Sunday, August 31, 2008

he's just not that into cult films about bad shakespeare sequels

He's Just Not That Into You

This is really up in the air for me. I loved the line when it was simply Miranda's epiphany, but I hated the idea of the book and then the idea of a movie based on a book based on a line from a TV show. I most likely will not see this movie (until it comes to Netflix, and even then, the chances are low), but I do like the poster. It's appropriate, it's aesthetically interesting, and it certainly appeals to the target audience. With a cast this big, I'm glad they don't have pictures of everyone in the cast on the poster. As much I adore Love Actually, the poster is rather silly-looking.

From Cinematical's 7 Good Ideas for Bad Shakespeare Sequels:
Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Ha ha, joke's on Petruchio! Kate the Shrew was never tamed, it was all a ruse to win that big wager. Once her husband is asleep, she takes the money, and pairs up with Bianca and Mrs. Hortensio. They run off to Greece, pursued by Petruchio, Lucentio, and Hortensio. The girls rob banks, hook up with handsome drifters, kill unpleasant fellows, and leave a trail of mayhem behind them. It all ends well, though, when the three girls hop on board a ship and make it to a mythical land called Mexico.
From The Movie Blog, David Cronenberg is turning his film The Fly into an opera. Umm... I would only be interested if Jeff Goldblum can sing.

Entertainment Weekly names the 25 Greatest Cult Movies Since '83, and I think it's a rather confusing list. (I always seem to have a problem with their lists, don't I?) Their definition of "cult movie" seems to range between "bad movies that are unexplainably enjoyable" and "movies that I love but aren't by any means a film." In the former category, I would put their choices of Repo Man, Showgirls, and They Live. In the latter category, I would put their choices of Scarface, Clerks, and Dazed and Confused. But true cult films -- remarkable philosophical cinematic pleasures masquerading as B-movie crap -- that they include are This is Spinal Tap, Heathers, Evil Dead 2, and The Big Lebowski. Why the heck is Shawshank Redemption #1? If it's Internet Movie Database's #1 movie, it can't be a cult film. And why make the list "since 1983"? Certainly there are 25 better cult films of the last 25 years.

The trailer for No Heroics, a Britcom about off-duty superheroes:

It seems like quite a clever parody. My favorite line? "I bet you're fun at the office party." Also, Timebomb's personality is hysterical.

Author Alicia Erian responds to the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' request that a movie based on her novel, Towelhead, should be changed:
"As an Arab-American woman, I am of course aware that the title of my book is an ethnic slur. Indeed, I selected the title to highlight one of the novel’s major themes: racism. In the tradition of Dick Gregory’s autobiography Nigger, the Jewish magazine Heeb, or the feminist magazine Bitch, the title is rude and shocking, but it is not gratuitous. Besides the fact that the main character must endure taunting about her ethnicity (including being called a towelhead), so much of the novel’s plot is fueled by the characters’ attitudes toward race."
Read the rest of her statement here. It really bothers me when people are up in arms over something they haven't seen or read (I'm guilty of being anti-Twilight, despite never having read it), but in this particular case, I sympathize with the Islamic council. I do not agree with them or think that the title of the film should be changed, but I can understand why they would want to prevent the perpetuating negative myth about their race and culture in America. Once they see the film, though, I think they'll understand that the positive strength and courage of their race will be presented.

fall tv premiere schedule

* denotes shows I watch occasionally.
** denotes shows I never miss.
*** denotes premieres I'm really, really excited about.

Monday, Sept. 1:
Gossip Girl*, CW, 8pm (the only appealing couple is Blair and Chuck...)

Tuesday, Sept. 2:
90210, CW, 8pm

Wednesday, Sept. 3:
Bones**, FOX, 8pm (the premiere is in London! Booth and Brennan are my favorite TV couple)

Sunday, Sept. 7:
True Blood, HBO, 9pm (I'm intrigued by the clairvoyance-as-alienation aspect)
Entourage, HBO, 10pm

Monday, Sept. 8:
Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles***, FOX, 9pm (death by sentient robots actually sounds kind of cool)

Tuesday, Sept. 9:
Fringe***, FOX, 8pm (Pacey Witter!)

On Monday, Sept. 15, the Sci-Fi Channel will start airing reruns of Lost.

Tuesday, Sept. 16:
House***, FOX, 8pm (the breakup of House and Wilson is very interesting)

Monday, Sept. 22:
Big Bang Theory*, CBS, 8pm
How I Met Your Mother*, CBS, 8:30pm
Heroes***, NBC, 9pm (gave up early in the 2nd season, but I'm being pulled back in by the Villains theme)

Thursday, Sept. 25:
My Name is Earl, NBC, 8pm
The Office**, NBC, 9pm (Pam and Jim better still be together...)
Grey's Anatomy**, ABC, 9pm (really, Lexie likes George?)

Sunday, Sept. 28:
Dexter***, Showtime, 9pm (Jimmy Smits is on board as Dexter first true friend)
Desperate Housewives**, ABC, 9pm (not excited about Gaby's kids...)
Brothers and Sisters, ABC, 10pm

Monday, Sept. 29:
Chuck**, NBC, 8pm (I heart Chuck Bartowski)

Wednesday, Oct. 1:
Pushing Daisies**, ABC, 9pm (it's all about Olive and Ned)

Monday, Oct. 6:
Samantha Who?, ABC, 9:30pm

Tuesday, Oct. 14
Eli Stone**, ABC, 10pm (the finale was so good)

Oct. 30:
30 Rock***, NBC, 8:30pm (more 70s-black-sitcom-Alex-Baldwin, please)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

saturdays with ted: david griffin and patricia burchat

David Griffin is the photo director for National Geographic (hence why he starts off with one of Frank McCurry's famous photographs), and he uses some really fantastic photos to show how we use images to tell and share stories. I particularly liked his comparison of the pigmy picture to Degas' ballerinas. Griffin points out that we remember moments via a flashbulb memory, where our minds create still images in order for our brains to connect a story. I love his section of amateur photographs; images tell a story. One of my favorite photographs is the baboons at a watering hole because it looks like a family vacation. By the way, if you have a soft spot for penguins, you might want to skip the leopard seals at the end... although the story behind one particularly curious leopard seal is really kind of cute. I advise everyone to check out his breathtaking blog, Editor's Pick. (February 2008, 14:59)


Patricia Burchat studies the structure and distribution of dark matter (26% of the universe!) and dark energy (70% of the universe!). These mysterious ingredients can't be measured in conventional ways, yet form a quarter of the mass of our universe. It's amazing how much we don't know... even galaxy clusters and an ever-expanding universe blow my mind. By the way, the expansion of space is speeding up, and no one can explain why. Something new to worry about. The Einstein ring is particularly noteworthy, the notion that there is a cone of possible galaxies due to light deflecting off of dark matter. Because Burchat is so enthusiastic about her topic (she seems to be constantly catching her breath), it's easy to be seduced by this science. (February 2008, 16:09)

Friday, August 29, 2008

a concoction of awesome

An oldie but a goodie: The Shining as a romantic comedy.

Sleepless in Seattle as a horror film (even the title works!).

And from Film Junk:
First off, in no way would I ever claim that filmmakers do not intend to inject messages and metaphors into their films. I think Cloverfield’s 9/11 imagery is fairly obvious and clearly intentional. HOWEVER, I must say that my eyes have rolled on numerous occasions during discussions of phallic imagery within slasher films. So when I came across these short Volkswagen ads on Slashfilm today, I was reminded of how horrible film school COULD’VE been if we’d focused more on theory. These ads manage to celebrate film as an art form that’s worth discussion and debate, yet takes the shit out of pretentious, over analytical film theorists. I truly believe you can connect ANYTHING to a film if you really tried, which is what annoys me about most academic film theorizing. How ’bout them apples? You can check out of few of the videos below.
As a student of film theory, I of course have the opposite view on this. I love that I can argue that war films are homoerotic and that HBO's True Blood show is a metaphor for homosexuality in the 90s. I love that Sex and the City is simultaneously feminist and misogynistic. I love that Toy Story is a metaphor for puberty and Mary Poppins is an exorcist... wait, what?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

mad men: mozart zipper

In case you're not watching Mad Men. Because you really should be.

mad men: season 1, disc 2

Oh, Alan Sepinwall, how I love thy Mad Men commentaries, let me count the ways. Well, here are four below.

(1.6) Babylon
And speaking of Peggy, this is an interesting, if not totally unexpected route they're taking the character. The second episode, where Paul gave her a tour of the offices, established that female copywriters do exist, in very small numbers and only for accounts related to lady products, but this has some real potential. (If nothing else, I look forward to the first time she has to work for Don in this capacity instead of as his gal Friday.) And unlike David Duchovny's stupid, cliche-riddled blogging on "Californication," the phrases Peggy came up with ("basket of kisses," "I don't think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box") actually sounded good. If I was an ad guy in 1960 and I heard someone use those in casual conversation, I'd be intrigued, too.

(1.7) Red in the Face
"You know who else doesn't wear a hat? Elvis. That's what we're dealing with." -Pete Campbell
"Remind me to stop hiring young people!" -Bertram Cooper
Black is white, up is down, and Pete is absolutely right in a conversation where Mr. Cooper couldn't be more wrong. Though Pete's his usual overcompensating putz of a self the rest of the episode (we'll get back to his target practice foreplay in a bit), he's the only man in the Nixon brainstorming session who actually recognizes the threat John F. Kennedy poses -- not just to Nixon's presidential ambitions, but to the status quo that the men of Sterling-Cooper are dedicated to maintaining. Cooper and Roger see Kennedy's hatless-ness as a deficit; Pete recognizes the newness of it, and the fact that the country seems ready to embrace something new.

(1.8) The Hobo Code
I had assumed that the storyline would end one of two ways: Salvatore completely misreads the guy, who turns out to be straight and none too happy at another man making a pass at him; or the guy is gay but too afraid to do anything with Salvatore the accomplished homosexual. I never for a second would have thought it would be the other way around, because Salvatore has been written (and played by Bryan Batt) with so much confidence and energy and life force that I just assumed he had some kind of rich sex life in whatever underground gay scene New York had at the time. The notion that he's too afraid to act on his feelings, that he's a 40-year-old (gay) virgin, never even occurred to me, and yet when Salvatore revealed that he wouldn't know what to do in bed, then ran off altogether, well... like I said, dust. As with the Pete episode, it completely changes the way I view a lot of his prior behavior without in any way contradicting it.

(1.9) Shoot
I'm really fascinated by Betty's reaction to getting fired by the Coca-Cola people. She gets upset, but not in a defiant, "I'll show them" way where she intends to use those gorgeous photos to get another gig; she just gives up, surrenders back to her stifling life in Ossining, where she's bored but at least not subject to rejection. Don consoles her by telling her what an amazing mother she is -- and of course that's Don's chief attraction to her, given his upbringing and the fact that he seeks sexual and intellectual satisfaction from outside women -- and she responds by showing the neighbor what a real protective mama bear looks like, casually shooting away at his stupid birds in response to his threat to shoot her children's beloved dog Polly. She gets to show off her matriarchal side while also taking out her agression on the world that she feels has confined her to this house, this lawn, this life where she can still be in a nightie in the afternoon and it won't really matter. Ronnie, the Salvatore-esque art director for Coke, tells her that getting fired "has nothing to do with" her. The problem is, nothing has anything to do with her, and that's slowly driving Betty crackers.

(A really fantastic commentary. Click on the episode title to read the whole thing.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

brandon bird pop culture art show

"No One Wants to Play Sega with Harrison Ford," by Brandon Bird

Brandon Bird is quite an impressive pop culture artist. He orchestrated a very clever group show called The Norton Anthology in which the artists had to work around an Edward Norton theme (Bird's own contribution is brilliantly titled: "Norton by Bird" and it's just Norton on a tree branch... next to a bird). And just for Goddessdster, Bird did a "Law and Order: Artistic Intent" show, and these artists love their Orbach. Letters to Walken is particularly inspired: "While Artist-in-Residence at Cornell's arts dorm, I was expected to come up with stimulating art-related programs for the students to participate in. "Letters to Walken" allowed them the chance to write their yearly Christmas letter to Christopher Walken." Can you imagine Christopher Freakin' Walken coming down the chimney and delivering your Christmas presents?

Warning: This is the creepiest thing I've ever seen. Artist note: "We are both well aware that James Woods did not play Robocop."

Brandon Bird does have a store, so support your arts! Personally, "Signifier and Signified" makes me ridiculously happy.

Kind of amazing.

top 20 sequels

The Movie Blog has posted the top 20 sequels of all time. Some thoughts:

* Can people be dyslexic with numbers? How did LotR: Return of the King win the top spot while The Godfather: Part II settled for second? How did Return of the Jedi beat out Empire Strikes Back, one of the only movies that actually surpasses the original? Admit it, the Ewoks are annoying.
* How the hell is Aliens #9? That should be #1. People are evenly split on which is better, the sequel or the original. That is an impossible feat to accomplish for a sequel.
* Terminator 2: Judgement Day comes in at #11. Word. I love that franchise.
* Clerks 2 is at #13? This should not be on any list, except for one titled "Another Reason Kevin Smith is Not as Great as You Think He Is." Ditto for Spiderman 2 at #15. Except that list would be called "Another Reason People Should Stop Casting Kirsten Dunst."
* Army of Darkness is only #17? This should be higher; top-ten higher.
* Die Hard: With a Vengeance is at #20, and I'm a little disappointed that they only refer to it as Die Hard 3. It actually has a title. And I disagree with the author who says there are people out there who think Die Hard 2 should be on the list. I haven't met these people. The second movie's not that great, but the third one, oh man. One of my favorite Samuel L. Jackson performances. (He actually has a reason to be angry.) This one should've been higher.
* Where is Back to the Future III?

As for worst sequels... surely a lot of spaces would be taken up by Star Trek, and I'd add Aliens: Resurrection, Dumb and Dumberer, and the last two Pirates of the Caribbean installments. Oh, and Batman and Robin. Sorry, George Clooney. #1 on the worst sequel? Definitely The Phantom Menace.

Monday, August 25, 2008

new york, i love you trailer

Here is the trailer for New York, I Love You, the Big Apple version of Paris je t'aime. Both are anthologies celebrating a city in the title, but I can't help feeling underwhelmed by this trailer. Paris's trailer was visually stunning, from the opening of Steve Buscemi's face turning in a colorized metro to the symmetrical dancing of the mimes in prison (which was sadly not included in the Americanized trailer). Out of the handful of vignettes, I only really loved about five or so, but when I say I loved them, I mean I loved them. The trailer for New York, I Love You does not give me that sense of hope for really amazing cinematic feats. There is no altered coloration. It all just looks saturated (re: dirty). Each of the stories looks similar, so where is the director's vision? What makes each story stand out? And something tells me the narratives will not blow me away like they did in Paris, je t'aime. So I don't know. I may just hold out for the film Venezia, ti amo (which only exists in my dreams).

Below is the trailer for Paris, je t'aime. You can compare the two trailers, but I think you'll be disappointed by the former. For those that are interested, the stories I fell in love with are, in order:
Place des fêtes — by German writer-director Oliver Schmitz. A Nigerian man (Seydou Boro), dying from a stab wound in the Place des fêtes asks a woman paramedic (Aïssa Maïga) for a cup of coffee. It is then revealed that he had fallen in love at first sight with her some time previously. By the time she remembers him, and has received the coffee, he has passed.
Loin du 16e — by Brazilian writer-directors Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas. A young woman (Catalina Sandino Moreno) sings a Spanish lullaby ("Que Linda Manito") to her baby before leaving it in a daycare. She then takes an extremely long commute to the home of her wealthy employer (whose face is not seen), where she sings the same lullaby to her employer's baby.
14e arrondissement — written and directed by Alexander Payne. Carol (Margo Martindale), a letter carrier from Denver, Colorado on her first European holiday, recites in rough French what she loves about Paris.
Bastille — by Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet. Prepared to leave his marriage for a much younger lover (Leonor Watling), a man (Sergio Castellitto) instead decides to stay with his wife (Miranda Richardson) after she reveals a terminal illness - and rediscovers the love he once felt for her.
Tuileries — by American writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen. A comic film in which an American tourist (Steve Buscemi) waiting at the Tuileries station becomes involved in the conflict between a young couple (Axel Kiener and Julie Bataille) after he breaks the cardinal rule of avoiding eye contact with people on the Paris Metro.

i forgot how forgettable these movies are

Movies I forgot I've seen... until I watched them an entire second time:
You, Me, and Dupree
The Hulk
Superman Returns
Bridget Jones's Diary: The Edge of Reason
Along Came Polly
When I rewatched these movies, I kept thinking, "I know how this ends... I know how this ends," but I passed it off as the movie being predictable and formulaic. It wasn't until the actual ending -- after two hours of my life had already been stolen -- that I realized I knew the ending because I'd already seen it. It's like when you remember a commercial's jingle but you don't remember the product they're selling. These people didn't do their jobs.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

20 reasons why empire online loves die hard

It seems that Empie Online is after my own heart as they give 20 Reasons Why [They] Love Die Hard.

20. It's the best non-Christmas Christmas movie ever made.
Had they not included the non-Christmas part, I would've disagreed. It's not a Christmas movie just because it takes place during Christmas, folks.
19. It's an action film for the working man.
"The bad guys are murderous capitalist assholes willing to kill a whole bunch of blue-collar office workers to get their millions and only a work-a-day cop/family man has the balls to stand in their way."
18. Agent Al Powell.
Carl Winslow! He's the guy that saves that hero after the hero saves everyone else. What a pal. Al the pal.
17. The soundtrack.
I just remember Hans Gruber's "Ode to Joy"'s theme.
16. Bare feet. It's a great plot device.
I think everyone agrees -- the bare feet is what makes John McClane the most bad-ass that ever bad-assed in the history of bad-assery.

15. Richard Thornburg.
Actually, this would not be on my list...
14. The vest.
John McClane made the ribbed tank cool again, much like Clark Gable did after It Happened One Night.
13. Holly Gennaro.
"Alongside Marion Ravenwood and Princess Leia, John McClane's estranged wife is one of cinema's spunkiest damsel in distress ever." And you know she's awesome because she went back to her maiden name. You go, girl.
12. The Legacy.
"Without Die Hard, we would never have had Speed, Con Air, The Rock, Under Siege and, well, basically everything Bruce Willis has done since." The difference is... those movies sucked (except for Speed). Die Hard does not. This would not be on my list either.
11. Harry Ellis.
Bubi, baby! Everyone was so happy when Hans shot him, even if just to shut him up.

10. Jan de Bont.
Normally action cinematographers never get noticed, but I think it's incredibly appropriate to high-five this visionary lover of explosions.
9. John McTiernan.
He was the director. I would probably put #9 and #10 together... but allow special room for McClane's bare left foot and his bare right foot. Come on, they each deserve their own number.
8. Nakatomi Plaza.
"In early publicity posters for Die Hard, it was the 34-floor skyscraper, not Bruce Willis, that was the main image. So iconic is the tower of glass and steel that although it is in reality the headquarters for 20th Century Fox in downtown LA, tourists still visit the site to pay homage to Nakatomi Plaza."
7. C4 and office furniture.
Got C4 tied to an office chair? Check. Chair sent down the elevator shaft? Check. Big freakin' explosion? Check, check!
6. The dialogue.
YES! YES! "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs.", "I'm Agent Johnson, this is Special Agent Johnson. No relation.", "Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.", "I'm going to count to three - there will not be a four.", "Hans, Bubi, I'm your white knight!", "Oh my God, the quarterback is TOAST!" And many more.

5. The baddies.
"Die Hard's rogues gallery is packed with stand-out performances in traditionally faceless gun-fodder roles." Indeed. Who doesn't love Alexander Godunov as Karl? Finally, the bad guys had names, distinguishable faces, and different MOs. It was all to allow Bruce Willis more time filming for Moonlighting, but it really strengthened the antagonists' roles.
4. "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker."
Just what it says. Although, the censored televised version is just as fantastic... "Yippee-ki-yay, melon farmer!" Melon farmers must be so offended.
3. The Rise of Bruce Willis.
More like The Rise of John McClane. Other than Twelve Monkeys, when has Bruce Willis ever played a character different from John McClane?
2. Hans Gruber.
My personal pick for coolest film character name. I agree with Empire when claiming Hans to be the best villain ever. So if he's number two... what could possibly be number one?
1. It's the greatest action movie ever made.
Oh, right. This is pretty much universally unanimous.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

trailers of interest

From Apple trailers: "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a fictional story that offers a unique perspective on how prejudice, hatred and violence affect innocent people, particularly children, during wartime. Through the lens of an eight-year-old boy largely shielded from the reality of World War II, we witness a forbidden friendship that forms between Bruno, the son of Nazi commandant, and Schmuel, a Jewish boy held captive in a concentration camp. Though the two are separated physically by a barbed wire fence, their lives become inescapably intertwined. The imagined story of Bruno and Shmuel sheds light on the brutality, senselessness and devastating consequences of war from an unusual point of view. Together, their tragic journey helps recall the millions of innocent victims of the Holocaust."

From Apple trailers: "A Secret follows the saga of a Jewish family in post-World War II Paris. François, a solitary, imaginative child, invents for himself a brother as well as the story of his parents’ past. But on his fifteenth birthday, he discovers a dark family secret that ties his family’s history to the Holocaust and shatters his illusions forever. Adapted from Philippe Grimbert’s celebrated truth-inspired novel, Memory. Winner of the Grand Prix of the Americas Prize at the Montréal World Film Festival 2007." It stars Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

I am particularly drawn to Holocaust films because it's an unimaginable time in history that is just around the corner from 2008. It's true what they say about history, that no one really comprehends the recent past. Perhaps it's because high school history classes never make it to WWII. Or maybe it's because kids don't want to hear their grandparents talk about how hard things were for them when they were young. I tend to think it's the latter since we're part of the "Me Generation" and we take things for granted. But holocausts have happened across centuries, and I don't think the average American really understand the significance of the Holocaust happening in a modern, industrial, civilized society. We can't blame it on barbarism or colonialism. It's ignorant Otherness, and if it happened in the twentieth-century, it'll happen again. It absolutely breaks my heart that I will never fully grasp the weight of what happened, and keeping this atrocity in the back of mind, I become so irate when I hear people say slanderous and racist things to one another. Why is hatred so popular? Is it because it's easier to hate one another? The reason I'm attracted to Holocaust films is because, even in the darkest and most heart-breaking times that we've known, there is hope in humanity. There is someone who knows that what is happening is wrong. There is someone with integrity who never loses their identity in the face of evil. There is someone who helps, who makes promises, who looks forward to a new day, who expects a new day. And I need that. I need those moments.

Friday, August 22, 2008

crazy 4 cult 2: an art show of awesome proportions

And now for something completely different...

This poster is the awesomest awesome that ever awesomed (click to enlarge, then click it again for super enlargement). It's apparently an an art show called "Crazy 4 Cult" where over 100 artists reinterpret classic cult movies, and this is the promotional poster. If you live in LA and love movies, I definitely think this show is worth going to. I would certainly geek-out at every turn. Here's the show's information:
August 22nd - September 12th

7020 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038
(South East corner of Melrose & LaBrea)
As for the promotional poster... there are really only a few that I could really recognize, but those few tickle me with goodness. Dr. Frankenstein and his monster (and Igor) are in the bottom right branch. Dr. Strangelove is, of course, riding the bomb. Spinal Tap (!!!) is on the left, on a middle branch. 2001 is represented by Bowman is the red space suit in the middle of the tree. I like that the Ewoks (far upper right) are surrounded by the villains of cinema, like Freddy Krueger, a Gremlin (!!!), and Edward Scissorhands (who's not evil but is definitely a threat in the "accidental decapitation" category). Willy Wonka is talking to Holly Golightly in the middle of tree, and to the right of them are Godzilla and the Iron Giant having, what I presume to be, a very interesting conversation. But my favorite reference... Greeto and Han Solo are at the very top. And you know what? Han shot first.

Thanks to my über-hip father for sending this to me!

a celebration of nicolas cage's hair

Nicolas Cage's hair has come into its own existence. Perhaps it should have its own entry.
One actor that should be celebrated is Nicolas Cage. We've all grown up watching Cage's movies. From drama to comedy to action, Nicolas has done it all. He's one of American cinema's greats and has always been a pleasure to watch on screen. But why is that? Is it his acting? His smile? His line delivery? While these things help, it's not the reason why people flock to theaters to see him on screen. No, ladies and gentleman, it's because in every movie, he's wearing a different hairstyle piece.
The website is not as mean as I would like for it to be, but the mock-serious aspect still comes across. What's Nicolas Cage's worst haircut? I think it's a tie between Peggy Sue Got Married (his most obnoxious role to date, which is really saying something) and Next.
It looks like the wig is trying to suffocate Nicolas' real hair with the hopes of taking over his body. Then months later Nicolas goes into a hair salon and his alien hair leaps off of him and kills the poor unsuspecting hairstylist. Meanwhile, Nicolas is sitting in his chair looking at himself in the mirror and saying, "We will always be together, myyyy precious."
Thank you so, so much, Goddessdster! Now I've had to create a new label for my obsessive loathing of the world's worst actor. And I can write that now, now that it's official.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

veronica mars takes on the cineplex?

With news that a Veronica Mars movie might be made (we're talking pre-preliminary talks), the fan community has a new nugget of hope to clutch on to. Now, my love for the show went down exponentially as the seasons continued, but Season 4 was going to jump five years into the future after Veronica graduated and joined the FBI. That would translate well to film, so creator Rob Thomas could just rewrite Season 4's mystery into a two-hour movie. Luckily for me (and other fans), they had already filmed some of the first episode and this footage leaked online (above). It looks absolutely fantastic, from Veronica's "you couldn't figure me out with an Idiot's Guide and the Rosetta Stone" to her "celebratory robot dance" lines. This movie could really showcase Kristen Bell's acting spectrum, since she seems to be so unbelievably dull in her other roles (Heroes, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Reefer Madness). Maybe if every fan chips in $5, we can get this movie made. We need our role model of spunk.

new poll: best film character name

It's official. The worst actor ever is... Nicolas Cage! He won with 60% of the votes. I'd like to thank the nine intelligent movie-goers that recognized Nicolas Cage for what he is (the worst actor ever). Perhaps one day I'll post my thoughts on him, and it's subtitle could be "In Defense of Keanu Reeves."

I've put up a new poll regarding the best film character name. I've narrowed the list down to four. These four names are iconic. They exist outside of themselves. The movie's not just named after them, and they're not simply "a totally awesome character." The names themselves -- how they sound, what they imply, the feeling you get when you hear them -- are at the heart of the poll. So don't pick your favorite character. Pick the name that serves as a signifier for that character and that character's significance.

Your choices are:
Hans Gruber (Die Hard)
Lando Calrissian (Star Wars)
Donnie Darko (Donnie Darko)
Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects)
Other names that could go on this list include:

Scarlett O'Hara (Gone with the Wind), Idgie Threadgoode (Fried Green Tomatoes), Hannibal Lector (Silence of the Lambs), Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's), and of course Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), but I eliminated them because the names originated from a novel first. Not to be ignored by adult fiction are Roald Dahl's Violet Beauregarde and Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Scarlett O'Hara is indeed an iconic film name, but the actual name itself is not particularly interesting. Her character would still be remembered in the same way had she been named something else. As far as novel characters go, is there really any question that Atticus Finch is one of the greatest names/characters of all time?

Other fantastic names include Lloyd Dobbler (Say Anything), Norman Bates (Psycho), Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard) and the title characters Forrest Gump and Indiana Jones. I think that out of this group my vote would fall for Norman Bates, simply because that name represents all the themes of the film. Those two words, those harsh sounds, mirror the brutality and insecurity of both himself and the Marion Crane character. Although I really enjoy the names Forrest Gump and Indiana Jones, their immortality really rests in the characters rather than the names.

What are some other names I neglected to mention?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

mad men: for those who think young

On Alan Sepinwall's blog, he offers episode commentary immediately after each Sunday's airing of Mad Men. He begins his Season 2, Episode 1 commentary with thoughts on the allegories and metaphors within the brilliant period piece (no real spoilers below, it's just well written). Once I finish Season 1 (and will be completely caught up), I'll post my own thoughts on this wonderfully fascinating show.
Among the many subjects of "Mad Men" is the great generational divide of the 1960s, as seen through the eyes of a company about to end up on the wrong side of it. But what I've always found fascinating is that the show's hero (of sorts) isn't presented as the lone voice trying to convince his colleagues that a change is gonna come, but one of the guys trying to hold back the tide. Sure, Don's more enlightened about women (to an extent; Peggy or Midge might agree with that notion, but Betty wouldn't if she were self-aware enough to understand it) and minorities. But he wants no part of this new cultural shift. During the presidential election last season, he (and the show) identified himself with Nixon, while the loathsome Pete -- who also happens to have a better handle on these new trends than any other character -- was held up as the Kennedy analogue.

Even if Don hadn't just had a physical where the doctor, in Don's eyes, all but handed him a walker and told him to get ready for the retirement home, I imagine he would have resisted Duck Phillips' request to hire on some younger copywriters. Don has always resisted the flash of the new. His entire career is built on older values. Again and again, he's given chances with his ad campaigns to look forward, and again and again he chooses to look back. That's what "The Wheel" was about: rather than play up the technological aspect that the Kodak people wanted, Don went for an old-school -- and, I should say, brilliant -- tug for the heartstrings.

What I love about "Mad Men" is the double-edged nature of its take on the period. On the one hand, the series takes great delight in highlighting all the behavior of the time that would and should be unacceptable today -- as John Slattery put it at the TCA Awards, "the show's message of drinking and smoking and whoring." On the other, the nostalgia that Don talked about in "The Wheel" is very real. The series has a very classical storytelling style, eschewing quick cuts and busy plots in favor of a leisurely pace that wouldn't seem inappropriate in a film from 1962, and you can tell that Weiner is no fan of today's youth-driven culture, where every movie is targeted at 14-year-old boys, and where every piece of entertainment has to be as loud and obvious as possible. ...
Read the rest here.

mad men: season 1, disc 1

A fan of Mad Men, Alan Sepinwall has been writing intelligent commentaries on each episode of the AMC show, and they might as well be the director or writer's commentaries because his observations are so astute and in tune with the thematic layers of the show that you forget you're reading a fan's page. You feel like you're reading someone's dissertation. If you're a fan of Mad Men, I recommend reading his Season 1 commentaries, but for now, some (major spoilery) highlights:

(1.1) Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
On the visually and thematically stunning title sequence: "...that sequence of Don's silhouette falling through various idealized illustrations of late '50s life before winding up seated in an art deco chair, his back turned to us, a cigarette dangling from his hand. Weiner says the idea came from director Alan Taylor, who took a look at [actor Jon] Hamm and said, 'Have you seen the back of this man's head? Have you seen what that is, what presence that is? Who is this person, this mystery?' (Note that the first time we see the flesh and blood Don, it's from that same vantage point.)"

(1.2) Ladies Room
And speaking of our resident beatnik floozy, we find that [Midge is] not just Don's mistress, but rather a free love type who sleeps around, an arrangement that has its pluses and minuses for both of them. Don doesn't have to feel completely guilty that he goes back to Betty the next day because he knows Midge has other guys, but he also can't help getting upset when evidence of those guys -- say, Midge's new TV set (on which her favorite show is the same as Don's kids') -- stares him right in the face. And Midge doesn't have to feel like a kept woman who's breaking up a marriage, but she still can't stand to hear about Betty. When Don says, "I can't decide if you have everything, or nothing," she tells him, "For the moment, nothing is everything." On some shows, that line would sound like psychobabble masquerading as profound insights, but the small details of how these characters are written and played gives it real meaning.

(1.3) Marriage of Figaro
Episode three had a very different structure from the first two, the first half largely occurring at work, the second half entirely devoted to Don's weekend at home and the birthday party. He seems in command in both worlds yet fits into neither. He's unprepared for the popularity of the ironic "Lemon" campaign, can't resist treating Pete like crap even when Pete's playing nice, then ruins things with Rachel by kissing her and finding out she's not as eager as Midge to be a mistress.

(1.4) New Amsterdam
Betty goes down the rabbit hole by agreeing to babysit for Helen the divorcee while Helen's off cruising for men at a Kennedy campaign event. It's an interesting friendship (if you can call it that), because Betty has as many reasons to be jealous of Helen as she does to be afraid of becoming like her. Chief among the latter: Helen's creepy son, so out of sorts from the divorce that he's lost all sense of boundaries, walking in on Betty while she tries to pee and then demanding a lock of her hair. (Not sure which of the two is more disturbing, but it was amusing to see the machinations a woman like Betty had to go to to use the bathroom in that get-up.)

(1.5) 5G
In an episode where Jon Hamm has a lot of great moments, I think my favorite may be right at the end. Don's returned from paying off his brother to go away forever and is completely out of sorts. Betty tells him, "I want to talk to you about something, and I don't want you to get upset," and the look on his face is priceless, because there's such a long list of potential secrets Betty could have uncovered: the Dick Whitman thing, Midge, Rachel Menken, etc. No wonder Don's big brainstorm for their banking client was the secretive "Executive Account" -- if ever a man needed such a thing, it's Don, who has so much going on behind the scenes that his secretary assumes she's covering for one scandal (Midge) when it's something else entirely (Adam).

Side note: The title for episode five is quite intriguing. 5G is the room Adam Whitman is staying in, but also, Don offers him $5000 (five grand, 5Gs) to keep him quiet. Well done.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

why people hate remakes

John at The Movie Blog wonders "Why Do Some People Hate Remakes?" I feel like sequels can also be included in this post, since sequels are nothing but looser remakes of the original. And John offers retorts to my exact concerns:

A) There is no creativity left in Hollywood
2. Adaptation is HARD
I know a lot of screenwriters, and a many of them tell me that adapting a piece of work can actually be more difficult creatively than doing something from scratch. Doing a totally original work presents no boundaries to you. You’re free to go or do whatever you want, and so running into obstacles is no big deal because you have a million options. However with adaptations, you’re forced to think more creatively because there is an existing framework you need to stay within. I’m not saying adaptations are BETTER, I’m just pointing out that creatively adaptations can be even more challenging.
My response: There are only a few narratives possibilities when you think about it. "Beauty and the Beast" covers changing a loved one for the better, and "Prince and the Pauper" is the storyline of any grass-is-greener narrative, just to name two of them. (There are also broader plots, ranging from 1-36 basic narratives.) So in a sense, all movies are adaptations of the most fundamental plots. But the point is... The Day the Earth Stood Still does not need to be remade. Japanese horror films do not need to be remade; Americans can just rent the films and read the subtitles. Hedda Gabbler and Anna Kareninina are similar stories, but the characters and events are different enough that they are not remakes of one another (although they are, in fact, adaptations). I don't mind book adaptations coming to film because, when you think of how many books are being published, there is a lot of original work being published every year and authors are far less likely to be accused of stealing material. Pride and Prejudice is an iconic story that has many variations, but difference makes the difference. Direct remakes -- such as the recently announced Rocky Horror Picture Show remake -- don't have this difference. It's appropriation. It's making money off of someone else's characters, someone else's events, someone else's relationships. It's cinematic déjà vu, and I don't really feel like paying for the same movie three, five, seven times in one year. Sometimes I see a trailer and think, "Wait, I've seen this one... I know how it ends..."

B) It ruins the original
I hear this one all the time and to this day I have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s almost as if they believe that if Uwe Boll decides to do a remake of Sparticus, somehow Kirk Douglas’ performance in the original will mystically become wooden. Somehow the original masterpiece will melt on DVD store shelves everywhere and all we’ll be left with is the Boll rendition. The fact of the matter is that if Boll does a Sparticus remake and it sucks… I STILL HAVE THE ORIGINAL! The original hasn’t been touched or soiled or sullied or “ruined” in any way shape or form. As a matter of fact, a remake will get people talking about the original again and maybe even influence more people to check out one of the best films ever made that they never would have thought about had the remake not come along.
My response: I think John misses the point of arguing that "it ruins the original." This argument actually revolves around the laziness and ignorance of the American audience. Why remake the The Ring when you can just help distribute the original Ringu, which almost everyone agrees is better? The reason these horror films are so excellent in their Japanese form is because of the cultural difference. American horror is founded on shock and quick scare tactics. It's rarely psychological, and when it is, people find it to be boring or slow-paced. But in its Japanese cultural context and its different ways of editing the suspense, the movie is set apart from the rest. It's refreshing. I feel like remakes of foreign films are lazy on the producer's part (why spend months developing a new storyline and characters when someone else has already done it?), and I think that, by reproducing an Americanized version, they are limiting our cultural awareness of foreign films. Do you think a post-WWII It's a Wonderful Life remake would translate well to Japan? Of course not. Similarly, I think it will deter people from watching the original. Why watch the 1933 version of King Kong when you can watch Peter Jackson's 2005 CGI-filled remake? Only true lovers of film want to watch "those old black and white movies" because they want to.

But I am in agreement with his thoughts on remakes being complete crap:
Now… do the majority of remakes suck? YES! They absolutely do. But guess what… the majority of movies that get released in general suck, so why should remakes be any different?
If you have the time or are looking to procrastinate at work, check out Wikipedia's extensive list of remakes. The sheer size of the list will push any fence-sitters to my anti-remake side.

Update, 4:05pm: John at Points in Case also makes some good arguments (mostly because I agree with them, although his film choices are a bit obvious), and Obsessed with Film offers remakes that don't suck, like Ben Hur (1959 remake of the 1925 original), Mission Impossible (1996 film based off of a TV show), and of course, Battlestar Galactica (the best TV show ever made reimagined from its 1970s former self). Obsessed with Film offers other categories, like Remakes that Should've Been Good but Sucked, Remakes that Never Should've Been Considered in the First Place, and my favorite, Good Remakes that Aren't Quite Remakes but Sort of Are.

a reminder about what really matters in life

While the world mourned Heath Ledger's death, news broke out that his father, Kim Ledger, was the executor of Heath's will and that some were concerned about his past financial mismanagement. But now there is some good news, not only for Heath's daughter Matilda but for humanity at large. The three actors who took on Heath's role in Terry Gilliam's upcoming Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus — Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell — have given their salaries to little Matilda.

Gilliam said, “They didn’t take money — it goes to Heath’s daughter. That’s extraordinary! And wonderful . . . and when you’re part of that, you think, ‘Ah, this is maybe why I went into the movies in the beginning. I thought it would be full of wonderful people.' And we’ve got a movie full of wonderful people who did extraordinary things to help.”

There is no way to spin this negatively. This is a truly beautiful thing.

Monday, August 18, 2008

fall movie release schedule

The following dates come from the latest Entertainment Weekly Fall Movie Preview issue. You know, the one with Daniel Radcliffe on the cover. These are the ones I'm at least interested in, but I've included the percentage chance that I will actually see it in the theater.

Sept. 12
Burn After Reading -- 5%. The latest Cohen brothers movie (who last directed No Country for Old Men) follows two idiot gym employees trying on CIA blackmail. It looks like dumb comedy posing as smart comedy but it's really dumb comedy.

Sept. 17
Appaloosa -- 85%. I don't like Westerns, persay, but I like loners and I like Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen. Loses points for having Renée Zellweger as the love interest.

Sept. 19
Battle in Seattle -- 70%, trailer above. Anarchy. Humanism. The State vs. the people. As a bleeding heart liberal, this is right up my alley. Also, it's Stuart Townsend's first crack at writing and directing.
The Duchess -- 5%. Looks at the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The original trailer lacked information and confused rather than awed the audience. But I like period pieces. I'll wait for reviews or another trailer, whichever comes first.

Sept. 26
Blindness -- 95%, heck yes. Citywide blindness as allegory for the sight being the disadvantaged? Blindness as a metaphor for not really seeing the quotidian? Blindness as an excuse to examine how an "Other" civilization would survive? All interesting possibilities. Plus, it's by the director of City of God and The Constant Gardener.
Choke -- 5%. Chuck Palahniuk. You either love him or think he's an overrated misogynist.
Eagle Eye -- 50%. I couldn't care less about Shia LaBeouf's personal life. I enjoy his casual performances, and since finding out that Michelle Monaghan is in it, I'm even more interested. But Spielberg originally conceived of this idea before the days of iPhones and surveillance paranoia, so I don't know if there will be a pay off. It might come off kind of silly, like Phone Booth.
The Lucky Ones -- 15%. Follows three soldiers returning from the Iraq War, including Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams. I have avoided modern war movies on the Iraq War, but these two actors are very compelling.
Nights in Rodanthe -- 15%. Richard Gere and Diane Lane fall in love again. For the third time. This is their third pairing after 1984's The Cotton Club and 2002's Unfaithful. I tend to prefer romantic films about older people falling in love. It seems more genuine and they have actual obstacles standing in their way.

Oct. 3
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People -- 5%, sorry Simon Pegg.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist -- 95%. This could be a modern teenage take on Before Sunrise, but without Vienna and stealing wine. Well, there could be wine-stealing... they are underage, you know.
Religulous -- 70%, trailer above. At first, the trailer for Bill Maher's film on world religion looks to be mocking and at times insulting, but as you continue to watch, you realize there's something to be learned about acceptance of differences. A lot of those interviewed tell Maher he's limiting his understanding, presumably by summarizing their faith in neat ten-word sentences. But still, this film will not be lacking crazy people.

Oct. 10
City of Ember -- 50%. Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) finds herself on a journey to save her dying city from a failing power generator. The trailer looks quite inventive and aesthetically pleasing.
Happy-Go-Lucky -- 85%, trailer above. What a find. Sally Hawkins stars as an infectiously optimistic primary school teacher. Normally this is a secondary character, a sidekick, an annoying Molly Shannon role, but here, Hawkins's Poppy is front and center. It's refreshing to have a happy person as the lead.

Oct. 24
Changeling -- 15%. Clint Eastwood is like the Meryl Streep of directors. He just gets nominated for all sorts of things. This star Angelina Jolie as a mother whose son is kidnapped.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year -- 100%. Ha. Dollar theater, folks. I certainly can't miss out the guaranteed cheese-fest of the year! Did you see the second one? Zac Efron prances like a pixie through a golf course during a song. So ridiculously bad.
Passengers -- I haven't seen a trailer for this yet (not in English, anyway), so I don't know. Anne Hathway stars as a grief counselor for plane crash survivors and ends up falling for one of them, played by Patrick Wilson. I like both leads, but I'm not a fan of crime thrillers. I tend to figure out the ending early on. It's not the studio's fault. It's mine for being, you know, attentive.
Synecdoche, New York -- 100%. Two words: Charlie Kaufman. The most innovative screenwriter is now a first-time director, bringing to life his script about a theater director, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse as part of his new play. It was not well received as some festivals, but I read that he has retweaked it. No trailer is out yet, but I don't need to see one.

Oct. 31
Zach and Miri Make a Porno -- 20%. I dislike Kevin Smith and most of his movies, but I really love Mallrats and Chasing Amy, and I'm hoping this movie is closer to those than Clerks or Jersey Girl. Less profanity, more content. Oh, and it's about Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks making a porno. So yeah. What the title says.

Nov. 7
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa -- 20%. I can't help it. I liked the first one; the penguins were hilarious. I won't go out of my way to see this, but if I'm looking to avoid doing work or if someone asks me to go, I will gladly go.
Quantum of Solace -- 100%. Casino Royale was such an intelligent film, and I've never been interested in James Bond. (The character's a bit outdated, admit it.) But Daniel Craig revitalized the character and I'm hoping that this next script will be just as character-driven as the first. And please, give us another strong female character like Vespar.
Repo! The Genetic Opera -- 65%. Can't pay the organ-financing company for that organ you have? They'll repossess it. Sounds disgusting, but it's a musical. I'm game. And I'm crossing my fingers that Paris Hilton will die in the movie, even if for her to wear her "See Paris Die" shirt again.

Nov. 14
Australia -- 100%, trailer above. Australian epic. Baz Luhrman. Hugh Jackman. Please, this movie was made for me. And look at that cinematography! This one'll sweep up every award.
Role Models -- 30%. I've had crushes on Paul Rudd and Sean Williams Scott ever since Clueless and The Rundown, respectively, although Mr. Woodcock was unforgivable. Still, these boys made me laugh in the trailer, and the "you white, then you Ben Affleck" line makes me so unbelievably happy.

Nov. 21
Twilight -- Less than 0%. Moved up from a Dec. 12 release because Half-Blood Prince moved from Nov. 21st to July 2009. This is only on here as a note to avoid the theater that God-forsaken weekend.
The Soloist -- 25%. Joe Wright's (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) latest film about a schizophrenic homeless man, Jamie Foxx, who dreams of playing at the Disney Concert Hall. Robert Downey Jr. also stars (he's really capitalizing on his comeback, who knows how long it'll last). Trailer's not out yet, but I trust Joe Wright and the cast includes two strong leads.

Dec. 12
The Day the Earth Stood Still (remake) -- 75%. I really, really liked the original. This movie would be right up my alley had I not seen or heard or known about the original, but it loses points for having Klaatu warn earth of environmental issues. We remember how well the The Happening did... oh yeah, no one saw it. My sixth sense is telling me that this will not be a good remake (are they ever?), but I think it will be intolerably bad. But as a cinephile, I will do my duty to see this film.
Doubt -- 10%. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman isn't a bad cast. It follows a nun who confronts a priest about sexually abusing a black student. Despite the obvious Oscar-bait themes, I'm more interested in the quick-fire dialogue between the two feuding stars, hoping there will be a strong commentary on morality, authority, and religion.
Seven Pounds -- 15%, trailer above. Judging by the trailer, Will Smith's character is in a car accident and is buried under guilt until he decides to take action and find redemption, likely in the arms of Rosario Dawson's character. I prefer Will Smith in his dramatic roles (The Pursuit of Happyness and I Am Legend showcased solid heart-tugging performances), so this movie is in my peripheral vision.

Dec. 25
Bedtime Stories -- 1%. Two words: Adam Sandler. Translation: Avoid at all costs. Still, the plot is cute enough, and it will do extremely well as a Christmas movie. National Treasure was only a box office success because it was a family friendly affair, and people want happy light movies during the holidays. (God knows it wasn't Nicolas Cage's performance...) Sandler plays a father whose bedtime stories to his niece and nephew start to come true, but then things start to go wrong when the children start introducing scenes.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button -- 95%, trailer above. Like Brokeback Mountain, this film is based off of a very short story, so I'm hoping a majority of the movie is about recreating the eras and settings. Brad Pitt stars in the title role as a man who was born old and grows to be a child. He falls in love with Cate Blanchett who ages normally. It's like The Time Traveller's Wife but better. Can you imagine being eighty years old and holding the baby-version of a man you love(d)? It's haunting. Another reason to see it: David Fincher is directing. He's my favorite current director, and I'll follow him anywhere. Need another reason? Brad Pitt's face is used for every single age of his character. This technology will be interesting to see.
The Spirit -- 1%. Looks horrible and the campaigns were so postfeminist that they came right back around to sexist again. But the "Frank Miller style" is interesting.

Dec. 26
Revolutionary Road -- 75%. I heart director Sam Mendes for giving me American Beauty and I heart his real-life wife Kate Winslet for being amazing in just about everything. Hippes-turned-hipsters, Winslet and Leo DiCaprio play a married couple who deal with trials in their marriage regarding their choices to settle in suburbia. Winslet repeatedly refers to DiCaprio as her best friend, which is amazing. They kept a strong friendship from Titanic eleven years ago.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

bulwer-lytton fiction contest 2008

An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), which has been made into a movie three times, originating the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword," and phrases like "the great unwashed" and "the almighty dollar," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel Paul Clifford (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night."

You can read all of the winners here. Below are a few that I found especially entertaining.

Grand Prize Winner
Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."
Garrison Spik
Washington, D.C.

Winner: Children's Literature
Joanne watched her fellow passengers - a wizened man reading about alchemy; an oversized bearded man-child; a haunted, bespectacled young man with a scar; and a gaggle of private school children who chatted ceaselessly about Latin and flying around the hockey pitch and the two-faced teacher who they thought was a witch - there was a story here, she decided.
Tim Ellis
Haslemere, U.K.

Winner: Purple Prose
The mongrel dog began to lick her cheek voraciously with his sopping wet tongue, so wide and flat and soft, a miniature pink fleshy cape soaked through and oozing with liquid salivary gratitude; after all, she had rescued him from the clutches of Bernard, the curmudgeonly one-eyed dogcatcher, whose own tongue -- she remembered vividly the tongues of all her lovers -- was coarse and lethargic, like a slug in a sandpaper trenchcoat.
Christopher Wey
Pittsburgh, PA

Runner-Up: Romance
Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater - love touches you, and marks you forever.
Beth Fand Incollingo
Haddon Heights, N.J.

Winner: Spy Fiction
Special agent Mark Park's strong chin and firm mouth showed that he was a man to be reckoned with, while his twinkling blue eyes revealed surprising depths of kindness and humor, the scar on his cheek a past filled with violence and danger, and his left ear a fondness for M and Ms, but only the red ones.
John R. Cooper
Portland, Oregon

Dishonorable Mentions: Miscellaneous
She had the kind of body that made a man want to have sex with her.
Barry J. Drucker
Bentonville, AR
Her name was Mauve, like the color of paint, which was apt: not only was she "pretty as a painting," she was also "smart as paint," and certainly as thin (assuming sufficient solvents had been added); she was, however, Arnold discovered when she stepped from the shower, a lot more fun to watch dry.
Steven W Alloway
Granada Hills, CA
Like almost every other post-Hegelian neo-hipster angst monkey at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Rene flatly rejected the labels society placed upon him.
Bob Salsbury
Spokane Valley, WA

Saturday, August 16, 2008

ew mad about 'half-blood' push-back

You've probably heard that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's release has been pushed back a full year and will be released on July 17, 2009. Every spring, summer, and fall, Entertainment Weekly distributes a movie preview that is packed with two and three times the regular amount of pages. It's a highlight for EW subscribers, myself included, and this fall, Daniel Radcliffe graces the cover. But it's not just that the Half-Blood coverage is premature; it's that EW and Harry Potter share a parent company, Warner Bros.. Needless to say, they're a wee bit annoyed that no one cared to tell them about the switch. (Best part of that link: "EW readers now in possession of a 'Dewey Beats Truman' collectible.")

Films get moved around all of the time -- Valkyrie has had, what, ten different release dates? -- so why am I posting on this? Well, I take great issue with Warner Bros.'s excuse. They're blaming the writer's stike, of all things. What does the writer's strike have to do with this movie? The script was already written. Production had already gone underway, and unless those pint-sized leads decided to picket with the writers over in England, I really don't understand why the writer's strike would have any effect on them since Harry Potter takes years to plan/make. I don't know what the real reason is, perhaps intimidation from The Dark Knight? I know that this studio is really banking on the financial success of Half-Blood, and now that they have second dibs (Terminator Salvation already has their date fixed) on next year's summer blockbuster schedule, they can manipulate the release of any other film coming out next year.

But the teaser trailer's already out. They're in (or near) post-production. They just want more time... but the question is why? And stop blaming the writers!

Update, 8/19: Cinematical is debunking the Half-Blood Prince rumors, including Warner Bros.'s silly fear of Twilight's release, Radcliffe being in Equus, and that they were aiming to duplicate Dark Knight's box office success by releasing it on the one-year anniversary.

saturdays with ted: dean ornish and chris jordan

Sadly, I will not be posting a Saturdays with Ted post every Saturday anymore. I will still post talks that I find interesting, but this will not be a regular Saturday occurrence anymore. If you wish to venture into Ted territory on your own (and I strongly recommend that you do), please visit the website.

Dean Ornish shares new research that shows how adopting healthy lifestyle habits can affect a person at a genetic level. For instance, he says, when you live healthier, eat better, exercise, and love more, your brain cells actually increase.
You will have two natural observations while watching this: one, that a healthy lifestyle is obviously going to have more benefits than a non-healthy lifestyle, and two, you can't really change your genes, despite what Ornish says. You could also very well agree that your genes are not your fate (as explored in Gattaca). Nevertheless, his research is interesting (half of guys who smoke are impotent), and you will note that marijuana is in the "makes brain bigger" category. Not surprisingly, alcohol decreases brain cells... It's a lot of knowledge in just three minutes. (March 2008, 3:10)

Photographer Chris Jordan trains his eye on American consumption. His 2003-05 series "Intolerable Beauty" examines the hypnotic allure of the sheer amount of stuff we make and consume every day: cliffs of baled scrap, small cities of shipping containers, endless grids of mass-produced goods. [...] His latest series of photographs, "Running the Numbers," gives dramatic life to statistics of US consumption. Often-heard factoids like "We use 2 million plastic bottles every 5 minutes" become a chilling sea of plastic that stretches beyond our horizon.
This talk will seriously make you think twice about paper cups, prison inmates, and breast implants. This series is along the same vein as that movie Paper Clips, where children collect 6 million paper clips to get an understanding of the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, but Jordan's photographs are more aesthetically relevant to their topics. The breast implant photograph, for instance, is comprised of naked Barbie dolls arranged in a way that, when panned outwards, reveal the shadows and curvature of nipples and breasts. Very interesting series. (February 2008, 11:14)

Friday, August 15, 2008

double feature: tropic thunder and mama mia!

Last night, my friend JD and I went to see another double feature, this time involving two unbelievably bad movies: Tropic Thunder and Mama Mia!. From now on, this is the only way I will see movies anymore, since so many of them are complete crap. I will go on a weekday and spend $4.75 on two movies (which is still overpriced for these two movies).

Tropic Thunder: When a movie is so atrociously bad, where do you start?

This movie (if you would even call it that) is about five actors making a film about actual events that never happened. (Follow?) Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is the token action star, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is a method actor with five Oscars under his belt, and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is... the comedic actor whose sole function in the movie is to fart and have heroin withdrawals. Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), the stereotypical R&B artist who makes a drink called Booty Sweat, and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), the awkward actor who's never be laid, round out the cast. Their director is played by Steve Coogan, who early on makes a reference that he is Jesus, which is probably a wink at his role in Hamlet 2. There are other people in the cast who have no real purpose even existing other than giving one-note performances, and there are unnecessary celebrity appearances (Lance Bass, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Christine Taylor). Tom Cruise appears in a "comedic" role that is supposedly going to restore our faith in him as a bankable actor, but I found it to be the most inane time-waster of the movie. When people say that Cruise's dance scene is hilarious, what they really mean is that Cruise bounces to hip-hop music and steals five minutes of your life that you'll never get back. In all honesty, the best part of the movie was Matthew McConaughey as Tugg Speedman's agent, and that really talks to how bad the rest was.

Now, I admit that I went into the movie with high hopes. The campaigning was quite clever and generated a lot of quick buzz for a movie that came out of nowhere. The trailer was filled with intelligent parodic lines, which lead me to believe that the movie was going to go beyond sophomoric anecdotes on racism and arrogant actors. But calling TT's humor sophomoric would be a compliment. All of the movie's best jokes -- from Robert Downey Jr.'s character quoting the theme song of The Jeffersons to Brandon Jackson's actual black actor responding, "What do you mean you people?" -- are in the trailer, and the rest of the movie is a bunch of scenes sewn together with music. There was no point to any of it. There was no intelligent commentary on the actors (other than a demand for TiVo in Vietnam). There was no moment of revelation. If you want to see how a parody is done, watch Hot Fuzz. TT is lacking in content, character development, and most importantly, jokes. I genuinely laughed twice. And both were in the first ten minutes of the movie.

Before the film even starts, fake trailers are shown. Tugg Speedman is in Scorcher and it's five sequels, holding babies in parkas at the top of a mountain of lava with overcompensating phallic machine guns. Jeff Portnoy is in a send-up of the Thanksgiving scene from The Nutty Professor, which was pretty much a 30 second spot of Jack Black dressed as multiple obese people farting. The only worthy trailer was for Kirk Lazarus in Satan's Alley, where he plays a monk having homosexual thoughts towards a surprise guest. (I won't spoil it because, seriously, it's worth the price of admission. But after seeing it, you have to leave the theater immediately before TT steals your soul.)

After the trailers, the movie goes downhill and loses its steam. At the half-way mark, I realized I wasn't laughing and that the film was highly offensive. In a previous post (Film News, August 2008), I mentioned the proposed boycott over the word "retard" and wondered if it was political correctness gone too far. The word is not the problem. It's Ben Stiller's mock performance as a mentally challenged boy ("Simple Jack") who can talk to animals that is offensive. It should have been mentioned once, but instead, it's a central part of the second act. In Laos/Vietnam, the heroin manufacturers (of course that's their job) only own one movie and it's Simple Jack so they make Tugg Speedman reenact the entire movie. It's offensive to the tenth degree. In fact, this movie is offensive to blacks, soldiers (and anyone we've ever fought in a war), and mentally retarded people. Surprisingly, it's not that offensive to women -- but how can it be when there are no women in the movie.

It's a frat comedy without the comedy. And to think that Tropic Thunder scribe Justin Theroux will be writing the sequel to Iron Man... it'll take me a few days to recover from this atrocity. In fact, I will pay you not to see this movie. Go rent Hot Fuzz instead.

Mama Mia!: The way that JD and I described this is movie is... it's a lackluster camp movie. Calling it campy would be overshooting. I have three major problems with this movie, all of which are expected because it's a direct stage-to-screen musical adaptation (meaning there is little added/subtracted from the original). One, the subpar singing. Two, the setting, choreography, and costumes were too stagy and didn't translate to the big screen. And three, the lack of substantial plot development/cohesion. But, on a positive note, I loved Amanda Seyfried (of Veronica Mars and Big Love fame).

Plot: Hmm. Stay with me here. Twenty year old Sophie (Seyfried) is getting married, so she invites three of her mother's past lovers who may or may not be her father to her wedding, including architect Sam (Pierce Brosnan), supposedly spontaneous Harry (Colin Firth) who doesn't do anything spontaneous, and casual up-for-anything Bill (Stellan Skarsgård). It doesn't take long for anyone to figure out how the movie ends. Also arriving are mother Donna's (Meryl Streep) backup singers Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski). Great music and cringe-worthy choreography collide in this farcical crisis of identity and personal desires.

1. The singing. I really don't understand why this is a hard concept for studio execs to understand. Big names don't bring people to musical movies, phenomenal singing does. Only a few people are die-hard-see-everything-she's-in Meryl Streep fans, but most people respect her as an actress because of the roles she chooses. I think everyone would agree that Miranda in Devil Wears Prada was an excellent light role for her to play. Streep cannot sing. She rarely hits the right notes, and when she does, it's only during the climaxes of her songs. Pierce Brosnan is literally laughable as a singer. Every time he sang, I had to hide my face in my shirt as not to bother the people around me because I was laughing uncontrollably. Christine Baranksi has a wonderful voice, as did Julie Walters, but she only sounded good when harmonizing with Baranski. Colin Firth had a mediocre song, but he sounded like Josh Groban in comparison with Brosnan. Even Dominic Cooper (The History Boys), who played the bridegroom, was disenchanting with a pathetic performance.

I've said it a thousand times: Hire singers for musicals. You can hide bad acting in the music. You can't hide bad music in the acting. When a movie is dominated by sound, that sound should be lovely and impressive and larger than life. It shouldn't sound like someone's singing in the shower without an audience. If the leads can sing well, the movie is a ten billion times between than having big names give subpar performances. Singers first, actors second.

2. The set, the choreography, and the costumes. During the credits, JD and I kept listing off all of the names who should've been fired. After a while, we got tired of naming everyone. First, the choreography reminded me of a high school production where there is limited space and limited imagination. The costumes -- other than Sophie's wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses -- were uninspired and most likely picked off a used clothing rack. (Although, I must say, Colin Firth has some fine looking legs. A welcomed surprise.) But the set is what really bothered me. Just because the stage musical only has limited space and settings, it doesn't mean that a movie must limit its possibilities. There could have been more indoor scenes, or they could've moved some numbers in to town. The whole movie didn't have to take place in a courtyard, on a dock dock, and in two bedrooms. Tanya had an inappropriate and unappealing song on the beach next to a tiki bar that I swear was made from $5 worth of wood. Why couldn't this scene be in a veranda bar? Why did everything -- everything -- seem like it cost $5 to make? Why was imagination stifled and constricted? Example: During one song, Donna and Sam are "harmonizing" (or something close to it), but hey are visually separated by a rock wall. Why couldn't they do a split screen with the two of them in separate rooms? I kept thinking, "They can probably here the other one singing..."

3. The script. It's as if no one had seen the play and realized there are key plot points missing that won't translate to the screen without them, namely how the three potential fathers figure that they are the father or how (spoiler alert!) Donna would agree to marrying Sam after not having seen him for the past twenty or so years. (Spoiler alert!) If you were paying attention, you knew that Colin Firth's character would be gay -- but why did he just figure that out? Why is Sam divorced? Most importantly, why did the three men come to see Donna -- were they all still in love with her? And am I really supposed to believe that she still loves all three of them? The film needed snippets of added dialogue to connect the random songs together, but it just decided to ignore content in favor of slapstick light-heartedness. I love musicals -- more than you'd think -- so I wasn't expecting much from the movie, but you just can't put the stage production on the screen (unless you film it on the stage, like David Hasslehoff's Jekyll & Hyde production). The mediums are completely different and different rules are applied. As many musicals that get it right, there are just as many that fail horribly. (Speaking of horrible... Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog got it right.)

But to end on a good note, Amanda Seyfried had the right combination of youth, confusion, hope, and spunkiness required for her role. Meryl Streep was ditzy rather than free, which it made it difficult for me to imagine her taking care of a hotel for the past decade(s). As much as they tried to differentiate the suitors, they were all exactly the same: nondescript. There isn't much to recommend beyond Seyfried. She saved me from dying of ridiculous boredom.