Saturday, September 20, 2008

The End of Warner Bros. Animation

The last in my series of Warner Bros. animation overviews. I'm still planning to do a proper evaluation series one day.

Warner Bros. shut down their cartoon studio in 1953, burning off a backlog of already-made shorts and mulling over the ramifications of 3-D and what role it would play in animation's future. Short answer: none. Exhibitor interest in 3-D was not very high, and theatrical shorts were of less interest than ever to theater chains. Now that the government had ordered film studios to surrender their theater chains, exhibitors were free to book whatever films they wanted, and an entire program of shorts and features was no longer the most profitable direction. This is part of what killed off theatrical animated shorts.

At any rate, substantial rentals would be needed to justify the production costs of 3-D (which were considerable), and this idea was abandoned.

Chuck Jones had left when the studio closed, briefly working at Disney on the Disneyland TV program, but returned to Warner Bros. by November of the same year. However, Warners had sold its Sunset Boulevard lot, where the cartoon studio was headquartered, to Paramount Pictures, where it would serve as the home of Paramount's KTLA television station. Warners continued to work off the backlog of already-completed cartoons while building a new home for the animators.

Those cartoons were showing more and more of a UPA influence, drifting away from the realism of Disney to the design-oriented shorts of John Hubley and Bobe Cannon. Friz Freleng's Goo Goo Goliath and Jones's From A to Z-z-z-z-z, both released in 1954, show a change in the style of the Warner Bros. animation. Not only were the animators suffering from economic limitations (to use less cels, which meant less action), but also a conscious artistic decision to change with the times that, ultimately, would not be very successful. Both of the mentioned films are self-conscious, precious; Jones's old interest in design was not any more well-received in the mid-fifties than it had been in the early forties. Jones, especially, was interested in modern design (and had directed films for UPA before it had really been UPA), but the studio screening of From A to Z-z-z-z-z garnered a cold reception. Sure, Gerald McBoing Boing had won an Oscar, but that didn't mean Warner Bros. wanted to make Gerald McBoing Boing.

(Incidentally, Jones hadn't liked Gerald McBoing Boing very much; he felt it was weak, relied too much on narration and symbolism instead of story--Jones wanted his characters to be actors, not symbols.)

The new cartoon studio opened in 1955, and was apparently too sterile and clean to inspire any truly creative work. Jones put his creative team (Mike Maltese, Maurice Noble, Ken Harris) back together; Maltese used to wander the hospital-clean halls crying out "Calling Dr. Kildare! Calling Dr. Kildare!" The films didn't get any better; Jones's My Little Duckaroo feels too talky and claustrophobic. His Road Runner cartoons were just as good as they had been, but a creeping ineffectual quality began to creep in. His first cartoons after the studio resumed work are painfully dull. Friz Freleng's and Robert McKimson's aren't much better, though their Speedy Gonzales cartoons have more life to them than many others.

One of the rare masterworks of this time period was, of course, What's Opera, Doc?, Chuck Jones's parody of Wagnerian opera. Jones, Maltese, and Noble took a lot of care with this one, meticulously storyboarding the film, correcting errors and timing, even recording the entire cartoon before animating it. It's a brilliant film, a true parody that works without making Bugs Bunny or Wagner ridiculous; the humor comes from the incongruity of the two.

By the time Opera was released in 1957, though, animation studios had begun to move towards television. Many studios, including UPA and even Disney, had been doing animated commercials for years. But the move began in earnest when Disney moved to television in 1955 with the Disneyland TV series. With the shorts program dismantled and animated features becoming less frequent on his schedule, many of the animators had been repurposed to the TV show, animating inserts and linking sequences. But the earnest charge towards TV was led by two of Fred Quimby's men from MGM, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

Those two men, the creators of Tom and Jerry, had been put in charge of MGM's animation after Quimby retired in 1955. Suddenly, in 1957, the order came through from the studio to shut down the animation division and lay everyone off by phone. Hanna and Barbera moved on to the new medium and sold Ruff and Reddy to NBC, using a very limited and cost-effective style that would soon dominate TV animation. Though not the first animators to work on TV, they were immediately successful, and soon found themselves taking in a number of personnel from closing animation studios (including Disney's Pluto director Charles Nichols). In 1958, Hanna-Barbera launched a second series, Huckleberry Hound; Mike Maltese called and asked for a job. He took Warren Foster from Friz Freleng's unit with him, and the two became principal writers for H-B.

In 1959, with animated shorts in their last days, even Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng attempted to get in on television, pitching a deal with CBS, but Warner Bros. stepped in and offered them a lot of money and another three years of guaranteed operation of the cartoon studio. Warners had made a deal with ABC for a primetime series, The Bugs Bunny Show, which consisted primarily of classic theatrical shorts but needed new linking animation. The show began airing in 1960; the cartoon division was then merged with the commercial and industrial division, under the supervision of David DePatie.

By this point, the Warner Bros. cartoons had gotten abysmal. New directors came in who were not the geniuses Warners had once had on its staff. The Bugs Bunny Show only lasted until 1962, at which point DePatie was told to finish the work on hand and shut the cartoon division down once and for all. Meanwhile, Chuck Jones was essentially fired when Warners discovered he had sold a screenplay to UPA for their awful animated feature Gay Purr-ee, which they considered a breach of contract. Friz Freleng left for Hanna-Barbera, writing the story for their feature Hey There, It's Yogi Bear. Some of the animators at Warners limped along for a while, doing small work like the animated sequences in The Incredible Mr. Limpet.

Then, in 1963, Friz Freleng and David DePatie returned to the Warner Bros. cartoon building. They rented it and hired much of their former staff under the banner of DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, where they too made the transition to television.

Warner Bros. animation wouldn't truly resurface until the studio re-opened in 1980 to produce compilation films and special with the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters. And they would become a major force in television animation, as well.

Art

ME: This is perhaps my most brilliant work of art. In fact, I call it Art. That's the name of the piece.

BECCA: Explain your theory here.

ME: It's conceptual. You see, this is the apotheosis of participatory art. See, right now, you're processing this in your head. You're looking at my canvas and and the canvas is reflecting what you're bringing to the piece. This art will never lie, never create illusions, and never lead the viewer into a predetermined conclusion. In its simplicity lies complexity, but only the complexity that you bring to it. It means everything and nothing, whatever you bring to it from your unconscious, whatever meaning you attach to it. Therefore, it is always meaningful. As such, this is, if I may say, the most honest piece of art ever created, for it is always simultaneously a reflection and creation of the viewer.

BECCA: ... You ran out of paint, didn't you?

Does Anyone Even Get This Reference?

Some wag got me a multi-year subscription to Stuff magazine a few years ago. When that magazine shut down, my subscription was apparently transferred over to Esquire, so I continued to receive Esquire until just about last month.

BECCA: Your subscription to Esquire must have run out. You never got the E Ink issue.

ME: Huh?

BECCA: E Ink. It's some kind of electronic paper or something. Someone at work was making a big deal about it.

ME: E, like the TV channel?

BECCA: No, it's different. E Ink.

ME: Eink? (EYE-nk)

BECCA: No! E. INK.

ME: That's lame. Eink.

BECCA: E. Ink.

ME: I get it. Looks like the O-Needers.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Throwdown 9/19

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. These are pictures of Britney Spears a year apart. What do you notice first? That maybe she’s starting to clean up? Well, if you noticed she’s wearing the same shoes and decided to ridicule her for it, congratulations, you’re a gossip blogger. I know, you wanted to be a real writer, you just didn’t have the talent for it. Seriously, why do gossip bloggers have such an intense need for Britney to be such a failure? She does fine on her own without making up reasons to rip on her. I get it, you weren’t popular in high school, so that gives you license to be mean to everyone remotely notable. Get over yourself.

2. So, Russell Brand made some jokes about the Jonas Brothers wearing “purity rings” that symbolize their promises to stay virgins until married (yeah, believable), Jordin Sparks stood up and defended their right to use chastity as a marketing gimmick by saying that “not everyone, guy or girl, wants to be a slut.” Are those really the choices kids think they have now? Virgin or slut? Boy, I’ll bet Jordin Sparks is going to make someone a very fun girlfriend.

3. Supposedly David Tennant has shot down the idea to do a Doctor Who special which would feature the Doctor rescuing J.K. Rowling from her fictional Harry Potter universe. As reported in the Times, sure, but I’m not buying it. That just seems way too fan-fictiony to be real. And it is an unbearably silly idea, even for Doctor Who. Besides, Tennant was probably afraid that even mentioning Harry Potter in something for commercial release might get everyone involved slapped with a lawsuit.

4. R. Kelly was asked by an interviewer if he was attracted to teenage girls. Kelly, who has been in trouble with the law over this very issue, stupidly answered: “How old are we talkin’?” Jeez, why didn’t you just say: “Yes, but I need a way to lie about it without alienating potential sex partners” instead? Don’t you get it? In this situation, everything other than no pretty much means yes, genius.

5. According to a number of sources, during a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, New York Post critic Lou Lumenick got himself into a snit and struck Roger Ebert with some kind of portfolio or rolled up program or something. Roger Ebert, whose medical problems have rendered him unable to talk, was tapping Lumenick on the shoulder because he couldn’t see the screen. Look, regardless of who you are, is it really an appropriate reaction to turn around, scream at somebody and hit them because they’re trying to get your attention? Roger Ebert, a class act as always, wrote about the altercation after reports hit the web, clarifying what had happened and, the epitome of good taste, not naming the colleague who hit him. But according to every other account I’ve read, it was Lumenick. Lumenick has yet to say anything about it at all, not in the way of apology or anything. Lumenick is not, I suppose, a class act.

6. Somebody recently commented on a post I did a month or so ago about the plenary indulgence practice of “carbon offsets,” where I pointed out that Al Gore owns the company he buys his guilt-erasing offsets from, essentially paying himself for using natural resources. After calling me a right-winger (?), he argued, not very persuasively, “So Al Gore owns the company he buys offsets from, so what?” So what? Look, imagine that someone gets elected to office, and then you discover that he owns the company that makes the voter machines. You see my apparently right-wing problem?

7. The TSA introduced new airport security uniforms just in time for the 9/11 anniversary. The problem, though, is that the uniforms have metal badges which set off the metal detectors. The solution is apparently to let agents bypass all security points. This country is so unprepared for another 9/11, I’m surprised we haven’t just been outright conquered yet. How can a nation of so many people be so consistently and predictably stupid?

8. Joe Biden asked recently why, if the GOP is so worried about helping special needs children (something that Sarah Palin’s Down’s baby is supposed to be living proof of, according to the McCain camp), why Republicans refuse to support stem cell research. The McCain camp accused him of using the Palin children as political tools. Bizarre, but true.

9. Bristol: “Aw, you’re so cute when you’re being forced into a loveless marriage.”
Levi: “When your family loses this election, I’m going to fake my death and change my name and move to Hawaii.”


10. So, let me get this straight. Carly Fiorina thinks Sarah Palin is this great, feminist icon who is wonderfully suited to be vice president or, potentially, the President of the United States. But she doesn't think Palin has the necessary smarts to run HP into the ground, be forced out, and fail at business like Failorina did? Interesting.


11. On the other hand, maybe Failorina is right. Here’s Klondike Barbie, McCain’s trophy running mate, flubbing a softball question about her national security cred at a preticketed and prescreened town hall meeting. What, did she forget that she can see Russia from her house? It’s always hilarious to see someone who has risen above their level of competence flail and sweat about for a non-answer that won’t show them up for the incompetent fools they are. They should ask her about “the Iraq,” like such as maps. This is the same woman who said that the economy needs more regulation to get the government out of it. Keep telling me how wise she is, GOP. Imagine if someone were interviewing for Chief of Neurosurgery and said to you “Sure, I’m kind of a neurology outsider, but I think I’m prepared to be your brain surgeon. If you want specifics about how I do brain surgery I’d be glad to answer that. Next question!”


12. Heh, heh, I’m sorry, the what and who administration? I don’t know, I’m not comfortable with an administration led by a man who doesn’t know what a computer is for and a woman who conducts sensitive government business over an unsecured, easily hackable private email account. (Incidentally, Karl Rove thinks the Palin email hack was terrible and someone should go to jail over it. Can we hear what Valerie Plame has to say about this one?)

13. Unsurprisingly, a Reuters poll is reporting that about six times as many shoppers plan to cut back their Christmas spending this year as plan to spend more than last year. This is going to be an interesting Christmas shopping season, considering how fucked the economy is. Many stores are already desperately trotting out their Christmas stuff in the hope of prolonging the usual frenzy. Just remember, the gifts you make mean more.

14. US News & World Report is saying that banning soda machines in schools only cut kids’ soda consumption by 4%. Gee, do you think that, after steps were taken to superficially outlaw something, it really comes down to what their parents are giving them? I mean, as strange as that sounds; parental irresponsibility being more a cause of something than the school environment, which almost never happens, right?

15. HBOS, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender, has seen £46 billion in shareholder value essentially vanish. Pension funds gone, nest-eggs wiped out, etc. Alright, let’s take this depression global!

16. Congress is planning to adjourn next week, despite the looming financial crisis. Obviously, this can’t all be fixed in a single day; this is almost 30 years of economic fuck-ups and sabotage starting with Reagan that needs to be sorted out. And, of course, with only 49 Democrats (I don’t count Liarmann), they can’t get the votes they need, and Republicans will stonewall. And the Democrats have no plan for this, anyway. At this point, it’s probably preferable that Congress not do anything, especially not when a monkey has the veto pen. Still, how am I supposed to have any confidence in this thing being fixed when the people in charge are throwing up their hands with no idea of what to do? No matter who gets elected, we’re still fucked in the economy. Good thing the free market is always self-correcting and always arrives at the greatest good for the most amount of people, otherwise I’d be terrified right now.

17. Why does McCain want to fire Christopher Cox, head of the SEC? I mean, all he did was keep the deregulation policies of Phil Gramm in place. And if Gramm is good enough to be the McCain campaign’s chief economic advisor, aren’t those deregulation policies good enough for the whole country?

18. Meanwhile, the SEC decided it needed to take glorious action and banned investors from short selling stocks. What, us regulate? It’s the investors’ fault anyway, isn’t it? Does all of this unequivocally prove that lasseiz-faire is a giant failure? The SEC, meanwhile, exempted five firms in 2004 from required capital/debt ratio regulations. Want to guess who? Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs.

19. Last year, melamine got into the pet food supply and killed a bunch of animals (including one of my late sister’s pet hedgehogs, so thanks for that). Well, now it’s worked its way into the milk powder supply, which means as many as 10,000 Chinese babies may have had some poisoned baby formula. Two brothers named Geng were arrested for it; apparently their milk station was rejected multiple times by Sanlu Group, so they purposely diluted their milk supply with water and added melamine to make the protein level appear higher than it actually was. The Sanlu Group may have known about this as far back as March. None of the poisoned milk powder made it to North America, but I have to ask again: how many babies, children, and pets will Chinese companies be allowed to poison before we stop relying on them to make our goods?

20. Lynn Forester de Rothschild, prominent Hillary Clinton supporter. CEO of El Rothschild, a multinational holding company. Married to a knight/international banker. Shuttles herself by plane back and forth from New York to London on a private jet. Big deal on the DNC platform who raised $100,000 for Clinton. She’s endorsing John McCain for president and helping raise money because she “frankly” doesn’t like Obama. “I feel like he is an elitist.” Attention, prominent white people of the world: we’re all well aware that elitist is the new codeword for uppity nigger. We’re not as dumb as you think we are. You’re a fucking Rothschild, so it’s a lot more than hating “elitism.”

21. Does it worry anyone else that Russia is selling anti-aircraft weapons to Iran? Just asking, because all of this stuff involving our impending energy-related war with Russia doesn’t seem to be playing with the media or the public.

50 Years Old; Still Rocks

Happy Birthday, Lita Ford!

Oh, the Huge Manatee!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Today's Political Points

1. According to some poll or other, 53% of Americans think they're in that top 1% that's going to see a tax increase under Obama. The campaign really needs to get this message out; I've had to correct this misperception a number of times in the past few weeks. To wit: McCain thinks anyone making under $5 million is middle class; anyone who makes more than that, he's going to lower their taxes. If you think McCain isn't going to raise your taxes, take a look at his plan to tax you on your health benefits. Obama is going to lower taxes for people making less than $250,000 a year.

2. John McCain is in favor of deregulation, as he's always been, so he sees no reason why the insurance companies and big pharma shouldn't make as much money as possible. McCain does, in fact, propose reclassifying employer-paid health benefits as earned income, which means you would be taxed on them. What do you think that's going to do to your paycheck and the cost of employee health insurance? Think about how many employers are going to have to just stop offering health benefits.

3. McCain is now saying that Wall Street is greedy and irresponsible in his new campaign ad. McCain is in favor of deregulation, which is what has led to the economic collapse we're currently finding ourselves enjoying. And McCain was one of the many in favor of privatizing Social Security, too. So, if you want to turn over America's semblance of financial security over to Wall Street, you can't really go around calling them greedy and irresponsible, can you? That would make you look like some sort of hypocrite.

4. The government said it wouldn't bail out Lehman Brothers. Then it "loaned" them $87 billion. More accurately, the government asked JP Morgan Chase to advance Lehman Brothers the money, then repaid Chase. To "avoid disruption" of the precious, precious markets. Expect more bailouts in the immediate future, because if all the debt went away, the economy would collapse somehow. How is it that the Free Market is the American way, but whenever the Free Market fails major business institutions the government steps in and catches them before they fall? That's not the Free Market. That's not even capitalism. That's, like, communism.

5. How sound are the fundamentals of our economy? According to the New York Times and the Investment Company Institute, money market funds are actually losing money. You should check your 401(k) and make sure it isn't held by Merril Lynch. I've already talked to a couple of people who've lost half of their 401(k).

6. Isn't the real scare in all of the government bailouts wondering just how the government is going to make up the money? I mean, where is it coming from?

7. John McCain is also saying now that he understands the economy (he's admitted in the past that he doesn't) and he knows how to fix it because, wait for it, he was the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. I guess those words sound reassuring if you don't know that the Senate Commerce Committee doesn't actually have anything to do with regulating banking, housing, or financial institutions. This week's campaign strategy seems to have devolved to just blowing smoke up people's asses and hoping they're too dumb to question what he says.

Puggle Break

Taco Bell Finally Marketed a Pink Taco

BECCA: "What's a volcano taco?"

ME: "Like most Taco Bell foods, it's an accurate description of what your bowel movement will be like shortly after eating it."

ME: "Wait a minute... Taco Bell is marketing a pink taco?"

BECCA: "It's red."

ME: "It's a pink taco! Are you kidding me? What's the ad campaign like? Do they want you to spread out the walls and shove your tongue inside the hot, juicy, meaty pink taco center?"

BECCA: "Ew!"

ME: "Burger King should respond. They should market their own furburger."

BECCA: "But would you want to eat something called a furburger?"

ME: "No, I'm waiting to see who offers the adolescent cookie. Wocka wocka!"

Mandarin

I came across a message board this morning where everyone was abuzz over who was going to play the Mandarin in Iron Man 2.

How about Faran Tahir? I mean... didn't he play the Mandarin in Iron Man?

Sort-of Asian villain fiddling with his rings, in charge of an organization called the Ten Rings? Like, the Ten Rings of the Mandarin. I mean... I kind of figured he'd come back in the sequel as the Mandarin. Did anyone else think this when they saw the movie?

Of course, my realy hope is that with the Mandarin in the sequel, they'll put in Fin Fang Foom...

But I'm sure that's about as realistic as my desire to see Hoojibs in a Star Wars movie.

Are Those Wizards Just Jerks?

I've been thinking about this because I've apparently got nothing better to do, but here's my question: Why is it imperative to keep the magical world and the existence of magic a secret from the outside world?

Seriously, I was watching part of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on TV the other day, and I wondered... well, why is it such a big secret? What would go so wrong if the outside world became aware that magic existed? I mean, think of all the things the outside world could be a part of if it were made aware. The advances in flying technology alone would be worth it, it seems to me.

Aren't those wizards really just being selfish? They're selfishly hoarding the secrets of magic that make their lives that much easier, as well as operating their own shadow governments removed from the outside world. If you devote way too much thought to it, it's kind of creepy.

Of course, there is the possibility that the wizards are just racists. Since we know that in the Harry Potter universe, magic is the result of some kind of genetic... something or other. I mean, apparently someone without magical relatives can just be naturally born with the ability to do magic (Hermione, Lily Potter). So... wizards are some kind of master race, then?

This is where I get bogged down.

It's a master race of magic-wielding bourgeois who live in secret, hoarding their abilities and keeping them out of the reach of the plebs.

I'd go on, but I don't want J.K. Rowling suing me for somehow ripping off her work by mentioning it.

John McCain Still Hasn't Figured It Out

Things you say in public, on video and in print, can be checked later. We don't believe them just because you tell us you have integrity. According to what I've seen, you don't have it.

Happy 22nd Birthday, Keeley Hazell

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Music-Related Story of My Life

1986, 10 years old.

Classmate: "Wait, you know what heavy metal music is?"

1995, 18 years old.

Becca: "Wait, you listen to the Sex Pistols?"

2008, 31 years old.

8-year-old kid: "Wait, you listen to Hannah Montana? That's weird."

Do I look like some kind of Barry Manilow fan or something?

Film Week

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

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)
There's nothing like a horror film that carries with it the palpable fear of the Vietnam era. Wes Craven's infamous "it's only a movie" horror intensity, and I'm glad I finally saw it. Like other great horror films of the time, it has the overriding sense of a world changed, being taught to fear horror and brutality that potentially exists inside anyone at any moment. At first, the film seems like some kind of silly, over-the-top parody of a horror film, as though Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham are just trying to see what they can get away with. But that last act turns the focus from horror and gore to some kind of righteous violence that draws you into it. It's less of a movie than an experiment in intensity and focus. **** stars.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
Another Wes Craven movie, and another examination of how violence can exist in the unlikeliest people and unlikeliest places, this time with a family being terrorized by a group of desert-living cannibals. It's very telling that both this and The Last House on the Left mention Sigmund Freud; Craven's interest, through the prism of gonzo horror and drive-in movies, is in violence as a natural state. And, as in the other movie, Craven wears you down and invites you to feel a celebration in vengeance. It's powerful stuff that belies its origins, like a poem written on a napkin. **** stars.

IRMA LA DOUCE (1963)
I'm probably going to take flak from someone on this, but I'm really not very moved by Billy Wilder. There are a couple of movies of his that I love, that are among the best I've ever seen, and then there are movies like this one: excellent in the beginning, stagnant in the middle, and a mercy when finally over. Shirley MacLaine is excellent as a (French) prostitute who falls in love with a (French) police officer played not very Frenchly by Jack Lemmon. When he becomes her pimp, he can't bear the thought of her with other men, so he concocts an elaborate (and hilarious) scheme involving a disguise, a secret life, and money changing hands to get back to where it started ("It seems like a hard way to make an easy living"). But it drags, it just keeps on going, and it becomes tiresome. Very good performances, nice Andre Previn score, and Lou Jacobi is wonderful as a bartender. *** stars. Also, two of the streetwalkers of Paris are Grace Lee Whitney and the incomparable Tura Satana.

MARY OF SCOTLAND (1937)
John Ford epic starring Katharine Hepburn as Mary, Queen of Scots. Both star and director are miscast. There are some good supporting performances from John Carradine and Donald Crisp, and I nearly always love Fredric March, but this is fatuous and trying. ** stars.

THE RAG MAN (2003)
Enjoyable Edward F. Cline movie with Max Davidson as a rag man and Jackie Coogan as an orphan who teams up with him in an attempt to transform his modest business (and find a home). It's a heartwarming film, and Coogan is very good. Unfortunately, it doesn't really invite a lot of comment. But it's still good. Stopping now. *** stars.

BLOOD FOR DRACULA (1974)
Udo Kier stars as Count Dracula, who is dying and must drink the blood of a virgin in order to survive. His secretary takes him to Italy, where he encounters a family of broke aristocrats with four daughters whom he takes an interest to marrying in order to test them out and discover the truth of their virginity. The family is pleased to essentially sell one of their daughters, because marriage to an aristocrat means money. Meanwhile, two of the daughters are almost constantly having sex with Joe Dallesandro, their field worker and the least convincing Italian peasant ever (although, really, who cares?). I was fascinated by this movie and completely wrapped up in it. Kier plays Dracula as a dying, crumbling symbol of the Old World aristocracy (much the same way filmmaker Vittorio de Sica plays the father of the girls), while Dallesandro represents socialism (and talks about it often). It's such an interesting thing for a vampire movie, really: the whole thing really represents the struggle of the worker against the dying decadence of the rich. And there are a number of sexy, naked Italian women. And sexy, naked Joe Dallesandro (wow, I must say). Beautiful score, too. And I like the way the feeding scenes are handled; they're like rape scenes, really hammering home the vampirism-as-perversion metaphor. Interestingly, director-writer Paul Morrissey sells both sides of his argument--aristocrats and workers--as primarily being interested in getting what they want whenever they want it, showing up the entire power struggle as something less than idealistic, which I appreciated. For a while, when it comes to the family's 14 year-old virgin daughter, it becomes a race between Kier and Dallesandro to see who can rape her first. The morality is... interesting. But the film is fascinating. **** stars.

FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1973)
Also by Paul Morrissey, with much of the same cast as Blood for Dracula, only taking on that other Gothic horror classic. Udo Kier, who is an actor I find indispensible, plays Baron Frankenstein, scouring his village for parts to make the perfect zombie couple, whom he hopes will bear him a master race. I've never quite seen Frankenstein done as a film about Aryanism before, and it's very interesting. Kier is pretty committed to the role, too, equating sex and gore and medicine and biology and life and religion (and producing one of my new favorite movie lines "In order to know death, you must first fuck life in the gall bladder"). Frankenstein, meanwhile, is married to his sister, and the two have children who are much less interesting to him than his other creations. Into this, of course, comes sexy, naked, angry, intense Joe Dallesandro as a village worker who becomes the sexual plaything of Frankenstein's sister-wife and, oddly, part of the moral center of the film. It doesn't work quite as well as Blood for Dracula, but it's just as bizarrely entertaining. **** stars.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another Obama Ad I Can Believe In

Obama goes for McCain on what he said about the fundamentals of our economy yesterday. Nicely done.



I'd still like to see a mention of the Keating Five, but this is still nicely done.

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 40

I finally got back to work last week, doing a day and a half at one of the middle schools in the area. I'd never taught anything above fifth grade before, so I was interested to see how it would go. The job was for a Language Arts teacher, which meant it was teaching and not assisting, which meant it paid more.

When I got there on the first day, it turned out the teacher I was subbing for had been listed incorrectly. She doesn't do Language Arts, she does Resource. As in special ed. So, there I was, back in special education again. That's about 99% of what I've been doing which I've been subbing, which is fine, but I was a little reluctant to take on a class full of rowdy 8th graders. Still, I was already there, so I just had to swallow and forge ahead.

It ended up being both easier and more irritating than I thought it would be. I've worked with special ed kids now from second, third, fourth, fifth, and eighth grades, and the eighth graders are by far the most ill-behaved. It was like they'd finally given up and just accepted that they weren't going anywhere. Even worse, these kids had rushing hormones that led to a lot of little alpha male displays that took up way too much class time. There were only two girls in the class, and one of them--the one person in that class who seemed to genuinely want the help, by the way--was the only one who behaved. That poor girl needs her own tutor, or something, because this class is going to drag her down even further, and she's obviously working hard to get out of it.

The other girl is the hot one. She looks like Kim Kardashian, so the boys are all over her, and whatever she says, it's obvious she loves the attention, and it distracts her from doing her work, too. You cannot keep these guys off of her, or off of anything, really. They just had no interest in learning, only in hanging out and getting away with stuff. I was at a complete loss for what to do.

(By the way, I hear there's a school in Alabama that's separating the girls from the boys in their own classes. You know, if they're getting the same education, I have no problem with that. It's been my experience so far that having both in the same room is a distraction for boys, and nothing gets done because of their childish displaying.)

One kid kept looking at me to make sure I wasn't looking when he would talk to his friend. But I was always looking, and he would act as though I wasn't. I said, in front of the class, "Just because you don't want me to be looking doesn't mean I can't see you." That was the only thing that got him to stop, and then only for a while.

Another kid kept talking even right in front of me, indulging in all of the wrong behavior in front of me, and twice took someone's paper away so he could copy the answers in front of me. I probably went too far here, but I took his paper away both times and ripped it in half in front of him and told him that was yet another zero. This kid was the worst one in the class, which is really saying something, and I couldn't find any other way to get through to him except by treating him with absolutely no respect. I figure I can get away with that because I'm never going to see him again and it's not an ongoing problem for me. Fuck it, I really don't care because I was there for a day and a half and I don't know what his regular teacher does or doesn't do. I'm sure she's got her own way of putting up with them and leading them.

This is rambling all over the place, but this still gives me a headache to think about. I don't really want to focus.

I read aloud with these kids, and they can't read. That's just it. They can't read, not at an eighth grade level, barely at a second grade level. I ask again, futilely: how does it get this far? How does a kid reach this age with barely any reading skills? I think I got through about 2/5 of the material the sub left for me.

The most annoying thing we did was an English assignment, where the students were given a list of proper nouns and common nouns. For each list, they had to create one for the other. So, given a list of common nouns, come up with a list of proper nouns that describe the common nouns. Example, for the common noun holiday answer Christmas or Thanksgiving. I had to explain the directions, no kidding, five times because no one would listen. And the kids challenged me on this one, too. They thought it was beneath them, homework for little kids, not for eighth graders. I told them to prove they could do it quickly, then. Not all of them actually finished it, which was depressing, but one particularly difficult kid did, which was a small victory.

The common nouns: college, river, governor, singer, physician, holiday, TV show, city, teacher, classmate, car, school, lake, country, street, park, month, actor, girl, state.

The most depressing questions I got about that list:
* What do you mean by "lake"?
* What's the name of a street?
* Girl? What's that supposed to mean?
* What does "physician" mean?
* What does "governor" mean? (Leading to two more depressing questions: Who's Rod Blagoyawhat? and, surprisingly, Who's Arnold Schwarzenegger?)
* For "river"... I don't get it.

The proper nouns: Alaska, South America, Tuesday, Nile, Dr. Washington, Lake Superior, Thanksgiving, Pacific, Arizona, David, Mars, Bill Clinton, February, Andes Mountains, Mexico, Treasure Island, Jennifer, Paris, Washington D.C., Fido.

Most common answers:
* Treasure Island: island.
* South America: country.
* Arizona: county.
* Andes Mountains: ?.

One kid didn't even recognize me on the second day as the sub from the first day.

I'm sorry, I know we're all supposed to think that every kid is a blank canvas with genuine disabilities to overcome and all, but you know what? Some kids are just stupid, and some don't want to learn. I'll be in elementary school tomorrow, and I don't think I need to go to middle school ever again. It's just too annoying and depressing. And even the assistant in that classroom has given up, and school's only been in session for four weeks. She said to me "You know, it's good for these kids that there's no complicated written test to collect carts from the Wal-Mart parking lot, because they'd fail that, too."

You know what, though? There was one nice thing that happened.

The classroom I was in was used by a sixth grade resource class, and two of my students from last year were in it. So the first student I saw at the middle school was Melody, my biggest problem student from last year. And you know what? She was actually happy to see me. And that felt good. Josie is in that class, too, and they both seem to be doing well in it (especially Josie, God bless her, who is one of those students who really tries and tries and works and works hard and still can't get there; she hasn't given up, and I hope she never, ever does). And at the end of the day, I even saw Val. I saw three of my four fifth graders from last year. Val told me that she's not even in resource anymore, she's in a regular class now. Since I was the one who finally got her to figure out multiplication and actually enjoy math, that made me feel really, really damn good. So there's one person I helped. I'm glad they seem stable in a new school.

I hope that by eighth grade they haven't become so cynical as those kids. And I hope when they're adults they aren't as cynical as me.

Tucker Bounds Fumfuhs on Direct Questions

Wow, when did Fox News become willing to get tough with Republicans? Now Megyn Kelly calls Tucker Bounds to task over McCain's lies about Obama's proposed tax plan.



What do you think? Have the corporate entities at Fox just decided to distance themselves from McCain's constant lies and finally stop apologizing for him? Are these isolated incidents?

Righteous Kill

TV AD: "DeNiro. Pacino. What else do you need to know?"

BECCA: "What else is playing."

50 More!

Happy 50th Birthday,
Jennifer Tilly!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Finally!

The Obama campaign released this ad today attacking McCain on his lies. That's a great cap to a day of political writing. That makes me feel damn good.



(By the way, does anyone else remember how I said I wasn't going to blog about politics anymore? Sheesh.)

McCain vs. Economic Reality

Today, John McCain asserted that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." He also had another one of his advisers write a newspaper editorial claiming that our economy was perfectly fine and telling us to stop whining about it so much.

McCain did admit there were difficulties this morning in Florida, and said: "I promise you we will never put America in this position again. This is a failure. We’ve got take every action to build an environment of robust energy supplies, lower inflation, control health care costs, access to international markets, low taxes and reduce burden of government to allow people to move forward toward a future of prosperity. The McCain Palin administration will replace the outdated patchwork quilt of regulatory oversight and bring transparency and accountability to Wall Street, we will bring transparency and accountability and we will reform the regulatory bodies of government."

Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, Merill Lynch, AIG, bank failures, foreclosures, rising gas prices, rising food prices... yeah, that's one strong economy.

What McCain fails to mention is deregulation and rampant spending have brought us to this point and, surprise, the trickle-down theory (it basically goes like this: "The peasants will get money eventually when the rich people are tired of it") doesn't actually work. He also fails to mention that he was a part of what led us to this mess.

Remember the Savings and Loan Crisis? I'm sure John McCain remembers it, what with being one of the Keating Five and all. I'm sure anyone paying taxes at the time remembers it, since it cost taxpayers roughly $124.6 billion. Don't you enjoy that your taxes are now going to bail out the same sort of people, thus ensuring that everyone's debt will be protected in our failing economy? Now these storied financial institutions will be able to keep operating like private companies with private profits, but we'll be paying their operational costs. It's like putting money into a bank account you can never, ever withdraw from!

When the deregulation of the S&Ls began in the 1980s, S&Ls were empowered to act like banks, but without the regulations or oversight of banks. There was a boom in real estate in the late seventies and--this will sound depressingly familiar--many S&Ls lent far more money than necessary because the regulations designed to prevent lending excesses and minimize failures had been eliminated. Congress propped up insolvent lenders by changing regulatory rules so that the lenders wouldn't have to acknowledge their insolvency and be shut down.

When the S&Ls were allowed to sell their mortgage loans and use the cash to seek better returns (allowed by an act of Congress), they sold to major Wall Street firms. The firms bundled the loans as government-backed bonds (guaranteed by--you ready?--Ginnie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae). Congress then increased the proportion of assets that S&Ls could hold in real estate loans.

This all led to--and this will again be familiar--defaults and bankruptcies, forcing S&Ls into insolvency. 296 institutions were closed by the FSLIC at a $125 billion loss. (Fun fact: the director of one of these institutions was Neil Bush, W's brother; he was even accused of giving himself a loan from his own bank and found guilty of approving loans for his friends.) The FSLIC was abolished in 1989.

Between 1980 and 1994, more than 1600 FDIC-insured banks failed.

Today, when the fundamentals of our economy are apparently strong, we seem to have pretty much the exact same situation. (Another fun fact: Nevada's Silver State Bank failed and was closed down last week, the 11th US bank to do so this year. This was due to, of course, risky real estate loans. On the board? John McCain's son Andrew.)

All I can say is that the numbers are out there: the economy's in terrible shape. The job market is in terrible shape. The housing industry is fucked. The airline industry is fucked. The same Republicans who tell you socialized medicine is wrong are, as was pointed out in the comments on another post, firm believers in socialized banking. They want to protect the money more than they want to protect you.

For what it's worth, Greenspan says this is the worst economy he's ever seen.

Remember when McCain said "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should"? Do you think he does?

Do you think it's important that McCain's proposed tax cuts favor the wealthy? Or that he considers anyone making less than $5 million per year to be middle class? What do you think is going to happen to anyone making less if he's running the store?

Mavrick

Not being able to spell maverick properly is part of being a maverick mavrick.

Dear Obama Campaign: Bury McCain, Please

The Obama campaign really needs to step up their dissemination of the facts. The McCain campaign is playing hell with the truth, and since Americans are apparently encouraged now to look at everything that is presented as fact and decide which fact is the right fact for them to want to believe, I think the clarity of debunking is sort of necessary right now. We need the clarity.

The Republicans right now are pushing Sarah Palin as the cure for cancer. Obama should call them out on it and ask why they're acting like Palin, not McCain, is the presidential candidate. And ask America if they really want this insane woman in the Oval Office if four-time cancer survivor McCain dies in office.

Here's a great quote Obama or Biden could use: "[Sarah Palin]'s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?" Who said that? Lyda Green, president of the Alaska state senate. Bonus: she's a Republican. And hey, she's also from Wasilla.

Even Republicans think that McCain's "Obama wants to teach six year-olds how to fuck" attack ad was over the line. Use it. Also, the genuine conservatives seem to be finally waking up to the reality of what Sarah Palin means.

McCain's campaign strategy has been to lie repeatedly, over and over again, with slightly different wording, and then claim that any "disagreement" with provable and established facts are "your call." McCain couldn't even credibly defend himself on The View. There are a number of clips here, a couple of which show McCain barely holding on to that famous temper (which, again, I've seen directed more at women than anyone else). Obama needs to refer to this more often, too. There are clips all over YouTube (Johnny Yen posted two) showing McCain getting into a swear-laden snit when challenged by women; just let a couple of those make the news rounds for a while. If there's one thing voters seem not to like, it's the slightest appearance of instability (see Howard Dean).

Someone needs to play up Palin's and McCain's positions on Russia and the fact that the war over one area of Georgia is in fact being fought over a natural gas pipeline. Condi Rice has decided not to talk with Russia about nuclear cooperation anymore, and a Russian sub is going to test launch ICBMs. Republicans love to say that a Democratic president will cause another 9/11. The Republicans themselves, however, seem hellbent on starting World War III.

Bush's cronyism is often cited as one of the many problems of his corrupt administration. Many people feel that New Orleans is still fucked because the man in charge of FEMA was a friend of Bush's with no experience in safety management. Meanwhile, it's just come out that Sarah Palin hired one of her high school friends as the head of Alaska's State Division of Agriculture. Her childhood love of cows was cited as a qualification. You're telling me that isn't worth an ad? Palin is a woman who's tried to shut up everyone that ever disagreed with her. She's the change candidate who's under a major ethics investigation.

Regarding experience and its value: when the Dems were pushing John Edwards as Kerry's running mate in 2004, they kept talking about his experience, and it didn't make much difference. And his experience was a lot more... you know, real. Sarah Palin was the mayor of a town of 5500 people, and this is cited as the bulk of her political experience, even though she didn't have that many responsibilities in the first place. And she still left that town $20 million in debt. And she hired an administrator who did most of her work for her. You know why? Because there was serious talk of having a recall election to oust her. Is this really what McCain thinks counts as serious political experience? Who's going to be the National Security Adviser? Bill Pullman? I mean, he played a president who fought aliens in a movie once, so according to Republican osmosis theory he has foreign policy experience. It really is time to say that picking Palin as vice president purely for political reasons shows a serious flaw in McCain's judgment.

McCain's campaign strategy has been to lie and lie and lie and repeat the same lies over and over even after they've been shown to be lies. Obama, I'm begging you, call him out on this. Call him out now. Ask him why he continues to spin a web of lies over issues that Americans don't even care about. Ask him, directly, point blank, why he can't run his campaign--a campaign he promised to run honorably and without negative attack ads--on a single issue that is of importance to the American voter. Challenge this guy. Challenge him to explain why he thinks the American people are dumb enough to be fooled by his lies.

McCain has been telling lies about Obama. All Obama has to do is tell the truth about McCain. And he needs to do it repeatedly.

Seriously, this shit needs to be repeated. You need to repeat it and put the onus on the McCain campaign to prove that their lies aren't lies. Which they won't be able to do, anyway. But it shows them up for the liars they are. And that's the point.

Rick Davis Has No Soul

Here's--of all people--Chris Wallace on Fox News calling McCain campaign manager Rick "This Campaign Is Not About Issues" Davis on the campaign's repeated lie that Sarah Palin said no to the Bridge to Nowhere.



Davis, of course, doesn't let the truth stand in the way of repeating a good talking point.

Watching Davis in this clip, it's pretty clear that he's the genius behind the campaign tactic that John McCain and Sarah Palin excel at--repeating the same thing over and over again instead of answering a question.

The Many Emotions of Nicolas Cage

Pretty Much

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Song of the Week: "The Weight"

It's a cold, dark, rainy day today, and that always puts me in the mood for something that just feels good. Here's the Band, from The Last Waltz, with one of my favorites.

Quote of the Week

Former Hitler Youth Pope Benedict, the man who wrote the secret Vatican rulings on how to move priests accused of molestation and buy off their families, was in France this week trying to win back the flock. France is apparently having low church attendance right now, and low attendance means, well, let's face it, low revenue.

The Pope: "Money is the root of all evil. Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge diverted man from his true destiny?"

Now I assume that Herr Pope will head back to Rome to sit on his throne under the gold-plated dome of the Vatican and hang his head. After all, the Catholic Church only has a net worth estimated in, what, the tens of billions area?

Pimpin' for Jesus ain't easy, is it?

Muppet Happenings

Well, it looks like Disney is finally going to start making a genuine play to get the Muppets back to the public. I can't wait for the inevitable whining about how the Muppets aren't the same as they were when we were kids, despite the fact that Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, and Richard Hunt are dead, Jerry Nelson is retired, and Frank Oz hasn't worked with the Muppets in a decade, but whatever. I'm just glad they're back in some form or another, and since I'm pretty forgiving, I'm just glad to see them again.

First thing: Disney Channel aired something last month called Studio DC: Almost Live, which featured Disney Channel stars performing opposite the Muppets. It was basically a commercial for the Muppets and for Disney Channel, but I enjoyed it. It had Ashley Tisdale on it, who I always love, and Miley Cyrus is as Disney to me as Mickey Mouse. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone over the age of 10, probably, but it was cute. Disney Channel has a second special coming on in October with Selena Gomez hosting, and I think she's pretty fun for that kind of thing, too, so I'll be watching that one.

Even better, the Muppets are going to have a new Christmas special which is going to air on 17 December. I love the Muppets at Christmas. This one is going to air on NBC, like It's a Very Merry Muppets Christmas Movie did a few years ago. It's called Letters to Santa: A Muppets Christmas, and I can overlook the fact that Whoopi Goldberg is in it because Paul Williams actually wrote the songs. Really, if it's the Muppets, I can overlook anyone I don't like being in it.

There is also talk of a primetime Muppets election special, and there's been the viral video campaign. So, the end of 2008 is coming up Muppets. And with Jason Segal's new Muppet movie coming out in 2010... finally, there's Muppets happening.

Sunday Hottie 189

SERENA WILLIAMS

Happy Birthday, Sam Neill

One of my favorite actors. 61 years old today.