Saturday, December 11, 2004

Ocean's Twelve

My brother and I get along pretty well, but don't often have the opportunity to hang out. But he lives right up the street from me.

Anyway, today I we went along with his lovely girlfriend Paula to a matinee screening of Steven Soderbergh's new meta-caper Ocean's Twelve.

It's an interesting movie, one I enjoyed but didn't expect. I'd say it's probably Soderbergh's best film since Out of Sight, and it feels most like that movie out of anything he's done.

I say that because Sight is a comedy posing as a crime drama. All the elements of a crime drama are there - an elaborate heist, an evil gangster, a rich patsy, stints in prison - but the movie's really a comedy about wacky characters (and helped considerably by the comic sensibilities of Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Ving Rhames, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn and so on).

Twelve has the same kind of feel. It's a comedy posing as a caper movie. Except it's not really posing very well. Or even trying, really.

The capers themselves are extremely forgettable. The way Soderbergh sets them up, in fact, makes them innately confusing. We're usually not in on how the caper works until it has already happened, and then there's a "reveal" sequence where we see what took place while we were distracted by the sheer exuberance of the filmmaking or the star power.

But by making the various mechanations of the plot (and it's a doozy) drift around in the background, Soderbergh plays to his strengths - the sheer likability of his stars and his skill as a director. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are better than in the first film - they could play these characters in their sleep, and they do, and this tossed-off affability suits the franchise exceedingly well.

Out of the rest of the "crew," I'd give Casey Affleck the Most Improved Award - I found him somewhat grating in the original and thoroughly winning here - and Matt Damon the Award for Proving He Can Actually Smile on Camera. Actually, his character is probably expanded the most from the original, and he fills the role well. His Linus is pretty much the anti-Jason Bourne, all fumbling gullibility and goofy charm, another possible in-joke from the filmmakers. Soderbergh has had fun, as well, with Julia Roberts' image in the past - playing her against type in Erin Brockovich, Full Frontal and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (which he produced and Clooney directed) - but her role here is extremely clever and well-played, the best ironic touch in a movie filled with nice ironic touches. Without ruining everything, it allows her to comment on her iconic status without seeming hauty or self-aggrandizing, and in perfect harmony with the film's third act.

Newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones does a fine job, I guess, in her part, though she didn't have very much to do, and she's probably the movie's least interesting character.

As I said, I enjoyed Ocean's Twelve a good more than I expected, and considerably more than the first. It's curious to me that Soderbergh has chosen to alternate between bizarre, often interminable vanity projects (such as the utterly unwatchable Full Frontal and the dreary Solaris) with winning delights like Ocean's Twelve. Though I'll admit to enjoying his nutty spoof Schizopolis years ago, I think it's pretty clear he's at his best when working with mainstream, genre material. This is among his best work.

Not Included

I've been thinking a lot lately about inclusion.

I'm someone who has always felt excluded. I distinctly recall my alienated early days at Lower Merion Elementary School. My parents had sent me to kindergarten and first grade at a preppy local private school, The Haverford School, but when I didn't fit in there with the offspring of the Great Families of Suburban Philadelphia (even the phys. ed. teachers teased me), it was off to the closest public conformity factory. I had a great deal of trouble making friends at the new school, preferring to sit under a large tree and daydream about films and television shows, starring myself, that I'd produce and possibly direct one day. Produce, though, always produce.

The memories of those days have informed my social behavior ever since. I suppose one could argue that the anxiety which pervades other areas of my life extends to social interaction as well...I feel disconnected from other people because I fear their rejection. So, by choosing to remain an outsider, I avoid providing them with any opportunity to hurt my feelings or shun me. I can deny the problem entirely by regarding myself as a "loner," as if it's some choice I made years ago and have decided to live with, probably around the same time that all those gay guys "decided" to become homosexual.

But it runs deeper than that. I think there are simply different kinds of people - those who are willing to extend themselves into any situation, to refuse to be exclused, and those like myself, who wait for an invitation to interact. It's really what we mean when we say that people have "confidence."

Think about it. Someone who is truly confident in everything they do all the time is basically going to be a jerk. Every reasonable, relatable person knows that the possibility for failure exists at all times. If you met a guy who was totally confident in himself, who thought he'd never made a mistake, and in fact was incapable of making a mistake, you'd say, "Nice to meet you, Mr. President. Please stop trying to kill everybody."

No, seriously, you'd think, "What an ass." Because failure and rejection are part of life, and people who don't know that are trying to tell you something or taking too much Klonopin.

But what we call "confidence" is really just openness, the rejection of the idea of rejection. It's walking into the already tight circle of people talking at a party and relating the story about how you once dropped the only key to your company's new office down an elevator shaft. It's asking for the cute girl's phone number even though you've only had a brief conversation, and she probably isn't terribly interested in sleeping with you any time soon anyway. It's throwing your coat over the three movie seats your friends are saving, even though the tall, surly-looking guys walking down the aisle are probably going to argue with you and take them anyway.

So, here's the question: Is it possible to change what type of person you are? If I hear my roommates laughing in the next room, can I force myself to go in there and ask what's so funny instead of sitting in here wondering why they don't come and tell me the joke? And, if I do it this time, does that mean I'm affecting a positive change in my personality, or just acting differently this one time to convince myself I've changed? And isn't this the same paradox you always run into when trying to affect positive change in your life?

So, that's just what I'm sitting here thinking about. Thought I'd let you all in on it. I'll put up a review of Ocean's Twelve in a little bit here, when I get my head straight.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Movie of the Year?

It's too early to declare a movie the Best of 2004 yet...There are too many films I haven't seen. Life Aquatic obviously will be a contender. Scorsese's Gangs of New York was my favorite movie of a few years ago, and his Aviator opens any week now. And there's plenty of other notable fare I haven't yet gotten to: A Very Long Engagement, Bad Education, The Sea Inside and, of course, Meet the Fockers. I hear that's a lock for sound effects editing.

But at this early date, the front-runner in my race is a little film called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, written by my personal hero and favorite screenwriter-of-the-moment, Charlie Kaufman.

I'm not gonna bore you with a regular-old review of the movie. It's available on DVD now, so buy it at Amazon or Best Buy or Tower rent it here. Suffice it to say it's a mind-bending comedy/romance from a very weird French guy and the dude who wrote Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. The movie has a kind of magic glow to it. I've never been a huge fan of wistful films about lost love, having relatively little experience with true, undying love in my short life, but anyone who has been through romantic tribulations can relate, I'm certain, to some of the material in this film. I just rewatched the DVD, and, swear to Jeebus, welled up during a few scenes thinking about relationships gone wrong.

Mercifully, I was alone at the time, and no one was around to see it. And no one reads this blog! So, the secret will die with me.

Anyway, that's enough torrid confessional from me. Rent Eternal Sunshine. It's been a difficult decision, debating which movie I prefer - this or Alexander Payne's hilarious observational comedy Sideways, but I've seen both films a few times now, and really feel like Sunshine is more my speed. Less sarcastic, more bittersweet. But hey, that's just me. They're both really terrific movies.

Don't Drink and Blog

What an evening...

You see, my friend Brooke is moving to Texas briefly, and had a little going-away party last night. So, we all went to a fine Italian eatery, then to local hot spot the Cozy Inn. Check it out yourself, next time you're in beautiful downtown Culver City.

And that's where it all hit the proverbial fan, as it were. I'll let you know more of the details later, but as of right now (2:37 pm, Friday) I FEEL fine, and yet I remember nothing of the night before post-meal. Nothing. Not a thing. It's a complete blank. So, though I can look around and see that there is no major damage to my person, nor does anything vital to my day-to-day lifestyle seem to be missing, I have an incredibly overpoweringly sinking feeling that I did something stupid, or that there will be ramifications for me today.

I just started some new medication (crazy pills for my anxiety and depression), and perhaps they mixed poorly with the wine at dinner and the...well...whatever the hell I was drinking at the bar...and produced this hazy, kind of wired state I find myself in now.

It also doesn't help that my roommates appear to still be sleeping. Or perhaps they've moved far far away from me out of embarrassment, and just had the good form to close the door on their way out. I'm not even sure if I actually missed Brooke's send-off, or if she's still here somewhere, amidst the chaos and debris of the night before.

I'll keep you posted as I find out more, Inertia-sters. (Still trying to think of a good name for that select small group of people who frequent this site...Inertia-ites, Inertia-sters, The Inert...we'lll let you know).

Woozily yours,

Even More Stinky Drunk

I've now reached that point of drunkeness where your friends start to treat you with kid gloves. Like, "Okay, Lonnie, we'll pick you up a double cheeseburger. Just don't smear your own feces on the drapes, okay?"

I don't drink very often, but I seem to have lost all my ability to hold liquor. All I remember is eating a classy Italian dinner, drinking a few bottles of wine, and then winding up with double vision at local hangout the Cozy Inn. Everything else is a blur.

Well, this is the supreme delight of blogging. Anyone with Internet Access with welcome to take stock of my decay and let me know what they think of it.

Stinking Drunk

I had to leave the bar early this evening. Unfortunately, I seem to have gotten stinking drunk off of just a few beers. Perhaps this new drug regimen the therapist has me on is taking its toll. Don't you worry, faithful Inertia-ites...The Cozy Inn of Culver City is within walking distance of my domicile, so there'll be no drinking and driving here!

No matter the reason, I've double vision even while typing you all this missive. Hope you've all have as merry a Thursday evening as I have...Cheerio...


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Ashlee 2: Electric Boogaloo

Some extremely helpful reader indicated in the comments to me yesterday that there WILL in fact be a second season of "The Ashlee Simpson Show" on MTV! So, after I stopped doing the dance of joy in my bedroom, I went online and CONFIRMED THE RUMOR!
From E! Online (my #1 source of useless news on the Internet):

On Thursday, the network announced a spate of Simpson- and Lachey-related programming, including a third season of Newlyweds, a second season of Ashlee Simpson's personal reality trip and a new solo series for Lachey.

So as to not leave any family member unmonitored, Daisy the dog will appear on Newlyweds.
New episodes of Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica and The Ashlee Simpson Show are set to debut in January.

This news has seriously made my day. You all MUST start watching "Ashlee Simpson." Her mixture of extreme naivete, constant appetite for hedonistic fulfilmment and barely listenable vocal squawk made for the most consistantly appealing and entertaining half-hour on television this year.

Thank you, alert reader, whomever you are, for pointing out this vital news! We who are about to watch reality TV salute you!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

2004: The Year in Music

Well, with The Onion coming out with its Year-End Wrap-Up Top Ten Albums of the Year feature, I suppose it's offically list season. I know a lot of people complain that all their favorite TV shows, magazines and, yes, blogs are clogged with endless cataloguing, summarizing-the-year features like this, but I personally enjoy list time. There's always a few random albums or movies that I missed in the previous year, despite my best efforts, and it's a good chance to play a little catch-up on stuff I overlooked in the past 12 months. I doubt I'd have bothered to check out Turn on the Bright Lights if Pitchfork and a few other sites hadn't picked it as Album of the Year 2 years ago, and now I'm a sizable Interpol fan.

First, some honorary awards:

Abum of the Year With a Ton of Great Reviews That I Don't Get:

AIR, Walkie Talkie

I like AIR. I saw them at Coachella AND the Hollywood Bowl this year, and both shows were a lot of fun. Plus, I think Moon Safari is about as entertaining as their brand of ambient pop gets. I'd consider myself a fan of that album. This one, not as much. Many of the songs are overly simplistic, lacking the more subtle grooves on Safari. And some of them are downright boring, including disc opening "Venus," which feels like a half-completed song. Handclaps alone do not an exciting track make.

I mean, AIR is not exactly getting her done in the deep insight department (unless you consider the phrase "sexy boy" to be a penetrating insight). I listen for the falsetto French singing and trippy beats, man! And this album kind of let me down. Not horrible, but not worthy of Top Ten inclusion.

The guy on The Onion praises it, saying "the studied glow proved all the more alluring for its simplicity." So, we basically agree that the album is simple and straight-forward. I saw this as a disadvange; for him, not so much.

Official Hipster Choice for Best Album of the Year

Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose

I think it's clear that this year, the hipsters will be backing Loretta Lynn. I listened to this album, produced as it was by Jack White, and hailed as it was by every critic on Earth (including the Grammy panel, whic had nominated it for 5 awards), and it's quite good. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it's definitely a sincere effort to cross this kind of music over, instead of a crass marketing ploy to sell a new generation on an old artist (Santana, I'm looking in your direction). It's got the right mix of elements to be the #1 hipster selection of Best Album of 2004. Well done, guys.

Awesome Comedy Albums

David Cross: It's Not Funny
Patton Oswalt: Feelin' Kind of Patton

Both of these albums are hilarious. Not much else to say...If you like really good stand-up comedy, I cannot recommend David Cross or Patton Oswalt enough. They're at the top of their game these days.

Albums I Really Liked for a Little While But Am Already Getting Sick Of

MF Doom: Mm.. Food?

Doom makes the Top Ten this year with "Madvilliany," but this slapdash follow-up doesn't really work as an album. There are individual portions that are utter genius - the odd mix-up of the closing credits theme song from "Sesame Street" for example, is a brilliant touch. But to call this album scattered is an understatement. Doom's alter-ego Metal Fingers takes over at the boards for, I'd say, about six tracks in a row, taking us on a comic, though repetitive journey through the woods with an odd survivalist character. It's far too long before we return to the studio with Doom for some more rhymes, which, to be honest, is what I enjoy about the man's albums in the first place.

Morrissey: You Are the Quarry

I know! Blasphemy! I've been a fan of The Mozzer for a while now, and still listen to early compilation "Bona Drag" with a fair degree of frequency. But this new record is rather flat, rather predictable. It's clever, certainly, as all Morrissey songs tend to be, but without the same caustic wit to back it up. Sure, he still proclaims to be the same effete snob of yesterday, but on limp athems like "America is not the World," he doesn't seem quite the cocksure anti-statesman as in his past political work. Remember, this is a guy who won't play in any stadium where meat is being advertised. I want that Morrissey back! And, I have to say, I've never noticed the absence of Smith-mate Johnny Marr as on this new record, where the music sounds painfully generic and tepid. When will these two have their long-awaited reuinion?

The Hives: Tyrannosaurus Hives

I liked the first Hives single a few years ago, "Hate to Say I Told You So." Just a real straight-forward garage rocker, but they had that odd kind of brash sound you only get from European bands imitating retro American style (the band is Swedish), and I'd been a fan ever since.

But, I don't know, the new album just doesn't work as well for me. The music's much of the same...I just kind of felt like the joke has run its course. I can't bring myself to find it amusing any more to see these guys playing spastic pop-punk in white suits any more. It feels silly. In some ways, it's how I feel about Tenacious D now. I loved them back in the day, and I sitll think Jables and KG are hilarious guys, but it's just not the same as it once was. The joke's kind of over now that everybody gets it...To bad...

Songs I Really Dug on Not so Hot Albums

Ashlee Simpson: Pieces of Me

Oh, ha ha, laugh all you want. Ashlee deserves a spot here for obvious reasons. She got absolutely no recognition for starring what can inarguably called the Greatest Reality Show of All Time, MTV's lamentably short-lived "The Ashlee Simpson Show." Plus, she provided quite possibly the most hilarious moment of live television of 2004 by revealing to the crowd that she lip-synchs when the wrong song was cued. For these achievements alone, it's the least I can do.

Jay-Z: 99 Problems

I have very little patience when it comes to entire hip hop albums. I feel that it's much more of a singles genre - individual songs connect with me, and I want to hear them over and over again, but listening to an entire album feels like overkill. So I really only made it through Jigga's latest sporadically, over time. This is the only track that sticks on in my mind, and not only because of its stylish, lamentably banned-from-MTV video. Rick Rubin's sparse industrial beat perfectly offsets HOVA's stacatto lyrical fireworks, and the whole thing's tied together by one of those rare perfect hooks: "If you're havin' girls problems/I feel bad for you, son/I got 99 problems/But a bitch ain't one."

The Black Keys: 10 AM Automatic

Really cool, sleazy rock number where this two-man outfit perfectly replicates a bar bound sound. Perfect for all of you Jeff Healey fans.

Of Montreal: Know Your Onion

Solid cover of a terrific Shins song from this cutesy Athens, George band. Montreal's music is a bit too precious EVEN FOR ME, though they do have another great tune called "Fun Loving Nun." I defy you to not love a song called "Fun Loving Nun"?

Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

What, you're saying you yourself? There's a new Fiona Apple song? Yes, my pretties, there is, though it may not ever see the light of day, thanks to evil record executives. You see, right now, Sony has in its possession the new Fiona Apple album, complete, ready for release. It's called "Extraordinary Machine," and it's produced by mastermind Jon Brion, who produced her previous album "When the Pawn..." as well as the scores for great movies like Punch-Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Sony at this time feels that it is not worth releasing the new Fiona album at all, surprising considering that both of her previous two albums have gone platinum. As a Fiona fan, this makes me sad, but what's even more bizarre is that the first song from the album that leaked, the title track, is frigging great. Sure, it's not a traditional song - it sounds more like a showtune than "Shadowboxer" or "Criminal," but it's light, effevescent, catchy and gives Fiona a real vocal workout. Brion is a great producer, and I'm thinking, from the basis of this early track, that the whole album will be filled with other good songs. So, come on, Sony! At least give us the option to pay for a download of the album or something!

If you'd like to hear "Extraordinary Machine," just do a quick search for it on line. MP3's are everywhere. If you'd like more information about silly, probably non-effective ways you can try to influence Sony's decision to release the album, why not check out

Honorable Mention

Obviously not every album could make it all the way to the conveted Top Ten. Here are a few near-misses:

Stereolab: Magerine Eclipse

These guys are still totally going strong. It's kind of amazing. This album is great, thoroughly enjoyable for any fan of Stereolab's work. Obviously, the convetional wisdom is that they haven't radically altered their sound since "Emperor Tomato Ketchup" in 1996, and this criticism is fair enough, I suppose. But when an album is as much fun as "Eclipse," with its potent mix of lounge music and psychedelia, you forgive such quibbles. Plus, some of the songs are in French, which is kind of hot.

Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill

It kills me not to include the late Elliott in this year's top ten. Especially considering that the new album is really strong, if overproduced. Really, it only didn't make the list because it isn't as good as "XO" and "Either/Or." I know that's not fair, but what can I say? I'm a bastard.

Sonic Youth: Sonic Nurse

My favorite Sonic Youth album since "Dirty" in 1992. There are several really strong songs here, particularly "Pattern Recognition" and "Paper Cup Exit." The band just sounds so good these days, so tight, you can tell they've been together for about 20 years. It doesn't make the list only becaues there were so many newer bands I wanted to highlight. And I thought putting the new Sonic Youth on there would make me kind of a poser, considering I haven't listened to it as much as a bunch of other albums this year.

Grand Jury Award: Best EP of the Year

The Decemberists: The Tain

They said it's inspired by an old Celtic fable, but I think it's simply a hard rock/folk suite put together by the most original, literary and prolific indie band of the moment, the Decemberists. The music here is striking, surprising coming from a band that prefers sea shanties and waltzes to power ballads, and the EP definitely rewards repeat listens. There wasn't a better short musical masterpiece this year.

The Grand Prize - Ten Best Albums of 2004


Eagles of Death Metal - Peace Love Death Metal

This band totally rawks. Don't be fooled - it isn't death metal. It's basically classic rock, reminiding me the most of 70's Rolling Stones (This is a good thing). John Homme, formerly of Queens of the Stone Age, started this band out of musicians he regularly played with during his annual Desert Sessions concerns in Joshua Tree. The songs are quick, hyperkinetic, riff and hook-heavy straight ahead rockers. This strikes me as one of those albums it would be extremely hard to hate.


Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News

They came, they saw, they conquered, and then Isaac got sick all over some groupie's brand new culottes in the alley behind the Black Cat.

No, seriously, this was the year of The Mouse. I've been a faithful listener since their stellar "Moon and Anarctica" album a few years ago, which already makes me a total latecomer by fan standards, but this was really the breakthrough that introduced them to Team Tween, arbiters of all that is good and popular in our society.

So, now you hear "Float On" in every MTV documentary, "Gravity Rides Everything" on all the mini-van commercials, and see the band doing a guest stint on "The OC." This may be dismaying to the many fans who have followed the Northwest crew low this past decade.

But there is no need for despair, at least after listening to their new release. It's a wonderful Modest Mouse album, replete with all the spasmoidic rockers ("Bury Me With It"), delicate ballads ("Blame it on the Tetons") and up-tempo math rock ("The View") their fans have come to expect. There's also some more reaching material, like the Tom Waits homage "The Devil's Workday."

Mainstream audiences, thankfully, are occasionally capable of latching on to a solid, interesting band with musical talent and some innovations to bring to popular music, and this certainly seems to be a case where massive commercial attention may not completely overwhelm a small band and their unique style. Hopefully, The Mouse will continue to straddle the line between the mainstream and the oddball on upcoming selections.


The Sunshine Fix - Green Imagination

After the breakup of Olivia Tremor Control, all of the amazing musicians from that band went off to form their own groups. William Cullen Hart and Neutral Milk Hotel super-genius Jeff Magnum joined to form the dark, Tremor-like Circulatory System, while Bill Doss started out in his own new band, The Sunshine Fix.

It seemed at first like Circulatory System was the way to go. Their first self-titled album fit neatly in with the other Tremor Control albums, albeit with fewer extended experimental sequences and home-recording tricks. The Sunshine Fix, however, debuted with "Age of the Sun," an overbearing, dare I say it, McCartney-esque collection of sunny pop songs so saccharine that, exactly 7 days after listening to the record, you develop Type 2 diabetes.

But this year, Sunshine Fix released their unheralded triumph, "Green Imagination," as tight and enjoyable a collection of pop songs as has been released this past year. Very few songwriters can muster the sheer amount of bubbly, upbeat hooks and melodies that pervade "Imagination." Opener "Statues and Glue" tells you just about all you need to know about the album: It's a chugging Beatles-esque pop juggernaut, teaming vocal harmonies with hard-hitting percussion. The goofball antics of "Ordinary/Extraordinary" also help to offset a regrettably sluggish finale, including the final track, the ridiculous "Runaway Run," which would probably be more at home in an Andrew Lloyd Webster musical than an indie pop album. And not a good one, like Cats. Try Starlight Express.


Architecture in Helsinki - Fingers Crossed

Just look at the post earlier today for more detail. I'll confess that this kind of fragile, twee rock is right up my personal alley. And the girl who sings with the band sounds super-cute too, and I can't resist an adorable indie rock gal (see #1).


Wilco - A Ghost is Born

Talk about warming up to an album. Didn't like this one at all on my first listen. I've always enjoyed 3 minute pop song Wilco. The Wilco of "Shot in the Arm" and "Jesus Etc." And it sounded to me like that Wilco was dead, and had been replaced by a whiny ex-junkie with a penchant for old Crazy Horse albums.

But how wrong I was! There are definitely old fashioned Tweedy-isms here and there around "Ghost" (the undeniably catch of the sing-songy "Company at my Back," the pained "Handshake Drugs" and the bluesy "Theologians" come immeidately to mind). And, yeah, some of the extended "jams" like "Kidsmoke" or "Hell is Chrome" kind of go on for a while, but they build a ferocious momentum, leading to some of the most exciting, blazing guitar work in Wilco history.

And the lyrics, while occasionally cloying or maudlin ("I was welcomed with open arms/I was helped in every way"), are a bit too on the nose, Tweedy's more fiery, more alive, than we've seen him in the past. The album is a total triumph, and I'm sorry for doubting them.


Madvillain - Madvillainy

You may have noticed, there isn't a lot of hip hop on the ol' blog here. I'll be honest - that's because I don't listen to much, because I think most of it is unbelievably lame and ridiculous.

But it's not that I don't like the music. I'm every bit as capable of enjoying a hip hop album to the same extent as a rock one. I just feel like very few hip hop artists communicate to me personally in any meaningful way, what with my not being a balla or owning fancy rims.

Even when I enjoy some of the music for what it is (say, a good beat, or a cleverly-turned phrase), there's a distance: there isn't that extra ingredient that makes it come alive for me, that makes me feel it deep down, on an emotional level and not a critical one.

Except for MF Doom. I don't know why, but the guy and his work feel relatable to me, like I can understand what he's doing and why so many people (myself included) appreciate it. As I indicated above in my "Mm... Food?" comments, I like him best when he works with a great producer on a solid beat, and then spits out some of the most hilarious, bizarre and, I'll admit it, dorky rhymes imaginable.

And that's "Madvillainy" in its entirely. A pseudo-concept album pitting Doom (a stand-in for Fantastic Four villain Dr. Doom) against other rappers of all kinds, trying in vain to thwart his plans for world dominance. But it isn't the thematic ideas that really make the album soar - it's the remarkable production work by Madlib, who mixes up some incredible, intricate beats (including the all-accordian sample on the aptly-titled "Accordian"), and Doom's often brilliant repartee; the most astute, funny rhymes on any album this year. One of the increasingly rare hip hop albums which I will frequently listen to all the way through, and then hit repeat. Brilliant.


TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes

Okay, I just talked about these guys yesterday, so I won't belabor the point. They're making some of the most interesting music in rock right now, bringing in soul and gospel in ways I've never heard before. Plus, it's just cool, dark, New York-y sounding music that can really set a mood properly. And it's got a great sense of humor while also being really creepy; how do you follow up the lyric "Cover your Balls/Cause we swing Kung Fu." If I was making a movie about horny vampires living day-to-day in some major urban center, this would be the soundtrack.


The Arcade Fire - Funeral

Wow. This is one of those albums that totally hit me out of nowhere. There's gotta be something in the water up there in the Great White North. Over the last few years, we've gotten The New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene, the Unicorns and now The Arcade Fire, producers of what can only be called the finest debut CD of the year, and in my opinion, the third overall best CD. It's a very complicated concept album; a nieghborhood of people and their various entanglements, sorrows and deaths. To me, it sounds like just a sad meditation on inevitability, and about how places carry with them the weight and tragedy of the lives spent there.

But none of that matters nearly as much as the glorious music. This is arena, epic music with a bravado that reminds me of nothing so much as the early days of U2. They've somehow managed to channel this passion with New Wave stylings of bands like the Talking Heads or Joy Divison, mixed in with post-punk intensity of contemporary indie rock, and set it off with lead singer Win Butler's plaintive, Bowie-esque wails. It's not only listenable, but stirring, emotional and unforgettable. The result is a truly groundbreaking album that makes me giddy with anticipation for a follow-up.


The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows

The first time I ever heard The Walkmen, I remembering thinking that (1) thery were terrific and (2) that people were not going to appreciate them. Seriously, I am befuddled by the mainstream success of The Walkmen far more than like-minded bands like The Strokes. They both write catchy, loose garage pop, and both of their singers employ the lazy, monotone drawl of Lou Reed. But The Walkmen don't just write 3 minute samples of pop bliss like Casablancas and crew. They write pained, aching, off-tempo melodies, sometimes elucidaded by no more than a few tinks of a piano and a scream from lead singler Hamilton Leithauser.

There's a sense of dire urgency, of a kind of psycho-sexual desperation, behind The Walkmen recordings that raises them to that next level - they're not just a talented group of musicians adopting an ironic pose. There's real emotional resonance going on here. When Leithauser screams "Can't you hear me/I'm knocking at your door" on the album highlight "The Rat," he's not adopting the yell as a trademark or gesture - he really wants to get in that fucking door.


The Fiery Furances - Blueberry Boat

I hadn't heard either of the two Furnaces albums at this time last year, so I don't know if their previous "Gallowbird's Bark" would have overtaken the top spot from Radiohead's "Hail to the Thief," but I'm tempted to say it might. Anyway, this year, the decision was not even that difficult (much though I dug The Arcade Fire). As much as I loved "Bark," the Furnaces new effort far exceeds it. It may be the best album of the new millenium thus far, an immense work so dense with nuance and meaning, even 10 or 15 don't begin to scratch the surface.

The concept of making an entire album of sing-song mini-operettas is a strange one, and probably would have been enough of an inspiration for a good album. But the Furnaces take the concept further, piling each one of the 4-9 minutes together with a string of beautiful, tight melodic choruses, making each song not just a meandering jam session, but a fast-paced guide throughout an entire universe of sound. Single songs like "Chief Inspector Blancheflower" and "Chris Michaels" contain enough solid hooks for an entire album worth of songs.

The Who is always cited as the inspiration in reviews of the album, as their suites like "A Quick One, While He's Away" crafted a story out of several song snippets put together. But the Furnaces kind of beat them at their own game, swirling around different sections of songs at a pace that's both exhilirating and disorienting.

And this is without mentioning any of the delightful lyrics, which unfold like an extremely dark children's adventure book. The Siblings Friedberger (Eleanor and Matthew, the former who sings and the latter who composes the music) have a remarkable sense of setting and tone, and have turned "Blueberry Boat" from simply a sprawling musical masterpiece into a world of its own, with pirate ships, high seas adventure, kidnappings and several romantic entanglements. This is why All Music Guide has called it "an album of children's songs for adults," and I'm inclined to agree (although I think there's a decent chance kids would like some of the songs found here, if some of them weren't so dark or disturbing.)

Architecture in Helsinki

I want to make sure you're all listening attentively to the debut CD from Australian indie pop octet Architecture in Helsinki. The album is called "Fingers Crossed." Why not check out more about it on All Music Guide here?

It's very soothing, laid back kind of indie rock. It's fragile and delicate, like The Aislers' Set, but not lo-fi like that band. I suppose it's sort of The Shins meets, say, Galaxie 500, but I had analogies like that, so let's just say that it's peculiar, multi-instrumental, and very cool.

It's one of those odd albums that I genuinely didn't like on the first listen. I picked it up because of the stellar (and, I now see, entirely accurate) Pitchfork review a few months ago. It sounded to me like the kind of music people call "experimental," when what they really mean is that it's cacophanous and irritating. Like a lot of Captain Beefheart. Sure, there's a few good songs on "Trout Mask Replica," but for the most part, it's just odd, atonal noise. Yes, I know, there are songs buried down there, and the spastic production was meticulously calculated, but it SOUNDS random.

Anyway, that's what Architecture first sounded like to me, but then I decided, for whatever reason, to give it a second try last week. And I can't imagine what turned me off initially. Immensely catchy, quirky little ditties like "The Owls Go" sit side-by-side with moody, mainly instrumental pieces like "The Vanishing" or "Where You've Been Hiding," and even though the music is pulled in these different directions, the album feels like a cohesive hole. Considering as well The Arcade Fire's "Funeral" and the first disc from the Eagles of Death Metal, this has been a solid year for debut CD's.

It's Vote, Backwards!

I'll be posting some of my favorite Inertia comments on a new website, It's basically a collection of writings by bloggers who want another outlet for their work. You know, because the stuff I have to say is important, dammit, and it needs to reach a massive audience. The fate of the world might just depend on it.

No, not really. My political commentary is pretty much exactly what you'd find at Atrios, but with more jokes about Jesus and anal sex (not neccessarily in the same joke, although you never know...)

But it is kind of an interesting idea. You can check out my page in particular (I'm an etovoice!) here.

And, yeah, I think Frank really ought to think about the name, too. I know it's "vote" backwards, but it sounds like some sort of underground group of Israeli militants with plans for world conquest, or something.

Kneel Before the All-Powerful Black Shamrock of Zod!

Puny mortals...You have only once chance at survival. To kneel before the mighty General Zod.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Red State Dummies

Now, here is a blog that I can relate to...

You know, some Democrats have argued that setting up websites with the purpose of insulting the intelligence of red state voters is exactly the kind of elitist limousine liberal crap that has given Americans the impression they currently have of the Left. To these people, I say, shut up. Cause it's funny. And true.

Poor and middle-class people who voted for Bush are dumb. There, I said it.

Dental Cares and Caries

A piece of one of my teeth just came off. I was sitting here at my computer, minding my own, when I noticed some small, hard granule was floating around inside my mouth, where only my tongue should be. It's a significant-sized chunk of one of my molars.

I am literally falling apart. At only 26 years of age, my body has basically grown all it is ever going to. My skin cells and such will regenerate, sure, but my bones aren't growing, I don't have any more teeth coming in, and not only have I stopped discovering hair in new places, but I'm losing it in places I'd really prefer having it. Visible places. Top of my head type places.

It's a depressing thought.

What's more depressing is that I'll have to go to the dentist's office some time next week and have them take a look in there, make sure this is just one of those common everyday tooth-falling-off things, rather than some ongoing plaque concern I should be aware of. And what's even more depressing than that is that everyone at my dentist's office, except for my father, who runs the place, speaks either Korean or with a heavy Korean accent. So, I'll ask, "Is there something I should do to prevent all my teeth from crumbling into useless shards of mouth debris?," and the response will sound like a series of clicks and pops that might as well be a recipe for spicy kim chee with broccoli.

But Will It Be As Good As Deep Blue Sea?

According to Ain't It Cool, by way of Variety, Renny Harlin's directing a movie about space werewolves. Yeah, werewolves. In outer space.

I never thought I'd say this, but werewolves are officially overused as movie monsters for the time being. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban this year used them well, as did the original Ginger Snaps, but enough is enough. Twin disappointments Van Helsing and Dog Soldiers have kind of killed off my interest in the sub-genre for the time being, and I can't imagine another lycanthrope feature from The King of Overzealous Mediocrity Renny Harlin will do anything to reverse this sentiment.

And why would the werewolves be in outer space? Bitten by one of those everpresent space wolves? Is it possible that an astronaut could actually go through the entire Space Program without anyone at NASA discovering that he/she turns into a ravenous beast every time there's a full moon? In Apollo 13, they figure out Gary Sinise never had measles, for crissakes.

Okay, that being said, the softcore werewolf-themed feature Wolfhound includes some of the most atrocious acting I've ever seen. (I saw it for free on cable! I swear!) The cast is made of up several ex-Playmates who can barely recall their lines, let alone speak them with any measure of emotion. Check out at IMDB here.

Butt Sex IS Awesome!

Apparently, Microsoft is censoring posts on its new blog hosting website, MSN Spaces. Check out Boing Boing's thoroughly entertaining investigation here. Their conclusions?

  • You can't name a blog Corporate Whore (but Corporate Prostitute is fine).
  • You can, in fact, name your blog Butt Sex is Awesome, which I'll admit is way better than Crushed by Inertia. Also, the word "anal" is banned, which is odd, because that's basically a medical term that naughty people have co-opted.
  • Most of the seven dirty words are out, but "tits" apparently is okay if used in conjunction with "or tat" or "-mouse."
  • The word pornography is apparently off limits
  • You can post something with the title "Smoking Crack: A Guide for Teens."
Funny stuff.

Of course, it's funny because it's so ridiculous. The entire point of blogging is that you can communicate directly with other people. You can express yourself. You can say whatever you want! Get it, Bill Gates? Once you start forcing people to conform their language to a corporate-sponsored website's specifications, you cut off the very free expression of ideas your service was designed to foster. Dumbass!

I really hope that this MSN Spaces thing doesn't catch on, although I'm sure it will, because they have more money than sites like Blogger, and they'll just cheat and make Internet Explorer crash whenever you don't already have MSN Spaces open at Start-Up. Bastards.

Really, it's just like cable television. The Internet is not free; you have to pay to get it in your home. I can't just bring a computer home and plug it into the wall and start getting blogs on the screen, right? So, just like on cable, it's up to individual content providers to decide what they want to put on their TV station/website, and Microsoft has decided to go the coward's way out and censor words like "anal" from their blogs. They're the Comedy Central of the blogosphere, free to say or do anything they want, but terrified to allow some offensive term like "doobie" to possibly sneak in during a Cheech and Chong movie marathon.

Wes Side

I know I've been linking to Salon a lot lately, and that not everybody has subscriptions like I do, but I can't NOT post a link to a Wes Anderson interview. He's pretty much my favorite working director and all. Can't wait (can't wait!) for Life Aquatic, which opens here in LA in only another week or two, if I'm not mistaken. I would have seen it already if I hadn't quit my PR job, but what can you do? I'm lazy.

Anyway, here's my favorite part of the Wes Q&A:

Definitely the kind of movies I've been doing are movies where, with good luck, there are people who it'll really connect with. And for the same reasons it'll really connect with some of the people, there's a big part of the audience that'll just totally reject it. And I think that with really big studio movies, the idea is to not do that.

When I watch Rushmore, it does sometimes feel like it was a movie made just for me. I've noticed that any movie that touches me emotionally in that way, from Mulholland Drive to Ghost World to Videodrome, tends to have its fair share of detractors. I guess you can only make a movie so personal before it begins to alienate some viewers with dramatically different viewpoints or personalities.

A Heartbreaking Post of Staggering Genius

McSweeney's, Dave Eggers' San Francisco publishing house, runs a variety of strange, funny, bemusing or insightful articles every single day on their website, If you don't go there daily, you obviously have a more involved life than I do. Also, you're missing some great writing.

Today's post is particularly delightful for me, an unemployed person. Writer Jon Fitch composes his half of an imaginary job interview. Here's a sample response:

I've always considered myself a man forged in the fires of fate, driven by destiny and guided by a higher hand to lead men and women of all races and genders. You don't have to write that down because it's there in red crayon, right under my poem about Gwen Stefani.

Ha ha!

He's a Deaniac, Deaniac on the floor...

I'm totally dating myself with that headline.

Anyway, Salon informs me that Howard Dean will make a major speech tomorrow in which he will lay out his agenda for the future of the Democratic Party. Here's what's expected to be the sum of gist:

He'll argue that the Democratic Party should be rebuilt from the grass roots up, that it should be driven by millions of Americans who make small contributions rather than by a handful of moneyed interests, and that the party should focus not just on presidential politics in swing states like Ohio and Florida but also on down-ballot races even in the reddest of states. On matters of substance, Dean may not resurrect his borrowed line about representing the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," but you can count on him to make it clear he isn't joining the "go along to get along" wing of the party, either.

Sounds good to me. Democrats are the right party to side with these days, what with the other party staffing itself exclusively with bigoted, insane assholes, but that doesn't mean they're actually right about most things. Though Nader obviously made a huge mistake by running for President in '04, most of his message still rings true: Democrats are beholden to massive corporations in the same way Republicans are, and only by freeing themselves of the need to serve corporate masters instead of the people can they transform into a party most people would actually want to support.

It's not surprising to me that Dean is rising as a new leader for the New Democrats. I firmly believe that if America were filled with reasonable people who made reasonable electoral decisions, Dean would be president right now. Unfortunately, America is filled with people who don't bother to pay attention to what's going on around them, so a minor gaffe (like getting caught up in the excitement of a moment and yelling something goofy out to a group of supporters) is enough to completely derail a candidate. No, I don't think Dean would have won a general election in image-conscious, media-saturated America, but I sort of wish I lived in a country where he could have.

Oh, Really, O'Reilly?

More near-gibberish from Billy O on his mystifyingly popular rant-a-thon "The Factor" yesterday. Here's him railing on a Jewish caller who had the audacity to complain that there is too much Christmas talk in public schools:

CALLER: The thing is, is when you have -- for example, Christmas carols or gift exchanges being done in school, that kind of sets the kids up to being converted.

O'REILLY: Yeah, but you give gifts on Hanukkah, don't you?

CALLER: No, there's not really a Jewish tradition of giving gifts on --

O'REILLY: Well, the seven candles [sic], you get a gift for every night, don't you?

CALLER: Actually, the Jews give gifts on --

O'REILLY: All right. Well, what I'm tellin' you, [caller], is I think you're takin' it too seriously. You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on, [caller] -- if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then. I mean because we live in a country founded on Judeo -- and that's your guys' -- Christian, that's my guys' philosophy. But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So, you don't wanna hear about it? Impossible.

And that is an affront to the majority. You know, the majority can be insulted, too. And that's what this anti-Christmas thing is all about.

What's the beef, sir?

There's so much to be snarky about in this clip, I barely know where to begin.

Okay, I've decided. Let's start with Billy proclaiming that the singing of Christmas carols and giving of gifts is an inclusive activity, because "Jews give gifts, too," you know, because of the "seven candles."

First of all, Jews don't sing Christmas carols. Second of all, most Jewish families are realistic about Hannukah. It's a dumb holiday. We all know that. It's a minor occasion, the sort of thing you'd barely recall in the back of your mind while doing something more important (which is the way I remember all Jewish holidays). But because of pinheads like Billy O declaring it the Jewish equivalent of Christmas, we all have to pretend like we give a shit about the Maccabees for seven days, once a year. It's stupid. But, of course, this is the least insipid thing Bill-bo says in the above passage.

What's the most insipid? The part about a "federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus." I mean, COME ON.

Jesus was not a philosopher. He wasn't. He was, depending on which religion you believe or disbelieve, a teacher, a prophet, a non-existent avatar for a series of social/political/religious leaders or the Son of God. Philosophers don't regularly go around turning water into alcohol and declaring themselves divine beings. I'm pretty sure John Stuart Mill never did this. And the idea that Christmas celebrates Jesus as a philosopher rather than a religious figure is so ridiciulous, I feel ridiculous commenting on it.

You see, Bill (because, of course he reads The Inertia), Christmas has become a federal holiday because most Americans celebrate it, so work just plain isn't getting done that day. True, it's the only religious holiday that doubles as a federal holiday, but let's not read too much into that, shall we? I chose to view it like President's Day - every religion has a holiday in mid-winter, so we've combined them all into one Federal holiday, which most of us refer to as "the holidays" already, anyway. It's been secularized before you even got here, Bill.

In fact, did you know that the Puritans who originally came to this country, the ones that "founded our Christian nation," or whatever, didn't celebrate Christmas? Check this out:

In 1659, a few decades after the Pilgrims first arrived in New England, the Massachusetts Bay colony went beyond treating Christmas as an ordinary working day and actually banned any celebration of Christmas. The law stated, "Whoever shall be found observing any such days as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing labor, feasting, or any other way.... shall pay for every such offense five shillings as a fine to the country."

They felt, rightfully so, that the religious celebration of Christ's rebirth had been overshadowed by the festive nature of the holiday, and that it had become ungodly. Even today, there are Christian groups who oppose the secularization of Christmas, and this is one of the very rare issues about which the super-religious and I agree. I say, divide Christmas in two: a secular, fun one in December with Frosty and Rudolph and Santa and trees and candy and stockings and elves and those ugly sweaters with candy canes on them, and a serious religious one on December 25th. That way, we get to keep the separation of church and state, the religious people get their solemn occasion back, and I get to get Christmas presents without feeling guilt or shame.

My last thought is on this ridiculous "Christian majority" idea, as if it means diddly-shit that more Americans are Christian than any other religion. It doesn't. The whole country was founded on the idea that we don't let the majority religion push all the other religions around (and, in this case, I'll consider atheism a religion). So, if you're Christian, good for you! Enjoy the holiday season! But shut the fuck up, okay?

And while I'm on the subject, could we curtail the constant holiday-song-themed Musak until AT LEAST December 1st. I shouldn't have to hear 10 different instrumental renditions of "Jingle Bell Rock" just becuase I need to stop by Ralphs for some Captain Crunch.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Big Juicy Thick...oh, Burgers

According to the front page story on Yahoo! just now, the entire country is in an uproar over Hardee's knew Heat-Seeking Colonic Missile/sandwich, the Monster Thickburger. Mmm, it sounds delicious, folks, that's for sure.

But, an uproar? Over a fast food sandwich? Isn't a full-on uproar the sort of thing we reserve for dumb sketches that play in front of "Monday Night Football"? What's the beef, sir?

You see, the Thickburger contains 1,420 calories and 170 grams of fat, and apparently, that's way too much for you to eat in one sitting, according to scientists from the Center for Analyzing Really Obvious Statistics.

No, actually, it's the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocate for nutrition and health, dubbed the Thickburgers "food porn," the Monster "the fast-food equivalent of a snuff film."

"At a time of rampant heart disease and obesity, it is the height of corporate irresponsibility for a major chain to peddle a 1,420-calorie sandwich," the center said.

Well, if the Thickburgers are the fast food equivalent of a snuff film, what do you call the video I have of the Hamburgler stabbing Grimace repeatedly with a homemade shiv, huh? But I digress...

Basically, I don't think you can blame a fast food restaurant for offering its customers what they so clearly want. Americans are fat, and we pretend occasionally to be upset about that, when we see a movie like Super-Size Me or fail to fit into the seat of a commercial airliner, but no one wants to give up delights like fast food burgers or those new Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with the white chocolate on the outside...Oh, those are so freaking good...

Anyhoo, my point is, there's always yokels like this guy, quoted in the Yahoo! story:

Edwin Depke, 80, a retired box company worker who has long loved the Thickburgers, was won over by the Monster at a St. Louis Hardee's.

Calories schmalories, he said.

"They're big and thick, with all the trimmings," Depke said. "You don't have to worry about all bun and no meat."

"They're really good. Eat one, and you don't have to worry about another. It's a meal."

You heard it here first, folks. Eat just one Monster Thickburger from Hardee's, with its two 1/3-pound slabs of all-Angus beef, four strips of bacon, three slices of cheese and mayonnaise on a buttered sesame seed bun, and you don't have to eat another one for the rest of the day. It's literally a whole meal! Why, that's practically a public service! Thanks, Hardee's!

Stupid Spoiled Whores

I came across this charming blog after searching for my own blog on Google (hey, I wanted to see how many blogs were listed before's not good...) It's a journal of the numerous liasons, both personal and professional, of a New York prostitute. Here's how she describes herself:

I love Prada, Seven jeans, and Jimmy Choos. I'm also totally addicted to Starbucks' grande non-fat white mocha and working out.

Isn't that adorable? She's just like Carrie from "Sex and the City," except instead of writing cute newspaper columns for shoe money, she gives blowjobs to the morbidly obese! Otherwise, totally the same!

No, but seriously, it's not the blogger herself that upset me. As an unemployed slob who mooches off of his parents, I can't really call other people out on their career choices.

I think there's a pretty good chance the entire thing is fake (as in, written by a dude) anyway. There's the faint whiff of a "Letter to Penthouse" around the entire enterprise. Take this excerpt:

My body eventually explodes with one of the biggest orgasms that I've experienced in a while. I let out many loud moans as each wave of pleasure washes over me.

I'm hoping that anyone who has actually experienced a female orgasm wouldn't have to go in for the hoary old "wave of pleasure" metaphor...But, then again, maybe she's a lot better in the bedroom than on the keyboard.

Like I said, it's not the blogger I take issue with. It's the comments people leave after her posts that upset me (and, yes, it's partially because no one deems my blog comment-worthy).

There are a TON of comments like the following:

Hey, I just started to read your journal thing (eh, not enough computer knowledge to know what its called) and I'm just dropping in to say that its really good and really interesting. You're life is almost exactly like how I want mine...I stumbled on your site when I was looking up Jimmy Choos online. I also adore Dior...but anyways, I'm getting off topic. Well, keep on writing Alexa!

I'll leave off people's names, but you see what I'm saying. Could this week's "South Park" have really been accurate? Is there an entire generation of young girls that will grow up thinking that prostituting their body in exchange for nice shoes is an acceptable life choice? Do I even, as a young, childless man, care about this? Answer: not really. I just thought it would make good blog conversation.

OK Calculator

Been listening to this early demo, "OK Calculator," by indie rock superstars and 2004 Shortlist winners TV on the Radio a bunch this week. They discuss it in an interview here.

It's 18 early tracks they threw together in an apartment in Brooklyn. Very rough, but you can hear their sound coming together, and it includes some pretty funny stuff, like they'd been listening to some old Ween records along with all the Nina Simone and Genesis.

Not for sale anywhere, from what I can tell, but why not try downloading it? I found it fairly easily on Soulseek. If you feel bad later, you can mail the band a dollar. Or buy their first official LP, "Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes," in an actual retail store somewhere, for money.

The Machinist

Okay, before we go any further, I'll get one observation out of the way. Christian Bale's massive weight loss to play the protagonist in this film is both revolting and remarkable. He looks nothing like his former self, as you can see from the image below. It's probably the most impressive body sculpting in movie actor history (and I include both De Niro's weight gain at the end of Raging Bull and Hanks' transformation for the mid-section of Cast Away). Bale dropped 65 pounds for this movie, and it's pretty much as disgusting as it sounds. He looks like a syphilitic Olsen twin fresh out of Dachau. That's thin, okay?

Alright, now with that out of the way, I can tell you why this movie isn't any good.

Brad Anderson's The Machinist is a well-made thriller with a winning lead performance from an obviously devoted actor. It's also a movie with no reason to exist. Its visual style, though professional, feels copped from other, better movies. Its actual entertainment value is negligable. And the screenplay revolves around The #1 Most Overused Screenwriting Convention of the Decade. I don't want to blow it for you if you haven't seen many movies or movie trailers lately, but I will say this: If you have seen Secret Window, Identity, Fight Club, A Beautiful Mind or have read the book Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, you know this twist already. This twist is retardedly overused. No more movies should be made with this twist.

But on to the story, which I will try to summarize without giving away the ludicrously obvious twist. Bale plays Trevor Reznik, not to be confused with the guy from NIN, who weighs a good 4 or 5 pounds more. He works a dull job at a machine shop, operating a lathe, and spends his free time eating pie in an airport coffee shop and fucking comely prostitute Jennifer Jason Leigh. And he hasn't slept a wink in about a year.

Soon enough, odd things begin to happen to Reznik. He meets a creepy fellow machinist named Ivan (John Sharian), with toes where his fingers should be, who begins following him for some reason. He accidentally causes a horrible accident at the plant. Strange notes begin appearing on his refrigerator. And there's an awful smell coming from somewhere in the kitchen. Is his lack of sleep causing him to simply crack up? Or is there some deeper meaning behind all of the madness?

The film goes on like this for a while without even bothering to build intensity, and it begins to feel rather pointless. Just look at that picture: The guy's obviously losing his mind, so we're fairly aware from early on that there's no reason to trust his perspective on reality. Any savvy moviegoer should really be able to tell what's going on from about an hour into the movie forward. The film would be effective as a horror film, I think, if anything horrifying ever happened, but it doesn't, so it becomes a fairly rote, if darkly stylish, indie thriller.

Strangely, it's not the first film Anderson's directed to unfold in this manner. His Session 9 started with a promising horror movie premise (an asbestos removal team is locked up for a weekend in an abandoned insane asylum) and then proceeded towards a predictable, silly conclusion. His Happy Accidents starts off as a passable romantic comedy (with the added bonus of a leading role for Vincent D'Onofrio) before veering into bizarre science-fiction territory. I wish he'd either find a script with a twist ending worth building to, or abandon the idea of jerking the audience around altogether and simply make a straight-forward piece of entertainment.

The Machinist has some ingenuity in its final moments. The actual "reveal" and the few scenes that follow are better than in this year's Secret Window, which so thoroughly botched a similar twist as to make this film look accomplished in comparison. I'm sure Anderson and his screenwriter Scott Kosar thought they had an original-enough take on the material to warrant the production of the film, and someone in Park City thought it significant enough for Sundance. I suspect mass audiences will probably feel as I did: that we've been down this road before.


A real billboard, funded by Clear Channel, located on the I-4 North, near downtown Orlando in Florida.

I hear Winnipeg is really nice this time of year.

Dick Gephardt, Mayor of Nellyville

Fun interview in the New York Times Magazine yesterday with Dick "Richard" Gephardt in which he discusses, among other things, his love of rap music. Seriously. And I quote:

What else have you been buying?

I did get an iPod. Oh, I love it. It's the best thing that ever happened to me.

What are you listening to -- political speeches?

The collected speeches of Newt Gingrich. That would be NO. I like Josh Groban. I like Tony Bennett. I like Nelly. He's from St. Louis. He's a very good rapper. I like Eminem. I have his album.

Some of the lyrics are a little hard to take.

Oh, I don't listen to the lyrics. I just like the music. I like the beat.

I don't know what's more amusing...The idea that Gephardt felt he could realistically co-opt Nelly to make himself seem cool, or the idea that maybe, just maybe, Dick Gephardt, possibly the largest dork in Congress, actually enjoys Nelly, known to many of his fans as "the most iced-out rapper of all time".

If true, I think this signals, among other things, the death of hip hop. How can you profess to provide a voice for the disgruntled masses of the inner city when one of your biggest fans looks like Skeletor and worked for Tip O'Neill. It's like a contradiction in terms.

Job Hunt

I've been looking for a job since starting this blog, and thus far, no success. I've applied at every retail outfit around here that I can think of, and still no hits. There was a video store, Laser Blazer, that said they would start me part-time, but I never heard back from them, and just now when I spoke to the manager, he told me that "no spots had opened up yet on the schedule." So, that one's probably not gonna happen...

I've been looking for work off and on for a little over a year now. (I had a job when I started, and have had one in the interim. I'm lazy but even I have limits). It's a highly depressing state of affairs, particularly because there are so many non-helpful people and services out there that pretend to help you find work.

Need an example? What about Millions of people flock there for bogus job listings every day. I typed in "Los Angeles" and no other specifications, just to get a measure of the sort of jobs being offered up today:

  • An industry leading asphalt paving contractor looking for HIGH ENERGY SALESMAN, serving Los Angeles & local counties, for one of the world's largest markets.
  • Opportunities exist in our rapidly growing Woodland Hills location for a Loan Shipper/Post Closer.
  • We are seeking an experienced On-Site coordinator to join our fabulous team to supervise the graveyard shift for a large on-site location in Valencia. (Now, THAT one sounds promising...)
  • The Intimate Apparel division of Warnaco, Inc. has an excellent opportunity for someone with forecasting experience within a retail or wholesale apparel company.

Don't these positions all seem a bit specialized? I mean, if you have experience selling asphalt paving, wouldn't you know most of the companies in that field, and apply to them whenever you need a job? What are the chances someone with forecasting experience in intimate apparel is just going to wander onto on one day in particular and find that listing? And what the hell is a loan shipper/post closer? I mean, obviously you have to close the post after you ship the loan, but this doesn't take into account that neither of those phrases makes any sense at all.

There really isn't a website helping you find dumb, retail jobs, like the one I'm hoping to turn up. You just have to run around town like a maniac applying everywhere, hoping to get one phone call. And in the week or two around Christmas, it's easier said than done.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Blade, the Fearless Vampire Killer

I'll definitely go see the upcoming Blade: Trinity. Wasn't really a fan of Stephen Norrington's generic original Blade film, but Blade II is excellent, due mainly to the talents of director Guillermo del Toro. No, he's not related to Benicio. Guillermo. He looks like the Latin Peter Jackson. And he's the director of several other perfeclty enjoyable recent genre films, like The Devil's Backbone and Hellboy.

As for the upcoming Blade sequel, it's not directed by either Norrington nor del Toro, but screenwriter David Goyer. I haven't heard much about whether or not it works, except for this particularly scathing review from Harry Knowles over at Aint It Cool News. I'm a bit shocked by the venom, considering how much he enjoyed the previous two. Perhaps this is a renter? (Who am I kidding...I'll see it in theaters, if only because of how few action films come out with even a remote shot at actually providing any entertainment).

Roid Rage

I don't get sports. I just don't get it. It's always affected my social life negatively, making it difficult to bond with other males. Considering that I also don't know anything about tools, cars or technology, I basically have to make guy friends that don't like to talk much, or that don't mind if I stop listening once I hear the phrase "designated hitter rule."

So, you won't get a lot of sports-related rants on this blog, except maybe, MAYBE, some comments on the World Series of Poker, of which I have become a fan. Perhaps you'd rather check out this blog, which discusses sports all the time, as well as ridiculous right-wing propaganda such as this gem from Thanksgiving Day:

There has been a lot of anti-american rhetoric and protest recently- especially from those enclaves separated from reality known as our institutions of higher learning. It seems nothing can endear you quicker as an intellectual these days is to attack how terrible or unfair America is...

And, fellas, it's written by a lady! Booooooya! Ignorance is so hot right now.

But I digress. The point of this post was initially supposed to be about Jason Giambi's admission this week to years of knowing steroid abuse. In particular, I'm dismayed at the faux "shock" of sports fans and much of the sports media. This editorial by Steve Kettmann lays out basically how I feel about the subject. It's obvious that many professional athletes abuse steroids, even if you rarely, if ever, actually pay attention to what's going on in sports.

Every ballplayer in sports right now wants to be like Sammy Sosa, not because he's so amazingly great at the game or because his English sounds so lovely, but because everyone, even non-sports fans like myself, knows who he is. So he gets those Pepsi commercials and makes several trillion dollars. So, to consistantly hit home runs off of major league pitchers, these guys will do whatever it takes, including risk their health by abusing drugs. People abuse drugs every day just because it's fun, drugs that don't enhance a goddamn thing about them!

So, cut the crap, sports fans. You knew Giambi wasn't just eating an extra helping of mashed potatoes to bulk up. Everyone knows that normal guys don't get to look like Mark McGwire by hitting the gym a few times a week. You could do Bruce Willis' weight regimen from Unbreakable every day for 20 years and never look like that guy. It would take a team of archeologists a decade to find his neck.

But there's no outcry because people like seeing home runs. Steroids, as unhealthy and dangerous and immoral as their use can be, make sports (just a slight bit) more interesting.

So, what's the solution? There probably isn't one, any more than there's a solution from drug abuse in general society. And, regrettably, in both situations, the standard response to a serious problem is the same: hypocritical calls for strict laws concerning all drugs. I have a feeling most people would like to go easier on drug offenders, people who have done nothing wrong except for abuse their own bodies with drug use.

If you want athletes to seriously stop taking steroids, you've got to test anyone who suddenly bulks up without warning, anyone who starts performing far above their previous levels, anyone whose behavior is in the least bit suspicious. And if they fail a drug test, just once, for any drug, you kick them out of the sport. But does anyone want that? It doesn't sound very appealing to me. But, then again, what do I know? I hate sports.