Friday, February 10, 2012

Rob Fee's "Grape Stomp"

In the movie Up, an elderly man takes flight in his house by simply attaching a bunch of helium balloons to it. A pretty big premise to swallow, even for an animated film, and when I first started seeing previews for it a few years ago I predicted the guys at Pixar had finally ended their impressive streak of amazing films. I was wrong. Not only was Up a project I absolutely fell in love with, but I had no idea Cars 2 would be the one to fulfill that whole legacy-ending prophecy in 2011.

In someone else's hands, Up might not have taken flight. Forget the whole flying-house-with-balloons thing. You've also got the weight of a beloved character dying in the first five minutes to add a few extra pounds of depression that hang over our main character throughout the rest of the film. There's something special behind the walls of Pixar, though, and they were still able to lift the story and set our spirits soaring.

Rob Fee's Grape Stomp is like the Stand Up Comedy version of Up except here we get to see how it would turn out if it weren't in Pixar's capable hands. To put it simply: It never gets off the ground.

In my humble opinion there are three major obstacles here (one of them with three sub-points), three really super-heavy obstacles, that no amount of helium balloons would ever be able to budge. The first?
  1. Fee's Voice.
    It's low, gravelly, and void of all emotion, which is odd since he spends a good amount of time yelling. His voice is like the house in Up: It's the main centerpiece, always constant, always present, and it's big, heavy, and lumbering. It sounds like Vin Diesel if he screamed at the top of his lungs for hours on end, shredding his poor vocal cords. The timbre hampers Fee's delivery, granting little to no levity in his words. No matter how animated he gets, the tone of his speaking voice is like a wet blanket that adds an unintended -- yet weighty -- somber vibe to everything.
    If Fee's voice is the house in this cinematic allegory, then

  2. The Writingcould be likened to the balloons, desperately trying to lift the heaviness of the project. In the movie it required an unreal amount of balloons. Fee's jokes don't provide nearly the amount of lift needed to get things moving. Despite a handful of promising premises, Fee is unable to flesh them out into anything that really takes hold. He doesn't seem to construct punchlines as much as he says words with the inflection as if he was saying a punchline. At other times, he is stretching his idea so much, trying to force it to fit the joke he has in mind, that he strips all the funny out of it. He goes through a recap of the movie The Human Centipede just so he can muse about his desire to recast the film just so he can put composer Randy Newman into the film as part of the human centipede just so he can tell us how funny it would be if he had him sing "You've Got A Friend In Me." That's a long way to go and a whole lot of set-up to sit through to get to...well...not something very funny.
    The final thing weighing down the project and the one that I just couldn't get past was

  3. The Laugh TrackYep. That's right. A laugh track. An obvious, obvious laugh track. OK, I admit it, I have no written proof or first-hand evidence that canned laughter was used but to my ears it sticks out so obviously and is so poorly edited and executed, the recording itself is all the evidence I need.

    1. For starters, they (whoever "they" is. Fee? The producer? A friend with a sound FX CD?) only seemed to use three different canned laughter clips (one is actually canned clapping) with which to "sweeten" the entire album and they're such distinct snippets I was actually kind of insulted that they thought people wouldn't recognize the same crowd of females laughing looped over and over and over again.

    2. This one is sort of important, so listen up Future Sound Engineers of America: You can't have the laughter start before we reach the vicinity of the end of a joke. Instead, the laugh track is pretty much running constantly throughout the album. Constantly. Through the punch, through the pauses, and through the setup of the next joke. And lemme tell ya, nothing sounds more blatantly fake than a theater full of people laughing hysterically at phrases like, "The other day I had to run some errands..."

    3. Finally, if you are going to use canned laughter and you want it to stop, may I suggest either fading it out or waiting until the laughter ends to hit PAUSE. If you want to make it sound like you're adding laughter to a room full of people who aren't laughing, then by all means have them all stop at the exact same time, in the middle of a big laugh.
      To give you a taste of how annoying that can be, instead of wrapping up this review with a cl


Grape Stomp is available on iTunes.

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