January 28, 2010

Karaoke 101.

A few days ago, I was talking to a cute girl about karaoke. She made the big mistake of asking me what made a song karaoke-worthy, and I unleashed a five-paragraph rant on the topic that blew her mind. But that got me to thinking -- people other than cute girls need to hear what I have to say. So I present to you, the King Myno's Court reader, my rules for karaoke:

1) Know your crowd. Sing something they want to hear. I break this rule often with Bruce Springsteen songs. The Boss is my personal hero, but his best tunes are awful when it comes to karaoke. No one knows them, and they don't really have openings for the audience to dance or sing with you. The only ones that might work are "Born to Run" and "Born in the USA," and those are way too cliche (or shitty, in the case of "USA") to be respectable choices. So don't be ashamed to forgo your favorites. One of the major joys of karaoke is feeling like an actual rock star, and only an idiotic rock star would sing songs that his crowd doesn't want to hear.

2) Know your song. Pick something that you already know the words to. The screens are there for a reason -- to help you, not to be read from. If you're reading the words, you aren't singing them, and if you're not singing, don't waste our time. I'd rather hear that fat guy behind you sing "Friends in Low Places." He looks prepared.

3) Passion sells. Unless you have a beautiful voice that will bring people to tears, don't just stand there and sing. My friend Walt understands this; his voice isn't great, but he jumps on tables and rolls around and sings along with other people. He's a superstar. I, on the other hand, have a different style. I act out certain portions of the song, gesture wildly and look deep into the eyes of my audience. Use the tools God gave you, and use them often.

4) Check shame at the door. This is unbelievably important. If you bring fear onto the stage, you're going to fail. And you're going to embarrass yourself. Trust me, I've seen it. It's disgraceful. But if you give into the song and stop thinking about what you look or sound like, then you're truly singing karaoke. And by God, you're having more fun than anyone else in the place.

5) Know yourself. Know what you feel comfortable singing, what your voice is able to handle, and how much you'll be able to put into each particular tune. Understanding your surroundings and your song choice is key, but if you force yourself into a situation you're not entirely comfortable with, you are fucked.

And if you're at a loss when it comes to song selection, let me lend you a hand. "I'll Make Love To You," "End of the Road" and "On Bended Knee" by Boyz II Men are filled with passion. "All My Life" by K-Ci and JoJo is the song I plan to sing to my wife before I propose. "Bye Bye Bye," "Larger Than Life," "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" and all other popular boy band songs will bring back wonderful memories. My friends swear by "Total Eclipse of the Heart." "Sweet Child o' Mine" and all popular Hootie and the Blowfish songs are obvious options. And, of course, "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith is the best karaoke song of all time. This has been confirmed ten times over by yours truly.

Finally, the most important rule is to be drunk. Not so drunk where you forget the words or fall over, but drunk enough that, even if you forget all the rules I've just presented, you'll have fun anyway. Just don't be surprised when everyone boos your shitty karaoke-singing ass off the stage.

January 14, 2010

How Chuck Klosterman taught me to think.

Since I read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, I've loved Chuck Klosterman.

But if you had asked me why, I probably wouldn't have given a satisfactory answer.

I might take the lazy way out and say his essays were "funny" or his insights were...I don't know, "insightful". But I'd know that response was boring, and incomplete, and probably indicative of how little I liked this particular inquisitor.

I could instead say, however, that I really enjoy how he relates seemingly irrelevant circumstances from unexpected popular culture sources back to societal and cultural issues as a whole.

The latter explanation sounds, and is, smarter. It's also painfully obvious, and it's basically the point of his entire career.

But as recently as a few years ago, I wouldn't have been able to express that kind of perception clearly. And if I didn't sit down and think about it prior to this blog post, while reading Klosterman's latest opus Eating the Dinosaur, I'm not sure what I would have said in its place.

I wouldn't classify myself as that deep a thinker, at least consciously. I assume that, in my brain, I'm able to grasp metaphors and recognize symbolism and all that stuff necessary for consuming more complex forms of art. And I assume this because, when genuinely prompted for justification in regards to a specific like or dislike, I can usually summon something satisfactory.

But I don't ever really think about it. I don't listen to Bruce Springsteen and analyze his lyrics, or even really wonder why I like them so much. I would say that I appreciate his music both sonically and lyrically, but while I might say, "I like how Max Weinberg rocks out on the drums there," I probably wouldn't say, "I really love the protagonist's misguided and possibly dangerous sense of freedom in 'Thunder Road'."

And maybe no one does it that way. It just occurred to me that I never really asked anyone, "So how do you absorb art?" Perhaps the only person who thinks the way Chuck Klosterman does is Chuck Klosterman.

But I doubt it. And I hope not, because there are definite benefits to that kind of thought.

A good example are the movies Blue Velvet and The Royal Tenenbaums. Blue Velvet is directed by David Lynch, a filmmaker whose movies I typically dislike. And The Royal Tenenbaums is directed by Wes Anderson, a filmmaker I unequivocally love. I like both of these very, very different movies, and to be honest, I never entirely thought about why.

Blue Velvet is a dark, often disturbing look at the seamy underbelly of a small town. Tenenbaums is a quirky, understatedly witty look at a disintegrating family of geniuses. They both tackle common cinematic themes, the idealized American hometown and the life of an American family, and they both do so through the distorted lens of the director's distinct worldview. I consider both films masterpieces.

But if you asked me a few years ago why I liked them, I'd say, "Well, Dennis Hopper is a great villain," or, "Gene Hackman is really funny." Neither of those responses are wrong, but they don't really illustrate why I appreciate these movies.

But then, I read some of Klosterman's work. And rather than occasionally surprising myself with unanticipated bits of wisdom, I started thinking about what it is that made these movies so interesting. Not from a technical sense, or even from a performance or writing sense. More about what the movies meant, the messages they were sending, and how they made me feel about my own life.

It didn't make me like the movies more. But it made me, consciously this time, aware of what these movies really had to say. And also a little bit more aware of why these movies matter to people other than me. And I did feel smarter, so that was nice.

A lot of this has to do with writing. Klosterman discusses writing in Eating the Dinosaur, saying that it can sometimes be like "talking to a stranger who's exactly like yourself in every possible way, only to realize that this stranger is boring as shit." That can be very true, which is why I'm always surprised that people actually read this blog.

But I also learned that these sentiments I had trouble expressing verbally or summoning consciously came out much smoother on a piece of paper or a keyboard. My fingers would become extensions of my brain, and thoughts and arguments and opinions I wasn't fully aware of were staring right back at me.

It sounds stupid, but it takes some courage to do the "brain-to-fingers" transition and trust that what you're writing isn't idiotic. To be honest, this might be idiotic right here. But I like doing it, and I'm pretty sure that the order in which I'm pressing these keys will end up making sense.

And I have Chuck Klosterman, at least partially, to thank. It feels a little weird professing such deep appreciation for a man who ultimately chronicles the impact of Britney Spears, Billy Joel and KISS, but if the end result is a deeper, more penetrating level of thought, who's to say he isn't the one we should all aspire to be?

January 10, 2010

The end of the innocence.

Donovan McNabb? See ya.

Michael Vick? So long.

Chris Gocong, Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis? Arrivederci.

It's even possible that Brian Westbrook, if he refuses to restructure his contract, will be put out to pasture.

This is the end of an era in Philadelphia Eagles football. An era where the Eagles, along with the Patriots, Colts, Giants and Steelers, were always among the best teams in football. An era where Andy Reid and McNabb established themselves as the best coach and quarterback in the history of the franchise, respectively. An era where, in a sport filled with unexpected ups and downs, the Philadelphia Eagles were as consistent as it gets.

And it's an era I won't mind seeing end.

My dad called me before Saturday night's game and asked me, on a scale from one to 10, how confident I was in the Eagles' chances. He was a four, I was a two. He expressed surprise at how little faith I had; I told him, thanks to the disaster that was Week 17, they'd given me absolutely no reason to believe. I'm amazed at how right I turned out to be.

The tie in Cincinnati was terrible. The last second 62-yard field goal loss to Tampa Bay in 2006 was gut-wrenching. Losing to Oakland this year was embarrassing, and all the NFC Championship Game losses were awful in their own way. But I think this latest loss to the Cowboys will go down as the worst Eagles game under Andy Reid.

I hope heads roll. Heads have to roll. But Reid isn't going anywhere, and neither are any of his staff. Well, maybe Ted Daisher. The blame will start to fall where a lot of it belongs -- on some of our longest-tenured players.

It's time to give Kevin Kolb a shot at quarterback, to declare LeSean McCoy the running back of the present and future, to cut our older, oft-injured and underachieving wideouts and to stop pretending that Gocong can play linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.

You couldn't blame any one of those players, even McNabb, for this loss. It was a team-wide abortion of a football game. But you also can't sit back and act like, someday, this McNabb and Westbrook-led team is going to get over the hump. I'm not necessarily a fan of change for the sake of change, but at this point, I no longer see a downside.

Roster-wise, the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles will look a lot different than the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles. Let's hope they play differently, too.

January 6, 2010

The top ten movies of 2009.

Because the 1,500+ words written below make an introductory paragraph an absolute waste of time, I simply present my top ten movies of 2009 (in alphabetical order):

Adventureland - For some reason, this was marketed as a straight-up comedy. "From the director of Superbad," all the advertisements said. Well, it is from the director of Superbad, but it's not an Apatow-esque comedy. Yes, it does have the kid from Zombieland (Jesse Eisenberg, who is very good in The Hunting Party and unbelievably good in one of my favorite movies, The Squid and the Whale) and superhunk Ryan Reynolds, but it's actually a really good coming-of-age story with a lot of heart and a very realistic romance between Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Plus, as he often does, Bill Hader absolutely steals a few key scenes.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil - This is the second year in a row that a musically themed documentary made my top ten list (last year's was Young@Heart), and although this year's entry isn't as emotionally powerful, it's a great up close look at what happens to those bands that just don't make it. Or, to clarify, those bands that just don't make it...and yet continue to struggle for thirty years until the writer of The Terminal makes an intimate documentary about their lives and finally catapults them to minor fame. If that sounds interesting to you (and if you read my blog, it probably is), you should probably throw this on your Netflix queue.

Avatar - A very, very, very mediocre plot. Dialogue that at times borders on laughable. And the most wooden, inexplicable "action star" in recent memory, Sam Worthington. But those effects. My God, those effects. When we saw it, my friends and I spent the entire ride to the theater joking about "visionary director" James Cameron and his magical movie that required, nay, demanded 3D glasses for the proper viewing experience. And we walked out flabbergasted that someone made a movie that looked like that. Does it deserve all this Oscar buzz, this billion dollar gross? Probably not, but it comes as close to living up to the hype as humanly possible.

District 9 - Kind of the opposite of Avatar, in that it was a relatively low-budget sci-fi movie from a no-name director that ended up displaying a surprising amount of plot, strong dialogue and some very memorable characters. This movie was marketed perfectly -- I remember seeing the teaser trailer before some winter movie in 2008 and being blown away by both the trailer's content and the fact that I'd never heard of it before. The fact that Sharlto Copley had never acted in a feature film before this is amazing; the fact that it was director Neill Blomkamp's first feature film, as well, is even more so. Although he WAS "lead 3D animator" on 3000 Miles to Graceland...so we clearly should have seen this coming.

Fantastic Mr. Fox - After the universally ho-hummed The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson has won back the hearts of his fans. Gathering the usual crew (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzmann, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe) and introducing George Clooney and Meryl Streep to the party, Anderson makes the Roald Dahl novel feel like it was written just to be stop-motion animated by he and his crew. With the witty dialogue we've come to expect from his movies and a bunch of great visual touches, the only reason Mr. Fox is considered a children's movie is because a) it's animated and b) it's an adapted children's novel. That designation is unfortunate, as scores of people won't see it as a result. But that's their loss, because it's considerably more than that and, yet, still just as fun.

The Hurt Locker - They're calling this the "first good Iraq war movie." Well, it's the first Iraq war movie I've seen, or even considered seeing, so they're probably right. For me, it was the redemption of Jeremy Renner, a man best known thus far as the bad guy from S.W.A.T. He perfectly captures the cocky swagger of a guy born for a war, a man who's confident only when he's out disarming bombs. Brief cameos by Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes are disappointing, in that you can sense right away that they won't be around too long, but in the end they'd probably distract from the movie's true intentions anyway. It's by far the most tense film of the year, maybe the most tense in years. If this is what war is like, God bless everyone who's fighting it.

Inglourious Basterds - Saw it in theaters, loved Christoph Waltz, loved Michael Fassbender, but I will admit that I was a little caught offguard by the direction it ended up taking. It was long, it too prominently featured the "suddenly empowered girl rises against her oppressors" scenes that Tarantino seems to love and no one else really cares about, and it bounces around too often from jokes, drama and action. Or so I thought. But then I saw it on DVD about a week ago, and I realized that it was just too much to take in at the time. The opening scene and the scene in the underground bar are as tense as anything in The Hurt Locker, and although it does bounce around often, Tarantino mishmashes styles as well as any director out there. But the girl scenes still do kinda suck. Enough with the Girl Power boner, dude.

Up - Pixar's done it again. You'd think it would get a little old to keep saying, "And the best animation studio in the history of movies has made yet another masterpiece," but it doesn't. And yes, I've seen all the old Disney movies, and Pixar's are better. They look better, they sound better and they contain just as much emotion. Comparing the two is like saying the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970's would beat the the New England Patriots of the 2000's. Maybe the Steelers were dominating and terrifying 35 years ago, but some of the quarterbacks nowadays are as big as the defensive tackles back then. It wouldn't even be close. And although a lot of present-day movies are admittedly garbage compared to the classics, Pixar's movies, often the best of the best, are exempt.

One of the company's genius moves does, however, stem from the old-fashioned Disney mindset -- refusing to cast big name stars for their voices only. Do people really care if Brad Pitt is the voice of Sinbad? Or if Freddie Prinze Jr. is the voice of Delgo? (Look it up.) People forget that Steve from "Full House" was perfect as the voice of Aladdin. And Ed Asner was equally perfect as Carl Frederickson.

Up in the Air - Jason Reitman makes good, solid movies. He doesn't make Best Picture nominees, even though he's about to be awarded his second. This makes me sad, because the inevitable backlash that started with Juno will just gain steam from here on out. And this time, it won't be focused on his movie, as Up in the Air has a lot to like about it. George Clooney is as handsome and charming as ever, and Vera Farmiga is perfect as his female foil. Plus, any movie featuring Danny McBride in a rare serious role gets points from me. But is a movie to remember? Is it "important" because it "shines a spotlight on our times" and all that crap? No. It's got some funny moments, and some emotion, and great performances from all its leads. It's one of the best movies I've seen all year, but then again, I loved Thank You for Smoking a ton as well, and that didn't win shit. By the way, Clooney's Ryan Bingham isn't Punch Drunk Love's Barry Egan, no matter how much Will Leitch says he is.

Where the Wild Things Are - This one was tough. I know a lot of people didn't love this movie, but I did. I thought Max Records was amazing not only as a twelve-year-old actor but as a twelve-year-old actor surrouded only by men in giant monster costumes. And I thought the Wild Things were hysterical. The matter-of-fact way they said everything, the way they looked when smashing through things, James Gandolfini voicing a male character named Carol. Much like Mr. Fox, Spike Jonze made a children's movie in name only, and although there are certainly aspects kids will appreciate, the true depth of the film is there for anyone that wants to look for it.

Honorable Mention - I love the Coen brothers, but A Serious Man didn't really wow me on first viewing. Then again, neither did Burn After Reading, and I love that now. So, we'll see. Moon seems like it's getting a bit too much praise after the fact, but it's a strong debut from director Duncan Jones and a great chance for Sam Rockwell to flex his leading man chops. The Road had unbelievable source material, and although everyone that read it knew it would look great on screen, we didn't think about how it would go about keeping us interested for two hours. And it didn't. Star Trek was a great blockbuster movie, but I couldn't say with a straight face that it was better than District 9. Sugar was another modest and realistic film from the writer-directors of Half Nelson, The Informant! seems like it'll get funnier and funnier every time I see it, and World's Greatest Dad was the best Robin Williams vehicle about auto-erotic asyphyxiation I saw all year.

As for Precious, Invictus, A Single Man and The Cove, well, I didn't get the chance to see any of them. I wanted to, and I bet at least a few of them would have made my top ten list. C'est la vie. Although this wasn't a top-heavy year for films, much like the Atlanta Hawks of the 2000's at the small forward position, it was deep. And sometimes, that's just as good.