February 27, 2008

Sweater from the dark side

A few weeks ago, I bought this delightful sweater at Old Navy.

A cute little number, don't ya think? Anyway, I've worn it a couple of times since. But yesterday I noticed something very alarming. Lurking in the midst of my lovely sweater was the unmistakable figure of...


Oddly enough, this stylized Darth Vader does not appear anywhere else on the sweater, just in the one place. I happen to think this is way cooler than the Jesus figure in the toast or the Mother Theresa in the cinnamon bun.

On an unrelated note, I've been getting nice emails and comments from readers saying that I do not write often enough. This is true. But in my defense, I'm a very busy lady who posts as often as time and inspiration will allow. I'm not just sitting here atop a mountain of unpublished posts and cackling maliciously as I build suspense, I promise.

February 25, 2008

5 kids' movies that aren't for kids

Kids' movies can be tricky. Ideally, a good kids' movie is entertaining and enriching for children, and does not incite in parents the urge to gauge out their own eyes. Mostly, though, the average kids' movie is just aimed at kids, who will drag their reluctant parens to the theater and force their wallets open. This does not assure quality, because kids are stupid and have dubious taste (Bratz, anyone?). But in trying to appeal to wider audiences, certain kiddie flicks (like the five below) have missed the mark and gone over the wee heads of their target demographic - often to the benefit of the wider population.

1. The Incredibles
Target audience: young Pixar fans and/or superhero enthusiasts
Actual audience: adults experiencing midlife crises
Even superheroes get the blues. That's the gist of Brad Bird's 2004 film, which also features great effects, splashy colors, great action sequences and excellently quotable lines such as "WHERE IS MY SUPER-SUIT?!" But mostly, it's about midlife crises. The titular Mr. Incredible is stuck in a 9-5 job and a challenging marriage, and is tempted by his old life and a hot villain. And in the first 20 or so minutes, he saves a man falling from a building, only to find out that the man was attempting suicide and was immensely annoyed by the intervention. It's fitting that footage of this flick was edited to audio from American Beauty, in a fun little YouTube diversion that underlines the eerie similarities between the films (check it out here). It's only rated PG, but most of these tricks ain't for kids.

2. The Emperor's New Groove
Target audience: kids who savor the exploits of funny animals and inaccurate Incan history
Actual audience: adults who savor the snarky, sarcastic humor of David Spade
This is a film about an emperor turned llama voiced by David Spade, and David Mamet, according to IMDB, called the script "one of the most brilliantly innovative which Hollywood has produced in recent years." That's right. David "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Fuck you, that's my name!" Mamet. Rightly so, because this film is absolutely hilarious. I had the good fortune of discovering it as a teenager, because I think that as a kid a lot of it would have gone over my head. It's not that the subject matter is complicated, but more that the humor is a sophisticated type that kids don't grasp yet. Little tykes will probably be drawn primarily to the stupid=funny shtick of the villain's sidekick Kronk, but adults will realize that the character is voiced by Patrick Warburton (known primarily as Puddy from "Seinfeld") and find new humor in that. There are a few pop culture references that may be lost on children as well, but for the full enjoyment of the humor, save this one for after puberty.

3. Ratatouille
Target audiences: young fans of cute animals doing outlandish things
Actual audience: viewers for whom the Food Network is porn
First of all, I have to give this movie kudos for having the balls to use a title that even educated adults can't pronounce, much less kids. Obviously, the cute rodent is the hook, but most kids don't give a shit about gourmet French cuisine. If you really wanted to just aim this at kids, it would be about baking cupcakes. Even I had trouble getting into the storyline when it got too foody. This is Brad Bird's work again, and I'm beginning to think he isn't even interested in the kiddie audience. One part that really startled me was when Remy the rat is crawling through a pipe over several apartments and witnesses a different scene in each one, because in one apartment he saw a couple who was fighting with each other and pointing guns in each other's faces. Then a shot is fired, but it doesn't hit anyone, and the pair starts making out. WTF? Another delicate matter with children's movies is that kids will believe a vast majority of what they see on screen. After Finding Nemo's claim that all pipes lead to the ocean, there was an epidemic of children flushing their pet fish down toilets to give them a better life. Ratatouille, through the eyes of a child, may read as propaganda for letting hordes of rats into your kitchen to help you cook. Think I'm exaggerating? There's a bonus feature on the DVD where Remy and his brother talk about how great rats are for 20 minutes, and make excuses for certain ratastrophes like the Plague. What I know, and what kids probably don't, is that while brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) are clean, intelligent, cute, and make good pets, black rats (Rattus rattus) live in sewers, spread disease, and most importantly, are not cute. That should be a disclaimer on the DVD cover, in my humble opinion.

4. Fantasia
Target audience: Mickey Mouse enthusiasts
Actual audience: Film nerds and/or stoners
This film I did actually see as a wee one. I remember liking the Mickey part (of course) and the dancing hippo, but I was pretty baffled/unimpressed by the rest. Because if there's one thing that kids love, it's classical music...except no, not at all. If you really consider the film's concept - animated vignettes set to classical tunes - it just sounds like a trippy laser show or something of that ilk. Even though that format should theoretically cater to kids' short attention spans, the most mindless of tots will still grow bored if there isn't some plot or coherence. I wouldn't be surprised if this gets remade in 3-D, featuring only the songs of Hannah Montana (shudder). Hopefully, the stoners and geeky critics who pontificate about this film's excellence will preserve its legacy from that wretched fate.

5. The Shrek sequels
Target audience: fairy tale fans with a bit of an edge
Actual audience: "Best Week Ever" addicts
The first Shrek was a fun film that appealed to viewers based on its creative retooling of well-worn tales, its voice talents, its pop culture references and its message about being yourself. But producers got blinded by green and cranked out two sequels that displayed a sharp decline in quality and intelligence. While the satire in the original was aimed at topics such as Disneyworld and popular fairy tales, the following two movies become like animated rejects from a VH1 show. In Shrek 2, for example, I'm pretty sure that audiences are supposed to find humor in the fact that Justin Timberlake did one of the voices, and he was dating Cameron Diaz at the time, voice of the princess Fiona. OMG!!! Kids see enough tabloid crap anyway - keep it out of their flicks, will ya, Dreamworks?


- Beauty and the Beast. Um, this movie is about straight-up bestiality. And it also sends the totally backward message that intelligent, attractive young women should be romantically satisfied with snarling, borderline abusive half-animal men. Great. Not gonna deny that the songs are awesome though.

- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Look, I don't care what Wonka says - all those kids who met gruesome (albeit creative) fates in the factory are not coming back. They're stone-cold dead. And the scene where all the characters go through the tunnel with distorted images of giant bugs and other such delights is terrifying at any age.

- The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. Patrick in drag and a David Hasselhoff cameo? This movie is exclusively for stoners.

February 4, 2008

Find the right Valentine's Day movie for you!

I am not going to take a stance on Valentine's Day here. Celebration of love? Hallmark holiday? The root of all evil? Sure. All of the above. I can say one thing though - it's a good movie holiday, if for no other reason than you don't typically have familial obligations cluttering the day. But people often get lazy. Hopeless romantics, are you really going to watch Casablanca again? Cynics, haven't you burned a hole in the anti-romantic movie of your choosing? Whether your day is going to be filled with chocolates and roses or sulking, at least do yourself the favor of checking out a different flick that satisfies your V-Day needs.

You: In a new relationship
Your movie: any of the Katharine Hepburn / Spencer Tracy romantic comedies, such as Adam's Rib
Why: So you have a new relationship, and it's going well, but you don't want to freak out your significant other with movies about marriage or passionate love or crazy sex. Tracy and Hepburn have a totally PG but adorable dynamic that resembles what's good about new love - you kid each other constantly, but have a massive crush on the other person.

You: In a long-standing relationship
Your movie: The Big Sleep or To Have and Have Not
Why: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall created unbelievable sparks on screen that amazingly slipped past the censors. At this stage in the game, your puppy love has (typically) given way to hot, sexy passion, which is no short supply in these Bogie/Bacall pairings. You could even make it a double feature, and treat yourself to a night of classic lines like, "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together...and blow."

You: In a long-distance relationship
Your movie: A Very Long Engagement
Why: Did you like Amelie? Well, this film has the same director, actress, and feel, but takes place around WWI and features Mathilde (Audrey Tatou) searching for her fiancee who allegedly died in the trenches. The script and visuals are great, and the film is a testament to the power of love. Look for the random Jodie Foster cameo!

You: In a rocky relationship
Your movie: Gone With The Wind
Why: For a movie that's supposed to be one of the greatest romances committed to celluloid, has anyone noticed that Rhett and Scarlett just fight the whole time? Their feelings for the one another never quite align correctly, and between slapping and yelling and not giving damns, it's a pretty rough ride for these two. Maybe your relationship will seem a lot healthier after you watch this one.

You: Trying to get the girl
Your movie: City Lights
Why: Charlie Chaplin's little tramp character was as poignant as he was funny, and never more so than in this 1931 classic where he falls for a blind girl and tries to raise money for a vision-restoring operation by posing as a rich man. As Lifetime-y as that sounds, it's Chaplin, so it's also hilarious.

You: Think women suck
Your movie: Gilda or Double Indemnity
Why: What you need now is proof that you're not the only one who has fallen victim to the lures of a woman. The male leads of these flicks (or many other film noirs) get screwed over by dangerous dames that lead to their downfall. See, it could be worse! Your relationship could have ended up with you in jail or something! Feeling better yet? Maybe?

You: Think men suck
Your movie: Sweet Charity or Chicago
Why: Surely you'll be able to sympathize with poor Charity, who keeps getting gratuitously fucked over by guys. But in the end, she holds her head high. Watch it with a friend and cheer for her. Alternately, you can watch Chicago and revel in its philosophy of "men are pigs, shoot them and get away with it."

You: Are into MILFs.
Your movie: The Graduate
Why: Duh. And afterwards you can find yourself a Valentine on Craigslist (shudder).

You: Are alone because you have limited social skills, obsessive-compulsive tendencies and random outbursts.
Your movie: Punch-Drunk Love
Why: Adam Sandler, in a rare serious role, fits the above description in this film, and finds love. If an antisocial Happy Gilmore can get the girl, then there's hope for you.

You: Not sure you believe in this whole "love" thing.
Your movie: Annie Hall
Why: Modern ruminations on this thing called love, covering everything from lying to seem impressive to a compulsion to smoke pot before sex. No one actually says "I love you" in the film - the closest is Allen's character saying "I lurve you." Mercifully devoid of a Hollywood ending, it has a thoroughly fulfilling one nonetheless.

You: think that your gal pals are what matter most.
Your movie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Why: Yes, technically it's a heterosexual romance, but the female bonding is the prevalent theme. Marilyn's character pretty much admits at the end that she's marrying her beau for his money. And the gals even have a joint wedding. Aw.

You: In an unconvential relationship (or wanting to be in one)
Your movie: Pumpkin
Why: Christina Ricci plays a sorority girl who falls for a mentally challenged guy. Lifetime movie? After-school special? Nope! Brutally satiric dark comedy (with a heart of gold).

You: a hopeless romantic in theory, but things just never work out.
Your movie: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Why: A 1964 French musical about love in which every word is sung. Sounds overly saccharine, but it actually gets kind of depressing in showing how time and circumstance can take their toll on romance.

You: your relationship is not allowed to flourish due to the prevailing social mores of your time.
Your movie: In the Mood For Love or Splendor in the Grass
Why: In the former, neighbors in 1960s Shanghai find out that their spouses are having an affair, but despite a growing attraction, feel wrong doing the same. In the latter, Natalie Wood goes literally insane in 1920s rural America because it's not socially acceptable for her to shag her boyfriend, played by Warren Beatty. Hey, if I was in such close proximity to 1960s Warren Beatty all the time and couldn't touch him, I'd go nuts too.

You: in an open relationship, or discussing the option of making your relationship open
Your movie: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Why: ORGIES!!! Seriously. This is a movie with Natalie Wood and Elliot Gould and it's about orgies. It pokes fun at the "free love" movement of the 1960s in examining how those principles could realistically be applied within the framework of a marriage. Did I mention it's about orgies?

You: believe that love is a sick, twisted, and disturbing notion.
Your movie: Audition
Why: This Japanese squirmfest will support your thesis wholeheartedly.Additionally functioning as a commentary on gender roles in modern Japan, the film features a widower who stages an "audition" to find a new wife. The girl he picks seems a little odd, but he is still infatuated with her even when her references start to come up questionable. The jaw-dropping ending gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "love hurts."

You: like your romance a little supernatural
Your movie: Il Mare
Why: Remember the movie Sandra Bullock / Keanu Reeves vehicle The Lake House? Yeah. Don't watch that. Instead, watch the Korean film it was based on, which features lush cinematography, love that transcends time and romantic chemistry that surpasses that of two people trying to stop a speeding bus.

You: hot for teacher
Your movie: Rushmore or Notes on a Scandal
Why: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this situation is not going to work out for you. Either the teacher will ignore your advances, or will succumb to them, resulting in tragic consequences for both of you. But hey, these are both terrific movies on that subject that will possibly dissuade you!

You: torn between two or more suitors
Your movie: The Philadelphia Story
Why: If the triple billing of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart doesn't convince you, then the sparkling script and heartwarming message will. Kate learns a few things about herself in the process of choosing between the aforementioned two and yet another fellow. And since the male leads are both pretty famous, there is actual suspense as to which she will choose (not like in The Notebook, where Rachael McAdams was into James Marsden for what, like, four seconds?).

You: girls think of you as a "brother" and then date assholes
Your movie: The Apartment
Why: Jack Lemmon shares your predicament in this classic and refreshingly non-cliche Best Picture winner. Who wouldn't love a man who uses a tennis racket to drain his spaghetti? But will adorable 1960 Shirley MacLaine see the light?

You: into bondage
Your movie: Atame! (Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down!)
Why: Spanish director (and personal favorite) Pedro Almodovar has always tackled love and sex in unique ways. Here, Antonio Banderas is obsessed with a woman and essentially holds her hostage in her own home, but she kind of starts to like being tied up...

You: the only woman you've ever loved is your mother.
Your movie: Psycho
Why: Because it will serve as a cautionary tale for anyone who loves dear old mum a bit too much. Or you can save this for Mother's Day if you want to cause a stir at the annual family brunch

You: the only person you've ever loved is yourself.
Your movie: Citizen Kane
Why: Another cautionary tale. Who wants to die all alone muttering "Rosebud"?

You: believe in love, but acknowledge that it can be extremely bizarre.
Your movie: Crazy Love
Why: This is a documentary about Burt and Linda Pugach, told in their own words. Burt basically stalked Linda for years, eventually throwing acid in her face, which blinded her. After his release from prison, they got married and remain together to this day. Truth is stranger than fiction, folks.

What are your V-Day favorites?

February 2, 2008

Requiem for a video store

I work at a video store. Come April, I won't anymore, because it's closing. Therefore, this is the conversation I will have to endure until the end comes:

Customer: OMG, you're CLOOOOSING?
Me: Yes.
Customer: OMG, you guys were like the last in the neighborhood!
Me: Yes.
Customer: OMG, it's cuz of Netflix, right? It's totally Netflix. You are clearly threatened by Netflix. Your demise is courtesy of Netflix. I use Netflix. It was only a matter of time before you succumbed to Netflix
Me: Actually, it's because our manager is a nasty bipolar coke addict with the business sense of an earthworm who singlehandedly destroyed a thriving business.
Customer: Oh. Can I rent Transformers now?

Sad but true. We still have a lot of business, due in no small part to our porn selection, so our impending doom seems incongrous. Which it is. In my opinion, it just boils down to the poor business decisions, notoriously horrendous customer service, and the stark resistance to change and innovation by a single person (the manager), who is the one of the dumbest and meanest people I have ever met. Stores in neighboring cities and regions are doing fine.

But what if it is Netflix? I doubt it, but there's no denying that Netflix and its imitators have changed the landscape of video rental forever. And it has its advantages and benefits. I've been a subscriber - two summers ago, when I lived at home in the suburbs and my only other source of movies was a Blockbuster that had 900 copies of RV and no movie made any earlier than 1989 (and the library, but I quickly exhausted their selection), it was a lifesaver.

Netflix is not the answer for everyone, however. It's not for the casual movie renter, who may end up paying exorbitant prices every month for a couple of movies. It's not for the spontaneous movie renter, because if you want to watch Superbad on a Saturday night, you need to think of that at least a week in advance. It's not for the high-volume movie renter, because Netflix can't maintain that, especially when you figure in turnaround time. It's not for the uneducated renter, who may rely on reading the backs of cases to determine what they want to get. And it's definitely not for the porn renter. Those preceding groups comprise the entirety of our clientele. As smug as they are about Netflix's conquest of America, when we close up shop they're going to be really upset that they can't get a lot of movies/a couple of movies for cheap/descriptions and recommendations/movies on a whim/porn.

This is a great example of the idea that just because you CAN do something, it doesn't mean you SHOULD. Technology moves forward so quickly that there isn't adequate time to think through whether something is the best option. A good example is the "digital readers" that Sony and Amazon are now peddling. You can download hundreds of books onto these little tablet devices and take them with you. Seems cool for a second, until you remember that books are one of the few gloriously low-tech amusements left. Imagine being bored to death on a long plane ride because YOUR BOOK CRASHED. Similarly, congratulations, you don't have to leave the house to get movies anymore, but oh by the way, your viewing habits are severely restrained.

Rest in peace, Place That I Work Which Will Remain Anonymous Because I Called My Manager Bad Names. You will be missed by the employees and community alike.