Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I Think James Bond Misses That Touch So Much That He Crashes His Aston Martin Just So He Can Feel Something

Just when you think it's safe to say a movie looks awesome, someone goes and tells you Paul Haggis had a hand in writing it.

Well, maybe if Casino Royale is good, Haggis can redeem himself for Crash in my eyes. I enjoyed Million Dollar Baby well enough, before the ponderous self-seriousness of Crash sullied it in hindsight. And Haggis created Walker, Texas Ranger, so surely he's got a solid action movie in him, right?

On the other hand, after The Last Kiss, Haggis has a lot more to answer for. Inexplicably, it's picked up some good reviews, but the trailer suggests a movie that's thoroughly intolerable. Why do the girls Zach Braff is torn between have to look practically the same? And why does one of them have to look like Rachel Weiss, which adds to the confusion even more? Why does Braff's voice-over tease us by mentioning a Scrubs-esque fantasy featuring Hulk Hogan if we're not going to cut to that very fantasy, Scrubs-style?

But these are minor annoyances. The biggest piece of bullshit in the trailer is when the girl from The O.C. says something like, "Nowadays life moves so fast, we freak out way before our parents did... because we don't have time to feel." Has a movie ever offered a supposedly profound line that was so obviously wrong in so many ways? The problem experienced by Zack Braff's character, as well as any angsty thirty year old who might relate to him, is precisely that life moves so slowly that there is too much time to feel. You have option paralysis because of your crushing freedom and surfeit of opportunity. Don't compare yourselves to your parents, you thirty-year-old whiners. They were on their third kid by the time they were your age, probably paying down a mortgage and juggling way too much responsibility to mope around wondering how they really feel about feelings. Only the current generation, with its celebration of prolonged adolescence, helped along by enablers like this movie, has the luxury of spending so much time feeling that the self-absorbed anxiety of the teen years can last forever. Shut the fuck up, Girl From The O.C. Maybe that line would be okay if it were in a comedy trailer, and right afterwards we saw a reaction where Zach Braff looks at her like she's a retard, but the soulful music here suggests we ought to take her observation seriously.

The only line in the trailer that makes any sense is when Tom Wilkinson is telling someone, presumably Braff again, that his feelings don't matter to anyone and he should get over himself and treat people right. I don't know whose side the movie takes, but I do know Tom Wilkinson always plays a jerk, so there is that to consider. Even if these views are treated with equal validity, that is giving way too much credit to O.C. Girl.

Now, I'm not saying I'm not a pathetic overgrown child who's terrified of growing up myself. Such is the curse of our generation, and there are other, legitimate reasons why being "an adult" is a scary idea for us. But I'm not going to ask for your pity over it, and I'm sure as hell not going to blame it on life moving too fast for me to feel.

Paul Haggis, Casino Royale better be every bit as awesome as its trailer. I'm just saying.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Idiocracy

It's hard to say why Mike Judge's new movie Idiocracy has been so completely abandoned. It's in theaters now, though it's not likely to be for long. If you didn't know, it's because 20th Century Fox has buried it with a limited release in only four states (New York, California, Texas and, inexplicably, Georgia) and no advertising. I'd link to a trailer, but there literally isn't one on the Internet. That's how much they're not marketing this movie.

The movie stars Luke Wilson as an incredibly average guy who wakes up five hundred years in the future, only to discover that the dumbing down of society and the devolution of the human race (due to idiots breeding more fruitfully than smart people) has made him the smartest man alive.

The movie isn't bad. In fact, it's hilarious throughout, packed with observant, dead-on satire and delightful absurdities. But it would admittedly be a challenge for marketers. A trailer focusing on the obvious laughs, devoid of context, would likely make the movie look as stupid as the things it's mocking. Maybe Fox is doing this on purpose as some sort of genius anti-marketing. After all, Office Space became a huge cult hit through word-of-mouth, so why spend money advertising this one?

The other possibility is that the studio got jitters over the movie's general aura of unpleasantness. Sure, it's funny, but Mike Judge's Swiftian vision of a society in ruins is utterly committed to its satirical vision. It pulls no punches in depicting what is ultimately an incredibly bleak, nigh-apocalyptic future world. Every frame feels smeared with filth and grime. This is a dystopia that holds its own against anything science fiction has to offer, and the fact that it's played for laughs doesn't make it any less terrifying. This is not the charming, upbeat stupidity of Dumb & Dumber, but an impenetrable, dangerous, painful stupidity, which is what makes the movie so funny but also ultimately risks alienating an audience. Especially from a marketer's perspective.

Camp Kill Yourself

Not that I didn't know this, but it sure is depressing to see it in writing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Prepare To Laugh



Some new material here. A lot of old. But some new!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Casino Royale

The new Casino Royale trailer is wicked awesome. I liked Brosnan's Bond, but Daniel Craig's portrayal suggests a coldblooded ruthlessness that is utterly compelling. The stunts, while remaining spectacular and over-the-top, steer clear of Die Another Day cartoonishness and exist on a human scale. Plus they're not computer-generated, which helps a lot.

Trailers follow a pretty obvious template, but this one is a textbook example of why that template works so well. There's a marvelous build here, from the quiet intensity of the opening scene to the operatic, action-packed crecendo of the finale. It's simply a thrilling trailer, start to finish.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Houseboy Forever

The bleak, labyrinthine halls of Alpha Omicron Pi reek of estrogen, stale perfume, and the faint aura of girls desperately trying to prove themselves as women. But one lone resident shines through this darkness. He is Alpha Omicron Pi’s protector. Its hero. Its Houseboy.

Home to dozens of budding young women, Alpha Omicron Pi is also a home to secret rivalries, fierce social pressures and appalling moral decadence.

And on this night, it will be home to murder.





ALPHA OMICRON PI. NIGHT.

“Don’t tell me you have a crush on Houseboy!” Shannon McIntyre laughs heartily, lounging in the common room with sorority sister Tanya Tiffler and handsome, mild-mannered Sean Smith, who also happens to live somewhere in Alpha Omicron Pi, for reasons no one can quite figure.

“You would too, if he’d saved you,” Tanya counters. “I almost had to go to a party without taking my pill.”* (*Vol. 10 Ish. 7! –Ed.)

Sean Smith nods. “He sounds like he’d be a pretty great guy. If he were real.”

Tanya shoves Sean playfully. “Don’t give me that ‘house myth’ crap, Sean. I saw him with my own—”

DING-DONG. The ominous chimes of the doorbell fill the room.

Tanya goes to the door. Opens it. And screams.

Before her eyes, a wounded stranger crumples to the ground. It is the first time she will see a man die.

LATER--

A crowd. Always a crowd. Vultures.

A dozen sorority girls stare baffled at the dead man in the entryway. Police officers take statements.

After years on the force, Officer Galvan is a hard man. But here, in a sorority house, he is ill at ease.

Galvan rubs his temples. “I hate the weird ones.”

The House Mother takes a long drag on her cigarette. “I’ve got a friend coming,” she says. “He might be able to help.”

ALPHA OMICRON PI. HOUSE ROOFTOP.

House Mother’s overcoat flaps in the icy wind of night. But the smoke filling her lungs, along with the thought of evil brought to justice, warms her from the inside.

Suddenly, silently, he appears beside her. “I heard we have a mystery on our hands,” says Houseboy.

House Mother nods, not bothering to turn her head. “You heard right, old chum.”

ALPHA OMICRON PI. SECOND FLOOR.

Room 203. Alpha Omicron Pi’s “bad girls.” And its richest vein of gossip. If it’s happening in the house, these girls are the ones to ask. But information never comes easy.

Shrieks. Giggles. Chaos. Houseboy knows what waits beyond the door. Brightly colored, overpriced undergarments and nubile female flesh. A pillow fight.

With one powerful kick, he sends the door smashing to the ground.

The scantily-clad girls shield themselves with pillows as the caped, masked figure enters the room. “Houseboy!” someone gasps.

“I apologize for the intrusion,” Houseboy says dryly. “I’m looking for information.”

Leslie Cohn pipes up. “We already told the cops, we don’t know anything.”

“I wish I could believe that,” growls the Houseboy.

“Why don’t you talk to Sean Smith?” Leslie snaps back.

Houseboy flinches, ever imperceptibly. “Sean Smith? Why him? He seems like a nice enough lad.”

“He was there when the dying guy showed up. But then it was like he disappeared.”

“Plus nobody seems to know why he lives here. That’s a little weird, don’t you think?”

“Um,” says Houseboy. “No.”

ALPHA OMICRON PI. BASEMENT.

Houseboy stares intently at the massive screen of the crime-solving supercomputer at the heart of his cutting-edge basement lair.

Having hacked the police computer, he is now privy to the coroner’s report on the dead man.

The dead man has a name: Wayne Drummond.

Houseboy’s eyes narrow. Wayne Drummond. Wayne Drummond.

ORANGE COUNTY. THE SMITH HOME. FIVE YEARS AGO.

Shannon Smith is crying. Sean Smith, sympathetic little brother, at fifteen still a boy, sits by her side.

“He said he loved me,” sobbed Shannon. “So I slept with him. And now he tells me he’s moving to Oakland. And doesn’t want to see me anymore. Promise me you’ll never treat women that way.”

“I won’t,” says young Sean. “I swear a solemn oath to do everything in my power to protect young women from emotional harm, and to make sure their living spaces are clean and comfortable.”

Shannon’s eyes widen. “Sean, how are you going to do that?”

“I’ll find a way. So, what’s this creep’s name?”

“Wayne Drummond.”

ALPHA OMICRON PI. BASEMENT.

Houseboy’s keen mind races. So the man is connected to Sean Smith after all. A frame-up? But how? And why? And more importantly, is the target really Sean Smith? Or Houseboy?

DURANT AVENUE. NIGHT.

Here. A former Tower Records, now a sad, vacant shell, used up and discarded, like too many girls with shattered self-esteem. How appropriate. The police report says this was the site of a scuffle. Shortly before Drummond showed up at Alpha Omicron Pi. It might be nothing. But it’s worth checking out.

Something on the ground sparkles, catching Houseboy’s eye. He crouches. Picks it up.

“Of course.”

SIGMA EPSILON. NIGHT.

Houseboy moves soundlessly through the foyer. The air is thick with the stink of long-spilled beer, vomit and body odor. Once-grand antique furniture, now abused, stained, in disrepair. An unholy place. A world whose inhabitants live to use and abuse, heedless of the damage in their wake.

In short, a world without a Houseboy.

“Well, well, well,” brays a familiar voice. “What took you so long?”

“I found the fraternity pin you left at the scene. Of course, I should have guessed long before that. A plan this diabolical could only be hatched by my old nemesis… Walt Conroy. Or should I say… Frat Guy?”

“Well done, Houseboy,” says the voice. “But this time, you lose.”

A bare light bulb clicks on, revealing Frat Guy in the dining room. Standing next to a helpless girl, tied to a chair.

“Tanya!” Houseboy takes a step forward. Three frat brothers emerge from the darkness and grab him.

Frat Guy calmly levels a gun at the hero. “Always playing the nice guy. The protector. And yet you’re the one living a lie.”

“Houseboy, what’s he talking about?” pleads Tanya.

“Why don’t you tell her? After all, it’s your double life that left you so vulnerable. It was just a matter of connecting the dots. And soon I had the perfect scheme to get you kicked out of that sorority forever. Best of all, I knew you’d solve the mystery that would lead to your own undoing.”

“You’re mad,” says the Houseboy, through gritted teeth.

Frat guy laughs. “Mad? No. Just angry. Now let’s show Tanya who you really are.”

A frat brother reaches for Houseboy’s mask. As he touches it, a spark lights up the room with a crack as the brother is stunned with forty thousand volts. Houseboy head-butts the second brother in the face, flattening his nose with a sickening crunch. A judo kick takes the third guy down. Houseboy dives for cover as Frat Guy opens fire.
Houseboy throws a Houserang, cleanly knocking the pistol from Frat Guy’s hands. He dives at Frat Guy. Tackles him. Savagely beats him unconscious.

He knows he shouldn’t enjoy this.

But he does.

SIGMA EPSILON. LATER.

House Mother and Houseboy watch the police lead Frat Guy into a paddy wagon. From across the yard, Galvan nods at House Mother gratefully.

She turns to the Houseboy. “These never end well, do they?”

“It could have ended worse.”

“Houseboy?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

ALPHA OMICRON PI. ROOFTOP. NIGHT.

Houseboy stands on the edge of the roof. Surveying the house. His house. Tanya, wrapped in a blanket, steps out into the night air.

“You all right, ma’am?”

“I’m fine.” She steps close to him. “Houseboy?”

“Yes?”

“What was Frat Guy talking about? Back there.”

Houseboy looks into her eyes. They are deep with love and gratitude. But clouded by doubt. This pains him.

Slowly, Houseboy removes his mask.

“Sean! You?”

“I’m sorry I never told you. I didn’t want to put you in danger. I--”

Tanya interrupts with a gentle kiss.

“Tanya… I always…”

Sean stops. Behind Tanya, an Omicron-shaped searchlight illuminates the sky. The signal.

Tanya smiles knowingly. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”

Friday, September 08, 2006

Jumping The Snark

As you might guess from Stephen Colbert's "On Notice" board below, Entertainment Weekly has gotten really shitty lately.

The great thing about Entertainment Weekly was the fact that you could read fluff without feeling like you were reading trash. Sure, it's all about TV, movies, music, and to a lesser extent, books, but it was smart and informative and had a sense of humor. Photo captions were painfully punny, but you could groan at them with some affection.

This year they've been retooling, and every change makes things worse. Start with the layout. It's meant to be clean and modern, with more white space. What it really means is that somehow the reviews section no longer seems to have any text in it. Ninety percent of the reviews are now capsule reviews. It's like the driving philosophy of the retool was "This is a nice magazine. But can you make it more like People?"

There is no content in the magazine anymore. They've expanded the News & Notes section and added all kinds of random little features that are sort of meant to be funny, except that they're not very funny and they offer no actual information.

And I'm getting really sick of snark. Snark is like comedy, except instead of being funny it's just smug and bitchy. It's supposed to be semi-affectionate, I guess, but after awhile it starts to feel very passive-aggressive, empty and pointless. See Best Week Ever or any Hollywood/celebrity/pop culture blog. Part of the problem is that there's so much more of it out there now than ever before. It's too much. Snark was better in small doses. Now everybody's getting in on it. Especially EW, although the EW PopWatch blog is even worse. Honestly, does everything I read about entertainment have to sound like it was written by a sassy gay man?

It's still exciting to get an Entertainment Weekly in the mail, but after you've read it you feel like you just ate a huge bag of potato chips by yourself. It's junk food reading. I mean, it was junk food reading before, but it was more delicious and satisfying. Now it's the greasy, nauseating kind.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On Notice

 
Man of the Year continues to occupy my mind. I remain fascinated by how badly it fails at what it purports to be. To clarify, and to add briefly to my comment, it's not that I want Robin Williams' character or the movie to advocate a specific partisan agenda. As Tom points out, that would be disastrous in its own way and also completely wrong for this version of the Straight Talk Politician Comedy. But he could at least have a coherent underlying point of view (like the Daily Show itself) that would elevate the jokes from pointless schtick to something that one might plausibly build a platform on.

Recall that in Jon Stewart's big Crossfire moment, which no doubt inspired this movie, Stewart refused to engage in any jokery at all, save for some pointed name-calling with Tucker Carlson. What is so potentially interesting about the premise in the first place is that satirists have something real to say, and increasingly have the public's ear, so what would happen if one actually got involved? Would that bring real change or would the process corrupt him and turn things into politics as usual? That would be an interesting movie, and it is what this this one, in touting its association with the zeitgeist-capturing Wag the Dog, seems to promise. But based on the trailer itself, the idea appears to be wasted. The way Williams' character avoids saying anything at all is transparently disingenuous, which is exactly the sort of thing the Daily Show (or Colbert Report) would skewer.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pan Of The Year

Click here to enjoy the impossibly, almost fascinatingly unfunny trailer for Man of the Year, a movie that takes the intriguing premise "What if Jon Stewart ran for President... and won?" and turns it into "What if an unfunny, uninsightful yet still inexplicably popular version of Jon Stewart ran for President... and won?"

I can only name one other comedian-runs-for-President movie--Chris Rock's universally unseen Head of State--so why does it feel like this is the hundredth one? While I don't remember who Chris Rock's character was supposed to be, I think Man of the Year is the first to cast its comic lead as an actual comedian.

The movie tries to feel timely with its Daily Show style set and its references to "fake news" outperforming real news. Unfortunately, the fake news show hosted by Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) offers none of the things that make the real Daily Show so successful. In Man of the Year, Williams' supposedly scathing political satire consists of stale, unspecific one-liners like "Politicians are like diapers. They should be changed often, and for the same reason." Where'd he dig that up? An old Bob Hope routine? W.C. Fields? I'd guess Groucho Marx but I feel like his wit would cut deeper than that. Granted, it's hard to replicate Daily Show jokes when you're depicting a fictional political universe without actual specific issues or figures to comment upon, and it's hard to be timely when dealing with the production timeline of a theatrical film. But honestly, can't we do better than this? Later, we get riffs on whether Williams inhaled or had sex with "that woman." What year is it?

Robin Williams falls back on his familiar schtick of saying unfunny jokes so fast, he hopes you won't notice they're barely jokes. "Four million illegal aliens are crossing the border with bedroom sets and night tables." Huh?! His position on same sex marriage? "Anyone who's ever been married knows it's always the same sex!" How bold! How decisive! How calculatedly wishy-washy and inoffensive! He can change the subject and dodge issues in lame joke form! Vote for this man! How are we supposed to believe that anyone could be passionate while delivering this nonsense? When, in a debate, he accuses his opponent of being in the pockets of oil companies, is that supposed to be the hard-hitting straight talk that only a comedian could bring to the table? Don't actual politicians accuse each other of that shit all the time?

The frequent shots of audiences busting up, debate moderators acting offended, and advisors saying "Wow!" and "Smackdown!" in response to lines like "Enron: We take your money an' run!" only serve to underscore how ordinary and unspecial William's proclamations really are. Despite his own efforts, even Williams looks bored and exhausted with it all. Maybe these feeble lines would work, a little, if Williams was delivering them with that sense of mischievous glee that used to be his trademark. Instead it plays as misplaced self-importance.

The only thing amazing here is how little this movie has to say and how terrified it is of saying it.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

End Of An Era

Cereal rarely comes with a toy in the box anymore, but here's the weird part: When it does, the toy bag is separate from the cereal bag. You open up the box and Pow! There's your toy, ready and waiting, perched on top of the bag of cereal.

This means the days of kids arriving home from the supermarket, tearing open a cereal box and shoving their clammy little hands elbow-deep into the bag, smashing and contaminating cereal, spilling it all over the floor and all but destroying the box in order to get their hands on the toy that motivated the purchase are behind us. Nowadays, it's instant gratification.

But wait! Why were toys ever inside the cereal bag, at the bottom of the box? Doesn't that seem kind of stupid? It's no great leap in technology that's brought us to our current state. It was always just as easy, if not easier, to not put the toy in the same bag as the cereal, and it's more convenient for all concerned. The kid gets the toy as advertised, and the parents are spared the mess. Why did cereal companies force us to suffer for so long?

Answer: Because they were wise.

Cereal at the bottom of the box taught a lesson: Hard work is rewarded. Or, for kids like me, who preferred not to destroy their Rice Krispies, it taught that patience is rewarded. In either case, it was that nothing good comes easy. Children today are simultaneously spoiled and hopelessly overscheduled. They haven't the time to wait for a cereal prize, nor the time to dig mercilessly for it.

Enjoy that easily accessible toy, Children of Today. It comes at the price of your innocence.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Farmer Extremely Unhelpful

Tom! The guy who played Bus Driver Stu on Pete & Pete is in a Washington Mutual commercial. He's with a bunch of the old white men who represent rich, out-of-touch bankers. They're in a hospital, where the black guy who once played Elaine's J. Peterman co-worker on Seinfeld shows up as the Washington Mutual spokesman. He proposes some Washington Mutual policy that's presumably sensible and convenient for bank customers but unprofitable for greedy old bankers. Bus Driver Stu, who may or may not be one of the greedy old bankers, yells, "Look, it's Doctor Bad Idea!!"

Friday, September 01, 2006

Excitelife

Everybody has left early for Labor Day weekend. I didn't know that offices did that. I am pretty much the last one on this floor, and I'm just procrastinating, compulsively checking email, and so forth.

When I learned of the short work day, I planned to put in an extended writing day, but then I was invited to go out for a happy hour gathering with other denizens of the office. Now I'm debating whether I should seize my chance to get to know the people I'll be working with for the next two weeks or whether to go straight to Starbucks and churn out some writin'.

I think perhaps I will swing by and see what this so called "happy hour" is all about, and investigate just how happy it really is.

Yes, my life is full of excitement. Another example:

I answered a phone call from a celebrity today. Obviously that is commonplace when you work in Hollywood, but it hasn't happened to me too many times yet. I don't want to be too specific as to which celebrity; suffice to say it's one who had a fifty million dollar contract for his hit show on Comedy Central and then ran away to Africa.