Monday, June 28, 2004

Suspicion

I fear my DVD player may be damaging DVDs. I can't prove it, but the last two sets I've gotten--Freaks and Geeks and Curb Your Enthusiasm--have both become victims of unexplained scarring. I actually re-bought Freaks and Geeks since I had gotten it online, making a return complicated, and it was such a prized addition to my collection I couldn't bear the thought that it was imperfect. The sad part was that it was a six disc set, and only two discs were actually damaged. As for Curb, I was going to try a service I saw that claims to repair scratches for a reasonable price, but seeing as my exchange period at Best Buy has not yet passed, I might as well go for a whole new set.

As most of you know, I am rather protective of my DVDs (or "children," as I prefer to call them) and I can't think of any explanation for this happening multiple times, aside from blaming the machine.

It is with sadness that I must now stop using my DVD player, even though I can't prove its culpability in the matter. But it doesn't happen every time, just enough that I can't afford to take any more chances. Today I bought a DVD remote for my PS2, because that made more sense than buying a whole new player.

I have long been resistant to the prospect of actually using a gaming console as my primary DVD player (an insult to my precious DVDs, who deserve their own devoted piece of equipment), but now I've been forced into it. With the remote, it should be okay. Playing DVDs with a controller would have been a travesty.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Telephone Etiquette

I got two calls today from the same financial service offering to help me reduce my mortgage. Both times they asked for Mr. Borilla, or some such last name that is not mine but is a plausible mispronounciation of my last name.

The first time I said "I don't have a mortgage" and hung up.

The second time I decided to pretend I was mentally challenged. My insensitive portrayal consisted of me bellowing yes or no answers into the phone in a clownish, hard-to-understand voice.

As the confused telemarketer asked for Vivian and tried to confirm my address, I realized he was not mangling my name, but actually had the wrong number. I told him so in my mentally-challenged clown voice. I'm not sure if he understood, but he did hang up soon.

Pranks like this are kind of awkward because they're really just for you (you meaning me, not you meaning you, the reader). No one else can really appreciate it. And I felt quite ridiculous switching to a silly voice in the middle of a call once I realized who I was talking to. But after the first call, I really felt like I'd missed an opportunity, so I was glad to get a chance to rectify that.

Ain't nothing but a G thing

I have a few (4) Gmail invitations left. I figure any friends who actually read my blog deserve one if they so desire. First come first served. This offer not valid for readers I don't know personally (you know who you are, Herb).

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Get even with an ex-girlfriend

If you've ever wanted to get back at an ex in a profoundly unsatisfying manner, this is the eBay auction for you.

Electric Boogaloo

Yesterday I saw kids in Santa Monica tooling around on scooters with noisy little motors. Then today I saw ads in the paper for such scooters. Kids shouldn't have electric scooters for three reasons:

1. It's hard enough to get today's fat-assed kids outside; now they don't even have to push their own damn scooter? Instead they sit their fat ass on a scooter seat and motor around like a senior citizen on a Rascal? Scooters suck because you have to push them. That's a lesson these kids need to learn first hand.

2. Is the idea of a motor scooter kick-ass cool? Yes, it is. (See this extremely well-argued essay if you disagree.) That's exactly why kids shouldn't have one. In my day having a motor on your scooter was something you could only imagine. Maybe you had a friend who knew a kid who had one, and no one knew where he got it. We wanted a noisy motor so bad we were willing to strap fake plastic motors to our bicycles with a piece of plastic flapping against the spokes. Yes, our motors were in our imaginations. The real thing would be so impossibly cool it would melt your brain if you ever experienced it. If kids just get a motor scooter, right off, they won't have any idea how cool it is because they haven't spent their whole lives on lame scooters fantasizing about it.

3. I never had an electric scooter when I was a kid. Thus, no child must ever know this joy.

Friday, June 18, 2004

A TRUE underdog story

I don't know why that's the tagline for Dodgeball. As opposed to other, false movie underdog stories? Are these dogs even further under than we're used to seeing?

But I'm not here to nitpick taglines. At least, not again. Dodgeball looks okay, if uneven. It seems to rely a bit heavily on people-getting-hit-with-things comedy, which is normally pretty foolproof, but there's a chance it may lose its luster when used, oh, two hundred times in ninety minutes.

If you've seen the TV spots for this movie you've seen Rip Torn bark, "If you can dodge traffic, you can dodge a ball!" followed by Stephen Root's umpteenth variation on his doofus character cowering as he's about to be hit by a truck.

Can we be done with the shock humor device of large vehicles violently slamming into characters from offscreen? We saw it in Not Another Teen Movie, we saw it (twice!) in the otherwise excellent Mean Girls, I (but probably no one else) saw it in D.O.T.s, the failed NBC pilot about meter maids. I get it. We can now convincingly show people getting hit by buses, trucks, and all manner of painful, heavy vehicles in ways that ought to kill them.

I'm over it. The novelty is gone.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

A paper shredder is not a toy

...unfortunately.

So we're shredding old tests because they have addresses on them, which is the coolest thing I've ever done since working for Kaplan, except now the shredder is jammed. Not my fault. Jacob ran it in reverse and the paper got stuck (disappointingly, "reverse" mode does not unshred the paper). There must be a way to fix this thing. Right?

Answer quickly, please.

America or Burst

I found this reading through other blogs that blogger links to. I know 80's nostalgia is trendy and played out (thanks a lot, VH1), but if you're at all into reliving pieces of your childhood and feeling alternately heartwarmed and sickened, check it out. Follow the TV intros link and the rest is self-explanatory. Do it for yourself, not just because the popular kids are doing it.

The ones that really got me: Punky Brewster (I didn't remember the song at all until I heard it, then I realized it had never left me), The Real Ghostbusters (How cool was that show?), the Super Mario Bros. Super Show (Holy crap, this is the dumbest thing I've ever seen; I used to watch it every day and I don't remember this at all), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Here called "Hero Turtles" rather than "Ninja Turtles"--some foreign markets are apparently sadly unfamiliar with Ninjas), My Secret Identity (At one point, my favorite show--was Jerry O'Connell still that fat then?), and Mask (loved the show, but wow, those are some awful lyrics).

And whatever you do, don't skip Samurai Pizza Cats.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Enthusiasm: Curbed!

Just picked up the second season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD. I haven't watched any yet, but I have seen a couple of season 2 episodes. I downloaded them a long time ago.

Absolutely the funniest five hours of anything produced by man or God anywhere in the universe in the last billion years. America does everything better than Europe.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The wives of Stepford have a secret...

...their movie isn't very good.

In fact it's terrible, a total botch, a lazy mess.

Redoing the movie as a comedy wasn't a bad idea, since it's hard to tell someone the premise of the original without laughing. There wouldn't be much point in trying to recreate the creepy dread of the seventies version today.

To be fair, there are a few laughs in the new version, most of them courtesy of the obligatory flaming gay friend. While the idea of a gay couple moving to Stepford (and by extension, the potential for a gay Stepford "wife") is actually the cleverest "modern update" this version has to offer, getting laughs from a sassy gay man is the comedy equivalent of doing slam dunks on a lowered basket while using a stepladder. If TV and movies are to be believed, flamboyant homosexuals seldom, if ever, say anything that's not funny.

But whatever laughs we get are undercut by two things.

The first problem is that Nicole Kidman's character is depicted as so bitchy and awful, in spite of the best efforts of her highly accomodating husband (Matthew Broderick), that Stepfordization seems like the only solution. If anyone ever deserved to be a Stepford wife, it is she.

I hesitate to say that the film fails because she is unlikable. Comedy writers everywhere often struggle to get interesting, flawed characters past committees of executives that insist that characters are "not likable enough." But there's a certain way to make unlikable characters fun, usually either by putting them in situations where we can sympathize with them and vicariously enjoy their hostility to other, even more annoying people (see Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm) or by setting up the story so we can enjoy their suffering without the burden of having to root for them (see Broderick's character in Election). Stepford Wives gives us a woman we hate, then asks us to root for her to survive.

The other, bigger reason the film fails is that it completely implodes in the third act. (SPOILERS AHEAD.)

Throughout the film we are led to believe the Stepford Wives are robots, and a long series of jokes play off the fact that we already know this going in. One wife malfunctions and spins out of control at a dance; other characters comment on the sparks flying out of her ears. Later this character is shown being controlled by remote, her breasts inflating at the touch of a button. Another wife is shown being used literally as an ATM machine (we hear whirring and flapping of bills, until, anticlimactically, they emerge from her mouth). Another character places her hand in a flame to no effect.

Then Christopher Walken shows us a "promotional video" that claims that the women are actually real women being controlled by chips in their brains. ("Nanochips," actually, because nanotechnology is the buzzword of lazy sci-fi screenwriters everywhere.) We're a little confused, but immediately afterward, Kidman is confronted with a robotic shell built to look like her (as seen in the trailers). Okay, so we presume that the video was lying, though perhaps we wonder why they bothered to show us an explanation that wasn't true right before revealing the real one.

Then Kidman and Broderick and robo-Kidman lower into the floor, and we cut to Stepfordized Kidman in the supermarket with the other wives. But wait! Broderick sneaks into the Men's Club basement and somehow manages to deactive all the wives' chips! They all turn back into their strong, independent woman selves and get angry at their husbands. And it turns out Kidman was never converted at all, she and Broderick were just pretending. As a side issue, it also makes no sense that no one else was there to assist with the Stepfordization process, whatever the hell it was, leaving Broderick and Kidman alone to concoct this ruse. It's all an unconvincing setup for a happy ending where the wives survive, which might have worked if the chip thing were more consistent, but it doesn't work here at all.

Now, a twist: Glenn Close, seemingly the uber-Stepford wife, is actually human and turns out to be the mastermind behind the whole thing. She totally flips out. Why did she do it? The best the film can muster is essentially: She's CRAAA-ZY!!

The first Stepford Wives movie was effectively creepy at times, but also ridiculous and implausible and had its own frustrating ending, not because it was dark but because the character seemed to give up too easily. But it did somewhat capture a dynamic between the sexes that existed at the time.

Perhaps it's asking too much for a campy, semi-dark comedy to also have something of a coherent statement on the current state of feminism or gender relations. But it could have done that, and the film would have been richer, or at least felt like there was some point to it. As it is, the story is so muddled it doesn't seem to say anything at all. When you have a premise that is so clearly a setup for a feminist allegory and then you ignore that, it feels even more empty than Dude, Where's My Car?, or any other film that sets out for nothing and achieves it. Surely this should say more than "Powerful women are bitches but they win anyway because men are buffoons, and oh, I was just joking about the whole thing anyway, some CRAZY woman thought it up." Don't worry, girls, men would only want Stepford Wives if they were idiots manipulated by a lunatic. No one really thinks that way.

Both the new and old versions of the film make the mistake of dressing up the women in frilly, flowery, unsexy outfits that are not at all what men would design for a fantasy brainless submissive sex object. (The new one probably is copying the old one in this respect; according to screenwriter William Goldman, the original only featured long frilly dresses because the director cast his frumpy middle-aged wife in the movie, and she couldn't wear sexy outfits, so none of the wives could.)

Some clever contemporary satire could definitely have come out of current "guy empowerment" trends (the whole Maxim/Spike TV/Man Show mindset, encouraging pride in boorishness and idiocy), and examining what the current supposed female ideal is in a guy's eyes. An interesting counterpoint could examine how some women justify making themselves into sex objects, claiming that using their bodies to play off men's lust "empowers" them as women. There was a lot of potential in a contemporary update.

Anyway, the whole thing is so lazy it's insulting, and maybe you could forgive the emptiness of the movie if it at least had the courtesy to make sense and be internally consistent (which the original, for all its failings, did achieve).

Some apologists online have claimed that the movie does make sense, that in fact, what they do is implant chips in women's brains but then put the brains in robots. This seems like a pointless extra step when either robots or chip-brains alone would do the job. In any case, the movie never suggests this, except by providing two completely disparate explanations that can only be reconciled through the band-aid of desperate extradiagetic rationalization.

Cynthia would probably enjoy the opening credits sequence, though: a montage of fifties clips from promotional films hyping high-tech household appliances OF THE FUTURE. At least one of the films used appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Seventh Helen

I was going to respond in the comments section, but it got so long it seemed a shame not to make this a post.

In response to my precious, precious lone comment regarding "Raising Helen":

Big Stupid Jerkface said...
"...Suppose that you did have to explain why [the tagline "Helen help us" is not okay], just hypothetcially [sic]. What might you say to the head-scratching, question-posting dunderhead who requested an obviously unnecessary explanation?"

When I was at Mad, and we would come up with the pun-laden department headings for each article, they told me that whenever they brainstormed for these puns, they weren't allowed to pun off a word that was already in the title of the article. It feels redundant and less clever. If anyone accidentally forgot and did suggest such a pun, the rest of the staff would declare, in unison, "It's in the title, asshole."

I realize this advertising campaign is not Mad magazine, but I put forth to you that similar rules ought to apply when constructing a movie tagline. The tagline should be catchy, but shouldn't repeat words that are already on the poster.

(I have a similar, less severe problem with the Stepford Wives tagline, "The wives of Stepford have a secret." Not the least of which is the fact that the husbands, not the wives, are the ones with the secret. The wives don't know anything. More on this in a later post.)

Also, a tagline should ideally tell you something about the movie that the title does not already tell you. "Helen help us" tells us nothing and is interchangeable with the meaningless title itself.

Furthermore, not only is re-using the same word for the pun incredibly lazy, but "heaven" and "hell" are such similar concepts that it's practically the same pun.

Ironically, despite this similarity, the fact that the words suggest concepts that are literally polar opposites causes one to question which one Helen is meant to be associated with. Is Helen a fiesty hell-raiser or a saint? The title suggests one, the tagline suggests the other. Is it both? What would that even mean?

The text actually cancels itself out, leaving only the amazingly bland poster art. The only information conveyed is "Kate Hudson." Granted, that's the selling point, but I find it insulting that a movie is so afraid to take the risk of actually hinting, even slightly, as to what it is about.

This is why it is not okay.

More like class of two thousand and SNORE

I went to my sister's high school graduation this weekend, after a last-minute decision to be a good brother. Through no fault of my sister's, the ceremony was incredibly boring, natch. As promised, however, she did pretend to receive her diploma onstage, followed by picture-taking and the decidedly unceremonious process of waiting in line to actually pick up a diploma.

I saw Andy Lenigan there, for those of you who know who that is.

Why do school board members insist upon being on stage when students receive their diploma-holders? Who decided that every kid in the district must shake hands with not only their favorite teacher and their principal, but also five idiots they've never seen before in their lives? That seemed to be a waste of precious time that could have been spent reading names at a faster pace.

I went to the graduation expecting to hear a lot of names. Indeed, if you are in the mood to hear a lot of names, this is without a doubt the place to be (if you prefer your name consumption in animated text form, especially names of movie stars, I must again direct you to the horrible Ocean's Twelve teaser). In fact, I heard even more names than I was expecting, so I can't complain I didn't get my money's worth.

But I had forgotten, until the dreadful moment when I sat down and looked at the stage and memories of my own graduation* came flooding back, that I would also have to suffer through trite speeches by the (exclusively female) saludi- and valedic- torians. Speeches about how grades are important, but the most important thing is having fun with your friends and having memories to treasure.

Oh, and leaving for Cornell to study Biochemistry; so long, all you suckers who focused exclusively on the memory-building.

This last part no one said, but I wanted them to.

I feel the last thing smart kids need to do in their speeches is to pat mediocre students on the back and make them feel good about the fact that they had fun and that it's okay that they didn't work as hard. No! They are failures and you are a success; that's why you're on the stage talking! Say so! Rub their faces in it. Especially if you really did achieve simultaneous academic and social success, remind people how you are better because could do both and they could manage only one!

Unfortunately I was only able to achieve upper-medium smartness and was never afforded this outlet for expression. I wish I had been a -torian of some sort.

But not a historian. Laaame!!


* My memories of my own graduation included me being very sick and miserable as I sat in the hot sun and listened to many names (but not as many as this time!).

Addendum: Stephanie was a valedictorian and I'm sure her speech was excellent, whatever it was.

Trailer Trash

I highly recommend the Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events trailer. I don't know how you "book readers" pictured Count Olaf, but Jim Carrey's gleefully evil performance looks like a great one.

Also, if you're into animated names dancing around looking cool, you owe it to yourself to check out the Ocean's Twelve teaser, which has more animated names and less of anything else than you could possibly want.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Anything can be a blog posting

Anything at all! Isn't that weird?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Highway to Helen

This is out of date, but if I'd had a blog a few weeks ago I would have said...

Living in LA it's pretty much impossible to not be aware of an upcoming major motion picture, since unsightly billboards are everywhere and massive renderings of Ben Stiller, Keira Knightly, or CGI Garfield ("It's all about ME-OW!") watch over every street.

Lately there were some billboards for Garry Marshall's film Raising Helen. The marketing department apparently believed that a beaming Kate Hudson lounging in Ugg boots was enough to win over any potential moviegoer, to the extent that the image was featured not only in billboard and print advertising but even as a bizarre still photo in TV ads!

Please don't bother me with details about Hudson's character "Helen" being saddled with her dead sister's kids and learning to deal with hardships and such. Kids and hardship are hereby banished from this promotional image! The public demands a cheerful Kate Hudson, nothing more. Thus, cheerful she shall be!

A week or so after the film was released, newspaper ads added a new element. Now, above the lounging happy Kate in Ugg boots, there was a new, larger Kate in close-up, with a city skyline behind her. Was Kate still happy? You bet! Happier than ever! So happy that her ever smiling mouth now hung open as if in mid-chortle! Two joyful Kates in one full-page ad. Clearly the audience had not been sold on her cheer. No, she was not happy enough. An additional smile would be needed to lure in the desired crowds.

Aside from all this, an even more egregious element appeared throughout the newspaper ad campaign: The tagline for the film was apparently "Helen help us."

Okay, fine. A hint, perhaps, that in the film Helen will be called upon to help someone. More appropriate, perhaps, than the title itself, which suggests that someone will be raising Helen rather than vice versa (probably it's meant to suggest that in the act of raising others, Helen herself grows up). But now, between the cutesy title "Raising Helen" and the cutesy tagline "Helen help us," the name Helen has now been made to stand in for both "heaven" and "hell"! This is not okay. I shouldn't have to explain why.

Ego wins out

I resisted the lure of blogging for a long time, ever conscious of what a selfish exercise it would be to document my thoughts for no other reason than for people to see them, regardless of how unentertaining they would be.

However, now that Lydia, Cynthia, and even Zack have created utterly pointless blogs of their own, the bar (in my mind) has been lowered and I can no longer resist. My excuse is that I am unable to post on their blogs otherwise, but in fact that is a lie. I would like to comment on their blogs, but my true motive is far more narcissistic.

On the plus side, few will read this blog because of the inconvenience of posting here. I envision a cozy, incestuous blog circle consisting of myself and the aformentioned bloggers that will collapse into apathy within a week or two.

Maybe then this will be out of my system.