Friday, December 29, 2006

Grind Or Die

Grindhouse

It seems only fair that Quentin Tarantino would now offer us two movies for the price of one, since in his last outing he gave us one movie for the price of two. However, I'm not sure how to feel about Grindhouse. The trailer has an excellent look to it--some serious attention to detail went into making these movies look like authentic '70s trash. The lighting, the production design, the beat-up film, the voice-over, everything. And there are some cool things going on that definitely pique my interest. Rose McGowan with a gun in place of her amputated leg? Awesome (and an impressively seamless special effect--eat your heart out, Gary Sinise). I'm not sure how far back the hot-chick-with-prosthetic-gun idea goes. Personally, I saw it first in Gunsmith Cats. Even so, it's cool here. As for Death Proof, it promises more hot chicks and lots of car mayhem.

On the other hand, I've never really been a huge Tarantino fan--as I've said before, the only movie of his that I really like is Kill Bill. I find his movies to be tinged with a certain unpleasant sadism. And the fact that these are horror pictures--even cheesy ones--is a turn-off for me. In this case, I'm not sure whether the cool stuff will outweigh the unappealing stuff.

Live Free or Die Hard


I really like the Die Hard franchise. Or at least, I like the first one, which is a well-structured, perfectly contained classic in its genre, and the third one, which flips the claustrophobia of the first movie on its head and turns it into a sprawling scavenger hunt of a movie. The ending, admittedly, is flawed, and even screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh admits in his DVD commentary that he wrote himself into a corner and still doesn't know how to solve it, but the rest of the movie is strong enough that I am willing to forgive.

The second movie is too similar to the first, while at the same time being vastly inferior. One problem is that McClane is not the only man on the inside, which leads to countless scenes of him telling idiots that they ought to listen to him, even though there is no particular reason he should know better except that we know he's the hero. Add to that the fact that one plane full of innocents does crash, which makes McClane's victory sort of hollow and unsatisfying, and we have a Die Hard that is worthwhile only for the part where he lights the trail of jet fuel on fire.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way to Live Free or Die Hard. First of all, the title is hilarious and awesome. Brilliantly stupid and wonderful. I love it. The trailer is a bit lackluster so far, and the hacker-centric plot is worrisome. But damned if there aren't a lot of cars flying through the air, and the one shot where a car just misses them as they duck between two others? Very cool. Bruce Willis, fortunately, has not yet reached the Harrison Ford stage where he makes a laughable action hero, and with his dignified shaved head he looks ready for battle.

The Die Hard series admittedly doesn't need another entry, but I want this to be good. I am cautiously optimistic. They should bring back McClane's wife.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Archie...Archie Andrews...Where Are You? Comics Digest Magazine

Wow. I don't actually read Boing Boing all that regularly anymore--the posts just pile up too fast, following all the links of interest always takes a huge chunk of time, and all the further links I find as a result can wind up eating a few hours. But when I checked in today, I caught the link to news of the Archie Comics character redesign. I grew up reading Archie Comics, from age 5 to... um... let's say 12 or so, with sporadic check-ins with the comics thereafter. It was a huge influence on the expectations I had for my teenage years, which may help to explain why I was so lame as a teenager. Actually, I was even lamer than Archie--I certainly didn't spend high school with two hot girls vying for my affections and yet never blaming me for two-timing each one with the other.

The funny thing is, I haven't thought about Archie Comics much lately, but it happens to be back on my radar at the moment since my dad bought me a stack of digests as a nostalgic Christmas gift.

Anyway. So the plan is to start doing more realistically drawn, serialized stories in the Betty and Veronica Digest. I'm not opposed to it. In fact, in high school, I dreamed of one day writing a serialized, more realistic Archie series (yeah, I just get lamer and lamer). Much of the writing in recent years has been fairly stagnant, lacking the smoothness and flow that, say, Frank Doyle used to bring to Archie scripts. Anything that gets some new blood in there or opens up new avenues for writers to raise their game and freshen things up? I say go for it. And the quality of art in Archie Comics lately could use an overhaul too--though it's the draftsmanship, not the house style, that's really the problem.

That said, the proposed new style(s) (see the links above) are... maybe not the greatest? The stilted figures on the cover art, especially Veronica, are worse than the pencils of the interior page. The pencils, actually, are not that bad. There is a sense of style there, certainly more care than has gone into Archie art since the passing of Dan DeCarlo, and Betty and Veronica--if that is Veronica in the short hair--actually look pretty expressive. However, it doesn't really feel like Archie--and while the faces have more detail, the girls' big heads and tiny bodies are actually less realistically proportioned than they have been in the past. I guess it's admirable that they didn't just go all-out manga with it, which would have been the expected thing (they already did it with Sabrina).

I remember some of Archie Comics' previous experiments with serialization. In the '90s they implemented a new-look Jughead, who shaved lines into his hair, started seeing a hot female therapist, ate soy burgers, and skateboarded, dude. But the serialization didn't really add anything. It's hard to make an ongoing story matter when you don't make the stakes any higher than they are in a five-page stand-alone. The storylines just got goofier and more pointless and eventually the whole thing was abandoned.

A few years before that, Jughead Comics attempted serialization in a more modest fashion, introducing a pair of love interests for Jughead--a cool new girl named Debbie and a childhood sweetheart named Joani. These girls snapped Jughead out of his girl-hating ways, and put Jughead in a love triangle situation that was admittedly redundant with Archie's. But the upside was that Jughead, unlike Archie, was not used to being put in such situations, and the arc yielded a few stories that managed to capture a genuinely soulful sense of teen angst, the likes of which seldom appear in Archie Comics. To this day they are my favorite stories, and it drives me up the wall that I never found the issue that resolved the arc. I have the one afterward, where Jughead swears off girls again, but not the one in which we see what exactly went wrong with the whole Debbie/Joani situation. Once I even wrote to ArchieComics.com asking for the answer, but they misinterpreted my question and instead offered a generic explanation for Jughead's dislike of girls. (This was, I think, freshman year of college. Is it even possible to be this lame? I may have set a record.)

As for the title of this post, can you believe that really used to be the name of one of the Archie monthly digests? And no, they did not center on stories in which Archie was missing. Also, I really miss the phrase "comics digest magazine," which I don't think they use anymore. I like that there are way more words than necessary in it.

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Gourmet I

Some of you may know that I am not much in the way of a cook. Then again, when I'm in a kitchen, I am very much in the way of a cook. Which is to say, I am so useless that I just get in the cook's way. I will often abort an exercise in food preparation when deciding just which food to microwave threatens to become too taxing.

Which is why I'm proud to announce that I have not only added an item to my cooking repertoire (heretofore consisting of grilled sandwiches, omelets, and breakfast quesadillas), but have, in fact, created an awesome new thing out of thin air.

Oh, yes.

Tonight, I made a tuna melt quesadilla. It is exactly what it sounds like. And yes, it rocks.

But I did have to go online to look up how to make tuna salad.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Epic Load I

Hey! Are you sick and tired of big bloated Hollywood epics? Isn't it time someone took them down a peg or two? Well, you are in luck, because finally, finally, we have the innovatively titled Epic Movie, chock full of parodies of movies that simply define the epic genre. You know, movies that are synonymous with the word epic. I refer, of course, to epic movies like Borat, Nacho Libre and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the person of Paris Hilton.

Whaaa...?!

Are you suggesting that these parodies have no business being featured prominently in a supposed spoof of epics? If so, then you are correct, sir or madam!

Even the more epic-ish movies featured in the trailer are a bit of a stretch. Personally, I wouldn't have called Superman Returns or Pirates of the Caribbean epics, but I would have granted that maybe, maybe they're close enough--after all, Superman was pretty pretentious and the second Pirates was really long, right? The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter are the only movies that come close to fitting the bill here, and even Harry Potter still makes me go ehhh, well, okay, I guess, just because the scope isn't really big enough.

I have to ask, where is Lord of the Rings, the franchise that seemingly must have triggered a spoof of epic movies in the first place? No doubt it's in there, but it's not on the poster art? Right now I'm at a computer where I can't re-watch the trailer, but I did watch it twice yesterday and I don't remember LOTR making an appearance. (EDIT: Just re-watched the trailer on a different computer, and still no LOTR, but I did forget about the parodies of epics like X-Men and of course, that self-serious classic epic just crying out for parody, Snakes on a Plane--surprising that they were able to glean laughs from that stone-faced premise! Although technically I guess they didn't.). What's the matter, was LOTR too old? Did they have to cut it to include the timely, jokeless Borat reference, since these movies are so witless that being topical is all they have going for them, and if they were to spoof something even a couple of years old you would stop being astonished at how current they are and realize that they have no comedy in them whatsoever? Could that be it? I'm going to say, definitely.

I'm sure it doesn't matter. It's not like the target audience for this movie even understands the meaning of the word epic. Or, you know, words.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Just To Be Clear...

I do like actually giving the gift, once I finally decide on something I feel good about. And based on our partial early gift exchange last night, I think I've done well so far this year.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gifted And Talented

Buying gifts is not my forte. It is a process I would describe as agonizing, but that has nothing to do with braving the crowds or fighting for the last Tickle-Me-PlayStation 3 or what have you. It is agonizing because it involves me wandering through store after store searching for the perfect gift, and not having any idea what I am doing.

See, buying gifts requires one to be a thoughtful person, who keeps other people in mind rather than oneself, which is not something I was really brought up doing. Yet it's a necessary skill, so that when you see something others might like, the thought automatically strikes you: "Hey, you know who would love this? ____!" And then you buy a gift for them.

The ideal situation is when you remember some casually dropped nugget of information from months earlier and ta-da! a great gift. But more often than not, you don't have that--or probably I just missed it because I was clueless, or busy thinking about myself. And so I am stuck. Let's say I am buying a gift for Stephanie. She always buys me terrific presents, which makes me feel even worse about the fact that I never know what to get for her. Lately we have worked out a system whereby she gives me helpful "hints" by outright telling me a few things she's had her eye on. Even so, I can't coast entirely on that list, because that is boring and unthoughtful. So there is always a certain amount of wandering around and trying to guess at her taste.

Now, I know Stephanie's taste, and I recognize what looks good on her... but usually only when I see her wearing it. She has bought things that look great, but that I would never have guessed were her style if I saw them hanging in a store. In a store, everything looks the same to me. It's hard enough convincing myself it's worth it to spend money on clothes for myself, let alone something that I'm not sure someone else will like. And if I just buy things that I would like to see on her, she would probably come out looking like some kind of J-pop indie rocker chick schoolgirl. Which is cool, but not exactly something she could wear to work all the time.

The other terrible thing about buying gifts is that you have to wrap them. Using wrapping paper seems like it ought to be an easy thing, but few things are capable of proving so economically what a clumsy, all-thumbed oaf I am. Sure, you could ask me to play a sport, but first I would have to change clothes and we would have to go to a park and a good hour would go by before my ineptitude revealed itself. Hand me a roll of wrapping paper and a small box and you will have your answer instantly. If I in fact possess the ability to produce a wrapped gift that does not look like a crumpled piece of trash, I have yet to discover it. How is it that females seem to innately understand how to manipulate paper so that it fits neatly and snugly around a box? Is it easy? I think maybe I could one day learn how to do it, but I am pretty sure it would require an intensive six-week course, and when it was over each gift would still take me about five hours and several rolls of wrapping paper to get right.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Firewall Decoded

When I first heard about RiffTrax, I was skeptical. I loved Mystery Science Theater 3000, and of course always wished they could tackle well-known, contemporary movies. But could it really be that easy to recapture the magic? The MST3K Summer Blockbuster Reviews and Oscar special were fun as novelties, but never as funny as actual episodes. The appeal of MST3K was not only in the commentary, but in the discovery of movies so appallingly, bafflingly bad that they were lost to the sands of time. Movies like Manos or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians have an extra layer of strangeness to appreciate. Where did these come from? Did anyone ever watch them? There's an extra layer of bizarre appreciation that you don't get when tackling a deserving yet over-familiar target like Top Gun.

My other concern was that Mike Nelson was tackling the RiffTrax singlehandedly, and I felt that the dynamic of buddies riffing on a movie together was essential to the MST3K tone. As funny as Mike is, I worried that one guy cracking jokes on a movie would feel lonely and effortful instead of casual and loose.

Finally, synching a DVD with an mp3 seemed like it might detract from the enjoyment simply by being too much trouble.

But since then, Mike has brought on fellow MST3K alums Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett as guest riffers. I've heard a lot of good things, so last night we had Mike and Crystal over and put on the RiffTrax for the tired Harrison Ford vehicle/cry-for-help Firewall. It was awesome.



Kevin "Tom Servo" Murphy joins Mike Nelson on this one, so there's a true MST3K feel, and the movie was amazingly boring and perfect for the RiffTrax treatment. They're hilariously merciless with Harrison Ford. No matter how many times they pile on about how old and tired and miscast he is, it never wears out, because he just deserves it so much.

Afterwards we checked out the special features, in which the first-time produced screenwriter pretentiously explains that this generic, unthrilling story of home invasion, kidnapping, and computerized bank robbery was inspired by--what else?--September 11. In another featurette, the insufferable Harrison Ford and an obviously annoyed director laugh about how "the script had problems" before going on to glare at each other with thinly veiled hate. Harrison Ford talks about how he does his own stunts as much as possible, because it allows the audience to be more emotionally engaged in the boring fight at the climax of this uninspired movie. He insists that it's not stunt work but "physical acting." He also discusses how important it was to reshoot scenes in which Mary Lynn Rajskub drove a car instead of him. The director reveals there is still one shot in the movie where Mary Lynn Rajskub was driving, and Harrison Ford tries in vain to disguise how much this enrages him.

Except for one DVD chapter that was scratched, the synching was pretty painless too. Now, finally, I'm psyched about RiffTrax and eager to check out some others. Maybe even the ones where Mike flies solo.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hot Fuzz And Other Trailers

There's a pretty great new trailer up for Hot Fuzz, the new movie from the guys who made Shaun of the Dead. It's fun when the creative team behind a good movie reunite to make a non-sequel. I wonder why it's not done more often. The Christopher Guest movies are the most successful example I can think of. Fierce Creatures didn't work out all that well for the Fish Called Wanda gang. Wes Anderson's movies have a bit of this theater-troupe feel. What are some other movies that do this? There are the Broken Lizard movies, I guess. Most of them probably spring from some sort of pre-existing show or comedy troupe. Even the Shaun of the Dead guys hail from some English sketch show, right? Can anyone think of other examples of this kind of team follow-up movie?

Simon Pegg's Shaun stardom also led to his tiny supporting role in M:i:iii. Another person in the supporting cast of M:i:iii--Maggie Q--is also in a movie with a new trailer out, and with that clumsy segue, I direct your attention to Balls of Fury.

Directed by Robert Ben Garant and starring, among many others, Thomas Lennon, it's from the Reno 911! guys who also pick up tons of cash as screenwriters for hire on such projects as Taxi, The Pacifier, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. Here it seems they have cashed in their chips to make their passion project: an unlikely sports comedy with plenty of openings for suggestive phrases using the word "ball." It's on the dumb side, but likable enough, I suppose. I can't really justify that statement, and it's not like I would run out to see it, but the trailer's combination of preposterousness, strong casting (Christopher Walken, Patton Oswalt, Terry Crews, Maggie Q, George Lopez, that one old Chinese guy who's in everything, the shlub who plays the main guy) and scattered funny moments make for an agreeable viewing, even if the transmitter-up-the-butt gag or the little-girl-punches-guy-in-the-nuts gag are as predictable as it gets.

Speaking of the Reno 911! guys, there is also the trailer for the Reno 911! movie. I've only seen the show once and was not all that into it, but the trailer is pretty funny. I especially enjoy the convoluted lead-up to the Reno 911 cops taking over the Miami police department.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Catching Up

The thing about blogging is that in some ways it is easier to do it frequently than it is to do it infrequently. When you're posting every day or two, any little thought is fair game for a post. When you go two weeks between posts, you start to think, gee, if I'm going to post after all this time, I'd better have something to say.

This is, of course, a fallacy. Blogging has never been about having something to say.

I'm finally blogging now because...

I am sick. In fact, I had to take a sick day and stay home from work, which sucks when you like your job. It seems I have the flu. I'm a bit feverish, I have no appetite even though my stomach aches, and I have no energy. I wasn't able to put the pieces together myself, even as I was struggling to get through work yesterday. I haven't had the flu in ages. I'm used to the kind of sick where I'm stuffy and coughing, not this weird fever and weakness. But according to Stephanie, all that equals the flu.

Don't forget:

Re-Animated airs tomorrow (Friday) at 8 PM on Cartoon Network. And, apparently, again and again throughout December, so you really have no excuse not to see it eventually. Read about it here. Watch a new promo below:



Casino Royale

Whatever Paul Haggis brought to the script, it didn't detract from the movie, which was excellent. The parkour chase, as Tom mentioned, was thrilling, and Bond's romance with Vesper was convincingly written and well-played. As many have mentioned, it is perhaps a bit on the long side, but aside from having to duck out to the bathroom mid-movie, I didn't have a problem with it. Despite the fact that the shape of the story is a bit unexpected, you never feel like you are dealing with false endings, as there are always loose ends you realize need further tying up. It does get a bit confusing going into the third act, but I think that might be intentional, and I'm pretty sure I had it all sorted out by the end. Casino Royale lived up to its amazing trailer, and that is no small feat.

Mission: Impossible III

Speaking of movies that get confusing, I like to think I'm pretty good at following plot twists, but there were moments in M:I:iii (recently viewed on DVD) where I was faced with the unfamiliar sensation of being utterly lost. Of course, like Bond movies, the Mission: Impossible movies deal with plot twists about shifting loyalties, but in the M:I series you get the distinct feeling that the movie is never playing fair with you.

The positives: The movie looks great--the locations and cinematography are flawless, the action scenes are spectacular and incorporate the best kind of visual effects: seamless and unnoticeable. There are so many amazing composite shots that I never even thought were faked until watching the featurette. Michelle Monaghan, from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, is lovely and the script, with uncharacteristic generosity, even allows her a big hero moment rather than giving it to Tom Cruise. Keri Russell also turns in some cool badass action chick moments in her brief appearance, and fellow hapa Maggie Q gets to look hot in a crazy dress and drive a Lamborghini. Also, whatever you may think about Tom Cruise, you can't deny that he's a hard worker who throws himself into his work with tireless--dare I say crazed?--ferocity. It shows in his physicality, his commitment to stunt work, and his intense performance.

On the other hand, he never lets up. Unlike Bond, Cruise portrays Ethan Hunt without a trace of humor. Moments that would be classic with a lighter touch collapse under his self-seriousness. At one point, while under fire, ally Keri Russell reports that she is out of ammo and asks if Cruise has any left. He replies that he has plenty, pops out and kills the gunman with the single remaining shot in his machine gun, then quips, "Now I'm out." It's a great action hero moment, but Cruise won't play the absurd one liner for the laugh that it deserves.

After the boring cakewalk that Ethan Hunt enjoyed in M:I-2, it's nice to see that Abrams and Cruise have left some room for Hunt to be fallible. He occasionally slips up and makes mistakes that cause more trouble for him, and it humanizes the character somewhat. Unfortunately, he still lacks any real flaws or quirks to make him interesting, and as such, still feels like nothing more than a vehicle for Tom Cruise to look amazing. Yes, Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt is fit. Yes, Hunt can sprint for miles through a Chinese village, and yes, Cruise can perform it all himself in a single extended take. But shouldn't he at least make it appear difficult, for drama's sake? The scene is impressive, but mainly because we're watching it going, wow, Tom Cruise really is in great shape.

Sure, James Bond and Indiana Jones don't exactly have incredible character arcs (or at least, Bond didn't before Casino Royale, and even there it's a subtle change), but they do have personalities. Six different actors have played Bond. If another actor were to play Ethan Hunt, what would be left? All he is is Tom Cruise. And as a result, M:I:iii, despite being way more enjoyable and entertaining than M:I-2, still feels like a love letter from Cruise to himself.

Do we really need to see, at the engagement party at the beginning, a group of women fawning over Ethan Hunt with comments like, "I'd marry him!" after he recites some boring facts about traffic? We get it, he's a catch. He's Tom Cruise, it goes without saying--but when you do say it, you cross into doth-protest-too-much territory.

Not to mention, the movie's subtext invites you to read the movie's romance as an allegory for Cruise's relationship with Katie Holmes, and life as a spy as a metaphor for the celebrity lifestyle, particularly at one point when Ving Rhames warns Cruise about the inevitably short lifespan of IMF agent romances. The moral of the story seems to be that even celebrity love can prevail if it's as true as the kind between Tom and Katie--but then maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Finally, on a non-Cruise-related note, it's enough with the IMF moles already. It's been said before, but would these people even have anything to do if their own people weren't constantly turning into villains?

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