Man with a Movie Camera

Right from the opening credits sequence, Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera states in no uncertain terms its goals in showing the unique qualities of film.  As it’s a silent film, the selected soundtrack plays a key role in determining the texture of the film.  The version I watched was paired with the Alloy Orchestra soundtrack, which provides a brilliantly kinetic and vibrant modernist accompaniment.  My only gripe with it is that the addition of sound effects (such as car horns and the crying of a baby) feels like it co-opts the director’s role in establishing the ground rules for the film.

While the film very much acts as a primer to then groundbreaking film effects such as tracking shots and point-of-view framing, Man with a Movie Camera still works quite well as an avant-garde art film.  The rhythmic cutting, particularly towards the end of the film, feels extremely modern even when coupled with the particularly Soviet shots of unidentifiable machinery in action.

Sight and Sound recently ranked Man with a Movie Camera at #8 on it’s top films.  While I think that Man with a Movie Camera should absolutely be one of the first films a Film 101 student sees, putting it in the top ten of all time seems akin to ranking the Apple I as the best personal computer or Texaco Star Theater as a top television show.  Man with a Movie Camera is absolutely a hypnotic and timeless film, but its impact in establishing the modern filmmaking vocabulary is its greater contribution.

Arbitrary song of the day: Destroyer – The Laziest River

Cranston Grahams

Cranston Grahams

This is the dumbest thing I have spent time on.

Top 20 Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episodes

The return of Beavis and Butt-Head got me thinking how plausible a Mystery Science Theater 3000 resurrection would be.  Obviously MST3k is a much smaller (though arguably more passionate) cult classic but they both riff on the bizarre bits of popular culture.  MST3k was pretty cheap to produce; most of the budget would likely go towards licensing the films themselves.  Film licensing would likely be much greater than the Comedy Central and Sci-Fi Channel years for a couple reasons.  First, whatever network would probably want to get more recent and heard-of movies.  I can’t see a respectable network greenlighting two hours for riffing on a random black and white Roger Corman movie.  Second, the network would want a longer term license than the old episodes got.  The old expired licenses have made releasing DVDs a pain and syndication possibilities nonexistent.

This would never happen of course.  It’s fun to imagine though, especially in a time when we have seen Beavis and Butt-Head resurrected and acclaimed (but low-rated) Louie produced for dirt-cheap.  Anyways, we can still enjoy RiffTrax and other MST3k spiritual reincarnates.

In any case, I enjoy lists, so here’s a list of my 20 favorite MST3k episodes.  As you can tell, I’m a Mike guy.

  1. Squirm (short: A Case of Spring Fever) — Squirm is a fantastic episode in itself, but the fact that it’s paired with the best MST3k short really puts it over the top.  It kind of blew my mind to see that they actually referenced Springs as early as season 3 with Crow as “Willy the Waffle”.
  2. HobgoblinsHobgoblins is a fun film in itself.  It’s pure 80s nonsense that was probably a blast to film.
  3. The Deadly Bees – The best part is the inexplicable ending.
  4. Time Chasers – “Chinderwear” jokes are never not funny.
  5. Jack Frost – This Soviet fairytale is probably the most bizarre MST3k film.
  6. The Screaming Skull (short: Robot Rumpus)
  7. Werewolf – The “Where Oh Werewolf” song is a highlight.  Also, “Wer-wilf” – courtesy of a cast that seems to have learned their lines phonetically.
  8. Space MutinyThe Many Names of David Ryder.
  9. Mitchell – My favorite Joel-era episode.  I kind of like Joe Don Baker, see also Final Justice.
  10. Parts: The Clonus HorrorParts is entirely watchable with Dick Sargent and Peter Graves.  In fact, The Island basically took this premise and make it slightly more of an actual film.
  11. For Castleton!

    Is his office in a branch library?

  12. Overdrawn at the Memory Bank – The absurd lines of Overdrawn manage to sound even more ridiculous when coming out of actual actor Raúl Juliá.
  13. Soultaker – 90 minutes of Joe Estevez jokes?  Yes, please.
  14. The Space Children (short: Century 21 Calling) – The short is a gem and I’m a sucker for old “technology of the future!” infomercials.
  15. The Mole People – John Agar is the perfect B-movie protagonist to make fun of.  See also: Revenge of the Creature.
  16. Riding With Death – The two barely connected TV episodes smushed together to make a film combined with the Ben Murphy/turkeys running gag makes this one an underrated gem.  My patent papers are at a slight angle, Sam!
  17. Diabolik
  18. The Pumaman – The rear-projection in The Pumaman might be the funniest special effect of an MST’d movie.  Pumaman he flies like a moron!
  19. Invasion of the Neptune Men – Terrible adult voice actors voicing Japanese children can’t help but be hilarious.  Also, a special guest appearance from Krankor!
  20. It Lives by Night
  21. The Touch of a Satan – This has one of my favorite bewildering lines of movie dialog (second is probably “Sargassum… weed of deceit!”).

Almost all MST3k episodes are available on Youtube, so head over there if you want to sample some of the Satellite of Love’s wares.  Keep circulating the tapes!

Arbitrary song of the day: Caribou – Yeti

The Correct 2011 Emmy Comedy Nominations

Ron Swanson sternly disapproves.

Ron Swanson looks on in stern disapproval.

Nobody actually cares about or respects the Emmys (or Oscars or Grammys).  I could now write some caveats about how they are inconsistent, how they sometimes get it right and mostly get it wrong, but instead I’ll just say that The Wire was nominated for a total of two Emmys and we’ll leave it at that.  I didn’t watch enough of the drama entrants in question and I’m not going to pretend that I did either (unlike the Emmy voters – zing!) in order to render judgments on that side of the ballot.  We’ll just stick to the Comedy categories.

So, here are my nominations for the 2010-2011 Emmys.  For this exercise, I’m playing by the same rules as the Emmys, eg. whatever category an actor chooses to nominate themselves in is what they get considered as.  So, since Rob Lowe thinks he’s a Parks & Recreation lead, he doesn’t get a shot at the supporting category.  Additionally, I’m not putting a quota on any of the categories, but I’ll be around approximately the number nominated by ATAS.  All my nominees are listed in alphabetical order with my winner in bold.

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Archer
  • Community
  • Cougar Town
  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Louie
  • Parks & Recreation

There were a lot of worthy candidates for this list, including the uproarious Childrens Hospital which just misses the cut, though it possesses the highest laughs/minute ratio of any show on television.  While Community and Louie delivered some of the most memorable moments of the year, Parks & Recreation took it into peak Simpsons territory, getting close to Arrested Development country.  I’d put this season of P&R against the best seasons of The Office any day.  Cougar Town of course wins most improved.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Steve Carell, The Office
  • Louis C.K., Louie
  • Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live
  • Glenn Howerton, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Joel McHale, Community

Alec Baldwin is reigning king of this category, but it’s more than possible that Steve Carell will actually win his first Emmy.  Bill Hader has without a doubt been the MVP of SNL.  Even with dubious at best writing, Hader has kept SNL watchable even when Kristen Wiig’s irritating characters threaten to take over.  Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny gets the nomination as he was just fantastic as Dennis at his most sleazy in “The Gang Buys a Boat”.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  • Patricia Heaton, The Middle
  • Mary Louise Parker, Weeds
  • Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation

Weeds improved after a forgettable year in Mexico and while most of the comedic focus lies elsewhere, Parker provided a good mix of being likable and contemptible.  Amy Poehler’s loopy turn in “Flu Season” was a high point in comedy this season though.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Ty Burrell, Modern Family
  • Charlie Day, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Donald Glover, Community
  • Justin Kirk, Weeds
  • Danny Pudi, Community
  • Nick Offerman, Parks & Recreation

If the Emmy voters paid any attention, this award would be a walk in the park for Ron Swanson.  While I thought Modern Family fell off a lot this year in the writing department, actor and Reggie Cleveland All-Star Ty Burrell continued to be able to carry most of the Phil-heavy episodes.  Weeds is probably a bit over-represented in these awards, as it hasn’t been a great show for a couple years, but Justin Kirk as Andy Botwin basically kept this show in the “Comedy” category by himself.  Glover and Pudi have some of the best chemistry on television and I’m glad Offerman made it easy so I don’t have to choose between them.  It’s kind of criminal that I didn’t manage to squeeze Chris Pratt in here somehow.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Alison Brie, Community
  • Busy Phillips, Cougar Town
  • Aubrey Plaza, Parks & Recreation
  • Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Amy Ryan, The Office
  • Sofia Vergara, Modern Family

Alison Brie got upgraded to more of a comedic role this year in Community and broke out as Annie.  Aubrey Plaza continued to be great as April while adding more heart to the role.  Busy Phillips gets the win though for consistently bringing the funny as well as adding empathy where you wouldn’t expect it.

Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Will Arnett, “Plan B”, 30 Rock
  • Jim Carrey, Saturday Night Live
  • Sam Lloyd, “Something Good Coming”, Cougar Town
  • Rob Lowe, “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, Californication

Congratulations, Rob Lowe, you get an award!  As a guest actor!  But seriously, he was fantastic as actor/lunatic Eddie Nero bringing an insane energy to his scenes in Californication.

Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live
  • Megan Mullally, “Ron & Tammy: Part Two”, Parks & Recreation
  • Betty White, “Anthropology 101″, Community

It’s difficult to turn down Mullally, but you cannot hope to contain Betty White.

Animated Program

  • Archer, “Pipeline Fever”
  • Community, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
  • Futurama, “The Late Philip J. Fry”
  • South Park, “Crack Baby Athletic Association”

It’s been another week South Park season, but “Crack Baby” was a good mixture of Parker and Stone’s signature heavy-handed allegory and hilarity.  “The Late Philip J. Fry” is the first episode of Futurama‘s post-FOX years that I would put in the pantheon of great Futurama episodes.

Directing for a Comedy Series

  • Richard Ayoade, “Critical Film Studies”, Community
  • Louis C.K., “Bully”, Louie
  • Paul Feig, “Goodbye Michael”, The Office
  • Joe Russo, “A Fistful of Paintballs”, Community
  • David Wain, “Hot Enough for You?”, Childrens Hospital

Louis C.K. did a great job throughout the first season of Louie, taking us in unexpected directions while keeping the show coherent.  “Bully” best exemplifies this, with Louis C.K. taking us on a journey through a strange date night that ends up with him at the family house of a young ne’er-do-well.  Joe Russo did a great job on the atmosphere and Western motifs of “A Fistful of Paintballs” that shows off Community‘s signature style.  But Brit comedian Ayoade takes home this one for one of the most notorious television episodes of this past season.  Such a strange episode, but he expertly pulled it off behind the camera.

Writing for a Comedy Series

  • Louis C.K., Louie

I originally came up with a list that included some top episodes like Community‘s “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”, but there’s no way anyone should win this except Louie.

Voice-over Performance

  • H. Jon Benjamin, Archer
  • Eugene Mirman, Bob’s Burgers
  • Kristen Schaal, Bob’s Burgers
  • Jessica Walter, Archer
  • Billy West, Futurama

That Brenda Strong gets nominated for her ear-stabbingly bad voice-overs on Desperate Housewives* while H. Jon Benjamin is nowhere to be found is crazy to me.  Can we just change the name of this category to the “H. Jon Benjamin Award for Excellence in Voice Acting”?

*I haven’t watched since the end of season one, but I’ll assume she’s still doing her lines like she’s reading a children’s book aloud.  Also, she is Sally Sasser and no one likes Sally Sasser.

Original Main Title Theme Music

So maybe the Hawaii 5-0‘s isn’t exactly original, but they still did a heck of a job reworking the original.  As Alan Sepinwall joked, Mr. Sunshine certainly wins the five-syllables-and-under category.  But, yeah, there’s no way Terriers shouldn’t have been nominated in this category.

Arbitrary song of the day: Benoit & Sergio – Principles

Babylon 5: Season 1 – Only the essentials, please

So, here’s the deal with the first season of Babylon 5: it isn’t very good.  Here’s the deal with seasons 2-4 (and chunks of 5): it IS very good.  There are a few problems with season 1:

  • Inferior/hokey acting – Michael O’Hare’s Jeffrey Sinclair feels more suited to a a detective in a classic melodrama than a space station commander.  Sinclair’s replacement, John Sheridan, is a character with more depth played by a better actor (Bruce Boxleitner/Tron).  It would have been worse had they kept Dr. Benjamin Kyle and Laurel Takashima, though the latter can at least be partially chalked up to the notes of network execs.  In later seasons, they let Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas do the heavy lifting as far as acting is concerned.
  • Inferior special effects – In the show’s defense, it was 1994 with a limited budget.  They did figure out how to do better with what they had in later seasons though.  Not the made-for-TV-movies though; those are classic overreaching Sci-Fi Channel original quality effects there.
  • Fewer relevant/interesting arc plots – It’s just something most incarnations of Star Trek did better (especially the partial contemporary ST:TNG) due to both the nature of the show and generally more irreverent characters.
  • There are enough important plot points that you can’t just skip it entirely.

Sheridan > Sinclair, as much of a landslide as Picard over Kirk

Let’s go through the episodes one by one.  The essentials will be in bold.  I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.

0. “The Gathering” (Pilot) – Obviously.
1. “Midnight on the Firing Line” – Essentially a second pilot.
2. Soul Hunter – Some important (but later repeated) bits about Minbari history/culture
3. Born to the Purple – Introduction of Londo’s love Adira; nice bit at the end with Ivanova
4. Infection – Almost entirely self-contained and one of the show’s cornier and weaker episodes
5. The Parliament of Dreams – Little of note, except an Emmy win for best makeup if you happen to be really into that
6. “Mind War” – Introduction of Bester, Psi-Corp plot points; not the most essential, but there’s enough here that I’d be hesitant to skip it
7. The War Prayer – Fairly typical episode from the sci-fi vein of the Arranged Marriage trope
8. “And the Sky Full of Stars” - Important Earth-Minbari war stuff
9. Deathwalker – Skippable, but I’d watch the sections of the episode with Abbut and Kosh (rule of thumb: anything with Kosh is worth watching)
10. Believers – I’m pretty sure every iteration of Star Trek has done an episode like this.  It needs someone like Picard to make it interesting and Sinclair is no Picard.
11. Survivors – Meh.
12. By Any Means Necessary – Some nice stuff here with Londo and G’Kar, so I’d watch this one, but isn’t essential
13. “Signs and Portents” – Signs AND portents?  Yes, that would qualify.  The introduction of Mr. Morden.
14. TKO – I like Ivanova’s (non-essential) half of the episode, but the other half might not be worth it
15. Grail – Not much arc stuff, even according to JMS (creator/writer J. Michael Straczynski)
16. Eyes – Non-essential, but Ivanova-heavy A-plot and fun Garibaldi/Lennier B-plot makes it a fun episode
17. “Legacies” – Not a super episode, but some necessary stuff with the Earth-Minbari war
18. “A Voice in the Wilderness: Part 1″ – Introduction of the Great Machine and a decent two parter
19. “A Voice in the Wilderness: Part 2″ – Well, you watched Part 1, you should probably watch Part 2
20. “Babylon Squared” – Lots of arc stuff going on and probably the best Season 1 episode
21. The Quality of Mercy – Introduces the alien healing machine, but nothing that won’t be recapped later in the series
22. “Chrysalis” – Season finale and probably the most essential first season episode

That’s approximately 10 hours, which sounds like the right amount to me.  Good luck with season 1, which can be found streaming for free on The WB’s website (B5‘s first few seasons ran on a Warner Brothers owned network) or along with the rest of the series on Netflix.

Arbitrary song of the day: Battles – Ice Cream

Female names in Smashing Pumpkins songs

Billy Corgan has always included a lot of female names in the songs of The Smashing Pumpkins.  I was curious as to just how many he used throughout The Smashing Pumpkins discography.  As you can see, this trend peaked in the mid/late ’90s with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Adore.

Dahlia (“My Dahlia” – Light into Dark)
Tristessa (“Tristessa” – Gish)
Starla (“Starla” – I Am One Single)
June (“Bye June” – Lull EP)
Glynis (“Glynis” – No Alternative)
Justine (“1979″ – MCIS)
Ruby (“Thru the Eyes of Ruby” – MCIS)
Judy (“Stumbleine” – MCIS)
Sally (“Stumbeleine”- MCIS)
Ruby (“Stumbleine” – MCIS)
Mary (“XYU”- MCIS)
Lily (“Lily (My One and Only)” – MCIS)
Sheila (“To Sheila” – Adore)
Ava* (“Ava Adore” – Adore)
Daphne* (“Daphne Descends” – Adore)
Dusty (“The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete” – Adore)
Annie (“Annie-Dog” – Adore)
Martha* (“For Martha” – Adore)
Rosemary (“Summer” – Perfect Single)

*Name in track title only.

Did I miss any?

Arbitrary song of the day: El Guincho – Bombay

New musics for you

I took some time and uploaded a couple of EPs to Jamendo under CC-BY-NC-SA license.  Basically, that means you get to download it for free and distribute it as you like.

Here is a link to The Poplar EP, which I think is the one you should download and listen to first.  It’s a very small, but melodic sound – like Kompakt fed through a pop machine.  “Imagination Cake” off of it is probably the most fun track I’ve written, so check it out.  If you like that one, then try out The Birch EP.

Arbitrary song of the day: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – I Love Creedence

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