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Wednesday
Oct222014

Shia LaBeouf Has Made The Greatest Comeback Ever (Without Really Doing Anything)

Six months ago, Shia LaBeouf was public persona non grata numero uno about town.  He'd gotten drunk, punched in the face, did Transformers 3, got arrested, plagiarized, plagiarized again, put a bag on his head, got really drunk, got arrested again, and declared he wasn't famous anymore.

Well, if there is one thing that is true in Hollywood it's that you do not get to decide if you are famous.

This DIDN'T kill his career

In the past I have been back and forth on Shia.  I never thought he was a bad actor, but he did have a knack for somehow always being on an upward trajectory despite appearing in several crappy movies and multiple run ins in the law for dopey behavior.  A favorite thing to say to actor friends on their birthdays was that no matter how old they ever got they would never be as famous as Shia LaBeouf.

But now, without seeing him act in anything since Wallstreet: Money Never Sleeps, I find myself with a new opinion of Mr. LaBeouf:  he's awesome.

Okay, so my actual take on him is a little more complex than that, but there is no denying how entertaining Shia has been of late.  Just by being himself.

I mean, sure, Shia did put out a movie this past week called Fury also starring Brad Pitt and it is getting pretty good reviews (80% of RT).  A lot of what Shia has done the past few weeks in his media blitz could ostensibly be attributed to promoting Fury but upon closer inspection it is clear there has only been one goal:  The resurrection of the LaBeouf.

First there was this charming tale of misdemeanor debauchery on Kimmel:

Regardless of where you stand on his antics, you have to admit, he spins a good yarn.  Even Alan Cumming agrees.

Now this story by itself, coupled with positive buzz around Fury, was enough to get Shia back in the black.  But Shia wasn't done.

Shia lended his name and face to a Rob Cantor live performance that can only be described as transcendent.  A song all about a chance(?) encounter with the crazed cannibal Shia LaBeouf which quickly becomes a battle of life and death in a secluded forest.  It has a gay men's choir, a children's choir, ballet dancers, a woman performing with aerial silks, paper mache heads, and the myth himself.

Watch it below and submit to the reign of Shia LaBeouf.

 

Tuesday
Oct212014

Led Zeppelin is Going to Court, The Uniqueness of Plagiarism in Music

It may be the most famous song of the 20th century, and now it is looking like the people who wrote it are about to go court over accusations of plagiarism.  And it looks like they're going to lose.

Yes, over 40 years after "Stairway to Heaven" was first released, Led Zeppelin is being sued for Copyright Infringement by the band Spirit for ripping off their song "Taurus" for Stairway's opening riff.  (The part in question starts at the 44 seconds mark)

The two guitar parts are nearly identical, Zeppelin had toured with Spirit in 1968 (4 years before the release of Satirway), and after ruled to not throw out the case yesterday it is looking like Zeppelin will be forced to acknowledge the aping.

Considering that Spirit is only looking for a writing credit with consideration for future royalties (and not back pay on the 550 million dollars the song is estimated to have made since its release) it is a bit odd to see Zeppelin so opposed to acknowledging an obvious influence.  What's worse is that Zeppelin's initial defense has nothing to do with songwriting but rather that the case should have been thrown out because it was brought against them in a Pennsylvania court, somewhere they see as having no jurisdiction over the band.  Lame.

The whole case seems pretty cut and dry.  If a school teacher can nail Men at Work for sampling the "Kookaburra" song in their 80s hit "Down Under", Zeppelin really doesn't have much a chance here.  What is interesting is the standard to which music is held on issues of copyright compared to other mediums.

Not one original story ever came from this guy's head.

All artists are constantly stealing from each other.  If Shakespeare had lived today he'd probably spend more time in the courtroom than the Globe Theatre.  In film, knock off pictures (known at "mockbusters") are released every year to try and cash in on projected blockbusters.  The Asylum film production company has made it their sole business.  In literature, stylistic and character thievery is so common it is both encouraged and necessary.  In music, you can't do these things.  

If the notes match, you've got a problem.  Even if the two songs are stylistically miles apart.  It doesn't matter if one song is about the vietnam war and the other is about eating ice cream, if they have a similar chord progression you can expect a law suit.  Just ask Robin Thicke.

Why?  

NOT copyright infringement.

There is a movie out there called Atlantic Rim right now, that is so much like Pacific Rim in every way there is no way you could watch it without thinking of the latter.  But its just different enough.  Maybe it has to do with the idea that music is a one dimensional art form, you can only experience it through sound so similarities are harder to ignore.

Maybe it has to do with the personal level at which most songs are created.  It takes dozens if not hundreds of people to make most films.  Books are rarely released without multiple rounds with an editor and story changes.  But a song is typically written by one person.

Or maybe it is the lack of copyright-able aspects within a song.  You can have a story about a tomb raiding archeologist fighting nazi's just as long as you don't name him Indiana Jones.  Try writing a protest song about growing up in a poor factory down in which your narrator is drafted into military service and then comes back home and is unable to get a job called "Born in Ontario".  Count the minutes it takes before you get sued.

I don't know why it is.  All I know for sure, is that "Stairway to Heaven" is more than likely soon to have an additional songwriter in its liner notes.

Friday
Oct172014

The Walking Dead. The Show Vs. The Game

 

The Walking Dead premiered this past Sunday in spectacularly gruesome fashion (soylent greenburgers anyone?) and it is safe to say it got the strong reaction it was looking for.

Chaotic action sequences have always been Dead's forte and the latest episode, "No Sanctuary", was basically one whole episode of just that.  I have to admit, as someone that is not a fan of the show, when The Walking Dead does what it does best, it makes for compelling television.  It's the when it handles the people who survive those action sequences that the show falters.

Rick Grimes knows how to use a big gun, its when he has to use his words he runs into trouble.

The Walking Dead has more than one problem, but one of its biggest is the perpetual feeling that no matter what happens the group of heroes will survive.  Of the primary cast (cast members that have been given "star" billing) a mere seven out of twenty four - including major antagonist "The Governor" - have been killed off in four seasons.  Keep in mind, this is a show in which every single character is in near constant danger of being killed.

The Walking Dead loves killing people, just not people that the audience has any sort of emotional attachment with.  Case in point: the oh-so-convenient disease that swept through the prison community early in season four and killed just about every single character with the exception of anyone in the primary group.  I have trouble believing that in such a violent postapocalyptic world, there would be so much continuity.  It all feels highly contrived.

As Arya Stark said, "Anyone can be killed."  Unless apparently you've been with Rick Grimes for more than one season, then you're probably good.

An incarnation of The Walking Dead that actually takes Arya's words to heart is the TellTale Games series The Walking Dead.

The game, which takes place in the same universe as the show (and comics) but follows different characters, does an impeccable job of capturing the stress and danger of the world that is The Walking Dead.  Characters are constantly at each other's throats, there are no easy (or even good) solutions, and people die... lots of people.

After establishing what feels like a pretty solid group of survivors early on, the game immediately sets to dwindling the numbers.  Some people leave, some are left behind, most are killed.  It is in having the courage to do this - get rid of interesting characters just as you get to know them - that the game keeps the story moving.  It feels more true to the world of Walking Dead.

No one is safe.  This leads to a point about halfway through the story onwards where you really feel like things are getting dire.  Will anyone make it?  Then, just as you ask yourself... two more people die.

This is partly made possible by the fact that the game follows one character's struggle, rather than trying to have multiple lead characters that have to be the hero of their own story.  All of the characters are important, but they all move the story, not the other way around.

Lee keeps his shit together.

The game's hero, Lee Everett, shares a great many similarities with the show's primary hero, Rick.  Both are reluctant leaders, both have a child to care for, both are good men who have been forced to do terrible things, both struggle with the balance of doing the right thing and keeping everyone in line.  Where Lee surpasses Rick, is that he doesn't ever get bogged down in his self wallowing.  He struggles but he doesn't cry about it.  Even for this, he is constantly forced to doubt himself and his choices.  And even his survival is no guarantee.

This sense of constant peril really makes the experience all the more exciting.  Everything, happens with the conclusion in mind.  Just like in a game of chess, any and all pieces are expendable to achieve the final goal.

And the audience are the winners