Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Top 11 Guilty Pleasure Songs

Come on, we all have them. It may be Disney cartoons, ’90s teen flicks (this coming from the guy who proudly owns Can’t Hardly Wait), or the sappiest Nora Roberts book you found at your neighbourhood Salvation Army, but we all have guilty pleasures.

Obviously, my guilty pleasures would be music (as if I write about much else), but I may also be confused about what a guilty pleasure is. From what I figure, a guilty pleasure is something that exists outside the parameters of what you normally like or what others would perceive that you would normally like, so you’re embarrassed to like these things.

Seeing as I’ve posted about everything from the songs that helped me not lose my mind as a teenager to my semi-mutilated genitals, it’s easy to assume that all barriers are down and there is nothing left to shame.

But truth be told, these are all songs I truly love. When they come on the radio, I turn it up and stop what I’m doing to pay what I’m listening to a little more attention.

Further, these are songs I don’t seem to ever get sick of. Like most other suburban boys angry at particularly nothing except for the fact he’s a suburban boy and nothing makes sense in the world, I hopped between genres a lot as “my thing.” Especially subgenres. Seeing as I became fixated on subgenres a lot as a kid, I got sick of a lot of bands really quick.

Like, really, how many mosh-laden southern California ’90s straight-edge-esque revival bands can one guy listen to before he can’t tell the band apart?

I guess each of these songs are just really individual to me. They each have a specific sound, specific theme, specific memory attached, and carry a specific emotion that I don’t get from most other music.

I guess in a sense, this is almost a “favourite songs of all time” list – if it weren’t for the fact that I’m damn embarrassed to love some of these songs so much I’ve written a mini-essay on each of them.

So, now for the top eleven songs that will probably make you stop scrolling through and say to yourself, “huh, he likes that? Really?”

And why eleven? I have a guilty pleasure for prime numbers…

And math jokes.

11. New Order: Regret

You’re probably asking yourself, “why is New Order a guilty pleasure?” Here’s what I figure. Joy Division is infallible to music fans. You mention anything Ian Curtis ever did to anyone who even spends a remote amount of time in a record store and that person will get weak in the knees humming “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

Joy Division is loved for Curtis’ brooding lyrics, the dark overtones in the music, and the droning rhythm that drives this depression machine.

New Order was kind of a huge u-turn for Brennan Sumner, writing dancey, pop songs that were upbeat and easily accessible. The danciest and most upbeat of his songs is easily “Regret.” Hell, I used to hear that song all the time while I slaved and sweated in my demeaning department store job. Even hearing it on a constant thirty minute loop during my eight-hour shifts couldn’t kill this song for me. I’d actually figure out the songs order and when I knew New Order was about to come on I’d find a place I could slack off for four-minutes and listen and get the only enjoyment out of those horrible days before some middle-aged woman would yell at me about a discount for a straw hat.

10. The Ataris: Boys of Summer

That’s right, I couldn’t even fake this to say I like the Don Henley version. It’s all about the guiltiest of guilty pleasures and I don’t think it gets much worse than this.

It’s no secret that I love pop-punk (refer to the last thirty posts where I go on non-stop about the Wonder Years), but even pop-punk fans tend to shun So Long, Astoria, sometimes even worse than Welcome the Night (that record gets shunned so bad most music fans don’t even know it exists… probably for the better).

With brilliant records like End is Forever and Blue Skies, Broken Hearts…why in God’s name would I ever listen to that radio-abomination?

It’s fucking catchy.

Actually, that whole record is really catchy. “In This Diary” is so beyond teen-drama sappy I can’t help but fall in love with it as I place the cast from Boy Meets World into Kris Roe’s life story. The Don Henley cover is no exception to the ridiculous hooks and teenage nostalgia that, let’s face it, I only experienced watching a lot of TV in the ’90s. Kris Roe wrote about the youth I wish I had, filled with mischief and girls and good times, rather than the youth I actually had, filled with neuroses and angst.

This album makes me wish I was a happier person.

9. All-American Reject: The entire first record

Don’t ask… just… please… don’t ask.

I was in high school, I was going through a bad breakup, I felt like no one wanted to hear me whine (this was before I started blogging) so this album was the perfect outlet for me feeling heartbroken but wanting to go back out there, be adorable, and try to talk to girls again.

Keep in mind, I was a lot prettier when I was in high school… a lot geekier and a lot more awkward (come on, I needed All-American Rejects to motivate me) but pretty none the less, so I thought batting my big (though squinty) green eyes and being a heart-broken lost puppy would win me girls.

Didn’t work.

8. The Cranberries: Dreams

Maybe this just has something to do with me wishing I was born a little earlier in the ’80s so I could have enjoyed the ’90s more (wait, it’s hipster to like the ’90s now? I can’t fucking win!) but this song just gives me this great feeling of nostalgia for things like The Babysitters Club movie and Ethan Embry without a receding hairline (to anyone who understood those two references, I love you).

The Cranberries in general have that whole feel of being young and spontaneous, it’s like the ultimate summer road trip music. It’s the soundtrack to leaving everything behind, just driving, and running in random fields as they appear.

The Cranberries make me ask myself, “why not? What’s stopping me?”

I’m not about to quit my life (MxPx reference, what up?!) anytime soon and hop in my car to go God knows where (mainly because it will probably break down before I get out of Edmonton, but that’s going to be a whole different post). But it’s nice to imagine what the summer air would feel like just driving anywhere but here (Rise Against reference… I’m not proud of that one).

7. Bonnie Tyler: Total Eclipse of the Heart

How do I explain this one?

Turn around bright eyes?

Ok, I do have two special memories involving this song:

First, a girl who I took the bus with when I was in high school made me a mix CD with that song on it mixed in with some Brand New, Postal Service, Aerosmith, and Ludacris (I don’t know how that song got in there). It was during my “All-American Rejects adorable hurt lost puppy” faze and I thought she was trying to tell me something.

Turned out to be just a mix CD. (For the record, I’m still friends with this girl, though she doesn’t live around the block from me anymore.)

Second, I one time serenaded a friend to this song at a karaoke bar. He’s a nano-technologist now. Did I mention I serenaded him while on a date with another girl? Luckily, she found it funny and I wound up dating her for a while. No sad eyes necessary.

6. The Pogues: Tuesday Morning

Alright, guilty pleasure or not this is a great song. It’s odd though, because Waiting for Herb was kind of the bastard child of the Pogues library. I can’t imagine what the rationale was.

“What? A Celtic ballad? That can never happen.” I guess when your collected works include albums like Peace and Love and Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, anything outside of manic-pirate punk is going to be looked down upon.

I remember actually buying that CD at a used bookstore and the clerk sighing and saying, “I remember when this record came out. I still hate it.” But really, it was one of the best five-dollar purchases I ever made.

I love lying around, listening to that song, letting the bassline relax me and singing along to the lyrics wishing every morning was the Tuesday morning they were singing about.

5. Gin Blossoms: EVERYTHING THEY HAVE EVER DONE!

I honestly believe this band can do no wrong. They have the pop-rock formula down perfect and know all the best ways to manipulate it so I never get sick of them.

I can’t name how many times I sang along to “Hey Jealousy” really loud, embarrassing myself in public places. But I can’t help it; it’s perfect; it’s catchy; it’s worth three consecutive semi-colons and an exclamation mark!

I’ve also noticed that Gin Blossoms are the band that people don’t realize recorded that song they’ve heard a thousand times. They can hum along, they might even know the chorus, and then you tell them that’s the Gin Blossoms and they respond with either a, “really? No kidding,” or a, “wait, I know that name, what else did they do again?” Everything. If you moderately know it and think it’s kind of catchy and know a word or two, chances are it’s Gin Blossoms.

4. The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man

Why is this song a guilty pleasure you ask?

Well…

I like it better than the Bob Dylan version.

This is probably right up there with Dear You being my favourite Jawbreaker record. Okay, now stop throwing things at me and let me explain before you crucify me.

My dad used to play this song all of the time when he was off symphony season and I would drive around during the summertime doing errands with him. He had these two CDs from like Time Life or some other infomercial mail-order company, one was the best of 1965, the other was the best of 1966. The first track on the 1965 one was “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds and the second was “For your Love” by the Yardbirds (another favourite of mine but less of a guilty pleasure because of the Clapton, Beck, and Paige connection in there, I just get to say I like it because I’m a guitar geek).

So I have an actual nostalgia connection with this song, rather than just trying to live in the ’60s vicariously through good music. But, there’s also a sincere music geek aspect to this as well. His name is David Crosby.

He’s overlooked as a great guitar player sometimes. This song is a great example of his ridiculous skill on the six-strings. His melodic leads flow through that entire song, slowly and gently, a technique that modern bands like Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You are trying to emulate but just missing the mark because, let’s face it, just like the song in question, Crosby simply did it better.

3. Lisa Loeb: Stay

This probably goes back to what I wrote in my Cranberries overview (scroll up to see number 8 in case you’ve only skimmed to this point, in which case I must say you’ve missed a lot), I have this strange faux-nostalgia for the ’90s as I try and dig up ever memory I have from elementary school (which involved a of of Star Wars and Oreo cookies apparently… man my childhood was sad).

This is another one of those cases where the song is damn catchy it almost hurts, and really, almost everyone knows it. I remember one time going to a bar where there were duo piano players taking requests for a tip and basically figuring things out as they went. I gave them ten-bucks for Lisa Loeb and they looked at me like I was requesting the Moffats (oh yeah, Canadian Hanson, my metalhead friends are never going to talk to me again). They never played it either. Jerks.

Even catchier is New Found Glory’s cover of the song that appeared on 2007’s From the Screen to Your Stereo II (which Loeb makes an appearance on performing a dual vocal with Jordan Pundik that feels almost like a conversation rather than just one voice speaking – fuck it’s so good!). The song was given a rockier edge but kept true to the pop-melody structure, making for probably one of the best covers ever recorded: true to its roots while making an original interpretation. Doesn’t get much better than that.

2. Peter Gabriel: In Your Eyes

Seriously, who didn’t wish at some point you could be a trench-coat wearing John Cusack outside of a girl’s window with a stereo over your head? I don’t care what’s tattooed on your neck or what’s hanging off the back of your pickup truck, at one point or another, you wished you were Cusack.

And let’s face it, the music made that scene. If any other song were playing in that scene it would be nowhere near as good or iconic as it is today. Writer/Director Cameron Crowe (believe it or not, Say Anything wasn’t a John Hughes film, but damn does it compete with his movies) made a brilliant choice by including this Peter Gabriel song because of how well it fit into the whole context of the film and how much a song like “In Your Eyes” really defined love songs the ’80s.[1]

You can’t be more in love than whoever Gabriel was writing about in this song. There have been lots of interpretations of this song and even Gabriel has admitted that it could be a romantic or a religious relationship in this song, but if writing about pop-culture has taught me anything it’s that once the creation leaves the creator’s hands and is presented to the masses, it’s up to the masses to create their own interpretations.

How do I interpret this song? Simply put, I think I was this in love once. That love where when you think you’re going to go over the edge there’s always that hand to pull you back up and keep you on solid ground. Yeah, I think I’ve known that feeling. And I hope to feel it again.

I sometimes use this song as a gauge when a relationship is about to get really serious. As goofy as it sounds, if I’m not “In Your Eyes” in love with the person, I know it won’t last. Who knew the guy that wrote “Sledgehammer” (God, I hate that song) has had such a huge impact on my life?

But really, Gabriel gets at something with this song that’s so human it’s inexplicable. Just that feeling of being so devoted to someone else it makes all other troubles in life kind of float away.

It’s a really great feeling, I think.

1.  Elton John: Tiny Dancer

All I have to say is, Almost Famous.

You know the scene I’m talking about.

There isn’t a more perfect song to sing along to and I seriously believe Elton John set a standard for singer-songwriters for the rest of pop-culture history to try and attain but very few have actually made it to that level.

What is it about this song that’s so sing-alongable to the point that it’s the soundtrack to one of the most memorable scenes from a rock’n’roll movie ever?

I think Sir Elton gets at something in this song that’s inherently universal that it has surpassed logical explanation and the only thing I can think about it is, “Yeah, I get it.”

The song itself is quite literally just about California in 1970. John and fellow songwriter Bernie Taupin had never been to America before, so their first trip to California seems like it was a bit of a culture shock for them, but from the sounds of this song, they absolutely loved it there.

It also really seems like Taupin loved all the girls he encountered there. How much more universal can a song get? I went somewhere, everyone was beautiful, everything was a lot of fun. So simple yet isn’t that simply what anyone wants out of life?

Maybe my connection with Almost Famous has tainted my perception of this song a bit, but to me it really sounds like a song about the girls who tag along with the bands on tour. And why do they tag along? It’s not the sex, the drugs, the booze, the attention. Well, actually, it’s all of that.

It’s fun.

Much like Kerouac’s On the Road, it’s about the unpredictable adventure while you’re still young. “Where will you be tomorrow?” “I don’t know, and that’s kind of a dumb question.” That’s the mentality of this song. Living in the now, having fun while you’re here, and we’ll deal with the rest of that stuff tomorrow.

How much more California can you get?

And I think that’s where the universality lies in this song. It’s the same reason why Kerouac wound up being successful. Who doesn’t want to live that life?

And that’s why it makes for such a great song to sing along to. Because at the end of the day, life can be really complicated and scary, so sometime you just need a piano melody and lyrics about pretty girls to remind you that there are a multitude of possibilities ahead of you.

It doesn’t have to be a fantasy, but it doesn’t have to be following a band on the road either. It’s about finding those things that make you so happy nothing else but this very moment matters.

Like any guilty pleasure, it’s simply about finding happiness. How much more human and universal can you get?


[1] Interesting fact, originally Cameron Crowe was going to use Billy Idol’s “Got to be a Lover.” Could you fucking imagine putting a Billy Idol song in that scene? There actually may be a God… Nah! Cameron Crowe probably just realized what he was about to ruin.

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The importance of Die Hard at Christmastime

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of people laugh when I tell them my favourite Christmas movie is Die Hard. I’m not going to lie, but there is a sort of ironic quality to the movie for a few reasons:

1)      It’s a ridiculous ’80s shoot’em up movie.

2)      It stars Bruce Willis who, besides the recent sequel in the franchise, hasn’t seen an action film in years.

3)      It features Reginald VelJonhson, you know, Carl Winslow, but before he was Carl Winslow, but still playing a uniformed police officer.

Because of these tidbits of hipster humour now associated with the movie, it often gets overlooked as a decent film. Hell, I found my copy earlier today in a $5 bin at Wal-Mart. But for all of its campiness and cheesiness, I have a very fond Christmas memory associated with this film.

                I think I was maybe 22 (oh the youth that has surpassed me) and my older brother and I were up late on Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning. He had just moved out to his first apartment but decided to come home to his old bedroom for Christmas. One of the Showcase superstations (I think it was the ACTION! Channel) was playing Die Hard and my brother and I just sat on our couches drinking Baileys and not really saying much except for the Mystery Science 3000-esque commentary whenever something funny happened. It’s funny how this is a very fond Christmas memory, yet, unlike most other Christmas memory stories, we were both adults, just doing what guys do on any given holiday.

Yes, it was one of those “I learned the true meaning of Christmas” moments as well, realizing it was just about being with the people you love and care about, but the circumstances under my discovery of this just kind of seem odd yet so perfect.

Die Hard really is a guys’ Christmas movie. Not just cause it’s an action flick that happens to take place on Christmas, but it’s almost falling into that guilty pleasure territory of admitting you like Christmas movies. It has all the clichés of a Christmas movie right alongside all of the action flick clichés. People helping each other out solely out of the kindness of your own heart, bringing family together, the sappy wishing a Merry Christmas, and the night time scenery contrasted by coloured Christmas lights. It’s all there! All it’s missing is some hinting that there may actually be a Santa Claus.

Let’s face it, no matter how much of a tough guy you are, you get weepy eyed at the sight of sitting in the dark with a few coloured lights on, looking out the window and watching the snow falling (this is of course, unless you have some horrible psychological association with snow, or coloured lights, or the dark, or for Christmas in general). Die Hard is like the gateway drug for guys to get into Christmas specials again. I know this Holiday season and even last Christmas I’ve been going nuts for Christmas specials, looking long and hard for the 1986 stop motion animated version of L. Frank Baum’s (you know, the guy who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (which was on YouTube last year, but I can’t find it this year for the goddamn life of me! Put that back up!) and for the original Muppets Christmas special, A Muppet Family Christmas (which still isn’t on DVD. What the fuck? Seriously? There’s a Muppets version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit yet you don’t have the decency to put the best Muppets special ever made on DVD. Fuck you, Buena Vista!). I’ve even been watching new family Holiday specials, like Prep and Landing, which turned out to be really funny and really enjoyable to watch (I even found a relating point in my own personal life… I relate to Christmas elves… What’s wrong with me?).

It’s odd because I tend to dote on Halloween, always claiming it to be my favourite time of year. But, even though I still miss Halloween being really fun, as I get older I find myself getting more and more into the Christmas spirit. I really think the turning point for me was that night, hanging out in my parents’ living room, watching Die Hard with my brother, and just enjoying his company. With two of my brothers moved out now, it can get kind of lonely in my house. I still bug my parents a bit, but it’s different from having my brothers at arm’s length whenever I’m bored. I guess I just realized how much I enjoy both of my brothers’ company and my family’s company in general, and with life getting busier and busier, I’m starting to slow things down whenever they’re around, especially at Christmastime, and especially whenever Die Hard is playing.

 

(For the record, as far as I’m concerned, Bruce Willis plays a minor character in this movie. Alan Rickman owns!)

Thoughts on Contagion

Contagion is a film I’ve been hearing a lot about. The general comment I hear most about it is “it’s disturbing as hell. You’re going to be germaphobic and touch nothing after you see it.” Even on Reviews on the Run, Victor Lucas and Scott Jones commented on how after the movie, people rushed to the bathroom and scrubbed their hands profusely. I went into this movie expected to come out terrified of germs and ready to clean everything I own. Instead, I came out of the theatre much more terrified of people than I ever could be of germs.

The film synopsis is simple enough: you’re introduced to characters that you have an immediate emotional connection with, some of them and their loved ones die from this deadly new virus, the government health agencies try to step in and find a cure, watch people struggle as they wait for a cure. I remember this same synopsis in 1995 during a movie called Outbreak, and none of us ever looked at monkeys the same ever again. The difference between Outbreak and Contagion is in that at the end of Outbreak, you were scared of monkeys and the prospective of new kinds of bacteria and viruses kicking around. By the end of Contagion, I started looking at all the other people in the theatre getting up to leave at the same time I was and I wondered “what would they do in a situation like this?”

The main horror of the story centres on what the general population does once the virus is declared a pandemic. In short, people go berserk. Throughout the movie we are only exposed to one member of the general population who seems decent: Matt Damon’s character that, after his wife and step-son both die suddenly from the disease, discovers he’s somehow immune (and this immunity is not explored anymore, just kind of mentioned and we move on). While the other people in his city (Minneapolis, Minnesota) begin to destroy pharmacies and ransack grocery stores, Damon just does whatever he can to protect the last member of his family, his daughter.

Even though that it’s highly unlikely that only one decent man will be left in a town once a pandemic breaks out, you can’t help but reflect on what everyone around his character is doing. The most shocking scene is one where Damon’s character looks out his window and sees a couple of flashes in his neighbour’s house. Soon after, two masked gunmen exit the house. This scene was so shocking that my girlfriend sitting next to me sat wide-eyed muttering to herself “oh my god.”

Though Damon’s character is the one glimmering hope in humans, he’s far from the most interesting character. That award I proudly present to Jude Law’s character: the paranoid blogger/journalist convinced that the government is hiding all the simplest solutions to curing this virus. His blog has millions of followers, and he clearly knows it. His ego and cocky attitude actually outshine his paranoia at times and it leaves you wondering what he’s really got prioritized: exposing the truth or his own fame.

I tend not be very Hobbesian and would like to think that shit wouldn’t hit the fan as violently as depicted in this movie. At the same time, do any of us really know how we would react until we’re actually in one of these situations? The real horror of Contagion is not in the virus itself but in how it reflects the panic in people and how quickly a quiet suburb can turn into a warzone.

I went to the washroom once the film was done and, like Victor Lucas and Scott Jones, found many people taking extra care in washing their hands. They carefully went through the full procedure of soak, dispense soap, scrub palms, scrub the tops of hands, scrub the tips of fingers and under the nails, wash down to the wrist (some people were actually washing to their elbow), and rinse thoroughly. I can’t help but feel like they too weren’t just washing their hands this efficiently because they were scared to the germs. Maybe they were also washing away that bit of terrifying humanity that they know exists in them too and can cause them to snap at any moment. They may be terrified of the germs, but they’re also terrified of how much they saw of themselves on that screen, looting and killing just to survive.

Germs are scary, but the horror of how people can turn on each other at the drop of a pin is even more terrifying. I don’t know if Contagion is an “accurate” depiction of this, but it’s relatable enough that we all see what we are capable of when it comes to just making it to tomorrow.