Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jerry's CineKids in Shall We Kiss

As Shall We Kiss opens, Couple A meets classic. Beautiful A-1 asks for directions to a cab stand. Handsome A-2 gives her a lift and almost cadges a goodbye/thank you/it won't mean anything but what might happen kiss. Instead A-1 begins a tale about the danger of a single kiss. The video jumps into A-1's story of Couple B - B-1, a beautiful lab scientist, and her platonic friend and long-time confidant, the handsome, but slightly geeky, math teacher B-2.

[Spoiler Alert - As Good As News is about to reveal much of the plot of this movie and its only funny line. Do not hesitate to read on, As Good As News is also about to recommend that you do not see Shall We Kiss. As Good As News will, however, continue to protect the identity of the cast.]

B-2 is suffering a mysterious malaise brought on by terminal horniness. He suggests, at tortured length, that he can think of only one cure, "but it's unthinkable, but it's..............." His pal B-1 invariably responds, "You can tell me, really, what is it..........................." This extended discussion produces the only discernible humor in a film billed as a comedy, B-2's surprising and well timed revelation that he has already tried a visit to a prostitute in his search for a cure.

The cure B-2 wants is a kiss from B-1. This leads, shockingly, to immediate sexual infatuation, made irresistible by the efforts of B-1 and B-2 to resist. Did we mention that B-1 is married? The tortured attempt at comedic dialog turns into a tortured attempt at comedic mutual seduction. B-1 and B-2 will try intercourse, just to establish the lack of attraction. Guess how that turns out. Finally, they must deal with the problem of B-1's husband. Their concern for his feelings leads to delay and an intricate plan, but the plotting makes the once likably romantic B-1 and B-2 seem sneaky and cowardly, while the delay exacerbates an already serious pacing problem.

A-1 finishes her story, alone in her hotel room with the hopeful, but not pushy, A-2. Both are committed to other partners (we take mercy on the reader by omitting A-2's story about couple C) and conflicted about how to end their night. As Good As News will not spoil this ending (since it is not completely predictable), but you may find yourself singing a few bars from the Casablanca theme.

The cast is engaging, for a while. The story is interesting, for a while. When he's not trying to be funny, the screenwriter/director (and co-star in the role of B-2) does a great job of omitting scenes that aren't needed to move the story forward. Sadly, predictability kills this video's pacing and comic potential, predictability aided and abetted by the impact of cultural differences and subtitles. They can translate the French dialog into English subtitles, but they can't make me like Jerry Lewis.

Woody Allen v. Jerry Lewis - Post-script - to those puzzled by the many comparisons elsewhere of Shall We Kiss to the comedy of Woody Allen; to those concerned that they might miss something memorable; Be not troubled. Yes, both feature a writer/director/star. Yes, this video, like Woody's comedies, spends much time talking about sex, with very little actual sex and much frustration. Woody's talk about sex is filled with witty dialog, most memorably, the one-line skewer of Woody's own potency, magnetism, etc. The theater erupts periodically with laughter. There are no lines in Shall We Kiss that cause the audience to laugh out loud. You will hear only the Silence of The Yawns.

Yes, this video, like Woody's comedies, blends farce with sophistication. Woody's farce is zany, unpredictable, coming out of left field, sometimes coming out of the visiting teams locker room. Think "Suck out the poison". Shall We Kiss surprises only in B-2's visit to the prostitute (a math tutor who requires her customers to shower before sex and prohibits kissing). Most of the farce in Shall We Kiss hammers away on a single note - we will try not to want sex while we have sex thus making us want sex more. The execution does not involve yelling, cowering or mewling, but the repetitious enlargement on the single theme owes far more to Jerry Lewis, another writer/director and star (sometimes starring in multiple roles), than Woody Allen, and the average ugly American audience (moi included) will spend little time laughing and much time shaking heads at the exit door while grumbling "That was very French."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

TV All Day

Those who enjoy the Alexander McCall Smith books will enjoy the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency on HBO. Things are not exactly as I pictured them, but the show is true to the warm, wise and gently humorous spirit of the novels.

Tiger Woods is back, with his first win since June. Seems like a mighty long time. Maybe this will get the economy on track. Any chance that Tiger's domination of a game that emphasizes strategy and self-control was a factor in paving the way for Obama's election?

OK, I admit it. I watched TV all day. All my basketball teams lost. This post is humorless and I'm not going to edit it.

Signs of The Times - Twitter Extra

In today's NY Times Editorial Notebook, Verlyn Klinkenborg meditates somberly on Time and Tide at Point Reyes. I remember the tides, encountered on a family vacation in Northern California during a late afternoon visit to Point Reyes after a warm day of hiking in Muir Woods. Our question was not, "What does it all mean, the time, the tides, the grazing cows and the salt grasses." Our question was, "Dare we swim (we were very hot) in the face of that mysterious warning - 'Sneaker Waves' ?" We did, with some trepidation and an eye out for sharks and the unknown. It took years (and the invention of Google) to discover that a sneaker wave is a rogue wave, or set of waves, apparently more common in Oregon than elsewhere, that can arise from nowhere to capture unsuspecting waders and beach walkers.
-The Point Reyes warning was the scariest encountered by As Good As News until a trip up the Straightbrook Quad ski lift at Gore Mountain brought us to signs posted at the top of The Rumor and Lies - the print that is too small to read in the picture above says "you, who are about to die, do so at your own risk." We skied and lived. Apparently the Gore warning signs catch considerable attention, as there was no shortage of posted photos from which to shop.
-In addition to Mr. Klinkenborg's meditation on time and tide, today's Times runs a piece, with chart so extended it cannot legibly be reproduced here, on a different ecosystem - The Celebrity Twitter Ecosystem. The text includes a few samples of celebrity tweets - sorry, didn't mean to yawn in your face like that. The chart includes dozens of bold faced names (accompanied by teeny tiny photos) with giant red arrows indicating who subscribes to who's tweets. So what? Basically, so nothing. As Good As News had to read this for potential ghost twitter candidates, but it is fun to note that musician/tv personality Dave Navarro subscribes only to the twitters of "pornographic film stars".

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ghost Twitter in the Sky

When Stars Twitter, A Ghost May Be Lurking -What is Twitter? A microblogging tool that facilitates the posting of short, mundane, diary-like entries. Posts stylistically capture the breathlessness of an extremely busy person taking taking a momentary timeout from a hectic life - "just picked up my dry cleaning, OMG why can't they ever get the starch right". Entries appear to be posted from cell phones and other mobile sources, as if the poster understands that friends, fans, etc. ( all 3 of them, generally too busy twittering themselves to actually read anything) can't wait hours for yet another self-promoting normal blog entry. In fact, surveys establish that over 70% of twitter entries are posted from easy chairs. The twitterers are indeed rushed, they need to complete the post before the commercial break ends. No one wants to miss a single second of that fabulous Gilmore Girls dialogue.

As Good As News is shocked to learn that certain celebrity twitterers (and some celebrities actually have thousands and thousands of pod people awaiting every tweet) view Twitter as just another tool to build the brand (i.e., shamelessly promote themselves by any means, fair or foul). A few celebs employ ghost twitterers - that's right, they actually hire people to write messages one sentence long (although a complete sentence is a Twitter rarity) for a medium that is designed to capture spontaneous, personal thoughts on a real time basis. OK, we already admitted As Good As News is shocked. Shocked but not outraged (blogger's are required by law to reserve outrage for AIG bonuses), because Twitter readers deserve whatever they get. The real news is that some of the ghosts are celebrities themselves. Some samples from today:

SHAQ: Why bother practicing free throws when the foul line keeps moving all the time - ghosted by Amy Winehouse;

A-ROD: I kiss myself in the mirror every morning, what's the big deal, doesn't everyone? - ghosted by Madonna;

CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL - Circumcision prevents STDs - ghosted by President, International Society of Mohels;

MANHATTAN DA ROBERT MORGANTHAU - This art swindler Salander is like something out of the Producers, selling the same painting three times, the man cannot be serious - ghosted by John McEnroe;
CURT SCHILLING - Of course I should be in the Hall of Fame - ghosted by Bert Blyleven with assistance from Jack Morris and Mike Mussina;

PRO-CREATIONIST (Note from AGAN, that's a fundamentalist who opposes the teaching of evolution, not a Big Love sire of thirty children) TEXAS SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER BOB CRAIG (Larry Craig's nephew) - We're switching to small scale guerrilla war on evolution and opening up a whole new front with this Burkah requirement for the lady teachers - ghosted by Ayatollah Khamenei.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alien Trespass - If you loved The Blob ...

Think about science fiction movies in the 1950s, The Blob for example, or the recently remade The Day The Earth Stood Still. Director R.W. Goodwin thinks about them - a lot. Alien Trespass isn't really a spoof, although it winks back across fifty years more than once. It isn't quite an ordinary homage, although Goodwin, with writers James Swift and Steven Fisher, value the genre and the era. Alien Trespass is more like a game or a challenge - I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back - or in this case, we can make a good sci fi pic while simulating the same social conventions and limitations of budget and technology that our forebears faced in the 1950s.

Alien Trespass simulates the 1950s extraordinarily well. The film opens with a newsreel, the celluloid crackles and the the light scatters as if a projectionist is changing reels. The not so special effects include a flying saucer made from a miracle substance that appears to be plywood, an alien marshal sheathed in aluminum foil and, getting every dollar onto the screen, an alien outlaw who seems almost, well, rubber like. It's not just the special effects that capture the 50's feel. The dialog is spiced with ironic puns that the actors ignore - not a spoof, but a true to the genre phenomenon that made Mystery Science Theater possible. The leading ladies, Jody Thompson, as Lana Lewis the wife of Professor Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack) and Jenni Baird as the waitress/heroine, exude sex appeal while hewing to the Legion of Decency code. The sound track features the eerie yet tonal whine of the Theremin.

Okay, so Alien Trespass does a great job following its own rules, is it worth seeing? The characters are limited - possibly a deliberate nod to convention, but one that hurts this movie just as it did much of the science fiction in the 1950s. A capable cast doesn't have to do much heavy lifting, although Baird and Thompson manage to stand out.

The story is predictable, but it's enough to hold your attention. A flying saucer crashes and two passengers emerge, an alien monster and the marshal transporting him. The marshal must recapture the monster in a small Western town before the monster multiplies via cell division and devours the earth. The first few monster scenes are genuinely scary. Eventually the town learns that not all aliens are monsters. Alien Trespass sheds no new light on earth or mankind. Here again, perhaps a choice, most of its 1950s forebears were not great stories, not classic sci fi - but why not choose to make a picture with a few deeply drawn, memorable characters and an original story that has something to say. Why not a "new classic", Mr. Goodwin? You can play with one hand tied behind your back and still go for the win.

If you loved The Blob, you'll love Alien Trespass. If not, it's probably still worth renting on a slow night. Take The Blob - adequate story, campy humor, Steve McQueen - not all bad. Add a cup of nostalgia and two tablespoons of irony derived from shooting the same type of film, at a remove of fifty years in an era when computer graphics sometimes swallow the genre alive. The result is entertaining, if not thought provoking.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Green White House

Barry O'Bama goes all out for St. Patrick's day with a green White House fountain (pray for freezing weather tonight - the jello shots are on Michelle -- literally) and the appointment of Steeler owner Dan Rooney as ambassador to Ireland. Rooney is known as a peacemaker in spats between NFL owners. Pacifying Jerry Jones is probably good training for dealing with former IRA gunmen. Language will be a barrier. Forget the endless confusion over what "football" really means - Rooney will spend weeks trying to explain the term "Yinz" to Irish officials already shocked because the American Embassy now seems to be flying something called the Terrible Towel right next to the American flag. Dublin and Pittsburgh, two great cities separated by more than a common language.

Monday, March 16, 2009


The Lord saw Superbad and he said unto Director Greg Mottola:

"Thou canst do better, for a lot less money. You shall maketh another coming of age comedy. I shall taketh away Judd Apatow and the big studio money, but I shall giveth unto you these things:

That script with all the witty dialog, the one you wrote before you shot Superbad;

Jesse Eisenberg (great as a teen in The Squid And The Whale), the poor man's Michael Cera - Jesse may not be poor for long;

Kristen Stewart - by the way, Greg, thou art very lucky. Adventureland shall be Kristen's last low budget film as she is about to become Hollywood's only bankable female lead - for good reason. She will take a role that could be an overwrought trainwreck and play it so well that she keeps Adventureland on track - but next time thou shalt require her to participate more fully in the comedy that doth surround her;

Martin Starr (another Freaks and Geeks alum), because someone has to delivereth that witty dialog and this guy is perfect;
Bill Hader, because witty dialog alone doth not a comedy maketh, and this loaner from Saturday Night Live will keep things just light enough with some screwball stuff, including one scene with a baseball bat that works remarkably well;

A sound track that proveth there actually was (a little) acceptable music in 1987;

Kennywood Park, a location so nice that thou shalt struggle constantly to make it dumpy enough for your dream; and most importantly

The Last Pacer, that's Pacer as in American Motors fka Rambler.

With these things thou shalt make a funny, sometimes touching movie in which recent college grad James (Eisenberg) is forced to cancel his Summer in Europe and work the games booths at Adventureland to save money for Columbia Journalism school. Adventureland shall prove a real education. James, the 22 year old virgin (where is that Apatow guy when we really need him), shall fall hard for the beautiful Emily (Stewart), an NYU student and Adventureland veteran. James shall not understand that Emily is struggling with a secret bad boy lover (Ryan Reynolds who plays an interesting role understatedly), her mother's death, a wicked stepmother, and a weak father - yes that script with the witty dialog is a compilation of cliches, but thou shalt shoot it anyway and Stewart, Starr and Eisenberg shall make it work for you."

As Good As News won't argue with the Lord. Adventureland is often funny and sometimes touching, despite the cliches. The characters sometimes seem too old for their problems, but in other ways the movie is just in time. Russian Lit grads are going to work in amusement parks and layoffs are changing many grad school plans.

Worth seeing in the theater if you are in the mood for a comedy that's a little sappy. More than worthy of a rental. Last chance to see Kristen Stewart in a "small" picture. Well, not really. You can always rent The Cake Eaters, reviewed here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Great Buck Howard

As The Great Buck Howard opens, Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) quits law school to become an assistant to Buck Howard (John Malkovich) - an unpleasant eccentric touring a circuit of Grade B theaters across America as a mentalist. As the film closes, Buck Howard is an unpleasant eccentric touring a circuit of Grade B theaters as a mentalist. Little happens in between. Very little. Buck nearly resurrects his career to the heights it achieved twenty years ago when he was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson (think The Amazing Kreskin). Then his own bitterness and an ill timed lapse in his abilities send him back to that Grade B circuit, oddly content with the realization that it has become the place where he belongs. Troy sticks with Buck through a little thick and a lot of thin, happy that he's doing something real. Troy resists the cynicism (but not the sex appeal) of publicist Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt) and finds himself as a writer.

So much for story. The Great is essentially a character study with a peek at old time, small time theater entertainment, an indie sheep in studio clothing. John Malkovich makes Buck Howard believable, but not enjoyable. His commitment to playing Howard as a petty egomaniac may actually kill the picture. It just doesn't seem all that important when Buck responds to Troy's doubt with yet another successful demonstration of his signature effect, a performance that amazes Troy along with the small town audience and shows that Buck is right where he belongs. Colin Hanks is unobjectionable, but he just doesn't add enough to make the picture go. Watson shines in a role that's less than pivotal.

Stay home. Rent only if you are committed to viewing the entire Malkovich cannon.

The Juche Idea -

Jung Yoon Lee, a South Korean born filmmaker, moves from Japan to a North Korean artists camp, where she farms and films in a Stalinist paradise that worships dictator Kim Jong Il and his Juche philosophy of art. The framework of The Juche Idea is a mocumentary narrative of Lee's work and life at camp, but clips of her work and training materials are director Jim Finn's real playground - he gets to toy with the meaning of video, propaganda and language - all with an occasionally interesting concoction of real archival propaganda (North Korean and Voice of America) mixed into work that's at least two steps (fictional Lee is shooting fictional films) removed from reality. The Juche Idea includes some humor, particularly in scenes featuring the use of Oleg, who can't really speak English at all, to demonstrate capitalist and socialist English.

A segment of the audience laughed out loud at the humorous moments. Sadly, I was not in that segment. After investing several minutes getting interested in Lee's story, getting a feel for when we were shifting from mocumentary to video project and back and starting to think about what it all meant, I was just too tired to mine the humor in fractured English ironic propaganda. The film festivals love The Juche Idea, but I would have fared better with more story - take that mocumentary to the finish line Mr. Finn, what ever happened to Lee? - and more structure -themes like what are video, language, art and propaganda work better for me in small doses. Let me move through 1.01 then add 1.02, not start at 1.77.5. with multiple, fragmentary graduate level messages.

One bright spot was nearly enough to overcome the pain of reading both a left hand column of Juche philosophy and a bottom of the frame subtitle at the same time. Daniela Kostova (pictured above), a real life artist from Russia via NY, plays a Bulgarian artist who mentors Lee at camp. Kostova is so scarily adept at keeping Lee on the Worker's path that there is no doubt she could run a socialist labor camp by day and take over the New School's adult ed film class at night. Look for Kostova in anything else, maybe this role will launch a new career. See, or rent, The Juche Idea only if you need material to discuss with film fanatics - this could be a campus cult classic for a while.