Imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery, apparently

Let me just start by saying Dr. Phil will always have a special place in my heart. Whether he is spouting obvious advice to mothers of spoiled children, or making obvious comments about cheating husbands, that loveable blowhard always makes for good TV. I try to make him the guiding center of my life whenever possible, but I am forced to disagree with him here.


If Dr. Phil was as disgusted as he seemed, we never would have seen the segment because it never would have made to the airwaves. I do not endorse bumfights, but the guy had a point. I think what probably happened was that Dr. Phil got peeved at his guest’s hilarious (oh, how hilarious) imitation of his look. He probably realized he wasn’t getting the serious debate he wanted, and his delightfully homespun wisdom would fall on deaf ears. If the bumfight impressario wouldn’t take his words seriously, then he wouldn’t come across as the paternalistic loudmout we know and love. So, he aborted.

Some Possible Titles for My Autobiography

“The Snarl of the Brute”

“Freedom’s Just Another Word For The State of Being Exempt From External Control or at Liberty Rather Than in Confinement or Under Physical Restraint”

“Guy Walks Into a Bar…”

“The Man With No Game”

“Unconsummated Eloquence”

“Semantic Drift”

The Lamest Thing I Said Last Week: Pun-ishment

I say many lame things. Jokes that people don’t get and/or are not funny, references to cartoons, and stories that go nowhere- I’m guilty of them all. For example: One day this week, I was discussing The Office Christmas episode with a co-worker (which by the way was by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, as it should be) and I talked about my love for the show in either of its trans-Atlantic incarnations. But I didn’t let it end there. In an ill-advised attempt to sound clever I told her I was an “Offic-ianado.”

Blank stare. Crickets chirping. God Help Me.

The Movie Rules, Redux

You should know why Movie Rules are important. Mine, in no particular order of importance:

 

1. No Precocious/Cute/Sassy Kids.

No kids at all would be preferable, but I can tolerate them as long as they are not the film’s central focus. Or worse yet, they might be sidekicks. I loved Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but I still shudder every time Short Round opens his mouth. It’s true that I don’t like kids. Hell, I barely liked myself until I hit the mid-teen mark. There is an allowance for movies intended for kids, but having them as an overly mature or endearingly cute awww-inducer in an adult movie is annoying. They should be used sparingly lest they grate (ala Jonathon Lipnicki in Jerry Maguire) and they should never, ever impart warm fuzzy life-lessons to the adults.

2. No Intentional Misspellings/Grammatical Errors in the Title.

I don’t need to go by these rules to know that The Pursuit of Happyness will suck. But it does save me the time of having to think about it. This rule has a subsection that applies to shows and movies that insert numbers as words or letters. I’m looking in your direction, 2 Fast 2 Furious. I suppose it would be technically possible to make a film with a title like that which didn’t induce vomiting in the audience, but I don’t see how. Se7en gets a special dispensation, since to the best of my knowledge, it was the first film to use this technique.

3. No Remakes.

Cinema today is by and large a creatively bankrupt. Nostalgia and repetition are the norm. Is it so hard to come up with an original idea? This reflects a larger trend than just Hollywood, but I’m tired of watching pop culture eat itself. There are exceptions to this rule. If there is a compelling reason for the remake and the filmmakers bring something fresh that may have been lacking in the original. Case in point: The Departed was much different than the Hong Kong flick that preceded it, and by changing the setting and language, Scorsese was able to bring the film to many who wouldn’t even think of watching Internal Affairs. He also put his distinctive stylistic stamp on it and created something new. King Kong was another example. The state of special effects of today is light years ahead of what was possible in the 1933 original, or even the Jeff Bridges version. This enabled Peter Jackson to do something new, even if it was an hour too long. But why did we need a new version of The Wicker Man? How much has film changed since the first Omen was released, that we need a new version? Gus Van Sant’s scene-by-scene Psycho reconstruction is the most puzzling example.

This does not apply to cross-media adaptations, although as a rule of thumb they are best avoided as it rarely makes for a good movie. For every Miami Vice, there are five Dukes of Hazzards.

4. No Video Game Movies.

I am a video game fan, so it’s tough to fight my nerdish tendencies long enough to say that. But it is my love for video games that makes me want to protect them and keep people from subjecting themselves to BloodRayne (which also fails on Rule 3).To varying degrees, they have all sucked. With the possible exception of the first Mortal Kombat, video games have been uniformly awful on the big screen. Doom. Super Mario Brothers. Alone in the Dark. Double Dragon. And then there’s this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-2DHeWPjN4]

5. No Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer.

Either one by himself? Maybe. But together? Never. Period. Under any circumstances.

6. No American Remakes of Japanese Horror Films.

Although there might be a compelling reason, they have done so many that the law of diminishing returns has set in. Yes, the world is approximately 73% scarier when seen through a blue filter, and kids are inherently creepy. But that’s no excuse to center so many movies on them. The Ring? Okay. The Grudge? I guess. Dark Water? Pulse? The Ring 2? The Grudge 2? No thank you.

7. No Comedies Revolving Around Men in Drag.

Its creepy and unsetlling, as well as not funny. This is especially true of Lawrencian drag/fat suit combos, but applies equally to Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, and White Chicks.

8. No Computer Generated Talking Animals.

(Except for those falling under the aforementioned Adolescent Genetically Aberrant Stealthy Amphibian proviso). Madagascar. Finding Nemo. Over the Hedge. The Wild. Flushed Away. Barnyard. Antz. Happy Feet. Ice Age. Shark Tale. I realize that CGI is better at depicting animal movement than it is with humans. But The Incredibles proved it was possible. How many wacky animals can have fish out of water adventures before I get sick of it? Not very many.

 

More to come…

 

Mock

Oh yes.

I for one can’t wait.

I have a rule about computer animated films about animals. (I avoid them like the plague.) However, since in this case the animals in question are not only aged between 12 and 19, but they are also genetically altered and well-versed in certain Japanese stealth-based martial arts. I’ll let it slide. But hopefully it’ll be more The Incredibles than Flushed Away.

Goin down to

I think South Park is wonderful. My feelings for the show run deep and whenever it lets me I make sweet, sweet love to it. Usually from behind.

I am something of an aficionado of animated television. I have gone on the record as being a proponent of Simpsonian social satire. The Simpsons is still one of my all time favorite shows, despite the cyclical nature of its quality. Without the wacky misadventures of the yellow, four-fingered Everyfamily there would be no South Park. What I loved about The Simpsons was the way it could balance social satire, surreal lunacy, and heartfelt storytelling. At its best the show managed to blend these three elements into a cohesive whole. Yet, in many ways I think South Park is the better show. This pains me to admit, as middle era Simspons is what I grew up with and will always hold a special place in my heart. But I have to speak the truth, and from where I sit, South Park is the best cartoon of all time.

South Park is cruder, exponentially so. This can occasionally be a turnoff for me, as crudity for crudity’s sake is just plain lazy. While dealing with aborted fetuses, ten year olds giving celebrity handjobs, and magical excrement that spreads Christmas cheer the vulgarity of the show never seems gratuitous. Well, almost never.

South Park is bizarre. The boys often embark on surreal adventures, and entire episodes have been devoted to things like a hamster’s quest to escape from a gay man’s ass. Aliens, monsters, time-travellers, and crab people are regular residents to the itular mountain town. The inspired lunacy of the plots make the show stand out even from the more outlandish Simpsons storylines.

South Park is also adept at walking the fine line between lowbrow gross-out humor and insightful political/social satire. The willfully bizarre and grotesque in many episodes counterbalances the cultural commentary. But both elements are integrated seamlessly in the best episodes, and the story is brought home with at least some level of heart. The fact that it is a group of kids saying, doing, and encountering these very adult things enables the creators to approach them with a level of common-sense innocence, more or less free of the schmaltzy sentimentality or self-righteous moralizing that occasionally tripped up the Simpsons.

The show is both ridiculous and sublime. It is both tasteless and insightful. But it straddles the line. Thats what makes the show better than its animated peers. Its a tough call, but what kind of cultural critic would I be if I was unwilling to examine the sticky issues.

But don’t even get me started on Family Guy…

If I were to describe my appearance…

I would probably just say something like “bouncer-like.” It’s vague but suggestive enough that you probably have a fairly accurate mental picture. But if you pressed me to be more specific I would say, from top to bottom:

1. Round-headed

2. Squinty-eyed

3. Puffy-cheeked

4. Thick-necked

5. Broad-shouldered

6. Short-armed

7. Barrell-chested

8. Beer-bellied (slightly)

9. Wide-assed

10. Stout-legged

11. Wide-footed

What I’m Reading on the Bus: Oblivion

Now, I like David Foster Wallace. I really do. A friend recommended Infinite Jest to me a few years ago. Despite her fervent admonitions that I would enjoy it, I told her that I didn’t have time to begin such a gargantuan tome, much less the strength to cart it around with me. She was a persistent friend, and she went so far as to ply me with with whiskey and forcibly read me passages. But to no avail. I resisted, for no real reason. It wasn’t until a few years later that I picked up A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and was instantly hooked. I waded through his back catalogue one by one, except for the book about math.

But it wasn’t easy. DFW is about as far from easy as you can get. The brother’s prose is dense. It requires a close reading of even the most frivolous and tangential passages. Sometimes his nested and clause-ridden sentences will take several pages before they achieve any sort of punctuational closure. Narrative point of view can change mid-paragraph, mid-sentence. And DFW revels in ambiguity. Events occur in a hazy fog. The actors and their motivations are obscured and vague. Extended internal dialogues are usually the only clue the reader can find as to who the central characters are. Its also digressive, frequently veering into scholarly dissertations of abstract science and jargon heavy, acronymic asides. Don’t even get me started on the footnotes.

That being said, I keep coming back. His work is frequently hilarious and rewards the (considerable) effort he requires of the reader. While I remain partial to his nonfiction work, he does seem to really come alive with his fiction. Despite all the distancing devices he pulls from his bag of postmodern tricks, many of his stories are surprisingly light in irony. His characters have authentic feelings and the author approaches their problems with a refreshing sincerity. So far I have only read the first two stories in this collection, and it has taken me the better part of three weeks. But they were worth the effort. The first story especially. Mr. Squishy has two separate narrative threads. In the first Terry Schmidt, a research scientist leads a focus group as they discuss their reactions to the titular snack cake. As Schmidt leads the group discussion he reflects on his increasing sense of ennui. His story is filled with mathematical terms and an explanations of scientific research techniques. He may also have poisoned a batch of the Felony snack cakes that he is leading the focus group on. In the second an unidentified figure slowly climbs a Chicago skyscraper. He is possibly armed, but positively wearing some sort of inflatable outfit.

It wouldn’t be a DFW story if I could offer a clear and concise plot synopsis. I cannot. Did Schmidt poison the snack cakes? If so, why? Who was researching whom on team Delta Y? Are the two scenes linked? Did the climber have a purpose? What did he do when he reached the zenith of his ascent? Did he have a rifle attached to his climbing harness, and if so what did he use it for? Wallace seems uninterested in anwering these questions. Certain key plot points become conspicuous by their absense, and I truly believe the author gets a kick out of confounding his readers. I’m still trying to figure out how Infinite Jest ended.

But the man knows his language. His prose is evocative, even as it is off-putting. His vocabulary alone is enough to reduce lesser men to tears, much less his syntactical gymnastics. I always feel smarter when I’m reading a David Foster Wallace book. And what’s the point of reading literary fiction if not to make yourself feel smarter than the people around you. As far as reading on the bus, DFW might be a little too heavy. I frequently lose track and have to start a few pages behind where I left off. But I’ll finish it, and eagerly await the next.

Glossolalia- Babel Movie Review

babel movie poster

This Friday Night at the Movies, I sat myself down for some international intrigue and vaguely interconnected stories. Namely: Babel, the new film from the makers of 21 Grams and Amores Perros. I got all I expected and more, yet still walked out of the theatre vaguely unsatisfied.

Plotwise, the film revolves around two young Morrocan goatherds who accidentally shoot an American tourist while practicing their jackal-sniping skills. We see events unfold through their eyes, and through the eyes of the wounded American (Cate Blanchet) and her husband (Brad Pitt). Meanwhile, their children are entrusted to the care of their Mexican housekeeper who sneaks the “ninos” south of the border so she can attend her son’s wedding. Rounding things out is the story of a teenage girl in Tokyo who is deaf-mute and sexually frustrated. Her father finds out that a rifle he gave away on a hunting trip years before has been used in an international incident…

babel movie brad pitt cate blanchett

While the interweaving stories that later come together is a device reminiscent of the earlier films, the narrative in 21 Grams was much tighter despite its non-linear nature. I liked Babel, but it wasn’t a great film. It certainly wasn’t fun to watch. While that is not necessarily a prerequisite for whether I like a film or not, it does go a long way towards repeat viewings. Chances are I will never see this film again. I’m glad I saw it, but will never repeat the experience. I can’t say the same thing about 21 Grams although there are similarities, stylistic and otherwise Babel just never quite comes together for me.

babel movie japanese girl

My problem isn’t the acting, which is top notch across the board. Pitt and Blanchet both emote the hell out of their scenes, especially with the “iceberg” style dialogue (very little on surface, 90% of their story subtextual). The actress who played the deaf-mute would-be vixen was twitchy and expressive in all the right ways. The film looked amazing and had that same overcast, watshed out quality as its predecessors.

My biggest problem seems to be the plot. The connections between some of the characters are tenuous at best. If there were more thematic similiraties in their stories I would have appreciated it. (Perhaps there was, and most of it was just over my head). As it was, the Tokyo storyline seemed especially tacked on. It was interesting enough but seemed to distract from the other more intimately related subplots. Digression is fine, but when the movie moves along slowly and clocks in at a hefty 2 hours, 30 minutes I can’t help but wonder if that storyline could have been dropped, shortened, or altered.

The movie had some recurring themes about violence and communication and the way one can lead to the other and vice versa. Fair enough. But it seemed like it was trying to make some kind of point about sexuality as well. Couldn’t tell you what it was, though. All I know is the movie has a Morrocan goatherd masturbating to thoughts of his sister, a couple making out while one helps the other use a bedpan, and ends with a father hugging his naked daughter on a balcony. WTF?

Uncomfortable sexual deviance aside, Babel is a gripping, if at times flawed film. If you enjoy the other films in the “trilogy” you would probably enjoy this one. Then again, if that describes you then you likely already have.

San Fran-piss-co

Forgive the puerile wordplay of this post’s title but its supposedly raining today in the city and the only thing I can think of is how pathetic rainy days are here. Where I come from, when it rains it rains. Sheets of water come cascading down from the sky with determined trajectories as strong winds are unable to deter them from their soaking course. Florida rain is a good rain, where the water falls straight down, or perhaps at a slight angle. You can watch it as it falls, and there usually isn’t anything better to do. Great puddles are formed from even the tiniest of storms, and with the proper deluge entire parking lots become wading pools. That’s not even mentioning the pyrotechnic lightning effects and the gale-force winds that temporarily twist and warp oak trees as they wreak their havoc.

In San Francisco the rain is nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing. It doesn’t even truly rain. The best the City by the Bay can offer is a drizzle, a sprinkle. I never even get to see it. I look out my window on an overcast day, and suddenly the streets are wet. If I didn’t know better I would suspect someone just comes out and sprays the city down with a particularly large water hose when no one is paying attention. What San Franciscans laughingly refer to as “rain” is little more than a mist that seems to blow with the wind horizontally, rather than true gravity-obeying, downward-falling precipitation. It renders umbrellas virtually useless, and never quite soaks you fully. The skies don’t even get properly dark, merely a a tired gray as Gibson said, “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” It leaves you damp. It leaves you tired. It leaves you missing home.