Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Sinful in Pink

For a bizarre, visually arresting trailer, check out Sin City. I'm not sure it's even a good idea for a comic book movie to look so literally like the art of the comic book, but it sure looks neat. My concern is that it detracts from the story standing on its own as a movie, that the whole time you're watching this you're thinking, "oh, it's a comic book," when if you want a comic book experience maybe you should just read a damn comic book.

I had the same problem with the stupid split-screen gimmick in Hulk. Simultaneity of action was unimportant to the story, unlike something like 24 or Phone Booth where unity of time is integral to the concept. So it was just there to suggest a comic book. Yes, superficially, when you look at a comic book you see lots of boxes with pictures in them. But that doesn't mean that's what we should see when we're looking at a movie of a comic book. The boxes aren't a conscious part of the storytelling experience. When you make a movie out of a novel you don't make a point of putting a lot of written text on the screen. That's just part of the medium, and drawing attention to it is insulting and demeaning to the source material, like you're treating comic books as some second-class source. And it takes you out of the movie.

Not to mention, that's not even how comic book panels are used. Comic panels are (usually) used for sequential action, not simultaneous action, so split-screen action juxtaposing simultaneous scenes is decidedly un-comic like. And don't even get me started on the amateurish wipes. The thing looks like it was put together with a kid playing with iMovie for the first time.

Okay, that was a tangent. Sin City could be okay. I like Frank Miller (Batman: Year One and Dark Knight Returns, though not Dark Knight Strikes Again), and for some reason I like Robert Rodriguez. I've liked aspects of many of his movies, although there's none I can embrace fully. I do like his bare bones Do-It-Yourself filmmaking philosophy though. And Sin City, again, looks quite cool, though I have my doubts about whether it will hold up for a whole movie.

I meant to also call attention to the trailer for The Pink Panther, featuring Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau. It's pretty dumb, but the slapstick and bad French accents are well done. People falling down or getting hit with things almost always works for me. Plus, Jean Reno is funny in it. That first pin joke makes me cringe, though.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

White Christmas

It snowed this week in Dallas. Normally the weather here is on par with Northern California; that is, you feel the seasons change but it's nothing drastic. But the temperature dropped to the 20s this week. Now it's finally warming up and it's time to leave.

Collateral Damage

I saw Collateral this week on hotel pay-per-view. Quite good. I normally dislike Tom Cruise, especially when he takes on incongruous period roles (The Last Samurai, which was good in spite of itself, and in spite of Cruise, who made an admirable effort in a role that didn't really fit him) or showoffy junk like M:I 2, which plays like it was made just so that Tom Cruise could brag about doing his own stunts. Also, any time Cruise has long hair, it adds an extra degree of irritation. He seems to like his hair long. I wonder if he realizes it makes him look shorter.

Anyway, Collateral. Tom Cruise is excellent in it. It's the perfect type of role for him. Slick, confident, oddly charming and persuasive. Plus, he gets to stretch, playing his first villain, and he nails it. Well done. Easily my favorite Tom Cruise performance, since Jerry Maguire is an annoying movie even though he fits the role.

A Pain in Me Gulliver...

I finished Gulliver's Travels this week. As a comedy writer it's embarrassing that I never read any Jonathan Swift before now. I've had my copy of Gulliver's Travels since my mom bought it for me when I was about six. Since then it's sat in my room, ignored, as I always thought of it as too daunting for a kid to bother reading. Now that I'm 24, I figured I could handle it. Plus I hadn't read anything of "quality" in a long time and I was starting to feel dumb.

Lots of people in high school enjoyed Swift's "A Modest Proposal," but that's because they were dumb people not in AP English, leaving them free to take awesome teacher Heinitz's English Lit class. I was a super-genius, so I was in AP where we didn't read that particular piece of classic satire. I still haven't, though I may try on the plane tomorrow. This post is still about Gulliver's Travels.

Anyway, the first two books are the part you'd recognize. Book 1 is Lilliput, where Gulliver's big and the people, or "Lilliputians," are small. Book 2, slightly less well-known, is when Gulliver is small and the people on the island are huge (every made up foreign place but Lilliput has a gibberish name that's impossible to remember). Books 3 and 4 take Gulliver to an island that flies and an island where horses are intelligent and men are primal beasts, sort of a Planet of the Apes, but with horses.

The first two books, though well known, are not actually funny at all. The only "humor" comes in various situations that are metaphors for the political situation of the period, clever references to disputes between Queen Anne and the Whigs and the Tories. You'll only know because of footnotes and it still won't be funny unless you're a history major with an emphasis on 18th century Britain, because who cares?

The second two books contain most of the satire that actually holds up. The flying island people are caricatures of scientists, which at least comes across somewhat. The best part is when he visits a place where some people are born immortal, which seems great until he learns that while they live forever, they don't stay young forever, so they're doomed to suffer the ever-increasing infirmities of old age:

"If a Struldbrugg [immortal] happen to marry one of his own kind, the Marriage is dissolved of course by the Courtesy of the Kingdom, as soon as the younger of the two come to be four-score. For the Law thinks it a reasonable Indulgence, that those who are condemned without any Fault of their own to a perpetual Continuance in the World, should not have their Misery doubled by the Load of a Wife.

...At Ninety they lose their Teeth and Hair, they have at that age no Distinction of Taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get, without Relish or Appetite. The Diseases they were subject to still continuing without encreasing or diminishing. In talking they forgot the common Appellation of Things, and the Names of Persons, even of those who are their nearest Friends and Relations. For the same Reason they never can amuse themselves with reading, because their Memory will not serve to carry them from the beginning of a Sentence to the end; and by this Defect they are deprived of the only entertainment whereof they might otherwise be capable.

The Language of this Country being always upon the Flux, the Struldbruggs of one Age do not understand those of another, neither are they able after two hundred Years to hold any Conversation (farther than by a few general Words) with their Neighbours the Mortals; and thus they lye under the Disadvantage of living like Foreigners in their own Country.

...They are despised and hated by all sort of People; when one of them is born, it is reckoned ominous...

They were the most mortifying Sight I ever beheld, and the Women more horrible than the Men. Besides the usual Deformities in extreme old age, they acquired an additional Ghastliness in Proportion to their Number of Years, which is not to be described, and among half a Dozen I soon distinguished which was the eldest, although there were not above a Century or two between them.

The Reader will easily believe, that from what I had heard and seen, my keen Appetite for Perpetuity of Life was much abated. I grew heartily ashamed of the pleasing Visions I had formed, and thought no Tyrant could invent a Death into which I would not run with Pleasure from such a Life."


The real comic gems, though, are in book 4, in which Gulliver tries to convince his horse master that in the land that he's from, men are rational creatures. Thus, Gulliver must explain things like lawyers, doctors, war, ministers of state, and noblemen to the horse, whose noble, honorable society cannot understand the illogical corruption of men.

On Lawyers:
"I assured his Honour, that Law was a Science wherein I had not much conversed, further than by employing Advocates, in vain, upon some Injustices that had been done me: however, I would give him all the Satisfaction I was able.

I said there was a Society of Men among us, bred up from their Youth in the Art of proving by Words multiplied for the Pleasure, that White is Black, and Black is White, according as they are paid. To this Society all the rest of the People are Slaves.

For Example, if my Neighbour hath a Mind to my Cow, he hires a Lawyer to prove that he ought to have my Cow from me. I must then hire another to defend my Right, it being against all Rules of Law that any Man should be allowed to speak for himself. Now in this Case, I who am the right Owner lie under two great Disadvantages. First, my Lawyer being practiced almost from his Cradle in defending Falshood; is quite out of his Element when he would be an Advocate for Justice, which as an Office unnatural, he always attempts with great Awkwardness if not with Ill-will. The second Disadvantage is, that my Lawyer must proceed with great Caution: Or else he will be reprimanded by the Judges, and abhorred by his Brethren, as one that would lessen the Practice of the Law. And therefore I have but two Methods to preserve my Cow. The first is, to gain over my Adversary's Lawyer with a double Fee; who will then betray his Client by insinuating that he hath Justice on his Side. The second way is for my Lawyer to make my Cause appear as unjust as he can; by the Cow to belong to my Adversary; and this, if it be skilfully done, will certainly bespeak the Favour of the Bench.

Now, your Honour is to know that these Judges are Persons appointed to decide all Controversies of Property, as well as for the Tryal of Criminals; and picked out from the most dextrous Lawyers who are grown old or lazy: And having been byassed all their Lives against Truth and Equity, are under such a fatal Necessity of favouring Fraud, Perjury, and Oppression; that I have known some of them refuse a large Bribe from the Side where Justice lay, rather than injure the Faculty, by doing any thing unbecoming their Nature or their Office.

It is a Maxim among these Lawyers, that whatever hath been done before, may legally be done again: And therefore they take special Care to record all the Decisions formerly made against common Justice and the general Reason of Mankind. These, under the Name of Precedents, they produce as Authorities to justify the most iniquitous Opinions; and the Judges never fail of decreeing accordingly.

In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the Merits of the Cause; but are loud, violent, and tedious in dwelling upon all Circumstances which are not to the Purpose. For Instance, in the Case already mentioned: They never desire to know what Claim or Title my Adversary hath to my Cow; but whether the said Cow were Red or Black; her Horns long or short; whether the Field I graze her in be round or square; whether she was milked at home or abroad; what Diseases she is subject to, and the like. After which they consult Precedents, adjourn the Cause from Time to Time, and in Ten, Twenty, or Thirty Years, come to an Issue.

It is likewise to be observed, that this Society has a peculiar Cant and Jargon of their own, that no other Mortal can understand, and wherein all their Laws are written, which they take special Care to multiply; whereby they have gone near to confound the very Essence of Truth and Falsehood, of Right and Wrong; so that it may take Thirty Years to decide whether the Field, left me by my Ancestors for Six Generations, belongs to me, or to a Stranger three hundred Miles off."


Sorry about this online edition, which has not been edited to modern conventions and retains the "capitalize every Noun" style that I hated so much when reading the Autobiography of Ben Franklin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

NetZero: "Suck It, AOL"

I'm a bit behind the curve on this, but NetZero did a couple of ads directly spoofing AOL's recent ad campaign.

This is pretty funny, not because the parodies themselves are that funny... well, okay, they are. They do boast an impressive attention to detail, recreating sets, props, and even the ethnicities of minor actors (if not the quality of production value), but they mainly shine because it's such a terrifically mean thing to do. When NetZero attacks AOL like this, they're killing all the effort AOL put into the campaign. AOL's ads are a laughingstock and they have to pull them or further airings will only remind people of the parodies.

You have to imagine the AOL people in their real boardroom when someone rushes in with a tape:

"Did you see this NetZero commercial?"

[seething rage mixed with colossal embarrassment and humiliation]

"Oh, f[---]."

Saturday, December 18, 2004

There is Something Wrong With This Basketball

Apparently DC comics once put out a "dictionary" which didn't define words so much as use them repeatedly in context.

So you get entries like this one. Someone compiles them here.

Flamewar of the Worlds

My uninformed War of the Worlds rant has sparked an an irrationally angry comment, which amuses me to no end. Unfortunately, the poster is anonymous, and if his blog reading habits are anything like mine, he'll never return to this blog again. Even so, I love attention, so anyone who gives it to me deserves a response. Besides, he wants attention too, and who am I to deny it?

First of all you A.R. - CRY baby!!
I believe you mean "R.A." crybaby, though I don't believe that abbreviating "are a" has saved you much space or time. In fact it seems to have only confused you. Good luck keeping letters straight in the future. I hear Scientology helps with dyslexia; look into it. Also, no need to capitalize "cry" and not "baby" or to split the term into separate words.

When you have the kind of money that Spielberg has, and makes, then you can comment, until then - blow it out your ASS!!
First, did you ever see the Mr. Show sketch where they make fun of how stupid the notion is that someone is beyond criticism if they make more money than you do? Well, if not, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross probably make more money than you do, so you can blow things out of your own ass. By the way, are you sure you make more money than I do? We'd better check to make sure you can even comment on my blog.

Second, I never framed this as an attack on Spielberg, who I gave credit for making what looks like an effective movie for what it is. I'm sure it's a very serviceable, crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster. This was always a rant on whoever put together such a tone-deaf trailer--almost certainly not Spielberg, who has his hands full actually making the movie. Spielberg may have had the idea to use the Wells text in the trailer, but I have no way of knowing if he did or not, and in any case it's not his writing I was tearing up.

I mean really, what kind of fucking idiot even gives serious consideration to the way a film is marketed - especially a stinking, rip - off, remake.
I don't know, film marketers? There are people whose whole job it is to create these things. Huge projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars are riding on the effectiveness of film marketing, so it's kind of an important thing. It doesn't matter if you think the film is a stinking rip-off remake, and anyway, Spielberg makes more money than you, so blow it out your ass, if you haven't already.

Now, I don't have a stake in this movie, so why should I care or comment? Well, I happen to like movie trailers a lot. I like to watch them and then afterwards say "That looks good" or "That looks awful." But ultimately, who gives a shit why I care? This is a blog, you moron. A personal blog on blogspot.com. Maybe the point of it is to write about the dumbest, most insignificant shit I can imagine. Why are you reading it if you're so wrapped up in serious, important concerns?

Guess what professor, it is there to grab your attention, not take you to SCHOOL.
It grabbed my attention with the way the sentences made no goddamn sense. I don't think that was their goal. Maybe I wasn't actually supposed to listen to the sentences, but I did, and they pained me. Also, you are wrong. I am not a professor. It is good that trailers do not take me to school because if they did it would be a school of bad writing.

You need to get laid or better yet - learn to masterbate,
Thank you for your concern. After many years, I have managed to get laid and also finally learned to masturbate properly. You need to learn how to spell "masturbate." Telling people they need to get laid in order to solve their problems is common but simplistic advice. Many people continue to be troubled even after engaging in sexual intercourse. For instance, I continue to nitpick movie trailers.

it is everything they say it is - you can have sex with anyone - or in your case, anything, and no one ever need know. The side benefit for the rest of us in there is no danger of you having any children this way, thereby protecting our already poluted gene pool - I say already poluted because presumably you are a member of the human species.
Polluted has two Ls. The phrase should be "no one need ever know"--you have transposed the words. See one of my old Squelch issue reviews for a mention of how hackneyed and trite the "stupid people shouldn't breed" insult is. I get the feeling you are falling back on this cliche out of laziness. Nit-picking movie advertisements does not seem to be something that is actually destructive to the human race. At best, it may inspire better advertisements. At worst, it inspires ill-informed comments on blogs. Hardly threatening to the future of the species.

Why can't guys / Gals like yourself just join a cult where they casterate you. I have to ask myself why didn't your parents join instead of kicking the rest of us in the shorts by producing you.
Why is "Gals" capitalized when "guys" isn't? You misspelled "castrate" and that sentence should end in a question mark. Did you want my parents to join the cult or me? Your writing is muddled and unclear. To answer your first question: Such a cult holds little appeal for people "like myself," because we are smart. To answer your second question: My parents did not join because your hypothetical cult does not exist.

You are dumb.

Using This Would Just Make Me Sad

It's supposed to be for "lonely men," but wouldn't using one of these just rub it in?

Behold: The lap pillow. (Thanks to Andrea for emailing me the link.)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Stevie Z

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was good. Entertainment Weekly's review accused Anderson of burying the movie under its own irony, but I don't see it that way. There is bad irony in movies, where smug knowingness is used to excuse intellectual laziness--see everything Kevin Williamson has ever done--and then there's the Wes Anderson style. It's irony, I guess, in that there's weird, quirky, silly things that we're meant to see as weird and quirky, but it's not insincere.

When we see all the retro 1970s-ish touches filling the frame of a movie like Life Aquatic, it's funny sometimes, just like the laugh of recognition I had at spotting the old-fashioned VCR in the Anderson-esque Napoleon Dynamite, but it's not meant to tell you not to take the movie seriously. I think Anderson's movies are extremely sincere emotionally. This is, ironically, sincere irony, not obnoxious "superior" irony. When he puts in silly, purposely bad special effects, it's not so we can laugh at them, knowing that we're better than that--we laugh with them, and recognize the crudity of the effects while feeling affection for their nostalgic charms.

Life Aquatic is sad, as Ryan notes. But I don't think the humor suffers. It's only a little less funny than previous Anderson efforts, but there's plenty here that works. It does take awhile to get going. Not until Zissou and company finally set out on the expedition does the movie start to settle into a comfortable pace. The tense, emotional moments are strong and understated. The shifts in tone can be jarring, though not in a bad way.

It's hard to compare with previous Anderson films. It's similar and yet very different. This one ups the heightened reality even further, and matches it with exotic locales and adventurous digressions. In some ways, it's goofier, in others, it's even moodier. Like the leap from Rushmore to Tenenbaums, it's everything you know about Wes Anderson, taken up another notch. Afterwards it struck me that it's perhaps the kind of movie that Max Fischer would make. Big, dramatic, over the top, full of weird, quirky things that maybe try a bit too hard, but sweet and lovable at the core.

I'll probably always like Rushmore best, partly because I tend to cling to my first exposure to a given artist, but also because I have a strong fondness for teen coming-of-age stories in the abstract, although 99% of them are terrible in practice. Thus the rare one that succeeds is all the more precious.

Ultimately, what I loved about Life Aquatic was the way the settings and tone and art direction all combined to create a complete world, a world that doesn't exist and never did, yet feels real and lived in--a world that I was happy to visit.

George Michael

Went to see The Life Aquatic last night at The Grove in Los Angeles (more on the movie later). The theater seemed to be very poorly run, with a huge line forming for Life Aquatic, and the staff not letting the line into the theater until a few minutes after the posted showtime. Which means that by the time the previews started, it was already nearly half an hour after the time the pre-show commercials were supposed to begin.

Irritating enough on a a weekend, but especially annoying at a 10:05 show on a weeknight with work the next day. A surprisingly large crowd for a Wednesday night, actually--the theater was packed, since this is currently the only place in LA to see The Life Aquatic until it opens wide later this month. It's a good thing we avoided the weekend, especially since The Grove charges $12.50 a ticket on the weekends (we got a weekday bargain of only $10.75!).

Celebrity sighting: At Westfield Shoppingtown in Century City, you slum it with the likes of Andy from The Apprentice. But at The Grove, we saw Michael Cera, or George Michael Bluth from Arrested Development, coming out of the theater from the previous show. Sure, Apprentice probably does bigger numbers, but George Michael is cooler in my book.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Trailers That Won't Call Into Question My Worth As An English Major

The teaser for Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory exists, and should be viewed. It contains a bizarre, tremendously annoying new Willy Wonka song and snippets of Burtonesque visuals that suit the Chocolate Factory well. This promises to frighten children and delight recreational drug users well into the next generation, at which point the film will be remade again. Johnny Depp is equally appropriate, looking as unsettling as Gene Wilder did while making the role his own. The one piece of dialogue is a deliciously whacked-out line reading that marks the high point of the preview.

Another thing that exists is the teaser for Bewitched, which perhaps you should also view if you're in the mood to be mildly annoyed. It's one of those teasers with no real footage, and it's pretty lame. Nicole Kidman's hair is a mess, watching her do the nose twitch is depressing and just makes you yearn for Elizabeth Montgomery, and the mangled theme song is dispiriting. In a humorless gag, Will Ferrell as Darryl hangs from Samantha's broom. As if to mock how unfunny it is, Ferrell cries out, "I'm hanging from your broom!" which almost makes it funny, in the so-stupid-it's-funny way, but not quite. Though it is stupid enough to chuckle slightly.

Update: Apparently the broom joke was written by H.G. Wells. My bad.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

I Am A Moron

This is why reading sucks. It takes the wind out of your sails when you're trying to sound superior. If I don't read, no one else should either.

I could pretend that I did it on purpose to be funny, but I didn't. I have to take the hit on this one, it's unavoidable. However, let's remember a few things:

1) Some of the lines have been changed for the trailer, and the alterations do the writing no favors. Some of the changes are parts I complained about.

2) H.G. Wells' writing sounds very labored and stilted to a modern ear, and very pretentious when dropped into a trailer for a summer blockbuster. Maybe his shitty writing is why I don't read old books! Eh? Eh? Eh.

3) I need to read more.

4) At least I take down with me the commenters who praised the post, reveling in their own high opinion of themselves.

5) It did occur to me (or maybe it was Stephanie who raised the possibility) that the voice-over was derived from the Wells text, but I didn't bother to check before writing the rant.

6) Writing angry curse-filled rants on the Internet makes you sound like a moron, sometimes in more glaring ways than others.

War of the Words

This is the teaser trailer for the Spielberg/Cruise extravaganza War of the Worlds. It looks okay. Creepy in that slick Spielberg kind of way.

And this is my transcript of the voice-over from the trailer:

No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own. That as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of their empire over this world. Yet, across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

What the fuck? Seriously, what the fuck? Who the hell is responsible for this mangled train wreck of prose, this random assortment of words the writer barely seems to understand? Did a foreigner write it and run it through a computerized translator?

Where to even begin? How about the first sentence?

“No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own.”
First of all, what does this mean? Does this mean that we’ve always been watched, but in the early years of the 21st century no one would have believed this, or does it mean that it was only in the early years of the 21st century that we were being watched? If it’s the latter, then moving the word “that” from after “century” to after “believed” would clarify it a lot. If it’s the former, rewrite the sentence. Furthermore, “intelligences”? Ugh.

“That as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied.”
“They” observed and studied? Who, the men? I know what they’re referring to, but this is sloppy and confusing use of a pronoun, which forces you to spend more effort parsing than you should have to. “Busied themselves about … their concerns”? How about “thought about” or “busied themselves with”? “Busied about” sounds bizarre.

“With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of their empire over this world.”
“Infinite complacency”? Shut the fuck up. Just shut the fuck up and stop using big words to sound smart. With infinite complacency. La dee da. We must be awfully fucking complacent. Like, complacent to infinity! “To and fro”? Is that necessary? Oh, and we mustn’t say “around” the globe. “About” sounds like how a smart guy would say it. Look at me, going to and fro about the globe! This wouldn’t be so glaring if they hadn’t just misused the word “about.” “Their empire over this world”? Only by the most generous standard is this clumsy use of the word “empire” remotely acceptable. And that’s infinite generosity.

“Yet, across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”
“Envious eyes”? Was “envy” not good enough on its own? “Slowly and surely” oddly deviates from the usual pairing of these words, “slowly but surely,” but here they’re just used to slow down the voice over guy so he can sound more ominous. As for the rest of the sentence, there’s nothing really wrong with it except that I hate it.

I know, I know, it’s just a movie trailer voice-over, and I’m being overly nit-picky. And if it were a trailer for Seriously, Dude, Where’s My Car? and they didn’t use complete sentences, I wouldn’t give a shit. But when they’re trying so hard to sound smart, laying on the pretension with meaningless phrases like “infinite complacency” and then they write sentences with backward syntax that make no sense at all, that’s when people get hurt.


A Star-Studded Night of Glamour

Stephanie and I spent Saturday night enjoying the company of Tinseltown’s finest celebrities, which is to say we watched Ocean’s Twelve. We avoided the reviews prior to the movie, but the impression I got from headlines was that this sequel was not well-liked by critics. It worked for me. No, the caper doesn’t top the one in Eleven, but they raise the stakes in other ways, and except for a couple of heist devices that strain credibility even in the Ocean universe, it mostly works. It has a thrown-together feel that makes it work as a casual good time, and it’s a fun little movie that doesn’t demand too much of you but doesn’t insult you too much either.

Not to bury the lead, but as if Clooney, Pitt, and Damon up on the screen weren’t enough, we shared the theater (and the lengthy ticket-holder line beforehand) with none other than Andy from The Apprentice, the Harvard grad with no real job experience who held his own as one of the more likable and capable candidates until he led a misguided design effort for an ugly Pepsi Edge bottle and was shouted out of the boardroom by Sandy once Jenn strategically spilled the beans that Andy had secretly conferred with her to put the blame on Sandy. I didn’t realize Andy lived in LA. He’s going to have to fly back to New York next week for the live finale.

Now, I’m not easily star-struck. Okay, I am. A pseudo-celebrity, right there in our own movie line! I really wanted to talk to him. “Hey, Andy, too bad about getting fired. I was rooting for you, but seriously, man, that was a really shitty Pepsi bottle. Jenn totally played you, man. She sold you out and made it look like a slip-up because she knew the Sandy thing wasn’t working and it would take the heat off her. And admit it, you were kind of conspiring against Sandy, and you said some stuff that wasn’t true, and that wasn’t cool. But Sandy didn’t out-debate you, she was just yelling, and that wasn’t a good reason to be fired. You deserved to get fired for the bottle, and not giving the designers their pizza, not for Sandy’s yelling. Still, way to hold your ground on the NYPD commercial task.”

To Stephanie’s relief, I only said these things to her. Though I think she was constantly worried I was saying them too loud and Andy might hear. She was glad when I stopped. Although, really, I think if you can talk to any celebrity without them getting annoyed, you’d think it would be a reality TV “star,” who loves attention and still enjoys getting it, since in a few months they’ll be forgotten.

We were way back in the movie line, but we were ahead of Andy. Too bad Trump didn’t give you any tips on how to get to a movie early, huh, Andy? To be fair, the line was outrageous. We chose seats that were a good distance from the screen, but on the side of the theater. Andy and his friends got seats in the middle, but a bit too close to the screen for my taste. Who got the better seats in the end? It’s a toss-up. Who’s more famous? Andy. Who gets to pass judgement on Andy’s decisions and behavior? Me.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Burn!

I've always thought Mercury was a pointless auto brand. Though it claims to be an upscale version of Ford, the models are always so similar and the refinements so infinitesimally unnoticeable that it never feels like anything but a Ford with a different logo.

Pulitzer-prize-winning auto critic Dan Neil of the LA Times reviews the new Mercury Montego with one of the most scathing, hilarious auto reviews I've ever seen:

At a time of general excellence in automotive design and construction, when even cheap cars so easily vault buyer expectations, it is a rare and perverse pleasure to find a car as certifiably doggy as the Mercury Montego.

A car whose lack of charisma is so dense no light can escape its surface, the Montego is the Mercury Division's upscale twin to the Ford Five Hundred sedan, though the Montego's version of upscale is of the Korean off-shore casino variety. The faux wood-grain interior trim looks like it came off a prison lunch tray. I've felt better leather upholstery on footballs.

But this is not a case of a car nibbled to death by details. Overall, the car has a profoundly geriatric feeling about it, like it was built with a swollen prostate. To drive this car is to feel the icy hand of death upon you, or at least the icy hand of Hertz, because it simply screams rental.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear

I don't know if Cynthia followed through, but I watched the TNT original movie The Librarian: Quest for the Spear on Sunday night. I've been meaning to write about it but just watching the movie wasted so much of my life I'm loath to volunteer more of my time to write about it.

Here's what you need to know:

Noah Wyle is a thirtyish grad student with dozens of degrees who loves to learn and never wants to stop going to school. His professor kicks him out, encouraging him to live his life. His mother, whom he still lives with, tries to set him up on dates but he quickly scares them off by being his stammering, awkward self. It makes you wonder what these girls expected when they agreed to go on a date with some old woman's grown live-in son--some kind of well-adjusted, super-suave ladies' man?

Immediately after being kicked out of school, Wyle receives a glowing letter with words that appear on the page as he reads it, while a woman's voice reads the text out loud for the benefit of the illiterates watching at home. Surprised as anyone would be by a glowing, self-writing letter with audio capabilities, Wyle shrugs and says to himself, "I wonder how they did that." Oh, and the letter invites him to interview for a job at the "Library."

Wyle goes to the library and interviews with a frumpy, curt Jane Curtin, who demands to know what sets him apart from all the other applicants. He tries to be polite, but finally, pushed to his breaking point, busts out his Sherlock Holmes deductive skills, which apparently you pick up if you're a graduate student for a long time. He tells her she has mono and cats.

Now Bob Newhart appears in a twinkle of light and tells Curtin to send away all the other interviewees; anyone who can tell she has mono and cats is clearly the man to guard the priceless treasures of the world. Wyle, ever perceptive, doesn't quite realize yet that sending the other applicants away means that he got the job, but eventually catches on.

Oh yes, the treasures of the world. So the "Library" is essentially the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, except better decorated. Newhart shows Wyle the Ark of the Covenant, warning him not to touch it or he'll be "electrocuted." Immediately after being told the Ark would electrocute him, Wyle can't help touching another mystical treasure, briefly opening a box that Newhart casually explains "once belonged to a girl named Pandora." Fortunately the pure evil contained within is not so quick to pounce on its opportunity and the box is closed without incident. We catch a glimpse of King Midas, now gold, on his throne.

The Library is also full of endless aisles of books, so as to justify its name. It's not clear whether the books themselves are important. As Stephanie pointed out while we were watching, the types of artifacts present indicate that perhaps this secret place might better be called "The Museum," and the movie might be more accurately titled "The Curator." Unfortunately, "curator" sounds less cool than "librarian." And for something to sound less cool than "librarian," well, let's just say that really tells you something about how lame curators are.

That night, bad guys and one Asianish, unconvincing bad girl knock out Newhart and steal a piece of the Spear of Destiny, better known to Evangelion fans as the Spear of Longinus. This spear pierced Christ's side when he was crucified, and it possesses pretty much any mystical power you want to assign to it. A bunch of great conquerors throughout history were unbeatable as long as they had it, and beatable as soon as they lost it. Even Hitler had the Spear of Destiny.

(So far, this is actually part of the real legend, and Hitler did have it. U.S. forces found it only 90 minutes before Hitler committed suicide. No doubt, if they hadn't, Hitler's morale would have remained strong despite being cornered in his bunker. Also in reality, the spear itself is gone and only the spearhead survives. Hitler's was one of two that is rumored to be the spearhead of Destiny/Longinus but nobody knows which, if either, is authentic.)

Turns out, though, that this piece in the Library is only one of three pieces of the Spear. Hitler only had one piece, and it worked out pretty well for him, so imagine how powerful someone would be if they had all three. The other two pieces are safely hidden around the world by a previous Librarian. For some reason, Newhart and Curtin think it's a good idea for Wyle to seek out the pieces from their unknown, foolproof hiding places and bring them back to the Library, where they can all be easily stolen.

Fair enough. It worked in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, another movie where the bad guys had one piece of something and no clue where to find the rest, spurring the good guys to find the rest for them and help put the world in danger so that they could save it.

First, Wyle has to decipher the previous librarian's clues to the pieces, written in the language of the birds, which no one knows. Wyle figures it out in seven hours or so, about halfway through his plane ride to the Amazon. On the plane he meets a Tough English Chick who coldly shuts down his attempt to make polite conversation, but then turns out to be an agent of the Library (complete with laminated ID card) who saves him from bad guys and the Unconvincing Asianish Bad Girl.

Tough English Chick (TEC) tosses Wyle out of the plane with no parachute, then dives out after him about a minute later. Presumably she catches up to him in midair, grabs hold of him and shares her parachute, but this happens in quickly edited cuts totaling about one second, so we don't see enough of the stunt to figure out they didn't have the budget to actually perform it. It doesn't really matter anyway, since we've seen the real stunt enough times in other movies to know exatly what always happens in that situation.

Now Wyle and TEC wander through the jungle (luckily Wyle can recognize birds and a mountain and figure out exactly where they are), gradually melting their icy relationship and seeking out the spear while bad guys trail them. Their journey includes:

The Rickety Bridge: Apparently staged using a lot of green screen, a small piece of a bridge they actually built, and a lot of CGI for the part where it collapses (spoiler!). This stunt is also saved by cutting around the action as much as possible so that we barely see what happens, we just see that they come out okay. Other movies cut to the chase, this one cuts from the chase.

The Spike Pit: Where else but in a Mayan temple? And a wall that starts pushing them to the edge of the pit! How will they escape death? Why, with an...

Invisible Floor Over the Pit: Did you see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? So did the makers of this movie! But unlike the stupid trick they do in Last Crusade, which anyone with depth perception could have spotted, rendering the whole stunt an unfair trick on a movie audience who by definition can only see the picture in 2-D, the invisible floor in The Librarian uses "mirrors" or something. It's more like the invisible floor in Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

From there, they pass the Darts Triggered By Floor Panel by figuring out the timing, video-game style, and literally waltzing through, keeping time with their dance steps.

Then they get to the Artifact on the Booby-Trapped Pedestal, which Wyle knows to avoid since he's seen Indiana Jones too. He pushes it off with a stick and watches a huge stone head fall where a less clever person would stand.

Immediately after getting the spear piece, they're captured by the bad guys, led by yet another former Librarian they'd presumed dead, a former lover of TEC. Lucky for Bad Librarian, the good guys just did one-third of his job for him. He forces Wyle to lead him to the third piece, at Shangri-La. But TEC and Wyle swipe the third piece (the spearhead) and escape to have sex at a hotel in Thailand. Wyle probably has so much residual virginity at this point that it would probably take two or three more rolls in the hay to successfully lose all his virginity, but he wakes up pleased with himself anyway.

Wyle chats with Newhart on the TV set, then realizes TEC and the spear are gone. He fears he's been "cahooted"--i.e. she was in cahoots with the bad guy the whole time.

Wyle knows that the spear can only be activated in an Egyptian pyramid during a full moon (as is the case with any Christian/Roman artifact, right?), and the only Egyptian pyramid in the world with a near-genuine headstone is the replica we saw Wyle's class installing at his college at the beginning of the movie!

Back at the college, Wyle meets up with Newhart, who in addition to being a seemingly immortal magical figure is also an ex-Marine.

They go into the pyramid room, where they discover that:
1) TEC was captured, not in cahoots--whew!
2) Wyle's professor who kicked him out of school is in cahoots with the bad guys
3) This villain actually says things like "The power of the spear is mine!!" which just reminds me of the movie I made where my friend Dan holds my plastic sword in my dad's closet and says "The sword is mine! Ah ha ha!" while I flicker the lights and make a "BZZZ" sound with my mouth.

A big beam of light reassembles the spear pieces, and now the spear has the power to suck out people's souls when you stab them with it, which is desireable for some reason. The Bad Librarian is pretty stoked about it, anyway.

Now follows:
The Obligatory Chickfight: Cue the Kill Bill sound-alike music (no, really, they do). Been wondering why that Asiany Unconvincing Bad Girl was tagging along all the time? Well, it's so hot chicks can fight at the end of the movie, silly, just like the good chick fought the previously unused bad chick at the end of Bulletproof Monk and The Medallion. Now, Movies, I'm as big a fan of hot chicks fighting as anyone, but if you're not willing to commit to it and build your movie around it, as in So Close, Kill Bill, or Charlie's Angels, don't bother. I can tell when you've shoehorned in a chickfight where it doesn't belong and your heart isn't in it.

And:
Bob Newhart Kicking Ass: Yes, while Wyle battles Bad Librarian and TEC fights AUBC, Newhart, magical ex-Marine, proceeds to take out everybody else. Dozens of younger men fall before this old man with the dry comic delivery and his Judo expertise. And we go along with it, because he's Bob Newhart, and you know what, he does kick ass.

The Bad Librarian is killed when the head of the Pyramid collapses and falls on top of him, in the last of the movie's unconvincing CGI effects of Big Things Falling (see also the Mayan stone head in the Artifact on Pedestal scene).

Wyle finally placates his mom when his new girlfriend, TEC, terrorizes a sidewalk cafe on her motorbike, arriving to whisk Wyle away on another adventure--tracking down "H.G. Wells' time machine," which may be a nod to the Back to the Future tone of this "Your kids, Marty, something's got to be done about your kids!" type of joke-cliffhanger ending.

But to back up a bit--H.G. Wells' time machine?! You guys know that was a novel, right? Apparently the premise of The Librarian is that every mystical artifact from any culture ever actually exists, including fictional ones. Look for future adventures of the Librarian to feature "Huckleberry Finn's raft," "Aragorn's sword," and "Bill and Ted's Phone Booth."

Meanwhile, librarians everywhere cheer their positive new media image.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

A Masterpiece

In his review of National Treasure, Roger Ebert points out the similarity of the movie's plot to the book The Da Vinci Code. As a side note, he describes what he thought of the book:

It is inelegant, pedestrian writing in service of a plot that sets up cliff-hangers like clockwork, resolves them with improbable escapes and leads us breathlessly to a disappointing anticlimax. I should read a potboiler like The Da Vinci Code every once in a while, just to remind myself that life is too short to read books like The Da Vinci Code.

I only read about a page and a half of The Da Vinci Code, but that was pretty much the impression I'd formed. It pleased me to see it summed up so succinctly. It's also a sharper, more biting review than you usually see Ebert dish out to most movies, made harsher by its dismissive brevity.

A Different Kind of Trailer

This story (found through Drudge Report) is kind of funny, but more interesting to me was the fact that this page is essentially a transcript of the story as it appeared on the TV news, which explains why it's so short. It really highlights the ridiculously low information-to-time-spent ratio that makes TV news so worthless.

And is today a slow day at work? Yes.

AmiYumiUpdate: "I'm too cool to be excited."

Lydia lent me a tape of the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Show. The show had been taped over some old movie that had previously made its residence on the tape. When I popped it into my VCR, something strange happened: I saw the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Show, but I heard the old movie. I fast-forwarded, but the sound never recovered. It was as if only the video track had been recorded over, and the old movie sound remained crystal-clear.

This is especially strange since Lydia apparently was able to watch this tape with no problems.

So I set my VCR for 7:30 Friday, just like the billboards all over town say, but on Saturday I checked the tape and it was a different show! It was beginning to look like I was cursed to never experience the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Show. I checked the Cartoon Network website. I was in luck! An episode was about to air at 11:30 AM Saturday, a mere twenty minutes away. I took a quick shower to make sure I was fresh and clean to watch Puffy AmiYumi.

My verdict: The show is dopey, but also cute and fun to watch. Once you get into the groove you forgive its dopiness. The chick-rock-cool, especially the Yumi character's "bad-girl" put-on, is so silly and broad it's practically a parody. As Lydia told me, the live-action intro and outro segments are the best parts, but they are very, very short. The episode I saw had Ami and Yumi pointing out their hometowns (Osaka and Tokyo) on a map of Japan, then getting into an argument over which is better. At the end of the show, their fight has escalated to the point that they fall down and knock over the map. Ami sums up that now you know where they are from. Yumi pokes her head in and whispers "Osaka's better."

After Puffy was Teen Titans, which has been using a Puffy-sung theme song for awhile now, which makes me smile a lot.

(The quote in my headline is from a story in the episode in which the girls' manager replaces them with robots so he can make more money by having them all perform in different places at once. The robo-Ami introduces herself with "I'm Ami. I'm excited to meet you." and the robo-Yumi ('cause she's a bad girl) says "I'm Yumi. I'm too cool to be excited.")

Trailerblazing

Last week one of our production professors, Mark W. Gray, brought in Back to Back, one of the early films in his cinematography career, and performed a live commentary as it played. In turn, we could ask him questions about the production or laugh and make fun of it. Fortunately, he has no problem admitting it's just a cheesy John-Woo-rip-off action B-movie. It stars Michael Rooker, the bald dad from Mallrats, as a hothead ex-cop (is there any other kind?) who reluctantly teams up with a Yakuza hitman against a morbidly obese Italian mob boss.

The movie, while bad, is just bad enough to be amusing throughout, which keeps it eminently watchable throughout all its deliciously laughable cliches. And it's well shot.

Watch the trailer and have a taste.

More Kenny Byerly Links

Some other cool things you might find if you Google my name include the transcript of my NPR interview, all my Amazon.com reviews, and the local paper's story about my Seinfeld contest win.

Boy, am I great.

Googlized

Inspired by Zembla's exhaustive Sean Keane search, I set out to see if there were any Kenny Byerlys afoot, threatening to rival my own web presence. For some reason I'd never Googled my name with "quote marks" before, resulting in a lot of Kennys and a lot of Byerlys that were wholly unrelated to each other.

So today I did it right, and lo and behold, I dominate every search result for "Kenny Byerly" through every results page, abridged or not (except for the son of some dead woman in an obituary)!

However, I discovered that if you search "Ken Byerly" or "Kenneth Byerly" you get many people who aren't me. Good thing I never made the upgrade to a grown-up name, or I would be fighting for hits right now.

However, the Daily Cal story for my second External VP run lists me as a Kenneth, so this is the only way to look back on the "Ass Cat Cool Cat" candidacy.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Diesel

Vin Diesel continues his string of brilliant career moves with The Pacifier. You must watch this trailer. It's fantastic. I don't know if I mean that ironically or sincerely, but it's fantastic one way or another. High concept at its best and most ludicrous. I guess it's kind of Kindergarten Cop meets Suburban Commando, which is not saying much since those were kind of the same idea.

Addendum: When I say fantastic, I mean in a "so dumb it's great" kind of way, and when I say sincere, I mean "so great it's almost not dumb."

There's a moment about halfway through the trailer when I realized--and I should have realized this much sooner, immediately really--anyway, there's a moment when I realized he's going to turn out to be the perfect dad. And I went all teary-eyed.

Best line: "You're telling me protecting these kids is a matter of national security?"

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Start Your Engines

The first sign of Herbie: Fully Loaded publicity has shown up on MTV.

On a side note, I'm posting this here in the student production office at USC and people are waiting for an open computer. I'm feeling a bit guilty using one for this.