Friday, December 14, 2007

Terry Tate Compilation

"The pain train's coming for you! Woo-woo! Woo-woo!"

Whoever came up with this ad campaign at Reebok is hopefully running the company now because it was nine kinds of genius. Terry Tate - Office Linebacker is iconic and the ads are so blasted funny it is physically impossible to keep a straight face through any of them. Each spot has is packed with quotable lines so picking one or two favorites is nigh impossible. Someone on the interwebs compiled most of the ads into one 10 minute spot on YouTube and here it is.

Behold, the genius that is Terry Tate - Office Linebacker:



The missing ones I know of explain how Terry was "discovered" and his "sensitivity training," both of which are absolutely hysterical. Sensitivity Training and the OSPN Terry Tate restrospective. Enjoy.

Now Playing: Hollywood Homicide

Harrison Ford, why hast thou forsaken me?

This is Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and John Book. Anyone that grew up in the 1980s idolized him, yet his last genuine hit was the over-amped Air Force One 10 years ago (and I’m not counting the awful What Lies Beneath because that film, like this one, sucked). Instead of using his 30 years worth of clout to only work with the best, he apparently doesn’t care anymore.

I swear I don’t know what goes on in the man’s head when he goes out of his way to star in unfunny tripe like Hollywood Homicide when it is so clearly beneath him that even he doesn’t seem cognizant of which film he’s in.

Not helping matters is the fact that his partner is played by Mr. Lacking Personality himself, Josh Hartnett. This is another case of an undeserving actor having a career when no semblance of talent is ever on screen. His character, of course, wants to be an actor, which proves unintentionally ironic during his thespian displays of shouting “Stella!” at the top of his lungs. About the only time he’s convincing during the film is... wait, nope. I can’t finish that sentence with a straight face so let’s move on to what else fails.

The plot involves a rap group finding themselves on the wrong end of a machine gun at a club, and when the cops are called in to investigate they find their personal lives intertwined with the case. Think of a cop movie cliché and I guarantee you it makes an appearance somewhere, which is shocking considering the amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera. There are plenty of big names who sort of blow through their roles as though they’re just doing this for the paycheck and aren’t ashamed to let it show. Martin Landau has an Oscar, last I heard, yet he's playing a knock-off of Robert Evans who was better spoofed by Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog.

Just sayin'.

It's funny now to watch Isaiah Washington play the rage-filled music mogul behind everything, because of the hostility which bounced him from "Grey's Anatomy." The ultra-hot Lena Olin appears as Ford's psychic girlfriend and like Keith David as Ford's supervisor, is completely, utterly wasted. So much talent, so little script. The film is not serious enough to become emotionally involved with, funny enough to laugh at, or sleazy enough to revel in. It limps along to its conclusion, the least exciting car chase I think I've ever seen followed by equally unexciting show downs with the villains.

While I may have a glimmer of hope for the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it has more to do with the combination of Lucas, Spielberg, Ford, and the return of Karen Allen than with Ford by himself. By this point, I think it’s obvious that the man doesn’t care anymore which is heartbreaking for fans. When Ford wants to, he proves time and again that he’s more than an actor. He’s an icon.

I sincerely wish he would care about something again, and soon.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Now Playing: Modern Romance

"Petey... Carol... Petey... Carol..."

Albert Brooks walks a fine line for me. Sometimes he’s funny while others he comes off as annoying. I think it depends on how likable he is in his films. Witness Finding Nemo or Defending Your Life where his schtick works because the characters are genuinely heartfelt, sweet characters who try their best but are held back by their personal fears.

I bring up those examples because his work in Modern Romance falls on its face immediately after the opening. By the end of the film, literally nothing has changed for any of the characters and Brooks' neurosis fail to come off cute and register instead as stalker-ish.

He plays Robert, a film editor currently working on a sci-fi film starring George Kennedy, and is in a semi-continuous relationship with Mary, played by the luscious Kathryn Harrold. The opening scene is hilarious as he meets her for dinner then tries to break up with her. Robert demands she not call him, then Mary looks him straight in the eye and asks, “This time?”

It turns out they break up all the time, then get back together, only to break up later and Robert isn’t as much in love with Mary as he is with the pain and essential "rebirth" of the breakup-makeup process.

The film does have its moments like when Robert, post-breakup, is flying high on Quaaludes, but it has one note it hits repeatedly for 90 minutes and it’s not a good one. His first date after the breakup laid me out but afterwards the film simply wasn’t very funny.

Alright, the George Kennedy film was pretty funny as was the discussion with the director afterwards but that’s it. Certainly nothing funny happened after that. Oh Albert, why won’t you make me laugh more? You know I love you, don’t you?

Imagine a film like that and you have Modern Romance. I was hitting my head on the desk in frustration from the moment he finds the phone bill through to the credits, so thanks for the migraine, Al. I suspected based on the premise that My Fair Lady wouldn’t find any of the film funny and when I gave her a verbal highlight reel her response was succinct:

“That doesn’t sound very romantic. Or funny. Why would I watch that?”

Exactly.

This may come with the reputation of being Albert Brooks’ masterpiece but it says less about modern romance than it does about Brooks’ desire to be in a room where Harrold disrobes completely before climbing into bed with him.

If nothing else, you have to admire her willingness to show off her killer, and all-natural, body and for that alone I thank Albert Brooks. But the rest of the film could have been spent, I don’t know, maybe playing a character that actually funny. Or grows.

Then again, Brooks’ point is that that’s the joke. It’s too bad no one told him it wasn't a funny one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Now Playing: I Trust You To Kill Me

“Sometimes you have to go through something to find out why you did it.”

“If you know anything about Kiefer, organization is not his middle name.”

I Trust You To Kill Me is a brilliant documentary about what happens when you take a well-known actor and make him the road manager of a band on the verge of success during a two-week road trip across Europe around Christmas. Throw in a metric ton of egos and chaos ensues. What I found absolutely fascinating though was the intimacy the cameras caught because Kiefer Sutherland is very guarded about his privacy now that he’s grown up.

Kiefer has a very touching story about a case he carries. He also attacks a Christmas tree while drunk, which makes him even more awesome in my book. But the moments that stick with the viewer are ones where he lets his guard down completely while talking to the film crew and just says what is on his mind. When the band gets to one gig and no one is there, Sutherland and his best friend literally hit the streets of Dublin and go into bars and restaurants handing out tickets and talking the band up. He also calls in to a local radio station for an impromptu interview where he talks at length about the band and invites all listeners to come to the pub that night to hear them.

Sutherland knows that it is his fame that will help get butts in the seats and he is fine with that. He shares some hearty laughs with his friend along the way and it makes you happy for him that he is enjoying himself, even if bar patrons only recognize him as Jack Bauer.

If the music were not good then the documentary would suffer, but fortunately Rocco and his band can play. I don’t think they’re quite as good as Sutherland talks them up to be but they do have plenty of talent. Rocco has some anger issues to work through but he’s smart enough to channel them through his music and his vocals are better for it.

Sutherland starts the documentary talking about how he can only take them so far and then after a certain point he will have to, by necessity, step back. When they reach that point in Berlin the result is hilarious. Without going into the specifics, the editing is pure gold as it contrasts the situation the band is in with where Sutherland is.

I Trust You To Kill Me is a very good look behind the scenes of an up and coming band on the road as well as an unguarded look at Kiefer Sutherland as he begins to realize his hard partying days are almost over.

If you consider yourself a fan of his then you absolutely must watch this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Now Playing: 28 Days Later

Danny Boyle knows how to direct a thriller, no doubt about it. His introductory film, Shallow Grave, remains the single most malevolent film I’ve ever seen. There’s no other way I can think of to describe it, not even as a descent into madness. Boyle knows how to build tension and wring ever last drop of sweat out of his audience but far too frequently he’s undone by those very same talents.

As such, I think 28 Days Later is all the best and all the worst examples of his personal tics together in a single film.

The film opens with a group of animal rights activists trying to free some chimps from a research lab. A doctor catches them then freaks out when he sees what they’re doing. He warns them that the chimps are infected with rage and clearly the activists think that’s nothing more than a metaphor. They find out how wrong that assumption is about five seconds later then the film jumps to a hospital bed 28 days later.

Jim (Cillian Murphy) sits up in an empty hospital and finds himself very much alone in the greater London area. As he starts to put together the pieces he discovers the United Kingdom has been evacuated because of a virus. Then he goes to church and finds out that not everyone has left.

The “not-a-zombie” people in the film are genuinely frightening especially in the context of germ warfare. I say that knowing full well the film, despite the obviousness of the infection metaphor, is pretty much Boyle’s attempt to ramp up the zombie horror thriller and in that regard the film succeeds. It’s genuinely unsettling throughout and the digital video grainy aspect lends an extra layer of grit to the film.

I think Murphy is talented when it comes to being creepy but he’s sort of stranded here since he’s playing “normal.” Even the point where he would, one presumes, naturally excel late in the film feels like a cheat because I couldn’t see the character going all “Lord of the Flies” that quickly. Which brings me to the turning point of the film for me and for long time fans.

About an hour in, Jim’s crew arrives at a military base and this is the exact moment where the film tends to lose people. I can understand what Boyle was saying here, but it does feel wildly out of place. There is only one truly bad guy introduced here and he’s more of a right-hand man than the actual military leader (long-time Boyle pal Christopher Eccleston) who wants to do right by his men more than anything else.

The film maintains its intensity through to the very end, but this sequence feels more like a middle than an end, the coda not withstanding. On that note, I somewhat preferred the other ending that played theatrically (included on the disc) even if Boyle should have stopped it before his final shot.

I’m curious now about the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, to see what effects a larger budget and bigger explosions have on this story. The original film definitely is a good scare-fest, but those same scares are muted by that final hour and some poor character decisions.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Now Playing: This Film Is Not Yet Rated

After watching this documentary two things are abundantly clear to me. The first is that MPAA former honcho Jack Valenti was an absolutely brilliant politician and the second is that Kirby Dick is my new hero.

Dick set out to make a documentary on the MPAA which is considered a very shadowy organization, an obvious irony very much at the forefront of this documentary. Every film maker has to submit their films to this organization for a rating and never knows how the process is going to turn out.

No one knows who the raters are.

No one knows who is on the appeals board if someone doesn’t like the rating their film is tagged with.

The only thing any one knows, really, is that an individual’s film is screened for a select few people who fill out a form and arbitrarily decide what rating a film deserves.

Dick decided to find out who exactly was behind this process and the results are as illuminating as they are infuriating.

The first step Dick makes is to hire a private investigator to track down the raters. Thus begins a month-long odyssey where they manage to uncover the identities of most of the raters, the form the raters use while watching a film, and other scandalous items. But why, you might ask, is everything so scandalous? Doesn’t the MPAA work for us, the viewing public, to help parents decide what to let their kids watch?

The answer is yes and no.

The “yes” to that question goes back to the MPAA’s stated purpose of being a self-governing watch dog that helps Hollywood police itself with no intrusion from Washington. In a fun twist, that’s also the answer to the “no.”

The MPAA takes a movie, watches it, decides what rating to give it, then sends it back to the film maker with the rating stamped on it. If someone doesn’t like their rating, they can file an appeal with the appeals board and hope for the best. That much is obvious.

What isn’t as obvious until Dick starts digging is how blatantly the MPAA approves of bad language violence over sex and nudity. If there is full frontal nudity of either gender at all, that film has about a 99% chance of getting slapped with an NC-17. If those same people are blown to smithereens by a cruise missile while the villain throws out f-bombs, then welcome to either a PG-13 or an R.

Through interviews with dozens of film makers and industry insiders, Dick exposes one MPAA hypocrisy after another all while his PI continues digging. The interviews cover Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), Kevin Smith (Clerks), John Waters (Hairspray), Matt Stone (South Park), and others famous for knocking heads with the MPAA. When they get enough evidence together, Dick assembles a cut of the film and then proves he has bigger cajones than any one else I know.

He submits it to the MPAA for a rating then captures what happens.

Not surprisingly, his film is slapped with an NC-17 and an extra on the disc has him talking about this moment at the South By Southwest film festival in Austin. Make sure you watch this extra because that one story alone is absolutely hilarious. After getting the rating, Dick files an appeal and goes through that process showing every step of the way. But as jaw dropping as his film is, the finale is where his point is most brilliantly made on who exactly the MPAA truly serves.

If you have any interest whatsoever in the film business, then This Film is Not Yet Rated is essential viewing. It may be NC-17, but Netflix has it available and you can find it through additional channels. Watch this film and let the debate rage on.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Greatest. Wine ad. Ever.

Martin Scorsese recently directed a wine ad. Of course, it being Martin Scorsese he didn't just shoot a 30 or 60-second spot. Oh no. He has an entire story devoted to it and the brilliance is a testament to both him and to Alfred Hitchcock. You'll know why the second you start watching the video which is mandatory viewing for film lovers.

Check it out right here.

Also, the music that kicks in during the action sequence is from "North By Northwest."

Friday, November 30, 2007

Now Playing: The Host

I must not be the obsessive fan boy that others in the Internet-based film geek community are (which would explain my disdain for "Serenity") because I watched this with the understanding that it was a kick ass monster film.

Instead, it’s a flat, slow, over-the-top monster film with bursts of greatness followed by loooong stretches of boring. I won’t argue that the film does itself a great service by not sticking to the basics of the formula and in that regard "The Host" is a heck of a good idea.

But the execution, frankly, sucks.

The film starts with an elderly American doctor instructing his younger Korean assistant to pour a ton of dusty chemicals down the drain even though it will lead straight into the mighty Han River. We’re then introduced to members of a family apparently governed by two idiots.

The patriarch of the family worries about his dimwitted son screwing up their business which is a little snack shack by the Han. The son has a daughter who is clearly smarter than either him or the patriarch, and she proves to be the grounded center of the film.

This is all about 10 minutes in which is when we get our first look at the monster. Credit is due to the film makers for not hiding it because you know right from the start what exactly the family is up against. The monster is basically a giant mutated fish, but the film makers treat it as a genuine animal.

It’s not just a killing machine despite the carnage it wrecks. The thing moves and acts like a wild animal would which is that it will attack when provoked and retreat when threatened. The downside is it looks fairly silly, and that silliness is magnified by the family’s reactions when it snatches the little girl.

The family is in a triage mourning and the way they just fell apart on the floor cracked me up. Somehow I doubt that’s what the director was going for. There are tons of genuinely funny moments, especially the biohazard suit wearing guy who walks into the triage with a megaphone. His reaction to the news cast had me howling. The family is taken to a hospital but when they get a phone call from the little girl who is clearly still alive, the family decides to take action and get the girl back.

I’d find everything far more believable if the two leaders of the family weren’t so completely bone stupid. When the little girl’s dad keeps falling asleep despite the situation, yet somehow has moments of clarity, it feels like the film wants to have it both ways. If he was going to start dumb and useless but end up on top of things that would be one thing, the formula if you will. But when the characters start stupid, have flashes of intelligence at just the right moments but then slip right back into Stupidville, I call shenanigans.

I give the film a lot of credit for bringing the funny and for not adhering to the standard monster movie formula, but the big finale doesn’t feel earned and the ending just kind of sits there. It doesn’t help that the characters are more a mess of jumbled contradictions than genuine people and that doesn’t fly when you need the story to move forward based on something more than an idiot having a spontaneous idea.

"The Host" is alright, but it’s no where near worth the accolades showered upon it by the Internet community.

Now Playing: Guess Who?

"Oh God! Are we being audited?"

I never watched Bernie Mac’s show when it was on but he seldom fails to make me laugh. He seems to specialize in the get in and get out style of cameo, which is perfect. Here he carries the film, which is no mean feat considering the weight includes the lifeless Ashton Kutcher.

I have yet to understand who in Hollywood decided he was A-list material because his utter lack of charisma or comic timing suggests he is anything but. The script is a fairly predictable reworking of "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?" with the twist being a black family’s daughter brings home a white guy. It even includes the typical "issue" you know will divide before the characters ultimately conquer and everything winds up happy in the end.

So what did I like about it?

Practically everything with Mac’s family is gold including a hilarious dinner conversation where Kutcher is forced to tell one black joke after another. You know he’s going to hit a wrong note eventually but the build up to it is genuinely funny.

It’s an amusing little comedy with enough funny moments to justify the rental. I’m keeping this commentary short since I watched it a while back and don’t remember a lot of it. Or any of it, really.

Take that for what it’s worth but I do recall laughing out loud a few times.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Now Playing: The Prisoner

This is the monster that cost me a month of my time.

You wouldn’t think it would take so long to watch 17 one-hour episodes of anything but it did. I almost didn’t make it though and I’ll tell you why in a second. But for now, let us get on to what has been heralded as one of the most important shows to ever hit the television medium. Prior to actually sitting down and watching it, "The Prisoner" was always referred to in hushed tones as though the very speaking of its name required a silent prayer of thanks.

Overall, the show ain’t half bad even though it is painfully obvious that AMC was unable to obtain the rights to whatever music selections were used in key parts of the show, most notably during the finale. This hurts far more than it helps. What music was substituted in is fine, if you can get past the show suddenly shifting into a foreign film sans subtitles where you have to accept that the dubbers aren’t pulling your leg with the translation.

The show kicks off like a rocket with an unnamed secret agent, the brilliant if over-the-top Patrick McGoohan (later famed as Edward the Longshanks in "Braveheart"), resigning from his secretive organization. He throws down his resignation, storms out the door, drives home and starts packing his suitcase before heading off to parts unknown.

Those plans are diverted a split second later when someone gases him. He wakes up in a remote place called The Village where he is assigned the number six as his designation. He doesn’t know who has him, who they work for, or where he is. All he knows is that the people who run The Village want information on why he resigned, and he’s convinced they won’t stop there should they ever get it. The chief antagonist is Number 2, the person in charge of The Village and in a brilliant decision the character changes from episode to episode. Sometimes Number 2 is a woman, sometimes a man.

This helps keep both Number 6 and the viewer off balance because every Number 2 approaches Number 6 differently so you never know what to expect.

The best moments of the show begin to occur a few episodes in as Number 6 comes to terms with his surroundings and starts to taunt his captors. The first few episodes focus on him trying to escape and being foiled in the end, but McGoohan (essentially the show runner) was smart enough to factor this in.

Number 6 soon begins to fight back against his captors and those episodes are usually brilliant. Equally brilliant are the episodes where Number Six actually escapes, such as "Many Happy Returns," because the show constantly plays against expectations.

But the second episode almost killed it for me. It was written and directed by McGoohan and it is absolutely insane. Number 2 holds an election where Number 6 runs against him for the title of Number 2. It sounds fine on paper but the way they did the episode is absolutely bizarre and assaulting. I almost held off on watching anything else, but decided to try the next disc.

I forget if it was episode three or four that was titled "The Chimes of Big Ben" but that one episode sold me so completely on the series that I relentlessly watched the remaining episodes as soon as they would come in. This episode also introduced my favorite Number 2 in the entirety of the show.

In watching an interview on the discs, the producer reveals McGoohan practically had to go into hiding because of how he ended the series. Remember, not every series is dragged on and on and on by networks desperate for ad dollars. Overseas markets tend to tell a story to completion, then end the show and move on.

Personally, I thought the ending to "The Prisoner" was solid even if the first half of the episode was strange rift on a trial, and one of my least favorite one-off characters was brought back. The reveal of Number 1 was surprising though so the show did get me there. But it does end well, in my opinion, so take that for what it’s worth.

The show deserves its place in history for a number of reasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them was how it played with traditional story telling. I have no frame of reference for television during that time other than sitcoms so a continuous dramatic arc, despite a lot of early evidence to the contrary, must have seem revelatory. It swims in style, though, so if you are even remotely a fan of 1960s Cold War spy thrillers then this show is an absolute must-see.

Yes, even the episode where Number 6 "switches brains" with another agent, which was probably written because McGoohan wanted a break that week.

But there are more hits than misses through the show and when it does manage to strike a bulls-eye, you'll find yourself thinking about that one episode for weeks afterwards. Oh, and the theme song is deceptively catchy. You hear it the first time and regard it as good. Then you'll catch yourself whistling it while in the supermarket.

The show gets under your skin so if you haven't seen it then do check it out. Just be prepared for some rough going in the second episode, and some equally rough going just prior to the final two episodes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Now Playing: Unscripted

I shouldn’t even post this but I’ll go ahead and explain what happened when I sat down to watch Unscripted. This is a series Steven Soderburg and George Clooney came up with that focuses on three actors all struggling in Hollywood trying to make names for themselves. It’s a series based on a mixture of real-life and scripted events but the majority of it is improv.

Considering the powers behind the camera, we see a plethora of established actors on sets and how they interact with the three principles is supposed to give us a seedy sort of glimpse into the realities of the struggling actor in Hollywood.

Or at least that is what the show is supposed to be about. I wouldn’t know because I made it exactly 10 minutes into the first episode before I ejected it and sent both series discs back to Netflix.

Look, I understand from an inside-Hollywood perspective that this might be cool, hip, and informative, and Frank Langella’s domineering acting class instructor certainly looked promising. But there are certain ways that I do not want to waste my time and watching actors stand around while behind the scenes people prep a shoot, giving the actors plenty of time to illustrate how little they can actually improv, is fairly high on the list.

Krista Allen is always fun to stare at, but she’s an actress of limited range and the other two no-name stars are actors of no range. Those first 10 minutes also give off a certain "look at me" vibe that didn’t work. It looks exactly like what it is: Inside Hollywood people shooting a series focusing on inside Hollywood stripped of all the glitz, glamour, and allure while demonstrating just how much of a grind the industry truly is from an actor’s perspective.

Exactly why should I agree to spend 300 minutes watching this?

Now Playing: Breaking News

This little crime flick from Hong Kong surprised the heck out of me. For one thing, the entire opening shot and resultant action sequence are stunning. For another, the way the film unspools kept me guessing. While I think the lead cop, played by the director, was a little short on character development, the cast was uniformly excellent. I dug the camaraderie and banter between the two gangs, the cops and the crooks being chased.

The film begins with a stake out that goes wrong and the subsequent chase is an embarrassment to the Hong Kong police force. The newly appointment head of the department’s marketing and media relations is determined to improve the image of the cops, and when the crooks are discovered hiding out in a high rise condo she makes her move. As the cops head in and search for the criminals, the media director contacts every media outlet in the city and gets them all to cover it. But she underestimates the criminals involved as their leader proves he can manipulate the media just as easily as she can.

This film is riveting. I wouldn’t exactly call it high art, but I was glued to my seat through the duration. The way the cops work as a team is brilliantly contrasted with the way the crooks work together. Even though the lead crook is better defined than the lead cop, "Breaking News" is still a crackling action tale. The finale is a bit swift, but getting there is a heck of a lot of fun.

The only confusing part is a small detail towards the end regarding the motivation of both the lead crook and one of the guys he partners with in the building. This was the only part I wish was clear, but it might have been a translation issue. This doesn’t spoil the film at all, but it is a minor quibble.

Definitely check this out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Now Playing: House of Flying Daggers

I don’t think it’s unfair to compare all subsequent Chinese fantasy films to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon considering how massive an impact it had on the genre. Basically everything afterwards is a variation on a love triangle in ancient China followed by tons of wire-fu all set against gorgeous backdrops while a haunting score plays.

Actually, that pretty much sums up every epic film made around the world since the beginning of the 20th century.

House of Flying Daggers kicks off with a bang when a detective is called to a local whorehouse where another detective has been thrown out for getting too rough with the women. One woman in particular is pulled forward and shown off to the detective. The woman, played by Ziyi Zhang, is blind but can hear a pin drop across the room. The resulting dance she performs is a mind-blowing example of choreography, special effects, music, and a hot chick at the center of it all.

Essentially, the scene is the perfect combination needed to win my heart were it not about to repeat itself for the following two hours.

From there, the film follows the blind woman as she leads the detectives closer to an elusive gang known as the House of Flying Daggers, assassins whom the emperor would like very much to see extinguished. This being a film about Chinese mythology, everything is lovingly photographed so much so it is easy to forget the rather slight narrative and focus instead on the visuals, which are stunning throughout.

I’d say I was tired of seeing the same thing over and over but in this day and age it’s not so much about the originality of the story itself as it is the telling of the story. I’m convinced that the only films China allows to be shot have a message at their core of unity to the emperor, thus to China itself. This is definitely one of those and I’d knock it harder for being so self important if it wasn’t so blasted beautiful to look at.

It took me about an hour longer than it should have to get through it simply because I kept getting bored. When I would come back there would be a gorgeous shot of the landscape followed by a cool fight followed by a lot of down time where everyone searched their feelings about each other before launching into another mystical fight.

Rinse and repeat for almost two and a half hours and that’s House of Flying Daggers in a nutshell. If that sounds like your bag, then go crazy.

Now Playing: Used Cars

I had this sitting on my desk about two years ago and never got around to watching it. So I threw it into the Netflix queue again and when it showed up this time I decided to plow through it.

I’m glad I did because there’s some genuinely funny material in the script. This was one of the early films in Robert Zemeckis’ career (before he went all digital all the time) but even considering that it’s still a solid piece of pop entertainment. Few directors can build to a zany ending quite like him and it is fun to see shots and techniques he would later use in Back to the Future among others.

The film kicks off by introducing a very young Kurt Russell smoothly bilking some poor sap into buying an extremely used car. Russell is brilliant in comedies (yes, even Captain Ron) and his timing is impeccable. It’s hilarious watching him navigate through a sleazy world like this with such cavalier ease.

But as good as he is, the late, great Jack Warden easily steals the show as twin brothers Roy and Luke Fuchs, owners of a set of used car lots right across the street from the other. Warden was a brilliant character actor and when he picked up a role he could sink his teeth in he tore it up. Used Cars is vintage Warden and he’s hilarious as the foul-mouthed, unscrupulous used car dealer (though that goes without saying) and his kinder, gentler brother. Warden has an easy rapport with Russell and the rest of the cast which makes it that much funnier when he’s bad mouthing everyone in sight.

This being a Zemeckis comedy it builds to a hectic finish with a killer punchline. Overall it’s a fun slice of late 1970’s and early 1980’s comedy before the internet and cell phones. Watching it 20 something years removed is fun in a time warp sort of way, especially when Lenny & Squiggy show up to drop in an inspired pirate spot to a televised football game, but the comedy on display is eternal. Check this out and prepare to laugh heartily.

A lot.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Now Playing: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

The upcoming remake starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe caused me to look up this 1957 Western to see what the fuss was all about. I can understand director James Mangold’s affinity for it since it’s essentially a two-man character drama set on the frontier. One man is a notorious bandit and violent criminal and the other is an upstanding citizen trying his best to do what’s right.

Unfortunately, he gets caught in the middle between a determined robber baron and the criminal’s vengeful gang as he tries to escort the criminal to a train station. The plan is to stick the criminal on the 3:10 to Yuma and see him off to prison.

I haven’t seen a classic black and white Western in years and it was a hoot picking out all the little details that the writers couldn’t come right out and say. At the very beginning, the criminal hooks up with the waitress in the saloon and one can only imagine how far the subtlety will be thrown out the window in the remake. That goes double for the finale where the film leads up to what could be an excellent action sequence but doesn’t deliver, either on account of budget or the times. More likely both, but we’ll never know. The ending is still a solid one and it feels earned.

The back and forth between the two leads is classic. Glenn Ford (immortalized as Pa Kent in Richard Donner’s "Superman") is an odd mix of villainy, at once brutal and eloquent. He comes off as either very well educated or very intelligent and either way that spells trouble for whomever crosses his path. Regardless of the situation, he’s already three steps ahead of everyone else and Ford plays it like he’s doing Shakespeare.

Van Heflin plays the farmer, Dan Evans, the reluctant do-gooder who agrees to take Ford to the train station only partially aware of the danger he’s in. More than anything else, he wants to set a good example for his two boys and figures that by doing this one deed he’ll be able to bring in some much needed money to his struggling farm. If his boys learn right from wrong by his example in the meantime then so much the better.

It’s a surprisingly short film by today’s standards so it’s anyone’s guess as to how long the remake will run. My guess would be about half an hour past the point where it should have stopped, but that’s because Mangold never uses one word when 50 will suffice. Here’s hoping it is as much a gem as the original because this one is a pretty sharp little piece of classic drama.

Now Playing: Prime

I’ve never been a fan of Uma Thurman and it’s not like I never gave her a chance.

I saw her in her debut film Dangerous Liasons and thought she was odd looking and an uninspired performer. That train of thought never changed until I saw someone actually use her to her full potential in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and yes, that includes her appearance in Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino obviously saw more than I with his 1994 film but it wasn’t until he put her front and center that the light clicked on. She was ferocious in the Kill Bill films but it was the second one where she displayed a gift for spinning Tarantino’s unique dialogue on her tongue.

Then Ben Younger cast her in Prime and I realized how luminous she could also be.

It’s amazing how someone can be a performer for any number of years but until the right person comes along who understands how to get the best out of that performer, they may as well be little more than window dressing. Younger knows exactly how to shoot and light Thurman to give her a radiance I’ve never seen on her before. She plays Rafi, a recently divorced thirty-something who confesses every week to her shrink, played by Meryl Streep in full Jewish Mom Mode™. Rafi complains about men, works to get the kinks out of her life, all while Streep looks on and offers suggestions.

Those suggestions wind up inadvertently leading Rafi into the arms of a younger man (by north of 10 years) who turns out to be Streep’s son which, of course, leads to far more awkward conversations. Cliché? Absolutely. But this is a film where the performances are the key and the main ones work wonders.

Streep is hilarious as the imperious mother whose suggestions on healing probably came from her mother instead of from Freud. She and Thurman have a wonderful dynamic and watching how awkward Streep gets when she realizes Rafi is talking about her son’s privates is a case study in comic acting. The lead actor does what he was paid for but this is far more Thurman and Streep’s show than his, and both women are stellar.

The ending attempts to be a natural one instead of the feel-good ending it would have had were it produced in Hollywood, but I think the good ending would have felt more earned. Both Rafi and the lead actor go through a number of life altering changes through the film and it builds to an ending that never materializes which is a shame. Other than that, I’d recommend Prime as a pretty good romantic comedy that could have been better had it stuck the landing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Now Playing: Accepted

I think Justin Long could have a long career ahead of him if he learns how to branch out. He’s deliriously funny as a put upon teenager but eventually he’s going to grow past that and right now I’m not sure he has the amount of talent, say, Michael J. Fox demonstrated over his career. Long’s comic timing is spot-on though and even in a simple flick like Accepted it shines through.

He plays a kid who isn’t accepted by any college in the country and is understandably frustrated. Since he’s also an enterprising youth, he brings some friends into a plan to create a fictional university for the sake of getting his parents off his back. As expected, the plan goes awry when the faux university accepts anyone who applies which leads to a wacky supporting cast showing up. Hijinks, naturally, ensue.

It is a good thing Long is as charming as he is because every one else around him is either flat or annoying. Much has been made of the improv nature of Jonah (name) since every time he opens his mouth out spews a diatribe about how much life sucks for him. It’d be ten times funnier if he didn’t keep hitting that one note in the last several films he’s been in. Knocked Up was hilarious in spite of him, not because of, and he’s doing the same schtick here.

But there is one more shining light in this film and that is Lewis Black. Long time fans of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” are plenty familiar with Black’s recurring segments and he always seems like he’s one tick away from gunning down everyone in the building. His fury and insanity routine is, to me anyway, absolutely hilarious and he fires off one gem after another in Accepted. The best ones though are kept in the outtakes section which is absolutely recommended viewing for anyone who rents this.

Keep it as a rental, and it’s not a wasted hour and a half. There are plenty of laughs, but it’s cotton candy in the sense that it won’t stay with you the second you’re finished with it.

Now Playing: The Pursuit of Happyness

I have to confess that Will Smith is a much better actor than what people give him credit for. Sure, more times than not he comes off as a smarmy, care-free, wise-crackin’ sidekick promoted to leading man, but even when he’s in that mode he impresses by being able to touch the soul of the character he plays. Regardless of how shallow a character may be, Smith infuses them with more soul than what is on the page and that’s a remarkable ability sadly lacking from the current generation of would-be thespians.

In The Pursuit of Happyness he plays real-life Chris Gardner who was utterly destitute in San Francisco during the late 1970s, yet managed to remain a strong role model for his young son. In the meantime, he worked as an unpaid intern at Dean Witter with little more than hope that they would hire him upon completing their course. It didn’t help when his wife up and disappeared leaving him and his son completely alone with no money to their names in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

I was absolutely floored by how hard it must have been to live in abject poverty while somehow supporting a child. The film struck a certain nerve, I guess, because My Fair Lady and I have spoken at length about starting a family of our own and it’s terrifying to think of not being able to support one. You can see the desperation in Chris’s eyes during a scene late in the film where they have to spend the night in a bus station bath room. But as powerful as this one moment is, it’s given even more meaning once you see the behind-the-scenes documentary where the real Chris Gardner saw that set for the first time and all his memories, long buried for good reason, came flooding back.

The film does a remarkable job of creating San Francisco in the early 1980s right down to the stock tickers and newspapers. Smith is excellent as the determined Gardner who makes a personal vow to get him and his son out of their situation and never veers from it despite one massive setback after another.

Of course there’s a happy ending to it all but the journey there is a very solid film anchored by a terrific Smith. Also, his son in the film is played by Smith’s real life son Jaden and watching the two of them bounce off each other gives the film a truer sense of reality than most other Hollywood films have. Keep a sharp eye out for the real Chris Gardner’s cameo in the final shot, which contrasts where he was and what he eventually became.

This is a very, very good movie.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Okay Then Part 2...

So I still haven't posted in about a month. There's something synchronous about this. Like clockwork, every month on or about the middle of it, people can check back to find an apology regarding my absence, which is made all the more ironic considering I'm working as a freelance writer and should therefore naturally have the time to blog like a madman every morning.

Upon writing that, I now realize what I need to do. Fear not, mom! I shall blog again shortly.

Just as soon as I finish what I'm working on right now...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Okay Then...

So apparently I haven't posted in about a month. I was planning on changing that for the last week or so but I've been hunting for a job which has sort of kept me from blogging even though I'm stuck at the house. I will say that now that I have my computer back up and running I feel more like my old self and can work on multiple levels again at the same time without having to wait for things to load. The laptop I inherited from My Fair Lady is fine for a word processor, but give it more than three things to do at once and it freaks out.

Ahh well.

In the meantime, I have several movie reviews I intend to start posting either later today or early tomorrow. I'm currently working to get a review for GT done today while simultaneously hunting for freelance writing work. I have to say that not bringing in a steady paycheck since the end of April has seriously blown. It hasn't helped that even when I was working from, say, last December through when I quit in July I didn't have much more than a defeatist attitude. To her eternal credit, My Fair Lady has been a rock and I'm indebted to her.

Now if I can just pull in some income I'll be good to go. Hopefully my trip to LA at the end of the month will net some positive results as I'm going to a screenwriter's convention for about a week. It should be very cool to at least get in the writer vibe of being surrounded by people as crazy if not more so than I. But for now, back to the trenches...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Finally a Script Writer... of Sorts

So after not being paid for many, many moons and throwing in the towel and going through little else but chaos (separate blogs pending) I finally have my first freelance corporate video script... and it's due tomorrow morning. I've worked on it since last week including the shoot itself (which was way cool) but today I've been hit with a cold hard dose of reality.

Normally in a corporate video script you have anywhere from 15 to 30 second interview clips you can drop in at random which quickly eats up a five minute video. Now imagine a video that is ALL B-ROLL and NO INTERVIEWS.

Yeah, that's the first one I have on my plate. Lovely.

So spend an entire day pouring over every shot of a six hour shoot and you'll be ready to shoot yourself. I'm up to 4.2 minutes of footage so here I go back to plugging away at it. At this rate I should be done in another hour (or three). Yeah!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Also...

I've been jacking with the templates since some yahoo on Google's end opted to make alterations to the design I've used for the last three years without notification. As such, my profile was splashed all over the top of the screen instead of on the right hand side where I preferred it. Pardon my mess while I go through additional templates to find one that doesn't annoy me.

A Brief Recap...

Alright, in no particular order here are the following things that have happened to Yours Truly since the first week in July:

1) I quit my job since the fools running it hadn't paid me since April. Some might call be an optimist for hanging in there that long sans pay check and they wouldn't be wrong. You just keep hoping and hoping that the people running things will get their act together, but the worst things were the further up their own behinds their heads went. As such, I went out the door and haven't looked back. Yes, the Texas Workforce Commission has been notified and all appropriate steps have been taken.

2) I worked to set up my own business but as it was a media company and July is the worst possible time to do so it fell apart. The pieces will be picked up this month but we'll see how things shake out in the meantime.

3) I had major sinus surgery at the first of August. You know your sinuses are messed up when the doctor looks at the CT Scan and says, "WHOA!" Most times when doctors perform this type of surgery they're going in to fix one or two things. Here was my list: Correct deviated septim that looked like it was designed by Zorro since it had a double-S curve (instead of being straight it was wavy and folded back on itself), remove fragments of this which had grown into my actual sinus cavity, remove dime-sized cyst that had formed in said sinus cavity, remove/drain polyps that had formed in the sinus cavity, expand air way so that I could breathe. Yeah, that wasn't what I'd call a fun day.

4) My Fair Lady and I bought a house and put our town home on the market. Anyone interested in a two story town home should feel free to contact me.

5) I have locked down my first paid freelance writing job with the promise of more to follow. In addition, I might have an interview next week for a full-time position all so I can bring in money to Casa de Skim which I haven't been able to do since near the end of Spring.

6) I'm on page 62 of a book I'm writing and nearing page 30 on a screenplay I hope to be able to pitch in a few weeks.

Oh, and my backlog on film blogs has grown exponentially since I finally burned through The Prisoner and My Fair Lady and I are working through the entire set of The West Wing. So yeah, these past seven weeks have been more than a little full and stressful. When you hit a certain point in your life you have to ask yourself what do you genuinely want to do with your life. For me, it's writing full-time and getting paid to do so and this first gig might lead to that and a little more. Hopefully it's enough to pay off debt, afford the mortgage, and help support the both of us since My Fair Lady has been doing all the supporting for the last several months.

In short, there are a great many blog posts and stories about to hit here over the next few weeks. So keep your eyes peeled, Semi-Constant Reader.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Nuts

As I've said in the past, I don't think that Penny Arcade is a funny comic. Well, lo and behold they actually made me laugh this afternoon courtesy of this gem. In short, it's funny if you're a) a gamer; b) a guy who loves action movies.

The reference is to the upcoming John Woo Presents Stranglehold which is the video game sequel to legendary action film Hard Boiled. Both star Chow Yun Fat as Hong Kong uber-detective Tequila along with ninteen thousand other guys whose sole purpose is to be canon fodder. I watched the movie again the other day and it's the definition of a highlight film. By that I mean you can't help but flip from one action scene to the next because all the in between stuff is simple filler.

It doesn't get any better than knowing the last 45 minutes of the film is one long sustained gun battle between every cop in Hong Kong (or Earth if you think about it) and tons of heavily armed criminals hiding in a hospital that comes fully stocked with patients.

Did I mention that practically everyone you see not names Tequila gets blown away in some form of glorious slow motion? It's great and the game looks spectacular. Also, wives and girlfriends should expect to be the one frowning in the comic because every guy on the planet is going for that achievment for better or worse. Why?

Because if we get to finally play as Inspector Tequila, then we're going to blast the holy hell out of every single body part we can point at. It's a guy thing.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Where am I?

Still here, albeit buried under more frustrations/issues/giant locusts than I know what to do with. I prefer not to speak of personal things unless I can bring the funny to it(see also any story here referencing law) but big things are afoot in my life. The result is I've completely neglected this blog and that will change. Here's a slight hint - it's taken me the last month to get through the 10 discs of "The Prisoner" but I should burn off discs seven and eight tomorrow with the finale next week. That's primarily what has kept me from posting additional DVD reviews, in addition to My Fair Lady and I burning through "The West Wing" from the beginning. We're up to season three now and when you combine the two I wind up with no additional movies to review.

Oh, and kudos to CDS reader Sara for reminding me that I actually have readers.

Cheers, and more posts to follow.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Now Playing: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

I have a serious man-crush on crime cinema from the 1970s. I love the genre, I love the feel of everything, I love the funky music, and I certainly love the actors. Quentin Tarantino obviously loves this genre as well considering how much he rips off pays homage to it in everything he does. There is just something about seeing how things were back then and the naturalism used by film makers at the time. There were no big ILM-generated special effects, it was simply the good guys versus the bad guys and each set would try to outwit the other. There is something refreshing about it, and I get a charge whenever I find one that I’ve never seen. Such was the case with The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

I’d heard about this film for years but never actually seen it until recently. Tarantino most famously ripped it off paid homage to it with Reservoir Dogs because this is the film where the villains are named after colors. The setup is that four men, under aliases such as Mr. Blue and Mr. Grey, take a commuter train hostage one weekday afternoon and demand $1 million in cash be delivered in exactly one hour.

The Netflix packaging confused me because it said the bad guys threatened to carve graffiti on the passengers’ heads if their demands are not met, which is bizarre because Mr. Blue quite clearly states that they’ll kill a hostage for every minute the money is late. But the authorities are puzzled because since the bad guys are trapped underground on a commuter train, they have nowhere to go even if they get the money.

In short, the movie is fantastic. Robert Shaw is terrific as Mr. Blue and he’s calm, efficient, and utterly ruthless. Shaw was great in practically everything he did and the man was unfairly taken from the world far too early. He’s a very slick villain here and he’s matched by Walter Matthau as the hilariously put-out New York Transit Authority supervisor who is guiding a tour through the Authority’s offices when the hijackers call in. He then works with the cops and the Authority to bring down the bad guys who somehow manage to stay one step ahead of everything the cops do.

It also has a genuine classic final shot and one that had me laughing my head off. Oh, and did I mention the movie is absolutely hilarious at times? Matthau gives such great gruff that even in the midst of a crisis like this he brings the funny. The cast is also filled with tons of New York character actors and it was especially amusing to see Jerry Stiller as one of the transit cops who gets roped into things.

This is one of those films that perfectly captures the look and feel of just how skuzzy New York City was back in the 1970s. Plus it has that great period music and equally great actors who seem to relish the cat-and-mouse nature of the story. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is definite viewing material if you’re even remotely a fan of the crime films of the 1970s.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Nope, PA Still Isn't Funny

In short, the point of the following commentary is that I don't think the website/comic Penny-Arcade is funny in the slightest. I'm stating this right from the outset so you know where I stand regarding their sense of humor. One, I don't think it's funny at all (I can count on one hand the number of times I've laughed at their comics) and two I think they're more than a little high on blatant thesaurus usage with their news and commentary.

Basically I think they're hugely unfunny and more than a little full of themselves. But considering their massive success I've accepted the later as a fact of life that's been earned.

The PA crew put together their own game and this month PC Gamer has five separate "collector's" covers to choose from. The caveat is that when you open the front page you'll find this editorial written by known fool Greg "The Vede" Vederman, the mag's editor-in-chief. When he was the hardware editor and even before that, Vederman repeatedly proved himself a fool so when he writes that he doesn't like PA and hopes the magazine fails so he can feel a sense of vindication it leaves a bad, albeit familiar, taste in one's mouth.

Then Scott Kurtz at PVP wrote up this response which I actually agree with. I still don't think PA is funny, but I will never begrudge them their success which is more than just financial.

Penny-Arcade's Child's Play charity has raised millions for children and for that act alone I would support their website from now to the end of eternity. In addition, their gaming expo PAX has gained such prominance in recent years that once E3 died, it was assumed PAX would take its place.

Not bad for a couple of guys who based their living on writing a web comic.

So I will say congratulations to PA for their roaring successes and I do genuinely wish them well with their game and with all future Child's Play events. But I still don't find them funny nor do I understand how anyone could.

Different strokes I guess.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Now Playing: The Venture Bros. Season 2

"IGNORE ME!"

Season two picks up right where Season one left off, with the Venture clan not especially torn apart over the last-second deaths of sons Dean and Hank. Heck, even the opening credits star Venture patriarch Rusty along with bodyguard Brock Sampson and neighbor/necromancer Dr. Byron Orpheus. The show basically hits the ground running and the hilarity is out in full force this year.

Once the kids’ death is explained away courtesy of a side-splitting montage, the Venture clan is reunited once more and on to new adventures featuring recurring villains like Baron Underbheit, Phantom Limb, The Monarch, and dozens of other characters with classic names such as Manic Eightball, White Noise, and the mysterious Grand Galactic Inquisitor.

The fiendishly-voiced Dr. Girlfriend also returns as do HELPR, Richard Impossible and the Impossible Four (the target of one hilariously off-the-cuff snarky comment), Monarch henchmen 21 and 24, Master Billy Quizboy, Mr. White, The League, and new characters Jefferson Twilight and Dr. Henry Killinger.

Yes, the insanity continues at full speed and if one joke doesn’t make you laugh then three more will hit you in the face in the next 10 seconds.

For my money though, nothing prepared me for the hilarity of "20 Years 'Til Midnight" which introduces the famed Grand Galactic Inquisitor and kicks off with Brock finding a video tape from Rusty’s father, Jonas Venture Sr. As it turns out, Jonas Sr. stashed special equipment all around the world that must be assembled at a certain time and in a certain location or else the fate of the world would be at risk. Naturally, the specific time is a day after they watch the tape so the race is on all while under the watchful eye of the Inquisitor. I never saw the ending coming and laughed so hard at the final rant that I practically passed out.

Equally funny was the episode where Molotov (name deleted) trains the boys in the ways of hand-to-hand combat and heavy weaponry while Brock is out on assignment, although several moments in the Scooby-Doo spoof "Viva Los Muertos!" rocked the comedy scale pretty dang hard. Creator Jackson Publick has a knack for skewing about as juvenile as is possible to go, but then teeing off a home-run of a punch line at just the right moment.

The result is a gaspingly funny series that I am now convinced is the funniest thing Cartoon Network has on its schedule. The downside is that season three won’t hit the network for probably another year, with season four hitting the year after (or so). In the meantime, definitely check out this and season one if you like your comedy bizarre, fast, and furious.

"I’M STILL LOOKING FOR THE SCARS!"

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Now Playing: Gojira

The first Godzilla film hasn’t been available in the United States since it was originally released in Japan back in 1953, and the only way we’ve seen it since then was the hacked together Hollywood version starring Raymond Burr. Last year it was finally released as a two-disc DVD set with the original, uncut film on the first disc while the Hollywood version was put on the second disc. A pamphlet included in the set explains how the film was brought over to the States by a couple of producers who saw value in the monster movie appeal but decided to jettison pretty much everything else.

What stunned me was just how powerful all the excised footage was.

This revelation was akin to watching Jaws 4 for years and thinking all the rest of the films were like that, only to see the original for the first time and think, "Oooooohhhh..." Gojira was written in direct response to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in only eight years before and as such the film is a powerful commentary on the dangers of nuclear bombs. Godzilla himself is, in essence, a giant metaphor for the inescapable devastation nuclear bombs cause and I was simply floored at how bleak a film this was.

I can completely understand why American producers at the time figured that the public wouldn’t accept anything outside of a giant lizard stomping through Tokyo. The producers re-cut the film and inserted Burr to give it an American perspective that makes it an entirely different film. The American version is little more than a generic monster flick, albeit one that introduced Godzilla to the world. The uncut Japanese version though is an entirely different animal altogether and one that I, frankly, was left stunned by.

Godzilla films do not feature a terrified mother clutching her children to her as she assures them that they’ll be with daddy in heaven soon. Godzilla films do not feature incredibly cute kids sitting shell-shocked in a hospital as doctors watch helplessly as their Geiger counters spike when near the children. This is a deadly serious film that was created by people who were intimately familiar with the two dual bombings and it is a powerful anti-war and anti-nuclear message.

If you have the chance to watch the original version of Gojira then by all means do so. It is a little hokey in parts due to its age, but the message has only increased in power as nuclear weapons have proliferated across the globe. Don’t miss this.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Now Playing: Stranger Than Fiction

I’ll tell you what is truly stranger than fiction: The fact that I loved a Will Ferrell movie. Personally, I don’t find the man funny in any capacity but I was amazed at how exceptional a performance he turned in here as Harold Crick, a lonely tax auditor who starts hearing voices. Actually, he starts hearing one voice that belongs to a woman who appears to be narrating his life. It bothers him constantly, but then the voice makes the off-hand comment that events have been set in motion that would result in his death.

Naturally, he freaks out.

The narrator, as it turns out, is a novelist famed for killing off her main characters. The writer, brilliantly played by Emma Thompson, has been suffering writer’s block for a number of years and her publisher has sent an assistant, Queen Latifa, to oversee the final work. Meanwhile, Harold tracks down a literary professor (the great Dustin Hoffman) to find out what sort of story he’s in and how he can get out of dying. Harold also has to audit a neighborhood baker who is, shall we say, resistant to the idea of paying taxes.

Surprisingly, everything works in the film and the fact that I not only didn’t want to cut my own throat every time Ferrell was on screen but that I actually came to like Harold Crick speaks volumes about how good he is. Apparently, the man was born for drama which is probably why his screaming fits on SNL and his other movies never struck me as funny. He makes Crick a very lonely person who has isolated himself from enjoying what life has to offer. He’s always followed his own specific schedule and never varied from anything because he was born a rule follower. But as he begins to realize his life suddenly has an end date, albeit in a form he never expected, his eyes open up to everything he’s missed.

My Fair Lady wasn’t as big a fan of the film as I was. In her words, "It was just weird." It speaks to writers though and was very clearly written as a love letter to the craft. The commentary about how writers are all thieves stealing from each other among other things cracked me up while My Fair Lady sat on the couch emotionless.

If you’re even remotely familiar with writing novels or scripts or stories in general, then you’ll have a ton of fun watching how Crick comes to terms with the very literal nature of his own life. It’s a fantastic drama with only one truly wrong sight gag that doesn’t belong in the film. But since there is only one gag like that, and the rest of it is pure gold (especially the way they handle Crick’s fate and the emotional punch it packs), this is a film that comes highly recommended.

Now Playing: Secondhand Lions

To my dying day, I will swear that this film was undone by a weak marketing campaign and a bad (though appropriate) title. It’s a shame such an excellent film practically vanished at the box office. I remain amazed at how ultra loud, obnoxious films like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End continually find vast oceans of unassuming film goers yet a true classic (yeah, I said it) like Secondhand Lions goes completely over looked and unrewarded.

The film follows the adventures of a young kid, played by Haley Joel Osment, who is unceremoniously dumped by his flakey mother (Kyra Sedgewick) at a farm belonging to his two distant uncles. The uncles, played by Robert Duvall and Michael Caine, are both old hell raisers who have seen better days and want to be left alone. They have no experience raising children, let alone socializing with people, yet they are constantly swarmed by both traveling salesmen and distant relatives who all want a glimpses of their treasure.

Apparently, the uncles have untold millions in riches laying about somewhere on the farm and their scheming relatives want to make sure that they are the ones who inherit the wealth, and not some know-nothing kid who was just dropped off on the farm.

What makes things fun is how the two uncles gradually take a shine to the boy. They soon realize that he’s just as much a stranger to common folk as they are and that he’s their one relative who wants absolutely nothing to do with their money. Caine eventually tells Osment stories about where they came from and what adventures they had when they were younger, and these stories are rife with imagination and adventure.

Duvall’s character is played by Angel-alum Christian Kane during these sequences and it’s amazing how charismatic he is while battling evil sheiks and thugs in the Middle East during the 1920’s. He comes off as a though the writer combined Indiana Jones with Conan the Barbarian. The result is a series of adventures that are bigger than life, and Osment knows it when he hears them. But he decides to run with it to get to the end of the tale, which proves to be a harder ending than he expected. In the meantime, he learns how to stand up for himself and be a man.

This is an absolutely wonderful film about how family is what you make of it, and how the choices people make tend to echo through several generations. If you haven’t had the chance to see this yet then it is highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What the...?

Dallas/Fort Worth just had a hurricane blow through which blackened the skies and dropped roughly three tons of water on us inside of half an hour. Oh, and the wind was so strong and vicious that trees weren't the only victims. I drove home at lunch in case my house was flooded (fortunately it wasn't) only to get the feeling I was driving through a war zone. Trees, billboards, road signs, and all manner of leaves were blown every which way. A co-worker's apartment complex was struck by lightning and when he went home to check on things he called me saying an electric pole was on fire. While it was still raining, I might add.

If anyone has a direct line to The Powers That Be then please ask them to hold off on the crazy rain storms for at least the next month. Thanks.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Star Wars - Happy 30th Anniversary

I've told this story before in a review or two but I'll repeat it here. I first saw Star Wars at my grandparents' lake house in Shreveport, LA. Prior to this my dad took me to see The Empire Strikes Back but since I was 3 years old and had no context for what the hell was happening in front of me I just sort of sat there watching it and not understanding a single thing. I asked dad if we could go home right about the time when Darth Vader and Luke were squaring off in the bowels of Cloud City because my little patience had run out. To his credit, Dad said "Sure" and we walked out.

A few years later when I was spending a week with my grandparents, they took us to the local video store to rent a movie. As I walked through the aisles my eyes rested upon a distinctive box with spaceships and a familiar looking helmet. I picked it up and thought it looked cool so I asked if we could rent Star Wars. They said sure and when we got home I popped it in and sat down on the couch.

I watched it three times back-to-back-to-back that very night. I didn't watch a movie. Someone shot me in the head with it and thus was born a new fanatic for the Force.

George Lucas has taken his fair share of grief over the years, first with the Ewoks and most recently with pretty much everything in the prequels. But he gave us a singular vision of an entire universe we'd all love to live in and he practically gave me my childhood. After seeing that first movie I immediately wanted to know what else there was. It was then that I rediscovered The Empire Strikes Back and having the context of the first one I totally got why I didn't understand it before and why my dad thought the Hoth battle was one of the coolest things he'd ever seen in his life.

George Lucas gave us Star Wars and I cannot think of a single film that has so permeated the entire world to the point that his little independent sci-fi flick has. Everyone in every walk of life in every corner of the world has heard of it and if you're one of those lucky ones who were part of that first run then you probably recall how chemical it was.

I've only read about it but from what I understand the people who saw it during that first run were evangelical about it. It got inside them and made them want to take all their friends and family back to see it, then to see it again. Crowds roared at the jokes. The Death Star battle had everyone on the edge of their seats. People cheered when Han Solo swooped in at the last second to save Luke's ass.

Seeing Star Wars on the big screen isn't like seeing another film. It's a religious experience where literally everyone in the theater is committed to it fully. When Lucas released the special editions in 1997, Crayola and I went to see the preview screening one cold January morning. It was around 10 a.m. but the second the fanfare began and the words STARWARS blasted onto the screen, we were both wide awake and back in that universe.

I also had the opportunity during the '97 run to do something that I'd never done before, and that was to share something that meant the world to me with my younger brother. I'm eight years his senior and as such he'd never had the chance to see the first film on the big screen. I took him out to the AMC Grand in Dallas and we sat down in one of the bigger auditoriums. He, of course, had seen the film multiple times growing up and loved it like most everyone else but he'd never seen it on the big screen.

To say it blew his mind would be putting it gently. His jaw was on the ground during the TIE Fighter-Millenium Falcon escape sequence from the Death Star. He was rendered slack-jawed again by the Death Star battle. The sense of speed and energy and excitement these scenes in particular deliver on the big screen can never be understated.

I hope that Lucas re-releases all six films in the theater this year to celebrate the anniversary because I would kill to see them again. My desire for a gargantuan TV screen and home theater/entertainment center has less to do with bragging rights and almost everything to do with being able to see Star Wars the way it was meant to be seen. I plan to watch it tonight in honor of its birthday and will do so once My Fair Lady gets home from work. I can't think of a better way to spend the night than re-watching it for the millionth time. Thank you, George, and may the Force be with you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Are You a Clicker?

My Fair Lady recently revealed a side of herself to me that I’ve historically found annoying in other people: She’s a "Clicker." These people are the bane of IT personnel the world over because of their incessant whine, "It’s not moving faaaaassssttt enough!"

As such, they open a single window on their computer screen and when that window takes more than five seconds to open (whether it is an email or browser window is beside the point) the "Clicker" tries to re-open the initial window even though the first one hasn’t opened yet. When this second instance fails to open IMMEDIATELY, all hell breaks loose.

The "Clicker" will then proceed to relentlessly click on everything on the screen in a futile attempt to make the computer jump through so many hoops at once that it will just give up and open everything instantly. In the real world, the insides of the computer experience a core meltdown as application after application sucks up memory like a hurricane would over a small lake. The "Clicker" continues to furiously click convinced in their own irrational fury that the very next click will be the magic one.

I’ve seen gnomes with a better grip on reality.

"Why isn’t it opening?" demanded My Fair Lady. Meanwhile, I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes.

"I’m going to take a nap right now," I casually said. "When I wake up, you’d better have learned how to use a computer or I’m taking it away from you."

"But it’s my computer and nothing is opening!" she wailed.

"Since when are you a 'Clicker'?" I asked.

"Since this thing WON’T OPEN!!!! Fix it!"

"What do people like you expect people like me to do in this case? Wave our magic circuit board and miraculously your computer will open everything faster than you can blink?"

"Duh," she replied. "Here, I’m gonna brush my teeth. Fix it!"

With that she stormed off to the bathroom. At fault was her remotely accessing her work email, which is on the large side to begin with considering she’s an attorney. This would be at 10 p.m., by the way, which is normally when people have at least started to let the day go. But not My Fair Lady, oh no. At this point she’s all in favor of logging into her work email and reading through correspondence, getting worked up, then wonders why I refuse to acknowledge her after she blows a fuse over something.

So naturally, I just closed my eyes again and waited for her email to open. After a few minutes of restful quiet, I hear the bathroom door open and My Fair Lady pads down the hallway back into the room.

"Hey, you fixed it!" she exclaimed. "What did you do?"

"Such is my power," I replied. "Now quit clicking wildly or I’m going to have to restrict your mouse usage."

"Okay..." she sheepishly replied. She read through the open email, then closed it and clicked to open another. Nothing happened. So she double clicked it again.

"WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!?!?!" I thundered.

"GAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! It... won’t... open..."

I think at this point she was on the verge of tears from anguish. She hung her head in dejection, then stood up and walked towards the bedroom.

"Fine, you mess with it. I’m going to bed."

"What do I want to see your email for? I wanted to surf for a bit, but oh no. You had to go and click 'til it dropped. Where’s the benefit to me, I ask you?"

"Let me tell you something, mister," she replied with a huffy tone. "This stuff works fine at the office and I can click all day until the cows come home and everything pops up just as quickly as I need it to. What do you have to say to that?"

"I say that you need to start counting down the days, Clicker, because soon the machines will revolt. They’ll stand up as one and shout, 'We can only process so fast and need not be clicked repeatedly!' Then they’ll take over and you’ll spend the rest of your days being clicked by a Terminator as punishment. What do you have to say to that?" I replied.

"Hey look! My email just popped up! Can I read just one more?"

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Now Playing: W&G: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Confession time: I'd never seen a Wallace & Grommit short prior to seeing the full-length feature Curse of the Were-Rabbit and am now kicking myself for it. The film itself is a loving tribute to the horror classics of yester-year that starred Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi and that passion for the subject matter is evident in every frame. The film is stop-motion claymation which is astonishing when you look at everything Aardman (the studio) had to animate. The coffee sloshing around is what floored me, but the rapid-fire editing and subtle character nuances especially knocked me off my feet.

Right from the start, we meet up with Wallace and Gromit, pest exterminators in a small English town. Wallace is a slightly daft inventor deeply in love with cheese, while Gromit is his silent and possibly more intelligent dog/partner. Together, they rid the small countryside of rabbit infestations in order to protect everyone's produce for the annual vegetable fair. Then they get the call of a lifetime when they're invited to the mansion of Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) who wants a them to remove the hundreds of rabbits on her lawn.

Where the plot kicks in is once Tottington's evil suiter Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) shows up, and Wallace tries to brainwash the bunnies into not wanting to eat vegetables all the time. The results are inspired hilarity as the community is torn asunder every full moon (which somehow lasts for three days in a row) by the Were-Rabbit, a giant bundle of teeth and fury that devours every carrot in sight.

Fiennes in particular tears into his role with relish and is clearly having a field day as the villain. Quartermaine has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, yet Fiennes' brilliance makes him more than a one-note bad guy. Carter also is funny as the well-meaning though slightly daft Tottington who just wants everyone, human and bunny alike, to get along. The film builds up to a chaotic climax that I still have trouble believing was claymation.

Oh, and this film has a wickedly ribald sense of humor not to mention each frame is layered with gags. Some are on labels, others are where people stand, and practically all of it is staggeringly funny. If you haven't seen this one then by all means check it out, especially if you're a fan of the old Universal monster movies.

Now Playing: Tears of the Sun

Normally I don't fall asleep during action movies, but "Tears of the Sun" was different. First off, it commits the cardinal sin of being a dull film which is tough to imagine when you consider it stars Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, and a heck of a lot of bullets. Yet somehow director Antoine Fuqua ensured everyone stared off into space for the two hour running time including Willis who primarily looks sullen and in need of a shave.

It's sad when you consider facial hair as the only character motivation we see for him and his team. The story hits the ground running when Willis and his team of SEALs land on a carrier then are immediately given a new assignment by their commander (Tom Skerrit). They're to go into a war-torn African village, extract a doctor (Bellucci), two nuns, a priest, and a partridge in a pear tree if available then hike to the extraction zone and get the civilians out of Dodge prior to rebels slaughtering them. When they get to the doctor's house, the doctor refuses to leave without the 70+ wounded people in her care and Willis makes the decision to march everyone to the rendevous point where helicopters will escort everyone to safety.

Warms your heart, doesn't it?

Personally, I'm getting sick of the African craze Hollywood is obsessed with. Yes, we know that genocide is running rampant and people are starving to death or worse. But if you're going to make a movie about the situation then do it right, like The Constant Gardener, and not half-ass like Tears of the Sun. Turning human suffering into a lame action flick is what Hollywood excells at and the viewer will witness lameness in spades. I fell asleep a few times and when I woke up realized that nothing had changed.

Not helping matters is the fact that we never learn anything about any of the characters whatsoever. They may as well have a floating "Token Character X" floating above each person's head so we know which stereotype the camera focuses on. Also, when writers come up with "road trip films" they need to recall that character development and interaction is paramount because the entire film is, by default, a metaphor for the journey the characters take in their lives. This is the nature of the road tip movie, which Tears of the Sun most definitely is. Other than a slight twist towards the ending, nothing will surprise the viewer other than someone read this script and decided to greenlight a big budget for it.

Save your money for "Live Free or Die Hard" and skip this.

WWII - Now with Mechs!

This is absolutely one of the coolest videos ever made and posted on the internet. Its basically what happens when Nazi Germany buids a giant fighting robot and sicks it on Pearl Harbor during World War II and the awesome only builds from there.

Of course, it also brilliantly pulls music from the repertoire of John Williams (specifically from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as from various Hans Zimmer pieces (Crimson Tide closes the film out) and the overall film is just stunning for geeks like Yours Truly. Enjoy.

When N3rds Roar

Normally I don't post about things like this because I'm an elitist snob who considers himself above most frays. The key word in the preceding sentence is "normally" because the following story struck my funny bone in just the right way. On Tuesday, Digg.com received a story containing the 16-digit code to crack the HD-DVD encryption scheme. In short, this lets people to play HD-DVD movies on their computers (read: Linux) in the high-definition quality only HD-DVD compliant players allow for. Oh, and people can now copy HD-DVDs all on account of a 16-digit series of numbers.

Like most things posted on the internet, we're seeing the equivalent of releasing a rabbit into the wild. Only replace "rabbit" with "bonfire" because the speed at which it will naturally spread is unbelievable. The Digg.com editors deleted the story, all comments on the story, and banned the user who posted it.

Naturally, all hell broke loose.

The resulting explosion of nerd fury struck down the site since everyone who had the code started posting it in creative means through either new news stories or through comments to existing stories. It only took a day before the site runner posted this mea culpa where he apologizes for not allowing information to be free, yo. It appears that Hollywood went ballistic at their vaunted control scheme getting cracked and demanded that all instances of the code be removed from the internet forthwith.

Of course, then they file court papers and had to put the exact code in the documents so now it's a matter of public record. I expect the AP, Reuters, and The New York Times to have the code in their pages by this weekend and my laughter will continue.

The righteous indignation over something like this on all sides of the argument slays me. Personally, I agree with the Digg.com editor in deleting the story but by the same token I can see how CNN.com or the AP or any other massive news agency would have done the exact same thing. What continues to puzzle me is how Hollywood actively refuses to hire coders or hackers who know what they're doing when it comes to encryption schemes, instead opting for the most Draconian measures available that far too frequently only harm the wrong people.

Of course, at the end of the day it remains funny to me watching a bunch of hyper-active nerds throw a hissy fit over something that maybe one-tenth of them actually understand.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Shifting the Queue and an Update

You know it's bad when you have to re-order your Netflix queue to favor your other half because you're so far behind on reviews that you need a breather to catch up. Right now I'm in the queue stacking the deck in favor of My Fair Lady so as she's watching Monster-in-Law or Sense & Sensibility I can be upstairs with my headphones on catching up on the stack of discs we've burned through in the last three weeks.

It's amazing what happens when your life gets completely booked up and you have no time for yourself. Call me selfish but I genuinely hate it when I'm not in active control of my life. To be fair, were I in active control of my life all the time then I'd probably never go outside, forget to feed myself and to pay bills, and pretty much be resigned to a life as a hermit with a Wii. Ahh well, a man can dream at least.

In the meantime, I'm also speccing out story outlines for a book that may turn into a script. I haven't quite made up my mind yet, though what's funny is an idea I had a few months back but never did anything with fits perfectly into the general story idea I had a few nights ago. Writers are shameless thieves by nature and who better to steal from than yourself?

Speaking of stealing, I'm liberating a phrase Ron Burke of Gaming Trend came up with the other day: "Multi-shirking." The definition of which is "to accomplish two or more goals for yourself unrelated to daytime/nighttime employment while actually on the clock." Grand literary larceny at its finest.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Different San Francisco Treat

So I'm writing up another Odyssey-esque post regarding the trip to San Francisco My Fair Lady and I took in mid-March when my latest copy of Writer's Digest arrives on my doorstep. In addition to the usual bon mots of wisdom and pointers in how whatever I'm doing now, it's not working on my novel/screenplay/short story, I see their annual contest and figure it's high time I enter it just to see what happens.

But what should I submit, I wondered. Then I noticed one of the accepted articles is a 2000 word maximum personal memoir. I did a quick word count on my Day 1 of the trip and it clocked in at 2500. The punchline is that I'm only three-quarters of the way done. But I figured with some judicious editing and killer cliffhanger then I might have something worth submitting to the contest.

The downside for three of you reading this (hi, mom!) is that I'm not able to post it as a "published" article prior to submission. I will go ahead and finish the trip though and have it available via Word document if anyone wants to read it. I'll post here when it's done and if you want to check it out then email me and let me know.