Thursday, June 29, 2006

Burst

Next year, Dark Horse Comics is releasing the new Gunsmith Cats series, Gunsmith Cats Burst, along with a re-release of the original series.

Which means I suppose I'll have to re-buy the original series.

I wouldn't do this for any other title, but GSC is absolutely my favorite manga. Of course, I didn't read all that many different mangas during my relatively short time as a big anime nerd, but if any title can beat the girls, guns and cars of GSC, not to mention the clean, detailed artwork and visceral, inventive action scenes, I'd like to see it. (No, seriously, I would.)

The re-release will have some additional material along with unflipped artwork. As nice as it is to be able to show someone a GSC book without having to explain how to read a manga backwards, you eventually have to face the maddening fact that every car has its steering wheel on the wrong side. And in a series where cars are featured as prominently as they are in GSC, well, I'm afraid it's worth it to me to have that corrected.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Never Been Loved

A while back I watched Never Been Kissed after it popped up as a TiVo recommendation. I took notes on it with a snarky blog post in mind. That post never materialized, but this one, in which I attempt to decipher my notes, pretty much covers it.

"correcting grammar"
This is one of those movies in which we learn a character is smart because they have a hang-up with correcting people's grammar. In real life, even those of us who know better are usually not so obnoxious as to inject grammar notes into everyday conversation. From time to time, some of us even talk unrightly ourselves. (Instead we make ourselves feel superior by nitpicking lousy teen comedies that many people enjoy.)

"copy ed - office/asst?!"
Since Stephanie really is a copy editor at a newspaper, I have a vague awareness of how the process works. She does not have her own enclosed office, nor does she have a quirky personal assistant, as does Drew Barrymore in this movie. Perhaps the Chicago Sun-Times has more resources to throw around, seeing as they are about to pay someone to spend months undercover in pursuit of a story that doesn't yet exist.

"Kristen Davis"
One of the popular girls is named Kristen Davis, like that actress from Sex in the City and a classmate of mine from USC. Popular name.

"cheer millenium prom theme who cares?"
The students in the film are thrilled to learn that their prom will be themed after the most overhyped, meaningless event of the late '90s: The Millenium! In what world does anyone outside of the prom committee even care what the prom theme is, and how could anyone possibly be so excited about the millenium? What does a millenium-themed prom even mean, anyway?

"why work? No HW"
Drew Barrymore quickly re-establishes herself as a star student and teacher's pet what with her astute interpretations of Shakespeare and all. But why work at all if you are only pretending to be a student? Blow off your homework and you're halfway to being a cool kid. I wish I could go back to high school as a fake student, just so I could experience what blowing off schoolwork is like.

"surveille equip."
Where did she get all this high tech surveillance stuff?

"hot nerd - where?"
I was trying to figure out where I recognized the obviously hot nerdy girl from. Answer: It's Leelee Sobeiski. Which I'm probably misspelling.

"Jessica Alba"
She's in this? Hey!

"James Franco"
Wow. A movie with Jessica Alba and James Franco and we have to watch Drew Barrymore and David Arquette. How unfair is that?

"cool teacher - no (?) so asigned read"
Something about the cool teacher. Other than that, no idea.

"Who is black surv. guy?"
Is is just me or does the surveillance guy (the black dude in the van, also known as Wallace's dad on Veronica Mars) appear in this movie out of nowhere? I don't remember seeing him work at the newspaper, yet all of a sudden we see him spying on Barrymore and offering her equipment. Where did he come from? Are we just supposed to know him?

"ad: Caleman: I borrowed that"
Probably a very funny idea for a joke about an ad, which I now don't recognize.

"Loser"
Having a stamp with the word "Loser" mirroring itself for no reason is a long way to go just so "Loser" will come out forwards on Barrymore's forehead later.

"big prom carnival"
The big expensive carnival as a fundraiser for prom, like the surveillance guy, was also something I saw first on Veronica Mars. Its presence here suggests this is a real thing. My school never had a pre-prom carnival. Are those common, do they only exist in movies, or are they something that used to happen but don't anymore, like live bands at dances?

"Barbie swimsuits - sword"
Where is this high school that allows girls to show up for prom in swimsuits, and guys to show up carrying swords? No way that's allowed anywhere now. Were things that different in the last millenium? Oh, and while we're on the subject, since when do proms get turned into themed costume balls, and since when do kids get excited about that? A prom theme really just means "Which sappy song gets played at the end of the night?" Nothing more.

"Coolson?"
They're calling the cool teacher "Coolson," which seems a bit on the nose in the naming department. Apparently it's a nickname, but I can only assume that his real name was Colson or something, because I don't remember.

"nerd P' guy?"
Probably something about how the dream guy asks the nerd to dance. This question resolves itself when we learn it's a prank. But why is she so excited to dance with him, and why is he so stupid to go through with it when she reveals she's hot? Answer: They're both dumb.

"Movie papers - bad layout"
How come Hollywood can build entire fake cities convincingly, but they can't make a prop newspaper that doesn't look like a high school paper or free local circular? Fonts are badly chosen, photos are poorly placed, layouts are a ridiculous mess. Is it so hard to get someone in the prop department who is willing to look at an actual newspaper? When Barrymore's story appears in the Sun-Times, it's an embarrassment.

"Some story!"
You're an editor. You send someone undercover for several months (with expensive round-the-clock surveillance!) in hopes of serving up a juicy, scandalous expose. She emerges with a self-indulgent diary entry about how hard high school was for her, boo-hoo. And this satisfies you? Well, if you're dumb enough to give a nebulous reporting assignment to someone without a shred of even beat reporting under her belt, maybe it would. It certainly serves you right. Maybe that stuff was more exciting to newpaper readers back then, before blogs had the whiny, pointless confessional market cornered.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tokyo Nights

Cynthia and I both thoroughly enjoyed The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, far and away the best of the Fast and the Furious series. Except for a cameo at the very end, this installment bears no connection to the previous episodes, but it's so much better than its predecessors, I could have done without the link. I never cared for the whole “undercover cop” angle that much. All it did was force the writers to concoct elaborate and impractical criminal schemes to justify a cop going undercover with street racers. Tokyo Drift's misfit-high-school-student fish-out-of-water is a refreshing change and a more relatable character. Sure, the Yakuza gets involved eventually (it’s Japan, after all), but at least they’re not robbing banks with race cars, and the conflicts still play out in races, as they should.

In fact, Tokyo Drift makes a convincing case for continuing the franchise as an anthology. Wouldn’t it be great to have a movie series where each movie was full of new, original stories and characters, with the only constant being that they all contain cool cars?

SPOILER WARNING: Most of the cars in this movie have spoilers. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA I’m sorry.

Seriously, I may spoil some things.

This time around, our hero is Sean (Lucas Black), who’s a likable enough screen presence provided his dialogue is kept to a minimum. Too much talking, though, and his drawl grates on you. How come his parents don’t talk like that? Sean lives in a world where kids don’t attend high school until their mid-twenties. He’s constantly getting busted for reckless driving, and it’s tastefully implied that each time this happens, his mom has to blow a cop to get him off the hook and then leave town. Basically, they’ve never stayed in one place for very long, and his mom has blown a lot of cops.

Director Justin Lin does a fine job of setting the tone, establishing Sean’s life at a sunny Arizona high school full of spoiled jocks so horrible that the main one is Home Improvement’s Zachary Ty Bryan. Sean has a knack for starting conversations with the girlfriends of assholes, and the next thing you know he’s racing ZTB through a housing development construction site. Like real teen drag races, it ends in horrible crashes; unlike real teen drag races, no one is badly hurt. At this point, though, Sean’s mother is tired of blowing cops, so she sends Sean to live with his Navy dad in Tokyo, where his arrival is punctuated by some nice J-rock.

I’ve heard how Los Angeles doubles for Tokyo in this movie, so I was constantly trying to figure out whether any given scene was shot here or in Japan. Mostly, they do a good job. Either they did a fair amount of location shooting in Japan, or they did plenty of research and built very convincing sets. Usually when I suspected something was not Japan, it was when things were too big. The huge, cavernous garage? I imagine in Japan they would find some way to make it more compact. The really wide downtown streets? Well, that’s the one location that I know for a fact is LA, so it doesn’t really count. But the lane paint on the streets is also a big tipoff, since crosswalks and lane markers look different in Japan. There are a few shots where Japanese settings have been composited with action shot in LA. They’re pretty obvious, but the fact that they exist suggests that other, more authentic looking shots may also be composites. Overall, it’s certainly Japanese-looking enough, and contrasts nicely with the Arizona opening sequence.

Cynthia noted that Tokyo Drift is a study in dialects. Nearly everyone in the movie has some kind of accent. Lucas Black has his southern drawl, Bow Wow speaks Black Guy (though not exaggeratedly so), most of the Japanese characters have heavy accents, and the ethnically indistinct Neela (Nathalie Kelley) has an Englishy accent (and an oddly shaped face). Han (Sung Kang) has the least accent of anyone.

As for the driving in the movie: It’s solid. There is no one big stunt that makes you go wow, but it’s all well-performed and fun to watch. There were times when I lost track of what was going on, but mostly the editing was exciting without ruining the action. The CGI is used judiciously, enhancing the dramatic effect in a few key moments without getting in the way of the actual driving. One exception is the scene mentioned above, with the obvious compositing and a really fake looking CGI crowd. The result is a very silly-looking stunt that maybe should have been put together with practical effects or not at all.

Back to the plot, not that it matters that much: Sean becomes infatuated with another asshole’s girlfriend, which leads to trouble and more racing. Sean realizes he sucks at drift racing, and destroys a car while learning that lesson. He winds up in debt to Han, who lent him the car, and must work for Han to pay him back. Han works with the aforementioned asshole, who is Yakuza-affiliated, but Han is nice and takes Sean under his wing, giving him another car and teaching him to drift. Sure enough, Sean eventually learns to drift like a pro, but at least there are enough practice montages to pay proper respect to the idea that yes, drift racing is difficult to learn. And to the movie’s credit, they’re spread out and interspersed with other story elements so it never feels like you could just drop the South Park/Team America “montage” song over it.

The story’s biggest false note comes when things are at their worst, and Sean’s father is about to send him away again. Sean insists that he’s started something, and now he has to make it right. But the situation is not Sean’s fault, nor is it clear why fixing it would be Sean’s responsibility, nor is it clear just what the heck he intends to do. Yet his father nods, pleased that for once, Sean intends to stick around and take responsibility for his mistakes… even if that means doing more of the same kind of thing that he was doing when he was making the mistakes. My point is the moment could have been set up better, but in a movie like this, it hardly spoils everything.

Sean’s dad even gives Sean a car for the climactic race: the classic ’67 Mustang he’s been working on, which only needs an engine. Sean and company drop in the one from Han’s Nissan Skyline, which makes Mustang and Nissan enthusiasts furious (if not fast), but thematically, it’s perfect. The car represents Sean’s dad’s approval and Han’s friendship. On a broader level, it’s a powerful symbol of American and Japanese cultural cross-pollination—the very thing the movie itself is a product of. It’s a Japanese engine powering the most iconic American car ever, as it appeared at its peak (1967). It’s all-American Sean adapting to Japan while retaining his American identity. It may not make the perfect car, but watching that Mustang skid down a mountain road as the camera pushes in on the Nissan engine made me smile.

Wait a minute, of course it did: That car is Hapa.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Stand In The Place Where You Live

After years of saying maybe someday I'll do stand-up again, I started doing stand-up again. After some open mics to get back into the swing of things, I did a show at the Comedy Store on Saturday night.

I invited a bunch of people to come watch, and to my surprise, a lot of people actually came. In fact, I had more guests than anyone else, which meant that I got to choose my slot in the lineup. The show went really well.

They recorded the show and I should be able to get a copy, so I may post the performance in the future, assuming the quality is decent and I don't look stupid in it or something. Ah, vanity! No, just kidding. I never look stupid.

Actually, I've noticed that a lot of comics post their videos on YouTube. The baffling part is they'll post their performances even if they don't do all that well.

Stephanie wants to cuddle, so I have to go now.

Soapy

So there's this dying fucker on Days of Our Lives who has some disease that's killing him slowly with no visible symptoms aside from being an annoying asshole.

He's been dying all year, milking his fucking sympathy card for far more than it's worth. At first he kept it a secret, and tried to get this other guy (his wife's former sweetheart) to agree to marry his wife after he's dead. This was awkward, to be sure.

Then, finally, Dying Asshole appeared to die in a car crash, and the former sweetheart and the wife did rekindle their romance and get married. And no sooner do they marry then Dying Asshole reveals he's still alive, but still dying. So he spoils the wedding so everyone can pity him some more. Selfish, selfish, selfish. Just fucking die, already. No one cares. If I were his loved one it would be all I could do not to just stab him.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Shakespeare!

The latest episode of The John Kerwin Show is up here. The guest is actor John Locke, a veteran of over 250 westerns! So he's your authentic old-time movie cowboy. I recommend it of course, but if you don't watch the whole thing, at least check out our desk bit below. It's definitely one of the better ones we've done, even though the camera work is ridiculously shitty.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Remotes Haven't Clicked In Decades

Click--which I can't mention without also mentioning that the Weird Science TV show did it first, but enough about that--gets a not exactly good but nonetheless fascinating review from LA Weekly.

After an hour of predictably sophomoric antics involving foulmouthed kids, compulsively self-pleasuring canines and the rampant objectification of women, Click turns into a surrealist death dream in which Sandler’s masochistic impulses flower onscreen as never before. As Newman rockets uncontrollably through his own future, he enjoys none of life’s pleasures and suffers all of its ravages: sickness, aging, the death of loved ones — you name it. And the message is that Newman by and large gets what he deserves. He’s the flip side of the harried family man Sandler deftly portrayed in 2004’s Spanglish — less a loving husband and father torn between family and career than a violent and possibly pathological depressive trying to pin down the moment when his life became not his own. The film’s vulgarity — comic, emotional and otherwise — never lets up, and director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer) manages to frame it with some of the more garish imagery (particularly in the futuristic scenes) ever to defile a motion-picture screen. But Sandler holds the whole god-awful mess on his shoulders as ably as anyone could, striving to say something meaningful about the arrested development and unarticulated rage of the American male. Surely, nobody else could package the tragedy of a ridiculous man as a featherweight farce and have it turn into what I suspect will be a major hit. Sandler is young yet, but he could end up one of the genius men in American comedy.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Other Sister

Is boxing right after a nose job really such a good idea?

Ashlee Simpson post-nose-job looks pretty good, for a completely different person. She could go into the Witness Protection Program now if she wanted to. Well, not now. Now it's too late. But she could have.

She actually looks a little bit better than Jessica. Some speculate that Jessica had work done herself, which would not be at all surprising. In fact, it would explain why her face, while theoretically beautiful, has a creepy fakeness to it that cannot be entirely attributed to her vacant, soulless eyes. Still, Ashlee lacks the character she used to have, when her down-to-earth looks kept her humanized. In fact, even pre-nose-job, I thought Ashlee looked better, if only because Jessica's overly sculpted plastic face frightened me.

Maybe career-wise it was necessary to appear to be a different person. Already it's hard to connect this strange new face with the SNL debacle or the SuperBowl booing, even if intellectually we know it's the same girl. Just as long as she doesn't screw up again. After all, you can only rearrange your face so many times.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nothing In Particular

The Dozens

MTV has a show called Yo Momma, wherein young urban people play what used to be called "The Dozens." Wilmer Valderrama hosts and judges, although the participants' actual mommas also appear to lend support and judge the proceedings in some capacity. Seeing Valderrama out of his Fez character and in his real life character of super-cool Hollywood guy is pretty obnoxious, but apparently that's what it takes to make the transition from Fox sitcom star to hip celebrity-for-celebrity's sake. Too bad Frankie Muniz's MTV show never took off (true!) or he might be scoring with the Lindsay Lohans and Mandy Moores out there instead of running off to race cars.

Cheaper by the Dozens

I always enjoy the Onion AV Club, and this installment of Commentary Tracks of the Damned is especially good. There's a wonderful build to it, culminating in my favorite "commentary in a nutshell" ever.

Belated Bloggerversary

I missed it, but a few days ago was my second bloggerversary. Hooray!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Great Balls Of Fire

I know linking viral videos is like the lamest excuse for blogging this side of "What _____ are you?" polls, but this one is pretty good.

I had it embedded before, but the embedded version autoplays, and that would get annoying after a while.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ripe For The Pickens

This news story is subtly hilarious in many ways.

Billionaire's Son Charged With Burglary

CORNWALL, Conn. (AP) -- The son of billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens was charged with burglary after he was found hiding under a table in a fly fishing shop, authorities said.

Michael Pickens, 51, spent three days in jail following his arraignment Monday in Bantam Superior Court.

He was found Sunday inside the Housatonic Meadows Fly Shop after the store's owner noticed something wrong and called police, according to state police. State police said investigators found a nearby stash of items taken from the shop and found Pickens groggy and hiding under a table inside.


T. Boone Pickens?! An oil tycoon named T. Boone Pickens? Is he a cartoon?

The son is 51!? And still burglarizing...

A fly fishing shop? Called Housatonic Meadows Fly Shop? And hiding under a table? This whole story is delightful. I really love it. What a wonderful world.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Cars Made Me Cry

Twice, actually. Maybe three times. But the third time was just generally tearing up, whereas the first two had tears literally streaming down my face as I tried to hide it from Stephanie.

Overall, Cars is not Pixar's strongest, nor did I (or anyone) really expect it to be. It's a flawed work; the human-free world where cars are the only life form is indeed strange and doesn't hold up under the most basic scrutiny. After a spectacular and unusually frenetic opening, Pixar's usually taut pacing goes (intentionally) a bit slack and meandering. The happenings in the little town never quite seem to get "fun" enough, and the one major effort (the "tractor-tipping" episode) is kind of weird.

But somehow, certain aspects--Sally, Doc Hudson, the history of Radiator Springs--packed an emotional punch I can't recall getting from any other Pixar movie. Even talking about it afterwards made me teary-eyed again.

I know Finding Nemo seems to resonate most with actual kids and parents. In fact, my sister cried throughout that one, to the point where she didn't even enjoy it because it was too sad. I'm pretty sure Nemo got to me too. But I think in the end, Cars won more tears than the fish.

There are powerful threads of nostalgia running through Cars, honoring the legends of the past as expressed through classic cars and Route 66. Paul Newman's voice adds yet another layer of legendary. That, and there's something about cars, even ones with big tongues and windshield eyes, that I connect to deeply in ways I don't even understand. I understand that these things are subjective. Stephanie did not cry at all.

I'm not sure Cars is a good kids' movie. It's long, often slow, and contemplative in a way that kids might not appreciate. The kids in the theater often seemed restless, and for a movie about cars, the action-to-talking ratio is surprisingly low. But its earnestness is charming and affecting, and for grown-ups who are willing to watch a familiarish story about cartoon cars in a world that makes no sense, it's worth the trip.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Partially Blogging the MTV Movie Awards Long After the Initial Airing

Jessica Alba is hosting the awards. It’s true that she has virtually no screen presence while acting, nor has she ever starred in a movie worth watching (her small role in Sin City doesn't count). But she is hot. So hot that she’s now hosting the MTV Movie Awards despite having virtually no screen presence and never having starred in a movie worth watching. You have to be pretty hot to do that.

Gnarls Barkley performs while dressed as Star Wars characters. Apparently these guys are some kind of a big deal now. I don’t like that they’re named after Charles Barkley. That’s like cheating on name recognition—tricking people into thinking they’ve heard of you. I hope we do not get other bands now called Gnichael Jordan or Gnagic Johnson.

Has that joke been done before? It feels too obvious to be unique.

Jessica Alba introduces Matt Dillon, Kate Hudson, and Owen Wilson—(“the stars of You, Me and Dupree”) to introduce Best Villain. They discuss Dillon’s evil Crash character, as well as whether Kate Hudson and Owen Wilson’s dishonest romantic comedy characters ought to be considered villains. Well, the whole discussion is flawed, because first of all, Dillon’s role in Crash is more than just a villain, which is the whole point of the movie, and second of all, how do you talk about Dillon’s villain roles without bringing up his tour-de-force performance as Trip Murphy in Herbie: Fully Loaded? I am serious. Whatever you think of Herbie, I think we can all agree it was better than Crash.

Hayden Christensen wins Best Villain for his performance as Anakin Skywalker, which for the losers must feel like getting your ass kicked by Stephen Hawking. Christensen accepts his award wearing a baseball cap, which totally hides his face. He says “Thank you,” then turns, confused, to the cheering section behind him, which picks up on their cue to clap a beat too late.

The thing is, Anakin really isn’t a villain, not even in Episode III. At this point, he’s still a hero, albeit a fallen one. Really, the villain is Palpatine, so the whole award is flawed.

Next, Rebecca Romjin and Famke Janssen introduce Sexiest Performance, teasing the audience with a bit about getting naked and applying Romjin’s blue X-Men body paint. The fact that the category includes Beyonce from The Pink Panther and Rob Schneider from Deuce Bigalow 2 is a giveaway that it’s all just a big joke. Jessica Alba wins for Sin City, which is the most legitimate nomination of the bunch, but Alba's performance is still so irrelevant that the award might be better described as Sexiest Person Who Happened to be in a Movie. She thanks her fans—the reason she does movies, obviously—and seizes the opportunity to make a difference in the world. With her fist raised high, she exhorts the audience to “practice safe sex and drive hybrids if you can.” Well done, Jessica. Well done.

Jessica Alba introduces Kate Beckinsale and Adam Sandler from Click. Okay, quick side note: Click, like Scream, has a premise that was done first, and in all likelihood, better, by the TV version of Weird Science. See the episode "Universal Remote" for a clever take on the premise that’s the only remote-controlling-your-life-story you’ll ever need. Similarly, the episode "Bikini Camp Slasher" is a funnier, less serious take on the horror-movie-survival-rules premise that Scream congratulates itself so much for thinking up.

Sandler and Beckinsale shill for Click for awhile. Then, for Best Performance there are like a million nominees from all different kinds of movies. Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain beats Steve Carell from 40-Year-Old Virgin, which is all kinds of a travesty. This is an interesting chance to see what stars are like when they win an award they don’t give a shit about by beating others they never should have been competing against.

Next Jessica Alba, in a King Kong parody, plays a drunken realtor in a negligee trying to sell King Kong some cliffside property despite dinosaur neighbors who have noisy sex. Maybe I’m missing something, not having seen the movie. Half the fun of these bits is recognizing the film scene being recontextualized. I guess Naomi Watts was in a negligee in King Kong and so that part is necessary to integrate the clips? Plus it’s an excuse to put Jessica Alba in a negligee. She's constantly swigging liquor from a flask and stumbling around drunkenly, in a detail that seems calculated to titillate guys who can imagine she's drunk enough to have sex with them.

The bit suffers from the standard confusion that results from shoehorning sexy girls into comedy; that is, the viewer doesn't know whether to laugh or have an erection. The sexual undertones of King King make the latter option feel creepy, so instead the time is spent watching a sexy girl and feeling uncomfortable about it. Gorgeous women really have their work cut out for them as far as performing comedy is concerned. You have to be pretty funny to make people forget how gorgeous you are. Jessica Alba tries hard, but is not quite funny enough for that.

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, dressed in race suits to plug Talladega Nights, would disagree. They clap enthusiastically.

Now some multiplatinum king I’ve never heard of takes the stage to introduce a performance by Christina Aguilera. She was always the most vocally talented of the teenybopper pop stars, but now, against all odds, she has also emerged as the classiest. How the hell did that happen? It seems like only yesterday her name was synonymous with Dirty Whore. I guess she just had to get it out of her system all at once. Now she’s all ‘50s glamour chick. It even looks like she’s not ugly anymore. Kudos to her.

Ferrell and Reilly are presenters now, but in character, the better to plug Serious Sounding Title: The Story of Will Ferrell’s Character With a Silly Name, which follows the mold set by Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. They thank a bunch of sponsors, and there aren’t really any jokes but they do have southern accents. I guess presenting in character is enough. The award is Best Comedic Performance. Why wasn’t Steve Carell in this category? Oh wait, he is. Then why was he in the other category? He wins, beating out both Wedding Crashers guys. A pleasant surprise. He thanks Eli Whitney, Jonas Salk and George Foreman, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, and Kelly Clarkson in a fairly funny acceptance speech that he actually bothered to write.

LL Cool J honors Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and presents him with an enormous MTV popcorn thing. Spike Lee thanks some people and laments that his movie has solved nothing.

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock continue the run of presenters who happen to be co-starring in an upcoming movie. Until now, I didn’t realize that The Lake House was reprising their pairing from Speed. Keanu looks meatier and older than he did in the Matrices. The Best Onscreen Team nominations amazingly include another one for The Dukes of Hazzard (previously nominated for Sexiest Peformance), along with a nom for the chemistry-free cast of Fantastic 4. It’s one thing to nominate trashy movies, but they should at least be good in the category they’re nominated for. I wouldn’t have a problem with Dukes if the category was, I don’t know, Best Performance By a Car. Or Fantastic 4 in Best… Best… um… Best Undeservedly Successful Movie Made Last Year About the Fantastic Four?

Wedding Crashers wins, and Owen Wilson ironically accepts the award alone. Vince Vaughn accepts via videotape.

Did you know that Jessica Simpson is starring in a movie with Dane Cook? You do now, because they’re introducing AFI together. Then, Rosario Dawson from Clerks II and Ludacris from Heart of the Game. Wait, what? They’re from different movies?! My mind just broke. Seriously, this is just a conspiracy to keep Brian O’Halloran’s career from finally taking off.

The two African-Americans complain about how annoying it is when people don’t shout at the screen in movie theaters. Well, okay. I guess they really needed to put two black presenters together. And who ever heard of two black people in one movie? You’re forgiven, MTV. Just make sure the next two present a unified front when it comes to telling me what movies I should go see.

Never mind, TiVo thought the show ended here. Lucky us.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Scoop

Here is the trailer for Scoop, Woody Allen's latest movie, again set in London and starring Scarlett Johansson. Woody Allen himself is in it, too, playing a magician. He picks out Johansson, a college journalist, as his audience volunteer for a hackneyed Chinese Box magic trick. But during the trick, she happens to be contacted by a ghost reporter (Deadwood's Ian McShane, a commanding presence even in his brief appearance here) who offers her a "scoop": that some famous aristocrat (Hugh Jackman) is actually a notorious serial killer.

Johannson and Allen set out to investigate, and despite their suspicions, Johannson ends up falling for Hugh Jackman, as would we all.

Pluses:

The trailer itself is peppy and fun, complete with cool animated titles you'd never find in an actual Woody Allen movie.

I always welcome Allen as an onscreen presence in his movies, and here he seems to have wisely restricted himself to a role as a goofy sidekick rather than leading man. He does well in this capacity, and his supporting role in Anything Else was the only redeeming part of an otherwise terrible movie.

There is a promising Manhattan Murder Mystery feel here, and the movie seems to have an actual story, which is comforting after misfires like Hollywood Ending and Melinda and Melinda.

Scarlett Johannson appears to be pretty good at the comic sparring with Allen, putting a believable spin on one-liners that could easily sound corny.

And isn't it nice that the trailer can say "From the director of..." and list a recent movie that wasn't terrible? Finally, a Woody Allen movie trailer that doesn't have to be ashamed of Woody Allen.

Minuses:

The magician thing feels perilously close to the hypnotist conceit used to springboard the dull Curse of the Jade Scorpion. In the future, Allen should beware of hanging his plots on vaudeville acts that no one ever performs anymore. To be fair, though, Jade Scorpion was at least a period piece.

While it looks like there's a clear story here, Allen has tricked us before. The "blind director" premise of Hollywood Ending turned out to be a small part of a much more muddled movie, and the "robbery" plot of Small Time Crooks took a hard left at the end of the first act. The unpredictability would have been welcome except that it led to a culture-clash story that was less interesting than the robbery.

Scoop risks a double-high-concept premise, in effect asking its audience to suspend its disbelief twice instead of the standard once. Not only does Scarlett Johannson get story tips from a ghostly reporter, a premise that could carry an entire film on its own, she also goes undercover to investigate a suspected serial killer and ends up falling for him, which could also be its own movie. Plus the suspected killer is a handsome aristocrat, which isn't quite a movie but is another rather large leap for the audience.

Multiple high concepts dare the audience to laugh a movie right off the screen. Here's an especially bizarre example coming up from Michel Gondry:

Be Kind Rewind

A man ([Jack] Black) whose brain becomes magnetized unintentionally destroys every tape in his friend's video store. In order to satisfy the store's most loyal renter, an aging woman with signs of dementia, the two men set out to remake the lost films, which include Back to the Future, The Lion King, and Robocop.


I know, what the fuck? But hey, I'm curious.

Anyway, in the right hands--say, Charlie Kaufman's--overloading a movie with concepts can be daring, unconventional and uniquely impressive. I hope that's the case with Scoop, but much of Allen's recent work suggests that it may just be undisciplined storytelling. We'll see.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Unacceptable

The problem with the premise of Accepted is that it hinges on the notion that getting into college is hard. Oh sure, your dream school, your Ivy Leagues, maybe that's difficult. But if your dream is just "college," well, you have to be a pretty big loser not to find anything. And Justin Long and his friends just don't come across as stupid or lazy enough for that, especially when they prove themselves capable of the elaborate hoax that makes up the rest of the movie.

Besides, there's already such a thing as a school that accepts everyone. Does this story exist in a world without community college? Most people tend to try that before leasing a building and starting a fake school.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Bad Car Movies

2 Fast 2 Furious
It was on TV. TiVo is great for movies on TV because you get to condense them down from 2 hours to their actual running time. Watching the network version is funny because when characters flip each other off they digitally remove the middle finger so they're just holding up their fists.

Within the broad swath of "car enthusiasts" there are factions, and if you are watching the Fast and the Furious series, the assumption is that your sympathies lie with tricked-out imports as opposed to, say, American muscle cars. So when our Mitsubishi-driving heroes go up against a bunch of guys with American cars, we are meant to root for the Mitsubishis, and cheer when a Mustang and its driver are crushed beneath the wheels of an 18 wheeler that doesn't even bother to stop, and are subsequently plowed into by a Corvette.

So it's a surprise when a vintage Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro come to figure prominently in the movie, and in fact end up being the star cars of the climactic sequence.

They don't do a whole lot with them, though. The final stunt is the old "jump a car onto a boat" chestnut, which is ridiculous in an unfortunately dull manner, but it does make the parody of the stunt in Starsky & Hutch seem much wittier in retrospect.

The best parts are the dumbest, because that's where the movie has the power to actually surprise you with its stupidity. Sure, you've seen cars jump a drawbridge before. But in this movie, the guys running the street race actually raise the bridge on purpose as a "surprise" for the racers, and with the exception of one chickenshit, the racers are thrilled to make the unnecessary leap that in reality would destroy their cars and shatter their spines. Not to mention they're driving lowered imports, by definition the cars with the least amount of suspension to cushion the blow. But never mind all that, it's a movie and the worst that happens is that Devon Aoki's car loses a bumper. "Oh, shoot!" she yells, because it's network TV.

Smokey and the Bandit Part II
Speaking of drawbridge scenes, this movie has a great one. Sweaty redneck sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) tries to jump a drawbridge in pursuit of the Bandit, but winds up with his car stuck in the gap--front bumper perched on one side with the back bumper on the other. In the drawbridge control booth, we see how the guys in charge mount a rescue in a dangerous emergency situation. "Well," says one, "Looks like we got a big decision to make today." The other concurs. "Heads, up. Tails, down." They toss a coin, it comes up heads, and they raise the bridge further, dropping the police car into the river with the Sheriff still inside. Presumably, if the coin had come up tails, they would have crushed him to death.

Most of S&TB II is a big waste of time. In contrast to the first movie's refreshingly efficient cut-to-the-car-chase approach, Part II features a convoluted setup in which some feuding, crooked Texas politicians want the Bandit to help smuggle an elephant from Florida to Texas, which will help them get elected somehow. There's way too much supposedly comic business about the logistical problems of transporting an elephant, including Dom Deluise as an Italian gynecologist called upon to take care of it. Then there's a bunch of character stuff about how the Bandit got too full of himself, lost Sally Field and became a washed-up drunk. There's a hint of potential there, in one amusing scene where a gas station attendant calls the Bandit an asshole (which he is) and the Bandit violently accosts him ("I'm a folk hero, dammit!"), but aside from that, it's all wasted.

Jackie Gleason, however, gets a chance to shine when he invites his "cousins," who are also in law enforcement, to come help him. The cousins, both played, of course, by Jackie Gleason, consist of a Canadian mountie who drives a red police car and arrives singing opera with his wife, and Gaylord, who's faggy and arrives with his own swishy boy toy. The three of them take a "family picture" together but make sure to stand several feet apart to leave plenty of space for trick photography.

The movie skimps on the car porn until a climactic scene that makes no sense despite its laborious setup, where a bunch of truckers smash a bunch of police cars with no rhyme or reason. As in 2F2F, truckers are luckily not accountable to the law.