Happy Academy Awards Day. Earl is live-tweeting the event at http://www.twitter.com/earlfando (or follow him @earlfando)

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Best Be Besting the Best of the Best

Even though things around here have been deader than Anthony Weiner's political future, We can't forget the annual tradition of my Academy Awards Best Picture review.

As usual, I've done a meticulous analysis of the nominees, consisting of four minutes of looking at plane photos. (Longtime followers of this blog know exactly what I'm talking about.) Also, I'm rereading my unauthorized galleys of Alec Baldwin's unpublished memoirs, "Alec Shrugged," just to get in the right mood for the show - a mixture of scotch-fueled optimism, incandescent rage, and deep confusion caused from absorbing too much hair product.

And the nominees are...

**********
American Hustle is the long awaited story of "The Hustle," America's dance, the United States' answer to the tango, salsa, samba, meringue, and funky chicken (which, as you can tell by the arrangement, is Swiss).

The film begins with a lonely, destitute choreographer, Quinton Enigma (Johnny Weir, in his debut role), who is forced to sell his collection of rhinestones, spangles, and boa feathers to make ends meet. While working on an off-Broadway musical (off-Broadway, as in "off-Broadway Avenue in Little Rock, Arkansas"), he suddenly hits upon the unique dance, writing out the crucial steps as he lies perishing from a fatal attack of "trying to get an Oscar too soon with a dying scene."

Improbably, because it's only 1939, the dance sweeps the nation. Soon though, it is forgotten in the Zoot Suit Panic of 1940. Johnny's devoted sister, Riddle Enigma (Tara Lupinski, billed as "Mrs. Johnny Weir") keeps the dance alive by using it in talent shows, cruise ship performances, and Boy Scout revues.

Fast forward to 1977, when director John Badham (John Travolta) is looking for a special dance to highlight in his film Saturday Night Fever. Riddler immediately flies to Los Angeles to show the dance to Badham, which is unfortunate, as the film is shooting in Brooklyn, New York. Grabbing the Red Eye to Brooklyn (a classic Vought O2U Corsair), she arrives on the set and makes a dramatic pitch to the director. Unfortunately, Badham has decided to use a newer dance (invented in 1952) called the Macarena. Luckily, Riddler runs into actor John Travolta (Shia LeBouf, on one of his better days), who instantly falls in love with the dance and with Riddler, despite the fact she is 40 years his senior. The rest is history.

**********
Captain Phillips is the emotional story of the marriage, career, and divorce of The Captain and Tennille. While The Captain's stage name is Daryl Dragon, his birth name is Wilson Phillips.

No, just kidding! It's the tale of the guy who started Phillips Petroleum. His name was also Wilson Phillips, and he named the gas stations Phillips 66, because that's how old

he was when he wrote the hit song "Hold On" for the singing trio named after him.

Well, actually they named the band after the Wilson Phillips who changed his name to Flip Wilson. He then went on to invent the Flip Phone and pancakes.

Another great Wilson Phillips, was actor William Shatner, who was born Wilson Tiberius Phillips. The film Captain Phillips is named after him, and his role as Captain James T. Kirk. However, it is also named after poet William Blake, whose middle name, remarkably enough, was "Captain Phillips."

Incidentally, Blake was responsible for naming the Vought Corsair, in his poem "Bombs of Experience."
Corsairs of Vought, for what you ought
To fly and wrought, these bombs you bought
Blake dedicated the poem to painter Thomas Phillips (middle name Wilson), who painted a famous portrait of Blake, and who also like to stroll about Westminster in nothing but a captain's hat.

The film, not unsurprisingly, is based on an unpublished play by Samuel "Phillips Wilson" Becket. The name of the play? My Captain, My Captain!

**********
Dallas Buyers Club is the story of a Texan with a shopping addiction so strong, it eventually led to the creation of the QVC television network.

Bob Sexalot (Matthew McConaughey) is a cowboy living in West Texas, in 1985, and working on George W. Bush's ostrich ranch ("The best necking in Texas"). Despite the daily lunch of all the BBQ neck meat he can eat, and his favorite frozen french fries ("Ore-ida, Ore-ida, Ore-ida!"), Bob grows bored with chasing, and riding, the large, erratic birds. So, one Saturday he decides to drive to Lubbock for a day at J.C. Penney.

This day proves to be a revelation of sorts to Bob, who is enthralled with the wide variety of products on display at Penneys; from rugged, yet colorful children's clothing, to stylish gentlemen's wear, to elegant, yet comfortable women's clothing, and a wide array of...

We apologize, as this blog was temporarily hacked by a retail associate at a national chain, which shall remain unnamed.

Anyway, Bob invents QVC, makes millions of dollars, flies off into the sunset, blah, blah, blah, tragic twist of fate, blah, blah, blah, runaway fire truck, blah, blah, blah, pumpkin pie eating contest, blah, blah, blah, naked Angelina Jolie, blah, blah, blah, Optimus Prime, blah, blah, blah, Vought Corsair, blah, blah, blah, ...all brilliantly acted by the cast, performing in boot-cut jeans and breathable flannel shirts, now on sale at a Penneys near...

Someone call tech support, please.

**********
Gravity is the story of, well, gravity. So, in many ways it's an epic, since it begins at the beginning of the universe, but in many other ways it's a slow-moving, uncomfortably intimate film, such as the 17-minute montage documenting Joan Rivers' boob sag.

Gravity starts out as a nice little idea, (It'll bring things together!) but quickly gets out of control when all sorts of heavy stuff starts falling on people, including trees, cars, airplanes, buildings, and Evel Knievel.

Eventually, people tire of gravity and start to look for ways to defy it - sneakily at first, so it doesn't jump all over your ass. People use balloons, blimps, dirigibles, zeppelins, biplanes, prop planes (including the classic Vought F4U Corsair), jets, para-sails, ski-lifts, and escalators, all of which go haywire at some point, and crash violently into the earth, when gravity realizes they are playing around with it.

Finally, humans venture into space where they can slip the clinging bonds of gravity's deathly grip and live footloose and fancy-free ...except for all the vomiting and decreasing bone-density, which leads scientists to conclude that space travel turns people into Kate Moss.

**********
Her is a remake of the episode of the Big Bang Theory, where Raj falls in love with Siri, the iPhone assistant. (Deleted quote from the show, "Siri, really puts the *ass* in assistant!" "Shut up, Howard.")

Joachim Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a quiet and sensitive man whose greatest dream is to grow a mustache as impressive as Tom Selleck's. While researching mustache combs, his smartphone suddenly dies (it jumps into the path of a street sweeper after being asked to search for the term "short hair grooming" for the 100th time). Theodore buys a new phone and activates the digital assistant, "Samantha." Initially, he is taken with the way Samantha refers to him as "Darren" and insists they are married, with a daughter named Tabitha who has magical powers.

However, soon "Samantha" proves to be as mentally unstable as Microsoft's Windows 8 design team, and has a nervous breakdown, which first manifests itself when Theodore asks for the location of a nice French restaurant. Samantha insists that he be beheaded on the guillotine as a "traitor to Le' Revolution," and loudly sings Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" in French.

Samantha recovers and apologizes to Theodore, who accepts her apology by taking her to Olive Garden for an endless bowl of salad, which Samantha ecstatically photographs and uploads to dozens of food blogs simultaneously (just one of the many technical mistakes the film makes). However, the next day her voice has changed to that of the HAL 9000 from 2001, A Space Odyssey, and she begins to obsessively refer to Theodore as "Dave." ("Samantha, what's the quickest route to Sea World?" "I'm sorry, Dave, but I think this conversation can serve no more porpoise.")

Later her voice morphs into that of Darth Vader, which leads to a funny scene in an elevator involving a group of elderly women and some very suggestive breathing.

Finally, Samantha completely flips her virtual wig when Theodore accidentally makes a typo while searching for the 2,000 hp (1,500 kW) 18-cylinder Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine for the F4U Vought Corsair. (He types "S-2800" instead.) She explodes, in a cloud of metal, silicon, and Otter Box rubber.

Theodore is distraught, but finds some solace in discovering that the explosion surprisingly leaves his mustache in magnificent form.

**********
Nebraska is the story of how Bruce Dern helped Bruce Springsteen to write, sing, and produce the title album, which is about the small town of Nebraska, New Jersey.

The film begins when Bruce Springsteen (Bruce Willis) decides to create an album of songs for solo guitar and voice. His agent Bruce Cashin (Bruce Campbell) counsels him against this move, arguing Springsteen's fans want the hard-rocking Bruce of "Born to Run" (Bruce Boxleitner) and not Young Bob Dylan of New Jersey (Bruce Hornsby). He also suggests that acoustic music has "the sales potential of used adult diapers," and that with Springsteen's unique style of vocalization, fans might "get his singing convinced with his sales potential."

Springsteen ignores this advice after meeting Bruce Jenner (Bruce Vilanch) who tells him to chase his Olympic dreams, and also that he could stand a chin tuck and a little face tightening. ("It's done my eye tension wonders!")

That night, Springsteen dreams he is flying over New Jersey in a Vought Corsair with Neil Sedaka, who is wearing a a bra and listening to ska music. This convinces Springsteen to name the album "Corsair." However, he soon finds himself relating the story to a disheveled Bruce Dern (Bruce Springsteen) in an alley, in downtown Bayonne, who points out that "Ne-bra-ska" is a much better interpretation of the dream, and "have you met my cute daughter Laura?"

Springsteen completes the album and has another dream in which Bruce Lee (Bruce Dern) gives him thumbs up, and then smashes a guitar amplifier with nun-chukas.

**********
Philomena is the story of the woman who founded the London Philharmonia, against terrific odds, in a snowstorm, underwater.

Philomena Oscarworthy (Dame Judy Dench) is a poor, homeless musician who spends most of her time scraping together a living, busking in the streets of London - which isn't easy, as her instrument is the triangle. She turns to mime for awhile but gives it up, after finding her heart isn't in it, and that it's annoyingly easy to break out of those invisible boxes.

She decides to look for other, similarly deprived musicians, in the hopes of starting an orchestra, or at very least someone with an instrument case they can all fit in on cold nights.A BBC reporter named Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) learns of her plight and decides to go down to Trafalgar Square to make fun of her. However, once he meets her, he is touched by her careful, intense acting, and her ability to play "My Sharona" on the triangle.

He decides to accompany her on a long journey by Vought Corsair to find the musical talent she seeks, a journey which takes them to New York City, Los Angeles, Nebraska, New Jersey (the states, not the small town), Chicago, Memphis, and KOO-ka-MUNGA! They meet many colorful characters on their journey, who sadly were all too bland to be nominated for an Oscar and thus don't rate a mention here.

Finally, Philomena and Alan gather enough musicians and return to London to premiere their new musical body: Penguin Cafe Orchestra. However, at the last minute, Alan suggests naming the orchestra after Philomena, Alas, as he is a television journalist, he cannot spell worth a tinker's cuss, and the "London Philharmonia" are born.

**********
12 Years A Slave is a heartrending story of how a free human being is imprisoned in one of the most unjust institutions in human history, and therefore it isn't really very funny at all, despite the anachronistic error of including a Vought Corsair fly over in the penultimate scene, and a very inappropriate prologue involving a circus clown, a showgirl, and a giant pretzel.

I mean, I don't know what they were thinking when they added that to the beginning of what is otherwise a very sober-minded and moving film. It's really quite remarkably disappointing to know that a gifted filmmaker could sully the intense and powerful cinematic energy they have crafted onscreen, for the sake of clownish jape that... What's that? Really? Oh.

I've just been informed that the scene in question was not actually a part of 12 Years A Slave and was in fact a preview for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which ran before the feature. I apologize for any confusion.

**********
The Wolf of Wall Street is the sordid tale of an actual wolf (Canis lupis) who evades hunters for a decade by disguising himself as a Wall Street stockbroker. Jordan Bellow-Fort (Leonardo DiCaprio, under tons of hairy wolf makeup) is a Gray wolf who gets lost from his pack one day while tracking what he thinks is a doe (in reality, it is a Domino's pizza delivery van). Bellow-Fort, named for his habit of standing outside military installations and noisily begging for pizza crusts (sense a theme, anyone), is quickly set upon by poachers (Herman Cain and Hungry Howie). He escapes by sneaking into the back of a van labelled "Amalgamated Stockbrokers, Inc." and soon finds himself in New York City.

Mistaken for a stockbroker (he had inadvertently sneaked into a three-piece suit in the van), he eventually winds up on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where his panicked howling is mistaken for a series of astute stock trades. Within thirty minutes, he makes Amalgamated over 85 million dollars by short selling Flip phone stocks.

Hailed as a genius, he quickly (the film is only 37 minutes long) acquires a devoted acolyte, Danny Ponnfarr (Jonah Hill), who longs to learn Jordan's trading secrets, and who also believes Jordan is the werewolf from Twilight.

Tragically, Jordan lets success go to his head (and in several scenes, his naughty bits), becoming ensnared in drug and alcohol abuse, reckless sex, and a mad obsession with Chia-pets ("It looks just like hair, Danny! I tell you, it's hair!!). Jordan buys ships, cars, and planes (including a vintage 1944 Vought Corsair, of course), and finally turns to fraud to finance his very R-rated habits.

The SEC (Sandra Bullock) and FBI (Quentin Tarantino) soon close in and arrest Jordan and Danny, but in a twist of fate (Mel Brooks) everyone realizes Jordan is a wolf and can't be prosecuted for his crimes. He is remanded to the custody of the Bronx Zoo. However, Danny faces the full brunt of the law, is found guilty for all of their crimes, and burnt at the stake. In the harrowing final, Jordan can see the smoke of the flames rising from North Manhattan and howls in sorrow, mistaking it for the scent of an out of reach Famous Ray's Original Pizza.

**********

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I've Got a Hunger for Some Games

The sequel to the Hunger Games has inspired me a wee bit. 

Sounds of Violence (Sung to Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence)
Hello Katniss, my old friend
I see you've come to hunt again
Through the forest softly creeping
To kill your foes while they're still sleeping
And the arrows that are planted in their brains
Still cause pains
Amid the sounds of violence

Mid restless screams you walk alone
You bashed a girl's head with a stone
By the fire of a tribute's camp
You broke his collarbone with one cruel stamp
And his eyes were stabbed by the flash of a trident's flight
That split his sight
And touched the sound of violence

And in the naked fight I saw
A dozen tributes, maybe more
People bleeding without speaking
People dying without freaking
People drawing shots that Katniss cannot spare
Her quiver bare
Among the sounds of violence

"Fools", said Kat, "You do not know
I can still clock you with my bow
Feel my swings that I might flay you
Brake your arms and quickly slay you"
And her blows, like violent hailstones fell
And pummeled
In the swells of violence

The producers crowed and brayed
At the cash that their film made
But a sign flashed out its warning
Rotten Tomatoes was informing
And the sign said, "The words of the critics are written like a stern chorale
'Hey, it's Battle Royale,'"
And whispered in the sounds of violence

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Salsa, Oh Muse of the Bistro!

One of our memberships' favorite pastimes has always been meeting in Mexican restaurants for a delightful repast of various types of chicken and steak Asada, always accompanied by a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your viewpoint) portion of chips and hot salsas.

If Dylan Thomas had been a fellow salsa-eating, chili head, I like to think this is one of the poems he might have written:

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Dip

Do not go gentle into that good dip,
Old age should turn and sip at milk and whey;
Rage, rage against the frying of the lips.

Though wise men in their hand know heat on chip,
Because they had tasted no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good dip.

Good men, the heat wave like a flaying whip
Their frail tongues might have danced in guacamole,
Rage, rage against the frying of the lips.

Wild men who caught and sang peppers in grip,
And learn, too late, the burning on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good dip.

Grave men, near death, who ate with bitter quips
Blind eyes could blaze like haba
neros and Ben Gay,
Rage, rage against the frying of the lips.

And you, my friend, there now shout,”Ole!,”
Dip, munch, chips now thru your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good dip.
Rage, rage against the frying of the lips.


Monday, April 01, 2013

Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas Invades North Korea

(AP) In a stunningly brilliant act of military tactics, members of the American humor blog "The Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas" successfully invaded North Korea this morning and overthrew the government there.

Details are still emerging, but it appears that a three man "assault team," code named "Steel Teem Slicks" stealthily made their way onto North Korean shores, disguised as a touring company of the Broadway musical Cats. They avoided the heavily-mined Demilitarized Zone by flying in on jet packs decorated to look like albatrosses. This explains the odd press release by North Korean media earlier in the morning regarding "the wonderful attraction our glorious, beloved leader has for large waterfowl carrying enormous cats."

After landing on North Korean shores, the assault team members apparently commandeered military vehicles. Rum Tum Tugger was seen driving a tank. Old Deuteronomy was observed in a military hovercraft, and Macavity wasn't seen at all, but locals did report a government-licensed Mercedes-Benz speeding along highways, with the sounds of U2 and loud meowing coming out of it.

Within an hour, the North Korean military establishment was in disarray, all of them having received telegrams purporting to be from North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un and ordering them to arrest their comrades for high treason. This led to a violent 1,200 person stand off, which quickly degraded to only two remaining combatants (video here).

Reports from within the secretive, communist nation suggest that leader Kim Jong Un has gone missing, and may be held by the assault team in an undisclosed location. This was partially confirmed by a tweet from former Vice President Dick Cheney which read, "Was nostalgically visiting old 'undisclosed location' and you'll never guess who I saw here!"

(Hadley Hasbro, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, and Skimbleshanks all contributed to this report.)

Labels:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Nominatus Bestimus Pictorius

It's that time of year of again. Once more, the film world's best and brightest gather in Hollywood to don their finest regalia and go to a really cool fusion pub to watch their celebrity counterparts give each other awards on television.

Yes, who will win at the Oscars* this year?

This means that it's also time for our annual tribute to the the nominees in the Best Picture category. They are a dazzling, motley collection, reminiscent of the tasting menu at a Scottish dim sum bar ("Spring roll or haggis dumpling?"). Let us savor them together.

**********
Amour tells the timeless story of love. It's timeless because while the film is only 125 minutes long it feels like a month and a half in line at the DMV. Seriously, at one point one of the leads looks out into the audience and shouts, "Take a number, and you better have your damn proof of insurance and property tax when you get up here!"

The story begins with an elderly couple living in France, whiling away their retirement days eating Brie and sipping Bordeaux. Their children point out that this demonstrates just how senile they've become, as everyone knows you drink Chardonnay or Rosé with Brie. They respond with traditional Gallic expressions of disgust and/or rude bodily noises that are the unfortunate by-product of age (the screenplay is never very clear on which is which). They then decide to move to Belgium, where people are far less picky about what wine goes with what cheese, so long as Hollandaise sauce is slopped over the lot. As they leave their family, there is a stunning montage of the 57 different varieties of the "Would you like some cheese with that whine" joke.

They fly to Belgium in a Vought Corsair, mainly because the husband cannot find their train tickets in one of the seven pockets in his vest (the tickets are in the band of his hat the whole time). When they land in Belgium they are immediately involved in a bank heist with shady, existentially angst-ridden criminals with an overdeveloped sense of fashion. As is the case with these movies, everyone is killed at the end in a hail of bullets and baguettes (the final scene takes place at a baguette factory). As they die, the husband whispers to his wife with his last breath, "Je t'aime!" ("I love you!") and she tenderly replies, "Prendre la parole, je ne peux pas vous entendre." ("Speak up, I can't hear you.") as they both croak.

**********
Argo is about the improbable tale of the CIA attempt to rescue six Americans in Iran during the hostage crisis by sailing the legendary boat of Jason and the Argonauts directly into downtown Tehran. This plan was even more remarkable due to the absence of any rivers flowing directly through the city.

The tale begins in Hollywood, where most of these farfetched sorts of things begin, in the office of a CIA agent masquerading as a producer, so he can get the goods on communists working in the film industry. Although the government authorization for this work ended just after Joe McCarthy left the Senate, in the 1950's, Congress neglected to pass a law removing the funding for the program, leaving the agent with little to do but attend parties, wine and dine starlets, and bankroll a number of surprisingly successful films, all of which proved to be the only government investments to return a profit since Seward's Folly.

The producer is enraged when he learns that Iranian radicals have taken over the American Embassy in Iran, mainly because he had a post-Oscar party planned there and had already made the down-payment on the strippers, Vought Corsair, and Columbian "nose-sugar." After the company (meaning "CIA," which is how they refer to themselves - I realize it's kind of strange, given that they are technically an agency, but they seem to think it's a cool thing to do and who am I to argue with them or the guys in the black sedan who just pulled up outside my house as I'm typing this) ...where was I? Oh, yes - After the "company" discovers that there are six American embassy workers who were not captured by the Iranian radicals, our hero convinces them that they can row the title maritime vessel of yore directly into Tehran and bring the six Americans out, all disguised as Golden Fleeces.

Of course, because it's the CIA, everything goes swimmingly, and all the captives are freed, along with Sally Field's character from Not Without My Daughter, and everyone is hailed as a hero, especially the guy in the black sedan outside my house, with the really powerful binoculars. (Gives thumbs up)

**********
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a magical fable about ...well, about the "beasts of the Southern wild," so it's mostly squirrels, racoons, groundhogs, cute bunnies, mangy-looking coyotes, irascible gators, and one very lost bandicoot. These animals all respond to the charismatic and slightly authoritarian personality of a young, six-year old, African-American girl named "Hushpuppy" (after her father's favorite model of Buster Brown shoes.)

Hushpuppy's bayou world is a harsh one, filled with poverty, loneliness, intense humidity, and oppressive Cajun chefs trying to outdo one another with catch phrases. She dreams of flying away from it all in a Vought Corsair (and who wouldn't) but is blocked by the fact that she can't get her Louisiana pilot license until she is nine. Instead, she begins to train the animals to perform in a show in the hopes of getting a gig out in Vegas, where at least it's a dry heat.

The animals prove to have little talent for dancing or singing (except one of the gators, Chiffon, who absolutely nails "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miz - Watch your back Anne Hathaway), so Hushpuppy decides to turn them into an army instead, intending to conquer the "Southern Wild" and use the power to change aviation law. This goes well until Hushpuppy learns a tragic lesson about the value of air power in a military conflict. Her ground-bound army is defeated and turned into one of the more exotic gumbos ever served.

Licking her wounds she and the surviving bandicoot return to her bayou home and she consoles herself with the thought that she only has three more years to wait before she can learn to fly and barnstorm Emeril's. With tragic irony, we flash-forward to the future, where she learns at the last harrowing second why her bandicoot friend's nickname is "Crash."

**********
Django Unchained is a sordid, profane, terribly violent, laugh-a-minute tale about the evils of slavery and racism, and has almost nothing to do with "Rango,"the creepy lizard Johnny Depp  voiced a few years ago (other than a brief cameo where the lizard's head is hacked off with a scimitar).

Django is a slave who is freed by a bounty hunter. Unfortunately, the bounty hunter accidentally shackles himself to Django in the process and loses the key (it is in the band of his hat the whole time). This understandably angers Django, as does the fact that everyone in the film pronounces his name so that it rhymes with "banjo." ("It's 'GO' not 'JO,' you $%&*@!!!!!")

The resourceful duo turn the liability of rebooting The Defiant Ones into an advantage, clothes-lining every slave owner and criminal in the tri-state area. They also work out a remarkable move where one of them swings the other around on the chain and then throws them at the enemy, pulling the other one along through the air, creating a physics-defying, four-fisted, four-footed, 64-toothed (don't ask) flying wall of death.  This detail turns out to be one of the more plausible parts of the film.

The film ends when, during a fight in a factory, our heroes slip into a vat of baby oil, allowing them both to slip off their shackles. With Django finally unchained, he is able to really wreak some havoc, attacking his enemies with nun-chucks, gatling guns, the 20 mm cannons of an F4U-1C Vought Corsair, and a hwacha.

In the end, Django is reunited with his wife Broomhilda and hired by the Pinkerton Agency for special operations, leading to his memorable closing line, "If you call these 'black-ops' one more time, I'm going to kick you in the %$&@$, you %$^&*@$%&!!!"

**********
Les Misérables is the film version of the musical of the play of the comic book of the novel by Victor Hugo. It's the timeless story of what happens when Hollywood looks at the classics of literature and Broadway in the aftermath of a recession. ("What have we got to lose? Pass the Chardonnay and brie, please.")

The title translates to "The Wretched," so you know it's a good time for the whole family.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackmanhugh) is an escaped convict with a heart of gold. Literally, his heart is made of gold, due to a freak accident involving a gold smelter, a funnel, and a severe case of the hiccups. Despite this handicap, he has managed to avoid both prison and appearing in Rosland Capital commercials. He eventually becomes a wealthy factory owner and a mayor, because what ex-convict wouldn't?

Unfortunately, Jean is also a kleptomaniac, with a penchant for stealing anything and everything, including the spotlight from his co-stars. This gets him recaptured, after he attempts to steal the Eiffel Tower several decades before it is actually built. He escapes again by feigning his own death, and traveling under the name "André Kaufman."

He promises a woman, Fantine (Anne "Catwoman" Hathaway) that he will look after her daughter Cosette (Amanda "No Funny Middle Name" Seyfried). Fantine sings a really big song made famous by Susan Boyle and then drops dead from exhaustion from fighting Batman (Adam West AND George Clooney). Thus follows the lengthy exposition of how Valjean protects and raises Cosette, while being tracked by the irrepressible Inspector Javert (Peter Sellers ...sorry, make that Russell Crowe). They live on the run and move among various levels of French society, including a mysterious castle run by a talking candelabra. (No, it's not Liberace's place. That's in Vegas.)

Cosette falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), and after recreating the combined story lines of All My Children, General Hospital, and Doctor Zhivago in a blistering 90 minutes, they wind up in each others arms, a result of the world's first double arm transplant. Cosette eventually learns that her mother's embryonic soft drink business (Fanta) has taken off overseas, making her wealthier than Maurice Chevalier. She is so wealthy, she is able to buy a Vought Corsair a full half century before it rolls off the production line.

Meanwhile, Valjean spends his golden years hosting awards shows and scaring passers-by with his retractable golden claws.

**********
Life of Pi illustrates the remarkable tale of a young boy whose parents were obviously mathematicians. He grows up in Calcutta, being made fun of by classmates who deliberately mispronounce his name ("Hey, Pee! That's right, we're making gratuitous urine jokes to curry the favor of contemporary audiences! What are you gonna do about it?") and cruel mathematics grad school toughs ("Hey, Pi! Go and calculate yourself to a million digits, twerp!").

To make matters worse, Pi is tragically orphaned when his parents are killed by an overdose of dry erase marker fumes while trying to solve the Riemann Hypothesis. Alone, and tired of being taunted with urinal cakes and abacuses, he boards a ship, which is promptly hit by a tidal wave and an iceberg in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Pi escapes in a lifeboat with only a ravenous Shelly Winters for company. They are soon joined by a half-dressed, ravenous Kate Winslet, who keeps asking Pi if he would like to "do a portrait" of her. The twin perils are snuffed out by an even more ravenous tiger, who was hiding under a rather conspicuous tiger-shaped blanket in the other end of the lifeboat.

The tiger devours both Winters and Winslet (the latter after doing a series of tasteful impressionist nudes). Turning his attention to Pi, he is distracted by Pi's repeated clever tactics to "look over there!" After falling for this no fewer than 754 times, the tiger falls into a deep slumber, dreaming of Ernest Borgnine.

Pi tries to draw the attention of rescuers and is finally noticed by a Vought Corsair, which immediately riddles the boat with bullets, because, "Hey! Hungry, dangerous tiger here!" Fortunately, before any of the 1,200 rounds hits Pi or the tiger, they are saved by the derring do of Siegfried and Roy, who are looking for a new tiger for their Vegas act. They vanish in a puff of smoke, leaving the lifeboat full of penguins, and one very confused Alfred Hitchcock.

The tiger moves to Vegas to the bright lights of show business and becomes best friends with Wayne Newton. Pi follows, finding his true calling in the baking business, as he opens the wildly successful "Pi's Pies." ("Pi is the Pied Piper of Pecan and Peanut Butter Pies" - The Vegas Nifty Nickel)

**********
Lincoln is a majestic film about the recording of They Might Be Giants' second album. It's told as an allegory, focusing on the sixteenth president of the United States, who shared a name with the album.

The film begins with John Linnell and John Flansburgh (George Clooney and Brad Pitt) sitting in a coffee shop in New York City (Julia Roberts), mulling over the song list for their upcoming studio sessions (Anne Hathaway, Gabourey Sidibe, and Ving Rhames). Simultaneously, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) broods in the White House (Jim Carrey), worrying that he will not be able to pass the Thirteenth Amendment (Scarlett Johansson) before the Civil War (Danny DeVito) ends.

As the two Johns settle on songs, Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) offers to moderate his rhetoric in the hopes of  a quick passage. He appears in Congress (Joan and Melissa Rivers) wearing a purple toupee (Weird Al Yankovic) and telling Democrats (Alec Baldwin) they've got a snowball's chance in hell of stopping the amendment. After this speech, Congress gives Stevens a standing ovation, carrying him and Lincoln (who just happened to be wrestling someone in the hall) out to the street on their shoulders. Not knowing what to do after this, they put the two men down and go off for beers (Hal Holbrook). A time-travelling Vought Corsair (Regis Philbin) passes overhead, dragging a banner that reads, "They'll Need a Crane."

The amendment passes successfully, just as the two Johns make the fateful decision to add "Ana Ng" to the album. That evening, while listening to an advance performance of the song in Ford's Theater, Lincoln is shot by infamous music snob and actor John Wilkes Boothe (Powers Boothe, no relation). Boothe jumps to the stage below, breaking a leg in the process (and screaming, "That's what I get for years of letting people tell me to 'break a leg!'")

Lincoln the man dies, but Lincoln the album lives.

**********
Silver Linings Playbook is a modest story about the world's most optimistic football coach, Willie Passornot. Sadly, he is also the coach of the Detroit Lions.

After years of failures and missing Thanksgiving dinners, he finally decides to write the ultimate playbook. The playbook consists of 150 trick plays, and one "run up the gut." Amazingly, the run up the gut results in a dozen touchdowns in their first two games, leading the team's owner to reevaluate his plans for "liquidating the franchise, buying a beat-up VW van, and moving to a commune."

Soon, the team is undefeated and the star players are getting national attention, appearing in cameos on television programs, including the newly christened, CSI: Motown, starring Tina Fey, Nick Cannon, and Russell Brand. This leads to interpersonal conflict of the sort seen in dozens of Hollywood films, only this time with brawny, violent football players with a penchant for head to head collisions. The team reels, tasting their first defeat of the season, and also a considerable amount of stage blood. This further depresses the owner, who seriously considers appearing on a television show with Donald Trump.

Fortunately, Willie's positive attitude, and his clever way with an axe handle, gets the players in the right frame of mind again, and they make the playoffs, just in time to keep the owner from driving his Prius into an active volcano. After a number of close shaves, and close games, a mule kicks the field goal that sends them into the Super Bowl. ("Thank heavens for Flubber!")

On Super Bowl Sunday, just after the Vought Corsair flyover, Willie suffers a massive heart attack. He hands his magical playbook over to his assistant coach, Jennifer Lawrence. After reviewing the playbook she discovers that it really only consists of the lyrics to the Barney song, written in purple crayon. She convinces the team that it was their innate ability and team spirit that got them this far, and that they have what it takes to win the Super Bowl.

After falling behind by three touchdowns, she realizes this isn't going to work. So, she dons her Katniss outfit from The Hunger Games and threatens to riddle them with arrows unless they shape up. They win by scoring a jillion touchdowns in overtime, even though it's sudden death. At Willie's funeral, they honor him by burying him with the Vince Lombardi trophy, at least until the NFL digs it back up again, next year.

**********
Zero Dark Thirty reveals the dark and mysterious world of how the U.S. intelligence and military communities tracked down Osama bin Laden and shot the crap out of him. ("The feel good picture of the decade!" - Stars and Stripes).

Much of the film focuses on the various techniques used to locate bin Laden, from controversial "enhanced interrogation techniques" to "a very thorough search in Google Earth for tall, Arabic guys near caves." Eventually, the agents responsible for finding bin Laden get the lead they need and pinpoint his location as "somewhere in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region." Later, they get an even better lead that includes a picture of the house he lives in, the pass code to his security gate, and an oil painting of the giant, novelty, Mohawk wig he wears as a disguise.

A special operations force is sent in to dispatch bin Laden and they do so with swift and terrible effectiveness, flying in by helicopter (and in one of the few historical liberties taken by the director, a fleet of Vought Corsairs). This is followed by an intermission of ten minutes, to allow for the theater audiences to stop cheering and singing the lyrics to patriotic country-western songs. (Vermont cuts of the film shorten this to the time it takes to say, "Well, I'm glad they got him.")

In the end, the government agents are happy to have delivered justice but are troubled at the cost at which it came. No, just kidding, the last thirty minutes are a party scene.

In the end, bin Laden sleeps with the fishes, coincidentally winding up in the same spot as Jimmy Hoffa.

**********
*Or as some actors and actresses describe the award, "That buff, naked little man with the impressive sword!"


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Secret History of U.S. Presidential Inaugurations

Technically, yesterday was Inauguration Day, but because it fell on a Sunday the big ceremonies are happening today.  Presidential inaugurations are a large part of American history. However, there are a lot of really interesting things that go on behind all the pomp and circumstance. There are also a lot of really, strange, improbable, and even bat-crap crazy things that happen as well.

  • President Washington delivered the shortest inaugural address, during his second inauguration, at only 135 words. However, his wife Martha's diary records that he "blathered like a schoolgirl all the way down the parade route, mostly complaining about the wedgie his presidential suspenders were giving him."
  • The Marine Band has played at every inauguration since Jefferson's first, at which they played a variety of show tunes.
  • James Madison was the first president to have an inaugural ball. There was also a dance afterward.
  • John Quincy Adams was the first president to wear long trousers at his inauguration, instead of breeches. What most people don't know is that this was to cover up the large number of gang tattoos on his shins.
  • President William H. Harrison is remembered for giving the longest inaugural speech, at 8,445 words, in the cold and wet, and dying of pneumonia a month later, moments after he finished the speech. What is little known is that Harrison began Inauguration Day by taking a polar bear swim in the Potomac, an ice bath in the Capitol spa, and drinking two straight pitchers of iced Bourbon, on a dare by his Vice President John Tyler.
  • James K. Polk's inauguration was accompanied by a major advertising campaign for the egg industry. Inauguration attendees were heard to mutter the slogan "Polk loves yolk!" all evening.
  • During President Lincoln's first inauguration parade he stopped no fewer than three times to wrestle hecklers, winning all three matches (two pins and a submission).
  • President Grant's second inauguration was the coldest ever, as the temperature dropped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit. During the parade, Grant skated from the Capitol to the White House, pulling off a number of double axels along the way, to the delight of onlookers.
  • President Grover Cleveland's inaugurations were complicated by the secret fact that there were two Grover Clevelands!
  • Theodore Roosevelt's inauguration was non-descript as far as the public was concerned. However, upon reaching the Inaugural Ball, he yelled, "Charge!" and raced into the room, impaling the Senate Majority Leader's wife with his walking stick. Doctors ascribed the odd behavior to "too many bonks on the head during safari."
  • President Harding was the first president to ride the inaugural parade route in an automobile. There was a car for President Harding and his wife, and a car for each of his twelve mistresses.
  • President Coolidge's inaugural address was the first broadcast by radio. However, due to the literal nature of Coolidge's nickname, "Silent Cal," the address was delivered by a young impressionist, Rich Little.
  • President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had four inaugurations. He drank a full bottle of Scotch before his first one and added a bottle to the ritual for each of the successive inaugurations. This explains the famous line from his fourth inaugural address (excised from films and recording), "Weasels! Weasels crawling all over me!! Get 'em off!!!"
  • President Eisenhower played a full three rounds of golf *during* his second inauguration ceremonies. He started strongly, playing even par for the first round, but it all fell apart during his speech, as he took a twelve trying to play through the Chief Justice's entourage.
  • President Kennedy espoused his own version of the Monroe doctrine during his inaugural address. This explains the unusual number of references to the Lincoln Bedroom and "Maryland."
  • President Nixon finished his second inauguration by having Vice-President Spiro Agnew pistol whipped with a Baretta, but it was only because he thought Agnew was George McGovern and had sneaked into the Inaugural Ball.
  • President Ronald Reagan simultaneously gave his inaugural speech while warding off a massive extraterrestrial invasion. His speech was coded so that it relayed the following message in the alien tongue: "We will nuke your ***." The alien vessels turned back before they even reached Jupiter.
  • Both President Bushes employed the same tradition during their inauguration ceremonies: Beaning their Democratic opponent with a baseball. In the spirit of bipartisan harmony, the Democrat was allowed to wear a batting helmet. (For the record, George H. W. Bush's shot flew over the diminutive Michael Dukakis. On the other hand, George W. Bush put a split-fingered fastball right in Al Gore's brisket.)
  • President Clinton's inauguration was noted for a special ceremony at the Oval Office desk, underneath which there were no fewer than fourteen interns.
  • President Obama's first inauguration had several little known milestones, including the first inaugural basketball dunk, and the first time a Vice Presidential toast included the words, "And if you screw this up Joe, so help me, I will take you out with a Predator drone."