Welcome to the humidor. These are the days of which we dream in deep January, but once they are upon us we curse them. Some do, anyway. I never complain about hot weather, partly because it’s useless, and mostly  because it’s boring. It could be worse; I could be living 80 years ago, in which case I’d probably be wearing canvas underwear and a thick wool coat, my Wicking Hat and “Care-Free” neck cinch, which could only be relaxed after sundown when the ladies had retired. I would have no air conditioning; I would have one underpowered fan that shoved humid air in my face like a damp towel; I would have a damp towel, on my neck; I would have exhausted the ice allotment long ago, and would be sitting in the dark room with the radio off, because the tubes heated up the house. Sundown would be met by weary cheers from the porches adjacent. Every hour or so, you’d hear the dull thud of a horse passing out. No, I don’t complain about the heat.

I complain about the movies you see to get out of the heat. We went to “Ant Bully,” aka “The Third Computer Generated Movie about Ants,” and I was reminded how the geewhiz spirit computer animation once gave me has been replaced by a splenetic grumpy annoyance. 

What worked: Paul Giamatti as the exterminator. (You could tell he was bad because he used chemicals and smoked a cigar.) The gay glowworm, although he was more of an asexual glowworm. But if I’d have to guess, I’d vote “gay.” Also, the cars were nicely designed albeit briefly displayed. 

What did not work as much as I would have preferred, expert that I am:

The main characters. There’s Lucas the Ant Bully, who picks on ants because big kids pick on him. Through the marvel of recent advances in ant necromancy, he gets shrunk down to ant size so he can learn important life lessons, like the need to swarm over enemy colonies and sting them to death by the millions. Well, actually, no; he learned the virtues of community and sharing and helping, etc.  At one point he’s on a mushroom with the wizard ant looking at the great & glorious human city in the distance. The wizard asks about human society, and he is  amazed that humans don’t all work together. That is not the Ant Way, which is selfless and communal.  John Galt wept. I mean, is it too much to ask that the kid at least stick up for humans? A little? Nope! We’re all selfish and individualistic, scorning the common good, which is why the distant city they’re observing is brightly lit and reaches for the heavens, and the ants are all naked drones giving in a defenseless hole, ruled by a gigantic maternal ant (Meryl Streep.) 

Lucas the Reluctant Ant could have been a fine character, but as written he’s a sullen humorless self-pitying shite for half the movie, and most adults watching the film wanted to step on him.

The other main characters.  Nicholas Cage as the wizard ant, for example. For half the movie I thought he was Tom Hanks. Julia Roberts plays the nice-girl ant who befriends the Ant Bully for reasons absent to the disinterested observer; boring. There’s a boastful vain stupid ant played by Bruce Campbell, but I couldn’t tell. Something is very wrong when you cannot detect the presence of Bruce Campbell. And there’s a sassy ant with attitude, too. Because you gots to have a character with Attitude.

The human character models, with the exception of the exterminator, are unattractive and off-putting. There’s a crrrrazy toothless granny who thinks aliens are coming to abduct her, a subplot that exists for no apparent reason, except to make her “colorful” and “wacky,” and provide a rationale for putting fans all over the house so the ants can have a hang-gliding expedition. (The granny believes that the aliens hate fans. Why? Because the script required it.)

The script. I swear, nearly every computer animated movie is funded by Pixar, just to remind you how good they are. Even “A Bug’s Life,” which ranks low on the general Pixar-love scale (I like it more than “Nemo,” frankly – you can’t beat that troupe of misbegotten circus insects) had an amusing script. “Ant Bully’ ladles out one thin cliché after the other; every line of dialogue is witless, strained, leaden, derivative,  or annoying. It’s one of those movies where everything everyone says could be replaced with “I’m shouting out Expository Dialogue!” and every scene would have had the same impact.

The length. Any movie that seeks to immerse you in the wonderful world of insects yet makes you learn for the exterminator to show up has gone on too long. And not just because you know that’s the boss battle.

The CGI. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s okay. Sometimes the screen was obscured by the popcorn that flew out of people’s bags, so powerfully did the CGI suck.

The previews for other animated movies. There’s one about Martin Lawrence, as a bear schooled in the intricacies of modern patois, who goes into the wilderness with a small scrappy fast-talking sidekick.  They marshall the woodland creatures to strike back against hunters. The trailer was voiced by Mr. Trailer Voice, and he might as well have said:

You’ve seen this movie before.

Picture of something falling on someone with a blackout and a Whhooomph! Sound effect.

You’ve been pestered to buy the DVD.

(Overhead shot of some comically screaming creature, with the camera descending into their epiglottis)

You’ve come to expect technical brilliance dialed down to serve a focus-group tested plot. But this time, when you least expect it –

(Shot of a human getting kicked in the nads)

It’s a CGI movie that doesn’t have Robin Williams.

WHANG! Logo, music, WHANG, sixteen quick scenes to establish plot and character, WHANG, logo, release date, beat, small character says something ironic, gets hit in head, WHANG, logo.

“I want to see that,” your kid says. Sigh.

Gnat was oddly unmoved by “Happy Feet,” a penguin-related CGI movie, perhaps because it’s so damn weird; it’s about a dancing penguin, I gather, and dancing penguins apparently violate the Penguin Code, which leads to the usual complications. Looks beautiful, but of course it has that unavoidable kitschy pop-song sequence, which in this case looks like a million penguins grooving to “Somebody to Love” by Queen. (Now the go-to group for guilty pleasures, apparently; see also “Shaun of the Dead.”) Robin Williams is present in this one, though, and he appears to play a fast-talking free-associating penguin who mixes a variety of pop-culture references together with such speed they form the impression that a joke is being told. And here I thought all that white stuff in the Antarctic was snow.

On the other hand, “Happy Feet” is directed by George Miller, who also did “Mad Max.” So there’s that. There’s also the possibility that the penguin with the big long black scary beard will get hepped up on fermented herring blood and start ranting about the Jews.

The trailer is here. It’s amusing and quite impressive, but the word “timeless” does not come to mind. But few are interested in timeless. Perishable is fine, as long as the second week doesn’t drop off more than 7 percent.  The second trailer is better, but for reasons that don’t necessarily build my confidence in the movie. Why? Because the first is busy and self-conscious and trying ever so hard, and the second is just sweetly peculiar. It has total faith in its premise, which is a penguin singing “My Way” in Spanish. But when you compare the two, you see how the ending of the second is actually lifted from a scene in the first, and how much it loses in the transition.

Was that my weekend? My stars, no. After the movie we went to Gant’s favorite restaurant, Ruby Tuesday’s. Swear to God. Her favorite. She likes the pasta sauce. I don’t know of Ruby Tuesday’s pioneered the crap-thrown-on-the-wall school of restaurant redesign; I think TGIF got there first, and RT goes for the framed-old-photos-arranged-without-context approach. They also have 30 different faux-Tiffany lampshades and waiters who reply “awesome” no matter what you say. Afterwards we went back to the neighborhood, dropped off a movie at the video store; two grifters hanging around the drop-off box. Smart move; they have you where they want you. Bad move: you can pin them against another car.

“Hey! Can I ask you a question?”

No. You may not.

But that wasn’t even a tenth of my weekend. Saturday was Gnat’s birthday party: number six. That, however, I’ll save for later. Much to write tonight, Monday being Four Column Day.

One small site landmark: Matchbook 200. It’s not the most graphically fascinating matchbook, but it’s one of my favorites. A slight site redesign was attempted as well. Enjoy; see you tomorrow. (And new Quirk, of course.)




c. j lileks. email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.