Monday, February 06, 2012



That Is All (Dutton; 2011) by John Hodgman: This is the third and final book in literary agent-turned-author-turned television commercial actor-turned actor Hodgman’s trilogy compendium of “complete world knowledge.”

How is such a thing possible, given the relatively small space afforded for recording things in finite objects like books, and the infinite amount of things to know about, which is ever increasing?

Hodgman’s answer is as elegant as it is timely—the world is ending soon, and thus there will be no more knowledge to set down in books. There will be nothing new to know, and all knowledge up to now can fit in the finite space of a few books, smarty-pants.

Those familiar with Hodgman’s past books will know what to expect from this one and, to those readers, all I can add is that this one is better than the previous one (the sophomore slump, I suppose), and better in some ways than the original book, although not quite as good in other ways (the original had the benefit of being revelatory, by virtue of coming out of nowhere; the next two had the reputation of the first to live up to, and readers would have been fairly warned of Hodgman’s existence, style of writing and sense of humor).

Where it differs from the previous one most notably is in the day calendar portion. In 2008's More Information Than You Require, a day calendar was dedicated to the events of the past; each page contained a little box with a date recording in Hodgman’s deadpan style some fanciful event that he says occurred in history.

This day calendar, entitled “Today in RAGNAROK,” is of the future, some of which is now the past, and at least one of which is the present. The book was released in November of last year, and prophetic calendar runs from December 21, 2011 to December 21, 2012. I am writing this on January 24, 2012, of which Hodgman says, “The United States government finally ceded portions of Washington State and Idaho to be the new “Toxoplassachusetts.” All of the infected are shipped there, along with their swarms of rats and cats.”

To answer the obvious question of how Hodgman knows what will be occurring in the future:
Because, of course, the answer is already written for us in the Americanomicon, that mysterious book of prophecy held in a secret room atop Sterling Memorial Library at Yale.

As you will remember from my first book, The Americanomicon predicts the future of the United States; and while to read and report its contents is forbidden, now that I am so wealthy as to be beyond the reach of all law, I can report to you in broad strokes that the next year will go down like this:
And so on.

The daily calendar forms its own novel within the book, a sort of parody of various apocalyptic writing and pop culture, delivered bone-dry, with many cutting-edge nightmare scenarios compiled into a single narrative with several story and character arcs that play out in remarkably satisfying fashion.

My former home of Columbus, Ohio is one of the many settings employed. It becomes “the semi-Domed city of Columbus, Ohio,” right on the border of the red ocean (of blood) that fills the center of the United States following The Blood Wave. Wandering writer Stephen King, who is perhaps the main protagonist of the novel Hodgman embeds along the top of the pages of his book, and The Gifted Child he is traveling with pass through there, and embark upon a voyage from the banks of the Scioto River.

The paper that sometimes runs my comics reviews also appears: I would very much like to see a movie produced based on this day calendar, starring Stephen King himself; there have been many pre-, post-, and just plain apocalyptic action and horror movies based on much less.

Also of note, The List portion of this book is devoted to the “700 Ancient and Unlistable Ones,” which “The Americanomicon tells us there are seven hundred ravenous exiled god-things that will return and/or awaken and/or thought-port into our dimension over the course of the coming year.” These are the Ancient and Unspeakable Ones, the Lovecraftian horrors that play a major role in the destruction of the world during the year 2012 (as chronicled in the day calendar).

Hodgman sets down their names:

6. Chok-Uthug’ul, the Scorekeeper
7. The Ceaselessly Sobbing Beast
8. The Ageless Tog-Aggoth, 87th President of the United States
And so on. As with previous lists, there is some weird alchemy going on here where it's difficult to say why the proceedings are funny, but I find myself penduluming between laughing aloud and simply marveling at the audacity of the enterprise. Seven hundred is, after all, a very large number.

And, as usual, there are several entries that are familiar and don’t seem like they belong. For example, #11 is Indrid Cold, whom you may recall from Mothaman lore, if you’re as obsessed with it as I am (Or, if not, you might recall from the Not Very Good Richard Gere movie, The Mothman Prophecies).

Many names familiar to comic book readers also appear, as usual:The list is not quite as funny as the list of 700 Hobo Names in 2006's The Areas of My Expertise (nothing is funnier than hobos, as far as subject matter goes), but far funnier than the list of 700 Mole-Man Names And Their Occupations from More Information. That could just be me though; I find few things funnier than Lovecraft (hobos being one of them), where as Mole-Men never really tickled my funny bone.

Finally, there’s a remarkably moving long short story, novella or essay entitled “How I Became a Former Professional Literary Agency,” in which Hodgman explains how he became a writer. It’s difficult to tell how true it is, as he employs the names of real people and places with as much authority as he does fake facts and trivia, so it all feels real, even if one doubts certain aspects of the story.

It feels like the truth though, and that’s what makes it important and that, I think, is what makes it true, whether every character ever actually existed outside of Hodgman’s piece or not, or whether the real people said those things or not.

That Is All is a very funny book, but it’s also the first of Hodgman’s books that seems important, and to be about something bigger and more urgent than telling pretty funny jokes. I’d recommend it to just about anyone; I would highly recommend—perhaps almost to the point of insisting upon their reading it—to writers.

By the way, there’s a four-page article entitled “An Important Cryptid Update” which is about a creature Hodgman calls “dickfish,” which he describes as “a tiny fish that lives in the Amazon River” and “is so tiny that, if you are a human male who is urinatig into the river, the dickfish will swim up our stream of urine and then live in your penis.”

Hodgman assumed it was a myth, until he saw it on River Monsters the night before he was to perform at The Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner, and meet the president of the United States.

Hodgman only calls the creature “dickfish,” but we know it as the candiru, and every time I’ve written one of these posts, it has included a book that has devoted at least a few pages to the candiru (Previously, it was The River of Doubt in December's post, and The Lost City of Z in September's post).

What does this odd synchronicity mean, aside from the fact that I am never, ever going to visit the Amazon River now under any circumstances?

Weird Sceince and Bizarre Beliefs: Mysterious Creatures, Lost Worlds and Amazing Inventions (I.B. Tauris; 2009) by Gregory L. Reece: The cover is certainly an eye-catching one, isn't it?

Here’s the original it uses as its source material:All that’s been changed is the text in the red box and, the authors name added above the word “Weird,” and “And Bizarre Beliefs” has been inserted below the word “science” in the title.

Oh, and , somewhat oddly, Al Feldstein’s signature has been removed, while the publisher’s name ahs been added to the left-hand corner, which would have balanced the image out, if Feldstein’s signature was kept. There’s some fine print on the back noting that it was reproduced by permission and that its copyrighted William M. Gaines, Agent, Inc., but no mention of Feldstein. Pity.

Reece’s book covers a lot of familiar subjects to fans of cryptozoology, the paranormal and certain types of conspiracy theory. It’s divided into three parts, “Bigfoot in Paris,” which includes chapters entitled “Bigfoot,” “Cryptozoology” and “The Spirit of Sasquatch”; “Among the Arkansas Cave People,” which includes chapters entitled “Lost Worlds” and “The Hollow Earth” and, finally, “Psychic Brainwaves from Space,” which includes chapters “Ancient Wonders” and “Tesla Technology.”

While much of this is familiar territory to me—this was one of the few times I skimmed through the bibliography at the back of a book and recognized many titles and authors as ones I had previously read—Reece goes into a fair amount of detail with some of the selections, so I learned more about things I knew less of before reading (The 1924 Ape Canyon incident, which I think would make a very good movie, for example, is expanded in great detail…unfortunately into so much detail that it eventually gets so goofy I have to dismiss the incident from maybe ever having “really” happened). A few subjects, however, were completely new to me, like a lot of the information about various ancient contact with alien races and/or early human technology of spaceships and nuclear weapons (My long-time phobia of aliens kept me away from any of that Erich Von Daniken, Chariots of The Gods type of thing in my younger life).

I haven’t heard the details of “The Shaver Mystery” at such great length or depth before, nor had I heard of an unusual aspect of one Philadelphia Experiment story, in which men present were shunted into a Montauk, New Jersey military base in the 1980s, where something called the Phoenix Project “crashed that night……a night of horror in which a well-described monster looking much like an ‘abominable’ snowman, a Sasquatch, which was described (depending upon how panicked people were who saw it) as 12 to 30 feet high” (To which I can only add: !!!)

Reece is a pretty engaging writer though, and all of these topics—cryptozoology, especially as pertains to hairy hominids, hollow earth theories and the amazing technologies of the past, from Atlantis to Tesla to the Philadelphia Experiment—are fascinating enough that they’re still interesting the second, third or fifth time through.

Reece also enlivens the material by inserting biographical sequences about his own investigations, which include taking a Bigfoot hunting tour (one that culminates with seeing a dead body that the colorfully named Smokey Crabtree, one of the guys whose stories of the Fouke monster was used as source material for The Legend of Boggy Creek [I, not II], keeps in his garage), his caving tour with a group of caving enthusiasts, which he recounts during the section on the Hollow Earth, and his attendance of the 2007 Extraordinary Technology Conference in Salt Lake City.

Perhaps most intriguing, however, are the conclusions he draws about these bizarre beliefs and the people who hold them—in short, it’s a generous, positive set of conclusions, one that sees the benefits of diverse beliefs in modern society—and an experience of his own he discusses at the beginning and end of the book.

In 1977, as a boy of ten, Reece saw a huge bird the size of a small airplane circling above where he and his cousin were playing, and then saw it slowly descending toward them. He calls it a ropen, roc or malagor. I’ve heard Big Bird and Thunderbird most often. He is very clear on this: It was real. The way he’s processed the event, the way he understood it at the time, the way he understands it now, and the way his understanding of it differs so dramatically from the way another, more famous young boy who encountered a huge bird in 1977—Marlon Lowe, who was allegedly almost carried off by one, and whose story has been recounted in the "Birdzilla" episode of MonsterQuest, as well in literature on the subject processed his experience, is at the heart of the book. All the other fascinating trivia radiates out from it.


Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen:On my way to the café I was planning on visiting and sitting in while I wrote up my impressions for some of the stuff in this post, I stopped by a charming little downtown library to walk around and see how they were set up.

When I checked the ‘00s in the non-fiction section, I saw Jacobsen’s big fat book sitting among the books on the first shelf, nestled within the UFO books, just three spines away from Captured!: The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience (which discusses the 1961 "first modern alien abduction") and three or four spines away from another book on Area 51, David Darlington’s Area 51: The Dreamland Chronicles.

I was frankly a little surprised to see Jacobsen’s work shelved there, as a book of ufology instead of one of military history, as it’s more the latter, framed as the former, with portentous threads hinting at something having to do with UFOs throughout.

It opens with an account of Robert Lazar, a familiar name to anyone who reads much about UFOs, and someone who says that, in addition to working on reverse-engineering recovered flying saucers while on base, he once glimpsed a little gray alien. Jacobsen also discusses the crash at Roswell, which she insists did happen, and did involve an advanced flying disc and recovered bodies, although she differs on the exact origin of that disc and those bodies, saying they were something even more fantastic and, frankly, hard to believe in, that visitors from another planet.

It’s a relatively small portion of the book—and it’s a big book; I listened to the 15-disc audio version, but the book-book is Bible-thick and 390 pages long, before the copious end notes. Still, the Roswell portion is the one that garners the most attention, for obvious reasons.

Jacobsen reads the audiobook herself, and does so in half-hushed, near-conspiratorial tone of voice, her mouth occasionally filling with spit as she nears the ends of tracks, and the impression one gets while driving Ohio highways at night is of riding along with a knowledgeable if paranoid passenger one has picked up while hitchhiking, or, perhaps, a Deep Throat-like insider source revealing secrets, some so explosive you’re not sure if they are deliberate attempts at misinformation or not.

As I say, the majority of the book is focused on military history, the research and development that took place at or near the titular secret base and other government facilities in Nevada, between the ‘50s and ‘70s, programs which are more or less public record—the development of the U2 spy planes, the “Oxcart,” the blackbird, the stealth bomber and the ancestors of the drones that seem to be doing a great deal of the fighting, spying and assassinating in our current overseas engagements. That, and the development of various nuclear weapons, which occurred nearby.

I’m not knowledgeable enough to gauge how much of what she covers is new, but she does use the phrase “disclosed for the first time in this book” during these discussions, and frankly, most of it was new to me—her legwork in befriending men who lived and worked on the bases and the programs developed there surely contributed to new points of view and insights, even if some of the military history is well-known to aficionados.

These aren’t subjects I’m terribly knowledgeable of and, I must admit, interested in, but Jacobsen held my interest, and occasionally turned it into fascination, as she discussed the Cold War, and how the CIA and Air Force were fighting it with technical innovation behind the scenes.

The intersection between UFOs, the Cold War, the CIA and the Air Force is impossible to avoid—as Jacobsen notes, the U2 would be flying higher and faster than anything known in the world at the time, and would look like a fiery cross if seen from below. Confronted with sightings, the government couldn’t say, “Oh yeah, those are super-secret spy-planes, not aliens.” She doesn’t say as much, but presumably the same happens with each new innovation to come out of the Area.

In retrospect, the fact that so many UFO sightings—even, or perhaps especially, those seen by pilots and other professionals—could actually have been top secret, cutting-edge military planes seems perfectly logical, and of course no confirmation would have been forthcoming for years, if not decades.

Here’s the story Jacobsen spins regarding Roswell, which, if you’ve heard of this book at all—she was interviewed by John Stewart on The Daily Show, and did a lengthy interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air”—you’ve already heard. But, if not, um, spoiler warning, I guess.

Josef Stalin was among those that were fascinated by the panic caused by the 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds adaptation and Stalin, like those in power in the US, saw that misinformation about visitors from outer space could conceivable wreak havoc in the US.

So in 1947 Stalin loaded up a flying saucer—probably designed by Nazi scientists and Flying Wing inventors the Horten Brothers—with human beings disguised to look like Gray aliens (big heads, over-sized eyes, small, spindly bodies) via some combination of breeding, genetic manipulation and/or surgery. They were "child-sized," and probably actual children.

This craft was able to fly and to hover and stop, something nothing at the time could do, and it was able to baffle U.S. radar, only being picked up sporadically. Then, during an electrical storm, the craft crashed. Russian alphabetical writing was visible inside the craft. It and the bodies were recovered—at least two of them were still alive, but said to be in a coma-like state. The plan, apparently, was to use these elaborate tools to pull a “War of the Worlds” on the U.S.

The U.S. covered it up, and went about reverse-engineering both the saucer and the man-made “aliens” because, as Jacobsen says, “we were doing it too.” (It’s unclear if she means simply experimenting on human beings, which, well, it’s pretty well-documented the U.S. has done over and over throughout the 20th century, or if she meant “making fake aliens,” which, um, well more on that in a bit).

There are some problems with this story. Some very, very basic logical problems, beyond the conspiracy theory aspects of the story, which Jacobsen’s single, elderly, unnamed source said involved not only the Horton brothers, but also Josef Mengele (that’s where the Soviet aliens came from) uniting with Stalin to scare the U.S.

First, if Stalin did have hover-and-fly saucer technology capable of evading U.S. radar so thoroughly, why didn’t he or anyone in Russia ever use it again? (And, if the U.S. reverse-engineered and mastered it, as Jacobsen’s source claims, why haven’t we?) Remember, this was 60 years ago; if both sides had it that far back, imagine how obsolete it would be by this point, negating the need to keep it secret). Are we to believe Stalin had one (1) flying saucer and, rather than figuring out how to make another, or using it for military or surveillance, he used it on a weird psy-ops project?

Second, if his plan was to "War of the Worlds" us, why did he send it to the desert of the Southwest, instead of somewhere more populous? Crashing the same saucer into a city, say New York or Washington D.C., might have caused a panic, and either locale would have seemed obvious choices for such an operation. Hell, he might have been able to break a building or two in the process.

Third, if the plan was, as Jacobsen states and as she repeats CIA and Air Force folks worrying during the saucer craze of the ‘50s, to overload U.S. radar and incite panic in front of a follow-up attack, why didn’t the Soviets follow up the Roswell crash with an attack, or, if they abandoned it because it didn’t work out, why has no evidence emerged that they were planning a massive invasion/attack on the U.S. as early as the end of the 1940s?

And, finally, why didn’t Stalin just try again later? Did he really only have one saucer and one crew of fake aliens, and did he really waste them like that? Even so, couldn’t they have dummied up some other sort of flying saucer with fake aliens in it?

The world of people interested in such things has pretty much shit all over this story as a wild, transparent, possibly even cribbed fantasy.

Here’s Popular Mechanics’ takedown of the Jacobsen’s claims.

And this review by Dwayne Day in the San Francisco Chronicle includes this pretty spectacular dis:
There's an old saying that when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras. Jacobsen seems to have heard hooves, thought unicorns, and does not seem to be aware of the existence of horses.
Personally, as someone who spent part of his life terrified of the prospect of alien abduction, I’d love to read a convincing argument that aliens and flying saucers in general were completely man-made (The book does go a long way toward eliminating at least large portions of saucer reports from the realm of possibility, if we consider many of them were simply U2s and oxcarts and stealth bombers and whatnot). But it’s too silly to believe.

(Oh, another thing. In her book Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, Susan A. Clancy notes that the popular and pervading image of aliens, that of the Communion/“Gray” alien, can be traced back to the early-60s episodes of The Outer Limits. The episode “Bellaro Shield” in particular looked “remarkably similar to those of today: they had big, black, wraparound eyes, no noses or mouths and delicate waif-like bodies.” Clancy further notes that Betty and Barney Hill would have been able to watch an episode of the show that featured an alien abduction plot shortly before their purported abduction, and seen others before coming forward and in the years since the story was expanded upon. The Popular Mechanics article linked-to above traces the origin of the Gray-style aliens to Steve Spielberg's 1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind)

The “revelation,” which Jacobsen makes at the end of the book, after very careful, very deliberate and very effective teasing, is, as I said, attributed to a single source, which other media have vetted and found unreliable. It’s weird how credulous Jacobsen seems, and how vigorously she defends him in things like the Terry Gross interview, given that she doesn’t seem to have pre-answered any of the obvious questions. “We were doing it too” doesn’t begin to answer them—couldn’t the U.S. reveal the Soviet plan and keep their own fakelien factory secret? (And what are we doing with our fakeliens, unless we’re putting them in our own fake saucers to abduct people and experiment on their genitals in some sort of elaborate, X-Files plot?).

Jacobsen seems to have not only not anticipated any questions on the matter, and thus pre-defended them in the book herself, she also seems to be unable to answer them after the fact. Which, as I say, is a bit odd, given how well she knocks down many other conspiracy theories throughout the book. It’s a strangely schizophrenic aspect of the book; she dismisses, even ridicules all the popular fantasies of Area 51—while excavating the grain of truth they grew from—but then offers her own theory which is harder to believe in than the story that some aliens from somewhere in the infinitely large universe visit occasionally.

Part of me laments the inclusion of this theory in the book, and I wonder why she did it, given that it sours, almost to the point of ruination, all of the legitimately fascinating, exciting and revelatory (or at least seemingly revelatory) aspects of the book. But then, I know I personally wouldn’t have bothered to read or listen to it were it not for her saucer story, and there I guess I have my answer.


Alligator (1980): A few years ago, I watched a DVD of 2007 based-on-a-true-story-about-a-big-crocodile-eating-people film Primeval and, for reasons I can’t entirely recall at this moment, I decided I wanted to watch all the movies about crocodiles and/or alligators eating people that were ever made. I spent a long time looking for 1980’s Alligator, but couldn’t find it in any libraries or for rent in the vanishing video-turned-DVD stores of Columbus, Ohio.

Then a month or so ago I found it on the shelves at my library—I guess it must have been released on DVD within the last few years?—and though I could no longer remember why exactly I wanted to see it, I took it home.

Um, that’s my story about why I watched this DVD.

Despite how dated it is—it looks like the 1970s—I found it to be superior to all of the other movies I had tracked down post-Primeval (all of which, it turned out, featured crocodiles rather than alligators). Based on the urban legend, which was probably much less traveled 32 years ago, of baby alligators getting flushed down toilets only to grow to man-eating size in the sewers, this features one such baby alligator turned giant alligator, its prodigious growth explained by the fact that it was living off of the discarded remains of cats and dogs that a laboratory experimenting with growth hormone dumped in the sewer.

The giant alligator is affected by filming a real alligator stalking down miniature sewer sets, which works remarkably well, and an animatronic alligator head.

There are several pretty memorable scenes, including a rather unrealistic one where it literally breaks through the cement of a street, one where a “Great White Hunter” type tries to recruit some local black kids to help him, as if they were African natives looking for work as porters during a safari, and a bravura sequence in which the alligator rampages through a wedding.

If you see one movie about an over-sized alligator or crocodile eating people, make it Alligator!

I’m actually pretty surprised they haven’t remade this one yet. Beyond the advances in special effects technology that could give us a different alligator—preferably one that looks more like the one in Primeval than the one in Croc or Crocodile—the Chicago sewer system setting could be better imagined and explored with today’s movie-making technology than with 1980’s.

Autopsy (2008): Jessica Lowndes leads a group of five young actors through one of the most tedious horror movies I’ve ever sat through. She plays one of a group of rather dim and guileless revelers at a completely PG Mardis Gras (the movie is rated R, but only for gore, not flashing-for-beads and sex), all of whom pile into a car after a night of drinking and—surprise!—get in a car accident.

They are taken by a pair of ambulance drivers to a big, empty hospital where the single nurse dresses in a vintage uniform and it's so dark that it's apparently lit only by exit signs and cell phone LCDs.

Much of the rest of the film consists of Lowndes wandering slowly down the dark hallways of an abandoned hospital, with occasional splashes of graphic if goofy gore, as in one scene where The Other Girl is tackled by patient at the hospital, and his insides are torn open, raining rubber organs down on her like some sort of silly med school piñata.

Poor Robert Patrick plays the evil doctor in charge of place, and he’s at least fortunate that the costume department gave him big, thick, black glasses in order to partially disguise himself. He’s developing a cure for cancer that involves draining fluids and harvesting nervous systems from victims that…well, I was so repulsed by the film that I didn’t dwell on this at all.

My suspension of disbelief was working overtime on the fact that anyone made this movie, and that anyone watched it, that I couldn’t spare any for the plot itself.

I mean, I genuinely like Jessica Lowndes. I like looking at her, I like hearing the sound of her voice, I like seeing her acting. Why would I want to, say, watch her strapped down to an operating table while someone drills into her skull, or a big, scary man punches her so hard in the stomach she vomits? Just so I can root for here when she breaks free and kills him in revenge? That's...not much of a reward for sitting through a scene of her being tortured, really.

I said the film repulsed me, but not in its gore—all of which is noticeably cheap and fake, executed on an apparent shoestring budget—but rather in its existence. Films like this, and like another below, just kind of sadden, confuse and ultimately depress me. They make me worry about the state of the world, a world where people want to make them, people like them (not too many people in this film’s case, but enough that the other torture porn film in this post got made) and that talented folks like Lowndes and Patrick feel they have to make them.

The Comedians of Comedy (2005): This DVD consists of a kinda sorta documentary about Patton Oswalt’s plan to make stand-up comedy more affordable and accessible to different audiences by putting together a comedy tour that plays in small rock clubs instead big, expensive venues. Oswalt tours with Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford, with Zach Galifianakis appearing and disappearing rather dramatically for the middle-third, as if he were some sort of guest-star.

The DVD includes a straight recording of one of their performances—Oswalt, Posehn and Bamford, with Bob Odenkirk appearing to introduce them—while the film itself is a sort of behind-the-scenes, tour diary-type of endeavor.

I didn’t have any real strong feelings about any of these guys before seeing this, beyond being curious about Galifianakis’ stand-up based on his film work. I enjoyed this okay.

Posehn mentions at one point that he wanted to call their tour, the name of which is a sort of riff on the “Kings of Comedy” tour, “The Martin Luther Kings of Comedy." I thought that was funny. Bamford has a pretty great pterodactyl joke, although I admit to being quite partial to jokes about pterodactyls (or anything having to do with pterodactyls, really).

Of special interest to comics fans may be a short sequence filmed on a Wednesday afternoon, where comics-reading comics Oswalt and Posehn talk about the Wednesday ritual of buying new comics and discuss what they got as part of their weekly hauls. The camera crew was actually going to follow them into the shop, but the shop owners and/or employees won’t let the camera in.

They both pronounce Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina as “Ex Ma-sheen-a” which I found surprising.

Haunting of Molly Hartley (2008): Our tour of the 90210 actresses’ filmography continues with another horror movie (Can’t these gals ever get roles in a nice indie coming of age drama or a musical or something?). This one’s special for featuring not one, but two 90210 stars, Jessica Lowndes, who plays the thankless role of Girl Who Gets Killed before the film actually starts (which basically requires her to walk around slowly through the woods, looking beautiful, throughout the credits sequence), and AnnaLynne McCord, playing the high school mean girl role she’s played in every single thing I’ve seen her in.

Fans of CW dramas take note, this one also stars the unnervingly handsome Chace Crawford, who is on that Gossip Girl show I’ve never seen.

The real star is Haley Bennet, who plays the title character (Molly Hartleny, not The Haunting). This is the only film I’ve ever seen her in, but she is gorgeous, and has an extremely interesting face. She’s pretty in a pretty particular way, which makes staring at her for long periods of time fairly rewarding. Good thing too, because the film’s not all that engaging.

Molly is starting at a new private school with about four other students—McCord and Crawford’s characters, a rebellious “bad girl”, and a nosy Christian played by the also beautiful and also distinct-looking Shanna Collins (I would really like to high-five whoever cast this movie). Molly has suffered a terrible trauma, which, to spoil things a bit, involved her mother trying to stab her death because her mom believed she was the devil, or the devil’s spawn or…something like that.

Molly hears voices and weird sounds and has disturbing dreams and occasionally hallucinations—is there a medical explanation? Is she going crazy, like her mom went crazy? Is she, like the title says, haunted? Was her mom right about her?

The ultimate explanation is supposedly some sort of twist, and while certain elements of it are refreshingly unique, evoking classic, Grimm-era fairy tales, I rankled a bit at the misuse of Christian theology and/or mythology at the end.

This happens a lot in movies, especially bad ones, and it always confuses and irritates me. Filmmakers, there is a lot of crazy, dramatic, awesome stuff in the various Christian faiths and the histories thereof, you don’t have to just randomly make up shit. And, if you like the devil or fallen angels or whatever and want to use them, that’s fine, but if you’re going to make up stuff about them, you have to at least spend a minute or two explaining yourself and the new mythology you’re making up, you can’t just throw that shit out at the end of a 90-minute movie and declare creative victory.

So this is a fairly bad movie, but it is at least full of very attractive people, with very interesting looks. Somewhere deep within it there is the seed of a better, more compelling story, but the process of teasing out typical jump-y scares and ironic twists kept it from ever getting made.

The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007): This is the quickie sequel to the 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s 1977 original, and not a remake of the original 1985 The Hills Have Eyes Part II. In the tradition of post-Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes, it’s a largely pointless endeavor that ignores the context and any metaphorical or political content of the original in favor of faster cuts, more gore and an awful lot of brown color.

It’s about a small, post-nuclear nuclear family of all-male mutant cannibals that live like prairie dogs and move like ninjas. They kill regular people, who are surely in super-short supply in their territory—it being a secret military base in the desert and all—using the men for food and the women for breeding.

The movie opens with a hard-to-watch scene in which one such female victim gives birth to a child and is then unceremoniously clubbed to death by the groundhog ninja monster man that impregnated her. Given that human females can give birth more than once, I was confused as to why he killed rather than re-impregnated his captive, at which point I realized I had officially thought more about the plot of this movie than those who made it—which is especially saddening, given that Wes Craven himself co-wrote it. I guess I kind of hoped he was above the torture-porn trend in modern horror or, if not, then he would at least be innovating new bad movies that dabble in the genre, rather than bastardizing his own past filmography (Son Jonathan Crave was also involved as a writer; maybe he did it out of fatherly love?)

After a training exercise so elaborate it seems to have been conducted in the X-Men’s danger room, a rag-tag group of National Guard folks are sent into “the Hills” on a supply run, only to be ambushed by the Prairie Dog people. An endless march of mutants vs. stereotypes begins, with no relief of any kind in sight—there’s no humor, no noteworthy action, no admirable skill of any kind on display, no “horror” to speak of beyond the base gross-out, existential “Why am I watching this lady get raped?” sort.

Well, I watched it because 90210’s Jessica Stroup was in it. I wish I didn’t.

In the filmmakers’ defense, I did find myself looking away, completely repelled by what was on the TV screen, repeatedly while watching. I imagine that was their intended effect and, while it’s not exactly a noble or admirable goal, they met it—I can’t recall ever attempting to watch a more repulsive film.

The Informers (2008): A ridiculously over-qualified cast that includes Chris Isaak, Brad Renfro, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, Rhys Ifans, Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Bassinger play the various soulless monsters that meander through this multi-strand narrative set mostly in 1983 Los Angeles, bouncing and sliding off one another, destroying everything they touch. It’s based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, obviously, and Ellis adapts it into a screenplay—the result is probably the least watchable of the generally repugnant films based on his work (And, oddly, they seem to have excised the most interesting part of the prose source: An honest-to-God fucking literal vampire, leaving us only with a bunch of metaphorical vampires).

90210’s Jessica Stroup plays probably the least morally compromised character in the film, her greatest sin being that she is apparently a young Republican (Or was that sort of thing more acceptable in 1983, before the Reagan administration could do all that much damage?).

I like some of the performers quite a bit, although it’s pretty depressing to see their talents wasted in such a nihilistic venture, and I’m uncertain how well the material has aged, even if the setting remains 1983. Killing Amber Heard’s character off with AIDS after spending the bulk of the movie showing her sexual promiscuity and making much of the fact that she’s sharing two lovers who are men who have sex with one another seems to suggest promiscuity and homosexuality as a source of AIDS, a divine punishment for her life choices.

No one in this movie makes good choices—even Stroup’s teenager likes Reagan, after all—but only one lays dying gray-skinned on the beach.

Louie: The Complete First Season (2010): I’ve been a fan of Louis C.K.’s stand-up whenever I’ve seen and heard it, and I have a lot of affection for Pootie Tang, but I haven’t been terribly impressed with what little of his on-screen acting work I’ve seen (I never caught an episode of his previous TV series, Lucky Louie, though). (UPDATE: Holy shit, he was the voice of Brendon’s dad on Home Movies?! I was not aware of that!)

This, though? This is fantastic. Each episode plays like a very short independent film starring C.K. as a somewhat fictionalized version of himself—or at least his stand-up persona—and he makes his way through his day and night, raising his daughters, looking for sex, love and/or a relationship and performs comedy.

The only thing I can think to compare it to is Curb Your Enthusiasm, which similarly stars a fictionalized comedian and revels in awkward-feeling humor about societal expectations and rituals breaking down, although Curb’s plots are much more elaborate constructions. Louie is more straightforward, and more emotionally immediate in its content.

Ricky Gervais’ recurring role as a former high school friend-turned-asshole doctor who thinks his own jokes are hilarious is pretty fantastic.

The Marx Bothers Silver Screen Collection (2004): This five movie set collects the first Marx Brothers movies, all produced during their time at Paramount and starring all four of them, Zeppo included. Those would be 1929’s The Cocoanuts, 1930’s Animal Crackers, 1931’s Monkey Business, 1932’s Horse Feathers and 1933’s Duck Soup.

And those are, in my humble opinion as a Marx Bros fan, are the best of their films, although Night at the Opera and a Day at The Races certainly have some memorable scenes.

I only mention the viewing of this collection because a while back I mentioned The Cocoanuts as one of my favorite of their films—following Duck Soup and Animal Crackers—and commenter Anthony Strand asked me to elaborate on my fondness for The Cocoanuts, as he never really liked it all that much.

So I went to re-watch it, and it was only available at my library in this five-disc collection, so naturally I had to re-watch them all, despite having seen most of them dozens of times since grade school (my father was a fan before me). The exception is Monkey Business, which I doubt I’ve seen even ten times yet, and thus I enjoy watching it a bit more than some of the others, as it’s still a bit “fresher” to me (And of these five, it still stands out as the wildest and least “plot-y,” with Zeppo on equal footing as his brothers for much of it, and the first 20 minutes or so consists of nothing but the brothers getting chased around a boat before the gangster rivalry plot begins).

Anyway! Cocoanuts!I’ve counted it as one of my favorites because it’s from this period, it’s not quite Animal Crackers or Duck Soup, but it’s better than Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, which I’m not too terribly fond of (I think it’s all the sports, as the movie builds up to climactic college football game; and maybe the lack of Margaret Dumont, there sure are some great sequences in it though).

I rated Cocoanuts so high because it’s very much a companion film to Animal Crackers, and something of a rehearsal for it, I think, with parallel scenes to most of the good scenes in the later film. It similarly contains many similar elements.

The plot, not that such a thing matters in a Marx Brothers movie is this: Groucho plays Mr. Hammer, who runs a down-on-its-luck hotel on Cocoanut Beach during the Florida land boom. Among his employees are Zeppo, playing Jamison, and a clerk who would rather be an architect named Bob Roland, who never seems to do any actual clerking.

Roalnd’s in love with pretty songbird Mary Eaton, whose society matron mother, played by Dumont, forbids her from marrying him. Dumont thinks Cyril Ring would make a better match, even though he’s a thief with a shady past; with some goading from Kay Francis’ Penelope, he conspires to sabotage the two young lovers’ romance.

Chico and Harpo play a pair of shiftless pickpockets, who check in with empty luggage, but assure Groucho they’ll fill it up before they leave.

The similarities to Animal Crackers will be apparent to anyone who has seen that one too, although this one is a little less formless and sloppy around the edges. It’s theater origins are awfully apparent as well, as it’s little more than a stage show on film, and in addition to musical numbers, it features a chorus of dancing girls who appear for several numbers, most of which involve Eaton’s character signing, although one notable exception has them dressed as bellboys and dancing around the lobby after Groucho refuses to pay their salaries, as wages would only make them wage slaves.There are a lot of long, lingering shots of scantily clad (for 1929, anyway) girls lounging on the beach with darling flapper hair cuts, the aforementioned chorus girls, the lovely former Ziegfeld girl Eatonand long-limbed, svelte Francis, with a slicked back, boyish haircut. (I wonder now if perhaps my affection for the film didn't have something to do with I was entering puberty when I first discovered it...?)

On rewatching it practically back-to-back with Animal Crackers and the rest of the Brothers’ 1930s output, Strand is right; it’s not on par with Animal Crackers or Duck Soup. It’s still a pretty fine film though, and among my favorites.

And it’s still one I would mind seeing Brandon Graham adapt into a comic book, if Brandon Graham were to ever draw comic book adaptations of Marx Brothers movies for some strange reason, because the scores of lounging and dancing flappers would give him plenty of opportunity to draw sexy ladies, something he so excels at.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents: Time of the Apes (2011): There is apparently another round of MST3K releases in the works, as I keep seeing new releases showing up at the library, these ones film specific (one episode per release) and featuring new, neat box art.

I picked this one up because a) I didn’t remember watching it (although it came back to me as I did; this was from when Joel Hodgson was still the satellite strandee, so it would have been an earlier one) and b) seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes (see below) made me want to rewatch some of the previous films, but this one looked more interesting, as it had jokes.

What struck me most about the film at the center of the episode was that the title of it is essentially a spoiler for the twist ending of the original Planet of the Apes movie, isn’t it?

The film is terrible, only slightly cheaper-looking than the original Planet, and it’s also Japanese, which provides an interesting widow into how another culture might adapt America’s own terrible films to suit their audience, I guess.

As MST3K episodes go, there’s nothing terribly memorable about this one.

The original film has some pretty neat art associated with. Check out these images I found while Googling the MST3K cover:

National Geographic Dinosaur Collection (2010): This collection includes five different National Geographic-produced dinosaur documentaries, at least one of which I clearly remember having watched before. That would be Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure, a sort of fake nature show following the life of a computer-generated dolichorynchops through the perils of the prehistoric ocean. Also in the collection are Dinosaurs Decoded, in which paleontologist Jack Horner’s theory that dinosaurs changed dramatically as they grew to maturity and that several already-classified, distinct species of dinosaurs might actually be the same species at different stages of development; T. Rex Walks Again, in which paleontologists investigate the early life of the titular dinosaur and construct what they believe might be what they looked like as babies, and Dinosaur Autopsy, in which a rare mummified hadrosaur is studied to search for clues about how it might have moved.

The highlight of the bunch, however, is 2009’s Bizarre Dinosaurs, focusing on some of the most bizarrely, distinctly evolved dinosaurs, including Spinosaurus (Jurassic Park III’s big bad), horned T-Rex relative Carnotaurus, a 10-foot-long ancient T. Rex ancestor “Raptor Rex” (Perfect for Jurassic Park IV?), a new-old theory of what T. Rex’s tiny arms were actually for (tickling mates!) and so on. The best part, however, is that this one is narrated by Peter Cullen, best known for giving voice to the 1980s cartoon Optimus Prime and the Michael Bay, computer-generated Optimus Prime from the recent trilogy of feature films.

That’s right, Bizarre Dinosaurs is Optimus Prime talking about dinosaurs for 45 minutes. I wish there was some way I could travel back in time just to tell my eight-year-old self that he had this to look forward to in adulthood.

Rise of The Planet of the Apes (2011): I had every intention of seeing this in theaters—the killer preview made it seem like something that should probably be seen on a gigantic screen—but never made it, because I’m always too busy typing nonsense about comic books and how I like or don’t like particular ones on the Internet.

It’s really good.

Andy Serkis and the computers and animators that turn him into a super-intelligent chimpanzee all deserve all kinds of Oscars for their performance in this thing; actually, all of the ape characters are pretty incredibly rendered, all seeming perfectly real, with the exception of the unnerving Caesar, whom Serkis plays, which seems like a real chimpanzee with slightly more human eyeballs.

I admit to being completely sucked into the drama of scientist James Franco, his Alzheimer’s-suffering father John Lithgow and the experiment-turned-pet-turned-ape revolutionary Caesar and, the longer the movie goes on, the more visually compelling it gets, as we meet more and more apes, and they eventually try to escape San Francisco for the forests, battling police along the way.

After watching it, I began to wonder whether or not it was really a Planet of the Apes movie. I mean, I know its branded as such, and is meant to be a prequel, showing how the apes evolved as they did (although I assumed “they evolved” was enough of an answer) and how humans became the minority (I assume that disease that killed the fat lab guy decimates humanity, right?), but this seems so far removed from the look, feel and even premise of the later movies that it seems like it might be something else entirely.

I think it worked quite well with the ending it has, and serving as a more-or-less complete story within a bigger, implied story, but I’m not sure how it will connect to the later movies (it’s my understanding there will be a sequel). Smart or not, plague or no, it’s hard to imagine the apes at the end of this movie overthrowing all of humanity—a coupla Predator drones could take ‘em all out where the movie leaves them—and harder still to imagine a movie explaining that, and still being as effective as this one was.

I sure as hell want to see them try though; the ape vs. man (and horse, and helicopter) battle of the Golden Gate Bridge sure was something.

I hope they get some baboons on their side in the next movie.

And I wonder why the apes never teamed up with the lemurs? Or is there an Island of The Lemurs on The Planet of the Apes…?

Shark Night (2011): “Let me know how that is,” a co-worker said, noting me leaving the library with a copy of this in my hands. “It’s about sharks eating people,” I replied, “How bad could it be?”

Pretty bad, it turns out.

It’s a D-movie with a B-movie budget, meaning its producers had enough money to hire model-hot actors, film in a beautiful location, and afford much better special effects than, say, Dinoshark. Little money, and even less time, and hardly any craft or care was spent on the script, however, and director David R. Ellis seemed to be at least as bored and confused while making it as I was watching it. (Ellis, if you don’t recognize the name, was responsible for Snakes on a Plane, a couple of the Final Destinations, and Cellular, a fun, effective thriller starring future Johnny Storm/Lucas Lee/Captain America Chris Evans).

The plot? A shopping list of seven stock characters—The Smart Hunk, The Dumb Hunk, The Black Athletic Hunk, The “Funny” Slacker Who Is The Only Guy Without Six-Pack Abs, The Hot Girl Next Door, The Hot Bad Girl and The Fiery Latina/Loyal Girlfriend Who Is Also Hot—go to a remote island on a slat water lake in order to enjoy a vacation from college.

Unbeknownst to them, someone has stocked the lake with a wide variety of different species of sharks for nefarious purposes. To give it a way (i.e. “spoiler alert”), it is a conspiracy of literally every single local character introduced. They are shark death porn filmmakers intent on making a Faces of Death meets Shark Week—both specifically cited by one of the villains when explaining the scheme to one of the victims—to sell on the Internet. I haven’t seen their business plan, but I’m not entirely sure there are enough people willing to subscribe to shark fatality pornography to cover the costs of stocking a lake with at least one of every species of shark, outfitting them with cameras and paying for all the other equipment involved.

It’s not a bad idea for a horror movie though, but the execution is pretty terrible, and not even in the expected terrible ways.

I was a little surprised to see the black guy—the one black guy—be the first to get attacked and mortally wounded (although he’s not the first to die; he gets attacked but dies slowly enough that someone else gets eaten before him. Hint: It’s the other character not of European descent). If you’re a filmmaker and you know “the black guy always dies first” is the cliché people always make fun of, why would you have your black guy die first?

Of course, they also put a spear (harpoon, whatever; it totally looks like a spear) in their black guy’s hand and have him wander off into the water to spear a shark to death, so the filmmakers weren’t thinking much about context in general. (I have to admit that while my eyebrows raised at that bit, it did lead to one of the two (2) moments I honestly enjoyed in the film: After spearing the shark, the Hunky Black Athlete unleashes a flurry of left hooks on a hammerhead shark—and wins the fight! The other was a one-second image of a tiger shark smiling.)

Because the bad guys are the shark death porn filmmakers who are tossing scantily clad college kids to sharks like so much chum, filming the resulting attacks for profit, Shark Night essentially casts its own makers as evil, and makes the audience complicit, as we’re watching (in some cases, even paying) to see these young lives violently destroyed.

Not that any thing is made of this in the film, of course; having sat through the results, I’m not even sure the filmmakers noticed it.

As I often do after seeing a movie on DVD, I spent a bit looking up reviews from the time of the film’s original release online. I thought Tasha Robinson’s review for the AV Club was pretty funny:
It doesn’t even live up to the minimal promises of the title: There isn’t enough shark action, it mostly takes place during the day, and the 3-D only asserts itself in a couple of shots.By definition, a cast-attrition horror film where toothy fish eat attractive people is setting its own bar mighty low. But even so, Shark Night 3D barely bothered to show up, let alone deliver the minimal goods.
It was Shark Night 3D when it was in theaters; they lopped off the “3D” on the cover of the DVD. I suspected it was probably meant to 3D only during a scene of an explosion, which hurls debris at the camera in a weird way, with a pretty steady stream of it whizzing the viewer’s way, piece by piece, like a meteor storm rather than an explosion.

The AV Club also ranked it as one of their worst films of 2011. I haven’t seen enough bad films from 2011 to agree or disagree yet. Of those on the list, the only other one I’ve seen is Your Highness.

Tangled (2010): Screenwriter Dan Fogelman departs pretty dramatically from the source material with this feature-length computer-animated Disney flick, even by the standards of Disney movie source material departure. These alterations include giving Rapunzel’s hair magical healing properties, losing the whole stealing greens from a witch thing that gives the character her weird name and making her a princess—must every woman in a Disney movie be either a witch or a princess? And all that’s before we get to the charming thief character with the laughably awesome name of Flynn Rider, the pet chameleon and the grudge-holding, law and order enforcing horse.

It’s funny then to see Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm getting writing credits.

I note the changes out of interest in fairy tales and the various ways they are processed in various times and cultures, not out of any kind of outrage or disappointment. I thought Fogelman and the others involved with the project did a fairly good job of taking the very basics of the fairy tale story and building a family-friendly action comedy around it.

It held my interest, and I laughed a couple of times, the chameleon’s awakening Flynn with a tongue to the inner ear and the bit where Flynn is fencing with a horse that is holding a sword in its mouth accounting for those couple of times.

I also found it rather remarkable how little evil is in the movie. The bad guy, witch Mother Gothel, does kidnap a baby and ultimately stabs a dude, but she spends something like 15 years keeping Rapunzel prisoner not through fear or violence, but with passive-aggressive comments and emotional manipulation. She’s a bad person, but, for the most part, a bad person in the way a lot of people are bad people, not in the traditional Disney witch way of, like, ordering someone to cut out your stepdaughter’s heart and then trying to poison her, or turning into a giant black dragon way.

I still prefer 2D animation to this sort of thing, but the designs and animation were actually quite sharp, and it put that of many other studios similar fairy tale-based family films to shame.

TrollHunter (2010): This is by far the best movie I’ve seen in a long time, although as you can see from the entries in this post, I generally spend most of my movie-watching time on rather poor genre pictures.

This is one of those found footage horror movies, in the style of Blair Witch, Open Water and an ever-increasing number, but here the subject is particular exotic.

A trio of students with a camera and boom mic are investigating a mysterious poacher believed to be involved in some bear killings, for reasons I’m not entirely sure I caught. The poacher actually turns out to be Otto Jespersen, Norway’s official troll hunter. His job is to watch and maintain the country’s troll population, exterminating them when he needs to. After a long courtship, he eventually accedes to allowing the students follow him in his work.

I can’t tell you, I can’t even imagine, really, how this might have played to a Norwegian audience. As an American, the different language and the faraway setting, so far removed from my own personal experience, only heightened by willingness to believe, or at least to stop disbelieving, in the events on the screen.

The trolls, which are quite varied, are all rather spectacularly designed and rendered, and, most impressively, there were several instances where I had no idea how they were being created for the film. The special effects—if they are special effects!—are all special enough that it can be difficult to see how they are achieved in many scenes. In that respect, TrollHunter excels in the magic of filmmaking, a particular aspect of which has been lost in the last few decades as computer animation began to dominate special-effects making, and more and more and more of us became computer-literate.

Also of note is the amount of space devoted to talking about the science of trolls, what makes them tick, why they evolved the way they did, why they can be killed by sunlight and so on. It’s nerdy stuff—although delivered in an off-the-cuff, casual way by Jespersen’s character—but it’s the exact sort of fun, problem-solving nerdy stuff that makes TrollHunter seem so smart.

Word on the street is there’s already a U.S. remake in development; I have no idea how that’s going to work, as removing the film from its Scandinavian location—even excising the foreign language from the proceedings—will only serve to domesticate it, and make it seem more like a movie than an experience.

If you haven’t seen it then, I’d recommend hunting it down now, while it’s still cool to like TrollHunter

Is it just me, or does Jesperen’s poacher look a bit like Warren Ellis…?

The Wicker Man (2006): I resisted seeing this for a long, long time—six years!—as I wanted to first see the original before seeing the remake starring Nicolas Cage, but I eventually broke down and took it home from the library.

Chances are, you’ve already heard a lot about this movie, even if you haven’t seen it. I am happy to report that everything you’ve heard about it is true.

Cage plays a sleepy, somewhat confused policeman who visits an island way out of his jurisdiction in order to help an old flame find her missing daughter. The island is peopled with a strange and mysterious culture in which the men don’t speak, the women all call one another sister, and technology and fashion haven’t progressed much further than that of the 14th century.

The bulk of the movie consists of a strange tension, in which a cocky Cage tries to conduct a police procedural investigation in such a strange place that seems like it may be some sort of deadpan comedy, and a more intentionally weird, spooky film that feels like writer/director Neil LaBute is striving to produce a David Lynch film.

And in the last act, it just goes completely insane, with Cage running around screaming at women and children, punching ladies out, karate kicking Leelee Sobieski, disguising himself as a bear and shrieking things like “Killing me won’t bring back your goddam honey!” and “Not the bees! Not the bees!”

In addition to Sobieski, this film also features a very pretty lady in Molly Parker, who plays a schoolteacher on the island of the creepy bee ladies.

Whitney Cummings: Money Shot (2010): This is a DVD version of a televised stand-up performance by Cummings, who was given her own TV show by one of the networks last fall or so. I didn’t think it was funny at all. In fact, I found a lot of fairly offensive. She talks about sex and relationship a lot, taking on the part of a negative female stereotype that is most interested in money and success on the part of her sexual partners.

It did get me thinking if part of my reaction was simply that I am male and that Cummings is female, and that I have spent such relatively little time in the presence of female comics (Sarah Silverman’s Jesus Is Magic, which I liked quite a bit, is is the most recent stand-up performance by a female comedian I can recall seeing).

Perhaps Cummings is just telling the same sorts of dumb sex jokes, using the same type of dumb stereotyping of gender roles that male comics do all the time, it just sticks out more because she’s a woman? If she were a male, perhaps I wouldn’t even notice? (Although, I’m not exactly a stand-up expert. I was listening to CDs of performances during the months I was commuting to and from my day job, and I was listening to Lewis Black, Louis C.K., Norm MacDonald, Demetri Martin, Daniel Tosh and Jim Gaffigan, few of whom had all that many jokes about sex and women, and, of those that did, that tended to be among their weaker material [Tosh has a joke about a pterodactyl too, by the way]).

There were a couple of instances where she hectored a guy in the audience for being gay—not making fun of him because he was gay, but just calling him gay and saying that he looked gay to her—that seemed pretty offensive to me.

I suppose that was just an act, affected for the sake of the performance, but my main reaction to her show was a sort of flat line boredom, punctuated by occasionally shock at a mean-spirited gay joke and followed by curiosity over how this persona could transition into the anchoring of a sitcom.

Will Ferrell: You’re Welcome America—A Final Night with George W. Bush (2009): I miss exactly two things about the previous president being in office: Regular-ish updates of David Rees’ Get Your War On online comic strip, and Ferrell’s Bush impersonation/recreation, which took a single aspect of the president’s, his jocular confidence, exploded it, tempered it with the stupidity he is so widely attributed with, and created a version that was on some levels truer than the true Bush, and eve funnier to watch talking and moving around.

This is basically a surprisingly theater-like one-man-show of Ferrell as Bush, the sort of thing one would expect to see off Broadway, then on-Broadway and performed on local theater stages around the country in a decade or two or four.


Anthony Strand said...

Thanks for getting back to me (and for mentioning my name in your post!)

And now your discussion of it has convinced me that I need to rewatch The Cocoanuts too. Honestly, it's been at least five years. But I definitely agree that it feels like a rehearsal for Animal Crackers. So maybe the gags are stronger than I remember. Anyway, my wife's never seen it. I should see if she wants to watch it soon.

Now I'm going to go read the parts of the post that aren't about Marx Brothers.

Aki Alaraatikka said...

Desperen and Ellis. Are they the same man...

I`ve watched Tangled too. I liked it.

You really should stop watching bad movies...