Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fred Simmons is "King of the Demo"

Click here to see Danny McBride on Conan O'Brien's show Tuesday night. Unlike most film actors who come on talk shows to promote an upcoming movie, usually to trot out some "funny" stories from the set, Danny came out completely in-character as Fred Simmons, the "hero" of the upcoming "Foot Fist Way," and did some exceptional work. The movie's hilarious, and Danny's brilliant in it (ditto Jody and Ben), but what I was most impressed/surprised by when watching his appearance on Conan, was how subtle and in-the-moment he could be on what is essentially a live show. For instance, when Conan uses the word "Mecca" in a question, Danny, abashed, leans over to ask what the word means. There were a lot of obvious ways to sell the character's ignorance, but Danny, fully committed to selling the reality of Fred Simmons, a hapless Tae Kwon Do instructor from Concorde, North Carolina, goes for complete naturalism First he considers answering the question without knowing the meaning of the word, thinks better of it, then leans into Conan and, with a little laugh, asks him what the word means. When Fred arrives at his own understanding of the word as "where my business is at," it just kills.

Some other highlights:
1.) Fred telling Will Farrell to be quiet during "his time."
2.) Will Farrell trying to hide a smile during the interview.
3.) Fred's preoccupation with which cameras are recording what.

Anyway, it's a lot of fun to watch. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Democratic Debate, The Resurgence of an Old Word, and Thoughts on the 80th Academy Awards

The debate's about to start, and I thought I ought to post up a blog post while it's going on. You only really have to pay attention to the questions and the first parts of the candidates' answers to know what's going on.

[Holy cow, Tim Russert's got what looks like a passel of moles on his face. Jeez. Is he unwell? Maybe it's just bad lighting.]


While puzzling through a re-reading of "Moby Dick" late last year (yeah, I have some time on my hands), I encountered a word that stumped me: counterpane. I'd never seen it before. Through context and repeated usage, I discovered the word is a nineteenth-century word for a comforter, as in a thick, bed-covering blanket. For dorks like me, that's kind of fun to know. Seeing it again in another book written during the same time period, I figured it was an obsolete word, relegated to a bygone age, and so set to annoying my wife and others by using it when using the word "comforter" would be the less-annoying choice. But it turns out I was mistaken about the word "counterpane." It's not a relic after all. While reading Stephen King's new book, "Duma Key," I discovered King using the term. Looking it up on, the word "counterpane" is classified as "older use"; just short of obsolete, I guess. Well, maybe King's a closet word-nerd. But finishing the very short new book by Ian McEwan, "On Chesil Beach" this evening, I came across it again. So it's official: "counterpane" has either made a comeback in the 21st-century, or, more likely, novelists have been using it forever and I'm only now catching on. Anyway. My wife thought I should bore all of you with this; you know, share the pain.

And no, you can't have that minute back.

So, the Oscars! What a dreary show, first off. I guess uncertainty about whether or not the strike would be over in time for the Oscars ultimately wrecked the show more than I'd predicted. I would figure 10 days would be more than enough time to write and film one of those great filmed intros with all the requisite celeb cameos and in-jokes, but, as it turns out. Nope. Ten days is just enough time to write a short okay-ish monologue and a bunch of patter for the stars to read off a teleprompter. But complaints about the broadcast aside, I was happy to see "No Country for Old Men" do so well in the major categories. For the last couple years the Academy's done an admirable job of handing the Best Picture Oscar to the film that I thought was actually the best picture of the year. I was similarly pleased to see that the irrational exuberance over "Juno" didn't result in a lot of hasty Oscars a la "Crash" or "Million Dollar Baby." It was a good movie and all, but not, I thought, one of the top five movies of the year.

Some other thoughts about the show: I really liked the Best Song award-winner and the couple singing it did an excellent job performing it live. [I'm trying to find it on iTunes now and I discover the track is an 'Album Only' purchase. Oh well.] I'm thinking I'm going to have to check that movie out. Tilda Swinton gave a weird and surprisingly earthy, funny speech, which is in total contrast to the characters she's always asked to play, which are usually cold and remote. Her giving Clooney shit for being in "Batman and Robin" in front of millions of people was ballsy and hilarious. And I also liked seeing the cutaway to Cormac McCarthy standing up and cheering when Denzel read out the Best Picture award winner. Looking at the awards altogether, I think it's a little disheartening that in 2007, a year widely-considered one of the best years for movies in recent memory, that only one of the top five nominated films made more than $100 million dollars. Hopefully next year we can look forward to a few movies that turn out to be both commercial and critical successes in the same vein as "The Godfather," "Jaws," and "Silence of the Lambs."

And, totally unrelated, take a look at this. Kinda fun. It's Jimmy Kimmel's response to girlfriend Sarah Silverman's video, "I'm F#%king Matt Damon." It's a little over-wrought, maybe a little overdone, and not as funny as Silverman's, but it had me grinnin'.

[So the debate's over. I thought, and this is no surprise coming from me, Obama won, but I did think that Hillary's probably not being paranoid when she says the media's giving Obama an easier time than they've been giving her. I think that the debate moderators, and Russert in particular, seem to enjoy throwing hardballs at Hillary where Obama rarely sees anything trickier than a curveball when he's up to bat. I don't know for sure whether that's a function of media bias (as Tina Fey and the SNL writers seem to think) or just that reporters and debate moderators don't have as much to go after Obama with as they do with Hillary on account of her longer record. Anyway, an interesting debate, but at this point, I'm not sure how illuminating these things are anymore. The issues they've decided to "differ" on have been hashed out endlessly over these 20 Q&A's and I don't think there's any new information to be gleaned in by having more "debates" in this kind of format. I think Tuesday's primaries in Texas, Ohio, and Vermont will end up being decisive. Needless to say, I'm very excited about where this race is headed.]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Drawing is Fun, But Also Serious

I'm nearly finished reading Stephen King's latest novel, "Duma Key." Maybe I'll do a review of it once I'm done with it, but for now I'll just briefly say this: after an excellent first half, the plot has begun to unravel a bit. Events that happen in the second half weren't set up very well in the first, and the supernatural universe in which "Duma Key" is set, seems to expand conveniently to suit the needs of the plot. Not totally unlike how some have characterized my own book. Maybe having read and absorbed everything the guy's written over all these years has influenced my own work in ways I hadn't realized; right down to mimicking his weak endings. Ah well.

Anyway, another effect of reading the book is that it's given me a drawrin' itch. And not the kind you can get rid of with various ointments and creams. The hero of the story, Edgar Freemantle, has an accident, loses an arm, and moves to Florida to decide whether or not he wants to keep house on this mortal coil. He soon discovers a latent artistic ability in himself that produces masterpiece after masterpiece. Whether his medium is pencils or paint, he can do no wrong. Of course something else might be at work, but that's for another blog post. King's glowing, some might say overheated, descriptions of the ecstasy of production and the cheering crowd-inducing quality of the finished products incite a kind of "art longing" in me. So, in addition to a few drawing table misfires, I've been daydreamily perusing some websites and blog featuring oodles of fantastic artwork, much of which seems deceptively simple to execute, and saying to myself, "I could do something like that." Well, as Hillary's been saying a lot of late, there's a difference between saying and doing. Here are a couple of sites I've been looking at that you might like to check out.

1.) "The Perry Bible Fellowship." I haven't done much reading on the artist behind it, Nicholas Gurewich, but I've gone through nearly all the comics posted on his site, one by one, and with the exception of Larsen's "The Far Side", I know of no more consistently hilarious comic strip. Many are done in an artistic style specific to the content of the strip, almost always wittily employed to heighten the comic effect. For instance, take a look at this strip entitled "Utter Pig." It's style -- suggesting a children's fable -- smashes up brilliantly with it's dark and subversive content. He makes it look so easy, and he makes it damn funny.

2.) A how-to blog by Mad Magazine caricaturist Tom Richmond. He makes sitting out at amusement parks and drawing bad caricatures of sweaty kids driving tiny cars day all day seem worth it if doing so means that one day you can draw caricatures this funny and this spot-on. He goes through the basics of caricature drawing, talking about the five shapes, head, eye one, eye two, nose and mouth, and that the heavy lifting in caricatures is done when the artist gets the relationship between these shapes right. To the left is Richmond's caricatures of Ben Emerson, the guy who plays villain Ben Linus on "Lost," and Jake Gyllenhaal, he of "Brokeback" fame. Richmond goes on to say that one of the three components of a good caricature is "Statement", or editorializing on the part of the artist. I think I know what editorial comment Richmond's making with the Gyllenhaal caricature. No one said the Mad guys were subtle. Funny, yes. Subtle, no.

And then there's this guy:

3.) Craig Thompson's blog. As anyone who's read Thompson's excellent "Blankets" knows, Thompson has a very unique, very clean style that manages to cut right through all the tricks of technique and style to get to the heart of whatever emotion he's trying to convey. Thompson hasn't put anything out since "Blankets" that comes close in size or scope or ambition (just a couple of his travel journals filled with coffee-shop sketches excellent enough to give any artist sketchbook-envy), but if you're interested to see what he's been up to, and a good sampling of his post-"Blankets" artwork, his blog's a good place to go.

Anyway. I should go and draw something.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Link to A Big Teaser Becomes a Rambling Diatribe Against the Writerly Impulse to Overexplain

On the campaign trail of late, Obama's been telling crowds "we're the one's we've been waiting for." That's a great phrase, inspiring and all of that. But also, as it turns out, totally wrong.

Here's the one I've been waiting for.

The montage of the previous movies in this teaser didn't do anything for me, but the footage of the new film makes "Crystal Skull" look like, at the very least, a good time at the movies. Harrison seems to wear his 60's well, Shia doesn't annoy me right off the bat, and the action looks suitably Indiana-Jonesy.

I do worry, though, that this movie is going to try and tie together the other three movies in a deeply stupid and unnecessary way, and from what I've gleaned in these months of pre-production, I think they might be.

When a franchise goes on for more than a few movies, the temptation is always there to explain itself. Look at the Hannibal movies. The fourth movie takes us into Hannibal's childhood to explain why Hannibal eats people. No one was clamoring for that answer. Take, for another example, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." I know it's a comic book, but it's a good example of this bad impulse in otherwise good writers. In the first few installments of "League", we follow a bunch of 19th-century literary characters as they fight baddies who threaten Victorian England. However, when we get to the most recent "League", titled "Black Dossier," Alan Moore decides that no reader can possibly tolerate not knowing for even one more "League" story how a bunch of totally fictional characters can jump outside the books from whence they came and be actors in the real (although still fictional) world. So instead of non-stop comics fun, we get a long and needlessly obscure explanation of some inter-dimensional Valhalla (rendered in pages which require the wearing of 3-D glasses) in which all things and all people and all characters live together in harmony. So my point is this: if Lucas and Spielberg and whomever else decide to tie the mythos of the three Indiana Jones-film artifacts together so as to tie them to a neat macro-mythos, then I worry they'll be doing a lot of hard work for no good reason, and will be misallocating resources away from just making another entertaining Indiana Jones movie. I know that's a lot to infer from a teaser and some early promotional tidbits I've seen on movie gossip sites, but it's all I have to go on. So we'll just have to see this summer.

Anyway. If anyone can pull off goofy over-explanation and needless tying-together, it's Little Stevie Spielberg.

Anyway. Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Pineapple Express" Slams into the Internet

Thanks to everyone for their happy birthday wishes. I did indeed turn 31 on Monday, the 11th. I am now officially in my 30s. Yeah I know, I was 30 for a whole year, but thirty itself is kind of a novelty. Not so with 31. Thirty-one is deadly serious. But anyway, I did have a very nice birthday, and thanks for asking. You guys are great.

On Wednesday of last week, friend (and blog reader!) Peter Fedak, accompanied by his lovely wife Daniele, flew south from the wilds of suburban D.C. to visit my wife and I here in Marietta. Fun was had. Though we didn't get to spend a whole lot of time with Daniele -- she was the Matron of Honor at her friend's wedding, after all, and had to attend to her matronly duties -- we got a lot of time to hang out with (sigh) Peter. In addition to playing LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga all the way through the "Attack of the Clones" section, we toured many of Marietta's big box outlets in search of video games and, later, video projectors. Actually pretty fun. Anyway, it was great seeing them.

Anyway, the reason I'm posting today is because a good friend emailed me a link to a leaked NSFW R-rated trailer for David Green's "Pineapple Express" this morning, and I just had to post that goodness up on the blog. The trailer's great all by itself, but the movie looks like something really different and good. I don't know too much about "Express", but I'm definitely interested in seeing it this August. And by the way, the song they use in the trailer, M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes", is damn catchy. I downloaded it the second I finished watching the trailer and I've been listening to it all day. Anyway, check out the trailer.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Votin' Day!

I voted today!

It was on an electronic voting machine, so my vote will probably go to Mitt Romney, but, who cares! It's great to finally get my chance to cast an actual vote. So Obama, who's leading here in Georgia by, according to the most recent polls 49% to Hillary's 41%, will, thanks to me, be one vote closer to winning one of the larger states in contention today. My polling place wasn't crowded, and there were plenty of voting machines, all of which were in working order. How was voting in your various necks of the woods? Drudge was reporting that some Los Angelenos were having problems voting. Has this been anyone's experience?

Like a lot of you, I'll be watching the returns tonight. It'll be interesting to see how California, the biggest prize of the night for both parties, breaks down between the major candidates. If it's close, we won't know the winner until well into the morning hours of tomorrow. It's a crazy election, and nothing seems certain.

Here's another example of the craziness going on during the primary season:

On my way to my polling place, I listened to Glenn Beck trash McCain on the local right-wing crazy AM station. On my way home from lunch after voting, I listened to Rush Limbaugh trash McCain on the same station. The Republican party is unabashedly self-cannibalizing on nationally-syndicated radio, which makes me think that the vote I cast for the Democratic nominee I vote for today will help determine who the 44th President of the United States will be. If "conservatives", or at least those who feel guys like Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Ingraham, and Coulter represent their views, are really up in arms over the prospect of John McCain being the Republican nominee, then a lot of them will stay home this fall. Pit that demoralized segment against an energized Democratic electorate, and I like our odds in November that much more. BTW: where the hell were all these newly energized Dems back in '04? The prospect of another four years of Bush wasn't sufficiently terrifying? Damn fickle voters.

Anyway. Also: thanks for all the good comments on my "There Will Be Blood" post. I feel like I actually understand the movie a bit better after reading your takes on the film. Finally, this blog is starting to pay off!