Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thomas M. Disch 1940-2008

I just find out that Thomas M. Disch committed suicide on 4 or 5 July. He wrote the novels 334 and Camp Concentration, as well as a great, great book about how much science fiction has influenced our daily lives, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of. And many, many more great stories, novels, and poems, really. He was fantastic. I have no idea why he elected to kill himself, but I'm sorry to see him go. And I'm sorry the death of SF authors rarely makes the news...

I've always loved Disch's novella The Brave Little Toaster, and I choose to memorialize him here with the poem that opens it:

Lives there a man with soul so dead
He's never to his toaster said:
“You are my friend; I see in you
An object sturdy, staunch, and true;
A fellow mettlesome and trim;
A brightness that the years can't dim.”?
Then let us praise the brave appliance
In which we place this just reliance.
And offer it with each fresh slice
Such words of friendship and advice
As “How are things with you tonight?
Or “Not too dark but not too light.”

I'm a Member of the Libertine Party, Myself

When I see the news that Barack Obama's numbers are going down so that his 15% lead over John McCain has vanished overnight (it's now 3%), I wonder where those voters are going. McCain's numbers aren't going up, really, so the Obama supporters who are frustrated over FISA and religious funding must be going somewhere. But where?

I did notice that, after Obama scored the nomination, there were a lot of Clinton supporters who stopped the fighting and accepted it. That was nice, especially after two months of hearing the irrational "I'm a-gonna vote for McCain, then, because Obama is teh evil!" I also see that the support for Clinton hasn't died, either; she's still a hit with audiences when she speaks for Obama to raise money and votes. There was some talk that Obama was so left-leaning that he needed to pick a nutjob like Jim Webb as a running mate to mollify the right. Now he's straddling the middle and could probably pick anyone he wants. Maybe he should pick Hillary Clinton. His surefire win is in doubt these days, and Clinton would probably, surprisingly, be a populist choice that might put him over the top.

Of course, the right hates Clinton so much they'd ramp up their attack. About the only good that's come of Obama's tapdancing around his positions is that the right no longer knows how to attack him other than resorting to the old "Obama is a Muslim" crap. Which kind of says a lot about what Muslim Americans can expect from the right wing.

I wonder if that 12% of the voting body who no longer feels comfortable giving Obama their backing is moving elsewhere, to other parties. That would be interesting. It's pretty obvious that America just cannot sustain itself as a two-party system. I think a lot of people feel like it's a choice between the evil of two lessers, as Michael Moore once said. As though you have to support one or the other and never be satisfied by either. I wonder how the Libertarians are doing these days. They've got Bob Barr up this year, a man who finally admitted that the war on drugs was costly and ineffective. Most people in America seem to think Libertarians are anarchists or commies, but they really aren't. Given the current climate, I wonder how they would do if they focused on the failures of the two majority parties and outlined their ideals specifically for America instead of yammering on about ferret rights and stuff like that which makes them look like crackpots.

I'm not advocating Libertarianism as the way to go. But I am saying this whole two-party deal is like choosing between a shit sandwich and a shit burger; it's disgusting and it's insulting, but it's all the store has on sale and you have to eat something. We need a few parties in there to really open up the debate. Because there is no debate anymore on freedom or ideals or policies. We're doing that on our blogs. In Washington, they're simply debating one party's plan over another in one giant loyalty test. And that's not governance; that's a damn circle jerk.

The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder

Well, after reading Vincent Bugliosi's argument that there is sufficient grounds to build a case against George W. Bush for the crime of murder, I have to say, I'm convinced. And this actually isn't me being all angry and anti-Bush. It's quite easy to say that Bush should be prosecuted for murder; it's another thing entirely to do what Bugliosi has done, which is to outline the reasons for it and the means to pursue it.

The linchpin here is whether or not Bush knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He used that as the reason for invasion, and if he knowingly lied about it, then he knowingly created a situation where people were going to lose their lives and can be prosecuted for murder. It's fascinating to see the legal justifications here, especially if you've been as frustrated as I am that Bush has been lying for years and keeps getting away with it. What it's going to take is enough people to pursue this and not let him get away again.

Of course, if you're pro-Bush, you're not going to find much here to agree with. It's not a rant, but it is biased against the President. Bugliosi presents a reasoned, rational case (although he does spend too much time convincing you of how smart he is; not only that, but smart in some kind of rare, special way that not enough people are, and that's a real turn-off--just present your evidence and we'll decide if it rings true or not). And it can be read by someone without a significant knowledge of legalese, which is nice, because some of it just seems so arcane.

I recommend this book for everyone who wants to see that something can be done about this man and it can be done using the system.

Emily Osment Comes Out

ME: Ha; I just read this story that said "Disney starlet Emily Osment came out for Disney and ABC's TCA All Star Party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Thursday." I admit, I checked it out because the headline read "Emily Osment Comes Out."

BECCA: Oh, man, I wish.

Star Trek: Filled to Capacity

You know what? I'm looking at this picture of the guy from some Lindsay Lohan vehicle as Captain Kirk and it makes me think... I'm done with Star Trek now. I mean, not like I hate Trek now or something like that. I'm just... full. I'm full with Star Trek. I'm done. I'm not interested in any more. I don't need any more Star Trek in my life, because I've had a LOT of Star Trek in my life and there isn't room for any more. I've had all I really want or need.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Throwdown 7/18

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. The Dark Knight opens tonight. You might not have heard about it, what with the little attention it’s received so far. Seriously, what is with the hype blitz these days for a movie like The Dark Knight? Think how much Hollywood could do for a film that needs the help—or an actual good cause—with the amount of money that was spent these past 18 months raising awareness for a 69 year-old fictional character and marketing enterprise that everyone in the world has heard of and who’s being pushed a lot by guys like me on our blogs, anyways.

2. Alan Horn at Warner Bros. finally had something to say about the long delay and reshoots on Where the Wild Things Are: “We've given [director Spike Jonze] more money and, even more importantly, more time for him to work on the film. We'd like to find a common ground that represents Spike's vision but still offers a film that really delivers for a broad-based audience. We obviously still have a challenge on our hands. But I wouldn't call it a problem, simply a challenge. No one wants to turn this into a bland, sanitized studio movie. This is a very special piece of material and we're just trying to get it right ... The jury is still out on this one. But we remain confident that Spike is going to figure things out and at the end of the day we'll have an artistically compelling movie.” Translation: “We don’t know what to make of it, it makes kids cry, we’re dumbing it down.” And it’s no surprise, really; I mean, they’ve got a ton of money tied up in this movie and they want to get it back. They’re not going to get it from me, but I’m sure someone will give it to them. Call me when the original version is on a torrent or DVD. (Besides, it’s not like Hollywood is out of ideas. I mean, Weinstein just greenlit Scream 4, Piranha 3D, The Six Billion Dollar Man, a Scanners remake and a Seven Samurai remake. Also, Paramount is remaking The Monster Squad.)

3. I also caught the Watchmen trailer at the Apple website. Predictably, I didn’t think overly well of it (although I really like the stylization and the Dr. Manhattan effects). My biggest problems are with the svelte Nite Owl and the 15-year-old Silk Spectre. Those casting decisions kind of cut down the entire characterization for both of them. Of course, I've long said Watchmen could be done as a film, so I’ll reserve judgment for now. Parts of it look really good. My other problem with the trailer is the phrase “from the visionary director of 300.” I loved 300, but compare Zack Snyder’s pointless Dawn of the Dead remake with Watchmen and check out the difference. You know how Zack Snyder became visionary? By completely appropriating the visual style of 300 creator Frank Miller. I guess that alone makes Robert Rodriguez a “visionary” too. Except Rodriguez went back to his own visual style after he made Sin City

4. I keep hearing a lot of shit about how Lindsay Lohan might or might not be a lesbian and in a relationship with DJ/singer Samantha Ronson, and I’m kind of wondering… who really cares? I mean, it doesn’t really make her more interesting, so why is it my fucking business?

5. On the left is Brooke Hogan, Hulk Hogan’s daughter. On the right is Jennifer McDaniel, Hulk Hogan’s girlfriend. As Skull would say, creeeeeeeepy.

6. By the way, I think it’s great that Brooke Hogan gives back to society by letting blind people do the makeup for her photo shoots. Seriously, young ladies, you are wearing entirely too much blush these days. You used to look like trannies, now you look like clowns. How about looking like… I dunno, women?

7. Miley Cyrus says she plans to remain chaste until she’s married. I bring this up not because she’s so obviously not a virgin (as the constant stream of personal photos “accidentally” ending up on the internet attest), but because she’s the latest in a long line of pop tartlets to boringly define herself by her virginity (and this is only the latest of a few times she's said this, like she needs to keep reminding people). I think it takes a particular kind of smug disrespect for the intelligence of your audience to even bother talking about your sexuality at such a young age in the first place, and then to try and sell yourself on your supposed purity. It’s still cynically selling sex, isn’t it?

8. AGH!

9. Kris Kardashian, mother of Kim and the others, was on the radio talking about her daughter Khloe (oh, God, how I hate that spelling) going to jail for violating her probation (she didn’t do any of the stuff she was actually supposed to do for probation and has 30 days in county to think about it). And, sweet Jesus, Kris actually agrees with the verdict. She said her kid fucked up and has to pay the price for not doing what she was supposed to and that this serves as a lesson that no matter how rich or privileged you are, you have to take responsibility for yourself. None of that Hogan family excuse, none of that Kathy Hilton “we’re better than regular people” bullshit… but actual parenting! I’m just floored by that, but in a pleasant way. And it’s so sad that that kind of thing is the exception rather than the norm.

10. Okay, paparazzi once reported a fake fire alarm in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s building so they could get pictures of her outside of her apartment with her five-day-old baby? Why do people care about celebrity babies so much? You know what they look like? Like fucking babies! Babies all look the same, and they’re of no interest to anyone other than their own parents, which is the way it fucking should be. All babies look, as Robin Williams once said, “like a little old man dipped in forty-weight.” That’s it. The paparazzi just get scummier and scummier and it really shouldn’t be against the law to hit them with cars or, you know, fists.

11. Quick note to gossip bloggers: when talking about the new pictures of Gisele Bundchen with the holes in the jeans, she’s not bearing her butt, she’s baring her butt. The term is bare. A bear is an animal; to bear is to hold or possess something. Technically, Bundchen is always bearing her butt.

12. Susan Atkins has terminal brain cancer and thinks she should get out of jail because of it. I don’t care if living in prison is actually making Susan Atkins’s terminal brain cancer grow faster, there’s no way she should be allowed to live her final days in freedom. Susan Atkins is the woman who actually murdered a pregnant Sharon Tate, tasted her blood, and used it to scrawl the word pig on her front door. She has brain cancer and is going to die within six months. She wants to be freed so she can spend her last days of life on the outside, in freedom, breathing the free air. You know what? I’m sure Sharon Tate would’ve loved to have the same privilege afforded to her. Atkins has never once displayed any remorse for what she did. As far as I’m concerned (and the LA district attorney is concerned), she can spend her final days in her cage and reflect for a change on what she’s done wrong.

13. Miss USA fall down, go boom. Hey, she’s still got her hotness to fall back on. By the way, I was watching something during the morning news last week about how one of the beauty queens, Miss Some-State-or-Other, was in some kind of scandal because she was on tape drinking or something and was a total bitch. I mean, I was shocked. Who, I ask you, who could have guessed that young women with no marketable skills who devote their lives to being in objectification contests to determine who is the prettiest and most fuckable girl in their town/state/country/planet could be vain, indecorous, totally into themselves, and not very smart? I mean, these are role models! It’s a role model, being the most fuckable girl in town, isn’t it?

14. Muslims in Australia opened their doors to take in international Christian pilgrims during World Youth Day celebrations. See, the thing most people don’t seem to get about Muslims is that Muslims are people like you and me, and they’re pretty content to just live their lives when they’re not getting bombed into oblivion by the US and Israel.

15. Can we stop allowing people to push political candidates on the news if they’ve got absolutely nothing to say?

16. Okay, one good story to end this with: Heinrich Kieber from Liechtenstein went and stole banking information that shows how the richest people in the world are skirting their countries’ tax laws. He then sold the information to tax authorities in 12 countries, including the United States (in Italy, their names were published). Germany has arrested several prominent CEOs who evaded millions of dollars in taxes. And UBS Bank has been implicated (a former banker is even plea bargaining). So it looks like some people are finally going to get screwed on not paying their taxes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

32 Years

Well, I'm 32 years old today. So I'll be off and out and about and not blogging and not making too big a deal about it (although if anyone wants to pop out of a cake, I'm cool with that... Shayna, what are you doing today?).

Have a good day everyone!

UPDATE 7/18: Thanks, everyone, for the birthday wishes!

PJ B-Day!

Happy Birthday
to my adopted actor
Pamela Jayne Soles!

A lifelong fan, PJ Soles. Here's a clip of one of my favorite PJ scenes, maybe my favorite ever, from Rock 'n' Roll High School (for added bonus hotness, this clip features gratuitous girls' gym class and Mary Woronov).

Riff Randell, I love you!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Film Week

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

Cute in a John Hughes kind of way (based on a Hughes story), and Owen Wilson works for the most part (although I do get tired of seeing his Ellen DeGeneres impression over and over again). You know what you're getting, and it's cute in places. More harmless than insultingly stupid. I always love to see Leslie Mann. **1/2 stars.

CAMP ROCK (2008)
Well, they got the camp part right. Has the younger generation's music finally lost me? Because the music here is garbage, the Jonas Brothers suffer from a critical lack of self-awareness, and Demi Lovato is cute-ish but can't act or sing or even walk straight. I don't get this at all. And it's not an age thing, really, because I like the Disney Channel and watch their movies, but I am, I admit, starting to understand them less and less. Or maybe I'm just bored of the same thing over and over and over. * star to compensate for the thankless task sexy and wonderful Maria Canalis Barrera has being one of the token adults. Otherwise it's unwatchable.

The opening credit sequence, featuring Steve Guttenberg roller skating down the streets of New York while Village People music plays was shown on cable in widescreen and features that triptych effect; surely this is why widescreen televisions were invented. That was a bad attempt at sarcasm. So, Steve Guttenberg is a songwriter and Valerie Perrine, his friend or sister or something (I could never figure that out) is some kind of professional whore or something who agrees to exploit her contracts from whoring to get him a record deal. They put together the crappiest group ever (Village People as themselves), sit through a lot of really gay song sequences, and Bruce Jenner shows up and bumbles around pointlessly for some reason. Oh, and Tammy Grimes (this cast gets worse by the second) does some sort of weird Richard Burton impression. It's a mess, a total mess, with the occasional pleasant (but overlong) song. Frankly, the Village People kind of terrify me (especially the Indian, but especially the cowboy); why did they give the construction worker his own song? He can't sing a lick; he's really awful. This movie took my total indifference to Steve Guttenberg and made me actively despise him; all he does is mug and open his mouth wide and act all gee whiz, golly--he's like the white Stepin Fetchit. Valerie Perrine is nice and sexy, though, and, to my surprise, is topless in the "YMCA" sequence, a montage gayer than gay (although in a joyous way) and excessive even for me, and, to my surprise, marking the only PG-rated movie I've ever seen naked cocks in. A lot of them. Soapy in the shower. It tries, but it's a stupid movie, a chowderheaded movie, and far too long at about 2 hours and 5 minutes or so. At least the Spice Girls movie had the taste to be something like 80 minutes. * star.

Stunning animated movie based on Marjane Satrapi's excellent graphic memoir. The animation is some of the best I've seen in a while; the filmmakers know that animation can be used to be impressionistic or to make stark points, and they use it well. This is one of the best movies I've ever seen, and it barely got a release, which is a crime. What's especially interesting is the Iranian view of the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War, things which in some way are reactions to American involvement in a region it's politically advantageous to keep unstable. But Persepolis deals with the human cost in simply telling the story of one woman who tries to survive and enjoy her life in a world of violence and repression. Excellent. **** stars.

Great over-the-top filmmaking, the likes of which I haven't seen in a while. Minase Yashiro stars as Ami, a schoolgirl who sets out to avenge her brother, murdered by a Yakuza's son, and gets torn up in the process. She loses her left arm and, like you do in these movies, replaces it with a rail gun. The special effects in this movie are the gonzo gore you find in great movies like Bad Taste and Evil Dead II, which seems to be something of a dying art (horror and action movies are getting so precious and pretentious these days). There are samurai swords galore, ninja, a flying guillotine, a drill bra, a chainsaw leg, and all kinds of crazy shit. I'm going with ***1/2 stars completely based on how much fun I had watching it and the fact that it's so unashamed of what it is.

DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)
Wow, how did I wait so long to see this movie? This is a low-budget masterpiece, with an actual social science fiction plot as well as gore and nudity. It's about a future time (well, the year 2000 was in the future then) in which a corrupt president has harnessed violent entertainment as a means of distracting people from real political issues; the president also pushes the French as enemies of freedom. Hmmm, are we sure this doesn't take place in the actual year 2000? Death Race is a sporting event in which the top racers in the country travel across America in a journey from New York to Los Angeles; they score points by killing people or groups of people. The racers are all over-the-top, including Sylvester Stallone as Machine Gun Joe (in a three-piece suit and carrying a tommy gun), Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane (her car has longhorns on it), Robert Collins as the Nazi-themed Matilda the Hun (sexy as hell shouting "Blitzkrieg!" when she scores points), Marty Kove as Nero the Hero, and David Carradine as Frankenstein, hiding his right hand in a glove for reasons of his own. There's a resistance and a romance; this movie has everything, really. I mentioned the nudity before; I miss nudity in modern movies. It nearly always has a negative connotation when you see it in movies now; someone is always acting badly, misbehaving, acting dangerously, getting raped, or getting murdered. The nudity in this film is either matter-of-fact or in a romantic setting. When did American movies stop having such pleasant connotations with nudity? It's a shame. **** stars; pure awesome. I see it's being remade, and I know the remake will not have one scintilla the rough creativity of this movie. Paul Bartel directed; I need to see more of his movies (I've only seen one other, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills).

I like Lionel Barrymore, but I found this movie ponderous and dull. ** stars.

BOBBY (2006)
Emilio Estevez directed this film about people in the Ambassador Hotel on the day Robert F. Kennedy will be assassinated. It's one of those Robert Altman-style vignettes, and as such, it's only partially successful. Par for the course with these movies. Some of the characters are interesting (Shia LaBeouf as a volunteer on his first acid trip, Lindsay Lohan as a war bride marrying to keep her husband out of Vietnam, Helen Hunt and Martin Sheen as a weary married couple), some seem pointless (Demi Moore as a bitchy entertainer and Emilio Estevez as her put-upon husband), some are completely cliched (Anthony Hopkins as a retired doorman who misses the old days, Nick Cannon as an angry black man worried about voter disenfranchisement), and some just drop out completely (Heather Graham as a hotel employee having an affair with the boss). None of it really means anything, and there's no real story; it's just to show you how much everyone's life was changed and affected by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. And it was, of course. But this is basically an actor's reel. **1/2 stars.

Fellini's film deals with a luxury liner in 1914. It's a floating funeral for an opera singer whose ashes are aboard, and her family and friends and well-wishers have gathered to say goodbye. There are all sorts of exotic types (and even a rhinoceros), sailing along in decadence and self-regard. But then the captain has to stop to pick up a group of Serbian refugees escaping the outbreak of World War I, and the outside world intrudes on the group. Yes, the allegory is paper-thin, and the film is stronger as a collection of individual scenes than as a narrative, but the overall effect is powerful. I can't believe that just a year or two ago I was describing myself as a person who hated Fellini, and now I've seen so many great films by him that I've loved. What I especially love about his work in the seventies and eighties is the way the films look, like impressions of reality in brighter colors. It looks like a movie should look; like the way we imagine reality and fantasize about it. I also love the way, in this film, Fellini uses a lot of different devices, such as asides and narration delivered to the camera, a silent film reel opening, and special effects that don't bother to hide themselves. It's not realism at all, and it couldn't make me happier. **** stars.

There's a great ballet sequence in this movie, but to get to it you have to suffer through a very dull, pedantic version of Cinderella with muted acting and pointless narration. Leslie Caron stars, and I mostly like her (in this movie it might have something to do with the pixie hair and a corset), but she's never better than when she dances. I'd fully recommend fast-forwarding through this movie and just watching the ballet anytime. The rest? Not worth it. ** stars for the ballet alone.

A lesser entry in the John Ford canon; a pleasant one, to be sure, but a lesser one. John Wayne and Lee Marvin play former Army comrades who cover for a friend of theirs, played by Jack Warden. This all takes place on an island in the south seas, where Warden has married an island princess (since deceased) and had mixed children who would apparently be an embarrassment to Warden's grown daughter, an upper class businesswoman from Boston who has come to meet her father for the first time to talk about the family shipping business. It's a pretty thin premise, really, and doesn't deal with this expected racism in any meaningful way. As usual for Ford's lesser films, the best moments all deal with community rituals and the way they bring out peoples' commonality. Marvin is a real kick; he knows he's got barely a character to play, so takes joy in being a total pig with a childish bent. Cesar Romero is also nice as a French ambassador. But the rest varies wildly, putting in such other Ford touches as "hilarious" misogyny and a raucous fight that breaks out for no reason. Pleasant, but lesser. *** stars. I was surprised to see a very aged Dorothy L'amour in a supporting role; both her presence and the island setting reminded me of how much better Ford's The Hurricane was. This is also Ford's last picture with John Wayne.

Well-made documentary about Roman Polanski's famous child rape trial and how messed up the whole thing really was (mostly because of a judge who enjoyed the spotlight a little too much, and whom both the defense and the prosecution eventually had removed). The film is remarkably even-handed, allowing people to speak for themselves as to their involvement in the trial. Polanski isn't interviewed, but his alleged victim is, and she doesn't really do a very good job defending herself or her viewpoint (she gets flustered, looks away from the camera too often to be believable, and gets wildly defensive when her mother's judgment is questioned). I'm obviously biased towards Polanski in this case; I think he got railroaded for something he was hardly the first or the last to do (and everyone really needs to get a better definition of pedophilia, a term that doesn't get thrown around here, thankfully, and doesn't apply). It's an interesting film, to say the least. **** stars.

I like the description in the credits of this film being "an amiable fiction" based on George Plimpton's book about training with the Detroit Lions. And it is amiable. It's also a tad overlong, but it's a pretty good movie. Alan Alda stars as Plimpton, a fairly unathletic reporter who trained as a pro football quarterback to offer insight to the process. This is back in the days when a reporter could tell a story about themselves without being accused of lack of objectivity. Like I said, it's pretty good, but overlong. *** stars.

Jo Kennedy is gold, and some of the songs are infectious. Not much more to say. *** stars.

A heated potboiler about cops and the mob vying for control over Chicago. Appropriately melodramatic, and Marie Prevost is very sexy, but this Howard Hughes production (Lewis Milestone directed) is also... well, a heated potboiler. ** stars.

Ashley Tisdale stars in this silly trifle about a girl who may get her chance with the popular boy if she can only get to his party (and keep her dad in the dark about what she's doing). It tries for a bouncy tone, and succeeds at least in reminding me of a John Hughes movie, but I'm pretty weary of this kind of teen movie (especially with the over-the-top mean girls, who are tiresome and never interesting anymore). There was one sequence that made me laugh, though (when she tries to convince her dad she's watching a DVD and a crowd of people acts paused). And I'm a sucker for the father-daughter stuff. And the movie at least almost tries for an ending in which the protagonist learns something; what they need to do now is make a movie where the girl doesn't get her way and learns that it isn't the end of the world... But I love Ashley Tisdale, love her to death, and she sang a Pat Benatar song and everything, so that works for me. **1/2 stars.

PICNIC (1955)
Boy, did I enjoy the hell out of this film. William Holden stars as a drifter who tumbles into small town Mid-America on Labor Day and commands the attention of a young lady (Kim Novak, beautiful and highly desirable) and a spinster teacher (Rosalind Russell, sad and pathetic--her character, not Russell). He's come to ask a job from his college friend (Cliff Robertson, in his first movie, I think), who is tentatively engaged to Novak. And, to complete the complications of desire in this movie, Novak's smart little sister (Susan Strasberg) is heavily attracted to him (she's just a high school girl, though, and he doesn't really take her seriously). I admit, I'm not a fan of William Holden, despite loving a number of films that star him (Sunset Boulevard and Executive Suite come immediately to mind, as does The Wild Bunch), but he's very, very good in this film. He's too old for the role, but he's self-conscious about it and that kind of helps the character, who is easygoing and almost aggressively pronoid, but also very self-conscious. This is a lust-filled, sweaty movie, one that attempts to deal with people on their most elemental level; at the same time, the inevitable attraction between Holden and Novak is genuine and almost delicate, and the chemistry between the characters is powerful. I also liked the long montage of the Labor Day picnic, which is easy and comfortable and not condescending to small town feelings and traditions. In the last act, a lot of typical movie conventions are thrown in (a chase with the police, for chrissakes), but the emotions and the great score and the movie as a whole makes up for it. **** stars. Arthur O'Connell and Verna Felton provide excellent support.

The Kinds of Lame Questions I Will Ask

If the state of being nude is nudity, and the state of being crude is crudity, why is the state of being rude not rudity?

The Spirit and Cinema

The first full trailer for The Spirit is online at Yahoo! Movies, and I think it looks spectacular. I cannot wait to see this movie, and I'm actually quite excited about it.

I've been seeing a lot of negative reactions to this trailer, which I guess I understand. Someone said it was "too avant garde" which I think shows a lot about what that person knows about avant garde; I'd hate to think what would happen if he were exposed to the real deal. But this kind of movie isn't going to be everyone's particular bag. What gets me is how many people are actually angry about it.

What bothers me about a lot of the negative criticism, too, is that some of it's jumped from "I like Frank Miller or Will Eisner or The Spirit or comic book movies, but this doesn't look like something I'd like" or even "This just looks bad" to the type of criticism that is all too prevalent these days: "I don't understand this, and that scares me, so I actively hate it; why can't it just look realistic?"

Why are the people who are supposed to be the most capable of using their imaginations--comic book readers and science fiction fans--so dull these days? You have the entire language of cinema at your disposal, and yet more and more often today I see people penalizing movies for not presenting mundane realism. I don't get it, I really don't. People who are pissed off that the Hulk looks like a big cartoon character, or that the Spider-Man movies are somehow too shiny, or that WALL-E uses some live action footage or is "too realistic" in its animation and that somehow ruins it. I've seen people slagging off Billie Piper's show Secret Diary of a Call Girl not because they didn't like it or they think it's too precious (criticisms that are valid), but because they can't figure out if it's supposed to be a comedy or a drama. Seriously? Something can't be easily pigeonholed, and that's a bad thing?

These are movies and TV shows. Like books and comics and music, they can do anything. Why are so many people online--and I do think that very often online critics are overly critical of movies that are perfectly inoffensive because they think that makes people take them seriously (there I said it)--so insistent that things be believable and thuddingly obvious? I only ask that something work on its own interior logic. I mean, there's a difference between getting caught up in a story and in what I think people are asking for from movies today: to somehow be able to forget that they're even watching a movie. But how could you not be conscious of it? And what's so bad about being conscious of it?

I'd love to hear from somebody on this subject; not on the trailer for The Spirit, but on why it's somehow become a legitimate negative criticism that something is unrealistic? Of course it's unrealistic. It's a movie. It's created.

Happy 60th Birthday, Ruben Blades

I've loved this song ever since I was a little boy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 31

Someone Should've Drowned Him In Infancy

Right this very minute, President Duh is on TV showing his absolute inability to competently answer a question on the economy, or to even understand what the economy is or what it does or why it's so damn important to people. Between fits and starts and uhs and ums and hems and haws and fumfuhs and shucks and jives and uncomfortable smiles and attempts to make jokes to worm his way out of having answers, he actually looks irritated that he even has to answer for anything.

Seriously, as of right now, he's practically yelling because he's so frustrated and scared that, at any second, someone's going to call him on the fact that he doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about.

The problem is, when it comes to oil prices and the looming bank crisis, his only answers are that we need to drill in Alaska and that the economic stimulus package needs a chance to work completely. On his first point, that drilling in Alaska will supplement the American oil supply and allow us to put pressure on the global market to bring down oil prices, he's just pulling it out of his ass. Sure, it sounds like a good idea in the way folk etymology always sounds accurate. But it's not going to work that way. Studies have shown that we won't be able to get oil out of Alaska for 10 or more years and that it won't affect the price of gas by more than a few cents. I'm sure a lot of his friends would make money on Alaskan drilling, but right now, that's all this is. It's not a salve, not at all.

I think my dad has always been right on the oil issue: that we need to develop alternative fuels to at least coexist with oil. That's what gives you leverage on the global market. He usually explains it this way: "The Saudis and the other Arabian strongmen are absolutely nothing but desperate sand farmers without the vast amounts of American money they get; let's just take it away from them. Tell them we're going to pay ten dollars a barrel for oil or they're just not getting any more of our money. Then see what they do."

Bush's second point, that buying off every American with six hundred bucks they'll probably get taxed on this year hasn't had a chance to completely work yet... well, it says a lot about Bush's belief that people in America think six hundred bucks is a lot of money. It isn't. For some people (like me and Becca, who get paid every two weeks), it's an extra paycheck. That's all. And when you have as much debt as we do (and most Americans do), it's not only an infinitesimal bit of help, but most of it doesn't go into the economy. It goes into paying off debt. Which doesn't go into the economy at all.

Sorry, George, but that economic stimulus is already spent. It's gone. We paid bills or bought something neat (in my case, a widescreen TV). It went into the economy and didn't make a dent, because creditors and debt collectors are panicking and increasing their efforts, while everyone else is just charging more for the little things. Everyone's scared the money's just going to disappear tomorrow. People don't really want to spend right now. The economic stimulus is completely meaningless, and this is not one of Bush's patented "Let's wait and see how many people die in the next three months before we declare it a failure" situations.

Watching President Duh stutter and not look anyone in the eye and smile and chuckle like everyone's dumber than him and talk about how he always knew this was coming and if only the Democrats had done everything he'd ever wanted everything would be fine... it's like being tortured. Because people knew he was a witless business failure who only ever held the record in state illiteracy and state executions, and they still voted for him. The fucker couldn't even pronounce words. People thought it was cute. They thought it made him human.

People are fucking stupid.

You get what you elect.

80s Revisited: The Gate

Revisiting and such.

The Gate (1987)
Directed by Tibor Takacs; written by Michael Nankin; produced by John Kemeny and Andras Hamori.

So. The Gate.

I remember when this movie came out. I caught a couple of the commercials, which featured two kids and these weird little monsters running around. But it just kind of disappeared until it showed up on cable, and I ended up seeing it when I was 13 or so. And I remember liking it when I finally did see it. I was just getting into horror movies (I was one of what was apparently--to hear everyone I know tell it--a very small number of kids who wasn't allowed to see R-rated movies until he was a teenager), and I thought The Gate was kind of different but also kind of like the far, far superior Poltergeist.

The two kids in the film--one of whom is Stephen Dorff, very young--accidentally open up a gate to hell or another dimension or something in the backyard and summon up the Old Gods (again, accidentally). One of the clues they use to figure out what they've done is an obscure heavy metal album, which I think is kind of a genius move. I grew up in the same kind of suburb, and I remember parents actually being afraid of heavy metal, as though it were loud and satanic. My generation really got in on the wave of being accused of satanism; once people saw Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist and were somehow convinced that shit was really really for real, they started seeing Satan everywhere (gosh, just take a look at any number of late seventies B flicks where rural America is apparently a hotbed of satanic rituals). My generation had the satanic villains of My Little Pony (seriously, check it out) and Masters of the Universe for the idiots to fret over, plus Dungeons & Dragons and heavy metal music. There were parents out there--and never look to a parent for rational thinking--who seriously believed with every fiber of their being that their kid would end up worshiping the devil and sacrificing themselves because they listened to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, or worse, something more obscure. The obscurity apparently only made it more satanic.

I remember when I used to check the AD&D Monster Manual out of the library all the time. I was really into fantasy creatures (and UFOs, actually) and the Monster Manual was a good guide for drawing them. I also read the occasional book about religious rituals and exorcisms and satanism and all that. When you're a kid growing up in a nice suburb, and you're an outcast because you're still into kid stuff or you weigh too much, you really want that stuff to be real. You need it to be real, because you need to know that there's more to the world than your little suburb. It's completely unsophisticated, but that's how it works. Why do you think the Harry Potter books resonate so much with children? It's because children (and a lot of adults) find comfort in the idea that their lives are secretly more meaningful than they really are, and that if Harry didn't know he was a wizard or Anastasia didn't know she was really a princess or Wart didn't really know he was King Arthur, what don't they know about what they're capable of?

So, The Gate hit with me when I was a kid for sure. Seeing it now, I'm not surprised that it did. That said, the rewards for watching this film are diminished now. The first half is almost completely worthless, and really bored me except in the "Hey, I think we had that refrigerator" kind of way of looking at a movie made during one's childhood. The second half is better, when the little creatures start showing up and bobbing up and down and doing their weird walk that is sort of creepy on an elemental level. There's also a big stop-motion (I think) demon that's pretty cool. Interestingly, a few of the FX artists went on to work at Weta and made contributions to The Lord of the Rings (including the groundbreaking Gollum animation). I like the effects and the idea of the film, but the execution is pretty weak and riddled with continuity errors (at one point, when dirt is supposed to be trickling down into the gate, you can actually see, very clearly, the hands pushing the dirt in).

The creatures are gold, though. They're just creepy. I think I know a little better now why I've always had nightmares about opening the window and seeing something little and horrible staring back in at me. It happens pretty vividly here.

I wouldn't really recommend The Gate, but it seems to have a cult following. It's slow and for an 86 minute movie there seems like a lot of padding to stretch it out to feature length. Oddly, it reminds me quite a bit of Howard the Duck, a movie I adore. Every time an ancient god comes to reclaim the planet, there's always some kid with a rocket or an alien duck there to stop them. I remember my own mother assuring me that there were people who worshiped the idea that monsters from other dimensions would come to Earth to conquer us, as if it was a religion, which would certainly be of interest to H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. I think they'd get a good laugh out of it.

The Gate is at least a fun reminder of the fact that parents will believe anything.

Next time: The Hitcher is on my TiVo. Dare I?

Monday, July 14, 2008


A few days ago I did a meme of albums for each year I've been alive, which I found here at the A.V. Club. They've got another meme up here in which you do the same thing, but with movies. And me, always looking for something to kill time... well, I did one for meself.

I'm sure this list is probably incredibly ridiculous. I didn't make a list of, you know, the best movies from every year I've been up and breathing. Instead, a made a list of my favorites. Movies that have become a part of my personal canon, many of them trivial and lame, but movies I'll watch over and over again on cable or on DVD and suchlike. Is Rocky the best film of 1976? That's really debatable, I think. But the fact is, of all the films of 1976, it's my favorite to watch, and I've seen it over and over again.

So, you know, feel free to rip this list to shit, that's part of the fun of putting up a list like this. But keep in mind that I'm not arguing that these are the best movies I've ever seen. That's a whole different list.

1976: Rocky
* Well, like I said.

1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
* "I just want to know it's really happening." I'm not religious about UFOs at all, but I do get the escapism just fine.

1978: Superman
* Well, come on. Are you surprised?

1979: La Cage aux Folles
* One of the funniest movies I've ever seen, and it still makes me laugh hard every time I see it.

1980: The Empire Strikes Back
* Honestly, yeah. To this day, I can't pass it by on TV.

1981: Time Bandits
* To this day, those cages in the darkness are terrifying. Terry Gilliam and I both seem to have the same fearful fascination with lone objects in the enveloping dark, because he uses it in almost every film.

1982: Conan the Barbarian
* This was hard, because there were a number of others from the same year that I loved, but this one carries it because of the Basil Poledouris score. Hey, it's a subjective list, I can have subjective reasons. I love this movie.

1983: The Dark Crystal
* When single shines the triple sun what was sundered and undone shall be whole, the two made one, by Gelfling hand, or else by none. Still the most genuinely alien movie I've ever seen.

1984: Ghostbusters
* Back off, man, I'm a scientist.

1985: Return to Oz
* My favorite version of Oz. Having Muppets and Will Vinton helps.

1986: Labyrinth
* See the pattern here? Special effects, puppetry, and, well, in this case, Bowie.

1987: RoboCop
* I saw this in the theater when I was 10. Not a good decision. And now, one of my favorites, ever.

1988: A Fish Called Wanda
* Do you believe it was down to this and The Last Temptation of Christ? I chose the funny one.

1989: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
* My favorite movie.

1990: Mountains of the Moon
* Please tell me someone out there has actually seen this for a change?

1991: Dead Again
* I used to love Kenneth Branagh. What happened?

1992: The Last of the Mohicans
* Fantastic adventure movie. I love adventure movies.

1993: Tombstone
* My favorite modern Western. It's not the best of the lot, but it's the most fun.

1994: Sirens
* To this day, it's the one movie that most encapsulates how I want to live my life.

1995: Babe
* I'm a sucker for a fairy tale.

1996: The Frighteners
* I still love every Peter Jackson movie. And it reminds me of a really good script Carl and I wrote that he hates for no rational reason...

1997: Boogie Nights
* I wish I could marry Rollergirl.

1998: Lost in Space
* Yes, I know, you hated it and I'm an idiot for even picking this. I don't care. I loved it. It's dumb, yes, but I love it.

1999: The 13th Warrior
* Finally, a good Viking movie.

2000: High Fidelity
* It reminds me so much of working at Barnes & Noble when I was 19. Just talking about music and making lists and stuff.

2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
* Lost count of how many times I've seen it.

2002: About a Boy
* Stuff like this, the outsider who gets invited in, hits with me. You know, I really hate Nick Hornby as a writer (except for High Fidelity), but they make great movies.

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
* Cried, cried, cried.

2004: Shaun of the Dead
* It never gets old or unfunny to me.

2005: Brokeback Mountain
* This quickly became one of the movies I watched over and over on cable. I love it; it's one of the best romances I've ever seen.

2006: V for Vendetta
* Underrated as hell. It's The Count of Monte Cristo as a political statement, how could I not love that?

2007: Hot Fuzz
* Currently catching it quite often on HBO.

2008: WALL-E
* The film I've enjoyed the most so far this year. It might change but, since I'm making this list right now, there you go.

I'd love to see anyone else do this.

It's Complicated

(Because Denise Richards is so much more bearable naked...)

At night, before we go to bed, I tend to flip around TV channels while Becca feeds the rabbit and such. I flipped past Denise Richards: It's Complicated (why do I keep finding myself on E! this summer?). Now, Becca loves Denise Richards. She doesn't really pay attention to her, she's not interested in her personal life, and she thinks she's an idiot for marrying Charlie Sheen in the first place, but she likes Denise in movies, defends her acting, and loves to see her naked. It took all of 30 seconds of It's Complicated for Becca to say "Wow, what a fucking cunt."

My mom keeps watching this show. Apparently Denise has 14 dogs. My mom asked me "Why do some people feel the need to own so many dogs? It's like Sharon Osbourne and her dogs. What's with all the dogs?"

My answer: "Well, sometimes you can tell what a person's like by how many dogs they own. I mean, people are complex and dramatic. It takes work to deal with a person. But did you ever notice how many of these reality stars never train their dogs? They just want the unconditional love without putting any effort into it."

I mean, duh.

Moral Relativism

From a popular gossip blog:

Translation of the text: I'm going to act outraged so that when I post sexy pictures of a 15 year-old girl, I can tell myself it's because it's newsworthy, not pervy. After all, I'm an opportunistic gossip blogger and all I do is post pictures of half-naked women to punctuate the point that I hate the celebrities I've devoted my life to chronicling.

Where are the days when a guy on the internet could just be honest about why he was posting pictures like that?

Happy Birthday, My Darling Bebe

Bebe Buell is 55 today, looking as good as ever and rocking just as hard.

Happy Birthday, Harry Dean Stanton

One of my favorite character actors. I wrote a screenplay with him in mind about a decade ago, back when I knew how to write. I love the guy.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Song of the Week: "Night of Fear"

The first single from The Move in 1967. The Move was led by Roy Wood; by 1970, he'd pulled Jeff Lynne into the band and the two would reposition the remaining members to become Electric Light Orchestra (though Roy Wood would end up going solo and fronting a glam band, Wizzard). This is a fantastic song, long one of my favorites (one of the few songs that's never left my iPod), and quotes Beethoven. It also kind of goes with the post just below.

Another Step on the Road to Fascism

"No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session." -- Mark Twain

Bush gleefully signed the new surveillance law on Thursday. Gleefully. Did you see him do it? It was the literal interpretation of a scene in a children's storybook where the wolf finally gets to roast that sheep he's been harrassing. The fucker made Disney villains look subtle.

Yet another freedom lost. The freedom to communicate is eroding faster than that cake someone left out in the rain.

The government, which is still headed by the worst president in history, now has nearly unchecked power to spy on the phone calls and emails of anyone it wants to. There is almost no oversight. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can now only review general spying procedures, not individual warrants. They don't get the specifics anymore. That's the only safeguard they have to protect innocent people from the government's wrath.

And it's not just Americans anymore, is it? It's people outside the country, too (since this was yet another law passed under the paper thin credibility of King George's fight against terrorism). So now your phone calls and emails can be stored forever and handed over to foreign governments as well.

Do you remember a zippy little movie that came out in 1992 called Sneakers? Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier leading a gang striking out against the government. In that movie, Ben Kingsley, playing a routine villain, said that wars in the new century were going to be about who controls the information. I admit, I never thought it would be on this massive a scale. The government wants to know everything about you, what you do, who you are, what you think, and be able to monitor you at whim for that information. In order to protect you. Corporations want it too. They demand to know what you buy and when, how you spend your money, and what you're doing with those products you've leased from them. Not purchased and owned; no, look at the insane demands over piracy these days--to hear Hollywood and the pathetic RIAA tell it, you've merely leased DVDs and music from them on an indefinite basis, and they still get to control your access.

The government wants to control your access to your own thoughts and feelings. Why else would it demand unfettered access to your means of communication? Because this FISA shit puts us all at risk. In order to catch a few terrorists, the government is going to ensnare anyone they can in their web. And we've all seen what happens to people who are even suspected to be terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. And because they're suspected, they have no rights to lawyers or even to know why they've been charged. We've let George W. Bush and his cronies bring the Reign of Terror into the supposedly modern United States.

This law threatens journalists, dissidents, people from rival political parties, and even people who just get frustrated with official policy. And God forbid you have friends or family in foreign countries.

Do I even want to bring up the possibility for retribution this opens up? There are always people who become martinets in any position. There are always small people who need just a little bit of leverage and who will abuse this. Unfortunately, one of them sits as president at this very moment.

What does this do to freedom of information? What does this do to a free press when people know there's every possibility they're being monitored and tracked?

Yes, terrorism is probably a real threat. But you know what? It's always been a real threat. Remember the hijackings in the late seventies and early eighties? We've always been looking for terrorists. It's an important part of our national security. So how did we go from being a nation capable of protecting itself to this crippled, scared, weak nation, cowering at the terror being wrought on us? Well, you know who was president on 11 September 2001. You know who ignored the reports saying that al-Qaeda planned to make a move. You all know. You all know who is responsible for terrorizing us, and it's not some old Muslim in a cave whose name our fearless leader barely ever mentions anymore. Bush is so confident in his total victory that he doesn't even need to mention the specific names of his straw bogeymen anymore. He's already got us cowed.

Yes, the terrorists have won. Because America is terrified. That's the objective, and that's the victory. You just need to figure out who the real terrorists are. They're not the people who want us to stop interfering in their homes and lives and killing their children and treating them like savages who can't make their own decisions. They aren't the terrorists anymore. The real terrorists are already here, and they're already controlling us. They're the ones magnifying a threat as a pretext to control us and silence our voices. They're here and they've won.

In a very real sense, and people need to think about this very carefully, the so-called terrorists fighting to end our foreign occupation of their homes are more patriotic than we are, sitting here and just hoping that things will work out okay and that the odds are for us.

Excluding the ACLU, who are actually bringing a class action lawsuit against this criminal law. They're doing what you're supposed to do: using the system to change the system.

There will always be people who say stupid things like "If I'm not doing anything wrong, I don't have anything to worry about." You're doing exactly what the government hopes you'll do. You're laying down and giving up your rights. It's disgusting how willing people are in this country to just give up their rights. Benjamin Franklin said that those who will give up a little liberty to gain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. You're the sheep we're always on about. Enjoy your safety while it lasts. Just don't ask what's going on behind the door with the blood trickling out from under it. You'll find out soon enough.

We've been fed the unbelievable, bullshit line that terrorists hate us for our freedoms. Well, since Bush seems to believe this is true, I guess he's fighting terrorism with this law after all. Take enough freedom away, and what will the terrorists have to hate, right?

And then there's Obama, voting for this compromise like he's got no other choice, because he buys the rhetoric that terrorists are like those Arabs you see in old cartoons about Arabia, hiding inside every basket, blanket, awning, and camel in the marketplace, just waiting to strike you. Because there's no other way to fight terrorism than to fall lockstep in with Bush's ruinous policies. He's already pulling back on his comments about withdrawing from Iraq, have you noticed? He should change his slogan to "Change You Can't Believe." Yes, he voted to strip telecom immunity out of the bill, but he still caved on it. He's a coward for voting for this, even if it was a compromise. Everyone who supports this is a coward, let's just blanket it like that. I'm not really sure I can continue to support a presidential candidate who thinks this is a good idea; frankly, I'm not even happy with him being one my senators right now. My state's other senator, Dick Durbin, voted against it. Incidentally, Hillary Clinton voted against it, too. So did John Kerry, the man we dared not elect.

McCain couldn't even be arsed to show up and vote, so on the fence is he about being compared to Bush, a man whose policies he breathes like oxygen.

But I don't mean to turn this into another rant about Obama and McCain and the Campaign Without End. I'm just publicly voicing my disapproval for the new unchecked power of FISA, which is more than Obama and McCain did.

"Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed." -- I.F. Stone

"Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive." -- Henry Steele Commager

"I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions." -- Dorothy Day

"The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect. Men may hate us. But, we don't ask for their love; only for their fear." -- Heinrich Himmler

"Now that I look back, I realize that a life predicated on being obedient and taking orders is a very comfortable life indeed. Living in such a way reduces to a minimum one's need to think." -- Adolf Eichmann

"It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything." -- Joseph Stalin

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke (possibly apocryphal, but damn good)

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." -- George Orwell

Previously: Some Thoughts on FISA