Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Shame On Me: Wipeout

I generally stay away from reality television. Sure, I've seen a couple of episodes of things here and there, but usually those were viewed with someone that had an interest in the program. Who was I to argue when there was nothing better to do? (Like having an engaging conversation, or, depending on the particular show, staring blankly at a wall for an hour.)

So I'm not sure what sucked me into checking out ABC's new summer time-waster, "Wipeout." Sure, people falling on their asses is universally funny. (Just ask Bob Saget. But if you ask him in person, expect him to say something disgusting.)

But shouldn't that ass-falling have some sort of story built around it? Otherwise, it's not very far removed from the vision of the future that the (underrated) film Idiocracy paints, where the #1 television show is called "Ow! My Balls!" You can probably figure out the "plot."

The guise that ABC came up with, the way that they collected so many ass-fallings in one place and pretended that they were worth viewing, was to call it a "game show." Contestants run obstacle courses to narrow down the field before trying their hand on the ultimate course for a big check.

I suppose I checked it out because I hoped it would help me relive those early Saturday morning glory days of watching "American Gladiators." The AG update was a huge disappointment, focusing too much on the contestant's stories and instant replays than real competition.

But at least it didn't have idiotic, inept, border-line offensive commentary like "Wipeout." When the people bouncing off things and falling into mud come off better than the announcers, you know it's bad.

In addition, I'm convinced that some of the obstacles are literally impossible to get through without falling. That takes all of the fun out of it. Watching people fall over and over gets mind-numbing really quickly.

So mind-numbing, in fact, that I watched the entire episode, unable to concentrate on anything else. When I die, I'll lament the extra forty minutes of my life that I could have spent counting the bathroom floor tiles.

Make no mistake: "Wipeout" is not a game show, it's a reality show. And the reality is that people will watch anything if it involves people falling on their asses.

I Took The Wrong Pill

Last night I caught the beginning of The Matrix Reloaded on cable. The first thing I noticed was that Harold Perrineau of "LOST" plays Link, which means that I hadn't seen this movie since I started watching back in 2005. The second thing I noticed was kind of stupid. Guess I have really moved on.

You see, I had a passionate love affair with The Matrix. It started off healthy enough. Back in 1999, I caught my first glimpse of it. It looked intriguing. I liked what I saw. So in April of 1999, I saw it in theaters. I was blown away. Completely in love. Couldn't wait to be together again. So I grabbed some other friends who knew nothing about it and dragged them to it.

Later I got the film on DVD and watched it a few more times. It always made me happy. Maybe this whole thing was a little annoying to outsiders, but really they were just jealous. This was still nothing out of the ordinary.

Then things started to get bad.

I bought The Matrix Revisited, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film with tons of footage. I wanted to know everything about it. But instead of making us closer, it just made me wish there was more to see. (To this day, I still haven't watched much of it. I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse.

Upon hearing that the plan was to make it a trilogy, I was beyond excited. I was...obsessed. It wasn't healthy. (I know that now.) But I liked it, and I thought that it liked me. So I went with it.

I read everything I could about The Matrix Reloaded. About the massive fight scene and the freeway chase scene. (I still think it's really cool that they BUILT part of a freeway in order to have complete freedom while filming it.) I knew that they planned for it to end with a "cliffhanger," though the ending they ultimately went with was far from one, in my opinion.

Knowing all of this impaired my initial viewing experience somewhat because I was dying in anticipation for the two huge action sequences, and near the end I kept trying to guess where it was going to cut off.

But I didn't mind. Besides, I had other viewings to make up for it. (More on that in a second.)

Prior to and immediately following the second film's release, I purchased the following things:
The Animatrix (still pretty cool, actually)

The Animatrix soundtrack (Mistakenly, as it came in a package with the above DVD, and I thought it meant the soundtrack to the first film.)

Enter the Matrix (not cool, actually)

Matrix action figures (only two)

And I wrote a review/theory blog entry so long, I'm surprised it didn't break a server.

Pretty bad, right? I didn't know what I was doing to myself. But that's not even the worst part.

I saw The Matrix Reloaded in theaters FIVE TIMES. Three of those times were in the first 24 HOURS.

And later I wrote a blog entry so long that I'm surprised it didn't destroy a server.

Yeah, it was bad. I wouldn't listen to critics (professional or my friends) who pointed out that the fight scene between Neo and hundreds of Agent Smiths was pointless because it accomplished nothing, and he just ran away at the end. I gave a far-fetched reason to try to justify it.

And I wouldn't listen to those that said it was style over substance, relying too much on its camera effects. My argument was that it INVENTED the effects, so it could use them as much as it wanted.

I'd probably still be locked in this unhealthy relationship if it wasn't for The Matrix Revolutions, which crushed my soul. Talk about a bad break-up.

I could spend pages talking about why I hated that movie, but instead I'll just say this: While seeing it in the theater, I had to pee badly for the last twenty-five minutes. After it was all said and done, I wish I had just gone to pee. That would have been much more interesting that what I saw.

So my love dissipated, and I hadn't seen anything other the first film until last night. In addition to watching the beginning, I checked out the freeway chase scene.

While some stuff is cool, I was underwhelmed. Definitely style over substance.

We had fun, Matrix, but I'm happy now. Stay out of my life.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ode to an Ad: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" Poster


This movie has been on my mind a lot recently. First, my friend Aaron cited it as one of the 10 Best Pop Culture Love Stories of the Last Ten Years. Then I mentioned it in correlation with WALL*E, noting that they both feature the theme of love triumphing over technology.

While the trailer is fantastic in its own right, doing a wonderful job of showing the zany fun the film will have with its concept, I like the simplicity of this picture.

Once you've seen the movie (or at least understand the plot), you can spot a number of elements represented in this poster. I'll start with the obvious:
The poster is mimicking a thought bubble, the image of Joel and Clementine on the ice floating above Joel like a memory, just out of reach. The white color of the ice makes the imagery crystal clear. Although it is a great moment in the film, it was definitely chosen for how it would look on the poster, because, if you recall, this actually happens after they meet for the second time, post-memory erasure.

Even the white credits on the right side fit with the thought bubble pattern, resembling the smaller bubbles that lead to the big picture.

While many instances of the thought bubble feature the character "looking" at his/her thought (as in the cartoon image above), there's a longing in Joel's eyes that makes you immediately empathize with him. This isn't a fantasy, some scenario that Joel wishes would come true. It's an actual memory. And it's not about Joel living in the past, wanting the memory to become reality once again. He simply wants to hold onto the memory, to keep it in his brain, as a part of his life and who he is. He's desperate.

But memory is a fragile thing (even if you aren't having it erased), and the image depicts that with the multi-fissured crack in the ice. In the movie, the revelation of the cracked ice is played as a joke. Joel is nervous about being on the frozen lake. Clementine informs him that it's perfectly safe. And it cuts to an aerial shot. It's a pretty good laugh.

On the poster, however, it shows the delicate nature of memory. At any second, the ice could shatter, the memory falling into the water below, never to be seen again.

We hope more than anything that this doesn't happen, and that's why we watch the movie: to find out.

Women Wear Pants Too: Angelina Jolie

From time to time, I'll highlight a lady that gets to do more in Hollywood than just play the wife/girlfriend/romantic interest.


With the release of her latest action flick, Wanted, I figured it was high time that I talk about Angelina Jolie, perhaps the biggest female action star of the new millennium. The film opened with $51 million, making it the 7th highest debut for an R-rated film. This would be a great accomplishment at any time of the year, but considering it had to face-off against WALL*E, a G-rated family affair that took in $63 million, it's exceptional. (Wanted actually averaged more per theater than WALL*E, which kind of blows my mind.)

I'm sure some of the audience just wanted another chance to look at James McAvoy. And maybe others just wanted to hear Morgan Freeman drop the F-bomb. Finally, there was probably a contingent that just wanted a good action film, regardless of the stars.

Still, I have to believe that a large part of its success was due to the presence of Jolie. It helps that many consider her the most beautiful movie star in the world, but more importantly is the seriousness she brings to her action roles. People can argue about whether or not she's entirely convincing as an action star, but she never plays it with a wink to the audience, as if to say, "Hey look at all of this cool stuff I"m doing...and, I'm a woman!"

Yes, Jolie has played some girlfriend/wife roles, even recently. But lest we all forget, she also played Lara Croft in two Tomb Raider movies. While the films are largely forgettable, the significance of her embodying this character shouldn't be overlooked. Whether we like it or not, Lara Croft is one of the most recognizable female action characters of all-time. Action films featuring female leads are few and far between to begin with, and Tomb Raider actually had a sequel.

In recent history, the only other character I can think of that might be as famous as Lara is Trinity from The Matrix films. Opening it up to all time periods doesn't add many more characters. Sarah Connor from The Terminator films, obviously, though truth be told she was never really the star, plus she only kicked ass in the second one. And while I wasn't around for the popular "Wonder Woman" or "Bionic Woman" TV shows, from what I've seen they seem to be a little tongue-in-cheek.

This isn't to say that a good action film can't also be humorous. It just has to achieve the perfect tone. I can't call it a great film (mainly because I read an earlier draft of the script that I enjoyed much more), but Mr. & Mrs. Smith mixes action, humor, and pure sexiness quite well. Not a great film, but definitely entertaining.

Whether she makes more films along those lines or decides to try straight action (something similar to the Bourne series, perhaps), I'm game as long as she doesn't wink at me.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Category Five: My 5 Favorite Films Of The First Half Of The Year

The year is halfway over, and I've done a pretty good job of seeing films in the theater. A few slipped by that I wanted to check out, and there are a few still in theaters that I hope to catch soon. But here's a list of my favorites so far.


It's hard to make a good horror-comedy. I've previously mentioned my affinity for Tremors, but being PG-13, it goes fairly light on the gore. And ultra-bloodfests such as Dead Alive, while enjoyable in their own right, stop being realistic once...well, they never START being realistic.

Teeth stays as realistic as a film about vagina dentata possibly can. That's right. This movie is about a girl who has teeth in her woo-hoo.

She's a high schooler dedicated to purity, so much so that she speaks at events promoting chastity. But when one of her fellow group members takes things past the making out stage, her secret is discovered.

Luckily (well, not for him), it wasn't something she wanted. It's scarring enough for your first sexual experience to result in a severed penis; just imagine how bad it would be if she had actually wanted to have sex with him.

Jess Weixler's performance is what really makes this film work. She has to play frightened believably, but if it's too intense, it ceases to be funny. She walks the line perfectly.

I'd only recommend it to certain types of people, but if you laughed while you read this, then you are one of those people.


I debated whether to include this or Be Kind Rewind, since they both have a very similar concept. This one wins out because it actually has a plot. (While that's a slight knock on Be Kind Rewind, I still enjoyed that film. It was refreshing to see a movie about people being happy.)

Two British kids from very different walks of life become friends while attempting to make a "sequel" to Rambo. Other students soon become involved with the project, and the results wind up changing the family dynamic of both boys as well as teaching them about true friendship.

Sure, it gets a little cheesy at times, but it doesn't feel as heavy-handed as most children films for one simple reason: British accents.


In general, Hollywood has always put "stars" in its superhero movies. Sometimes those stars look the part but aren't good actors. And even when they are good actors, they often think there's no need to act in this type of film (at least, that's how it seems).

To be fair to them, a lot of superhero roles aren't well written, giving the actors nothing to work with. But that trend has been bucked a lot lately, casting great actors into superhero films and giving them the chance to strut their stuff.

One could argue that three of the four great actors in Iron Man are wasted (an argument I'd mostly agree with), but there's no denying the power of the presence of Robert Downey Jr. He's so much fun to watch as Tony Stark.

It's not necessarily the most well plotted superhero movie, but I enjoyed every minute of it.


Sure it's raunchy and vulgar (but not, I would argue, gratuitous), but it's also hilarious. More importantly, it's realistic. Okay, not in the sense that everything would likely happen. I'm going on a Hawaiian vacation by myself in a couple of months, and while I think it would be awesome to make friends with all of the staff, I know this won't happen.

However, if I did take the time to actually meet the staff, I'd learn that they are real people and not just workers. And this film does a great job of fleshing out each and every character, making them feel like people you know (or wished you knew).

In addition, the love story is believable because it's so messed up. A lot of the time characters don't know what they want, and while they'd tell you in Screenwriting 101 that that's a terrible thing to put in a script, it's the very thing that makes you relate to them.


While there is other stuff going on in the movie, at its core, it's a love story. It just happens to be between a garbage collecting robot and a probe robot. That said, it's an AMAZING love story. The greatest cinematic love story of all-time? I won't give it that distinction just yet, but here's an argument for why it might be.

The film isn't just a love story. It's a story about learning to love. And I don't mean that in the sense of learning the best way to love someone. I mean that it's LITERALLY about learning what love is. WALL-E was built to collect trash, but 700 years spent alone (save for a friendly cockroach) observing various things humans left behind (including Hello, Dolly!) has shown him the joy of having others around. And while he might not have the deepest philosophical understanding of love, I think he exemplifies it in its purest form better than most people do (sadly).

They have been countless stories about people forbidden to love each other, for whatever reason. But this film goes a step further. It's not just going against the rules handed down to them and loving anyway. It's going against rules PROGRAMMED into them. In a way, it shows that love is more powerful than anything, including technology. (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another of my favorite love stories, showed a similar thing.)

And such a powerful love story is told with characters that say less than 10 different words combined. It just proves the old saying: "Love isn't something you say. It's something you do."