Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Malaysia Diaries: A Prologue

I haven't been to my mother's homeland of Malaysia, since I was an infant. Why has it taken me so long to accompany Mama Cass for a return visit? I don't really have a good answer for that, other than to say any reasons that I may have given for not traveling with my family seem silly some 10-15 years later. As a teenager and young adult who didn't always see eye-to-eye with his parents, the idea of having the house to myself while my family was on the other side of the planet held a lot more appeal than learning about my mother's heritage and expanding my worldview. Like I said, that feels absurd now. And, quite frankly, heartbreaking.

I'll never get a chance to walk with my father and listen to stories of his time in the Peace Corps while surrounded by the very landscapes in which those formative experiences took place. I've heard my mother tell me about meeting my father and how they grew to fall in love with each other. But I never got to hear my father's side of the story.

I know my mother has a lot more to tell, and now I want to listen. I want to hear all of it. I want to meet the people who made her the person she is today, the woman who raised me. I want to hear their stories. And I want to write her story because I know it's an amazing one. There won't be any distractions. We'll be off the grid. No TV, no internet - none of the things that currently make me too preoccupied and twitchy to intellectually fulfill myself the way I used to.

If I get to indulge my inner aspiring Anthony Bourdain, walking the streets and markets of a completely foreign environment, while sampling the exotic foods of a new culture, this trip will be that much more enriching. And I know my mother won't let me board a flight back to the United States without having those sorts of experiences, because she knows how important it is to me (and, honestly, I think she misses a lot of the food she grew up with). But that will be the undercard to the main event.

I've put off experiences like this far too often in my life. I've denied this part of my heritage for far too long. I don't want to look back another 10-15 years from now and wish I'd learned more about my mother, where she came from, what molded her as a person, and how much of that was passed down to me and my sister. But I'm not too old to make up for that. And I have every intention of making this the first step in an enlightenment.

Oh, yes - there will be pictures. You can bet your sweet ass on it. A camera will be attached to my face the entire time I'm in Malaysia. I'm bringing back a lot of pictures and a lot of words with me. I'll see you in two weeks.

Iron Man: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

In the two weeks or so since Iron Man hit theaters, it occurred to me that trying to write a review might be redundant, as I've already written about how interesting I find the character of Tony Stark and how excited I was to see Robert Downey, Jr. do his thing with the type of role that should make him a star.

And Downey absolutely owns this movie, bringing the wit and charm that has made him so utterly capitvating in roles such as Tommy Larson in Home For the Holidays, Terry Crabtree in Wonder Boys and Paul Avery in Zodiac, yet also infusing Tony Stark with a vulnerability and heroism that makes him a fascinatingly compelling character. Downey is so enjoyable to watch, in fact, that hiding him in that super-suit kind of takes some of the thrill from the inevitable climactic battle scene, which is unfortunately rendered a bit coherent by sequences that moves just a little too fast - probably to hide the seams that hold the CGI special effects and physical action together.

As fun as it is to see Stark test out each version of the Iron Man armor (an essential part of the character), and riveted by his robot servants into the final kick-ass product, the scenes in which he tells Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts (another great performance) how important she is in his life, or when his fellow prisoner in Afghanistan tells him not to squander the second chance he's been given, both scenes are more believable (and touching) than you might expect from a rock 'em, sock 'em comic book action flick.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How Do You Like Your Billionaire Superheroes?

You may have already seen this, since it's been making the internet rounds. Batman vs. Iron Man. Both with movies out this summer. Both billionaire superheroes who have all the toys and get all the chicks. (Well, at least Tony Stark does. Bruce Wayne doesn't seem to allow himself that much fun.) Both also drink gross-looking green protein shakes.

Okay, I'm about to take it even nerdier. The guy who made this couldn't have found better Batman and Iron Man action figures? Maybe it adds to the charm of the video. I saw two better ones at Target yesterday, though.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Charles Barkley, Professional Announcer

It's surely a sign of getting old, but I don't stay up to watch "Inside the NBA" most nights. By the time the evening's playoff games are over, I'm knocked out. I miss the days when I either a) didn't have to get up so early or b) could go through the day on four hours sleep.

But that's besides the point. Since TNT's NBA studio show is on rather late, they can be a little goofy. Case in point, Ernie Johnson playing an Anchorman-esque prank on Charles Barkley:

I'm Charles Barkley... ? Go #@$% yourself, Atlanta.

(via Awful Announcing)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

What Magic Make-Up Can Do

So were you at all skeptical when you heard or read that Oliver Stone cast Josh Brolin to play George W. Bush? Maybe we should all shelve that skepticism now.

How about the power of wigs and prosthetics? Of course, a still photograph is different than seeing whether or not Brolin and Elizabeth Banks can convincingly portray the President and First Lady. But man, they sure look the part. (Though I'm still not really comfortable with an actress I consider rather adorable playing Mrs. Bush. I suppose that's an issue I'll have to deal with on my own.)

The Entertainment Weekly feature article includes a close-up photo of Brolin in full Bush make-up. I can't help but think of this as sort of a dark comedy, especially with some of the wacked-out directions Stone's films (excepting World Trade Center, which was surprisingly conventional) can take.

(via Cinematical)

Robert Downey, Jr's Victory Lap

The plan is to post a Four-Sentence (if I can rein myself in) Movie Review of Iron Man tomorrow, although - really, should I? Is it any kind of mystery as to what I may have thought of it?

But one of the great things about Iron Man is the triumph it represents for one of my favorite actors (Home for the Holidays, Wonder Boys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac), a guy whose talent should have made him a giant long ago. Robert Downey, Jr. should've had George Clooney's career, if not for his well-documented self-destructive impulses and addictions. But maybe it's not too late for him to get some of that now. To me, it was impossible not to root for Downey as he absolutely owned this movie and the role of Tony Stark, and enjoy watching him seize his moment of world-dominating stardom.

Monday night on The Tonight Show, Downey got to bask in the afterglow of his movie's huge opening, and you could tell he's going to relish this for quite some time. I dare you not to be charmed by his answer to Jay Leno asking him which was better, an Oscar nomination or blockbuster movie (1:05 mark):

And here's part two of the appearance, with an amusing story about the difficulties he encountered inside the Iron Man suit (2:50 mark):

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

I don't normally nudge people to check out movies here (though maybe that's what the Four-Sentence Movie Reviews are kind of about), but when a good one is out there that deserves a bigger audience. I'm Not There was released on DVD today, and I thought it was just about the best movie I saw last year. Here's a trailer, though I'm not sure Todd Haynes' film can be summed up in two minutes:

And here's my Four-Sentence Movie Review, if you're interested. Really, Cate Blanchett's performance is worth your time. Though I didn't have a problem with Tilda Swinton winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, we're going to look back in five to 10 years and wonder how someone other than Blanchett could've won.

If you're a Bob Dylan fan, I can't imagine you not liking this movie. And if you're not a Dylan fan, but a movie fan, Haynes puts a creative spin on the biopic, a genre that's become pretty tired and predictable. (He cast both Batman and The Joker to play Dylan!) Unconventional, yes. But it seems to capture the elusive spirit of the man whose story he's telling extremely well.

I Guess This Would Be Cup Half-Full?

I'd be lying if I said this wasn't my occasional world view:

Did I say "occasional"? Sometimes, this is what gets me through the day, man. I can walk to a coffee shop! Yay!

(Courtesy of Savage Chickens)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Making Little Kids Fill Their Pants Since 1978

I probably shouldn't admit this, but Lou Ferrigno as The Incredible Hulk, flexing and roaring in a thunderstorm, scared me a bit when I first saw him as a five-year-old. I'm happy to say that I fast outgrew any fears of overmuscled green men with torn shirts and bad wigs.

But judging from some of the whines, whimpers, and cries I heard from children before a showing of Iron Man yesterday (PG-13 rating, parents!), the 2008 computer-generated version of the Hulk, raging roars and all, might scare a whole new generation of little ones. Or maybe it was having to watch more slam-bam montage with symphony and chorus booming on the soundtrack.

At least those same children won't later have to deal with seeing this version of the Hulk trying to cash in on five years of fame decades later at comic book conventions. (That's right, Ferrigno. I remember you cutting in front of me in the hot dog line eight years ago in San Diego.)