Steve Ho Teaches Conan O’Brien How To Fight Like A Ninja Turtle

conan o'brien steven ho tmntTalk show host Conan O’Brien probably isn’t the first person you think of when listing the best action stars of all time. But, that doesn’t stop him from trying. Last night’s episode of Conan on TBS brought recurring guest Steven Ho back to the show in an effort to teach O’Brien some sick fighting moves. Ho is a stunt coordinator whose credits include Blade, Crank: High Voltage and the last two Pirates Of The Caribbean movies. He even played Donatello in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, which brought about some ninja-esque challenges for Conan.

Follow this link to see him take on a gang of fruit-wielding thugs.

Doc Double Feature: Too Tough To Die (2006) & Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011)

After watching roughly a metric butt-ton of horror movies and almost nothing else in the month of October, I was looking forward to watching something a little different. While scanning my Netflix Instant queue I came across a movie that caught my attention: Too Tough To Die: A Tribute To Johnny Ramone. The second part of the title didn’t come through on my screen or maybe I just missed it, but I was sold anyway. You could show me pretty much any picture of Johnny playing guitar in one of his awesome stances and I’d bite. As it turns out, TTTD is equal parts tribute concert for a man about to pass away and brief biography of one of the greatest bands of all time as told by famous fans and the people who were there to see it happen.

Basically, before passing away from pancreatic cancer in 2004, Johnny Ramone planned a tribute concert to his already fallen bandmates Johnny and Dee Dee to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary. He himself couldn’t make it, but he had a hand in nearly every detail from asking his pal Rob Zombie to MC the whole thing to getting bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Dickies and X to perform and even guys like Henry Rollins, Steve Jones, Eddie Vedder, Pete Yorn and others to get together and play some of the Ramones greatest hits along with some deep cuts. The concert was a lot of fun, though I don’t see the appeal of X (maybe they didn’t age well) and I’m always a huge fan of seeing seemingly disparate musicians coming together to share their influences. Would you have thought Yorn was a fan? Maybe not, but hearing him sing “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” made perfect sense (though he looked a little funny playing one of the Ramones signature style guitars).

Between songs, the performers along with others like Debbie Harry and the Ramones’ original managers talked about the band coming together and the impact they had on music. I’m by no means a Ramones expert, but the movie does a good job of filling in the basic details. I knew most of them going in, so I followed along nicely, but I’m not sure if the same could be said for someone completely unfamiliar with the band. Still, you should watch this flick to get an idea.

Johnny passed away two days after the tribute concert and many of the people interviewed think he hung on just to make sure the show went off without a hitch. It was really touching seeing many of the people interviewed in the movie eulogize Johnny. It wound up being an interesting doc because, even though he was the main focus of the discussion, Johnny only showed up in archival interviews and recordings, so you wind up completely seeing this man through the eyes of his friends and family, even though he was alive for at least part of the filming.

After being really bummed out all over again by Johnny’s passing, I grabbed my electric guitar and started wailing on it. I played a few songs that I’ve had in my head forever in a power chord, punk rock tempo and by the end of a quick session my hands hurt, I was sweating and my heart was racing. It felt good. I imagine Johnny and the Ramones felt something similar but magnified a million times on stage. That’s why punk rock is awesome, anyone can do it with a guitar and a few chords.

Moving from the Ramones to Conan O’Brien might seem kind of strange, but the two movies shared not only a thematic relationship, but also a common guest in the form of Eddie Vedder. Basically, Conan was totally punk rock last year. He not only turned down a multimillion dollar deal to move his show back an hour, but after he did so, he went on a DIY tour of the country with a band, skits and guest spots. Sure, he had a team behind him, but he was loyal to them throughout the entire thing and vice versa. It’s not exactly the same as The Ramones slogging through the mean streets of NYC, but it took a lot of integrity and hard work to make it happen.

Can’t Stop follows Conan from the end of his stint on the Tonight Show through the announcement of his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour and all the dates. You actually get to see the moment he sent out the tweet announcing the tour, which was pretty cool to see from the opposite end of things. I followed Conan throughout these days, so now I feel like I know what was going on on his end but also what he was going through.

The real meat of the documentary isn’t seeing Conan and his crew of writers figure out the jokes or him working out and playing songs with the band, but what the tour, being funny and leaving the Tonight Show really mean to the funny man. I heard Conan interviewed by Marc Maron on his wonderful WTF Podcast, so I kind of had a preview of the man behind the smile on TV, so it wasn’t as much of a surprise to see him freaked out after a show or having trouble with certain members of his staff. You tend to think of Conan as a guy who’s always smiling and making jokes, but that’s not the case. If you want to get a real look at the man, watch this movie and then check out the WTF episode…and then all the others, that’s the best damn podcast around.

80s Odyssey: Mac And Me (1988)

I owe Paul Rudd one. I was watching Conan one day last week (Thursday, maybe) and Rudd was on to promote his upcoming movie Our Idiot Brother, a movie I’m actually really looking forward to seeing. The interview went well with laughs being had all around and then, when they threw to the clip of the flick, instead we got a clip of a kid in a wheel chair falling off a cliff into a lake and then a weird alien popping up on the screen. It was from an 80s E.T.-esque flick called Mac and Me. Apparently, Rudd has pulled this gag a number of times on Conan’s various shows.

While I had never seen M&M as a kid, I do remember the poster from various video stores growing up. A few months back, when I was on a huge 80s movie kick, I added it to the top of my Netfllix Instant queue and eventually got to it. (Speaking of which, I just realized I never got around to writing about Littler Monsters, which was actually a fun, weird and original movie.) The film has been panned for being an E.T. ripoff (which it is in many ways) and for being drenched in product placement (also true), but I thought it had a kind of quirky charm that kept my attention throughout the movie’s 95 minutes.

Here’s the story. A family of aliens are hanging out on their planet which is pretty desolate when a NASA probe lands and literally vacuums them up. Unaware of this, NASA brings a family of aliens back to Earth who promptly escape with the youngest hopping into a family’s minivan. The alien, dubbed Mac, winds up revealing himself to the kids (a younger brother in a wheelchair and the older one played by Douglas from Charles in Charge!), but the mom doesn’t believe them. Eventually the neighbor girls get involved as well and the kids head off to the desert with Mac to find his family who aren’t doing so well.

The E.T. comparisons are impossible to ignore. From the single mom with two boys to the scene where government guys are chasing kids on wheeled vehicles (this one utilizes the wheelchair instead of bikes), it’s pretty obvious that they were using Steven Spielberg’s flick as a guide. Heck small spherical candies even come into play (Skittles here, Reese’s Pieces in E.T.). This might sound strange, but I actually preferred a few of the changes in plot that the M&M folks made. I kind of like seeing Mac with his family in the beginning of the film. Sure, it sets up the emotional impact of him being estranged from his family in a more in-your-face manner, but I dug it. I also liked the gonzo ending, though I’m not sure how appropriate it is for kids (SPOILER, it involves cops shooting one of the aliens). There’s also less melodrama in the proceedings, which, depending on my mood, can be preferable.

Overall, though, the film definitely falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category. The above changes were interesting, but as a whole the movie’s still a rip off and super corny. Plus, there’s all the product placement I mentioned. McDonald’s plays HEAVILY into the events of the movie. Not only does the older girl-next-door work there (never seeming to take her ugly green uniform shirt off) but there’s also an extended dance scene that takes place in one of the restaurants under the auspices of a birthday party. Oh, plus, the aliens only seem to eat Skittles and Coca Cola, which are always positioned towards the camera so you know exactly what they’re eating or drinking.

If you are a fan of bad movies, I can’t recommend a flick more. Get some friends together, make up a drinking game (drink once every time you see a product name, twice anytime McDonald’s appears or is mentioned, finish your drink when the teddy bear dances, etc.) and have a blast!

Music Musings: Jack White

I used to HATE Jack White. The White Stripes blew up when I was in high school, maybe it happened earlier there than everywhere else in the world because they’re from Detroit which is only a half hour away from where I grew up in Toledo. Anyway, as a bass player, I was immediately put off by the idea that they didn’t think that position was important enough to fill in their band, even though I was pretty sure there was bass on some of the tracks. I also didn’t really like the schtick with the red, white and black color scheme and “are they siblings or married?” talk in regards to band members Meg and Jack White. But the most damning thing in my opinion was a Guitar World interview with Jack where he badmouthed blues players. That was it for me. Fast forward a decade or so and now I can’t get enough of White, The White Stripes or The Raconteurs (I haven’t gotten into The Dead Weather yet, but I will).

So, why did my opinions change so drastically? Well, first off, I hope I’m not as a judgmental asshole as I used to be in high school. But, even more importantly was watching It Might Get Loud, one of the (if not the) best musical and most interesting rock and roll documentaries I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it (and you really should it’s on Netflix Instant right now!) the conceit was to get three very different kinds of rock and roll guitar players from different generations to tell their stories separately and then get together to talk about records and play music. The three musicians are Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page who I love, U2’s The Edge who I don’t care for (technically, I don’t care for the band, he’s fine) and Jack White. I really appreciated seeing White talk about working as an upholsterer while coming up in the Detroit music scene and even now he does things not to make life easier on himself, but to test his limits. Whether he’s playing with a guitar that is forever going out of tune or putting the microphone a few more feet away from the keyboard, the man seems dead set on challenging himself when it seems like most rock stars decide to take the easy road. I can respect that. There’s something very bluesy about his mindset and hardworking, which comes straight out of the Midwest or really any cold place where people have to work hard for their money.

I was such a fan of the movie and White’s after watching it, that I immediately went out and picked up one of the two Raconteurs records (I honestly can’t remember which one I bought first) and then got the next one. Of course, I’m talking about 2005’s Broken Boy Soldiers and 2008’s Consolers Of The Lonely both of which I have become a huge fan of and have been on regular rotation ever since. How great is “Steady As She Goes”? Super freaking great, but the thing I like most about these two records is how broad they are. You start of with a pretty straight forward rock song like “Steady” and then from there it’s all over the place. The songs might seem disparate at times, but there’s an earthiness to the proceedings that tie all the tracks together. I actually got a Beatles vibe from the records because of all the different elements and kinds of songs, which is not a compliment I offer lightly.

From there I went back to The White Stripes and wound up getting their first album, The White Stripes (1999), and their most recent studio record Icky Thump (2007). Stripes has a lot of raw energy to it which you might expect to have faded by their last record, but that’s not what I see. If anything, I see musicians who have gotten more comfortable with each other (in a good way, not a lazy way) and who have decided to branch playing more kinds of music. I’m nowhere near an expert on the band, only having watched It Might Good Loud and the band’s Canadian tour film Under Great White Northern Lights, and like I said, I’ve only got two of their records, but I feel like I’ve got a handle on the mindset behind the music (at least as much as White is willing to show). He’s a hardworking man with a love for music of all kinds and isn’t afraid to push himself to try and make that music better, which is a huge part of UGWL. Not only do we get more behind the scenes type goodness, but also White’s desire to play shows in unexpected places, to play for people who aren’t fans and to hopefully turn some of those people into fans. I guess that’s what he did to me, so mission accomplished!

From here I’m keeping my eyes open for the White Stripes records I don’t have and getting into The Dead Weather (the fact that he’s a multi-instrumentalist is also impressive) as well as keeping my eyes peeled for other projects he might have in the works, like when he gave Conan O’Brien and his then-touring band a place to record or, well, really anything else the man has planned. He might literally be the hardest working man in rock and roll at the moment, in a time when most people are using their success to make things easier, White’s making himself work harder, even bringing his talent to other artists through his Third Man Records. Anyone with a work ethic like that, is aces in my book, ten year old remarks about the blues aside.

Series Premiere: Conan

There was something thrilling and joyful about watching the premiere of Conan O’Brien’s new show on TBS aptly titled Conan. Like I mentioned in my post covering his last episode of The Tonight Show, I remember watching the very first episode of his run on The Late Show WAY back when and was pretty disappointed in NBC. I also felt like I had let Conan down a little by not following his exploits as the host of the Tonight Show more, but I was working at the time and, let’s be honest, you only really matter if you’ve got a Nielsen Box when it comes to rating. Anyway, seeing Conan on a rad-looking new stage with Andy Richter and the Jimmy Livino & The Basic Cable Band honestly made my heart happy. Unfortunately, I missed a few chunks of the show including Seth Rogen’s appearance because things got a little crazy with the Steelers game. I also missed all  but the end of his interview with Lea Michelle, but the performance with Jack White and the Basic Cable Band reminded me of how good the record they made was, plus it showed that the man still knows how to have fun and may have brought a little of what he learned and experienced on the road back to his new show. The bits with the moon, Masturbating Bear as lotto ball chooser and Ricky Gervais’ appearance were all great moments. Can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for the rest of the week/year/long as I live.

Record Review: Conan O’Brien & The Legally Prohibited Band 6-10-2010

Back in June I did a post about how I wished I could have been in Nashville for a performance by Conan O’Brien and the Legally Prohibited Band at Jack White’s Third Man Records (click the link for all the details and a video from the performance). At that time I went and pre-ordered the vinyl recording of the show from TMR’s website (you can buy it here). It took awhile for the record to actually get pressed and sent out, but I probably got mine a few weeks ago. It was a nice surprise because I had basically forgotten about the whole thing.

The record’s a ton of fun to listen to. You can tell that Conan’s still bummed out about not being on the Tonight Show and even does a great bit where he jokes how he’s going back in time from hosting the show, to going on a tour, to pressing a record and will most likely be a steamship captain in the near future. It’s fun to listen back now that we know he’s got a show on TBS coming up and that it will simply be called Conan. The set list included “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Rock This Town,” “Polk Salad Annie,” “On the Road Again” which he rechristened “I Want to Get My Own Show Again,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” a brief version of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” Radiohead’s “Creep” in a hilarious British accent, “The Weight” and finally “Twenty Flight Rock” with Jack White. I’m fairly sure that “Creep” just happened spontaneously on stage and their performance actually made me kind of like Radiohead, a band I think is ridiculously overhyped.

I wish the record would have come with some kind of download code so I could easily put these tracks on my iPod, they’re that fun to listen to (and let’s be honest, Conan’s band has always been the hottest on television, with the possible exception of The Roots on Fallon). I’ve got one of those record players that converts to MP3, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass to operate. Oh well, considering I do most of my work from home anyway, it won’t be a big deal.

So, if you’re interested in listening to an actual record of a giant Irishman backed by a hot band playing songs written by old black men from the south (plus some Brits, Elvis and a few other folks), then this is the perfect thing for you to pick up!