Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Quick 10: The Origins of 10 of Your Favorite Muppets

by Stacy Conradt

I, like a lot of you, grew up on Sesame Street and the Muppets. But do you ever stop to wonder where they came from? Some of the characters we know and love today were recycled from other T.V. shows and commercials Jim Henson worked on and others were invented by using whatever materials were around. Be prepared for a little nostalgia for today’s Q10. And don’t be offended if I left out some of your favorites (I know, Big Bird?!) – not all of the characters have interesting background stories. But if you know the story behind one that I left out, share with us in the comments!

The Origins of 10 of Your Favorite Muppets

1. Cookie Monster. Jim Henson drew some monsters eating various snacks for a General Foods commercial in 1966. The commercial was never used, but Henson recycled one of the monsters (the “Wheel-Stealer”) for an IBM training video in 1967 and again for a Fritos commercial in 1969. By this time, he started working on Sesame Street and decided this monster would have a home there.

2. Elmo. The way it’s described by a Sesame Street writer, apparently this extra red puppet was just lying around. People would pick him up and try to do something with him, but nothing really panned out. In 1984, puppeteer Kevin Clash picked up the red puppet and started doing the voice and the personality and it clicked – thus, Elmo was born.

3. Telly Monster was originally the Television Monster when he debuted in 1979. He was obsessed with T.V. and his eves would whirl around as if hypnotized whenever he was in front of a set. After a while, producers started worrying about his influence on youngsters, so they changed him to make him the chronic worrier he is now.

4. Count von Count made his first appearance in 1972 and was made out of an Anything Muppet pattern – a blank Muppet head that could have features added to it to make various characters. He used to be more sinister – he was able to hypnotize and stun people and he laughed in typical scary-villain-type fashion after completing a count of something and thunder and lightning would occur. He was quickly made more appealing to little kids, though. He is apparently quite the ladies’ man – he has been linked to Countess von Backward, who loves to count backward; Countess Dahling von Dahling and Lady Two.

5. Kermit was “born” in 1955 and first showed up on Sam and Friends, a five-minute puppet show by Jim Henson. The first Kermit was made out of Henson’s mom’s coat and some ping pong balls. At the time, he was more lizard-like than frog-like. By the time he showed up on Sesame Street in 1969, though, he had made the transition to frog. There are rumors that he got the name Kermit from a childhood friend of Henson’s or a puppeteer from the early days of the Muppets, but Henson always refuted both of those rumors.

6. Real Swedish Chef Lars “Kuprik” Bäckman claims he was the inspiration for the Swedish Chef. He was on Good Morning America, he says, and caught Jim Henson’s eye. Henson supposedly bought the rights to the Good Morning America recording and created the Swedish Chef (who DOES have a real name, but it’s not understandable). One of the Muppet writers, Jerry Juhl, says that in all of the years of working with Jim Henson on the Swedish Chef, he never heard that the character was based on a real person.

7. Animal - Everyone’s favorite member of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem may have been inspired by Keith Moon of The Who. This is speculation, but people who support this theory will point out that Jim Henson named one of the Fraggle Rock characters “Wembley”, which is the town Moon was born in.

8. Miss Piggy is apparently from Iowa. Makes sense. Anyway, she started as a minor character on The Muppet Show, but anyone who knows Miss Piggy can see that she wouldn’t settle for anything “minor”. Her first T.V. appearance was actually on an Herb Alpert special. It wasn’t until 1976, when The Muppet Show premiered, that she became the glamorous blonde with a penchant for frog that we know and love today. Frank Oz once said that Miss Piggy grew up in Iowa; her dad died when she was young and her mother was mean. She had to enter beauty contests to make money.

9. Rowlf the dog, surprise, surprise, was first made in 1962 for a series of Purina Dog Chow commercials. He went on to claim fame as Jimmy Dean’s sidekick on The Jimmy Dean Show and was on every single episode from 1963 to 1966. Jimmy Dean said Rowlf got about 2,000 letters from fans every week. He was considered for Sesame Street but ended up becoming a regular on The Muppet Show in 1976.

10. Oscar the Grouch is performed by the same guy who does Big Bird, Carroll Spinney. Spinney said he based Oscar’s cranky voice on a particular NYC cab driver he once had the pleasure of riding with. He was originally an alarming shade of orange. In Pakistan, his name is Akhtar and he lives in an oil barrel. In Turkey, he is Kirpik and lives in a basket. And in Israel, it’s not Oscar at all – it’s his cousin, Moishe Oofnik, who lives in an old car.

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Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Ed O'Brien

Interviewed by Chris Mincher

The members of Radiohead were probably thrilled when the overbearing hype faded and they didn't command the national dialogue as much as usual with 2003's Hail To The Thief. Credit most of that to sheer exhaustion on everyone's part—the band, fans, critics—but the album was at least as good as Kid A and Amnesiac. Crawling up from below seemed like a fitting way for Radiohead to make its next move, though what a slow crawl it was: After a stagnant four-year period in which the band left its label and frontman Thom Yorke released a solo album (The Eraser), the band last year made the surprise announcement that a new record, In Rainbows, was completed and soon to be self-released online.

The hype level threatened to shoot back up, especially when the album was made into a pay-what-you-want download, but once In Rainbows hit the streets (er, hard drives), the attention rightly turned to the music. Beginning with the kind of raw, unsettling compositions for which the band has become known, In Rainbows slowly but surely becomes something else entirely—calm, clear-headed, even romantic in parts; combining the best elements of pre- and post-Kid A Radiohead, In Rainbows was a shoo-in for most 2007 best-of lists. After disastrous bad weather flooded the Virginia show on their current supporting tour, The A.V. Club met with Yorke and guitarist Ed O'Brien and chatted about making transition records, simplifying their sound, and erotic landscapes.

The A.V. Club: On Sunday, as you guys started your second encore and the pavilion was already flooded, there were still thousands of people streaming in, just for a few songs. Is it surprising that you still have such a dedicated fan base?

Thom Yorke: It demanded a degree of dedication just to get there. It was pretty hectic. The trouble is, we knew what was going on, but we were stuck in the building all day. We didn't know how bad it was until after the show, when we were told about the police freaking out, but we were absolutely determined that it was going to happen.

Ed O'Brien: It's the start of the tour; that was only the fifth show or something, and when you start your tour, you come out of an exile. It's been incredibly humbling that people are turning up and showing their loyalty. At the start of a tour, you can never know how people are going to be, or how things are going to be received. It's been pretty amazing.

AVC: What was the band's mindset before going back out on the road?

TY: We were a little more organized this time. We spent a lot of time hanging out in the studio, rejiggering it so we could rehearse there. That was really fun. We spent a lot of time playing together for a couple months, nearly every day except weekends. We felt considerably more prepared than we normally are. Normally, you're doing all this other crap and then you're suddenly on tour, and there's no time to really get your brains around it. The thing that's interesting for me on this tour is, it feels like a very finite period. We know it's going to end. We know it's not that long. We're trying to throw ourselves at it. The thing I'm hoping doesn't happen is that we get bored before the end.

AVC: You guys seem like a group that tends to get bored quickly.

TY: The main thing is having the 60-odd songs to choose from. That keeps your blood going and keeps you from getting bored.

EO: For example, we didn't play "There, There" the other night. We had played that at the four other shows, and it just started to feel like it was getting linear and boring. So we were like, "Okay, that's that. Let's do something else, then."

TY: It's kind of good with the old stuff that you can get three or four days with it and then say, "Okay, next," and not waste your time. For example, on the first couple shows on this tour, we haven't played "Paranoid Android." It's nice to ditch the ones that you don't want to play. There's nothing on this tour we have to play other than the new stuff, and we'd prefer to play that stuff anyway. We're still trying to get our heads around a lot of it. "Reckoner," for example, that's a bit tricky.

AVC: "Reckoner" makes In Rainbows, as an album, feel like a transition for the band.

TY: In a way, that's right. But, then again, Kid A was quite a bit of a transition, wasn't it?

AVC: Radiohead seems to make a lot of transition records.

TY: When you're making a record, you should be transitioning.

AVC: Was "Reckoner" intended to usher in a different feel for Radiohead? Everything before that song sounds like your past few records, then "Reckoner" is like the break of dawn or something—everything after it is so subdued and calm.

TY: It's definitely a first-thing-in-the-morning song. You don't write many of those until you have kids. It was something that happened despite us, really. It just happened. Once I'm in the flow of a record, and feel like I'm starting to cover some ground, it gives me a boost to write something that's appropriate to where I am and what we're aiming at. "Reckoner" is like that.

AVC: If "Reckoner" is what you were aiming at, the band must have had something different in mind for the record.

EO: There wasn't any kind of vision. But we were talking about making something a bit more bare-bones.

TY: More space.

EO: "Videotape" is the best example. We've had a tendency to pile on overdubs and tracks and fill everything up. I can't help but feel that we suffered from that. We just piled stuff on. You look to the essence of a great song: You've got great vocals, with lovely lyrics and a great melody, and you've got something that backs that. After Hail To The Thief, it was great to hear Thom's Eraser. You've got great vocals up front, in your face, not back in the mix futzing with all the other melodies and stuff going on. Keeping that was definitely in the cards.

AVC: Hail To The Thief was piled up with sound, but it felt like that was where the album was coming from. The music, the artwork, even the title "In Rainbows" suggests this album is coming from somewhere else.

TY: The title Hail To The Thief was pretty much stamped on the top of what was going on, just an anger thing. There was a lot of anger in that record—a lot. There's very little anger in In Rainbows. It's in no way political, or, at least, doesn't feel that way to me. It very much explores the ideas of transience. It starts in one place and ends somewhere completely different. That was the only way we could fit it together, but it turned out to be a real upside in the end. The first half of it is pretty raw, pretty hectic. Even though you have "Nude," what the lyrics are actually saying is pretty messed-up, nasty. After a while, everything calms down and you get it out of your system. You feel better; there's this feeling of elation. As far as the artwork goes, that was heavily influenced by the pictures NASA puts on their website. They have this great library of stuff online that we were looking at, and it coincided with [Radiohead album-cover artist] Stanley Donwood's experiments, throwing wax around. It was just experimentation, but it gave a sense of release, letting go.

EO: Stanley is always in the studio with us when we're working.

AVC: Is that by design?

EO: He's either in a little room adjacent or above us in the mezzanine, or in the shed at the bottom of the gully. He's always with us, and we need him in that creative process. Not just for his artwork, but because he'll say, "I know nothing about music, but that was fucking brilliant!" By being there, the music seeps into him. He listens to things the same we do, having it repeated over and over and over again. It gets in him, and the stuff in that—the mood of the songs—is conveyed in the artwork. He's a receptor to that, and that's great.

TY: There can be some really difficult times in the studio, but most of the time, we have a laugh in it. A lot of times, when we're doing the artwork and things, there is an element of comedy about it—I've been throwing wax at bits of paper! It's not exactly the punk ethic, but we always end up taking a piss.

EO: The last few records, Stanley's started off with erotic imagery.

TY: Right. His erotic topiary.

EO: Erotic landscapes.

AVC: You have to look pretty hard to find landscapes erotic.

TY: No, no, not at all! I could tell you all about that. For days and days probably.

AVC: You say In Rainbows isn't political, but the feeling of transition seems to match this country's feeling of political transition.

TY: There is a certain way of a life, a certain way of being, that is, one way or another, going to come to an end. Hopefully something good to come to fruition, or maybe nothing will. A lot of background to this, for me, is the environmental thing. I didn't want to put that anywhere in the music, but it's absolutely there all the time, in my consciousness.

AVC: You've been doing a lot of work on behalf of ecological causes in recent years, even asking fans to find environmentally friendly ways to travel to your concerts on this tour. Where is the balance of having causes you work for as individuals, without turning into some photo-op-figurehead Bono type? And how do you keep that separate from your music?

TY: Sometimes when you get an opportunity to appropriate your work, or use whatever collateral you have, for something good, you think, "Well, yeah, you should do this." You're not in any way qualified to do it, but I was so sick of hearing so many unqualified people say that global warming doesn't exist, I thought, "Well, I'm no less qualified than they are, so I can deal with doing it." Generally, it's not good to be engaged directly with the political system unless you are qualified. Most of the organizations that you want to help or represent, ultimately, they are the ones that should be talking to governments, not you. In many ways, photo opportunities with politicians and people like that are a way to deflect attention. It's a very depressing business, the way politics works. You get stuck into it, but then, at some point, you have to walk away. I had to walk away, because it's like this dark, black energy void. There are some people who have dedicated their lives to living in that energy void, but I can't do it. I just can't go there. It feels like you're treading water too much when you do. It's a crazy thing.

EO: You have a limited amount of time to spend making music, and it's really important to not infringe on that time. Making music requires a lot of time; it involves putting the hours in and doing it consistently. Anything that upsets the flow of that upsets the music. The right thing is to spend the time making the music—then, if we have more time to give, give that to the other stuff.

AVC: Radiohead is nearly 20 years old. Being older, having families, and so on—how has that affected your music?

TY: It's harder to actually get time to work. It's harder to find your reason to work, and that isn't because you don't need to work, it's because you think, "More work? This is a young person's thing." But I don't agree with that at all. Music is music, and that's fucking nonsense. The reverse is true. There's that, but there's also the issues you face, that you're not the center of attention any more; you have children, and they are.

EO: What I liked about arriving at this record, thematically, was the lyrics had changed. What's really strong to me about the record is, the lyrics are perennial in their scope.

TY: They're positively evergreen.

EO: It's a very human thing. Music, at the end of the day, is communicating something—emotion, a feeling, a rite of passage, where you are in life. This record really does that. It's not a thing that's being written by someone who's in an exclusive position. It's something that's felt by everyone.

AVC: Was there a different tone from the start?

EO: The first thing I heard in the first rehearsal was Thom playing "House Of Cards," and I thought, "Hello there! Well, all right!" It's very strong, and I was like, "Yeah! I'm feeling it too."

TY: It's funny, because when I write lyrics and am using them in the rehearsal, people are like, "Well, I like that line, and I like that line, and blah blah blah" and usually, it's the lines I'm on the verge of throwing out. [Radiohead multi-instrumentalist] Jonny Greenwood is the best for that. I was writing this song the other day, and there's a line about voices down echo chambers, and I was literally about to delete it when Jonny goes, "That's the line I like!" It's the same thing on "Bodysnatchers," there's the line, "Has the light gone out for you? Because the light's gone for me." I was a bit unsure about it. When people respond positively to it, that's what stays in.

AVC: Has anything new come out of the band being together, and playing together, on this tour?

TY: We get to hang out with each other; it's a bit of a novelty. We don't see each other that much when we're not doing this.

EO: That's the great thing about doing this sort of thing—we get to spend some time together, socializing.

TY: Jonny and I spend quite a bit of time going through half-finished things and deliberately forcing ourselves to finish them so we can get them to the others. I'm getting a buzz out of that—this thing, "Slave," that I was playing for Ed the other day.

EO: That's right. It's quite good.

TY: I'll send it home to Nigel [Godrich] tonight to mix. Honestly, I could probably use a full day doing it, but you're in unusual places and want to get out. You don't want to stay in the hotel all day; it becomes a little too much for me. It's a little bit more than I can stand. In the end, when we're back from this tour, I'll probably think, "I really should have spent every day finishing stuff."

EO: He's finished quite a bit, though.

TY: I'm doing all right. I'm finishing what I want to finish.

AVC: Sounds like fans might not have to wait another four years for the next record.

TY: We try to keep the momentum of the operation going. Lots of times, if you stop too long, there's no momentum and it takes a lot to pick it back up again. We've had such a positive response to this. We're human; we lose our confidence far too quickly. It's nice to have our confidence. That's the biggest influence on things at the moment, being reasonably confident for a change.

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To Sing Like Shakira, Press '1' Now

Vibrato -- the pulsating change of pitch in a singer’s voice -- is an important aspect of a singer’s expression, used extensively by both classical opera singers and pop stars like Shakira. Usually, the quality of a vibrato can only be judged subjectively by voice experts.

Until now, that is. A research group from Tel Aviv University has successfully managed to train a computer to rate vibrato quality, and has created an application based on biofeedback to help singers improve their technique. Your computer can now be a singing coach.

The invention was recently showcased at an international competition in Istanbul, where it won first prize at the International Cultural and Academic Meeting of Engineering Students. Researcher Noam Amir, a senior lecturer from the Department of Communication Disorders at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, says the tool might not help record producers find the next great pop music sensation. But it could teach singers how to mimic Shakira’s signature vibrato.

Good Singing Is Not Subjective

Vibrato is a musical effect than can be used when a musician sings or plays an instrument. It adds expression to a song and is created by a steady pulsating change of pitch, characterized by the amount of variation and the speed at which the pitch is varied. TAU’s application can teach singers how to mimic the vibrato qualities most attractive to the human ear.

But mastering vibrato is no guarantee for an American Idol appearance. “Vibrato is just one aspect of a singer’s impact,” says Amir, an expert in the ways that emotions impact speech. “Singers need to arouse an emotional response, and that is a complicated task.”

Music, By the Numbers

Three years ago, Amir and his colleagues decided that they would look for an objective, numerical assessment of vibrato quality. New vocal students usually don’t have good control of their vibrato, explains Amir. “Their vibrato is erratic and hard to judge subjectively, and it’s hard to find to a precise measure for this. We wanted to find a way to emulate a human expert in a computer program.”

Amir’s team input into their computer many recordings by students singing vibrato and had their vibrato judged by human teachers. Using hundreds of vocal students and expert judges, the team was able to use mathematical measurements to correlate vibrato styles to their quality as judged by the teachers.

The computer was then able to rate the vibrato quality of new voices on its own, producing ratings similar to those given by the expert vocal teachers. In effect, a machine had “learned” how to judge the quality of an individual singer’s vibrato. The researchers then added a biofeedback loop and a monitor so that singers could see and augment their vibrato in real time.

An Escape from Call Centers

Other applications for this type of research, Amir says, could be in automated call centers, where callers communicate with computers. He hopes to be able to teach computers how to recognize a range of different emotions, such as anger and nervousness, so that a live receptionist can jump in when a caller becomes upset with the machine.

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Keep Rocking: 30+ Sites for Free & Legal Music

Downloading illegal music has become a hot topic on the Web. So much so that it’s easy to forget about the plethora of sites dedicated to free, legal music. We’ve put together a list of 30+ sites that will keep your MP3 player playing until your batteries are completely drained.

Whether you’re into pop, jazz, metal or classical, there’s something here for everyone. Let us know which are your favorites.


Amazon MP3 Store - The vast majority of the music at Amazon is for sale, but they do have a rotation of free tracks available for download. - Focused on promoting new and independent music, their downloads range from free to $0.98 as they grow in popularity. - An enormous collection of public domain music, expired copyright tracks, as well as some free contemporary music. - It started off as a resource for independent electronic musicians, but is now open to all. All tracks can be downloaded for free. - Offers over 13,000 free tracks from mostly European acts. - A music webzine covering hundreds of music labels, and offering thousands of free & legal songs for you to download. - a site dedicated to music that you can download to remix and post your results, all under the Creative Commons license. - Most people think CNet’s is just about software, but they also have tens of thousands of free MP3s you can download from new as well as up and coming bands. - A large selection of free tracks from smaller record companies that are free to download with larger releases available for purchase.

    ez-tracks - Offers over 30,000 legal downloads that are managed through a partnership with the labels. Starts you off with credit for 101 free upon registering. - A blog that posts reviews of complete albums that are available for free downloads from numerous sources. - Independent bands can upload their music, then have it rated by users, as well as downloaded for free. - Features streaming music from all of the major labels as well as numerous smaller companies, with numerous free downloadable tracks. - Finding the free downloads on iTunes can be a chore, this site does the work for you and lets you know what’s free each week. - Artists upload their albums under Creative Commons, allowing new listeners to discover their work. Although free, there is the opportunity to donate to the performers of your choice. - While most people know for its streaming and social aspects, they offer a weekly chart of downloadable free mp3s. - Proving that not all BitTorrent activity is illegal, LegalTorrents is filled with completely legal material.

    live music archive

Live Music Archive - Part of, features thousands of live performances by smaller bands as well as the likes of the Grateful Dead and Jason Mraz. - A band promotion site focusing on various forms of heavy metal, and allowing bands to upload mp3s users can download for free. - Besides their paid section, does offer a large selection of free tracks from acts small and large alike. - Focusing on Australian bands, offers a repository for bands to upload their music for people to download and try for free.

MP34U - Works in conjunction with, this site finds sources of free music & legal music from all over the Web. - Searches multiple sources to bring you approximately a million free song downloads.

    muzic - A sister site to MP34U, wherein the artists upload their tracks themselves, and helps them promote their work. - Allows independent musicians to set up profiles for themselves, stream their music and gives them the option of enabling their work for free downloads. - Ruckus provides free music to people with .edu email addresses, and requires you to renew your licenses for DRM once a year. - Offering a mixture of signed and unsigned artists the opportunity to set up profile pages and either stream their music or offer it up for free downloads.

    spiralfrog - Major release albums and tracks available for the price of just watching some advertisements. - Daily free mp3s from various artists, as well as rotating free albums. - A site for independent artists to promote themselves. Artists can upload tracks either for free or at a user cost of $0.89. - We7 offers mp3 downloads for free, but they do have advertisements attached to them. If you want them without the ads, they do offer a paid alternative.

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Bon Jovi playing free show in Central Park


NEW YORK (Billboard) - New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi will play a free concert in Central Park on July 12, the band announced Monday. The show, billed as an "All-Star Concert in Central Park," will take place in conjunction with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which is set for July 15 at Yankee Stadium.

"We've gotten the chance to bookend what is the most successful tour in the world this year with a free concert for anyone in New York," frontman Jon Bon Jovi said at a news conference alongside New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials. "I just traveled the world again, and New York is still the greatest city in the world."

The concert will take place at 8 p.m. on the park's Great Lawn and will not be televised. Fans will be allowed to enter the area beginning at 2 p.m. Tickets will be available beginning July 2 at baseball parks as well as at events throughout New York.

No more than 60,000 tickets will be distributed in an attempt to maintain the safety and integrity of the lawn's grass, Bloomberg said. "Our interest is in keeping the park open and making sure at the same time that we protect the investment the public has made," he said.

The band's "Lost Highway" tour wraps July 14-15 with a pair of Madison Square Garden arena shows in New York.


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9 Ways Hancock Could Have Been A Pretty Good Movie

Will Smith's drunk-and-disorderly superhero movie, Hancock, hits theaters today, a full three days early. You can't help but wonder if Warner Bros. is trying to get the movie out there before all the bad buzz, and horrendous reviews, take effect. The sad thing is, there are a bunch of ways that Hancock could have turned into a pretty decent film. Our review, with spoilers and a list of where Hancock went wrong, below.

#1: Do the cruddy-superhero thing right

The first half of Hancock is a watered down version of the comedy that those trailers promised you: Hancock is a superhero who's fallen into disgrace, thanks to hard-drinking roughneck ways. This is a premise with almost unlimited potential, and yet the movie still manages to flub it. The movie repeats the same joke a dozen times: someone calls Hancock an asshole, and Hancock gets pissed, so the guy calls Hancock an asshole a second time. Hancock scowls and says, "Call me an asshole one... more... time." And the other person says "asshole" one more time. Then Hancock uses his superpowers to fuck this person up in a hilarious way. The joke works once or twice, but then you start to wonder: who would ever knowingly fuck with Hancock? He's bulletproof and has super strength! People know all about him and his superpowers, but they still challenge him. Don't they know how it's going to end up? It's almost as if the scriptwriters think the fact that people don't respect Hancock means they don't fear him. It would have made more sense — and been funnier — for people to trash-talk Hancock and yet be terrified of getting in his way.

#2: Have some supervillains

So Hancock is the world's only superhero, in a world with no supervillains or other oversized threats. Hancock spends his time fighting small-time crooks, who pose no threat to him. Do you like watching a drunk guy swat flies? Then you'll love this.

Why are there no supervillains? It's a problem with superhero movies in general: they want to tell a simple, easily comprehended story in under two hours, so they keep the world-building simple. You can't really have Batroc the Leaper jump into Iron Man, because you'll have to explain who the hell this guy is and why he's jumping around with his silly French accent. Much simpler just to have Iron Man fight a guy who's using Iron Man's own stolen technology. Iron Man vs. Fake Iron Man. It's our world, just with super-armor. Or Hulk vs. Fake Hulk. Hancock takes this weird paradigm to its furthest extreme, and in the process it shows how flexible our modern mythology of superheroes isn't. Plus supervillains = automatically funny. The boasting, the giant gadgets, the Dr. Horribleness.

#3 Explain why exactly Hancock is a superhero anyway.

Hancock is a god among mortals. Shouldn't he be, I don't know, king of the world or something? Instead he's living in two smushed-together trailers and sleeping on a park bench. He's drunk all the time and people hate him because he causes tons of property damage in the course of fighting criminals. And it's never explained why Hancock feels the need to fight small-time hoods. There's a throwaway line late in the movie that says Hancock is a "protector" by nature, with an in-built need to help people. But it's very throwaway. And he could protect people lots of other ways besides foiling liquor-store robberies in L.A. He could be stopping the genocide in Darfur. As anyone who's read Michael Chabon's Kavalier And Clay knows, the crucial question is not, "How does Batman fight crime?" but, "Why does Batman dress up as a bat and fight crime?" In the case of Hancock, we probe his psyche a little bit, and get a vague sense that he's filled with self-loathing because nobody came to get him when he turned up, amnesiac, in a hospital 80 years ago. But it's all pretty thin sauce.

#4 More Jason Bateman being funny

This movie's MVP is really Jason Bateman from Arrested Development. Actually, Will Smith brings his usual charm to some horrendous material, but Bateman's the actor who really shines in Hancock — even though his character is actually super lame. Bateman's supposed to be the world's greatest PR guy, but all we ever see him do is fail to convince companies to sign on to his incredibly weak charity project, which involves putting an ugly heart logo on their products. The funniest parts of Hancock have to do with Bateman trying to rehabilitate Hancock's image and convince him to play nice. The long sequence of the white guy in a suit trying to "civilize" the scary black guy is a little creepy, but it does yield some actual humor. Bateman convinces Hancock that he should say "Good job" to police officers when he shows up at at a crime scene, because the cops are putting their lives on the line. So Hancock goes around woodenly saying "Good job" to everyone. (First, Hancock has to go to jail so he can show some humility, and make everybody miss him.)

It's just too bad that the funny Bateman moments are outweighed by the dull Bateman-pimping-his-charity moments, and the later Bateman-feeling-sad-about-his-marriage moments (we'll get to that in a sec.)

#5 Make this movie about something

One of the things that's frustrating about Hancock is it's full of metaphors — which aren't examined or explored at all. Like the idea that he's the world's only superpower, and everybody hates him. Do you think they maybe hate him because he's the only superpower? Also, the fact that he's filled with self-loathing because of his amnesia — what's that about? And the idea that superheroes are our "modern mythology," and a god who came to Earth would decide to be a superhero. There's got to be some potential there somewhere. Any one of those ideas, explored in an interesting way, would be way funnier than what we got.

#6 Put back the dirty stuff.

As we mentioned a couple of times, Hancock was gutted to squeak into a PG-13 rating, which is the money sweet spot in Hollywood. Along the way, everything really outrageous got sliced out of the movie. There's no more sex with underage (well, 17-year-old) girls. No more projectile semen ripping holes in the roof of Hancock's trailer. (Although you can still see the holes, in one scene.) I'm guessing a bunch of other crazy comic material got removed at some point, and what's left is sort of sad. Plus, Smith is determined to make Hancock likable even though he's supposed to be an asshole. As a result, Smith seems kind of bewildered. In fact, Hancock seems borderline autistic at times, especially in his interactions with Bateman. Smith is determined to make us love a superpowered drunk quasi-homeless guy with anger issues, so he settles on making him seem sort of childlike and befuddled. Why can't Hancock just be a cock?

#7 Totally rethink the movie's big twist

As you may have heard, Hancock is really two movies smushed together. The first half is a weak comedy, and you've already seen the funniest parts in the trailers. And then the second half is an unbearable melodrama. It happens really suddenly. There's a moment where Hancock suddenly turns into My Super Ex-Girlfriend for a moment, and then it switches gears and becomes a schlocky love story devoid of chemistry. And here's where things get spoilery.

So it turns out that Jason Bateman's wife, played by Charlize Theron, is actually an immortal superbeing like Hancock. And she and Hancock have been quasi-married before, but Hancock lost his memory of their past together. And whenever the two of them are together, they start to become mortal. Which is how the rest of their immortal race died off, by pairing up. Theron's character Mary is trying to hide her super-being status — so she flings Hancock through a wall. Good job, Mary!

#8 Can the love story.

At some point, you realize that we're supposed to care about the relationship between Hancock and Mary, even though there's no chemistry between them and they're talking about gods and immortality and destiny and blah blah blah. The later scenes between them are up there with Hayden and Natalie in the Star Wars prequels. It's fully Lake on Naboo-tiful. And the idea that they become mortal when they're in each other's presence is just kind of ludicrous and annoying, and makes for a horrendously schlocky climax.

#9 Decide what kind of movie you're making.

And here's really the crux of what went wrong with Hancock. Is it a crazy outrageous comedy about a shitty superhero? Then fucking go for it, and show us how crazy you can get. Is it an understated Jason Bateman comedy about a P.R. exec who tries to work with a superhero to improve his image? That actually could have been a great film, if the whole movie was about that. Is it an exploration of why Hancock is such a dick? Or is it a tragic love story of two immortal and nice-looking people who can never be together? (If so, then no thanks.) If Hancock had picked one movie to be, it might have managed to be pretty okay. Instead, it's a mash-up of five really bad movies.

Christian Bale All Like ‘More Batman Please’

July 1st, 2008 at 11:00 by Stuart Heritage

It's not out yet, but The Dark Knight looks set to be a huge hit.

So much so, that Christian Bale is itching to make a third Batman movie already. Bale says he's looking forward to seeing whether Christopher Nolan can top the 'artistry' and 'emotional intensity' of this film, and that he'd love to be a part of it.

Yeah yeah yeah - listen, Christian Bale can spout as much nonsense about artistic worth as he likes, because we all know why he wants to make another Batman film. It's because Batman law quite clearly states that the third Batman movie in any series is the point where the Bat-nipple comes into play. You'd have to be a crazy person to turn down the Bat-nipple.

Christian Bale is mad-bent on revisiting all the old franchises that have been left for dead, isn't he? First he decided to become Batman, then he signed on to make a load of new Terminator films. What next?

Personally we're hoping that he takes the lead in a new clutch of dark, emotionally-intense Ernest movies. You know, we really want to know what profound psychological childhood trauma Ernest went through before the events of Ernest Goes To Camp took place, and Christian Bale's the only man for the job in our opinion.

But if that doesn't happen, Christian Bale is happy to just churn out more Batman films until the end of time. The Dark Knight hasn't even been released yet, but it's already whipping up a gigantic storm of hype thanks in part to Heath Ledger's untimely death, and Christian Bale wants to see if everyone can repeat the trick without anyone dying this time. If Magazine reports:

"The possibility of doing another one is completely Chris Nolan's decision and if he's doing it, then absolutely," Bale says. "He's presented himself with a huge challenge of surpassing this one I believe, and very much so with surpassing the Joker as a villain. You know, how do you up that? It's a very tricky thing to do. If anybody can do it, I think Chris can. So that's his choice."

Bale's absolutely right, of course - the third sequel traditionally provides film-makers with a vast amount of artistic choices. For instance, should Batman 3 go the way of Beverly Hills Cop 3 and be set in a funfair? Should it go the way of Jaws 3 and be a 3D movie where the baddie gets blown up at the end after eating a grenade? Or should Batman 3 go the way of Spider-Man 3 and feature an egg-based dance number and a haircut that makes people evil?

All three, hopefully. Just so long as there's no Robin. We can't even ironically entertain the idea of that option happening.

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James Bond’s ‘Quantum Of Solace’ Gets An Explosive Trailer … Tell Us Your Thoughts!

The new James Bond trailer is finally here, and Bond appears to go rogue, a plotline last explored in “License to Kill” in 1989. From the 2-minute trailer, “Quantum of Solace” may seem to borrow visual elements from the “Bourne” franchise, but Bond’s motivation is very different and very dangerous: revenge.

Car chases, plane chases, boat chases … too “Bourne”? Not enough? Give us your thoughts below!

A look at the script for the upcoming JONNY QUEST!

El Mayimbe here...

So Warners is looking for another family friendly adventure franchise to replace Harry Potter. According to reader DR. STRANGEFIST who took a look at the 2nd draft of the script, the upcoming JONNY QUEST could be the answer. Dr. Strangefist (who seems to be on a hot streak lately) chimed in his thoughts below. From what I gather, he really liked the script. The 3rd draft has recently commenced so good news to all those Hanna Barbera fans – the project is active.

Jonny Quest revolved around a young boy who travels the world with his scientist father, adopted brother from India, Bandit the bulldog, and a government agent assigned to protect them as they go on their adventures investigating scientific mysteries.

The show, which is owned by Warner Bros. Animation, aired during primetime on ABC in 1964, lasting only one season. It was updated in the late '80s and '90s as "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest" on the Cartoon Network. Property's also been spun off as a comic book from DC.

The Hollywood remake/adaptation train keeps on rolling, and the passenger this time around is a live action re-imagining of classic Hannah-Barbera cartoon Jonny Quest. Although the show originally ran for just one season, it obviously made an impression on plenty of people – it was resurrected twice, turned into TV movies, video games, and comics, and the characters have become pop culture icons. However, it’s been out of the spotlight for several years now, and at this point is probably not on the radar of many younger TV and movie viewers. It appears that Warner Bros. and writer Dan Mazeau have decided to change that and introduce the character to a new generation of fans, and a new version of him to old ones.

The script starts in classic sci-fi adventure fashion with two AIR FORCE RADAR TECHS in Greenland observing a mysterious object fall out of the sky and crash right on top of their remote facility. It’s some kind of sleek, futuristic flying vehicle, and it appears alien in nature. Enter dozens of military officials, guards, and scientists, all led by no-nonsense brass CORVIN. Nobody knows what this thing is, they can’t figure out what’s inside, they can’t even find a door. Corvin takes one look at the strange, glowing vessel and aide ROBERTS to contact the only man who might be able to help them, the brilliant, world-renowned scientist DR. BENTON QUEST

Cut to a military hangar in New Mexico where the highly accomplished Dr. Quest is giving a demonstration of his latest mind-boggling invention: a non-lethal ray gun that completely disintegrates weapons and vehicles but leaves organic unharmed. The audience is wowed, but after the demonstration someone turns the machine back on and goes wild with it in the hangar. Dr. Quest rushes to deactivate it and is shocked to find his 12-year-old son JONNY – our hero – using it to burn his initials into a nearby tank. It seems that Jonny is quite the troublemaker, and has driven off another in a long line of bodyguards ostensibly meant to protect him but really there to keep him out of mischief. Dr. Quest is furious, but has little time to react before Roberts arrives to brief him on the situation in Greenland and escort him back to his lab,. where the mysterious craft will be sent for study. Quest’s only request is that Corvin send him a new bodyguard, one that actually handle the demands of the job.

Cue RACE BANNON, quintessential badass secret agent; always cool, always in control, he’s seen and done it all and it’s left him with a sarcastic, wise-cracking demeanor. We find Race in the midst of being beaten and interrogated by a trio of eastern European thugs in a cargo container aboard a docked freighter, where an illegal arms deal is taking place. Race quickly and easily breaks free and turns the tables on his captors, then proceeds to try to stop the deal single-handedly. He almost succeeds, but the bad guys manage to get away in a mini-sub with half of their merchandise – a soviet warhead.

The thieves in the sub are led by the menacing and extremely dangerous KORCHECK, a man who appears to have an adversarial past with Race Bannon, and has the hideous battle scars to prove it. Korcheck quickly demonstrates that he is no childish cartoon villain by calmly yet brutally dispatching one of his underlings for failing to secure both warheads. Despite the setback, Korcheck informs his men that one warhead will be enough to forge ahead with their nefarious plans.

Meanwhile, Corvin is furious to learn that Bannon has been unsuccessful, and angrily informs him that he has a new assignment. He is quickly whisked away by helicopter to Dr. Quest’s advanced headquarters on a private island in the Florida Keys. Race assumes he is there to protect the good doctor, whose wife was killed during an attempt on his life three years before, but is more than a little shocked and annoyed to learn that the body he will be guarding is Jonny’s. The job may not be as easy or boring as Race thought, though, as Jonny has a penchant for trying to sneak out of the facility and has pilfered some of his dad’s high-tech gadgets to help him. Almost immediately Race is drawn into a high-speed boat chase with Jonny, who is trying to sneak out for a night of fun in nearby Miami. Although Jonny will be more of a handful than Race expected, Jonny has also underestimated his new “babysitter,” and the two begrudgingly begin to form a bond.

Back at the lab, Dr. Quest and two assistants are cutting open the strange vehicle from Greenland. The mystery of the ship deepens when they discover ancient Sanskrit characters etched into it, but they have little time to process the information before spider-like robots swarm out of the machine and attack them. Dr. Quest narrowly escapes, but the robots tap into the facility’s computer system and deactivate the security systems. The ship was a decoy, a Trojan horse, an elaborate trick to allow squads of armed attackers to raid the compound. Mazeau actually takes a moment here to step back from the story and interject a quick statement about the script – the world of Jonny Quest, though not graphically violent, is decidedly darker and more mature than kiddie fare like the Spy Kids films, and this scene aptly demonstrates his point; the bad guys actually kill people and the main characters are in real danger. In the ensuing chaos, the attackers capture Dr. Quest and steal the new ray gun from his lab. Race takes out several of them, and protects Jonny, but is unable to stop them from getting away.

Evidence suggests that the kidnappers have taken Dr. Quest to India, and the government dispatches a team to search for him. Jonny is supposed to stay behind, and Race is ordered to guard him, but Jonny sneaks aboard the plane and Race disobeys his orders and joins the mission, neither realizing that the other is along for the ride. In the meantime we find out that a former colleague named JEREMIAH HURD has kidnapped Benton, and he intends to force him to assist him with some unknown but undoubtedly evil project. Upon arrival in India, the government rescue team is ambushed and a reunited Race and Jonny are left to unravel the villains’ (Hurd and Korcheck are in league, naturally) plot and save Dr. Quest – but not on their own, as they meet an Indian boy named HADJI SINGH who can help them understand why the bad guys have stolen an ancient mystical Hindu artifact, and then team up with Race’s tough-as-nails old flame JADE.

What follows is an exciting, often funny adventure that hearkens back to the old-school Jonny Quest show, but also has a modern edge. Highlights include an inventive action scene involving a motorized rickshaw and jetpacks, an exciting hovercraft chase through twisting tunnels of a mine, and the reveal of a cavernous underground temple (shades of Temple of Doom) that clues our heroes into the nature of Hurd and Kolcheck’s plot. They have found an ancient artifact called the Brahmastra that supposedly unleashes the power of the gods – basically an ancient, mystical nuclear bomb, and Hurd needs Dr. Quest’s help (and his new ray gun) to “activate” it and harness it. And Korcheck wants to put it into the stolen warhead to use as the ultimate extortion tool. It all builds to a series of white-knuckle set pieces and an ending that sets up further adventures of the Quest team. If the finished film can deliver on the fun promised by the script, those further adventures will be completely welcome.
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