Saturday, January 15, 2005

Friday Night Lights

I know I intended to reserve this column for older movies, and Friday Night Lights was released only last year, but damn it, this movie deserved some more recognition. I missed it in theaters because it's about football, and I don't give two shits about football or any other sports. And now I'm sorry that I did, because it's that rare sports movie that makes athletics feel riveting and meaningful, and not just like some mechanization of the plot.

The true story at the heart of Friday Night Lights concerns the 1988 football season for the Odessa, Texas Panthers, a small-town West Texas high school football team vying for the State Championship Title. And Odessa, Texas is a town very much concerned with high school football. In much the same way as the far inferior Varsity Blues, Friday Night Lights spends a good deal of its initial hour demonstrating the community's deep and abiding love for the sport of football, and their intolerance of coaches and players who do not perform to their exacting standards. So, when Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) makes a questionable call and allows a star running back to play despite an insurmountable lead, he comes home at night to find "For Sale" signs on his lawn.

We also see how much the sport means to the young athletes who play for Gaines. The aforementioned running back, Boobie Miles (Derek Luke, in a confident and charismatic performance), has chased the fame and fortune of pro football his entire life. Don Billingsley (fine newcomer Garrett Hedlund) pushes himself to please his domineering, alcoholic father (country music star Tim McGraw). And Mike Winchell, the quiet, troubled quarterback, fights through pain and self-doubt for the sake of his mentally ill, football-obsessed mother.

These are classic sports-movie situations, and the film's rousing finale, finding the Panthers battling the seemingly unstoppable Carter Dallas team, could be lifted from any number of other sports films, from Hoosiers to Rudy to Remember the Titans. But what makes the film rise above the material is the sincerity of the performances, particularly from the young actors on the football field. These are not the sort of emotive, overripe turns we typically get in teen sports movies. There is none of the snarky, sophmoric humor that tainted Varsity Blues, none of the faux-earnest bluster of Remember the Titans and none of the tooth-gnashing chauvanist pyrotechnics of Any Given Sunday. Just a raw, gritty, realistic take on the hopes, triumphs, pressures and failures of a group of kids from a small town playing a harsh game with all they've got.

Director Peter Berg (who also crafted the far sillier but similarly underrated Very Bad Things) allows the material to take center stage. He gives the film a striking, unique look (aided by the stark cinematography of Tobias A. Schliessler, who has made over 15 films, none of which I have seen. The subdued harmonies of Explosions to the Sky on the soundtrack also perfectly compliment the action.

As someone not invested in the natural rhythms of sport or smitten with the rough pageantry of football, it takes a good deal of work to make me care about the outcome of a fictional contest. Berg succeeds by making me invest dramatically in the characters and situations. The hits on the field hurt not because of a crunching Foley effect on the soundtrack (as a director like Oliver Stone might provide), but because I know this kid needs to play to get out of Odessa, Texas, to make something of himself greater than his father and his high school.

It's rare to see a mainstream, formula picture that works on this level. Even though I could feel the lackluster screenplay verging back on melodrama again and again, Berg and his able cast continually resist this temptation, keeping the action tense, matter-of-fact and subtle. It's a refreshingly honest sports movie, and one that I suspect will find its way into the pantheon of great contemporary American sports films.

If It's Not Scottish, It's Crap!

Scottish magazine The List ranked the Top 50 Scottish bands of all time recently. The winners? You guessed it: The Bay City Rollers.

No, no, that's a joke. The Rollers came in #8. They was robbed. The winners are the enormously twee, enormously lovely Belle and Sebastian, whose "If You're Feeling Sinister" is surely one of the best pop albums of the 90's.

Here's the full Top 10:

1 Belle & Sebastian
2 Travis
3 Idlewild
4 Wet Wet Wet
5 Sensational Alex Harvey Band
6 Simple Minds
7 Teenage Fan Club
8 Bay City Rollers
9 Primal Scream
10 The Proclaimers

The Proclaimers? The "I would walk 500 miles" douchebags? I hate that freaking song! And I hate the movie it was attached to...(anyone know? Eh? Can you guess? It's Benny and Joon! I rule!)

I have not heard of Wet Wet Wet or Sensational Alex Harvey Band. But I was surprised to see Franz Ferdinand left out of the Top Ten (they're in at #15). That's one behind freaking Snow Patrol! I'd eat my weight in haggis before buying a Snow Patrol album.

The Delgados got left off entirely, which is a shame. Their album "Hate" from 2003 was better than anything Snow Patrol has ever recorded by a good distance.

Also, no love for Edwyn Collins? That "Never Met a Girl Like You Before" has been stuck in my head since about 1997.

He's Not Much For Fancy Book Learnin'

George W. Bush isn't a big reader. We all know this. This is a well-established fact. He brags about it, in fact. When asked during his first run for President in 2000 what his favorite book was as a child, he responded "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," which wasn't published until he was in college.

So, for some reason, CNN has decided to run an article attempting to counter this image. They want you to believe that, because Bush has been talking a lot about Natan Sharansky's book "The Case for Democracy" that he's a real big time reader. It's pathetic.

Bill Clinton read widely and voraciously, sampling and skimming ideas like a whale does plankton. Bush is more particular, and when he locks onto a book, he shows his trademark discipline, almost always reading it to the last page. When Sharansky stopped by, Bush sheepishly pointed out in his copy that he was only up to page 211 --but said he would finish the remaining 92 pages soon.

Did you read that? He had the author come to visit him at the White House and he hadn't finished the book yet. And the book is under 325 pages total! And this is an article that's supposed to counter the popular notion of Bush as anti-intellectual. And, you've got to love the metaphor they chose for Bill Clinton: a whale gobbling up plankton. How dignified.

Also, this is a paragraph essentially praising our President for reading a fucking book. Has it really come to this? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy have held this office, and now we've got a major news source pissing themselves with glee because Curious George got through 3/4 of a paperback. I'm officially depressed.

The stupidity continues:

Soon after the attacks of 9/11, he read the Civil War history April 1865, and the example of Lincoln's strength left him even more convinced that he should not change direction.

"Lincoln set the goal and stayed the course," he wrote to author Jay Winik. "I will do the same."

You think author Jay Winik pointed out to our President that Lincoln's goal was the continued existance of the United States, not the random murdering of brown people? Also, I'm glad the President made time for Civil War history right after 9/11. You know, what with him not having time to read a newspaper. At least it's not "Dukes of Hazzard" re-runs 24/7, that's all I'm saying.

Three Days of the Condor

Another recent rental from the video store. I must admit, despite the incredibly solid reputation of this movie, and my love of taut political thrillers, I have never seen this movie. Yes, yes, I know...I claim to possess a vast amount of film knowledge, and yet there are massive gaps. The collected works of Sydney Pollack? That's one of the gaps.

And now I'm starting to remember why.

Sydney Pollack makes well-respected, venerable, immensely popular mainstream entertainments. They connect with mass audiences to an impressive degree, and several hold a spot in the canon among America's Greatest Films. Movies like Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, Tootsie, Out of Africa and Three Days of the Condor. They're all professionally made, with high production values and classy ensemble casts. And they all kind of rub me the wrong way. I can appreciate the skill with which they're made, but they feel more like efficient diversions than Great Films.

Three Days of the Condor fits perfectly into this model. Pollack relates his story of a low-level CIA "book reader" who finds himself adrift when his entire team is taken out by a mysterious hit squad with ease and, as I said, efficiency. No time is wasted introducing us to Robert Redford as Joe Turner and his team. They work in secret, skimming through thousands of books published all over the world. It's not ever made entirely clear what they're looking for in these books. Perhaps a case of an author stumbling upon a real-life CIA scheme intermingled with the fiction? Perhaps a good idea for a future scheme?

Anyway, Joe goes out for lunch, and returns to find his entire team has been murdered by a hit squad, headed up by Nordic dynamo Max von Sydow. And, just like that, his entire world comes crashing down. A quick phone call to Langely, Virginia reveals that the CIA will be of little assistance to Joe. He's on his own, with no way to know whom to trust. In a panic, he kidnaps photographer Kathy Hale (another great performance from the oddly beautiful Faye Dunaway).

And this is where the movie begins to lose its way. Up until this point, I admired greatly the simplicity of Pollack's storytelling. This is not some convoluted 70's thriller with absurd camera angles and hysterical conspiracy-mongering. I love The Parallax View, but that's a film about style more than tense, terse storytelling. But once the Faye Dunaway character's introduced, the movie shifts gears, becoming a rather silly, awkward romance, and the tension never really returns.

Perhaps it's the lack of believability inherent in the film's brief, intense courtship scenes. We're asked to accept that, within 24 hours, Joe will kidnap and violently threaten a woman, convince her that he's a rogue CIA operative with a league of goons out to kill him, seduce her into sleeping with him, and finally, gain her assistance in a madcap plan to foil his bosses. Um, sure.

If this were an outlandish fantasy film, playing with ideas about spies and espionage in a James Bond vein, I could accept this sort of whirlwind romantic storyline. But Condor is in all other ways a realistic (and dark) spy thriller. The opening action sequence, in which an entire office building dies in a hail of gunfire, provides the film with a gritty immediacy. To then make it into a dewy love story about a sexy spy on the run cheapens the effect, and decimates the steely intensity the film by all rights should have.

The Max von Sydow character is clearly the best thing in this movie, and by the end, I found myself wishing he had been the focus rather than Redford. He has a brief monologue near the film's conclusion (after he's switched sides) about life as a mercenary, without allegiances, that's wonderfully well-written and performed. There's such a gravitas to his character - Redford's playing a spy, but Von Sydow feels like a spy, like someone born into this life. It's a marvelous performance.

Usually, Redford's an actor I greatly admire, and though my roommate Nathan commented that he's poorly cast as a professional book-reader, I didn't have a problem buying into him. But he never really finds the key to Joe Turner. Like his name, the character's a bit generic. Pollack explores his transformation from naive newbie to seasoned spymaster only on the surface, never in an emotional way, preferring to spend his time on soft-focus love scenes.

I can see why people remember Three Days of the Condor fondly. For one, it inspired an entire generation of spy films, from Redford's own Sneakers and Spy Game to Matt Damon's Bourne films. Additionally, it's got a solid cast and a few clever twists and turnabouts. And cinematographer Owen Roizman, as always, does stand-out work. He was in the midst of building a tremendous resume when Condor came out in 1975. Check out the other films Roizman shot during this time:

The French Connection, Play it Again Sam, The Heartbreak Kid, The Exorcist, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Network

Wow. This guy is good.

So, yeah, Condor is a nice film that I'm glad I've finally seen. But it's somewhat undeserving of the massive praise heaped on it by now two generations of film fans. Of course, I feel this way about Pollack's Tootsie as well, and most people love that movie, so what do I know?

President Bush Apologizes...Kinda

This story apparently ran on Thursday, but I missed it. President Bush kind of sort of admitted to Barbara Walters that he's made some mistakes! Actual concession of error! Alert the media! (Oh, wait, he already did.)

So, yeah, that happened. The only surprising thing about this, really, is that it didn't happen sooner. For a while now, the media has slammed the President on his famed inability to admit wrongdoing, even in the most obvious and clear of circumstances. Like, you know, lying about needing to invade a country and then having your lie revealed to the entire world all at once while hundreds of thousands of people die needlessly. You knew Karl Rove worked this response out well in advance, and it does what it's supposed to do:

Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush said he wanted to catch Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," a phrase that reinforced the U.S. president's international image as a cowboy.

Bush said his wife, Laura, disapproved and "chewed me out right after that."

"So I do have to be cautious about, you know, conveying thoughts in a way maybe that doesn't send wrong impressions about our country," he said.

Man, I fucking hate this guy. I mean, here he is, offering a mea culpa for actions that severly hurt the reputation of our nation abroad, and he still can't just apologize with sincerity. It's this aw shucks Texas bullshit he always does..."Oh, man, I try to git on up there and talk to them I-Rackis and I just get a little carried away, folks. Laura, boy, she sho done set me straight over that one, I ain't gonna go being a cowboy again...Nope nope nope."

Same crap in this quote:

"I remember when I talked about Osama bin Laden, I said we're going to get him dead or alive. I guess it's not the most diplomatic of language," Bush said.

I didn't watch this interview, because looking at the President makes me physically ill, but I can just see him doing his trademark half-smirk as he spoke these words. "I guess it ain't the most diplomatic of language, but you know, that's how we do it where I come from. Don't mess with Texas, Abdul, you know whut I mean?"

Anyway, for more snarky liberal blogging in response to this article, be sure to check out Fanatical Apathy here. They've got a take on it that's both more politically nuanced and witty than mine. Plus, they have a kickass blog name.

Friday, January 14, 2005

That's Right Neighborly

CNN has this article about the Nation's Friendliest Cities. According to some bullshit survey conducted by etiquette expert Marjabelle Young Stewart, Charleston, South Carolina is America's Friendliest City.

Okay, fair enough. I've never been to Charleston, but they say that Southern Hospitality is really nice. Unless you're a black person, a Jew, an atheist, a homosexual or a Muslim, in which case, Charleston's probably not the friendliest place in the country. Better not head South of the Mason-Dixon line if you know what's good for you. Gee, I wonder if Marjabelle Young Stewart is any of those things...hmmmm......

I liked this quote as well:

"When you pass people on the street, they will nod at you," said Nicholas Fuqua of Tour Charleston, which conducts city walks.

"People who live here are, for whatever reason, polite. Whether it's breeding or in the water, it's hard to say," he said.

Nodding at passers-by? Forget everything I said! Charleston sounds absolutely delightful.

And what's with the comment about water? Something in the water making people act extra-friendly? Does Batman know about this?

San Diego came in second, followed by Peoria, Illinois. Peoria, notably, is shorthand in Hollywood for "place full of dumb Midwestern yokels." (As in, "Will it play in Peoria?"). Also strange, Philadelphia comes in eighth. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Home of atty-tood. They'll yell at you in Philadelphia for ordering your soft pretzel incorrectly. I recall going to a Phillies game with my father, and hearing the man behind us loudly mock player John Kruk about his weight for 4 solid hours. Philly is famous for friendliness like Las Vegas is famous for its gothic cathedrals. Not very.

Cat Power

The video store tends to get DVDs in about a week early, and sometimes they're kind enough to let us employees take one home for the night. So I got to check out Catwoman tonight with my roommate Nathan, a week before it goes on sale to the public. And, let me tell you, it's as awful as you've heard.

I'm not writing up a full review, as the film is not really worthy of more than 300 words. Suffice it to say, director Pitof has got nothing. He fills his film with busy camera movement and constant, needless special effects to distract you from the utter lack of anything interesting in the material or in his direction.

Halle Berry's unconvincing as a meek wannabe executive, and too campy as the extroverted, brash Catwoman. The story is flat and boring (about a power struggle within a cosmetics company between Sharon Stone and her husband, played by the obnoxious Frenchie from the Matrix sequels). They changed the Catwoman mythology in unneccessary and goofy ways. And Pitof shoots all the action in that obnoxious sped-up choppy music video style, so you can't tell what's happening and there's no visceral impact whatsoever. Plus, there's far too much time spent developing dreary relationships between Catwoman/Prentice and her man-crazy friend and Benjamin Bratt as a hunky cop.

Okay, enough said, the movie's lame. I hope Batman Begins and Superman can pull WB out of this funk, because there's a few cool DC properties I wouldn't mind seeing on the big screen. Thank god they're sparing us that wretched Jack Black as the Green Lantern idea...It's a shame that their animation division seems to be the only area of the company capable of getting superheroes right. These characters ought to be relatively easy to adapt to the big screen, with their oversized mythology and franchise potential, but it already seems to me the comic book fad has kind of worn out its welcome. Oh well...

I know I promised some more reviews of old school films as well, but I've been sleeping, you bastards. In the next few days, I'll come up with full reviews on Don't Look Back, Scorsese's Cape Fear and Three Days of the Condor. Alright? Satisfied?

If You Prick Us, Do We Not Develop a Burning Sensation?

Yahoo, by way of HealthDay, reports that some historians feel Shakespeare may have had syphillis. Is there any historical figure that they don't think may have had syphillis? It's the new vogue thing to say about old timey artists, writers and politicians. Did you know some scholars think Jesus may have had syphillis?

No, seriously. He did. That's why he was always hanging around with lepers. Cause it didn't bother them. IT'S IN REVELATIONS, PEOPLE!

But I digress. Basically, the case seems to rest on a few circumstantial observations. Shakespeare stopped writing long before he died. He went bald. His plays often include references to venereal disease. The handwriting in his will indicates he may have suffered from tremors.

Frankly, none of these arguments go a long way towards convincing me. I mean, his plays often reference VD, sure, but couldn't that be because a lot of people in those days had VD, and it was a refernece his audience was sure to get (and find amusing)? I mean, this is probably my third blog entry goofing on someone with STD's, and I don't have any (I hope). And so what if he was bald? So's my grandfather! (Hey, what are you implying?)

The article goes on like this for a while, and then, out of nowhere, there's this really stupid quote. An expert responds to the case that a line in a sonnet referring to "love's fire" indicates Shakespeare had VD:

But Helen Vendler, an expert in Shakespeare's sonnets and professor of English at Harvard University, said the playwright took the "love's fire" line from an Italian poem. "It has nothing to do with disease, it just has to do with being inflamed with love," she said, adding that Shakespeare is "not writing autobiographically in the plays or poems."

This Harvard University English professor claims that Shakespeare is not writing autobiographically? At all? I mean, I'm not saying he was really the Prince of Denmark, but it's quite something to state assuredly in a newspaper that Shakespeare's plays or poems bore no resemblance whatsoever to his actual life. I mean, every great writer borrows from their lives, and Shakespeare's the greatest writer of all time. And there's no way to prove one way or the other that there wasn't some boy or dark lady he was obsessively in love with, or some chick named Viola that inspired a play or two of his. I'm sure she's right about that "love's fire" quote, but this is the kind of shrill, closed-minded argument that kind of turned me off to studying Shakespeare in high school. I didn't end up rediscovering the Bard until nearly the end of my time at UCLA.

And, yes, I know the headline to this article isn't the best. But Yahoo already stole "VD or not VD," which is really the obvious way to go.


So, I wrote an article yesterday about how great the new Star Wars game looks, and how I've never played a good Star Wars game, and I received several comments informing me that I'm an idiot who knows nothing about video games.

Fair enough. I don't really know a lot about video games, except they're fun and they sometimes feature an egregious Italian stereotype battling an oversized ape. I like video games, but I've never been really good at them. They require hand-eye coordination, a feature that my parents neglected to provide for me back at the genetics warehouse. I seriously have no hand-eye coordination at all. This is why I cannot dribble a basketball properly, or pilot a car with a stick shift on anything other than a straight-away, or beat any of my friends on any two-person video game ever, even if it's a game I own that they have never played before.

This was particularly humiliating to me as a child and adolescent. Bear in mind, I was already horrible at real-life sports, including popular elementary school pasttime kickball. Kickball is the world's easiest game, and I don't believe I made it on to a base one single time during my entire public school education. So, compound the fact that I throw like a girl and am incapable of making a lay-up with my utter inability to get MegaMan over that last jump and into the lair of the final boss. What do you get? An overweight blogger who likes movies, that's what.

But, back to my original point. I know nothing about video games, despite enjoying them as a light entertainment. I also don't understand how some "gamers" can own so many different games. I mean, I love DVD's, so that cuts into my potential video game purchasing money, but even without DVD's, a new Playstation 2 title costs $50. If you want to try out a new game every other week (not that much for a hardcore gamer), that's $200 a month on a video game addiction.

And I suppose you could just rent games from BlockBuster or something, but their selection is pretty crummy, new games are always checked out, and you only get them for three days, not nearly enough time to really get involved in a great new video game. So, what do you do? Just get a better paying job? Not spend as much money as I do on incidentals like drugs and shelter? Somebody please explain.

Sleeping All Day

That's why the blog hasn't been updated. I went to bed pretty late last night, but then I woke up and it was 4 PM, which is kind of peculiar. I haven't really slept this late into an afternoon since college, and then the situation was mostly chemical in nature.

Could it be that I haven't worked in so long, my body simply can no longer handle the stress of an 8 hour workday? Is ambling around a video store restocking shelves and checking out movies really such a strain, as to cause me to require 16 hours of sleep? Or am I just really really super lazy?

Tom the Dancing Bug

This is a great comic that I read every week on Salon. It's also published in the LA Weekly and the Village Voice and other alternative newspapers read by sensible people who appreciate quality writing.

Anyway, the mysterious and elusive cartoonist goes by the name Ruben Bolling, but that's a pseudonym...Salon has a very intriguing interview with him today, revealing that he has a day job as a banker and does the cartooning on the side. Very peculiar.

But I highly recommend checking out some of these comics. Even if the first one or two you read don't strike you as hilarious, give a few a try to get into the sense of humor. They're really odd and post-modern and clever, and there aren't really any duds or off-weeks.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Good Star Wars Game?

Star Wars has really yet to produce a classic video game. I mean, there's the super super old school one, where you're flying down a Death Star canal in an X-Wing made entirely of triangles, shooting at other triangles. And I remember a game I used to play in an arcade at the Irvine Spectrum when I was in high school where you piloted a Tie Fighter or something. Then there's Jedi Power Battles for the Playstation 1, which I was briefly addicted to back in my pot-and-video-games-and-Beck's-Midnight-Vultures phase in college. And I've heard that Knights of the Old Republic rocks, but I haven't played it. So, based solely on my limited experience, I'm going to proclaim that LucasArts games suck ass. Which makes the following image all the more amazing:

Wowzer. In the upcoming game Star Wars: Empire at War, you simulate a whole slew of cinematic battles. The game takes place between this summer's surefire blockbuster Episode III: Revenge of the Bad Guys...You Know, the Ones With Hoods...And Christopher Lee and 1977's actual movie Episode IV: A New Hope. So, it's basically a game that lets you recreate the birth of the Rebellion, a prospect that gets my Generation X-ish hopes up indeed.

Anyway, has a lot more info (and have imprinted their logo on all the photos, which I feel is kind of not the classiest of moves, but there you go...maybe I should get a Crushed By Inertia logo and plaster it all over my articles, so if anyone quotes me, there's a shadowy little image of myself in the corner). Check out their article and way more photos here.

Constructive Criticism

Someone left this comment on the blog today, on my story about Ali G causing a near-riot at a rodeo.

Ali G is as funny as bubonic plague

And, as we all know, bubonic plague is not very funny at all. Well, it is kind of funny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when Eric Idle is walking around with the wheelbarrow collecting dead people, and then John Cleese tries to give him a dead body that isn't quite dead yet. But the anonymous commentator's point wasn't to remind us all of that hilarious comedy film.

What was the anonymous commentator's point? I'm not sure. I personally would never go to someone's blog and write one sentence discounting their entire post. If I had an opinion about something they wrote (for example, "I like Ali G"), I'd hopefully provide enough of a response to spark a meaningful conversation. Or at least enough material to give a reader some insight into the basis for my opinion.

Simply going around on the Internet typing contrary one-sentence comments seems such an arbitrary and purposeless pasttime. I mean, you can't really respond to "Ali G is not funny." I know, because I'm trying my best right this moment, and it isn't turning out so well.

So, Anonymous Commentator, whomever you are, I'd like to be able to shoot something pithy back at you, but you've given me nothing to go with. Perhaps you'd like to swing by the blog again some time and tell us why you think genius Brit comedian Sasha Baron Cohen shares a humor quotient with the infamous Black Death...

Give Him a Break, Folks...He's From Kazakhstan

Genius Brit comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, better known to the world as Ali G., Borat and Bruno, must be working on the third season of his hit HBO show. For those of you who don't get HBO, or who get it and (shudder to think!) aren't watching Da Ali G Show, Cohen puts on a costume and pretends to be either a raga British idiot, an idiot from Kazakhstan or an Austrian idiot fashionista and then interviews actual morons, celebrities and politicians. It sounds like another lame Tom Green rip-off, but Cohen is so fast, such a great comedic mind, that he turns these interviews into something approaching performance art.

Now, he apparently got into trouble at a rodeo in Salem, Virginia as his Kazakhstani reporter character Borat. You see, according to the New York Post, Borat went up to sing the national anthem and speak a bit on US foreign policy. To wit:

"I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards," Cohen declared. "And may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq." After warbling what he said was his own native national anthem, Cohen proceeded to sing a butchered version of the "Star-Spangled Banner," ending with the words, "your home in the grave."

See what I mean? It's just a silly prank, but it goes beyond "Crank Yankers"-style silliness with the social commentary. It reminds me of the time he interviewed the wine experts in Mississippi. When a black sommelier approached to pour them more wine, he asked, "He is your slave?" The reaction from the old Mississippi gentlemen? Priceless.

Shifting Paradigms...

would be a great name for a rock band.

It's also blogger (and out of the closet gay man) Tom Chatt's theory for why the scientific community is having such a hard time with the Lincoln-is-gay question I raised on this very blog a few days ago.

Over at UpWord, he argues that scientists won't readily accept any new idea that destroys their old way of thinking. They will wait until sufficient other theories arise that make their old way of thinking entirely obsolete before they "shift paradigms" and accept the new concept. He uses Copernicus' conception of a heliocentric universe as an example. (Remember heliocentric? It means the Sun in the middle, for all you Bush voters).

So, all this sounds reasonable enough to me. Until he starts making it into a gay-straight thing...

And so it is with Lincoln being gay (or Michelangelo or Shakespeare or whoever). I was struck reading Andrew Sullivan's defense about the arguments he made, often ending with "sound familiar?" or "ring a bell?". Yes. To me. And to Andrew, and to others who share (or at least truly understand) the coming out experience. But not necessarily to others who don't share that life experience or sensibility.

I'm a straight guy, and I had absolutely no problem accepting the idea that Lincoln might be gay. There are literally thousands of gay men who have influenced the sum of human history. Just as it's not shocking to me that Alexander the Great or Michaelangelo may have taken trips on the brown side, it's not shocking that Honest Abe may have done the same. It still doesn't explain that bizarre top hat, but there you go...He wanted to make a good Halloween costume some day, I guess.

Fancy New Fork

Before I guys really should check out the new design over at Pitchfork. For those not in the know, The 'Fork is the biggest, best indie rock website in all of creation. They feature daily song and album reviews, all the news that's fit to print from the world of quality rock music, and a sniggering, ironic sense of humor that's a fine counterpoint to, well, Crushed By Inertia. You know, that site you're reading right now? The one filled with well-sculpted witticisms and hilarious links?

I've attempted on two occasions now to get a reviewing job at Pitchfork, but apparently I'm not hipster or clever enough to write for them. And most of my sentences only include two clauses, which is weaksauce by their standards. Oh well...I still go and read their reviews and news most days. It's how I keep you all in the loop.

Back to Work

I feel better today, so it's off to the video store in about 15 minutes. But, fear not, Inertia-ites. I'll be back early this evening to post updates and whatnot (possibly a review of the classic Nicholas Roeg thriller Don't Look Now...okay, definitely). Check you later!

Oh, and the #1 stupid customer conversation I've had thus far? A guy came in the other day insisting to me that George Lucas did not direct the original Star Wars. For, like, 15 minutes. My question was...if Lucas didn't, who did? Roman Polanski? Larry Cohen, perhaps?

What a goober.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Kali Ma...Kali Ma...

The actor who portrayed villain Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Bollywood star Amrish Puri, has died at the age of 72. I had never seen him in any film besides Temple of Doom, but that one part is enough, really. One of the great villains in contemporary cinema, and one of my favorite movie villains of all time, to be sure. He was a fine actor, and surely will be missed. Here's a more involved obit from Aint It Cool News. And here's a recent photo:

Does the Smithsonian know he took Harrison's hat?

Not everyone shares me intense, white-hot love for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I know. I think it's right behind Raiders of the Lost Ark in terms of 80's action movie goodness. Most people I speak with complain about Kate Capshaw's admittedly annoying Willie Scott character. Yeah, she's pretty shrill, and I can't say I'm as captivated by the woman as Spielberg must have been (you know, what with marrying her after making the movie). But it's hardly obnoxious enough to spoil a movie with so many delights. The fight for the antidote in Club Obi Wan, one of the best individual set pieces in any Spielberg film. The plane crash/raft drop. The dinner scene, replete with Chilled Monkey Brains. The Mine Car Chase. The Broken Bridge. And then there's Mola Ram, standing in front of a giant skull holding magical stones aloft, chanting prayers to Kali while ripping out people's hearts.

My good friend Sanjeev has told me that he finds Temple of Doom offensive to Indian people, exoticizing them and making their religion out to be a collection of primitive pagan ceremonies. I see his point. I mean, I concede that the silent film The Golem is offensive to Jews because it's villain is a crazed rabbi who creates a clay monster that turns on him and his village. And really that's doing the same thing as Temple of Doom, borrowing a small fanciful element of an ancient religion and making it the centerpiece of a popcorn movie.

But what I feel this critique overlooks is the style with which Temple of Doom was made. Spielberg and Lucas set out purposefully to emulate old-fashioned movie serials, which often did include a lot of condescending, even offensive, portrayals of non-Western religions. Perhaps they went a bit too far in their enthusiasm for the subject and style, but they did include several positive Indian characters who reject the mysticism of the Thuggee cult (including the old man who sends Dr. Jones off on his quest in the first place). And though Sanjeev may have endured a little teasing upon first arriving in this country from India as a result of this fine movie, he probably would have anyway. No offensive if you're reading this, Snaj.

Even Spielberg and Lucas, though, seem to reject Temple of Doom these days. If you watch the Indiana Jones DVD box set, they dismiss is as the world of overzealous young men who wanted to realize dark, gruesome fantasies on the big screen. Now that they're both committed family men (and, let's face it, wusses), they prefer the milder, more kid-friendly shenanigans of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But I'm not crazy about Last Crusade at all, really (though I loved it as a 13 year old upon its initial release). Temple of Doom still has the ingenuity and zest of Spielberg and Lucas' best work, whereas Last Crusade already feels bloated and eager to please, like too much of their later work. I resent that Sala and Marcus Brody have shifted from realistic, likable characters into comic relief, I feel that too much of the plot is Raiders-derivative, and though Sean Connery does a great job, far too much time is spent in overlong sequences of he and Harrison bickering. Plus, the Nazis in this edition are highly forgettable. The action sequence in the desert with the tanks is pretty cool, though.

Sick Day

I was supposed to work at the video store all day today, but I have called in sick. But it's not a lie. I really am sick. I was up all night with what I can only imagine is food poisoning from the Chinese food I had last night. But my roommate Nathan ate food from the same spot, and is currently sleeping comfortably (and, judging from his usual sleep pattern, will remain so until at least 4 pm).

I feel bad, as I've only been working there for two weeks, and already I'm taking sick days, but what can I do in this situation? I can't hang around in a video store in this condition all day - in addition to making myself miserable, I'm certain co-workers don't want to be around me either.

So, I'll surely now have the reputation at Laser Blazer for being a work-ditcher, which is not exactly the best impression to make right away. Oh well. At least it's only a video store job, and not something more important, like investment banking. That's the kind of job where you just sort of have to show up and push through the pain.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Gay-Braham Lincoln

Check out this artist's interpretation from Salon:

This is what Abraham Lincoln would look like if he was gay. And if he lived in modern times. And if he did a little modeling on the side for Abercrombie and Fitch.

It's attached to their article about the recent non-fiction book by C.A. Tripp ("The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln") positing that Honest Abe was maybe not so honest about the whole "attracted to Mary Todd" thing. Okay, innuendo aside, Tripp argues that Lincoln was bisexual, but mainly attracted to men, and that his marriage to the loopy Mary Todd Lincoln was, therefore, mainly one of convenience. She was crazy, so that wasn't really all that convenient, but marrying a nutbag has always been more acceptable to Americans than marrying another dude.

According to Salon, most of the "evidence" in Tripp's book is gossip and suggestion. They complain that there is no "smoking gun" proving that Lincoln ever had a love affair with a man. Although, how could you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that two people in the 1850's had an affair? I mean, there is a diary from a man claiming to have had sex with Lincoln, but many scholars say it's fraudulent. It took a minute of posing perfectly still to have a photograph taken in those couldn't really catch two people having sex with a camera on the sly. Short of a used condom with Lincoln DNA in there, I don't see what more evidence Salon is hoping to uncover that would convince them one way or the other.

The weird thing about all this is that it matters at all. Historians like the late C.A. Tripp (who died last year at the age of 84) are spending years and years researching minutae like this for a good reason, I suppose, but I'll be damned if I can think one. It's interesting mostly as a conversation piece. Like, if I was having a dinner party this week (not that I've ever had a dinner party), I guess at one point I might bring up Lincoln's sexuality if no one could think of anything to say. But I'm not sure this is worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money or anything. I mainly wanted to write about it as an excuse to run that goofy picture.


You've got to love Brian De Palma. His movies violate nearly every conventional "rule" for cinema. They are obsessed with perverse sexuality and include gratuitous nudity. Often, their plots are directly lifted from old movies, particularly Hitchcock movies. He likes to kill off main characters less than halfway through his films, and even the characters that live tend not to be very likable. And, most famouly, almost all of them are gruesomely violent. His 1973 film Sisters is no exception, as De Palma elevates a B-level erotic thriller material into a modern classic of suspense.

Brian's bag has always been the pursuit of what he calls "a pure cinema." That is, storytelling at its most rudimentary form, using the camera, mise-en-scene, music and performance to manipulate an audience's emotions. His movies have never been about plot or dialogue, and to relate the plot of a De Palma movie is almost to miss the point right from the beginning. But this is a review, so I'll follow the format. Sisters relates the story of the Blanchion sisters, Siamese twins who were separated years before the story takes place. Now, one of the sister's, Danielle (Margot Kidder), works as a model and actress for a hidden camera TV show ("Peeping Tom"), while the other lives in a mental hospital.

The film follows Danielle and a male suitor until he's murdered in her apartment, and then perspective shifts (in a brilliant split-screen sequence) to her neighbor, a snoopy journalist named Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt). The shift in perspectives, lifted structurally from Hitchcock's Psycho, serves a purpose beyond allusion. It catches us off guard, removing us from the story. Thematically, it makes sense, as we've come to trust Danielle and now must be reminded that she hides some sort of horrible secret that will drive the action of the rest of the film. In a film obsessed with voyeurism, it alerts the viewer that not everything we see can be trusted, that the camera (our substitute in the world of the film) contains no more fidelity than do our eyes in regular life. We're set up to think of Sisters, right from the title, as a film about an evil twins, and suddenly, it's a film about a nosy reporter and her private detective associate (ably played by Charles Durning).

I'll avoid speaking on the remainder of the plot, as I do want there to be some surprises for you should you rent the movie. If you've seen Hitchcock films previously (or, failing that, other DePalma films riffing on Hitchcock, like Dressed to Kill or Body Double), the switcheroos may not be shocking any more, but they're certainly provocative enough to hold interest.

Psycho isn't the only Hitch film De Palma riffs on here. Rear Window provides the other obvious touchpoint, as so much of the action relies on one character observing another from afar. Danielle is stalked by her mysterious ex-husband Emil (De Palma regular William Finley), the murder is witnessed by Grace from the window of her apartment, even we, the viewers, are constantly reminded of our place in the story as observers. De Palma constantly places his camera outside a window or a doorway, looking in on the action of a scene. Even the "Candid Camera"-type show upon which Danielle appears plays with the voyeur impulse, placing men in various situations to determine whether or not they will spy on a woman undressing.

This, of course, links up with the basic conception of Siamese twins. Part of the horror that must have attracted De Palma to the story of conjoined twins is the lack of privacy or personal space. These are two people who cannot have their own lives, who cannot ever be free of their sibling. During a twisted dream sequence late in the film, Danielle has a flashback to her initial courtship with Emil, making out with him while her twin sister Dominique looked on awkwardly. "You're supposed to be asleep," Danielle hisses.

And his film puts the audience in this very same dilemma, looking on into the personal lives and deaths of his characters, knowing that we should not be seeing these twisted stories played out for our entertainment, yet unable to look away.

Most of the success of the film can be attributed to the remarkable cinematography and direction that would become a De Palma signature throughout the rest of the 70's. From the split-screen murder sequence to the extended riff on Rope, in which Danielle and Emil hide a body from two detectives inside a futon, to the German Expressionism-inspired dream sequence that ties the story together, Sisters remains memorable because of its graceful, shocking and inspired imagery, and the expert timing and editing that holds it all together. This was De Palma's first foray into Hitchcock territory, and more great films in this vein would follow, such as Obsession, Dressed to Kill and 2002's shamefully overlooked Femme Fatale, his best film in at least a decade.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful score, done by frequent Hitch collaborate Bernard Hermann. This maybe isn't his best work, but it's a nice counterpoint to the darkly bizarre action of the film. At times, it's eerily reminiscent of Psycho, but like the movie as a whole, it stands apart as its own entity nicely. A fine compliment to a great movie.

Gap-Toothed, Missing Link Troglodytes Delighted by Presidential Election Outcome

Just wanted to post a link to this brilliant cartoon before I went off to work. Ward Sutton is a regular contributor to the Village Voice. He really sticks it to Red America in this one...ouch.

Monday, January 10, 2005

My Most Anticipated Films of 2005

I alluded a while back (in my item on the Ring 2 trailer here) that I might do a post like this. And I always keep my promises. At least, blogged promises. Not real life ones.

So, in no particular order (because I haven't seen them yet...ranking them would be nonsensical...), here are my most anticipated movies set for release this year.

War of the Worlds

The last time Cruise and Spielberg teamed up for a realistic science-fiction film, it was Minority Report, a movie I adore but which didn't really seem to resonate with the public at large. But what do they know? This time, they're working with the largest budget in film history (to this point) and a classic novel as source material. I haven't read the HG Wells book, but just from the teaser that's already floating around there, it feels like there's potential here for some really classic Spielberg sci-fi goodness. I'm talking Close Encounters here, people.

Oliver Twist

Roman Polanski is directing an adaptation of Oliver Twist with Ben Kingsley as Fagin. I mean, come on, that's cool. Of the three Dickins novels I have read, this was my favorite. My least favorite, if you cared, was Great Expectations, the popularity of which I have never managed to deduce. Okay, so, this kid helps out a criminal, and then you spend 500 pages trying to convince me that it's someone else who's helping him out, and then in the end, it turns out it's the criminal. And there's a batty old lady who hates men. That's it? That's all you got for me?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Oh hells yeah. These are terrific books, and the idea of getting to see them on the big screen, finally realized as they deserve to be, with new material thought up by creator Douglas Adams, is really exciting. I wish Terry Gilliam were directing, rather than Hammer & Tongs, whose only work familar to Americans are the opening credits to "Da Ali G Show," but what do I know? Maybe they're brilliant guys. It's possible. Everyone seems to have a lot of faith in them. And "Da Ali G Show" credits are pretty cool.

Sin City

Droooooool. Have you seen the trailer for this? It's incredible. The entire movie is done in this comic-book style extreme black and white, with flashes of color. It's co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and the creator of the comic book, Frank Miller. It stars Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Michael Madsen, Benicio del Toro AND Clive Owen. And it's going to be blissfully, awesomely R-rated. An action movie that will actually include real action? Can it be?

King Kong

Peter Jackson directs Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody in a remake of King Kong, with special effects by the same WETA team responsible for Lord of the Rings. Jackson has said that his Kong will be period (that is, will take place in a 1930's setting), and seeing him realize an old-timey Manhattan along with massive ape destruction on Dinosaur Island sounds almost too good to be true.

I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan

As you may have guessed if you're a regular reader, I'm a big fan of Bob Dylan. This is the new Todd Haynes film that will depict a selection of brief scenes from Dylan's life, each with a different actor portraying the singer/troubadour/walking connundrum. Who knows if it will be good, but it sounds really interesting, and the inclusion of classic Dylan songs can't hurt.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

This stop motion animated film will actually be Burton's first as a director (he produced Nightmare Before Christmas, which was directed by Henry Selick). It's comically gothic horror, as a man winds up married to a zombie. This sounds extremely, extremely promising. And if that wasn't enough Burton goodness for one year...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

There's also his new, non-musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic creepy children's story. Oh man, this sounds great, and what a trailer! So trippy and psychedelic. Can this one really be as messed up and dark as the advertising promises? And speaking of projects with Johnny Depp involved in them...

The Rum Diary

reunites Benicio del Toro, Depp and Hunter S. Thompson for this adaptation of the author's autobiographical novel about Puerto Rico in the late 1950's. Del Toro, who played Dr. Gonzo in Terry Gilliam's brilliant Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will be directing here, not appearing, but Depp will play Paul Kemp, essentially a reprise of his role as Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing. This may be my #1 overall most aniticipated movie of next year. Or possibly...

A Scanner Darkly

I really really dug Waking Life, and this film will find Richard Linklater working again in the animation field. This project, however, is considerably more ambitious than the freewheeling metaphysical gabfest of Life. It's an adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick story about junkies in a future where drugs cause multiple personality disorder. That is weird.

So, there you have it. Bear in mind, these are only the films coming up which I'm aware that I want to see. Every year, there are literally dozens of movies that sneak up and surprise me. Often times, these are my favorite movies of the year, or at least they are among my favorites. Last year at this time, I had no idea that Sideways and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be in my Top 5 movies of the year. Hell, I was still looking forward to Troy, and I hadn't even heard of Sideways. I'm certain 2005 will be no different.

You'll notice as well that there is a certain film not appearing on this list that would certainly dwarf all others on the horizon for most movie geeks. I'm speaking, of course, about Bewitched. No, seriously, I mean Episode III: Revenge of the Whatever, You Get Where This Is Going. I didn't include it because the other two prequels are not really my speed, and I don't expect this one to be any different. If I thought there was going to be an excellent new Star Wars movie this year, one that deserved inclusion in the same category with the three original films, I would be entirely excited to see it. As it is, I will break down and pay my money and go to the theater, but I'm not expecting to love what I see, as I am with Scanner Darkly or King Kong.

South Park to Viewers: Go Bush

Well, not exactly. But many blogs this week are discussing whether or not the show "South Park" offers up a conservative agenda.

I have been thinking about this a lot myself recently. I thought Team America: World Police, the puppet movie from the creators of "South Park," Trey Parker and Matt Stone, was funny enough, but it did kind of rub me the wrong way at times. By focusing all their scorn and ridicule on entertainers protesting the war, and not including goofy puppets of any notable conservatives (Ann Coulter? Rush Limbaugh? Where were they?), they sort of let the audience know what side they stood on. I don't think the movie was neccessarily right-wing propaganda, as some reviewers suggested, but it did seem to reflect a generally approving viewpoint towards the War on Terror as a concept. And the whole dick-pussy-asshole thing basically makes the case that America has a right to fight wars with whomever it pleases to "keep the world safe," which certainly sounds like a Bushian take on diplomacy to me.

But I digress. This week, bloggers are arguing where "South Park" stands in response to an idiotic article by idiot Brent Bozell. Bozell is a right-wing hysteric who wrote a column about "Winners and Losers 2004." Don't bother clicking that link, because it's stupid, but here's what he wrote about one of 2004's "big losers," "South Park."

Loser: "South Park." The producers of this curdled, malodorous black hole of Comedy Central vomit want to elicit only one sentence from viewers: "Did I just see that on television?" For anyone who thinks television today is not as offensive -- and downright stupid as those "prudes" say it is, we suggest a look at the Dec. 1 episode. At the South Park "Whore-Off" competition, Paris Hilton inserts an entire pineapple into her vagina. A gay man in a biker vest then takes off his pants and puts the entire body of Paris Hilton up his rectum. Remember this episode the next time some TV critic raves about the "talent" behind "South Park."

Ha ha! That was great. What a fantastic show!

Anyway, I'm going to give Bozell the benefit of the doubt on this one, and assume that he didn't watch the show, and someone merely described it to him. Because anyone who saw that episode would know that the point had nothing to do with inserting things in your butt. The concept behind the episode was simple: Parker and Stone argue that we as a society attempt to limit depraved sexuality behind closed doors, where it belongs, while extolling the virtues of whores and gold-digging openly in public, where children are exposed to it. You see? Paris Hilton is looked down upon, because she's a whore on television that girls want to emulate, but Mr. Slave is a good whore, because he acts on his sick, depraved fantasies with other like-minded individuals as part of a subculture. Like I said, simple.

Anyway, Bozell published that bit of silliness (another big loser of 2004? Janet Jackson! You heard it here first, folks!). And then righty blogger Tom Monster wrote this excellent take-down, making the case for "South Park." It's pretty similar to the case I make above, but better written and more thorough.

What made me take notice of Tom Monster's argument was both its airtight reasoning and logic, and its final sentence:

Of all popular entertainment aimed at young people in America today, South Park is one of--if not the--most likely to persuade them of the value of conservative principles. And fart jokes.

So, as far as he's concerned, there's no argument: "South Park" extolls conservative principles.

In a lot of ways, his case can be made. Obviously, there's constant jabs on "South Park" at well-meaning liberals who go to far in their attempts to "protect" one another through law or civic service. Remember "Conjoined Twin Fetus Week"? Or the recent attempts to ban WalMart from South Park? Or when all the women in town started buying Cherokee hair tampons to get in touch with the environment? Plus, Cartman constantly harps on "hippies," while there aren't any characters on hand reserving that level of hatred for anyone on the right.

Additionally, despite making a heavily satirical, political television show between the years of 2000-2004, "South Park" has not once made any sort of direct criticism of our president. There have been episodes mocking certain results of his policies (such as when the kids travel to Afghanistan and see the destruction, or the Black Hawk Down parody starring Santa Claus), but the only time Bush has even been featured on the show was in a reference to the duo's short-lived live-action sitcom "That's My Bush." Even that show, which featured the President as a main character, didn't really address any criticisms of his policies (it appeared before 9/11), preferring to make him a typical sitcom dad.

But, all in all, I don't think "South Park" actually encourages conservative or liberal values. I think there's too much cynicism on the show for any one ideology to hold sway. Most of the time, Parker and Stone argue against taking any partisan side too fervently. They're centrists at heart, always hoping for cooler heads to prevail and opposing mob rule.

So, having said that I don't think the show contains a specific ideology aside from rationality, I do feel that, in these political times, centrism is a silly philosophy. Parker and Stone like to think that they can balance in the middle of the spectrum, mocking everyone on the extremes and waiting for the hysteria to blow over. But with Generallisimo Bush in charge, is this responsible? Despite their willingness to push the envelope in terms of content (like, yes, having a grown man insert a woman into his anus), Parker and Stone almost staunchly refuse to allow "South Park" to take a stand.

On the Iraq War, for example, the show's message seemed to be that both anti-war and pro-war activists were neccessary. That America needed tough hawks to fight its wars and peaceful doves to try and solve conflicts diplomatically, and to show the world that Americans care about them. But this is total bullshit. The best satirical show on television should have been taking the President to task on this war, or at least looking at it through its usual mixture of scorn and curiosity. Instead, Parker and Stone played it safe, going their usual route and insisting that not believing in either side is the best policy.

I still think "South Park" is the most consistantly funny show on television. It's been a favorite of mine for nearly a decade now, and I think the most recent season has been among the best. That's why I'm occasionally frustrated by its relentless fence-sitting. On the other hand, that's why it's embraced by intelligent people on both sides of the political spectrum.

Sooner or Later One of Us Must KO

Why did Sean Penn agree to do an interview with the Long Beach Press-Telegram? Because they were there? Aren't there enough people lining up to do interviews with this guy?...The media talks to him more than the President. I'm not being sarcastic. They seriously talk to Sean Penn much more frequently in print and on television than our President.

Anyway, it's not a terribly interesting interview for the most part. He talks about his new film The Assassination of Richard Nixon, which I have not seen but would very much like to get to. And, you know, his usual anti-Bush, completely correct but not really all that useful rhetoric. But there's one little bit they get to, when discussing Bob Dylan, that's sort of fascinating.

See, Penn and Dylan used to hang out, it seems, and that's why Bob asked Sean to read his new book "Chronicles" for the book on tape. So, reporter Glenn Whipp asks Sean what he and Bob Dylan used to do when they spent time together:

Q: Are you friends?

A: Friendly acquaintances. I've never known him very well. There was a period of time when we used to box together. I had a ring at my house.

Q: Who came out ahead in those matches?

A: The interest was serious, but it was just for enjoyment.

Q: No broken bones?

A: No broken bones. No trips to the emergency room.

Q: You don't want to be the guy who put Bob Dylan in the hospital.

A: No. Or have it be the other way around.

Okay, the first ridiculous thing about this passage is that Sean Penn at one time had a boxing ring at his house. What a douchebag.

But, after you get past that, can you actually imagine Sean Penn and Bob Dylan boxing? Penn's a lot younger and taller than Bob but...really, it's just the image of Bob Dylan boxing someone that's so bizarre. Or did he just tell Sean Penn to relate this story to the media as a way of furthering the ongoing Dylan mystique that has enthralled dorks in a record stores for so long now?

Star Search

A trio of supergiant stars, the largest stars ever discovered, have been spotted about 9,000 light years away. Isn't it amazing we can even see what's going on 9,000 light years away? I mean, that's far. That means, if you traveled at the speed of light, it would take you 9,000 years to get there.

(NOTE: You didn't believe that, did you? I don't know what the hell a light year means. Just that it's way out there).

So, yeah, I don't know a lot about astronomy, but this is really interesting stuff. Here's another thing I don't get, though...If we are seeing light coming from these stars, and supergiant stars are stars that have cooled considerably as they near the end of their "life," then doesn't that mean these stars actually burned out millions of years ago? And it just takes a long time for the light from them to reach us?

Cause that's what I thought, but this Yahoo article makes it sound like these stars are hanging around right now, dying out, which would sort of contradict everything remember from science class. That probably means it's correct, because I remember very little useful information from high school science class, except that photosynthesis includes something called the Citric Acid Cycle and that it's a good idea to sit diagonally behind the person you want to cheat off of, rather than right next to them, making your wandering eye harder to spot.

The other tidbit from the article that caught my eye...did you know there's a bigass star named Betelguise? That's how Beetlejuice spells his name from the movie. Is this intentional? If so, what's the joke? Or did Tim Burton and Company just think it was a cool-sounding name? I don't get it...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Just got back from a long shift at the video store, and I'm tired...Not used to being on my feet all day. I'm used to sitting here, writing posts to all of you.

Anyway, wanted to comment on this movie The Taking of Pelham 123, what that I rented the other day from the store. I must have seen it on television as a kid or something because the whole thing was vaguely familiar to me (guys hijack a train, Walter Matthau tries to stop them), but I'd never realized just how great this movie was until yesterday.

And influential! The story of a group of terrorists, wearing disguises and using color-coded nicknames (a trick Tarantino would rip off for Reservoir Dogs), who hijack a Manhattan subway train and shut down all transit in the city, created the formula that a great deal of subsequent 80's and 90's action movies would follow. Namely, efficient, well-organized, European terrorists taking hostages and making outrageous demands who can only be outwitted and outgunned by a plucky, unexpected protagonist. This was Die Hard 11 years before there was a Die Hard.

The caper takes up the entire film. There's no exposition, character introductions, nothing. We meet Mr. Blue (a brilliant Robert Shaw) and his team (who include Hector Elizondo as the gratuitous "bad guy with a psychotic streak" and Martin Balsam as the reluctant villain along for the ride). They kidnap a dozen or so passengers, and then it's up to Transit Authority policeman Walter Matthau to save the hostages and bring the evildoers to justice. That's it.

I really admired the simplicity of the movie. There's no attempt to give every character a lame quirk or catchphrase, no silly backstory to contend with, and no romantic sub-plots. Compare that to a modern-day film that rips off the basic idea of Pelham, like Speed, for example. In Speed, there's a pretty clever (if implausible) set-up - a terrorist has attached a bomb to a bus set to explode if the bus stops moving. However, effective though that film may be, we're constantly being taken out of the action to learn about Keanu Reeves' tragic past or meet all the individual, diverse hostages and get to know them or develop a love interest in amateur bus driver Sandra Bullock. Pelham doesn't bother with these sort of inane tangents, focusing instead on the immediate intensity of the situation, and exploring the city's response to the hijacking in-depth.

The plan itself isn't really all that clever, I suppose, but the machinations themselves aren't what matters. Director Joseph Sargent builds up the tension beautifully, particularly during the delightfully nerve-wracking final sequence (which I will not spoil for you here). My one real complaint is the script by Peter Stone: it's well-structured and thoughtful, but he tries to inject a bit too much broad comedy into the proceedings. Maybe I've just seen too many movies squeezing jokes out of New Yorker's reputations for argressive behavior, but after a few minutes, I wished everyone would stop cracking wise for a few minutes and take this heist more seriously.

The real centerpiece of the film is Mr. Blue, a truly wonderful villain who would inspire a generation of action movie antagonists, particularly the Grubers (Alan Rickman & Jeremy Irons) from the Die Hard films. Blue is cold, cold, cold. While making demands of the police, he's nonchalantly flipping through a crossword puzzle book, without a care in the world. He guns down hostages with the dead eyes of a homicidal maniac. And during his final showdown with the authorities, his reaction is so casual, you wonder briefly if he's even aware of what's going on. It's a fantastic performance, and I'd say it was Shaw's best, if he didn't outdo it the very next year with Quint in Jaws, one of my favorite characters in the history of the movies.

And, of course, Matthau is terrific as well. He really makes the most out of the comic aspects of the script, without ever verging into parody or camp. His balance of masterful comic timing with a well-honed sense of appropriateness and tone was what elevated Matthau performances, and Pelham is no different. I'm reminded of his work in the terrific Charley Varrick, where he likewise balances gritty edge with warm likability. The supporting cast is great, too, including a few recognizable faces from the 70's (like Jerry Stiller, as another New York Transit cop).

This is going to be the first film in a new series I'll be posting here on the blog, featuring older movies you may not have seen that deserve your attention. I figured, since I'm renting so many random older movies these days, once a week or so, I'll let you all know what it is I'm going back and seeing. These reviews will probably be more fun to write, for me anyway, than the reviews of new stuff in theaters, only because I'll be selecting the movies based on what I wanted to watch (or watch again). Anyway, each week's classic film will be highlighted on the right, so come back and check for updates!