I read* the Harry Potter books this summer. Harry Potter fans and superfans, if there’s something I’m missing or being unfair about, let me know.
*Note: For those with strong opinions about that word, I’ll point out I actually books-on-taped it during hiking trips. I’d say it’s 85-90% of the experience of actually reading it. I listened to the Stephen Fry version which seems to be the UK version. It’s practically “acted” more than read, and I’d wholly recommend it.
First, I’ll point out I had seen all the movies prior to this summer, and I very aggressively read the Wikipedia pages when the later books were released to keep on top of the story. I will recommend the books (audio or actual) and movies (well, not the second one) to anyone, so the below isn’t meant as a list of complaints, though I suppose it may be read as that. I’ll stick with saying I really liked the books, and this is just a list of things that came to mind when I was listening this summer.
Book 6: It seems like people like MacGuffins. Do you think 6 is too many?
Book 7: Hold my beer.
As far as I’m concerned, “pensieve” is an anagram for “plot dump.”
Movie 3 is something special. Book 3 is just as good as any other of the better books but not necessarily a stand-out. It is the first book that establishes that the novels’ “world” is huge, not merely big, though.
The movies gloss over the dynamic of the magical world vs. the non-magical world. In the books, there’s some very neat stuff there, from the Prime Minister having a relationship with the Minister of Magic to Hermione’s non-magical, dentist parents wanting her to get braces instead of using magic to fix her teeth to Ron’s dad’s hobby of figuring out how non-magical items work. There’s also lots of the magic/non-magic crossover at the beginning of the 4th book (almost entirely removed for the movie without much impact).
Book 5 just never ends. He gets the vision he needs to go to the Department of Mysteries then just waits until he has additional visions with more details. It’s the longest book (30 hour audiobook! Others range from 14 to 23 hours), but the least happens. Neville meeting his parents at the hospital was a nice, sad moment, though. This one was struggle to get through. And Umbridge is as entertainingly awful in the movie as she was in the book.
“He who must not be named”/”you know who” — UGH. STOP IT. Then the last book lampshades it by actually making it so if you say “Voldemort” the bad guys are magically alerted.
After 7 story years, people STILL don’t listen to Harry’s concerns and continue blow off his ideas. I wanted to yell, “HIS NAME IS IN THE TITLE OF THE BOOK; HE’S PROBABLY CORRECT.”
Slytherin: “They’re not all Deatheaters, but all Deatheaters are all from Slytherin. Best to keep them part of the school.”
Draco Malfoy: there’s no possible way that even in the world of the books he’d not be in more trouble. He goes from annoying brat to generally criminal at the beginning of the 6th book. (Then much further later in that book.) The series handwaves it away in an earlier book (‘his father has sway in the ministry.’) but come on.
PEOPLE CONTINUE TO NOT LISTEN TO HARRY POTTER. AFTER EVERYTHING. DUMBLEDORE, JUST MAKE DRACO SHOW YOU HIS FOREARM.
Fleur Delacour was needlessly made into a “light” villain in book 6. Why? Were they running out of bad guys and unlikeable characters already?
(HOT TAKE WARNING)
Voldemort should have killed all the Weasleys at once, leaving one Weasley to survive, either Ron or Ginny, preferably Ginny.
Why? In the 7th book, when Voldemort casually says he will kill anyone supporting Harry Potter as well as their families, it doesn’t have as much weight as it should. Also, it’s a black and white action Voldemort can take to “show” instead of “tell” with respect to how evil he is.
Where are the other wizards from around the world when Voldemort is attacking Hogwarts? If he wins, he’s a world-wide threat. He’s not just going to be the United Kingdom and Ireland’s problem. Is this a Batman+Gotham thing where the threshold for accepting outside help is ridiculously high?
The series has a habit of John Galt-esque speeches. When Voldemort comes back in the 4th book… Holy Infodump. And Harry is right there for the entire speech! I suppose mystery (intrabook and throughout the series) is a big component, but Harry and his friends generally don’t solve the mysteries, they just end up getting explained (at length) at the end.
Some sequences in the movies are better:
Hermione removing herself from her parents’ life lands with stronger impact in the opening of the 7th movie.
The movies realized we didn’t need a lengthy sequence at the Dursley’s at the beginning of every installment. We got the point after the second one.
The 6th movie doesn’t feel as aimless as the 6th book.
Ron’s exit in the 7th book’s camping sequence was just as awkward as it was in the movie… and it’s resolved with another infodump.
The romantic/relationship sub-plots from the books weren’t missed in the movies.
Wand-fighting in the movies was more interesting than it was in the books.
Jeeves and Percy Weasley weren’t missed in the movies.
Luna Lovegood is better in the movies than the books. It didn’t feel like too much was cut between book and movie, so I think that’s a statement on the quality of the actress. The character doesn’t really pop off the page but is very memorable in the movies.
The eighth movie is really, really good.
The fourth book is the best book. The third movie is the best movie.
The second book (and movie) doesn’t need to exist.
The 6th book’s plot is literally Harry waiting to get invitations from Dumbledore to watch a series of different flashbacks. If you’re following along, notice that this isn’t a plot. Then they go to the cave, then Dumbledore dies.
I’m all about expanding the world, but the Grindelwald and Dumbledore stuff in the last book feels out of place. It should’ve been a hinted at but unaddressed plot point to be followed up upon in a later series (which they seem to be doing in the Fantastic Beasts movies). It didn’t add anything to this book series.
Speaking of explaining things, it would’ve been good if, by, you know, the second time Harry Potter’s life was threatened, Dumbledore told him everything he knew. Sure, that removes a lot of the mystery and revelations throughout the series, and maybe a 12 year old wouldn’t do well with learning he had to “die” to stop Voldemort. But having Harry spend every day working on offensive and defensive magic for years in anticipation of that fight makes a lot more sense than trying to have him be a “normal” (magic) kid. Potions class and astronomy didn’t help him beat Voldemort. At all. Have him beat Voldemort, then make up for the missed school time with a Wizard GED later.
Hagrid is a moron.
Hagrid has no arc. He fits in with a story about 10 and 11 year olds, but he’s completely out of place after that.
I love that, based on one reference in the 2nd book, Harry Potter fans have unnecessarily “calendared” out every single moment in the series. For example, did you know Dumbledore died on June 30, 1997? J.K. Rowling seems to be amused by this aspect of the fandom, too. But in one of the later movies, the Dursley’s car has a 2006 registration sticker! I really hope someone got fired for that blunder.
Go read the books!
The Harry Potter book series gets 4.5 stars. There is a constant level of excellence throughout, but books 2, 5, and 6 just aren’t as good as the others.
With the fourth season of Arrested Development premiering in a few short hours on Netflix, I figured this would be a good time to re-post something I wrote shortly after its cancellation (way back in 2006) where I explained I was on-board with the show ending permanently.
Part 1 of 3
With the all-but cancellation of my second loudest talking point three months ago, my TV habits have unexpectedly and ambitiously changed. For many years, the only section of calendar showing “appointment TV” was Fox’s Sunday night from 8-10. Initially anchored by The Simpsons and The X-Files, over the years I’ve regularly watched Malcolm in the Middle, King of the Hill, That 70’s Show, Family Guy, Futurama, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Arrested Development, and most recently Free Ride. I never watched most of those shows again after either a move to a different night (That 70’s Show, Malcolm in the Middle) or before 8 on Sundays (King of the Hill, Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle [again]). The Simpsons’ decline too many years ago makes/made the 8:00 slot more of a sentimental appointment with some memory from my past (maybe), but it’s rare that I don’t catch at least some of the Sunday night shows. (Most recently, I’ve watched Family Guy and Free Ride.)
I hate the Internet. (click the image for full-size)
Arrested Development, originally airing at 9:30 was the best show to come out of the Fox Sunday night, even better than when The Simpsons was what we remember it being like “when it was good.” Generally I’ve found that of the people to whom I recommended the show, it’s pretty easy to pick who will like it and who won’t. Plenty of people are on the record extolling it as the best show ever, and while I’d agree, I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been covered ad nauseum by that community. Oddly enough, Arrested Development has very much become similar to one of those things that I don’t really have a problem with, but the fans are just so obnoxious that I think even more negatively about the item/object/concept than I normally would or should. In the case of Arrested Development, I’m so positive about the show, that the fandom merely tarnishes whatever memory I might have of it, not the actual show itself, if that makes sense. I don’t think that it “revolutionized” the sitcom (it was sort of on for only three seasons) as some claim, it was just the shining example of a different way of presenting 30 minutes of comedy.
For the three seasons it aired, my routine was watch it when it aired, download the widescreen rip on bittorrent, then watch the bejesus out of it until buying the DVD’s the day they were released. The airing of the last four episodes (all shown in a two hour block one Friday night in February) after more than a month of knowing those would most likely be the last episodes of the show hit some note with me in that even though I downloaded the episodes, I have yet to watch them a second time. Considering that I’ve watched every other episode of the show between three and too many times each, I realized it was odd I had/have no desire to watch the last four again, especially considering that they were some of the best episodes of one of the best shows in the history couch-potato-ery. I’m not sure it takes too much effort to correctly read into it; similarly, I own all of the Calvin and Hobbes books, but I’ve never read the last one though I’ve owned it long enough to have read it many times.
For a solid two months, there were continual rumors about where Arrested Development might end up after that Fox made it obvious it wasn’t wanted by shortening the season to 13 episodes. “The Internet” held out hope, but “the internet” ignored the fact that any channel picking up an expensive-to-produce, bottom-of-the-ratings-heap show must not enjoy making money. It was a sad time for many, with (literally) the best show in the history of ever wrapping up. Fox showed the last four episodes in a two hour block directly against the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, almost two months after the most recent airing of the show. In other words, lots of time to “discover” something new.
As great as it was, Arrested Development was not “perfect” in terms of 30 minute television. As widely reported, practically none of the characters were likeable (Michael Bluth was dysfunctional in his own, realistic sort of way, and heck, even Annyong was a jerk to Buster). That’s not what I look for in a show, but there are plenty of lady-folk who need to empathize with characters and figuratively “hug it out” with their TV icons. I don’t know if it was searching-for-ratings-related, but the first episodes of the show established that Michael Bluth had relatively recently become a widower, and the show touched on the challenges of that situation in terms of how it affects teenaged children and the dating process for said widower. Of course, the show still packed in the zaniness, but there was something more there that from the second season and on was ignored. One could tell the writers avoided detailing the how and why of Michael’s wife’s death (she was said to have cancer some time in season 2 or 3), leaving the issue wide open for future episodes, but it was left unaddressed as the show moved toward (admittedly HI-larious) wackiness, zaniness, creative wordplay, and, uh, whimsy. Again, I didn’t need that “emotional resonance” from the show (or any show for that matter), but lesser men consider it a requirement for their TV intake.
Some fault the show for its reliance on jokes that only dedicated (meaning, weekly) viewers would get. That’s not a fault; that’s putting faith in your audience. Of course, it makes a niche show even more niche by creating both a high learning curve and too many inside jokes, but that’s more of a problem with what I’ll say is the “concept of the show” instead of the show itself. Returning to its problematic fans, they’re super-quick to say, “you don’t ‘get’ it, so you’re stupid” completely ignoring the fact that much of the humor depends on earlier episodes and the fact that some people just don’t get much out of the site of a grown man in a mole suit destroying a model train village in front of a group of “Japanese investors” in an homage to Godzilla. The fact that someone might not think something like that is funny doesn’t affect that I still think it’s the best show ever; the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but many of the fans use their opinion of the show (of it being the best) as a reason why everyone should think that jokes like that are funny.
The Ghost of Arrested Development receives five big stars. Sure, the body’s still warm, but with Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator, saying he wouldn’t want to be involved even if it picked up by a (fiscally irresponsible) network, it’s gone for good. And I’m ok with that. The time before the last four episodes were aired provided an opportunity to sample other channels’ wares (which we’ll look into later in the week). The series finale was just about perfect, and as I watched it end (into the sunset, of course), as much as I complained that it was no longer going to be on the air, I didn’t want there to be any more episodes. It was that good. It was Arrested Development.
When Return of The Jedi came out in 1983, nobody expected to wait 16 years for another Star Wars movie to poorly detail what life was like a couple dozen years before the Second Death Star blew up. If the announcement of the prequels to these years-old films was a geek shot-heard-round-the-world, then what 2013 has brought is a BB gun going off in Altoona. Sure, they’ve tried to downplay it, but it’s pretty obvious what Hollywood has tried to do this year, and it’s a fairly ballsy move that just didn’t seem to pay off the way the filmmakers had hoped.
In 2013, major Hollywood studios managed to bring us both a prequel AND a sequel to 1998’s Deep Impact, in the course of two months. In fact, both are still currently playing as of this writing at certain theaters. Deep Impact was a modest success at the box office, making almost $350 million 1998 dollars worldwide, but has pretty much since been forgotten about, because of the overshadowing stupidity and infamousness of Michael Bay’s copycat, Armageddon. Robert Duvall; Tea Leoni; professional Helen Hunt lookalike, Leelee Sobieski; Laura Innes; and pre-Lord of The Rings Elijah Wood were no match for Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, that annoying Aerosmith song, a box of animal crackers, and pre-Lord of The Rings Liv Tyler, but Deep Impact had heart going for it. And a much more depressing ending. Most of the main characters stood around contemplating their own mortality, accomplishments and frail existence, while a giant Director’s Cut Abyss-style tidal wave wiped out anything and everything in its path. Granted, Elijah Wood driving up a hill to take Leelee Sobieski away from what I presume was a Paul Reiser lookalike isn’t the most plausible or most “real” moment I’ve seen in one of these movies, but at least it doesn’t end with the world having simultaneous celebrations and jet flyovers of a NASA shuttle landing pad.
The other thing it has is MORGAN FREEMAN AS PRESIDENT. I don’t know who made that decision (most likely director Mimi Leder, who was relegated back to TV after Pay it Forward turned out as badly as it did) but this was a stroke of genius. Morgan Freeman quickly became the most trusted movie president since Bill Pullman in Independence Day. He was probably the only person who could give confidence to people by saying, “A bunch of comets are going to destroy earth, and everyone is gonna die, except a few people who win a lottery! Those people will get to live in caves for two years and then come back out to try to make a new life on the drowned and scorched earth! Yaaaay, TEAM!”
I don’t think any of us found the rest of the characters likeable, but, man, did I want to know about this president. Where did he come from? How did he rise to power? What might a younger version of him do if North Korean terrorists staged a meticulously-planned takeover of The White House and held The President hostage inside of the secure bunker? Well, we’ve had to wait 15 years, but just like we eventually found out that Anakin was a precocious junkyard mechanic with a penchant for saying “YIPPEE”, we’ve finally gotten a glimpse at the backstory of Morgan Freeman’s President, in Olympus Has Fallen. And let me tell you, it’s a much better backstory than you’ll find in any Star War! There’s no midichlorians or Jar Jar Binkses either!
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN SPOILERS AHEAD! BEWARE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE!
Morgan Freeman was a regular, average, ordinary elderly black Speaker of the House. Until one day, North Korean terrorists staged a meticulously-planned takeover of The White House and held The President hostage inside of the secure bunker. With the President unavailable and the VP in some completely unannounced location, Speaker Freeman becomes the acting president. This was EXACTLY THE SCENARIO I WAS WONDERING ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO! How did they know? The rest of the movie shows how in this time of crisis, he became the strong, stalwart leader that a million people could follow into a magical system of caves with hopes of one day repopulating the earth.
There are a few things that aren’t specifically spelled out, like how I’m assuming he had to dye his hair and get a facelift when he began running for President, so he’d look younger and hipper to court the youth vote. Or how, I’m guessing, since the advanced technology that the U.S. Government had was compromised and used in the destruction of most of Washington, President Freeman decreed that everyone start using 1998 technology that had more failsafes. But all in all, it makes for a pretty good prequel.
I do think they went out on a limb a little by not making President Freeman the main character. See, the main character is actually some former secret service agent who is conspicuously NOT named Jack Bauer. When a giant airplane destroys a whole lot of Washington and the North Koreans kill EVERY SINGLE WHITE HOUSE STAFFER NOT IN THE BUNKER, this agent, Gerard Butler, decides to play John McClane and sneak into the White House and take everyone down himself with a lot of punching and stabbing of people in the head. I’m not joking. SO MANY HEAD STABBINGS. Also, somehow the president’s kid is the only one who has managed to hide and stay alive outside of the bunker. Gerard Butler has to save the kid, then the president, and then kill the bad guy, preferably with a knife through part of his head.
But, Director Antoine Fuqua, WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PRESIDENT MORGAN FREEMAN? He doesn’t even STAY president at the end, because Harvey Dent lived and went back to being president!
As a movie, the whole thing’s pretty okay. There’s some ridiculous destruction of Washington, plenty of civilians getting mowed down, some good Die Hard-type stuff, and plenty of over-the-top line readings, especially the hilariously-whispered titular line, delivered by some random, dying secret service agent.
As a prequel to Deep Impact, it’s not all that I was hoping for, but it did provide us with an insight into President Freeman’s first few hours as president, and boy did he ever deliver!
But what makes this whole plan really crazy, is that they didn’t just make a prequel. They shot a prequel AND a sequel at the same time, like Back to The Future 2 and 3, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and The Matrix Reloaded. And they didn’t just say “What happened to all of our favorite surviving Deep Impact characters when they came out of those magical caves?” Oh no. They went somewhere even crazier, and I really dug it. They went far into the future, with Oblivion.
MINOR OBLIVION SPOILERS AHEAD. ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.
Oblivion kind of follows the same model as Olympus Has Fallen, in that it relegates President Freeman to a side character, albeit an important one, and shows a major moment in his life, even if he doesn’t show up until 45 minutes in.
But what the filmmakers, notably writers Michael Arndt and Karl Gajdusek and director Joseph Kosinski, have imagined in the asteroid aftermath is devastating. Humanity never retook the earth. That asteroid, it seems, was sent as the first wave (pun intended) of attack by an alien race trying to take the earth. Somehow, we did win the alien war (maybe by flying biplanes into the ships’ primary weapon shafts or uploading a virus or something), but destroyed the earth and ended up living on a moon of Saturn. Tom Cruise is tasked by Melissa Leo’s character (who was the Secretary of Defense in Olympus Has Fallen and now seems to be in charge of all Earth-related matters) with flying around the remnants of New York (the Empire State Building, a former Pro-Thunderball arena, etc.) to fix droids and enormous water fusion machines, and collect “Dan Smith Will Teach You to Play Guitar” flyers that have been littering everywhere.
UNTIL HIS LIFE GETS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN!
If you’ve seen the trailers, you know this part. He finds a downed ship filled with astronauts, gets taken hostage by a group of freedom fighters, and finds out that everything is not what it seems. And you guys know who the leader of the cave-dwelling human populace is? President Morgan Freeman, who has now changed his name from President Beech to just “Beck”, because of some kind of Cloud Atlas future-speak, no doubt.
I don’t want to give away all the twists and turns, but President Beck helps Tom Cruise discover his true self and who the mysterious astronauts are, and plays a huge part in putting an end to the remaining alien threat.
There are a few continuity errors here and there, but none of those trilogy movies were perfect. Back to The Future had to replace Morty’s dad in the second one, Star Wars had that whole “Clone Wars” monologue that doesn’t make any sense, Lord of The Rings had a car in that one shot, and they never even made a third Matrix movie!
This movie is solidly entertaining from start to finish, even if we’ve seen some of these specific story elements in previous sci-fi stories, like spaceships, aliens, robots, Tom Cruise running, Dune, etc. I give it a four.
Oblivion is an epic story and a very strong end for a character that we’ve grown to love over these three movies and 15 years. What they’ve managed to come up with as a third chapter is even crazier than going back to 1885. As a threequel, I give it a solid four-and-a-half stars.
As a trilogy, this is epic, inventive storytelling across a variety of genres, from action-thriller to disaster movie, to post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure. It takes real guts to make a trilogy this way, and from a storytelling perspective, it completely pays off. We see President Freeman/Beech/Beck from his political beginnings to his heroic end, from the destruction of Washington, to the destruction of the world as we know it, to the end of the struggle against our alien combatants. His story is that of one of the greatest leaders in all of fiction, that of a man who, through so many harrowing moments, has shown humanity the dignity and courage that we should come to expect of those whom we put in charge. I wish they would’ve sold this as a whole story, though. Maybe that was the big twist, but I didn’t even put the pieces together until I saw the films. I think if people would’ve known that these were sequels and prequels they probably would’ve had a higher box office gross. Despite all this, though, this is instantly one of my favorite movie trilogies of all time, right up there with the first three (of the proposed 6) Baby Geniuses movies.
The Muppets have always been a big inspiration to me. I grew up watching reruns of The Muppet Show, the 9 episodes of The Jim Henson Hour that aired before it was cancelled, the movies, Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street and countless other productions. Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorite movies ever, and a yearly staple, as is the classic “A Christmas Together” album with John Denver.
This special that was made for The Jim Henson hour but didn’t air until much later on Nickelodeon was one of the first “behind-the-scenes” videos (now a ubiquitous DVD feature) of any kind I had ever seen, and I found it endlessly fascinating. I watched it every time that I came across it on TV. I might venture to say that it has had a profound impact on where my life has taken me.
I’ve taken puppeteering and puppet-building classes, walked around the Muppet Studio in L.A., briefly met some of the current puppeteers, and last year got to make a piece of puppet magic myself.
But enough about me. The reason that I’m throwing this out there is that there are other people out there like me. I would venture to say that I’m at the tail end of this multi-generational fascination with these characters. The last great piece of entertainment produced with Kermit, Fozzie, etc., was Chrismas Carol in 1992, nearly 20 years ago.
This lengthy period of brand failure is exactly what the new movie is commenting on, and it does so in such a marvelous way that all cause for concern about how it treats the franchise’s history should be thrown out the window.
Briefly, the movie’s about a two superfans (Jason Segel and Walter, a new muppet performed fantastically by Peter Linz) who travel from Smalltown, USA to L.A. with Segel’s character’s girlfriend (Amy Adams) and visit the Muppet studios, finding it decrepit and more-or-less closed. Walter finds out that an evil corporation has taken control over the studio, theatre and Muppets name and plans to run all of them into the ground. It’s up to the three of them to get everyone back together to save the Muppets legacy. To say that this bears some resemblance to the current state of affairs with the company is quite the understatement.
I watched the original Muppet Movie the night before seeing this, and I’d recommend you do the same. In addition to being able to recognize a few callback references to the original movie, rewatching “The Muppet Movie” puts things in the new film in such an interesting mindset. Kermit was once an idealistic leader, inspiring friends to uproot their lives and travel to Hollywood to become “rich and famous”. Now though, all these years later, Kermit has become sort of an out-of-touch recluse, living in a mansion with only his 1980s robot butler to keep him company. Any object that could remind him of the past, and the never-detailed, but often inferred event that caused them all to split up, is draped off. (As a side note, I would love to see this dark chapter in the Muppets history. It would be the most depressing scene ever — even more than this and the [i’m not kidding] attempted suicide scene that came immediately before it, which I can’t find now — but it would be so compelling. Side side note: this is the world where Kermit was never born.) He’s not cynical or bitter — Kermit could never be that — but he’s deeply saddened by how much he believes he let everyone down, which is a burden he’s put on himself since the first movie. Now, years after the split, he views his life’s work as a failure and sees getting everyone together as a fool’s errand, but is talked into it.
The rest of the movie parallels the original’s structure, in the “getting the band back together” sense, but it’s almost a flipped perspective. Instead of it being about the hope of becoming entertainers and being able to make people happy, it’s about the notion of losing your friends to infighting, and your legacy to years of inactivity and a company bent on ruining your name and replacing you with other people/characters. While Walter brings new energy and hopeful naivety, the rest of the Muppets seem like old souls. They’ve aged in spirit and seem a little weary. Fozzy looks a little grey. Everyone else has moved on with their lives, and it’s quite the effectively sad portion of the movie.
But the movie is greatly funny. The music is mostly fantastic, especially if you like Flight of the Conchords, whose Bret McKenzie wrote four original songs (and a reprise), and served as Music Supervisor. I didn’t really care for the Amy Adams/Miss Piggy splitscreen duet, but the Jason Segel/Walter duet, “Man or Muppet” is both catchy and hilarious. The direction (by “Conchords” TV show co-creator and director) is great, with extremely minimal CG work and many, many “How’d they do that?” moments. Segel and Adams are cute and bring great likeable human energy, even if their story feels a bit too much in the forefront.
The Muppet performers don’t seem to miss a beat at all. Considering the only original performer still involved is Gonzo originator Dave Goelz, it’s amazing that all of these characters can still “live” and “breathe” when being performed by other people. It has taken me a number of years to get used to Steve Whitmire’s slightly higher-pitched Kermit, but the range of emotion he was able to wring out of that puppet was remarkable. Eric Jacobson (Fozzy, Piggy, Animal, Sam Eagle) and Bill Barretta (Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Bobo, Pepe, Swedish Chef) are incredible apers of the original Frank Oz and Henson voices and master puppeteers to boot. There is really no difference in the Muppet characters noticeable enough to be a distraction, as in some past productions.
The woman sitting in front of me at the screening and her hippie husband left the theatre complaining about the “Disneyfication” of the franchise. Granted, she was also complaining prior to the movie about bottled water being a scam, but she does have a valid point about the movie, to a limited extent. Yes, everything is slick, polished, and sanitized. There are overhead shots of the Muppet Theatre (Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard El Capitan Theatre repurposed for the exteriors) that show a “Cars 2” billboard prominently in the background. The three new principal roles (Segel’s “Gary”, Adams’ “Mary”, and Walter) do get a little bit too much focus.
But here is why all of those complaints are wrong. Every joke or type of joke in this movie that seemed out of place actually had a precedent set for it in some prior movie or project: breaking the fourth wall, presenting a popular song in a ridiculous way (the muppet show did this every week), the over-top bad guy bent on bringing them down (Chris Cooper, doing a great job in limited screentime), even the ridiculous method by which they travel long distances.
No matter what Frank Oz says, I don’t feel that the characters were ever disrespected, with one possible exception, which I’ll get to later. In fact, I’d say the opposite. The newer characters were either never used (Clifford, Johnny Fiama and Sal Manella were completely absent), or, like Pepe, were pushed to the background entirely. Even lesser-known, older characters like Uncle Deadly, and Wayne and Wanda make appearances.
Oz points to the ubiquitous “fart shoes” joke in the ads as something Fozzie would never do, but in the context of the movie, I think it works. The characters are out of touch and desperate to figure out what people want, and I don’t think Fozzie is below pandering for a laugh. I’d say this movie is truer to the characters than the “World Where Kermit was Never Born” business.
Gary, Mary, and Walter serve as an audience proxy for younger people unfamiliar with “The Muppet Show”. And without Segel’s Gary and Walter there is no real impetus for the characters to reconcile at all, in a not-so-subtle parallel to real-life. Walter and Gary’s storylines are also so simple that they work without being too off-putting, and they’ve found great ways to parallel other character’s stories (the two duets for example).
For me though, and this comes as a side-note, and probably just a personal gripe, but considering he’s the only original performer left, Dave Goelz didn’t have much for Gonzo to do.
I know the last movie, way back when, focused on him entirely, but in re-watching material recently, I’ve realized the hidden layer of soul and sadness that Gonzo can bring, that few others have. The emotion that comes across in this song…
… is something that Miss Piggy and Fozzy are never tasked with. Most of the other characters are just one dimensional, though Rowlf has on occasion brought the emotion in his Muppet Show performances. Because of this, Kermit is left to carry that burden, but his sadness comes from his failures to live up to his ridiculously high expectations of himself as the leader and guy who manages these ridiculous personalities. Gonzo’s pathos has always stemmed from not fitting in, being weird, and not knowing exactly what he is.
Since these characteristics are basically the entirety of Walter’s personality, and his character arc, this brooding side of Gonzo gets pushed to the backburner, and even his comical side does as well. I’d be interested to see his number of lines compared to other characters. I get that not everyone can be properly serviced, but as a member of what I consider to be the core four characters, he feels like an afterthought. You can sense the regret in Fozzie and Piggy, but Gonzo has just seemed to move on. And this overlooking of him is even sadder considering Goelz is the longest-tenured performer here.
I have some mixed feelings about the end, but I have to talk about it in vague ideas. Basically, I feel like it glosses over a majorly important plot point, but the way in which it does this seems to render it fairly unimportant in the overall scheme of things. It sort of takes their literal goal and says their figurative one is more important, which is a great idea, but leaves the main plot as almost a side story.
On the whole though, I felt every emotion I was supposed to, including my normal disinterest in Miss Piggy. I welled up a few times, laughed a lot, and left with a smile on my face, and no feelings of contempt in my heart. I never once thought that they ruined a good thing here, and that’s all I could ask for.
The crux of this movie is whether or not The Muppets are a viable entertainment in today’s pop culture landscape, and I’d say that with the right material (and this is great material… mostly fleece and foam… wocka, wocka), they can be. Let’s hope that the kids that are getting their first taste of these characters feel the same way.
I wonder if the “Man of Science/Man of Faith” argument could be extrapolated to refer to the skeptics vs. those who had faith in the writers.
“Lost” (pun intended) in the hubbub of last night’s “polar”-izing finale, buried beneath the mystical corks, and cliffhanger fights; airplane escapes and journeys into the afterlife together, is a metaphor that I have yet to see in any of today’s recaps, though I have purposely waited to read Jeff “Doc” Jensen’s EW column for fear of it being the only one to taint my idea with his. Most of the disagreement over whether it was a satisfactory conclusion stands between the two camps of fans: people who wanted more “answers” to mysteries of the island (Jacob’s Cabin, The Hurley Bird, Walt and Aaron being ‘Special’, or even why there’s a giant cork in the island to begin with), and the ones who were more interested in where characters’ stories ended. There are those people (NY Times and NY Post, I’m looking at you) who didn’t understand things that were plainly spoken (“What happened was REAL”), but I tend to throw them out, because they obviously haven’t put enough thought into it.
In case there’s confusion, a brief recap of the important points. The entire season we’ve been given what the show’s writers endearingly call the “flash-sideways”. Instead of mixing in the main narrative with flashes of what has happened (flashback), or what will happen in the future (flash-forward) like they’ve done throughout the series (though the term “future” is relative, and makes my brain hurt), they’ve shown us the same characters we’ve known, in a time that we’ve already seen, now in a world whose relationship to the island universe is unknown. Now, the characters are different though, taking us back to the mindsets and issues they were dealing with in the first season, before all of the crazy island adventures changed, and in most cases, killed them. The characters, while having the same hearts and basic characteristics as the ones we’ve come to know, are altered a little bit, but dealing, in essence, with the same baggage as they did in the real world. Much of the enjoyment of this sixth and final season, just as in the first, lies in discovering who these people are in this world and realizing just how much different they are than the characters we grew to know. The only complication of this narrative device is that since we, the viewer, are incapable of coming to an understanding that both of these universes can simultaneously exist, we have to find a way in our own minds to reconcile the two together. “Which one isn’t real?”, or “Which one will become real?” we ask, because we can’t imagine how both of them can exist and still have meaning. My guess early in the season was that each one of them carried the same amount of weight and that the finale would create duel endings (not reconciling these universes), one happy, and one where everyone died. This would leave the viewer to have to decide for himself which one was real or if both were. I was wrong.
The way they were reconciled was by having each character in this “sideways” universe realize that it wasn’t real; that everyone there had died and that it was a holding place for them to move on to “what comes after death”. Everything on the island had happened. Some people died in the course of the show’s run; some lived full lives After Jack Shepherd (A.J.S.). But there they all were, waiting to move on as one group, changing Jack’s “Live together or die alone” mantra to one of “Live together AND DIE TOGETHER”. Their hurdle to enlightenment and realization of where they were in this universe was letting go of petty issues, guilt, fear, atonement, and instead, embracing the love of others. The Island, and the time spent on it were the most important parts of these people’s lives, and all that came before it was just a prelude and backstory. The relationships forged lasted beyond the characters lifetimes and stayed in the collective unconscious until they were ready to “let go”. Once this was understood, they could all go together towards that slightly cheesy white light, to whatever lay beyond. It was a mostly beautiful, and, at the time, slightly sappy ending, that I ate up wholly, reuniting characters but not compromising by bringing them back to life. Dead is Dead. And it seems as though they successfully put to bed the themes of death and love that hearken all the way back to when the first character, Boone, bit the dust as John Locke’s sacrifice to the hatch.
Before the finale, someone at my place remarked about how more than eighty percent of the characters ever introduced on the show have been killed off, and after last night’s episode, I realized that these deaths weren’t merely part of ratings boosting, or shock value, or plot progression, but they were there to bring about discussion on the theme of death. Anyone can go at any time. That’s a phrase I’ve heard the writers say they’ve wanted to impart on our minds for the entire run of the show. They were going to go so far as to potentially kill Jack in the first episode, originally. If you think about it, there’s probably a whole section that I could write about how the smoke monster/man in black was the antagonist because he couldn’t come to terms with his own anger at his death. Sure he wanted to move on (get off the island), but he couldn’t let go of the pain of the past, and parental issues and learn to accept his life for what it was and love. Jacob, as well, stayed around the island, in spirit form, until he was able to let go of his island protector-ship spurned by his guilt over his brother’s death. Michael was trapped as a spirit on the island forever because he couldn’t get past his misdeeds. But this is all discussion for some other time.
What I’m interested in here is the idea of how the show deals with the topic of death, as it relates to the actual death of the show itself. Wow! THAT IS META! Let me clarify that sentence: In the episode, characters are struggling to deal with the idea that their lives are actually over, and they must move on to the next phase together by letting go and embracing a community of love. Hell, the first scene is a coffin coming out of an airplane and the last is a wake/funeral; if that’s not metaphor material, nothing is. In fact, I’d venture to say double metaphor: death of the characters themselves (aside from the specific Christian Shepherd, as the surface example) AND death of the show. Imagine, if you will, that instead of Christian, inside of this casket is a show that has grown with us over the past six years, one that has become our friend, safe haven, source of philosophical debate and stability in a constantly changing world. Imagine that the fan community for the show, one that brings people together in discussion and love, and one that fills living rooms with ten people or more (or less) per week to share in this joint experience is the crowd of characters in pews embracing each other, joyful, weeping, and filled with human emotions. Last night’s episode wasn’t just about characters accepting death and letting the minutiae go, it was about us as fans of the show learning to do the same. But with this show, unlike most, we had to go together. We had to let go of all the unresolved plot points from four years ago and accept that it had ended. And fill the world with love for it and each other. And last night, and this morning, the internet pretty much exploded, with people who loved it, who will remember the good times and cherish it forever in the “what comes after”, and with those who felt burned, angry about the small things, and may never be able to find peace in the resolution. They’ll be haters, but they’ll be stuck in their “waiting room”, ready to be enlightened when they let their cynicism go.
The more I think about it, the more I realize they been trying to prepare us for this the entire season. Obviously, they knew the show was going to die. The entire flash sideways as a denouement not only works in the context of the characters dying, but for the show itself. While the characters were all set up with different life scenarios and what-ifs, many of them better versions of themselves dealing with the same problems, so was the ENTIRE PREMISE of the show itself. “What would happen if Hurley became a successful businessman, or Sayid could protect Nadia, or Sawyer could actually put away criminals instead of being one?” becomes “What if this horrific plane crash never happened?” What would a self-actualized, but slightly askew version of the first season flashback storytelling look like? How would it mirror (oh snap!) the beloved first season that served as the birth of these characters? In the exact same way as the characters went through this season’s sideways stories, not knowing what their place was, we ventured along the same way, only to be enlightened at the end, and able to see these stories for what they were: a waiting room, there to bring us back together with our deceased friends and help us move on to the place after as a group, a “fandom” if that doesn’t sound too nerdy. Bless you LOST, for the friendships you’ve helped create and strengthen over the past six years will surely be enough to carry us over to whatever comes next. I’ve let go.
I think this metaphor pretty much works, but I’m sure there are a few holes you can punch here and there, and I didn’t mean to come off as preachy in more than an “it’s okay to move on” way.
As for the finale itself…
Learning to let go of the minor things, the mysteries, and go back to my first season mindset, where all I cared about were the characters, this was a total success for me. Sure there weren’t “answers”, but that’s life. I’m dealing. The foam rocks falling seemed a little cheesy though, for the -.5 star. Seeya in another life, Brotha.
What happens when Metallica and Journey get put in a blender, with a little Madonna for consistency? “Rock Sugar” happens.
You come across a lot of Mash-Ups on the internet. It seems like the cool, gimmicky musical viral video thing to do these days, and a lot of it is because the formula is so simple: take a well known song, find another seemlingly unrelated song that has a section or line in it with a similar chord progression and tempo (For instance, “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia and “Where’s the Love” by The Black Eyed Peas would be the first to come to my mind, as they’re so similar and should render the Black Eyed Peas guilty of plagiarism) and put them together. Usually the musical hybrid is just done with samples from pre-recorded songs by the original artists, but what I found this past week completely tore apart that notion and blew me away. Rock Sugar is a completely tongue-in-cheek but wholly talented 80s Hair-Metal/Pop mash-up cover band. You heard (read?) me correctly; they’re a band that plays 80s pop songs to the tunes of some of the most famous classic rock/hair metal bands ever. And they’re amazing at it. “Sharks don’t eat metal”. Left to their own extremely questionable survival skills, Rock Sugar managed to salvage several items from the sunken yacht. In addition to their instruments, they retrieved a hot pink battery powered boom box covered with stickers of Hello Kitty, a crate of batteries, 158 cases of schnapps and numerous articles of teenage girls’ clothing, most of which the band admit to trying on and several pieces of which apparently fit and looked “pretty frickin’ awesome”. But things got worse when the horrified rockers discovered that the only music available for them to listen to was little Lisa Rosenberg’s very pop, very 13 year-old girl’s, very ‘80’s CD collection.
And so, the hardcore degenerate heavy metal members of Rock Sugar spent the last two decades stuck on an island with nothing to do but drink schnapps, catch hard to digest wildlife, befriend monkeys and dream of their long LOST groupies while listening only to, and being slowly and systematically brainwashed by, every favorite pop song of a 1980’s preteen girl. Bored, full of schnapps and wasting away on a tropical oasis, they built a stage out of driftwood, bamboo shoots and tree sap and got to work. Against the odds, Rock Sugar was alive… and they were practicing.
But does a hilariously fictional backstory make for a good album? I think your level of interest in each song comes down to the following criteria. 1) How well does the band play each song? 2) Do you know/enjoy the songs they used? 3) How surprised are you when the songs come up? and 4) How well do the songs mesh together? We can tackle these questions individually.
1.) How well does the band play each song?
The musicians themselves are brilliant. Essentially, they’re a cover band with mostly great arrangements (see question 4), but they slip in and out of subgenres and vocal styles, flawlessly mimic and reinvent these classics, and can flat out play. Lead singer Jess Harnell (who, in the most bizarre part, is the voice actor behind Wakko Warner of the “Animaniacs”, and uses his chameleonic voice talent to mimic the vocal styles of a multitude of lead singers) is simply amazing. The band breaks out the “Journey” songs twice, and he manages to hold his own against (if not outdo) Steve Perry, one of the five greatest lead singers of all time.
In fact, the album’s second last track, “Round and Separated” (a mix of “Round and Round” by Ratt and “Separate Ways” by Journey) is an epic joy, almost entirely because of how talented the band is. The energy and technical proficiency here are high enough to elevate these two decent but not exceptional songs into something better than the sum of the two parts, into a cohesive whole that just might be better than either song ever was. Production level is solid. Every instrument can be heard cleanly, and the background vocal work is fantastic throughout.
2.) Do you know/enjoy the songs they used?
A large portion of enjoyment comes from whether you know these songs, but this knowledge isn’t completely necessary. “Voices in the Jungle” is a prime example. I’ve never heard “Voices Carry” and am only slightly familiar with “Welcome to the Jungle“. The song works though, because the source material is strong and appeals to me. Conversely, “We Will Kickstart Your Rhapsody” didn’t work for me, solely because I don’t think “Kickstart My Heart” is that great of a song. Other people I know have different opinions though. I just dont particularly like that style, I guess. But they can play it well, and sing the Bohemian Rhapsody harmonies. For the most part though, I enjoyed all the other songs. If you only know the pop (or relatively pop-py) songs, it works as an album of hard rock covers. You may miss the other musical references, but you won’t have any idea what you’re missing. Hard rock purists should find these songs funny at first, and then come to the realization that they aren’t bad, it was just the way that they were Hit Me Baby One More Time“) On the whole, the songs are extremely enjoyable and catchy, whether you knew them previously or not.
3. How surprised were you when the songs came up?
I suppose if you checked the track list before listening to each song, you’d be able to guess at least one of the songs used in each track, but I think a great amount of the album’s enjoyment comes from being thrown completely out of your element. You’re going along, listening to the opening chords of a song you’ve heard a thousand times, played nearly exactly how you’ve heard it all those times, and all of a sudden, something completely unexpected, but highly recognizable pops up. You can’t believe your ears! Why haven’t you ever thought of that?! These guys are geniuses, you think. These songs were made to be played together! Part of this goes to question four, though. If the songs don’t go well together, then this surprise aspect is just a gimmick, and a failed one. But when you’re surprised and shocked, I think this is the biggest impetus to share this band with your friends; to see the looks on their faces when “Don’t Stop Believing” comes in, instead of the “Enter Sandman” verse. The best example of this is the epic finale “Mashterpiece”, “Dreaming of a Whole Lotta Breakfast”. Again, you can probably guess what goes into it, judging by the title, but there are a lot of surprises in it, and they all fit perfectly. Whereas “Round and Separated” mostly works because of the band’s talent and charisma, this songs works because of the amazing arrangement and the element of surprise. Have a listen.
4. How well do the songs mesh together?
This is the most hit-or-miss question. “I Love Sugar on Me” works because very little had to be changed in each song for them to fit against each other. But when the first verse of “Workin’ for the Weekend” kicks in in “Prayin for a Sweet Weekend”, it sounds awkward. The playing of the “Sweet Child of Mine” riff under the “Weekend” chorus works well though. “Heaven and Heaven” works great, even if it’s more of a medley than a mash-up. “Here Comes the Fool You Wanted” is great, even if the “Nobody’s Fool” contribution is only a line from the chorus sung over and over (on top of two other vocal parts) at the end. I feel like the chords on the verses of “Shook Me Like a Prayer” aren’t the same as “Shook Me All Night Long”, but instead, just power chords, played AC/DC-style, that would normally fit under the Madonna verse. The same can be said about “Straight to Rock City”. Not to say that these tracks aren’t great, they just needed some re-arranging to “fit together”. The chorus part on “Straight to Rock City” while a brilliant melding of “Straight Up”, and “Detroit Rock City”, is a little strange, but it’s something I can’t put my finger on. Maybe something with accented syllables versus up/downbeats, but I have no idea. So in all, there are a bunch of songs where they took parts that work well, (a chorus section or something, where the two parts fit together) and built the rest of the song with the music from one element, and the style of another. This seems to be more of a style mash-up than a direct musical mash-up. Again, not that any of this is bad, but if you’re looking for straight mash-up goodness, some of these songs might not be what you’re looking for.
Most of these songs are epically awesome. A few of them though either don’t work (“Prayin for A Sweet Weekend”), feel like filler (“Breakin’ The Love”), or just didn’t appeal to me (“We Will Kickstart Your Rhapsody”). Everything else is fantastic though. The musicianship is great, the songs are entertaining, and come with an already built-in knowledge that doesn’t require people to listen to them over and over to learn the words and music. “Here Comes the Fool You Wanted” and “Dreaming of a Whole Lotta Breakfeast” are triumphs of arranging, and the sheer power of “Heaven and Heaven” and especially, ESPECIALLY “Round and Separated”, elevate this to an album that I will keep in my music circulation for a long time. I can only imagine how great they’d be in concert. Also, props go to the pristine production quality of the album itself. Everything is audible and clean. And the concept itself is completely brilliant. They take the idea of being a cover band and elevate it to something wholly different, adding a level of creativity, and injecting new life into songs that have been stale from overplay on classic rock stations for a long time. Truly this is a rock-tastic piece of confection.
Later tonight, NBC will be showing the second half of the two part “The Last Templar” mini-series. DO NOT WATCH THIS. It’s rare that I feel tasked to present my opinion as a public warning, but it is entirely, absolutely necessary in this case.
I’m not proud of myself, but I fell for the “well, I should probably buy a book before I get on an airplane for thirteen hours” business model. That’s right – I spent $10, the full retail price, based only on, “I liked The DaVinci Code well enough and that giant red cross on a white background on the cover of the book looks familiar. Ooh, it has ‘templar’ in the title, too.” Not one of my finer moments. Not one of my finer moments.
Don’t fall for it – you’re better than this. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Why the warning? People are quick to complain about The DaVinci Code for perfectly valid reasons; poor structure (action, explanation, action, explanation, ad nauseum…), clunky writing, the fact that it’s more-or-less the product of generously editing Angels & Demons and using “find and replace” to swap “Catholicism” with “Christianity,” and so on. BUT, The DaVinci Code worked well enough. I liked the book enough to also read Angels & Demons as well as Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and most significantly, there are few people have haven’t read The DaVinci Code, and I really don’t know anyone that truly hated it. I stand by the complaints detailed above, yet I wouldn’t tell someone not to read it if I were asked.
Of course, based on the overwhelming financial success of The DaVinci Code, a cottage industry sprang up around the Knights Templar and literary background checks of Jesus H. Christ ranging from the academic to the pulpy. Simply everyone who’s remotely interested in such things has read at least The DaVinci Code and is acutely aware of the recently-renewed discussion on whether Jesus should be referred to as “Dude” or just “dude.”
The Last Templar is the second worst kind of “DaVinci Code cottage industry” detritus. The single most damning error of the book is that the characters live in a vacuum where The DaVinci Code never existed. This is preposterous – as readers, we’re no longer shocked that there are “major revelations” about Jesus’ divinity and holding that like a carrot to keep the reader engaged just doesn’t work. Within the world of the story, it’s equally ludicrous that an archaeologist would be shocked (SHOCKED!) to hear that there are alternate theories of Jesus beyond those of the Gospels and Qur’an. It’s just plain inexcusable.
The story itself is of the relic-hunting variety: beheadings, ancient mythology, suspect foreigners, the two lead characters getting it on, a encryption/decryption/codex device, and so on. Passable, but the obliviousness detailed above checked me out of the book almost immediately. Well, the obliviousness and the fact that the romantic thread in the story was written with the fluidity and grace matching that of a teen-aged love letter saying, “I want to do you.”
I do have to comment on the selection of quotes on the front and back covers. On the front, we see “Like The DaVinci Code, Khoury’s novel features age-old mysteries that play out in a modern setting.” Let that sink in a bit. It’s equivalent to the quote reading, “The DaVinci code is a book. This novel is also a book.” There’s not even an implicit recommendation; in fact, one can extract an almost negative tone from it, as if the quote continued as, “…, but this is not even The DaVinci Code.” Imagine a Battlefield: Earth poster saying: “Star Wars was a movie in space. This one is, too.” No, don’t fall for it.
Moving to the back cover we see, “[will] satisfy your historical thriller craving.” One could say the same thing about Stalingrad Vodka and alcoholism. Similarly, “For those who think Dan Brown doesn’t write fast enough,” doesn’t actually provide a comment on the quality of the book. Think of a review of the Arena Football League: “Because the NFL off-season is February to August.”
The Last Templar mini-series gets half of one star. Bad books make for bad movies. Sure, the guy who got dumped on Scrubs is perfectly likable and Mira Sorvino looks fancy, but you’re better than this. If you feel the need to get your artifact-hunting itch scratched, re-read or watch The DaVinci Code, or, even better, read The Rule of Four.
Is it possible to make a movie that is at once pretentious, derivative, completely incomprehensible, insanely long, outrageous just for the sake of it, tonally off-balance, with tons of distractingly recognizeable actors, and somehow surprisingly engrossing? Honestly, Southland Tales lives up to its negative hype. It is a car wreck of epic proportions. You sit there completely sucked in, but with your jaw hanging open wondering how a movie this completely off-the-wall bad can take itself so seriously, or even how it got funding in the first place.
The movie, Richard Kelly’s follow-up epic mess to cult hit Donnie Darko leaps from place to place like a kid on a playground after too much candy and juice, and usually leaves you wondering who these characters are and why are they doing whatever it is they’re doing, that is, if you can figure out what they are doing.
Full disclosure: I like Donnie Darko. I’m a little bit bitter towards it, but I like it. I think it’s a fantastic collection of scenes and ideas that fit together tonally, but don’t really make a coherent story. And I’ve tried to figure out the story. I was on the Donnie Darko bandwagon before the movie had even come out. I found the website, which at the time was something to behold, via a small article in EW magazine. Watched a bootleg copy of it while it was still in theatres. Had no idea what I just saw. I watched it over and over again, showing new people every time. I couldn’t figure out the master plan of what was going on. Things were so disjointed, and there was never any exposition to give any clue as to what happened at the end. I bought the DVD, and when I listened to the commentary track, I was surprised to find out that the director also seemed not to know. There was no explanation. He was just putting stuff in that he thought would be weird. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me again… uhh…. you don’t get fooled again.
I really can’t imagine that there was any plan going into this movie. Something about an extremist future, with big-brother republicans selling out for some kind of perpetual motion machine, and “neo-Marxists” (his word, not mine) bent on destroying everything for some reason. The media is a hyper-conglomerate of entertainment, commercials (most notably a car commercial, featuring two Hummers [the car] having sex with each other), propaganda, and news. And for some reason, every show is taped on a beach. The guy who created this energy machine (which looks exactly like the gyroscope in Contact) is somehow trying to take over the world by cutting off people’s hands or something. Some people are trying to blackmail The Rock, whose father-in-law is running for Vice President (i think?). Drugs are involved, needless to say. Whatever satire Kelly’s attempting, it’s either already been done, or it’s too broad to be saying anything, really.
Justin Timberlake is a “Revelations”-reciting narrator who sits on a machine-gun pedestal on the beach, looking to shoot God knows what, and really serving no purpose other than lip-synching to a song by “The Killers” in some sort of arcade, about halfway through. Sarah Michelle Gellar is a porn-star/talk show host who is either trying to blackmail The Rock or wants to be with him. I couldn’t tell. I don’t think she could. Sean William Scott plays twins. Cheri Oteri and Nora Dunn are crazy “neo Marxists”, as well as Amy Poehler. And if three SNL alumni aren’t enough, Jon Lovitz plays a racist cop. And if “SNL” isn’t the only Saturday late night sketch comedy show on your radar, “Mad TV”‘s Will Sasso is also there. Thow in the motley crew of John Larroquette (who’s actually pretty good), Mandy Moore, an unrecognizable Kevin Smith, the Highlander as an ice-cream-truck-driving arms rocket launcher salesman, Wallace Shawn in a dress and makeup, Bai Ling, and Janeane Garofalo in two seconds of screen time that amount to her being an extra (granted i think her part was entirely cut out), and you’ve got a cast that is seriously going to distract, even if you had the most engrossing material.
If you think there’s too much going on in this poster, wait til you see the movie.
Not that the material couldn’t be interesting. It’s got all the elements that could make it completely engaging: blackmail, WW3, cutting off people’s fingers, perpetual motion machines, The Rock, fake murder plots, a giant blimp, memory loss, drugs, public beach mounted gun stations, and, yes, time travel. The problem is that there’s way too much of it, and a lot of it for no reason. That someone saw this script and said “let’s fund that” is remarkable. I really can’t understand how someone didn’t tell this guy to pare the story down to something that had actual character motivations you could follow. You know when you start a movie and the first title says “Part 4” (the first three parts were released as comics and one wonders how much more coherent they were), that things are going to be confusing. Even more remarkable is the amount of on-camera talent in it. How any of the actors could play these scenes is baffling to me, because I was constantly asking “Who’s that? Why is he doing that? What’s his purpose in this movie? For what reason is he so important that he’s the narrator?”, and if I was while I was watching, I guarantee that the actors were asking ten times as many questions. I’d like to have heard Kelly’s explanation as to why The Rock always put his fingertips together melodramatically when he was confused. EVERY TIME! And I wonder if The Rock could tell me that. Yes, there’s something to be said of making the audience think and figure something out, but like I said before, “I’m not getting fooled again”.
There is also something to be said for style over substance, but while it looks good (especially the blu-ray-quality version), and has some strangely unique things to it, most of it just felt like a rip-off of something else. There were multiple David Lynch moments, including a random group of recurring background little people; a strange old asian lady talking some kind of prophetic nonsense; and a recontextualized version of a highly-recognizable song, sung in a foreign language by a woman on a stage. The extremely ensemble and spread-out nature was taken right from P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia (as, it seemed, was the strange pacing of a lot of it), which in turn (at least i hear) was supposed to be a Robert Altman homage. Lastly, and most importantly of all, he’s completely ripped off of himself. Incomprehensible time travel/ Dimensional rifts; someone getting shot in the left eye; large aircraft falling out of the air; the end of the world; wormholes (the effects work even looks the same). It’s all there. It’s not that the style is bad; it’s just incredibly unique while at the same time, paradoxically all been seen before. (figure that one out).
The theatrical cut is two and a half hours, one half-hour less than the widely-derided Cannes cut of the film, which you can see in parts, in low-quality video on the YouTubes, if you’re a masochist. I’d like to think that the missing half-hour explained some of the things I didn’t get, but judging from those reviews, I’d be wrong. (Though, from the few seconds of these clips I’ve seen, at least the narration is different and makes more sense). The movie cost between fifteen and sixteen million dollars to make, and was released in only 67 theatres (even limited releases usually get about 300), for a whopping $270,000 domestic gross. Yes, that’s “thousand”. After seeing it, one can easily see why. Not that I wouldn’t watch it again, mind you, but only with people who have no reservations and are willing to sit through the whole thing. I’d like to see the confusion and anger on their faces, and at the same time their desire to keep going because it can’t get any more outrageous. Oh yes. It can. Just for the sake of being outrageous.
Southland Tales takes all the faults of Donnie Darko and magnifies them tenfold. It’s not a failure of style, as the film’s got that in spades, but it is a complete failure of storytelling. Characters completely do major things for no reason, the order the scenes are in leaves you even more confused, and finally when a strange cabal of characters sits The Rock down to explain the whole story (for no other reason than to explain it to the audience), it makes no logical sense whatsoever. I guess there’s at least an attempted explanation.
One star for allowing my friends and I to complain about how none of the story worked, and half a star for the cool scene where Sean William Scott was messing around with a mirror that took about half a second to mimic his action.
The Bar-B-Fume bottle design and logo from an infomercial I did as a class project in 2002. Graphics designed by Rob Edwards.
So back in 1998, I had an English oral presentation to do in which I’d be selling a made-up product. After racking my brain for hours, my thought process went as follows: “What do teenage girls want? Answer: Guys. Then what do teenage guys want? Answer: Meat. So the way for a girl to get a guy would be by smelling like meat.” The presentation went fantasticly. I had charts and prototypes (sort of… bottles of cologne and body-wash with crudely designed logos). For the women who didn’t want to have to smell the Bar-B-Fume, I invented the “Scent Remover 5000”, which was just a clothespin to put on your nose. I demonstrated how to use the body wash (which for my purposes was just barbecue sauce in a soap dispenser) by smearing it all over my face. And I finished with the tagline, “Ladies, truly the way to a man’s heart is now through his stomach.”
Two years later, the product was revived as an info-mercial for a TV studio production class I was taking, but this time with way better logo design and a killer intro. I can’t attest to the quality of the rest of it. I haven’t watched it in years. You see, I can’t find the tape with that semester’s projects on it. To make matters worse, I can’t even find the tape that has the original speech on it. I have most other semesters’ projects, and I have the other speech we had to give that year in high school, but as it stands, right now the only tangible evidence of Bar-B-Fume existing is the logo I saved.
What makes this important is that Burger King just started marketing a meat-scented fragrance called “Flame”. Here‘s the website. Granted, it smells like the Whopper and not like barbecue sauce, but it’s still enough to have me shouting “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”. I guess I just need to follow through more.
Yet another Ben Folds-related review. I’m probably not going to write anything about his new album that’s coming out this fall, and since this is much more interesting, I’d rather substitute it anyway.
I found this article on RollingStone.com that discusses how this fake album came about, with bits about each song. Basically, he and his bassist and drummer got some studio time in Dublin and wrote six fake tracks, added three songs that are going to be on the album, and gave it to some guys to leak.
Obviously the songs aren’t all going to be great, but for a free download that’s basically been sanctioned it’s not a half bad idea. There’s the free media attention that you get from the music magazine, and the rest of the internet music community (google search for “fake album leaks” and you’ll almost exclusively get pages about this specific one), which is always good for someone who could possibly be deemed irrelevant and past his prime.
It gets his fan base excited and talking, though that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Not coming out immediately and saying that it’s fake leads to discussion about the new sound (judging from the Rolling Stone samples, he’s got yet another new sound he’s going for. Kudos for changing it up, but like the last time, it’s going to take some getting used to). The risk here is that while it does drum up interest in the new album, the fanbase is most unanimously going to be buying the new album anyway, and by putting out sub-par songs you can only hurt your chances that some of these people will be willing to pay for the album when they can just download it (of course, thereby missing the meaning of releasing a fake pirated version in the first place).
This isn’t to say that this fake album is all that bad, it’s just a little bit below full-album standards. It’s about on-par with the EPs that he put out between “Rockin the Suburbs” and “Songs for Silverman”. A few of these songs (Brainwascht, Dr. Yang) actually sound like they could be on that first Ben Folds Five album from way back when, which is probably the first time in ages that you could say something like that (whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the person I think).
“Bitch Went Nuts” will probably be a concert staple in the future.
“Cologne” is great, though it’s going to be on the album in a modified version.
“Way to Normal” is just strange, not that the bulk of it isn’t a perfectly normal song, but it’s three distinctly different sections. I especially love the “Flash Gordon”-inspired opening. The other ones besides “Hiroshima” are pretty much forgettable, but it was free so I’m not complaining.
Putting (at least similar versions of) three of the actual songs that are going to be on the album is a smart move as well, tempering the cries of “I downloaded this for nothing”, and serving as an actual preview of what’s coming. It’s basically the same as releasing a free three-song single…. with six bonus tracks.
Releasing a fake version of your album on the internet (with actual fake songs) gets four stars, as it can get you free media attention, the fan base, and maybe even some others, talking about the upcoming album, and serve as a preview of what the album is actually going to be like. The only negative is that since he didn’t come out right away and say it was fake, there may have been some negative early reviews. Providing full-disclosure, which he eventually did, mitigates this a bit though. In the end, I think that no matter how mediocre, fans appreciate what is basically a free EP.