February 08, 2007

The Trench

Fresh from a screening of Norbit.

You know what I think? I think that Indiana Jones 4 (release date now set for May 22, 2008) finally coming to fruition isn’t a result of David Koepp finally coming up with something good enough for Spielberg/Lucas/Ford to agree on but rather the result of age and the leaden aggregate of encroaching dementia intersecting in this perfect storm of complementary senility. It’s the plateau on the line graph where the blue line of functioning grey matter junctures with the red line of filthy lucre. How about Indiana Jones and the Money Tree. I want to be proven wrong – which of course makes me the stupid one.

There was a Hannibal Rising screening in Denver and I wasn’t invited to it. There was a time that I would’ve been stung by this instead of grateful.

It does clarify something though in regards to how studios are starting to feel about critics. After 2006 which set some kind of record for the number of films that went unscreened – 2007 starts with “exclusive” screenings that filter out guys like me who just write for a website and talk on a radio show (combined audience: about 4 million). We also have two books in print. It makes me wonder what the criteria is, now, for being “official” enough to merit an invite to this jewel in MGM’s February crown. So is it more hubris to think that it’s personal or that it’s not?

Into Season 4 of “Six Feet Under” and it just rocks. Reminds me that I did an interview with Lili Taylor a couple of years ago that never was transcribed.

Did speaking engagements in conjunction with screenings of Streetcar Named Desire, Baby Doll, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for the Denver Public Library’s Tennessee Williams film series. As part of the overarching program of The South, also did a seminar on early Black film (James Whale’s Show Boat, Song of the South and Edge of the City). Coming up: Suddenly Last Summer and Night of the Iguana. Lamentably, no Boom!.

Best time? Seventh Seal at another library. This Friday will see me doing 3-Iron, this Saturday will see with Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood - then Breathless, Blow Up, and Aguirre: The Wrath of God. Also doing the Russell Crowe The Sum of Us. Busy couple of weeks.

The Seventh Seal, besides being the best Bergman film (Persona a close second), is also where the wife and I got the name for our daughter.

Sitting in the audience with a bunch of yahoos doubled over at the spectacle of Eddie Murphy fucking himself while Thandie Newton (how many Oscar winners/nominees are in this thing?) and Cuba Gooding Jr., further debase themselves. Something you wouldn’t have thought possible after so close an association with Pauls Haggis and Hogan, respectively. Norbit is like a Madea picture. It’s so hateful towards Asians that most of tonight’s audience didn’t know a joke was intended. Murphy plays a chink in this one, too, by the by – how wonderful that he’s resurrected his career.

I hope someone shoves his Oscar up his ass in a couple of weeks.

Watched, @ home, Trust the Man and The Last Kiss - I had to take an hour-long shower after. I wished I had a brillo pad and Lysol. I wished, irrationally, geekily, that a Monty Python foot would take care of either Zach Braff or Paul Haggis or Julianne Moore’s asshole auteur husband or, in a concession towards economy, just me. Anyone have an idea of what to call this genre of overwritten, smug, skeezy, adult contemporary pap?

(the punchline, of course, is that our daughter is named "Augustos Bloch")

Finished Dan Simmons’ The Terror today. It’s astonishing. Immediately ordered his Ilium and Olympos from Half.com. I sort of knew Simmons about ten years ago when he and I frequented the same little bookstore of horrors in Arvada. I still have a nicely-engraved Song of Kali from that period – who knew that a pristine copy of it would fetch a pretty penny now – at the time, all I knew was a neat story that Harlan Ellison told at the writing seminar I took from him about discovering Simmons at a different writing seminar that he taught and that this Simmons guy, who liked to name his short stories after lines from Eliot, was a guy that I liked a lot. I hope and fear that they make The Terror into an HBO mini-series one day. If you have a quicksilver couple of days: pick it up.

Currently reading a Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams to augment my upcoming speaking engagements: Currently listening to The Good, The Bad, and the Queen’s first album, Shawn Colvin’s dazzling cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, and a lot of Emily Haines.

Watched Babel again to make sure that I didn’t miss something the first time.

Glad we didn’t do a Bottom Ten list because it was due before I had seen Trust the Man and The Last Kiss.

Bart Freundlich - that’s that bastard’s name.


Scott said...

Finished Simmons' CROOK FACTORY a little while ago, his imaginative, espionage exploration of just what Hemingway was up to in Cuba all those years ago, based on real events, and Simmons somehow pulls off this rather unlikely scenario.

He's always reliable for a good read, in WHATEVER genre -- sf, thriller, mainstream, horror -- he sets his mind to.

There were rumors on his website that Scorsese and DiCaprio were getting ready to helm a film based on the OLYMPUS/ILLIUM books, but I'm not sure what's up with that now...

rachel said...

Quick story:

Today I had my second screenwriting class, where we were critiquing the scenes we'd written. Getting to mine, the prof. points out that I'd described one character as "hale." Then, asking the rest of the class which of them knew what that word meant. Turning to me: "Not that I'm saying you should dumb down your writing, but..."

So yeah, Norbit makes total sense.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you are back on the blog, Walter! I am sorry to see, however, that you had to watch Norbit. Plenty of movie ads make me roll my eyes at the obvious stupidity, but ads for this film actually make me angry; it looks like a veritable hate crime.

theoldboy said...

I'd initially say the Python foot could start with Braff, but then I'd hesitate because I do like Scrubs, but I get the sense that most of the problems with Scrubs have something to do with him. What a smug jackass.

Sheila Lynne said...

I just watched Seventh Seal again last night and then went to a film afterward where they played the Norbit trailer. It was enough to make my head ache. I had to go home afterward and watch part of Seventh Seal again...I'm so sorry, Walter, that you have to sit through crap like that as part of the job...And I agree with your Oscar/Eddie Murphy comment, though if there is any justice in the Universe, he won't be getting one...

Chad Evan said...

I'd love to hear you lecture on Night of the Iguana, Walter. I just watched it again last night and was blown away--much better on a second viewing. Your review of it was great, too--now if I could just get you to review Huston's films of O'Connor's Wise Blood and Joyce's The Dead...

James Allen said...

Anyone have an idea of what to call this genre of overwritten, smug, skeezy, adult contemporary pap?

A Whine-Com?

Anonymous said...

You know what would be actually funny? If Murphy played the "normal," without-irony love interest, too. If it means more of Murphy on screen, it would have resulted in some genuine, subversive discomfort.

Saw Epic Movie last weekend, and confirmed that these movies still depress me with their missed opportunities. I mean, you've got Kal Penn as the star, you've got a "joke" about Superman Returns, and yet Penn--you know, the guy who was in that movie--isn't involved in that segment. Surely he could have filled them in on a few potential laughs?

Only really good thing about it was being able to see the trailer for the new Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg-Nick Frost film, Hot Fuzz.

Anyone have an idea of what to call this genre of overwritten, smug, skeezy, adult contemporary pap?

"Guiltsploitation" seems appropriate. Although that could probably apply to a lot of the Oscar nominees, too.

benaiah said...

Is it possible to make a good movie based around the premise of a man in a fat woman suit? I guess in Norbit that isn't the premise as much as the punchline, but I wonder who out there is eagerly awaiting shit like this? Then my roommate starts laughing uproariously at beer commercials were people get hit with rocks and I nod knowingly. People who are completely unconscious, whose funny bone doesn't take a path through the frontal lobe, they are the target audience for Norbit. Unfortunately, as the back to back successes of Epic Movie and Because I Said So prove, that is a pretty profitable demographic.

Jack_Sommersby said...


From your "Crank" review:

(and as it happens, Crank is a lot like Dabney Coleman's surprisingly funny Short Time, too)

How wonderful to read this, because I'm a big fan of this unappreciated film that boasts a simply extraordinary performance by Coleman, which I thought deserved Oscar consideration. (Oh, and I liked "Crank", too. One of the most entertaining action pics I've seen in quite some time.)

Bill C said...

So... Anna Nicole Smith is dead.

Mad world.

jer fairall said...

I remain a defensive, maybe-slightly-embarassed fan of Garden State, and I never hated Paul Haggis nearly as much as so many others seem to, but The Last Kiss was enough to single handedly validate every bad thing I've ever heard said about either of them. Would have been the worst film I saw last year were it not for Date Movie and The Da Vinci Code.

Really wanted to like The Good, The Bad and the Queen more than I did. You'd think Damon Albarn + Paul Simonon + Danger Mouse would = great party record. This sounds way more like some late-period Blur b-sides to me. Where does one find Shawn Colvin's "Crazy" though? Do you like Stars/Amy Millan, Walter? A little more shoegazey/country than Metric/Emily Haines, but you still might like.

Bring on this Lili Taylor interview!

Walter_Chaw said...

Guess I sort of like Blur b-sides.

ITunes has Colvin's "Crazy" - YouTube has a guerrilla vid of her doing it live in Germany, as well. Makes the song melancholy, somehow, same thing she did for the Talking Heads' "Naive Melody".


Haven't heard Stars/Amy Millan - will investigate. Thanks for the lead.

As for Anna Nicole's untimely demise. . . Well, Christ, what a fucking mess.

Scary world where "hale" is obscure. I used to get a lot of emails - still do, I guess - about big words. Thing is, nobody's ever that specific about which words they're confused/offended by. Mixed blessing.

Ian - had the same thought of "what if Murphy played Thandie Newton, too?" - and as to the question of if a good film could ever be made with a man in a fat woman suit. . . the question's almost the answer, m'man. Norbit almost interesting, actually, in that one scene where Murphy's Rasputia character is berating Thandie Newton's character for being so skinny that she's disgusting - something that the fashion industry is dealing with in detail now and something that Newton, some might say, embodies to varying degrees. She looks scary-thin in Norbit. Enough so that, as with many of the jokes in the film, it doesn't feel like a joke at all.

And, more preaching to the choir, who's the joke on in any case? The fat cow that everyone hates and is disgusted by or the sweet little stick-thin thing who's clearly the object of our devotion? Dangerous stuff.

Correction, by the way, I guess Newton's never been nominated for an Oscar. I felt sure with Crash and Beloved. . . ah well. Her physical similarity to Audrey Hepburn is getting creepy. Ask Jonathan Demme.

Alex Jackson said...

Can't be the only one that thinks Cries and Whispers is better than either Seventh Seal or Persona, can I?

Jared said...

Six Feet Under is magnificent; I think it may have surpassed Twin Peaks in my mind as the best TV show ever, and it ended probably before it had its last good season in it. "That's My Dog" is one of the most insane and sadistic things ever shown on television. That finale is something else too. It's also one of the very few shows to have a great series finale that could be counted among the best episodes (Futurama is the only one that comes to mind in the last 15 years or so). Season Four isn't even the best season, and the Bravo versions of the episodes are good but the DVDs really are the way to go, especially now that they packaged them all together in one box set and the MSRP isn't as insane as the individual sets.

Jared said...

I hate to admit it but I had to look up hale in the dictionary. I noticed that my vocabulary has become so tiny that I just used the word "insane" twice in one post.

Getting back to someone earlier mentioning that their roommate thought Norbit looked funny, how do you deal with your friends and loved ones having horrible taste in books and movies? I can't count how many times the people I love told me that I have to read The Da Vinci Code, or how my parents thought that Cinderella Man was an amazing movie (or worse, that one of my friends said that there's "no way" Raging Bull could be as good when I made an off-hand remark that I thought it was probably the best movie ever made about a boxer). Stuff like Norbit is so ubiquitous these days that it's hard to get offended by it even though it is offensive, and sometimes it makes me cringe to hear friends and family laugh at stuff like that. I guess I'll just go on trying to get my family to watch stuff like "Birth" and hearing about how bad it was for weeks.

Bill C said...

FYI, the esteemed Ian Pugh will be tackling "Six Feet Under" for us in the near future. Embarrassed to say the finale left me so wrecked I had to pass the baton, but I'll be providing an assist where that mammoth box set is concerned.

theoldboy said...

Is it just my imagination, or did Saddam get less media coverage when he died than Anna Nicole?

Jared said...

How many other 39-year-olds can die and shock nobody?

reel2reel said...

Speaking of the kind of people who like beer commercials and movies like Norbit, here's a sample from one IMDB user that seems to speak volumes:

"This is a rather uneven comedy but it definitely has its funny moments. "How You Doin?" was Rasputia's (Norbit's dreadful, fat, psychotic wife) signature line throughout the movie. The movie really stretched the limits of believability because there was really no reason for Norbit to marry such a grotesque bully (except the possibility that he was afraid to say no)...

...This movie actually made me uncomfortable - even though I tried to "lighten up" and remember that it was just a silly comedy...It was hard to believe that a beautiful woman like Kate would be attracted to such a weak, sniveling coward no matter what he looked like - and Norbit was not attractive at all...

...Cuba Gooding, Jr. was wasted in this movie..."

And it goes on. I'm depressed.

Rich said...

I thought the point was less that 'hale' wasn't well-known, but more that the professor implicitly condoned dumbing-down the film in question as a result. I had to look it up, too, so maybe I'm just trying to defend my ignorance.

On the topic of final episodes of TV shows, how about Deadwood's? Nothing too grand or overly-dramatic - just sort of matter-of-fact. Given the impending doom of the series I thought it was a pretty remarkable finish.

Walter_Chaw said...

Rich - I think that Deadwood still has something like three two-hour films as their finale. . . ? Hope to god it's true.

Rick said...

...Cuba Gooding, Jr. was wasted in this movie..."

I can't believe they didn't utilize his array of talents, such as...hmmm, give me a second. Hold on, I'm thinking...Ok, I give up.

Rich said...

Also, for what it's worth, I love just about anything Blur (especially the understimated 13), so I'm looking forward to checking out that album you mentioned. I've been listening to The Jam a lot lately, and Blur are like a combination of that and The Kinks. Beautiful.

Rich said...

Rick, come on, Cuba does that pouty "I'm on camera" look better than anyone. That's a talent...sorta - well, in the same way that doing fat-suit-schtick is a talent for Eddie Murphy.

Anonymous said...

You know, the very real possibility of Murphy getting an Oscar while Norbit is still in theaters reminds me of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s appearance at the '03 Oscar ceremony, when they invited every Oscar winner at the theater, past and present, to the stage. Cuba was there, gave his goofy grin, and if I'm not mistaken, it all took place on the same weekend that Boat Trip was released.

As for tackling the entirety of "Six Feet Under"--needless to say, it's gonna be a memorable experience.

The Captain said...

Walter, you ever thought of penning an essay (or book or so on) on the pitiful treatment of Asians in Hollywood/American/et al film? Or racism in general? The completely hateful woeful ignorance of the filmmakers and the public when it comes to representations in film is a really depressing thing - I don't understand how people can be so oblivious. Top down processing as an excuse only goes so far - how does stereotyping to the point of "I sold my 2 year old for a yak" go unnoticed? Is literal retardation so widespread.

Also, That's My Dog is the greatest thing ever.

jer fairall said...

I probably should qualify that my slight disappointment with The Good The Bad and The Queen probably has a lot to do with my initial interest in the project being thanks to, roughly, 40% Simonon, 40% Danger Mouse and only about 20% Albarn. Always thought that Blur were a far better singles band than an album one, and nothing on TGTH&TQ sounds even remotely like a Blur singles. I could see fans of 13, especially, really digging this.

Walter: Stars have quite a few albums. Set Yourself on Fire is the one to check out. Should have mentioned that before.

I watched the whole run of Six Feet Under last summer, and I'll defnitely cast vote for it as the best dramatic series ever. I never got the fan hatred over the amazing "That's My Dog" (high fives to Jared and Captain!) or the batshit insanity of Season 4 in general, though I do think the energy flags, just a bit, in Season 5. Not sure if this is cause they knew they were wrapping up, or if it was just time to end, but I think they chose the right time to conclude. The Magnolia-esque "Calling All Angels" sequence midway though the season and the finale are both stunning, though.

permazorch said...

Hale means healthy, right? (This is pre-look-up.) I relate it to robust & hearty. Like a good steak from Carl's Jr's., y'know?

Six Feet Under is one of my favorites, for sure, but I find myself tickled more by the first two seasons of Deadwood. Finally, I think The Wire is the absolute best shit off the boob-tube, evah!!! We are living in the age of The Perfected Soap-Opera.

Too bad about Mr. Murphy. Makes Idiocracy & Borat more valid every nanosecond.

Alex Jackson said...

Walter, you ever thought of penning an essay (or book or so on) on the pitiful treatment of Asians in Hollywood/American/et al film? Or racism in general? The completely hateful woeful ignorance of the filmmakers and the public when it comes to representations in film is a really depressing thing - I don't understand how people can be so oblivious. Top down processing as an excuse only goes so far - how does stereotyping to the point of "I sold my 2 year old for a yak" go unnoticed? Is literal retardation so widespread.

What I love about Walter, and what usually goes unnoticed by his critics, is that virtually every time he brings up racism it's with a film that he believes would have sucked ass anyway. The racism is just the icing on the cake, a byproduct of the overall stupidity of the filmmakers. This is true even of a film like The Goonies.

Anybody who reads his reviews on a regular basis would know that the guy is actually pretty thick-skinned and versatile on this subject. How High was as cruel toward Asian men as any film I've ever seen, but it's redeemed by actually being conscious of and witty about its vulgarity. It's actually very funny also.

Anonymous said...

I finished the 5th season of "Six Feet Under" in a week-long burst--and I still don't think I'm fully recovered. Nate's loathsome self-involvement got to me after awhile (along with the overt narcissism of everyone else for that matter) but that's hardly a criticism--more my fault for watching in great heaps rather than weekly; what a show.

Spoiler? Perhaps--tread with caution....


James Cromwell gave one of the
best portrayals of a mentally ill person that I've seen--ever. The finale haunts me still. I saw "The Last Kiss" while stuck in the house on a horrible winter afternoon--and I will say it's a film made for being stuck inside the house on a horrible winter afternoon. (so is "Winter Passing" which is almost as twee and unbearable--but it does have Zooey instead of Zach you can't spell it without 'Barf' Braff; ) I actually did like it better than "Garden State"; which I suppose is like preferring Pizza Hut to Arby's but; there it is.

Anyone seen "Nightmares and Dreamscapes"?

Bill C said...

In the interest of letting Walt's post breathe, no Friday Talkback this week; a quick heads-up, however, that a special weekend project launches this Sunday at the mothersite.

Johnson said...

Norbit looks atrocious. Trailers for Hot Fuzz on the other hand are excellent (liked but didn't love Shaun of the Dead) and I'm going to see it next Saturday. Will let you know if it's any good.

Any fellow Ozu aficionados on FFC? A new Region 2 set came out this week including two late Ozu films, Late Autumn and Autumn Afternoon (http://www.play.com/DVD/DVD/4-/3229371/The_Ozu_Collection_4_Late_Autumn_An_Autumn_Afternoon/Product.html). Had a gander already and Late Autumn looks fantastic. The first two collections were terrible but Tartan got their act together for the third set and now this one. Until (if ever) Criterion release those films themselves, I can't see them getting a better release anywhere.

Jared said...

Oh the "Calling All Angels" episode was great, better than any of Mary Harron's film work. I wish she'd stick to TV; it's a fantastic medium for her. Ditto Michael Cuesta, Kathy Bates, Nicole Holofcener, and a number of other so-so film directors who made great episodes of Six Feet Under.

Nate's self involvement is worse in the first season, he's oblivious to the people around him; especially David. In the fifth season the poor guy has been through so much hell you just want him to find peace and be happy. That moment in the third season where he's sitting in Lisa's car with the tape of Todd Rundgren's "I Saw The Light" playing as the sun rises and he's just staring out hopelessly looking like he hasn't slept in 4 days is probably his best character moment.

It was really weird; I saw "That's My Dog" and then watched Garden State in theaters a couple weeks later where the same actor who plays David's tormentor plays a goofy cop; the same actor is also in The Last Kiss which is much more deserving of your bile than Garden State. I will say that "Scrubs" sucks, everybody on it is smug and the older doctors are just hateful, especially John C. McGinley who I just want to sock in the face; which is odd because I usually like his act in stuff like Wall Street and Office Space. It's one of those sitcoms that doesn't have a laugh track because it's hackneyed and would slow the pace, but because there's nothing funny about it. I'm also having a hard time coming around to that American version of The Office despite my love for Steve Carrell, maybe just because the U.K. series is SOOOOOO much better that I'm immediately drawn to comparison.

Jared said...

Err, I meant doesn't skip the laugh track.

Speaking of TV comedies, are there any that are worth a damn now that Arrested Development is gone?

Alex Jackson said...

I will say that "Scrubs" sucks, everybody on it is smug and the older doctors are just hateful, especially John C. McGinley who I just want to sock in the face; which is odd because I usually like his act in stuff like Wall Street and Office Space. It's one of those sitcoms that doesn't have a laugh track because it's hackneyed and would slow the pace, but because there's nothing funny about it.

Ack! I'm becoming obsessed with Scrubs, particularly since the local station shows it on syndication. I literally would rather watch that show than anything else. It's completely for personal reasons that are likely applicable to very few, I'm right on the verge of actually starting a career in social work and I'm completely paralyzed as to making the wrong decisions. Comforting to see that it's a rite of passage, you know?

I have no idea as to whether or not it's actually good. I know that opinions are supposed to be subjective and personal, but this is really a case of conflict of interest.

Rich said...

I have no idea as to whether or not it's actually good. I know that opinions are supposed to be subjective and personal, but this is really a case of conflict of interest.

Wow, that doesn't sound like you, Alex.

Bill C said...

I'm gonna stick my neck out: I think the American "Office" is every bit as good as--if not superior to--the BBC original. It takes immersion, though--on first glance there's no comparison. Part of what endears me to it is just how fascinatingly meta/looking-glass-y it can get, like when they parodied "Lazy Sunday" to satirize the kind of people who imitate, say, the already-satirical Austin Powers. (See: everyone at YouTube hopping on the fake-movie-trailer bandwagon.) Someone here recently brought up the Christmas episode, which was indeed a brilliant commentary on race humour: Michael decides to ask a pair of Chinese waitresses to come back to the office party with him, and once there surreptitiously marks one with a felt pen to tell them apart. But the genius of it is that these weren't the same two waitresses he was hitting on at the restaurant, so the joke's on you if you get all huffy about this "they all look alike" punchline, since it means you didn't notice the primary switcheroo. Harold Ramis directed that ep, probably the best thing he's made since Groundhog Day.

I also like that when push comes to shove, the Steve Carell character has a modicum of professionalism, adhering to the old Hitchcock maxim that we'll forgive any man who's good at his job. I probably need to rewatch the British version, but it seemed to me that David Brent's ascent to the top was purely inexplicable, whereas Michael Scott has pulled more than enough rabbits out of his ass to at least confirm he's not a complete idiot.

Then of course there's Pam. Dreamy sigh.

As for Michael Weston, I must admit I can't accept him in any other role post-"That's My Dog." Nobody forgives success, as the saying goes, and he was just too damn effective as that creep.

Jared said...

It's a shame that Michael Weston is stuck as Zach Braff's Tony Roberts equivalent because he'd be so much better off typecast as a serial killer or pedophile or something like that. Nobody can pull of creepy like him, those eyes; my God. He really looked like he had been up all night smoking crack.

I don't think that The Office US is actively bad like I think Scrubs is (if it wants to be a drama I wish it would play it straight, if it wants to be a comedy I'd like it to have jokes); but I just don't think it will ever pass muster next to the UK one, despite Bill's criticism. The UK Office saw cube jobs to be really soul crushing and worthless, in the US office it's a big goof where they all play video games. It's impossible to dislike Dwight and Michael since Rainn Wilson and Steve Carrell are such likable actors; which really takes a lot of the tension out of the Office concept. David Brent was an idiot with no soul who was not prone to logic or reason; Michael and Dwight are human.

I'm trying to think of comedies I liked in recent years, downloaded "The Jake Effect" since it's not on DVD and Bravo hasn't played it in forever and I have to say that although it had serious problems like the narration that it could've evolved into something decent given time. Glad that Bateman wound up on Arrested Development instead but it could've been a good show. My Name Is Earl is too sappy and commercial, the acting is funny and some of the ideas are too but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Curb Your Enthusiasm is maybe my favorite comedy ever but it gets new episodes too infrequently, and from my experiences as lauding it as probably the funniest show ever I've found that people generally don't get it if they're not white and upper-middle class/upper class. I think American TV comedy leaves a lot to be desired.

Can we agree that Lazy Sunday wasn't funny though and that Saturday Night Live has been seriously lacking since a little after Bush took office?

Bill C said...

Jared: that point about Carrel and Wilson being too innately likeable is actually a really trenchant criticism; ditto the comparison of Weston to Tony Roberts. Ha.

As for the suckitude of "Lazy Sunday," well, SNL sucks. Dare I say it always has. Dare I say it always will. I hate how parasitic this culture is, by the by, in that there are already parodies of "Dick in a Box" out there. Like, make your own fucking jokes, hipsters.

Jared said...

Yes, if you recall from the UK Office the employees regarded Brent with horror. It's really, really hard to stomach more than two or three episodes of it at once, very few comedies are so painful.

SNL's problem lately is that they've really internalized the New York hipster thing, they believe that everybody has 40" flatscreens and 80 GB iPods; and they also think that they're going to register laughs making fun of chain restaurants and mass media when most of the audience for SNL enjoys that stuff. I think part of the problem is how young the current cast is skewing, the median age is probably 10 years younger than it ever has been.

Alex Jackson said...

Never saw "Lazy Sunday" until now.

Ayup, nothing new to add here. New York hipster isolation, SNL on the downward spiral, that about covers it.

Saw one episode of the U.S. Office and found it pretty painful. Saw half an episode of Extras and found it pretty dull. Not too interested in exploring this much more, would rather leave the experimenting and hard work to films.

Bill C said...

I'll gladly take "Extras" over "Scrubs", which has become the most excruciating succession of Very Special Episodes since "Diff'rent Strokes". Will Perry's cold heart be thawed again this week? Will J.D. bang another hot girl and Learn the Importance of Honesty? Tune in, turn on, up chuck.

Jared said...

The whole SNL cast as of late seems to be on this big kick out of living in New York and partying all the time. Their job of being on a sketch comedy show seems to be in the way of them being club VIPs and having fun. It's a big motley crew of comedians who haven't earned shit, haven't been on the club circuit, and have been put on the biggest stage a comedian can be on without the experience and know how to do it right. The guys who were on in the prime years (Murray years, Hartman years, Ferrell years) had been around a little and learned a thing or two about comedy and seemed to be much more in love with being funny than being cool.

Rick said...

I'm gonna stick my neck out: I think the American "Office" is every bit as good as--if not superior to--the BBC original.

That is a very bold statement, Bill. Almost as bold as me picking up Sean Avery in fantasy hockey. I am glad you said this though because I am sick of people saying how much better the UK version is. I think both are hilarious and amazingly consistent, and there is more to the US version than people ( who passively watch ) think. The last wedding episode was great, accentuating how much Micheal Scott hasn't grown since childhood ( yelling "I hate you!" as a child and as an adult at two different weddings ) The UK version may be more cynical, but both are equal in wit. Though I do not really like the character of Jim, he seems to be a sitcom version of what Walter thinks of Micheal Ian Black. He picks apart everything, but does not really seem to have any actual personality or intelligence of his own.

Bill C said...

Not to be one of those guys, Rick, but I think I may have made the Michael Ian Black comments in question, in a capsule review of Black's directorial debut The Pleasure of Your Company. (Could be Travis, though, as he reviewed "Stella".) To my knowledge, Walter has always been wise enough to keep his eyes closed whenever we open the Michael Ian Black ark.

And speaking of Ians (albeit the non-annoying kind), be sure to check out the first instalment of Ian Pugh's Septennial Sundays, reviewing Michael Apted's "Up" Series.

Chris said...

One big difference between The Office UK and The Office US is in scope - the UK was finite, barely coming in at more than six or seven hours after the Christmas "special", while the US has already doubled that and then some.

It's an interesting point you bring up, Bill, and maybe the greatest (only?) flaw in the UK is that there's no way David Brent would ever have been taken on as boss in the first place. Give a chance to stretch its legs, ths US has deftly written Michael Scott as very capable, in many instances thanks to his customers appreciating his inane jokes (like the early episode with Tim Meadows at Chili's - amazing!).

As for any suggestions that the US version is too goofy, I disagree completely. Especially this season, since the merging of the two branches, the misery of the characters as come out in full force. Jim, in particular, has fallen into this completely depressing rut - he merely *copes* by playing jester.

I dunno how long they can keep it up, but for now The Office is the best show on television, in my opinion. Now that Six Feet Under is off the air...

Rick said...

ths US has deftly written Michael Scott as very capable

They wrote him not only as capable, but as a very good sales rep. During the episode where the entire office goes on a sales call, Micheal does very well until Andy botches the whole thing. Quite the opposite of David Brent, who you begin to question if he even knows how to turn on a computer. Both shows work well with the different directions, I think the US version went with the more heart and intelligence angle just because Steve Carell is impossible to completely dislike, no matter what he does.

Sorry, Bill. I remembered incorrectly about the views on Michael Ian Black. I was thinking of The Pleasure of Your Company comments, but I thought Walter did the Toronto reviews. I knew Travis did the Stella review though. So do you dislike David Wain as much? And with Garant and Lennon's lack of writing talent shown by The Pacifier, Taxi, Herbie Fully Loaded, you must have hated The State.

And I would take The Last Kiss over Garden State anyday. I do not think there was one likable character in either movie, but Garden State and its ridiculous lazy indie rock, quasi-hipster following just gets on my freaking nerves

O'JohnLandis said...

Can't be the only one that thinks Cries and Whispers is better than either Seventh Seal or Persona, can I?

Well, that's tricky. Seventh Seal is a beautiful allegory; Cries and Whispers is sorta like exhuming your girlfriend's mom's corpse to politely lick its shoulder before you dump red paint on it. Clearly, that's meant as praise, but C&W is a creepy, alien thing that somehow manages to come off as universal and human. I don't really know how that happens, and I can think of at least five or six close friends who wouldn't make it through twenty minutes without losing their will to live. Clearly, that's meant as praise, but how do you compare it to Seventh Seal?

I'll punt. The best Bergman is, um, Magic Flute. Moving on:

Garden State is probably worse than The Last Kiss (US), but if I could be stuck with only one embarassing female quirk robot, I'd pick Portman over Barrett or Bilson. A mix CD? How pedestrian compared to Portman's schizo wet dream... If The Last Kiss (US) is better because it's slightly more realistic and has some scenes that might have worked in the context of a better film, let's not forget that it's a remake of a superior (though still pretty bad) Italian film. I haven't seen the original in a while, but I remember it having luscious female leads and a leading man who seemed plausible in bed with a sex bomb. At least Woody Allen's characters were usually good at something. Moving on:

If Scrubs had stopped after its third season, I would call it the apotheosis of the live action sitcom. It was funny, specific, and unique, and was populated with plausible characters trying to learn how to do a hard job just well enough to get by. The medicine and ethics were subtle and it was goofy without ever, even for a moment, trying to be cool. And the third season finishes the story with a perfect twist. Sadly, the fourth season is awful, nearly from start to finish, and the show now seems to be self-parody. Kinda like The Simpsons, which at least made it through six good years.

Pretty much anything is better than The Office (UK). It's neither funny nor clever to stick an artificial monster with a big "Any exaggeration is satire" neon sign in a mockumentary. The construction and premise of the thing is so poor, any effort to humanize the main character is an improvement. It might have helped Seinfeld, too.

As for the genre name:


Bill C said...

I was thinking of The Pleasure of Your Company comments, but I thought Walter did the Toronto reviews.

I'll take that as a compliment.

I don't have much of an opinion on David Wain, maybe because he's not as ubiquitous as Black or even Showalter (who actually seems like the biggest narcissist among them).

I still think Lennon and Garant started out writing garbage on purpose, but because it continually fell in the hands of rent-a-cop directors (Shawn Levy, Adam Shankman), it became indistinguishable from bona fide commercial swill. More power to them, really, for making a living beating Hollywood at its own game, but pity the children being weaned on those movies and fear for the future of cinema.

As far as highbrow sketch comedy goes, gimme "Mr. Show" any day.

Chad Evan said...

In light of recent political and military events, I thought some here might be interested in checking out this short film called "Escalation," by Disney animator Ward Kimball (perhaps most famous for the modernist "Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom" short that some of you may remember from music appreciation class at school.) The cartoon was made in the late '60s, but distressingly, it might as well have been made yesterday.


Chad Evan said...

I just found an easier adress that has the film at the very top of the page: www.cartoonbrew.com

Rick said...

Lennon and Garant started out writing garbage on purpose

I thought this before too, but what is the reason for Let's go to Prison* being so horrible? Mr Show's Bob Odenkirk was the director, and if he could have done so, I think he would have made it into a spoof of prison comedies, not a straight prison comedy. I mean it was very close to being a spoof, but mostly had cheap and obvious humor.

I think Showalter may be the least criminal of The State cast. While his movie The Baxter was terrible, it was more straightforward and did not have any hipster ironic detachment bullshit going on. I think David Wain is the most clever of them all, and seems to be the driving force behind every project they do. But it is an empty kind of wit, completely free of meaningful subversion. I found myself laughing at Wet Hot American Summer, but was left wondering if we really needed an overlong spoof of Meatballs?

* - my excuse for even watching this was that the movie streaming for free online, plus I thought Odenkirk would have made it a spoof

theoldboy said...

I find the moralism of Scrubs so smug and hokey that it's actually incomprehensible. Episodes usually go like this:
*20 minutes of moderately funny shit*
J.D. (VO): This made me think a lot about friends and love and shit. Whether you're doing this one thing or doing this other thing or even when you're doing this other other thing, friends and love and shit are what it's all about. (this continues for about five minutes)
*may or may not end on an amusing gag, most likely the latter these days*

Nevertheless, the first couple seasons are pretty good. I think the series goes downhill right around when that girl from the Drew Carey Show starts to visibly age. So if she appears and the skin around her eyes is stretched or wrinkled freakishly, you can probably safely turn it off.

Patrick Pricken said...

Huh, I like Scrubs well enough (though I don't know what season we're in here in Germany; we're usually at least one season behind, sometimes more).

On the other hand, I never got into Six Feet Under – how many episodes does one have to watch before it gets good? Or, to pose the question differently: Are there actually any standout episodes or is any effect just generated by previous investment into the series and its characters?

To make up for my diverging views, and before I pronounce "Stromberg" to be the best version of the office (the German one, natch), I share your annoyance at smug, overwritten pap.

As for Norbit: I hope our education will improve significantly enough that the next generation of movie goers will not be content by watching brainless crap. Just imagine five-year olds turning to their parents and complaining about the kind of movie they're being taken to – utopia!

I read Hannibal Rising (a christmas present, after I disliked Hannibal – thoughtful!) and was terminally bored. Clichés about Europe, Hannibal as a James Bondian/MacGuyvery hero in a revenge story with an inexplicable cannibalist side dish, all written as if seen on a movie screen – Harris must really despise his most popular character, to destroy him so completely. Either that, or he had an old manuscript lying around that he simply switched the protagonist's name of. So your gratitude and not being invited is well-founded.

Finally, the studios probably invite quote whores and critics who don't have a record of staunch quality defense like you have. And really, who needs critics, anymore? People will go see what they're being told to like, anyway (Norbit, Pirates of the Caribbean 2/3, ...)

Damn, PotC2 sucked.

Rick said...

Wow, that episode of Extras was the most hilarious sitcom episode since "The Doll" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I know it has been on the BBC already but I just saw it tonight. The exploding coke bottle scene floored me, and followed by the "mash it up" (cheap but still funny) and "It's like Deliverance in here!" scenes, I couldn't even breathe I was laughing so hard.

corym said...

I'm gonna stick my neck out: I think the American "Office" is every bit as good as--if not superior to--the BBC original.

I also like that when push comes to shove, the Steve Carell character has a modicum of professionalism, adhering to the old Hitchcock maxim that we'll forgive any man who's good at his job. I probably need to rewatch the British version, but it seemed to me that David Brent's ascent to the top was purely inexplicable, whereas Michael Scott has pulled more than enough rabbits out of his ass to at least confirm he's not a complete idiot.

Thank you for that, Bill. I love that the US "Office" has painted Michael Scott as a strangely capable manager. He's shown himself to be a fantastic salesman, and his childishness is perfectly suited to corporate infighting. The Slate article found here might be a definitive look at the series--in any country.

Regarding "My Name is Earl," I've always been baffled by the dislike shown on this blog. I find the show's bizarre redneck Buddhism strangely fascinating. It mines backcountry grotesquerie for humor, but it's rarely condescending.

enandrews said...

I'm surprised know ones mentioned The Wire, I was content with Deadwood and The Sopranos before I started watching.

Any plans to cover it on the site?

Chad Evan said...

I'll second the bafflement enadrews feels on the filmfreak's ignoring The Wire. Incredible show.
I think Travis, in particular, would dig it.

theoldboy said...

I can't bring myself to hate PotC2, maybe in a similar way to how I can't bring myself to hate Matrix Reloaded. It's not great, or what one might call "good", but it's not very detrimental to the culture like Norbit may be. There's a lot of imagination on display, and Verbinski at least is a better filmmaker than other Bruckheimer ilk, reminding me of Terry Gilliam with more commercial aspirations. Though unlike The Matrix films, I don't regard it as a healthy addition to American pop culture. (for all its sanctimonious navel-gazing and sterile CGI excess, I can't remember a more challenging and audacious film than Matrix Reloaded that earned as much money as it did, though I'm sure the mainstream kept their cynical distance and regarded the philosophizing as an puzzling but presumedly-necessary vehicle to get between absurd spectacles)

I've only seen the first episode of The Wire, but that is a fantastic show.

Anonymous said...

The Wire RULES.
End of Interview.
End of Statement.
End of Line.

Chris said...

Incidentally, I remember during one of my many arguments in the wake of the release of Love Actually, I commented that you could make a movie that was just a straight hour-and-a-half of Hugh Grant dancing, and it would be a huge hit.

It never occured to me at the time, when I thought Love Actually actually was the cultural low-point for humanity, that they actually *would* release a movie that was just a straight hour-and-a-half of Hugh Grant dancing.

Jefferson said...

Regarding the conversation a few threads back about 24, the show creator is on record with the New Yorker about his own views on torture.

Patrick Pricken said...

"Isn’t it obvious that if there was a nuke in New York City that was about to blow—or any other city in this country—that, even if you were going to go to jail, it would be the right thing to do?"

Emphasis on "even if you were going to go to jail". Yes, torture the guy, then go to jail for it in the satisfied knowledge you helped thousands to survive. But in 24 (to remain in the realm of fiction), you don't go to jail. You're hailed as hero. That's where the problem is.

Chris said...

Um, actually, well, major characters on 24 rather frequently face prison or other negative consequences as results of their illegal-but-life-saving activities. Tony, one of the show's main characters, spent quite a bit of time in jail (albeit for treason) - it just happens in between seasons, because nobody gets sent to jail for anything the day of.

Just this season, just last night, in fact, Jack told Bill Buchanan not to doctor the report on his over-enthusiastic torturing of his brother, knowing he'll probably end up in front of a judge.

Also, by the way, all that talk about the show being pro-interment camps has been shot down, huh?

theoldboy said...

I would just like to thank Walter for coining the term "vagina charts" in his review of The Last Kiss. I think will be using that phrase in daily speech whenever possible.

Patrick Pricken said...

"major characters on 24 rather frequently face prison or other negative consequences as results of their illegal-but-life-saving activities."

They do? Who is in prison for torturing? And especially Jack Bauer in a pinch simply leaves CTU and then comes back in. It's always "just keep me going until this is done, and that is done". And then the series ends, and next season everything's fine again. I mean, despite all that he's done, Jack Bauer ends up working for/with CTU again, ends up more or less ruling CTU because if they don't follow his orders, he'll simply go on his own and recruit co-workers to subvert the system and help him. Repercussions? Not really.

I don't mind it very much; it's "just a TV show". But the line of argumentation is similar to real-world discussions, and that's where it breaks down. The argument I cited above is one I especially dislike – and that's not even arguing about whether or not torture (or coercion) even works.

Chris said...

In between this season and the last, Jack Bauer spent two years (being tortured!) in a Chinese prison, and in between seasons four and five he was living under a false identity, leaving his daughter and girlfriend to believe him dead.

Also, if you've been watching this season (and I'm guessing you haven't), you've seen how Jack has different feelings about torture now that he's had some himself.

Jefferson said...

Last Kiss review:

"by the time chinless, overcast Michael finally schleps bat-faced cyborg Kim"

i love the turn of phrase, Walter, but I think the Yiddishism you were going for was "shtups." To shtup is to know carnally, to make the two-backed beast with, to sex up, to knock boots with, to administer the affection injection to. To schlep is to lug or carry, e.g, "I had to schlep my mother-in-law's eighty pounds of luggage all the way through San Francisco International."

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - you're right - somehow works either way, though. Gotta' love Yiddish.

Rick said...

Can someone tell Zach Braff he isn't a lead? He should be casted off into the herd of Apatow-only actors as the 5th friend or something.

And the word "relationshit" has more wit itself than all of Trust the Man. That movie did not even deserve 1/2* from Walter. If I ever saw David Duchovny, I would smack the little self-satisfied grin off his face. And Im not just referring to his worthless character in Trust the Man, but to the countless number of interviews he has done, trying to carry over Mulder's dry wit. The problem is that without writing to arch his backbone, his blaterhing is just dry. And besides that, Trust the Man was the most infuriating and absolute worst movie of 2006.

O'JohnLandis said...

After my last post, I thought about The Last Kiss for a while. It's not the kind of terrible film that's easily forgotten. Sadly, the only gift Haggis has is the ability to write memorable scenes. They're memorable for a bad reason--they make you hate fiction and light--but I remember nearly every comma of Million Dollar Baby, Crash, and The Last Kiss. (By the way, do you remember a world in which it seemed like Million Dollar Baby might be the worst thing Haggis would do? I miss that world.) Anyhow, I thought about all the romantic comedies and dramas I used to enjoy, and then I thought about Trust the Man, The Last Kiss, and Love Me If You Dare. That's about as scary a Valentine's night at the movies as I can imagine, and probably all three are considered romantic.

By the way, I thought of a term to describe the characters in movies like Trust the Man and The Last Kiss:


Ryland Walker Knight said...

Late to the party on this one. I'm really into that "relationshit" title.
As for Bergman...I've never been able to pinpoint the "best" one. There was a time when, being really depressed and drunk far too often, all I watched was Bergman movies and I still haven't seen all of them, including key members of the oeuvre like Smiles of a Summer Night and Time of the Wolf. For a movie buff I've got a lot of blind spots. It's a weird phenomenon for me but I've come to the conclusion it's better that way cuz that just means I have more good movies to see, waiting for me, you know?

Bill C said...

Think you mean Hour of the Wolf, Ryland. The other one is Haneke.