Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ultraviolet

I think Ultraviolet got a bit of a bum rap. It's not completely worthless. Okay, so the story is nothing special, the dialogue is clumsy, stilted and frequently repetitive, and a streak of scenes in the middle are deathly, almost nauseatingly boring.

But the movie does have a couple of things going for it. Some of the action conceits are reasonably inventive: weaponry that's somehow digitized into Violet's suit, the flaming swords bit at the end, the guns with knives sticking out from the magazines.

Mainly, though, the thing that's of note here is that the movie has a striking visual style. At first glance it seems like a generic future, but it's realized with flair. It's a stylized world, often streamlined and oversimplified, assembled from odd shapes. The scenery is generally in blue or orange tones, but with splashes of super-saturated color that throw sharp contrasts into the palette.

Many have said the special effects look cheap and terrible. I found them oddly impressive. Are they realistic? No, and they were probably cheaper than if they were realistic. But the movie uses the artificial effects to its advantage. Their fakeness blends right into a universe that feels intentionally surreal. As the opening credits suggest, with their many covers of the non-existent Ultraviolet comic, Ultraviolet is meant to be a heightened comic book world. With its bursts of color and thoughtfully composed frames, Ultraviolet gets the look right, and if you're willing to go with it, it's fascinating and sumptuous in its own way.

William Fichtner, for once, plays a nice guy instead of a creepy one, and it's a pleasant surprise. Cameron Bright apparently plays exactly the same part he does in X3--the kid whose body may or may not hold the secret to curing the world's ostracized mutants. Milla Jovovich is fine. She looks good in action, and if the acting fails and the character never connects, well, with writing like this, it's not her fault.

I saw the Unrated Extended Cut, which is seven minutes longer than the Theatrical Cut, which many called confusing and incoherent and which Kurt Wimmer fans called a studio hack job that butchered the film. I thought the version I saw made about as much sense as I would ask for from a movie like this one. I can't think of anything that cries out to be explained. However, director Wimmer's own cut (unavailable) is supposedly two hours, which must be excruciating. As much as I enjoyed looking at this movie, by the one-hour mark I badly wanted it to be over.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

In The 310

Well, it seems that the long-looming area code overlay has kicked in. You see, on account of everybody these days having a million phones, there's a new area code on the LA Westside, which means that now you have to specify whether you want a number in the 310 area code or the new one I don't remember. In fact, you even have to dial 310 if you are 310 calling another 310. Every call is now an eleven digit dial. Can you imagine?

Good thing everybody has cell phone address books now and only 1% of calls still involve actual dialing. Some calls involve so many button presses to get through your address book, you start to realize your finger would have had to execute fewer total button-pressing motions if only your brain were still wired to actually remember people's phone numbers. Maybe that's the reason for the eleven digit dial, to make address book speed dial seem convenient again.

Remember knowing phone numbers? I used to do it all the time, back in the '80s and '90s. Knowing your friends phone numbers by heart is so retro. If I ever got stranded somewhere without a cell phone and had to call a friend, I would be reduced to a whimpering, incoherent mess huddled in a corner next to one of those artifacts known as a pay phone. I think I know my own land line. That is about it. I know my parents' cell phone numbers; they are vestigial memories from the days in which I knew phone numbers.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pinky Street Smart

Lydia and Sarah: Your Pinky St. costumes have been complimented by a Taiwanese Pinky St. fan. Also, you guys are into "the scene," so you may be familiar with this sort of video already. If not, I urge you to get acquainted with it. Is this the opening to a Pinky St. TV show or something? Is that weird looking character a Pinky St. boy?

For those of you who are not Lydia and Sarah, I still recommend the video.

You're Pushing Your Luck, Little Man

 

One of our guests on The John Kerwin Show this week was Larry Thomas, Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi." Needless to say, this was very exciting. Our other guest was Jeff Conaway (Kenicke from Grease, Bobby from Taxi, and a crazy version of himself on Celebrity Fit Club). But of course, the Seinfeld connection carries a lot of weight with me.

The completed episode won't be ready for a few weeks, yet. Right now I'm having problems with our previous episode. I can't seem to rip the DVD. I let it run all night, but instead of being finished when I wake up, it's stuck on demuxing and encoding. I wonder if there's a problem with the DVD. I know it keeps playing a blank screen for six minutes after the episode ends. That might have something to do with the problem. Posted by Picasa

When You're A Stranger

The trailer for Stranger Than Fiction is pretty good.

I read the script and it's funny and clever. The ending is a letdown, as it's not quite clever enough to measure up.

The thing about this trailer, though, is that it seems to give away nearly every surprise about the movie. (Spoiler alert for anyone not planning to watch the trailer:) In the script, Harold (Will Ferrell) starts hearing a voice and the source remains mysterious for quite some time. It's not until much later that he (and we) learn that he's a character in a book, let alone that the author plans to kill him, let alone who the author is and that they live in the same reality. But the trailer starts with Emma Thompson as the frazzled author and proceeds to lay everything out from there. What's left? The mystery is a huge part of the movie.

Well, there's the subplot with Maggie Gyllenhaal (barely seen in the trailer) in which Will Ferrell learns to embrace life--in a way, the heart of the story. And then there's the question of just how Emma Thompson plans to kill him and how he will escape his fate--the one part I found disappointing in the script.

I guess it's hard to sell a movie by saying: "There's a guy, and he hears a voice narrating his life--you'll just have to watch it." But it's kind of sad to see a movie with so many surprises give so many away up front.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Clinton, Remember Him?

MAD has urged me to share this with my friends and family. Enjoy.

  

It's really much filthier than you'd expect.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This Is Not Okay

It all started when Seven billed itself as "SE7EN." We can give Seven a pass because it's a good movie and the numeral 7 does actually look a little like a V when placed among a bunch of capital letters. Clever. Great.

Murder by Numb3rs was annoying but at least held to the "numeral that looks like a letter" idea.

It got worse when you start seeing Five written as 5ive, which makes no damn sense since 5 doesn't remotely look like an F, and looks like it should be pronounced Sive or maybe even "fiveive." Just because it's the same number you're writing out doesn't mean you get a pass. I forget who did this, but someone did.

Recently we had the movie Lucky Number Slevin, which sometimes was written as "Lucky Number S7evin." Bad enough that they're cheating on the title pun with the ridiculous name "Slevin," which seems to be reverse-engineered from the title rather than a clever play on an existing name. But to insert the number 7 into it on top of that when the word isn't even really "seven"?

It gets worse:

 

The original posters had "S7evin." The banner ad from Deep Discount DVD has "Slev7n." The DVD itself gives up on the numeral substitution and instead swaps out "Number" for "#." No. Sorry. You've run out of chances to change the name of your movie. You can't even decide what letter you want to replace with 7, and now you're throwing out whole words?

I'm surprised they never tried "Sle7in," but I guess that would have made the connection to "Se7en" too obvious. Maybe they should have called it Lucky # S7e77n. Or maybe [four-leaf clover] # 777777. Why not? Numbers and symbols are just as good as letters. People will figure out what it means. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 23, 2006

More Attention Than This Is Worth

As the previews ended before Clerks II, Robbie had a moment of doubt. He turned to me and said, “You know if this is good, we have to eat crow.”

We didn’t.

Clerks II is not a good movie. Its comedy is witless and labored, and its drama is corny, sentimental and ham-fisted. No wonder Kevin Smith had such a man-crush on Ben Affleck for all those years; Smith writes like Affleck acts.

If you still harbor any residual affection for Dante and Randal, that may carry you through Clerks II. If you can still manage to write off Smith’s unwillingness to develop his craft as a writer or director as “slapdash charm,” that might help, too.

I saw Clerks II in a small theater in Los Feliz. At the box office, one concerned moviegoer asked, “It’s not sold out, is it?” scarcely able to believe that he was able to buy a ticket mere minutes before showtime. He needn’t have worried. The tiny theater was barely 1/3 full. Maybe it was the size of the audience, but no one seemed to get that much enjoyment out of the movie.

The one vocal audience member was a woman in our row who looked to be in her mid-forties with a hippie/crazy lady sort of vibe, who squealed with delight at the big comic payoffs. Even her laughs were few and far between, and besides her, there was a quiet chuckle every now and then. Mostly everyone sat in bored silence as empty sex jokes and lame pop culture references rolled by one after another. One silver-haired old man sitting near the crazy lady spent the 90 minutes staring blankly at the screen, impassive as a wax figure.

If you want a concrete example of how much the culture has coarsened since 1990, vis a vis the comedy landscape, look no further than Clerks and Clerks II. In Clerks, the shocks were big and seemingly effortless. In Clerks II, you can see Smith sweating to push the limits when really, there aren’t any anymore. Nothing you can say in a comedy is really shocking, especially when there’s no real message behind it. South Park can still manage a shock with sharp timing and delivery. And it helps if they’re saying something that’s actually provocative about a genuine taboo like the Mohammed cartoon controversy, or even a silly but very real Hollywood taboo like Scientology. But when Randal rattles off a list of racial slurs for no reason, Smith doesn’t have a point to make. He’s just trying to be shocking, and falling back on one area he hopes will still get a rise out of people, and it shows. (Although I did smile at the gag’s unexpected follow-through, when Randal’s determination to “reclaim” the term “porch monkey” leads to him writing “PORCH MONKEY 4 LIFE” on the back of his Mooby’s shirt.)

In Clerks, the dirty jokes and pop culture references were not only more organic, they were more clever. When Dante can’t let go of the “37 dicks” issue, it’s understandable because he’s talking to his girlfriend. In Clerks II, why does he loudly and repeatedly insist to Randal that “You never go ass to mouth!” if he’s so embarrassed about the conversation? Why not just say “That’s disgusting, Randal,” and change the subject? Only because Smith so desperately wants people to walk in on Dante saying something shocking, and seems to be hoping that “ass to mouth” is the new “snowball” or “37?” or “finger-cuffs.”

In Clerks, Randal’s observation about the workers on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi was clever and funny. Dante’s observation that Empire is like life because it ends on a down note is relevant to the characters and theme. In Clerks II, the unjustly lauded Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars debate is pointless and infantile. The LOTR geeks simplistically and wrongly argue that “Mannequin” Skywalker’s “shitty acting” ruined the Star Wars saga (Smith must not notice George Lucas’ recent slide into undramatic, un-actable writing because it’s too much like his own), and Randal’s promising but obvious reduction of the LOTR trilogy to “three movies about walking” degenerates into calling hobbits gay until a LOTR fanboy throws up. Big whoop. This is the trilogy face-off to end them all? This is the best a fanboy treasure like Kevin Smith has to offer? Not to mention the observation that Go-Bots are the K-Mart Transformers. Ya think? Hasn’t everybody pointed that out by now?

At one point Jason Lee walks in and Randal taunts him by calling him Picklefucker, because in high school, Picklefucker was sexually abused by seniors who essentially raped him with a pickle and forced him to eat it. Hilarious. Picklefucker is obviously the one who deserves to be made fun of in this situation, since he was stupid enough to get bullied. What a great way to appeal to all the fanboy nerds in the audience who spent high school getting bullied themselves, than by having Randal taunt someone for getting raped by a pickle? Sure, Picklefucker is now a smug Internet millionaire who arrives solely to berate our heroes for working in fast food, but given how Randal treats him, can you blame him? If this were Picklefucker’s movie, this would be a justly triumphant moment.

In a sitcomish moment, Dante admits that he’s afraid to dance at his wedding, and Rosario Dawson takes him up on the roof to teach him. It’s hard to tell if her dancing is any good, since her boobs jiggle so much you can’t take your eyes off them, but the scene turns into an out-of-nowhere feel-good music montage to the Jackson 5’s “ABC” (Robbie: “God, this is like something out of a Chris Columbus movie.”), culminating in a non-sequitur dance number (not performed by principal cast members). Smith sets the bar so low for himself that the mere attempt at a musical number is supposed to impress, but really it’s just a strange break in tone that hearkens back to the thrown-together weirdness of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Amazingly, Jason Mewes is still funny in spite of everything. After Jay and Silent Bob, I thought I’d never want to see Jay again, but here he’s back in small doses, as it should be, and it’s surprisingly refreshing. He’s a little mellowed out, probably on account of going clean in real life, but there’s something nice about it. There’s a sweet, underlying maturity that comes through Jason Mewes, even as he’s exposing himself in near-obscene ways. It’s playful and sincere, and you get the feeling he’s just happy to be here. He practically sleepwalks through the role, but everything else about the movie is so forced, Jay’s easygoing delivery is a welcome change of pace.

Unknown Trevor Fehrman delivers an oddly riveting performance as a naïve Christian teen. The character is a bizarre, over-the-top caricature that bears as much relation to reality as movie nerds with taped glasses and pocket protectors. He plays it the only way it could be played—to the extreme—and it’s somehow endearing, at least until Smith shits all over the character with a stupid and humiliating payoff.

If Clerks grew out of the life experience of working at a convenience store, Clerks II seems to grow out of the life experience of spending a decade on the Internet. Idiotic debates about Transformers vs. Ranger Danger vs. Go-Bots? Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings? Flamewars on blogs? Going ass-to-mouth? Live donkey sex shows? It’s all online.

In Clerks II, Dante is again forced to decide between two women. But unlike Clerks, in which his feelings for the women were complex and believable—one a nice girl Dante was uninterested in, and another a slutty, manipulative girl he was helplessly obsessed with—the women in Clerks II are one-dimensional. Dante’s decision is obvious. Here, the girl Dante is truly into (Rosario Dawson) is also nicer and hotter. The girl he’s not that into (Smith’s wife) is his selfish controlling fiancée who also happens to be less hot. They are romantic comedy archetypes. So what’s the problem? To Smith’s credit, you do feel a little bad for the fiancée when she gets her heart broken at the end, but this just makes Dante a cad for cheating on her and dumping her. Dawson is pretty good in her role. Assuming her admission that going ass-to-mouth is okay in the heat of passion sounds hot to you, she creates an appealing “perfect girl” love interest. Except that all her scenes with Dante are loaded with clumsy exposition. Watching them together is like watching Anakin fall in love with Padme all over again.

Clerks II culminates in a dramatic moment between Dante and Randal discussing their futures. Jeff Anderson’s acting is surprisingly affecting, although the dialogue spells things out more than necessary. Randal’s argument—that living an unambitious life that you love is better than “growing up” because you feel like you’re supposed to—is clearly Smith’s own justification for retreating back into the kind of movies he’s comfortable with. You start to understand why he almost burdened this movie with the terrible title “The Passion of the Clerks.” And hey, if he feels that passionately about regressing, maybe it’s for the best.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Black And White

Wow. Renaissance looks fucking awesome. It looks like Waking Life/A Scanner Darkly meets Sin City.

Also, Crank looks pretty cool.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Neighbours

I seem to have made an enemy.

Earlier tonight I carried the laundry out to do a load. As I walked out, a neighbor girl, someone from the building, was arriving home from a jog or a vigorous walk or some such thing.

"Are you starting a wash?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"Just one load?"

"Yup."

She seemed pleased. I don't remember if she said she would go right after me, but she might as well have.

I don't know how long a wash cycle actually takes. There's no visible timer on the machine and it's not like I've ever sat and timed it. I usually set a timer for an hour and then go back and get it.

Sometimes I don't hear the timer, or forget to set it. Tonight I was on the ball. I rushed out right on the hour and--

My laundry had already been transferred to the dryer, and her load was chugging along in the washer.

Prompt. She was clearly eager to do laundry.

But as I started the dryer running, I realized that I'd forgotten to mention something important: You see, when I do a load of laundry, it tends to be a massive load of laundry. The machine is filled to capacity. Some might accuse me of "overloading" it. I would disagree. I am merely using it efficiently. Thing is, when you do this, one dryer cycle tends to not be enough.

I set my timer for 45 minutes, knowing I would have to beat her to the machines for the next round, to restart the dryer before she could evacuate the machine for me. I cut off the end of my own dryer cycle, sacrificing ten minutes or so of paid-for drying time in order to start the next cycle early.

As I passed under the girl's apartment window, I thought I heard her complaining about something to do with the wash; probably that I hadn't taken the clothes out of the washer soon enough. I winced. She would not be happy about what was waiting for her.

As I came out to collect my clothes after the second dryer cycle, I found her coming down the stairs to transfer hers.

"Did you do a double dryer?" she said.

"Um, yeah. I have a big load and it tends to need two or it doesn't get dry," I said. "I should have mentioned that. I'm sorry."

A silence passed, during which someone in her position might normally say "That's okay," even if she didn't mean it, unless she were in fact very, very annoyed and unforgiving.

"There you go," I said, cleaning off and replacing the lint trap.

"Thank you," she pointedly did not say.

"Good night," she eventually said, coldly.

"Good night," I replied.

It would seem she is mad about the laundry. I feel bad, but I don't think I did anything wrong, except get to the machine first and follow my usual washing procedure. Besides, it was her apartment that was dumping dirty washing-water off their balcony onto my parking space and car last week.

So screw them, is what I'm trying to say.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Jerks, Too

Clerks II is upon us. I don't expect to like it, but I do intend to see it. One of two things will happen: It will either justify the waning of my respect for Kevin Smith, or it will prove me wrong and redeem him. Either one of these would make me happy. But watching the trailers is like glimpsing a TV show that's run several seasons too long; every line feels stale and obligatory. By now we all know that Kevin Smith has only so many tools in his arsenal:

1. Vulgarity
2. Pop culture references
3. Big words and long sentences
4. In-jokes

Smith has always been at his best when combining two or more of these tools. Vulgarity or pop culture references are funny when big words make them sound smart (although even this is now formulaic). Subtract the big words and it just lays there--see Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, which sustains itself by throwing in #4 like it's MSG in Chinese food. Sure, it satisfies the fans while they're watching it, but in retrospect there's nothing there.

Incidentally, Smith's vulgarity has been growing less clever with time. Despite Chasing Amy frequent allusions to "dick and fart jokes," Smith stuck to dick jokes himself, and never sunk to farts until Jay and Silent Bob. On second thought, there were the shit jokes in Mallrats and Dogma, and they were those movies' low points.

Over a decade later, why make a Clerks II? Besides the fact that the failure of Jersey Girl apparently killed all of Smith's ambition to grow as a storyteller. So Randal can talk about going ass-to-mouth? So we can trade Star Wars debates for Lord of the Rings debates? This isn't new; it's the same shit with different words. The fact that the characters are discussing Lord of the Rings is not funny in and of itself. Nor is the fact that Smith has been keeping up with the latest trends in pornography. Granted, all I have to go on so far are trailers, but Smith now seems to believe he can make us laugh just be reminding us of his tools rather than using them. Pop culture! Graphic sex acts! Here's what you wanted from me, kids, so enjoy it!

Meh. I am wasting time covering old ground, and it's not worth discussing further until I see the movie. I started this post because I wanted to talk about this bullshit feud between Kevin Smith and Joel Siegel.

Apparently Joel Siegel walked out of a screening of Clerks II, and in doing so made a big noisy deal about how it was the first movie he'd walked out of in thirty years. Based on Siegel's ubiquitous quote whore blurbs, I don't doubt it.

But while Kevin Smith acts self-deprecating, he's actually a hypersensitive, easily wounded narcissist, so he has made a fuss about how Siegel's disruptive behavior was terribly unprofessional.

Okay, so far so good. It was rather unprofessional, and Smith's blog makes all the sensible concessions: That a pan from Siegel is practically a badge of honor, and that it is of course gratifying to him (Smith) that the film was offensive enough to drive out a critic (after all, where's the fun in getting laughs with cheap shock value unless you can imagine someone less cool than you being offended by it?). The harping on Siegel's headline puns is more misguided, since critics usually don't write their own headlines.

But then there is this appallingly obnoxious clip from Smith's appearance on the Opie and Anthony Show, in which the hosts call up Siegel and berate him for a ridiculously long time. Smith, who sounds more animated and emotional than I've ever heard him, goes on again and again about how unprofessional Siegel's behavior was. He also talks in circles about how it doesn't bother him that Siegel walked out but you can't judge a movie without seeing the whole thing. From what I can piece together, if Siegel had stayed, he would have seen that, rather than Randal arranging a sex act between a woman and a donkey, as discussed in the scene that prompted the walkout, Randal ultimately arranges a sex act between a man and a donkey. Presumably, had Siegel stuck around, this would have redeemed the film.

I'm off track again. My point is, listen to this radio clip, if you can stand it. Siegel was disruptive and unprofessional, but during the course of this phone call, Kevin Smith is unrelentingly petty and ridiculous.

Congratulations, Kevin, now you're the asshole.

So he dissed your movie at the screening. Big deal. Get over it. You are a professional filmmaker. Why are you still starting flamewars on Internet message boards and fantasizing in Jay & Silent Bob about assaulting Internet trolls? You are living the dream. Your all-purpose retort for everything should be "So what? I make movies and you don't." Instead you read every review, taking grave personal offense to every pan and taking note of critics to blacklist.

You made a purposely offensive movie that provoked an extreme reaction. As you yourself admit, if at least some people don't react this way, your supposedly shocking humor is pointless.

Today IMDb offers this blurb:

Kevin Smith Stings Back

Director Kevin Smith, who once said that being named by Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein to write and direct The Green Hornet was like a "dream come true," now says he wants no part of the assignment. Interviewed by the website superherohype.com, Smith, who is promoting his upcoming Clerks II, said, "It was between [Hornet] and Clerks II and I drove toward Clerks II in such a big, bad way and almost had to fight Harvey Weinstein to do Clerks II as opposed to a The Green Hornet movie, cuz he's like, 'it's time for you to grow and stretch as a filmmaker' and I'm like, 'doesn't anybody get it after twelve years? I'm not that talented. This is what I do [well].' This is why I got into film, to tell stories like that. I love watching comic book movies. I'd love to watch a The Green Hornet movie, but would not want to be the guy at the helm of that movie. ... I make one of those movies and I lose the right to make fun of other people for making those movies. I learned that the hard way making Jersey Girl I can't make fun of Raising Helen anymore. If I raise one finger to Raising Helen, people are like, 'Dude, you made Jersey Girl'." Jersey Girl, which starred Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, cost $35 million to produce and wound up making only $25 million at the domestic box office.


The moral of the story is that only Kevin Smith is allowed to call Kevin Smith untalented. It makes him humble. If you say it, it just makes you wrong.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

In Living Color

We've been talking about painting for a long time. Now that we've decided to stay in our current apartment for another year, we finally decided to go for it.

 
 
 
  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior

Cynthia will no doubt be pleased to know that I have watched another Disney channel movie, this time Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior.

Like High School Musical, Wendy Wu is actually a great idea for a movie that never lives up to its potential because of its TV movie limitations and Disney Channel target audience. It's your standard kung-fu tale shoehorned into the typical teenage high school setting, which should be awesome. Wendy even plays soccer, which leads to a couple of scenes that must be an homage to Shaolin Soccer. Playing Wendy's warped popular girl priorities off of her duty to learn kung fu and save the world is funny, but it should be hilarious. The idea could have been a movie that was smart, gritty and funny, along the lines of Buffy, but it isn't.

Thankfully, it's not as annoying as High School Musical is, in that hypercaffeinated Disney Channel sort of way, but the story does seriously drag in parts. In the end it's a okay, watchable movie that you wish could be made for real.

Wendy Wu ("Wen" to her painfully hip pals) is a shallow popular girl who wants nothing more than to be homecoming queen. She thinks she's a shoo-in, but when her rival in popularity starts actively campaigning via cookies and posters ("Jessica Dawson: The Obvious Choice") Wendy hurries home and bullies her parents into helping make some cupcakes, Tracy-Flick-style.

Wendy is third generation Chinese American. Her quirky Chinese grandmother lives with the family, but her second-gen parents are so Americanized that her father can't speak Chinese, and her mother knows nothing about the ancient Chinese artifacts she's supposed to be curating at the local museum (not even the famous terra cotta soldiers that we're supposed to believe the Chinese government would actually loan out). Her brother even plays football and rides a motorcycle! What kind of Asian parents are these?!

Meanwhile, in China, the young monk Shen is matter-of-factly notified that the evil Yan Lo has awakened. Later we learn that the casual nature of the announcement is perhaps justified, since Shen has been training his entire life for the epic battle with Yan Lo, which takes place all too frequently: every 90 years. And of course, every generation has its own warrior who is destined to fight Yan Lo. Guess who Shen has to find?

That's right, it's Wendy Wu! Yan Lo arrives as an artifact in the museum and quickly possess a security guard, then Wendy's brother when he arrives to deliver a pizza. Soon after, Shen manages save a sleeping Wendy by fighting off her possessed brother. We get a long action scene of wire-fu that's surprisingly good for a kids' TV movie, but the terribly bland, ill-fitting music sucks all the excitement out of it, as if they wanted it boring on purpose.

One of the movie's highlights comes when the brother, unpossessed, is confused to find himself at home:

BROTHER: (confused) I'm home? (shrugs) Cool. (walks off)

Anyway, here begins a lengthy section of the movie in which Shen tries to get Wendy to wear a necklace that will protect her from evil, but she thinks it's ugly and refuses to wear it. At the same time, Shen tries to convince her to train with him to save the world from evil, but she doesn't care and would rather focus on winning homecoming queen. This is a pretty funny idea, but the story gets stuck here for what seems like half an hour. Wendy thinks Shen is weird and embarrassing, while her grandmother is excited that Wendy is the new Some Kind of Warrior. In fact, the grandmother invests her scenes with so much emotion that she seems to be from another, better movie.

Shen passes himself off as a distant cousin and has dinner with the family, where his moon cakes make Wendy's parents ashamed at having lost touch with their heritage.

Finally, Wendy agrees to train when Shen offers to help her pass her test on Chinese history. Yeah right! Since when do California schools teach Chinese history!? Anyway, Wendy needs to pass to raise her D in World History, or she'll be disqualified from being Homecoming Queen. Okay, I know they're really Americanized, but Asian parents letting their daughter sink to a D grade? Come on. They're not Korean.

Shen teaches Wendy to meditate instead of study, because if you're Asian you inherently know Chinese history as long as you meditate hard enough.

Wendy gives Shen a makeover and he becomes a cool dude. She starts to have a crush on him and regrets telling everyone he's her cousin. Shen has little statues that produce the spirits of great monks to train her, but Wendy feels weird about fighting old guys in the park. So Shen possesses Wendy's teachers with the spirits of the monks, because Wendy apparently doesn't feel so weird about fighting teachers in the park. Oh-kay.

Wendy learns the fated battle is the same night as Homecoming. What to do? She chooses Homecoming, naturally, but changes her mind when she learns that Shen has gone to battle alone.

There's a clever twist when it turns out that the evil spirit is possessing Wendy's Homecoming Queen rival, so fighting evil means Wendy gets to kick the other girl's ass. Meanwhile the teacher/monks and Shen fight the terra cotta soldiers, destroying them. (Wendy's mom is going to be in a lot of trouble with the Chinese government.)

Shen is fated to die in the battle--in fact, he has in every previous life--but Wendy won't let him. She revives him with magic and together they defeat Yan Lo permanently, which seems like something someone should have done a long time ago. Someone says something about him being defeated because Wendy has learned true sacrifice. Ironic, since by reviving Shen she seems to have done the opposite--but then, I think the true sacrifice they're referring to is the fact that Wendy skipped Homecoming and relinquished her crown. Okay, if that's what passes for true sacrifice these days.

Still, a movie called Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior begs for a climactic showdown that takes place... well, at Homecoming, and instead it happens in the boring museum storeroom. It screams low-budget and is a major missed opportunity. They had a lot of extras in an earlier party scene. What, they couldn't get them back? I'm reminded of how High School Musical never showed us the musical and instead ended with a basketball game. What the hell, Disney Channel? Live up to your promises.

The Subtle Art Of Self-Promotion

Perhaps you missed Kenny's triumphant return to stand-up comedy and want to catch his next performance. Perhaps you were there and can't wait to experience the magic again.

Either way, no matter who you are, you have been clamoring for the next opportunity to see Kenny's stand-up!

Your pleas have found purchase, my friends.

Show: "Da Nappy Fro Show" (because when you think Kenny, you no doubt think "Nappy Fro")

Where:
The Comedy Store
8433 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

When: Sunday, July 23, 8:00 PM

Cost: $15

Kenny has 10 pre-sale tickets to rid himself of. If you'd like to buy one, or bring a friend and buy two, contact him via your usual channels. If Kenny uses up the pre-sales, tickets will still be available at the door.

You're thinking $15 is a lot of money. But don't worry; this just means the comedy is that much better. Prepare to be delighted.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Depressohoff

Yeesh... has such an upbeat headline ever led to such an intermittently depressing story? Not since Behind the Music has a story careened so violently between tragedy and triumph.

David Hasselhoff rides wave of success

...David is hoping for a 180!

Bouncing back from divorce and alcohol rehab to judging on “America's Got Talent” and co-starring with Adam Sandler in the comedy “Click,” can be pretty heady stuff.

...

But the last thing people might remember about “the Hoff” was when 43 million viewers watched him get choked up during the “American Idol” finale.

“In the finale, you had tears in your eyes, why was that?” Access' Tim Vincent asked.

“I see Taylor Hicks win, he bends over, he gets a little emotional,” David said. “His parents are in front of me, they're crying. I turned to my best friend sitting next to me, who has brain cancer, who had two months to live, and it was his birthday, and my present was to bring him to ‘American Idol,’ and he lived. And he turned to me and said, ‘Isn't it great to be alive?’” David explained. “And I just lost it. I said, ‘Wow!' And then, bam, camera is on me!”

And bam! Now the Hoff is everywhere.

In ‘Click,’ David plays Sandler's demanding boss, a part he got because he knew Sandler 10 years ago from “Saturday Night Live.”

It was during filming that the two became really close.

“My mother was actually on a respirator and dying,” David told Tim. “They wanted to pull the plug. I said to Adam, ‘She's barely hanging on.’ He said, ‘Get outta here. We'll shoot your scene tomorrow.’

“About six months later I went, ‘Hey man, she lives.’ And mom's home, and I took her to the premiere!”


There you have it. Adam Sandler is a nice guy and David Hasselhoff is a total downer.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Shallow Hal

Caught Shallow Hal on FX last night. Saw the end first, then the first two-thirds on the next airing an hour later. It's actually not that bad a movie. It is a flawed concept; you see the ads and think it'll be tasteless and hypocritical. When you actually watch the movie, though, the Farrellys manage to prove their hearts are in the right place, and even Gwyneth Paltrow turns in a convincingly good performance as an appealing girl with a (justifiably) poor self-image. The implications of the movie's high-concept device don't stand up to more intense scrutiny, but you do end up feeling genuine sympathy for Gwyneth as the fake fat girl.

Ultimately, the problem with the movie is just that it isn't all that funny. The story is consumed with its "don't be shallow" message to the exclusion of any real comic set pieces or major story events. All you get are the occasional broken chairs or similar sight gags involving skinny Gwyneth having a disproportionate impact on her surroundings. Even these are not as cruel as they sound, since the source of humor ultimately lies more in Jack Black's confusion than her fatness. But they're not enough to sustain what's supposed to be a broad comedy.

Shanadoo

Wow, EW Popwatch actually linking a good song? What world is this? It must be because it's not that no-taste loser Michael Slezak posting. Still, you'd think poster Marc Vera had never seen a J-pop video, the way he distances himself from its brilliance by calling it a "so-bad-it's-good train wreck." Unlike the other songs EW fixates on, which never get past simply "bad." Not to mention that on the scale of "surreal" J-pop videos, Shanadoo's "King Kong" is about as tame as it gets. But hey, at least for once they're not talking about Nelly Furtado or Jessica Simpson.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Music From And Inspired By The Original Summer Soundtrack

When did this thing start where people refer to the popular songs of a given summer as their "summer soundtrack," or single out a song as their "summer anthem" or "song of summer"?

Anointing an official song of summer is like having an official religion; all it does is annoy the people who don't like it. I can't help reading Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog, since it's

a) frequently updated and

b) about trash,

but at the same time I can't stand it. The blog's author has repeatedly called the idiotic trailers for The Ant Bully "funny," thereby throwing his taste into question, and now he's pushing the whole "song of summer" nonsense.

It's not just EW. This is an actual thing. The other day, I even heard a girl, a real person, upon hearing a song, declare, "This is totally going on my summer soundtrack." What does that mean? Are you not allowed to listen to any other songs all summer? Must you drop the song(s) from rotation once summer ends? Can't they just be popular songs?

Probably what really bugs me about it is that the kind of songs that get anointed "songs of summer" are almost always songs I

a) could care less about, or

b) hate.

Whatever that new Christina Aguilera song is, is pretty good, but not that memorable, and sadly not even in the running. Instead there is "Crazy," which is a tolerable enough song, but I have no idea why people are so crazy about it. It's inoffensive, but in a style of music that utterly bores me. When I finally made the connection between the raved-about Gnarls Barkley and the rather ordinary-sounding song I'd heard so many times, I was baffled. This is what's so genius?

But I'd happily root for "Crazy" to be the song of summer if the "front-runner," according to PopWatch, is Nelly Furtado's obnoxious and stupid "Promiscuous Girl" (lyrics here, listen here). As much as I love really repetitive samples and entire songs where people tease each other about how they are maybe probably just about to have sex, I just can't get into it.

Will he still respect you if he gets it? No, dummy, but he doesn't respect you now, so you might as well let him hit it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I Can't Stand To Fly

Everyone who sees Superman Returns seems to write a post bashing it, from Simon to TV comedy writer Ken Levine. Well, now I'm going to do the same thing.

Before I do, I should grant that it's a pretty enjoyable, tolerable movie, especially considering that it's two and a half hours. It certainly doesn't commit the egregious trespasses against Storytelling that the first Superman movie does. Sure, Bryan Singer includes some of Marlon Brando's ponderous nonsense monologues in voice-over, but at least it's only in snippets and there's plenty of other things going on.

Beyond that, I can't really compare Returns with the old Superman movies because I never got that far with the original. Want to know how Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth compare to Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder? Look elsewhere. I never finished watching the first Superman. The half-hour or so of Marlon Brando pointlessly mumbling on while pacing one of the cheesiest sets of the '70s, shot through a gauzy filter that only makes it look more dated, really tried my patience. But after half an hour of inconsequential Smallville/Fortress of Solitude meandering, with a confusingly miscast "young" Clark Kent who looked older than Christopher Reeve (who was still easily young enough to play those scenes himself), the movie lost all claim on my good will. If I am one hour into a Superman movie and I am just now meeting Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, I am watching a movie that has wasted my time. People love it so much that perhaps someday I'll give it another chance, but a movie with such an inept first hour does not exactly engender confidence in a viewer.

But enough about that. Let's talk about the new movie. As always, the spoiler warning applies.

Casting

I've always felt Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth are too young for their parts. Routh is just old enough (although he is the same as as Reeve was in the first movie), but Bosworth is ridiculously young. Is it that awful to cast a thirty-year-old woman? This movie continues the recent tradition of Hollywood movies that suggest you can have an accomplished career with no time for accomplishments. If Lois has a five-year-old kid, then she must have been knocked up in high school. Is Superman the father? Does that mean he's a statutory rapist? Singer said he wanted actors who had room to age as the franchise continues, but this is absurd. All of Bosworth's acting RAM seems to go toward acting like a grown-up, leaving precious little memory space for creating a character. You know you've cast too young when Katie Holmes as a District Attorney starts to look credible in comparison.

I like Parker Posey, and she gets off some good lines here and there, but overall she doesn't have enough to do. She seems to spend the whole second half of the movie fretting that Lex is being a little too evil. She's always sort of on the verge of tears, to the point where you're like, you knew you were dating Lex Luthor, right? Did you not expect to be complicit in killing billions of people? Parker Posey is so good at being weird and amoral; why isn't her character Kitty more excited about all this? If she were on board with Lex's evil plans, that could have resulted in some delicious moments. Instead she's the conscience, as if without her we might not recognize that Lex's plan is mean. It's no fun being the conscience.

Kal Penn is also here, as the henchman Stanford. He's in the opening credits and everything, but it's not clear why a recognizable actor is even in this role. He has one line in the entire movie, and it's not even in close-up, so it's easy to miss. Occasionally we cut to his reactions and they seem to be given more weight than those of the other henchmen ("What does Kal Penn think about all this?") but his character is still unceremoniously killed off before doing anything memorable. Disappointing.

But then, hardly anyone is given anything to do in this movie. Lex has the most lines and Kevin Spacey offers the most interesting performance. The only other person with anything to do is Kate Bosworth. She gets through it without being overtly embarrassing (aside from the fact that she looks like a middle schooler playing dress-up), but never gives you much to latch on to. Interactions between characters are limited and cursory, and you never feel like you get to know anyone.

The Story

For a two and a half hour movie, not much actually seems to happen. Well, there's always something going on, but each thing takes a really long time. What happens is, Lex Luthor steals some crystals from the Fortress of Solitude. He plans to use them to grow a new continent which will sink America and create great demand for his new "beachfront property." The problem, as one of our friends pointed out, but which no one in the movie seems to notice, is that Kryptonian crystals happen to grow the most ugly, barren wasteland you can imagine, where no one could build and no one would ever want to live. So the whole plan is pointless. As our friend put it, "It's the new Antarctica."

Lex's lousy plan takes a lot of setup. After pilfering the crystals, he does a test run in a miniature lake in a model train version of Metropolis, destroying the toy city. Then he steals some Kryptonite. Then... well, suddenly he's tossing the real crystal into the real ocean, and you're like, wait, that's it? Did he just do the plan? Is it actually happening already? For all the buildup, the actual plan itself does not seem to take much work. He simply does it, and later, Superman undoes it.

But first, Superman gets his ass handed to him by a bunch of Lex's cheap thugs. Because, see, Lex has cleverly fused the crystal with Kryptonite, thus growing a wasteland continent that is part Kryptonite itself. So when Superman lands on it, he's as weak as your average guy. Oddly, the fact that this huge land mass is half Kryptonite doesn't stop Superman from later lifting the whole thing into space, but it does... um... make him break a sweat while doing it? Oh, Kryptonite, you'll be the death of my deodorant yet!

The movie likes its ominous earthquakes. You know, where things start shaking and you're like, oh shit, something big is totally about to happen! Like when Superman comes crashing home to the Kent farm. Or when Lex tests the crystal. Or when Lex uses the crystal. And seemingly two or three other times. I lost count of how many times things started shaking to indicate impending danger.

The story itself has an odd pace. Lex Luthor has a plan, Superman is stopping the plan, and there don't seem to be that many steps in the process on either side. When Lois gets herself captured, it's like, huh? Already? Superman confronts Lex, fails, is rescued, and immediately rallies and foils the plan. But the movie somehow isn't over, and what little third act there is takes a weird turn into Million Dollar Baby: Superman Edition.

Lois Lane

Then there is the love story, where Superman proves that he can stalk his ex-girlfriend with abilities far beyond mortal men. Between the eavesdropping, flying and X-ray vision, you'll never find a better-equipped stalker. It's very realistic for Singer to recognize that, hey, if you were Superman, you know you'd totally use your powers for stalking.

As our friend pointed out, Lois spends all her time telling Superman how she doesn't need a savior, even after he has saved her life. I guess she had her own exit plan from the burning airplane getting dragged into space by the malfunctioning space shuttle? On the other hand, maybe she's right: during the crisis she's thrown around the plane by rocketship-level G-forces, no doubt receiving multiple concussions, yet never loses consciousness even though she can never quite reach an oxygen mask. So who knows, maybe she's invincible now, too.

Larger Themes

Thr problem with the movie's Christ metaphor--and yes, it's there, and painfully obvious--is that you can't really deal with the question of whether the world needs a savior when your story spends all its time concerned with whether the world's savior can get his ex-girlfriend back. Because then mankind's struggle with skepticism and faith is equated with whether Lois is still hot for her baby's daddy. Yes, perfect. I can totally see the parallels. If Superman is Jesus, there's some Da Vinci Code shit going on here.

Superman makes a useful metaphor for a lot of things. Frank Miller used him to represent America's arrogance and blind use of force. The best Superman story I've read, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's "A Superman for All Seasons," uses Superman as a mirror to examine the human-scale characters of Pa Kent, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and Lana Lang. But the Christ metaphor in Superman Returns is both heavy-handed and half-assed. It is self-important but unwilling to be truly serious.

There has been a lot of fuss, in the movie's development and in the discussions of the film, about whether Superman is still relevant in today's world. It's definitely hard to take a Superman story seriously, as we can see above. Superman is more useful as a grand archetype of the Superhero myth than he is as an actual character in complex stories. The broad strokes are elegant. The details make no sense.

Here is a character with these incredible abilities, and in this movie he is portrayed as being more omnipotent than ever. He flies up into space to listen to the whole world (or at least one side of it), listening for who needs him most. He's seen on the news saving people in France and Germany. The "truth, justice and the American Way" phrasing has been phased out because, among other reasons, Superman is humanity's superhero. Oh, really? Then why are so many of his superheroic feats so trite?

Imagine you're up in space, listening to the world. You can help somewhere, but only one place at a time. You have the whole world before you. Who needs you, right now, right this moment? What is the worst problem going on right now in the entire world?

Someone is robbing a bank in Metropolis!

Someone's car is out of control!

But of course, the world is bigger than that. After all, Superman is also there when someone falls off a building in Germany. Does he only listen to the western world? Predominantly white countries? Cities with good media coverage so he can smile at the TV cameras? When Clark Kent returns to Earth, he sees news reports about warfare and strife around the world. Presumably he is watching them and thinking, "Whew. That looks hard." Because he never attends to any of it. African genocide? Israel/Palestinian conflict? The War on Terror? Forget that. The bank robber has a machine gun! No wonder Superman seems irrelevant.

At least in WWII he fought some Nazis for us (but then, so did Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse). Sure, that stuff seems like simplistic wish fulfillment now, but at least it was timely. Superman Returns argues that the world needs a savior because otherwise people might fall off of things and vehicles might crash. As such, it never adequately engages with just what a savior even is.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Pretty In Pinky

I made my annual trip to Anime Expo yesterday. Stephanie was able to come this time, too. In recent years it has been less about my own ever-decreasing involvement and more about appreciating Lydia and Sarah's incredible commitment to creating and wearing multiple costumes.

This year, one of their new costumes was to go as a group of Pinky St. figures (scroll down to September 2005 release: Collaboration Set - Post Pet Fan Factory 4 figures), the latest step in a mania that Stephanie and I kicked off last year when we brought Pinky St. figures back as gifts from Japan. Is this what a drug dealer feels like when someone gets even more addicted than he expected?

I'm kidding. They're adorable.

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