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October 2008 Archives

October 31, 2008

Upcoming sci-fi

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet from 1956 is one of the most entertaining sci-fi classics out there, even for a not very committed sci-fi fan like me. In the story based on The Tempest, a young Leslie Nielsen leads a mission to a distant planet inhabited only by the sweet-faced Anne Francis and her father, and lovable sidekick Robby the Robot. The movie also had the first all-electronic movie soundtrack, and this was years before the first Moog synthesizer came out.

So now there's going to be a remake, which hopefully will hang onto some of the endearing qualities of the original, or at least include a Leslie Nielsen cameo. The remake is being written by J. Michael Straczynski, a man who I think formed my childhood concept of what sci-fi/fiction is: he wrote for He-Man, She-Ra, and the 80's version of the Twilight Zone. (He also created Babylon 5, which I wasn't into.) And he did the screenplay for the Wachowski Brothers-produced Ninja Assassin, which comes out next year and looks OK.

But: more important. J. Michael Straczynski also wrote the screenplay for the movie version of Max Brooks' World War Z! The book is a really fun read, a surprisingly well thought-out and thorough collection of oral accounts of the great zombie war that engulfs the globe in the near future.

Here's a review of the leaked World War Z screenplay, with some excerpts. Looks like the movie will stick with the current fast-zombie trend, and attach all sorts of criticism of government corruption and consumer culture to the zombie metaphor--the reviewer calls it "a George Romero wet dream."

October 30, 2008

Times tries for piece on ugly people, ends up with piece on "ugly" people

Charlize Theron in Monster

Ugly people--ew!

The Times has an article in today's Style section that makes a half-hearted attempt to document a trend in average-looking or ugly people getting more attention in movies and TV. Here's the thesis statement:

Ugliness has recently emerged as a serious subject of study and academic interest unto itself, in some small part because of the success of television’s Ugly Betty, which ABC promoted with a "Be Ugly" campaign stressing self-esteem for girls and young women. Sociologists, writers, lawyers and economists have begun to examine ugliness, suggesting that the subject has been marginalized in history and that discrimination against the unattractive, while difficult to document or prevent, is a quiet but widespread injustice.

So maybe social scientists momentarily care that ugly people don't get the attention, admiration, or money that beautiful people get, but, as it turns out, no one else does. Cosmetic surgery is a $13 billion industry, beauty and makeover shows are all over the TV, and the gajillions of magazines, ads, and movies out there confirm that we're only interested in looking at beautiful people.

The article even notes that America Ferrera, who plays Ugly Betty, is actually really gorgeous.

Which brings us to an aspect of this ugliness non-phenomenon that's more interesting: the article only addresses beauty vs. ugliness in women. The only reference to a male creature in the whole article is Shrek who, as an ogre, is by definition ugly.

The highest paid actors are good-looking guys like Johnny Depp, Will Smith, and Leonardo DiCaprio, but we've also got Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and James Gandolfini to play the regular shlubby dudes whose characters are supposed to be average-looking.

On the other hand, when a female character is supposed to be regular-looking or kind of ugly, we tend to get beautiful women disfigured by ugly makeup and clothes: Nicole Kidman in a fake nose, Renee Zellweger plus 30 pounds, or Charlize up there in ugly-person makeup and fake crooked teeth. Or America Ferrera in her Ugly Betty red glasses and braces.

So here's the legitimate trend: prosthetic makeup is likely to be a solid career field forever.

October 29, 2008

Guess what kind of alcoholic beverage this is

USB port wine

Just like French champagne and Neapolitan pizza, the EU protects Portuguese port by requiring that all wines labeled as "port" be from Portugal. Two years ago, the US signed a "wine accord" with the EU, stating that American wineries couldn't label any new wines with geographic names like port, champagne, or chablis.

So one clever winery from California decided to target the segment of the geek market that also likes deliciously heavy fortified wines by naming their new non-Portuguese port USB.

The Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the label, after much deliberation. Note the binary code forming the tree, and the USB-symbol roots.

We should make sure no European wineries are marketing their lighter, sweeter, screw-cap wines with American geographical names. Like Boone's Farm.

October 27, 2008

Mad Men gets feminist

Betty at the hairdresser on Mad Men

The last two episodes of Mad Men were great. The second to last one was some of the best TV I've ever seen-- there are some scenes I never want to watch again, but it was still good television. Even though the season finale last night wasn't quite as ambitious or as creatively structured, it was still pretty amazing.

The show's creator Matthew Weiner, has been clear about his feminist aspirations for the show, but in these last two episodes he shows us what he means: the show seems to have become a kind of morality play where the female characters who stand up for themselves are rewarded, and the ones who don't get raped on the floor of their boss's office.

Let's look at the main characters:

Peggy. The show is as much about her as it is about Don Draper, and it's been structured around her experience from the very first episode. She's now the new superstar of the ad agency, and when she asks for her own office, she gets it (and graciously accepts Roger Sterling's comment about how aggressive women are "cute".) In the finale, she tells Pete Campbell the painful truth about giving away his baby, and in doing so appears to get some kind of spiritual absolution, while Pete is left bewildered and destroyed.

Joan. The scene in the second to last episode where Peggy and Joan talk about Peggy's new office and Joan's upcoming marriage was just awesome. For a moment, the all-powerful Joan looks small and weak as she realizes that she has to rely on the accomplishments of her doctor fiance/rapist to give her status, while Peggy has her own accomplishments to be proud of. For once, Joan is respectful of Peggy and not snotty and dismissive.

But the overall feel of the scene was sad. It was as heartbreaking as watching Joan get passed over for the script reading job without putting up a fight. The show seems to have established an especially unforgiving moral structure for women, just like in teen slasher movies, except in Mad Men it's not the slutty girl who gets punished. It's women like Joan who miss opportunities to stand up for themselves.

Betty. Last night's episode belonged to her. It's been frustrating watching her spiral into the depressive funk she's been in for the last few weeks, but finally last night, her refusal to let her philandering husband come home paid off. Don initially goes off to California to screw around, but instead he ends up spiritually cleansed, and remembers how to be respectful to women through his old friend Anna. He comes home to apologize for being such a dick and does some groveling. Betty lets him back in.

Betty's end of the deal with Don isn't exactly a feminist utopia, but she does get to have a night of freedom, be assured by everybody that she can get an abortion if she needs one, fuck a hot stranger in a men's room, and still get her repentant and now fabulously rich husband back. A lot better than moping around and crying on the shoulder of the 8 year-old boy next door.

The Men. Meanwhile, life is not so great for the menfolk. The last few episodes show them grasping desperately, sometimes pathetically, at their slowly dwindling power over the women in their lives. Don is the only one who seems able to readjust himself and come out, maybe, a sort of decent person. The owners of the agency, meanwhile, had to literally sell themselves out in order to accommodate women's demands--Mona, Jane, and Cooper's hilariously bitchy sister.

Next season: Peggy gets a personal assistant/boy toy, and the secretary pool starts a series of consciousness-raising brown-bag lunches about overly restrictive undergarments.

October 24, 2008

New trailers

Still from Notorious

Some interesting trailers out today:

  • Notorious, the biopic about Biggie Smalls, starring Angela Bassett as his long-suffering mother, and unknowns as Biggie and Lil Kim. [IMDb]
  • My Bloody Valentine 3D. A sequel to the 1981 horror movie about a vengeful coal miner. In 3D! The trailer shows actual pickaxes and balls of flame bursting out of the screen right at a movie audience wearing 3D glasses, in case you need to be reminded of how cool 3D is. They don't seem to be making any effort to tie the movie in with the band MBV's tour last month. And how about the soundtrack? "Glider" is perfect for a gruesome slasher scene! [IMDb]
  • Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. I watched this whole trailer thinking, "Wow, Kate Beckinsale is almost completely unrecognizable in this!" before realizing she isn't in it. Poor man's Kate Beckinsale Rhona Mitra is the star of this one. A few months ago she starred in something called Doomsday, which I recently saw on my list of movies I've watched this year, and had to go look it up to remember what it was. [IMDb]

October 23, 2008

Post leads the fight to save America's breasts

Cowgirls Espresso barristas

Today's NY Post reveals an alarming new study that finds drinking coffee can make your breasts smaller. In "Women Face Shrink and Drink Dilemma: Coffee Poses A Booby Trap", women are urged to consider the very real risk of caffeine shrinkage, the future of their breasts, and the happiness of our nation when reaching for their morning coffee.

"Drinking coffee can have a major effect on breast size," says one of the Swedish (of course) researchers who conducted the study. Especially, because there is no justice in this world, women with large breasts. "They will get smaller, but the breasts aren't just going to disappear," she added. Well that's a relief.

The Post goes on to conduct their own photographic study of "small-chested celebrities", including Catherine Keener, the Olsen twins, Natalie Portman, and Cameron Diaz, which I suppose is meant to lend some sort of credence to the scientists' findings. Or maybe console readers who love coffee-- sure, you'll lose your tits, but guess who's sort of flat too? The cute cheerleader on Heroes!

As an aside, at the very end of the article, the Post notes that the purpose of the study was actually to determine any link between caffeine and breast cancer. Caffeine makes you more resistant to tumors. If you don't mind being flat as a pancake, that is.

Added bonus for coffee-drinking men: caffeine actually makes your man-boobs bigger!

October 22, 2008

Preteen vampires

Let The Right One In

While everyone's waiting for those sexy teenage vampires in Twilight, there's a much weirder looking movie coming out this Friday: preteen Swedish vampires (that hopefully will not be especially sexy) in Let The Right One In.

The story is about a 12 year-old boy living in suburban Stockholm in the early '80's who gets bullied at school. The he's faced with a moral dilemma: should a boy kill a known vampire if that vampire is gruesomely killing all the little bastards who beat him up every day? The vampire in question is a sad-faced 12 year-old girl, and they kinda like each other. She's like an externalized form of Sissy Spacek's apocalyptic telekinetic skills in Carrie.

Here's a fantastic short clip from the movie that plays on that "you have to invite vampires in before they can come into your house" rule that we all learned from The Lost Boys.

Clip from Let the right one in

The NY Times has a very sweet, sad clip, too.

If you only saw these clips, you'd probably think Let The Right One In is a little wistful movie about how lonely it is to be a vampire tween. But check out the trailer: knives, gore, blazing infernos, and a little girl killing people with her bare hands! It's pretty great.

There's a glowing quote from Guillermo del Toro in there. There are talks of an American remake already--he would be ideal to do it. But in reality, it looks like we're going to get J.J. Abrams' production company doing the remake, with the guy who did Cloverfield directing. Will they be able to resist casting 20 year olds and turning it into an especially gory episode of "Felicity"?

The author of the original book seems to be a Morrissey fan: the title was taken from the similarly-titled Morrissey song, and there's another Morrissey quote (from "Last Of The Famous International Playboys") as an epigraph. So there should be some dark, funny stuff in there, too.

It opens on Friday at the Angelika.

October 13, 2008

NYC club security

Santos Party House

[photo of Santos Party House by down by the hipster]

A quick comparison of two clubs in New York.

Cielo: I went two Fridays ago to see Nick Warren. Arrived at 11:00, line is already stretching down the block. Bouncers use a handheld scanner to verify my driver's license while I'm still standing out on the street. Once inside the building, the barcode on my ticket is scanned by another handheld reader, and more bouncers examine every purse, wallet, pocket, Altoids box, and lipgloss applicator very closely. They look carefully between every bill in every wallet. Everything is taking forever. A female bouncer puts her hands actually inside of my underwear. They appear to have drug testing equipment and every so often some of the kids trying to get in are abruptly escorted out.

Once I regain some sense of personal boundaries and get inside, there are some regular club kids dancing, and also a whole lot of guys in striped shirts and ties getting Grey Goose bottle service. The bar is a chaotic, heaving nightmare. Nick Warren is OK, but overall it's a stressful downer. Maybe Cielo should just hire El Al's elite security staff to work the door more efficiently. I used to like this place, too (at least on weeknights.)

Santos Party House: I went here last Saturday to see Z-Trip. Walked down an empty Lafayette Street at 11:30, right through the door, paid in cash, and was on the dance floor about 15 seconds after approaching the club. Didn't even get carded. The crowd was mixed in every way, everyone's dancing, and there's good beer on tap for $7. No line at the bathroom. A fun, completely easy night.

Maybe it's just that Cielo has been around since 2002 and the owners have seen many clubs get raided, and Santos is new enough that it hasn't yet (it opened in the Spring.) But when getting inside a club feels like intake processing at a federal detention center, that is not a good club.

October 10, 2008

How to turn an ugly crowd into a scary crowd

McCain Palin puppets

McCain is in a tough spot. The Dow is down 40% since last year (20% just in the last 10 days!) and he's losing in states like Florida by a lot. His own desperation is starting to show in his supporters, and his latest strategy is riling up voters' illogical fear and anger. And talking about William Ayers, a topic I thought had already been played out last winter.

It's hard to see how Bill Ayers is relevant to anything in this election, especially now with the whole world falling apart, but a new McCain ad coming out today is largely about this guy.

Slate tries to set the record straight with an article by a guy who knew both Ayers and Obama in the 90's. These days Ayers, Chicago's Citizen of the Year in 1997, is best known for his work in education and juvenile justice reform. He's also worked on an approach to dealing with juvenile offenders that George W. Bush adopted as part of his 2000 campaign.

Reporters have noticed how riled up the crowds have been getting at McCain-Palin rallies this week. In Wisconsin yesterday, Slate quotes a man who probably expressed the anger and frustration that a lot of campaign staff is feeling these days: "I'm mad, and I'm really mad. It's not the economy. It's the socialists taking over our country." McCain started to respond, and the man shot back sternly. "Let me finish please. When you have an Obama, Pelosi, and the rest of the hooligans up there gonna run this country, we've got to have our head examined."

McCain decided this wasn't the best moment to bring up his socialist idea of the government buying people's mortgages. The Slate reporter also says that McCain's supporters gave members of the press the finger on their way out of the event (which he interprets as a "You're Number 1!" salute.)

At a rally in Florida earlier this week, Sarah Palin whipped the crowd into actual frenzy. From the Washington Post:

In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

Wow. It's desperate and ugly and sinister, and I doubt McCain himself supports this stuff. But his campaign is encouraging this behavior from the people whose votes he needs, so he's still responsible.

October 8, 2008

Gretchen "No Nuts" Mol is back on TV

Gretchen Mol in Life On Mars

Tomorrow night is the premiere episode of "Life On Mars", a British show adapted by ABC. This is the one about a cop who gets knocked on the head and travels back in time to 1973, when the streets were tough and cops didn't have cellphones. The clips I've seen make it look like it will do for cops what "Mad Men" does for the advertising industry: show us how bad the bad old days were with racism, sexism, smoking, drinking (and in this case, police brutality) while reminding us that all that stuff still goes on now, we've just gotten better at hiding it.

The show has been through a tumultuous history already--it's gotten a new executive producer (David E. Kelley was the first one, but I've liked exactly zero of his shows, so this is a good thing,) an almost totally new cast, and has been relocated from LA to NY. But about that cast: it features Harvey Keitel as a tough-guy lieutenant who has no truck with Miranda rights, though does hilariously like to cool his brow with a delicate little Chinese paper fan in a clip posted on the show's website.

Gretchen Mol was cast just recently as the precinct's lady cop, nicknamed "No Nuts" (heh). Hopefully this show will last longer than her last one, Girls Club, or excuse me, "girls club", which didn't have enough capital letters to keep it from getting axed after two episodes.

Lisa Bonet is in it too, as the main cop guy's present-day girlfriend, and in the commercials for the show she somehow looks exactly the same as she did in 1987. Haven't seen her since she was in High Fidelity.

And we're all excited to see Michael Imperioli back on TV--in the clips it looks like he's wearing a raccoon pelt on his upper lip and his character is described as "Part misogynist. Part bigot. All cop." Awesome.

The Reuters review notes that the American version of the show doesn't speculate on the sci-fi nature of the cop's time traveling, and once he's back in the 70's, he stays there. But the original series only ran for a total of 16 episodes over 2 years, so we'll have to see if the adaptation can come up with enough new material for an entire season, if it makes it that far.

The San Francisco Chronicle review says the music in the pilot is especially good: The David Bowie title track, plus Who and Rolling Stones. Sounds like some expensive rights to clear for TV, but hopefully the soundtrack will be one of the best parts of the show.

The Daily News has an elaborate 1973-era homepage today as part of the show's marketing--sort of a nonsensical concept (the dubious tagline is "Ever wonder what our homepage was like in 1973?") But it's cool as a media artifact, since it looks like the content is actual 1973-era DN articles, including a review of Serpico, a great feature on the year's best album covers (War, Carly Simon) and a piece announcing the Roe v. Wade decision.

The premiere of "Life On Mars" airs tomorrow at 10.

October 6, 2008

Rachel Getting Married: Jonathan Demme's still got it

Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married

In a Time Out NY story on his new movie Rachel Getting Married, Jonathan Demme said, sort of incredibly, that the script by Jenny Lumet and the chance to work with Anne Hathaway were the only things that got him to take a break from making documentaries to do a fictional movie. I was surprised when I read that last week, but after watching the movie this weekend, I see what he meant.

This is Jenny Lumet's first screenplay, and it deals with subject matter that is almost impossible to make palatable. Privileged people complaining about their oh-so-difficult lives and alternating between emotionally manipulating each other and screaming at each other-- it's hard to make that stuff anything other than grating.

Jonathan Demme has enough experience to wind through a minefield of drug addiction, co-dependency, and self-pity, set against a backdrop of a rich family having a big multi-culti party that involves white people wearing saris and dancing to samba, and still end up with characters that the audience can relate to. Somehow it all works. It also helps that the characters have been through a lot that we don't learn about right away.

Another potentially tricky aspect of the movie is how it deals with race. There are layers of harmonious, maybe idealistic, racial blending in the movie that don't feel forced at all, which may be helped by Jenny Lumet's own multiracial background (her father is famous director Sidney Lumet, and her mother is Gail Lumet Buckley, a black writer and daugher of Lena Horne.) Sidney Lumet hasn't done anything as good as his stuff from the 70's and 80's, but Jonathan Demme can still make a great movie, which is good, since things were looking pretty bleak around The Truth About Charlie.

The best parts were the long, rambling, Robert Altman-like ensemble scenes, like the scene at the rehearsal dinner where it seems like every single character has a toast to make, but it was so authentic I could have watched it roll on all night. All of the actors are great, especially Anna Deveare Smith, who also does a lot of stuff on Broadway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, and Anne Hathaway. The girl's got chops.

The music is great, too. All the music in the movie is diegetic, a ten dollar word I learned just for this movie which means that we only hear music that the characters can also hear. Luckily, because the movie takes place around a wedding, there's loads of music that the characters and the audience all get to hear, including a surprise performance by my old teenage favorite Robyn Hitchcock, (also the subject of Demme's Storefront Hitchcock concert movie) doing his song "America" with the wedding band [photo]. Tunde Adebimpe, the singer from TV On The Radio, plays the groom, and has a really nice musical interlude.

Rachel Getting Married is only playing at 9 theaters now, but it made over $30,000 per screen, which is about what the first Spider-Man made when it debuted. At the Regal theater at Union Square, the line to get into the theater looked like Iron Man's opening weekend. It'll probably do well, which is good for Jonathan Demme. Did you know he's directed 7 different actors in performances that were nominated for Oscars, and 4 who won? He's probably going to get a couple more in this one.

October 3, 2008

Fall movie season still struggling to get off the ground

Simon Pegg in How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

After a fun, goofy summer of some good blockbusters (Tropic Thunder, Wall-E) and a few wonderful weird little movies (Hamlet 2, The Edge of Heaven), the fall season seems to be off to a slow start. Some of the movies I've been most interested in all year are out now, but nothing has created much of a sensation.

Choke sounds bloodless and dull. Miracle at St. Anna unfortunately seems a little corny and stodgy, two words that I don't think could be used to describe any other Spike Lee movie.

This week we've got three movies coming out that at one point sounded potentially great, but are getting so-so reviews.

Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist: Charming but trivial according to A.O. Scott. Wired says it's a movie for teens and aging hipsters, and advises "If you've got more ZZ Top and Doobie Brothers on your playlist than Fleet Foxes, Death Cab or Vampire Weekend, you might want to consider a different picture." The usually generous Roger Ebert says it "doesn't bring much to the party."

Rachel Getting Married: This one could be really good. It's directed by Jonathan Demme, shot on hand-held DV, and stars Rosemarie DeWitt, who was great on "Mad Men" last season. Hopefully Anne Hathaway's performance as an attention-hogging drug addict teeters on the edge of being irritating and self-indulgent without falling over. Slate likes it; A.O. Scott thinks it barely avoids melodrama and sentimentality--which means that it might actually be a big sloshy melodramatic mess, especially since he also describes Anne Hathaway's bangs as looking very Louise Brooks-ish, though she doesn't have bangs at all in the trailer. Gawker says it's "absolutely terrible".

Then there's How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, which I had been really looking forward to. Manohla Dargis says it's "crushingly unfunny and slopped together". Ouch. AV Club calls it "cheap and ugly". Roger Ebert is pretty much alone in thinking it's a hoot, and says Simon Pegg was born to play Toby Young, the British writer whose spectacular failure at Vanity Fair is the basis of the book and movie.

The AV Club has their annual Oscar-O-Meter up. There's some movies up there that look good, like Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, W., Synecdoche, New York, and hopefully Milk (it's pretty much impossible to predict if Gus Van Sant's movies will be great or terrible these days.) So things should be picking up soon.

October 2, 2008

The South Bronx on the $700 Billion Bailout

James Jacobs talks to the NY Times

As always, the Times does a great job of going into neighborhoods and asking New Yorkers what they think about national political or economic events. They went to the Morrisania neighborhood in the Bronx and asked residents about the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. Responses are funny, and show a clear, and justifiably cynical understanding of what's going on:

On a chair outside Johnson’s Barbecue on Tinton Avenue in the Bronx, Keith McLean had thoroughly considered the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. "That’s for C.E.O.'s.," said Mr. McLean. "And I am a P-O-O-R."

The accompanying video captures the best bits, with one guy on camera and another guy shouting commentary off-camera:

"It’s corporate America doing what corporate America does," Mr. Jacobs said.

"Organized crime," Mr. McLean said.

"It's the new organized crime," Mr. Jacobs said.

"Ain’t nothing new about it," Mr. McLean said.

"We're not going to see none of that," Mr. Jacobs said. "Not one red cent."

One woman in the video is worried about her 401k and that the effects of bank failures will eventually trickle down to her. But the guys at the barbecue, who don't exactly raise concerns about their investments, had more to say about the aspect of the meltdown that affects them personally--the irresponsible lending that caused it in the first place.

"I was out of work there for a couple of years, and I ended up with three credit cards. American Express. Visa. I forget the other one. And the banks give all these loans to people knowing they can’t pay, but they get a commission."

These guys should open a financial advisory service. If they tell me I should put my savings in shoeboxes and hide it behind the couch cushions, I'm doing it.

About October 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in October 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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