Monday, February 26, 2007

Andy Bernard 2

Back in November I pieced together clips from The Office of the slightly unstable Andy Bernard, Regional Director in Charge of Sales, played by Ed Helms and posted it on YouTube (You can see my web blog post showcasing the clip here). At last count, it had been viewed over 121,000 times. So to commemorate, I have pieced together a second volume of The Best of Andy Bernard, shown below (5:12).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Oscars: My Thoughts

Before we begin, I must make a confession. What I am about to admit will probably greatly undermine my credibility and change the very perceptions related to this web log. But, I really don't care what you people think, so here goes. I didn't watch the Oscars. I rarely do. What's more, I have seen only three of the movies that were nominated for Academy Awards this year. That's right, of the 57 movies that can call themselves Oscar Nominees, I have seen only three: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Visual Effects, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing), Superman Returns (Visual Effects) and Monster House (Best Animated Feature). As a result, I didn't care who won in many of the categories. I would, however, like to comment on one category: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Forest Whitaker was pretty much a lock for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Critics have praised his performance as one the greatest in film history. Which brings me to my point: Peter O'Toole has the worst luck. This year marked O'Toole's eighth nomination for Best Actor, yet he has never won. Timing is largely to blame. If you look at the eight actors he has lost to (listed below), with perhaps one exception, it is a virtual who's who of legendary performances.
  • 1963: Gregory Peck - To Kill a Mockingbird
  • 1965: Rex Harrison - My Fair Lady
  • 1969: Cliff Robertson - Charly
  • 1970: John Wayne - True Grit
  • 1973: Marlon Brando - The Godfather
  • 1981: Robert De Niro - Raging Bull
  • 1983: Ben Kingsley - Ghandi
  • 2007: Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland
Had O'Toole's greatest performance, playing the title character in Lawrence of Arabia, been given any other year, he would have won easily. But he ended up going against Peck's Atticus Finch who was named AFI's greatest film hero of all time. O'Toole, despite never winning a competitive Oscar (he was given an honorary award by the Academy in 2003), will go down as one of the greatest actors of all time. In its review of Venus, the movie for which O'Toole was nominated this year, The New York Times said "(The two main characters') unlikely, uneven friendship provides the movie with a thin, wobbly dramatic peg, but it turns out to be just enough for Mr. O’Toole to show the younger guys out there — the Leos and the Brads and, for that matter, the Daniel Craigs — how the thing is done properly."

The next point I would like to make is that is that the Academy Awards are, for the most part, a farce. It's little more than Hollywood congratulating itself in an awesome display of grandeur and excess. That is not to say that I discount the importance of the Oscars, specifically in terms of increased popularity and financial return for the films and individuals involved. My biggest complaint, however, is how momentum and politics play too big of a part in the voting process. It doesn't reflect well on the Academy that of last 10 Best Picture winners, as many as seven probably wouldn't win today if the voting were to be redone. And that's just recent history. Go back further and Oscar comes off as only slightly better than randomly picking winners. The often-cited example is 1942 when How Green Was My Valley beat out both Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon. Another is the fact that Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant never won Oscars. The list goes on an on.

So as Hollywood recovers from its collective hangover and gets back to actually making movies, I, the non-moviegoer, can get back to watching regularly scheduled TV programs.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Horrific Numbers

There's a new horror movie opening this weekend. OK, I made that up. I didn't actually bother to check if there is a new horror movie opening or not, but I'm guessing there is. I know I'm not the only one who has noticed that it seems like there is one opening every weekend. I went back and counted and there were no less than 20 horror movies that opened during 2006* (listed below).

When a Stranger Calls
Final Destination 3
The Hills Have Eyes
Stay Alive
Silent Hill
An American Haunting
See No Evil
The Omen
The Descent
The Wicker Man
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
The Grudge 2
The Return
Horrorfest: 8 Films to Die For
Black Christmas

That list doesn't include movies I considered borderline horror like Scary Movie 4, Underworld: Evolution, Snakes on a Plane, Monster House and The Covenant. Also, I counted the eight movies of Horrorfest as one. While 20 movies may not even be one every other week, it's still a lot when you compare it to the breakdown of other genres. There were 15 CGI movies that opened in 2006, 11 romantic comedies or other such "light" fair, 11 movies aimed at black audiences (black comedies or inner-city gang life depictions), six superhero movies, five sports movies based on true stories, five Christmas movies, three movies with an environmentalist theme, two dance movies, two September 11th movies, two turn-of-the-century magician movies, one spelling bee movie and no Vin Diesel movies (unless you count his cameo at the end of 3 Fast 3 Furious: Tokyo Drift). There were also 16 sequels and 9 remakes released in 2006 (that doesn't include the horror movies which would change the numbers to 20 & 13 respectively).

While we're on the topic of horror movies, I would like to comment on Open Water 2: Adrift which went straight to video and is available this week. It is a sequel to the low budget Open Water released at Sundance in 2003 which is based on a real life couple that was diving near Australia and was left by the boat only to never be seen or heard from again. Sort of. The whole abandoning part is borrowed from real life, the rest is made up. In the sequel, "a group of old high-school friends embark on a weekend cruise aboard a luxurious yacht, only to find themselves embroiled in a fight for their lives. Out on the open ocean, what's meant to be a harmless prank turns out to be a fatal mistake, as Dan playfully tosses aqua-phobic Amy into the water and jumps in himself alongside the rest of the passengers, only to find they've forgotten to lower the boarding ladder. What's worse, Amy's baby is still on board. When the yacht proves impossible to climb, panic and anger soon set in, and the once-happy reunion turns into a battle for survival." Sounds like a winner to me. There's just one problem, the makers of this film expect me to believe that not one crew member saw that episode of King of the Hill where the exact same thing happened to Hank and the fellas? All they would need to do is puncture the fuel line releasing gasoline in to the water and then light the trail with the spare match that the group's smoker keeps in a zip-lock bag under his hat. The rescue helicopter will then see the smoke and come to save the swimmers. It's almost too easy. By the way, if horror movies are going to continue to borrow plot lines from cartoons, The Simpsons had quite a few Treehouse of Horror episodes they can use, like the one with zombies or the one with the house that kills people or the one with children at a wizard school or the one where a young boy with the shinnin' is chased by a axe-wielding lunatic father figure or the one where the main characters accidentally kill someone with their car and then try to cover it up only to be stalked by the person they killed because as it turns out he wasn't really dead. They're all great potential horror movies and all ripe for the plucking.

* Includes all movies that opened in 2006 and achieved Top 10 box office results for at least one weekend

Thursday, February 08, 2007

USA 2, Mexico 0

Last night, Sherstin and I along with Matt Hansen went to a soccer "friendly" between USA and Mexico here in Phoenix. Why on earth they chose to play Mexico in Phoenix is beyond me. Before the game, reports said that it would be a pro-Mexican crowd so I was naively hoping for 60-40 in favor of Mexico. Try 80-20. Of the 64,000+ fans in attendance, more than 50,000 were cheering for Mexico. It was totally different from the USA vs Costa Rica World Cup Qualifier in Salt Lake. Not only were there more fans with green jerseys, but they were certainly louder. Anytime a US player would line up for a corner kick, he would get rained on by drinks from the stands. It was nuts, but the US won 2-0 continuing their dominance over their bitter rival here in the US. In fact, Mexico has not scored a goal on US soil in nearly eight years. US keeper Tim Howard deserves a lot of the credit. With the shutout he lowered his career goals-allowed average to 0.58 per 90 minutes, the lowest in team history. He had a great game. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Mexican keeper. The posters for the game had the catch phrase "Come see the beautiful game get ugly." It certainly did. After the second US goal Mexican keeper Oswaldo Sanchez tried to cheap shot Eddie Johnson of the US. He stuck out his foot to trip him as he ran by, even the though ball was already in the back of the net. After the game the Mexican players stayed true to form by not shaking hands or exchanging jerseys, something they have failed to do the past several times they have lost to the US. It was a ton of fun, though, especially with the atmosphere the Mexican fans brought. Matt said "I've never wanted a team to win so badly." I know what he meant. As we were leaving the stadium, the Mexican fans were still blowing their horns, pounding their drums and waving their flags. Imagine if they had won.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Untapped Goldmine

As Hollywood studios look for new source material to make predictable yet entertaining movies, no media is off limits. Studios do this because the risk is less and borrowing from other sources often means a built-in fan base. From remakes of old movies to adaptations of TV shows, video games and comic books, it's all fair game. Even theme park rides are getting their turn on the big screen. One market, however, remains a gold mine of untapped movie potential: workout videos. Workout videos, for the most part, are all the same in their routines, but vastly different in their themes and target audiences. As long as the exerciser gets to pretend to do or be something else, the video has a market. Humor columnist Dave Barry once wrote "we drive our cars to health clubs so we can run on treadmills. We pedal furiously on exercise bicycles that do not go anywhere. We take elevators every chance we get, but we buy expensive machines that enable us to pretend we're climbing stairs." Now in applying this principle to movies, the studios must be able capture the imagination of audiences just as the workout videos have done. They can do this through catchy tag lines and solid casting, all while remaining loyal to the fans of the original source material. Below are actual workout videos that would translate seamlessly to the silver screen. I've even gone a step further and provided a brief synopsis and a few casting ideas. Let's see how many movie clich├ęs I can hit in the process.

Title: Abs of Steel
Tagline: Go ahead, take your best shot.
Synopsis: This is a super hero movie about a flabby, middle-aged insurance salesman by day who fights crime on the mean streets of St. Paul, Minnesota by night. His super power is, you guessed it, his abs of steel. He lulls unsuspecting bad guys into bar fights where he leaves himself open for a sucker punch to the gut and his opponents make the mistake of their lives. Of course the street scum at play here are always dumb enough to punch him in the stomach with their other hand even though they have severely broken their first hand. After one unfulfilling night working the bars, he decides he's ready for the big time and crosses over to Minneapolis to take on a super villain is who is not dumb enough to fall for the sucker punch. Yet somehow our hero triumphs in the end and saves the girl and the twin cities.
Cast: Tim Allen, who seems to have a knack for playing middle-aged guys with one last shot at redemption. I'm waiting for him to show up in a Disney sports movie as a recovering alcoholic coach that leads a team of misfits to glory. Also starring: Michelle Pfeiffer as the middle-aged damsel and Dick Van Dyke as the villain, a role that will shock and disappoint his Diagnosis Murder fans.

Title: Bikini Body Camp
Tagline: Summer camp just got a little skimpier.
Synopsis: Your basic sexy teen comedy about a summer camp where all the girls are hot and wear bikinis and all the guys are losers but will stop at nothing to "get some." There will be a stern camp counselor who gets his comeuppance in the end. The protagonist, though goofy and not without his quirks, would be endearing and able to overcome his earlier examples of poor judgment that alienated him from the woman he loves. The girls would be little more than eye candy, except for one intelligent girl (who would be hot without her glasses, but the filmmakers want you to focus on her brains). She is only at the camp because the extra-curricular activity will look good on her Ivy League college application. In the end she would hook up with our protagonist even if it's asking too much of the audience to suspend disbelief in the notion that those two would have anything to talk about.
Cast: Your run-of-the-mill no-name teens that are currently starring on the CW and can use this film as a way of crossing over into movies.

Title: The Firm
Tagline: Power can be murder to resist.
Synopsis: A young lawyer joins a prestigious Southern law firm only to find that it is run by the mafia. He also discovers his bosses are watching his every move. He must somehow escape this life while trying to save his marriage, which is in jeopardy because he was stupid enough to fall for a woman on the beach that was planted by the firm. There is another dirty secret: the evil firm has been vastly over billing its clients, creating one of the most intriguing and dramatic white collar crime dramas ever.
Cast: Tom Cruise and a grizzled Gene Hackman, with smaller parts by Hal Holbrook, Jeanne Tripplehorn and an even more grizzled Wilford Brimley.

Title: Belly Dance: East Coast Tribal
Tagline: The hips can be a very dangerous weapon.
Synopsis: This gritty street drama takes a look at the ever looming war between the East and West coast belly dance gangs. This would be the most violent of the many dance movies out there. The music, just like in the workout video, would be provided by Freek Factory.
Cast: Salma Hayek (from Mexico) and Penelope Cruz (from Spain) on opposite sides of the war. Both would play Egyptians, which we all know have the most violent mafia among all of those that have immigrated to the US.

Title: Fit Mama
Tagline: She's hip, she's fit, she's back for more action.
Synopsis: This would be the cornerstone piece of a Big Momma's House trilogy. In it, we would see our black Mrs. Doubtfire slim down (by getting a smaller fat suit) in order to bust a drug smuggling ring operating out of a gym. The fat jokes would be replaced by more black jokes and even some white jokes at the expense of the inept sidekick. In fact, if we make him Jewish as well, there are a lot more jokes to be made, all in good fun of course. The key is to have the Jew make the Jewish jokes and the black guy, or "brother," make the black jokes, but since he's a minority, he also gets to make a few white jokes as well, as long as they're about whitie's lack of rhythm and/or inability to dance.
Cast: Martin Lawrence and David Krumholtz (that nerd guy from Numb3rs).

Title: Yoga Booty Ballet
Tagline: This masterpiece is about to get a master piece of whoopin'.
Synopsis: An uneducated yet charming streetwise black girl from the inner city gets accepted to a prestigious ballet academy by way of a clerical error or affirmative action; either way she doesn't fit in, but she is undaunted. At first she struggles to find her groove, but then she receives support in the form of the nice white girl who finally has found favor with the snobby rich girls but forsakes it for true friendship. The two quickly rise to the top of the ballet class with their unorthodox street style of ballet dancing. The rich girls will stop at nothing to bring down the duo, even if it means spreading lies that reach the white girl's love interest, a handsome but shallow pretty boy. In the end all but one rich girl come to embrace the two and the white girl realizes she loves the guy that grew up next door to her even though he is kind of ugly (although not as much when you take off his glasses), since he's nice and has been supportive the whole time. As the closing song swells the white girl starts kissing him without any doubt that he loves her back even though she has treated him poorly. Meanwhile the black girl, who has made her point and doesn't need love, is happy just the same. But wait, the eccentric nerd who you may or may not have noticed in the background the whole movie professes his love for the black girl and the two realize that love is in store for them too.
Cast: A young Queen Latifa-type actress who is not afraid of the physical comedy and Hilary Duff or Amanda Bynes as the white girl. The rest would be more CW actors who, although 32, would play teenagers.

Title: Semper Fit: The Marine Corps Workout
Tagline: In this army, it's survival of the fittest.
Synopsis: A lone marine must save a small African village from a volcanic eruption and rescue the hot but impetuous journalist from the clutches of evil, blood-thirsty war lords, all while trying to honor the memory of his father, who may or may not have been on the take. With the help of an older mentor who knew his father the marine will employ state-of-art gadgetry and a general disregard for authority as he makes a lot of stuff explode. But be aware, the evil war lords have sent a deadly sexy secret agent in to seduce and distract the marine. It's only later that we discover she is really good at heart, but the war lords have kidnapped her scientist father and are using him to build a device that makes volcanoes erupt.
Cast: Some hunky martial arts expert as the marine, a blond with a penchant for overacting as the reporter, some R&B artist turned actress as the secret agent, a washed up 80's action hero as the mentor and Yaphet Kotto (from Homicide: Life on the Street) as the kingpin war lord.

Title: Special Ops: Navy Seal Workout
Tagline: In this navy, it's survival of the fittest.
Synopsis: See Semper Fit above, but this one would take place in the Caribbean instead of Africa and instead of remembering his father, he is searching for his older brother who mysteriously vanished 8 years ago. We later learn that his brother is in league with the drug lord (instead of war lord) who wears a white suit and colorful shirt with an open collar. He would also have at least three rings among his 10 fingers and perhaps a scar from some violent event in his past that has served to make him the cold-hearted killer he is today. And he would smoke a cigar in almost every scene of the movie, especially the scene where he shows us, the audience, how cold and heartless he is by calmly killing one of his henchmen who has made a small error in judgment and underestimated our hero. Also, unlike Semper Fit, this one would have an obvious twist at the end where the mentor turns out to be a bad guy, but that's OK, because the brother gains redemption by defeating the mentor in a grueling one-on-one fight that is happening at the same time the navy seal is fighting the drug lord, who is surprisingly limber for a rich guy his age. Meanwhile, the two girls are engaged in a bitter cat fight that is rife with snarky dialog.
Cast: The same type as in Semper Fit, but with a Latin R&B artist as the secret agent and Erik Estrada (from CHiPS) as the drug lord.

Other workout videos that would make great movies: David Carradine's Tai Chi Workouts, Samba Party: Brazilian Rhythm Celebration, The Pit Workout (featuring Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell), Minna's Emergency Workout, and Pilates of the Caribbean.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl XLI: My Thoughts

The Game

The opening kickoff for a TD combined with six turnovers and a two point margin made for a great first half of football. It was all down hill from there. Even though I wanted the Colts to win, that second half was rather boring. I'm happy for Tony Dungy. He deserved to win a Super Bowl, especially after what happened to him in Tampa Bay. I don't really care about Payton Manning and his legacy, but I will say he is a solid quarterback. I also really like Marvin Harrison. In a league dominated by loud-mouthed, show-boating wide receivers, Harrison stands out as the consummate professional and I'm happy for him as well. What's interesting, is this was not the best Colts team in recent years. Last year's team was a lot better and the team from two yeas ago had a way better defense. Speaking of good defense, on the other sideline, Brian Urlacher (graduate of University of New Mexico where he played under defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall) and the Bears' defense were on the field way too long. Rex Grossman proved his critics right. He was probably the sole reason why the Colts were favored all week. If the Bears had even an average quarterback who made fewer mistakes to go with that killer defense (ie Trent Dilfer with the Ravens in 2001, Brad Johnson with Buccaneers in 2003), they probably would have at least been able to make the second half interesting.

The Coverage

Jim Nantz just misses being in my top 5 all-time greatest voice talents. He's probably the best in the business right now. It's funny to think that prior to joining CBS he was working for KSL in Salt Lake City doing local sports and calling Jazz games with Hot Rod Hundley. On the other hand, I got really tired of hearing Phil Simms' voice. He's better than some analysts, but Simms' constant gabbing made me glad to own a DVR. Also, in an era of just-because-you-can-doesn't-mean-you-should sports broadcasting, I was glad to see CBS not go too overboard with the TV production theatrics (the players' spinning introductions aside). As for halftime, what's the deal with The Artist Currently Known as Prince? Can someone explain why he/she/it is popular? I mean that Aunt Jemima do rag is not what I would have worn in that situation, but hey, my fashion sense has never been my strong point.

The Commercials

Once again, this year felt like sort of a let down. We saw way too many Bud Light ads that would have been only mildly amusing on a smaller stage, but when thrown in to the Super Bowl broadcast, just came up flat. The ads weren't as good as their old ones with the monkeys. There were too many truck commercials, none of which stood out, and is anyone else tired of the ads? Don't get me wrong, you all know my stance on beautiful people, but—and this is just my advertising background talking—one hot girl in tank top will no other substance is not enough to sustain a three-year ad campaign. On the positive side, the short clip with Dave Letterman and Oprah was great considering their past feuding (or Dave's one-sided feud with Oprah). I also liked the Taco Bell Carne Asada ad with the talking lions and the voice of Ricardo Montalban (although that isn't even the funniest ad featuring Ricardo Montalban. He was in a great ad for Dunkin' Doughnuts coffee in 2003). Another great spot was for FedEx Ground (don't judge it by its name). But, my favorite commercial was the Emerald Nuts ad featuring Robert Goulet who "appears and messes with your stuff." I mean, Robert Goulet! That totally beats the Kevin Federline ad for Nationwide Insurance.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Music That Defined a Decade

A look back at the evolution of popular music naturally invites a comparison of rock eras. I've always been of the opinion that the best music came out of the 60's and 70's, but having been a teenager in the 90's, I am partial to much of that music as well. The 80's is sort of a dark spot in music history. It was during the 80's that wuss rock was born and the synthesizer became vastly over used. However, one thing each decade has in common is that there is one artist or musical group that defines it—a group or individual that was not only widely popular, but that took music in a different direction. Below are my selections and I welcome disagreements. Also, help me decide which band/artist is the voice of the current decade.

1950's 1960's 1970's 1980's 1990's 2000's
Elvis Presley The Beatles Led Zeppelin Michael Jackson Nirvana