Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Message in a Bottle

From out of the past, praise from Tag Savage. It's a ways down on the page, but if you do a "Find" for "Squelch" or "Kenny" that will do it. Or see the excerpt here.

Something nice.

The Heuristic
Squelch has become quite good. I would say that its due to the stick-to-itiveness of its senior members, but similar tenures have not helped out Satellite very much.

It's not just that the subject matter has grown more, ah, mature either. Some of their best work has been their nastiest.

No, I think what I like is the quiet craft its writers have gone about developing. Rather than steadily blow each joke over the top, as was the routine for years, they have learned the slow burn, the gentle kick, the sudden gouge. Kenny Byerly, in particular, has become not just a master of form but one of its keenest innovators as well. The topics he deals in are deceptively benign. Maybe he's straight-edge or something. But he is funny like I am smart: in excitingly stupid ways.

But yes, I was postively mystified by the "RAD Trip" piece. Unfounded, untopical, unfocused, utterly knockabout. Thrilling.

Then there is Steven Handley, punk rocker, sweet-mouthed bastard. He is not prolific, but he is fine.

Now I am imagining parallels, deep tragic parallels. Handley and Gabriel C. Kevin Deenihan and Amit. What is your milieu? It does not matter. We all do what we do, whatever it happenes to be. Some of us switch up every so often.

There are the craftsmen, those who obsess over aesthetic niggles and whose work is formally unassailable. There are the punks, seething and radical, innovating at all costs. The punks, more than anything, learn too easily and get bored. There are the ... ah ... what are they called? The fluster kids whose material aches with desire, who sexual and social dysfunction is at once obfuscated and amplified by their conflicted work.

Oh.
 
At last, I know that "RAD Trip," a personal favorite and popular failure, found its audience, and that audience is a pretentious hipster. So be it. So much the better, in fact, since it means that his flowery prose will fellate my ego more skillfully than that of a layman.

It may be a good thing that I never saw this while I was still writing for the Squelch.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Franco-American

The trailer for the American remake of Taxi is here!

Any who doubt Hollywood's cinematic supremacy over Europe need only glance at this trailer, which takes France's most successful brainless action car-chase franchise, sees it and raises it one second-tier SNL star, one sassy black woman, and one team of bank-robbing supermodels.

The French version's taxi driver, rather than being Queen Latifah, was a white male character. He had a surprising charm despite looking like an uglier, Frencher Adam Sandler. Foolishly, the French version also had boring German men as the team of bank robbers, instead of beautiful women who could easily be making a fortune getting paid to be beautiful.

But far be it from me to criticize a movie that goes out of its way to offer hard-driving, gun-wielding tough chicks who strip down to their underwear when it's time to change disguises. Entertainment Weekly, along with plenty of people online, has already pointed out how colossally stupid this movie looks. I actually think the gag in the trailer where Jimmy Fallon tries to commandeer a vehicle is pretty funny, but never mind. This movie will live or die on the quality of its car chases, and based on the trailer, they look to be well-shot. If the chases are crap, this movie will have zero redeeming value. If they are cool, the rest of the scenes will do well enough to avoid being painful.

Unfortunately, for all its changes, the American version appears to have ported over the dumbest moment of the original, in which cars leap between sections of an elevated highway still under construction. This stunt strained credibility when we saw it the first time, way back in Speed, and for all the other purposely goofy implausibilities here (and in the original), the cartoonish physics here demand an "Oh, come on!" from any viewer. I can only hope the American version does not use this dopey stunt in a crucial plot point as its predecessor does.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Bourne Yet Again

I promised I would tell you about The Bourne Supremacy when the time was right, and now we have come to that time.

It was okay.

Director Paul Greengrass makes an attempt to capture the grainy, handheld, indie-film stylings of Doug Liman's original and mostly succeeds. Matt Damon is suitably intense. Fight and action scenes have loud, crisp, almost too-harsh sound effects that make you really feel the impacts, although if you think about it they're as unrealistic and disproportionate as any badly-dubbed kung-fu movie. I wasn't terribly concerned with the characters we left behind in the first movie, but rest assured, we see them again. Annoying, overrated Julia Stiles reprises her tiny role with screen time that's thankfully limited. Brian Cox, in sinister CIA-coverup-guy mode, and Joan Allen, in earnest CIA-strong-woman mode, are standouts. Overall, I enjoyed it all right but was not overwhelmed with enthusiasm.

Here's the thing about this movie. It takes the quick-cut trend of American action movies to an absurd extreme. Regardless of the gritty, cutting-edge style of The Bourne Identity, I seem to remember that one of its greatest pleasures was that when the car chase happened, we could always tell what was going on. It was a realistic, coherent car chase untainted by obviously fake effects; in short, everything the chase in Gone in 60 Seconds was not. In The Bourne Supremacy, the relentless editing does not let up for anything.

The car chase (and I hope I am not spoiling anything by revealing that there is one) has been edited to tatters. The brief glimpses we get of what is going on suggest that something impressive is happening, and surely stunt drivers spent many risky hours on it, but darned if I know what they did. This is the coolest car chase you'll never see. I am not exaggerating.

You know the scenes in movies like this where the main character (here, Bourne) has brief flashbacks to his past that he can't figure out, and to keep the audience from figuring it out, you just get quick, jarring glimpses of it that will make sense later? Imagine entire action sequences edited in this style and you will understand what I'm talking about. It's an interesting cinematic effect you get, almost as if you dreamed a car chase and can't quite remember it, as if the film is planting the seeds of a car chase that you will fill in with your imagination. In fact, the Los Angeles Times review praises the technique for effectively suggesting the subjective point of view of Bourne's own fractured psyche. In a way, that's cool, and I'll admit it does do that. What it does not do, however, is offer any of the thrills of an actual movie car chase, like the chase in Bourne Identity, in which one can view and appreciate the action and stunt-work on display.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Disappointment Update

I took the Wheels on Meals DVD to Penny Lane, a Westwood video/music store. They have a service where they can supposedly buff out scratches and repair discs for only $2.50, so I thought it would be worth a shot.

They have a policy where you can get your money back if the disc still doesn't work, but you have to give them the broken disc to prove you're not trying to rip them off.

I showed the guy the spots and he said it would be no problem. He went off to buff the disc, then came back and said he couldn't get them off. He stuck the disc in the store player and it still didn't work, so he didn't charge me and he gave me back the disc.

Here at home, I held the disc up to the light and realized they're not spots on the surface of the disc at all. You can see light coming through the spots--they're actually gaps, little holes, on the read layer of the disc. So there is no hope of cleaning the disc; it's defective on the inside.

Exciting, huh?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Disappointment

I finally cracked open the DVD of Wheels on Meals I got at Anime Expo, and it doesn't work. It has this glittery powder sprayed on it, mostly around the hub, but extending out into the readable area of the disc. Depending on the player you put it in, it either says "Disc Error" or "Disc is dirty."

I don't even remember the name of the booth where I got it, not that I would be able to return it there at this point anyway. I can't seem to find a receipt, either, and I paid in cash.

I'm having bad luck with DVDs lately. This is very frustrating.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Links Awakening

The Midnight Society chronicles weird places and things in New Jersey, as well as very ordinary things written about in a way that implies they are weird when they are not that weird. Still, there are some cool sights that remind you that places on the east coast are older, and that mystery and wonder are wherever you find them. In New Jersey.

Some guy from Nebraska has posted his awful screenplays online--Not quite the depth of awfulness that was the Project Greenlight contender New Klan, but still quite bad. If old people are funny and gay sex is funnier, you won't believe the hilarity that ensues when the two collide in Grandpa's Gay Vacation and its sequel, Grandpa Dies.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Mary-Kate Pulls Ahead

I had an epiphany today: Mary-Kate Olsen's holiday in rehab is not at all a tragic portrait of priveleged youth gone awry, but in fact the savviest career move since Hugh Grant met Divine Brown.
 
What better way to shed the goody-two-shoes image that shackles her fate to the direct-to-video market than by having news of her drug addiction spashed across covers of tabloids? What better way to define an identity apart from her dead-weight sister than by creating news that is only about Mary-Kate, and not Ashley at all?
 
The mere fact that we can now say, "Mary-Kate is the one with the drug addiction" is worth its weight in gold, and will be far more effective than an Ashlee Simpson dye job. I can't even remember which Olsen dyed her hair. But I sure know who's on drugs!
 
Ashley (Olsen, not Simpson--I shouldn't have dragged in that confusing example) may not realize it yet, but she's losing the battle for lasting stardom. Soon she'll be watching helplessly as Mary-Kate is flooded with offers for gritty roles in independent films, establishing street cred on the way to big-screen superstardom. Who will be Eva and who will be Zsa Zsa? Time will tell, but for Mary-Kate, things are looking bright.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Arachnomania

I will discuss Bourne Supremacy when the time is right--on July 23, when it is released. For now, I can talk a bit about Spider-Man 2. Admittedly, it's old news and Zack, for one, has already heard my take on it.

I'll spare telling everyone it's a good movie, since we all know that by now either through experience or hearsay. But there are two nagging issues you get when watching it--things you wish the characters would just up and say instead of dancing around it.

First, since Harry (James Franco) spends the whole movie vowing revenge on Spider-Man for killing his father, why can't Peter Parker--as himself or as Spider-Man--just tell Harry to wake up and realize that his dad, Norman Osborn, had turned into a murderous psychopath who threatened to kill MJ and was trying to kill him? Or even point out that Norman as the Green Goblin (in what I consider the first film's weakest moment) pretty much accidentally killed himself with a boneheaded jet sled attack that would have killed him even if it had worked and he had hit Spider-Man.* Would that be too hard for Harry to understand? And even if it is, couldn't Peter at least try?

Second, once Mary Jane realizes that Peter is refusing to have a relationship with her because he fears it would put her in danger, why can't she point out to him that she already gets kidnapped by every super-villain who comes along anyway, so why not go ahead and date her?


*This villain death, lame as it is, is necessitated by the "hoist by his own petard" rule of movie villain deaths. Generally used in more lighthearted action films, this dictates that action movie villains must be killed by their own device, often the very device with which they intended to wreak havoc or dominate the world or what have you. See every recent James Bond movie for examples. In cases like Spider-Man, where it would be unbecoming for the hero to actually kill someone, it's a nice way for the villain to get his just desserts without the hero getting his own hands dirty. Very "poetic justice."

There are plenty of exceptions, of course. But it makes a fun game to think of movies where this is the case:

The Tuxedo: The villain is made to swallow the dehydrating bug that he planned to use to destroy the world's water supply, and is dried up from the inside out.
Agent Cody Banks: The villain is made to swallow an ice cube full of the nanomachines that devour things, and is devoured from the inside out. (Note similarity to Tuxedo. Also note that the character who shoves the ice down the villain's throat is not Frankie Muniz but Hilary Duff, making this the first movie in which Hilary Duff kills someone.)
Tomorrow Never Dies: The villain is killed by the drill he uses to sink boats and cause international incidents.
Goldeneye: The villain falls to his death on the satellite dish that communicates with Goldeneye.
Die Another Day: The villain is killed as his airplane flies through his satellite heat ray.
Spider-Man 2: Without spoiling anything, the villain is killed by the thing that he made.

It's also fun to try to predict, while watching movies, how the villain's inventions will be used to kill him in the end.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Bourne Again

I saw a pre-screening of The Bourne Supremacy last night. The free passes have been flying fast and furious in Westwood lately. I would give my thoughts but I am not at liberty to divulge them, as this film, unlike Dodgeball, will not be seen by you people, that is, the public, for another two weeks. I signed a sheet that said that I would say nothing, especially on the Internet. So you'll have to wait.

However, I am awfully pleased with my clever headline for this post. It will no doubt be the envy of film critics everywhere, as they will have to wait a fortnight to use the same one.

Friday, July 09, 2004

A True Underdog Story, Part 2

I finally saw Dodgeball tonight at a free screening for the foreign press. I don't understand why there was a screening for the foreign press in LA. Maybe that was why they barely turned out and a theater full of regular people got to watch a free pre-screening of a movie that's been out for weeks. Go figure.

Anyway, I was gratified to learn that in the scene that I complained about, Stephen Root is in fact not struck by a truck as the trailer leads one to believe. SPOILER WARNING! Instead he is struck by a car and tumbles across the hood, then he is struck by another car with similar results. This is vastly superior. Don't ask me why, but people getting hit by cars and rolling across the hood is much funnier to me than people being knocked offscreen by sudden buses or trucks.

Overall, a fun movie. My favorite thing in it is Arrested Development's Jason Bateman as Pepper, the second ESPN 8 announcer with the weird, spacey-teenager delivery. Everything he said was funny, even unfunny lines like "Pepper needs new shorts!"

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Adventure of Links

To be honest, I find recipes boring, if not terrifying, but those of you who actually like cooking may enjoy Braisin' Hussy, a food-centered blog by my friend Sarah.

Andrea also gets a link (see sidebar), even though her blog currently exists in name only, and so do Tom and Rebecca. Although Rebecca's been the only one posting lately. Rebecca's blog also links to this, which is startling to say the least. Why didn't we think of that? For their sake, let's hope this stuff sells better than the giraffe shirts.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Faye and I are just friends

Though it's not really news for most of the readers of this blog, I went to Anime Expo this weekend. That, along with my mole story, ought to throw cold water on any secret admirers from Berkeley still lusting after my hot bod.

It was kind of weird jumping back into the anime world after a year of being too busy and poor to really pursue the life. At one point I was on the verge of being very much into it, but it has since slipped back into the realm of things I merely enjoy. I didn't really realize how removed I was until I arrived at the Expo with Stephanie in tow, which forced me to cast a more objective eye on the frightening zealotry on display.

I still enjoy anime, but the fan service is a bit more embarrassing when your girlfriend is sitting next to you, fully conscious that this fawning over onscreen breasts and panties was once something you were really into. Personally, my feeling on fan service was always that I liked anime just fine without it, but if animators were going to throw me cheesecake shots of sexy cartoons for no reason, who was I to complain? Now it's a little weird.

Not to mention that large portions of the dealers' room was taken up with things like statuettes of half-naked (or nearly fully-naked) characters, presumably for collectors to--what, display in their homes? Who could do that without a rush of shame whenever visitors arrived? Note that I say this as someone who proudly displays a Rally Vincent action figure on my wall and who once bought a wall scroll of Faye Valentine that was looked upon oddly by most who saw it. I guess the answer is that the purchaser of such items need not worry about any visitors arriving, aside from fellow who would see the item and not judge, only covet.

Much of an anime fan's energy is taken up trying to convince non-fans that his pursuit is a legitimate one, encompassing interests beyond those of creepy perverts. Extended breast gags and panty-reliant subplots do little to dispel such notions in the eyes of the uninitiated, and I found myself, for once, wishing that the anime I was watching was just a bit less pervy.

The scary thing is that it's all subjective, because frequent viewers are easily desensitized. My favorite convention memory was pausing in my discussion of anime's perviness to notice the young girl standing in our circle as if she were part of the conversation. She looked about fourteen or so, and was holding a sheet of paper with a sketch on it.

"What's that?" I asked.

She explained that it was a drawing for the fan art competition. "I want to see how ecchi I can be," she said, "So I drew an octopus attacking a girl." Sure enough, the drawing showed an octopus snagging a girl in a swimsuit, its tentacles suggestively wrapped around her upper thigh.

I enjoyed two things about that brief conversation. One, that you can talk to anyone at Anime Expo and they will assume you know what insider terms like ecchi mean, and two, that for some reason, even young girls are interested in seeing female characters violated by tentacles. Truly, the language of anime is universal, even if Japanese is not.

Friday, July 02, 2004

What Happened?!

Today was my last day helping out at Odenkirk Talent, the talent management company of Naomi Odenkirk (wife of Bob of Bob and David fame). I'll be starting a new internship next week that will be a full time commmitment for the rest of the summer.

I'm excited because Naomi gave me a copy of the Mr. Show book Mr. Show: What Happened?! which is an episode guide and extensive history of the show. Finally, all that working for free paid off!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Eww

I just returned from the dermatologist, where I had a mole removed from my back.

I paid handsomely for the service, as Kaiser had no appointments available until the end of time (read: August), and I had to take matters into my own hands, then deposit matters into the hands of a real dermatologist.

The mole was harmless, and I've had it for awhile. When my old dermatologist told me he would have to cut it off (as opposed to the more passive T-1000 freezing method), I opted not to bother, as it was small and not a big deal.

Lately, it's gotten a bit bigger, and every time I see it I'm reminded of this old Chinese man who once gave my sister swimming lessons at the public pool. He had this enormous growth on his leg, this whole extra flop of skin just hanging off his calf. It didn't seem to bother him, but it was unsettling to share the water with this misshapen parasitic life-form. I guess the old man was not self-conscious about it, but at a certain point, you need to take action not out of insecurity, but out of simple consideration for others. I'm not saying I was at this point, but I feared I was falling into this man's oblivious mindset. Now, I tend to take off my shirt in public about once a summer, but I will be ready for this year's appearance with only a polite scar and not a curious bump.

Waiting for the surgery was a little nerve-wracking. First the assistant informed me that I would only be charged for the labor of the operation, and not a consultation visit, providing I had nothing else to ask the doctor. I promised not to ask about anything else. She led me to the surgery room, and I signed the usual form warning me about all the horrible things that could possibly result from this most minor of surgeries. Then she left me alone to look at the tool chest with drawers labled things like "chin implants" and "nose splints." People have gotten plastic surgery in this very room, I realized, and the idea seemed strange to me.

You expect a surgery room to have fancy equipment, and there was expensive looking stuff around, but I found it weirdly unsettling that other stuff was as cheap and normal as things you find everywhere else. A sign on the emergency exit read "Never unlock this door," and was printed on simple 8.5x11 paper and taped onto the door. The surgical tools were literally in a tool chest. Cardboard boxes in the corner were blocked off by an oriental paper curtain thing. An old defribrillator against one wall. That's expensive. But old. And... do people getting dermatological or cosmetic surgery need defibrillating? Scary.

The actual operation was quick and painless. I felt the prick of the needle delivering the anesthetic, then waited for it to take effect. I couldn't really tell whether it had or not, and it felt like the doctor was dabbing me with something as he talked to his assistant. Then it was done, and it turned out the dabbing had been cutting. Dang, that anesthetic worked fast. He said the whole thing would take two minutes, and it felt more like one.

Now I have to deal with the chore of keeping the surgical site clean and uninfected for the next week, so ideally I won't botch that up.

Resistance is futile

Ryan Pauley has joined the blogaround, as Zack calls it, with a bigstupidjerkface lookalike teeming with highfalutin' yet error-ridden prose. I am the first to offer a link to this mess, where I presume we can look forward to coherent posts sometime in the near future.

Comic Strip Reviews, part 1

When Zits first came along, I assumed it was supposed to be about a teenager, an misconception that is only reinforced by descriptions like this one:

Zits, The National Cartoonists Society's Best Comic Strip of the Year -- two years in a row!

Since its wildly popular debut in the summer of 1997, Zits has become one of America's favorite comic strips! Enter the life of Jeremy Duncan, a 15-year-old aspiring rock musician, riddled with angst, boredom and parents who don't understand anything. Let him show you the wonderfully lousy world of being a 15-year-old. Meet Jeremy's parents Connie and Walt Duncan. Watch as they continue to try to figure out the mysterious science of parenting a teenager... the second time around! Meet Jeremy's brother, Chad, the glowing college student. Jeremy will have to live up to his brother's dreadfully perfect example. Join Jeremy and his best friend Hector as they struggle to solve the mystery of life, aided with advanced hangin' out techniques. Watch Jeremy as he flounders around with his awkward high school love affair with Sara Toomey, his uh... girlfriend. Zits now appears in more than 1,100 newspapers, and is still growing!


I always found Zits to be awkward and out of touch with teenage attitudes and viewpoints, offering a condescending view of teenager that I couldn't relate to at all.

Until I realized that Zits actually isn't about being a teenager at all. It is first and foremost about parenting a teenager. Jeremy, as a character, is a total blank, a vessel for the strip's creators to fill with any stereotypical teen attitude they wish to mock. While the above copy attempts to woo youthful readers with its claim to depict a teenager's out-of-touch parents, the entire strip is written from a parent's point of view.

Zits is a strip about those crazy teenagers, and how they do all kinds of annoying things we'll never understand. Taken as a strip written entirely for crotchety parents, Zits is spot-on, capturing a parent's attitude of overwhelmed befuddlement with total accuracy. I only wish the strip were more honest about the audience it courts (though perhaps phrases like "advanced hangin' out techniques" should be a tip-off).

I never realized that there was an older brother in the strip. Clearly, these characters are not where the creators' interests lie.

As for the "best comic strip of the year, two years in a row"--well, apparently, the National Cartoonists' Society is made up of a lot of parents of teenagers. Who knew?