Archive | March, 2011

CSI: Criminally Obvious

22 Mar
CSI Miami

Can there be anything more ludicrous than pretty police people in leather jackets, standing in superhero supermodel pose? Yes. Watch the show.

I’d heard so many people raving about CSI, and so I was chuffed when our national broadcaster picked up the Las Vegas series (about 3 or 4 years after its US broadcast date, but still). And then I watched its MTV mediocreness and wondered what on earth all the fuss was about. Granted, there are some compelling moments, but all the faux-edgy grislyness and blue-toned, science-is-cool-on-TV music montages…

I could live with them, I suppose, if the stories were up to the hype.

Some of the episodes really left an impression on me. First, there is the one in which a footballer or someone appeared to have been mauled to death by a wild animal, but it was actually a cheerleader maxed out on PCP who ate his guts and then got ecoli. All of this for an incredibly ham-fisted ‘Kids, Don’t Do Drugs’ message.

Then — and please correct me if I misunderstood the following scene — there was an episode in which an illusionist gets burned beyond recognition in front of his stunned live audience. Lead character Whatsisname finally gets a brainwave, rushes to the morgue, and with extra sticky sound effects he chops off the fingertip of the deceased, graphically gloops the bone out of the charred tip, sticks his own digit into the dismembered flesh finger-puppet, and takes a fingerprint with it, establishing that it wasn’t the magician after all, but some poor sap who got in his way. What?? A) They didn’t take fingerprints first?? and B) it was necessary to do all that gruesome, hands-on PT instead of just whacking some ink on there from the start?

I can only assume that I missed some crucial plot point in that episode, and so we’ll give Las Vegas the benefit of the doubt there. It is very stupid, but surely not that stupid.

But then there’s CSI Miami, more recently brought to our screens (although I note to my horror that this was a 2002-3 season! Man, we’re slow in this country). I thought maybe this was the CSI that was deserving of all the accolades, what with the comeback of Caruso and all of that. But no.

The episode this week (‘Tinderbox’) involved a night club that burned down, killing many people etc. etc. I could just about tolerate the fact that although the fire was only burning the curtains at the time, one of the CSIs (coincidentally present) phoned it in as a ‘major structural fire’. I could just about believe that a club featuring indoor fireworks had no sprinklers and only one hydrant. I almost didn’t throw something at the screen when — with the fire localised on the stage and two exits open — the 200-or-so patrons in the club were panicking too much to leave at a rate faster than one person every 5 seconds. But it was all over for me when Caruso arrived in the aftermath, and in his most momentous tone said to other trained, we-do-this-every-day CSIs, ‘We’re going to find out what happened here. And this building……. will be our WITNESS!!!!!!’

I had to dive for the remote and switch it off before my brain actually fossilised around the edges, like the scabby part of the cheese when the wrapper isn’t on all the way around.

I actually think I might try that Caruso move. Maybe give it a go when you get to work too. I’ll enter a room full of my colleagues and I’ll say very loud, “I’m going to write something today, and I’m going to use….. my COMPUTER!!!” or maybe, “I think I’ll have some coffee. And I’m going to make the water hot….. with the KETTLE!!!”

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Less Funny Than Actually Being Murdered by Persians

15 Mar
Meet-the-Spartans

"This... is... PARTA the reason why comedies don't win Oscars"

One of the promos for Meet the Spartans says, ‘The 300 had it coming’. That much is very true. Frank Miller’s original testosterone fest took itself so seriously and was so wrapped up in its own computer-generated awesomeness that it was aching for some well-aimed ridicule. Unfortunately, the spoof version not only fails dismally in almost every way to aim its ridicule well, but it’s also used up the universe’s one chance to do so. We’ll never see anyone dare to spoof on The 300 ever again, and someone deserves a punch in the airbrushed abs for that.

I have to confess that I only managed to sit blinking at Meet the Spartans for the first half-an-hour. (Our broadcaster had proven to be steadfastly unadaptable yet again, and so there was a short gap before Survivor). The opening 20-25 minutes is apparently the best part of the movie in any case. It received an aggregate score (across all its US reviews) on metacritic.com of 9/100, which feels a little generous. It really is irredeemable.

The reason why I bring this all to your attention is that I found one of the user reviews on metacritic interesting. One viewer — clearly the person that the writer had in mind when he penned the script on the toilet roll in a flurry of cubicle-inspired excitement — gave the movie 10/10. This is not unusual. Any film that gets hurt by the critics will get an over-compensating score from some or other sympath. I was more interested in the reasons that he gave. He says:

Some movies are good and other ones are not. some people don’t like Monty python and some do. Reason why i’m talking about this is you don’t have to like this movie because of it’s kind of humor… i wonder what do you expect from a spoof because i got what i wanted (a stupid movie based on another and making fun of it).

He’s making an argument from genre here, suggesting that the movie’s bad reception has to do with a prejudice against the kind of humour employed by spoof as a genre. On one hand, he has a minor point — these movies are ultra-transparent about what they’re offering, and if you don’t find absurdist cross-references to other media funny, then don’t watch. But on the other hand, he’s so wrong that he deserves to be kicked into a bottomless pit by a shouty man in oh-so-tiny leather underpants.

The problem with Meet the Spartans is not that it is a spoof movie. The problem is that it is an incredibly, breathtakingly soulless spoof movie. The genre admittedly turns up a number of love-it-or-hate-it examples, but there are a host of spoof comedy classics, among which I’d include: Airplane, Top Secret, Loaded Weapon I, and of course the first offerings of the Austin Powers and Shrek franchises (but none of the sequels; Austin Powers II & III are some of the worst films in history). I also have a soft spot for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (again, not the sequel) but I’ll understand if you disagree. The point is, the allusions that the good exponents of spoof make to other genres tend to be witty, sometimes passing subtle comment or making a sly criticism. The jokes are funny on their own terms, and the characters have life of their own too (the endless take-offs and the horrific caricature-ridden sequels can make us forget how vivid and successful a character Austin Powers was as a 007 parody). Spartans aims much, much lower.

Take for example the scene parodying Leonidas’ slaying of a wild animal in his youth. In Spartans this animal is a big penguin — a dancing penguin — in an obvious reference to the money-spinning animated dancing-penguin movie from the previous year. This is standard spoof fare so far– the joke is set up, waiting for the punchline — but what to do with the reference now that it’s on screen? A good spoof movie would want to take the joke somewhere, adding a twist to it, tying it into the parody. All that Spartans could manage was the mere reinforcement of the source of the original: ‘Hey! He’s got Happy Feet!’

Thank you. Yes. We got that.

Spartans does not fail because it sits within an often-maligned genre. It fails because it is a relentless string of unconnected media references that go little further than aiming at recognition, and that have nothing to say about the movie or the genre they’re supposed to be critiquing. Britney Spears is trashy, Simon Cowell is mean, [joke about genitals]. Even just half and hour of this made me wish for an honourable death. Or really any kind of death.