Friday, October 28, 2005

Is it just me...

Or is "new and improved" just code for "unneccesarily more difficult"? I've been trying to post pictures all morning, but the new Picasa2 software update is insanely, almost belligerently useless. If I try to post pictures through Hello, which is a Picasa program, I get an error message and the pictures won't load. If I do it through Picasa's "BlogThis!" feature, the pictures post but the links are broken. So, what is the fucking point of the software update? I mean, was it so difficult before? I was perfectly fine with what I had been doing for almost a year now.

I've come to the conclusion that software updates are only there so people who don't work very hard can justify holding on to their jobs past the point of all reason. The new America Online update is intrusive and pointless, too. God forbid anything should just be easy to do. All I know is, half of what I do on this blog involves posting pictures, and if I can't post pictures anymore, I just don't see the point of blogging. Where else can I get a free blog that isn't as shitty as My Space?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Three Things I Don't Care for This Week

1. White Sox fans. Yes, fine, the Chicago White Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1917, and that's kind of cool. But I don't give a shit about sports, and I view sports fans with the same contempt I view Trekkies (it's still painting your face, dressing up in a costume, and viewing something you can't even bring yourself to participate in, and just because it's watching millionaires play with balls doesn't make it that much more adult), so I don't want to hear people screaming and chanting outside my bedroom window at 2:00 in the morning. Shut the fuck up so I can get some rest, alright? I have class at 8. I also don't care for all of the people who don't give a shit about sports, either, but are suddenly Sox fans because they so desperately want to belong and "support the home team," like they care when the Sox are losing. And, as Carl pointed out earlier on a comment, I also don't have time for people who root against the Sox just because they like the Cubs better.

2. George W. Bush. I'm glad we got rid of Harriett Miers (and frankly, screw you, Sandra Day O'Connor, for resigning at a time when an anti-feminist can be appointed to throw down Roe v. Wade), but is he just going to appoint his old kindergarten teacher, or something? You know, you're supposed to appoint your friends and cronies to the unimportant jobs, you chimp.

3. The fact that you can no longer flip past the FBI warnings on DVDs. Hollywood, here's the deal: we know that copying DVDs and CDs is illegal, alright? We just don't give a shit. Live with it.

Film Week

A review of the movies I've seen this past week. Sorry about the day late, but we were at the zoo all day yesterday watching Mandrills fucking (something Becca has been traumatized by, so happy birthday, there).

Gus Van Sant used to be a director whose films were, at the very least, worthy of time and consideration (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, the underrated To Die For), but once he directed his plagiarist copied-down-to-the-exact-running-time version of Psycho, all of the talent immediately left his body, and now he makes crap like this: faux-meaningful empty rip-offs of real events. This movie is obviously about Columbine, although Van Sant doesn’t have the guts to just make a film about Columbine. He also doesn’t have enough guts to imagine the reasons behind it, other than (of course) fascination with Hitler, shame at homosexual urges and actions, and the emptiness of video games. Aren’t you a little sick of video games getting blamed for everything? There aren’t even any characters in this thing, just people. Things happen for no reason. I know Van Sant congratulates himself on being very plain-faced, on not laying down false emotions but rather forcing you to find for yourself how you feel about the events. But what he’s really doing is saying: "Ooh, look at me, I’m so nihilistic and artsy–want to see another 10-minute tracking shot?" No stars, you pretentious asshole.

An excellent character piece about a young Colombian woman (Catalina Sandino Moreno, justly nominated for an Oscar) who needs money and becomes a drug mule. There’s some nice commentary here about how poverty causes crime; Maria becomes a mule because she’s poor, and what little money she has is handed over to her family (her sister, who has a baby, doesn’t work). But when she gets to America, things go wrong, and Maria tries to figure out what her future path should be: to stay in America, or to go back again? It’s a compelling film, one that never bores and never ceases to be interesting. **** stars.

See, this is what I’m talking about: women should direct stories about women. Niki Caro (the exquisite Whale Rider) directs a movie inspired by the first class action sexual harassment lawsuit in American history, and manages to direct it without resorting to an enormous amount of Lifetime movie cliches (although some do remain). Charlize Theron’s performance is perfectly pitched–she’s not a big, phony, polarizing caricature (like Julia Roberts’s overacting turn in Erin Brockovich), but someone so plainly ordinary that she could be anyone you know. There’s an honesty to it that thankfully stops short of trying to make her struggle noble; she just a normal woman who wants to feed her kids. There’s a great cast supporting her: Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins (in the performance of his career), Sean Bean, Sissy Spacek, the always-welcome Rusty Schwimmer. Michelle Monaghan proves to be a good enough actress that I’m sorry for her that she has to be the chick in Mission: Impossible 3. It’s a great movie, full of warmth and drama without having to force you into feeling one way or another, and it’s probably the best movie I’ve seen for 2005. **** stars. (Quick note: the previews I saw in the theater were all for movies like Jarhead and Brokeback Mountain; I’d forgotten how when you go and see a movie for actual adults you see previews for movies with actual adults. Are you as sick as I am of everything being made for teenagers?)

Classic Val Lewton scare film features at least one classic scene and is brisk and enjoyable. This is real B-movie stuff (back when they made real B-movies, as opposed to now, when they make them for $100 million and stick Tom Cruise in them), about an escaped leopard and a series of murders. Is it the leopard, a murderer, or something supernatural? Fun stuff, if silly, and Jacques Tourneur knows how to get the most out of your imagination rather than letting everything show. *** stars, great for Halloween.

Another Val Lewton production, but very ponderous (there’s a ship, but no ghosts). It’s a little pretentious, too. Good dramatic tension (the captain is pretty crazy), but for what? *1/2 stars.

This one’s a classic, produced by Lewton, directed by Tourneur, and starring the luminously tragic Simone Simon. Great scares, but there’s also some really good drama. Why she would marry that condescending, mundane prick of a husband, though, is beyond me. Even with some of the lame acting, this is a real classic that almost, almost transcends its B-movie origins. ***1/2 stars.

Not as good as the first one (this one is directed by Robert Wise), but an interesting plot nonetheless. The condescending, mundane prick of a husband and his second wife have a daughter with a wild imagination, and she makes an imaginary friend: Simone Simon, back from the dead. Does the little girl really see her, or is she making it all up? Any spookiness is met with a surprisingly sweet and innocent plot that, unless I miss my guess, Steven Spielberg has borrowed a lot from–like, most of E.T. *** stars.

A fairly nice German silent film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, about an aristocrat who travels to Egypt and meets a woman and marries her. Despite the title, it’s not really a horror movie: it’s called The Eyes of the Mummy because the woman (the wonderful and sexy Pola Negri, who would later marry Valentino) is involved in a scam perpetrated by her master, Emil Jannings (later to win the first Oscar for Best Actor). When Jannings appears to be killed, Pola runs off to Germany and Jannings follows her, determined to kill her. There’s a lot of great decadence and sexuality that seems to be predicting Weimar-era Germany (this is, remember, the tail end of World War I), and Pola is sexy and glamorous. An interesting film of the silent era, *** stars.

I love Hammer films, but in 1971 they would never have dared to film the gory reality of Countess Erzebet Bathori, the woman who bathed in the blood of virgins to stay young and who is credited with between 300 and 600 murders. But the film is an interesting piece of intrigue and politics, as the Countess discovers that by soaking up the blood of the young, she can herself become young (for a limited period of time). Ingrid Pitt, one of the most glorious creatures ever to hit the screen (she was in Hammer’s 1970 classic, The Vampire Lovers), plays Elizabeth Bathory as a creature of pure, but understandable, evil. But she is sadly underutilized, and the film really rests on Captain Dobi, the commander who has loved her for 30 years and is betrayed when she decides to marry a younger man. Dobi is played by Nigel Green, who owns the whole movie (he also played Hercules in the classic 1964 Ray Harryhausen film Jason and the Argonauts). Good stuff, either way, even though poor Ingrid’s voice is dubbed (I do adore her natural German accent). ***1/2 stars.

Woody Allen’s movie has an interesting idea at its core: is tragedy or comedy the essence of life? Two playwrights argue this philosophic question by taking a story a friend tells them about a girl named Melinda, and coming up with a story about it: one comedic, one tragic. The problem with the movie is that Allen feels much more committed to the tragedy than the comedy, and the result is that they both suffer. Some of the actors–especially you, Jonny Lee Miller–are too stagey, reading Woody Allen’s dialogue as though it were Beckett. Will Ferrell is funny, too, but he doesn’t have enough screen time. Overall, it’s a very interesting experiment (I don’t normally like Radha Mitchell, but she outdoes herself here), and better than Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Hollywood Ending put together, but it’s still minor Allen. *** stars.

Mother of God, it’s worse than Stepford Wives was! At least that movie had pacing; this one feels about two years long–I swear it took time off the end of my life. Nora Ephron doesn’t know how to write a movie anymore, and she’s never had any business directing one. It actually has a funny premise, too: a failed actor is reduced to starring in a TV remake of the old series, and the actress he hires for the role of Samantha is, in actuality, a witch who wants to quit using magic and be normal. But, in the same way that Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle is really only about how much she loves the movie An Affair to Remember, this is really only about how much she loves Bewitched (and assumes that we do, too). There’s nothing clever here, and a lot of hugely talented comedians–Stephen Colbert, David Alan Grier–are completely wasted. The special effects have more wit than the screenplay does. Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine are always welcome, but they’re also wasted with little to do (even the idea that MacLaine, also, is a witch comes to nothing clever). Where this movie really comes from is this idea that floated around Hollywood for a long time that Nicole Kidman just HAD to play Samantha, she just HAD to, because she’s so perfect and talented. And the sucky thing is, Kidman is actually decent in the movie (she’s actually unselfconscious for once), she’s just got no character to play. There’s nothing to her; you can practically see through her to the big hole in the plot she’s supposed to be covering up. And Will Ferrell is only funny because he’s Will Ferrell, not because anything in the script is funny. His character is such a total dick that it’s hard to know where we’re supposed to go with this: aren’t leads in a romantic comedy supposed to be just a tad likeable? Because neither one of these people is; one never registers as a person, the other is just an asshole. The only funny sequence in the movie is a final appearance by Steve Carell in a scene that feels like it’s been improvised by he and Ferrell, and for that reason alone, I can give this movie a half a star. But I’d advise you never to ever see it.

The wit that director Angela Robinson brought to D.E.B.S. is buried here in all of the kiddie movie stuff. So let’s start, instead, with the much-inspected Lindsay Lohan. In this movie, she’s still the charming, talented young lady she was in Mean Girls and Freaky Friday, but there are times when you can tell that, mentally, she’s just completely checked out of the whole Disney movie thing. Are her boobs digitally shrunken? Oh, you’d better believe it. Remember those big, mouth-watering mammaries she used to have? Well, they’re still there...anytime she’s wearing a tee shirt. When there’s even a little cleavage, they’re suddenly two sizes smaller. So, yeah, it’s pretty obvious. But her performance is pretty good, even if she doesn’t have a supporting cast to work with at all: Michael Keaton and Breckin Meyer are just so much dead weight, Justin Long doesn’t even register as a person, Cheryl Hines has less to do than Lauren Graham did in The Pacifier (if you can believe that’s possible), and Matt Dillon just falls back on what he always does: channeling all of Bruce Campbell’s mannerisms from Army of Darkness. THAT’S ALL HE EVER DOES. But when I was a kid, I loved Herbie the Love Bug, and I loved him here, too. The special effects are witty, and it’s a cute movie, and it’s probably the last time we’ll ever get to love Lindsay as a wholesome, pretty, talented girl. And even though I hate the way NASCAR and professional left-turn-makers have infested every aspect of American life, I thought it was fun. Angela Robinson even manages to sneak in some interesting sexual metaphors (Dillon and Lohan do appear to be racing for pinks, alright; tell me that Lindsay driving his car doesn’t seem like a seduction scene to you), and the soundtrack is decent (though not as good as D.E.B.S., which had a great soundtrack). So, I’ll go with *** stars.

I’m getting pretty sick of these horror remakes that are high on cruelty and gore while being low on plot, characterization, and nudity. So, it breaks down like this: Paris Hilton and Elisha Cuthbert look plenty fuckable, there’s no characters, I fucking hate that kid that played Dean on Gilmore Girls, and Chad Michael Murray could be a pretty decent actor if he’d just stop smirking with unearned accomplishment all the time. As far as these Dark Castle remakes go, it’s actually one of the more watchable. **1/2 stars.

This is a new Disney Channel Original Movie, based on yet another recent teen novel about young people who discover they have magic powers. There are a lot of elements here from Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Chronicles of Narnia, but it’s a pretty enjoyable little movie. It stars Tia and Tamera Mowry, who played long-lost twins who discover one another on the lame sitcom Sister, Sister (and who repeat the same premise here; except that they’re also, it turns out, princesses from another dimension who have heretofore unrealized magical powers). The Mowry sisters have evolved from frankly annoying young girls to my favorite thing in the world: hot, sexy, smooth-skinned black women with long legs and high, round butts. Of course, that’s not what the movie is about, but it helps. As far as these Disney Channel Original Movies go, it’s not a complete waste of time (like Now You See It..., sorry Aly), but one of the upper echelon. Of course, that echelon also includes Halloweentown High and Cadet Kelly, so it might not be saying much. *** stars.

Okay, this is a soft core special from Seduction Cinema, but I fucking love Misty Mundae, and this is a really good one. A girl (Misty) goes to stay with her aunt (yummy Julian Wells) to relax after her mother’s illness, and ends up being introduced to the pleasures her nubile young body has to offer. What’s especially interesting and funny to me is that the box goes to great pains to state that Misty (the character) is eighteen, but they treat her in the movie like she’s a fifteen year-old, which she’s obviously supposed to be. And, like all Seduction Cinema films, the movie is heavy on lesbian sex and the men can’t really act. But it’s so nice to see a movie where young, feminine sexuality is treated as a wonderful, natural thing and not something that makes a girl into a monster who must be stopped. Every girl should see this movie at fourteen; it’s that rarity of erotic cinema: an innocent movie that makes sex seem like a good thing. It also borrows from the films of Joseph Sarno, an erotic master, especially his 1970 classic, Inga, and is actually shot on film, so it looks much better than typical Seduction Cinema fare. **** stars.

Must Seduction Cinema shoehorn Misty into everything? Not that I don’t love Misty, because I do, but what starts off as a James Bond parody (with Misty and a British accent) is actually a movie starring sexy Anoushka as a primitive goddess with sexual powers. It’s pretty stupid, sadly, even though some of the scenes are very funny (who knew AJ Khan was so hysterical?) and Anoushka is genuinely erotic. Nice try, but Misty feels out of place and unneccesary to the plot, and despite the promise to be continued, I don’t think I’m very interested. ** stars.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Happy Birthday, Becca!

Just don't spend the whole night "partying" with Kate Hudson. Like always. I know what you two are doing... and I'm very jealous. Posted by Picasa

How's That World Hunger Thing Going?

Did you know that microorganisms such as algae, fungi, and bacteria can live on materials that are unsuitable for food and, if the conditions are right, grow and produce edible nutrients? And that this process is far more rapid than, say, plant growth? Why aren't we experimenting with this? Imagine adding micronutrients to flour and fortifying it into bread. Do you know what that could, conceivably, produce? Bread with protein. Bread with the same nutrients as vitamins. Cheap and easy, like Americans like all of their stuff to be.

Now, if this is possible, why aren't we cultivating it and giving it to poor people in Africa? Seems more useful than pennies a day.

Just a thought.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Just Can't Wait to Get on the Road Again

Here are a couple of things I believe to be true: first, that your government doesn't care about your well-being and your comfort as much as it cares about your obedience and unquestioning subservience. Second, that the American people allow themselves to be herded because it's easier than taking the responsibility that's supposed to come with freedom. If neither of these things were true, the majority of people wouldn't allow the government (and the rich companies who are the government's masters) to get away with most of the shit they get away with. Isn't there something in the Constitution about how the people have the final authority in America?

Well, in America, it's really the Saudis that have all of the authority, because they pay Darth Dubya's empire to run the place. They dangle cheap gasoline in front of him, then pull it away like Lucy Van Pelt with a big, black football when he comes running towards it. They can set whatever prices they want for it, and we'll just pay it, because our country is stupid enough to believe that oil is the only real fuel choice we have. And, like most things, the country is wrong.

Let's switch tracks for a few moments (trust me, both will converge at the end). Farm Aid. I don't know, I never much saw the point of Farm Aid. We know how to grow food, the farmers aren't the gatekeepers of secret knowledge anymore, so who cares if they can't afford a few extra workers. They have machines for everything now, right? I was, as happens, being willfully ignorant of the whole situation. Our economy was, at one point, based on agriculture, and even today, food's the one thing people will agree is more important than gas and their precious cable television. Agriculture is incredibly important, and we're fucking it up by pumping chickens full of chemicals that are actually harmful to humans and feeding cows remnants of other cows and creating a disease that, if it continues to its final stupidity, will decimate the meat supply and force us onto vegitarian diets. And then, naturally, we'll find a way to screw that up, too.

Willie Nelson explains that farms are an important producer of resources, and of course he's right (I mean, he's Willie Nelson). And they no longer receive the same economic parity (not just money for labor but also tax breaks and economic welfare) as other resource producers--that is, companies that make iron and steel, that mine precious ores or natural gases, that sell oil and gas, or even, say, Nike. I don't know, America: do you think shoes are more important than food, or what? My guess is probably not. And I'm from Illinois. I live in DeKalb County, which has some of the best (if not the best) soil for growing in the world; six straight feet of topsoil, baby. We grow the world's corn, and this summer, the crop was essentially ruined by this summer's heatwave. I don't know, maybe if the American bread basket was still the American bread basket, it would seem like companies wouldn't have an excuse for raising food prices this winter (and they will, just watch).

So, how do we save the farms? How do we stop the government from paying some farms not to grow anything? How to we put this important resource back to work? Well, here's where farming, oil, and Willie Nelson all come together to make one (rather astute, if I do say so myself) point. It's called biodiesel. Go to Wikipedia to read all about it. It is, at its simplest, a product that makes gasoline out of vegetable oil. I know that gas companies and the government like to pretend that this is something that will exist far, far off in the future, but that's a lie. In fact, it was created by a German scientist, Rudolf Diesel, in 1893: the original Diesel engine ran on peanut oil.

Willie Nelson, that great man, drives a car (and a tour bus) that runs on biodiesel fuel that is primarily made out of vegetable oil and soy. Well, as long as we keep the ground fertile, we probably aren't going to run out of soy. You do realize that our current fossil fuels will run out eventually, right? It doesn't renew, you can't grow it, you can't really synthesize it well. When it's gone, it's completely gone, and that's an unmistakeable fact. Soy, however, can be grown in bulk, stored in bulk, and transesterified to make gasoline. And the best part of all of this is that we can grow it and make it ourselves, in America, with no Saudi or Iraqi gas needed, and we can finally start ignoring the Middle East and Israel the way we should be.

How do we get the farms back? Give them the economic parity they deserve, subsidize them, open more and give them more land, and start them growing our fuel supply. Everyone wins, except for the oil cronies (like, you know, Halliburton and George W. Bush) and the Arabs, and without our money, it just makes it that much harder for the House of Saud to subsidize the terrorists they claim to know nothing about. Although it's awfully convenient for 9/11 (an act committed by "pilots" from Saudi Arabia) to have nearly created an oil crisis that Saudi Arabia has benefited from. I'm just saying, is all.

Hell, have Willie Nelson explain it to America; everyone loves Willie Nelson. Advertise the new biodiesel-powered Hondas and Chevys and whatnot on TV with the song "On the Road Again." Supposedly, biodiesel is more expensive than fossil fuel, but it won't be if everyone starts using it. Hell, it's safer, it's more efficient, and it reduces the money available to terrorists. What is so wrong with this plan? We grow our own gas, we pay for our own gas, the government still makes the money, and the oil companies can try and get in on it and get rich off of something that actually benefits America for once.

I don't know, it just seems obvious to me.