Friday, March 31, 2006

Justice

Finally, people have come to their senses and stopped buying UMD movies. Or, I guess they actually came to their senses a long time ago. Well, whatever, as long as Sony learns that it was a retarded idea.

I read paragraphs like these with delight:

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has completely stopped producing UMD movies, according to executives who asked not to be identified by name. Said one high-ranking exec: "It's awful. Sales are near zilch. It's another Sony bomb -- like Blu-ray."

...A high-ranking executive was more blunt: "We are on hiatus with UMD," he said. "Releasing titles on UMD is the exception rather than the rule. No one's even breaking even on them."

"No one's watching movies on PSP," said the president of one of the six major studios' home entertainment divisions. "It's a game player, period."


They seem to recognize at least part of what was so stupid: The fact that you are buying a separate disc that can be played exclusively on a tiny screen.

Feingold believes the PSP's biggest drawback as a movie-watching device was the inability to connect the gadget to TV sets for big-screen viewing, "which would have made it more compelling," as well as the inclusion of memory stick capability.

"I think a lot of people are ripping content and sticking it onto the device rather than purchasing," he said.

But next week, Sony Computer Entertainment executives will begin making the rounds of the Hollywood studios to discuss plans for making the PSP able to connect to TV sets.

"We're hoping the format's going to be reinvigorated with next-generation capability that may include living-room or normal television playback," he said.


I like how they consider people watching videos off of memory sticks--a feature that both makes sense and is convenient--to be a "drawback" because it prevented them from selling more horrible little discs.

Still, I have no idea why an adapter to connect to TV sets took them so long. You'd think it was a no-brainer, considering it's the only conceivable way to give the UMD discs any real value.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Talent, Served Raw



This somewhat goofy-looking kid is a gifted impressionist with too much free time and, seemingly, too few friends. But that's okay, because a friend's involvement would only dilute the 100-proof talent on display.

He makes videos re-enacting his favorite movie scenes with no resource save his spot-on impersonations. This scene from Princess Bride has eclipsed even his other scenes in popularity, garnering a whopping 43,864 views in under a week. They are all worth checking out. I quite like the scene from Angels With Filthy Souls, the made-up gangster movie from Home Alone.

That Show We Like

Oh, and in case you hadn't heard.

Yeah, so. Yeah.

Dream Girl

As a kid I somehow missed what an awesome male fantasy I Dream of Jeannie really is. To have a really hot girl in various sexy outfits constantly fawning over you, calling you master, and doing everything you say? It's better than reading Maxim!

Sure, Jeannie screwed up a lot, but part of the fantasy is that she's kinda dumb. How adorable! You don't want your woman getting too smart anyway. Next thing you know you're stuck with that uppity, independent, emasculating Samantha on Bewitched.

Does that read like heavy-handed sarcasm? It shouldn't. It should read like utter sincerity.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Store Story

Clearly, we didn't spend long enough at the Super Kmart. Or at least, we didn't publicize it well enough. Hard to imagine this guy pulling it off alone, though. That might really wear on one's sanity. Still, 41 hours? What is 41 hours? I don't know what he was shooting for, but that's the mark of a quitter.

Speaking of which, Tom, it would be cool to get those tapes in mp3 format. You know, whenever you're done flying all over the country and stuff.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

On Cinematic Games And Interactive Movies

John August linked to this Wired piece by Jordan Mechner about how videogame narratives are most compelling when the storytelling is integrated into the gameplay rather than cordoned off into lavish cut-scenes. Mechner compares the cut-scene heavy attempts at “cinematic” games with early proscenium-style films:

New mediums have trouble escaping the shadow of their predecessors. At the turn of the last century, the dominant audiovisual medium was the stage play. So in their quest for mass-market success and artistic legitimacy, early filmmakers strove to be theatrical: They shot scenes as if the cast were onstage,with the cameraman stationed in the audience seventh row center. Today, those early movies seem hoary.

… As we gamemakers discover new ways to take storytelling out of cutscenes and bring it into gameplay, we're taking the first steps toward a true videogame storytelling language - just as our filmmaking forebears did the first time they cut to a close-up. One day soon, calling a game "cinematic" will be a backhanded compliment, like calling a movie "stagy."


The key section, though, is Mechner’s breakdown of what makes a video game experience different than a cinematic one:

To appreciate a videogame, you need to play it - an experience that can consume dozens of hours, encompassing moments of joy and anguish so intense that you reminisce about them years later.

In a movie, the story is what the characters do. In a game, the story is what the player does. The actions that count are the player's. Better game storytelling doesn't mean producing higher-quality cinematic cutscenes; it means constructing the game so that the most powerful and exciting moments of the story occur not in the cutscenes but during the gameplay itself. To simply watch a few recorded snippets of game footage as you would a film is to miss the point.


This is important to consider, not just for the future of video games, but for the future of movies as well. Especially when a visionary filmmaker like Steven Spielberg is saying things like this:

…in the future there is going to be a movie theater that allows the audience to be active members in the story-telling process. And I think the audiences who are flocking to video games, which is an interactive experience, are going to want to interact with movies as they play in real time. And there will be room for both. There will be stories that allow the audience to determine the outcome.


So… a game made entirely of cut-scenes? Isn’t that the worst of both worlds? Never mind that it’s been tried before; there are a few problems with this approach to cinematic “interactivity.”

First, the mechanism of “choice” is necessarily very limited. There are only so many threads that can be pre-shot, and any sense of “interactivity" is only the thinnest of illusions. Second, the choice points in the film are likely to be jarring—each time you’re presented with a chance to choose the direction of the story, you’re necessarily being taken out of the story—distancing your emotional investment rather than deepening it. Third, deciding the path of the story with an audience might be exciting on some level, but from a storytelling standpoint it’s more of a chore. At home on DVD it might work, but how does a theaterful of people control a movie all together, if not through a cumbersome voting process? Does the movie support multiplayer?

I would hate to watch a movie this way. When you’re exploring your options in a video game, you can take the time to try out all the different possibilities before finding the one that you want to take. Not to mention, you have unlimited time to explore these options so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on something when you make your choice.

The movie would have to have good outcomes and bad outcomes. Certain choices would lead to "winning" the movie, and certain choices would lead to "losing." If they didn't, the whole aspect of choice would be hollow, and would fail to engage anybody. But if you do have "winning" and "losing" choices, you might end up spending the night at the theater only to go home feeling like shit because you lost and saw a crappy movie. Then what? You have to go and see it again? Why? The audience will probably choose roughly the same thing every time, because certain choices will be more appealing to a plurality--that's why they won the first time.

When you’re reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book, an experience that seems to have much more in common with a clumsy interactive movie, you can at least hold your page. But watching a movie this way would be merely frustrating. All I would be able to think about was what I was missing. In fact, I would feel the same about this Spielberg prophecy:

Some day in the not too distant future you'll be able to go to a movie and the movie will be all around you. The movie will be over your head, it will be a 360 degrees around you, even be a little bit under you, and you will be in your seat with hand controls where you can rotate your seat, lean back, lean forward, have complete control over your seat to be able to keep up with all the imagery that is going to take you on a mind-blowing journey. I see that kind of experience without losing narrative.


Oh, kind of like Circlevision in Tomorrowland? I hope these are unconsidered, offhand comments, because surely cumbersome, failed gimmick cinema is not the future of movies. 360 degree views? Why? So that no matter where you look, you can be assured that you’re missing at least 50% of the experience?

Worse, this kind of shallow interactivity isn’t what makes people invest in the video game experience. Video games aren’t necessarily about choosing the path of the story. Sure, some have branching storylines, but most are pretty linear. Believe it or not, the appeal of video games doesn’t lie in controlling which way you’re facing, either.

As they say in big fancy screenwriting school, a movie must engage an audience’s sense of hope and fear: the hope that, say, a hero will succeed, constantly balanced with the fear that he will not. A video game engages the same sense of hope and fear, but it’s deepened by the fact that a player is personally responsible for a hero’s success, and personally fears the obstacles that stand in the way. When a huge boss character shows up in a video game, you think oh shit, not because you think, “How is he going to beat that thing?” but “How am I going to beat that thing?” Note that for the story to progress, you will eventually have to beat that thing. This isn't about choosing an outcome, it's about personally accomplishing the outcome.

To cite another example: The cases in Phoenix Wright can only come out two ways: You win or you lose. It’s not choosing the result that’s fun, it’s the fact that you're responsible for making it happen. It's the sense of dread when a new complication arises and you realize you're the one who has to figure out how to prove your case all over again.

There is room for this kind of video game narrative alongside the linear, non-interactive narrative of films. Personally, I like the fact that a movie can be over in two hours without making my clumsy self responsible for the outcome. I like that the characters can move on to the next scene without failing at it and repeating it twenty times. It’s a different kind of storytelling, and that’s fine. Video games are fun but you don’t always want your stories in video game form.

I think it’s a mistake to peg some vague notion of interactivity as the secret to video games’ appeal. To try to make movies imitate video games without even understanding games is just plain foolhardy. After all, there’s a reason the Choose Your Own Adventure format never took over the publishing market.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

All Better

Blogger has finished fixing their bad machine problems, so my blog and its comments should be back to normal now.

What It Means For Your Weekend

Since Tom is expecting me to stay on top of Arrested Development news, I might as well link to this column, which helpfully offers a status report on all the rumors flying around:

Fiction: The show has already been snapped up by Showtime to the tune of a 26-episode order, which will be announced any day. Fact: Showtime's hands are tied, pending a decision by "Arrested's" creator and executive producer, Mitch Hurwitz, who is said to be physically and mentally drained and undecided whether he wants to come back for more.

Fiction: FX is also in the bidding for "Arrested Development." Fact: There is no bidding. ABC was once in the mix but is thought to have dropped out, leaving it a Showtime-or-nobody proposition.

Fiction: Hurwitz can take his time making a decision because the actors and writers love the job so much they'll wait it out. Fact: Contractually, Hurwitz has basically until June to go forward (or not). After that, he loses most of the cast and writing staff.

Fiction: If Hurwitz wants to keep the show in production, Showtime is on board no matter what. Fact: The word is that Hurwitz would require huge wads of cash to be lured back, and there are surely limits to Showtime entertainment president Robert Greenblatt's largesse (even at the "No Limits" network). But if a deal can be worked out, the cabler is apparently indeed on board to commit to 26 new originals over two seasons.

Hurwitz -- difficult to snare for interviews over the past year and pretty much impossible lately -- couldn't be reached for comment, while Showtime merely confirmed its ongoing interest in the property. But it's as easy to see this thing falling apart as coming together, given the guru's ambivalence and the fact an agreement would require Showtime to lay out upwards of $60 million for a series with iffy mainstream appeal at best.


After all the drama of the last couple years, I'm too exhausted to hang any strong emotion on the outcome one way or another. And while it would be great to see the show continue, the show's semi-finale on Fox is a dignified, reasonably satisfying ending that would make it easier to accept the show not returning.

But for now it's all still up in the air.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Go, Ocho!


There was a Herbie reference on The Daily Show a few weeks ago, but I didn't bother to get the screenshot on my computer until recently. This was in the context of a bit about the hit Turkish movie that cast Americans as cartoonishly evil villains. Here Jon Stewart presents past hit films from the region, including Herbie Goes Bananas and then is Stoned to Death for Immorality.

Ah, Herbie Goes Bananas. Not a great movie, but certainly an enduring title. Posted by Picasa

The '90s Called, They Want Their Headline Back


How many hackneyed, dated catchphrases can you fit in one headline?

Two. The answer is two. Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 20, 2006

Minor Threat

By now everyone’s heard about how Tom Cruise has threatened not to promote M:I:III if Comedy Central re-airs the South Park episode about Tom Cruise and Scientology. The threat works because Paramount and Comedy Central are both owned by Viacom, which reveals an unforeseen danger of media consolidation: The empowering of insane celebrities to hold entire conglomerates hostage. Pity your poor corporate overlords.

I think Cruise is bluffing anyway—he has as much to lose as anyone if M:I:III, his biggest vanity franchise, tanks. But just in case he’s serious? Viacom, your choice is clear: Tell Comedy Central to air the South Park episode as much as possible. After all, it's Tom Cruise. Do you really want this lunatic on the talk show circuit promoting your movie? People may still love Tom on the big screen, but the last thing you need is him giving more scary interviews where he rants about psychiatrists and jumps on couches for Katie. Call his bluff and air the episode. If he follows through on his threat, congratulations. You just dodged a bullet.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Consider It Official

I thought I had fixed it, but my comments are not working again. It's a unsettling reminder that we are all at the mercy of a capricious higher power called Blogger.

This may have something to do with it:

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A clarification about the filer we restored yesterday: This machine is indeed up and functioning again, so the affected blogs are no longer entirely inaccessible. However, it is still not in great shape and we are in the process of moving all the data off of it and on to better machines. So over the next few days there may still be lingering and intermittent problems for some blogs. This includes the "forbidden" errors we're all getting tired of, as well as occasional publishing errors, or incompletely published pages. If you get an error viewing a blog, refreshing the page once or twice should clear it. For publishing problems, simply wait a few minutes and republish, and that should take care of it. Thanks for your patience while we work on clearing all this up.


Anyway, leave me comments at the now official Unofficial Official Kenny Byerly Comments Blog post, graciously provided courtesy of bigstupidjerkface.

Sing The Praises Of Pants


Here are The Pants. As you can see, they look quite cool. However, they have been passed to Cynthia to convey back to Lydia, because I believe that Lydia loves them the most and will give them a good home.* Also, I have other Stripey Pants, which, while less bold, grew insecure at the prospect of competing for the rare occasions on which it is appropriate for me to wear pants that are striped. Even so, thanks go out to Lydia for the thoughtful gift and the selfless willingness to part with something so treasured for my sake. I do appreciate it.

Also thanks go out to everyone who came to my birthday party and made it awesome. You know who you are. The rest of you can suck a dick. Although most of you who read this blog don't even live in LA and weren't invited because of that.** You guys are cool. You don't have to suck a dick. You are hereby relieved of the obligation to fulfill that directive.

I am still a little drunk, and by a little I mean substantially.

*Lydia, we can be the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because our pants have traveled! Only we can be the siblinghood 'cuz I ain't nobody's bitch. That is Stephanie's idea (the Traveling Pants thing). Drunk blogging fucking rocks.

**If you live in LA and weren't invited, I am so sorry and it is nothing personal, I was worried about inviting too many people and so the guest list was composed of certain cliques. Let me know and we will go out to dinner or something and I will make it up to you. You also don't have to suck a dick.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Technical Difficulty, Or: What The Fuck Is Wrong With My Blog?

My blog didn't seem to work yesterday evening, and right now the comments on the last two posts don't seem to be displaying properly. Or the comments on this one. Everyone else's Blogspot blogs seem fine. What's the deal?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Contra Diction

On the next episode teaser of The Daily Show two days ago (consequently, yesterday's episode, but I've only seen the teaser in question rather than the actual episode so I'll stick to discussing that), they plugged a segment in which Nate Corddry learns to hunt quail. As the instructor hands Corddry a rifle, Corddry asks if he can get unlimited ammo by pressing "up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, A, B, start." Which is, as everyone knows, wrong.

It really spoiled the joke for me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. It seems like most people who would recognize the reference would also know enough to tell that it's incorrect. And you can't excuse it by claiming it's meant to be a generic code, either, since Corddry goes on to explain that he's had a lot experience playing Contra in 1991.

Aside from my nitpicking, it still blows me away that our generation is now old enough that our childhood minutae is fodder for mainstream comedy. Just a few years ago this was the kind of in-jokey recent nostalgia you'd only find in, say, a college humor magazine. Now kids who were playing Contra in 1991 are working on The Daily Show. That means I'm supposed to be a grown-up by now.

Twentieth Century Boy

It's my birthday.

Last night, after midnight passed and it first became my birthday, Stephanie presented me with my gift: An iPod Nano. I haven't had a chance to use it at all yet, but it's very exciting.

A few weeks ago, after allowing iTunes to sit on my hard drive unused since, well, whenever it was that I wrote that iTunes post, I actually opened the program and used it to purchase music online. Like so many major life experiences, it was an intimidating hurdle, but once I'd done it, it seemed easy and not such a big deal. In fact, I've done it a few more times since then.

It's only natural, really, that an iPod would soon follow. As Stephanie points out, all the people our age seem to have iPods, or, for those contrary types who hate successful things, mp3 players of some other stripe. I am too frugal to have taken that step on my own, so it is good that Stephanie took the initiative.

I feel so current and with-it. Finally I am living in the now. Once I buy a tuner I will be able to listen to podcasts in my car, which certainly sounds like a desireable thing.

Look out, world--I can now listen to audio of my choice no matter where I go, without lugging around a cumbersome Walkman loaded with some CD or cassette or vinyl record or what have you.

Get used to hearing me say things like this: "What's this? Oh, it's my iPod. I like to, you know, listen to music on it. It makes me cool. What's that? You didn't ask? Well, I'm happy to tell you anyhow."

I am pretty sure my life is going to completely change.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Washer Woman Day

Every time I do laundry it somehow takes up the entire day.

Today the washing machine broke down in the middle of a load of laundry, leaving our coloreds (clothes not people) soaking in a machineful of cloudy water. Consequently, I had to wring out every last article of clothing by hand in preparation for putting them in the dryer, where they would enjoy several cycles (they're on the third now--or is it the fourth?) before emerging dry and probably still in need of a wash. Hooray!

So much of our day-to-day interaction with wet laundry is limited to laundry that is in fact merely damp. It's easy to forget that when clothes are actually, seriously wet, they hold a shitload of water. You pull them out of that machine and they are heavy, glistening and dripping everywhere. You could fill a pitcher with the water in a T-shirt. And wringing every last thing individually is tedious work.

I guess that is what people did before washing machines. There was the washing, and then the wringing, and then the clothesline. Whoever invented the hand-cranked rollers that squeezed water out of clothes for you--in other words, the kind of washing machine no doubt used to peel shrimp by one J.M. Lapeyre, thus accomplishing the same function as a boot (contrary to the assumption in the linked article that Lepeyre's washing machine was the modern kind we're accustomed to)--was a genius. Did you forget what I was talking about in that sentence? I was saying that the inventor of the rollers on old-time washing machines was a genius. That digression totally got in the way, but I really wanted to tie in Boback's piece.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Friday, March 10, 2006

Another Cars Trailer

There's yet another trailer up for Pixar's Cars, and it's looking pretty slick. The movement is organic and somehow very satisfying to watch, striking a nice balance between cartoonishness and photorealism. And the race scenes are miles better than the stiff, boring filler from the first teaser. It's come a long way.

I'm kind of getting used to the windshield eyes, I guess--seeing the cars move and interact with each other helps sell it. It's still a really weird world, though--a world populated by cars and no people ultimately just doesn't make any sense. Even something like A Bug's Life is more believable, because you figure, okay, if bugs were sentient and intelligent and had articulated fingers, maybe they could do all this stuff and build these things and we might not notice. But seriously, how do cars build other cars, and buildings, and stuff? They don't even have hands! Where does all the human world infrastructure come from? The world breaks down at some point, so you just have to purposely not think about it.

Here's another trailer that's ugly and less slick, and even includes some of that boring, seemingly unfinished race work from the teaser, but which seems to show more of the story.

OMG!

Someone else is creating a fake(ish) documentary with the same name and almost the same premise. Although he has apparently put more thought into judging a "great shopper."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Clarification Post

I had always planned to write another post to straighten out that last one. The previous post was written in the heat of passion, fueled by YouTube shorts that stirred a fierce self-loathing. It may go too far in condemning all mockumentaries. But I wanted to capture the intensity of my emotions in the moment.

It all started when I received a nice comment on "American Shopper" by another YouTube user who directed me to a "Christopher Guest-style" movie of his own. This was "Galerie X," which you can probably find a link to from the "American Shopper" page. You can look if you want, but unless you have a fascination with junk videos like I do, there's no point. It's about a guy with an accent who has what he fancies an "art gallery," except it just has a bunch of random stuff in it he calls art, like magazine advertisements on the wall or a roll of tape on the floor or a bike in the corner. There is also, oddly, one actual painting, although he wildly overvalues it at millions of dollars. In a prolonged scene, he buys a bunch of wine, and in another, a woman comes to the gallery and hates everything while he tries to convince her it's great. Anyway, it's all drawn-out and witless, the dialogue is hard to hear, the long takes go on forever with no point, and his cluelessness is so heavy-handed that it's not a joke, it's just stupid. Even I only skipped through the interminable fifteen minutes of it.

Next I watched "The Mentionables," ostensibly a mockumentary about a group of health class guest speakers, but really an excuse for three different guys to channel Ben Stiller. The first guy is briefly funny as he tricks the class into believing he's missing an arm, and the second guy has a good joke when he explains that he became a ninja, but they were out of nunchucks: "So I bought this," he says, suddenly pulling a huge revolver. But otherwise, it's completely tiresome and lame, and they totally capture the Ben Stiller thing of thinking they're hilarious.

At this point I was still thinking that I had a couple of things going for me. One was that my mockumentary was not so obnoxiously smug and patronizing toward my main character. Unlike the gallery owner or the crazed health class speakers, my champion grocery shopper is not some idiot. Within the world of the movie, average shoppers all seem to admire him and his legendary status, though it's unclear why. The joke rests in the absurdity of it all, rather than in offering the audience a smug sense of superiority.

Then there was "Railrunners," about a guy who likes to run on railroad tracks. He claims to have run the Chunnel. "Isn't that dangerous?" the interviewer asks. And that was a pretty silly idea but the video lost my interest fast, while reminding me that an absurd premise doesn't necessarily make your mockumentary any better.

Besides, people who watched my video probably wouldn't even think about it as much as I did for the paragraph above. In fact, when I first showed it around, some people thought it should have more reactions from people who thought the champion shopper was weird or lame. To me, that spoils it, because the joke that he is deluded seems too easy. I preferred that he inexplicably existed in a world where being "good at shopping" meant something. But honestly I doubt if anyone else would look at it that way.

After all this and more, I found myself hating all the people who put their lazy homemade mockumentaries online, and despite my own rationalizations, in fairness I couldn't exempt myself from the hate. Hence the virulent post below.

I did find one good mockumentary: "Rory Fielding" is well-made, doesn't overstay its welcome, and freshens the format with a delightfully overcomplicated premise.

On Christopher Guest movies: Honestly, I'm not that crazy about them. I think they're okay. Obviously they're trailblazers in the mockumentary genre, so they were creating the formula long before it was hacky, and they have very talented casts. Still, they are sullied somewhat by the current wave of lazy mockumentaries, which function as sort of unintentional parodies by taking everything that's bad about decent mockumentaries and magnifying them a hundredfold, so that it will become impossible to watch a Christopher Guest movie without focusing on the simplistic condescension that lies at the heart of every joke. But really, it's probably not as bad as all that, because only people like me will actually bother to watch the shit on YouTube.

I have not seen A Mighty Wind, but my favorite Christopher Guest moment is not in any of the actual movies. It's in the deleted scenes from Waiting for Guffman. Now, the condescension in Guffman actually kind of turns me off. It's not just about deluded people, but about deluded actors who think they're very talented when they aren't. The fact that they are all played by very talented actors just makes it feel like the whole movie is successful talented people mocking unsuccessful, untalented people. It's like a mockumentary starring people with working legs making fun of people in wheelchairs (That's gold, YouTube members--run with it!).

But anyway, my favorite part is in the deleted scene where Fred Willard is re-enacting a baseball play with Catherine O'Hara, forcing her to pitch for him, and she's hung over and clearly loathing it, but he's so into telling the camera about this great play that he doesn't notice at all, and it ends with him hitting the ball way across the yard, and she trudges off to retrieve it and it's incredibly sad and uncomfortable, and really a total downer of a scene. But it's so dark and it goes so far it's hilarious. It gets past the glibness on the surface of the movie and really exposes the ugliness underneath. It reminds us that these people are not just so sad it's funny, they're so sad it's not funny. And oddly, that makes it simultaneously the meanest, funniest, and most human moment of the movie--except it wasn't in the movie.

Mockumentaries Suck

As The Onion AV Club states in their review of CSA: The Confederate States of America, mockumentaries are a dime a dozen these days, since all you need is a chyron generator and a handheld camera. That, and at least one person to pontificate self-importantly and fake-obliviously about something obviously unimportant/stupid/ridiculous.

If you have ever made a mockumentary and feel like hating yourself, cruise on over to YouTube and take your pick from dozens upon dozens of shitty mockumentaries full of horrible people.

Is my mockumentary any better than these, really? If you ask me, I'd say it's a little better, and I could try to justify that with a bunch of reasons I've made up, but the truth is I'm simply biased. Based on what we see on YouTube, mockumentaries are growing more terrible by the hour, and that shittiness has infected the entire genre to include films made before mockumentaries became shitty.

If your mockumentary is just a guy doing bad improv riffs as a weirdo with delusions of grandeur, then fuck you, you fail, and that includes me. At this point the whole idea of a mockumentary is so cheap and lame and formulaic that any good one has to really transcend the form. Here is a good starting rule: If your mockumentary is more than 50% talking head interviews, it sucks. You clearly have no movie, just a lot of videotape and an actor who thinks he's funnier than he is. Even 25% is too much, really. Rule 2: Your premise is not worth over ten minutes. No, shut up. It isn't. Really.

The Office is the greatest mockumentary ever. Maybe the only good mockumentary ever. Yes, David Brent fits the deluded guy mold, but as a character, he's much more complex than that, and so are the other characters. The Office is not just about how Brent is deluded, but how everybody is. Tim and Dawn are in denial too. The mockumentary device becomes crucial in highlighting the difference between the characters' feelings and the fronts that they present to the camera. It's a story that is enhanced by its storytelling device, rather than a stock device in search of a dumb joke to plug in. They even have the restraint to not use chyrons, because they know the show is good enough not to need them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Disappointment Television

Damn you, UPN, and your randomly scheduled reruns of Everybody Hates Chris. Last week Scrubs, a really awesome show that I like better all the time, ended on a masterful, truly heartbreaking cliffhanger... and this week, TiVo missed the follow-up because UPN slotted in a Chris unexpectedly.

TiVo also missed Malcolm on Sunday because of a mix-up involving the Oscars. These days, shows don't get rerun as much, so it may be hard to catch a second airing.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ultravile?

Apparently Ultraviolet is supposed to be pretty terrible. And that's coming not just from critics, but user comments as well. Disappointing. I thought the trailer was quite good. It looked like a really fun trashy movie. But the verdict seems to be that it's just a shitty trashy movie. Oh well. Maybe on DVD? Nobody tell Jake Gyllenhaal.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Flip Side

So the fact that Crash beat Brokeback is supposedly indicative of Hollywood's lack of courage or something, but another way to look at it is that Brokeback's legacy is now safe. Practically every movie that wins a Best Picture honor eventually crumbles under the weight. People realize it's maybe good, but not that good. The consensus becomes that it's overrated, backlash kicks in, and a few years later everyone kind of hates it because they feel like they were duped.

See American Beauty or Titanic. Does anyone really even think about Chicago these days? Think about how many people look back on the year Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction and say that Pulp Fiction got robbed. Wouldn't you rather be the movie that got robbed that everyone still loves, rather than the movie that makes everybody wonder what they were so excited about?

If Brokeback is actually a good movie, in a few years everyone will still think so, and it will be free of the increased scrutiny that will doom it to severe backlash. In fact, it's likely to be viewed with extra charity since it was an overlooked gem (a massively hyped overlooked gem, perhaps, but overlooked nonetheless). Meanwhile, the Best Picture Oscar virtually guarantees that viewers will eventually realize that Crash is an empty shell that flatters people into believing they've seen something important.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Partially Blogging the Oscars

I didn't start at the beginning, but whatever.

Nice to see Lauren Bacall, but she's having trouble reading the teleprompter. This is really uncomfortable.

The Daily-Show-style negative campaign ads for Best Actress were really good.

J.Lo looks awful, unrecognizably awful. She barely looks like a person.

The best song number from Crash is even more irritating than the movie. There is a burning car on stage and people reaching out to each other in slow motion. Man, is it pretentious.

The songs in the commercials are better than the songs nominated for best song. The song in the Diet Coke ad is pretty good.

Oh, good, Jon Stewart made fun of the Crash number. "If you are trying to escape a burning car, my suggestion would be not to move in slow motion."

Wow, the MPAA president and Jake Gyllenhaal are really hard-selling the theatrical experience. "Good luck enjoying [epic films] on a portable DVD," Gyllenhaal snits clumsily, which elicits a small chuckle, seemingly for the moment's sheer awkwardness. Poor guy. It's not his fault someone wrote a commercial for him to recite. Please see movies in theaters, everybody! When you don't, all this fanfare seems awfully silly. I like how every year, you can tell what's making Hollywood desperately insecure--like a couple years ago when Steve Martin had all the jokes about downloading.

Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep are doing a "spontaneous" bit where they pretend to go off the script. It's supposed to be Altman-esque. Pretty impressive considering how many people are botching the teleprompter reading for real. Okay, it's going on way too long now. How long can they talk over each other? What is going on?

Listening to Salma Hayek is like playing a guessing game. When she starts a word, you guess what word it's going to be. Then she inevitably surprises you. When she says Pride & Prejudice, "Pride" ends up with three syllables.

The only thing worse than long speeches are short speeches that are 50% lamenting the lack of time left in the speech. Especially when you get a few in a row. At least the microphones don't disappear into the stage this year.

Reese Witherspoon needs to hurry up and book a terrible action movie to follow in the tradition of Charlize Theron and Halle Berry.

Last year Dustin Hoffman seemed doped up or otherwise somehow brain-addled. It was embarrassing. He seems to be in better shape this year, but still awkward. Standing in front of everyone must make him uncomfortable. Why is it so hard to write about the Oscars without overusing the words "awkward" and "uncomfortable"?

Wow, Larry McMurtry is weird. He's like a bobbing, squeaky cartoon character. Larry, Brokeback wasn't a book, was it? Didn't Diana Osana just say it was a short story in the New Yorker?

Paul Haggis just collects Oscars now, doesn't he?

McDonald's commercial: A cute little Asian boy sits on a bench with a Ronald McDonald statue. It's snowing. The Asian boy puts his scarf on Ronald McDonald and walks away. "You did what with your scarf?! What's the matter with you? That scarf cost ten dollars! We're going back there right now!"

Oh wow, Crash for Best Picture? Paul Haggis has too many Oscars for two years. Can we just agree now that he can never have one again?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cicierega

The past couple days I've been kind of fascinated by the work of Neil Cicierega, a nineteen-year-old stick figure of a young man with an impressive amount work on the Internet. He's got a bit of the self-conscious, too-intentional weirdness that certain teenagers latch onto, which I generally find irritating (probably because I used to think it was cool). This tendency reveals itself in the very name of his website: EvilTrailMix.com. But I can't deny that he seems pretty talented.

Even if you lose interest in this post later on, you should first check out the Potter Puppet Pals. Watch both animations, but start with "Bothering Snape."

Cicierega also makes music under the name Lemon Demon (formerly Trapezoid). He did the music for the "Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny" animation that Steve linked to once, and which, honestly, I didn't care for much. Seems like he's also done stuff connected with Something Awful. But I found his website through his music video for "Word Disassociation" on Google Video. Here it is:



Again, maybe a little too pointedly random, but to give credit where it's due, it's well-shot, well-cut, the concept remains visually interesting throughout, and the song is good enough to stick pleasantly in my head. My main complaint is he eventually falls back on "antidisestablishmentarianism," which is not a word so much as a factoid a teacher tells you, which you file away for times when you want to seem smart and quirky.

UPDATE: I guess he's a pretty big deal on the Internet. He's got a Wikipedia entry, for crying out loud (now linked above)!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Throttled

Though I have more important things to do, tonight I was revisiting Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, which I TiVoed the other day. I'd really wanted to like the movie back when it came out, and since then, I'd always kind of wanted to see it again, but could never bring myself to pay for it.

Watching it again, it seems clearer why the movie fails. It's not that the even more over-the-top stunts defy not only real physics but also cartoon physics and seem to operate on the opposite of any conceivable logic. I can enjoy that. It's not even what made me uncomfortable the first time around--the way the sexy parts seemed to cross over into sleazy leering, and the unresolved dirtiness of the running joke where John Cleese thinks they're whores (although the Cleese joke is still unfunny and way too drawn out).

The movie doesn't work simply because whenever the camera isn't whirling around distracting us with T&A or ludicrous action, every scene is dead in the water. Whenever a character starts talking, beware. The comic dialogue is staged and edited with zero flair or timing. Or, for that matter, comedy.

The dialogue scenes are either straight exposition (if you're lucky) or an excuse for the characters to riff and crack each other up (as they do in the interminable bit about Drew Barrymore's pre-witness-protection name, Helen Zass, or the pointless bit where the Bosleys play Clue). But the jokes aren't actually funny, so what you have are long scenes where characters aren't being funny or advancing the story. It's like the camera's just running, and no one really knows why. It's quite dreadful. These are the scenes that make the movie oppressive instead of fun, by constantly reminding us that the actors are having a great time, while we're just watching people who think they're hilarious having a better time than we are. And we really don't care whether Cameron Diaz and Luke Wilson are getting a puppy together.

I guess this is pretty obvious. After the first Charlie's Angels, anyone would expect that the actual dramatic parts would be the weakest part of the movie. Maybe because I was expecting so little from them, I overlooked them last time. After all, the first movie was good even though those scenes were bad, so it didn't occur to me that the leadenness of dialogue scenes could be what sank the sequel. The problem is here they're given more weight and screen time, and it's deadly.

I'm not sure if a movie with McG's glossy, heightened energy ever could manage a switch to a scene natural enough to handle comedy, drama, or any emotion besides the visceral excitement and tongue-in-cheek pleasures of his action scenes. But these inherently undramatic, horribly indulgent scenes certainly don't help.