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Reading Digest – 12 November 2012   Leave a comment

“You too, huh?  Hey, I know a good yogurt place.” – Jimmy Carter
“Get away from me, loser.” – Bush the Elder

WSJlogo1 Ha!:

Aww, Sad Fugees

The big story with the picture of the sad brokers is the lead, because that nasty government might be raising taxes and scaring away the Confidence Fairy.  The actual story, the one that doesn’t fit the Murdoch line of all taxes are bad all the time, is that stock futures have risen.  This is why you never let Rupert Murdoch buy your once respectable newspaper.

DailyBeastLogo This morning Newsweek Jr. is deeply concerned about aristocrats who fell short of power:

Mitt and Some Lady I supposed it’s nice to see Mittens reduced to speculative tabloid copy, but this is still pretty low, even by the waiting room floor standards of Newsweek Jr.

DailyCallerLogo More penile insecurity from Tucker & Friends:

Mmm, Dark Dong

If you’re wondering whether or not there’s a picture of a woman in a bikini in the article, please don’t.  Of course there is.

PoliticoLogo Swampgas Daily still thinks it’s the 1990s:

Newt's Essay on How He Spent His Summer Vacation

Little Newtie’s essay is entirely comprised of one sentence paragraphs.

Like this.

No, I don’t know why.

He probably doesn’t either.

And in addition to him, we’ve also got:

Politico Self Portrait

Is it possible for a crappy “newspaper” to take a self portrait?  Because that’s what this would be if there was any shred of honesty down at Villager HQ.

ABC Logo Hey Mickey, get fucked:

Durr, Twilight Is Popular Still

And as if that wasn’t newsless enough, right next to it we’ve got:

Cavalcade of Celebrity Mourners

This particular piece of celebrity chasing is notably worse than usual because they put it up on account of what used to be called Armistice Day (note the fashionably mournful hat), but it’s actually just 93 (!) pictures of that British princess doing stuff.  We won a war to not care about that, and you’re retreating on Veterans Day?  Fuck you, ABC.

Posted November 12, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Reading Digest, The Simpsons

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ParaNorman: Laika Breaks Into Pixar’s League   1 comment

“What have we become?” – Jasper
“We’ve given the word ‘mob’ a bad name.” – Dr. Hibbert

Top Line: Far better than last year’s underwhelming Super 8, ParaNorman is a worthy successor to those great 1980s movies where gangs of kids solve supernatural problems (e.g. Goonies, Monster Squad, and the one with the bulbous headed alien).  It’s inventive, beautifully animated, funny for kids and adults, and has the kind of heart and message that kids’ll eat up and adults won’t think is too cheesy. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: Anyone who saw Coraline, animation and stop motion fans generally, eight and nine-year-old kids of all ages. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Strict Christian parents, people who hate animated film. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:33m – And not a dull moment. 
Rated: PG – This movie is about the limit of what you can get away with in PG, and excellent for being so.  There are a couple of things that might be scary for your average six-year-old or younger, but the movie is more exciting than frightening.  There are some surprisingly raunchy jokes, but they’ll sail way over the head of the kids (and probably a few teenagers too). 

Should Be Rated: PG-8

Three Stars:

  1. Kodi Smit-McPhee – Plucky Hero Kid:
    The kid from The Road deserves the lead here.  He plays it heroic while still believably childlike.
  2. Tucker Albrizzi – Fat Sidekick Kid:
    Like all 1980s kid movies, this one has a sweet and brave fat kid sidekick.  Played and written well.
  3. Jodelle Ferland – Mysterious Girl:
    The youths rule this movie movie, including those who only have small parts.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +3 (The 3-D isn’t a gimmick and adds to a lot of scenes.  Since 3-D TVs still suck, this’ll be your last chance for a while to see it the way it was meant to be seen)
  • +1 (Kids movies that don’t patronize their intended audience are few are far between)
  • -1 (3-D TVs won’t always suck, though, and this movie should age extremely well)

Final Score: 5

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +3 (Just a flat out good movie from start to finish)
  • +1 (Seriously, it’s funny, action packed, scary when it wants to be, and a lot of fun)
  • -2 (It lacks the marketing brutality of Happy Meal toys, video games, and the like that get behind bigger, franchise-by-design movies, so it’s unlikely that it’ll become something little kids will demand of their parents over and over and over and over and over . . .)

Final Score: 7

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Anna Kendrick breathes a lot of life into a stereotypical teenage girl part)
  • +1 (Hanna Noyes (nerdy smart girl), Jodelle Ferland (see above), and Elaine Stritch (dead grandma) all do great work)
  • -3 (Sadly, they are also stuck in decidedly secondary parts)

Final Score: 4

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Chris Butler:
    First time in the big chair, but he was the “storyboard supervisor” on the outstanding Coraline (2009).
  • Sam Fell:
    Also directed The Tale of Despereaux (2008) and Flushed Away (2006).

Writers:

  • Chris Butler:
    Also his first time behind the keyboard.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 85% Top Critics: 81% Audience: 76%

Notes:

  • The least surprising thing I learned from the Wikipedia article was that “ParaNorman was conceived in the 1980s for Disney, but was turned down”.  Like those very durable films I mentioned in the opening, this is a particularly well executed version of the “bunch of kids band together to save the day” movie.  They have adventures, they grow as characters, they face danger with humor and courage, but they’re still recognizably children. 
  • The movie is agreeably childlike in its perspective.  For example, when the old ghost played by John Goodman needs to get our plucky young hero to agree to fulfill his destiny, he says, “Swear?”, to which the kid replies, confused, “You mean like the F-word?”.  Too many movies with kid characters write them as adults these days (looking at you, Super 8).  The kids in ParaNorman feel like kids.
  • The kids run the show in ParaNorman, but Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Anna Kendrick, and Casey Affleck round out the crew as the teenage comic relief very well. 
  • Like several classic horror movies, the mob (and by extension the grown ups who comprise it) is the real villain here. 
  • Always nice to see a movie that doesn’t have a cheap cell phone scene where signal gets lost and/or batteries mysteriously die.   
  • The animation is gorgeous without being as unnecessarily shiny as so many CG kids films are these days.  The stop motion and computers compliment each other beautifully. 
  • The movie takes inspiration from various pop culture sources, but it doesn’t get overly self conscious by constantly cramming references into your eyeballs.  It has an unobtrusive level of self awareness about how well this kind of story has been told before, so, for instance, I counted two Scooby Doo jokes, both of which were quick and subtle.
  • There’s a surprisingly clean masturbation joke.  No shit.
  • There’s a quick animatic after the (very brief) closing credits that shows you a little of how they animated everything.
  • They really stick the ending.  It’s fantastic. 

Bottom Line: There is a lot to like in ParaNorman and very little to dislike.  The story is engaging, original and fits together like a Swiss watch; the acting is all first rate; and the animation, like Coraline before it, is just flat out awesome.  The 3-D effects aren’t overused (I can think of only one time when stuff seemed to fly at the screen unnecessarily), and add genuine depth to scenes and faces. 

As a studio, Laika isn’t off to the megabucks start that Pixar had with Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, but with Coraline and now ParaNorman, its films are every bit as cutting edge and endearing.  Perhaps best of all, none of ParaNorman feels like it’s being done only for a paycheck.  People cared about this movie long after they left the office each night.  Let’s hope they keep it up. 

Suggested Alternate Viewing:

Coraline (2009) – If you haven’s seen this, watch it.  If you like it, and/or your kids like it, you’ll probably like ParaNorman as well.

The Monster Squad (1987) – Has aged surprisingly well, and follows much of the same path as ParaNorman

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before ParaNorman:

THE HOBBIT Trailer HD – Yes, yes, we know already.  Why do they even bother to market movies like this?  It’s going to garner so much free press when it gets released that ads for it seem like bribery.

Rise of the Guardians: Official Trailer 2 – This doesn’t look great or anything, but far worse looking holiday movies come out around Thanksgiving most years. 

Frankenweenie Trailer – There was actually a Frankenweenie “turn off your cell phones” message after the regular one from the theater.  I wonder what that cost Disney?

Despicable Me 2 – Feh.

Posted August 17, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, The Simpsons

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Reading Digest – 14 August 2012   Leave a comment

“Ow!  Ow!  After lunch, can I whip you?” – Homer Simpson
“Nope.” – Hooded Guy
“Aw, no fair.  Ow!” – Homer Simpson
“Hmm, I wonder what makes it turn?” – Lenny
“Who cares?” – Carl

Austerians Smile:

bbclogo1 Eurozone economy shrinks by 0.2% – And there’s no mystery as to why:

"What we see is a vicious circle of budget cuts, high interest rates in the periphery and sovereign debt rising," said Aline Schuiling at ABN Amro.

"Policymakers are moving very slowly. We expect another contraction in Q3."

nytimeslogo1 Euro Zone’s Economy Declines Less Than Expected – The Times gets it too:

Still, news that the euro zone has shifted from stagnation to decline puts added pressure on euro zone leaders as they trickle back from vacation and again confront the debt crisis. Slower growth almost automatically translates into lower tax receipts, because people lose their jobs and companies earn less profit. That, in turn, puts even more stress on government budgets.

Then drops the ball in the final paragraph:

Spain and Italy and other troubled countries have begun taking steps to improve growth by deregulating their labor markets, removing bureaucratic barriers to entrepreneurship, and other measures. But such changes typically take years to bear fruit, and in the meantime stir political turmoil because of resistance from unions or other interest groups.

They’re so close to saying that “deregulating their labor markets, removing bureaucratic barriers to entrepreneurship, and other measures” won’t actually help, but they pull up just short of actually saying it.  I would pay real money to hear what the business section really thinks about Paul Krugman. 

Syrian Civil War:

aljazeeralogo1 UN humanitarian chief Amos arrives in Syria – First Kofi Annan, then Lakhdar Brahimi, now Valerie Amos:

The visit "aims to draw attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and the impact of the conflict on people either remaining in Syria and who have fled to other countries, including Lebanon", the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs said.

While in Syria, Amos is expected to discuss ways of "urgently scaling-up relief efforts and reducing the suffering of civilians caught up in the fighting with the Syrian authorities, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other humanitarian partners”.

There’s probably a very good dark, absurdist comedy somewhere in the kabuki parade of international mediators that the Syrian government has to welcome and then politely ignore.  If they gave half a fuck about refugees and civilians, no one would need to be there to talk to them in the first place.  Catch-22 really is the best one there is. 

bbclogo1 Syria’s ex-PM Riad Hijab says regime is collapsing:

Two million people are now estimated to have been affected by the crisis and over one million have been internally displaced. More than 140,000 people have fled the violence and crossed into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

Photos of where the luckier ones will end up.

The Blowback from Bush/Obama’s Undermining of American Courts:

aljazeeralogo1 Ecuador to decide on Assange plea ‘this week’:

"We have to look at the possibility that he may be extradited to the United States, that there may be a secret court there, that he may face the death penalty."

The Australian Tourist Board Must Love This:

aljazeeralogo1 Asylum seekers feared dead off Australia:

The plan came a step closer to reality when Tony Abbott, the conservative opposition leader, announced that his coalition would support enabling legislation when it goes to a vote in parliament on Tuesday.

His support ensures that the legislation can pass the senate this week without the votes of the Greens party, a key government ally, which has condemned the deportation of would-be refugees as cruel.

Clare said a temporary detention camp on Nauru, established by a previous administration and scrapped in 2008 when Labor first came to power, would be opened "within weeks rather than months".

The camp at Papua New Guinea, which Labor also scrapped in 2008 because it was regarded as cruel and a waste of money, would be opened "as soon as possible", he said.

bbclogo1 Australia asylum: MPs debate Nauru and PNG centres:

When the Labor government under Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007, it ended the Pacific Solution.

The controversial policy was introduced in 2001 by the government of John Howard, in response to a reported rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Processing centres were set up on Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, the governments of the two nations receiving millions of dollars in aid in exchange.

The Australian navy diverted all boats carrying asylum seekers to those camps, where many were detained for months – sometimes years – under high security.

Some went on hunger strike to protest against their living conditions and continued detention.

So it didn’t work the first time, but, with none of the fundamental problems having been addressed, government confidence is high that this time it’ll be much different.  Good luck with that.

North Korea Opening Up a Tiny Bit:

aljazeeralogo1 N Korea and Japan to talk after four years:

A senior Japanese bureaucrat will lead the delegation for the meeting in Beijing, which comes after Red Cross societies from both sides met to discuss the repatriation of remains from Japan’s occupation of the peninsula.

Representatives from both governments will meet in the Chinese capital on August 29 to hash out the agenda for future meetings.

bbclogo1 North Korea: Kim Jong-un’s uncle in China visit:

Chang Song-taek, who some observers believe is the key power behind Kim Jong-un, arrived in Beijing on Monday, state media said.

Mr Chang will discuss joint development of two special economic zones, KCNA news agency said.

Fit to Print:

nytimeslogo1 Sheldon Adelson’s Frontman in China Is Focus of Inquiries:

When Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, needed something done in China, he often turned to his company’s “chief Beijing representative,” a mysterious businessman named Yang Saixin.

[…]

But today, Mr. Yang, along with tens of millions of dollars in payments the Sands made through him in China, is a focus of a wide-ranging federal investigation into potential bribery of foreign officials and other matters in China and Macau, according to people with direct knowledge of the inquiries.

The investigations are unfolding as Mr. Adelson has become an increasing presence in this year’s presidential election, contributing at least $35 million to Republican groups. On Tuesday, Mitt Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, is to appear at a fund-raiser at the Sands’s Venetian casino in Las Vegas; Mr. Adelson is likely to attend, a person close to him said.

You play in dirt, you get dirty. 

nytimeslogo1 On Wall Street, the Rising Cost of High-Speed Trading – Speaking of crooked casinos:

The advantages of the nation’s increasingly high-speed stock market are under the microscope after a number of recent trading malfunctions underscored the risks and instability that have come with the rapid changes. This month, one of Wall Street’s most important trading firms, Knight Capital, lost $440 million in 45 minutes after installing faulty software designed to keep up with an evolving market.

As the battle to introduce more sophisticated technology continues, raising the specter of more problems like Knight’s, the diminishing returns flowing back to investors are making even longtime proponents of innovation question whether the competition to make the market faster and more efficient is now doing more harm than good.

nytimeslogo1 Young Immigrants Poised for Deportation Deferral Program – The Obama Administration has been awful on immigration generally, but this is legitimately good news:

The work permit young immigrants can receive with the deferral opens many doors that have been firmly shut. They can obtain valid Social Security numbers and apply for driver’s licenses, professional certificates and financial aid for college.

It’s also good news that will evaporate if that candy ass Wall Street goober takes the oath of office in January.  Just sayin’. 

Posted August 14, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Reading Digest, The Simpsons

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