And the guy was like, "Hey, how about Sisqo? Would that be OK?"
"OMG," I said, dying a little inside. Yes! My goodness, yes! Sisqo, who graced us with 1999's ubiquitous Thong Song, would be better than OK, he would be perfect. Certainly he, the diminutive artist who carved out a niche as the number one lover of ladies with "dumps like a truck, truck, truck," would know how to get the crowd going and have a little fun with us writers for a couple of hours. So, yes! Yes, yes, fantastic.
The talent agency guy was like, "OK. He needs seven grand plus flight and accommodations."
"Who does?" I asked.
"Sisqo. That's what Sisqo needs. Seven grand."
"Sisqo. The singer."
"Yes. Seven grand."
"Does he....need the money for an operation, or...?"
"No," said the talent agency guy, starting to get irritated with my lack of faith in Sisqo's earning power. "That's his asking price."
"Can he ask for less?"
"No. Look, it seems like Sisqo might be a bit outside your price range," said the talent agency guy in, like, the understatement of forever, "How about C+C Music Factory?"
"Well, I don't know," I said, because I wanted obscure, not, you know, Witness Protection Program. Would anyone know the group if they weren't performing their hit "Gonna Make You Sweat?" And if it weren't 1989? "I guess maybe that might work. If they wore name-tags or something."
"Awesome. Their asking price is $3500 plus flight and accommodations."
The conversation ended with me saying that I'd have to check with my publisher on the budget, and that "I'd get back" to them. Which never happened and will never happen. So, if Sisqo is sitting in a darkened room with a rotary phone in his lap, waiting for it to ring, I'm really sorry. I just don't have that much money to spend on irony right now.
Anyway, Sprout. And their terrible movies. One of the really bad ones they play a lot is 2000's Thomas and the Magic Railroad. This film was released in theaters, for some reason, and not just on DVD, or, better yet, not at all. It stars Alec Baldwin, who I guess was paying off a bet or something, as Mr. Conductor, who's left in charge of the railways of Sodor while Sir Topham Hat is away on business. And there are many, many problems in Sodor, including but not limited to a murderous diesel locomotive called Pinchy, and not enough Enchanted Gold Dust Powder to help Mr. Conductor and his nephew magically transport from place to place. And if you understood one fucking thing I wrote after the name Alec Baldwin, you either A.) have children, or B.) have had too much Enchanted Gold Dust Powder.
Meanwhile, some other nonsense happens. If you aren't familiar with the various Thomas the Tank Engine shows and reboots, there's basically two kinds: The creepy old version where nothing on the engines' faces moves except for their eyes, and the creepy new version where it's computers and everything on the engines' faces moves. This movie utilizes the former. Thomas and his friends run the gamut of emotions forced to only use their eyes for expression, like motorized stroke victims angling wildly for a sip of water.
Finally, we meet teenage Lily, played by the delightful Mara Wilson, who does her best with a role that insists she feel love for her stone-faced grandfather, played by a stone-faced Peter Fonda. Literally. Literally, Fonda, as Burnett Stone, has a reaction of quiet desperation for at least two-thirds of movie. His granddaughter comes to visit: he responds by looking tiredly off into the distance. His granddaughter asks him visit the train station with her and a local boy: he shakes his head ruefully and wanders off into the distance. The local boy runs to tell him that his granddaughter is missing and has been for hours: he nods in acceptance, and thinks about trains. It's as though his agent handed him the script for Thomas and the Magic Railroad and he was just like, "you know, it's time for that Oscar. I'll bet voters will really connect with this aging train smuggler."
Because, surprise! Peter Fonda has been hiding Lady, the missing train, in his shed for years. He's tried many different coals to make her run, but none of them......ZZZZZZZZZ. What?! Waffles?! Oh, right, that train movie. They finally get the old girl working, and then there's a scene in which Peter Fonda rides her down a secret railroad with all the intensity of Captain Ahab barreling toward his white whale, while everyone around him screams "it's working, it's working!" in regard to the train and not Fonda himself, one would imagine. The good news is that when Lady runs, she queefs out that special gold dust that Alec Baldwin and company require to defeat the villainous Pinchy. And, that happens, in some way. I think he falls off a trestle, or something, emoting his agony with his rolling, rolling eyes.