Friday, June 29, 2007

Less than meets the eye

My dad often likes to remind me of just how damn good a dad he was one early morning in 1984. It was December 23rd, and he found himself staring at the front door of a Toys R Us with a gaggle of other desperate parents, waiting for the sun to rise and the doors to open. The little girls' daddies were going to make a bee-line for the Cabbage Patch Kids, and the little boys' daddies were sprinting at the Transformers. My father, procreator of both male and female, had to balance his responsibilities delicately.

Twenty-plus years later, I still remember the joy of opening my Optimus Prime toy on Christmas morning. Whether or not The Sister got her Cabbage Patch Kid is lost to the cobwebs of my memory, or more likely I never cared to pay attention in the first place. After all, I had my Transformers and immediately went to work waging war: Autobot v. Decepticon.

Battling with Transformers was fairly easy. You took one robot, you smashed it against the other robot. You made your own sound effects - a deep, mechanical-sounding voice for the dialogue, and a series of "Phew! Phew!" for the lasers - and it didn't hurt if you threw in a couple of slow-motion jumps and flips. The real mythology of the Transformers never interested me. I didn't care where they supposedly came from, or what their motivations really were. I knew which ones were good, and which ones were bad, and that was enough.

Michael Bay, the director of the new Transformers movie, would have loved playing with me back then. Because with a couple hundred million bucks at his disposal, he has managed to do something very similar: he ignores story and anything resembling real-life drama, and just picks up the good guys and bad guys and slams them into each other. Over and over. And over and over. Oh, and over and over again, by the way.

Now the film looks great. I mean, fantastic. At no point do the effects look like effects; these robots are photo-realistic, and beautiful to look at. My inner 8-year-old would cream over the images if only he had hit puberty.

That's all the movie has, though. It seems every dollar was poured into making the robots great, but nothing was set aside to make sure they actually did anything interesting. I mean, in a climactic battle, buildings were being destroyed, cars were being tossed around like wadded-up paper, and five-story tall robots were thrashing against each other - and I was bored. I mean, I actually had this conscious thought: "All this stuff is going on, and I am fucking bored!"

A lot of people are going to give Transformers a pass because it's based on a line of toys and a cartoon. "The story doesn't matter," they'll say. "It was all about the effects and action!" The problem with that, though, is that after the "damn!" factor wears off - about 30 minutes in - you still have almost two hours of film left to fill. So much effort was spent making the Transformers look real and seemingly none went into making the world around them follow suit. The actors are all playing cliched, hackneyed characters with awful dialogue, whether it's the teenage heroes or the stuffy government bureaucrats (I will say this; I've rarely seen a more anti-government summer Hollywood movie.)

I refuse to forgive the transgressions of Transformers because of its source material. It should have risen above those roots, and provide well-rounded entertainment. Movies like Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2 and the first Pirates of the Caribbean show this is possible. The same thought processes that go into playing with Transformers toys shouldn't be used to make a monster-budget Transformers movie.

I must acknowledge that, in my preview screening, there was a lot of cheering going on, and the credits received loud applause. A lot of this came from people obviously intimately familiar with Transformers lore, including some wearing Optimus Prime masks (of course, none of these people were the actual children present.) So I know there are dissenting opinions out there, and you can probably already tell if yours will be one of them. Based on the fantastic trailers and overall promise, though, I expected more than what met my 8-year-old eye.

(A special acknowledgment to The Girl is necessary. She would have rather been anywhere but that theater, but graciously went and stood in line with me when she saw my excitement for the film. That she won't be as trusting of my enthusiasm next time is another reason I really don't like this damn movie.)

1:17 p.m. update:
Transformers producer Don Murphy has taken umbrage with a few of my comments. You can check out the message board thread here. It's pretty far down, though. Just do a CTRL-F find for either my name, Josh Massey, or as Mr. Murphy refers to my comments, "the predictable bastion of cretinous down's syndrome mongoloids of minimal age." Thank God I didn't strike a nerve.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The review

After weeks of dogging the film, and days of swearing I just wasn't that interested, I firmly held my ground on not seeing Live Free or Die Hard - well, at least until the very first showing of the film's very first day.

My dad and I share an undying love for the 1988 original, and he offered to treat me to the 12:10 show and a medium Diet Coke. So I obviously couldn't turn him down. And two hours and ten minutes later, he had his three-word review ready to go: "Silly, but cute."

So that might be all you need to know: the fourth Die Hard movie can be thought of as "cute." The series that started with the most successfully balls-to-the-wall, mind-blowing, genre-busting, gut-wrenching action movie of all time has now, 19 years later, become "cute." But hey, it also happened with Lethal Weapon. It happened with Mad Max. It happened with Indiana Jones. And now it has happened with John McClane. He has a Case of the Cutes.

The surprise, though: it still ain't that bad. In fact, standing on its own two feet - and not held up to comparison with the original - Live Free or Die Hard is a pretty damn good action movie. It is exciting, funny, creative at times, and most importantly, it doesn't embarrass itself. It even managed to put most of my most overblown fears to rest. To wit:

1) The PG-13 rating. Sure, it's a bit off-putting not to hear John McClane say "fuck" at least twice a sentence, but I can't say I missed it terribly much. In fact, if I hadn't gone in with the rating in my head, I probably wouldn't have noticed a difference in this and the last two sequels. The semi-clever way they got around explicitly saying "Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker" was a little bristling - but only a little. Still, the film's unwillingness to be profane and bloody is, without my dad's conscious realization, where the dreaded "c" word comes from.

2) The sidekick. Yes, it's the Mac guy, Justin Long. To be honest, I wasn't as worried about him as others have been. He was fun in Galaxy Quest and Accepted, and the role of "computer nerd" suits him well. He's no Al Powell. He's no Samuel L. Jackson. But who is? Let's put to rest, though, the rumblings he will eventually take over the Die Hard series as his own.

3) Kevin Smith. Yes, the Clerks director has an extended cameo as a Hacker Extraordinaire, and yes, his inclusion in the trailer was extremely grating. Fortunately, it does kinda-sorta make sense with the plot, and the good will built up before the scene made it forgivable.

4) The director. For some reasons, the producers hired music video helmer Len Wiseman, best known for Underworld and its sequel (neither of which I've seen.) I hadn't heard particularly kind things about his vampire films, and couldn't understand why they chose him to continue this cherished franchise. And to be honest, I still don't. He's competent at best - too in love with the close-up, and a little forced with any non-action scene (let's just say exposition ain't his strong suit.) I'm all for Die Hard 5, but let's hand those reins to someone else.

So Willis's recent claim this is better than the original is delusional. It's a solid piece of summer entertainment, and if that's what you're looking for, stop reading here and enjoy yourself. You definitely will. The rest of this review is for those of you who can't pretend that when you put the words "Die" and "Hard" together, the product shouldn't be held up to the impossible standard of the original. In this regard, I have one criticism:

Simply put, the John McClane of Live Free or Die Hard isn't the same John McClane of the original. The first Die Hard was powered by the fact McClane was an everyman, an ordinary guy stuck in an extraordinary situation. In each succeeding film, McClane has slowly turned into a comic book hero. In this latest installment, the guy is jumping off of planes, launching cars into helicopters, and blithely shaking off bullet wounds and three-story falls. And, truth be told, he's sorta dumb - not bothering to whisper with bad guys around, driving cars down elevator shafts when he could have just hit the brakes 10 seconds sooner, not thinking ahead to thwart the oh-so-obvious third act "twist," etc. This isn't the same guy who taped an extra gun to his back, tossed explosives down an elevator shaft, or went to the roof to get the best reception. It's just not.

If you go in expecting a film on par with the original - as Willis has led us to believe - you'll walk out feeling let down (like you have with the two previous sequels, most likely.) Like I said, though, leave your memories of Hans Gruber and Co. in the parking lot, and enjoy the fu - uh, the hell out of the summer's latest, and best, superhero flick.

Fair weather

Today on radio station WNYC, John Kerry came out as an enemy of the free market.

According to Mr. Kerry, it's the government's job to "balance" the media.

Seriously, I know somebody reading this agrees with him. Please, for the love of shits and giggles, tell me why.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

So many won't see a problem here

This is what our country has come to, friends. And it is only part of why I believe this grand experiment we call the United States of America is approaching its end.

Texas Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez pulled over two illegal immigrants in a routine traffic stop. These illegals were involved in a conspiracy to import more illegals across the border (their van was full of them.) Instead of stopping, the Mexicans attempted to run the officer over and sped away. Hernandez responded by shooting at the van's tires, injuring two of the occupants with shell fragments.

The result?

The illegals won $100,000 in a lawsuit against the officer. They have not been deported.

The officer is currently serving a one-year prison sentence, and has just been transferred to general population with four months remaining in his sentence.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

At this point, Republicans could start eating roasted babies on live TV and I still wouldn't vote Democrat (and I really dislike Republicans)

From a Fox News interview with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CALIF):

FOX NEWS HOST CHRIS WALLACE: So would you revive the fairness doctrine?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris, because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.

WALLACE: But the argument would be it's the marketplace, and if liberals want to put on their own talk radio, they can put it on. At this point, they don't seem to be able to find much of a market.

FEINSTEIN: Well, apparently, there have been problems. It is growing. But I do believe in fairness. I remember when there was a fairness doctrine, and I think there was much more serious correct reporting to people.


If you don't see a problem with the government defining "fairness" for private business, God help you. And if this happens, by the way, I want unlimited posting privilege on every liberal blog out there. After all, the public owns the Internet! (At least as much as it supposedly owns the airwaves.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Hey, It's Friday, Let's Watch A Kick-Ass Music Video!"

Ok, fine. I'm not letting a PG-13 movie get me down. There's a simple fact that I need to be focusing on: we're seven days away from a new Die Hard movie.

Oh, and that new AFI 100 Greatest Movies list? Immediately discounted due to the lack of Die Hard. I mean, does anybody really want to make the argument that The Sixth Sense is a better Bruce Willis film than fucking Die Hard?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Unlucky number

It just hit me that the new Die Hard film has the same rating as the new Harry Potter film.

I'm depressed.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Losing my religion

Now this makes sense. Because Africa was a continent of such peace and stability before "man-made global warming."

It's getting easier and easier to not side with these guys.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Hey, It's Friday, Let's Watch A Kick-Ass Music Video!"

A little something different this week, but you could still classify it as a music video under an extremely, extremely loose definition. The following is a clip from "Britain's Got Talent," yet another Simon Cowell reality show. It's like "America's Got Talent," but - well, you get the idea.

Anyway, a portly cell phone salesman thinks he can sing opera. Take it away, Paul Potts ...

(Hat tip to Jeff Wells for the link.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

From the "Now We're Just Making Shit Up" file...

And now Fox News gossip columnist/resident douchebag Roger Friedman (yes, a bigger douchebag than O'Reilly) comes up with the stupidest "Sopranos" finale theory:

That was Journey lead singer Steve Perry who played the ostensible hitman in the last scene of "The Sopranos." While his record, "Don't Stop Believing" was playing, it was Perry who entered the diner, sat at the counter, and then visited the men's room. A nice touch.

No, Roger. It wasn't. You diptard.

(It's a shame, too. The rest of his column is actually interesting for once - especially the part about reporters having to sign waivers before interviewing Angelina Jolie. The only celebrity who made me sign a waiver before an interview? Brad Pitt. Seriously.)

4:04 p.m. update: In true journalistic fashion, Friedman has completely erased the Perry item, with no correction.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Too bad he wasn't DR. Wizard

The good news: Despite a million beliefs to the contrary, Don Herbert - known to you and me as Mr. Wizard - was actually still alive this past weekend. I thought he had died long ago.

The bad news: Well, he's dead now.

The definitive

I know discussion of the "Sopranos" finale is approaching Paris Hilton-level inundation, but bear with me for one last theory. And you might want to - because I'm right.

After watching and rewatching the show's final five minutes many times, I'm confidant I've uncovered creator David Chase's truth. (After all, he did imply the answers are "all there" in his one post-finale interview.)

And here it is:

Tony Soprano is alive. Carmela is OK. Meadow and, sadly, AJ will live to see another day.

That doesn't mean there wasn't a hitman in Holsten's that night, though. Oh yes, there was - and he did fulfill his obligation.

You got clipped.

And so did I. We, the viewer, were the ones forcibly removed from that universe on Sunday night, while the family continues to breathe, continues to face indictment, continues to face the possibility that the next hitman will be for one of them.

Here's my reasoning, by way of debunking other theories:

1) The diner was full of people from Tony's past, including the two black men that shot him, Phil's nephew, and Robert Patrick's gambling addict character.

No, it wasn't. This myth has raced around the Internet, but it ain't true. Nobody from that diner scene - except the obvious Soprano family members - had ever appeared in a previous episode.

2) The final scene was meant to show how Tony will be for the rest of his life. Pervasive nervousness, constantly looking over his shoulder ...

Yeah, fine, Tony might do all of those things - except this scene didn't exist to show that. Look at it again. He was too occupied with ordering onion rings to worry about any lethal weapons in his near future. Sure, he glanced up each time the restaurant door opened, but there was no sense he was anything but calm. He was just looking for his family. So who was acting jittery? Us. We were the ones looking around the restaurant for suspicious faces, and we were the ones acting nervously. That puts us in control of the scene's point-of-view (including its ending.)

3) Meadow had a worried look on her face when she entered the diner, as if she saw a gunman.

I've heard and read this one in multiple places. However, one just need to watch the actual episode to realize it's false. Because Meadow was never shown entering the diner. The final shot of daughter Soprano is as she crosses the street.

4) C'mon, Tony ordered the hit on Phil, a made guy! Too many people wanted him dead.

In that secret meeting, short of giving an exact location, Phil's people practically gave the Sopranos a greenlight to take whatever action they deemed necessary. Plus, even if they wanted to retaliate, how would anybody know the Sopranos were congregating in Holsten's that night?

5) Remember a couple of episodes ago, when Bobby and Tony discussed what it would be like to die? They related it to a sudden blackness - and that's just like the end of the finale. Tony's dead!

This brings me back to my original point. That conversation wasn't meant to prepare TONY for death - it was meant to prepare us. We are the ones that got clipped; we are the ones who experienced the sudden blackness. That conversation relayed the information to us that, yep, we're goners. And the Sopranos go on without Sil, without Christopher, likely without Dr. Melfi, without Phil, without Vito, without Bobby, and without us.

Shooting fish

Yesterday in Chattanooga, a child was tied up in a hot car while his parents ate in one of many fine Tennessee dining establishments. Oh, and there was a gun in the car as well.

The game is: "Guess the Restaurant."

I guessed Po' Folks*. The correct answer, though, is even more obvious. (See Paragraph 6.)

*Yes, I know it's now called "Folks." But it will always be Po' Folks to me, dammit.

Die hard, but not that hard, or hard like that, because God knows, we wouldn't want to offend anyone

And it's official.

Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth film in the until-now adult action series, has been rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of violence and action, language, and a brief sexual situation."

Yippie-ki-yay, mother-daughter.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Quick reaction

Outstanding. The final infuriating scene was perhaps the best one of the series. I liked the resolution last night, and love it more as each minute goes by.

And in one five-minute segment, it managed to completely alter Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" in the same way that Boogie Nights made sure you'd never hear "Sister Christian" the same way ever again.

I really don't want there to be a movie. But I really want to see it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Hey, It's Friday, Let's Watch A Kick-Ass Music Video!"

This video seemed a lot cooler 22 years ago. When I was nine.

Duran Duran sang the title song to A View To A Kill, then and now one of the worst James Bond movies ever made. The video seems to put the band members in the midst of the movie - only it really doesn't. It mixes clips of Roger Moore running around the Eiffel Tower to Simon Le Bon and Co. walking around the Eiffel Tower. And once in a while, Le Bon will pull out a Walkman and blow something up, even if it's apparently in Antarctica. And then we get another shot of Roger Moore running.

Like I said, this video seemed a lot cooler 22 years ago. When I was nine. And apparently retarded.

From me to you

This is my promise.

You can always feel certain that when you come to this blog, you will never be met with a photo of her.

It seems every website I've gone to today has featured a photo of her.

Not only will there never be a photo of her, there will never be a discussion of her.

This is my promise.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

School daze

Since I recently quit teaching, expect this shit to change next year.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

It's not WHAT you know...

On Sunday night, The Sister and I had a chance to see the comic stylings of one Craig Robinson, star of NBC's "The Office." And by "star," I mean that guy who's only been in 13 out of 52 episodes (per IMDB), but quite honestly seems to have been around a lot more.

I've seen quite a few stand-up comedians in my day - Seinfeld and Rock among them - but nothing has matched the non-stop, stomach-bruising laughs I got that night (maybe that's why it looks like I'm trying to smile despite having a pool cue lodged in my ass.) It's rare to see somebody with originality anymore, but even a long-time club employee said to me, "There's absolutely nobody out there like Craig." If he comes to your town, make your attendance a top priority.

And yes, I'm probably only writing this so I can post the picture. Fuck off.