You know I love me some Miley Cyrus in both appropriate and inappropriate ways. But even as somewhat of a fan (Disney owns my soul), I have to ask: what the hell is Miley Cyrus doing involved with the Oscars? She's been in one movie, and that was a film of one of her concerts. She's a pop star with a highly-rated, um, basic cable show. I appreciate that someone's been very good about getting her marketed to the mainstream (where the hell was all this for Hilary Duff, Disney?), but I think it's a little early to see her presenting an Oscar and appearing on Barbara Walters's Oscar Special. How about she makes some actual movies first?
Saturday, February 23, 2008
"What we need is for Britney Spears to stay home instead of traipsing all over town. That would solve the problem. We don’t need additional laws… I’ve got laws coming out my ears to deal with this issue. What you have is several young women in this town and several young men basically making fools of themselves and tying up not only my resources but the resources of the media that would do better covering legitimate stories instead of a bunch of airheads running around out there… Quite clearly some of these characters so favored by the paparazzi are clearly in need of services. Not police services, but psychiatric services!" --Pat Morrison Bratton, L.A. Police Chief
Friday, February 22, 2008
Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.
1. That’s the most frightened baby I’ve ever seen! Hilarious! The baby looks Photoshopped, it’s so terrified!
2. Now I see why someone would marry Eva Longoria. I knew it wasn’t for her looks. I mean, you’ve seen her. She’s only young and sexy when compared to a Morlock like Teri Hatcher.
3. Amy Winehouse was forced to color a bikini on the tattoo of the topless woman on her arm because if Americans see a boob society will come to a grinding halt of confusion and embarrassment. So, it’s okay for me to look at Amy Winehouse’s creepy face and body, but you have to save me from tits? I don’t think the priorities are straight here.
4. So much for that new commitment to healthier food… A third-pound toadburger? I want to vomit and die just thinking about that. Sure, it's Angus, but it's still McDonald's, so it'll be reheated and gross.
5. Abigail Breslin will shave her head to star in the film My Sister’s Keeper, based on a novel about a girl who sues her parents to stop them from using her as a guinea pig for her sister who has leukemia. Apparently, director Nick Cassavetes wanted Dakota Fanning. When he took her to a hospital to see child cancer patients, she said loudly (in front of the patients) “There is no way I will ever shave my head and look like these kids.” So, she didn’t gain any fans there. I guess Dakota is going to be the Macauley Culkin. Abigail Breslin’s more talented, at any rate. And apparently less of a bitch.
6. I think it’s pretty shitty of Hayden Christensen to go around badmouthing George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels while he’s on the press junket for Jumper. He said he’d never work with Lucas again and that the prequels stifled his creativity. Dude, the only reason anyone knows who you are is probably because of the prequels; no one forced you into them, but they sure made you a hell of a lot of money. Don’t go badmouthing them like a snob now. Maybe you didn’t do your best work—and I know you didn’t, because I saw Shattered Glass, and you were damn good in it—but don’t be a dick about it. And don’t be a hypocrite. I mean, you just made Jumper, which was supposed to be the first film in a franchise until the underwhelming receipts came in, so don’t act like your soul still isn’t for sale. You owe George Lucas your whole career. Maybe you didn’t like the movies so much, but be big about it.
7. You and me both, pal.
8. Emma Watson is 17. There were pictures of her at some parties with Johnny Borrell, a 30 year-old musician who’s been to the newest celeb hangout, rehab, and will fuck anything that moves. Her parents saw the pictures and you know what they did? They got pissed and told her not to see him ever again. Is this an interesting story? Not really. It’s just nice to see the parents of an underage celebrity acting like parents instead of counting their money and saying she’s just having fun and she’s young, etc. They acted like parents instead of creating the kind of lax environment that sends celebrity teenagers to rehab and career suicide and, worst of all, VH1 reality shows. (I also just heard that Emma and Daniel Radcliffe might be dating, which I find kind of adorable.)
9. I just found out Shannon Elizabeth is going to be on this season of Dancing with the Stars, the haven for has-beens. It must be sucky being a has-been at her age (if, which is debatable, she ever was). I wasn’t even sure she was still alive. But hey, at least she can be proud of her decision not to take her clothes off in movies anymore to protect her marriage to that guy she’s divorced from. It’s been a real career move.
10. I love the commercials for the CW’s line-up-to-be-a-whore reality “competition” Girlicious, the show where girls with no ambition who love to dress like trannies can become part of the famous fake pop group. They tout the show as being from “the visionary mind behind Christina Aguilera, Fergie, and the Pussycat Dolls.” Visionary? Oh, please, let’s highlight this visionary who was the first ever person in history to figure out that if you put a skinny girl in glam clothes and too much make-up she could be a star whether she had the ability to sing (Christina) or not (Fergie). Quick, get that guy on the cancer cure! He’s a visionary!
11. I can’t think of anything right now that’s more boring than this finally-finished format war between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. I’m sure it’s interesting if you’re a tech head, but they act like the fate of humankind rests on this shit. It’s like Tickle Me Elmo with this crap.
12. That Juno backlash is starting right on schedule. Every year there’s something small and independent like Little Miss Sunshine which is just nice enough to be a hit but just esoteric enough for people to bristle that it’s been nominated for canonization as Best Picture of the Year. And every year it’s a little tiresome, especially since it comes with this kind of “I’m too smart for this bullshit” arrogance. I think the Oscars are only interesting insofar as lots of sexy chicks show up and it’s always interesting to see someone else’s opinion on movies. But I don’t get the people who attach some kind of bullshit mystical significance to whatever the winners are; I can’t believe there are still people who are so incensed over that Titanic Oscar. Look, there are a lot of awards out there, and the only real difference between the Oscars and any other is that the Oscars are given out by the voting body of the film industry as a whole. That’s really it. But the Oscar nomination is taken so seriously by people who think the Oscars matter in the real world, which makes about as much sense as people who think the Car of the Year award matters in the real world. So you didn’t think Juno was worthy of an Oscar; that alone doesn’t make it a bad film. Try having some objective opinions instead of measuring your taste up against the majority opinion of an industry that thinks making movies based on toys and board games is a great idea. The Oscars are interesting, but they’re not important, and just like voting for president, it’s hardly quality that matters. Jesus, Kramer vs. Kramer, Gandhi, and Out of Africa won Best Pictures. That should tell you what you’re dealing with.
13. Last August, a 23 year-old man was arrested in Australia and locked in a cell with handcuffs on. His 18 year-old sister came to make an official complaint that police punched him while arresting him, so they locked her up, too. The man got reasonably upset and began yelling, telling them to release her because she hadn’t done anything. So a cop walked into the cell and Tasered him three times. When his father called a week later to make a complaint, the officer responded, “It shut him up, didn’t it?” I wonder why people in the West find it so hard to trust cops (which only makes it harder for good cops to do their jobs). When did Tasers become the humane way to abuse your power and beat people up? And, according to the movies, hilarious?
14. I find it interesting that there are still so many women who won’t support Hillary Clinton because she didn’t leave Bill after the Monica Lewinsky affair (or any of the other countless affairs). It seems like there was once a time when she would have been praised for keeping her family and her marriage together after something like that. Things change. I don’t really have a feeling either way; what bothers me more is that staying with her husband can be interpreted (as so many things can) as one of her many political moves. The larger issue for me is that I just don’t trust her with power.
15. Heidi Klum is being widely ridiculed in America for offering to let Britney Spears come and live with her so she can help straighten Britney out. Heidi said “I am sorry when a young person gets thrown so off track.” What I find sad is that, basically, Heidi was exercising this thing we don’t have in America called compassion, and now people are making fun of her for it. Maybe she’s being naïve or whatever, but is it so ridiculous to want to help a person instead of throwing her to the wolves? Is it so wrong that Heidi Klum goes immediately to compassion instead of ridicule? People are taking this much too personally.
16. Leave it to the New York Times to get the story wrong. The point is not whether or not John McCain and Vicki Iseman are fucking. The point is whether she is using her relationship with him—whatever it is—to gain undue influence over him as a lobbyist. In 1999, McCain wrote two letters to the FCC on behalf of Paxson Communications urging them to allow Paxson to buy a television license in Pittsburgh. Vicki Iseman was Paxson’s lobbyist; not only that, but before writing those letters McCain had received $20,000 in contributions from Paxson executives and lobbyists; their chief exec, Bud Paxson, was a major contributor to McCain’s 2000 campaign and lent McCain the company jet four times. Since 2000, Paxson—whom McCain saved from financial ruin by reversing himself on a piece of crucial legislation, have contributed nearly $85,000 to his campaign. More and more, it’s looking like McCain pushed campaign finance reforms so hard because he wanted to protect himself. That’s the real story that, thanks to the Times jumping they gun because they thought they had something salacious, is going to get lost.
17. Since donations to the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Mississippi, have left the church falling $40,000 to $70,000 short of its weekly budget, Pastor Marc Hammond has put his private jet on the market. They call churches like this “prosperity churches,” because they believe that financial success and a lavish lifestyle is evidence that God loves them. “Prosperity church” = “for profit.” The Living Word was, surprisingly, not among the churches asked to submit financial documents to the Senate last year. You know, a lot of people get pissed off over the immigration issue because they think they’re paying taxes for people who aren’t paying their own share for the government. Why aren’t people more upset about the vast amounts of untaxed money going to churches every week? They want to be involved with the government, right? Why should we have to carry them when they have the money to carry themselves?
18. Oh, and one last thing: Fuck you once again to Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist idiots for planning to protest at Northern Illinois University and for releasing a statement saying “God sent the shooter” because of America’s tolerance for gay people. We get it, Fred. You crave cock and you feel all tingly and funny about it. Get fucking over it and stop forcing other people to listen to it. People are mourning their loved ones; they don’t want to hear your message of intolerance. This is not about you. Seriously, though, if you want to personally come to NIU, let me know. I bet I could get you laid by some pretty dude, and then you could just calm the fuck down. If you don’t want to finally let go that way, I know something else we can do that still involves you and a lot of pain.
So, Ridley Scott is making a movie based on the board game Monopoly. Granted, I don't know anything about the "concept" or the "plot" or "script" or "purpose" or other things this movie won't have, but here's what I think the plot is going to be.
The film opens with Rich Uncle Pennybags (Sam Elliott) on his deathbed. He's finally going into the great beyond, and before he dies, he's decided to break up his real estate empire and leave it to his various nephews. Pennybags's son died years ago on some kind of adventure, and since he now has no direct heir, he's going to let his nephews duke it out. And his nephews will be played by some combination of funny slobs (Seth Rogen, maybe), inept ambitious guys (why do I have a feeling Nicolas Cage will be in this somewhere?), glad-handing liars (Aaron Eckhart?) and maybe there'll be that one guy who is a nice, helpful guy who is kind of a twit, but a harmless one (let's say... Luke Wilson or one of those similar talentless guys I'm supposed to believe is a popular leading man; Paul Rudd would be good, he's the one who has the talent). Added into this will probably be Lady Macbeth type wives and other people who want the dough, like assistants and functionaries and people who worked for Pennybags.
Anyway, the real protagonist is going to be Shia LaBeouf as Pennybags's grandson. See, Pennybags wants the boy to win because he's a good kid who could be a great man, and he's the spitting image of Pennybags's late, lost son. But Pennybags doesn't want to just hand his young grandson the business or some other cliche, so he's set up this cryptic game that everyone's playing. He's hidden the deeds to his properties all over the country, and, to get a monopoly, the characters have to follow a set of cryptic clues and collect as many deeds as they can. Movies that are basically board game chases with a set of very dumb and simplistic "cryptic" clues that make people feel clever are very popular right now--National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code--so if this movie gets out quickly enough, there could still be an audience. Plus it's by Ridley Scott, and for some reason people think he's just awesome, no matter how many White Squalls and Good Years and overrated Gladiators he makes.
Anyway, somehow the key to the clues comes in the form of things Pennybags owns and which means something or other special--an old racecar, a thimble, a statue of a cowboy, an iron, his beloved terrier, etc. But Pennybags, of course, wants his grandson to win, so he gives him some things that will help, like a free pass to get out of jail and a key to the Community Chest or some other garbage. And it all ends more or less predictably. Probably the family will be brought closer together only to discover that Pennybags has lost all of his money now that the real estate market is so crappy. Whoops! At least we're all close now, though, right?
And since it's Ridley Scott, there are a lot of special effects that look like something's wrong with the horizontal hold and a million edits. Oh, and maybe Hans Zimmer could stretch himself creatively with the score and plagiarize from Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland before he writes a theme or two and hands the whole job over to his factory workers and steals their credit.
It should be at least as much fun as a Wacky Races movie, I guess.
UPDATE: Becca contributes this tag line: Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just head straight for... MONOPOLY!
Thursday, February 21, 2008
This week, Becca and I watched Alex Haley's Queen, a 1992 miniseries that is a follow-up to Roots and Roots: The Next Generations, which are, combined, my all-time favorite miniseries. I've wanted to watch it with Becca for a long time, and since last year was the 30th anniversary, they finally came out on DVD and we could sit and watch the whole thing. Queen I remembered as not being very good, but Becca wanted to see it, so we Netflixed it. It was okay; Halle Berry was a bit histrionic in the lead, but a lot of the supporting cast was good (I defy you to show me a poor Paul Winfield performance).
We especially noted that where Roots had gone for unflinching honesty and a sort of dramatic realism (very ahead of its time for television, especially the violence and nudity, but very frank, too), Queen was fluffier and more of a soap opera.
What I found interesting was the liberal use of the word nigger and its various derivations (negra, nigra, etc.). This miniseries aired in 1992, and the word obviously has its place in the story. After all, it takes place from something like 1840 to the early 1900s. It was about racism and about slavery, and the word is going to come up. But it also got me thinking about this post from last year, when New York City claimed it could ban the use of the word. And I found myself wondering, if Queen or Roots were being made in 2008, would they even be allowed to use the word? And I think that's a troubling implication, because it sets boundaries that shouldn't be set.
I said most of what I have to say about the word nigger in the post last year, but I want to reiterate my belief that there is no inappropriate subject to explore artistically. Roots, both the book and the miniseries, are artful. Masterful. They're among, in my opinion, the most important artistic achievements of the 20th century. But if no one ever said nigger, they wouldn't be honest. It would create a fundamental artifice that destroys their integrity. If Roots the miniseries had never been made, and it were being cast today, would they be able to bravely, honestly use that word? Or would there be pressure to censor the work and make it, in part, a lie?
I still don't think, for a second, that there is such a thing as an inappropriate word. Obviously, because I say fuck and shit all the time and I don't much care. What there are, in everyday life, are inappropriate contexts in which to say them. It's not appropriate to swear in court, and it's not appropriate to hurl racial epithets at someone just because you're pissed off. But it's also not appropriate to pretend that words don't exist. It gives them undue power that they shouldn't have.
I've been coming down with something this week, so I've been hitting the daytime TV a bit. Yesterday on Judge Maria Lopez, some woman tried to sue another woman because, in some kind of altercation, the plaintiff claimed, the defendent's daughter had called her son a nigger. She was claiming pain and suffering, because the boy had been hurt. What seemed to anger the plaintiff most was that she had to explain to her son, who was something like 17, that there's hate in the world. Trust me, the kid already knew.
I guess what I'm saying is this, and again you can point out that I'm a white guy and have only on a handful occasions been the subject of racism: nigger is just a word. It hurts to be called names, I know. But it's just a word. And you can't give a word the kind of power this one has. You can't make a distinction between "right" and "wrong" words. It's all context. Context is what we should be concerned about. Racism and hate and bad intentions, not the word. The word itself is powerless. Stop giving it the mystical power it has now and it will become simply another word and the ability to hurt people with it will die out.
There is a certain pocket of the American television audience that's reliably stupid and undiscerning. The good news: they didn't watch Cavemen. The bad news: they didn't watch Cavemen.
My hatred of Geico's entire advertising department was already bordering on the pathological even before they started using those cavemen on their commercials. Seriously, I can not for one minute accept that people look at those stupid, stupid ads and think "Hmm, I should check Geico's rates." The first ad, with the slogan "So simple a caveman could use it" and the urbane, insulted cavemen was, I admit, pretty clever. But they didn't warrant a second, third, or forty-seventh appearance in a commercial. They certainly didn't warrant sending me junk mail that's supposed to have been written by pissed off cavemen telling me not to do business with Geico (oh, and here's the website and phone number, aren't we clever?!?!?!?!). They. Are. Not. Funny. They just aren't. And again--and I know this is a touchy area, since most ad campaigns are about finding exploitable characters and not about products or services anymore--HOW DOES THIS MAKE ME WANT TO SWITCH CAR INSURANCE PROVIDERS? Okay, it's a bunch of pissy people in makeup acting unpleasant. Whoo, fun! Sign me the fuck up!
So, really, the best thing that could've happened was for the ABC sitcom Cavemen to have been a minor hit. Not on a level we'd all be embarrassed by, but enough to, and this is important, keep them off of the Geico ads. Sure, Geico is still going to have idiotic, annoying commercials (like those commercials with Z-list former celebrities, the most insulting of which is the one where Joan Rivers uses a man's carjacking-at-knifepoint story as yet another opening for plastic surgery jokes--we get it, you're hideous, it's not funny!), but those fucking cavemen wouldn't be on them. They'd be in a little pocket somewhere, and I'd know where they were, and I wouldn't have to see them. Ever.
But no; suddenly asking Americans to watch something incredibly idiotic is too much of a stretch. The same audience that went to see Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Norbit--ON PURPOSE--wouldn't watch Cavemen. And now...now they're back on fucking Geico commercials and they are fucking critiquing the sitcom and now I have to put up with this stupid shit again.
So I guess what I'm saying is... thanks. Thanks, Two and a Half Men audience for suddenly deciding you have taste. Appreciate it.
Becca had this awesome drawing on her blog. One of my favorites. She's also been taking a journey through Wonder Woman episodes (here are the first three) and has an Overlooked Movie post on The Monster Squad.
Via MC comes proof that Paris Hilton has only one facial expression. I guess that explains the tragic grosses of her new movie.
TVSquad: The Top 14 Things That Only Happen on TV
Mental Floss: 8 Weird Theme Parks
Lots more from Cracked: 5 Ways Hollywood Tricks You Into Seeing Bad Movies, If Oscar Acceptance Speeches Told the Truth, The 5 Most Badass Presidents of All Time, 5 Common Body Myths Debunked, and 5 Douchebag Behaviors Explained by Science.
JA on one of my favorite weird movies, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. He also posts on the meaning of life as seen in The Muppet Movie and has an aptly titled post about Jessica Alba's new pictures. It's just not cool for actresses to appropriate iconic images, especially when there's just no comparison. Jessica Alba will never be an icon. (For some really good comparison shots, Crazy Days and Nights puts the awful Alba pictures next to the real deal, with some good commentary.)
Dr. Monkey unearths illustrations defending George W. Bush's economic policies.
2719 Hyperion has a nifty post about one of my favorite Disney side characters, the Aracuan Bird.
Michael Sporn has some great scans from Bill Peet's book for the Disney cartoon Susie the Little Blue Coupe (two parts).
One more cartoon post: John K. on a great Bob Clampett cartoon, The Hep Cat.
It's about the British education system, but the Guardian has an editorial about the emphasis on self-esteem over education in schools that's very compelling.
Inc.com: 7 Signs That You're a Bad Boss
The Onion on a new Oscar for Michael Bay.
Fairlane has two brilliant posts regarding the liberal blogger circle jerk and the Obama hope onslaught.
And I leave you with something I think everyone should read. It's on Cracked, but it's a fairly serious examination of 7 Reasons the 21st Century Is Making You Miserable. It's all just... too true.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
A review of the films I've seen this past week.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)
A stunning film, even for the Coen Brothers. How do I begin to describe it? If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. The way the characters move around almost defies plot conventions; Josh Brolin (he's gotten damn good) finds some money and puts himself and everyone else in danger trying to keep it. Tommy Lee Jones is the sheriff powerless to stop the inevitable; Woody Harrelson is the slick smooth-talker trying to contain it. And Javier Bardem, so memorable and magnetic and damn scary, is the unstoppable tide of violence in the world, a relentless killer who is so unreal he's almost like a nightmare. He's the part of the film that stays with you long after viewing; him and the intense, building quiet and the sense of dread. It's an incredible film that's hard to talk about but amazing to experience. **** stars. By the way, it's nice to see between this film and There Will Be Blood that some filmmakers know that silence is more effective and more riveting than constant loud noises. Someone needs to tell that to Michael Bay. They also need to tell him about establishing shots...
STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975)
Edwige Fenech and a bunch of other girls look beautiful in this giallo film. It's beautiful to look at, but about halfway through I was itching for it to be over. The guy who lives is a total dick. **1/2 stars.
THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES (2008)
Excellent film that's somehow better than it has a right to be. Freddie Highmore does his best Johnny Depp as a pair of twins in a family that moves into an old house in a forest inhabited by all manner of mythical creatures. The computer animation is beautiful on the creatures. The film has a certain gravity to it; it treats its characters and situations seriously without being precious about it. Some of it is even scary and a little violent; the filmmakers actually do the unthinkable and give children credit for being able to understand and handle the scary stuff. I wasn't sure I'd see another fantasy film that was this good anytime soon, but I'm certainly grateful for this one. And the griffin... man, I've been waiting to see a griffin like that in a movie since I was six years old. I want to go see this one again. **** stars.
HORROR CASTLE (1963)
So-so Italian horror movie about an American woman who moves into her German husband's castle, which may or may not be haunted by a Nazi-created killer. Christopher Lee co-stars as the curator of the castle's museum. Atmospheric, but very slow. Great final sequence, though. *** stars.
LITTLE BIG MAN (1970)
I've tried on four separate occasions in my life to watch this movie, and it's just never going to work for me. I don't know what it is, but halfway through I get very bored and stop paying attention. I'm going to call it **1/2 stars for me and just let it go.
ABSENCE OF MALICE (1981)
Very smart movie about a reporter (Sally Field) who is manipulated into libeling an innocent man (Paul Newman) who is the son of a dead gangster. A gripping and intelligent movie that creates a complicated situation and manages to solve it without descending into a by-the-numbers thriller in the third act. In fact, the third act is my favorite part, featuring Wilford Brimley as a court official with some great old-fashioned dialogue. Extremely well-written meditation on ethics with some great acting. **** stars.
SAVE THE TIGER (1973)
Jack Lemmon stars as a clothesmaker who is broke, down on his luck, and experiencing a kind of midlife crisis. Pushed to his limits, he begins to consider burning down his own factory for the insurance money. Not much really happens, but it doesn't matter; it's a character study about a desperately unhappy man who thrives on pressure but worries that his best days are behind him and doesn't know where he fits anymore. Jack Lemmon won an Oscar. ***1/2 stars.
Dear Makers of The People vs. George Lucas,
Did you ever know that one girl in the neighborhood growing up? The one with that unpredictable, abusive boyfriend? Everyone knew the guy was beating her. He'd drink in public and be a real loudmouth and make trouble, and then she'd go around apologizing for him and telling everyone what a good guy he could be when his head was clear and he wasn't all angry and drunk. "You just don't understand him," she'd tell you. "He has such a good soul inside, he's just going through some trouble right now." But she'd keep showing up with new bruises. Sometimes she'd actually leave him and go home to her mother, but not for very long. He'd buy some flowers or something and she'd go back, even though everyone knew--hell, even she knew--that he was going to get pissed off because there wasn't beer in the fridge one day and beat the hell out of her some more.
You're that girl.
Most Star Wars fans are that girl. Most Star Wars fans that I've known in the past eight or ten years have the same sick, abusive relationship with George Lucas. They don't just hate a movie or are unhappy with it--no, no, their childhoods have been raped! Their precious memories have been sucked straight out of their heads, kicked for a while, burned, and then pissed on! They hate George Lucas for creating something they loved as children, and then not living up to two decades of expectation when they were adults. They cry and moan and complain and call for the death of the creator. They call for his creation to be ripped from his hands and given to people who apparently know better than the man who invented it how it should be handled. But like that abused girl who should learn to love herself instead of loving the way she's reflected in the eyes of another, they keep going back.
And they think not being happy with something and whining about it hurts George Lucas. But hey, you didn't have to give the man your money in the first place, did you, fanboys?
So my real question, makers of The People vs. George Lucas, who are calling for fanboys to make "Leave Britney Alone"-caliber videos pathetically whining about special editions and prequels to compile their movie, thus saving them the trouble of actually making something and finding something complex to say, but at least getting attention for themselves like so many other wannabe-documentarians who are actually just making character pieces, is this: What exactly do you hope to accomplish with this movie? What changes in reality are going to occur because of this movie? What is your point? Is it just to tell George Lucas that you're unhappy with the films and are only going to buy them in six more formats and fourteen more repackagings during your lifetime because you're so outraged? I don't think the guy cares. He's got your money and, frankly, he's going to keep getting more of it. You know it's true. And if that's the whole message, who cares? Sometimes I think the entire internet was invented just so some lonely guy with too much time on his hands could get on message boards and flame some other guy for not being more pissed off that Greedo shot first. This is hardly groundbreaking stuff. So what is your point?
Don't you think it's really past time to move on with your lives? Go contribute something to society.
Remember, Prince Charles, that's the girlfriend of the Prime Minister of Mars you're making a move on. You don't want to spark an interplanetary incident.
Miss Portman, however, should feel free to touch Scarlett wherever she wants.
I got this meme a while back from Tosy and Cosh. It's apparently based on an exercise developed at Illinois State University meant to indicate how many advantages you have starting in adult life. I don't get quite how it works, but here goes.
BOLD WHICH APPLY TO YOU:
Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Actually, my sister and I were the first ones to go to college. My mom has taken some community college classes since I've been an adult. My dad went into the Army when I was very young; he was stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, which is where my sister was born. He went into computers after that; he worked at Wang Laboratories until the early nineties.
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
Were the same or higher socio-economic class than your high school teachers
My cousin is a doctor, but we're just close enough in age that it had no effect on my growing up. We lived in the heart of the yuppie suburbs until I was 13, but we were about the same socio-economic class as my teachers.
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
I'm counting the books, but we didn't really have a ton of books at home that I remember. Still, we used to walk to the library at least once a week, so I think it counts. I read constantly as a kid; I still do.
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
I guess people in the movies like me are kind of positive. I have no idea, really. I've never quite thought about it. When I was a kid there were movies about my age group that were fun, like The Goonies, The Monster Squad, or Explorers. I guess those were positive. Like I said, they were fun.
Went to summer camp
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
There was original art in your house when you were a child
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house(s) or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child
You had a phone in your room before you turned 18
I went to Boy Scout camp. I remember we stayed at a hotel when we went to a wedding; most of our family vacations involved visiting family, so we stayed with them. I guess most of my clothes were new; I think I had some hand-me-downs as a kid, but what kid doesn't? We lived in a townhouse before my parents got divorced; it was attached to the whole damn black, but I'm counting it as a single family house because I never thought of it or treated it any other way.
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
When we moved into the condo, the extra TV needed to go somewhere.
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
I've never wanted to go on a cruise, myself. We flew to Guam when I was 6 and again when I was 13.
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
I used to love to go to the Museum of Science and Industry and see the Crown Space Center. For me, that was always awesome. I also loved going to the zoo and the Shedd Aquarium. We used to go lots of places when I was a kid. Do you believe I've never been to the Chicago Art Institute, though? Never once. I've even been to Orchestra Hall, but not the Art Institute.
In another terrifying instance of "Why the hell did nature even build that thing," here is the giant snakehead fish. Its razor-sharp teeth make it deadly in the water, which is bad enough, but here's the kicker (and with mother nature, there's always a kicker): if the fish doesn't kill you in the ocean, it can crawl up on land, follow you home, and kill you in your sleep. The giant snakehead can, apparently, survive out of water for four days.
And an angler just caught one in Britain for the first time. Lincolnshire, to be exact.
Conservationists and anglers are panicking, and rightly so. This is a Southeast Asian fish that could easily cause an enviornmental disaster if it's been introduced to a habitat that isn't prepared to fight it. In fact, the Sun quotes an Environment Agency source as saying: “The reaction was, 'Oh shit.' This is the ultimate invasive species - if it starts breeding here it’s a disaster.” They're working on the theory (and hope) that it was smuggled into the country for an aquarium and then illegally released (it's on a list of species which cannot legally be imported into the UK). It's a vicious fish that eats everything in its path and has killed people in the past. Piranha? This is worse.
We had the same problem here in 2002; snakeheads were illegally released in Maryland. Snipers were shooting the things on river banks and whole lakes were poisoned to get rid of them. Turns out they can survive in the cold. And it didn't work; they're still breeding in Maryland and other states. The native fish population is fucked once again. These things can rid a lake of fish and other wildlife, and then crawl out of the lake overland to another one and do the same thing.
The specimen caught in Britain was 2 feet long. Adults grow to 3 feet and 44 pounds.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I've been grinding my teeth and clenching my jaw a lot lately. Hard enough that my jaw especially hurts when I relax it. That horse dream is still happening at least once a night, sometimes two or three times. I've been developing all of these little nervous habits, little OCD things, and when I'm able to completely relax my body, it aches. I'm not sure what I'm so nervous and anxious about, but as a result, I'm exhausted and sick. I feel like total crap.
And I'm still not back 100% on the eating well train, by the way. More lapses in judgment are occurring, and with the anxiety, I guess I'm not surprised. I'm trying to just cold turkey it, but I think the eating is help to distract me from whatever it is I'm trying to distract myself from. I feel like something bad is going to happen, but I don't know what it is. I've got "Something's Coming" from West Side Story in my head, and it has a sinister sort of edge.
And I think I'm still gaining weight. I feel terrible. I don't know where this is headed.
According to Lady Miss PJ, the owner of an excellent blog, I too have an excellent blog. See? I've got the Excellent Blog Award to prove it.
Thank you for the appreciation, PJ!
I guess I'm supposed to pass it on to 10 more bloggers. So, here goes.
PJ, even though you awarded it to me, I gots to return the favor. And awards to Becca, Splotchy, Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein, Jaquandor, MC, Johnny Yen, MWB, JA and Bubs; you've all got excellent blogs. Hell, you all do, but I'm limited by the rules.
Posted by SamuraiFrog at 1:23 PM
At the age of 81, Fidel Castro has resigned as President of Cuba, saying “My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to the last breath, but it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer.” Bush said “the international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy,” which should chill anyone in the world who’s seen what’s going on in Iraq. He also says Cuba has to have free and fair elections, something he doesn’t reserve for the American people.
All of my life, I’ve been hearing from our leaders that Fidel Castro is a monster who wants to kill every American and destroy our way of life. I don't know. I guess I’m very cynical about world relations, but I do see that most, if not all, of the wars in history have some root cause in marketing or trade, especially where America’s concerned. After all, America was the first country in the world to recognize Castro’s government; the US didn’t decide Castro was a problem until he began seizing property and taking aid from the Soviet Union. They didn’t take an interest in anyone being executed or imprisoned in Cuba before that. I don’t think that just because a nation is a communist one that can preclude the possibility of being friendly with them. Our own president is friendlier with much worse nations, like Saudi Arabia, where the royal family treats the entire country the same way King Leopold treated the Congo; Bush constantly rewards their inhumanity with vast sums of money. When it comes down to it, the government doesn’t care about people in other countries. They care about the opportunity to make money. And our history with Cuba represents that.
America essentially conquered Cuba in 1898, after the US battleship Maine exploded in the Havana harbor (coincidentally, 110 years ago last week). The Maine had not been invited to Cuba; President McKinley was trying to start a war in Spanish America in a way that has become routine in American foreign policy: sending troops to “protect” American residents and property. McKinley wanted the Spanish out of the Americas to create new market opportunities for American businesses (this is the same reason we conquered Hawaii and the Philippines around the same time). When the Maine blew up, all of the most important officers were ashore. All of the foreign and black seamen were still on the ship and account for nearly half of the victims. It had the desired effect, though: swept up in a tide of nationalism, Congress called for intervention and McKinley had his war. Cuba was given independence by President Theodore Roosevelt, a Spanish-American War vet, in 1902, but the Cuban constitution gave the US the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and supervise both its finances and its foreign relations (including leasing Guantanamo Bay to the US). Cuba was essentially one of many American puppet states in Latin America at the time.
That changed in the 1930s. There were a series of coups in the thirties in which Fulgencio Batista was involved. He was pro-Communist and an ally of America, and America did nothing to interfere with any of these coups, by the way. There were major social reforms, an increase in government spending on health, housing, and education, and an economic boom that created a middle class and raised living standards. But this was at the cost of many lives and much bloodshed and, after the Mafia became involved in Havana’s gambling establishments, government corruption. It also increased the gap between rich and poor. Batista carried out a coup in 1952 and suspended the constitution, which remains suspended. Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries took the country in 1959. Batista fled to Portugal. Many Cubans left the country and gathered in Miami. The Mafia was successfully expelled.
It’s important to note that most of the anti-Castro Cubans in America are rich and white, and have a lot of influence in politics. I think there are real threats in Cuba and imagined threats. The administrations since 1959 have been attempting to strangle Castro with an embargo on Cuba which has not worked. Cuba manages to have relations with several nations, and even survived the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The anti-Castro Cubans have attempted to quash any softening of America’s stance on Cuba.
The problem for me is this: America is friendly to nations that have far worse human rights violations than Cuba. Not that Cuba doesn’t violate human rights; you can’t criticize the government in Cuba. Many who do are imprisoned, tortured, even executed. I think we’ve done a disservice to the people of Cuba over the past half-century by not opening up relations. Castro’s government gives the Cubans free education (including one of the highest literacy rates in the Americas, and which even extends to American students), free health care (which also extends to foreigners), and even free museums. It’s a true melting pot. America has abandoned the people there and tried to make it harder for them to get food, oil, clothes, cars, and medical supplies. Of course they side with Castro! Of course they believe him when he tells them that America doesn’t care about their problems. We don’t. We only care about winning. We should have extended friendship to the people of Cuba and helped them with their problems and enriched their lives and ours. Because we’re all people of the Americas. We’re all Americans. And we have a lot to learn from each other.
I don't know if things will change in Cuba with Castro resigned. I don't know if things will change in America with a new president, for that matter. As long as money decides foreign relations and internal policies, they probably won't change very much at all. But I think it's long past time for this petty embargo against Cuba to cease. Hell, China owns a bunch of the American economy, and they're communists. And the administration looks the other way when it comes to Saudi Arabia and other countries; jeez, it took Bush eight years to admit there was genocide in Darfur. Why can't we be friends with Cuba, too? What is the big deal? It's time to move on from this and do something constructive. It's not the communism that's important; it's the number of political prisoners that needs attention.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Oh, I get it. It's all about sex.
I watched Death Proof over the weekend; it was the first time I'd seen it since it was in the theater nearly a year ago. To my surprise, stripped away from the whole Grindhouse concept, it actually turns out to be about something. You wouldn't know, since Tarantino either can't quite handle his film or he's just doing his damnedest to disguise it, but it's more than a genre exercise. It's about something. Namely, sex.
The film actually tells two stories. In the first, a night out at the bar for some girlfriends, including a local DJ, is brought to a tragic halt by the enigmatic, almost unreal Stuntman Mike. That's the first half. The second half, which is almost a separate but similar film, is about girls in the same situation who turn the tables on Stuntman Mike and create a reversal of the outcome. The version on DVD, which adds a number of scenes not in the theatrical version, makes this much more clear, and I'd suggest taking a second look at it.
Death Proof begins as though it were an exploitation film that had made the rounds of the local grindhouses and drive-ins for years in the sixties or seventies. There are deliberate scratches on the print, moments where the sound isn't synched right, places where there are missing frames. Tarantino even spoofs the way many exhibitors used to take the title of a film and change it into something else. We have Jungle Julia, a local DJ (Sydney Tamia Poitier) and some friends of hers going over typical Tarantino dialogue that, frustratingly for a lot of people, doesn't mean much to the plot. It's just set-up, and I think the dialogue is purposely mundane. All it really shows is that Jungle Julia and her friends (but especially Julia) are really bitchy and don't have much to talk about outside of themselves and how desirable they think they are. You notice, too, that none of the dialogue really seems overly contemporary; there aren't many of the references to other films that will set-up the second half of the film. The dialogue is totally unmemorable because, really, the dialogue in this movie isn't meant to say anything. It's beside the point. The girls end up at a bar in Austin that is deliberately old-fashioned; there are posters on the wall for movies from the seventies, and the jukebox plays T. Rex and Pacific Gas & Electric. There are cell phones, yes, but the modernity is kept at a minimum. Into this place step a couple of other characters. First Pam (Rose McGowan), wearing a hippie top and long, straight blond hair and looking for all the world like a weary Marcia Brady. And then Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell in one of his best-ever performances), who is literally a man from the past.
Stuntman Mike is a stunt driver who says he was on old TV shows like The Virginian. He doesn't drink. He has a scar crossing down half of his face. He's a deliberately old-fashioned guy, hitting on ladies much younger than him and breaking out sudden John Wayne imitations. He lectures a girl called Butterfly (Vanessa Ferlito) into giving him a lap dance. And he drives a Chevy Nova that has been rigged out for use as a stunt car and is, he claims, 100% death proof.
The car is, excuse the term, the driving force of this entire movie. The car is literally sex personified (machinified?). And Stuntman Mike is what drives the car. It's how he releases his sexual frustration and turns it into gratification.
When Butterfly gives Stuntman Mike the lap dance, Quentin Tarantino cuts it halfway through. On the one hand, it's a funny joke (with a "reel missing" card the way you would presumably have seen it at the local drive-in at some point in the early seventies). But on the other hand, it's important to leave the act uncompleted and, therefore, unfulfilled. It doesn't do anything sexually for Stuntman Mike; it doesn't do anything sexually for the audience, either. Everyone is frustrated. So a frustrated Mike agrees to drive Pam home and almost seems impatient and overly excited when she takes the time to ogle his car. She leans over the hood and traces the skull painted on the hood in an unmistakably sexual moment. For Mike, this is a come on. She's offering herself to him, and the fact that she gets in the car gives him, in his mind, license to take her. The first release of his sexual frustration comes through speeding off and stopping suddenly in a way that kills her. He's almost sickened by her pleas for mercy; he doesn't want to just get to second base, basically. He wants to go all the way. And he does. And when he's done with her he chases off to find Jungle Julia and the others, referring to them as "my new girlfriends."
The moment comes on a dark and lonely road when Mike crashes into the girls head on, the two cars meeting in a brief and sudden coupling that leaves body parts all over the road. That's the orgasm. Steel on steel, the smash of glass, limbs severed, cars destroyed, and Mike has essentially ruined the girls for all other men. In a scene that's been lengthened, Sheriff Earl MacGraw (Michael Parks playing the same character he played in Kill Bill and Rodriguez's Planet Terror and From Dusk Till Dawn) explains to his son that, although he can't prove it, Mike has gotten away with a homicide that he's committed because he gets off sexually.
The film is then interrupted, in a way, by a scene that was not in the theatrical version but is sort of essential to dividing the film's halves. In a black and white sequence, we see a fully healed Stuntman Mike as he becomes interested in three new girls. These three--Kim, Lee, and Abernathy--are on their way to pick up another friend, Zoe Bell (the near-legendary stuntwoman, playing herself for necessary reasons), at the airport. They're all working on a film together. In this sequence, Mike simply become enamored with them while watching Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in a cheerleader costume for the added appearance of vulnerability) sing to herself with her eyes closed and enjoying the sight of Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), whose bare feet are hanging outside the car window. He bends down to lick them.
The film then switches to color but, more importantly, abandons the jokey effects. This is the modern half of the film; there are no defects, scratches, or sound deficiencies. The first half of the film was partially to lure you in, but also to stand in stark contrast to the events of the second half. The first half was deliberately old-fashioned, both in its attitudes and in its style. The second half is a different animal with a different purpose.
This part of the film is driven (pun not intended) by Zoe and Kim (Tracie Thomas, very stagey) and their desire to drive a white 1970 Dodge Challenger. One of their favorite films is Vanishing Point; they not only want to drive the car, they want to play a dangerous and exhilirating driving game, Ship's Mast, where Zoe will hang from the hood of the car. The dialogue is, again, incidental. It's mostly there to establish the characters (with the possible exception of Lee, who is left by the roadside, basically) as modern young women. They talk about technical things. They take their relationships more seriously (and make them more complicated). They swear more often. And, most importantly, they establish the near-indestructability of Zoe Bell.
Watching Zoe hang from the car is exhilirating on its own. If Stuntman Mike's car is sex, so is the Charger. The key difference is that the women are in control of the Charger. They've taken what is stereotypically a male experience--the experience of opening up a classic car on a stretch of road and feeling the power surging through them--and done it on their own. It even makes a difference that the Charger is white and Mike's Nova is black. The symbolism isn't subtle, really.
When Stuntman Mike does show up, it's at the same moment as the monster shows up in any horror film: when the kids are about to do it. Mike is the masculine entity which tries to cut off the realization, just as any other serial killer in a slasher film. By driving up to them and ramming them from behind, he's literally striding up and swatting them on the butt for daring to try to take control. It's not in a heavy-handed way; he thinks he's playing with them and teaching them a lesson, but for the women in (and on) the car, it's very real. The sequence is almost a rape scene, or at the very least a scene of sexual assault: the older man with his old-fashioned ways and his sexual dysfunction playing with younger women in a forceful yet cavalier manner. In his mind, it's meaningless; if they don't want to play, fine. But he expects them to know their place and take this pointed flirtation: he doesn't expect them to get mad and fight back. But they do. Even as he gets out of the car after driving them off the road and throws up his hands, a shit-eating grin on his face, laughing and talking down to them--they shoot him. And he races off, scared and crying and panicked.
The major difference, then, between the two halves of the film is the idea of modern sexual relations. In the first half, Stuntman Mike controls everything. It's subtle, but he uses charm and shame as his weapons. He shames Butterfly into a lap dance. He charms Pam into going for a ride. Then he finished himself off with Jungle Julia and her friends. In the second half, he tries to do the same. He tries to shame Zoe, Abernathy, and Kim by forcefully imposing himself on them; when it doesn't quite come off, he tries to charm them by making a joke out of it. He's that uncle that drinks too much and is always amazed by how much you've grown, claiming that his leery interest is completely innocent and that you're taking things the wrong way.
Kim not only shoots him, she gets Zoe back in the car and the three turn Mike's game back on him. They chase him down relentlessly; he cries like a bitch while trying to get away, for the first time scared for his life; he's not in control of his game anymore. The women are sexually empowered because of the car-as-sex symbolism; they kept their own car safe from destruction and invasion, now they use it as a weapon of their own to fight back. In a sense, they're raping Stuntman Mike instead of becoming victims. They're not getting revenge; they're forcing a reckoning. And in the end, they cripple his car and drag him from it, completely powerless and no longer a threat, and proceed to finish him off for daring to even attempt what he did.
There's nothing else after; there doesn't have to be. Contextualization isn't necessary to put any kind of perspective on the ending. It provides its own perspective. If crashing into Jungle Julia was Mike's orgasm, this is the complete reversal. The whole film, he's taken sex and death and turned them into the same thing. By having it turned back toward him, he's completely de-sexualized and the women are completely empowered. The ending's not a cop-out. The ending's the whole point. Everything led to this moment. There's nothing else to say about it. Because, again, the dialogue's beside the point. The point is in the symbolism, the differing styles, what Stuntman Mike represents, and the visual language of film.
Yet another in a series of constant reminders that I'm not a kid anymore. I remember seeing her in The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles when I was in junior high (about five or so years after those movies had originally been out) and thinking that she would be a great girlfriend. When we were kids, we used to watch her movies and think that's what high school was going to be like. It wasn't, but those are still good movies. And Molly Ringwald is, in my head, a great girlfriend. She reminded me a lot of the babysitters I crushed on (and still do; wherever you are Mindy and Marnie, I love you and thank you--even you, Gretchen, even though I still think you slept with my dad).
So anyway, Happy Birthday, Molly Ringwald!
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Cat Stevens music was in my home before I was even born; I grew up listening to him because both of my parents loved his music, and as a result, his music somehow makes me feel like the world makes some level of sense. After the events of this week, I need the sense. This was the first song that struck a chord. And it's lovely.
1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?
No idea. I like the poetic language of the King James Version, but you can't beat the New Standard Revised Version for clarity. It's just not very dramatic, and I find it highly problematic, what with advocating the murder of people who are different so much.
2. Old or New Testament?
Even as an atheist, there are parts of the story of Jesus I like very much. At its heart, it's the story of a guy with ideals who tried to make a difference in the world around him. The rest of the New Testament after the Gospels will kick your ass, though. I love to read about history, so I guess the Old Testament is really more interesting to me.
3. Favorite Book of the Bible?
Matthew. It's the most dramatic. I like Nikos Katzanzakis's version of it better, but he was a great writer.
4. Favorite Chapter?
5. Favorite Verse?
John 1:5. Not for any religious reason, it's just a great verse that says a lot about hope. In the King James, it says: "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."
6. Bible character you think you’re most like?
What an odd question. Most of the Bible characters seem the same to me. There's not much characterization there, and not a lot of people act on their own without being told what to do.
7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?
How a book that advocates so much murder against people who have different cultures, religions, skin tones, and national identities for those simple reasons can be claimed by so many as the true source of love, reason, caring, and morality.
8. Moses or Paul?
Moses. Paul was an opportunist and a hypocrite.
9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?
Anything to do with the various interpretations of the afterlife.
10. Coolest name in the Bible?
I've been having this recurring dream for a week and a half or so. I'm at the Field Museum in Chicago, and they're auctioning everything off to the public. I wander in to this auction and start bidding on a bunch of stuff.
[A side not before I continue: I am still, at the age of 31, shit-scared of parts of the Field Museum. That place scared the hell out of me as a kid, and I wouldn't set foot in it between the ages of 11 or so and 23 or so. The taxidermed animals in dramatic poses scared me so much that, even now, they make me nervous at best. There are whole corridors I cannot go into; they're small and dark and there are dead things with dead eyes staring, and I just want to go crazy even thinking about it. I love the rest of the place and my dinosaur is there (Sue--she's mine, just so you know), but for you need to know going in that taxidermed animals make me feel creepy and the ones at the Field Museum almost terrifiy me. Especially in my nightmares.]
Anyway, I'm bidding on these diorama recreations of animals in the wild. And I'm enjoying it, really excited about winning stuff. And then they wheel out this very long diorama that is designed to look like a herd of wild horses running underneath the Aurora Borealis. There is a night sky behind their bodies, and some very vivid greens, pinks, and purples to create the effects of the Northern Lights. And I start to bid on it, but the more I focus on it, the more afraid I become. Everything around it gets dark, until I can only see the stage and the diorama itself (like in a Terry Gilliam movie, where black swallows everything--that was a vivid nightmare image for me as a child before I even saw any of his movies). I focus on it intently, and I'm suddenly panic-stricken, mortified that I've been bidding on these things, and I want to scream. Then there's this whirling and then the dream is over.
Obviously, my subconscious is trying to tell me something I can't figure out. But I really wish I could; this one's freaking me out.