Speaking of Foul…

I make “I’m getting old” jokes all the time, but I’m usually not all that serious about it. But I’m starting to wonder how much truth there is to it after days like today. I just don’t spring back from minor ailments the way I used to be able to. Okay, that’s inaccurate, because I’ve never exactly been a paragon of good health and proper nutrition; instead I’ve always been somewhat like those guys you read about in turn-of-the-century novels who were “wan and sickly” which explains why they spent so much time indoors becoming educated about Arts and Literature.

But still it seems like I can remember a time when getting sick didn’t knock me out for an entire day. Last night in mid-“Alias” recap, I started getting the feeling that something I ate wasn’t just disagreeing with me, it had serious problems with me as a person and wanted out of the relationship immediately. So not only was I up until the wee hours (so to speak) reading magazines (as it were), by the time I was finally able to get it all out of my system and get to bed, I was completely exhausted and ended up sleeping until late afternoon. And of course, this being summer in San Francisco, it’s dark and gray outside, which just drives home the point that I missed out an entire day. Before, I always blamed this on stress, or crunch mode, but now I’ve got to figure I’m just not as young as I used to be.

I call foul!

Hooooooooooooooooooooly crap!

I just finished watching the first episode on “Alias”, Season 2, Disc 4. There’s only one other time I can remember that I felt compelled to yell back at the screen during a TV show, and that was an episode of “Twin Peaks” where Bob crawls out from behind a planter in the Palmer living room. The only thing that kept me from screaming back “oh hell no you didn’t just do that” at the last 5 minutes of this episode is that I started watching it at 1 AM and I got neighbors. (Plus, I’m a suburban white guy, so I shouldn’t be saying that kind of thing anyway).

I know I said they don’t like to drag out plot lines, and instead just throw everything at you at once, but this is crazy!

Everything after this is a big SPOILER for “Alias,” so stop reading if you haven’t been watching the show and think you might want to at some point.
Continue reading “I call foul!”

Disney shows some balls

I just read that Disney is actually releasing Pom Poko on DVD in the US next week! This is my favorite Studio Ghibli movie and in fact one of my favorite movies, but I assumed that since Disney owned the US rights, we’d never, ever, not in a million years, no way no how, ever see a US release.

One of the reasons I like the movie so much is that it was my first exposure to an entire section of Japanese folklore. Before seeing Pom Poko, I’d never heard of tanuki. (Actually, it turns out I had, but I’d never made the connection.) But the “problem,” as far as Disney’s concerned, is that tanuki are always depicted as having huge testicles, and in the folklore it’s the source of their power. It’s non-sexual, or at least more a symbol of fertility than sexuality, but to Americans (myself included), the first reaction is always, “Whoa, check out the ball sack on that raccoon!”

Which is why I thought that once Disney bought the US release rights to all Studio Ghibli movies, we’d never see an American release of Pom Poko. It’s not just a case of how the characters are drawn, either; it’s actually the source of a couple of major plot points — one group of tanuki attack a police group using their scrotums, and another wise old tanuki turns his into a giant sailing ship. So Disney was left with the option of either going in and heavily editing the movie, or not releasing it at all. Since it’s a relatively obscure movie even among anime fans, I can’t imagine the money they’d make from the release would warrant the time and effort it’d take to edit it so heavily.

I haven’t seen it yet, obviously, so they could’ve turned the movie into a eunuch. But I’m encouraged by this interview with the translators, which suggests that they got around the concerns simply by translating “scrotum” as “pouch.” We’ll see.

And although I realize I’ve spent the entire post so far talking about testicles, the point is that it would be a shame to see it edited because it’s relevant to the folklore but such an inconsequential aspect of the movie overall. The real reason I love the movie so much is because it gets its message across so perfectly. It’s mostly an environmental message, like many Studio Ghibli movies, but it’s not reduced to platitudes or schmaltzy symbolism. It has talking animals throughout, but like Watership Down, they stay true to their nature. They’re not just furry stand-ins for humans, they’re really animals.

Or at least, they’re really animals as the traditional folklore portrays them. Tanuki are fun-loving tricksters, and they have difficulty fighting against the humans destroying their mountain specifically because it’s not in their nature to take anything too seriously. When they try to fight back on the humans’ terms, they fail. When they’re in hiding and the humans try to call them out by singing the traditional children’s song, the tanuki can’t help but sing back. And more importantly, when they try to deny their true nature and blend in with the humans, they lose the essence of themselves. I’m sure that it has something to do with the fact I was working for EA the first time I saw it, but the ending never fails to make me start tearing up, every time I see it.

Beats All You Ever Saw

So as I mentioned, I saw The Dukes of Hazzard movie, and it was dumb enough to warrant its own post. Seriously, this is an aggressively stupid movie. Pretty harmless overall, but damn is it stupid. But then, that makes it a near perfect movie version of “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show. It’s less like the show and more like a cross betwen Super Troopers, “Jack-ass,” and NASCAR.

You’ve got to give some credit to the movie for making the characters real rednecks, not the pasteurized family-friendly pretty boys of the TV show (and for that matter, the Smokey and the Bandit/CB Radio crap that the TV show was trying to capitalize). The guys in this movie are way under-educated, they don’t shave, they say “sumbitch” and “shit” and “yeehaw” a lot, and they like drivin’ fast and blowin’ shit up just for the hell of it. And credit the movie for taking people that would be pretty gross and scary if you ever met them in real life and making them seem pretty harmless.

I read an interview with jessica Simpson where she was concerned about her performance and worried if she could pull it off; I don’t know where the hell that came from. She’s awful in it as an actress, but she’s not really there for her acting. And so that works — she’s astoundingly hot. Impossibly so — she crosses that line of “so hot she doesn’t seem real,” like Catherine Zeta-Jones, and then comes back around to just being hot again.

As for the guys, Stiffler as Bo is pretty much redneck Stiffler with a chia beard and his weird Neanderthal grin the whole time. Johnny Knoxville I hate to say anything about, because it’d just be saying the same thing as all those reviews and interviews that always get written about him. He’s just got charisma, there’s no other way to put it. You may not want to like him, but you do. He doesn’t hog the camera and grab for attention, he doesn’t play it too earnest or too goofy, he never seems like he’s outside the movie making fun of it — no matter what happens, he’s right in the thick of it, and he makes it seem tolerable. Whether it’s blowing stuff up with flaming arrows, being dragged around the back of a truck, making fun of blacks and Japanese people and gay guys, or listening to Willie Nelson tell stupid jokes.

Nobody else really works so well. Because of the director whose name I can’t spell and it’s not worth looking up, you get lots of Broken Lizard alumni, and a fair amount of pot-smoking. Willie Nelson had some influence on that too, I’m sure. They did stunt casting for a lot of the parts, but the biggest side parts like Roscoe and the creepy guy “Sheev” were given to Broken Lizard guys, who just aren’t memorable. And the director also drives home that this is supposed to be a movie by guys for guys — they’re going for the Spike TV audience big time.

Other things you’ve got to give it credit for: actually setting it in Georgia, acknowledging that Atlanta and rural GA might as well be two separate countries (although I don’t know why they went all the way to Atlanta for a university when they could’ve just driven to Athens), acknowledging that the Confederate flag on the top of the General Lee can be offensive to both blacks and whites without making too big a show of it, good use of narration (although of course without Waylon Jennings, sadly), and casting Joe Don Baker. Other stuff that doesn’t work: Lynda Carter, Willie Nelson, Burt Reynolds who just comes off as creepy and slimy but not in the endearing way you’re supposed to feel about Boss Hogg, and casting Joe Don Baker.

And it just occurred to me that I put more effort into writing about this movie than they probably spent writing the movie itself. It’s not even as if I’ve got much nostalgia for GA or the Dukes of Hazzard anymore.

Hooray!

It was still pretty early when I got into LA tonight. As the sun set over the hills, it made everything look sepia-toned, almost as if I were flashing back to an earlier trip to Burbank. But then I realized that it was all due to the haze and smog, and my “look at the pretty orange buildings” was a little like being enchanted by seeing a rainbow in an oil slick.

The hotel is a lot more like the kind I’m used to staying in — functional but nothing to write in your blog about. All the hotel info is pretty aggressive about reminding me I’m right in the thick of Hollywood, what with Warner Brothers right across the street and the Disney Channel building looming overhead. As much as I’ve been going on about how I’m tired of all the slick, manufactured family-friendly theme park environments I’ve been staying and would rather “keep it real,” the prospect of sitting alone for hours in a Best Western didn’t seem that appealing.

So I headed back down to Hollywood Boulevard to take another stab at the tourist thing. The three-mile drive to Hollywood & Highland took 40 minutes (only 10 minutes of that were due to my getting turned around and inadvertently ending up at the NBC studios). I really wanted to see a movie at Grauman’s Chinese, for the theater more than the movie itself, so I was willing to see anything. They were showing The Dukes of Hazzard.

All right, maybe not anything. I checked over at The The The El Capitan Theater, which was showing Sky High, something I actually kind of almost want to see. But Disney apparently doesn’t want kids out too late on Tuesdays, because the last show was at 7 and I’d missed it. So back to Grauman’s. I was already 20 minutes late for the current show, and the whole point of going to a big movie house is to see the previews and the theater and the curtain opening and all that, so I decided to wait for the next show. Ten PM. Which meant almost three hours sticking around Hollywood so that I could get the chance to see The Dukes of Hazzard.

Overall I guess it wasn’t a total loss. I had a way over-priced but pretty good dinner at the tourist equivalent of a swank LA restaurant. I got to visit a Hot Topic, which is kind of like a mall-friendly conglomeration of Haight Street (right down to the adjoining Gap store). And I got another round in the Disney ice cream parlor, which had already forgotten all about Herbie and was now pushing princess dresses. Those guys work fast! None of the dresses were in my size, unfortunately.

As for the theater itself, it’s pretty cool. I imagine watching a good movie there would be awesome; as it is, the theater isn’t cool enough on its own to warrant seeing something lame. It’s got a great interior (although I was more impressed by the Fox in Atlanta), an enormous screen, and the best sound system I’ve ever heard in a theater.

Sad, really

When I went out for my afternoon constitutional just now, I saw a teddy bear lying face down on the sidewalk in front of my steps. At first I was concerned that he was the first to fall, part of a larger contingent of plush that was advancing on my apartment all Akira-style, either planning to kill me in my sleep, liberate the Pal Mickey that’s been sitting unused in my closet, or both.

Then I realized it’s probably a lot less ominous a story than that. He probably just got really sloshed at the picnic and stumbled back to the wrong house. Unable to make the stairs, he just passed out on the street. Sad, really. I knew that the economic downturn and the Bush administration had hit the toy industry hard. And in some way I guess I knew that recessions always hit the teddy bears the hardest. But it was always a distant, clinical kind of liberal sympathy. You have to be confronted with personal stories like this one to really understand the magnitude of the problem.

I, Constipated Robot

Asimo at DisneylandSomething is horribly wrong. I spent most of the day thinking “I wish I weren’t at Disneyland.” Black is white! Up is down! Actually, I guess it’s more accurate to say: Southern California is hot! Disneyland is really crowded during the summer and even moreso after they’ve opened a new ride! So in other words, the world keeps on spinnin’.

I actually had a bona-fide work-related reason to go today, to check out the Virtual Magic Kingdom stuff. I didn’t see a lot, but as it turns out I’m going back tomorrow with a bunch of people from work to get the official tour. So the remaining time was devoted to Space Mountain, and sweating while being touched by small children.

(It was really hot, and kids have no sense of personal space. That’s all I meant.)

The new Space Mountain is wicked awesome. It’s been closed for two (maybe three?) years and just reopened for th 50th anniversary. I could understand someone’s asking, “this took two (maybe three?) years?” because they didn’t make any monumental changes like adding loops or anything. As far as I can tell, the track itself is exactly the same — but then, it didn’t need to be changed. My take on Orlando Space Mountain versus the Anaheim version is that California has the better coaster, but Florida has cooler effects and an overall better “show.” The changes to Disneyland’s add only what’s needed to knock it over the top.

When I first saw the queue, I thought that the whole renovation was nothing more than a minor face lift. There’s new paint, it’s streamlined for FastPass, more lights and neon, and a new video-screen where a somewhat cheesy mannequintronic display used to be. But it turns out that most of the work went into the ride itself, which is exactly where it should’ve gone. They borrowed my favorite effects from Orlando — in particular the cool blue-light tunnel. What used to be a somewhat cheesy spinning laser-light on the lift hill is now a light tunnel done with projections or video screens that is just plain bad-ass. The inside of the ride is much darker; you can no longer see anything but stars.

And the cars look the same, but you can tell they’ve been significantly redone because the sound system is much cooler. They’re really committed to the soundtrack this time, apparently. And the music is cool — I was skeptical they could come up with anything that rivals Dick Dale playing a space surf guitar version of Carnival of the Animals, but the new music works. It’s like an updated version of the “Lost in Space” and “UFO” themes which actually fits in with the new theme better. Overall, it gets a solid A. Only reason it’s not A+ is because it’s a refurbishment instead of a whole new ride. I rode it three times, even though the wait was never shorter than an hour.

I did go to Innoventions for the first time in a while, which got “Now Is The Best Time Of Our Lives” going through my head for the rest of the day. Apart from the VMK, they were showing Honda’s Asimo robot. That was neat almost to the point of being Skynet alarming. They said it can walk 1 mile an hour, which if today is any indication, is faster than 99% of Disneyland guests. BOOM! And it can climb stairs and kick a soccer ball and dance like a fat awkward white guy.

The only reason I can’t get more excited about the prospect is because as nimble as it is, it still does that weird squat-walk. Like it’s always thinking, “If I could… just… fart!

Meditations on an Empty Mini-Bar

Another week of airports, rental cars, hotels, theme parks, metering lights, and smog. I won’t say that the novelty is dead, but it has been beaten savagely and left lying on the side of the road. The project itself is still extremely cool. And taking short convenient flights to stay in nice hotels in nice suburbs gives me no right at all to complain. But that’s never stopped me before.

Turns out that Universal CityWalk is a lot more like I remember it, if you go when everything’s still open. You pass by hundreds of tattoos spread among two or three people, exhausted children in tow staring wide-eyed like they were right out of a Depression-era photo. All the big Universal attractions the kids go nuts for like Woody Woodpecker and E.T. and Popeye and okay I admit it I’m a brand snob. But c’mon — right near the Hot Topic they had a bunch of chairs set up so that the crowds could watch a movie on the big screen for free. That movie was Big, the heartwarming 17-year-old comedy about a young teenager who has sex with Elizabeth Perkins. You can’t pay people to see the thing.

Headed back from dinner, there was a woman at the public open-air karaoke booth doing “Zombie” by The Cranberries. You get points for confidence, lady, but that song doesn’t even sound right with a professional singing it.

There’s a big convention of cell phone people — sorry, mobile technology professionals — which means lots of bald goateed guys in suits sitting out among palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights having conference calls over their Treos. And sitting in the hotel drinking a three-dollar Coke and looking out the big picture window over the Hollywood Hills (I think) and the lights of LA in the distance, I come over all funny-feeling. It’s somewhat soporific. Maybe LA’s not so bad; maybe it would be okay to live and work here. Be one of them.

But then I’m reminded of Solaris, and how his wife sure did look pretty, and seemed just like a real person, but in the end she had no soul; she wasn’t real. That made a difference to George Clooney, and it still makes a difference to me. For now.

And right in the middle of my complaining, who should show up at the door but the hotel guy with a complimentary fruit basket. Nothing ruins a good rant like privilege. Ah well; these grapes would be okay if they’d only had the foresight to peel them.

Plus I just thought I had the last elevator but right at the last minute some dude sticks his hand in the door and pushes his way in, meaning that I had to hold for another 8 floors the humongous ear-splitting fart I’d been wanting to let.

The Accidental Tourist

For this trip, the company put me up in a pretty swank hotel right smack dab in the middle of Hollywood. (I like referring to Disney as “The Company” because it makes it sound like I’m working for the CIA or something). i’ve always wanted to see more of H-town than just the sign and the Capitol Records building from the freeway, but figured I’d have to take a separate trip.

Driving past Warner Brothers studios and the Hollywood Bowl was kind of neat. And the hotel’s right next to Grauman’s Chinese Theater (showing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and across from The El Capitan Theater (Herbie Fully Loaded) (and the extra “the” bugs the hell out of me, right there on a big neon sign and everything). I got the chance to take some quick pictures, ash on the Walk of Fame stars of celebrities I don’t like, and put my hands in Robin Williams’ cement impression. I lied about that last part. They’ve also got some theater that by the looks of the sign is home to “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” but I didn’t linger around that because it wasn’t worth the wait just to get a chance to point at people with disdain or get a glimpse of Sarah Silverman. So instead I went to the Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store set up conveniently next to the the theater. I considered having my picture taken with a star, but couldn’t decide between Denzel Washington or Pamela Anderson, so I’ll have to come back for that.

I get the feeling that Real business travel is supposed to involve going to a strip club and then getting drunk in the hotel bar and taking a stranger back up to the room for a night of meaningless sex. But looking at T-shirts in a Hot Topic window, taking pictures of a theater, having an ice cream sundae, and then heading back to the room to watch Cartoon Network and read Harry Potter, is just as bad-ass, I’m sure. Besides I’ve got to keep up to the standards of The Company.