Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Would've Killed To See This When I Was 10

Two things I've always loved--Slave Girl Leia and 1980s Molly Ringwald.

Yo, Joe! Episode 26

The Gamesmaster

This is one of the most effed up episodes of an eighties cartoon. Which means, of course, it's awesome, so let's get right into it.

This is the Gamesmaster, one of the few villains we'll ever meet on G.I. Joe who has nothing to do with Cobra. He's playing this holographic robot fight game you see above the title, with models that look like Optimus Prime and Shockwave. And this is his opponent, Koko.

As you can see, this episode is already the stuff of groovy nightmares.

Well, the Gamesmaster is suffering from ennui, and decides that what he needs to relieve his boredom is a good old-fashioned death game. The kind played by rich counts with way too much money. Apparently, writer Flint Dille had seen The Most Dangerous Game. But instead of hunting his prisoners himself, he's going to use a lot of high-tech toys.

But first, the prisoners.

The first player the Gamesmaster captures is Flint, who spends the entire episode in this ridiculous sweater vest/polo shirt combo with clashing fatass Dockers (at least they look that way; they remind me of George Carlin's assertion that white people only invented Dockers to hide their fat asses). And he's still wearing the beret. God, I hope he washes that thing out sometimes. Why is he even wearing it when he's not on duty. What a dillhole. Anyway, he's apparently just come back from golfing in a Max Fleischer cartoon and gets trapped in his parking garage elevator and flown away by helicopter.

Second player: Lady Jaye. She's off shopping because, as the Gamesmaster conveniently (and condescendingly) tells us, "Clothes are like candy to her." Wow. I mean, I don't like Lady Jaye, but come on, dude. What year do you think this is? 1934? Though Lady Jaye is captured in the changing room after she's stripped down to her slip, when we see her again she'll be fully dressed. Maybe she changed on the way.

Third player: the Baroness. Unlike Lady Jaye, she'll be appearing throughout this entire episode in her bikini. Which is one of the reasons it's so awesome. She's captured at the spa by the hot tub; it just covers her up and walks away. I'd love to see the Gamesmaster's planning notes for this one. Does he just have these things in place in case he gets super-bored and needs some players? He's got mechanized traps all over the place. And how does he know so much about these particular targets? I mean, he moves right in and kidnaps two Joes and the Baroness? Someone is doing a shitty job of keeping their intelligence top secret.

Oh, and the fourth player is Cobra Commander. He simply falls through a trap door that is right in front of one of his snake thrones and is replaced with this dummy. Seriously? What, did the Gamesmaster tap a Cobra security officer on the right shoulder and then pass on his left while he was looking at nothing for three minutes? I mean, the Commander was actually reviewing a procession of troops while this was happening! And Destro was standing right there!!

Remind me, did Flint Dille used to write for Marvel Comics? Because the Gamesmaster is like Arcade mixed with Mojo.

Back at Joe HQ, Gung Ho, Duke and Scarlett notice that Flint and Lady Jaye are missing and assume that Cobra must be involved. Destro and Zartan, meanwhile, assume Cobra Commander and the Baroness have been taken prisoner by G.I. Joe (although Zartan briefly accuses Destro of mounting a coup, which probably wouldn't be too hard--I mean, he's Destro).

Well, our four players awaken on an island in giant cribs, which is only the first hint they have of the Prisoner-like weirdness in store for them. After they've all climbed out, the Gamesmaster starts talking to them over the PA and welcomes them to his "very simple game, where the winner is the one who finds the helicopter on the island and flies away."

Flint: "And what happens to losers?"

The Gamesmaster: "They die." (Followed by a lot of creepy, creepy giggling.)

Did I mention that the Baroness is in a bikini this whole time? Because it's awesome.

The game begins immediately as life-sized toy soldiers run into the room and start firing real ammo at everyone. The four escape through a window and down a hill.

Cobra Commander fails to stick the landing.

The Joes and Cobras decide to go their separate ways, while in the outside world, Ace crashes his plane (surprise!) and gets captured by Destro.

Well, Flint and Lady Jaye are having some kind of romantic stroll and figure out that all of the shrubbery is made of candy and marshmallows. She and her horrifically off-model boyfriend stop to smell a bonbon berry bush, and suddenly the Baroness comes in with a giant candy cane and uses it as a hook to pull her into a pond of caramel.

As Lady Jaye starts to sink, Cobra Commander rushes Flint, but Flint sends him right into the drink--er, caramel--and the Baroness attacks. And suddenly, it becomes Flint's best leave ever.

I need a cigarette.

Now, at this point, if I were Flint, I'd help the Baroness to her feet and just walk off and leave the Commander and Not-Scarlett behind, but that's me. I don't have an educational consultant or a good example to set. While the Commander corrects Lady Jaye--it's butterscotch, not caramel--Flint and the Baroness decide to stop and rescue them. To make it fair, Flint fishes out the Commander while the Baroness pulls Lady Jaye to shore.

While this is happening, a Joe team makes a strike on a Cobra base and captures Zartan. So now the Joes have a prisoner, and so does Cobra.

Back on the island, the Gamesmaster tells Koko the next part of the game will be "a real ho ho." Um, I'd start looking around the island for hidden naked slave boys right now. I'm getting a real pervo-vibe off of this guy. This is practically Neverland Ranch here. Meanwhile, the players are arguing over who should take the helicopter out. Flint offers to go get help, but the Commander doesn't trust him. The Commander makes the same offer, but even the Baroness scoffs at that. Seeds of discord: the Baroness claims to be on no one's side but her own.

Did I mention the Baroness is in a bikini this whole time? Because it's awesome.

And then a big robot dragon starts chasing them and breathing fire at them. Sure, why not?

Flint stops to save Cobra Commander's life, but the dragon picks up Flint and drops him from a great height. Mechanical pallbearers lift Flint into a casket and carry him away while a plane flies overhead bearing the banner "One down, three to go."

Meanwhile, it's taking way too long for Duke and Destro to get on the same page, but at least they finally do. Oh, and of course, Flint's not dead. (Which, I guess, is a good thing.)

Then Cobra Commander, the Baroness, and Lady Jaye find the helicopter, and a fight erupts over who will fly it out and who will stay behind. There's a nice little catfight that develops while the Commander tries to slink away.

And then the Gamesmaster destroys the helicopter by driving a giant lawn mower over it.

Yes, this happens.


Then Flint gets into the control room and confronts the Gamesmaster face to face. Turns out the Gamesmaster has a little Kingpin in him, too. Look how huge he is! There's a brief fight where Flint gets knocked around, but Koko gets killed when the Gamesmaster falls on him.

Turns out Koko is also a robot.

Yeah... way to keep the tiny shred of dignity you had, there, Gamesmaster.

Flint stops the lawn mower in its tracks, but the Gamesmaster escapes. A combined force of G.I. Joe and Cobra arrives and the island's defense mechanisms activate. They work very well together, even appreciating each others' skills, and everyone is rescued.

Yeah, it's been that kind of day, man.

Cobra Commander mentions that if they combined forces they would be unstoppable, but of course, it's never going to be. Flint offers to leave the island first.

Commander: “Oh, very clever, Flint. How considerate of you. You’ll take off then circle back and destroy our planes on the ground.”

Flint: “Then, you go first.”

Commander: “And turn our backs to you? How stupid do you think I am?”

Did I mention the Baroness is wearing a bikini this whole time? Because it's awesome. This whole episode was freaking awesome. Puts Cobra Commander's Funhouse to shame.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Playlist

Now that my 500 Faves list of songs is all wrapped up, the Friday Playlist resumes. Let's hit the shuffle on the iTunes and see what 10 songs come out.

1. Scott Walker: Rhymes of Goodbye
2. Madness: Tarzan’s Nuts
3. The Animals: Baby Let Me Take You Home
4. The Decemberists: The Legionnaire’s Lament
5. Monty Python: Henry Kissinger
6. Salt-N-Pepa: Push It
7. The Jackson 5: ABC
8. Deep Purple: Hush
9. Mountain: Mississippi Queen
10. Guns ‘n’ Roses: Don’t Cry [Original]

1. Wow, what a song to start with. Saddening stuff, as effective as any country song at bumming you out. Good stuff for today, I guess, since it's so gloomy and cold and rainy here. Summer really feels over.
2. Fantastic ska workout from Madness' epic first album, One Step Beyond.
3. As the autumn moves in, it puts me in the mood for British Invasion-era rock. It was always all over my Walkman in high school.
4. I dig the Decemberists, but I'm just not in the mood for this kind of indie folk pop today.
5. One of the first Monty Python songs I ever heard, and one of my favorites. "You're the doctor of my dreams..."
6. there's a flashback. I want to say I was 11 or 12 when this hit the radio, and sounded a lot different from the other music I heard on the limited selection of Top 40 radio I tended to hear. Nothing against this song (or the group; this song isn't on it, but their album Black's Magic is great), but this was the beginning of the decline of music in my life. It lasted from the late eighties when music got all weird to the mid-nineties when everyone got over the grunge shit.
7. I've never once been sick of this song. It just makes me feel so good. Plus, thanks to Clerks II, I will always associate this with a dancing Rosario Dawson.
8. Love this song. My favorite by Deep Purple.
9. You know who really loves this kind of hillbilly and redneck hard rock? Becca. My wife really loves this kind of music. I don't dig it as much, but she loves anything that sounds like it belongs on a soundtrack for a movie about moonshiners, truckers, or race car drivers. And she loves those kinds of movies, too.
10. I haven't heard this song in a really, really long time. Still holds up. I was going to say it worked on a gloomy day like today, but the sun's actually coming out right now. So that's not bad, either.

Random Thoughts

Perhaps inevitably, we have the morons who think Michael Jackson faked his death and is still alive out there. Which is kind of a sad fantasy to have, because if it were true, it would mean that Michael Jackson didn’t give a shit about his own children. Yours maybe, but not his. What kind of heroic character abandons his children?

Sorry, the mourning period is long over. You people are just idiots.

:: Good news: robocalls got banned! Bad news: only for telemarketers. Debt collectors and politicians can keep using them, so the ban seems a tad on the useless side.

:: People need to stop pointing out that Quentin Tarantino “stole” the title Inglorious Bastards from a 1978 B-movie. Because despite the title of Tarantino’s movie being bandied about for the last 12 years, no one really gave a shit about the earlier movie until a few months ago when it gave them something else to be oh-so-indignant with Quentin Tarantino about. It’s fucking silly the lengths people will go to with their lame Tarantino hate. I get it. You don’t like him. Stop talking about him then. Your obsession with hating him is looking awfully... passionate.

:: I can’t take girls who say “vajayjay” or guys who say “chesticles” seriously. You say those things, and all I can hear is a mental six year-old with a crippling sexual dysfunction who still needs to substitute cutesy words for body parts because sex embarrasses them and makes them giggle nervously. Grow up!

:: I don’t feel bad “stealing” pictures from Cute Overload and posting them on TumblFrog, because they never publish any pictures of my bunny when I send them in. You’re telling me my bunny isn’t cute?

:: Quickest way to get me not to care about something: ask “Isn’t so-and-so a little too fill-in-the-blank-here for kids?” What the fuck do I care? What the fuck do you think kids see?

:: A note to both of my parents: if you don’t stop sending me your superstitious chain emails, I will start sending all of your emails directly to my spam folder.

:: I don’t know why I have to keep pointing this out, but if you wear sunglasses indoors, especially at night, and you’re not blind, you’re automatically a douche.

:: Terry Gilliam said in an interview that he wants to work at Pixar so badly he’d just sweep the floors if that’s all they had. I’d love to see Terry get work at Pixar. I’d love for some American studio to stop dicking him around and let the man work. He’s been so stifled for decades, and any good work he’s done is in spite of a system that doesn’t want to include him, but wants to rip him off as often as possible. Considering the sheer number of films that have come out in the past 15 years bearing his look and his style, you’d think they could do something for this man as thanks.

:: When it comes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I really don’t see the big fucking deal. It’s like someone decided he’s the natural heir to Heath Ledger when, so far, I don’t see that being even close. (Same goes for Emily Blunt; she’s okay, but what the hell?)

:: The Chinese are developing solar batteries while we’re dicking around on energy reform. Another win for America; we’ll just import our solar batteries from China and not have any work for anyone to do. I love how the jerkoffs in corporate think they can sustain an economy without creating any jobs.

:: I wish local news outlets would stop trotting out the barely-still-living “original” Munchkins (why are they always described as “original”) from MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. It’s just become a very, very sad experience.

:: Hey, are you prepared for your insurance premiums to go up 6.2 percent a year? This is the most informative post I’ve seen yet about why we need a public health finance option.

:: I just wanted to make a brief mention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s recent decision to open the clergy and lay professional rosters to gay and lesbian Lutherans. Their social statement recognized that all kinds of families exist (and that no one “type” of family is better or more important than any other) and reasserted their stance against discrimination of any kind for any reason. I was raised in the ELCA church, so it’s nice to see them finally come to a decision to be inclusive and respectful, instead of discriminatory. I don’t follow religion anymore, but what makes me happy about this is that the ELCA is generally a Midwestern church organization and, much like the response (or lack of) to the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, it shows that the acceptance of GLBTs is gaining major footholds in the supposedly traditional heartland. Granted, there are some people who are going to be hateful pricks about it, but it’s nice to see more people just getting over it and accepting it.

Cue dipshit wingnut response here.

I'll Just Stay Out of the Woods, Then

What are your chances of surviving an intense lovemaking session with bigfoot?

Created by The Oatmeal

How long could you survive after punching a bear in the balls?

Created by The Oatmeal

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Don't Drive Home from the Cantina Drunk

As a follow-up to yesterday's Star Wars anti-smoking PSA, here's a Star Wars anti-drunk driving PSA from 1977. There's just something kind of sad about that poor, drunk Talz. (Once again, via The Retroist.)

Pop Culture Audit

I'm ganking this from Cal because I can't resist a movie questionnaire. Seemed like something to do at the end of the summer.

1. What has been your biggest pleasant surprise of the last three months? (This takes you, so you don't have to do math, back to late May.)

Definitely the second season of True Blood. I thought the first season was pretty interesting at first and ended with so much stupidity that I couldn't stand it. I sat down with the second season because there was nothing else on, and it's been awesome.

2. What has been the rudest surprise of the last three months?

The way feminism has changed so that any time you call Katherine Heigl on being an ungrateful witch, women jump out of the woodwork to support her and apologize away her shitty behavior, while none of those people are out defending Kelly Clarkson. Seriously? Heigl has never sacrificed a damn thing and simply whined about everything that she's been lucky enough to get--viable movie stardom, a hit TV series, lots of unwarranted attention, her wedding pictures in a magazine, producers moving heaven and earth to make her schedule easier--and never had to sacrifice a damn thing to get what she wants. And she's a total ingrate about it, even though she could frankly just as easily be known as that chick in the Disney incest comedy My Father, the Hero. Meanwhile, Kelly Clarkson is being ONCE AGAIN punished by her record label for going public with something they didn't want her to (that the guy who wrote her new single also wrote Beyonce's "Halo" and they sound exactly the same). So now she may not get to go on tour because her label is threatening to pull the plug on all promotion because she isn't playing ball.

So, I don't know, it seems like defending a woman for having her career threatened by not shutting up and doing what she's told seems more noble than whining that some little ingrate who seems to despise people in all forms had a bad day.

3. What are you most looking forward to between now and New Year's?

Gosh, lots of stuff. I still need to see Ponyo. Where the Wild Things Are. Sherlock Holmes. The inevitable hilarity of all of the hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans getting all pissed off over Sherlock Holmes. The return of How I Met Your Mother and The Office. The new season of The Venture Bros.

4. What are you dreading most between now and New Year's?

Dreading? Not much. I can ignore a lot of shit.

5. If, at this moment, you could only watch television between now and December 31, or you could only see movies between now and December 31, which would you choose if you knew you couldn't go back later and catch up on what you missed?

TV. It wasn't that long ago when I didn't enjoy any show on TV. Now there are several, and I don't want to miss any of them.

6. If you could press one book you have read this year into the hands of ten strangers when they were trapped during a blackout with nothing to do but read, what would you give them?

Thank you, Calvin, for not doing that awful, arrogant thing that people do to make themselves look oh-so-clever: "Well, I HOPE it's during the DAY, ma-ha, ma-ha, I'm so smart, little clap for me, ma-ha, ma-HEM."

Anyway, I haven't talked about it yet, but I just finished I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle and adored it. I thought the Planet Hulk trade was the best adventure of the Hulk in, let's see, probably the entire time I've been reading comic books (so, the best story of the last 24 years). All-Star Superman was also one of the greatest comic series I've ever read in my life.

I loved Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis and Neil Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, which I think could be enjoyed by anyone even without a special interest in both things. Fight Club was one of the best books I've ever read.

7. What are you currently trying to like and finding it difficult to like?

Well, obviously I'd have to say Twilight. Dear God, don't ever read this book.

8. If you could guarantee that five people -- actors, writers, directors, whoever -- would have their calendars filled with funded projects for the next five years, to whom would you grant full employment?

Terry Gilliam. Harlan Ellison. Rob Thomas (and I specifically mean that Veronica Mars movie). Anyone who has anything to do with making more Muppet projects. And Kat Dennings, because she should be in everything.

9. What do you love in spite of being outside the target demographic? (Example: "I am a nineteen-year-old dude and I loved The Proposal.")

I don't honestly think that way; like I said on a recent post, good is good. I guess some of the kids I've worked with have found it weird that I watch the Disney Channel and listen to Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and the Jonas Brothers, but I don't really care what kids find weird.

10. If you could personally wave your wand and stop one trend -- toy movies, remakes, crime procedural -- what would be your target?

Anything having to do with Twilight. It's just not for well-adjusted people.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TV Report: Everyone Wishes Robert Were Dead

Watching Hell's Kitchen was a little disheartening last night. And it wasn't because Robert went home. I mean, that sucks, but based on his performance in last night's service, let's face it, he was the obvious choice to make, and Gordon Ramsey made it for the right reason.

What bothered me was that, after the guys managed to work as a team together for a change, they were instantly upset that Robert came back from the emergency room. Like, oh no, he's not dead, what a fucking bummer. As if everyone was a cohesive unit before this, and then one of their teammates not dying is what's going to lose them all the competition. Bitch, please.

You've got a guy with a broken hand and a guy who sprained his ankles on the same day, and they're still there, fighting with everything they have to win. But when Robert comes back from the hospital, it's not a triumph?

This is what I've talked about too many times: when you're fat, people don't treat you like a person, generally. They treat you like you're fat. It's not like being handicapped or in an accident or something; they treat you like being fat is your fault (and newsflash: it's isn't always) because you have a weak character.

I'm sick of seeing it on TV. Especially from a douchebag like Andy. You know, I was really working hard to give that guy the benefit of the doubt, even after his cowardly move last week (and everyone jumped on that too quickly--would Kevin have been so quick to agree that "You miss a service, you should go home" if they'd told him he had to hang it up because both of his legs were in casts?), but after last night? No, fuck him. Fuck him because every criticism out of his mouth last night was about Robert being fat. Not his cooking, not his abilities, not his temperament, not how he handles the pressure--no, it was about how Robert's fat. So for that, Andy can go fuck himself. I wouldn't piss on him if he were on fire. I'm glad Robert called him out on being such a coward and hiding behind everyone before he left.

"You're a coward and you can't cook."

"Yeah? Well you're fat."

What the fuck is wrong with people?

A Message from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

R2-D2 and C-3PO in an antismoking PSA. It's the bit at the end that really makes this bizarre. The relationship between the two droids is a complex one. (Via The Retroist)

Film Week

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

It's not a terrifically different movie than the original, but it is a fuller experience of a film I already thought was masterful. The additions here are mostly slight, though Malin Akerman comes out of it a little more rounded than before, and the murder of Hollis Mason is put back in (it's an incredibly well-done scene, too, and gives Dan Dreiberg a moment of detachment that his character needs). I think this is probably the preferred version of Watchmen in much the same ways that, to me, the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings are the preferred versions. I'm looking forward to this winter's "ultimate edition," of course, but the inclusion of Tales from the Black Freighter and so many other elements of the graphic novel seems more gimmicky to me, more like something that really only exists to cater to fanboys. I'll make my final judgment when I see it, of course, but seeing the Director's Cut (and I'd forgotten just how well-paced a film Watchmen really is--three hours just fly past), this feels like the best version of Watchmen that could possibly have been made. Once again, **** stars.

Excellent William Wyler film based on Henry James' Washington Square (and a play). Olivia de Havilland is a little long in the tooth for this role, but her acting is so good that it really doesn't matter and is a fact for those wonderful film fans who think pointing out technicalities makes them seem smart and clever and not arrogant. Anyway, Olivia de Havilland won an Oscar for this role, as a woman of marriageable age who is shy and socially awkward, and whose father (Ralph Richardson) despairs of ever marrying off. He's worried she'll become like her aunt (Miriam Hopkins), a widow who is much more of a spinster. Into all of this comes Montgomery Clift, excellently playing the part of a stranger who immediately falls deeply in love with de Havilland. But is he really in love with her, or--as her father suggests--in love with the money she will inherit when he dies? An appropriately dramatic movie and, this being Wyler, deeply so. Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift are standouts in a cast full of professionals. Beautiful Aaron Copland score, too. **** stars.

Lillian Hellman adapted her play The Children's Hour for this William Wyler movie, in which Nancy Drew accuses teachers of sleeping around. Well, it's Bonita Granville, who played Nancy Drew. She's like the Sean Connery of Nancy Drews. Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon are fellow graduates who start their own school for girls. Though both fall in love with Joel McCrea, he becomes engaged to Oberon and Miriam Hopkins suffers in silence. Enter Granville, a sour child who cheats, steals, and bullies, and is called on it once too often by her teachers. She makes up a story about their sexual affiliations and uses it to ruin their careers. A little histrionic--so many screaming girls--but the leads are all good (I always love Merle Oberon) and it's not a waste of time. Still, Wyler has lots of better movies. *** stars.

A solid B Western is elevated by a fine script (Dalton Trumbo, through a front) and excellent performances by Sterling Hayden, Victor Millan, and Nedrick Young. Hayden plays a Swede who comes to Texas to take over the land left to him by his father, who was recently murdered. The town fat cat (Sebastian Cabot) tries unsuccessfully to dissuade him, and Hayden goes about trying to get the townspeople under his thumb to stand up to their oppressor and his hired gun (Nedrick Young in an intense and layered performance). Millan plays a Mexican farmer who makes a hard decision to stand up with the Swede. It all leads up to one of the most interesting stand-offs I've ever seen in a Western, as the Swede stands against Young with only a whaling harpoon to hand. Great stuff. ***1/2 stars.

RAMBO (2008)
John Rambo repurposed as the lead in a gonzo action flick. It's over-the-top, but it gets away with it because it replaces the pervy homoeroticism of Rambo: First Blood Part II and the compromised nothingness of Rambo III with an overpoweringly weary cynicism. I'm a huge fan of First Blood up until the ending, and I never cared for the other Rambo flicks, but this film is in its own league. Maybe Stallone just needed to take the reins as a director. As an actor, he does a good job of keeping the macho platitudes down to a minimum and just clamming up and letting the action plot work. It doesn't feel as whiny as Rambo: First Blood Part II. I really dug it; it combines the quiet dignity of Rocky Balboa with some of the sickest and (I said it) most entertainingly over-the-top violence I've ever seen. It doesn't politicize about what's going on in Burma (which is much less an ideological conflict than it is a group of thugs getting off on lawlessly overpowering the weak), but gets out this sort of cathartic, world-weary rage. I dug the hell out of it. ***1/2 stars.

One of the better horror remakes of recent years, probably due in large part to how incredibly terrible the original movie is (except for Rutger Hauer's great performance). A college couple on their way to spring break picks up a hitchhiker who immediately starts playing death games with them. Pretty much the same plot, except that it's a couple (Sophia Bush is pretty good as the final girl). Sean Bean plays the hitcher pretty much like Hauer did; he's not quite as chilling, but he does the job. There's a scene in this movie where the couple is in a police cruiser, being chased by three other cars and a helicopter, and Sean Bean rolls up in a black Trans Am and starts firing on the cops while Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" plays on the soundtrack. If that doesn't sound like the little moment of awesome it is, don't see this movie. *** stars.

One of the many recent failed attempts to ignite a franchise based on a series of children's books. It's not a bad movie, actually, just a somewhat ineffectual one. Two kids living in an underground city (after some kind of collapse of civilization) battle corruption to find the way to the world above. Bill Murray is interesting as the mayor of Ember, more interested in protecting his privileges than in helping society. Saoirse Ronan, as the girl who puts all of this together, is pretty good. I liked her in this more than in Atonement, where I couldn't separate the performance from the odious character she played and the complete awfulness of the movie. I'd like to see her in something challenging. This movie doesn't quite make it, but I appreciate the attempt at making a sort of more cerebral science fiction movie for a young audience. **1/2 stars.

To be clear, I've never read Susan Cooper's books. I have, however, read a lot about how this movie has fuck-all to do with them. So, taken on its own, with no books to compare it to, it's actually an okay movie. Alexander Ludwig (whom I recently liked in Race to Witch Mountain) plays an American boy living in London who discovers that he has powers to seek signs that will help a race of Old Ones defeat the powers of the Dark (personified nicely by Christopher Eccleston, who makes a great fantasy movie villain). On the predictable side, but there's a bit of weight to it that I didn't expect, especially based on the obnoxious marketing campaign. I do plan to read these books one day. I can't speak to the adaptation and frankly that's not a concern of mine when it comes to movies, but it was an okay movie. Reminded me a little of Mio in the Land of Faraway, which was a huge disappointment. *** stars.

Ironic title, because I'd forgotten until the other day that I saw this movie, like, a month ago. * star.

Another turgid, overly earnest teen romance. Laughable as shit, but at least Leelee Sobieski is the object of affection. I can get behind her. And in front. And on top of. And underneath. And that thing where she's in a swing. *1/2 stars.

It's the wrong title: it should be Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes a Leisurely-Paced Cruise to Manhattan. And even then he doesn't go to Manhattan; he just goes to the familiar Vancouver part of town. Ahem. This is the first of these films (going in chronological order) that I've really felt has just been awful. Absolutely a terrible movie, and no one involved seems to get what makes this series work. In fact, the pacing and direction reminded me much more of a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, only without the humor to keep things going. (When Jason kills Kelly Hu on a disco dance floor by choking her, in the huge anticlimactic moment that followed, I turned to Becca and said "You know, Freddy would've stayed to dance.") * star, mainly because the camera was at least pointed in the right direction. This is a shit movie, and between this and Jason X, it's a race to the bottom. But those movies (and Freddy vs. Jason) are the only movies in the series I ended up outright hating, so I guess I'm a Jason fan. Which brings me to...

Although we've accepted that Jason is a supernatural creature now, the filmmakers went back to the basics here. At least this movie feels like it was made by horror fans, what with the many references to other horror films and the supernatural set-up (that Jason, though blown to pieces by the FBI, is now a force that wants to be reborn and can only be killed by the hand of a relative). I especially dug Erin Gray (oh, Col. Deering, how I love you) as Jason's long lost sister; I wish she'd had more screen time. A nice entry in the series, I think, even if--like the previous film--it has less of a Jason vibe and more of a Freddy thing going on. Compared to the previous movie, though, the pacing is exquisite. Part VIII dragged like a dog dying in the heat. *** stars.

I was bored, it was on. Not as awful as I'd figured, but still pretty dull. I didn't realize it, but I have kind of a soft spot for the Chipmunks (mostly because I'd watched the eighties cartoon and my unshakable love for "The Chipmunk Song" as a Christmas standard). It really doesn't matter who does the voices of the Chipmunks, since it all just gets sped up and manipulated anyway, but Alvin still manages to be as douchey as his voice actor, the awful Justin Long. Theodore, though, is a cute delight. He's the adorable bright spot in a movie that feels totally unnecessary. (And you're talking to a guy who liked both Garfield movies). ** stars.

Another book I need to read. This is probably the best screen version of the Victor Hugo novel that I've ever seen, but I'm not sure that's saying a ton when compared to that crappy Liam Neeson version. At least this one had two actors I love--Fredric March and Charles Laughton--in the lead roles of Valjean and Javert. A good film from the days when Hollywood could somehow make an emotional epic that took less than two hours of screen time. ***1/2 stars.

Nice, solid film with Amy Adams as a financially strapped woman who works for a cleaning service and goes into business for herself when her son is kicked out of public school. On the advice of her married cop boyfriend (Steve Zahn), she goes into crime scene cleaning and drags her goldbricking sister (Emily Blunt) into it. Not a special film, exactly, but a well-done character piece with some very good acting, particularly from Adams (who, I know, I love in everything) and Blunt (who I don't get the hype over, but is almost as good here as she was in My Summer of Love). Alan Arkin is, as always, a lot of fun as their father. ***1/2 stars.

I kind of feel like I've seen this movie a dozen times already, and it didn't engage me with any kind of originality. It's another variation on the formula too many people thought was very original when Garden State did it--the guy who returns home after his college success, drifts through a crappy job (whether because he's broke or because he's afraid), and falls in love with the Magical Townie Pixie Girl. Meh. I'm tired of this plot. The actors are all fine, too (especially Martin Starr as one of the lead's co-workers), and the soundtrack is awesome, but I just didn't care about what happened because, frankly, I already knew where it was going and how it would end. Plug in the same plot points every time. **1/2 stars.

Feeling Abandoned Yet, America?

Say what you will about Ted Kennedy, at least he didn't hide behind his money. He spent his life in service to his country--to all of his country. He truly believed in civil rights and the rights of labor, not just the protection and enrichment of people making over $300,000 a year. I will give him that.

He also believed, apparently harder than anyone else in Washington, in public health finance.

What a time for him to go; a time when health finance reform has become one of the biggest political quagmires of the decade. The mess that President Obama has made of something he really should've been able to decisively push through is truly laughable. There's something to be said for listening to opposing viewpoints, but no one in the opposition seems to have anything other than "I don't wanna pay for no poor peepuls and illegal immuhgants" or "Nazi policy! Obama is Hitler!" And we don't have to talk that seriously. If you have no ideas... please, just shut up. Especially if you're lying through your teeth about "conservative values" and "mounting debt" and "socialism" when what you really mean is "rich people are better" and "I'm a racist."

Look, it's not a moral failing to not have health insurance. And it's not a moral failing to be underinsured. It is a bad thing when an insurance company denies your coverage because you have a pre-existing condition. It is a terrible thing when someone has to go bankrupt because the only other alternative was simply letting their child die because their insurance company wouldn't pay for care.

According to Survey USA, 77% of Americans want a public option for health finance. 77%. That's just a little more than three-quarters of the nation. How much more of a mandate does Congress need on this one?

And instead we get feet-dragging and game-playing, and every day more Americans lose their homes because the insurance industry is refusing to do what they were set up to do in the first place. And because the Democrats came out with a vague message and a bill that no one understands, there is no clear course of action. Everyone's yelling and everyone's making shit up, and the chances of any kind of health finance reform dwindles and dies. And we are going to get nothing but a one-term president who looks like a failure, a sweeping Republican victory in the mid-term election, and insurance companies with a completely free hand to make sure no one in America ever gets treated for anything.

Am I being overdramatic? I don't fucking care.

You know, things in Washington would go much more smoothly if Traitor Joe Liebermann would just die. How's that for overdramatic?

Where are all of those "humanitarians" that are always so adamant when someone is going to get taken off life support? Where are the people who see this as a public health concern--that public health finance could help halt the spread of diseases that are coming back, like tuberculosis and smallpox and fucking polio--because Americans don't have adequate health care?

Where are the people who see accessible health care as a simple matter of American dignity and freedom?

How am I supposed to be proud of a country that can't even ensure that all of its citizens have access to getting well?

Hell, if you want to look at it from a free market perspective, where are the people who can see that having a government-run option only makes the insurance market that much more competitive?

Way back before the election, one of the many qualms I had about voting for Obama was that he wanted to give the insurance companies a seat at the negotiating table when it came to health reform. And now we have this. The negotiations are a free-for-all for the insurance companies, and they have their lieutenants like John Tanner (who receives thousands in pay-offs--er, "campaign contributions") leading the opposition and dragging their feet and wasting everyone's time.

Did you hear what they're saying about a possible 90,000 deaths coming from swine flu this fall and winter? If only we had some kind of system to prevent that.

But we don't. And there are people who will fight tooth and nail to keep it from happening. Not because of debt or because of their lies about the Canadian health care system, but because they don't give two fucks about anyone but themselves and their corporate masters.

Good job, Congress. Way to deal with a crisis.

UPDATE 6:56 PM: Check out the Rude Pundit's post on Senator Kennedy. Pretty much all that needs to be said.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Me and Julio Down on Sesame Street

I seem to be posting a large number of videos these days, but I've been finding a lot of stuff I like to share.

I've always had a fascination with this clip from Sesame Street. Paul Simon is on the steps, ostensibly to perform a bit of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." But something magical and very obviously unplanned happens here. This little girl sitting next to him starts singing to the music, making up her own words, completely unconcerned with the taping, oblivious to the fact that she's got a great American songwriter sitting next to her, losing herself in the moment and just having fun. It's a wonderful clip; just this kid, completely wrapped up in the freedom of music and expression. Simon even seems a tad reluctant to start singing and cut her off; and I love the way he pats her on the head at the end.

I love that the kids are just being kids and enjoying this moment and being curious. One kid walks up behind Simon and plays with the prop door. As they're dancing, the camera pans over just enough that you can see the seams of the studio itself. And I love the kid at the end who comes up and asks if he can play the guitar.

I don't know. It just doesn't feel like a disastrous moment in the production of a television show. It feels like a bunch of nonplussed kids, not starstruck at all, enjoying themselves and not mucking it up with notions of celebrity and having to act a certain way. It just makes me feel really, really good.

80s Revisited: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Directed by John McNaughton; screenplay by Richard Fire & John McNaughton; produced by Lisa Dedmond, Steven A. Jones & John McNaughton.

The first time I saw this movie was on Thanksgiving, sometime around 1992. I had Thanksgiving with my Dad that year, and we ate at my stepmom's sister's place. She had three sons and a daughter, all around college age (I think), and they had this awesome family tradition for Thanksgiving: the boys would go and rent the sickest, weirdest, dumbest movie they could find and watch it after dinner. That year the movie was Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. I was 15.

Wow, what a sick movie!

Images of this movie haunted me for years, although I (of course) acted like it was no big deal. But it wasn't really the kind of movie that's so gross and stupid that you laugh at it. It was a pretty hard-hitting flick. I was curious to see it with older, more experienced eyes, and when I saw it was playing on cable recently, I decided to sit and watch it.

Wow, what a sick movie!

Michael Rooker stars in this movie as Henry, a janitor and serial killer loosely based on real serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. I say loosely because this film is apparently based on Lucas's claims (that he killed his mother as a teenager and then killed one person every day for years--apparently he just confessed to any unsolved murder they put in front of him to get himself in a better bargaining position). Rooker's performance is powerful; it's not that he's angry or gets off on killing or anything. It's more like it's just what he does and he can't stop himself. This movie doesn't try at all to get into the mind of a sick person; it just observes Henry.

Henry's surrounded by his sleazy roommate Otis (Tom Towles in a kind of gonzo performance), whom he met in prison, and Otis's sweet sister Becky, who comes to stay with them in order to get away from an abusive husband. Becky is immediately attracted to Henry because she thinks he's a good listener; the unfortunate thing is that although he listens, it's mostly because he's awkward and feels no real empathy for anyone. You can see how uncomfortable he is when Becky talks and when she touches him.

On Becky's other side is Otis, a true sleaze who touches her and looks on her as fair game (he also keeps trying to hit on the high school boy he sells drugs to). Things are very bad for Becky.

It's a tense movie. You have Becky, a sweet kid who just has no chance in this world, and Henry, who silently spends his off time following people and murdering them (mostly women), and Otis, who gets caught up in committing murders with Henry as though it's a perfectly reasonable way to blow off steam. Two people who are going nowhere, and Henry, a force of quiet aggression.

I have to say, it really is a sick movie, a very disturbing movie. It's also an excellent movie. It doesn't make Henry sympathetic or a cartoon villain. It simply shows you Henry as he relates to the world, in a very violent and disgusting way. This is beyond a horror movie--it's scary as hell, but only because it feels absolutely real. Michael Rooker's excellent performance, the documentary look, and the grungy Chicago locations all contribute to a world that seems all too familiar, and captures a simmering force that feels all too unstoppable.

Monday, August 24, 2009

For No Real Reason

A Meme of Firsts


1. Who was your FIRST date?
Hard to say. I barely dated at all in high school, because I was about as popular with girls then as I am with people who read blogs now. My first girlfriend, of sorts, was Jenny Bradley when I was in high school. That really only started because I flirted with her on the phone and then went to her house one day after school and made out with her. She lived in Lemont, Diablo Cody's old home town, apparently. Love that she thinks she's from a hick town; that always cracks me up. Anyway, we only dated a couple of times; mostly we talked on the phone, and I hate to be that guy, but she was a tease. She was fun to make out with, but when it came to anything other than kissing, she was a total tease, which is something I will resent you for. Just be honest with me, okay? Anyway, we only "dated" for three weeks, the last of which we were apparently fighting during (I actually just forgot to call her, and I liked being without her more than I liked being with her). What can I say? I was 17 and stupid.

My only other near-dates in high school were favors. But, oddly, not favors to me, but favors I did to other people. I went to the prom my junior year with Lenka, a beautiful Czech exchange student who sat behind me in Psych 101 and really wanted to go to her American prom. It helped that I had a huge crush on her, but she didn't return my affection at all other than just being good friends with me. At least she didn't lead me on; I just suffered in silence. I showed her the Star Wars trilogy; she'd never even heard of it before. That was the summer of 1993, when it flooded really bad here in the Midwest; I helped her rescue a lot of stuff from her aunt's flooded basement.

The other favor in high school was going to senior year homecoming with a friend of mine, whose name I actually don't remember, which is too bad because she was pretty cool. On the surface, she seemed like the kind of semi-popular girly girl who normally had no time for me. But she and I ended up in a lot of classes together, and we joked around a lot, and she actually appreciated my direct sense of humor. She asked me as a favor and I went. Her name was Carla or something like that. We had fun. We went bowling after. Jesus, high school.

After that, I didn't date anyone else in high school. But I got two different dates the day of the school's senior party, which was this big gathering the day before graduation. I only went to pick up my cap and gown (and my actual diploma; they just gave us prop rolls at the actual ceremony--does this happen to anyone else?), and walked away with two dates. One with a girl named Inez that I had been noticing every day for four years and who was a friend of a friend, and one with a girl who was also a friend of a friend and who was actually nervous asking me out. I don't remember her name; I went to her graduation party that night, we drove to the high school parking lot and got high, and then she went to Florida to visit family and forgot all about me. It didn't work out with Inez, either.

Somehow I still managed to get laid a couple of times in high school. But the big, unrequited love of my high school years was still Jamie Drendel. She was my friend Jeff's little sister, and I really dug her. We even worked together at Target for a while. We used to flirt constantly, and I really wanted to go out with her. But I never did.

2. Do you still talk to your FIRST love?
I think Becca was probably the first girl I was genuinely in love with, so yeah. Anyone before her was mostly intense flirting or lots of sex. My first real girlfriend, Christy, was kind of pushed on me by my parents, to be honest. I stayed out until five in the morning a couple of times after work the summer after I graduated, and my fucking parents got in my face and basically forced me to justify my staying out having sex all night by taking the relationship way more seriously than I should have. Like my married-too-early, divorced-after-12-years parents knew what they were talking about and had any business pushing me into a relationship far, far earlier than I was ready for. Thanks, guys. But at least I got emotional abuse out of it.

3. What was your FIRST alcoholic drink?
Peach Schnappes, I think, when I was in sixth grade. It was what my mom had in the fridge. Didn't care for it.

4. What was your FIRST job?
I worked on my uncle's construction clean-up crew for a few weeks in the summer of 1993 (the flood summer). That was the first time I ever did work that I got an actual payroll check for. It was interesting. Tiring, too. I was staying with my Aunt Cheryl, and thank goodness she was the only one of my relatives in Iowa that summer who still had running water. That flooding was awful.

5. What was your FIRST car?
A 1988 Chevy Nova, and it was a piece of shit.

6. Where did you go on your FIRST ride on an airplane?
It was 1982, and we went to visit my grandparents on Guam. I can't remember the route we took to get there, but we came home via Japan.

7. Who was your FIRST best friend & do you still talk?
My first best friend was probably either Jeff Ward or Shane Waddell. I don't talk to either of them. Jeff and I lost touch; Shane turned on me in sixth grade because it was much more popular to be someone that beat me up and made fun of me than to be a friend of mine. He was in that group of people that beat me up all the way home that day in sixth grade. Fuck him. Fucking coward. Special shout out, though, to Patrick Gasior, who was probably the only person who actually remained my friend from kindergarten through high school graduation. He was awesome.

8. Whose wedding did you attend the FIRST time?
I think the first wedding I ever went to was my mom's cousin's. I caught the garter. I was 11 or 12, I think. I remember that summer mostly because she married a guy whose family owned a resort in Minnesota, and the drive there took forever, and the trip was so much more fun to me. Maybe I was 10--I was listening to my Transformers: The Movie soundtrack over and over on my Sony Walkman and reading comic books. I only liked Marvel, Marvel's Star imprint, and Disney Comics when I was 10 (DC Comics seemed too boring to me), and I had been bought these awesome digests of Classic X-Men. That was the summer I discovered the X-Men, and to me that period of the comic is the absolute best version of the X-Men.

9. Tell us about your FIRST roommate.
That guy was a jackass, and I'm not giving you his name because I don't want him to find me. Assuming he's still alive (and I have my doubts) I still owe him something like $300. I worked with him; I wanted to kill him, after a while. Smug know-it-all, a total liar who claimed he was five years older than me, and a douche who always went on and on about being a priest's kid. He loved to talk about how important his virginity was, as if I didn't notice girls always spending the night. Everyone at work thought he was a total jag, too. Oh, and he played the guitar and wrote the most pretentious songs about his feelings and being an outcast. Oh, I hated that smug fucker. He smoked all the time and ate only McDonald's every day because he was one of those entitled whiteys who reveled in how poor and common he was, as though it made him "more real." Years later my friend Carl and I drove past the street he moved to; we're talking an unconsciously racist, loud-mouthed, always broke poet who smoked so much and ate so much gut-rotting fast food that he weighed something like 20 pounds, living in a 99.5% African-American neighborhood on the outskirts of Chicago where half the buildings are boarded up. That's why I like to think he's dead. I think his mouth got him killed, because he'd finally moved to a place where no one would take his shit anymore.

10. If you had one wish, what would it be (other than more wishes)?
Same as a lot of people: an unlimited supply of money.

11. What is something you would learn if you had the chance?
Lots of things. I'd like to learn more languages, especially Spanish and American Sign Language, because I could really use those at work (and as an American, it seems). I'd like to learn to play the guitar and the piano. I'd like to learn karate to center myself and work out with. The list is potentially endless. We should always be learning.

12. Did you marry the FIRST person you were in love with?
I think so. We were together for nearly 15 years first.

13. What were the first lessons you ever took and why?
I can't remember. Judo, maybe?

14. What is the first thing you do when you get home?
Take off my shoes. Time to relax, you know?

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Song of the Week: "In the Summertime"

Johnny Yen had this up recently, and I just had to steal it for the end of summer. School starts tomorrow for my district, and I remember the first time I heard this song--weirded out by it, but soon loving it--was as I was driving to my first day of classes at College of DuPage, back in 1994. Mungo Jerry, 1970, a ramshackle classic.

Twilight Summarized by a Smartass, Chapter 8

Oh, this fucking book just rambles on and on.

In this chapter, Bella and her "friends" Jessica and Angela go off to a small town called Port Angeles to buy dresses for the prom. (Bella's still not going, but Tyler, the guy who nearly ran her over, is telling everyone that she's going with him.) Bella decides to go and look for a bookstore (she refuses to go into the New Age bookstore, which just made me laugh, since she's exactly the kind of self-obsessed near-hippie who would totally shop there, especially on her scholarly quest to learn about the scientific reality of vampires).

Oh, and another moment of Stephenie Meyer fawning all over Bella: her new "friends" just can't imagine that someone like Bella was never asked out and didn't date much in Phoenix. Because remember, Bella is awkward and clumsy and unattractive, but also incredibly popular and captivating. Whatever.

There's this little episode where we're supposed to believe that Bella gets herself into trouble. It's really ridiculous. What happens is, Bella passes four men, one of whom says "Hey" to her. She's worried she's going to get mugged ("or worse") and steers clear of them. Then she sees two of them later and convinces herself she's being herded. Then, when she nears the other two, they all laugh at how skittish she is and one of them says "Don't be like that, sugar." And then Edward shows up in his shiny Volvo, headlights blazing, and rescues her.

Seriously, are we supposed to believe Bella was just nearly raped? Because if we are, Stephenie Meyer does her usual shitty job of writing it in a believable way. Seriously, all that really happens is some sort-of-almost-near-like-harassment, and her building this shit up in her mind. I mean, I don't want to trivialize the idea of getting raped, but writers like Meyer already trivialize it constantly by making it some kind of shitty shorthand motivation in badly-written potboilers like this. It's just so stupid; there's this instant intensity with Edward in the car--so much so that he has to pull over in the woods and calm down before he can do anything else--that you'd think he'd had to rip all four men off of her and carried her away.

Bella is an unreliable narrator. She's so overdramatic and has such an inflated sense of the deep meaning and intricate symbolism of everything that happens to her. And she's so bad at describing anything that actually happens in her relationships--we still have no idea why she felt she had to move, why her mother's interest annoys her so, or why she's so strained with her dad--that it's impossible to take anything she says seriously. She is so fucking full of herself that you just can't take her at her word, because even doing some blood typing lab in Bio is as sweeping and turgid as Gone with the Wind.

So no, I just can't take it seriously when she thinks she was nearly attacked and Edward has come to her rescue. It's more of her overdramatic shit.

Edward coming to her rescue is just really creepy, too. He basically admits that he follows her. And he also has an episode where he warns her of his terrible temper, again implying that he's really dangerous for her, and whines some more about how he should stay away from her but he just can't bring himself to. Think about that language for a second, alright? It's not "I really want to be near you," it's "I should stay away from you, and it would be better for you if I did, but I really just can't control myself." There's sort of this implied blame, like it's her fault for being so fascinating to him. It's like blaming a rape victim.

And then he takes Bella to dinner, but he doesn't eat (of course), and after all of the women in the place keep fawning over how wonderful and amazing Edward is (even though all I can picture is Robert Pattinson, who makes me want to vomit), he basically comes out and tells Bella that he can read peoples' minds, but not hers. He also says he's trying to keep her alive, and--and this is the most troubling part--implies that he's surprised with himself that he hasn't killed her yet. Like, he should've done it already, maybe on the day they met, but that he hasn't. Oh, and that she should somehow be grateful.

Ladies, what do you see in this guy? I mean, take away the fact that he's a vampire, alright, and here's what you have: you have a guy who isn't honest with you, who ridicules you and taunts you (and not in a flirty way, let's be honest, but in a very belittling way), he treats you in a very high-handed manner otherwise, he forces you to let him treat you as though you were incapable of taking care of yourself (forcing you to accept rides home, for example, when you don't need them), he follows you wherever you go, he warns you that he has a bad temper that can make him dangerous to be around, and he basically says that he's amazed with himself for not having murdered you yet.

Take away the vampire shit, and he's just another abusive jackass.

And if you're a moron, you say it makes you feel protected.

Like Bella does.

And the fact that this sort of male figure is what's hitting an obsessive chord with so many young girls today... it's just disgusting.