Friday, January 11, 2008

Throwdown 1/11

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. What exactly makes Popeye’s Chicken “bona fide”? Does it come with certificates declaring the authenticity of said chicken? Can you really make that claim? Why do you spell bona fide as though it were one word? Seriously, Popeye’s, you begged the question, so what’s the answer? At first I thought maybe it was, like, boneified, like you put more bones in it, but chicken already has bones. So what’s the deal with your authentic chicken? Are there places serving, like, faux-chicken? What exactly is the scrod of the chicken world? McNuggets?

2. Speaking of food advertising, is Pizza Hut kidding around with these mia pizzas? That’s how they’re advertising their new “special” pizza, by saying it has real tomato sauce and cheese? So, Pizza Hut wants me to get excited and pat them on the back for making pizza that actually tastes like pizza now? It’s like when McDonald’s got all full of pride for actually putting chicken in their McNuggets. Good. Good for you.

3. Final advertising complaint: cell phones do only a few things. They play music, they take pictures, they access the internet, they can be used as handheld telegraph machines, and occasionally some people use them to make phone calls. Stop telling us that there’s a variety of phones for every interest. They do five things that the majority of people do. That’s it, Edison. Calm it down.

4. Fans getting mad at Miley Cyrus for using a body double between songs so she can change costumes is a little like idiots getting mad at a magician because the bunny didn’t really appear out of thin air. I think people have gotten a little out of control in their thirst for realism. It’s an entertainment show, people, not the elections. Get some perspective. Ironically, in the elections they’re distracted by some asswipe’s ability to play the guitar or say something about Jesus. You do know that Siegfried and Roy can’t really make that tiger fly, right? Why do I keep giving you so much credit for being able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, America? Did you know when a singer sings a song, it’s a performance? It’s not an accurate reflection of the singer’s real life? Did you know that one, too? Idiots.

5. Alright, gossip sites, stop telling me that so-and-so is topless in a magazine when it clearly isn’t true. Look, it’s the 21st century, if I can’t see your nipples, you’re not topless.

6. And while we’re with these pictures, can somebody please tell me who the fuck Heidi Montag is? I know I seem to be intricately connected to all aspects of pop culture, but I see this kid on the gossip sites all the time and I have no idea who she’s supposed to be. Alls I know is, she’s not hot and she’s not got anything interesting to do. Who is she? And for that matter, who the fuck is Lauren Conrad and why do I care about her side boob? And what the fuck is a Soulja Boy?

7. Daryl Hannah needed attention last week and decided to urge actresses not to take their clothes off to give them a career boost, saying she’s been the victim many times of filmmakers who add extra nudity. “There are some real sleazeballs around,” she said. “I soon became wise enough to realize that there are very few films in which nudity is important.” Like I’ve said before, pretty much everything in a film is gratuitous: nudity, violence, fart jokes. But what I really have a problem with is her claiming to be the victim, since she’s never been shy about disrobing in the past (check her filmography, there’s a lot of nudity in there). Honey, if you take a role that requires nudity, that’s one thing, but if it’s added and you don’t want to do it, then don’t fucking do it. Simple as that. I’m through buying that women can’t get what they want in this world because they can’t stand up for themselves. Yes they can, they just let fear tell them otherwise. Fortune favors the bold, remember? Who dares wins. Anyway, the thing that really pissed me off here is this: it’s very easy for Daryl Hannah to say this now that she’s in her late forties and has already taken her clothes off for that career boost. Hey, wasn’t she in Playboy a few years ago? For a career boost?

8. I saw someone else raise this point, and it was honestly something I’d never thought about before, so I have to ask here: if Ann Coulter were a man, would her hate-filled rhetoric even be allowed on television? I know, I said “if” Ann Coulter were a man, but still. Would she be on TV if she didn’t appear to be female? I mean, Don Imus can’t say “nappy headed hos” but she can say what she says? I believe in free speech, and I was against the Imus firing, but I just find it interesting that in an America so superficially interested in genteel rhetoric and never ever offending anyone in the least, Ann Coulter can be left on the air.

9. Right now, as we speak, 47 (47!) Senators are urging our Commander Guy to make it legal for people to carry firearms into national parks. They feel that not allowing guns into federally protected areas is an “inconsistency” in firearm laws that “infringe[s] on the rights of law-abiding gun owners who wish to transport and carry firearms on or across these lands.” Look, I know it seems otherwise, but living in a democracy doesn’t mean that you get to do whatever the hell you want. Next you’ll be asking us to make it legal to commit murder on a whim because it infringes on the rights of law-abiding gun owners who wish to kill someone in a fit of pique without any consequences. These are protected lands for a reason, part of which is to keep it away from assholes with guns. Stop crying and get fucking over it.

10. Aw, did New Hampshire Democrats feel all bad about a woman crying, so they voted for Hillary Clinton to make it all better? Awwwww. There, there. Now you all feel better. You voted for a woman who was a corporate lawyer and who thinks the insurance companies can fix the health care industry. Don’t you feel good about what you did?

11. Speaking of people who will do anything to get elected, Fuckabee wants to eliminate sales tax and income tax and institute something called a FairTax that still manages to screw over the poor and middle class and let the rich coast on paying their taxes. He has also said he’s running to bring America back to Jesus. And he says he wants Stephen Colbert to be his running mate. Every time I look at him, I actually think for a second I’m looking at Richard Nixon. This man scares the living shit out of me. Please stop supporting him.

12. So, here in the Midwest, we had those freak tornadoes on Monday. It was also unseasonably warm this weekend, ranging from 41 to 65 degrees, which created the right atmospheric conditions for tornadoes. They can call it a freak occurrence, but hasn’t anyone noticed that, at least since 2002, there are unseasonably warm days in the Midwest. I mean, Jesus, it was 19 degrees the week before! Then it was 65 and tornadoes were dropping in several states? That’s a little scary. The winters are getting colder, then warmer, then colder. Thunderstorms and tornadoes and trains derailing and trucks flipping over in January? That wouldn’t be weirder if Godzilla stepped out of Lake Michigan and knocked over the Sears Tower. I mean, is it just me, or does it seem more and more like the end of the world these days? Good thing global climate change is just a myth…

13. Hey, here’s an idea for 2008: let’s knock it the fuck off with the chain emails. Don’t send me something that says my luck will get worse and worse if I ignore it. Quit trying to prey on my superstitions just so I’ll bother people I know with your stupid bullshit about horoscopes, angels, prophecies, and other made-up bullshit, because I will block your email, you insecure fucker. Quit dicking around and get to work!

14. President Duh went to Israel to urge peace? Was he doing it ironically? I love how our government got all kinds of pissed when Ahmedinejad wanted to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center, but it’s not at all hypocritical for George W. Bush, a man who has done nothing to further peace in this world, a man who cares little for anyone’s suffering, a man whose family made money during World War II through illegal business dealings with the Nazis, to lay a wreath at the Holocaust museum. He also says the US should have bombed Auschwitz during the war, presumably because he still hasn’t figured out that bombing kills a lot of innocent people. Like, say, all of the prisoners of Auschwitz. Does that man know how to wage a war or what? Especially from a lawn chair on a Texas ranch! Well, maybe he doesn’t, but he does know how to co-opt the suffering of other people for his own personal gain!

15. Will Smith doesn’t just fight aliens, now he worships them. Yes, Will Smith is now officially a scientologist and actively trying to recruit others to the cult. I know a lot of people who don’t just like him as an actor, but actually respect him because he’s a family man. I know people who’ve compared him to Cary Grant as a movie star. Well, turns out he’s just an idiot who practices a fake religion whose origin story is so nonsensical and lame it could be a failed video game from the eighties. The “church” of scientology is so fucking creepy that anyone associated with it immediately becomes tainted with creepiness by association. Funnily enough, hanging out with Tom Cruise, who apparently never has anything to discuss other than his alien religion, his “knowledge” of the history of psychology, and his supposed lack of gayness, does the same thing for your rep. Congratulations, dumbfuck.

She's Not Wrong...

According to this story at HuffPost, Roseanne Barr went off on Barack Obama on her website, opining that he "backs right wing corporate racist anti worker bullshit" and that he refers to workers' unions as "special interest groups that need to be done away with." The tone of the story is disappointing, as whomever wrote it (there's no name) characterizes Barr's rant as "profane" (the section excerpted has a single curse word in it) and a "wild tirade," completely discounting her opinion and characterizing her as an idiot when, in fact, Obama does back the corporations. He's not pro-union. He's the second-largest recipient of campaign money from the health care industry after Senator Clinton. That's a fact, deal with it.

Roseanne also went after Oprah for backing Obama and Schwarzenegger, saying that Oprah is a large land owner in California (true) and "offensive to decent thinking people" (probably true, but a matter of opinion). She accuses Oprah of playing the race and gender card, which is pretty true also. She threw a rich bitch tantrum when Hermes wouldn't open the door for her and disguised it by playing the race card; she played the gender card constantly when she was starting out, talking about nothing but being molested by everyone she ever knew as a child. Oprah Winfrey loves her position as a rich black woman who can tell the women of America what to do. She revels in it. When did that become in such bad taste to say? Lots of people have said it. Roseanne's portrayal of her as a closeted Republican makes as much sense as her saying that Oprah hates "other women who actually stand for something to working American women besides glamour, angels, Hollywood and dieting."

Roseanne calls Barack Obama "an empty suit selling 'hope' in lieu of Truth" and calls McCain a fascist. I love her for saying that. I wanted to read the rest of it, but when I go to her website I see her account has been suspended. Interesting...

Anal Bum Cover

Another steal from your friendly neighborhood Splotchy.

First, the rules:

Let's Make a Band:
1. first article title on the page is the name of your band.
2. last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.
3. third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

You then take the pic and add your band name and the album title to it, then post your pic.

1. Stade Nuclear Power Plant
2. "The Success of Others" ("Failure is not the only punishment for laziness; there is also the success of others." -- Jules Renard
3. Photo.

Damn, does that mean my previous band, Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, broke up?

Great News, Ladies!

Free robot sex is now within reach!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More Mothers Need to Be Grown-Ups

There's a woman in Fort Dodge, Iowa, named Jane Hambleton who has taken an interesting, tough approach to finding alcohol in her son's car: she's sold it. Here's the text of the ad she placed in the Des Moines Register:

"OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don't love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet."
I have to say, I'm impressed. You don't see mothers acting like grown-ups very often anymore and taking a hard line when a kid breaks the rules. Apparently she told him to always keep his car locked and to have no booze in the car. He broke the rules, the car goes. End of story. Nicely done. This is the kind of Iowa woman I remember from spending parts of the year there when I was a kid.

Hambleton says she's gotten over 70 calls from people who weren't even interested in the car, but wanted to congratulate her for taking that course of action and for being a responsible parent. So far, no one has called to tell her she went too far or was too strict. The best part is that her son claims a passenger left the booze in the car, and she believes him, but still decided not to be lenient. Now that is a mother.

The kid's only had the car since Thanksgiving. Now it's gone.

I love it, I really do. I just think it's unfortunate that we live in a country where an act of actual parenting makes the papers because it's so damn rare...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Film Week

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

I liked it. I thought it was cute. I thought the filmmakers were smart enough to know not to make it utterly serious. I thought Peter Dinklage was awesome as Dr. Bar Sinister. The idea of a dog that can fly and fight crime pleases me. Just one more step closer to my dream Supergirl movie with Krypto in it. Silly? Yes. But in a fun way. Then again, I loved The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and George of the Jungle, so what do I know? I don't care, I enjoyed it almost as much as watching the cartoon when I was six. *** stars.

Really, everyone hated this? I thought it was great! Seriously. I thought it was easily as good as Rob Zombie's other movies, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, so maybe that says something about me. But still, I thought this was a really great horror movie, and quite frankly, when it comes to the modern horror movies, I kind of hate almost everything I see. This reminded me of the original (good) Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And all that stuff that everyone complained about from the first hour, with Michael Meyers's origin story, that didn't bother me either, since I don't think it really explained (or even tried to explain) why Michael became a killer in the first place. Nothing can touch the greatness of the original Halloween (not even 30 years of shitty sequels), but I liked this was very well-made and genuinely exciting. It's like a cover version of the original with a longer intro and some more intense flourishes and maybe a slightly harder edge. Also great, but different. Loved it. When it comes to horror, Rob Zombie is the real deal and everyone else kind of sucks. There was nothing pretentious here, and I liked that. Rob wanted to scare everyone and make them feel shitty, and the movie does precisely that. Also, a great slate of cameos, including Danny Trejo, Dee Wallace, and my beloved Sheri Moon Zombie. **** stars.

I liked this movie, but it doesn't all come off like you'd hope. It's a spoof, and spoofs are always hard to make smart, and some of the humor is a little like the humor on a Saturday Night Live sketch--too much playing to the audience, holding the beat just a tad too long for the assumed audience response. And some of the archness is a little over-the-top and smug; it's funny enough that Jack Black is playing Paul McCartney, you don't have to keep hammering on it. Black might as well be looking right at the camera and saying: "I'm Paul McCartney, but really I'm Jack Black and I look nothing like Paul McCartney, so it's funny, geddit! Hilarious! McCartney from the Beatles, I'm him, and I'm nothing like him! See, funny?!" Okay, all of that said, I thought it was pretty hilarious. John C. Reilly is fantastic, at various points a pastiche of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, or Glen Campbell, among others, and doing a damn fine job. It's a great comic performance. Jenna Fischer is also hilarious and astoundingly sexy. Really, really fucking sexy. And really fucking funny. There are a lot of comic actors in this movie I like, enough for me to overlook the actors I don't, like Kristen Wiig or Justin Long or Jason Schwartzman. And it doesn't overstay its welcome, either. I know some people thought it felt too long, but at 96 minutes, it felt pretty tight to me. Director Jake Kasdan made a very smart movie once (Zero Effect, if anyone's actually seen it), and I hope he will again. But at least he's made a very funny one. ***1/2 stars.

JUNO (2007)
Wow, I loved this movie. It was on so many critic's lists that I was kind of expecting it to be really pretentious, but it's so damn good. It's the kind of movie indie movies always want to be but never are: touching and funny. With great characters. Okay, I am now sold on Ellen Page, and maybe I'll actually see Hard Candy now (it's on Showtime tonight). She was wonderful as the kind of teenage girl that guys like me always wanted to date in high school but which don't actually exist. She talks like she's in a movie, she's into Dario Argento movies and punk rock (actual punk rock, from the seventies) and comic books and is just whip-smart. There's a great cast at work here: Michael Cera, Jason Bateman (who'd have ever thought a few years ago he'd be part of a great cast?), Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons... It doesn't call attention to how quirky it is, which is a nice change from a lot of movies. It's not in love with itself. What it does do is present a simple story with a nice resolution, but one that's damn entertaining from beginning to end. I feel about this movie the way Roger Ebert felt about Ghost World: I wanted to hug it. And boy, how good is Jen Garner? She can act. I hope she starts getting real movies now. My only complaint about the movie is that it seems to stand firmly in the camp that horror movies, comic books, and music are immature interests, which kind of bugs me as someone who's into those things. But otherwise, it's an excellent movie, one of the best of 2007. I can see why a number of people say it's the best; it's not an overpoweringly great movie, it's just a very good, very strong, very well-written and well-directed movie. And that's a rarity these days. **** stars.

Trailers for Breakfast

Once again judging movies by their sample offerings. And in January, when all the crap comes out.

First Sunday (1/11)
I heard Nick DiGillo on the radio last year (when Are We Done Yet? came out) and he wanted to go back in time, to when N.W.A. was still recording and show Ice Cube his horrible future in order to stop it from happening. Works for me. That's all I think of every time he has some piece of shit comedy coming out.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (1/11)
I wish Uwe Boll were one scintilla the filmmaker he thinks he is. He takes what should be fun B movies and turns them into pompous exercises in taking the ridiculous seriously. Ray Liotta looks so uncomfortable and out of place in the trailer. I made the mistake of seeing an Uwe Boll movie once, I'll never do it again.

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie (1/11)
They still make VeggieTales? My manager at the video store, the same one who tried to have sex with every girl who worked there and every girl between the ages of 15 and 19 who came into the store, used to put this on so we could enjoy it. Which led to a lot of creative rewriting of the theme song lyrics ("Why is he/touching me/so softly? VeggieTales!"). Anyway, I saw the preview for this at the movies, and it seemed kind of cute, but some older lady in front of me kept bopping her head up and down to "Rock Lobster" and I just wanted to barf. I guess if I had a kid I could do worse, but come on...

Cloverfield (1/18)
I already saw The Blair Witch Project, I don't want to see it again. And the fact that it's J.J. Abrams producing makes me want to see it less. I honestly don't care. Although, I have to say, can we maybe stop destroying the Statue of Liberty in every disaster movie? It's played out and, frankly, I'm sick of seeing it. And does the tenor of the trailer have to be so goddamn serious? Boys, it's a Godzilla rip-off.

Mad Money (1/18)
I've seen this trailer twice at the movies now, and both times it made me want to shoot myself in the head.

27 Dresses (1/18)
Quite frankly, after enduring her bitchiness ever since Knocked Up did well, I'd rather hit Katherine Heigl in the face with an iron than go see her in a movie. Especially this one. Who the fuck is a bridesmaid 27 times? I see this is from the screenwriter of The Devil Wears Prada, so I'm sure this one will be just as hostile towards women. No thanks, I choose life.

Cassandra's Dream (1/18)
I'm always there for a Woody Allen movie, and this one looks kind of exciting. It looks somewhat uncharacteristic, it has Ewan McGregor and Tom Wilkinson in it. The music's by Philip Glass, which is kind of cool. It looks so good to me it doesn't even matter that Colin Farrell's in it.

Untraceable (1/25)
This looks insultingly stupid. How the hell does a guy find out the name of the FBI agent who's investigating him? He calls the help desk at the branch office? And then he takes over her car's computer, so he can control her car? This movie looks really fucking dumb, even for a women-in-peril movie, and those are always really fucking dumb. And why is Diane Lane in this and, frankly, why isn't it premiering on Lifetime?

Rambo (1/25)
I was with you on Rocky Balboa, Sly, but I don't know if I'm following you here. And damn it, I actually do like Stallone quite a bit. But I don't know... Rambo looks awfully puffy from all the Botox, and Rambo: First Blood, Part II was so dumb and homoerotic; I'm tired of seeing Stallone kill Asians to sublimate his desire to be tortured and fucked by them. Stallone looks damn good for his age, but he's not Rambo anymore.

Meet the Spartans (1/25)
Dumb fluff for idiots. I don't know who is a bigger moron in the case of a movie like this (although I think calling it a "movie" is giving something like this far more credit than it deserves): people who go to see it and like it, or people who see it and are then surprised that it's total crap. And someone must like this shit, they make one of these every damn year.

The Eye (2/1)
It has Jessica Alba in it. That says enough for me. I never like these, anyway.

Strange Wilderness (2/1)
There's a couple of good comic actors going to waste here. Dudes, just because it's funny when you're high doesn't mean it's actually funny.

Jumper (2/15)
Man, I hate to say this, but this movie actually looks like it could be fun. If it were from almost any other director (Doug Liman directed), I'd dismiss it, but now I'm not so sure. Will it be a silly but fun action movie, or will it be just silly? This is either Highlander with teleporting or the Dumbest Fucking Thing Ever.

Definitely, Maybe (2/15)
This is another one of those movies where everyone involved seems way to young to be the parent of a ten year-old. And how many more of these movies are we going to have to endure where the dad only discovers he's unhappy because his kid tells him he needs to change his life? There's something about this that's just kind of icky. That said, Working Title doesn't steer me wrong often and I'll probably end up seeing this, so what do I know?

Be Kind Rewind (2/22)
I have yet to see The Science of Sleep, so I'm not sure yet if I like Michel Gondry away from Charlie Kaufman. And the preview is pretty fucking terrible.

Charlie Bartlett (2/22)
They make one of these stupid movies about the amazingly smart kid who won't fit in every year. I saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off 22 years ago, alright? And Harold and Maude came out 16 years before that. Quit insulting my intelligence.

Semi Pro (2/29)
I saw the teaser, and I'm not quite sure that I'm not just done with Will Ferrell, frankly. I didn't bother to see Blades of Glory (god, I fucking hate Jon Heder), and I thought Talladega Nights was awful. Does he just not have any other shtick when it comes to making a comedy?

The Other Boleyn Girl (2/29)
I love English history, I love the screenwriter, I love Eric Bana and Scarlett Johansson, so I'm sure I'll go. I hope it's not quite as melodramatic as the trailer makes it look, but I do want to see this.

Penelope (2/29)
I really want to see Christina Ricci in another movie again. And this looks a little Dahl-esque, like it could be a good modern fairy tale about the role superficial expectations play in this country. I'd like it to be that, but we'll see...

College Road Trip (3/7)
Ouch fucking ouch. My darling Raven, in a movie I'm not going to see, endures the worst horror I can think of: being trapped in a car with Martin Lawrence in another movie designed to tell America that all fathers are childish idiots. Shoot me in the head first.

Horton Hears a Who! (3/14)
Terrible. Another kiddie movie for white men in their fifties who worry they've sold out. Why does Brian Grazer keep making this awful goddamn things?

Drillbit Taylor (3/21)
I was amused to find out that John Hughes was one of the story men on this, since it looks so much like one of his movies. I really hate Owen Wilson, but the fact that Judd Apatow is one of the producers and Seth Rogen is one of the writers is going to make me go and see it in the theaters. I admit, I'm following those guys around like a loyal dog right now.

Stop-Loss (3/28)
Man, Kimberly Pierce hasn't directed a movie since Boys Don't Cry in 1999. I've avoided a lot of the movies about the Iraq War, but this one looks like there might be something honest to it.

Leatherheads (4/4)
Well, Becca and my mom are going to hate hearing this, but I think it looks funny. I tend to like a lot of the movies they don't (like Intolerable Cruelty and Down with Love) that are consciously throwbacks to screwball comedies, and I like George Clooney when he does his whole Cary Grant thing. I'd like to see John Krasinski play something that's not Jim Halpert, and I think I might even be ready to like Renee Zellweger again (something I've found hard to do in the last several years). But mostly I'm going to give this a chance because I love Clooney the director; I thought Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck were great movies, and for now that's enough to get me in the seat.

Iron Man (5/2)
Yes yes yes yes yes fucking YES! Now THAT is how you make an exciting trailer for a superhero movie. I mean, fucking YES!

Speed Racer (5/9)
Alright, Wachowskis! A deadly serious, angst-ridden movie about cartoon characters, race cars, and a monkey. Wow, that sounds like so much fun I can't resist the urge to hang myself from the shower head with a belt. This movie looks like total crap; the only fun you could possibly have with it is taking an epileptic to see the flashbub-edited trailer. And it actually has a decent cast, which makes it even more of a shame that annoying little bitch Emily Hirsch and annoying little bitch Matthew Fox are playing Speed and Racer X. I know I keep saying this and people keep ignoring it, but not everything has to be so dead, straightfaced serious all the time. It's Speed Racer, for lord's sake. Get over yourselves. It's like you're apologizing for even making it.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (5/17)
To my surprise, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has become one of those movies I can just leave on cable and watch over and over. It's nowhere near Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, but it's not as bad as, say, Eragon. I just enjoy the movie as a somewhat simplistic kids' adventure movie, even with all of its many flaws (especially the dodgy effects). So I wouldn't mind seeing another one at all.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (5/30)
Judd Apatow again. Jonah Hill is in it, so's Paul Rudd, and Jason Segel stars and co-wrote, and after seeing Freaks and Geeks, I'm all there to see him do it. And after seeing all of Veronica Mars, as well as her hilarious performance in Reefer Madness, I really want to see Kristen Bell do another movie, especially a comedy. Cannot wait.

Kung Fu Panda (6/6)
DreamWorks has really got to stop making these movies. It's another CGI comedy, another based around a comic actor's screen persona (as Madagascar was for Ben Stiller and Shark Tale was for Will Smith and Bee Movie was for Jerry Seinfeld and the Shrek movies are for Mike Meyers, etc etc), and it just looks completely unenjoyable. I've noticed that I loved most of DreamWorks's cel-animated movies (The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas were all great, I thought), but that I've not liked most of their CGI movies (except for the Christmas Caper short with the penguins, and Antz and the first two Shrek movies, to a point). Weird. Now I think, especially since they dropped Aardman, that DreamWorks is making the most awful animated movies around. Just like they're making the most awful live action movies around.

WALL*E (6/27)
It's Pixar, so I'd be excited anyway, but I am so damn excited about this movie (as is obvious from my banner, I guess). I love the trailer with no words in it. I love the sounds Ben Burtt has designed for the movie. I love the concept of a garbage robot. I can't wait to see it.

The Dark Knight (7/18)
I loved Batman Begins, and every image I see for the sequel delights and excites me. I really like the tack they've taken with the whole mythos in these movies, making the criminal underground larger and important and making it all so dire and big. I know I sound like a hypocrite, but I like the seriousness of Batman Begins (though I think that's easier to do with Batman and not so ridiculous as with other properties). From the Batmobile to the Batpod to Heath Ledger's bizarreness as the Joker to hearing the same music again to Michael Caine to those beautiful Chicago locations, the whole trailer just does what trailers are supposed to do and don't always: made me really excited about seeing a movie.

Mamma Mia! (7/18)
I love Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and even ABBA. But the movie itself doesn't really look that appealing to me, and I've always thought the idea of a musical that's basically a jukebox of someone's greatest hits was a pretty sad idea. I didn't go see Beatles Mixtape Musical, why do I want to see ABBA Mixtape Musical?

Valkyrie (10/3)
Not that I didn't already know Bryan Singer is a shitty filmmaker, but casting Tom Cruise in a serious movie about Nazis sure would've helped me figure that out. The trailer made me laugh my ass off. It's always funny to me when Cruise tries to be serious, but serious with an accent? Oh, that's a gutbuster right there. Otherwise, that's a damn fine cast going to waste on this shit.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 4

I don't usually have a terrible problem with food cravings. That said, I am really craving fatty food right now. I saw a commercial for Sonic and their new cheesecake bites, and I wanted them bad. Baaaaaad. I even got on their website to see where the nearest Sonic was. Turns out it's 94 miles away. So I guess that's a good thing.

However, Long John Silver's is right down the street. I've been working hard to put that out of my mind all day long. Luckily, my laziness seems to be winning out over my desire for it. Or for White Castle, which isn't even legally food, I think, but sounds really good.

Damn, where is all this coming from? I was fine all weekend; now I crave something full of fat and maybe some salt. Usually I'm okay giving this stuff up, so what the fuck?

I talked to PT today (remember her?). I told her that I hadn't had any fast food or take out through the whole of 2008 (all 8 days of it), and she told me if I could make it to the 14th, I wouldn't crave it the way I am right now. I trust her enough to not give in to temptation. I've got to keep eating right.

I tried falafel yesterday. We made it. I hated it. Now my apartment smells like a Middle Eastern man, which is not an inviting smell for me. I tried something new, which is good, I just didn't like it. I had rice for lunch today, which was nice and clean but not very filling. Still, I just want to stay away from anything battered.

And yet...

Losing weight sucks sometimes. But I know it'll be worth it. Eventually.

Hillary Wept

It's only the New Hampshire primary today and already the Hillary Clintonbot is weeping? She's already had her Howard Dean screaming moment? Is it already over for Hillary?

Did you see her on the news, eyes welled with tears? That was pretty embarrassing. I guess she's realized that it's hurting her now that she did nothing to get the youth vote, and those older, bitter women who supported her weren't actually going out and voting, which they historically don't do, anyway. Gee, what could have gone wrong? She played up to a voter base which doesn't vote. How did that go awry?

And still, my cynicism about Hillary won't stop. Seriously, did you see her crying? It was so lame. It was such a calculated tactic. She will still do literally anything to make herself electable, no matter how she has to degrade herself or how many times she has to claim she's against the war, despite her voting record. I know a lot of people who won't support her because she stayed married to Bill Clinton, anyway, most of them assuming she only stayed married so it wouldn't hurt her political career. Now she's crying, not because she appears to be losing, but because she has so many "opportunities" to offer us that we'll never get to have now.

I say stuff it, lady. Put the tears away. My mom used to do the same thing when I wouldn't listen to her; she used to cry and pretend it was because I was hurting myself because I wouldn't do what she told me. Because she was oh-so-concerned. And she was faking it then, just like Hillary's faking it now. You think we can't see through that? Give me a break.

One surprise from New Hampshire for me is that McCain is currently ahead. Every time this man speaks, I just want to laugh and roll my eyes. This is the guy who's going to be tough on terrorism? The same guy who, at every turn for the last seven years, has rolled over for George W. Bush, even on occasions he knew Bush was wrong? Sorry, not buying it. Are New Hampshire Republicans just turning to this guy because the crop of Republican candidates is so awful this year? Because I could understand that. I could understand looking at Fuckabee and the Magic Mormon and the Actor and the Ghoul and remembering all of McCain's tough talk in 2000 and thinking he was the best choice. But he's such a pushover that all of his tough talk now sounds hollow. It sounds like wishful thinking.

But it does sound better than Shuckabee's indecipherable tax plan, I'll give you that.

Companions Abound

Some more news about the fourth series of Doctor Who that makes me aglow with anticipation:

* Martha Jones is going to return, apparently for five episodes. I don't think they quite did right by the character in the third series, so hopefully they're going to now.

* Sarah Jane Smith will appear in one episode.

* Captain Jack Harkness will appear in one episode.

* Steven Moffat will write the second two-parter of the series.

My favorite news for series four is that they're once again going to do an episode, ala "Love and Monsters" and "Blink," which will barely feature the Doctor at all. That episode, apparently, is going to feature Donna Noble, Martha Jones, and Rose Tyler. I don't know how, but they're all going to be in one episode. Is it too much to ask for that Sarah Jane be in that episode too?

Now all I need to know for sure is that the Daleks will be back and I'm an incredibly happy Who fan.

No Charges for the Dhaliwals?

According to attorney Mark Geragos, San Francisco police are not going to bring charges against brothers Kulbir and Paul Dhaliwal in the tiger attack that happened on Christmas Day. And they're planning to sue the San Francisco Zoo for "character assassination." Geragos, the guy who defended child molester Michael Jackson and murderer Gary Condit, claims the zoo knew the tiger grotto was unsafe and did nothing to fix it. He says he's also going to sue the zoo's public relations firm, Singer Associates, for defamation (although Singer denies having said anything about slingshots, vodka, or pot, and that they've not made any statements that weren't true).

A police spokesman, however, says that the police haven't made a decision yet, despite what's being reported.

But there are all kinds of questions that I think warrant some more investigation:

Why did Tatiana suddenly attack now?

Why is there a witness who says the brothers and their friend were taunting the big cats?

If they're innocent of taunting, why won't the brothers let the police search their cell phones?

Geragos can jump up and down in a little huff all he wants, he can claim that the Dhaliwals are sweet as pie and have been incredibly cooperative all he wants, the simple fact is that he has yet to respond to the city attorney's request to surrender their cell phones. That doesn't sound like a closed investigation to me.


Eating Ice Cream

Shaking Ass Onstage

Wearing a Clingy Bikini

Pushing the Rack Up

Posing with Miley

Looking Sultry
For all that you do for me, thank you, Duffster.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Do We Have Real Reporters in This Country Anymore?

I saw an actual Associated Press story this morning which claimed the Golden Globes ceremony probably wasn't going to happen because of the WGA strike and concerns over Britney Spears's hospitalization!

Yes, idiots are apparently so shook up by the hospitalization of a pop star who has no effect on the Golden Globes whatsoever (has she ever even been to one? and if so, why?), that the Golden Globes shouldn't be held this year.

Remember when Anna Nicole died, and the flow of news in this country came to a virtual halt so that so-called newspeople could ask Clint Eastwood what he thought about Anna Nicole dying? That was embarrassing, wasn't it? And wasn't it embarrassing when the people in charge of the Oscars considered not having them in 2002 because of 9/11, even though the Academy Awards were never stopped once during Vietnam or, for that matter, Word War frickin' II? Wasn't that embarrassing too?

Oh my god, the awards shows are not the most important events of the year in anyone's lives! Unless you actually work in the entertainment industry, who really, genuinely cares about this stuff? It's like being obsessed with the end-of-the-year awards party for the carpeting industry; yes, the women are hotter and the ceremony is glitzier and professional writers write what passes for jokes, but unless you're a carpet retailer, who give a damn?

Now I'm supposed to believe that the entire entertainment industry is grinding to a halt because "Dr." Phil is worried about Britney Spears's psyche?

Are there no other problems in this country? Did everything get solved while I was asleep and I don't know about it yet?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Evaluating Disney: 1948

At the beginning of 1948, things seemed to be in turmoil. The company was now $4 million in debt, and Walt was forced to accept an interest-free loan from RKO in exchange for the rights to the Disney inventory of films for educational purposes. Walt hated it, but the money was necessary. Especially if his grand plan were to be carried off. Once again, Walt had found new purpose, and his plans changed accordingly. Though things looked bleak at the onset of 1948, the year proved to be, at last, a great turning point.

Walt's first idea was to abandon combination pictures; they didn't have any distinct advantage over the package features, and were harder to make. The reception on Song of the South had discouraged him too, as bad notices tended to do (in 1945, Walt had pulled The Three Caballeros early from general release because of the overwhelmingly awful reviews). 1948 would see the release of So Dear to My Heart, the second and last feature of the combination program.

Also, Walt had decided it was time to abandon the package features. This year's Melody Time and 1949's Two Fabulous Characters would be the last of them. It was time to get back to making fully animated feature films. There was disagreement between Walt and Roy on this issue; Roy didn't want to take the little money left and invest in another Snow White, but Walt told him, as he later said, "If we try to coast, we'll go backward. Let's get back into business or sell out." He announced to the shareholders at the end of the year that in 1950 he would release his first full-length animated feature since 1942: Cinderella. Furthermore, Walt had finally abandoned his plan to make one Snow White every year; now he would make one every three or four years.

And finally, Walt began talking of scaling back on the shorts themselves. They just weren't profitable, usually, and they cost too much to make. Rather than continue making them, he would make less and re-release most of them. In fact, he re-released Three Little Pigs (the first short of his to make money) in 1948 instead of re-releasing a feature. In place of the shorts would be a new series of documentary films, the True-Life Adventures, which he had formed on his trip to Alaksa last year. On that trip, he'd visited a small camera shop owned and run by Al and Elma Milotte and asked them to shoot some documentary footage of Alaska. He had only a vague notion of what they should film; as they sent footage in, he would send them wires asking for different things. He seemed to be interested in something about the development of Alaska. Al Milotte decided to go to the Pribilof Islands and film fur seals. Disney was pleased with the footage and sent a wire back: "More seals." For a year the Milottes observed and filmed the mating rituals and pup-raising of the seals and sent their footage to Disney. They even spent time living with Eskimos in igloos to have better access. Walt and director James Algar worked with the footage and created a 26-minute short called Seal Island to mark the series's beginning.

And there were other irons in the fire, too. Many more of them, it would turn out. And through the year of reshaping, the shorts soldiered on.

1/23: They're Off
Goofy. Another of the great sports cartoons, this time revolving around the world of horse racing. There's some great satire in the beginning with the way gamblers and aficionados try and turn guessing who's going to win a race into a science. Lots of energy; Jack Hannah directed. At this point, Jack Kinney had been moved over to the package features and was working on Two Fabulous Characters, as he had on Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, and Melody Time. He wouldn't go back to directing Goofy cartoons until next year.

2/6: The Big Wash
Goofy. It's almost odd to see Clyde Geronimi, who hadn't directed a short since the excellent Chicken Little in 1943 and was mostly a features director, make a Goofy short. It is, however, a very good one. Goofy plays a circus worker who tries his damnedest to wash Dolores, an elephant who in no way wants a bath. (Dolores looks like Goofy's safari elephant from Tiger Trouble.) Not one of the narrated "how-to" or sports cartoons, this is one of the increasingly rare cartoons with Goofy as a regular character. And in fact, I think part of what makes this short one of the best is that the humor comes out of the characters rather than the situation. Although Dolores disguised as a clown is absolutely hilarious.

3/5: Drip Dippy Donald
Donald Duck. Donald can't sleep because of a leaky faucet in the kitchen. It's not an original idea, really; there have been a number of cartoons (like last year's Wide Open Spaces) which detailed Donald's inability to sleep already. Some of this even seems a tad inspired by the Chuck Jones cartoon Good Night, Elmer and a sequence towards the beginning of Pinocchio. But the execution is very funny and there's some great character animation on Donald.

3/19: Mickey Down Under
Mickey Mouse. Not a great short, really. Mickey tries to steal an ostrich egg and Pluto has some trouble with a boomerang. It's pretty bland, actually, and has a lot more Pluto than Mickey. Mickey looks somewhat off-model, even taking into account the way Mickey has been differently styled now.

4/16: Daddy Duck
Donald Duck. Donald adopts a baby kangaroo who is, of course, a bundle of mischief. There's a cute bit with a bear rug, and the joey has a neat design, but mostly it's just formulaic.

4/30: Bone Bandit
Pluto. Same as usual: cute animal, Pluto gets pissed, there's a chase, it's really frustrating, and it ends in friendship. This time with a gopher. Does anyone else get as sick of these things as I do?

5/21: Donald's Dream Voice
Donald Duck. This is a fairly funny short, with Donald as a door-to-door brush salesman. No one can understand him until he takes a pill that changes his voice, making him sound a bit like Cary Grant. Some funny bits, and Daisy's time is minimal (thankfully), but it seems like they've gone back to this well of Donald's voice becoming "normal" too often--first Donald's Double Trouble and Donald's Dilemma, and now another one.

Melody Time was another package release from Disney; like Make Mine Music it was a film of short segments gathered around the loose concept of musical stories. (I've always thought of both films as sort of shortened Americana versions of Fantasia). The first segment in the film is Once Upon a Wintertime, which features some lovely Mary Blair designs and some interesting stylized animation. The story, such as it is, gets pretty syrupy (it's just about a boy and a girl in love and ice skating, until he saves her from cracked ice and rapids), but the music is nice and the animation is nice. It's a nice segment, not bad, not stunning. And I do love the bunnies.

The second segment, Bumble Boogie, is one of the best pieces of animation art ever to come out. It's simply stunning--wonderfully surreal animation set to the music of Freddy Martin and the fine piano work of Jack Fina, playing a jazzy version of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee. It's a breathtaking whirlwind, with shapes, notes, and instruments chasing down a poor little bee. Marvelous, marvelous work.

The film then moves on to Johnny Appleseed, which is one of the few overtly spiritual Disney works. Wilfred Jackson directed this story of Johnny Chapman and the guardian angel who set him to doing the Lord's work in the wilderness, planting apple trees to help the pioneers reach their goal. Dennis Day does all the voices. I remember singing the song from this movie, "The Lord Is Good to Me," as a hymn in church when I was a kid. It's an inspiring short; the character of Johnny is a hero, but a hero who acts with simple kindness and a dignified generosity. I also love the design of the angel, as a grizzled pioneer in buckskin and a coonskin cap. Mary Blair's designs are all over the backgrounds, which are wonderfully stylized. There's also a chipmunk in here who looks like Chip.

Little Toot is a short about a little tugboat who heroically brings a ship through a storm. There's some neat character animation on the anthropomorphized ships, and the Andrews Sisters narrating through song are wonderful. But the short itself--which, oddly, seems to be the most popular in Melody Time--leaves me a little cold. It's just so consciously aimed at children and a little cloying. I tend to not respond with a favorable eye to a certain type of anthropomorphics; I love the car in Mickey's Rival or the train in Mickey's Choo-Choo, but when I'm asked to take it seriously and accept boats and hats (like in the inexplicably popular Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet segment of Make Mine Music) as genuine characters with genuine emotions, I find it hard to make the leap. Which may, now I think of it, be why I was so reluctant to see Pixar's Cars.

Trees takes Alfred Joyce Kilmer's overly familiar poem and sets it to music. There is some very lovely animation in this short, of trees growing and wind blowing and such, but it's also slow and a little boring. A little precious, frankly.

The next short, Blame It on the Samba, is sadly the last cartoon appearance of Jose Carioca and the Aracuan bird. The animation is nicely surreal and wild, with a depressed (and literally blue) Donald and Carioca wandering into a cafe where the Aracuan cheers them with the samba. The Dinning Sisters sing the title song, and Donald and Carioca come alive with dance. There's some combination work in here that is not bad at all, with Ethel Smith giving the Hammond organ one hell of a workout and the Aracuan causing all manner of mischief. It's mind-blowingly good, and leads to a literally popping finale.

Things slow down for the introduction of the final short, Pecos Bill. Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers sing "Blue Shadows on the Trail" while animated animals cross the desert at night. Then, in live action, we see Roy and his group (and Trigger) gathered around a campfire with Disney's child stars Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, making their second and third Disney appearances, respectively. They ask to be told the story of Western hero Pecos Bill, which is told in song and animation. Ward Kimball especially did some excellent animation on this short, with Bill plowing the Rio Grande with a stick, roping clouds, and shooting out the stars. He and his horse Widowmaker have a special bond, but Bill falls in love with the stunning Sluefoot Sue (who looks a lot like a Freddie Moore girl to me), who we first see riding a giant catfish and twirling a lasso. She's a womanly match for the wild Pecos Bill, but the horse is jealous, which leads to tragedy. The film is only slightly marred by the decision to digitally erase Bill's cigarette, leading to some odd hand movements.

Overall, one of the more interesting things about Melody Time is the way it sort of creates a romanticized version of the recent American past. This seems to be a typical postwar development in American popular culture, but in shorts like Once Upon a Wintertime and Trees, Disney seems especially to subscribe to an idealistic version of a simpler time that didn't quite exist in reality, but the idea of which certainly influences many people. Plus, the film recounts the simple stories of two American legends, Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill (and, honestly, I'd have liked to see more of those). Walt seemed quite interested at this point in creating a version of Americana that was clean, gentle, idealistic, and occasionally rowdy and fun (in a clean way, of course). Overall, it's not one of the best of Walt's movies, but it has some treasures within it.

Animation credits:
Production supervisor: Ben Sharpsteen
Animation directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Jack Kinney
Directing animators: Eric Larson, Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Les Clark
Animators: Harvey Toombs, Ed Aardal, Cliff Nordberg, John Sibley, Ken O’Brien, Judge Whitaker, Marvin Woodward, Hal King, Don Lusk, Rudy Larriva, Bob Cannon, Hal Ambro

7/9: Pluto's Purchase
Pluto. Mickey sends Pluto to the butcher shop to get a sausage, and Butch tries to steal it. All with a surprise ending. Skippable.

7/30: The Trial of Donald Duck
Donald Duck. There's some very good character animation in this short. Donald wanders into a classy restaurant and brings in his own food, then gets billed for it and sued for non-payment. The animation of the snooty waiter is hilarious. You know what I noticed? You never see Pete anymore. All of the heavies in Disney cartoons are humans now, and Mickey and Donald live in a world among humans. You don't see a lot of other animals like you did in the barnyard days of Mickey Mouse.

8/13: Cat Nap Pluto
Pluto. Pluto comes in after a long night out, and wants to sleep. But Figaro wants to harrass him. That's about all that happens. Though some of the animation is good, it's repetitive. We've already had a sleepy Donald this year; now a sleepy Pluto? It seems like the story men are really starting to run out of ideas this year.

8/27: Inferior Decorator
Donald Duck. This is really the start of Donald's feud with Spike, an amiable bee that Donald here infuriates by messing with him. Donald is wallpapering his home, and the floral designs grab Spike's attention. There's a little war that follows between the two, with Spike getting the better of the Duck. It seems to end a bit abruptly, but I like Spike as a foil for Donald. I'd put him third behind the nephews and Chip an' Dale. Excepting the Aracuan, of course. And Pete. How come Pete isn't in Donald cartoons anymore? He was a great nemesis for Donald, because it was always Donald messing up the man.

9/10: Pluto's Fledgling
Pluto. Pluto tries to help a baby bird named Orville learn to fly. It's a cute, pleasant cartoon as Pluto cartoons go, but not a favorite of mine.

10/5: Soup's On
Donald Duck. For the first time in a while, Huey, Dewey and Louie really do something cruelly mean to Donald. He tells them to wash for supper, and when they don't, he sends them to their room without food. Their revenge becomes bigger and bigger until, using a dummy and a boulder, they convince Donald that he was crushed to death and is now an angel! It's cruel but it's absolutely hilarious, especially when Donald figures it out and turns into a devil. One of the funniest Donald Duck cartoons of the forties.

11/15: Three for Breakfast
Donald Duck. At last, Chip an' Dale return, this time attempting to steal some of Donald's pancake breakfast. He slips them a rubber cement pancake to mess them up, and they start a battle for the pancakes. Again, I'm surprised by how much I love Chip an' Dale, and the energy here is high.

This was Disney's follow-up to Song of the South, another combination feature. Unlike the earlier film, there is much less of an animated presence here. There is almost no interaction between the animated characters and the human actors. Based on the Sterling North novel Midnight and Jeremiah, the film tells the story of a boy who raises a black lamb and dreams of taking it to the county fair. Bobby Driscoll plays Jeremiah, and Luana Patten plays his friend Tildie. Together they try and raise the sheep, despite the fact that Jeremiah's grandmother (Beulah Bondi in a very sensitive, very nice performance) hates the animal and thinks it isn't good for the boy to put material matters ahead of spiritual ones. Burl Ives, always great, plays a friend who champions the boy's cause, and of course sings a couple of songs (including the Oscar-nominated "Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)"). The animated segments are spare; there is some animation in the opening, but the rest involves a character called the Wise Old Owl, depicted as a schoolteacher, who teaches Jeremiah some lessons about sticking to your goals. The lamb is also animated in these scenes. In the first, the owl stokes the boy's dreams of becoming a champion with the song "It's Whatcha Do with Whatcha Got," and in the second, there's some especially good animation as the owl uses the stories of Christopher Columbus and Robert the Bruce to teach Jeremiah a lesson about "Stick-to-It-Ivity." The final bit of animation has the owl introducing the county fair with some great animated flourishes involving balloons (and in a song co-written by Mel Torme). Incidentally, the voice of the owl is Ken Carson, one of the Sons of the Pioneers. As a movie, it starts out sugary enough to give you diabetes. Again, this is Disney looking at the past and idealizing it, looking at hardship and poverty and calling it simple, honest work. But there is some good stuff in here, including a lesson about doing your best and taking care of your family, which I quite liked. I'm surprised it's not a better remembered movie, as it's actually very good.

Animation credits:
Director: Harold Schuster
Animation director: Hamilton Luske
Animators: Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Hal King, Milt Kahl, Les Clark, Don Lusk, Marvin Woodward

12/3: Mickey and the Seal
Mickey Mouse. Mickey and Pluto are followed home by Salty the Seal, who has a good ol' time in Mickey's bathtub. This is much more assured than some of the other recent Mickey cartoons (like Mickey Down Under and Mickey's Delayed Date, for example), and much tighter. And Salty is very cute. It's a cute cartoon, no more than that, but it's nice to see Mickey with something to do.

12/21: Seal Island
True-Life Adventures. The series began with the declaration "This is one of a series of TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURES presenting strange facts about the world we live in. These films are photographed in their natural settings and are completely authentic, unstaged and unrehearsed." Winston Hibler narrates this short film about fur seals in Alaska, which shows their mating ritual and the beginning of life for the very adorable seal pups. It's skillfully made, and Walt insisted on the kind of tight storytelling that he insisted on in the animated shorts. What he also insisted on was audience involvement, and to him that meant character-based storytelling. And that's where a lot of people criticize the True-Life Adventures. Through editing, music, and (occasionally patronizing) narration, Walt's documentaries anthropomorphize the animals of the world into cartoon characters. They create a story which is entertaining and exciting, but not necessarily true to life. On the other hand, I think it's human nature to put human emotions and situations into the world around them. And there's no denying that Walt put things on the screen in the True-Life Adventures that many people would not have seen unless he'd done so. It's a trade-off, certainly. And while I was watching Seal Island again for the first time since I was a kid, I did wonder what it would be like without the narration and without the music score (or at least a more impressionistic one). But taken for what it is, it's very good. There are all manner of things that had not been on the screen before, including a (for Disney) surprisingly bloody confrontation between two seal bulls.

12/24: Tea for Two Hundred
Donald Duck. Donald goes camping (with a TON of food!) and runs afoul of a bunch of ants who try to take the food. I guess some people find this offensive; the ants are African ants and wear stereotypical tribal decorations and speak in gibberish. But the gibberish is funny (it's Pinto Colvig) and Chip an' Dale speak in gibberish too. I don't think it's intentionally cruel or anything. Anyway, it's a very funny short, with some great gags (my favorite is when the food appears to huddle together; also when the cake splits into pieces and re-forms). Hilarious stuff.

I've noticed that in the last two years, the Disney shorts seem to be getting shorter. They generally run about seven and a half minutes; some of the cartoons from 1947 and 1948 seem to be running, in some cases, up to a full ninety seconds shorter. I assume it's a cost-saving strategy, and in some cases the shorts are either so good or so tired that it doesn't really affect them.

Either way, there would be less of them now, until the mid-1950s when, with few exceptions, they were phased out completely. Live action, more cost effective than animation and something of a new challenge, was the future of Walt Disney Productions, and Walt intended to take control of it. When Seal Island was finished, no distributor wanted it, and no exhibitor would touch it. Roy saw little value in the film or in a series of True-Life Adventures. Walt managed to get a Pasadena theater to show the short for one week, where it qualified for an Oscar nomination as Best Short Subject which, in 1949, the film won. According to anecdotes from the time, Walt took his Oscar statue for Seal Island, marched to Roy's office, and threw the award at the office wall above his head. In 1949, Seal Island saw a general release and the True-Life Adventures took off.

In addition to the nature series, Walt was turning to producing live action films. So Dear to My Heart could easily have been made without any animation at all, and perhaps the inclusion of it had been Walt second-guessing himself (I can't really find much written about this film). He wouldn't do so again. He'd already planned it out, mandating that Disney live action films would be historical stories, not contemporary ones, lest they date and hurt their re-release value. Walt had a lot of money set aside in Britain that had been frozen during the war years and, thanks to postwar restrictions, couldn't be transferred home. Walt instead set up Walt Disney British Films Ltd. and decided to film his live action movies in England. His first live action film was to be Treasure Island, a film once earmarked for the combination treatment.

Basically, Walt's five year plan included three animated features (Cinderella, Peter Pan, and finally Alice in Wonderland), Treasure Island, and the True-Life Adventures, in addition to a decreasing number of shorts (though Donald Duck would be kept on a full schedule, as the most popular Disney cartoons). And, despite the fact that the company was in the red, Roy found the money.

The other irons in the fire included television, which Walt was showing an early interest in when the film industry was refusing to take it seriously, and a long-cherished dream that was now refusing to be ignored. For ten days in August, Walt visited the Chicago Railroad Fair and Henry Ford's Greenfield Village. When he returned, he sent a memo to production designer Dick Kelsey, describing an idea for a park of villages with a carnival and a railroad that he called "Mickey Mouse Park."

Whatever was going to happen now, Walt once again looked to the future with enthusiasm. He'd pulled out of the period some Disney historians refer to as The Long Pause, and he had a plan that he knew he could make work. But he wouldn't rush into it this time. He'd make sure to find a way to work it out successfully. Because, deep down inside, he knew that Cinderella was his last chance. If it failed, he'd never be able to make another animated feature again.

Song of the Week: "Heart of Glass"

I'm pretty sure my life would be diminished if my dad hadn't had The Best of Blondie on 8-track. To this day, as his taste in music has blandened, I can't imagine what my dad was doing with a Blondie 8-track; certainly it wouldn't be anywhere near his first choice today. But oh, I'm glad he had it. Because I had Debbie Harry in my life from a very early age. And this song particularly did something to me that I didn't understand. I was far too young to understand that, in a fundamental way, rock and roll is sex. But Debbie Harry's voice poured like pure liquid heaven into my brain, trickled down into my soul, filled my stomach with a feeling of nervous excitement, and reached into my pants and did something I couldn't figure but wanted a lot more of. Debbie Harry, you made me a man, and I love you for it.

Smoking Kills

As of 1 January, Illinois is now a non-smoking state. It's illegal to smoke in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, workplaces, all public buildings, and within 15 feet of building entrances, exits, and windows. The 19th state to pass a smoking ban, Illinois's is apparently the strongest clean indoor air law in the US.

Of course, loads of people are against this. Garnet Dawn Scheuer, president of Illinois Smokers' Rights, says that the law violates the right of assembly as protected by the First Amendment. Some restaurant owners, too, are worried about the ban hurting their businesses. Scheuer imagines a doomsday scenario in which small family-owned restaurants will be destroyed, leading to a decline in the hospitality business and an overall loss of city revenue.

DeKalb enacted a smoking ban last year, and at first I felt the same thing. Immediately after the ban took effect, you could see where it was hurting the local diners. I used to eat every week at the Junction Eating Place, and the first three weeks after the ban, business had declined rapidly. But you know what? It picked back up. Instead of bringing in the kids who liked to sit there and smoke, it brought in families who didn't like to eat there because it was so smokey. Business leveled out; the clientele just changed. It happened all over town. Hell, anyway, you can't smoke inside a McDonald's, and it hasn't hurt them one bit.

I was also against the idea that the government could tell a business how it should operate. That bugged me a bit. But you know what? It's a public safety issue, a public health concern, and the government should have the right to tell people they can't smoke around other people. Granted, I think people who walk into a restaurant with a smoking section or a club or bar should expect that people inside will be smoking. I've been saying that for years. But I can't deny that smoking can harm people who are non-smokers.

So which is it? Do we say that smoking is alright and people should expect to encounter it, or do we say that smoke harms people and shouldn't be allowed indoors? Keep in mind that about 70% of people in Illinois are non-smokers, as far as I've read.

Scheuer characterizes the ban as "feel-good legislation based on junk science." That "junk science" is the American Medical Association's finding that secondhand smoke kills about 3000 people a year; something which Scheuer, in a fit of typical American skepticism about actual facts, just flat out doesn't believe is true. Where Scheuer studied medicine I'm not sure, but, of course, the old saw of "studies out there questioning the belief that secondhand smoke is dangerous" is invoked. Honestly, do people not understand how science works? Theories are not just random ideas, people! They're tested! They're not a matter of just "believing" something or not. By the way, Scheuer also doesn't believe that smoking causes cancer, saying "it hasn't been proven" and "you tell a lie enough times until it becomes the truth."

The irony is that Scheuer will probably die of cancer. Congratulations: the tobacco companies own you for free. In fact, you paid them for the privilege, "doctor."

Scheuer adds: "I'm not saying smoking is the best choice to make. But if you look at a lot of other lifestyle choices out there, it is by far not the most harmful."

"By far," eh? Whatever.

Look, I'm not saying that smokers are bad people. They've made their choice, and that's their choice. The fact that you smoke doesn't make me look down on you, or taint everything you say, or make you a person I can't look at, or some bullshit like that. But you know what? I don't want the smoking aroud me. I used to date a smoker. I used to live with a guy who smoked, too. And I don't like it. I don't like the smell, I don't like the taste, and I don't like the smoke in my lungs. I don't like kissing someone who smokes, or being in a car with a lit cigarette. That's my choice. So I don't want to hear "no proven link" and "it's not as bad as other things" and whatever lame excuses you use to justify to yourself that you're inhaling something which kills people. Something that we teach our children not to inhale when the house is on fire (and that's without the chemicals put inside cigarettes to make them addictive). Keep it to yourself.

We should really just stop pussyfooting around the issue in the United States, I think. I know Americans are idiotically proud of their willingness to keep stupidly doing something after it's proven harmful to them, because we hate other people telling us something's bad for us and we take it as a judgment call. The Surgeon General has four warnings required on every pack of cigarettes. They are:

1. SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.

2. SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health.

3. SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight.

4. SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide.

All four them are written by pussies to avoid offending anyone and avoid having to make any sort of definitive statement that will sound aggressive. Why do we do that in America? Smokers are offended by the notion that smoke is unhealthy; gun advocates are offended by the apparently baseless accusation that guns are used to kill people; fat people are offended to be told that overeating makes you fat. Sorry, it's all a simple fact: smoking kills, guns kill, overeating kills.

You know what they have on the cigarette package in Great Britain? In great big letters?

Government Warning:

They don't mince words, like we do. Hell, I saw a carton of Marlboros that said "Government Warning: Smoking Causes a Slow and Painful Death."

If you want to smoke, fine, go ahead and smoke. Just keep it out of public buildings and businesses, because I don't want my health affected by your choices. You can't smoke in a restaurant anymore because there are people there who don't want to cough. It's not an issue of personal choice, it's an issue of politeness, and sadly politeness is so dead that it now needs to be legislated. Deal with it. Grow up. Suck it up and move on.