Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Illusionist

Illusion is really a con. It’s all about getting the audience to believe something, only to be shown something else they didn’t expect. Films are a con, too, manipulating your senses in order to make you see whatever it is you’re supposed to. Art is truth, but it is also deception. It is manipulated truth. Films are illusion. And we play along with them because we love to be amazed.

All of which adds a very nice metafictional charge to The Illusionist. Neil Burger’s film has a deliberate look and feel, replicating (in a highly stylized way) the look of an early film from the turn of the last century. It has the effect of enhancing the Old World setting of the film, which is engrossing enough on its own. The story involves intrigue within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the philosophical differences between Eisnheim the Illusionist (a very good Edward Norton) and Crown Prince Leopold (a serviceable Rufus Sewell).

As these things do, it all starts with a girl. Jessica Biel, in the first performance of hers I truly liked, plays Sophie von Teschen, the childhood love of Eisenheim who is now being courted by the Prince. Sophie is torn in either direction, but serves only as a catalyst in a pitched battle between reason and illusions. Leopold is a man of reason; he seeks to prove that Eisenheim’s illusions are frauds. Eisenheim, in letting his audience reach their own interpretations of his illusions, proves himself to be a better politician than the Prince. He is, at the least, more popular; when Leopold tries to debunk the illusionist, his friends shout him down. They enjoy the deception, feeling they have participated in it; they probably feel that Leopold has less to offer. It’s not like he’s going to let them participate in the government.

Seeing all of this from a distance, sometimes caught up in the action and sometimes merely observing it, is Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti in a far better performance than anything I’ve seen from him in some time), a detective trying to fill in the gaps. Of course, there’s a mystery central to all of this, not least of which is the real identity of Eisenheim. Who is he and what does he want? Uhl is unique in the film; he is the only character who loves the illusions, and wants to know how they’re done. Leopold wants to know in order to make them small and insignificant, to show himself as too smart to be tricked. Uhl wants the knowledge to enhance his appreciation of the trick. Even to the final illusion, he loves being tricked. He just delights in putting it all together.

The whole film becomes a meditation on art, religion, politics, illusion, reality, and the blurred lines around them. I notice I haven’t said overly much about the plot. It does hinge on a mystery, and I’d hate to ruin it for anyone who has yet to see it. The screenplay isn’t perfect, but the actors take up the slack (even Jessica Biel—really) and breathe so much life into the characters it doesn’t matter. You get caught up in it. You buy the illusion. You revel in the enigma. And in the end, the knowledge of how it was done enhances your appreciation of the movie’s long trick.

The Illusionist is now on DVD. I recommend you buy it.

If I'm Going to Have a Past, It Might As Well Be Multiple Choice

Your results:
You are The Joker

The Clown Prince of Crime. You are a brilliant mastermind but are criminally insane. You love to joke around while accomplishing the task at hand.

The Joker: 79%; Magneto: 73%; Dr. Doom: 71%; The Riddler: 68%; Lex Luthor: 63%; Juggernaut: 59%

Click here to take the Super Villain Personality Test

It's funny: this is the second quiz I've taken where I've been told I was the Joker.

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Fourteen: 1 Kings

Chapter One
King David is dying and, oddly enough, the only thing keeping him alive is pressing his face between the plump, round breasts of a virgin. All the sons get to arguing over who’s going to be the next king. Adonijah makes a good showing, and with the support of Joab and the priest Abiathar makes himself king. The prophet Nathan reminds Bathsheba that David had promised the throne to Solomon, and while Adonijah is feasting, David makes Solomon the king.

Chapter Two
David tells Solomon to keep the ways of the Lord as he has, and then warns him to take revenge on Joab for his earlier murders of Abner and Amasa, as well as Shimei the Benjaminite, who once cursed David, and that dastard Abiathar. Then he dies, and Solomon is free to begin carrying out his revenge. Adonijah asks Solomon (rather politely, I thought) for his father’s virgin nurse in marriage, and Solomon is so offended by this that he has Adonijah executed. Okay, then. Solomon next banishes Abiathar, and lets his enforcer Benaiah murder Joab on a freaking altar. He puts Shimei under house arrest, but later has him murdered when he leaves the house to chase down some runaway slaves.

Chapter Three
Naturally, God’s impressed. Just after Sol marries the Pharaoh’s daughter, God, genie-like, offers to grant Sol a wish, and Sol asks for wisdom. God promises that Sol will be the wisest man in the history of, like, evar. Then he does that famous thing where he settles a custody dispute by threatening infanticide.

Chapters Four through Seven
A rundown of Sol’s staff and riches and the building of the Temple in seemingly infinitesimal detail.

Chapter Eight
A long, long prayer to God pleading for understanding (although it eventually comes across as Sol just telling God what to do).

Chapter Nine
God basically (but nicely) warns Sol to keep the ways of the Lord, and in return…well, Sol already has the promised nation, descendents, all that. But God says the greatness of Israel can last forever. And then, of course, this being God, he gives Sol a detailed list of what will happen to Israel if Sol lets him down. And hey, did I mention that all of this heavy building in Jerusalem was done by slaves? Wasn’t there something back in Exodus or so about not enslaving anyone, or…oh, fuck it, who can keep it straight?

Chapter Ten
The queen of Sheba comes to visit Sol, and she’s incredibly impressed. She even tells her husband that Solomon is the shit and sends him a lot of gifts (we’re getting more of the “Solomon Owns a Lot of Shit” itemized list here). Sol apparently takes pains to fill “every desire that she expressed.” So, I guess they fucked. Go, Solomon!

Chapter Eleven
Solomon has an insatiable lust for foreign pussy (and who could blame him, really, have you seen Persian women? Holy shit, are they hot!), and ends up marrying some thousand women. To make them happy, he lets them put up altars to their own gods, then—as seems to be an inborn Jewish trait, if you take the Bible’s word for it—Sol starts worshiping those foreign gods. Man, the second God’s back is turned… Big G is, surprise, pissed about it and vows to split the kingdom (but after Sol dies, because God feels he owes it to David). There are some wars, during which a prophet comes to Jeroboam, one of Sol’s officials, and explains to him that God is going to give him ten of the twelve tribes to rule.

Chapter Twelve
Sol dies, and his son Rehoboam ascends the throne. Jeroboam leads the people to protest Rehoboam’s cruelty but, just like some presidents I don’t have to name, Rehoboam only promises to be even crueler. The ten tribes crown Jeroboam king of Israel, breaking away from Rehoboam, who now only rules his own tribe, Judah (the tribe of David). He builds an army to fight Jerry and the Jews, but God smacks him like an insolent child and breaks up the army.

Chapter Thirteen
Jerry sets up altars and shrines to the golden calf to distinguish his kingdom as different from the old kingdom. The Israelites, ever constant, worship the calves; fuck, even the Levite priests do. There’s a whole bunch of allegorical ramadoolah about obeying the Lord.

Chapter Fourteen
God pledges to destroy Jerry, and he and his entire family are slaughtered by a usurper. Rehoboam, meanwhile, has made the same mistake about idols, and he dies, too.

Chapters Fifteen through Sixteen
More shitty kings what God don’t like.

Chapter Seventeen
Elijah hears the word of God and begins his trek towards Jerusalem. Along the way, he heals a dying boy with God’s power.

Chapter Eighteen
God hates Ahab more than any Israelite king yet, even Saul. His wife, Jezebel, worships Baal, and the worship spreads throughout the land. Elijah shows up and shames the Jews for not worshiping God. There’s some hems, some haws, some fumfuhs. Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to a contest, making this the first of many times God has to perform like a carnival seal to prove he’s real, and the Jews, in a vast outpouring of godly love, slaughter the priests of Baal.

Chapter Nineteen
Jezebel is incensed, and sends Elijah a note saying she’s going to kill him. Which is stupid, because the warning gives him time to flee. The angels succor him in a cave (it means aid, pervs), and then God appears to him. On God’s advice, Elijah gets himself a sidekick, Robin. I mean, Elisha.

Chapter Twenty
Ahab is a dick. That’s pretty much the gist of it.

Chapter Twenty-One
Ahab and Jezebel start land-grabbing by having the landowners murdered. Elijah comes to Ahab and tells him that they will die and dogs will lick their blood.

Chapter Twenty-Two
And that’s just what happened.

Next up: The Second Book of Kings, which I guess means more pissing off the Lord and getting slaughtered. The Bible doesn't really stray from that theme too often.

It's a Gang Bang, Charlie Brown

So, I've seen a lot of dirty cartoons, porn parodies, and Hentai before. I mean, really, really graphic stuff (I'll never look at the Jetsons the same way...or the Flintstones...or Scooby-Doo). But this one got sent to me, and I'm just floored by the time it must've taken someone to actually do this.

That's the funniest fucking thing I've seen in a long time. You want to shatter the mind of a child? Show them this one.

This picture was sent to me by naughty, naughty Angela, who just officially became the sickest, and therefore coolest person I know.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Throwdown 1/12

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

1. Wow, what kind of a dumbshit do you have to be to try and blackmail Oprah Winfrey? She has her own fucking police force, the woman’s a nation unto herself. What chance did you really think you had? And your only defense is “it’s a big mix-up”? Wow, you have balls of solid rock. You’re incredibly dumb, but you’ve got balls.

2. Seriously, are we allowed to just rise up and slay Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell for being so fucking irritating? Because they’re little feud is just becoming more and more boring. Seriously, no one’s watching The Apprentice, only morons are watching The View, and anyone who cares what either of these two wastes of space has to say about the fucking Miss USA pageant is in serious need of being locked in a sensory depravation chamber until their priorities straighten out.

3. And even Ivanka Trump is getting involved in their stupidity. Too bad; I liked Ivanka, I was hoping maybe she had some class. But then, look at who her parents are and imagine how she must’ve been brought up…

4. In the news involving daughters I would be proud to call my own, Bindi Irwin, at age 9, has finished her own Discovery Channel series and agreed to be a new face to promote Australia. She says she’s carrying on her late father’s work. Who wouldn’t be proud of her?

5. Just for identification purposes, does Jessica Biel have a piercing down there, or are her labia just really thick? Honestly, either one works for me, I just want to know.

6. You know, I actually want to thank Paris Hilton for bringing back the nipple slip (although in this case it’s more of a full on boob slip, but still). I mean, seriously, without closer inspection, you can only enjoy shot after shot of twat (even if it’s shaved young woman twat). After a while, it all looks the same. Thank you, Paris. I’ve said a lot of shit about you, and heaven knows you deserve it, but I’ve never disparaged your sweet nipples, and anything that takes more attention away from Lindsay’s cunt is okay by me. Oh, and Paris? Seriously, who fucking runs out of gas and then just sits there blocking traffic until the fucking paparazzi come with help?

7. And since I’m all in a nipply mood (fuck, I love nipples), here are Kate Moss’s. This is why women with small boobs are so great, they have such long, mouthwatering nipples.

8. Lindsay Lohan’s liver is, apparently, so close to crapping out that doctors “couldn’t even believe she was walking around.” In other news, Lindsay turns 21 in July. And hey, how dumb are you to fake an appendectomy and then run around in a bikini?

9. You know what? I have never wanted to punch Orlando Bloom more than I want to punch him right at this moment. And I’ve wanted to punch him a lot.

10. Okay, what the fuck is wrong with Angelina Jolie? Does she just think (wrongly) that she’s not getting enough attention, or does she honestly feel like people want to know everything about her bizarre postpartum feelings? First, she talked about how she prefers her adopted children, Maddox and Zahara, to her “blob” newborn Piloh Shitt—er, Shiloh Pitt. This was in Elle. And then, apparently, everyone continued reading down the page, only to find out that Angelina didn’t want to get pregnant in the first place, but in fact “got knocked up.” And does she ever sound bitter about it! I’m calling it right now: Suri Cruise is going to be the normal one, and Shiloh Pitt is going to be the Lindsay Lohan of her generation, because mommy didn’t love her. At all, apparently.

11. Speaking of Suri Cruise, Tom and Katie are apparently terrified that she’s going to get kidnapped. Foreshadowing! Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in Katie’s Adventure: How I Learned to Stop Thinking for Myself and Embrace Scientology for Cash! Seriously, how does a baby that is almost never allowed in public abducted? I mean, Suri’s not African (presumably), so it’s not like Madonna’s going to abduct—er, adopt—her. There haven’t been any threats, Tom and Katie just assume that the interest in their alien baby is so immense that she’s a target.

12. Okay, so, Marilyn Manson is married to one of the most beautiful women in the history of time, Dita Von Teese, and he lets Lindsay fucking Lohan come between them? Why? Forgive the objectification here, but that’s like driving a sports car and then deciding it’s too flashy and you’d rather ride a spray-painted subway car with sticky seats, urine-soaked floors and a bum sleeping on one of the broken seats. And now he’s suddenly dating 19 year-old Evan Rachel Wood? Shame, sir, shame.

13. Hey, Drew Barrymore and Fabio Whateverthefuck broke up. Okay, well…I know I’ve made this offer to a lot of women, but Drew Barrymore, I’ve loved you since I was six years old, and I think you could love a shlub with no talent, no ambition, and a burning desire to be with you, who will let you do whatever you want and just be near you. *sigh* No one’s ever going to go for that, are they?

14. But wait, Carlo Ponti passed away and Sophia Loren is all alone! Oh, uh, mmm, uh, hmm, oh man, nnng… Okay, okay, I have to choose Sophia Loren! I mean, she’s Sophia Loren. Who else is there?

15. My God, 20,000 of you. 20,000 of you are going back. My heart is with each and every one of you. Be safe and please come home.

You Got the Links

Well, an expansion of the war is breathing down our necks, so here's some stuff to distract us while we gather ourselves and calm down so we can think about this rationally.

Bruce Campbell is fucking awesome. Click here if you don't believe me.

The Absorbascon ponders the what's going on during routine meetings of the Justice League of America.

The Film Experience has an entire retrospective of the films of 2006, featuring the most underappreciated, the best of the year, the most over-appreciated, and the worst.

Pajiba also chimes in with last year's best television.

Bookslut judges last year's worst books.

VH1 lists the 40 dumbest celebrity quotes.

This painting has to be seen to be believed, but I think I like the satire.

Deus Ex Malcontent takes us inside the recent Tigger controversy.

There's a gorgeous exhibition of Disney art in Paris (and it's about to move to Montreal, if anyone wants to take me or anything). Animated Views has a great tour through it, and whenever Michael Barrier has commentary, it's worth listening to.

I want to go to New York so badly, and Blather from Brooklyn's post just makes me want it more.

Yes, it's sarcastic, but I'll take any appreciation of my darling Katie Price I can get, and here's one at I Am Screaming and Punching Myself.

I'm for the wage increase, but George F. Will makes some excellent points on the raising of the minimum wage.

Bob Shaye says Peter Jackson will never work for New Line again, but doesn't mention that it's because they owe Jackson something like $500 million and won't pay it. Item at CNN.

I know, I know, I'm dieting. But The Madman Is a Waking Dreamer makes me think chocolate might be okay.

The Gilded Moose has a Mad Libs filled out by a very strange pair. Which one do you think is the sidekick?

It took a while, but finally the Transformers dorks have crossed the line into Star Wars douchebag--er, fan--territory.

No Smoking in the Skull Cave has the fullest memorial for Yvonne de Carlo that I saw all day.

You know, I am starting to love Sienna Miller naked more and more. (Gloriously NSFW.)

Angela learned a good lesson about why we should all be ourselves and just try to enjoy our damned lives. If Angela's Magic Carpet Ride is what I think it is, I know how I want to celebrate the New Year...

And Man vs. Clown! points out why, frankly, none of this may matter much longer...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Here Comes President Kill Again

I can never listen to Governor Bush addressing the nation. I just can’t pay attention to what he says; I always get distracted by the shitty acting lessons replete with more dramatic pauses and incorrectly emphasized words than a high school student acting in his first school production of Romeo & Juliet. Even looking at the man and his half-assed smirk is an unpleasant experience. You know that little twinkle a man gets in his eye when he looks right in your face and lies and wants to laugh because he can’t believe he’s getting away with such a whopper? Bush makes that man look like a master hypnotist.

So I always need to read the transcript the next day, away from his condescending tone, so I can filter out the bullshit and the attempts at distraction. Just the words that took his speechwriters three months to write. And they are bullshit words, my friends. And since we have free speech in this country, I’m going to critique the Resident’s words.

Good evening. [Hey.] Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror—and our safety here at home. [There it is already, our first dramatic pause for effect of the evening. Doesn’t he get how condescendingly non-human that sounds?] The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror. [Wow, years later, there’s actually a plan.]

When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation. The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement. We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together, and that as we trained Iraqi security forces we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops. [Wait, wasn’t the mission accomplished, like, a couple of years ago? Did I just dream that?]

But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq—particularly in Baghdad—overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause, and they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam—the Golden Mosque of Samarra—In a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today. [Sectarian violence=civil war, you know that, right? And we’re not going to be able to stop a civil war, especially when America still likes to be all culturally subjective and not even try to understand the differences in Sunna worship and Shia worship. You have to accept that this thing is about religion. Accept it for what it is. This isn’t “sectarian violence,” it’s a fight involving two branches of the same religion. Bush’s mistake in the first place was treating this as a moral crusade. Even Saddam Hussein figured out how to keep everyone stable, even if they hated each other. What does it say about George W. Bush that Saddam Hussein was a more capable leader?]

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people—and it is unacceptable to me. [Do you think I give a fuck when something’s unacceptable to you? You’d better care a lot more when something is unacceptable to me and America, because we are YOUR boss, not the other way around.] Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. [Yeah, that’s their job. Don’t suck up to them now when you obviously care so little about them. Didn’t you cut benefits to veterans again? Where’s your love for them, asshole?] Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me. [Until accountability enters into it.]

It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. [No, really?] So my national security team, military commanders, and diplomats conducted a comprehensive review. We consulted members of Congress from both parties, our allies abroad, and distinguished outside experts. We benefitted [sic] from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. [That little study group over Iraq had nothing to say other than “Uh, there’s some kind of a problem in Iraq.” Why don’t you just cite Wikipedia while you’re at it, they’re reliable, too.] In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq. And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States. [How would this be a disaster for anything other than your legacy? I mean, we’ve already failed in Iraq, so what do we lose if we pull out now? I’m telling you, in the end, Iraq is going to split into the three pieces it was in after the Ottoman Empire collapsed and before Iraq was arbitrarily created by Winston Churchill: one part Sunna, one part Kurd, and one part Shia. The Shiites will be absorbed by Iran, the Kurds will be dominated by them, and the Sunnis will have their own nation which will be perpetually at war with Iran. So, only the names might change. I mean, haven’t we just made the region even more unfriendly to America with our government’s unwillingness to treat the Iraqis like anything other than a conquered people. And we’ve already lost our credibility as a world power, so what else do we have left?]

The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. [Already happening, because we treat Islamists like garbage (even the American ones), we held them all guilty for 9/11, and then we blamed and attacked the wrong country illegally.] They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. [Again, invading Iraq already made that happen.] Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. [Nuclear weapons are bad, yes, but that doesn’t mean we should stand in the way of Iran developing nuclear power. In fact, helping them develop nuclear power might actually, like, win over the young people in Iran who might like to be our allies.] Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. [They do, it’s called Saudi Arabia. You know, where the 9/11 pilots were from?] On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq. [Like I’ve been asking since 2001, how do you make that leap from 9/11 to Iraq? The pilots were mostly Saudis, they were al-Qaeda, and they answered to bin Laden? Remember bin Laden?]

The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security, especially in Baghdad. Eighty percent of Iraq's sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of the capital. This violence is splitting Baghdad into sectarian enclaves, and shaking the confidence of all Iraqis. Only Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it. [Watch, he’s going to explain how this involves more American troops, even though Bushy wants to leave it all up to the Iraqis (as if he even would allow the elected Iraqi puppet government to shake their dicks after a piss without his say-so).]

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: [Lack of competent leadership in America and the lack of allies because of the failure of the US to get UN approval.] There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. [Um, yes there were, you just provided inadequate orders and didn’t have an initial plan for victory. Admit it, you weren’t prepared to go to war, because you smugly assumed that other nations would let you bully them into fighting a war you started over a lie.] And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. [… Okay…] Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work. [This should be good…]

Now let me explain the main elements of this effort: [This should be even better. Bush getting technical is like watching a monkey try to figure out that’s not another monkey in the mirror.] The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. [Uh-huh.] The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts. [Okay.] When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. [Makes sense.] These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations—conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents. [Because nothing says “trust me” like men with guns showing up at your door during war time.]

This is a strong commitment. But for it to succeed, our commanders say the Iraqis will need our help. So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. [Since when does the American government care about Iraqis? Did Bush finally grok that they’re going to be staffing all of the Halliburton companies being set up in the Middle East? Does he want us to go to war to save the cheap labor he plans to retire off of?] This will require increasing American force levels. So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. [Yeah, but all that does is raise the troop levels to where they were at last year, when we were continuing to lose the war.] The vast majority of them—five brigades—will be deployed to Baghdad. These troops will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations. [Again, how is this different from what we did last year? Are you seriously trying to repackage this and sell it as new?] Our troops will have a well-defined mission: [That should be a nice, new experience for them.] to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs. [Again, isn’t this what we were supposed to be doing already? Conducting assassinations of suspected insurgents for the Baghdad police? I thought that’s what we were doing all along.]

Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. [You think?] Well, here are the differences: [Get that monkey back in front of the mirror!] In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents, but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. [Those dastards! It's like we're fighting a war over there!] This time, we'll have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared. [How? We’re going to have the same amount of troops we had there last year.] In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. [So, the rebels have promised not to fight back this time, then?] This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter those neighborhoods—and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated. [Tell me how you pulled that one off. I wonder what threats were involved there.]

I've made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. [Well, at least not until Laura and the dog finally disagree with me.] If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people—and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. [How is he going to lose the support of his own people? Does Bush actually have a competent propaganda campaign in place, or is he just blowharding? I mean, does he really think that the Iraqis support America more than themselves, or is he just making yet another empty threat?] Now is the time to act. The Prime Minister understands this. Here is what he told his people just last week: "The Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] [?] sectarian or political affiliation." [You know, if Bush seriously wanted to bring the Middle East under control, he’d have already developed his vaunted alternative fuel source. Seriously, this could take, like, two years to put into effect, max. Like I keep saying, make a law requiring a certain number of vehicles which run on biofuel. Take all of the subsidized, unused farms and grow soy and corn for fuel. Nationalize the project and make Willie Nelson, the most vocal proponent of biofuel, the spokesman for the “On the Road Again” campaign. The gas will be cheaper and more efficient. Pull our troops out of Iraq and bring them home where we need them. Stop giving $50 billion a year to Israel just because they hate Arabs as much as you do. Tell your Saudi masters that you’re going to pay $10 a barrel for oil, non-negotiable, and that’s that. Take away their source of income, and the warlords have nothing. Let them fight each other for seas of sand, then start making friends with energy programs and aid that includes actual food. Diplomacy, asshole; make friends, not enemies and cowering yes-men. That could’ve been your legacy, you fuck. Then you would have been a uniter. Now you’re just an asshole.]

This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. [Uh…yeah.] Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. [As will you and Fox News.] Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. [Yeah, I’d love to see how that works out. Well, I guess we will.] When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace—and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible. [As if you understand or care about the Iraqi people, Monkey Boy.]

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. [Finally, someone’s been coaching him.] Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced. [Is this a set-up? Are you setting the Iraqis up to fail as an excuse for more war? Because you haven’t really been holding them accountable up to now so much as profiting off of the confusion.]

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. […Seriously? Because, you know, this is what you should’ve been doing all along, showing the Iraqis that you actually do have faith in their ability to manage their own financial situation. I wonder how Bushy got talked into that one? What do they have on him, and how do I get a piece of that? This isn’t just some half-assed attempt to establish business relations that are going to profit your cronies and not Iraq, is it? Oh, wait, is is.] To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. [Provided they contract with American companies. How the fuck do you think Iraq ends up with $10 billion in the first place? Mad money just laying around in a jar?] To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution. [To make it more, I don’t know, not useless.]

America will change our approach to help the Iraqi government as it works to meet these benchmarks. In keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units, and partner a coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division. [It’s like nobody ever learned anything from Vietnam. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mean, this can’t just be genuine goodwill, can it? From Governor Bush? He can’t have actually found a way to endanger less lives and use diplomacy to get the oil…] We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army, and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq. [Ah, there it is, military contracts. I wonder what kind of deal they made there, oil-and-money-wise. Why aren’t they required to share that shit?] We will give our commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance. [Note for future Congressional hearings: buying land with beads to house a Halliburton complex is not economic assistance, it’s profiteering.] We will double the number of provincial reconstruction teams. [Does Iraq really need more of our businessmen over there?] These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen the moderates, and speed the transition to Iraqi self-reliance. And Secretary Rice will soon appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq. [Yeah, because I want the future of the world in the hands of the help you’re fucking. Things never change, do they?]

As we make these changes, we will continue to pursue al Qaeda and foreign fighters. [Pursuing al-Qaeda would be a nice change of pace for the US, don’t you think?] Al Qaeda is still active in Iraq. Its home base is Anbar Province. Al Qaeda has helped make Anbar the most violent area of Iraq outside the capital. [America provided the rest of that help.] A captured al Qaeda document describes the terrorists' plan to infiltrate and seize control of the province. This would bring al Qaeda closer to its goals of taking down Iraq's democracy, building a radical Islamic empire, and launching new attacks on the United States at home and abroad.

Our military forces in Anbar are killing and capturing al Qaeda leaders, and they are protecting the local population. Recently, local tribal leaders have begun to show their willingness to take on al Qaeda. And as a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists. So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops. These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to keep up the pressure on the terrorists. America's men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan—and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq. [No, because you already allowed them re-establish it in Pakistan, you dope.]

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq. [And thus World War III began. I wonder, do you think the news media will keep the Roman numerals, or just spell it out? Because this kind of makes it sound like George Jr. is letting us know that plans are already underway to begin fighting in Iran and Syria. Good thing we have all of those allies, right? Oh, shit… Well, I guess that’ll teach you to give out those back rubs and treat foreign leaders like shit for being critical of America, shithead!]

We're also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. [Oh, you couldn’t resist that idiocy, could you, boy? Tie the two of them together, the business interests of your friends and the lives of 27 million Iraqis.] I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region. [Well, if anyone’s going to dominate the region, I guess it’ll be America. Or Bush’s Saudi masters, really. I’m sure they’re pulling the strings somewhere. They got rid of King Abdullah’s biggest rival, Saddam Hussein, so I guess it makes sense that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be next, right? Assholes.]

We will use America's full diplomatic resources to rally support for Iraq from nations throughout the Middle East. [Again, nice change of pace.] Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists and a strategic threat to their survival. [By which you mean your survival.] These nations have a stake in a successful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, and they must step up their support for Iraq's unity government. [Are you really groveling for support among the Arab nations now? You never wanted their help before, did you?] We endorse the Iraqi government's call to finalize an International Compact that will bring new economic assistance in exchange for greater economic reform. [Why don’t you just say they have your permission, you unbelievably condescending prick?] And on Friday, Secretary Rice will leave for the region, to build support for Iraq and continue the urgent diplomacy required to help bring peace to the Middle East. [Thank you for sending possibly the worst cultural diplomat you could send. Even Bono would have been better. And not to be all endorsing stereotypes here, but are you really sending a black woman to tell a bunch of Muslims what to do? Gee, why don’t you try and be condescending next time, instead?]

The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. [Finally, the chimpanzee can learn! Actually, now that I mention, chimps learn very quickly. And chickens can even learn how to play chess. What has a hard time learning? Even elephants bury their own dead, and worms can adapt… I guess the animal kingdom is too smart to compare to Governor Bush. He really is the stupidest creature on Earth, and he’s surrounded himself with his own breed. Ah, stupid will out. Just not out of office, sadly.] It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. [Um, it’s a rich monkey puppet with American oil companies pulling one set of strings and Arabian oil barons pulling another set, and he’s decided to declare war on the Islamic belief system for the purposes of pure exploitation. This is not a war that anyone with any sense believed in. This is a war built on lies and the perversion of an outpouring of patriotic sentiment. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and all of those other assholes started this war at the behest of Saudi interests and a deal to collect cheap oil from Iraq. And they got in over their heads, and now they’re begging us for help. Unfortunately for them, Bush is a high-handed asshole with no human decency and not even the barest conception of how people who aren’t rich live their lives. This is not the “decisive ideological struggle of our time.” This is the self-proclaimed aristocracy trying to carve out more land and resources for themselves. Which is what they do best.] On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life. [We, the American people, believe in freedom and moderation. And I think the Iraqi people do too. Bush and his kill-crazed cronies are extremists who kill the innocent (especially when it comes to world leaders who in fact hated al-Qaeda more than Bush and Rice and all the other assholes who did nothing to prevent 9/11 the way Clinton was trying to), and haven’t come out and declared their intention to destroy the American middle class way of life, but have certainly done so.] In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy, by advancing liberty across a troubled region. [It’s the way he keeps lumping in Iraqi citizens with the enemy that really bothers me. Just like in Vietnam and Korea, the lives of ordinary citizens in the war-torn land are worthless to the organizations fighting the war.] It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim their freedom, and to help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East. [Um, yeah, we do stand with the “brave men and women who are risking their lives”TM, it’s just that you don’t. You stand with business, like you always have. If you stood with the soldiers, you wouldn't have spent your National Guard term at coke parties.]

From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian Territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence, and want a future of peace and opportunity for their children. [Just hipped to that, did you?] And they are looking at Iraq. They want to know: Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists, or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom? [I don’t know, I think what they’re really wondering is if America is going to abandon the Iraqis in their press for freedom, just like the actual George Bush did in the early nineties. I think they’re really wondering whether we’re going to let them have their religious government, or keep interfering with it.]

The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security. [America? Because we’re kind of fighting to hold on to our democracy, too. What with the PATRIOT Act and all.] Let me be clear: The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent. [As will putting 20,000 Americans on the firing line, some of them for the second and third times.] Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue [dramatic pause]—and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties. [Not that Governor Bush cares.] The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will. [Oy. Can’t we be a little more sure than that? I mean, he also believes that a bearded old man is sitting on a cloud in front of a computer screen controlling the destiny of the planet. And he also believes he’s a cowboy.]

Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. [You mean, an actual victory?] There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. [Just some douche in the San Francisco Bay pretending to land a jet far out at sea and proclaiming mission accomplished.] But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world—a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people. [And to the American administration.] A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. [Or fairly elected, really, much like our own democratic America.] But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them—and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and our grandchildren. [Once again, Iraq was never harboring terrorists until you removed the man who was keeping the terrorists out.]

This new approach comes after consultations with Congress about the different courses we could take in Iraq. Many are concerned that the Iraqis are becoming too dependent on the United States [like you wouldn’t love that, George], and therefore, our policy should focus on protecting Iraq's borders and hunting down al Qaeda. [Yeah, maybe we should have found people who were actually pushing for Iraqi democracy who could’ve, like, helped us.] Their solution is to scale back America's efforts in Baghdad—or announce the phased withdrawal of our combat forces. [Yes, well, since we’re fighting for nothing but the inheritance your idiot daughters will receive, maybe we’re a little bitter about it.] We carefully considered these proposals. [Right.] And we concluded that to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear the country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale. [As opposed to what they have now? Don’t try and convince us you’re a humanitarian, assface.] Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. [More lethal than George W. Bush and Emperor Cheney?] If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence [and stop contributing to it], we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.

In the days ahead, my national security team will fully brief Congress on our new strategy. If members have improvements that can be made, we will make them. [Right.] If circumstances change, we will adjust. Honorable people have different views, and they will voice their criticisms. It is fair to hold our views up to scrutiny. [When did he actually start believing that?] And all involved have a responsibility to explain how the path they propose would be more likely to succeed. [Except for ol’ Unaccountable George, I guess. Hey, Angela, is it nice in Canada? Because I’m thinking I need to move there pretty soon.]

Acting on the good advice of Senator Joe Lieberman [That asshole? The Democrat who Walks Like a Republican? A guy whose only political success has been making it a total hassle to buy video games?] and other key members of Congress, we will form a new, bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror. [Yeah, any other Democrats who are secretly conservatives that you want to include in your little cabal there? And how often does Cthulhu drop by?] This group will meet regularly with me and my administration; it will help strengthen our relationship with Congress. [Yeah, I’ll bet a lot of liberals are going to be in on that group, right? You sent the invite out to Obama already?] We can begin by working together to increase the size of the active Army and Marine Corps, so that America has the Armed Forces we need for the 21st century. [Reinstating the draft, he means, plus recalling people no longer on active duty.] We also need to examine ways to mobilize talented American civilians to deploy overseas, where they can help build democratic institutions in communities and nations recovering from war and tyranny. [Please send Tom Cruise, oh please.]

In these dangerous times, the United States is blessed to have extraordinary and selfless men and women willing to step forward and defend us. [Too bad their leaders are letting them down right and left.] These young Americans understand that our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary [dramatic pause, squint eyes]—and that the advance of freedom is the calling of our time. [Actually, I think most of them just couldn’t get money for college any other way. How dare you take advantage of them like this?] They serve far from their families, who make the quiet sacrifices of lonely holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table. [Again, it’s not like you gave them a choice. Stop acting like you care about them now, you big phony. You didn’t serve in the armed forces, so you don’t know. You were a cheerleader in college, not in officer training. The only thing you ever led was a line of white powder up your privileged nose. You have no idea what families go through when a member serves their country. You have never, ever once served yours. So you go and fuck yourself in the ass with a rhinoceros horn in an alley behind a butcher shop, you sick fuck. And quit talking about the sacrifices you force on us to keep you where you are.] They have watched their comrades give their lives to ensure our liberty. [That blood is on your hands, dickwad.] We mourn the loss of every fallen American—and we owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice. [No, we mourn the loss, and you owe them. And their families, you cocksucker. You sent them to die, not us. We want them home. You want them doing your bidding.]

Fellow citizens [cut the ingratiating shit, alright?]: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve. [Oh, God, your plan to rape this country gets even worse? I have nothing else you can take, shit-stain. All I’m glad about is that I’ve been in college and unemployed since you took office, so I haven’t paid taxes since you’ve been president and haven’t helped finance your garbage.] It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom. [He’s right; and so far, America has mostly put them aside by allowing this insane yahoo to continue his Reign of Terror. Our guilt is written in Iraqi blood and the flesh of the American soldiers we’ve sacrificed. It haunts us from Ground Zero, where the ghosts have yet to be quelled. We have not avenged their deaths. We have not revenged them on their murderers. The White House has forgotten them, except as a convenient excuse. And America has not protested enough, yelled enough, demanded enough, stood up and said “I will not let their lives be in vain” enough to quell the ghosts of the World Trade Center and United 93 and the passengers who were thrown into the Pentagon. Don’t Americans realize that protests are always quelled by the National Guard? Well, where’s the National Guard now? Overseas! Stand up and be heard, America. A great man once said, all that is possible for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing; and we have done precious little. We have stood by and watched and kissed our loved ones and mourned when they did not come home. We have been affected and died as our loved ones died, and we have stuck our heads in the sand, unwilling to give up the convenience and irrelevance of our daily lives. We have let evil triumph. We have smiled even as we know we are being lied to, and we have let the losses add up and pass. WE have done this, America. WE have let this happen. The blood is on the hands of each and every one of us who let these privileged assholes treat us like we’re worthless, who let them lie to us, who took us into a war we lost two years ago to make themselves richer, all the while telling us that we were protecting freedom. Who let us indulge the worst aspects of the American character: conquest, moral superiority, and greed. The fault is mine. The fault is yours. We have the power to end this, and we do nothing, because we’re afraid of disruption, because the last war fought on American land was so long ago that no one living remembers it. But the greed machine marches on, and we conquer, as we conquered Hawaii, as we conquered Panama, as we conquered Cuba. And they hate us. And we deserve it, because we let it happen in all our names. Doesn’t anyone see it happening? Isn’t anyone else embarrassed by it? Doesn’t it make anyone else sick?] Yet times of testing reveal the character of a nation. [And the lack of character of its leader.] And throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed. [By force, usually. Maybe we should just throw smallpox-infested blankets into Iraq and be done with it.] Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can, and we will, prevail.

We go forward with trust that the Author of Liberty will guide us through these trying hours. [The “Author of Liberty”? Do you mean God? Because, frankly, if you read the Bible, God’s not too keen on the whole freedom thing. Seriously, all he does is kill anyone who won’t worship him. Which is, actually, what George W. Bush seems to do. Now, why don’t we all go to bed and contemplate the meaning of Separation of Church and State.] Thank you and good night. [Fuck your racist mother. Oh, and bin Laden is...where? I'm betting Miami.]

My Darkest Fantasy

Nathaniel R at The Film Experience will not like this post, but he did kind of inspire it, I'll just say that up front.

So, one of the darkest fantasies I've had since I was a child is that Satan is a really, really hot chick. I'm not sure where it comes from, but the idea of a chick with horns and a tail who's the Princess of Darkness...oh, man.

Which is why Bedazzled is one of my favorite movies.

Yes, in my mind, Satan has a deep British accent.

This has been, like, a constant fantasy of mine since I was a kid, which is the one thing that makes me like the art of Hajime Sorayama, who I think otherwise is overrated. But then he does this.

And this one. Shroomy, this is totally what I imagine you look like, by the way.

The cock works for me in ways you would not fucking believe.

So anyway, I like Hilary Swank. And when I recently found this on Nathaniel's blog, it was one of the moments when the heavens parted and presented me with perfect fantasy material.

As much as you loathe to hear it, thanks for making this!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Film Week

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

Today in movies, teenagers just want to fuck and kill each other. They probably wanted the same thing in the late seventies, but the movies were so charmingly innocent about it. This held my attention for a little while just on the basis of Linda Blair’s amazingly sexy costumes, but I was bored with it after an hour. Will you two just fuck and get it over with? * star for Linda.

STEALTH (2005)
One of the dumbest science fiction movies I’ve ever seen. And who rips off 2001 in this day and age? Ugh, this fucking stupid movie that I only watched because Jessica Biel was in it! I should stop doing that, I already saw the one good one. No stars.

An excellent documentary about one of cinema’s consummate actors. What more can I say? **** stars.

An animated adventure based on one of my favorite comics. It sort of splits the difference between Mike Mignola’s style and the look of the DC Universe cartoons. It’s a lot of fun, and the best part is that Ron Pearlman and Selma Blair reprise the roles of Hellboy and Liz Sherman from the Guillermo del Toro film. More, please. **** stars.

Evaluating Disney: 1942

The labor unrest had quieted; now the war had come. The army had commandeered Disney’s studio as the headquarters or an operation defending California industrial warehouses from possible Japanese air or sea attacks. They had picked Walt Disney Studios because of its soundstage; it was windowless and soundproofed, so it could still serve as mission command during blackouts. The army was efficient and tidy, which Walt was grateful for, and they only stayed for about six months. Still, their presence emboldened Walt to continue on a course he had already decided on. He would pursue government contracts.

He had already taken some, creating war certificate advertisements for the National Film Board of Canada using recycled animation; The Thrifty Pig and Seven Wise Dwarfs had been released in 1941, and three more would see light early this year. The US Treasury Department came next, asking Walt for a short cartoon to educate people about the new income tax and why it was important for the war effort. Throughout the year, Walt took on more government contracts for educational and propaganda films, including a deal with the US Navy to produce a series of films about aircraft spotting. Walt hoped this would bring in some of the money that his features were losing with the European markets closed.

The shorts continued on, but now much of the energy was devoted to the war effort. Bambi was finally released this year after five years of production, and it was the last hurrah for Walt’s plan to release two features a year. It was too expensive. Walt wouldn’t make another animated feature, with the exception of a war film, Victory Through Air Power in 1943, for the rest of the decade. Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp would be put on hold for now. The war finally took on prominence at the studio.

1/11: Donald’s Decision
National Film Board of Canada. Another film for the war effort, this time featuring Donald Duck wrestling with the decision to buy Canadian war bonds. Like the earlier two films, The Thrifty Pig and Seven Wise Dwarfs, this film is mostly recycled animation, this time from Donald’s Better Self and Self Control. Historically interesting, but little else.

1/13: All Together
National Film Board of Canada. The animation recycled this time is from Pinocchio and several different shorts, including The Band Concert and Mickey’s Grand Opera, which is weird because it means Mickey, Goofy, Clarabelle Cow, and Horace Horsecollar change models for no reason. There is some nice animation on the Canadian Parliament in the background, and they’ve brought back their old parade format, but it’s still pretty bad. A quickie for some cash.

1/23: The New Spirit
Donald Duck. This cartoon was the subject of controversy in its time. The Secretary of the Treasury contacted Walt about crafting a short subject that would make clear the importance of paying your income tax as it affects the war effort. Walt offered to make a film with Donald Duck, and the Secretary, not a fan of the duck, was offended. Walt explained that he was offering the studio’s most popular star; he compared it to MGM offering Clark Gable. The short came out very well in far less time than was usually taken for such a short; but Walt wasn’t paid for the work in advance, and when he tried to get his money from the Treasury Department (and Congress), it brought up some other issues concerning illegal congressional appropriations. In response, Walt was publicly called a war profiteer. As it was, Disney lost money on the film anyway, both because it had cost more than initially budgeted, and because theatres showing other Disney shorts pulled them to make room for this one. As for the short itself, it’s dynamically animated, clever, and fun.

1/16: The Village Smithy
Donald Duck. This Dick Lundy short has a little bit of a been there/done that vibe to it. Here we have Donald once again being thwarted in his every attempt to do anything, especially when it comes to an animal. In this case, it’s Jenny the donkey, who is cute, but frustrating. There’s a weird cheapness to this one.

2/7: Mickey’s Birthday Party
Mickey Mouse. One of only two Mickey Mouse shorts released this year, this is another Riley Thompson-directed remake, this time of the 1931 short The Birthday Party. As much as I hated Thompson’s shorts from 1941, I really enjoyed the hell out of this one, not least because it features another (by now rare) appearance by Clara Cluck, Clarabelle Cow, and Horace Horsecollar (I just love that guy). It’s pretty sparse; there aren’t many scenes of the entire cast together (also including Minnie, Donald, and Goofy, who are throwing a surprise party for Mickey), but Mickey’s dancing is fun and Donald is so harassed he’s hilarious. The best scenes involve Goofy’s failed attempts to bake a cake.

2/28: Pluto, Junior
Pluto. I was ready to hate this cartoon; I find Pluto tiresome, and the idea of a cuter, younger version of him seemed even more tiresome. But you know what? I liked Pluto Junior. I thought he was cute and the animation was clever. When Pluto comes into it…meh. As far as I’m concerned, at this point they could have put Pluto to sleep and replaced him with Junior. Did we ever see that little guy again?

3/20: Symphony Hour
Mickey Mouse. This is another Riley Thompson remake. Maybe remake is the wrong word; it’s more like a pastiche, with nods to Mickey’s Barnyard Symphony, The Band Concert, Mickey’s Grand Opera, and a few others. I loved it; Mickey and the gang are scheduled to do a concert on the radio for Sylvester Macaroni (played by Pegleg Pete), but Goofy falls down an elevator shaft with the instruments and they’re all smashed. So, of course, it sounds horrible; and it’s terribly funny. Apparently Thompson was trying to resist Mickey’s nice-guy leanings, and in this cartoon he’s brutal and funny, just like in the old days (even going as far as to pull a gun on Donald). It’s fast-paced and hilarious, and it features Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar once again. Clara Cluck has a brief appearance, her last for 41 years. Donald Duck is particularly hilarious in this short.

4/10: Donald’s Snow Fight
Donald Duck. This has always been one of my favorite shorts featuring Donald, mostly because my dad, my sister and I used to have elaborate snow fights ourselves. This is another cartoon put together with care by Jack King, Jack Hannah, and Carl Barks. Donald, enjoying a snowy day, destroys a snowman built by Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Which, naturally, means war. Clever and hilarious, and one of the best cartoons of the year for certain.

5/1: Donald Gets Drafted
Donald Duck. King, Hannah, and Barks again, this time with Donald enlisting in the army because he wants to be a pilot. The medical exam scene is hilarious (“What color is this red card?”), and the boot camp scenes are priceless. Good call on making Pete the drill sergeant. One of the best of Donald’s army cartoons.

5/22: The Army Mascot
Pluto. Carl Barks and Jack Hannah also did the story for this short, which features Pluto trying to get taken in as an army mascot because the food is so good! This introduces a future nemesis for Pluto, Winston the bulldog, but for now his biggest foil is Gunther, a goat who wants to keep the position Pluto wants to usurp. There’s some great animation, particularly in the scene where Pluto swallows an entire stick of tobacco and his eyes water. For a Pluto cartoon, this is very, very good.

6/12: Donald’s Garden
Donald Duck. Once again, Donald’s trying to enjoy his work, but inanimate objects have it out for him and small animals are little bastards. This gopher tries to steal all of Donald’s crops…and in the end, does so. Bastard. Donald had the right idea when he tried to kill the gopher with a shovel.

7/3: The Sleepwalker
Pluto. Dinah, a dachshund, keeps trying to steal a bone from Pluto, but he keeps trying to murder her when she does (well, he does). Then he sleepwalks and gives it to her. It’s kind of frustrating and not very funny, but I love the animation on Dinah.

7/24: Donald’s Gold Mine
Donald Duck. Donald gets abused once again, with the same donkey from The Village Smithy providing some of the pain. I don’t know, this one made me just feel sorry for Donald. When Jack King, Carl Barks, and Jack Hannah are involved, Donald brings it on himself by being mischievous, but I don’t care for Dick Lundy’s Donald Ducks, because he seems to just like cruelly torturing Donald.

7/30: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Firing Line
Special cartoon. Ben Sharpsteen directed this short, in which Minnie Mouse and Pluto learn that they should save their kitchen grease for the war effort. It’s got a nice dynamic; it’s entertaining and not message-y.

8/13: BAMBI
Even today, audiences are split on whether this film represents the apex of Disney’s artistic ambitions, or is simply pretentious and irrelevant. For my part, I think it’s an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking. It’s everything Fantasia wanted to be and wasn’t; it tells its story through impressionistic means, through music and image. Sure, there are scenes that are cartoonish and silly, but there are some amazing sequences that are told through music and naturalistic animation that take the breath away. I have nothing but love for this film, and consider it one of the high points of the medium, and of American cinema. In my opinion, Disney’s single best film.

My post on the making of Bambi is here.

8/14: T-Bone for Two
Pluto. Winston’s name is now Butch, and Pluto, as ever, is trying to steal a bone from him. That’s pretty much it. Pluto pretending he has buried a giant bone is funny, but the bit with the bicycle horn gets old fast.

9/4: How to Play Baseball
Goofy. Jack Kinney continues his great line of Goofy sports shorts, this time with Goofy as all 18 players in a baseball game. I love these shorts, and they just build higher and higher to the point of utter, well, goofiness. Part of what makes these shorts so funny is the narrator; he’s pompous and pedantic, but also gets overexcited during the action.

9/25: The Vanishing Private
Donald Duck. Another great Jack King army short, this time with Donald on camouflage duty. He’s supposed to paint an anti-aircraft gun, but paints it bright colors. When he uses invisible paint, he gets in trouble with Sgt. Pete, who chases a now-invisible Donald until he just cracks up (he asks the General: “Did you see a little guy that you can’t see?”). For once, Donald wins!

10/9: The Olympic Champ
Goofy. This sports short I didn’t care for. The decathlon sports just aren’t that funny or interesting to me.

10/23: How to Swim
Goofy. This one’s funnier, but still not anywhere near as genius as How to Play Baseball. It is hilarious to see Goofy nearly drown in his own bathtub.

11/6: Sky Trooper
Donald Duck. Donald still wants to fly, so Sgt. Pete takes him up for paratrooper training, which scares the hell out of him. There’s not much more to it than that, but the dynamic between Private Donald and Sgt. Pete is just so funny, and King, Hannah, and Barks can make a classic out of anything.

11/20: Pluto at the Zoo
Pluto. Pluto tries to steal a bone from a lion, but gets trapped in the zoo, leaping from cage to cage. I liked this one because of all the different, strange animals (especially the fun-loving gorilla).

12/4: How to Fish
Goofy. Watching a little conga line of fish is just delightfully funny. Goofy tries to be an angler, with the usual results.

12/18: Bellboy Donald
Donald Duck. King, Hannah, and Barks again, this time with Donald as a terrible bellboy trying hard to do a good job. But when Pete and his terrible little jerk of a son come to the hotel, Donald finds it hard to contain himself. Poor Donald is put-upon through this entire short, but the ending is very satisfying.

Food Will Win the War
This was a public service short commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture to allay fears that too much food was being sent overseas to feed America. It’s actually quite clever, with some very good surrealistic imagery explaining, in comparative terms, the amount of food the US produces. One of the best of the wartime shorts.

Walt didn’t make as much money as he had hoped off of the government shorts. He was still a perfectionist, attempting to keep up standards even for dry training films like Four Methods of Flush Riveting (not discussed here because it can be considered the first of Disney’s educational films, which I’m skipping). But Walt was patriotic enough to keep up the effort. Also produced this year, and little-seen by the general public, were more training films for the Navy and the Army: Aircraft Carrier Landing Signals, Aircraft Carrier Mat Approaches and Landings, Aircraft Riveting for the US Navy, Approaches and Landings, Battle of Britain, Bending and Curving, Blanking and Punching, Forming Methods, Know Your Enemy: Germany, The Nazi's Strike, Prelude to War, Protection Against Chemical Warfare, US Army Identification: WEFT, and US Navy Identification: WEFT and Warships.

The government had also financed last year’s cultural trip to South America; the State Department was underwriting the cost of several cartoons (as well as a short film, South of the Border with Disney). Walt came up with the idea (actually suggested by David O. Selznick) of putting four of them together as a movie, Saludos Amigos, which was produced quickly and cheaply (it was shown in South America in 1942, but I won’t discuss it until its American release in 1943). Walt was also in production on Victory Through Air Power, the film version of a book Major Alexander de Seversky had published before the onset of war, arguing for the supremacy of the air forces in fighting a strategic war. Walt considered it important and spent a lot of time on it.

By 1942, Walt Disney stood as the lone giant in the field of animation. Others were coming up, particularly at Warner Bros and MGM. But Hugh Harman was gone, and so were the Fleischers. But for all his success, Walt felt stifled by the fast-paced government work and worried that he might never be able to realize the dreams he had for his animation studio.

Revealed at Last!

Finally, the title of the new Harry Potter book is out... Posted by Picasa

Becoming Jane

So...instead of making boring movies based on boring Jane Austen books, they're going to make a boring movie about how boring Jane Austen was in her boring life? I don't care, it's an Anne Hathaway movie and I must see it for that reason. I just wish that I didn't have to wait eight frickin' months! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Health Report: Week 4

Now that I’m back on my schedule and conforming to my diet, things are going a little better. I still cough sometimes at night, which really bothers me (that had all stopped previously), and I still get discouraged when I see my reflection, but I’m doing well. I’m still using that step machine, trying to walk more, and I suddenly noticed on Friday that I’m not getting as winded as I used to when I walk up stairs (which has long been another one of my problems…for the last couple of years, actually). Not only has my energy returned, but it seems like strength is actually coming with it!

And it gets better. The clothes are still hanging looser, but remember how I noticed my gut doesn’t scrape the steering wheel anymore? There’s actually more room there now! About two inches, I’d say. So even though it doesn’t quite feel like I’m losing weight, even though I still look in the mirror and see a very fat man, I know that I am losing the weight. It is going away. That’s the important thing; that’s why I haven’t been bad and just given up on my diet. It’ll take a while, but by the end of 2007, I’m going to be in significantly better health. I feel really, really good about that.

Oh, and when I went out for breakfast, like I always do on Fridays, I didn’t even have to push the booth back like I always do. I just slid right into it and was comfortable. Holy shit, that was a little triumph for me.

And even though PT told me not to check out the scale too often, I couldn’t resist today. And there it was: 350 pounds. Do you realize what that means?

I lost ten pounds, y’all. In a month. In four weeks, I lost 10 pounds.

I’ll bet I can beat that.

When my mom asked me on Christmas how much weight I’d lost, I said two pounds. In an outpouring of supportiveness, my mom said: “That’s it?” I’d like to take this moment to say: in your face, woman.

So, what’s this shiz I hear about a man gaining an inch of penis for every 35 pounds he loses? I heard that Dr. Mehmet Oz, Oprah’s latest court favorite (look for him to get his own talk show by 2009, I’m sure!), has been a proponent of the whole 1 inch to 35 pounds ratio. Since I’m doing this partially for sexual reasons (I want to fuck a cheerleader, show me the guy who says he doesn’t and I’ll show you a dirty, filthy, self-serving, make-the-baby-Jesus-cry LIAR), I had to check around on the internet for some, forgive me, hard information. Turns out it’s as preposterous as it sounds, but Dr. Oz makes a good point: if you lose the fat around your genitals, it makes your cock look bigger. And come to think of it, I do remember it once looking a couple of inches bigger than it does now. So there, guys, is a great reason not to be fat. And if you care at all about your sons and want them to do what I didn’t and get laid in high school, you will tell them that: being fat makes your dick look smaller. And quite frankly, I can’t really see mine over my immense gut these days. And that has to change, too.

Because if I have a bigger dick, maybe someone will want to fuck a guy who looks like a Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller…

A Life in the Woods: Notes on Bambi

Felix Salten’s German novel Bambi: A Life in the Woods was published in America in 1928. Director Sidney Franklin had already made 61 movies when he read the novel in 1933 and, thinking it would make a marvelous movie, bought the film rights. But the novel proved unworkable in live action, and Sidney directed The Barretts of Wimpole Street instead. Walt Disney read the novel in 1937, and also thought it would make a great film, especially in animation, where the animal characters and the dialogue would merge more comfortably. It differs in accounts as to who approached whom, but somehow Disney and Franklin got together and Franklin sold the story to Disney. It was just before the release of Snow White and the Sevens Dwarfs; Walt wanted to get story people on Bambi right away as his second animated feature.

Larry Morey and Perce Pearce were assigned to the film, which proved a lot harder to work into a suitable story for film than Walt had supposed it might. Some of the people involved in the early stages thought it might never work; animals talking about strange, fatalistic philosophy felt too odd. Particular ire was reserved for an elegiac moment in the novel that has the last two leaves of the autumn talking about the inevitability of death just before they fall and float to the ground, dead. The fact is, Bambi was written as a novel for adults, and took a rather harsh view of life in the natural world. It was very biting in its criticism of man’s encroachment on nature, but it was also filled with a sense of wistfulness, as though Salten considered such encroachment the natural course. It was a complex mix to simply tell an animated story to children with. The script went through endless revisions, cutting out much of the novel and adding many other elements.

Photographer Maurice Day was sent to Maine to take literally hundreds of photographs; not only landscapes, but small details, specific things like spider webs with morning dew. When Walt announced that Bambi would be his second feature, the Maine Development Commission sent two live fawns to serve as models for the characters Bambi and Faline. The studio was ill-equipped to care for the animals, so a little zoo had to be set up. This allowed the artists to study all manner of creature that they would draw for the film. Walt was very sure of what he wanted from the visuals.

What he was not sure about was character. Early on, just after the release of Snow White, Walt was saying in story meetings that he didn’t want the characters to be played “too straight” or too serious. It was an opinion that would change somewhat as the script went through more and more changes. He wanted to keep a certain level of cuteness, but he also saw artistic possibilities even bigger than those Snow White had offered. His crew was now comfortable with the multiplane camera, which would get used to much better effect in Bambi. The design began to take on a feel of naturalism. Walt started to talk more seriously about art and less about cartoon. He began asking for less caricature and more reality. Some of his animators complained that he wanted absolute realism, which they were unprepared for. One of his more famous directions was that, in the scene where the older Bambi fights off a buck, the action be “black on black,” which is impossible.

The naturalistic look of the film is not entirely successful. The smaller animals, even including the rabbit Thumper and the skunk Flower, hearken back to the early days of animation, when the circle was considered the easiest form to animate. The smaller animals are caricatured and slightly unreal. But somehow, this blends into the film and works despite how badly it might have. The art also has a tendency to be stylized for dramatic effect, especially in the scenes of the forest fire (compare their sense of heightened drama to the serene ease and matter-of-factness of the “Little April Shower” segment). Besides studying animals, two champion figure skaters were filmed for the “ice skating” sequence.

All of this added to the difficulty in getting the film made as quickly as Walt wanted. He had gone into production on Bambi as his second film because he thought, wrongly as it turned out, that the animals would present fewer problems for the animators than the human characters in Pinocchio. But, like Fantasia, Bambi kept growing and changing every time Walt picked it back up. What really picked up the efficiency was Milt Kahl’s proposal in 1939 to assign directors to individual sequences rather than casting by character. Walt was skeptical; Snow White had not been cast by character (one animator overseeing the animation of a single character throughout the film), and casting by sequence had been hard at first. Animators had added little touches to their scenes, and at first the characters had gone off-model just enough to be noticeable; Ollie Johnston had had to be assigned to keep every character on-model. Kahl, however, had become bored animating Pinocchio, and decided that this was a way to relieve the monotony of only working with one character as well as speed things up. This way, he reasoned, no single sequence would be held up while the lead animator for a character was working on a different part of the film. Delays were a huge part of the problem by now, so Walt agreed to some test footage. Anything that would lead to greater efficiency was something Walt would grab on, provided it worked; though he was against rotoscoping initially, he had relented when Dave Hand, now supervising the direction of Bambi, had argued that it would help various animators handling the same character stay on-model. Kahl and Frank Thomas were, in Walt’s opinion, the best animators at Disney. He let them take their shot. Thomas animated a sequence of the young Bambi, and Kahl animated a sequence of the older Bambi. Walt was enthusiastic about the results and okayed the suggestion. It not only led to faster results, but allowed the Bambi production to bring in other animators while keeping the characters consistent.

All of this was happening at what was proving to be a very tenuous time for Disney. Walt had excitedly initiated a plan to produce two animated features a year, one of them a prestigious and artistic picture along the lines of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio, the other a cartoon, made by what Michael Barrier calls “shorts animators on a shorts budget,” with the idea that they would be cost-effective and cater to the public desire for cartoons. Dumbo, intended originally as a short, became the first of these features. The Legend of Happy Valley, the version of “Jack and the Beanstalk” starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy, was supposed to be the first, but work on Dumbo was faster. But the war in Europe had cut off overseas markets, and Disney was hemorrhaging money. The failure of Fantasia would prove to be crippling to the studio, and the failure of Pinocchio already hadn’t helped. The success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was already looking more and more like a novelty. The script for Bambi was not completed until July 1940, by which time Disney had already spent $858,000 on the production; more than Dumbo would cost, by far. To make matters worse, Bambi was still in the final stages during the labor strike in 1941, which slowed work even more.

In the end, a lot of the dialogue Walt liked in the book was cut out of the script. Walt really seemed to be more interested in conveying the story through music and images. The film only has 950 words of dialogue spoken over the film’s 69 minutes. The film was meant to be longer, but Disney cut out as much as he could to save money. Bambi was not released until August 1942, after five years of production. By the time the film hit theaters, it was already an anachronism. The world was at war, and Bambi seemed evocative of an earlier time, a bucolic memory of a past that was no longer the present. America had changed. And Bambi was expensive, too expensive, costing $1.7 million dollars. It was the last gasp of Walt Disney’s attempts to be an artistic leader in the field of animation. It disheartened him, as the failures of Fantasia and Pinocchio had disheartened him. The film didn’t return its money, and the reviews were oddly mixed. Some praised the film. Others hated Disney’s reach toward naturalism and wanted him to return to the world of cartoons. Even today, critics, fans, and historians are divided on Bambi.

Walt Disney could no longer afford to make movies like this. They lost too much money, and evidently, the public didn’t want them.

Animation Credits:
Supervising Director: David Hand
Sequence Directors: James Algar, Bill Roberts, Norman Wright, Sam Armstrong, Paul Satterfield, Graham Heid
Supervising Animators: Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Eric Larson, Ollie Johnston
Animators: Fraser Davis, Bill Justice, Bernard Garbutt, Don Lusk, Retta Scott, Kenneth O’Brien, Louis Schmidt, John Bradbury, Joshua Meador, Phil Duncan, George Rowley, Art Palmer, Art Elliott