Saturday, March 11, 2006

AOL Report

I finally managed to cancel my AOL membership this week, after two post-DSL weeks of trying. You have to actually call AOL to cancel, and then their representitives just talk and talk and attempt to get you to forget why you called in the first place. The first woman I talked to said she'd knock the price down to $17.95 a month, which I thought was odd, considering that it apparently costs so much money to connect to the internet that AOL just had to raise their price up to $25.90 recently. So, gee, how much is it actually worth? After I said this wouldn't do, the woman gave me the month of March for free and told me if I was still dissatisfied to call back.

Well, I just went ahead and called again a week later. Different woman, same results: $17.95 a month. When I said no, she said she'd give me the month of April for free. Which means that, despite shitty dial-up service, I could have just gotten my AOL for free for two consecutive months.

I finally got her to relent and cancel me. But hey, if you're still on AOL out there, I highly recommend threatening to cancel. Sounds like you get a better deal that way.

State of the Empire

Emperor Palpatine, addressing his subjects.

Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a deliberate and deadly terrorist act. The victims were in TIE Fighters, or in their offices; secretaries, businessmen, military and Imperial workers; parents, friends and neighbors. Grand Moff Tarkin, the Imperial Council, and very nearly Lord Vader. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.

The pictures of X-Wing Fighters flying into control towers, fires burning, the Death Star exploding, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. This act of mass murder was intended to frighten our Empire into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our Empire is strong.

A great people has been moved to defend a great Empire. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of even our planet-sized space stations, but they cannot touch the foundation of Coruscant. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of Imperial resolve.

The Death Star was targeted for attack because it was the brightest beacon for freedom and protection in our galaxy. And no one will keep that light from shining.

Today, our Empire saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of the Empire--with the daring of our TIE Fighter pilots, with the resolve of our moffs who came to lead an attack on Yavin IV, where our best intelligence tells us the terrorist leaders and criminals Mon Mothma and General Nadine have gathered.

Immediately following the destruction of the Death Star and the many innocents aboard, I implemented the Imperial emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it's prepared. We have neutralized the number two man in the Rebel Alliance, former senator Bail Organa. Other searches are being made, especially for the terrorist pilot Skywalker, who sent the fatal blasts into the exhaust port that killed thousands.

Our first priority is to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the galaxy from further attacks. The functions of our government continue without interruption. I will be appointing a new grand moff very soon. The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I've invested Lord Vader with even greater powers of military leadership in order to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We make no distinction between the rebels who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

This is a day when all Imperial subjects will unite in our resolve for justice and peace. The Empire has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world. Thank you.

Emperor Palpatine would later be criticized for allowing the Hutt royal family to fly safely to Tattooine despite a "no-fly" lockdown.

What's the Frequency, Bennish?

I'm still so pissed off over this kid recording his teacher thing, it makes clear analysis very hard. I'm referring to Jay Bennish, the high school geography teacher at Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado. He was recorded teaching his class by one of his students, a Sean Allen, who turned the recording over to a talk show host. The right have been all over this teacher, calling him "out of control" and describing his lecture as a "far left rant" and even resurrecting idiot buzzwords like "pinko." They want to make a right wing martyr out of Allen, and they want to silence Bennish.

I suspect that if Bennish "went off on a rant" against the left wing (or even the right's exaggerated, unrealistic view of the left wing) and were suspended, they'd be making a big deal about freedom of speech. Because it's always a double standard with the commentators like Anne Coulter. The ones who veer a little to close to the fascist extreme of the right.

This touches on another issue which bugs the fuck out of me: the right of teachers to actually teach in their class. I don't think Bennish was prosletyzing at all. It's his job to open the minds of students; it's their job to listen or to discuss, but not to run to the right wing and try to get the guy fired. The only thing Sean Allen has learned is to run and tattle like a little bitch, because Bennish isn't parroting Republican policies and their own skewed version of political reality they way his parents are, and it frightens him. Well, obviously he hasn't learned how to think critically yet. Why are rightists taking his side on this? What did he really do? Sean Allen, who deserves a strong punch in the mouth for his cowardly snitching, recorded his teacher to get evidence he could use to have his teacher suspended, because his teacher dared to disagree politically with the major party line. Snitching, tattling, telling on his teacher; these are the methods a craven uses to fight a battle he has not the mental ability to understand, nor the wits to win. And the right wingers want to make a hero out of this little bitch?

Read 1984 lately? Man, who would ever have thought that Orwell's ideas didn't go far enough? He's being surpassed constantly.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Maybe a Decade Ago, But Come On...

Listen, before class, would you children please turn your cell phones off? You little techno-babies have grown up with the damn things. They've sufficiently pervaded enough of our society for you to no longer be surprised by how they actually work. And yet, not one class goes by where someone's cell phone isn't suddenly ringing. What's so damn important? LaTonya saw a cute sweater at the mall? Maybe you're just stupid and impolite to the point where you don't actually think of taking the half-second to turn off the phone because it might be disruptive. I mean, this is life, and you're the star, right?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Movie Meme

This one's going around, so I figured why not? It's Empire magazine's list of 50 greatest independent movies.

Bold the ones you've seen and liked.
Strike (X) the ones you've seen and which you didn't like or which are just plain overrated.
Italicize the ones you haven't seen but want to.
Underline the ones you haven't seen and don't want to.
Don't do anything to the ones you've never heard of.

1. Reservoir Dogs: Although it is damn, damn, damn overated.
2. Donnie Darko
3. The Terminator
4. Clerks
5. Monty Python's Life of Brian: Personally, I prefer The Meaning of Life, but this is certainly a good one.
6. Night of the Living Dead
7. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (X)
8. The Usual Suspects (X)
9. Sideways (X): I enjoyed parts of it, but come on. So gassy and self-important. And is this really meant to be the ninth greatest movie ever made?
10. Mean Streets
11. Bad Taste
12. Eraserhead
13. Memento: I think everyone who knows me is surprised I like this movie.
14. Stranger Than Paradise
15. Blood Simple
16. She's Gotta Have It
17. City of God: So fucking sick of hearing about it...
18. Withnail and I (X): Good performances, but boring and forgettable.
19. Lone Star: He makes his own sauce...
20. Slacker
21. Roger and Me
22. Nosferatu: I'm assuming the silent version, though the 1979 Werner Herzog movie is actually better and more engrossing.
23. The Evil Dead
24. Happiness
25. Drugstore Cowboy
26. Lost in Translation
27. Dark Star (X): The most boring science fiction movie I've ever seen, which is saying a hell of a lot of things.
28. In the Company of Men
29. Bad Lieutenant
30. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
31. Pink Flamingos: Can't believe I've still never seen this movie, especially as much as I love John Waters.
32. Two Lane Blacktop: I've wanted to see this for a long, long time.
33. Shallow Grave: Good, but great?
34. The Blair Witch Project (X): Give me a break.
35. THX-1138
36. Buffalo '66: I hate Vincent Gallo.
37. Being John Malkovich
38. Grosse Point Blank (X): How did this movie become so goddamn popular?
39. The Passion of the Christ: But extremely overrated. The Last Temptation of Christ is a much better movie, and Gibson doesn't have much of a point to make. He's stuck in the Dark Ages. As a series of images, it's an artistic film. As a story, though...
40. The Descent
.41. Dead Man's Shoes
42. Swingers (X): Since when is an actor's reel a movie?
43. Shadows (X): This just makes me want to hang film students.
44. Amores Perros
45. Mad Max: But The Road Warrior is my favorite.
46. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The remake is shite, but the original is excellent.
47. Blood Feast
48. Cube: Odd choice, but a good movie.
49. Run Lola Run
50. El Mariachi

No Spinal Tap? Well, at least they didn't go the damn "Star Wars is an indie movie!" route.

Film Week

A review of the film I've seen this past week.

I'm so jaded on quirky detective movies, that I'm surprised by how much I liked this one. Art Carney stars as a washed-up detective whose friend is murdered just after the opening credits. At the funeral, he's hired by Lily Tomlin (flighty as the day is long) to find her cat, who's been kidnapped by an ex-boyfriend. And as the investigation goes on, we're drawn into a morass of murder, drugs, and secrets. This is one of the best detective movies I've ever seen, at once a love letter to the noir of the 1940s and a modernization of it. Lily Tomlin, as Margo Sperling, is such a hippie-dippy Me Generation motormouth, but it becomes endearing. Art Carney, as Ira Wells, is hardboiled and gritty, but also frail and occasionally lets us see how hard it is for him to be so out of time. So good, I wish there was a sequel. Or a TV show. Eugene Roche makes a fun villain. Written and directed by Robert Benton, produced by Robert Altman, and 94 minutes very well spent. **** stars. A must-see.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My Mom Wants to "Fix" the Oscars

I talked to my mom about the Academy Awards last night, and she said she became so bored during the telecast that she turned it off and went to bed. I agreed with her that it was something any sane, rational person would do. They were pretty boring, I suppose, even though I was interested in them. Nothing much happened, but hey, at least it was well-paced. Rather like an Altman film...

So, we had a discussion about what could be done to fix the Oscars. "Who cares about the winner of some sound category for a movie? Who cares? I don't." I tried to protest that I was, of course, interested in the winner, but she made a simple point that I hadn't considered: "Can't you just read about it online? Why can't the take the top half of the awards that the average viewer like me gives a shit about, and just show those on TV? Can't the rest be done at some luncheon or something? You know, like the science and techinical awards they do every year?"

Short answer: unions will cry "segregation!"

But, let's suppose it could be done. Wouldn't that be something else? I mean, every year we've got to put up with a ceremony that is meant to be three hours long, but which runs longer and tends to be arse-numbingly interminable. And I think, really, what a lot of home viewers are more interested in are the so-called major categories. Why don't they take the minor categories and do them at a separate ceremony at a different time? The Science and Technical Awards are the same way; they lock the nerds in a room the night before or something, and they get some hot chick the nerds will respond to (Rachel McAdams, Jennifer Garner), and they let them make all the speeches they want. Imagine the same thing with the so-called minor categories. Then no one gets cut off for being "less important." Because, where TV networks are involved, those decisions always have to be made, and they are often unfair.

What categories would be televised? My mother suggested Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Documentary Feature. I also added Best Animated Feature for a tentative even ten. I'm still torn on Best Cinematography.

Going further, I suggested that Gilbert Cates be forcibly retired from ever producing the Academy Awards again. Not only did he produce this weekend's 78th Annual Academy Awards, but numbers 62-67 (1990-95), 69-71 (1997-99), 73, 75, and 77. And it's the same overlong show every year. Furthermore, Cates is 72 years old! Not to be an ageist, but he's still running this thing as though it were an important ceremony that the world equates with a political election or an audience with the pope. It isn't! It has to be approached as a television broadcast first and formost, and the declining ratings reflect that. And yet, America always blames the host if the show is boring, even though the host has no real control over it. If Jon Stewart and Daily Show executive producers Madeline Smithberg and Ben Karlin had produced the Academy Awards, it would have been a little more of the chaotic, satirical broadcast that Entertainment Weekly and NPR were hoping for. But Gilbert Cates, stuck in another show biz era of glamour and pageantry, is stuck trying to make the show brief, yet all-encompassing and entertaining.

Obviously, he shouldn't be asked back. Hire a younger producer with a better sense of irreverence to put some energy into the damn thing. I'm talking about the kind of subtlety of a program like Arrested Development combined with the energy of a show like South Park. Do you see what I'm getting at? Ten awards and more humor. Yes, you can still do the clip montage showing how great American films supposedly are, but humor is going to make the show see a lot shorter. If people are having fun, they aren't looking at the clock with boredom.

Steve Carrell and Will Ferrell in bad make-up? Good stuff. Ben Stiller in a greenscreen suit? A little long, but pretty funny. Last year, with Will Ferrell and Jack Black singing a song about keeping acceptance speeches short? Hilarious. This is the kind of thing that they should do more of. And I don't mean it has to be as tasteless and shambolically irreverent as the MTV Movie Awards used to be (before everyone involved started taking those really seriously), but some humor interspersed with the seriousness might even come across as tasteful.

And as a side note, please no more cutaway shots, after a particularly offensive or stupid joke, to someone like Russell Crowe, Salma Hayek, or Charlize Theron refusing to laugh. Are you trying to reinforce the stuffy humorlessness of the Awards? It just makes us more bored.

Anyway, I think my mom has the right idea about the Oscars. It makes for a more fun evening of TV-watching, instead of the bland "dear Christ don't offend anyone" touchiness and self-importance we have now. My mom was a little offended that ABC would pre-empt two of her favorite shows, Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, to offer her something as tedious as the Academy Awards. And I think she's entitled to feel that way. After all, isn't it the responsibility of a live broadcast to at least be entertaining?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Some Random Post-Oscar Thoughts

1. Jon Stewart is a comedy god. It's not that he was dignified and kept the show running smoothly. It's that he knows he doesn't have a film career to damage, so he took the piss out of everyone and everything. More than just the expected political jokes, he made some nice little barbed comments that played directly to the home audience; a sort of wink to show that, yeah, the Oscars are basically bullshit, so why not rip on them a little? Nice to have someone in on the joke for once.

2. Why does Naomi Watts think she looks good in ivory and cream? All the time with the varying shades of white! Why not let the hair go to its natural shade and wear a real color? Then you wouldn't look like you had so many health problems! And why does Nicole Kidman continue to believe that her presence is absolutely necessary at the Oscars? Am I just out of touch with the audience for not giving a shit about Nicole Kidman/Julia Roberts/Reese Witherspoon/Renee Zellweger?

3. Why so much security on Billy Bush? I mean, I was going to fly out there and knock the teeth out of his smug, unearned sense of entitlement, but I figured why bother? He's Billy Bush. He's no one. And who the hell were the two other chicks interviewing celebrities on ABC? Can't they got hot chicks for that job? Where was Nancy O'Dell?

4. Thank you, Michelle Williams, for wearing a color. What's with all the browns, tans, and olives this year? How boring. Lots of women don't look good in those colors. Salma Hayek however, who wore a lovely shade of blue, would look good in burlap and mud.

5. Holy shit, is Joel Siegel that old? Man, I don't think I've watched him review a movie for 12 years now.

6. Why does Jennifer Aniston need to be at the Academy Awards? She is not, repeat not, a movie star. And she never will be. She could take a lesson from Jennifer Garner, who not only has movie star potential but, even when tripping over herself, manages to remain poised.

7. Ryan Philippe must be the most unfulfilled, insignificant actor-husband ever. Always glowering and looking away. Yeah, he knows. He knows the only reason people remember his name if for being Mr. Reese Witherspoon. But does he always have to be so damn angry about it?

8. I can't imagine why anyone gives a shit about Philip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti anymore, actually. And why did they refer to Boogie Nights as being Hoffman's big screen break? I remember him from Scent of a Woman, five years earlier.

9. Finally, Charlize Theron's makeup looks good and she fucks up her hair instead. Hate the dress, too. But I've always thought her mom was sexy, so it was nice to see Gerda there.

10. George Clooney can be a really graceful, funny guy. Especially when he's drunk. Not here, but at the Golden Globes he seemed pretty sauced.

11. The new habit of playing music through the acceptance speeches is kind of nice, but I'm sure it will be badly received. It makes the show feel shorter. Hell, it ran 3 hours and about 23 minutes last night, but it felt shorter, because Jon Stewart was funny and everything felt so breezy. Despite the total obviousness of every winner and the lack of even one interesting event, the show was never boring.

12. The musical performances: I fucking love Dolly Parton. Always have, always will. She was fun and, weirdly enough, tasteful; she just came out and sang. That production number from Crash was as pretentious and overblown as the movie itself, and the song was totally forgettable. And that "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" garbage? That sounded like a 1964 Hollywood-sanitized version of rap, not real, actual rap. What a piece of shit that was! I thought I was watching Shirley Bassey sing the theme song to one of those old faux-hipster movies with Peter O'Toole, or something.

13. Catherine Keener looked slutty in her dress. Slutty is good.

14. It was kind of depressing watching Lauren Bacall stumble through her bit. What was up there? I mean, a real movie star actually presents at the Oscars, and the teleprompter is off?

15. Watching Keanu "dye job" Reeves and Sandra "plastic face" Bullock present really made me realize just how long ago Speed came out...

16. The president of AMPAS, always the most boring moment of the show, was in an especially blowhardy mood last night. Notice how he took a shot at DVDs there? God, they're really terrified and angry that the movie/DVD release window might be shortened, aren't they? Even Jake Gyllenhaal's presentation of the epic clips had a scripted shot at DVDs, and he giggled over it! Even he thought it was lame. The AMPAS president really brought the Oscar night circle jerk to a new height: apparently, the movie industry is single-handedly saving New Orleans by filming there. Wow, movies are important! I mean, the whole night is basically a corporate party where everyone sucks each other off over how great they are, but that was amazingly egotastic, even for Hollywood.

17. Itzhak Perlman is a surprise performance? Doesn't he live there?

18. So, not only did Jessica Alba look really bad (she's too small to pull that dress off, and let's not even discuss the hair), she can't read, either.

19. You know, speaking of the epic clip show, why does it always have to come down to "Spielberg is great." Ugh, shut the fuck up!

20. Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep where hilarious; I don't like Robert Altman's films a whole lot, but it actually felt like he deserved his honorary Oscar. Was anyone else fixated on Meryl Streep's rack? She looked so perky!

21. Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. You have to chuckle with derision when a rapper tries to go respectable so he can be taken seriously as an actor. Also known as selling-out.

22. So, yet another piece for the John Travolta wig museum. We get it, you're bald.

23. Well, Reese Witherspoon may be an overrated, horrible little goblin, but at least she didn't cry and talk about how important the Oscars are. Boy, did she ramble though.

24. Yay! John Canemaker won an Oscar!

25. Why is Dustin Hoffman always so drunk at these things?

26. Dude, I can't believe they actually cut off the producers of the Best Picture during their acceptance speech! Hilarious!

27. So, overall nothing interesting happened and there wasn't much in the way of fashion this year. The Oscars haven't felt this superfluous since 1996. Or 1999, too. I can't wait now to see if Jon Stewart is as badly received as Steve Martin, Chris Rock, and David Letterman (the funny hosts) were.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Best Film of the Year

I am one of those annoying listmakers who keeps list upon list of completely trivial opinions. And, I keep my list of film favorites; kind of my own Oscars, I guess. They change, of course, depending on what I see, but since the Academy Awards are tonight, he's my completely subjective list of Best Films for every year since 1913. These are just my opinions, and anyone who wants to refute, disagree, or offer their own recommendations is welcome to comment.

1913: The Battle of Elderbush Gulch, D.W. Griffith
1914: Cabiria, Giovanni Pastrone
1915: The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith
1916: The Immigrant, Charles Chaplin
1918: The Sinking of the Lusitania, Winsor McCay
1919: Leaves Out of Satan’s Book, Carl Theodor Dreyer
1920: The Mark of Zorro, Fred Niblo
1921: The Kid, Charles Chaplin
1922: Nanook of the North, Robert Flaherty
1923: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wallace Worsley
1924: He Who Gets Slapped, Victor Sjostrom
1925: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, Fred Niblo
1926: The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lotte Reiniger
1927: Napoleon, Abel Gance
1928: The Cameraman, Edward Sedgewick
1929: The Man with the Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov
1930: Animal Crackers, Victor Heerman
1931: City Lights, Charles Chaplin
1932: Freaks, Tod Browning
1933: King Kong, Ernest B. Shoedshack & Merian C. Cooper
1934: The Thin Man, Woodbridge S. Van Dyke II
1935: The Informer, John Ford
1936: Modern Times, Charles Chaplin
1937: Captains Courageous, Victor Fleming
1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Michael Curtiz & William Keighley
1939: Gone with the Wind, Victor Fleming
1940: Fantasia, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield & Ben Sharpsteen
1941: Citizen Kane, Orson Welles
1942: Casablanca, Michael Curtiz
1943: Sahara, Zoltan Korda
1944: The Adventures of Mark Twain, Irving Rapper
1945: Open City, Roberto Rossellini
1946: Beauty and the Beast, Jean Cocteau
1947: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1948: Treasure of the Sierra Madre, John Huston
1949: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, John Ford
1950: Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder
1951: A Streetcar Named Desire, Elia Kazan
1952: Singin’ in the Rain, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
1953: Pickup on South Street, Samuel Fuller
1954: Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa
1955: Mister Roberts, John Ford & Mervyn LeRoy
1956: The Searchers, John Ford
1957: Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick
1958: Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock
1959: Ben-Hur, William Wyler
1960: Spartacus, Stanley Kubrick
1961: West Side Story, Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins
1962: Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean
1963: Cleopatra, Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1964: Seven Days in May, John Schlesinger
1965: The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo
1966: Fahrenheit 451, Francois Truffaut
1967: In the Heat of the Night, Norman Jewison
1968: The Lion in Winter, Anthony Harvey
1969: Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper
1970: Patton, Franklin J. Schaffner
1971: Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby
1972: The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola
1973: F for Fake, Orson Welles
1974: Chinatown, Roman Polanski
1975: The Man Who Would Be King, John Huston
1976: Up!, Russ Meyer
1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg
1978: Midnight Express, Alan Parker
1979: Being There, Hal Ashby
1980: The Big Red One, Samuel Fuller
1981: Blow Out, Brian De Palma
1982: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Spielberg
1983: The Right Stuff, Philip Kaufman
1984: Amadeus, Milos Forman
1985: Brazil, Terry Gilliam
1986: Manhunter, Michael Mann
1987: The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci
1988: The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese
1989: The Bear, Jean-Jacques Annaud
1990: Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner
1991: Boyz N the Hood, John Singleton
1992: Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood
1993: Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg
1994: Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson
1995: Braveheart, Mel Gibson
1996: Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh
1997: Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki
1998: A Simple Plan, Sam Raimi
1999: The Straight Story, David Lynch
2000: Scarlet Diva, Asia Argento
2001: Winged Migration, Jacques Perrin and Michel Debats & Jacques Cluzaud
2002: Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore
2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Peter Jackson
2004: Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel
2005: Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee