Monday, February 28, 2005

The Razzies Should Get a Razzie...

...for "Worst Joke Awards Show." Aside from giving Bush a "worst actor" award (a gesture that Simon already complained about), jeers to the Razzies for giving Halle Berry a chance to dodge responsibility for Catwoman. It's nice that she finally has the soundness of mind to admit it's a failure, but after spending all summer talking about how much she enjoyed it and how great it was and how much she loved the costume, and how she was looking forward to the sequel, etc., how dare she blame Warner Brothers and her agent:

She thanked everyone involved in "Catwoman," a film she said took her from the top of her profession to the bottom.

"I want to thank Warner Brothers for casting me in this piece of shit," she said as she dragged her agent on stage and warned him "next time read the script first."


Her agent? I don't suppose it's her responsibility to read the scripts that he gives her? Yes, it's totally his fault. And it's Warners' fault for throwing so much money at her that she couldn't resist signing on for this "piece of shit," not her fault for wanting the money. If she wants to get cute and self-effacing, that's one thing, but she shouldn't pretend she's taking shots at herself and then shoot everyone around her instead. This is worse than pretending Catwoman was good.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Heuristic Squelch Issue Review Second to Last – March 2005

Cover: Can You Spy the Magic Eye?
Excellent artwork. Clean, simple, bold. Funny gag, well told. This is Anthony Wu of the Spider-Man spread and the superhero piece of later this issue, right? Definitely a talent. I like his well-rendered comic-book style art. It’s not Derek Yu, but not everyone should be Derek Yu, and I daresay Wu’s dynamic style renders this action-packed destruction more effectively than Yu’s character/detail-heavy style would have. Also of note: The easily overlooked but very slick coloring job. The different shades on each car, adding depth and lighting effects, are very well done and clearly done by someone who know’s what he’s doing.

Questions: Why SWANK on the license plate? And, Magic Eye? It’s still a funny cover gag, but might this have seemed more timely eight years ago? Does anyone even still look at Magic Eye? Well, that’s okay, part of the fun of working on the Squelch is you can do horribly dated material if you want to and not worry about sales figures. Hey, here’s a scary thought. To me, Magic Eye is dated, but to current college students, is it considered childhood nostalgia, of a piece with Transformer and Turbo-Teen references? College freshmen today would have been ten-year-old elementary schoolers in Magic Eye’s heyday (as opposed to a sophisticated high-schooler like myself). So maybe this would fall into the “Hey, remember this old thing?” category. I’m an old, old man. No wonder I hate undergraduates so much.

So I printed this issue on scratch paper, but the problem with scratch paper is that my printer tends to grab about 3-5 sheets at a time and jam itself up, or print the top of one page on another page, things like that. So the top bit of my cover is cut off, and I lost the part where the “heuristic” does the cute little arch. What do you know? That looks pretty dang good.

Also, is the picture really a shark? I can kind of see it but I can’t tell. I can make out something that is kind of like a shark fin sticking up, but only if I look at it upside-down.

Page 2: WFTT
Okay. The inconsistent formatting bugs me. Why does the first entry not start with “Lesson:”? For that matter, the word “lesson” seems wrong. Maybe these should be “rules” or “guidelines” of making an enemies list. Where did these lessons come from? How can you learn a lesson before you’ve made the list? Or is this like, Loker’s the teacher, this piece is the class, here are the lessons? In that case, number them so it flows better. Like, “Lesson 1: Self reference is stupid.”

Regarding the ending: Self reference is stupid.

Other than the “lesson” thing making it hard to read, the piece is good. Sorry, I mean, “could have been good.”

Page 3: '70s Future
I like that this page isn't newsflashes anymore, but you’ve yet to put a piece here that makes me feel like my time was well-spent. A couple of these are okay, but this would be stronger if more (all) of them were actually based on pop-cultural tropes of the ‘70s. Stuff like ZAP and Jesus Returns are based on what, exactly?

Page 4: Newsflashes

Bush: Oh, literally a bush. Ha ha. Okay, next.

Bee and Allergic Man Killed in Murder-Suicide Pact: Very funny headline. Lackluster piece. The graphic detracts, if anything. The headline is hilarious, really, great concept. But the whole gag is there. All the big words, the dumb quotes spent fleshing it out only bore us until we forget how funny it was. Since you’ve thankfully left behind the Onion device of stand-alone headlines, this newsflash should have been as brief as you could possibly have made it.

Reverse Tsunami: There was a joke to be made on Southern California’s panic over its torrential rainfall, but this isn’t it. The tsunami reference seems calculated for shock value by making an absurdly disproportionate comparison. But it doesn’t play off the fact that a tsunami kills a hundred thousand people while Southern California rainfall damages ten rich people’s houses and makes bad drivers crash their cars. The joke in this situation is that people in LA are so soft they think a week of rain is a disaster, and in fact they are so soft, and their houses so precariously built, that a week of rain that would go unnoticed anywhere else really is a disaster. This reverse tsunami joke ignores what babies we are down here. The highlight is the attempt at textual illustration, but the piece still misses the mark. And Freedman’s dating a freshman. More power to him, if he can stand it. Did I mention how much I hate undergraduates? The contempt I had for high schoolers when I was in college has now been transferred to undergrads. They’re so—ugh—immature.

Woman Gets Rare Cancer: Funny idea, thankfully not overly spelled out. Any reason it’s Becky Johnson and not Lois Lane? Starting with some other woman makes the reveal that other staff members have been affected less funny, because we know he’s ogling non-Lois chicks right from the start.

Parent’s Request: Ho-hum, more Mexican slurs.

Pope Picture: Arguably also a top ten list, but since the picture is integral here, it elevates it beyond a StatShot rip-off. The picture is funny and the captions are funny, but having two gags playing off the Pope’s resemblance to a baby weakens the list. Both are funny independently, but putting them together suggests a dearth of ideas.

Man Gradually Replaced: A bit confusing. The first time I wondered why the guys had the same initials, making it hard to follow, because I thought that it would be about a guy improving himself, not being replaced by a literally different person. The piece never recovered. It’s a bit overwritten, too. Why include the phrase “when reached for comment,” for example? Isn’t that self-evident by the fact you have a quote?

Page 6: Mark Thomas Vs. The Internet
This is apparently part of a series that includes “Mark Thomas vs. the Waffle Iron” and “Matt Loker vs. Mario Lopez” (“Am I Cooler Than a Former Sitcom Star,” also retooled with Matt Soroky’s likeness for National Lampoon). I don’t think we really needed another trip to the well. The piece is okay, but feels very familiar. Also, the black boxes wasted tons of my ink.

Page 7: Pirate Battle
I’m not into hip-hop. I don’t enjoy much rap music. I don’t seek it out. I’m ignorant about popular artists, songs, and hip-hop culture at large. For a long time, that was okay. I fell comfortably into that wide strata of people who, asked their musical preferences, could say “Anything, except country and rap.” But now rap and hip-hop are so prominent, such a significant, major cultural force, their influence permeating not only other musical genres but society as a whole, that I wish I knew more. I wish I did enjoy rap, so I could join in the fun of making detailed rap references and having it be funny simply because I’m (part) Caucasian. Unfortunately, now I can’t get to that point without a lot of devoted study of music I still don’t like very much. Mainly, I wish I was familiar enough to write pieces like this. Even if I tried, it would come out like the pathetic “rap” music as depicted in, say, Archie comics, in this one early-‘90s story where all the kids are into “rap,” which apparently consists of saying everything in rhyming couplets. At best, I could perhaps manage a Beastie-Boys-style rhyme scheme, where the last word of each line is shouted in unison. In "Pirate Battle," Evan Winchester offers what, to my untrained ear, is a solid imitation of the complex, offbeat rhyme and near-rhyme schemes and improvised rhythms of freestyle rap, while integrating the pirate themes. Okay, so the pirate thing is a bit hackneyed, but this piece is solidly written. Only Lil’ John Silver’s second rap seems weak, but I may be reading it wrong.

Top tens are good, concepts and entries alike, except for the word “opaquely.” What the hell are you thinking?

Page 8: D. West
Is this a real person? Is D. West the guy’s name? Is there really a drill sergeant besides Full Metal Jacket’s R. Lee Ermey who has made a TV person out of a perpetually yelling army guy? That’s amazing. But I’ve never seen him, which makes this piece less fun. Based on this, I’m guessing he yells a lot. No, seriously, like, a lot.

Page 9: A New, Old-School Workplace
I’m tired of referencing the loss of dignity as though it were a tangible. That joke is played out. Ditto the “sense of value,” whatever that means. Also, in Interview Five, it should go “doctors who could,” not “doctors that could.” Joke constructions are technically sound, but I didn’t laugh at this piece. On the upside, I did jerk off to Interviews One and Four (and the end of Two), so that was hot. Damn, Melissa’s a stupid slut. She sucks that guy’s dick for like forever.

Spread: Autobiographical Yellow Pages
A very ambitious piece that’s also unusually dense with material, especially for a spread. I respect the work that went into it, although it’s often more clever than funny. A few of the entries are a bit forced and the “he writes the yellow pages” bit near the end does too little to explain why the Yellow Pages mirror the arc of this guy’s life. It might have been better to leave it completely unexplained. Overall, impressive.

Page 12: I, Roe-bot
Is it a robot or a computer? I guess, just a robot that runs Window and Windows-based applications. I’m not sure what the point of this piece is, other than a lot of computer jokes. I kind of liked the Battlebots reference.

Top Tens: Okay but underwhelming.

Page 13: Sven Bjolnir
The Girls entry: Why would he say “It helps that my daddy doesn’t own a mystical iron forge,” when he’s pissed about that? He should say something like, “Not everyone’s daddy owns…” Thor is the one who would say “It helps that my daddy...etc.” because it does help, you see?
The Drugs entry: Boo for the “not knowing what that could mean” self-reference. That could apply to anything in this whole piece.
Boring piece, overall, But at least it ends strong, on the raping and sacking joke.

Page 14: Superhero Jury
Great art. How many people will get the Vertigo reference? Incidentally, the Comics Code Authority doesn’t prohibit describing details of a crime. If the pictures were really gory you wouldn’t be able to show them, but that distinction is kind of muddled as written. It would be clearer to say “show explicit images” or something like that. The Batman/Bruce Wayne jokes are fun.

Page 15: Assisted Suicide Girls.com
Assisted Suicide Girls is a very funny parody idea. The text is not that funny, but it props up the concept well enough, I guess.

Page 16: Bar Mitzvah
This piece was pretty funny and a good read. Clear concept, strong jokes, straightforward writing.

Page 17: Monkey Uprising
Helper monkeys have been played for laughs on The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle. Not judging, just saying. This piece is good enough, and the layout helps, but the biggest weakness is the unconvincing tone of the “news articles.” They suffer from the same not-quite-news feel of most second-rate newsflashes.

Page 18: Male Porn Star
Must all you guys spell “whoa” as “woah”? You’re misspelling it. It was charming when Allen Haim did it, but let’s not make it the house style. The piece? I didn’t like it. Either I’m getting tired of the multiple-scenario dialogue pieces, or maybe the ones this issue were just very mediocre. Probably the latter.

Page 19: Major T-Shirts
So you want to sell some T-shirts. One problem is that these lines are funnier when you read them all together. Some of these, like “Linguistics Majors Do Oral,” or “Those Who Do It With History Majors Are Doomed to Repeat It,” wouldn’t quite work right if you just saw one person with the shirt. Also, I don’t think the Statistics Major shirt needs the word “only.” Still, the shirts might be appealing to students because of the wide selection and the high degree of personalization, but here’s the other problem: The shirts are ugly. I dislike the oval and the ugly picture on each one. I wouldn’t wear a shirt with an ugly picture in a big oval. It looks like ass. Any one of these would be better with plain bold text and nothing else. Better yet, on a colored shirt, not a cheap white one. Also, can someone explain to me “Film Studies Majors Can’t Do It, But They Know How Other Guys Do”? Is that a joke on the lack of actual production classes?

Back Cover
It’s a separate file this time, so I didn’t print it out. I looked at it, but I don’t remember it. Take that for what it’s worth. I remember the jokes being okay, but the layout being really ugly.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Academy of Robots Choice Awards

If you think the Oscar race for Best Original Song is pointless, wait until you see this column. It won't prove you wrong, but it will prove that the only thing more pointless than the Best Original Song Oscar is complaining about it (no points for pointing out the same about this post).

This MSNBC commentary can be summed up as: The Best Original Song Oscar often doesn't award the songs that are most distinctive or integral to their respective movies, except when they do, and this year the probable winner is kind of okay, so yay, and why am I writing this again?

A very incisive point. The author contents herself that a Shrek 2 victory for "Accidentally in Love" is a pretty decent choice, even though the caption for the Shrek 2 picture acts like it's lame that an animated film will win this award yet again.

Personally, I don't see how a column complaining about this year's Best Original Song choices and whether the songs were intregral to their films can leave out any discussion of Team America, perhaps the only film that actually made the effort to make music an integral part of the movie, but there you go. The woman's a moron. "More like most mediocre," indeed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

...And They're Spectacular

With regard to Herbie: Fully Loaded: Gossip site Defamer spreads the rumor that Lindsay Lohan's breasts are creating a problem.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Stop Saying "Stay Dry"

Okay, I just got emails from two people in a row signing off with "Stay dry." Not to mention the several other people who have said that this week. I know it's raining a lot. Do people always do this when it rains? I never noticed it before, this widespread concern for others' dampness level.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Gunsmith Pussycat

Speaking of Gunsmith Cat Rally Vincent, it looks like someone else has carefully considered the implications of a relationship.

Highlights:

Looks: A genuinely attractive young woman, with her deep brown eyes and coppery skin adding to her appeal (she probably has her fair share of scars, but they are mostly small and 'decorative' so far). Lean and athletic, her figure is complimented by the business-like outfits she prefers when working at either job. Be warned that stress or disfiguring injury may eventually take it√Ęs toll on her appearance if she continues to indulge in her 'hobby'.

Personality: Refreshingly sane. At 19, the _very_ unpleasant aspects of humanity Rally often deals with have not come close to souring her on people in general and she retains a high (sometime foolishly so) reluctance to kill if it is remotely avoidable and will not endanger innocents even if it means her own life. She is fiercely loyal to (and can sometimes prove insufferably overprotective of) those she is close to so expect to be shielded from danger whether or not you think it appropriate. Her only two vices... make that obsessions... are cars and guns, it would be unwise to ask her to part with either for you.

Home Economics: She and Minnie May Hoskins seem to keep the suburban home they share rather well kept (the latter seems to do most of the cooking though). Know that Rally has apparantly learned self reliance at an early age and will not have any tolerance for waiting on you hand and foot. (Warning: the car(s) and arsenal/firing range _will_ be kept spotless, Or Else)

Competition: Not much aside from her jobs and hobbies. There may be something beginning to percolate between her and a detective in the local precinct of the CPD (more on his part than her's), but if you gain her attention it would probably die stillborn as he pines away silently.

Children: Convincing Rally to have children is a potential problem given that she is a confirmed career woman. More importantly, given the nature of her bounty hunting work and antisocial attitudes of her targets she is fairly likely to leave any children she bears orphaned at an early age. It would be best to hold off on procreation until she can be convinced to give up her self-proclaimed 'hobby'.

Sex: Rally has had little if any experience thus far, but would probably a fairly enthusiasic and agressive bedmate once things got going (don't expect her to indulge in the more exotic techniques unless Minnie May has been giving her pointers ;). You may want to note that she's at her most... enthusiastic after an hour or so on the firing range (take this as you will).

Overall: The big problem is her bounty hunting and the number of enemies she leaves alive (people tend to hold grudges when they lose thumbs or hands), and any involvement with her would be very stressful and quite possibly fatal to the relationship (not to mention you) because of this. If you can work past this or convince her to retire you would probably have a blissful life together although it's length may be another thing entirely.


The "return to list" link doesn't work, which is disappointing, because I'd like to see how many other prospects he's evaluated. You can pick out the homepage easily enough, but I can't find the path back to any kind of anime girl list.

Friday, February 18, 2005

D.E.B.S.

Herbie: Fully Loaded director Angela Robinson's debut feature was a film called D.E.B.S., which I think started out as a short and played at some festivals, then got remade as a feature, then sat around not getting a theatrical release for a long time. Somehow, it got Robinson the Herbie gig. Since there's still no Herbie trailer, this can be considered a taste of the director's style. It's not too slick looking, but that might be due to D.E.B.S.'s low budget.

D.E.B.S. is one of those movie concepts that's simultaneously so great and so stupid you can't tell which one it really is. Watch the trailer and you'll see what I mean. It also features Jordana Brewster as the villain. Some may remember that I briefly had a secondhand crush on Jordana Brewster because I thought she would make a good Rally Vincent.

Fit To Be Thai

Ong-Bak is a Thai martial arts movie starring up-and-comer Tony Jaa that is cool enough to make me reconsider my stance on Thai food (not really).

The filmmaking, especially the editing, is kind of creaky and ham-handed, and the dim, moody lighting of many scenes is a bit much, but they mostly don't get in the way of Tony Jaa's impressive moves, which are the whole reason to see this. He's fast, limber, acrobatic and brutal. The violence gets pretty hardcore, even a bit gruesome near the end, but most of the best martial arts movies have to get a little uncomfortable by the final battle--you need to keep upping the level of visceral thrills.

Jaa is touted as being the next Jackie Chan/Jet Li figure (the trailer emphasizes this point too much, at the expense of actual footage) and he's got the skills for it. Now that Chan has gotten to the point where he's started using stuntmen and wires, and even the best of his American movies make it clear he's not as fast as he was at his peak, and Li has succeeded in breaking into mind-bogglingly bad hip-hop crossover movies, Jaa is a welcome addition. His choreography isn't as clever and innovative as Chan's yet, nor as lighthearted, though there is a humorous chase scene where he gets to put his own spin on the comedic side of the genre. But he's speedy and ballsy and pulls off some stuff we've never seen before from Chan or Li.

Yeah, so it's cool.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Go Teabag Douglas Adams Some More You Big Fruit

So the Hitchhiker's Guide trailer is up at Amazon, as I was about to blog before I checked Sarah's blog, expecting that she was the most likely to beat me to this sort of thing. Indeed she was.

I enjoyed the trailer--it has a nice build to it. The Office's likable Martin Freeman draws me in immediately. I like the black text on white intertitles, the way the opening swings from mundane and small to absurd and big. Mos Def does well, and the Guide itself looks cool. Once we get to the wacky stuff, eh, I could take it or leave it, but it's all cut together with so much energy it makes the movie seem really fun.

So, for the movie: Nice cast, as for the rest, who knows? For the trailer: Very slick and well-assembled. As for the book: Fun but overrated (Sacrilege!).

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Japlanning

Stephanie and I are taking our spring break trip to Japan in about a month. Now is the time for the more experienced Japan travelers among you to make your suggestions about what to see.

I'm looking through TimeOut Tokyo right now. Maybe I'm a sucker and these are Japan's answer to lame stuff like Planet Hollywood, but these themed restaurants sound cool:

The Lock-Up: "On arrival at this prison-themed izakaya, you'll be asked if it's your first visit. Just say 'Hai." After this, you will be handcuffed by the waitress and led to your cell... Every hour, the monsters escape from jail to terrorize diners, until they are brought under control by police girls clad in unfeasibly short skirts."

Ninja: "On arrival you are ushered through a series of winding wooden corridors designed to evoke old village Japan by a waiter dressed as a ninja warrior. Thereafter, waiters continue to pop out of unlikely places and sneak up with menus and food. There's also an itinerant magician."

Whatever

Surely if Zack can write posts like this, I can write a four-post epic about Sundance. Plus, I helpfully slowed my rate of posting for the rest of the week to give you time to read it.

In other news, the official Herbie site is up. It's slick, if uninformative. I did notice that Alfred Gough & Miles Millar have been added to the screenwriting credit, which is probably good news. They're among the myriad writers to have worked on Spider-Man 2 and they also did the Shanghai Noon/Knights movies, which I enjoyed, so I trust them to deliver solid crowd-pleasing entertainment.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Alternate Timelines

I haven't read it yet, but I just discovered that BTTF.com has posted Bob Gale's early draft of Back to the Future Part II, which featured a stop in 1967, where Marty deals with hippies and somehow interferes with his parents in a way that endangers his own conception.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Sundance Review: Shorts Program V

(Start with my Sundance Report for some context.)

Victoria Para Chino

A bunch of Mexican immigrants try to cross the border in the back of a truck, which turns into a deadly sweatbox in the stifling heat. They tear holes in the back trying to breathe, but they can’t cry out for help for fear they’ll be discovered and deported, making their sacrifices a waste. At last the truck driver discovers the holes in the trailer and opens the truck. A few flee, but many are dead or unconscious, so he shuts the trailer and abandons it. A sad, but well-told story, based on a true incident.

Swim Test

A fat African-American teen lumbers through his day, dreading his impending swim test, a graduation requirement. The cruel Gym T.A. assumes he won’t take off his shirt because he’s fat, but when he finally relents, get this—it’s actually because his alcoholic dad beats him and his back is covered with scars. One of those boring movies where the trite twist is supposed to make it meaningful.

West Bank Story

A play off West Side Story, set on the Israeli-Palestinian border. An Israeli border patrol soldier and a Palestinian girl fall in love against their families wishes in this musical comedy. Naturally, it opens with finger-snapping. The musical numbers are impressive—there’s strong production value throughout, from the singing, orchestration, and dancing to the production design. The cast is also energetic and appealing.

However, while it’s always fun to watch, the premise gets muddled in the execution. The brilliant title sums it up, the genius combination of West Side Story with the ultimate in feuding sides. However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is further reduced to the microcosm of the lover’s families and their feuding falafel stands near the border. There’s the Jew restaurant and the Arab restaurant, and they fight over things like the placement of the fence in the alley between them, until the Jews decide to build a wall.

The cute Palestinian girl works in the Arab restaurant, wearing one of those humiliating hats-that-look-like-food that seem to only exist at fast-food places in movies. In this case it’s a headband designed like one of those fake arrows-through-the-head that makes her head look like part of a kabob, which would be a funny visual if these food-hats had any basis in reality, or if it weren’t used until all the humor drained out of it. Speaking of headgear, though, she is conveniently free of any kind of Muslim head covering, which is fortunate because otherwise we wouldn’t see her adorable pigtails.

Over at the Jew restaurant, there’s a guy dressed up as a menorah, whom we had actually met in the ticket line that morning. There are plenty of corny jokes in this vein—exaggerated Jew stereotypes and such, softball jokes designed not to overly offend either side. Mostly they fall flat and drag the movie down.

The biggest problem is, when you have such a brilliant premise—the West Bank meets West Side Story—why water it down by adding the dueling restaurants? If you want to do it in metaphor, you could set that story anywhere. A Jew restaurant and an Arab restaurant in LA, fighting over their back fence. That would be a pretty good joke, too. But when you go ahead and actually set it in the West Bank, and then plop a metaphor on top of the real thing, you spoil both. Now the world of the story is surreal and made up, a West Bank where the biggest conflict is between restaurants, a place where everything loses its relevance. I suspect it’s a cop-out—that the story was conceived for the West Bank, but it seemed too dark to create what’s a very light musical comedy, so they dropped in the restaurants to dodge the real issues of violence, terror and death.

But they should have made up their minds. A light comedy about restaurants or a potentially very dark comedy that’s actually set in the West Bank. Either one would be preferable to the muddle we have here. As it is, when a slightly darker joke does pop up, like the scene where the young Israeli soldier waves a threatening masked fellow past the border because he’s distracted by the girl, it’s jarring and ugly because it doesn’t fit the movie.

The film is still watchable thanks to the cast and production value, but it had the potential to be so much better.

The Youth in Us

A guy and a blond girl ride a bike and frolic. Then they’re in bed, and she asks him about his “first time.” He tells a story, which we see in flashback, staged in an intentionally surreal, artificial style.

He’s twelve, and walking through a snowy forest with some girl. They come across some deer, represented by stuffed taxidermy, which is supposed to fit into the “artificial” style but is still kind of laughable, especially when the movie tries to justify it by having the guy talk about how still they were. Turns out there’s a dead deer being eaten alive by insects (which we don’t see). He’s sure the deer want him to help put it out of its misery. So the girl leaves and the kid lifts a big stone over his head and smashes the dying deer’s skull in.

Back to the present, where we pull back and the couple’s bed is surrounded by hospital equipment. Her legs have all these bruises, and she’s apparently very sick. She wasn’t talking about the first time he had sex, we realize, but—get this—the first time he assisted a suicide. So they say their goodbyes and he smashes her head in with a stone. No, not really, but I was kind of hoping for it. Instead he hooks up her IV to the suicide potion and she dies. (Credits list Jack Kevorkian as a consultant.)

So it’s another short where the twist is supposed to make it meaningful. It’s a bit less trite than Swim Test, but still not actually moving. If anything, I think shorts that work like this end up distancing you emotionally by showing off their cleverness.

Pura Lengua (all tongue)

Every stereotype of the awful I’m-a-victimized-lesbian-minority film-festival short you can imagine. A Chicana—sorry, Xicana—lesbian goes to see her girlfriend and learns that the girlfriend has decided to go straight and marry some rich guy. The main lesbian’s friends tell her to forget it, she deserves better. Instead she goes into a store selling the same necklace her girlfriend once gave her, and rails against the white woman behind the counter for selling beads for ten times their worth while raping Xicana culture, or something to the effect that white people shouldn’t sell beads. The white woman tells her to get out and phones the police.

So the main lesbian starts to leave, but unfortunately for her, the police have set a new world record for response time and have arrived in two seconds flat. Rather than pull her back into the store for questioning, or trying to get to the bottom of what was essentially a very minor verbal skirmish, they immediately cuff her and throw her into the car. Apparently they think her necklace was stolen from the store or something, even though they weren’t in the store long enough to make that connection.

Somehow it comes up that she’s a lesbian, so the cops goad her about liking pussy, then take her to the train tracks and beat her. Because that’s what cops do, you see, because life as a Xicana lesbian is so tough, so unfair, with the girlfriends wanting to marry men and the white women selling beads and the senseless police beatings.

Add to this that the acting is terrible, on the level of a 519 short before anyone’s learned how to direct actors from Nina Foch. There’s not a convincing line or line delivery in the whole of the piece. Add to this that the sloppy editing and shot placement repeatedly breaks the 180 rule for no reason other than poor staging. Add to this that the story is bookended by the main character, beaten but resilient, reciting poetry at an open-mic, and you have an idea of what a pointless piece of victimhood filmmaking you have with Pura Lengua. The credits end with an exhortation for oppressed sisters to keep up the fight, or something like that. Yes, girls, keep going to those poetry readings and bead store protests. Don’t let the man get you down.

On the upside, the traitorous girlfriend is attractive, in a geek-glasses purple hair kind of way, and there’s a bathtub scene where you see her boobs.

Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?

A weird but funny little 4-minute short which somehow snagged some name actors. John C. Reilly is a guy in a suit, holding a clipboard full of binder paper as he accosts passersby and asks them if they are the favorite person of anybody.

The first woman (played by the writer of the piece) says yes, her ex-girlfriend. He asks how sure she is, on a five-point scale ranging from Not Sure to Very Sure.

“Very Sure,” she says.

“That’s the highest,” he warns.

She asks to hear them again, then picks the middle level, Think So.

Next, Mike White walks by. He quickly answers that he is not the favorite person of anybody. John C. Reilly recites the scale of certainty, and White quickly answers that he is Very Sure. Reilly offers him some oranges, explaining that he has too many from the tree in his backyard and his wife wants him to get rid of them. White asks if he can take two because his girlfriend will want one.

A third guy refuses to take the survey.

And that’s the end.

Tama Tu

A New Zealand film about World War II soldiers waiting for gunfire to die down while they hide in a wrecked building. They’re Maori soldiers from New Zealand, but that hardly matters. The whole movie, 18 minutes, is about how they entertain themselves and amuse each other without speaking. It’s funny and human, even as they do childish things like play with a found toy soldier, react to a fart, or pour water on a sleeping soldier’s crotch. Simple, well-done, and heartwarming.

There is one slightly cloying moment when their lookout hesitates to shoot a German soldier because he’s petting a cat.

Sundance Review: High School Record

Apparently this had some pre-festival buzz, that it was to be this year’s Napoleon Dynamite. That doesn’t seem to have borne out, but the comparison is apt, because everything Napoleon-haters claim is wrong with Napoleon Dynamite is exactly what is wrong with High School Record.

The characters are not likable, the supposedly droll situations are seldom funny, and there is no story to speak of. A loopy young drama teacher is meant to parody touchy-feely teachers, but her performance is over-the-top and unreal. The drama class, the only class we see, has about seven people in it. The school seems to have maybe ten or twelve students, tops.

The actors playing the students are actually all musicians in LA’s underground rock scene, acting for the first time. Most of them make believable high school students, and some of them turn in convincing performances, but none of their stories amount to anything you’d care about. They seem to perform without makeup, giving the film a “realistic” appearance, at least inasmuch as everyone has bad skin, like in real life.

The “realistic” feel is intentional, since it’s a mockumentary, supposedly a documentary made by one of the students. But while the video quality, shaky camerawork, and bad skin are “real,” many other elements, like the teacher or the empty school, spoil it. It’s meant to be funny in that dry, mockumentary sort of way but it’s too dry. The attempts at comedy veer from trying too hard to imperceptibly subtle. At times, it’s interesting, but the dullness and lack of direction wears on you as time goes on.

Sundance Review: Kung Fu Hustle

If you've seen Stephen Chow's incredible Shaolin Soccer, you'll have an idea what to expect from Kung Fu Hustle. I prefer Shaolin Soccer because it’s a bit more grounded in reality. Again, those of you familiar with Shaolin Soccer will realize that to say that it is “more grounded in reality” than Kung Fu Hustle is really saying something about Kung Fu Hustle.

In KFH, Stephen Chow is a poseur pretending to be part of the fearsome Axe Gang, but he accidentally touches off a fight between the real Axe Gang and a peasant neighborhood that happens to harbor some surprisingly adept kung-fu masters. A series of battles ensues in which the Axe Gang tries to teach the peasants a lesson by bringing in ever-stronger foes.

At one point, there’s a chase that literally resembles a Road Runner cartoon, with spinning legs and whooshing backgrounds, and by then you’re either on board for the lunatic ride or you’re left behind to lament the rest of this bizarre movie.

There’s cruel slapstick, spectacular fight scenes, cartoonish sight gags, gross-outs, and humiliation. There are some jarring shifts in tone, as the film has a surreal style that is occasionally poetic and gorgeous, but is soon broken by another CGI effect that turns the world back into a cartoon.

There are references to and parodies of other films, including American ones. There are fights with hordes of suited gangsters reminiscent of the big fight in Matrix Reloaded. At times the effects here look less fake, at times much more fake, but overall the effects are forgivable because they’re often played for laughs anyway. The film itself is much more fun instead of a ponderous bore, and there is tangible excitement and real energy here, rather than the going-through-the-motions you find in the Matrix sequel.

The rhythm of the story is a little strange, leaving me with one less big fight than I expected, but generally I have no complaints. I got the fun that I came for.

Sundance Report

Last weekend, I was at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. What is an authentic Sundance weekend like? Well, my experience attending the Sundance Film Festival consisted of the following:

1. A Long Car Ride. A group of fellow writing students and myself rented a pair of minivans and traveled to Utah via road trip. One of the vans (the one I rode in) happened to have a DVD player. This was the first time I have been privy to the in-car DVD experience, in which you can shut out all the annoyance of taking in your surroundings, like The Road or The Majestic American Landscape, and simply focus on watching the entire first season of Arrested Development in one stretch (we made the drive up with three episodes to spare; however, we didn’t start until we were two-thirds of the way to Vegas). Meanwhile, the driver gets the pleasure of simply listening to the show, secure in the knowledge that his passengers are well-entertained and will not need to speak to him. Also viewed on the trip (including return drive): The Iron Giant, The Office (season 2) and the first ten minutes of Ghostbusters. As great as it is, I plan to never allow my children the pleasure of in-car entertainment on long road trips. Boredom builds character. Maybe when they’re twenty-four and on their own they can have it, but not before. They have to earn it. If they grow up with it they’ll never appreciate it. A quick list of the things my children will not be allowed to have: 1) In-car DVD viewing, 2) Motorized scooters, 3) Fun.

2. An Automatic Sliding Door. Our minivan, a Buick something-or-other, had two sliding doors, but only the one on the passenger side was automatic. To open, tug the handle, then let go and get out of the way. To close, do the same, or press the handy button. If you try to pull the door all the way, it will rebel, and you will be frustrated. It took plenty of figuring out, and plenty more explanation every time someone unfamiliar with the van used it for the first time.

3. A $10 Cover. After checking in to our accommodations, the first stop was a bar on Main Street where other USC people had supposedly gathered for a mixer. By the time we were there, they were gone. The bar was okay anyway, and included such amenities as:

4. Free Converse Jack Purcell Sneakers. For no apparent reason, people were giving away free Jack Purcells. You would walk up and they’d call out sizes, and you’d say, “That’s me,” and they’d hand you a pair of shoes. Unfortunately, the laces on my shoes were cut, so I had to tie them together, and they’re all frayed there. But once I get new laces, they’ll look great. My Chuck Taylors were dirty and worn out anyway. Okay, so they’re not really free, since I paid $10 to get in, but they did help me feel better about the charge. The bar also had:

5. A performance by the band …And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, or something like that. People seemed to think they were pretty good. They had two drummers drumming the same routine in sync, which was an interesting gimmick. Fellow USC student Robbie Pickering and I tried air-drumming in sync, but I kept screwing it up and a couple of tall blonde guys in gray sweaters started staring at us and muttering to each other, and Robbie became convinced they wanted to kick our scrawny asses. As the bar shut down and people prepared to leave, there was also:

6. Some Hot Girl with a Low-Cut Shirt and Her Less-Hot-But-Okay-Looking Friends, who were goofing around and grabbing each others’ breasts and shoving their faces in each others’ breasts. Ha ha ha. So silly and playful. It would have been rude to stare except that we were pretty sure this was not actually happening.

7. A Missed Showing of Who Killed Cock Robin? Don’t ask me what the movie was about. We bought tickets for it because by the time our advance ticket-buying window came along, most every show was sold out. So we tried to get as many shows as we could, and there were still tickets for a Friday showing of Cock Robin, so why not? Here’s the stupid part. None of us had printed out a list of when all our shows were prior to leaving for the festival. I can’t pass the blame for this, because as one of the designated ticket-buyers, it would have really made sense for me to be the one to do that. Anyway, Thursday night, after driving all day and getting home late after the bar, we realized that we probably had a show to see Friday morning, which would mean we’d have to get up in about three hours. Three hours later, I woke up and conferred with some of the others, and the verdict was Fuck It. No one cared about Cock Robin more than sleep at that moment. Later on, after we picked up the tickets at Will Call, we realized that the showing had been at noon, and had we known that, it was entirely within the realm of possibility that we could have gotten out of bed and to the theater in time.

8. A debate on the merits of Freddy Got Fingered. Over brunch at a restaurant on Main Street, Robbie and I defended Tom Green’s intentionally repulsive comedy Freddy Got Fingered as a successful prank on its audience, arguing for the nobility of Tom Green martyring his own career for the sake of a joke almost no one got. Paul argued that this was elitist comedy, and that a true comedian should want to entertain his audience, not alienate them for the fun of the privileged few who “get it.”

9. A Wait List Line. To see a show at Sundance that you did not get advance tickets to, you come an hour before the show and get a number. Then you come back a half hour before the show and you wait. After the ticketholders go in, they see how many waitlist tickets they can sell. If you’re unlucky, you stand in line for an hour and change, then leave and have the fun of:

10. Finding That Your Van Has Been Towed, because Albertson’s doesn’t take kindly to people using their lot for Sundance parking, and when they post signs warning of a one-hour limit, it turns out they really mean it.

11. A One-Hour Drive To Ogden. Sundance is actually spread out among several cities. While its heart is in Park City, screenings also occur in Salt Lake and Ogden. On the upside, this inconvenience is probably the main reason I was able to get tickets to Kung Fu Hustle. On the downside, the trip was made more difficult by the lack of directions to the theater anywhere in Sundance festival brochures. We set out on a wing and a prayer, hoping that a festival worker’s suggestion to “drive to Ogden and ask for directions” would bear fruit. I drove, and while the others watched the last three episodes of Arrested Development, I frantically tried to figure out which exits led to Ogden, weaving through deserted industrial areas while Derek called 411, then repeatedly called the theater for clarification on their vague directions. We managed to get there just in time.

12. Kung Fu Hustle. See reviews.

13. An Impromptu Party. The condo contracts specifically disallowed so-called “parties,” and in fact even disallowed the presence of more than eight individuals at a time. This was ignored, as people gathered at one of the condos, which shall go unnamed. No one went to any industry parties, if there were any on the dead second weekend, but who needs them anyway when you’ve got a fridge full of Budweiser and Miller Lite?

14. An Inadvertent Slight Against a Starkie. A producing student at the party met us writers and asked what we write about, expressing interest in reading our scripts. I responded that I exclusively write movies about screenwriters trying to get their scripts read, adding that I had based a character on him—a producing student who wanted to read my main character’s script. Robbie chimed in that he wrote about “ovens,” taking his cue from the nearby oven in the kitchen where we were talking. Later, I apparently referred someone else to the Starkie, telling them that he would surely “get their script made.” People told me that this may have come off as insulting.

15. A Fight Over the Van Keys. I guess “drunk driving” is “too dangerous,” according to “Kristen Davis.”

16. A Hangover. Just kidding. I don’t get hangovers. Hangovers are for losers. But Paul and I did have to get up super-early to cash in our vouchers for movie tickets. You see, we discovered the previous day that we had tickets to a show in Salt Lake, and we didn’t want to drive out of town two nights in a row, so we traded them in for vouchers we could use on the extra tickets released early each morning. With the help of Jennifer Needleman, who had gotten up extra-super-early, we snagged some tickets for High School Record and also helped a couple of fellow USC folks get their Kung Fu Hustle on.

17. Shorts Program V. See reviews.

18. High School Record. See reviews.

19. A Less Impromptu Party. The third night’s party was more planned, but seemed to be a dud at first, with only a dozen first-year writing students gathered in a circle playing Asshole. Robbie quickly rose to President, and a round later I won the Vice-Presidency, and there we stayed until other people showed up and the game broke down by Robbie’s third term.

20. Breakfast From 7-Eleven. Nothing fuels you for a long drive back better than some kind of mysterious taquito roll.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Songs That Were Funny When I Was a Kid, Part II: On Top of Old Smokey

I still don't know the real lyrics to "On Top of Old Smokey." I only know the elementary school playground variants.

There's this one, a mischievous yet essentially benign classic for generations:

On top of old smokey
All covered with sand
I shot my poor teacher
With a red rubber band

I shot her with glory
I shot her with pride
Oh how could I miss her
She's forty feet wide


Tempered with a bit of self-effacement (assuming the second verse laments the narrator's having missed her, rather than a rhetorical flourish emphasizing how easy it was to hit her), the humor here goes no farther than a cruel but obviously exaggerated fat joke. But honestly, I think I learned this one from reading Russell Baker's memoir, Growing Up. This rubber band stuff was in vogue in like the thirties or something.

By the eighties, the rhymes I was actually learning on the playground were, shall we say, a tad grittier:

On top of old smokey
All covered with blood
I shot my poor teacher
With a .44 slug

I went to her funeral
I spit on her grave
Everybody threw flowers
I threw a grenade

It blew up the city
It blew up the town
It blew my poor teacher
Right out of the ground

I read in the paper
She wasn't quite dead
So I took my bazooka
And blew off her head


Who knows, perhaps it was informed by the Rambo ethos of the time period. Who says violence is bad for kids? This was one of the funniest things I'd ever heard in fourth grade or so. But looking back, I have to admit it does seem a little on the excessive side.

Songs That Were Funny When I Was a Kid, Part I

In sixth grade our music teacher Mr. Aubel taught us this song, which seemed very risky and transgressive for something you hear in school. The fact that it was still from a teacher should have taught me that it wasn't as cool as I thought it was, but I still sung it enough times to remember all the lyrics thirteen years later.

(Sung to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen")

The restroom door said gentlemen so I just walked inside
As soon as I walked in there I'd been taken for a ride
I heard high voices turned and saw the place was occupied
By two nuns, three old ladies and a nurse
What could be worse
Than two nuns, three old ladies and a nurse?

The restroom door said gentlemen it must have been a gag
As soon as I walked in there I ran into some old hag
She sprayed me with a can of mace and slapped me with her bag
I could tell it just wouldn't be my day
What can I say?
It just wasn't turning out to be my day

The restroom door said gentlemen and I would like to find
The crummy little creep who had the nerve to switch the sign
'Cause I've got two black eyes and a high heel up my behind
Now I can't sit with comfort and joy
Boy oh boy
Now I'll never sit with comfort and joy


Thirteen years. I've just made myself feel sad and old.

Finally

Some of you may remember getting riled up on my behalf after I mentioned this in an email back in September:

Excerpts from September email:

Stephanie got an unfair parking ticket nearly a year ago, wherein her car was ticketed and towed for being parked in a temporary no-parking zone that lacked a temporary no-parking sign. Even after the car was towed, there was no sign and I took pictures. Signs were eventually put up three days later.

She had to pay the ticket and towing and impound charges. For the ticket, we sent a letter with evidence, appealed, were denied, demanded a live hearing, went to the hearing, and though the woman seemed hostile, she decided in our favor and refunded the ticket money. The whole process took 7 or 8 months.

As for the towing and impound charges, which make up the bulk of the money taken from us, we went to a hearing, showed our evidence, got denied, sent an appeal to the city attorney, and were denied. We have a letter now that says we have 30 days (I don't know how many are left now) to do whatever the next step is, but at this point all the standard avenues of appeal have run out.

I might as well also add that at our hearing for the towing and impound charges, the ticketing officer (seemingly just a parking enforcement officer, not a real cop) showed up and told baldfaced lies about how there were signs when he was there. This could only have been true if construction crews were in the habit of posting signs, then removing them while construction was still in progress even though they were not in the way. Yet when it came down to his word against my
(admittedly digital) photos, we lost.

Anyway, after that hearing, we appealed to the city attorney, and eventually received this letter, which says:

"...After reviewing the circumstances of the claim and the applicable law, it has been determined that the claim should be denied.

This letter represents a formal notice to you that said claim has been denied. In view of this action, we are required by law to give you the following warning:

WARNING
Subject to certain exceptions, you have only six (6) months from the date this notice was [mailed] (8-24-04) to file a court action alleging state causes of action. The time within which federal causes of action must be filed is governed by federal statutes.

You may seek the advice of an attorney of your choice in connection with this matter. If you desire to consult an attorney, you should do so immediately."


Now, it says we have six months, but this ticket seriously happened almost a year ago. Like October or November. This is how long it takes for these things to process in LA. So getting an attorney to get in touch with them might actually take all six months, I guess.

But this no-sign ticket is intolerable. There was literally no way to comply with a sign that didn't exist. It would be wrong not to fight this to the end.

Is this letter basically saying that there's nothing else we can do without hiring an attorney over a matter of $160? Those fuckers.

The News:

First of all, thanks to Matt for his completely informal advice from a non-legal non-professional. After putting it off for several months, in January we finally contacted the city attorney's office to inquire about taking our case to small claims court. One morning, a few days after Stephanie sent her email about it, we got a phone call from the city attorney's office stating that they had decided to pay our claim. It took a bit of hassle for Stephanie to get in touch with the people who would make the payment, as they claimed at first not to know what she was talking about, but eventually the matter got straightened out, and yesterday Stephanie received her check for $160.

Finally, we had managed to get to a level where it was not worth the city's time and expense to cling to the $160, as opposed to all the previous levels of appeal, in which it really wasn't worth our time to try and get the money back. But we stuck it out, because going through all this trouble was never about the money, it was about justice, and our being punished unfairly. Granted, we will never get back the time and effort we spent fighting this thing, but we have won a symbolic moral victory. The city was wrong, and it finally backed down, even if it took a year and three months of appeals.

A year and three months to win back a $160 towing charge. Insanity.