Wednesday, August 31, 2005

No More Rooms

There's a little cafe on Westwood called Rooms that I've been meaning to check out for ages. It's tucked away in a little corner and it's got these cool sloped windows in front.

I finally went there today to write and it's really cool. All different mixed-up kinds of old furniture and plenty of electric outlets and tons of atmosphere and character and today was the last day they're open. After today it's closing and moving somewhere else. The young Japanese woman who runs it hasn't decided where yet, but wherever it will be can't possibly be as cool as the location where it is now.

I'm glad I got a chance to see it before it was too late, but it's still totally lame that they're moving. Maybe it's better that I never got too attached.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Sarah Has That T-Shirt

Batjew has a cameo in Scary Go Round today.

Takedown

I picked up a used copy of Burnout 3: Takedown a couple months ago. Turns out I got it just in time for pre-orders for the next Burnout game (which finally graduates the series sequels from numbering to simple subtitles) to roll around, but oh well. The first Burnout was overpraised and actually pretty dull when I rented it, but the series has improved a lot and realized its potential. This may have happened by Burnout 2, I don't really know.

Anyway, now instead of having spectacular crashes that get in the way of racing, the crashes have been integrated into the gameplay in a way that makes sense. Driving dangerously fills your boost meter (and the game is a bit more forgiving when it comes to near-misses, making that easier to pull off), causing opponents to crash fills your boost and increases its capacity, and crashing your own car loses you boost, unless you maneuver your car in slow motion into another car and cause it to crash even as you are crashing.

And the races are pretty much impossible to win without using boost over half the time, which forces you to do all of the above things. The crashes are less obtrusive and don't stop the gameplay cold. The music is licensed pop-punk stuff that ranges from excellent (Go Betty Go, and, um, The Ramones) to mediocre (I don't know who; come on, I said they were mediocre).

There is also a crash mode that is fun except for the long load times and moral queasiness. They are brief levels in which you are pointed at a busy intersection, where you must cause the biggest pile-up accident you can. If you meet the minimum quota of cars smashed, you get to detonate the Crashbreaker, which blows up your car and sends everything flying, hopefully to create more wreckage. Then the game tallies up your damage (in dollars, which seem rather arbitrary and not actually in the league of how much your damage would cost to fix--for instance, a totaled car is one or two thousand dollars). If you picked up some power-ups it can add to or multiply your score.

The Crash levels are very short, which means that you have to sit through a lot of load screens per less-than-one-minute of gameplay. But the weirdest thing about it is that, even though the game is not meant to be taken realistically at all, you can't help but impose a narrative on it. And the only thing that makes sense is that you're engaging in some kind of vehicular terrorism. The drive to create the biggest pile-up possible feels a bit sadistic, and the fact that you cap it off by blowing up your car, well--draw your own conclusions. Did you conclude that you feel like a suicide bomber? Okay, then. Maybe the game should calculate your score in terms of casualties and fatalities. It would almost make more sense, carrying this ghoulish bloodlust to its logical end.

But, once you get past that, yeah, it's pretty fun.

No One Cares, Kenny

I've recently become aware that Initial D has been made into a live-action movie. The movie is a Chinese movie, actually, with Hong Kong actors playing Japanese, because it's still set in Japan and filmed on location at Mt. Akina in Japan. But they speak Cantonese. It's one thing to hear the wrong language when it's English, or to have a pan-Asian cast for Memoirs of a Geisha or whatever, when you know it's just Americans bastardizing everything again, but here the Asians are just mixing it all up on their own.

I've ordered it already. It condenses an enormous chunk of the storyline into a single movie, which, considering the glacial pace of the anime/manga, sounds just about right.

Also, Undeclared is out on DVD, and worth getting, even though I can't link to it because Amazon.com won't load right now.

I was going to say something else, but I forgot what.

Oh, yeah!

Scary Go Round is switching from Illustrator-drawn strips to hand-drawn strips for the time being.

Only the fact that everybody reads Boing Boing has kept me from blogging about the Super Mario Bros. Super Show episode that I watched today on Yahooligans.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Strategic Freeway Locations

I bought the Mitch Hedberg CD "Strategic Grill Locations" after reading an Entertainment Weekly article right after he died. I'd remembered possibly seeing him once on Comedy Central and thinking he was pretty good.

I left my backpack at a friend's house in Los Feliz last night and I had to go get it, which sucks because Los Feliz is far from every place. To get there from Westwood, I have to either take the 10 to the Vermont exit and drive up Vermont forever, stuck in surface street traffic, or take the 10 to the 110 to the 101, which is like going in a semicircle, overshooting Vermont, going north and doubling back, then getting off the freeway and still sitting on Vermont for a while. It takes 45 minutes or so.

On the way back I decided to take the 101 North into the valley and drop back down on the 405 South. This is technically a greater distance, I think, but it went very smoothly until I came downhill into LA on the 405, just before Sunset, at which point the traffic slowed to its usual crawl and ate up all the time I'd saved.

I was listening to the Mitch Hedberg CD almost the whole time, and the funny thing is I remember where I was during every track:

1. The CD Jokes - Pulling out of my driveway
2. Koalas - Driving down Overland
3. Highlights - Pulling up near the 10 freeway entrance
4. You Were Good - Getting on the 10 freeway entrance ramp
5. Shaving Too - On the 10
6. Minibar - On the 10
7. Beret and Pancakes - Approaching the 10 to 110 N interchange
9 [sic]. Dry Clean Only - Merging onto the 110 N
10. Gambling - On the 110 N
11. My Necklace - On the 110 N
12. Acting - On the interchange to the 101 N
13. Lynn - On the 101 N
14. Tomatoes - On the 101 N exit ramp to Vermont
15. Six People Isn't Convincing - Going north on Vermont
16. Cookies - Going north on Vermont / Arriving at destination
17. Oatmeal - Leaving destination, beginning return trip
18. Smackie The Frog - Getting on the 101 N
19. Frogs and Bears - On the 101 N through the hills
20. Fire Exit - On the 101 N
21. The Dufrenes - On the 101 N
1. The CD Jokes - On the 101 to 405 interchange
2. Koalas - On the 405
3. Highlights - On the 405
4. You Were Good - On the 405
5. Shaving Too - On the 405
6. Minibar - On the 405
7. Beret and Pancakes - On the 405
Switched to radio - Rest of the way home

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Gator Aid

The Daily Breeze offers local idiots and half-wits a chance to weigh in on how to catch the alligator that's been running wild (minding its own business).

There's about a thousand Crocodile Hunter jokes, naturally, along with a few impressively detailed plans:

Maybe you could locate those gators at night and therefore maybe night-hunt them with two or three men and you've gotta use a wood boat, preferably flat bottom wooden boat with wooden oars. Can't have no metal sound and one man oars while the other two maybe stand with high beam head lamps like those miner's lamps. You should look maybe at the farthest distance from human sounds. Gators are maybe at the water's edges and the reeds. You can see their eyes. I think they look like little red dots and you need a self-tightening rope at the end of a fiberglass pole to get around the gator's leg or top jaw of his mouth and you gotta half-hitch his nose and control that tail. You cannot hit metal against metal, it's gotta be wood. Otherwise, maybe you could just leave the gators in there for duck control. Florida and the whole Gulf area lives with gators. I don't know why California can't live with them.

BRAXTON DENNIS, CARSON


The best, though:

How about praying about it? God knows how to capture that animal and we need prayers and wisdom. So, my answer is, let's pray.

MICHELLE MILLER, PALOS VERDES ESTATES


Listen, lady, God knows a lot of things, but that doesn't mean he sits around waiting to catch gators for us. You can go ahead and pray, but it probably shouldn't be our entire solution.

Ever hear of God helping those who help themselves? Just because you get hungry every morning doesn't mean you ask Him to make you an omelet.

"Dear God, today I would like it with ham and cheese. Please do not make it so runny like yesterday. I know you could make it nice and fluffy if you try. Amen."

She must be a Christian Scientist.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The 40-Year-Old Virgin is really funny. I laughed out loud more than I have at any movie in a long time. The packed crowd (in a late show on a Monday night) roaring along with me probably helped too, but I saw Wedding Crashers in a similar setting and didn’t laugh nearly as much.

They should show Wedding Crashers and Virgin side-by-side in screenwriting classes. Besides the fact that Virgin is actually raunchier, and genuinely funnier, a crucial difference is that it has genuine heart, whereas the heart in Wedding Crashers feels as tacked-on as the fake Purple Hearts the guys use to score free drinks. Screenwriting classes are always trying to drill in how good movies come from starting with a character, being true to a character, and caring about a character. The difference between these two movies demonstrates exactly why this is important. The strength of the characters is why Virgin remains enjoyable throughout its bloated, nearly two-hour running time, while Wedding Crashers starts to wear on you.

There’s also the problem that Wedding Crashers is predicated on a couple of guys who, while charismatic, would seem like awful people if the story didn’t go soft on them really early, which it does. Meanwhile, the title character in Virgin is so innocent, the movie can continue to pile on the raunchiness without turning ugly. But we’ll put that aside for now. The point is, in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the audience cares about Steve Carell’s Andy Stitzer character. In Wedding Crashers, we pretty much only care about the characters because we like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, not because we care about the guys they’re playing. In Virgin, when something bad happens to Andy, there are not just laughs, but gasps and sympathetic awws. The audience laughs the first time it sees his enormous collection of action figures, but by the second half of the film, the audience gasps along with him when the figures’ precious original packaging is threatened.

Of course there are laughs at the expense of Andy’s virginity and nerdiness, but there just as many laughs at the expense of his sexually active friends, or the crazy women he dates, all of whom have as many issues as he does, if not more. And the laughs at Andy’s expense never feel like cheap shots—they’re truthful and carefully observed. (The one exception is a scene where Andy’s exaggerated confusion over how to use a condom seriously strains credibility, but I can forgive it.) One reviewer was surprised that there are no Star Trek jokes, but I think that’s emblematic of Judd Apatow and Steve Carell’s respect for the character. A Star Trek joke is a cheap joke and an easy joke. But not all geeks are into Star Trek, and Apatow knows that. Andy Stitzer is not a Trek geek, and it makes sense that he isn’t.

One of the first shots of the movie shows Andy asleep in his bedroom, with a prominently displayed poster for Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie on the wall. Not just MST3K, but the movie, which somehow feels even more brilliantly obscure. Later, out of focus in the background, you can just make out a Back to the Future poster. This is a geek’s room as conceived by people who were/are real geeks and have an affection for geek obsessions even as they play them for laughs. We can laugh at Andy and care about him at the same time because he’s real, not a caricature.

He is also a character for whom finding a willing woman is ultimately not the biggest obstacle to having sex. Apatow and Carell have found a clever balance with a character who is neither the horny but disgusting guy who could never get a girl nor a sanctimonious type. He has tried to have sex and has come close, yet, after some early disasters, has chosen not to make further attempts. As in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Apatow recognizes that males can experience sexual anxiety too. Sex can be scary for some guys, and not all guys automatically jump at the chance to bed any girl who’s available.

The supporting cast is excellent. Some reviews have criticized the scenes of guys trading “homophobic” wisecracks like “Know how I know you’re gay? You like Coldplay.” (This particular line is a wonderfully gratuitous slam that reduces the audience’s Coldplay fans to insulted silence.) But it’s harmless and without actual hostility, and it captures casual straight-guy banter perfectly. I continue to envy young Seth Rogen of Freak and Geeks and Undeclared, and the promising writing/acting career he’s got between his collaborations with Apatow and his memorable role here. Surely he’s only a step away from being one of those guys who makes cameos in every movie. Carell gives his most appealing, nuanced performance yet as Andy. He’s likable and surprisingly relatable, and his characterization gives this very funny movie its surprising resonance.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Through A Glass Sharply


Stephanie gots the vision problems. She has started to feel the effects of mild nearsightedness and has joined the ranks of part-time glasses wearers. She just got her new glasses today and they are quite cute. Posted by Picasa

Strappling Hook


Speaking of made-up combined fruits, we gave this Juicy Fruit spinoff a try. I have doubts as to whether these pieces are really "bigger" than a stick of gum, but fine. I used to like Juicy Fruit when I was younger, but the biggest weakness was that the flavor died faster than that of any other Wrigley gum, and the flavorless mass that remained was even less flavorful than other flavorless gum masses.

Juicy Fruit Strappleberry continues the tradition. The initial flavor is pretty decent. But when it goes, watch out--I've never had gum that went bad like this stuff--it flat-out turns on you. Not only is the strappleberry flavor gone, the gum turns actively bad--it becomes sticky. Yes, I know, gum is sticky, but the one thing it's not supposed to stick to is the inside of your mouth. You know, like your teeth? Absolutely disgusting. It happens suddenly, and then you can't find a trash can fast enough. Posted by Picasa

Grappling Hook


These are gone now, but before they went away I got a picture. On the last day, before we threw them out, Stephanie cut one up and I dared to try it.

It tasted like apples.

 Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Aw Yeah

What's the number one Google result for "cat pun"?

You're there, dude.

Crash Into Me

Wedding Crashers is not the most hilarious thing ever, but it's enjoyable, if overlong. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn have excellent chemistry and play off each other well, resulting in a comic duo stronger than either one opposite Ben Stiller. Unlike Stiller, who often feels like he's hogging any scene he's in, Vaughn and Wilson share scenes with easygoing teamwork. In the end Vaughn comes out as the funnier of the pair, but he's written that way.

The third act/second half of the movie is where it starts to feel long. There's a weird anomaly at work here where the movie is both utterly predictable and unpredictable at the same time. That is, having crossed the romantic comedy checkpoint where the Lie is Exposed and the Girl is Pissed Off, we know we're headed toward a climax where a Wedding is Interrupted, there's a Heartfelt Speech, and a Happy Ending. But the route we take to get there is bizarre and unexpected, and not entirely in a good way.

It's like instead of taking the freeway to its destination, the movie gets off at a different exit and winds through some wilderness backroads on a long and confusing path. Yes, it's interesting and unpredictable, but you can't see the road signs and you don't know how many miles are left to go and you worry about whether the driver will ever get where you're going.

Once you're in the home stretch you start to have a feeling for being close to the end, and when a movie violates that feeling you get restless.

The movie is funny, though seldom really funny, and the guys are likable if you like those guys. Some threads, like the lustful mother, are set up effortfully and then suddenly abandoned. The boyfriend from whom the girl must be stolen is a ridiculously over-the-top asshole.

Also, I saw it like two weeks ago and didn't bother to write about it until now, so if that says anything, take that into account too. Perhaps not seeing a movie until everyone else has already anointed it hilarious hurts things too.

Speaking of overrated things with "crash" in the title, Crash is surprisingly good but also heavy-handed, phony, and emotionally manipulative, which people overlook because seeing a movie that Addresses Racism makes them feel so good about themselves that they want to love it anyway. On the upside, all the characters surprise you by having a good side and a bad side and the movie mostly avoids making pat judgements about them.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

2046

The thing about Wong Kar Wai is that you’re never sure if he’s just putting one over on you. He straddles the line between dreamy and brilliant and completely pointless. One moment you’re dazzled, the next, you’re wondering, wait a minute, am I bored and afraid to admit it? Wong’s latest, 2046, continues the story of the heartbroken Tony Leung character from In the Mood for Love as he doggedly persists in keeping his relationships as shallow sexual dalliances.

2046 is more visually interesting than In the Mood For Love and less tedious. Incoherent scenes from Leung’s science fiction story “2046” liven things up with some weird future-costumes and jarring LG product placement. Product placement in an art movie is weird enough, but LG? Yep, everything in the future is made by them, even if you’re writing your science fiction stories in 1966, before the company existed. Also, here we get cute Faye Wong and hot Zhang Ziyi instead of just Maggie Cheung. There is still a lot of song repetition but it is not as maddening as Mood.

However, the story is less focused and probably less moving. Because there is so little story, it’s awfully hard to tell where the story is going, and therefore, when it’s going to end. You start questioning how much time has gone by. As one woman leaves his life, and things take on an air of finality, you think, surely two hours have passed. You wait for the ending only to discover there’s half an hour left. Nothing really gets resolved, so you could pretty much end almost anywhere in the second hour if you really want to.

2046 is shot by longtime Wong Kar Wai cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who always does excellent work, yet bores me more and more. In this, Mood, and the slightly Wong-Kar-Wai-like yet infinitely more boring Millenium Mambo, Doyle works more and more with a fixed camera and long lenses that flatten the depth of the picture. It makes for lovely compositions but kills any sense of space. Perhaps this is intended, but after awhile it becomes claustrophobic.

I much preferred the Christopher Doyle of Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, with the frantic handheld camera and wide-angle lens. It was rough and messy and relentlessly exciting, full of crashing swooping energy, so that when a scene snapped into stillness and slow motion, it meant something.

For that matter, I liked the Wong Kar Wai of those movies better too. The films were just as dreamy and lonely and sad, but they didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously. The characters were full of bizarre quirks that made sense only because they proclaimed them so matter-of-factly. They were quietly hilarious even as they were desperate and tragic. In Mood and 2046, that goofy sense of fun is practically gone (though, of the two, it's slightly more evident in 2046).

The cinematography and the pacing seem to have grown increasingly mannered. Another word might be monotonous.

Too bad. Those are the only four Wong Kar Wai movies I’ve seen, but I’m aware that Chungking and Angels are anomalies in his canon. They were shot as companion pieces, on comparatively rushed schedules, as a way of recuperating from a more arduous epic film. Perhaps Wong Kar-Wai’s more laborious efforts have always been more languid and less fun.

Compared to your average movie, 2046 is still beautiful and special. But does it have to feel like so much work?

Positive Notices

A gaming site called Netjak offers a very complimentary review of MAD's "50 Worst Things About Video Games."

While the premier satire rag in America might be showing its age, it can still pull a fastball on occasion. Their “50 Worst Things About Video Games” piece, though, nails it. I mean, absolutely floors it...

I’ll give Mad Magazine full credit, too, because they took shots at every genre and knew what they were talking about. They mocked everything from sequelitis, at least four different issues with role-playing games, three different ones from sports games, two different rhythm game jokes (managing to incorporate a William Hung joke into an aside about Dance Dance Revolution was particularly classic), and a joke about trying to get NES carts to work by blowing in them for the really old-school. If you have ever read Netjak (or any other review site) for the bitter comments about stupid facets of games, or editorials about idiotic gaming tropes, you owe it to yourself to pick up this issue (#457, September 2005), which is worth it for the article about video gaming alone.


Awesome!

Better Late Than Never

I think The 40-Year-Old-Virgin looks pretty funny. Stephanie is interested in it, too. We will probably go see it the next time Stephanie has a day off. I'm guessing Cynthia's not interested?

I think the poster is pretty funny, too. And I even like the colors. I can't see having a problem with it unless you have to explain it to a child or are concerned about other people who have to explain it to a child. As for me, I think I'll save myself a lot of stress and preserve my youthful outlook by ignoring parental concerns until they affect me personally.

Actually, I remember asking my dad what a "virgin" was during an episode of Herman's Head. I wish I remember what his explanation was, because it was perfect--utterly vague yet perfectly satisfactory.

I don't understand why Cynthia is upset by 40-year-old virgins but also upset by the idea that they would be made fun of. How is a movie about a virgin any different than a movie about sex? Yes, it's uncomfortable when strangers talk about sex, but this isn't strangers, it's a movie. Movies are often about sex and it hasn't bothered her before. Is is just the title?

I can't be sure because I haven't seen it either, but from the looks of it, what makes it appealing is that while Carell's virginity is treated humorously, it's also taken seriously. Contrary to Cynthia's hypothetical and rather cruel titles (Lame Guy, Loser, and Freakshow), the film seems to treat Carell's character with respect. He's an otherwise regular, likable guy who somehow never ended up having sex. And despite the pressure his friends put on him, he's got his own priorities, as suggested by the Catherine Keener romance (admittedly downplayed in the most recent trailer, since it's the sexy young things that sell).

It's not in the trailer anymore, but the scene in which Paul Rudd embarrasses Carell with a "big box full of porn" is funny too, in the way it truthfully captures the way guys will mess with each other.

The movie is co-written and directed by Judd Apatow of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, both of which maintained an excellent balance of comedy and truth, and both of which had a great deal of respect for all of its characters and delicately handled issues of sexual naivete. From what I've read, this movie is much raunchier, but preserves that spirit.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Home Version

Pocari Sweat is a Japanese drink that is pretty well known for its slightly distressing name. Basically it's Gatorade with a mildly sweet, indistinct flavor. I came to enjoy it on hot days, partly due to the flavor, partly due to the psychological value of imagining my precious electrolytes being quickly replenished, and partly because it was fun to drink something with "sweat" in the name. Eventually, I got so used to it, it now takes effort to think of the name as something funny.

Some people seem to think it tastes terrible. Maybe my enjoyment is a little kid thing, like when you think it's hilarious to enjoy something other people find disgusting.

We bought a box of powdered Pocari Sweat at a store in Hiroshima, and I mixed a pitcher of it for the first time today. The mixing ratio was all guesswork, obviously, and I think I ended up with watered-down Pocari. I'll know better next time.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

We're All Very Impressed

From Ebert's Movie Answer Man column a few weeks ago:

Q. The animated feature "Madagascar" has two illogical scenes where the male lion gets kicked from the front between his back legs and doubles over like a man kicked in the testicles.

Problem: A male lion, like all cats, has his testicles located on his back side, and there is no way they could be kicked by standing in front of the lion, who is "rampant" on his hind legs. I suspect that you noticed this error, but were too politically correct, or lacked the cojones, to point this out in your review of the movie.

Michael L. Stoianoff, Anchorage, Ala.


Good for you for knowing about lions. Did you know: they also don't talk. It's a cartoon. Don't be a shithead.

Ebert, ever the gentleman, accentuates the postive:

A. Just ignorance on my part, actually. This info could be a life-saver.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Out-Of-State Plates

Picked up the Fountains of Wayne odds 'n sods CD, Out-of-State Plates. It's quite good. Much better than my previous foray into B-side compilations, Green Day's mediocre Shenanigans. Two CDs, and both very solid and listenable. You can play right through it without skipping tracks, just like a real album. Two real albums, even.

Disc Two seems to have most of the cover songs on it. There's a quirky cover of "...Baby One More Time," which is fun but sadly not as fun as the Britney Spears version, mainly because they ditch the backup vocal bits ("I must confess/I still believe (I still believe)").

The highlight of the set is "California Sex Lawyer," whose lyrics thankfully do nothing to explain what that means. According to the liner notes: "Our attorney Josh Grier works at a big fancy law firm with a big fancy waiting room. One day we were sitting there waiting, and there was a magazine called California Lawyer on the coffee table facing us. Chris said, apropos of nothing, "California sex lawyer." Perhaps it was only because we were sitting in a quiet office, but at the time it seemed like the funniest thing in the world. Why it needed to be turned into a song, I'm still not sure."

This song should be Matt's new anthem.

Friday, August 12, 2005

I Am Making Another Burger

It is sizzling in the pan at this very moment.

And I am pretty sure the toaster is fixing to burst into flame on a day in the near future. I turned down the heat this time and watched as a steady stream of smoke wafted from the top of the toaster. I waited a bit and finally popped the bun out without waiting for the toaster to finish. Already the bun was burning hot, even though I licked my fingertips before touching it.

Yes, it is going to be like one of those toasters in movies that belches fire as the character who is bad at cooking (me) flails about incompetently, trying to keep the house from burning down.

I just interrupted my post to go serve up the burger. It is ready. The bun is a little burnt--I think the smoke may have had something to do with the top bun being too big and touching the edges, but I think it also has to do with the toaster heating wheat products to the flash point of matter.

Fightin' The System

The girl in the box office handed me my change along with my movie ticket. As she pressed the ticket into my hand, I felt a sudden pang of guilt, as though I’d struck a devil’s bargain.

I was going to see The Dukes of Hazzard. I saw it alone, so as not to inflict suffering upon anyone else. Also, so as not to have to wait any longer to see it.

How was it?

The General Lee shines. There are only three jumps and you’ve seen bits of all of them in the trailer, but they are well done and worth seeing in context, in their entirety. The car chases are a little choppy for my taste, but fluid enough. They use a lot of cool angles to put you into the action. And the verisimilitude of actual, non-CG car stunts is priceless. These poor Dodge Chargers got beat up bad, as we see in end-credits outtakes, but it was worth it. There’s some excellent drift work, too. If the sight of the General Lee drifting all the way around an Atlanta roundabout doesn’t set your heart aflutter, I feel sorry for you. The car chases filled me with warmth and joy. The climactic one really drags on and on beyond all reason, and I was glad for it.

A few fans on the Herbie boards lamented that Herbie’s stunt and race scenes weren’t executed with this much care and devotion and visceral excitement. After seeing the movie, I can see why.

The General Lee's doors have handles,* yes, but they don’t open for most of the movie. Here it’s explained that the doors were the one thing Cooter didn’t have time to fix when retooling the car. Eh, whatever.

The rest of the movie is exactly as stupid as you expect. It’s not funny at all, but it’s often hard to tell if it’s even supposed to be. The jokes don’t fall flat because, near as I can tell, there really aren’t any.

Is it a joke when people enter a room where other people are smoking marijuana, and later they come out of the room apparently having partaken in said marijuana? Does that count as comedy? It’s more just kind of an incident, isn’t it? It’s not like anything funny happens as a result of anyone being high. The marijuana is simply smoked, and that’s that, and if you happen to enjoy marijuana yourself, you may register a mental “Right on!” But it’s not worth a laugh.

Take the trailer moment where Bo greets the girl from Australia by crying out something about a shrimp on a barbie. Her Australianness is never mentioned again. Is it just there for this joke? First of all, the line is straight from Dumb and Dumber. Second of all, in Dumb and Dumber, the joke was that Lloyd was confusing Australia with Austria. The same line, stripped of the actual joke, is here reduced to an awkward non-sequitur made even less funny because it is ripped from another movie.

Admittedly, there are maybe a few chuckle-worthy moments that seem almost accidental, but most of the comedy is delivered with a leaden lack of timing that’s a blessing in disguise. It means that even though the joke just lies there, no one really notices it.

Oh, the sexiness. Yes, it’s out of keeping with the TV show, but I’ve come to accept it and I didn’t care about the characters much to begin with. I choose to approach the movie as the Broken Lizard cover of The Dukes of Hazzard, with all that connotes.

I hope we can all agree that Jessica Simpson has a funny-looking fake face on top of an admittedly shapely body, and that the sum of her parts lies somewhere between utter blandness and mild disgust. The college girls that Bo and Luke pick up in Atlanta are cuter, but they suffer from the syndrome of being disposable female characters in a lowbrow comedy.

In other words, if you’re a girl in this movie, your purpose in life is to giggle when strange men walk in on you in your underwear, constantly bare your midriff and cleavage, and generally behave in a manner that suggests you’re just biding time until the nearest guy gets around to fucking you. I’m not saying girls in movies shouldn’t be sexy. I’m just saying they should have a shred of a personality beyond acting like they’re in a porn movie or else it makes me feel dirty and sad. As long as they do that much, I’m fine with the scantily-clad aspects.

Boss Hogg and Roscoe are made to be more sinister and less comedic. Ehh. Seeing Roscoe all evil-like is certainly jarring, but I never found the Hogg/Roscoe stuff all that funny when I was five, so I don’t miss it here. I would probably find it funnier now due to its camp value, but I can do without seeing current actors camp it up on purpose. I read something where Jay Chandrasekhar explains how they had to up the stakes for the movie or something and I guess that’s why they’re more evil. I guess it’s good enough for me.

I don’t recognize the Broken Lizard guys enough to pick out all the cameos, but I can guess. It seems like they’re the ones who act badly and don’t fit the rest of the movie. The worst is a rival race driver who is dull and unfunny and the least credible southerner on screen.

So the movie is completely dumb, which is obvious to anyone, but it’s really just a frame because car chases, like martial-arts scenes, need a dramatic context to make them fun, even if that context is a stupid one. And the car chases are quality.

Speaking of martial-arts, there’s also a car bit where Bo spins the General Lee’s wheels to fling gravel at police, which is a steal from the terrific car chase in Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? Maybe intentional, maybe not, but unoriginality aside, it made me smile.

*UPDATE 8/14: I have since realized that the General Lee has always had door handles, even on the TV show when the doors were welded shut. My memories deceived me.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Toaster Is Trying To Kill Me

I used to be able to take bread out of the toaster.

The other day, the toast was too hot. It hurt.

Just now, I'm toasting a hamburger bun. It pops out of the toaster. I remove it and pivot my body toward my plate. My fingers involuntarily release the steaming hot bun, tossing it perfectly into the crevice between the refrigerator and the counter, also known as the Zone Where The Three-Second Rule Doth Not Apply.

I replace the tainted bottom half of the bun with a spare piece of ciabatta bread. This will make for a mismatched sandwich, but never mind. Again the bread scalds me, but fortunately this time I only drop it on the counter.

And the toaster smells like smoke. The fire kind. I unplug it.

The dial doesn't look like it's turned up. It's less than halfway up. How hot is this supposed to get?

Okay, I'm going to go finish making my salmon burger.

Bite Me

Looks like MST3K fans aren't the only ones calling The Island a remake of Parts: The Clonus Horror. The producers of that movie seem to have realized this is one last chance to make money.

Was Clone Movie Cloned from Another Clone Movie?

The producers of the 1976 independent movie The Clonus Horror have filed suit against DreamWorks and Warner Bros., claiming that the plot of their film, about a colony of clones kept on an island as spare parts for ailing rich people was cloned for the recent flop The Island. The Clonus producers claim that there are 90 instances in which the two films are identical. Indeed Premiere magazine recently wrote, "The first hour of The Island plays like a much more expensive albeit scene-for-scene remake." The Clonus team, producer Myrl A. Schreibman, director Robert S. Fiveson, and screenwriters Bob Sullivan and Ron Smith, are asking for unspecified damages. DreamWorks issued a statement saying, "The Island was independently created and does not infringe anyone's copyrights."


I generally don't give much credence to accusations like this. Granted, the cloning premise might have been more novel in 1979, but considering that the ethics of raising clones for spare parts is brought up in virtually every idiotic debate on the ethics of cloning, it's not a huge leap to think of making it into a movie. And you'd be surprised how naturally and logically little ideas flow from a big idea. If you ask two different people to independently write stories about deceived clones, their stories will have a lot of similarities, because the premise lends itself to certain obligatory scenes. It would actually be harder for them to write stories that weren't similar.

Yet writers still sue, because they just can't fathom that someone else went through the same ever-so-unique thought process that they did and settled on the same logical conclusions. That, and they can't bear to not get a piece of the action for all their troubles. It sucks when you see someone else who also came up with your clever idea and is getting more exposure for it.

The funny part here is that they're suing over this total flop of a movie, and that a would-be summer blockbuster is being accused of similarities to a '70s B-movie that's recognized mainly because a cult TV show made fun of it.

Magazine Famousness Update

The new issue of MAD is officially on the stands, with my latest writing credit. I'm one of four contributors to the annual "50 Worst..." feature. This year it's "50 Worst Things About Video Games." About 24 out of the 50 have my mark on them in some way; they were either written by me, or written by me and punched up by someone else. It's hard to come up with 50 gags on one subject--basically it means you need to write at least 100 to choose from--hence the other contributors. This was my first assignment for MAD, as opposed to a submission that they bought.

UPDATE 8/12: Uncredited famousness! Apparently MAD is doing a promotional tie-in with GamePro, so an excerpt from the piece is also in GamePro and at GamePro.com. Except that my name isn't on it.

My Dogbert Ran Over Your Karma

This is a funny Dilbert strip if you cut out the first panel and the third panel and hang on to the highly quotable second panel. The broader context of the strip is unnecessary and the less said about panel three's vague and ineffective self-reference, the better.

But the second panel is excellent.

Dogbert: "I believe in karma. That means I can do bad things to people all day long and I assume they deserve it."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Get Busy Livin'

A couple in Japan is contesting that an American couple is the oldest living married couple. Their advice on the secret of longevity says as much about marriage as it does about aging:

"You have to have a lot of hope," said Yoichi, a former civil servant, when asked the secret of living a long life. "You have to want to be alive... What we enjoy most is spending time together," he added.

His wife, who once worked as a nurse, appeared to shake her head as he spoke.

"You get bored just living such a long time. I don't enjoy anything any more," she said.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Check Yourself

Cynthia beat me to pointing it out, as well as to finding out about it, but my comment about BoingBoing's Daily Breeze link regarding a strip club sign has been added to their post. And it's humiliating.

I wasn't sure how to send BoingBoing the feedback you always see on their posts, so I settled for emailing the author of the post, which is apparently the right way to do it. Since I wasn't really sure of that at the time, though, I just dashed off the email without thinking about it much, which means that the now-widely-read paragraph attributed to me contains embarrassing sentences like the following:

As stated in the article, opponents of the sign were going to challenge the sign on the grounds of it being a code-violating vinyl sign and/or on the grounds of infringing on the Toys 'R' Us copyright.


Sigh. A copy editor would have fixed that for me. The moral of the story is if you send things to BoingBoing, read over your writing real quick and make sure you don't sound like an idiot. They may actually post it.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Innovation

Honestly, toothbrush designers are just fucking with us now.

Friday, August 05, 2005

I Am Reading A Book

Every once in a great while, I'll go ahead and absorb a story by reading hundreds of pages of text. Not Harry Potter stories, though; unlike apparently every other person in the entire world, I reserve my Harry Potter experiences for the cinema, in order to conserve my imagination. This means that I read one less book every two years at fifteen minutes past midnight, but on the upside, I don't spend the credits of every Harry Potter movie complaining about how they left out that one flashback that was so important.

Anyway, today I'm reading another chunk of Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, which I've been working on sporadically since Christmas, and there's a funny bit I felt moved to excerpt. Here, a university president worries about a plagiarism charge against a member of the college basketball team, which threatens to create a scandal:

For a start, it would knock Dupont from second, behind Princeton, in the U.S. News & World Report rankings down to ... God knew where. U.S. News & World Report--what a stupid joke! Here is this third-rate news weekly, aimed at businessmen who don't like to read, trying desperately to move up in the race but forever swallowing the dust of Time and Newsweek, and some character dreams up a circulation gimmick: Let's rank the colleges. Let's stir up a fuss. Pretty soon all of American higher education is jumping through hoops to meet the standards of the marketing department of a miserable, lowbrow magazine out of Washington, D.C.! Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Dupont--all jumped through the hoop at the crack of the U.S. News whip!

Straightening the Curves

I flipped through an article in Hot Rod magazine about the car stunts in the Dukes of Hazzard movie (watch clips here). Sounds pretty cool, and I may be again leaning toward seeing this movie just for the car stuff.

One thing I noticed was that the General Lee in the movie has doors that open. This was also the case in the Jessica Simpson video, but I thought that was just because Jessica Simpson couldn't climb through the window.

The doors are not supposed to open! This is worse than the sex jokes. The Duke boys don't just jump in through the windows for fun. They do it because the doors are senselessly welded shut.

Sacrilege!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Love & Sk8

Is this still new to people? I thought people realized those ugly nubs you see all over everything were skateboard deterrents. But if it's new to the cutting-edge crowd at BoingBoing, then I guess I'm just incredibly hip.

The BoingBoing post is written as though the Skatestoppers actually cause accidents, which they would if you tried to grind over them, but in real life skaters actually plan out their line before skating and notice Skatestoppers first, so that never happens. Hence the lack of death porn on the Skatestoppers website. Not to mention, they'd have to get the footage from skaters.

It's pretty amazing how the Skatestoppers controversy reveals skaters as inarticulate idiots incapable of grasping the concept of property damage. Even skateboarders with jobs don't get it.


"[Chris Loarie, creator of Skatestoppers] is, basically, the enemy of skateboarding," said Dave Swift, the former editor of Transworld Skateboarding magazine.


No. He's just the enemy of you fucking up property with skateboards.

They can call skating "free expression" all they want, but it is undeniably damaging property that someone else paid for. They may not think the damage is bad, but that is not for them to decide. Maybe spraying paint against a wall is free expression too, grafitti is just the unfortunate residue of the expressive activity.

I would like to be sympathetic to skaters. As many of you know, I enjoy pretending to be one myself. But they can't express themselves without sounding like spoiled, petulant children. Oh, wait.


Much of Loarie's hate mail sounds the same: Why does he hate skateboarders so much? Was he an abused child? Why does he have to be such a money-grubbing capitalist? One letter calls Skatestoppers "the most heartbreaking tool or weapon against the world."

Way worse than the atomic bomb, definitely. You have to give skaters credit for one thing: Perspective.


Perhaps the loftiest accusation, voiced in a number of letters, is that by discouraging skateboarding Loarie is encouraging teenage delinquency and drug use.

"Skateboarding is and always will be better than drugs, prostitution, and robbery," David Schleith wrote in a recent e-mail.


Skateboarding is better than rape and murder. Drug use is and always will be better than genocide. Pedophilia is better than the end of the world. Anything and everything is okay if there are things that are worse. Plato would be proud.


Mostly, skateboarders warn Loarie that his efforts are for naught, and their letters often include intricate directions for disabling or destroying Skatestoppers.

"Your product seems to work well, other than the fact that it completely sucks," Jon wrote in a handwritten letter addressed to "Dearest Skatestoppers."


Zing!


He continued: "Your product is easily cut of (sic) with a simple hack saw. You may think that you now need to make something newer and better, but it will never matter."


Dearest Jon,
Your writing seems to work well, other than the fact that it completely sucks. Thank you for telling us how precisely how to improve Skatestoppers in the future.


Skateboarders routinely conduct guerrilla missions to remove what they call "Nazi knobs" from their favorite skate spots.


You know who hated skaters? Hitler.


Eric Dill, a loss control analyst for San Dieguito High School – Loarie's alma mater – said a group of skateboarders recently removed a batch of Skatestoppers and then used quick-dry cement to repair the damage.

"It's kind of funny," Dill said. "They did such a good job, we left it as is."


If skateboarders were willing to do this more often--to simply take responsibility, repair their own damage and maintain their own skate spots--maybe locations could be persuaded not to install Skatestoppers in the first place.

Feel Guilty Yet?

This article says nothing a feature story timed to coincide with Murderball's release wouldn't have said, except it's got some guilt mixed in.

What's the matter, America? Is this movie failing because you don't like handicapped people? You should be ashamed of yourselves for letting this happen.

Don't look at me. I totally would have seen Murderball at Sundance if all the tickets hadn't been sold out. Obviously I'm okay with guys in wheelchairs. Okay, I didn't run out to see it in general release, but, you know, I've been busy. I've seen posters and thought about how I would be so completely willing to see that movie with the wheelchairs, and how I'm a pretty good person for being willing to do so. But give me a break; I haven't even seen Wedding Crashers yet.

The rest of you, though. You make me sick.