Saturday, July 30, 2005

Tales from the Grammar Classroom

Every time I go to grammar class I want to beat myself in the head with a 2x4 before any of the stupid things kids say sink into my brain and make me unlearn the rules of grammar. Here are just a couple of examples.

When we take quizzes in class, each multiple choice question is presented with four possible answers. One simple question: "Which of the following sentences contains a comma splice," it was evident that both of the two sentences (choices A and B) were grammatically correct.

"Both sentences look correct. Am I just seeing things?" a woman who teaches first grade asked.

This yielded a 12-minute conversation as to why both were correct.

"Then, I don't understand the question," the woman stubbornly responded. "There's no way to answer it."

To which I responded, completely uncalled on: "Did you try C for 'Both'?"

I think that if a person asks the following question, they should automatically fail a grammar class: "Don't you not need a quotation mark there?"

Rules of MLA: Italicize book titles, put quotes around the titles of individual stories, for example those found in an anthology.

"But, let's say that you're reading Heart of Darkness in a collection; what do you do then?"

"Or, what if you're reading, like, The Complete Shakespeare. Do you italicize the title of, say, Merchant of Venice, or do you put quotes around it?"

Me, thinking to myself: "Could someone please stop asking jerkoff theory questions? I really don't want the archaeological team from the future to find me sitting here bored when they sweep through."

The Future of Traditional Animation?

Last night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles and The Iron Giant) spoke on the subject of traditional, hand-drawn, 2D animation. "I don't think it's dead," he said. "What I think is dead right now is sound thinking." He went on to say: "The studios that are succeeding are the ones where the art leads the technology. The studios that are failing are the ones where the technology leads the art." In other words, Pixar's sense of story has brought it six massive hits, while DreamWorks is experiencing problems because they're too concerned with shiny things and not context.

Bird added injury to insult by receiving applause when he pointed out that the animated film he's most looking forward to is Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; a DreamWorks film, to be sure, but a stop-motion animated film.

On another note, read this article on ToonZone about the sorry state of television animation:

Jessica Simpson made a visit to the soldiers stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, where my sister was born 26 years ago. Just brought a smile to my face. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

We Just Lost Outer Space

If America is such a great goddamn country, why can't we get a space shuttle into outer space anymore?

Yesterday, just two minutes after launch, a piece of foam debris fell off the Discovery and came way too close to causing the ship critical damage. It was only by the most extreme luck that disaster did not occur. It was a very similar occurence that threw Columbia of course two years ago, resulting in her burning up in re-entry.

In response, NASA has very sensibly grounded all future missions (though none were scheduled; Discovery's launch was merely to check these very safety issues) until they can determine just what keeps causing the problem. But I've been saying it over and over: these shuttles are too old. They were designed in the seventies. Columbia first went into space in 1981; Discovery in 1984. Would you drive a car that old across the state? Probably not, unless you were very sure of the condition. Why should the shuttles be expected to keep serving long after they've become outdated?

Is it too much to ask that we give NASA some real money for a change? We can't keep attempting to refit technology that's almost 30 years old. That's like trying to turn a Beta VCR into a DVD player. You need to go back to blueprint, keep the basic working idea, and create a whole new ship. What we are asking NASA to do on such limitations is at the very least idiotic, and nearly criminal: seven lives came very close to ending because of the same error we were supposed to have already fixed.

Who knows now when we'll be able to touch the stars again? It's only a few minutes straight up. Why shouldn't we be able to just drive up there and look around? We've managed to cut ourselves off from the future.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

5 CHILDREN & IT (2004)
A whimsical little kids' movie based on a classic British children's novel by E. Nesbitt. It was a cute movie (a Henson production, no less), although some of the humor is maybe a little too contemporary. Five children, staying with an eccentric uncle (a wonderfully, hilariously over-the-top Kenneth Branagh) while their father is fighting in France during World War I, meet up with a sand fairy who tries to teach them that wishes are no substitute for real life. Freddie Highmore, so excellent in Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is great as one of the boys, and Eddie Izzard (executive transvestite) has fun with the voice of It, the sand fairy. Good puppet work, and I like the kind of haphazard look of the effects. Nice. *** stars.

John Waters's best film in some time focuses on the fetish community who may, in fact, take themselves a little too seriously. This being Waters, he also admonishes the so-called community standards, which also take fetishes too seriously. Surprisingly evenhanded, and with a focus that was lacking in Cecil B. Demented and at least half of Pecker. Great performances, especially from Johnny Knoxville. Selma Blair is pure fun as a young woman, Ursula Udders, with the biggest prosthetic boobs ever made (they're obviously hollow, but it's still pretty funny). ***1/2 stars.

An interesting comment on mother-daughter relationships, female competitiveness, and autonomy. Michelle Trachtenberg is quite good, but I especially like Hayden Panettiere, whom I've seen in a few movies now. Unfortunately, she practically disappears from the third act. A little tough, shot with a sense of urgency, and better than a lot of movies just like it. A breezy, but surprisingly interesting, *** stars.

D.E.B.S. (2004)
Angela Robinson expands her short film into feature length. The whole joke of the short was that a girl from the government agency DEBS (kind of like Charlie's Angels, only without the self-reverence of Full Throttle) was in love with a female supervillain, and would let herself get kidnapped so that, before she was rescued, the two girls could have sex. This is pretty much the same plot, only with more attention paid to sexual awakening and to exactly what friends are supposed to do for one another. It's a fun, cute, occasionally funny movie that doesn't play things seriously. Jordana Brewster is especially good as the lesbian villain who tries to go straight (legally, that is) for love, and as one of the girls, Devon Aoki is very funny as a stereotypical French action hero. Excellent soundtrack, too. Robinson's skill with music and montage makes me look forward to her Herbie: Fully Loaded a little more. *** stars.

I hate Wes Anderson's movies, which is why I'm incredibly surprised that I loved this one. I loved it. Bill Murray continues to prove that he's one of the greatest actors who ever lived, and he's backed up by a great supporting cast: Anjelica Huston, Noah Hathaway, Bud Cort, Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett, and especially Willem Dafoe, who is hilarious. Owen Wilson, however, continues to irritate me, and Cate Blanchett needs to stop doing Katharine Hepburn impressions. All sorts of magic here: the romance of the sea, David Bowie songs sung in Portuguese, creature animation by Henry Selick, and a delicate sort of whimsicality that underlines the whole enterprise. And it has the best soundtrack of the year. You have to understand, I really, really hated Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tennenbaums, so it's stunning to me to give this one **** stars. Guess the fourth time was the charm. And he's doing a Roald Dahl novel next...

TRAUMA (2004)
An unfortunate horror film about a man who is in an accident and blah blah blah. Predictable, tired, and feels like on of those bad TV movies made by the BBC. Still, it was nice to see Colin Firth in a role other than that romantic comedy stiff-arse he always plays. * star for him.

Well, Vin Diesel isn't too irritating in it, and there's one good Jackie Chan-esque action scene. I don't really know what else to say. It's cute, but inconsequential. And you people spent $100 million on it? **1/2 stars.

An unbelievably silly movie smuggled out of Cuba about a bunch of sexy (muy sexo!) girls shipwrecked on an jungle shore and rescued by the handsome and butch Karzin, son of Tarzan. Karzin spends the rest of the movie trying to see them naked and saving them from thugs. Turns out, in the end, that they were in Cuba all along, and Karz is merely the son of some rich couple who were on vacation. Bizarre, badly acted, but it's only an hour long and has hot chicks in it. ** stars.

An undeniably fascinating movie about two French twins who befriend an American student and draw him into their inner weirdness in 1968. The twins have some kind of incest situation going on, while the American is a pacifist ducking the Vietnam War and trying to avoid getting involved in the Communist demonstrations going on in Paris. Besides the political discussions, though, director Bernardo Bertolucci intertwines the lost art of the cinephile, as the three obsess over film. Remember when there were real cinephiles, and not just art student jag-offs? Now all you have are the idiots who love Star Wars and have seen Reservoir Dogs but have never seen A Band of Outsiders and have seen Pulp Fiction far more often than anyone should have to. True cinephilia is long dead. This movie just shed a tear over it, and it was nice. Eva Green is one of the most beautiful, wonderful actresses I've ever seen. **** stars. Very hard to describe, but an excellent film.

A very funny movie. I lust over Jennifer Tilly, and just the sound of her voice makes me erect. Funnier than Bride of Chucky, too. *** stars.

MON ONCLE (1958)
I've never seen any of Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot films; I want to say this is the second of the five. It's a charming movie, extolling the virtues of a traditional life over the hassles of modernism without being obtrusive or strident. The humor is very gentle, and the film is shot in a quite lovely, lyrical way. One of Tati's criticisms towards modernity is the lack of rough character--he sees new gadgets as dreadful and sterile. He might be right. He also argues, in his way, that technology has moved so fast that even the people who design it can't use it very well. He might be right about that, too--I was using one of those self-checkout lanes at Wal-Mart the other day, and it's the most inefficient dead-rat solution I've seen in some time. **** stars.

This aired on The Wonderful World of Disney, though it wasn't a Disney production. I read the Madeline L'Engle novel in grade school, and all I could remember is that I thought it was a downer, that I didn't like it much, and that there was a character named Mrs. Whatsit. This was very, very good--it had some serious budget limitations, but the acting is all good and they took what actually is a very dark story on a fairly serious level. One of the better of the recent spate of kids' fantasies; on its most basic level its about the fight against nihilism. Very well done. ***1/2 stars.

Every word of dialogue is sung in this operetta film; it's not a musical. There are no songs. And despite the very simple, predictable plot and the limitations of Catherine Deneuve's singing voice, it's a beautiful film. **** stars.

Probably the best version of Choderlos de Laclos's excellent novel that I've seen yet. The story here takes place in the 1960s, but the social mores still fit somehow, and the story is quite effective. Excellent cast: Rupert Everett, Nastassja Kinski, and Catherine Deneuve, who plays one of my favorite literary characters with a beauty and grace and focus. Also worth mentioning is Leelee Sobieski, who really has the chance to develop into an excellent actress one day. This is a French miniseries from last year, done in the original language of the novel. Excellently done. And thank you for showing me Leelee in the bra. **** stars, though I would have liked to have seen de Laclos's hard-edged cynicism and casual joy in cruelty in the adaptation.

More Than Meets the Ear

Recently, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (of that cinematic masterwork Constantine) was asked whether or not he would be getting the original voice actors from The Transformers to do the voices in his new, totally unneccesary live action version.

"I don't believe that is going to happen," he said. "I don't know why you would want the original voice over actors." He also added: "making [that] assumption going in is, I think, kind of silly, actually. I think people want the best actors to do it." Oh, yes, please, if we can get Keanu Reeves to do the voice of Prowler, I'll be ecstatic.

That is sarcasm, by the way.

Yeah, I still think the entire idea of doing anything new with the characters is pretty lame, especially since too many movies these days resemble high octane, overly budgeted, incredibly stupid versions of an eighties cartoon. But, I don't know, I think if you're even a little like me, you might have trouble picturing Optimus Prime without Peter Cullen's voice, or Megatron without Frank Welker's. Or what about Frank Welker as Soundwave, for that matter? Or for distinctive voices, what about Chris Latta as Starscream (which, of course, was the same voice he used for Cobra Commander, but fuck it, it was an awesome voice). And are the fanboys finally too cynical for Gregg Berger's endearing voice of Grimlock?

Is it somehow going to better with Paul Giamatti's take on Starscream, or Ryan Reynolds as Hot Rod, or Brad Garrett doing some sort of comedic take on Kickback? I don't know, it just seems to me that what fans really want to see is something pretty close to what they loved in the eighties. I think the voices go a long way towards that.

Bonaventura added: "We are going to stay true to the Transformers." I wonder what he thinks that means.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Uncle Deadly, from the Vincent Price episode of "The Muppet Show." This is the last figure in the Palisades Toys line of Muppets. Their licence just ran out, and now they've got to deal with Disney in the future. It just sucks that they can't make that Sal Minella figure they had scheduled. But otherwise, it's been a very good run of figures that were made very well. Thanks, Palisades. Posted by Picasa

Because I Could

Another Hollywood relationship went down in flames this week, when it was revealed that Jude Law had sex with his nanny (what is it with him and nannies?) and his fiancee, Sienna Miller, took of the ring and went back to her place. Now, I'm not especially interested in either one of them or their relationship, though I do find it amusing that all of Jude Law's relationships break up for the same reason: hot nanny love.

What this post is actually about it the recent US Weekly cover story on this, um... tragedy? When US Weekly is trying to ponder the big unanswerables of life, they know who they can contact: barely ethical pop psychologists, usually those who have written a book recently and need any publicity they can get, who are willing to whore out their education and drop opinions on people they've never even met with. Up this week: Dr. Brenda Shoshanna, whom the magazine casually mentions wrote a book called Save Your Relationship.

Her explanation is a little too pat for me, one of those theories designed to make women feel better. She says: "Males who are often with seemingly perfect women may begin to feel a little jealous, insecure or inadequate." Perfect woman? Sienna Miller? No offense, but I saw her on the first season of Entourage, we she played a fairly recurring character, and I still couldn't pick her out of a lineup. And Law was already married once, to Sadie Frost, and if you've read even a tenth of the stuff out there about's like being married to Courtney Love, I imagine. Whose perfect?

Furthermore, Dr. Shoshanna adds, men choose to cheat with women in a subservient position to them because "the woman puts him on a pedestal, so he gets attention and admiration." Well, that part may hold true for a lot of men, because some men do get off on having power (which, I'm sure, is part of my fascination with younger girls).

But I'm not buying this woman's "Jude Law cheated because he needed attention" theory. Picked up a tabloid lately? I'd say Jude Law needs far less attention. I tend to go, instead, with the "Because I Could" theory. In his memoirs, Bill Clinton says that he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky "because I could." That about sums it up. I mean, as a guy whose sexual gearshift has been stuck in overdrive since the age of 14, I can tell you that Clinton's remorseless, almost casual explanation makes more sense to me. Sure, there are always other factors, and attention is one of them, but it comes down to this base line: men are biologically programmed to have sex with as many women as possible. It's an old instinct from thousands and thousands of years ago that we have yet to develop out of. It's what has kept our species alive and dominant for so long. The drive to mate.

I'm not excusing the behavior, I'm just saying that we have to deal with it from this perspective. Men don't cheat because they need attention or because they're lecherous: the idea of cheating on a partner--or even that a woman is a partner--is relatively recent in the human consciousness. It's like vegetarians: eating meat is an instinct. Historically, there has not been a concept that eating meat is wrong because something has to die. Eating meat was a biological instinct of human beings and, incidentally, the raw protein is what allowed the human brain to grow and develop to the point of conceptual thinking, consciousness, and thought. Men don't have a drive to "cheat." That's a social concept. On a biological, instinctual, very raw level, men are programmed to a default setting of: make as many babies as possible, otherwise the species will end up as pets or farmed food for some other species.

The drive, however, is masked by something else. No man wants, on a conscious level, to cheat on his significant other in order to have a child. Nature made sex pleasurable so that humans would want to keep doing it. So, in our instinctual fervor, we associated sex with pleasure very early on, and men being less complex creatures that women, men were basically programmed with the drive to keep feeling this pleasure as often as possible with whomever they could. Nature hid all of that stuff about propogating the species inside the pleasure. So, in its own unfathomable way, the natural world reduced the sexual urges of men to a very basic level. And thus the species continued to live.

I think that a lot of the problems we face with modernity come down to one thing: people are trying hard to reconcile the social concepts we've created (some only in the last hundred years, as our civilization has shifted from industrial to post-industrial) with natural instincts that are thousands of years old. We're becoming something we didn't start off to be, and since these instincts are inborn and not learned behaviors, there are occasional instances (and I'm also talking about things as varied as murder or eating habits here) where people can't keep the lid on the most basic of urges.

As for Jude Law? Well, to paraphrase Bill Maher, cheating has nothing to do with breasts or sexiness or anything like that--it's all about what's old and what's new. One woman is one you're close to and have never had sex with before. The other is one you've seen naked every day for years. It's someone different. The Cro-Magnon inside all of us takes control.