Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Case for an end to Ugliness

I really have enjoyed Ugly Betty. Sure, it was much better in the beginning, with Rebecca Romjin playing (arguably) one of the most successful man-woman conversions ever, Salma Hayek showing up as a Latina love interest, the fresh skewering of fashion world foibles, and, my personal favourite, the cuts away to an outrageous Spanish soap opera that was even more outlandish than Ugly Betty itself.

But then, the show has had ongoing pillars of strength in the beautifully b!tchy Vanessa Williams, Judith "Who's the Drunken Boss?" Light, Becky Newton as a demented receptionist (and who like Ms Williams had some of the most expressive eyebrows ever seen on the small screen), and of course the gorgeous America Ferrera and her real womanly curves dressing down to play the frumpy Betty. Even old Wolfgang West himself showed up as a muscle-bound bounder - albeit an Australian one.

As much fun as it was, it is coming to an end very soon on New Zealand screens. It's not really a surprise that it was not really a Kiwi thing, considering it has been on the Gilmore graveyard timeslot for a couple of series now. With the demise of Scrubs, that just leaves (if I count correctly) Glee as the remaining beacon of American insanity brightening up the screen, though a recent comment by Dai Henwood on 7 Days showed the disrespect with which that show is viewed by a probably fairly sizable portion of the New Zealand viewing public.

Back to Betty: I did enjoy the show, but will probably not mourn its passing. Strange to say, but as much as I enjoyed the characters, the characters themselves would have had to stay static to remain as enjoyable. This was one series where character development was actually counterproductive, as it moves them away from the stereotypes that the characters were meant to exemplify. Later attempts to reel some of them back to the straight and narrow (not literally speaking of course) could not really stretch credibility any further, but actually just got a little boring.

Never mind. Ugly Betty came, saw, and conquered, fell into decline, and quite soon will end up as a rather pleasant memory. At least the final series didn't plunge to the depressing depths of Parker Lewis Can't Lose, a show I utterly adored, but which ended on a note so completely out of step with what came before as to almost totally ruin my fond memories.

Verdict: It was loud, brash, colourful, but not really that ugly. Adios Ugly Betty. Buenos noches. 4 sombreros out of 5.

Some Ugly Betty Quotes:

"Remember, we only make others feel bad to make you feel good!" -- Fashion TV Presenter

"You are evil. I'm so going as you for Halloween." -- Marc to Wilhelmina

"He's not my brother. My only brother is my sister, Alexis." -- Daniel, on newfound half-brother Tyler.

"Ten bucks says there's a coat in there made of Dalmatian puppies!" -- Christina to Betty, about Wilhelmina's closet

"What, I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you, your shirt is too loud." - Betty to Marc

"Back when my mother, father and sister all worked here, people used to think I got preferential treatment, too." -- Daniel to Betty, on working at Mode

"Thank God it's hunting season. If I can't have the man that I want, at least I can kill something." -- Wilhelmina

"Wow, I've never known anyone who's been blackmailed before. It's so All My Children, which I used to watch with my mother, and I don't know why I just said that." -- Henry

"There weren't any hotties in Africa. I mean, they're thin, but it's sick thin, not hot thin." -- Becks

"It's so great to work with people who actually eat." -- Betty


And as a complete aside, I was almost reassured when I heard that TVNZ is doing a "50 years of news" special tonight. And then the kicker came, "as voted by you!". Four heralds of television apocalypse... though perhaps I am being a bit... negative.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Case for Alpha Males

It was big and stupid. “Well laid plans” relied on so much coincidence and suspension of disbelief that these people could have caught Osama in a few hours. Some of the action sequences were so ludicrous that not even digital effects by WETA could make them look realistic. And, boy, was it heaps of fun.

The A Team, on the run for a crime they didn’t commit, is a really good big screen interpretation of a small screen TV classic. Icons from the original – the van, Mr T’s haircut, the lack of swearing and (for the most part) blood, and liberal uses of the recognisable theme tune – are all used to great effect here, though modern sensibilities run through in the shady CIA agents (rather than rogue elements in military command; can’t criticise the men in action these days) and the one female character now able to stand toe to toe with the men in a fight.

The cast is well chosen. I am not a fan of Liam Neeson’s American accent, but he is commanding and charismatic as Hannibal. Quinton Jackson playing B A Baracus is certainly big and tough enough, though his distinct lack of bling shows that there is no replacing Mr T. Bradley Cooper plays ladies’ man Face as swaggering rather than the cool charming Dirk Benedict of the TV series, but then that just means he is more believable as a hardened army veteran. And finally, Dis
trict 9’s Sharlto Copley as Murdoch steals the character show, much like Dwight Shultz did in the TV series, even getting to employ his gold old South African accent a couple of times.

As these characters are fairly established in the minds of those who know the TV show, the actors don’t have to do a lot of work here, but the fact that they do tweak them a bit, modernise them, and make them their own is what really makes the movie work. The assorted baddies and goodies both helping and plotting against them are all fairly two dimensional, though they are given a little bit of personality to make them at least interesting. The A Team, of course, are completely two dimensional – as they should be.

Of course, the actors are given a long time to make the characters theirs, as the film is over two hours long. But, chock full of action sequences and set pieces and some of the most well timed transfers between types of transport imaginable, the time just seemed to fly by, and every person who accompanied me to this film sang its praises – figuratively of course, as this was not a musical episode of a movie outing.

Verdict: A short and sweet review for what is a long but sweet film. As the Fonz would say, the A Team movie definitely deserves an Ayyyyyy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Case for the End of Movie Days

I watched 2012 last night, which is that fairly slow and ponderous movie about the end of the world as we know it, which I always find amusing - especially as by the end we are kind of meant to be rooting for the monied elite who have left the huddled masses to die in their ignorance of the impending armageddon.

I find these kind of films fascinating, the many ways in which the world is meant to end. Meteor impacts were the thing a decade or so ago, and last night there was also the screening of the other popular extra terrestrial method of mankind's annihilation - extra terrestrials themselves, in their big, White House destroying Independence Day space ships.

But it is also fascinating to see how the movie makers manipulate (or attempt to) the audience to make us root for heroes who are, obviously, going to be saved from disaster that must, by definition, cause the near-extinction of the human species. Back to 2012, the fact that [spoiler alert] salvation lay in deepest China (well, I think it was in Tibet, so perhaps your politics will dictate how "Chinese" you view that; but I digress) and that we were expected to root for 5 westerners to make it over the bodies of millions of other Americans and a billion-odd Chinese was, for me a little hard to take.

Which probably explained why I fast-forwarded through a lot of the "emotional bonding" scenes, so that I could just enjoy the scenes of death and destruction without the added complication of battling attempted-manipulative nausea. Truth be told, I really appreciate the imagination and special effects that goes into portraying how we are extinguished with a bang rather than a whimper - I just don't want the need for movies to try and inject a "human element" into this kind of story to get in the way of my enjoyment.

Verdict: Death, destruction, degradation... that's tonight's family viewing on Television New Zealand. And what fun we will have. Lots of deaths out of the human population.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Case for Airline Attendees

A few weeks ago now, I mentioned that I would start up another taxonomy of people, this time for air travellers.

As much as all people are different, there are people who, in certain situations, conform to a set of habits that seem to be shared by a whole lot of others out there. Book fairs are rife with people who go in with certain agendas and who organise themselves in particular ways, and so sitting back and watching them (or being shoved out of the way by them) is a fascinating study in human behaviour.

I get a similar sense of wonder when I sit back and watch others on planes. By "watching others", I don't mean ogling or anything (though I won't claim that I don't do a bit of that as well). I actually mean watching what people do and how they behave. And some types of behaviour you see on almost every flight.

Getting on board

The Troublesome Checkin

I have had my own lengthy check ins, due to baggage weight or issues with connections, but by "troublesome", I really mean that the person behind the desk and the traveller end up in some kind of loop discussion about some minor issue, or else some fairly major one, that one party seems incapable of fully comprehending. This is definitely the case where many cooks spoil the broth, as a family of Troublesome Checkins or meeting a Troublesome Checkin officer behind the counter can take exponentially more time to get their issue resolved than a one-on-one issue. Lesson to learn here: get to the airport early.

The Metallica

Some people obviously do not realise that jet travel these days requires a scan through a metal detector. These are the people who decide to wear and carry every piece of metal that they have ever owned, and then get all perplexed and flustered when asked to remove said objects before stepping through the scanner. This is not a new phenomenon: see the person removing his artificial limbs in the Flying High spoof to see how this behaviour has been with us since air travel first flirted with security.

The OverheadHogger

It says when you enter a plane that you only have one piece of hand luggage. Unless you happen to have a handbag as well. Or have a lap top. Or have bought some duty free. Or... well, for whatever reason, some people board with a ludicrous number of bags. This in itself is not so much a problem, if they are small and discrete and don't take up too much room. But the worst offenders tend to have the biggest bags filled as much voluminous material as they can find. I try and carry as few bags as I can even if that meant one bag was laden with a tonne load of books (though I never do that now, airline internet big brothers out there...).

The Whosdat?

There are some fascinating people who board planes. I have seen some short Australian MTV people, some All Blacks or former thereof, some politicians, some stunners, some shockers and some who draw attention to themselves by what they say and do in as loud a manner as possible. And then, of course, there are the people who strain their necks to see them all. And yes, I can be one of them.

The NotSorryI'mLate

Their names have resounded through the terminal dozens of times, and on board the plane, people have settled and noticed the door remains open and the gangway extended. Slowly, a tardy person strolls on board, eyes the rest of the passengers with disdain, ambles down the aisle to their seat, mutters about not having enough overhead locker room for their 5 bags, and then eventually settles into their chair as everyone else's eyes burrow holes into their souls. I can forgive those who apologise for their late arrival, but for those who claim it as their right, I hope the attendants spit in their coffee.

In flight

The UnAttendant

Some people hate being told what to do. Even on a plane, where there is not a lot of space and there are some fairly special rules around seatbelts being fastened and chair backs being upright, there are still the odd few who will take the time to disagree with the attendant or else be fairly uncooperative. This type used to be seen more frequently a few years ago, but I think the rise of the armed Air Marshall has caused the sharp decline in unruly passenger behaviour.

The FirstTimers

For everything, there is a first time. Some people who board planes never actually make it to the air (fantastic news for those on the plane who have to wait for that person's bags to be unloaded - yes, I have been on one of those flights), but for those who do, the experience is new and exciting and some of these people need to express it. But for the more seasoned traveller, this kind of thing can get a bit wearisome, especially after 10 hours in the air. A future warning: were we sitting near each other if I were ever to be upgraded to business class, or heaven forbid first class, you would not hear the end of it.

The Notgoodenuff

Some airlines are lousy. Some of the food is bad. But there are some people who seem to expect the cattle class experience to be the same staying in a luxurious first class hotel. The movies may be bad, or the food might not quite be what one expected (if one does not order a specific meal), and this is all to be expected - but those who complain long and loudly about this are obviously missing the point. Economy class is the MacDonald's of the air; you want five course dining and cinelounge seats, you should pay for Business or First Class.

The Imbibers.

Though it is becoming rarer these days, free alcohol is all they see.


The Miss Dabus

This is for me one of the most fascinating times: watching the herd get ready to leave the plane. As soon as they plane lands (and before the unbelt seat sign is extinguished), you can hear the click of a hundred-odd belts unfastening, and only the most sheep-doggish of attendants can keep people from remaining in their seats until the plane has come to a complete stop. Then it is all hands to overhead lockers and people swamp the aisle, anxiously waiting for the doors to open. Noses meet armpits, personal space is invaded, there is much sighing and tapping of toes. And then, once the door opens, it takes forever for those at the rear of the plane to see any forward momentum. But still, standing up and getting ready will get you to the terminal that much quicker - where, of course, you then have to wait for your bags to arrive. Me, I take the time to read a bit more and avoid moving as long as possible, which is why I now try and get a window seats on short-haul flights at least. To be honest, watching these eager sheep was the inspiration behind this posting.

The Widther

Some people may not have shoulders as broad as the Hulk, but somehow, when disembarking the plane, they seem to be able to take up the whole width of a corridor that could really comfortably fit three shoulder to shoulder. These individual widthers tend to move at a glacial pace, normally as these people tend to be nearing the end of their second century of existence here on Earth. Eventually, these people may realise that they are holding up foot traffic, but registration can come a bit slowly when one has been on a plane for 14 hours. After one hour, the excuse is not as valid.

The DutyFreeOnly

There are some people who fly who seem to be there purely for the purchase of duty free alcohol and cigarettes. Amongst those who are first off the plane, these people spend as much time as possible in the duty free store before collecting their bags, burdened with lists and local liquor and cancer stick import limits. They may be in a country for only a few days, but they don't want to remember a single moment of it that did not involve some spirit, and then on the way back they have to buy more, though this time for the cabinet at home.

The LastminuteFormers

Before going through customs, it is highly likely a form will need to be completed. In general, airlines give these to you before you land. But this does not stop some people from waiting to fill them out basically at the passport control desk. This causes quite a bit of delay of course as these people try to remember how to spell their 27-character first name.

Verdict: Until matter transmission becomes a reality, or I gain a pretty cool super power, I will need to fly with other people. So it is helpful to know the types of people who will be up in the air with me. And perhaps, to identify those I should try and avoid, both to be with, and to be. Some volcanic ash out of a European sky.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Case for Material Glee

You know, I was a bit doubtful about Glee. I still am to be honest. Sure, it's obvious and the storyline moves at a glacial pace, but it is completely bonkers (in a great way) and of course, best of all, it stars the ever awesome Jane Lynch.

This week, my doubts were set aside totally when Lynch's character, Sue Sylvester, channeled Madonna. Satirical, self-referential TV does not get much better than this.

Click on the link to see the Vogue-Glee video on YouTube.

The rest of the show was good, but nothing could top this highlight.

Verdict: Glee, bring it on - and by "it", I mean more Sue Sylvester. 10 spirit fingers out of 10.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Case for Stolen Time

Getting to the screening of Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time proved almost more entertaining than the movie itself:

1) the weather in Wellington was frightful, with frequent yet brief hail storms raining on the central city;

2) I "mislocated" the movie, though I blame the Embassy's website which made me think Prince of Persia was on when instead it was that other controversial movie about middle eastern stereotypes, $ex & the City 2;

3) Readings prices appear to have gone up by 30 cents, to $10.80. My initial reaction startled the person at the ticket office, as I unleashed a tirade of cynicism as, if you add 2.5% to that sum, you get about $11.00 - which is, in my mind, the objective, anticipating the increase in GST and using it as a way to round the total price up. I sense something evil - possibly more evil than anything in Prince of Persia.

Eventually, we sat ourselves before the screen, protected from the elements and in the relative warmth that Hoyts never provided in the winter months (I remember that screening of Pirates of the Carribean 3, freezing experience that it was). It was a full session, with the people next to me finding all the fairly "set" jokes hilariously funny and giggling around in their mirth, so perhaps the combined body mass of the attendees multiplied by any physical exertion involved in laughing acted as extra heating. But I won't dwell too long on that thought.

I knew this was another action offering, providing as much substance and realism as the aforementioned S&TC sequel. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Dastan, buff adopted brother of the Persian King, who discovers a magical charm that will help him save the kingdom from the evil Ben Kinglsey, while winning him the hand of a beautiful princess, in the form of Gemma Arterton's Tamina. None of them are Middle Eastern, which has caused its own bit of criticism.

But then, those critics, if they come from the region, should be happy, as the movie is fairly rubbish. Fairly quickly into the movie, the voices start getting to you (everyone's random English accent, and of course Gemma Arterton's shrill whining is enough to erode rock - part of the reason there is so many desert shots in the film) and the story becomes almost completely obvious, though I must admit the scale of the ending did surprise me a bit (I won't say more, for spoiler alert reasons). But then, you can tell by the way the film is put together that it isn't really a work of love: Disney may own Pixar, but the CGI of this film looks so obvious it will be appalling on the small screen; and the opening shots are so quick and unadventurous that I can hear the voice of Joss Whedon in my head screaming in directorial pain, lambasting the movie for providing a visual offering less complicated than the most straight-forward scene in the beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

On the plus side, the main actors are all fairly easy to watch (if not listen to) and the gorgeous shots of the warm desert filled a void that the local weather had created. The main action sequences are based on the Bourne-building jumping that has become so popular in action flicks these days (because it is pretty awesome, to be honest), and neither these nor the swordplay scenes look particularly fake (hang you head in shame, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) which adds a touch of excitement to the fairly humdrum story proceedings.

But overall, the film feels a bit lazy, a bit haphazard. Not in the sets or the performances, but in the script and the direction. The final pre-end credit "message" is a total snore, and a just-before-certain-death kiss had the even the least demanding of the moviegoers laughing in derision. It's not funny or cheesy enough to be a guilty pleasure like the original Mummy was, and perhaps that's partly because Gyllenhaal is an actor that always seems to carry a certain intensity with him, more so than someone like the roguish Brendan Fraser (though that man can definitely do serious; check out Gods and Monsters if you don't believe me). He definitely does the action hero bits well, but please, no Prince of Persia 2, unless he somehow comes to New York to slay a few self-indulgent S&TC shoppers.

Verdict: Prince of Persia pleasant enough way to avoid howling gales and frozen rain, but not a movie I will really consider watching again. I reckon this film would be better viewed on the big screen (though perhaps with ear muffs for the louder scenes and when Arterton speaks) than at home, but don't take that as encouragement to go see it at all. 5 flying daggers out of 10.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Case for More Lips

Perhaps it is becoming an annual event now? Those who own the Embassy Cinema, in their infinite wisdom, decided to hold another interactive screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Actually, they decided to show two.

I attended last year, as per the posting at the end of this link.
Uncertain as I was last year as to the nature of how other Wellingtonians would treat the occasion, I dressed fairly conservatively and went unburdened by props. This time though, I knew more what was expected.

Or at least, I thought I did.
While in general, those that take the opportunity to get dressed up decide to don small golden hot pants or sparkly ring-mistress outfits or fishnet stockings and bondage gears, there are a few outfits that do not require the exposure of too much flesh and I am of the latter inclination. So I dressed up in a fairly bright but unrevealing outfit inspired by Columbia, minus the nipple-revealing rip. I was therefore quite surprised when a rather loud woman who I took for either a very bold moviegoer or one of the usherers stopped before me, critically eyed me up and down, drew herself back and hands on hips growled, “Who do you think you are supposed to be?”. I was stunned into a moment's silence, as I was surprised that anyone attending would not know who I was meant to be emulating, but then I revealed my source to my inquisitor, after which her brow furrowed for a few minutes, and then she seemed to accept my explanation, even if I was not convinced that she really understood. So shocked was I by this gross lack in costume knowledge, I was once again flummoxed when this woman grabbed a microphone and proceeded to MC the whole event. My companions were very kind as awards for outfits were presented by pointing out that I was the only one to have chosen this particular inspiration and so should be up for an prize, recognition instead went to those who had braved the cold, wet Friday evening dressed only in high heels and lace and who would therefore have to head home so attired – and deservedly so.

Once everyone was in their seats (or at least, near them), a man from MoreFM stood up, claiming the night for that radio station – and then promply vanished to wherever unwelcome DJs go when the radio is switched off. Our Lady of Ignorance took the pre-screen position to present awards and get everyone practicing their Timewarp steps, and then we settled back and down all ready to get forward and up once the movie got underway…

…only to be greeted by a giant advertisement for the Micha
el Jackson concert movie. It was big, and loud, and seemed wholly inappropriate (in a way) so there were immediate cat calls for it to be removed and tacky 1970s film stock to be displayed again. But the preview ground on, the laziness inherent in recycling an advertisement for a movie that was only supposed to last for 2 weeks at the cinema in 2009 further destroying any sense of antici… that the MC had tried desperately to foster earlier… pation.

But then, once that overly long preview was over, the movie started – and the madness began. There was yelling and screaming, people invoking the dialogue and others contributing to it. Again, my call of “Bullwinkle” was heard (possibly) above the din when Rocky’s image appeared, but it was a quiet voice in the Transylvanian wilderness. The Timewarp came and most people jumped up and danced about, and when Frankie showed up in his fish-netted glory, the audience erupted into a cacophony of absolute pleasure. For some, the excitement was too much, and they ran around the cinema, some skidding on the toilet paper and streamers as they careened down the stairs, their buttocks becoming their saving grace as their feet gave way from under them. There actually was an intermission – at first booed, but then utilised for the handy toilet break opportunity it created – and then, after a fairly dire original trailer for the show, the movie continued to its floor showed conclusion.

Pity the poor cleaners though, who had to contend with not only the Friday show’s mess, but another on Saturday as well…

Verdict: Always huge amounts of fun, even when the MCing is not as good as it was the year before. Here's hoping this becomes annual fun. 9 timewarps out of 10.