Saturday, August 30, 2008

Only 117 More Shopping Days Until Christmas

That makes 5 stores I've been to this month that already have their Christmas decorations out. Think they're a little desperate for the retail biz to pick up this year?

A Brief Discussion of Jordanian Politics

ME: Sarah Palin? Please. You know who's REALLY sexy? Queen Rania of Jordan.

BECCA: Rania? Please. She'll never be as sexy as Queen Noor.

ME: Queen Noor is sexy, too, but she's no Queen Rania.

BECCA: Nope, sorry.

ME: Can't we agree that both women are sexy?


Star Trek, Remastered for High Definition

Becca, while watching the remastered episode "The Ultimate Computer" on TV the other night.

"Oh, man, with the remastering you can totally see Kirk's corset! Or, I mean, what did he wear... a girdle! Didn't he wear a girdle? Wow, you can totally see his girdle! Oh, wait! I just explained William Shatner's entire acting style! He... can't SPEAK!... well, b'cuz he's... WEARING!... a girdle. And. It. CUTS! OFF! the circuLAtion!"

Said to the Television Two Nights Ago, When Becca Was Punchy

TV: We're bringing you the stories of inspiration and overcoming adversity that you love.

ME: Personally, I prefer stories of inappropriate, furtive erotic couplings that somehow end in disappointment.

BECCA: And I prefer stories about feline leukemia.

Picture I Don't Get to Use Thanks to McCain's Terrible VP Pick

"Turn your head and cough, America. I'm gonna enjoy this."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin

Okay, so, just to clarify McCain's thinking when it comes to his vice presidential choice... a junior senator from Illinois has no experience, but someone who has been a governor for less than two years has "a record of reform and bipartisanship"?

Barack Obama is bad because he wants to change things too much, but Sarah Palin's "experience in shaking up the status quo is exactly what is needed in Washington today"?

If McCain thinks Washington is so broke and he needs to fix it, why does he vote with Bush 90% of the time?

This is his brilliant choice?

So, she's younger than Obama, but Obama is too young and inexperienced...

And McCain didn't want to pick someone with little preparation, he said, so he picks someone with negligible federal experience just two months before Election Day?

All McCain can talk about is her integrity and willfulness, but she's under investigation for possibly ordering the dismissal of her own public safety commissioner because he wouldn't fire her former brother-in-law as a state trooper in Alaska.

And the sad thing? It'll work. He'll get the votes of the pissed-off Hillary Clinton supporters who think the real issue in the election is not that women across the country need health care, access to education, gas in their car, and better work benefits, but that a woman is allowed into the upper echelons of American power. He'll get the votes of those people who think it's wonderful that McCain picked a woman, and that that somehow makes him progressive.

He'll get the votes of a lot of stupid people who think the important thing is a woman having the potential to be the president, even if she's some hockey mom with no political experience and nothing to recommend her other than being a Beltway outsider whose uterus works and loves America because she doesn't have to worry about how she's going to feed her kids.

Enjoy ruining America, McCain voters. Because when the bad shit happens, it's going to be because you voted for these assholes.

Not Really a Throwdown 8/29

I'm not sure if I can do a Throwdown today, to be honest. I didn't watch any of the Democratic National Convention. I know, I know, it's part of history and I should be more interested, but I'm not interested in the cameras and the personalities and the emotions of the crowd. I just want to know what the people speaking actually said, and not how the media spins whatever they spin, so I usually wait and check out the text of the speeches. I did that today.

See, as I've mentioned before (and some of you are getting tired of hearing it, I'm told), I refuse to call myself a member of any party, group, or organization, because there will come a time when you are backed up to the wall and forced to swear some kind of loyalty oath that everything your party, group, or organization does is good, and I can't do that. If I've found one thing out in my life, it's that you can't ever be enough of the thing you claim to be, and it gets old and irritating, whether it's a Star Wars fan, an atheist, a blogger, or a Democrat.

What I do is think critically about what I see and hear, and this is all that is. So, a couple of brief, uninteresting observations on what I've read in the speeches.

1. I don't see this great, incredible, smart woman in Michelle Obama that a lot of other people see (or need to see, I've found), but I found her speech to be very warm and proud without being threatening. I know a lot of people who are threatened whenever a woman opens her mouth to address a crowd, and whether they'll admit it or not, they get annoyed seeing a woman give speeches. I think she was smart not to be aggressive about anything, but otherwise I have no real opinion of her.

2. Dennis Kucinich knocked the ball right out of the fucking park. This guy should be the Speaker of the damn House, not Nancy "Another black check, Mr. President?" Pelosi. He knows where he stands, he isn't afraid to say it (even if it isn't politic), and he's not afraid to try and go after it.

3. I didn't like the way Hillary Clinton comported herself in the campaign, but her speech showed the kind of class I knew she was capable of. She deferred to Obama, and was savvy enough to understand that there are a number of her former supporters who are still pushing for her (even taking out ads) and threatening to vote for McCain instead. She handled it perfectly, I thought: she said she didn't approve of the behavior, reminded her supporters of the Democratic issues that would go away under McCain, and rather than distancing herself from the fervent, told her supporters to remember that the important thing is not necessarily who is president, but that it's a Democrat. I also liked that she didn't contritely apologize or try to pretend that she and Obama were best friends now. Of course she believes she should be the nominee. But she didn't let it sour her support for her party, and that's the real point.

4. Bill Clinton is still a great politician. You may not like him personally, you may not have liked him as president, but shit, does he know how to speak. This guy can build total confidence out of thin air. One thing I enjoyed in his speech: he basically came out and said that his presidency and his policies are the legacy that leads to Obama, which some people are attributing to an incredible egomania. But I thought it was kind of brilliant; I mean, under Clinton, the economy and the military and our foreign relations were doing much better. Can you imagine George W. Bush speaking at the Republican National Convention and talking about his legacy? If any Republican there is still human inside, I expect a lot of collar-tugging and nervous shifting of feet.

5. John Kerry... much like I said about Al Gore in 2004, I have to say about Kerry now: Where the fuck was this guy four years ago when it would have counted? Seriously, what the hell? I hate it that a lot of these guys bland themselves down while they're running, then don't get elected because they're so bland (seriously, I knew far too many women who didn't vote for Kerry because he wasn't attractive enough), and then suddenly get all tough like we want our Democratic leaders to be long after it matters. He ripped into McCain and Bush in his speech, and had the balls to say "Years ago when we protested a war, people would weigh in against us saying, 'My country, right or wrong.' Our answer? Absolutely, my country, right or wrong. When right, keep it right. When wrong, make it right. Sometimes loving your country demands you must tell the truth to power." I will never understand the tools who think loving your country means you blindly support whatever the administration wants to do.

6. Joe Biden was the classic Irish working class Catholic, and it works. He stumbled a bit, I think, but he also bludgeoned the hell out of McCain, and that's his role. That's why he's there; so Obama can continue to be eloquent and dignified, and Biden can be the blunt bruiser. I expected him to call for a bunch of other Joes to rush out with lead pipes and beat the shit out of the union busters at one point. Biden quoted his mother's advice: "When I got knocked down by guys bigger than me, she sent me back out and demanded that I bloody their nose so I could walk down that street the next day." In other words, it's time for Democrats to stop being such pushovers and give back as good as they get. I'm starting to really like this guy and, oddly, his becoming Obama's running mate makes me want to vote for Obama more. I was always going to vote for Obama by default; now I want to vote for Obama.

7. And then there's Senator Obama's speech. Now that was a presidential speech. Obama is not just a speaker, he's an orator. He gave an incredible speech, a masterful speech. He was gracious and proud without being arrogant. Obama has never once, in my estimation, lauded himself as someone better than anyone else, smarter than anyone, more qualified than anyone. For all of the Right Wing claims that he's an out of touch elitist, I've never once seen evidence of it. He's frequently said that real change will be the result of massive cooperation, not the result of a powerful leader.

8. Obama wasn't afraid to call out Bush and McCain and place the blame squarely where it rests, but didn't roll out the personal attacks. He said "John McCain doesn't get it," but didn't hit him on his wealth or his houses or his crankiness, but instead hit him on his voting record, his support of failed policies, and basically implied that McCain had spent the summer running personal attack ads because he can't defend his policy mistakes adequately and that the only way he can win an election is by making it about small issues. It was an excellent way of basically saying that the presidential election is too important to descend into a mudslinging popularity contest for student body president while simultaneously making McCain look like an asshole by spending the summer on personal attacks against his perceptions of Obama's lifestyle, and that is how you take down an opponent while remaining classy.

9. A shrewd point, and one that shows Obama has a better grasp of politics than some people are willing to give him. He pointed out that one of McCain's advisors had called America "a nation of whiners," but didn't mention who it was. It's a subtle way to align McCain with that viewpoint. Fine parrying.

10. Ultimately, Obama took huge concerns and made them personal without trivializing them. He put forth the concepts of obligation and responsibility and put them alongside freedom and reward, backing away from the ever-present claims that Democrats are somehow socialists by saying that the government can't solve our problems for us, but that it should be protecting us, providing for us, keeping us safe, and ensuring opportunity for all while we're solving those problems. And he even mentioned that this is something we have to work for, not something to be handed to us.

11. Obama promised to change the tax code, give tax breaks to companies that keep jobs in America, elminate capital gains taxes for small and start-up businesses, cut taxes on 95% of working families, reduce oil dependency with ten years, invest $150 billion in affordable and renewable energy (and the jobs that will create), increase the quality of education and provide better access to it, provide access to health care, go after insurance companies who deny coverage, increase job benefits, change bankruptcy laws, and pay for it all not by raising taxes, but by essentially fixing tax loopholes and the federal budget. One of my favorite lines in his entire speech: "we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy." While making these promises, he also deftly pointed out that John McCain has had 26 years in Washington to break America's oil addiction, and has yet to do so--and has, in fact, voted against renewable energy, renewable fuels, and higher fuel-efficiency standards.

12. Obama struck at the cliche that Democrats won't defend the country and even made nice a bit with the Republicans by putting the blame for destroying our standing on the world stage to "the Bush-McCain foreign policy" instead of on the Republicans, effectively painting John McCain and George W. Bush as the enemies of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. It's a subtle way of telling the Republicans that he's willing to work with them, and that he considers McCain a loose cannon who isn't indicative of Republican Party values. I know a lot of Republicans who feel the exact same way. Once again, politically shrewd.

13. Obama refused the idea that the election was about him and his electability, saying instead that it was about how badly America wanted to move forward into the future. And I hope he's right. I hope the general election matters this time. I hope we can overcome the inevitable messes in Florida and Ohio and the Republican-owned voting machines. I hope America is not really the teeming swath of racism it is so often portrayed as, no matter how many morons I know personally who think a vote for Obama is a vote for some sort of black agenda. I hope we don't miss this opportunity.

Was everything Obama said just platitude after platitude? We won't know until his actions betray the truth of his words. There are things I don't like about Obama. I don't like the compromise on FISA. But he's not McCain. A McCain presidency puts us all in greater danger. An Obama presidency might--might--promise us greater prosperity. And what do you really want? Do you want to conquer Iraq, a nation that wants us to leave and has a $79 billion surplus while you struggle to afford enough gas to get to work or to keep up with your lost equity? Are you enjoying living one illness or accident away from total financial ruin?

That's the real choice, right there.

Read the entire text of the speech for yourself.

POW POWs His Way to Becoming POW-in-Chief

JOE BIDEN: It occurs to me that Senator McCain’s problem is that he doesn’t understand peoples’ kitchen table issues because he has seven kitchen tables.

JOHN McCAIN: I spent some years without a kitchen table, without a chair, and I know what it’s like to be blessed by the opportunities of this great nation… [note: actual quote]

VOICE OF REASON: So, you’re responding to an economic issue that you were a prisoner of war once? Wow, it’s a sickness with you, isn’t it? It’s pathological. Like Giuliani and 9/11. How do you plan to deal with the issue of education?

McCAIN: By having been a war prisoner.

VOICE OF REASON: And the war?

McCAIN: I was a war prisoner, so that gives me vast foreign policy experience. I know how to fight a war, even though I didn’t really do a great job of it and ended up a prisoner for five and a half years. What has Obama or Biden done in support of this war?

BIDEN: I have a son going to Iraq to fight.

McCAIN: Oh. Well, you have a son that lobbies for grants for a university that you draw a substantial salary from for teaching part time!

ALL OF AMERICA: Who gives a shit?

BIDEN: I’m sorry, was there an issue in there, or do you not want to talk about any issues?

McCAIN: Not talking about issues when you’re running for the highest office in the land, which you are owed because you are a war hero, is part of being a maverick.

JAY LENO: Seriously, McCain, how many houses do you own?

McCAIN: Could I just mention to you, Jay, that, at a moment of seriousness. I spent five-and-a-half years in a prison cell. I didn't have a house. I didn't have a kitchen table. I didn't have a table. I didn't have a chair. And I didn't spend those five-and-a-half years because, not because I wanted to get a house when I got out. [note: actual quote]

MITT ROMNEY: Leave John McCain alooooone! John McCain earned his eight houses! Obama didn’t earn any houses! I support John McCain if he picks me for vice president!

VOICE OF REASON: Well… I suppose seducing women half your age and leaving your wife while she’s in recovery to marry them and get your hands on her daddy’s millions could be considered hard work…

McCAIN: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of how P.O.W. I am.

OTHERWISE REASONABLE PERSON I KNOW PERSONALLY AND WON’T NAME BECAUSE I’M ASHAMED OF THEIR THINKING HERE: I just worry that with a black president, black people will unfairly gain more power and start oppressing white people.

VOICE OF REASON: Fuck, is it 1898 already? I have to go and warn President McKinley about Czolgocz!

McCAIN: It’s Obama’s fault. He just invites aggression.


McCAIN: By not being a war prisoner.

Happy Birthday, Carla Gugino

I think you're keen.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

McCain's Running Mate

John McCain is supposed to announce the person he's decided to share the responsibility of destroying the planet with today. I heard that if you signed up to be one of the chosen McCain supporters, you'll get a telegraph message making you one of the first to know. Oh, I kid John McCain for being old and out of touch, but that should never cover up the fact that, deep down inside, he's a monstrously shitty politician.

So, there's been a list going around that's supposedly John McCain's shortlist for running mate. It's probably mostly rumors, but let's see who these people are.

Mitt Romney tops the list, of course. I can't help thinking that, since McCain's time as a war prisoner made him forget how many homes he owns, Romney would just make it worse. Guy's a multimillionaire. Granted, he does have the typical Republican advantage of being willing to do, say, and pretend to believe anything to get elected, but is that really enough anymore? Is America just going to see two rich people stumping for even more power, or is that what conservatives genuinely want to vote for?

Did you know that between Romney and McCain they own a dozen homes with a total value of around $35 million. You know, it's not just Democrats who are losing their homes to foreclosure. How does that look to have two rich guys--who, we are told, are not out of touch elitists but instead common people like you and me--with a surplus of housing telling America that they understand the economic nightmare of paying taxes and not having free government health care?

Does anyone ever make the link that our taxes are paying to keep these people alive? But they get so many of you to think that doing the same for everyone is somehow wrong. It's like just coming out and saying "We're elected officials, we're supposed to be more privileged than you rabble."

Another McCain choice is supposedly Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. I don't know much about this guy, except that he's young and he hates Obama, and is always willing to regurgitate McCain campaign talking points to prove it. I'd love to see him debate Biden, honestly. I mean, Bush called Biden for advice after the 9/11 attacks, because Biden is that experienced with foreign affairs. Guy's been debating Republicans for years. He'd tear Pawlenty to shreds.

Another choice is Tom Ridge, former director of Homeland Security and something so stupid I can't even believe anyone's brought it up. This is the man who ran Bush's Ministry of Truth. Again, the message that sends... are Republicans that deeply out of it?

Besides, it's not like Ridge will be picked: he's pro-choice. But he did say that he'd defer to McCain's position, and McCain's position is that Roe v. Wade should be overturned as quickly as possible. Still, it seems like a wedge issue that McCain can't afford to get into. Although, once again, McCain seems to not care what anyone says about him, and is so secure in the integrity he fetishizes and his ability to leap tall gaffes in a single bound with the words "war prisoner," that he might be crazy enough to pick Ridge. He doesn't really seem to care much what Americans want out of their government.

I can imagine him picking someone strong on debating policy, because vice presidential candidates are allowed to debate policy. Presidential candidates are supposed to be concerned with whether or not people like them and how much of an asshole the other guy is.

And then there's the evil Joe Lieberman, a man who really needs to be flushed out of American governance once and for all. Lieberman has already run for vice president as a Democrat, which shows his willingness to ally himself with any party that will do the most for Joe Lieberman. Lieberman once supported labor and abortion; I wonder if he still does, or if that will go by the wayside if McCain gives him the nod. What an odd debate that would be between Biden and Lieberman. Lieberman would have no credibility, but McCain really doesn't have much, either, and that doesn't seem to be stopping him.

But I think the bigger issue with picking Lieberman is that I keep hearing it would alienate the core constituency of the Republican Party. But I always hear that something or other is going to alienate voters, and nothing ever really seems to.

Either way, I just hope John McCain picks someone who can bring his campaign to the crashing halt we all thought it came to last year. Someone's got to stop Grandpa Munster from experimenting with our benefits. You know how he plans to keep the tax cuts for the rich? By taxing your health care. Seriously, if you vote for this guy you are a grade-A idiot.

Mole and Pig Clarifications

To the no less than 7 people who emailed me regarding my last Health Report to correct me on item 95, mole poblano: yes, I know it's pronounced "molay." When I commented "And I suppose we'll be eating Water Rat and Mr. Toad next? Monsters!" that was a joke. A joke based on the fact that "mole" and "mole" are homographs and that the idea of eating a mole is gross.

I appreciate that you want to help, but I was just making a joke based on word meanings.

I do that.

Next time I'll just go ahead and assume no one will get it, then.

Same thing with my crack in the comments of the post that "Cochon de Lait" means "Pig of the Laity." Another joke, just because I was amused by the idea that it would be more proper to eat a lay pig than a clerical pig. Thanks to the 3 people who emailed me with that correction.

Sorry to waste everyone's time with my cutesy little wordplay and the way I just assume people will get jokes.

We now return to angry politics, pop culture references, and boobies.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Matinee Movies

This movie edit is completely worth the seven minutes. They fly by. This is a montage of matinee movies, and sometimes, when you get a decent look inside my head, this is what it's like. I loved this.

[Found via Cinematical]

Film Week

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

Beautiful, just beautiful. Edward G. Robinson stars (perhaps the best I've ever seen him, definitely the most I've ever liked him) as Martinius, a farmer in a Wisconsin Norwegian farming community. There's no linear plot, exactly; it's mostly vignettes, as Martinius and his wife (Agnes Moorehead) raise their very sensitive daughter (Margaret O'Brien). The depiction of the realities of life in such a community at such a time is excellent; it's realistic without being hard, and the upbeat moments come at a real cost. Witness the scene where Martinius, upset with having had to punish his little girl, takes her to see a circus going through town to pick up hay at four in the morning. She hopes the elephant will come out of its truck, and Martinius's wounded determination to get the elephant out is palpable, his love for her driving him to even embarrass himself if he must. It's a fantastic movie, one of the great films of its time. **** stars.

ALL MY SONS (1948)
Burt Lancaster stars as a man whose father was accused of purposely shipping defective airplane parts during World War II, leading to a number of deaths (including, possibly, his other son's). Edward G. Robinson plays the father as a man running from the condemnations of the past, while his wife is stuck there, refusing to move on, and Lancaster wants to leave it all behind and make his own future. Robinson and Lancaster are great, of course, and the film is appropriately emotional and hard. Still, it goes on a little too much for me, petering out a little before the emotional storm dies down. *** stars.

My problem with a lot of the gangster movies from this era is that they're just so preachy and over the top. This might as well be Reefer Madness with the histrionic attempts at warning people what awaits them if they choose the life of a hood. I know there was pressure to make these films that way, but it gets so boring. I much prefer The Public Enemy, which sensationalized the whole thing before getting preachy, to Little Caesar or Scarface. Robinson's performance is excellent (and the inspiration for a thousand parodies from Bugs Bunny to Billy Crystal), but I didn't care much for the movie itself. ** stars.

My final Edward G. Robinson movie this week, and it's a surprisingly nice movie. Robinson plays (what else?) a gangster who wants class, so he leaves the organization and spends a few years in Europe getting took and losing his money. When he returns, his associate (Humphrey Bogart) tries to get rid of him, so Robinson hides out in a monastery as a novice under Donald Crisp, whom I just always love. It's a nice movie; it's not a sharp, funny movie, like it thinks it is, and it could be a little meatier, but I like this movie. *** stars.

I can't believe they actually released this movie in the theater. It's supposed to be yet another wry, witty, clever take on fairy tales, but it all seemed so obvious to me. The take on Red Riding Hood is really nothing I've never seen before, only with terrible computer animation. It's nice to hear Anne Hathaway, but even I'm getting sick of Patrick Warburton being in every freaking animated everything ever. Most of the satire has the level of Mad TV wit (frail old granny is secretly into extreme sports, there's something I've never seen time and time again). I liked the hyper little squirrel and the Philo Vance-like frog detective, but this is pretty skippable. * star.

I couldn't tell you what happened. Hot chicks go to India, sing a bit, have a colorful final number, fight about their friendships, and invent new reasons not to be happy. Par for the course, but not as shit-awful as Camp Rock. *1/2 stars.

And I wept, for there were no more Greta Garbo movies for me to see. I've seen them all now. And I love her. In this movie, her last, she plays a ski instructor who compulsively marries a compulsive magazine editor (Melvyn Douglas) who immediately leaves her for his work. She goes back to him, pretending to be her own twin sister, and makes him fall in love all over again. Reteaming with her Ninotchka co-star, this was meant to repurpose Garbo, more popular in the cut off overseas markets, into a screwball comedy star. It didn't quite work that way, which is too bad, because she's not bad here. She's not a comic actor, but everyone around her is so she carries it off. The supporting cast is great (especially Ruth Gordon and Roland Young), and even if it's not up to Ninotchka standards, it's still a fun movie. *** stars.

Clark Gable's final role is the best he ever had, and he carries it off perfectly, playing an aging cowboy struggling to maintain a cowboy life in a West that was long lost to civilization. Still, he and his buddies try to live a romantic lifestyle that is part of the past. His pals are Eli Wallach, a nearly-crazed, very intense pilot who's been unable to move past the war or his wife's death, and a very patient, almost deluded Thelma Ritter. Into this mess comes Marilyn Monroe as a divorcee who doesn't know what her next move should be but seems to find something real with Gable, and Montgomery Clift, a pal of Gable's, as a rodeo rider who still can't get over the death of his father and the loss of his father's legacy. All five of these characters are lost in a world that no longer makes sense to them, wandering around Reno trying to find some stability in ways that are stuck in the past. All three of the men are in love with Marilyn, creating a tension that threatens to spill over and engulf somebody before this is all over. Marilyn goes with the men on a trip to hunt wild mustang for a dog food manufacturer--"misfit horses," Gable calls them--and is horrified that such cruelty could mean a live of adventure and romance for men she has come to trust and love. Marilyn, by the way, is absolutely incredible in this movie, making a successful bid to be taken seriously as an actress, giving the performance of her life. Amazingly sexy, and knowing that the men around her see her as a lust object, her character takes it all in stride and tries to get through a life that has been disappointing and seems to never keep its promise. The men deal with it in their own ways, too, each with something to prove to one another and to themselves. The way it all comes to a head in the desert is powerful, even disturbing, but undeniably moving. This is a perfect movie. **** stars.

BLOTTO (1930)
BRATS (1930)
HOG WILD (1930)
BE BIG (1931)
OUR WIFE (1931)
A bunch of Laurel & Hardy shorts. Nowadays, it seems harder to find people who don't like good physical comedy, but I love it, and this is a fun few hours. None of these shorts is quite a real standout, but they're all funny. Brats has the edge of this lot, probably, because the child versions of Stan and Ollie--the actors up against gigantic furniture--are so bizarre and hilarious. ***1/2 stars for Brats, *** stars for the rest.

PARDON US (1931)
A feature for Laurel & Hardy, and one that I lost patience with a couple of times (which is funny, because it can't be more than 64 minutes long). The duo go to prison, then break out, then go back, and then break out again. The extended blackface sequence is... bizarre. (As a sidenote, I know times were different then and it almost seems unfair now to condemn blackface since it was more acceptable at the time, but the worst part of blackface is that it really just isn't funny. It's based on the premise that it's hilarious for a white man to pretend he's black, and it really isn't. But you know what I found out? I just read the other day that two of the most popular songs of the 1890s were called "Every Nation Waves a Flag Except the Coon" and "All These Coons Look Alike to Me." Seriously, that's not a joke. So, you know, you can call cultural relativism on racism all you want, but blackface is some fucked up shit.) Anyway, there are some funny gags, but it all goes on a bit too long for me. *1/2 stars.

One of the funniest Laurel & Hardy shorts I've seen; in this one, the boys join the French Foreign Legion so Ollie can escape the love who jilted him, and then wind up accidentally saving a British fortress from Arabs. This one had a lot of energy and was fantastically hilarious. **** stars.

Kenji Mizoguchi epic about a well-to-do family which disintegrates over time because of events beyond their control. A compassionate governor is sent into exile and his wife and children, who try to join him, are separated by man's inhumanity and lack of mercy. The children grow up separately, trying to find one another among the suffering and oppression they experience. Mizoguchi's film is about everything: honor, devotion, love, lust, greed, hate, violence, sadness, revenge. It's a beautiful film about what the human spirit can experience. **** stars.

ONIBABA (1964)
Powerful, gritty movie about the mother and wife of a soldier in 14th Century Japan. While he is away at war, they survive by killing warriors and stealing their possessions. When a neighbor returns from the war claiming the man is dead, he and the lonely wife embark on a secret, passionate affair that the mother finds sinful and horrifying. She scares the wife into being faithful, but with supernatural repercussions. It's a simple film, one which focuses on behavior and quiet as effective ways to tell a story. The dialogue is somewhat minimal, but the story is all in the behavior and what the characters don't say. It's also beautiful to look at. An excellent, masterful film. **** stars.

Back to Laurel & Hardy. This is their best feature (of the features I've seen so far), with the pair in Scotland for a will reading, and then winding up in the Bengal Lancers in India. There are some slow spots--this is like when the Marx Brothers moved to MGM and the producers had all of the unneccesary stuff going on around them, like songs and love stories and characters and plots instead of just the humor and zaniness of the Universal movies. Here, there's a love story and characters and a plot, all of which is completely incidental to just watch Laurel & Hardy be utterly, fantastically hilarious. ***1/2 stars.

ME AND MY PAL (1933)
SCRAM! (1932)
THE CHIMP (1932)
More Laurel & Hardy two-reelers, each of them hilarious and fun. Of this grouping, I think Helpmates (with the two cleaning up the house after a wild party, and subsequently destroying it) and Me and My Pal (with Stan helping Ollie to prepare for his wedding) are my favorites. *** stars for all of them. Okay, well, **1/2 stars for The Chimp, which I was a little disappointed in. The humor potential was squelched a bit when the chimp turned out to be a guy in a dodgy gorilla suit (and that wasn't even the joke, which would have been funny; it's supposed to be a real chimp).

A feature, with Laurel & Hardy joining up in World War I, getting put on kitchen duty (one of the funniest sequences), and then taking care of a little girl while they try to find her mother in the States. Surprisingly sweet; one of the best things about Stan and Ollie is that they weren't just funny, they were also endearing. *** stars.

Eventually, they all get to this point: out in the West with a deed to a claim. Even the Three Stooges did this as a movie (a bad one, Rockin' in the Rockies... damn, I hate Curly Joe). Laurel & Hardy are no exceptions. This has some good moments, including a bit with the boys dancing (I love it when they dance), but it's fairly average. **1/2 stars.

More Laurel & Hardy. This time they go to Switzerland to sell mouse traps (because they have so much cheese), and wind up working off their debt in a restaurant. My favorite gag sequence involved Stan trying to fool a Saint Bernard into giving him some liquor. Another fun adventure. *** stars.

Basically, this is a remake of the short Beau Hunks, with Stan and Ollie joining the French Foreign Legion and nearly saving the day. It's not as good as Beau Hunks, but it's got its moments, including Ollie singing "Shine on Harvest Moon." **1/2 stars.

Somehow, Stan and Ollie get accepted to Oxford, where they're cruelly hazed by a group of students. There's a fun sequence where Stan gets knocked on the head and thinks he's Lord Paddington, a great scholar and athlete. It's funny getting to see the English Stan Laurel play a parody of a British aristocrat. Extra geeky bonus: one of the students hazing the boys is Peter Cushing in a very early role. *** stars.

SAPS AT SEA (1940)
Stan and Ollie again, this time as car horn testers who take a sailing trip to soothe Ollie's frazzled nerves. They wind up at sea with a goat and an escaped killer. And... well, that's about it. ** stars.

All this time and Laurel & Hardy finally get a seasoned comedy director, Edward Sedgewick, who directed a lot of Buster Keaton movies. This movie certainly looks better than most of their other films. Stan and Ollie, older now, play failed losers returning to their hometown and unable to join the Army. Instead, they become air raid wardens, but manage to screw it up. The scene where they're stripped of their gear is played for real pathos; it almost had me in tears, they're so sad, and it's not played for laughs at all. The duo go on to foil a Nazi spy ring. *** stars.

Frances McDormand is very Emma Thompson in this movie about a governess who loses her job, becomes homeless, and fakes her way into a position as social secretary to an American actor and singer, the wonderfully-named Delysia LaFosse. Delysia is played by Amy Adams, doing a sort of Marilyn thing here, all lusty and wounded and delicate, and it just widens my adoration for Ms. Adams that began with Junebug (or, you know, possibly began with Cruel Intentions 2 back whenever that was). Both actresses are great in this movie; Adams as the lost girl who wants badly to be famous, and McDormand as the voice of common sense in a Britain that means to enter war with Germany any day. The film sort of subtly deconstructs what is perhaps my least favorite type of film: the 1930s movie about how nifty rich people and their phoniness are. There's a great moment here at a party where British bombers fly over the building and everyone cheers them on. McDormand and Ciaran Hinds, the oldest people at the party, just look at each other, sadly but knowingly. "They have no memory of the last one," McDormand says simply. "No," Hinds agrees. "They don't." Things bigger and with more consequence than playing the game of society ("Playing at love," Miss Pettigrew condems). This is a perfectly charming movie, well-acted by all involved (including also Shirley Henderson, who I go back and forth on), with a lovely jazz score and involving characters. And beautiful sets. **** stars.

I don't know the story behind this film, but what a disappointment from Paul Bartel, especially coming as it does right after Eating Raoul. It's like all of his satirical capabilities left him, and instead he made this wannabe screwball comedy about a reporter (Nancy Allen, whom I love) trying to save the tabloid she works for and turn it into a real investigative paper. Unfortunately, except for the presence of Nancy and her big, green eyes and the always-welcome Cork Hubbert, it's virtually unwatchable. There's no pacing, no timing, no comedy... nothing to recommend this movie at all. No stars.

Show Me Your Willie

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bonnie Scotland

I watched a ton of Laurel & Hardy this weekend on Turner Classic Movies, and by far my favorite of it all was this five minutes from Bonnie Scotland. I can't explain why. It's not the Swiss watch The Music Box is, or even Tit for Tat, but Bonnie Scotland is the funniest of their feature films I've seen so far, and these five minutes were five minutes of pure joy for me. I think it has something to do with the kilts.

The march itself is called "One Hundred Pipers." And that's James Finlayson as Sergeant Major Finlayson. He was a great foil for the duo in a number of their films.

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 37

Yesterday was, funnily enough, Rachael Ray's 40th birthday. I forgot to mention it, and that just seems ungrateful, considering that her recipes have helped me to get another slight measure of control over my life, so Happy Belated Birthday, Rachael!

Otherwise, things are moving in the same vein as before. And... well, that's it. So, instead of any details, here's a meme someone sent me regarding food. What have I eaten?

1. Venison: No, but I'd quite like to try it.
2. Nettle tea: No.
3. Huevos rancheros: No. Are these eggs?
4. Steak tartare: No.
5. Crocodile: No, but I see it at the meat market all the time. Actually, I think that's alligator. I'm so curious...
6. Black pudding: No.
7. Cheese fondue: Yes.
8. Carp: No. I'd always heard it was pretty bad.
9. Borscht: No. What an ugly word that is: "borscht."
10. Baba ghanoush: Nope.
11. Calamari: I tried it once at a Chinese buffet. It had no taste and a rubbery texture.
12. Pho: Who?
13. PB&J sandwich: When I was little; I don't like the way they taste together anymore. Not sure why.
14. Aloo gobi: I've never had any Indian food ever. There used to be an Indian place here in town, but the health department shut it down. Rats; lots and lots of rats. Rats like wallpaper, they said.
15. Hot dog from a street cart: In Chicago? Of course!
16. Epoisses: No, but I'm always up for a new cheese.
17. Black truffle: Nope.
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes: No. I'm not a wine guy.
19. Steamed pork buns: No, but I hate pork.
20. Pistachio ice cream: Nope.
21. Heirloom tomatoes: No.
22. Fresh wild berries: I was told not to eat them as a kid...
23. Foie gras: No, but I kind of want to try it just because it's such a controversy in Chicago.
24. Rice and beans: No; I don't like beans.
25. Brawn, or head cheese: Ew. Every time I see it, it makes me want to puke. It just looks so gross, and then they have to call it "head cheese" when it already looks like brains...
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper: No.
27. Dulce de leche: No, but I've heard it's really good.
28. Oysters: No, but one day.
29. Baklava: It's so-so.
30. Bagna cauda: I don't even know what this is.
31. Wasabi peas: Becca loves these, but I hate them.
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl: I had some clam chowder in a regular bowl. It was alright, I guess. Didn't feel like I had to eat it again.
33. Salted lassi: I... what is this?
34. Sauerkraut: No. I mean, look at it.
35. Root beer float: Of course. I prefer a Coke float; root beer's nasty.
36. Cognac with a fat cigar: I've had fat cigars, but not the Cognac.
37. Clotted cream tea: No, but I want to have some.
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O: Yeah. They're cute if you don't know better, I guess, or you want to rape a college student.
39. Gumbo: No.
40. Oxtail: No.
41. Curried goat: No. I don't think I've ever had curried anything. I've had pan-fried goat, and that's pretty good.
42. Whole insects: Not intentionally.
43. Phaal: The Babylonian god?
44. Goat's milk: Not to this point.
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$130 or more: No.
46. Fugu: The brand of clothing?
47. Chicken tikka masala: Nope.
48. Eel: Nope.
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut: Fuck Dunkin' Donuts, these are way better, no matter how cool it is not to like them now.
50. Sea urchin: No. Do people eat them?
51. Prickly pear: No, but I do know that when you pick a prickly pear and you prick a raw paw, next time beware. Don't pick the prickly pear with the paw, when you pick a pear, try to use the claw.
52. Umeboshi: Que?
53. Abalone: No.
54. Paneer: Was ist?
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal: Yep. Bad for me, and not a real hamburger, but fuck it, they're good.
56. Spaetzle: No, but most German food has never appealed to me.
57. Dirty gin martini: No. Doesn't this have olive juice? That doesn't sound too good.
58. Beer above 8% ABV: No. Not a big fan of beer, really. Although I like some ales. Maybe I have, now I'm not sure.
59. Poutine: Mmm, curds. Yeah, I haven't tried this.
60. Carob chips: Like chocolate-reminiscent ass.
61. S'mores: Of course!
62. Sweetbreads: Aren't these organ meats? Yeah, that's not happening. The last time I was in contact with organ meats was in high school, when we dissected the fetal pig and I took out the heart and part of the brain and put them in this asshole's gym locker and let them rot. I used to take much more creative vengeance.
63. Kaolin: Never hoid of it.
64. Currywurst: What an awful, awful name for whatever this is.
65. Durian: I love "Hungry Like the Wolf"
66. Frogs' legs: Yeah. They taste a little too earthy for me. There's not much too them.
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake: Funnel cake, yes. We made them in Home Ex once.
68. Haggis: That ain't never gonna happen.
69. Fried plantain: No.
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette: Nope.
71. Gazpacho: Nope.
72. Caviar and blini: No.
73. Louche absinthe: No.
74. Gjetost, or brunost: Hmm?
75. Roadkill: No, but I know people who cook it and eat it. One co-worker's husband had to be rushed to the hospital because his mother-in-law let her insane redneck boyfriend cook roadkill and pizza with wild mushrooms.
76. Baijiu: Who-ju?
77. Hostess Fruit Pie: I used to eat them in high school. I remember their taste exactly, and it seems like I'd hate them now.
78. Snail: No.
79. Lapsang souchong: No idea.
80. Bellini: No.
81. Tom yum: No... I need to get to know Tom better first.
82. Eggs Benedict: I never have had this, but I did make scrambled eggs with cream cheese and smoked salmon one day last week.
83. Pocky: Pocky is lame.
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant: This isn't even something I would waste my time imagining.
85. Kobe beef: Not yet.
86. Hare: No. I have a pet rabbit, I just can't do it.
87. Goulash: No.
88. Flowers: Not intentionally.
89. Horse: No.
90. Criollo chocolate: I don't think so.
91. Spam: Nope.
92. Soft shell crab: No.
93. Rose harissa: I don't know what this is, either.
94. Catfish: Yes, and it was fucking great.
95. Mole poblano: And I suppose we'll be eating Water Rat and Mr. Toad next? Monsters!
96. Bagel and lox: No. I don't like bagels, and I don't see how fish would make them better.
97. Lobster Thermidor: Exquisite.
98. Polenta: I do not like polenta at all.
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee: No.
100. Snake: Nope.
111. Elk: No.
112. Ostrich: My dad loves it, but I've yet to try it.
113. Moose: No.
114. Whole hog BBQ: Just don't dig the pig unless it's been finely baconed.
115. Wine @ >$400/bottle: Nope. I have a hang up where I spend my hard-earned money on rent, bills, and student loan payments instead.
116. Home made bacon/sausage: Huh, I've never tried that. How do you make bacon? Something to look into.
117. Chocolate and chilis: Nope.
118. Chittlins: No.
119. Moonshine: I wouldn't even know who to ask. Plus, I like having the ability to see.
120. Quail eggs: No.
121. Monkfish liver: No.
122. Live scallop: No.
123. Fried chicken giblets: No, I'm not a giblet man.
124. Duck cracklings: That sounds either very dirty or very sadistic.
125. Grappa: Whopa?

It's Got to Be Better Than That Poltergeist Remake

FRIEND: What do you think would be a good idea for a remake?

ME: Hmm... how about Jim Brown and Fred Williamson in a Blaxploitation version of The Thing called The Thang?

FRIEND: ... I don't even know why I ask you these questions.


Thing I didn't know: the Village People tried to go New Wave...

...resulting in one of the most unintentionally, sadly hilarious album covers I've ever seen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Don't Believe in Guilty Pleasures

My mom told me the other day that some movie she was watching for the millionth time on TBS was a "guilty pleasure." I really hate that phrase.

I used to go out with a girl who had a lot of books. I gave her a bookcase in that had a cabinet area with a closed door. "I'll put my Stephen King novels in there," she said. "Those are my guilty pleasure, and I don't want to show it off."

I have a friend who is totally gay for Keanu Reeves. Back in the 90s, every time a movie with Keanu Reeves came out, he'd bitch for some time about how stupid the previews looked and how much Keanu Reeves sucked. Then he'd nearly always go and see the movie in the theater. And he'd invariably like it, telling me that the director knew how to play off of Keanu's wooden quality and the fact that the audience expected him to suck. Sometimes he'd buy the videotapes. This friend of mine bought Johnny Mnemonic on video because he couldn't find it in to rent anywhere. Finally, when The Matrix came out, he was giving me the same spiel about how the directors used his bad acting as a plus and I finally figured it out. "You're gay for Keanu Reeves."

"I am?" he said, found out. "I guess he's just my guilty pleasure."

I've never liked the phrase "guilty pleasure." Why should you feel guilty about getting pleasure out of something? Look, I'm not, repeat, not saying this is true of everyone who uses the phrase, but I'm talking about the origin of the phrase "guilty pleasure." It just comes from this snobbish, elitist place that I don't like. The idea that you have to feel guilty if you like Keanu Reeves movies or Stephen King novels or something. Something that you're afraid will reflect badly on you. Because, as I've said before, some people seem to think life is only about proving that you're a little smarter than the next person.

"Guilty pleasure" is an apology. I'm sorry I like something universally considered stupid. I don't want you to believe that I can only read at a sixth grade level and that's why I like Stephen King. It's a way of revealing that you care what other people think about your tastes. And I've never been comfortable with the phrase because of that.

If I really gave a shit what people thought about what I liked, I wouldn't talk to people and I sure as hell wouldn't blog.

Molesting children and buying blood diamonds are guilty pleasures. Liking Stephen King novels is just liking Stephen King novels.

In Memoriam: Marguerite Empey, 1955

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Song of the Week: "All Summer Long"

I hope the kids in my school district enjoy today, because school starts tomorrow. Summer vacation is over now, and even though I don't have a job lined up for the week (yet), I'm looking forward to getting back to work. So, as the summer ends, I figured the Beach Boys might be appropriate. 1964, and featuring, I always felt, a little bit of darkness at the edges. Won't be long till summer time is through...

They're Out of Touch, They're Out of Time

JOHN McCAIN: Unlike Senator Obama, I am not an elitist. I'm one of the people.

VOICE OF REASON: Really? How many homes do you and your wife own?

McCAIN: I can’t remember now. I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’ve lost track.

BARACK OBAMA: No wonder McCain thinks the economy is fine; he can afford to weather the hardships.

McCAIN: No, no, I just forgot how many homes I own because I’m a war hero! You’re one of those horrible single people that is out of touch with the country because you don’t know the hardship of planning a family budget.

VOICE OF REASON: Neither do you. You spend a quarter of a million dollars a year on paying your servants.

McCAIN: Yes, but that’s because I’m a maverick. Not being realistic and honest about who you are and attacking someone for the same flaws is part of being a maverick.

VOICE OF REASON: Is saying that you’d never nominate three Supreme Court justices you actually voted to confirm part of being a maverick, too?

OBAMA: You know who I’d never have nominated? Clarence Thomas. He didn’t have enough experience.

VOICE OF REASON: Will I be called a racist for using the pot-kettle analogy?

McCAIN: You’ll be called a maverick!

VOICE OF REASON: Uh huh. And what’s with your attack ad in which you imply that Obama is scary because white women are attracted to him? Are you actually playing off of fears from Jim Crow times that black men and white women might have sex and telling people to vote for you so that doesn’t happen? Is thinking it’s still the 1890s also part of being a maverick?

McCAIN: I’m sorry; I had a lapse in taste because I’m a war hero.

Old People Love Comforting Metaphors About Getting Old

MOM: I just don't see the appeal in Pamela Anderson anymore. Not remotely. She's 40, and she acts like she's still freaking 14 years old. She's just such a caricature of femininity. I think it's sad to see someone her age so devoted to pretending to be a teenager. She was cute back on Home Improvement, but then she just got sad. She's a sad woman. You know, it's okay to get older if you have some character. It's okay that you don't look like you did when you were 20. In fact, it would be sad if you did. You have more to offer when you get older. Sure, maybe at 40 you're not the ripest peach on the branch anymore, but that doesn't mean you still don't taste good in a pie.

ME: Got it: older woman pie still tastes good.


Marguerite Empey/Diane Webber 1932-2008

I've just been informed that one of my all time favorite pin-up models died on Tuesday. I can't find anything out about it or what the cause of death was, but I'm sorry to see that she's passed on. She was one of the great ones, in my opinion.