Saturday, February 05, 2005

Slum Village

When does an apartment building slip into slum-dom? What is the line that must be crossed to go from low-income housing to fucked up demi-ghetto? I think, today, my apartment building has crossed this narrow boundary.

The trouble started when I awoke this, afternoon. At around 1:30 pm. There was no hot water. At all. Whatsoever. You see, there are about 10,000 people living in each apartment in my building (except mine, which simply has three slovenly guys). These people all need showers, need to do laundry, and have some obsessive need to clean their Escalades several times a week. (It may sound like I am exaggerating. I am not.)

So, at around 10 or 10:30 each morning, the building runs out of hot water. At this point, I'm almost used to it. I tend to wake up for work at around 8 or 8:30, so there's always hot water for a morning shower. And by the time I get home at night, the situation has stabilized, the day's 500 loads of underwear are complete and the water functions as usual. But today, it sucked. I spent a good deal of the afternoon with my sleep-funk fully intact.

This alone would not be a cause for alarm. Nor the several hundred children playing a game consisting of screaming at the top of their lungs for several hours. Nor the chicken dance polka music eminating from the apartment building along the way at a volume typically reserved for nuclear test detonations.

The issue I'm facing now is a massive moving van parked inconveniently in front of my car. I want to leave my apartment, see, and this is Los Angeles, so the only destination within walking distance is my automobile. So these morons placing their moving van directly in my drive path basically locks me into my apartment building. And they appear sorry and apologetic that I can't move my car, but also aren't striking me as dumb enough to not have foreseen this eventuality before their van-in-the-driveway plan kick-started.

So, I'm just using the blog to rant, I suppose. I just can't help but feel a bit down about my living situation. I've felt the same way about the last several apartments I've inhabited, in all corners of LA (well, okay, two corners - Hollywood and here in Culver City). Maybe it's just this city. Or, you know, other people. Probably that last one.

Back to School

IMDB has a truly hilarious interview excerpt with Jennifer Garner, of Alias and Elektra fame. Ms. Garner is tired of the spotlight, and wants to retreat into a more normal life:

"I want a graduate degree, I want to be a business woman, an investment banker, a writer, a pianist. I really wish I could cook. I've never had specific goals in life. I don't say, 'I'd like my next step to be this', and then write it down and go after it. Actually, I don't write anything down. I just think things to myself and they actually start to happen. So watch out."

The whole not writing anything down part is going to make a career as a writer kind of difficult, dontcha think? And why would anyone who's currently a movie star want to become a boring old investment banker. Jennifer, you have sweet nunchuk skills. What could be better than that?

Another man obviously not reading this blog...

Juan Cole has called out Jonah Goldberg. It's pretty awesome.

But let me back up for those of you not versed in the blogsophere. Juan Cole is a very smart History Professor from the University of Michigan who runs the thoroughly excellent Middle Eastern affairs blog Informed Comment. See, he's big on that concept - making judgements on issues about which you are informed.

Which is why I say that he must not read this blog. Because I, like 90% of bloggers, am prone to extended pontification about random topics I have never thoroughly studied. And only a fool thinks he knows things about things he knows nothing about. So, like I said, I'm as guilty of this as any man. The only difference is, the people reading my blog are my friends and my mother, who comments on my blog so often, I'm appointing her Crushed By Inertia's Official Statler and Waldorf.

The people reading Jonah Goldberg's nonsensical hawkish rantings on Jewish World Review, on the other hand, number in the tens of thousands. He's a respected political commentator, who appears regularly on CNN. Yeah, the Cable News Network. His point is basically that it was theoretically possible Saddam might have nuclear weapons, so we had a right to attack him, because nuclear weapons are so bad. In his words:

We called Saddam's bluff, which was our perfect right given the stakes...Bush decided to stay partly out of a different realist analysis of our national interest: A democratic Middle East, he believes, is the best chance for stopping the production of terrorists. But we also stayed as a matter of honor.

You see, folks? It's simple! It's honorable to bomb a country into oblivion even though they didn't pose us any potential threat. Their leader flatly denied having nuclear weapons, but he was a liar, so we had the right to arrest him and rip up the countryside looking for them. Duh.

And Juan Cole basically couldn't take it any more. On Informed Comment, he accused Jonah Goldberg of excessively pontificating on a subject about which he knows nothing.

Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not.


If Jonah Goldberg had asserted that he could fly to Mars in his pyjamas and come back in a single day, it would not have been a more fantastic allegation than the one he made about Iraq being a danger to the United States because of the nuclear issue. He made that allegation over and over again to millions of viewers on national television programs, to viewers who trusted his judgment because CNN and others purveyed him to them.

Jonah Goldberg is a fearmonger, a warmonger, and a demagogue. And besides, he was just plain wrong about one of the more important foreign policy issues to face the United States in the past half-century. It is shameful that he dares show his face in public, much less continuing to pontificate about his profound knowledge of just what Iraq is like and what needs to be done about Iraq and the significance of events in Iraq.

I'll close with J. Goldberg's excuse for not being in Iraq. I mean, clearly he feels this war is important, so why not go suit up, you might ask?

As for why my sorry a** isn't in the kill zone, lots of people think this is a searingly pertinent question. No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice. But this chicken-hawk nonsense is something that's been batted around too many times to get into again here.

And, of course, as Atrios and Rising Hegemon have both already pointed out, being 35 and having a family have hardly prevented literally thousands of Americans from serving their country in Iraq.

This is as fine a time as ever to remind everyone reading this here political commentary that, though I despise the War on Terror and the people behind it, particularly our fear-mongering weasel of a president, I have no problem with the Americans currently serving in the military. Those are average citizens who only want a good job, a normal life and an end to the war so they can come home and be with their families. My problem is with assholes like Goldberg, who generate fear and hatred in an attempt, for whatever reason, to extend conflict.

As for me, I try to only make comments on The Inertia about topics I have experience with - movies, working at a video store, that sort of thing. But I will concede that I occasionally post without thinking too carefully (as when I wished Zach Braff would develop cancer). I'll try to do better. If Jonah Goldberg promises to shut up and go away forever.


Why won't the producers of the James Bond series take a fucking chance for once? I think we can all agree that, since Brosnan first appeared on the scene in Martin Campbell's adequate Goldeneye, there hasn't really been a Bond film of note. I'm not a huge Brosnan fan, but it's not even his fault, really. The movies are just DOA: uninteresting post-Cold War piffle without a decent villain, a string of tedious bids for world domination. The World Is Not Enough was particularly forgettable. I have actually forgotten what it's even about, except that it starred Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist.

Even producers Barbara Broccoli (whose family has been producing the Bond films from the very beginning) and Michael Wilson agree that the series needs some sort of boost to keep it from getting stale. (I'd already say it's too late for that).

So, why on Earth is IMDB reporting that Martin Campbell will return to produce a new James Bond film, written by the same dumb bastards that wrote The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day? I actually thought Die Another Die kind of worked as a parody of Bond, a goofy play on some of the central concepts, with a ridiculous action set piece at the end where the hero actually outraces the sun's rays. But it's not a real Bond film. There's none of the cold-blooded sleekness of the Connery era, the goofball charm of the Moore films, or even the inept half-assery of the Timothy Dalton era.

Remember, they had Quentin Tarantino actively interested in writing and directing a Bond film. Think about it. What young filmmaker wouldn't want a go at a James Bond film. I mean, you're stepping into history, directing one of those. Any action or suspense filmmaker worth his salt would probably step up to the plate. So, why go with fucking Martin Campbell?

Let me just say that there's nothing horribly wrong with Martin Campbell. As I said above, his Goldeneye is by far the best of the Brosnan Bond films, and he also made The Mask of Zorro, which is surely an above average family adventure film (which introduced the world to Catherine Zeta-Jones, I might add).

But this guy's hardly the man to hire if you want to reinvent a long-standing series. He's a traditionalist. He makes old-fashioned entertainments; they're fine, they're not bad movies, and they usually look nice, but they're not innovative, fresh, exciting, dangerous, edgy or unique. Ever. And that's what Bond 21, tentatively titled Casino Royale even though there's already a film featuring "James Bond" with that name, needs so desperately to be. Consider me disappointed already.

Reykjavik 411

Thanks to FARK for this interesting little website. The Icelandic Tourism Board has set up a page of fun facts about their tiny island nation. Here are some excerpts:

Surveys show that despite their obsession with modern technology, as many as 80% of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves. Even today, roads have been rerouted and building plans redesigned or abandoned to avoid disturbing rocks where elves are said to live.

It'd be easy to goof on Bjork's homeland for something like this. But don't forget that, right here in America, 77% of adults believe in angels. Don't believe me? Check out the story right here. Here's one Americans touching story:

"Yes, I absolutely believe in angels. I met one," said Catherine Forbes, 72, of Derby, Kan.

After the death of her husband, Forbes decided to take a trip to Jerusalem and the Holy Land with a friend in 1953. They got lost and became nervous while trying to navigate through the Dallas airport.

"All of a sudden, the nicest voice I ever heard said, 'May I help you.' I turned around and saw a clean-cut young man, just the most handsome, beautiful man. He picked up my luggage and showed me where to go and which people I was to be traveling with. I turned around to thank him, and he had absolutely disappeared," she said.

First off, it's absolutely fantastic that this woman made a trip to Jerusalem and got the Dallas airport. If she can't handle an international terminal with signs EVERYWHERE, how is she planning to navigate one of the world's oldest cities, a complex labyrinth of ruins, temples and people speaking foreign languages?

And, may I also ask, why are angels always so beautiful? Isn't the mythology (oh, excuse me, religion...) that God created them first? So, if he'd already created all these beautiful humanoid creatures, and then he wanted to make some more, why would he make a bunch of ugly trolls to populate his new planet? Is that how people think of themselves? Leftover mutated angel parts?

But I digress.

I think it's kind of cute that Icelandic people believe in elves. The article doesn't specify what type of elf they believe in, but I'll assume it's a fairy-like spirte elf that might live under a rock, as opposed to, say, a group of elves living in a tree baking cookies.

And you know what else is kind of sad? If you type "elf" into Google, of all the thousands of references that could come up, the first 5 results all relate to the Will Ferrell movie of the same name.

Here's another note from the Tourism Board, about traditional Icelandic delicacies:

And for those with nerves of steel and stomachs of iron, the menu for the Thorri midwinter feast (January/February) is a real challenge. Delicacies there include some quite indelicate cuts of meat, including boiled sheep's head (on the bone or pressed), ram's testicles pickled in whey, and loin bags. But what really sorts the men out from the boys is rotten shark, cured by burying, washed down with a well-deserved shot of Black Death schnapps.


Loin bags? What's a loin bag? I mean, yes, it sounds delicious. But it couldn't be...what it sounds like. There's only one external part of an animal that could be referred to reasonably as a "bag," and I sure don't want to eat it.

I also like that it's not the loin bags that sorts out the men from the boys. It's the rotten shark. Both boys and men alike enjoy a nice Icelandic loin bag.

I Goolged the term "loin bags," and of course, the first 5 responses were about the Will Ferrell movie of the same name.

No, I'm just kidding. There basically were no responses, save for references back to the original Icelandic travel website. But based on their description, I'm thinking it's not an actual scrotal sack as I had originally imagined, but some sort of pouch made out of ram intestines or organs or some such disgusting thing like that. Gross.

The Grill is Hot, the Pool is Luked...

Just got back from a celebratory barbecue in beautiful suburban Hawthorne, California. My friend Jake has just left his job at engineering firm Raytheon to pursue a business degree, and today was his last day. So, we all got together, grilled some burgers and got drunk to give him a proper send-off. A lot of my fellow guests were people I haven't spent time with since college, and it's always fun to catch up with old friends.

But tonight got me thinking as well. So many of my friends and associates from college and beyond have already switched careers, very young in life. Jake started as an engineer and is now going to be a businessman. My friend John has had a few completely different jobs since UCLA, and now works for a furniture company. My roommate Chris has been a traffic reporter, a traveling salesman, and now works at the front desk of a Westwood hotel. My friend Brooke has run a flower shop, produced music videos, managed an architectural firm and now runs a small magazine in a town near Dallas, Texas.

And then there's me. I've worked as a bookstore manager, assistant publicist, reporter, screenwriter, post-production coordinator and video store clerk. I've thought of a career in at least four or five industries without sticking to anything. Is what I'm observing in my friends restlessness, an inability to focus or something else entirely? Is direction overrated?

I just feel like the smart people I know, both motivated and not as motivated, haven't seemed to find their place yet. And we're not talking about young people still trying to find their way in the world. I celebrated my 26th birthday in November and I'm in the younger portion of this group. In fact, I only have two friends who have had clear, direct occupational goals which they have held to: my high school chum who currently works as a pediatric resident and my college buddy who works as a line cook in Chicago.

I can't help but feel that this is a new phenomenon, though of course I could be wrong. Has it always been this way? A nation of directionless 30-somethings unable to commit, too eager to experience the variety of life to decide on one path and stick to it? And will there be any negative consequences for this behavior down the road? Are we setting ourselves up for failure by refusing to focus our efforts in one area, or planning intelligently for our future by gaining a diversity of knowledge and experience.

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. To be honest with you, I'm tired and it's too late to do the heavy philosophizing now. But it's something for all of us to think about, I suppose...

Jake pulled me aside at one point this evening to level with me, or something, I guess. He asked me why, with my Master's Degree and reasonable intellect, I worked as an assistant manager in a video store. To be honest, I don't know the answer to this question, and I told him as much. But if I was pressed, the truth is that I just can't motivate to do anything else. Working at Laser Blazer is what I want to do, it's what I like to do, it's a place I don't mind going for a few hours a day to earn a little money.

And I know that life isn't always defined by what you want to do. But if it takes slaving away at a job you hate for 50, 60 hours a week just to eke by, is that worth doing at all?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Charley Varrick

Don Siegel is best known as the director of Dirty Harry, but he actually had a long and varied directorial career. Also notable is his classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Clint Eastwood vehicle Coogan's Bluff, 1968's terrific police drama Madigan and this action classic from 1973, Charley Varrick. This movie is pure fun, a thrilling caper with just the right amount of action, humor and suspense. And it stars one of my all-time favorite actors, the Late Great Walter Matthau.

Varrick's something of a departure for Matthau. He appeared in a variety of action/thriller films in this period, including The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, which I reviewed here. But he was always the comic relief character. In Pelham, he's the hero, and all the truly dark, sharp edges come from supporting players Hector Elizondo and Robert Shaw. In Varrick, he's the centerpiece of a story in which there are no real heroes, just an endless succession of criminals, some more immoral than others.

Matthau is the Charley of the title, a low-level hood who, along with his wife Nadine and two young associates, has pulled off a few bank robberies around New Mexico. The film opens with Varrick's gang pulling their usual job on the wrong bank - a crooked outfit funnelling money to the mob.

So, Charley winds up losing his wife and one partner in a hail of gunfire, only to learn that he has accidentally stolen three quarters of a million dollars from unknown gangsters. Soon enough, we see the owner of the bank (John Vernon, who 5 years later would gain lifelong infamy as Dean Wormer from Animal House) hiring a bizarre, evil hitman named Molly (an absolutely fantastic Joe Don Baker). And that's basically all the film has for plot: Charley must use his wits to control his overzealous young partner Harlan (Andrew Robinson), to evade capture by Molly, and to figure out a way out of the state with the police watching all the roads and airports.

Siegel's film comes off so swimmingly, it almost seems effortless, but producing a film this satisfying can't be simple. Simply everything works: the dialogue crackles with defiant humor, the action is exciting, never overdone or tedious as in other chase movies of the period and the Matthau and Baker performances rank among their best work, with Matthau in particular embodying a strange mixture of levity and mordant pessimism.

Siegel never allows us inside the mind of Charley Varrick, and it's the mystery that surrounds him and most of the action of the film that keeps the proceedings so interesting. We hear sketchy details of how Varrick got started in his life of crime - an unfortunate investment, a string of bad luck and so on - but never get a feeling for who this man was before he became a bank robber. And as for Molly, we know only what we learn in his first scene; he's tough, he's mean and he has a girl's name. Even the Mafioso whom Charley has ripped off never appear in the movie. They exist only as spectres, striking fear into the hearts of petty criminals through reputation alone.

Varrick has been undeniably influential to crime cinema. Quentin Tarantino in particular has lifted a few items from the film. The original title of Siegel's film was Kill Charley Varrick, an obvious antecedant to Kill Bill. Varrick's trailer home in the film eerily resembles that of Buck (Michael Madsen) in KB Volume 2. And at one point, Vernon threatens an underling with Mafia thugs who will "go to work on [him] with a pair of plyers and a blowtorch," a line that appears verbatim from the mouth of Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. And the reason for his admiration is simple: very few crime films add up to much, and almost none pack the punch of Charley Varrick.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

I had to look this up. In England, around the turn of the century, a cartoonist named David Low created a famous character named Colonel Blimp. He's a buffoonish old man, a blowhard convinced that everything was done better in his day, and that the younger generation doesn't understand manners and proper behavior and blah blah blah. You get what I mean. It was initially created as a way to mock the supercilious British military class.

Filmmaking team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger took this famous character and, in 1943, during the height of the Second World War, created their best-loved collaboration, a staggeringly entertaining and surprisingly modern look at aging, the changing face of warfare and the true nature of friendship. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp defies classification. It is a sweeping work of true cinematic art.

Blimp was initially intended as war propaganda for the British, yet it deeply offended Churchill prior to its release, and almost never saw the light of day. It tackles themes I have never seen in films before, and does so in a way that's never preachy or over-bearing. We follow Clive Candy (he's not actually called "Blimp" in the film) through three wars. Yet this is not the story of his gallantry in battle, nor of the lasting toll that a lifetime of fighting in conflicts has taken on him. Instead, it's a look at how he learns to accept a changing world, how he modifies his behavior (or, more frequently, refuses to) and gets left behind by life.

We're introduced to Candy in what would have been the present for a 1943 audience. Blimp is an old man, running a batallion of the Home Guard after having been retired from active duty in the British Army. He has planned a war game that is scheduled ot begin at midnight.

However, a young opponent, in an attempt to incorporate enemy tactics into the game, decides to begin the invasion early, "capturing" Candy while he relaxes in a Turkish bath. And here we begin a series of flashbacks, beginning 40-some years prior during the Boer War.

Quick history lesson: The Boer War was a conflict Britain engaged in around 1889 against Dutch settlers (called Boers) in South Africa. It was the last of Britain's major colonial wars for empire.

So, Candy has just returned to England from South Africa, and he hears word that a defector from the British Army whom he knows has been spreading vile propaganda in Germany. Ignoring the orders from his superiors, he goes to Berlin and meets up with the plucky Edith Hunter (the first of three roles played by the fetching Deborah Kerr). She's a British National who's very concerned about England's reputation in Germany.

Without spoiling this review with endless details from the film (though it's a long plot-heavy affair at 2.5 hours), Candy winds up in the unfortunate situation of having to duel a German officer whom he's never met, the amusingly named Teo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (hereafter Teo). The two men become fast friends as they convalesce together following their ill-fated duel.

And it's this friendship that will become the centerpiece of the movie. Candy falls in love with Edith, but she winds up with another man, and he leaves Berlin heartbroken and alone. We skip ahead to WWI, where Candy will once more meet up with his old friend (this time, under less than ideal circumstances). And, eventually, we will see the WWII years, with Candy leaving the British Army due to his advancing age, and meeting up with his old friend who has fled Germany and the Nazi Party.

These different eras are all beautifully realized. Powell and Pressburger make use of simply stunning, bright Technicolor cinematography, and the attention to detail threaded throughout their film brings the entire production to life. Roger Lively's performance as well consistantly surprises. Candy is an entirely lovable character. In his rundown on the film, Ebert notes that perhaps Powell and Pressburger's greatest achievement in Colonel Blimp is taking a familiar stock character - the mustachioed military braggart - and turn him into a charming, self-effacing hero. We follow him in his relentless pursuit of a woman to take the place of his beloved Edith, even though we realize he'll never fill the void in his heart. We nod our heads in agreement as he stresses that Britain can win wars without resorting to indecent behavior, even though we know the Nazis were not the kind of enemy to be taken lightly. And we can't help but sympathize when the Colonel realizes that his career and his life have passed him by.

In many ways, Blimp is a lamentation for a more civilized time. Candy sees the 20th Century as a time when the old ways of doing things, the proper and above all British way of doing things, has given in to a chaotic system of winner-takes-all.

In one amazingly realized sequence, Candy invites his friend Teo to a dinner party of British politicians and generals immediately following Germany's surrender and the end of WWI. The British men all embrace Teo, and Germany, arguing that a weak Germany does Britain no good. The terrific performance by Austrain-born Anton Walbrook shows us Teo's frustration - he loves his friend and wants to join the optimism, while also knowing that his country will come to exploit this sportsmanlike conduct in the years to come.

Because Teo has seen the destruction of Germany, he knows of the desperation that was to come in the Weimar Years, and he has already sensed what Candy will come to discover much later - that there is no going back. That Nazism killed off any hope there could ever be for a "civilized" conflict. That the only 20th Century War would be total war.

Is this a completely fair argument? Was any war ever really gentlemanly in the way that Candy seems to imagine? I'd say, no, but the film is much more about Candy's perception of these conflicts than any objective reality. It's not that war was any simpler back in the days of his youth. In the opening days of the Boer War, in fact, Britain faced a devastating series of losses in Magersfontein, Stormberg, and Colenso. Surely Candy couldn't feel nostalgic for what has come to be known as the Black Week.

What Candy is really nostalgic for is his lost youth, a time when the world made more sense to him, and he was a young hero instead of a useless old blowhard. We get a rare chance to look behind the blustering caricature into the soul of a real man, a hero who is nonetheless full of weakness and regret, and this gives the film a rare relevance.

I have spoken of the lush, beautiful cinematography but not of the full visual grandeur of this film. It's full of as much visual trickery and iconic style as Citizen Kane, though it lacks that film's sense of gothic irony. And some of the techniques here, like the seemingly unbroken shots thattie together sequences set decades apart, feel as modern as anything done by Martin Scorsese or Wes Anderson.

But hearing me prattle on endlessly about this film will do you no more good. You're just going to have to see it for yourself. And if it sounds like something of a chore from this review, I've utterly failed to do my job properly. The movie is above all else a comedy. As I said, Candy is a delight to follow around. He's got a flip, surprising wit and surrounds himself with similarly amusing people. Powell and Pressburger never let the film's weighty themes drag it down or make the proceedings maudlin. Despite the film's title, their focus rests entirely on Candy's love of life and the passionate way in which he lived, and not on the pain or regret that in some ways come to dominate his august years.

Review Catch-Up

I'm an idiot. I totally promised you guys several reviews that I never got around to writing. So, here's a quick recap of entertainment whatnot I've enjoyed over the last month that I never wrote about.

The Arcade Fire at the Troubadour

This was such a fucking amazing show! I can't believe I never wrote about this! I just got so distracted by all the funny articles about eliminating vagical wetness or something.

Anyway, this ragtag band of musicians from Montreal played a thoroughly enjoyable, intense 90 minute set of their unique brand of indie rock for a stunned crowd at West Hollywood's Troubadour in early January. The band's 8 assembled members pounded their way through the entirety of their debut LP (and Pitchfork's #1 album of 2004), the incredible "Funeral." Though the album's mainly a meditation on the temporary, ethereal nature of human life, you wouldn't know that just by listening to the music, which tends towards the bombastic, catchy and exuberant. And the show matches this spirit, using the band's explosive energy and enthusiasm to its utmost. One of the most fun concerts I've been to in years.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I meant to give you all a full write-up on this terrific novel, but what can I say? I'm good at reading books and not nearly as good at commenting thoughtfully on them. I'm much better with the film analysis (at least, I hope so). Typically, when I start talking about prose, I wind up repeating the same trite, cliche judgements. Like "he's got such good dialogue" or "I liked the characters" or "it was under 300 pages."

But this was one of those rare novels that made me want to talk about it with others. It's the story of a 15 year old autistic boy, Christopher, who discovers a murdered dog during one of his strolls around the neighborhood. At first, everyone assumes he's guilty because of his condition, so he becomes determined to solve the mystery of who killed the dog. Unraveling the clues eventually sends him on a journey of self-discovery, in which he finds out as much about himself as about the murderer.

The first-person narration provides a more clear, nuanced, convincing portrait of mental illness than in any other book I have read. Author Mark Haddon spent years working with autistic children, and this experience has given him unbelievable insight and above all empathy for these brilliant people whose minds just work differently from everyone else's. Haddon develops Christopher's problems with physical contact, with troubling displays of emotion and with obsessive compulsions in such a way that, though the reader can't relate to his bizarre behavior, we can begin to understand Christopher and what motivates him.

Haddon truly disappears into this character, and I found myself completely engrossed by this brief novel. It took me all of two days to read it cover to cover, and I have since read it a second time. A truly wonderful book. I haven't enjoyed a book this much since Dave Eggers' "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" several years ago.

Pepsi Holiday Spice

This is the most disgusting soda ever. I know it's not really an entertainment product, but I just wanted to offer the message as a public service. It tastes like they ground up about 100,000 pine cones into a vat of warm Pepsi that had been sitting out in the sun for a few days. And it's an unappetizing reddish brown color, as if the sun-soaked vat of Pepsi were covered in rust and grime.

"It's Fun To Shoot Some People"

Yahoo has an article today about a Marine Corps commandant who had to discipline a senior subordinate for making the above comment.

I think it's all about inflection. If he said "It's fun to shoot some people," that's obviously very wrong. And if he said, "It's fun to shoot some people," then that's wrong and also really strange. Like, what else has he been shooting that he assumed was more fun to shoot than people? Soda cans?

But if he said, "It's fun to shoot some people," then this comment, while insensitive, is also basically a statement of fact. It would be a good deal of fun to shoot certain people.

I'm not saying it would be fun to kill anyone. But to shoot someone in a non-fatal way? I can probably issue you a list of at least 30 people who could use some lead in their shoulder or kneecap. Or even just a fleshwound. Something to wipe that wretched smirk of Zach Braff's face. Um, I mean, some unnamed person whom I'd like to shoot.

Actually, according to the article, the subordinate, named James Mattis, said the following in a speech in San Diego at a forum on strategies for the war on terror.

"Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

The few. The proud. The Marines.

The State of Delusion

What Union was the President talking about last night? Because it sure didn't sound like he was discussing the state of American interests. More like the issues confronting Fantasyland.

Tonight, with a healthy, growing economy, with more Americans going back to work, with our Nation an active force for good in the world -the state of our union is confident and strong.

That's a sentence with three prepositional clauses. And not one of those clauses is accurate. "Healthy growing economy," nope. "Americans going back to work," to low-paying, insecure jobs that may be sent overseas at any time. "Our Nation an active force for good in the world." Well, you guys can handle that one on your own.

I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline.

George W. Bush talking about spending discipline? This guy throws money around like Paris Hilton after 10 sour apple martinis. His budget's more loose than Anna Nicole Smith's grip on reality.

The principle here is clear: a taxpayer dollar must be spent wisely, or not at all.

Or, you know, given to one of my rich friends. But that is wise, because then they do favors in return for me! What a country!

Okay, so, you get the idea. He just blathers on like this endlessly. Check out the whole speech here.

A good rule of thumb: just change each sentence around to read the opposite of how it's written, and it's likely the truth. For example:

You and I share a responsibility. We must pass reforms that solve the financial problems of Social Security once and for all.

It should read:

You have a responsibility, which I will attempt to skirt for me and my rich friends. We must pass reforms that don't solve any problems with Social Security, but that's okay, because I'm basically exaggerating the problem with Social Security in the first place.


While our military strategy is adapting to circumstances, our commitment remains firm and unchanging. We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come.

While our military fumbles around in the desert, dying by the hundreds because of my lack of a clear plan of action for this war, we are standing for the continued violence against those who hate us in Iraq. And this conflict I have started in Iraq will make your family less safe from terror for generations to come.

See how that works? It's easy!

Ernest Hemingway's The Killers

There are two notable film adaptations of Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers." One was made for television in 1964 by Don Siegel, starring Lee Marvin. I haven't seen that version. But I have just seen the 1946 original, directed by German ex-pat Robert Siodmak, and believe it to be one of the best films noir I have ever seen.

Normally, after I make a bold statement like that about a film's level of quality, I'd throw in a still from the movie. But this movie's so old that there are no stills, just an image of the cover of the DVD box, and I didn't feel like that would class up the blog here. So, no picture. Just imagine Burt Lancaster in a wife beater throwing himself around a hotel room while gritting his teeth. Okay, now we can continue.

The film opens with a scene taken straight from the Hemingway story. Two thugs enter a near-empty diner in the small town of Brentwood, New Jersey. They're looking for a Swedish man going be the name of Pete Lund. They say they're going to kill him when they find him. A young man, the frequent Hemingway character Nick Adams, races from the diner to tell Lund of the danger. But "The Swede" doesn't even seem to care. Sure enough, the very next day, he turns up dead in his room, riddled with 8 bullets.

And the rest of the film follows a dogged insurance investigator (Edmund O'Brien) as he tries to piece together the how's and why's of The Swede's case. The Killers is often referred to as the Citizen Kane of noirs for an obvious reason: the entire story is told in flashbacks, as characters relate their perceptions of The Swede to O'Brien's investigator.

Like Kane, we fill in the details of The Swede's history gradually, only getting enough information to remain aware of the plot, never enough to understand fully what's going on. There isn't much to the story that you wouldn't find in any other classic noir movie - a femme fatale in the form of the duplicitous (and strikingly gorgeous) Ava Gardner. A couple of spry hoods who can't be trusted. And, of course, a large sum of money constantly changing hands, tempting everyone to double-cross one another.

It's no surprise that John Huston was a major contributor to this screenplay. The dialogue is among the best in the noir canon, displaying a fiendish intelligence and grim wit. Some of the exchanges rank among the most archetypal of any noir film, especially the mandatory seduction-into-evil sequence between Gardner and Lancaster.

The entire enterprise, in this regard and others, bears some similarities to Huston's own Maltese Falcon, though it makes a bit more sense. Like that film, The Killers proves something of a master class in noir technique. The remarkable cinematography enhances every shadow, bathing everything in half-obscured darkness. And a heist scene at a hat factory, told in one continuous unbroken crane shot, remains remarkable and surprisingly effective.

There's an inherent lack of believability to a lot of noir films. We're expected to accept foolish men casually throwing their lives away for a chance at bedding a beautiful woman. All manner of calculated murder plots are attempted and carried off. And then there's the chance meetings, the overheard conversations, the crosses, double-crosses and triple-crosses. But The Killers may even push things a bit too far. There are many moments during the film when, should one small factor have been altered ever so slightly, the plot would never work out at all.

But none of this matters once the film kicks into high gear. We're carried along by the sheer virtuosity of Siodmak's direction (his use of mirrors to show us a foot pursuit in one barroom scene in particular struck me as pure genius), the radiance of Ava Gardner and Miklos Rozsa's bombastic score. This is a must-see for fans of the crime genre.

Ice Hastles

A funny Sports Illustrated story by way of good old reliable FARK. What would I do without FARK in seeking out goofball links for my blog? Probably go to Gorilla Mask. But that's a different story altogether.

Anyway, this one concerns Daunte Culpepper, a player for, um, some football team...[Googling Daunte Culpepper]...The Minnesota Vikings, who I'd like to add play for something called the NFC North Division. Daunte's their quarterback, which I'm told is a crucial position. I'm also told that the correct spelling of his name would be D-A-N-T-E.

So, he's doing a press conference and some paralyzed high school football player in the front row (quite crudely) asks him for "some of that ice." Now, if you ask me, this is not a classy maneuver to begin with. I mean, even if you're being cute, asking a professional athlete for their jewelry in a crowded room full of people puts everyone in an awkward position, and makes it look like you're attempting to use your handicap for personal gain. Plus, can you imagine the sheer amount of neck sweat likely produced by an NFL starting quarterback? Gross.

But anyway, Daunte did a silly thing. He went down off the stage and put two of his diamond blinged-out necklaces on this kid. So, the kid's mother starts crying and the dad starts blubbering and the kid has his picture taken for a newspaper holding the jewelry up for the cameras, proudly displaying his new ice with a level of awe and respect typically reserved for the Shroud of Turin.

And then Daunte politely asks for his jewelry back once the cameras are off.

Wow. I

He did take down the kid's address, promising to send him something in the mail. I'm sure it will be just as good.

And I'm sure there's a lesson here somewhere. Even massively wealthy athletes can be extremely petty. Nope, I already knew that. Um...greedy cripples who beg for free handouts will eventually get theirs in the end? No, that's a touch cruel. Okay, maybe there is no lesson here. This is just a sad story with no moral whatsoever.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I've Always Preferred Fudd

A woman in Australia has been selling fictional Duff beer on E-Bay.

Did you catch that? People were paying a woman actual money on the Internet for Homer Simpson's non-existent brand of beer. Police are on the lookout for a Barry Duffman, aka Duff-Man.

I really don't have anything more to say about this. It's just so powerful stupid, I had to put it on the blog.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Wetness for the Prosecution

This link has apparently been making the rounds on the blogosphere. I'm also alerted that the woman who runs this website has been threatening to sue bloggers who are making fun of her. So, that's two good reasons I shouldn't write up a post where I mock her and her hilarious product.

But who am I kidding? I can't not make fun of a product that gets rid of vaginal wetness.

Yeah, that's what AbsorbShun does. Really. It makes a woman's vagina as rough and dry as Osama bin Laden's armpit. You know, for sex. From the website...

Is your lovemaking less satisfying because you get too wet during sex?
Do you want better sex without worry or embarrassment?
Do you want more romance, intimacy and fulfillment?
Do you want to drive men wild with a tighter vagina?
All this can be yours – with AbsorbShun natural powder.

So, does this woman not realize that the wetness is kind of the innovation that makes sex possible. Wetness is like the flux capacitor to the vagina's DeLorean, if you catch my 80's teen movie metaphor. And what woman is embarrassed when they emit fluids during intercourse? It's like being humiliated when you sweat. "Oh, my god, I'm experiencing a totally normal bodily function that everyone does when engaged in this activity. The horror!"

Also, is buying a sex juice that renders your seminal fluid more concrete-esque really a way to get rid of embarrassment? "Excuse me, honey, before we go any further, let me put on my love paste."

So, okay, this product may not make sex better. It doesn't really seem neccessary at all unless you have the Colorado River between your legs. Who doesn't want a little lube down there when the time is right?

But there's no harm in it, right? If some women enjoy being penetrated by a sticky, gritty member, that's their business. Except for some of the warnings:

Do not use with multiple partners

Use of AbsorbShun natural powder in any quantity may cause temporary tenderness and micro abrasions to the genital area.

Well, it is just temporary tenderness. And the abrasions are micro, people, come on. Although, from these symptoms, it almost sounds like something unlubricated and abrasive were being repeatedly applied to the vagina...Hmm....Interesting...

Anyway, so that's been on all the blogs this week, and I don't want to be left out, particularly when I get this many excuses to type the word "vagina."

Seriously, though, the blogs have been discussing this product all week because the business apparently donates to Christian charities. There's a theory that the whole idea of AbsorbShun is to make sex less pleasurable, so people will want to engage in it less. It seems a rather subversive way to go about this plan, however, to render sex less fun through the use of a voluntary cream that almost no one would ever want to use? Surely the vast Chrstian anti-sex conspiracy can do better than that...A new strain of AIDS or something? You guys are clever. Wow me.

This thread over at ponycow features a wide variety of weird conspiracy-type banter about AbsorbShun. I just assumed it was a dumb product made by a dumb woman who didn't quite get how sex worked, and thought that going really slow with a thick paste around your penis and vagina might feel good and not retardedly uncomfortable. But, hey, what do I know? Christians all got together to elect G. W., maybe this is the next logical step in ruining American's lives.

Uncivil Wars

I've been involved for several months now on an e-mail discussion thread. It's a few guys who work at E! Entertainment Television, one guy who works on the TV show "American Dreams" over at Universal, and myself. Who works at a video store.

Anyway, we argue about movies most of the time. One guy on this thread, we'll call him Y, likes a lot of movies your humble blogger hates, like The Hulk, Ray, the Star Wars prequels, As Good As It Gets, Magnolia and Titanic. As well, I enjoy a number of movies Y hates, like Anchorman, the South Park movie, The Aviator and Fight Club.

From those lists, you can probably tell whose side you're on.

The interesting thing, to me, is that though I loathe all of the movies on Y's list up there, I don't loathe Y. In fact, he seems like a really bright, well-reasoned guy. You could even go so far as to say I like him, and I sense that if we saw each other more frequently in real life, as opposed to communicating through the cold, dark vacuum of cyberspace, we might even be friends.

Yet none of my friends have nearly this divergent an opinion of pop culture. All of my friends like "South Park," and most of them like those other movies I listed as well (except my friend Brian, who can't stand Anchorman, or Zoolander for that matter).

Our arguments tend to boil down to the same rote few ideas as well. No matter where we start, every conversation ends with another participant, C, agreeing with me on something. Then yet another participant, P, will agree with Y. Then the final writer, J, will come on and either confuse everyone or try to piss someone off. And finally, Y tells me that I'm either too immature or too intellectual to just let a positive, feel-good movie wash over me, and I tell him that the movie he's praising is overdone, cheesy, fake or just plain awful.

Ray provides a terrific recent example. If you read my review of Ray, you know that I thought it was a tremendous turd. A thoroughly rotten waste of celluloid that turned the fascinating, rich life of one of the 20th Century's most enduring musical icons into a rote, dreary, by-the-numbers biopic with some of the worst editing and least insightful dialogue of the year.

Y thought Ray was great, among the year's best films. He saw it not as a hopelessly vapid retelling of some famous incidents in the life of a famous guy, but as an emotional, old-fashioned melodrama of the highest order, the story of a celebrity rewritten and writ large for a mass audience to appreciate and enjoy.

Both opinions sound good when you say them like that (and Y's a good enough writer to make a case compelling). But how do you deal with the fact that, though we mutually respect one another, we also think the other person has the same ability to appreciate cinema as a cheese danish?

Our solution thus far has been to either mock the other person or get angry and stop e-mailing for a few days, before one of the other participant's starts the whole thing up again with some general question, like "What's the Best Martin Scorsese Movie?" or "You kind of look like that one character on 'Deadwood.' The Chinese guy. Wu, I think."


Laser Blazer is proud to present a signing event with the legendary Oscar-winning special effects artist.
He will be appearing at Laser Blazer on Tuesday, February 1st from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. to sign copies of his new release: Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection. The DVD is available on 2/1/05 for $22.49.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled blog.

Seriously, if you want to see Ray Harryhausen and get him to sign your DVD copy of Clash of the Titans (no use denying it...I know you own that one...), just show up at the Blazer tonight. He'll be there, and I'll be there, and you really don't want to miss that.

The guy is a freaking legend, besides. Have you ever seen 20 Million Miles to Earth? A giant lizard destroys Rome. Why don't they make movies with plots like that any more? Now, it would be something convoluted and dumb, like "Romanian fascists plotting a world takeover kidnap an oversized reptile from a research laboratory, planning to set him loose in the streets of Rome. And only Harrison Ford can stop them!"

So, you know, come on by. The Blazer is located at 10587 W. Pico Blvd. in West Los Angeles, between Manning and Prosser.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Dumber Than The Average Bear

This is so stupid.

You've heard of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company? They advertise on Howard Stern all the time. It's a company, out of Vermont...with me so far? And what they do is, they send your loved one a themed stuffed bear to commemorate a special occasion. See, it's more witty than flowers, because it's a bear. With a costume on. And it's from Vermont.

Anyway, the VTBC (fun with acronyms!) has been asked to stop sending out its Theme Bear "Crazy for You." This bear comes wearing a straight jacket with a little heart on it. Get it? The stuffed bear loves you so fucking much, it has literally gone insane. I guess it realized it was just a plushed knick knack, and thus unworthy of the love of an actual human being, so it has withdrawn into a nightmare world of drugs and despair, a la Pink Floyd's epic prog-rock masterpiece The Wall.

Or, you know, it's just a novelty stuffed bear from the Home of Howard Dean and Maple Syrup. Who knows for sure?

So, groups are asking the VTBC to stop issuing this bear because it's offensive to mentally ill people. Really. Remember, this is a stuffed bear in a straight jacket. And the straight jacket has a heart on it.

Mental health advocates have called for the company to stop selling the bear, calling it "tasteless" and saying it stigmatized the mentally ill. Gov. Jim Douglas called the bear insensitive and inappropriate.

The Governor weighed in on this. So, there's nothing pressing at all going on in Vermont, then? Everything's taken care of? All the children have adequate health care and know how to read, then? We've got time to comment on the current state of politically incorrect toys and gifts?

And is it really tasteless to put a stuffed bear into a straight jacket? I mean, it demonstrates a lack of taste in an aesthetic sense. If you want something like that, or worse yet, if you pay money for it, you're basically a goober with no "taste." But I'm not sure that's the meaning implied in the statement of unnamed "mental health advocates." I think they mean it's crass, as if crazy people are going to be offended.

Who thinks of themselves as proudly wearing a straight jacket? I mean, is this really something people get offended about? Their right to be committed to a nuthouse? Is some wack job in an asylum somewhere going to see this bear advertised on TV and find it an affront to his right to hurl his own feces at people in the rec room or something?

Here's the weirdest part of the article:

The $69.95 bear, which is accompanied by commitment papers, is selling well despite complaints that it insults and stigmatizes those with mental illness.

$70! It's a stuffed bear with a straight jacket on. I guess I'll have to give you people a look at what we're talking about here:

$70? It better be able to play X-Box games or something for that kind of scratch, because I've never seen a teddy bear I'd pay more than $3.00 for. And even that would have to be an amazingly fucking cool teddy bear, the kind of teddy bear a grown man wouldn't be ashamed to whip out at parties to impress his friends. It would have to be made at least partially of adamantium, is what I'm saying.

That heart really kills the whole "it's offensive" effect. What stereotypes about the insane is this bear vulgarly spreading? That they're incredibly wuvvable?

Muppets and Masks

I have heretofore heard absolutely nothing about a movie called Mirrormask, which premiered earlier this week at the Sundance Film Festival. It's written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Dave McKean, two terrifically talented artists from the world of comic books (and fiction, in the case of Gaiman), and I have to say, the trailer is one of the more incredible I've seen in a good long while. Gaiman's a terrific author in his own right, the animation here look incredible, and much of the design was done by artists from Jim Henson's workshop. Quite a collection of talent. Check it out here.

The story, from what I can gather, seems to be traditional children's fantasy type fare. A young girl wanders into a faraway, magical kingdom and must go through a series of ordeals in order to find her way home. Shades of Alice, Oz and the like. You get where this is going. But the scope, style and vision of this universe looks immensely intriguing, kind of like a Myst game with human characters, or a really trippy feature-length Bjork video.

My thanks to Aint It Cool News, by the way, for the link.

2005 could just be a banner year for unique animated films. We've got Corpse Bride from Tim Burton and Co., A Scanner Darkly from Richard Linklater and the Waking Life team and a new Wallace and Gromit movie from Aardman. Bring it on, I say.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

What If There Is No Tomorrow...There Wasn't One Today!

I love Groundhog Day. I think it's one of the best comedies of our times, and features perhaps the best performance from Bill Murray. And that's really saying something. In its time, it did solid box office business and appealed to many critics, but nobody really saw it as anything terribly special. It was a well-performing mainstream comedy, and that's about it. But 10 years has really changed things.

It's pretty apparent that the movie has come into its own, that people are finally starting to give the movie its dues. It appears on many website lists of the Top Movies of the 90's, and I believe it to largely be responsible for the Renaissance of Appreciation that has blossomed for Bill Murray since his career-changing work in Wes Anderson's magical Rushmore.

Anyway, I'm inspired to wax philosophic about Groundhog Day because Roger Ebert has chosen it for his Great Films list. I give Rog' a lot of shit these days, because frankly, I think he's kind of lost his ability to tell solid mainstream filmmaking from mind-numbing, lame garbage. I appreciate that he's a movie critic who appreciates obscure foreign films, exploitation films and the occasional mainstream hit or genre fodder. But four stars for Ray? One and a half stars for Napoleon Dynamite? He's got some explaining to do...

Anyway, check out the Groundhog Day review. It's a pretty nice overview of what's so brilliant about the movie. And if you haven't seen it (though I find this hard to believe), it needs to go into your Netflix queue immediately.

The one thing in Ebert's article that struck me funny was his calculation of how many times Groundhog Day repeats for Phil Conners in the movie. I'd guess it would have to be several hundred. He gets to know not just one or two people in the town, but just about everybody. He masters the piano, ice sculpting and the trick where you toss the playing cards into the hat. He memorizes the pattern of cars moving to steal money out of an armored car. Plus, there's all the life-altering experiences and spiritual cleansing. Ebert says that by director and co-writer Harold Ramis' own account, Phil experiences 40 versions of Groundhog Day.

Ramis and [co-writer Danny] Rubin in an early draft had him living through 10,000 cycles, and Ramis calculates that in the current version he goes through about 40. During that time, Phil learns to really see himself for the first time, and to see Rita, and to learn that he loves her, and to strive to deserve her love.

I've heard this story as well, about how the first draft had Phil living the same day for thousands of years, eventually attaining spiritual enlightenment. But I'm still puzzled by the 40 days calculation. If you were going to learn how to ice sculpt in a little more than a month, you'd have to be working at it for hours and hours a day, right? That's even if it's possible at all. So, how would he have all that time to save homeless people, memorize Rita's favorite drink and seduce Nancy Taylor? Nope, doesn't make sense to me.

Or have I just seen this movie too many times?

That's Why They Call Them Slippers

Did you ever notice that? We call certain types of footwear "slippers," presumably because you "slip" them on your feet rather than lacing them up. Yet, the word slip when applied to something you do with your feet most often refers to, well, slipping and falling over, and if you are over 70, probably breaking a hip.

I guess, when you get old, your hip is the first thing to start to get loose, because it seems every time an old person navigates any sort of mild bump, their hip shatters into a thousand pieces. Why can't nature make the hip out of the same material as the skull or something? Am I right?

So, anyway, my grandmother today enacted this rather silly pun, slipping and falling while dialing a cell phone in her slippers. She was reading this very blog. In particular, she was reading this entry in my blog, in which I refer to myself as a slob and blame this condition on my overly-clean mother (my grandmother's daughter, in case you didn't catch that).

My grandmother wanted to add some witty rejoinder to the blog, but didn't understand how to post a comment without entering in her name. She would never actually enter her personal information into a computer. One too many news stories on "identity theft" have convinced an entire generation of Americans that providing anyone with any information about you on the Internet will immediately result in the draining of your bank account and, possibly, your deportation to Upper Mongolia. This is a woman who worked in a check cashing business in what I'll call an "unsavory" neighborhood of Philadelphia for the majority of her working life, and she's afraid that telling someone a thousand miles away her name is Sally will result in financial and personal ruin.

But I digress. My grandmother got up to call my mother and ask her how to anonymously post a blog comment when she tripped, fell, chucked the cell phone a good several yards away, and landed with a thump half-in and half-out of her bathroom. This resulted in two things: my grandfather running in from the other room to see what the commotion was about, and my mother screaming into her end of the phone, able to hear her parents thumping around but unable to discern what actually was going on.

And here's the part I find amusing: my grandfather, rather than assit my grandmother, does two things: pick up the phone to speak to my mother, and begin laughing. So, he's telling my mother, between chuckes, that his wife is currently on the floor, having tripped and fallen (for the second time, I might add, in a month or so), not actually seeing if she's alright, or even conscious.

So, he's trying to explain to my mother on the phone what has happened, but all she's able to make out is that her mother is on the floor, and that she was reading my blog. So, my mom's about to tear ass out of the house to go check on what's going on, if possibly her parents have both suddenly gone senile at the same exact moment, when the chaos ends and my grandfather finally makes the situation clear.

So, long story long, everything ended up alright. I visited my grandmother only a few hours ago, and she's her usual self, able to laugh about this incident (I hope, as I've just spend about 500 words goofing on her) and feeling alright, if a bit drained and sore. And that's why, if you have a history of medical problems, heart disease, or are pregnant, you shouldn't read Crushed By Inertia without supervision and the consent of your doctor. It's for your own good.

Prince of Tideland

Right now, Terry Gilliam is starting post-production a new film called Tideland. It won't be released until 2006 (we have another Gilliam feature, Brothers Grimm, to tide - har! - us over until then). But as cool as Brothers Grimm has the potential to be (it is, after all, a film about Matt Damon battling fairy tale monsters, directed by the creator of some of cinema's greatest modern fairy tales), I'm more looking forward to Tideland.

It's a film based on a book I have not read, but I may be forced to remedy that some time this year. The plot, as IMDB reports it, concerns a young girl taken by her father to a rural farmhouse following the death of her mother by heroin overdose. Once on the farm, the young girl (to be played by newcomer Jodelle Ferland) develops strange habits, including talking aloud to headless Barbie dolls.

Here's an image courtesy of the most excellent Terry Gilliam fan page, Dreams:

Pretty neat, huh? Here's another:

So, yeah, I can't wait to see this one. Gilliam's definitely one of my favorite working directors, and his Brazil ranks among my favorite all-time films. (Also 12 Monkeys and Time Bandits.)

In Good Company

Went home to Irvine today to visit my parents and get my several thousand filthy articles of clothing laundered at no cost to me. So while my boxers soaked and my grandmother recuperated from a nasty spill (more on this later), my father and I went to an afternoon screening of the newest film from Paul Weitz, the director best known for American Pie. He also directed About a Boy in 2002, and he continues here in that vein, awkwardly melding together drama and comedy. Fortunately, as with About a Boy, a solid cast of talented actors saves the film from utter mediocrity.

It's a shame In Good Company doesn't work better, as it deals with themes rarely seen in mainstream American cinema. Namely, the struggles of the middle-class suburban working people ekeing out a living in a marketplace dominated by mega-conglomerates run by young, arrogant snots. Though Company settles for raising a few issues before retreating into a familiar formula route, it's refreshing to see what could have been another dopey piece of Hollywood claptrap attempt to confront a contemporary issue at all.

Our story concerns Every Dad Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), a great guy with a great sales job at a great sports magazine. Dan's on top of the world until life throws him two curveballs in a matter of days; his wife, who thought she had begun menopause, is pregnant, and his job is in jeopardy following the sale of his company to a massive multi-national corporation headed by the shadowy Teddy P. (Malcolm McDowell).

Even worse, following the merger, Dan's job is taken by young upstart Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) who, can you believe it, actually begins to date his fetching co-ed daughter Alex (the enormously fetching Scarlett Johannson).

And that's about it for story, really. Weitz' script is really an extended sitcom, developing a high-concept situation and then playing the characters off one another. And that's totally fine with me - plenty of great films have been made from what amount to sitcom premises, from Caddyshack to American Beauty. But, like most network sitcoms, the writing here is pretty slack. For a comedy, the film has a severe lack of actual jokes, or even humorous set-ups. I understand that the comedy is meant to flow from the characters, rather than elaborate gags or Farrelly Brothers style shenanigans.

But the dialogue takes on something of a drone after a while - the film is filled with appealing, likable and certainly attractive people, but they rarely struck me as particularly clever or even very smart. And in a film like this, driven by nothing so much as the main relationships between characters, witty dialogue could have helped enormously.

There are likewise some major problems on a conceptual level. In particular, it's hard to believe that Grace's character has risen so quickly through the corporate ranks to be able to take over as head of the ad department of a major, Sports Illustrated-esque publication. His performance retains all the twitchy uncertainty of his Eric Foreman character on "That 70's Show." As well, at around the hour mark, the film completely switches gears, moving its focus from the growing bond between Dan and Carter to the romantic entanglement of Carter and Alex. Though Grace and Johannson do their best with the material, there's very little actual chemistry between them on screen, a problem magnified by the overuse of dippy, stock montages showing the two of them falling for one another.

The shift in focus likewise robs the film of its greatest strength, the Dennis Quaid performance. In the past few years, Quaid has made something of a comeback to big-time acting after spending most of the 90's muddling about in a string of forgettable duds (Dragonheart, I'm looking in your direction). In Good Company features some of his strongest work to date. Dan Foreman as written could have been a dreadfully dull character - he's so nice and good and reliable, he could be played either as some sort of fantastical saint or as, well, a moron.

But Quaid takes a different tack, instilling him with a temper and also a wry sense of humor. There's just enough of a dark side there to make him interesting, and almost all of the film's best moments involve little notes Quaid adds to elevate the material. (One example: during a very typical movie "dinner scene," Carter accidentally spills a soda all over Dan. It's a dumb visual joke, but Quaid adds just the right mixture of frustration and self-effacing humor, and gets one of the film's biggest laughs.)

Though I've always liked Quaid as an actor, I can't say his latest string of films instills me with confidence. Hopefully, he'll attach himself to another project like Traffic or Far From Heaven, something that really gives him something to work with, a character worth playing. I can see what attracted him to this film - how often do movie stars get to play Regular Joes with real jobs dealing with the everyday struggles of modern life honestly? Never. But this script needed another few polishes before being ready for Prime Time.

One final note about the direction: it pretty much stinks. I was not a huge fan of About a Boy, but it was a film with a solid visual look that was efficiently, professionally made. The pacing in In Good Company feels frightfully sluggish, particularly during the final 20 minutes. In part, this is due to the aforementioned overuse of montages, that continually take you out of the action of the movie. There's not a memorable shot or interesting image in the movie, really, and nary an attempt to make it look like a film as opposed to a TV sitcom. It's a film practically designed to watch on a small TV in your bedroom on HBO some day.

As well, though Stephen Trask is credited for providing original music, most of the film's soundtrack includes poorly-chosen indie rock songs that don't really relate to the action of the film. This is particularly odd considering that perhaps the most memorable aspect of About a Boy was the terrific use of an original soundtrack by indie rocker Badly Drawn Boy. Here, songs by The Shins and Soundtrack of Our Lives are thrown about willy-nilly, whether or not they relate at all to the action on screen. It's strange and distracting. Why not just have a nice original piece of music to offset the action?