Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Onion Has Lost Their Mind

It's the month of December, so every publication is printing their "Best of the Year" lists. The Onion is no different. I picked up their year-end issue and perused my way through their "Best of" lists. (Most people read The Onion online, but, as I live within 50 miles of two of the 10 cities which distribute the print edition for free, I read the paper version.)

I looked at the Best Albums of the Year list. It was full of albums I've never heard of by bands I could give fuck-all about. Albums by Amy Winehouse, who "rocks like a '60s crack whore." (Not a real quote.) Or by "insert obscure indie rock band name here," who released a "solid, hook-filled rock album that...manages to translate the band's usual anti-capitalist screeds and industry-related laments into digestible, sing-along packages." (Unfortunately a real quote.) It's the same stuff that was on the list last year, and the year before, and etc, etc.

Then, I got to the bottom of the list, and came across the funniest misprint that wasn't actually a misprint. Right there, at number 23, behind all these pretentious records by rock critic spank bank bands, was Infinity on High, the newest record from Fallout Boy.

Fallout Boy? The same Fallout Boy with the lead singer that's a serious version of Jack Black? The same Fallout Boy with that ponce that's dating Ashlee Simpson? Yeah, that Fallout Boy.

Now, Fallout Boy is Top 40, emo band garbage, even somewhat below my tastes. And while I never agree with Best Of lists, I thought this was WAAAAAY below the uppity standards of any decent rock critic. (In the history of Best Album lists, I have agreed with two choices: Is This It by The Strokes and Exile from Guyville by Liz Phair. Everything else is just ridiculous.) But, maybe because I think that it's a shitty record means that rock critics love it. This seems to be the case with every other record; maybe it's the case here as well.

I checked out the two main homes of pretentious rock criticism, Rolling Stone and Spin. Both of their Best Album lists contained every album from The Onion's list...with the exception of that Fallout Boy album. So, either Fallout Boy's inclusion is indeed a misprint or one of their music editors is a 15 yr old girl.

Either way, it looks as though the bad taste exhibited in their news section has spilled over into their A.V. section. I can't wait to see what makes the list next year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Think I'm Turning Japanese

On Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs did what has become the adopting of Third World children of the baseball world, and signed Japanese baseball superstar Kosuke Fukudome to a four year, $48 million contract. (I'm not really sure how you pronounce that last name correctly, but I'm pretty sure it's not "Fuck-you-dome," as everyone at work calls him.) The Cubs become one of the latest in a list of teams that think that bringing talent from Japan could net them The Next Sadaharu Oh.

While we're on the subject of The Big Oh, I think people may be misled as to his great accomplishment, which was hitting 868 home runs, 100 more than than Bonds has hit in the same number of years. Back in the days when Oh played, the ballparks in Japan were about the size of Little League fields, with the foul poles in the 290 foot range, and 390 feet out to center. In a field that size, Hank Aaron would have hit 1000 home runs...a year. Nowadays, they play in regular-sized fields, and no one's been able to get even halfway to that record. Plus, I'm pretty sure baseball over there is quite similar to the video game RBI Baseball, where you're able to hit like 20 home runs in a game. And yet, teams think just because a guy is the best player in Japan that he's going to cross the ocean and be an immediate impact player on their team.

Here, let's play a little game: Name one player originally from Japan who is just as good here as he was there who is not named "Ichiro Suzuki."

Give up? Well, the answer's "no one," since no other Japanese players that have come over here have had their skills translate to American baseball. Not Hideki Matsui, who did more in fewer games in Japan than he's done with the Yankees. Not Daisuke Matsuzaka, who should be better than the second-best pitcher for a Red Sox team that paid $100 million to acquire him. Not Takashi Saito, who spent 13 years in Japan not being any good, only to come to America in the final years of his career. Not even Hideo Nomo, the guy who started this trend, who was just pretty average. (We got plenty of average, home-grown talent; no need to import it.) Just a lot of guys who were hot shit in Japan that aren't all that great over here.

The biggest problem with these guys is their limited upside. Since most of them have been playing in Japan for some time, by the time they get here, they're already in their 30s or fastly approaching it. They're in the primes of their careers right now, and it's only going backwards from here. (I suspect the days of players having a late-30s resurgence are over with. They'll just get old and retire from now on.) Ichiro is easily on pace to break Pete Rose's hit record; too bad he'll be as old as Rose (who played until he was 87) was when he does it, and that'd only be like 18 seasons!

Fukudome is already 31. Forty eight mil for a guy about to start the downslope of his career seems like a lot to me. It's one thing if you want to bring an old guy like Crash Davis up from the minors for the league minimum. It's quite another to import one who's never played in America before at $10 mil a year. (Dice-K, who's only 27, is a steal at $6 mil.)

But, what do I know? I don't run a baseball team. I think paying a $51 million tariff on a guy is a bad deal, but this is obviously something that time and life experience teaches you is "a good deal."

What's that? Theo Epstein's the same age as I am?!?

Hmmm. Maybe that was a pretty stupid deal after all.

I Am Lightly Disappointed

I recently had an opportunity to see the new Will Smith actioner I Am Legend. For those of you who know nothing about the movie, it's the third adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel of the same name. But, while it has the pedigree of being the only adaptation to bear the name of the novel, it's actually just a remake of adaptation #2, The Omega Man, which had nothing to do with the novel other than the "last man on Earth" theme. (Oddly enough, The Last Man on Earth was the first adaptation of I Am Legend, and the most loyal, as its screenplay was actually written by Matheson.)

So, basically, what you end up with is a warmed-over version of a movie that wasn't that good to begin with. The new special effects are nice, making New York City actually look deserted, instead of just looking like it was filmed in abandoned back alleys. But the "infected" humans look stupid and their increased presence at the end of the film turns this into just another mindless action movie, instead of the study of loneliness that Matheson originally intended.

And speaking of which...the major theme of the book and all three movies has been what happens to a person when they are subjected to complete loneliness, the complete absence of anyone else but you. The book and movies portray this as a bad thing.

To be quite honest, that would be my ideal existence. In this new movie, Will Smith seems to have fun standing on the deck of the USS Intrepid, hitting golf balls off the tailfin of a Blackbird. And going to the video store and interacting with the assorted mannequins he has set up throughout the city. But, the fun all ends when he mopes back to his lab to think about how lonely he is, and find a cure for the virus that wiped out the population.

I think being the last man on earth would be great. Imagine where you could live; imagine what you could do. Smith refuses to leave the island of Manhattan; no wonder he's so pissed (although he does appear to have plundered New York's Museum of Modern Art). Me, I'd be all over the place. Hell, I'd be happy just to drive around town, knowing that I'm not going to have to deal with all the mongoloid drivers. I'd live in Las Vegas, on an entire floor of suites in the Wynn. I'd drive a Lamborghini backwards down the highway. I'd shoot small and large arms fire at all the condos and timeshares. I'd light my cigarettes with $100 bills and use a pile of gold bouillon as a hot plate. And not a person in the world to stop me.

"Last man on Earth"? Hardly. More like, "Best Man on Earth"!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Little Norman Mailer To Pass The Time

For no reason other than I'm psychotic, I've always been a fan of Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance. I've read the book and seen the movie of the same name that Mailer himself wrote and directed. And while it ranks as one of Mailer's lesser works, I've always liked it, particularly the title, which I've long used as a motto.

Now, I'm a little behind the times here, as Mailer has been dead for a month now, but, I thought, as a tribute to him and that great piece of shit book, I'd stick a clip from his equally great piece of shit movie over in the sidebar.

Maybe I'm just talking out of my ass here, but I think this may be Ryan O'Neal's greatest bit of acting ever.

Check it out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Once Again, Someone Goes Out Of Business, And I Make Out Like A Bandit

It's a shame when stores go out of business, but, when you can't make it in the marketplace, maybe you deserve to go out. And I'm usually one of the first guys standing at the door to pick over the remains (like the time I bought every good movie Sam Goody had at their going-out-of-business sale). I recently had an opportunity to do so again.

Tragically, the business going under was Premiere Video, probably the best video store in The JVL. I've referenced them here before as the only place in town I could find the Bourne movies. (I've noticed that since I posted that, both Blockbuster and Family Video now carry multiple copies. I don't think it has anything to do with the fact a new one just came out...) And, while they always had a great selection of movies, and the best selection of VHS movies this side of 2003, they just couldn't compete with Blockbuster and Family Video, both of which now have two stores here in town. Even I, a loyal patron, saw my visits decrease after I got hooked on the rent-o-rama that is Blockbuster Total Access.

And so, they went out of business. But not before they had a going-out-of-business sale. And, while I find it tragic that this great little business went under, The Girl and I had no problem plundering their stock. Here's what I made out with from their DVDs:

The Dark Crystal, Patton, Series 7, Land of the Dead, Out of Sight, Valentine, Friday the 13th, Erin Brockovich, The Fog, Manhunter, Spinal Tap, Ripley's Game, and The Omen.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, Premiere Video had a huge selection of VHS tapes. (Up until three years ago, their VHS section took up half the store. They had shit that doesn't exist in any format anymore.) And, since I refuse to accept VHS as a dead format (hell, I just got rid of my SelectaVision player last year), we scored in the VHS section as well with a lot of truly vintage shit:

Fried Green Tomatoes, When a Stranger Calls, Johnny Dangerously, April Fool's Day, Body Double, Stand by Me, Flowers in the Attic, The Lost Boys, The Amityville Horror, The Witches of Eastwick, The Dead Zone, and The Omen 2. (BTW, all the movies here are the originals and not the remakes. There was one exception, which was Psycho, which The Girl mistakenly picked up, thinking it was the original. It was promptly thrown out the window upon discovery.)

How big a score was this? Twenty six movies for less than $80. You can't even rent 26 movies for less than $80. And, compared to other people, we didn't even get that many movies. We bought those over the three days of the sale: I went the first day, we both went the second, and then we checked out what was left on the last day. There were people who bought at least that many just on one day, and I'm sure they came back, as the prices decreased by $2 every day. (While we only picked up movies we actually liked, there are some that were buying shit because it was cheap. I saw one guy buying Chill Factor. Yeah, that's right: Chill Factor. I wouldn't take that movie if it were free. I'm sure Cool As Ice and Stone Cold also managed to make their way into someones' collections.)

Like I said before, I wish Premiere had stayed in business. But, if they did, how would I be able to get Johnny Dangerously for a buck?

Another one of the tragic ironies of life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Futurama Returns

For fans of the show, it was a dark day when Fox rather ungraciously ushered Futurama off the air four years ago. The brainchild of Matt Groening, it was probably one of the smartest shows to air on TV at the time (which is probably why Fox, which also airs the stupidest shows on TV, was so quick to cancel it (yet they keep bringing back Family Guy)) and was actually better than Groening's other show, The Simpsons, for the time it was on. But, that didn't last.

So, it was off to the video and syndication market for Futurama. And this caused something odd to happen. (Well, not really odd, as the same thing happened to Family Guy.) During Comedy Central's negotiation to pick up the syndication rights for Futurama, due to good DVD sales and high-rated reruns on Cartoon Network, Fox claimed it was open to producing a sixth season of the show, which would air on Comedy Central when they began showing the reruns in 2008. It was decided that, instead of producing 16 new episodes, four feature-length movies would be produced, which would be reedited into episodic format for the sixth season.

This has been in the works for two years. And now we have the first of those movies: Bender's Big Score.

Let me start off by saying that Futurama has lost nothing in its four year absence. In fact, as someone who's seen every episode, I can say that this movie may be the best Futurama episode(s) ever (unlike The Simpsons Movie, which isn't even as good as some individual episodes). The entire voice cast is back, as is most of the writing and production staff, and everyone's at the top of their games. So on top of their games that they have concocted the most complicated story ever, like Mission: Impossible-complicated. But, if you follow the story, it's great. If this is any indication of the quality of the other movies, I think we might be looking at Futurama's best season.

Seeing as this is a stand-alone DVD release (for the moment), there's some nice extras. The commentary with a good portion of cast and crew is funny and informative. And while I didn't watch a lot of the other features, I did watch a rather fascinating lecture on mathematical facts and figures that appear in Futurama. (It sounds dry, I know, but it just goes to show you how clever this show can be.)

I wish there were going to be more than just sixteen new episodes, but, hey, 16 new episodes sure beats zero. And, hey, Fox canceled Family Guy twice, and it's aired almost 50 episodes since they brought it back. If a show that stupid can get a second/third chance like that, I'm sure we can look forward to more Futurama in the futurama.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Last Five Movies

Hitman (2007)
Remember that Stallone movie Assassins? Yeah, me neither, but, if I did, I'd say this movie was about the same, except maybe a little more stylishly done. Plus, it's got T-Bag from Prison Break; how do ya not like that?

Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Yet more proof that the public is best served by Ben Affleck being an off-screen presence. Much better writer/director than he is an actor (even though he was the bomb in Phantoms). And, just for the record, Casey Affleck's character makes the wrong choice at the end. For the record.

Skinwalkers (2007)
A movie in which every character is some sort of werewolf vampire. Basically, a really poorly-made ripoff of Underworld. The only entertaining part of this movie was the scene in which all the townsfolk drop everything they're doing to participate in a gun fight. Dumbest...scene...ever.

Stir of Echoes, Part Deux (2006)
A made-for-TV sequel to the Kevin Bacon movie of the same name. Not really connected to the first film at all (with the exception of one character) and not entertaining at all. In fact, I was so disappointed that I watched the first Stir of Echoes directly after to make myself feel better. Props, however, go out to the movie for setting part of the action in my hometown of Rockford, IL. But that's about it. Everyone not from Rockford (ie, 99.99% of the population) need not watch.

A no-brainer, what with all the crap I've seen over the past couple o' weeks:

No Country for Old Men (2007)
As good as everyone claims it is; a must-watch for fans of Blood Simple. And I don't know whether to attribute the quality of writing to the Coens or Cormac McCarthy, who wrote the book, but I'd say a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination is a pretty safe bet. Yes, it does drag at times, and has the most abrupt ending in the history of movies, but it's still great.

Check it out.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Goddamned Writers' Strike

If you've read this blog more than once, you know I watch a lot of TV. Needless to say, I'm a little pissed about this Writers' Strike, now entering its second month.

The strike came at a time when most TV shows were about halfway through their production schedules, meaning most shows had around 10-15 episodes in the can before their writers walked out. Others, like Lost and 24, which started production later due to their January premiere dates, have even fewer and may not even come out on time. At least one show that I can think of (Heroes: Origins) has been shitcanned altogether. And as we're already about 10 weeks into the new TV season, every show is going into reruns to preserve their remaining new episodes, regardless of whether they had a hiatus scheduled or not. It's a really great deal for the TV viewer.

I'm going to change gears here for a moment. I've worked in the auto industry for a number of years, and have had to deal with the United Auto Workers for every one of them. The UAW is a huge union, with over half a million active members. (The two Writers Guilds have about 12,000.) Their union contract with the auto manufacturers is the size of the Greater Los Angeles white pages. Every and anything the union can get from the car makers they will take. And, over the years, they've taken a lot.

In September and October, the UAW struck two of the Big Three American car companies, after negotiations on their new contracts broke down. The major sticking points in the negotiations were healthcare and the establishment of a company-funded, union-run retiree pension fund. These were both huge points for the auto makers, as legacy costs have nearly driven the Big Three (especially GM) to the brink of bankruptcy. Now, I can see why you would strike over these points, as healthcare is an extremely important (and expensive) issue for companies and employees alike.

The two strikes lasted three days each. The UAW agreed to pay for some of their health care, agreed to the new pension deal, took a one-time bonus in lieu of yearly wage increases, agreed to the establishment of a two-tier wage scale, and took the auto makers' word on increased production in the US. It doesn't seem like the UAW got a whole lot out of the deal, but, trust me: They got exactly what they wanted.

That being said, the UAW looks like a poverty-stricken monastic order compared to the Writers Guilds. Basically, the point of contention in their negotiations is that they want a cut of everything that can make money. Advertising revenue from internet broadcasts, royalties from DVD sales, even profits from reality programming, which doesn't even have writers (except for The Hills, which is about as spontaneous as a glacier). They even want any possible revenue from internet-only content, which makes no money. In short, if there's money involved, they want a cut.

I read that the average Guild member makes $60,000 a year. Hardly slave wages. And they want every possible royalty on top of that. Most unionized employees would be ecstatic to make that much. Yet I don't see them clamoring for royalties. Can you imagine if the UAW demanded that they be paid a percentage of every vehicle sold? Or if garbage men asked for a bonus based on the amount of trash collected? Their respective employers would laugh in their faces and fire the whole fucking lot and start from scratch. And those are jobs that make the world go 'round, so to speak.

But, apparently it's ok for a bunch of dingleberries who write TV shows to expect to be compensated thusly, and still expect to keep their jobs. I do appreciate the fact that the networks are retaliating by firing the non-writing staffs of their shows: no money coming in, no need for money to go out. Gotta save up the money that these asshole writers are going to end up making while you can.

So, until the strike comes to a close, enjoy the reruns and endless hours of reality programming the networks will be showing in lieu of original programming. I know you'll enjoy it as much as I will.