The Link Rally: 31 January 2012

There’s a great discussion going on about how Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close got nominated for Best Picture. The Film Experience

Dlisted agreed with my adoration of Sharon Needles. Dlisted

Raven-Symone is going to take over the lead in Broadway’s Sister Act. Anyone know if she can sing? Broadway World

Things you don’t want your young children to wear. Regretsy

Dude Craft finds the darndest things.

We Are the 2% (Milk)

Finally, rumor has it that Etsy is going to be filled with narwhals as the new front page trend. I’m sure the mass manufacturing sites from China have premade, prestrung narwhal charms ready to go. I can’t complain when narwhals get down like this.

Shangela Down

What You Missed: RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 4, Ep. 1

So was the season premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race as good for you as it was for me? For anyone confused about the post-apocalyptic/horror angle, Logo is launching a new series of Thursday night programming called Fearce. They’re playing a horror film every Thursday and they used RuPaul’s hit reality show to promote it.

This season, thirteen drag queens will be competing for a bevy of prizes. These include a lifetime supply of NYX cosmetics, the headlining slot on Logo’s Drag Race Tour, and $100,000.

The first thing you missed was the introduction of my favorite contestant this season, Sharon Needles. She is a horror drag queen from Pittsburgh who describes her persona as “beautiful, spooky, and stupid.” The other contestants read her the entire episode because they do not understand her horror style and think she’s completely out of her league.

Sharon Needles
Sharon Needles: Horror Queen Extroardinaire

Shangela's Back
The return of Shangela
Taking inspiration from the judges last season, RuPaul brings back Shangela to mess with the contestants. She gets to pop out of a box again and everything. The destruction of Shangela becomes a running gag and it works.

The theme of the week is the RuPocalypse. First, the girls do a photoshoot with Mark Mike Ruiz in a toxic wasteland. The Pit Crew spray them down with neon paint as they pose on a rotating platform.

Since so few girls keep their balance, I’ll pay tribute to the three with the most spectacular falls. Latrice Royale should have won the challenge for making a big fall off the platform work to her advantage as she kept posing while laying on the floor. Willam spends a good ten seconds falling before catching herself at the last moment and staying on her feet. Jiggly Caliente wins the photoshoot even though she falls off fast and struggles to get back up by herself.

Down they Go
Latrice Royale, Willam, and Jiggly Caliente come tumbling down.

Coincidentally, these three are my other queens to watch this season. I’m convinced that Latrice, Jiggly, Willam, or Sharon will win Season 4. They’re experienced, they have well-developed personas, and they aren’t afraid to fight for their spot on the show.

Shangela Down
Shangela can't catch a break this season
The main challenge is started in an eerie sepia wasteland. The queens are challenged to steal the clothes off of zombies’ backs to make a post apocalyptic couture design for the runway. Poor Shangela, dumped out the back door by RuPaul, doesn’t even have a chance of surviving the attack from zombified past contestants like Shannel, Pandora Boxx, and Akasha.

On the runway, the contestants all managed to pull together post apocalyptic outfits. Whether or not they were good is another matter all together. Sharon Needles wins the competition with a zombie look, complete with a mouth full of blood dripping out on the runway. Phi Phi O’Hara presents a metallic vision of Mad Max proportions that should have landed her in the top 3. The Princess is in the Top 3 because Mark Ruiz loved her Waterworld vision. So did I.

Top Runway
The top looks of the RuPocalypse: Sharon Needles, Phi Phi O'Hara, The Princess

On the flip side, Kenya Michaels doesn’t actually do a post apocalyptic look. Jiggly Caliente looks like a wannabe Harajuku girl at a bad fan convention. Alisa Summers is sent home for…whatever that’s supposed to be.

Bottom Runway
The worst looks of the RuPocalypse: Kenya Michaels, Jiggly Caliente, Alisa Summers

I can’t disagree with the elimination, either. I didn’t even know there was a contestant named Alisa until she landed in the bottom 3.

The best line of the episode goes to Michelle Visage for critiquing Madame LaQueer’s cannibalistic runway, “The entree of the evening: Filet of Sole.” Brilliant.

I think the season is off to a great start. Even the non-sewing queens came up with outfits that looked like they tried to pull something together. The queens are already fighting in Untucked and the competition is on.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Watch It: The Code

The Code is a short horror/comedy film from director Mark Blitch and writers Jason Walter Vaile and Alan Tregoning. It’s a fun six minute picture that dives into a novel horror issue. Which bad guy gets what kill? I can’t think of another film with this angle and it’s just right for a short.

The Code
Shaun the Zombie checks the Killing Code
The titular code is a guidebook for movie monsters and villains in an alliance together. It sets out the bylaws of who gets to kill at what times and procedures for handling disputes. On this night, a gang of lumbering zombies and a weed-whacker wielding maniac descend upon the same couple having their first date in a dark park.

To the credit of Blitch (who also served as editor), The Code does not overstay its welcome. The pacing is good and the characters are all developed enough that the audience gets a chance to know them before all hell breaks loose. The twist ending is set up nicely with one line of natural sounding dialogue that is not overplayed.

It’s hard to bring myself to call a film that winds up spilling buckets of blood at the end cute. Yet, that’s the best word I can think of to describe Vaile and Tregoning’s screenplay. It’s cute and silly. The head zombie and the serial killer fight over their murder shifts like waiters in a restaurant. They fight over technology, they fight over fairness, and they fight over the other monsters who start to join in on the argument. Every time the momentum of the discussion is about to die, another element pops up to keep the short going.

Perhaps the biggest strength of The Code is its overall attitude. The short is poking fun at horror, but it’s not mocking the genre. The villains act in character. The zombies, sans the leader Shaun, are struggling to stay upright as blood drips from their mouths and wounds. The masked murderer is aggressive and unyielding in his goals. The humor comes not from a skewering of horror but a clever concept. We’re not laughing at the characters. We’re laughing at the argument they’re having over scheduling.

Denise Nelson’s makeup design for the zombies isn’t what you would typically expect. The faces are being overtaken by darkness, with deeply sunken eyes and cheeks that read black in the nighttime shoot. Even the blood is rotten looking, dark and slow moving. When the action kicks in, the gore effects are well executed but never overdone. It’s tricky to get the right feel in comedy horror and this short succeeds.

I’ve embedded The Code below. Give it a play when you’re not at work because of the gore.

The Code – watch more funny videos

Special thanks to actor Taylor Brandt for e-mailing me about the short.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Breaking it Down: 84th Annual Academy Awards: Best Original Song

Last year, I went into painstaking detail to explain how the voting in Best Original Song works. Essentially, all music branch voters watch all of the eligible songs and score them from 6 to 10. Songs need to score higher than 8.25 to qualify. If no song scores that high, the category is skipped. If one song scores that high, it and the next highest scoring song are the nominees.

At this point, I think they should just get rid of Best Original Song at the Oscars. I can think up more than five songs that easily deserved recognition off the top of my head from 2011 films: “Marcy’s Song”* in Martha Marcy May Marlene, “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppets, “Man or Muppet”^ from The Muppets, “Real in Rio”^ from Rio, “Never be Daunted” from Happythankyoumoreplease, “Star Spangled Man” from Captain America: The First Avenger, “Lay Your Head Down” from Albert Noobs, “So Long”* from Winnie the Pooh, and “Another Earth”* from Another Earth. Of these, the songs with asterisks didn’t even get screened for the Academy and the songs with carrots are the nominees.

Yes, it’s true. Only two songs were deemed worthy of an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. More than likely, only one song scored 8.25, allowing the next highest scoring song to join it on the final ballot. Not to take anything away from these two songs (they’re strong nominees), but there were so many narratively significant songs in films this year that there easily should have been five nominees.

Take, for instance, the title song from Another Earth. A man who has no recollection of the car accident that killed his wife and son has fallen in love with the young woman responsible for the accident. He takes her to the university performance hall he used during his tenure as a music professor and plays an original song inspired by her. It’s a huge moment in the film, absolutely essential to the story, and the music branch decided that it wasn’t significant enough to even make the long list.

Or take “Marcy’s Song” from Martha Marcy May Marlene. Talk about essential to the story of the film. The song is how the cult leader convinces Martha to stay at his commune. He woos her in song and she falls head over heels for the charismatic leader. This song made the long list, but did not make the shortlist for the music branch voting.

If, in a year where critics were forced to discuss the use of original songs in many films, the Academy cannot use its strange nomination process to get more than the bare minimum of nominees in Original Song, then what’s the point in having the category any longer? There have never been enough musicals released in a year to kick in the complimentary prize Original Musical Score (since the latest iteration of that prize was added to the possible Oscar categories). Why even pretend that there’s a reason to honor vocal songwriting anymore if the voters do not believe that there are more than two or three worthwhile songs for the past few years? It’s a waste of time and resources at best and an insult to the hardworking songwriters at worst.

The only good thing I can say about the choice of two nominees this year is that the two songs are actually used in significant ways in their respective films. These aren’t the songs that play over the closing credits (although, used properly, those can be quite an effective way to bring catharsis to the audience). These are the songs that drive their respective stories forward.

The first nominee is “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets, written by Bret McKenzie. Walter, who has spent his entire life living among humans, and his brother Gary, a human obsessed with everything Muppets, are forced to choose if their loyalty to The Muppets is more important than their relationships with family and friends. It’s a highlight of The Muppets because of the mock-music video staging and fantastic sight gags. The song itself is a strong introspective rock ballad spinning the “Man or Muppet” concept in an interesting direction. It’s the eleventh hour anthem of a film that refuses to just be a full blown musical like it should be.

The second nominee is “Real in Rio” from Rio, written by Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, and Siedah Garret. It’s the big opening number for a film that has a surprisingly strong score. It introduces the Brazilian rhythms that dominate the score, shows off the birds, and gets you excited for the rest of the film. It’s quite a clever composition that would be at home in a stage show. It’s the “Bonjour” from Beauty and the Beast or “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. “Real in Rio”‘s purpose is to let the audience know the tone of the film, how the music will work, and what the story is going to focus on. It’s an old-fashioned film/musical scoring technique used to great effect here.

Here’s where the category gets strange. If more voters just listen to both songs, “Real in Rio” could easily win. It’s a flashier song that stands up by itself better than “Man or Muppet.” If more voters watch the films to see the context, “Man or Muppet” could easily win. Its narrative purpose is stronger and it’s a much more engaging scene than the big bird dance number of Rio.

Both films are only nominated for Original Song and both films fared will with critics. Rio grossed almost twice as much money at the box office domestically, but The Muppets came out more recently. It’s really a toss up as neither of these songs were favored by critics groups or major precursors for Original Song nominations. I’d bet on “Real in Rio” pulling a surprise win just because it’s more exciting out of context.

In conclusion, I believe we can all agree that this category needed more “Star Spangled Man.”

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Eiko Ishikoa

The Link Rally: 30 January 2012

Academy Award winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka passed away last week. Nathaniel Rogers provides a fitting tribute. The Film Experience

But seriously, look at the kind of work she was doing. She’ll be missed.

Eiko Ishikoa
Mirror Mirror, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, Grace Jones, Bram Stoker's Dracula

I remember reading the first version of Dave Malloy’s diatribe against less than “authentic” musical theater. The new version is a little clearer in its purpose and provides an interesting viewpoint that I just don’t agree with. How can you fault the most fanciful performance style for not being real enough? Huffington Post

NBC is trying to stop Mitt Romney from using unedited NBC news clips in his campaign ads. I can’t wait for a huge Fair Use argument to break out. Those are always fun. Pajiba

Proving that Frank Wildhorn is the honey badger of musical theater composers, a new Jekyll & Hyde tour will play a limited run in a Broadway theater. I’m sure that will end peacefully. Broadway World

I have to second Rich Juzwiak’s opinion. The GoJo is the dumbest As Seen on TV product I’ve ever seen, and that’s coming from an insomniac who treats these ads as sitcom pilots. FourFour

I just can’t with Etsy at this point. I constantly check the rules over there to make sure I’m not breaking any. So did this clothing designer who got shut down for following the rules as stated in the ToS. You have to say what parts of your work are produced by people other than yourself. You can use factory made items if they are manipulated by you after the fact. HoustonPress

Finally, I have a friend who cannot stand Adele songs sung by Adele. He is constantly trying to convince me she cannot sing. I keep telling him that we both agree she is a stronger songwriter than a singer, but he still sends me videos. I believe he finally sent me a cover that improves upon this original Adele track. Linkin Park covers “Rolling in the Deep.”

Play It: Burrito Bison Revenge

On this edition of Play It, we look at a sequel to a cannon launch game that sets itself apart with style and execution.

Burrito Bison Revenge is a new Adult Swim game from Juicy Beast Studio. It is a sequel to Burrito Bison, a cannon launch game where an evil band of gummi bears kidnapped a luchador and forced him to wrestle against their strongest candy opponents. Burrito Bison used the ropes in the ring to launch himself to freedom, bouncing on the terrified gummi bears and acquiring power-ups until he smashed through the walls to freedom.

Burrito Bison Revenge
Burrito Bison returns for more gummi action

The sequel picks up right where the last game ended. Burrito Bison realizes that his wallet fell out during his epic escape from Candy Land and now he must return to claim his money. The gummi bears have regrouped, acquiring amazing new technology, such as Nyan Cats, propeller hats, and open top police cruisers. You launch Burrito Bison again and again, earning money to purchase upgrades to speed, bounciness, and overall toughness. Along the way, you take down as many villainous pastel candies as you can.

The controls are the same as almost every other cannon launch game: one button. Here, it’s the left mouse button. You click to launch Burrito Bison in the ring and to activate his powers. When you add on rockets, you click while he’s descending to activate. When you catch a bouncing gummi or propeller hat gummi, you click at the right time to send Burrito Bison skyward.

For a cannon launch game, Burrito Bison Revenge has a lot of replay power. The further you go, the more madcap it gets. Police gummis with red and green hats start swarming the stage trying to thwart your escape. Gummis filled with cash float lower and lower. And if you build up enough momentum, you might rise above the clouds, where you plummet to the earth as a bomb of cotton candy, destroying everything that comes close to touching you. All of these actions can trigger achievements that have to be unlocked in a certain order. Just because there’s an achievement for breaking through a wall doesn’t mean you earn it the first time if it’s not one of the active achievements.

What Burrito Bison Revenge has going for it is a lot of style. It’s cute and funny. The sound design is just right, making the destruction of the gummis sound innocent and cartoonish. It’s a sweet game built on a random stage engine that requires more strategy than random clicks on the screen to do well.

Burrito Bison Revenge is a fun time killer. You can play it for one launch, a handful of launches, or hours of launches. Once you recover you wallet, you unlock Survival mode, which is an endless nighttime stage of gummi destruction. The more you play Survival mode, the faster you can go in the Start! mode. The faster you go in Start! mode, the more achievements you unlock. The more achievements you unlock, the more money you earn for upgrades. It’s easy to see how you can be sucked into a cycle of playing.

For clean, stylish, and family friendly gameplay, Burrito Bison Revenge is worth playing.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Film Review: One for the Money (2012)

One for the Money has a big fundamental problem: it’s a lazy film. The studio knew that Janet Evanovich’s loyal fans would show up to see their favorite unintended bounty hunter Stephanie Plum come to life onscreen, so they aimed for the cheapest product they could. From inexperienced screenwriters to a one keyboard score, it feels like no money was put into the film beyond securing a recognizable cast of film and TV actors.

All of that is a shame. Say what you will about Evanovich’s writing. The story of Stephanie Plum should have made a fun popcorn mystery/thriller without much struggle. Stephanie Plum loses her job as a lingerie manager in Newark, NJ. After being unemployed for six months, her car is towed and her eviction notice is served. She is forced to take on the only job available to her: working as a bond recovery agent for her cousin. Stephanie stumbles into a big bounty by accident. Her ex-boyfriend skipped out on a $500,000 bond on charges of murder. She becomes obsessed with taking in the highly trained police officer who manipulates her into investigating the actual circumstances of his arrest.

One for the Money
Stephanie Plum is after bond jumper Morelli in One for the Money

Now tell me how, in a series of books where all non-A-plot detours can be skipped over without losing the story, the screenwriting team of Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray, and Liz Brixius managed to skip over any character development or logical thought process in solving a crime? The scenes where the writers actually put the story of One for the Money into the hands of the actors work. From Stephanie Plum getting intelligence from a pair of hookers to wanted murderer Morelli breaking into Plum’s apartment to push her in the right direction, these narrative scenes actually come alive.

The problem is that these scenes seem to pop up randomly with no rhythm or purpose. Moments of character growth and development–such as Plum learning how to pick a lock for the first time–are glossed over in favor of lingering glances at a hamster in a cage and long stretches of Plum sinking down in her car seat as a suspect slowly walks by.

There is no excitement in the early phases of the investigation as Plum is never in danger. By the time you learn that she really is in over her head, it’s hard to believe anything bad can happen to her. The previous bad encounters were total non-events. Why should you care when people suddenly wind up dead and cars start exploding?

Director Julie Ann Robinson does a poor job of bringing any life into One for the Money. You can’t just blame the screenwriters for big gun/chase sequences falling totally flat in a mystery/thriller film. It takes a special kind of director to decide that a tense confrontation between two characters–professional fighter Ramirez has Stephanie Plum in a choke-hold in a cage-fighting ring–needs to be interrupted as soon as contact occurs by close-ups of mirrors exploding under gunfire. The focus is not on the gunfire itself, nor Plum’s escape, but a ring of mirrors blowing up one by one.

One for the Money
One for the Money Poster
Robinson’s experience is mostly in television, which shines through whenever One for the Money focuses on two characters talking. Those quiet dialogue scenes have a natural rhythm to them that is appealing even in the consistent overuse of camera cuts to separate lines. As soon as the characters start moving and talking, it falls apart.

Unfortunately, One for the Money is a film that has to travel all over Trenton, NJ to get its point across. For every scene where two characters interact in believable way, there are at least two scenes involving cars, guns, or other props that are totally fumbled. It’s frustrating to watch the film focus on inconsequential traveling when it does the one-on-one investigation elements much better.

No matter what you can say about the writing and direction, you cannot fault the ensemble cast of actors for the failings of One for the Money. Katherine Heigl is an engaging Stephanie Plum. It’s easily one of her best onscreen performances to date and you can’t help but like her character in spite of her, shall we say, prickly exterior. You find me another movie where you cheer on the psycho ex-girlfriend who hopped a curve to run over her ex-boyfriend’s leg for taking her virginity.

The film was obviously cast with the seventeen (soon to be eighteen) possible sequels in mind. They cast Sherri Shepherd as wise-cracking hooker with a big heart Lula, Debbie Reynold’s as Plum’s death-obsessed gun-crazy grandmother, Jason O’Mara as hard-edged ex-boyfriend/bond jumper Morelli, and Daniel Sunjata as overly-protective private security agent Ranger. Throughout the series, these characters play bigger and bigger roles in Plum’s bounty hunting and the four actors are perfectly cast. Shepherd and O’Mara have the most to work with in One for the Money and they both shine.

The problem with One for the Money is greed. The studio wanted an origin film in what is essentially an anthology mystery/thriller series with a comedic edge. However, they introduced the main cast for later films at the expense of not telling a solid story in the first film.

Had the production and creative team trusted the source novel as a guide, One for the Money could have been a fun and fast-paced mystery film for adults. Instead, it’s a limp, inconsistent, lazy 106 minute introduction to a franchise that might never be continued if audiences don’t show up for the poor first entry.

Rating: 3/10

Thoughts? love to hear them.

The Link Rally: 27 January 2012

Pajiba was banned from attending Sundance. Sort of. Yes. No. Maybe? Yes. Because Sundance feels it needs to protect its directors from personal attacks even when the director himself was laughing his butt off for weeks afterwards over the almost universally-negative response to his film. Pajiba

I need a palette cleanser after that one. You know what’s hot on the block right now? A hip new Rachel Maddow meme. Hey Girl, It’s Rachel Maddow

Hey Girl, It's Rachel Maddow

An interesting Oscar trend: double acting nominees from the same film for women. The Film Experience

I have never seen such a succinct and pitch perfect skewering of the major Food Network stars. Food Network Humor

With a cast like this, I don’t care that the book of Merrily We Roll Along is unlikely to ever work. Broadway World

Finally, They Might Be Giants performed on Conan.