SAO PAULO SEEMS LIKE A NICE PLACE TO TAKE THE KIDS

Last night I saw the film, Manda Bala. I hadn’t heard much about it beforehand, mostly because there was no room left to promote this film since every single advertising space online and offline was already occupied by the cast and crew of SUPERBAD. But I read a really positive review of it last week (in Tiger Beat) and then was further suckered in by the film’s nicely designed poster, which features both a frog and a speeding bullet–two of my all-time favorite themes in cinema.

Manda Bala was easily the best movie I’ve seen all year. Easily. It’s also, next to Errol Morris’ Thin Blue Line, the best-looking documentary I’ve ever seen. The movie is bananas. A frog farm. Grainy footage from a video sent to the family of a kidnapping victim. A doctor sculpting a human ear out of rib cartilage. Brazil’s most powerful politician. A defensive driving course for owners of bulletproof cars. And all of these crazy, far-flung elements perfectly linked together to form a picture of systemic corruption and class disparity in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (And, really, the rest of the world.)

This movie made me say “oh, God” more times than Oh, God, Oh, God: Book II, and Oh, God, You Devil combined—which is to say, it made me say “oh, God” twice. And there are at least five separate scenes more unbelievable than the part in TRANSFORMERS when all the giant robots have to hide from Shia LaBoeuf’s parents so they curl up in balls and sneak behind trees and put dog houses on their heads and give each other the “shh!” finger, instead of actually transforming into cars and just parking on the street. It’s that good.

I don’t like to say this…I didn’t want it to come to this…but if you don’t at least make an effort to see Manda Bala, I hate you. I wish more reviews ended that way.

100 REASONS YOU’RE STILL SINGLE

Here’s something: the new issue of RADAR magazine features a “RADAR 100″ list I co-wrote with three other very funny gentlemen. It’s called 100 Reasons You’re Still Single. See if you can pick out the ones I wrote. Seriously, let me know if you can because I honestly don’t remember. Maybe if I can find it later, I’ll post my rejected contributions to this list. Oh, Internet! You are a grand forum for my narrow misses.

FORGOTTEN GEMS: THE FAT ALBERT MOVIE

I don’t expect a lot of people saw the Fat Albert live-action film, and good for them. I did see the film–I was going through something at the time–and this morning a friend reminded me of it.

Listen. I know it’s unfair to ask anyone to see Fat Albert, but it might actually be worth your time solely for its unexpected creepiness. For one thing, after the Fat Albert gang gets zapped into the real world–I really can’t remember how it all happens, but I suspect that in the script the word “zapped” was considered a sufficient explanation to cover the physics of this phenomenon–they slowly, gradually begin to fade into nothingness. That is a central narrative force in the film. Over the course of the movie, Albert and his friends become increasingly faded, pale-skinned, and ashy. Eventually, some of them grow transparent, nearly invisible. This device is utterly creepy, and not at all suitable for a big-budget movie for kids. It would have felt very natural in Angels in America but, because Fat Albert isn’t an AIDS allegory (as far as I know), the effect of making mushmouth and dumb donald ashen and weak leaves you feeling uncomfortabl slack-jawed.

But giving the Cosby Kidsâ„¢ AIDS isn’t Fat Albert’s greatest crime. The real reason you should see this film is its final scene. Even if you just have to fast-forward all the way to the end, it is absolutely worth it. OK. Think for a minute. This is Fat Albert: The Movie. A big summery adaptation of an old Bill Cosby cartoon, filled with colorful kids, music, fat suits, etc. How should a film like this end? With a bunch of kids lifting Fat Albert up on their shoulders? With a parade and streamers, or a freeze-frame as Fat Albert crosses the finish line in his shoddily-constructed soap box racer, with his nemesis—the wealthy, spoiled, cheating Farnsworth Greedsworth—in the background, covered in black exhaust smoke, and cursing his own broken-down derby racer? With a rap-off? Or…how about a plaintive moment where several old men–the real-life inspirations for the Fat Albert characters–slowly gather around the grave site of Albert Robertson, the real-life inspiration for Fat Albert himself. Yes, the Fat Albert your child has been watching dance, sing, and buck-buck his way through the last 90 minutes of this film IS ACTUALLY DEAD. And to prove it, here’s his grave. Also, in case you were curious, the other characters you’ve been tolerating in this film, while alive, are old, scary men who can barely walk. I think one of them had tubes in his nose. It’s like ending a live-action version of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” with a shot of a very old man in a Charlie Brown shirt, slumped in a wheelchair, where he’s remained since he was twelve years old and was paralyzed after being struck with a baseball during a little league game. It says a lot about Bill Cosby’s creative control when a major studio was willing to release a blockbuster children’s film with an ending that was borrowed from the final scene of Saving Private Ryan.

BLOCK-ROCKIN’ BLOCK PARTY ROCKS THE BLOCK

That would be the headline I’d use if writing about my street’s block party for The New York Post. If I were writing about the block party for Teen People Magazine, I’d probably go with something like BLOCK PARTIES ROCK! or BLOCK PARTY HEARTS ADAM BRODY. I don’t know, really. Teen People Magazine doesn’t cover the block party beat very thoroughly. In any case, last weekend was my street’s annual block party, and it did not disappoint in either the block or party departments. There were balloons.

There was also barbecued chicken and people eating weed brownies and a Brazilian man trying vainly to teach kids how about rhythmic percussion. My building was the main attraction for most of the afternoon, for reasons very closely associated with the aforementioned Brazilian and his large collection of drums and cymbals, which he seemed willing to share with any able-bodied child on the block. It was fun watching the musician teach his makeshift percussion orchestra. He would patiently tap out a beat on his large drum, then get small sections of kids to respond in kind. Once a beat was perfected by that group, he’d bang another beat, and a new section of kids would mimic it. He did this again and again, making sure each small part sounded great, as he slowly built his four-part rhythm. Then he would shout a four-count and all four parts to join in at once, creating possibly the most horrible, rhythmless car crash you could ever hope to hear. For hours. Right beneath my window. A window that separated the drum terrorism from me and my laptop, which I was using to meet a very urgent writing deadline.

Eventually, I allowed myself a break to join the party I’d been anticipating all summer. I was greeted by my upstairs neighbor, Dave—a very nice guy who shakes my hand a lot. That probably seems like a strange thing to call attention to. I could have said, “my upstairs neighbor, “Dave—he’s very tall, and I sometimes regard him as my physical protector,” or “Dave—he looks like Heavy D a year or two before the news of his heaviness became officially announced.” But Dave really does shake my hand a lot. Sometimes he’ll shake my hand hello and goodbye in the same 30-second exchange, then he’ll remember something else and, after he’s told me, he’ll shake my hand a third time. He also mixes up his handshake styles enough to keep me guessing, and to keep me feeling very awkward. Hard, lingering soulful grip? Fist bump? Quick slap? I usually just extend my fist and allow it to hang in the air while Dave has his way with it.

Dave worked the grill, which had been dragged from our building’s yard out to the fenced-in area where we leave our trash. For the day, our trash cage was our party cage, and our party cage was block party central. Everyone showed up to bang drums and scoop pasta salad like a motherfucker. In addition to the grill, Dave and his wife set up a table covered with food and plates and cups and such. (literally covered—moving one thing required moving several others and you had to approach the table like a game of Jenga, with perishables.) Hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled, as was something else because the barbecue tongs were caked with some kind of unidentified, chipped and barbecued meat that made for a very awkward experience when trying to move Lisa’s veggie dogs around the grill. But we didn’t complain, since we both felt like complaining was for self-entitled gentrifiers; real neighbors shut up because they know a little bit of animal flesh hitching a ride on a soy dog isn’t enough to rattle one’s party cage.

Our block association got the usual permission to pop open a fire hydrant, and children frolicked in the cool water as a sidewalk DJ blasted “Slap Some D’s On That Bitch” loud enough for Jesus to have second thoughts. But other than a DJ set, some Brazilian instruments, and those pot brownies everyone was whispering about, the block party was relaxed and slow, and friendly. It didn’t compare to the party a block over, which Lisa and I visited the previous weekend. They had a full day scheduled, including a talent show, chalk drawings, and a double-dutch contest. Lisa and I caught the last half of an exciting musical chairs competition, set up in the middle of the street. Instead of a wobbly record player borrowed from the school’s AV department, they had a stereo system with massive cabinet speakers, an XLR mic input, and a live MC officiating the event while performing musical cues on a thunderous hyphy hip-hop soundtrack. (At one point, the MC announced that he “had to” play the same song for a second round of musical chairs because “that song was just too damn hype.”) When a young teenaged girl won the competition, everyone went bananas, jumping up and down and screaming and hugging. And the MC declared, as loud as history, “We have a new champion in the Leffert’s Avenue Block Association 2007 Musical Chairs Competition!!!!”

People often measure how long you need to live in NYC to be a “real” New Yorker. It’s a dumb game, because the answer is invariably “exactly as long as I’ve been here, and much longer than you’ve been here.” I find it’s very trivial stuff, not unlike the way toddlers proudly add fractions to their age to magnify their life experience—and as with those toddlers, the exercise is unintentionally funny. The whole discussion of experience as measured by time is moot to me anyway, because if you’re in the right place at the right time, you only have to live in New York for five excellent minutes—just long enough to catch the thrilling end of the 2007 musical chairs competition—to feel like you’ve been here all your life.

BIG DEAL

So, apparently during their Lollapalooza concert (where they opened for The Soup Dragons and Ice-T’s Body Count), Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder improvised some anti-Bush lyrics during a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” This would have only been news on the online “Floyd Bootleg Tape Swap Newsgroup” if the set hadn’t been webcast by event sponsor AT&T, and if AT&T hadn’t decided to judiciously cut those anti-Bush lyrics from the webcast. Now it’s real person news. Eddie Vedder even sent a very long (surprise!) email to his fan group, explaining his disappointment in AT&T’s behavior, and encouraging fans to find and post other examples of censorship by AT&T.

Honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is. The anti-Bush sentiments weren’t even really that incendiary. You can find the uncensored live video on the Internet now but if you’d rather not sit through Pearl Jam covering “Another Brick in the Wall,” here’s all you’d be missing:

“We don’t need no education,
We don’t need no Bush control,
No dark sarcasm in the Bush-room,
Teachers, leave your Bush alone.

Hey! Bushbush! Leave Them Bush a-Bush!!”

(spoken)
“If you don’t eat yer Bush, you can’t have any Cheney. How can you
Abu-Ghraib any Cheney if you don’t Bush yer WMD insurgents?”

Pick up a newspaper, Vedder!

WHERE THE COREYS WENT WRONG (A 478-PART SERIES)

After watching the first episode of A&E’s The Two Coreys, I knew I would never watch it again. I realize that’s a very easy statement to make, and probably (hopefully) one that many other viewers have made and will honor. However, my reasons were very particular. It wasn’t because the show is being packaged like a sitcom, when it is much more obviously a “sad-com.” It wasn’t because of how obviously staged and awkwardly resolved every conflict is in the show. (The premiere episode included the following three scenes in quick succession, without any development between them: A) Corey Haim is feeling “messed up” and decides he needs to step outside Corey Feldman’s house and “take a walk”; B) Corey Feldman and his wife, Susie, sit on their couch together and wonder, out loud, if Corey Haim is going to be OK because he seemed “messed up”; C) Corey Haim, who has no job and probably not much money, returns from his walk with an expensive vase in a Tiffany’s box—a very-belated wedding present for Feldman and his wife. Really? Corey Feldman’s mansion is right around the corner from Tiffany’s? Haim just walked a few blocks to Tiffany’s? And dropped several thousand dollars on, of all things, a sort of tasteful crystal vase? That’s how Corey Haim’s mind works? Wouldn’t it have been a bit more believable if he’d returned with a gift card for Armani Exchange or Jamba Juice?) And it wasn’t because all the shots of the Coreys shade-tippin’ in leather jackets upset my delicate stomach.

I had to stop watching the show out of a very personal frustration, after realizing the producers had squandered an opportunity to create the best celebrity reality show in television history. I mean this sincerely. I’ll explain.

At the beginning of the first episode, the Coreys are invited to attend a special 20th anniversary screening of their masterwork, The Lost Boys. Forget that the screening was obviously manufactured by the show’s producers, and was held in what looked like a Boy’s Club auditorium in Schenectady, NY. Or that, at one point, Feldman explained to an audience member that he would consider doing a sequel to The Lost Boys “only if it were done right” i.e. with a camera that wasn’t built from a cardboard toilet paper roll taped to an empty box of Crunch n’ Munch, and painted black. The most salient piece of information to come out of that screening was a suggestion, from one of the Coreys, that they write the sequel to The Lost Boys themselves.

When I heard that, I was riveted. I thought, “Oh, that’s pretty smart. The whole arc of this show will be the Coreys (and the third, less handsome, less formerly drug-addicted Frog Brother) hammering out a script for The Lost Boys 2, and trying to sell it as their comeback film.” The best and most realistic scene in the premiere episode of The Two Coreys was watching them sitting around Feldman’s kitchen table, spitballing the plot of The Lost Boys 2. Haim following up his meandering, unfocused idea about “limited psychic vampire powers” with the statement, “Wait. I have one more totally awesome idea,” showed so much promise. Imagine a whole season of that.

Now, take the “revelatory” scene at the end of the episode where Feldman confesses that Lost Boys 2 is actually in the works, as a straight-to-DVD feature, and that he’s been asked to cameo—but Haim hasn’t!!—and pretend it never happened. It was a cheap device anyway, greedily played for a brief moment of tears, but it represented very short-term thinking on the part of the show’s producers. WHAT IF…Corey Feldman hadn’t known about Lost Boys 2, either? It would be very easy to keep that information from him. What if neither of them knew? And the entire season of the show was devoted to the two Coreys brainstorming, scripting, calling former friends to lock down casting, and then pitching LOST BOYS 2? And then, in the final episode, the producers shoot a scene where the Coreys are at a Blockbuster video and see, on the new releases shelf right next to Leprechaun in Tha Hood 3: The Glimmering, a copy of the straight-to-DVD film, Lost Boys 2? While the Coreys have just spent 13 episodes writing and pitching their own version of it, calling in favors, burning bridges, getting into arguments, hinging all their hope on the new script—the film already existed as some junky DVD with a bunch of soap opera actors and hip-hop artist, The Game? The mind reels.

I don’t wish any additional harm to befall either of the Coreys, but it would have been so easy to keep those guys in the dark. Their combined commitment to fantasy is so rich and enormous that it blots out any real sense of reality. They wouldn’t conduct research. They’d just plow forward with their script in total ignorance, and it would have been amazing. Like Windy City Heat, with somewhat known actors, instead of a shrieking homeless man. Instead, though, A&E has decided to follow the absolutely winning box office smash formula of You, Me and Dupree and, as a result, American TV viewers have lost something very, very precious.

ON THE AISLE

Two men discussing the movie 300, in line at the supermarket:

MAN 1: Yo, them niggas was fierce.

MAN 2: I’m sayin’…that was like 1,000 of them Spartan niggas up against like 100,000 of them other niggas.

MAN 1: Nah, nah, man. There was 300 of them Spartan niggas.

MAN 2: I don’t think so. I seen it and there was something’ like, a thousand niggas and shit. But they was up against 100,000 of them niggas. That is some crazy sh—

MAN 1: Nah, man. I think they was just 300 of thems.

MAN 2: I don’t know about that, dude.

MAN 1: Yeah, man, that’s why they called that shit 300. ‘Cause it was something like 300 of them Spartan niggas.

MAN 2: For real? Aight. But damn. Knowwhati’msayin’?

MAN 1: You know what? This is why I love you, man.

MAN 2: Huh?

MAN 1: I don’t know. It’s, like, your little idiosyncrasies and shit. I think them shits is adorable.

MAN 2: For real, man? I can’t look you in the eyes right now, son, because I feel like I’d just fall right inside them and get all fuckin’ lost forever and shit.

MAN 1: You know you my nigga, right? You got my heart.

MAN 2: True. You not only my lover, son. You be like my best nigga, too. Damn, son. Damn.

MAN 1: (to others in line) What you got something wrong with your eyes, motherfuckers? You ain’t never seen two gangstas talkin’ about movies before?

(This is when I ran out of the store.)

Homepage photo: Lindsey Byrnes
Site design & code: Erik Frick