Because I don’t have access to every Warner Brothers cartoon (damn you, WB!), I’ve decided to give more of a general outline for them in my ongoing series on the History of Animation. It would be an absolute crime not to include them here, however, so here is the first segment touching on their history and importance in cartoons.
Leon Schlesinger, an independent producer, makes a deal with Warner Bros. to distribute a new series of cartoons. Schlesinger hires Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising to a three-year contract; the deal is for one cartoon a month, budgeted at $10,000 each. Warner Bros. had been trying to get their own animation studio going for some time (at the old Vitagraph Studios), but had been unable to get it off the ground. The staff at Harman-Ising includes Friz Freleng. The cartoon series is to be called, in a direct reference to their major competition (Disney’s Silly Symphonies), Looney Tunes.
The first cartoon from Harman-Ising, Sinkin’ in the Bathtub, is the debut of Bosko. Almost immediately, Bosko and his girlfriend Honey become thin ripoffs of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The series is a musical burlesque show (Schlesinger has access to the Warner Bros. music catalog, making the series music-driven), with much more indecorous humor than Disney. All of the Looney Tunes star Bosko and Honey. Below is the 1930 cartoon Congo Jazz.
Warner Bros. asks Schlesinger to double his output, and he contracts Harman-Ising for a second series, Merrie Melodies. This series will be much more music-driven, centering around a song in the WB catalog and setting it to animation. The first two in the series are Lady, Play Your Mandolin! and Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! This series is much more directly influenced by Silly Symphonies. Around this time, Bob Clampett and Bob McKimson join the Harman-Ising staff as animators.
It starts to become clear that both the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies are just not very good cartoons. They are repetitive and dull, and especially suffer in comparison to Walt Disney Studios, who are pushing the envelope artistically, narratively, and technologically. Harman, Ising, and Disney all go back to the same Kansas City studios (Harman and Ising did not follow Disney to his own studio as Ub Iwerks had), and Harman feels a deep personal rivalry with Disney, wanting to surpass him but not quite knowing how to. It also becomes clear that there is widespread nepotism and cronyism through Harman-Ising Studios, and Harman in particular is arrogant. His personal dislike for money men, in particular Schlesinger, makes for shaky business relations.
Warner Bros., dissatisfied with the performance of Schlesinger’s cartoons (audience reception is uniformly lukewarm), renegotiates with Schlesinger, dropping the budget per cartoon from $10,000 to $6000. Disney is spending between $13,000 and $20,000 for a single cartoon. For Harman, this is the last straw. Harman-Ising Studios splits from Schlesinger, who immediately starts hiring talent to form his own animation studio. He first hires Bob Clampett from Harman-Ising, then Jack King from Disney and Frank Tashlin from Van Beuren Studios (Tashlin is fired after a disagreement with Schlesinger). Also defecting from Harman-Ising are Bob McKimson and Friz Freleng; the studio gets going in June. By all accounts, Leon Schlesinger Studios is an easygoing place to work, full of hungry young men who confront long hours and high pressure for output with humor and pranks. Animators were scarce, and competition was fierce; it was unlikely anyone was going to be fired. Friz Freleng is made the director of the Merrie Melodies series, with Jack King the principal Looney Tunes director. Ben “Bugs” Hardaway, former story man at both Disney and Iwerks, is hired as both story man and fill-in director. The first cartoon put out by the new studio is in the Looney Tunes series: Buddy’s Day Out, featuring a human character, Buddy. The new cartoons are uniformly terrible, incoherent, and unfunny.
Warners ups the budget per cartoon to $7500; though Disney is spending three times as much. Schlesinger wants to compete with Disney, but has a hard time finding artists equal to the task. Freleng’s first Merrie Melodies, Beauty and the Beast, is formulaic, built around the typical Silly Symphonies formula of capering interrupted by a heavy; a repetition of Rudy Ising’s style. The cartoons are mostly a meandering affair.
Buddy is phased out in favor of animal characters. Friz Freleng’s I Haven’t Got a Hat features several characters who are possible replacements for Buddy, the most likeable of which is Porky Pig. For comedy purposes, Porky has a stutter provided by Joe Dougherty, a real stutterer whose voice is sped up. Jack King begins using Beans the Cat in The Cartoonist’s Nightmare. Tex Avery is hired as a third director, and given an animation unit that includes Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones. His first cartoon for Schlesinger is Gold Diggers of ‘49, which features both Porky and Beans. Avery redesigns Porky, making him softer and more cartoonish, and begins trying to make the gags more bizarre within the climate created by Disney’s sense of cartoon logic.
Tex Avery (at left) begins to introduce his trademark surreal illogic and breakneck pace, which grabs the attention of the audience. Leon Schlesinger decides to dump every Looney Tunes character except for Porky Pig. Angry at the decision, Jack King returns to Disney, where he becomes the primary director of the Donald Duck series. Frank Tashlin returns to Schlesinger and takes King’s place. Carl Stalling is hired as musical director (he has been at both Disney and Iwerks), making the music an even stronger asset; as the focus becomes more aggressively comic cartoons, Stalling creates a musical pallette that matches the pacing perfectly.
Disney releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but Schlesinger does not feel the need to compete by doing a feature of his own (other studios do, however, leading Fleischer to rush into production on Gulliver's Travels, while Walter Lantz talks about a feature version of Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp that will never materialize, and Hugh Harman also talks about his great unmade feature, King Arthur). Tex Avery’s cartoon Porky’s Duck Hunt is the first strong indicator of his intense comic focus. It is also the first appearance of a Daffy Duck prototype, and the first time Mel Blanc voiced Porky Pig (and Daffy as well). Avery did not want to charm and delight people as Disney did; he wanted to make people laugh. Avery is therefore not happy to be moved to the Merrie Melodies series, which are less comic and more prestigious; Avery would be the second director of the series after Friz Freleng. Ub Iwerks is hired to direct Looney Tunes; Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, Avery’s best animators, are assigned to Iwerks. Freleng is tired of using songs, and Avery decides to stop using them; as a result, the energy of cartoons like Uncle Tom’s Bungalow (by Avery) and Clean Pastures (by Freleng, one of the only cartoons ever to run against the Production Code for satirizing religion) picks up into a sort of reckless burlesque. Iwerks only directs two Looney Tunes before handing the reins over to Bob Clampett, who was promoted to director after Porky’s Bedtime Story and Get Rich Quick Porky (Schlesinger had decided that Porky Pig was to be the star of every Looney Tune, though Clampett continued to develop Daffy Duck). Clampett, like Avery, wants the audience to laugh, but his humor is sometimes considered unsettling and odd.
Tex Avery begins to satirize travelogues with The Island of Pingo Pongo and fairy tales with Little Red Walking Hood and Cinderella Meets Fella. In these cartoons, he completely rips apart the Disney conventions by never trying to create any kind of reality. Clampett, who occasionally faints when overwhelmed with women or salty language, continues to develop Porky’s character in such cartoons as Porky in Egypt, relying on Norm McCabe, who replaces Chuck Jones. After Frank Tashlin quits again, he is replaced as director by Chuck Jones on Merrie Melodies. His first cartoon is The Night Watchman. Unlike his colleagues, Jones has attended the Chouinard School of Art, and his work shows the most Disney influence. His art matures quickly, and his cartoons are lush, often paying homage to Disney characters with his own. His cartoons are also the most dull. Against the rules of Merrie Melodies, which call for no recurring characters, Avery reuses the character Egghead and pairs him with Daffy Duck in Daffy Duck & Egghead (the first cartoon to call Daffy by name). Avery will turn the character Egghead into Elmer Fudd, originally voiced by Arthur Q. Bryant. Bob Clampett readies Porky’s Hare Hunt, basically a remake of Porky’s Duck Hunt, only with a rabbit; Friz Freleng is meant to direct, but leaves for a brief tenure at MGM. Instead, the cartoon is directed by Ben “Bugs” Hardaway.
In comparison to Disney's staff of 1100, Schlesinger's staff numbers less than 200. Bob Clampett directs Kristopher Kolumbus Jr; Tex Avery directs Believe It or Else; Chuck Jones directs Old Glory, starring Porky and Uncle Sam, who is animated with almost rotoscoped realism by Bob McKimson. Jones also directs Dog Gone Modern, which seems to specifically reference the Disney cartoons Modern Inventions and Playful Pluto. Bugs Hardaway directs Hare-um Scare-um, a Merrie Melodie featuring a variation on the rabbit from Porky’s Hare Hunt. Charles Thorson, a former Disney sketch artist who had designed Max Hare in Disney's The Tortoise and the Hare, redesigns the rabbit and labels it with the fateful words “Bug’s Bunny.” The name Bugs Bunny is picked up and used in publicity for the cartoon, which ends up being a big hit with audiences. After Friz Freleng returns to Schlesinger, Hardaway is made the head of the story department. McKimson, one of the fastest animators working, is made lead animator (with recurring characters, it was necessary to find a man to keep the characters on model).
Chuck Jones’s cartoons, though the most polished, are still the weakest in terms of story and gags; Tom Thumb in Trouble and Good Night Elmer may as well be Disney cartoons. Jones’s characters have no real personalities, just goofy mannerisms. Working with Friz Freleng, Jones is able to give Elmer a definite persona, enough to make him a real character, and pairs Elmer and Bugs for the first time in Elmer’s Candid Camera. Jones’s slow, realistic pacing, however, makes Bugs seem spiteful and mean. Tex Avery takes Bugs and puts him in A Wild Hare, considered the first real Bugs Bunny cartoon. Bugs is redesigned by Robert Givens because Avery thinks Bugs is too cute. In Michael Barrier’s essential book, Hollywood Cartoons, Tex Avery is quoted as saying that he ripped off the design from Max Hare: “I practically stole it. It’s a wonder I wasn’t sued. The construction was almost identical.” Avery makes Bugs slick, urban, dry, audacious, cool in the face of adversity, and always collected; he also gave Bugs the catchphrase “What’s up, doc?,” which Avery himself had been saying since high school. Givens also redesigned Elmer Fudd, making him look more like a baby. The landmark cartoon benefits enormously from personality animation by Bob McKimson, who had left Chuck Jones’s unit. The first truly character-driven cartoon from Warner Bros., Schlesinger now has four solid lead characters (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, and Elmer) to lead him into a brighter future.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Because I don’t have access to every Warner Brothers cartoon (damn you, WB!), I’ve decided to give more of a general outline for them in my ongoing series on the History of Animation. It would be an absolute crime not to include them here, however, so here is the first segment touching on their history and importance in cartoons.
Friday, May 05, 2006
15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.
1. Okay, I’m normally not like this, but could you believe this week’s episode of Lost? Shit, that was a surprise. No wonder Cynthia Watros and Michelle Rodriguez were out getting drunk, right? Man, not only was Ana Lucia my second-favorite character, but she was also the only drop dead sexy chick on that whole island. So much for sex appeal... I’m just always glad when that show actually moves.
2. After years of producing movies like The Animal, Tomcats, The One, Punch-Drunk Love, Master of Disguise, Stealing Harvard, Tears of the Sun, Hollywood Homicide, The Missing, Little Black Book, Christmas with the Kranks, Are We There Yet?, Man of the House, An Unfinished Life, The Fog, Rent, Freedomland, The Benchwarmers and, of course, Gigli, Revolution Studios is closing down. Man, they really blew, didn’t they? I mean, even the ones that made money sucked: America’s Sweethearts, Black Hawk Down, XXX, Maid in Manhattan, Anger Management, Daddy Day Care, Radio, Mona Lisa Smile, White Chicks... man, what a terrible list of credits. So, after the one-two culture punch of Little Man (which Jerry Beck makes a very good case for being a ripoff of a Bugs Bunny cartoon) and Rocky VI, Revolution’s doors will close. To be fair, I do genuinely like three Revolution movies: Peter Pan, Hellboy, and 13 Going on 30. But I’m glad the world will be spared Vin Diesel’s Punic Wars epic, David Hasselhoff doing a Knight Rider movie, and sequels to Daddy Day Care and Are We There Yet. Can we get rid of DreamWorks next?
3. David Blaine: Drowned Alive. If only.
4. James Gandolfini was in an accident on his scooter. Man, I would hate to be a grown man and have a story like that going around. I hope he could finish his giant lolly.
5. Geena Davis, whose Commander-in-Chief is probably cancelled, was leading the calls for a female president the other day, calling it "an idea whose time has come." Fine. Give me a decent candidate! Pick one, tell me where they are! And don’t try and sell me on Hillary Clinton. I was with her right up until she decided that the most important thing she could do politically was make it harder for kids to play video games.
6. Jennifer Lopez fired her agents after they got her in Dallas. Are we to blame her agents, then, for her streak of shitty movies? Because I still think there’s some good work in there waiting to come out, and we all know, sight unseen, that Dallas is going to be a piece of shit that maybe old people will like.
7. Britney’s agents, meanwhile, are upset that she might probably be pregnant (can someone just confirm this, for fuck’s sake, so we don’t have to hear the annoying speculation anymore), because she really wanted to be in this Janis Joplin biopic I’ve been hearing they’re going to make for, like, fifty years. Dude, I love Britney Spears, but even I don’t want to see her try to act again, alright?
8. Some group of people with a lot of spare time claims they stopped Coors from doing product placement in Scary Movie 4 (those excellent Coors twins showed up in Scary Movie 3, if you remember). They whine about how beer companies claim not to advertise to teenagers, but then show up in PG-13 movies. Yeah, duh. See, men never lose their interest in wild parties and sexy blondes, alright, we just don’t. They appeal to the same audience. And dude, your kids are already drinking, okay? They’re probably doing drugs and fucking, too.
9. Paris and Stavros broke up! I don’t care... but, as always, I think the excuses celebrities come up with are hilarious. Paris needs more time to promote her perpetually upcoming album? Then why is she now dating Matt Leinert? Because new relationships take less time than established ones? Or is it because Stavros and Lindsay are supposedly together now, and he was fingering her under the table at some club or other? Y’know, allegedly. And did you hear the story about Brett Ratner, and how Lindsay and some model were fighting over him? Yeah, if I was as disrespected as Brett Ratner, I’d probably make up a story like that and plant it in the press, too. Actually, I wouldn’t, because such an unbelievable story would make me look like a total douche bag. Well, that and directing Rush Hour 2 and The Family Man.
10. Speaking of Lindsay, I intimated last week that Nick Lachey was going to end up going out with her. This was based on her comment that the next time she saw Nick, she was going to be "all over him" and "he’s such a dog, he’ll totally be into it." In a recent interview, Nick said "I’m not interested in Lindsay Lohan, and I don’t understand anyone who is." BURN! I may not have much respect for Nick right now, but that was awesome.
11. Alright, um, Time magazine, I see you did a list of the 100 most influential people who are shaping the world. Ang Lee, maybe, but Sean "Dip Shitty" Combs?
12. The final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee is going to air on ABC in June. Oh, come on, just because spelling bees have suddenly become the subject of a shitty movie, a documentary, a book, and a Broadway musical, it doesn’t mean people actually want to watch one. It’s just watching kids spell, dude.
13. Some workers in Hungary were recently drinking a barrel of rum, and when they got to the bottom, they found a pickled corpse. Can you imagine? I want to vomit just thinking about it.
14. Unsurprisingly, Mexico’s President Vicente Fox chose not to sign a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of drugs including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy, peyote, and PCP. The American government started its bitching and moaning about American kids going to Mexico just to get drugs (which is basically what they do now), and scared Fox into reconsidering his intentions. Man, America can’t be satisfied with oppressing its own citizens, can it? Although, I think the war attests to that, doesn’t it? Stupid question, asked and answered.
15. Well, the video of Stephen Colbert roasting the president and the White House Press Corps has mysteriously vanished from anywhere a person could see it, because George W. Bush is a big whiny crybaby bitch. Anyway, I’ve taken down the now non-existent video, but I replaced it with a transcript. Check it out, it’s hilarious.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
One more thing to cheer me up. Like I've said before, I have three loves: the Muppets, Jessica Simpson, and delicious pizza. And in 2004, all of those things came together in one commercial that my mom says totally reminds her of me. Well, when I was a kid I wanted to be Kermit the Frog. And I am in love with Jessica. And pizza sounds really good right now.
Alright, I stole this one from Carl. But I'm in a really shitty mood today with all the crap I have to do for school (last day of the semester today; finals next week!) and when I ran across this it really made me smile. The magic of Christopher Lee meets the musical brilliance of Richard O'Brien in an unjustly forgotten movie called The Return of Captain Invincible.
Good news for those of us who want to see the original, unfettered, unaltered Star Wars trilogy on DVD: it's coming. No, seriously. The original, non-special edition versions of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are hitting DVD on 12 September 2006.
Some caveats, though:
1. These will be released as two-disc DVDs; they will include the original and new versions of the films (though new is a relative term, considering how much the films have changed every single time they've been put on the home video market). They'll be priced at $30 apiece, which means that if you (like me) bought the $70 four-disc Star Wars Trilogy boxed set (with the Empire of Dreams documentary on the fourth disc), you're buying the special editions a second time. Because they're not going to offer the originals separately.
2. These DVDs will only be avaliable from 12 September through 31 December.
3. Since this is all being done begrudginly, there probably won't be any extras on the original versions (in fact, the original versions are being listed as "bonus material" and only have 2.0 sound). They also aren't being digitally restored for DVD; they're being left in the state they were in 1995, which is admittedly good--referring, of course, to the THX certified VHS and Laserdiscs that came out.
Will I buy these movies once again? Because I have the 1992 trilogy boxed set (with the yellow lettering and the nice Drew Struzan boxes), the 1995 THX remaster boxed set (finally in widescreen, I thought at the time), the 1997 Special Edition boxed set (THX widescreen), and the DVD Special Edition boxed set that came out in 2004. That means I have the fucking thing four times over. Ouch. And I don't even consider myself a huge fan of those movies! At least, not since high school. Fuck...
So, yeah, we sort of get what we wanted, even though Lucas is doing it in a rather shitty way. He's just giving us the bare bones. Dick. I'm sure once he makes money off of this, he'll keep putting the things out in better and better packaging every couple years or so.
Anyway, if you're interested and have the time to devote to a full course, there's a comprehensive article here about all of the changes from edition to edition, including the separate ones on home video that weren't, y'know, announced. Which is good, because I thought I was losing my mind as a kid when I saw differences.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
In response to Aaron's comment below, asking what I thought of the new Superman Returns trailer, I looked on the trailer online and then started to write a really long reply. It was so long and full of hatred that I figured, what the hell, I'd just write it out as a post.
The Superman Returns teaser trailer was... well, it sucked, but it was much better than the new trailer. Bryan Singer has taken Marlon Brando, the score, and much of the designs from the 1978 Richard Donner classic, and plugged in apparently pretty non-actors and edited it how he wants. Sorry, but I have yet to see anything that's very original. Granted, it's hard to be original with a nearly 70 year-old character, but if you approach it the right way, it can be. Look at Batman Begins. It wasn't exactly original for anyone who's ever read a Frank Miller comic, but it had never been on film that way before, and that's what made the movie stand out.
Superman Returns is a plagiarism of Richard Donner and, to some extent, Richard Lester's Superman II. Bryan Singer apparently feels that the only thing missing from the 1978 film is his fingerprints all over it. I have not seen a single thing in either trailer that makes me want to see that movie. Granted, the special effects are pretty good, but computer effects are so common today that I'm completely accustomed to them. They aren't exciting unless I care about the characters, and so far, I don't. The only things I respond to in the trailers are the score and the voice of Marlon Brando; things that already exist in a 28 year-old movie that I've seen hundreds of times and never get tired of.
Besides the smug, smarmy tone of the new trailer, I was able to glean more of the story. Alright, so... Superman comes back to Earth after a mysterious absence. How long has he been away, exactly? Because Lois Lane has apparently been married and now has a ten-year-old son (because, you know, the only way male filmmakers can relate to women is as potential wife, mother, or lust object). Um... Lois has a ten year-old boy? Then why cast Kate Bosworth? She's 23, for crying out loud! I mean, she's not remotely pretty, and she's not remotely talented, so what is the fucking point? Brandon Routh, at 27, is a little more realistic as Superman, but he's got the looks of Tom Cruise with none of the personality. Yeah, you read that right. And given how charmless Cruise is, that makes Routh completely hopeless. He may be the right age for Superman (give or take), but he looks so babyish and sounds so reedy. I know it's "just" a comic book movie, but what would be so wrong with this being a movie about adults? Especially since motherhood is apparently a theme, and so is lost love. Ooh, the kids are sad? I don't care!
And Kevin Spacey as Lex? The less said, the better.
Man, what a waste. Warner Brothers sunk $200 million into the world's greatest superhero, and then they hired a hack director, non-actors, Kevin fucking Spacey, and ran with it. The worst part? It'll be a huge hit. And then there'll be a sequel. So enjoy your hollow little piece of crap, fanboys. I've at least got Christopher Reeve on DVD.
A review of the films I've seen this past week.
COED CALL GIRL (1996)
Tori Spelling plays exactly what the title says. ** stars.
MATCH POINT (2005)
It is so amazingly satisfying to see a great Woody Allen film again. Don’t get me wrong, I almost never completely hate a Woody Allen movie (though there have been a couple I despised), but this movie was so excellent. I think it’s easily his best film since 1989's Crimes and Misdemeanors (which has quite a bit in common with this film). As shallow as it sounds, the major reason for the sudden leap in quality is because he’s shifted everything to London instead of New York. Using British and Irish actors instead of American actors helps this film tremendously. It’s not that the British are better actors or anything, it’s that there is a tendency on the part of many American actors to give Allen’s dialogue a very arch delivery; he’s become enough of an institution in America that most actors want to be in his movies, but they tend to try and play a role exactly as he or Diane Keaton would. His films have become repetitious. True, his subjects are usually the same philosophical concepts, which is fine; Scorsese’s made variations on the same theme all of his career, too, and you know what I think of Steven Spielberg. Allen’s films are usually about the random nature of an unordered universe, and heavily criticize the way people lead themselves to unhappiness because they’re wrapped up in existential problems and are too busy using philosophy to rationalize the unexplainable to just relax and be happy. Well, if you can make it interesting every time, who cares if they’re the same? I never had a problem with Sergio Leone ending every film with a standoff, either. If Allen’s films have a problem right now, it’s that his films have become too cute to be believable. That’s why the change to a London setting works; it gives the film a sort of nervous energy, because it’s the first time in decades that you can actually feel like Allen’s trying something new. The film ruminates on luck and how deceptively important it can be in one’s life. The actions follow a former tennis pro played by Jonathan Rhys Myers in perhaps his most intense performance; he becomes friends with a well-off man (Matthew Goode), and finds himself welcomed into an affluent family, and begins dating their daughter (Emily Mortimer, cute as always). But his true passion is for his friend’s girlfriend, played with brass and her usual moxie by Scarlett Johansson. They have a genuine, lustful attraction for one another, which continues on even as he marries Emily Mortimer and his whole life changes. It leads to a climax that is by no means inevitable, but shocking in its detached logic. The last half hour of the film is a jaw-dropper, one of the most amazingly audacious enders I’ve ever seen. Perhaps all of life is just luck. An excellent film, one of Allen’s best, and some of Scarlett Johansson’s best work. She’s so young to be so incredibly talented. **** stars.
THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED (2005)
Surprisingly intense and emotional true story of Francis Ouimet, a young man who emerged from a life of poverty to challenge Harry Vardon, Ted Ray, and John McDermott at the US Open. I don’t care a whole lot about golf (though I have been getting into playing it lately, God help me), but I fell in love with this film. It’s designed for a guy to love; the story focuses on the friendship between Francis (an excellent Shia LeBeouf) and his young caddy, on the class elitism he has to fight to play the game, on the hero worship he feels for Vardon (who becomes his chief rival in the final round), and his desire to be accepted by his father. Stephen Dillane plays Vardon not as a remote hero figure, but as a man who has had to fight for acceptance as well, haunted by memories of the rich men who took his father’s home to put up a golf course. Bill Paxton directed the film with the same surprisingly deep visual acuity he brought to the incredibly underrated Frailty, and actually makes golf look exciting as all hell. I was on the edge of my seat during a game of golf. This is great stuff, beyond Disney’s usual mildly entertaining/half mediocre fare. **** stars.
THE MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN (2005)
Fun little no-budget movie written and directed by, and starring, Bruce Campbell. The biggest surprise is that the film is actually pretty good and fun to watch. It’s nowhere near as good as, say, Bubba Ho-tep or the Evil Dead trilogy, but it’s made with real conviction and not as a toss-off; it never winks at the audience and lets you know it’s a joke. Some good supporting performances, including a very funny (as always) Ted Raimi and Stacy Keach. *** stars.
MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS (2005)
Stephen Frears’s movie manages to be bawdy and proper at the same time; it might be accurately described as Merchant Ivory, but fun. At its core, the movie is very British, telling the story of two upper class people (Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, both wonderful) who open a vaudeville theater in the period between the World Wars. And then they decide to show topless girls, too. So what we have is a movie about proper British society and how it’s effected by tits. And it works! This wonderful movie tells the true story of the Windmill Theatre in London and Mrs. Henderson, the woman who made the decision to show topless women on stage. The film sets it up as a noble endeavor, making a case that people shouldn’t be uncomfortable with the human body. But it’s more than that, too; it’s also the story of Mrs. Henderson and her combative relationship with Vivian Van Damme (Hoskins), who manages the show. And it’s about the entire British national character, how they view sex, how the rich view the poor, and how they responded to the crisis of the Nazis. It is such a joyous, such an emotional movie, I can’t give this anything less than **** stars.
Since the film Mrs. Henderson Presents got me thinking about the British and how much I love their women, especially when they're half or fully nude, here are my 17 favorite British glamour models. Not that I need an excuse to put up more pictures of lovely women, but here you are.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Surprisingly (or stupidly, depending on how you feel about it), there's quite the debate going on at my school, Northern Illinois University, about the pathways and how to access them. It stems from the fact that one of the halls, DuSable, had a turnaround in front of the doorways that was substantially redesigned. Buses and cars used to be able to pull up in front of the building, drop students off or pick them up, and then drive on. For reasons that have never been completely clear to me, this was changed in the fall of 2004. The turnaround is now over 100 feet away from the doors of DuSable (the busiest building in school), and is guarded by this old harpy to keep cars from going into it. In my opinion, this is just the latest in a series of tactics designed to keep students from being able to reach classes conveniently, which has also included the elimination of parking meters, severe time cuts in the meters left, almost no spaces for commuting students outside of one centrally located parking garage, and the general design of walkways that look nice aesthetically, but are functionally unsound.
A staff editorial in the school paper, the Northern Star, appeared on 26 April 2006. The snarky tone tried to make us all feel like assholes for complaining that we have to walk further than we would like to get to our classes. Apparently, the person that wrote this letter doesn't have to walk all over campus carrying every single book he'll need that day strapped onto his back and slowly damaging his spine. Students these days, even in high schools, carry more (and bigger) books than ever. I see seven or eight people a day dragging around luggage with wheels on it because their classes require so much material. I've lucked out recently and been able to carry a small tech bag, but it still weighs me down. My Linguistics text alone ways seven pounds! So, excuse us if we don't want to take the scenic route to class and would rather just get to the building.
The biggest gripe is about the sidewalks. The editorial attempted to scold us for cutting over the grassy hills rather than walking along the winding footpath that talks you to class in a rather roundabout manner. "Over time," the staff writer whines, "the grass was worn down and the turnaround design's aesthetic qualities began to deteriorate." The campus's solution, in the time-honored property-values-are-more-important-than-service manner, was to sneak in under cover of night and weekend, and put in fences and shrubbery to keep us children off the grass. Classy move, there, NIU. That really sends a message about what's important, doesn't it?
There are worn-down paths in the grass all over campus. Some students wonder if this wasn't the first step to obstructing every single one of them. The editorial, for example, delights (in a sarcastic tone, I add) in the fact that austerity has won out over convenience. And I have to agree that the turnaround looks nice, as does the campus in general design. But it's inconvenient to students who are walking all over campus to get to classes with heavy backpacks. Sorry, that's just the case, and whomever designed this mess should have taken that into consideration. Functionality, not prettiness. If there's a shorter way around, we'll take it and that's that. And any number of fences and bushes won't stop us from trampling on the grass if it cuts three minutes off our long walk to the library door, which inconveniently faces the square, instead of the street or even the parking lot that's in back of the building.
A letter writer, Professor Stephen Karlson, asks: "Mightn't the university have saved itself some money in landscape design and bush planting and fence installation by waiting for those paths [worn into the grass] to emerge and then paved those paths as sidewalks? Then, summer and winter alike, people would have the short way around to class, and the groundskeepers would be able to plant trees where they'd be useful for decoration or shade rather than as roadblocks."
Well, at least the professors are using their heads.
Still taking stock, making indexes, etc. Anyway, these proved to be pretty popular, so I thought I'd gather them all onto one post. I recorded these things while working for Hollywood Video in 2001. They may sound like a low-rent Clerks, but my friend Carl calls them an early 21st century version of Waiting for Godot, so let's go with that one. Any of you who are currently working in retail... sorry, man.
Plus: My Gay Pick-Up: A Tale from the Video Store
Posted by SamuraiFrog at 11:48 AM
Monday, May 01, 2006
Just look at these pictures in the light of Denise Richards's allegations that Charlie Sheen may or may not be a pedophile. Maybe this was the wrong time for him to decide that it was time to release a line of children's clothing. And to pose with a bunch of kids while announcing it. And to look so manic and creepy in the pictures.
Look at this picture, man. Either he's really happy to be there, or his overly complex deathtrap has gelled together beautifully and he's finally about to kill Batman.
As Skull might say, Creeeeeeepy...
Nancy Kerrigan, Anna Kournikova, Danica Patrick
Why is it that the male-driven media loves to reward women in sports with publicity, fame, attention, and endorsements, even if they never win anything? Hmm, could there be a reason why that is? Let me think for half a second...
When I was 15 years old, Nancy Kerrigan broke her leg or something. And everyone felt bad for her, no matter how many times we had to endure the rather irritating footage of her crying "why? why?" on the news and got really fucking irritated by it. Then she came in second, got a parade, told Mickey Mouse to go fuck himself, and got her endorsement deals. Because she got attacked and hurt. Not because she accomplished anything.
Refresh my memory, how is Anna Kournikova's tennis career going? Does she still even have one? She used to finish consistently outside of the top ten. And yet, she's appeared on more covers of Sports Illustrated than any other woman. Because she's sexy, not because she accomplished anything. Oh, and because she's white. I mean, Venus and Serena are actually good at tennis, but, you know, they don't appear out there quite so much. At least, there's not as much photographic evidence for it. Hey, maybe when Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Pam Shriver, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, and Helena Sukova were playing the game, tennis just wasn't very popular. At least Maria Sharapova wins a title every now and then.
And now there's Danica Patrick, fourth place in the Indy 500, beloved by people who think making 500 left turns is a sport. And she's got her endorsement deals and magazine covers, and the usual men's rag pictures wearing barely any clothing that makes me want to take her seriously as an, um, "athlete." Whatever.
I just hope women realize that the accomplishments of a hot female athlete aren't really important to most men. We get turned on, oddly enough, by watching a chick do typical guy stuff. And we look at Danica Patrick and think, isn't that cute, a girl playing racecar driver. Yeah, it sucks, and we're not all like that. Personally, I didn't inherit the prejudice that says a girl can't achieve anything on her own, so I don't marvel at female athletes just because they're female. In my book, they have to accomplish something. And many have, if you remember them. They just haven't been in Maxim. And they haven't been on cover after cover of Sports Illustrated very often, either.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Well, it's that time of year again, when I start looking through the catalog of releases with the anticipation of a seven year-old who really, really wants to get those He-Man figures for Christmas. But this summer, looks... well, worse than ever. Seriously, there's a lot of crap coming out this year. And, since I'm a glutton for punishment, I've combed through it.
An American Haunting: I hate, hate, HATE ghost movies. They’re only good one out of 40 times, and the plot is always exactly the same. That said, I might see this one on video, because it has Rachel Hurd-Wood in it, and she was so good in Peter Pan that I’d like to see what else she can do. Otherwise, I can ignore this one.
Art School Confidential: I loved Ghost World, so I’m interested to see another collaboration between Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes. The preview’s pretty terrible, though.
Down in the Valley: Ed Norton stars as some kind of cowboy in a movie even he can’t explain the plot of. I like Evan Rachel Wood, but here’s Norton describing the film: "We wanted to look at Westerns in a way that people our own age would connect with because it portrayed a world they would recognize...in the same way that Fight Club made some people go ‘This is for us.’" Whoa, still awake there? Yeah, if you can’t just tell me the plot, this one’s probably not for me, Norton. Norton!
Hoot: Even for a movie about spunky kids fighting for environmental rights, this looks lame.
Mission: Impossible III: Even if Tom Cruise hadn’t gone insane and even if he wasn’t the worst actor in the history of movies, I still wouldn’t care. My ass still hurts from Mission: Impossible 2.
One Last Thing: A comedy about a dying boy who wants to meet a supermodel. Tell me who plays the model and we might have a deal a year from now when nothing else is on any of the other Encore channels.
The Promise: A fantasy epic from Chen Kaige, the director of Farewell My Concubine. It’s being sold on one of those "this made more money in China than Harry Potter" campaigns, but how good can it be if it’s coming out on Friday and I’m just hearing of it now?
The Proposition: This got excellent reviews in Britain; an Australian Western written by Nick Cave. See, that alone makes me overlook the shitty cast (Guy Pearce, Emily Watson) and want to see it.
Dead Man’s Shoes: Another of those British crime flicks we can blame Lock, Stock for.
Giuliani Time: A documentary purporting to be about what "America’s Mayor" was doing before 9/11 rewrote his political history. Good. Remember when everyone hated his ass? And just because he’s mayor during a crisis, they somehow mythologize him into something great? Can’t wait for this one.
Goal! The Dream Begins: I’m really sick of soccer movies. Really sick.
Just My Luck: No; even though I know I’ll watch it on cable, I’m done with Lindsay Lohan. The previews look terrible. And Linz as a New York professional? Please. Funnily enough, Just My Luck is the name of an Irish bar I know on the south side of Chicago. I’d much rather go there than sit through this.
Keeping Up with the Steins: Oh, great; you mean Garry Marshall’s son needs to direct unfunny movies, too?
Lady Vengeance: Great previews, but mixed reviews.
Land of the Blind: I don’t know what it’s about, but it has Ralph Fiennes, so I’m sure I’ll see it in eight years or so. I always get to them eventually.
Poseidon: Please, America, make the right choice for once. Realize that Emmy Rossum and Josh Lucas suck, that Wolfgang Petersen directed Troy, and that this movie is going to suck seventy kinds of ass. Don’t go, for Christ’s sake, just stay home or something. Fuck, you can even go see the Lindsay Lohan movie, just please don’t make this shit a hit.
Russian Dolls: Something French that’s a sequel to something French. Don’t know anything about it.
Sketches of Frank Gehry: Maybe... I’m not into architecture.
Wah-Wah: Richard E. Grant’s writing-directing debut. Could be good, I think.
Forgiving Dr. Mengele: A Holocaust documentary, but this one about a woman who apparently tries to let go and move on. Sounds interesting.
The Da Vinci Code: Please, what am I, a complete moron?
The King: Gael Garcia Bernal is Spanish for "Samurai Frog’s stayin’ home."
Over the Hedge: Of all the labored CGI comedies coming out this year (and there are a thousand of them), this and Open Season are the only ones that look like they might be funny. This is DreamWorks, so it has that going against it, but it’s based on a comic strip I sorta enjoy. It looks like it could be funny instead of just full of pop culture references.
See No Evil: Horror flick I know nothing about.
Twelve and Holding: Angsty teen flick I know nothing about.
An Inconvenient Truth: Al Gore gets all smug and tries to convince us that Manbearpig--er, global warming--is real. Should be real interesting to see how he pulls it off. It’s not that I don’t believe global warming is occurring, it’s just that I’m not sure I believe we’re doing it to the planet. I think the planet is doing it to us. Earth is not a constant; it’s always changed.
X-Men: The Last Stand: This is going to be bad, isn’t it? I mean, the other two weren’t exactly great movies, and they’ve added at least five new characters into the mix, and they never have time to focus on everyone, and it’s going to have at least seven endings and Brett fucking Ratner "directed" the goddamn thing. But that preview! Damn you, Twentieth Century Fox! You’ve sold me on crap again! Damn you all to hell!
Coastlines: It’s by Victor Nunez, and I really liked that Ashley Judd movie he made so long ago that I can’t even remember the name of it. Um... the one with Dorothy Lyman. Man, what was that called?
The Break-Up: If I actually pay money to see a movie Jennifer Aniston is in, you have my permission to hit me with a bus.
District B13: Skiffy flick I know nothing about.
Peaceful Warrior: Nick Nolte takes an athlete on an inner journey of healing. Sound scary to you, too?
Puffy Chair: Whatever.
The War Tapes: A documentary I can’t seem to find any information on.
The Omen: Oh, how cute. It’s the sixth movie, and it comes out on 6/6/06. Except it’s supposedly more of a remake (it’s original title was something like The Omen: The Beginning). Whatever. Religious thrillers suck without fail. And Julia Stiles as an adult? Not buying it.
Agnes and His Brothers: Something German.
Cars: Dude, I love Pixar, but this one looks like shit. NASCAR? Owen Wilson? Small town mythologizing? Larry the Cable Guy? Yeah, you know what, I’m not going to see this. This movie looks more like a shitty Disney movie than a Pixar film. Michael Eisner should be thrilled; looks like Pixar’s streak is over.
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul: Yeah, one title’s never enough, is it? Is this really about a guy compiling an eclectic mixtape? Sounds like crap.
Lies and Alibis: Whatever. Steve Coogan’s in it, but what the hell is it?
Only Human: A comedy about international affairs? Huh?
A Prairie Home Companion: I always want to see Robert Altman movies, but I almost never like them when I do. I just wonder why people love this guy so much. This looks like more of the same thing he always makes, frankly. And I know Lindsay Lohan died her hair blonde for this, but why does it look like a wig in the actual movie?
Shadowboxer: Love you, Helen Mirren, but the day I see another Cuba Gooding Jr. flick is the day I take a wire-cutter and de-glove my own toes.
The Heart of the Game: Documentary about girls’ basketball. I’m not interested in mens’ basketball, so there’s probably no chance of me seeing this one. Terribly generic title, too.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: I normally don’t like to make blanket generalizations like this, but if you go see it, you’re a fucking idiot.
Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties: I’ll probably go see this, though, so who’s a fucking idiot now?
The Lake House: Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in a movie where they have to say stuff and act like adults? Fuck, it sounds horrible! Thanks, I’d rather shoot my own thighs with a nail gun.
Loverboy: Kevin Bacon directed it. I don’t care.
Nacho Libre: It looks hilarious to me; I’ll see almost anything with Jack Black (unless Ben Stiller has a sizable role in it, that is). My sister saw this preview and asked me: "What has happened to American movies?" Of course, she saw the preview before The Benchwarmers, so I’m not sure she’s qualified to judge.
Wordplay: A documentary about crossword puzzles? You know, that sounds better than 90% of the movies coming out this summer.
Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man: A documentary about Cohen sounds great. A tribute to Cohen... well, it sounds interesting, but I’m a little wary. Bet you a thousand dollars U2 is there... they always are.
Click: You know that horrible sinking feeling you get after you eat a bunch of burritos and you realize your food is shooting through your colon with the force of a bullet train and you know you’re going to spend a long, painful, hot, sweaty night on the toilet? Yeah, even that’s preferable to watching an Adam Sandler movie.
The Great New Wonderful: The title’s so lazy, I don’t even care what the movie’s about.
The Road to Guantanamo: I’m interested.
Waist Deep: The previews are hilariously awful.
Wassup Rockers: Look, I appreciate that Larry Clark likes to watch teenagers fuck. I mean, who doesn’t love to watch teenagers fuck? But, at his age, he might want to consider finding a new subject for his films. Because you can only do so many variations on teenagers-with-empty-live-doing-a-lot-of-fucking. I didn’t think it was possible, but it’s gotten old.
The Motel: Something about a slacker or something.
Strangers with Candy: Amy Sedaris makes me want to jam poisoned bamboo shoots into my brain. I’d go see it, but I have a feeling it would simply melt my Broca’s area.
Who Killed the Electric Car?: Was it you? Another documentary that sounds like it could be worth the time to watch it.
The Devil Wears Prada: I am always in line to see an Anne Hathaway movie. I just hope it’s good. I never read the book, so I don’t know what to expect.
Superman Returns: Pass. The trailer shows me nothing but Bryan Singer plagiarizing one of my favorite movies, and I don’t need to pay to see that. The casting is all boring, too. I’m sure I’ll see it on video, but until then, I don’t give a shit.
Little Man: Just when I thought the Wayans Brothers couldn’t come up with anything more unpleasant to look at than White Chicks, they put Marlon’s head on a baby. The preview made me wish I was dead.
Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos: I can’t find anything about it, but there’s so much hyperbole in the title, it must really suck.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: I still think it would be really great if Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were dead, but I am so there. I just hope the first one’s being good wasn’t to lure me in for a dire anal raping on this one.
A Scanner Darkly: Richard Linklater traces another film on his computer and fools himself into thinking it’s animation. Sorry, there’s no room in my life for yet another bad adaptation of Philip K. Dick.
Pathfinder: Yeah, it stars Karl Urban and its made by a music video director and it should look sucky, but it’s Indians fighting Vikings! How could I not want to see that come off?
Pulse: Looks like utter shite. Yet another weird horror movie that’s going to be bad as hell.
You, Me and Dupree: I don’t know that I believe Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon as a couple (can someone please tell Matt Dillon he’s 42 and not 29?), but I do believe Owen Wilson as someone extremely irritating. Still, why bother?
The House of Adam: It’s a gay movie, but that’s all I know. Plot, please?
Lady in the Water: After The Village, M. Night Sham-amalan is going to have to work hard to convince me to go back to the movies. And casting Paul Giamatti as an everyman-shlub named Cleveland Heep, calling your movie "a bedtime story," and trading on mystery after the twist in The Village proved to be weaker than donkey piss, is not the way to do it. Sorry, I’m staying home this time. And I still think The Sixth Sense is a boring piece of shit whose twist I figured out from the commercials.
Monster House: Another CGI kiddie movie that looks tiresome.
My Super Ex-Girlfriend: I like the premise of it, and I like Uma, but Ivan Reitman hasn’t made anything funny in 22 years.
The U.S. vs. John Lennon: Another documentary, and again it sounds more interesting than anything else coming out around it.
Barnyard: Yet another CGI kiddie movie. The previews are so wretched my skin started to flake off while watching them.
The Bridesmaid: Claude Chabrol directed it? Now we’re talking.
Brothers of the Head: An adaptation of a Brian Aldiss novel... will there actually be a good science fiction movie out for once? Please? Because this one could be good.
House of Sand: Meh.
I Could Never Be Your Woman: Fuck, give me a break! A comedy-romance about an older woman and a younger man? Already, I’m bored. The older woman is Michelle Pfeiffer (alright), and the younger man is... Paul Rudd? Dude, that’s a difference of 12 years. She’s 49, and he’s 37. When you’re that old, does it really matter? I mean, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Radcliffe is an age difference. Give me fucking break here. The last thing I need is more whiny shit about how women are too uptight to ever be happy for a fucking second.
John Tucker Must Die: And I must not see a movie where I’m supposed to believe the kid from Swimfan could get a black chick to go out with him. Although, Becca does ask whether Ashanti can really be considered a black chick. Hey, take it up with Becca.
Little Miss Sunshine: Normally, I stay away from movies with the words "Sundance favorite" attached to them, but this one sounds kinda cute.
Miami Vice: Not even if you paid me would I subject myself to more of Colin Farrell. He’s like Popeye without any of the manliness.
Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss: Because what Shakespeare was missing was CGI seals and a happy ending...
The Ant Bully: More CGI, more bullshit. Seriously, this looks awful.
Heading South: I can’t find any information on this one.
The Science of Sleep: There’s that Gael Garcia Bernal again, making it impossible for me to look at it.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Will Ferrell, makers of Anchorman; I’ll be there.
The Descent: I’ve heard really good things about this British horror movie, but the last time I heard really good things about a foreign horror movie, it turned out to be Wolf Creek.
Lunacy: It claims to meld the works of Poe and de Sade. Okay, I’m listening.
World Trade Center: No, for the same reason I’m not going to see United 93.
Accepted: A bunch of young nerds and blahdy blahdy blah and bloobity bloo blee blee.
Conversations with Other Women: I couldn't find anything about it. If they changed the title to Conversations with OLDER Women and it starred me and Lynda Carter, that would be another story. Becuase I have something I want to talk to her about.
Half Nelson: Ryan Gosling as a teacher? It is for me to laugh at.
The Ordeal: Oh, good, another torture movie.
The Reaping: I don’t think we need any. I don’t know, I like Hilary Swank, but this sounds pretty fucking stupid.
Zoom: I’m interested, but I need to see some previews. I liked the two issues of the comic that were produced, then hastily abandoned as soon as the creator got a movie deal. And I like Tim Allen. You know, occasionally.
Clerks II: Yeah, I’m in. Damn you, Kevin Smith.
Factotum: Matt Dillon? Charles Bukowski? Oh, look, my body went into a coma to protect itself and my ghost is actually writing this post.
The Illusionist: About a magician whom a prince tries to debunk in 1900 Vienna. The cast is a nightmare, but it could either be a surprisingly cool movie or a big, steaming load.
The Night Listener: Even though it stars Robin Williams, and even though it’s based on an Armistead Maupin novel, it actually sounds like it could be really, really interesting.
Snakes on a Plane: I’m sorry, it’s just so fucking asinine. Asinine!
Trust the Man: Julianne Moore and David Duchovny and... sorry, I’m still in that coma, so I can’t be arsed.
Beerfest: From Broken Lizard comes another of their big pieces of crappy crap.
DOA: Dead or Alive: Based on a video game? And with Jaime Pressly’s track record? Thanks, I’ll just watch Poison Ivy 3 again. And I will, too, even if it does have creepy Michael des Barres in it.
How to Eat Fried Worms: I remember reading this as a child, I just can’t remember what it’s about.
Idlewild: The prohibition musical with OutKast in it. Strangely, I find myself hoping it’s good. I still don’t know if that means I’m going to go, though...
Invincible: Marky Mark plays football. Pass. No, I mean I’m not going to see this movie.
Material Girls: The new movie from the sisters Duff sounds a lot like Just My Luck. And I notice that the studio isn’t exactly pushing it. But I’m sure I’ll see it on video.
So, that makes 11 movies I'm willing to think about seeing in the theater, and I'm not really expecting any of them to be incredibly great, and I'll probanly only end up seeing 7 of them, anyway. There are also 7 movies I want to see, but which I'll probably have to wait for video on, because they're documentaries and movies that probably won't get big releases. Great, what a fun fucking summer this is going to be at the movies... It's even worse than last summer, which wasn't all that good, anyway.