The Bad Review Revue

S.W.A.T.: “SWAT is better than Gigli, but so is most outpatient surgery.” — Mick LaSalle, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Grind: “A movie conceived by monkey-suited honchos who regard their targeted audience as impressionable nincompoops susceptible to every new trend in sports, clothing and music that comes down the pike.” — Scott Foundas, LA WEEKLY

American Wedding: “You’ll see better film on ponds.” — Elvis Mitchell, NEW YORK TIMES

Marci X: “This movie is, like, so eight years ago.” — Gene Seymour, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Jeeper Creepers 2: “The kind of limp horror retread whose only saving grace may be that it will inspire legions of budding young screenwriters to say, ‘Jesus this sucks. I can do better’.” — Marc Savlov, THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE

Uptown Girl: “A virtual collection of ‘What were they thinking?’ moments.” — Lou Lumenick, NEW YORK POST

My Boss’s Daughter: “Moronic. idiotic. Insulting. Pathetic. But enough with the sweet talk.” — Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL

Movies: Seabiscuit and Pirates Of The Caribbean

The Queen and I went to go see Pirates of the Caribbean. Twice, actually. The first time we entered the theater and found it packed to the gills, so we wandered down the hall and caught Seabiscuit instead.

In retrospect, watching Pirates from the first row might have been preferable. This became apparent early in the film, when Jeff Bridges rises at a dinner party and says “As corny as it sounds, I’d like to propose a toast. To the future!” Attention screenwriters: if even your characters are worried about sounding corny, you are probably writing a corny movie.

Also: if you want to screw up the adaptation of a best-selling book, try taking a real and inherently inspirational story and making it even more inspirational. So it’s not enough that Seabiscuit — a horse that had been written off by everyone but nonetheless went on to win the Triple Crown a buncha races — serve as an inspiration to a nation shaken by the Great Depression; now every character has to rise from humble beginnings and overcome adversity to reach Greatness. And in case you don’t get the analogy, Jeff Bridges periodically gives impromptu monologues wherein he explains to a large and nodding crowd how the horse is symbolic of the country as a whole. Seriously: he gives this speech, like, three times.

A side-effect of this relentless inspirationilzation is that nearly every scene is a little too emotional and significant. Conversations 30 minutes into the film are accompanied by the kind of Overbearingly Sad But Heroic Music that is usually reserved for the finale. Every phrase uttered by the characters has some deeper portent. Things can’t just happen, they have to happen for a reason. Seabiscuit even has my least favorite Required Hollywood Movie Moment — you know, where The One Guy says something pithy to The Other Guy, and then later in the film, when The One Guy has lost his way, The Other Guy says the exact same phrase back to him, thereby enabling him to remember what’s Really Important In This World Of Ours? You know that moment? It’s in there.

So even though I knew that Seabiscuit is based on a true story, I spent much of the film rolling my eyes and muttering “c’mon — that didn’t happen!” whenever the filmmaker couldn’t resist interjecting some tried and true Screenwriting For Dummies inspirational gimmick. Which isn’t to say that Seabiscuit is bad — objectively I’d probably give it 3.5 stars out of five. But I can’t stand it when moviemakers mess up a true story with fictitious enhancements. This is why I’ll choose a documentary on a subject over the dramatization each and every time.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (which we managed to see on the second attempt) is equally the Big Hollywood Spectacle, but at least it has the good sense to not even pretend to be grounded in reality. It unabashedly throws every Adventure Movie Staple (state of the art special effects, over the top fight scenes, big name actors) and pirate clich

Hummer: Like Nothing Else, Except All The Others

While at the grocery store last week I saw an H2 occupying two parking spaces and adorned with a license plate reading “XTREME2”.

I can just picture this guy at the DMV. “What do you mean ‘EXTREME’ is already taken?! I have a Hummer! Who the fuck else could be that extreme?!!”

Hey, that reminds me of an old and completely unrelated joke I just made up.

Q: How many bloggers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Two — one to change it while the other apologizes for the recent lack of illumination and explains that they’ve been really busy lately.

(The comments are open for blogger / lightbulb jokes. Go nuts.)

Update: Two more I thought up on the bus this morning.

Q: How many conservative bloggers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Two — one to change it and one to insist that it had started to burn out during the Clinton Administration.

– – – – – – – – – –

Q: How many liberal bloggers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None — liberal bloggers prefer the burned-out bulb so they can continue to complain about the darkness.

Linguists Discover I In Team

Linguists at the University of Rhode Island have discovered an "i" in "team," calling into question one of the axioms of motivational theory. "It turned out to be between the 'a' and the 'm'," Professor Stephanie Zahn-Winters said at a press conference on Monday. "Once you know it's there, it's not too hard to see." While the news threatens to undermine modern coaching techniques, it was hailed as vindication by glory hounds and hotdoggers around the nation. "I always knew it was in there somewhere," said Polk Junior High ballhog Barry Zahn, adding "everyone knows that passing is gay." The news comes just four days after scientists at the Wisconsin State College shocked geographers worldwide by announcing the discovery of a place exactly like home.

Constructive Criticism

Talkin’ with The Queen.

Me: Hey, what did you think of that book The Eyre Affair?

Q: I thought it was good.

Me: Really? Because I’m a few chapters into it and not sure if I should continue.

Q: I liked it.

Me: Well, I’ll keep reading it, then. It must be good if you liked it, since you’re, like, the toughest book critic I know.

Q: I’m not a tough book critic.

Me: Yes you are. You hate every book you read.

Q: I only hate bad books.

Me: But you say that 98% of all books are bad.

Q: That’s because they are.

Books: Fair Play

A month ago I raved about Steven E. Landsburg’s first book The Armchair Economist. I found the book so engrossing that I was disappointed when it ended, so I picked up Landsburg second (and most recent) effort, Fair Play, hoping for more of the same. Unfortunately, Fair Play doesn’t exactly pick up where Armchair left off. While a quite enjoyable read, I thought Fair Play left something to be desired.

The problem lies with the subtitle: “What Your Child Can Teach You About Economics”. It’s not so much what the subtitle says, it’s that there is a subtitle at all. The beauty of Armchair Economist was that it was free-ranging, dashing hither and yon covering a variety of economic topics. Better yet, it was one step removed from the reality. The “rational riddles” pondered in Armchair were first distilled to abstraction, and then examined using economic theory. Landsburg reminded readers again and again the many of the assumptions underlying his analysis are simplifications (e.g., all people share common preferences) but his point wasn’t to provide definitive answers to the given conundrums but to demonstrate the logical process that economists use when contemplating such questions. Although the author’s personal beliefs were occasionally injected into the narrative, the economics always came first.

In Fair Play, on the other hand, Landsburg’s worldview seems to be driving the economics. In particular, two of his passions — love of his daughter and dislike of progressive taxation — provide the framework for the discussion. The central conceit of the book is we need only look to children to discern the basic economic principles that should guide our society. It’s a rather gimmicky premise, but one that makes intuitive sense; if humans are essentially economic creatures, then we would do well to look at those least tainted by society to see how we should behave. Unfortunately, Landsburg is inconsistent in how he employs this economics-via-children stratagem. Sometimes he says we should look to how children act instinctively for clues as to what’s “fair,” saying “if this is the way we’re wired, it must be a for a reason”. But other times he cites how adults tell children to behave as a guide to how we should behave ourselves, implying that the standards of “fairness” we set out for our children ought not to differ from those we adhere to ourselves. By trying to have it both ways, Landsburg undermines both arguments.

The subtitular “Look To The Children” theme is then largely abandoned in the middle third of the book (an extended critique of our system of taxation), and then hastily readopted as he brings the book to a close. Scattered throughout the work are snippets cribbed from his regular Slate Everyday Economics column. The overall effect is of a recipe with a few too many ingredients.

If I’m critical of Fair Play, it’s because Landsburg’s first told me to do so — now when I read economic writing I am always looking for the flaws and contradictions. Even so, Play is an fun read and left me looking forward to his next offering. If you haven’t ready either of Lansburg’s works then The Armchair Economist is the way to go; but if you’ve already devoured that one and are hungry for more, Fair Play is a worthy, if somewhat unsatisfying, follow-up.

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