Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tom Watching "Lady In The Water"

After a week on hiatus, there will be a new sketch... later this week, when I finish editing it. In the meantime, enjoy this video, made while Tommaso was in town for Kevin's wedding.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Guardian Angel

Re-edited! With some trims to speed up the awkwardly staged middle section and some extra razzle-dazzle at the end.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Transformers Post

I can see how, in the right frame of mind, someone might find Transformers trashily enjoyable. I had expected that I might. In fact, despite my lukewarm anticipation for the movie, upon consideration, I realized that I was probably the ideal audience for it. I grew up with the toys and have fond memories of them, but I am by no means a purist and I don't really care if they tweak the mythology in adaptation. And I'm always ready to forgive a stupid action movie, as long as it's awesome.

The fact that I ended up seeing the movie with a Transformers purist might have dampened my forgiveness somewhat, but the fact remains that ultimately, the movie failed to really excite me much. Granted, the Tranformer effects are pretty amazing. The robots are intricate and their integration into the reality of the movie is seamless. You get taken out of the movie by bad writing and poor editing, sure, but you never get taken out of the movie by unconvincing effects. it really looks like these robots are clanking around in the environments we're looking at, and it's surprisingly easy to let yourself forget that they are effects.

Aside from that, though, the action is choreographed and shot so indifferently that it's hard to get involved in any of it. There are few moments that engage you on a level that can genuinely be called excitement. There are no stand up and cheer action moments where, either through your attachment to the characters and story, or through some especially clever staging or shooting or stunt work, you sit up and smile and say, holy shit, that was fucking badass.

Two moments come close: One is when Optimus fights Bonecrusher on the freeway, and a sword comes out of his arm and Optimus decapitates Bonecrusher, and Bonecrusher's head crashes to the ground. Hooray! Optimus finally did something heroic. But it's a little weak because the fight wasn't that long and we couldn't really tell what was happening in it. Heck, the transition from getting tackled on a flat section of freeway, cutting straight to them tumbling through a cloverleaf interchange was jarring enough, never mind the rest of the fight.

The other near-awesome moment comes as the movie segues from a Bumblebee-as-Herbie movie into a Transformers movie. Bumblebee comes to Shia's rescue as he's being chased by Barricade. Bumblebee fights off Barricade, turns into a Camaro, and Shia and the hot girl jump in. Bumblebee takes off. Barricade runs after them, jumps, turns into a fucking Mustang in mid-air, and fuck yeah, it's on. Barricade vs. Bumblebee, Mustang vs. Camaro, this movie is finally moving and it's time for an awesome car chase. Only it isn't. There isn't an awesome car chase. Cut to night (Even though, wasn't it still basically morning when Shia left his house getting chased by Bumblebee? Did they chase all day, and we didn't get to see it?) and Bumblebee is sneaking around as Barricade continues looking for them. And then the kids get out of the car and the robots have it out off screen. What the hell? I guess I can understand holding back on the robot fight, since we'll have tons of that later, although it is kind of a cheat. But to leave us hanging on a car chase and a robot fight, just when the movie finally had my blood pumping? Not cool.

I didn't mind the movie's slow start or the Shia LeBeouf teen story. I thought it could have been kind of fun. But I did think Shia's character was kind of an asshole--crassly auctioning off his family heirlooms to buy a car. Then again, his dad put him in a stupid position. If you want to teach the kid to earn money for his own car, give him more than a couple days to do it or you're just setting him up to either hock priceless heirlooms or get mixed up in a bank heist.

The Shia/Bumblebee scenes were very Herbie, which I enjoyed, but the radio gags were stupid. What would Bumblebee do if there wasn't always some station playing exactly the songs he had in mind? And the scene leading into the scene mentioned above, in which Shia tells Hot Girl, "Not now, I'm being chased by my car," was kind of funny.

Oh! The fact that all the Transformers can scan for whatever they're going to turn into by themselves was dumb. So Bumblebee can scan anything and instantly he can turn into that? He can just alter the shape of all his parts at will, just morph into whatever? Then why even be a Transformer? He's basically the T-1000. Why bother with all those complicated moving parts? If you can magically change shape, why bother mechanically changing shape?

Speaking of this, smooth job with the GM product integration. When Jazz literally scans a GM showroom for a shiny new Pontiac Solstice on a revolving pedestal with the name of the car printed on it? Very subtle.

Apparently when Hollywood movies make a hot girl smart, they no longer have to bother with the phony smart accoutrements, like glasses or hair in a bun or frumpy clothes, they now just hand us a supermodel, put her next to schlumpy guys and say "She's smart!" Kind of like the hot girl scientist at the Center for Poorly-Safeguarded Sand Experiments over in Spider-Man 3.

Bay tries to show us that he's in on the joke, that the movie is self-aware about its ridiculousness. Unfortunately this just results in a bunch of ham-fisted comedic moments that provoke eye-rolls more than laughs. Now, I love dumb action that's in on the joke--but I prefer it when a movie is confident enough in its audience that it's not constantly elbowing me in the ribs. Stop being so jokey all the time and let me enjoy the ridiculousness for what it is. The farcical scene in which Shia tries to conceal the robots in his backyard is a reasonably funny idea (though it unfortunately forces the Autobots to be buffoonish before they've built up any credibility), but it's at least twice as long as it needs to be, considering that it's repetitive and narratively pointless. When, in Transformers' most egregious gag, Bumblebee pees on John Turturro, it's just embarrassing.

But ultimately the movie fails because the action sequences are too uninvolving to matter and too uninspired to impress. In fact, throughout the action, it's not clear whether Bay is even trying to involve us in the story. How else to explain that when Jazz in rent in two by Megatron, we don't recognize that it's Jazz, nor is it even established that Jazz was fighting Megatron. Not that we would have felt anything for him, since his entire role thus far has been two lines of embarrassing ebonics cliches played for cheap laughs, but Bay doesn't even try. Would it be that hard to have a close-up? To at least attempt to imbue the movie's only noble death with any feeling whatsoever? As it is, you blink and you missed it, despite the fact that it's perhaps the only event of any real narrative import in the entire chaotic and nonsensical action sequence that makes up the third act. Certainly it's more important than sending vulnerable Shia to climb a random building to deliver the MacGuffin Cube to an easily destroyed military helicopter for... what purpose exactly? The third act has not a single goal that makes any sense. And the fights are mostly unwinnable--it's a lot of robots and humans shooting at each other to no effect whatsoever. One reason the earlier Optimus/Bonecrusher fight stands out is that it contained discrete events and ended with a decisive victory. Would that more of the fights contained such fundamental building blocks of a satisfying narrative.


A Bright Idea To Share With The World

You know how every so often your wireless router doesn't work, and you have to unplug every cord in the modem, unplug every cord in the router, then sit there like an idiot for twenty seconds trying not to mix the cords up in your hand, then plug everything back in? You know how this is pretty much standard operating procedure for resetting a router that's not working, and depending on the vagaries of your Internet signal, you may have to do it anywhere from every few weeks to once or twice a day?

Well, if this procedure is so common and so frequently necessary, why isn't there a button for it? Why isn't there a button on the router and on the modem that performs the function of shutting off the connection to all those cords, so I can wait twenty seconds and then turn it back on? Would that be so hard, considering that it's the only way to reset a connection and resetting a connection is something that people constantly have to do?

Is my technological ignorance causing me to overlook something? Is there a reason this incredibly logical and useful feature doesn't exist? I don't turn my TV on and off by plugging it in and then pulling the plug again. I don't start my car by twisting two wires together and stop it by untwisting them. Somebody please invent a button for this. That's all I ask.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Get Smart

I can't get enough of the new Get Smart teaser.

It's simple, but funny, and played surprisingly, effectively dry. Steve Carell is the perfect choice for Maxwell Smart, and sells each of the three gags in the teaser brilliantly. The phone booth gag has a wonderfully modulated build, and all three gags succeed on Carell's performance as he subtly clings to his dignity for as long as possible.

A fan site script review is worrying, but the teaser is so encouraging, with its attention to detail in the phone booth, the fitting choice of gags, and the loving use of the theme song, that it's hard not to get excited.

Get Smart was one of my favorite shows growing up, and in its too-brief run on Nick at Nite, it influenced me a great deal. A huge portion of the videos I made as a kid were pretty much direct rip-offs of Get Smart; particularly a series redundantly titled "Secret Spies," in which I portrayed Agent 53 and my sister Agent 28. I would say more but I don't think it's necessary.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

Taiko DS

I want this. Just look at how delightful it is.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What's Wrong With America

That's an appropriate title for an Independence Day post, right?

Warning: Again, little bit of cussin'.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Live Free Or Die Hard: The Long Post

The latest Die Hard makes for a solid enough action movie, with some preposterously wonderful action sequences and likable performances from Bruce Willis and Justin Long. It's good and very enjoyable, but there are plenty of areas I could quibble with that could be better or more Die-Hard-y.

Spoilers may follow.

I saw one fan review with the complaint that the movie doesn't get started fast enough, what with the opening credits sequence and all--I don't completely agree. I think the story gets started very quickly--in fact, McClane's introduction feels rushed, but more on that later--the problem is that there are opening credits at all. This movie would have been just fine had the opening played exactly the same, except with the Die Hard title smashing onto the screen minus all the names.

Speaking of the credits, we didn't need the goofy letters changing and disappearing conceit, which plays into the hacker movie cliche that is the movie's biggest weak spot. When they first announced that Die Hard 4 would be about hackers breaking the country's infrastructure, the immediate thought was, Great, a bunch of scenes of people typing fast intercut with complex animated windows and scrolling green code on black background, with the occasional message box spelling everything out. And Live Free or Die Hard absolutely is that, only with a decent action movie somehow stuck in between. Basically Justin Long gets all the big typing scenes, and McClane's job is to fight their way to places where Justin Long can type, then keep fighting while he's typing. Pretty good strategy as far as hacker movies go--at least we're not counting on the typing scenes to generate excitement. But still, those computer screens and their phony interfaces do kind of take you out of it, constantly reminding you that this is a world that could only exist in movies.

And then there are the settings, like the United States Cyber-Security office, which has walled lined with flat-screen monitors and steel railings and cement and glass walls, just like every other high powered government agency in movies. If there even is such a department, you know in reality it's a bunch of cubicles in a very boring building somewhere.

The action itself takes place in a series of industrial areas or top secret facilities, which means a lot more cement walls and nondescript piping and metal walkways, which I think hurts it a little. One of the great pleasures of Die Hard with a Vengeance (whose sprawling scope makes it the most comparable entry in the franchise) was the New York atmosphere, which, to a non-New-Yorker like me at least, felt relatively authentic. The random industrial/top-secret passageways, with their blue and green tint, are as action-movie generic as the computer screens. Location is important in the Die Hard films, and this one fails to generate a strong sense of place.

Back to McClane's intro: I would have liked to glimpse a bit more of his life before the mission begins, or at least why he's come to visit his daughter when she's out on a date, or how he found her, or something. His entrance here is weird and it's not clear why he's there at all. Also, "Rutgers" is clearly USC, and you could feel the LA audience scoffing when she goes to her dorm in the library building.

Kevin Smith has a cameo as a hacker, and he is not as painful as I would have thought. Some reviews have complained that without his cursing as a crutch, he is nothing special. That is true, but watching him use that crutch has lost all its allure for me, so I'm fine with watching him rant clean. He actually does just fine with what's demanded of him. Considering how bad his acting used to be, it appears he's at least grown more as an actor than he has as a writer or a director, and I would not be upset if he decided to just be a mediocre character actor rather than an overrated auteur. Smith's character, however, lives in a hacker palace with a split-level floor and high ceilings, filled with screens and vintage arcade games. McClane laughs off this "command center" as a mere basement, but it really is more like a command center. Per hacky hacker stereotype, he still lives with his mother, but who can blame him, since her basement is the size of an underground parking garage?

Die Hard with a Vengeance eventually escalated to a point where McClane was surviving all manner of impossible falls and punishment. This movie gets to that impossible level a lot sooner and does a lot more of it, leading to the impression that this everyman character has become something of a superman. Personally, I don't mind that as much as I mind the movie-ness of all the rest of it.

McClane's daughter is unexpectedly great, to the point where you wish she had a bit more to do. Plus she actually looks like Bonnie Bedelia, which makes the character resonate that much more. Maggie Q is awesome, and is hot whether she's beating up McClane or getting punched in the face. Timothy Olyphant gives a strong performance but his character is unfortunately too generic to make much of an impression. His relationship with Maggie Q, and his reaction to her fate is understated and powerful. Not the part where he throws stuff off his desk, but just the look in his eyes. I wish they'd done more with that.

Also! One of the parkour guys from the amazing District B13 pops up. At first his acrobatics feel bizarrely out of place. Once I realized who it was, it made sense, but his big scene at the end is over all too quickly.

McClane's big catchphrase moment finale is actually fairly small, but also awesomely cool. It does bug me, though, the way he delivers the Yippee-Ki-Yay. This Slate piece does a great job of analyzing what made the first Die Hard's Yippee-Ki-Yay moment so inspiring:

When terrorist-slash-exceptional thief Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) taunts hero John McClane (Bruce Willis), "Who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child?" and asks this "Mr. Cowboy" if he really thinks he stands a chance, McClane's answer—"Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker"—marks the moment that McClane, an everyman, assumes the mantle of America's archetypal heroes: Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Gunsmoke's Marshall Dillon, and others who have been so vital to American boyhood. Unlike the many action-movie one-liners that are rooted in the hero's narcissism, McClane's stems from our collective wish-fulfillment. He is not referring to himself, not suggesting an "I" or a "me" but an us. And considering the European Gruber's appreciation of fashion, finance, and the classics, McClane's comeback acquires an additional subtext: Our pop culture can beat up your high culture.

In John McClane's stance, there lies a bravado that bridges two American traditions. "Yippee-ki-yay" summons America's mythic, gunfighter past, while "motherfucker" belongs to the modern action movie. Seen in this light, the line also recalls the macho cinema of the 1970s, when Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, and Don Siegel helped create the action genre while continuing to trade in Westerns.

...That Willis does not employ the same deftness in the sequels is a pity. The phrase is most effective not as a buildup to some hammer punch, but as one seamless unit of defiance.

In Live Free or Die Hard, the line is used not only as a "buildup to some hammer punch," but as a self-referential quote. McClane delivers it with a self-awareness that "Yes, this is my defining catchphrase." Only in real life, no one has one of those. By this point McClane is treating himself like the iconic character that he is, but he shouldn't be so aware of it. Like the production design, it's another touch that makes the world of LF/DH (there, Zack, I used it) a little too movie-world.

Vegas Vacation is another fourth sequel, one that followed long after everyone thought the series was over. And besides not being written by John Hughes and not being funny, one of its missteps was to spend the third act telling us what made the Griswolds a great family. It got self-conscious, as though the new shepards of the franchise had tried really hard to analyze what made the previous movies tick, and were so thrilled with what they discovered that they just had to share it with us. Except that the old movies never bothered to tell us why they were good, they were just good in that way, and that was enough.

Similarly, LF/DH labors too much to tell us about what makes McClane who he is. Why he's a hero, the sacrifices he's made, what it's cost him. He's the guy who acts when there's nobody else there to do it. Well, duh. We know that. That's why we're here. Enough with the self-aware analysis of the Die Hard mythos. That's the job of critics and bloggers. Your job is to enact it, not to spell it out so that we know you know.

Also! The plot, particularly the bad guys' plan, is dumb and/or unbelievable in ways that Steve sums up well, but I guess my expectations were low in that department.

So that's Live Free or Die Hard. The title is perfect, the action is cool, Bruce Willis is badass and so is Maggie Q, Justin Long is funny and the daughter is well-cast. This was the sequel I was most excited about this summer (though guardedly so) and overall it did not disappoint. I had feared worse. It could have been better, but it's not bad and overall more enjoyable than Die Hard 2.