comedy, movies

Why “Cars” is underrated

The June issue of Wired has a snarky take on Cars and its merchandising (p. 112 – doesn’t appear to be online).

The toys are hot sellers, of course. Of the film, writer Neal Pollack says:

Cars, which is essentially an animated automotive Doc Hollywood, doesn’t quite hold up against Pixar’s Oscar-winning blockbusters like Up and Wall-E, or even the Toy Story series.

For sheer artistic heft, sure, Wall-E is a grander achievement than Cars. But I’m drawing the line at the Toy Story series for a simple reason: Cars is less maudlin than most kids films.

We know the basic formula — the protagonists are separated from loved ones and either work their way back (2 1/2 of the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo) or complete the circle of life (Bambi, The Lion King). The films either pull successfully at your heartstrings, skate through the drama in lighthearted fashion (the equally underrated The Aristocats) or sink in a dreary mess (Dinosaur).

Cars is a welcome change. We aren’t driven to tears by Lightning McQueen’s disappearance. We’re saddened to learn how lonely Radiator Springs has become, but it’s no reason to be despondent. The drama comes from the humbling change in Lightning McQueen’s life.

So Cars is less likely to make your toddler (or worse, the parents) weep. That doesn’t mean it’s flimsier fare. If you’re looking for educational value, the messages of humility and community in Cars are a bit better than “Hold on to your toys or they’ll be really sad!”

And the lack of emotional trauma means you can watch the film again. And again. And again. And … maybe that’s a little much. But it’s certainly more than you could stand with one of the Toy Story films.

comedy, music

The most Spinal Tap-ish song by a non-Spinal Tap band

Derek: You know we’ve grown musically. I mean you listen to some of the rubbish we did early on, it was stupid.
Marty: Yeah.
Derek: You know, now, I mean a song like “Sex Farm”, we’re taking a sophisticated view of the idea of sex, you know, and music…
Marty: Putting it on a farm.
Derek: Yeah. (cite)

Spinal Tap works so well because it’s such a perfect depiction of British hard rock. The musicians have a bit of culture. It’s not shocking to see them talking about classical music, even if their own Mozart/Bach (“Mach”) pieces carry titles like Lick My Love Pump. They can play, and they can usually sing. (For just one hard-rock singing comparison — take Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott vs. Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy. Ouch.)

And yet, they can produce utter nonsense on a whim and play it with a straight face.

Deep Purple is just that sort of band. They’re a little backwards in the sense that the drummer has been the constant while singers and guitarists have rotated frequently. But they have a classic lineup — upper-register vocalist Ian Gillan, keyboard-through-guitar-amp pioneer Jon Lord, occasionally flashy drummer Ian Paice, bedrock bassist Roger Glover and overly showy guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. That lineup produced their masterpiece album Machine Head (yes, it had Smoke on the Water) and reunited in the early 80s, just in time to do one of those amusingly awful videos from the early days of MTV:

See, if you figure the band is coming back after a long absence, it sort of makes sense to appear in the still-smoldering ruins of Western civilization and cue up Deep Purple performance footage that isn’t synced with the music, right? Maybe?

The song itself is straight Spinal Tap. The musicianship is awesome. Paice plays some powerful fills. Glover holds down the bottom during Blackmore’s guitar solo. Lord alternately doubles Blackmore’s riffs or augments them with dramatic organ crescendos. And Gillan sings with impressive urgency, as if telling some fantastic medieval tale or making a grand political statement.

All with lyrics riddled with preposterous sexual banter.

A couple of extra curiosities:

1. By the time this video was made, these guys were even uglier than they were in the 70s.

2. There’s an indirect tie between Gillan and Spinal Tap. Gillan was briefly the lead singer of Black Sabbath and had the misfortune of being in the band when they attempted, you guessed it, a Stonehenge stage presentation. Supposedly, that incident inspired the legendary Spinal Tap scene, but the timing is in question.