Friday, January 30, 2009

Two Short Music Lists

Accurate Actual Album Titles:

Alanis Morissette—“Feast on Scraps”
Billy Joel—“Fantasies & Delusions”
Daft Punk—“Human After All”
Fatboy Slim—“The Greatest Hits—Why Try Harder”


Actual Album Title That Sounds Like A "Super Mario Kart" Level:

TV on the Radio—“Return to Cookie Mountain”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dedication (2007)--1/5

Today, another entry in “Watching Crap So You Don’t Have To.”

“Dedication” is clueless about the industry it details. Henry Roth (Billy Crudup) and Rudy Holt (Tom Wilkinson) are a successful children’s book writing team. Only thing is, their book, “Marty the Beaver and the Christmas Dam” would get passed over in Dollar Tree's remainder bin. After Rudy dies, the mentally unstable Henry is flung together with Lucy (Mandy Moore). She’s tasked with illustrating the next “Marty the Beaver” book; one hopes she’s as mediocre as the first guy. In lieu of the zany high jinks that would be present in any other movie with this high-concept gimmick, “Dedication” gives us depressing, over-written personality clashes.

In a callback to writer-director James L. Brooks, a potential breakthrough comes for the OCD-suffering Henry when he attempts to work with Lucy at a lake house: he successfully turns a key clockwise. As an idiosyncrasy, fear of turning things clockwise seems pretty lame. (With apologies to all the clockwise-turn-phobes out there). And it’s mentioned only once, along with dozens of other fears and behaviors. Compare this to Jack Nicholson stepping on a sidewalk crack towards the end of “As Good As It Gets.” In that case, it was a release of very specific and well-documented pressure built up throughout the entire film.

Lucy's as blank as Henry is artificially complex. If nothing else, she lacks the personality that the make-up artist thinks she has. Raccoon eye shadow tells us she’s an artist, or that she’s living on the edge. In truth, Lucy exists only because someone has to tearfully react to Henry’s abuse.

“Dedication” has all the beats of a romantic comedy without the comedy: clashing personalities forced together, a big secret known to all but one person, and a “wedding aisle” speech. Up to the end, Henry maintains an odious, bipolar disdain for normal human interaction. I actively rooted against him getting together with Lucy. Alas, she almost does the right thing. The hip, indie-cred-boosting song that fades up on the end credits sums it up better than I can: “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.”

"The Room" Haiku

And I hope to never mention it again.

“Make love to me Mark.”
“Lisa, Johnny’s my best friend!”
“Oh, hi. Hi. Oh, hi”

Fake Frisco skyline
Wow, I can see Coit Tower
And Danny Tanner!

One framed utensil
Pick-up tuxedo football
This is called “The Room?”

Evil drug dealer
Won’t you come to the party?
What happened to you?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Into the Night (1985)--3/5

“Into the Night” has one classic scene that elevates the whole film. Minutes after Michelle Pfeiffer enters a criminal’s luxury apartment, Jeff Goldblum follows. Up to now, the movie has been a breathless odyssey, jumping from one setpiece to another like an Earthbound, L.A.-based version of “After Hours.” Little explanation has been given for the action.

Goldblum wanders the empty rooms and the film takes time to breathe. Better yet, the film holds its breath. The only soundtrack to the scene is that of a schlocky vampire movie that is on all of the many TV’s in the place. It creates tension just by clashing with the unexpected serenity. The horrific reveal in the last room and the subsequent struggle (involving David Bowie) release the pressure while ratcheting up the quality of the filmmaking. This is one of those great scenes in average movies that start out nonchalantly. About halfway through, it’s clearly the best thing in the film.

The second-best thing about “Into the Night” is the casting. Most of the supporting roles are played by movie directors. To name a few: David Cronenberg is Golblum’s boss, Jim Henson gets kicked off a phone, Roger Vadim forcefully involves himself in the antics, and Amy Heckerling is a friendly waitress. The familiarity of the directors threatens to upstage the film itself. Luckily, the script is fleet enough and they’re all great actors. Today, the collection of familiar faces in an unfamiliar context has a strong cult appeal.

Jeff Goldblum is watching you watch his movie.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An American Carol (2008)--1/5

“An American Carol’s” primary sin is that it’s yet another remake of “A Christmas Carol.” The atypically awful Dickens story supports the scorn of anyone who shows the slightest disinterest in Christmas. Right-wing and otherwise creepy talking points take the place of Christmas in this new film from David Zucker (of “Top Secret!”).

The film is not funny, either.

Chris Farley’s much-less-talented brother Kevin plays Michael Moore dead-ringer Michael Malone. He shares Moore’s anti-war, pro-gay rights, and pro-Cuban healthcare views. Going a bit further, he’s a fat, eternally-hungry slob, hates the troops and America, and wants to abolish the Fourth of July.

“An American Carol” has a demented, sad-if-true, vision of its audience. Conservatives must be unquestioningly militaristic, homophobic, racist, and fans of country music. Honestly, these are presented as positives! Any mention of even a hint of gayness by any character is met with a double-take of disgust or a wink at the audience. The only non-white people in the film are slaves or terrorists (all named “Mohammed Hussein”).

George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammar) visits Michael Malone to show him the consequences of pacifism. During their travels, David Alan Grier shows up as Malone’s slave in a sensationally poorly-conceived scene. See, Abraham Lincoln decided not to fight the CSA. So, of course, today, we have slaves dressed in 1840’s garb, out in the field picking cotton and singing spirituals. The final beat of the scene finds Malone physically disgusted when a slave child of mixed-race calls him “Daddy.” Never mind slavery, the real tragic legacy of pacifism is interracial relationships. Seriously, WTF?

At a ceremony, Paris Hilton and Simon Rex (remember him?) present Malone with the Leni Riefenstahl Documentary Award. Sadly, this singular approach towards an actually funny idea kind of backfires. In the world of “An American Carol,” Malone would be canonized if he made the über-patriotic, conformist, war porn of Riefenstahl. Come to think of it, such a film would look a lot like “An American Carol.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Movie titles with exclamation points!

For no reason other than they're really exciting!

Allo, Allo!
Horton Hears a Who!
Hot Shots!
I Know Where I'm Going!
I Want to Live!
It's Alive!
Love! Valour! Compassion!
Mamma Mia!
Mars Attacks!
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Police Squad!
That Thing You Do!
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (¡Átame!)
Top Secret!

Bonus, actor with an exclamation point:

N!xau, from "The Gods Must Be Crazy" series. The "!" is a "click consonant."

Horton Hears a Who! (2008)--2/5

“Horton Hears a Who!” is about belief of some sort. Perhaps problematically, it could be supported in equal measure by religious and atheist viewers.

Horton is the gentle god of Whoville. As he journeys to bring Whoville to safety, his every footstep is felt as a tremor in the speck that is their world.* The shrill non-believer Sour Kangaroo gathers a mob of Jungle of Nool creatures to encage Horton and destroy the speck.

On the other hand, the film can be read as anti-religious. Sour Kangaroo’s fears of Horton’s blind faith have a practical answer. Whoville is just a world of little-known creatures living contemporaneously with everyone else. They can be heard. And presumably, they can be seen under magnification.

Regardless, “Horton Hears a Who!” is a too-simple journey of anthropomorphic creatures punctuated by embarrassing pop-culture references. Watch almost any animated film from the past ten years to see the same damn thing.

Dr. Seuss’s art is 3D-ified with decent returns. (Except for the evil monkeys, who all resemble the magician Teller.) Horton himself has an adorable pudginess and bounding gait. By embodying Horton's caring spirit, Jim Carrey almost atones for "The Grinch." Time after time, right when everything seems to be coming together, the script undercuts the mood. Case in point: during the denouement, the cast sings REO Speedwagon.

As with all recent Dr. Seuss films, “Horton Hears a Who” should have remained on the shelf. As a book. Because books are stored on shelves.

*Rather, every footstep should be felt; the film is selective in what actually affects Whoville.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration Speech

I dug all of O's nautical allusions. "Due to irresponsibility, America is like a schooner with only two mizzen masts." Huh?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Room (2003)--1/5 (or 5/5, it doesn't really matter)

The Internet has had a field day with “The Room.” The current Wikipedia article on the film amusingly stretches the notion of impartiality: “It is also implied several times that Lisa is very, very beautiful and looks good in a red dress.” Yes, I guess that's a true statement.

By any objective measure, “The Room” is one of the worst films ever made. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be watched by anyone with an interest in filmmaking. Edgar Wright, director of “Hot Fuzz,” has a theory that films are either “good” or “dull.” Any movie subject to monthly midnight-screening pilgrimages is probably not going to be dull. These Hollywood screenings of "The Room" are comparable those of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” with fans throwing spoons at the screen—when the framed spoon is visible, of course—and acting out the ripest dialogue. The screenings are also a constant battle between film and viewer; critics are applauded for the best takedowns.

There’s a lot to trash; “The Room” stumbles in every frame. Most scenes begin and end with people walking through doors and saying "Hi." Mysterious characters and whole plotlines appear and disappear with no explanation. The lengthy sex scenes are incompetently staged and set to toxic R&B crooning. Johnny (Wiseau) and Mark (Greg Sestero) would never, ever be friends in real life. The rooftop scenes have an ineptly green-screened San Franciscan skyline—incomprehensible because, why couldn’t they film on an actual rooftop? I could go on…

It’s hard to make a movie.

“The Room” is a case of artistic hubris so great that it enables a sort of begrudging respect. Tommy Wiseau, writer, actor, producer, star, has good-naturedly come to embrace the razzes. After all, the film may be finally making money for him. Not bad for a terrible film in a city rife with terrible, unseen films.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reprise (2006)--4/5

As the DVD insert-copy promises, Joachim Trier's "Reprise" is indebted to the French New Wave. The Godard-like narrator knows--and controls--all and the central relationships have a kinship with those in Truffaut's "Jules et Jim." But it has an inviting conventionality--exemplified by an empathetic score--not usually present in the films of those two.

As the title suggests, "Reprise" concerns itself with dualities, copies, and restarts. The film opens with Norwegian friends Phillip and Erik posting their first novels to publishers. Phillip finds success, which leads to a mental breakdown. Later, after likely fictionalizing Phillip's tragedies, Erik has a new book published. It's met with middling reviews.

The narrator makes it clear from the beginning that what is seen is one of the more destructive of possible outcomes. After the first drafts are mailed, he spins out the two-minute tale of what "could have" happened. This inventive flash-forward is completely filmed and is seen in black-and-white.

Similarly, flashbacks are living and have a Wikipedia Effect. Friends of Phillip and Eric are fleshed out in stories that would be told over drinks. Trier acknowledges the unrealistic tidiness of this plot element by staging one such flashback at a chaotic punk show. Yes, it's convenient that all of the main characters are there. Titles point them out, but they can be seen only as blurs.

Phillip meets Kari at one such show. For awhile, she's the cutest Norwegian pixie girlfriend possible. Early in the relationship, they travel to Paris and fall in love. Phillip's obsession with her and feelings of inadequacy help release his psychosis.

After a long hospital stay, Phillip tentatively reconnects with Kari. In the most moving sequence of "Reprise," they travel back to France. As a pale shadow of his former self, Phillip insists that they stay in the same hotel and visit the same sights. He even coerces Kari into posing exactly as she did in some now-lost photographs (seized from his house by his mother). This is when the score swells so effectively, as Kari fights down her dread at the situation.

Rather than going down a more likely path, the narrator appeases and steers the story towards a happier conclusion. He is sure to remind us that it's arbitrary. Any one of an infinite number of outcomes could take its place.

A still from "Trainspotting 2: The Norwegian Years"

Monday, January 12, 2009

15 Notable Celebrity Narrators

In proto-Jack Donaghy form, Alec Baldwin has the right level of haughtiness and entitlement to chronicle “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Do you like your Australian talking-pig pictures with a side of nasal southern drawl? Then check out “Babe,” with narration by Roscoe Lee Brown.

Tech-blogger/British actor Stephen Fry lends his quizzical-yet-meaningful voice to the tutorial levels of the Playstation 3 game “LittleBigPlanet.”

As a way of underlining their artificiality, Jean-Luc Godard often narrates his own films. “Bande à Part” is as good a pick as any.

Perhaps the gaudiest combination on this list is Charlton Heston and “Armageddon." A sampling (read with extra gravitas): “This is the earth at a time when the dinosaurs roamed a lush and fer-tyle planet.” And, “It will happen again. It's just a question of when.” Can’t we get a better actor? I know it’s a small part.

Trusty pal Ron Howard is as much a character as any other member of “Arrested Development’s” ensemble cast. He’s needed to explain all of the bizarre flashbacks and in-jokes.

Jeremy Irons is not even credited on IMDb for his uncredited work in “Hamlet 2.”

The first thing that people remember from the goofy “The Dukes of Hazzard” is Waylon Jennings as “The Balladeer.” *freeze frame* “Them boys are trapped like two foxes in a hen house with a sack fulla eggs.”

In the very first—and best, discuss—Simpson's "Treehouse of Horror,” James Earl Jones gives the grandest possible audiobook reading of Poe’s “The Raven.”

Sean Penn’s “Dogtown and Z-Boys” voiceover includes a flubbed line and do-over, ingeniously left intact.

Who else but Vincent Price could read Tim Burton’s “Vincent?” He’s also memorable in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” as the zombies clamber out of their graves.

The Sticky Bandit himself, Daniel Stern, learns many lifetimes of lessons on “The Wonder Years.”

Orson Welles just reads the names of the actors and their characters in the trailer for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” It’s better than the advertised film.

Joanne Woodward in “The Age of Innocence” and Elisabeth Shue in “Tuck Everlasting” narrate as stand-ins for Edith Wharton and Natalie Babbitt, respectively.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Lovers (1958)--4/5

Released by Janus Films during the “It’s Foreign, So It Must Be Dirty”* era, Louis Malle’s “The Lovers” unsurprisingly caused a scandal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s still shocking today.

That’s not to say that the dirty stuff is particularly graphic. PG-13-rated films of today—Nick & Norah, I’m looking at you—regularly surpass the “The Lovers” in adult content. The sex surprises because “The Lovers” is otherwise so unmistakably from 1958. Movies from this year do not have naked people in them. It’s just a given.

Apart from that, which really has to be brought up in any discussion of the film, “The Lovers” is an even-keeled vision of an often-unsympathetic woman. Jeanne (Jeanne Moreau) is a woman married into great wealth. She lives in a palatial estate with her husband, a daughter, and a platoon of servants. In her regular travels to Paris, she carries on an affair with another well-to-do man. When her car breaks down on a trip home, a third guy, Bernard, stops to help her; as an archaeologist, he is obviously of a lower class. She drives off with him mere hours after they've met.

Strikingly, Jeanne’s daughter is infrequently seen or discussed. In their only real moment of contact, Jeanne tucks her in while she’s sound asleep. This happens as the plan to leave is germinating! Jeanne has the impertinence of a teenager. Alienation to an indifferent spouse and great money seems reasonable; the treatment and subsequent dismissal of a child is something else. The morning after, as Jeanne and Bernard drive off, the narrator** mentions Jeanne’s creeping doubts about her new choice. “The Lovers” is more complex than it seems. It’s not, after all, a particularly romantic film.

*Janus released Bergman’s “Sawdust and Tinsel” as “The Naked Night”!

**A female narrator, which is rare indeed. I can only think of two other movies narrated by women who don’t play characters in the movies: “Tuck Everlasting” (Elisabeth Shue) and “The Age of Innocence” (Joanne Woodward).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Foot Fist Way (2006)--1/5

I think I understand the feeling people have who don’t *get* “Napoleon Dynamite.” I just tried to watch “The Foot Fist Way.” It’s another movie that thinks things are hilarious if they’re just slightly odd. Danny McBride plays Fred Simmons as a mouth-breathing taekwondo instructor with an ironic mustache. His whole image, down to his T-topped muscle car, seems to be derived from “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”

Random scenes of ineptitude, violence, and swearing are not jokes. Despite the unwavering focus of “The Foot Fist Way” on Simmons, no insight is reached into his character. The affected, demeaning distance of the film makes sure there’s nothing to know, much less care about.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

EGM (1989-2009)

Yesterday, Hearst bought the 1UpNetwork, including the print magazine "Electronic Gaming Monthly." EGM, the only magazine I subscribe to, was immediately and unceremoniously kicked to the curb. The already-published January issue is its last.

Gamers have been getting their news from sites like Joystiq and Kotaku for years now, prompting the finish of other print gaming serials. Still, EGM has always been the best. It has developed a reputation for independence and definitive reviews. The pre-Internet issues, in which they--as far as I can tell--review all but the most insignificant shovelware, remain invaluable reference sources.

The list of casualties is a list of the industry's best: Shane Bettenhausen, Andrew Fitch, James Mielke, to name a few.

A stellar blogger I've been following for years, Jeremy Parish, aka Toastyfrog, is one of the few who gets to stay on at Are there any colleagues left for him?

The Universe (2007)--No score, but it's probably close to a 1/5

I don't know if I read this somewhere, but I expected "The Universe" to be like "Planet Earth." Beautiful HD images of the planets, stars, and so forth. Enlightening and humorous voice over. Like that.

Instead, "The Universe" is like the local weather report in the style of BattleBots. The first episode, "Secrets of the Sun," spends half the episode comparing electrons to billiard balls and the other half frightening the audience about solar flares. (They're the "deadliest danger you've never heard of!" or something). Please.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Man On Wire (2008)--4/5

On a TV screen, “Man on Wire” is merely disconcerting. In a theater, it must be terrifying. Early in the morning of August 7, 1974, Phillippe Petit walked on a wire between the World Trade Center towers, the then-tallest buildings in the world, for forty-five minutes.

James Marsh smartly frames “Man on Wire” as a heist film. With equal parts subterfuge and luck, Petit and three associates (two in each tower) lugged almost one ton of equipment to the buildings’ roofs. In each tower, they had to hide silently for hours from patrolling security guards. Once on the roof, fishing line attached to a launched arrow became the first in a series of ever-larger threads and ropes passed back and forth. Shortly before dawn, they struggled to pull the heavy wire slack.

In equal measures, Marsh uses talking-head interviews, period stock footage, reenactments, home video, and media imagery of the event. The resulting collage leaves no detail or feeling unexplored. Petit alone is an entertaining interview subject. What boggles the mind is the depth of footage captured before and during the planning of “le coup,” as they called the stunt. Any bullet point made by him or one of his associates has corresponding sixteen millimeter footage from the 70’s.

In “Man on Wire,” no mention is given—or needed—of 9/11. The mere sight of the towers—not to mention the danger and illegality of the stunt—is reminder enough. A split-screen montage of their construction paired with Petit’s childhood attests to the temporal nature of our creations. Petit has outlived the towers and, at sixty, is still a spry, larger-than-life character.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Droids, Robots, And Other Sentient Mechanical Beings

I've had this nice T-shirt graphic as my desktop pattern for some time.

I'm still trying to identify all of them.

1. Marvin the Paranoid Android--"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005 Film)
2. K-9--"Doctor Who"
3. Huey, Dewey, or Louie--"Silent Running"
4. HAL 9000--"2001: A Space Odyssey"
5. V.I.N.CENT--"The Black Hole"
6. Conky--"Pee-Wee's Playhouse"
7. Rusty the Boy Robot--"Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot"
8. Astro Boy
9. Crow T. Robot--"Mystery Science Theater 3000"
10. Johnny 5--"Short Circuit"
11. Tripod--"War of the Worlds"
12. WALL·E
13. Tom Servo--"Mystery Science Theater 3000"
14. Twiki--"Buck Rogers in the 25th Century"
15. The Robot--"Lost in Space"
16. Robot--"Berzerk"
17. Gigantor
18. Bomberman
19. Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot
20. Mechagodzilla--"Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
21. Mega Man
22. The Tin Man--"The Wizard of Oz"
23. Enforcer--"Robotron: 2084"
24. Robby the Robot--"Forbidden Planet"
25. Cylon--"Battlestar Galactica"
26. Marvin the Paranoid Android--"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"
27. Bubo--"Clash of the Titans"
28. Sentinel--"The Matrix"
29. R2-D2--"Star Wars"
30. Megalon--"Godzilla vs. Megalon"
31. Gort--"The Day the Earth Stood Still"
32. Baron Karza--"Micronauts"
33. Bender--"Futurama"
34. T-800--"The Terminator"
35. C-3PO--"Star Wars"
36. Robot from the cover of "News of the World"
37. The Iron Giant
38. Robot Maria--"Metropolis"
39. Centurion--Battlestar Galactica
41. ED-209--"Robocop"
42. Tachikoma--"Ghost in the Shell"
43. Droideka--"Star Wars"
44. Rosie the Robot Maid--"The Jetsons"
45. Optimus Prime--"Transformers"
46. Dr. Theopolis--"Buck Rogers in the 25th Century"
47. Mazinger Z
48. Maximilian--"The Black Hole"
49. Voltron
50. Muffit--"Battlestar Galactica"
51. Dalek--"Doctor Who"

The Room (2003)

Ever since Entertainment Weekly reported on the Hollywood cult of "The Room," I've been desperate to see it. Check out the "quotes" at the end of this trailer:

The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008)--2/5

What a copout this movie is, in every way. I’m not a huge fan of the series,* but even I can tell that “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” is a mediocre episode of the show.

The events are unrelated to any of the larger mythology of the series, which is fine. It’s just confusing why this story was written for a feature film. The by-the-numbers action takes place in small rooms and generic snowy plains. The special effects are minimal and unimpressive. Nothing in the movie is stretching a budget.

The question of Mulder and Scully’s “will they or won’t they” sexual tension has been answered—by a better movie from a few years ago that I seem to have missed. Instead, we get the pragmatic pillow-talk and side-kiss (“scratchy beard!”) of a *married* couple. They eventually share a passionate embrace, but by then it comes off as patronizing.

To pad the runtime of “I Want to Believe,” Scully has a terminally ill patient under her care. Rather than tying into the plot in any meaningful way, this sloppy addition only forces Scully to think about her creepy son William.

After all the supernatural events Scully has witnessed and been involved in, she is still skeptical about the relatively simple matter of a priest with ESP. Really? (This movie deserves its own “Really!?! with Seth & Amy” segment.) Scully and Mulder’s character regression is similar to that in the “Sex and the City” movie. Just ignore any advances made in later seasons of the show, not to mention the first “X-Files” movie. Chris Carter thinks the fans want to see these guys acting just like they did in the first episode.

Taking the copouts to their logical nadir, the priest dies before it can be determined if his visions are authentic. A connection between the killers and the priest is a laughable red herring. Or is it? Since truth and logic are still “out there,” who cares?

*My facts about the series may not be correct. Please correct me if wrong.