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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hollywood BustBlockers 2009 - The Fun Begins!

Thank goodness the Academy Awards have been academically awarded and Hollywood can now release the reservoir of blockbusters they've been holding back. Zip down to your local movie house and grab some popcorn because here they come!

1. Jonas Brothers 3D Concert Experience. If you thought these teenaged heartthrobs were spectacular on Hannah Montana, wait until you see them through red and blue plastic glasses. You'll blow Mr. Pibb out of your nose when Kevin, Joe and Nick lay down their hot evangelical gut-wrenchers. Even God barfs his Raisinettes when these guys hit the screen.

2. Crossing Over. Can't get enough of Sean Penn? Loved Indiana Jones? Here's Sean and Harrison in what Variety calls "An overweeningly deterministic mosaic of U.S. immigration case studies." Does that tighten your sphincter? Wait until you see these typically sensitive INS officers choking down tamales and getting all weepy as they try to understand why so many Mexicans leave hellholes like Acapulco and move to the paradise of urban L.A. Ay carumba!

3. An American Affair. It's 1963. Thirteen-year-old Adam Stafford spies a beautiful naked woman in the house across the street and his curiosity is inflamed. If that isn't strange, she and Adam soon find themselves enmeshed in the growing confusion and intrigue leading to the assassination of President Kennedy. Wow, teenaged angst AND conspiraracy theory all lumped together in one movie! Be sure to miss it.

4. Echelon Conspiracy. Shane West comes upon a magic cellphone that makes his wildest dreams come true but who could ever guess that this Blackberry has a black heart? The minutes will roll over too slowly as you lose your bars. Bet you can't hear me now!

5. Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes. First of all, how did the radio get those shoes? If your radio doesn't get A Prairie Home Companion and you missed the last movie, you can follow Garry the K on the road for a year in this gripping documentary. Your woe will be gone and you'll blow your biscuits as you watch people in front of microphones pretend they're not making another movie. Lindsay Lohan was unavailable for comment.

6. Lesbian Vampire Killers.Just when you thought it was safe for two teenaged slackers to take a walk on the moors, Jimmy and Fletch find themselves stuck in a remote cottage with a camper-van full of sexy foreign student girls, besieged by a hungry army of lascivious lesbian vampires. Man, they had me at "moors." Derring-don't.

7. Wolverine. Hugh Jackman reprises the role that made him a superstar – as the fierce fighting machine who possesses amazing healing powers, retractable claws and a primal fury. But when he suddenly dons a tophat and cane and breaks into a Broadway song-and-dance routine, the villains run for cover. This guy is scary!

8. Terminator Salvation. Finally, Ah-nold has become bored with Sacramento and... wait a minute... it's Christian Bale as John Connor! But... isn't he Batman? It doesn't matter. Watch him scare the crap out of the poor stagehand walking across the set right in the middle of the most poignant piece of script-reading ever filmed. Better get some extra napkins with that Big Bucket.

9. Inglourious Basterds. Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) organizes a group of Jewish soldiers to engage in targeted acts of retribution.(Didn't Daniel Craig just do this? Or was it Tom Cruise?) Known to their enemy as "The Basterds," Raine's squad joins German actress and undercover agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) on a mission to take down the leaders of The Third Reich. Lily Von Schtup must show up somewhere. No wonder those poor Nazis never got their act off the ground. Mmmmm... Brad Pitt.

10. Anything with Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson or Jack Black. Come on, you know that ten-dollar bill is burning a hole in your pocket and you love it when your shoes stick to the floor! Get going!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hollywood Bustblockers 2008

Okay, I'm back from the movies, full of popcorn and disgust. What's wrong with these people?

First of all, The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The Earth must have because nobody went to this piece of poo. I've seen some empty theaters in my life but usually because I was on stage. Why any producer would be desperate enough to remake this classic and then screw it up so badly is beyond me. Here's a hint about science-fiction: First you need some fiction and then, what's that other thing? Oh, right... science! This steaming lump had neither unless you can believe that an alien race had been watching the planet Earth for thousands of years and then landed as if they were the Griswolds showing up at Wally World without a clue of where they were or what was going on. 

They had a plan, of course. Their plan was to gather up all the animals whose names began with the letter "S" and then blow the shit out of everything else. Some plan. So they rounded up some snakes, squids, scorpions and skeeters, then turned some nanogoo loose to destroy stadiums and semitrailers (maybe because they started with "S" but didn't look breedable.) 

Oh, another suggestion: The ending. Have one. In this stinker, everybody just goes back to Zeta Reticuli or wherever they came from. They didn't say. They didn't even say goodbye. I walked out of the theater wondering what the hell any of what I had just seen meant. I later found out that it meant the producers lost their pants at the box-office. Justice was served.

Another ruined franchise was James Bond. Quantum of Solace lacked everything one goes to a James Bond movie to see. It certainly lacked John Cleese as Q because he was over at The Day the Earth Stood Still as a very confused-looking Professor Barnhart. Without gadgets and naked babes, James Bond has nothing to do but hurt himself which Daniel Craig actually did during the filming. Good. I'm sure his pain was no match for mine when my eyeballs started to bleed halfway through the movie.

So I decided to forearm myself before venturing out again to the popcorn repository. I actually read The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DeCamillo before even considering going to see how Disney would butcher it. You remember Disney? That's the studio that takes classics with actual plotlines and morals and turns them into animated family fare featuring "The Disney Girl." She's always the same girl: Belle, Pocahontas, Mulan, Jasmine, Ariel or whatever name they come up with. Same eyes, same expressions, same animator (around Disney he's probably called Glen Keane or maybe just "the girl guy." Keane... Keane... oh, yeah! His father is Bil Keane who does that sappy Family Circus strip about, well, little Glen.) Disney took Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid and gave it the Disney "They all lived happily ever after" ending even though Andersen's little mermaid goes nuts, attempts to murder the handsome prince after he dumps her for a babe with actual feet, then commits suicide. I can't imagine what they'll do with The Tale of Desperaux, a story about a little girl who is abused and beaten until her head is deformed then traded into slavery by her father for a handful of cigarettes and conned into a murder plot by a mental-case rat. That should make a wonderful movie once all those details are shitcanned and they all live happily ever after. I can't wait... to miss it. But if you see someone run into the theater lobby, buy a large bucket of popcorn with real butter, than duck back out the door without buying a ticket... that's me heading over to Blockbusters to rent a flick.
Photo courtesy

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still - Waiting for Keanu

The question in my mind, upon hearing that Scott Derrickson was directing a remake of the 1951 movie from a new screenplay by David Scarpa, was not "Why mess with a classic?" but rather "Why call it by that title?" Beyond the obvious serendipity of having an actor with a five-letter name starting with "K" and ending with "u" playing a character with a six-letter name starting with "K" and ending with "u", there are rumors that the Scarpa screenplay hews more closely to the 1940 short story Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates than the Edmund North script of 1951. Why didn't they call it that unless they were afraid that "Master - Bates" would show up in print somewhere? Oops. Too late now.

I read the story many years after I had seen the movie many times. The original remains my favorite science-fiction movie of all time while the short story leaves me disappointed. Still, I'm skeptical of the remake for many reasons, reminding me of my concerns about "War of the Worlds" a couple years ago. 

1. Michael Rennie was a cool, sophisticated Klaatu. Keanu Reeves is an action hero. I don't see this as an action movie but then, I'm thinking of the romantic 1951 version. Derrickson seems to have a different vision and a different plot with a different ending so I'll give him the benefit of my patience until I get my popcorn in hand.

2. I hate CGI. I'm a computer graphics engineer but I'm also a nuts-and-bolts-and-motors live theatre special effects designer. I would much rather see an eight-foot-tall Gort built by the Asimo Team at Honda than another goddamned cartoon robot. If Derrickson has to blow things up, I prefer dynamite to fractals. But that's just me.

3. The 1951 script by Edmund North was intellectual as well as suspenseful. In his story, scientists were smart, reasonable and the true powerbrokers of the world. The minute the tanks, jet fighters and field artillery show up the audiences start drooling IQ points into their Mister Pibbs and I start wanting my money back.

4. I don't want to hear anybody say "Klaatu barada nikto." Patricia Neal said that. So did Ringo Starr. That's enough.

I'll be back after the movie to let you know whether I still like movies or not.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Uncanny Valley Revisited

This is not an April Fool's Day joke, despite the date, nor is it a goatse or cheap sound gag (you can leave your speakers on, trust me.) Nonetheless, it scared the crap out of me at first. Let me explain why.

You may recall, a couple of years ago, I blogged about Masahiro Mori, the Japanese roboticist who published "Bukimi No Tani" (English title: The Uncanny Valley) in Energy. The article forwarded the hypothesis that as robots become more humanlike they appear more familiar until a point is reached at which subtle imperfections of appearance make them look downright creepy. The observation lead Mori to the belief that robot builders should not attempt to make their creations overly lifelike in appearance and motion.

The people who created this, possibly either Japanese or Brazilian, did a marvelous job. The girl will track your cursor as you move it around until she loses interest in a few seconds and returns to simply being curious, amused and, well, almost alive for godssake! That, for me, is when she simply becomes too lifelike and falls into the Uncanny Valley. Take a look. You've been warned.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

No Country for Old Men - Carson Wells

I'm still cheesed off about the Coen Brothers "No Country for Old Men" and Cormac McCarthy's story. The character that sticks in my craw is Carson Wells, played by poor Woody Harrelson. I like Woody as an actor. You see him on screen, you figure you're going to laugh. Except in Larry Flynt. He was dramatic in that. So what was Carson Wells all about?

The Carson Wells character in McCarthy's novel is a retired lieutenant colonel from the Special Forces or some supposedly highly-trained military organization where they, you know, learn stuff like how to kill a man with a blade of grass or how to seriously wound a guy with a marshmallow or a shitload of martial arts stuff that would make them into walking weapons of mass destruction. You would expect them to be packing a load of James Bond gadgets that would make them, well, scary. So what was the Woody Harrelson character all about?

He shows up, all macho, and deals out a bunch of spooky warnings about how unstoppable Anton Chigurh is and how he's the only guy on the planet who really understands him and can deal with him. So we figure he's our guy, right? He must be well-heeled and packing some serious shit and is somebody you don't want to mess with. He ends up begging for his life in a hotel room, where he never should have gone in the first place, and Chigurh just blows him away. What happened to the ninja spin on the stairway? How about the .44 magnum belt buckle? Not even a Smith & Wesson Escort in the wallet? This guy's got nothing? All hat and no cattle? How sad. Ruined the story for me.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

No Country for Old Me - a Late Review

Okay, I read Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men." Then I watched Conan O'Brien's sendup of the coin-toss scene (which I can't link you to because the network demanded it be removed from YouTube. It was hilarious; be faster on the trigger, friendo.) Finally, I went to see the movie and, despite warnings from the New York Times's Dennis Lim, I bought the big bucket of popcorn but was careful not to chew during the quiet scenes. Which were all of them as there was no score. If you like the sounds of wind blowing, coffee perking, gunshots and car crashes and are also blind then this is the movie for you.


Cormac McCarthy has created this character, Anton Chigurh, who is sort of what The Terminator would be if The Terminator was human instead of a robot. While Schwartzenegger rebuilds his eyeball in the motel room, McCarthy's Chigurh rebuilds his entire body using veterinary supplies and drugs he steals from a drugstore whose name is an inside joke; it's the name of a drugstore where the Coen brothers used to hang out when they were kids. Haha. Anyway, Chigurh is the McGyver of bad guys. He's hip to weaponry, physiology, pharmacology, electronics, psychology, mechanics and all kinds of arcane shit... in the book. Problem is, that book was supposedly 600 pages when it hit the publisher's office and was pruned to 309 pages. That was then pruned to about 180 pages by the Coens, leaving everyone who had read the book to wonder what the hell was going on. Who is this guy? Where did he come from? What does he do? How does he know all this stuff? The Coens stripped everything cool from the Chigurh character leaving him as just a badass with a bad hairdo. As Javier Bardem said: "Great. Now I won't get laid for six months." I was bummed as I listened to people in the theater whispering "How did he know that?!!!" Thanks for nothing, Joel and Ethan. At least in Fargo we knew exactly what was going on. In this movie we haven't a clue. Maybe that's the point. Chigurh is superhuman and just keeps coming. There's nothing new about that; it's been done hundreds of times in the movies. It wasn't until Batman Begins that the question "Where did Bruce Wayne get all that cool shit?" was answered. In No Country For Old Men, nothing gets answered.

In the movie, we see Chigurh limping off down the block. In the book he actually reappears and cuts a deal with a wealthy criminal mastermind. Aha! you say. Sequel coming! Well, maybe but doubtful. After the movie you say: "Aha! I don't care what the PreFlix slide said about picking up your trash. The Coens left me high and dry and I'm leaving my Mr. Pibb and popcorn bag on the floor." We must suffer for our art.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Smoking Ban Workaround? Yeah, this should end well.

Camelot Theatrical Special Effects at Blogged