Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of the Year Vic-tacular!

Well, there were some doubters, including myself, but the December 31st trifecta is now officially complete.

Now as a special gift to all you loyal readers out there (and even illiterate fans of the blog), here's a brief, hastily assembled, little clip show showcasing some of the highlights from our 130 entries this year (do you remember when some of these were posted?).

Take it away Zombies...

J'Accuse!: Mad Hatter in "Perchance to Dream"

For Christmas, my sister got me the complete "Batman: The Animated Series" DVD collection. Since then I've been steadily making my way through all 107 or so episodes of the series (although I personally don't consider the later "New Batman Adventures" episodes to truly be a part of the original series). All, I've got to say is, it's pretty damn awesome. The shows are just as great and I remembered them growing up; and I find myself appreciating some of the more mature subtleties that I never got as a kid (like the suspicious robot designer in "Heart of Steel" is named Rossum). It's really an impressive feat to consider what the creators accomplished within the narrow constraints (budget wise, time frame wise, censorship wise) of a Saturday morning children's cartoon and how they made such an actual lasting contribution to the overall Batman canon that exceeds even the contributions of all the blockbuster movies combined. I look at the dedicated work of art that was the Batman series and then at the prefabricated, re-translated, Japanese, program-length commercials that pass for Saturday morning programming these days and I weep for the children of today.

Having given my little gushing, fanboy, introduction on the matter, I still have to call a "J'Accuse!" on the Mad Hatter in the above titled episode. Now, obviously a Saturday morning superhero cartoon requires a heavy degree of suspension of disbelief and artistic license. Despite all the spectacular explosions and gunfire, nobody, including heroes and villains ever die, let alone get shot. There are episodes where goons literally fire machine guns directly at Batman and manage to hit everything around him. The time and distance continuity in the show makes "24" look like a real time documentary. One also has to wonder when Gotham City will ever re-evaluate a revolving door system at Arkham that allows criminally insane villains to escape on a weekly basis. I am willing to accept all these things; however, every once in a while something crosses a line that doesn't quite register with me.

One such example is in the episode "Perchance to Dream". First off, the episode is actually one of my all time top 5 Batman episodes and one of the first ones I watched when I got the DVDs. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you check out the link, lest you be spoiled one of the most interesting Batman episode twists of all time.

So the basic premise is that Batman gets knocked out while chasing some henchmen only to wake up from a supposed nightmare in his bed. However, once he wakes up, he is shocked to realize that both his parents are alive, there is no Batcave, he's engaged to Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, and that there is another Batman. He initially is convinced by his doctor friend that his previous life was just a dissociative hallucination and that everything up to that point has essentially been a nightmare he was woken from. Batman, however, later realizes this is wrong when he suddenly notices he is completely unable comprehend printed words. Deducing that he must be in a dream since the part of brain that controls dreaming is opposite the part of the mind that controls cognitive reading functions (never verified if this is actually true), he confronts the other "Batman" who, after a struggle, turns into the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter, predating the Martrix, explains that he himself is a dream figment and that Batman is trapped in his dream machine. The Hatter was willing to give Batman everything he wanted in this fabricated world, if only to incapacitate him in the real world. Seeing no obvious means of waking up, Batman attempts suicide by jumping off a tower in an attempt to shock himself into waking up. He does and he finds himself hooked up to the machine right after the events from the beginning of the episode. He quickly gets up and subdues the Mad Hatter and his gang. Great episode.

There's just one problem, however. Why didn't the Mad Hatter just kill Batman? Or at the very least imprison him so that he won't immediately capture you after he wakes up? You've somehow managed to, by an extreme twist of luck, to get a jump on Batman, but instead of finishing him off or tying him up, you take him directly into your headquarters into an overly elaborate dream machine which appears you have to monitor constantly. Just throw him off a bridge or something! The Man Hatter's entire motivation, he claims was to trap Batman in a dream world so as to incapacitate him forever. You mean like, I don't know, putting a bullet in his head?

In addition to not killing or tying him down, the Mad Hatter never even bothered to TAKE OFF BATMAN'S MASK! You'd think the closely held secret identity of Batman would be something of interest to any one of this villains. There was even an episode where someone found out and attempted to auction it off to the Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face ("The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne"). However, the Mad Hatter is not concerned with such petty matters. Even assuming some sort of thieves honor in not removing the mask, wouldn't you think from a purely practical standpoint, that the dream machine's mind controlling helmet would fit and work better if there wasn't a big Bat mask to get in the way?

I guess that's why they call him "Mad".

As great as Batman is, he has by far one of the easiest rogue's galleries in comicdom. The lot of them are usually just crazed, non-powered humans, with easily exploitable crippling psychological obsessions (plants, jokes, coinflipping). You know what would happen if Batman and Superman decided to trade cities? Superman would throw every villain in Gotham into the sun and Batman would be dead in a week. Imagine them talking shop before hand?:

Superman: Watch out for Darkseid, the immortal, god-like tyrant of his own planet with his own personal space armada.
Batman: Be careful with Two-Face...he's got two faces...

It's obviously two different worlds so comparing them is just a futile exercise. In the end, Batman is Batman and Superman is Superman; and it's the reltable humanness of Batman stories that make it far superior to the overpowered spectacle of Superman. However, as to the Mad Hatter's actions in that particular episode, all I have to say is "J'Accuse!"

I Wear My Sunglasses in Ads

Back in my undergrad years, I saw this PBS Frontline documentary called "The Merchants of Cool" in one of my assorted media studies classes. It was an interesting look at how advertisers and marketers were distorting and manipulating 21st century youth culture through massive commercialization. Exploiting the unprecedented profitability of the largest, richest generation of teenagers in American history, these so-called Madison Ave "merchants of cool" would intensively study and analyze emerging trends among them; then co-opt it, process it, repackage it, and sell it right back. The documentary argued that this effectively destroyed the ability of today's youth to develop an authentic youth culture of their own, but rather have their notions of what is "cool" dictated by ad wizards and market profilers.

The documentary was made around 2001 so it is a bit dated by now; however the message is still highly relevant. In fact, with the rise of the Internet and concepts like viral marketing and social networking, advertising's effect on contemporary youth culture is probably exponentially both more powerful and subtle at the same time. I guess if you're one of those anti-commercialism, Naomi Klein's "No Logo", types this may all send a shudder down your spine. As for me, mass commercialization and junk culture are the concepts that pay me (it's Victor Sells Out after all). More TV shows made from commercials and soft drinks challenging rock stars, please!

In stark contrast to these complicated times, if you were an ad executive in the 80's to early 90's, it seems that all you had to do to co-opt this prized, abstract concept known as "cool" was to slap some shades on your brand's mascot. Thinking back to all the advertising icons I can remember from around that period, every character that wanted to exhibit some sort of coolness or modernity had a pair of dark shades on. In retrospect it was a cheap, hollow gesture, but it sure fooled the me as a pre-adolescent. Looking back, nearly all my doodles of figures had the trademark dark sunglasses in inject them with instant coolness and relieve me of the burden of drawing complicated eyes. It's like the scene in the Simpsons episode with Poochie, where the show executives are evaluating the drawing of the hip new, "Itchy and Scratchy" character Poochie and feel that there is something missing until the animator gives him dark sunglasses. They later parody the joke when the Simpsons introduce hip, new, Roy (one of the greatest one shot Simpson characters ever):
Some other real life "cool" mascots of the 80's-early 90's:

Cool Spot
Say what you may about his 1993 video game being a hollow piece of product placement, it's actually a halfway decent game in both looks and game play. It was definitely superior to that crappy "Yo! Noid" NES game.

The Energizer Bunny
A one gimmick character that has been going and going and going for almost two decades now. It's the shades that give the bunny that extra bit of chic, quiet arrogance that's made it such a lasting icon. Notice the contrast between that and the manic, emotionally shallow, hard sell persona of Energizer's less successful mascot: "Jacko".

Spuds MacKenzie
There's a reason why you can find plenty of pictures and youtube clips of "Spuds Mackenzie" commercials and little to no Internet information on his then-rival beer party dog "Alex the Dog" (aka "Alex from Stroh's" from Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina"); Alex never rocked the Ray-bans like Spuds.

California Raisins
In my opinion one of the worst, insidiously awful advertising mascots ever created. While they may have been bafflingly popular in the 80s (ubiquitous commercials, merchandise, toys, shirts, an NES game, FOUR studio albums, etc.) I can't imagine that they convinced a single person to buy actual raisins from California; the whole purpose behind the commercials.

Chester Cheetah
There is no way that the uniformly inferior Frito-Lay Cheetos could have maintained their competitive market position over the mascot-less Wise's Cheez Doodles had it not been for the flashy, style over substance attitude of everyone's favorite cheese puff addict.

Joe Camel
No advertising figure epitomized sunglasses wearing advertising cool like smooth Joe Camel. No wonder parents' groups shut him down; look how awesome he made smoking! Personally, if I were a children's advocate, I would have attacked his obscene, obviously penis shaped face as well.

Mac Tonight
Still the stuff of nightmares.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

J'Accuse!: Grandpa Joe

I noticed that we are in the waning final days of this month (and this year overall) and I am a bit off my usual self imposed ten post a month quota. Seeing that, like everybody else, I'm hustling to get all my shit packed and done by the end of the year. So, rejoice lucky blog readers, from here on out it's going to be some strenuous two-a-days (possibly three) to hopefully make up the deficits. I assure you all however, that my trademark commitment to quality and blogging excellence will still be maintained despite the rushed schedule. I actually did have a few ideas in the hopper that I was planning on getting to before all the testing and the failing and the crying sidetracked me for the better part of the month.

One such thing I was getting around to was starting up my series of personal "J'Accuse!"'s. For all of those people out there not familiar with Emile Zola and the whole "Dreyfus Affair", basically it's in reference to famous published open letter by Emile Zola in 1898 where he called out the French government over unfairly imprisoning a Jewish army officer for treason. As the wikipedia article says, the phrase "J'Accuse" (french for "I accuse") has become a common expression for essentially calling shenanigans on something. That's about all I know about the Dreyfus Affair (probably just enough to get a low value Jeopardy question right about it), if you really want to know more it can't hurt to put "The Life of Emile Zola" on your Netflix queue (best picture winner 1937!). So basically as Emile Zola called shenanigans on the anti-semetic French government, so will I call my own personal shenanigans on the random pop culture esoterica that bother me.

This leads me to the subject of Grandpa Joe (played by Jack Albertson) from the classic 1971 film, "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory".

Here's the situation. You've got kind-hearted Charlie Bucket, his toiling mother, and their four bedridden grandparents. They live in a home that appears to be just a slight step up from a makeshift fort of empty refrigerator boxes. The father is dead so the mother and Charlie slave everyday doing laundry and delivering papers, respectively, just to eek out mere subsistence. They are further trapped in their dire life of unofficial serfdom by the ludicrous burden of supporting the four worthless, bedridden, elderly, grandparents. Charlie is so poor, he has to scrimp and save for a year to support the simple "luxury" of buying a single chocolate bar.

My problem with Grandpa Joe begins when the deserving Charlie finds the fifth and final winning Golden Ticket to meet Willy Wonka at his factory and comes home with the news. After verifying the validity of the ticket, Charlie asks Grandpa Joe, who has been bedridden for 20 years, to be his guest to the factory. Motivated by the passion of the young Charlie, Grandpa Joe, after some initial struggling, manages to get up from his bed. He then somehow manages to shake off the muscular atrophy and bed sores of twenty years of immobility to get into a full song and dance routine!

If I were Charlie or even his mother, at the point after which Grandpa Joe completes his little "I've Got A Golden Ticket" number, I would cold cock him right in his smug old face. This fucking goldbricker, for twenty years has been holding out while his grandson and daughter worked themselves into exhaustion! How does he even sleep at night? You think he would have pulled off a similar miraculous recovery if Charlie came home with a copy of the local want ads with an opening for a job at Willy Wonka's factory? Would he have jitterbugged around the room singing "I've Got A Job Prospect"? Of course not! He would have sat on his lazy ass like he did for the past 20 years, feigning paralysis. If this is the case with Grandpa Joe, I suspect maybe the three other grandparents aren't really as enfeebled as they appear to be. But, atleast they never were proven in the movie to be total phonies.

In addition, if I was the mom I'd be wondering what exactly is Grandpa Joe bringing to the table that Charlie would pick him over her. It's obvious that Grandpa has some sort of undue influence on Charlie to have him initially select him over his poor mother. Who has almost single handedly supported this burdensome family for all these years? Who gave birth and raised him? Who previously devoted an entire musical number in the movie to him? Who has the confirmed ability to walk normally? Notice how Grandpa just swoops right in there and without even considering deferring to anyone else starts singing about "his golden ticket".

While I do love this movie and find that recent sham of a remake to somehow manage to be both creepy and uninteresting at the same time; I will always have a slight problem in the back of my mind every time Grandpa Joe miraculously gets up and does his crazy little number. Obviously there is a high degree of suspension of disbelief to be granted in a movie with Oompa Loompas, psychedelic boat rides, landscapes made of candy, blueberry children, and flying elevators; but I just can't give it up for Grandpa Joe that easily. How can I support this monster of a man who sat back and watched his loving family work themselves ragged while he had the ability to be of help the whole time? Grandpa Joe, I'll still enjoy your song (in fact it's probably my favorite song from the movie) and be glad that you and Charlie didn't get chopped to pieces in the fizzy lifting drinks room, but as for your goldbricking actions I simply have to say "J'Accuse!"

What's the deal with Basic Instinct?

A few days back I found myself re-watching "Basic Instinct"; the commercial zenith of what I like to consider, my all time favorite director, Paul Verhoeven's classic "American films period". While watching this iconic cornerstone of 90s pop culture, I suddenly noticed for the first time an unexpected connection with another 90's cultural touchstone: "Seinfeld".

I discovered no less than 5 actors in the film who have later on appeared on the series. This interesting collection of connected character actors ranged from the extremely obvious to the trivially obscure. I guess it shouldn't be all that shocking with a long running series with the large and diverse cast of supporting characters and one off guest actors (the list of women playing Jerry's weekly girlfriends alone is a varied who's who of notable 90s ladies from metal babe Tawny Kitaen to pre-fame Courtney Cox to the ever mousy Jeanine Garofalo) like"Seinfeld"; similarly there may be a flick out there with 6 eventual guest actors on "Friends". However, for now, I have yet to notice any such coincidences.

I guess I should mention that the list below probably contains some moderate spoilage for anyone who hasn't seen "Basic Instinct" (and I guess to a far lesser extent certain episodes of "Seinfeld"). Also for those people who haven't seen "Basic Instinct" yet: shame on you; it is one of the great cinematic documents of the fascinating,wild, confusing times of the early 90s, as the decade tried to forge itself a new identity separate from the 80s. In addition, for all those eternally teased by "Big Love", you actually get to see Jeanne Tripplehorn naked (and about 15 years younger). How can you lose?

Wayne Knight
This is the obvious one everybody remembers, and what I thought until recently was the only Seinfeld cast member in the film. Aside from his reoccurring role of Jerry's antagonist Newman, this is the most memorable Wayne Knight role (just edging out his evil Dennis Nedry role in Jurassic Park). That uncomfortable, fat, sweaty scene of him along with the other detectives interrogating Sharon Stone will (for better or for worse) be forever linked to the movie's infamous beaver shot.

Daniel von Bargen
"Mr. Kruger"
Prolific character actor Daniel von Bargen played Det. Nielson, the asshole Internal Affairs detective that had it out for Michael Douglas's character. He later gets murdered and everyone suspects Douglas did it. Of course I will always remember him as George's idiot boss Mr. Kruger. Every one of his four guest appearances was a home run. This is further supported by the fact that every one of his episodes made it onto Andrew U's definitive top 50 George moments: "The Slicer"(#43), "The Maid"(#39), "The Burning" (#28), "The Strike"(#23). Personally, my dream job scenario would be working for a boss as clueless and utterly negligent about the quality of my work as Kruger.

James Rebhorn
"D.A. Hoyt"

It was really no shocker when I noticed Hall of Fame "That Guy" James Rebhorn was in both "Basic Instinct" and "Seinfeld", he's basically been in every movie and television series for the last 25 years. Look up "douchey, white collar, antagonist in suit" in the dictionary and you get James Rebhorn. In "Basic Instinct" he played the only mildly douchey Dr. McElwaine, a police psychologist who questions Michael Douglas's guilt after the above Det. Nielson is found dead. On the TV side, Rebhorn played the pivotal role of the prosecuting D.A. who puts Jerry and the gang in prison for violating a good Samaritan law on the two part series finale of the show. Douchey indeed.

Stephen Tobolowsky
"Tor Eckman"
Another giant among "That Guy" character actors, Stephen Tobolowsky has cornered the market on playing bespectacled, dorky, clueless, losers. The man's got so many memorable one shot characters from Bridget Fonda's sleazy boss in "Single White Female", Ned Ryerson in "Groundhogs Day", to the flashback of Sammy Jankis in "Memento". For me the quintessential "Tobolowsky character" and everything he embodies can be summed up in that scene at the end of the trailer for "Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde" ("Mr. Monkey wants to play"). In "Basic Instinct" be plays exactly to his egghead type as a special criminal profiler who is brought into hypothesize on the identity of the ice pick killer, much to everyone's annoyance. His "Seinfeld" character was as the holistic healer who George goes to after suffering what he thought was a heart attack. Interestingly, it's a little against the usual type for him as he's more of a goofy (non-bespectacled) hippie than the usual nerdish figure.

Jack McGee
I claim no credit (nor do I really want to) for being as astute and extensive a "Seinfeld" fan to have noticed Jack McGee. I ended up learning about his credits when I was on IMDB trying to verify if Tobolowsky was actually in the "Heart Attack" episode. His role in "Basic Instinct" is just listed as "Sheriff" so I'm not actually sure where he came in. I think he was the random police officer (or I guess sheriff) at the end of the film that gives the main detectives more evidence that all the murders may have been masterminded by Jeanne Tripplehorn. His role in Seinfeld is equally juicy, as he plays "Ralph" (at least he had a name in this one), the surly construction worker that George borrows the jackhammer from to rescue his buried Phil Rizzuto keychain from a filled in pothole (in the aptly titled episode "The Pothole").

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I Saw Mommy Getting Shot By Santa Claus

Further contributing to 2008's strong case as one of the worst years ever, Christmas 08 is now officially ruined by this horrific Santa-related mass killing coming out of the west coast. It's some seriously fucked up shit; especially the descriptions of how it all began:
The massacre began when an 8-year-old girl answered Pardo's knock at the door. Pardo, carrying what appeared to be a large present, pulled out a handgun and shot her in the face, then began shooting indiscriminately as about 25 partygoers tried to flee, police said.
The girl thankfully survived, but definitely, hands down, the absolute worst way to break it to a child that there isn't a Santa Claus.

So in terms of totally inappropriate pop culture reference to sum up this horrible tragedy I'm thinking:

Weird Al's "The Night Santa Went Crazy"

or just plain...

"Bad Santa"

"Silent Night Deadly Night" will always be the wittiest title and I do appreciate the straight forward description of "Bad Santa" (I'm pretty sure there's a good chance that the Post or the Daily News will lead off with that gem of a headline tomorrow); but I'm personally going to have to go with "The Night Santa Went Crazy". Aside from it taking place in the North Pole, the events are eerily prophetic (Santa snaps, starts killing indiscriminately). I was also going to include a Xanta Klaus reference, but I thought it might have been too soon.

In any case, I'm sure this news has definitely harshed everyone's Christmas mellow. But, chins up, only a week or so until a brand spanking new year. Until then can we still enjoy that classic scene from "Silent Night Deadly Night 2"?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Communism was just a red herring..."

My little, borderline excessive, exploration into Oscar casting a few days back got me thinking. If we are indeed headed towards a new era of light comedies filled with past-Oscar winners a la the disaster flicks of the 1970s, what sort of casting combinations and scenarios are possible? Outside of some sort of sweeping, extended length epic or elaborate casino heist movie; how else would a Hollywood studio reasonably insert all these big stars and their bigger egos into one feature film?

Two words: Clue remake.

The Clue set up is perfectly tailored for maximum ensemble filmmaking. You have six fully developed, totally unique characters, all working equally together to create a murder mystery. That's six opportunities for all-star, Oscar winning casting, not counting possible secondary characters like the Butler or Mr. Boddy or whatever random characters that could be shoehorned in. Despite the heavy subject matter of homicide, the tone, as with nearly all murder mysteries, is lighthearted and fun. It's a perfect piece of cinematic fluff to throw out around the holiday time. If they polish it up enough, it may even get a random pity Oscar nod or two of its own. It's a can't miss situation.

Apparently there's even some historical precedence for an all star murder mystery movie. There were a string of star packed Agatha Christie adaptations from the 70s to the early 80s like "Murder on the Orient Express" (3 Oscar winners, 3 future winners) and "Death on the Nile" (5 winners!) that turned out to be fairly successful. They were even enough of a genre that a parody movie was made, "Murder by Death" (with a respectable 3 Oscar winners of their own); which joins "Fatal Instinct" as one of the most esoteric and unnecessary genre spoofs in film history. Of course what all those Agatha Christie murder mysteries lack is the wealth of quality story material that can only come from the most detailed and richly written of Parker Brothers games (seriously does "Monopoly" even have a plot? How about that exercise in existential absurdity known as "Sorry!"?).

So as a Christmas favor to all the big Hollywood studios, here is my personal casting list of six former Oscar winners and their respective Clue characters. To note, I've tried to keep things economical by selecting past winners that haven't exactly been getting top billing as of late (it is a recession after all, we can't be filling all our films with Clooneys and Kidmans). Also, in terms of likenesses and artistic interpretations I've tried to keep it close to the characters from the 1992 version of the game I found in my basement. Finally, I must emphasize that this is strictly a theoretical thought exercise and that in reality I consider it a futile effort by any studio to improve upon the comedic masterpiece that was the original 1985 "Clue". Why it hasn't reached maximum Rocky Horror/Lebowski-esque cult status is truly the real mystery.

as played by:

The age and the hairline steam to be matching up quite nicely. Slap a pair of glasses on him, throw in a pipe and mustache, wrap him up in tweed and you've got yourself a quality Professor Plum. You know off the bat the audience is going to be suspecting something is up with the good professor when F. Murray strikes that trademark maliciously scheming Salieri smile. If he's willing to lend his Oscar shine to such works as "Muppets From Space" and "Th13een Ghosts" (yes that's actually the official spelling), you'd figure he'd get right on board.

as played by:

Sure he's definitely not hurting for work after serving a tour of duty in the Pirates series, one of the most lucrative trilogies in movie history. However after a nearly 5 year stretch of almost back to back blockbuster shooting, I'm sure he'd be more than eager to take a juicy little theatrical-like role playing opposite some of the most accomplished Hollywood thespians as opposed to a wooden Orlando Bloom and a monkey. I've always considered Mr. Green to be the most suspicious, evil looking character and we all know Rush can definitely do evil (Quills, Pirates, even Mystery Men).

as played by:

Robert Duvall

I originally considered Richard Dreyfuss for the role, but I figured him to be a bit too weak and whiny to play a tough military man. Duvall might be just slightly older than I'd like to be an ideal Mustard, but he makes up for those extra years with a forty plus year career of playing grizzled figures (they even had an SNL sketch about it). Basically if he can just do his asshole, military hero character from "The Great Santini", we'll be in business. As for his willingness to get on board, obviously a look at his filmography this decade ("The 6th Day", "Kicking & Screaming", "Gods and Generals", "Four Christmases") shows that he has long since given up on any discretion over film roles.

Now for the ladies...

as played by:

Brenda Fricker

This was hands down my most obvious selection. Maybe Kathy Bates had an outside shot at the part, but really no other past Oscar winner screams British (although she's Irish) maid than Ms. Fricker. She's got that motherly, yet slightly suspicious character to her that's absolutely perfect. Also, given her classic performance as the mom in "So I Married and Axe Murderer", you know she's game for lighthearted murder movies. On a totally random note, doesn't that picture of Mrs. White look sort of a like an old Britney Spears?

as played by:

Emma Thompson

Ideally, I think Helen Mirren would have been a better fit for the role, but she's only two years removed from an Oscar and five years from becoming a "dame", you know she'll demand the big bucks. I figure Emma Thompson to be a fairly affordable, under the radar Oscar winner (until recently I had forgotten that he had an acting Oscar. She even has an additional one for writing!). In contrast to Duvall's Mustard, Thompson's Peacock will be a little younger then usual, but it's a willing trade off for her talents. The woman has built her career on critically acclaimed ensemble, period piece roles: Howards End, The Remains of the Day, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually (hey 2003 is a period).

as played by:

Rachel Weisz

As much as it pains me to publicly acknowledge that yes, Rachel Weisz, has indeed won an Oscar, I think she'd probably be the best fit to play the young femme fatale, Miss Scarlet. Ideally, considering the asian Scarlet is the only sliver of diversity in an otherwise completely whitewashed game, I would have liked to have cast an asian actress. Unfortunately, the only actress of East Asian descent to have won an Oscar, Miyoshi Umeki, was far too old and far too dead. I also considered Cathreine Zeta-Jones (she has one too, isn't that nuts?) but she seemed like a bit too big of a name to fit under budget. Rachel Weisz, on the other hand, seems well on her way to joining fellow forgotten best supporting actresses Mira Sorvino and Marica Gay Harden as Oscar trivia stumpers.

So there you have it, six roles, six stars, maybe throw in the Jonas Brothers as a bumbling trio of house servants, and you've got yourself the biggest film (for at least the first week or two of release) of the 2009 holiday season.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Four Christmases, Five Oscars

I was originally going to make this post around late November/Early December, in the weeks following the theatrical release of the above "Four Christmases", however I was distracted by this whole unpleasant law school finals business. I know it'll be difficult for all you readers out there to attempt to put yourselves back into the mindset of that long past age of innocence before crooked Illinois governors, $50 billion dollar ponzi schemes, and completely unnecessary remakes of classic science fiction movies; but we can all at least try to dream of simpler times.

If you haven't already heard, numerous reviews of "Four Christmases" made mention of the fact that no less than five acting Academy Award winners were cast in this film: Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, and Reese Withersoon (sorry Dwight Yoakam, the Academy never truely appreciated your masterful supporting role in "Crank"). I found this casting factoid to be all the more fascinating given all the cramming of major entertainment award winners I did for the World Series of Pop Culture back in '06; and then I got to thinking: were there any other relatively recent films that contained at least five previous Oscar winners?

This was of course not counting Oscars won for being in that same movie or movies where the actors eventually won Oscars for future performances (like "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" which, to date, has three Best Actor Award Winners: Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, and Nicholas Cage (still waiting for that fourth statute, Judge Reinhold)). Massive ensemble efforts like the "Ocean" movies, the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, "Saving Private Ryan", "The Thin Red Line", "Pearl Harbor", "Gosford Park","Rat Race", "Bobby", all surprisingly enough haven't had more than two winners at most in one film. Movies with three winners were more difficult to find but not exceedingly rare. Some of the more random recent movies off the top of my head that ended up having at least three winners were: "Deep Impact" (Robert Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell); "The Royal Tenenbaums" (Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow)"; American Gangster" (Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Cuba Gooding Jr.); "Meet the Fockers" (Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, and Robert DeNiro); "Gone in 60 Seconds" (Robert Duvall, Nicholas Cage, Angelina Jolie); "Something's Gotta Give" (Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Frances McDormand). The last three seem to provide clear evidence that there is little correlation between having Oscar winning actors and movies being actually good.

The only movie within the last ten years or so that rivals "Four Christmases" was the 2006 Robert De Niro directed spy snoozer "The Good Shephard" which required an extended supporting cast and a 167 minute running time to fit in its five stars (Robert DeNiro, Angelina Jolie, Timothy Hutton, William Hurt, and Joe Pesci). In terms of cheap celebrity cameos, the film borders on "Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet" territory; whose gigantic cast of superfluous actors (which only manages to have an equal 5 winners as well) automatically disqualifies it in my book. The same goes to notable all star cavalcades like "Around the World in 80 Days"(5 winners, 4 future winners), "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (6 winners, 1 future winner), and "JFK" (4 winners, 1 future winner). Technically if brief cameos were allowed, I'm pretty sure the all time champ would be Robert Altman's "The Player" which has a grand total of 8 Oscar winners in addition to 4 future Oscar winners, most of whom are just playing themselves.

"Four Christmases" even stacks up well against the excesses of the genre that invented washed up Oscar winner packing, the 70's disaster movie. Despite its reputation, "The Towering Inferno" actually only had 2 Oscar winners at the time (William Holden and Jennifer Jones) along with 2 future winners (Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway). "Airport" had an impressive 4 winners (Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, and Van Heflin) and by the second sequel, "Airport '77", had 5 (Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, Olivia De Havilland, James Stewart, George Kennedy). The original "Posieden Adventure" had 5 winners as well (Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, and Jack Albertson). It also somehow took 5 Oscar winners (Olivia De Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke) and 2 future winners (Michael Caine and Henry Fonda) to make the killer bee disaster epic, "The Swarm".

Despite the lackluster reviews, the undeniable success of "Four Christmases" makes one wonder: is this the start of another disaster movie era of faded Oscar gold? However, in this case, instead of disaster movies it's fluffy, disposable comedies? Could "Meet the Fockers" and "Something's Gotta Give" be the "Earthquake" and "Hindenberg" to "Four Christmases"'s "Poseidon Adventure"? Should we expect a wave of aging Oscar winners playing the dysfunctional parents of today's "it" actors and actress? Should Louis Gossett Jr. and Mercedes Ruehl be polishing up their resumes?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sax on the Beach

Although I'm not completely out of the woods yet (still one more final to fail on Wednesday), I figured I'd throw in a quickie to break up the silence.

Two weeks of nothing but constant cramming, interceded with stressful three hour exams that leave you feeling exhausted and usually disappointed is enough to give anyone a serious case of the blues. While crippling law school finals depression is not as relatable or has a catchy an acronym like S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), it's still a pretty rough time for everyone involved. Unless you can find your own personally effective way to cope with the unrelenting anxiety and caffeine fueled negative vibes you'll end up like that one guy in the "Paper Chase" who towards the end of the movie went nuts and had to quit school.

Of course there's really one surefire, universal, instant remedy for feeling low: the Benny Hill Show end credits. Science has yet to explain its effectiveness, but that special combination of speed up footage, lecherousness, and "Yakety Sax" will never fail to elevate ones mood even just slightly. So imagine my delight when I came across "The Benny Hillifier", which harnesses the power of the internet to add a "Yakety Sax" soundtrack to any piece of video you choose. While there still no ability to comically speed up the clips, this is definitely still a bold step forward.

Some of my experiments include:
Finally a positive use for the internet

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I'm Not Dead

The above title to Pink's fourth album (why would anyone name their album that) says it all. In case anyone's been questioning the extra long hiatus, it's law school finals time again! Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze in a post in between all the cramming and crying, but until my final test on the 17th, don't hold out too much hope for an avalanche of entries. For anyone considering going to law school, my one piece of warning is: be prepared to have the joy completely sucked out of the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas for the next three years.

The only word to describe the time is: Ugly. People stop smiling, people stop going outside, and generally taking care of themselves. For most it's just locking yourself up in a two week nightmare of coffee, re-printed notes, practices tests, and study guides; all in a desperate effort to mercilessly force your brain into allowing in one more useless piece of legal doctrine. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd be in far worse shape.

If only the school library was more like the Tears For Fears video, full of wonder, romance, synthesizers, monkeys, and Roland Orzabal.