ding-Dang Y’all, Brittany’s Eating Wings!” exposés of TMZ, and our snarkilicious Dirt Bag from Jezebel.  Because gossip and schadenfreude are dishes best served with said Chocotinis, we decided to start our own little gossip commentary: N.F.W. as in No.F-ing.Way.  Why? Because, OMG, everyone loves an acronym.

So what is going on in the Celeb World on this fine day? Well, there are three stories circling the water cooler at the moment:

1.  STALK OF AGES. 
An entertainment show recently spent an entire half an hour to tell me that Tom and Katie broke up. I know: N.F.W.  Who saw this coming? (Put your hand down Mimi Rodgers, and you too, World).  The entertainment show showed me footage of Oprah visiting Tom and Katie, and they totally looked happy and gave her moccasins. And then Oprah hugged them.  How could they fail? I know, Entertainment Show, I know.  They touched the hem of her garment, yet they were not made whole.  This is really challenging my faith.

Now, both TMZ and Rupert Murdoch are stating that the Church of Scientology is stalking Katie.  According to their credible sources who are photographing her apartment and wiretapping her phones 24-7, this is REALLY CREEPY. Apparently these sources bumped into someone else skulking in the bushes and they were like, who the hell are you? And the person was like, I’m the totally heterosexual, engram-free gardener! And then they were like SCIENTOLOGIST! **snaps photo**

2. TODAY SHOW: WHERE TEARS = SWEET, SWEET CASH:
Once upon a time, there was a morning news show that dominated all morning news shows.  Ruled by the jingle-riffic Katie, Matt, Al and Ann quatrofecto (is that a word? If not, it is now), it was a pleasant show that delivered news in that non-threatening, pre-Regis and Kelly (or was it Kathie Lee?) way, but still managed to get the point across.  In this fair land, reporters gave families a little space after their grief.  They’d wait a few days, possibly a few weeks to allow a family to properly mourn, and they’d have a sit-down interview all in good time.

I remembered the exact moment when this changed.

Following Columbine, Katie Couric sat down with two family members who lost a loved one to the tragedy only a day prior.  At the time, I felt uncomfortable that the Today show procured an interview with someone in mourning so fresh on the heels of tragedy.  Was this appropriate? Was this sensational? I wasn’t entirely sure.  The family’s story brought me to tears, but I couldn’t help but wonder if we should be seeing this.  Even now, I’m not sure what my answer is.

This interview was a defining moment for Couric, and it seemingly changed the landscape of reporting and interviews – everyone clamored after the mourning, looking to get that unforgettable, tears-inducing, ratings bonanza moment.

Fast forward 13 years, and morning news has gone meta – the Today Show, still a part of NBC news but looking more like the Entertainment Show mocked above, decides nothing would be more delicious than to feed the ratings beast the bland diet of everyone’s favorite Human Quinoa, Ann Curry.  Yes, Ann Curry, who has been a loyal employee to the ‘Cock for years, had the pleasure of seeing her name plastered all over the gossip rags thanks to some carefully placed leaks saying she sucked and her bosses wanted her out.  She got to read stories about how her colleague of just as long wouldn’t sign a long term contract unless they booted her.  And then she got to step on television at the height of this feeding frenzy her bosses salivated over, to say through tears that she was canned and her dreams have been shattered.  Then every employee of NBC News made a bully circle around her and pushed her back and forth amongst each other while calling her names and breaking her glasses.  Pig’s blood was dropped from the rafters, a good time was had by all.

I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t really watched the Today Show in years, and I felt Curry was an odd fit for that role.  She always came across as a low-key, down-to-earth kind of chick. That sort of personality just doesn’t fly when on one side of you there’s Matt Lauer interviewing the Kardashians promoting their new Klassy Krap Kamp for Klepto Kids, and Al Roker’s over there on the other side, puppeteering a live lobster as Guy Fieri or whoever the fuck is making Pop Star Poppers for that American Idol finale party you had no intention of throwing.  Look, I used to really enjoy Today – I don’t even mind some of the fluff. But after seeing all of this BS, how can you place it all on Ann Curry? The way they handled her exit is all you need to know about the state of the Today Show and where it’s headed. And NBC – the hell? Is it even remotely possible for you to handle a high-profile firing with even a modicum of decency or common sense?

3. HOLY POO, A TV PERSONALITY HAS A SEXUAL ORIENTATION!
Again - N.F.W.! A charming silver fox who I’ve had a crush on yet always knew in my heart of hearts it would never be reciprocated told everyone he is gay.  The world minus Gawker was like, we all kind of knew this and didn’t care either way, no? Because the world loves the Silver Fox, no matter who he loves.  For those who don’t love him, I don’t count you, because you probably don’t like pina coladas, white Christmases or Singin’ in the Rain either.  DEAD TO ME.  Anyway, he came out, and I long to see the day when no one cares about the gender of the person you love, and this sort of statement isn’t considered newsworthy.  On the other hand, I suppose it will remain newsworthy as long as two men or two women can’t walk around in public simply holding hands without worrying if someone is going to harass them.  Because you know what? That’s still happening.  As a nation, we are still kind of judgey Neanderthals.  Except Neanderthals probably didn’t give a shit if someone was gay.  They probably saw two gay cavemen and were like, huh, that’s a different way of going about things, shrugged their shoulders and resumed punching a bison in the face.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Les Miserables – Hollywood, Please Don’t F this Up

Les Miz fans have been waiting for years – years! – to see the musical come to the big screen.  I am no exception – I first saw Les Miserables at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway when I was in high school.  We went on a field trip to see it, and it was so moving and engaging, even the metalheads and punk guys in my class dug it.  They all bought the soundtrack and would start reciting parts of it at random times (the Javert/Valjean confrontation was a particular favorite – and is apparently also a favorite of Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segal and OK Go).  As for me, I am not a huge musical theater person, but I fell in love with Les Miz because it wasn’t your typical goofy musical.  Like Phantom of the Opera, it’s more like a modern day opera and tells a beautiful tale of redemption.  I owned both the Broadway soundtrack and the Complete Symphonic Recording, and there was a point in my life I could recite all three hours of the musical by heart.  I have no doubt I am but one of many, many fans who can do that.

Now that we are finally getting our beloved musical on the big screen, I’m naturally getting a little nervous about the execution.  Let’s face it; Hollywood is consistently good at two things – blowing shit up and destroying adaptations. Just seeing the word “adaptation” makes me break out in hives.  The worst-case scenario for me is if they killed a big chunk of the musical aspect of Les Miz.  Due to staging, I understand they have to make a few changes.  Because people love the Epic CGI Battle where a shitload of people/animals/manimals run down two hills to collide and get shot with arrows and knocked off of horses and shit in a grand orgy of violence, I am truly cringing at what the French Revolution battle scene could look like.  I’ll deal with it.  Hollywood, I know you need your Tolkein Fight Scene in every movie with a battle (Get it? Ha! …erm…sorry….).  Fine.  But if the libretto and key songs are significantly changed or removed? Your Les Miz Frankenzombie is dead to me.  Unless you actually make it a zombie adaptation, because I’m not sure I can resist that.

At any rate, I’d like to share my thoughts on some of the casting:

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean:  As the cast started to get leaked/unveiled to the world, I found myself thinking, “I love all of these actors, but for this? I don’t know…I hope it works…” I love Hugh Jackman.  Who doesn’t? My friends, I saw that damned Van Helsing movie – in the theater – just for him (to the movie’s credit, it’s still better than X-Men 3, which I also sat in a theater for).  But is he Jean Valjean? Can he sing “2-4-6-0-Ooooonnnne!!!!” at the end of “Who am I?” Or the sweet falsetto of “Bring Him Home?” Then I came across this on YouTube.    He’s totally Jean Valjean!  Now? I can’t wait.

Russell Crowe as Javert:  I have never seen a Russell Crowe movie I didn’t like (although I wasn’t a huge fan of Gladiator – as you can guess by my assessment of the Tolkein Fight Scenes above, it’s not my cup of tea), and I think he’s a fine actor.  For the acting piece of the movie, he’s going to own the shit out of Javert – I have no doubt of this.  I haven’t heard him sing this style of music, so I don’t know what to expect.  That said, Crowe has been tweeting awesomeness under a #lesmis hashtag, and it appears he is really, really digging the role.  This has me kind of excited and reassured.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine: I love Anne Hathaway, to the point where I am intrigued by her playing Catwoman in the upcoming Batman movie.  For this however? Ehhh… I don’t know.  Fantine pre-French Whore was beautiful and had an enchanting smile, so Anne certainly fits that description, but the one screenshot I’ve seen of her from the movie isn’t working for me, and it has nothing to do with her personally.  She looks more like she’d be in an alt-folk act touring in 90s-era Lilith Fair than a destitute prostitute.  Overall, the picture is confusing to me – by the time she sold her hair (for 10 francs – it pays a debt, 10 francs may save my poor Coseeetttte!) and saw Valjean again, she was already sick from TB. Here she’s looking pretty healthy and not quite grotesque. I dunno.  At the same time, it’s a musical; how many people break into song right before they die from TB?? You need to suspend a little disbelief.  She does have a lovely singing voice, so we’ll see, I guess.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette: I will admit right now – I know who she is, but I have never seen anything she has been in, so I have no idea if she can act or has the voice for Cosette.  I personally would have liked to see Emmy Rossum in this role (who was great in Phantom), but I’m open to it.  Honestly, in the musical, Cosette is the most boring of the leads, so I’m pretty indifferent.

Samantha Barks as Eponine: I am so delighted they chose one of the best Eponines from the musical’s run to play this role.  If you haven’t heard her, Barks will bring you to tears when she sings “On My Own.”  She’s awesome.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers: Hell, hell yes to this.  I really don’t know what else to say other than this is particularly great casting and I’m eagerly awaiting to see them be simultaneously hilarious and repulsive in their respective roles.

Eddie Redmayne as Marius: I know nothing about this actor other than he has a great voice for the role (based on my YouTube research).  I just want to point out that if this was made even 7-10 years ago, My Celebrity Boo James Marsden would have made the best Marius.  He’s handsome, and his voice reminds me of Michael Ball, who received the Kanye Award for Best Marius Pontmercy of ALL TIME.  Even 10 years ago, Marsden would have been technically too old to play Marius, but he looks much younger than he actually is and I would have loved to see it.  Of course, this would have resulted in me standing up in the middle of the theater during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” calling out to the screen, “I LOVE YOU JAMES MARSDEN!! YOU CAN SIT AT MY TABLE ANY TIME!!” Which would not only ruin one of the most dramatic moments in the movie, it would unleash the worst innuendo ever into the world.  And I’d get kicked out.

…While we’re on this topic, can we make an X-Men: The Musical happen, so I can get Hugh Jackman and James Marsden singing together onscreen? Sure, the fanboys would hate it, but still? Better than X-Men 3.

Going back to Les Miz, Redmayne’s voice is killer for the part.  If they do Les Miz right and it’s a hit, I have a feeling teenage girls will swoon for him after all of this.  I feel really old saying that…

Les Miz fans? Let me know what you’re thinking about the movie or the cast below in the comments.

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Four Books to Challenge Your Views

There are certain books you come across in life that make you so angry, you want to throw the book across the room by the end of it. It is as if the book ropes you in on a certain premise then pulls the rug out from under you, opening your eyes to a dirty, awful truth.  It is a truth that cannot be unseen, and is a truth that cannot be contained within pages or a collection of 1s and 0s on a Kindle.   The four books below made me angry, they made me want to learn and do more, and they all challenged my thinking in a profound way.  As a reminder, I’m not an Amazon affiliate or anything; this is just me sharing a few favorite books with you. [Full disclosure: update as of 5/7 - I joined Amazon, and yes, I am linking these books, but it is still about things I love - if I wanted to really sell out, I'd do a list like, "Four Big Screen TVs to Blow Your Mind."]


Circumstantial Evidence by Pete Earley

Whenever I hear about a case where a person seemed to be wrongly convicted, I think of this book.  It is a non-fiction account of how in 1986, an African-American man with no criminal history was found guilty of murdering a white woman in Alabama and had his sentence changed from life in prison to the death penalty by the presiding judge.  The book tells the story of how a corrupt prosecutor and a culture of racism almost killed an innocent man.  In the defendant’s case, he was lucky to have the Innocence Project and a 60 Minutes exposé on his side.  After reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people were on death row under similar circumstances who weren’t able to grab the national attention this case received.

 

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

This may come as a surprise to you, but I really enjoyed reading this book.  To Ayn Rand’s credit, this book was unlike any other of its time – it featured a “strong” woman (in quotes because Dominique was way too much of a Roarke fangirl), the heroes of the book openly had affairs, and the bad guys were into charity.  What? She does a good job of making the “bad guys” unlikeable, and it is page-turning fiction.  On one level, the book is nothing short of absurd – the trial scene in particular laughable and ridiculous.  Yet…it’s like sci-fi/fantasy, using an alternate reality of our world.  Rand didn’t see it as an alternate reality, nor do her legions of followers.  Until rich people actually make like a Rand character and petulantly hold their breath until the world lets them be the racecar in Monopoly or whatever the fuck spoiled brat thing Rand characters always do, I’m calling it fantasy.

After reading The Fountainhead, I went on a crazy Ayn Rand kick – I read Atlas Shrugged and a lot of Objectivist literature.  I’ll be honest with you, when the economy tanked in 2007, I was shocked at how many people pulled out their Cliff’s Notes of Atlas Shrugged and started quoting it.  For me, when 2007 happened, I took one look at my mongo-sized copy of Atlas Shrugged and thought, “well, there goes that theory…”

To each his own, I guess.


Animal Farm by George Orwell

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  Even though Orwell wrote this book as a satire of Stalinism, time and time again, we see our world mirror that of Animal Farm.  Orwell had said he came up with the idea for the book after seeing a boy on a farm whipping a farm animal, stating “men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”  As we see various movements rise and fall in today’s world, one can’t help but wonder who in these movements is the Snowball or the Napoleon. We see certain individuals state they are for the people, yet are in bed with the rich and powerful.  We see people following these individuals without bothering to educate themselves on the facts.  This happens now, and it’s happened many times before.  Animal Farm shows the consequences for blindly following a movement, and placing an unwavering trust in a select few.  The United States may be one of the only countries in history to successfully overthrow a government and turn it over to the people, but at times we dance dangerously close to handing our rights away to the pigs.

 

Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer

The general public may think they know the story of Pat Tillman – football star turns away from millions of dollars to join the military, dies valiantly fighting the enemy… if you’ve followed the story beyond that, you’ll know that he actually died from friendly fire and oops! those initial reports were incorrect and were in no way deliberately misleading. No, not at all.  Tillman was a man who defied every stereotype – he was considered to be too short to play football on an elite level yet managed to be a starter in the NFL.  He was a scholar, graduating with a 3.85 GPA in under four years.  He was an atheist, read the Book of Mormon and the Quran, and joined the military not out of patriotism or religious reasons, but because he wanted to push himself to reach his full potential as a human being.  He became an elite Army ranger yet questioned military groupthink and protocol often.  As is the case with many of Krakauer’s books, the main subject is only a part of a much larger story Krakauer wants to tell.  This is not only a biography of a fascinating person, but is also a history of U.S. relations in the middle east, a commentary on the Bush Doctrine, and a story of a military so desperate for good PR, they disgraced the memory of a man who died for their cause.  While I felt Krakauer spent far too much time on the 2000 election, the story is told with unrelenting passion and left me wanting to honor Tillman’s memory by being a better person.

Looking to purchase any of these books or anything else on Amazon? Support The Menacing Kitten by purchasing Amazon products through this web site. Like this sexy, sexy Kindle Touch (which I own and love):

 

Favorite Debut Albums in My Lifetime

Note: I had hoped to put YouTube videos on here for each song, but I got the WMG No-Embed Cockblock. I hate that. So instead, I created links to take you to YouTube’s page in a separate window.  How does that prevent piracy again?? Anyhoo…

I love debut albums because there is a certain “force to be reckoned with” feeling about them.  They feel young, fresh and relentless.  They are a snapshot of an artist’s potential before the world gets its grubby little hands on them and ruins them.  Certainly, some artists still put out great stuff after their debut, but for many, the first album is the best in the collection.  The five albums below are debuts that were released in my lifetime that I particularly love.  A strong argument can be made that each of the albums are the best in that artist’s catalog.

What are your favorite debut albums?  Post them in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!

The Cars: The Cars (1978)
I’ve always seen The Cars as a band who never quite fit the mold of new wave the way other bands did; they weren’t overly top 40 like Blondie (at least not until Shake it Up), and they weren’t overly esoteric like early Talking Heads or Devo.  Sure, their debut album has at least six out of 9 tracks still in regular radio rotation, but when those songs come on they sound like nothing else.  They are a little Roxy Music, a little Velvet Underground, a pinch of stadium anthem.

The Cars was recorded in a mere 12 days with the legendary Roy Thomas Baker at the helm as producer.  When listening to the demos and rejected tracks for the album, the listener realizes how perilously close this debut came to being “just another 70s rock album.” Instead, we get this great mixture of songs that created a classic.

I chose “Bye Bye Love” for the “representative” song off the album, because I see it as the quintessential Cars song.  Although it was never released as a single, it’s both poppy and rock, intelligent and poetic, combining the perfect mixture of guitar and synth.  “Bye Bye Love” gives the listener a sneak peak into the future greatness of their second album, Candy-O.

 

Van Halen: Van Halen (1978)
When I listen to this album, I wonder how people reacted to it when it came out.  It opens with “Running With the Devil,” which is mainstream enough, but then you have “Eruption.”  When people heard it the first time, did they feel like they were listening to a person who was about to become a legend? Was it the kind of thing where they’d play it for their friends and say, “you have got to listen to this!”  See, my music memories began when all of the Eddie wannabes started to come out of the woodwork.  Van Halen is my 2nd-favorite band (next to The Cars), yet I take Eddie’s style for granted, because his imitators almost drown him out.

After “Eruption,” they bring us “You Really Got Me.”  The party begins, and doesn’t let up until many albums later.  I love the “live” sound on this album, and it’s one of Michael Anthony’s better albums for the bass. As in, you can actually hear the bass on this one.  What I love about Van Halen and the Roth-era stuff, is they give you the loud, fun crowd-pleasers, but they always include something a little playful and Vaudevillian.  On their debut, they have the double-entendre “Ice Cream Man,” and the doo wop section of “I’m the One.”  I know a lot of people who hate Van Halen, and I get it – they are at their worst, a bunch of misogynist, slovenly, juvenile, drunken cavemen.  That’s normally something I’d get really mad about, but I’m too busy dancing and banging my head to care.  

Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
1978 was a good year for music. I actually didn’t discover this album until recently – I came across “Uncontrollable Urge” and was surprised that this fun, mosh-worthy song came from the guys who did “Whip It.”   The entire album is high-energy, weird and kinda ballsy.  Let’s face it, who would take a rock classic like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and completely deconstruct it?

Are We Not Men is not some organic, natural act of God.  It is dissonant, detatched, quirky, high-tech punk that came to us via transmogrifier.

When selecting a song from YouTube to go with this link, it came down to “Satisfaction” or “Uncontrollable Urge.” If you have to choose one, go with “Satisfaction,” because if you haven’t heard it before, you should.  You’ll probably hate it, but I love it.  If you can listen to both, check out “Uncontrollable Urge” – I’m linking it to a great live performance of it.  I think he had to play the rest of the concert in his tight whities, judging by other clips I’ve watched…

Guns N Roses: Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Guns N Roses reminds me of Junior High – it seemed like one or two people knew of them around the start of 7th grade, and then overnight everyone had a GNR concert shirt.  Their success somehow ushered in the hair metal heyday, even though they weren’t a “hair” band themselves, and their music was miles above their contemporaries.

When I bought Appetite for Destruction and put it in my tape player, I felt like I was doing something bad.  The album was raw, angry and celebrated all the things Nancy Reagan told me to say no to.  My eyes widened listening to “It’s So Easy.”  When the album closed with “Rocket Queen,” I turned my radio down just below “1” so my parents wouldn’t hear the dirty, audio pornography I was listening to. Up to that point they were pretty cool with not intervening with my choice in music, but if any song could change that, it was “Rocket Queen.”

When selecting a song from this album, I chose “Welcome to the Jungle”.  It was their first single, although it didn’t really take off until after “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”  I feel it best represents the craziness that is Appetite.  Plus? We get to see Axl’s short-lived Aqua Net days in the video.

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes (1992)
In my senior year of high school, I remember flipping through the channels and landing on VH1.  A red-headed female piano was singing an unusual song.  Her mannerisms were very feminine and very sexual.  I felt captivated – I remember thinking it was cool in a world of Billy Joel and Elton John, there was this woman kicking ass on the piano on my TV.  I’d never seen that before.  Yet, she was so…odd.

I didn’t think about Tori Amos much again until my Freshman year of college.  Little Earthquakes became the soundtrack to a year of my life, a life that became very difficult due to severe depression and a lack of self-esteem.  There were moments I hated myself, and Little Earthquakes was a dose of brutal honesty and compassion with every listen.  Songs like “Leather” and “Winter” spoke to a part of me I was afraid to acknowledge. Tori sang about the things ladies weren’t supposed to sing about, and in doing so, she made it all a little less shameful.

When I was selecting songs for this blog, I came across this performance of “Silent All These Years.”  I have listened to this song a hundred times easily, yet this time it made me tear up a little.

 

So, those are my five – what are your favorites?

Four Books for Holiday Break

It would make a lot of sense for me to become an Amazon affiliate at this point and make money off of any recommendations I send your way.   I could tell you about the books I love to read, provide a nifty link to Amazon, and get my hands on that sweet, sweet, affiliate money.  Considering I appreciate my viewers and don’t want to scare off the five of you who actually read my blog, I think I’m going to pass on the whole affiliate thing for now and just list these four random books I absolutely love.  Besides, as my friend Nate (1/2 of the Whoopsie Daisies) sings in his song: “You can’t sell out if you can’t sell anything.”   So true, so true… I can’t, and I can’t.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
This non-fiction story turns the academic world of art history into a detective story involving a grad student who makes a career-defining discovery.  Despite the dismissive nature of their professor, she follows a lead and attempts to track down a lost painting by Caravaggio.  Her research takes her through Italy, encountering an eccentric Countess, incompetent restorers, and competitors who attempt to steal her glory.  The story takes you through the fascinating process of how a researcher confirms the authenticity of a painting from painstaking research to the forensics involved.  The book is written for a general audience, and tells the story in a way that is engaging to anyone, not just those of us who are art history nerds.

 

 

 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Why couldn’t we read books like this growing up?  This book has everything – romance, betrayal, a prison break, hidden treasure, revenge, Carnivale, and a lead character who is kind of intense and sexy.  I read a version of the book that Barnes and Noble printed, and while it translated beautifully, it was abridged.  They wound up abridging far too much, leaving out key components in the Count’s plot to exact revenge on those who betrayed him.  If you pick up this book (and I highly recommend you do), grab the unabridged version.  The book is a fun read, and you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

 

 

 

 

Replay by Ken Grimwood
Replay was originally published quietly in the late 1980s, and faded to out-of-print oblivion shortly thereafter.  Through word-of-mouth, the book gained a cult-like following, which led to its return to print over the past few years.  I believe the cult-like following is due to the odd effect the book has on its readers.  The plot seems simple enough – a man dies of a heart attack at the age of 43 only to wake up in his dorm room in the 60s, as his 19 year-old self.  He discovers that he is replaying his life, and uses his knowledge and wisdom to make his life turn out differently.  This occurrence doesn’t happen only once – every time he hits the age of 43, he dies and his life replays over and over again.  With each replay, he makes different discoveries and mistakes, and odd changes begin to occur.  After reading the book, I wondered: if I woke up as my 19 year-old self, what would I do differently?  I began to have recurring dreams that I was in my own replay.  As the concept captured my imagination, I realized “Replay’s” powerful message: we don’t get a replay in life, so live your life fearlessly and take advantage of opportunities as they appear, because you may never get that chance again.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Okay, I’ll admit – when I first saw this book in Barnes and Noble, I thought it was some cheesy chick-romance novel.  Despite my skepticism, I picked it up because the time travel plot was intriguing.  It has become one of my favorite books.  The two main characters, Clare and Henry, are the most likeable romantic leads I’ve ever read – despite the sci-fi element, their relationship feels real, containing ups and downs, comical and tragic moments.  Niffenegger’s story is narrated by each of them, and jumps around in time as it follows the progression of their relationship.  The book manages to be romantic without being sappy or maudlin.

After reading this book, I eagerly awaited Niffenegger’s second novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry.”  If you loved Time Traveler’s Wife and are thinking of picking this book up, don’t.  It’s fascinating for the first half, but the main characters suddenly become consumed with selfishness and stupidity in the second half to the point the entire novel is unbearable.  I’m hoping for her third book, she can regroup and recapture what made Time Traveler’s Wife so special and beautiful.