Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...at the movies

2009 has come and gone--and 2010 has already thrown some terrible, terrible movies at us (The Book of Eli, I'm looking at you!). Will it shape up at the cineplex, or are we doomed? Last year's offerings were a mixed bag--let's reach into that bag and see what we pull out, shall we?

Best Popcorn Movie
District 9
Neil Blomkamp's dizzying sci-fi shoot-em-up was one of the most kick-ass, original films in years. The pseudo-doc style matched with first-person shooter action, believable acting and some of the best use of CGI ever made this one a hypnotic bloody masterpiece.

Worst Popcorn Movie
Transformers 2
Where does one start? Robots with balls. A joisey 'bot that humps Megan Fox's leg. Megan Fox. Shia LeBeouf, er Labouf, er the kid from Holes pointing and going "no no no no no no no no!" a lot. Jive talking robots with gold teeth that "aren't much for reading?" Really, Michael Bay? That kind of racist--excuse me, Baycist--film making is just awful. One wishes his funding would be cut as quickly as his shots are.

Best Popcorn
The stuff I make at home in an air popper--a little butter, salt and some rosemary. Seriously, it's awesome.

Best 10 minutes of any movie this year, period
The romantic montage at the beginning of Pixar's Up. If you don't shed a tear at this, you aren't human. You're most likely a balled, jive-talking robot that humps Megan Fox's appendages.

Worst 10 minutes of any movie this year, period
Feel free to pick any ten minute segment from He's Just Not That Into You. I would be more into stabbing myself in the face than watching that again.

Best franchise reboot
Star Trek
Despite the sheer number of irritating lens flares, J.J. Abrams seriously nailed it. I'm a bit of a Trekkie (yes...Trekkie. I'm not a snobby "Trekker"), and I enjoyed the hell out of this thing. The alternate time line was a thing of genius. I only wish Eric Bana's villain had been a bit more interesting...

Worst franchise, to boot
Twilight: New Moon
No, I didn't see it. The sheer fact that it exists is about as upsetting as jive-talking robots who--well, you get the point. I despised the first film (vampires who sparkle and play thunder baseball!), and now they've added werewolves that can transform in a second! None of that pesky "Lock me up! Lock me up! Don't let me out, whatever you do!" stuff of standard wolfman fare. Nope, just a little "jump in the air, come down as a wolf, then transform back into a shirtless teen who can wield a bo-staff impressively on talk shows" instead.

Best Art House Movie
The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow should win the Oscar for Best Director for this tense, harrowing depiction of a bomb squad unit and the adrenalin high that comes from diffusing live explosives. Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie are outstanding. Big celebs show up to get blown up or shot. And Evangeline Lilly shows up and does nothing!

Worst Art House Movie
Anything with period costumes in it and a run time over 2 hours. (I just can't do it, people. I'm sorry!)

Art House Movie I really, really, really wanted to see but haven't yet, but damnit, I promise I will as soon as I get back to Los Angeles in February after my festival ends

Worst line in a movie preview
"You're changing that boy's life."
"No...he's changing mine."

Worst movie preview
Leap Year
Pay 10 bucks to come see if she jilts her old lover at the airport in favor of her new lover, since that's pretty much ALL we didn't show you in the preview!

Scratch that--WORST movie preview
The Ugly Truth
Katherine Heigl *shiver*

Best whimsical performance by an ensemble of stop-motion animated woodland creatures to the backdrop of 60's Brit rock
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
This is probably my favorite Wes Anderson movie--his tone and aesthetic was the perfect match for Roald Dahl's story. If there's any justice, it'll become a family classic.

Best use of music that isn't actually appropriate for the time period it is used in
Pirate Radio
The majority of the hits used in Richard Curtis' ensemble comedy came out well after the events it's portraying...but they still sound great!

Worst movie to watch on an airplane other than Transformers 2
Imagine That
Thanks SO much, United, for giving us no other film options. I was really, really in the mood for one of those movies about a magical blanket with a direct line to princesses who give stock tips.

Best Documentary
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
Inspiring and sad at the same time, this doc follows Canadian metal band Anvil and their fall from pseudo fame to catering and back up to pseudo fame again. Netflix it. Trust me.

Cutest little romantic movie that's almost too precious for it's own good
(500) Days of Summer
It's so twee it makes Stuart Murdoch look like Jason Statham.

Best AND Worst movie title, all in one
Donkey Punch

Best animated film that adults will think is too scary for kids, but that kids will be unfazed by and love
Henry Selick is a master animator, and Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller. You do the math.

Best movie where giant blue creatures can use their hair usb adapters to plug into horses and trees
TIE: Avatar and Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Worst Paul Reiser imitation
Giovanni Ribisi in Avatar

Weirdest movie to come out at Thanksgiving
Ninja Assassin
The billboard read "Ninja Assassin Thanksgiving." Would you pass the gravy boat, white shadow?

Weirdest use of eye makeup in a movie preview
Seth Green in Old Dogs

Movie that couldn't possibly be as good as the preview, and wasn't
Where The Wild Things Are

Best Cameo in a Movie
You-know-who in Zombieland

Movie that's release date got pushed back so many times that I've seen the trailer so frequently that I personally want want to torch every reel of it
Shutter Island

Film most in need of "Tyler Perry's" in front of the title
Tyler Perry's Taking Woodstock
Tyler Perry's Inglorious Basterds

Best Genre Exercise
A Perfect Getaway
David Twohy's meta thriller is good fun--it toys with conventions so much it's a delight to follow, and Timothy Olyphant is better than he's ever been.

Most disappointing comedy
I had such high expectations of Mike Judge's latest film that I was sad that I hardly cracked a smile during it's run time. Maybe it will come alive on a second viewing...

Most surprisingly enjoyable romcom
The Proposal
Who knew that Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock would have such good chemistry, and that Oscar Nunez would steal every scene he was in?

Best trend
High quality animated features. With Up, Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox all excelling in the genre, and Princess and the Frog ushering in the return of lush hand-drawn animation, it was a killer year for toons.

Worst trend
Overpriced 3D and fake IMAX screens. It's a serious bummer to pay $15+ to see crap like Monsters Vs. Aliens on a supposed "IMAX" screen that's only a tiny bit bigger than the rest of the auditoriums.

Movie with the most jaw-dropping "SERIOUSLY?" moments
Transformers 2
I mean, one of the robots HAS A GOLD TOOTH. 'Cuz autobots need teeth. It's worst than nipples on the batsuit, people.

It's late, and I can't rally against Transformers 2 any longer. I mean, I can, but...well, hope you enjoyed this. Feel free to leave some comments about your favorite and most hated films of the year!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

EXCLUSIVE Interview: Television vet Brainy Smurf!

It was a crisp morning in San Francisco and I sipped on a hot cider as I waited for my guest inside beatnik bar Vesuvio. He was running late, and as he shuffled in the door it was clear that time hadn't been kind--his coke-bottle glasses slipping down, his tattered white hat now more the color of an eggshell, now more miniature then ever. A bit of a hermit since leaving Smurf Village, Brainy put down his text books and turned to prose--rambling, quixotic narratives that have launched Brainy into the literary spotlight.

Cole Stratton: Thanks for taking the time, Brainy.

Brainy Smurf: No problem. I'm a big fan of the blog.

CS: Really?

BS: (pause) Um, no, not really. I've never read it. My publicist just told me about it, and, well, you know.

CS: Right. Well, regardless, thanks.

BS: Sure.

CS: We're gonna spend some time talking about your writing, I promise, but do you mind if we talk a little about your time in Smurf Village?

BS: I'll be honest, it's not my favorite subject. But I've resigned myself to the fact that that's what people want to talk about, to know about. So...yes, but, well, ok, so...go ahead.

CS: Some have labeled you a tattle tale, a rat. Do you feel that's an unfair assessment?

BS: Of course I do! Is it so bad to go by the book, to play by the rules? People seem to forget that there was the constant threat of a maniacal madman who wanted to capture us and melt us into gold. HE THOUGHT HE COULD MELT US INTO GOLD. We're small blue creatures, not bouillon. They all wanted to take so many unnecessary risks. It's just dumb. Not too long ago Hefty cut his smurfing thumb off on a table saw 'cuz he didn't have the safety shield in place. And I'M the jerk here? I'm all thumbs.

CS: That's not what you think it means.

BS: I know that, I was being funny.

CS: Sorry, you're kind of hard to read.

BS: Papa Smurf always said I was funny, but nobody really listened.

CS: You like to quote Papa Smurf a lot.

BS: Well, yeah. He was our leader. He was my father. He was all of our fathers. He just kind of always knew what to say, he knew what do. That smurf was wise, kind. I miss him. When I was little I used to curl up next to him and stroke his big white beard and fall asleep.

CS: What was your relationship like with Smurfette?

BS: We didn't really understand each other. She...she wasn't all that bright. I mean, she was created by Gargamel to try to trap us. I think it's weird that we even responded to her in the first place, with us being unisexual and all. We didn't even know we had...desires. All that attention...I don't think she could deal with it after a while. That's a lot of pressure. Everyone was in love with her. Lazy, Handy, Reporter, Clumsy, Harmony, Dreamy, everyone but Vanity Smurf, really. She used to be a brunette, you know. Papa changed her hair color when he changed her nature. That says something.

CS: Were you shocked when she passed away?

BS: Yes, and no. We all were, but I can't say that I didn't see it coming. She had been eating magic mushrooms for years, but she kept upping the dosage. It's just tragic. She's the only woman we've ever known, or will ever know.

CS: Have you had a hard time adjusting to the human world?

BS: It's smurfing tough out here! Do you have any idea how many people discriminate against little blue people? I nearly get stepped on everywhere I go, I can't hold down a job--that's where the writing comes in.

CS: What other jobs did you have before you were published?

BS: Oh, good smurf, I've tried them all. I waited tables at Olive Garden, where you ARE NOT family, by the way, I had a paper route but couldn't lift the Sunday edition. I wrote for a while on According to Jim, but couldn't live with myself. Jim Belushi can suck my left smurf.

CS: Any thoughts on Blue Man Group?

BS: I don't doubt their talent, but, smurf, rip us off much? I figured I could at least get a job in touring production, but they are firm about the Blue Men being between 5'10" and 6'1", so that smurfed me there.

CS: Johan and Peewee...is that when you jumped the shark?

BS: Jumped the shark?

CS: Yeah...it's a term that was invented on Happy Days when Fonzi jumped a shark on his motorcycle, and the show was never the same.

BS: Oh smurf I hate Fonzi Smurf, it's all about HIM when it should be about Richie Smurf, and--

CS: Johan and Peewee?

BS: Yeah, those guys kind of bugged. I mean, Peewee always carried a lute with him. Who does that? And we'd be in the middle of a discussion about an Azreal sighting, or something, and he'd just start playing a lute solo for like ten minutes. It's like, "Hello? What the smurf are you doing? We're talking here, smurfhole!" and he'd just keep lute'n up a storm. Peewee had a Napoleon Complex, and yet he was several feet taller than us. Jerk.

CS: Your first book, A Smurfing Smurf Amongst Smurfs, has garnered a lot of praise, and a little head-scratching. Did you think it was going to be as challenging a read as it's turned out to be?

BS: I just write what I feel, what jumps into my head. I think it's more interesting that way. I'm not as concerned with narrative structure, or trying to work in a tight three act thing, or whatever. I just write. Editor Smurf wanted to take a stab at condensing it, but I wouldn't let him. They are MY smurfing words!

CS: I understand that. I noticed that the book was dedicted "For PS...you always said to follows my dreams."

BS: It's always been for Papa Smurf. Everything I do. One day, maybe I'll be a Papa Smurf myself, if science can figure out our whole reproduction thing. I don't know how much time I have left on this plane, ya know? If I can't create life, I can create words.

Brainy apologized again for being late, and excused himself to run to another appointment. It was the last interview he would give...as he was run over later that afternoon by a Hyde Street Cable Car. His words live on...

Sunday, January 10, 2010


It's time to hit the road and head up to San Francisco for SF Sketchfest--with Janet Varney in tow, we've got a craaaa-zy day ahead of us!

7:30 am: Pick up JV at her palatial estate. See what else she has recently gotten gold-plated. Show her new Speidel watch with the twistoflex band and say "Ahh? Ahh???"

8:05 am: First gas-up of the day. Buy snacks. Me: Mountain Dew, Watermelon Airheads, Pack of '86 Donruss USA Baseball Cards (for the gum), Gummy Beverly D'Angelos, So-Cool-They've-Ceased-To-Be-Cool-Long-Enough-To-Once-Again-Be-Cool Ranch Doritos. Her: Bottled water, turkey jerky.

8:20 am: Merge onto I-5 North.

9:15 am: Finish merge.

9:47 am: Drive up into the grapevine. Constantly query, "Don't you know that I heard it through here?" Be reminded of the California Raisins, sigh wistfully talking about Will Vinton animation.

10:25 am: Six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Nearly destroy the universe connecting Isaac Newton with Freddie Prinze, Jr.

10:40 am: Slug bug! (Not the car, an actual slug that had crawled inside my jean jacket. Get it off of me! Get it off!...not the slug, the jean jacket! This isn't 1986!)

11:17 am: Bathroom stop. Mountain Dew happy to return to urinal where it is bottled.

12:24 pm: Lunch stop in luxurious Kettleman City, CA. Remark on how wonderful it must be to be a Kettle Man, going door to door, city to city, just selling those lovely kettles. Tea must always be on somewhere. Order through the In-N-Out drive thru, off the menu--ask for a "Punxsutawney Phil, Double Flipped Animal Style with Flair." Be served a boot covered in Thousand Island.

12:52 pm: Back on the road. Ultra serious sing-a-long to the entire catalog of Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Wonder if The Range ever put out albums sans Hornsby.

1:31 pm: Twenty minute game of "Holy shit, DO NOT smell anything right now" whilst driving through Coalinga.

2:12 pm: Second bathroom stop of the day. In and Out Burger, indeed. (Sorry.)

2:43 pm: An enthusiastic wave towards Anderson's Pea Soup. Janet stares at a little kid in the lane next to us, and swears "If this little bastard doesn't avert his gaze soon, I'm gonna go all medusa on his ass." Ask Janet to put hair snakes away.

3:17 pm: Second gas-up. There is a child-like stone statue in the car next to us.

4:12 pm: Altamont pass. Tell story about being at that Stones concert, man. Remember that you aren't nearly old enough, and instead tell story about Tone Loc entering from a giant Corona bottle at Club MTV Live in Junior High School.

4:48 pm: Approaching the toll plaza at the Bay Bridge.

5:15 pm: Approaching the toll plaza at the Bay Bridge.

5:58 pm: Approaching the...oh, pay toll.

6:03 pm: Rousing rendition of "San Francisco! Open your Golden Gates!" Get furious when Golden Gates stay closed.

6:20 pm: Pull up to hotel. Realize it's the same hotel Kermit and the gang stayed at in The Great Muppet Caper, only this one isn't called Happiness. Ask for room with a view...to a kill. Argue with desk clerk that Roger Moore was the best bond, even though neither of us believe it. Clerk makes compelling case for George Lazenby. Who knew?

Thus begins my adventure in San Francisco, and three crazy weeks of SF Sketchfest, the San Francisco Comedy Festival. Won't you come see a show?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So wait...there's no commercial to book, then?!

Leave it to an actor/improviser to put together a fake audition to propose to his actress girlfriend--that's exactly what Michael Terry did. Check out the video of this adorable proposal...and fake Kay Jewelers commercial audition!