Monthly Archives: March 2011

2011 Pop Culture Challenge: Status Update

Back in November, 2010, spurred by my decision to read the most banned books in the States (as listed for Banned Books Week), I challenged myself to finally get off my lazy ass and ‘catch up’ on all of the pop culture and reading I always ‘meant to’ finish.  This is the first major status update.

So, four months into a thirteen-month series of challenges, I figured it was time to reflect on my progress, and also, on the recently enjoyed items on my lists.  For those interested in the full extent of the challenge, list items and the original posts, click the 2011 Pop Culture Challenge tab in the header.

We’ll take this by categories, for simplicity.

Literature
Progress:  2 new items crossed off on American list, 1 on Canadian

For all of the reading I’ve done as of late, I confess much of it was pleasure reading done without the list as a guide.  That said, one item I’ve crossed off both lists was really 7 books, so I deserve some credit.

I’ve polished off Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which was not remotely a book that should be banned.  It wasn’t graphic, and it was appropriate for YA readers.  I personally found it a bit dull, truth be told, but a worthwhile read.

My other checklist completion was finally reading the Harry Potter books, and, with a few exceptions, they were really well done.  I don’t know that I would endlessly reread them or anything, but I enjoyed the journey, for the most part, and liked the end (even if it felt a little too easily achieved).  My favourite of the series was Goblet of Fire, followed closely by Chamber of Secrets.  I’m glad I got off my ass and gave them a go, and much thanks to my little brother, who never lends anyone his books… but lent me the first four.

Television
Progress:  1 new series tried; 2 caught up; others in progress

This is where I’ve made most of my headway; it’s easiest for me to find time and the attention span to watch an episode or two and then scurry off.  TV shows are also easier to find to watch than 150 movies, know what I mean?

Fiance and I finally tried out The Walking Dead and being zombie nuts, we loved it.  We knew we would, but we were so lazy about watching it.  Not having cable is a massive hindrance.  I was a little mixed about the ending of the season, but overall very satisfied and ready for the next.  This show really needs to be seen, because it is about more than zombies; it`s about humanity itself, in any crisis.  It`s what I wished 28 Days Later had been (the ending’s always irked me, because I wanted to know what happened!).

We also finally caught up on Dexter (three seasons plus!) and I have loved them, with the exception of season 3, which just pissed me off.  I think season 2 is the best overall, followed closely by 4.  I wish the Trinity Killer had been used to greater potential; I feel the reveal was way too soon, and we needed more suspense.  I loved Lithgow, though.  The Lumen story in 5 was patchy and hit or miss, but overall good.  Such a fucking good show.

I also finally watched all of South Park… This show really has aged well, far better than I even predicted.  LOVE.  It sometimes misses, but given how many episodes there are, whatever.

I’m currently in progress with Heroes (loved season 3, mixed on season 4 so far) and Robot Chicken (pure genius!).  Now that we have Netflix, this is even easier for me.  Whee!

Films
Progress:  7 new films seen

I’ve begun attacking the films list more thoroughly lately, being as it is so long and I have so many other obligations.  Part of the issue lies in tracking all of them down, of course, particularly older or more obscure films.  That aside, of the films I’ve seen, I’ve been quite happy about doing so.

The most recent one, M, is fantastic, and I never woud have even heard of this 80 or so year-old film without taking this challenge on.  It’s in German with subtitles, which I know aggravates some people, but it’s an insightful look at serial killers and how their crimes affect the public, society on the whole, and the killer himself.  Slumdog Millionaire was a long overdue viewing, as was The Wrestler; both should be seen by film afficionados.  The JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek was pretty bad-ass, and unlike my Trekkie fiance, I rather enjoy Zachary Quinto as Spock.  Kick-Ass?  I’ve already REWATCHED that one.  The Departed?  It’s what Lock, Stock… wishes it was, even if the ending irked me.

But The Social Network is my big one, thus far, because it, by all rights, shouldn’t work on paper.  And yet, the casting, the score (fuck yeah, Trent!), the way it’s shot and paced…  I love it.  It’s truly one of the best films I’ve seen in years because, in so many ways, it’s subtle to pitch-perfection, and in your face in others.  Jesse Eisenberg’s performance makes it, and it was totally robbed for the Oscar.

I know that ahead lies a bunch of movies I have zero interest in (wtf, IMDB voters, with all the mobster and sci-fi action shit?), but for now, it’s been a blast.

See you in a few months… and hopefully, with a much more diligent progress report…

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Weekly Spam

For kicks, I’ve decided to dive into the junk folders of my email accounts once a week, plucking out my favourite, ridiculous spam mail for posterity.

I’ve had one of my email accounts for 15 years now, which both makes me feel old and, naturally, means the account is consistently flooded with spam mail.  I’ve since moved all personal correspondence to other accounts, keeping it exclusively for mailing lists and so on.  Some of the junk mail I get there is priceless in its absurdity.  Here’s one shining star:

URGENT RESPONSE

From:  “Lt. Gen Aliyu Gusau” <ashleyalmanza656187@gmail.com>

OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENCY
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA
ASO ROCK VILLA, ABUJA(F.C.T)
PHONE: +234-708-479-9600

ATTENTION

I AM LT. GEN ALIYU GUSAU, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO GOODLUCK JONATHAN, PRESIDENT FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA. I AM DELIGHTED TO INFORM YOU THAT A RESOLUTION HAVE COME INTO THIS YEAR 2011 AFTER THE CONTRACT PANEL MEETING, WHICH CONCLUDED IN ABUJA JUST RELEASED YOUR NAME AMONG OVERDUE CONTRACTORS TO BENEFIT FROM THE DIPLOMATIC PAYMENT IN YEAR 2011. NOTE THAT WE ARE GOING TO SEND YOU YOUR CONTRACT PART PAYMENT OF FIFTEEN MILLION, FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS ONLY TO YOU VIA DIPLOMATIC CASH PAYMENT(USD15.5M), THIS FURTHER EXPLAINS THAT YOUR CONTRACT FUNDS WILL BE DELIVERED TO YOUR DOORSTEP.

KINDLY RE-COMFIRM ME. (1)YOUR FULL NAME:- (2)FULL HOME ADDRESS:- (3)YOUR CELL PHONE NUMBER.

NOTE THAT THE MONEY WILL BE PACKAGED AS A CONSIGNMENT WHICH WILL BE SEALED WITH SYNTHETIC NYLON AND PADDED WITH MACHINE. PLEASE YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORRY FOR ANYTHING, AS THE TRANSACTION IS 100% RISK FREE. PLEASE RESPOND URGENTLY BECAUSE THE DIPLOMATS WOULD BE SCHEDULED TO LEAVE AS SOON AS WE HEAR FROM YOU.

LT. GEN ALIYU GUSAU.

DIRECT LINE: +234-708-479-9600

O RLY?

Let’s take a look at how failtastic this is.  First of all, I love the email address for this supposed Lieutenant…  I’m sure the general is named Ashley in private.  Hmm, you know, given all of the political scandals of late, that’s actually pretty possible.  I stand corrected.  However, I sincerely doubt anyone’s name is Goodluck Jonathan, let alone the President of the Federal Reserve.

As usual, this is a phishing scam, although they’re at least wise enough not to ask immediately for your banking info.  That will come when they get your cell phone number. *snicker*

After you ‘re-comfirm me’ the information, you too can have five hundred thousand dollars sent to your doorstep, risk-free(!), courtesy of a synthetic nylon packed with machine.  You no worry for anything!  How awesome to have money stuffed by machine into some nylon item, all for you, dear contractor!

It boggles my mind when people fall prey to phishing scams, because the emails aren’t even written well.  And in the case of this one, you’d have to be a fool to believe that without bidding for this as a contractor, you were magically selected.  Goodluck Jonathan loves you, baby.

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Dictator Mayor Ford and Brother: The Status Update

Just after Toronto made a ghastly mistake on par with buying into Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution and elected Rob Ford, the Gravy-Train guzzling buffoon, I took a serious look at his platform and its feasibility, and just how good of a deal his supporters were really getting.  At the time, I made a list of predictions as to what we’d see happen.  Being as we’re over 100 days in, let’s see how we’re doing. Only predictions that have shown any change are addressed here.

Prediction Two:  The Vehicle Registration Tax Will Die

In my previous post, I pointed out that this would die due to vast unpopularity, while simulatenously noting that it was a necessary evil of a revenue stream that David Miller enacted to try and keep the budgets balanced.  I also pointed out that Ford had yet to explain how he would compensate for the lost revenue stream, other than ‘finding all the gravy.’

Well, as predicted, the tax bit the dust, and the city now faces a $774M shortfall for 2012, with Ford, as yet, finding very little gravy to substantiate his platforms or claims.  Even better, we’re now spending money on consultants to hunt down gravy.  I thought Ford knew, concretely, of tons of it?  I thought the tax money was unnecessary?  Instead, For5d blew the city’s entire surplus to make the 2011 budget work and – surprise! – just as he derided Miller for doing, he went looking to Dalton McGuinty for a handout already.

Predictions Four and Five: The odds of new subway being approved and even started during Ford’s term is next to nil; as Ford as already admitted, don’t go kissing the streetcars goodbye just yet.

I still see streetcars everywhere, and have heard nothing new since Ford reluctantly admitted to the media (after the transit experts weighed in with *gasp* facts and research) that they weren’t such a done deal.  As for Ford’s transit plan, it now includes the Eglinton LRT (O RLY?  Maybe because it was always a good and necessary idea?), although Ford is hedging on the full extension of it to the airport, which would faciliate commuters from the suburbs – you know, the people that currently drive in here and congest our roads for poor people like Ford?  *sniffle, sheds tear*

Ford is pushing ahead, demanding extra billions to convert the planned Sheppard LRT into a subway that connects the Yonge-University loop to the Scarborough RT.  He also claims he is going to somehow find money to revitalize the SRT.  As things stand right now, no money is promised from Metrolinx, Dalton McGuinty has given him a chilly reception, telling him there is no more money to be had, and private financers via billboards etc. are being considered for that corridor now.  Yeah, because private always works out well for the public masses.

Prediction Six:  Slashed councillor budgets will happen, although the financial relevance is minimal compared to overall operations.

Like any councillor in their right mind in a recession would be against this…  That said, there was some quibbling over the exact reduction, but in the end, this easily passed.  Not that it’s helping much with the massive impending shortfall…

Prediction Ten:  The garbage collection for the city will either worsen in quality or be sold for nearly the same costs as the current deal, meaning no astronomical $20 Million in savings per year, only marginal savings.

This, along with his new transit plan, are the next big items on Ford’s list, but they certainly won’t be as easy as the VRT.  According to The Toronto Star, a staff report regarding contracting out garbage will be forthcoming in April, with it reaching city council in May.  CUPE 416 is already gearing up for a fight on this one.  By the way, the TTC Union, faced with essential service legislation even as Kinnear promised no strikes during the next round of negotiations, is also gearing up to trash Ford and his cronies when their contract expires March 31st.  This could be a very long summer, folks… and an expensive one.

That said, I’m wagering that private garbage collection will happen, but it won’t be much of a savings.  The Brothers Ford will claim we are getting more value for the same buck but… well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Other Developments Worth Paying Attention To:

I strongly suggest that voters pay close attention to the situation with the Toronto Community Housing Council as a metaphor for Ford’s entire approach to the city.  In finding overspending, he rebuked the entire council – even though some of the members were on it less than 3 months and had no involvement (Councillors Augimeri and Cho hadn’t even attended a meeting yet since appointment!) – and then proceeded to demand, push, bluster and dodge proper channels as best he could to fire the entire lot.  One of his main City Hall supporters?  Mammoliti, who, by the way, was part of the TCHC for the vast duration of these overspending incidents.  Ford then forces into place retired politician Case Ootes.

Who is Case Ootes?  A retired city politician, and the former deputy mayor during the computer leasing scandal of Lastman’s heyday,  That’s right:  a guy implicitly involved in mismanaged city spending is single-handedly going to be allowed to clean up the TCHC.  He’s also going to receive $25,000 for a few months’ work, while still collecting his city pension and enjoying that $99K severance from leaving council.  And, as NOW Magazine points out, he had a steady track record for voting against repairs to community housing.  This is the man who will hold the interests of our most disadvantaged families and people in his hands?  Are you kidding me?

Now, you would think Ford would be fully in support of a motion to monitor and publicly post all large expenditures for the TCHC, if firing the board and bringing in Case Ootes is indeed to restore confidence after this audit.  Yet he and his brother voted against this public accountability (check the City voting records yourself).  Why?  Easy enough to tell, judging from Ootes’ first days on the job:  Ootes’ role is to force the opinion that city assets – namely, homes housing TCHC’s families – should be sold off for profit, supposedly to repair other units.  Really, Ford’s desperately looking to fill that $774M gap in 2012.  He’s also got Ootes mulling full privatization… which, as most any tenant knows, will make the TCHC about profit, not assistance for those in trouble.

But what does Ford care?  None of his friends or family are poor.  He’s never known poverty.  His constituents of old are predominantly wealthy or upper-middle class – at least, his main supporters are.  Those are the people he answers to, Toronto – not the rest of you.

I almost want to paraphrase the addage about WWII – “When they came for…” – but I’m sure the point will be missed by those allowing the wool to slip over their eyes.  I fear for Toronto, and Ontario, as people continue to vote for slogans and to ‘punish’ people, instead of for the parties with their best interests at heart.

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The 20 Most Overrated Films I’ve Seen: Part Two

Previously, we counted down numbers 11-20 of the movies I feel are most overrated, based strictly on the films I’ve seen.  It’s important that I stress this, since fiance insists I’m not allowed to name Superbad on this list, being as I never finished watching the flaming dogpile.  I countered, “It was so bad, I shut it off!” but apparently, I lose.  Nevertheless, Superbad gets a dishonourable mention, being as the first half hour was so fucking unfunny, I still don’t get why the movie is so revered.  It was a stupider American Pie, to be honest, with Michael Cera playing – shocker – Michael Cera.

Also, I apparently need to repeat this:  I liked Inglourious Basterds!  I just didn’t feel it was Quentin’s best and after all the hype, it was a letdown.  Okay?

All that aside, I have my flak jacket ready, because I know I’m going to hear it for several of the top ten films.  Again, I liked a couple of these to a degree – albeit a small one – but all of them, in my opinion, get more hype than they deserve.  It is just my opinion, and just as you are welcome to bash Pulp Fiction and Juno and even Donnie Darko, provided you employ more than a sentence, I am entitled to not enjoy these movies.  Agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be donning protective gear as I count down the ten most overrated films I have seen…

10.  Finding Nemo

I’m predicting that this one is going to draw a lot of fire from people.  It’s Disney – nay, Pixar Disney – and it is the most successful animated film of all time.  That’s right:  it’s outdone The Lion King and Toy Story… to which I say, “What the fuck?”

I love Pixar as a rule, and think they revitalized the Disney brand.  I still tear up when they shred Boo’s door in Monsters, Inc. That said, I walked into Finding Nemo with an intense anticipation and excitement… only to find myself annoyed and kind of bored.  It’s not the story with this one, per se; the tale of a traumatized and neurotic father of a handi-capable clownfish named Nemo, and his journey to find his missing son, should be a hit out of the park while blindfolded.  The problem is… well, I just can’t care about the characters.  Albert Brooks grates me, so our daddy fish, Marlin, doesn’t engage me.  Nemo reminds me of every child that gives baby-sitters and siblings a goddamn heart attack with the way he runs off, and is missing before I’m too enamoured with him, either.

And Dory… Ugh.  I know she’s the big reason people dig on Nemo, what with her oh-so-endearing memory loss and lack of common sense, but Ellen Degeneres also does nothing for me, and the gimmick just gets tired, as far as I’m concerned.  Short-term memory loss is also truly unfunny for those who actually suffer with it.  “It’s just a movie, Amber,” you say, and I get that, but if we’re teaching children subtly to obey their parents, lest they be murdered by a dentist’s relative, we shouldn’t mock a physical ailment like this.  Nemo’s demented fin is shown not to be a liability, but Dory is a running joke for her disability?  It just grates.  I have a feeling I would have liked this a lot more without the Dory shtick – and again, a more substantive plot than a Pixar Fellowship of the Ring.  Instead, it falls flat and is just ‘meh’ – and definitely not worth more praise than Toy Story or The Lion King.

9.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Continuing with Disney letdowns, their first feature film – one I believe is mainly revered because it came first – is just weak.  We begin with a children’s story that, like many of the early adaptations, presents the heroine as a weak damsel in distress type.  She’s sent away from the castle by a man; she slaves away for seven little men cheerily, their kept woman; and then, a prince’s kiss must save her from poison.

But it’s not just the story that irks me.  Even taking into account the age of the film, the character design is not very stellar to me, and the personalities of the dwarfs seem paraded just for the sake of killing time.  Disney also procured better voice acting over time than this.  I find a lot of the older Disney films to be a bit dull and dragging, but this one is the worst for me.  It was the start of an important era in animation, and deserves mention for that, but it hasn’t aged well and has been surpassed a million times over.  Let’s stop treating it as pure gold simply because of its place in history.

8.  The Sound of Music

I may love Julie Andrews, and may like parts of this film, but it’s not a film I think of as A quality at all.  It’s a B+ rating for me, and that’s purely on Andrews’ presence.

The film, based on the musical, is far from the reality of the von Trapp family’s story; unsurprisingly, it is a much rosier portrayal of Maria, the maternal figure, and begins (as does Mary Poppins) with a stern and cold father.  Maria is a naughty nun to be who gets booted off to be a governess to seven children in sailor suits, and proceeds to be their Mary Poppins.  In fact, given that this movie was released a mere year before Mary Poppins, one could almost say this film was Andrews’ rehearsal and honing of that character, as she heals the family through song and joyful play.

The biggest detractor for me is the back and forth of Maria.  She’s hired, she’s fired, she’s brought back, she’s scared away, she returns and marries Mr. von Trapp already.  Oh yes, and then they all run away from the Nazis.  In the real story, there was no hair-raising secret evasion of the Nazis; the von Trapps merely moved to Italy, then America.  The device seems added into the musical, and consequently, the film, to add more drama to a rather dull romance framed by adorable cherubic singing children.  It’s dreary and cliched, a tale as old as time, and aside from a few musical moments, the fabricated ending is the only part of interest.  It’s worth a mandatory watch for those who take film viewing more seriously, but the fact that (with adjustments for inflation) it is the third highest grossing film of all-time is baffling to me.  It’s too saccharine and drawn out for me to rank it highly.

7.  Gone With The Wind

Oh. My. God.  This movie… It’s the perfect cure for insomnia.

A lot of this one lies in my personal preferences in storylines for both literature and film:  namely, I hate weak women and gushy romance, and historical romance is an elevated form of nauseating for me, as a rule.  That’s why this list is presented as purely my opinion of the material.  That said, this thing could likely be salvaged with a massive edit and a ‘hurry the fuck up’ pacing in the first, oh, two bloody hours? This thing is four hours long, and not even remotely as entertaining as Titanic.  Funny enough, I wager a lot of Titanic obsessives love Scarlett O’Hara…

And what of Scarlett?  Um, she’s a vapid, selfish whore, who thinks of no one but herself.  A woman like this today, on reality TV, would be labelled a skank and a gold digger, and hardly idolized, yet this film’s praises are endlessly sung.  Why?  Because of the cinematography?  It’s gorgeous, true, but there are other ‘pretty’ movies that blow (the number one film on my list, for a start!).  The portrayal of the Civil War?  It’s important, I grant you, but it’s not the only film out there that tells that story.  At its heart, Gone With The Wind is a glorified episode of Maury Povich that just won’t end already and stop updating on future episodes.  I have no desire to relate to or empathize with Scarlett or Rhett, who’s a chauvanistic pig and bordering on predatory throughout the piece.

The only cool character is Mammy, for which Hattie McDaniel was given an Oscar; too bad, though, that she was forbidden to attend the film’s premiere courtesy of the racist laws at the time.  That historical fact leaves a bad taste in my mouth, given that the studio elected to hold the premiere in a city with such strong laws of segregation, further souring the film for me.  And to sit through four hours of Scarlett’s pointless pining over Ashley and scheming her way into multiple men’s fortunes is just a nightmare for me; at least Maury segments cap at fifteen minutes.

6.  Legally Blonde

I have no idea why a movie that is one big blonde joke that just won’t hit a punchline is so beloved, let alone why it spawned both a sequel and a successful musical.  Is it a general desire to mock blondes, coupled with blondes enjoying seeing the ‘pretty and supposedly vapid’ girl succeed?  I can’t say.  All I know is this:  my IQ dropped ten points watching this drivel.

So Elle, like, is majoring in fashion merchandising?  And like, Warner, her boyfriend, is going to Harvard and will be soooo rich, and she loves him, like, sooooo much?  Well, Warner dumps Elle and goes to Harvard to find a smarter girlfriend.  What does sorority girl Elle do?  Rather than date someone else – someone who wants her as she is – she studies for the law school exam and gets into Harvard, just to win him back.  Guess the story would be over if she learned that self-respect immediately, huh?  Also, guess fashion didn’t mean that much to her as a career.

Another thing that irks me:  what sorority girl do you know who would go to this much effort over a guy, when every frat guy will happily date her?  It’s like an exaggeration of Jessica Wakefield from the Sweet Valley High books – who is also, unastonishingly, blonde and in a sorority.

The movie basically is one big excuse for the blonde to win, even as she is portrayed for laughs as dense, appearance-obsessed, and a shop-a-holic.  I’d actually have more sympathy for Elle’s plight if she were just a smart blonde woman, no cheesy joke attributes, struggling against people’s stereotyped views of her alone.  Instead, we are tormented with ‘Bend and Snap’ and Elle solving a murder case partially because she figures out a witness is actually gay by – wait for it – the fact he knows what brand of shoes she’s wearing.  Way to stereotype the gays, too!

Reese Witherspoon is also one of the most overrated actresses around, and this film is just the epitome of her irritating ways.  I am still bitter about Cruel Intentions, not even gonna lie, and her triumph in this film makes me want to hurl.  It’s painful chick-lit on screen, and Elle’s soaring success is never believable.  Die in a fire, Elle.

5.  Dumb and Dumber

Let me preface this criticism by saying that I fully appreciate dumb/weird/kooky humour.  Two of my favourite TV shows are Robot Chicken and Beavis and Butt-head, and I also happen to love Dude, Where’s My Car?  That said, Dumb and Dumber is just… well, dumb.  It’s not funny in the slightest, is completely convoluted, and essentially, is a series of gags strung together.  While similar to Dude in that the day is a screwed up journey to a final goal (in Dumber‘s case, getting a briefcase to Mary), the actual goal accomplishing gets derailed after the first act in the airport to set up the plausibility of Harry and Lloyd ditching their lives to go to Aspen.

At least Chester and Jesse are only circling their own city in search of a car.  That’s probably a big reason why that movie works better for me.  Oh yeah:  I’ve never found Jim Carrey all that funny.  He’s better in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where he’s more subtle.

There’s also the fact that Harry and Lloyd are exceptionally dumb, as opposed to naive.  It’s almost to a point where it’s too far out there, and certain gags seem completely unbelievable (the whole mix-up with putting drinks on Sea Bass’ account seems a little far-fetched, as does the poisoning gone wrong).  It’s not endearing, like Jim in American Pie or Forrest Gump; it’s just tiresome.  I didn’t laugh once watching this movie, and am endlessly explaining my loathing of it, making this definitely one of the most overrated movies I’ve ever seen.

4.  Out Of Sight

I remember back in 1998, when this movie came out, my friends and I went to the theatre on $2.50 Tuesday (I miss those days!).  There was some debate amongst us as we tried to pick a movie.  I was dead set on The Truman Show; most of them voted Out of Sight.  I gave in, making them promise if I hated it, they’d give me my money back.

By the end of the movie, I was playing with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys (Mulan toys), my best friend was bored, and even the gung-ho contingent admitted the movie was ‘alright’.  I got my $2.50 back, and was vindicated.

If you’ve yet to see this film, don’t; it’s just an earlier dress rehearsal for George Clooney’s take on Danny Ocean, as seen in the previously dissed Ocean’s Eleven.  It even features Don Cheadle as well, and they (surprise!) are off on a heist after Clooney’s character breaks out of jail.  Jennifer Lopez is the ‘Tess’ of this film, playing a US Marshal who, after some time locked in the trunk of a car with Clooney, endlessly pursues him – to bone him, really.  After all, who could resist George Clooney, other than me?

It’s just a hot mess and so… Lock Stock meets a chick romance.  I know Elmore Leonard is regarded highly, but I just found everything implausible and dull, and it took way too long to get to the heisting, as it were.  Jennifer Lopez is also a dreadful actress, and I just wanted her to get off my damn screen every time she appeared.

If you really need a crime movie with romance, then see something else.  See Bonnie and Clyde, or The Getaway, or the original Ocean’s Eleven.  Skip this unless J-Lo or Clooney give you a case of the hot and bothered.

3.  Napoleon Dynamite

I rented this movie with a free rental coupon, after many friends recommending the hell out of it.  Two hours – and two laughs later – I wanted my coupon and my time back.

Jon Heder is a terrible actor; there’s a reason why he’s never exploded like, say, Seth Rogen.  He’s like Michael Cera, playing the same character endlessly, only it’s not an endearing one; it’s just an annoying, dead-pan, expressionless nerd.  It’s painful to watch on screen.  I feel sorry for Tina Majorino for having starred in this, considering she’s so gifted and underappreciated as an actress (see her turn as Mac in Veronica Mars); she deserved a better co-star.

The plot centres around an absurdly eccentric life of one Napoleon Dynamite, who doodles animals and loves Tater Tots for reasons I can’t explain.  His grandmother has a pet llama and breaks her ass, and along comes Napoleon’s uncle to recruit Napoleon for a door-to-door saleman gig.  Yeah, I don’t get the point, either.  I also don’t get the hipster racism in the form of Kip’s long-distance gal LaFawnduh, hailing from Detroit.

So Napoleon befriends Pedro, a poor guy from Juarez who sadly does not befriend anyone cooler, and he runs for class president.  This movie then becomes Rushmore for spastic geeks, or some sort of dreadful hybrid akin to it, with the finale being a strange dance to Jamiroquai’s Canned Heat by Napoleon that strongly resembles the Radiohead video for Lotus Flower.  And they all lived strangely ever after, tether ball included.

This movie is pointless and boring to me, and I doubt being high could possibly save it.  It’s like a bad SNL sketch that won’t die, trying too hard to be quirky and ‘funny but over your head’.  One of the absolute worst movies ever made, hands down.

2.  Shakespeare In Love

This movie’s Oscar wins constitute one of the biggest travesties ever witnessed in the history of the ceremony.  Gwyneth ‘GOOP’ Paltrow won an award over Cate fucking Blanchett?  I guess mommy Blythe Danner knows how to buy an Oscar, being as Paltrow’s only good turn was as a head in a box.

I love Shakespeare’s work; it’s almost pathetic, really, how much I enjoy the Bard.  I have a quote book of Shakespeare by themes, in addition to the complete works, a copy of Romeo and Juliet bound with Baz Lurhman’s screenplay adaptation, and several other plays separately bound.  I can sit through the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet in rapture most any week.  Years after learning it for school, I can recite the Dagger Speech from Macbeth, among others.  I should have loved this movie, by anyone’s guess, even with Paltrow polluting the talent pool.

Instead, I fell asleep in the middle of it, and had to be jostled awake.

The plot is a fictional account of Shakespeare’s writing of Romeo and Juliet, and how Paltrow’s Viola, disguised as a boy due to the laws of the time, wins the role of Romeo.  Upon discovering her true gender, Shakespeare takes Viola as a secret lover and muse, furiously working to complete the play.  In the grand tradition of Shakespearian drama, Viola is betrothed to another, the play is nearly banned when her gender is revealed, but all ends mostly well, of course.  This is a comedy, not the tragedy written within.

The trouble is, the story reads too much like the Bard’s work, and thus, is uninspired and unoriginal.  Paltrow is tedious to watch for me, and the remainder of the cast cannot save the mediocre story.  The only reason to bother with it is Judi Dench’s turn as Queen Elizabeth – the only Oscar the film deserved.  Blah, blah, secret romance, blah blah, Viola ‘dies’ from Shakespeare’s life.  Bored now.  In a year filled with amazing works of cinematic excellence, this is the last one that deserved multiple Oscars and showerings of praise.  I’d rather go read the real thing in my Oxford Anthology.

Which brings us to… the most overrated film…

Can you guess what shipment of fail is about to arrive from this Venn demonstration (which is painfully accurate)?  You can disagree with the other 19 films on my list and I will (mostly) support your opposing view as valid, but honestly, if you read my critique of this one and can’t agree I’ve got a plethora of valid points, then, well…. just pretend you never read this blog, and save us a heated debate.  Drum roll, please…

1.  Avatar (or, as I call it, ‘Crapatar’, or ‘James Cameron’s $300M remake of FernGully)

Fuck you, James Cameron.  Seriously, fuck you.

I do not understand this man and his colossal expenditures on films, only to make something super pretty that lacks substance.  Titanic, for example, is only saved by its cast, doing their best with lacklustre dialogue.  In the case of Avatar, however, Cameron not only rips off the entire plot of FernGully: The Last Rainforest, he does so poorly, with an ass-hat lead actor and a pathetic script.

Everything about the plot, from Sigourney Weaver essentially reprising a watered down version of her role in Gorillas in the Mist to an evil army commander who reminded me of a sad caricature of every ‘ignorant, war hungry army guy’ ever made, combines such that the characters just… don’t matter.  You can literally point to each character and say, “Oh, that’s just like X movie!”  Try it; that and endlessly predicting the next event in the story were the only two things that helped my fiance and I survive this pathetic excuse for a drama to the end.

The movie opens with John Smith Jake Sully, the paraplegic, being offered a shot at participating in a program wherein avatars (representations of the native species, the faeries of FernGully Na’vi) frolic into Fern Pandora to understand their ways and the moon’s biosphere.  You see, there is a lovely mineral the big bad corporation wants, called – wait for it – unobtanium.  That which is unobtainable, eh, Cameron?

This point right here is proof positive that the man has an incredible eye for asthetics, but absolutely no fucking skill as a writer.

We then meet Sigourney Weaver’s character, Dian Fossey Grace Augustine, who’s in love with the peaceful cat people – er, Na’vi – and not in love with soldier Sully being brought in, being as he hasn’t learned the language and isn’t a scientist.  Sully wows the powers that be, though, so Grace is screwed.  Nah, nah.

Through a series of events, Jake meets and pisses off Pocahontas Neytiri, but manages to earn his way into the Na’vi ways of life.  Good ol’ Jake gets soft for the people (and hard for Neytiri), in a seemingly endless stretch of montages of initiation, zapping in and out of avatars, video log crap that’s supposed to give Sully meaning, and the evil powers wanting more access to their precious resources.  Eventually, the overwhelming goodness of FernGully’s way of life, centred around a mystical tree the Na’vi and their connection to nature, particualarly Hometree, brings Jake over to Grace’s side, and he stops trying to buy new legs with intel on unobtanium.

Cue the cliched war in the land of peace, people valiantly dying for the cause, blah blah another hour of crap.

Three hours of pretty plagiarism with one-dimensional characters.  Why is the world falling all over itself for two sequels of this shite?  And what movies will Cameron crib from next?  Never once during the movie did I give a shit about the Na’vi, because I was too pissed at FernGully being repackaged and stolen.  Sam Worthington can’t act – see Terminator: Salvation for more proof of this robotic fail.  The only moments I felt anything were Grace’s last scenes (because I like Sigourney Weaver, even when recycling her past roles) and the credits – at which I felt intense relief and a desire to personally hunt down Cameron a la South Park’s The Passion of the Jew and demand my money back.

If you want to watch a shiny blue sub-par melding of Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves and FernGully, see Avatar. If you have any sense of decorum, see the works Cameron robbed, instead, especially FernGully.  It’s superior, moving and far better acted, and an hour shorter.  Time well spent, with Robin Williams and Tim Curry, to boot.

This concludes the presentation!  Coming soon:  a much more positive list of movies, I swear!  In the meantime, feel free to like/agree/disagree/offer your own suggestions…

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The 20 Most Overrated Films I’ve Seen: Part One

In working to complete the movie portion of the 2011 Pop Culture Challenge, I started thinking of the contents of IMDB’s Top 250 List, and its slant towards, well, guy movies.  You know – mobsters, war, sci-fi…  all of the stuff that seldom does anything for me.  I stare at the IMDB ratings on certain movies and wonder if I saw a different movie or if the userbase is just oblivious to quality films.  Thus, may I present to you the first of two posts, in which I tear apart twenty movies that are, in my little opinion, overrated.

Now, before we proceed, let’s keep two things in mind:  1)  this is only my opinion, and is subjective (and I’ve seen plenty of lists bashing some of my favourite films, like Pulp Fiction, so opinions vary); and 2) overrated does not always mean bad – it just means that I feel it received more acclaim, accolades or audience love than it deserved.  In this first half of the list, wherein I tackle the lower ten, you’ll find many movies I actually liked; they’re just not worth the hype they were given.

20.  Inglourious Basterds

That’s right, I did it:  I started with Tarantino, whose work I generally love.  People went absolutely ballistic for this film when it was released, generally praising the hell out of it.  Now, I enjoyed this film, as I enjoy all of Tarantino’s work – even Four Rooms – but for me, it was not the second coming of Pulp Fiction-esque perfection it was painted as by so many.

This film desperately needed an edit.  I personally feel that the use of multiple languages detracted from Tarantino’s strongest gift, which is his ability to write fucked up yet intelligent dialogue sequences.  The action elements and general plot were wonderful fun, but sequences like the drawn out ‘little miss theatre owner Jew chick has dinner with douchebag guy associated with the SS’ were way too long and, frankly, boring as shit.  This was only made worse by me having to read subtitles.  The first half of the film is, for the most part, a snore, made only tolerable by our lovely ‘Jew Bear’ Donny, portrayed by Eli Roth.  I’m actually pretty sure that most of the hype for this film is derived from Roth’s performance and that fact that the SS takes it up the proverbial ass, which is indeed incredibly satisfying.  It’s not a total letdown of a film, nor is it by any means bad; it’s just not as good as people made it out to be.

19.  Twilight Saga

Given that the Twilight films have taken a hell of a slagging from critics and the public, they’re not overrated per se.  However, the box office take for these films is proof that impressionable young minds will gobble up anything if properly packaged – and do so over and over… and over.  In that sense, the Saga is way overrated.

You can’t blame the movies entirely; the source material is pretty dreadful, with a weak heroine devoid of depth and common sense, a presumed hero who is rewarded for being a stalker who is disturbingly controlling, and a BFF who verges on date rapist in the third book/film.  That said, the movies are… wow.  I can’t honestly imagine being a fan of the books and finding the films satisfying, given the poor acting, the weak special effects (‘gay man vomited on me’ glittery vampires, anyone?), dropping the few key character defining moments from each of the movies, making me wonder why Rosenberg was hired for these scripts…  The list goes on.  The most tolerable of the lot is New Moon, the second installment, because Weitz stays pretty true to the original text, making one adjustment that brings a more visual element to something that works better on paper (Bella’s hallucinations). It can’t fix the fact that Nikki Reed’s roots are always showing or that her eyebrows betray the fact that she is not a natural blonde like Rosalie, proving Hardwicke cast her because they’re BFFs.  Horrid actress, that bitch is.  And don’t get me started on Jackson Rathbone’s poodle hair…

These films are fun to watch intoxicated, or to approach like a bad soap opera like Passions, but they generated way too much revenue.  Summit thanks you, tweens.

18.  Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

This is another one of those films where it was a good movie, and I enjoyed watching it – but only to a degree.  This film, one of Guy Ritchie’s babies (another of his is coming on this list), has the cool British crime element and plays out like the constantly shifting plot spawn of Tarantino and McQuarrie’s The Usual Suspects.  When the film is good, it’s really fucking good and funny;  however, there are moments of lag and other moments of confusion as the plot grows increasingly convoluted, to the point where my brain just shut off, annoyed at keeping the characters straight.  It’s almost as if it began with the awesome bits, only to have them hastily written into a coherent stream and packaged as a film.

Unlike Basterds, this film needed to be a bit longer, better establishing the key players in each gang so that the viewer is arsed to keep them all straight.  Granted, I never saw the director’s cut; maybe it would satisfy me more?  All in all, a worthwhile watch, but not nearly as awesome as The Usual Suspects or, say, The Departed.

17.  Diary of the Dead

When us horror afficionados think zombies, we think George A. Romero, similar to how we associated the dramatic crazy horror style with Wes Craven, or stalker-slashers with John Carpenter.  No one can ever discredit Romero’s vision and how it has influenced legions that have followed him (gleefully chanting, “Braaaaaiiiins”).  That said, Diary of the Dead falls extremely flat, and is perhaps worse than Land of the Dead, if only for the acting factor – as in, no one can act in this piece of crap.

Although not an excessively hyped film, Romero did win a 2008 Critics Award for the flick, with even lesser reviews equating the film and its social commentary with previous films.  I have to disagree entirely; everything in this film has been done and said before, only better.  The idea of social networking and blogging being our conduits for information during a disaster?  It’s been alluded to before in several films, including Halloween: Resurrection.  The filming it to document it?  Hello, Blair Witch Project. It’s also done better by Paranormal Activity.  Even the finale at Ridley’s place is all too reminicent of The Walking Dead comics and series. The acting is atrocious, with these supposedly talented theatre students not selling me at all on their backstories, emotions or motivations.

Skip it, entirely; don’t ruin Romero for yourself.

16.  Rosemary’s Baby

Here we come to another of the horror/suspense genre, one of the long-regarded old-school classics.  I have to say, aside from a few Hitchcockian moments, the film’s a snore.  The plot on paper sounds terrifying and creepy:  Rosemary’s husband falls in with Satanists in their building, and allows his wife to be drugged and impregnated with what she begins to suspect is their child, but the devil’s spawn.  Rosemary is increasingly isolated, with nowhere to turn, and then… Well, spoilers!  That said, the suspense just never came through for me.  It plods along, and frankly, Rosemary should have caught on way sooner and bailed while pregnant.  I mean, come on:  her due date is 6/66?  It’s also painfully cliched and insulting to actual witches, who are not Satanists, contrary to the interchanging of terms in this film.

It’s worth a watch, but I do not fathom its epic legacy in the genre.  Then again, Polanski’s work has never really impressed me.  It’s only tolerable because of Mia Farrow’s performance.

15.  ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

This is where I duck the pitchforks of the waiting mob, although a quick Google of overrated films tells me I’m far from being the only one who’s not completely enamoured with Spielberg’s big 80s classic.

This is another movie, like Basterds, that could be saved with a massive edit.  It plods on far too long in the beginning, especially for an 80s film, and I often find myself tapping my foot, waiting for ET to just fucking move in with Elliott and go for the iconic bike ride, already.  I also have always found the scientist invasion of their home just… overdone and overdramatic.  And what the hell is with ET ‘dying’ and then reviving?  Was he faking dying?  How did he magically get better once severing the link with Elliott?  Are we to believe that humans are toxic to aliens?

Ah, that explains War of the Worlds, then!

It’s aimed as a family movie, but ultimately, it seems out to make children hysterical as it threatens the deaths of a CHILD and the adorable alien simulataneously, with no good explanation for the deus ex machina-esque resolution.  Plot fail.  It’s a B+ movie at best, not the classic film people gush over.

14.  Snatch

And here comes Guy Ritchie’s second film of the list!  It almost pains me as a British woman to diss the man twice, but quite frankly, he deserves it.  He also deserves it for Swept Away but since that film garnered no positive attention, I can’t have it on this list.

Snatch is a recycled Lock Stock:  same convolution of crossing plots, same crazy-weird characters and crime theme, same double and triple crossing crap.  Unlike Lock Stock, which at least tries to have a good story (and has too many of them going by too quickly at times), Snatch is basically a collection of interesting characters and performances (Brad Pitt’s being the one that many remember) that are quickly lumped into factions and ridiculous events in order to use them on screen.  It’s uninspired, unoriginal, and frankly, I zoned out for the middle half of it.  See Lock Stock – it’s worth a single viewing, at least – and skip this one.  Why watch a remake of a less than stellar film?

13.  Ocean’s Eleven (the Clooney one)

Okay, seriously:  why the fuck do people love Clooney so much?  I don’t get it.  He’s not attractive.  He acts in terrible movies.  His only redeeming factor is his charity work; at least he’s spending his undeserved money in nice ways, I suppose.  But enough about Georgey boy; let’s get with the movie.

Ocean’s Eleven is a big-ass heist movie with tons of double-crossing, but it plays like the film where they rammed in a lot of big names to hide that fact that, aside from sucessfully screwing three casinos, it’s a flaming paper bag waiting to be stomped out on someone’s porch…. Kind of like the original and its Rat Pack cast.  It’s just too perfect, somehow, and Clooney’s cocky ass just makes me hate the crew, rather than cheer them on for sticking it to the man.  Julia Roberts is annoying as hell in this one as Tess, Ocean’s fairweather girlfriend.  I mean, come on:  do you really think she left Benedict just because he offered to trade her for cash?  No way; she left because the money Benedict had was now in Ocean’s possession.  I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger

Has anyone made a fanvid of this shit to Cee Lo’s Fuck You yet?

On a side note, I feel bad for Brad Pitt.  He’s in three films on the list, through no fault of his own.  He’s great in Basterds!  His character in Snatch is a fun watch.  I’ll forgive him this one.

Just a grating movie experience, namely due to Clooney and Cheadle’s pathetic accent.  And Julia Roberts is a bitch.

12.  The original Star Wars trilogy (now episodes 4-6)

The only purpose these movies serve is endless joke fodder for Spaceballs and a drinking game that will induce alcohol poisoning.  True facts.  I have watched these films as a kid and an adult, and other than the Ewoks being cute, they blow.  Utterly and totally blow.

That said, Harrison Ford is an amusing Bond-esque cocky asshole, and I really love Spaceballs. So I’ve only made this #12.  That and there are enough Trekkies in the world to constitute a large amount of people insisting these are overrated.

Where to begin?  The melodramatic acting?  Luke’s endless whining?  Blowing up the Death Star twice because Lucas couldn’t think of anything else to fucking do?  Oh, and Leia Organa?  Lay-a-organ?  WTF, Lucas?  The middle film, which is as weak to the franchise as The Matrix: Reloaded?  Let’s face it: Star Wars is a soap opera that believes it is serious film, and even Lucas never had the entire story figured out from the start.  As a result, the plot seems slapped together in places, and gets contradicted in others.  Oh yeah, and the love triangle resolution is deus ex machina’ed.  Lame.  Fuck this franchise in the ass.  I can’t watch it sober; it’s that contrived and ridiculous.

Good thing I have this!  Last time, I just drank when people had bad feelings and Luke whined and man, I was wasted!  Now that’s turning lemons into Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

(I may not be a Trekkie, but Trek owns Wars, the end.)

11.  Chasing Amy

I love Kevin Smith’s work.  I love his boldness, his profanity and vulgarity, his repeated casting of Jason Lee…  Hell, I hate Salma Hayek but she’s fun in DogmaChasing Amy had the most mainstream critical success of all of his films (Clerks is the most successful overall, in terms of accolades and cult devotion), and has been critically acclaimed as Smith at his best.  Even Taran-fucking-tino said it was a “quantum leap forward” from Mallrats and Clerks.

I hate it.

The film means well, but honestly plays like a love-note vehicle for Smith’s old flame, Joey Lauren Adams.  Adams plays Alyssa, a lesbian who strikes a friendship with Holden.  Holden writes a comic with his roomie Banky, who, by the way, is homophobic.  Convenient, right?  Instant angst – especially when lesbian Alyssa and Holden fall into bed and begin a relationship.  ZOMG Holden, how can you bang a dyke?!  Oh noes!  Sexuality is a dichotomy!

Spoilers ahead: Things get even more bi-phobic when Holden finds out Alyssa’s boned other men.  *sniffle*  You mean, my cock isn’t your first, Alyssa?  Ugh.  Is Holden an unspoken cherry hound?  Why does Alyssa have to refer to her time with men as experimenting?  She obviously likes dick to a degree; why can’t we leave it at, “I prefer women and so I identify as a lesbian, for easy understanding”?

But wait, there’s more!  Banky is gay and in love with Holden or something?  They should all fuck, too!  Go Holden!  Get you some!

End spoilers: Smith’s film is a fucking insult to gays and bis everywhere, has a too pat explanation for a so-called good character’s assinine behaviour, and, oh yeah, it’s fucking boring.  This would have been better off as a porno plot.

There you have it!  The first ten victims of my overrated films list have taken their respective beatings.  Look for the continuation soon, in which I bemoan a few Disney outings, shred a few supposed old classics, crap all over James Cameron and diss the dumbest dumb comedies ever made.  Stay tuned!

UPDATE:  Part Two Is Now Available!  Click Here!

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