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by Bill Gibron

22 Apr 2008

Poor Patrick Smash was born with a problem: a gas problem. You see, he has two stomachs, and his overactive digestion produces an excess amount of colon blow. From the time he was an infant to his current pre-teen years, Patrick has been one incredibly farty fiend. He farts day and night. He farts in school. He farts in private. And it’s caused him nothing but trouble. His father leaves the family because of it. The bullies pick on him over his continuous crack coughs. Even the teachers dismiss the needy child on account of his active ass. But when our sad little lad meets up with science geek Alan A. Allen, the two become best friends for life.

Unfortunately, their camaraderie is challenged when the U.S. government whisks Alan off to help with a space station malfunction. Hoping to locate his pal, Patrick joins up with an opera singer who wants to use the boy’s butthole as a means of obtaining vocal heights (don’t ask). When that ends badly, our poot prodigy winds up in the hands of Uncle Sam as well. Turns out, his tushy produces the perfect rocket fuel to send Alan’s specially designed rocket into the stratosphere. Even better, Patrick will be able to live out his lifelong dream - he has always wanted to be an astronaut. Too bad his Thunderpants kept getting in the way. Now, for once, they won’t.

Thunderpants is a one-joke movie that decides to abandon said gag about 20 minutes in for some routine Roald Dahl-like misadventures. When focused on the farting - yes, this film is really just an extended barking spider spoof with half-baked kid-lit fantasies thrown in for unequal measure—the movie mostly works. But once it decides to warm to the whimsy, everything falls apart. Granted, the humor is coarse, and forced through a decidedly British concept of comedy, meaning there’s lots of personal embarrassment and exaggerated freakishness to be found. This is the kind of film that wants audiences to laugh at oversized bullies cold-cocking the decidedly dorky heroes, to celebrate the inhuman stench coming out of a little boy’s bottom, and cheer as he uses his multifaceted flatulence to show up his enemies and win the day.

Such a concept is not without its charms. When handled correctly, the air biscuit can be a beautiful thing. Its combination of sound and sour substance has been known to leave many a listener doubled over in uncontrollable snickering. It’s the pre-schoolers’ first foray into funny business, an art form to adolescents, an adult’s primary form of non-erotic bonding, and the elderly’s personal entertainment element for the grandkids. But here, writer/director Peter Hewitt (working with co-writer Phil Hughes) decides to do away with the butt trumpet early on, focusing instead on a bizarre opera singer subplot, and then the movie’s main mission, using poor Patrick Smash’s overactive alimentary canal as a means of saving some space shuttle astronauts. With Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint along as uber-nerd Alan A. Allen, we’re stuck with not one but three storylines that basically don’t work.

Let’s take them one at a time, shall we. First, there is Patrick Smash’s personal predicament. Granted, it’s pretty hysterical when an infant version of our hero basically blasts away for 10 minutes straight. From the moment he’s born to the second his father leaves, tired of putting up with the nonstop sphincter popping, Hewitt has us in toilet-humor titters. But like many English fantasies, things turn dark rather quickly. Mom starts pounding the sauce, and the school tormenters go to outrageous extremes to undermine Patrick. After a while - the aforementioned 20 minutes - Thunderpants is no longer funny. It’s sad, dour, and kind of cruel.

Even when Patrick discovers Alan (a boy who can tolerate his toots because of a defective nose), their friendship is fragile and very desperate. It makes us wonder what will happen next - and then the singer storyline kicks in. Embodied by U.K. luminary Simon Callow, this oversized vocal egotist employs Patrick to hit the high notes in an impossible aria, the goal being international acclaim and the title of world’s number-one tenor. Naturally, it makes no sense, as does our lead’s ability to fart like a singing voice (where’s La Petomane when you need him?). But things really go out of whack when Patrick is charged with murder - huh? - and ends up on trial. The courtroom material is not clever, and wastes the sizable talents of Brit wit Stephen Fry. Before we know it, however, the U.S. government is stepping in, and Patrick is off to lend his anal gas to the Red, White, and Blue.

It’s the transition over to action man mode than really fails Thunderpants. We discover that Alan has been working on an engine which mimics Patrick’s two-stomach situation, but thanks to some bumbling adults (the research staff of this NASA-like agency is all brainiac kids), the system has failed. So Mr. Russet Gusset must sit in a toilet-like booster seat on the space shuttle and literally “blast” the rocket into orbit. This is all taken with tongue-in-cheek seriousness, mind you. Ned Beatty plays the God-fearing director of the agency, his occasionally inappropriate remarks (“this boy’s a fruit,” “this boy’s a tool”) explained away as misconstrued religious musings. He’s matched in shame by Paul Giamatti, skinnier than we’ve seen him in a while (the film is five years old, after all) and doing the straight-laced secret agent bit to the 40th degree.

Of course, everything is warm and fuzzy - and apparently quite odiferous - in the end, with our hated human oddities the celebrated saviors of the day, and everyone who ever wronged them gathered up for a pre-credit grab at a piece of the pair’s fame. The unsuccessful melding of the sentimental with the slapstick, the sincere with the scatological makes Thunderpants nearly impossible to enjoy. In fact, it’s so mannered in its presentation (Patrick overuses certain supposedly clever catchphrases over and over and over again) that it’s hard to imagine kids being the least bit interested - at least, after the ass-gas blasting takes a bum burp backseat.

by Mike Schiller

22 Apr 2008

The time is right.  The time is now.

Please, Cliff Johnson, won’t you release A Fool and His Money?

Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.

Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.

Once upon a time, I bought an Amiga from a friend of mine for $300.  It seemed like an incredible deal at the time, given that he threw in something like 60 games for the thing, including some impressive technology show-off type games like Dragon’s Lair and Speedball.  Damn, I loved me some Speedball.  What I was coming to realize was that computers could do things that consoles at the time could only dream of, and the possibilities intrigued me.

Of course, finding out that I had to go to a specialty store to buy my Amiga games was kind of a buzzkill.

Regardless, one of the first games I ever came home with from that very store was The Fool’s Errand, which I mostly bought because its cover said it won some kind of award and my dad thought it looked good (and because it was one of the only new-ish games at the time that my Amiga, maxed out at a piddly 512K of RAM, could handle).  It turned out to be one of those games.

by Nikki Tranter

22 Apr 2008

Steven Vander Ark

Steven Vander Ark

Judge in Potter case isn’t a fan
Judge Robert Patterson, heading up the case involving J.K. Rowling’s attempt to stop publication of a Harry Potter lexicon guide, thinks Rowling writes gibberish.

The Age reports he was overheard telling a witness he found the books “complex”.

I’m adoring this story more and more. I’m absolutely on Ms. Rowling’s side—these are her creations and if she doesn’t want Steven Vander Ark to put out what she considers a great plundering of her work, that’s up to her. Still, this whole case is just becoming a bit of a comedy.

In this article, Vander Ark is reported as sobbing as he spoke of being a “pariah within the Harry Potter community”, and almost no news source can resist comparing Vander Ark to Potter himself. The comparison, truth be told, is rather unsettling.

And then there’s the melodrama of the whole thing. The Wall Street Journal recently carried this quote from Rowling: “Should my fans be flooded with a surfeit of substandard books—so-called lexicons—I’m not sure I’d have the will or heart to continue.”

I wonder why she’s up in arms about this one, when there are already heaps of these books around—field guides, idiot guides, trivia books, etc. I’d say the flood is already beyond her control.

Dan Barker likes choice
Barker discusses the amount of books published per year, and how he decides which ones to read:

Of course, nothing says we have to read every book, and we should remember that most of those are aimed at specific niche markets like business industries, come from little-known or even disreputable publishers or are the result of self-publishing. Their value may be limited or nil, although there are some great self-published books out there.

Apparently, Dan can speed read, and is going to discuss the pros and cons of that process in a future column. I will be looking out for that. I’m wondering—is speed-reading like watching movies in fast-forward? You get the gist, but not the meat? I guess we’ll find out soon.

Joanne Harris like anchovy toast and Korean horror films
Harris, author of Chocolat, reveals other wacky things in the Independent‘s mini-interview.

Karen Joy Fowler likes Jimmy Smits and Veronica Mars
Fowler tells Reuters she enjoyed the film version of The Jane Austen Book Club, and based her latest book, Wit’s End, on her experience traversing Veronica Mars fansites and blogs.

I was struck with how unhappy the fans were with the writers. The fans were outraged when the writers who made the characters up didn’t seem to have the same sense of who those characters were. I thought it was fascinating how much ownership the fans felt over the characters, and their need to protect them from the people who’d actually made them up.

Wit’s End features a novelist concerned about the levels to which her fans are directing her stories.

The book’s plot reminds me of the time Aaron Sorkin got so pissy at a website that criticized elements of his The West Wing that he wrote the site into the show (episode “The US Poet Laureate”), and bashed it.

Interestingly, the same website was embraced by Veronica Mars creators who apparently used it to find out exactly what the fans wanted from the show. I don’t know what I think of that. It’s interesting on the one hand, but who wants to put the fate of these beloved characters into the hands of some forum posters? Imagine if movie producers asked the same thing on posters at the IMDb? It’s the stuff of nightmares.

At least, I guess, the blogs stop fans from kidnapping and hobbling authors to get what they want.

Bill Bryson hates litter
Bryson is heading up the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which wants tougher penalties for litterbugs. The BBC quotes Bryson:

I think what’s happened here is that people are leading different lifestyles. People are eating on the run now and increasingly dispensing of the packaging out of the car windows but we are clearing it up as if it was 25 years ago … Litter is becoming the default condition of the countryside. It is time that we—all of us—did something about it. The landscape is too lovely to trash.

James Patterson likes giving new authors a chance to make money, but not necessarily to be creative
Patterson tells the Palm Beach Daily News all about his new book, Sunday at Tiffany’s, co-written with children’s author Gabrielle Charbonnet. We’ve discussed before at Re:Print how Patterson “co-writes”—he comes up with an outline, describing exactly what must go into each and every chapter. Then he passes that outline along to a new or aspiring writer and has them flesh it all out.

In this article, the author reveals how the new writer will do one draft, hand it back, and Patterson will complete the final drafts before submitting to the publisher.

So, what does that other writer do exactly?

On criticism of this method, the Daily News report continues:

“We’re hung up in this country about individualism,” said Patterson, who compares his collaborative process for writing novels to the traditionally accepted manner in which film and television writers develop their products. “Why can’t a book be created this way?” Of course, with his celebrated status and reputation for enormous sales, it’s also a means for Patterson to give a lesser-known or aspiring writer an opportunity to break into the best-seller league — and earn what he describes as a “nice” amount of money.

He wants me to hate him, right?

by Terry Sawyer

22 Apr 2008

“Come on Baby Say Bang”
by Jane Vain and the Dark Matter

All You Pretty Boys and Girls are all breaking my heart/ They all look so cool that I can hardly tell them apart/ They’re all looking for a little love, power, and control

Let’s stamp the night with vigor/ Whose guns are bigger?/ You can put yours right between my eyes honey/ If you promise to pull the trigger

There are so many admirable turns of phrase and mood in this song that it’s hard to pare them down to a just a few. The nihilistic confidence of the female narrator seethes with equal parts flirtation and crosshair curses. “Stamp the night with vigor” has to be one of my favorite ways of saying “let’s have a good time” because it’s so territorial and domineering as if to say we should cattle brand the evening so that every claim to joy has our signature at its root. Vigor also sounds like such an aristocratic adjective, reeking of equestrian competition and absinthe poured through a slotted spoon onto a sugar cube. As a curmudgeon, I love songs that manage to be blow out clouds of toxic disdain while keeping the rhythm hip-swiveling, finger popping, the very portrait of antiseptic coolness. I reminded of the Kills in the way that the song’s narrator undercuts each compliment with an insult, noting the beauty of the crowd, the homogeneous, robotic beauty. She also impugns any motives that they might have for being fans in the crowd in the first place, noting that the admiration we have for musicians is just as much love as it is a desire to see them fail for failing to fulfill us as passive participants in the performance. Top that off with some good old fashioned suicidal ideation, in the line begging for someone to show the depth of their bravado by putting a bullet hole between her eyes and you have a track that’s a tangle of seduction, snare and psychosis. For a song that sounds like a lilac strewn stroll through a Renaissance Fair, it is indeed a dark and disturbing world.

by Robin Cook

22 Apr 2008

Chicago’s Smog Veil prides itself on its catalog of “underground, challenging, unknown, and/or bombastic rock ’n’ roll.” (Label artists include the legendary Pere Ubu.) Now Smog Veil has a new challenge: becoming an eco-friendly record label and setting an example for the rest of the industry. Co-owner Frank Mauceri tells more.—Robin Cook

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"Speed is the pornography of video games. Like adding skin to a film, adding speed to a game isn't usually about making the game a more thoughtful experience. It is about exciting its audience's instincts on the most visceral level possible.

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