Saturday, December 06, 2003

Damn Campaign Regulations
Thanks to campaign equal time laws (as regards broadcast networks, enforced by the FCC), I didn't get to see Al Sharpton on Saturday Night Live tonight. Oddly, this wasn't enforced nationwide, just in certain markets, including mine. Now I have to admit that politicians have been among the worst SNL hosts, and I'm no fan of Al Sharpton by any means. But I was curious as to how the show would go, but apparently my local government officials have decided that I'm not intelligent enough to watch this without seeing equal representation by the other candidiates. (We ran into similar lunacy here in Tennessee with the campaigns of former Senator Fred Thompson, who had previously starred in many movies that couldn't be shown during his election campaigns. He's retired from politics now, and has a major role as the District Attorney on Law & Order.)

But in its place, they've chosen to run "The Best of Steve Martin", and on any given night, I'd prefer to see "The Worst of Steve Martin" rather than anything involving Al Sharpton. Thusly, I'm conflicted as regards my quasi-libertarian principles.
I think today's list of movies is going to go from phenomenal to really gut-wrenchingly awful. My third selection of the day, just by dint of nothing else being on, is 2002's The Scorpion King.

Now, it should be noted that I loved The Mummy, thought that The Mummy Returns was passably enjoyable (only because I have a soft spot for Rachel Weisz), and though I'm not a fan of professional wrestling, I do think that The Rock is a good showman. One need only to look at his performance on Saturday Night Live in order to see that. However, I don't think he's a great actor, and I think this movie was pretty unnecessary.

As far as secondary characters to go, I always enjoy Michael Clarke Duncan, and it's good to see Kelly Hu in another movie (even if she is mixed Chinese/Hawaiian/English playing an ancient Egyptian, but Tia Carrere based a whole career on that kind of creative casting).

Would it kill anyone to have a smart and exciting movie about ancient Egypt? How about a faithful adaptation of either of the Wilbur Smith novels, River God or The Seventh Scroll?

The most disappointing things about this movie are that it isn't as exciting as The Mummy, isn't as funny as The Mummy, doesn't have the same calibre of special effects as The Mummy, and doesn't have the same calibre of actors as The Mummy. Worse yet, without the fame from the other films, this would have never been made, and can by no means stand on its own.
Tonight's lowbrow feature is 2002's Analyze That. Every Saturday night at 7:00 Central, HBO shows a new movie on its main station. Typically these are movies that are about 9 months old--roughly the amount of time it takes for a movie to move from the theatre to pay cable. And I almost never watch these at that time, but they tend to be "big" movies that get a lot of repeat airtime.

I saw the first movie, Analyze This when it came out on video. Frankly, the allure of a mob comedy featuring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal in the lead roles was impossible to resist. But I really didn't enjoy it that much. It was kind of funny, but Billy Crystal never made the best use of his talents, and Robert De Niro was just out of place. (Particularly the scenes with him crying--it's so fake and goofy that you are moved to cry on your own.) Everyone agrees that De Niro is one of the greatest actors of the 20th century who will continue to do great work for the first few decades of the 21st, and I've always felt that Billy Crystal is a genius. Just look at his work in When Harry Met Sally, Forget Paris, and City Slickers. But Crystal in particular has a habit of starring in really bad movies that don't utilize any of his talents. This is one of them.

While this is a faithful continuation of the first movie, it's not even as good as that one. The whole concept of a mob boss getting therapy was best done by The Sopranos, which was mostly serious with a few rare comedic elements. Here it's more of a parody of serious mafia movies, but it doesn't really work well as a parody. And since it doesn't really work well as a comedy or a straight mafia movie...

I do have to point out that this is perhaps the only movie starring Anthony LaPaglia in which he accurately appears as an Australian of Italian heritage. Speaking of Italian, I heard a snippet of modern Italian hip hop used in one scene, and I damn near vomited. I've been to Italy, I speak Italian, and I'm an honest fan of old school hip hop. Certain things were not meant to mix. (Though to be fair, modern Italian pop music sucks donkey balls as well. The nation hasn't had a big hit since Puccini; most of the classic "Mob Favorite" songs were made in America by Italian-Americans or Jews.)

But at least I've seen it now, and my curiosity is satisfied. And I consumed much dark rum in the process, so I'll chalk it up as a good evening.
With a quiet and uneventful Saturday afternoon to kill, I sat down for the marathon 4-hour viewing of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, specifically the "Platinum Series Extended Edition". Currently this one ranks at #4 in the IMDB Top 250. (Though it should be noted that these rankings change weekly, and newer movies obviously knock out older ones that aren't longtime classics. However, the rankings are still useful as a general guide to quality.)

Again, there's not much to say for a movie that everyone has seen, but I would encourage anyone who hasn't seen the extended version to do so. It adds 45 minutes, mainly as extended or re-edited scenes, though there are one or two new scenes. (The DVD menus contain more information about what's new.) I've already got the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring, and intend to get the extended version of The Return of the King when it comes out next year, and with those in my possession, have no plans to ever see the theatrical releases again. These DVDs are the way Peter Jackson wanted the movies to be made, but New Line gave him a three hour maximum as far as what they would distribute. Which is fair, since only hardcore fans will sit through a full four hours, and even they'll be restless after a while. Jackson followed the three hour limit pretty closely--the first one was 178 minutes, the second was 179 minutes in their original versions.

I had planned to split this up over two nights, since the movie is split at a logical plot break over two discs. But I had time on my hands, so I decided to press on. And I'm glad I did--these are really great movies. As far as the extras, I still haven't touched any of the four commentary tracks or two full discs of goodies from the first movie, so it might be a good while before I get around to these. (I'm in no big rush--I have a feeling that I might break a leg or get the flu in a few years in have a lot of spare time on my hands.)

It's been an odd week as far as movies go (when has it been normal?), but I think I need to continue blending in more good movies along with all of the dreck. I believe there's something to appreciate in every movie, but I think it's a good idea to have a grounding in the truly great ones. I probably ought to start mixing in classic literature that I've missed into my reading list as well...
I've almost always got energy for a John Cusack movie, regardless of my mood. Let's face it--his movies cover nearly every phase of being a male in America in the last quarter of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st. Tonight's cablelicious selection is the dumb beach movie from 1986 known as One Crazy Summer. Better Off Dead featured a bit of animation, but in this one, Cusack plays a cartoonist right out of high school, and there are some great animated sequences. (Note that this was written and directed by Savage Steve Holland, who also wrote and directed Better Off Dead.)

It should also be noted that this is one of many Cusack films that co-stars his close personal friend, Jeremy Piven, though it doesn't feature his sister Joan. It was also an early role for Demi Moore as well as Bobcat Goldthwait. And Cusack's dorky sidekick in this movie is played by Joel Murray, younger brother of the great Bill Murray.

Set on a beach, this movie contains almost all of the elements of a bad 80s ski movie, but beach movies have been around much longer and have their own particular cliches. (I will give this credit for being one of the only New England beach movies, being set in Nantucket. No jokes from the Peanut Gallery!) And keeping in line with the general 80s themes, the bad guy is blond, rich, and involved in stealing the local hip youth joint from Our Hero And His Band Of Plucky Cohorts.

It's a good pick for fans of John Cusack, fans of bad 80s movies, and the generally bored or restless.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Saw two tonight with my "brother from another mother", a guy whom I'll call Ring Bearer for the purposes of this blog. (He'll understand, and hopefully appreciate the nickname. I'm big on creative anonymity here.)

First up, we have 1998's Ringu, the original Japanese supsense flick that was recently remade as The Ring here in the states. Since I saw the remake first, it's kind of hard to view the original objectively. While it was nice to see a Japanese movie that wasn't anime or overly weird, it still didn't pack quite the punch of the American version. I do have to say that the cinematography was beautiful in the Japanese film, but the American one took advantage of filming on a heavy blue stock (almost monochromatic) as well as turning up the contrast on the video scenes. Great acting from the Japanese version, especially the creepy little boy.

I was extremely glad to see the original one, and look forward to watching more mainstream Japanese films, including the associated prequel Ringu 0 and sequel Ringu 2, perhaps even the little-seen 1995 TV movie Ringu: Kanzen-ban that started the whole thing.

The second feature of the evening, following enough grilled beef to choke a lion and enough cognac and wine to drown said lion, was 2003's Finding Nemo. I'm one of the only people I know who hadn't seen this, and as my new motto is "Fill In Gaps", I watched it tonight. (And it's #91 on the IMDB Top 250!) It was fantastic. Not only were the special effects beautiful (and with a consistent and stylish sense of design), the story was great. Perhaps most importantly, they used outstanding voice acting. Some big stars were used, but they weren't immediately recognizable. Good cartoon voiceover work requires using exaggerated yet constant accents. This year's animated flop Sinbad was widely criticized for the use of Brad Pitt in the lead voice, as he used his normal acting voice, and frankly, he doesn't emote much (nor is his voice what has brought him fame, or so my female acquaintances say).

Pixar is a great studio, and Disney is going to be up shit creek without a paddle if they don't work out a favorable contract renewal with them or if they don't build a kickass 3-D studio of their own. (They had the best one of the best 2-D studios in the world, but decided that it was smarter to shut it down, fire the artists, and sell of their desks just to emphasize the point.)
I saw Timeline in the theater today. I rarely go to movie theaters any more, for a long list of annoying reasons that I'll avoid listing for now. But last night I agreed to go in a weak moment, and thus The Roommate and I saw it this afternoon.

It's not bad. Not great, but a fun enough diversion. The book was better, but the book was also more like a history textbook and it wasn't one of Michael Crichton's more popular works. It's good for a medieval-themed movie (even if you are forced to root for the French), it's good as a light sci-fi/action flick, and it's good because it stars Billy Connolly in a major role. The Roommate was really into it, but she hadn't read the book, and if you haven't seen the movie, don't spoil it with the book. Even though it's been a while, I remembered quite a bit from the book, and while much was changed, I could feel every plot twist and turn.

Again, with huge popular movies like this, there's little point in going into lots of detail, so instead I'll do a quick rundown of Crichton books and movies. Note that this isn't all of them, just the ones where I've read the book and seen the movie:

The Andromeda StrainGreatPretty good, but hasn't held up since the 70s--fairly faithful
The Terminal ManDullSlightly more interesting, but not a really well known movie, and for good reason
Jurassic ParkExcellentFaithful and a classic in addition to being a marvel of special effects that still look good today
Rising SunExcellentA pretty faithful adaptation with a great cast, but didn't click with a lot of viewers
DisclosureBoringMarginally more interesting, but a reverse sexual harassment case isn't as exciting as dinosaurs or murder
CongoMy favorite Crichton novelA really terrible adaptation (and a bad movie on its own merits), nearly destroying my memory of the book, and even Bruce Campbell couldn't save this
The Lost World/Jurassic Park IIHis first sequel, it really didn't have the same feeling as his other works, and it really felt like he was pushing it to keep the story goingVaguely faithful to the book, but more campy and goofy than the first
SphereProbably my second favorite after CongoThe book was never well known, so everyone went expecting another Crichton flick, and weren't prepared for the weirdness and psychological plot rather than action
Eaters of the Dead/The 13th WarriorAn amazing bookMore accessible than the book, but the pacing was way different, and the book was far creepier towards the end

Here's another odd, obscure one thanks to the shady yet valuable corners of the Internet. Seriously, there's no commercial way to see or purchase this film, so it's truly moral to grab such things by whatever means are possible. Without further ado, I present the surrealist masterpiece of Luis Bu�uel from 1930, L'�ge d'or (The Age of Gold). It was co-written by Salvador Dal�, so brace yourself.

Earlier in the evening we had the Dadaists, we took a brief respite with a bad yet universally loved movie from the 90s, and we conclude with a 73 year old surrealist film. And with my luck, this copy is in French with Spanish subtitles... I think I can keep a general idea of what's going on, at least as much as can be expected from a movie on the avant garde of the surrealist movement.

This one is a lot less abstract and there is something of a plot here, though again, to modern eyes it looks like somebody's stereotypical art film project from the sixties. The whole thing is meant to be serious, but there's a few scenes that are funny just because the execution didn't quite work, like when the woman comes into her hotel room and finds a cow standing on her bed, and then manages to shoo it into another room. The cow is a bit uncooperative, and you start waiting for Harpo Marx to come out from behind the curtains.

A few scenes are just unpleasant, like a father playing with his five year old son, then turning him loose in a field in order to shoot and kill him like an animal. I'm sure it has some sort of deep meaning about how our parents restrict us... I'm guessing this was much more exciting and important in 1930, since in the intervening decades legions of artsy folks have churned out so much similar material that it's become a parody of itself. Which is obviously part of some grand postmodernist joke that the non-artistic just can't appreciate. (Arrgh, got to stop doing that.)

I actually like the painted work of Dal�, though his other projects (like this one) just aren't as masterfully put together. I do want to see Destino, a six-minute animated collaboration with Walt Disney that was just completed this year, because I think animation is a better medium for Dal� than film. Even though this movie isn't that enjoyable, it's still interesting, and does help you understand the surrealists a little better. People dump loads of money getting this kind of education; I never pass up an opportunity to self-educate for free.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Continuing my pledge to Fill In Gaps, I'm watching 1990's Pretty Woman. I realize that everyone else in the nation, nay the world, has seen this movie. I was a little young when it came out and have had no desire to see it since then. But it was on, I figured I needed to watch it for my cultural literacy.

Thus far, I can handily say that Julia Roberts makes a very unconvincing prostitute. Not that I have any direct personal experience in the matter, but the route to my barbershop takes me through Memphis' prostitution nexus, and I've been to Amsterdam. While I on principle support legalized prostitution (no government has ever been able to completely get rid of it, and I'd prefer that the women be able to work safely), it ain't pretty. Particularly when seen in the harsh light of day. My first exposure to Amsterdam's Red Light District was on a Tuesday morning. If your peak business hours are on weekend nights, imagine who gets stuck with the Tuesday morning shifts. (Shudder.) I know this is supposed to be a wonderfully romantic Cinderella experience, but I can't help but think of all of the horribly diseased genitalia I've had to view as a consequence of a fascination with biology.

I've enjoyed Julia Roberts in some of her movies, but I don't think she's great in this one. And I'm not a Richard Gere fan by any stretch of the imagination. But I've always enjoyed Jason Alexander (of "George Costanza" fame), so it's not a total loss. Also, Hector Elizondo is great as the suave, multilingual concierge. Great small roles by Ralph Bellamy (the other old rich guy from Trading Places) and the great Larry Miller, well known today as a columnist for The Weekly Standard.

A few words on the soundtrack. The 80s kicked ass until around 1987, and then things went to shit in a flurry of horrible pop, "hair metal", crappy R&B, and other horrors best summed up by New Kids on the Block. In 1991, Nirvana led the Grunge revolution that, while short lived, managed to break everyone out of their bubblegum daze. This movie was made in the crap era and includes some of the worst offenders. (I was about to vomit when Roberts was singing a Prince song, but I didn't want to waste good rum.) Just check out the track listing. The titular Orbison song gets a pass because it's a classic, but the rest of them can go to hell.

Needless to say, this movie didn't make me weep with joy, feel the slightest bit happy, or improve my opinion of women one iota. But at least I've seen the damned thing. (Getting my flu shot today was a more pleasurable experience.)
Not quite a full movie, but I thought I'd post it. Let's not forget that the shadier corners of the internet can be used for legitimate purposes. For instance, I just watched a 10-minute long Dadaist film from 1924 called Ballet m�canique. So what if it's French and artsy? It's old and silent, and it's primary virtue is that it's pretty short.

Dada was an art movement of the late 1910s to the early 1920s, and took its name from the French word for a hobby horse. (Knowing that fact helped me win $1500 in high school as part of a televised Knowledge Bowl competition.) Dada died out as its aficionados switched to surrealism (more on that in a future post).

So the movie is pretentious and annoying, but the way its shot and edited looks a lot like some modern music videos. In fact, I found myself mentally substituting a Radiohead song while watching the movie (there was no soundtrack on this version). Frequent uses of fisheye lenses as well as a teleidoscope effect. I find myself reminded of the Peter Gabriel videos...

There's no plot, no acting, just a series of images... What's really amazing is that if you didn't know better, you might think it was an art film from the 1960s, or even a drug film from the 1970s. The rapid-fire editing and methods used are really unusual for the time period.

For fun trivia, the actress used in this film, Kiki of Montparnasse, was a respected artist and model of the time, and Man Ray took some famous photographs of her.
Charles de Gaulle Update
Instapundit links to a brief news item on the continuing problems with the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Looks like there are major engine problems, which with a nuclear powerplant isn't a great situation. The entire history of this project has been a comedy of errors--my favorite blunders thus far being that they built the runway too short and that there was a problem with the laundry room that would cause the entire ship to oscillate if all of the washers were run at the same time.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Thanks to a booming economy--and I mean booming like the indigestion of a Texas chili cook-off judge--I don't have much time to blog during snippets of free time at work, and often don't have the desire to be anywhere near the computer when I get home. But it's late, I'm wired, can't sleep, and find one of the (unseen by me) IMDB top 250 on one of the movie channels, and feel obliged to watch. Hitting the charts at #100 is Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam piece, 1987's Full Metal Jacket.

First off, it's a sheer joy to watch the completely unrestrained performance of R. Lee Ermey, who has used a softer version of this character in all manner of movies and TV shows since then. Even though I haven't seen this movie before, it's one of those cases where you can infer a reference after seeing it used in so many other works. Don't forget, if you're a fan of his, you can go to his website and order a 12-inch "motivational figure" of the beloved character actor. Put the fear of God into your young nephew!

Despite my odd rants about movies, I don't consider myself a film buff, critic, or student of the cinema. I knows what I likes and I ain't afraid to complain about the rest, putting me happily in the company of every other person on the planet. As such, I haven't developed particular affections for the Great Directors, including Kubrick. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the satirical genius of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, though I find that I appreciate the performance of Peter Sellers more than the direction. And 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the Greatest Movies Of All Time, but I find myself moved more by the influence of Arthur C. Clarke, the Strauss score, and the obvious hard work of the special effects crew than by Kubrick's contributions. Or maybe all of those things were due to his efforts. I'm in no position to criticize him--I haven't seen all of his films, and I'm sure at some point I'll recognize his brilliance. When it comes to directors, I find myself charmed more by the likes of Kevin Smith, Wes Anderson, Whit Stillman, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, etc. Particularly when it comes to Smith, Anderson, and Stillman, I enjoyed discovering their first works when they came out, and following them as they grew as directors. With famous directors like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Truffaut, etc., I'm told to idolize them before I've seen a single picture.

Hey, at the 42 minute mark, Vincent D'Onofrio utters the titular line in this movie. Just thought I'd point that out. He's a good actor, though tends to incorporate that "slightly nuts" air into every performance.

I've often heard this described as a movie in two distinct acts: basic training and Vietnam. It splits just fifteen minutes shy of the halfway mark. Looking for a positive note on the Vietnam conflict, let's point out the recent peaceful visit of the USS Vandegrift in the port of Ho Chi Minh City, though I'll always think of it as Saigon. (Of course, I still think of Jakarta as Batavia, and don't get me started on the nations of Africa.) These days, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Vietnam is a steaming bowl of pho tai gau with a side of goi cuon. I am fortunate to work near a great Vietnamese soup restaurant run by delightful people.

I'm not trying to avoid the movie, but I'm always happy to patronize the establishments of immigrants who fled Communist regimes. From the Cuban restaurant to the aforementioned Vietnamese place, to the Ukranian liquor store around the corner, to the nice Russian restaurant downtown with the delicious blinis, to God knows how many Chinese places, I'm always happy to give these establishments my business and to always overtip in the process. These are folks who risked getting shot on their way out, and made a dangerous choice to come here, and I'm proud to have them as my neighbors. It doesn't hurt that the food is awesome.

I'm also briefly reminded of circa 1985, when my church helped out with--literally--a village of Cambodian refugees who came to the US. I don't know a lot of the details, but I vividly remember spending a few months in Bible classes and running around the playground with a bunch of confused but cheerful Cambodian kids.

The rest of the movie follows a lot of the Vietnam flicks... horrors of war, moral ambivalence, nobody's happy to be there... I still don't know what I would have done had I been that age at that time. Hopefully another few decades of history will help to make sense of it all.
Oddly-Named Wars
Today, for the first time, I learned of the 1969 Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador, a conflict that erupted at a series of preliminary World Cup games. Things had been tense for quite some time, but the riots sparked the war, hence the name.

My favorite, though, will always be The War of Jenkin's Ear from 1739 to 1742.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

It may appear from this blog that I spend a lot of time watching movies, and to a certain extent, that is true. However, it is important to note that I don't sleep very much (4-6 hours at most), and most of my movie viewing takes place in those eldritch hours when decent folk are asleep.

From Hell, 2003. I watched about half of this a year ago, but haven't been motivated to finish it off. I have nothing against it--based off a great graphic novel, a superb cast, centered around one of the great crime stories of history. And I greatly admire Johnny Depp as a dramatic actor. But for some reason, it just hasn't hit me in the right spot yet. So tonight, I'm Filling In Gaps.

I reached the apex of my personal Jack the Ripper interest in high school, when I read Diary of Jack the Ripper: The Discovery, the Investigation, the Debate by Shirley Harrison. Her theory was that The Ripper was an arsenic addict whose guilt was established by a detailed diary from the era, whose photocopied pages comprise about a third of the book. The rest of the book established the case for Maybrick as The Ripper, and while many have denounced the diary as a hoax and the book as a wrong turn, it was the first time I'd ever seen all of the crime scene photos of the victims. Prostitutes ripped from stem to stern, organs pulled out in grotesque ways... After seeing that work, you'll never look at Victorian photography the same way again.

While the book may be bogus, her history surrounding the diary was solid, and the photos were definitely authentic. It looks like she's publishing a followup book next year, a book that suggests that Maybrick came to America and committed a series of similar crimes. I'm anxious to read it, but I'll have my skeptic hat on this time. I'm not easily frightened--at least, not by the usual things, like spiders, snakes, blood, ghosts, etc. There are things that make me bolt upright in bed screaming, and subjects that lurk in the back of my mind all the time, but I don't discuss those with anyone. However, Diary of Jack the Ripper was one of those few traditionally scary things that really bothered me for a long time.

Back to the movie... Beautifully shot, but it still doesn't really grip me. Maybe I just haven't been in the right mood... I have watched it to the end, though.

Man, what a day off can do... I've spent most of it away from the computer, thus no blogging. I even took a nap this afternoon, something I'd almost forgotten how to do. But now it's time to kick back, hoist the blessed rhum, and watch an odd movie. Tonight's choice is 100 Women from 2002. Hey! No snickering in the back of class! It's not one of those movies. This was also known as Girl Fever, though I don't think it ever hit the theaters. So why am I watching it?

It's the third movie in a loose trilogy by writer/director Michael Davis. The first was Eight Days a Week in 1997, which is now mostly known as a Keri Russell movie made just before her big break with the TV series Felicity, which I never watched. In it, a nice intellectual high school boy has a crush on the girl across the street (Russell). She's dating another guy, of course... In an attempt to woo her, he camps out on her lawn for the entire summer. Sounds stupid, but it's an oddly philosophical movie.

Second was 2000's 100 Girls, in which the same kind of lead character (different name, different actor) is in college, and has a tryst with an anonymous girl in an elevator during a blackout, and then spends the rest of the semester trying to find her. (He gets a job as a handyman in the girls' dorm.) That one really should have been more popular, as it had lots of great actresses that have been popular in other movies, like Jaime Pressly and Larisa Oleynik. Not to mention a great performance by Marissa Ribisi, the vastly underappreciated sister of Giovanni Ribisi. But again, I don't think it came out in the theaters. Although it had many elements of the bad guy movie, there's this weird philosophical, damned near feminist strain running through it. You have to see it to understand.

This one--which I've been wanting to see for the past year--follows our similar hero, again with a different name and actor, this time incarnated as a post-college twenty-something living in a large city and making deliveries to an all female boarding house. This one follows plot synthesized from the first two: he's lusting after a specific woman (known, this time) but interacts with a lot of hot chicks in the process and in turn, learns about the harsh realties of being a woman in today's society.

A great running theme in these movies is his archetypal sidekick, played by a different actor in each film. This guy is a porn fiend, frenzied onanist, dispenser of bad advice, and general Goofus to our hero's Gallant. Generally the sidekick is a parody of the worst stereotypes of modern man. He makes the hero look better, and since the sidekick never really has any interaction with real women, serves as sort of a cautionary example.

This one also includes the wonderful Clint Howard, the ugly younger brother of Ron Howard who has been in over a hundred movies and TV shows. For some more information, feel free to check out the awesome Andy Ihnatko's Clint Howard Project (now defunct, link thanks to the Wayback Machine), or Howard's own website.

Speaking of Andy Ihnatko, his current website just isn't as much fun as it was back in the day when it was a real Complete Waste of Bandwidth. When you only had dialup and a slow computer (1200 baud/33 mHz represent, yo!), and the web was new, his massive website really took a while to load. It featured such weird subsites as the David Letterman Hairstyle Archive, in which he took screen captures of Letterman over the months to analyze the shifting patterns of Dave's follicles. OK, so it didn't take much to amuse us back then, but at least we didn't have to deal with any ads, you goddamn whippersnappers.

Back to the movie, there is an absolutely brilliant pun at the one hour mark, but I can't spoil it here. Also, there's a Star Wars reference followed by a lewd reference to Chinese fingercuffs... I think somebody is giving an old tip o' the hat to Kevin Smith.

What's really surprising about these movies is how, despite the dumb guy stuff that's visible on the surface, the underlying stories are so women-centric. One would assume that the writer might be gay or actually a woman, but I get the impression that he's a lot like his main characters, a stereotypical "nice guy" with a ton of female friends. God knows the guy is frustrated and has spent the past ten years listening to women complain about stuff without really enjoying many relationships.

(Uncomfortable silence.)

Although there is a danger in moving towards Woody Allen whinging in these kinds of 90s sensitive guy movies, this trilogy tends to stay on fairly solid ground. And like with 80s movies moving well into the early 90s, this is a decidedly 90s movie made in the early 00s. (And I realize that people won't be thinking about this for another ten years, but I feel confident in calling the years "aught one", "aught two", etc. in deference to the speech patterns of our dear Americans a hundred years ago. Thusly, the decade should be referred to as "the aughts".)

This post has rambled on way too long... If you've read this far, see all three movies in order. You'll appreciate it.
Johnny Be Good. The penultimate Anthony Michael Hall film. After Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science, Hall made this flick. (The following was Edward Scissorhands, but nothing since then has been really great, so I feel that the use of penultimate is justified, despite the fact that 99% of the nation doesn't appreciate the meaning of that lovely word.)

Some great secondary actors:I guess the main problem with this movie is that we've got to accept Anthony Michael Hall as the football jock rather than the whiny nerd. I don't know that he really pulls it off that well, but then again, I don't give a flying fuck about football, and though I've seen many movies centered around the sport (Rudy, The Replacements, The Waterboy), I still don't have any use for it. This movie focuses on the recruiting process, but I'm still not overjoyed. Jock is raised to the level of a god, learns humility, ends up nice to his friends and family but still plans on making his way via football. Blah, blah, blah.

I don't have anything against those who enjoy watching football, but I think you'd have to be crazy to play it. My father played high school football in the 1960s, and he broke just about every bone in his body in the process. My maternal grandfather played college football back in the 1930s, and even after two hip replacements, he can barely walk now. In middle school, I remembered following the tragedy of an Ole Miss player, Chuckie Mullins. Mullins was instantly paralyzed from the neck down as a result of an injury on the field in 1989, and died two years later from complications. Though largely forgotten now, his death has always colored my opinions on football. I can understand sustaining a crippling spinal injury for the causes of democracy/capitalism/etc., but not for football...

I recently heard a commentator on NPR refer to football as a great sport for the Cold War--classical combat, field generals, battle formations, etc. He went on to describe how baseball was the great sport for the Victorian/early 20th century era (white, orderly, slow, long), and how he felt that basketball was the sport of the 90s onward--fast paced, urban, adaptable, playable in any season, anywhere.

I don't really remember this movie from the 80s, but I would have disliked it more back then... It's not really good enough to stand on its own, not weird enough to be a cult classic, and though it has a lot of great stars in it, at no point has enough oomph to really engage the viewer.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Opus Update
In my continuing coverage of the new comic strip Opus, I've found a website that's scanning and posting the strips each week. Enjoy until it gets shut down. I think the second strip looks a lot better, and you won't see any artwork like that anywhere else on the comics page, much less in the rest of the newspaper. Opus' mother looks bizarre, but I still miss the stories, especially those that spanned dozens of strips over a course of weeks.
Bill Watterson Profile
Cleveland Scene has a weird profile of Bill Watterson. The bit about painting landscapes and then burning them has me a bit worried--not because I'm concerned about great artwork being lost, but because it makes me think "Howard Hughes crazy" rather than "quiet recluse". I love Calvin & Hobbes--who doesn't? I've got most of the collections, and have deep respect for Watterson's handling of the strip and refusal to compromise. But I couldn't help but be concerned...
den Beste Sums It Up Nicely
In a post that is an extended respone to a reader's letter, Steven den Beste offers up some harsh words that should be heeded:
I know my nation. I know my people. We don't want to destroy you all. But if you (I mean "Muslims") place us in a position where only you or us can survive, it's going to be us, and you'll all be dead. We can do that; we've had that capability for a very long time. We don't want to, but we will if we must.
And the following:
If you learn nothing else about America, learn this and imprint it on your brain in glowing colors: we will never surrender. There are many ways this war can end. That's not one of them.
I don't think a lot of people really get that...
No Comment
The Volokh Conspiracy issues a solid reasoning for not having comments enabled on that esteemed blog. My experience from watching others is that if your blog is popular, they become a headache, and if no one reads your blog, it's an unpleasant daily reminder of that fact. Of course, I don't care if anyone reads this or not, but I'd rather not look at it and see "Comments - 0" on every post.

In addition to the reasons listed by Eugene Volokh, I'd add that as far as I'm concerned, this blog exists primarily for my own benefit, being an easily accessible journal in which to jot ideas that might be useful later. The movie/book reviews are fun, and by writing them, I find that I recall more details later, especially with some of the weirder, more obscure stuff.
Out of Sync
I'm still messed up from the previous week. While everyone around me has just concluded a nice 3-day weekend following Thanksgiving, I've been at work the entire time. Thus, while everyone else feels relaxed and is slowly moving back into the swing of things, I'm grouchy, tense, worn out, and anxiously awaiting my day off tomorrow. My schedule's weird to begin with, but shifting that routine 180 degrees and the result completely being off kilter with the rest of society has just been bizarre.
What do you do with a drunken Congress?
John McCain has been getting a lot of attention recently for saying the following:
"Congress is now spending money like a drunken sailor," said McCain, a former Navy officer, "and I've never known a sailor, drunk or sober, with the imagination that this Congress has."
In response, Jonah Goldberg over at The National Review quipped:
First of all, drunken sailors don't spend as much as this Congress has. Second, drunken sailors spend their own money. Third, they deserve to.
Gotta remember that one...

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