Monday, June 30, 2008

When Ambassadors Had Rhythm

HALF a century ago, when America was having problems with its image during the cold war, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the United States representative from Harlem, had an idea. Stop sending symphony orchestras and ballet companies on international tours, he told the State Department. Let the world experience what he called “real Americana”: send out jazz bands instead.

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong in Cairo in 1961. More Photos »

A photography exhibition of those concert tours, titled “Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World,” is on display at the Meridian International Center in Washington through July 13 and then moves to the Community Council for the Arts in Kinston, N.C. There are nearly 100 photos in the show, many excavated from obscure files in dozens of libraries, then digitally retouched and enlarged by James Hershorn, an archivist at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. There’s Dizzy Gillespie in 1956, charming a snake with his trumpet in Karachi, Pakistan. Louis Armstrong in ’61, surrounded by laughing children outside a hospital in Cairo. Benny Goodman in ’62, blowing his clarinet in Red Square. Duke Ellington in ’63, smoking a hookah at Ctesiphon in Iraq.

The idea behind the State Department tours was to counter Soviet propaganda portraying the United States as culturally barbaric. Powell’s insight was that competing with the Bolshoi would be futile and in any case unimaginative. Better to show off a homegrown art form that the Soviets couldn’t match — and that was livelier besides. Many jazz bands were also racially mixed, a potent symbol in the mid to late ’50s, when segregation in the South was tarnishing the American image.

Jazz was the country’s “Secret Sonic Weapon” (as a 1955 headline in The New York Times put it) in another sense as well. The novelist Ralph Ellison called jazz an artistic counterpart to the American political system. The soloist can play anything he wants as long as he stays within the tempo and the chord changes — just as, in a democracy, the individual can say or do whatever he wants as long as he obeys the law. Willis Conover, whose jazz show on Voice of America radio went on the air in 1955 and soon attracted 100 million listeners, many of them behind the Iron Curtain, once said that people “love jazz because they love freedom.”

The Jazz Ambassador tours, as they were called, lasted weeks, sometimes months, and made an impact, attracting huge, enthusiastic crowds. A cartoon in a 1958 issue of The New Yorker showed some officials sitting around a table in Washington, one of them saying: “This is a diplomatic mission of the utmost delicacy. The question is, who’s the best man for it — John Foster Dulles or Satchmo?”

Powell arranged for Gillespie, his close friend, to make the State Department’s first goodwill jazz tour, starting out in March 1956 with an 18-piece band and traveling all over southern Europe, the Middle East and south Asia.

The band’s first stop was Athens, where students had recently stoned the local headquarters of the United States Information Service in protest of Washington’s support for Greece’s right-wing dictatorship. Yet many of those same students greeted Gillespie with cheers, lifting him on their shoulders, throwing their jackets in the air and shouting: “Dizzy! Dizzy!”

When Armstrong arrived in the Congo as part of a 1960 tour through Africa, drummers and dancers paraded him through the streets on a throne, a scene captured by a photograph in the exhibition. As late as 1971, when Ellington came to Moscow, an American diplomat wrote in his official report that crowds greeted the Duke as something akin to “a Second Coming.” One young Russian yelled, “We’ve been waiting for you for centuries!”

The stars were happy to play their parts in this pageant for hearts and minds, but not as puppets. After his Middle East tour Gillespie said with pride that it had been “powerfully effective against Red propaganda.” But when the State Department tried to brief him beforehand on how to answer questions about American race relations, he said: “I’ve got 300 years of briefing. I know what they’ve done to us, and I’m not going to make any excuses.”

Armstrong canceled a 1957 trip to Moscow after President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to send federal troops to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce school-integration laws. “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell,” he said. “It’s getting so bad, a colored man hasn’t got any country.”

Administration officials feared that this broadside, especially from someone so genial as “Ambassador Satchmo,” would trigger a diplomatic disaster. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told Attorney General Herbert Brownell that the situation in Arkansas was “ruining our foreign policy.” Two weeks later, facing pressure from many quarters, Eisenhower sent the National Guard to Arkansas. Armstrong praised the move and agreed to go on a concert tour of South America.

The jazzmen’s independence made some officials nervous. But the shrewder diplomats knew that on balance it helped the cause. The idea was to demonstrate the superiority of the United States over the Soviet Union, freedom over Communism, and here was evidence that an American — even a black man — could criticize his government and not be punished.

The photographs in the exhibition evoke this time when American culture and politics were so finely joined. Curtis Sandberg, the curator at Meridian International, said that during the three years it took to prepare the show his staff would frequently gaze at the photos and say, “Why aren’t we doing something like this now?”

But in today’s world what would “something like this” be?

Jazz was a natural for the cold war. Soviet citizens who hated their government found anything American alluring, especially jazz (and later rock), which was such a heady contrast to Moscow’s stale official culture. The same was true, to a degree, in some of the nonaligned nations, which were under pressure from both superpowers to sway toward one side or the other.

The pianist Dave Brubeck recalled in a phone interview that, when his quartet played in 12 Polish cities in 1958, several young musicians followed the band from town to town. When he went back to Warsaw just a few years ago, one of those followers came up to him — Mr. Brubeck recognized his face — and said, “What you brought to Poland wasn’t just jazz. It was the Grand Canyon, it was the Empire State Building, it was America.”

What aspect of American culture would present such an appealing face now — not to potential dissidents in Poland or Russia but, say, to moderate Muslims in Syria or Iran? And in a multipolar world, what would make them turn to the United States as an alternative to their own regimes?

Even in its heyday jazz diplomacy, like any sort of cultural diplomacy, was at best an adjunct to the more conventional brand. As Penny M. Von Eschen wrote in her 2004 book, “Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War” (Harvard University Press), the audiences abroad “never confused or conflated their love of jazz and American popular culture with an acceptance of American foreign policy.” The biggest impact on hearts and minds comes, as always, from what the American government does.

And yet the State Department has a program in jazz diplomacy now. It’s called Rhythm Road, it’s run by Jazz at Lincoln Center (a three-year contract has just been renewed), and it sends 10 bands (mainly jazz, some hip-hop, all of which audition for the gig) to 56 countries in a year.

It’s scaled more modestly than the program of yore. For one thing, no jazz musicians — for that matter, few pop stars — are as famous as a Gillespie, Armstrong or Brubeck in his prime, and the jazz musicians in Rhythm Road are not well known even by today’s standards. The program’s goals are more modest too. There is no pretense of competing for geo-cultural primacy. But that is what gives this program its cogent post-cold-war spin.

The State Department doesn’t tell the musicians what to do, but some of them, either jointly or on their own, have decided to emphasize not their music’s peculiarly American quality but rather its resonance with the countries they’re visiting.

When the saxophonist Chris Byars took a band to Saudi Arabia this year, he played the music of Gigi Gryce, a jazz composer of the 1940s and ‘50s who converted to Islam and changed his name to Basheer Qusim. “When I announce that I’m going to play compositions by the American jazz musician Basheer Qusim, that gets their attention,” he said. “Afterward several people came up, very appreciative, saying very intensely, ‘Thank you for coming to our country.’ ”

Before the bass player Ari Roland went to Turkmenistan last year, he learned some Turkmen folk songs. His band played jazz improvisations of these songs with local musicians — the first time such mixing had been allowed — and a 15-minute news report about the concert ran on state television several times the next day.

“They saw Americans paying homage to their cultural traditions,” he said. “Several people at the concert came up and said, in effect, ‘Wow, you’re not all imperialists out to remake the world in your image.’ ”

The Jazz Ambassadors of a half-century ago did some of this too. Gillespie played sambas in South America. Goodman played a Burmese oboe with local musicians in Rangoon. But the intent was to showcase the unique — and superior — vitality of the United States. The task today might be, once more, to highlight that vitality but to show that it — and, by implication, America itself — might fit in harmoniously with the rest of the world.

Original here

Disney's "WALL-E" wows box office

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Animation giant Pixar scored its ninth consecutive No. 1 on Sunday with its robot love story "WALL-E," while Angelina Jolie achieved a personal best with her violent assassination thriller "Wanted."

"WALL-E," bolstered by near-unanimous critical praise, sold an estimated $62.5 million of tickets in its first three days, said Pixar's Walt Disney Co parent.

It tied with 2001's "Monsters, Inc." to become Pixar's third-best opener. Pixar has gone to No. 1 with all nine of its movies, an unprecedented run that begin in 1995 with "Toy Story."

The company record of $70.5 million was set in 2004 by "The Incredibles." Industry pundits had forecast an opening for "WALL-E" in the $50 million to $60 million range.

"Anything north of 60 (million dollars), we were going to be ecstatic," said Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group.

Meanwhile Jolie, whose career has been overshadowed in recent years by breathless tabloid coverage of her personal life, kicked off at No. 2 with "Wanted." The Universal Pictures release earned about $51.1 million, easily beating forecasts of an opening in the mid- to high-$30 million range.

Her previous record for a live-action movie was 2005's "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," which opened to $50 million. The General Electric Co-owned studio said "Wanted" ranks as the third-highest opening for an R-rated action film, behind "The Matrix Reloaded ($91.7 million) and "300" ($70.9 million).

"WALL-E" and "Wanted," clearly aimed at disparate audiences, helped pushed overall sales to their highest level of the year, said tracking firm Media By Numbers. The top 12 films grossed $179 million, up 29 percent from last weekend, and up 20 percent from the year-ago period, when Pixar's "Ratatouille" opened at No. 1 with $47 million on its way to $206 million.

Last weekend's champion, the Warner Bros spy comedy "Get Smart," slipped to No. 3 with $20 million, taking its 10-day haul to $77.3 million. The film, which stars Steve Carell as the inept hero Maxwell Smart, should finish up with about $130 million, said the Time Warner Inc-owned studio.

Rounding out the top five, Pixar rival DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc's "Kung Fu Panda" slipped one to No. 4 with $11.7 million, taking its total to $179.3 million. The film opened four weeks ago to $60.2 million.

Marvel Entertainment Inc's "The Incredible Hulk" fell three to No. 5 with $9.2 million. The superhero adaptation has earned $115.5 million after three weeks, roughly on par with its unloved 2003 predecessor "The Hulk."

"WALL-E," a space adventure mixing an unusual love story with somber messages about the future of Earth and humankind, was directed by Andrew Stanton, who won an Academy Award for Pixar's 2003 hit "Finding Nemo."

The title character, or Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class, is the last of a cadre of robots tasked with cleaning up piles of trash discarded by humans who abandoned the planet centuries before.

The human race set off on a luxury space cruise during a planned five-year clean-up that lasts much longer and results in unfortunate changes in the human physique and psyche.

The arrival of a sleek girl robot named Eve, sent to Earth by the orbiting humans to look for plant life, sends Wall-E on an adventure that changes his own and humanity's destinies.

Critics heaped praise on the film. According to Rotten Tomatoes, a Web site that collects reviews, an astonishing 96 percent of critics liked the film.

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune said on TV's "Ebert & Roeper" that it was perhaps "the best American studio picture of the year," but the Hollywood Reporter said "it might be too clever to connect with mainstream audiences."

Disney's Zoradi said "WALL-E" was not a conventional cartoon, but the studio was "confident from the get-go" that it would work. He declined to reveal the film's budget, in line with Disney's policy.

"WALL-E" also opened at No. 1 in six small foreign markets, led by Brazil with $1.6 million, Zoradi said. It will reach Russia and Mexico next weekend, followed by the U.K. in mid-July, timed with the school holidays in each market.

"Wanted," a $74 million comic book adaptation directed by Kazakhstan-born filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, stars Scottish actor James McAvoy ("The Last King of Scotland") as an office drone recruited to an elite order of assassins by Jolie and Morgan Freeman. Critics were also enthused.

(Reporting by Dean Goodman and Gina Keating; Editing by Vicki Allen)

Original here

Show Tracker: What you're watching

Is a 'Battlestar Galactica' TV movie deal nearly done?

Last month, Maureen Ryan was the first to report that as many as three "Battlestar Galactica" TV films were under discussion at the Sci Fi network. She noted that "it would make sense to make more 'Battlestar' TV movies while the show'€™s creative team and actors are still all in one place."

Well, too late for that now -- the cast is being flung far and wide.

But! "I just heard about the first Battlestar movie being greenlit," said Grace Park, "Battlestar's" Cylon No. 8, yesterday by phone from Vancouver, Canada.

"A TV movie, but still! But this -- it's like, yeah, it's over but we're ready to move on but nobody's manager or agent has been called. It's supposed to start in August."


So, at the very least, the rumors aren't just flying on the Internet -- but on the set as well.

Tonight in Vancouver, the "Battlestar" cast will have its wrap party. On the shooting schedules in these final weeks, huge chunks of time have been blacked out to accommodate new jobs for Cylon and human character alike: No Mary McDonnell one day, no Tricia Helfer the next.

Park, for one, has been jetting off for her new job on the A&E series "The Cleaner," which stars Benjamin Bratt and shoots in Los Angeles; it premieres July 15.

The cast has so far seen most of the series' final episodes, which will air in (sigh!) 2009.

"There's one episode where everything is explained and I had to read it three times," Park said. "I had to sit down with [executive producer] Ron Moore and he had to break it down."

Among other tidbits (the interview with Park will run here on July 20), Park also confirmed the presence of a child actor on set -- one of the toddlers who plays her character Sharon "Athena" Agathon's daughter, the Cylon-human offspring Hera.

From over at the Sci Fi channel, we hear they'd "love to see the continuation of 'Battlestar' with a special event akin to Razor but the idea is still in the discussion stage."

For his part, Moore told The Times' Geoff Boucher and the audience of fans at the Arclight, who gathered for our series of Emmy panels, that he'd love to see it happen as well.

-- Choire Sicha

Original here

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The 10 Worst Top-Shelf CG Cartoon Movies Ever Made

Polar_051114104811699_wideweb__300x375.jpgBy Zac Bertschy

Today, unanimously beloved animation powerhouse Pixar will release their latest work for nerds, movie critics and children around the world to fawn excessively over, Wall*E. It’s a reminder that we live in a golden age for animated movies, where the best of them have universal appeal to kids and adults alike and sometimes are considered among the best films of the year. Unfortunately, we also live in an age where most every major movie studio has realized that there’s a whole lot of money to be made with CG cartoons, so as a result, there’s seemingly some new candy-colored CG confection opening at the multiplex every week. The big ones have some incredibly talented artists behind them, production budgets in the hundreds of millions and global marketing campaigns that sell them as the next big animated masterpiece. And a lot of them really fucking suck. For every Ratatouille, there are three Madagascars, and a surprising number of them are released in such a bombastic, self-congratulatory fashion that you’d believe it might just be the next Finding Nemo.

But the majority of them are turds. Here’s a list of the 10 worst top-shelf computer-animated features of the last decade or so. For simplicity’s sake, we’re sticking exclusively to big-budget titles that were given A-list marketing campaigns, so you won’t find the cheap, unsavory likes of Hoodwinked, Doogal or Happily N’Ever After here. It’s for the best.

10) Cars
It’s tough to trash a Pixar movie but Cars makes it a bit easier. While this is easily the best movie on this list, it’s a rare stumble in the storytelling department. Cars is basically a carbon copy of the Michael J. Fox comedy Doc Hollywood, except with talking automobiles, one of which is voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, something John Lasseter has yet to apologize for. He also hasn’t explained why in the hell a movie about a race car getting to know small town life is fucking two and a half hours long, or why he felt it necessary to spend most of those two and a half hours jerking off the baby boomers in the audience with tired Route 66 nostalgia. What’s worse, the merchandise line for this film is so tremendously popular that not only have they announced Cars 2, a sequel nobody but Mattel wants, they’re also building an entire theme park section at Disney’s California Adventure called Carsland. It’s like a giant monument to the most frustratingly mediocre film in a respected studio’s oeuvre; imagine if Universal Studios decided to add an attraction based on Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal to their theme park.

9) Robots
One of the few non-Ice Age movies released by Blue Sky Studios, Robots is an uninspired story about a robot named Rodney voiced by Ewan MacGregor (who seems to be unfortunately succumbing to the Star Wars career curse) who happens to also be a genius inventor. He goes to the big robot city and works for a big robot company only to find out that there’s a shitload of robot corruption and it’s up to him to save robotkind. On the surface, there isn’t anything at all remarkable about Robots (aside from the fact that someone blew $75 million on this script), but there’s a sinister secret lying beneath. Rodney’s principle sidekick in this movie is voiced by the dreaded Robin Williams in full-on “obnoxious douchebag” mode. In one of the many making-of documentaries about this film, the production crew actually admits to letting Williams improvise in the recording booth, which is something they should really keep to themselves. Everyone knows that if you let Robin Williams open his mouth without a script in front of him, what results will be a torrent of unfunny stereotype voices, which he performs under the impression that people aren’t completely fucking sick and tired of his “I’m gay” or “I’m Mexican” or “I’m a cowboy” impressions, many of which appear in this film. His presence in this movie is like a heap of rotten strawberries dumped atop a waffle made of cardboard.

8) Ice Age
Another relatively mediocre title from relatively mediocre Blue Sky Studios, Ice Age is predicated on the notion that anyone anywhere would sincerely be entertained by watching a woolly mammoth voiced by a flatlining Ray Romano and a sloth performed by a moist-mouthed John Leguizamo rescue an infant from increasingly uninteresting peril. If the story isn’t boring enough for you, just take a look at the visuals; in addition to the totally bland character design, the world of Ice Age looks like barely-competent concept art rendered in 3D by art students. It’s the CG equivalent of painting a room beige. Ice Age isn’t a horrible movie, it’s just so bland, pointless, unfunny and uninteresting that it has no reason to exist. The only aspect of this film that ever seems to have actually amused someone are the Looney Tunes-ripoff antics of Scrat, a rat who wants an acorn and is thwarted, a concept they have milked so hard in the following sequels that even the folks who thought it was a knee-slapper in 2002 are sick of it. Also the third Ice Age movie apparently has a dinosaur in it. It doesn’t matter how or why, that’s terrible.

7) The Polar Express
Some might argue that this isn’t actually a CG cartoon because it uses Robert Zemeckis’ zombifying motion capture technology, put to far better use on the superior Beowulf, but they’re being pedantic dorks. The Polar Express is a cartoon, god dammit, and it’s just awful. Based on the classic children’s book, The Polar Express is about Tom Hanks and his magic train which he uses to travel around and collect unsuspecting children (one of which is played by Tom Hanks) in order to deliver them to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus (played by Tom Hanks). Along the way they get advice from a ghostly hobo (played by Tom Hanks) and a few other colorful characters (many of which are played by Tom Hanks). This film is nearly 100 minutes long and is based on a 32-page picture book, which means a whole bunch of unnecessary filler material is stuffed in to pad the runtime out and allow the lucky audience to spend more time with a horrifying cast of glassy-eyed zombie children, including the creepiest little African-American girl to ever have been rendered by a computer. There’s one hilarious highlight to this film, though; at the end of the movie, Santa’s army of dead-eyed elves are lowering his toy sack into the sleigh and for a few moments it looks exactly like a giantic red scrotum, complete with a seam in the middle and requisite wrinkles. There’s no way this was not intentional; perhaps a petition is in order to rename this film The Nutsack Express.

5 & 6) Shrek 2 & Shrek the Third
The first Shrek is deservedly remembered as a pretty decent movie. It was Dreamworks Animation’s first foray into CG work after a string of financially disappointing traditional features (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron anyone?), and even though it’s basically Jeffrey Katzenberg taking a giant sour-grapes whiz on Disney for 90 minutes, it was funny and amusing enough. Then they had to go fuck it up by doing a bunch of unnecessary sequels.

Shrek 2 is a better film than Shrek the Third, but it’s basically a slightly more polished turd. Whatever restraint they may have shown in the first film with shoehorning in endless unfunny pop culture jokes is thrown out the window here and the result is tiresome and predictable, with a scant few funny moments shining through, all of which are rendered moot by the pure hatred and anger generated by the film’s final sequence, an embarrassing dance party set to “Livin’ La Vida Loca”. Animated movies have a long history of ending with embarrassing dance parties but this one is like being shat on in the eyeball.

Shrek the Third manages to be even worse, however; perhaps it was the $436 million dollars the second one managed to gross domestically (fuck!), so they just kept plowing this franchise into the ground as far as it could possibly go, this time deciding that the relatively even-handed, somewhat self-contained sarcasm of the first film should be tossed aside immediately and what people really want are endless thinly-veiled pop references surrounded by poop and vomit gags, and the endless merchandise bonanza represented by Shrek’s hideous babies. Presently, Dreamworks has plans to make three more of these movies, a compelling argument that here is no God.

4) Dinosaur
Dinosaur was the ill-fated first attempt by Disney to move into the realm of CG movies. They got a little lazy, though, and rather than designing and animating the entire thing, they just shot a bunch of live-action backgrounds and pasted poorly-designed CG dinosaurs over them.

The story of Dinosaur is simple; Aladar, a dinosaur raised by unbelievably badly-rendered lemurs, flees his home when meteors rain down, meets up with a bunch of other dinosaurs and together they look for a magic valley stocked up with food and water that hasn’t been wrecked by meteors yet, meaning a perfect subtitle for this film would’ve been “Delaying the Inevitable”. The dinosaurs are apparently clever enough to make up stupid-ass names for themselves, because the meat-eating dinosaurs are called “Carnotaurs." Their evolution also seems to have taken gender stereotypes into account, because the romantic interest girl dinosaur is pink. This film failed pretty badly at the box office and wasn’t well-received by critics, and it nearly shuttered Disney’s in-house CG studio for good. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t bad enough to kill it completely, because the next film they produced was even worse.

3) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Some time in the 1990’s, after Final Fantasy VII came out and lit the franchise on fire with a new fanbase and a tremendous amount of popularity, Square Enix decided to open up an animation studio in Hawaii and begin producing feature films. Their first choice? Obviously, it was a no-brainer; make a Final Fantasy movie. The fanboys would eat it up and people unfamiliar with the games would be lured in by the amazing animation!

But instead of doing the most incredibly fucking obvious thing ever—making a movie version of Final Fantasy VII, or VI, or hell, any of the games—they instead decided to draft the world’s dullest and most generic sci-fi script, populate it with boring characters, remove all connection to the Final Fantasy games save for a few throwaway references and slap the franchise name on it. The result? A whole lot of pissed off fans angry at how Square Enix managed to completely and utterly squander the opportunity they had to make everyone happy and print money at the same time, instead opting to make the most forgettable and bland sci-fi snoozefest they possibly could. Naturally they made up for this four years later by going back to the drawing board and producing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, finally giving the fans all the androgynous supermodel action they could stand. Now all they have to do is shovel every existing copy of The Spirits Within into a landfill somewhere and pretend they never made it.

2) Chicken Little
Chicken Little may, surprisingly, be the worst theatrical animated feature Disney has ever produced. It’s as if they took a look at what lazy nonsense Dreamworks was doing and decided to up the ante. This movie is basically a collection of hyperactive unfunny animals overreacting to uninteresting things, spewing out an avalanche of retarded pop culture references and pandering to the kids in the audience with meaningless dance sequences. The first 20 minutes or so of this 80-minute film revolve around a baseball game that has almost literally nothing at all to do with the plot of the film; it’s like watching a completely different movie about a loser chicken who sucks at baseball. Then there’s another movie that starts around the 60-minute mark that’s a lame retelling of the original Chicken Little story, one that ends with a 10-minute sequence where the characters are watching an overblown action movie based on what happened in the previous 50 minutes. Notably this segment of the film was spun off into its own unsuccessful videogame. The animation is passable but that’s the only somewhat redeeming thing about this piece of garbage. Hell, to make matters worse, the lead character is voiced by Zach Braff. Fuck that guy.

1) Shark Tale
If Chicken Little and the Shrek sequels show the symptoms of what’s wrong with a lot of animated films, Shark Tale is an AIDS diagnosis. It is the sum of everything that sucks about modern cartoons; lame pop culture references masquerading as jokes, a giant slew of distracting celebrity voice talent, and a total reliance on talking animals. Shark Tale takes all of these awful things to the next level; the characters are awkwardly and almost terrifyingly designed to resemble the faces of their voice talent, resulting in a freakish Will Smith fish, a Jack Black shark that looks remarkably like Jabberjaw, and an Angelina Jolie fish with huge lips and a body design clearly intended to make her look voluptuous. I guess they could’ve called this movie Fish Tits. Seriously! But that’d have been a little too on-the-nose.

But even worse than the character designs are the jokes. Shark Tale does what a lot of other animated movies based on talking animals does, which is rely almost completely on lazy-ass “look, they’re animals, and this is their version of the iPod!” gags. In other words, you’re supposed to laugh hysterically when you see a sign for “Kelpa-Cola”, because they’re fish, see, and they have Coca-Cola but it’s called Kelpa-Cola because they’re motherfucking fish! Hilarious, right? It is the laziest possible form of humor, infesting so many of these films, but Shark Tale takes it to a whole new level of bullshit.

Dreamworks just released Kung-Fu Panda, which was surprisingly so good and so well-made it almost makes up for this insulting tripe. It suggests that they’re ready to move away from this crap and start making animated films with a focus on quality storytelling and artistry. But then they front-loaded the Panda reels with a trailer for Madagascar 2, which features a celebrity voice cast singing “I Like to Move It” and a cross-dressing lemur who pops out of a cake. There is no hope.

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Former Channel 5 anchor dies

Ron Hunter

Former news anchor Ron Hunter worked at Chicago's WMAQ-Ch. 5 in the 1970s. (handout photo)

Ron Hunter was compared to the vain and vapid Ted Baxter of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" when he was an anchor at Chicago's WMAQ-Ch. 5 in the 1970s. He was labeled a "pompadoured pomposity" by Chicago magazine.

But Mr. Hunter, who worked with Jane Pauley and Maury Povich, also won an Emmy Award as part of the station's team coverage of a hostage situation at a South Side currency exchange.

Mr. Hunter, 70, died this week in Las Vegas, his daughter said.

He was replaced in 1978 and went on to TV stations in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, before turning to radio in Louisiana. He made news in 1990 when his wife, Marilou "Bunny" Hunter, died of a reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, while Mr. Hunter lay next to her in bed.

Hours earlier, she had called Mr. Hunter's radio talk show while he interviewed a sex therapist to discuss their marital problems. The coroner said there was no evidence her death was a homicide, but Mr. Hunter could not escape the headlines. His station fired him a few days later, and he fell on hard times after that.

He grew up in Bogalusa, La., where his father had been mayor, and it was where he started his career in newspaper and radio work. His family founded the Bogalusa Enterprise, and he worked at the newspaper as a boy before turning to radio broadcasting, he told The Times-Picayune newspaper in 1990.

While in Chicago, he had his own late-night talk show, "Ron Hunter Today." But critics hounded him. Gary Deeb, the former Tribune critic, wrote that Mr. Hunter was "a smooth anchorman who delivers the news in a straight fashion . . . [but] when he covers a story himself, his writing tends to be cloyingly dramatic."

A Time magazine story about anchormen likened him to the fictitious Ted Baxter.

In Philadelphia, he was reportedly the highest paid anchor in the city and trumpeted by KYW-TV as being its savior. But ratings sagged and he moved on to New Orleans, where he made a failed effort to start his own TV station.

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24 is lost in time

There’s been lots of weirdness lately relating to 24’s Season 7 and I’ve been lax in blogging about it, so let’s catch up, shall we?


First off: 24 is not going to be “22″ this season. I first hear about this rumor via this Newsday blog, and it’s been debunked, first reported here on Did the reporter for not understand Robert Carlyle through his Scottish brogue? Was Carlyle taking something that scrambled his brain? He reportedly told Premiere about November’s Season 7 prequel movie: “This is two hours in real time, and there’ll then be 22 episodes.”

Wrong! Phew. That would have been massively stupid.

Plus, it would have caused the same “real-time” problems initially encountered when they wanted to do part of the actual Season 7 in Africa: It’d take something like 12-16 hours for Jack to fly back to the U.S., detracting somewhat from the intensity of the series’ storytelling.

Carlyle also apparently was wrong, TVGuide says, in saying the prequel’s final moments lead right into the first moments of Season 7. A few months will pass (the prequel starts four years after Season 6’s end, which brings us to …

The year is 2017 and Jack Bauer is now 52 years old. It was first reported in the New York Post, which is owned by the same company as Fox, which produces and airs the show.

To emphasize the passage of time, Jack’s sidekick, Chloe (Mary-Lynn Rajskub), who was revealed to be pregnant in last year’s season finale, will suddenly have a 4-year-old kid to deal with.For those keeping score at home, that means that 17 TV years have passed since Season 1, when Bauer first took on the Eastern European bad guys bent on revenge and destruction – and he was said to be 35 years old.

Kiefer Sutherland himself just turned 41 in jail in December.

Other quick items:

Zap2it reported that even though Rajskub actually is preggers and they’re shooting, they’ll take care of that by her body behind boxes and she’ll spend a lot of time sitting at the computer (the latter of which isn’t out of character, anyhow). And she’s not in the prequel.

• Jonesing for 24? Check out “Season Two: The Musical” from the creators of “The Silence of the Lambs: The Musical.” Why Season Two? Because, the creators, said, it’s their favorite season. I concur.

Blogs.4Bauer spells out the top 5 changes he would have brought to Sacramento had he been elected mayor (he was a write-in, but lost to all, including Mickey Mouse). The changes include: “Change the nickname to anything but ‘the river city.’ How does ‘the blood flows like a river city” sound?

• Ladies, stand down. Kiefer Sutherland is not engaged to girlfriend Siobhan Bonnouvrier. Repeat: they are not engaged. (Star magazine apparently reported he had proposed; his rep says it’s not true.)

• He did take her to Cape Town, however, for the filming of the November prequel movie.

Production work on the movie, which is mainly set in Sangala, a fictitious African country, has moved to Los Angeles, where the few last scenes will be shot with veteran actor Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie’s father, who plays the terrorist mastermind.


“We’re excited about the prequel; it explores Jack’s complex emotional state and still has the suspense that fans have come to expect from 24,” said executive producer Howard Gordon.


(Actor Hakeem) Kae-Kazim — who moved with his family from the Bo- Kaap in Cape Town to Los Angeles a year ago — portrays … cruel (rebel) leader, Ike Dubaku.


Cassar said: “The sixth season of 24 ends with Jack’s life in tatters. Both his personal life and his career are basically over. So, in the movie, Jack travels from country to country searching for answers … and unfortunately gets caught up in a civil war.”

Original here

Steve Carell Signs For Three More Years of The Office!

Today the angels looking down on Scranton, Pennsylvania are crooning “Beers in Heaven.” Steve Carell has signed on to star as Dunder Mifflin’s quasi-top dog, Michael Scott, on NBC’s The Office for three more years. An understandably elated, Ricky Gervais, broke the news on his blog

“Steve Carell (now one of the most bankable film stars in the world) has just signed up for another three years with us. He is the hardest working man in Hollywood and the harder he works the better it is for me. I mean… well done Steve you are wonderful. …Steve had to do months of that in Evan Almighty and I heard he didn’t complain once. He is a very nice man and deserves all his success.”

Gervais went on to mention 2009’s The Office spin-off starring Aziz Ansari but kept mum. He also (half-?) jokingly threw his name into the ring for the role of Hannibal in The A-Team remake. John Singleton, give him a call, no joke. That would be choice.

Back to Carell: the news is a welcome surprise given Carell’s consistent box office draw in hit comedies (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine), sleeper dramas (Dan in Real Life) and passable summer fare (Get Smart). That this rare flexibility has worked out so well on both sides was no doubt a contributing factor in the deal. Why not celebrate by picking up some cupcakes on sale at the grocery store during your lunch break to cheer up your office’s fluorescent-lit hangout room? “That’s what she said!” is going nowhere.

Original here

Award-winning pianist Leonard Pennario dies at 83

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Leonard Pennario, a Grammy-winning pianist and best-selling classical recording artist, has died. He was 83.

Pennario died Friday at his home in San Diego of complications from Parkinson's disease, said his biographer, Mary Kunz Goldman.

Pennario won a Grammy in the 1960s for his work with violinist Jascha Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.

He was a passionate performer who enjoyed playing in front of audiences, said Kunz Goldman.

"'You have to play for the people; you have to play for an audience,'" she recalled Pennario saying. "'You can't just go into the studio and make records, you know?'"

Born in Buffalo on July 9, 1924, Pennario was 10 when he and his family moved to Los Angeles. At age 12, he learned the Grieg Concerto in a week so he could perform it from memory with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Pennario never attended a music conservatory but at 19 made his debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic.

He made more than 40 recordings for the Capitol record label between 1950 and 1960. He went on to make more than 20 more for other labels.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.

Original here

Covering Canada

Illustration by Jillian Tamaki.

The best, worst and strangest foreign covers of Canadian songs

By Greig Dymond, CBC News

Every July 1, millions of Canadians mark the achievements of the Fathers of Confederation by consuming alcoholic beverages and cranking up the tunes. We can be justifiably proud, having always punched above our weight class when it comes to producing beer and singer-songwriters.

For decades, musicians around the world have reinterpreted English-Canadian pop-rock classics, and the results range from profoundly moving to extremely irritating. For your Canada Day listening pleasure, here’s a sampling of Canadian hits covered by artists from Britain, the U.S. and Australia.

The Good:

John Cale, Hallelujah and Jeff Buckley, Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)

Cohen’s original appeared on his 1984 album Various Positions. It has become one of his most enduring songs (and has escaped critically unscathed from appearances on the soundtracks to The West Wing, The O.C. and Shrek). While John Cale’s cover version has fewer vocal pyrotechnics than Buckley’s, both are stunningly powerful renditions that have perhaps received even more attention than Cohen’s.

The Donnas, Safety Dance (Men Without Hats)

The biggest hit by Montreal synth-pop legends Men Without Hats has turned into an all-purpose ’80s punchline; it’s been skewered on virtually every zeitgeist-tracking TV comedy, from South Park to The Simpsons to Family Guy. Last year, The Donnas – a guitar-driven, all-female band out of California – came along to resuscitate the song’s reputation with this spirited, glam-influenced cover.

Thom Yorke, After the Gold Rush (Neil Young)

Along with Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen, Neil Young is the Canadian artist who has inspired the most cover versions. Performers ranging from Sonic Youth to Waylon Jennings to Cassandra Wilson have all had a go at his incredibly rich catalogue. One wouldn’t immediately associate the densely layered sound of Radiohead with Neil, but singer Thom Yorke’s ability to emote in the high register helps him carry off this reading of the enviro-friendly After the Gold Rush.

Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash. (Associated Press)

Johnny Cash, If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot)

Taken from the Man in Black’s posthumous 2006 album, American V: A Hundred Highways, this Gordon Lightfoot cover is a stripped-down masterpiece — yet another stellar product of the collaboration between Cash and producer Rick Rubin. The country legend’s voice is utterly frail, but his half-sung, half-spoken narrative about a flawed man looking back at a failed relationship is shiver-inducing. (Cash wins Canada Day bonus points for having reinterpreted songs by Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Ian & Sylvia, Hank Snow and The Band.)

Elvis Presley, Early Morning Rain (Gordon Lightfoot)/Snowbird (Anne Murray)/Until It's Time for You To Go (Buffy Ste. Marie)

Save for Johnny Cash, no other major international star relied on CanCon as heavily as The King. Let’s face it: Presley always relied on other people’s material, but these three selections from the early ’70s represent a period when there was still a modicum of quality control in his work. (It would be a few years before he’d succumb to onstage karate-chop theatrics and pharmaceutical-inspired bombast.) Elvis always claimed that Anne Murray was his favourite singer, and he provides a solid reading of Gene MacLellan’s Snowbird. As well, he gave us jaunty takes on Lightfoot’s drifter anthem Early Morning Rain and Buffy Ste. Marie’s Until It’s Time for You To Go.

Herbie Hancock (feat. Corinne Bailey Rae), River (Joni Mitchell)

Throughout her career, Joni Mitchell has inspired awe, respect and countless covers from a disparate group of musicians, including Tom Rush, Bjork, Prince and Elvis Costello. This Herbie Hancock/Corinne Bailey Rae collaboration was the title track for the jazz legend’s recent Grammy-winning tribute album, River: The Joni Letters. It’s a beautifully restrained version of Mitchell’s song about losing love in California (and being homesick for the colder climes of her native land).

Bright Eyes, Mushaboom (Feist)

This slightly countrified version of one of Leslie Feist’s breakthrough hits comes from Bright Eyes’ 2005 album Motion Sickness: Live Recordings. Feist, who was born in Nova Scotia, named the song after a village in that province. Bright Eyes delivers a charming version of the track, although singer Conor Oberst can’t seem to bring himself to enunciate the distinctly Canadian title.

We Five, You Were on My Mind (Ian and Sylvia)

Ian & Sylvia – the best-looking and most popular folk duo Canada has ever produced – were among the first homegrown musicians to receive the cover treatment from international performers in the 1960s. A version of You Were on My Mind became a smash U.S. hit in 1965 for the eternally peppy San Francisco rock combo We Five. Their interpretation omits the original’s line, “I got drunk, and I got sick”; alas, such admissions weren’t welcome on the pop charts at that time.

The Bad:

DJ Sammy, Heaven and Rage, Run to You (both Bryan Adams)

For almost 30 years, Bryan Adams has delivered two kinds of product with ruthless efficiency: the Emotive Power Ballad (Exhibit A: Heaven) and the Fist-Pumping Rocker (Exhibit B: Run to You). No one wants to hear his canon reinterpreted for the dance floor, but that’s precisely what the long-forgotten DJ Sammy and Rage tried to achieve with these pieces of techno sludge. Suitable only for consumption after one too many mojitos at a depressing Club Med orientation event.Fergie. Fergie. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Fergie, Barracuda (Heart)

The woman who brought you the narcissistic My Humps and Fergalicious delivers a wretched reworking of Heart’s Led Zeppelin-influenced classic. In the video clip, Fergie appears to be trying to channel both Axl Rose and gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Sadly, it doesn’t work.

Starz on 54, If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot)

Steeped in folk tradition, Lightfoot is an unlikely candidate to provide the theme for a cinematic tribute to the most debauched discotheque of all time. But that’s what happened in 1998, with this misguided attempt to transform the reflective If You Could Read My Mind into a dance anthem for the film 54. The disco makeover comes close to succeeding at times, but never achieves full diva liftoff (see Bryan Adams, above).

Rascal Flatts, Life Is a Highway (Tom Cochrane)

When people look back at American pop culture during the George W. Bush era, they’ll look back at Rascal Flatts, a hugely successful country group from Nashville. That trio created this stultifying reading of Tom Cochrane’s joyous ode to gas-guzzling for the 2006 film Cars. Perhaps the most faithful, note-for-note cover version in musical history; starkly unoriginal and unnecessary given the sing-along perfection of the original.

Lenny Kravitz, American Woman (The Guess Who)

Rock’s blandest artist manages to sap all the life out of one of the great Canadian singles. This Guess Who song had it all: a stunning vocal from Burton Cummings, that irresistible Bachman hook and some anti-American lyrics that were mildly controversial in the Vietnam War era. Kravitz’s recipe: reduce the energy level, preen, add water and mix for four minutes. Voila: a turgid cover of a Canuck classic! Serves millions easily.

Leonard Nimoy, Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell)

The musically talentless Nimoy actually managed to parlay his success as Spock on TV’s Star Trek into a modest recording career in the ’60s and ’70s, and even had a minor hit with the track Highly Illogical. Given his emotionless small-screen persona, it perhaps made sense for him to tackle a song that required him to look – logically, of course — at love from “both sides now” and confess, “I really don’t know love at all.” This impossibly stiff “reading” of Mitchell’s wistful masterpiece is a low point in U.S.-Canada relations.

Toyah Wilcox, Echo Beach (Martha and the Muffins)

In the mid-’80s, English pop star Toyah Wilcox transformed Martha and the Muffins’ new-wave ditty about ennui into an ennui-inspiring ordeal. Somehow, it cracked the British Top 50. The video features a puzzling anti-office technology theme, a drenched-in-pastel aesthetic inspired by The 20-Minute Workout and some of the most hideous dance moves you’ve ever seen.

Young Divas, Turn Me Loose (Loverboy)

Really now: Who needs a cover of Loverboy’s Turn Me Loose? Back in 1981, Vancouver’s Mike Reno provided the high-pitched vocal of this ditty, demanding a release from society’s (and his lover’s) constraints. When he claimed, “I gotta do it my way/Or no way at all,” we believed him. This 2007 version, from a bevy of former Australian Idol contestants dubbed Young Divas, is far less convincing. Despite the 21st-century addition of a mid-song cameo by New Zealand rapper Savage, this fails to evoke the anarchic energy of Loverboy’s spandex reign.

The Strange:

Kurt Cobain.Kurt Cobain. (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Nirvana, Seasons in the Sun (Terry Jacks)

B.C.’s Terry Jacks had a worldwide hit in 1974 with this insanely catchy tune, originally penned by Jacques Brel and translated into (somewhat sappy) English by poet Rod McKuen. It was a profoundly disconcerting listening experience: a bubblegum song about dying. For some reason, in 1993, the lads from Nirvana decided to swap instruments and ratchet up the tune’s inherent bleakness. Somehow, it works. This is no kitsch-fest. The refrain “it’s hard to die” is especially resonant, given Cobain’s subsequent end.

Nazareth, This Flight Tonight (Joni Mitchell)

Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album, Blue, is for many fans the high-water mark in her career: quiet, confessional songs that constitute a folk-rock masterpiece. On their 1973 cover of This Flight Tonight, Scottish rockers Nazareth dispense with Mitchell’s acoustic sound (and any notion of subtlety altogether) and transform the track into a balls-to-the-wall showcase for Dan McCafferty’s throat-shredding vocals. In Nazareth’s hands, the line “You’ve got the lovin’ that I like” sounds downright lewd.

Rolling Stones, Anybody Seen My Baby? (k.d. lang — sort of)

This isn’t a cover version per se, but a subconscious “homage” to k.d. lang’s 1992 mega hit, Constant Craving. The Stones were about to release Anybody Seen My Baby? on the 1997 album Bridges to Babylon when Keith Richards’s daughter informed her old man about the striking similarities between the choruses of the two tunes. In order to avoid any My Sweet Lord-style copyright dustup, rock’s elder statesmen decided to give equal billing to lang and her co-writer, Ben Mink. In all likelilhood, this will be the only song in eternity to bear the songwriting credit “Jagger/Richards/lang/Mink.” Mick and Keef claimed never to have heard k.d.’s song.

Greig Dymond is a producer for CBC Radio.

Original here

Singer took byway to hell - well, Texas

By Louise Schwartzkoff

NOWADAYS he lives in Texas and performs as the king of all Badasses, but 35 years ago Dave Evans was the original frontman for AC/DC.

Like Pete Best, the drummer booted from the Beatles weeks before their first single hit the charts, Evans was dumped for Bon Scott, who took AC/DC on to fame and fortune.

Is he bitter? Well, only a bit.

Mostly about the official story of how he left the band. The AC/DC "bible", Clinton Walker's Highway To Hell , calls Evans a "shameless exhibitionist … in his position more for the way he looked than the way he sang". In the book, guitarist Angus Young recalls throwing Evans off the stage for his embarrassing drunken antics.

"It's all bullshit. A pack of lies," Evans said yesterday, after reading a story in the Herald about a Sydney exhibition of early AC/DC photographs. "Can you imagine anyone throwing me, the King of all Badasses, off the stage? [Walker] never interviewed me and I wanted to strangle him."

From his home in Dallas, where he performs such hits as Sold My Soul To Rock'n'Roll with middle-aged rockers the Badasses, Evans gave his version of events.

"It was just a case of clashing personalities. We all had these young egos and we were like rams butting heads. In retrospect, I suppose I should have just shut up, but I was a strong personality," he said.

At AC/DC's first photo session in 1974, Evans wore a silk scarf, skin-tight leggings and stack heels. The Young brothers later said he was too glam for a hard rock band.

Rubbish, according to Evans. "Just have a look at Malcolm [Young] in his lamé jumpsuit in those early shots," he said.

"The whole glam thing was his idea. He might point the finger at me, but he has three gigantic fingers pointing back at himself."

Evans met his replacement, Bon Scott, several times and had "no problem with him". In recent years he has even performed in tribute concerts to the late rocker. "He was just another fallen soldier of rock. His death was a tragedy and, as an Aussie rocker myself, I understood what he was going through."

As to the Young brothers, Evans said he was too busy to resent them for long. After AC/DC he joined the Newcastle band Rabbit, which released two albums.

"I've moved on," he said. "But if they've still got a problem with me after all these years they should probably see a therapist."

The photography exhibition AC/DC Exposed! is at the Blender Gallery, Paddington until July 29.

© 2007 The Sydney Morning Herald

Original here

If 'The Happening' Was 10X Shorter and 100X More Honest

On Saturdays, we ask our favorite sites on the web to fill in for us. Cracked readers get to learn about an awesome site, and we get to take sips of cool beverages and sigh loudly like they do in soft drink commercials. A few Saturdays ago we brought you an abridged version of the screenplay for Oscar winner Juno as provided by Rod Hilton, creator of Today, Rod brings you a script for whatever the opposite of an Oscar winner is, M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening.



People walk around in the PARK while two unimportant characters have INANE DIALOGUE.


That was weird. Suddenly all of the people in this park stopped dead in their tracks and started acting like brainless robots.


Large groups of people behaving as though they have no personality whatsoever? That can only mean ...


Oh shit, we're in an M. Night Shyamalan movie!



An M. Night Shyamalan movie! Our careers will be ruined!

EVERYONE ELSE kills themselves as well.


MARK WAHLBERG teaches SCIENCE to a classroom full of middle school students. It's exactly as believable as it sounds.


Hey Mr. Wahlberg, how come bees have been dying off in record numbers lately?


Well, you see, it's an act of nature that nobody will ever understand. Those crazy scienticians will come up with something just to put it in a book, but ultimately they're just chumps.


What? Who wrote this script, Kirk Cameron?

MARK'S friend, JOHN LEQUIZAMO, enters the classroom.


Hey, there's a suicide epidemic in New York. People think terrorists are releasing some toxin in the air that's causing people to kill themselves.


Awesome, disasters in movies tend to serve little purpose other than to unite families with problems. Perhaps this can fix my rocky marriage.


This is serious. This toxin doesn't just make you stop breathing or anything, it makes you go far, far out of your way to kill yourself in the goriest, most dramatic way possible.

To illustrate this, JOHN and MARK watch a high-resolution video on top of a color printout of a hand holding an iPhone, which depicts a guy getting lions to rip his arms off at the zoo.


Holy shit, did I really just watch a guy perform Jax's fatality on himself? Are we in Toxic Avenger 5 or something?


We need to get out of the city. Go home and get your increasingly distant wife and meet me at the train station. We need to get on a train, because if there's one place we know terrorists won't attack, it's a vehicle carrying hundreds of people.

MARK goes home to find his wife ZOOEY DESCHANEL.



Hey honey, let's go to the train station to awkwardly progress the story forward without any character motivation. Or whatever. Is it lunchtime yet?


Alright, but only if I can pretend I have depth by illuminating a completely superfluous side story about a guy I met at work.

They meet JOHN LEQUIZAMO and travel by train out of the CITY.


I can't get my wife on the phone. I need you to take care of my daughter while I go look for her.


No problem, I'd love to help.


I wasn't talking to you, you cum-guzzling cunt.


My apologies. I'll just politely ignore your rudeness and take care of your daughter anyway.


And I'll go ahead and not even defend my wife like the whiny little bitch I am.


It's a good thing you guys are such likable protagonists instead of, for example, completely uninteresting assholes that audiences would hate watching for two hours.


Good luck finding your wife. Make sure to drive everywhere with the windows down since we know that this is an airborne toxin.


MARK, ZOOEY and JOHN'S DAUGHTER take refuge in an abandoned house for a minute, then for some reason decide to go back outside where the DEADLY TOXINS are.


Look, I need to come clean with you. I ... I had dessert with some guy I met at work.


Oh my God! Is 'dessert' some kind of euphemism for letting him take a shit in your mouth after he fucks you or something?!


Er, no. We had cheesecake.


Oh. Well I'm going to go ahead and act like it was the other thing!

MARK and ZOOEY sleepwalk their way through some more scenes as the plot progresses itself forward without their involvement.


You know, for a movie called 'The Happening,' there is surprisingly little actually going on.


No shit. Alright, Shyamalan. Where does this painfully boring roller coaster take us next?


Let's see here. The next thing that happened in "War of the Worlds" was Tom Cruise finding that crazy hermit guy. I guess we should do that for a few minutes, since I'm such a fucking hack.

MARK, ZOOEY and JOHN'S DAUGHTER try to outrun the air and eventually make it to a boarded-up HOUSE with a CRAZY HERMIT and stay with her for a bit.


Woohoo, tiger stream junket floating can purse lily munch! Turd fighter glass breaking eardrum turnip, John!


I wonder what totally unexpected twist will happen as a result of your wackiness!

NOTHING happens, and eventually the CRAZY OLD BAT dies.


Oh. I guess her only role was to illustrate that the deadly toxin is, in fact, deadly. Go close the doors and windows, Zooey.





Why? Did you seriously just ask me that? Are you watching a different movie or something? Listen up ...


The fucking air. It fucking kills you. It's fucking deadly. Don't fucking breathe it. Was this script written by a fucking monkey?

Suddenly, THE HAPPENING stops HAPPENING, largely because the audience members left to go get a REFUND.

An EXPERT comes on TELEVISION to explain the movie for the benefit of any RETARDED PEOPLE in the AUDIENCE.


You see, it seems that plants became tired of the way we treat our environment, so they started releasing a deadly toxin.


Why didn't they just stop producing oxygen?


Well where's the unwatchable pile of garbage of a film in that?


I don't get it. We found out it was plants like an hour ago. Aren't M. Night Shyamalan movies supposed to have some crazy surprise at the end?


Surprise, I managed to make a movie worse than "Lady in the Water"!

Original here

300 Prequel/Sequel Moving Forward

Earlier today, Peter reported on the race to the screen between two new Greek mythology epics inspired by 300. The flip side of this news is that both director Zack Snyder and 300 producers, Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari (who are also producing one the aforementioned epics) confirmed to Collider at the Saturn Awards that a 300 sequel/prequel is finally bubbling.

“We’re working on sequel of 300, the prequel of 300,” said Nunnari. Canton chimed in with, “We’re looking to do another 300 and we’re looking for Frank Miller and Zack to do their thing. …Because we’ve had obviously around the world quite seriously such an amazing journey. It keeps on going. We’re talking about the genius of Frank Miller and Zack Snyder.”

In a separate interview, Snyder confirmed that if “something is cool” they’ll do it (isn’t this Hollywood’s MO right now?)…

“Yeah, I’ve talked to Frank a little bit about it, and he’s going to do something, I think he’s going to draw something. We’ll see what he does. If something’s cool we’ll make a movie out of it,” said Snyder.

There you have it! He’s going to draw something. For over a year, news about a follow-up to the game-changing green screen money maker has floated about the Net. Back in March ‘07, Miller was said to be prepping one, even. As for a storyline, nothing was offered up in these interviews. Previously some readers suggested that “a sequel could be made using 10,000: The Battle of Plataea or the naval Battle of Salamis.” Of note: Snyder is interested in returning, whereas some speculated that Miller—with The Spirit already campaigning hard in Geek Land—would helm.

Up next for Snyder after Watchmen is the animated owl fantasy, Guardians of Ga’Hoole. He also has The Tattooed Man on the burner. He is also quite flabbergasted that some people don’t “get” the commentary that is nippled regalia in Watchmen.

Original here

6 Supposed Action Heroes You Could Probably Take In A Fight

By Son Tran

Some fictional badasses come with a certain level of credibility. Watching a dead eyed Sylvester Stallone machine gun an entire Vietnamese village to shreds, we had no trouble believing John Rambo could rip our throats out if the situation called for it.

Other times, however, you really get the feeling that 100 percent of a character's fighting ability is due to clever editing and a script that calls for his opponents to fall down at his touch. With that in mind, here are seven supposed badasses who we're pretty sure you could take in a fight:

The Karate Kid


Good handyman abilities; high tolerance for menial, mind-numbing work, creative costume designer; able to take a good beating.


Fairly limited formal instruction in martial arts, little to no musculature, fighting techniques consist of "special" moves of questionable usefulness.

How You Can Beat Him:

The Karate Kid is hardly an imposing specimen, and his fighting style consists mostly of looking scared while trying to remember the four actual moves he was taught. While he gets props for being able to take a punch--repeatedly and to many different areas of his body--such a fighting style is generally not conducive to winning a fight. We like your chances.

He relies heavily on some obscure technique that seems to require his opponent to rush blindly into it. So when you see him propped up on one leg, your obvious strategy would be to go low and kick his other leg out from under him. That should be followed by a righteous stomping from the top. This should provide a better chance of success than the Cobra Kai's favored tactic of running at him chin-first with their arms behind their back.

Further research (that is, watching the second film) should teach you not to make the opponent's mistake of falling for the same trick ... 50 times in a row.

Yes, while the old block-and-punch maneuver is mighty clever, we'd suggest changing the approach once you get hit by it once, and not allow yourself to be knocked unconscious by getting smacked with the same move for five straight minutes. We learned our lesson on that back in 5th grade.

The A-Team


Well trained; access to lots of firepower; Mr. T.


Poor marksmanship; internal bickering; lack of focus; wanted by the law.

How You Can Beat Them:

At first glance it would seem that you'd have no chance at this supposed crack commando squad. However, careful analysis shows the A-Team succeeded due to the incompetence of their opponents more than their own fighting abilities.

Assuming they're even able to bring the whole A-Team to the fight (meaning they were able to break Murdoch out of whatever mental hospital he is in and try and shoot B.A. Baracus with tranquilizer darts to get him onto the plane), their chances of success are still slim. Even with their military training and access to a seemingly unending supply of ammunition, the A-Team never successfully shot anyone during their career as mercenaries.

As you can see, the team seemed completely unfamiliar with the concept of aiming their rifles, just firing randomly in the direction of their enemies. Note that when we said they never successfully shot anyone, we're not counting the hundreds of bystanders they likely gunned down with their hail of stray bullets.

Now, if the TV series is any guide, you'll be tempted to lock the team away somewhere and patiently wait for them to cobble together a tank out of old plywood and scuba tanks. Instead of doing that, try just shooting them instead.

Caine (Kung Fu TV Series)


Good at pebble-snatching game; trained by badass Shao-Lin monks, dual citizenship.


Prefers not to fight; has no posse to back him up; fighting style is too rigid.

How You Can Beat Him:

Kung Fu could have been an amazing show about a legendary warrior, instead the creators ditched Bruce Lee and gave the part to David Carradine, in part, because he was quiet and could dance. So instead of Kwai Chang Caine being some uber nuclear-powered kicker of asses, we get a lame flute-playing, sleepy monk who Pepe Le Pews his way across the American West.

While we have to give it up for his Shao-Lin training, (because we saw a show where they let people kick them in their junk) we are less than impressed by his passivism and lack of killer instinct. Caine looks like he would rather be off smoking some skunk weed than anything else. If he weren't so laid back he would have probably found his brother a whole lot quicker on the show instead of wandering around for years.

That video vividly demonstrates the flaw in Caine's technique, particularly his method of stopping throwing stars by allowing them to impale themselves in his bare hand. And no, the video isn't in slow motion. That's the speed Caine actually moves.

You should be fine as long as you avoid his opponent's strategy, which seems to involve trying to confuse Caine by running past him and flinging himself into a pond.

Worf from Star Trek


Greater-than-average strength; knows how to use blades; multi-lingual.


Less than average intelligence; laughable adherence to a strange code of honor; can barely move; no pockets.

How You Can Beat Him:

We admit Worf seems like a strange choice for this list at first glance, but a close examination of his fighting technique indicates his reputation far exceeds his actual ability.

Yes, we have here someone who moves so slow he makes Caine look like Bruce Lee. Despite talk of Klingon martial arts we rarely see him demonstrate anything more complicated than the usual Friday night bar fight roundhouse. His method seems to consist of a lot of snarling and mindless clubbing of foes with his fists, all while moving in the sluggish, robotic manner of a person worried that sudden movement will cause their forehead to go flying off.

His other weakness is his antiquated sense of honor. By challenging him to a straight up one-on-one fight you can be assured that he will show up, alone and unarmed. Worf will overlook the fact that unlike his ridiculous uniform, the cargo pants you bought at Old Navy have plenty of pockets for carrying useful things.

By useful things we mean Tasers, pepper spray, brass knuckles and a bat. At that point your only concern will be whether green blood comes out of clothes more readily than red.

Tum-Tum from 3 Ninjas


Heals faster than grown ups, plenty of energy, cuteness.


Is a small child.

How You Can Beat Him:

Who is Tum-Tum? See the picture above. See the old guy, not him. See the kid next to the old guy, not him either, and not his brother in the middle. No, Tum-Tum is the little kid at the end. That's right, somehow we were supposed to believe that the little 5-year-old was some kind of devastating ninja. This was the point at which we stood up in the theater and screamed, "Bullshit."

For the sake of argument let's give him full credit for the ninja training his grandfather gave him. Being five, we think that he spent the first few years of "training" learning things like "ninja potty" and "ninja walking without falling on your ass." This leaves little time for more important skills like punching, kicking and learning how to make awesome smoke bombs.

We know this will be controversial, but we question the scientific accuracy of the above scene. You know what happens when a 5-year-old performs a flying kick against a grown man? The kid falls on his barely- out-of-diapers ass. Why does this happen? Physics. It's the law and everyone knows you can't fight the law, especially if you weigh 30 pounds and stand 3-feet-tall.

We also doubt that any of Tum-Tum's ninja training ever prepared him to overcome the sure-fire defense against all 5-year-olds, namely the "palm against the forehead" move. It's a variation of the technique the first ninja used up there, only modified to keep yourself out of range of his tiny kicking legs.

No, we're thinking the two ninjas in that video would have met the exact same fate if they had been fighting the empty room. Though we should note that before this match-up you should first find out if it is illegal in your state to fight children.

Robin, from the Batman TV Series


Surprisingly good chin; appears to have decent medical coverage; has a butler.


Little-to-no knock-out power; built like a 12-year-old girl; beatdown-inducing costume.

How You Can Beat Him:

A supposed superhero who makes the Karate Kid look like the Terminator, Robin is the least physically imposing specimen ever to put on tights and a cape. While we can cut him some slack because he is supposed to be a teenager, that doesn't change the fact that they'd like us to believe he can take on the baddest criminals in Gotham with his fists.

The two things criminals fear, bats and colorful song birds.

For starters, after reviewing many of his fights it becomes clear that Robin has absolutely no knock-out power. He is seen repeatedly throwing wild haymakers that connect flush on the chins of opponents, we know this because the words "Pow" or "Whap" appear when he connects. But his opponents usually quickly pop right back up for more.

While he displays decent cardio in his ability to throw punch after punch, you should wade in against him unconcerned, especially since each of his punches is telegraphed well in advance. Seriously, even if he begins his punch while you are in the middle of a nap, you should have plenty of time to wake up, stretch and give him the thrashing of his life.

Robin's costume is also a weakness, and not just because the mere sight of it will steel your resolve to pound him. His cape is a liability easily exploited by any hockey fan. After pulling it up and wrapping it around his head, feel free to pound on Robin's kidneys until he collapses.

Obviously your biggest concern shouldn't be Robin at all, but whether or not a pissed-off Batman will come to his rescue. But keep in mind this is not the Christian Bale Batman from the films, but the flabby Adam West Batman from the TV show. We actually still like your chances even if he jumps in, but we don't want to get cocky here.

Find more from Adam over at Scenic Anemia.

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