Greg Stacy’s FAT LOT OF GOOD

February 6, 2007

Pop Will Eat Itself: The movies that stopped living and became mixed-up zombies

Filed under: Humor,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 10:21 pm

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, 06-09-05)

Every year, it seems like we suffer through more and more woefully ill-conceived, big-screen remakes of old movies and TV shows. This summer’s outbreak began with The Longest Yard, which we shall not sully ourselves to comment upon save for noting that the Hollywood hack who pitched this film should have been immediately escorted off the studio lot, tossed into the back of an unmarked van, roughed up for a few hours and then deposited, dazed and bloody, in a trash bin behind the Denny’s on Sunset.

If The Longest Yard seems to set a new low for human artistic endeavor, it looks like freaking Macbeth compared to this week’s all-black remake of The Honeymooners. Now, was anybody on earth clamoring for a Honeymooners movie? Are Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton beloved comic icons of the African-American community? No, and no. But some coked-up studio marketing exec apparently calculated that a cheaply produced, crassly written urban comedy, plus the gutted shell of an established property, plus presumed insufficient audience familiarity with the original property to know what they’re missing, might just equal the cash to acquire enough coke to get through the next weekend. If there’s any justice, The Honeymooners will bomb so big that that exec will finally experience his personal Moment of Clarity and immediately check himself into rehab, vowing to mend his wicked ways. And then three weeks later he’ll fall off the wagon, overdose and die.

Another upcoming remake looks a little more promising from a distance, but take heed of the suggestion contained within this movie’s tagline: “Be Warned. Be Ready.” A big-screen version of the goofily charming ’60s sitcom Bewitched, with Nicole Kidman as Samantha and Will Ferrell as Darrin, might have been a frothy cauldron of supernatural comedy goodness. But sadly, director/co-writer Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail and other crimes against humanity) decided to stir some of her own crappy ideas into the brew. You see, this is not actually a remake of the sitcom: it’s a movie about the making of a movie remake of the sitcom, with Ferrell as the actor playing Darrin and Kidman as the actress playing Samantha. Except it turns out that the actress (the actress played by Kidman, I mean, not Kidman herself) really is a witch! Yes, I can hear you scratching your head from here, and I don’t blame you. It takes real black magic to assemble such talents as Amy Sedaris, Michael Caine, Jason Schwartzman, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell and waste them all in a plot this dopey. After Bewitched hits theaters, audiences will surely be calling for Ephron to be burned at the stake.

Johnny Knoxville exploited his masochistic compulsions for plenty of good, sick laughs back in the Jackass days, but when he took a baseball bat to the crotch on that show, nobody was harmed except him and his future progeny. Since Jackass wrapped, Knoxville has been getting his self-hating kicks by starring in one absolutely wretched movie after another, making us all suffer along with him. Now he and that Dude, Where’s My Car lunk who isn’t Ashton Kutcher are co-starring in the peerlessly unnecessary big-screen version of The Dukes of Hazzard, with a supporting cast that makes you pine for the days of Sorrell Booke. No matter how cutely she fills out her Daisy Duke short-shorts, Jessica Simpson is a RealDoll© who simply doesn’t deserve to be in the same room (let alone the same movie) as Willie Nelson, while we can only forgive Willie’s involvement in this fiasco if we tell ourselves he’s still desperately struggling to pay off the IRS. The casting of Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg is particularly dispiriting, since between this and The Longest Yard Burt’s now dangerously close to a comeback, just when we were almost rid of him. Besides, he’s not even fat. Boss Hogg is supposed to be a fat cracker whose chins quiver when he hollers, “Them Dukes! Them Dukes!”—not some gaunt senior citizen who looks like a walking Madame Tussaud’s exhibit. I don’t want to believe that a movie version of The Dukes of Hazzard could possibly be a hit, because that would say things about where we are as a culture that are simply too terrible to accept. Between that and W’s re-election, the rest of the world would be justified in concluding that we’re a nation of trogs running around in torn overalls and rope belts.

But there is hope on the horizon. Eventually Hollywood will run out of old movies and TV shows to remake . . . and it looks like the day is arriving very soon. There are now plans afoot for a sequel to Zack Snyder’s recent version of Dawn of the Dead, a film that was itself a remake of George Romero’s 1978 sequel to his own film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead (which was itself remade in 1990). That’s right, this new film would be a sequel to a remake of a sequel to a movie about (all too appropriately) ravenous, unstoppable, undead cannibals. Should this new film actually reach theaters, scientists predict that it will result in what has been described as “a massively recursive, apocalyptic aesthetic event,” at which point mainstream Hollywood will vanish from the space-time continuum, traveling at warp speed directly up its own asshole.

In the meantime, millions of Americans will endure a seemingly endless summer of big-screen reruns, slouched down wearily in our theater seats, trying to work up the courage to demand our money back and hiccupping queasily as our crappy popcorn, like our crappy movies, keeps repeating on us.


Requiem for a Crush: How Jennifer Connelly starved her way to seriousness

Filed under: Humor,Movies,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 10:12 pm

An unrequited crush can be a painful thing, but it’s even worse when the object of your sweaty affections is a movie star you’ve never met, who will never know your name and who is so far out of your league that you may as well be members of different species.

My crush began sometime in early 1991, when I saw the trailer for a dire-looking John Hughes comedy, Career Opportunities. I was barely paying attention, when suddenly there was young Jennifer Connelly, wearing a white tank top that showed off her spectacular curves to perfection. She was bouncing up and down on one of those little mechanical horsy things you see at the mall, and she had this kinda bored, pouty expression that–oh, sweet Jesus, I still get woozy just thinking of it.

I’d first seen the New York native way back in 1986, when she’d starred alongside a fright-wigged David Bowie and a few dozen Muppets in the Jim Henson cult classic Labyrinth. But that Jennifer was just a kid, boobless and buttless, with the big, sad eyes of a lost kitten. She was old enough to be in my same grade at school, but entertaining sexual thoughts about her would’ve felt wrong­—like pedophilia, almost. Now here we were, just a few short years later, and she’d grown up real good. I was instantly smitten, but it didn’t became a full-blown, John Hinkley-esque obsession until a few months later, when she appeared in the Disney bomb The Rocketeer. She spent much of that picture dolled up in this old-timey, low-cut, white dress, and she was simply too gorgeous for this world; it was like the skies had opened and a zaftig angel was walking among us. I saw that stupid movie at least three times in the theater, and I resented every moment when my girl wasn’t onscreen. Who cared about that dork and his jetpack, when we’d just seen Jennifer in her bedroom, putting on her lipstick?

There is a reason why they call a crush a crush: it can be oppressive and exhausting, like a big, fancy, perfumed millstone around your neck. My Connelly crush began before the Internet became ubiquitous, so I couldn’t just hop online for a quick Jennifer fix. I had to stay up to catch her (all-too-brief!) interviews on Letterman, or pounce on any magazine where she appeared on the cover. I never saw any Jennifer Connelly posters for sale, but I wouldn’t have bought them anyhow. Owning posters would’ve been admitting to myself that she was the untouchable star and I was just one of her many anonymous fans, doomed to go to my grave without ever once knowing the smell of her lustrous, midnight-black hair. When I learned that she was studying English at Yale–brains and beauty!–I nearly perished.

I loved everything about Connelly: her smarts (after two years at Yale, she transferred to Stanford), her little mouse voice, her chubby cheeks, her untamed brows, and . . . well, let’s not kid ourselves, the girl was built. On those rare occasions when I confessed to my girlfriends that I was hung-up on Connelly, they invariably sneered, “Oh, of course,” rolling their eyes and cupping their hands about two feet in front of their chests. Sadly, my girlfriends weren’t the only ones who had trouble seeing beyond Jennifer’s double-Ds. Casting directors were equally blind to her other assets, and through most of the ’90s she played a lot of bimbos in a lot of forgettable films. Her talent was obvious even in these thankless roles, and the two words that critics most often used to describe her were voluptuous and underused.

For a long time, Connelly’s sexiness actually worked against her professionally. Sure, Hollywood likes beautiful actresses, and some sexiness is okay. But if an actress is, like, porn-star hot, with big, distracting boobs, it doesn’t matter how talented or ambitious she might be—she’ll still have a hard time ever being more than a pinup. Marilyn Monroe famously struggled with this, and she was cursed by being so far ahead of her time, so desperate to please, and so damn stacked. She was a Lee Strasberg girl in a Jayne Mansfield world. On the contemporary scene, Angelina Jolie strains the limits of acceptable sexiness. Usually, American leading ladies are the “pert,” willowy, girl-next-door type: your Megs, your Julias, your Camerons, girls so well-scrubbed it’s hard to imagine them ever getting dirty. The only time anybody noticed Julia Roberts’ rack was when she shoved it in our faces in Erin Brockovich, and that was pure stunt casting. Roberts’ utilitarian prettiness left her free to do drama, comedy, romance or whatever she felt like, while Connelly, Roberts’ contemporary, spent much of her career playing pillowy girlfriends in whatever movie she could get.

Connelly briefly dropped off my radar in the late ’90s, and the next time I saw her, sometime in the new millennium, I literally didn’t recognize her at first. She’d lost so much weight I wondered if she’d been ill. (Seriously, she could practically live in one of her old bras now.) She looked grumpy, like she’d kill for a Twinkie. But what do you know, suddenly people were treating her like a “serious” actress, and she was winning awards. She won an Oscar, for Christ’s sake! My Jennifer!

In interviews today, Connelly talks about how she almost gave up acting in the ’90s because she was so frustrated with the unchallenging roles she was getting, how she’s never been happier than she is right now and never felt more like herself. Even if looking at her just makes me sad now, if starving away her curves made her happy, if she did it for herself, well, God bless her. Still, I have this awful feeling that sometime around 1999, Connelly’s agent took her aside and told her she was never gonna win an Academy Award with those boobs. She’s so grimly, insistently thin. It looks like hard work. I miss her old, crazy brows, too.

The Jennifer I fell for, half a lifetime ago, was too big for the movies she was in. It was like they could hardly fit her on the screen. Today’s Jennifer actually looks much more like the teenage Jennifer of Labyrinth: tentative and wispy, like a strong wind could blow her away. You see her in some grim, big-deal drama like Blood Diamond, and there’s absolutely nothing, at all, to distract you from her performance. I still respect her talent, but her makeover has brought her full circle, and once again, entertaining sexual thoughts about her feels wrong somehow. Sadly, I suspect that was kind of the point.

December 28, 2006

Attack of the 50-ft. Commercials!

Filed under: Humor,Movies,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 1:42 am

(Printed in OC WEEKLY, August 4, 2005)

You arrive at the theater a few minutes after the movie’s scheduled start time, hoping to miss some of the endless ads before the show. But no such luck: First, there are the previews for a bunch of crappy-looking movies. (Ashton Kutcher, Bernie Mac, etc.) Then there’s the ad where they try to convince you to visit the theater’s snack counter and buy some Raisinettes. Then some more previews for some more crappy-looking movies. (Kate Hudson, Jimmy Fallon, etc.) Then there are the commercials for SUVs or Tartar Control Crest or whatever. Then the plug for the LA Times. Then some more previews, for another bunch of crappy-looking movies. (Martin Lawrence, Paris Hilton, etc.) And then, about 20 minutes after the movie was supposed to start and just when you’re ready to fling your Raisinettes at the screen, the movie begins at last. You lean back in your seat and heave a great sigh of relief: all that advertising is finally over!

Except, it’s not. Because now there are ads in the movie, too. The film’s plot is constantly grinding to a dead stop while the characters prattle on about their favorite sneakers or fast food. The camera zooms in for lingering, loving close-ups of their Apple computers, their Gillette razors, their Discover credit cards. You’re watching a scene where the hero speeds through the rain-slicked streets of the city in his flashy car, and you feel an overpowering sense of deja-vu: then you realize that you’ve already seen this exact sequence half a dozen times on TV, recycled into a BMW commercial. (“When you’re the world’s greatest secret agent, you can’t drive just any car . . .”) You can’t hit the fast-forward button on your TiVo remote, and you can’t change the channel. Hell, you’ve paid nine bucks to see these ads on the big screen.

Why have product placements become so appallingly commonplace at the movies? Well, you could say it’s all Steven Spielberg’s fault. In 1982, when Spielberg was directing E.T., the original plan was for Elliot to lure E.T. out of hiding with a trail of M&Ms. It was just a minor plot detail, hardly intended as a plug for the candy. But when the M&Ms people balked at their product appearing onscreen, the candy was changed to the less popular Reese’s Pieces. That short scene turned Reese’s Pieces into a sensational hit, a lesson that was not lost on corporate America. After that, companies began to sneak more product placements into the movies, becoming more brazen over the years until we eventually reached the current situation, where many movies are basically a long series of commercials with the “plot” (such as it is) serving as the grout that holds the whole lopsided mess together.

Of course it’s annoying that movie product placements exist at all, but it’s even more annoying that most of them are so random and inept. Herbie: Fully Loaded, for instance, was a kid’s picture loaded to the bursting point with plugs for such kid-friendly products as Dupont, Nextel and Viagra. (Heh. “Poor Herbie wasn’t feeling so fully loaded, until his doctor told him about a little blue pill . . .”) Companies scheme up ways to force their products into the most seemingly unlikely movies, whether they’re set in the distant past (check out the big NBC logo on the ringside announcer’s microphone in Cinderella Man), the future (such as the endless tennis shoe plugs in I, Robot) or even, as was the case with The Longest Yard remake, in prison. The producers of that film ingeniously managed to work seven mentions of McDonalds into the script—a feat which is the one and only time that the word “ingenious” could possibly be used in connection to The Longest Yard.

What is to be done about this deplorable practice? Well, you could write outraged letters to Hollywood producers, letters that will meet a receptive audience in the studio’s mailroom interns, who will read them aloud to each other in funny voices. Or you could protest by not going to the movies anymore. But then what are you supposed to do, spend the rest of the summer at home with your sweaty ass stuck to your recliner? No, there’s really not much that you can do, you poor, anonymous troglodyte, you. But as a member of the media, I plan to get in on some of this product placement action, myself.

So the next time you’re disgusted by the wretched state of modern movie-going, don’t fling just any candy at the screen: fling Raisinettes! Delicious, milk chocolate covered raisins, low in carbs and with no artificial ingredients! At home or at the movies, nothing beats Raisinettes for ridding your mouth of that acrid taste of bile.

December 21, 2006

Unbroken Bond: Looking back with Your Eyes Only

Filed under: Geekery,Humor,Movies,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 11:21 am

(Printed in OC WEEKLY, October 4, 2006)

I’ve noticed, in the cast and crew interviews for the upcoming James Bond prequel Casino Royale, how everybody concerned seems a little embarrassed by, or at least dismissive of, recent Bond pictures. There’s a lot of talk of starting the whole thing over and making Bond vital and dangerous again. “We know,” they seem to be saying, “we screwed up. We let our plots get too silly and gimmicky and Pierce Brosnan was tired and old, but we’ve fixed all that now. We’re ditching all the confusing, bullshit continuity, the ridiculous gadgets and all of that crap, and we’re rebooting this mother. We’re taking Bond back to where he once belonged!”

It’s a little puzzling where this attitude comes from, given that 2002’s Die Another Day was the highest-grossing Bond picture to date. It doesn’t seem as if the public was fed up with the silly, gimmicky plots, or tired old Brosnan, or the confusing, bullshit continuity, or the ridiculous gadgets. I think Bond’s producers have made the mistake of listening to the critics, who have been hung up on Sean Connery for way too long and keep insisting that James Bond should be more “relevant.” Don’t these guys get that James Bond is pop trash? He’s a superhero stud in a tux, unbeatable by any man, irresistible to any woman, with a boss car and a watch that fires rockets. Basically, we’re talking about Austin Powers played straight.

The Bond franchise, like the smirky sociopath at its center, seems to be just about unkillable. Since its birth in the early ’60s, it has survived endless parodies, including the original, 1967 version of Casino Royale, a peculiar and often incoherent affair featuring a cavalcade of Bonds, including David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and a seal (please, don’t even ask). Bond has been sent up on The Simpsons, in the Cannonball Run pictures, even on Deep Space Nine—and Jesus, you know you’re an easy target when Star Trek is gunning for your ass. There have been entire TV series featuring Bond-ish chimps, Bond-ish cartoon mice, and even (would you believe?) Mel Brooks’ and Buck Henry’s long-running Get Smart. For a while there, Austin Powers eclipsed Bond’s popularity, but when a new Bond movie came out, the crowds dutifully lined up to see it. Critics be damned: the public just does not get tired of this crap, ever.

The critics famously despised Roger Moore as Bond. They said his acting was wooden, they said he was too old for the part, and all agreed that his movies were by far the silliest of the series (we’ll admit that his Venetian gondola car from Moonraker was the kind of gag that even Mike Myers wouldn’t have stooped to). The public, on the other hand, adored Moore’s Bond, and Moonraker, which many critics still hold up as the worst of the entire franchise, was a massive success in 1979. It was the first movie in the series that I saw, and when I hear critics moaning about how they want their surly ol’ Connery back, I just do not get it at all. Moore is my James Bond, damn it, and he set the smirky standard all other Bonds must be compared to.

1981’s For Your Eyes Only, which enjoys a rare big-screen outing this week, was a bit of a franchise reboot in its own right. After the critical drubbing that Moonraker took, the producers decided to scale things back with a more earthbound, vastly less campy Bond adventure. Personally, I thought it could’ve used a few more gondola cars, and I still remember my childish disappointment that Richard Kiel never showed up as the metal-mouthed goliath Jaws. But seen with adult eyes, this entry has much to recommend it. The opening sequence alone is great fun, featuring the final fate of longtime Bond baddie Ernst Blofeld (although, due to legal issues, he is never named as such). The film is also a fascinating time capsule, from the bracingly ugly fashions to Sheena Easton’s cheesetastic title tune, and it boasts impressive quantities of the violence, sex and sexism that make old school Bond such fun. This is also the movie where you can play spot the tranny—the transsexual model Tula can be glimpsed somewhere amongst the film’s gallery of lovelies—and c’mon, that’s just neat.

Through the film, Moore’s Bond is pursued by an underage cutie with one of the most unfortunate “sexy” names in the entire Bond canon, Bibi Dahl. Dahl is rather emphatically portrayed by Lynn-Holly Johnson, a pro figure skater turned actress, who is perhaps best known today for the 1978 chick flick Ice Castles. Johnson will appear at this screening, so you can ask her what she thinks of all this 007 reboot business. And just think: you’ll always be able to say you spent a lovely Saturday night with a Bond girl.

Uh-Oh, It’s Magic: Harry Potter and the muggle hordes

Filed under: Geekery,Humor,Movies,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 11:17 am

(Printed in OC WEEKLY, November 21, 2002)

As a lifelong geek, it has always puzzled me why “normals” (as some geekfolk like to call non-geekfolk) can be so stubbornly confused by the success of things like Star Trek or the Star Wars pictures. A normal person will spend three minutes in front of an episode of Deep Space Nine and then crinkle up their nose in distaste, griping, “I can’t keep all that Romulan and Klingon nonsense straight. How can adults waste their time with that shit?!” Then they’ll change the channel and spend the next three hours in a happy daze watching tall men in shorts dribble a ball up a court and down a court and up the court again, complete with copious, slow-mo instant replays. I had no sympathy for this sort of behavior at all until a friend dragged me to The Fellowship of the Ring, and suddenly there I was, wrinkling my nose, muttering in the dark about all of these orcs and elves and Boromirs and Doromirs and Aerwyns and Arwyns and Morgors and Trogors and the quest that just went on for-freakin’-ever. If this is what Star Trek is like for you people, jeez, you have my complete sympathy.

The Harry Potter books, films, etc., have over a very short time become a Star Trek-sized phenomenon, and like other geeky delights, Potter-land comes complete with its own elaborate mythologies, insider terms and other mumbo-jumbo, all of which is surely as baffling to outsiders as warp drive and wookiees were to non-geeks in generations past. There are a multitude of intelligent adults out there who simply can’t abide the Harry Potter phenomenon—and for a multitude of loudly stated reasons. We hear from such people every time a new Potter book or film is released: they sound off in outraged articles, at the bus stop, from the very rooftops. Post-Sept. 11, more than a few pundits screeched that by letting our kids play with wands and broomsticks instead of forcing them to run around with pellet guns, we were raising a generation of wussies ill-equipped to face the horrors of war. Of course, just as many pundits were griping that the Potter books are far too dark and frightening for kids and were sure to transform our little darlings into a generation of Satanist psychopaths.

But while plenty of pundits and parents have their reasons for hating how popular Potter is with kids, I’m not a kid and I don’t have kids, so I can tune them out without much effort. It’s the snobs who really drive me nuts, people who can’t abide seeing other adults enjoying Harry Potter stuff; seriously, the next time anybody, in print or in person, dares to suggest that I am an idiot for enjoying the work of J.K. Rowling, I plan to take a Nimbus 2000 broom (now available at Toys ’R Us) and shove it someplace unwholesome.

Is the Potter universe great art? Probably not. It hits the marks it’s aiming for and does it well; it’s scary when it’s supposed to be scary and funny when it’s supposed to be funny, but I see no great depths beneath the surface of Rowling’s work. What it is, simply, is cracking fun, the kind of stuff that actually makes adults and kids alike pick up books and savor them as humans probably haven’t since the age of Dickens, no mean feat in our post-literate age. The films are a perhaps too-faithful translation of Rowling’s words, but they’re produced with showmanship and flair, and they deserve to rake in the millions of zillions that they do. If you’re looking for proof that civilization is crashing down around our ankles, go look at Eminem’s bank account.

In the end, what it comes down to is that if you detest all things Harry Potter, you probably either haven’t read one of the books, you went into one of the films determined to hate it, or you are an uptight and unimaginative jackass. You are excused from puzzling out the difference between a phaser and a lightsaber, but take my word for it, if you never trouble yourself to learn the difference between a muggle and a house elf, it’s your loss.

Ashes to Ashton: Kicking Kutcher to the curb

Filed under: Humor,Movies,OC Weekly,TV — gregstacy @ 11:13 am

There he was, staring at me with those dead, stuffed-animal eyes from the cover of every magazine at the supermarket that didn’t have a pretty, undernourished girl on the cover, from every channel on TV that wasn’t busy trying to show me reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond, from bus benches and newspaper pages, from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam: Ashton freaking Kutcher. Oh, how I loathe him. Now, there’s nothing odd in and of itself about disliking the star of such fare as That ’70s Show and Dude, Where’s My Car? Such persons are to be despised as a matter of course, and to do otherwise is no doubt evidence of some potentially dangerous psychological disorder. But my feelings for Kutcher were not simply the reflexive distaste typically earned by his ilk; no, mine was an actual hate, seeing his detestably pretty face made my fists clench and my spleen twist up like a balloon animal. But why? Why does Kutcher inspire my loathing where most of his Hollywood, himbo compatriots inspire a vague disdain at most?

Certainly, the fact that he is younger, better-looking and wealthier than I shall ever be does play a part; it’s no fun to see the ladies swooning over a guy whose talent and intelligence could by all evidence fit in an aspirin bottle without taking out the aspirin (or the cotton). But it’s not like the sight of Freddie Prinze Jr. makes me double over with barely suppressed rage. Besides, while I wouldn’t weep if Ashton’s face suffered an untimely run-in with a belt sander, in some ways, it’s kind of nice to see the ladies swooning over a guy who is obviously and inarguably not ugly; after watching women go ga-ga for Russell Crowe, Benicio Del Toro, Vin Diesel and other surly guys who look like they’re made of mashed potatoes, it’s reassuring to know America’s women are not, in fact, suffering from an epidemic of early-onset glaucoma. I respect women less for thinking a lunk like Kutcher is hot, but I suppose I can’t begrudge them their lust when I’m working on my seventh scrapbook of Jennifer Connelly photos. (I have her covered through Dark City, and my source in Tokyo says he has a lead on a cache of Rocketeer pics.) I wouldn’t bother to cross the street to spit on the shoes of most wealthy young stars, yet I’m working on a loogie right now just in case Kutcher crosses my path. And why?

Well, I’m tempted to simply cross my arms and churlishly pronounce that I don’t like what he stands for, but it’s no simple matter to figure out what Kutcher does stand for. The man is simply a void. It is my custom to watch TV in the tub (I’m practicing in the event that I ever become an eccentric millionaire), and recently, I was midway through a prolonged sitz when The Simpsons ended, and I got stuck with the opening 20 minutes of That ’70s Show. Flipping channels would have been a soggy and potentially electrifying ordeal, so I had little option but to sit back and take in the horror of Kutcher in action. My lord. He calls to mind something Family Ties director Gary David Goldberg once said about the casting of Michael J. Fox, back when Fox was just some anonymous Canadian little person: Goldberg said that Fox could take a script page with two laughs and give you five. Kutcher does not give you five; he gives you exactly two, and he wouldn’t give you any without the laugh track. As meager as That ’70s Show’s scripts are (I’ve recently subjected myself to a few more episodes for the purposes of this article), Kutcher’s talent is not up to them. He plays stupid convincingly (assuming he is in fact “playing”), but it’s hardly the beguiling stupid of a young Suzanne Somers or even a Keanu Reeves. No, Kutcher’s is the true witlessness of some third- or fourth-billed horny dork in a Porky’s movie, and yet through some ghastly quirk of fate, he has been elevated to leading-man status. And given the heartbreaking success of Just Married, odds are we’re stuck with him.

Sometimes I get the feeling that I was born in the wrong universe, that I’ve somehow traded places with another me, and at this moment, the opposite Greg Stacy – a hip-hop fan in a backward ballcap and a Hard Rock Café T-shirt – is wandering around an America where people like Kutcher pump the gas and Steve Buscemi is a national treasure. I hope that other me has a better time in that universe than I’ve had in this one.

December 19, 2006

Thankyuhverymuch: Kavee Thongprecha’s journey from Thailand to Graceland

Filed under: Humor,Interviews,It's a Living,Movies,Music,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 12:38 pm

(Printed in OC WEEKLY, September 25, 2003)

For far too long, those lucky hound dogs in LA have had Kavee Thongprecha, the Thai Elvis impersonator, all to themselves. Well into his 60s, Thongprecha still performs nightly at Hollywood’s Palms Thai Restaurant, and he is sometimes glimpsed cruising the streets in a spectacular automobile adorned with Elvis gewgaws and a license plate reading, T ELVIS. But next Thursday, the humble people of Orange County will at last be graced with the presence of this singular entertainer, as he performs at the UC Irvine screening of the Elvis Presley film Flaming Star. Our conversation was complicated by Thongprecha’s somewhat uncertain English and a phone line that sounded more like he was calling from Thailand than LA, but I’ll always treasure our brief encounter for the sheer, wonderful strangeness of it all.


OC Weekly: Have you seen Flaming Star, the film that’s going to be screening at UC Irvine the night you perform?

Kavee Thongprecha: It’s . . . I’m sorry, there is a film?

Yes. Flaming Star.

I . . . no. I don’t know this.

Oh. Well, do you remember when you first discovered Elvis?

Nineteen fifty-seven, I think. Yes.

This was back in Thailand? How is Elvis regarded over there?

Oh, people love him, I think. He is very popular, of course.

When did you come to America, and when did you start performing as Elvis?

In 1957. I came to America in 1972. My mother was living here. I started performing then.

Wait . . . you started performing in 1957? Or in 1972?

[Very long pause indeed.]

Hello? Mr. Thongprecha?

[Otherworldly, echoing sounds on phone line, until the voice of Thongprecha returns, forlorn and far away.] Yes? . . . Hello?

Uh, okay, let’s move on. How often do you perform, and how would you describe a typical performance for those who’ve never seen one?

Five nights a week. From 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Wow! That’s a long performance!

Oh, I don’t perform the whole time, no. They have other things there, too.

Still, five nights a week is impressive. How long do you see yourself doing this?

[Very long pause.]

How long do you think you’ll keep performing . . . ?

[Another long pause.]

. . . Before you retire?

Oh. Well, it depends on my health. I am getting older, and I have some health problems now, you know. But I say, as long as I can still do, I will do.

December 14, 2006

Triumph of the Sum-bitch: Larry ‘lays some cable’ across America

Filed under: Humor,Movies,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 12:29 pm

(Originally printed in March 23, 2006)

Ask an intelligent, soft-spoken Southerner about the word sum-bitch sometime, and then stand back and watch as he gets all red in the face and starts hollering like Yosemite Sam. Sum-bitch is a word that turns up a lot in movies and TV shows about really stupid Southern folk (typically in dialogue like, “After ah finish ass-rapin’ this hyar city-slicker sum-bitch, I mean to blow the brains out his head with mah boomstick! Yee-haw!”) But it’s a word invented by Hollywood screenwriters, and the only Southerners who say it learned it from the movies. More sophisticated Southerners get really, really tired of everybody assuming that people from the South are all redneck dumbfucks; for these unfortunate souls, the word sum-bitch is an understandable sore point, serving as a harsh reminder of all the stereotypes about the South that they’ve spent a lifetime fighting. It’s sort of similar to the way a little part of your soul withers and dies every time somebody assumes you’re a rich Republican asshole because you grew up behind the dreaded Orange Curtain.

Sum-bitch is fake Southern, an ugly, stupid word cooked up by smug outsiders who hold an entire region of the United States in utter contempt. And thus no word is more appropriate to describe a certain comedian whose movie lands in theaters this week with a wet plop, a comedian whose every utterance is an affront to the American South. He is a cartoon yokel who makes the Dukes of Hazzard look like two dandified wits from the Algonquin Roundtable. He is a tediously offensive redneck caricature, a racist, fat, farting, hillbilly manhog. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Larry the Cable Guy—the Sumbitch King.

Here’s Larry’s nuanced take on the torture at Abu Ghraib: “The only thing we oughta apologize for is for not humiliating more of them back-ass rag fags! Like George Bush shoulda said about apologizing, ‘Kiss my ass!’” When Larry’s not insulting foreigners (or “fer’ners”), he’s insulting “tofu-fartin’ fairies,” “retards,” Bill Clinton (still) and those “commies” in the mainstream media. He worships Reagan, Wal-Mart and the Nuge. He’s convinced “this country pretty much bans the Christian religion,” which he calls “the religion of George Washington and John Wayne.” His endless fart jokes are utterly tedious, but at least they provide some variety from the usual torrent of shit gushing from his mouth. Listening to one of Larry’s monologues is like getting stuck with your bitter, crypto-fascist, drunken uncle for a very long, humid, August afternoon; the AC is busted, and his noxious beer-and-bacon stink hangs thick in the air while he talks and talks and talks and you try to make it to sunset without sticking a fork in his eye. This is not comedy; this is a season in hell.

While Larry is an actual, no-fooling, soulless conservative creep, the drawling, good-ol’-boy persona he’s working is faker than Madonna’s British accent. Born in Nebraska (!) as Dan Whitney, the future Larry attended private school there (!) before moving to Florida at age 16. While his redneck fans are laughing at his contrived yokel shtick and making him an enormously wealthy man, Larry is laughing up his sleeve right back at the schmucks he’s so crudely imitating (or he would be, if he wore sleeves). Larry the Cable Guy is essentially nothing more than Dan Whitney’s crudely painted, trash-talking ventriloquist dummy. Fans hail him as a new Will Rogers, but he’s more like the new Mortimer Snerd.

But despite the reek of sheer evil coming off the guy, Larry is one of the hottest comedians working today. He first hit it big as one of the Blue Collar Comedy swine (he was the “lowbrow” of the bunch, which is sort of like being the Munchkin that the other members of the Lollipop Guild call “Shorty”), and now his solo concert DVDs sell in the millions and he performs to arenas full of fans. And the truly terrifying thing is that people aren’t just laughing at his manufactured, goofy character the way they laugh at, say, Carrot Top; many of them are laughing because they think Larry speaks the truth. Conservatives hail him as a kind of truck-stop prophet, and his words of wisdom are quoted on conservative blogs all over the web. His catchphrase, “Git r done” (easily the most nonsensical and annoying motto since Laugh-In’s “You bet your bippy”), is going to be used as the slogan for the U.S. Air Force. Our freaking government is endorsing this shit, and your tax dollars are going into Git R Done T-shirts and bumper stickers. The Washington Post has gone so far as to term Larry’s fans the Git R Done Nation; here’s hoping a bloody civil war breaks out, as brother turns against brother and they all end up killing each other off just in time for the 2008 election.

There are some comedians out there who have shitty politics but who nonetheless somehow manage to be consistently hilarious (I’m looking at you, South Park boys). And there are plenty more comedians with shitty politics who are just depressing and dull (please go away, Dennis Miller). But Larry the Cable Guy is the only comedian who combines shitty politics and wretchedly unfunny jokes in such a way that every time I see him I find myself wondering if I could take him in a fight. He’s big, sure, but it’s all lazy chub. I’m tall with poky elbows and knees, and growing up a picked-on sissy kid taught me a thing or two about fighting dirty. I abhor violence in all forms, and I’m certainly not threatening Larry the Cable Guy with physical harm. I’m just saying that if it came down to it, I think I could kick his sorry ass until he was crying for his mama. And it’d be so, so sweet.

Larry the Cable Guy can Go T’ Hell.

November 26, 2006

Please Release Me: The special joy of the bad movie press release

Filed under: Humor,Movies,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 1:25 pm

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, May 8, 2003)

While I still think of myself as a young writer, I fear that the facts are not on my side: having been covering film for this paper virtually since its inception in late 1995, I now possess several filing cabinets filled to bursting with press releases dating back to the misty days of legend, the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and Ace of Base ruled the charts. I tell myself I should purge my home of some of this crap before I contract one of those exotic lung diseases you catch from keeping lots of moldy old paper around, but I simply can’t make myself, for hidden among the endless promos for screenings at cafés that went out of business in 1998 and a bewildering number of announcements for events in Wyoming, Florida and places still more remote, there are some priceless treasures of oddness, wacky gold I wouldn’t part with if God himself appeared to me in a vision and told me to stop being such a freaking packrat. I’ll cling to this stuff until I end up eking out a wretched, Gollum-like existence under a bridge somewhere, cooing over my precioussss press releases and hissing at any foolish soul who dares to venture too near.

One of my favorite freaky press kits came just a few weeks back, and I’ve little doubt it will haunt me on my deathbed. The film’s very title itself is a masterpiece: The Rays From Space & the Secret Kissing Experiments: The Adventures of the New Electric Girls. (The tagline: “Sex isn’t enough. . . . Kissing is everything!”) Its filmmaker, Richard Thornton, is currently in the process of assembling a “kissing movie” in six, one-hour chapters featuring such chapter titles as “A Flaming, Ruthless Kiss” and “Kisses of the Bygone Long-Ago.” The plot takes such characters as Starr McCready (“a debutante, whose vision of love can’t be satisfied by mortal man”) and Sugar Bob (“No stranger to magnetic kissing, Sugar Bob shares these new kinds of kisses with his many girlfriends”) and involves them in a sprawling adventure concerning ancient, occult societies of women and secret experiments in psychic kissing (“kisses that generate energy so powerful that mystic societies covet its ethereal force”). The kit includes demographic projections (the audience is estimated as girls and women from 15 to 60) and a two-page bio of Thornton, in which we learn that he has spent the past 10 years writing the screenplay at night while working at day jobs, first in his family’s automobile dealership and later as an apartment manager. Whether all those girls and women do indeed line up for this thing once Thornton has completed it, he already has one starry-eyed fan in me.

Everything else in the world seems a little mundane next to The Rays From Space, but I still have a certain fondness for Tim Bomba’s 1997 fax promoting Just Write, a romantic comedy incorporating music from 22 unsigned bands and financed by six dentists from Racine, Wisconsin. (I’ve no idea what inspired this dental consortium to invest in a romantic comedy featuring 22 unsigned bands, but apparently six out of seven dentists recommend Just Write for their patients who enjoy romantic comedies.) By contrast, I still wake up shivering from the memory of the carefully packaged vial of dirt somebody sent me to promote a forgettable neo-noir called Sand Trap. The vial had come loose from its press kit, and even in pre-anthrax-scare America, there was something thoroughly chilling about finding a perfectly anonymous vial of anything in your mailbox. The instant you saw it, you knew deep in your soul that no good could come from such a thing. Given the ire my columns have occasionally raised among our readers, it didn’t help that the contents of the vial suspiciously resembled poo.

Every time I get the chills remembering the Sand Trap fiasco, my heart is warmed thinking back to the time when the folks at an outfit called Shock Theater sent me an autographed photo of the guy who wore the rubber monster suit in The Creature from the Black Lagoon—sent it to me unbidden, for no reason at all that I could see. If they hoped it would lead me to look more favorably upon their future film screenings, they succeeded, and needless to say, the picture is now displayed with pride in my home office, the creature goggling at me as I write this very screed.

I couldn’t finish this without pausing to remember my lost ones, those treasured press releases that have mysteriously vanished from my file cabinets, leaving me to wonder if they ever really existed at all. Did I really get that press release for the 1998 ocean liner-set horror flick Deep Rising, the press release that superbly masqueraded as a brochure for a pleasure cruise until you got to the very end, when it suddenly turned into a pop-up book and a giant, completely horrifying, multiheaded paper monster jumped off the page at you and scared you half to death? Could any movie, especially some forgettable monster movie, really have had a press release that mind-blowingly cool? And what about that Star Wars parody a bunch of potheads were working on in Huntington Beach? Did the filmmakers ever put down their bongs long enough to finish it? Is Lucasfilm suing them at this very moment? I must know! What kind of God would allow me to have misplaced the press release for that thing?

But it does me no good to mope about departed press releases; instead, I must cherish all the special press releases I still possess, even as they threaten to drown me in a tide of yellowing paper. Good, bad or indifferent as these films were, their press releases are nothing short of inspired, their anonymous copywriters guided by something mysterious and wonderful (rays from space, perhaps) to craft a kind of double-spaced magic.

A Paler Shade of Green: Tom Green – an Andy Kaufman talent in a Carson Daly age

Filed under: Humor,Movies,OC Weekly,TV,Weird — gregstacy @ 1:22 pm

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, September 26, 2002)

The comedy of Tom Green is just about impossible to defend. If somebody catches a rerun of his MTV series and sees Green dressed up like a cop, sucking milk out of a live cow’s udder in the middle of a supermarket filled with bemused onlookers, and that aforementioned somebody then declares that Green’s antics are absurd, sub-juvenile and disgusting, well, there’s no point in trying to convince them otherwise; after all, they’re right. Green’s comedy is all of those things—and sometimes worse. This is a man who once livened up an interview on a Canadian talk show by plopping a dead animal onto the desk of the show’s clearly horrified host, a man who has made actual vomiting a semiregular part of his art, a man who rubs his ass against the elderly for laughs. If intelligent Adam Sandler or Howard Stern fans (and to be sure, there are a few) have a hard time justifying their affection for these purveyors of dumb-ass, gross-out humor, well, they should try defending a guy whose idea of comedy includes rolling around on the ground for uncomfortably prolonged periods of time while making noises like a retarded gorilla getting a blowjob . . . usually while covered with something sticky.

But while you’ll probably never convince one of Green’s detractors that the guy is anything more than an annoyance at best and a sign of the apocalypse at worst, Green’s singularly odd talent remains worth defending. For despite their superficial resemblance to the spazzy noises and pratfalls of the Carrot Top school of comedy, Green’s antics (and here we’re talking about his TV show, not the stupid, stupid movies we’ll get to later) are something else altogether. At their best, a segment from The Tom Green Show is true performance art that blows away most of the stuff you’ll ever see in a gallery or on PBS. Hell, yeah, I’m serious.

Consider for a moment one infamous segment that aired on Green’s show: after months of harassing his parents with pranks that ranged from filling their home with wall-to-wall, noisy, poopy livestock to painting the entire house plaid, Green upped the ante by a factor of thousands when he had the word “SLUTMOBILE” spray-painted on his father’s car along with a mural depicting a scene of XXX-rated lesbian love. When his parents understandably went completely apeshit, Green “apologized” by surprising them with a statue on their front lawn depicting themselves in a position that made the lesbo porn look tame. Oh, and for good measure, the statue was a fountain. And yes, that means exactly what you probably think it means.

Now, putting aside the truly vicious cruelty of such an act (Green’s parents are somehow persuaded to forgive their boy again and again), there’s no denying that if Green had filmed all of this for the gallery crowd instead of for MTV, he would have been an art-world superstar overnight. Forget Karen Finley and her tired old yams; forget Annie Sprinkle and her speculum—Green would have been the shit. But instead he went the TV route, and now we read articles about his divorce from Drew Barrymore instead of articles about how some particularly gross stunt has gotten the Republicans in a twist about his NEA grant.

While Green could have easily parlayed his talents into art-world acclaim, he was a Gen-X, TV baby, and his heroes growing up were people like Andy Kaufman and David Letterman, men who created anarchistic, surreal, ironic and sometimes genuinely sadistic TV comedy. (It may be hard for our younger readers to believe, but time was when serious critics routinely used the words “Letterman” and “postmodern genius” in the same sentence.) Green set out to emulate such men and made a damn fine job of it for a time, heedlessly and artfully pissing people off and having a high time doing it.

But with success, Kaufman and Letterman both lost their way. Kaufman appeared in a slew of wretched movies (remember Heartbeeps?) but at least kept up his fascinatingly odd conceptual pranks right up to his untimely death from lung cancer, while Letterman gradually became the kind of glitzy, unchallenging talk-show host he’d once parodied. So far, Green’s trajectory has been more troubling than either of his heroes’, with his forays onto the big screen making Kaufman’s movies seem like deathless classics by comparison.

Simply put, while there is undeniable fascination in watching the horrified reactions of everyday people as they watch Green behave like an idiot in public, there’s no fascination of any kind in watching actors pretend to be everyday people horrified by Green acting out stuff from some dopey script. Green’s film career has thus far consisted of exactly such fare, with his own directorial debut Freddy Got Fingered serving as the nadir. With Stealing Harvard, Green seems to be settling (perhaps for the long haul) into the goofball sidekick roles that Harlan Williams has turned down.

As I write this, it’s too soon to tell how Stealing Harvard will fare at the box office. Green sorely needs a hit after the fiasco of Freddy Got Fingered, but I would wager that once word of mouth on this thing gets out, people will stay as far away from Stealing Harvard as possible. If they do make the film a hit, I fear Green’s fate is sealed, and for the rest of his life, he will be far less interesting than he could be.

But while the failure of Stealing Harvard could just bounce him out of entertainment for good, it could also be the best thing that ever happened to him; after all, without the deodorant and soda commercials to fall back on, without the gigs playing the thirtysomething hanger-on in mangy teen comedies, Green might just get back in touch with the freaky little demon in his belly that made him such a talent to treasure in the first place.

If I were Green’s parents, I’d start locking my doors now.

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