Thursday, November 18, 2010

The American Voter Mandate


The 2010 midterm elections were a mandate for the new GOP sorta-but-not-really majority in Washington. The American voter has clearly demanded:

1. Social Security reform that guarantees my current level of benefits, alters someone else's, and cuts everyone's Social Security taxes to boot.

2. A world-class national infrastructure that can be built and maintained without tax dollars.

3. A balanced budget that doesn't sacrifice any of the government programs – especially the sacred military-industrial complex and the various old age benefits – that we like.

4. Clean air without pollution controls, clean water with a neutered and underfunded EPA, and businesses that do socially responsible things without any regulation whatsoever.

5. Consumer goods at Made in China prices that create high-paying jobs in America.

6. Giant trucks and SUVs that drive like Formula One race cars, look cool, fit into small parking spaces, cost under $18,000, and get the fuel economy of a Toyota Prius.

7. Complete freedom and complete security at the same time.

8. An America that acts like a swaggering, sociopathic asshole on the global stage yet is beloved by all the nations of the world.

9. Wars against every enemy, real or imagined, all of the time, with no U.S. casualties and no effect on the budget.

10. Incredibly rich and rewarding professional lives while supporting our employers' right to do whatever they want to us without recourse.

11. A vibrant, consumption-based U.S. economy with good jobs for anyone willing to look for one resulting from free trade policies that encourage money and capital flows to cheap labor markets.

12. A highly educated workforce produced by a school system that requires no tax dollars to achieve excellence, students who have no interest in learning, and a virulently anti-intellectual society.

13. Closed borders and an endless supply of cheap labor to keep prices low.

14. To buy whatever we want irrespective of what we can afford while maintaining the drumbeat of personal responsibility.

15. Health care that is cheap, superior, and readily available to me without the danger of the same being enjoyed by anyone I deem undeserving.

It couldn't be any clearer: we want a government that will resolve every problem we currently face with solutions that require no effort, no sacrifices, and no money. And I have no doubt that we have elected a group of people brave enough to promise exactly that.

Very Brief Thoughts on the Gulliver's Travels Trailer

Why am I supposed to be so offended that this thing actually exists?

I see so much outrage online regarding the idea that someone would take the premise of Jonathan Swift's novel and turn it into a Jack Black comedy vehicle, and I'd like to know, honestly, why?

I mean, I know there are a lot of people out there who hate Jack Black. I'm not one of them, but whatever, it's a personal taste thing. And I can understand a person who thinks it looks stupid because they think Jack Black movies are stupid. I can respect that, certainly.

What I just don't understand are the people who are angered on behalf of a classic work of literature that is, to hear them tell it, having its very existence angered by what will be yet another unfaithful adaptation.

Let's be honest about a couple of things here, alright.

First off, this is nowhere near the first adaptation of Gulliver's Travels, nor is it likely to be the last. And most of those previous adaptations weren't very good, either. And 95% of them only concerned themselves with the first portion of the novel--Lilliput--anyway, so it's not like they were concerning themselves with the social points Swift was making in the first place.

And second, how many of the people getting so angered by this have actually read the Jonathan Swift novel? My suspicion is: not the majority of them. I think it's another occasion where it's just hip to be against something for phony intellectual reasons.

My point is: who cares? Film after film have done nothing to destroy Swift's novel, because it's a classic piece of literature that really deserves to be read instead of merely respected. It is a fantastic novel. Just because Jack Black is in a movie that does whatever it wants with the book doesn't mean anything happens to the book.

Personally, I think it looks cute. I like Black. A like a lot of the comic actors who are in it--Jason Segel, Catherine Tate, Billy Connolly, etc. I'll see it when it hits DVD. I see a lot of things. And some things I don't see. But I don't waste my time getting offended about things like this which are completely and utterly inconsequential to anyone anywhere.

I'm more easily offended by movies that pretend they're making deep points and utterly fail at that--movies like Slumdog Millionaire and Crash and Babel--but that's just me. I hate those movies because they pretend they're solving social injustices, instead of portraying them honestly like, say, Sin Nombre. That's being talked down to and having my sympathies exploited. I tend to reserve my hatred for those than someone taking the premise of Gulliver's Travels and making it a comedy vehicle for a comic actor I don't like and could easily ignore.

Big fucking deal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Songs Our Daddy Taught Us

I know that nobody really needs me to tell them that an album that came out 52 years ago is really great, but damn, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us is really great! I'd never had the pleasure of sitting and listening to it before, but what a nice gift it's been on this cold and gray afternoon to sit and listen to two guitars and close harmonies singing real folk music. Attention, poseurs: this is a gutsy roots album. This is not Kid Rock sucking up to the country music audience for record sales. This is genuine. Elvis never had the courage to do this.

One of the best albums ever released.

[image via]

GQ ScarJo

Yeah, That About Sums It Up for Me

Film Week

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

Slightly disappointing (though I recognize that I'm willing to forgive Oliver Stone a lot). Stone spends the first hour meticulously setting up an interesting revenge/redemption drama set against the beginning of the economic collapse in 2008. Shia LaBeouf is better than usual (damn you, DreamWorks, for killing this boy's talent--oh, and alcohol, too) as a young trader whose mentor (Frank Langella, excellent in a small role) loses everything in a bubble burst engineered by an old enemy (Josh Brolin). LaBeouf is also engaged to an activist (Carey Mulligan, whose appeal in roles not written by Stephen Moffat I still don't see) whose father, the legendary Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, still got it when he wants to use it), has just gotten out of prison and is looking in from the outside. Gekko is out for revenge, too, and he and LaBeouf find themselves with a common purpose and the right economic climate to make it work. Unfortunately, the movie then becomes a melodrama that's less interested in giving our economic system the savage exposing it desperately needs, and more interested in family drama and identifying villains instead of hacking at the root of a systemic problem. Either Stone's not as sharp as he was 20 years ago, or he's less interested. The best scene in the movie is an uncredited cameo by Charlie Sheen, reprising his role from the original. That's the real commentary: Gordon Gekko went to prison, and Bud Fox got rich doing the same thing he helped bust Gekko for. The real comment on the original Wall Street is that young people took away the wrong message; instead of heeding Stone's warnings about economic ruin, they made Gordon Gekko a hero and tried to emulate him. There's a movie to be made there that's sharper than this one. Still, *** stars. Stone uses lots of David Byrne music, it's beautifully photographed, the cast is mostly good (I still love seeing Eli Wallach when I do), and it's entertaining enough.

Like the original, what might have been an interesting premise is hampered by weak scripting and lots of padding. The original only kept me watching through it because Terry O'Quinn, in the lead role, was compelling and endlessly watchable. This one had Amber Heard in a lot of different bikinis. Maybe I'm getting old, but great acting is more exciting to me. Dylan Walsh, as this movie's stepfather, is actually not bad--he's not O'Quinn, but he's serviceable--but the movie starts playing with the "something's off about this guy" feeling way, way too early to make anything that happens surprising or exciting. ** stars.

This film is awful, dull, badly-acted, stupidly-handled, and is not the exploitation flick it claims to be. It's heavy-handed about lesbianism, it's not fun to watch, and even at 74 minutes it feels incredibly long. But the real horror? The 1970s home decor. That was just a nightmare to look at. No stars. Barely a movie.

A girl with Arthurian scholar parents becomes convinced that her new school's star football player is the reincarnation of King Arthur. Cute movie with a pretty cast (Molly Quinn, from Castle, is absolutely made for close-ups) and some fun misdirection; not a classic, but for a Disney Channel movie, it's pretty good. Forgettable, as it turns out, and totally inconsequential, but pretty good. **1/2 stars.

From the long, long Disney era when every amazing thing that ever happens is used to either thwart gamblers or aid a school somehow. This one does both, as college student Kurt Russell gets a computerized brain, goes on a college quiz show, and is kidnapped by gambler Cesar Romero. Always nice to see William Schallert! But this movie, ouch. ** stars.

Surprising. Two teenage girls (Kristy McNichol and Tatum O'Neal) go to camp and, desperate to fit in with a gaggle of girls who have frivolous, silly ideas about how casual sex is, end up in a contest to see who can lose their virginity first. It suffers from an uncertainty about the approach; the filmmakers feel compelled to try and make it a goofy camp comedy a la Meatballs, and at the same time clearly want the film to be even more exploitative than they can get away with in a movie about 15 year-old girls. But there are some later scenes which are excellent and well-acted, in which both of the girls reach the culmination of their bet and react in surprising ways. Kristy McNichol's journey into womanhood is fascinating, as is her reaction to losing her virginity and realizing just how incredibly frivolous those girls who think sex is no big deal really are. If the movie had coupled its refreshing frankness about teen sexuality with a more organic approach to the story and less forced comedy, it really would've been an excellent movie about coming of age. What a missed opportunity. **1/2 stars.

Still My Favorite Joker

Still watching Batman reruns and caught a couple of Joker episodes last night. God damn it, Cesar Romero was great in that role. Just perfect.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Cinema Autobiography

1987 starts with Mannequin.

Yes, I went to see Mannequin in the theaters. And, honestly, having watched it for one of my 80's Revisited entries, it seems like a movie that only a 10 year-old could love. Wow, is it silly. But Kim Cattrall is cute as hell in it; that attraction has never died. I remember going to see it with a fairly large audience, too. These kinds of silly movies always have large audiences. And then that Starship song was everywhere. I think we even had the 45. I liked it, but after a while it just became utterly inescapable.

I'm not sure how my parents decided which movies it was alright for me to go to. In March, all of my friends were going to see A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and Lethal Weapon, but I wasn't allowed to go to those kinds of movies. Mannequin was a sex comedy, but it was tame(ish) and though my parents didn't really want me seeing nudity, they certainly didn't want me seeing graphic violence. I wasn't one of those kids who was into those kinds of movies, because I couldn't go.

I did, however, go and see The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland, a movie that is even more forgotten than the previous two films are. Make of that what you will. And there was a reissue of The Aristocats that we probably went to. And I'm not whining about being some sheltered kid--I was sensitive and my parents had boundaries, but I've never considered my childhood sheltered. Besides, even today I'd rather see animated films instead of any others. But, you know, good ones. Those two movies suck.

Oh, speaking of bad animated movies, we also went to see The Chipmunk Adventure. It came out Memorial Day weekend, but I have a memory of going to see it for my birthday. Was it still out or did we see it second run? I think I remember going to see it at the Ogden 6, which was still a first run theater at the time. I was a big fan of the cartoon at the time; I wouldn't really bother watching it now, but the theme song still kind of excites me. Residue, I guess.

Fuck it, I dig that theme song. "Watch out, 'cause here we come..."

Harry and the Hendersons made me cry. Yeah, it did. Movies about animals--which this essentially was--always made me cry. It's a bad movie, but that Bigfoot costume is pretty sweet. Really well done. It was a big deal for me to see it, because it helped break me of my irrational Bigfoot fear. I used to read a lot of books about cryptids and my imagination would just completely run away with me. It seems lame now, but I was a soft touch for those kind of things. I remember reading a book on UFOs at night once, and at the same moment, a mosquito truck drove past my bedroom window. I took off running.

Did anyone watch the Harry and the Hendersons sitcom? That was pretty awful, too.

(By the way, Predator was released a week later. I didn't see that movie until it came out on tape, but it blew my mind when I read in Starlog that the same actor--the late Kevin Peter Hall--was both Harry and the Predator. I thought that was pretty cool.)

I got to see Spaceballs twice in the theater--or as I like to think of it now, the last actual good Mel Brooks movie. It played right to me as a kid, with all of its references to other science fiction movies. It was also the movie that made me love John Candy--that and the SCTV reruns I was watching at the time. Man, I still miss him. I had a poster of Barf hanging on my bedroom wall until my Mom did one of her periodic "cleanings" and got rid of it. She used to do that and throw stuff away that she either didn't like--such as posters--or didn't think I needed anymore--like comic books or my Masters of the Universe toys. This might have been the year I went to Boy Scout camp, so she probably did it then.

(I also miss Rick Moranis. He's not dead, but he's not in movies anywhere. Come back, Rick.)

Lots of people tease me for it, but I love Joe Dante. This was the summer Innerspace came out, which made three summers in a row (well, one skipped year) that Dante had thrilled me as a child--Gremlins, Explorers, and Innerspace.

Boy, this summer suddenly turns terrible. After getting to see a reissue of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, my Mom finally relented on movie violence and let me go see an R-rated movie with my best friend (at the time) Shane and his little brother. (And his father; I mean, we were 10.) So I would finally end up having my first experience with graphic movie violence.

Unfortunately, that movie was RoboCop.

One of my all-time favorite movies today. But at the time, cruel nightmare fuel. I felt awful after seeing it. Like, sick to my stomach. This is not a movie for a kid on the brink of 11, it just isn't. It's not Lethal Weapon. It's violent in that special, extreme, trim a few second to avoid the X-rating kind of way. Rape, murder, gunshot wounds, mutations getting liquefied, hands getting blown off... yeah, I see the satire in it now, but at the time, I couldn't process that kind of thing. It was terrifying, and the worst part was, I had to act like it was cool because I didn't want my friend to make fun of me. Then I went home and practically cried.

To make matters worse, my Mom apparently felt going to see that was okay--because I didn't talk to her about how upset the movie made me--so she decided Jayne and I could go with her and Dad to see Jaws: The Revenge.

Yeah, it's a stupid, stupid movie. But again, to a kid like me, it was more nightmare fuel. Giant sharks popping out of nowhere and killing people, menacing children and the like. Sure, a dumb film when looked at as a teenager, but at the time, it was almost the E.T. experience all over again. It did end up leading me to my great interest in sharks, I'll say that. But it also made it hard for me to close my eyes in the shower for a couple of weeks.

Yes, I know, I was a pussy.

Also, I was a sensitive eater. Well, not really, but here's an eating problem I had that's movie-related.

Towards the end of that summer, my Mom took me and Jayne to see a double feature at the Palace Cinema of Masters of the Universe and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Boy, doesn't it seem like a Cannon double feature is the kind of thing the CIA would show at Gitmo? Anyway, I remember that was the same day that WGN was airing the DuckTales pilot movie. Though my interest in He-Man and Skeletor was waning, I really wanted to see the live action movie with Dolph Lundgren and, of course, I was a Superman fan and wanted to check out that movie, too. I was excited by the idea of seeing Superman in the theater for once.

Anyway, as I sat watching DuckTales, I was eating my Mom's coffee cookies, which is a very sugary treat. Like an asshole, I ended up eating a fuck-ton of them, and made myself nice and sick. So we go to the show, and I'm fitful and bored throughout the depressingly awful Masters of the Universe--none of the characters look right, it all takes place in back alleys on Earth, and with the notable exception of Bill Conti's score and Frank Langella's performance, it truly, truly sucks. And then, to make matters worse, I have to go to the bathroom. And I unleash a diarrhea torrent that is truly biblical. It all went in the toilet, yes, but it was taking my will to live with it. It was painful. It was the wrath of some Eldritch horror for gorging myself. All the joy in the world was darkened by it. It was the kind of shit that leaves you raw and tender, feeling like a sasquatch's weeping rape victim.

I like to think it was my commentary on a movie that even an 11 year-old couldn't love.

So, after that ordeal, we didn't stick around for Superman IV. Which is probably for the best, since it's even worse than Masters of the Universe, and I probably would've had to go back to the bathroom and puke up my own stomach, like a frog.

I had a much better time later seeing The Princess Bride. Now that's a movie. Remember when Rob Reiner could make a good movie? That's a perfect movie to see when you're 11, because it's thrilling and funny and adventurous, and then it only gets better as you get older and appreciate it on more and more levels.

Thanksgiving weekend: Three Men and a Baby, which I wrote about recently and which I remember seeing a few times. You already read my thoughts on that one.

And 1987 closed out with Overboard, which I've already revisited, and *batteries not included, which I probably will one day. I mainly remember that movie as cute special effects scenes wrapped up in long sequences of tedium. But I also developed a massive attraction to Elizabeth Pena. She had some sitcom or other on the air around that time, too. More kindling for my Latina fetish...

Kristen Bell Mondays

Bonus KBM for Jaquandor

Via Nathan, who linked the image from his Tumblr on an earlier post: the best we've got so far in an overalls-clad Kristen Bell.

Stuff Like This Is Why Daniel Radcliffe's My Boy

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Song of the Week: "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"

I heard this in a movie this week, and I hadn't heard it in a really, really long time. It brings back, not necessarily memories, but the feeling of a time and place for me. David Byrne's songs about alienation, wandering, and longing always hit me where I live. And, to my surprise, I've only ever had the Talking Heads up here once. I'll just remedy that now...

It's All Relative

MOM: I'm hardly ever on. I'm back on level 8. What level are you?

ME: 49.

MOM: You have too much time on your hands.

ME: That's what people who suck at a game always say about the people who are good at it.