Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jordyn's List: The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

Reverend LaSalle: "I shall pray for you, Bean. This land abounds in ruffians and varmints. Their numbers are legion, their evil skills commensurate."
Bean: "Piss on 'em."

I am almost willing to bet my toes that you have never seen or heard of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Considering it's a star vehicle for Paul Newman, directed by John Huston, and written by John Milius, that is quite a fucking feat. But in spite of the big names attached (and for reasons unknown to me) it fell into obscurity, reduced to a footnote on the epic resumes of the three legends of film.

So how in the hell did I see it?

Call it Fate if you will, but The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean was one of the few VHS's my father owned and so it was watched alongside my Disney Animated Features. Ah, yes, another movie from my childhood. It is with a heavy heart that I admit TLATOJRB is the one and only western on Jordyn's Canonized List of Favorite Movies*, but let's see what makes it so damn special, shall we?

The opening title card states Maybe this isn't how it's the way it should have been, as we watch Roy Bean (Paul Newman) cross the Pecos River; the thin blue line that separates law and order from rattlesnakes and bad men. At a nearby brothel/saloon, Bean is robbed by the bandits n' whores within and then dragged behind a horse and left for dead. With the aid of a pretty Mexican girl named Marie Elena (Victoria Principal), he takes his vengeance and then claims the brothel and land for his own and appoints himself as judge.

In the next ten years or so (they're never quite clear on when the film begins), Judge Roy Bean rules over the area with his guns, hanging rope, and loyal marshals -- Bart Jackson (Jim Burk), Nick the Grub (Matt Clark), Fermel Parlee (Bill McKinney), Whorehouse Lucky Jim (Steve Kanaly) and Tector Crites (Ned Beatty), who takes over as bartender and narrator.

It isn't until about halfway through the film when a plot presents itself; Frank Gass (Roddy McDowall), a lawyer from the East, comes to claim the land as the rightful owner. But before that, we get cameos from Anthony Perkins, John Huston and Stacy Keach and a lot of scenes with a bear (played by an actual bear named Bruno) that PETA would shudder at if this film were made today.

A character driven western is about as easily found as a plot driven indie film...oh SNAP! While most westerns are about a conflict (i.e. treasure hunting, taking revenge, killing Injuns, protecting Indians, etc.), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a character study and not much else. While Bean is a fairly static character -- determined, stubborn, and a little egotistical -- the people around him, and more importantly, the town of Langtry, mature and grow where he cannot. Ironically, Bean waxes rhapsodic about bringing law, order, respectability, and civilization to Langtry, but with it, he loses his importance because he has an inability to grow with the town.

Along with westerns being very plot/action heavy, they are also sausage festivals. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean isn't a glaring exception but it's take on male-female relationships is worth discussing. One of the more appealing quirks of the Judge is his obsessive yet endearing infatuation of English actress Lillie Langtry (portrayed by Ava Gardner in dozens of posters and in cameo). Time and time again he praises her beauty and talent without ever actually seeing her perform. But because he can't be with the one he loves, he loves the one he's with, Marie Elena, the senorita who saved his ass in the beginning of the film.

In my most recent viewing, I was surprised at how often her character was present on screen even if Victoria Principal isn't given much to do other than watch Paul Newman adoringly, disparagingly, or to react to the goings-on at the Jersey Lilly saloon. Marie Elena's acceptance of always being second to Lillie Langtry is both heartbreaking and understandable; the audience knows as I think she does, when it comes right down to it, the Judge loves Marie Elena more, but it's one hell of a trip getting there.

One could write a senior thesis on the representation of women in the American western, so I will try to keep my conjectures to a minimum. I only wish to say that this movie presents both Marie Elena -- who bears a bastard child to the Judge -- and Lillie Langtry -- a known mistress of Edward VII -- in a positive light and as creatures worth protecting and cherishing despite their hymenlessness.

Onto something for the audio/visual side of things, well, I watched a literally 22 year VHS tape on a 18 year old VCR hooked up to a 13 year old TV, so as you can imagine, what I've seen and heard wasn't all that and a bag of chips. However, in the case of westerns, the grittier it looks the better. As with all westerns made after the advent of color, it has a sepia tone overlaying every frame. The score is haunting, underplayed and not a bit bombastic until the ending where it is called for. Also, if I didn't mention "Marmalade, Molasses, and Honey" a cheesy Andy Williams Oscarbait song, I would kick myself. It's pretty awesome even if it doesn't really fit anywhere in the movie.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a deeper film than one may figure at first glance. As with any film, it is not perfect and suffers from a few pacing problems and a general meandering until the introduction of Frank Gass and the plot. However, it will remain my favorite western and a movie I will force upon anyone who mentions the genre to me.

*No, Back to the Future-Part III doesn't count.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Snow Queen: An Introduction

There are about a million fairy tales in the world, but interestingly, there are only about forty the main populace has heard of. Of course everyone knows Cinderella, Snow White, and The Little Mermaid (with much thanks to Disney). Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and The Princess and the Pea, are the next notch down, but you still know the stories. And finally, perhaps you might draw a blank on Bluebeard, The Brave Little Tailor, or The Red Shoes, but you've probably heard the titles.

The Snow Queen might garner similar head scratching. It is a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1845. As one of his longest and most imaginative stories, The Snow Queen is often considered his magnum opus. It has been adapted to film/TV 15(ish) times. Just like my Wuthering Heights series, I will be watching these adaptations, comparing and contrasting them, and ultimately deciding on how entertaining and/or accurate they are.

This is mostly for my own enjoyment. I am currently writing a novel adaptation of The Snow Queen and I wanted to see the different ways some of the more difficult plot points were dealt with.

Plot Summary
Once upon a time, The Devil (sometimes a troll) creates an evil mirror that distorts the appearance of whoever looks into it, making them look ugly and magnifying their more unflattering traits. One day the Devil decides to take his mirror to Heaven so he can mock God and the angels, but the mirror instead breaks into a million pieces which are carried on the winds and fly into the eyes of the innocents, making everything they see ugly and bad.

Meanwhile, a little boy named Kay and a little girl named Gerda grow up next door to one another in a city. They spend their idyllic youth growing roses together on the adjoining roof between their buildings. Come winter, Gerda's grandmother (sometimes Kay's grandmother) tells the children of The Snow Queen, the mythical being in charge of all that is winter. She appears at the window and frightens both the children.

Not long after, Kay is struck by a piece of mirror. His personality turns sour and he is especially cruel to Gerda. One night, the Snow Queen appears again and Kay is taken to her palace in the north. She kisses him twice so he can not feel the cold and so he can forget about Gerda.

By spring, Gerda sets out on a journey to find Kay. After floating down a river, a benevolent witch finds her and decides to adopt Gerda against her will. To prevent her from thinking of Kay, the witch magically hides her roses and combs the girl's hair to help her forget. Eventually Gerda flees and meets a crow who informs her that Kay may have recently wed a princess. Gerda soon discovers that it is not Kay, and the princess and prince wish her luck by giving her warm clothes and a gold coach. But as she travels through the forest, Gerda is captured by robbers where she is imprisoned by the robber girl. Gerda tells her story and the robber girl releases her, sending her off with one of her reindeer. Lastly, Gerda meets both the Lapp woman and the Finn woman who offer some sustenance on the last leg of her journey.

Gerda finally arrives at the Snow Queen's palace, which is empty except for a frozen Kay. The boy is working on a puzzle to form the word "eternity". If he succeeds, the Snow Queen promises him all her power and a pair of skates. Gerda embraces Kay and her warm tears melt his heart. Kay begins to cry and the evil mirror piece it dislodged from his eye. The children dance and the puzzle pieces magically form the word "eternity". Without a final confrontation with the Snow Queen, Kay and Gerda leave the palace and return home.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Most Important Night of Your Life Or: Junior Prom

Written by: Patricia Aks
Publication: Scholastic - Wildfire #32, 1982
Original Price: $2.25
Purchase Price: $1.00

Unapologetically, I purchased this book for the cover (OMG, that pink dress!), title font (which is called "Christie" for all those curious), and publication date (1982). I did not read the blurb on the back before handing my dollar to the Value Village cashier. I was far too eager to delve into the YA masterpiece Junior Prom was certain to be.

The story concerns a sophomore named Amy--the most normal girl ever, according her friends. And like all sophomore girls, Amy has the most normal desire ever: to go to the god fucking damn hell ass Junior Prom. But for Amy to go, a junior must ask her and alas, she doesn't know any except for Jeff, the cute librarian assistant who would never ever be interested in a studious, bookworm like her.

But hope is not lost! There are three months until Junior Prom and Amy is sure to find someone. First there's star basketball player Grant, then aspiring rock star Len, and Hank...who is wild about gerbils...for some reason. Before each respective date with these young studs, Amy researches basketball, guitar playing and...gerbils to impress them enough to solicit an invitation to the JUNIOR PROM. But her plans naturally backfire as she focuses only on their interests in a completely obvious and cringeworthy way. Poor Amy is left without a date to the JUNIOR PROM. ☹

But wait, there's more! Jeff the Hot Librarian really liked her all along and asks her to the JUNIOR PROM in the last chapter! Yay, Amy!!! Yay JUNIOR PROM!!!

What a quaint little book this is. Quaint and completely aggravating. First of all, it's very obvious from the beginning that Jeff likes Amy. She's just too stupid to realize it and then we have 30 chapters of Amy chasing after guys we know she's not going to end up with. Sigh. Now I could sort of understand this if Amy was chasing after someone like Grant the Basketball Star, but come on, girl, Jeff works in a library. If there's one rule of YAF, nerdy guys are always easy to get.

Overall, I liked Junior Prom even though it, ironically, didn't include a single scene at the titular dance. The message is valuable in a sitcom sort of way: be true to yourself and your interests because there's bound to be someone else on this planet with the opposing reproductive organs who will like the same stuff as you. And hey, if he repeatedly tries to share those interests with you, there's a good chance he might like you.

Essence of '82 (Oh, boy LOTS of good stuff here!)

  • The library Amy frequents uses takeout cards. I think Oakesdale High School still uses these fuckers.

  • While trying to impress Grant, Amy reads a lot of out-of-date basketball information on Willis Reed (a former player and Knicks coach). He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.
  • On her date with Grant, Amy goes to see the "latest Woody Allen movie", although A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (his only movie of 1982) wasn't released until July.
  • Amy and Grant later go to a hangout called The Disco where the music is "provided by tape."
  • Grant comments on a girl wearing a "gold metallic jumpsuit."

  • Amy is supposed to write an article on the history of music from "the Beatles, hard rock, surf rock, right through to new wave."
  • Len's (the music guy) favorite artist is Bruce Springsteen and he hates Punk.
  • Amy's musical studies including learning about Eddie Money and Meat Loaf and his double platinum album Bat Out of Hell (which has since gone 14 times platinum).
  • Amy wants an electric typewriter for her birthday to take to college.
  • After Amy and Len's date, they go to a friend's house and listen to disco music. Amy thinks it's "awfully repetitive" while Len thinks it "has lyrical content and is good to dance to." They later listen to a recording by new wave band Human Switchboard.

  • Amy's brother chooses a singer who is like a "young Bette Midler" for their band.
  • Amy and her friends watch 2001: A Space Odyssey on Home Box Office (that's what they used to call HBO, kids).
  • Amy's mother wants to see Annie on Broadway, which was in its original run from 1977-1983.
  • Amy takes her little brother to Popeye which was released in December of 1980.
  • Peace Breaks Out by John Knowles is a new release. (Originally released in March of 1981)
Note: There is a sequel called Senior Prom that I'm pretty much ashamed to admit I want to read.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


So, I've been a little lazy updating my videographies but this morning I felt inspired so here are the links to the new updated posts:

"Criminal" - Britney Spears
"YoĆ¼ and I" - Lady Gaga
"Somebody's Chelsea" - Reba McEntire
"Sparks Fly" - Taylor Swift

Your life is now more complete. You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An American Girl in Saxony-Coburn Or: A Royal Pain

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I started a series on the Young Adult fiction I read as a, ahem, young adult. As of today this series has been revived by a lucky thrift store find!
Written by: Ellen Conford
Publication: 1986, Scholastic Inc.
Original Price: $2.50
Purchase Price: 27¢

At one point or another, every girl imagines herself as a long lost princess. When our parents nag us to clean our rooms, when we can't afford that pair of $120 jeans, when the radio in our hand-me-down car won't work...we pretend there was some great mix-up. In truth, we were born to royalty and somehow switched with some lowly commoner. Sadly we are forced to deal with her petty white girl problems when we should be wearing satin ball gowns and riding in a carriage.

Of course it's all just a fantasy brought on by decades of Disney exposure. No girl would really give up her family, friends, and home for a life of glamour and pampering. Right?

Even though she was born in the microscopic European principality of Saxony-Coburn, fifteen-year-old Abby Adams is just a normal girl from Kansas. That is, until the day she learns she was accidentally switched at birth by a doctor drunk on elderberry wine. It turns out she is Dolores Theodora Marie Celeste, Princess Florinda XVI, heir to the throne of Saxony-Coburn.

Abby heads to Europe and is given the royal treatment. Her birth parents are all right and princess lessons are interesting. She even enjoys the media attention, especially from Geoffrey Torunga, a twenty year old journalist. However, Abby misses her basic freedoms and Dolores, her "twin", is not taking the switch well at all. And worst of all is Prince Casimir of Arcania, Abby's betrothed. His creepy amorous tendencies and hobby of taxidermy are major turn offs.

But Saxony-Coburn is broke and Abby's marriage will save the country from ruin. In a mere three weeks, on her sixteenth birthday, the wedding is set to take place. Abby must find a way to save herself from the horrid arranged marriage before it's too late. Geoffrey stages an assassination attempt and Abby escapes.

As you probably guessed, Abby is not really Princess Florinda. The evidence, a confession written by the drunk doctor, was really a forgery penned by an anti-royalist group. Dolores happily marries Casimir. Abby returns to the States with her family. Geoffrey writes her every week and plans on visiting in the fall (sure he will). And the story will soon be made into a miniseries.

I first checked this book out from the Whitman County Library back 2000 and was an immediate fan. In fact, this might have been my first Ellen Conford book. Conford is a drastically underrated author from the Golden Age of YAF*. Some of her other books include Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate and Seven Days to a Brand New Me. Anyway, one of the reasons I loved it so was due to the innocent (but requited!) romance between Abby and golden Adonis Geoffrey. This time around I was amused by Geoffrey's...well, perfection. I mean, the guy has no faults! He speaks French and English, he was an Olympic downhill skier, he rescues her from the evil Casimir...sigh. No wonder I'm screwed up about men.

A Royal Pain is lighthearted and fun. Never for a moment do you think Abby is really Princess Florinda. You never fear that she will marry Casimir or that he will takes his husbandly rights every hour on the hour. You know it's one of those books that'll have a Just Kidding ending and Abby will be back in Kansas in time for dinner. And that's okay. We need simple rompy PG books like this one. A Royal Pain is great for a Disney Channel Original movie, and I say that with the utmost respect for Disney Channel Original movies.

We all known YAF is timeless, meant to be consumed by every future generation, but sometimes a few signs of the times slip through. Let's look at the 80's-isms found in A Royal Pain.

Essence of '86
  • Along with her clothes and personal items, Abby insists on bringing her stereo box (another name for boom box?) from America. 
  • Abby wears leg warmers to stay warm in the drafty palace and there is no reference to her being a ballerina.
  • No VCR's in Saxony-Coburn. :-( 
  • "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees is played at the ball, unironically.
  • Abby roller skates around the ballroom while blasting a Def Leppard cassette tape. (It was most likely Pyromania released in 1983).
  • Abby and her family play Trivial Pursuit, which of course is still played today but reached its sales peak in 1984.
  • The miniseries version of Abby's story will star Morgan Fairchild (who was 36 in 1986!), the anti-royalists will be communists (yes, I know there are still communists, but I'll bet they're Russian communists), and her pet dog will be played by Benji.
  • Other references, not necessarily dated: Abby's brother watches Leave It To Beaver. Prince Albert (Abby's birth father) is a fan of Humphrey Bogart and Cap'n Crunch. Dolores has a stuffed Snoopy doll. Abby watches The Mouse That Roared (1955) on TV in French. Prince Casimir resembles Tony Perkins from Psycho. The Wizard of Oz is playing at the local movie theatre. Geoffrey says saving Abby is "just like Raiders [of the Lost Ark]". 
*That's right, 1970-1986 = fucking Golden Age of Young Adult Fiction. You saw it here first, folks!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

What you have before you is perhaps the longest review of Some Kind of Wonderful ever written. Bathroom breaks will be needed. Read at your own risk.

There's just no way around it. No one can write a proper review of Some Kind of Wonderful without first discussing Pretty in Pink. So let's grit our teeth and think of our favorite Hollywood celebrity while we go through this, okay?

In 1986, John Hughes wrote and produced a film about an arty and fashionable (but smart!) poor girl named Andie (Molly Ringwald) who (for some reason) starts liking dreamboat rich kid Blane (Andrew McCarthy). And (also for some reason) he likes her back. All would be fine and dandy if it weren't for Duckie (John Cryer) Andie's quirky and fashionable (but straight!) best friend who carries a not-so-secret torch for her. Also, Blane's typical asshole BFF Steff (James Spader) also (for some reason) likes Andie and gets jealous when she goes for Blane! Uh-oh!

Pop quiz! Who do you think Andie ends up with?

A. Duckie, obviously! He's the faithful best friend who's always been there for her!
B. Blane. I mean, it's Andrew McCarthy! No one was hotter in 1986 than Andrew McCarthy.
C. No one. Andie realizes she's only 18 and she'll find someone better in college.
D. Steff. He's rich. And everyone in the 80's is obsessed with upward mobility.

If you chose B, then you've seen the movie before, you cheater! Yes, THE PROM Blane confesses his "love" for Andie, and Duckie gives up and sends her after him. Then she and Blane make out in the parking lot as the credits roll.

While Andie the Character's decision making process could be discussed ad nauseam (and has), it is not important to us. What is important is that it wasn't the ending John Hughes wanted. He, all along, intended for Andie and friend-zonee Duckie to live happily ever after. But test audiences and studio execs and Molly Ringwald preferred Andrew McCarthy's Blane. Thus the ending was changed and in retaliation, John Hughes wrote a script where the best friend and the main character end up together. (Oops...spoilers).

Some Kind of Wonderful is the story of Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz), an aspiring artist from a lower-middle class neighborhood. His best friend (and only friend, really) is Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) a drumming tomboy from a broken home. But underneath her punky clothes and tough attitude, Watts is secretly in love with Keith and perfectly content to keep it secret. That is, until he falls for Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), The Most Beautiful Girl in School. Alas, she is dating handsome, rich, philandering, materialistic jerkass Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer).

Does it sound kind of familiar so far? Yes, well, this is one of the many reasons people didn't take to SKOW. Most saw it as a gender reversed Pretty in Pink. Which I'll admit, on a bare bones level, it is. I could sit here and write an entire compare/contrast essay on these two movies, highlighting every Watts vs. Duckie and Hardy vs. Steff point, but that would simply show how these films are far more different than alike. So here is where we say goodbye to Pretty in Pink and concentrate solely on Some Kind of Wonderful.

So, after our initial introduction, Keith gets it into his head to ask Amanda out on a date. She says yes, but mostly just to piss Hardy off. Amanda's friends think she's gone crazy and insist she break the date with Keith and go back to Hardy. After all, this upsets their entire social structure. Ya!

Like several of Hughes' films, there isn't really a "plot". Characters just move through their day to day lives and conversations are what turn the tables and raise the stakes. Most of SKOW deals with the characters' reactions to the Keith-Amanda date. And the last third is the date itself.

Without much of a plot, characterization is fucking necessary and this film has it in spades. Even Hardy Jenns, the most easily maligned of our four leads has something to him. Usually we see the prom king at the top of his game, plowing his way through a field of freshmen girls without consequences. But Amanda dumps Hardy because of his cheatin' ways. His pride is hurt. How dare she dump him, the Hardy Jenns? While I think many would just move on, Hardy chooses to take a slow revenge. He made Amanda and now he will destroy her.

Hardy Jenns is one of those villains tailor-made for our hatred. He represents the worst kind of yuppie spawn while still being believable. And that's the kicker. While...ahem, similar characters seem like parodies of themselves, I truly believe there are manipulative bastards just like Hardy who walk the earth.

The Big Asshole on Campus is a teen movie trope we all know and love, but it must be discussed how Amanda Jones is not what you might think. Of course, when we first see her she seems like the typical selfish backstabbing slut-faced ho bag. Her early scenes concern fucking Hardy, sitting in Hardy's car while he torments Keith, sneaking back to school after she's fucked Hardy, and then shamelessly flirting with the driver's ed. teacher to get out of detention. Amanda doesn't do anything particularly bad but she's not a character we necessarily like.

However, she wins some points after finally breaking up with Hardy and accepting a date with Keith. Even when her friend Shayne (Molly Hagan) gives her an opportunity to weasel out of it, Amanda says she couldn't do something like that. (It just one little date, people!) After denying Hardy's attempt at reconciliation, he turns her friends against her and Amanda finds herself friendless and a social pariah. Her date with Keith is all she has left.

During the date is when Amanda really shines and where she gets to defend some of her flaws, which I will lazily put in quote form:
"I don't think anybody thought anything about me other than I look good standing next to him. And I went along with it because I'd rather be with somebody for the wrong reasons than alone for the right ones."
And later:
"I feel so terrible for what I've been doing. I hate feeling ashamed. I hate where I'm from. I hate watching my friends get everything their hearts desire. I gave in to that hatred and turned out what I believed in..."
So, the girl's got issues, but she owns up to her problems. She has every intention of changing her ways.

Admittedly, I hated Amanda Jones through most of my first SKOW viewing. Shockingly, I was on Team Watts so that came with the territory. But as Amanda became more sympathetic and not just a faceless cunt after Keith, I struggled. Being a likable character just made it worse. How could I hate her? I couldn't. For better or worse, Some Kind of Wonderful taught me that not all love interests/girlfriends/what-have-you's aren't all bad. They're just like you and I...only luckier.

At the center of SKOW is Keith Nelson, our atypical 80's teen movie protagonist. Just how is he atypical? For one, he isn't out to just get laid. Sure, it's crossed his mind, but Keith has a deeper interest in Amanda. Unlike Hardy and probably hundreds of others at his high school, Keith wants to discover the real person behind the perfectly coiffed hair. Here we have a character who appreciates physical beauty but knows without inner beauty, there is no point.

But even though Keith has a good heart, he's still an Outcast. As he says:
"I like art. I work in a gas station. My best friend is a tomboy. These things don't fly too well in the American high school."

Art is Keith's true love and for some reason, this makes him Unpopular. His sister claims he is "the weirdest guy" at their school. WHY? Okay, he likes art, but so what? It's not like he dresses like a "freaky art kid" if you know what I mean. He wears jeans and t-shirts, nothing that would attract negative or positive attention. In the crowd scenes at school he isn't harassed, just ignored.

As for the gas station, I find it admirable and impressive that Keith works there. It's obviously not his first choice but he embraces it and actually fixes the cars. We see he is logical/mechanical along with his emotional/artistic tendencies.

While Keith is a fine main character with depth and personality, I think everyone would agree that Some Kind of Wonderful is Watts' movie.

On the outside she's a tough-as-nails, slightly androgynous punk rock chick. She drums, she smokes, she wears boys underwear and she has no qualms about shoving a drumstick up your nose if you cross her. You don't fuck with Watts. But because this is a John Hughes movie, Watts is more than a stereotype. Underneath her leather jacket and baggy tank tops beats the heart of a loving, sensitive individual.

It's established Watts' home life is pretty shitty and she and Keith have been friends since at least the third grade. Although we are never given a window into the origins of their friendship, it's my belief that Keith was Watts' savior of sorts; she could go hang out at his home instead of at her own broken one. It seems natural she would fall in love with him as they entered adolescence.

As for Watts' tomboy image, it probably began as a way of fitting in with her one-off mentioned brothers and then became an easy guise. Watts feels for Keith so deeply it frightens her so she over-compensates by acting and dressing like a butch bitch. Unfortunately she is stuck in her own imagine and Keith doesn't think of her as a "girl". But that's the tomboy's lament; should I smile because I'm your friend or cry 'cause that's all I'll ever be?

Watts has the most interesting character arc in the film. Of course she is jealous when Keith mentions his interest in Miss Amanda Jones, but she believes he doesn't have a shot in hell. And there's no use fretting over something so unlikely.
Watts: "You couldn't score her in a million years. A. You're too closed up and shy to even approach her and B. she'd kill you. Chicks like her have one thing on their mind and you don't make enough of it to matter to her."
Keith: "You can't judge a book by its cover."
Watts: "Yeah, but you can tell how much it's gonna cost."
Keith: "Whoa, that's deep."
Watts: "You want shallow call Amanda Jones."
As SKOW continues on, Watts maintains her suspicion and jealousy. She's certain Amanda is playing some horrible prank to get her evil bitch rocks off. Watts and Keith eventually quarrel over it and we see that her jealousy is more than just romantic; if Keith dated anyone, let alone Amanda, he wouldn't have any time for her and she would be utterly friendless, cause let's face it, girlfriends don't like girl friends.

Then Keith learns of Hardy's plan to invite him and Amanda to a party after their date so he and his sycophants can beat the shit out of him. Keith, foolishly, still wants to go on the date. Watts agrees to help him prepare for it and offers to chauffeur the couple so she can be close to the action.

Mary Stuart Masterson's performance is like a soliloquy. No one but the audience sees Watts' love and jealousy and secret triumphs and painful realizations. The only character she interacts with is Keith and he's too caught up in his own shit to notice anything. The viewers feel closer to Watts because we have a deeper insight into her internal thoughts and we end up caring more about her than Keith.

There are so many wonderful moments in this performance, such as the scene where Watts tries to make Keith jealous by flirting with some random guy. Her bubbly out-of-character "Keith! Hi! What's up?" is great... is her reaction when the guy congratulates Keith on his date with Amanda.

Of course the most memorable moment of the movie is the practice kissing scene. On the day of the big date, Watts asks Keith whether or not he feels he can deliver a kiss that will sweep Amanda off her feet and then offers her services as practice run. It's a great scene that is better watched than explained by me.

In a way, it's a little sad and masochistic; the only way Watts can get Keith to kiss her is to pretend to be Amanda. Perhaps it was her last little attempt to change Keith's mind about the date. Maybe if this kiss sweeps him off his feet, he'll call the whole thing off. No dice. However, the kiss is scintillating and my favorite in all of cinema.

In the midst of the love quadrangle action are subplots about Keith's social-climbing sister Laura (Maddie Corman), his budding friendship with skinhead delinquent Duncan (Elias Koteas), and most importantly, Keith's father (John Ashton) who rides his back about going to college. Oh yeah, to pay for this date with Amanda, Keith empties his college fund. His dad is reasonably pissed. And this is where the movie loses me a bit.

Right from the beginning of the film, we know Keith doesn't want to go to college. He wants to be an artist. Still, he works at a gas station and puts the money in the bank, probably to indulge his father. So it doesn't bother me when Keith decides to spend the money on something other than college. But Amanda? I mean, that's $4,200 (I read the production draft of the screenplay). $4,200 for one date. Granted, he buys her a pair of diamond stud earrings which, I dunno, is probably half of that? (Diamonds aren't my best friend).

This is where the materialistic 80's-ness really bleeds through. Keith intends to prove to Amanda that he's just as good as Hardy. But Amanda already knows that money ≠ good guy. Despite using him to get away from her D-bag boyfriend, we see plenty of Amanda's attraction to Keith's endearing charm. She knows he doesn't have money and she doesn't care. This is about Keith proving to himself that he is just as good as Hardy & co. and in the 80's that means $$$.

Watts dutifully drives the couple around but not without an attitude. In fact, she's downright snippy to Keith and tries to sabotage Amanda by hitting the breaks when the girl puts on her lipstick. Of course Watts' petty attempts do nothing even though she does get to say one of the greatest lines in cinema history.

"Break his heart, I break your face."
The first stop is a ritzy restaurant, then an art museum where a Keith painted portrait of Amanda hangs, and thirdly to the Hollywood Bowl. There Keith demands an apology from Amanda for using him. She snaps back that he is using her to get back at all the guys with more money and more power. Keith admits to the faux pas and they call it even. Then he presents Amanda with the earrings. Which again, THAT IS A HUGE FUCKING GIFT! That's like a 25th anniversary gift! Not a first date gift! In fact, no one should get a gift on a first date!

Sigh...whatever. Keith and Amanda kiss and are pretty much on their way to Couplesville. But there is one last stop: Hardy's place. Both Amanda and Watts don't want Keith to confront Hardy, but he insists it's something he has to do. By now Watts has thrown in the towel and waits beside the car as Amanda and Keith venture into a typical teen movie house party.

From here on out, SKOW can I say this? just not...something. Hardy insults Amanda and Keith defends her honor, but the scuffle goes nowhere. Duncan and his thug friends arrive deus ex machina to take out Hardy. Amanda gets in two good slaps and she and Keith exit the house. (Is it just me or would it be cooler if Watts stepped in?)

Sigh...whatever. Then it gets...I dunno...something more. As Keith and Amanda walk towards the car, he has a sudden flashback of kissing Watts. Okay, what the hell brought this on? I mean, he just triumphed over Hardy, he has Amanda, why now?

Watts, defeated, says her goodbyes and apologizes to Amanda for misjudging her. She walks off with Keith watching her like she's suddenly Botticelli's Venus. Amanda recognizes his gaga expression and gives back the earrings.
"Remember how I said I would rather be with someone for the wrong reasons than alone for the right ones? I'd rather be right. It's gonna feel good to stand on my own. Here. In your heart you wanted to give these to somebody else. Go. Go on."
And so the princess learns a lesson, and an invaluable lesson it is. In fact, I quote this to anyone in a relation-shit. I've often wondered what would happen if Amanda had not been strong enough to be single. How long would she and Keith go steady? Hmmm...Luckily we'll never know although it must be said that Amanda is now completely friendless. What happens to her?

Anyway, Keith kisses Amanda on the cheek and runs after Watts. As she walks down the street, wiping the tears from her face, she hears Keith calling for her. She turns. He smiles. He runs to her, picks her up and twirls her around. They kiss.

I will say this, Some Kind of Wonderful has taken us for a ride. The first time I watched it I didn't know who Keith would end up with or if he would end up with anyone. Let me repeat that: The first time I watched it I didn't know who Keith would end up with or if he would end up with anyone. Can you honestly say that about any other teen/romantic comedy? No, you can't...unless you're talking about an indie film, but that's a horse of a different color.

After watching this movie dozens of times, I still don't understand why Keith changes his mind at the moment he does, other than the fact that the screenplay requires it. Even I, who is in love with this movie, can admit that it's out of nowhere. While we see how clearly Watts pines for Keith, we never see him show the slightest bit of romantic interest in her. Maybe the kissing scene. But remember he's supposed to be pretending Watts is Amanda, so...

Don't get me wrong! Keith and Watts should be together! And I am thrilled with the ending. Much of what I love about Some Kind of Wonderful is what it isn't. I love how no Brat Pack or John Hughes alumni are in this movie! I love how there is no gross-out comedy or inane comic relief. I love that it's just a date between Keith and Amanda, not to THE PROM. (Although if it were a date to THE PROM, the negative reaction from the preppies would be more understandable). I love how Keith isn't a football player and Amanda isn't a cheerleader. And most of all I love how Watts doesn't endure the dreaded makeover montage. Just imagine if she did...

Instead, Watts remains true to herself and still wins the guy. She doesn't drastically change her personality either, but matures as a result of being forced to deal with another person within her and Keith's private association. And Keith, having been through an adventure himself, decides he was chasing after something that doesn't exist. Keith forgoes the materialistic desire of having gratuitous arm candy. Keith chooses the real woman who actually knows him and cares about him.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 16

Day 16 - A Sequel Song

"Judy's Turn to Cry" - Lesley Gore, I'll Cry if I Want To (1963)

You've probably heard "It's My Party". It's a short little story song about a girl having a birthday shin-dig. Her boyfriend Johnny is spotted holding the hand of a girl named Judy and now they are no where to be found. The girl decides to sulk and cry because it's her damn party and she'll cry if she wants to. Suddenly, Johnny and Judy return and she is wearing his class ring!

The song was a huge hit and remains one of the best known Oldies to this day. Yours truly even performed it at a talent show. [holding for your applause] Teenage Lesley Gore was thrust into the spotlight and briefly became America's sweetheart. And there is no way America's sweetheart could be left with a broken heart, so a sequel song was rushed into production.

Let's play a game. If a song came out today about a girl who's boyfriend dumped her on her birthday for another girl, what do you think the conclusion would be? Why she would kick his worthless, cheating ass to the curb, of course. And then she would meet another guy. A great guy with moves like Jagger and pumped up kicks. But this was not the case in 1963.

"Judy's Turn to Cry" begins with a recap of earlier events, but Lesley assures us that her tears were cried for naught because Johnny has come back to her. At another party, Johnny and Judy are making out so our narrator goes on the rebound and kisses another guy. Johnny sees it, get jealous, and punches out the poor sap who only wanted some lip action. Johnny still loves her and apparently, Judy is left to cry on her own.

Obviously, this song is a product of its pre-women's lib time. However, I'm certain that these types of shenanigans--girls throwing themselves at someone else to make their ex jealous--happen all the time. It's just not acceptable to write a song about it.

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 15

Day 15 - A One Hit Wonder

"Bad Day" - Daniel Powter, Daniel Powter (2006)

After a much deliberation (and a long hiatus), I have chosen the top selling song of 2006 for this post. "Bad Day" is what you call a true one hit wonder meaning no other Daniel Powter song has since charted on the Hot 100. You would think that the artist with the biggest selling song of the year would go on to have a illustrious career but this is not the case. In fact, this isn't even the first time this happened; in 1958 Domenico Modugno top the year end chart with "Volare" and never again graced the pages of Billboard
. I digress...

As you know, I pretty much ignored anything Top 40 throughout my high school years. But I was still definitely aware of "Bad Day". I liked it fine. Nothing to go through the trouble of downloading on Limewire though. I never minded the song until my senior prom. Some douche bag DJ actually played "Bad Day" prom. Yes, it was the #1 song at the time, but Jesus Christ, prom is supposed to be dancing fun happy times not a bad day. Unfortunately, it put me off the song and I totally blame the DJ who went on to play Chris de Burgh's horrendously soft rock "Lady in Red." Fuck him. Fuck him. He ruined my prom. (Not really). I digress...

Recently, I've been listening to songs from my high school days and I have grown fond of "Bad Day". While the lyrics are somewhat depressing, the melody is uplifting and I can't help but feel good when I hear it. I think the song had such an appeal because everyone has bad days. Duh. The song sympathizes with you but isn't pushing you into a dark corner of melancholia. Tomorrow will be better.

Fuck that DJ though.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Message From Your Blogger

I've been looking around this blog lately and it sort of sucks...Especially when it comes to my movie reviews, which are sentimental garbage and suffer from painfully extensive plot summaries and superfluous screen caps. So, I think it's time Popped Density went in for some liposuction and a face lift.*

You see, there's this blog I read, and the writer is doing a John Hughes retrospective. I have a very uneasy feeling that he will soon be taking a steaming dump on top of my favorite JH movie, Some Kind of Wonderful. I'm going on the offense and writing my own insightful, intelligent, critical (and yes, probably still insufferably sentimental) review of this movie before he can sink his fangs into it and suck it dry.

Some Kind of Wonderful will be my guinea pig. If I like what I do, then I'll continue to write my reviews this way...and probably fix the ones I've written. But if I don't like this new style, I have every right to go back to the good ol' way. Savvy?

Review to follow...

*Yes...still trying to find a layout that doesn't aggravate me within two weeks.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 14

Day 14 - An 10's Song

In our two year old decade, girl groups haven't had much of a chance to reinvent themselves or flourish. I think they're looking for a new crop of Pussycat Dolls...but that's about it. So, I have to cheat and skip on over to the country.

"Hell On Heels" - Pistol Annies, Hell On Heels (2011)

Now, technically, Pistol Annies isn't a girl group in the traditional sense because at least two of the girls can play the guitar, but whatever. The group is made up of Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley and the already famous Miranda Lambert.

Their lead off single, "Hell on Heels", is a gold-digger's dream. Each of the women sings unapologetically of the mens they've sucked dry and the booty they've acquired from the poor suckers. Haha, gold-digging is funny.

Musically, it's a pretty good song. Nothing that will get stuck in your head or offend the senses. But lyrically, the song doesn't sit right with me. But I know there will be a million country gurrls in their pink John Deere merch that will adopt this as their mantra. Thank you, ladies. Just what we need; more materialistic hoes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 13

Day 13 - An 2000's Song

By the end of 1998, the world was pretty much Spiced out. The world, however, was not tired of the energetic pop sound. Boy bands and pop princesses gladly took the reins. While it makes sense for girl groups to flourish in this era, most did not. Anyone remember All Saints, Eden's Crush, or No Secrets? Didn't think so. The one exception is Destiny's Child, who's lead singer is some kind of superstar now. But since that group got their start in the midst of the Britney/Christina/Jessica/Mandy phenomenon, I've decided to go with another bootylicious girl group who didn't have the teen pop revolution as a spring board.

"Don't Cha" - The Pussycat Dolls (feat. Busta Rhymes), PCD (2005)

Even though I lived through the 00's, I did a pretty good job of ignoring what music was popular while I was in high school. As I've said many times and will say many times again, I don't really care for rap/hip-hop. And for about three solid years the Top 40 consisted of nothing but hip-hop. Continually, artists that are no use to me such as Ja Rule, Chingy, and Ashanti climbed the charts.

The Pussycat Dolls, formerly a burlesque dance troupe, mixed this hip-hop sound with pop and sexually suggestive lyrics about "loosening up buttons" and "not giving a [beep], keep looking at their [beep]". Often their songs would feature some established hip-hop artist like Snoop Dogg to show that they're, I don't know, legit? The original six members were Carmit Bachar, Ashley Roberts, Jessica Sutta, Melody Thornton, Kimberly Wyatt, and lead singer Nicole Scherzinger, but God knows who's in the group now. One skank could be slipped in for another without anyone noticing.

"Don't Cha" is the group's highest charting single to date. "I'm hotter than your girlfriend. Come over to the dark side. We give blow jobs," is the basic premise. Considering how many Goddamn girlfriends there are in the world, my mind is blown at the popularity of this song. I bet a whole lot of cheating victims hate this song. And mistresses love it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 12

Day 12 - An 90's Song

By the early 90's, girl groups made a comeback. And I have no fucking idea why! Wilson Phillips, En Vogue, Expose, and Sweet Sensation dominated the early decade which lead the way for TLC and their juggernaut album Crazysexycool. In terms of musical importance, I should probably write about "Waterfalls".  But it would be blasphemous not to go with the most popular and highest grossing girl group of all time. Are you ready to spice up your life?

"Wannabe" - The Spice Girls, Spice (1996)

I propose a social experiment. Walk up to any woman born in the late 80's or very early 90's and ask her the simple question: "Which Spice Girl were you?" Nine times out of ten that woman's face will light up with nostalgia tinged memories of butchering harmonies at sleepovers or on the playground.

I think the readers of this blog are old enough to remember the era of Spicemania when five English girls--Victoria Adams Beckham (Posh), Melanie Brown (Scary), Emma Bunton (Baby), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty) and Geri Halliwell (Ginger)--ruled the world with their insanely stupid lyrics, giant platform shoes, and inyoface GIRL POWER.

Their breakout hit was "Wannabe" a song about a guy who must "get with" the singer's friends before the relationship can continue. Yeah. Even if the lyrics are shit, The Spice Girls are responsible for (thankfully) shifting the hot musical sound from angsty wailing (Grunge, Alanis Morissette) back to airheaded pop. 

No one can deny that The Spice Girls were a cultural phenomenon. With 90's Nostalgia chasing our ass like a mob of angry villagers, mark my words, The Spice Girls will be popular again. And actually, it's one trend I'm looking forward to making a comeback. Scrunchies not so much.

For the record, I was Scary Spice. [Pause for laughter]. Like every trend, I was late in the game, so I got stuck being the black one.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Carpenters Discography: Offering/Ticket to Ride (1969/1970)

Popped Density is a blog about favorites. And yet, I have never fully delved into my favorite band: The Carpenters. Well, folks, that's about to change. For the next few weeks (or let's face it, however long it takes...) I'll be analyzing the discography of the 70's most famous brother-sister soft rock duo. (And if you mention Donny and Marie to me, I'll shank you.)

First, a little history. Richard and Karen Carpenter were born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1946 and 1950, respectively. In 1963, the family moved to Downey, California. Richard had been playing the piano for years and went on to study music in college. While Karen was still in high school, she began playing drums in the school band. By 1966 Richard and Karen, along with a third man, formed a jazz trio that went on to win the Hollywood Battle of the Bands. The Richard Carpenter Trio, as they were then known, were signed to a small record label where Karen's voice was finally "discovered". The record label went kaput, but the Carpenters were allowed to use the studio to record demos which they sent to many record labels. Herb Alpert, one of the owners of A&M Records, liked the duo's unique sound and signed them.

In 1969, the Carpenters released their first album entitled Offering; a sometimes awkward collection of original easy listening ballads, experimental jazzy tunes, and a few covers of golden oldies (although not considered oldies quite yet). Needless to say, the album did quite poorly and the lone single, a cover of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" failed to crack the Top 50. However, after the booming success of their next album, Offering was re-released with a new cover and new title: Ticket to Ride.

1. Invocation
At first listen, the 1:02 opening track is far too religious for a pop/rock album. Karen Carpenter sings us a Messianic hymn beginning with: For those whose eyes would see/ Render them in faith to me... I must admit if I was a record buyer in 1969, I don't know if I would continue listening. (Plus, Karen looks sort of like a nun on the album cover). The melody and multi-track harmonies are gorgeous, though and "Invocation" breezes by so fast, you're already into the next song before the holy notions get to you.

2. Your Wonderful Parade
Um....about Richard's singing...on the earlier Carpenters' albums, Richard sang the lead on a few tracks. Given the fact that Karen Carpenter has the world's most beautiful voice*, this is seems ri-goddamn-diculous, but Richard wanted a piece of the pie. Regardless of the vocals "Your Wonderful Parade" is bitingly condescending take on suburban life replete with a marching band drum solo at the close.

3. Someday
"Your Wonderful Parade" fades into "Someday", the first ballad to showcase Karen's haunting and mournful voice. Bombastic and somewhat lush, this melodramatic song has Karen begging some guy to wait for her when she is ready to love.

4. Get Together
The first in long line of Carpenters cover songs. "Get Together" was originally a hit for The Youngbloods in 1969. You've probably heard it before during a "hippie montage" in some movie or TV show. Another Richard sings the lead songs but with a weird wavy pre-Autotune thing.

5. All of My Life
This is easily one of my favorite tracks off of Offering. It's a sweet little ballad, not too showy but not too throw-away. I think it would have been a great choice for a follow up single.

6. Turn Away
Richard sings a "I will let you go, but I'll be here waiting for you" song. Not a bad melody, but it needs Karen's lead.

7. Ticket to Ride
Out of all the Beatles songs to cover, I cannot fathom why Richard chose "Ticket to Ride". Nor can I fathom why he chose "Ticket to Ride" as their one and only single form this album. The song isn't terrible, but it pretty much sucks the life out of the far superior original. While The Beatles' version is fun and, for lack of a better word, rockin', this one takes itself far too seriously and is treated with the grandiloquence of chamber music.

8. Don't Be Afraid
" is a groovy thing/It knows how to make you sing/And it fills up your life with sunshine and joy..." Why can't they make songs like this anymore? Oh yeah...the cynicism.

9. What's the Use
A Richard song about being lazy and why that's okay.

10. All I Can Do
Ehhhhhh...jazz infused song about a dumped woman. Ehhhhhh....they can't all be winners.

11. Eve
Yes, yes, yes! Love this song! Apparently, it was inspired by an episode of Journey to the Unknown (a sort of Twilight Zone show) about a man who falls in love with a mannequin. The lyrics aren't as specific as all that and could be interpreted several ways; I choose to see it as a song about a famous young woman leading one life to the cameras and another in private. But that's just me...

12. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
Another cover. This time the Carpenters do Neil Young. And with all due respect to Neil, still I ask WTF? WHY THIS SONG, RICHARD, WHY?!? Don't get me wrong, the instrumentation is on par with the rest of the album, but seriously, WTF, RICHARD?

13. Benediction
"Unto you in the voice of love through the song we sing an offering..." and so bookends the Carpenters' first album.

Final Thoughts
It's a weird album. There's no way around it. It does not surprise me at all that Offering was a huge flop. The few Top 40 ready tracks were either ignored or unrecognized and only one single? Is that how they did it then? I mean, no wonder...

As a Carpenters fan, I can appreciate it for what it is, but while listening to the discography (as one often does for their favorite band) I can't help but rejoice after I get past this one. The good news is, it gets better. After Offering's disappointing sales, A&M was ready to pull the plug on the brother-sister duo. Luckily Herb Alpert decided to give them another chance.

Favorite Tracks: "Eve"; "Don't Be Afraid"; "All of My Life"

Okay Tracks: Everything else.

Not So Favorite Tracks: "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing"

1970 re-release with new album art.
* It's true.

Fairy Tales for Every Child: The Snow Queen (2000)

Year Released: 2000
Country of Origin: United States
Run Time: 23 minutes.

How I Watched It: HBO.

Adaptation Accuracy: First a word about Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child: Are you tired of European based fairy tales featuring nothing but honkies? Well, do I have an animated series for you! From 1995 to 2000, HBO aired a series of fairy tales with an ethnic twist or sometimes a feminist twist. Their Cinderella was Latina, their Little Mermaid was Asian, their Goldilocks was get the picture. Much like Faerie Tale Theatre, famous personalities voiced the characters.

Third from their last episode, HEA transplanted "The Snow Queen" from Scandinavia to Arctic Canada making Kai and Gerda Inuit children. Robert Guillaume (who narrates all the HEA episode) tells us the beautiful and mysterious Snow Queen (Eartha Kitt, basically doing Yzma) made an evil mirror for her own amusement then she lost it, it broke, yadda, yadda, yadda...

Kai (Brandon Hammond) and Gerda (Taska Cleveland) are best friends and live in neighboring igloos. Gerda's Grandmother (T'Keyah Crystal Keymah) warns them about the Snow Queen who kidnaps naughty children. Partly from the mirror and partly from his adolescent need to prove himself, Kai goes sledding to impress the older boys and gets caught by the Snow Queen. She seduces him with her sweet siren song "Cool to Be Cold"...ugh.

Gerda doesn't meet a Witch or a Princess, but by God she does get an irritating Raven friend (Doug E. Doug). Then she's kidnapped by robbers, which plays out pretty average. Kai is working on the Eternity puzzle (Why? Because the original story calls for it, I suppose). After the tears and the forming of the puzzle Gerda and Kai attempt to leave. The Snow Queen throws an icicle at Gerda who then throws it back STABBING THE SNOW QUEEN IN THE CHEST! SHE DIES! Hands down, coolest moment.

Overall Likes: Inuit setting; Canoe; Stabbing.

Overall Dislikes: Lack of Snow Queen; No witch; No princess; Why is the crow always irritating?; "Cool To Be Cold"; Sassy Robber Girl.

Final Thoughts: Fairy Tales for Every Child continue to air on HBO every morning at 4:00 and 4:30. One Christmas break I watched them all for the hell of it. This one stacks up pretty good. I like the Inuit setting since 75% of the adaptations are African-American or Latino tinged. It's good for what it is, but quite incomplete. Seriously, they could have cut the song and added in either the Witch or the Princess.