Saturday, June 21, 2008

Matthew Broderick Apparently Surprised and Delighted to See Breasts for the First Time

Brittany Snow visibly uncomfortable.

AFI 10 Top 10

The American Film Institute released another of their silly lists (why do they need the attention so badly?), this time giving their top 10 movies in 10 different genres. Tom the Dog has already taken a crack at this list himself, and I fully agree with him on calling out this list's lack of horror movies. Seriously? No horror movies? Not enough great horror movies, or something? Give me a break.

I also agree that romantic comedies is kind of a lame category, though I get why they did it. Epics is kind of lame, too. I mean, is "epic" really a genre? For that matter, animation is a medium, not a genre. But, I digress. I need more room to comment on the list in my list-commenting fashion.

ANIMATION
1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
It's a great film, it deserves to be in the top 10, and it's an important film, as it ushered in the age of feature animation. It's beautiful and it's still highly watchable. But number one? I don't know, I just kind of hate the AFI's implication that for all of the great work of men like Walt Disney and John Lasseter and others, the entire medium of animation hasn't been able to put out a single animated feature that tops the first one made 70 years ago.
2. Pinocchio (1940)
Personally, a movie I like better than Snow White. I've met a lot of people who just don't like this movie at all.
3. Bambi (1942)
Another absolute favorite of mine.
4. The Lion King (1994)
I like this film more and more every time I see it. When I first saw it, I liked it overall but felt there weren't enough songs to justify it's being a musical, that it held back in its story, that it gave precedence to laughs over story. I still feel all of those things, but as time goes on, I either care less or don't notice them anymore because I like the overall effect.
5. Fantasia (1940)
Another important film in the medium of animation, however much it's been maligned over the years.
6. Toy Story (1995)
Also an important film in advancing a new form of animation. So I understand the historical importance, as it were, but the simple fact is that a number of the Pixar films that followed after were just better, more entertaining movies. The Incredibles, certainly, Monsters Inc., even Toy Story 2 are all more fun and more full.
7. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
One of my personal favorites of the Disney Renaissance.
8. Shrek (2001)
No. It's cute, it's even got heartwarming moments, it's witty in places, but it's the typical DreamWorks shite: take a comic actor with pop culture cachet and let him go wild (and self-indulgent) kicking up pop culture reference after pop culture reference. They become less fun (if any of them are fun in the first place) every year because the references are outdating, and there's not much under them. Shrek is better than most of the DW fare (miles ahead of the heinous Drek the Turd--er, Shrek the Third), but still, I don't think any DreamWorks movies need to be on this list at all. Actually, if The Prince of Egypt were on this list, that would make sense. But that's a good movie.
9. Cinderella (1950)
A very good film, but top 10?
10. Finding Nemo (2003)
I think this edges in for me. It's easy to forget just how involving and emotionally genuine it really is.

What about The Iron Giant, among many others? Granted, this is the American Film Institute list, so you've got to cut out Miyazaki and Nick Park, but I would seriously consider The Secret of NIMH (though not very popular), Will Vinton's The Adventures of Mark Twain (you MUST see this), The Nightmare Before Christmas, Heavy Traffic, or Anastasia.

FANTASY
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
You know what I'm always struck by with this movie? Just how good the dialogue is. Especially towards the end, when the Wizard is handing out the gifts. When he tells the Tin Woodsman he's lucky not to have a heart because "hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable," but nonetheless gives the Woodsman a heart and says "A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others" ... I just love that.
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Again, I prefer to take the films as a whole, but as standalones, it's still the strongest entry. And it's another film with great dialogue.
3. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Like Tom the Dog, I've never thought of it as a fantasy film, though there are fantasy elements. The AFI is trying to be clever. And it is a great movie.
4. King Kong (1933)
One of my all time faves.
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
I guess it's a fantasy, too. It's one of my favorite movies. I watch it two or three times every Christmas.
6. Field of Dreams (1989)
As I've said before, one of the few American films where magic realism works as a plot device without being reduced to coy winking or Spielbergian humor.
7. Harvey (1950)
I never liked this film very much, honestly. I'm not sure why. And I don't know that it's really a fantasy, either. I wouldn't have put it on this list at all.
8. Groundhog Day (1993)
Excellent movie, completely classic. But I would consider it a science fiction film. I mean, it's technically a time travel plot.
9. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Frankly, this surprises me. It's a great, great film, one of the best silent productions I think I've ever seen (they were just so lavish in those days). But I have to admit, I enjoy the 1940 version with Sabu more than this one.
10. Big (1988)
Big is an absolute piece of fucking shit, with the exception of Tom Hanks's likeable performance. The only fantasy here is the desperate adult male wish to flee back into childhood and mommy's arms when they find adulthood hard to handle. I hate this fucking movie.

Tom the Dog rightfully points out how stupid it is to basically say Big is better than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (although that may be a British production) and The Princess Bride. He also gives a shout to Terry Gilliam. I would seriously suggest (though I might not be taken seriously) The Dark Crystal, Conan the Barbarian, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and one of my dear favorites, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (which may also technically be British). And, since I don't consider them science fiction movies, The Empire Strikes Back would be on this list, too. But that's me.

SCIENCE FICTION
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
I am absolutely willing to accept 2001 as the greatest science fiction film of all time.
2. Star Wars (1977)
I just can't take Star Wars seriously as science fiction. I don't know. That said, The Empire Strikes Back is infinitely better, but I guess Star Wars wins for being the bigger pop culture storm. That always pushes things up on lists like this by organizations like the AFI.
3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Immature, sure, but still an all time fave. The emotions this movie produces are genuine.
4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Indeed. A great movie.
5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
I think this movie holds up, in answer to Tom's query. It doesn't look cheesy at all--the effects and especially Bernard Herrmann's Theremin-laden score hold up exceptionally well. What holds up less well is some of the line delivery, which is right out of a 1950s film strip on hygiene or something. But it's still very watchable. I think it's staggering how little SF movies have changed, honestly.
6. Blade Runner (1982)
Meh. I still don't get the cult around this movie. It looks good, but the dire narration and the bullshit happy ending just sink the whole thing. Rutger Hauer is great in it, though. I enjoy the 1992 "director's cut" substantially more; that's a great film. But I still think it's overrated. I think Ridley Scott is incredibly overrated.
7. Alien (1979)
An excellent film, but I've honestly always considered it more of a horror film than an SF film. It's like a gothic horror with an alien instead of a vampire. Some people think this opinion diminshes the film (as with my assessment of Star Wars as fantasy and Taxi Driver as a Western), but absolutely not. That said, I've always thought Aliens was better.
8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
I like the director's cut a little better (they really should have kept that scene with Reese in the theatrical version). It's a great film, but I think I enjoy the first movie a little more. They're both great. That's an excellent afternoon, The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day at once. (In my world, no other Terminator movies exist.)
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
This feels a little dated, now, too. I've always preferred the 1978 version.
10. Back to the Future (1985)
I love it.

What about Brazil or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or The Right Stuff or the original Planet of the Apes or Superman or Ghostbusters or Starman or... And Tom's right on, RoboCop is a classic, come on. It's fucking exceptional.

SPORTS
1. Raging Bull (1980)
Not what I think of as a sports film. I think it's an excellent movie, yes, one of Scorsese's great achievements, but it's a character study. Just because it happens to be about a boxer doesn't really make it a sports movie. But it's a great, great movie.
2. Rocky (1976)
I love this movie. So there.
3. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
I still have never seen this movie.
4. Hoosiers (1986)
Which ushered in a thousand rip-offs. Actually, they'd already made a hundred of these, this was just a very acclaimed one. I saw it several years ago and thought it was fairly good. I liked Gene Hackman's performance more than the actual movie.
5. Bull Durham (1988)
I catch this occasionally on cable. It holds up incredibly well, maybe better than it has a right to. A damn good movie.
6. The Hustler (1961)
Never cared for it.
7. Caddyshack (1980)
One of the greatest comedies in history, but a sports movie?
8. Breaking Away (1979)
I actually just saw this movie again. I saw it in high school and thought it was alright, then promptly forgot everything about it. For some reason, my TiVo recorded it on Tuesday afternoon and, since I was home alone with nothing to do, I ended up watching it as it was recording. And I have to say... no. No. It's not a good movie. It's kind of nice, and I guess it makes a certain kind of moviewatcher feel good, but it's just so lame and obvious. Still, any movie with Dennis Quaid in it... no, he made some bad, forgettable movies. This is one. I love Paul Dooley as Dennis Christopher's bewildered father, though.
9. National Velvet (1944)
I suspect this list is trying hard to include one of every possible sport and be diplomatic about it. That said, I always enjoy this movie. I tend to love movies where Donald Crisp plays the stern-but-caring father.
10. Jerry Maguire (1996)
It's one of the few movies I'm willing to give Tom Cruise credit for. I haven't seen it in years; I wonder if it holds up or seems obvious now.

Great sports films? I don't know. I don't like sports films very much. The last one I really think I loved was The Greatest Game Ever Played, but it seems soon to lobby for that one. Corker of a movie, though.

WESTERN
1. The Searchers (1956)
The obvious choice. But what a movie. I love this movie.
2. High Noon (1952)
I still haven't seen it, and I'm kind of embarrassed by not having seen it. I'm not sure why, it just seems my film buff cred is, in my mind, kind of meaningless without having seen it.
3. Shane (1953)
I like this movie, but it's overrated. It's a solid B movie.
4. Unforgiven (1992)
A great film that continues to deserve its praise. Probably one of the last times that Clint Eastwood made a relatively tight picture that didn't meander all over the place like they do now.
5. Red River (1948)
What a painfully stupid ending. It's good right up until then, although being the source of so many Western cliches it has a lot against it for the modern viewer.
6. The Wild Bunch (1969)
My favorite Western, one of my all time favorite films. "It ain't your word! It's who you give it to!" One of the best.
7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Are we not over this picture yet? It's good, but come on...
8. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
Haven't seen it. I think it's because I hate Robert Altman's films more often than not (although I love M*A*S*H and Brewster McCloud). Oddly, though, this is one of the films of his I've always wanted to see.
9. Stagecoach (1939)
A solid film. It always felt to me like a B picture that surpassed its origins.
10. Cat Ballou (1965)
Lee Marvin won an Oscar. God, I love Lee Marvin. This movie is fun as hell, but I'm uncertain about putting it in the top 10.

Come on, no Rio Bravo? Or Ride the High Country?

GANGSTER
1. The Godfather (1972)
The only reason this category exists is so that someone can talk about how great The Godfather is again. And I agree: The Godfather is a great movie. One of the best ever. But having a gangster category instead of, say, horror or musicals... it just seems like it's only there so they can have The Godfather on another of their specials.
2. Goodfellas (1990)
A great damn picture.
3. The Godfather, Part II (1974)
I've always been a little cool on this one. I don't think it's the masterpiece The Godfather was, mostly because this time we're dealing with a character, Michael Corleone, who doesn't have a dramatic change. He just falls deeper into a hole of evil. There are parts of this movie I love, and the flashback sequences with Robert De Niro as the young Vito are excellent, but this movie doesn't satisfy me. I much prefer it as part of The Godfather Saga, because then the Michael scenes become a sort of fifth act, and in Shakespearean terms, it makes more sense to do it that way.
4. White Heat (1949)
I think this is a little overrated, too. James Cagney is great in it (as if he could ever be less than that), but it's a dry movie.
5. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Maybe this should be the crime genre instead of gangsters. I don't quite consider this a gangster movie. One of the greatest American movies of all time, absolutely. But not really a gangster movie. Let's put it this way: I love this movie, but I'm unenthused to find it on this list.
6. Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932)
Boring.
7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Again, not really a gangster movie. A great movie, yes, but...
8. The Public Enemy (1931)
A little overdramatic, but I like it much better than White Heat.
9. Little Caesar (1931)
I need to see this.
10. Scarface (1983)
One of the most ridiculous messes I've ever seen.

I really liked Casino...

MYSTERY
1. Vertigo (1958)
One of my top five favorite Hitchcock films. I always get so caught up in James Stewart's intense anger at the unfairness of what's happened to him.
2. Chinatown (1974)
The film that should have beat The Godfather, Part II to the Oscar.
3. Rear Window (1954)
Another Hitchcock great. The man had few misses.
4. Laura (1944)
This one left me a little cold. It was good, but not top 10 good. Not near.
5. The Third Man (1949)
Two great scenes with Orson Welles and a fun zither score. Otherwise, it's a pretty overrated picture, don't you think? I mean, it's clever, but it's not Kane.
6. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The detective movie that set the tone for all the detective movies to follow. I love this movie, but I think The Big Sleep is a little more entertaining. And if we go from mystery to what this category seems to want to be, noir, In a Lonely Place is even better than those two. And Key Largo is a pretty great movie, too.
7. North by Northwest (1959)
My personal favorite Hitchcock movie.
8. Blue Velvet (1986)
I'm fascinated that this is even on here. It's not the kind of thing you expect from the AFI, but kudos for picking it. One of the strangest movies I've ever seen, but riveting and excellent. This movie, in my opinion, makes American Beauty even more silly. (American Beauty: you mean people in suburbia can be unhappy? Gee, I'd never noticed that before 1999.)
9. Dial M for Murder (1954)
More great Hitchock.
10. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Tiresome. Once the twist is out of the way, the movie doesn't hold up. It's clever, but it's not a classic.

Tom the Dog suggests Double Indemnity and The Thin Man. Another great choice would be another Hitchcock film: Rope.

ROMANTIC COMEDIES
1. City Lights (1931)
This is a stupid choice for a genre and a stupid choice for a top film. City Lights is a romantic movie, and it's a comedy, and it's one of the greatest movies ever made. But it's not, as we think of them, a romantic comedy. This is some kind of film snob choice, trying to relativize a genre that seems modern. Like Tom the Dog said, putting it here seems to diminish the film. If they wanted to pick something from the 1930s, they should have picked Bringing Up Baby.
2. Annie Hall (1977)
A good movie, but overrated, I think. I've seen this a number of times and always thought it was funny and solid, but I look so many of Woody Allen's movies better than this one. I think this not only captured a certain intellectual zeitgeist of a certain time, but it's also his most accessible film, and that's why it's constantly being touted. Plus, Diane Keaton is damn good in it.
3. It Happened One Night (1934)
Cute, but I think it's overrated. I think even for 1934 it was overrated.
4. Roman Holiday (1953)
A perfect romantic comedy.
5. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
A perfect movie, no qualifying it. Just an excellent movie.
6. When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
Certainly it gets credit for ushering in a new era of romantic comedy, and I don't hold it responsible for all of the really crappy movies that have followed in its wake. It was very creative. I haven't seen it in a long time but I remember I always liked it.
7. Adam's Rib (1949)
I hate this misogynistic piece of crap.
8. Moonstruck (1987)
Can we get over this please?
9. Harold and Maude (1971)
Eternally one of my favorite films. This does what a romantic comedy is supposed to do: makes you enjoy just being alive.
10. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
No. Just... god, no.

What about Monkey Business, with Cary Grant?

COURTROOM DRAMA
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Certainly a classic film, Gregory Peck's best performance, but courtroom drama seems like a lame category, too. At least they didn't pick any Grisham movies (although The Rainmaker was a solid little movie--not top 10 good, but solid).
2. 12 Angry Men (1957)
2 seems high. It's a good movie, but it seems high. I don't know, I'm not the biggest Sidney Lumet fan.
3. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Overrated, but good.
4. The Verdict (1982)
Haven't seen it, but always meant to. I like Paul Newman.
5. A Few Good Men (1992)
For me, this is the start of Rob Reiner's decline. If they wanted the ending to be a revelation, they should've cut out the scene (very early in the movie) that predetermines it. Seriously, they give away the ending in, like, the first half-hour. It cuts out all of the drama, and the drama is a little histrionic, anyway. Still, Jack Nicholson is very, very good in it. Even Tom Cruise is good. I give him credit for this one, too.
6. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Great, great movie with an excellent performance by Charles Laughton.
7. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
I've never seen this movie. I've always wanted to, it's just hard for me to take Otto Preminger as a director (or anything other than Mr. Freeze, I guess).
8. In Cold Blood (1967)
Fantastic. One of the best American films of its time.
9. A Cry in the Dark (1988)
Isn't this an Australian movie? Oh, it's a good movie. But isn't it an Australian production?
10. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Excellent, especially Maximilian Schell. An excellent movie. And it's got Shatner!

What about Inherit the Wind? Granted, I'm biased because it's a favorite, but it's a great damn movie.

EPIC
1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
In my humble opinion, the greatest movie ever made.
2. Ben-Hur (1959)
I watch this every time I pass it on TV. It's so compelling and powerful, like nearly all of William Wyler's movies, and I always get caught up in it. One of my absolute favorites.
3. Schindler's List (1993)
This is, for the most part, an excellent film. But an epic? It's long enough to have been on two videotapes, but is it really an epic? It's... long.
4. Gone with the Wind (1939)
It gets a lot of shit today, for some reason, but I think it's an incredible film.
5. Spartacus (1960)
In my humble opinion, the second greatest film ever made. I could watch this endlessly.
6. Titanic (1997)
I have no problems with this being here. I think it's an excellent film.
7. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Still haven't seen it...
8. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
No, thank you. Except for the Norandy scene and some of Tom Hanks's performance, I think this is absurdly overrated and not very good at all.
9. Reds (1981)
I still need to see this. I've always wanted to... why haven't I?
10. The Ten Commandments (1956)
This carries some kind of reputation of greatness, but when you actually sit and watch it... it seems kind of quaint and small. Heston made a lot of better movies. This doesn't really deserve the reputation it has.

I don't have much to add for epics. I think it's another sort of lame category. Is it really a genre? It's more like where you used to go at Blockbuster to get the movies that couldn't fit on one tape...

The Outlaw

Happy Birthday
to one of my favorite sex symbols
Jane Russell!

Friday, June 20, 2008

First Day of Summer

Sun, girls, and endless days...

Of course, it's dark and rainy and no one's at the pool today. But what the hell, I'm still feeling good.

Throwdown 6/20

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. You know who’s going to have my eternal gratitude? The guy who invents self-cleaning eyeglass lenses, that’s who. Tired of fiddling with this shit. Guy who created Nintendo, you’re still getting a punch in the nuts.

2. You know, Billy Ray Cyrus, it’s kind of hard to believe that you’re still talking about the Vanity Fair pictures when the whole mini-controversy could have just died off and been forgotten (especially with the personal pictures of Miley and her 22 year-old boyfriend hitting the internet now). Why keep bringing it up? Why keep asserting that it was a total surprise to you when you’re actually in some of the pictures and you need to okay the proofs before the magazine can even publish them? Dude, quit lying, it makes you look even creepier than you already do. We get it, okay? You’re using your daughter to get a career that “Achy Breaky Heart” alone couldn’t give you. And you don’t care how many creepy pictures of you and your daughter lying in what looks like post-coital bliss Vanity Fair has to publish, you’re going to exploit the shit out of this situation. Stop acting like it’s something else. You don’t give a shit that you’re sort of making America even more comfortable than it already is with adults fucking (or wanting to fuck) teenage girls, because now you get to host Nashville Star and whatever those country music awards are and have your own reality show. You’re a shitty parent: we get it already. Just shut the fuck up.

3. John Lydon on Coldplay: “I met them a few years ago, said hello and realised they were just men in anoraks. They looked like a gang of little poncy masturbators.” Please never die, John.

4. They’re already saying Katie Couric as a possible successor to Tim Russert. I didn’t think political “reporting” could get more softball, but apparently it can. It can get downright frivolous.

5. Lindsay Lohan, following in Katherine Heigl’s cloven footprints, announced she was removing her cameo in the season finale of Ugly Betty from Emmy consideration. Funny, Ugly Betty is my favorite show on TV right now, and I’d forgotten about her couple-of-seconds-long appearance at the very beginning of the episode. But, yeah, you know, whatever.

6. Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker’s son James has banned the used of the word “fat” from their home. He’s apparently very sensitive about it, and Broderick applauds his son by saying that fat “isn’t a very nice word.” No, actually it’s a completely neutral word. All words are neutral. It’s the intent behind the word that matters. Fat is a descriptive word that oversensitive people have turned into an insult. It’s not a slur, it’s a word, and people who focus on words and not how they’re used are politically correct automatons. The rest of us are content to raise children, but celebrities prefer to raise statements and then pride themselves on those statements by revealing stories to the press that would annoy and disgust even the most indulgent grandmother. Does this kid say anything his parents, like, don’t tell us about?

7. After seeing themselves on the big screen in Sex and the City: The Movie, Cynthia Nixon rushed out to get bigger tits and Kristin Davis rushed out to get her varicose veins removed. Because they’re confident feminist icons.

8. Denise Richards is going to do Playboy again, saying “I think my niche is as a sex symbol.” And we were all waiting for her to finish up that cancer cure formula.

9. I’ve suffered through what feels like an entire year of commercials for The Love Guru, and here’s what bothers me the most in the endless sea of annoyances: Mike Meyers, it’s been nine fucking years since Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. We get it, Verne Troyer is little. He's a little person. You’ve pretty much exhausted all of the humor possibilities there. Find something else to do. And not racist accents, you always sucked at that.

10. Piper has appropriately and hilariously ended the M. Night Shyamalan-bashing with a pitch perfect and hilarious post. Go here to take a gander. (Once again, I’ve used a picture of Zooey Deschanel instead of M. Night, because I already used up my allowance of one smug picture of M. Night a year, and I still worry about my blog, tired of the abuse I’ve given it, gaining self-awareness and fighting back with a toxin that causes me to lose my sense of judgment and go off and vote Libertarian.)

11. Is the Wii Fit girl on YouTube secretly a viral ad campaign? Are you really so unsophisticated that you need to ask, especially after finding out that two of the people in the video work for the same ad agency?

12. I still don’t believe that Anne Hathaway left her criminal boyfriend, whatever the publicity machine is saying. Dude bounces $200,000 checks and steals from the company he works for and probably steals money from her purse and knows he’s hit the jackpot. He’s going to have to do something even worse for her to finally dump the guy. I wonder what he has on her? Annie, we’ve all heard you’re a closeted lesbian, I don’t think any of us would mind if you pursued that. It’s not exactly a career-killer anymore.

13. And here’s Kate Moss, dressed appropriately for a visit to Turkey, which is 94% Muslim…

14. Taco Bell has put tomatoes back on the menu. So, I guess it’s healthy to eat there again?

15. Even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the man who says we “might” be in a recession “soon,” said this week that the government should focus on how little value the health care industry has for how much money is spent on it, and suggested cost-effective health care throughout the entire system might be a better idea. Wow, he almost kind of gets it.

16. President Duh has apparently been using British Special Forces in a last-ditch effort to capture Osama bin Laden so his warmongering, economy-destroying presidency doesn’t look like a total waste. Wasn’t there a guy a few years ago who said bin Laden was already dead? Really, nothing is going to make history look kindly on George W. Bush. Not until he’s dead and we get a new bunch of neocon hagiographers who do to Bush what this generation of neocon hagiographers has done to Reagan. Meanwhile, while on his European farewell tour, he continues to pretend that sending American soldiers to die for his lies and his bank accounts has troubled him in any way. I don’t know, he always looks like he’s having a good time, doesn’t he? I guess you have to be troubled to spend 35% of your presidency on vacation.

17. WorldPublicOpinion.org did a worldwide poll in 20 countries and found that the most trusted world leader (at 35%; no one got a huge number) was UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon. Then Putin. Then Gordon Brown and China’s Hu Jintao. Then Sarkozy and then George W. Bush. So, based on poll results, the world tends to find Putin and Hu Jintao more trustworthy than Bush. The only people less trusted than Bush were Musharaff and, at the bottom, Ahmadinejad. So… interesting. Everyone got low numbers, though; every generation gets the leadership it deserves. Also, another poll, on how satisfied Americans are with the way things in their country are going fell to 18%, a 20-year low.

18. Bush administration’s “problem-plagued email system” = Nixon’s seventeen minutes of silence on the Oval Office tapes. And a federal judge ruled that the administration doesn’t have to make them public because, you know, emails are protected, private communication. Provided you work for the Bush administration. The rest of us are potential “evildoers.”


19. In a recent poll, people were asked what word they thought best described John McCain. The number one choice? “Old.” Ouch. “Maverick” suspiciously missing from the list. I guess, when you vote with Bush 95% of the time, your reputation as an independent, change-minded reformer takes a few hits. I actually know lifelong hardcore Republicans who refuse to vote for McCain because it would be like giving Bush a third term. Nice. I feel like I’ve done something when they tell me that. McCain’s new ads claim he stood up to the president, which he probably did when he was finished.

20. I do appreciate that Al Gore endorsed Obama. But it does dash my long-held fantasy—er, hope—that Gore would suddenly enter the race as an independent. Sigh…

21. There, there. Don’t worry, racist button vendor. If Obama gets elected, it’ll still be called the White House. After all, the building is white, and that’s where the White House gets its name from. It was painted white during the Madison presidency to cover the scorch marks from when the British tried to burn down the nation’s capitol during an event you might’ve heard of called the War of 1812. Not only was this the war where “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written, but there’s a great song about the war called “The Battle of New Orleans.” Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash in particular did great versions of it. Anyway, little racist, put your fears aside and stop crying yourself to sleep: it will still be called the White House. It just won’t be a House of Whitey anymore…

Danny Boy

Not a RickRoll, not a 300 parody, just a throwaway slice of Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, and Frank Oz genius.

The Last Thing You See Before You Die

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Over 60% There, Then...

DEAD AT 53

heart attack


This heartwarming quiz found at Sprawling Ramshackle Compound.

Film Week

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

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (2008)
I might be biased, because I'm such a fan of Tudor history, but I enjoyed the movie. Eric Bana was a very interesting King Henry VIII, bringing this sort of mannered petulance to the role that I really enjoy. He gets the danger of Henry, the caged animal brought up to believe he's second only to God, able to decide on a whim. Scarlett Johansson was good; I like her immensely, and I liked her in the role of Mary Boleyn, so innocent and easily wounded, and sadly forsaken but steadfastly loyal to those who hurt her the most. As this version of the story of Anne Boleyn plays out, Mary here is genuinely in love with Henry and cast aside by a sister who goes beyond competitive in getting what others have. Natalie Portman is mostly good as Anne; she's not the best I've seen, but Portman's acting can often be a little stagey, and here it's to her detriment. She's good, yes, but you can see the seams, as it were. I wish someone a little stronger had filled the role. Overall, it's a good movie--it looks great, it has a very good score, David Morrissey is very good in a supporting role, and Peter Morgan once again turns in a very interesting screenplay. Unfortunately, as in The Deal, Morgan has written a movie that doesn't take its time to create a story that is both politically interesting and emotionally satisfying, and if I have a major complaint here, it's that the film simply moves too quickly, rushing to get to the end. But, of course, we all know what happens to Anne Boleyn in the end, and the whole point is the story, not the final moments. I would've loved to see something grander, more dramatic, that took its time with the rich material of Tudor history and the lead performances at hand. It's a good movie, but not a great one. *** stars.

THE 39 STEPS (1935)
I'm still journeying through early Hitchcock; as far as I can tell, this is his first really great movie. I'm sure a great deal of that is due to Robert Donat, who is very personably as a Canadian on a trip to the UK who, of course, gets caught up in an exchange of information involving government officials and secret, anarchist societies (or spy networks, it's one or the other). Of course, the camerawork is excellent, and the story is pretty tight, but it's Donat and Madeleine Carroll, at one point handcuffed to one another, that do a great deal to make the suspense palpable. **** stars.

SABOTAGE (1936)
Sylvia Sidney stars in this Hitchcock thriller based on Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent. She's married to Oskar Homolka, who, unbeknownst to her, is part of a group setting bombs around London. There are slow patches, but there are some excellent effects shots. What really sold this movie for me was a sequence that I can't speak too much about without giving a setpiece away, but I will say that we're waiting for a bomb to explode with tragic results. The scene haunts the rest of the movie with a sadness and anger that Hitchcock really earns. ***1/2 stars.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (2007)
While fanboys are busy this month crying over Ang Lee's less comic booky version of Hulk, they should really be much more upset about the horrible Fantastic Four movies, which take one of the great superteams with endless potential and turn them into shit. This is an embarrassment, even more so than the first movie. The acting is still unbelievably crappy and the special effects are still ho-hum and the characters are badly realized (the Thing still looks like a guy wearing mounds of papier mache to me, and I swear I can see it wobbling), but somehow it's even worse a second time around. The director, Tim Story, seems to be laboring under the false impression that the first film was so good that he could do no wrong in the sequel. You want to talk about a character done badly? What the fuck is Julian McMahon, one of the worst actors in history, doing as Doctor Doom? Other than looking for a moustache to twiddle, I mean? His hysterical, needlessly homoerotic portrayal of Doom is just atrociously bad. The work that went into the Silver Surfer is apparent, but the effects are pretty obvious and the characterization just falls flat. It's unfortunate to think of all the wasted opportunity here; the allegory for family that could be wrought, the action scenes that could be so much better than this cartoony bullshit. This movie is stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. No stars.

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (2007)
This is a hard movie, the kind of thing you still don't see in Hollywood movies. It's about a college student who helps her pregnant friend gain an abortion in Communist Romania under the Ceausescu regime. The genius of the film is the way it portrays a sort of pervasive grayness, and this underlying sense that anyone in even the smallest position of endless beauracracy feels it is their right and sacred duty to invade your privacy. The star of the film here is Anamaria Marinca as Otilia, the loyal friend who finds the abortionist and sees to everything, all the while trying to maintain her relationship with her boyfriend and keep from being discovered by the authorities. It's compelling and tense, and hard to talk about after. In many ways, it's so matter-of-fact that it sort of precludes comment. But it's an excellent movie with, in a return to ordinariness, a rather audacious ending. **** stars.

THE GOOD EARTH (1937)
Right off, you kind of have to mention: yeah, it's mostly Americans playing the lead roles in this drama about peasant farmers in China. Paul Muni plays the lead, Wang, a farmer who marries a former slave, O-Lan, played by Luise Rainer (who won an Oscar). The two of them survive drought, famine, political upheaval, a plague of locusts, infidelity, and Wang's ambition throughout their years together, always connected to the land and living and dying by it. Both of the leads are very good, with Muni not overdoing what could have been a racist, infantile portrayal, and Rainer tragically suffering indignity after indignity in silence, keeping the pain inside. It's the kind of grand acting you used to see in the thirties. It's a great film, though, involving and compelling in a way that, once again, you used to see in the thirties. **** stars.

ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO (1940)
Bette Davis was one of the greatest actresses who ever lived, but I don't think she ever acted anything as well as wounded dignity. Maybe suffering in silence, she does that well too. In this film, she plays an English teacher who goes to France to become the governess to the children of a duke (Charles Boyer, reliably intense). It's a wonderful story about two people who are in love with each other but can never act on that love (another Davis specialty), made especially compelling by the presence of Bette Davis, playing a woman that no man could help but fall in love with. It's all very tragic, of course, but it's not overplayed (except maybe by Barbara O'Neil as the Duchess; she's so histrionic, I never like her). It's dark and dreary, but very satisfying. I think it's marred slightly by a silly scene in the classroom at the end, which is a little preachy and overreaches a bit (the catalyst for a revolution? you already have my sympathy, let's not go overboard...). Still, it earns **** stars from me.

Happy Birthday, Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert is one of the biggest influences I ever had in critical thinking. Other film critics could be so snobbish and pretentious, and though Ebert occasionally came close, he never crossed that line that so many film critics did: the line of self-importance. I know many people revere her, but I always hated Pauline Kael. Too often she was reviewing her own reactions, her own experiences, her own belief that she was somehow important in shaping the direction of American cinema. Roger Ebert never did that.

Roger Ebert taught me to give each film a chance to sink or swim on its own, to be honest when talking about your reaction to it, and that there is no such thing as critical objectivity (so why bother to pretend there is). And not to be a snob; that's very important.

Ebert turns 66 today. I'm just honoring him, as paltry an honor as a blog post is, because he was such an influence of mine. And I still enjoy his reviews every week. The man knows how to write.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 27

It was so damn hot last week. It's gotten a little cooler now; between 57 and 73 is my idea of perfect temperature.

So, where have I leaped? Pretty much all traces of that long illness are gone. There's a cough very occasionally. Plus, I'm still feeling weak. The sickness took a lot out of me. I can breathe normally, but I just get tired easily. I'm still building myself back up, and still trying to do it while losing the body mass. It's going okay; for the first time yesterday, I caught my reflection and it really looked to me as though I'd lost weight. (I also looked hairy and hermit-like; I haven't shaved since the last week of school, so I've got the beard again. It's oddly comforting.)

I've also returned to walking every morning. Or, I'm trying to. I woke up yesterday full of energy and ready to go. I went out and did some errands, did the dishes, cleaned the apartment a bit. But by last night, I was wiped out. This morning I had trouble waking up and just couldn't go out for a walk (I'll go this evening). I was tired and it felt like I'd definitely eaten too much for dinner. By contrast, I hardly ate anything on Sunday evening because I'd had a huge lunch, and I woke up yesterday ready to go. I have to find a balance here.

I also noticed, when I walked yesterday, that I'm walking faster. Almost as fast as I used to walk. Working for two months straight, standing up all day every day, has really helped me out. Not just because it cleared my head to have a daily purpose that wasn't being stuck in the apartment all day long, but because it built up my strength. I was having some real, very distressing problems being able to walk around all day. Even though I was sick for weeks, I still haven't lost all of the strength I built up. Which is very encouraging. Even the back pain I've been having is gone, mostly because I can stand up straight instead of shifting around to accomodate being so heavy.

I've gotten on course and off course and on course and back off course so much since I started writing my Health Reports. It's been a hell of a learning process. What I need to do--and plan to do--is stay on course and lose some goddamn weight. Keep eating better. Keep walking every day. Exercise. Have a decent attitude. Work for a living.

It's sad how obvious this is and, yet, how hard it can be to implement. But I've got new walking shoes, I've reloaded my iPod with some new tunes, and I've got a spring in my step these days.

It's only been a couple of days but, so far, so good.

The Shelters of Stone

This took me considerably less time to read than the previous novel in the Earth's Children series, The Plains of Passage, which if you remember took me about a year on and off. At some point during the writing process for The Shelters of Stone, Jean Auel found the narrative again and picked it back up.

There are still weaknesses, though. In this novel, Ayla and Jondalar have finally made it to Jondalar's home among the Zelandonii people (in the south of France, from the look of the map), and they can get about the business of planning to be mated at the Matrimonial ceremony and teaching the others what they have to offer (including making fire with flint, their "spear-launchers" which I only just took the time to realize are bows, a new way of threading, etc.). But, inevitably, there are also the people who won't accept Ayla's ideas and ways and the fact that she was raised by Neanderthals, whom the Cro-Magnon people deride as flatheads who are little more than animals (intelligent bears, they're often referred to). While this is understandable, we've had three novels now that all feature the same conflict: Ayla yearns to be accepted, people fear her for a myriad of reasons (she's so pretty, she was raised by the Clan, she has animal companions, many others), then they don't anymore, and everything's fine. This cycle really has to stop.

Still, I'm stuck to this series because I've already fallen in love with Ayla. The Clan of the Cave Bear is one of the best novels I've ever read, and Ayla is such a great character that I really want to see what happens next. But it can become tiresome. Ayla has to demonstrate her method of starting a fire and tell the story of how she discovered it several times over; the repetitive nature of these novels drags the whole thing down. About the best thing that happens in this novel is that Jondalar finally stops all of his whining; now that he's home and mated, he can calm down and finally accept that life has actually been very, very good to him.

There's supposed to be one more novel in this series, and I know I'll devour it. I hope that it's more interesting than the long journey home has been. From what I can tell, it seems like Ayla's finally going to have to deal with her fears about ever being one of the chosen who Serve the Mother. It's the last part of Ayla's character that needs to be resolved. But I also hope Auel brings to a close the long-running debate over whether the Clan and the Others can live in peace, because that's been the most interesting part to me, and I'd really like to see more of the Clan.

So, here's cautiously looking forward to one more. But just one more.

Originally posted at the Spring Reading Challenge (2008).

TV Report: Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Showtime is now airing last year's ITV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl, something I'd hoped would come over here and not on edit-happy BBC America. It's on after Weeds (quick side note: how cool was Albert Brooks as Nancy's father-in-law on Weeds? Just too, too cool. Also: Elizabeth Perkins keeps getting plumper, softer, and bustier. I've always liked Ms. Perkins, but holy shit, she just looks amazing these days.), and it fulfills my desire to see Billie Piper, whom I loved so much as Rose on Doctor Who, play a different character in a different TV series.

I've been seeing a lot of negative reviews of this show, and a lot of it seems to stem, rather stupidly, from the inability of reviewers to pigeonhole this show into a category. It's not a comedy, but it's not really a drama, either. It's more of a character piece, I suppose. I'm not really interested in assigning it a designation; I'm more interested in whether the show is compelling. And as far as Secret Diary of a Call Girl is concerned, I'd say yes.

Billie Piper stars as Hannah, a high-class British escort with the professional name Belle de Jour (this is based on the blog of someone who claimed to be a British call girl). Right up front, I'll say that Piper is very good on this show. Her acting isn't setting the woods on fire, but she creates a character who could be a cliche and makes her human and recognizable. Which is good, because based on the first episode, she carries the entire show, often talking to the camera in a device which usually bugs me, but seems to work here. She's not bad at all for someone who started out as a British alternative to Britney Spears (which is at least how she was sold here back in the late nineties).

The tone of the show is also interesting. It doesn't try to be too clever-clever (although the show does think it's very clever), although there is the occasional bit of corn. It's presented with a sort of matter-of-factness; we're meant to accept that this is the reality of Hannah's life and just sort of get to the point. At the same time, there's definite humor about the whole thing. I'm not shocked by anything sexual anymore, and it was a bit of a relief that the show didn't try to shock. It's more interested in the business aspect of prostitution and in what Hannah's life must be like when she's trying to separate personal from professional. Like I said, a character piece. It doesn't paint Hannah as a victim or as someone being exploited; she's a woman trying to do her job well. That, coupled with my inherent fascination with the British, worked very well indeed for me.

I think one of the better aspects of the show is that this woman's experience (at least in the first episode) is written and produced by women. Which makes it more interesting to me, since it's the woman's perspective that I feel is still missing from so much entertainment. I'm tired of seeing women as men think they should be portrayed (even Sex and the City was created by men).

I'm hooked already. I don't know if I'd recommend it, since this show is so obviously not to everyone's taste. But there are only seven episodes left and I'm going to be there for every one.

Presto

Presto is the Pixar short that will be playing in front of Wall*E. Doug Sweetland directed it. I absolutely love the character design, especially on the bunny.

Images via Upcoming Pixar, who also have the official synopsis and a clip from the film.

Stan Winston 1946-2008

"People who are afraid to go to horror movies are generally afraid their whole lives. People say to me, 'Do you have nightmares?' I never have nightmares! And I go to movies and see the most bizarre things in the world, and go... Wow that is really sick, how fun is that! And I don't have to carry it around. I think that's very healthy." -- Stan Winston

And I was just talking this morning about how much I liked Stan Winston's work. I knew him, of course, as the great makeup and effects creator behind a lot of the films I'd seen and loved growing up, and even up to today. I was born in 1976, and I was growing up in a movie world saturated with special effects and, like it or not sometimes, it's part of what has gone into my pop culture psyche over the years and part of what had fed my vision of the fantastic.

Stan Winston is the alien queen in Aliens. The creature in Predator. The dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies, the killer cyborg in The Terminator, the Penguin in Batman Returns, and the monsters in The Monster Squad. His varied experience includes Edward Scissorhands, Starman, Galaxy Quest, The Thing, and movies that are more to my esoteric taste, movies other people I know really hated, like Congo, Tank Girl, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Small Soldiers. Most recently, he created the excellent effects for Iron Man and, a lot of the tributes aren't pointing out, did some climactic work for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

What I didn't know is that he'd spent the last seven years battling cancer. He died Sunday from complications of multiple myeloma. I'm sad to see him go. This is one of the first major losses for the generation of filmmakers that I look at as the generation that shaped my childhood moviegoing experiences. I'd put him up there with Ray Harryhausen. That's my feeling.

There are going to be a lot of better tributes to the man in the media today. Read one or two.

Goodbye, Stan. And thanks.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Geek Love


Oh, man, Zen, you never fail to make me fall completely in love with you.

I need to turn this into an mp3...

80s Revisited: Starman

An occasional series for revisiting old times.

Starman (1984)
Directed by John Carpenter; written by Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon; produced by Larry J. Franco.

I remember seeing this movie for the first time around 1985 or 1986, whenever it first came out on video. My mom grew up loving science fiction and transferred that love on to me, and this is the kind of film she especially used to like. It's a deliberately ambiguous film about the nature of intelligence, the meaning of experience, and the way interest in the unknown can be used to mask fearfulness.

Jeff Bridges stars in, I think, one of the best performances he's ever given. It's very uncharacteristic. He plays an alien, sent to reconnoiter on Earth. Taking the form of a dead house painter, the alien is able to experience a few days of human life. Bridges's approach is excellent; he plays the alien as something decidedly non-human but very intelligent, experiencing a variety of emotions, feelings, sensations, longings, and confusion. He's almost hard to sympathize with, because Bridges never wavers. The alien moves his head like a bird, scanning the horizon with interest, occasionally uttering nonsense, smiling as though he's never done so before, without the genuine feeling of a human being. It's one of the best aspects of the movie, but also one that can hold an audience at arm's length; although the alien is fascinating, he never becomes truly likeable. He looks like a human, but he never feels like one. It's brilliant, actually; there are a lot of movies about aliens that turn potentially fascinating creatures into cartoon caricatures or mini-humans. The alien stays true to himself.

Bridges was nominated for an Oscar; frankly, it's astonishing he didn't win.

Karen Allen also stars as Jenny Hayden, the widow of the man the alien takes the form of. Her experience is just as confusing as his; he practically orders her to take him to a landing site in Arizona where his people will come to collect him. We see the film through her eyes, as she's forced to relate to a man who isn't human, but looks like her deceased husband, as she falls in love with the memory of her husband, but also with this new life, yearning for contact and in need of protection in ways he doesn't really understand.

Of course, there's also the government plot, which seems cliched now but is handled without too much cartoonishness. The NSA and SETI detect the signal of the alien's landing and are tracking the couple as they make their way to Arizona. As usual, there's one man who really believes and tries to help them (in this case, Charles Martin Smith, an actor I've always liked who also played in a scientist in another great film, Never Cry Wolf), and his presence is welcome to the story if not essential.

For me, Starman stands out in the realm of science fiction, not only for it's thoughtfulness, but because it manages to seem unique without really being groundbreaking. It's not the first film to portray an alien who was not sent here to destroy the planet and enslave humanity. The plot is remarkably similar to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. (In fact, Columbia--the studio that made Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind--was developing both films, and let E.T. go to Universal because they didn't feel they needed two films with basically the same plot.) But, in its way, and in the fact that it doesn't lay on Spielberg's typical misogyny and daddy issues, it's a more mature film than E.T., in my opinion.

It also doesn't feel much like a John Carpenter movie, which may be why it's so overlooked in his filmography. This is a work-for-hire film, released the same year as his own Christine. Michael Douglas, the executive producer of Starman, considered several directors, including Mark Rydell (fresh off of On Golden Pond), John Badham, Tony Scott, and future Fatal Attraction director Adrian Lyne. But it stands for me as one of Carpenter's best achievements in film, and one of his most emotionally mature films.

Not everyone will like this movie, but I think the performances of Bridges and Allen and the emotional journey she makes are richly rewarding. It's somewhat of a forgotten film waiting to be rediscovered (and if that means people have forgotten the crappy TV series with Robert Hayes, so much the better). If you have a free evening with nothing to do, and you like a little thoughtful science fiction, I'd say go for it.

Next time: Dragonslayer, I think. Any suggestions would be hot.

Moving On from Dresden

In the April issue of Playboy, an essay from Kurt Vonnegut's final collection appears under the title "Wailing Shall Be in All Streets." It's a very powerful essay, gut-wrenching and tragic, about Vonnegut's experience in Dresden before, during, and after the firebombing. It's the kind of thing more people need to read, especially in an America that still condones such destruction in the name of ideals.

I was disappointed in the July issue to see some letters that negatively commented on Vonnegut's piece. One letter, from a man in Mesa, Arizona, termed the essay a "guilt trip" and says that German bombings on other nations justified the destruction of Dresden. That we "did what was deemed necessary to win." Which says to me that this man thinks wholesale slaughter and mass murder of civilians is completely justified as long as their government strikes first and he has no problem rationalizing it.

Another man, this one from Georgia, flatly states that "the objective of war is to kill as many of the enemy as possible, including civilians, in the shortest amount of time," and takes pride in not being able to let go of the past by still refusing to buy a German or Japanese car (I wonder what he does for electronics, then, honestly). He also says the German people have themselves to blame for Dresden, because of their "resigned acceptance of the Nazi regime." Karma, I guess. It was their own fault. I wonder what he says to people who say America brought 9/11 on themselves because of the actions of their government.

Once again, we see someone who has no problem with murdering as many people as possible in order to make a point. And his own shallow ego blinds him so much that he still holds German and Japanese people who weren't even born at the time responsible for what their parents or grandparents may or may not have done. Just as he held German civilians, people who were not political, people who didn't act or may not have been able to, responsible for the Nazi crimes.

It's nice to continue to have reminders of just how far we haven't come.

I Can Honestly Say I Will Never Eat This

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Song of the Week: "Father and Son"

It's Father's Day today, and this bittersweet song about fathers and sons seems a good fit to me. In some way, it describes most father-son relationships, and my own relationship with my dad is no different. I don't know how to relate to him a whole lot these days, especially since my sister died. He's had a lot of hits like that; since 2000, my grandmother has died, three of my aunts, and one of my uncles, and my sister. It's made him prematurely old; he's only 53, but he seems so weary, so tired. I talked to him this morning, and he's taking it in stride the way he does, but he's also become distant, unable to relate to me as an adult (and for my part, I don't know what my relationship with him as an adult myself is).

My dad loves this song. I think it reminded him of his own relationship with his father. I remember he used to play this on his guitar. I like it, too. I relate to it. Here it is. Cat Stevens.

The Atheist Meme

Emailed to me by a friend of the blog.

Q1. How would you define “atheism”?

Quite literally. The word itself implies "not theistic," as in not having a belief in scripture, religion, spirituality, etc.

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

I was brought up in the Lutheran church, specifically the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. This is part of where I get my feelings that children shouldn't necessarily be forced to participate in a religion, since it doesn't mean anything but habit or obligation to a lot of kids (and most of the kids it does mean something to are generally parroting a family member). It also colored my opinions of religion that the kids there were exactly the same kids in school who tormented and teased me mercilessly. So much for Christian charity...

The Lutheran church isn't an especially oppressive one, but there are always people who want things to get more and more medieval. I used to go occasionally, long after I became an atheist, just to make my mom happy (mothers have an especial need to be seen as "good" mothers by fellow churchgoers, and being a "good" mother apparently means having a spiritual lad--thankfully, my mom doesn't go anymore). I stopped going when the new pastor decided it was a great idea to have the children pray for the well-being of single mothers and divorced women. That was kind of appaling. Also appaling was driving by my old church one day, a church I'd attended from the ages of four to eighteen, and seeing crosses on the lawn for abortion "victims." My old pastor had too much dignity for that kind of idiocy.

Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?

Just one? Stupidity.

Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

More than anything, space travel, but paleontology is a close, close second.

Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?

I get a lot of flak for saying this, but I think atheists could stand to be a little more accepting of people whose religion is a part of their lives but not a part of their politics. I know plenty of people who genuinely embrace their religion as an important aspect of themselves, but don't take to imposing this belief on other people. And if those people say they're praying for you in a time of crisis, they're just trying to tell you in their way that they're worried about you and hope you get better. It doesn't do to throw a polite gesture back in someone's face just because you don't share their beliefs. It's like feminists who make enemies of housewives and mothers; you're not going to change anyone's mind by attacking the way they've chosen to live, especially when it doesn't really affect you.

It has gotten to the point where I almost don't like to identify myself as an atheist, simply because so many have given it a connotation of rudeness. I prefer to call myself non-spiritual. There are a lot of atheists I've met who enjoy the smugness of being right and aren't interested in other viewpoints, which is the kind of close-mindedness I've come to expect from the fervently religious, not the fervently non-religious. So I think there's a lot of short-sightedness there. There's a vast gulf between people who live their life in accordance with a religious belief in private and people who think it's okay to go to war because God chose them to be president.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

That's a hard one, really. I want to be supportive of my child, but at the same time, they're entering a life that I can't bring myself to have any respect for.

Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

I don't have a favorite; I used to enjoy intellectual sparring on points of theology, but now I don't get the chance as much and I'm just not interested in feeling smug. Look, no theistic arguments make sense to me, because they're not based on evidence of any kind.

Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

I have no idea. I don't talk to a lot of other atheists anymore, at least not about atheism.

Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Richard Dawkins. I enjoy his writing the most, and he doesn't come across like a tool the way, say, Hitchens does. I respect Hitchens for speaking his mind, but he can be a twat, can't he?

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

That's actually a hard question for me, because I don't think it's up to me to convince people to abandon their consciences. If something I say makes people think critically about their beliefs, then I'm glad to have done so. And there are people I've known who weren't religious but have suddenly become very religious (a few of them after a certain Mel Gibson snuff film shamed them into it), and it becomes very hard to talk to them without having to talk about religion at some point, and that strains a friendship when one person suddenly believes very deeply something that the other person has no real respect for.

Short answer: George W. Bush. The guy really thinks he's been chosen for something special. That's a man whose beliefs are dangerous to others.