Død Snø: Shawn of the Dead meets the Third Reich?

April 18, 2009

dodsno01FROM JASON’S DVD PLAYER — I now know two words in Norwegian. Død means “dead,” while Snø translates easily enough to “snow.”

I doubt I’ll ever have use for the phrase, except when I go hunting at Blockbuster this summer for the Norwegian-indie-Nazi-zombie-horror-comedy flick Død Snø, set for release June 12 in the States.

Seemingly taking queues from Shawn of the Dead’s simultaneous genre-revitalizing and self-mocking humor, the Scandinavian undead epic pits reanimated fascists against vacationing teens who stumble on a cache of stolen Nazi gold.

The pillaged treasure was hidden during the Reich’s occupation of Norway during World War II, and a Pirates of the Caribbean-esque cursed horde rises to claim it back when the protagonists find it in a desolate mountain cabin.

Seriously, this is a geek orgasm. I can’t wait to see it.

I’m not normally a fan of zombies flicks, though several works in recent years have worked to change that (the aforementioned Simon Pegg film and Left 4 Dead among them). I’ve never been a fan of gore for gore’s sake; but if a work can be more about creativity and subtle fun-poking at genre cliches instead of blood and intestines, then I’m all in.

I also don’t really give a hoot about another Romero allegorical commentary about American consumerism.

Dead Snow sounds like it’s going to be more horror than comedy, but with consistent piss-taking — I’m just not sure whether they buzz around the movie is due to intentional or unintentional humor. Norwegians are smart. They can’t possibly think they can get away with stock baddies like Nazis rising from the icy grave, for shit’s sake.

One thing is sure: I like Scandinavians. They seem so laid back. I’ve never heard of anyone being prejudiced against them. The northern ladies are hot (I’d like to bjork de bjork de bjork them like the Swedish Chef). And somehow they seem to be at once at the leading edge of fashion while still wearing Thor hair and knit sweaters.

The film was released in Norway on my birthday in January, and was shown at Sundance before IFC purchased North American distribution rights. IFC is the same indie party behind Y Tu Mamá También, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Fahrenheit 9/11, and the controversial Transamerica.

Unfortunately, kids, you won’t be able to slap Dead Snow on your Netflix queue this summer because IFC has an exclusive distribution deal with Blockbuster — though I give even odds that Blockbuster will be belly-up in the next year.

Regardless, Død Snø is already getting decent ratings from folks in-the-know, scoring 7.0 on IMDB. That’s better than Innerspace, The ‘Burbs, Young Guns, Heavy Metal, Hot Shots!, Ghostbusters 2, or Talladega Nights.

There are some weird demographic splits in the mix, too. Usually, zombie and other horror flicks are the demesne of the male geeks, but tracking for Dead Snow is actually better among females. What’s more, it’s getting an average IMDB rating of 9.5 from women 45 and older, while men in the same age group only give it an average 6.2.

And that’s got me wondering.

I’ve only got one beef so far with the movie: the tagline. It’s “Ein! Zwei! Die!” That’s fine, I suppose, but if you’re a Nazi German, then you think they’re saying, “One! Two! The!”

Oh, and by the way, I know that pesky Ø symbol has been nagging at you the entire time you’ve been reading this. Here’s the wiki entry so you can stop obsessing.


‘I Love You, Man’ is maybe a little too accurate for comfort

April 4, 2009

FROM JASON’S LOCAL THEATER — The way my wife kept knowingly elbowing me in the ribs the entire 110 minutes of I Love You, Man was more than just physically uncomfortable.

Since graduating from college several years ago, I’ve found myself mired in those particularly strange doldrums where man-friends are awkward to come by. It’s not that I’m socially inept. It’s just that the workforce is a different playground than high school or college — relationships are much more casual and often competitive now that I’m almost 30.

So in the theater with Lisa, I was squirming a bit about the film’s main theme: When all-around good guy Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is engaged and needs to find  a best man, he realizes his old friends have fallen by the wayside and goes in search of a new blood brother.

Lisa’s been hassling me now about this for ages. “Why don’t you have any close guy friends?” she asks. “Don’t you want to go get a beer with someone?”

The problem is that at my age, how do you 1) find a guy with common interests, 2) build a relationship without feeling totally, totally gay, and 3) find time to juggle a bro and a wife?

  1. This step was easy in college. There were so many dudes packed into such confined dorm space that you couldn’t help but find somebody interesting doing something awesome, and the social barriers to entry were lowered. These days, I’d almost have to join some sort of club to meet other guys with my humor, cultural knowledge set, and sensibilities.Church is right out of the question; I don’t do sports because I’m uncoordinated; I refuse to hang out at a game shop; and I refuse to join activist groups because they always sour. A favorite hang-out is the library, but that’s no place to strike up a conversation.
  2. Anyone familiar with the Man Code knows it’s easy to strike up relationships with women. It’s finding common ground with other guys that’s the delicate matter.First, there is my northeastern US puritanical unbringing and its “manhood” baggage. Men don’t share feelings. They don’t talk things out. They don’t hug or touch in any way other than the occassional spirited punch in the arm or Top Gun-style high five.
  3. If you’re married, you know that time is a precious gift from the gods. Chances are you already have at least one job, a house to clean, cars to repair, dogs to walk, kids to clean up after, a toilet to fix, the lawn to mow, a kitchen to remodel, a sidewalk to shovel, groceries to buy, and then if there is time left over you collapse and maybe think about sex.After that, whatever hour a day is left over can be divided amongst television, video games, or beer.The Internet is a novel solution to the time-crunch-vs.-friends problem. For instance, Andrew and I have been hanging out online, watching movies, bragging about sexual prowess, debating economic and political realities, arguing about which bands are good and which are shite. Watching Battlestar Galactica. Surprisingly, watching Andrew make his own cheese. Gaming.

Paul Rudd decided to take an unrealistic tack. He trying man-dating. He actively went out seeking a friend, and that hilariously backfired until by chance he stumbled onto a kindred soul in Jason Segel (of How I Met Your Mother), who is the least interesting part of the entire film.

Let it be said at this point that I refuse to use or endorse the term “bro-mance.”

Overall, I was pretty happy with the film, with its sympathetic portrayal of my plight, positive treatment of gay characters, the excellent and appropriate use of Andy Samberg and J.K. Simmons as members of Rudd’s family, and the cute Rashida Jones as Rudd’s fiance (The Office), who thankfully plays against the ball-and-chain stereotype.

I was pleasantly surprised, really, with how well the script played out. I was wary of the suspiciously positive treatment Entertainment Weekly gave the film — the rare A for a comedy — and how various media have been overtly positioning Paul Rudd as the new everyman star.

That’s not to say there were no weaknesses in the flick: The constantly overplayed “guy slang” was annoying as hell, as was the blatant product placement and overbearing Rush worship.

Now, Judd Apatow wasn’t involved as far as I could tell, but the major players were from his crew and were making good use of his comedic style, falling in line with the likes of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. That means I Love You, Man was replete with the fart and sex humor I typically despise, but mostly with such heart that it avoided the shallowness of many of buddy films.

That could be attributed mainly to a dialogue that isn’t necessarily realistic so much as it is true, which I know is a fine distinction to make. But for all Rudd’s fumbling and polite clumsiness, he felt like a guy I could understand — a John Cusack more than a John Wayne.

New obsessesion: Flight of the Conchords

January 29, 2009

FROM JASON’S YOUTUBE — The obsession has lasted three days already.

Good laughs are hard to find these days; once you get past the miserable sea of fart and sex jokes out there, there’s not much left. My single criterion for all sitcoms and comedy acts: They have to be damned clever.

That’s why snarky, off-beat shows like Arrested Development and 30 Rock caught my attention, and recently I’ve noticed the same low-fi buzz that surrounded both has encompassed a new act — The Flight of the Conchords. After hearing the show’s title bandied around all the right circles, I decided Tuesday to check out New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk/comedy duo, and I still can’t rip my eyes and ears away from their nerdy pun-and-run musical humor.

The first vid I pulled up on the ol’ YouTube was titled “Mermaids,” and I had no bloody god-damned clue what to make of it. It was a strange dorky brew of uncool nightclub cliches, ukulele, and groan-worthy wordplay. But it all came across as gut-wrenchingly funny:

I had to have more, and the next vid I loaded up was the clincher. After seeing this double punch of philosophically-confused robots and a binary solo, I was a Conchord groupy.

Look no further for proof that comic timing is just as important as any other part of the joke. I mean, “Come on, sucker, lick my battery” wouldn’t have had nearly the same punch except that it was slipped in at just the right time before Bret launched into the Robot Boogie.

Octave-switching can also be especially funny, especially when combined with completely uncomfortable lyrics like:

Well sometimes It gets lonely and I need a woman,
And then I imagine you with some bosoms.

In fact, one time when we were touring
And I was feeling really lonely,
And we were sharing that twin room in the hotel,
I put a wig on you while you were sleeping,
I put a wig on you.
And I just lay there and spooned you.

Yeah, bro-mance is funny.

Of course you don’t even need words if you can summon the pure visual power of a 1980s angry Kevin Bacon musical movie montage, like Bret did. Seriously — who picks Footloose as a target for parody these days?

These hilarious kiwis have translated their stage show into an HBO sitcom, which just launched its second season last month. Now, I really don’t care to order up any premium cable channels, but I am ready topay for the two-disc seasone one set of Flight of the Conchords, which can be found on Amazon.com for just $20 and change.

Oh, and if you are reading this, HBO execs, look how great an advertising avenue YouTube is for your product. You’ll be getting money for me because some “pirate” posted your intellectual property for free.

‘Scrubs’ limps back to new channel with lame debut

January 7, 2009

FROM JASON’S WEDNESDAY NIGHT — I’ve been saying I’m done with Scrubs for two years. After seeing the season premier tonight, I feel validated. It looks like ABC hasn’t decided to fix the problems that NBC allowed to fester.

I’ve been a fan of the show since it launched, and purchased the first four seasons on DVD. It’s always had heart, and at first the characters were novel. As I kept watching, everything stayed static. And if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

I had such hopes that jumping networks would pump some life into the series in its eighth season. But JD is still the bumbling, naive boy who always needs rescued by Turk or Dr. Cox. He still can’t hold down a relationship. He’s grown a beard, but he hasn’t gotten over his neediness or grown into his lab coat.

Great characters change. They confront their flaws and learn from their mistakes. They don’t keep taking the same pratfalls and doing the same nerd-who-doesn’t-fit-in-or understand-social-grace jokes. Instead of working to progress any of that, the writers have decided to put all their eggs in the “crazy new crop of interns screw up” basket of gags.

Turk is still JD’s macho ID; Elliot is still underconfident and self-obsessed; Carla is still the empathic support of the team; Dr. Cox is still the reluctant father. Arguably the most interesting and complicated character of the past three seasons, Dr. Kelso has retired but still hangs around the hospital. He’s been sadly marginalized so far.Taking his place as Chief of Medicine is Courtney Cox, hot as the sun and the last adrenal hope for the sitcom.

What the second half-hour of the premier did well, on the other hand, is tell a compelling story about a 70-year-old man scared to face death. Had the writers stuck with that story instead of throwing around cheap and not-so-funny intern jokes, the episode would have been near-perfect.

Where once I was a rabid fan, now I’m quite apathetic. I’m not sure ABC’s pick-up of Scrubs was a great choice, and I’m not sure this new season will garner any more than its previous five-or-so million viewers unless something drastic is done. Guest stars aren’t the answer. Stunts aren’t the answer. A larger cast isn’t the answer. Call-backs aren’t the answer.

Letting the characters move out of their safe zones is the answer.

On the use of the word “douche”

December 12, 2008

doucheFROM JASON’S VOCABULARY — My super-intelligent and beautiful wife is easily offended at the so-called “big swear words.” Her adopted substitute of choice is “douche,” and she’s escalated its usage to about once every four and a half minutes.

“What a douchey thing to say,” she’ll yell at the nightly news.

“Well, that’s just douchetastic,” she’ll proclaim about some work-related problem.

“What are you looking at, Douche Bigalow?” she asked the dog the other night.

And the traditional “douchebag” isn’t good enough anymore, either. You’ve got to get creative. We banter back and forth, trying to get the other person to crack.

Whoever breaks down in laughter first loses: Douchepotato, douchewand, hickory dickory douche, Baron von Douche, industrial-sized douche, doucheball, doucheberry, Mother Douche, douchebaggette, McDouche, Danny Douche and the Douchettes, douchemeister, douchenozzle, Douche-A-Roni (I credit my friend Robert with that one), Douchey Long-Stockings, douchtato, Douche Vader, doucheburger, douchelicker, baba ghadouche, douches wild, Professor Dumbledouche, bag o’ douche, douchepile, Mr. Barky Von Doucher, Moby Douche….

Variations on douche have been making headway on television, too, from prime-time comedies to tweenager shows. I suppose it’s considered “clean” compared to “fucktard” or “cumdumpster” — insults that would never make it past network or basic cable censors.

It’s funny that we consider a device made to wash out body cavities “cleaner” than the act of sex, for instance. I’ve never understood the concept of a “bad” word, or the Christian opposition to “swearing.”

What I do understand is why all iterations of douche are hilarious. To paraphrase the immortal Krusty the Clown, comedy isn’t about dirty words, it’s about words that sound dirty.

Part of it could also rely on the use of a consonant plosive. The letters d, p, b, t, k, and g are considered “humorous” because they “explosively” punctuate words with harsh, quick sounds. This is why “underpants” is a funnier word than “underwear.”

Likewise, the “oosh” phonetic is a gutteral vowel/soft consonant combination that’s inherently comedic (not to mention slightly onamatapaeic).

And let’s not forget perhaps the most epic use of “douche” in pop culture: Dr. Tobias Funke’s brilliant utterance on Arrested Development:

This is altogether different from an insult; it conveys the empty, silent feeling in a room after somebody’s made a complete douche of themselves.

I suppose you could also use some mutation of douche to describe a place or state of being: Douchetopia, Douchealot, Cleveland, Doucheington, Doucheburg, or L’Arc douche Triomphe.

Five more films that get no love

December 10, 2008

FROM JASON’S BARGAIN DVD BIN — I let loose a little back in June about five movies that are completely underrated, and I’ve been thinking about a few more. They’re not Goodfellas or Shawshank, but they’re fine films that just don’t get the respect and attention they deserve.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story — I’m a sucker for biopics, and after watching this 1993 tale seven times I can comfortably say it’s deserving of some praise. Jason Scott Lee is great as the charismatic Hong Kong martial artist who is more or less responsible for breaking a cultural taboo and teaching kung fu in the US. He falls in love with a young American girl played by Jim Carrey’s ex-wife, Lauren Holly (rawr), gets a spot as Kato on The Green Hornet, gets ditched from the lead in Kung Fu, and returns to Hong Kong to make his now-classic films.

The only problem I have with Dragon is that its writers resort to mysticism. They revel in it. Lee’s death is foreshadowed as a demonic manifestation intent on hunting him down in dream sequences. The movie almost comes out and says this Chinese demon is some sort of magical religious punishment for the way he lived.

The Thomas Crown Affair — John McTiernan’s 1999 remake makes a hero of a very clever villain. Pierce Brosnan’s title character masterminds art heists that are — as you discover int he final reel — so much more. This is an intelligent over oversexed cops-and-robbers-and-bounty-hunters story that absolutely makes you want to buy a boller hat, or at least some high-class knock-off art.

The jazzy soundtrack comes courtesy of Sting, Nina Simone, and Bill Conti (think Rocky‘s “Gonna Fly Now”). The art is Monet, Pissarro, and Magritte. But the best acting of the flick, surprisingly, isn’t the work of Brosnan or Rene Russo; see Crown for Denis Leary’s loveable loser cop.

Sneakers — Four years before the remake of Mission Impossible, Field of Dreams director Phil Alden Robinson took his own shot at the team-of-spies genre. How’s this for a cast: Robert Redford, River Phoenix, Ben Kingsley, Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones, and Dan Aykroyd?

This adventure-buddy-comedy is laced with all the early 90s “hacker” tripe, as Redford’s team of super-smart con artists help corporations discover and fix their electronic security problems. A hunt for a code-breaking “black box” lands the gang in trouble with the NSA, CIA, and dirty, dirty Russians, and that’s where the fun begins.

Maverick — Once upon a time in the old west, there was an actor who really had chops and totally didn’t come off as hating Jews. He made a bunch of really great films, including Maverick, and then went certifiably insane/drunk/racist.

His name was Mel Gibson. Everybody loved him, and I loved all his movies. Things have changed a lot since 1994.

Richard Donner managed to clothe this old TV remake in equal parts Gunsmoke, Blazing Saddles, and The Sting. Still, with Jodie Foster, James Garner, Graham Greene, and Alfred Molina chipping in, this wildly wacky western comes off fresh and is filled with fake-outs and twists.

Meet Joe Black — Facing his 65th birthday, a strange whispering voice in his head, and his own mortality, Anthony Hopkins spends his last days on Earth hosting an unlikely and barely corporeal visitor.

Based on “Death Takes a Holiday,” this film puts the anthropomorphized soul of death itself into the body of Brad Pitt. Death, you see, wants to walk among men a while and see what life is all about. He chooses Hopkins’ successful business mogul to show him around, and incidentally falls in love along the way with Hopkins’ daughter (Claire Forlani — who wouldn’t).

This movie is long. It is slow. It is wonderfully, perfectly plodding. You could say it marches at the pace of death. And I love it. I love the use of light, the utter luxury we’re shown, the complicated but honest characters, the love story. I love how at one point Pitt is playing Death playing a human masquerading as another person. That’s acting as someone acting as someone else — and it all comes through expertly. There’s a reason he gets the big bucks (and Angelina Jolie).

If you don’t cry at the end of this film, we can’t be friends. And if you don’t laugh at it’s one blackly (get it?) comedic moment, then you are dead to me.

Week of Cartoons – Day 2: The Best of Marvin the Martian

March 24, 2008

marvin01.jpgFROM JASON’S SECRET BASE ON THE RED PLANET — Okay, so I’m cheating. There were only ever five original shorts made starring Marvin the Martian, so a “best of” list is really damned stupid.

Marvin was created by (who else) Chuck Jones in 1948 for Haredevil Hare, which I dislike intensely because the prototype for Marvin’s voice is horrid. It’s a stupid, almost meek voice — not the superior nasal condescension we’ve come to love. You can still watch that episode on YouTube, but I refuse to post it here.

Marvin’s never named in the old shorts; he was supposedly called Commander X-2 around Warner Brothers but his name changed when the company decided to start marketing him in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He had instant appeal to kids like me, who were obsessed with outer space and serialized sci-fi.

Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century

Here it is, right at the top — the absolute best Marvin cartoon, and the only one starring Daffy Duck (and Porky, for that matter). The rest star Bugs Bunny, but I think Daffy’s righteous rage is awesome.

The Earth’s supply of Illudium Phosdex, the shaving cream atom, is dangerously low. It’s up to Duck Dodgers to go to Planet X and claim its resources in the name of Earth. The only problem is that Mars sends a certain conquerer as well.

Incidentally, the Martian flag is a red circle on a white background. This proves conclusively that Martians are Japanese. And at 5:53, is that an interociter?

Hare-way to the Stars

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This is the one that gives Duck Dodgers a run for its money. Bugs wanders into a rocket by accident and gets blasted to an Escher-esque world of glass pyramids, antennas, and zig-zagging red space platforms. By a stroke of good timing, he interrupts Marvin just as our Martian legionnaire is getting ready to use Illudium PU-36 to destroy the Earth (it’s blocking his view of Venus).

Apparently, Martians are very long-lived, because Marvin says he’s been working on PU-36 for 2,000 years.

This episode is all about futurist concept art depicted in a very 1960s World’s Fair style. It also features the just-add-water aliens on scooters, which is a priceless sequence.

Mad as a Mars Hare

Astro-rabbit Bugs Bunny is tricked into exploring the surface of Mars and runs into a stubborn native who doesn’t want the red planet befouled by Earthlings. Marvin gets the drop on Bugs but accidentally misfires his time-space gun, mutating Bugs into a Hulk bunny.

The Hasty Hare

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General E=mc² sends Marvin with Commander K-9 on a mission to bring back one live Earth creature to Mars. Bugs Bunny is once again his target and succeeds in the first minute or so in making Marvin say, “You have made me very angry!”

How Buck Rogers can you get, you ask? Well, Marvin and K-9 break out the ACME straight jacket-launching bazooka.

Also, I just want to point out that at the end, when Bugs offers to sell a flying saucer with only 3 billion miles on it, that means the ship has traveled 0.00051 light years. Of course, at its closest, Mars is only 36 million miles from Earth (or 250 million miles at the greatest gap in the planets’ orbits). That means that theoretically Marvin’s ship could have gone from Mars to Earth 83 times already.