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December 2006 Archives

December 22, 2006

Rebranding Christmas

Xmas logos

As embedded in American tradition as Christmas is, it isn't exactly the hippest thing going in our cultural landscape. Saying Christmas is your favorite holiday if you're not 8 years old is obvious and white-bread, and nowhere near as cool as saying Halloween or Chinese New Year.

Time for rebranding! Just because Christmas is inherently associated with small children and tacky commercialism and your extended family is no reason why its tired image can't be made into something sleek and modern by a multinational design firm, who are clearly kidding, but got the attention of the New York Times anyway.

In conjunction with Studio 360*, the NPR show produced by WNYC and Public Radio International, a design firm came up with some ideas for Christmas 2.0. The group that formed for this project was “kind of like the Iraq Study Group,” according to Kurt Anderson, who hosts Studio 360. “It sounds shocking and overcommercial and ludicrous,” conceded Michael Bierut, a partner at design firm Pentagram (are they devil worshippers trying to kill Christmas with their diabolical trendiness?! Clearly they are) “but we actually see this as a way to take the commercialization, which is inevitable and irreversible, and turn it to good.”

It's mostly a joke, and some of it isn't especially good, but they have a few funny ideas too. They want to create a new domain ".mas", as in "x.mas", and let stores buy new websites to promote holiday shopping for their crap. And my favorite: "In the place of red and green would be various almost-indistinguishable shades of x.mas white, like Yule Neutral, Shopping Frosted and Dawkins Blank (named for Richard Dawkins, the biologist and outspoken atheist)."

As far as the marginal religious significance that Christmas still holds in our culture, or the affection that people have for the traditional red and green holly jolly Christmas images, the designers don't want to get involved. “We weren’t hired as theologians or social engineers,” Beirut said, before tilting his head and adding, “Actually, come to think of it, we weren’t hired at all.”

* ADM notes that we now have an NPR show called Studio 360, Studio 60 on Sunset Strip, and Anderson Cooper 360. Enough already.

December 20, 2006

Drink Pom, live forever. On the toilet.

Pom Wonderful kills animals?

Activists Animal Rights Militia have alerted east coast supermarkets that they've contaminated bottles of Pom Wonderful will some nasty bug that will make those who drink it suffer "diarrhea, vomiting and headaches." Pom allegedly kills mice and rabbits in trials that test some of its health benefits claims.

Friends of Animals claims that Pom Wonderful has supported tests of its juice on brain injuries in mice, and, even better, on erectile dysfunction in rabbits. Those poor rabbits, being force-fed that refreshingly not-too-sweet pomegranate juice and then hippity-hopping it up with some sexy bunny slut-clinicians? Doesn't quite pull the heartstrings like the toilet bowl cleaner in the eye animal testing stories, does it?

Health officials think the contimination threat is a hoax, of the kind Animal Rights Militia has done many times before, but Food Emporium says they're checking their bottles of Pom. If you're concerned about animal testing, the erotic lives of rabbits, or getting butt-sick, you might want to avoid drinking it.

December 19, 2006

Rocky fans are #1!!!

Rocky strikes again

At last night's Philly premiere of Rocky Balboa, the fans showed the world that when it comes to total, rabid loyalty, they've got them all beat.

"Rocky is the man, and he's always going to be the man," said fan Tony Veney. "I'm not going to let my man down. He's got that fire in him that everyone out here wants. Never say never. Don't stop fighting until the fighting's done."

Somewhere in Sacramento, a Governator weeps.

December 14, 2006

You are no longer responsible for getting speeding tickets: it's your sign's fault

speeding ticket

In a new study comparing drviers' records with their astrological sign, a Canadian (of course) insurance quote company InsuranceHotline.com has found, incredibly, that your star sign is a better predictor of how many tickets and accidents you will get than your age or what postal code you live in.

"I was absolutely shocked by the results," said company president Lee Romanov. "I wasn't believing in it before, but I would think twice before getting into a car with an Aries."

The report surveyed the records of 100,000 North American drivers over 6 years. It's called Car Carma, and identifies Pisces as the worst sign for tickets, and Libra the worst for accidents (Romanov says this is because they are too busy being "indecisive" and "seeking driver approval" to watch where they're going), with Geminis and Leos the best, respectively (Leos have to be the best, she says, because of their "huge egos").

Now hold the phone, lady. Amy's Robot may be a very small sample size, but the incidence of tickets and accidents from this contributor (Libra) as compared to that of other contributors (both Leos)--well, there's just no contest. A certain Leo I know had to make a trip to the impound lot in Greenpoint not so long ago to pick up the car that was seized due to an abundance of unpaid tickets (see illustration above), while this Libra has gotten only one (1) speeding ticket in her entire life, and that was only because the New Hampshire highway system had sneakily changed speed limits while she was away at college. There's a similar gap in each sign's accident records, too.

I urge my fellow Libras to follow my lead in combatting our astrological predisposition toward getting busted for speeding, or for getting into terrible, life-altering accidents, like Libras Mark Hamill and Montgomery Clift both did: don't own a car, and mooch rides off your Leo friends. You know, the ones with huge egos.

December 11, 2006

Who's Fatter?™

Today's arrest of Nicole Richie for DUI has led to the revelation in a police report that the 5'1" celeb-for-nothing weighs a mere EIGHTY-FIVE POUNDS.

Before she evaporates completely, we thought we'd take the opportunity to adapt our famous Who's Older?™ quiz to compare two entirely too skinny celebs. (Key difference: One has the excuse of being 12 years old.)

So here you go:

Who's Fatter?™

Nicole Richie's mugshotdakota fanning

Nicole Richie or Dakota Fanning?

The answer? Nicole Richie weighs less than Dakota Fanning, assuming that Dakota is within about 10% of the weight of the average American twelve-year-old girl, which is 94 lbs. Too bad for you, Dakota -- next time that plum part for a 12-year-old with an eating disorder comes up, it might just go to Nicole instead.

December 6, 2006

Inland Empire: Nightmarish freakshow, with a happy ending

David Lynch and Laura Dern

I'm a fan of David Lynch movies. So when his new one comes out, and it's three hours long and was shot on DV and allegedly looks like crap, and he paid to distribute it himself because no one else would touch it, well, I'm pretty much going to go see it anyway.

Inland Empire may not be the greatest thing he's ever done (I'm aware that not everyone feels this way, but I adored Mulholland Drive) but like all good Lynch movies, it stands up proud, creepy, confusing, violent, frightening, and perverse. It also has what might be my favorite quality of David Lynch movies--they feel deeply personal (all those repetitive hang-ups seem like they reflect Lynch's own personal obsessions and weird fetishy neuroses) and coldly detached at the same time. And like Mulholland Drive, it demonstrates the psychological disintegration of a character by their moving from spacious, tasteful homes to seedy dumps.

Not light stuff, to be sure. But let me tell you: there is really a lot of hilarious freakiness in this movie, and the audience laughed a lot, when they weren't squirming. I don't want to give too much away about the characters or plot, such as it is, but the movie focuses on moviemaking and actors, and the bad things that can happen to them. Just like Mulholland Drive examined what can happen to young women that seek their Hollywood dreams (i.e. rise to fame, glamour and notoriety, then the slide into obscurity, betrayal, despair, and having to live in a tackily decorated bungalow), so Inland Empire looks at what can befall a movie star: fame and admiration, but also ill-advised affairs with slimeball co-stars, being perceived by the world as a cheap tramp, confusing your own identity with your character's, appearing in wretched sitcoms, being threatened by creepy men who seem to be everywhere, and totally self-destructing. Or acting as some kind of redemptive figure to lonely Polish girls. Look, I don't know, you'll have to go see it for yourself.

Anyway, there is a lot of fascinating stuff in here. It's weird and dark and impressionistic. The movie looks grainy and there are whole recurring subplots that I don't understand at all. Laura Dern is fantastic though, and gets to do way more interesting stuff than she did in either Blue Velvet or Wild at Heart, or any more normal movie she's ever been in. Lynch also breaks his usual all-white casting protocol (is Richard Pryor in Lost Highway the only real exception to this?) and gives a speech that I think appears in the dictionary under the entry for "Lynchian" to a young homeless Asian woman, who speaks in English, with subtitles, also in English.

But one of the coolest parts of the opening night screening was that Justin Theroux, one of the movie's stars, came out for a little talk after the show! Has has some great things to say about working with David Lynch, and I also personally think that Mr. Theroux is a smoking hot knockout, so it was extra exciting for me. Some interesting things that Justin Theroux had to say:

  • David Lynch really liked the process of having to sort of make up new stuff for Mulholland Drive that he didn't have any idea about when he started making it (it was originally going to be a TV series,) so he decided to make all of Inland Empire that way--he wrote a scene, gave it to the actors, then they shot it with no knowledge of what was going to come right before or after it in the final movie. Theroux thought this was fun and kept everybody "in the moment."
  • David Lynch is the most "unplugged" person in Hollywood that Justin Theroux has ever seen--like, he has no idea who Jim Carrey or Lindsay Lohan are.
  • Harry Dean Stanton was in WWII, got "blown off a battleship", and drinks two pint cartons of milk at lunch every day.
  • Justin Theroux didn't like making Miami Vice.

Also, the music in the movie is fantastic. Mostly classical stuff and scary strings performed by the Polish Symphony Orchestra, and also a rousing lip-synching of the wonderful "Sinnerman" by Nina Simone at the end. Which is an amazing song, but I'm not sure what it has to do with this movie. The last five minutes is like a meta David Lynch theme party, though, so I'm happy to just let him do whatever inexplicable thing he wants to do.

Inland Empire is only playing at the IFC Center in New York for now. It opens in other places next week. Manohla Dargis' review in the Times is really great.

December 5, 2006

NYC's rat patrol and Edgar R. Butts

Rat extermination in New York

Sometimes I think the NY Times should stop doing analysis of the important events and developments happening all over the world, and just stick to investigation and detailed reporting of all the weird stuff that goes on right here in the city.

Today's article on the city's ongoing fight against rat infestation is the best example of this kind of local reporting. Pest complaints reached an all-time high last year, at 32,000. The city is trying to adopt more aggressive, preventive measures to fight rats, like keeping garbage inaccessible and clearing the debris where rats live, instead of just dumping loads of rat poison everywhere. A deputy for environmental health, who is named Edgar R. Butts and therefore might be my favorite of all the city's employees, said: “You can bring a trainload or boatload of rodenticide into the city. But as long as you have food and harborage, you’ll have rats.” I've seen a whole lot of "WARNING: Area Baited With Rodenticide" signs in the subway which never seem to be more recent than 2003, and the rats are starting to grow resistant to it anyway.

The article gives you an incredible amount of detail about the history of pest control in the city, the 19th century rat catchers (paid by the rat!), old federal CDC programs, the city council's "rat summits" in the Giuliani days. There are lots of anecdotes about the Bureau of Pest Control Services, which spends $8 million each year on rats, going to buildings where tenants have been complaining for months.

But my favorite part is when the intrepid Times reporter walks around the Bronx himself, and paints a vivid picture of the garbage that he sees, and apparently also rummages through: "Why the rats remain is no mystery, given the abundance of waste New Yorkers leave behind. In an alley next to an apartment building were two exposed trash cans. Inside one was an empty can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, with a residue of sauce."

We've all seen rats scurrying around in the subway or in vacant lots, but take a guess as to the percentage of rental units with rodent infestations. Guess. Ready to get grossed out? 28.7 percent!!! Ew! If you don't have rats drinking your beer and gnawing your toothbrush, you're lucky.

Wait a second. Heroes is actually good!

Since its premiere, Heroes has been an amusing diversion from more serious fare like Lost, Warplane, and Meerkat Manor. Due to its intrinsic corniness, frequent crappy dialog, and its (let's face it) 14-year-old target demographic, it has failed to impress as anything besides a bit of fluff on Monday nights. Sure, the final moments of most episodes involved entertaining twists, and it was fun to groan loudly at all the ridiculous moments, but I never felt comfortable calling it "a good show." I began thinking of it as the kind of show that doesn't exist anymore: the hour-long "popcorn" adventure show. Charlie's Angels, The A-Team, and MacGuyver all fit into that category. They were fun but they were meaningless. If you go back and watch them as an adult, they are almost unbearable in their campiness. But they are all appealing in their way. Heroes was like that (although I think it strived to be a little more than that, Lost-style). The show has has always had the ingredients of a good show -- some decent actors (including Adrian Pasdar, one of the best TV actors around), some characters that could practically write their own storylines, and a lots of opportunities for exciting plot developments. But then, in last night's episode ("Fallout"), all these ingredients came together and it became an actual "good show," but without turning its back on the tradition of its genre.

Let's start with the acting. In other shows with ambiguously moral characters, the writers don't reveal future plot developments to the actors, and so the actors have no idea how to play the character. (24 is notorious for this.) The resulting performances are unsatisfying because the actors tend to change the way they portray their character from scene to scene. When the scene has them taking some action that appears to be evil, they act all supervillains. When the scene has them do something that appears to be good, they act as if their character is noble. (Think of President Logan and his Chief of Staff in last year's season of 24.) The audience can never get a handle on who the character is and what makes him tick. This isn't suspenseful. It's annoying. Heroes has its share of ambiguous characters, too, most notably Adrian Pasdar's Nathan Petrelli and the cheerleader's father. But, Pasdar in particular, excels at consistently portraying his character right down the middle. What emerges is a character who is conflicted about his actions. Whether he is "purely good" or "purely evil," we don't really know, and it doesn't matter: it's not a professional wrestling match. Pasdar's performance gives us a character that is real -- even in the show's unreal world. This is an accomplishment that 24 has failed to match in all these years, despite taking place in a more realistic world.

The plot developments help out those actors who are not quite at Pasdar's level. Ali Larter has taken her lumps on various discussion boards for not being up to the task of portraying the split-personality of her character, but last night's episode made up for that by putting in her in an innately interesting position as she struggles for the first time to truly gain control of her more violent side. She could have played the moment of transformation better, certainly, but the scene with her confronting her alter ego in the woods worked because the show didn't try to make it into a heavy moment: In a scene straight out of an evil-twin episode of any early-80s B-drama, Ali's Nicki argued with an off-camera version of herself. The show did not even bother to use a stand-in for over-the-shoulder shots, let alone digital effects. Here's Ali with a mean face. Cut. Here's Ali with a nice face. Cut. Brilliantly simple.

Good writing makes up for mediocre casting. For me, last night's plot developments did something I thought was impossible: they got me interested in Peter Petrelli. Petrelli is the show's Luke Skywalker. Pivotal, but annoying. But, as with Star Wars, the writers have finally given him a compelling plot/character arc that is engaging despite his whininess. I want to know what happens next; I want to see him find bad love with the cheerleader; I want to see him get everybody out of a crisis by absorbing somebody else powers -- Can he absorb the already absorbed powers of Sylar? That would be interesting -- and then, yeah, I want to see him blow up The Day After-style.

The show is also bringing lots of disparate plot elements together in an entertaining, compelling way. By hinting at the future (rather than keeping us completely in the dark, like 24), Heroes creates a meaningful suspense that you know is going to get paid off (unlike Lost). Importantly, showing snippets of the future gives the audience the sense that the writers actually know where all of this is going, a feeling entirely lacking from 24 and Lost. (The writers of 24 have admitted that they make it up as they go along.)

Heroes still has its annoyances, but last night's episode showed that it can be entertaining and good at the same time.

ps. You can watch last night's episode for free over at NBC.com.

About December 2006

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in December 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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