Saturday, April 3, 2004

PHILM: HELLBOY -- Hell yeah.

Folks playing on H.P. Lovecraft's themes of old gods that are all tentacles, cold hunger, black bile and hate often take themselves way too seriously. Hellboy puts the right cartoonish varnish on that old routine, in part by casting David Hyde Pierce as an icthyoid named Abe Sapien. (While on the topic, here's another nice exception, a funny short story by Neil Gaimon.) Accordingly, this movie is my nominee for Best Use Of Lovecraft in a Major Motion Picture, since the villains in Hellboy are all about being eaten first. Other heavy themes -- love, madness, salvation and the destruction of Earth -- are given similar light treatment to similarly good effect.

Otherwise, Hellboy is exactly what you think it's going to be and most of what you're likely hoping for as well. In fact, it's almost good enough to redeem the mostly-red superhero genre from the soiling that Daredevil gave it last year. It's not everything that Daredevil wasn't -- because, you know, where would you start? -- but it does have the key pieces that have been missing from other recent comic book adaptations.

Like fun, for example. Hellboy is fun.

Friday, April 2, 2004

PHILM: NEVER DIE ALONE is pretty hard to argue with; a cautionary noir from the just over that edge where pulp becomes true underground. Slumming with David Arquette, we're told "This isn't a rap video. This isn't a Tarantino movie." And it's not. It's smarter than the former and smart about the latter . . . post-pulp, maybe, having a point above and beyond the satisfaction of brilliantly executed formula.

It felt at times like director Ernest Dickerson was projecting Goines' novel onto the screen behind a rough matte finish, true to the feel of tough scenes recounted on inexpensive paper. I like to think this was a self-aware, formal acknowledgement of source material that deliberately signalled transcence of both the excesses and limitations of the "pulp" genre or label. I don't know Goines' work first hand however, and I do need to get my eyes checked, so perhaps that's just my own projection.

In any case, Never Die Alone doesn't flinch and doesn't pose. It doesn't shrink from offending or tell the audience how to feel. DMX is really good (scary as hell) in the role of King David, but the film is more about the responses that Michael Ealy and David Arquette's characters have, respectively, to his direct brutality and brutal life story. The audience is left to sort out the details of those responses in all their desparate and often unspoken difficulty, and that makes for a brilliant film.
AND THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING: The Amazing Race returns on Tuesday, July 6.
IN WHICH I TURN OVER THE SUBJECT MATTER TO OTHERS: I've got little insight into last night's grade-A Apprentice episode (except: how did that last deal happen? It's an 'A' for the interpersonal stuff, not for the challenge), so let blogger Ann Althouse share her own thoughts, and point you to others.

I will say this about last night's Survivor: while it was undoubtedly wise for Lex to keep Ambuh and make nice-nice to The Rahbfather, the smarter play would have been to axe Shii-Ann or Kathy, whose votes would have been less reliable post-merge, rather than dumping Newly-Sweetened Jerri Manthey, who would have been his ally to the end. Also, why does Lex insist on telling his voting target about his/her fate? Dumb, dumb, honorable but dumb.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

PHILM: SECRET WINDOW Interesting edge-of-madness thriller, blah. Pulse-pounding blah, who-done-it psychodrama. Viscerally well-done at times, but not nearly as scary or mysterious as it wants to be. Imagine:

John Goodman is lumbering ferociously down the hallway of a sticky, decrepit hotel, blowing off spit, sweat and rounds from a shotgun. Flames leap into being on the walls as he advances. He bellows, “I’LL SHOW YOU THE LIFETIME MOVIE OF THE WEEK!!!”

Secret Window is fun if you like tales where the protagonist or narrator is playing three card monte with himself. Depp and Torturo give enjoyably menacing performances, but too many revelations too quickly and too cleanly at the end leave the film feeling tied-off instead of finished. Stephen King often leaves me feeling that way: a dark good time that could have been more compelling. A rainy night rental, maybe.
IN OTHER NEWS OF THE DAY: Hey, Finch! Is this new Mets pitcher a relative of yours?

Also, for those interested in more information about the other item today, go here.
SMILE AND GRIN AT THE CHANGE ALL AROUND: Am stunned today. Producers from Real Interactive Live television saw the thread on this weblog, and it looks like they're not joking.

For One On-the-fence Lucky Student, the dream of an ivy-league-level education will become a reality.

Believe it or not: the producers have contacted me, and they are serious about putting together a reality series in which twelve high school seniors will compete for one slot at one of America's most prestigious universities -- or, if they're not available, Bucknell.

Seriously, a school with a perceived hipness deficiency like The University of Chicago, MIT, Cornell University or Grinnell College (commonly referred to as "Cornell West") would be foolish to say no.

Each week, the students will be competing in a variety of challenges designed to test their fitness for college. In week one, it's a science test -- give them a pack of index cards, some paper clips and a roll of scotch tape, and see who can best design a contraption which will protect a raw egg from a three-story plunge. Future weeks will feature competition in parliamentary debate, swimming tests, conceptual art, drinking with the women's rugby team and writing self-righteous letters to student newspapers.

Every week, one student gets "the thin envelope," and the speech, "Sorry, you're just not [Our School] material. You'll just have to attend your safety school." In the end, only one matriculant-in-waiting will prevail.

Today's a happy day.
WHEN DEMOCRACY FAILS: Our Good Friend Charlie Glassenberg often said to me that democracy was best suited for talent shows and beauty pageants, but that you couldn't trust The People for anything beyond that.

After last night's American Idol results show, I'm willing to limit it to beauty pageants. My top-of-the-head list of Worst AI Voting Results Travesties?
5. Vanessa Olivarez as first AI2 bootee.

4. Briana Ramirez-Rial fails to advance from AI3 semifinal group and not invited to wild card show.

3. Josh Gracin survives; Trenyce goes home in AI2.

2. Nikki McKibbin outlasts Tamyra Gray in AI1.

1. Last night, Amy Adams eliminated in AI3 with La Toya London and Jennifer Hudson on chopping block; neither Conan O'Sinatra or Pencil Boy are even in bottom three, despite ghastly performances.

Look out, people: the ClayNation has realized its power to protect dorky white boys, and we all will suffer if they are allowed to prevail.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

LAY DOWN YOUR FUNKY WEAPON, COME JOIN US ON THE FLOOR: The Wall Street Journal -- no, really? -- yes, really, today's Wall Street Journal explains just how the Prince resurgence came to pass.

He's welcome to knock on my door when the Musicology tour comes to Philadelphia this summer.
WHY AND WHAT'S THE REASON FOR? We just saw Bob Dylan in a Victoria's Secret commercial. I turned to fast-forward through it during The Shield and there he was . . . in a Victoria's Secret commercial.

It's been noted elsewhere, now that I look around. (Including by Adam, below, and his Cronenberg-creepy comment is right-on.) My reaction is less "why oh lord why" than "okay, now can I roll my eyes if people are reverently holding forth about Dylan and debating the merits of his various works in hushed, emphatic tones as if they were more a body of scripture than a music career? Can I? Puhleeeeeze???"

I mean, he's good and all. No doubt. I'm just saying. But... No? Are you su... No, huh? Damn. No, okay... I knew that.
USE YOUR ILLUSION: You might expect a guy who wears a chicken tub on his head to score somewhere in the does not work and play well with others section of the Myers Briggs test. You might expect him to have a little trouble being in a certain place at a certain time, you know? A discriminating HR Director might note, during the interview, that his fashion choices are subtly signalling that he has some issues with imposed structures and even casual social conventions.

You'd expect, at the very least, to be dealing with a strong independent streak. Whatever. More than the irony of Axl complaining about work habits and being all corporate and sanctimonious, what I like is that he's claiming to have been used:

"According to those who have actually spoken with Buckethead it appears his plans were to secure a recording contract with Sanctuary Records which I encouraged my management to make available to him, quit GN'R and to use his involvement in the upcoming Guns release to immediately promote his individual efforts...Nice guy!"

If that's all G'nR is good for these days. . . Well, at least they're good for something.

Lots of people out there need to know Buckethead, and his sound is not necessarily the sort of thing that would be enhanced by the earnest hormonal yowling most often associated with Axl Rose. If you haven't heard him, and you have the metal gene (it doesn't work without the metal gene) check out Bucketheadland for some downloads.

This one here's not bad, and representative of the Big Robot / non-Laswell (or less Laswell) work that I've heard. That's probably more than I can really say about it. This one's good too. Little louder.

It was a weird mix anyway. I was interested to hear how it came out but couldn't really picture the new G'nR sounding more interesting than Gary Cherone's wanksterous Extreme if the project took Axl as its creative center.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

THE LATEST SHIFT: Bill Carter of the NYT covers the business of television like no other, especially the machinations of the late-night wars. His book on the battle to be Johnny Carson's successor, The Late Shift, is an absolutely essential, gripping, more-entertaining-than-fiction read, one which happens to have been adapted into HBO's best made-for-tv movie except, maybe, for Cheaters, John Stockwell's wonderfully cynical take on the Steinmetz academic decathlon scandal, but I'm digressing.

Carter reports today on Jay Leno's new deal, but like a man who's looking for another book to write, he raises a good question: Will Conan wait five more years to take over The Tonight Show? Will he ever host an 11:30p show?

Also, seriously, how much does Jay Leno owe Hugh Grant? You know the story, I hope: pre-Divine Brown, Letterman consistently beat Leno in the ratings; since Grant's 1995 interview with Leno, it's been all about The Chin.
ALL WE NEED IS JUST A LITTLE PATIENCE: I'm as big a fan of irony as the next guy, especially when the next guy's our own Phil Throckmorton, but this is a bit much for me: Axl Rose complaining about someone else's work habits?

Says Mr. Rose:
During his tenure with the band Buckethead has been inconsistent and erratic in both his behavior and commitment - despite being under contract - creating uncertainty and confusion and making it virtually impossible to move forward with recording, rehearsals and live plans with confidence. His transient lifestyle has made it impossible for even his closest friends to have nearly any form of communication with him whatsoever.

A MERCIFUL GOD WOULD EXPLAIN THIS ONE: Why does it say, on top of Lucy's new box of Cheerios, "Once your consciousness has been raised, it cannot be lowered"?

Seriously? It's just a toasted whole-grain oat cereal, not Doug Henning's transcendental meditation theme park, isn't it?
AI RUNNING COMMENTARY: Jen's in Cleveland and the girl's asleep, so that leaves y'all:
Camille: I didn't think it was possible to sing Stevie worse than Justin Guarini. You did.

JPL: That was the ass end of ass. You could almost hear him counting the steps to that awkward attempt at dancing. He is just really, really clumsy and amateurish, like watching Greg Brady try to become Johnny Bravo.

LaToya: Meh. "Ooh, Baby Baby" is not a song on which one can shine, and she did not.

Amy: Awkward attempt at a glory note at the end of "Dancing In The Streets", but otherwise solid. She may not be Vanessa Olivarez 2.0, but actually Nikki McKibbin 2.0. She might last a while in this show, and I'm sorry I missed her performance last week.

Conan O'Sinatra: That was weak, yo, and Randy's calling 'em straight tonight.

Jennifer: I don't know that it's that the haircut made her appear utterly generic, or that her singing was just always good-but-never-great. Pass.

Jasmine: I thought it was a little passionless, but it's been a bad night, and she was less sucky than most.

Diana: "Do You Love Me?" No. Vocally, it was a'ight, but the stage presence felt as forced and hokey as an animatronic robot at Chuck E. Cheese's.

Fantasia: It's her competition to lose, and this confirmed it. Voice, charisma, looks, uniqueness: she's got the package better than anyone else this year.

George: Everything about this was good except the towel. If charisma and stage presence are what win this competition, he'll have no problem going far, even if he's way too in love with his up-and-down boppy move.

Also, that Bob Dylan/Victoria's Secret ad is creepy like a Cronenberg movie.
PUT UP OR SHUT UP DAY: Last year, though it may not have been that hard, I correctly called Clay and Ruben as the two AI2 finalists just two weeks into the season. It's time to make this year's prediction, because I feel it's just as inevitable.

First, the surprising part (maybe): I feel comfortable in predicting that Fantasia and LaToya -- despite both clearly leading the pack right now -- will not both be in the final pairing, and I feel strongly that they won't both even make the final three. Every year on Idol, as I and others have noted, a more talented black woman gets eliminated before a mediocre white singer with a more compelling narrative arc and energized fanbase. (Tamyra went before Nikki; Trenyce before Josh.)

So this year, I'm guessing LaToya gets axed before the Pencil Boy, John Peter Lewis, leaving us with a final three of Lewis, Fantasia Barrino and Mr. Happy, George Huff. For a final two, right now I'm thinking Lewis and Barrino, but I'm going to revisit that prediction in a few weeks.

If you'd like to register alternate predictions, do so now. No prize except the glory bestowed upon you by the rest of us, and the thanks of a grateful nation.

Tonight: Motown Night, and if you miss guest judge Verdine White's glorious appearance from last year, fret not: Ashford and Simpson are judging tonight. Solid!

(As a rock.)
MY BLOOD RUNS COLD: Ever stop to wonder what became of your middle school crushes? Me neither. (Lie.)

Yeah. So, I got curious about a cinematic crush from my skate-geek days today. Fametracker had bupkiss -- I suppose her career no longer registers on the Richter scale of fame since she hasn't done a movie since 1988.

But then I discovered that this dude over here has got the largest collection of Michelle Meyrink images on the web.

It took me about six seconds to decide that I'd be more psyched than disappointed if the pictures turned out to be -- unsavory. While such viewing might have compromised and corrupted a strangely durable and well-preserved naive nerdboy crush of mine, I probably would have been left feeling more decadent than debased by the experience, you know? Nothing profound; nothing sacred would be tarnished. Her appeal wasn't that of a virgin saint or romantic ideal, after all. It was more more like that of Louise Brooks updated for the '80s as an anime protagonist who really, really liked math.

Right. So anyway, flush with anticipation, I hit the link and uncovered a grotesque spectacle that made me ashamed to share this guy's mild obsession: 300 some-odd still images clipped unceremoniously from Real Genius.

The horror. The Horror. . . Brutally, brutally disappointing. Just plain wrong. I think I finally understand: Some copyrights are desperately in need of enforcement.

Monday, March 29, 2004

INSERT WOOD HERE: Six things I know I loved about last night's Sopranos:
1. Dutch oven.

2. Referring to the NYT Weddings Page as "the women's sports section." It's good to know that I share some of the same interests as mobsters.

3. Oh, A.J. Still, it's not as bad as what a college debate teammate did to a friend in high school -- she shaved off one of a sleeping roommate's eyebrows, and left it to her to figure out whether symmetry required shaving off the other or penciling something in.

4. What I love about the show are the details -- A.J.'s expecting to go to Trenton State or Ramapo, but with dreams that a state school out west might take him . . . perfect.

5. Oh, Feech, you greedy man. Good for you that Tony has matured . . . for now.

6. Lawrence Taylor? Nice. David Roth? Deteriorated. WIESELTIER? That's a cameo.

Seriously, what's next: Michael Kinsley as a corpse on 'Six Feet Under'? Katrina vanden Heuvel as a magician's assistant on 'Carnivale'? Will Larry David find some way to annoy Katha Pollitt on the next 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'? Could they bring back 'Oz', only to find some role for Andrew Sullivan?

Sunday, March 28, 2004

AND SPEAKING OF (blank)AGE There's a new Descendents album coming out. (Thanks, as ever: Fork.)
COLLATERAL CARNAGE ... OR FILMAGE, REALLY. One of the best things (and I do mean "best") about going to see the new Dawn Of The Dead was that the trailers playing beforehand included most of the big dollar summer blockbusters. They were queued-up there in front of the zombast like a slick pyrotechnic-and-CGI buffet, inspiring awe, dread, tight anticipation and vague misgivings by turns. I've poked around for more info, and now offer an under-informed rundown of the ones I can already tell I'm going to watch no matter how bad their reviews are.

Today: demons past, demons present. Tomorrow: epic flicks from our heroic history.

Demons Present

I, Robot -- July 16 -- "It is the future. He fought the horror of robots programmed to kill." About time somebody did an update of the 1984 Tom Selleck classic, Runaway, don't you think? And who better than Will Smith?

Including a super slick pseudo-site for the product that serves as the central premise of the film, the promotional material for I, Robot is uniformly rich, shiny and enticing. It promises us the plausibly futurisic world of Minority Report and yet another twist on the now standard 21st-Century antagonist that we've recently enjoyed in such fine films as Matrixonator III - Revolutions Of The Machines. If the script turns out to have half the shine of the promo websites, I'm sure I'll be quite happy with the experience.

There has been a predictable amount of whining and tearing of hair in the "don't profane the classics of my childhood" department, with many IMDB posters worrying that the film will take too many liberties with Asimov's original work, play too much like the saccharine A.I. or resemble the interminable Bicentennial Man (which was also adapted from an Asimov short). After a few hours of clicking around, I can't tell what the forces behind I, Robot have retained or tried to "be true" to beyond some recognizable characters and Asimov's three now-famous laws, which I'm geek enough to quote here just because I can:

1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders givein to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

I have to say though, that since the original work (not the whole body of Asimov's robot-related work, but the "I, Robot" title itself) was a collection of short stories I'm inclined to withhold judgment about any deviations in this update, hold my breath, and hope against hope that the script writers can connect their selected dots from the collection in a way that creates a compelling world, at once conceptually faithful to Asimov and on-pace with current concerns about and visions of our increasingly automated future.

Director Alex Proyas was also responsible for the ill-fated Brandon Lee vehicle The Crow, and 1998's under-appreciated sci-fi noir Dark City. His aesthetic choices in those films were strong and edgy and I'm excited to see what he might do with a mainstream blockbuster project.

Demons Past

Van Helsing -- May 7 -- Another remake; this time of a hit 1987 children's flick, The Monster Squad. Starring Wolverine and directed by Stephen Sommers (whose high-grossing, artificially butter-flavored sins include The Mummy and The Mummy Returns) Van Helsing is promoting itself as an orgiastic CGI action-fest that pits a lone hero against an assembled army of standard-issue horror film baddies run by -- and this is where it really gets creative -- the evil Count Chocula ...erm... Dracula. Sorry.

In a reassuring move, the film is being promoted concurrently with the related video game and a set of collectible monster trading cards. It also looks like the swashbuckling, shadowy protagonist will be carrying a weapon similar to "The Glave", which I'm sure you'll all remember from the strange Freudian (latency period) daydream that was Krull way back in 1983. I kid you not.

Though every nerve is my body was screaming its anticipated disappointment throughout the preview reel, and though I can't find a single byte anywhere on the web to persuade me that Van Helsing will be anything but utterly awful, I will inevitably plunk my $9.50 down to see this fiasco. What else is a guy who thought Fright Night II "wasn't really that bad" going to do?

Tomorrow: The Alamo & Troy.

Big Fat Hairy Thanks to the industry publicity machine and pop-culture archive that is The Internet Movie Database for doing what they do, and making diversions like this possible for me. One day soon, I will pony up for their expanded subscription service.

Which schlockbusters are you looking forward to?