Saturday, December 08, 2007

John Lennon, 26 Years Gone

John Lennon remains one of my personal heroes. I wasn't conscious of him when he was alive, but nonetheless he's had a huge impact on my life. His way of putting the complex into simple terms. His genuine desire for peace and understanding. And the music, of course. Nothing I can say will do this man justice, of course. There's wonderful salute here by Martin Lewis that I thought did the job.

I miss him. I miss the simplicity of a man who really believed that war is over, if you want it. Why can't it be?

Olga

What the Fuckabee?

Seriously, what happened?

I thought we were all just going to ignore this guy and let him melt away into the ether. And now I read that Mike Huckabee is leading the GOP in Iowa? This idiot? This bigot? A guy who says the death penalty is justified because Jesus didn't specifically speak out agains it? A guy who wants a Constitutional amendment outlawing divorce? A guy who said that AIDS patients should be isolated from the rest of the community? The guy responsible for this shining gem of tolerance: "I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk." And the guy who says: "I do not separate my faith from my personal and professional lives."

This asshole is the leading candidate in Iowa? Really?

I wish I could say I was surprised. But his good chances come down to the following four things.

1. Huckabee is not a Mormon (too culty) and not a divorced cross-dresser (too uncomfortable).

2. He pretends to be cool, which reaches the dorkiest Republicans who've been desperate since the end of the eighties to prove that conservatism is still cool.

3. Endorsement by a face-lifted bigot who can barely walk but who plays well with hicks (even with the hate rhetoric) because he was a minor movie star a hundred years ago.

4. Americans are apparently stupid and judge politicians not on ideas but on how well they fake an approachable folksiness that is so archaic it might as well be medieval. That's how an idiot like George W. Bush gets elected and, honestly, that's how Bill Clinton got elected, too. Sometimes it works out. But either way, the majority of Americans are completely backward on what they consider important in a president, and they're just dumb enough to let this guy slide his way right into power.

Sorry to be so mean, but if you'd stop proving me right, America, I'd calm down on this shit.

Bride Wars

Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson are going to star in the comedy Bride Wars as two best friends who find themselves enemies when they schedule their weddings on the same date. Because I never get tired of lighthearted comedies about how stupid and petty women are supposed to be, and how much best friends really hate each other, especially when they're both chicks. No, really, I love shit that insults my intelligence.

Seriously, Annie, come on. I expect this kind of idiotic waste of time from Kate Hudson. But you're supposed to be better than this.

Naja Ashei

A recent discovery in Kenya, the Naja Ashei is a giant spitting cobra (nine feet long) that has enough venom to kill 15 people. This is now the world's largest known species of cobra.

Naja Ashei was first seen in the 1960s, but debate went on over whether this was some sort of malformation or a separate species. Turns out it's a species of its own.

How cool is this thing? And how cool is it that still, in 2007, when people are so jaded, we still make exciting discoveries about the unknown species that we're killing off with our mismanagement of the planet? At least we'll get to see some new ones before they're all gone.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Golden Compass

I finished reading The Golden Compass last night. I'm going to make some comments here on things I did and didn't like about the novel, so I'm doing something rare and warning you that, if you want to read it, do not read this post. I'm going to talk freely about plot points and such. There; I'm absolved of all wrongdoing. If you read this and the plot is spoiled for you, it's your own fault.
So, The Golden Compass.

Things I Didn't Like About the Novel:
1. For all the talk that this is a novel that promotes atheism, I didn't see any evidence of it. In fact, there's so much talk of fate and destiny and higher powers and prophecy that I don't understand what people mean when they say Pullman is arguing for atheism. Maybe there's more in the next two novels, but it's not here. There's a firm and unwavering order to this universe. Which leads me to...

2. Some of the symbolism is so heavy-handed as to be somewhat embarrassing. So, everyone's daemon is an outer reflection of their inner soul. And, when people die, they become a ghost, which makes the human body a shell of the spirit. So everyone is a trinity unto themselves. And the idea that the daemon is a familiar (which, really, it is) just harkens to an older religious tradition. So does the presence of witches (and even the witch Serafina speaks of a "most high"). Even the armored bears, I assume, since we're told repeatedly that their armor is a reflection of their soul. Maybe I just don't think of these same concepts the same way other people do, but it all seems very religious to me. Doesn't Lyra at one point say you have to be baptized to have a daemon?

3. Lord Asriel is nothing but an uninteresting plot device. He's nearly poisoned, a plot development which isn't really explained satisfactorally; then he sits out the entire novel until the end, where his treachery is telegraphed in advance and not surprising or especially dramatic. There's nothing to him except that we're told he's intimidating. I didn't feel it.

4. The entire first third of the novel seems barely related to the rest of the book. It's not a mark of good writing that the entire undefined, clumsy, and shallow first third of the book isn't even set-up. It's just there while Pullman tries to find his footing. And really...

5. I don't see anything to justify anyone's opinion of Pullman being a very good writer, even on a technical level. There were a number of sentences that just, as a writer and editor, made me cringe. His lack of style, I guess, seems solid to some people, but it just seemed characterless to me. The Golden Compass was, I found, muddled and hard to follow. There were times when I was tempted to just give up the entire book.

6. The idea of the Dust isn't explained very well. I'm assuming that it represents some sort of larger consciousness, but since there is no world depicted beyond Lyra's immediate circle, I don't know what there is to be conscious of, exactly. This is a problem I really had here. We're told repeatedly of the dealings of the Church and the larger design behind Mrs. Coulter's plans, but there's really no sense of a larger world out there. It's like reading C.S. Lewis again: every person involved is simply there to propel the plot forward, and there's no sense of discovery as a result. Which is a shame, since there's no ending.

7. There's no ending. The novel stops, but it doesn't end.

8. Mrs. Coulter is also unsatisfying as a character. She's only interesting in the potential of what she's capable of, but we don't get to see her being evil or hard or mean. There's one scene, the first scene that remotely pulled me in, when her daemon threatens Lyra's daemon, when I got a real sense of her chilling side. But otherwise, she just appears occasionally as a plot device and little else. We don't get to know her at all, and the motive for the incision is disappointingly shallow and simplistic. It's not dramatic.

9. The revelation about Lyra's parentage is also pretty obvious.

10. Farder Coram and John Faa are interesting potential characters who are unceremoniously dropped when they stop being useful to getting Lyra to the bears. Any character who is not immediately useful is forgotten. Lee Scoresby is also a potentially neat character who just drops out of the narrative (quite literally, almost). And he has future action foreshadowed that never comes into the story.

11. The hot daemon on daemon action at the end of the novel comes off as silly at best.

12. Lyra's final summation--that Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter hate the Dust, therefore the Dust must be good--is depressingly simplistic for such a smart character. I see what Pullman's setting up--the conflict between the Church and the full consciousness of existence--but he's not doing it well. His arguments against the Church are ultimately childish; he might as well say that the Church is bad because they want to stop you from masturbating and thinking freely. Okay, but is it more insidious than that, or is that it? It's not an argument, really, so much as a statement.

Things I Liked About the Novel:
1. Lyra. She's a great lead character; she's resourceful, she keeps her wits in times of great fear, and even though she lies (I assume her name is meant to sound like "liar"), she's fiercely loyal to the people she loves and trusts.

2. The whole concept of daemons is, admittedly, pretty cool.

3. The alethiometer is also a very cool concept, and I love the scenes with Lyra figuring out how to use it, as though she has some sort of psychic connection to it.

4. I like the way Pullman has obviously thought out a sense of custom in this world when dealing with the daemons; that it's taboo for anyone to touch your daemon, for example, and the pure revulsion Lyra has to hers being touched--as well as the thought of someone being separated from theirs--is quite visceral. There are also ideas of honor, loyalty, and trust. I like that Iorek Byrnison won't break his word because of his honor.

5. I loved Iorek Byrnison. He's a great fantasy creature. Even the idea of a panserbjorn is pretty freaking awesome. Armored polar bears; how can you go wrong?

6. There are some scenes which are genuinely emotional and which I genuinely connected with. When Lyra and Iorek find Tony Makarios and discover his daemon has been cut from him, I really felt Lyra's sense of revulsion and anger. Pullman depicts Lyra's love for Pantalaimon and Iorek and her sense of wonder and discovery very well; it's too bad that she doesn't really effect the outcome either way. At the end of the novel, she's a witness and not a player.

7. The whole episode at Bolvangar is really exciting, tense, scary, and compelling. It's the best part of the book.

8. There's a flying balloon. Awesome.

9. Pullman isn't afraid to introduce complex ideas, such as the daemons and the Dust and the idea that the bear king, Iofur Raknison, wants to be more human and is therefore subject to vanity, greed, and deception. But it's only in Iofur that there's any real meat, because the religious ideas are so shallow.

In the end, I don't buy the atheism argument. I see where Pullman is very definitely against the idea of an organized Church, but there's so much other spiritualism going on that there's definitely a sense of a guided and organized universe. But like I said before, I think the presentation is just very shallow. It comes down to this: the Church wants to destroy free thought, and they do more harm than good by essentially lobotomizing children, and that's bad. There's really not a whole lot else going on, no matter how much Pullman tries to distract with side trips. How did this unsatisfying, unwieldy thing win so many awards? I found the whole thing frustratingly vague and I don't know if I feel the need to read the next novel or not. I think I need something else to cleanse the pallette before jumping back in.

Now, again, these are opinions subjective to myself. If you disagree or think I missed the point or simply don't get what I'm talking about, I'd love to hear why. I'd just like to hear why in a civil manner.

Persepolis

I'm so glad to finally see some trailers for this movie; now I finally have ONE movie this holiday season that I'm really, genuinely, wholeheartedly EXCITED about seeing. Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels are beautiful, vibrant, vital things, and the animation in this movie looks like it's going to do them justice.

Here are two trailers. They show some of the same scenes, but I like the different tones in each one.




I can not wait for this.

I'm a Bad Relative

I got tagged by Dr. Monkey to do the meme where you just talk about the five best Christmas presents you ever got. The sad thing is, I can't remember any. Not even from when I was a kid. Oh, I know I've gotten some really nice Christmas presents from people. I know I do every year. But I just can't remember what they are.

I think this comes from the fact that I tend to endure Christmas rather than enjoy it. It's always so damn stressful for me. My parents got divorced when I was 13, and now there are two places I have to go on Christmas. Besides that, I tend to get really nervous driving at night, especially when the weather is wet and shitty, so all of the driving adds on to that stress. It's a real mess.

See, my stepmom's family has a Christmas party every Christmas Eve at someone's house (it rotates), and I always used to go to that party. But things got really complicated when Becca and I started dating in 1994; I started taking her to those parties, so I'd end up driving her to La Grange or Frankfort or something, and then I'd have to get her back home to Lombard, and then go all the way back out to my dad's house in Frankfort. Then I'd spend the night (usually I'd get back around 1 or 2 in the morning), wake up around 5 or 6, and spend the morning at my dad's with my little sisters before heading to my mom's, where we have a tradition of going to see a movie every Christmas day (which started in 1990, the first Christmas after the divorce and after moving out of my childhood home).

Things threatened to get more complicated when I moved to DeKalb in 2001. I even had a panic attack on Christmas Eve--that was the first time I ever had a panic attack, and the first time I mistook it for a heart attack. I finally had to put my foot down and say I was skipping the party to spend Christmas Eve with Becca. Then, early on Christmas Day, Becca goes to see her mom and grandma, and I go to my dad's. Every year before last year, I'd pick up my sister Jayne and we'd drive to my dad's; then we'd go to mom's, and then in the evening I drive home and collapse. Jayne was in Australia last year, and since she lives there now, she won't be here. So it'll be a little easier without the extra stop; plus the 355 tollway goes all the way down to I-88 (FINALLY!), so that should shave another half hour or more off of my drive to dad's.

Still, it's a stress test. In 2006, my sister Ellen died, and that's put a dour quality on the holidays, even more than was already there since my grandmother died in January 2000. And when I'm at my dad's, I'm a little stressed because I know he's going to say something about how I never go to see him enough (as if it was my decision for him to move 2 hours away when they got divorced, even after all his talk of moving one town over, from Woodridge to Downers Grove). He's also made it clear, in years with really bad weather (which, again, I get nervous driving in), that he won't accept my going to see my mom (who is closer by 80 minutes) if I don't go to see him. So I really feel like I'm on the edge of letting everyone down on Christmas.

Adding to that is the money issue. I've never made very much, and I've never been good with it. Especially since I became a full time student in 2001, and then spent a year unemployed and broke (as opposed to now, where I'm employed and still broke). Every year, people ask me what I want for Christmas, and I feel like I can't ask for anything because I can't afford to get people very much. I'll eventually make suggestions, true, but only when pressed. I don't like the idea of people getting me things when I can't do the same for them. And I like getting things for people. I really like it. But I can't do it.

So I don't know, I feel really selfish and worn out at Christmas. When the day comes, I'd rather just be in a hole. And I feel bad because I do like going to my mom's more than my dad's. My dad's at Christmas feels strained, not just because of the loss, but because my little sister Audrie is the only one who feels excited anymore. I'm sorry I don't visit my dad more often, but gas is expensive, especially when you're broke, and he lives far enough away that it takes almost an entire tank of gas to get there and back. I guess I could ask for gas cards for Christmas. But at my mom's, things are more relaxed, and we always go to the movies, and I still really enjoy going to the movies with my mom.

So, gifts are hard to remember. In fact, I only remember one that's really, truly special to me: my King Kong DVD. In 2005, the original 1933 version of King Kong finally came out on DVD with a great documentary on the disc, and I wanted it bad. I asked for just the movie; there was a deluxe version with a booklet and two other movies that I don't care for: Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. But Ellen got me the deluxe version for Christmas that year anyway. And then, in March, she passed away. So I cherish that DVD, because it was the last thing she ever gave me. Everything else, as nice and thoughtful and heartwarming as they were, blurs in my mind.

If any of my relatives are reading this, I apologize. But you're stressing the hell out of me.

Miley's in Town

The much-talked-about, overly-expensive, insanely-fast-selling Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert has come to Chicago. She's going to be at the All State Arena tomorrow night. When I mentioned having heard this on the local news this morning, Becca said: "Oh, God, please don't let me come home from work tomorrow night and find her tied up in the bedroom!"

Thanks for the vote of confidence, honey!No promises, though.

I Am So Ready for More Hellboy

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christ on a Bike!

This is so stupid, it's actually kind of awesome. Thank you for finding this, my splendid Captain!

The Story Virus

Splotchy has started a viral story and he's tagged me as one of the people to continue it!

If you are one of the carriers of this story virus (i.e. you have been tagged and choose to contribute to it), you will have one responsibility, in addition to contributing your own piece of the story: you will have to tag at least one person that continues your story thread. So, say you tag five people. If four people decide to not participate, it's okay, as long as the fifth one does. And if all five participate, well that's five interesting threads the story spins off into.

So, here goes:

I woke up hungry. I pulled my bedroom curtain to the side and looked out on a hazy morning. I dragged myself into the kitchen, in search of something to eat. I reached for a jar of applesauce sitting next to the sink, and found it very cold to the touch. I opened the jar and realized it was frozen. (Splotchy)

My first idea was to put the applesauce in the microwave. Hey, I was still tired. Could I scoop some out and put whipped cream on it? No, too solid. Why was it so damn cold in here? I walked over to the thermostat and saw that the heat hadn't clicked on all night and the temperature had dropped substantially overnight. Now, tired and hungry, I opened the access panel on the heater. There's the problem: why was someone cooking a duck in here? (SamuraiFrog)

And to tag five others to continue the story. Since the blog circles I travel in seem to be narrowing and narrowing, this was the hardest part:
P to the J
J to the D
M to the C
Some Guy
Little Sherrita

UPDATE 10:35 A.M.: Splotchy has rewarded me with a doodle for my participation. At my suggestion: "Mickey Mouse cruising a high school to pick up chicks." It's so sleazy, I love it!

Teen Pregnancy Is On the Rise

Sorry about that. I didn't mean to do it.

But have you seen the way these girls dress today, your honor? Seriously!

Teaser Poster

Quit Crowing

I'll just never understand why actresses these days have put such a moral premium on nudity. They just can't shut up about how they're never going to take their clothes off in a movie for whatever reason and blah blah blah. Actually, it's usually the people who want to be movie stars, not the people who are actually good at acting. Because nudity to an actress should be no big deal; it's a big deal to people thinking about their careers and not their craft. Anyway, Julia Roberts had decided she's never going to take her clothes off again onscreen.

Which is fine, because I really don't want to ever have to see her naked. And also, she's never been naked in a movie. I actually looked this up to make sure I was ridiculing her accurately. She's shown herself in a bra three times, and she used a body double for Pretty Woman.

She said: "Listen, there's a reason why you don't see me naked me in movies, you don't see me running around in bathing suits in movies. It's just not my thing."

Fine. Why are we even talking about this? Why do women in Hollywood think it makes them so superior that they've used their flesh enough to not take their clothes off anymore? I mean, Julia Roberts played a prossie in Pretty Woman, then starred in a ton of mediocre movies, and then pushed up her tits to win an Oscar for Erin Brockovich. If I had used my sex appeal (whatever sex appeal people find in her, for chrissakes) so successfully, I wouldn't want to point out what a hypocrite I am. Because it just makes Julia Roberts look like an asshole. Granted, this is about the 152nd thing that makes her look like an asshole, but whatever.

I heard that in Julia Roberts's next movie, Charlie Wilson's War, she runs around in a bathing suit. Just saying.

Winter Turns Me Into a Crank; I Don't Care

5:55 in the ayem.

It's currently 2 degrees in DeKalb.

I fucking hate the midwest sometimes.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Film Week

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

THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006)
This movie was well-made and well-acted, but it mostly just made me sad. I'm not sure how much of this is really a true story, but Matt Damon stars as a college student who becomes one of the key men involved in the creation of the CIA. Damon's character was depressing--not that he didn't do a good job (I really like Matt Damon), but everything he does is just motivated by a sense of duty. He never gets to do the things he really wants. And then he ends up doing horrible things. Still, very good movie. Nice to see Robert De Niro finally directing again. **** stars.

AS YOU LIKE IT (2006)
It's been six long years since Kenneth Branagh directed a Shakespeare movie. His return is not really a welcome one. After the highs of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet, this continues in the vein of his Love's Labour's Lost: a disappointment. It doesn't help that, in my own opinion, this cutesy romantic comedy is one of Shakespeare's least good plays. It's a waste of a potentially great cast, I think: Bryce Dallas Howard and Romola Garai are really good, but everyone else is just phoning it in (especially, sadly, Shakespeare and Branagh vets Brian Blessed and Richard Briers). Oh, and Janet McTeer was very good, too; she made a foolish role funny and vibrant, as opposed to Alfred Molina, who didn't. And when did Kevin Kline stop being able to act? I still say sometime around In & Out. **1/2 stars.

JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (1965)
Fellini cast his real life wife in this film about a woman who finds the strength to leave her cheating husband. He also, apparently, took LSD for the first time before making this, his first color film. And you can see some psychedelic influence, which is the most powerful thing about this beautiful film. Through imagery and editing, Fellini brings Juliet's inner being alive, helping us to understand the complexity of subjective memory and dreams, loneliness and betrayal, Catholicism and expectation that go into creating the life of someone so seemingly simple: a housewife. Felllini here manages to be more metaphorical and deep than in some of his later work, which I'm not a fan of. It's surprising (in a wonderful way) that Fellini can take this woman's inner struggle and make it so gripping that, by the end, you're really rooting for her to face her demons and win. **** stars.

TOUS LE MATINS DU MONDE (1991)
A biopic of composer Marin Marais, played mostly by Guillaume Depardieu and as an adult by his father Gerard. The film is about the joy and pain of life and creation, and about the emotional wreckage that gets left behind. It's hard to describe, really, but it's so beautiful. Excellent baroque music on the soundtrack. **** stars.

THE SMART SET (1928)
William Haines is a rich hotshot polo player whose grandstanding gets him kicked off the team. And then he learns the error of his ways. About as good as it sounds. ** stars.

LEROY & STITCH (2006)
The movie that puts the cap on Disney's wonderful Lilo & Stitch series, with Stitch facing off against Dr. Hamsterviel for the last time. I love the whole series, and I thought the movie was a great goodbye to one of Disney's best characters. *** stars.

THREE SMART GIRLS (1936)
Deanna Durbin and her two sisters try to break up the engagement of their estranged father and a gold digger. Silly and slight, but I enjoyed it. Lots of mix-ups, mistaken identities, and songs; hey, it worked for Shakespeare. *** stars.

And Then There Are Days When I Hate Living in the Midwest

J Love Strikes Back

Jennifer Love Hewitt had this to say on her blog about people calling those bikini pictures fat:

This is the last time I will address this subject.

I’ve sat by in silence for a long time now about the way women’s bodies are constantly scrutinized. To set the record straight, I’m not upset for me, but for all of the girls out there that are struggling with their body image.

A size 2 is not fat! Nor will it ever be. And being a size 0 doesn’t make you beautiful.

What I should be doing is celebrating some of the best days of my life and my engagement to the man of my dreams, instead of having to deal with photographers taking invasive pictures from bad angles. I know what I look like, and so do my friends and family. And like all women out there should, I love my body.

To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini — put it on and stay strong.

Xoxo
JLH


Now, I did say that anyone who called her fat based on those pictures had a pathetically unrealistic idea of what women really look like. And I love her sentiments here. And I want to do all kinds of nasty, nasty things to her. But seriously...

Size 2?

We can be a little more honest than that as long as we're taking a stand, right?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Health Report: Week 51

I feel like total shit. But I am still losing weight. So it's a mixed bag right now.

That is all.

Stage Fright

Splotchy did this on his blog, and though he didn't tag anyone, I can never resist this kind of fun meme.

And yes, I know my iPod is cheesy and resembles that of a 13 year-old girl.

Rules:
1. Put your music player on Shuffle
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER WHAT(this is in capital letters, so it is very serious).

1. IF SOMEONE SAYS “IS THIS OKAY” YOU SAY? "Radar Love," Golden Earring

2. WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY? "Cherish," The Association

3. WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL? "Somethin' Stupid," Nancy Sinatra & Frank Sinatra

4. HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY? "Diamond Meadows," T. Rex

5. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE? "Love," John Lennon

6. WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO? "Be," Jessica Simpson

7. WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU? "Do You Remember Walter?," The Kinks

8. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR PARENTS? "Beltane Walk," T. Rex

9. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN? "Word Up," Cameo

10. WHAT IS 2+2? "Peaches en Regalia," Frank Zappa

11. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND? "Hey Joe," Wilson Pickett

12. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE? "Nobody's Perfect," Hannah Montana

13. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY? "This Will Be Our Year," The Zombies

14. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? "Under Pressure," Queen & David Bowie

15. WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE? "Oh Yoko!," John Lennon

16. WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU? "Stuck in the Middle," Mika

17. WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING? "Play the Game," Queen

18. WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL? "Surf's Up," The Beach Boys (Scarily enough, I actually have always wanted this song--as well as the Beach Boys's "Forever," "Til I Die," and "This Whole World." Messed up.)

19. WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST? "Street Fighting Man," The Rolling Stones

20. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET? "Nothing 'Bout Love Makes Sense," LeAnn Rimes

21. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS? "Crazy on You," Heart

22. WHAT SHOULD YOU POST THIS AS? "Stage Fright," The Band

Becca on Paris Hilton's New Lips

"That's what Martha Stewart would look like if she looked into the Ark of the Covenant and melted. Only not as sexy."

Nerds: We're So Easy to Exploit

Here are the preview images for this year's Nerdcore calendar.
Straight to my nerdy heart. And my nerdy pants, really.

You can order the 2008 Nerdcore calendar at their website. And you can still get the 2007 calendar, which I apparently also need.
Straight to my nerdy heart.

Iran Has No Nukes

According to the latest U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program four years ago and is unlikely to have restarted it.

But... but, that would mean our president is using Iran is a straw man to prop up his failing war and make us think that we're in constant danger of attack so that we don't question his assumed absolute power. And that would just be insane!

In fact, the NIE is even saying that they were wrong in 2005 and overestimated Iran's nuclear program, and that it would take Iran two years to build a bomb with the resources they have now.

Suddenly, Stephen Hadley is talking about diplomacy and characterizing it as the first choice of the administration. Honestly, that's the first I'd heard of that; you mean we could talk to Iran instead of blowing them up? Bush's tiny, childlike brain must be reeling. Hadley is also trying to bully other nations into helping to pressure Iran diplomatically. I guess if the administration rushes to the front of the line and shouts loudly what everyone else has already been saying, they'll fool the world into thinking that they've always been for diplomacy, right?

I can't wait to see how the pundits who are actually trying to convince us Bush has any credibility left scramble to explain this one away. I mean, it's really no surprise that Bush sees nuclear weapons where there aren't any; he's seen them once before without it being true. Fucker even joked about it in front of the press.

Gee, George, if someone really want to avoid World War III, it seems like we ought to be interested in preventing complete lying idiots from getting into positions of power. Then we wouldn't have to listen to a retarded chimp bleat on about making Iran safe for democracy (it is a democracy) and how we have to keep the knowledge of nuclear energy away from a nation who, as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, is legally allowed to enrich uranium to a low degree.

Iran, by the way, is under suspension with the IAEA for non-compliance with some of the Non-Proliferation Treaty requirements. And what has been their reaction? Admittedly, they have defied the suspension demand; but they've also been working with the IAEA to resolve the issue. Compare that to what North Korea did: they withdrew from the NPT and built their own bombs. But it's Iran that's going to start World War III. Right.

This is what Bush wants to start a third front for? He hasn't even won on the other two. He won't take a stand against Pakistan or North Korea; instead he goes after Iraq and Iran. Why? Well, Pakistan and North Korea have big, scary nuclear weapons. And like most Republicans, Bush is a soft, cowardly man who can only pretend to be tough until he has to be.

We need to listen to our enemies instead of simply painting them as evil. We can have peace if we stop telling everyone how to live and what they're allowed to have. Bush is saying that Iran can't have a civilian energy program because they could potentially build a weapon. Why is the only way we can dominate the world to force them to remain several steps behind us? We can also become their friends.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Did I Mention I'm Excited About the Joker?

Mummified Hadrosaur

Via Reuters: "A partially mummified hadrosaur discovered by a teenager in North Dakota may be the most complete dinosaur ever found, with intact skin that shows evidence of stripes and perhaps soft tissue, researchers said on Monday [. . .] The creature is fossilized, with the skin and bone turned to stone. But unlike most dinosaur fossils, tissues are preserved as well."

I'm excited as hell. There's more here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Song of the Week: "I'm Looking Through You"

A Beatles song I've always enjoyed the hell out of. Feeling it lately.

Evaluating Disney: 1946

1946 was a year in which Walt Disney tried to change direction. After the lean years of the war and the loss of the government contract money, he longed to get back to making features again. But the funds simply weren't there. In 1946, the studio would never have been able to make a movie like Bambi or even Dumbo. The search was on for cheaper alternatives, and Walt thought the future lay in combination pictures--movies with live action and animation side by side. Live action was considerably cheaper to make, and the combination of the two in the same scene was a novelty of the silent era that hadn't been used much in the thirties or forties; in other words, it might seem new to people. Walt was excited by the technical challenge, of course, and after experimenting with it to varying degrees of succes in The Three Caballeros, he decided to plunge into a combination feature. That feature was Song of the South. And it would prove to be more of a headache than Walt anticipated.

Meanwhile, Walt appeared to have lost all interest in the shorts. Only Jack Kinney, director of the great Goofy cartoons, seemed to be having any fun, and apparently that's only because Walt wasn't paying attention anymore. He felt free to do whatever he wanted; most of the directors didn't. They felt hampered by the lack of attention. Norm Ferguson, who had directed Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, went back to animating, where things were less stressful.

In fact, Walt was paying attention to the financial aspects of his cartoons, and was worried that the shorts were underperforming. Many of them lost money. Bad enough that Walt was spending over $50,000 on each short, roughly seven times what a studio like Warner Bros. was willing to spend. Walt even talked about abandoning the shorts altogether if RKO couldn't get higher rental costs from the theaters. Walt and his brother Roy were afraid they would soon be insolvent. Probably Roy was more worried about it; Walt was charging ahead with new designs and new technology.

3/8: A Knight for a Day
Goofy. Good to start the year off with a genuinely great cartoon. Jousting knights, fair damsels, and the best part is that it's played just like all of the other sports cartoons! All the characters are Goofy, and the big sporting event is a joust between Sir Loinsteak and Sir Cumfrence (excellent pun; Bill Peet wrote the story). Sir Loinsteak's servant, Cedric, is forced to take the knight's place after he's accidentally knocked unconscious. Great cartoon, with very high energy gags. My favorite sight gag is seeing that Sir Cumfrence's shield is made of steel-reinforced brick.

4/12: Pluto's Kid Brother
Pluto. I miss Pluto Jr. Pluto's kid brother, K.B., is tricked by Butch into stealing from a meat market. I didn't care for this short very much; Pluto is irritating most of the time, and I don't like the way he's animated sometimes--so many wrinkles, like a guy in an ill-fitting hound suit.

5/10: In Dutch
Pluto. Pluto is a dog delivering milk in a Dutch village (nice scenery in the backgrounds) and tries to court Dinah. During their romance, they accidentally set off an alarm and are run out of town, but Dinah and Pluto then save the town from a real disaster. I like this cartoon; Pluto is actually very likeable for a change, and Dinah is a neat character. It's unusual to see so many human characters onscreen in a Pluto cartoon, too.

6/7: Squatter's Rights
Mickey Mouse. This Oscar-nominated cartoon is the first entry in the Mickey Mouse series since 1942. It's also the first time Jimmy MacDonald did the voice of Mickey instead of Walt Disney. It's kind of the first short with Chip 'n' Dale; Mickey and Pluto make a trip to a cabin and disturb the two chipmunks living there, who do their best to push out Mickey and Pluto. The chipmunks don't have their distinguishable personalities and look the same; it's more like Chip 'n' Chip. Still formative. It's a pretty good cartoon, though, with Pluto getting especially sadistic. He knows the chipmunks are living in the wood stove, and when Mickey asks if they should start the fire, Pluto gives a vigorous, evil nod. There's some good tension in a scene with a rifle on the wall, too. Surprisingly fun.

6/28: Donald's Double Trouble
Donald Duck. Once again, Daisy is upset at Donald's manners and kicks him out. On the street, Donald finds his perfect double, but the double is a refined gentleman with a voice like David Niven's; Donald convinces him to help win Daisy back, but the double has romantic ideas of his own. It's one of my favorite Donald cartoons, with some particularly well-animated overreactions on the part of the duck.

7/19: The Purloined Pup
Pluto. A bizarre little short with Butch as a dognapper who is holding a puppy, Ronnie, hostage (tied to a post and everything). Policedog Pluto comes to the rescue. Some good animation, but underwhelming as a short.

8/9: Wet Paint
Donald Duck. Donald is painting his car and, of course, a cute little animal comes along and is a total bastard and Donald gets frustrated and goes crazy. A bird messes up the paint and, eventually, destroys the entire car. Does it freak anyone else out how Donald always has an axe and a shotgun handy in case there are animals about? It's a good cartoon, though; some of Donald's overreactions are very well-realized.

8/15: MAKE MINE MUSIC
Walt's newest package feature, originally titled Swing Street, was a collection of short cartoons essentially masquerading as a feature built around the loose idea of stories set to music. In a way, it's a low-rent Fantasia featuring popular music. It opens with The Martins and the Coys, set to a performance by the King's Men of the song about a feud between two hillbilly families. It's actually a strong, funny short, which makes it a shame that it was cut out of the Make Mine Music DVD release for reasons I can't even fathom.

Blue Bayou kind of hurts; this segment was actually made for Fantasia and cut for time. It was animated to Debussy's "Claire de Lune," and Walt always meant to restore it when, as he hoped it would be, Fantasia was re-released with new segments in the place of old ones. Since it looked like a second Fantasia would never happen, it was put into Make Mine Music with a different song over it. The animation is gentle, beautiful, like much of Fantasia--heavy on effects animation, but still stunning on its own. Frankly, the animation is a little too good for this movie. It's a shame the song is so dull and unnoticeable.

All the Cats Join In is wonderful; it's really just a bunch of teenagers dancing to Benny Goodman music, but its energy is infectious and the dancing is contagious. Fred Moore's animation on this sequence is a triumph. Moore was known among his fellow animators as drawing excellent girls; the pinups he made for his friends were called "Freddie Moore Girls," and there is quite a lot of them in the centaurettes in the Pastoral Symphony segment of Fantasia. Here, Moore gets to let loose a bit with the girls; there's even one surprising sequence of a naked girl jumping out of the shower and into her clothes. This is one of the best segments in the movie; indeed, one of the best pieces of Disney animation.

Without You is a series of impressionistic images set to Andy Russell singing a rather soporific song. Not a great segment, although the animation is very nice and interesting to watch.

Clyde Geronimi directed Casey at the Bat, featuring Jerry Colonna reading the Thayer poem, and as a result there is some decent high energy; it's like a Goofy sports cartoon. But it's still kind of underwhelming. Colonna seems mismatched. It's like they're attempting to make fun of the poem by being self-serious, but it doesn't enjoy itself enough.

Two Silhouettes is a ballet fantasy, with the silhouettes of two rotoscoped dancers and Dinah Shore singing. It's entrancing to watch, but I can see how some people would get tired of it quickly. It's beautiful (I love to watch real dancing).

Then follows Peter and the Wolf, which Walt had originally envisioned as a Fantasia segment (he bought the rights to the Prokofiev music in 1941). Clyde Geronimi directed this short, and there's a lot of personality in the rather exaggerated characters (my favorite is the duck), and the music is just so incredibly good to start with. Personally, I wish they'd left out the Sterling Holloway narration (this whole Evaluating Disney project is really starting to make me hate Holloway and his completely not clever narration) and just had the music and the wonderful characters, but you can't have it all. I guess. Still, the is one of my favorite Disney films.

Benny Goodman returns for After You've Gone, a high speed musical number with surreal dancing instruments. It's a nice little pallette cleanser before the final two segments.

Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet is just insipid, really. The Andrews Sisters sing a song about two hats who fall in love and, when separated, search for each other. I found it creepy; what surprises me is that this seems to be a really popular Disney short. Lots of people love it. I was just annoyed and vaguely unsettled. This idea had been around for a long time; Joe Grant came up with the story in 1939 for a potential short.

The film ends with The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, which is either ridiculously sublime or sublimely ridiculous. Professor Tetti Tatti goes out to sea to investigate a mysterious voice, only to discover Willie, a whale singing opera. The professor assumes the whale has swallowed an opera singer and tries to rescue him, while Willie imagines himself living his dream, singing various operas at the Met. It's a technical marvel, with brilliant (though wonderfully cartoony) effects animation and the whale able to sing in three voices at once. Nelson Eddy provides some astouding opera singing, as well as the narration and the voices of all the characters. The ending is a sad one, but it's one hell of a cartoon. And a good note to go out on.

Make Mine Music was a financial success for the studio, much to Walt's relief. This, of course, paved the way for more package features, and Walt and his men began to look at the possibility of reviving other abandoned ideas and unfinished shorts.

Animation Credits:
Production supervisor: Joe Grant
Directors: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Robert Cormack, Joshua Meador
Animators: Les Clark, Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl, John Sibley, Hal King, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Ollie Johnston, Fred Moore, Hugh Fraser, Judge Whitaker, Harvey Toombs, Tom Massey, Phil Duncan, Hal Ambro, Jack Campbell, Cliff Nordberg, Bill Justice, Al Bertino, John McManus, Ken O'Brien


8/30: Dumb Bell of the Yukon
Donald Duck. Donald kidnaps a bear cub with the intent of turning it into a fur coat. Donald is quite the sadist in this one; he really wants to kill that bear. Of course, the mother shows up, and Donald tries to pretend to be the cub to save himself. A lot of the humor comes out of the audacity of Donald's sheer cruelty.

9/20: Lighthouse Keeping
Donald Duck. This short gets old pretty fast. Donald is a lighthouse keeper who, out of boredom, screws with a sleeping pelican named Marblehead who heads up to the lighthouse to get his revenge. It's on the repetitive side. The animation is limited; it takes place in darkness, so the backgrounds are space. A money-saver.

10/11: Bath Day
Minnie Mouse. Minnie tries to give Figaro a bath, and then he gets dirty when he's teased by other cats. There's not much too it; Figaro has some real personality, but a little of him goes a long way, frankly. He was much funnier in Figaro and Cleo and First Aiders. In this one... well, there's not much to it. There is a great moment, though, where Figaro sees his reflection and he thinks he looks like a sissy; his reflection turns into a real Fauntleroy.

11/1: Frank Duck Brings 'Em Back Alive
Donald Duck. Donald is Frank Duck, the great white hunter, who has journeyed to Africa to capture a wild man (played by Goofy). It's a fairly hilarious battle of wits as the two try to outsmart one another, including some great chase scenes.

11/14: SONG OF THE SOUTH
Walt Disney's first combination feature told a story about Uncle Remus and his folklore characters, Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear. Whatever the merits of the film, I really wish Disney had continued making short films about Br'er Rabbit; he's a wonderfully realized character, well-voiced and strongly animated. The animated segments in this film point the way to more great shorts that were, sadly, never made. Just like Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistolero, Br'er Rabbit ends up as one of the Disney characters with great potential who should have been explored at the expense of an endless supply of Pluto cartoons.

My post on the making of Song of the South is here.

12/20: Double Dribble
Goofy. At last, the Goof takes on basketball. Though not quite the equal of some of the other sports cartoons, it's still one of the funniest Disney cartoons of the year. Jack Hannah directed in the place of Jack Kinney, who was working on one of the package features at the time. Some great visual gags; I especially love the way one team has only one fan in the stands. A great way to end the year.

The shorts seemed to be strengthening a bit in 1946, but the damage was probably already done by the preceding few years of compromise and waning interest. There was still the thought that the money being spent on them could be used for something else. Walt had two features released this year, Make Mine Music and Song of the South, both of which brought money into the studio; still, because of the shorts and the amount of money being spent on them, 1946 would have been a total loss if it weren't for re-releases of Fantasia and Bambi that brought in some cash (and kept the works alive). Disney had also finally opened up more stock to the public for a cash infusion and, as much as he hated it, Walt Disney Studios was now a publicly-owned company. How dire were the finances? For all of the modest successes of the year, a $4.1 million revenue really only yielded $200,000 in net income.

There were still more commercial films in 1946, designed to be cheap and bring in quick cash: The ABC of Hand Tools for General Motors, The Building of a Tire for Firestone, Bathing Time for Baby for Johnson & Johnson, Jet Propulsion for General Electric, A Feather in His Collar for the Community Chests of America, Treasure from the Sea for Dow Chemical, and The Story of Menstruation for the International Cellu-Cotton Company. Inter-American Affairs also had two more films coming: Good Eating and Environmental Sanitation.

Throughout the year, Disney had been excited about the possibilities of his studio. With Song of the South coming up, Walt was talking about more combination features: The Little People (locations were actually scouted in Ireland by Walt and Perce Pearce), Treasure Island, even Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, for which a large number of concept sketches existed. Even Alice in Wonderland, in the planning stages (even pre-production stages) on and off since the early 1930s, was revived once more. Aldous Huxley had written a script for a combination feature that, frankly, sounds ghastly. Huxley's version told the story of Lewis Carroll and his friendship with the little girl Alice Liddell and the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The two and their silly book are widely ridiculed and misunderstood, until Queen Victoria validates their relationship by praising the novel. Considering the widely-held theory that Carroll and Alice's relationship was really that of adoring pedophile and adored object, such a film would be even more problematic today than Song of the South is.

Walt also began collaborating with Salvador Dali, who had once called Walt Disney one of the great film surrealists, on a short film called Destino. This project, which went uncompleted after eight months of work, has gained a legendary status. Disney Studios only just finished and released the film in the last few years.

Work was halted in part because of the studio's dire finances. In September, Walt's new plan (there always seems to be a new plan) was to make three pictures a year--a package feature like Make Mine Music, compiling a number of shorts; a combination feature like Song of the South; and a fully animated feature like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In addition to the above combination features being considered, Walt talked about finally putting Peter Pan into production for release in 1948. But, just weeks later, the Screen Cartoonists Guild demanded and received a 25% base pay increase, and Walt Disney Studios was forced to lay off 450 employees. Work was halted on all but four features, including Song of the South, another combination feature called So Dear to My Heart, and the next two package features, Fun and Fancy Free and Melody Time.

And that's when Walt lost interest completely.