Saturday, January 03, 2004

Morbid curiosity and a fondness for lowbrow teen sex comedies has led me to a viewing on DVD of American Wedding (2003), better known as American Pie 3. I laughed heartily at many points, at others, I screamed at the TV in hearty incredulity. Like those bits about women actually loving men or promising to remain faithful.

There was no real reason for this movie to be made, but it doesn't give the less-than-illustrious franchise a bad name. The second movie was a great film that showed some more maturity, but the main failing of this third�one is that it's not a good ensemble piece. All of the former actresses save Alyson Hannigan are absent, and only Jason Biggs and Seann William Scott have decent roles among the actors.

I really wanted to enjoy this movie, but I think I made a mistake in watching it with The Roommate. She didn't appreciate me grunting and growling during the happy romantic parts.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Mindless Blather
Pravda (ahem, Правда) has moved from being the embodiment of Orwell's nightmares into a sort of Russian edition of the "Weekly World News". I suppose you can chalk this up as a win for capitalism. Maybe a win with an asterisk. For instance, take their story about the faux lesbian pop duo TATU running for president, since their combined ages exceed the minimum age requirement (35).

Surprisingly, this is one of the few Pravda stories I've read that wasn't completely messed up in translation. Look at some of the links to the right and you'll see less exemplary writings. The link was posted via Fark, source of All Things Wise and Wonderful. In the comments section, somebody jokingly feared for the idea of a country with nuclear capability being run by a woman, and the idea that PMS could lead to a first strike doomsday scenario. Ha ha, hee hee... Granted, I don't like being around armed women* at certain points, but to this notion I have but two words to say: Margaret Thatcher.

One of the unique pleasures of being a child of the 80s was that you had a set of staunch conservative grandparents guarding western civilization from the creeping spectre of communism: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. (I own a copy of the latter's memoirs, The Downing Street Years.) Baroness Thatcher had the sheer force of will to stare down the Red Menace both on the Eastern front and in her own country. While many other Prime Ministers after Churchill had to deal with Communism in one way or the other, particularly in the various proxy wars, Thatcher was the one who had to stare them down for the endgame of the 80s. (Alas, she was kicked out by her own party before the final death knell was sounded, but she was effectively there until the end.) Nobody in the western or eastern world doubted her resolve, and it was with both pride and fear that she was known as "The Iron Lady".

(I was a little rusty on the Prime Ministers after Churchill and before Thatcher, but I gave myself a quick refresher course thanks to the biography section of Number 10 Downing Street's official website.)

*The Roommate wields a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a 16-gauge shotgun loaded with bismuth shot. I have an exquisite set of handmade kitchen knives, and am mostly accustomed to delicately slicing cold animal flesh. You do the math.
I'm watching another Woody Allen movie, though he didn't write or direct it. He is the male lead, so I suppose it qualifies. Scenes from a Mall (1991). While not a favorite of anyone, I'm watching it for another reason: it was co-written by Roger L. Simon, a mystery novelist, screenwriter, and a rather good blogger. I've been reading his blog for the past couple of months--he's over there on the left under "Right-Leaning American Blogs". (His political leanings are more complicated than that, but he's been moving rightward since 9/11 and even voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recent recall. In my personal reading list, I link him along with the other--mostly left-wing--California bloggers.) He hasn't said much about about this movie, but you can read all of the blogged references to it here.

The concept is odd but funny in places. Let's take neurotic New Yorker Woody Allen, give him a character who's married to a psychiatrist (Bette Midler, one of the rare age-appropriate female co-stars in his movies) and set them in Los Angeles at the beginning of the 90s. Then they go to the mall shortly before Christmas and hilarity ensues. The fish out of water theme was explored with some jollity in Annie Hall, but here he just looks uncomfortable, especially since he has to carry around a green and yellow surfboard for a good chunk of the film. And he has a tiny ponytail. And he's hounded by a mime.

I will note that watching two Woody Allen movies back to back in which he complains about sex for the entire picture will pretty much kill off all desire for the act.

I find myself wanting to watch Mallrats next (I'm always fond of pairing related movies), but I've got real work to do today.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

And now for something different, though made one year after The Godfather... 1973's Woody Allen science fiction comedy Sleeper. While not a big fan of Woody Allen, I have seen maybe a dozen of his movies--more than average for someone who's not a devotee or resident of New York. The only two that I really loved were Annie Hall and Everyone Says I Love You.

This movie tries to do too much in too short of a time. It reminds me of several really bad sci-fi novels written by authors unfamiliar with the genre. I don't tend to find Woody Allen that funny, but I still enjoy some of his plots. This one is supposed to be a pure comedy, and it doesn't really connect. (Maybe it did better in the 70s.) The homages to Buster Keaton are nice, but again, the complete execution is muddled.

One interesting bit of trivia is that Joel Schumacher was the costume designer for this. Yes, the Joel Schumacher, the one famous for making a Batman movie hated by comic fans and regular people alike. (He also directed Bad Company that I watched the other night.)

I can't say I would recommend this, unless you're a Woody Allen completist, or if you have a deep love of the frequently bad sci-fi movies of the 1970s.
Another moment of confession here. The list of great movies and great books that I've never seen or read would be far too embarrassing to share with the world, even under the light protection of a pseudonym. However, I'm happy to reveal these individual works after I've consumed them, so that while I may in many ways be a cultural philistine, I plead upon the court to recognize my attempts to reform.

So it comes to pass that, for the first time in my twenty-seven years on this planet, I'm watching 1972's universally-regarded masterpiece The Godfather. It's #1 on the IMDB Top 250 and #3 on the AFI Top 100. I think any reasonable list would place it high within the top ten films ever made in any country.

For the record, I never actively avoided this movie. I just didn't get a chance to see it before seeing references to it in a hundred different movies and TV shows. Something is lost when otherwise dramatic lines have been uttered by the animated pigeons on Animaniacs. I admire clever (and stupid) parody; it's my own fault that I didn't see the original movie earlier.

Having watched it, what can I say? It fulfilled all expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and found it a pleasant way to spend an evening.
Happy New Year
Cheers to all kind souls who read this. I spent a relaxing evening with The Roommate and Ring Bearer. Steaks were grilled, alcohol was consumed, dogs froliced, and a good time was had by all. In addition to an almost complete re-watching of Pirates of the Caribbean (I started to drift off near the end), we watched 2003's action extravaganza Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. While the special effects, makeup, and sets were beautiful, the story was mostly forgettable and the acting left a lot to be desired. The music wasn't anywhere near as good as T2, though it's hard to follow up on a movie that big in all regards. The last couple of minutes are quite spectacular, but not for reasons that have much to do with the preceding hour and a half. Lots of stuff to make fun of, though, and thus I'm glad we all got ot see it.

I don't have much more to add. It's been an interesting, eventful year. I hope the next one is more reserved. What am I thinking? It's now officially an Election Year. Things aren't going to be quiet until November--or later, if we end up with another election fiasco... Let's just be glad that the New Year was ushered in without a terrorist attack on American soil.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

After a mostly unproductive day off, I have finished cooking for the evening (Mexican shredded chicken, cooked the same way as the beef recipe listed earlier, but cooked for less time), have just poured a lovely Cuba libre with some freshly cut lime, and have settled down to watch 2003's comic book adaptation extravaganza, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I have been wanting to see this since it was announced. The concept sounded cool, I love Victorian history/art/music/literature, and I think that steampunk is a vastly underexplored genre. I've never read the comics, but I think it gives me a slightly better chance to appreciate the movie. (While familiar with the backgrounds of many mainstream comic book characters, I never read the comics and felt I was able to enjoy these wonderful new adaptations of Marvel comics like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and X-Men.)

The story of this movie is well known by now--a Victorian world in which the heroes of science fiction and horror are living, breathing figures who are brought together to fight a mysterious enemy amidst luscious backdrops and dignified costumes. As I generally do with big blockbuster films, I'll avoid saying much more about it, aside from any weird things I feel would be appropriate for the blog.

The character of Captain Nemo is played by Naseeruddin Shah, who has starred in nearly a hundred movies in India. The only one that looks familiar to me is Monsoon Wedding, which I need to see. Of course, I may have seen him by accident--my local beloved Indian restaurant plays clips from Indian movies non-stop. Though it's interesting that the Bombay House restaurant is owned and operated by Sikhs and Nemo here has been rendered as a proud, heavily bearded Sikh.

Halfway through this film, I can safely say that it doth kick righteous ass, and I'll be picking up a used copy of it as soon as it becomes available.

Update: Under the Special Features section of this DVD, there's an option called "A Special Message", which takes us to one of the government-funded anti-marijuana commercials that you see on TV. You know the kind--"Sarah killed fourteen people and then gave birth to mutant triplets with all of their organs on the outsides of their bodies. But she thought that smoking marijuana just one time wouldn't hurt anyone..." While I will happily admit that dope smokers aren't known for being the smartest drug users out there (aside from Carl Sagan), anyone who has spent any time around them knows that they're generally never a threat to themselves or others. Your average alcoholic poses a much bigger threat to society. I'm not annoyed that it's on the DVD so much that I'm annoyed that they hid it like that. In a movie that features a character who attains superhuman strength and power by drinking a "magic potion". Stupid War on Drugs crap aside, this movie still rocks and I'm looking forward to buying it and watching it again, along with the commentary tracks.
This morning I finished reading the latest Clive Cussler adventure novel, 2003's Trojan Odyssey. This might be the last Dirk Pitt book, though I have a feeling that he'll pop out a few more of his non-fiction works about the real-life research of NUMA. I heard a while back that he was ready to retire from writing. However, in the previous book, Atlantis Found, he introduced two grown children of Pitt's who's mother had kept them secret, a boy named Dirk and a girl named Summer. So if he wants to keep writing in his Dirk Pitt Universe, he now has two fresh faces to take over the reins. And the boy has the same name, so it will be easy to write.

These are good, stupid fun books to read. Think about Tom Clancy mixed with Indiana Jones, and you've got a good idea. The third Dirk Pitt novel, Raise the Titanic, was made into a movie in 1980, but Cussler wasn't happy with it and audiences didn't care much for it either. Now he's more deeply involved in an epic movie version of Sahara, which was a fun read and would adapt well to the big screen. The cast looks interesting, and while it would be impossible to find actors who exactly match the characters from the books, I think the choices are mostly appropriate. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

As for Trojan Odyssey, it wasn't the best or worst, nor was it the most outlandish plot, but an enjoyable read suitable for the airplane, lying on the beach, or other general relaxation times when you want to shift your brain into neutral.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Surreal Suckers
I just found out that the logo on the wrappers of "Chupa Chups" suckers was designed by Salvador Dal�. I found this out upon having read of the death of the company's founder, Enric Bernat Fontlladosa.
Years after an old ex-roommate extolled the virtues of it, I'm finally getting around to seeing 1991's Cast A Deadly Spell. (Note: I always include the date, because for some titles there are multiple movies, and for every movie, it helps to know when it came out for proper perspective.)

Though I wouldn't call myself a fan of Fred Ward, I generally enjoy the movies in which he appears. And though I think Julianne Moore is gorgeous and brilliant (I'm a sucker for redheads), I don't consider this one of her better works. One of the main problems is that, as this was made for TV (I think it was an early HBO movie before they got good at it), the movie really looks terrible. Maybe a DVD made from an original print would look good, but It was obviously shot on low-grade film and transferred to low-grade tape for broadcast. And twelve years later, it looks even worse.

The concept is interesting, but I feel it's been done better, namely in the books written by Glen Cook. Cook created a fantasy world and wrote a series of Raymond Chandler-inspired mystery novels set in said world. They're all quite good, and all of them include a reference to a metal in the titles. (I tend to prefer fantasy that has a unique hook rather than the usual LOTR rehash that we see in most fantasy.) The first book of his that I read happened to be the one with the most alluring cover art. Though I can't remember much of the plots of those novels, I do recall how detailed and complex that particular fantasy world was. For instance, centaurs were treated with a social scorn somewhere between that of blacks in the 1920s and Iranians in the 1970s.

I'll point out here that the writer of this movie did a follow up in 1994, Witch Hunt. I haven't seen it, but it was on the other night and I avoided watching it because I hadn't seen Cast A Deadly Spell yet.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I'm killing time before picking up The Roommate at the airport late tonight... Thus it is that I find myself watching 2002's The Salton Sea. It's a mystery/suspense flick set amongst speed freaks in California and starring Val Kilmer in the lead role (as well as that of the narrator). Adam Goldberg, whom I raved about in The Hebrew Hammer, has a large role here as well.

Other notable actors include R. Lee Ermey, who's in every movie these days. (I forgot to point out that he was in Run Ronnie Run!) Luis Guzm�n, Vincent D'Onofrio, Anthony LaPaglia, Meat Loaf... Lots of good ones here.

As far as drug films go, this one is closer to Trainspotting than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or some goofy weed comedy like Half Baked. Like Trainspotting, there's a lot going on, and parts are funny, parts are sad, parts are downright scary. As far as movies about speed freaks go, I'm looking forward to seeing Spun later this week, as it has a lot of actors that I really like.

Probably one of the most honest accounts I've ever come across regarding use of amphetamines came from David Sedaris' stories about using speed in college when he was also a performance artist. While I don't advocate the use of mood-altering drugs (other than caffeine and alcohol), interesting cultures have developed around these different substances and the way they warp the human mind. Maybe it's because of my rampant insomnia that I find myself driven to stories about speed freaks--they tend to stay up all night cleaning the house or building sculptures out of paperclips or doing any number of manic things. I'm not like that at all, but I can understand having extra time to fill at hours that aren't convenient for the rest of society. That's why speed freaks will often group together in tight clusters in order to always have someone to talk to at a mile a minute all night long.

The history of the Salton Sea is interesting, as it's not often that an inland sea is created by accident.
I don't think I've posted this before (I try not to blog the same movie twice), but I just finished watching 1996's Beavis and Butt-head Do America. I occasionally watched the TV show, but I never considered myself a real fan. Quick trivia: do you know why you won't be seeing DVD collections of Beavis and Butt-head that feature them making fun of music videos? MTV doesn't have the rights for redistribution of the music videos in a format like DVD.

I really enjoyed this movie, though, and have seen it many times. Thought the plot is goofy and weak, what you're really watching it for are the moments: the opening sequences (Godzilla and Starsky & Hutch spoofs), the Great Cornholio, Robert Stack ordering body cavity searches on everyone ("Go deep!"), the desert hallucination scene that was laid out by Rob Zombie, and lots of other wonderful scenes.

Likewise, I'm a huge fan of the two spinoff shows that came from Beavis and Butt-head, namely King of the Hill and Daria, though I like each for different reasons. (And Daria is pretty much over now--it wasn't ever really canceled, nor was it ever a regularly scheduled series, but 2002's movie Daria: Is it College Yet? effectively wrapped up the story.) And who can deny the genius that was Mike Judge's Office Space? His newest project looks intriguing, a sci-fi/comedy called 3001. (For a moment I was concerned that he was filming an adaptation of the lackluster Arthur C. Clarke novel of the same name.)
America Shafts the Poles
FrontPageMag has a great article about the military traditions of Poland as well as their long time support of the US, and how we're currently treating them.

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