Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Bridge Of Another Color

If there's one thing that Pittsburgh loves more than its bridges--it has more than Venice, after all--it's how much Pittsburgh hates change. So it should come as no surprise that, as the bridges are scheduled to be repainted and the city put it up for a vote as to what the colors should be, Pittsburgh overwhelmingly demanded that they stay the exact same color they are now.

If you know anything about Pittsburgh, this is no surprise. Still, I feel like it's a missed opportunity--and that the other choices may have simply been lacking. The choices--Pittsburgh Yellow, Environmentalist Alarmist Green, and Weirdo Artist Silver--may have been symbolically important, but not so important as to warrant a change.

While I'm not sure if the results would have been different, maybe a better choice of colors would have been useful. Here's some recommendations:
  • Heinz Red
  • PennDOT Orange
  • McArdle Mudslide Brown
  • Fifteen Straight Days Of Rain Gray 
  • East Liberty Police-Tape Yellow
  • Post-Industrial Hellscape Rust
  • Throwback Bumblebee Stripes
  • Soul of Sienna Miller Black
  • Hockey Fight Crimson
  • UPMC Balance Sheet Green
  • Lawrenceville Plaid
  • Monongahelan Grayish-Brownish-Blue
  • Sally Wiggin Blonde
  • Weathered Patio Chair In Parking Space Off-White

Monday, June 29, 2015

Troll

I have written in the past about bad, bad movies.  A few weeks ago, I took the time to watch a movie that was just that sort of bad that you have to watch it: Troll 2.

Troll 2  is a singularly abject disaster. So much so that a documentary was made about it, The Best Worst Movie. At one point it had the lowest rating on IMDB, although sadly that's no longer the case.

Where to start? Well, let's start with the title: Despite being called Troll 2, it has little to do with the original Troll. In fact, there is famously not a single troll in the entire movie--the monsters they encounter are goblins. The word "troll" is never mentioned once.

That should tell you all you need to know, but you need to know a lot more.

The acting is bad. Some of the actors are capable enough, although none of them had ever really done anything of consequence before or since. The guy who plays the father isn't horrible, but everyone else either comes across as flat and lifeless or hammy to the point of cringeworthiness. The only one who seems to understand the train wreck of the movie is the main evil lady, Creedance, whose over-the-top absurdness is delivered with a barely visible wink.

The special effects are bad. The trolls themselves are little more than puppets, and the green vegetation is clearly just a greenish syrup. At least they put off a person burning in a fire jacket capably well.

The plot...well, the plot makes no sense. Aside from "small child is trying to tell all the responsible adults that something weird is going on but no one listens," most of the plot  involves stuff that doesn't make sense. A ghost of a grandpa who appears and disappears with no sense of logic, and moves the story along with mysterious bits and pieces that have no discernible logic aside from "we need conflict in the plot but we need to move it along". A ritual that has no basis on any sort of background or known consequence. An arrested relationship plot about the teenage daughter goes nowhere. A completely absurd scene near the end involves seduction via popcorn (yes, you read that right) not only makes zero sense, but does absolutely nothing to advance the plot. Hell, the trolls goblins only show up close towards the end of the movie, and their only function is to eat green syrup in the fakest way possible.

If this sounds like a disaster, it's because you're right. But it's a watchable disaster. You can tell that everyone involved is trying really, really hard to do...something, but there isn't anyone stringing it all together in a coherent manner. (The director, it should be noted, was not a native English speaker.)

I have to recommend that you not only watch this movie, but then watch the documentary I have linked above. It's a bad movie, to be sure, but it's the exact sort of thing one can enjoy without blatant irony.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Inside "Inside Out"



Well, the animated film Inside Out has been a huge hit. Despite the fact that it’s a blatant ripoff  homage of the classic Herman’s Head from two decades ago and that it continues Pixar’s string of Movies That Will Rip Your Heart Out And Stomp On It And You’ll Gladly Pay For The Privilege, it’s become hugely popular.

For those who do not know, Inside Out is a movie where a small girl’s thoughts are personified as Anger, Joy, Anxiety, Disgust, and Sadness. (They are voiced by appropriate voice actors, such as Amy Poehler for Joy and Lewis Black for Anger.) These emotions act as characters as the child goes through the trauma of moving to a new city and encountering the various struggles in doing so.

Of course, I feel that the movie would be much, much better if there were more than just five emotions. It seems like a wider range of emotions, thoughts, and mental processes would be more appropriate. Such as:

Compassion: There's a part of you that wants to watch cat videos on YouTube right now. Voiced by: Sarah McLaughlin

Gullibility: What's life unless you occasionally click on that link that tells you that you can download an app that lets you can see who has viewed your profile? Voiced by: Any 80-year-old on Facebook. 

Stress: Stress is going to happen whether you like it or not. If you aren't stressed, that just means you don't realize that you have something you should be stressed about. And that should stress you out. Voiced by: A college freshman waiting for a pregnancy test to show results

Alarm: Eating bad food makes you less healthy? You mean an appointment at three o'clock means be there at three o'clock? When did turn signals start being a thing? WHY IS EVERYTHING HAPPENING?  Voiced by: Anyone who posts a clickbait Buzzfeed article. You know, any Buzzfeed article.

Annoyance: Doesn't anyone else hear that sound?  No, like that tapping noise? Surely I'm not the only one MAKE IT STOP. Voiced by: Snooki

Relaxation: Ahh. Everyone relaxes in their own way, whether it be stretched out in the sun or playing video games for sixteen hours straight. Voiced by: That spokesman for Allstate Insurance. 

Excitement: There's a package on the porch! There's a new email that doesn't look like spam! This envelope isn't a bill! YAY! Voiced by: Anyone with Amazon Prime

Forgetfulness:  I, uh...I swear, I had something for this. Voices by: Rick Perry

Sarcasm: Like it or not, navigating this crazy world requires a little bit of passive-aggressive non-confrontation. It's much more effective to make snarky comments than actually confront a problem. Voiced by: Dr. Gregory House

Pride: You should be proud of your daughter for being in the spelling bee. You should be proud of your dog for not shitting on the couch for two days in a row. You should be proud of the flag that is flying in the state capitol that is literally a loser flag because you lost the war. Well, maybe not that last one. Voiced by: character actor Kurt Fuller

Revenge: There's an innate human drive to make sure that justice is always delivered, regardless of how inconsequential and petty the transgression. Because if no one else is going to make that Nissan Juke pay for switching lanes at the last second, who will? Voiced by: Liam Neesan

Confusion: Sometimes, you just don't understand what's going on, and that's ok. Why is running this simple computer program so difficult? How does Kevin Costner still get movie roles? Why are watermelon candies red and not green? There are more red flavors than green! And they look green! Voiced by: any blonde character in a sitcom

Earthiness: Hey, someone's got to snicker at all the things that vaguely look like a penis, right? Voice by: a twelve-year-old playing Cards Against Humanity

Bat-shit Craziness: Everyone has bouts of being a complete train wreck, but even if you're not it's at least useful to have a bat-shit crazy detector. Voiced by: Donald Trump

Logic: Yeah, yeah, yeah emotions are nice and important and all, but someone's got to step up and calculate the tip. Voiced by: Your high school algebra teacher.

Boredom: Yawn. There's so much to do, and so little motiviation to actually do any of it. Hey, watching eight episodes of The Bachelorette counts as doing something, right? Voiced by: Ben Stein.

Crankiness: I HATE THIS AND EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS. Voice by: well, modesty forbids.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be

There’s a current thing going around the internet that has some variation of this:
There’s a Bush and a Clinton running for office, Jurassic Park is at the top of the box office, and Final Fantasy VII is being made. What year is it?
This sort of thing pops up every few years. Sometimes it’s a humorous coincidence, but—given our penchant for remakes—not entirely unlikely. When you have an entire culture to pick and choose from, it’s not terribly difficult to match things up from an entire history to pull from.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. On the one hand, it’s natural—most people enjoy reminiscing about how things used to be, with the added benefit (or drawback, as it may be) of comparing it to the current state of things. And yet it can be misleading as well. Memory, context, and judgment are fickle things. We all tend to remember the good bits, dismiss and justify the bad bits, and completely forget the vast wasteland of mediocrity. We all sang along with Pocket Full of Kryptonite; none of us remember Turn It Upside Down.

Most of this is harmless, but that doesn't mean it's not frustrating. We all, at one time in our lives, pointed a crooked finger at the local gas station sign and lamented about how cheap gasoline used to be, conveniently forgetting that cars back then got maybe six miles to the gallon. We’ve all fallen into the trap of claiming that the music that came out in that magical time when we were 11 to 13 years old was objectively the single best music ever conceived by mankind, despite the fact that this cycle seems to repeat on a constant basis. Any long-running cultural program—Saturday Night Live, Doctor Who, Mad Magazine, The Simpsons, etc.—all seem to have peaked for each individual person roughly around their early-to-mid teens. This is alarmingly consistent.

Annoyingly, the internet (specifically sites like Buzzfeed and Reddit) seem to be fueled by this weird nostalgia fetish—an easy way to score plenty of page views and upvotes is to simply post a picture of a Pokemon cartridge or a can of Surge soda. Of course, the fact that we enjoy and support remakes emphasizes all this—you can count on one hand the number of hit movies lately that aren’t some sort of sequel or remake capitalizing off of former success.

I don’t want this to come across as hand-wringing dismay—in fact, I hold a contrarian opinion that we don’t engage in nostalgia enough. Ask a millennial what the best television series of all time is, and it’s doubtful they will name a show older than The Sopranos—ignoring nearly a half a century of mostly decent and critically acclaimed material that still holds up. Of course, perhaps this is consistent rather than contrary; the high-water mark is still part of nostalgia. It just doesn’t go far back enough. The Twilight Zone and the Dick Van Dyke Show aren’t nostalgia anymore; they’re history.

None of this is worth getting bent out of shape over, I suppose. There’s nothing wrong with reminiscing. A case can probably be made that misplaced nostalgia often crowds out new, original content, but I think the internet has more than made up for it. Still, it can be irritating to see people focus on stuff that honestly wasn’t nearly as good as you remember it being.

Except for the Might Orbots. Those guys were the shit.

[Title taken from a bumper sticker I saw like 20 years ago. Like back when bumper stickers were much, much better.]

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dino Might

I love dinosaurs. I love huge, obnoxious action movies. I love Chris Pratt. So why on earth does Jurassic World look like a complete disaster?

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not one of those people that holds action flicks as some sort of high art. I’m no highbrow, but I find most action movies to be sorta dumb and mindless, but just like fast food and 24 hour news channels sometimes I just want something dumb and mindless and if I get to see shit blow up and maybe some cleavage all the better.

And yet sometimes things just don’t click. Jurassic World doesn't look like it's going to click for me.

I enjoyed the first Jurassic Park, but I’m mindful that the movie came out over twenty years ago. The shaky science aside, it had a decent narrative arc, awesome (and, at the time, unprecedented) special effects, a reasonably satisfying ending, and child actors that didn’t make me want to throw my popcorn at the screen. It had lawyers getting eaten up in an outhouse, Richard Attenborough tottering around like he owns the place, Newman getting spit on, Jeff Goldblum being a weirdo like always, and a big pile of stego poop and I am still amazed that Steven Spielberg didn’t get a concussion from all the Oscars thrown at him.
I never saw the other movies. No reason; they just weren’t on my to-do list, but by all accounts seem to have been decent enough. Maybe someday.

And yet, nothing about Jurassic World makes me want to see it. Maybe it’s just because we’ve seen this movie before. Maybe because the effects aren’t all that different than what we see on a second-rate Showtime Original. Maybe it’s because of the current trend of shooting movies where apparently artificial and natural lighting are a scarce resource reserved for special occasions and one can barely see anything that is going on, a method that is only acceptable for bottom-barrel horror flicks looking for cheap scares. Maybe they hung everything onto Chris Pratt, an admittedly awesome actor who seems perfectly cast for the role.

Sadly, though, I don’t think it’s enough. Dinosaurs in movies are old hat even after 20 years, let alone eons. And even Bert Macklin can’t carry those dinosaur bones for 124 minutes.

And that is a bit of a shame. Growing up, if you asked me what my dream occupation was, it wouldn’t have been paleontologist or museum curator, it would have been “triceratops.” (I wasn’t a smart kid.) So Jurassic Park was the shit for me back in the day, even though I managed to reset my expectations in regards to dinosaur career opportunities.


Of course, I’ll be in the minority about this movie. There’s no doubt that this will be a smash hit, and I’ll be seeing velociraptors on Burger King cups for the next four months. And maybe I’ll get around to seeing it when it’s in the Redbox. But this is one of many high-profile summer blockbusters that baffles me as to its need.