Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Out-Of-Character Request

For as long as I've been reading it, Tomato Nation has been doing an annual fundraising drive for Donors Choose, a charity that lets, well, donors choose to fund specific projects for schools that have been submitted by teachers.

I hate stuff like this. I mean, not charity, or kids (well, kids, but not education), but every time I get a message from a friend about some charity walk or something I bristle. When we get letters like that at home, we call it junk mail. We have national registries to stop telemarketers. But e-mail and Facebook mean every friend with a cause can spam us now. I'm sounding like a total crank, but really all I mean is that if I gave to every friend who asked, I'd be broke. So I generally don't give to any, and choose charities to give to on my own.

So while I admire Sars' use of her considerable online popularity and the work she puts into doing this huge thing, I tune it out every year because I'm a horrible person. And I guess I also misunderstood what Donors Choose was, exactly. Somehow I thought it was all about donating books to libraries? This is what happens when you ignore the whole thing and never click the links.

ANYWAY, last week I got successfully guilt-tripped, and I finally checked out Sars' DC page, thinking I'd give 10 bucks for pencils or something. And god damn it! Right up top was a project to turn a classroom into a multi-purpose theater space (I'm not really clear on how floor mats do this, but they had me at "black box theater"). This got me searching, and with minimal effort I found a music composition project and a show choir. As you know, I'm kind of a sucker for this stuff, and my cold, stony heart was sufficiently melted. I also stumbled across a request for a life-like baby doll to discourage teen pregnancy, which I wholeheartedly support, even though it's totally unrelated.

I don't have much to give, and that felt especially meager when split across four projects, so now I'm doing exactly what I said up top that I hate: Please check out my Donors Choose page and support one of these worthwhile projects (the composition one has already been completed). Or, if you hate the arts or love teen pregnancy, head to Sarah's for a much wider selection. Since this is all crowd-sourced, a small contribution still counts toward the larger goal.

That's enough of that. Thank you for your time. I'll resume hating items in my Netflix Queue shortly.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Cannibal! The Musical

Cannibal! The Musical has been in my queue for years. It's a pre-South Park project by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and since I'm seeing their current musical, The Book of Mormon, this weekend, I decided it was time to finally watch it. I haven't watched South Park regularly in years, but I've always liked their sensibility, and of course I love a good musical and a good musical parody.

Unfortunately, Cannibal! is neither. It opens with a title card telling us that it's found footage from a 1950s flop attempt to capitalize on the success of Oklahoma! that's been colorized and digitally reconstructed. The card also says that the violent scenes have been removed. Those are both promisingly funny ideas, but it's not clear what they have to do with anything. There's really no attempt made to make it look or sound like a film from the 50s, and the very first scene is reminiscent (deliberately, I assume) of Monty Python's violent Sam Peckinpah sketch, so that's a confusing mixed message.

The whole thing has the feel of a Funny Or Die video, except it was made in 1993. And it's a feature. And it looks like it was shot on VHS. As a side note, it's really amazing how technology has made low-budget film-making possible. And musical-making, for that matter. The video quality is fuzzy, the sound quality is worse, and the music is Casio-keyboard-style. What these guys could have done with a digital camera and Garage Band!

There are some really funny moments, like a gag where someone tap dances in a hole in the ground (if you've ever seen a classic movie musical, you've probably seen a tap number on an improbable surface where no one is wearing tap shoes), and a rather too literal interpretation of the term "dream ballet."

But it's mostly just a jumbled mess, hard to judge on the merits of either a movie or a musical. It was neither good enough nor funny enough to work for me. It just feels like a college lark, which is all well and good, especially from people who would go on to produce great things, but it shouldn't necessarily be released into the wild. There are ideas here that Parker and Stone are still returning to - genre parody, musical theatre, mormons, wholesome Americana turned on its head - but it's sort of remarkable how not good it is here. South Park was only three years away. Certainly the crude animation suited their budget better, and it seems like the shorter format helped them focus. I mean, this movie is 27 minutes longer than Legion. I think they really benefited in later projects from having collaborators who would edit them, not to mention more experienced producers and songwriters.

It's an interesting artifact, but I can only recommend it to super-fans...and maybe not even then.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Legion

Legion is a thoughtful meditation on faith, violence, and mankind's relationship to God, and a fascinating spin on biblical myths.

Just kidding, it's a horror movie in which God decides to smite humanity and sends down His buff, tattooed angels to kill us all. And also zombies, sort of. And there's a character named Jeep. And it is AWESOME.

I realize this won't help the case I made in my last post about my taste in movies, but I loved this. It's not good, but it's everything I want a movie like this to be. I feel like the filmmakers took it totally seriously, but were never afraid to reach insane heights of batshittery, and to include lines like "Are you asking me to explain the behavior of a motherfucking pestilence?" It's campy without ever trying to be campy. If Red Riding Hood had gone over the top like this, I would have liked it a lot more.

It's also, at times, genuinely scary. It reminded me of Stephen King right before he went off the rails. Like somewhere between Misery and The Regulators. The tiny truck stop in the middle of nowhere had a very King feel, down to the outdated jukebox, the colorful stereotypes with tragic backstories, and the mystical black man short order cook. The possessed ice cream man had an especially Kingish feel to him, as did the possessed little girl, who of course had a balloon, because all small children carry balloons at all times, especially after they've been made into angel-zombies.

Whether you enjoy Legion will depend entirely on your tolerance for this type of movie in general. It's sort of a perfect bad movie, with pretty decent performances, special effects, and action sequences, in service of an absolutely ludicrous idea. It made me coin the word "heinolarious."

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Nowhere Boy

I feel like I say things are "boring" a lot, which makes me sound like...I don't know, someone who hates talking and likes Michael Bay? Both those things couldn't be further from the truth. But, yeah, I found Nowhere Boy pretty darn boring. To be fair, I watched it in a hotel room while stuffing conference registration packets, but I don't see how it would have been less dull without that distraction.

It does that biopic thing that I hate: relying on the audience's knowledge of the future to make events out of otherwise ordinary moments. John gets his first guitar, John's aunt hounds him about wearing his glasses, John's mother teaches him "Maggie Mae." None of these things are actually at all interesting if you don't know that John is John Lennon. And not really even then. Turns out the formation of the Beatles (which the movie isn't actually about at all, but it happens during it) is no more exciting than any other group of teenagers starting a band. Unless, as I said, you know what they'll become. Even the title is a bit of a marketing tease, having nothing to do with the story or with "Nowhere Man."

About halfway through, the central drama of his relationship with his mother kicks in, and there was one scene that I thought was pretty fabulous, but then it went right past that into soapy melodrama. And sometimes real life is melodramatic, but that doesn't mean I want to watch it.

All of these criticisms are pretty much with the script. The cast is appealing, the acting is excellent, and the film is beautifully shot, with a great sense of time and place. It is unquestionably well made. But when "Mother" played over the closing credits, I was grateful both to hearing the real John's voice, and that the movie was over.