Friday, April 28, 2006

Special Delivery

When The Ringer came out there was a lot of press about how they weren't really making fun of the mentally challenged, and they had the cooperation of the Special Olympics, which in turn had approval over the movie and so forth.

I wonder if the Special Olympics had approval over the DVD art. Compare to the relatively dignified theatrical poster. Were people not understanding the premise? Was it too subtle before? The new one is just plain embarrassing to look at.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Follow Your Dreams

Perhaps you're the cynical type. Perhaps you roll your eyes when you hear someone tell kids that if they believe in themselves, their dreams can come true, that believing is achieving, and so on. Perhaps you think that it's pointless for a person to labor on in pursuit of their goals if they actually lack talent.

Well, syndicated humor columnist Mark Bazer is here to prove you wrong. In the wake of Dave Barry's retirement, Bazer has stepped in to fill the humor column void with his own particular brand of mediocrity.

To read Bazer's column is to experience the same subtle discomfort you get from watching a bad comic, one who almost knows the rhythm of a joke, but not quite; one who mistakes randomness for absurdity; one who thinks he has a funny idea but never bothered to bring along his punchlines.

You read it, and it's not quite train-wreck bad. It's not so bad it's good. It's just mediocre enough to be terrible. You read a sentence, wait for a joke, and the beat ends without giving it to you. If a real joke is like a rollercoaster--with the setup being the long ramp up and the payoff being the huge drop on the other side--then Bazer's jokes are like a rollercoaster that takes you up and then levels off forever.

Take his recent column offering humorous travel advice:

Let's talk about your summer travel plans. Whether you're finally going to take that long-anticipated romantic jaunt to Paris to sip wine at outdoor cafes while gazing out at riots, or just are thinking about loading the kids into the car for a cross-country tour of this nation's highway system, you'd be wise to start your vacation-planning now. Airfares aren't getting any lower and hotel rooms are filling up, at least according to several relatives with whom I spoke at a family get-together this past weekend.

Here to help you plan your summer fun are me and my advice!

There's the standard lame joke, with a twist too unreal to be relatable and too boring to be silly:

• First off, wherever you decide to go, never feel pressure that you have to "see everything." Some of my best vacations have been spent entirely in my hotel room trying to figure out how to work the safe-deposit box.


The lame joke with the pointless, rhythm-killing addendum:

• Lake Geneva, in Wisconsin, is a wonderful place to get away to for the weekend, especially if you like saying, "Look, another fudge shop." Oh, wait, I'm sorry: fudge shoppe.


The confusingly written jokes, which demand that you expend all your energy deciphering clumsy syntax:

• Before you leave for your destination, print out directions to all the Chili's restaurants in the area. Remember the old saying: "It's the unprepared traveler who has to eat at the family-owned restaurant featuring unique menu items, fresh ingredients and local flavor instead of at Chili's."

• At least a month before your trip, buy a guide to the place you'll be visiting. It's a great way to learn what a person who, odds are, is nothing at all like you thinks is worth seeing.

• When flying, don't forget the old honeymoon trick. If you're a frequent flier on a particular airline and notice that a young couple has received a free upgrade to first class because they're on their honeymoon, you may be able to convince the airline supervisor that you're more deserving of those seats.

• If you're feeling guilty about vacationing at a luxury resort in a poor country, pretend that your life and the lives of everyone you've ever encountered are actually just part of another person's dream and that that person just happened to dream for you to vacation there.

The jokes that mock American intolerance and xenophobia:

• Keep in mind: Everybody in the world speaks English, if your headlock is tight enough.

• If you yearn for a taste of French culture but have been boycotting France for the past several years, then stop boycotting France!


And the jokes that promote intolerance and xenophobia:

• If you're traveling to any Asian country and plan on ingesting, watching others ingest or in any way handling chickens, please do not come home. Thank you.


The obvious:

• Disney World is not just for families with children. It's also for older adults who have opted never to have children and who want to confirm they made the right decision.


And of course, the substitution of random, nonsensical stupidity for absurdity, irony, cleverness, or any kind of real comedic logic:

• If you're traveling to a major European city such as Barcelona, be on the lookout for pickpockets. They're everywhere, so do NOT just stand around in public places waiting for them to rob you. Instead, to help improve America's image abroad, voluntarily -- and politely -- hand over your wallet to anyone who looks suspicious.

• Sometimes it's fun to make a vacation out of exploring your own city or town! Of course, to really get the full effect, you have to first fly to another city; then fly back home, pretending you're flying to a brand-new place. Then, when you're done with your hometown vacation, fly somewhere else; then fly back home again, but this time treat it like you're flying home.

• Finally, I want to go on record as being against a disturbing trend that has been endorsed by several of my travel-writing competitors. I understand perfectly well the desire to take a trip without your children for a change. That said, it is never appropriate to put Scooby-Doo masks on your kids and leave them at your local kennel. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. And happy travels!

Part of what makes reading Bazer so uncomfortable is the constant feeling that you've missed something. After each paragraph, you double back, certain you glossed over the part that would make it matter. It's frustrating because you feel like you're skimming no matter how closely you read.

But the point is, he believed in himself. He worked hard and kept at it. He wanted to write a humor column so badly that eventually he convinced someone that he could. And then Dave Barry retired and it was Mark Bazer's day to shine.

Kids, someday this could be you.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tonight!

8:30, CBS, How I Met Your Mother. Episode: "Mary the Paralegal."

This is the episode they shot the week I sat in on the show. It may contain a line I contributed in the writers room, unless they changed it on set.

UPDATE: It did contain the line. Which was: "C'mon, if you don't laugh, it just seems mean."

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Shopaholic

So I guess for that Swansea Film Festival thing that solicited American Shopper, people are supposed to vote on the top 50. Are those the only ones that get a screening? I don't know. This was not made clear to me. Honestly I haven't been paying much attention.

But there are two weeks left in the voting, so the least I can do is marshall the forces of my blog readership. Let's all go to the Netcasting page with American Shopper on it, and click on the "V" to vote for it and see what happens.

Okay, what happens is that the "V" is an email link to kenny@swanseafilmfestival.com. That seems like a pain in the ass. We have to send an email? Saying what, "I vote for this movie?"

You know what, if anyone's willing to go to that trouble for me, I'd appreciate it.

Some Movies

Capote

I am not really familiar with Capote's work. I haven’t even seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The extent of my Capote exposure is his cameo in Annie Hall, when Alvy and Annie are people watching and Alvy points out the “winner of the Truman Capote look-alike contest.”

From what I understand, Truman Capote was an asshole with a funny voice. Already that puts this more or less on the level of your pre-serious Adam Sandler movie. Philip Seymour Hoffman does a fine job of being ridiculous yet appealing, currying favor with all those who might help him research his true-crime masterpiece In Cold Blood.

Capote needs the convicted murderers to stay alive long enough for him to interview them extensively, so he finds them a lawyer to help them appeal their case. He proceeds to befriend them, growing so close to one of them, he may even be in love. But the guys keep pestering him for help as their appeals continue all the way to the Supreme Court, even as Capote realizes he can’t finish his eagerly awaited book until they get executed. Awk-ward! Big laughs ensue.

Melinda & Melinda

Not terrible, just boring. Woody Allen has become the friend whose movies you see out of kindness and loyalty. The framing device—playwrights spinning contrasting tales in a restaurant—is as stilted and clumsily written as anything you’ll ever hear. Worse, it only distances you from the characters we’re actually supposed to care about. But never mind, because there was never much hope for them. Radha Mitchell delivers a technically sound performance without ever achieving a compelling screen presence. Will Ferrell labors in the Woody Allen stand-in role, occasionally managing a decent comic delivery but never finding a character to play.

Here and there something is funny. More often you have to strain to find something funny in something that is mildly amusing at best. Will Ferrell’s struggling actor boasts repeatedly about the distinctive touch he brings to his roles—playing them with a limp. The joke, such as it is, gets completely run into the ground.

And then there are the simple, lazy gags that would seem hackneyed in an old sitcom, lifelessly staged without any of the commitment or comic spirit that you'd find on Three's Company. Will Ferrell, nearly caught eavesdropping, presses up against the wall to avoid being seen, then gets his bathrobe caught in a door. This is a comic set piece? For this you made a movie?

And that is only the comic side. The dramatic side gets much more screen time, and without even the attempts at humor, it pretty much just lays there. I could go into more detail, but none that you’d care about.

I haven’t seen Match Point yet. I hope that Woody Allen has indeed redeemed himself. My fear is that people are simply more willing to excuse stiff dialogue when it’s delivered with English accents.

The Squid and the Whale

A whole family of horrible assholes. But they are believable and funny. When Jeff Daniels curses at tennis and the younger son copies him, it rings true. There are some excellent, hilarious moments of dead-on painful awkwardness.

The younger brother’s masturbation stuff is bizarre and creepy. Probably it’s intended to be.

The ending is sudden and not quite satisfying. It casts an air of pretension over a movie that is otherwise much less pretentious than you might expect. What has been resolved? The older brother has realized not to imitate his asshole father, and goes seeking his lost connection with his mother. But was that the story we were following? Maybe the movie is less a cohesive story than a slice-of-life.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Classy



"...marijuana together, did you know that, honey?"
"...trash..."
"Terry had THC in her system--"

UPDATE: An explanation: You should watch this. It is from the nebulous, random world of Google Video. The above text is my best attempt at transcription. The rest you must do for yourself.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wild On EW

It annoys me a little to see The Wild described as a rip-off of Madagascar. Not that The Wild doesn't appear to be exactly the same movie, with more realistic, slightly creepier animation and seemingly less fun and humor. I'm just saying they didn't do it on purpose.

Surely Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly knows enough about movies to realize that animated films spend years in development, and The Wild couldn't possibly have been greenlit and fully produced in the short year since Madagascar was released. In fact, with The Wild's more detailed animation style, I wouldn't be surprised if it was in production before Madagascar. But by the time Madagascar came out, The Wild was a moving train and it was too late to stop.

Most writers know the pain of seeing one of their legitimately original ideas sold or executed first by someone else, and the constant fear that the same will happen with whatever new brilliant idea they're working on. Different people think of similar ideas. This is a fact.

The folks who made The Wild must have wanted to kill themselves when they saw Madagascar. No one would ever make a movie so similar on purpose, because, well, the result would be exactly what is happening to The Wild. The only way you would ever rip something off so directly is if you were sure you had a chance of making it to release first.

When you start with a certain idea and flesh it out, you find that there are certain story and character choices that just make logical sense, which is why two different writers can end up with amazingly similar products without anyone ever ripping the other off.

What I'm saying is that we should go easy on the makers of The Wild. They were second to market with an identical movie so inferior that people are heaping praise on Madagascar in hindsight. No one wants to see their movie and that is sad enough. We don't need to accuse them of plagiarism on top of it all.

They deserve our pity more than our scorn.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Better Never Than Latte

I’m not a big coffee fan. But I spend a lot of time at Starbucks. So when I’m there I always get the green tea derived drinks: green tea frappuccino, green tea lemonade... even actual green tea. So when they came out with the green tea latte...

Long story short: I’m glad I only got the “tall.”

Slightly longer: ...because it’s disgusting.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Green Grass Grows All Around

As much as I'm into foreign stuff like Japanese pop culture and certain British comedies, I'm really irked by the elitism that often creeps into the fandom thereof. You know, the needlessly broad "their TV is better than anything on American TV" generalizations.

Sure, you find things on, say, British TV that you would never find on American TV, but different cultures result in different creative output, and that shouldn't be a surprise. Foreign stuff might seem refreshingly different to you, but just because it's something you're not used to seeing doesn't make it better.

There is a lot of great stuff on American TV if you're willing to pay attention and look for it. And there is a lot of total garbage on British TV if you actually go there and watch it unfiltered, without waiting for the cream of the crop to cross the Atlantic for you. We may have fucked up the Coupling remake, but it was a Friends ripoff anyway.

Which is why it's funny to see something like this:

Gervais Slams UK Entertainment Industry

British funnyman Ricky Gervais has hit out at his country's TV comedies and dramas, insisting they are lackluster and tired. The outspoken The Office creator is underwhelmed by UK television and believes it is created by a small group of conservative writers who look across the Atlantic for inspiration. He says, "It's different in America. They're ambitious, they're good, they're funny. They do stand-up, and by the time they're 31 they've got their own sitcom because they're good. You don't see many 40-year-old hack writers in America. They get fired if they're no good. It's like natural selection." Of US dramas, Gervais adds, "The Sopranos, 24, CSI, The Wire, bang! We've got nothing like that. Nothing! It's such a big gap. Comparing our celebrities to America is like comparing Blackpool to Las Vegas. It's division two."


See, it works both ways. If you're stuck with their shit (or shite, as I believe they say), our stuff looks awesome. The grass is always greener, and all that.

Straight Outta Cybertron

A while back, Mini was using the image of a Mini-based Transformer robot in billboards and online. You can still go see it at their website if you click on Build Your Own>Robot.

But now there is a Citroen ad that takes the idea and goes one better--a fully animated, dancing Citroen Transformer. As if that's not enough, it even transforms using the same method as most of the Autobots: split rear half becomes the feet, front end becomes chest, rotate 180 degrees at waist so that all the recognizable car parts face front. After the Mini ad, maybe it's not so original, but big points for follow-through.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thank You For Smoking

Thank You For Smoking, as it turns out, is pretty good. It's not really about whether smoking is bad or whether Big Tobacco is bad, and ultimately, it's not even that interested in telling you whether Aaron Eckhart's character, tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor, is bad, as much as it's interested in exploring how he does what he does.

The movie takes for granted that you know that, yeah, cigarettes are bad for you, and, yeah, people who work for tobacco companies are probably assholes, just as it takes for granted that smokers have chosen to smoke knowing the risks. The trailer moment that best captures what the movie is about is the part where Nick tells his son, "If you argue correctly, you're never wrong." Nick is pretty much an asshole, but he's charismatic and unflappably confident, and the movie is mostly about testing how far Nick can go on the power of his arguments. Whether Nick can live with himself is a question that's present, but--refreshingly--not terribly significant.

As for that discussion we had about Lord of War and whether it's possible to make a movie criticizing something without implicitly glamorizing it, director Jason Reitman dodges the question entirely by not showing anyone actually smoking.

The movie is funny, too. The cast is great, and Katie Holmes, well... she doesn't ruin it.

Batman Lego!

In Downtown Disney there is a Lego store, and the Lego store has this full-size Batman built out of Lego:



These gigantic Lego sculptures are kind of old hat by now, but when you see one you really like, it's still pretty cool. They also had Darth Vader and R2D2. Anyway, the Batman was there because there is a line of awesome Lego Batman toys! The weird thing is I think I actually did see an ad for them somewhere but it didn't quite register until I saw the toys in the store in person. I was instantly smitten and for the rest of the weekend I couldn't stop thinking about buying them.



I had to get the Batmobile/Two-Face set, and Catwoman and her cat-cycle were too cute to pass up, even though Batman's dragster is a bit redundant when you've got a Batmobile around. Each set came with a different style Batman. You'll notice one is the 1989 movie-style Batman while the other is the Year One/Current comics style Batman.

On the packages they have mini-comics drawn in the Lego style:



In case you can't see it, the last two panels show Batman in his dragster shooting down one of those Chat Noir French cat posters so that it falls on Catwoman, and Catwoman blowing a kiss to an annoyed Batman as she sits in the wreckage. Crime fighting has never been so delightful.

UPDATE: New, clearer scan of mini-comic posted. You can't really tell from the small view, but if you click on it you should be able to see more detail.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Nobody Puts Pooh In A Corner


At Disneyland now they sell merchandise with adorable simplified character models. Big heads and tiny bodies, kind of like super-deformed anime characters except they also have tiny eyes. The Mickey one is pretty cute, but Minnie, with printed eyelashes, is strange looking and Donald, who's all fuzzy and molting-like to suggest his constant state of agitation, is funny to look at but doesn't really look like Donald.

However, the Winnie the Pooh cast is more adorable than ever. Which is not saying much, because really they're not that cute normally. But now they are. See Stephanie holding Pooh and see the wonderfully cute little Tigger on the table. There's also an Eeyore, who is not included because his cartoonish snout is just confusing in still photos, or at least the head-on shots we have of him.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

California Adventuring

I spent the weekend with Stephanie's family at what is now known collectively as the Disneyland Resort. The occasion(s): Stephanie's birthday and her nephew Liam's birthday. Her parents, three sisters, one brother, one brother-in-law, three nephews and two nieces were also in attendance, so it was a massive affair. The kind that makes dinner plans difficult.

I'd been to Disneyland many times, but always as a day trip. I'd never stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and made a leisurely weekend of it. It was nice.

I'd also never been to Disney's California Adventure. The last time I was at Disneyland the new park had just been completed and was about to be previewed for VIPs, but was not yet open to the public.

The general consensus as I understand it is that California Adventure is an expensive folly, a park no one cares about that failed to attract as many new visitors as the Disney company had hoped for. This did not appear to be the case on Sunday:




If the park were any more packed, I wouldn't want to be there. Maybe the place has turned around. If this is a picture of failure, I think they may be setting the success bar too high.

Creatively, though, the place does not measure up.

There's a glorified Disney Store in Downtown Disney (another post altogether), where the windows display lofty quotes by Walt Disney about Disneyland--the timelessness of good fantasy, the goal of transporting people to worlds that no longer exist or never did, etc. Together, these quotes perfectly capture what is missing from California Adventure.

See, Disneyland was a really revolutionary thing. It was a theme park on an epic scale, with grand ambitions of different lands that would whisk you away to fantasy worlds. As a kid, I know I loved pretending that I was really journeying through a quaint Main Street toward a magical castle, or fantasizing that in Tomorrowland, I really was in the future. That I really was taking a passenger flight through space in Star Tours or exploring Tom Sawyer's Island. As the quotes in the store window emphasize, it's all about imagination.

California Adventure suffers from a serious paucity of ambition. It is a theme park built by people who couldn't think of an idea for a new theme park and then built one anyway.

The average person's first question is, "Why would you build a park where you can pretend to go to California when you are already in California?" If you go to California Adventure, you will leave without knowing the answer.

Not that there aren't some fun things to do in the park. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is decent if you like freefall rides, although its cheap, silly Halloween-style scares and old Hollywood decor are completely wrong for the Twilight Zone brand. Soarin' Over California is a refreshing twist on the "simulated movement" ride genre, forgoing bombast and thrills for simple dreamy exhilaration. It's like flying, and it's lovely and breathtaking. The Aladdin stage show is also quite good, with top-notch production value--like a condensed, highly economical Broadway show. Maybe a little rougher, but what do you want? They play it four times a day.

But California Adventure still lacks any unifying reason to exist. For example, one of the first areas you'll come across is the "Hollywood backlot."




It's a fake Hollywood street, get it? Full of punny businesses like Phil M. Noir Detective Agency, La Brea Carpets, Philipa Couch Casting Agency (explain that one to your kids), and plastic surgery by Dr. Nippantuck. Buy some junk at The Souvenir Itch. Get a smoothie at Shmoozies, where it takes one person to take your order, one person to make it very slowly, and five people to stand around watching!

Except it's not even really a fake Hollywood street. It's a fake fake Hollywood street--Hollywood as if it were a backlot. The buildings are purposely artificial. You see the facade when you look from the sides, the street ends in a big forced perspective backdrop, and there's even an area blocked off with fake cameras as if it's a closed set. So are we on a Hollywood street or on a studio set? No one seems to have really decided. It's conceptually muddled.

Not to mention, the real Hollywood is an hour away, along with countless real backlot tours. What's the point of faking fakery? This is the opposite of Walt's vision for Disneyland. This is falsifying a place that not only exists, but exists in close proximity and can be easily experienced for real.

The same is true of Paradise Pier, at the other end of the park:




This section of the park simulates boardwalk-style amusements in the vein of Santa Monica Pier or the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Big coasters, ferris wheels, cheesy carnival games...but again, why? These places exist already, all over the state. They're the kind of cheap second rate amusements that made Disneyland seem special in the first place.

Apparently now the best Disney can do to create a tourist attraction is to imitate other tourist attractions. Where Disneyland was ambitious and idealistic, California Adventure is lazy and cynical.

Oh, and there's a rafting ride where you get wet, just like in every other non-Disneyland amusement park in existence. So there's that.

California Adventure is fun, but also dispiriting. It's a 45-acre monument to how the Disney company has forgotten what made Disneyland special in the first place--even while enshrining that lost spirit in its gift shops. It's unlikely that California Adventure will have the legacy that Disneyland does 50 years from now. In fact, I'll be surprised if it's not demolished to make room for something better before then.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

3 Fast 3 Furious: The Fastest and the Furiousest

I say that The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift looks pretty cool. Does that make me a retard? Probably. But it does look cool, and if you disagree you are no fun.

Yeah, the second one looked so bad, even I didn't bother to see it. Yeah, it's another sequel in an era of sequel glut. But think of it this way: This could just as easily be a stand-alone movie called Tokyo Drift that happens to be ripping off the Fast and the Furious movies. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel are both gone, replaced by Unknown McNoname and his charming southern drawl, offering lines like "All my life people have told me I don't fit in. Maybe I've just been in the wrong place." Meanwhile his companion Bow Wow gets the gem "When you drift, if you ain't out of control, you ain't in control."

And then there is the drifting and car crashing and even a Mustang racing a Nissan for some reason. The rumor is that in the movie, the Mustang's engine has been replaced by some Japanese engine, which is blasphemy to fans of American and Japanese cars alike.

Luckily I don't actually know enough about cars to get pissed off about things like that. In this case, I am the idiot demographic to which Hollywood is aiming when they disregard the details that enthusiasts hold dear.

Oh, well.

Plus it's set in Tokyo, which always looks cool, even if it's a Tokyo as silly and Hollywoodized as the movie's take on underground car culture.

TF&TF:TD is directed by Better Luck Tomorrow's Justin Lin, which gives it some Asian cred. Hopefully that's a sign that the Japanese characters will be more than stereotypes and background dressing. Well, as much as anyone's more than a stereotype in a movie like this.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that from the looks of it, this may be the best Fast and the Furious movie ever. But only because the first movie underutilized Jordana Brewster.


Fun fact:
The trailer uses a remixed version of the same song used in the car-chase-heavy Taxi trailer. And why not? It worked so well before, obviously.