Thursday, December 20, 2012

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid

Oh, Christmas.  You never actually live up to that wonderful picture of you we dream up in our heads, do you?  At least we have the movies to remind us of how good it used to be, right? 

Stealing the idea from something I wrote on MySpace back in the year two thousand and--um, you know what, we don't need dates, do we?--I'm presenting all you readers with the gift of my selective guide to holiday* movies.  And when I say selective, I mean selective.  I'm not even writing about all the Christmas movies I've seen.  For one thing, there's a whole bunch I can't remember because I saw them long ago on TV or something.  And for another thing, there's a whole bunch more that are so mind-numbingly awful I don't want to remember them.  So here are fifteen Christmassy films I think you need to check out right now or avoid at all costs. 

As charming as an eel.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Ron Howard, 2000)
A version of the Dr. Seuss classic about, well, it pretty much does as it says on the tin.  The film made me weep.  Not because it was touching, mind you, but because IT WAS AN ATROCITY.  Stick to the Chuck Jones animated version.  Or, you know, the book.

Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincent Minnelli, 1944)
A year in the life of a family from St. Louis, Missouri, that culminates in the 1904 World's Fair.  So, um, other than the part where Judy Garland sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", not really a Christmas movie, even though everyone claims it is.  Allegedly a Hollywood classic, I'm not overly fond of this film, mostly because it can't decide whether it wants to be a melodrama or a musical.

Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)
Hugely popular, especially among every British person I know, I must confess that I don't care for it all that much.  As one of those inter-connected stories films, there were parts I liked (the kids are cute, and Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson turn in stellar performances, as usual), and parts I didn't (getting Colin Firth wet? Yeah, like that's never been done in everything he's ever been in).  Over all, it's probably not a bad film.  Curtis is, of course, the master of the romantic comedy.  I hate romantic comedies.

The Bishop's Wife (Henry Coster, 1947)
An angel comes down from heaven to help a bishop get his church built, and along the way sort-of falls in love with his wife.  Another alleged classic, I've always found it boring and much prefer the 1996 remake The Preacher's Wife.  Not that it's any better; it's just got singing.

The Santa Clause (John Pasquin, 1994)
Santa falls off a roof and dies, and the guy that finds him winds up putting on the suit and delivering presents.  Only problem is, he forgot to read the fine print and winds up the new Santa Claus.  Not the best movie by any means, it is, however, some solid family entertainment.  The sequels, though, were crap.

Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947)
Natalie Wood plays an adorable little girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus!  But then her mother, who works for Macy's, hires a guy who claims to be the real thing.  Never been one of my favorites, but it's a good movie, and a true holiday classic.  Unfortunately, the colorized version from the 1970s still seems to be in circulation, and the remake is one to be avoided.

Shabbat shalom, motherfuckers!
The Hebrew Hammer (Jonathan Kesselman, 2003)
In this Jewsploitation flick, detective Mordecai Jefferson Carver (he's like Shaft, but 100% kosher) has to save Chanukah from Santa's evil son.  Very funny, though some of the jokes do require at least a minor in Jewish Studies to get, and even then you'll still be wondering if you really ought to be laughing at them.  But, hey, it's not like there are that many other Chanukah movies out there anyway.

Christmas in Connecticut (Peter Godfrey, 1945)
A house and home columnist's editor invites himself over to her farm for Christmas, bringing a handsome war hero with him.  Only problem:  she's really a Manhattan career woman whose cooking skills don't exceed a trip to the corner deli.  Hilarity ensues.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992)
What's a list of Christmas movies without one of the 10 gazillion versions of A Christmas Carol?  This might not be my absolute favorite, but it's definitely one of the best.  And--Muppets!  What's not to love?  Gonzo makes a perfect Charles Dickens, though I'm not sure about the historical accuracy of his talking rat sidekick.  (Big blue nose, on the other hand....)

Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)
Kevin lives any kid's dream of having the whole house to himself when his family accidentally leaves him behind on a visit to relatives in Paris for Christmas.  But then he has to defend his house against the pair of crooks burgling the neighborhood.  Cringe-worthily painful (yet still funny) slapstick ensues, as well as some heartwarming stuff.  

White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954)
Hit duo Wallace and Davis get lured to a struggling Vermont ski resort by a pair of singing sisters only to find that it's being run by their old general.  What can they do to help him?  Put on a show, of course!  Yeah, the plot may seem a bit silly, but it's got humor, romance, song and dance numbers (plus both Technicolor and VistaVision!), and the Irving Berlin classics "Counting Your Blessings" and, of course, "White Christmas".

Chimneys are for wimps.
Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
When Hans Gruber and his pack of terrorists take over Fox--um, I mean, Nakatomi Plaza, they didn't count on one of the employees being married to John McClane.  Ass-kicking ensues.  Hey, who says Christmas movies have to be all warm and fuzzy?  Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)
All Ralphie wants for Christmas is an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, but the adults in his life seem to be conspiring against his attempts to get one.  Dripping with nostalgia, the film is nevertheless a hilarious look at what it was like when the most important thing in your life was getting that one thing you wanted.  Also:  sexy lamp.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989)
Clark Griswold invites the whole extended family over for an Old Fashioned Family Christmas.  What could possibly go wrong?  Everything.  From exterior illumination, to squirrels in the Christmas tree, redneck relatives and yuppie neighbors, Christmas Vacation is jam-packed with seasonal laughs.  Easily the best Christmas movie of the last 50 years. 

It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
George Bailey's at the end of his rope--feeling like he's always lived for others and got nothing for himself--and he's starting to think that maybe everyone would be better off without him.  So the angel Clarence, hoping to earn his wings, comes down to show George just what life would be like if he'd never been born.  Overexposure in past decades has caused a lot of people to look down on this film, but it's not only heartwarming, it's inspiring.  These days especially, we need Capra's reminder that "No man is a failure who has friends." 

*I'm not being P.C., I'm being accurate.  They're not just movies about Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I AM Liz Lemon

Last Sunday I made my television writing debut.  Okay, sure, it was only a one minute sketch on a student TV station (that only broadcasts on the internet), but still, it was pretty cool.

While I enjoyed the experience of making television, it was not unlike an episode of 30 Rock--minus the wacky hi-jinks.  What I had originally written was a 4 minute sketch parodying that (in)famous holiday video in which David Bowie duets with Bing Crosby, only this time it's Bowie hosting the special, and singing with... himself.  However, YSTV's Christmas special, appropriately named Christmas Imbroglio, was put together in only a couple of weeks, and so casting turned out to be a nightmare.  I ended up having to rewrite the entire thing about half an hour before we were scheduled to film. 

Here's what ended up airing:

Special thanks to the writer of This Is Good, Isn't It? for showing up and wearing the dress.  Better than I did (yes, it's one of mine), according to my mother.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Me and My Uterus Are Voting for Obama

Look, I don't like to talk politics too often, and I doubt the endorsement of one tiny little blog among millions (published on Election Day, no less) is going to do much difference, but Here Be Sarcasm is being sincere for a minute and declaring it's voting for Obama. 

Why, you ask?  Well, there are many different reasons.  I could cite health care, gay marriage, Big Bird, the economy (Think slow recovery's all his fault?  Take a look at who's been running Congress since the mid-term elections.), and so on.  But there is one reason that has become extremely important over this campaign season. 

I am a woman. 

The Republican party has shown itself this year to be very anti-women's interests.  A few choice examples:

  • All the anti-choice laws that have been passed or proposed at the state/local level, ranging from the standard limits on how far into the pregnancy a woman can have an abortion, to the extremes evidenced by the Arizona law that states pregnancy begins at a woman's last period and the odious Virgina law that requires a woman to have a vaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. 
  • Senate candidate Todd Akin's comment earlier this year that abortion for rape victims is unnecessary because if a woman is legitimately raped her body will protect her from getting pregnant.  And we can add to that my very own Congressional representative Joe Walsh, who claimed that with modern technology there's no such thing as medically necessary abortions these days (thankfully I'd already cast my absentee ballot for Tammy Duckworth), and Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who claimed that pregnancy from rape is God's will.  Mourdock backtracked from the implications of that unfortunate statement, but that he didn't even consider what his words meant is telling--and not just for him, but for the party that refuses to disavow what he and these other men have said.  It is clearly insensitive as well as ignorant of the simple matter of how the female body works, let alone complex issues like the psychological state of a rape victim or the possible complications of pregnancy.
  • Many Republican general policies have a negative effect on women's rights and well-being.  The anti-gay marriage stance would restrict a woman's right to marry the person she loves if that person happened to be another woman.  Repealing the Affordable Care Act, as many Republican candidates claim they will do, would mean a return to paying for cancer screening and contraception.  And of course, the recession has been tough on women as well.  Economic recovery has been slow (again, not entirely the President's fault), but what exactly will Romney lead the Republicans to do?  I wasn't too sure, so I looked it up on this handy BBC News infographic:  apparently, his solution is to cut spending (especially health care) and roll back the regulations that were implemented as a result of the bad banking that got us into this mess in the first place. 
Of course, Mitt Romney himself is very pro-women.  So much so that he kept "binders full" of them while picking his staff as governor of Massachusetts.  This condescension he displayed at the debates goes hand in hand with that "47%" comment he made to donors.  Do we really want our leader to look on so many of us with such contempt? 

Speaking without my ovaries for a minute, I'd be voting for Obama anyway.  My political leanings are left of center, so the center-left Democrats are the best option in a national election.  (The futility of voting for a third party above the state and local level is a blog for another day.)  But I will say that I lived in Boston while Romney was governor, and it wasn't the worst thing in the world.  I mean, he's certainly less terrifying than, say, Rick Santorum (NSFW).  However, he has succumbed to that same sickness that seemed to overcome John McCain four years ago:  changing face for the election.  Romney used to be pro-choice, but now that he's running for President he's anti-choice.  Repealing the Affordable Care Act?  Would that be the one that's designed to work like the one Romney signed into law while governor of Massachusetts?  And though Romney himself is a fiscal conservative, center-right Republican, by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, he has attached himself to the right wing Tea Party nut-jobs.  I know all politicians lie, but how can you trust someone who makes such dramatic about-faces?

Anyway, the important thing is that you get out and vote.  No matter who your candidate is, let your voice be heard. 

So no matter who wins, the will of the people will have prevailed, and democracy--oh, sod it!  If Obama looses I'm never talking to any of you idiots ever again!! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

British Actor of the Month: Double O-dition

On October 5, 1962, two things happened that would have a profound impact on the music world. 

The first was that The Beatles released "Love Me Do."

The second was that, with the premier of Dr No, audiences were introduced to one of the most iconic movie themes ever. 

The last one also might be a bit important for the film world.  Just a bit. 

So to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, we're profiling the five British actors who have wowed cinema audiences as 007.  And we might as well include George Lazenby while we're at it. 

Do you ecshpect me to talk?
Sean Connery
A former Edinburgh milkman, Connery was the first actor to play Bond.  Longtime fan favorite, Connery made a huge impact on the character (even inspiring Ian Flemming to give his creation a Scottish heritage), something subsequent Bonds have had to deal with.  Highlights:  Dr No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball  Lowlights:  You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, and the "unofficial" Never Say Never Again  Also Known For:  Playing the (Scottish) Spaniard in Highlander and the (Scottish) Russian submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October.  Is also Indiana Jones's father and an Oscar winner for The Untouchables.

No, you're not the other guy
George Lazenby
Australian actor Lazenby was the first to take over after Connery left.  Fearing typecasting, he left after one go.  Not too many fans were disappointed.  Highlights:  On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Really, it's one of the better Bond films.  Lowlights:  On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Really, he is the worst Bond to date.  Also Known For:  Being the "George Lazenby" of the Bond franchise.

[Insert double entendre here]
Roger Moore
The first actor to take over after Connery's brief return, Moore has been the longest-running Bond and appeared in the most official Bond movies.  Moore played the role a bit more tongue-in-cheek than his predecessors, and his era was also known for its ridculously overblown plots.  Highlights:  The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only  Lowlights:  Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill  Also Known For:  Starring in the TV series The Saint.

Needs ice cream
Timothy Dalton 
Reportedly the choice producers had to replace Connery even as far back as On Her Majesty's, Dalton has perhaps been the most "serious" Bond to date.  The plots from his era were more concerned with "real world" spy senarios.  Highlights:  The Living Daylights, even though Bond does end up helping the Taliban fight the Soviets.  Lowlights:  Licence to Kill  Also Known For:  Argueably the only actor to be better known for not playing Bond, Dalton is a highly respected Shakesperian actor who played Rochester in the BBC's 1980s version of Jane Eyre and the Time Lord president in David Tennant's last episode of Doctor Who.  You might also have recognized him in Hot Fuzz.

Shaken, not stirred
Pierce Brosnan
Reportedly the producers' choice to replace Moore, Brosnan was unavailable, so they went with Dalton.  His performance tended to blend Dalton's grittiness with Moore's sense of humor, and, likewise, the films were the right balance of realistic and riddiculous.  Highlights:  Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough  Lowlights:  Die Another Day  Also Known For:  Starring in the TV series Remmington Steele

Blonde Bond?!?

Daniel Craig
Though the color of his hair created a stir when his casting was announced, Craig is fast becoming as much a fan favorite as Sean Connery.  The franchise has gone through a bit of a reboot lately to focuse on how Bond became Bond, which some have seen as a rejuvenation, and others as a rip-off of the Jason Bourne franchise.  Highlights:  Casino Royale (2006), and this  Lowlights:  Quantum of Solace  Upcoming:  Skyfall, later this year  Also Known For:  Starring in the English-language remakes of Stig Larson's Millenium series

Saturday, September 22, 2012

UpDown v. Downton

Hit British television drama Downton Abbey is beginning its third series.  But how does it stack up to the beloved 1970s program Upstairs Downstairs?

The Crawleys have so much money their household has to be shot in widescreen.
The Old Guard:  Because in a show about social changes in the early 20th Century, someone's got to represent the old world, right?
Lady Marjorie Bellamy:  Richard Bellamy's wife is an earl's daughter, and as such represents the mores and aspirations of the uppermost of the Edwardian upper class.  Unable to face the changing times, she takes a trip on a little boat known as the Titanic and is never seen again.
Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham:  Perfers things they way they used to be, but, unlike her UpDown counterpart, she doesn't fade away.  Oh, no, Violet uses sarcasm and wit to voice her displeasure at everything modern.
Winner:  Violet.  Lady Marjorie came across as a very unsympathetic character (rumor has it that Rachel Gurney hated playing her so much she begged to be killed off), whereas Violet's sense of humor makes her endearing no matter how old-fashioned she is.  Plus, she's one bad-ass grandma!
The Suffragette:  Neither Eaton Place nor Downton was safe from intrusion of radical politics at the hands of a feisty daughter.
Elizabeth Bellamy:  Dabbled in feminism, married a gay socialist poet and had a child by his publisher.  Then, at the beginning of Series 3 we're told she's happily (re?)married and living in New York with her kids.
Lady Sybil Crawley:  Wears trousers, attends political rallies, becomes a nurse, and marries the Irish nationalist chauffer.  As of the Christmas special, she was exiled to Dublin and expecting.
Winner:  Lady Sybil.  Both girls got put on a bus (metaphorically speaking), but Sybil stuck to her principles and now she's back for Series 3. 

The Young(ish) Upstart:  Someone's actually got to spark change while the young ones are busy shouting silly things like "Votes for Women."
Virginia Hamilton:  The war widow who comes to Richard for help for her son who's being tried for cowardice.  She keeps pestering him about various things until he finally marries her.
Isobel Crawley:  Matthew's mother, a quasi-socialist reformer who sees in Downton a great opportunity for change.  Naturally, she and Violet butt heads in nearly every episode.
Winner:  Isobel.  Viginia may inject 165 with a (somewhat) youthful vigor, but Isobel gets things done, whether Violet likes it or not.
The Wounded War Hero:  Because even rich people can't escape the horrors of war.  Or, can they...?
James Bellamy:  Badly injured at the front, he's brought home and is able to make a full recovery from his wounds.  But the emotional scars are deep, and, already a volatile personality, James falls deeper and deeper into depression over the course of the 1920s until he takes his own life at the end of Series 5.
Matthew Crawley:  Looses the use of his legs.  But--even worse!!--his paralysis renders him impotent and unable to produce an heir.  Luckily, though, Matthew was misdiagnosed and regains the use of his limbs.
Winner:  James, because Matthew's whole "It's a miracle!" situation was just riddiculous.  It's more realistic that the costs of war have long-term effects.  Unless, of course, Matthew hasn't regained the use of all of his limbs....

Kissing Cousins:  Hey, what's the English aristocracy without a little romance between people who are distantly related?
James and Georginia Worsely:  Step-cousins who have a fling at the front during the War.  Though Georginia is an adult, James, her step-father's only male relative, is technically her guardian.
Matthew and Lady Mary Crawley:  Matthew is Lord Grantham's third cousin and heir to his estate.  So that means he'll get all the money and property that would fairly be Mary's.  But hey, they love each other!  Uh... right?
Winner:  James and Georginia.  Vaguely incestous adultery is far sleazier than money-grubbing love.

Ill-fated Lady Loves:  Both James Bellamy and Matthew Crawley marry (or nearly marry) women they don't really love who then, naturally, have to be written out.  How do they compare?
Hazel Forrest:  Daughter-of-the-middle-class Hazel is introduced in Series 3 as Richard's secretary.  James, who loves to slum it, marries her and she struggles in her new role but manages to hold 165 Eaton Place together during the War.  A victim of the influenza epidemic, Hazel is the only member of the household not to make it through Series 4--uh, I mean, World War I.
Lavinia Swire:  Series 2 opens and--surprise!--Matthew is engaged to the drippy daughter of one of his lawyer friends.  Lavinia pops up occasionally to complicate Matthew and Mary's relationship, though she does stand by her man when it looks like all three of his legs don't work.  She suddenly dies of what seems like a case of the sniffles, but is actually the same thing that killed Hazel.  What a conicidence!
Winner:  Hazel, because, as a real character and not a convienient plot device, her death is actually sad.

Just like a family... but not.
(Un)Dignified Butler:  Managing a well-run house has got to put a lot of pressure on a man.  Even the best of the best have to let that decorum slip sometimes.
Hudson:  During a mid-life crisis, he proposes to a housemaid and is so embarassed he almost quits when she, who thinks of him like a father, turns him down.
Carson:  Used to be part of a music hall double act.
Winner:  Carson, because that is well cool. 

Baby Crazy:  The downstairs of both 165 and Downton are in the capable hands of Mrs. Bridges and Mrs. Hughes respectively.  But sometimes, they can both have their bizzare out of character moments.
Mrs. Bridges:  Feeling responsible for the original kitchen maid's suicide, Mrs. Bridges kidnaps a baby, and only manages to avoid prison when Hudson tells the judge they'll get married when they retire.
Mrs. Hughes:  Feeling guilty that the housemaid she chucked out for sleeping with a soldier winds up pregnant, she steals food for, financially supports, and tries to help the mother and child connect with the father's family.
Winner:  Mrs. Bridges not only takes the crazy cake, she also wins because, apart from her and Hudson getting married, this incident was fortuneately never mentioned again.  Mrs. Hughes's moment of baby crazy became a tedious Series 2 subplot.

Unlucky at Love:  It's hard enough to find a man while you're in service, but add in a World War, and it's a one-way ticket to spinster city.
Rose:  Before the series begins, she lost a finace in the Boer Wars, and then looses a second in WWI.  Plus, an attraction to Thomas (the chauffeur) ends when he starts flirting with her best friend.  As of the second series of the reboot, Rose is still single, and now she's got tuberculosis.
Anna:  Ah, Bates and Anna.  Will they?  Won't they?  What about his wife? Oh,  now she's dead so they can get married.  But now he's on trial for murder!  And he's got the death sentence!!  But it's been commuted!  Will Anna be able to prove his innocence... ENOUGH ALREADY!!!
Winner:  Rose.  There's so much more to her story than just the romance.  Plus, TB.  Dude, that is sad

Scheming Servants:  You can't trust the help under normal circustances, but when they put their heads together, watch out!
Thomas and Sarah:  Sarah's ambitions lead her in and out of service and to her getting knocked up by her employer's son.  Thomas is more cunning in his manipulations of his master to work his way up from valet to chauffer.  When Thomas and Sarah's affair results in her pregnancy, the pair use it as a means to get Mr. Bellamy to give them money to start their own business.
Thomas and O'Brien:  This unlikely pair of footman and lady's maid look out for each other's interests like they're on Survivor:  Servants' Hall.  They are particularly ruthless in their attempts to get Bates, Lord Grantham's valet, fired.
Winner:  Tie.  Thomas and Sarah are as adorable as Thomas and O'Brien are despicable.  And while the latter pair seem to be more what we'd think of as "scheming," unlike the former, they have yet to feature in their own spin-off series.

Soldier Boy:  Just because you serve one the greatest households in all England does not exempt you from getting blown to smithereens for King and Country!
Edward:  165's footman doesn't want to go to war, but gives in to pressure and enlists.  Marries his sweetheart Daisy, the housemaid, and comes back with a bad case of shell shock.
William:  Downton's footman is nervous about going to war, but misses a lot of it thanks to Violet's scheme to make sure the house has a full staff.  Eventually becomes Matthew's assistant and is fatally wounded when the two of them are blown up.  He marries his sweetheart Daisy, the kitchen maid, on his deathbed. 
Winner:  Generally, I prefer Eddie's cheekiness, but William really fits the young solider stereotype better.  And, his death was sad.  Like, really sad.  I cried.

Downstairs Dim-wit:  With all the melodrama going on upstairs, the kitchen is the perfect place for a little comic relief.
Ruby:  The bane of Mrs. Bridges's existence, Eaton Place's kitchen maid is as incompetant in the kitchen as she is about personal hygene.  (Pictured above:  third row, second from left.  See that hair??)  However, she does on occasion display some cunning, like her plot to get all of the Hudsons's money when they die. 
Daisy:  More suggestible than stupid, Daisy is actually a competant assistant in the kitchen, but her problem is that she doesn't really like to say no to people.  Lately, though, she's been standing up for herself a great deal more.
Winner:  Ruby.  It was hard to decide, but Daisy's starting to get her own story lines now, whereas Ruby was always the punchline. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Rock of Ages

I knew this film was going to be shit. Knew it so surely that I didn't bother to read the reviews. Perhaps I should have, as it was a bit of a surprise to find that it was a proper people-stopping-what-they're-doing-to-sing musical. I was pleasantly surprised about this, for a while at least.

Rock of Ages is set on the Sunset Strip of the 1980s that nurtured some of the biggest bands of that decade, Guns & Roses included. The film focuses on the relationship and quest for fame of Sherrie (Julianne Hough), a newcomer to LA with stars in her eyes, and Drew (Diego Boneta), a waiter at the legendary (or so we're told) Bourbon Club with dreams of rockstardom. They break-up; she ends up stripping, he joins a boy band. Meanwhile, the mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) goes on a Moral Majority crusade against the Bourbon, who's owner (Alec Baldwin) and stage manager (Russell Brand) are secretly in love with each other, and crazed rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who, as a result of liaison with an ingenue Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman), comes to realize that his career's in ruins no thanks to his sleazebag manager (Paul Giamatti). Naturally, it all works out for everyone, and there's a big sing-a-long to "Don't Stop Believing".

As you can see, the plot is clich├ęd and predictable, adding nothing new to the genre and providing little material with which to redeem itself. Sherrie and Drew are such a cookie-cutter young couple--there is nothing original about them--that they are completely non-compelling. I found myself more interested in the sub-plots, which are given, at times, either too much weight, drawing focus from the main story, or not enough, leaving characters and relationships undeveloped.

While all involved must be given praise their vocal performance, especially since most of the big stars in the cast aren't singers, in terms of acting, performances are all-around terrible. The young leads are incapable of injecting anything interesting into their well-worn characters, and Baldwin delivers every line of the God-awful dialogue while laughing at it on the inside. Zeta-Jones positively feasts on the scenery every time she's on screen, whereas Cruise, perhaps under the delusion he's in an Axel Rose biopic, plays it too seriously, though the role gives him plenty of legitimate reasons to take the performance over the top. Only Brand, whose usual schtick fits in perfectly, and Mary J. Blige (as the strip club madam) do anything remotely watchable. Blige, an R&B legend, delivers a show stealing performance akin to Ray Davies's in Absolute Beginners.

As bad as it was, however, Rock of Ages delivers a lot of laughs, though I'm not sure how many of them were intentional. It was hard to tell what was supposed to be a joke because the way the film was paced; it didn't allow enough time for the gags to sink in properly. But the musical numbers were (mostly) well staged and performed. I'm not a fan of hair metal, so I can't really judge whether or not they "ruined" the songs (though having Zeta-Jones and the PMRC dancing chorus singing Twisted Sister was a little disconcerting), but the music seemed to be used well. However, power ballad after power ballad got a bit tiring and the songs soon lost their ability to make you pump your fist in the air and shout "Rock 'n' Roll! WOOO!!!" They come across as dispassioned. And, sadly, the opportunity for a Jets v. Sharks style rumble between the morality girls and the Stacee Jaxx fans in the "We're Not Gonna Take It/We Built This City" medley was completely squandered, though, as a bonus, I think there were a few rockers from the 80s hair metal scene making cameos in the crowd.

It was at this point when I began to wonder if maybe all the music videos for the featured songs strung together with no pretence of a narrative would be more enjoyable. Still, it was mildly entertaining, though the only reason to not to wait to rent it is that movie theaters probably have a better audio system than you do.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

British Actor of the Month--Big Crimpin' Edition

It's been almost a year since I've done one of these. The series title is getting a bit silly now, but I really can't be bothered to go back and change them all (as well as the tags) to British Actor of the Indiscriminate Period of Time.

This random time unit, I'm featuring the men behind my current British TV obsession

The Mighty Boosh
They'll calm your llama down.

Julian Barratt--mustachioed, intellectual, introverted--and Noel Fielding--whimsical, rock 'n' roll, pretty--are the comedy double act behind this ultimate* of cult shows. For most double acts, the the Name and Name format will suffice, but there's nothing conventional about Barratt and Fielding's style, and so they called themselves The Boosh as only an absurd in-joke would do. Starting out on stage before moving to radio and television, The Mighty Boosh features the two of them as self-important yet ineffectual "jazz maverick" Howard Moon (Barratt) and the simplistic, fashionable electro boy (or girl? nobody really minds) Vince Noir (Fielding)--sometimes zookeepers, sometimes shop clerks, but always best friends--as well as a host of other characters played by themselves as well as Rich Fulcher, Dave Brown, Michael Fielding, and, occasionally, Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade. Often mislabeled surrealism, The Mighty Boosh is a world of magic realism in which Howard and Vince go on adventures featuring mod wolves, drug-addled foxes, and transgendered lake monsters. With a distinct visual aesthetic and musical numbers, The Mighty Boosh presents hilarious fairy tale-like stories for adults.

But I also wanted to feature the Boosh to highlight many of the really great shows Barratt, Fielding, and their collaborators have been involved in, such as:

Nathan Barley, a biting comedy about vapid trendsetters.  Barratt plays Dan Ashcroft, a "serious" writer at a trendy magazine who rails against the idiocy that surrounds him, not realizing that he's just as much an ass as everyone else.  Fielding and Ayoade have small roles as Dan's roommate and co-worker.  

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy, a sketch show that blends bizarre humor with psychedelic, hand-painted visuals and music by Fielding and Kasabian's Serge Pizzorno.  Most of the show's strange characters are played by Fielding, but pretty much everyone from the Boosh (except Barratt) has appeared in it.  

The IT Crowd, a sitcom about the geeks who fix your computers, stars occasional Boosh cast member Richard Ayoade as the extremely nerdy Maurice Moss, and Fielding has a recurring guest role as Richmond, a gloomy goth who lives in the server room.  Mid Series 2, Matt Berry also takes over as the company's boss.

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, in which a down-market Steven King presents the horror show he made in the 1980s about a hospital on the hellmouth.  The show brilliantly parodies low-budget production from the bad dialogue to the appalling acting to the catastrophic special effects failures.  Starring both Dixon Bainbridges (Ayoade and Berry), the show featured both Barratt and Fielding in guest roles as a random Spanish-spouting priest and a pissing ape-man, and is a must-see whether or not you actually like the Boosh.

Snuff Box is a sketch comedy show starring Berry and Fulcher that is structured around loose narratives set in their club for hangmen. Though neither Barratt nor Fielding were involved, the show's quite clever and deserves honorable mention.

*I know I say this about a lot of things, but this time it's true. I remember hearing whispers it on other cult shows' message boards.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Freaks, Geeks, Nerds, Wannabes, and the Normals

The other week I saw an infographic on the difference between geeks and nerds.  Entertaining though it may have been, I found it highly inaccurate.  For one thing, it seems to have confused geeks with hipsters.  Geeky things might be in right now, but wearing a She-Ra t-shirt because it's cool to do so does not make one a geek.  A real geek would never do so ironically.  For another thing, nerds aren't that socially inept.  Sure we might seem that way to outsiders, or "normals," but nerds are quite adept at socializing.  With other nerds, at least, as well as most geeks and many types of "alternative" cultures, which I'm collectively referring to as freaks.  (Bear in mind that I'm not implying that there's really anything freakish about them, just that this is how they're perceived by the mainstream.)  In fact, nerds, freaks, and geeks go together very well, forming social nexi that function like, say, an IT department.

Geek, Girl, Nerd, Normal.  Goth sold separately.

That's right.  If you haven't guessed by now, I'm going to use the British sitcom The IT Crowd to explain the difference between geeks and nerds, as well as how they relate to other sub-cultural groups (in this case, goths) and the "normals."

First up:  geeks and nerds.  Moss we can easily identify as a nerd.  He dresses like one, lives with his mother, and is socially inept.  Roy, then, unironically wearing ironic t-shirts and being (slightly) more capable of successfully interacting with "normals," is the geek.  And yet, they have enough similar interests (video games, watching movies on screens much too large for their apartments, and, obviously, computers) that they hang out all the time.  Really, there isn't that much difference between geeks and nerds.  Both highly value knowledge.  For the geek, it is a highly specified knowledge of a few subjects.  Thus, you have your typical sci-fi/fantasy geek, but you can also have music geeks (see my earlier musings on rock 'n' roll geekery), theater geeks who can quote Shakespeare like it's Star Wars, and--yes--even sports geeks.  (Have your favorite team's stats memorized?  Geek!)  Nerds on the other hand are more into a greater range of knowledge.  For the geek, status is how much they know about something.  For the nerd, it is about how much they know.  Of course, since nerds like to know everything, they often know a lot of the same stuff as geeks.  In fact, it is highly likely that a nerd will also be some kind of geek.  Thus, because there is so much cross-over, it is quite easy for geeks and nerds to get along.

Now for the alternative cultures, or "freaks."  This could be any group--hippies, punks, skaters, ravers--but, since Richmond is a goth, we'll focus on them.  Actually, goths in general work really well to illustrate this point because, as this website adorably shows, there are a lot of different types of goth, many of which are cross-overs with other sub-cultural groups.  So just as the line between geek and nerd is blurred, so too are the lines between goths and hippies, punks, and, yes, even geeks.  Sure, they may look cool with their "alternative" appearance, but isn't a group of people with the same limited cultural knowledge the definition of geek?  You've got to admit, Richmond's obsession with Cradle of Filth is pretty geeky.  And a lot of the goths that I've known have been kind of nerdy as well.  Think about it--nerds have a wide range of knowledge, and goths have to know a lot about literature, music, death, and so on.  Those of you who have actually seen The IT Crowd are probably thinking right now that Richmond's relationship with Moss and Roy complicates my theory of sub-cultures getting along.  They do keep him in the closet--um, I mean, server room--and tend to avoid him when he's not in it.  But it is a relationship that allows them to work together in the ways best for them.  The dark and solitude of the server room is good for Richmond's goth sensibilities (though maybe not so much for his health), and keeping him in there stops him from depressing the rest of IT too much.  And having a room to put him in is helps Moss's need to be hyper-organized.  (Now if only he could get Roy to remember to count how many staples he's used....)  It might not seem like much of a relationship, but it is a lot better than the one Richmond's got with the people upstairs.  He's been moved down to the basement after a goth faux pas, so there is no place for him within the world of the "normals."

Why do I keep putting normal in scare quotes, you might be wondering?  Because, let's face it, normal is never normal, and nowhere is that more true than at Reynholm Industries.  Basically, the company is structured kind of like a high school, only instead of cafeteria tables, the cool kids get to work upstairs while the outsiders have to work in the basement.  However, as cool as the "normal" people may seem, they are, in fact, idiots.  The IT Crowd portrays normal people as a bunch of nutters.  Boss Denholm Reynholm is batshit crazy, and his son and successor Douglas (pictured at right) is batshit crazy and a total perv.  So how did the "normals" get to be the successful people, then?  Well, if we apply Nietzsche's concept of slave morality--Hey!  Don't go!--the "normals" got to be that way because everyone else was far more interesting than they were and they got jealous.  So they basically said that their uninterestingness was the right way to be ("normal"), and they formed this click so they could keep all the interesting people out.  Because they made it seem all exclusive, some people stopped being interesting just so they could be included.  Soon enough, uninteresting was considered the normal way to be, and all the interesting people became marginalized.  And that is why boring, stupid people who couldn't tell TNG from DSN run the world.  Next time someone makes you feel bad for not being "normal," just remember that they're subconsciously jealous of your awesomeness.

Finally, there's Jen.  She's not a geek or a nerd, but not really one of the normals either.  Jen is what we can call a wannabe*--one of those people who has bought into the myth that being "normal" is better.  She tries to integrate herself into the world outside the basement, but all of her attempts fail, and not always because of her dorky subordinates.  Even if she does think the internet is a small black box kept at the top of Big Ben, Jen is far from as stupid and bizarre as the "normals."  And yet, she won't find a sub-cultural niche and let go of her dream of working upstairs.  In a way I feel sorry for wannabes.  It must be awful to be a really interesting person on the inside but constantly have to convince yourself otherwise to appear "normal."  Unfortunately for them, though, the wannabes have an important function.  Jen, as IT's "relationship manager," smooth over the interactions between the company's geeks, freaks, and nerds and the "normals."  Wannabes are able to move among the world of the normals and the worlds of various subcultural groups, and, as such, act as the go-betweens who keep society together.

*Not to be confused with poseurs, who are normals trying to be accepted by a sub-cultural group they think is cool, but are nowhere near interesting enough to pull it off.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Script Frenzy 2012

Now if I could just finish that post I started about five weeks ago....