Thursday, August 21, 2008

When nerds go bad ...

Another sign of the decline of humanity ... No, not the violence, I'm talking about the movie. [Originally on CAP News]

George Lucas Look-A-Like Beaten To Death

MODESTO, Calif. (CAP) - In what appears to be a tragic case of mistaken identity, a man resembling Star Wars creator George Lucas was beaten to death yesterday by an angry mob of fans leaving a screening of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

According to witnesses, Larry Finkelstein, 58, a bearded, burly man wearing a flannel shirt and round, wire-rimmed glasses, was eating an ice cream cone in a park immediately across the street from the Modesto AMC Loews Theatre when he was spotted by members of the angry crowd.

"They were already seething," said one witness who declined to be named. "Several of them were so upset they had literally torn their vintage Admiral Akbar t-shirts off their bodies and were burning them on the sidewalk. That's when they saw the guy."

According to police reports, one member of the crowd cried "Oh my God, it's Lucas! Get him!", and within seconds dozens of moviegoers were in the park, beating Finkelstein with makeshift weapons and their bare fists.

"He was probably dead before his ice cream cone even hit the ground," said Modesto Police Chief Frank Reynolds, who added that the crowd continued to pummel Finkelstein's inert body for a full 20 minutes before SWAT team officers in riot gear were able to restrain them.

Amateur video footage captured two assailants - both unkempt, overweight men apparently in their late 30s - screaming "This one's for Jar-Jar!" and "This one's for the &%$#! Ewoks!" as they kicked Finkelstein's head back and forth like a soccer ball. It took four SWAT officers armed with tasers and tear gas to subdue them.
The Clone Wars, an animated film that takes place between Star Wars Episodes II and III - and which serves as the launching pad for a new TV show, along with an extensive line of toys, clothing and video games - has been poorly received by critics, who have disparaged its confusing storyline, jerky animation techniques and complete lack of humor, dramatic tension or character development.

"It's the worst piece of garbage put on film since - well, since the last Star Wars movie," said critic Andrew O'Hehir, who punctuated his comments by snapping his fingers in a Z formation.

The real George Lucas, meanwhile, has been holed up at his Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif., surrounded by a contingent of armed security guards. He had no public comment, but according to a source close to the filmmaker, he's starting to wonder if, as "executive producer" of The Clone Wars, he should have spent more than eight minutes on it.

"He's also thinking that revolving the whole storyline around Jabba the Hutt's baby son 'Stinky,' which is an idea he had scrawled on a cocktail napkin while drunk, maybe wasn't such a great idea, in retrospect," said the source.

Since Clone Wars opened, a growing crowd of angry fans has gathered outside the ranch property with signs reading "Lucas sucks!", "George Lucas raped my childhood" and "George Lucas should be taken to the Dune Sea and cast into the pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc!", although you had to get up very close to read that last one.

It is unknown whether Finkelstein's death will have an affect on other upcoming Star Wars projects, including a planned live-action TV series featuring minor characters from the movies who've nonetheless had action figures made of them, and re-releases of the original six films in 3-D, animated, musical and silent versions.

Meanwhile, Finkelstein's friends and relatives mourn his tragic loss, one that they had feared could come to pass. Given his resemblance to Lucas, "We'd been afraid something like this might happen ever since The Phantom Menace came out," said his cousin, Nancy Schroedburg. "Whenever he left the house wearing that flannel shirt he was taking his life in his hands."

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Column: Your face may be almost famous

Do you ever get the sense that society would be better off if it weren’t so hard for people to find a celebrity who looked like them? Yes, me too. It’s enough to make you miss the days, back in the ’70s, when it was very easy to find a celebrity you resembled: Ernest Borgnine.

But somewhere along the line that changed, and it seems like there are no longer any celebrities who look like real people. For some reason Hollywood has determined that we want our celebrities to be so unnaturally attractive that, if they ever happened to run into us, the viewing public, they would assume we were trolls and rub our wizened faces for good luck.

Fortunately, someone is doing something about this situation. The Web site has developed an online program to show us that, no matter how plain we may think we look, somewhere out there we all have a celebrity doppelganger — that famous person for whom we might be mistaken, even if only in twilight by drunken people.

Granted, I had reservations before I tried it. For one thing, the only celebrity I’ve ever been told I look like is Fozzie Bear, who is (A) a bear and (B) not even a real bear. Still, I steeled myself and uploaded my photo. Things didn’t start off well, though, unless you consider it a good sign that the program failed to find anything it could identify as a human face. (I started to think maybe I’d be better off trying to find a Web site that could identify the brand of tire I most resembled.)

Finally, though, it spat out my celebrity look-alikes, with the closest match being … Elvis! Unfortunately it was Elvis Costello, and it wasn’t even “Alison”-era angry-young-man Costello — it was old, scraggly, collaborate-with-Burt-Bacharach Costello. On the plus side, I do own all his albums, which is more than I can say about Ernest Borgnine.

The other matches were a little more palatable, though — they included Roy Scheider and, probably the best of the bunch, Aidan Quinn (who I have it on good authority once played Brad Pitt’s less attractive brother). Of course, it would be nice if their pictures on the site didn’t look like they were taken by paparazzi immediately after a car crash; I was starting to worry that if I kept clicking through my gallery of look-alikes I would eventually get to the Nick Nolte mug shot.

Then, just when I started to think the whole experiment might not be completely demoralizing, who pops up but … Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. For those of you not up on your Turkish prime ministers, Bulent Ecevit looks sort of like a cross between Groucho Marx and Hitler. And not in a good way. On the plus side, though, I figure if Eastern Bloc politicians can now be counted as celebrities, that seriously lowers the attractiveness curve — even Gabby Hayes would be beautiful people under that scenario.

Of course, there’s no denying the whole concept is incredibly superficial. What would really be helpful is a Web site that matches up your personality to that of a famous celebrity. For instance, if you put in a list of your personality traits and it spat out a picture of Mel Gibson, you would know it’s probably time to make a public apology.

I should mention, though, that my visit to wasn’t all bad news. When I uploaded my wife’s picture, the program popped up both Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, so you know what that means. Yes, that my wife may secretly be Latino, but also that when she agreed to marry me I definitely got the better end of that deal.

On the other hand, I bet my looks will come in handy if we’re ever looking to get a good table in Istanbul.

CNC Managing Editor Peter Chianca is on hiatus until September; this column first appeared in 2006. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Miley single-handedly rescues the Muppets from obscurity

Back from hiatus (long story, but here's a little piece of advice: never try to smuggle hashish out of Turkey), and eager to comment on an important development about which I have extremely mixed emotions. Last night I watched "Studio DC," the new Disney Channel show that takes Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale, those Zack and Cody twins and all the other tween stars they keep locked up in boxes in the Disney studio and pairs them with everyone's favorite Muppets. Sacrilege, or a clever marketing ploy? I'm thinking a little of both.

Until now, the Muppets have been kept mercifully separate from most of the pap Disney has produced of late, despite having been under the Disney umbrella for years. But now it seems full integration has begun. The quality of "Studio DC" was about on par with a "Muppet Wizard of Oz" (and if you saw that and lived to tell about it, you know what I'm talking about). But I have to admit it's a good way to introduce the Muppets to a generation of kids who probably don't know Kermit from Lamb Chop from an old sock.

Anthony Strand at Tough Pigs has a great post on the subject, and seems to agree with me. I'd add that my kids (who admittedly are more Muppet-familiar than the average 6- and 9-year-old, thanks to my tutelage and their excellent tastes) laughed heartily through the entire production, in marked contrast to their usual reaction to Disney Channel shows, which is to stare at the screen in a slack-jawed stupor. (Well, except when there's a fart joke -- then my son laughs his head off.)