Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lazy Yahoo "News" #45,683,390

Um... I'll bet it has something to do with lots of people buying tickets...

Today's Feminist Quote Presented Without Comment

"You know what? I am actually not that much into voting. I think it's kind of crazy that [Hilary Clinton was] running because I think that women deal with a lot of emotions and menopause and PMS and stuff. Like, I'm so moody all the time, I know I wouldn't be able to run a country because I would be crying one day and yelling at people the next day, you know?" -- Brooke Hogan

Not to Glamourize Teen Pregnancy or Anything...

Ouch.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Throwdown 7/25

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week. Special "Get Fucking Over It" Edition.

1. Pictures of Britney Spears smoking in the actual presence of her kid came out this week, and people were just outraged, I tell you, outraged. Because there has never been a woman in the history of the world who smoked when their children were around before, as most children aren’t exposed to cigarettes until they’re well into their twenties. Seriously, nonsmokers, smoking isn’t illegal and it never will be. Get fucking over it. It’s not like Britney took a funnel, clamped it over Sean Preston’s face, and blew smoke into the nozzle. And as for the kid holding her lighter, she’s clearly taking it away from him. I’m sick of the fucking nonsmoking rhetoric, not because it’s wrong or untruthful, but because it has become so about morality and being holier-than-thou. All this really shows is that, no matter who you are, but especially if you’re Britney Spears, everyone in the world thinks they know exactly what you’re doing wrong with your kids. Get fucking over it, people.

2. Jennifer Hudson’s album cover may not accurately represent her weight? Certainly this is the first time a photo was ever doctored to sell something! Seriously, act a little fucking sophisticated and get fucking over it.

3. Wow, how about all the invective on the blogosphere about Rumer Willis. I understand that gossip bloggers have such an itchy trigger finger that it’s considered de rigueur to pick on celebrity kids, but just saying Rumer Willis is ugly isn’t really saying anything. I mean, what did she do to piss you off so much? Have famous parents? Rumer recently commented on this, saying: “There’s so much pressure to look a certain way, and I don’t fit the convention. But it’s okay if you’re not the perfect picture. Everyone can feel out of place, but it’s not about whether you’re popular or nerdy. As long as you’re comfortable with yourself, and your friends and family love you, that’s all that matters.” That, combined with her recent statement that she wants to have to work for an acting career instead of just having it handed to her like “the trust-fund babies in Hollywood,” sounds like a girl who’s really comfortable with herself. And that’s a hell of a lot more pretty than a girl who only worries about her appearance. Get fucking over it, gossip bloggers. She has.

4. Overrated (but undeniably hot) Megan Fox was named Sexiest Woman by FHM. She says “I’m not comfortable with it at all. It annoys me.” Wow, you’re right, being objectified is totally unfair, especially when you’ve been allowing yourself to be totally objectified in order to get famous for the last four years or so, boasting that your entire job in Transformers 2: Recharging the Magic Sparkplug is “too look as hot as possible,” bragging that you’re going to be kissing chicks in Jennifer’s Body, and telling the media that you want to do a movie where you’re nude the whole time. Yeah, it really sucks they way you’re just being objectified. Get fucking over it, Megan Fox. Get over yourself.

5. Sienna Miller also needs to get fucking over herself. Seriously, how many times in your life do you need to sue tabloids for taking pictures of your tits? The paparazzi aren’t exactly a recent phenomenon, you know it’s a job hazard of being semi-famous. If you don’t want people taking pictures of your tits, stop prancing around naked in public places. Seriously, if you were one of those panda specialists and got mauled by a panda while working on one of those breeding tests, and you sued the zoo holding the panda because the panda mauled you, the judge would tell you the same thing he should be telling you in this case: You knew the risks when you took the job, so get fucking over it.

6. Kris Kardashian actually suckered me in last week with all of her talk of responsible parenting, and then her misspelled daughter Khloe spent less than three hours in jail. Because, really, they’re rich and therefore better than us. So, the Kardashians need to get fucking over themselves and their perceived fame. But you know who also needs to get over this? The people who blogged about it all week on their celebrity gossip blogs. Seriously, aren’t there worse miscarriages of justice—like, say, stealing elections—that are a little more important than some rich bitch driving drunk and not doing her probation? Get fucking over it.

7. While I’m piling on the gossip bloggers today, they really need to just get over it in general. “Oh, Christ, I hate Kim Kardashian with a passion, and to prove it, I’m going to comment on her every move and say mean things about her, and then post 12 pictures of her in a bikini. Christ, I fucking hate her so much!” Seriously, at some point it crosses into self-loathing and unintentional self-parody. There’s being annoyed with a celeb and mentioning it once or twice, and then there’s reporting on every dinner they have and posting picture after picture on the conceit that you’re running some kind of news blog. It’s a joke, okay. Get fucking over it. (On the other hand, I subscribe to several gossip feeds, mostly because it’s the only place to find good magazine scans and photoshoots anymore, so I need to fucking get over it. I don’t have to subscribe to them, but I like hot chicks, so I do. But I admit it, so I have integrity. Or something self-serving. Moving on…)

8. Yes, media, The Dark Knight was a very entertaining movie, but seriously, now, you need to just get fucking over the damn thing. I thought Iron Man was better, anyway. And you know part of what made Iron Man great? There wasn’t an 18-month media assault culminating in kneepad-wearing kissy kissy reviews about how it was the greatest movie of all time which seemed practically written straight out of the press kit. You could actually walk into Iron Man with the optimistic hope that it would be good and not the weight of an insane amount of expectations, like it was any other movie. And the Dark Knight madness still isn't over, with the media marveling over how much money the movie made, and how people will actually go to a movie if it looks good and doesn’t totally suck, and how Heath Ledger is still dead and Christian Bale had a fight with his mom and sister. Hey, The Dark Knight was great, but could you get fucking over it and stop talking about it as though it heals the blind and the sick?

9. Also, fans need to get fucking over it. Fanboys are so dick-brained these days that they’ve actually become a parody of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Remember when that guy was a parody of fanboys? Now he looks tame and well-adjusted. Okay, the proper response to the Spirit trailer is “That looks terrible. I don’t want to see it.” Not Oh my God, Will Eisner’s corpse is being raped and how could anyone love this travesty?! The proper response (and I saw this on a number of actual critic’s sites, so this isn't an exaggeration) to a professional critic not liking The Dark Knight is “Well, we disagree.” Not I hope you get AIDS and die because you’re too stupid to live if you can’t recognize that it’s the greatest movie ever made! Especially not before the movie actually gets released. And if you want me to believe that movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the Star Wars prequels insult your intelligence, you need to stop making movies like Transformers gigantic mega hits. Figure out what it is you want and get fucking over it.

10. The person who most needs to get fucking over it? John McCain. Look, I don’t care if this question is insensitive or not: seriously, how does getting shot down in Vietnam give McCain more experience at foreign policy? The guy doesn’t even know that there’s no Iraq-Pakistan border, or that Czechoslovakia hasn’t existed for 15 years, and he’s too cavalier to actually do what Obama is doing and going overseas to talk to people, assess the world situation, and see what we’re doing in Iraq. I mean, McCain kept challenging Obama to go overseas, then denigrated Obama for doing so. This is the same guy who said he wouldn’t pull troops out of Iraq even if an overwhelming majority of Iraqis wanted America to do so (because what the hell do they know about what’s good for their country, right?), much less an overwhelming majority of Americans. This man is so vain and pompous and so full of himself and a security in an ability to lead that just isn’t there. McCain, seriously, you’re not going to be president and we all know it. Get fucking over it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jumbo: The Greatest Elephant in the World

I've had a lifelong fascination with circuses, carnivals and freak shows, especially from the 1800s. I'm not sure why, really, except that this was a time when those things were genuinely dangerous and creepy. I've read a lot over the years about how these things developed, how they operated, their influence on popular culture (especially horror movies), and their place in American history. The two figures that have always stood out for particular fascination for me were P.T. Barnum (of course!) and Jumbo. I'm also, to add on, fascinated by zoos and the history of zoos, as well as the 19th Century exploration of Africa.

I just sort of walked past this book one day last week, and I grabbed it the second I saw it. The true story of Jumbo, from capture to death, was to great a lure for me. I quickly devoured every word, and I wasn't disappointed in it. Author Paul Chambers has done his research (from the looks of the bibliography, a lot of it) on Barnum's life and circus, the history of the London Zoo (where Jumbo spent the bulk of his life), the men involved in Jumbo's life, how Arab Aggageers hunted elephants, Victorian habits, and the biology of the African elephant, and done something that almost seems impossible: turned it into an informative but highly entertaining and very readable (208 pages) narrative. This isn't a dry history or a lesson in elephants, but a biography of a notable historical figure who is also an elephant.

Of course, since we have no way of getting inside Jumbo's head, his existence is reflected through the people who had the most contact with him. Jumbo spent his youngest years neglected and practically disease-ridden in a French zoo before being sold to the London Zoo and revived to health by Superintendent Abraham Bartlett and keeper Matthew Scott, two men who both loved animals but who eventually were at hard odds with one another for control of Jumbo's fate. The friendship between Scott and Jumbo, real or imagined, is actually quite palpable. After many years, Jumbo is sold to Barnum's circus, and remains there until the quite sudden end of his life. And that's palpable too.

There is also some startling imagery in what happens to Jumbo (and particularly another African elephant, Alice) while in the zoo and the circus. This was a time when zoos were hasty to avoid the taint of animal cruelty allegations, but behind close doors, all bets were off. Jumbo is occasionally brought to bear with lashings and hooks; at one point, too, an infected abcess requires skin to be torn open, much to the animal's fear. Poor Alice, locked up and tied down to get her to behave, even tears 12 inches off of her own trunk in an effort to break free (and it is absolutely horrifying). There is traumatic cruelty to animals. Chambers recounts the incident in Bartlett's life that made him keep an emotional distance between himself and the animals in his care: the botched attempt to put down an Asian elephant which he witnessed at the age of 14.

I loved this book, playing as it does into pet interests of mine (the African elephant is even my favorite animal; this book has everything). But I think anyone would enjoy this book about an elephant who was remarkably large and the publicity campaigns and genuine passion it inspired just over a hundred years ago. When the London Zoo sold Jumbo to Barnum, a gigantic campaign to keep Jumbo in the country was launched and critics were outspoken; in America, Barnum ignited the craze that demanded Jumbo be delivered to America. At it's heart, it's as much about what a wave of pop culture hype can do (and how profitable it can be) as it is about Jumbo's rocky life.

Traci Bingham Has Big Melons

80s Revisited: Earth Girls Are Easy

Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
Directed by Julien Temple; written by Julie Brown & Charlie Coffey & Terrence E. McNally; produced by Tony Garnett.

I'm not really enthused about this one, I've got to admit. I saw the movie when I was 12 or so (in the theater of all places), and I thought it was silly and it did a lot for my rampant hormones (Geena Davis in a bikini alone almost made for an embarrassing situation), but I never really thought of it very much after. Other than the bikini, the real lasting impression it made on me was Julie Brown, who I loved watching on MTV and even on Comedy Central's low-rated Strip Mall (I guess it didn't have the same audience potential as a shitty comedian hosting a Gong Show revival). It broke my heart a little to see Julie relegated to some crappy throwaway role on the recent Disney Channel abortion Camp Rock.

So, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans play horny aliens who crash in Geena Davis's pool and learn all about California culture and help Geena Davis deal with being cheated on by Charles Rocket. That's pretty much it, and I have to admit that satire of the California culture never really does much for me. I loved the opening credits; they were like a cross between Forbidden Zone and Heavy Metal. The rest of the movie doesn't quite live up to the tone.

I don't really know where to go with this, I admit. I think it's because although I didn't think the movie was bad, I also didn't really think it was good. It had funny moments and sexy broads and aliens and Julie fucking Brown singing "'Cause I'm a Blonde," which surely has to be one of my favorite moments in cinema history. But otherwise... well, there it is. It's just sort of there, and if I weren't in a perpetual state of horniness and Geena hadn't been in a bikini, I doubt I'd really remember it. There's nothing you can really say about it. Or, more accurately, nothing I can say.

Except for Julie Brown. I love you, Julie! Come back to me!

Next time: again, I think Mannequin is next. Not sure I'm looking forward to that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Film Week

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

ROMAN (2006)
Pointless waste of time that was, sadly, directed by Angela Bettis, whom I loved in May and the Masters of Horror episode she was in. Lucky McKee stars as the kind of creepy loner that no woman would ever get involved with, yet here Kristen Bell and someone very beautiful called Nectar Rose do. And the rest of the movie doesn't make any more sense, either. No stars.

PENELOPE (2006)
Christina Ricci stars in a fairy tale as a girl cursed with a pig nose until she finds one of her kind (the mega rich) to love her. The fairy tale tone actually works, but there are a couple of key flaws here. One is the casting of James McAvoy as the man of Penelope's dreams. I'm just not sold on this guy. He's not masculine at all, he's not very personable, and he's not got much to work with as this character. I've seen him in a few movies so far and only liked him in one (The Last King of Scotland); I don't understand the attention this guy is getting for being no more than merely serviceable (but at least he's better than Orlando Bloom). Another flaw is that this fairy tale is a little full of itself for teaching us a lesson we all know and most people ignore: that all that really matters is how you feel about yourself, not how others see you. That's a lesson that Hollywood loves to teach over and over and over and people never get tired of learning. And finally, Christina Ricci with a pig nose... I don't know, it didn't seem that horrible to me. I was 14 when I first discovered Christina Ricci; I've been a fan in the 18 years since, and I'm not conditioned to see Ricci as anything else but utterly and completely beautiful. The makeup is very, very soft; she looks like the same beautiful Ricci with long hair and pretty round eyes and what amounts, to me, to no more than a flat, wide, upturned nose. Big deal. She still looks pretty with it, and it doesn't matter if it's gone or not. It doesn't seem that big a deal to me. It makes no difference to how beautiful she is. If they'd gone the entire pig-face route, maybe it would mean something, but it's hardly Beauty and the Beast here. That said, it's a cute movie, an enjoyable waste of time, and Peter Dinklage is excellent in it, maybe the best I've seen him since The Station Agent. *** stars.

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
Review contains spoilers. I like that Christopher Nolan has decided to go psychological and into real crime film territory with his interpretation of Batman, rather than into over-the-top superheroics. Grounding the character with a harder edge has really made it interesting, I think, even though I think one could hardly claim these films were realistic. They just seem possible, which goes a long way to making it believable. The Dark Knight is an ambitious film, encompassing a lot of characters and characterizations and, I think, bites off more than it can chew. The Dark Knight is a very good film, but it's not a completely successful one. In fact, I didn't think it lived up to its predecessor, Batman Begins, which managed to reinvent the film property. The major difference for me was in terms of characterization. Harvey Dent is really the main character of The Dark Knight, but it was Nolan's humanizing of Bruce Wayne that really made the first movie what it was. This time Batman is a supporting character in his own film, and the only real character we get, I think, is seen through Alfred or Rachel or Harvey. Bruce has some good moments of trying to decide whether or not what he's doing is right, but Nolan seems to be far more interested in Bruce's unrequited love for Rachel, which isn't very interesting.

I'm not sure how to break this down, honestly. Certainly The Dark Knight didn't suck. It's just not a satisfying movie. Take, for example, the Hong Kong businessman. He's such a big deal that Batman has to go to Hong Kong to retrieve him, but then he essentially drops out of the story. And what was the point of bringing the Scarecrow in for one scene that doesn't really go anywhere and doesn't do anything except justify rebuilding the batsuit? Does that need justifying? He could've done that between films and no one would have cared, I hope. There are a lot of great sequences (the opening bank robbery, the Joker trying to capture Harvey in a semi, etc.), but the film just falls into the trap of most American movies and goes on for far too long. There were at least three times that I was convinced the movie was over, and then it kept going.

But at the same time, I love the psychology going on here. We have Batman as a force for justice, while Harvey Dent, when he becomes Two Face (great special effects), is concerned instead with fairness. The film suggests that these are not the same thing at all, all the while dropping a heaping dose of chaos in there. And, finally, Hollywood manages to get to why the Joker is so damn scary: he wants nothing but to inject anarchy into rigid societal rules. Batman, on the flipside, wants to keep order in a world he thinks has become too chaotic already. The Joker is almost impossible to fight, because he wants nothing. You can't reason with him, you can't tempt him, and you can't take anything away from him, because he wants and has nothing already. It's brilliant, and the conflict of the film becomes ideological instead of merely a battle between good and evil. I liked that a lot. And I liked the moral debate over what a hero really is. If the theme of Batman Begins was fear, then the theme of The Dark Knight is duality, and I actually am very interested to see what Nolan comes up with for the next film. I just hope it's a tighter affair.

As for the casting, I think Christian Bale is significantly less interesting this time, and I think he's got too many scenes where he's required to speak as Batman, and that deep, scratchy growl was less welcome this time around (especially in that last scene with the Joker, where he just looks like he wants to lay down and cry for some reason). Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are reliably good, although I think they're also less interesting this time (especially Freeman; Caine has a good speech at least). Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel is a disappointment; I see why they brought back the character, but Gyllenhaal is a good actress who for some reason seems to be trying to imitate Katie Holmes's performance from the first film, which just makes Rachel even more boring than she was the first time around. Gary Oldman is good as Jim Gordon, continuing to give us the Gordon we always should've had, and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent is fantastic. I think it's some of Eckhart's best acting, and I've always liked him. I always enjoy seeing Eric Roberts, and a lot of the side characters aren't bad (Jesus, there are a lot of characters in this thing). Heath Ledger as the Joker is absolutely wonderful. It's a terrific performance, so perfectly nihilistic and hollow at the center, no pathos at all, a force for chaos, absolutely as the Joker should be. There's nothing he dreams of and nothing he wants; he simply is. For the first time ever, the Joker wasn't merely silly or funny; he seemed absolutely dangerous at all times, a violent psychopath with no regard for life, not even his own. But he thrives on chaos and enjoys it. It was bizarrely scary when he talked about how when the chips are down, civilized people will eat each other, and the loyalty of a hungry dog... these are points I don't think are that far out. I think he elevates this movie, and as long as he's on the screen it's never boring. I found myself wishing that the rest of the movie (with the exception of Eckhart) had lived up to his incredible performance. The fact that the movie was fitful and unsatisfying and too long just made Ledger seem even better than he actually is.

Overall? I'd say it's a three-star movie, one with some very good scenes and a lot of positives to outweigh some serious flaws. But Ledger pushes it up to ***1/2 stars.

There's a great scene towards the end, when Batman finally captures the Joker, where the Joker reflects on the differences between the two, and the Joker says "I get the feeling that, you and me, we're destined to do this forever." My first three thoughts:
1. Fantastic.
2. Aw, that's sad, Heath Ledger died.
3. It already feels like you have been...

On Film Endings

Last week, the critics at The Times Online posted a frankly stupid list of the 20 worst movie endings of all time. I was taking a look at it and it got me thinking about a bunch of other movie endings, etc. I'm going to comment on this list, as well as other movie endings, so if you don't want endings spoiled to whatever you haven't seen, tread lightly.

First, their list.

20. Velvet Goldmine -- which seems pointless, as the film isn't really logical enough up to the ending to make a case for the ending being illogical. Don't get me wrong, I actually like this movie quite a bit, but it seems lame to call it on the ending being the most excessive part. It's all excessive, tasteless, incoherent, and oddly beautiful, just like the glam rock it celebrates.

19. Cast Away -- this I agree on. My God, that's a dull film. The end of the movie is when Tom Hanks gets off the island. Then the movie goes on for another hour or so, slowly showing us how hard it is to readjust to his old life (as if it wouldn't be) and goes for thuddingly obvious symbolism. At what point did Robert Zemeckis decide his audience couldn't think for themselves? Was it because Forrest Gump was such a hit?

Speaking of, I've been thinking about the end of Forrest Gump lately, and I finally figured out what it is that bothers me so much about the ending. Throughout the movie, naive but good-natured Forrest has basically been a cypher for what Robert Zemeckis thinks are all of the great qualities of the supposedly mainstream right wing. It's all thoughtless service to the country, capitalism upon capitalism, and acceptance of duty and devotion to friends and family, no matter how badly he gets treated (he takes it all in stride). Meanwhile, Jenny is the representative of the subversive left wing, and Zemeckis wastes no opportunity to point out that as flashy and attractive as the alternative lifestyle is, it's also hollow, violent, unfocused, desperate, and treats Forrest like crap, taking him for granted. Finally, at the end of the movie, Jenny has to lose her life because of AIDS, essentially being punished for her beliefs, while Forrest is left to raise the child that is the combination of them both. It's all so sanctimonious. Yes, we're together and we're intertwined and two sides of the same coin and all that... but you need to be punished for your rock music and your hippie beads and your freedom marches while the right wing takes over and instills family values in the children again. Give me a fucking break.

18. Planet of the Apes -- the remake, of course. This one is the source of so much contention between me and Becca. Let me first say that neither one of us likes this movie at all. We both dig Michael Clarke Duncan and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, but neither one is used very well. There aren't really any characters per se. I liked the makeup and was strangely attracted to the female apes (especially Lisa Marie, who even looks sexy as a chimp). We both loved Charlton Heston's cameo. But the movie completely sucks and absolutely tainted Tim Burton, who I think has been off his game ever since. But the ending makes sense, dammit! The person who entered Planet of the Apes on the list concludes that General Thade must be over 2500 years old when he meets Marky Mark in order for the ending to make sense. Oy... Okay, I'm going to do this once, because Becca and I have had huge arguments about the ending (just another thing I hate Tim Burton for).

It depends on your theory of time travel. Here is the sequence of events as I understand them:

1. Marky Mark is on a space station. They discover a time hole (or whatever).
2. A chimp is sent through the time hole (or whatever). It is lost.
3. Marky Mark goes through the time hole (or whatever) to find the chimp. Instead he finds a world where apes are the evolved, dominant species and have been for hundreds or thousands of years. They tell of a legend where an ape came down from space and taught the other apes civilization. Marky Mark assumes, wrongly, that the original chimp was the chimp from the legend.
4. When Marky Mark finds the wreckage of the space station he had been on, he concludes that the station was sucked into the time hole (or whatever) and then crashed. He finds video proving this, and proving (in a ham-fisted way) that the apes on this planet are the descendents of the apes on board the space station, and the humans on this planet are the descendents of his colleague.

So, you see, that means that Marky Mark had to have come out of the time hole (or whatever) after all of this had already occurred. To quote a higher authority, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. There's not a straight linear door between 2029 and whenever the hell the action on the Planet of the Apes is taking place. He went into the time hole (or whatever) and was shot out at a random point, which happened to be after all of the space station crap had happened and apes evolved into the dominant race.

(Really, the more scientifically illogical point--if you accept time travel, that is--is that there are chimps, gorillas, and orangutans here. Do scientific ships carry test orangs and test gorillas?)

Okay, so, then...

5. General Thade is trapped inside the space station.
6. Original chimp, the one that went through the time hole (or whatever), lands on the Planet of the Apes. See, this is supposed to prove that there are random entry and exit points in time, because even though the chimp went through first, he comes out after Marky Mark.
7. Marky Mark uses the chimp's ship to go through the time hole (or whatever).
8. Marky Mark lands at some random point in Washington, D.C. When he looks up at the Lincoln Memorial, it is General Thade's face on the statue. Then ape cops step out of cars and draw a gun on him.

The rather obvious conclusion: What had to have happened is that, at some point, General Thade, whom we last saw trapped in the defunct space station, used something or other to go through the time hole (or whatever) himself, and came out at an earlier point in history than Marky Mark did. Maybe he had an army of loyalists or something and conquered the Earth, I don't know. Either way, Earth is now made in the image of evolved apes, and Marky Mark is still fucked. This ending makes perfect sense because we know that traveling through the time hole (or whatever) is not a point A to point B proposition; it spits you out at a random point. So Thade, even though he went through the time hole (or whatever) at a later point, came out at an earlier point, and since Marky Mark came out at a later point, even though he went through first, he found an Earth that had already been changed at some point in the past. It doesn't matter if Marky Mark went through first or not. The changes were made in the past.

You see?

Yes, it's a dull, unbelievably shitty movie. But the ending makes perfect sense.

(Incidentally, the original Pierre Boulle novel ends in a similar fashion, but I like Rod Serling's ending much, much better. The 1968 movie tops the novel in every way.)

17. Return of the Jedi -- it's been 25 years, fanboys, get over the damn Ewoks, already. You look like idiots whining about it after a quarter century. What makes the end of Jedi crappy now is inserting Hayden Christensen in there.

16. Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- apparently, some people think the ending, with Arthur and his knights arrested for murder, is a cop-out. Yes, it is. And it's brilliant. It's a very, very Pythonesque ending, and if you don't grasp that you don't really grasp the group at all. Of course, given all of those idiots who call themselves Python fans but really only quote Holy Grail badly and have seen nothing else... If this ending pisses anyone off, that's just icing on the cake.

15. Blade Runner -- the original version. Who watches the original version anymore? Yeah, it has a shitty ending, but the fact that the person who submitted this felt Harrison Ford's irritated voiceover was a high point says a lot.

14. Magnolia -- now there's your cop-out ending. I remember how much I fucking hated the movie American Beauty, and how much the ending pissed me off. The real end of the movie is when Kevin Spacey decides not to sleep with Mena Suvari. He's had his moral victory at last. But the movie keeps going on with no idea how to end, and finally, Spacey just gets shot. That was a total cop-out, the kind of thing twenty year-old film students think is edgy but is actually really stupid. My sister said it was supposed to be ironic. I say that irony is a tool for filmmakers who have no ending to pretend their movie is arty and edgy and about something we're all "too stupid" to understand. And too often, surreality is the same thing. There is no dramatic reason for Spacey to get shot at the end of that movie, except that the filmmakers didn't understand their own material. It's the same with Magnolia, which is mostly a self-indulgent actor's reel. Don't have an ending? Why not a desperate biblical allegory instead?

13. There Will Be Blood -- in this case, however, I totally disagree. I loved the ending of There Will Be Blood and found it perfectly fitting. I know others have a different opinion; someone at the theater I went to walked out just four minutes before the ending and yelled "This movie sucks!" (Becca yelled back "Go to hell!") I was tense through the whole movie, knowing that there had to be a sudden outbreak of violence coming, waiting for the kettle to boil. Self-serving commerce destroys self-serving religion, both pretending they do what they do for the good of the community. How the hell else could this movie have ended? All pretense is finally stripped away.

12. Psycho -- the submitter is obviously remembering the dry speech and not the truly creepy last shot coupled with Norman's interior monologue. That's a brilliant ending.

11. Apocalypse Now -- this is a movie I've long felt is supremely overrated. It's a good movie, but I don't see it as the unmitigated classic many others do. That said, once again, I think the end is absolutely fitting. The madness had to come to a head. Willard had to finally be stripped down to the primitive basics. And no, that's not a literal air strike at the end. It's symbolic of Willard looking into the heart of darkness and seeing only horror.

10. The Great Escape -- why even bring this up? The ending is fine. The whole point of the movie is that the detainees will continue even in the face of hopelessness. Hey, James Coburn got away.

9. Saving Private Ryan -- I wholeheartedly agree. This is a terrible ending to an overrated movie. The movie ends with Miller telling Ryan "Earn this." That's it. No more. Instead, Spielberg comes back to the modern day and has Ryan break down with this hideous "Tell me I've been a good man" bullshit that is absolutely tasteless. This framing device is ludicrous, anyway, since we assume the old man is really Captain Miller, because Ryan apparently has memories of the first two hours of movie he wasn't around for. The ending is self-indulgent and mindless.

Someone recently pointed out to me that the real problem with the ending is that Ryan doesn't act like a man of his generation, but instead cries and moans and descends into self-questioning and validation and basically acts the way a baby boomer would. That's a good point in itself.

8. The Great Dictator -- yes, it's self-indulgent, but who cares? It's a great speech. The film is open-ended because the ideological conflict of the time was open-ended. Chaplin is not just satirizing what happens; Chaplin could never do that. He often sentimentalized and made points, and in this film he shows the Jewish plight in no uncertain terms. He reduces the Nazis to bullies and thugs and shows Hitler as a power mad little man with Napoleon syndrome to reduce these evils to mere humanity and show them for what they really were: little boys who had bullied everyone into submission. The unfortunate thing for Chaplin is that this film was released in 1940, when Americans didn't want to be told they had to concern themselves with the plight of Jews in Europe. Just a couple of years and they would have been cheering.

7. Brief Encounter -- another dopey choice. The ending is perfect. Laura knows she made the wrong choice and consigned herself to unhappiness, but for a woman in her position in her society in her time period, it was the only choice she could make: duty first. It wasn't for her to choose to run off with Alec, and that's why this is a tragic love story. If Laura is unconvincing at the end, throwing herself at her husband, it's because she's trying to convince herself. She needs to be held because she needs to be consoled for the life she could have had, and didn't take.

Fucking duh.

6. Grease -- the submitter feels the car flying off into the sunset defied the laws of physics. Do we really need to have a discussion about cinematic devices? What, because the whole "Beauty School Dropout" scene grounded the movie in physical reality? Or, say, the fact that everyone keeps breaking into song? Or that you have people who are obviously thirty pretending to be in high school?

Really, the problem I have with Grease (other than it being a terrible movie), is the message of the ending. Olivia Newton-John dresses in leather and acts tamely slutty, and suddenly it's okay for Travolta to be seen in public with her. The message: "Act like a tart and you'll get your man, despite the fact that he's obviously destined to be a hard drinking mechanic."

5. The Maltese Falcon -- I don't know why this is even brought up. What's wrong with the ending? Bogie wraps everything up in three minutes? Well, Sam Spade is a smart guy. He figured it out. Have you never seen a detective movie before?

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey -- I'm so sick of the whining about this movie's ending. The ending is supposed to be hard to understand. We're supposed to be seeing this change as Dave Bowman sees it. There is a higher consciousness at work and he/we can't fathom what exactly is going on, like a toddler having a conversation with Isaac Asimov about quantum theory. It's really depressing, I think, how many people want to have this spelled out for them and can't use their imaginations here. Then again, it's a movie about evolution, and there seem to be fewer and fewer people who can grasp that, too. It's so much easier to believe Jesus rode dinosaurs because you don't have to explain it.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King -- yes, the endings have to be there, given the entire theme of the trilogy. It's a little more complex than let's blow up a giant space ball and go home.

2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- the epic whining over this movie isn't surprising, but the cry that this movie was too silly and unrealistic when those movies have never been serious and realistic in any sense has been incredibly amusing.

1. Citizen Kane -- would it have been better for Orson Welles to pop up on camera and explain that the sled was really a metaphor for the fact that no matter how rich Kane became he longed for a simpler and more geniunely happy life? Have we finally gotten to the point where people can't understand simple metaphors anymore?

So, another list designed to piss people off by trashing popular movies, or do these movies genuinely have bad endings? I think some of them have horrible endings, but some of them are terrible movies, anyway.

I have a couple of other things to gripe about, while I'm being an intellectual dick. (But not A.I. There is still so much intellectual debate on whether or not the ending was Spielberg tacking something on to Kubrick's original intention--which mostly seems to come from Kubrick diehards who just can't envision him doing something they don't like--or whether it was always what Kubrick had intended. I haven't read any kind of original draft or anything written when Kubrick was alive or what have you, but I will say this: that entire movie absolutely sucks regardless of which director was responsible for it.)

I did want to mention Contact, still being maligned a decade later for an ending that dissatisfied a number of people. I actually love the movie Contact and thought it had a fitting ending. It's actually similar to Forrest Gump--in that movie, Zemeckis argues for traditional values over self-exploration, and in Contact, Zemeckis argues for faith over scientific absolutes. While I can't agree with him on that score, I do think Jodie Foster's entire arc is compelling and satisfying. The story is, on its basic level, about a skeptical woman who finds faith in something. She experiences contact with an alien, but only in her mind, and the alien takes the form of her father. This has led to a ton of whiny bitches who are upset that they didn't get to see some big, crappy CGI alien that they were hoping for.

What those whiny bitches don't understand is that the aliens are beside the point. The experience is all mental, and that's the point. Mental and emotional. Jodie Foster has lost her father, experienced crushing doubt and disappointment in all the other men in her life, and has devoted herself to hard facts. When she meets the alien, it takes the form of her father to comfort her, even though she demands hard facts from it. When she finally has an experience that can't be explained but which she's sure is absolutely real, she realizes that faith in that experience (and that it might be repeated one day) is the only way she can rationalize it. No one believes her and she has no evidence. She just has faith that she or someone else will make contact with the aliens again one day. She doesn't renounce science and hard facts (that would have been too far), but she comes to realize that faith isn't about being comforted by a made-up story; it's about holding on to genuine emotional experiences that can't be quantified. You or I may not agree that it's true, but that's the entire point of Contact. The alien taking the form of her father just further cements the point; was it a dream/hallucination, or did she really meet an alien?

(Really, I think the only thing that kind of ruins the end of Contact is that Zemeckis didn't have the courage to leave it up in the air, instead having James Woods and Angela Bassett acknowledge that Foster's camera recorded hours of feedback, meaning that her trip to space did happen and that the government is suppressing it. The entire government subplot is handled badly, I think, in a very fatuous and self-serious way--especially the Bill Clinton footage, which adds nothing. If you want to make a case for faith, you can't childishly assert that faith has a basis in evidence. If you have evidence, you don't need faith.)

I also don't get why people are bashing the perfect ending of No Country for Old Men. Tommy Lee Jones describing his dream is the whole point. It's him admitting that he no longer knows what place he and his generation have in a post-Vietnam world where violence has become commonplace. Chigurh is still out there somewhere, which represents that violence is not everywhere but, more scarily, anywhere. "And then I woke up" is the whole point. Would it have been better if he'd turned to the camera and said "I guess this really is... no country... for old men!" and then rolled credits?

While we're on the subject of open-ended endings that I think are great, how about Carpenter's The Thing? Do you think it's MacReady or Childs that is still the Thing at the end of the movie? Someone recently told me they thought both men were the Thing, but I think neither of them were. I think that's Carpenter's final comment on human paranoia in the film; neither man is the Thing, but they both suspect one another in an endless face off. And then they freeze to death, anyway, probably.

A couple more.

First, Basic Instinct, an ending I get now but never used to. Was Catherine going to murder Nick or not? That's left to the audience, but after two hours of sordid cocktease and violence, the audience was probably fed up. I know I was, but I was 16 when I saw it. I get it now; there is actual subtext in Joe Eszterhas's script that, but the movie is sort of overdirected. I think she was going to murder Nick and decided not to because she genuinely loved him. After all, he's resisted her manipulations, and I think she was just testing him the whole time. She's not only a murderer, but she's fascinated with murderers. She surrounds herself with murderers and seems to have found the perfect mate because, albeit accidentally, he's a murderer himself. Seriously, it all makes sense to me.

Second, Unbreakable. Now there's an ending that I think ruins the whole movie. I actually liked most of Unbreakable, despite it's rather too-deliberate pacing. And I love the denouement, where Samuel L. Jackson, having turned Bruce Willis into a superhero, reveals that he's the one who was manipulating all of the accidents, trying to find his other half to make sense of his own existence. It's utterly brilliant, and that whole "They called me Mr. Glass" ending is great, but M. Night Shyamalan ruins it, I think, with the pause and the titles letting us know that Bruce Willis went to the cops and Jackson was arrested. That puts a damper on it. The whole point here is to know that both sides are going to exist in a constant struggle that can never be won, because they can't live without each other. Not only did Jackson finally discover his life's purpose, but so did Bruce Willis, who has been moody and boring through the entire movie because of a nagging dissatisfaction that he can't quantify. That would have been a perfect ending. Instead, Shyamalan throws a pedantic explanation at us that seems designed for some dumbshit at New Line who thought it was too open-ended, even though that would've been the point. Now instead you get the sense that Jackson just went to prison and Bruce Willis went back to being moody and boring. Great, what a thrilling conclusion.

Anyway, this post has gone on for long enough. Am I full of shit? What other endings were you disappointed by?

Sally Jupiter

This is the first bit of the Watchmen movie that I've loved, hands down: James Jean's pin-up of Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter. That's just beautiful.

Exterminate! Exterminate!

I've never been one of those hardcore toy collectors, but every so often an action figure or action figure series comes along that's so good I can't resist it. For a few years in the early 21st Century, it was the great Muppet Show line from Palisades toys. Sadly, that ended, and since then I've only bought the stray figure or two.

Then came Who. I must own this:

As the regular reader and almost anyone who ever talks to me knows, I'm a big, big Dalek fan. The Doctor Who figures are pretty neat; I don't like the ones that are supposed to look like David Tennant and what have you, but the figures of the monsters are exceptional. So, I've found my new series: Doctor Who monsters. I've got a few now, including one of the Daleks from the new series which I bought last year at WizardWorld. This year, I bought the black Dalek. I'm thrilled at the news that the wave of figures based on series four will have the red Dalek.

And now, with the classic figures being made... we have a collector's set of three more Daleks.

It. Shall. Be. Mine.

Don't try to understand this fannish obsession. To the naysayers who say "They're only Daleks with different colors" I can only answer, sadly: They're Daleks with different colors!

Chrissy Lee at 38

Happy Birthday to the woman who should be Wonder Woman! (Damn it, Hollywood, why aren't you on this?)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 32

I've got nothing to report, really. I'm steady on, enjoying the relaxation and time to write and watch movies and read. I overdid it last week with the food because it was my birthday last week, and now I'm back on track. Walking and doing light exercise and making my own food and not drinking sodas and getting some decent sleep.

There's not a whole lot else to report, really. I'm just looking forward to getting back to work at the end of August and maybe getting to see Hellboy II this week finally.

So, well... here's a cute picture. I'm in a good mood. Good as they generally get for me, anyway.

Evaluating Disney: 1954

1954 was a year of growth for Walt Disney in every area except for animation. The animated shorts continued to be scaled back; only nine would be released this year, with two features in active production; originally, Walt had planned to have Lady and the Tramp in theaters this year, with Sleeping Beauty following in 1955. Both films were delayed by things that took up Walt's time and attention: the theme park, the new television series, the documentaries (with the True-Life Adventures now viable as features instead of shorts) and an increased production of live action films (for the first time, two such films would be released this year). In fact, not only were the True-Life Adventures viable (The Living Desert and Bear Country both won Oscars this year), but so was the new documentary short series, People & Places (The Alaskan Eskimo also won an Oscar). Walt was as busy as he could be, but the animated shorts were paying the price, both in quality and in quantity.

1/15: Spare the Rod
Donald Duck. Huey, Dewey, and Louie are playing in the backyard and won't help Donald chop firewood. One of those guardian angels appears on Donald's shoulder and claims to be the voice of child psychology, telling Donald he should make a game of it and play along. Meanwhile, three heavily caricatured African pygmy cannibals appear and try to boil Donald, who mistakenly believes they're his nephews. Because of the caricaturing of the pygmies (which either purposely or accidentally recalls the cannibals in the 1930 Disney short Cannibal Capers), this cartoon was severely edited from six minutes to about two-and-a-half. I actually thought the pygmies were funny and that Donald's predicament was typically humorous, but it's undeniably somewhat offensive. I also find it interesting that Jack Hannah and his team are kind of poking holes in the idea of child psychology, and it makes sense generationally; they probably got corporal punishment when they were kids, and they turned out fine. I think the most important question raised by this short is: Why would cannibals want to eat a duck?

2/4: ROB ROY, THE HIGHLAND ROGUE
Walt spent another summer abroad, overseeing the shooting of another adventure film. Once again, Richard Todd was the star, and Glynis Johns, James Robertson Justice, Michael Gough, and screenwriter Lawrence E. Watkin came back onboard. The only holdout was Ken Annakin, who had directed The Story of Robin Hood and The Sword and the Rose to success, and that was through no fault of his own: Rank wouldn't let him out of his contract a third time, so Disney went with a new director, Harold French. Rob Roy is less action-packed than the previous two films, but is still romantic and concerned with the ideals of fairness and justice. This one gets more scorn heaped on it than the previous two films, and it's probably a bit of a potboiler, but I found it very enjoyable. The film was still received with the sort of lukewarm critical reviews Disney's other live action films were greeted with, and for whatever reason, Walt suspended his English operations after the film was finished, not shooting in England again. Richard Todd, a stalwart adventure star if there ever was one, appeared in no further Disney films. The poor guy also injured himself leading a charge in the film when he stepped into a rabbit hole.

3/5: Donald's Diary
Donald Duck. Disney wasn't exactly reinventing racial politics, and it didn't do any favors for gender politics, either. In this short (possibly narrated by Ronald Colman--I've only seen this told once, but no one else has an identity for the very familiar narrator), Donald meets and marries Daisy, who has become a caricature of the husband-nabbing woman who will make the most horrible wife in the world. Donald dreams about a future where Daisy lusts for jewelry, stops wearing makeup, and lets her family eat the Duck out of house and home. In the end, he runs screaming. If any of this were funny, that would be one thing, but the whole short is predicated on the idea that marriage is awful and women are schemers.

3/12: Stormy, the Thoroughbred with an Inferiority Complex
This is a live action short that, I have to admit, I've only seen bits of over the years and can't find anywhere to watch.

4/7: The Lone Chipmunks
Chip 'n' Dale. Pegleg Pete returns as an outlaw who has robbed a Western bank and hides his loot in a tree. By doing so, he dislodges all of the nuts Chip 'n' Dale have saved, and the two get revenge--and, they hope, a $10,000 reward. It's pretty funny, but pales in comparison to some previous and truly brilliant shorts with Chip 'n' Dale. The quality has really lessened these days, and a lot of the jokes seem tired. Although this does have one of my favorite moments for Dale; when Pete picks him up, thinking he's a gun, Dale gets squeezed and shouts "Bang! Bang!" This is the last cartoon in the Chip 'n' Dale series.

5/21: Pigs Is Pigs
Special cartoon. This is a verse adaptation of Ellis Parker Butler's story "Pigs Is Pigs," in which a rule-abiding train station agent named Flannery won't release guinea pigs to someone who has ordered them unless they pay the livestock rate, not the pet rate, because "Pigs is pigs, not pets." While Flannery is waiting for the home office to settle the matter, the guinea pigs breed prodigiously and overrun the station. Bill Thompson is the voice of Flannery, and one of the singers is Thurl Ravenscroft. This short, directed by Jack Kinney and animated in the sort of limited (but clever) UPA style, is everything Disney animation could have been in 1954 and sadly wasn't. It's clever, hilarious, satirical (especially the jabs at how indecisive and needlessly bureaucratic corporations can be), and fast-paced. This is a perfect short.

6/18: Casey Bats Again
Special cartoon. For some reason, it was decided that the Make Mine Music segment Casey at the Bat needed a sequel (though not narrated by Jerry Colonna this time). The verse leaves a little to be desired. Casey gets married and has children, and though he wants a son, he only ever has nine girls. But when someone points out that's enough for a baseball team, he becomes their proud manager. The animation is sparse, here; it's the full Disney treatment, but with sparse backgrounds and as few characters as possible, so we don't see much of the big game. Instead, we spend too much time with Casey who frets that his girls won't win, and so takes to the field in drag for himself. As far as I can tell, this is the last film that features animation by Fred Moore, who tragically died while Peter Pan was in production; it's nice that he was at least able to go out with a whole baseball team of his famous "Freddie Moore girls."

7/16: Dragon Around
Donald Duck. Dale, reading about knighthood and dragonslaying, thinks his tree is being attacked by a dragon. It's actually Donald in a steamshovel, and he needs to tear their tree down for a freeway. He's amused when Chip 'n' Dale start attacking the "dragon" and, this being Donald, takes the opportunity to screw with them. Of course, the chipmunks decide it's time for revenge. There are some really good gags in this one, my favorite being a moment when Chip 'n' Dale knock one of the teeth out of the steamshovel, and Donald screws a gold replacement back in.

8/13: Grin and Bear It
Donald Duck. The animators knew they'd hit on a potentially great character in Humphrey the Bear, and brought him back for another round with Donald. Humphrey is a great character who didn't get used often enough, having the misfortune to be introduced when the shorts program was reaching its end. This cartoon is also the debut of a fun character, Ranger J. Audobon Woodlore, voiced by Bill Thompson and very fussy. In this short, Donald visits a state park where the bears are all joyfully mingling with the visitors. Humphrey, apparently afraid (and with some reason!) that he'll wind up a rug if he doesn't make a good impression, tries to insert himself into Donald's picnic, but Donald's not interested. Humphrey panics easily, and it's actually very funny instead of frustrating. The backgrounds are spare in a neat way, real designy; the whole thing reminds me of a Mr. Magoo cartoon. What a waste all of those shorts with the far less interesting Louie the Mountain Lion were, when there was Humphrey all along.

8/17: THE VANISHING PRAIRIE
This second True-Life Adventures feature film is much better than The Living Desert. Where Desert had come under critical fire for imposing human viewpoints on animals, anthropomorphizing the processes of nature, and truly stupid bits like the "scorpion square dance," Prairie lessened those excesses considerably. There's still some there, especially early in the film (and the end, which has rams butting one another to "The Anvil Chorus"), but there's a lot less of it, and The Vanishing Prairie is much easier to take seriously. Walt had been so pleased with the footage he was getting for The Living Desert that, before that film was even completely edited, he sent photographers into the American prairie to bring back film of prairie dogs, buffalo, burrow owls, mountain lions, and a number of other animals threatened with extinction. Indeed, the whole tone, which is refreshingly straightforward, takes on a melancholy tinge occasionally, lamenting that this scene of nature may disappear very soon if not preserved. The photography is amazing; there was a glass case built for the prairie dogs in order that cameras could film inside the tunnels, taking audiences one place they had definitely never gone before. When the film was to be released, the censorship board in New York banned a sequence which featured a buffalo giving birth, which they felt was inappropriate; Walt answered back with "The birth scene would never have appeared on the screen if I believed it might offend an audience. It would be a shame if New York children had to believe the stork bring buffaloes, too." The ACLU complained about the censoring of the scene, and the board relented (the film critic of The New Yorker observed of the scene, "I survived it, and so will you."). This is a big leap over The Living Desert, and Walt planned more True-Life Adventures features for the future.

10/15: Social Lion
Special cartoon. A lion is brought from Africa and escapes, and no one pays any attention to him until he tries to pretend he's a man. And that's it, really. A couple of good sight gags, but it feels cheap and is uninteresting. The lion is the same model used for Lambert the Sheepish Lion, even down to one scene of the lion calling for his mama.

11/12: The Flying Squirrel
Donald Duck. Another typical short: Donald screws with a cute animal who gets revenge. This time, Donald is a park peanut vendor and he reneges on his deal to give a peanut to a flying squirrel who helps him tie up his sign. There are some really clever gags, though, especially with the squirrel mimicking a bomber plane while Donald fires popcorn out of a cannon. The squirrel itself is really cute; I wonder if there was any thought to replacing the now absent Spike the Bee with the squirrel as a foil. The animation is really less in quality by now.

12/23: Grand Canyonscope
Donald Duck. I think this is the only cartoon where J. Audobon Woodlore doesn't work at Brownstone National Park (and without Humphrey). Donald Duck is great in this short, on a trip to the Grand Canyon where he proceeds to act as the compleat Ugly American. I love the animation on his burro. Woodlore is always on him about what he can and can't do with the environment, even during a chase with Louie the Mountain Lion (best gag: Woodlore looks at Louie and says "But the last lion seen at the Grand Canyon was during the Civil War! Unless..." and Louie puts on a Confederate cap). The backgrounds by Eyvind Earle are impressive and elaborate; this was only the second Disney cartoon in Cinemascope (another great line: Woodlore tells the crowd "Spread out, folks, this is Cinemascope"). The widescreen adds some energy, I think, because the animators have more space to fill and rose to the challenge. Because not every theater was equipped in 1954 to show Cinemascope, and because there was no way at the time to turn a widescreen film into a standard film, two versions of the cartoon were made (in the other, Woodlore tells the crowd "Spread out, folks, it's a big canyon"). Plus, the widescreen version was distributed by Disney's Buena Vista arm, while the standard was distributed by RKO, whose deal with Disney wouldn't expire until the end of 1955 (Lady and the Tramp also existed in two versions). Therefore, this is one of Disney's most expensive shorts at $100,000. This cost of producing two versions is another symptom that led to the end of the shorts program. This short accompanied 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the first live action Disney film in Cinemascope.

12/23: 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
For this film, Walt hired a new production team and made a picture different in flavor from his previous English films, but still retaining the feel of Disney. His director this time was Richard Fleischer, funnily enough the son of Disney's former rival Max Fleischer (Walt knew who he was and simply thought he was the man for the job). This was Disney's most ambitious film yet, his most expensive (in live action), and logistically a complex shoot. Knowing he would spend a lot of money on it ($4.5 million), Walt hired one big star (Kirk Douglas) and other well-known actors (James Mason--over Gregory Peck, apparently, plus Peter Lorre and Paul Lukas). His talent behind the camera was also experienced; for example, art director John Meehan had won two Oscars, one for The Heiress and the other for Sunset Boulevard. Disney also allowed a lot of time to develop the script and populate it with genuine characters (and even allow for some family style comedy). Even the Nautilus itself was lavish, built to scale (200 hundred feet long) and eventually ending up right in the Disneyland park. He even sent a documentary crew to film the story of the making of the film, which he aired on television and won an Emmy for! Nothing is wasted, I guess, and Walt insisted on perfection. The underwater scenes were filmed off the coast of Nassau (the same location used for the 1916 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), and closer shots on the deck were filmed in a specially-built tank in Hollywood. It all paid off, though, and the film was not only a hit, but critically well-received, finally proving that Walt Disney had a place as a live action film producer who could deliver a box office smash. This is still considered to be one of the best Disney films, and that's frankly because it is.

12/24: Siam
People & Places. Unfortunately, Disney has yet to release the People & Places series on DVD. I remember some beautiful shots from this, but I haven't seen it since I was a kid and the Disney Channel used to actually show these things.

All told, there were only 15 new films released by Disney in 1954. It seems like a sparse number for the studio, but this was shored up by a large number of re-releases. Films seeing another release this year were not only Fantasia and Pinocchio, but most of the segments from Make Mine Music and Melody Time (Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet, Casey at the Bat, Willie the Operatic Whale, The Martins and the Coys, Little Toot, Once Upon a Wintertime, and Two for the Record, a double bill of After You've Gone and All the Cats Join In).

Any money those releases generated was necessary, because Walt was giving most of his time over to the construction of his theme park. Once Disney and ABC had finalized their deal for the building and ownership of the park (which now included ABC getting all concession profits for ten years), someone at ABC suggested that Walt change the name of the theme park from Disneylandia to Disneyland. Walt announced that the park would open to the public in July of next year. It was bold considering the park existed in theory only and no building had yet taken place. In fact, Disney had people touring amusement parks across the country, trying to make deals for new equipment and not the same old rollercoasters and ferris wheels, and learning what not to do to bring in the public. It was around this time that Disney had just completed buying the 244 acres of land it needed near Anaheim, and the first orange tree was removed in August.

Meanwhile, the ABC deal included a TV series; specifically, 21 one-hour programs over three years. This was Walt's show Disneyland, and he would use it to effectively promote the park, himself, his studio, and his films. The first episode of Disneyland aired on 27 October, titled "The Disneyland Story" and detailing the efforts going into the construction of the theme park. So not only was Disney being paid between $50,000 and $70,000 for a single episode of the show, but they were being paid essentially to advertise Disneyland for an hour in a broadcast seen by an estimated 30.8 million viewers. On the second episode, Walt aired a truncated version of Alice in Wonderland, one of his biggest disappointment, and continued to the end of December with an episode about The Vanishing Prairie (which aired Seal Island), a compilation of Donald Duck cartoons, So Dear to My Heart, and behind-the-scenes looks at Lady and the Tramp and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the next True-Life Adventure, The African Lion, in addition to a Christmas special and Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter, the first episode of the soon to be incredibly popular Davy Crockett series. One episode, "Undersea Adventure," which was little more than a well-made hour-long promotional special for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, won an Emmy. It also got Walt sued; footage of Kirk Douglas and his sons spending time at Walt's home and riding his train had, unknown to Douglas, been filmed and used on the episode. Douglas sued.

1954 was a busy year, and still Walt was planning for the future: he bought the rights to eleven of L. Frank Baum's Oz books with an eye to adapting them into films. He was also petitioning the federal court to dismiss Clement Melancon's lawsuit from last year. And, possibly to some amusement, the now-retired Mickey Mouse was banned in East Germany for being an "anti-communist subversive."

1955 would see Walt even busier as he raced to complete Disneyland. But it would not be a busy year for animation; only four shorts and one feature were released in 1955. Animation was quickly becoming the least concern of the studio that had once only existed because of it.

How Complaints of This Magnitude Should Be Handled

MC has a post up today about the infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction and how the fines for the, um, incident have now been dismissed. Nevertheless, MC feels (and I agree), the effects of the FCC's initial fine will be felt on TV for a time to come.

I can't believe it's four years later and we still even remember it, much less are still talking about it and still dealing with legal proceedings over a bare 9/16 of a second flash of boob. If you ever wonder why people in Europe think America is ridiculous, it's because of crap like this. No one in America is a grown up, apparently. Well, no, that's not true, because the people I'm friends with are grown-ups, otherwise they wouldn't be my friends, really. The problem is, grown-ups take things in stride; the very tall children scream loudly and mask their discomfort by pretending they have to sue over seeing a titty for the sake of protecting your children and your sensibilities because obviously you are unable to make these decisions for yourself.

Anyway, I think these complaints need to be dealt with in the following manner:

COMPLAINER: Your honor! I saw 9/16 of a second of nipple on television! Now, in addition to being traumatized, there are literally thousands of children watching the Super Bowl who have been scarred for life! They might even figure out what sex is and be degenerated morally by the mere knowledge of something every biological creature on Earth is aware of and in fact needs in order to keep the species alive and thriving! In the name of God, your honor, you must fine the stations that dared to air an infinitesimal moment of skin and moral terpitude during one of the nation's many annual paens to competitive violence!

JUDGE: It's just a boob, son. Grow up and get over it. You'll live.

Problem solved.

Monday, July 21, 2008

80s Revisited: The Hitcher

Looking back and such.

The Hitcher (1987)
Directed by Robert Harmon; written by Eric Red; produced by David Bombyk & Kip Ohman.

The Hitcher is, quite possibly, the worst movie ever made.

I don't even know how to approach it, but here goes. There is a basic plot: C. Thomas Howell plays Jim Halsey, a guy from Chicago taking a rideaway car out to San Diego. Somewhere in the desert he picks up a hitchhiker, John Ryder, played by Rutger Hauer. Now, picking up Rutger Hauer in the desert and giving him a ride seems like a sure ticket to hell, but it's okay, we didn't know that then. Ryder starts playing a little mind torture game with Halsey and threatening him with a knife, so Halsey manages to kick him out of the car and keep driving.

Of course, that's not the end of it. Ryder keeps playing this psychological game of predator and prey with Halsey. The thing is, there's a point to all of this and I can't really figure out what it is. I mean, what's the point here? Is it just nihilism? Is it supposed to be a meditation on the nature of chance and the way violence is inescapable? Is there some sort of homoerotic subtext going on? I'm not really sure what the point is, because it all leads up to a final moment that is neither surprising nor dramatic. What is the damn point of The Hitcher?

The movie is short on gore, but surprisingly long on intensity and pure psychological cruelty. Frankly, the movie loses me (as it did when I saw it in the late eighties) when Jennifer Jason Leigh gets pulled in half by a semi. Ryder has done this as a psychological test; he tells Halsey that if Halsey shoots him in the head, he'll be able to save the girl. But he doesn't. Even when someone's life is in danger, Halsey can't defend himself or anyone else. I guess this is supposed to be a very dramatic test of civilization versus instinct, but it doesn't come off. All I could think was, Look at all of the cops and EMTs and firefighters; no one has an axe to cut her free with? Give me a break, it's a semi. It's going to take him seconds to even get the thing moving, use those seconds!

A major problem here is that C. Thomas Howell is almost aggressively bland and one of the shittiest actors I've ever seen. His reactions are so over-the-top and cartoonish that I can't take him seriously as the character. Rutger Hauer is cool and intense and really looks like he's capable of slow and cold-blooded killing, which is Hauer's stock in trade (I fucking love Rutger Hauer). So the mental contest here is not only one-sided, it goes nowhere. It doesn't help that Ryder seems to be able to bend the laws of space, time and physics to just go in and fuck with Halsey's head.

I don't know, it just... what's the frigging point of this movie? It's not anything. It's just there.

Next time: looks like it might be Mannequin. Oy.

Love the Sentiment, Jess

But... can we talk about why you look like you've had a nose job? I loved that nose.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Song of the Week: "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"

Finally, a She & Him video! If you haven't heard their album yet, I think you're really missing some great music. Zooey Deschanel can do anything.

21st Century Political Discourse

BARACK OBAMA: The surge has not worked. Everyone knows it has not worked. I intend to end the occupation of Iraq and have troops withdrawn within 16 months of assuming the presidency.

JOHN McCAIN: The surge is working! You'd know that if you went there for yourself and saw what was going on, you traitor! I dare you to go! This is not politically motivated!

LIBERAL BLOGGER: Bliss, bliss, attend Barack Obama and step into the light!

UNAFFILIATED BLOGGER: Inflation is the worst it's been in 27 years! The Euro is stronger than the dollar! GM is having another wholesale downsizing! Experts say more banks will fail in the coming year!

CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: George W. Bush saved this country! Let me lie with statistics to show you how no one is poorer than they were 30 years ago without adjusting for inflation!

SUPPOSEDLY LIBERAL MEDIA: Hey, look how much money The Dark Knight has made!

McCAIN: We need to stay in Iraq for 100 years or until they give up civil rights and Islam. That's not politically motivated.

PM NURI AL-MALIKI: Obama's got the right idea. It would be great if America could stop treating us like little monkey children who only got electricity last week and don't know how to run our own affairs.

CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: How dare you?! Maliki is a traitor! He refuses to accept that he and his country are monkey children and that conservative Christianity and military might are GOOD and Islam is BAD.

McCAIN: The surge is working! PM al-Maliki would know that if he went there for himself and saw what was going on, the traitor! This is not politically motivated!

LIBERAL BLOGGER: Obamamania! Iraq is on the side of the great one! Huzzah!

UNAFFILIATED BLOGGER: We all knew Bush would fuck everything up but you still voted for him? What's your problem, America?

CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: Love it or leave it! If you hate it here, get out! This is OUR time! At last, the rich white Christian minority is FINALLY running America! Boys kissing is the greatest evil in the history of the world!

LIBERAL BLOGGER: Obama farts rainbows and heals puppies with his magical healing gaze of orgasmic healing.

AL-MALIKI: Actually, I was mistranslated. I didn't say I supported Obama's plan at all.

UNAFFILIATED BLOGGER: Well, what was it you actually meant to say?

AL-MALIKI: Hm?

LIBERAL BLOGGER: NPR and Jon Stewart and Obama in an orgy of intellectual smugness and warm fuzzy feelingitude, oh my!

CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: Take that, Obamaniacs! Nice try, but al-Maliki doesn't support your Messiah's plan at all!

UNAFFILIATED BLOGGER: Of course, he does support an eventual withdrawal, he's said that several times.

CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU TO VOTE McCAIN!

SUPPOSEDLY LIBERAL MEDIA: OMG! Miley Cyrus is showing her belly again in private photos!

MICHELLE MALKIN: [unintelligible screeching noises]

UNAFFILIATED BLOGGER: And isn't anyone scared that Bush acts with impunity, claims executive privilege where there isn't any, and changes the laws to retroactively make legal the crimes he's actually committed? I mean, FISA gives him a lot of power to just sort of do whatever he and the entire executive branch want. The excecutive branch includes government departments, too, you know.

CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: If you haven't done anything wrong, then you have nothing to fear. FISA keeps us safe! And even Obama voted for it!

LIBERAL BLOGGER: Wait... he did?

SUPPOSEDLY LIBERAL MEDIA: Look! There's a new iPhone!

OBAMA: I'm going to go to Iraq and see things for myself, the way Republicans always challenge me to do.

McCAIN: That's politically motivated!!

SUPPOSEDLY LIBERAL MEDIA: Angelina Jolie whelped twins! America is blessed!

Sunday Hottie 181

KAREENA KAPOOR