Friday, July 29, 2005

Stealth Bombs

Well, probably not. But let's hope it does, so someone can use that catchy headline. Never mind, they probably already have for their reviews.

On TiVo this week you can watch the first four minutes of Stealth. When Stephanie told me, I began speculating on what those first minutes would consist of.

Would the first four minutes be wasted on a credits sequence? Certainly not. Stealth, being the straight-ahead summer blockbuster it is, seems like the kind of movie without opening credits. Too cool for that. Open on us flying through a cloudy night sky. The word STEALTH will whoosh up and fill the screen. Then we will fly right through the letters, and we'll find ourselves alongside a speeding plane, already immersed in the action.

I was almost exactly right, with the following differences:

- I didn't consider that it's a Columbia picture, which means they are willing to mess with their logo, so we transition straight from the clouds in the logo to the clouds in the sky (Charlie's Angels did this, too).

- It is day, not night.

- Before STEALTH flies up, there are a few screens of expository text that go flying by, explaining about this high-tech new team of fighter pilots or some such thing.

- The biggest difference, the one that really threw me for a loop and shattered all cliches, is: We are indeed flying through clouds, but not forward. No, sir, not forward. We are in fact careening backwards through the sky, watching the Columbia logo and the surrounding clouds and the expository text disappear into the distance. Then the word STEALTH flies at us (surely at incredible speed, in order to catch up). Naturally, the letters fly through us, and it is now that the camera whips around and we are alongside planes in Explodey Fighting Action. At this point things get boring.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

From Berlin With Love

Here are a couple of links from the blog of Eric Berlin, which I read occasionally, ever since bookmarking it a long time ago, back before I was too jaded to ever consider bookmarking a random blog just because I found something interesting on it once. Apparently he occasionally makes crossword puzzles, professionally.

Anyway. Anamorphic street art. It looks 3-D if you view it from the correct angle. Cool, I guess, but I wish there were more pictures from alternate angles. You really need both to appreciate it properly. They only offer an alternate angle for the last picture, and if you look closely at the surrounding sidewalk, well--it's not the same artwork. It's the same picture, drawn someplace else. That just spoils the comparison and makes me wonder if I'm being fooled.

Poorly translated Star Wars. Remember that one movie that came out earlier this summer? A lot of people made some kind of big deal about it or something. What was it called? I don't remember. Here is a bad English-to-Chinese-to-English translation from some Chinese bootleg, and it's pretty funny. The joke about the dialogue being better than Lucas's has already been made, but feel free to make it again. Because it's true.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Coming Soon, Part II

It's proving difficult to find an actual convenient time for Stephanie and myself to visit the Oakland area. (Apparently checking out Sarah's pad is out, but that would have been even harder.)

Right now it looks like the most feasible thing would be for Stephanie and I to come straight to Oakland on our drive up and perhaps have a late lunch, and then Stephanie can go on to Sacramento from there. Because she needs to get home on Saturday, and it doesn't make sense for her to do that and then come back.

If people are free mid-day Monday before our drive back, that might work well for us. However, I doubt that will be a convenient time for normal people.

I will keep you posted as the situation develops.

Island Bay

So why was The Island such a huge failure? Here is a Michael Bay movie coming in fourth to three movies that have been out for a week or more, including one (Fantastic Four) that is flat-out terrible.

The bad reviews are irrelevant, since Bay always gets panned--except to the extent that many reviews are better than usual, giving the story some grudging props in spite of everything.

I think the title is a major factor. You can't tell what the movie is about. The Island is the title of a movie that either features an actual island, or maintains the mystery of an island until near the end. But we learn that there is no island halfway through the movie, or halfway through the trailer, so now the movie is named after something that you go in knowing doesn't exist or matter. Not to mention, when you hear it, you still don't know what the the movie is about. If it were actually about the mystery of the island, that would be one thing, but it isn't.

The movie should be called Clones on the Run. That is a terrible title, but you would know what it was about when you heard it, and come on, could it have done any worse?

Another guess is that the slightly twisty plot is a bit more complex than Bay fans want to bother with, while the blow-em-up implausible action is too dumb for fans of serious science fiction.

Speaking of serious science fiction, clones are so Arnold in The Sixth Day. It's old hat, and we didn't care the first time. In fact, cheesy sci-fi on the ethics of cloning for spare parts goes back farther than that, to this MST3K subject.

Someone I spoke with today said the most likely reason was Ewan McGregor's lack of box office clout.

What do you all think? Why didn't you see The Island? Hollywood/Dreamworks/poor Michael Bay wants to know.

Maybe we're asking the wrong question. Maybe it shouldn't be, why didn't people see it? Maybe the question is, why would people want to see it? And maybe there isn't an answer. I can't think of one, myself. And maybe that is the answer to the other question. Thoughts?

Monday, July 25, 2005


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I only saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory about a year ago at Boback's house, and while I admire the trippy '70s imagery and Gene Wilder, I hold no particular special affection for it. The new one is quite good. Freddie Highmore is a more appealing Charlie, and the pre-chocolate factory scenes are much more pleasant to get through. The previous version was bogged down with incredibly depressing, joyless settings, unnecessary and forgettable songs, and an overemphasis on the candy espionage (who cares?). The new version tides us over with Grandpa's tales of Willy Wonka's history. Also, Charlie's family life, while appropriately poor and humble and living in a ramshackle house, is warm and pleasant and watchable in a way the other one wasn't. It's much easier to connect to and care about Charlie here.

Inevitably, Charlie gets lost in the second act, amid the other troublemakers and the factory spectacle. And the third act, which resolves Wonka's tacked-on daddy issues, seems ill-fitting and drawn-out. It doesn't spoil the movie, but it left me with lingering questions as to how Wonka's backstory fits in with the rest of the movie, and how Wonka's issues with his father tie into the parent/child relationships of the spoiled brats who visit the factory.

Another reason to see Charlie is that it's Danny Elfman's best work in years. His Spider-Man music was fine, but I dare you to hum it. Burton has always inspired Elfman's most memorable tunes, but not in his more recent movies. The Charlie score is distinctively Elfman, and may be his best theme since the underused Men in Black theme, which seemed to get more play in trailers for other movies than Men in Black itself. Plus Danny Elfman's versions of the Oompa-Loompa songs play off diverse styles of pop music and feature Elfman's own vocals.

Cynthia suggested the IMAX version, which was worth it, much more so than the IMAX of Matrix Reloaded.

Around the World in 80 Days

Finally got a chance to rent last summer's Jackie Chan bomb. It's an odd mix of overly broad comedy, really obvious jokes you feel like you've heard before (after publicly heaping the insults on a person assumed absent: "She's right behind me, isn't she?"), scattershot celebrity cameos, and mediocre Chan action. It's hard to tell who this movie is for. The filmmakers probably intended "something for everyone," but clearly that hasn't happened. The first 10 minutes are especially painful, but fortunately it picks up (a little) after that.

There is more Chan action than I expected, which was nice, but none of it is especially memorable, and the featherlight tone never allows you to feel that anyone could ever be hurt. It also adds to the feeling that you're watching several different movies mashed together. At the film's start, Chan seems to be the main character, but by the end, we're seeing things more and more from Steve Coogan's (24 Hour Party People) Phileas Fogg character. Especially after the China sequence, Chan does little but handle the action and disappear into the background once it's over.

Coogan does his best with the comedy and even makes some bits work that really shouldn't. He even pulls off the big dramatic moments and makes you care about Fogg's sense of betrayal--almost to the point where you forget what movie you're watching. The French woman who tags along ends up being a likable presence, too.

The celebrity cameos are all over the map. They include Schwarzenegger, the Wilson bros., Rob Schneider, John Cleese, and Kathy Bates. Is there any guiding logic to this? It seems driven more by who was willing to do it. But the cameos do work, especially Luke and Owen Wilson as the Wright brothers, and the stunt casting successfully makes comedy out of writing that's nothing special.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of cameos geared toward Chinese audiences, including Karen Mok (the pop singer who appeared in So Close and also cameoed in Shaolin Soccer), Daniel Wu (New Police Story), and longtime Chan collaborator and pal Sammo Hung (CBS's Martial Law).

The movie is pretty much a big mess, and it's not hard to see why it bombed. But it's okay fun if you really have to see everything Jackie Chan does, even if one of the writers did work on The Librarian: Quest for the Spear.

Coming Soon

Stephanie and I will be visiting the Bay Area this weekend to take advantage of one of Stephanie's rare three-day weekends. So we'll arrive on Saturday and leave on Monday. Naturally, she'll be at her parents' house and I'll be at my parents' house, but somewhere in that time, perhaps we can plan to meet up with those of you in the region and, I don't know, enjoy a meal together or something. What might be a good day for that?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Xenophobia Rules!

Oh, and it's a good thing the Japanese hate foreigners, or they wouldn't put so much effort into designing robots for cheap labor. And then we wouldn't have awesome robot exoskeletons that will allow the old and infirm to still be superheroes in the future, just like Batman in Kingdom Come.

Aztek Sacrifice

My favorite automotive critic, Dan Neil, has an interesting column about how we anthropomorphize the "faces" of cars, and how that factors into finding certain cars, like the Pontiac Aztek, unforgivably ugly.

The Aztek's troubles lay not down deep but at the surface. It violated the first principle of anthropomorphic car design—that cars should look like us.

Specifically, it had four eyes and two sets of nostrils. The Aztek's glittering headlights and running-light assemblies were stacked on the corners and the wide grille was topped with a slit intake under the leading edge of the hood. The effect was of two faces split at the nose and sewn together, a monstrous yuppie Caliban. It's not simply that people didn't care for the Aztek styling. It riled them in some primitive way. To scan the message boards about the car now is to hear dogs barking madly at alien invaders.

He also mentions the Fiat Multiplia, "the justly reviled utility wagon sold in Europe that carries an extra set of eyes at the base of its windshield." I remember seeing that car in Europe and thinking it was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen. Before leaving for Europe, I'd thought the then-new Ford Focus was ugly, but the Multiplia convinced me that, until then, I didn't know what an ugly car was.

The "face" standard for ugly cars is a thought-provoking one. When I ventured out-of-doors to procure my dinner, I couldn't help re-evaluating every car's face.

Where Has Your Love Gone

Simpson Fears Acting Criticism

Jessica Simpson fears her new movie The Dukes Of Hazzard will flop because people see her as a singer and not a movie star. The pop sensation is one of a growing number of young stars following in the footsteps of icons like Madonna and Jennifer Lopez who want to conquer all aspects of the entertainment industry. Simpson plays sexy heroine Daisy Duke in the big screen adaptation of the cult series and desperately hopes there will be no critical backlash concerning her acting skills. She says, "I don't want people walking out of a movie thinking I was trying to act or be some movie star. I want them to think, 'That might make me like Jessica a little bit more.'"

So she's afraid that people will see her as a singer and not an actress, but she doesn't want people to think she was really trying to act?

I'm not following.

Maybe it's just bad paraphrasing. I won't say any more. It's not really necessary.

Except, perish the thought that people would see a movie you acted in and come away thinking you were "trying to act." The best you can hope for is that it will make them like you as a person. That is the important thing. Not the role, heavens no, please don't allow your performance to serve the character or the movie. For it is all about you, precious little Jessica, and how much we like you.

Fear not, Jessica. If the universe has any kindness in it at all, no one will ever see you as a legitimate actress. Sleep tight, child.


'Will & Grace' To Present "Surprise" Live Episode

For the first time since television's infancy, a sitcom will air live on Sept. 29, when Will & Grace airs its season premiere, Daily Variety reported today (Friday). (The trade paper expressed some skepticism about whether the show would actually air live, suggesting that it probably would implement a five-second time delay). The episode in fact will be produced live twice -- once for the Eastern part of the country, then, three hours later, for the Western. While such a scheme was common before tape recording was introduced on radio, two separate live broadcasts of an entertainment program have never aired on television, which in its early days broadcast "kinescope recordings" for the West Coast or aired them live (beginning at 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon). Series co-creator Max Mutchnick said that the purpose of the live broadcast was to include "some very topical material" and to introduce "a surprise element." He did not elaborate.

We'll ignore the Fox sitcom Roc, which, in a desperate, hopeless bid for attention, did a whole season live. They didn't do each episode again for the West Coast.

Even so, whoever writes this is forgetting that the Drew Carey Show did the same thing (performing the show twice, even) at the height of its gimmickry. They used the Whose Line is it Anyway? cast as guest stars and used the live gimmick to turn the episode into a Drew Carey / Whose Line crossover, repeating scenes and turning them into improv games.

Well, good for Will & Grace. Following the gimmicky footsteps of Drew Carey down the path to total irrelevance.

IMDb News, completely wrong again.


This seems like the kind of thing that would worry Cynthia, whose blog/secret-identity issues I will not exacerbate by linking just now, not that it matters since the damage is done. (The search engines know where she lives.) Or, it would be the kind of thing that might worry her, if there were anything to worry about yet.

For a piece with the headline "Bloggers learn the price of telling too much," the price does not appear to be very high. This piece is all speculation about how people who overexpose their "lives" and "feelings" online may someday regret it for some reason.

So far, though, some dumb school kids got in trouble for threatening a principal, some girl's uncle discovered she drinks alcohol at college, and a 23-year-old college student suggested to the world a way to blackmail people twenty years in the future. We learn that idiots give out their phone number online, and slightly smarter people protect their overly personal thoughts with private passwords.

Really, this piece is just a primer on what we already know and a warning for the future. I would have appreciated more of the promised price-paying.

The piece does, however, offer this interesting statistic:

Surveys completed in recent months by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that nearly a fifth of teens who have access to the Web have their own blogs. And 38 percent of teens say they read other people's blogs.

By comparison, about a tenth of adults have their own blogs and a quarter say they read other people's online journals.

A fifth of teens? A tenth of adults? That's really amazing. I know wandering through Blogger feels infinite, but that is more unreadable clutter than I imagined was out there. I had no idea the ranks of losers like us had grown so large. Do you suppose the number will continue to increase? What a scary thought. Right now we're self-indulgent and boring, but at least we get to feel a little different. Already that feeling of novelty is unjustified.

Anyway, let's close with this link:

It's [a terrific] Hollywood story about an assistant using his blog to blackmail his asshole boss into not destroying his career. [Hooray for blogs!]

The moral of the story is that if you can successfully remain just on the cusp of anonymity but expose the character of those around you in harsh, unflattering, but pseudonymous detail, while publicizing your blog with well-placed calls to a radio station, you can create a blackmail bomb ready for detonation at any time, suitable for use as a deterrent. Who says Mutually Assured Destruction is a bad idea?

EDIT: Post altered for undisclosed reasons related to Zack and his fox of Fire. Please pardon his now-nonsensical comment.

ADDENDUM: Realized that previous edit makes Zack's second comment untrue. Apologies for that as well.

ADDENDUM 2: Having remedied the Zack situation, Matt's second comment is no longer applicable.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Just Part Of The Experience

I went to the dentist a couple weeks ago, for the first time in many years. How many? Three or four, I'd guess. I really have no idea.

I came out of it with appointments for a tooth cleaning (A separate appointment? Lame.) and fillings (two of them, one 30-minute appointment each).

I just arrived home from my first filling appointment. This is the first filling I've had since I was something like three years old. That one I didn't even remember having until later when I lost the tooth and saw the filling, and I was all, "What is this? I never had a cavity!"

So in effect, this is the first time I've had a cavity filled since I've been old enough to know what's going on.

It wasn't as bad as I'd feared. Even the drill was pretty quiet. The hardest part was holding my mouth open for a long time. My jaw was getting really uncomfortable. Even when I thought I might be feeling the drill, I just focused on the pain in my jaw, which was far more objectionable. I'm glad I'm not a girl or gay.

Now my mouth is numb on the right side and it's hard to swallow because it feels like there's something in the back of my mouth. Actually, it is just the back of my mouth, pretending to be a foreign object.

Back to my first visit: Digital X-Rays

Has anyone else had this done? I went to the USC Oral Health Center. Instead of doing X-rays by putting the film things in your mouth, they put an electronic sensor covered in plastic in your mouth. It's actually too big and digs into your gums and makes you yearn for the traditional discomfort of the X-ray film, but the benefit is that the X-ray pops up instantly on a computer screen right in front of you. Then the dentist can brighten it and adjust the picture easily. Unfortunately, he can't fix cavities by Photoshopping them.

I was baffled, then amazed, by this Great Leap Forward in dental X-ray practices. I assumed that all dentists had this now, and I had missed out by not visiting the dentist for half a decade. But when I mentioned it to some other people they'd never heard of it. How widespread is this computer X-ray deal?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Childhood sucks now. No wonder kids would rather play video games than go outside.

Choice quotes:

Swings, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters and other old standards are vanishing from schools and parks around the country, according to the National Program for Playground Safety.

"Kids aren't using them the way they're supposed to," said the agency's director, Donna Thompson, who led a national effort to get rid of animal swings two years ago. "I'm pleased that a lot of these are disappearing."

In Miami-Dade County, public schools don't use a lot of traditional equipment, including swings and sandboxes. In Palm Beach County, some schools have swings, but they're no longer included on newer campuses because there's not enough space.

In their place, a lot of playgrounds now are inhabited with clusters of bright, multi-use contraptions with names like "Ed Center" and "Platform Climber Composite Structure." They're lower to the ground than their predecessors, coated with plastic and engineered for safety.

... the tall metal sign ... warns 5- and 6-year-olds to "not use equipment in this playground without adult supervision" and "do not use equipment unless designed for your age group."

A third of the way down the sign, a stick-figure is pictured running with a red slash through the middle, followed by: "No running, pushing or shoving."

"I don't know if that would mean much to a 6-year-old," Bartleman said of the signs. "How does a child know what's appropriate for their age group?"

The girls tried out the horizontal ladder and balance beam for a few minutes before settling on a game of stacking plate-size dirt chunks into a neat pile.

"Making sand," explained Kristin Gonzalez, 6, as she crushed one in her hands and sprinkled the bits over the pile.

Bartleman, the only board member with children in elementary school, created a subcommittee this year to suggest ways to redesign school playgrounds. Safety is important, she said, but there's got to be a way to make Broward's playgrounds more interesting than dirt.

"I would have never thought about this until my daughter came up to me one day and said `Momma, I hate going to that playground,'" she said.

This is why society never should have stopped beating children. Next thing you know we're afraid to let them fall off a swing set.

Select All

The marquee at Rhino Records says "15% OFF ALL SELECT OLDIES."

Wow, all oldies?

No, just the ones we've selected.

Why not "15% OFF SELECT OLDIES"?

Because it's all the ones we've selected.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Color Me Corrected

From IMDb News:

Few Protests Over Theater Ads, Say Movie Chains

Despite numerous published commentaries of late about how movie theater ads are driving away patrons, exhibitors maintain that they have received few complaints from the public about them and that many moviegoers actually like them. Pam Blase, a spokeswoman for AMC Entertainment, which operates the country's second-largest movie chain, told the Houston Chronicle that the chain receives one complaint for every 600,000 guests. Terrell Falk of Cinemark USA, the nation's third-largest chain, added that recent research concluded that filmgoers regard ads as "just part of the experience." His remarks were echoed by Jim Kozak, editor-in-chief of In Focus, the magazine of the National Association of Theater Owners. "When [patrons] get there early to get a really good seat, they like to have something to keep them busy, something to do besides talk to the person they came with."

Wait, we were supposed to be complaining? What, like going up and talking to someone in person? Why would we want to do that? That's worse than watching the commercials. Would it have had an effect? Who knew? Theater commercials are just bad enough to be annoying, but you're not going to get up out of your seat or hang around after the movie's over to stage a picket line. Maybe we should? "Hey hey, ho ho, theater ads have got to go!" Surely they'll listen if it rhymes.

Or maybe people who really don't like ads are complaining in a non-verbal way. By, say, not going to theaters anymore. Hmm? Maybe the startling audience dropoff is too subtle an avenue of complaint.

They are not getting it. They do not realize their research pool is composed of people who have already decided to tolerate commercials. This is like doing a study on a group of people who have been vaccinated for Polio and concluding that Polio is not a thing that does any harm.

Commercials are "just part of the experience" the way scraping and drilling are "just part of going to the dentist." The fact that people are jaded and used to it doesn't mean they like it.

People may not consciously say, "I will not go to the movies due to commercials" (although some do), but I doubt that inextricably linking commercials with theaters is luring people in. It's more a subtle thing, along with all the other annoyances of the theater, that your mind weighs when determining whether seeing a certain movie is worth it. As discussed in the previous post, it is one of many things tipping the mental balance scale Against Going to the Movies. This side of the scale includes Crowds, Expensiveness, and the alternatives of Video Games, TiVo, Netflix, and Piracy, whereas the sole item to tip the scale towards theatergoing is a movie so attractive you must see it on the big screen and not wait two months for the DVD. Given all this, you would think you would not want to add anything, however feather-light, to the Not Going to the Movies side of the scale.

Then again, what do I know? All I have is the anecdotal testimony of everyone I know, versus the word of Professional Men for whom theatrical commercials are in the self-interest.

I guess I didn't realize we were supposed to go to the theater with people whose company we loathe. It makes much more sense now. When I was catching up with my pal Dave before Batman Begins, and the commercials started up and drowned out our conversation, I forgot to be grateful for the diversion. Silly me, not recognizing that social interaction with one's moviegoing companion is a bothersome chore at best. I should be thanking the higher-ups who saw people going to movies and thought, "Two hours of not talking to one another is not enough--surely there is a way to save people the trouble of talking before the movie even begins."

So thank you, Theater-Owning Experts. I guess the fact that everyone stopped going to theaters at the same time you started this valuable service is just an unfortunate coincidence. That's the great thing about having multiple reasons for an audience drop-off. If you're a studio, you can blame the theaters. If you're a theater owner, you can blame the Internet. No one has to accept any responsibility for actually driving people away.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Slump On A Blog

This post, referred via Boing Boing, natch, is a nice jumping-off point for a topic I’ve been meaning to deal with for awhile. All year I’ve been getting really sick of the box-office slump story, where every Monday we have to put up with reports of how the latest big movie made XX million dollars but somehow it wasn’t enough to singlehandedly pull the box office out of a slump. Well, no, after six straight months of no movies worth watching, one movie isn’t going to turn the tide. Honestly, can you name one movie that came out between January and June? I can. Sin City. I could try and think of a second one, but it would be a lot of work. Harder still would be something that came out, besides Sin City, that you actually wanted to see.

It breaks my heart that Fantastic Four, and not Batman Begins, was the movie that finally turned the tide and ended the Biggest Slump Ever, but life is unfair.

It’s hard not to feel like the crisis presented by the slump is exaggerated, or at least, the mystery of the slump is exaggerated. Last year would have been a bigger slump were it not for Passion of the Christ making every person who hates movies go to the movies. Passion money really shouldn’t even be counted as part of Hollywood box office totals. It’s like GM gauging their company’s health by adding up their own sales with Toyota’s.

A few topics that have been brought up elsewhere before:

The Current State of the Theatrical Experience

Everything associated with going to a movie in a theater is a trying ordeal. From the oft-lamented commercials to the ticket prices that seem a dollar higher every time you go to a theater, the theatrical experience seems calculated by scientists to be as miserable as possible. Yes, we have stadium seating now, but that’s the only good thing.

Now, I grew up with multiplexes, AMC 10, Galaxy 8, etc., so while I have affection for old movie houses, I don’t consider them the standard. But who had the bright idea to consolidate theaters into behemoth megaplex futureworld terrariums, so that no matter what movie you see, you can’t get in on a Friday or Saturday night without braving huge mobs and long lines? These theaters are never not crowded, because there are so many screens they become the only theater in town, so now everybody in a city converges on one big crowded theater instead of three reasonably-sized ones. See the awful Regal Cinema serving the entire Pleasanton/Dublin region. That one Emeryville theater by the fake street (or the entire city of Emeryville). The monstrous Irvine Clusterfuck and its sprawling Disneyland parking lot. Here’s a hint. If you need a tram to serve your goddamn shopping center, you’ve built a shopping center that’s too fucking big. But now I’ve gone off on a tangent. My point is their theater is bad, too. Basically, theaters are a victim of the American trend toward consuming any given product in as large and horrible a building as you possibly can.

And $10-12 movie tickets? For this awful, crowded, commercial-ridden experience? Can you think of any other industry where they ratchet up prices at a staggering rate while tearing down the quality of the product, and then dumbfucks wonder why the demand has fallen? Maybe because of the increased price and decreased quality? Maybe that is why you have fewer customers? Have you ever seen a chart? Any chart? In your life? Maybe when it costs the price of a DVD collection to take a family to the movies, you will not take the family to see any old piece of shit, and you will instead buy a DVD collection. Hmm. Interesting.

They say one problem is that a rising tide no longer lifts all boats; that one hit movie doesn’t drive sales of sucky movies the way it used to. Apparently people used to find shows sold out and say, “What the hell, let’s see a different movie, even if it is crappy.” I vaguely remember such a time. It is the reason I saw Angus. Turns out when movie tickets cost a bar of gold, people don’t do that as much. Go figure.

Crappy Movies

The average moviegoer may not be all that discerning, but every moviegoer like to believe that he or she is discerning. People gladly flock to stupid movies that flatter their shallow pop culture awareness (Scream), but eagerly pick on things that are obviously stupid/ridiculous (Sahara) in order to show off how perceptive they are. My point is that people like to have their intelligence flattered, and a successful movie usually has to be at least smart enough to pretend it’s smart. (I admit, this doesn’t explain Kangaroo Jack.)

This theory of mine has not much bearing on the awful releases of the first half of the year, except to say that neither fools nor cinastes are enticed by a movie whose greatest selling point is a pair of computer-animated flies farting in a coffee cup.

What it does have to do with is the flood of remakes and sequels. People do like remakes and sequels; that’s why they get made. But the suffocating predominance of them this summer is wearying. Even an undemanding moviegoer can’t avoid the feeling that there really is nothing original out there. There are so many remakes and sequels out now that everything is transparently a retread. Everyone feels like they can see right through these movies as the cynical marketing ploys they are. And mostly, they’re right.

Back to the non-remake/sequel “original” content: This stuff is always lackluster during the winter/early-spring period. Why only now does the industry suffer for it? Well, that’s when you have to move on to some of the other causes analysts throw around: Video Games, the Internet, DVDs and Home Theaters, etc. It’s not that these activities make people never want to see movies. But when you have other good choices, it’s only natural that movies will have to be that much better to lure you away from everything else. Why am I even saying this? It’s total common sense, yet Industry Analysts struggle to grasp it like blind men identifying the proverbial elephant.

DVD Sales

So DVD sales are declining too, threatening the industry’s shiny new safety net. More common sense. Who would have imagined that DVD sales overall would mirror the arc of an average person’s DVD buying habits? An initial excitement with the format sets off a huge wave of DVD purchases, until a person realizes he/she has more DVDs than his/her shelves can hold, with a total running time greater than his/her remaining lifespan, and his/her purchases slow to a sensible trickle. DVD sales held up for so long because of the flow of people adopting the format, but now everyone with a TV has a DVD player, and there is no new ground to cover. Thus, we have the upcoming High-Definition changeover to kickstart sales, which will be a huge fiasco since:

a) HDTVs are still too expensive and therefore no one can tell the difference between a regular vs. HD picture

b) Sony and Toshiba have not settled the confusing Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD format war, so no one will know which one to buy, so they won’t buy either

c) Buying and owning prerecorded visual media (that is, TV and movies) for home viewing on a grand scale was unprecedented before DVD. Not many people bought movies on VHS. The convenience and value offered by DVD spurred people to buy movies like never before. Conversely, people who already owned movies on VHS resented having to replace their whole collections. Now that way more people have big expensive DVD collections, they will be even more reluctant to buy their library all over again. Especially since the relatively short life of the DVD format will only convince them that forcing a repurchase is a blatant grab for their money, and the cycle of future formats will be even shorter. After all, ridiculous numbers of DVD re-releases and “special editions” have burned people before, to the point that one might resist buying a DVD for fear that a better one is on the way soon—and that’s without a format change. The huge wave of DVD buying will not be repeated by anyone but the most devoted A/V geeks.

In conclusion, there are tons of reasons for the box-office slump and they are all completely obvious to non-retards. I don’t know why I even wrote this.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Labor of Love (Bug)

Someone on the Herbie message boards (where else?) has posted these clips from a Super 8 Herbie movie he shot as a kid, 35 years ago. Pretty impressive, in a kid sort of way. One of the cars he uses is very similar to one that I had.

Great Headline

From CNN:

Research: Third of study results don't hold up

Thursday, July 14, 2005

I Need A Cat Pun

Kick-Ass Blog Buddies Unite has a lot of boring-looking posts I can't be bothered to read, but interspersed are blog entries "from a cat" that are cute and amusing. They're the ones in blue text.*

DAY 774 - I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The Dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The Bird on the other hand has got to be an informant. He has mastered their frightful tongue (something akin to mole-speak) and speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move Due to his current placement in the metal room his safety is assured. But I can wait, it is only a matter of time...

See, they're your same old cat jokes... in blog form! Refreshing!

*EDIT: Blog also features retardedly cute cat pictures.

Cooter's Got A Point

The original Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard TV show has come out against all the weirdly out-of-place sexual stuff in the new movie, and the general response seems to be dismissive and mocking.

I think he's right. Yeah, you always end up sounding lame when you take a stand for clean family entertainment, but this isn't about red-state vs. blue-state values or whether all movies ought to be sanitized; this is about the Dukes in particular. And the fact is that leering at towel-clad sorority girls and innuendoes about chaste whore Jessica Simpson's undercarriage are not what that show was supposed to be about. It's the wrong spirit.

We have plenty of other movies where we can throw in gratuitous hot chicks to give us boners while we're not laughing at unfunny sex jokes. Dukes was always a stupid show, but there's something to be said for wholesome stupidity, and putting this stuff in makes it feel weird and dirty in a way that a straight-up teen sex comedy isn't. To borrow a line from Billy Bob Thornton in the new Bad News Bears trailer, it's like kissing your sister.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Drift Away

I saw a few episodes of the anime Initial D when I found a used copy at Hollywood Video for $5. But it was the second disc, so I missed out on the beginning of the story. Now I've got Volumes 1 and 3 of the manga from the library, and I don't totally remember, but I think the anime filled in more or less for the book I couldn't find.

It’s about a teenager named Tak who lives in a suburb where the only thing to do is race dangerously up and down the local mountain at night. All Tak’s friends are into it, but he doesn’t know anything about cars, and couldn’t care less about racing. Tak’s nerdy best friend, a racer-wannabe, don’t understand why.

The reason why is that Tak’s father, the retired Best Street Racer Ever, now runs a tofu shop and forces Tak to drive up the mountain to make tofu deliveries in the wee hours of every morning. In fact, he’s been doing this for six years, since Tak was twelve. In the process, he’s been subtly guiding Tak in the art of becoming a great driver, and Tak, in an effort to finish the chore faster and keep the drive interesting, has mastered mountain racing and expert drifting techniques without even realizing it. He also doesn’t realize that the old Trueno Eight-Six he takes for granted (the equivalent of a sporty-style mid-1980s Corolla) is a pretty decent street racer.

Naturally, the local street racers soon discover that the driver of the unassuming Eight-Six is awesome, and Tak is pressed into service to defend the local racing “team” against hotshot challengers from neighboring regions. At first, Tak doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about, but all the racing soon awakens his competitive streak.

There’s also a cute girl at school who likes him, but she seems to have some kind of mysterious sugar daddy.

Initial D has a lot of cool elements. The underdog racer in the easily underestimated car echoes the feel of the races in Herbie movies. The protagonist with impossibly perfect skill is admittedly an anime staple, but always a fun one. The twist that he’s so used to doing it that he’s bored with it is a cool angle. Okay, so that's nothing new either. Shut up.

If you’re not into cars or racing, though, it’s probably not worth it. Initial D is fun, but it’s also hilariously repetitive. Those of you familiar with manga realize that book-bound volumes are made up of smaller chapters, each of which represent one installment of the monthly series in which the story originally appeared. To give you an idea how much detail is lavished on the races, consider this: Volume 3 opens immediately with a race downhill (so far all the races have been down the same mountain). This one race lasts three or four chapters. If you were reading this in a monthly manga magazine, four months would go by for one race. It makes me glad I’m reading it in collected format or the read would be amazingly unsatisfying. Even in book form, this is one slow-paced story.

After a while, the races are all kind of the same, too. Different things happen in them, but they all boil down to this:

Rival racer: Ha! An Eight-Six? It’ll never beat my [more advanced car]! Oh my gosh, it’s catching up! But how? Look at that drifting! He’s cutting so close to the edge! He’s maintaining full speed around corners! But—that’s impossible! Nobody can drive like that! Who is this guy? No! I won’t be beaten by an Eight-Six!

[Rival racer gets beaten by the Eight-Six.]

Now imagine that took eighty pages and you get an idea of what it’s like to read Initial D. If that’s your cup of tea, you’re in good shape. I know that cup of tea is indeed one that I enjoy, although I do wish the pace of the actual storytelling was a bit more urgent. If you prefer coffee, now you know to look elsewhere.

The other downside is that the art in Initial D is quite ugly. I don’t care for the style, but I suppose in a male-targeted, male-centered series like this, there’s no point cultivating an attractive art style only to make all the men look effeminate. The cars look quite good, but they could be better, and the illustrated movement lacks the kinetic dynamism of, say, the car chases in Gunsmith Cats, even taking into account the more nuanced driving of Initial D versus Gunsmith Cats’ brand of violent and spectacular stunts.

The anime replicates the strengths and weaknesses of the manga precisely. Interesting character, cool racing, slow pace, ugly. In the anime, there are two brands of ugly: the hand-drawn art and the jarring, dated computer graphics used for the races. However, the computer graphics do convey the excitement of speed and movement better than the manga.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Graphic Novels For Beginners

This was a comment for Cynthia, who's writing something to do with graphic novels, but it's too long not to post here, too. I'm not sure if it's helpful or pointless.

This was basically my prompt:

To prove that it takes no expert subject knowledge, I'm writing a short paper involving collection development and graphic novels and comic books. professional resources on these are slim. While I can google as well as the next guy, I was hoping that someone would have suggestions on resources for me, web or not. top 10, top 100, what every comic collector should own/know about etc. also, if i haven't filled my quota of 4 pages, i'll stick in manga too.

Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, itself in comic form, is an excellent analysis of the workings and potential of the comic form, or “sequential art.” His follow-up, Reinventing Comics, veers more into futurist speculation, some of which is panning out, some of which is not. Some creators, like the Penny Arcade guys, despise and ridicule it, while others respect it. McCloud continues to espouse his theories on his website, probably In any case, Reinventing also offers a nice history of the comics industry and the reasons for its collapse.

You can’t talk about the rise of “graphic novels” without discussing Frank Miller and Alan Moore, especially their serious-minded works in the ‘80s that gave rise to that term. Together, they are largely responsible for the movement to get comics for older audiences taken seriously.

In the ‘80s, Miller was responsible for the acclaimed Batman story The Dark Knight Returns, an excellent and very dark story about Batman coming out of retirement, as well as the gritty and realistic Batman: Year One, which strongly influenced Batman Begins. Miller also did memorable work on Marvel’s Daredevil. He went on to create many other lesser-known properties held in high regard by his fans. Most notably, he created the Sin City series, which everyone has heard of now that it’s a movie. A few years ago, he also did a subpar follow-up to Dark Knight Returns called The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which combined superheroes and heavy-handed social commentary to incoherent effect. Miller usually writes and illustrates, but sometimes only writes. Back in the Daredevil days he also spent some time as the artist. He’s currently working on another Batman project with Jim Lee handling art.

Alan Moore wrote Watchmen, a story about superheroes in a world where they’d been outlawed. It’s often considered one of the best graphic novels ever. Moore tends to be less mainstream (although every comic fan knows who he is). He did a memorable Batman/Joker story called The Killing Joke in which one possible tragic origin story for the Joker is explored, and in which former Batgirl Barbara Gordon is paralyzed by the Joker, a development that has left her confined to a wheelchair to this day. Moore has done a lot of “serious” stories, but he also seems to do a lot of weirdly postmodern stories that wink at the reader while still investing the stories with an uncommon earnestness. Other well-known Moore creations include V for Vendetta (Natalie Portman shaved her head for the upcoming movie version), From Hell (about Jack the Ripper, already a movie), and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (movie versions of Moore’s work have not always fared well).

Neil Gaiman was arguably the major force in graphic novels in the ‘90s. He’s the writer of the popular Sandman series. If you know any Goths or self-consciously freaky/artsy people, they probably like Sandman. And if they don’t, they haven’t read it yet. In spite of this, it’s an excellent series, smartly weaving together the mythologies of many cultures to create a sweeping fantasy that, thankfully, intersects with the real world enough to keep it grounded. The Sandman gave a whole new generation their justification for calling comics literature. Girls like this series, which is rare in comics. Gaiman ended the series after a certain number of volumes (8 or 9? I have them all, so I really should know), so this is a collection you could buy and be done with. A spinoff series, The Dreaming, ran for awhile after that but is not important. Gaiman occasionally returns to the Sandman world for one-shot stories, but mostly has gone on to the more “legitimate” business of writing novels.

Vertigo is the DC comics “adult” label, borne out of the Sandman series. They deal with more mature subject matter, like foul language, extreme violence, nudity, and casual fucking. Sometimes their stories are also more sophisticated, too. On the other hand, sometimes their stories are just more foul. The movie Constantine was based on the Vertigo series Hellblazer. Another popular Vertigo title was Preacher. I never read it, but it seemed to be about a preacher who cussed a lot and did violence. People said it was great.

Superhero comics mostly come from either Marvel or DC.

Marvel: Spider-Man, X-Men, Daredevil, Punisher, Fantastic Four, etc.
DC: Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, etc.

In libraries, Batman graphic novels tend to be pretty popular. I’d assume you’d want some Superman, too. As for Marvel, they put out “Essential” collections for all of their different popular characters, and I see a lot of those at the library too. You’ll want plenty of this stuff for the kids, who ought to be the main patrons of the graphic novel section. And the Vertigo stuff really shouldn’t be put right next to it, for the kids’ sake, but it probably will be because libraries will assume they’re all the same.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Oh, and yes, thank you, Anonymous. I actually did see the Transporter 2 trailer when I went to Fantastic Four, and it was the highlight of our time in the theater, not counting laughing at Reed's "Memories" and the one second of Jessica Alba in underwear.

From the English credits I can see that Corey Yuen is still the fight choreographer, which was the more accurate credit for him all along, so my doubts are hereby allayed. The action looks bigger and better than the first and I'm totally looking forward to it.


Q: How can you tell the difference between someone deeply in love and the victim of cult brainwashing?

A: The victim of cult brainwashing sounds like this.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

More Like Unfantastic Snore

Fantastic Four director Tim Story (Barbershop, Taxi) explains in Entertainment Weekly that Fantastic Four is “the Marvel comic that’s closest to being a comedy.” However much it might like to be, Fantastic Four isn’t so much a comedy as it is hilariously shitty. As Story goes on to explain, “It’s not easy to figure out how you walk that fine line.” Indeed, it's clear from watching the movie that Story has no feel for that line at all. That would be the fine line between gags playing as a “funny joke” versus “something dumb and senseless.”

Take for instance, when headstrong daredevil Johnny Storm walks out of his hospital quarantine to go extreme snowboarding. You can even ignore how stupid that sounds already, because the best is yet to come. This is where you get that scene from the preview where the sexy nurse takes his temperature and it’s 270. (She: “You’re hot.” He: “Thank you, so are you.”) He ignores it, not noticing, and invites her to go skiing with him. So taken is she with his sexiness that she agrees, not reporting the temperature to anyone, never mind that she actually saw the abnormal temperature. Okay, she’s taken with him, but shouldn’t she care about his temperature? Even for a comedy world, this is a really terrible nurse.

Later, they’re snowboarding/skiing and Johnny Storm starts bursting into flame. “You’re on fire,” the nurse tells him. “Thank you,” he replies, again. She falls and loses sight of him as he bursts completely into flame, burns off his clothes, falls off a cliff and into a snowdrift. She finds him naked in a pool of boiling water in the middle of the snow, which, even if you didn’t see him completely on fire, has to be pretty weird. He turns it into a joke, saying “Care to join me?” and fair enough, given his ridiculous character. But the last thing we see is her dropping her ski poles, ready to accept his invitation. Yes, it’s meant to be funny, but it shouldn’t elicit the WTF reaction it does.

Certain things are doomed from the source material, like the character names. It’s hard to believe anyone can say the name Victor Von Doom with a straight face—let alone that a company with that name could become a top corporation. Stephanie points out that when your real name is Von Doom, there’s hardly a need to change it when you become a supervillain. “Doctor Doom” is a lateral move at best; at worst, as the folks on Best Week Ever might say: Downgrade.

“Sue Storm” and “Johnny Storm” are almost as laughable, but you’re distracted from their names by the fact that she’s a big shot scientist and he’s a daredevil/shuttle pilot, both at the tender age of 18. What is this obsession with casting children as working professionals in fields that take a decade of education and training? Is it just to make real twentysomethings feel bad for their own lack of accomplishments? Could they at least cast people old enough to look like they have a college diploma? On the other hand, Hollywood’s idea of someone old enough for a college diploma is 19-year-old Lindsay Lohan, so there you go.

Jessica Alba is badly miscast, but not because she’s supposed to be blonde and blue-eyed, (although the eyes are a little weird). It’s because she and the thirtysomething Reed Richards are supposed to be not just a couple but, in fact, exes. Exes? They broke up two years ago, so when did they start dating, when she was in middle school? She scolds Reed at one point for spoiling their relationship by overthinking everything when she wanted to take the “next step” and get an apartment together. I can picture their conversation:

She: Reed, why won’t you move in with me?
He: Because you’re twelve.
She: You’re afraid to take the next step.
He: I’m afraid to be arrested. We shouldn’t even be dating.
She: Reed, you think too much.
He: I am a pedophile.

Also, they went to MIT together, so either she is Doogie Howser or he is on his second career. It’s too bad they don’t have any flashbacks to their relationship, or they could have cast the little girl who played young Jessica Alba in Sin City.

In one especially cheesy scene, Sue Storm flips through Reed’s scrapbook, conveniently labeled “Memories.” It’s just like Reed to buy the sappiest album the store had. She flips past a newspaper clipping meant to show him winning a science fair as a child, or something, but I didn’t really pay attention because I couldn’t take my eyes off the prominent Second Headline. You know the old Second Headline joke, where when a newspaper flashes on screen in a movie to convey exposition, and instead of reading the main headline you read the headline of one of the other filler stories on the page in an ironic “shocked” voice? If you like doing that, and I know I’m not the only one (I’m looking in your direction, Tom), then this is made for you: “Hate Crime Rate Increases.” Much more eye-catching than a science fair, wouldn’t you say? By the way, had the phrase “hate crime” even been coined when Reed was a kid? Oh well, maybe this is the future; after all, Von Doom has his own space station that can be run by only five people, two of whom have never been in it before and one of whom is a complete idiot.

The Thing’s perfect wife leaves him without so much as a conversation when she sees the freak he’s become. So she is shallow, and he is sad. Luckily he hooks up with a blind woman who seems pretty excited about having sex with a giant rock. And he is happy.

Except for the anticlimactic face-off with Doctor Doom, the Fantastic Four’s main act of heroism is saving the public from a huge accident that the Thing accidentally causes. So if I endanger a bunch of people and then save them, I can be a hero too? They save some firemen from falling off the bridge. The police are about to arrest them but all the New Yorkers on the bridge start clapping (kind of like in Spider-Man), and the firemen start clapping too, and the police are like, well, the firemen are clapping. I don’t know why we have juries. We should just have firemen, and if they clap, you’re free to go.

The news media coins the term Fantastic Four, a device so lame Mystery Men spoofed it already, and the rest of their names Johnny Storm pulls out of thin air. For the rest of the second act, Reed tries to build a machine to reverse their mutations, as seen in a Wile-E.-Coyote-esque diagram of a machine labeled “reverse mutation.” He tells everybody to stay in his big laboratory/apartment. Will Johnny Storm leave the building? Will he stay? The tension is killing me. Meanwhile Von Doom takes his sweet time discovering his powers and holds off on deciding to be a supervillain until the nail-biting business about building the machine and leaving the apartment is finished.

The best part of the movie is where Jessica Alba takes her clothes off to be invisible and then accidentally becomes visible when she’s down to her underwear, in front of a huge crowd of people. The scene around it makes no sense, but she is in her underwear.

Also, the dialogue is terrible. Every scene feels like a labored first draft. The direction is flat and thoroughly unexciting. As for the acting, when you have three similar-looking bland white guys in a movie, and Chris Evans in a completely one-note role is your least bland bland white guy, well, let’s just say you’ve got a lot of bland white guys.

The one note Chris Evans plays is at least one note more than the others have to work with. Ioan Gruffaud as Reed is so bland it’s practically his superpower, like he also has the ability to turn invisible. Bland White Guy 3, Julian McMahon as Von Doom, is made to re-enact Willam Dafoe’s Green Goblin arc from Spider-Man, from killing his turncoat stockholders to picking out a mask from his office. Alba is so stranded by her miscast age that there’s no hope for her—but again, underwear. The whole movie should have been scenes of Invisible Girl taking off her clothes and accidentally becoming visible.

Michael Chiklis is actually pretty good, and almost makes you feel for the Thing in spite of all the nonsense he’s put through. It probably helps that he’s the only one for whom his powers create an actual dramatic dilemma, even it if it’s handled unconvincingly.

So Fantastic Four is not so good. It’s about as bad as you’d expect from the trailers, except a bit worse. It's laughable, but not even the unintentionally laughable way that makes action movies like The Transporter funny, where the ridiculousness is part of the fun. FF is unintentionally laughable in a way where you understand that the movie is fundamentally not working. People all over the theater, young and old alike, chortled derisively at the "Memories" book and other similar moments. And is it a bad sign when people actually boo the "The End" screen?

It’s too lame to actually hate, if that makes any sense, and we did have fun mocking it afterwards.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out this obvious studio plant on IMDb, so comically over the top that, as Stephanie points out, it reads like the writer was bitter about being forced to write it.

All my life, I have seen good superhero movies. I have seen bad superhero movies. I have seen mediocre. But, never in my 25 years of life, could I possibly imagine what this is. This is the superhero movie. By the time the titles flashed, I was entranced in two hours worth of pure, unadulterated SUPERHERO! Heartfelt pathos, splendid SFX, excellent script. I am so glad I got to see an advanced screening of this. This is magic. This is more than just a superhero movie. This did for superhero movies what "Lord Of The Rings" did for fantasy. The snowboarding, the bridge, the parking garage, and finally, an all-out battle in the heart of a city. This movie contains special effects only DREAMED of. This felt like a dream. This will be the superhero movie for generations upon generations. And who thought that the director of "Barbershop" and "Taxi" could deliver such a treat to the eyes and soul? I know where I'll be July 8th. Ready to be transported into this lovely superhero world, once more.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Library Cards

I've started going to the library to get my writing done. It's reached the point where attempting to do so amid the distractions of home is downright foolhardy.

So far I've used the Rancho Park and Westwood branch libraries. They're pretty, new-looking and well-maintained, but very small. They look more like high school libraries than city libraries--the Pleasanton Library is massive compared to these. The actual floor space devoted to, you know, shelving books is astonishingly meager.

Even so, I'm startled to realize how unfamiliar I've become with the whole concept of a library. You mean I can borrow anything here, for free? Why have I been buying books all these years? Oh, right, because the corner bookstore puts the selection at these library branches to shame. But still, not bad for free.

The Rancho Park library has some Batman collections that have come out since I stopped buying the books, so I'll be checking those out to see if those storylines were as bad as people online said they were.

Both have a surprising amount of manga, but only Westwood had Excel Saga and Initial D. I got two volumes of each.

Excel Saga gets tiresome quickly. It's hard to follow and the jokes mostly don't play well in print. Also, for most of the book, they use the authentic Japanese sound effect, which you can look up in an index in the back. This is great if you want to hold your finger on a page and flip back and forth to learn when a waterfall is going pshpshpsh but it seems pointless to me.

Initial D doesn't translate the sound effects either, but at least they don't annoy you with the option of constant page-flipping. This book I'm enjoying, enough that I'll do another post on it soon.

Lies, Damn Lies

I posted this to the comments on CalJunket too, but I feel the need to post it more prominently than that. In Rebecca's column on driving, she writes:

Unfortunately, both as reflections of their post-war urban design and by choice, Los Angeleans don’t seem to ever get tired of driving. And why should they? Parking is plentiful, streets are wide, left turns are protected, and freeways are populated by competent drivers. Operating a vehicle in LA is like going on Double Dare, taking the physical challenge, then finding that the only obstacle is to figure out why Marc Summers is so damned excited about orange flags.

Okay, not one of these things is true. I don't know if that's what it's like driving in Long Beach, but in LA proper, we sit in intersections waiting for red lights so one or two cars per light can make left turns, while traffic backs up for blocks behind. Even the widest of streets is not wide enough for the massive amount of traffic. Parking is scarce and expensive. Freeways are populated by skilled but reckless assholes. Operating a vehicle in LA is like going on Double Dare, expecting the obstacle course to be a breeze, and then getting stuck forever when you can't find the flag in the giant nose.

People do it because they don't have a choice. Buses just mean you get stuck in traffic, except you're not driving and you have to wait for them to pick you up. I would gladly take a subway if one existed in any useful form, but the LA Metro goes from nowhere to nowhere.

Sure, people like driving, in theory, like Communism. But whether you actually like it or not, what else are you going to do? It's too big for bicycles and if you try you'll be left dealing choking down exhaust while dealing with a frightening absence of bike lanes. Driving in LA is a system that is utterly broken, but there is no alternative. There is literally no viable form of transport for the greater LA area.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

"She's the First Female Driver to Win the Nextel Cup!"

So Sean calls to my attention this New York Times piece about product placement in Herbie, as well as how related concerns surfaced in reviews. As a voracious reader of movie reviews and a voracious consumer of information about Herbie, I noticed this myself.

There is something to be said about all the product placement in the movie, as the numerous instances cited in the Times suggests. But what I’ve found is that critics tend to do a poor job of saying it. With certain critics, the moment they suspect they’ve spotted product placement, they freeze up entirely. So pleased are they to have shrewdly spotted commercialism run amok, commerce running roughshod over art, that they can scarcely be bothered to pay attention to anything else in the movie.

My take on critics addressing product placement in movies: Considering that the majority of these people completely missed the point of Josie and the Pussycats, which despite its faults remains the most elaborate and uncompromising satire of product placement to date, I think that most of them are unqualified to have an opinion. The number of critics who lambasted Josie for its absurd overuse of product placement, or those who claimed that Josie was trying to have its cake and eat it too, is astonishing. To do what Josie did using fake brands would have been pointless. It would have been too benign, an easy ha-ha for those thickheaded critics while easily dismissable for the viewer. Instead, the onslaught of real logos in ridiculous places is simultanously hilarious and palpably nauseating. You feel the genuine effects of the overdose, and the satire is visceral. Using actual logos do drive home the point was absolutely necessary, and according to the filmmakers, they were paid for none of it—in fact they had to beg for permission to use logos the way that they did.

On Herbie: Clearly this movie does not set out to address product placement in an ironic or savvy way, but merely to exploit it, so it’s different. In one respect, though, it is the same: There is no point complaining about product placement in the NASCAR scenes. Have these people ever heard of NASCAR? The entire point of these vehicles is to be giant billboards. Creating fake brands for the cars would be jarring, like those soda cans on TV that say “Cola,” not mention impractical, since the filmmakers would then be responsible for creating cars from scratch or digitally retouching every car on the track. Granted, the use of NASCAR itself is a tie-in, but as the Times points out, it’s a headache recreating a stock car race without their help, so why not use them and have the authenticity?

Goodyear: This placement I want to grant more leeway, since there is a precedent. The Goodyear logo appeared in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas, before product placement was popular, which is the reason Goodyear is my favorite brand of tire even though I’ve never driven on them. So it’s only right that Goodyear should be in a Herbie movie again. On the other hand, the fact that this tie-in reportedly affected the actual story is troubling.

Tropicana: I didn’t even notice what brand of orange juice she was drinking, so whatever.

GM: The GTO and the Corvette came off pretty well in this movie. The GTO’s scene was cooler; Herbie let the Corvette win, so that’s meaningless. It’s silly that GM actually worries about these scenes. It’s clearly fantasy; everybody knows a real VW couldn’t beat those cars—that’s what makes it fun.

Volkswagen: The Touareg in question is referred to as “adorable,” but it’s not until a much later scene that we can tell it’s a VW (at least not without a finely tuned ability to recognize late-model VWs). I’m actually pretty surprised that VW isn’t involved. Contrary to what the article says, the name "Volkswagen" is used several times in the movie. It’s not about “selling an old car” as the quote in the article says. This movie cultivates a fondness for the brand and its image, while simultaneously including a couple of current models (the New Beetle and the Touareg) to remind viewers, “Hey, we’re still out there, and still fun.” Maybe VW didn’t pay for product placement because they knew in a Herbie movie they’d be getting it anyway.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Movie Magic

Here's a cool article about the special effects in Herbie: Fully Loaded. I guess that would be interesting to, I don't know, Cynthia, since she's actually seen it. They talk about when they used CGI for Herbie versus when they used the better-looking practical effects. When Herbie sits still, they used the puppet car. When Herbie's driving, it's computer generated, since the car with the mechanical effects can't actually be driven. Except when, as I suspected, they felt the need to punch up (overplay) the performance and added in additional emoting in post-production.

It pretty much just confirms everything I already figured out by watching the movie, since computer-generated special effects, even good ones, are always completely obvious. Yes, the compositing of moving headlights onto existing footage was a challenge, but I could always tell when it was composited instead of done for real. Is it still good? Yes, it's quite a feat to recreate a NASCAR race on a computer, but I could tell the difference there, too. I guess it's no more or less obvious than the models and other weird effects you see in the old Herbie movies. But those effects, even though they were obviously fake, had an aura of mystique about them. You wonder how they did them, since each effects shot was cobbled together with who knows how many jerry-rigged methods. Now that the answer is always "computers," it's no fun.

Disney's visual effects supervisor describes the "rule" of Herbie effects that they came up with:

When we eventually developed our performance rules with Angela Robinson, it was decided that we should never see the metal bend. Our rule of thumb was that Herbie had to stay a car throughout the movie and not cross that line into a shape-shifting being.

Great rule. It's the same one I would have wanted. I wish they'd followed it. How can you justify the shot I complained about under that rule?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

For Further Information

More photos from Anime Expo can be found here.

Laundry is the company that makes the T-shirts I got in Japan. You can view their current line of shirts at their website. None of the ones that I got are there, the line-up is all-new as of June.

Anime Expo 2005

Rolling like a celebrity. Posted by Picasa

Shoeshine, Katamari-style. Posted by Picasa

Strawberry Shortcake does hopscotch. Posted by Picasa

Tsubasa Chronicles. Posted by Picasa

Mirrorface! Posted by Picasa

The costumes that flatter the bosom. Posted by Picasa

With Bleach Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 04, 2005

Brett Ratner, You Fuck

From IMDb news:

Brett Ratner is spicing up the new X-Men 3 movie with the addition of his very own fantasy - a sex siren mutant who seduces her opponents rather than battles them. Ratner takes over from departing director Bryan Singer, who made the first two movies, and the Rush Hour film maker is determined to leave his mark on the comic book series. The new mutant has not yet been cast but unknowns Kate Nauta and Aya Sumika will reportedly audition. A source tells the mutant will be, "An unbelievably hot and sexy hooker. Her super power is that she secretes a pheromone that helps her to seduce men. She can seduce anyone." The source adds of the auditions, "They are open to all ethnicities who are in their early-to-mid 20s."

Ratner, you thoroughly mediocre hack-for-hire, if you had a signature style beyond paying homage to Scarface, maybe you wouldn’t have to scrounge up bargain-basement fanboy wank dreams to make your “mark” on a franchise. Why not just piss on the negative?

First of all, what kind of dumb asshole invents a superhero whose superpower is fucking? Oh, I’m sorry, “pheromones.” Yes, you just described Poison Ivy from Batman. And probably a million other things.

Granted, this is from a “source” and not Ratner himself, but how retarded do you have to be to get all worked up and excited telling people about this cool new character you describe as “An unbelievably hot and sexy hooker”?

*Confidential to Brett Ratner: If IMDb news is wrong again, then, Brett Ratner, I apologize. Also, Brett, if you've come across this page because your massive ego compels you to google yourself even though you're already successful, I didn't mean any of that stuff about you being mediocre or having a massive ego. Although if you're reading this, come on, I mean, you did google yourself, didn't you? Anyway, my point is I have some scripts I think you'd love. It would be great if you wanted to direct them and bring your unique stamp to each story. You can put in as many tropical Scarface backdrops and super-whores as you want. Love ya, pal.

Upcoming Cinema

Amazingly, The Transporter, a brilliantly stupid action movie that delivered where it counts, has gotten itself a sequel, complete with a hot girl assassin. The likable Jason Statham returns in the title role, as does Louis Leterrier, the director of the first movie. Unfortunately, fight choreographer Corey Yuen, the co-director of the first, supposedly responsible for the action sequences, is absent this time around. On one hand, the excellent action scenes were the only reason to watch the original. The story scenes, especially with Shu Qi struggling with her English and the horribly lame love music, were awful. But supposedly Corey Yuen really didn't have as much to do with directing the movie as the credits would have you believe, and if Leterrier can deliver action on par with the first I'm prepared to forgive lousy drama.

The first one didn’t make much of a mark here, but Luc Besson’s involvement must have been enough to make it a hit overseas. When are we going to start hearing about the sequel here? All we get so far is the French trailer, but fortunately all the dialogue is in English. I’ll go ahead and look forward to this one. I was not disappointed the first time around.

And here is the trailer for Mirrormask, the Neil Gaiman-Dave McKean collaboration that premiered at Sundance. One person I talked to there didn’t care for it, but I can’t remember who is was so I don’t know if their opinion is worth anything. So who knows if it’s a good movie, but the trailer is worth checking out for the trademark McKean visuals.

Holiday Traffic

The Fourth of July is awesome.

I had a great first half of the day meeting the gang at Anime-Expo and distributing the Japan gifts, but I'm not talking about that.

I'm talking about driving. The drive to and from Anaheim was flawless, traffic-wise (the only snag was in Torrance where a major streetlight was out). But the freeways stayed clear--even the 405. Later, I was on the 10, and it was like flying. Like a dream, like another city. I had a startling realization: This is what freeways were supposed to be like.

Once, many years ago, men had utopian visions of cruising speedily down a wide expressway with exactly the right amount of cars on it; that is, enough cars to make it worthwhile and few enough for anyone to drive as fast as the law would allow (or better yet, 10 mph over that).

Ladies and gentlemen, I lived that magnificent vision today. For whatever reason, July Fourth has the power to keep the denizens of Los Angeles in their homes for the better part of the day, and those not at home have mercifully evacuated the metropolis.

I know these same factors mean that those of you traveling long distances even as I type these words will be having a tough time of it. But know that for a blessed, fortunate few, the source of your suffering is a source of bliss.

Today, it was another world; one in which the roads were exactly up to the traffic burden placed upon them. Who knew such a thing was possible? Who could conceive of what such a thing, in Los Angeles, would even look like? Yet for one day, one magical day, Los Angeles was an alternate reality.

And it was ecstasy.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

This Is Bad

So we have some new neighbors, at last filling one of the two vacant apartments in our building, and they have a stupid little dog that really needs to shut the eff up. I'm walking to our door from the parking space and the thing pipes up and starts barking at me, and I totally freak out because even though I know they have a dog, it's started barking from the open window two feet from me and I had no idea. And now I'm inside and it still hasn't stopped.

It's not a yappy dog. It's small, but it's just big enough to have an actual bark. Our other annoying neighbors have a dog, too, but it's miraculously quiet. I only ever see it when they walk it, and I don't know that I've ever heard it. This awful new thing, I have heard walking by their window before, albeit in less startling doses. You know it is bad news when you first learn that a neighbor owns a dog through your sense of sound and not your sense of sight. I am continuing to hear it now. I am rapidly forming an opinion that this mutt should die sooner rather than later.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Lovin' It

There's a McDonald's billboard on Santa Monica Boulevard. The text of it goes something like this:

NEW Premium Chicken Sandwiches.
M [McDonald's logo]
I'm lovin' it
You're going to be famous

Straight to the point. Nothing in the ad is fame-themed or Hollywood-themed, but the "famous" line is tacked in, I guess, as a nod to the location of the billboard. Very weird.

Printer, R.I.P.

So I'm printing up the last bits that need to go into my Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship Application, and right after the second to last document, the printer starts making a knocking noise and the print cartridge ceases to move. I do a search for my printer problem and get this helpful result. Apparently my printer is a piece of junk.

So I go to Stephanie's printer, which instantly runs out of ink. And I have to go out and buy more. And that's how things go when you're printing things out the day of a deadline.

On the upside, based on that page of printer gripes, my printer lasted much longer than many identical printers belonging to less fortunate people. The HP Deskjet 3820 is known for dying at the first change of an ink cartridge. I've changed mine many times. It's been almost three years. I guess nowadays that's considered a good run for a printer.

If You Want to Increase the Hits You Get When Googling Yourself

...write a piece with the word "thong" in the title and sign your name to it. Someone on a message board posted my thong piece. I wish I could figure out what people are saying about it but many of these posts appear to be written in a foreign language.

One person writes, "The days of showing panty lines in a very sexy dress has gone. God bless the soul who invented thongs." Yes, thank goodness we are in the days of visible thong lines instead of visible panty lines. What an advantageous trade-off. Truly this is paradise on earth.

But the next reply is:

"Girlllllllllllll tell me about it. And me na bother pon da article dey cause fu me batty could deal wid it and its not jiggly."

Anyone want to venture a guess on what this means?