Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Gift 2006

Yes, it's more eye candy for the holidays. Hope you don't mind that I got you the same thing as last year.
















Friday, December 22, 2006

Grindhouse Teaser Trailer!

See it here. If I do not see this movie my life will be incomplete. Posted by Picasa

Throwdown 12/22

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Tomb Raider III? Wasn’t one of these cinematic abortions horrible enough? I feel sorry for anyone who is sitting there right now going “Yeah, the first two kicked ass!” Very sorry.

2. Prince William is now officially an army officer (Second Lieutenant, if you must know). He’s going to train to be a troop commander in an armored recon unit. After a year, he plans to spend time in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. See, this is what responsible leaders do; they try to figure out how governments and government services work. They familiarize themselves with what their people go through. Not that I’m comparing Prince William to anyone over here who may have spent an entire lifetime partying and now has more responsibility than he can handle.

3. Christian groups are getting pissed off over Black Christmas cuz it’s all Christmassy and violent. Wow, congratulations, Jesus fans, you’re only 32 years too late to get all worked up over this!

4. Halle Berry has recorded an album. Boy, it’s been nice this year not really hearing anyone mention Halle Berry. And just when I think she can’t become any more irrelevant, she goes and records an album, which makes her look like a person you can really take seriously. Who the fuck is clamoring for Halle Berry to do an album? Who gives a fuck about Halle Berry anymore? Who? I mean, she already showed us her boobs, what more is there for her to do?

5. Here’s a statistic for you ladies to think about: only 55% of men wash their hands after using the bathroom. Yay, I’m afraid to touch anything!

6. Note to Donald Trump: you responding to Rosie O’Donnell’s comment that you went bankrupt once by threatening to sue her and calling her “fat” doesn’t make me thing she’s a liar, okay? “You can’t make false statements,” huh? Like the one about your hair being real? Faded Youth has been following this war more closely than I, if you're interested. It's pretty funny.

7. So, ghoulish corpse Josh Hartnett breaks up with perfect Scarlett Johansson and is immediately somewhere dueling tongues with perfect Gisele Bundchen? Why, God, why is it always the undeserving and never me? Man, when I’m thin I’m going to move to New York and fuck every woman and some of the men I can get my hands on.

8. Well, apparently Nick Lachey is still in denial and thinks he can attempt another heterosexual marriage. He’s going to marry this Vanessa Minnilo, and while I still don’t really know who she is, I do find it interesting that she’s the same age as Jessica Simpson. Yeah, because marrying a younger, high maintenance woman with her own career who probably isn’t going to want to drop everything to have children worked so well the first time, right? Is he just not happy without someone to condescend to? Either way, I think he and Jake Gyllenhaal would make a fabulous couple.

9. Speaking of Jess, there’s this story going around now that, in an attempt to guard potential relationships from the paparazzi, Jessica does all of her intimate talk on the phone. Which I take to mean this: you can no longer have sex with Jessica Simpson in person, you have to do it over the phone. But if I had phone sex with Jess, I’d be afraid that Papa Joe were listening and, yes, relieving himself on the other end. Maybe he’d give her pointers on what to say afterward. Creeeeeeeeepy.

10. So, the 31 year-old sleazy prick who’s fucking Britney Spears right now is also dating—excuse me, I’m sure he’s fooled her into thinking they’re dating, but the actual term I should’ve used was fucking—Hayden Panettiere. Now, I’m not saying that Hayden Panettiere is a sexy bitch. She’s 17 years old, I can’t say she’s a sexy bitch. But this is what annoys me the most. Put this in the real world for a moment. If the 31 year-old wasn’t some rich fuck, but was me, and the 17 year-old wasn’t some actress with a hit show, but the local head cheerleader at the high school, it would be a huge scandal, wouldn’t it? I’d think it would be. And it should be. So why do we have such a different standard for rich people? I mean, this isn’t the first time this is happening. This isn’t even the fifth time this year alone. So what the fuck, people?

11. I don’t know, is it a publicity thing or what? I can’t believe that enough people care about beauty queens for this to be a big deal. Apparently, Tara Conner can stay Miss USA as long as she goes to rehab for her alcohol and coke problems. She dances on tables and exposes her implants in public, and she lives with Miss Teen USA Katie Blair. Now it looks like Katie’s a drunk, too, and can’t be the MADD spokesperson. Katie and Tara are also rumored to engage in sexual activities, which honestly makes these two the best Miss USA and Miss Teen USA in the history of humankind. Keep in mind Katie is underage, which just makes this more awesome.

12. So, now we have this gal, Miss Nevada Katie Rees, who likes to make out with chicks and whip out her tits in bars when she’s drunk. Which makes her the best Miss Nevada in history… So she might not get to compete for Miss USA next year. I don’t know…underage drinking, making out with chicks, pretending to give men and women oral sex, flashing people…she seems to represent Nevada perfectly, doesn’t she? I’m just asking, does this seem legitimate to you? Do you really think that, for some mystical reason, young girls are behaving worse and worse, or do you just think it’s getting more press? And why is it always girls? It’s never guys, is it? Guys apparently can’t disgrace themselves by getting drunk and acting like asswipes; they’re just being guys and having fun. But if a woman lets loose on a Friday night with no panties on, everyone freaks the fuck out. Doesn’t that seem a little too…well, American to you?

13. If anyone’s interested, here’s the trailer for Transformers. I don’t know. I kept hearing that this was, like, a really stunning, amazing trailer, but it looks pretty crappy to me. It took me a long time to find it anyway, since every tech geek, fandamentalist, pathetic anime freak and sci fi nerd was watching it repeatedly and jacking off to it. I don’t know, I was waiting for that “wow” moment but I never saw one. The robots look like shit, and most of the trailer seems ripped off from scenes in Starship Troopers, Hulk, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. And even if the trailer looked good, the movie’s still going to suck; it’s Michael fucking Bay.

14. And speaking of disappointments, here’s the first actual picture of the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four 2, the sure-to-be-bad sequel to the so-completely-fucking-awful-it’s-actually-embarrassing Fantastic Four. I can just see the jerky, unbelievable CGI movements already. Yeah, let’s all settle for crap like a fanboy!

15. And finally, here’s something encouraging. It looks like Tom Cruise is financing his own film about scientology called, yes, The Thetan. At last, we can finally nail the coffin lid shut on this career of his! This is excellent news for people like me, who’ve known all along that Tom Cruise is bullshit. Yes, Cruise is bankrolling the project himself because every major studio in Hollywood said no fucking way to this movie. So, what do you do to make sure people will notice an indie? That’s right, you get a big, huge star that the world loves so people will go and see it. A huge star like…Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham! Yes, Posh herself is thrilled that she’s finally going to get her break at the big Hollywood stardom she’s always been alone in thinking she absolutely deserves. Cruise is said to have been wowed by her “comic genius.” She plays the bride of an alien leader. Can’t you just see all the people who are going to be inspired to queue up for an audit based on this surefire hit? Oh, man, I hope Tom has kissed his money goodbye, because he’s never going to see it again.

Touch My Links!

It's the end of the year, so it must be time for some end-of-the-year lists. Egotastic links to the Top Celebrity Viral Videos of 2006. Nerve lists the Top 40 Celebrity Rumors of All Time, which is surprisingly fun reading. The Onion AV Club has their picks for the best movies of the year.

Not enough lists? Here's some more. Premiere picks the 20 most overrated movies ever, and they actually get 2 or 3 of them right. Kung Fu Monkey takes a look back at the fall TV season. Gawker has list of blogmedia cliches that must end. And The Rude Pundit has a couple of things to say about George W. Bush's End of the Year press conference.

But there's more links for the holiday season. WFMU's Beware of the Blog talks about Hitler's Very Special Christmas. The Gilded Moose has scarily accurate Christmas greetings from Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. No Smoking in the Skull Cave has YouTube-packed posts on both the best and worst Christmas specials of all time (and might have a Christmas Action Figure Theater up this weekend). Both retroCRUSH and Exquisitely Bored in Nagodoches have their takes on what is, in fact, the worst Christmas song of all time. And Peter Lynn has posted the track list for his 2006 Christmas Mix up at Man vs. Clown!...hope I'm still on that mailing list!

Some other things that caught my eye and dragged it fifteen feet this week:

The Absorbascon answers the big questions about Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern.

Pajiba reviews Dreamgirls and really makes me want to go see it. Witness the rise of Jennifer Hudson!

Modern Fabulosity dissects Mel Gibson's character, or lack thereof.

How to handle a woman? There's a way, says the wise old Yas. Go to Good Tidings on a Bad Day and figure out what your significant other really wants for Christmas (and every other day), gentlemen.

Grindhouse! My New Plaid Pants has the lobby cards posted! Rose McGowan with a machine gun leg makes me inexplicably hard!

And although Nathaniel R. states the stunningly obvious at The Film Experience, I agree with what he's saying.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Offerings to Satisfy Lord Kringus

Boy, is it just me or does this not feel remotely like Christmas at all? Seriously, what happened? Usually by this point I'm feeling all of this terrible Christmas pressure and getting inundated with Christmas music and commercials for sales until I want to barf. And yet, it's not here this year at all. It's funny; because of the Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3, the people who predict these sorts of things were predicting that this would be a huge Christmas for electronics sales. But the biggest seller this year is gift cards. Which are an easy gift, to be sure, but a great one. It's like getting free money to choose your own present with. Who doesn't love gift cards? Last Christmas, everyone got iPods. This Christmas, they're getting gift cards for iTunes and Best Buy. Which isn't bad, I think.

Everyone else seemed to shoot their Christmas wad too early. I remember saying I was offically sick of Christmas about four or five days into November, when the radio stations were already playing Christmas music and credit card companies were already airing their Christmas commercials. It wasn't even Thanksgiving, and they were already set to release this year's reqisite annoying crappy Christmas movies, Unaccompanied Minors and Deck the Halls. Christmas was over before it started this year. I even had my tree up before Thanksgiving.

Every year, my mother, my sister, and I go see a movie on Christmas day. Even that seems muted this year; there's no great-looking fantasy movie about to come out. There's no Harry Potter, no Lord of the Rings, not even a King Kong. Plus, my sister's spending her Christmas in Hawaii (which means I'll probably be getting the same thing from her for Christmas that I got five months ago for my thirtieth birthday, which is to say not a damn thing; not that I'm keeping score the way my dad does, but she at least could've told me happy freaking birthday).

Anyway, my whole point is, Christmas feels long over to me. All of the snow finally melted; it's been in the forties for the last week or so. I didn't see any of the movies or cartoons or hear any of the songs I associate with Christmas. Because, you know me, my Christmas is infused with pop culture. I couldn't even work up the enthusiasm to do what would have been my second annual Christmas Mix CD.

Now, am I depressed about this? You bet your ass I'm not! I think this is great! The pressure if off, man! I can just drive out to spend time with my family and not feel like I'm disappointing everyone on this grand, oh-so-important, America-must-come-to-a-complete-stop holiday! Fuck, they all know I'm broke, anyway. I can actually just enjoy the family time without feeling the pressure of where I'm going to be or when I have to get there. Do you realize that one year I felt so much combined pressure from school and family and obligations that I woke up on Christmas Eve with an anxiety attack? It was so severe and painful I really thought I was having a heart attack! And you know what I did? I just laid there and waited to die! Because Christmas has been completely ruined by being forcefed every year with the importance of American consumerism! This is going to be a laid back Christmas. This is going to be the best Christmas EVER!!

This December, I was actually going to do what I did in October and put up a holiday-related video every day. Christmas seems so beside-the-point this year that it didn't happen. And the stuff that's not on YouTube... I couldn't find a lot of the stuff I love, anyway. So here's what I have for you. If anyone watches them, I hope they enjoy.

This first video is Jethro Tull on Top of the Pops performing "Ring Out, Solstice Bells."

If no one appreciates this, I know Becca will. Bill Nighy is a comic genius. Here is as Billy Mack in Love Actually. Ladies and gentlemen, Christmas is officially all around.

Christmas with Superman? Yes, please. Here's about five and a half minutes of Martian Manhunter discovering Christmas with the Kents on an episode of Justice League. You'll be surprised how heartfelt it is without being sappy. Unless you watch the show. Then you already know.

While we're possibly in a nicely traditional mood, I'd like to throw this one on you. I know, I know, everyone's heard Elvis sing "Blue Christmas," and this slide show is set to the recording. But still, I feel the need to present it here. It's a Christmas favorite, and it always reminds me of my grandmother. She passed away six years ago (in January it'll be seven). I remember spending a Christmas or two in Iowa at my grandma's, and she loved Elvis and old-fashioned Christmas music. And since I'm remembering her today, this song is for her.

Okay, I know everyone remembers this McDonald's commmercial from the eighties, right? Man, I remember the day I realized that they weren't showing this anymore and I hadn't seen it in years. Yes, it makes me tear up a bit. As corporate shills go, Ronald ain't so bad. At least when he's not stage-diving, anyway.

This is a hard one for me to swallow. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a holidy necessity for me. I remember seeing it seven times in the theater when it came out and it not being a massive hit. Most of the people I knew didn't like it. And then, it suddenly became a cult favorite and now it's like some sort of handbook for these dumbass Goth kids who are even more commercial than the original Goths were (the ones who had to search a lot harder to find their music in specialty stores). Fucking emo. Goth with more crying is what it is. Anyway, they just put out a new version of the soundtrack with fucking emo bands doing covers. One of the bands I hate most in the world is Fall Out Boy. But I actually like their version of "What's This?" So, in the spirit of human forgiveness, I'm giving them a pass on this one. Lord Kringus help me.

Okay, let's get disgusting. Satan enjoys Christmastime in Hell on South Park.

And speaking of the devil, I knew that the Darkness had a Christmas single. But I didn't know that they had a video to go with it! God, please let Justin Hawkins see the light and go back to the band! This is “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)."

I like Christmas humor, obviously, but try searching YouTube for Saturday Night Live bits. NBC is uncoolly taking them down everywhere they find them. I wanted to put up the great "Shwety Balls" sketch, but the few I found were all taken down. So here's the Christmas video they did last week on the Justin Timberlake episode. Everybody talked about this like it was the Total Redemption of SNL, and NBC put it up uncensored (because the word "dick" is offensive anymore?), so here it is. It's pretty funny. And it's what I'm getting all of you ladies for Christmas.

Okay, well, I do love pop culture. So, of course, I love the Sundblom Coca-Cola Santa ads. I know they're ads, I understand I'm being sold something. But the ads themselves are genius. You know what else I like? Those Coca-Cola polar bears. Yes, I do. Here's the commercial where they use the great Beach Boys song "Little Saint Nick." I know, I'm sick of penguins too, but this commercial is fun and cute.

Incidentally, I wanted to put up this great, rare clip of the Beach Boys singing "Little Saint Nick." The embed code has been disabled, but go here to watch it. If no one else likes it, at least Peter Lynn will. I hope. Otherwise I've just been incredibly presumptuous.

I always love cartoons at Christmas. No one's posted Mickey's Christmas Carol, which is my favorite, and I know you've all seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas already, here's most of one of the best, The Snowman. The song "Walking Through the Air" haunts you in just the right way.

More kid stuff. I have to have the Muppets somewhere at Christmas; here they are with John Denver singing "12 Days of Christmas."

I remember when this bizarre clip of David Bowie and Bing Crosby at Christmas was nearly an urban legend. Then it was a thing that only people who love weirdness and Bowie, like myself, sought out. Today, it's become a Christmas staple, and I don't mind at all. It actually is, as Bing says, a lovely thing. It's a pretty song, and they both sing it beautifully. This is why you live for pop culture; the completely plain-faced strangeness of it all. What are future civilizations going to think we spent our time doing? Here's “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth." By the way, check out Bing's reaction when David is "just seeing if you were paying attention." Was that planned? Because Bing actually does look a little pissed, and you know the guy beat his kids. Incidentally, his kids were the ones who suggested putting Bowie on this special at all. Ah, abusing your family. It really is Christmas, after all.

This is a pretty song, too, though a sad one. The Pogues and Kirsty McColl, “Fairytale of New York." Be kind this season, and all year round.

My favorite, absolute favorite Christmas song is "O Holy Night." If I don't hear Nat "King" Cole sing it, it ain't Christmas. There doesn't seem to be a clip of him singing it, but there is a version by the Queen of My Heart, Jessica Simpson. Actually, she has a music video, but it's too cloying for me. Here she is, just her amazing voice and a guitar, singing at Disneyland, no less.

If all Mariah Carey wants for Christmas is me, she can have her wish. Her "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is a surprisingly good Phil Spector pastiche, and since I couldn't find Darlene Love singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," this is almost as good. My friend Ben is a big fan of hers, so if he's watching, Happy Christmas, Ben.

Okay, I did nab another great SNL clip. Steve Martin's wish for Christmas.

We've all seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. Well, you've probably all seen this, too, but here it is all funkified and without the somewhat overbearing religious message (which is nice if, like me, you're an atheist). Hey Ya, Charlie Brown!

Okay, guys, this is a hard video to watch. It is painful, it is violent, and it is almost oppressively sad. But I have to put it here. This is John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." The world is still so wrong. Let's keep that in mind this year.

And finally, the tradition that seems to end Christmas for me in a gentle, peaceful way. Nat “King” Cole singing “The Christmas Song."

Be good to each other. Be safe this season. Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad. Happy Hanukkah. Joyous Kwanzaa. Good Yule. Or, if you're an atheist like me, just have a nice and restful weekend and be happy.

Of possible interest from 2005:
Monday Funny (Books); Christmas Mix 2005; Monday Funny (Star Wars Santa); When the Hell is "Life Day"? (Now enhanced with horrifying clips from the Star Wars Holiday Special); Holiday Throwdown; The Pagan Origins of Christmas; A Christmas Gift for You from SamuraiFrog; Monday Funny (gift wrapping)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Film Week

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

This sumptuous movie stars the Great Profile John Barrymore in another energetic, magnetic performance, this time as a man studying for the priesthood who falls in love with a woman engaged to a member of Louis XV’s court. The woman is the gorgeous Dolores Costello, who would go on to marry Barrymore soon after the picture was finished; she’s the grandmother of Drew Barrymore, and you can tell just by looking at her. It’s an elegant movie, and one of Vitaphone’s first successes for Warner Bros. Director Alan Crosland and Barrymore had previously made Don Juan for Warners, which had a synched film score and some sound effects; so does When a Man Loves. Crosland would go on to direct the less good but groundbreaking The Jazz Singer. But the Barrymore pictures are better. **** stars.

I have no idea why the idea of Santa having a kid captivates so many people. Here, Jenny McCarthy is the daughter of Santa Claus, and has to return home to help him run the factory after he has a heart attack (?). Really, it’s just another antifeminist piece of claptrap where women are made to feel empty and worthless just for being good at their jobs, once again couched in the cowardly terms of sentimentality. And Ivan Sergei really is a shit actor. * star for Jenny, because I do like that she’s extremely hot and keeps trying to play roles where her incredible hotness isn’t a factor. From the auteur who directed The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

How is it that Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed so many great films and yet seems to be barely remembered these days? This is yet another of his effortless masterpieces. Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell play three women about to go on a day trip as volunteers minding children, and just as they’re leaving, they receive a letter from another woman informing them she has just left town with one of their husbands. The three women all fret over which one of them it might be, and as they do, we see three flashback vignettes detailing the sometimes-unhappy marriages of each. Rita (Sothern) writes scripts for soap operas, which her English teacher husband (Kirk Douglas) disapproves of. Lora May (Darnell) is from the wrong side of the tracks and has married a rich man. Deborah (Crain) grew up on a farm and thinks she’ll never fit in with her husband’s society friends. Mankiewicz’s masterful, very human dialogue elevates what could easily have become melodramatic. As always, Thelma Ritter steals nearly every scene she’s in. **** stars.

This movie has virtually no plot. That’s what’s so great about it. Six outwardly respectable friends keep trying to have a meal together, but they keep getting interrupted by more and more bizarrely surreal situations. This movie is Luis Bunuel’s masterpiece of dreams within dreams within dreams, an absurdist observation of the hypocritical lives of the elite. **** stars.

Wow, where to start with a movie this bad? Well, here’s the premise, so sorry if I’m spoiling anything: people live in a facility after a world contamination, with new survivors showing up all the time. Anyone who wins the lottery gets to go to the Island, the last place on Earth that has not been contaminated. But they’re actually clones, and the world isn’t contaminated. As an insurance policy, people in the outside world have themselves cloned in case they need organ transplants or whatever. “Going to the Island” is code for going to the hospital and getting harvested. Okay, that’s the premise. Seems like it would be fine, right? Except that this movie is so badly written, and it rips off so much (especially Logan’s Run and THX-1138 and, bizarrely, the speeder bike sequence from Return of the Jedi nearly shot-for-shot and sound effect-for-sound effect) that it becomes ridiculous. So, the clones need to live and have human experience or else the organs fail? Did you maybe, like, once have a scientist go over the script just to check that sort of thing? And the clones re-grow the memory of the people they’re cloned from? Huh? As if a gingerbread man could remember what cookie dough looked like. And since this is a typical American movie as directed by Michael Bay, the typical shitty American director, it’s way, waaaay too long. Every time this movie ends, it goes on for another 20 minutes. Producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald blamed the failure of this movie on Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson not being big enough actors to draw a crowd, but that just shows you how out of touch Spielberg’s micro-managing lieutenants have become. It failed because it’s a piece of total shit. Every time there’s a nice, quiet moment that draws you into what the characters are going through, there’s a loud, long, boring, unnecessary, shakily shot action sequence that could’ve been completely cut out of the movie. I’ll tell you why the movie failed: director Michael Bay, a script by two of the writers from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Spielberg being anywhere near it (as an executive producer), and even being made by DreamWorks in the first place. As I’ve continued to say, DreamWorks is making the absolute worst movies of the 21st century, especially when it comes to science fiction (witness A.I., Minority Report, War of the Worlds, and The Time Machine, ALL of which would be on my list of the worst movies ever made, and all of which share this film’s overlit gunmetal color palette and crappy special effects). This is a film that is potentially full of ideas, but Michael Bay directs it like any other crappy action film. The man is not interested in humanity, nor does he care to be; he just wants to know how to move them like pieces in a video game. It’s too bad, because the cast for this movie is actually quite good (I wonder how heavily the script must’ve been rewritten; it either had to have been better to get this good a cast or it’s just incompetently directed). Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are both actually great, playing na├»ve innocents who are forced to learn the ways of the world very quickly. Sean Bean is nice, even though he’s predictably playing the villain. I always like him, at any rate, even if he’s constantly under-utilized in nearly every damn movie he’s in. Michael Clarke Duncan and Steve Buscemi lend solid support, and it’s nice to Shawnee Smith whenever I can, even if it’s only briefly. My favorite actor in the movie was easily Djimon Hounsou, who plays a real badass who gets a little philosophical; his eleventh hour conversion happens to suddenly and far too late in the movie to be remotely believable, however, which is a real shame. And the whole picture ends with another one of those offensive Moses leading the Jews out of the desert shots, just like I Robot did. It’s real shit. I’ll give it *1/2, because I really don’t blame the actors and they’re all quite good.

Hmm, I liked another Fellini movie. Weird. Maybe I should just stick with anything made before La Dolce Vita, a movie I know I hate… Except that I liked Fellini’s Casanova… well, sort of… I don’t know. This was a fun movie about perception and romance. A newlywed couple visits Rome for a honeymoon, but the bride is secretly obsessed with the White Sheik, a hero of comic books and movie serials. They are filming his new adventure nearby, so the bride sneaks off to find him and give him a drawing she made. For his part, the husband is also obsessed, but with getting an audience with the Pope through his uncle, a minor Vatican official. The bride learns to be careful what she wishes for, because the Sheik is a truly unromantic figure. Hmm, do you think Fellini is drawing a parallel between the White Sheik being a disappointment and the Pope? Hey, what do you think? It’s a fun little movie, and Leopoldo Trieste as the husband is hysterically over-the-top. ***1/2 stars. “Our real lives are in our dreams, but sometimes dreams are a fatal abyss.” Very nice.

Andrzej Wajda’s film is often considered the greatest achievement of Polish cinema, but I found it a little melodramatic. It’s about Polish resistance fighters at the very end of World War II; one of them, Maciek, is ordered to kill Szczuka, a fellow soldier who is also the Communist district leader. The resistance is trying to flush out Communists, but Maciek wrestles with the decision. Overall it’s a good movie, but I thought it was pretty flawed. *** stars.

This masterpiece by director Grigori Chukhrai tells the story of a Russian soldier, Alyosha, who gets a few days leave to see his mother after an act of heroism at the front. But while traveling by train he meets a girl, Shura, and the two fall in love. Chukhrai tells the story of what happens when the world loses a single person, and the effect of that life is felt dramatically. It really seems like a simple journey story, but Alyosha is a stand-in for the 30 million Russians who were killed during World War II. Just watch this movie to compare the difference between Europe’s realistic and sensitive treatment of World War II and how it affected daily life with the patriotic, awe-of-the-military bullshit that still comes out of Hollywood to this day. **** stars.

The latest in the series of movies based on the Janette Oke novels about the Davis and Lahaye families, and with this one, Erin Cottrell becomes the first actress to portray Missie Davis Lahaye twice. It’s a nice movie, but I think they’ve dipped in quality since the lovely first movie, Love Comes Softly. It was nice to see Dale Midkiff back, though. This time around, Missie and Willie are trying to make their frontier lives work despite the encroachment of civilization in the form of a corrupt mayor. ** stars.

Bette Davis stars as Fanny Trellis, a popular society girl who has almost every man eating out of the palm of her hand. She’s forced into a loveless marriage with Joe Skeffington, a Jewish banker, to save her younger brother from embezzlement charges. Things happen more of less predictably, with infidelities and broken hearts as Fanny continues to act as she always has: with only herself in mind. Claude Rains plays Skeffington with a sort of wounded optimism, even though he’s not completely an angel himself. Through the course of her life, Fanny alienates everyone who knows and loves her, and she comes to realize exactly how much her marriage should have meant to her. It’s pretty melodramatic, actually, and it could have been shorter. But Rains and Davis are, of course, excellent. *** stars.

Circumcision: Thoughts on Snipping the Tip

There's still quite a debate raging on whether or not it's right to circumcise infant boys in America. The problem is, the issue gets clouded by things like religion and tradition, as well as men who were circumcised and just seem bitter about it. Circumcision, in fact, goes back further than recorded history. We don't actually know why it was practiced, but it seems ritual is a safe guess. After all, it is a religious requirement of Judaism, which goes back a few thousand years and seems to have heavily borrowed from several ancient religions. It's also a requirement of Islam, which, despite what two sides in a war might think, is basically the same thing as Judaism, only stricter. Yeah, I said it.

Circumcision is not merely a religious rite, of course. Some people do it for aesthetic reasons, for health concerns, or because they think that's what you're supposed to do. But there is an increasing number of people who consider circumcision to be mutilation of infants, and I'm not sure they're far wrong. I mean, honestly, have you seen one of these things happen? I have, and it's not pretty. I've heard people say that the ceremony is beautiful, but how is the sound of an infant wailing in pain beautiful? I don't really see the point of circumcising an infant unless it's medically neccesary.

The problem is, the debate gets heated, and like any heated debate, it gets stunningly stupid. Here are some of the arguments for circumcision that I've heard in the past.

Boys aren't capable of keeping themselves clean.

That's just an insult. Teach boys to keep themselves clean, and they will. I know you're terrified that boys might discover they have a penis one day, but swallow that ooky feeling and be an adult, alright?

Circumcision makes the penis more attractive.

Wow, that's the perfect reason to mutilate a baby. Why is it when a female infant's clitoral hood is cut, it's genital mutilation, but when a male infant's foreskin is cut, it make the penis beautiful? Ladies, want to field that one?

The Jewish tradition is thousands of years old. Who are we to question what our ancestors did?

Well, tell you what Moishe, let's go back in a time machine and ask that same question of the first people who learned to ride a horse, decided to live in a house, and invented farming? What a stupid argument; stand in the way of progress and get left behind, my friend.

The problem is, the arguments on the other side all seem to come from men who are bitter that their cock isn't as sensitive as they imagine it could be. Which is a fine thing to be upset about, don't get me wrong, but the trauma they associate with it seems a little over-the-top. I mean, I'm circumcised, and my cock is pretty fucking sensitive. I don't feel like I needed to be circumcised, but I'm not pissed off about it.

So, I don't know. I've been hearing quite a bit about this lately, for some reason. If it isn't medically necessary, why do that to a baby? Why not let him grow up and make the decision for himself?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Health Report: Week 1

So I've decided to blog my adventures in losing weight and getting healthier. Why? Well, not because I'm so sure that anyone is interested (in fact, I'm sure they're not), but because this way it becomes a schedule to me, like Film Week or the Throwdown or the Sunday Hottie. It's something that will stay in my mind and become habit, instead of what previous weight loss attempts have been, which is over quickly, briefly lamented, and then forgotten. If I fool myself into thinking that people are actually reading this, I'll feel a little more supported.

I was actually talking to Becca about this not long ago. "I guess I like attention more than I think I do." That got a sarcastic laugh that I wasn't actually expecting, so I guess deep down I'm a media whore. Which might be why I blog, but whatever... I was a little shocked and said: "I've always seen myself as shy." Another derisive laugh. Okay, then... I explained that, since I really am the kind of person who will put something down and forget to pick it up again without a reminder, I could use my blog as a positive agent for personal change. Since blogging is the only other thing I make an effort to do every day, I should write about my health as a way to keep me focused on the task at hand, which is becoming a lot less thick.

In preparation for this, I spent a week drinking only water and juice to get all of the caffeine and sugar out of my system. No more soda *sigh*. Since someone out there with actual experience in weight loss was willing to help me, let's say my Personal Trainer (or PT), I asked for some sort of schedule of things I could do beyond my normal walking every day (which I haven't done since it started snowing) and not drinking soda anymore. PT has been putting together a plan for me that's somewhat tailored to my body type (endomorphic, in case you were interested) and insisted that I eat more often.

Yeah, that's actually been a problem for me. I might snack a bit in the morning, then I tend to be on the computer all day (or at school, once) and not even think about eating. I get so caught up in whatever I'm doing that it'll usually be between 2 and 4 when I'll realize that my whole body is shaking from hunger. And then Becca gets home from work around 5:30 and we have dinner, which was the only true meal I'd eat all day. Which of course isn't good for you, especially for my body, which has a very slow metabolism. Eating more actually keeps my metabolism more active, which means it burns fat faster. And burning fat is something I really need.

So as of last Tuesday, I'm now on a specific eating schedule: once every three hours. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and optional snack. And what I'm trying to do is modify PT's plan with things that I feel work and with things in Michael Thurmond's book The 6 Day Body Makeover. I haven't quite gone as drastic as he says to in his book, but for what I'm used to eating, it's a big, big change. And I am sticking to what he says I'm not supposed to eat, which means goodbye to my beloved red meat and my creamy mashed potatoes. Among the other obvious ones, like pizza, nature's most perfect food, and my darling bread, who has sustained me through many a time of trial with her warm, fattening embrace.

But, lucky for me, the diet stresses turkey and chicken, which I already love. I could eat turkey for weeks and weeks. And I'm discovering new likes and dislikes. For example, I still hate broccoli, and now I think egg whites are disgusting. But it turns out that I love fish. The diet stresses a lot of fish, too. And I can still have yogurt, which I love. You're supposed to drink a lot of water, which is fine, because I like water. I've even started buying this Nestle Pure Life Strawberry Splash, which is sugar-free flavored water. It's not thick, but it tastes thick, which fools my body into thinking that I'm getting full.

Now, when I say diet, I mean the way I eat. I'm not looking at this as a diet. I know I'm going to try and add other food later. Maybe one day I could actually have some of the foods I miss again, just not to the wretched excess that I did before. I'm being strict now because I want to get all of the garbage out of my system and set myself on the road to significant weight loss. I'm not looking at this as a diet, because diets are temporary. I'm looking at this as a lifestyle change. And every Tuesday I'm going to blog this lifestyle change to keep myself and the straight and narrow.

But there are moments. My body is craving something, and it's craving it loudly, and I don't know what it is. I wasn't prepared for the wild mood swings that come with denying yourself food that's bad for you. My body isn't used to the changes yet, and as a result I've gotten the occasional headache. Yesterday, I went through a bout of depression so bad that I broke down. I hadn't been that depressed since my sister died. And the self-loathing that came with it wasn't pretty, either. It was almost worse than when I tried to kill myself in high school. But you know what? It was gone very quickly. It happened in the car, and after a few minutes at home it went away as if it had never been there. Weird.

And the food! Even just smelling the popcorn at Target or seeing an ad for toast makes me salivate. But that passes, too. Still, the exchanges in my apartment are going something like this:

Becca: "What do you want for dinner?"

Me: "I want a pizza. An extra cheese pizza. With peanut butter. And marshmallow fluff. And chocolate chips. And coffee sprinkled on top. Maybe with eggs on it. And strawberries and cream cheese. And chips. And I want a yard-size glass of Pepsi. With whipped cream—no, chocolate whipped cream—and sprinkles and sour cream. And served between the breasts of a 17 year-old, well-shaped, 6’ 4” German milkmaid who doesn’t speak any English."
Oh, man, that sounds good. It sucks being fat and wanting to eat all the time.

But there are good things, too, of course. I don't feel sick all the time anymore, which I really did. I didn't realize just how much until I actually walked away from a meal and realized I didn't feel like garbage. And then I slipped a little and ate something that wasn't good for me, and it made me sick; and that's when I realized that I felt that bad all the time. I just realized this morning that I used to have too much phlegm in my throat nearly all the time, but especially in the morning. It used to make me cough and sometimes puke in the morning. Because of my acid reflux, it would sometimes come upon me in the middle of the night, and there is more than one occasion where I woke up feeling choked and unable to breathe. Bad enough there's so much weight on my body that I can barely breathe in certain positions in bed, anyway. I love being in bed, but I don't want to die there, the way my uncle did pretty recently.

And that's another thing that's scaring me straight here. My family has a history of obesity on one side and a history of blood pressure on both sides. My aunt died around the same time as my sister, back in March, from some complications resulting from her most recent stomach stapling. The complications were all psychological; she essentially starved herself to death. In just the past few years, since 2003 I think, I've had two other aunts and one uncle die. It all stems from heart problems and weight problems. They weren't that old. I don't want to die in my fifties or, like my uncle, in my mid-forties. It's a shitty time to die, and I know that if that happened to me it would only be because I was too lazy to do anything about it. I want to live, and that's reason enough.

I'll tell you the moment that was worst for me. My mom came to visit on Sunday, and wanted to eat at Applebee's. Now, if I was standing outside of an Applebee's and some maniac with an axe came up and chopped my foot off, I wouldn't go inside the Applebee's for help. So I'd never go in there to eat if I could help it. It's disgusting, the food is cheap, and they don't even cook there, they reheat, like McDonald's does, only with far less tasty results. I didn't know what I could eat, but I ordered this chicken that had cheese on it, mashed potatoes, and "a vegetable," which unfortunatly meant my despised enemy broccoli. Broccoli. The unholy spawn of cauliflower and Satan. And it tastes like pure evil (unlike its foul colleague brussels sprouts, which taste like the feces of evil, assuming evil as a concept could become personified and defecate). And, it turned out, a piece of Texas toast came with it. More on that in a moment.

The food was disgusting. I scraped the cheese off the chicken because a) I'm not really supposed to have it right now and b) it looked incredibly gross. The chicken itself was fucking gross, too; I only ate a little bit before literally spitting it out. I don't think it was cooked or reheated or whatever all the way. It tasted like rubber and melted meat. It tasted fowl. Like that joke. The mashed potatoes were awful too, all congealed and slimy. I know, I know, what do you expect at Applebee's? Even with the staff outnumbering the patrons three to one on Sunday...

Right as my plate arrived, my mom slowly pulled the toast off my plate and onto hers. I watched it go. And soon I came to understand that, were I to eat the toast, it would be the only edible part of my meal. Not even the pasta of the person behind my mother was as tempting as this single piece of toast.

My mom knew it, too. But I just had to sit there and look at it. She didn't even eat it! When the poor excuse for a server took her plate away, it was still there, begging to be consumed. I blurted out: "You didn't even eat it?"

Now, my mom always orders iced tea, and she always forgets to tell them not to put a lemon in it, because she doesn't like it. So she said: "I should have squeezed my lemon on it and made it inedible. Then you wouldn't be fixated on it."

I laughed, feeling tense. "That wouldn't matter. Lemon-flavored toast? That sounds perfect to me!"

"Then I should've poured water on it. Who wants to eat soggy bread?"

I didn't have an answer for that one. I sat there, shaking with hunger and frustration, and shouted out: "You're a bitch! Do I walk into your home and make fun of your religion?! Can't you just leave me alone to work things out for myself?!"

Sunday was not a great day.

But like I said, there are good moments, too. I don't feel sick all the time anymore, and that's very encouraging. I know I've lost the water weight, so I feel good. My shirts feel a little looser these days. I don't think I've looked like I lost any weight, but when I put my jeans on yesterday, I was actually able to buckle my belt in the second hole. That's a huge victory for me. I've been on the first hole for the last six or seven years; when I pulled my belt around me and it just kept going, I really felt good. Proud, even. And I have so much energy! Now I just need to work up my body so I don't get winded climbing stairs anymore... but hey, I finally have the energy to do that!

Here's a full disclosure: when I started this self-imposed health program, I weighed 360 pounds. That is not the largest I've ever been, I can assure you. Right now, today, I weigh 358. It's a start. One day, I'm going to be attractive on the outside, instead of just on the inside, where I'm a god of love with a dangerous amount of charm and a devestating wit. And then I can finally actually pull chicks that look like this:
Yeah, it's not noble, but whatever keeps me motivated.

Alright, I'm kidding. Kinda. It's an ancillary goal. But since I'm going to be living all these extra years in good health...Posted by Picasa

St. Elsewhere

I love television. I know I slag it off a lot, but when TV is really, really good...oh, man. Which is why one of the greatest advents of the digital era has been TV on DVD. Now I can rent or buy a show I liked and want to see over and over again, or something I’ve never seen and always wanted to see. For example, St. Elsewhere. It’s a show I’ve never seen before and always wanted to.

And lucky for me, the entire first season was released on DVD last week. And after spending 1078 minutes with this show, I can see why it’s been so acclaimed over the years. This is classic television right here, and you can tell it’s classic television because when you watch it you really realize just how much ER ripped off from it. Getting ripped off (repeatedly) is a sure sign of classic status.

The show details the ups and downs of Boston’s St. Eligius Hospital, and understaffed and underfunded teaching hospital that people call “St. Elsewhere,” medical slang for a place where patients are sent when the “prestigious” hospitals don’t want them. What sets this show apart from any of its predecessors is the realistic portrayal of its characters. There’s a darkness and grittiness to the show; even the characters that joke all the time only do so to relieve the madness of being among the damned. It’s real gallows humor, but it’s necessary to balance out the darkness. For the first time, doctors were seen as flawed people; some of them are egomaniacs, some are pathetic, some love the work but hate the ingratitude of the people they help, some have failing marriages or despair of finding someone. And unlike some other inexplicably longer-running medical dramas I could name, the social relevance is not treated with a cinematic melodrama that is, shall we say, a tad over-the-top.

This is groundbreaking television history, so of course it’s dated a little. You can’t break ground without commenting on the past. There is a bit of debate on this show, for example, over whether or not women make good doctors, and whether or not a woman who pursues a career is ever going to be fully a woman (as though all women feel the call of motherhood). But St. Elsewhere is so good, it hardly matters. It’s of its time, but it’s also surprisingly modern (especially when you think that this first season aired 24 years ago, roughly 75% of my lifespan). And do you realize that this show won 13 Emmys and was nominated for 50 more?

And the cast! It’s interesting to see how times change. The main cast includes a lot of talented and well-known actors, such as Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel, and Ed Begley Jr, but according to the credits the stars of the show are Ed Flanders and David Birney. Apparently it’s been long enough that I had to struggle to remember who those actors are! Me, of all people, with my encyclopedic knowledge of entertainment! The entire cast is a great ensemble, actually, that includes Christina Pickles, Norman Lloyd, Kavi Raz, G.W. Bailey, Cynthia Sikes (with the eightiest of eighties hair), Barbara Whinnery, Kim Miyori, and Terence Knox. My favorite is William Daniels, who plays the snarky surgeon Mark Craig with the same complex combination of irritability and heroism that he brought to the role of John Adams in one of my favorite movies, 1776. He has the task of playing an unlikable character in a sympathetic way, and is perfect in the role.

But if the show has a center, it is to my surprise David Morse as Dr. Jack Morrison. His “Why do I have to be so available?” speech in the first episode is the defining moment of the show and its characters. How can David Morse not be more of a star based on the first season of St. Elsewhere alone?

The guest star cast is always fun, too; you catch a lot of people who in smaller, earlier roles, or older actors who are taking small roles on TV. That’s always a fun little game when it comes to shows from the 80s. In the first season alone: Tim Robbins, Laraine Newman, Lance Guest (who will always be Alex Rogan, the Last Starfighter, to me), Doris Roberts, James Coco, Robert Davi, Ally Sheedy, Christopher Guest, Charles Robinson (who will always be Mac from Night Court to me—hey, where’s Night Court on DVD?), Ray Liotta, Conchata Ferrell, Tom Hulce, Jane Kaczmarek, Robert Pastorelli, a delightful Keenan Wynn (as ever), and a baby-faced Michael Madsen.

This show is great. It’s really good to have it on DVD; the first season, all 22 episodes, some commentaries and featurettes. If you know someone who is really into television this Christmas, this really needs to be in their collection.

Shrek the Third

It's getting harder and harder for me to like these damn Shrek movies. Yes, the first movie was surprisingly cute. The second movie was mildly less cute, mostly because it was a) more of the same and b) much less clever, choosing to go to the old DreamWorks standby of increasingly random pop culture references in lieu of actual writing and characterization. Honestly, an OJ reference, a decade later?

It's especially a shame because, at heart, the characters are just as likable as they are irritating. Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, even Puss are, if not rounded, at least curvy enough to enjoy their adventures. But DreamWorks is getting closer and closer to not being able to tell a story at all and just catering to jokes for adults involving pop culture. And those jokes aren't really, you know, jokes. Those are chuckles of recognition that are getting thinner and thinner.

Anyway, the trailer for next year's Shrek the Third is up. And surprise surprise, it's pretty much more of the same. There was one moment that made me laugh out loud (the one with Pinocchio trying to lie to Prince Charming), but otherwise...meh. Shrek has somehow managed to steer itself into the position of Lowest Common Denominator. It's like the staff of Entertainment Weekly writes these things now, throwing in constant pop culture references and trying so desperately to be "hip"...which apparently entails obvious jokes, a sitcom level of humor, and almost gleefully bland sort of obviousness. There's no meat anymore, it's all boring.

They're also going to just keep adding characters until the movie needs to be five hours long to make any sense. The voice cast is pretty wretched, too. Casting Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots was inspired in Shrek 2. But John Cleese and Julie Andrews didn't have anything more to do than be John Cleese and Julie Andrews. And in addition to the usual Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz, Cleese, Andrews, Banderas, Rupert Everett, Larry King, and the same fairy tale characters, they're adding Justin Timberlake (as King Arthur--will Arthur ever be done well on film, or is that a pipe dream of mine?), The Office's John Krasinski, Eric Idle, and Ian McShane.

And the worst is the casting of the other fairy tale princesses. Cameron Diaz is unfunny enough; she has no discernable personality, but I can deal with her as the voice of Fiona. But now she's being backed up by other princesses who, honestly, exemplify what irks me about the Shrek series. Maya Rudolph, Cheri Oteri, and especially Amy Sedaris are not funny. Amy Poehler at least used to, Upright Citizens Brigade was a good show... They're what I would call Entertainment Weekly kind of comics; they're not really funny except in an intermittently amusing, gently familiar kind of way. They're not really funny, though, especially in any kind of satirical or plain-spoken kind of way. They just suck.

But they're perfect for Shrek the Third. Because just looking at the trailer you can tell the movie itself isn't going to be funny, either. Except in an intermittently amusing, gently familiar kind of way. And if you don't demand any more from entertainment than a mild diversion, be my guest.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My 10 Favorite Movie Posters of 2006

Who doesn't love to look at movie posters? Just like trailers and early photos, they contain so much hope that an actual good, maybe even special movie might be just around the corner. Here are my 10 favorite of the year.

10. An Inconvenient Truth. Yes, it’s a smarmy and smart-arsed image, but it’s effective.

9. Crank. I liked this German poster just because it was so fucking bizarre. This makes me want to learn what the movie’s about, because this poster is just so much like those really bad gonzo action movies from the early eighties, the ones you used to pass in the video store and wonder what kind of delights they held? Intrigueresting, to say the least.

8. The Notorious Bettie Page. I usually hate this kind of big, bold poster. Usually they’re something overstated in an attempt to make a picture look more fun than it’s actually going to be. But The Notorious Bettie Page IS actually a very fun movie, so that helps. How could I not like this? It’s Gretchen Mol, aping one of Bettie’s best poses, looking for all the world like a perfect pin-up model. Sure, it’s more Elvgren than Bunny Yeager, but who cares when it looks this good?

7. Pan’s Labyrinth. You want suggestive for fairy tales? How’s this? The girl might as well be walking into a giant vagina. Once again, Guillermo del Toro knows what fairy tales are meant to imply.

6. The Prestige. Well, this poster is fun simply because of what it does to your eye. It doesn’t feel desperate, either. I’m really sorry I missed this one in the theater, actually. I also love the weird perspective on Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. It’s very interesting.

5. Apocalypto. This is mysterious in a good way; the lone figure walking away looks heroic in the oldest, best sense of the word. Is he being pursued? Is he leading? Is he just weary, or is he dying? And the step pyramids in the back give it a sense of alienness that is actually appealing to the adventure fan in me.

4. Brick. Just a simple drawing of a woman’s hand in the water. Absolutely brilliant. Mysterious and enticing, simple but effective, much like the actual film.

3. Thank You for Smoking. Lots of movie posters try too hard to be witty (like the ones, say, for animated movies that are nowhere near as clever as they think). This is a very witty poster. It’s not necessarily that original (my first thought was of Mr. Butts from Doonesbury), but maybe that association makes the poster look more politically smart. Either way, this movie was a surprisingly smart and clever, and so is the poster.

2. The Devil Wears Prada. This poster not only got the wit part right, but the simplicity of it gives off an air of sophistication as well (especially with the lack of some dumbass, cutesy tagline, which is much appreciated). It’s very clever. I wondered how the poster for this was ever going to be interesting; this one achieves near-perfection.

1. Charlotte’s Web. I like this poster because of the very simple way it depicts a sort of hopefulness. The little pig, framed in the large doorway, with the moon and the endless horizon; it feels like hope and happiness to me. And the spider coming down…As far as I’ve seen so far, this is the only thing the makers of Charlotte’s Web seem to have gotten right about their movie. This poster is joyous and rather wonderful.

The Runners-Up

Anyone else?