Archive 2011

How I Met Your Muppets


Spoilers: I'm not a big fan of Jason Segel. Freckled, flabby and fish-lipped, he looks like someone trapped Jonah Hill in a steam room until he gave in and agreed to star in their movie. I understand why Segel's in this movie -- he wrote it. I even understand why they let him write it: The Dracula puppet from Forgetting Sarah Marshall was the best part of that movie. The one thing I don't get is why Disney let him star in The Muppets. Don't let the title fool you, this is Jason Segel's story: the story of a manchild who neglects his girlfriend (Amy Adams, who always looks on the verge of tears, even when she's supposed to be happy). The film opens with him and closes with him. As the credits roll, a tiny box opens on the side of the screen, and we finally wrap up The Muppet part of the story. Kermit has to share space with key grips and caterers in his own movie.

The Muppets starts off with Segel doing one of those self-aware "everyone in town inexplicably joins my dance number" gags beaten to death in Brain Candy, Austin Powers and Enchanted. The opening song sounds as if it was written by someone who watched a few musicals and said, "Yeah, I can do that." The real problem with the songs is that they try for cheap laughs. "Rainbow Connection," "Saying Goodbye" and even "Somebody's Getting Married" didn't have funny lyrics. But these new songs, written by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Concords try really, really hard to be funny. Sure, "Am I a Muppet or a Man?" made me laugh, but I won't be humming it later. The disco duet made me smile, but I can't remember a single lyric. "Everything is Great"? Ehhh. It's no wonder that the music video for this film is entirely words-free and performed by chickens.

On a trip to the dilapidated Muppet Theater, Jason Segel learns that the evil Tex Richman plans to demolish the place, dril for oil and nab the rights to The Muppets. Kermit's only hope is to raise $10m by getting the band back together. Unfortunately, it's been a while since they put on a show. "Here's a chart of the top 100 pop culture celebrities," they're told by a TV executive (played by a deadpan Rashida Jones). And here, in the distant outer regions, are the Muppets. They're not relevant in the age of shock reality television. Kermit can't get any celebrities to take his calls, and his idea of a celebrity is Jimmy Carter. But after a lawsuit leaves a two-hour gap in their programming, Rashida Jones reluctantly agrees to give them a show.

And what a show! It really feels like you're watching some lost 23 minute variety act. The aforementioned rendition of "Forget You" by Gonzo's chickens was funny, not to mention the secret celebrity guest, which I won't spoil, other than to say it worked far better than it sould have.

Yes, the film ends on a high note -- almost. As one last grim reminder that this is really Jason Segal's story, the credits roll immediately after he proposes to his girlfriend, leaving the Muppet's storyline unresolved. Somebody's getting married, and it sure ain't Kermit and Miss Piggy. They're old news, you know, nowhere near the top 100 celebrities.

The ending pretty much sums up my thoughts on this movie: Any time two muppets shared screentime, I loved it. Honestly, despite my problems, I know I'll wind up watching this again. There's a really good 45 minute Muppet movie in there somewhere. But for some reason, the writer of The Muppets was so enamored with Jason Segal, he became convinced to focus on the sit-com actor instead of The Muppets. If any movie deserves a Phantom Edit, this is it.

P.S. I've just been informed that in Jason Segel has some sort of weird little muppet brother or friend or something, who dreamed of being in The Muppets? And that this new muppet is actually the focus for much of the movie? I must have blocked it out. Sounds horrible.

P.P.S. The only new muppet I cared about was the badass green-eyed evil goat man. He's probably not even new, but from some other Muppet movie, which is why I loved him.

P.P.P.S. In 2004, Disney bought the rights to The Muppets. The Jim Henson Company can only use the term "Muppet" with special permission from Disney. TEX RICHMAN WON!

Cinematic Titanic: The Best We Can Find


When Mystery Science Theater 3000 was canceled for the second time, I lost more than my favorite TV show, I lost all hope for ever attending a MST3K Convento-Con and seeing a live performance.

Danger on Tiki Island

Then Joel Hodgson launched Cinematic Titanic, reuniting the cast of MST3K. And even though Crow and Tom-Servo didn't make it onboard, their original voice actor/puppeteers did, along with Mary Jo Pehl and Frank Conniff, who could finally riff along with their co-writers. For anyone who wore out their copy of Delta Knights or Last of the Wild Horses watching Mary Jo and Frank crack jokes in the theater, it was a dream come true. Better yet, Cinematic Titanic eventually ditched the distancing silhouette-only format in favor of recorded live performances. I love seeing my favorite comedians seated on either side of the screen, cracking each other up. It's a wonderful combination of host and theater segments. Alien Factor (which is a fog machine away from Pod People glory) and Danger At Tiki Island joined the ranks of my favorite episodes of MST3K. Times had changed, but in some ways were better than ever.

And then I had to go and see Cinematic Titanic Live. Oh, don't get me wrong -- I laughed the whole way through, and got to tell Joel as much after the show (he was quite nice, even though I was a big nervous lug). The problem is, I've ruined it for myself. Old MST3K tapes, Cinematic Titanic DVDs, what can possibly compare to seeing them in person? Before the movie, we got an hour of live comedy. J. Elvis Weinstein did stand up and played the MST3K theme on guitar. Mary Jo Pehl read words from her new book -- at random. Frank Conniff was filthy hilarious, focusing on porn, cats, cat porn, and ending with a surreal series of letters sent to and from his past self ("Do it!"). Trace Beaulieu fielded audience questions with intimidating wit and read poems from his illustrated Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children. Finally, Joel Hodgson walked out in full William Shatner mode and did a magic trick. When he opened up that newspaper, I experienced the sort of belly-brain-flop when get when you remember you're watching a 3D movie. I wasn't watching a CT episode on the big screen -- I was really there.

So buy some Cinematic Titanic episodes on DVD. Not only will you help keep a great thing going, you can have it autographed when they circulate your way.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) Review


My Don't Be Afraid of the Dark review is a mess and in bad need of some rewrites. Just like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark!

The Thing (2011) Mini-Review


Image: The Thing's nifty logo.

Spoiler Warning: The Thing is a lot like Star Trek (2009), in that it's a remake-prequel thingy that travels back in time without murdering its own grandmother. Like Star Trek, it's been criticized for the pretty young Hollywood lead, and like Star Trek, it's has a more CGI and action scenes than the original. But, like Star Trek, it's respectful to the source material. Certainly less detrimental than some Sci-Fi prequels that will remain unnamed. (*Cough* Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui *cough* Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows.) Like Star Trek, the final act is a mind-numbing set piece aboard an alien ship, but, like Star Trek, it's an enjoyable film overall and should fit snugly along any fan's DVD collection.

What I'm saying is, The Thing (2011) is actually a remake of Star Trek.

I'll probably copy and paste all this into an upcoming review, I just wanted to let you know it's worth catching if Paranormal Activity 3 hasn't driven it from the theaters. (Maybe The Thing prequel would have made more money if it was about when Kurt Russell and the alien were little girls.)

Reel Steal


Spoiler warning. A lot of people say that Real Steel is nothing but a mainstream Robot Jox, while others claim it's Rocky Sock'em Robots.

Image: Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestles an Iron Giant.
The Iron Giant vs. Italian Stallion: My best photoshop ever.

Nay! Nay I say! Having just returned from the theater, I'm here to tell you that, beat for beat, Real Steel dances to the tune of Sylvester Stallone's lyrical tale of an underdog who overcomes all odds: Over The Top.

Both films open with the tragic death of a mother, which reunites her boy with his estranged, pit-stained father. Both boys have a wealthy, unlikable relative seeking custody. Both fathers manage to take their lads on a cross-country road trip in a big rig. At first, the boys and their fathers don't get along, because Conflict Creates Drama. The fathers take their respective sons to seedy dives for underground, possibly illegal prize fighting. Predictably, they wind up getting jumped by scuzzy heavies, and the road trips are cut short when their unlikable old relatives regain custody of the boys. Ultimately, the boys and their fathers are reuinited at the Big Championship Match, and though they are poor (nevermind their expensive hardware and pockets full of cash), our underdog heroes emerge victorious over a wealthy, two-dimensional, cartoon villain.

There's some Rocky in there, but Rocky didn't invent rope-a-doping, Muhammad Ali did. And yes, there's definitely a healthy dose of Robot Jox, but the whole, "Kid discovers a mysterious robot who easily defeats larger opponents" element reminded me more of the Astro Boy CGI movie than anything out of Full Moon Entertainment. There's plenty of possible influences for Real Steel, but the more I think about it, the more reach a different conclusion.

This is a hundred million dollar remake of a forgotten Sly Stallone movie about arm wrestling.

Even though I expected more from Atom's backstory, I liked Real Steel. It's stupid, kid-friendly fun and delivers enough boxing robot action to be mentioned in the same breath as Robot Jox. Besides, isn't it time more of Sylvester Stallone's B-Movies were remade using thousand pound androids?

Coming soon: Stop Or My Robot Mom Will Shoot.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem Review


My Alien vs. Predator: Requiem Review breaks down what went wrong and how I would have approached the material.

Utilitarian Fashion


Note: I have no idea what I'm going on about but I owed you an update.

Fashion trends are born of a utilitarian need for something unfashionable. Jumping out of an airplane, for instance. Most people don't want to do it. Even if you hold a gun to their back, and threaten their family. But when you have to parachute (like if you're Christopher Lee), it would probably help to wear parachute pants. A little known fact, the two coolest things on the planet are Christopher Lee and having extra pockets, so when parachuting combined the two, and parachute pants were born, someone took note and said, "Hey, falling to certain death is not really my thing, but I want some pants like that." And thus the 80s were born.

Okay, so the actual origin of parachute pants has nothing to do with parachuting (or Dracula for that matter), and more to do with breakdancers, who used heavy nylon pants. But they weren't wearing them to look cool, they wore 'em so they wouldn't fall on their heads and die.

Tennis shoes, once constrained to the tennis court, now pad across all manner of terrain. And not just grass and clay, no Sir E. Bob*. Tennis shoes were co-opted by people who didn't even play tennis. They went from the tennis court to the mall court, and after being caught shoplifting, the actual court. Then the shoes were removed during the strip search. The less said about that, the better.

Sadly, not all trends last, and thus some perfectly utilitarian clothing has been deemed unfashionable.

I'm slowly amassing a list of unfashionable yet utilitarian clothing--on my body.

Spoiler alert: I'm wearing suspenders. I'm sorry. There's a utilitarian reason for it, but I won't get into that, because nothing placates the fashionistas (which I'm told is the Italian sequel to Turistas). One look at my suspenders and it's all over. No more parties for me. It'll be awkward, like that scene in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble where John Travolta enthusiastically admits to being a habitual masturbator.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Suspenders are utilitarian, there's a lot of good reasons to wear them. Sure, among the cons there's "no place to hang things (i.e., on belt). But that's for the best, as each cell phone and Leatherman Wave hanging on your belt weighs you down like chains on Bob Marley. Er, I mean, Jacob Marley. Not that there's a difference, they're both dead. What? I'm not saying Bob Marley's an undigested bit of beef, just that he's dead. (Random thought: Hair keeps growing long after you're dead; Bob Marley died in 1981; I wonder how long his dredlocks have gotten.) Forget about Bob Marley!

I am acutely aware of how big a dork I am for wearing suspenders. Not even a dork, but some strange dork hybrid. Too tall to be a hipster, too hairy to be a nerd, I come off looking like a long-haired Hans Klopek. Entering a room, I feel as if people's immediate response is to wonder: What did he do with the bodies?

But! Let my suspenders down and, like magic, they actually look sorta cool. Yeah, I guess you have to be into the whole bondage pants look. (Speaking of clothing born out of necessity...) But this way I get the cool extraneous strap bondage pants look, without ever having to use the phrase bondage pants, e.g., "thanks for the bondage pants, mom."

*Sir Edward Bob of the Michigan Bobs, known throughout America for feats of strength and manly vigor.

The Best Way to Start Your Day


Today I got up, listened to Metallica's Death Magnetic, and then read Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility.

Soda Pop Games


Highly produced songs with broad appeal are called pop music. It's derived from the word popular, but pop brings to mind something sweet, a last minute temptation at the checkout aisle. Big budget Hollywood movies are called popcorn flicks. Nothing good for you, just something to gorge on at the theater.

(Depending on who you ask, the whole pop/popcorn thing either designates a little harmless entertainment or a total lack of artistic merit. I'm neutral, but maintain that they're better for you than their namesakes: Ke$ha doesn't rot your teeth, and Michael Bay flicks can't damage your respiratory system. Well, except maybe Bad Boys II.)

But mainstream videogames with high production values are simply known as "AAA" titles. It's as if journalists automatically label any title with enough marketing budget behind it A++FANTASTICO!

A recent study examined how the gap between game critics and consumers is considerably less than the gap between critics of film, music, and the general public. In other words, the bestselling games of the year are all but guaranteed critical acclaim, while triple-platinum albums and blockbusters tend to have much harder time pleasing critics.

On one hand, this indicates a total lack of pretension on the side of game reviewers. It's like they're saying, "Hey, people aren't even willing to classify this as art. We don't have to impress anyone by dropping Citizen Kane or the The Beatles into every conversation." On the other hand, it reeks of payola. Not the cash-for-good-reviews sense, but the exclusive-previews-and-review-copies-for-good-reviews sense. The problem is rampant and better discussed elsewhere, so I'll just say this:

When film critics aren't given restriction-free, early access in exchange for nothing, they cry bloody murder and make sure their readers mentally equate it with the film studio all but admitting, hey, our movie is crap!

When EGM tried that, they went out of business.

Regardless of whether game critics are spineless cogs in a hype machine or down-to-earth dudes who frankly like the games everyone else seems to, I think we can all agree that calling big budget crowd-pleasers "AAA" regardless of their actual quality is insane. Especially in a preview, where there's not even a finished product.

And so, inspired by the slang of other art forms, and in honor of Mountain Dew-chugging Halo fans, I hereby nominate the term soda pop games.

It sounds silly, but it's better than what we've got. Modern Warfare 3 is going to sell millions. And knowing what we know about game critics, it's going to score very highly. Even so, we should probably wait until it's actually released before calling it A++FANTASTICO!

Thoughts on Windows 7


My laptop runs on Windows 7, or rather Windows 7 Professional 32-Bit With Blast Processing. It didn't blow me away like the first time I used WinXP (with its charming Gateway-esque cow pasture). But there is a lot to like. Taskbar previews are cool, though I haven't calculated how many mouse-clicks or whatever I save by hovering over MediaMonkey's icon and skipping forward a track with the mini control panel, rather than right-clicking the system tray icon. But it's neat to sort of ignore the whole system tray bit altogether. Stupid system tray. I hate you.

Anyway, some security features are driving me crazy:

  1. The way Windows 7 prevents applications from writing to their own Program Files directory is infuriating. I'd be fine having to type in my administer password when required, but Windows 7 doesn't even tell me when there's a write access problem, e.g. when I alter a Notepad++ theme and Windows 7 prevents the program from saving the changes (without bothering to mention it to me).
  2. Why is there no way to personally vouch for a program deemed untrustworthy by Windows 7? Everything is the coolest program I've ran into in the last ten years, and yet every time I run it--every time--Win7 gives me the business. I wish there was a way to say, "it's cool, Microsoft. I know that guy. He's not going to steal your cigarettes. You can leave 'em on the table and they'll be there in the morning." But no, Microsoft has to be a dick about it and make a big show of taking his cigarettes every time it leaves the room.
  3. How in the name of all that is wholly inappropriate do I add icons to the start menu? I feel like a moron even asking this, but it's never been a problem before (when I could just drag icons onto the menu). And I'm not running Windows 7 Starter (AKA Windows register now!) or anything. But the only option I can see is to pin programs to the start menu, taking up precious space.

Admittedly, I'm currently sans internet so I'm going through the whole for dummies phase without so much as being able to Ask Jeeves. Maybe all my problems could be solved by disabling UAC entirely, or running an administer account, two things I've been told are akin to deliberately exposing myself to the 28 Days Later zombie virus.

Resident Edit


An old Quarter to Three podcast reminded me of Resident Evil: Afterlife's one really good scene: the fight between the big hammer guy and Alice (Milla Jovovich), who is armed with a weapon so cool I refuse to spoil it other than to say it impressed me more than anything since Reggie's Quad Shotgun in Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead.

Come to think of it, Resident Evil: Apocalypse also had one really good scene, where a murder of murderous crows is incinerated by Alice's burgeoning powers of pyrokinesis. (I'm a sucker for burgeoning powers.) Then there's Resident Evil: Extinction, whose one really good scene didn't even have Alice, or any named speaking characters for that matter, just a mute giant singlehandedly decimating a squad of random S.T.A.R.S. agents in a glorious display of man-in-rubber-suited practical effects.

For the original Resident Evil's one good scene, consult Google Images.

All the films have major problems. The first Resident Evil was like the 13 Ghosts remake, in that more people were cut to pieces by a deadly building than zombies or ghosts or anything you'd find in a monster manual. The second movie promised to actually be like the games, something it almost pulled off, which made the resulting "not quite" all the more crushing. The third abandons all pretense of being related to the Resident Evil games and has the T-Virus kill America's plant life, which turns the place into the Thunderdome. It's probably my favorite, but it might as well have been called Mad Maxine.

I'd like to edit the various Resident Evils and patch together something truly magnificent. They say a good movie needs at least three good scenes, and with my edit, you'd have four!

Fine, fine, I'm being mean. The first movie had a great opening, and Apocalypse also had those Hill(s Have Eyes)billies who dropped Alice down a pit of zombie dogs, not to mention Carlos, who faced death with such an aura of cool that I'm going to have to go out boxing dinosaurs just so I don't look pussy by comparison (spoiler alert).

Body Wash


While showering in a Federal campground -- where pot is illegal, even in California, and patriotic campers never hammer tent stakes, least they pierce the heart of America -- I ran across a bottle of body wash some dude left in the shower.

Body wash? Pah! Hogwash is more like it. I never bought into the For Men movement, where feminine beauty products are relabeled for recovering metrosexuals. Give me bar soap any day. It can be found in Fight Club and prison showers and in the mouths of children who've dropped their first F-bomb. (Can you imagine trying to wash a kid's mouth out with body wash? Stuff's probably tasty.)

Back to the story: The body wash's label nimbly straddled the fine line between burly and bear. (I'd say it skirts the line, but it's way too macho to wear a skirt.) Rising from an unclaimed stream, a rugged mountain--one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps--pierces a sky as blue as Clint Eastwood's steely eyes. In bold cowboy script, the color of dusty blood, the label read:

Body Wash
Gel Douche

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Grand Reopening


Welcome to the grand reopening of The acronym has changed, but it still has that great THoR taste.

I hope to once again make this my base of operations, bringing back old features and continuing with a non-daily dose of Daily Grumbles.

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