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August 29, 2003
The Bad Review Revue
S.W.A.T.: "SWAT is better than Gigli, but so is most outpatient surgery." -- Mick LaSalle, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Grind: "A movie conceived by monkey-suited honchos who regard their targeted audience as impressionable nincompoops susceptible to every new trend in sports, clothing and music that comes down the pike." -- Scott Foundas, LA WEEKLY
American Wedding: "You'll see better film on ponds." -- Elvis Mitchell, NEW YORK TIMES
Marci X: "This movie is, like, so eight years ago." -- Gene Seymour, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Jeeper Creepers 2: "The kind of limp horror retread whose only saving grace may be that it will inspire legions of budding young screenwriters to say, 'Jesus this sucks. I can do better'." -- Marc Savlov, THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE
Uptown Girl: "A virtual collection of 'What were they thinking?' moments." -- Lou Lumenick, NEW YORK POST
My Boss's Daughter: "Moronic. idiotic. Insulting. Pathetic. But enough with the sweet talk." -- Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL
Movies: Seabiscuit and Pirates Of The Caribbean
The Queen and I went to go see Pirates of the Caribbean. Twice, actually. The first time we entered the theater and found it packed to the gills, so we wandered down the hall and caught Seabiscuit instead.
In retrospect, watching Pirates from the first row might have been preferable. This became apparent early in the film, when Jeff Bridges rises at a dinner party and says "As corny as it sounds, I'd like to propose a toast. To the future!" Attention screenwriters: if even your characters are worried about sounding corny, you are probably writing a corny movie.
Also: if you want to screw up the adaptation of a best-selling book, try taking a real and inherently inspirational story and making it even more inspirational. So it's not enough that Seabiscuit -- a horse that had been written off by everyone but nonetheless went on to win
A side-effect of this relentless inspirationilzation is that nearly every scene is a little too emotional and significant. Conversations 30 minutes into the film are accompanied by the kind of Overbearingly Sad But Heroic Music that is usually reserved for the finale. Every phrase uttered by the characters has some deeper portent. Things can't just happen, they have to happen for a reason. Seabiscuit even has my least favorite Required Hollywood Movie Moment -- you know, where The One Guy says something pithy to The Other Guy, and then later in the film, when The One Guy has lost his way, The Other Guy says the exact same phrase back to him, thereby enabling him to remember what's Really Important In This World Of Ours? You know that moment? It's in there.
So even though I knew that Seabiscuit is based on a true story, I spent much of the film rolling my eyes and muttering "c'mon -- that didn't happen!" whenever the filmmaker couldn't resist interjecting some tried and true Screenwriting For Dummies inspirational gimmick. Which isn't to say that Seabiscuit is bad -- objectively I'd probably give it 3.5 stars out of five. But I can't stand it when moviemakers mess up a true story with fictitious enhancements. This is why I'll choose a documentary on a subject over the dramatization each and every time.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (which we managed to see on the second attempt) is equally the Big Hollywood Spectacle, but at least it has the good sense to not even pretend to be grounded in reality. It unabashedly throws every Adventure Movie Staple (state of the art special effects, over the top fight scenes, big name actors) and pirate cliché (parrots, planks, and numerous references to "Davy Jones locker") into the mix and brews up the best summer blockbuster I've seen this year.
Alas, at over two hours, Pirates is a bit too much of a good thing -- by the finale I wouldn't say I was bored, but I was more than ready for it to end. Sadly, those extra minutes are packed with extraneous action and unnecessary exposition, while the fundamentals of the plot are given the short shrift: the specifics of the titular curse -- how it got started, how it is reversed, and when happens when it is removed -- are all given, like, one line of explanation a piece. At some point it occurred to me that they were dwelling on trivial details to disguise the fact that the underlying plot was threadbare, a realization that did not me to the overlong running time.
Still, if you're willing to overlook the fact that it doesn't make a huge amount of sense, the plot does have some very inventive moments. And Johnny Depp alone makes the film worthwhile -- he takes what could have been a marginally interesting character and plays it over-the-top loony. They should have carved half an hour out of Pirates, but it's still a very fun ride.
(And speaking of rides, there was a preview for Disney's The Haunted Mansion before Pirates. I guess they are just going to movie-alize all of their theme park attractions, now. Hoo boy, I bet It's A Small World: The Motion Picture is going to break some box office records.)
August 27, 2003
Uncommon Law Marriage
Three minutes and 45 seconds into an radio interview with Sean Hannity, Arnold Schwarzenegger drops a bombshell:
"I think gay marriage should be between a man and a woman."Even in California I'm thinking that's not going to go over well.
August 26, 2003
Hummer: Like Nothing Else, Except All The Others
While at the grocery store last week I saw an H2 occupying two parking spaces and adorned with a license plate reading "XTREME2".
I can just picture this guy at the DMV. "What do you mean 'EXTREME' is already taken?! I have a Hummer! Who the fuck else could be that extreme?!!"
Hey, that reminds me of an old and completely unrelated joke I just made up.
Q: How many bloggers does it take to change a light bulb?(The comments are open for blogger / lightbulb jokes. Go nuts.)
Update: Two more I thought up on the bus this morning.
Q: How many conservative bloggers does it take to change a light bulb?
Linguists Discover I In Team
Linguists at the University of Rhode Island have discovered an "i" in "team," calling into question one of the axioms of motivational theory. "It turned out to be between the 'a' and the 'm'," Professor Stephanie Zahn-Winters said at a press conference on Monday. "Once you know it's there, it's not too hard to see." While the news threatens to undermine modern coaching techniques, it was hailed as vindication by glory hounds and hotdoggers around the nation. "I always knew it was in there somewhere," said Polk Junior High ballhog Barry Zahn, adding "everyone knows that passing is gay." The news comes just four days after scientists at the Wisconsin State College shocked geographers worldwide by announcing the discovery of a place exactly like home.
August 25, 2003
Talkin' with The Queen.
Me: Hey, what did you think of that book The Eyre Affair?
Books: Fair Play
A month ago I raved about Steven E. Landsburg's first book The Armchair Economist. I found the book so engrossing that I was disappointed when it ended, so I picked up Landsburg second (and most recent) effort, Fair Play, hoping for more of the same. Unfortunately, Fair Play doesn't exactly pick up where Armchair left off. While a quite enjoyable read, I thought Fair Play left something to be desired.
The problem lies with the subtitle: "What Your Child Can Teach You About Economics". It's not so much what the subtitle says, it's that there is a subtitle at all. The beauty of Armchair Economist was that it was free-ranging, dashing hither and yon covering a variety of economic topics. Better yet, it was one step removed from the reality. The "rational riddles" pondered in Armchair were first distilled to abstraction, and then examined using economic theory. Landsburg reminded readers again and again the many of the assumptions underlying his analysis are simplifications (e.g., all people share common preferences) but his point wasn't to provide definitive answers to the given conundrums but to demonstrate the logical process that economists use when contemplating such questions. Although the author's personal beliefs were occasionally injected into the narrative, the economics always came first.
In Fair Play, on the other hand, Landsburg's worldview seems to be driving the economics. In particular, two of his passions -- love of his daughter and dislike of progressive taxation -- provide the framework for the discussion. The central conceit of the book is we need only look to children to discern the basic economic principles that should guide our society. It's a rather gimmicky premise, but one that makes intuitive sense; if humans are essentially economic creatures, then we would do well to look at those least tainted by society to see how we should behave. Unfortunately, Landsburg is inconsistent in how he employs this economics-via-children stratagem. Sometimes he says we should look to how children act instinctively for clues as to what's "fair," saying "if this is the way we're wired, it must be a for a reason". But other times he cites how adults tell children to behave as a guide to how we should behave ourselves, implying that the standards of "fairness" we set out for our children ought not to differ from those we adhere to ourselves. By trying to have it both ways, Landsburg undermines both arguments.
The subtitular "Look To The Children" theme is then largely abandoned in the middle third of the book (an extended critique of our system of taxation), and then hastily readopted as he brings the book to a close. Scattered throughout the work are snippets cribbed from his regular Slate Everyday Economics column. The overall effect is of a recipe with a few too many ingredients.
If I'm critical of Fair Play, it's because Landsburg's first told me to do so -- now when I read economic writing I am always looking for the flaws and contradictions. Even so, Play is an fun read and left me looking forward to his next offering. If you haven't ready either of Lansburg's works then The Armchair Economist is the way to go; but if you've already devoured that one and are hungry for more, Fair Play is a worthy, if somewhat unsatisfying, follow-up.
August 22, 2003
August 21, 2003
Bring It On!
While I'm taking this week off, feel free to send me any complaints or criticism you might have about defective yeti. When doing so, please use one of the following subjectlines:
August 15, 2003
August 14, 2003
You Mean With Me, Right?
Coworker enters my office with a adolescent girl.
Coworker: Matthew? This is my daughter, C.
I just noticed that my office has a light switch on the wall behind the file cabinet. Kind of a a wierd place to put one, and I have no idea what it does. Only one way to find out, I guess.
Update: Shit! Sorry!
August 13, 2003
YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL
A big thanks to TTT for pointing out that I am unable to control my own goddamned body
Fox Sues Michael Moore Over Use Of Term 'Michael Moore'
FOX news has sued filmmaker Michael Moore over his repeated usage of the term "Michael Moore," both in print and on his website. "FOX has a long and established tradition of using the phrase 'Michael Moore' as a synonym for any person or group that expresses the slightest unease about Bush Administration policies," reads the complaint. "If Michael Moore's were ever to behave rationally, it would irrevocably blur and tarnish the strawman FOX has worked so diligently to construct." Although some legal scholars warn that the lawsuit serves only to stifle Moore's First Amendment rights, FOX has dismissed such critics as "a bunch of wacko left-wing extremists of the Michael Moore variety." Lawyers for the media giant demand that Michael Moore cease usage of the term within 30 days and adopt the name "Stubbley McFatguy".
August 12, 2003
People always say to me "Matthew Baldwin, it's incredible how well you can whistle a tune! What a remarkable and beneficial gift!"
Oh no. I'm here to tell you that it's a curse, a curse.
When I'm in the elevator abscent-mindedly whistling "Don't Stop Believing," everyone knows exactly what godawful Journey song I've got stuck in my head.
Attn. HR Dept., Heaven
He only gets one day off a week, but His dental plan is divine.
August 11, 2003
defective yeti's Homophone Korner!
Fun Fact: The phrase "I spent all weekend screwing in doors" sounds exactly the same as the phrase "I spent all weekend screwing indoors!"
So when explaining to a colleague why you are so tired on Monday morning, it's perhaps better to say "I spent the weekend replacing both my front and garage door, a task that required extensive use of my screwdriver." Otherwise, your coworker will react with the "Too Much Information" wince. As I discovered today. Alas.
August 08, 2003
Oh man, have you heard about these Flash Mobs? They are so rad. Secret email goes out to a bunch of cool people and then they all, like, get together somewhere and act like robots or worship dinosaurs or some other crazy thing. Hah hah! So awesome!
Now I totally want to do one here in Seattle! So I'm proud to announce that defective yeti's First Flash Mob takes place on August 17!
Here's the plan. Everybody meet up at the house at 11765 Parker st. N. (98101) on that Sunday morning. Then, at exactly 10:00 AM we'll completely clean the place! Hah hah! Talk about zany and unexpected! We'll go nuts: scrubbing the shower and cleaning the gutters and washing the cars and mowing the lawn and brushing the cats, etc. This is going to totally freak out the house owners (who I will trick into going to get French Slams at the nearby Denny's while this takes place)! And when we're done (making sure we clean behind the fridge, just to be extra-unexpected) we'll suddenly disperse. Poof!
Hah hah! This is going to be so wild we'll probably get in the paper and stuff. Just meet at the house on the morning of Sunday, August 17th (don't worry about how we are going to get in -- fortunately I have a key and will leave the door unlocked), bring cleaning supplies, and be sure to pass this message on to all of your friends. It's gonna be, like, so great! Flash mobs! Woo! Spread the word!
August 07, 2003
Conan The Total Recall Governator
A few readers have written to ask why I haven't done The Bad Review Revue for Gigli, or commented on the whole Arnold Schwarzenegger thing. C'mon, folks: some jokes are just too easy. Seriously, why should I handpick bad reviews for Gigli when you can just check out the Metacritic page for it? And I think every possible Schwarzenegger / Governor pun has already been made by the cable news anchors. "Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his intention to Jingle All The Way ... to the Governor's mansion!"
One thing I did hear while watching MSNBC at the gym, though. Some commentator was talking about Schwarzenegger and said "His fans know him best as The Terminator, the alien with an Austrian accent." What the --?! THE TERMINATOR WAS A ROBOT NOT AN ALIEN YOU MORON!!! In the wake of the New York Times scandal you'd expect the media to redouble their efforts to regain the public's trust, and yet they still can't get the most fundamental of political facts correct.
Also, I guess the California Election Committee Whatever is saying that the enormous number of cadidates is making it impossible to prepare all the ballots in time for the October 7th election. That's ridiculous. I mean, at this point all they need is, like, a bunch of California phone books and some stickers.
August 05, 2003
Escape From New Hampshire
In recent years we've been treated to a host of Escape Films: Jurassic Park, Deep Blue Sea, The Cube, etc. The Escape Film -- popularized by the classic Escape From New York and epitomized by the forgotten No Escape -- is a subgenre of The Action Blockbuster, and typically features a band of plucky and determined men (although, as demonstrated by Alien and Aliens, occasionally women) trapped in a remote and inhospitable geographical location. The band must fight against impossible odds and a host of enemies to reach some far off haven of safety.
Each of the characters in the Escape Movie has a distinct personality and skill set -- The Hero, The Strategist, The Mechanic, The Wiseacre -- and although they might not like each other, they recognize that they have to work together if they wish to survive. As the movie progresses, the team members are picked off one by one, with each fatality receiving a big, dramatic Death Scene. If the character is a good guy, his final moments involve sacrificing himself so that the others can go on; if the character is unlikable, however, he is usually attacked from behind just after betraying his comrades.
By the time the final credits role, only The Hero remains alive. There's usually some sort of fake-out at the end, where it looks like two people will survive, but then #2 inevitably blurts out "We made it!" and is immediately shot or eaten or vaporized by Final Bad Guy, who we thought was killed half an hour ago. The Hero, after bellowing a lusty "Noooo!," engages Final Bad Guy in the biggest, most blowing-up battle of the entire film and, when victorious, wipes the blood from his forearms and rides off into the sunset.
The Democratic Presidential Primary should totally be more like this.
August 04, 2003
Books: Complete And Utter Failure
When faced with crushing, humiliating defeat, some people shrug and move on while others are prone to dwell. Author Neil Steinberg is a dweller. It helps that the failures he focuses on are (mostly) not his own. Complete and Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-Rans, Runner-Ups, Never-Weres and Total Flops tells the story of those who have reached for that brass ring and toppled out of their chairs trying.
The first chapter sets the stage by chronicling the history of product failure: items enthusiastically thrust onto the marketplace, only to be greeted with apathy or derision. One vignette recounts how toymaker Ideal bought a proposal for a line of cute dolls with fluttering wings called "Fairies". One of the Ideal honchos, however, just had to put his mark on the product before it hit the shelves, and insisted they add halos and rename the dolls "Angel Babies". Unfortunately, no one would touch the dolls when they premiered at the New York Toy Fair. All the toy buyers raised the same objection, one which had never occurred to anyone at Ideal during the development process: "So let me get this straight," the buyers said, "These are dead babies?"
That's one of many laugh-out-loud anecdotes collected in this slim volume. Subsequent chapters discuss the various attempts to scale Mt. Everest before Sir Hillary actually made it to the top, the quixotic pursuit of perpetual motion and cold fusion, and the effect that Bad Timing can have on someone like Elisha Gray, who invented the telephone but filed for a patent two hours after Alexander Graham Bell registered his own, less elegant device.
Complete and Utter Failure, while enjoyable throughout, is something of a hodge-podge. At times it comes close to becoming just another Litany Book, where an author purports to "investigate" a phenomenon but actually just fills 300 pages with examples of the phenomenon (James Gleick's Faster and Randall Kennedy's Nigger are prime examples of the Litany Book.) Elsewhere, it strays pretty far afield from the theme -- I don't see how the burning of the library of Alexandria can really be chalked up as a "failure," per se.
The section on the National Spelling Bee, however, largely makes up for the deficiencies in the rest. (Complete and Utter Failure was recommended to me by a yeti reader in the Spellbound thread, by the way). This chapter is more like what I wish the whole book had been -- an in-depth look at an event that is structured in such a way that failure is a foregone conclusion for virtually everyone who competes (despite the demonstrably false announcement, at the beginning of each and every round of the National Spelling Bee the bee, that "everyone who has gotten this far is a winner"). This chapter weaves together interviews with bee participants, first-hand accounts of the event, and philosophical musings on the nature of failure into a neat little essay on the subject. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this chapter was written first and the rest of the book built around it.
The remainder of the book is quite fun to read, due to Steinberg's great (and relentlessly self-deprecating) sense of humor, and because he amusingly compares the history of failure with his own personal experience in this particular realm. (Steinberg's first brush with failure came after being hornswoggled by Captain Kangaroo). So while somewhat uneven, Complete and Utter Failure fails to live down to its title. It is an enjoyable treatise on a subject most of prefer not to dwell upon.
For a sampler of Steinberg's writing, check out his regular column for the Chicago Sun-Times.
August 01, 2003
What Up, Boss
While at work I frequent a website where users post interesting pictures and audio clips they have found. Today a guy who works at an ad agency posted an mp3 along with this comment: "I found this audio at the start of one of the our spare tapes. No explanation, no reason it should be there. Seems to be a kid's tv program host teaching kids slang. It's overmodulated and pretty strange." I was rockin' out to Kosheen at the moment, but was sufficiently intrigued to stop my CD and click the link. A little box popped up to tell me that the mp3 was downloading and would autolaunch in winamp after a minute or so.
A few moments later by boss strolled into my office. I swiveled around in my chair to face him, turning my back to my computer. "Hey Matthew," he said sitting down,"How are you doing for time? Would you be interested in working on a new project?"
A loud voice from behind me suddenly bellowed "Awwwwwwwwww yeah! Fo shizzle!"
Movies: Bend It Like Beckham, Finding Nemo, and Capturing the Friedmans
What say I just get all my belated movie reviews over at once, eh?
Although I make a point to post reviews for every movie I see in the theater, I somehow never got around to writing about Bend It Like Beckham, despite having seen it over two months ago. When the film left the theaters several weeks ago, I shrugged and assumed that it would be my first omission since defective yeti's inception. Today, however, it appears that Beckham has returned to theaters across the nation, thereby negating my excuse. Dad gummit.
Maybe I'm reluctant to review Beckham because I feel like I have already covered this movie a couple of times. It is, in fact, That Movie -- you know, the one that comes out every year, where some strong-willed youngster decides to go against tradition and follow his dream, much to the annoyance of his parents who vainly try and thwart his ambition but, in the end, recognize the importance of their offspring's happiness and reluctantly relent. A couple years ago That Movie was called Billy Elliot, and then it was East Is East, last year it was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, etc. This year it's Beckham, and apparently he can Bend It, apparently.
Bend It Like Beckham focuses on a strong-willed youngster who decides to go against tradition and follow her dream blah blah blah. The youngster here is Jess, the only Indian (that's the "from India" flavor of Indian) on an all-girls, British soccer team; the dream is Jess's ambition to make it to the finals. Unfortunately (and predictably), her parents don't approve. In particular, her father recalls the racism he faced as an Indian in a British cricket league, and urges his daughter to quit before she encounters the same brand of ugly discrimination. She refuses, the come to loggerheads, and I could keep telling you the plot but there's probablyy no need.
I can enjoy That Movie once a year, so long as it's funny, well directed, and at least covers some new ground. Bend It Like Beckham succeeds so marvelously at the first two criteria that I was willing to overlook the fact that there was really nothing new here whatsoever. Beckham is also a perfect Mom Movie. (I know this for a fact because my Mom wanted to take me to see Down With Love, but I talked her into this one instead and she quite enjoyed it. Whew -- I dodged a bullet, there.) I wouldn't recommend it per se, but I can assure you that you won't regret seeing Beckham if nothing else at the Cineplex floats your boat, as it's a film that's almost impossible to dislike.
Another genre of film that I can see once a year and enjoy is the Big Animated Movie Ostensibly For Children, and this summer it was Finding Nemo. I've been a big fan of Pixar dating back to the days when you could only see thier flicks at The Festival Of Animation, and I have enjoyed every movie they have ever made. Finding Nemo was no exception, although I'll confess to it being my least favorite in thier repertoire.
As with all Pixar films the animation is gorgeous, the plot is clever, the voices are well-done, etc., etc. But I couldn't get over the fact that the protagonists were fish. I mean, I had no problem sympathizing with inanimate playthings in Toy Story and Toy Story 2, the critters in A Bug's Life, and even the beasts in Monsters Inc., but, I dunno: fish! I had to practically will myself to care about them. (I should acknowledge that, even in real life, I have no affinity for fish whatsoever. I don't understand the allure of having them as pets, for example. Personally, I am only interested in fish when they are accompanied by chips.) It also didn't help that within the first 10 minutes this film racked up a higher body count than most horror movies, which kind of made Nemo's perils seem trivial by comparison.
Still, the worst Pixar movie is better than just about any other American kids' film out there, so you can still chalk this review up as a rave. Even without getting all worked up over the protagonist (fish!) I still enjoyed the story, and Ellen DeGeneres does some fantastic voice work. Certainly worth seeing in the theater -- doubly so if you can muster up the slightest enthusiasm for our fine finned friends.
And speaking of Feel Good Hits Of The Summer, Capturing the Friedmans documents the harrowing story of a family torn apart by allegations of pedophilia and sexual assault.
The story begins in the late 1987's, when Arnold Friedman, a teacher and father of three, is arrested for the possession of child pornography. After Friedman confesses to being a pedophile, students from a computer course he taught in his basement begin alleging that Arnold, along with his son, Jesse, turned the classes into orgies of child molestation and rape.
The claims seem wildly improbable -- parents who picked their children up after these supposed orgies noticed nothing amiss, and many of the "victims" enrolled in the class year after year -- but the late 80's were the heyday of child molestation witch hunts in the United States, so the case is brought against Arnold and his son all the same. As the film progresses, however, it becomes increasing clear that while the most lurid and outlandish of tales concerning what went on in those computer classes are certainly false, it's not entirely clear that something didn't happen.
What sets Friedmans apart from the run-of-the-mill "What really happened?" news-magazine stories you'd see on tv is the use of film footage shot while the events were actually taking place. As things began to fall apart, David Friedman, the oldest son, took to filming his family as they discussed, argued, and pondered the charges against Arnold and Jesse. So while Capturing the Friedman makes use of many modern-day interviews (most notably with David and his mother, Elaine) where participants recollect how they felt and reacted to developments in the case, it also incorporates the scenes that David shot on the given day. Some of David footage is painfully intimate, such as one soliloquy by David himself where he looks at the camera and says "This is private, so if you're not me, you shouldn't be watching."
Also setting Capturing The Friedmans apart from the standard news-magazine tv shows is the fact that it doesn't take a stand as to the truth of the allegations. Each time I was convinced one way the other -- Friedman was guilty, Friedman was framed -- the film would introduce a new fact or witness who would cast doubt on everything I though I knew for sure. I appreciated this even-handedness, but I occasionally wondered if the filmmakers weren't bend over backwards to make things as ambiguous as possible, purposely blurring the line between the credible and the outrageous. Still, I'd rather the director err on the side of neutrality than come in with a bias and slant the coverage to bolster a pre-held conclusion. Capturing the Friedmans is one of the most thought-provoking legal documentaries I have seen since Brother's Keeper, and the best films I've seen all year.
Hey Seattlites: Capturing the Friedmans is still playing at the Metro. All three of 'em are, actually.