Friday, August 15, 2014

Godzilla Resurrectus

Just as some people love Elvis while others prefer The Beatles, there are two camps of giant monster fans: those who adore King Kong and those who prefer Godzilla. I'm squarely on team Godzilla. The gene that makes people love giant ape movies? I don't have it. Monkeys just aren't that interesting to me. They're like uglier, harrier people, with less impulse control. They like to pee on each other and play with their own poo, and they have a bad habit of ripping people's testicles off just for fun, which is scary, but not in a cool way.

With the sole exception of Mighty Peking Man, giant ape movies usually bore me witless. And that includes King Kong and it's myriad spinoffs and ripoffs. Another notable exception is the woeful The Mighty Gorga, only because it is the crappiest, most miserable excuse for a giant ape movie in the long, interminable history of giant ape movies, which makes it perversely entertaining.

Reptiles are far more exotic and diverse. The larger carnivorous varieties may attack you if they're feeling hungry or territorial and you've had the bad sense to blunder into their personal space, but at least they won't try to rip your nuts off just for the hell of it. Reptiles are definitely cooler. The bigger the better. And they don't get much bigger--or cooler--than Godzilla.

I like "the big green guy," as Godzilla is unofficially known, even though he's not actually green as far as I can tell. During the course of my life, I've probably seen every Godzilla movie ever made, and while I hardly consider myself an expert, I will say this--and I say it with love--most Godzilla movies suck. They just do. Even the so-called "good ones." It's simply a question of the degree of suckage. Some Godzilla movies obviously suck more than others, however the magnificent 1954 original notwithstanding, nobody has yet made a Godzilla movie that doesn't suck on some level. The trick to watching Godzilla movies is not minding that they suck, or to limit oneself to those movies that don't suck so badly that they give you a headache, which weeds out quite a few of them.

It's not really Godzilla's fault that so many of his movies suck. Godzilla--or more specifically, the idea of Godzilla--is actually pretty cool, however filmmakers often don't seem to know what to do with him. For much of his career, he's been treated like one of those former Saturday Night Live comedians who keeps getting cast in crummy movies. I don't hold Godzilla responsible for Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) any more than I blame Dana Carvey for The Master of Disguise (2002), or Mike Myers for The Love Guru (2008). I just kept hoping that one day they would put him in a half-assed movie again.

Gojira 1954 photo Gojira_1954_animation_004_zpsd0d86a2f.gif
(Image: Toho Company, Ltd.)
Now, after decades of wallowing in the horse latitudes of B-moviedom, Godzilla has finally been given a major makeover thanks to Legendary Pictures and British  director Gareth Edwards, a former BBC digital effects artist who was hired mostly on the strength of his previous film, Monsters (2014), a terrific indie creature feature remarkable for its epic look in spite of having been shot on a shoestring budget, with Edwards having done all of the digital effects himself on a personal computer in his apartment.

Critical response to the new Godzilla has been mostly positive, while die-hard fans have enthusiastically embraced Gareth's reboot as a welcome palate-cleanser after Tristar's campy 1998 Godzilla directed by Roland Emmerich, which is notable chiefly for being one of the most reviled installments of any major film franchise. (Disgruntled fans nicknamed the iguana-like title character GINO - "Godzilla In Name Only".)

As of Aug. 4, Legendary's Godzilla has earned over $200 million domestically, and over $300 million overseas. Meanwhile, Gareth Edwards has already been signed to direct two sequels. And it looks as though the "big green guy" is finally getting some long-overdue respect. But how did this decades-long journey begin? What is Godzilla, where did he come from, and how did he become such an indelible part of our popular culture?

The strange saga began sixty years ago, with a series of spectacular natural and manmade disasters as bizarre and terrifying as Godzilla himself...

Next: From Hell it Came: The Origins of Godzilla

Related links:

Godzilla, Box Office Mojo

Godzilla (2014)
(Image: Legendary Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures)

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Bossa Nova Genius of Sylvia Telles...

Probably nobody did more in the 1950s and 60s to popularize samba and bossa nova music than the Brazilian singer Sylvia Telles, who was already a star on the Latin American music scene, and was on the verge of international stardom when she was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 32, after recording her fifth album. Though many people aren't familiar with her name, she was a brilliant singer and performer who was enormously influential on other Latin American singers, such as Astrud Gilberto.

The legendary singer/musician/songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote one of his most famous songs, "Dindi" specifically for Sylvia, because that was her nickname in Portuguese. (The word is pronounced "Jin-Jee.") The song has been recorded many times over the years,however the best version is still the plaintive and heartfelt version that Sylvia herself recorded before she was killed.

Above is a very rare film clip of a live 1967 concert with Slyvia singing two iconic Samba songs, "Samba Torto" and "One Note Samba," accompanied by Rosinha de Valenca, who was considered one of the  greatest acoustic guitarists in Brazilian music. 

Below is Sylvia singing "Dindi," the song that was written specifically for her by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Guitarist Rosinha de Valenca went on to record with such music heavyweights as Sergio Mendes, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, and Henry Mancini, making records well into the late 1970s. She eventually had to stop performing due to health problems, and in 1992 suffered a major
heart attack that left her severely brain damaged. She lived for 12 more years in a vegetative state, finally dying of respiratory failure in 2004.

Here's to Sylvia Telles and Rosinha de Valenca, two of the amazing women of music who've made our world a better place for having been a part of it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Weasel That Cooked Its Lunch

Mink (image: user "MWanner," Wikipedia)
According to an intriguing BBC documentary, the cooking of food was the primary technological development that made us human. Cooking made our food softer and easier to chew, allowing our jaws to adapt to the more sophisticated functions associated with verbal communication. Cooking also allowed us to digest our food more efficiently, providing a dramatic increase in nutrition that allowed our brains to grow larger, accelerating our development into the super-species we are today.

The washing of food is an activity that humans share with many other animals, from raccoons to baboons. It's easy to do, and doesn't require much in the way of brainpower. Cooking food is a little different. It involves the controlled application of fire or heat, and is a sophisticated activity requiring high levels of intelligence and manual dexterity. The conventional wisdom is that humans are the only animals with the mental and physical equipment to pull it off, however there are a couple of animals we know of that apparently didn't get the memo.

One of them is Kanzi, a highly intelligent bonobo who is able to use matches and lighters to start his own campfires for roasting marshmallows. But he doesn't really count, because he was diligently taught what to do by his human minders at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. In the wild, left to his own devices, he never would have figured it out.

There is one animal, however, that apparently has. A curious and unlikely creature that has taught itself how to cook. For real.

Mink angling for trout at Missouri state hatchery*
About 6 miles southwest of Branson, Missouri--home of Roy Clark and Mel Tillis (yes, they're still alive)--is Shepherd of the Hills Fishery, a large trout-farming facility operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The fishery's raceways are an irresistible lure for small predators who are drawn to the teaming schools of wriggling, splashing trout. Chief among these is the American Mink (Neovison vison), a slender, brown, semi-aquatic member of the weasel family indigenous to Alaska, Canada, and the western United States.

The mink is an opportunistic carnivore that will eat almost anything that moves. Crabs, frogs, rats, rabbits, insects, and even birds are all on the menu. Minks are especially skilled at hunting muskrat, which, accordingly to American naturalist Elliott Coues, they will pursue underwater and kill in their burrows.

However, much like their mustelid cousin the otter, what Minks prefer over anything else is fish. Tender, succulent, fresh-caught fish. Hence their attraction for the Missouri state hatchery, where they are frequently spotted fetching trout out of the raceways.

Catching the fish is one thing, cooking it is quite another, however at least one of the minks appears to have mastered the art.

About two years ago, hatchery director James Civiello was driving his truck when he began to smell the unmistakeable aroma of frying fish. Returning to his office at Shepherd of the Hills, he was surprised to see a lone trout lying next to his parking space. When he got out of the truck, the smell of cooking fish was even stronger, and seemed to be coming from the engine compartment. Popping the hood, he was surprised to find a dozen rainbow trout roasting to a crispy turn on his engine block. 

Weasel haute cuisine: engine-block roasted trout*
Convinced that he had been pranked by one of his crew, Civiello forgot about the incident until he caught the culprit red-handed, at it again. Returning from an early morning inspection of the spillways, Civiello was startled to see a large mink scampering out of his truck's engine compartment. Popping the hood, he was astonished to find half a dozen freshly-caught trout arranged on the engine block. 

At some point, this particular mink had made the pleasing discovery that cooked rainbow trout was tastier and easier to eat than raw fish. Which, in and of itself, is not that unusual. What's remarkable is that he figured out how to cook it himself. He didn't know how to build a fire, but he was smart enough to know that he needed a heat source, so he made use of the only available resource: the engine block of Civiello's truck.

And we think we're so smart...

*images: Missouri Dept. of Conservation     

Sources & related articles: 

"Trout a la Mink," Jim Low, MDC Online 

Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, Missouri Dept. of Conservation 

"Fur-Bearing Animals: A Monograph of North American Mustelidae," Elliott Coues, Government Printing Office (Internet Archive)

"Did Cooking Make Us Human? (BBC Documentary)," EvolutionDocumentary channel, Youtube

Monday, August 20, 2012

Intelligent Bonobo Cooks Marshmallows

One of the world's smartest creatures is a bonobo named Kanzi, who has been studying at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. In addition to having intelligent conversations with humans by means of a complex vocabulary of symbols, Kanzi is able to make a campfire and cook his own food. This video depicts Kanzi building a fire and roasting marshmallows. Afterward, he puts the fire out with a bottle of water--but not before taking a tasty swig. (Video by Barcroft Media.)

Astounding Chimp Thinks Faster Than Humans

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Did Van Gogh Cover Up For His Own Killers?

On the 123rd anniversary of the death of Vincent van Gogh, CBS's 60 Minutes re-aired this engrossing segment (originally aired in 2011), in which Morley Safer reveals some astonishing, little-known facts about the troubled life and mysterious death of the world's most famous painter. The linchpin of Safer's report is the meticulously researched book Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, the Pulitzer prize-winning authors of Jackson Pollock: An American Saga

One of the most surprising revelations is that Van Gogh didn't commit suicide as commonly thought, but may have been shot by a couple of boys who had been tormenting him.

"Working with the full cooperation of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Naifeh and Smith have accessed a wealth of previously untapped materials. While drawing liberally from the artist’s famously eloquent letters, they have also delved into hundreds of unpublished family correspondences, illuminating with poignancy the wanderings of Van Gogh’s troubled, restless soul. Naifeh and Smith bring a crucial understanding to the larger-than-life mythology of this great artist—his early struggles to find his place in the world; his intense relationship with his brother Theo; his impetus for turning to brush and canvas; and his move to Provence, where in a brief burst of incandescent productivity he painted some of the best-loved works in Western art.

The authors also shed new light on many unexplored aspects of Van Gogh’s inner world: his deep immersion in literature and art; his erratic and tumultuous romantic life; and his bouts of depression and mental illness.

Though countless books have been written about Van Gogh, and though the broad outlines of his tragedy have long inhabited popular culture, no serious, ambitious examination of his life has been attempted in more than seventy years. Naifeh and Smith have re-created Van Gogh’s life with an astounding vividness and psychological acuity that bring a completely new and sympathetic understanding to this unique artistic genius whose signature images of sunflowers and starry nights have won a permanent place in the human imagination."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Eye Of The Storm

One of our favorite videos, Soapbox Films' dreamy steampunk video for Lovett's Eye of the Storm . (Also be sure and check out the "making of" video.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Three Stooges

Curly (Will Sasso) having an epic shellfish malfunction 
(image: 20th Century Fox/C3 Entertainment)
IF THE BEST COMEDY is derived from exaggerated misery, that would go a long way toward explaining the unflagging appeal of The Three Stooges, who, nearly fifty years after their last film, remain one of the most popular and beloved comedy acts of all time. 

Physical humor is an effective form of comedy because it needs no interpretation. Pratfalls and sight gags transcend the barriers of language and culture. The key to the Stooges' universal appeal lay in their canny realization that there wasn't a person alive who hadn't chuckled at some know-it-all who hits his own thumb while demonstrating the proper use of a hammer. The boys understood the comic value of pain, and elevated personal injury to an elaborately choreographed art form. 

The absurd levels of violence inflicted upon the seemingly indestructible Larry, Moe and Curly--usually by each other--would be horrifying if it weren't for the comical sound effects. Stooges films were like comedy movies by Sam Peckinpah, without the gore. Case in point: the following excruciating clip from their notorious 1943 short, They Stooge to Conga, in which Moe gets a spike in the eye and Curly gets a little impromptu rhinoplasty with a grinding wheel:

FOR YEARS, Hollywood has flirted with the idea of reviving the Stooges with a new set of actors, however given the gruesome track record of vintage franchises "re-imagined" for modern audiences, the prospects seemed grim. One need look only as far as The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy: For Love or Mummy (1999), starring Bronson Pinchot and Gailard Sartain--which critic Richard Scheib listed as one of the "worst movies of 1999"--in order to appreciate the potential pitfalls.

Not-so-fine mess: Pinchot and Sartrain as Laurel & Hardy
Despite the inherent perils, Hollywood can't seem to resist dusting off its dead funnymen (and women) from time to time in order to shake a little more flour out of the old sack. Sprightly, acid-tongued curmudgeon W.C. Fields got a glum makeover by way of Rod Steiger in the torpid, brooding, W.C. Fields and Me (1976), while the beautiful, funny Thelma Todd was subjected to even shabbier indignities in the godawful TV movie White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd (1991) starring Loni Anderson, formerly of WKRP in Cincinnati. Robert Downey, Jr. fared a little better in Chaplin (1992), but only because it seems to be impossible for him to give a bad performance in anything.  

The problem with most films about "Hollywood legends" is that they usually suck. This probably has to do with Hollywood's baffling penchant for shoehorning legendary characters into dreary, cliché-ridden biopics that tell us as little about the real person as they do about the talent that made them a legend, Chaplin notwithstanding.

Official Three Stooges logo (C3 Entertainment)
INITIAL RUMORS of a new Three Stooges movie invoked visions of a sappy Lifetime biopic in which the boys struggle with money and fame while trying to hold their marriages together. Blah, blah, blah. Or worse, a bloated star vehicle in which Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler plays all three Stooges thanks to the miracle of CGI and prosthetic makeup. You laugh, but I'll bet they've both pitched the idea. (When I first heard about the project, I prayed that neither Murphy nor Sandler would be allowed within rifle range of the script--unless it was on an actual rifle range.)

Can't take them anywhere: Larry (Sean Hayes), Curly (Will Sasso, with head submerged), and Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos) in The Three Stooges (image: 20th Century Fox/C3 Entertainment)
Word that Bobby and Peter Farrelly were behind project was reassuring; that it wouldn't be a biopic but rather a full-on comedy feature--i.e., an actual "Three Stooges movie"--was even more interesting. And it made sense. With a film catalog that includes such films as Dumb and Dumber (1994), Kingpin (1996), and Me, Myself and Irene (2000), the Farrelly brothers have essentially been doing Stooges movies their entire career. Their films are frequently disgusting and often sophomoric--as Roger Ebert observed, "Good taste is not their strong suit"--however few other filmmakers are capable of making audiences laugh as loudly or consistently. The funniest movie I had seen prior to Borat (2006) was 1998's There's Something About Mary. If anyone could pull off a Stooges movie, I thought, it would be the Farrelly brothers.

image: Caroline Bonarde Ucci
AS THE PROJECT wended its way through development, strange casting rumors began to swirl, some of which were so spectacularly insane, they could only have been leaked as part of a disinformation campaign by somebody with a twisted sense of humor. (Say, one of the Farrellys?) The most bizarre of these was that big, pumped up, bull-chested Russell Crowe was being considered for the role of the diminutive, chimp-like Moe Howard, which would be only slightly less ridiculous than casting Arnold Schwarzeneggar as Einstein.

image:Étienne André
According to The Atlantic Wire, a year later--around March 2009--more leg-pulls were the order of the day when the snickering Farrellys elbowed each other and "announced" to gullible journalists that Russell Crowe had been replaced by Benicio del Toro as Moe, and that Larry and Curly would be played by Sean Penn and Jim Carrey respectively. MTV News called it "the most bizarre casting revelations in recent Hollywood memory."

Sean Penn as Larry? Lanky, dimpled, button-eyed Jim Carrey as Curly? Ridiculous! But the Farrellys knew that, of course, which is why they continued to prank us. Next thing you know, del Toro and Carrey were out, along with Sean Penn, who was replaced by Paul Giamatti--who was subsequently replaced by Sean Penn again, who later dropped out yet again.  Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson, Justin Timberlake and Larry David were all reportedly jostling to play Larry.

Dueling Larrys?: (L-R) Sean Penn, Paul Giamatti, Woody Harrelson, Justin Timberlake, Larry David (see additional photo credits at end of page)

Were the Farrellys yanking our chains? Who knows. Given the avalanche of coverage that's been lavished on the story, it's possible they wanted to play their cards close to the vest. In any case, when the smoke cleared, their final casting choices were as brilliant as they were unexpected: Moe would be played by Chris Diamantopoulos, Curly by Will Sasso, and Larry by Sean Hayes--three of the funniest, most wildly talented young actors in Hollywood. That they are all relatively new to the big screen isn't a bad thing, because it means viewers won't be prejudiced by any preconceived expectations that would normally accompany the attachment of some massive A-list movie star to the project. (Diamantopoulos, Sasso and Hayes may not be household names at the moment, but I suspect they soon will be.)


"Moe" (Chris Diamantopoulos)

The Two Moes: Moe Howard (left) and Chris Diamantopoulos (right) (image: 20th Century Fox/C3 Entertainment
IN HOLLYWOOD, superlatives are overused to the point of meaninglessness, however it's hard to think of an actor more deserving of the hyperbole than Chris Diamantopolous, who will be leading the famous trio of knuckleheads as their perennially cranky ringleader, Moe.

(image: David Shankbone)
Diamantopoulos began acting at the age of nine and never stopped. He has appeared in, among other things, two Broadways shows (Les Miserables, The Full Monty), three theatrical films (Wedding Daze, Three Days to Vegas, Under New Management) and dozens of television shows (Nip/Tuck, The Sopranos, Boston Legal, etc.,), where he's played everything from a no-nonsense presidential press secretary (24) to an over-the-top, Fernando Lama-esque restauranteur (Up All Night). However, it was Diamantopoulos's jaw-dropping star turn as Robin Williams in the 2005 biopic, Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of 'Mork and Mindy', that showcased his astonishing talents. He channeled Williams so completely that some viewers forgot they were not watching the real Robin Williams. It's an extraordinary performance, that earned him Gemini and Prism Award nominations the following year. (He should've won an Emmy.)

(Above) Chris Diamantopoulos channels Robin Williams in the award-winning 2005 NBC biopic Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of 'Mork and Mindy' (part 1 of 8) 

ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT THINGS for any actor to do is to portray another performer, especially an icon whose every gesture and inflection are indelibly burned into our consciousness. It takes more than just looking like that person, or "pretending" to be them. One must be able to submerge the self and disappear into that character. In the new Three Stooges trailer, the chameleon-like Diamantopoulos does just that with an uncanny rendition of Moe, using no makeup other than the signature mop haircut. He somehow even manages to make himself look shorter and stockier; when he orders Curly (Will Sasso) to "come here!", he perfectly replicates the famous Moe growl. Hilarious!  

"Curly" (Will Sasso)

The original Curly Howard (left) and Will Sasso (right)
IT ISN'T NECESSARY to be a serial killer to play one in the movies, but drama isn't nearly as difficult as comedy, and if one is playing a comical character, it's important to be funny. Many actors could have played Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon (1999), for example, but few "serious" actors would have brought Jim Carrey's lunatic brilliance to the role. That's because Jim Carrey is a funny guy. He knows what makes comedians tick because it's in his DNA.

The great thing about Will Sasso, aside from the fact that he looks like Curly Howard, is that he's one of the most effortlessly funny people on the planet. He doesn't even have to try. He just can't help it--it's a gift. The sketches he did on MADtv were funnier than almost anything on Saturday Night Live; It says something about Sasso that, while he looks nothing like Robert De Niro or Arnold Schwarzeneggar, he does the most painfully funny impressions of De Niro and Arnold I've ever seen. (click the hyperlinks to watch)

Curly was easily the most knuckleheaded of the three Stooges, so there ought to be plenty for Sasso to do. I was impressed by what I saw of him in the trailer, especially when he asks Kate Upton if she's had a haircut. (I'm laughing just thinking about it.) Over the years, I've seen a lot of people try to do impressions of Curly, but they never get the voice quite right. Will Sasso nailed it.

If you need any more convincing about how funny Sasso is, listen to his hysterical impression of Hulk Hogan on the Bryan Callen Show (contains language):

"Larry" (Sean Hayes) 

The original Larry Fine (left) and Sean Hayes (right)
Of the three leading actors in the new Stooges film, Sean Hayes is likely the most widely recognized due to his Emmy and SAG Award-winning portrayal of Debra Messing and Eric McCormack's amusingly vain, flamboyantly gay friend, Jack McFarland, in the popular sitcom Will & Grace.

The casting of Hayes seemed unusual at first. He's a talented actor with a great natural wit, however his subtler, more sophisticated brand of humor made him an odd choice in light of the burlesque, knockabout comedy normally associated with the Stooges. However, this is the same Sean Hayes who was nominated for a SAG award for his very physical performance as a young, manic Jerry Lewis in the 2003 CBS movie, Martin and Lewis, so he knows something about physical comedy.

In spite of Larry's wild hair, he's actually somewhat less cartoonish than the other Stooges. He isn't as chuckleheaded as Curly and he's not as confrontational as Moe, and there's hint of irony about him, so it makes sense to cast an actor who would bring a certain droll subtlety to the part. And as anyone who's seen Will & Grace can attest, Hayes does droll like nobody's business.

More fun than a poke in the eye: Diamantopoulos, Hayes and Sasso as the Three Stooges (Image: 20th Century Fox/C3 Entertainment)
IT TAKES GIANT, elephant-sized cojones to try and make the first original Three Stooges comedy in half a century. Make that whale-sized cojones. Any film that features characters as familiar as the Stooges is going to be difficult to pull off. The bar for a Stooges sequel is much higher than it would be for, say, Hangover 3 or Big Momma's House IV. The more famous and beloved the characters, the greater the expectations--and the greater the risk of disappointment. Which is why the new Stooges movie can't just be good, it's got to be great. With the Farrellys at the helm and actors the likes of Diamantopoulos, Sasso and Hayes, I suspect the material is in good hands.  

(Image: 20th Century Fox/C3 Entertainment)
There are people I know who are already bashing the movie, sight unseen, on the knee-jerk presumption that it can't possibly be as "good" as an original Stooges film, the irony of which is that most of the people who are saying that don't even like Stooges movies to begin with.

There are also those who will never be happy with updated remakes of anything, the argument being that no remake, regardless of how clever, will ever be as good as the original, so it's pointless to revisit the characters. I enthusiastically disagree. In 1910, Thomas Edison shot a 16-minute film called Frankenstein, inspired by Mary Shelley's novel. The film is historically interesting because of its primitive optical and mechanical special effects, however it's pretty rough sledding for the casual viewer. Imagine what would have happened if, twenty years later--after vast improvements in filmmaking technology--Frankenstein director James Whale had said to Universal president Carl Laemmle, "There's no way we can top the Edison version, so let's just forget the whole thing." 

Another example is the BBC One series Sherlock, in which Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman play updated versions of Holmes and Watson in 21st century London. Considerable liberties are taken with Arthur Conan Doyle's plotlines, however the show is so blazingly brilliant, even stuffy old purists are saying it's the best version of Holmes anyone has ever done.    
(Image: 20th Century Fox/C3 Entertainment)

The point is that it's entirely possible to do updated reboots of venerable characters without sacrificing the qualities that made those characters so memorable to begin with. Heretical as it sounds, the Stooges are no exception.  The Larry, Curly and Moe we know from movies and television were not real people. They were fictional characters portrayed by three guys who, in real life, were nothing at all like the nitwits they played on screen. 

Over the course of the Stooges' 40-year film career, there was more than one "Curly"; after Larry Fine died, Moe Howard hired Emil Sitka to be the new "Larry." At the end of the day, something tells me the original Larry, Moe, and Curly would be tickled to know that a trio of spirited new actors were breathing fresh life into the characters they created. Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.

A friend of mine who recently saw the trailer for the new film told me that the Three Stooges were irrelevant. "That kind of humor is dead," he said.

"No it isn't," I replied. "It just has a different name. It's called Jackass."

The Three Stooges aren't about moral ambiguities or complex relationships. They're all about falling down. A bonk on the head or a poke in the eye; childish, unsophisticated belly laughs. Unfortunately, we haven't had much of that lately, and in our sad, troubled, increasingly complicated world, the Stooges may be just what the doctor ordered. 

The Three Stooges opens nationwide on Friday, April 13. In the meantime, the most interesting comments are coming from a couple of credible sources who have already seen the film: the actual grandsons of the original Curly Howard. In part 3 of an exclusive interview posted on the film's official website, Curly's grandsons say that they're "very proud" of the film, calling the performances of Diamantopoulos, Sasso and Hayes "stupendous."

I have no doubt.

Sean Penn photo by Rehes Creative
Paul Giamatti photo by Karen Liu 
Woody Harrelson photo by Steve Rogers
Justin Timberlake photo by Caroline Bonarde Ucci
Larry David photo by David Shankbone