Thursday, June 30, 2011

Our Feature Presentation (23/50) -- The Three Caballeros (1944)

The Three Caballeros is the sister picture to Saludos Amigos, but the two could not be more different. While Saludos is a slight, low key film made mostly of cartoon shorts, Caballeros is a bat guano-loco mind-f@$# of a picture made mostly of The Insanity Peppers of Quetzlzacatenango. It does play host to some interesting live action/animation blending, and there are a few straightforward, amusing bits, but MAN this film is weird.

The Three Caballeros opens with Donald Duck receiving a large box of birthday presents from a Spanish someone. The first present is a projector, where Donald watches a few short segments on Latin American birds. The movie seems on track to be similar to its Latin predecessor (slight, segmented, reasonably charming), when who should appear but Jose Carioca (Jose Oliveira), the green, cigar-smoking parrot from Saludos’s concluding segment. Carioca shrinks Donald with some sort of drink (seven years before Alice in Wonderland, might I add), and the two explore a pop-up book about Bahia, Brazil, where Donald becomes quite taken with a Portuguese seller of cookies (uh huh).

Sure do love those Tagalongs, huh fellas?

After an MC-Escher-by-way-of-chalkboard train ride, the two arrive back in Donald’s living room, where they open the next present: a hyper-active, pistol-toting rooster named Panchito (Joaquin Garay). The three announce themselves as The Three Caballeros (hence the title), and celebrate with a piƱata. Panchito then takes Donald and Jose to Veracruz, where the three dance and Donald becomes increasingly lecherous throughout. The two finally pull Donald off of the dance floor, only to take him on a flying sarape to Acapulco, where Donald goes positively Tex Avery Wolf on the Latin bathing suit beauties. It’s not meant to be, though; Donald merely ends up kissing Jose instead.

Here’s where the movie goes throws all semblance of sense out the window. Donald finally meets the girl of his dreams (for reals this time!), and her kiss sends him on an enormous LSD trip, finding her face in all of the flowers, only for it to turn to Panchito or Jose at the last minute. The onslaught of colors, sounds, and general buggery culminates in Donald dancing with several fields of cactus, before turning into a bull made of fireworks. The film then ends abruptly, as though no conclusion could possibly wrap up the phantasmagoria that was the last twenty minutes.

Your love, your love, your love is my drug(s).

I saw The Three Caballeros once when I was a kid, and didn’t remember much outside of the Acapulco scene before I rewatched it for this series. Holy buckets, this movie is EFF’D. More than Fantasia, more than Alice in Wonderland, The Three Caballeros is a pure D head film, worthy of shelf space next to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Good-Time Slim, Uncle Doobie and the Great ‘Frisco Freak-Out. The bright colors, rapidly-shifting scenes, and general lack of sense make this a prime candidate for movies watched while listening to a Sublime album. This is well and good for the gent that enjoys expanding his or her world through the art of cinema, but that’s not me—I watch movies to escape, and there are few places in The Three Caballeros I would like to escape to, if only because it would confuse the bejeezus out of me.

Most of my experience watching The Three Caballeros was spent in slack-jawed befuddlement, but there were a few places I truly, legitimately enjoyed myself. The opening sequence, a story of a too-cold penguin named Pablo, is my favorite in the whole film. Narrated by Sterling Holloway (!!!), Pablo goes through unsuccessful attempt after unsuccessful attempt to leave his frozen home of the North Pole for Acapulco. It’s a fun mix of broad comedy and Holloway’s trademark dry, observational humor.

The segment before Jose comes in, "The Flying Gauchito," isn't bad either.

I also love the song “The Three Caballeros.” In a movie whose music is largely uninteresting to me (not much of a samba guy), “The Three Caballeros” is a punchy, enjoyable tune bursting over with energy and melody. The lyrics are pretty fun too:

We're three caballeros
Three gay caballeros
They say we are birds of a feather
We're happy amigos
No matter where he goes
The one, two, and three goes
We're always together

We're three happy chappies
With snappy serapes
You'll find us beneath our sombreros
We're brave and we'll stay so
We're bright as a peso
Who says so? We say so!
The three caballeros!

The rest of the music is samba, which was never my favorite (too much Latin jazz in high school band), but oh man, that song is fun.

Three is a magic number.

The animation is pretty standard for the time: Walt was thigh-deep in World War II, forcing him to dial back his patented quality of animation for the sake of finishing the damn thing. It’s no coincidence the film looks like an extended short—production-wise, it is basically an extended short. There are a few nifty sequences where live action and animation interact, and these are pretty hit or miss. Some, like when Donald is acting a mutha-f@$#in’ P.I.M.P. up in Acapulco, look pretty good, but others, like when Jose sings with the cookie saleswoman, look slightly painful.

If you’re of the opinion that Disney needs to venture outside its box constructed of princesses and Broadway musicals, you may want to give The Three Caballeros a shot—its complete and total strangeness may be endearing for you. I sure as hell know I’m not going to watch it again for a while; there are many reasons why I may sit down to enjoy a movie, and having a mind-altering experience to a Sergio Mendez song isn’t necessarily one of them.

Top Three Songs:

  1. “The Three Caballeros”
  2. “Have You Been to Baia”
  3. “You Belong to My Heart”

Favorite Scene:

  • The Cold-Blooded Penguin

Favorite Character:

  • Pablo

The Jar Jar:

  • The Arancuan Bird

How I Watched It

While both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros are available separately on DVD, I opted for this two-film package, partly because it’s convenient, but mostly because it was less expensive. Despite being basically brand new (it was released in 2008), the picture could use a little clean-up, especially during the live-action/animation scenes. This could very well be the fault of the source material, however.

Bonus materials are sparse. The DVD has two Backstage Disney features: “South of the Border with Disney,” which is basically Saludos Amigos Reloaded, and an excerpt from an interview with Walt Disney for CBC (a Canadian news channel, for the non-canuck reader). Also included are two Donald Duck shorts, “Don Donald” from 1937 and “Contrary Condor” from 1944. Slim pickings, considering how often The Three Caballeros has been rereleased.

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Song Challenge -- Day 21: A Song You Hate By an Artist You Love

Fall Out Boy – “Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying (Do Your Part To Save The Scene And Stop Going To Shows)”

Willikers, will you get a load of that title? I love me some Fall Out Boy, but sometimes they can stunt some of my least favorite aspects of the emo/pop-punk scene. This song happens to contain all of them:

  1. An overly dramatic, ridiculously long title; extra points if it’s an inside joke or is pointedly “clever"
  2. A surplus of That Emo Feeling, past the point of passable tolerance
  3. Melodies that aren’t actually that catchy

“Get Busy” is the second-to-last track on Fall Out Boy’s From Under The Cork Tree, which is the album that got me into the band in the first place. The album has a good deal of classic numbers (“Sugar, We’re Going Down,” “Of All The Gin Joints In All The World”), but no amount of good will or momentum can get me to force this song down. Let’s break down why, shall we?

  1. If there’s one thing that inhibits my affection for emo pop-punk the most, it’s the smirking sense of irony that permeates much of its songs. “Sincerity is un-hip,” it seems to say, “It’s all about being above the material.” Pete Wentz’s lyrics often fall into this trap, but Patrick Stump’s sincere vocal deliveries help dance around this issue (Fall Out Boy is the only band I can think of who can pull off this free pass trickery). What “Get Busy” can’t dance around, though, is its obnoxiously long title, which, while not actually detracting from the song, sure as hell doesn’t build any good will for it.

  2. I’ve always gravitated to emo/pop punk bands that are more straightforward with their material (Jimmy Eat World, Hey Monday, etc.), and cryptic non-lyrics frost my cookies almost as much as smirking ironic ones. Again, Patrick Stump usually saves the day when singing Wentz’s cute phrases (which often sound ambiguous and paradoxical simply to sound ambiguous and paradoxical), but even Stump can’t save the spoken word emo poem that closes this song. Worse, the poem goes on for what feels like several hours. It’s as if you crammed the material from five Hawthorne Heights albums into one 30-second stretch. It’s suffocating.

  3. Fall Out Boy nearly always knocks it out of the park when it comes to melody, but I don’t particularly care for “Get Busy’s” chorus or verse, leaving me no reasons to endure the song’s many crappy aspects.

Honestly, I haven’t listened to this song in like six years; I flat-out deleted it from my iTunes when I first bought the CD, and haven’t looked back.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Song Challenge -- Day 20: A Song You Love By an Artist You Don't

*NSYNC – “Pop”

Today’s entry is basically Judge Me, Part II. I was never a huge fan of *NSYNC (I was more into Hanson back in the day), and despite my growing opinion of Justin Timberlake, I’ve never quite been taken by the group as a whole.

Except for one, solitary song.

My affection for “Pop” (which, now I think about it, has been constant since 2001) exists solely because of its stellar, juicy production. For you see, “Pop” is produced to electronic music auteur BT, famous for songs like “Never Gonna Come Back Down,” “Smart Bomb,” and that song that plays over the opening credits of Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! Lord knows what sort of record label shenanigans happened to get it arranged, but somehow one of the biggest names in American electronic music ended up producing a single for one of the biggest names in American pop music. The two great tastes adage never quite goes away.

I remember vaguely liking “Pop” when I first heard it in 2001, but by then the boy/girl band craze was waning, with “Pop” arguably being the last major single produced by the original guard from the late 90’s. As such, I didn’t hear it again until nearly ten years later, when I was going through my friend Jordyn’s computer for music. I had become a fan of BT’s work since then, and his Movement in the Still Life album was ruling my life at the time. It was only natural, then, that I would fall head over heels for this song.

“Pop” is chock full of Emotional Technology-era BT-isms: bubbly synth, tweaked-out guitars, and BT’s signature vocal stutter (his song “Somnambulist( Simply Being Loved)” is another great instance of how he uses this effect). The production is so distinct, and so different from *NSYNC’s previous work, it’s easy to imagine the two groups having sort of a Dev/Cataracs relationship, with the producer having equal or “featured” billing along with the main artist. Part of me is curious if the rest of the album has any more songs like “Pop,” though my common sense tells me I’m better off not knowing.

“Pop” is a prime example of how stellar production work can tilt my opinion of a song, even if I’m not a huge fan of the actual artist. If Justin Timberlake decides to produce another album, he needs to give Brian Transeau a call.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Song Challenge -- Day 19: Your Guiltiest Guilty Pleasure Song

Dream — "He Loves U Not"

Judge me.

Fact: I’ve always been a fan of pop music. Sometimes (more frequently than I’d like), it’s bubblegum pop. Fly-by-night boy- and girl-groups were all the rage in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and I was generally successful in staying out of the Y2K teen pop scene. Then, in September of 2000, California girl group Dream dropped “She Loves U Not,” a song about a girl stunting her man at another girl. The single climbed all the way up to number 2 on the Billboard charts (massive as it was, though, it was powerless to dethrone the reigning champion of the time, Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women, Part I”), and wormed its way into my Napster queue, though only under the cover of darkness.

I have a fair few “guilty pleasure” pop tracks here and there, but “He Loves U Not” is one of the guiltiest, and not just because it has a “U” in the title. The song is about female politics. The main character of the song is bragging to a girl how her man is so wrapped around her finger, the other girl’s womanly wiles won’t even work on him. There’s no way a man could sing this song out loud while still sounding straight (“Girl, you could pick a field full of daisies, but he’d still be my baby”).

Despite that, I still kinda like this song. The melody has a light, sing-song sound that I find quite catchy, and the pseudo-drum ‘n’ bass production fills my percussion-loving ears with glee (as opposed to Glee). Boy band pop never quite did it for me (with one exception, and you’ll read about it sooner than you think), but girl group pop generally sounds more natural and unforced, especially if executed as well as “He Loves U Not.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Song Challenge -- Day 18: A Song Used Well in a Movie or TV Show

Among many, many other things, Quentin Tarantino is known for putting together a soundtrack. Critics have crowed about how majestic the Pulp Fiction soundtrack is, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that his best-compiled set of songs are all in Kill Bill, Volume 1 (I can’t vouch for Volume 2; I didn’t much care for 1, so I didn’t see it). Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang” could easily be the subject of this post, as well as a good chunk of The RZA’s work on the score, but no. We’re not going to talk haunting, lovely ballads of betrayal this time.

We’re gonna talk horns.

Tomoyasu Hotei – “Battle Without Honor or Humanity”

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t care much for Kill Bill; I’m a wuss about super-gratuitous movie violence, even at its most cartoony. What I did enjoy, however, was a certain scene in Japan. You know the scene. Think back to 2004, about all of the trailers and promotional footage you may have seen regarding Kill Bill. You know that song, the one that starts out with the small guitar riff, that builds until—out of nowhere—the horn section and percussion come in and hit you like a ton of bricks?

That’s this song.

Many movies I enjoy feature heroes walking in slow motion. Sometimes it’s away from an explosion, sometimes it’s towards the camera, sometimes it’s because they took an extra arrow to the sternum. This is the scene all of those scenes want to be when they grow up. Never, ever have I seem something that makes the simple act of walking so incredibly bad ass. There is nothing to this scene; O-Ren Ishii and her posse simply walk into a Japanese bar. The only thing this scene has going for it is its editing and soundtrack, and OH MAN do they make a difference.

The coolest thing about “Battle Without Honor or Humanity?” The snare. Specifically, the reverb of the snare. There’s something about the way the drum hits—perhaps it’s the way the drums are mixed, perhaps it’s how the snare is tightened. Whatever it is, it’s one of the coolest sounds I’ve ever heard. As a lover of drum tracks in most songs (a loved honed through years of Rock Band), “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” is an absolute feast for the ears.

For those that missed it, here it is:

Fun bit of trivia: Kill Bill wasn’t the first time I became acquainted with Tomei-san’s work. I used to be a big J-pop fan, and he produced a track for my favorite J-artist, Nanase Aikawa, called “No Future.” Similar to “Battle,” I was head-over-heels in love with the song’s snare drums. Some things never change.