Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wayne Walks You Through the Best Picture Nominees (Part 2)

(IN CASE YOU MISSED PART 1, HERE IT IS.)

Well, citizens, I managed to make it through the second and final Saturday of the AMC Theatres Best Picture Showcase, which means that I have now watched all ten of the flicks nominated for the top prize at tonight's Academy Awards. So I figured I would share with you my views on the five remaining nominated films.


Hard to Watch: Based on the Novel Stone Cold Bummer by Manipulate
THE FLICK: A desperately poor Missouri girl named Ree must locate her missing, meth-cooking father -- dead or alive -- in time for a scheduled court date in order to avoid losing the family's modest home. The other members of Ree's rural community want to conceal the father's fate and will go to great lengths, including brutal violence, to prevent Ree from learning the truth.

WAYNE'S TAKE: Every year among the nominees, there should be at least one "be-thankful-for-what-you've-got" film designed to play on viewers' guilt. While we're all snug and cozy in the movie theater, the poor-but-proud characters on screen are barely subsisting in a world that looks like a post-apocalyptic hellhole. Last year, the official guilt-trip movie was Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (which inspired 30 Rock's parody Hard to Watch: Based on the Novel Stone Cold Bummer by Manipulate). This year's model is Winter's Bone. The young heroine, Ree, wouldn't want anyone feeling sorry for her, but somehow that just made me feel worse about what she's going through, not only finding her father but almost single-handedly raising her two younger siblings. (Did I mention that Ree's mother is in a catatonic state? Geez, God, give these folks a break!) Don't worry, though, that this is just a two-hour exercise in tasteful, feel-bad hicksploitation. The plot actually functions as a very intriguing mystery/conspiracy with plenty of shocking and violent incidents along the way. And then there are some truly heartbreaking dialogue scenes, as when Ree meets with an Army recruiter. I don't want to spoil too much about the film, but the scene with that recruiter is probably what will stick in my mind the longest about this movie. GRADE: B



Possibly the Rocky Horror of the new millennium.
THE FLICK: An uptight, high-strung ballerina named Nina enters into a world of madness, pain, and paranoia when she is cast as the lead in a new production of Swan Lake. Is a younger ballerina trying to replace her? Is she merely replacing an older ballerina? And, for the love of God, is Nina actually transforming into a swan the way her character does in the ballet?

WAYNE'S TAKE: Tchaikovsky by way of David Cronenberg (specifically The Fly) with a generous helping of All About Eve (or Showgirls) thrown in, Black Swan straddles a line between high art and high camp. This might well be the most riotous live-action comedy of 2010, a film so far past the point of ridiculousness that sometimes the only reasonable reaction to it is to laugh. Perhaps it will one day be recognized as the Rocky Horror of the new millennium, with fans dressing up as the characters and saying the dialogue in sync with the actors. In Nina, Natalie Portman has finally found a role which suits her stiff, pinched, overly formal delivery. I wonder if she'll ever find a part this perfect for her again. As much in bad taste as Winter's Bone was in good taste, Black Swan is a film for everyone who cherishes the stylistic overload of Stanley Kubrick at his maddest or 1970s/1980s Brian DePalma at his most gleefully gaga. GRADE: A-


A dream inside a dream inside a... you know what? I stopped caring.
THE FLICK: A highly-skilled thief named Cobb, trained in stealing ideas from people's minds, assembles a crew for one last big, risky heist. He and his teammates must actually plant an idea in the mind of a wealthy businessman's heir. Only by successfully completing this task can Cobb ever hope to see the faces of his two children again.

WAYNE'S TAKE: The clear fanboy favorite of 2010, Inception is a film which -- and I realize I may be banished from the Internet for saying this -- failed to impress me during its original theatrical run last summer. In short, I found it to be all gimmickry and no real heart or soul. It seems like it's going to be about exploring the landscape of the mind, but it too soon devolves into shouting, explosions, and shootouts and relies far too heavily on clunky expository dialogue. Plus the whole thing looks like some kind of catalog for sleek, high-end modern furniture. Revisiting the film a half-year later, I realized I had perhaps underestimated Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as Cobb, but I still found the second half of Inception to be a noisy, calamitous, headache-inducing drag. And what should be the central relationship, that of Cobb and his late wife, never felt real or true to me. Do these seem like people who have a shared history with each other? I'm still baffled as to why America embraced Inception so fondly. GRADE: C+


Newsflash! Mark Zuckerberg? Kind of a dick.
THE FLICK: The semi-true, semi-fictional story of the rise of Facebook and its frighteningly ambitious founder, Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard computer whiz who originally creates the infamous social networking site as a way for horny Ivy League students to keep tabs on each other. As Facebook soars in popularity, Zuckerberg makes new friends, betrays old ones, and winds up as the target of several pricey lawsuits.

WAYNE'S TAKE: Every year among the nominees, there is a film which veers so closely to my sense of humor or my sphere of interest that I like to pretend it was made especially for me. Two years ago, it was Frost/Nixon and last year it was A Serious Man. This year, that movie is David Fincher's The Social Network, a whip-smart update on the director's Fight Club. What can I say? This film had a dizzying effect on me, and I mean that as a compliment. I have no idea if the actual birth of Facebook was anywhere near this amusing. Personally, I don't care if it was. For sheer fun, The Social Network is rivaled only by Toy Story 3 among the nominees. GRADE: A


A n-n-n-nice l-l-little hist-st-st-storical dr-dr-dr-drama.
THE FLICK: Another semi-true, semi-fictional story, this film portrays the relationship between King George VI and his long-time speech therapist, Lionel Logue. When his father's death and brother's abdication force him to take the throne at a time when World War II looms, the reluctant King must finally conquer his stammering problem in order to properly execute his duties.

WAYNE'S TAKE: If The Social Network is very much a film about the world we occupy now (and may one day be a time-capsule candidate), The King's Speech is decidedly timeless. It could have been made ten years ago or could be made ten years from now with virtually no changes to the script or filmmaking style. This is a drama which takes historical events and makes them life-sized and relatable by focusing on the very human story occurring behind the scenes. And, oh, such a cast they've assembled for this task. If you're the type who collects "Great British Thespians" trading cards (I'll trade you two Colin Firths for a Derek Jacobi rookie card!), you will very much enjoy this picture. Were it not for The Social Network, this would have been my favorite of the day. GRADE: A-

And that does it for Wayne's Oscar preview. I'm looking forward to the ceremony tonight. My pick for Best Picture is The Social Network. I don't know whether it will win, but I guess we'll see.

Or vice versa, eh, ZOMBY?


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

The cheezburger, she is a harsh mistress.

I don't know exactly how I became obsessed with So Much Pun, but when I set out to conquer the site, I went all out. So far, I've made the homepage four times. But not every one's a winner.

Here's a gallery of would-be puns which failed to capture the cheezburger's fickle heart. I hope you will enjoy them.

STARFACE



TAYLOR SWIFT AND NOT-SO-SWIFT



THE POINT AND THE THING



PLAYING KETCHUP



A TERRIFYING CROSSBREED



ADJUSTING THE ARIEL



Don't actually guess, ZOMBY. He's just being mean.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wayne Walks You Through the Best Picture Nominees (Part 1)

This year, like last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated ten movies for Best Picture. Yesterday, thanks to the AMC Theatres Best Picture Showcase, I sat through five of those films consecutively. I would now like to share with you my thoughts about each of them:

TOY STORY 3

THE FLICK: Woody, Buzz, and the surviving members of the Toy Story gang have to adjust to new lives now that their owner, Andy, has grown up and is going off to college. A possible future awaits them at the Sunnyside Day Care Center, which is ruled by the corrupt Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear.

WAYNE'S TAKE: A very funny, touching, and beautifully made film. There's so much detail crammed into this film, it's impossible to take it all in. The voice cast is uniformly excellent. The animation is impeccable. The script is extremely clever, packed with jokes but also telling a real story and dealing with some very human emotions. This was a great, colorful start to the day. GRADE: A



127 HOURS

THE FLICK: The true story of a young man, Aron Ralston, who goes hiking in the desert and finds his arm hopelessly pinned down by a rock in an extremely remote location. With food and water running low and no rescue in sight, Aron must make tough decisions to survive.

WAYNE'S TAKE: If you're worried that 127 Hours is just two hours of a guy stuck under a rock, let me reassure you that there are plenty of flashbacks, dream sequences, and fantasies to break up the visual monotony. That being said, James Franco (as Ralston) carries the film almost single-handedly and does so with a terrific, nuanced performance. Still in all, a film I'll probably never revisit. GRADE: B




THE FLICK: The comfortable lives of two lesbian moms are disrupted when their teenage children track down the sperm donor who is their biological father. The family's very stability is threatened when several members bond too closely and too quickly with this likable, laid-back newcomer.

WAYNE'S TAKE: If I had to come up with a word to describe this comedy-drama, it would be "slight." Don't get me wrong. It's very skillfully and believably acted, and there are some nicely-observed moments in the dialogue. But it all felt a little too cutesy and forgettable to me. When it was over, I just sort of shrugged it off. Julianne Moore, although not nominated, deserves special praise as the standout among a very good ensemble cast. GRADE: B-



THE FLICK: The Coen Brothers present the second filmed version of Charles Portis' classic Western novel. A 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross, hires a hard-drinking, over-the-hill U.S. Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, to help her track down her father's killer.

WAYNE'S TAKE: Probably my favorite film of the day. This is what might be called classical filmmaking, old-school craftsmanship at its finest. The film is anchored by three very able leads (Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon as well as newcomer Hailee Steinfeld), and is marked by superb cinematography, costume design, score, and art direction. GRADE: A





THE FLICK: Another true story, this one is set in the world of boxing. A promising fighter's career is threatened by the dangerous antics of his unreliable, crack-addicted brother, a former boxer himself who now serves as his younger brother's manager.

WAYNE'S TAKE: Do you like boxing movies? Do you like inspirational, climb-from-despair-to-victory stories? If so, you probably have already seen and loved The Fighter. This was the last film on the schedule, and that's a tough slot because by then the audience is pretty much worn out. But even in my weakened condition, I could recognize its quality. Christian Bale has the showy role as a crackhead and runs wild with it, but Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams do commendable work as well. Great sense of time and place, too. GRADE: B+ but probably an A- if it had played earlier in the day

(CLICK HERE FOR PART 2)

At long last... ZOMBY!!! is disappointed (but he's disappointed IN COLOR!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

At long last... ZOMBY!!! minus that annoying zombie character



Here's a special song for our lonely bank teller:



John Lennon took a swipe at this song in "How Do You Sleep," but I've always liked the simple story it tells and how it manages to be sad without being mawkish or maudlin. The Simpsons put this song to good use a couple of seasons back in an episode about Mrs. Krabappel.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A field guide to the many Karl Maldens in Ziggy's life



One thing that doing Zomby!!! has taught me is that, with the possible exception of David Lynch's The Angriest Dog in the World, Ziggy is the most repetitive cartoon feature in history. The same few scenarios are repeated over and over to the point of madness: Ziggy watches TV, Ziggy goes to a restaurant, Ziggy gets backsassed by animals, etc. I've seen several scenarios repeated multiple times, and I've only been doing this for about two months now.

In addition to these repeated scenarios, I've also started noticing generic character types that keep cropping up. Of course, I've already pointed out the generic female functionaries. But I've recently become aware of an equally-important stock character in the Ziggy-verse: the generic Karl Malden-type guy. The beloved character actor Karl Malden may have passed away at the age of 97 in 2009, but his spirit lives on through the lumpy, bulbous-nosed, often-balding men who haunt Ziggy on a daily basis.

Check it out:



Jesus Christ, ZOMBY!!! Another restaurant one so soon?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Woody Allen's "Mere Anarchy": a book review

Woody Allen's Mere Anarchy is his first new literary work in many years.

Welcome, my friends, to the third installment of Wayne's Book Club!

In addition to churning out roughly a movie a year for 40 years, Woody Allen has also worked as a stand-up comedian, actor for hire, playwright, and author. In fact, he has written three bestselling collections of humor, Getting Even, Without Feathers and Side Effects, which collect his various short stories, essays, plays, and other miscellanea such as absurd lists and "guides" to various subjects. One of the great thrift-store finds of my life was a Book of the Month Club paperback which contains all three of these books (unabridged!) in one easily-portable volume. This is a book I've taken with me on long trips many, many times. You can dip into it just about anywhere and find something great, ranging from exercises in pure silliness, like Allen's highly unlikely "Slang Origins," to truly well-written fiction. In fact, I'd count "The Shallowest Man" and "The Kugelmass Episode" among the best short stories I've ever seen by anyone, anywhere.

Mere Anarchy (2007) is Allen's first collection of prose in decades, and reading it is like attending a reunion concert by a band who broke up several decades ago and are getting back together to test out some shaky new material. Allen has given up on the plays, essays, and guides this time, so Mere Anarchy only contains short (often very short) stories -- 18 altogether, ten of which originally appeared in The New Yorker and eight of which are new to this edition. For the most part, the eight new stories are fairly weak -- contrived, unfunny, and somehow both overwritten and undercooked -- and the editor of this book has done Allen no favors by running all of them in a row at the beginning of the book. For that reason, Mere Anarchy gets off to a very slow and bumpy start, and I would not blame readers for abandoning the book in these early stages and moving on to something else. Allen's writing style tends to include a lot of eccentric vocabulary choices, semi-obscure cultural references, and Yiddishims, and in these early tales he tends to let his "quirks" overwhelm the weak plots. For readers unfamiliar with Allen's prose, Mere Anarchy sometimes verges on unreadable. His decision to give seemingly every character a "wacky" name might also grate on readers' nerves. About the only new story that rates with Allen's best is "Glory Hallelujah, Sold!" about a prayers-for-cash scam. The nadir of this part of the book, for me at least, was "Sam, You Made the Pants Too Fragrant," an extended riff on the idea of "enhanced" clothing that stretches a lame premise far beyond its breaking point.

The good news is that the ten New Yorker stories are, on the average, much stronger and funnier, so the back half of the book is a much smoother ride. Here, you'll find "Thus Ate Zarathustra," a rumination on food and philosophy which could easily have found a place in one of Allen's three classics, as well as highly amusing takes on physics ("Strung Out"), home repair ("On a Bad Day You Can See Forever"), and overly chatty dentists ("Pinchuk's Law"). The New Yorker selections aren't perfect, though. Some critics fawned over "Surprise Rocks Disney Trial," a story in which Mickey Mouse gives very un-Disney-like testimony at the trial of Michael Eisner, but for me this story was a missed opportunity. Allen thinks it's funny simply that a cartoon character is talking in a very businesslike way about sex and money and is casually referring to other cartoon characters as he does so, but to really make a piece like this work you have to truly understand the characters and their careers. Specificity is what makes or breaks a pop culture spoof. For an example of how to do this kind of thing correctly, try to find "Some Famous Couples Discuss Their Divorces" by Delia Ephron in her 1986 book, Funny Sauce. That contains brief monologues by several cartoon characters, including Mickey & Minnie (along with Popeye & Olive Oyl and Archie & Veronica), and it's funny, daring, and insightful in ways that Allen's story just isn't.

I'd be curious to hear a woman's perspective on Mere Anarchy. Females do not come off terribly well in Allen's stories. In fact, they generally fall into one of two categories: curvaceous young sex kittens and nagging old harpies who spend their husbands' money too freely. If you don't have a Y chromosome, you're pretty much either a bimbo or a crone in this book, with very little middle ground. Given Allen's advancing age and infamous sexual history, his numerous leering descriptions of attractive young women (at least two of whom are complimented on their "protoplasm") might make some readers uncomfortable. He kind of comes off as an old lech now and again.

Amazingly, you can read a lengthy excerpt of this book for free on Google Books!


Fun with Sarah Palin's campaign button

So apparently, at something called the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the organizers were distributing these Sarah Palin campaign buttons:



Naturally, once the Internet found out about this button, it became an immediate viral sensation with people posting their own parodies. And now there's even a blank version for people to customize

You knew I couldn't resist something like this, so here a few of my variations on the infamous Sarah Palin campaign button:



And a few featuring Ms. Palin herself:



"Mr. ZOMBY's Neighborhood"



The magic of computers! The original cartoon was some nonsense about a talking bird, but I swapped out the bird and added one of my beloved generic female functionaries complete with the requisite nurse/waitress uniform. You're more than welcome, I'm sure.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Full Metal ZOMBY!!!



I realize Zomby!!! is usually just one panel, but you should pretty much always imagine a second, silent panel depicting Zomby later in the day -- at home, alone, pondering the futility of his existence.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

At long last... ZOMBY!!! stands silently and passively staring at a sign


"When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth!" - tagline for George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD

My MOZ peeps will recognize that quote, as they probably hear some variation on it once or twice a day, but some of you comics junkies might not.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who has two thumbs and still uses a rotary phone? ZOMBY!!



You'll note that I have fiendishly included the words "poison control" amongst the tags for this article. My hope is that someone doing a desperate Google search for the Poison Control hotline will somehow stumble upon this blog instead and become distracted.

Hey, zombie cartoons! Awesome! HEY, WOULD YOU HOLD IT DOWN IN THERE, TIMMY? I'll get back to your problem in a minute... What's that? You're turning blue?... Well, maybe you should have thought of that BEFORE you drank Liquid Plumr.


Monday, February 7, 2011

ZOMBY's loneliness knows no bounds. Sad, really!



Seriously, the dude makes Eleanor Rigby look like Paris Hilton. In my weaker moments, I almost pity him. Almost.

But speaking of zombies and mobs, did you know I once did an episode of the ZOMBIE MOB PODCAST? Well, now you do!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Take the Ziggy/Zomby!!! Trivia Challenge: Name That Generic Female Functionary!

Hello, dear readers!

This ongoing Zomby!!! project, of course, requires me to spend lots and lots of quality time with the original Ziggy cartoon feature by Tom Wilson. As well as being a sure path to madness, this experience has also shown me just how repetitive Ziggy is. I have, for instance, noticed that Ziggy -- and therefore Zomby -- spends a great deal of his time dealing with generic female functionaries who sit placidly behind very tall desks. I think it's the same woman working at all these places, and she just slightly alters her hairdo when she switches jobs. Her nurse/waitress uniform remains a constant no matter where she's working.

Anyway, I've decided to turn this into a little game. Here are five generic female functionaries who have appeared recently in both Ziggy and Zomby!!! See if you can match them up with their respective places of business. (ANSWERS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION.)



A. Airline
B. Bank
C. Bookshop
D. Computer Dating Service
E. License Bureau


Good luck to you!

At long last... ZOMBY!!! sort of rips off Monty Python



But Zomby's not the first to be confused about which pets need licenses and which don't:



Friday, February 4, 2011