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April 27, 2012

In case you need more convincing about Community

Community Law & Order episode

For those of you who aren't already committed Community fans, I offer into evidence last night's episode, "Basic Lupine Urology". You can watch the full episode on the show's website.

The episode is a meticulously-constructed Law & Order spoof, but it's so dense with jokes and references that it took me over 12 hours to even get the title: Lupine Urology. Dick Wolf. Ha.

The plot centers on a sabotaged biology experiment in Professor Omar From The Wire's class, with the study group's yam project discovered smashed on the classroom floor. But every single thing about the episode, from the opening sequence of the bantering janitors who discover the smashed yam and the credits sequence, to the harsh courtroom-style lighting and the quick little camera pans at the start of each scene that pull up to reveal the latest suspect that Briscoe and Green (or in this case, Abed and Troy) are investigating--everything looks and feels EXACTLY like Law & Order. It's masterful.

The show has done a bunch of other successful spoofs before, but they're usually pretty weird and esoteric (the Hearts of Darkness episode, the My Dinner With Andre episode) so this one might be the most accessible of the spoofs.

A few other details: Shirley plays a perfect Lt. Van Buren, there's a great Wire dialogue reference, a Michael Ironside cameo, and I'm pretty sure the autopsy technician who examines the smashed yam (above) is the same actress who plays the lab technician in the medical examiner's office on L&O! I'm in awe. After last week's technically incredible Dreamatorium episode and now this one, it's like falling in love all over again.

(Note: if you're not a fan of Law & Order, this episode would likely make you shrug and say "what's the big whoop?" Community is beloved by some people, but it's not exactly broad in its appeal. Which is why hardly anyone watches it, but those that do watch it go totally apeshit about it every week.)

In related news, the show's viewership is still steadily declining--two years ago, it was usually around 5 million viewers per episode, now it's below 3. Its inevitable cancellation is looming out there, but I'm impressed that the creators are defiantly sticking with the formula and making episodes the tiny but ferocious fan base will love.

April 23, 2012

I am powerless to resist you, Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum in Magic Mike

I don't know how this happened, but about half an hour into 21 Jump Street, I suddenly became a Channing Tatum fan. I'd seen him in other movies, and he's always been fine, I guess, but not especially memorable. He delivers his lines a little flat sometimes, he's got that tan and those eyes that are set close together and that thick neck and muscle-bound body--he's someone else's kind of movie fantasy guy. Ladies like me, we go for Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Clive Owen. Guys who at least occasionally appear in movies where they don't take their shirts off.

Well, so much for that. Those days are over and now I love Channing Tatum. It turns out he's really funny! I don't think he had done a comedy before 21 Jump Street, not that I've seen, but he's got excellent timing and reactions, and when he pretended to hump a new arrest or stuck his fingers down Jonah Hill's throat to try to make him barf, I was won over forever. I'm never watching The Vow or the dozens of other romances he'll probably do in the next ten years, but any comedy where he says "Let's just finger each other's mouths," I'm there.

Cue: the Magic Mike trailer. Now that Steven Soderbergh has cast Channing Tatum in two movies in a row, I think I've got some cinematic credibility to cling to. He's good! Steven Soderbergh says so! In the Times article about Tatum's inevitable Next Big Star status, Soderbergh says, "I certainly would never place him in that category of young actors who get hired just because they look good. He comes with ideas that are well thought out but also doesn't take himself too seriously, which is really refreshing." This guy is so good at not taking himself too seriously that he can star in a movie (based on his own life) as a super hunky stripper in which he comes off as a modest, decent, kind of sweet guy. (In the trailer, which is good enough for me.)

Of course, he's got Matthew McConaughey as his flamboyant father-stripper-figure foil, who, as my friend T-Rock said, steals the show in the 5 seconds he's on screen ("I see a lotta law breakers up in this house!") I predict this is going to be one really fun movie with irresistible charm and unstoppable abs, and I don't want to discuss how many times I've watched this trailer.

The Cabin in the Woods, meta horror comedy

Cabin in the Woods

I'm showing up late to the Cabin in the Woods party, and I strongly believe that it's a movie you should see with as little prior information as possible. But I had a blast watching this movie, and so, without giving anything away, here are a few thoughts about it:

  • It's a movie that works for different audiences. It's not too scary, so non-horror fans can watch it without getting embarrassingly terrified and insane every time they're home alone at night for the next three weeks (thanks a lot, The Ring.) And for true horror/sci-fi fans, it offers many rewards for having watched a ton of horror movies over the years.
  • It does this in part by examining the rigidly predictable structure that traditional horror movies follow, and makes you think about why we as audiences want to see the same essential story about teenagers being horribly killed rehashed over and over again, when we all pretty much know what's going to happen. But it's better than Scream because it's smarter and more creative, it's funnier, and it takes a kitchen sink approach rather than just drawing attention to its cheeky by-the-book slasher scenes.
  • It also rewards horror fans with some truly hilarious and wonderful tribute moments that I will not describe here. JOKE SPOILER ALERT: If you've already seen the movie, you know why "Angry Molesting Tree" is my favorite joke of the year, and you'd probably be interested in seeing a screenshot of the white board. Here it is.

Joss Whedon is going to get a much bigger hit this year with The Avengers, which will utterly overshadow The Cabin in the Woods and probably offer a more bloated, expensive version of fun, but for my money, I'll take the meta horror molesting tree satire.

April 18, 2012

Why we love eating crap

Junk food in grocery stores

It's become very fashionable to talk about the concept of "food deserts" as an explanation for why so many Americans, especially poor Americans, don't eat healthy food and are overweight. The thinking goes, if poor people had access to fresh produce and other healthy food, they would eat better, and be less fat. But they don't have access, so they eat Ding Dongs and pork rinds and whatever you can get at a liquor store snack rack.

Personally, I think this line of thinking is garbage, which is why I'm so psyched about an article in today's Times about the myth of the food desert and access/inaccess to healthy food as a predictor of weight problems. Two new studies basically debunk two big ideas that went into the "food desert" myth: that poor urban neighborhoods don't have grocery stores, and that living close to a grocery store makes it less likely that you'll be overweight.

Turns out there are just as many grocery stores in poor neighborhoods as in rich ones, and proximity to a grocery store has no bearing on thinness or fatness. The scientists involved didn't propose an explanation for this, but I have a few of my own. First, EVERYBODY LOVES TO EAT CRAP. Also, JUNK FOOD COMPANIES SPEND BILLIONS ON ADVERTISING.

It really bugs me when people in positions of power talk about how to change poor people's eating habits, as though poor people are powerless to make good decisions about what they want, and if a kind benefactor just paid for a bunch of green carts selling fruits and vegetables (like we have all over NYC now) poor people will gratefully enrich their diets with wholesome produce and stop having diabetes and heart disease.

Look at rich people, who supposedly have ample access to fruits and vegetables and pretty much anything else they want! Have you seen a menu at a fancy restaurant lately? With all the expensive and totally unhealthy pork belly hash and the duck fat tater tots and dates wrapped in bacon and peanut butter and, God help us, fried pizza?

The fact is, whether we have nice produce at our grocery stores or not, and whether we shop at Whole Foods or at a corner store, we as humans still love to eat greasy, fatty, sugary garbage. We can't help it. As Cintra Wilson once wrote, left to our own devices, people would consume nothing but bacon, cans of whipped cream, and Starburst.

The other problem is grocery stores themselves--even in rich neighborhoods in New York, I see anemic looking pink tomatoes and gnarly wilted lettuce and shriveled green beans all the time. Gristede's sucks whether it's in Washington Heights or the West Village. It's not like "nice neighborhood" or "grocery store" means "decent produce" in this city. And you can bet every store's shelves are well stocked with an impressive selection of Pringles™.

But changing people's behavior is a whole lot harder than just installing some green carts, if you're concerned about healthy eating. Plus it might mean looking critically at how rich people behave, which I seriously doubt is any better than poor people in terms of Cheetos™ consumption. Maybe the only thing that unites Americans now is potato chips.

April 16, 2012

Real (Mad) Men and Don Draper the plumber

Mad Men, sink leak

One problem I've had with the last season or two of Mad Men is that a lot of episodes went by when nothing happened. That's not the case with Season 5 so far--I think it's been really good, lots of things happening, lots of character development, and LOTS (too many?) of Roger Sterling one-liners.

Last night's episode focused on Pete Campbell, still one of the show's most interesting characters. As much as Pete is a pompous jerk that everyone sort of hates, he's become a jerk with so many complex, glaring insecurities and personality flaws that it's fascinating to watch him fail to do the right thing or be content with his very nice life, again and again, in ever-changing ways. If the theme of this episode was "what it means to be a man", Pete gets it spectacularly wrong at pretty much every opportunity. What's impressive about the show, and especially Vincent Kartheiser's acting, is how compelling the character is when he's such a loathsome jackass.

Apart from the chronicle of Pete Campbell, failure of masculinity, I liked the new aspects of Don's development this episode. He gives in to both Megan and Trudy (wearing a hideous plaid jacket Megan bought for him to a party he doesn't want to go to) with conciliatory grace, but can still take off his shirt and get under the sink to fix the kitchen faucet, which turns on his wife enough to pull over on the Hutch and get busy on the ride home. (Despite all that, Don still seems resolutely unhappy and potentially suicidal.)

The worst part of the show was Pete's conversation with the high school girl during the driver's ed class break. Her dialogue was so clunky and stiff, it sounded like the director told the actress to just ad lib about the tumultuous 60's and she came out with something that literally sounded like, "We're living through a truly fascinating period of cultural transition here in 1966 American society, that's as anxiety-provoking as it is thrilling. The times they are a-changin'!"

What was up with that?! It was almost as bad as the scene a few episodes ago with Don talking to a teenage girl backstage at the Rolling Stones show, when she says something about how her character symbolizes the alluring vitality of youth and freedom, and pretty much uses those words. They need to get a lot better with this generation gap dialogue.

The board room fistfight and Bert Cooper's "reschedule the meeting" line were almost as shockingly hilarious as the lawnmower foot-severing. Any episode with office bloodshed is a good one. John Slattery directed this one.

Side note: if you're familiar with FX's funny animated spy sitcom Archer, check out Sterling Archer Draper Pryce. It's really good.

April 9, 2012

Goon: Canadian minor league hockey = comic gold

Goon with Seann William Scott

The most overlooked movie out right now might be Goon, the raunchy comedy starring Seann William Scott that doesn't involve Stifler or his mom. Goon is a hockey comedy and it's the best extremely realistically violent movie I've seen in a very long time. The violence in Goon isn't about being artistic or stylized, it's about showing you what it's like to stop a puck with your face while a bunch of Quebecois meatheads spit on you. Hilarious!

There are lots of reasons this movie should be doing better than it is (it's only made $4 million at the box office.) Hockey is a perfect subject for a filthy-mouthed sports comedy (e.g. Slap Shot), the script is by Evan Goldberg (who wrote Superbad with Seth Rogen) and Jay Baruchel, two Canadians from the Judd Apatow school of inept, lovable man-children and and good-natured dick jokes. It stars Seann William Scott, who bulked up into a thick-necked bruiser for this role. An inspired casting choice, Liev Schreiber plays an aging icon of Canadian hockey brutality with a spectacular handlebar moustache and authentically flat a's. I think it's the best role I've ever seen him do. And Alison Pill as the rowdy, slutty hockey fan love interest--she's fantastic in everything I've ever seen her in (Scott Pilgrim, Milk, Midnight in Paris) and she's a riot in this.

Sometimes Seann William Scott goes a little too far with the dumb lug routine, but mostly he plays the character as a sweet, sincere boy from Mass who loves beer and mashing the opposing team's faces with his big meaty fists. The character is based on real-life Doug Smith, an enforcer in 1980's hockey. The biggest change to the character was to make him Jewish (his last name is now Glatt), which was important because it allowed Eugene Levy to be cast as his dad and for fans at the games to hold up signs saying "GLATT is Hebrew for FUCK YOU!"

It's probably not going to be in theaters much longer, but you can watch it on demand. Here's the red-band trailer.

April 6, 2012

Damsels in Distress

I'm a fan of Whit Stillman, and I've missed him as much as anyone. Metropolitan came out when I was in high school, and I rented it on VHS many times from my local video store. I loved the window into the lives of rich smart kids in Manhattan, and the way they spoke like they were confident, well-educated grownups, though they were really just teenagers who spent most of their time hanging out with their friends at their parents' houses talking about movies and playing truth or dare and mildly risqué card games. It was funny and smart in a way I hadn't seen outside a Woody Allen movie, but it made fun of these rich kids and their privileged lives, too. When one character explains his new term "UHB" ("urban haute bourgeoisie") to describe themselves, another says, "Is our language so impoverished that we have to use acronyms of French phrases to make ourselves understood?"

Anyway, we all missed Whit Stillman in the 14 years or whatever since his last movie (Last Days of Disco). So maybe that explains why the reviews of his new one, Damsels in Distress, are so positive. I saw it last night, and thought it was a failure. The movie makes a valiant attempt at creating an imaginary world where college girls offer tap dancing as therapeutic treatment for suicidal students and date comically moronic frat boys as part of their charitable efforts to improve the world, and other twee little things like that. But the plot is all over the place--it's a series of events and revelations that are barely connected to each other except by their tweeness.

Lots of mildly humorous things happen, there are small triumphs and mishaps and a lot of pastel cardigans, then there are two song-and-dance numbers, then roll credits. The fact that both my viewing partner and I fell asleep during the last 20 minutes or so is only a partial explanation for my failure to grasp any larger ideas at work. A movie with a plot that reads "and then", "and then", "and then" with no direction apparently isn't enough to keep me conscious for an hour and a half.

The story is hardly a story, and the actors don't seem to know what to do with it. The dialogue is contrived to a Wildean level, which could be a good thing, but only Greta Gerwig seems to be able to handle it. She delivers every bizarre, perfectly constructed sentence with precision and possibly-crazy conviction, and she's always fun to watch. Everyone else seems to think they're supposed to be winking at the camera, which doesn't work. Aubrey Plaza tries hard, but even she's wasted.

This movie is like Clueless if it were remade as a bad Wes Anderson movie. It's Clueless plus Metropolitan with most of the good parts taken out. Glad you're back, Whit Stillman! Please make a better movie next time!

April 2, 2012

Cindy Sherman at MoMA

Cindy Sherman photo

I went to see the huge Cindy Sherman exhibit at MoMA, which I think includes pretty much everything she ever did in the style she's famous for: Cindy Sherman dressed up as a character of her own invention, photographed by Cindy Sherman. People often write things about her photographs that include phrases like "the construction of identity", "nature of representation", and "artifice of photography" (those are all in the first sentence of the MoMA wall text at the exhibit. I might have even dropped something about "gender performance" or something obnoxious ripped off from Judith Butler in the conversation I had after leaving the museum.

But the truth is, no one can express that thing about humanity and the peculiar, funny, sad, insane ways we present ourselves to the world as well as Cindy Sherman can. That's why we're all are so crazy about her and her photos.

Cindy Sherman photo

Also. Note to self after seeing this exhibit: Do everything in your power to prevent people from looking at you and thinking, "That lady looks like a Cindy Sherman photograph." If I can pull that off, everything else in life should be OK.

Cindy Sherman photo

About April 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in April 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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