Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Fubar 2

Film: Fubar 2 (2010)

Director: Michael Dowse

Starring: Dave Lawrence, Paul J. Spence, Andy Sparacino

Written by: Dave Lawrence, Paul J. Spence, Michael Dowse

 

My favorite Canadian hosers of all time are back!  (Sorry, Rowsdower.)  The successor to the great Fubar reunites the world with Terry and Deaner, the Beavis and Butt-head of the Great White North.  Their noble philosophy of partying their asses off and givin’r has not waned in the long years between the first film and the second, though the sequel does lead toward a resolution of sorts.

There is something confusing about this film.  The first Fubar was presented as a faux-documentary in which the filmmaker died after performing the wussiest bellyflop in human history.  I’m not sure if Fubar 2 is meant to be the same breed of Spinal Tap or not.  Occasionally people speak to the camera, and their names are listed on-screen, but more often than not people act as though the camera is not there.  There’s definitely no evidence of a camera crew.  More disturbing, when the dead filmmaker pulls a Jacob Marley and appears before Deaner in a Christmas vision, it’s caught on tape.  So if Fubar 2 is meant to be a documentary, it’s one that has evidence of the afterlife – which may or may not be more important than the misadventures of two rowdy Canucks.

The worst part of Fubar 2 is that Terry sells out for poontang.  Here’s another thing I don’t get about the movie: he starts hooking up with a burly strip club bouncer who quickly becomes a shrieking, gold-digging shrew who screws around on him and gets pregnant with somebody else’s kid, but all of a sudden Christmas comes and she becomes a saint.  There’s no transition in this; one minute she’s a bitch and the next she’s a sweetheart.  Sadly, Terry puts up with it.

The best part of Fubar 2 is Tron, the whipped pal of Terry and Deaner’s from Fubar who flew off the wagon, ditched his bitch, and resumed his responsibilities as a one-man wrecking crew.  He’s kind of a turd when Terry and Deaner come around his work buddies, but by and large the man does not screw around.  The film’s opening scene shows Tron storming onto the scene by running over a tree with his truck, after which he has a rap attack and demolishes Stately Terry and Deaner Manor with a chainsaw.  His slow decline into a drug-fueled depression over the story’s progress only makes him more awesome.  Tron funkin’ rules.

Deaner is as sage as always, dispensing Socratic pearls of wisdom such as “Knowledge of non-knowledge is power.”  He also sings a wicked cover of Boston.

While it doesn’t eclipse the first film, Fubar 2 is pretty goddamn epic.

The Designer’s Drugs: Memory Tapes/Handsome Furs

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Memory Tapes – Player Piano

Anno: 2011

 

When jerkwad music journalists like me use the word “ethereal” to describe a work, they usually mean one of two things: the music is a near-ambient sound collage that aims for pixielike and adorable, or the singer is drugged to hell and babbling inane or incomprehensible lyrics.  Memory Tapes is an example of the first school of ethereal, though Player Piano gets a bit too motivated in places to be completely described as fly on the wall.  There are a lot of precious electronic-driven instrumentals on this album coupled with earnest smurf pop tunes, and all of it adds up to one simple message: hug us.

The instrumentals are generally better than the vocal tracks, but one lyrical track stands out as the album’s best work.  “Offers” is a moody and seductive song full of empty hallway vocals, bleeding synthetic squeaks, and some really pretty keyboards at its core.  While there’s not much on Player Piano that I’d call memorable, “Offers” is a fairly arresting piece of work.

 

 

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital

Anno: 2011

 

Though it could be called a few different things, one thing Sound Kapital is not is a slick album.  The keyboards which overpopulate what is ultimately a rock album sound like they were purchased at a rummage sale, and the tones they create for the album are so rough and abrasive that they dominate every song.  The vocals and beats are rendered incredibly secondary.

That said, Sound Kapital is a pretty sterling example of bargain basement electronica.  Sure, there are tracks like “When I Get Back,” which is one more example of the recent crop of drawling hippie electropop, and “Bury Me Standing” sounds too much like a teched-up Billy Idol song to be taken as anything but silly.  But there are good tracks like “What About Us,” which blares its Nintendo dancefloor to maximum effect, as well as the glittering, pulsating “Memories of the Future.”

On this album, Handsome Furs sounds highly competent, but its caustic lo-fi orchestration does seem to render this work as strictly for old school tech geeks.

The Designer’s Drugs: Digitalism/Death Cab

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Digitalism – I Love You, Dude

Anno: 2011

 

This is a simple, fun onslaught of high-intensity electropop songs that makes few missteps.  A block of songs in the center of the album comprise the collection’s best work: “Circles” anchors the piece as the mechanically frantic single, “Blitz” is a Daft Punk style instrumental, the well-named “Forrest Gump” is a suave track that buzzes and chimes at high swagger, “Reeperbahn” evokes the cinematic image of a vampire rave (whatever that’s worth), and “Antibiotics” is a popping, slithering tennis match of slightly malfunctioning basslines.  Each song on the bookends of I Love You, Dude is equally competent, but the middle is where the album hits its stride.

As a whole, the canny production on this album shows that Digitalism knows its audience and delivers.

 

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys

Anno: 2011

 

Having moved beyond the syrupy heartache that characterized much of its earlier work, Death Cab spends much of its latest album balancing those Hallmark sensibilities with the divergence seen on its preceding album, Narrow Stairs.  The resulting piece has the feel, more in the structure than the sound, of a Smashing Pumpkins album – Adore, in particular.  The deft combination of electronic and organic instrumentation, the highly accessible manner of bucking the established formula, and the grandiose execution this all centers around, all of this sounds very Pumpkinslike – not that this isn’t a very welcome thing.

(That said, it would also sound very fitting if Ben Gibbard’s vocals on “You Are a Tourist” or “Stay Young, Go Dancing” were replaced with Billy Corgan’s.)

The latter of those parenthetical songs is one of the best tracks on Codes and Keys, and its string-laden piano ballad sums up most of aspects of the album it concludes.  In contrast, the album’s opening track, “Home Is a Fire,” is more of a cyborg; in its core the music sounds very similar to “Stay Young”, but the subtle programming and sound effects make the songs sound very different.

Between these ends are a lot of songs with few threads in common combining to form an album that sounds cohesive.  And with the exception of the wistfully uptempo “Underneath the Sycamore,” there isn’t much of that old sad syrup to be digested.  Instead, Death Cab made a highly ambitious rock album that propels it to the level of bands that can get away with such things.

Y Marks the Spot: Farewell, Tent City

I really, really hate retroactive justification, the self-delusions that state that all the crap you’ve gone through has led to the amazement and satisfaction you currently feel.  To me this “everything happens for a reason” bullshit is little more than rationalizing laziness and/or masochism, and it isn’t much different than pissing away one’s life in waiting for a glorious Rapture.

That said, all of my current problems ended in the span of a single day.  They didn’t end in the best of all possible ways, but the normality that is finally about to return is a very good one.  While I won’t say that this single day’s payoff was worth the previous year’s cost, I once more feel like my life is running with a heightened sense of appropriateness, or at least narrative.

The day was the first day of summer, a good friend’s birthday, and I had no expectations that it would be anything but the usual timeless time wasting that characterized my year of ungainful employment.  I was sleeping in my bedroom tent that once was a dining room when my phone, a new one that recently replaced the old wreck I finally euthanized with a washer ride in garbage-covered jeans, blared out the triumphant theme to the NES game, M.U.L.E.

It was the manager of an upscale fast food joint I halfheartedly applied to and interviewed for weeks before, someone I hadn’t expected to hear from again.  He wanted me to drop by for another interview.  After wiping the crap out of my eyes and putting on some less-wrinkled clothes, I walked into his place and was immediately given a job.  Poof.  Done.  In the blink of an eye, I was once again gainfully employed.

I didn’t really know how to react.

I texted my friend and let her know that my birthday present to her was me getting a job.  I’d have called it a cheap gift if I hadn’t been living below cheap for the past year.  After that I went home and surprised my girlfriend (and tentmate) with the news.  Maybe an hour later, she got a phone call of her own, and we had more surprising news.  Her friends were moving out of their stately apartment, and they were wondering if we wanted to take it.  This Friday, we move in.

All of this happened in one day.

I’ve lived in far worse situations than the one I’m about to leave.  The tiny two bedroom drug den packed with five people, bongwater carpets, and shotguns sitting out in the open comes to mind.  As does the place where people slashed each other for fun, ripped each other off for cheap profit, and attempted suicide from time to time.  The apartment I lived in eight years ago in which people were too busy buying weed and pizza to pay our bills still casts a long shadow over my destroyed credit.

In contrast, the people who live in the house that houses Tent City are upstanding, beer-soaked Wisconsin transplants who (eventually) pay their bills and aren’t unduly dramatic or self-destructive.  It’s bizarre and uncharacteristic that I’ve been the one who hasn’t been able to pull my financial weight and have been dependent on their charity.  I’m excited to come back here and hang out once hanging out become a choice and not an enforced default.

So what follows isn’t about burning bridges.  That said, I cannot wait to get out.

At first, Tent City wasn’t even a tent.  After we cleared out everyone else’s stuff, what was left was a dining room with no walls or doors, indiscriminately letting in light and sound.  After being sent my old curtains and tenting up the place, only the sound remained a problem.

My tentmate and I spent the first four months out here sleeping on a dimpled air mattress which made obnoxious fart noises any time someone moved on it.  The acquisition of the simple, single queen mattress we finally replaced it with was celebrated with alcohol and chocolate cake.

There are rats in the basement of this house, massive gopher holes have ruined its yard, and the trashman eventually stopped collecting our garbage.  Beer bottles breed like rabbits on the furniture.  The television is never off, even if nobody is watching.  If anything was ever cleaned in this house, it was usually due to me or my girlfriend, and we also had to be permanently on guard to make sure our baby cats didn’t get outside from the many ways out of this dilapidated wreck.

But the worst thing about living here has always been the lack of walls.  With all my previous bad situations, no matter how bad things got, I always had a room to retreat to, a place to filter out all the noise and damage.  In Tent City, that safety doesn’t exist.  I hear everything.  It got worse once it started getting cold and everyone started coming inside, worse still once my roommate who was living in the basement got flooded out and moved into the living room next to Tent City.  Some of us have rooms, but none of us really have any space.

Along with the massive sense of paranoia I developed from not having a place of my own, I’ve pretty much abandoned hopes of normal sleep, and for the time being I’ve all but abandoned writing.  Every word written has become a battle held between my brain and every outside noise and distraction, and fighting hasn’t been worth it.  I admitted defeat while plotting my way out, and I saved myself further implosion and frustration.

But that’s about to end.  I’m about to move into a place with no noise and no distraction.  My own safe place.  A place to get things done.  I’m about to become myself again.  I’m about to obtain the potential to become better than I’ve ever been.

Tent City, I’m pulling up your stakes.

Y Marks the Spot: Choke Back

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, and his bitch-chokin' hand.

 

I don’t really care who David Prosser is as a person, any more than I have any concern over who any public figure is in real life.  Being that Prosser is a politician affiliated with one of the big two political parties in America, his identity is even less relevant.  I know that America pushes its ideals of individualism to ridiculous heights (see: giving corporations the rights of people), but its citizens are fantastically deluded in thinking that candidates matter.  If there’s a D and an R on the ballot, you’re voting for a party and not a person.

Justice Prosser, recently reelected (in theory) to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, is an R, and he’s jumped right into line with the rest of the Rs who have lost their minds and are dead set on imposing Dark Ages corporate Sharia law upon all us unworthy plebeians.  The Republican Party hates the Taliban for its freedom.

I’m no fan of violence in the workplace, but if Justice Prosser wasn’t one of those hard Rs the recent allegations of him choking his fellow justice would have flown past all of our radars and remained a quiet matter for the authorities to deal with.  As it stands, Prosser is a key part of the Republican Party’s attempt to create a one-party system in Wisconsin, which is a key part of the Republican Party’s attempt to create a one-party system in the United States, and so on.

So I’m going to say something that goes against the spirit of American justice: whether Prosser choked his colleague or not, I hope the allegations ruin his career.  I hope David Prosser becomes the O.J. Simpson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Because as a judge, he’s not a person, but an R, and right now the Rs are the arrogant, entitled, aristocratic, authoritarian enemies of freedom, and their rampage must be stopped.

In one thing, all the right wing hate speech is absolutely correct: at the moment, we’re living in a culture war, and there are only two, individual-less, sides to the conflict.  There are the Republicans, fueled by aristocrats, zealots, and lackeys – and there is everyone else.

Everyone else, this is a fight, so fight to win.

You know who’s doing it right?  Minnesota.  Instead of doing the time-honored Democrat Kowtow, Governor Mark Dayton stuck to his guns, refused to budge on taxing the rich, and let the Republicans shoot their hostage.  And good for him.  Let the Republicans expose themselves as bastards so fixated on giving the rich a free ride that they’re willing to destroy the entire Minnesota government to get their way.  Shit, the national government almost went into the same hole because the Republican Party hates women (see: Planned Parenthood).  Why not defuse the Republican bomb by calling its bluff and blowing it up?  What leverage does shrapnel have?

(Update: Never mind.)

Still, I hate placing my faith in any person in any position of power.  So you know who else is doing it right?  Every person who is still sufficiently pissed off in Wisconsin to keep fighting Scott Walker’s hostile takeover of the state.  It’s goddamn disheartening to see that the Governor is so callous and programmed that the shouting of hundreds of thousands of angry protesters has rolled off his back like oil off a BP duck.  It’s infuriating to see the Wisconsin R continue its unlubed gangbang of the state’s civil liberties and its citizens’ way of life (see: proposed redistricting, concealed carry).  But getting infuriated has led to the people of Wisconsin standing up, getting awesome, and becoming the pinnacle of today’s American Dream.

By the way: hey, James Smith, you fucking scumbag, how’d sabotaging La Crosse’s recall election work out for you?

But here’s the problem: all of us in the way of right wing treads are facing some seriously crooked opposition who will destroy anyone in their way (see: Andrew Breitbart vs. Anthony Weiner).  Against such ruthless assholes, we kind of have to take our victories where we can get them.

So when the swing vote in the Wisconsin Supreme Court goes to a dubiously-elected R who immediately smacks down a good chunk of the protesters’ progress, a well-timed story about said Justice Prosser, as the slang goes, choking a bitch provides great ammo that we’d be fools not to use.

Am I wrong for hoping that he actually did it?

My fellow Anti-Republicans, whatever you do, don’t quit.  Don’t stop fighting.  Fight clean if you can, but don’t be afraid to fight dirty if you must.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: RoboCop 2

RoboCop, getting his ass handed to him.

Film: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Director: Irvin Kershner

Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Tom Noonan

Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green

 

I’m not going to argue that the sequel to RoboCop is better than the original (especially since Red Forman died in the first film), but I will say that RoboCop 2 is a great sequel that pushes the story of this ghost in the machine into bold, inevitable territory.  The first film was funnier, sure, and it did have Red Forman killing fools and maligning bitches, but the second act is frighteningly prophetic.

RoboCop’s creators in the industrial conglomerate OCP were portrayed in the first movie as sort of a Shakespearian collection of backbiters and scumbags, yet they weren’t really the story’s villains.  Sure there was a villainous VP who closed the film on the receiving end of some iron justice, but for the most part RoboCop spent his days taking out the ground level trash and left the white collars to scheme.  In the second film, there’s no ambiguity to it; OCP is the evil empire.  Its goal: to force the city of Detroit to default on its debts and then convert the city into its own corporate fiefdom.

Sounds rather modern, no?

Sure, RoboCop spends a good chunk of the film fighting the street trash, in this case represented by a drug cult comprised of an ecstatic Tom Noonan, a member of the Memphis Mafia, and a monstrous little shit that shoots RoboCop in the face.  Yet it quickly becomes clear that OCP is pulling the strings, and all the later disasters that RoboCop must undo are entirely the responsibility of the corporation.

There’s a great segment in the middle of the film where OCP’s meddling has a funnier result.  After getting dismembered by the drug cult and having his ass handed to him, RoboCop is “fixed” by the conniving head of R&D, who focus groups him into irrelevancy.  Thanks to the input of nervous soccer moms, RoboCop’s four Prime Directives grow into hundreds, and the bureaucracy forces him to behave so benignly that he’s completely useless.  Breaking up a robbery perpetrated by an evil Little League team, RoboCop gives the kids (and their dead coach) a stern talking-to, which they promptly ignore.  Then he opens fire on a guy enjoying a cigarette.  So great is the idiocy that our hero finds no other option but to open up a power station and electrocute the stupidity out of himself.  If only it were so easy for the rest of us.

I really like RoboCop 2, even if the end involves a battle to the death between RoboCop and a junkie deathbot.  Films like the RoboCop series are a good reminder that all the political and corporate shit we’re dealing with now is nothing new.  People decades ago knew where we were headed, and here we are.  Perhaps we should have heeded the warnings.

 

The Designer’s Drugs: Duran Duran/Dredg

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Duran Duran – All You Need Is Now

Anno: 2011

 

Following up on the band’s drastic flirtation with Timbaland electro-pop on Red Carpet Massacre, Duran Duran seems to have realized that, well, it’s Duran Duran.  The band’s newest album isn’t a note for note rehash of the songs of its heyday, but All You Need Is Now is nothing if not familiar.

The album is a bit top-heavy, with most of the exciting songs (“Blame the Machines,” “Being Followed,” “Safe,” and “Girl Panic!”) being found in the opening half.  Each of these songs is pure steroid dance pop.  In comparison, the second half tends to feel languid.  It’s not that the album runs out of steam, but most of the songs just don’t match the openers’ swagger.  The two exceptions are the classic Duran of “Other People’s Lives” – which wonderfully references a “glory hole confessional” – and the stately quiet of the album’s closer, “Before the Rain.”

Some bands just don’t need to experiment to constantly deliver good songs.  Duran Duran is one of these bands.

 

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Dredg – Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy

Anno: 2011

 

Any Dredg listener who equates the power of a song with decibel level is going to be sorely disappointed with Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy, an album that is far less rock than it is a brooding shade of R&B and world music tinged pop.  The upside of this is that any Dredg listener who equates the power of a song with sincerity and a willingness to take big risks is going to come away from this album greatly rewarded.

The only real point of dissonance offered here is in the occasionally bursts of distorted guitars in “Upon Returning,” and even here the fuzz isn’t equal to the cleanness of the rest of the instrumentation.  The same rule applies to the static beats in “Down without a Fight,” which sounds lo-fi yet is washed clean by very soft-spoken vocals.  A few other tracks are up-tempo, but nothing else could be described as hard or angry.

The album’s best work comes in its beginning and end.  “Another Tribe” is a track mixing R&B beats with wistful rock vocals resulting in a pop song with something to say.  At the other pole waits the gloomy French jazz of “Before It Began,” a fable of a song driven by pure and pointed basslines and filled out with spaced out guitars.

Resulting from all this rejection of formula and expectation is a bold album without a shred of complacency.  Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy may not be an album one can listen to in the same stretch as the rest of the Dredg catalogue, but it is excellent listening on its own.