Monday, July 29, 2013

Famous Flops: The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

This is the latest in my monthly series Famous Flops, in which I watch one movie per month that is noted for how terrible or how unsuccessful it was, then write about it here.

Okay. Whew.

Having reached an undignified low last month when I actually sorta liked The Hottie and the Nottie, I grabbed hold of The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure for dear life, hoping beyond hope that I would not like it.

Indeed, I didn't like it. Whew.

However, I do have to say one thing about it: If The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure were just a dumb television show, it would hardly warrant a mention outside the children's TV circuit. By having the gall to release itself theatrically -- and thereby accruing the lowest U.S. box office opening weekend for a movie opening on more than 2,000 screens, just $448,000 and change -- The Oogieloves reached for a place in movie infamy history.

Yes, this movie is bad, but it's probably not sufficiently ridiculous to be far worse than some other entertainment aimed at very young children. It's the fact that it thinks so much more of itself that makes it such a misfire. You can really tell that the creators of The Oogieloves thought they were launching a phenomenon, and they simply weren't.

One of the pieces of hubris of which they are guilty is that they thought they were going to create an interactive movie experience that would become addictive to children. This nominal "adventure," carried out by three Barney-like creatures named Goobie, Zoozie and Toofie, is punctuated by a series of songs and dances that are supposed to bring children in the audience to their feet. At the start of the movie, the Oogieloves explain that any time the butterflies fly across the screen (and there's a message they may not be able to read that says "It's time to get out of your seats!"), they should stand up to sing and dance with the Oogieloves. When a handful of turtles cross the screen ("It's okay to sit down now"), the song and dance portion is over for now.

I guess you can't blame them for trying, yet we do anyway. It takes a certain amount of ego to say that you're going to love what we're offering you so much, you'll want to get up out of your seats and dance. Things like that tend to spring up organically -- say, The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- so when someone tries to make them happen artificially, that person seems a bit too proud of him/herself. However, you'd be right to ask how they're supposed to create this interactive experience, if not by weaving it into the fabric of the movie. Guess it's kind of a catch-22.

Anyway, kids didn't go for it. If they had, their parents would have told other parents, and the movie would have made more than $206 per screen.

The deck was stacked against this movie with parents from the start. After all, with their felt costumes and their dopey eyes, the characters do resemble Barney more than they resemble anything else in the children's landscape. Barney is an oddity -- he's a smashing success, despite the fact that almost any adult you talk to will say they hate him. That kind of thing doesn't come along every day, and one look at the Oogieloves made most parents say "Uh uh. Not again."

So far I've been talking mostly about things I could have gleaned without even watching the movie. So, how about some actual stuff from the plot?

It's goofy as hell from the start, but "goofy" is too amiable a word, not nearly insulting enough. It appears that the Oogieloves are throwing a birthday party for their friend, Schluufy, who is a very sleepy pillow. In fact, Schluufy spends almost the entire movie sleeping, which doesn't do much to make us worried whether his pals can reclaim five lost golden balloons that they mean to bring to his party. The Oogies leave Oogie headquarters (or whatever it is) to go find the balloons. Staying back home is their friend, a vacuum cleaner named J. Edgar. (Hoover, get it?) J. Edgar watches what's going on because the window in their HQ, called Windy Window, can magically show him what the Oogies are doing at any given time. Windy Window is a human face looking not unlike the Wizard of Oz, except she's a woman with a Southern accent.

Still with me?

So the Oogies go out and meet a variety of human characters played by the likes of Chazz Palminteri, Cloris Leachman, Cary Elwes, Toni Braxton, Jaime Pressly and Christopher Lloyd. Each character they meet (Pressly and Lloyd are in the same scene) must help them get back one of the balloons, which have followed a particularly unusual diaspora for having all presumably been released from the same person's hands. (Or the same vacuum cleaner's hands -- I believe it was J. Edgar who lost them.) Each time they must engage in a song and dance, before ultimately doing what they need to do to collect the balloon. There are also dance routines that recur, like the Oogies' special Oogielove chant whenever they have a success, and the little song they sing to the belt-less Toofie every time he drops his pants, which is a lot.

Still with me?

The human actors are perhaps the only thing to even remotely recommend this movie, and only a couple of them. It would be fair to say that each actor pours his or her all into the various roles, so that's one thing. Braxton gets some laughs as a loopy songstress, Palminteri is sort of sublime as a man in a diner serving milkshakes with animatronic cows, and Pressly and Lloyd do their best as Mexican dancers. The most annoying human character is Elwes as a cowboy named Bobbly Wobbly, whose thing is that he wobbles when he walks. While many of the others seem like they might be winking at the camera, Elwes is just mugging, and it grates in no time.

There were a few times when I was watching when I wondered if there weren't something subversive going on here, if this weren't the biggest parody ever pulled off with a completely straight face. Ultimately, though, I decided that really terrible movies have a way of seeming like they were intentional, simply because the decisions are so bad that you have to wonder how someone with money approved them. So I dropped the theory that The Oogieloves might be a massive joke, and just settled on the most obvious interpretation of its quality.  

This is about all anyone needs to write about this movie, so I will stop now.

I'm cheating in August. Oh, it's a big flop alright, enough of a flop to have become sort of a success: It's Tommy Wiseau's The Room, which has become sort of the heir apparent to the aforementioned Rocky Horror Picture Show. The cheating part? I've already seen it. I just watched it at a midnight show last night, meaning a couple days before the beginning of August. But they, I'm moving to Australia in just over three weeks, so you'll forgive me if I have to engage in a little bit of cheating.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

So many ghosts, such a small state

Watching the trailer for R.I.P.D., I thought two things:

1) Aren't police departments typically named after cities, not states? You know, LAPD, NYPD, etc.

2) I lived in Rhode Island for almost two years, and I had no idea there were this many spirits and other creepy crawlies flying around on a regular basis.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Australian Audient

G'day, mate.

That's what I'll be saying to you soon. Not on August 18th, no. But on September 18th? Yes indeed.

Now that I've gone public on Facebook about it, you, dear Audient readers, are the last to know:

I'm moving to Australia.

Soon, I'll be able to tell you what is and isn't a knife. Soon, I'll be eating Vegemite sandwiches with Kangaroo Jack. Soon, I'll know if the dingo really did eat her baby. 

But Vance, how could this happen?

If you don't already know, you do now: My wife was born in Australia. Her mother is American by birth, so she got my wife a dual citizenship when she was a teenager.

For years we have been talking about living in Australia at some point, at least for a couple years. But we never knew what event would come along that would finally tell us it was time.

Well, that event came along maybe five weeks ago, when my wife was informed by a former colleague about a job opening in Film Victoria, the government body that oversees funding for films made in the province of Victoria (which is home to Melbourne, where my wife grew up and where the job is actually located). My wife's colleague asked if she knew of anyone who would be interested in the job. She did: herself. In fact, she had previously described this job to me as her "dream job," the kind of job she hoped she'd be able to get to eventually continue her career in Australia. She had a Skype interview, and they offered her the job the very next day.

This despite my second piece of news: She's pregnant. Yep, we're going to have our second child in early January. When she told them of her condition, they had to think about the offer for a couple days. And then returned to her telling her they still wanted to make it. She'll just go on maternity leave for four months, then pick back up where she left off.

This is not at all how we expected moving to Australia to go. We expected a light bulb to go off over our heads one day, and we would suddenly know it was the perfect time to uproot ourselves from the U.S. We certainly did not expect that day to come only 14 months after buying our first home here in Los Angeles, nor to occur while my wife was actively pregnant. 

But life has its own odd, mysterious plans. Truth is, if we'd been waiting for that "magic moment" to arrive, it may never have come.

This is kind of the perfect scenario, actually. Because it's happening so suddenly, no thought has been given to selling our house. We will just rent it out. Her contract runs for two years, with a mutual option to extend it. So after two years we may just come back. In fact, we are telling people we definitely will come back after two years, which makes our imminent departure all the more palatable. So we're keeping our footprint here in Los Angeles.

The fact of her pregnancy may seem inconvenient, but this is actually sort of great as well. Right now, we don't have any family where we live. That will all change when we immediately begin living in the same city as my wife's sister and father, with her mother only an hour's plane ride away. Plus there are all my wife's extremely helpful friends from high school, who are a great crowd indeed. All these people will give us a ton of help in figuring out how to add a second child to our family.

Meanwhile, I get to rethink my own career. I've been working in IT for 11 years now, and I'm not sure if it's where my future lies. I won't be able to work for a couple months after I get to Australia as we get me a visa, and during that time, I can scout around and figure out if I can start making a living as a writer again. Now that my wife will be doing the bulk of the bread-winning, I can take a job that actually satisfies my original career goals, without worrying whether it pays all the bills.

And what about this blog?

Well, if anything, I expect to update it more frequently. I will definitely have more time on my hands, as my son looks likely to spend at least three days a week in daycare or preschool. Plus, now I will have a hundred new observations about how a person watches movies down under. I can tell you now to be ready for my first post on the $20 movie ticket.

So what's my timeline? Glad you asked. My wife and son ship out at the end of next week, as she has to get to work. (Her predecessor's last day on the job is tomorrow.) Me, I'm still in L.A. until August 20th. That's the date we had originally planned to fly to Oz for a vacation, so I'm just keeping my original ticket. This will give me plenty of time to say goodbye to friends, sell our cars and prepare the house to be rented.

And plenty of time to watch movies. I will soon be receiving a nearly four-week break from childcare duties, and I plan to revel in it. Oh, I will miss my wife and son so much that it will cause me physical distress at times. But I will also get to watch movies until I'm blue in the face, and you have to take those opportunities when life presents them to you.

Okay! That's the news.

I'm looking forward to having you along with me on this adventure.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Building a better Transformers movie

Most people I know have been pretty excited about the release of Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim. With some of those people, "excited" is an understatement.

For those who haven't been excited, though, it usually comes down to this:

"It looks like just another Transformers movie."

I can see their point. The essence of Pacific Rim and of a Transformers movie are the same thing: giant robots fighting each other and causing lots of property damage. 

Oh yeah, the robots in Transformers turn into cars and trucks and planes and microwave ovens. The robots in Pacific Rim presumably don't do that. But that's not really an essential part of what the Transformers are. In fact, you could almost say that we look past the parts where they're driving around or flying or cooking a TV dinner in two minutes, because we've seen that stuff before. It's the robots leveling buildings that we paid for.

Which means not only is Pacific Rim like a Transformers movie, they are both really like a Godzilla movie. In fact, since Pacific Rim features large reptilian aliens as its villains, you might say it's a bit like a mashup of a Transformers movie and a Godzilla movie. As ever, there's nothing new under the sun.

The thing is, even though the Transformers movies have been phenomenally successful, and Michael Bay is making at least one more, they have exactly zero artistic credibility. That kind of thing won't stand for a genuine artist like del Toro, who made such innovative genre movies as Mimic and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and is even capable of exquisite Oscar bait like Pan's Labyrinth. It won't stand even though he has to answer to "the money guys," who aren't going to give him the funds to do something like this unless he can promise a commercially successful movie. (Promises, promises.)

So, having considered the ways Pacific Rim is like a Transformers movie, here are five ways that I hope and expect it to be different:

1) No stultifying jingoism. It very much helps that del Toro is a Mexican, not an American like Bay, meaning there's a much lower chance of the rah-rah patriotism that suffocates the Transformers movies. Even if he thought it was a good idea for the story, del Toro's nationality would likely preclude including such nonsense. My guess is that the battles between robots and aliens will be fought equally on the soils of many different countries ... and most of the characters will just happen to speak English.

2) Fight scenes you can actually follow. The most deafening regular criticism of the Transformers movies is that you can't tell what the hell is going on. The fight scenes are shot/animated in such a way that they come off as indistinct masses of whirring metal grinding up against each other. Bay has tried to address those criticisms within his movies -- I actually thought the fight scenes were significantly clearer in Revenge of the Fallen -- but that criticism has still dogged the franchise throughout. You can bet del Toro is not going to give anyone the chance to say the same thing about Pacific Rim.

3) No ridiculously beautiful actresses who stink at acting. One of the other regular criticisms of Bay in the Transformers franchise is the way his camera hungrily takes in the curves of his female stars. Ever since he photographed Megan Fox's motor oil-smudged body leaning over a car engine in the first Transformers, we've known just what Bay thought of putting eye candy on screen. When he and Fox had a falling out (that has since been patched up), he cast an even more blatantly hot replacement, model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, for the third movie. (Fox is hotter, but at least she technically already had an acting career, whereas Huntington-Whiteley didn't.) Rinko Kikuchi and Heather Doerksen are both attractive women, but 10-to-1 you're not going to see them sprawling their glistening bodies over any kind of engine in Pacific Rim.

4) A lot less comic relief. I'm not going to say that Guillermo del Toro has no sense of humor, but I can almost guarantee you that no part of Pacific Rim will feature John Turturro in thong underwear.

5) The music won't be all up in your face. One of the most distracting things I noticed in the execrable Transformers: Dark of the Moon was how much Bay's music choices were getting all up in my grill. Whether we're talking about grating pop songs, uplifting orchestration or shallowly melancholy guitar riffs, Bay infuses all of his music choices with his singular Bay-ness. There will be music in Pacific Rim, I'm sure, but it will surely blend more seamlessly into the fabric of the movie than Bay's choices.

Because of these five factors and maybe a sixth or seventh (Charlie Hunnam is a significantly less famous lead than Shia LaBeouf), I also expect Pacific Rim not to do as well at the box office as a Transformers movie. Sad but true.

My hope is that it will at least do well enough to give other visionary directors the chance to put their own distinct spin on other familiar genres or movie types. Only this way can we continue to keep future Transformers movies, or the equivalent thereof, at bay -- so to speak.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Finishing Shotgun Stories

Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter ended up being my third favorite movie of 2011, and I saw it just a couple days before my ranking deadline in late January of 2012.

About two weeks later, I was watching his debut feature, Shotgun Stories.

A couple days after that, I returned the disc to Netflix having watched only 15 minutes.

This happens sometimes. Not often. In fact, extremely rarely. But sometimes.

The quality of Shotgun Stories had nothing to do with my decision not to finish watching it. In fact, up until a few minutes ago, I couldn't remember why I made the extremely unusual decision to return it unwatched.

Then I checked my handy dandy Netflix shipping history and discovered that the movie whose shipping was enabled by the return of Nichols' film was Bright Star, the first movie in the Lady's Choice Movie Night series my wife and I tried to make happen starting in February of '12. Not only was it her first selection, and I wanted to do everything possible to encourage her interest in this new movie series (which involved us alternating picks of movies to watch every second Tuesday), but her first selection was going to coincide with Valentine's Day.

So Shotgun Stories lost out to the other film I had at home on disc, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, and a movie night was born. A movie night that lived a healthy life of about three months.

Given how much I loved Take Shelter, it felt like an especially gaping hole in my filmography. Yesterday, I finally filled that hole.

Apparently, having returned the disc already, I didn't feel like I could rent another disc, possibly out of some superstitious fear of the same thing happening again, a superstitious fear I'm only just acknowledging now. More likely, I just didn't get around to it.

But a few weeks ago I noticed that Shotgun Stories was available for streaming from Netflix, and yesterday I took it down at a coffee shop, after an early release from work but before I needed to pick up my son from daycare. Ninety minute movies are good like that.

I don't hand out 4.5-star ratings lightly, but Shotgun Stories makes my second Nichols film to earn that rating. The story of a blood feud between sets of half brothers who have the same no-good (recently deceased) father but different mothers, it's a damn fine redneck drama of mounting vengeance and mounting consequences. It also reminds me of the Michael Shannon I wish I'd seen in Man of Steel

Now, I can't wait to see Nichols' latest film, this year's Mud. It's got an August 6th release date on BluRay/DVD, and I'll make sure I've cleared out my schedule to be able to watch it in full.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bling things

It's a pretty big tribute to Sofia Coppola that I have loved exactly one of her movies that I've seen in the theater, yet I still view the release of one of her movies as a major theatrical event.

That movie I loved was Lost in Translation, and it was nearly ten years ago that I had this transformative visit to the movies. Lost in Translation was my #1 movie of 2003.

Yet somehow that did not translate to a theatrical screening of her 2006 follow-up, Marie Antoinette. I guess I believed the negative hype and stayed away. When I later caught it on video, I was mesmerized. Not to the same extent as when I saw Lost in Translation, but enough that I felt like I should never doubt Sofia again.

Then came Somewhere.

But I was still excited enough by Coppola's potential that I prioritized seeing The Bling Ring in the theater, which is what I did on Monday night. A couple different thoughts occurred to me while watching it, so I thought I'd break them up, subheading style.

Hilton week

Who would have guessed that I would see two movies within one week that featured Paris Hilton?

Although I hate to draw attention to it if you missed it, last Saturday I wrote about how The Hottie & the Nottie was not nearly as bad as I expected ... and possibly better than that. I went on to explain that Hilton showed enough shrewdness to subtly undercut herself here and there, which flies in the face of this image we have of her as an unapologetic narcissist.

Well, consider it 2-for-2 after The Bling Ring.

Hilton is a character here to the extent that the mischievous teenagers at the story's center break into her house a half-dozen times over the course of the narrative. She actually appears on screen once as well, seen across the room at a club.

The thing that interested me is how she again walks that fine line between glorifying herself and poking fun at herself.

Over the course of the film there's a good ten minutes of footage that purportedly takes place inside Paris' house, though it seems very unlikely that her actual house was used as a set. What's notable is how close this probably is to what the inside of her real house looks like, with entire rooms devoted to her jewelry and other types of excess that should seem to be the kind of thing that qualifies as the "secret shame of the rich." (This is, of course, assuming that Paris has any shame, which she may not.)

However, what really caught my eye was that the walls are adorned with pictures of Paris -- framed magazine covers, vanity portraits, you name it. The characters even comment on it. "Look at me, I'm obsessed with myself" the place screams. And Paris signed off on that.

There's also a moment when the characters find Polaroid pictures of Hilton doing ... well, you don't know what, but they ask "What's that all over her body?"

As much as I tend to read this in Paris' favor, perhaps it's really just that she's so into self-promotion that she doesn't even see it as something to feel embarrassed about. Modesty has never been her strong suit.

A less extreme Spring Breakers

I knew going in that the movie would share something in common with Spring Breakers, one of my favorite movies so far this year.

Both movies feature young (high school vs. college-aged) girls getting in way over their heads in the partying lifestyle. Both movies feature characters who seem blind to the mounting consequences of their actions. (I guess that's kind of the same thing.) And both movies feature actresses breaking away from the clean-cut entertainment properties (Disney, Harry Potter) that previously defined them.

Only, The Bling Ring is the movie you make if you aren't entirely ready to go for it.

As much as I did really like The Bling Ring, it feels pretty "safe" compared to the rawness of Breakers. That movie is kind of like The Bling Ring turned up to 11, exploitative, sexual and violent where Bling Ring is comparatively elegant and tasteful.

However, both films are clearly tapping into something that interests us right now: the criminal aspirations of clean-cut, and sometimes wealthy, young women. The thing that struck me is that in both films, the young girls either listen to or sing along with hardcore gangsta rap. Part of being a 21st century post-teenage girl, apparently, is wanting to be an early 1990s black man in Compton.

Where credit is due?

One of the first things you notice when watching The Bling Ring is that it is dedicated to Harris Savides, the DP who was working on his second project with Coppola when he died last October.

However, in reading a review of the movie afterward, I wondered if one particular shot that was credited to his great eye was more a feat of photography or a feat of staging.

It's definitely one of the most arresting moments of the movie. Two of the main characters break into Audrina Patridge's house -- again, probably not actually her house -- and their B&E is captured from about the view of a helicopter hovering in place maybe 150 feet up, at angle of 45 degrees from the house. The shot goes on for two minutes as the two characters rummage through, turning off lights in one room, turning them on in another, filling up their bags with trinkets and treasures and eventually meeting again on the ground floor to exit.

It's breathtaking filmmaking, but is it a greatness that should really be ascribed to Savides? Or was that just a way for this critic to honor the dead?

It's not a rhetorical question I'm asking -- I'm really curious. It's a similar question to whether you credit the cinematographer in an unbroken take like the kinds you get in Before Midnight. And my answer is: it depends on whether the camera is moving. An unbroken take is a feat of both acting and cinematography in a movie like Children of Men, where the camera must move in addition to the actors saying all their lines and hitting all their marks. But in something like Before Midnight or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the camera is just still, taking it all in. In fact, the DP could have set up on a tripod and just walked away.

The unique thing about the shot in The Bling Ring is that it's not something you're getting from a tripod. Well, most likely is that the camera is on a tripod somewhere on the side of the Hollywood Hills, a spot that has the desired angle on the house below. It only looks like it's taken from the world's most stationary helicopter because there are no other landmarks in the camera's peripheral vision to suggest it's on the ground.

So does Savides get credit for thinking up this shot? Or just for executing it? And in a way, aren't we most impressed that the actors did the things they were supposed to do while the camera was running?

Maybe he's getting credit for the slight "ebb" effect the camera seems to have -- it's still, for sure, but is it moving in or out ever so slightly? I can't say for sure. It could just be an optical illusion.

Ultimately, though, I think you can credit Savides in the same way you can credit the director for things you're not sure if he (or she!) did. Film is the ultimate collaborative medium, which means that no one person ever takes full credit or full blame for anything. And if Savides contributed anything at all to one of the most interesting shots I've seen in a film this year, then he deserves credit.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My continuing hatred of minions

Last week I posted the following on Facebook:

"Message seen on bus: 'Honk if you love minions.' Question: Is there such a thing as un-honking?"

Yes, I really, really hate the minions of the Despicable Me franchise. And naming them doesn't help anything. In fact, it makes things worse. 

In fact, I'm going to take things one step further:

The minions of Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 (which hits theaters today) are symbolic of everything that's wrong with children's movies.

Whoa whoa, Vance. They're harmless yellow jelly beans with arms and legs. They're cute.

That's your opinion, and I disagree with it. Okay, I can't technically disagree with the fact that they are "cute" on some objective level that does not at all tug at my heart strings the way things that are cute are supposed to tug at my heart strings. But they are ten times more annoying than they are cute, and they are pernicious in a way that seems completely out of sync with their overt appearance.

Pernicious, as in, detrimental to children?

No, as in detrimental to movie fans.

One of the reasons I have stopped being as interested in movies aimed at children is that these days, all such movies have to have minions. If you don't have minions, you aren't viable with really young children.

Take the movie Epic, for example. I was really looking forward to Epic. It seemed "mature" in the way that movies aimed at children often are not. Of course, I didn't expect to see anything on screen that would offend the sensibilities of young children or the parents who brought them to the theater. But I didn't expect them to be pandered to in the form of minions, either, or this movie's equivalent of minions.

Then I saw this poster for Epic, and felt deflated by it:

Damn, those things are such minions it's not even funny. 

Of course, the minions themselves did not create "minions," they are only a response to the need for "minions." But here's why they seem so pernicious to me: They have risen so prominently on the list of "reasons we are making a sequel to Despicable Me" that they have basically become the sum total of the advertising for this film. I have to believe that Steve Carell is returning as the supervillain Gru, but I wouldn't know it from the posters, which focus only on Carl and Stuart and Kevin and Tim and

I know that after Despicable Me 2, the minions are spinning off into their own 2014 film that will presumably do what this movie wanted to do and just excise Carell and any other human characters entirely. If you can't imagine a movie consisting entirely of minions speaking to each other in objectively cute bleeps and blurps, welcome to today's America.

To answer the other question you are probably sort of asking, I became such a grumpy Gru about the minions by watching and not liking Despicable Me two years ago. The minions were actually one of the things that bothered me least about that movie. Gru himself and his archnemesis, Vector, were far more annoying to me. 

But the minions are the ongoing face of all things Despicable Me, and it indeed looks like they will be ongoing for quite some time now. And they are despicable alright.

Now I've annoyed myself. I should have just written a post about The Lone Ranger.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Stick to the movie screens

The last time I made a complaint about Redbox, they responded. Let's see if it happens again.

I was at a Redbox terminal yesterday afternoon doing the usual song and dance of picking out a movie. (We ended up with No, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, which we liked.) There's no literal song, but there is a literal dance because of an inescapable feature of the Redbox kiosk with which you must grapple whether you like it or not:

The sunscreen.

The sunscreen is a red flap of material that hangs from just above the screen, that allows you to see what's on the screen if it's a sunny day. Which happens, you know, a couple times a year in Los Angeles.

Good feature, right?


In fact, it's just something I have to push out of the way every time I rent a movie from Redbox. And because the kiosk has nothing that will allow a hands-free pinning of the sunscreen against the kiosk, it requires the use of one of your hands ... throughout the duration of your rental experience.


It was especially annoying yesterday, as I used my one available hand to dig my wallet out of my pocket, dig my debit card out of my wallet, and also negotiate the piece of paper on which I'd written the code that would give me 50 cents off No.

It was the guy waiting behind me, though, that prompted the writing of this post.

"Pretty annoying that you have to hold that thing the entire time, isn't it?" he said.

"So annoying," I responded.

And it is. I'm not sure what my experience of looking at a Redbox video screen would be like without the sunscreen, but I'm not even sure it's doing what it's supposed to be doing right now, anyway. Clearly, by lifting it entirely out of the way, I'm getting no protection from it at all. But what am I supposed to do to utilize it correctly? Am I supposed to hold it out at a 90 degree angle from the machine, so it's parallel to the ground? Am I supposed to be a foot shorter so I can stick my face absurdly close to the machine and have the sunscreen come to rest against the back of my head? I honestly don't know.

I do know that it's a major nuisance. I get so that I'm stacking things on top of the kiosk to assist in the logistics, like my cell phone and keys. Things I would not want to leave behind. It'd be pretty hard to leave my keys behind, if I'd driven there, but I could easily leave my cell phone behind. And since my company just rolled out iPhones to us, with the price being that we have to pay for them if they are lost or stolen, that would make the cheap movie-renting experience that brings us to Redbox considerably more expensive. In fact, just last week I left my phone atop one of those kiosks at the post office that allows the buying of stamps and the shipping of packages. Fortunately, I did the pocket slap looking for my phone before pulling out of my parking space, and scurried back inside to find it before someone walked off with it.

I suppose I could let the sunscreen flop down over the video monitor while I'm doing activities like rifling through my pockets, activities that generally benefit from a second hand. But it's not ideal. Besides, the fact that you have the sunscreen pulled up is what lets the person behind you know that you're in the middle of a transaction. With it down, you could just be some fool standing in the wrong place while rifling through his pockets.

Don't worry, Redbox. I still love you. I'm just trying to make you a more perfect version of what you are.

It worked last time. Maybe it will again.