Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bibliotech: Episode 1

Your host Mark Jeffrey discusses the ins and outs of digital publishing. This week, he's joined by Otis Chandler, CEO of GoodReads.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Get that Cure Off Your Shoulder

If you haven't seen this Jay-Z/Cure mashup yet, why not do so right now? It's quite excellent.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Nia Vardalos is actually unbearable

This is, in fact, the worst thing I've ever read:

Could she get any more self-serving and obnoxious? I actually don't believe any studio executive said "women don't go to movies" to her, at least not sincerely. And if they did, it was likely just to spare her feelings and avoid saying, "This script is the worst piece of shit I've ever read and you are to cinema what Sean Hannity is to astute political commentary."

I also don't believe her latest bit of claptrap, "My Life in Ruins," is "the highest testing movie in Fox Searchlight history." Other Fox Searchlight releases include:

"The Full Monty"
"The Ice Storm"
"Boys Don't Cry"
"Super Troopers"
"Waking Life"
"Kissing Jessica Stein"
"Bend it Like Beckham"
"28 Days Later"
"Napoleon Dynamite"
"Garden State" (shudder...)
"Thank You For Smoking"
A little film no one saw or enjoyed called "Little Miss Sunshine"
"Notes on a Scandal"
"The Wrestler"
Something called "Slumdog Millionaire" I guess a few people were okay with

We're supposed to believe test audiences preferred some sitcom-level pabulum about a nitwit leading other nitwits around on a tour of Greece while bitching about how no man can tolerate her constant, shrill whining to several of the decade's most beloved and celebrated films? Where were they screening this thing, Nia Vardalos' parents' basement? I want to see some numbers!

But beyond the fact that I think she's lying, the author of this piece CLEARLY believes that she has a God-given right to have her vanity vehicles distributed by a major studio. Lady, you're talentless. The fact that it happened for you once is AMAZING. Just embrace it. Life doesn't owe you shit, and studio executives owe you even less. You want a big payday and a distribution deal? Write just one thing that doesn't make me want to claw my own eyes out and then use them to plug up my ears.

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The gothiness to sweatiness ratio is off the charts! (via @seanpercival)

Clearly this is the most amazing website you'll see today. "Goths in Hot Weather." Just give these guys a book deal now already...I'm tired of waiting.

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But...did you pay for the Pre?

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Mickey Rourke IS...a homeless Star Trek villain

Wow, really? This is the baddie in "Iron Man 2"?

I hope this costume is more impressive-looking on film, because here he looks like a paraplegic hobo with a Masters of the Universe fetish. Jonny Favs...I trust you...don't let me down.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

"The Hangover" Review

There have been a lot of comedies like "The Hangover," though very few of them are as funny.  Director Todd Phillips has made some of them.  His "Old School" mines similar territory - dudes get into trouble after overdoing it on a jag away from screechy spouses and unsatisfying lives.  Not to mention movies like "Very Bad Things," about what can happen when rowdy trips to Vegas turn sour, "Bachlor Party," about guys trying to keep their significant others misinformed about the eponymous ritual, and "Dude Wheres My Car," about the difficulties of cleaning up after a night of particularly wild partying.

But though "Hangover" incorporates elements from all of these movies, and more, it nevertheless feels like something unique.  I'd chalk this up to two elements:

(1) A few underutilized actors finally getting a chance to take center-stage and aiming for the fences
(2) A script that isn't just a clothesline from which to hang crass jokes, but actually unfolds as something of a skewed mystery-thriller

[Mostly #1.  I'd go so far as to say that this is likely to be the best comedy of 2009 because of three men: Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Ken Jeong.  More on that in a bit]

The set-up is pretty familiar to anyone who has ever seen a contemporary dude comedy.  Doug (Justin Bartha, mainly known to audiences as Nicolas Cage's irritating sidekick in the irritating "National Treasure" films) is getting married.  Two of his best friends, Stu and Phil (Helms and Bradley Cooper), take him to Las Vegas 2 days before the wedding for a raucous bachelor party.  They take along Doug's creepy, socially inept future brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis).  Cut to the morning after the party, when Doug's friends wake up in a decimated hotel room with a baby, a tiger, missing teeth, killer headaches groom.  Hey-o.

Scott Moore and Jon Lucas' script starts out predictably.  I will say that the female characters in this film, save one extreme example, aren't the standard dreary harpies you usually find in these movies, explaining away the male character's reckless behavior with the power of their bitchiness and their constant, shrill, nonsensical demands.  Jeffrey Tambor even shows up as the understanding, compassionate father of the bride, who doesn't begrudge his future son-in-law a final night on the town.  But otherwise, you know where this is going within 2 minutes, and I actually kind of felt disappointment settling in when I realized just how formula the premise really was.

But once the actual story gets going, and the guys wake up with their titular hangovers, the movie gets less conventional and more interesting.  Usually, in a movie like this about an (off-screen) crazy night of partying, you get a lot of random things thrown in that don't make any sense.  So many wild adventures happened during the black-out phase, they can't all be logically pieced back together the next day.  But not "The Hangover."  When I described it as an almost-mystery, I wasn't kidding...Structurally, the movie's not all that different from an episode of "Law and Order"...The characters find clues, interview witnesses, ask pertinent questions, and gradually, a picture of the bachelor party starts to come together.  As the guys spend 24 hours trying to find Doug and figure out what the hell went wrong the night before, Moore and Lucas actually manage to EXPLAIN most of the craziness.  We find out what that tiger is doing there, whose baby that is, where Alan's man-purse went and why Stu's missing a tooth. 

It's a nice touch, and it makes "Hangover" easily the closest Todd Phillips has ever come to making a real movie.  Usually, I feel like he just hires some funny actors and kind of lets them loose, and tries to piece together something like a story while editing.  (He essentially admits this is what was done on the "Old School" DVD.) 

But even a pretty funny script with some good, unexpected set-ups wouldn't really be enough to elevate this material above the standard "entertaining summer comedy" level without Helms and Galifianakis, and Ken Jeong's brief but amazing turn as Leslie Chow.  Galifianakis, in particular, is absolutely fearless here.  Not just willing to perform an entire scene bottomless, hit a baby on the head with a car door or lean in to a punch by Mike Tyson, but to allow Alan to be unrelentingly, uninterruptedly creepy for 90 straight minutes.  Most actors would be tempted to wink at the audience once or twice at least - hey, we know this guy is strange and kind of unsettling, but he's a good guy, right?  Right?  Well, I'm not really sure Alan is a good guy, and he's certainly not a guy I'd want around children.

Helms just hasn't ever had this much screen time in anything I've ever seen.  Stu is actually a bit like Helms' Andy Bernard character from "The Office," if a touch less angry and mean.  Stu's the emotional core of the movie - balancing Bradley Cooper's frigid aggressiveness and Galifianakis' whacked-out vulnerability - which makes it odd that he also gets so many of the best moments and funniest lines.  Also, Helms and Heather Graham manage to sketch a pretty believable romantic sub-plot in like 1 and a half scenes.

Then there's Ken Jeong as Leslie Chow.  The less said about this character, the better.  This is one of those small supporting performances that just comes in and steals the whole movie for a few scenes.  The magic of pairing a funny actor with the right role and just letting it play out naturally.  Jeong's been funny in bit parts in a number of Judd Apatow (and Co.) films - including "Knocked Up," "Pineapple Express" - but he's never been used as well as he is here.

In fact, "The Hangover" overall is just more funny and entertaining than anything from the Apatow factory.  I've been considering why this is.  First off, it's shorter.  All Apatow movies are overlong.  Apatow, you sense, wants to make GOOD films, to tell relatable that a wide cross-section of the population - men and women - can enjoy together. Phillips is definitely less self-conscious, both in terms of his style and just attitude.  He has more freedom to just make things funny. 

But I also think Apatow may just insist on making us LIKE the guys in his movies too much.  We always have to come to understand why they never grew out of being immature boys, and we always see them start down the path of maturity and responsibility by the end of the film.  (Am I the only one who hates the "Knocked Up" montage where we see Seth Rogen give up smoking pot and start working at a cubicle in some bullshit, soul-sucking office as a way of proving that he has a right to father a child?  "Hey, want a family?  Give up and conform!" Fuck you, dude.)

Phillips understands that you don't need to really like someone all that much to laugh at him, and you certainly don't have to understand his particular angst or ennui.  You just have to want to follow him around.  Sure, a movie's protagonist should grow from the experience of the movie, but it doesn't have to suck all the air out of the room.  Sometimes, growth can just be sobering up and heading back to LA to get married.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Social Media Venn Diagram Tee cuts a little close to the truth (via @chrisWhite and @LifeZero)

Painfully, hilariously accurate. I think this might be a bit BIG conceptually for a T-shirt though...unless you're sitting next to someone for a while, I'm not sure the concept would really sink in.

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