Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bill Cosby: Norfolk, VA

“I’m not that funny.” -Chris Rock

“I’m definitely not that funny.” -Jerry Seinfeld

“No, not compared to Bill Cosby.” -Chris Rock
(At the Mark Twain Prize Award for Bill Cosby)

Bill Cosby amazes me. At 72, the man has got to still be either the best or one of the best comedians out there. Saturday night, he convinced me of this at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, VA.

Walking out in just a sweatshirt and sweatpants, Cosby sat down and talked for about an hour and 40 minutes. It seemed like he would have gone on longer, but explained he was told to wrap it up so we would get out of the way for the next show attendees.

If anyone has seen the film, Comedian, with Jerry Seinfeld, you get an inside look at what it takes to be funny. What looks so easy is not easy, even remotely. So at 72, yeah I admit, I thought maybe Cosby has lost a step. Who knows? I mean it would be understandable for sure.

He hasn’t.

The man made blowing his nose hilarious.

Early in the show, Cosby grabbed a tissue from the little table next to him, where he sat. He blew his nose and then put the tissue on the table and continued on with his routine. About 5 or 10 minutes later, he stops, seemingly in mid thought. He tells the audience, “I sense a negative vibe here tonight.” I thought, “oh no, what have we done?” The Norfolk crowd has ticked off The Coz?" He then explained, “It is coming not from the men, but from the women in the audience.” He then pointed to the tissue on the table, and that was all that was needed. The crowd erupted. My wife explained “yes, I couldn’t stop looking at that tissue!” He then told a story of how his wife was in a crowd one time and told a stage-hand to go up and inform Bill, during his show, to please put the tissue in a trash can. I am of course not doing the story justice, but how he can make such a simple thing, so hilarious, I think is accurate to describe as genius.

I have memorized most of the “classic” Cosby routines. What I was missing from only having the audio, was how physical a comedian Cosby is. And he only stood up twice during the whole show. From his great facial expressions, to playing all the characters in his stories; he embodies them all.

He explained how he lost a race at age 70 against an old college track rival. He knew he could win this time, because after all, his old rival was recovering from a stroke. He still lost. And Cosby running around the stage as a stroke victim, that still is better physically than him, is an image I might never forget.

When he was told it was time to wrap it up, Cosby went into his classic “Dentist” routine. It felt like Pink Floyd playing the opening notes of “Wish You Were Here” as all he had to say was, “Dentists tell you not to pick your teeth with any sharp, metal object…” and the crowd cheered wildly. Even though I have heard that routine many, many times, seeing him perform it in person was a treat.

Bill Cosby is STILL a very funny fellow.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Too Wealthy To Be Original

It is currently the second biggest grossing film, worldwide, in history.

I just let out a huge sigh as I wrote that line.

Now let me start with this. I am not a James Cameron hater at all. I do not feel Titanic has aged well but I enjoyed it well enough at the time. I think True Lies is a great film and both Terminator films were solid entertainment. Aliens is an impressive achievement, especially it being a sequel and I even liked much of The Abyss. So even though the previews did not otherwise make me get excited for the film, I figured Avatar would be overall impressive. Of course in some ways it is. In other ways, I feel it is lazy and embarrassing.

First off, are the visuals great? Mostly...yes. The 3D is good enough and what I appreciated the most about the film was it did not go for the obvious lets throw a knife at the audience type of stunt. Many critics are admitting the script is just not strong. But they are so blown away by the visuals they are overlooking the script. To me this is A: Bizarre. Most films dont get this type of pass. B: The visuals also hurt the film. Here is how :

I think my biggest issue with the film was knowing I was watching a live action/animation film along the lines of Song Of the South and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This made it difficult for me to get emotional when Cameron wanted me to. If somehow the technology of effects, had made the Na'Vi look like they were even in the same dimension as the humans, I think I could have suspended disbelief enough.

In Dances With Wolves, a white guy is accepted by Native Americans; people different in race and culture. Here we have a white guy accepted by cartoons. Yes he becomes a cartoon himself but showing the "real" actors with the Na'Vi seemed like something Cameron was doing his best to avoid. When the two do merge at the end, I just could not think anything other than "well look at the animation with that live actor."

Now I know it’s NOT exactly animation. But it sure looks like it. As much as I was impressed with many of the visuals, I was half expecting Bob Hoskins to show up and yell at a rabbit.

While I can believe Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana together.

Sam Worthington and animated, blue, 10 foot tall with a tail Zoe Saldana is harder to get emotionally connected to. At the end of the film this is what is asked of us.

So what about that story? Shouldn't we be allowed to expect more from a film that took 15 years to make? Why not throw another million in the budget for a better writer?

Earth and specifically America, is the bad guy in the film. Represented by the gung ho cliche, Colonel Miles Quaritch, who says things like "shock n awe." Then we have the god awful annoying Giovanni Ribisi, who says he doesnt care if we kill the children of the "blue monkeys" if he gets his oil, er, unobtanium. We get it, America is bad. Now here, shell out 12 dollars per ticket you capitalist pigs.

A scientist that becomes an Avatar never interacts with the hero, Jake, in that world, and it feels like his whole character is unnecessary. Sigourney Weaver's Avatar wears a Stanford University t-shirt. In a way, she looks like that one pet whose owners decided to dress like people.

Wouldn't the Na'Vi ask what the heck that t-shirt is and why she wears it? Maybe she was recruiting Na'Vi to attend some Phish concerts in her multicolored bus.

Given the resources and money to do whatever he wants, Cameron has forgotten basics. Basics that are still necessary.

But maybe the larger and sadder point, is that this is exactly the script the studio would have wanted. "Its worked before, it will work again."

With the risk of high money spent on visuals, no other risk on story could be taken. Which makes an attempt at a great picture not even exist.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I've heard that somewhere before

There is one sound effect in movies that is the most highly regarded of all. And you have surely heard it.

The Wilhelm scream was first introduced in 1951, for a Gary Cooper film called Distant Drums. Then in 1953 the same scream was used in another film, The Charge At Feather River. A character named Wilhelm is the one whose mouth the effect comes out of this time.

The sound editors at Warner Brothers liked this particular scream enough that they started inserting it into more films.

Ben Bert, sound effects designer, decided he liked the effect to the point he started putting it in all films he worked on. It became a sort of signature. Films Bert has inserted the scream into include every Star Wars film and every Indians Jones film.

Other editors started putting the scream into films, as an inside joke.

"This was always something so below the radar that no one noticed other than the people who already knew." -Director Joe Dante

Just some of the films that contain the scream include:

A Star Is Born (1954)

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Poltergeist (1982)

Spaceballs (1987)

Beauty And The Beast (1991)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Toy Story (1995)

The Fifth Element (1997)

Spider-man (2002)

The Lord Of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003)

Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgandy (2004)

King Kong (2005)

Juno (2007)

Tropic Thunder (2008)

(source: hollywoodlostandfound)

The verified list is now around 150 films.

Nobody knows the identity of the voice behind the Wilhelm Scream.

Monday, January 4, 2010