Friday, December 30, 2005

Internet!

I am not the sort of person who carries his laptop around everywhere and pops it open whenever he gets a free moment. This is because my laptop is heavy, dim, and has a short battery life.

But right now I am in the midst of a long wait for a haircut, and I have my laptop with me because I was going to go write afterwards. And there is wireless Internet in the area, so this is pretty much the best haircut wait I have ever had (aside from the short ones). I am writing this post simply because I can.

I haven't had a real haircut in over a year, due to the numerous experiments with using the clippers at home. So that is exciting, too.

It is a long wait, though. Why do they even have six seats here if they're only going to staff two of them? Stupid women and their take-forever hairdos. It's not like this is a fancy salon. It is Fantastic Sam's.

Berkeley's gay Asian barber is once again sorely missed. He probably does not have wireless Internet, but he does have Playboy.

As Opposed To Your Offline Blog

Oh, the irony.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Two More Movies

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a very sharp, darkly comic noir. It's tightly-written and pitch-perfect. The self-conscious narration threatens to be too smug and cutesy-clever, but it turns out to be just enough to be fun, and the rest of the movie works hard enough to earn your respect.

It is hard to believe that the love interest is Robert Downey Jr.'s age--mainly because she's actually more than ten years younger. Apparently they're both supposed to be around thirty-four, which doesn't work on Downey's end either. They couldn't really cast a woman in her mid-thirties? That said, Michelle Monaghan is hot and shows her tits. In this context, I think that is really the most appropriate word.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable ride, much more about the mystery and the comedy than the action, which is not quite what you'd expect from Shane Black, but it retains Black's flair for the over-the-top in other ways.

The question is, why didn't the movie do better at the box office? Was it marketed poorly? I, for one, was confused by its gradual release, and was never quite sure if the movie was playing yet--by the time I realized it was out, it had been in theaters for weeks.

The movie's overt Raymond Chandler homages also spurred me to buy another Chandler novel, which I've been sort of meaning to do for years.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic is funny, but I knew too many jokes going in, and the mostly quiet theater dampened the fun. Also, her pre-taped segments, aside from the opening and closing bits, have a weird, uncomfortable feel. I'm not sure if they are intentional efforts to push jokes past the point where they're funny (which I like to do myself, at least in theory) or if they're misfires. If she did it on purpose, I think it's kind of cool.

Intermission Part 2

The Internet gets around fast, huh? Here is Slate's take on the Narnia rap, which, by the way, is now available free on iTunes, in case you felt bad about getting it free, you know, everywhere else.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Decembertime Movielist 2005, Part 1

A ranked list of the movies I saw this year. Now we are down to my favorites.

You Knew Where This Was Going, Part One: Movies I Really Liked

1. Batman Begins - I'm not saying I'd choose the Batmobile over Herbie--although, to be honest, I guess Herbie's a bit on the needy side--but if I have to choose between a serviceable interpretation of my favorite character and a rock-solid interpretation of one of my other favorite characters, I have to go with the superior movie. At last, a Batman movie with respect for the character, respect for the comics, and respect for the audience. It's everything Batman always deserved and everything Bat-fans never dared dream they'd actually get, outside of animation.

2. Herbie: Fully Loaded - This one is going to be a bit long-winded, I'm afraid. A flawed movie, to say the least. Some of the CGI is painfully obvious, especially an inaccurately modeled Volkwagen--in numerous close ups!--late in the film. I still believe the "Large Marge" freak-out Herbie was a huge mistake. The relentless pace leaves no room for the characters to breathe. Lindsay Lohan's performance, while decent, is obviously phoned in, and Justin Long sometimes seems lost. It all goes a bit too gooey over NASCAR at the end. And I can't escape the feeling that the movie is kind of clumsily assembled.

This blog makes an interesting argument that Lohan's character reflects the modern obsession with undeserved celebrity. Certainly, it seems unnecessary that her character has a promising, desireable career lined up before she gets into racing--the fact that Dean Jones was a washed-up driver in the original Love Bug was more engaging and sympathetic. It's harder to care when someone has a great job anyway, but just really wants to race. "Pathetic Failure Vs. Realizing Your Dream" is more dramatic than "Glamorous ESPN Job Vs. Even More Glamorous Car Racing Job." So it would have been nice if Lohan's character was ever in danger of actually failing.

Instead all that negative stuff gets passed on to the men in her washed-up racing family, because in Hollywood movies these days, leading ladies have to be perfect and good at everything. She's a great driver, and has a big-time sports journalism career right out of college, and she's a great skateboarder--even though they had to cut down the skateboarding scenes because all the special effects in the world couldn't make Lindsay Lohan look at home on a skateboard. (For an excellent article on the formulaic blandification of movie heroines, check this piece out--it's from the LA Times but the original isn't available on their site anymore.)

Many critics have pointed out that for all the fuss that's made over Lohan being a "great driver," Herbie's magic makes it irrelevant. The movie fudges it by suggesting that it's Lohan and Herbie's connection that fuels the magic, but even so. The point in The Love Bug was that Dean Jones wasn't a particularly good driver, and he had to come to terms with that and appreciate the gift that he'd been given.

I'm not trying to excuse these faults, but I admit that this is more scrutiny than this movie was meant to withstand. As a Herbie fan, a lot of the things that bugged me before, I've gotten used to. I'm pretty much used to the expressive sound effects they've added to Herbie, and even the eyelids and bumper are fairly inoffensive now. I wish they'd used the original decals, but I can tolerate the new ones.

And the movie has its strengths as well. Matt Dillon is the best Herbie villain since David Tomlinson and Keenan Wynn--he nails the tone perfectly and it's a delight whenever he's onscreen. While the climactic NASCAR race is underwhelming, the Demolition Derby scene is quite good, and surprisingly emotional.

The entire sequence starting when Lohan acquires Herbie, and lasting through her street race with Trip, is excellent, as good as the corresponding sequence it rips off from Herbie Rides Again. The actual driving in the street race could stand to be more aggressive, but other aspects of the scene, like Herbie "keying" Trip's car with his mirror, Lohan's horror at being trapped in a race, and the use of "Born to be Wild" are priceless. Plus this race includes Herbie's railslide and his skateboard-esque kick-turn, the best CG effect in the movie.

Eventually, Lohan even reveals some character flaws. When Dillon tempts her into "cheating" on Herbie with his stock car (with all the weird sexual subtext that implies), it's one of the movie's best scenes.

Finally, with its location shooting and modern style, Fully Loaded is the only Herbie movie that actually makes us feel like we're inside a VW--something the originals, with their studio-bound half-cars never quite accomplished.

Ultimately, Herbie: Fully Loaded succeeds as an effective feel-good family movie, easily better than Herbie Goes Bananas, and arguably better even than the dramatically inert fan favorite Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. (Monte Carlo is funnier, though, if only for the presence of Don Knotts.)

Embarrassingly enough, for years I've literally dreamed of discovering a new Herbie movie--seriously, I have dreams where I'm in obscure video stores, and, what's this?--and now it is here. There was the 1997 TV movie, which was a tremendous disappointment and an embarrassing blemish on the resumes of both Herbie and Bruce Campbell--but it does prove that not just any Herbie movie will do. Despite its faults, this one passes muster.

3. Kung Fu Hustle - Madcap cartoon surrealism and imaginative, masterfully choreographed action. Like Shaolin Soccer, distinctively Chinese humor that's somehow mean-spirited without being ugly about it. Goofy and over-the-top ridiculous yet unsettlingly violent. The story is all over the place, but why should you give a shit?

4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin - Heartfelt and sincere, yet raunchy and hilarious. A perfectly realized, authentic geek life packed with details drawn from genuine observation and experience. Deals honestly with sexual anxiety without making the virgin a buffoon--or at least, no more a buffoon than his experienced friends. But yes, it is too long.

5. Initial D - This Hong Kong anime/manga adaptation--the highest grossing movie of the year in Hong Kong!--features lovely drifting action and tons of it. Plus an underdog racer trumping souped-up rivals and the most endearing abusive alcoholic dad since Homer Simpson. Sometimes it's the simple pleasures that matter.

6. Ong-Bak - Brutal and distressing in parts, but the best action movies tend to have violence that skirts the edge of your comfort level. Spectacular.

2005 End of the Year List of Movies, Part 2

So I'm listing the movies of the year in the order of how much I liked them. Number 1 is the best. From there, you can figure out how it works.

Part Two: Movies I Liked

7. Transporter 2 - Deliriously ridiculous, and inventive too. Utterly trashy and shameless. Most importantly, it's self-aware but it trusts you to get the joke without it winking at you. One of the hottest gun-toting girls of the year, in a year awash with gun-toting girls. The difference: Lingerie. Plus car chases and martial arts battles, and Jason Statham's unflappable presence. What more could you want?

8. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit - It's hard not to like Wallace and Gromit. Not as good as The Wrong Trousers, and the gag where the dogs stop fighting to add change to their airplanes really broke the tone for me. Otherwise, good solid fun, and claymation at its best. But ultimately, I liked Chicken Run better.

9. The Dukes of Hazzard - Admittedly, a terrible, crass, sexist, thoroughly unfunny movie, although one complaint I had--that the pot-smoking bit doesn't lead to anything--is supposedly remedied in the unrated version, where it leads to girl nudity and body painting! But such is my affection for the General Lee, and danged if the stunt drivers don't do terrific work with it. The movie's lengthy car chases are slickly shot and flawlessly performed--pure joy.

10. Millions - Danny Boyle's kid movie is weird, bright, funny, and adorable.

11. The Best of Youth - This two-part, six-hour epic about four decades in the life of an Italian family didn't dazzle me the way it did many critics--my tastes run too shallow for that, I think. But it is authentic and moving, and leaves you feeling like you've really lived a life and felt the passage of time along with these characters. And, amazingly, it's never boring.

12. Mr. & Mrs. Smith - Please ignore how the plot makes no sense--no one cares. The point is the obvious metaphor about marriage, which makes no earth-shaking points but does provide the pretext for some sharp, funny repartee and some good-looking people fighting. Brad Pitt is best when he's playing matter-of-fact dark comedy and Angelina Jolie + guns = You know how I am going to answer this. The fact that the tone works in this movie is a miracle--even in the trailer it seemed like it was going to be ugly, but it wasn't.

13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - I have no real affection for the original beyond the talents of Gene Wilder and the hilariously judgmental Oompa-Loompas (incidentally, the only part of the movie that the Family Guy spoof really parodied perfectly, as opposed to merely re-enacting). So Tim Burton's version was a welcome take on the story. Thank you for getting to the factory sooner and not making Charlie's family intolerable. The only weak link: The Wonka backstory and its clumsy resolution.

14. Gunner Palace - A rather formless documentary on soldiers in Iraq. It offered a vivid portrait of a place and an experience with which I am unfamiliar. As an example of the documentary form, it isn't the best, but it accomplishes something important nonetheless.

15. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Harry Potter movies have become a reliable fantasy-adventure fix, and I enjoy seeing how the style of the movies evolves. Plus, since I don't read, the story is new to me!

16. Wedding Crashers - Overrated and overlong. I'm not sure where all the hilarious jokes are supposed to be, but Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn do have chemistry. All in all, I had a pretty good time at the theater, even if I did see the movie too late to catch the bandwagon.

Intermission

Boing Boing readers may have seen this already, but in case you didn't click on it, I'll offer up this redundant post. This little music video from SNL is making the rounds online. It's actually really good and worth checking out. The song is funny and along with the spirited, goofy video, it's downright infectious. I first watched it a couple of days ago and I went back to revisit it today.

Hurry up and watch it before it becomes one of those overrated, overlinked online things everyone's sick of, if it isn't already. It's by these guys, whose work on their website eventually got them gigs on SNL.

Oh, what the heck. Let's do that cool embedded video thing again.

Vice Presidential Command Peformance Academy of Robots Choice Awards Preview Special, Part 3

Continuing my year-end ranking of all the new movies I saw this year, from least favorite (high numbers) to most favorite (low numbers). So within the post, it's actually going from most favorite to least favorite, but the posts are going in the opposite order. It sounds more confusing than it is.

2005 Movies Kenny Has Seen, Part Three: Movies with Something to Like

17. Corpse Bride - Charming and distinctive, and worth it on an aesthetic level if for nothing else. Thin, illogical story and bland lead characters hold it back.

18. 2046 - Visually sumptuous, but lacking the quirky humor and kinetic, visceral qualities of my favorite Wong Kar Wai films. Maybe it's just pretentious, but it's too enigmatic to know for sure.

19. D.E.B.S. - Honestly, this movie is not that good. But Jordana Brewster wielding guns and lip-synching Erasure goes a long way. A really long way.

20. Domino - Director Tony Scott is a madman, and not in a good way. But give yourself over and you'll be swept up in the sheer nihilistic excess and super-saturated insanity. Yes, it's tangled and meaningless--gloriously, willfully meaningless, and all the better for it. At least until the end when Domino learns to love. Lame.

21. War of the Worlds - For all the destruction in the film, I'm still most dazzled by the seamless sweeping around the van as it weaves down the highway while the family yells at each other. On the other hand, should I really have been paying attention to the camera at that moment? Such is the dilemma of Spielberg movies. The good: Sticking to the perspective of the average person. The bad: Numerous nitpicky plot conveniences, and that awful cop-out ending. If only the son had died, the microscopic organism twist from the novel might not have seemed so cheap.

22. Sin City - I wish I'd seen it without knowing how it was made. I always felt too aware that everything was CG. But it looks great. Moody, surreal, violent and nihilistic--though the nihilism here is less gleeful than it was in Domino. It creates a world all its own. And it made me uncomfortable on several occasions.

23. Kontroll - A foreign movie--I forget from where. Ticket checkers on a subway. One of them lives in the stations. Someone is pushing people on the tracks. Funny, weird, full of techno music. A bit claustrophobic, but that's appropriate. The movie often feels like it's trying to seem deeper than it is, but it manages not to be pretentious about it, so it's forgivable.

24. Dear Frankie - It's somewhere in England, and a mother fakes letters to her son from his "sailor" dad. Then she has to get a guy to pretend to be the dad when the real boat comes to port. It sounds corny but it's pretty sweet.

25. Sahara - Big, dumb, hilariously bombastic. The enjoyment is to be had in laughing at its preposterousness, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

26. Crash - The Onion AV Club's review of Woody Allen's Match Point says it "deals with class in the same clumsy, ham-fisted, subtext-free manner in which Crash deals with race." I haven't seen the Allen film, but it's spot-on about Crash. The second half, in which people reveal their complexities through unexpected actions, is surprisingly good, even great, but it's not enough to make up for the shrill first half where everybody shouts their prejudices at the top of their lungs. And that moment with the little girl is flat-out emotional blackmail. I think people just feel good about themselves for liking a movie that's About Something.

27. Dust to Glory - A documentary about a Baja California race. Endless shots of trucks and dirt bikes bouncing down a dirt track get monotonous for most viewers, but I found myself wondering if maybe I should have been a race car driver.

28. Fever Pitch - Sweet, likeable, thoroughly inoffensive. Does a good job of capturing how deeply in love some people, especially guys, can be with their hobbies. Even Jimmy Fallon is okay.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Films of 2005: A Year in Review, Part 4

It's the end of the year, and people are making lists and junk now. Best-of lists and whatnot. You know the drill.

Apparently I saw about thirty-four new movies this year. I have ranked them. I make no claim that this list reflects quality. It reflects nothing but my personal level of enjoyment, as best as that can be quantified.

I think this makes more sense than doing a best-of list. I haven't seen enough movies to decide what was the best of the year. But if you know all the movies I saw, you'll know the pool I'm drawing from.

Besides, "authoritative" best-of lists are full of shit anyway.

The list will be split into four sections. That way you will be spared the horror of my overlong posts. We will start at the bottom and count down (up). That way you will held in thrall by the suspense of guessing what tops the list.

Here we are in Part 4--the bottom of the list. This is the only section of the list where the movies are all unqualified failures.

Credit to Steve for triggering this avenue of thought and some friend of his for providing a link that helped me complete my list of movies.

2005 Movies Kenny Has Seen, Part Four: The Failures

29. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - Honestly, at this point I can barely remember this movie. There was a bunch of lava and then Darth Vader. Before that--who knows? Some robot guy wheezing a lot, right? And R2 acting like Herbie?

30. Winter Solstice - A quiet, "subtle" family drama so quiet and subtle that it literally ends just as something is finally about to happen. Personally I prefer movies that have at least one event in them, but hey, that's me. Is it still considered subtlety when a movie hits you over the head with how subtle it is?

31. Tell Them Who You Are - A documentary about '70s cinematographer Haskell Wexler, made by Haskell Wexler's son. Wexler is a fascinating, hilarious prick--like Owen Wilson meets Bill Murray (asshole version). Way back when, he directed a decent movie called Medium Cool that was undone by a horribly stupid and pretentious ending. But his son is dull and mostly, so is this movie, which eventually feels meandering and tedious. It purports to be about fathers and sons, but really it's just about this father and this son, and you're left wondering why you just watched some guy's home movie about his bad relationship with his father.

32. Be Cool - Pointless, forgettable.

33. Fantastic Four - Thuddingly, impossibly dumb. Slapdash tone. Bland characters. First draft dialogue. Lame comedy, no drama, no tension, barely any action. Stunningly mediocre in every imaginable way. An embarrassment.

34. Dot the I - Smug, pretentious garbage. A textbook example of why self-referential postmodernism and "clever" twists that undermine the story are hacky dead-ends. If M. Night Shyamalan and Kevin Williamson co-wrote a script while retarded, you would have this movie. Just pure shit.

Fresh Episode



Here's the latest completed episode of the show I write for: The John Kerwin Show, with guest David Faustino--Bud Bundy of Married...With Children. And for those of you familiar with "Grandmaster B": Yes, we do make him rap.

Google Video was letting me down with their crapshoot verification process, which sometimes takes hours and sometimes takes weeks, so I gave YouTube a try and they have this embedded video option. You can watch without leaving the site. So I think this is what they call videoblogging, or at least it is very close to what they call videoblogging. A Herbie the Love Blog first!

Again, constructive feedback is welcome but for stronger criticism, feedback via email is preferred.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Malcolm Status Report

Malcolm in the Middle has a weird vibe this season, despite the fact that it's actually been pretty good since I wrote that long post about the show's disturbing violent side.

The only violators since then have been a couple of cold opens--in one, Hal accidentally traps himself in a plastic bag while trying to show toddler Jamie why plastic bags are dangerous, leading to the rather nightmarish image of Hal screaming for help with his hands caught behind his back.



In the other, Malcolm and Dewey tie a sleeping Reese's ankle to a rope that's wrapped around everything in the house, with the other end attached to a neighbor's car. We don't see the results, but jokes about dragging someone behind a car (in any semi-realistic context) just remind me of deadly hate crimes. I didn't like when Seinfeld did it, either. Besides which, I know we are meant to imagine cartoon physics, but I couldn't help thinking that doing this would destroy everything in the house and break off the car's bumper before it would ever drag Reese out of the bed.



But the episodes, overall, have been better. A pretty decent episode called "Blackout," told in the Go style with parallel stories and a repeating timeline, was well-executed, but the fans online seem to be overly impressed with its gimmickry.

Larisa Olenik of Alex Mack and 10 Things fame popped up as Reese's former army buddy. Their friendship is threatened when Reese fears sexual tension between them, but she turns out to have a lesbian crush on Lois instead.



This episode, probably due to the lesbian stuff but also possibly related to Reese's offering himself to Olenik wearing only a gift ribbon, earned Malcolm its first "Viewer Discretion Advised" warning.





I also really liked the use of Jessica in a pair of recent episodes. Jessica is a shamelessly manipulative girl with fright-wig hair, and a recurring character who has tended to pop up once a season since season four, until this year, when she suddenly appeared in two episodes in a row. She and Malcolm have a surprisingly effective platonic friend vibe, but with an undercurrent of romantic tension that made me suspect that the writers kept her around to eventually become Malcolm's girlfriend. It seemed as though that was the route the show was about to take, as Jessica finally revealed her feelings for Malcolm, only to later reveal that it was yet another manipulation.



But despite the upturn in quality and the dropoff in creepiness, the episodes still have a different feel. They're somehow less manic, lacking the madcap energy that used to propel the show. Even in bizarre, impressive plotlines like Hal's feud with the only surviving bee of a hive he destroyed, culminating in a spectacular car chase, the show comes off as surreal, but without the delicate cartoonish-yet-realistic tone that characterized the show's best years.



As the characters age and the show grows less innocent, it's harder to accept a lot of the cartoonish silliness--especially when the show purposely weaves in darker or more complex issues. Or it could be that the show is just not quite as funny.

This week's episode featured an uncharacteristically philosophical Malcolm summing up a life lesson as sweet music played--granted, it was played in ironic counterpoint to Reese exacting revenge on a tormentor behind him, but even that sort of winking, parodic riff on the show's own conceits felt strange.

This is not really related to what I'm saying, but here is a Google Video clip of one of last season's high points, from the episode "Hal's Christmas Gift."

Box Office

King Kong made $50.2 million over the weekend, $66 million since Wednesday, which so far makes it a less impressive performer than Narnia. That is not bad for an ordinary movie but pretty lame for an incredibly expensive movie that has been hyped beyond all reason.

It's possible that a lot of people share my lack of interest in ape stories, or that, as the performance of Godzilla suggested, the public is less interested in seeing rampaging giant beasts in New York than some people seem to believe.

There is still a chance that, since the movie is supposedly good, word of mouth will make it the new Titanic. But never mind that for now. Here is the interesting part:

Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong" did out-gross the opening weekend of his "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," the first of his J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy trilogy that debuted with $47.2 million. But factoring in a 12% rise in admission prices since that 2001 film's release, "King Kong" sold about 7.9 million tickets, 450,000 fewer than "Fellowship of the Ring."


Movie ticket prices have gone up 12% in the last four years? 12% since the first Lord of the Rings? Has inflation gone up 12%? Have wages gone up 12%? And they seriously wonder why fewer people are willing to shell out for bad movies?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Hooray

I was notified today that I have been accepted into the CBS Writers Mentoring Program.

Also, sorry about that Kong review rant. Was that too crass and gross at the end, there? I am a little ashamed of it. Plus it doesn't make sense. Why am "I" getting aroused when Paul Clinton is servicing Peter Jackson? Stupid, right? Hopefully you did not lose my point, which is that Paul Clinton is a tool.

Anyway, the CBS news is very exciting. And by that I mean my news about CBS, not the thing Dan Rather used to do.

Something Old, Nothing New

Yesterday, I found myself engrossed--nay, hypnotized--for several hours by Something Old, Nothing New, a well-written blog of pop culture criticism with surprising depth in a variety of subjects.

The author's interests include vintage and current sitcoms, dramas, animation, movies, musicals, comics, and Charles Dickens.

More specifically, the blog includes great posts on:

-The Love Bug

-The cancellation of Arrested Development

-How Veronica Mars makes its unlikely premise acceptable

-Sledge Hammer! and the arrogance of Sledge Hammer! creator Alan Spencer

-Archie Comics' best writer, Frank Doyle, and how he was Seinfeldian before there was a Seinfeld

-The TV version of Weird Science, including how many of its writers came from Parker Lewis Can't Lose and went on to (this was a surprise) Desperate Housewives

-Why the Arrested Development-influenced My Name is Earl has found greater success than Arrested Development

-The merits of Remington Steele

-The creation of Jem and the Holograms, and how the show succeeded even as the toy line failed

-The unique political viewpoint of King of the Hill

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Have Wasted An Entire Day

I know linking Google Videos is a poor excuse for blogging. You don't know how many links you've been spared today. But this is hard to resist.

Who knew such treasures existed? And what is it about Zelda games that inspires so much rapping?

Yo Play

Google Video is great for watching people turn trivial skills into art. When something is at once so dazzling, spectacular and sad, you know you are witnessing greatness.

Here is a Japanese kid who came in first place in the 2a division of the 2005 World Yo-Yo Contest. Okay, so that is not nearly as sad as, say, cup stacking--first of all, the average person actually knows what a yo-yo is, so that right there is an advantage.

You know what? Scratch the condescension. It is not sad at all. It is plainly awesome. I went through a phase in middle school where I was all about the yo-yo. Carried it with me everywhere. I could do Around the World, Walking the Dog, a halfassed, panicked Cats' Cradle, and the one where you make the yo-yo sleep and then wrap it around and make it roll up over your upper arm.

All this was triggered by a friend who came back from a year or two in Korea with mad yo-yo skills. (Why is it always the Asian kids who get crazy good at shit like this?)

What a brilliant way to impress people--with talent in an area they barely even think about. You take them by surprise that way. You are amazing, yet distinctive and different. You can do something they can't do, indeed, something they never even thought to do.

My tool of choice was a Yomega Fireball. High-quality, comfortable shape, well-weighted. Do not speak to me of your butterfly yo-yos, your cheap American Duncans. Yomega knows how to make a thing that spins on a string. Beware of Yomega's "yo-yo with a brain," which might be more accurately described as a "yo-yo for people who have no brain!!" "Brain" is code for "doesn't sleep unless you throw it extra-super-hard, and if you only throw it super-hard then it still won't sleep but will rocket back into your tender palm with crushing force." This is what I learned in my days as a yo-yo expert.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Aptly Named

I give this movie props for having a title that says exactly what it is about. But, with apologies to Zemeckis and Spielberg, the premise is so retarded it makes me want to throw up. Am I wrong?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Reactions To A Movie You Saw A Month Ago

I really love how the Harry Potter movies get not only darker, but grittier with each installment. Despite the fantasy trappings, Prisoner of Azkaban and now Goblet of Fire have a delicious aura of casual realness about them. For instance, the Quidditch World Cup at the beginning of the movie crackles with the raw energy of a live sporting event. As for the first two movies, I don't know whether their Chris Columbus sheen is a missed opportunity or a fittingly innocent contrast to the later films. On one hand, I like how the feel of the movies palpably changes as they progress. On the other, while the first two are integral chapters in the overall story, I have no interest in watching either one ever again.

As for Goblet of Fire, I thought the story flowed pretty well. A couple of scenes do feel a bit truncated--like when the kids are in the woods with Hagrid, presumably for some kind of campfire, and they find the dead guy, and then we're out. But aside from the surprisingly well-paced Prison of Azkaban, all the Harry Potter movies tend to have an overstuffed feel, and I'd rather it feel rushed than bloated.

Ron's pouty falling-out with Harry feels rather forced. The acting is fine, but the fact remains there is no reason for him not to believe Harry's denials of submitting his own name.

I didn't have a problem with Hermione's eyebrow-acting. She did move them a lot, but I'm not sure I would have noticed if I hadn't read complaints about it beforehand.

I liked the sequence about trying to find a date for the ball. But why did all the girls suddenly turn away from Harry, when he was super-popular moments before? I do wish that just once, a movie/TV show would show the awkwardness of asking for a date the way it really is, where you pop the question in one smooth, phonily casual breath, then don't breathe again until you get the answer. Because you don't want to sound awkward--you pretend you're not, but you do anyway. All the stammering and stuttering movie guys always use to convey awkwardness really set a bad example for me back when I was a teenager and trying to learn how to ask girls out.

It was funny how bored and annoyed the Indian girls were when they were with Harry and Ron. The one girl's reaction to Ron's awful suit was great. I don't understand why Harry sat out the dance and made his own date miserable, though. I get that Ron was jealous about Hermione. Was Harry pining for Cho? Or was he sulking just to keep Ron company? It seemed not very considerate of his own date.

The Mad magazine satire pointed out that tricking Harry by making the Tri-Wizard Cup the portal-thing is an awful lot of trouble, since you could theoretically make anything a portal and put it someplace where Harry would touch it without having to win Fear Factor: Hogwarts Edition. But, eh. Plotting climaxes has never been J.K. Rowling's strong suit.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Krebstar

I'm sure Tom knew this already, but somehow I didn't realize that Pete & Pete season 2 is on DVD already. I expected a longer gap after the first one, but I guess Nickelodeon isn't playing that game. They are pretty bare-bones discs after all (and word on Amazon is that the sound on the special is defective).

I think this is my favorite season. At least, it contains my favorite episode, "The Call," about the mysterious ringing phone and the hottest day of the year. I love the pseudo-epic scope, as well as how the plots are evenly distributed in this episode--as opposed to the usual episodes, which tend to be either all Big Pete or all Little Pete.

Interviews

This site has some cool interviews with Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat (George Michael and Maeby from Arrested Development). I haven't read the one with David Cross yet; supposedly it doesn't mention AD, but I would imagine it is worth reading.

There is also an interview with Berkeley alum and Bay Area comic Brent Weinbach, which is interesting, particularly if you've seen his act. He won the Brain Wash competition a few years back, I think, and has really been getting a lot of attention lately.

Panther Pride

For those of you who are able to use Quicktime despite Apple's dubious "upgrades" and iTunes bundling, might I direct you to the new trailer for the Steve Martin remake of The Pink Panther?

I'm not saying that it's good, necessarily. In fact, from what I understand the buzz is rather negative, which is why the movie is coming out in February, when terrible movies come out, instead of in the summer, when terrible movies that people supposedly like come out.

Still, if you enjoy people falling down and getting hit with stuff, this trailer delivers in spades. Steve Martin and his stunt double/dummy crash to the ground from great heights with absurd force. Bicyclists tumble impressively. And Martin seems to have fun doing a ludicrous, over-the-top French accent with an admirable disregard for authenticity. It's a parody of an impression, two steps removed from any actual accent.

All this has a certain idiot slapstick purity to it that I respect. Either that or I'm appreciating it on some sort of meta-funny level where the jokes are so simple, so elemental, so basic and primal, that I'm enjoying them like minimalist art--single-line drawings of comedy, if you will.

I would not blame you if you said that this trailer was all that you could stand. But I would certainly choose this movie over Storegirl or Cheaper by the Two Dozen.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I Said, Open The Pod Bay Doors

I woke up today and went to turn on my computer as I always do. The little lights turned on, and I waited, and I waited, and the screen did not. Unsettling. Tap tap tap went the keys, click click went the mouse, and still nothing.

I pressed and held the power button, and the computer turned off. Then I started it up again.

It booted up, the screen came on, and I was relieved. But then it started being funny again. In that no windows would open. Not in Internet Explorer, not even Windows Explorer.

Word opened, oddly, though it opened a bit slowly for my taste.

I tried to shut down again, but upon clicking the Shut Down button, it would not shut down. Restart worked, several minutes after I selected it and endured a slow and frightening parade of End Program dialog boxes, but after the restart I was right back in the same place.

I stared at the computer, waiting for something to happen. Our story so far easily encompassed about forty-five minutes during which I did not leave my seat.

I didn't want to turn off the computer manually again, what with it intermittently and unpredictably accessing the hard drive. I know at one point I sat for three minutes without moving, barely breathing. I know it was three minutes because I saw the computer clock tick by. After the first minute, I was startled. Did a minute just go by? It felt like seconds. After the second minute, I started waiting for the third. What a long minute this was. I felt I could live lifetimes within that minute, like that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where that lost civilization hits Picard with that ray and he has a long happy life on the planet and then wakes up back on the Enterprise.*

Finally I stood up and ate some cereal.

Ten minutes after I had told it to shut down and let it sit there, nothing had happened.

I gritted my teeth and turned off the computer manually. I started it back up...

And everything was (is) fine. (So far.)

I'll keep my fingers crossed.

This story may seem dull to you, but it was easily one of the most tense and emotional experiences I've had recently.

*Lest you get the wrong idea, this is in fact one of only two Star Trek episodes that I have ever watched all the way through.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Santa Walks Into A Mall...

Some guy dressed as Santa--not a professional mall Santa, mind you--was exposing himself at a mall.

Naturally, people were bothered:

"How would you explain that to them that Santa Claus is walking around pulling down his pants?" a mall shopper said. "How would you explain that to them? Yeah, that's disturbing."


I like that nowhere does the article specify that the "them" in the quote refers to The Children, yet it is immediately clear to whom the shopper is referring.

However, I take issue with the suggestion that the incident is difficult to explain.

"Sweetie, that man is not the real Santa."

Was that really so hard?

Librarians Beware

You've gotta keep an eye on that manga.

Parents of a girl in Orange County, Fla., were shocked to discover that a comic book featuring adult-themed topics, like swinging and drugged and raped girls, was checked out by the 11-year-old at a library, according to a Local 6 News report.

The controversial Japanese comic book is part of a series that can be found in the young adult collection at the Orange County Library's Southeast Branch.

Local 6 News reported that the comic titled "Peach Girl" is about a young girl drugged by her friends and then set up to be raped.

"As I was going through it, I said, 'Oh my God, do parents know what their kids are reading?'" mother Raynelle White said.

One of the comics found by Problem Solver Nancy Alvarez featured parents who swap spouses.

"That's swinging and this is a girl no older than my daughter," parent Travis White said.

"Sex, drugs and violence are the themes in this series published by TokyoPop," Alvarez said.

White believes no one looked past the cover of the comic and it is time that things changed at the library.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Really?

There is a commercial for the Jeep Commander. It starts with an underwater view of sharks and fish and stuff. We hear kids' voices debating which they like best.

Then we tilt down and realize we're in a Jeep SUV, as it breaks the surface of the water.

Cut to a beach, where the Jeep drives out of the water onto the land.

The small print disclaimer: "Fictionalization. Vehicle not suitable for underwater use."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It's Good To Be The King

A fellow USC writer linked to Overheard in New York, where I especially liked this:

King of single line drawings: Can you make me some copies of these drawings? I am the king of single line drawings.
Copy guy #1: How many do you want?
King of single line drawings: What's your favorite musical instrument? I'll make you one right now on the spot. How about that?
Copy guy #1: Piano.
King of single line drawings: ...And here you are. What's your favorite instrument?
Copy guy #2: Saxophone.
King of single line drawings: ...And here you are. Hey, you back there! What's your favorite instrument?
Copy girl: A harp!
King of single line drawings: Oh...anything but a harp!

--Village Copier, 111th & Broadway


I love that it doesn't really sound like something you'd overhear--it's structured more like a joke you'd tell, or some kind of vaudeville sketch, but with a hilariously underwhelming punchline.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Japanslation

Does anyone know a website that does English-to-Japanese translations but gives you the Japanese in romanized form? All the ones I can find put it into Japanese characters. It does not matter to me if the Japanese translations themselves are clumsy and awful, just that they sound convincing to the average ignorant person.

If not, would Ryan or Zack (or anyone else whose Japanese expertise I am unaware of) be willing to attempt to translate some very basic stupid phrases into Japaneseish stupid phrases?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Thank You

This piece on Slate is a bit old--from the end of last season--but it does an excellent job of picking apart the horrible pretentiousness of Desperate Housewives. The only thing I don't get is why it took someone so sharp and perceptive a whole season to be annoyed by the things that were already terrible in the pilot.

Desperate Housewives was set up for the letdown by the pretensions of its creator. Marc Cherry seems to think he's doing cutting-edge social satire, but his big satirical point—that nostalgified suburbia is really a hive of hypocrisy and perversion—is old and obvious enough to support its own brand of nostalgia (i.e., The Stepford Wives, American Beauty). For the first half of the season, Cherry's inspired staging and some deft comic acting—especially by Longoria and, surprisingly, Teri Hatcher—provided a welcome distraction from the show's deeper, and lamer, pretensions. But then his chatty narrator kept bringing the big, dumb underlying themes to the surface, talking openly about issues it would have been better for everyone just to repress...

Mary Alice narrates with the full-throatedness of a very tall woman with a very high voice, and very slowly. It's like listening to someone who is either really dull-witted or thinks you're really dull-witted. Suspicion of the former is bolstered by the fact that what she says is rarely illuminating and always delivered in the deliberate cadence of a junior-high book report. Mary Alice can also be downright cryptic and sometimes—not to put too fine a point on it—obviously wrong.

At both the start and the end of most episodes, the narrator offers up general thematic observations on that week's action. "The search for power begins when we're quite young," the narrator intones. (I mean really intones. Lots of intonation. She's virtually singing.) "As children, we're taught that the power of good triumphs over the power of evil." Yes, of course, you think, lulled by the dulcet voice. Then you emerge from hypnosis and realize, Wait a minute! Those are two totally different things! At the conclusion of another episode she tells us, "Death is inevitable. It's a promise made to each of us at birth, but before that promise is kept, we all hope something will happen to us, whether it's the thrill of romance, the joy of raising a family, or the anguish of great loss." Extra credit to whoever can tell me which of these three items we all desperately hope won't happen to us. And at the end of the Valentine's Day episode, the narrator says, "It's impossible to grasp just how powerful love is." Then, after applying the theme of love's power to several characters who mostly aren't motivated by love, she concludes, "And long after we're gone, love remains, burned into our memories." What is the sound of one hand reaching for the remote?...

Maybe I'm wrong, but I like to think Cherry had Dadaist ambitions for the Mary Alice character. That's preferable, anyway, to another tendency increasingly evident in the Desperate Housewives narration—an unseemly snideness that, for most of its first season, Cherry managed to suppress or sublimate. This new tone is signaled by a subtle change in terminology. Usually, the narrator referred to the show's setting as, simply, "Wisteria Lane." This helps sustain the illusion that the show takes place in some TV Utopia, like Gilligan's Island, and that none of this huffing and puffing about bourgeois hypocrisy and repression is terribly serious. This is good, because I'd hate to find out that the creators of this show I was enjoying so much are as cluelessly self-important as part of me thinks they might be. But then, a recent episode begins with the narrator telling us, "Each new morning in suburbia brings with it a new set of lies." Another begins, sarcastically, "Suburbia is filled with responsible people." This makes me realize that all that trite stuff about buried secrets probably isn't just meant for the joke-world of Wisteria Lane. At season's end, I have to concede that, ugh, Cherry and his writers really do think they're telling us something important about suburban life, which means they really are that far behind the curve they think they're out in front of.

Friday, December 02, 2005

My Eyes Are Up Here

Was it a whole year ago that I first expressed reservations about Pixar's Cars? At long last, another teaser is out. It looks very slick--we're talking Pixar, after all, not The Weinstein Company. I love the shots of the old car sliding through the desert. The computer animation offers some lovely, dynamic angles you'd be unlikely to get shooting live-action. I like that the voice-over is done with a genuine car commercial voice rather than the movie-guy voice.

But I am still not convinced about the eyes in the windshields. It's just such a bad idea. It is such a natural, ingrained instinct to read a car's headlights as its eyes that even when I want to accept windshield eyes, I can't. I keep looking at the headlights first. When you look at a real car, there are no eyes in the windshield. But the headlights are right there, begging us to incorporate them into a car's "face." In that last shot where the old car comes over the jump and we can't see the windshield yet, I imagine that I'm looking at its face already, and then the windshield eyes show up, and I have to re-adjust.

This is no small issue we're talking about. Having too many eyes is what killed the Pontiac Aztec, which otherwise just looks like an oversized Prius. Maybe sitting through an entire movie will give a viewer time to adjust, but I have doubts.

Animation Abomination

The Hollywood Reporter had one of its special issues a few weeks back focused on this year's contenders for the Best Animated Film Oscar. Of course, that means it's time for all the studios with an animated film to buy their "For Your Consideration" ads whether they deserve consideration (Wallace and Gromit) or not (Chicken Little).

So The Weinstein Company went and bought themselves a little ad for Hoodwinked. Aww, how cute. There must be some rule where not buying an ad is just not an option. Because seriously, Hoodwinked? Not gonna happen.

I saw a trailer for Hoodwinked in theaters when I saw Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The voice work is decent--that's Patrick "Puddy" Warburton as the Wolf--and the jokes range from passable to actually funny. The premise actually sounds somewhat clever. But have you ever seen an animated film this irredeemably ugly?

Take everything that fuels Zack's hate of computer animation and multiply it by a hundred and you have Hoodwinked. It's a low-budget, independent computer animated feature, and it's a good argument that low-budget, independent companies maybe shouldn't do theatrical animated features. Transformers: Beast Wars looks better than this garbage. Jimmy Neutron is Shrek compared to this. The character designs are dreadful enough, but then look at them move and just try not to throw up.

No matter how good the writing and acting are, this movie is already a failure. It is that aesthetically displeasing. Film, especially animated film, is a visual medium. Therefore, the quality of the visuals is not a superficial consideration--it is integral to the quality level of the film itself, every bit as important as the story.

How you could put an animated film that looks like this in theaters and still live with yourself is beyond me. At least have the decency to take it direct-to-video and sell it at Rite-Aid next to the $1.99 public domain Christmas specials where it belongs.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Flux Capacity

So, Aeon Flux.

Sorry, give me a minute. My brain is still sluggish from being tired and trudging through the aforementioned essay.

Whew.

It is a hot girl assassin movie. There are two things that usually make critical thought irrelevant whan it comes to movies. One of those is the promise of car stunts, provided they are executed with enthusiasm and high style. The other is girls with guns. Transporter 2 met both of those requirements and excelled at each. Matrix Reloaded somehow took those strengths and made you forget about them by being incredibly labored at everything.

I want to like the idea of Aeon Flux. I want for this to be a cool movie. But there is really nothing about it that stirs any emotion. Spiky CGI grass? Explosive marbles? Those just detract from the scene where Charlize Theron is firing a machine gun. And the fact that they're in every trailer plants fears that they are this movie's idea of spectacular.

Let's back up. I never saw the cartoon version. But I remember it having a distinct, edgy vibe. This movie has a bland-looking vision of the future. It's the Future from 1970s movies, the Future from Woody Allen's Sleeper. This look does not say Aeon Flux. Why does everything look so fake and clean and empty?

Furthermore, Charlize Theron is cute, sure, even hot. But hers is a soft beauty, ill-suited for the hard-assed, violent type. You could maybe devise a role in which her violence played in counterpoint to her nice-girl looks, but this isn't it. Maybe I'm still clinging to that cartoon vision too much, but this character calls for a sharp-edged type, a little scary. She does look pretty good on the poster, and in that one machine gun shot. But for the most part, as much as I want to, I'm not buying it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You're Too Kind

I have to write a final paper for a class. The assignment sheet ends with "Have fun!"

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Don't Drag Them Into This

This feature purports to be about the worst American car ever, and sure enough, people have plenty of horror stories about clumsy, out-of-touch, disastrously engineered American cars from the 1970s on.

So why does the accompanying slide show include not only foreign lemons like the Yugo and the Chinese JiangLing Landwind, but also the Citroen 2CV, the Honda Element, and the Scion xB, which, while strange-looking, are neither commercial failures nor unreliable cars? They don't belong in this slideshow alongside legendary disasters like the Ford Pinto. They don't deserve the harsh "Un-Great Cars" label. Are they just there to reassure us Americans that we're not the only ones building poorly designed cars that no one wants (even though we mostly are)?

Incidentally, that Chinese car is hilarious because it hits the trifecta of Chinese manufacturing. It has a laughable name (LandWind), it's shoddily manufactured and horribly unsafe, and finally, it's plagiarized from another company. Of course, if you're going to steal designs from GM, it's no wonder you end up with a piece of junk.

Are They Amphibious? Only One Way To Find Out

Not that you would ever use a boat-car, but it would be nice to know that you could.

Also, excellent company name: Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International.

And That's Why You Don't Buy Consoles At Launch

Aren't we used to this yet? Does it ever not happen? Why are people surprised?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Trapped In The Well

Yes, Ryan, Clerks 2 is sad.

I used to like and respect Kevin Smith. I lamented the quick death of the Clerks cartoon. When I brought up the Clerks short "The Flying Car" that Smith made for the Tonight Show, and someone said, "He went back to that well again, huh?" I felt a little hurt on Smith's behalf. I even thought I enjoyed Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, although further viewing cured me of that fantasy.

Kevin Smith has bought into the overzealous fanboy worship that enshrines every word he writes, every gag he conceives, whether it's worthy or not. The merchandise and self-love, the cameos from Joey to Veronica Mars to Degrassi, the speaking tours and DVD anniversary edition re-release expanded editions of DVDs that were overstuffed with redundant material to begin with, they are all out of control. Fanboys, please. Don't be enablers. Just because he likes comics does not make him your god. Smith at this point has spent more hours talking about his work than he did creating it.

Hindsight has not been kind to Smith's work. At the time, it all seemed so clever, because Smith was smarter than his material. He may have been writing about blow jobs and stink palms, but we sensed an intelligence behind it with fresh perspectives and funny ideas. But it was all shallower than it appeared. As time passed, Smith indulged more and more in his trademarks, without the cleverness that had initially supported them. So we have lame cheap-shock single-entendres like Rug Munchers or Movie Poop Shoot, and drawn-out speeches that were wordy without actually articulating anything. Add to this uncomfortable, tone-deaf gags, like Will Ferrell killing an actor in a Mooby costume, or lazy, witless idiocy like a close-up of Jay's bare ass farting. Yes, it was a toss-off dick and fart joke movie, but it wouldn't have happened if Smith weren't so eager to pander to his rabid fan base.

The saddest part, though, was that Smith meant for J&SBSB to be a kiss-off to his earlier work, ushering in a new age of mature filmmaking. He took one bold leap into the abyss, Jersey Girl tanked, and he went racing back to his comfort zone. Dude, movies fail. It happens all the time. Try another one. This doesn't mean you have to run home crying to Mommy. It's not even your fault, really, except that your not-secret man-crush on Affleck blinds you to the fact that he's not much of an actor and people don't like him anymore.

So my biggest beef with Smith is that he's afraid to grow. He takes failures personally. He took Mallrats personally too, until the fans salvaged it, and now he lords it over critics as a masterpiece. It's not awful, but it's not brilliant, either, except for the casting of Jason Lee. Now he's allowed the failure of Jersey Girl to derail his intended, and long-overdue growth as an artist. It's one thing to try a serious movie and then do a funny movie. It's another to make a movie that explicitly (and pretentiously) closes the book on the precious "Askewniverse," only to open it up again one failure later.

Granted, people make mistakes. Maybe Smith has decided the Askewniverse is what his fans love and want, and it's what he's good at, so who is he to deny them that? Well, okay, fine. But it makes him a stagnant artist who prefers to revel in self-love rather than take chances, and I don't have to respect that.

So, Clerks 2. Let's break it down.

The Title: The Passion of the Clerks. Is that supposed to be shocking? Does that make it controversial and relevant? Is it supposed to raise Catholic ire, like Dogma? Because, well, it doesn't. It's kind of passe and unfunny, a joke that's dead on arrival. And it will only feel more stale by the time it's released. What's more, what does it have to do with the movie? We're not dealing with a Passion parody here, so why bother with a parodic title? That said, it's no worse than the previous title, Clerks 2: Hardly Clerkin'.

The Tired Self-Deprecation: The Clerks 2 website announces "TRAIN WRECK! ...a disaster in the making." Here is Smith falling back on insincere self-deprecation to deflect criticism that he is going back to the well and making a huge mistake. Okay, but just because you put yourself down jokingly doesn't mean the put-downs aren't true. Besides, one of the most aggravating things about Smith is the fact that for all his self-deprecation, he can't stand actual criticism. See the storyline, and especially the ending, of J&SBSB. He takes Internet bashing seriously and personally--as seriously as he takes all the fans who fall over themselves to jerk him off.

The Story: One reason I never wanted a Clerks sequel even when I was a Smith fan was that to see those guys working in a convenience store ten years later would be incredibly depressing and an invalidation of the growth Dante had supposedly experienced by the end of the first film. I felt a bit of this when they were still there in J&SBSB. Based on the photos from the Clerks 2 site, the sequel finds them working at a Mooby's. I give Smith credit for not staging another entire movie in a convenience store--that was a good choice--but it's still sad.

In order for the sequel to be any good at all, it will have to be about something. Given the fact that the characters are still stuck in dead-end jobs, and given the fact that we can expect the themes to resonate with Smith himself, my guess is that it will be about failing to move on because one is afraid to move out of one's comfort zone and risk failure. Great, except the first Clerks was already about that. Smith hasn't even learned the lesson of his first movie. And so he's repeating it.

The Askewniverse Continuity: I never liked Mooby's. It was funny in Dogma when it was a parody of Disney, but Disney doesn't have a chain of fast-food restaurants, so the joke no longer makes any sense to me. There is no reason for Mooby's to be a burger franchise except for Smith to convince himself that creating Mooby was so funny that he should use it over and over again. This dick joke is stupid.

The Cast: Look at this picture. Jason Mewes looks like he should be in prison. If it weren't for Smith, he probably would be. This is downright scary. He is too old for this. At least don't have him make the hardass convict face because he sells it too well. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson should be playing young dads by now. There's nothing wrong with seeing them in another movie together. But imagine a Clerks sequel in which they really had moved on in life, and didn't look ridiculously out of place. Now that would be something.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

On A More Positive Note

The Office is still awesome. This season is so good. Not to jinx it, but I believe it's nearly the equal of its UK edition, and practically everything we could hope for from a remake. Plus it stands alone as an excellent show in its own right.

With Arrested Development off the air for the month, The Office is the comedy I most eagerly anticipate each week. It really captures the awkward hilarity and pathos that made the original so great, but with an original and distinctively American voice. Steve Carell does amazing work bringing delicate shadings to the character. For all his success playing clueless blowhards, it's his moments as a pathetic loser that really shine.

I did not buy the DVD of the first season. It was enjoyable and showed strong potential, but fell just short of being worth rewatching. The second season, however, I would snap up in a heartbeat. Despite the relentless plugs for Chili's.

Unfortunately, the ratings are unspectacular, despite the enviable My Name is Earl lead-in, so a third season seems doubtful. Why must I always fall in love with struggling shows? Veronica Mars also gets weak ratings, but they're on UPN, and their numbers are up from last season, so that is good. Chris and Earl are both successful and quality shows, but they don't win the love that the stragglers do. Maybe knowing that a show is doing fine allows me to take it for granted more, whereas the low-rated darlings bring out my protectiveness.

UPDATE 11/25: Touched up some embarrassingly sloppy writing.

Guys I Hate

Last season Two and a Half Men was a solid, reliable show. A funny, if unambitious, middlebrow four-camera traditional sitcom.

This season, something's wrong. It's sleazy. Granted, Charlie Sheen's character was always a sleazebag womanizer, but he was supposed to be a lovable sleazebag womanizer. Maybe it's the increasingly raunchy sexual references that pervade the show, even in regard to Jon Cryer's sex life. Maybe it's the constant ante-upping of Charlie's skeeziness. He's not just a serial womanizer, but also into orgies and porn stars and prostitute masseuses and any sexual extreme you care to mention. It's no longer a lovable quirk, but a disturbing pathology. Well, okay, it was always a disturbing pathology, but we used to be able to overlook it.

It's gotten to the point that when Charlie hits on a woman, I want her to shoot him down. A week ago, when Charlie met a ballet teacher who wanted nothing to do with him and he made it his mission to conquer her, I became emotionally invested in her honor. Don't weaken, I willed her through the TV screen. He just wants to use you and discard you. Don't be fooled! He's slime!

By episode's end, when her heart has been melted by Charlie's persistence in bringing the kid to her ballet class and she's ready to sleep with him, I was disgusted. I felt ashamed for her. What happened to all the dignity she'd had when she turned him down in early scenes? I did not want to see Charlie succeed. I hated him too much.

I think this is the same thing that made me hate Joey even when he was on Friends. Sleazy sitcom guys who effortlessly sleep with tons of women are loathsome. Who can sympathize with that? Charlie at this point is basically a sexual predator. When women turn him down, he just comes on stronger until he breaks their will. To be funny, sleazy guys need to be pathetic and unsuccessful, like Bud Bundy. Then they're at least redeemed by being the underdog.

Joey: Still Bad

I haven't seen Joey in weeks, since I'm in class Thursday night and I've instructed TiVo to grab the solidly enjoyable Everybody Hates Chris instead. Since I was at home tonight, I thought I'd check back in with everyone's now-least-favorite Friend.

I don't know whose bright idea it was to move Joey to a big house, or, more specifically, a bland, flimsy set that we're meant to believe is a big house. The apartment from Three's Company was more convincingly luxurious than this place.

Who really thought this would fix the show? "I know why people aren't watching. The apartment set is too tacky! Joey needs a house!" Too bad the set design is rushed and half-assed and feels simultaneously empty and claustrophobic. This is a big Hollywood mansion? An oddly-placed, too-prominent "grand stairway" sits awkwardly in the middle of the set, and it's a mark of the designer's laziness that it doesn't even have handrails. It's enough to make you pine for that tacky apartment set, which seemed to have the same amount of square footage anyway (which makes sense--the sound stage is only so big, after all). You can either have your traditional sitcom apartment that's unrealistically big, or you can have a mansion that's obviously too small.

Sorry, Joey set designers. I call this a Downgrade.

Plus, now side characters like the weird stalker/neighbor who always reminds me a little of Sean Keane (or at least, Sean Keane when he's doing an impression of a desperate loser) have no reason to be there, since they're no longer neighbors. If there's one thing this show didn't need, it was to be even more labored and unrealistic.

The episode's plot was also grating, with Drea De Matteo's character made to be an obnoxious shrew forcing everyone else to be miserable in order to follow her elaborately dull Thanksgiving plans.

Watching Joey is like reading Highlights and doing the "What's Wrong With This Picture?". They should have an answer key in the credits. Did I get everything?

Hats Off

Hey, here is a pet peeve. (That's what Thanksgiving is for, right? Complaining about things that don't matter?)

"Funny" humiliating fast food hats. When was the last time anyone went to a fast food restaurant where employees actually had to wear these? Did they ever exist? Why do embarrassing hats show up for cheap laughs in every movie or TV show that ever featured a scene in a fast food restaurant?

In addition to Clerks 2, there's Better Off Dead, Fast Times at Ridgemont High... I know there are more. The Patrick Dempsey sex comedy Loverboy? I think, maybe?

Help me out here.

UPDATE 11/25: I've complained about this before (see "West Bank Story" review).

Bundle Of Joy

Apple's Quicktime trailer website doesn't work anymore unless you have Quicktime 7, and it appears that Quicktime 7 comes with iTunes, or it doesn't come at all.

I haven't bothered to download iTunes up until now. I've been vaguely considering doing so. I haven't downloaded music since the scare-tactic lawsuits started, which is to say I've never bought music online. (I went back to infrequent CD purchases.)

Even though I probably would never get around to downloading iTunes otherwise, I'm a bit resentful that I'm being forced to now, under penalty of not being able to watch movie trailers anymore. The thing is, it will probably work. Once I have iTunes on my computer, I may even buy some songs. Not that this is new to Apple--it makes sense for a company that is trying to stake out a monopoly on every step of music distribution and listening.

To be fair, Apple's strategy makes sense since the domination of music is the foundation for the resurgence of the company. And despite their restrictions on its use, they are the only ones who seem to realize that consumers have a strong psychological preference for owning music rather than paying month to month for "access" to music.

What the heck was I talking about again? Oh, so I guess I'm going to have iTunes soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Short Attention Span Theater

Ebert's review of Just Friends is pretty funny. He starts out by talking about how hard it will be not to lose interest in writing about the movie, and proceeds to actually lose interest in it repeatedly. He rambles on about self-help tapes, Paris Hilton, cell phones, and the Rob Schneider vehicle The Hot Chick as if he has to meet a word count and doesn't care how he gets there. You read his contempt between the lines, loud and clear.

The review seriously ends with, "Ding! Ding! Awopbopaloobop, alopbamboom!"

Little Bastard

Here's a switch.

Cruise & Holmes Wait for Baby Before Making Wedding Plans

Hollywood supercouple Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are planning to wait until their baby is born before they wed in 2006. War of the Worlds star Cruise tells broadcaster Barbara Walters in an upcoming TV special that the engaged couple are planning a wedding ceremony for next summer or early autumn, but they're yet to set a date. Cruise has also revealed that he has bought his own sonogram machine so he can follow the baby's progress. He plans to donate the high-tech hospital equipment to an undisclosed maternity ward.


Aren't you normally supposed to hurry up the marriage so your kid doesn't get born out of wedlock? "Let's see...either I have an illegitimate child, or my bride is fat in all the wedding pictures I want published in the tabloids. Illegitimate it is!"

Here is some more fun. I love that the following two stories are in a row:

Klein: "I Hate Fat Girlfriends"

American Pie star Chris Klein has hinted at why Katie Holmes ended their engagement at the beginning of the year and found love with Tom Cruise - he has a mean streak. The unforgiving actor tells women's style magazine Elle that he hates placating women and refuses to accept his partner gaining weight because it leads to insecurity issues. He says, "When a woman isn't feeling good about herself and you combine that with her period, eventually she'll ask you if you like her body. You have to say no... I don't placate." He also admits he fell in love with the majority of his female co-stars and counts them all as ones that got away. Klein adds, "I've got this policy that you don't sleep with them (co-stars); it complicates stuff. So it's the Heather Grahams, the Rebecca Romijns, the Mena Suvaris, and the Leelee Sobieskis of the world. They all got away." Meanwhile, the actor admits he plans to stay friends with his ex, even though they no longer speak to one another. He states, "Are we friends? Absolutely. Do we talk? No."

Huffman Reveals Eating Disorder Hell

Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman has revealed she suffered from eating disorders throughout her late teens in a desperate bid to look perfect. The actress admits she eventually called on the help of a family therapist when her weight plunged to just 98 pounds in her early 20s, and she never imagined she'd become one of the sexiest women on TV. She says, "I was bulimic and anorexic for a while, just hating my body. As an actress, I was never thin enough, never pretty enough. My boobs weren't big enough." Huffman credits having two kids and turning 40 for helping her to come to terms with her body at last. She adds, "I think I've always had a 40-year-old body, and now that I'm actually there I'm like, 'Hey, pretty good.'" But the actress insists her past eating disorders and dissatisfactions have had their use - in helping her prepare for acting roles, like in sex-change movie Transamerica. She explains, "The self-loathing that goes along with bulimia or anorexia helped me understand (character) Bree's internal journey."


One of the sexiest women on TV? Yeah, okay, whatever. I guess that's why in her new movie she's a man-to-woman transsexual. She's got to ugly that shit up, like Charlize Theron or something. She's so gorgeous we'll miss her acting, right? Look, America, just because a celebrity is successful and not hideous does not automatically make them sexy and beautiful.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that Chris Klein and Felicity Huffman are perfect for each other.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Brett Ratner Film

Looks like Chris Tucker can stop collecting unemployment.

'Rush Hour' Returns

Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan and director Brett Ratner have signed up to make a third Rush Hour movie. After years of negotiations and speculation the trio will team up again for Rush Hour 3, with a fourth film still to be determined. As part of the deal, funnyman Tucker will earn $20 million for signing up and a further 20 per cent of the gross. Chan will pick up $15 million and 15 percent of the gross. Rush Hour 2 was a global smash hit, raking in over $320 million. Shooting on the third film will begin next summer. It's expected to hit cinemas in the summer of 2007.


Apparently they hit sticking points because they had to work out Chan's schedule and Tucker's pay deal. Because, you know, Chan is so busy and Tucker needs money to tide him over between working exclusively on the Rush Hour franchise.

On the other hand, maybe Chris Tucker is onto something. Jackie Chan got $20 million for the last Rush Hour movie, too. But since then, he's been busy proving that Americans aren't interested in seeing him in anything else that doesn't costar Owen Wilson.

Chris Tucker, on the other hand, has made it clear that if they don't meet his price, he's perfectly willing to never work again. No one will ever know if audiences are eager to see him in a movie on his own.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Psst

If you want to see the talk show I'm working on, I put it online here. It turns out Adelphia owns the show, which I didn't realize, so I may have to take it down soon. If you're curious, hurry up and watch it.

UPDATE: Thanks to those who have watched it and offered your candid comments (Zack and Ryan). I'm saving your comments and criticisms for myself and I will pass them along but I'm removing them from the blog because I'm uncomfortable with keeping the discussion displayed publicly.

For those of you yet to comment, feel free to say whatever you like, although I will probably eventually archive and remove future comments on this topic as well. Alternatively, you can just email me your thoughts.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reynolds Wrap

Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit! Get this! He's handsome and fit, but what if he were fat and repulsive? That would be hilarious!

Is this worse than Shallow Hal? I think that it is. I'm sympathetic to arguments to the contrary, given that Gwyneth's character is fat for the whole movie and not just in the past, and given that standards of thinness are more cruelly strict for girls.

But for Ryan Reynolds to be the guy in the fat suit, the poor high school loser, is unconscionable. This smug bastard playing a fat underdog? It is a disgrace and an affront to underdogs everywhere. Ryan Reynolds, the hunky, braying, ever-superior party animal jackass bursting with frat-boy swagger, is exactly the kind of bullying prick who makes fat losers feel terrible about themselves. Just seeing him parade around in a fat suit is a slap in the face, a twisting of the knife, a roughening of the noogie.

Maybe this movie and Monica from Friends are supposed to provide encouragement to the overweight, like, "Look fatties--Monica lost the weight. Now you can see her rib cage! So what's wrong with you?" Or maybe we just enjoy cruel, hurtful laughter.

Are we too PC and guilty now to laugh at actual fat people, or are we just too grossed out by the real thing? Is it supposed to make us feel better that we only laugh at fat people when they're played by skinny people? Are fat suits the new blackface? What hath The Nutty Professor wrought?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Austen Powers

Looks like some people aren't as relieved as Lydia is by the new P&P movie.

Austen Society Outraged by "Sexy" New 'Pride & Prejudice'

Jane Austen academics have slammed a sexed-up Hollywood adaptation of classic novel Pride & Prejudice - insisting the movie is "totally inappropriate." The Jane Austen Society in North America, which also berates Keira Knightley's posture and Matthew MacFadyen's looks, have even threatened to cancel a special screening of the film at their annual convention. President Joan Klingel Ray says, "The film is full of sexual imagery which is totally inappropriate to Austen's novel. In one scene, a wild boar, which I assume is supposed to represent Darcy, wobbles through the farm with its sexual equipment on show." However, director Joe Wright is unperturbed by the criticisms: "They can go jump in a lake."


I know that when I see a boar's junk, I think "Darcy!" every time.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Problem Child

Malcolm in the Middle continues to stubbornly resist my attempts to write about it. Last spring, in the middle of Malcolm's sixth season, the show was going strong, evolving in satisfying ways while still taking risks. I was so impressed with it that I started entertaining the notion of writing about how good it was. Then the show hit a streak of episodes which were bad in a way I will elaborate on momentarily. Eventually, I wrote the piece anyway, but my heart wasn't in it, and it shows.

So now I was all set to write about what I see going wrong with the show, and the past two weeks have brought episodes which seem to indicate that the show is back on track. It is trying to thwart me again. But despite these happy exceptions, I'm not convinced it's over yet. While Malcolm has always been a show with dark and subversive undertones, which I've always liked, there have been several episodes in the second half of last season, and early this season, which feel like they cross the line from funny into sadistic, gruesome, uncomfortably violent, and mean-spirited.

The best episodes of Malcolm is are the ones that mange to be mean and subversive while somehow feeling innocent and heartwarming. We see this in episodes like “Halloween Approximately” in which the boys attack unsuspecting people with pranks on the week after Halloween, or “Mini-Bike,” in which the boys try to hide the fact that Reese has broken his leg. These episodes are mean and gruesome, respectively, but they are also funny--the real subversion is that you enjoy it anyway. But that balance doesn’t work in recent episodes, which often just feel ugly.

"Ugly" and "mean-spirited" are words I'm about to overuse. Here we go.

The evidence:

Season Six

Ida Loses a Leg



At the time I liked this episode, but in retrospect it feels like a tipping point. It came on the heels of an episode of Arrested Development in which a character loses a limb to surprisingly hilarious effect, and I was impressed by the fact that Malcolm, not to be outdone, had an equally edgy episode in its arsenal. In this episode, the cruel Grandma Ida (Cloris Leachman) saves Dewey from a truck but her own leg gets run over and has to be amputated. While Lois and Francis help Ida adjust to her new prosthetic leg, Dewey feels guilty and wants to give the leg a decent burial. To get the leg, he impersonates a doctor on the phone and has all of the hospital's recently amputated legs sent to the house. He identifies the leg by trying on shoes, Cinderella-style.



Unfortunately, before Dewey can bury the leg, Hal arrives home with a new dog to cheer Dewey up, and the dog takes the leg under the house and eats it. Pretty gross, but ballsy and still pretty funny.

No Motorcycles
Hal must make good on a long-ago promise to take Francis on a motorcycle trip for his 21st birthday, against Lois’ wishes. Meanwhile, Malcolm, Reese, and Dewey are trapped in the house by a bully waiting outside to get payback. This episode didn’t have a particularly morbid premise, but there was an accumulation of distressing elements that bothered me:

- In a flashback, Hal not only promises young Francis that he will take him on a motorcycle trip, he slashes his hand with a dagger to seal his promise in blood.

- Dewey is the first of the brothers to go out and accept his fate and take a beating so he won’t have to worry about it any more. The bully, who is eventually revealed to be taller than their bedroom doorway, beats Dewey as savagely as he will later beat Reese, even though Dewey is a tiny little kid. Dewey returns with a fistful of teeth and optimistically proclaims that he’s got a lot of tooth fairy money coming, yet Dewey, despite being small, is way too old for the tooth fairy and the joke is out of character.



- Hal sees that Dewey’s been beaten but shrugs it off because he’s preoccupied with sneaking off on the motorcycle trip.

- When it’s Malcolm’s turn to be beaten, the bully realizes he had the wrong house entirely. Malcolm thinks he’s escaped a beating, but Reese and Dewey beat him up instead.



- While Hal and Francis are away on their forbidden motorcycle trip, their wives comfort themselves by smashing expensive gifts. This isn’t violent, but it’s mean without being funny.

- Hal and Francis purposely injure each other, hoping to mitigate their wives’ wrath when they return. Hal punches Francis in the face, breaking his nose, then instructs Francis on breaking his finger between the second and third knuckle. Even though Francis is grown, I felt uncomfortable with Hal punching his son in the face.



- The episode culminates in Francis’ birthday dinner, at which every male in the family is badly injured. It’s all just too much for one episode, and it’s mean-spirited and ugly.

Ida’s Dance
Possibly the worst Malcolm episode, by any standard. Huge portions of the episode are taken up with the incredibly dull story of Lois attempting to bake a complicated tart for a made-up eastern European holiday while Ida tediously berates her.

But the worst part is back at home:

- Hal wants to watch scary movies with Reese, but discovers that Reese prefers extremely gory movies bordering on snuff films. Commenting on one movie, Reese says, “I’m glad they stuffed that guy’s skin down his throat. I thought he’d never stop screaming.” For another, Reese excitedly explains that the director was arrested for using real corpses.

- Malcolm, jealous of Dewey’s ability to appreciate music, turns up Dewey’s headphones and accidentally deafens him. Dewey pulls the headphones off and we see his ears are bleeding and he can’t hear anything. This story was incredibly disturbing and bordering on tragic, since season six saw Dewey turning out to be a music prodigy. Granted, it’s unlikely they would make Dewey’s deafness a permanent development, but when Ida lost her leg just a few episodes ago, who knows? They just might go there.

- Dewey retaliates by tricking Malcolm into sitting in front of loudspeakers rigged up to an air horn. To their credit, the writers realized that for Dewey to intentionally deafen Malcolm is irredeemably cruel. So Dewey changes his mind at the last second, but the baby Jamie presses the air horn anyway and Malcolm goes deaf too. The trouble with this story is that the hearing damage can’t be permanent—that’s too sad. But for it to be as temporary as it is here (their hearing comes back in a couple of days with no lasting harm) trivializes the issue—the fact is that either of them could have been permanently deaf from what happened here, and if their hearing did come back, it would take longer and probably still sustain some damage.



- Hal is on edge from watching Reese’s gory movies, but doesn’t want to hurt Reese’s feelings. He tries to hide the TV, but ends up breaking it and falling on his back holding the broken screen right over his face. Broken glass dangles inches from his eyes and his wobbly arm can barely hold the TV up. He calls for help but Malcolm and Dewey are deaf so they don’t notice him. He yells “Save your father’s eyes!” and then we cut to commercial just as the TV seems to lower just far enough to stab him and he screams horribly. When we come back, it turns out he’s fine. But it looked like he might have been stabbed. And who knows, with the leg losing and the bloody eardrums and the episodes ending with everybody injured, you start to think, maybe this episode will end with everybody being either blind or deaf. Maybe that is the joke that they think is funny but is actually just creepy. The visual of Hal trapped under the broken glass of the TV was not funny at all—it was genuinely scary and haunted me for days afterward.



This was the most disturbing episode yet. Granted, a lot of it was that I was reading into it, fearing that the writers were willing to cross lines that they didn’t ultimately cross. But they’d pushed the boundaries so far in the recent past that I didn’t trust them anymore. Compare this to Arrested Development, where Lucille blew Tobias’ eardrum with an airhorn sometime in season two. This was part of a running gag where Tobias ended up in the hospital in every episode, which I didn’t particularly like, but it played funny and didn’t bother me the way the same subject did here.

There’s more, but this post is getting long. I’ll be brief.

Motivational Speaker
Hal, power-tripping as a motivational speaker, forces a man to be part of a human pyramid despite the man’s protests that he has a back problem. Later we hear some uncomfortable back-cracking noises. A crazed Hal also forbids his class from going to the bathroom.

Stilts
In a battle on stilts (don’t ask), Malcolm attempts to use shopping carts as skates, but the carts roll apart and Malcolm is trapped in a painful splits position.



Malcolm’s adversary is about to finish the job and stomp on him (presumably intending to break his legs by bending them even further) but Reese luckily interrupts the fight before this can happen. This violence actually does befit the sillier, cartoonish tone of the show, but it bothered me in the context of the episodes above: Does every episode now have to involve serious injury?

[Unknown episode]
In a cold open, the brothers are fighting over something trivial like the color of an animal’s tongue. Malcolm reveals they’re fighting because they have nothing better to do. But their fight consists of Malcolm sitting on Reese, repeatedly slamming a kitchen cabinet on Reese’s head as hard as he can. It’s like that scene from Kill Bill; it’s just too brutal to be funny. When kids this old are this savage, it’s dangerous.

Season Seven

Health Insurance
Hal realizes he’s let the family’s health insurance lapse, and immediately we realize someone is going to get seriously injured in this episode. Sure enough, the patio cover collapses on Hal, and Reese tells Hal that his foot is facing the wrong way.



Of course, it’s not enough for Hal to get hurt, we’ve got to watch him suffer through the pain and stand on his injured leg to hide the accident from Lois.



Hal’s leg is repaired by a teenage friend of the boys, who they testify has set Dewey’s broken nose and given Reese a tracheoctomy.

Reese Vs. Stevie
Reese secretly challenges the wheelchair-bound Stevie to a fight.

- Stevie’s dread increases when Malcolm tells him about one of Reese’s recent victims, who spurted blood like a sprinkler. “And when he went down, then Reese really went to work. Did you know he had dental tools?” Dental tools? It’s a throwaway joke, but torturing someone with dental tools is seriously creepy. It goes too far.

- To make it a fair fight, Reese handicaps himself by numbing his legs in ice water. To prove to Malcolm that it’s worked, he stabs his own leg with an ice pick. “The first three times I did that, it hurt like hell.”



Oh, and Stevie eventually shows up in an experimental robo-suit to kick Reese's ass.



Halloween
The boys learn that their house was actually the site of a grisly multiple-murder/suicide twenty years ago. Of course, it’s not just a murder, but the most gruesome murder you can imagine. Malcolm looks up the facts: “He kept the tongues in a pile over there… that must have been ‘skin wall’… and over here were… ‘finger puppets’? Ohhh…finger puppets. …[and] that’s where they begged for mercy.” Seriously, at least one of the writers for this show has a very sick sense of humor.

Malcolm's dark humor works best when we don’t realize how sick it is. The upfront ickiness of these jokes is wrong. It might work in small doses but after a while it starts to feel like it’s taking over the show. Consider: the nine episodes I’m discussing all fell within a span of just thirteen episodes.

However, the last two episodes have been good and free of the unsettling elements I’m complaining about here. I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while because I knew I had a lot to say. Now that I’ve done it, I realize I was right to put it off. To anyone who made it this far, sorry for the egregious length.

Screenshots from Malcolm in the Middle Voting Community