Friday, June 26, 2009

A few thoughts on the summer movie season so far...

Last Tuesday night (or really, really early Wednesday morning depending on how you look at it), I dropped by the Gateway with a couple of friends to see a midnight showing of the new Transformers movie. The whole place was teeming with teenagers, which is especially strange when you consider that the original Transformers TV show aired about a decade before any of them were born. Seriously, I think I was the oldest person in the theater by several years.

Anyway, with "Revenge of the Fallen" under my belt, I figured it was high time I make a few observations on the last few movies I've seen...assuming I can still remember what I saw.

Star Trek: Still Nerdy, but Much Better for You

It's pretty obvious that this year's "Star Trek" reboot was a studio attempt to revitalize the franchise and transition it from an exclusive cult audience (the convention folks) to a more mainstream audience (people who would probably have more fun at a convention then they realize), without offending the aforementioned cult audience. To do so, the Star Trek Gods brought in Mr. "Lost," J.J. Abrams, and turned him loose on Kirk, Spock and the crew. The result was bittersweet for me: a fun movie that definitely injected new life in the "Star Trek" universe, but also showed me how good the "Star Wars" prequels could have been.

The total package was more than effective, with a fun story, energetic characters, and special effects that enhanced the movie instead of dominating it. Best of all, the film paid homage to the original series without coming off like it was ripping out a series of in-jokes to alienate the non-Trekkies (see Sulu's fencing background and the wheelchair for Captain Christopher Pike). But all that aside, once the dust clears, the best "Trek" movie is still "Wrath of Khan", on the strength of story and the performance of Ricardo Montalban.

Terminator Salvation: Now With 50% Less Time-Traveling Killer Robots

I think the biggest draw to this summer's new "Terminator" movie (also a franchise reboot) was all the publicity about Christian Bale's infamous on-set meltdown. That's too bad, because the new movie is fantastic, albeit a drastic departure for the original formula:

1. Terminator arrives in past to kill important human ancestor
2. Important human ancestor fights back
3. Important human ancestor destroys terminator through aid of other time-traveling helper

This time around, the action takes place in the future dystopia all the other movies were setting up, though the whole time continuum theme is still in play, as the bad robots are trying to kill the guy who will eventually go back in time and father the child that will grow up into the human resistance leader that in time goes on to overthrow the bad robot regime and restore earthly dominance to the human race. Still with me? I didn't think so. That's OK, the movie's still pretty cool. Go see it. Christian Bale needs your support.

Side Note: The Governator does make an appearance, and thanks to some strategic shadows, we are spared the sight of his Eco-Friendly Naughty Bits.

The Brothers Bloom: Funny Movie About Con Men

I'm not really sure when this one came out; I just know that I saw it with my new roommate and one of his ex-roommates (also my friend-it wasn't an awkward thing) at the Broadway Centre Theater in Salt Lake a couple of weeks ago. Since the Broadway is famous for being Salt Lake's prime spot for watching obscure art house stuff that isn't named The Tower, I don't know if "Brothers Bloom" came out two weeks ago or two years ago. With indie flicks, you just can't tell. The Tower, for example, has regular midnight screenings of older cult classics-I saw both "Rubin and Ed" and "Holy Grail" there years ago-so it's very possible that "Brothers Bloom" actually came out some time in the mid 1970's, in which case Rachel Weitz is really aging well.

Tyler Perry's Medea Goes to Jail: Insightful Social Commentary

Sorry, bad joke. I didn't really go see this one.

Transformers: The Revenge of Michael Bay

OK, so here is what I learned from the new Transformers movie:

1. Acting in a Michael Bay movie is really easy. 50% of the time you just have to look good while running in slow motion while something dramatic flies over your head.

2. The best way to airbrush the gas tank on a motorcycle is to climb on top of the bike in tiny shorts and paint upside-down. Somehow I think the Megan Fox character was inspired by whoever it was that decided to cast Denise Richards as a Daisy Duke-wearing Nuclear Physicist in one of those bad 90's James Bond movies.

3. Sight gags about dogs humping each other are hilarious. In fact, they are so hilarious they should be repeated. Then if you really want comedy gold, you recycle the same joke substituting a dog-like robot and a human leg. Because really, the zenith of cinematic humor is a dog who can't control his humping.

4. Today's teen audience really does love jokes about humping dogs. They also think it's hilarious when a middle aged woman eats marijuana brownies and drops the S-bomb a lot.

5. I went to college too early. Modern college campuses are populated exclusively by hundreds of extremely hot female co-ed's who dress like runway models (or ho-bags, your choice) and all dance in choreographed unison at swank fraternity parties with high-end lighting systems.

6. Michael Bay is concerned with (some of) the laws of physics. Anyone who watched the original cartoon will remember that several Transformers were fond of changing from three-story killer robots into much smaller objects, such as Megatron turning into a hand gun and Soundwave turning into a boom box. Not so in the movies. Big robot stays big when he transforms, and little robot stays little when he transforms. Though as I think of it, Bumblebee is about two stories high when he transforms out of Camaro-mode. But that's beside the point. Bumblebee is supposed to be a VW Bug anyway.

7. I am an out-of-touch movie snob who is officially too old to relate to his younger peers. This is more of a confirmation than a revelation. There is a part of me that hopes someday Michael Bay will reveal that the bulk of his work was an intentional effort to parody our cultural instinct to swallow up our media in massive chunks of lowest-common-denominator eye candy, special effects, and fart jokes. It's the same part of me that was waiting for Michael Jackson to hold a press conference and rip his face off, revealing the 1984 version of Michael underneath, along with the announcement that everything that has taken place since 1985 was an elaborate publicity stunt designed to hype his REAL new album, which would be every bit as good as "Thriller."

But we know how those kind of wishes turn out.

If Bay did have a socio-experimental drive behind his methods instead of a financial one, it might not make me feel better about the future of the human race, but at least I might feel a little less guilty about enjoying his stuff. Because as ridiculous as it may sound, we can all use some eye candy, special effects, and fart jokes. It's just the transparent packaging of them that bugs me. And in Bay's case, that's why I usually wind up leaving the theater shaking my head instead of pumping my fist.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Movin' On

Some might say I have commitment problems. Between November of 2005 and March of 2007, I moved five times, easily the most changes of address since my Chicago days. I was moving so frequently I never bothered to get my mail forwarded, and just kept it coming to my parents' place. Six months seemed to be the longest I could ever put down roots. So when I moved into the 5-Points House with my friends Mark and John at the tail end of Winter 2007, I expected more of the same.

I did eventually leave the 5-Points House, but only a week ago, after almost two and a half years of parties, group dates, and late-night movies on my horribly overpriced LoveSac, which made it the longest stay I've ever had outside of a parent-funded roof. I was there so long most people assumed I owned the place, and at times, I wished I did.

The 5-Points House hosted a ton of memories, including two Bad Sweater Parties, a legendary battle over a two-foot ceramic Parrot during the White Elephant phase of Christmas Date I, the filming of The Rocky Anderson Interview, one epic Conga line, the courtship of my sister and roommate/brother-in-law, two Zombie Fests, and nine month's worth of four-hour afternoon naps that passed for sleep while I was working the morning show at KJZZ. I watched the debut of my first on-air comedy sketch from the upstairs living room, and got a dozen Facebook photo albums' worth of material from all the perennials growing in the yard. But in spite of the memorable parties and random dance-off's, some of my favorite memories were during the quiet times when it was snowing outside, or when a half-dozen deer would wander through the yard at night when I was getting ready to go to work. I can't remember how many dates I went on while I was there, but I can say that I went through six roommates, two of which moved out because they were getting married (not to each other), and one who got engaged shortly after leaving. I watched countless movies in the basement, but none so memorable as watching the remake of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" with my family on the night of my 32nd birthday.

It was almost two years before I finally started attending the local ward at the end of the street, in the wake of 2008's Geriatric Cleansing. As luck/irony/destiny would have it, the Bountiful 7th Ward was also the first ward my parents attended after they got married in the early 70's.

I wound up moving to West Bountiful, jumping on board with my buddy Visser (aka Slick Shoes), who should be able to get both of us through about fifteen years of apocalyptic fallout with all the stuff he's got growing in his garden as we speak. I don't think I'll be here for another two and a half years-both of us would like to think the sunshine of marital bliss will arrive before then-but while we continue to surf the dating waves, we at least have the Roomba to keep us company.

Last weekend I went back to the 7th Ward to bring the transition full-circle, speaking in Sacrament Meeting in an unofficial farewell that most members probably thought was an introduction. Turns out my parents' original bishop is still there.

Now there's a man with no commitment problems.


A few photo highlights from the 5-Points House:

So one time we have this 80's party in honor of Pat Morita, and I put on "Karate Kid" for atmosphere. An hour into the party, no one's talking; they're all just sitting around watching the movie. Thus is the power of The Macchio Effect.

The living room in quieter times.

My buddy Tyler leads us in the first-and only-10:30PM Conga Line, which gave me a perfect excuse to wear a rubber Viking Helmet.

Bemused guests ponder their enigmatic White Elephant gifts during Christmas Date I.

There's nothing more patriotic than America, Elvis, and an ugly sweater.

John opens his copy of Aerosmith's Greatest Hits, about the only appropriate gift he got during his Bachelor Party.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Stop Your Sobbing

A lot of people have been griping about all the rain in Utah for the last week or two, but one nice side effect can be found up Waterfall Canyon in Ogden. There's a trailhead that starts at the East end of 29th Street and leads to a 200 foot waterfall, which, thanks to the extra water, is looking pretty dramatic these days.

My sister and I made the hike last Tuesday (about 30-45 min. to get to the top), and here are a few shots from the experience:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Zen of Josh: Philosophy #37

Always be courteous to fast-food drive-thru attendants. You never know when they'll:

A. Pee in your food.
B. Use your debit card number to order seventeen howler monkeys off the South American black market.
C. Wind up on the jury gathered to judge your ill-advised joyride through the streets of Orem in a Sherman tank.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Fighting Temptation

So yesterday I come out of the gym after a typically invigorating workout, and I discover that some oblivious driver has boxed me in by parking on my left at such an incompetent angle that I can only crack my door open about eight inches. After sharing a few choice words with the car in question--a white Toyota Camry with Idaho plates--I notice that this genius has also left her* keys in the ignition.

So I pause to consider...

Should I:

A. Squeeze into my car and leave the scene.
B. Scribble a quick note to leave behind, telling the driver what an inconsiderate moron she is.
C. Hop in her car and drive it to a different space in the parking lot, knowing that she will experience the brief but completely deserved horror that grips a person when they think their car has been stolen.

So what did I do?

I crammed into my car and drove away. For one thing, if I had moved her car like I wanted to, she never would have figured out that it happened because she had done such a crap job of parking. For another, I'm just a good person.

And I hate myself for it.


*Not a sexist assumption. She also had one of her old missionary tags hanging from the rear-view mirror.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Gulf

I'm the kind of guy who remembers irrelevant details, especially when it comes to popular culture. I couldn't tell you a thing about the year's worth of calculus I took in high school, but I could tell you the artist, title, album, and sometimes the track number of all kinds of songs that aren't even close to my all-time top 10 list.

When it comes to music, I have a lot of friends who are just like me, but most of the people I meet don't remember much past the song title of the tracks they like, if that. They don't have a clue about who the artist is that wrote the song, or what went on in the studio when they were recording it or off the stage when they were taking it on tour. They never read the liner notes to CD's, and never hear all the crazy stories about how they made it big or drove a convertible into a hotel swimming pool to celebrate their 21st birthday.*

To be honest, sometimes I'm jealous of those people.

Last week I found out that they finally sentenced Phil Spector for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Clarkson was a former B-movie actress on the down side of her career, and Spector was/is the aging prodigy-producer who revolutionized popular music in the early 60's with the "Wall of Sound." A few years back, Clarkson was found dead from a gunshot wound in Spector's house, and it took multiple trials to finally get to Friday's 19 years-to-life sentence for Spector. Since he's already pushing 70, the likelihood is that one of pop music's most important architects is going to die behind bars.

Spector's claim was that Clarkson's death was a suicide, and if he didn't have such a reputation for being bat-$#!% crazy, it would have been a pretty logical argument. Spector's dysfunctional relationship with women has been well-documented, and early punk fans will recall the classic story about the time he produced an album for The Ramones back in the early 80's and pulled a gun on them in the studio. When you add up all the history, this kind of an ending seems pretty inevitable.

What really sucks is not that Spector had serious crazy issues in real-life. What sucks is that the music he made in his heyday was genuinely positive, upbeat, fun music. When hardcore rappers get in shootouts at nightclubs, it just kind of goes with the territory, but when the guy who produced "Be My Baby", "He's a Rebel" and "Unchained Melody" gets fingered for murder, things just don't feel right. Spector was also the man behind my favorite Christmas album of all time, with Darlene Love doing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

If you watch a lot of rock and roll documentaries, you'll hear a lot of people talk about how the Beatles came along and saved music from the creative dregs, because ever since Buddy Holly died and Elvis joined the army, everything had gone to pot. But that's not true, and Spector was one of the biggest reasons it wasn't. The music he produced had a life and an energy that was undeniable, and that's not even saying anything about how his "Wall of Sound" production style had such a profound impact on those who came after him. The bottom line is that he produced music that made you feel good.

None of this is to suggest that Spector is innocent, and certainly not to suggest that he should be given any kind of special consideration if he is guilty. All I'm saying is that it's sad that someone so integrally connected to something so positive could wind up in such a negative place. It's also sad because he's far from the only one. When I hear about something like Spector's story, I wish I were one of the people who could just enjoy the music and be oblivious to the people behind it. But that's not me, and it's just something I'm going to have to live with, just like whatever happened to Lana Clarkson is something Spector is going to have to live with.


*Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, who died ten years later when he overdosed on drugs proscribed for overcoming alcoholism. And no, I didn't Wikipedia that.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Ballad of Batman: The Dark Mullet

Apartment 204's newest release is now on YouTube, with yours truly playing Boy Wonder to Chidsey's mullet-wearing Dark Knight. My current blog layout doesn't fit the new YouTube widescreen format, so you'll have to click on this link to see it instead of me embedding the clip here. (One of these days I'm going to find one of those customized blog layouts for this thing; if anyone knows of a good source for them-that isn't just filled with lots of frilly stationary-looking styles-let me know).

Of course, if you still haven't seen our first release, "Livin' in the 801", be sure to check that one out, too.

Here are a few behind-the-scenes pictures from the Batman shoot:

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Great Gig in the Sky

My sister used to think she was weird because she liked walking around in cemeteries. Guess it runs in the family.