Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Critic BOOK Special: SNL vet Jim Breuer comes clean in "I'm Not High"

Jim Breuer is known for a lot of things: Joe Pesci, Goat Boy, that stoner guy in the movie Half-Baked. I was ready for a lot of silly comedy in his latest book, "I'm Not High". What I wasn't ready for was the deep spirituality that resides in the man and comes through in the pages.

This is by far one of the most compelling memoirs I've read lately - I simply could not put it down. Breuer writes with a kind of raw honesty that makes you want to cry and laugh all at the same time. Being a writer, there is nothing more frustrating to me than a memoir that is poorly written, or spends a lot of time trashing other people, or worse yet, is begging the reader to be uber-sympathetic to him or her for all their foibles and mishaps.

Breuer comes completely clean in his book. He's really not high, although he's been high in the past, multiple times, and certainly LOOKS high. But he's also just a really decent guy who uses laughter as a tool for healing.

This book is a lot of things. A collection of funny stories, a case for the power of prayer, a confessional, a diary. It's definitely never boring. Breuer takes us through the highs and lows of his childhood, the long road of breaking into fame and all the heartbreaking disappointments and temptations that come with it. But the message Breuer comes through with time and time again is to never lose yourself in success. Never think you are invincible, or that fame and fortune can replace love and family.

What is most impressive about Breuer's book is how he can talk about his faith in God so freely and not make the reader uncomfortable or make himself sound like some sort of evangelist. It's clear the writing comes from the heart, and that's what makes Breuer so likeable, even when some of his experiences could be speculated to have just been coincidence rather than divine intervention. This book made me think a lot about my own life and what I should be grateful for.

The Insatiable Critic meets Jim Breuer

I would like to mention that seeing Breuer live in New Haven earlier this month is an experience I will never forget. The man is freakin' hilarious. Even the way he laughs is hilarious - I always thought it was just part of his characters but that's actually just the way he is. And having heard him tell some of the tales in the book live, while doing voices people such as Dave Chappelle, it made the book all the more enjoyable because I could hear his impressions in my head as I read through the chapters.

And honest to God, he's just a great guy. After his stand-up routine, we all lined up to have a copy of our book signed. When I came to him, I told him how much I had loved him on Saturday Night Live back in the 90s. He said to me, "Wow, that really means a lot to me. Also, I saw you laughing so hard in the second row there. I'm glad you were really enjoying yourself." And I could tell by the look on his face that he really meant it.

If you are looking for straight-up, honest and funny writing, look no further than "I'm Not High."
Come for the humor, but stay for the heart.

For more about Jim and his upcoming tour dates, click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DVD Spotlight: Clash of the Titans remake needs to get over itself

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. and downloaded here.

A few weeks ago, my beloved and I did a back-to-back marathon of Clash of the Titans, the remake and the original, in that order. I can safely say that the original, in all its cheesy glory, was way, WAY better.

Its pretty sad when filmmakers can't make a decent remake with all the access they have nowadays to computer graphics. This new film really should've been called "Clash of the Poorly Laid Out Plot and Underdeveloped Characters" because it was barely recognizable to the original movie.

Keep in mind I had not seen the original so I was trying to appreciate this film in its own right without getting caught in the critic quicksand of "Weelllll they didn't do this like they did in the FIRST movie...."Guess what kiddies: it was still crap.

How do I even begin to dissect this deplorable mish-mosh of Lord of the Rings meets 300 only both done shoddier? Well, let's start with Liam Neeson as Zeus. I'm sorry, but the last time I cracked "Mythology" by Edith Hamilton, Zeus was supposed to be a bad ass. Neeson plays Zeus like a sympathetic father who only wants the best for his world, and yeah, humans are flawed, but that doesn't mean we should kill the little buggers off. Plus, Greek women are just too damn hot. But he lets Hades, played by Ralph Fiennes, who I'm sorry to say is given John Travolta's hairdo from Battlefield Earth, push him around and convince him to start a war between humans and gods. Both actors do their damndest with the sad lot they are given, but when you've got a bad script and a bad plot, it's hard to rise above that no matter how good you are.

Also, the gods of greek mythology did not wander around wearing clunky, 12th century European armor that somehow sparkles of its own accord because uh, THEY'RE GODS. THEY DON'T NEED ARMOR. They wear helmets because it makes them look that much cooler, and that's about it.

Meanwhile, our hero of the hour Perseus, played by Sam Worthington (of James Cameron's Avatar fame) spends an inordinate amount of time whining about having to be half god and half man. Damn buddy, if I had the abilities of a god and my Dad was Zeus, I'd be pretty stoked about it. Also, the sword his Dad leaves for him looks way too much like a light saber for my measure.

From there, the plot gets more and more incomprehensible. There's some stone guy who helps them out but I'm not even really sure what he's doing there, and a woman named Io who follows Perseus around being somewhat supportive but why her character even exists is pretty much beyond me. We finally get to something that makes sense: Hades is going to release the Kraken, a big ugly beastie that's going to lay waste to everything and Perseus has to cut off the head of Medusa in order to turn the Kraken into stone. Medusa's character design was pretty well done. It was nice to show her as being attractive - considering the reason they claim for her existence in the film is a jealous goddess punishing her for being too beautiful.

But one character being well done does not a movie make, although if you are going to do one thing right, it might as well be Medusa. The director Louis Leterrier, whose credits include The Incredible Hulk, overloads the plot with too many characters that he doesn't have time to develop meaningfully and thus, kills them off or just lets them hang. Plus, he takes non-sensical liberties such as making Pegasus, who is classically white and pure, black. Why? To make him look cooler? We'll never know. And really, by the end, you don't really care.

Watching the original was like having the scales fall from my eyes. So THIS is what this movie is supposed to be about! Other than the plotline with Medusa and the Kraken, the movies are completely different. Yes, the special effects are pretty campy, but I'll take a decent plot that makes an ounce of sense over the previous mess I just watched. Laurence Olivier -now there's a Zeus. He's rude, pompous, and is looking out for his own, a far cry from the sniffling pushover that Neeson portrayed. Also, we actually get a look at the power of the goddesses, who are hardly given a nod in the remake. Perseus, played by Harry Hamlin, is elated to discover he has the powers of a god and proceeds to go on an awesome quest to find an awesome babe. No Hades, no war between the gods, no politics. Just a good solid adventure story that doesn't take itself too seriously. And let me tell you ladies, some of the outfits they put Perseus in don't leave much to the imagination, which is an awesome plus.

This is a classic case of a director trying to take a fun-loving, semi-campy adventure story and making it into "SRS BZNS EPIC TALE," when that's not what it is, nor what it ever will be. The presence of Bubo, a quirky mechanical owl that Athena makes in defiance of Zeus when she refuses to give up her own owl, embodies the fun-loving aspect of the film. But sorry folks, this remake is just too serious to have a character as silly as Bubo in it for more than just a mere scrap of a reference to appease the die-hard fans of the film, provided they had not left the theater already. Even though we've got giant scorpions and winged horses and a Jedi knight-type sword. Yeah.

Leterrier, just a small piece of advice for the future - if you don't want to continue to make spectacularly awful films, get over yourself.

On that note, I leave you with this charming and incredibly well-filmed snippet about what Bubo has been doing with his time since the original Clash of the Titans you can see here.

Toby sez: Clash of the Titans remake:

Vs. the Original:

Friday, October 8, 2010

A curve in the road

First of all to all my loyal readers I am sorry for not having updated this in a long time. Things have been busy. And by busy I mean....I lost my job.

It wasn't a total surprise, gentle readers, but it was hard to deal with and on some level, heartbreaking. Many of us grow up with the concept that if we work really hard and try our best, that things will turn out all right in the end. The bitter pill that life makes you swallow on occasion is that your best isn't enough. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you. And then you find yourself on a path you never dreamed you'd be on, trying to make the best of it all.

After the axe came down last Friday, I dived right into the job hunt and have been busier in this past week than I ever thought I'd be. Some people need time to collect, to lick wounds, etc. For me, the way I deal with a bad situation is I start working as fast as I can to fix it, and with every click of the button on my laptop that sends off my resume to a possible job opportunity my heart and soul feels a little bit better.

One thing I am infinitely grateful for is the parting of the ways from my previous employer was very civil and there is no bad blood between us. My bosses told me they have no problem with me using them as references. I don't think anyone really wanted it to happen, but it is what it is and they did their best to help me out by giving me a very decent severance package.

I have been humbled and awed by the unbelievable amount of support my friends and family have sent my way. They always say in times of crisis you find out who your real friends are - boy, do I have a lot of them. To those people who have offered me food, lodging, job opportunities, or even just notes of encouragement and love in the digital realm as well as over the phone and in person, I can't thank you enough.

During this time, I have had some very powerful signs come to me. Yes, as hokey as it sounds, I believe in signs. Recently my friend gave me a purse charm that is a moth in lucite; a few days later my Dad had a dream that he was in my apartment with my mother and moths were coming out of cocoons, drying their wings and getting ready to fly. Our dear family friend Janie tells me that in Native American lore, moths are symbols of transformation and new beginnings.

Sign number two came today at a job interview for a part-time position at an audio books company. One of my all-time favorite blogs is The Daily Coyote, written by a woman named Shreve who left her fast-paced city life behind her to live in Wyoming and raise her ever-expanding "farmily", which includes a coyote, Charlie. She is an amazing writer, photographer, and woman and I have had the great opportunity to talk with her not only over the phone but over email as well. Although I hardly know her personally, she is very dear to me. She came out with a book called "The Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming" in 2008 and I have an autographed copy of it. During my interview today, they showed me one of their most recent audio book covers that had one of the employee's dogs on the front of it. The dog looked so much like Charlie I started talking about Shreve and the site, and they said to me, "Oh actually, we've produced her audio book!" I couldn't believe it. They handed me a copy and told me to keep it.

Now of all the thousands of books in the world and the numerous audio book companies out there, what were the chances, really?

As I drove home, I popped in the first disc, and a clear voice read out the first line of the book. "The jewels in this life are the events we do not plan; at least that is how it has always been for me."
I felt my eyes fill with tears. It was exactly what I needed to hear. And in that moment, in my car driving down 95 on my way back home, there was this cosmic sensation that all of this has been woven into the fabric of my life forever. That I really am exactly where I need to be right now. People always say things happen for a reason, but it wasn't until I heard and felt what I did that I really believed it.

I promise that there will be a real movie review blog coming soon, but I felt that you all deserved to know what the hell was going on. Thank you for your patience and stay with me - after all, I am insatiable!