Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Channel Hopping

On Sunday night I went to a screening for Channel 101. The way it works is that people submit videos of five-minute "shows," the shows get voted on by a live audience each month, and the top five shows do another episode the next month.

Channel 101 has been getting a lot of publicity lately, thanks to the Lonely Island Guys (who used to do Channel 101) and their "Lazy Sunday" short on SNL, and some video making fun of Bill Cosby that raised some legal ruckus. All that adds up to twice as many people going to the screening on the same night a couple of USC pals and I decided to go for the first time.

The venue has an address but not a name. Well, it's CineSpace or something, but it doesn't say so anywhere. There's also no number on the building, which is how you know you're cool for lining up outside. You go upstairs and there's a hip, colorful bar. Little screens in pillars show slides from past shows and the bar keeps filling up until you start to feel like you're in the comfortable and stylish bar car of a crowded Nazi P.O.W. train. Not at any time do you get any hint of where to go or what to do, so you stand around, watch other people schmooze and try not to look too uncomfortable. Eventually you overhear enough conversations to put the puzzle pieces together.

The screening is in the next room. People are allowed in once everyone with a table reservation has been seated. If you don't have a table reservation, you go in and find a comfortable place to sit on the floor. Or you get left standing because it's the most crowded screening ever. Someone hands you a ballot to use later.

One of the Channel 101 founders, Dan Harmon, takes the stage and jokes that there's a fire and you're all dead and there's no point even trying to run. See, he's saying what you're all thinking.

The shows all play in a row, and at the end you check the boxes next to the five shows you like best.

I voted for:

"Yacht Rock," mainly because my friend Mike likes it a lot. Honestly, it's kind of too in-jokey for me, plus the jokes are on musicians I know nothing about. But it's presented in such a way that I can imagine how it would be really good if I understood it.

"McCourt's in Session," a new show that is basically just a simple skit, but a very funny one. A blustery, straight-talking TV judge handles weird cases.

"Channel 101: The Musical," which again is actually too in-jokey but I enjoyed past episodes and I was a sucker for the gimmicky Sarah Silverman cameo.

"Hi-Jacked," which is a juvenile but surprisingly clever parody in the style of 24.

and "Superhero Theater," which is a one-joke premise but done pretty well.

As for some of the stuff I didn't vote for:

"Rodeo" is a slapdash effort seemingly by someone who knew someone, but kind of inexplicably funny in spite of itself.

"Classroom" is an efficient parody of the tough inner-city teacher genre, if you feel the need for one.

And "Unbelievable Stories" is simply one of the vilest, most loathsome things ever to be animated and shown in public. It is not funny so much as it is compelling evidence of someone's dangerous mental sickness. Don't be confused; I am not recommending that you watch it. It really is horrible.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Lucky Break

Speaking of Lindsay Lohan's bad luck, here is the latest movie in which the nineteen-year-old plays a college graduate. Doesn't anyone have some nice college movies she can spend a few years on? Apparently not. Please enjoy Lindsay as a twentysomething single girl who lives in the big city and wears too much shiny make up as she tries to look like a grown-up.

For my thesis script this year, I considered a high-concept comedy idea that would have involved a character with very good luck and a character with very bad luck somehow switching luck and having to adjust to it. Now I am very happy that I chose not to write it. To give due credit to Just My Luck, I didn't think to make it a romantic comedy--I was thinking more of a buddy comedy with two guys, so I was struggling to think of a gimmick by which their luck would switch. JML's plot device of the kiss is perfect. It makes a certain amount of intuitive movie-logic sense, without requiring any overly complicated explanation.

Then again, I hadn't really thought about my version very much. Put it this way: All I'd come up with so far was that their luck changed from a science experiment gone wrong, and the guys have to team up and use their luck to fight an evil professor who plans to harness the power of bad luck for, well... evil, obviously. So what I'm saying is, my version was so retarded, it makes this one look good. Which is another reason for me to be happy I didn't write it.

UV Protection

May I direct your attention to Ultraviolet:

- In which we learn that Milla Jovovich with long black hair looks exactly like Selma Blair
- In which soldiers in the future wield samurai swords and wear armor made of glass
- In which the government studies mutating viruses in buildings that are actually shaped like biohazard signs
- In which the villains must bear the humiliation of of performing every scene with stuff stuck up their noses

Ultraviolet is everything that Aeon Flux should have have been. Badass future superchick assassin, except with a sense of fun and style. Action scenes that look awesome instead of lame. A lead actress who specializes in badass superchicks. A costume for her that is actually cool—changing colors, leatherish jackets and pants, dignified and not too revealing, aside from a boldly gratuitous bare midriff.

It's part Kill Bill, part X-Men, part Resident Evil, part Matrix, part a million other things. Pity those poor genetically modified super-warriors. There's CGI everywhere but it all looks pretty enough. I dig that final shot that swoops up the building and reveals her behind the soldier. I also like when the bad guy is all "Are you mental?" but the trailer shouldn't have spoiled that she's a hologram there. The jump landing that cracks the ground is cool no matter how many times you see it. The Jem song that closes out the preview is also nice.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Man Vs. Man-Bear


This picture was on Drudge yesterday, in case you missed it. Have you ever seen such a cartoonishly hilarious boxing photo? You can almost hear the giant's primal grunt and the little guy's desperate squeal. This was taken right before little guy gets pounded on the head and hammered through the floor.

I was disappointed to find that in the accompanying LA Times story, the giant doesn't look quite as disproportionately big in other photos as he does in this boxing shot. But I am encouraged by the detail that he steps over all three ropes to enter the ring rather than climbing through them.

Of course he's Russian. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Stowaways

When you get bills in the mail, you often receive an envelope full of advertisements for unrelated things. Now, I expect my credit card company to include an offer to pay sixteen dollars for thirty-five state quarters, because I don't doubt that a credit card company would drain my blood and sell my corpse down the river given half a chance and a few dollars. But today even my cable bill came with an offer for novelty checks, fish oil pills and a life insurance policy.

FISH OIL PILL SALES GUY: Uh, hey, Adelphia, as long as you're sending that, can you toss this in there too?

No fair. Why should they be allowed to make extra money smuggling random junk mail inside real mail?

It would be great to send advertisements to them along with my payment. In fact, I could just send back the ones they sent me. Unfortunately I've already sealed all my envelopes. But next month, I'm totally doing it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Feed A Cold

Alas, while the day had its triumphs, it's also my second day of having a cold.

Stephanie and I both have it, and I suppose I should count my blessings, because it could be a lot worse. So far it's a simple head cold, with the sinus pressure and dazed heavy-headedness that goes along with that. In retrospect, it could have been a factor in the physical discomfort I felt while watching the Disney Channel's High School Musical. But probably not.

Today as I was getting in my car to head home, I noticed my steering wheel was not locked in its anti-theft position. (My car's steering wheel can lock so you can't turn it if you don't have the key.) It's not the first time I've forgotten to lock it, but today I was seized with the paranoia that my car had been tampered with. Indeed, not just tampered with, but booby-trapped. I worried that my car was now rigged with a bomb that might explode when I started the engine.

Rationally, I knew this was nonsense. I should just start the car and get it over with. But what if--? thought my paranoid inner voice. Just to be safe, I quickly made my peace with God. I stared at the dashboard. I still couldn't turn the key.

Should I check under the car? That would be silly, wouldn't it?

I couldn't stand it. I got out, got down on my knees, and looked under the car. Nothing. So far as I could tell. What was I looking for, anyway? If there was a bomb I would never recognize it. But there appeared to be no foreign objects.

I got back inside and prepared to start the car. I imagined myself bursting into flame. What would that be like, I wondered, to get blown up in a car? I couldn't really conceive of it, beyond getting consumed by flames.

I turned the key. The car did not blow up.

I think the cold is messing with my head.

Aces!

Thank you, Ryan, for that comment that rubs it in.

But I am happy to report that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has been acquired. Stephanie found a GameStop location where, according to the website, they actually had "1-3" pre-owned copies. It was in the Crenshaw district, which is not our usual part of town. I called ahead and they confirmed that there was one copy left. When I got there, I discovered they actually had two--one with the original packaging, one without. I got the one with packaging, natch, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I even got a manual. It was twenty dollars, as I refused to buy a GameStop discount card.

They also had Lost in Blue (one new, one used with no packaging). But I just wasn't feeling it. I didn't want to buy more than one game today. Hopefully I won't regret passing that up.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Phoenix Wrong

Oops.

Dear ,

At Buy.com we strive to provide the widest assortment of high-quality products at everyday low prices. However, sometimes circumstances beyond our control affect our selection.

We were recently informed that item 201937663 (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS)) on your order contained information that was in error. Because of this, the product has been automatically cancelled from your order.

We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience. Please note you will not be charged for this cancelled item.

Please accept the following gift certificate as a further apology. See below for details on how to deposit, redeem, and then use your gift certificate on your next Buy.com order.

If you have any questions, please visit customer support at buy.com/support.

We appreciate your business.

Sincerely,

Customer Support

Sunday, January 22, 2006

High School Musical

Cynthia alerted me that the Disney Channel's original movie High School Musical is now airing in full force. Since I am working on a script in a similar milieu, I've been curious about this, so I TiVoed it last night.

Cleverly, High School Musical is not only about a musical, it is itself a musical, and I was lucky enough to catch the airing of a "sing-along" version, in which song lyrics are displayed on screen for every musical number.

Going in, I was uncomfortable and anxious because I feared the movie would bear similarities to my own script. Right now I am thirty-four minutes into it. Now I am uncomfortable and anxious simply because the movie is so grating that it sets me on edge just watching it.

Like the brief snippets I've seen of other Disney Channel shows, High School Musical features well-scrubbed kids in brightly colored wardrobes, with dubious acting ability and a hyperactive energy level. Everything feels too fast and big and loud and over-the-top and frantic, even as nothing is actually happening. It's kind of like when your heart is racing and you have a high fever and you start to panic for no reason. Yes, watching the Disney Channel is like having a fever so high you risk permanent brain damage. I feel like I should be watching in a bathtub full of ice. It literally makes me feel ill.

Why is the drama teacher so insane? Why does she say "musi-caal" instead of musical? It's not just a psuedo-sophisticated affectation, it's a made-up psuedo-sophisticated affectation. Has anyone ever met a teacher who acted like that? She's ridiculous in a way that's totally unreal. Okay, so this is pandering to kids who see adults as buffoons, but it might be slightly more tolerable if she wasn't in every scene.

And is there a quicker way to make us hate your main character than to reveal him as an amazing singer who never had to work at it? In the first song, our stage-shy leads are forced to sing karaoke and end up dueting in perfect harmony that never quite matches their lip movements. The next number, in which the basketball team sings and dances during practice, takes place in that surreal zone that, according to the rules of musicals, is not to be taken literally. That is, the basketball team did not really sing and dance, but their song-and-dance is expressing our lead character's mindset. But the first song is literal--they're onstage with karaoke microphones and their singing talent is a plot point--so revealing that a basketball player whose only singing experience is in the shower can sing sweet harmonies instantly is just obnoxious.

And I still have three-fourths of the movie to go.

UPDATE: The "Stick to the Status Quo" number is pretty decent, and actually feels like a real musical.

Yesterday Cynthia mentioned the weird villain--Sharpay (Sharpay?!), a popular-girl-slash-ice-queen who dominates the drama department along with her brother, who is clearly gay although no one ever says so. The weirdness of a girl playing lead--presumably romantic--roles opposite her gay brother is never acknowledged. But the funny thing is that the gay brother offers what seems to be the most understated, least flamboyant performance in the movie. Maybe it's just because you fear the gay kid will be even worse, so matching everyone else's level of hamminess makes him seem normal. But I don't think that's it. He really is the most bearable character to watch.

UPDATE: This premise--a meta-musical set in high school--is actually pretty good. There are little moments where you see what it could have been if it weren't a product of the Disney Channel. Thing is, no one else would have made it.

Remember, kids: Don't let your friends tell you that you're only good at one thing, when you're really awesome at everything.

UPDATE: Okay, this final number is way too long, especially for such a terrible song. Has a movie ever had this much of the color red? Yikes.

I really didn't expect the musical itself to never actually happen in the movie. Maybe this movie should be called High School Musical Auditions. I expected to cut from the successful audition to the end of the real show, or something. Why show the end of the basketball game? No one cares about the outcome--we're pretty sure they'll win anyway. I guess putting everyone in the gym makes a better ensemble dance number, but story-wise it's a bit of a letdown.

An In-Depth Report

Cynthia and I caught a special in-depth report on NBC News yesterday about how Serious Movies are doing well lately and what that might mean for the future of Serious Movies in Hollywood.

The following is paraphrased, but pretty much covers the content:

Hollywood is all about making movies that make money. Lately, serious movies like Brokeback Mountain, Syriana, and Good Night and Good Luck have been making money. Does that mean that Hollywood will be making more serious movies?

Some guy: "Hollywood does like making money. And serious movies have been making money."

One serious movie that has been making money is Brokeback Mountain. But another movie that has been making money is Syriana. And Good Night and Good Luck.

Big stars have been making some of the serious movies that make money. Like George Clooney, who made serious movies like Syriana, and Good Night and Good Luck.

Another guy: "It's nice when serious movies make money, because then we can make serious movies and also make money."

Does this mean that Hollywood will be making more serious movies now? Only time will tell.


Apparently, the difference between in-depth reports and reports that scratch the surface? The in-depth report scratches the surface several times.

To be fair, this transcript leaves out the fact that the reporter's stand-up and several random inserts were shot at the new Century City AMC 15 theater, which adds to the in-depthiness of everything.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Resting On My Laurels


At last, American Shopper has a set of laurels to adorn the DVD covers I print out for it--and to place below its link on KBweb. Pretty snazzy, eh?

Now who's going to Wales for the festival?!  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

House Of Flying Daggers

Last year I wanted to see House of Flying Daggers, but was advised against it by a couple of fellow writing students. Today I watched it at the school library. It is a mixed bag. I can see how people would come away hating it, but there is much to like as well.

For the first hour or so, I was dazzled. The cinematography is gorgeous, the score crisp and spirited, the sound design mesmerizing. The love story is sweet, the action inventive and thrilling. Zhang Ziyi is the superhero you always wished she could be in Crouching Tiger and Hero. As a blind fighter, she puts Daredevil to shame (though if we’re talking Daredevil the movie, the shame is already there).

It is easily better than Hero. Even the languorous scenes play exactly right—authentically dramatic and deserving of the time they take up. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau are two of my favorite Chinese actors. They have very contemporary faces, infusing this period piece with a modern feel. The half-Chinese, half-Japanese Kaneshiro may just be the most attractive Asian man ever. I don’t know enough about Chinese history to remember exactly when the movie is set, but thankfully, whenever it is, there are none of those awful half-shaved heads I hate so much.

Well past the halfway mark, I was thinking about how this is the best Old Fashioned Martial Arts Movie By A Prestigious Chinese Director And Featuring Zhang Ziyi that I’ve ever seen, and how I would have to buy the DVD.

But then there are the negatives. The first sticking point for some people is the physics. It is a little jarring, initially, when Andy Lau flicks a bean and it travels through the air unaffected by gravity, or when Zhang Ziyi picks up a sword with her long sleeves. The sleeve-fighting was a big dealbreaker for one person I talked to. But that is par for the course in this kind of movie, and I found the sleeve-fighting perfectly terrific.

The real problem is when the twists begin.

First things first: The story concerns a pair of Chinese deputies, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau. Their job is to kill the new leader of a rebel group called the Flying Daggers, who are really great at throwing daggers. They suspect the new girl (Zhang Ziyi) at a local brothel. Kaneshiro goes to meet her, posing as a customer, then sexually assaults her, giving Lau a pretext to arrest them both. She turns out to be blind, but she is an amazingly coordinated fighter anyway. Kaneshiro busts her out of jail, posing as a non-cop, and tries to win her trust in hopes that she will lead him to the Flying Daggers.

Kaneshiro is also a bit of a ladies’ man, and if he figures if can seduce her while winning her trust, so much the better—though Lau warns him not to jeopardize the plan by falling for her. They fight off staged attacks from the deputies, but eventually an unseen General takes over the case and sends soldiers to attack them for real—the idea being that if the fights are not really to the death, the girl might not buy the scam. There are some amazing fights where she holds her own despite her blindness, and the brilliant use of sound helps sell the idea that she could do it.

SPOILER WARNING.

So as I was saying, the twists.

One of them works, and makes perfect sense, so I might as well not mention it.

But it is harder to forgive when we learn that Zhang Ziyi’s character is not actually blind. It makes irrelevant all the meticulous sound design that sold us on the concept, and it undermines how awesome her abilities were. Part of what makes her fights so amazing is the context that she is blind. Granted, faking blindness isn’t easy, and faking blindness while fighting must be especially hard. But probably it is not as hard as actually fighting while blind. This twist left me feeling cheated.

Twists should make what came before seem cooler in retrospect, not lamer.

Too bad. I’d rather she was never blind at all. It’s too disappointing when she isn’t.

The other problem is that the finale goes on and on. More twists pile up—they’re splitting up—no, they’re running away together—no, she’s dead—no, she’s alive!—no, she’s dead—until all our patience is spent and all impact is lost. The story I was once so invested in, by the end I found tiresome.

It’s a shame. For a while there, it was really a great movie.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ass Cat Cool Cat

Now that Politics and Acting Like A Cat have finally intersected in the real world (ironically, not on The Real World but on Big Brother), I'd just like to remind everybody that I did it first. George Galloway is a hack.

Awardiness

Cynthia has touched on the word-of-the-year issue, in the form of a Dan Neil article that comments on Webster's feeble year-end stab at relevance and publicity. But forget Webster's, the real news is over on the AP story on the even more obscure American Dialect Society's choice: Truthiness.

Michael Adams, a professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in lexicology, said "truthiness" means "truthy, not facty."

"The national argument right now is, one, who's got the truth and, two, who's got the facts," he said. "Until we can manage to get the two of them back together again, we're not going make much progress."


Viewers of Stephen Colbert's new show The Colbert Report will immediately recognize "truthiness" as a very Colbert-esque word, even if they didn't see the episode where he devoted a segment to coining and defining it.

"I will speak to you in plain, simple English. And that brings us to tonight's word: 'truthiness'. Now I'm sure some of the 'word police', the 'wordanistas' over at Webster's are gonna say, 'Hey, that's not a word'. Well, anyone who knows me knows I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. ...

"I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. 'Cause face it, folks; we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats and Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No, we are divided between those who think with their head, and those who know, with their heart.


Now Colbert is raising an ironical stir about not being credited as the creator of "truthiness" in the AP story. Amazingly, Michael Adams, the guy quoted above, has the balls to continue not crediting Colbert.

The Oxford English Dictionary has a definition for "truthy" dating back to the 1800s. It's defined as "characterized by truth" and includes the derivation "truthiness."

Michael Adams, a visiting associate professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in lexicology, pointed to that definition and has said Colbert's claim to inventing the word is "untrue." (Adams served as the expert opinion in the initial AP story.)

"The fact that they looked it up in a book just shows that they don't get the idea of truthiness at all," Colbert said Thursday. "You don't look up truthiness in a book, you look it up in your gut."

Though slight, the difference of Colbert's definition and the OED's is essential. It's not your typical truth, but, as The New York Times wrote, "a summation of what (Colbert) sees as the guiding ethos of the loudest commentators on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN."


That difference is also essential since Colbert's definition is exactly what Adams described in the original article. If truthiness still meant "characterized by truth," it wouldn't be the word of the year at all. The word as it existed in Oxford's Old Man Dictionary is not really the word under discussion. Colbert did coin the new definition of truthiness, or at the very least popularized it, and making truthiness the word of the year without even mentioning him is like discussing the phrase "jump the couch" without referencing Tom Cruise.

The deliberate omissions and continuing denials of Colbert's importance by Michael Adams and the AP are even more glaring when you consider that even the award giver itself, the ADS, cited Colbert in their press release:

In January 2006, the American Dialect Society announced that truthiness was selected as its 2005 Word of the Year [4]. The Society described their rationale as follows:

'In its 16th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted truthiness as the word of the year. First heard on the Colbert Report, a satirical mock news show on the Comedy Channel [sic], truthiness refers to the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. As Stephen Colbert put it, "I don’t trust books. They're all fact, no heart."'

The press release was changed later on the website to [include]:

'Other meanings of the word date as far back as 1824.'

This change was likely made to reflect the fact that word had existed prior to the October 17 show.


Maybe Adams' latest quote was just trying to cover his ass on the existence of the word, but it's presented as a defense of the original article. Suspicious!

DS

As several of you may know, I have a Nintendo DS now. Apologies to Zack for not yet arranging a wi-fi Mario Kart battle. I've made my way through the 50cc circuit so far, but if you are fine with racing someone with only the barest level of competence, have at it, sir.

Lately though, I've been devoting most of my DS time to Trace Memory, a sort of mediocre adventure game that is redeemed by slick anime-style graphics and my own undemanding tastes. The biggest complaints leveled against the game in reviews seem to be that it is too short and easily solved, but given my limited time and short patience, I don't consider those problems. I've spent probably three or four hours on it so far, and I'm only in Chapter Two. Granted, I don't know how many chapters there are, but I'm assuming Two can't be the last or this story has no right to have chapters. Oh, and I'm stuck on a puzzle. So there, game reviewers who say the game is over in four to five hours.

Amazon had Feel the Magic for ten bucks, and that arrived the other day. Aside from a brief Mario Kart race or two, this is the first time Stephanie has played the DS. Despite some reservations about the packaging and its potentially inappropriate exhortations to Rub, Touch, Shout and Blow, she seems to be enjoying it. So today the DS has been busy with that sort of business.

Right now I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to the suddenly out-of-print Phoenix Wright. That is, I'll wait and see if it shows up anywhere for less than fifty dollars. Lost in Blue, another adventure-style RPG, appears to be gone as well, which is frustrating because I miss adventure games and the DS hardware is uniquely suited to them.

We're looking to get some kind of puzzle game, since Stephanie likes those, and right now we're trying to choose between Meteos and Polarium. Meteos scores higher on Game Rankings, but Polarium has a glowing "best puzzle game ever!" blurb from Nintendo Power on its shrink wrap.

Also, are there any Game Boy Advance games worth getting? I feel kind of obligated to fill that extra slot on the DS with a cartridge, just so it's not sitting open all the time. So many GBA games, like Wario Ware, have DS versions anyway--is it worth it to get the GBA version? I guess I could just buy the Herbie: Fully Loaded game. It's not supposed to be all that good, but it'll fill the slot, and after all, when will there ever be another Herbie game?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mentally Challenged

Dodge is bringing back the Challenger, with a new retro-styled concept car. It looks like they're correcting Dodge's wasted opportunity in re-inventing the kick-ass Charger as an overpowered family sedan, by taking Ford's strategy of re-creating the original car as faithfully as possible. Granted, I wouldn't have been able to recognize the original Challenger before now, but at its best, 1970 or so, it really captured the best of the spirit of seventies muscle cars.

The awesome new version does that, too, and manages to improve on the original in the process. And if I ever 1) can afford a car and 2) can bring myself to buy the horribly wasteful muscle car I want so badly, the production model in 2007 may give the Mustang some serious competition. Especially given what I've read about the Mustang's iffy quality control. Dodge/Chrysler seems like a pretty reliable brand these days, so Dodge's Challenger ought to do better than, say, NASA's.

It is a bit sad that Detroit has to take its cues from thirty-year-old designs to build a car with excitement and spirit, but that's better than building a car without any appeal at all.

Shame about, you know, the gas mileage, but I suppose that's part of the fun.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Long Overdue



Sometimes, Strawberry Shortcake's just gotta do hopscotch.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Thrills And Adventure In the New Century

Last night, after our usual glamorous brush with celebrity, we headed for one of our local malls, the Century City Westfield Shoppingtown. This has always been a rather pleasant mall. Conveniently located, upscale, happening but not too crowded. The first three hours of parking are free so with good planning and movies of a reasonable length, you can even escape without paying for parking.

The Century City Westfield Shoppingtown used to be home to the AMC Century 14, a fine theater whose ample screens offered pretty much any major current release you might be looking for. The lobby area was pleasant yet modest, and it was a perfectly nice, if slightly bland, place to see a movie.

The AMC Century 14 is no more. It has been replaced by the AMC Century 15, a theater with an additional screen and a massive dose of ostentatiousness. Yes, there is stadium seating--hooray. The tickets also cost about fifty cents more (or is it a dollar? Already I'm forgetting what they used to cost). Like the previous theater, you enter on the second floor of the mall. Unlike the previous version, some of the theaters are on yet another floor, and you ascend a massive escalator, from which you may gaze down upon the sparkly new lobby floor adorned with "classic" movie quotes which are alternately trite with overexposure or painful in their undeserved classic status. Above, you have your sprawling mural of classic movie stars, with your odd figures from Shrek, Die Hard 3, or Rush Hour mixed in to represent the modern age. This is of course visible through the theater's spectacular two-story glass facade. The concession stand menu is displayed on a series of flat screens, so that we can watch video clips of hot dogs and think about how the expense gets passed on to us.

Next to the new theater is a new food court. The previous food court didn't look more than ten years old, but it had cheesy design elements like wood and tile, which didn't announce the mall's luxury with quite enough volume. Some stuck-up Beverly Hills trophy wife might mistake herself for being someplace ordinary, and who wants that? Now that old dump of a food court is in the process of being gutted. In its place, we have a sparkling new food court, with glass walls, polished metal counters, strategically placed wood elements, display platters of each dish, yet more flatscreen menus, frosted glass tables, and all sorts of intimidating hallmarks of luxury. Now you can order Baja Fresh or Panda Express in the highest of style. Truly this is the food court of the future.

All this has me worried, because if we want a place that is very fancy looking but crowded, unaffordable and an incredible pain in the ass to get to, there is already The Grove. The Century City Westfield Shoppingtown seemed like it was doing all right. Did it really need revitalizing? And if we get some new stuff, fine, but if that means that the place is going to be a mob-ridden headache when all we want to do is see a simple movie, the trade-off is not worth it.

Last night did not bode well. We drove around for a frustrating length of time looking for parking, along with so many other cars that stumbling upon an open space would clearly be a matter of timing and luck. I don't remember ever having such a hard time finding parking there before, but then again, it's been a long time since we went to a movie there on a Saturday night. We wanted to get there early to make sure we'd get tickets and avoid waiting in line at the last minute.

Unfortunately, it's hard to kill time browsing while you wait for a 9:35 show, because all the stores in the mall close at 9:00. Getting there early also meant that we would have to pay for parking. Now, with AMC validation, parking is only $3.00, but it's still frustrating when you don't time it right. And with parking as unpredictable as it is, who knows what might happen if you arrive too close to showtime?

The parking garage has a new system where, instead of paying attendants at the exits, you pay a machine before you get in your car. It's one of those changeovers where they take great pains to explain it to people, and for a long time they were paying attendants to help you with the machines, which seemed pointless.

After the movie I went to put my card in the machine. And couldn't find the card, which I had validated before the movie. I searched my pockets again. Stephanie came over as I patted myself down.

I checked my wallet, more as a show than anything, since it didn't even make sense that it would be there. I had a ticket stub, but no parking card.

"I don't have it," I said, not quite believing it. "I lost it."

I reviewed the possibilities. "I must have put it in my wallet pocket and it fell out when I moved my wallet when we sat down."

The phrase Lost ticket pays maximum flashed through my head.

"Should I go back and look for it?" I said. I wasn't sure of my explanation, and it seemed silly to go back and paw around on the theater floor, but on the other hand--

I looked at the machine. All day maximum: twenty-one dollars.

Cripes.

"Do you want to wait--?" I asked.

"Just go," Stephanie said.

I ran up the escalators, back to the theater. I caught the door as other patrons made their way out.

In the theater, out of breath, I found our seats, fell to my knees and peeked underneath--the ticket! I grabbed it. Marked with something in the 19:00 hour--that looked familiar. Next to it, another ticket stub--student rate. Of course! I'd held both stubs but downstairs, I'd only had one. This was it.

Giddy with adrenaline, I rode the escalator back down to Stephanie, waving the parking card in triumph. The stakes had been high--twenty one dollars!--but now I was saved, and exhilarated. I paid our $3.00 parking fee and we returned to the car.

I had entered the mall as just another patron. But I drove out a hero.

How I Met Your Waiter

While Stephanie and I were out to dinner last night, we had another Jason Segel sighting, this time at BJ's in Westwood. We clearly travel in the same circles.

Friday, January 06, 2006

By The Book

I'm kind of half-watching NBC's The Book of Daniel right now.* The controversial series about a preacher with a family that is all promiscuous, gay, or drug dealing.

They have an adopted Asian teenage son who doesn't speak with an accent or anything. It is so weird to see on TV. However, because he is on TV he has to be all buff and studly, which is even weirder. Young, nonstereotypical Asian guys on TV are always such prettyboys. He is dating and sleeping with this blond girl and they are deeply in love, although the show seems to take pains to suggest that they don't really share any non-sexual activities. Eventually, they get caught and he falls out the window trying to escape. Oddly, the girl's mom is less upset that he's boning her daughter than she is at the prospect of "Oriental" grandchildren. Do people still worry about that? In upper middle class New York suburbia? Don't they realize that half-Asian grandkids are the the best thing you could ask for?

The daughter sells pot and draws "manga," because I guess that's trendier than drawing comics. Her manga is slightly manga-like, I suppose, but there's still more western comic influence in it than Japanese--especially when she draws her dad as a preacher superhero and her mom as a sexy dominatrix sidekick (creepy!).

After getting busted for pot, the daughter has to do community service, where she meets the ungeekiest computer geek girl ever, a hot blonde who claims to have "made two grand downloading and selling the last Star Wars movie online." Yeah, right.

Online piracy doesn't even work that way. Either you're burning DVDs to sell (on eBay or on the street or on your website) or you're downloading a movie free for your pleasure and allowing others to do the same. Why would someone pay you money to download the same thing you just downloaded for free?

Okay, I guess one way people have made money off movie downloads is by setting up pay sites that ultimately just give you access to peer-to-peer services you could have used for free, except you trick people into thinking that because they're paying somebody, it's legal. But it doesn't sound like that's what she meant.

Now that I think about it, surely there must be somebody in America who made two grand off the piracy of Star Wars III somehow, but it sure didn't ring true when this girl said it. It sounded like a Hollywood guy's imagined idea of how piracy works.

*When I started this post.

Now More Than Ever

Never let it be said that urinal art doesn't touch a nerve.

PARIS (AFP) - "Fountain", a famous artwork consisting of a ceramic urinal made by French-US artist Marcel Duchamp, has been damaged while on display in Paris's Pompidou Centre by an elderly vandal armed with a hammer, the museum and police said.

The sculpture was slightly chipped and fractured in the attack Wednesday by the 77-year-old man, who was taken into custody and presented to a judge Thursday.

...

Police said it was the second time the old man had brutalized "Fountain". In 1993, he attacked it while it was part of an exhibition in Nimes, southern France.


Wow, Tom is young in that picture.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ha!

I underestimated Scott Adams. Apparently he does not take breaking the fourth wall lightly. Or, as he calls it here, the "third wall." Is that a mistake, or is that what you call the fourth wall in a two-dimensional medium?

I think he just fucked up. It's a good idea, though.

Fat People Are Beneath Contempt

Can I say again how much I hate parody movies that do nothing but imitate as many recent movies as possible? What ever happened to movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, which at least had the discipline to stick with the genre they were ostensibly mocking? And which didn't have to make every reference to an outside movie look exactly like that movie? And which had actual jokes?

How is the Date Movie trailer abhorrent? Let me count the ways:

1. Here we go again with the fat suit. With Alyson Hannigan, yet. Alyson, I thought you were so much better than that. This makes me sad. Fat people sure are repulsive, aren't they? How dare they dance or be happy or hope for love. Ugh. At least we can express our hate through laughter. And through fire hoses, like we used to do with black people. Speaking of which, there's a black guy--he hates fat people too. And thus we have racial harmony. Can you believe that sneering at fat people accounts for nearly half the trailer? How many people have to be disgusted by the fake fatty before we can move on?

2. "From 2 of the 6 writers of Scary Movie" - Okay, so that title card is the funniest thing in the trailer, but it still should set you on edge.

3. A Napoleon Dynamite impersonator. Terrific. It's not enough that unfunny people in real life do Napoleon Dynamite imitations, now we have to see it in movies, too. Get this: His shirt says "DON'T vote for Pedro"! See what they did there? They took the real movie and "flipped it"! Now that's parody. By the way, what the fuck is Napoleon Dynamite doing in a date movie spoof? Who cares? It's a movie people recognize from the last two years!

4. The Hitch parody overtly references Will Smith in the dialogue. Thanks, guys. That reference might have been too subtle for us otherwise, what with you only using the actual name of the movie you're spoofing.

5. Thanks for also spelling out the Meet the Parents spoof, trailer. If you weren't holding my hand I don't know what I'd do. The bit with the shitting cat, terrible as it is, is actually the second funniest bit here. Just so it's clear what we're dealing with.

6. That "Wedding Planner" is like J.Lo, so her name sounds similar! J.Lo has a big ass! Now let's "flip it"--this woman will have an enormous ass! Keep going! Her ass is so enormous it knocks things over!

7. It's only a guy made up to look like Owen Wilson, with a strange nose and floppy hair. Help me out here. "Is it too late to crash the wedding?" he says. Whew, now I know what it is! A Wedding Crashers spoof, even! You had me worried there, movie. They must have written that at the last minute. Now, "flip it"--a guy falls on him! That sure didn't happen in the real movie! Take that, Other Movie That's Already a Silly Comedy Anyway!

8. A chick with burgers. Um, um...shoot. They don't spell this one out for us, and we barely see the soapy car behind her, so we can barely tell this is a spoof of the Paris Hilton Carl's Jr. ad. Don't get all obscure on us, now, guys.

9. In the background, a little Michael Jackson joke. Some woman beats him up. Ha ha? I guess they heard me making fun of their heavy-handedness and decided to go subtle. We know it's MJ because of the "ee-hee" and "It's just a slumber party." I almost missed this one, it's so out of nowhere. But I'm glad they had the courage to take on that sacred cow, just like they did in Scary Movie 3.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Trailer Convoy

Miami Vice - I never watched the show. Was it really this serious? Okay, we eventually see a lot of action, and it's hard to take anything too seriously when Colin Farrell's hair looks like that, but that somber tone! Is this Collateral 2?

Thank You For Smoking - I liked this better when it was about guns and Nicolas Cage did the smarmy voice-over and it was called Lord of War. Just kidding. I didn't really like it better. But the bit at the end with Rob Lowe is funny. Do you think people who defend Big Tobacco are bad people? Discuss.

The Ant Bully - Wow, this is really, really unfunny. It's like everything that's terrible about how second-rate computer animated movies pass off lame and obvious pop-culture riffs as all-ages cleverness. And didn't we already do all the computer animated ant movies? It's over. You missed it. Also, this is racist against bugs that aren't red ants.

M:i:III - I like how they changed the rules of their absurd marketing abbreviation since the last sequel. Then, it was M:I-2. That's with a possibly capital I (though in the logo all letters were split with a cool line so who knows, really), a hyphen after the I, and an Arabic numeral 2. Now we've scrapped the hyphen for a second colon, and switched out the Arabic numerals for the epic feel of Roman numerals. Presumably the lowercase "i" was to make the ridiculous number of "i"s in the abbreviation a little less confusing. Hilarious abbreviation, guys. Excellent job. I look forward to seeing what you come up with for Tom Cruise is Perfect and Amazing, Part Four.

And look, it's Michelle Monaghan from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Thandie Newton didn't work out? And he went through so much trouble for her. Shame.

Look at the restraint here. Sure, it's a teaser, but Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates more than half of it. There's the slow reveal that Cruise is indeed starring in this movie. Thank goodness he cut his hair this time. We also learn there's a big set piece with planes attacking a bridge, like in True Lies, only this one is in Virginia, according to the license plates. Hey, that SUV tumble looks exactly like the one in the X3 teaser. Small world. Back in M:I4 (okay, M:i:III), there's another big set piece with a big Chinese building, falling out the big Chinese building, and possibly the street outside the big Chinese building. Cruise makes out with Monaghan and his shirt disappears. An Asian girl provides kicking. Why does the explosion behind Tom Cruise knock him sideways?

There is some kind of fake head. Will they finally show us how they make those stupid masks?

Duh

Now can we stop pretending we drive SUVs to keep our kids safe?

"Contrary to public perception, SUVs do not provide superior protection to child occupants, compared with passenger cars," wrote lead author Dr. Lauren Daly of A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware.

"The potential safety advantage of SUVs resulting from their heavier weight seems to be offset by other factors, including the greater tendency of SUVs to roll over in a crash," she wrote.


Well, just as long as we can still take our kids for rides underwater.

A Message From The Co-Owner Of Stacey's Cafe

Scott Adams of Dilbert has done the self-referential bit where he appears as himself in the comic strip to address the reader directly.

Better yet, he does it to attack his readers. Surely there was a better way to approach this issue.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

We Care A Lot



For those who wanted to see Stephanie's new Smart Heart Bear. You know she's smart because she's English, like Mary Poppins!