Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sometimes, ‘pretty good’ beer isn’t good enough

First it was the punch seen around the world. Now it’s a debate over beer that has the Alabama Legislature racking up page hits on YouTube.

The punch came when state Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, socked Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, following a verbal altercation. That resulted in a sore jaw for Barron and one of those proverbial “black eyes” for Alabama.

The beer debate isn’t as explosive, but it does have more humor value, thanks to state Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, who has given me a new catchphrase.

Earlier this month, the state House of Representatives took up HB 196, a bill to increase the amount of alcohol by volume allowed in beers sold in the state. Currently, beer sold in Alabama may contain no more than 5 percent alcohol by volume. The bill would increase that to 13.9 percent, which would allow the sale of many gourmet and imported beers that are currently prohibited.

The bill narrowly passed the House, 48-42, and awaits action in the Senate, which is never in much of a hurry to do anything, except possibly raise legislators’ salaries.

Free the Hops, a grassroots organization of beer connoisseurs, has pushed for the legislation for several years, but this is the first year in which the bill has gotten traction. In 2007, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, won the Legislature’s infamous “Shroud Award” for sponsoring the deadest bill of the legislative session.

Who knew there were degrees of deadness?

This being Alabama, of course, anything involving alcohol is sure to generate opposition — like those 42 state representatives. And among the bill’s most vocal — literally — opponents was Holmes.

Holmes is one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers and has been walking the halls of the Statehouse since 1974. But for perhaps the first time in his career, his remarks on the House floor are fodder for YouTube viewers worldwide.

While other bill opponents railed against the morality of all alcoholic beverages or fretted about teenagers getting their hands on high-octane brew, Holmes managed to turn the whole thing into a class issue.

“What's the matter with the beer we got? I mean, the beer we got drink pretty good, don’t it?” Holmes said during the debate.

Yes, that’s my new catchphrase: “The beer we got drink pretty good, don’t it?”

The next time I throw a kegger and someone complains because I bought cheap beer, I’ll just tell them, “The beer we got drink pretty good, don’t it?”

And if you disagree, you can take it up with the representative from Montgomery.

Holmes continued: “I ain't never heard nobody complain about the beer we have. It drink pretty good, don’t it? Budweiser. What’s the names of some of them other beers?”

At that point, Holmes received helpful input from some of his fellow legislators, who shouted out names like Coors and Miller.

But it’s easy to see where Holmes was going: Ordinary Joes drink Bud, and filthy-rich fat cats drink expensive gourmet beers, and Holmes is on the side of Joe Sixpack. He isn’t about to vote for anything that benefits the well off — or even middle-class guys like me who prioritize our beer money.

Meanwhile, Holmes’ tortured syntax and his fight against Alabamians’ right to good beer are on display for anyone with Internet access.

With any luck, this won’t be quite as embarrassing as the state’s ban on sex toys.

You know, I wonder if the Legislature’s sex-toy debate is online.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Superheroes and metaphors

Julian Sanchez, blogger, freelance writer and Reason magazine contributing editor, has a nice video interview with Douglas Wolk, author of Reading Comics. Topics include World War Hulk as a metaphor for blowback. The interview is from November 2007, but if you haven't seen it, it's new to you:

Not so 'Incredible'

I am one of only three people who loved Ang Lee's Hulk — the others being Lee and his mom. So, take my opinion for what it's worth, but the trailer for Incredible Hulk is, um, a bit lame.

Anyway, see for yourself:

No, not looking forward to this one as much as I am Iron Man and The Dark Knight.

You know, I learned something today

Apparently, there was once such as thing a kung-fu porn.

‘Killer Tomatoes’ remake to splatter movie screens

In case you had any doubt, there is now proof positive that there is no movie — and I mean no movie — that Hollywood won’t remake.

The Hollywood Reporter reported Tuesday that a new version of the 1978 cult drive-in feature “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!” is in the works.

Stop for a minute to take that in. Someone is really and truly remaking “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!” I’ll still be here when you get back.

Ready? OK. On we go.

The brains behind the remake are Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, creators of “Ask a Ninja,” an online video series in which a ninja (Sarine) answers questions from viewers. The two will write the remake, and Nichols will direct, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Now, it has been years since I last saw “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!” So, I can’t really tell you much about it off the top of my head. (Yes, this is one cult movie that I do not have in my personal DVD collection.) The plot, as I recall, had something to do with a team of misfit scientists fighting an invasion of mutant, man-eating tomatoes.

It’s a bit like “Night of the Lepus,” except with giant, killer vegetables instead of giant, killer bunny rabbits.

Oh, and the makers of “Attack,” unlike the makers of “Lepus,” intended their film to be funny.

The one thing about “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!” that I do vividly recall is the theme song:
“Attack of the killer tomatoes!
“Attack of the killer tomatoes!
“They'll beat you, bash you, squish you, mash you
“Chew you up for brunch
“and finish you off for dinner or lunch!”

While it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, “Attack” cultivated a dedicated cult following via repeated showings on late-night television. That was enough to merit not one, not two, but three sequels: “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” (1988), “Killer Tomatoes Strike Back” (1990) and “Killer Tomatoes Eat France” (1991).

The only one worth talking about is “Return,” which is memorable mostly for starring a young, mullet-headed actor named George Clooney. (Yes, I do own the DVD of this one.)

“Return” also starred John Astin of “The Addams Family” as “angry” (not “mad”) scientist Dr. Gangreen.

What makes “Return” a cut above other killer vegetable movies is the way it purees Hollywood conventions.

Halfway through the film, the actors break character and announce they’ve run out of money and can’t finish the movie. So, they quickly hatch a scheme to raise money — product placements.

The next thing you know, Clooney is interrupting a breakfast-table conversation to sell cereal and Dr. Gangreen has a huge Pepsi logo plastered on the back of his angry-scientist lab coat.

Astin returned for the two subsequent sequels, as well as for the 1990 animated series, which aired Saturday mornings on Fox. Strangely, however, Clooney seemed to have better things to do.

You know, like “Batman and Robin.”

Meanwhile. things have been mostly quiet on the tomato front since the tomatoes ate France. The official Killer Tomatoes Web site touts a line of food products like Killer Tomatoes Pasta Sauce, but the site’s store is “currently closed for maintenance.” And there’s no telling how long “currently” has been.

But that could change if the “Ask a Ninja” guys’ movie ever actually goes before the cameras. Maybe they’ll even ask Astin to appear in it.

Or they could ask Clooney. I mean, George, if you’re reading this, an “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!” remake has got to be a better offer than “Ocean’s Fourteen.”

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Artists remake movies, comics without the annoying parts

Some enterprising artists are taking to heart the adage “less is more” by remaking the works of others — and improving on them.

In a Web comic called “Garfield Minus Garfield,” for example, an anonymous guerrilla artist takes “Garfield” comic strips and removes the title character. Without its eponymous fat, orange cat, “Garfield” ceases being an unfunny funny-animal strip and becomes something far deeper.

Garfield’s owner, Jon Arbuckle, is a ticking time bomb of existential angst. He talks to himself and hatches crackpot schemes that serve only to punctuate his loneliness. The empty space where Garfield used to be becomes symbolic of the emptiness of Jon’s pitiful existence. It’s so sad it’s funny — or funnier, at least, than most real “Garfield” strips.

Here’s an example.
Panel 1: Jon enters an empty room carrying an armful of shampoo bottles. “I’m going to spend the evening trying out different kinds of shampoo!” he excitedly tells no one.
Panel 2: Jon walks out of the room.
Panel 3: A silent, empty room.
In the original version, I assume Garfield delivered some sort of put-down at Jon’s expense. But in the “Garfield Minus Garfield” version, Garfield’s lame jokes aren’t necessary. The silence says it all: Jon is a sad little man who is just one bad day away from sticking his head in an oven.

A better-known example of someone applying the less-is-more aesthetic to an existing work is Mike J. Nichols’ “phantom edit” reworking of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.”

By eliminating repetitive dialogue, as well as most everything the hated Jar Jar Binks says or does, Nichols produces a version of the first “Star Wars” prequel that many fans regard as being superior to George Lucas’ original.

Lucas has mostly taken a hands-off attitude to amateur filmmakers who try to improve on his movies, so long as they don’t try to make money from it. If anything, he seems genuinely impressed by their ingenuity. But not everyone is as charitable.

At TheForce.Net, “Star Wars” fan Sean Gates writes, “I often wonder at what point it was that we stopped respecting art; or the artist’s right to make their product their own way.”

Really? Is someone stopping Lucas from making whatever movies he wants to make, however he wants to make them? In fact, is anyone stopping him from going back years later and altering his movies himself?

Whatever anyone else does to “The Phantom Menace,” Lucas’ original is still available, for better or worse — at least until he decides to make his “special edition” and seal the original away in a vault forever.

Anyway, all of this has me asking, what other works of art could be improved by eliminating annoying characters like Garfield and Jar Jar?

I can imagine a version of “Home Alone” without Macaulay Culkin, in which a family’s house comes alive to defend itself against a pair of inept burglars.

Maybe someone could re-edit all of Eddie Murphy’s most recent movies so that he plays only one character.

Or how about a version of “Superman Returns” without any mention of Superman and Lois Lane having had a love child?

Yes, that would be a definite improvement.