Sunday, September 26, 2004

"We must all have waffles forthwith!"

The Ladykillers is about as bad as the critics say. I was disappointed, since Tom Hanks' over-the-top character work had me very excited about the trailer--easily one of my favorite trailers of the year. But it turns out I missed little by skipping the thing in theaters. The best lines are in the trailer, and the added context of the story only saps them of their bizarre energy.

The one laugh I got came from a scene in which Hanks, a con man posing as a professor, hides under the bed when the landlady, Irma P. Hall's character, tries to introduce him to the sheriff. After she finds him, Hanks explains that academics enjoy stuffing themselves into confined spaces--a hilariously idiotic lie which he proceeds to justify by pointing out the popularity of phone-booth stuffing on college campuses.

Aside from that, not so funny. It mostly consists of moments where you feel you're supposed to laugh, but don't really want to. The Coens are struggling lately, between this and Intolerable Cruelty. While they're known for dark humor and contemptible, unlikable characters, they might do well to avoid films where practically everyone falls into that category. Since they lean in that direction to begin with, it helps to have someone likable to temper it. Also, the broader comedy in this and Cruelty doesn't gel so well with their black comic sensibilities. O Brother was broad, but somehow had much more command over its tone.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Zombies Ate My Neighbours

I don't cotton to zombie movies, generally. I'm not a fan of the excessive gore that goes with the territory, plus they're among the types of fantasy that I just have no interest in. I may tolerate zombies for the sake of other pleasures, as in Resident Evil, where I put up with watching zombies in exchange for chicks with guns. As much as I love chicks with guns, I'm not sure I came out ahead in that trade-off.

However, the English import Shaun of the Dead is a very funny, highly likable movie that's worth checking out. In terms of tolerating zombies for the sake of comedy, you'll come out ahead in the bargain. Even if, like me and apparently Sarah, you don't normally like zombie flicks, it's a good time at the movies, and there's only one really gruesome disemboweling. I worried that I wouldn't appreciate it because I wouldn't get all the zombie references. I did miss most of the references, but I understood enough. If you know the basic rules of zombies--they lumber around, eat people, and turn them into more zombies--you can enjoy this movie.

The trailer gives away some of the great moments, which will no doubt diminish your laughter if and when you see them later in the context of the actual film. I didn't see this trailer before I saw the movie, and watching it now, it makes me glad I went in fresh. If you're doubtful, though, it gives a good idea of the tone.

Friday, September 24, 2004

To the Terrifi-mobile!

This is the greatest thing ever.

New York's comic book alter-ego Gotham has its Dark Knight in Batman, but it turns out the real city has its own caped crusader. Lotharios everywhere, beware, because Terrifica, scarlet-costumed avenger and protector of women, is on the prowl on the city's party scene.

Even if you get bored, don't stop before you read about her nemesis, the velvet-clad spoiler of women known only as "Fantastico."

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Fully Loaded

I'm getting really excited about Herbie: Fully Loaded. Check out these pictures of Herbie and the NASCAR version.

Now, I read the script months ago, but wasting several hours on the Love Bug Fans message board has given me lots to be excited about. In addition to the cool photos linked above, there seem to be some minor but significant changes to the version I read.

In the script, Lindsay Lohan's character, Maxy Douglas is part of a Douglas family with a history of racing. This family has a car number 53 and uses the same striping colors. When she finds Herbie, he's blank white, like at the beginning of The Love Bug. This suggests that the movie exists in a different universe than the previous ones, one where Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) never existed or drove Herbie (though there are hints that the car may have been used for racing before). Lohan names Herbie herself, and Herbie gets his stripes once she officially starts racing with him.

In theory, in this version, this means that gumball inconsistencies could be explained because Herbie is getting them for the "first time" again. Essentially they are starting the story over, so anything goes, as opposed to TLB '97 where he was supposedly the same car yet looked totally different.*

One of my personal pet peeves about the script was actually that Herbie didn't get his stripes until fairly late in the movie.

However, based on the information and production photos I've seen here, it appears they have made the choice to change all this. It sounds like they changed the Douglas racing family to Peyton, and may have changed the family's number and racing colors (explaining Lohan's mismatched race suit in some photos?), which means that this does not contradict pre-existing Love Bug continuity.

Since "junkyard Herbie"** appears with the stripes and gumballs, that means this too has been changed so that Herbie has his stripes when Lohan finds him. Which means the number and stripes come from Herbie, implying Herbie does have a history which may include racing with Douglas. Thus, based on the production information I've seen here, the current version actually being shot no longer rules out a connection with the original films. And Herbie has his stripes/gumballs throughout the story!

I'm a die hard Herbie fan from way back, and the treatment of this character is very important to me, although I try to keep it in perspective. I hated TLB '97 not only for the careless inconsistencies and moronic plot, but also for how weak and spineless Herbie's character seemed to be. In the new script, Herbie is back to his mischeivous self, as he should be. Quality-wise, it's more or less at Monte-Carlo level. Definitely better than Bananas.

I was willing to accept a continuity reboot because I understand that business-wise, Disney is targeting a certain audience and they can't count on people to bring a comprehensive knowledge of the franchise to the table. I don't know if it was the writers or director who decided to make the changes described here, but I'm really happy they seem to have decided to leave the continuity open for those of us who want to believe that the movies connect, while still providing an easy jumping-on point for first-time viewers.

Having the continuity link adds so much resonance to the character for those of us who care. Knowing that it's my same old pal Herbie having these new adventures, imagining Herbie taking off and winning another race--it brings a tear to my eye (in my imagination). I the cars look great (yes, I'm a little sad the gumballs aren't exactly right, but I can live with it), and I can only imagine what they'll look like doing the stunts they have planned.

*"Gumballs" are the circles with the 53 in them. The 1997 Love Bug TV movie was marred by gumballs with incorrect typefaces, sizing, and placement.

**"Junkyard Herbie" refers to the rust-painted version, as Herbie appears when found in a junkyard at the beginning of the film.

***Another footnote: Rumor has it that Lindsay Lohan's partying and bad behavior on set is creating such a problem that Disney is contemplating replacing her. This would create unfortunate delays in production schedule, and raises the frightening specter of the more personally respectable but collossally untalented Hilary Duff being called in. It's unlikely, since getting Duff would set production back even more than Lohan's constant hangovers, but still cause for mild worry. Lohan seems to know that Disney needs her to generate interest in the film, and is playing it for all it's worth.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Creative Lie

EXT. MANSION - BANDERSNITCH ESTATE - DAY

A sprawling mansion surrounded by the greenest lawns and lushest forestry imaginable. The front gate opens. A Rolls-Royce pulls up.

INT. MANSION - DAY

A luxurious foyer with marble surfaces and sweeping staircases.

COLIN, 17 and sweating like a maniac, emerges from heavy wooden double doors. He slams the doors behind him and holds them tightly shut. His eyes dart around the room.

The FRONT DOOR OPENS and in walks the tuxedoed MR. BANDERSNITCH, late 50s. He tosses his top hat onto a hat rack and sets aside his cane.

BANDERSNITCH: Why, hello, Colin.

Colin wipes the sweat from his brow. Tries to look natural.

COLIN: Mr. Bandersnitch. How lovely to see you. I finished mowing the lawn.

Bandersnitch counts out three crisp dollar bills. Presses them into Colin’s open palm.

BANDERSNITCH: Impressive, aren’t they?

COLIN: Aren’t what?

BANDERSNITCH: Didn’t you just emerge from my personal Ming vase showroom?

COLIN: Ming vase showroom?

BANDERSNITCH: Why, yes. I’m shocked you didn’t notice. It’s that room right behind you. Twenty priceless pieces from the early Ming Dynasty. Absolutely irreplaceable.

COLIN: Is that so?

BANDERSNITCH: Why, if anything were ever to happen to them I would probably kill myself. My remaining wealth would mean nothing.

COLIN: You must really like vases.

BANDERSNITCH: No one makes pottery like Chinamen. Come, I’ll show you.

COLIN: No, we can’t go in there now.

BANDERSNITCH: Why not?

COLIN: I’m allergic to priceless artifacts. They give me hives.

BANDERSNITCH: Suck it up, boy. Caviar makes me dry heave but I’ll be damned if that makes me stop eating it.

Bandersnitch wraps an arm around Colin and leads him back to the double doors. Colin struggles to stop him.

COLIN: Actually, the room is full of poison.

BANDERSNITCH: Poison?

COLIN: It’s being fumigated. I didn’t want to worry you. I spotted a deadly roach crawling under the door.

Bandersnitch backs away from the doors.

BANDERSNITCH: A deadly roach? What kind is that?

COLIN: The guy said it was Roachus Deadlius. That’s science for “roach.”

BANDERSNITCH: Ye Gods! And my Ming vases unprotected! I’ll hold my breath.

Bandersnitch puts an handkerchief over his mouth and runs for the door. Colin cuts him off.

COLIN: Don’t worry, they took them out.

BANDERSNITCH: Touched my vases! Those fools will hang for this. Times like these it’s good to have a judge in your pocket. Take that lesson to heart, boy.

Bandersnitch races around the foyer, looking in adjoining rooms.

BANDERSNITCH: Where did they put them? I’d better have a look at the showroom.

COLIN: Stop, stop. I didn’t want to tell you this.

BANDERSNITCH: What? What?

COLIN: You can’t go in there right now. We’re planning a surprise party for you. If you walk in too soon they’ll blame me for spoiling it.

BANDERSNITCH: I see.

COLIN: Play along, won’t you?

BANDERSNITCH: But what of the vases? They can’t withstand the heavy vibrations of joyous revelry. This is a poor choice of venue.

COLIN: Still, you shouldn’t spoil the surprise.

BANDERSNITCH: Wait a second. Today is not my birthday.

COLIN: Surprise!

BANDERSNITCH: What the devil’s going on? Have you done something to my Ming vase collection?

Bandersnitch heads for the doors.

COLIN: I got your daughter pregnant.

Bandersnitch spins back to Colin.

BANDERSNITCH: WHAT?

COLIN: It was an accident. I don’t know how it happened. Probably it was the sex.

BANDERSNITCH: I’ll wring your neck, you rotten--but wait! This means my Ming vases are safe.

Bandersnitch throws open the showroom doors.

INSIDE, 20 empty pedestals and a floor littered with porcelain debris.

Bandersnitch’s jaw drops.

BANDERSNITCH: How did it happen?

COLIN: I was looking for a quiet place to practice my batting swing. I never could have foreseen this.

A baseball bat rolls out from behind one of the pedestals.

BANDERSNITCH: I’ll kill you!

Bandersnitch grabs Colin by the throat.

COLIN: Look on the bright side. Compared to your daughter being pregnant, this isn’t so bad, right?

Bandersnitch loosens his grip.

BANDERSNITCH: I suppose it is some small comfort that my daughter isn’t really pregnant.

COLIN: I didn’t say that.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Reality Bites

Stephanie just saw a commercial hyping the next episode of The Apprentice, which will be 90 minutes.

A little background: Shameful as it is, particularly for an aspiring writer of scripted TV comedy, I got sucked into watching the first season of The Apprentice. Part of it was that the challenges simulated, to some extent, real-world situations, part of it was that the business setting necessitated that the attention-grubbing wannabe actors also possess some actual skills, part of it was the "firing" system that actually eliminated people in a roughly merit-based fashion that gave people's actions consequences. Part of it was also the personality of the contestants, which make or break any reality show.

The new season has an okay cast of applicants. It's hard to compare them to the previous cast, since we don't know them well yet. But already this season is marred by an obnoxious smugness, personified in Trump, and a self-congratulatory attitude that "we're the big hit show."

The trouble with reality shows (one trouble of many) is that it doesn't actually matter how long they are. They shoot a shitload of footage, then cobble it into something watchable. An episode can be one hour or two, it just depends how much shit they want to cut. (Sure, we can "super-size" a Friends episode to 45 minutes, but without commercials, that's just filling out a half-hour.)

This means that once they have you hooked, climactic episodes like last season's finale or this season's premiere can be made as long as you want, and voila--another half-hour of advertising time you can sell for your network's top-rated show! Trouble is, you're just leaving in shit you should have cut, so the show is not only 33% longer, it's 33% more boring.

Now, it's one thing to do this for the premiere (though it was irritating then, as well). But now it looks like many, if not all, of this season's episodes will be inflated to 90 minutes, filling the pathetic gap in NBC's Thursday schedule that they're too scared to actually fill with new original programming. Now, when a sitcom like Seinfeld occasionally airs an hourlong episode, that feels like a treat. But bloating an already hourlong show to 90 minutes on a weekly basis is simply a waste of my time, transparently calculated for the sole purpose of increasing ad revenue by drawing out something they know you'll tune in for. If I wanted that, I'd watch American Idol.

It's insulting. The Apprentice was worth an hour a week to me, but an hour and a half? That's arrogant. We should punish them by not watching. Or watching for only the last hour.

I hate not being a Nielsen viewer.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Action! The Film School Chronicles: Shooting Spree

Tomorrow--actually today--I start shooting the first of three short films for my production class (not counting the practice film, which, despite being edited in-camera, as they say, easily matches or surpasses the best KB TV from the days of yore). They're on DV, so they're not actually films, but we call them films. It's going to be a busy weekend. Well, they're all busy weekends now.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

"I'm the only one? What's the deal?"

The trailer is up for Wes Anderson's latest, The Life Aquatic, now apparently titled The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. I'm not wild about water movies, generally. If your vehicles don't have four wheels you're in serious danger of losing my interest. The publicity photos in Entertainment Weekly of Bill Murray and Co. in weird looking SCUBA suits didn't exactly whet my appetite either. Will they spend the whole movie in those blue puffy jumpsuits? Is the whole thing on a boring submarine in the boring ocean?

The trailer eases some of those fears. However, this appears to be the first Wes Anderson film to contain special effects, specifically CGI for the fanciful sea creatures present. Anderson's quirky worlds have always skirted the edge of reality, but in the past it was more subtle--the fact that everyone in The Royal Tenenbaums wore the same clothes all the time was there for you to notice or not, consciously or unconsciously. Here it feels more like Anderson is announcing how his worlds have unique, made-up rules. Fair enough. Also, the CGI itself is not great, but then, CGI seldom is. It's odd to see Anderson's style applied to a project of this scale.

The biggest question mark for TLAWSZ is that for the first time, a Wes Anderson picture is not co-written by Owen Wilson, which is understandable, since if Wilson had time to co-write a screenplay in between all his co-starring with Ben Stiller, that would be an incredible feat indeed. It remains to be seen how large an impact this will actually have on the film. I always imagined Owen Wilson to be a Graham Chapman kind of collaborator, the kind of guy who will let you do all the work until you get stuck and turn to him, and suddenly he's there with a terrific idea or a totally unexpected line you never would have thought of, and it fuels you for hours until you eventually turn to him again. Wilson seems to be a major presence in the film, with his most prominent role in an Anderson film since Bottle Rocket, so his influence will surely be felt regardless of his lack of writing credit.

Even so, it's something to watch out for.


Monday, September 06, 2004

Knowing is half the battle

When crossing the street, it’s really important to look both ways. If you don’t, you could get hit by a car, which is totally embarrassing. You’ll be like, “I didn’t see it coming!” and people will be like, “It’s a car, dude, it’s totally big!” and you’ll be like, “I didn’t look both ways,” and people will be like, “I can’t understand you. Your teeth are a hundred yards away,” and you’ll be like, “Amumawuhhhmm.”

Friday, September 03, 2004

This is not news

...but what a headline.

'Weird Al' Yankovic attacked by green moths
Friday, September 3, 2004 Posted: 5:12 PM EDT (2112 GMT)

DU QUOIN, Illinois (AP) -- Things got hairy for parody singer "Weird Al" Yankovic as a flock of unwanted fans rushed onstage during his performance at a state fair in southern Illinois.

Green moths swarmed Yankovic, some nesting in his trademark long curly locks.

"My band asked me if I could find a concert where we would be attacked by insects," Yankovic told his audience Wednesday at the Du Quoin State Fair. "I said I would see what I could do."

Yankovic didn't seem bugged by the uninvited guests, though, as he plugged along with songs and costume changes during his self-described "rock and comedy multimedia extravaganza" to support his recent album, "Poodle Hat."


The cutesy reference to the moths as "fans" in the lead paragraph is unnecessarily confusing, and at first makes you think, "Swarmed by moths and fans? That really was a rough night!" The "bugged" and "hairy" puns are pretty bad too, though they are the only reason this story runs more than a paragraph. Even the AP doesn't end stories as quickly as they should.

I'm still in issue critique mode.