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Marshall Fine Headshot

Short takes: 3D, yogurt, celebrity genealogy and more

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Things that have been bugging me lately but which aren't worth an entire post:

Why is it that the first thing a 3D film does to establish its, well, 3Dness is to have insects flitter in front of the audience member's eyes?

It happens early in Avatar, when Jake, Grace and Norm make their first foray in their avatar bodies into the jungle of Pandora. The equivalent of mosquitoes and dragonflies buzz and flit in the foreground, in and out of focus, a signifier that says, "Oh yeah, 3D - it's on, mofo!" The same thing happens almost immediately in Alice in Wonderland after Alice escapes from the foyer with the Eat Me/Drink Me business and emerges into Wonderland or whatever the hell it's supposed to be: bugs flying right in front of the camera. "Hey, look - 3D!"

And then they disappear for the rest of the movie, never to be seen again.

Back in the old days of cardboard 3D glasses, the director would simply poke a spear at the camera and call it good. But this bug business is all a bit show-offy, a desperate attempt to justify a technology that is being rammed down our throats for its own sake, rather than because it gives new depth to the movies themselves.

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Speaking of signifiers, a TV question: What does yogurt mean?

Specifically: Why is it the characters on Burn Notice and the recently completed Nip/Tuck spend their spare time spooning the healthy dairy product out of little containers in dialogue scenes?

Yes, I understand that, to give these expository moments a little life, the director has to fill the moments with certain actorish business. But what are we supposed to infer from the fact that Michael Westen on Burn Notice and Christian Troy on Nip/Tuck inevitably reach for a Dannon or a Yoplait?

It's not just about product placement; everything means something. So what does yogurt mean?

Are we supposed to infer that real men eat yogurt? Or the opposite: that these guys have hidden, feminine sides because they eat yogurt? Is it that they're health nuts? Or oddballs? Or effete snobs? All of the above?

Most crucial of all: What flavor are they eating?

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Between celebrity genealogy and the upcoming return of Celebrity Apprentice, and the fact that people watch this tripe on TV, it's hard to maintain respect for our species.

We're awash in celebrity genealogy TV shows at the moment: Who Do You Think You Are? debuts tonight (3/5/10) on NBC and Faces of America, hosted by no less an academic personage than Henry Louis Gates, aired on PBS. We get to climb the family trees of everyone from Meryl Streep to Sarah Jessica Parker in padded-out, reality-TV style shows that amplify every moment of even minor dramatic import, creating hyped-up suspense that is eventually deflated after a commercial break (or, perhaps, a pledge break).

Meanwhile, on the patently bogus Celebrity Apprentice, which returns March 14, former spotlight-hoggers such as Sinbad, the wrestler Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper and Sharon Osbourne - whose claims to fame generally are in the past - put themselves through the Donald Trump sausage-making machine, ostensibly to raise money for charity.

Really, it's about reviving their now-gone fame, perhaps to recapture a moment or ignite a new one, even if it means kissing the bespoke-suited ass of Trump and his personality-free spawn, Ivanka and Donald Jr. (If you thought it was impossible for a human being to be more loathsomely self-satisfied than Trump himself, you haven't had a chance to watch Donald 2.0 in action.)

This post continues on my website.