Saturday, January 4, 2003

MY FIRST COMPUTER: That'd be the Commodore VIC-20, complete with cassette deck and 22 characters per line of text. William Shatner said it would take me from preschool to post-graduate studies.

What was yours? email me if it's good and embarrassing enough.
RENEE ZELLWEGER'S BACK: No, I'm not lauding the new movie Chicago for resurrecting her career - - she's doing quite fine. But, my lord, if that movie had more shots of her unclothed back . . . you see her back in that movie about as often as you saw Elizabeth Berkeley's breasts in Showgirls, and that's saying something.

Let me dissent from all the raves that the movie is receiving, because, honestly, the movie left me more than a bit cold. The movie promotes messages that are as worn out as my t-shirt from the 1992 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional (Duke, Kentucky, Seton Hall, UMass, and you know how that ended up) -- Fame Is Fleeting, Criminals Are Celebrities, Catherine Zeta-Jones Has A Large Booty, etc. There's just no there there; it's all style and surface.

That said, the style and surface have their moments. Director Rob Marshall has come up with a comprehensive cinematic language to integrate the songs with the rest of the scenes -- people don't just randomly burst into song; it's all in their heads, but it works. It does. And, yeah, Latifah's great and all, but I can't say I was wowed by the performances.

Not, as I kept thinking to myself, like I was with Moulin Rouge!, Baz Luhrmann's inventive, exciting, sumptuous, ecstatic, original movie musical from last year. Seriously: that was a movie. It was something you could lose yourself in, attach to emotionally, be surprised by, even thrilled by.

But Chicago? I can't think of one scene that I'd want to see again -- even the ones like Richard Gere's puppetry scene that I enjoyed. It passed through me like chicken croquettes from a diner -- yeah, sure, it was fine while it lasted, and it was a meal, but a lot of it was the gravy covering up the quality of the chicken itself, and I'd never go out of your way to have them again.

See Drumline already, okay? What do you mean you haven't yet?

Thursday, January 2, 2003

RINGS AROUND THE RABBIT: This is one of the weirdest trivia bits I've ever seen: did you know that you can tell what year a Bugs Bunny cartoon was released just by looking at the colors of the rings around the Warner Brothers logo in the opening credits?



The cartoon which follows the left title card must be a 1942-43 Looney Tunes; the one on the right, a 1952-53 Merrie Melodies cartoon. How can you tell, and why? Let Dave Mackey explain this and other WB cartoon nuggets.
IT'S THE END OF THE "END OF THE YEAR" LISTS AS WE KNOW IT: Those of you who don't know me might wonder what I'm going to do with this blog once the cycle of "Best of 2002" lists has ended. Don't worry. We'll be fine.

Until then, though, one of my favorites is now out: as a complement to its annual Pazz & Jop Music Critics Poll, the results of the Village Voice's fourth annual Movie Critics Poll are now online. Far From Heaven took most of the honors, besting Y Tu Mamá También and Adaptation.

But what makes the survey so good, as with the P&J, are the critics' comments -- snarky, insightful, provocative. Here's a sample:

Adaptation sets some kind of new standard in congratulating moviegoers for their own hip cleverness. If Jonze and Kaufman could have figured out a way to give the audience hand jobs, they would have. —CHARLES TAYLOR

Don't know why anyone was looking for rom-com chemistry in a Kafkaesque waking-dream like Punch-Drunk Love—essentially a 4D map of the depressive mind. Barry's blue suit is a hard insect casing. The tire blowout, a serotonin sunspot. The harmonium, scoffing possibility. The soundtrack, a migraine. His sisters, a swarm. The story has nothing to do with pudding and everything to do with the impossibility of returning to the womb—and the charitable sweetness that has to compensate. —LAURA SINAGRA

This year, Spielberg's output is like nothing I've seen since Godard made Two or Three Things I Know About Her and La Chinoise in the same year. Both Spielberg's films are challenging, personal, and spectacular. He has done for the commercial movie what Godard did for the art movie—made it a form of surprise, innovation, and truly moving ethics. I know this is heresy at the Voice where the staff seemingly swears to oppose anything with Spielberg's name on it, but come on guys. Remember why you started loving movies in the first place. Those reasons are all in Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report. —ARMOND WHITE

Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People was the first movie structured like a DVD bonus feature. And I mean that in a good way. The hilariously self-deprecating spectacle of Steve Coogan providing first-person running commentary as he fast-forwarded through the good bits of Tony Wilson's career seems perfectly suited for the target audience: collector-obsessed info-dweebs weaned on liner notes. —ED HALTER

Most vapid diva trip: Enough. It takes true huckster zeal to use the ads for a battered-wife melodrama to plug your latest recording, but that's just what "J to tha L-O" did with this piece of SH to the I-T. Regarding the pack of dangerous lies this movie peddled to abuse victims, how did this ever get greenlighted in good conscience? I see some Hollywood chowderhead watching Frederick Wiseman's Domestic Violence and saying, "Y'know, Fred, why don't these babes just contact their absentee millionaire fathers, hire identical look-alikes, acquire ninja skills, buy and master a zillion bucks' worth of surveillance equipment, and get a personal trainer for a month?" —JIM RIDLEY
ONE NEW YEARS' NOTE: Didn't have a chance to mention this earlier, but Jen and I were able to fulfill one of our Life Goals for New Years' Eve:

We had turducken.

Yes, at long last, after years of pining, thanks to Hebert's Specialty Meats (recommended by a friend who spent much time in Louisiana) eight of us gathered around the table on Tuesday night for a deboned, cajun-flavored turkey, stuffed with a duck (deboned), stuffed with a chicken (deboned), the layers themselves separated by stuffing.

Just one big, tasty ball of poultry. Sliced it up like a large loaf of bread.

And because it came already prepared (packed in a cooler, uncooked, frozen in dry ice), we didn't have to go through all the extensive prep work that would otherwise be involved -- the deboning, the stuffing, the lacing-up, etc. Just four hours in the oven, and presto.

If you've been dreaming of turducken and don't want to make it yourself, go ahead and order one. You will not be disappointed.
ANOTHER "YEAR IN" FEATURE: Via Simon Dumenco, formerly of the much-hyped-short-lived Inside.com, it's the year in magazines.
ON A NUMEROLOGICAL NOTE: Happy 01/02/03 day, everyone!
"ARE WE HOT?" "ALAS, WE ARE NOT." Krispy Kreme and Kelly and Jack Osbourne are out, deep fried Oreos and Doggy Vizzle Televizzle are in. All this and more in the Washington Post's annual "In and Out" list.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

A HALL-OF-FAMER IN EVERY SENSE: Thirty years ago today, baseball's Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash while attempting to bring emergency relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The Miami Herald remembers his remarkable legacy here.
OKAY, ONE MORE: Actually, two. But when Packers QB Brett Favre disses Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio, I'm obligated to report it:
Favre could not tell a lie - he wanted to boo and hiss at the newly released live-action remake of the animated Disney classic "Pinocchio."

"It wasn't very good," Favre said. "It wasn't the 'Pinocchio' I remember."

He didn't get any argument from his wife, Deanna, and their young daughters, Brittany and Breleigh. This was one "Favre Family Night" that didn't live up to expectations.

"Halfway through, (13-year-old) Brittany had had enough," Brett recounted. "Now, we were waiting on (3-year-old) Breleigh, and, fortunately 10 minutes later, she had had enough. So, we didn't have to live through the whole thing."

Also, the Washington Post has finally gotten its crack at the wooden puppet, noting, among other things:
As an idea, Benigni's puppet is certainly the most insanely ill-conceived movie conceit in years. It's not a puppet! Do you hear what I'm saying, Mr. Oscar Winner? Are you understanding this? It's not a puppet. It's an adult male in jammies. Who could look at this and not think, ewww, creepy. What's with that guy? If you saw him in the theater, uh, wouldn't you get a little nervous? He's a 911 call to Vice waiting to happen.

Benigni grotesquely overestimates his charm as a movie illusionist. He certainly has nothing of the great Charlie Chaplin's weightless grace, he has none of Douglas Fairbanks's acrobatic wit, he's not even as compelling a physical presence as Val Kilmer in "Batman." He just looks stupid. I can't say this enough: This movie is about an adult male dressed in pink jammies.
"THAT'S HIM, RIGHT THERE." Meet Eddie Sheed Jr., Philadelphia Weekly's person of the year. An inspirational local hero.