Archive for July, 2011

Hooray USA Day! to save country and politicians.

Political leaders of both parties could not agree on cutbacks or tax increases to solve the growing U.S. debt crisis, so they did what they do best– achieved a brilliant compromise.

In a joint press conference, leaders from the Democratic and Republican parties shared the exciting news of Hooray USA Day!, a brilliant new plan designed to raise funds to pay down the country’s debt.

“We recently conducted a $62 billion study to determine how average Americans raise funds when they are in a financial squeeze,” said R. “Bucky” Temptkins, a Republican Senator from Idaho. “What we found was that some people starting cooking meth or engaging in prostitution, which while lucrative, did not sit well with our family values. Other ways they raised monies included yard sales and selling blood.”

“We also looked into how community groups raised funds,” continued Lawrence Moonpie, a West Virginia House Democrat. “We discovered many of these organizations hold bake sales or car washes and that these activities are quite effective at raising needed monies.”

“So,” said Sen. Temptkins proudly, “we came up with an innovative plan to save entitlement programs and tax cuts. It’s something we call…” both politicians beamed proudly as they shouted into the microphones in unison, “Hooray USA Day!

The men high-fived, curtsied to each other and smiled broadly.

Rep. Moonpie continued, “Hooray USA Day! proves our nation is the greatest in the world because it preserves our precious political capital and raises funds solely with grassroot efforts.”

“The very efforts Tea Party types like and support,” said Sen. Temptkins, “and we only spent $480 million to come up with the catchy name Hooray USA Day!

“It works like this,” said Rep. Moonpie, “on Saturday, August 20, we will divide our country into three fund raising forces. Those whose last names begin with the letters A through H will participate in a great bake sale, baking their favorite recipes and putting them up for sale to their fellow Americans. Those whose last names begin with I through Q will grab sponges, super chamois towels, buckets, hoses and host car washes in the parking lots of local supermarkets. And those whose last names begin with the letters R through Z will hold yard sales getting rid of all nonessential possessions.”

“Each activity will have a cash box,” continued Sen. Temptkins, “and at the end of the day a fleet of Brinks trucks will pick up the monies and take them to local banks where the funds will be tabulated and forwarded to Washington in order to pay down the debt. In a $610 million study we conducted, it is projected we can raise over $500 trillion with these Hooray USA Day! activities– provided we can get premium prices for our nation’s used Journey CDs, James Patterson books, ratty recliners and ‘Friends’ DVDs.”

Both politicians smiled broadly as Rep. Moonpie issued closing remarks. “We don’t have to cut anything from our budget or raise any taxes. Hooray USA Day! is the Godsend we’ve all been looking for! If it’s as successful as we think it’ll be, we may make it an annual event.”

Some film guru once stated that there are two types of movies: those stories about the human condition (timeless tales), and those that show you something you could never see otherwise (special effects extravaganzas).

Right now, you can see two prime examples of these movie types, each a standout in its particular weight class. For the human condition genre, we have the always scrappy Woody Allen weighing in with one of his best films of the past few decades: Midnight in Paris. And in the opposite corner, representing state of the art heavyweight special effects and 3-D whizbangery, Mr. over-the-top perennial heavyweight Michael Bay and his Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Both are worth seeing for different reasons.

Woody directs humans in a human story.

I am a fan of the timeless tale human condition genre, and the simple premise of Midnight in Paris is one with real sticking power. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter who is miserable with his lot in life. He loves Paris, rainy nights and the romantic dream of writing the great novel. He yearns to be like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and the posse of 1920’s artistic ex-pats who made Paris their home and playground. Gil is engaged to Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, a woman who was born into the finer things of life. Her parents are in Paris to help the couple make their wedding plans. Inez and her folks represent conformity, pragmatism, be-happy-with-what-you’ve-got-and-get-your-head-outta-the-cloudsism. They are the cold boot of reality kicking upside Gil’s silly romantic notions-filled head.

One night, Gil is alone on a contemplative stroll through the Paris streets. A clock strikes midnight, and a 1920’s auto rolls up and stops. The back door opens and Gil sees people in 1920’s dress slurping cocktails and laughing gayly. They invite him to join, and he does.

Off Gil goes to live it up with his heroes: Ernest, F. Scott, Zelda, Cole, Gertrude, Salvador, Pablo and more. He lives magically in his ideal period, the man out of time who finally finds his time. After a wild night, he is back to modern times and his modern life and modern problems. Like a junkie, once he’s had a taste of his pleasure-filled escape, he returns again and again to his midnight strolls that transport him back to his romanticized time.

Along the way, he falls in love– never a good idea for time travelers. And the happy couple have their own physics bending adventure with ironic and illuminating outcomes.

I’ll say no more than this is a charming, magical and lasting movie that uses imagination and the human condition as special effects to make a simple, yet profound point. And Owen Wilson is certainly not the Owen Wilson we saw in Marley & Me. Thank God.

Chalk one up for the Woodman and the human condition timeless tale with a dash of magic thrown in for good measure. This is a terrific film.

Michael directs human props in a special effects story.

Which brings us to Transformers: Dark of the Moon. But before I get started, let me disclose my prejudices right up front.
1. I’m not a Michael Bay fan. His commercial work was great, his features work overblown.
2. I’m not a fan of big stupid special effects movies. For the most part, the stories are lame and the effects don’t stick in my memory banks.
3. I’m not a big fan of Shia LaBeouf. The guy doesn’t have much gravitas, soul, screen presence. He can act, but he’s like diluted vanilla.
4. Don’t much care for Transformers. This could be a result of having stepped on too many of the damn things when our kids played with them– a time when Transformers littered our house ready to transform from toys into implements of painful death.
5. I think most 3-D movies are gimmicks not worthy of the upcharge for the silly glasses required to view them

All these prejudices aside, I’m glad I saw this film. It was the coolest 3-D movie I’ve ever seen, and Michael Bay has some amazing camerawork. In a weird way, what makes Bay obnoxious in two dimensions makes him pretty spectacular in three. It’s like icing on top of frosting that somehow works for a visual feast worth attending.

The plot? Well, yeah, there’s a plot: an alien spacecraft crashes on the moon, N.A.S.A. alerts the White House and the next thing you know, J.F.K. initiates the space program to get a man on the moon to investigate before the Ruskies do. We all thought the moon mission was for pride, but it was to investigate the crashed alien spacecraft– why must our leaders always deceive us?

Yada blah blah yada and here we are in the present or near future and Autobots are helping our government and evil Decepticons (nasty Transformers who need a good talking to so that they’ll maybe straighten up and fly right!) want to take over our planet and the key to the whole shebang are some special rods that were on that spacecraft that crashed into the moon and well, Yada blah blah yada.

Yeah, there’s a plot and there’s some talented actors trapped in the plot: John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich and Dr. McDreamy himself. Shia LeBeouf has him a hot new girlfriend, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Michael Bay is more than happy to show us why she’s a star in the Victoria’s Secret catalog. The script does not develop her character any further than commentary from all perspectives that she’s a hottie. It doesn’t really matter, the humans serve only one purpose in this film: give some puny scale against which the mighty Transformers might dominate and intimidate.

And that’s where this film shines. The effects work is stunning. The 3-D shot composition, especially in master shots with tiny humans in foreground and massive Transformer and breathtaking vistas in background are what make this film worth forking over the extra bucks for the glasses.

If you cheap out and see the film in 2-D, be warned– you’ll only be magnifying the silliness of this affair.

The movie clocks in at over two and a half hours. It could have easily lost a half hour or forty-five minutes, but when you’re guorging yourself, what’s some extra cheese?

All in all, this film is worth sitting through for the amusement park adventure of the spectacular destruction of Chicago and some famous landmarks. Don’t expect much more than that, and you’ll enjoy your long, noisy ride.