Friday, July 21, 2006

Comedic Confusion

Okay, so it's Friday night, and I, yes, am sitting at home watching the Colbert Report rereun on Comedy Central, and suddenly there was an ad for Talledega Nights. And suddenly I starting thinking about it, and realized: What is up with the comedies being released lately? I'm not sure when it started, but suddenly there's this weird tier of comedies coming out, and they mostly star Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller (they also have some or all of the following:, Steve Carroll, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, David Koechner, Luke/Owen Wilson, and Vince Vaughn in them). Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Dodgeball. It's a long list.

Now, don't get me wrong, I actually really like all three of those movies (though Anchorman is the hardest to watch), but...where to do they come from? Why a sudden explosion of these sort of lower tier comedies (Zoolander, Mystery Men, Old School)? Did these movies exist in the 80s and I just didn't know about them? Movies seemed to be...bigger, when I was in highschool. Comedies, at least (I suppose there have always been schlocky, cheap horror films. Evil Dead, I'm lookin' at you.), were major studio releases. But, suddenly, in the mid-90s maybe, comedies became inexpensive and silly. Not all of them, obviously. I don't think Ben Stiller was exactly vying for an Oscar in Mystery men. But I also don't think he was just vying for a quick paycheck. I mean, it seems to me that these guys really feel like they're doing real work. And they are, because a lot of it, not all of it, is really funny. I think in all the movies I've named, I've found a lot to like. They've all made me laugh, and some I happily watch again (not all of them, but many of them). I think they offer decent comic roles for women I really like (Christine Taylor, Christina Applegate, Janeane Garafalo). But ultimately, they're confections. High in calories, low in actual food value. Meaning, of course, that they don't have any real lasting value or impact. They're not about characters, they're about stereotypes. They're not about ideas, about skewering presumptions and exploring society, they're about cheap laughs (and, I guess, they're cheap to make, as well).

I mean, will Anchorman even be funny in ten years? Or just painful? Some of these have more merit than others. I think the 40 Year Old Virgin is truely a funny movie, but Old School wasn't all that funny when it was released initially - how will it hold up?

I'm not sure what this says about us as a culture or a society. I was going to say that it seems like we used to make more nuanced and sophisticated comedies (Some Like it Hot, Philadelphia Story, Tootsie), but then I remembered Herbie the Love Bug. So maybe my whole premise is completely off base, and we've always made stupid, silly dumbass comedies, and I just never really noticed it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What I Love Now - July Edition

Killing Yourself to Live - Chuck Klosterman: Klosterman's drive across the country in a silver Taurus (called the Tauntaun) was ostensibly for the purpose of visiting places where rock stars died. And he does. Seeking out room 100 at the Chelsea hotel to see where Sid Vicious stabbed Nancy Spungeon, to the Lynryd Skynrd crash site, and the greenhouse where Kurt Cobain shot himself, Klosterman muses about his relationships with three separate women. I was impressed both Klosterman's ability to classify every woman with whom he has been involved as a member of KISS and with the volley of music references, only half to two-thirds which I caught (I am not the Music Maven). A fast and entertainng read, I fell in love a little bit with Klosterman.

Project Runway: A new season of draping and cutting and sniping by talented designers who will, one by one, fall by the wayside as they are auf'd by the beautiful Heidi Klum. Early favorites include a Barbie designer (Robert Best), a disturbingly restrained and elegant architect (Laura), and an Atlanta based hip hop designer (Michael Knight). Early dislikes? A snotty guy with a tattooed neck who barely escaped the chop in the first episode (Jeffry), a man teetering on the edge of madness, if he hasn't already fallen over (Vincent Libretti), and a creepy British guy who looks like the puppet from Saw (Malan). The casting special featured updates with season one and two finalists (Wendy Pepper has continued to drop weight and possibly has had some post-divorce surgery done, she looked great. Maybe she has a hideous portrait in her attic.), Jay McCarroll says his new line is coming out, Chloe Dao continues to live in Houston and run Lot 8, and Austin Scarlett has found his passion in designing wedding dresses.

The Dark Tower Series - Stephen King: after reading the first six books in six weeks, I thought it might be prudent to sit back and wait a bit on the last one, lest I overdose. But the story of Roland, the last gunslinger, and his journey across a multitude of worlds and realities with his ka-tet (we are one from many) of Eddie, a former junkie; Susannah, suffering from MPD (incorrectly defined as schizophrenia) and phantom pregnancy; Jake, a boy he let die once only to reclaim him; and Oy, the faithful billy bumbler who is smarter than they suspect, and his search for the Dark Tower and his hopes of saving not just his world, but all worlds, is compelling. King considers this series his masterpiece, and the more he wrote, the more he discovered that all his characters could, in the end, have a place in Mid-World. And I can't wait to find out how it turns out.

Brunch: No reason. I just really like brunch. Had a wonderful brunch at Harry's Tap Room in Clarendon, and while the eggs benedict were divine, I'm eager to go back and have the pancakes. Mmmmm.....pancakes....

Monty Python: Specifically, Spamalot. Following that fabulous brunch, I saw Spamalot, and man, it was so fun. Silly, profane, well staged, fun set, great music - pretty much everything I'm looking for in a musical. Some complete reproductions of dialog (Arthur's conversation with a sparrow obsessed guard, the taunting of a French night, the anarcho-communist collective, and, of course, the Knights who Say "Ni"), and new plot points to help a play along. Also, a rendition of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." The addition of the Lady of the Lake, and numerous songs. add to the complete silliness of the show. And, of course, the unmistakeable voice of John Cleese as God giving Arthur his mission to find the Grail in the first place.

Looking forward to: My Hawaiian vacation, Clerks 2 (I do love Kevin Smith), and my next book club.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Who Chooses to Call Themselves "Lizard King" Anyway?

So, I've recovered from my July 4th weekend. I celebrated our independence day this year in a time honored american fashion: a road trip. A nice little easy drive to, well, okay, Cleveland. Except for a couple of brief slowdowns around Frederick, the drive was actually quite smooth. It was also, appropriately enough, the fiftieth anniversary of our highway system. I figured that it was as good a time as any to avail myself of it.

My visits to Cleveland are really for the sole purpose of visiting the only people left there that I actually know and like: the Aikido twins, Nif and Laura. Nif has about a thousand friends, so she's always got stuff going on. Saturday night was a party at the house of a woman for whom Nif did some legal work. This woman's house was the sole regular house on a street filled with newly built townhouses. Inside her back gate was a fabulous garden with pathways, a waterfall and koi pond, a bar, and a garage that had been converted to a patio. The kitchen was amazing, and her downstairs space absolutely beautiful. I have never been so jealous of a rental property in my whole life. Sunday was a drive over to, well, we'll call it west of the city, to take a ferry over to an island called Put-in-Bay. Put-in-Bay is an old resort island with lake houses, little kitschy shops, some restaurants, and whole bunch of bars. Put-in-Bay, for the historically minded among you, was from where Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry launched the American fleet to fight the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. There's a big tower called the Perry Victory and International Peace Monument there, and it's the tallest thing on the island. Unfortunately, it's currently closed because lightening struck it and big chunk of rock fell off of it (I know! No one was hurt, so I wish I'd been there to see it.) When it's open you can climb up it and see across the lake to Canada. That evening featured a mini pub crawl (well, two bars and a brief stop off in a place playing that stupid "Proud to be an American" song, to which I said, "Oh, hell no," and with which everyone agreed. Our first stop was the Crescent, which featured a house band called The Maxx Band. And they featured... Wow, now that I'm actually to this point in the post, I'm not sure quite who to say this. They had a Jim Morrison imitator. Who called himself, yes, the Lizard King. The Lizard King wears leather pants and a pirate shirt. Where do you even buy a pirate shirt in this day and age? It was strongly reminiscent of the Puffy Shirt. I'll give him this, he certainly, um, committed, to the act. And he worked the crowd. In fact, the whole band was in the habit of leaving the stage and wandering the crowd. And, well, maybe you don't know this about me, but I get intensely embarrassed for performers who sing to people int he crowd. And, frankly, when you suddenly are confronted with someone singing at you and he is literally a half an inch away from your face, nightmares are sure to ensue. So, martinis were drunk, cover bands listened to, and fudge was bought. Isn't that what you do at the beach? We wound the weekend up with a viewing of Superman Returns. Long story short: Brandon Routh is a cutie (but should get his eyebrows waxed), Kate Bosworth is too young, Kevin Spacey rocks, Parker Posey also rocks but is under-utilized, and James Marsden needs to get a role in which he gets the girl.

So I once again availed myself of the highway and drove back home on the Fourth. Hit a quick barbecue at my brother's neighbor's house, saw some fireworks, fought the traffic through Falls Church, and finally made it home to a very, very annoyed cat.

So, a great Fourth of July, all told. Hope you all had a great one as well.