Friday, June 29, 2012

This poster is unintentionally hilarious

I mean, come on.

Are they just trying to underscore the absurdity of a man in a spider suit?

It's so close-up and confrontational, but in a way entirely lacking in mystery.

It's funny how much more I liked the idea of Spider-Man before there were Spider-Man movies.

I thought Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was pretty good, and I thought the sequel was better. But then I never saw the third one. And I never saw the point of rebooting it like two years after the last one came out.

But that's a pretty standard anti-reboot argument, and I try not to make too many standard arguments on this blog.

No, I'm really here to tell you that I will be out of town for the next nine days, and so nine days from now may be the next time you see a post from me. Which means the next nine days won't contain too many fewer posts than the previous nine days, ha ha.

Seriously, I am a busy man. But there's busy and then there's traveling. Traveling is like busy squared.

I do hope that my trip back to New England, the region of my birth -- which will be the first trip for my son and the first summertime trip for my wife -- will afford me at least one opportunity to get out to the theater. My wife and I are scheming to carve out a date night, assuming my parents can bare to part with us for one of the evenings. (The guy they really want to see, their grandson, will be asleep anyway.) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is our intended target.

And as for The Amazing Spider-Man?

Eh, I'll wait for its next reboot.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is Blade V. a real person?

The goal in any television commercial featuring "real" customers is to prove that they are really real.

Netflix seems to have taken this goal to extreme levels.

I find myself fixated on a recent Netflix commercial featuring testimonials from four "real" customers -- a young woman, a young man, and a young couple. I can take the quotation marks off of "real," probably, because it would seem that this particular group of people has to be real.

The young woman's name? Larissa C.

The young couple's names? Jacob R. and Cia C.

The young man's name?

Blade V.

That's right, it's not the fifth movie in the Blade franchise. It's a late teenager whose first name is Blade, and last name starts with the letter V.

Has anyone else noticed this other than me?

Netflix has millions of real customers to choose from, yet they chose a guy whose first name is Blade. So he's gotta be real, right?

It's just a funny choice. Sure, you want the viewer to have the sense that these are real people, not actors hired to spew positive raves about the company. So no, you don't want your customers to be named John D. or Jane D. You want the names to be a little bit quirky.

Larissa certainly qualifies. Cia certainly qualifies. Jacob is a good everyman name, but not as everyman as John or Bill or Steve.

The kid named Blade sticks out. It's probably too real.

Sure, there are undoubtedly parents out there who named their kid Blade. Blade V.'s parents would be two such examples. But I don't know anyone named Blade, and I'm betting you don't know anyone named Blade. I'm betting most people don't know anyone named Blade.

Why is this a problem? Well, because I noticed it. Because I'm writing a blog post about it. Which means that Netflix has inadvertently caused me to consider the legitimacy of these "real" customers more than I should.

Because it could be a case of Netflix going so far out of its way to prove that Blade V. is a real person, that our only choice is to conclude that he is not a real person. If you were employing actors and making them pretend to be real Netflix customers, the best way to throw us off the scent is to give one of them a name that's so weird that it could not possibly be fake.

Better to just choose someone other than Blade V. to pimp your product. Then I'm not even writing this post.

My guess? Blade V. is a real person, and he was chosen as a favor to Mr. or Mrs. V. Maybe V stands for VIP, and Blade and his family are considered very important to someone involved in the Netflix advertising department.

If you're out surfing today and you see Blade V. mounting his board on the adjacent wave, tell him I said hello.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Not so Brave after all?

That sound you hear is a sigh of relief from hardcore Pixar fans upon the release of Brave.

True to its name, the film represents Pixar's return to its risk-taking ways of old. After two straight sequels -- one that was well received (Toy Story 3) and one that wasn't (Cars 2) -- the company is finally returning to something brand new, something with uncertain merchandising potential featuring characters we've never met before. The return is temporary, as the sequel to Monsters Inc. (called Monsters University) is due out in June of 2013. (I just read that it is technically a prequel.)

But I'm kind of wondering if Pixar isn't relying on our sense of familiarity for this one, too.

Oh, there are surface similarities to How to Train Your Dragon, but that's not what I'm talking about. It's actually a bit more shrewd than that.

Remember a little movie called The Hunger Games that came out in March?

Yeah, that movie also featured a tough female protagonist who's handy with a bow and arrow.

Don't think this didn't cross their minds over at Pixar.

The actual release date of the Hunger Games movie would have been largely serendipitous. But back when they announced what was then called The Bear and the Bow in April of 2008, they had to know that The Hunger Games would be made into a movie, and that by June of 2012, it would already be either a big hit, or a highly anticipated release sometime in the near future.

Hadn't they?

Ha. No. See, this is what happens when you start writing a blog post before fully researching the thing you're writing about.

Suzanne Collins' first Hunger Games book was not published until September of 2008 -- nearly six months after the movie that would become Brave was announced.

So The Hunger Games and Brave are actually just another case of that phenomenon we see so often in Hollywood -- the convergence of similar ideas that are ready to hit the multiplexes within months of each other. Often times, one of those ideas is a direct rip-off of the other, even if it makes it to theaters first. In this case, though, it seems like just a coincidence.

Of course, it's not like The Hunger Games and Brave are similar outside of the fact that a young girl wields a bow and arrow in both. It's not like these are two competing movies about the life of runner Steve Prefontaine.

So why did I make you read a whole post in which my conclusion ultimately contradicted my original thesis?

Hey, I'm lucky if I get the time (or have the ideas) to write anything these days. If I've got actual content up on the page, I'm publishing it.

Here's hoping you love Brave ... and that I start finding the time to post more often.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Am I a Slacker?

It's funny how our movie choices can fit an appropriate theme, even when we're not going for a theme.

I actually might have been going for a Father's Day viewing theme this past weekend, as one of the three movies I picked up from the library on Saturday was The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. The Way is explicitly about father-son bonds, as Sheen plays a father grieving over the death of his adult son (Estevez) on a hiking excursion. I didn't know exactly when we might watch it, but I thought it was a good roll of the dice to accompany two safer choices, Say Anything ... and Heathers, the latter of which we watched on Saturday night. My wife had expressed an interest in The Way in the past, but we both decided it seemed too heavy (even though I didn't actually know the son died when I first rented it).

No, the inadvertent theme occurred when my wife took my son out for a couple hours on Sunday afternoon, allowing me to watch a movie. That was my one Father's Day request -- a couple hours of peace and quiet in the afternoon to watch a movie at home. She did lots of other nice things for me, but that was the only thing I specifically requested.

The question then became: Handed such a rare and luxurious opportunity, what movie should I watch?

I wanted it to be something I hadn't seen before, as I've done a pretty good job re-watching old favorites in recent years. But I didn't like the selection of new movies at the Redbox -- at least, not for this particular occasion -- and I didn't want the title I chose to be too much of a gamble. I wanted it to be something I knew there was a good chance I'd like.

So that morning, I browsed through our Netflix streaming and decided on Richard Linklater's Slacker.

Having already seen most of Linklater's movies, I considered it a serious hole in my filmography that I had yet to see the film that put him on the map. Many credit Slacker with helping usher in the indie film movement that has thrived over the past 20 years, and for that reason alone I should have seen it long before now.

If you aren't familiar with Slacker, it's a free-form, essentially plot-less journey through a day in Linklater's home base of Austin, Texas, meeting more eccentric characters than you can shake a stick at, each of whom has some philosophy on this thing we call life. The most meaningful frame of reference for me was Linklater's Waking Life, which came along ten years later, which I own and have seen four or five times. In fact, I came out of Slacker thinking slightly less of Waking Life, which I now recognize as basically a rotoscoped version of Slacker (rather than the completely original entity I imagined it to be). Or, to reverse engineer it, Slacker was a live-action Waking Life. The "story" weaves you in and out of conversations transacted by a wide array of Austin residents, the majority of whom are in their early 20s. You get a little snippet of what makes them tick, and then you move on.

The theme part of it? Owning a new home has confronted me with the question:

Am I a slacker?

In other words, instead of lounging on the couch on a Sunday afternoon -- even if it is Father's Day -- should I be out hammering nails and drilling holes? Should I be engaged in real "father" activities, like making sure my house is everything it can be? Even if it is the one day of the year fathers are supposed to get a day of rest?

Vance, you slacker.

It's no secret I'm laid back. My wife is much more forward-thinking about most of the things in our family life, whether it's the next stage of our son's development or the next stage of buying (and then improving) our home.

But I did tell myself that once I was a homeowner, I was going to be more proactive about things related to the house than I have been (for maybe obvious reasons) with things in the places we've rented.

How soon is too soon to tell if I'm already failing in that resolve?

Granted, this past weekend was only our second full weekend in the new house. There's no deadline for getting things in 100% working order -- a condition most homeowners will tell you it's impossible to attain, anyway. We haven't had a housewarming party yet, and if/when we do, we will likely time it to coincide with our son's second birthday -- which is not until the end of August. So even if we needed time, we've got time.

But the problem with the essential slacker mentality, the kind that's on display in Linklater's movie, is that it always seems like there's time. "Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?" "Laid back" is the generous way to characterize it. "Lazy" may be closer to the truth.

I've always wanted to be one of those guys who DIYs home repairs and figures out ways to make his home sparkle just a little bit more. Because I wasn't turning out to be one of those guys wasn't my fault -- I didn't have a home yet. There was no way to measure what I'd become when I did in fact find myself in those circumstances.

And I know two weekends is too early to make any judgments, but for now, I'm a bit worried that I won't be that guy. If my own history is any indication, I'll be the guy who lives with things that are partially broken, because really, I don't mind that they are. The "glass is half full" way of looking at something that's partially broken is that it's partially working.

I've made a couple status updates about home ownership on Facebook, and one response I got stood out to me. It seemed to perfectly encapsulate the pressures we put on ourselves when we own a home -- pressures to be some idealized version of ourselves that may not really be true to our nature, almost out of necessity. The guy quipped "Here's a quote that will soon become so true for you: 'Did you have a nice weekend, or do you own your own home?'"

Ha. You can't have it both ways.

The thing is, I do like to have a nice weekend. For now, I'm just basking in the glow of having the home. I don't really care if it's got approximately 37 things of varying magnitudes that need to be worked on. There's time. There's always time.

If that makes me a slacker, then so be it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Shots! Shots! Shotsshotsshots!

Once when I was back in high school, my friends and I were watching some kind of cheesy show on TV that featured lots of women in bikinis. It was on regular TV, so that's as risque as it got, though I do believe it played at 11 o'clock or later.

Anyway, it was cheesy in all the ways you might expect a show like this to be cheesy, but the cheesiest thing about it was one of the songs they used to accompany all the fast-zoom footage of these women prancing around on the beach. I still remember it to this day. It went something like this:

"Ahhhhhh bikini! Ah ah bikini! Bikini! Bikini! Ah ah bikini!"

The thing that made us laugh so hard was that it was just so nakedly about the thing it was supposed to be about. There was no subtlety or subtext. It wasn't a Beach Boys song or some other ditty that alluded to the love of the female form with metaphors or innuendos. It was just a song about bikinis -- without any other lyrics than the word "bikini." And, I suppose, the word "ah."

Whichever musical genius composed this song may have written some actual lyrics, but that portion of the song was not needed or used in this context. It was just a 15-second loop of the song that played at least a couple times during the show, the words chanted by what sounded like some really shallow, really handsome dudes. We laughed hysterically.

The song they play in the ads for That's My Boy reminded me of this.

You know, the one that goes "Shots! Shots! Shotsshotsshots!"

I guess it's an actual song people know about from an actual group people know about. Looking it up, I see that the song is actually called "Shots," and it is by LMFAO, known primarily for "Party Rock Anthem." (In this case, Lil Jon is also featured.)

What makes me laugh is that it's used in the same on-the-nose way as "The Bikini Song" from that TV show about bikinis back in the early 1990s. In the same way that "The Bikini Song" ensures you that you will be getting plenty of women in bikinis, "Shots" ensures you that this movie will contain plenty of people pounding shots of alcohol, preferably in a strip club.

If you don't already know that by looking at this movie, have you been paying attention?

The movie is really overplaying its hand here. Most Adam Sandler movies -- especially those that are rated at least PG-13, which is probably all of them -- are guaranteed to bring the bawdy humor. Frat boys needn't worry that there's enough there to make them laugh, especially if they have low standards for humor, and they certainly needn't worry that there will be plenty of men doing bad things, with women who are either scantily clad or not clad at all.

So a song called "Shots" -- whose primary identifiable lyrics are "Shots! Shots! Shotsshotsshots!" -- is just overkill.

So no, even though they've conveniently released That's My Boy just before Father's Day, I will not be seeing it this weekend.

In fact, I may not be going out to the movies at all, even though my wife has urged me to go. Last year on my first Father's Day as a father, I saw X-Men: First Class, and it felt like a bit of a treat to be able to go. Now that my son is a year older and theoretically a year more manageable, getting out to the movies isn't such a novelty.

So instead, I'm going to stay in and watch a movie. That's right, late Sunday afternoon, after my son wakes up from his nap, my wife is going to take him out for about two hours. And I'm going to sit at home and watch something -- not sure what yet -- on my couch. In the middle of the day, without anyone bothering me, and totally of my own choosing.

Now that's a real novelty.

Happy Father's Day to you, if you happen to be a father as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Watch gets its balls back

You may remember a couple weeks ago I trashed the trailer I'd just seen for The Watch, formerly Neighborhood Watch, which was an ill-conceived and disjointed pastiche of 20-second scenes from the movie that did whatever they could to deemphasize the words "neighborhood watch."

The thinking was, after Trayvon Martin was killed by an overzealous neighborhood watchman, audiences wouldn't come to see the movie.

It makes sense from a public relations standpoint, and secondarily, serves as some sort of tribute to Martin, or at least an acknowledgment that his death is not something to be made light of.

But in deemphasizing any reference to the original film's title, and then including these otherwise disconnected scenes in which it's so obvious the characters are talking themselves into circles, the studio neutered all the funny out of that trailer. Which is a shame, because that cast (and that director, Akiva Schaffer) are capable of great amounts of funny under the right circumstances.

Apparently, those circumstances came along a few weeks later.

The new trailer I saw last night before Prometheus (a film I won't delve into right now) starts with these words, narrated by Ben Stiller:

"There is an alien invasion happening. That's why I founded the neighborhood watch."

Own it, guys. Own it.

Oh, and the trailer that follows is more the conventional kind, made up of briefer snippets of action and dialogue, and it actually made me laugh a couple times.

It's a pretty shrewd change of course, when you come right down to it. It doesn't allow you a moment to wonder if the movie treads too closely to the story of a self-proclaimed security guard who felt threatened enough by a black teenager in a hoodie to shoot him. No, this story is about aliens, and therefore, is utterly divorced from reality.

It's probably what they should have done all along. Now, keeping the original title ... yeah, that would have been a bit trickier.

More surprising than the sudden confident ownership of the phrase "neighborhood watch" is that the trailer does not shy away from making light of excessive gun violence. In a bit I must admit I found pretty funny, the quartet of watchmen appear to have killed one of these aliens, who were not shown in the previous trailer. Having (understandably) little knowledge of alien physiognomy, the guys continue to pop an additional seven or eight caps in the corpse, unconvinced that it won't still rise, horror movie style, and lunge at them. The last two or three, spaced out over five seconds, are casual afterthoughts.

So these are a bunch of regular guys who don't really know how to use guns and unleash more bullets than they probably need to.

Not unlike George Zimmerman, for whom one bullet was too much.

However well meaning the changes in the marketing of The Watch may have originally been -- and really, profit was probably the biggest motivator -- I like this honest approach better. Some movies are just cursed with poor timing, but it isn't their fault. It doesn't mean they should be exiled into the deepest, darkest corners of the studio's basement.

So will I see The Watch in the theater?

I think it's up to the third trailer to convince me of that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Terminator or Matrix?

Catching the middle two Terminator movies in the past month has reminded me of a realization I had maybe a decade ago:

The Terminator and The Matrix are essentially variations on the same story.

I'm not saying I was some kind of genius for thinking this up, but I did think it up on my own.

In both cases you're talking about a post-apocalyptic future where machines rule the world. In both cases there is an underground human resistance being tirelessly targeted by the machines, always avoiding extinction by the skin of its teeth. And in both cases there is a single "chosen one" among the humans, a man who seems to hold the key to ultimate victory over the machines.

So my question is: Which version of the story do you like better?

I'm making a distinction here between this question and the question "Which movies do you like better?" Because it would be fairly easy to argue that the Terminator series holds a distinct advantage over the Matrix series. There are two indisputably great Terminator movies, whereas there is only one indisputably great Matrix movie. (Granted, there's also one more movie in the Terminator series than in the Matrix series.) Also, the Terminator movies have spanned three decades, while all three Matrix movies were contained to the period of 1999 to 2003.

So it's actually more of a question of: Which interpretation of machines rising up to enslave humanity better stimulates that sweet spot in your imagination?

As with many things, this is probably a case of which one you encountered first. I actually saw Terminator 2 before I saw The Terminator, so T2 is my favorite Terminator movie. Hard to say whether I'd reverse those two honors if I'd seen them in order, but T2 blew me away. I saw The Matrix next, then it probably would have been The Matrix Reloaded followed by T3 and then The Matrix Revolutions, as all three of those movies hit theaters in 2003. Bringing up the rear -- both chronologically and in terms of quality -- was Terminator: Salvation in 2009.

So yeah, I'm ultimately a Terminator guy, but it's not as easy a decision as you might think. Probably my peak fascination with either of these series came about the time when I saw The Animatrix, a straight-to-video series of short films in different animation styles that was released about a month after The Matrix Reloaded. At the time, I was still on a high following Reloaded, a high that was unpolluted by the third movie in the series, or by the unflattering reconsideration of the second movie that was prompted by the third. When I saw The Matrix Reloaded, I was enthralled by the way it expanded on what we'd seen in The Matrix, even if it did climb up its own arsehole a little bit by the climax. So when a series of shorts that delved further into the logic of the Matrix universe came out a few weeks later, it engaged me right at the height of my philosophical wrestling with what I'd seen.

Conversely, the spin-offs of the Terminator series have held no similar fascination for me. I tried watching The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Fox, but it just didn't do it for me. In fact, I can't even remember if I watched more than one episode.

I think it may ultimately come down to the greater immediacy of the Terminator movies, the greater sense of impending tragedy. In three of the four movies, the apocalypse has yet to happen, and all energies are focused on trying to stop it. (Though I still don't know why the machines didn't just send a terminator back to the 19th century to kill John Connor's great great great grandmother. She would never see it coming.) Whereas in The Matrix, what's happened has already happened, and we actually know very little about it (though one of the Animatrix shorts goes into that, which is part of what made the shorts so fascinating to me).

Plus there's the fact that most of the world is not already dead in The Matrix. Practically speaking, they're dead, as they are being used as batteries to power the machines. But in their own consciousness, these people are alive, and in some cases, living a pretty damn good life. Not only that, but their circumstances seem to be reversible. Even if, upon a successful human rebellion, they were to be unleashed into a world that is as decimated as the world in the Terminator movies, at least humanity would have the numbers to rebuild and turn the real world back into a version of their idealized, anesthetized reality more quickly. The world view of The Terminator is more ballsy for its sheer bleakness. Even if the humans do overthrow the machines, there will be only, what, 10,000 of them? 20,000 of them? to repopulate the entire planet.

If I were to rank the seven movies, it holds up the slight advantage held by the Terminator movies. My rankings would go:

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
2. The Matrix
3. The Terminator
4. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
5. The Matrix Reloaded
6. The Matrix Revolutions
7. Terminator: Salvation

The only two I might flip-flop would be T3 and Reloaded. I certainly liked Reloaded more when I saw it than I liked T3. But I've now seen T3 three times, and have yet to revisit Reloaded. That tells me something. (Or wait, did I? I'll have to consult my records.)

I guess this ended up being a discussion of both the movies themselves and the universes they create, as might be expected. On the one hand, there's something more philosophical about The Matrix, even with the time travel aspect introduced into The Terminator. On the other, The Terminator is a lot cleaner, conceptually, and never spirals off into self-defeating existential rabbit holes.

Both have a lot of kick-ass action scenes.

So how do you come down on the topic?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Breaking in our new TV with T3

It had been since 2007 that we bought our last new living room TV, and we have been using one of those old-school box TVs for our bedroom viewings. So when our tax refund check arrived, we decided it was time to upgrade both viewing scenarios.

On Tuesday of this week our 47" 3D TV from LG arrived, having been a veritable steal from Amazon. Neither of us had ever bought a TV online before, but turns out, it's possible.

We set it up on Thursday, and one of our first challenges was learning the crazy ways of smart TVs. You know, instead of using a remote control per se, you choose things on screen with the equivalent of a laser pointer, whose on-screen icon is a sideways triangle not unlike your ship in the video game Asteroids.

Then it was adjusting the TV so it would not have what I call the "Masterpiece Theatre Look." If you have a TV like this, you know what I'm talking about. It's that setting where you can see the depth of the screen really well, but in a really ugly way -- it basically looks like the real world with really poor lighting and production values. Oddly enough, the picture setting called Games is actually the one you want.

Finally it was time to watch something, and somehow, that ended up being Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Odd choice, maybe. If you want to watch something that takes fullest advantage of the new dimensions (figuratively not literally) of your TV, you probably figure to choose something made more recently than 2003. But we just re-watched Terminator 2 a couple weeks ago, so when we saw T3 listed among our choices on Cinemax OnDemand (which we're getting free for three months with our new DirecTV subscription), it seemed like a winning choice.

Turns out, it was.

The movie looked absolutely gorgeous on our new TV. It boasted a depth and clarity the likes of which I hadn't seen before -- certainly not on a TV in my own living room, anyway. Like its most immediate predecessor in the series, the movie starts out with images of a post-apocalyptic future, and even terminator models conjured with visual effects that are now nine years old looked breathtaking.

Seems I don't know what I've been missing by not having a TV like this before now.

So now I'm licking my chops about what comes next. T3 was Friday night, and we got a late start on Zhang Yimou's Hero last night, as we first had to endure the Celtics losing Game 7 to the Heat and a failed attempt to download the first episode of the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO OnDemand. A day's worth of work sapped my energy, and I had to bail on Hero (which also looked gorgeous) about halfway through.

But oh, there's so much more still to come.

To continue the parlance of the Terminator series, we've got our T-1000, and all other models now seem obsolete.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Circus afros do not a movie make

It's an understatement to say I did not love the original Madagascar. Shame, too, because I did love Madagascar, the island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa, which has its own territory in the board game Risk. In fact, before the movie came out, Madagascar was my go-to place when I was doing some kind of bit and I needed the name of a random country.

Well, not anymore.

I have a hard time explaining why, but I loathed the original Madagascar. I thought the story and writing were moronic, and many of the portrayals really bothered me, specifically David Schwimmer as that neurotic giraffe. (It may not be fair to blame this specifically on Madagascar, since it was around then that Schwimmer frittered away his remaining viability as a performer and joined the ranks of the irredeemably annoying.)

But the first time I saw a trailer for Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (having skipped Madagascar 2), I thought it actually looked really clever. There was something about the lovingly created European setting that really spoke to me, that made me want to open my arms to Dreamworks' franchise again, made me consider returning Madagascar the country to the good graces of my repertoire of random country names.

Until, that is, everything about the advertising campaign became dominated by circus afros.

"Duh duh dudda dudda duh duh circus, duh duh dudda dudda duh duh afro, circus afro, circus afro, polka dot polka dot afro!"

So sings Chris Rock's zebra, featured front and center on this poster, to the tune of the familiar "circus theme song" (which probably has a name if I bothered to look it up). I thought that bit was okay in that first trailer I saw, but at that point I didn't realize that every shred of advertising related to this movie would soon revolve around what is probably a very short scene in the movie, involving rainbow-colored wigs.

If I thought the first Madagascar was bankrupt in the idea department, I might be floored by the bankruptcy involved in this movie if they think that the so-called "circus afro" is the movie's big hook. "Wig out!" screams a billboard I drive past every day, which shows that penguin up close with his circus afro. And so on. And so forth.

The weird thing is, the first time I saw the trailer, I was wondering if there were some sly racial politics going on here. Animated movie characters don't have races, per se, even if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt the race of the actor voicing the character. Which is the case with Rock's voicing of the zebra. Since he's the one who gets to sing the now-famous "Circus Afro Song," I was wondering if there was supposed to be some kind of comment about the afro (a hairstyle traditionally associated with people of African descent) being repurposed for use by clowns at the circus.

Anyway, more than Madagascar 3 specifically, I guess I have a problem in general with the marketing tactic of trying to hype up one particular aspect of a movie that no one has seen yet, basically telling us it's supposed to be the thing we connect to most. It's a variation on my complaint (made here) about shoving a catchphrase down our throats, even though none of us has seen the movie yet and don't know what this catchphrase means in or out of context.

Although if a lot of people do see Madagascar 3 this weekend, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it probably has something to do with the circus afros. Usually, hype does work. It doesn't mean I have to like it.

And the idea of the lost zoo animals hitching a ride with circus animals is, indeed, probably a good one.

Before I sign off today, I'd like to apologize to you, my loyal reader, that I did not write a post about Prometheus today. If I hadn't spent all week moving into a new house and trying to survive a commute that's three times the length of my old one (at the best of times), I might have written about both Madagascar 3 and Prometheus this week. But the truth is, I don't have anything to say about Prometheus that hasn't already been said by a million fanboys.

I will say that I don't expect it to feature any circus afros.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Escorted out by Ray Liotta

The timing of our move was pretty perfect as far as the TV season goes.

Since all the network shows stopped airing within the past couple weeks, our DVR was pristine by the time this past weekend rolled around. I managed to finish the season finale of Fringe on Friday night, and that was our last obstacle to a clean DVR. Something you never otherwise see in our house.

And so there would also be no obstacle to saying goodbye to the old house with a couple movies, one on Friday night and one on Saturday night, before we tore the equipment out of the wall on Sunday.

Ah, but what movies? What movies would best encapsulate the three years and three months we lived in this place? What best to encapsulate the house where we lived when our son was born? The house where we lived when, uh, we bought our first house?

How about Date Night and Wild Hogs?

You laugh, but I'm serious.

Our Netflix instant queue is chock full of movies we never want to watch right now. They all feel like homework of some kind. And we wanted to watch something light, but also something that had the possibility of being really good. Since we were pretty good with catching up on our 2011 comedies, that left the new releases in the Redbox machine largely lacking in palatable options.

So I swung by the library on Friday and selected a couple contenders. I started with a classic I knew my wife loved: Big. But then when it came to the other two, I developed sort of a theme: underappreciated comedies that we discovered while living in this house.

That's where Date Night and Wild Hogs come in.

Speaking of the birth of our son, we watched Date Night the day after we got home from the hospital. You'd think the sheer panic of parenting on our own for the first time would have sapped our senses of humor, but we just laughed and laughed at it. About a year before that we watched Wild Hogs on a random night in September. My wife was researching road trip movies for a script she was writing, so I brought it home from the library on a lark. We ended up really enjoying it.

What surprised me is that my wife opted for both choices over Big. It's not that she likes them better than Big, just that they ... felt right for the occasion.

We got a late start on Friday night, so we went with the shorter one, which was Date Night. So the cinematic classic Wild Hogs was left for the grand finale on Saturday night.

And sometime in the middle, I realized that these two movies both feature Ray Liotta.

It was certainly a coincidence. He has a sizable role as the primary antagonist in Wild Hogs, the menacing leader of a biker gang called the Del Fuegos. I definitely remembered that he was in it. But in Date Night he has about five minutes of screen time, playing a mob boss. 

Still, I thought it was funny that the comedies of Ray Liotta would be the way we would say farewell to our old house, cinematically speaking.

But kind of appropriate, right? I mean, Ray Liotta is consummately that guy who would show you the door. Or else he'd get one of his lackeys to do it. Either way, Ray Liotta wants you to get the fuck out of here.

Which we did yesterday. Last night, we slept in our new home for the first time.

For those of you seriously doubting our taste in comedies right about now, I should tell you that neither film tickled us the way it had the first time. But both did serve to remind us of some of the unexpected movie-watching joy we attained in the last place we lived before we owned a home.

Now, our first movie in the new place should definitely be ... The Money Pit.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The final lap

The funniest things can make you nostalgic when you're moving.

Like, going to the neighborhood gym for the last time, which I did on Tuesday.

I guess to call it my "neighborhood" location of 24 Hour Fitness is not entirely accurate -- it's about a 10-minute drive from my current (soon to be former) place. In fact, it's about equidistant to another 24 Hour Fitness that's in a fancier neighborhood and is frequented by fancier people. But this one is on my way home from work, so I've been going almost exclusively to this one ever since it's been necessary to fit my workout into the time before I pick up my son from daycare. (Besides, you don't necessarily want fancy people at your gym. Their fancy ways often make them assholes.)

I'll just say it: My gym is in a black neighborhood, and the clientele is probably at least 80 percent black. I've actually already said that once before, if you read this post.

This information is not relevant, except in the following way: I am not black, so my affinity for this gym is something that has made me sort of proud. I like irrefutable evidence of my own lack of racial bias. And yeah, this gym is on my way home, and yeah, there's a really nice man-made waterfall that's the highlight of this office complex into which the gym is nestled. But a racist would drive an additional half-hour out of his way just to find his "own people." I've got a perfectly good gym that's chock full of white people an equal distance away, in Santa Monica, yet this is my gym of choice.

And perhaps that's why I felt a powerful wave of nostalgia as I walked down the staircase from the third floor, where I work out on the stairmasters, for the final time Tuesday afternoon.

It wasn't the ideal final visit. I knew I'd be pressed for time as it was, considering that I was planning to leave work at 3:30 and needed to pick up my son at daycare by 5. Add to that the fact that I was waylaid for an additional 20 minutes helping a user, and I almost thought about not going.

But there's one time element of a trip to the gym that you can control, and that's the length of the workout. Instead of my usual 45 minutes, I'd just do 25. After all, I was planning to celebrate and honor a ritual, not get the best workout I've ever gotten.

What does all this have to do with movies?

Well, my trips to the gym have always involved watching a movie on my portable DVD player. I strap it to the top of the stairmaster with two heavy duty rubber bands, and I watch as much as two-thirds of a movie, depending on what kind of shape I'm in and how long I can extend the workout (and how long the movie is).

As seems often to be the case, I chose an inadvertently appropriate film for my final trip to this gym: Steve James' Prefontaine, one of two movies about world-class runner Steve Prefontaine that came out in the late 1990s. (The other being Robert Towne's Without Limits.) The only reason I was watching this movie 15 years after its release is that I am writing a post for the Flickchart blog, which considers the relative merits of the famous pairings of movies that have come out at the same time on the same subject matter (Deep Impact vs. Armagedddon, Volcano vs. Dante's Peak, etc.) The piece wouldn't be complete if I hadn't seen both of the Prefontaine movies, considering that Prefontaine makes one of the most unlikely subjects ever to be double-booked by Hollywood.

Of course, I wouldn't be watching the whole movie. At this point, I'd only be watching 25 minutes of it.

But watching Jared Leto stretch out his legs as the former University of Oregon great and Munich Olympian gave me the predictable boost of adrenaline during my workout. I even notched up the speed of the stairs a couple levels to compensate for the shorter workout.

And as it happened, the numbers on the timer hit 0:00 right as Prefontaine won his first race at the University of Oregon, which also set some kind of record. Literally, his chest broke the tape and the stairs stopped moving beneath me at the exact same moment.

As I was passing the check-in desk on my way out, I saw Wolfgang, the early fiftysomething with a shaved head who I see almost every time I check in. He has this nice habit of giving you a little fist bump after the finger reader has confirmed who you are. I've always loved those fist bumps, and am disappointed on days when Wolfgang is too distracted to supply one.

I decided I would tell Wolfgang that this was probably my last visit to this gym.

"I'm moving to the Valley," I told him, even though his back was turned and he probably had no idea I intended to say anything, since I never do. "So I don't think I'll be coming around here much anymore."

Wolfgang proceeded to tell me how he lives in Encino and drives down here for work, so I could too. However, he also acknowledged that it would be difficult, and that I would be all set with the two near me in the Valley: the one I used to frequent at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, when I used to live in Sherman Oaks, and the new one that has just opened in North Hollywood.

"Yeah, I'll be all set," I said. "But it won't be this club. I really like this club."

"Well, just wanted to let you know I appreciate ya," said Wolfgang.

"I appreciate you too," I said.

Followed by one final fist bump.