You know, for adults!

HudsuckerPretty much every single one of my hobbies, and for that matter most of my professional career, has the taint of arrested development around it. I like videogames and theme parks enough to get jobs working for them, at least half of my TiVo season passes are on Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel, and I’ve got almost as many comic books as I do gray hairs.

So I’m familiar with the whole “but blank isn’t just for kids!” argument. So familiar, that I’m pretty sick of it.

First, it’s pretty dull at this point. The people who matter have already caught on, and those who are still convinced that it’s all inherently juvenile are never going to be convinced otherwise. “The Simpsons” and even “South Park” have been on for so long at this point, they’ve already gone through their cycles of being dismissed/cult favorites/popular favorites/tired sell-outs. There are still flare-ups here and there, especially around videogame violence, but for the most part it’s background noise. Big business doesn’t care one way or the other as long as there’s money involved, and at the moment, there’s a lot of money in videogames and animation.

Second, the argument is always being made by people who are a little too desperate to believe it’s true, and who somehow always end up shooting the argument in the foot. They’ll start quoting statistics and end up saying stuff like, “Research has shown time and again that the median age of videogame players is 25 and rising, and to dismiss it as juvenile is just — hey, look! Boobies!”

This list of “15 Animated Films For Grown-Ups” from The Onion AV Club manages to do both. (Of course, it’s The Onion AV Club, so it’s “Animated Films” in the title, but if I started going off about the Pompous Hipster mentality, I’d never stop). The AV Club used to do round-ups of “The Most Inessential Albums of the Year” (maybe they still do); this list feels like a candidate for Most Inessential Pop Culture Commentary On the Internet.

For starters, the whole concept is stupid on two fronts. First, because it distinguishes animated movies from the live-action ones, which is a distinction only the Academy Awards makes nowadays. And we’re hipsters, right? We’re supposed to hate the Oscars. Second, because as it tries to assert that animated movies aren’t just for kids, it starts with the assumption that people still think they are just for kids.

Then, there’s the apparent criteria for entry. Read enough of the comments, and what do you see pop up again and again? Porn. Sex. Boobies. Violence. All of which are aces in my book, but is that what makes something “adult?” What about concept, tone, message, or execution?

What’s heartbreaking is that the author seems to be aware of the basic distinction, but not enough to compile a simple 15-item list based on it. There are frequent mentions of “teen raunch” and “the old sex-and-violence tropes,” but except for three of the entries, that old sex-and-violence is the only thing that seems to be required to be “adult.”

And the list itself is so damn boring. Fritz the Cat? Seriously? Does anyone out there, anywhere still think this movie has any value at all? I could go on for another 10 pages about all the ways Ralph Bakshi sucks, but I was under the impression that at least he’d used up all of his pop culture cred from making a cartoon movie about cartoon cats screwing each other. I thought even the most knee-jerk simple-minded hipster had already accepted long ago that the movie had no value even as an anti-Disney novelty.

The list makes a long disclaimer about not including more than one anime movie on the list of “films for grown-ups,” and then includes Akira? The movie about teenagers on street bikes fighting each other with psychic powers? Yeah, it’s a great movie, but whenever I think of it, “adult” doesn’t spring to mind. The list mentions Perfect Blue; what about Millennium Actress? That’s one of the most mature, moving animated movies I’ve ever seen.

I don’t really need to say any more about the inclusion of Heavy Metal, right? The author makes another long disclaimer about how adolescent a movie it is, but includes it anyway. And — here’s the kicker — also includes Rock and Rule for good measure.

The whole thing is just dumb, and it pushed my “animation” and “pompous hipster” and “stupid generalization” buttons all at once, which automatically generates a blog post. And it’s been said so many times that it’s become trite itself, but it’s still true: the best movies aren’t ones that are made for kids or for adults, but don’t pander to any audience and just stay true to themselves.

Now, it may seem like a cop-out not to include my own list, but like I said, I think the whole idea is stupid; both for making distinctions between animation and live-action, and for not making a distinction between “adult” and “adolescent.”

Plus I just tried to, and realized I haven’t seen enough feature-length animation to come up with 10.

See ya!

Everybody should take a minute to watch this, the greatest fight scene in movie history.

I haven’t seen the movie it’s from (and thank goodness the IMDB is there to provide the all-important Chinese title for this action classic), but I’m hoping it answers the questions this clip raises:

  • How come it sounds like our hero and villain are made out of bookcases?
  • Why is Stingray dressed like a pharmacist? And how did he get out of a lab coat, shirt, and tie so quickly? And get all greased up?
  • What did Stingray do that was all that bad? Other than grimacing and licking knives? Was it bad enough to warrant such serious eye trauma?
  • How come our hero is such a wuss that he’s fighting a guy who only has one hand free and he still needs to get rescued by one-armed Felicity Huffman from Transamerica and a towel?
  • Couldn’t they have taken a few more minutes to come up with some better quips? Like, “Here’s looking at you, Stingray!” or “Enjoy the ride, Stingray, but be careful you don’t get hooked!” or “At least now you won’t have to look at your own god-awful poodle mullet every morning, Stingray!”

And to answer the guy who posted it on YouTube in the first place: yes. Yes, it is.

Update: Okay, I guess I didn’t read the IMDB entry closely enough. Apparently it is a Hong Kong movie, so the Chinese title is given first for a reason. And dopey guy isn’t the hero; Cynthia Rothrock is, which is why she has to come in and save the day. I imagine his drooling problem also has something to do with it.

I still say that this scene would’ve been a brilliant finale for Transamerica.

V4 Vendetta

Also available in a V6Today we went to Haight Street for lunch, and no matter how many times I go up there I’m still struck with how ridiculous the whole place is. It’s as if all the hypocrisy of San Francisco is laid bare — the “summer of love,” rampant commercialism, poverty, empty promises of “counter-culture,” the head shops with signs warning you that you’ll be ejected for saying “bong” or “weed.” I was making a joke that we should go into the Anarchist Collective Bookstore and ask for a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Mac went one better and suggested we ask for The Rules.

All the “free love” and “anarchy” and “counter-culture” stuff doesn’t even seem offensively hypocritical anymore; it’s just laughably quaint. So maybe it’s true that “there are no coincidences,” like V says in the movie, because on the same day we went to see V For Vendetta.

Not to say that the movie is quaint or laughable or as empty and meaningless as Haight Street — it’s really excellent. Very well done in presentation, emotion, and intellect. (And it kind of pains me to say that, considering how much I dislike The Matrix and was ready to hate this movie). It does a remarkable job of updating the comic book, working as a big-budget action/thriller movie, and making a statement. In fact, it’s causing me to re-think some of the political opinions I’ve formed over the last decade, formed out of either apathy or the sense that it’s “not my problem.” Balk at changing political opinions based on a big Hollywood comic-book movie all you want; I think that as long as the message gets out, that can’t be a bad thing.
Continue reading “V4 Vendetta”

Awesome Inflation

One example of the titular happiness.And no I’m not talking about Pamela Anderson’s chest. ha-HA! Implants.

I’m talking about how it’s getting harder and harder for something to qualify as “awesome” these days. People have uttered the phrase “there’s nothing any cooler than robot ninja ghost pirate monkeys” so many times that it’s ceased to be true. Somebody could release The Ghost Ship of Dread Captain Jojo-san 3000 today, and I’d go see it, no doubt. But I can guarantee that it wouldn’t be satisfying.

Because if it were possible to make a good movie out of that concept, there’s no way somebody wouldn’t have already done it. We are rapidly depleting our reserves of coolness.

So I’m saying that’s probably why I was disappointed by The Happiness of the Katakuris. Back when I was reading about Takashi Miike and The Great Yokai War, I kept seeing mention of the movie on websites. It was always described as a big departure for Miike; depending on the obsequious-to-hipster ratio of the site, it was either further proof that Miike could do anything, or evidence that he’d sold out.

Either way, I’m damned if I know what to make of it. Did I go into it having too high expectations? If you just read a description of it, it’s a:

  • Japanese
  • black comedy
  • musical
  • with animation,
  • a schmaltzy message about the meaning of life,
  • scenes filmed as if they were from a Japanese TV commercial,
  • and a dance number performed by zombies.

So on paper, it sounds like The Perfect Movie. The reality, though, is just kind of… there. There’s plenty of imaginative stuff in there, sure, but it either draws too much attention to itself, is paced so poorly that it doesn’t have any impact, or is executed so amateurishly that you’re left thinking how cool it could have been as opposed to how cool it turned out.

The movie starts out with a young woman in a restaurant who finds a small white creature in her soup. She pulls it out and screams, the creature sees her uvula, thinks it’s a heart and he falls in love. So he bites off her uvula and is then carried away by a raven. After that is a sequence about five minutes long where the creature fights the raven, gets dropped, dies and is re-hatched from an egg, plus some other stuff I’m forgetting, all in seemingly random order. The creature, the bird, and most of the backgrounds are done with claymation — more proto-“Sledgehammer” quality animation, not Wallace and Gromit caliber. None of the characters from this sequence are seen in the movie again.

I was about to say that “none of this has anything to do with the rest of the movie,” but in a way, that sequence has a lot in common with the rest of the movie — it’s wacky but not in a particularly entertaining way, it’s amateurish, and once it’s over, you’re left wondering what was the point. And the movie has lots of amateurish claymation, but it seems that it was used for budget reasons more than stylistic ones — every time an action sequence starts, it switches to claymation.

So there are deaths followed by musical numbers, and there are transvestites on television, and big musical love songs, and stories about Princess Diana, and a guy drinking water from an inexplicably polluted stream and then getting diarrhea, and a love song done in the style of a karaoke video (complete with cheesy 80’s lighting, and subtitles), and a song with zombies dancing on a landfill, and a volcano erupts, and then a finale song in the style of The Sound of Music.

And still, my reaction is just, “well that happened.” And I honestly can’t tell if it’s because I’m too jaded, or if it’s because the movie isn’t very well-done and it doesn’t have as much imagination as it thinks. The zombie musical sounds cool until you remember it’s already been done. Most of the rest feels like an early Peter Jackson movie.

And of course like with everything “post-modern,” it’s impossible to tell if the acting and effects are intentionally amateurish, or if they just didn’t do a particularly good job. What makes Japanese commercials so cool is that you never get the impression the people making the commercials are on the outside looking in — they’re in it 100%. That’s not to say they’re ignorant of how batshit crazy it all is, just that they’ve committed themselves to being completely and totally batshit crazy to the best of their abilities. (Take the Final Fantasy Potion ad, for example). Adding ironic detachment to that would ruin everything.

But in the end, I didn’t even dislike the movie. The actual ending is kind of sweet and lives up to the promise of the whole concept. And nothing in it, even the nonsensical opening, is blatantly bad. It’s all just not nearly as cool as it could’ve been, and therefore ends up saying nothing. I’m still no big fan of Miike’s, obviously, but at least Audition and The Great Yokai War were memorable.

Checklist

One of the consequences of having a spastic attention span is that I’ve got a huge mental to-do list that grows faster than is possible for a mortal human — even one with my considerable gifts as granted me by your yellow Earth sun — to check them off.

And because it’s all in me head, it’s completely unsorted and un-prioritized, so stuff like “do laundry” is right there mixed in with “write a Flash prototype for that card game you want to do” and “make quarterly tax payment” is right below “watch the season premiere of ’24′” and “learn Japanese” and “get medical insurance” are somehow getting exactly the same level of procrastination. Which really doesn’t make sense, and is making me into more of a flake than I ever intended: “Sorry, I would’ve shown up for surgery to give you my kidney, but I’ve been meaning to finish reading this issue of Batman for months now.”

I keep seeing links to online and offline organizers and to-do lists, but have yet to find one that even closely approximates how my brain works. Err, “works.” I need to be able to add entries quickly, the second I think of them, attach notes or whatever other information I need to get it done, reorganize it and assign/change priorities so easily that “organize the To-Do list” doesn’t become another item, and give a real sense of accomplishment once I’ve checked one off. And maybe give me a cookie.

I could write my own, but I hope I don’t have to point out the problem there.

Still, even though technology hasn’t yet caught up with my brainspasm method of neural functioning, I have managed to make some minor headway. I’m assuming nobody reading this cares all that much about Java reflection and persistent object databases, so I’ll leave that stuff out. Even though it’s kind of cool, and isn’t so over-engineered as to be useless.

Finished Shadow of the Colossus
And I’m going to have to recant my earlier reviews of it — interesting concept and presentation and great visuals, but it’s not a good videogame. It feels too gamey, and it’s not a good game; it’s a frustrating game that you only keep playing because the concept is interesting. Sure, the conclusion is satisfying as an interactive movie, but I decided halfway through the last level that there was nothing they could show or do that’d be worth the frustration of beating the final boss.

Watched The Aristocrats
I’d expected it to be more interesting than funny, but it turned out more funny than interesting. The whole “joke as jazz performance” idea isn’t strong enough to carry a feature-length movie, and I’m not really buying it since very few people actually tell the joke. But pretty much all the people they interview came out of it seeming pretty cool and funny, even the ones I don’t usually like. The only ones who still seem irredemably creepy and annoying are Taylor Negron and Andy Dick. And that sleazy guy in the jacuzzi. And the bad ventriloquist.

Updated the website
Not really, but I did finally clue in and add a link to Fingerbutter.com. And that’s interesting either as a comment on the anonymity of the internet or on how dense I am. A while ago I saw via technorati that some new site was linking to mine, and so I checked it out to make sure they didn’t have any of my tasteful but misguided erotic photos on there. It wasn’t until last night that I actually made the connection that it was my friend Joe’s website. Even though his name is on the posts, he links to our mutual work friends, and he mentions stuff I should’ve recognized, I’d just been thinking, “hey, that’s nice and a little odd that some stranger is linking to my website.” I went back through and re-read it all hearing Joe tell it, and it makes sense now. So the lesson is either that Joe needs to add an “about” page, or I need to rethink my life dream of becoming a private investigator, or some combination of the two.

So that’s four down (I also finally saw Conan the Barbarian over the weekend), about a billion to go. Now I’ve got to go buy replacement ink cartridges for my printer, which had been hovering on the list between “write a novel” and “reconnect with friends I’ve been neglecting for way too long,” but just shot up in importance because of “do taxes.”

Oil-guzzling babies (and, suitably, ghost dogs)

Inugami from The Obakemono ProjectConsidering how much I love Pom Poko and tanuki, and I got Taiko no Tetsujin mostly because it had dancing kitsune in it, I’m surprised I haven’t seen all of this stuff sooner:

My new favorite website is The Obakemono Project, which is like a web encyclopedia of Japanese folk monsters and spirits. Each one has a description and a drawing that is dead-on ultra-cool perfect. For example, the Aburaakago is a spirit that takes the form of a baby and sucks all the oil out of household lamps.

Raccoons with giant balls and lamp oil-guzzling baby ghosts. And katsu curry rice. I, for one, welcome our new Japanese overlords.

That site leads to The Fantastic Shigeru Mizuki English Language Resource Page, which showcases the work of the Japanese cartoonist and his manga about bakemono. Pretty cool stuff — reminds me of what you’d get if Rat Fink had centuries of folk stories to back it up.

And another link from the Obakemono forums led to the news that The Great Yokai War is playing as part of the SF IndieFest next weekend. It’s a movie about a kid who has to stop a war between various goblins, demons, and evil wizards. I swore I’d never see another Takashi Miike movie after Audition, but word on the street is that it’s not quite his usual fare and even I would be able to tolerate this one.

Now there’s something to look forward to after Wondercon.

Update: The artist’s website is here at DrunkenTengu.com, and pretty much all her stuff is teh coolest.

Bettie Page

From the trailerThe trailer for the movie The Notorious Bettie Page is up at Apple’s site, and I’m intrigued. Here are the reasons I plan on seeing this movie:

  • I don’t really know anything about Bettie Page, and I’ve heard the movie isn’t just a boring biopic.
  • Come on, look at her!
  • All accounts say Gretchen Mol does a great job.
  • The trailer makes it look like they do a lot of neat stuff with editing and compositing and such; hopefully it won’t be another one of those bait-and-switch deals where the trailer’s cool but the movie’s dull.
  • I’m interested to see what the movie does with it. I Shot Andy Warhol was dull and fairly forgettable, but to its credit it wasn’t sentimental or predictable. Well, except that I could tell going in that it involved Andy Warhol getting shot.

If I’m going to be seeing it, I’d better get myself a wallet chain and some pomade to fit in with the crowd. It’ll be useful in case I want to go to another Reverend Horton Heat concert, too.

Dude, where’s my puppet?

I finally broke through the blockage in my Netflix queue and watched the two movies that I’ve had for over a month now: Dude, Where’s My Car? and Team America: World Police. Considering the Netflix fees and how long I had them out, I figure they cost me about $12 each.

Which makes me a lot less charitable of them than I probably would be normally. Both were in the “no really, they’re better than they look” category, based on what I’d heard from reviewers and friends. So I had low expectations but was willing to be pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t.

Dude, Where’s My Car? I moved up in the queue because it has Jennifer Garner in it, but she’s no reason to see it, even if you’re not already bored with “Alias.” I’m fine with stoner movies; in fact, I liked Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and I actually bought Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. But I thought the whole point of stoner movies was to make something that you react to basically like you would to a stoner person — they’re harmless and mildly entertaining normally, and really hilarious if you’re high. Considering that this one wasn’t harmless and mildly entertaining when I saw it, I’m not all that inclined to try it again the second way. I’d been expecting it to be gleefully absurd and dumb, but it was just dumb and kind of sad.

And I say we all start a fund, where we each contribute $1 a month, and all the money goes to Andy Dick. The stipulation is that he can never work again.

Team America was just bullshit. It seems like they’re just not aware they’ve obsoleted themselves. They’re stuck in the same thing that was subversive back when they did the first “South Park” short, even though the rest of us have all moved on. (And we moved on partly because “South Park” is so ubiquitous).

Violently cutting up puppets and making them have sex and make dick jokes just isn’t at all subversive anymore. And Parker and Stone just aren’t all that subversive anymore — they make the big joke about pretentious Hollywood needing to be put in its place, without seeming to realize that they’re pretentious Hollywood now. Yeah, there are plenty of pompous blowhards who have no business sticking their noses and money into politics, but at least they’re saying something. It’s easy just to say nothing more than “you’re stupid!”

The only reason I didn’t completely dismiss it is the same reason I can’t completely dismiss “South Park.” When they drop the BS about being adolescent and edgy and just let themselves get absurd, they’re actually funny. There were occasional bits in Team America that are funny just for the sake of being funny, because the characters are puppets. Like the panther attack that’s actually just a couple of house cats with sound effects. And the special emergency signal Gary has to make when he’s undercover. And any of the fist-fight scenes where it’s just two puppets flailing at each other.

They should just learn to drop the pretense of how they’re not pretentious, and just make something funny. Every once in a while, “South Park” manages to actually have a message that makes sense, and while those aren’t the episodes that sell T-shirts and catch phrases, those are the ones that actually work.

Kong

King Kong is frickin’ awesome. I think from now on, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens should make every movie. Except for the ones by Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers.

Sure, it’s three hours long, and I could tell it was three hours. Not that I was wanting it to be over, just that I was aware of how long it was taking. That’s the closest I can get to a criticism of it — there was nothing in the movie that was bad or completely superfluous, but it still felt like a lot of stuff. I wish they’d spent more time on the island and less with acts 1 and 2. Just about everything that happens on the island is just spectacular, the Tyrannosaurus fight in particular, so I wish there’d been more of that.

I don’t have much to say other than that it’s a damn fine movie, the best I’ve seen this year. I’d heard reports that it was very moving, so I was expecting to get all caught up in that. I didn’t, really; I cared what was happening, but wasn’t particularly moved by it except for the action sequences.

One of the things that impressed me about the Lord of the Rings movies was how Jackson made them as movies, that is, combining elments of horror B-movies, science fiction, fantasy, genuine horror movies, melodrama, pirate movies, battle scenes, etc. to tell what could be a pretty dry fantasy story. King Kong isn’t quite as epic, but it’s definitely a movie made by someone who loves movies and hates pretension. Of course there are all the B-movie elements, but there’s also a sense throughout that it’s all charming and funny. The T. Rex scene isn’t just spectacular, but it’s genuinely funny in how it just keeps building. All the bug scenes are intended for the schock value gross-out, and they’re just fun. And Ann and Kong’s scenes are designed around vaudeville slapstick and a child’s tantrum, and it just works, and it’s just charming. Never too corny to work, and never too absorbed in irony or self-reference. It’s just designed to be enjoyed.

I knew going in that I was going to like Naomi Watts, because I think she’s just great in everything I’ve seen her do. I was surprised that I liked Adrian Brody — he’s pretty much useless to the movie, in retrospect, but while it’s going on you always get the sense that he’s just supposed to be there. What really surprised me was Jack Black; his character is supposed to be smarmy and unethical, but genuinely passionate about what he’s doing, and undeniably charismatic. So it turned out to be perfect casting, and he did a good job with it. He’s actually got more of a character arc than anyone else, including Ann.

And the more I think about it, I guess I have to change my story about not being moved. The best scenes are still the action sequences, but the one that really got me on an emotional level is when they’re back in New York and do the Kong show at the theater. The combination of the ape chained up, and the dancers in black-face, all just hit me as “this is the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen.” Even more than the ending. (Which I won’t ruin here.)