Saturday, February 12, 2005

Arts and Lovecrafts

I came to H.P. Lovecraft's writing later in life than most. The typical Lovecraft fan, as best I can tell, discovered horror's most baroque stylist as a teen, still open to the endless possibilities of fiction and not jaded enough to recognize overripe prose. I didn't discover The Call of Cthulhu until college, and was able to understand the author for what he is: a brilliant mind limited by merely adequate writing ability. His imagination was filled with such immense, immaculate horrors, no words could ever satisfactorily convey them to an audience. So, he had to content himself with obsessive, wordy catalogues of obscure adjectives, describing the undescribable.

This is not to say I don't enjoy the man's stories. I love them. In fact, I find him an infinitely more interesting horror writer than most contemporary standard-bearers of the genre, your Stephen Kings, Dean Koontzes, Peter Straubs or Clive Barkers. King's got a tremendous ability with characters, and Barker's just an incredibly fucked up guy, but none of them can match the silly, giddy thrills of "Pickman's Model," my favorite Lovecraft story.

Most Lovecraft fans would choose one of his more mythological titles, I suspect, dealing with Cthulhu and the other sinister gods that inhabit a thoroughly repugnant nether-world of eternal fire and tentacled malfeasance. These are the god-monsters that inspired the demons in Hellboy, that are immediately associated with the adjective "Lovecraftian," that even have adorable plush toy versions of their hideous forms.

But I like "Pickman's Model" because of the perfect simplicity of the set-up. This story should be read by anyone wanting to write horror stories. An artist resents his colleague, Pickman, a man who miraculously fills his portraits with eerie, lifelike creatures that are (as always) too malformed and ugly to describe. One day, Pickman grants him access to his home, and reveals the secret of his magnificent, horrible abilities. And it's.....

NO, NO, I can't spoil it for you. But it's cool. And the whole story is filled with Lovecraft's patented overheated prose. An example, you say? Well, if you insist, here's the narrator describing one of Pickman's paintings:

There's no use in my trying to tell you what they were like, because the awful, the blasphemous horror, and the unbelievable loathsomeness and moral foetor came from simple touches quite beyond the power of words to classify. There was none of the exotic technique you see in Sidney Sime, none of the trans-Saturnian landscapes and lunar fungi that Clark Ashton Smith uses to freeze the blood. The backgrounds were mostly old churchyards, deep woods, cliffs by the sea, brick tunnels, ancient panelled rooms, or simple vaults of masonry. The madness and monstrosity lay in the figures in the foreground- for Pickman's morbid art was pre-eminently one of demoniac portraiture.

How awesome is that? By the way, if you want to read the whole story, it's on the Web here.

It occured to me to write about my enjoyment of Lovecraft both because I never write about literature on this blog, preferring to talk endlessly about portable toilets toppling down hillsides or products that dry out your vagina, and because Salon just ran this half-assed takedown of the man's work. They do their usual Salon straddle-the-line thing, assuring us that, even though they're smart enough to recognize he's no good, he's kind of historically important so it's okay to like him.

Screw that, I say. He may not be technically proficient. He may be campy. His stories might not even be all that scary. It's not William Faulkner, folks, they're just spooky stories. I say, enjoy them for what they are.

I don't want to sound like a shill or anything, and I don't get a damn dime out of this, but if you want to read some Lovecraft, this is the Amazon link for the first Lovecraft edition I purchased. It's a terrific introduction to the man's catalog.

Dean Elected Chairman of the DNC

Leave it to Howard Dean. He comes from behind, following his horrific burnout during the Democratic primary, to win the top post in the Democratic National Committee, and this is the first press photo released. It looks like he's being attacked from behind by a gay penguin. That, or he's doing his best Yakov Smirinoff impression. Or he's telling everyone about that time he "caught a fish this big."

And look at his predecessor, poor Terry McAuliffe, smiling through the tears. I saw him give an interview a few weeks ago where he genuinely seemed incredulous about being replaced. The guy's lost, what, 500 elections at this point? If this were any other industry than politics, he'd have been shitcanned faster than you can say "unfortunate downsizing of leadership personnel."


Check out this e-mail I just received from my father, copied with no changes from Gmail here to my blog.

I liked your letter; check for typos! Keep sending these things out...the more you send the bettert your chances.

Check for typos, it betterts your chances. Great advice, Pop!

Oh, I'm just kidding. I tease the old man, but I don't really mean it.

And he's right, by the way. In my excitement to get stuff down on paper and send it out, my writing's often littered with easy-to-fix mistakes I just miss. You've surely noticed this if you check out The Inertia with any frequency. Most of these articles have about 10 times as many commas as required, and I probably write "teh" as often as its correctly-spelled counterpart.

It's odd - I find it exceptionally easy to proofread the work of others, both in terms of grammar and style.

But when it comes to my own writing, I'm utterly blind to any and all errors that may occur. It's like, some buried part of my brain refuses to believe it could ever possibly make an error. "I wrote this? It must be pure gold!"

Friday, February 11, 2005

Great Horror Films

So, someone stopped by a previous post and asked me to write up my Top Ten Horror Films of All Time list. This is an extraordinarily hard list to compile. Horror might be my favorite genre, and many horror films rank among my favorite movies of all time.

Adding to the difficulty, there are several types of horror films, and each variety provides its own distinct pleasures. How to compare a cerebral, idea-driven horror film like Dead Ringers to a slasher movie in the Halloween vein? It's nearly impossible.

So, instead of a traditional Top 10, I'm going to give you a list of terrific horror films and then tell you why they deserve a ranking on the list. It will make your trip to the video store more difficult, perhaps, but elucidate more about these films than any numerical listing could ever provide.

So, without further ado, here is the Crushed by Inertia presentation of:

Great Horror Films, According to Me

The Shining (1980)

This one will find a spot on any reputable list of the greatest horror films ever. Stanley Kubrick's chilling take on psychosis, alcoholism and the plight of the American family man just gets under your skin right away. The relatively simple story about a family trapped in a haunted, snowed-in hotel is filled with memorable imagery - elevators leaking blood, ghostly little girls taunting a young boy, Jack Nicholson chasing his family around like an axe-wielding maniac.

But what sticks with me the most about The Shining isn't the voilent conclusion but the feeling of inevitability that hangs over the entire film, from the very first scene onward. We hear about Jack's history of violence with his son, Danny, not to shed light on his character but to warn us. This will happen again. When Scatman Crothers' cook discovers the young Danny has ESP, he uses the opportunity to warn him - use this gift when you get in trouble.

Is this a comment about alcoholism? That addicts are doomed to repeat a endless, destructive cycle? I'm not sure. But whatever it is, it makes the whole film difficult to watch, intrinsically unsettling. This is quite possibly my favorite horror film of all time.

Repulsion (1965)

We're hitting up some of the unquestioned classics of the genre first. This Roman Polanski entry stars Catherine Deneuve as a seriously troubled young women who goes insane while spending a week alone in her apartment. She normally lives with her sister, you see, who has just gotten married. So when Big Sis goes on her honeymoon, Carole is left to her own devices. She begs off of work for the week and locks herself inside the apartment, beginning a process of mental deterioration that will end with her turning homicidal.

Polanski's film works for two reasons: we're only granted Carole's perspective on the events as they unfold, and Carole's bizarre thought processes are never explained. It's clear that Carole fears men (the "repulsion" of the title), and a few times, it appears she may have been raped or assaulted sexually, but there are no gimmickly flashbacks or emotional breakdowns to reveal the truth. Carole simply is who she is - a woman terrified of male contact - and the film asks us to fill in the rest.

By the final act, when the light of the real world once more penetrates the dark hovel in which Carole has spent her time, we're surprised by just how far she's sunk, even though we were there with her the entire time. It's a brilliant performance by Deneuve, manic, crazy, non-verbal and yet somehow sympathetic.

May (2002)

And now, let's jump ahead to 2002, to this phenomenal debut film from Lucky McKee. May is a wonderful genre mash-up, combining the oddball charm of Ghost World or Rushmore with the spastic malevolence of the best 80's slasher films. It's filled with terrific, oddball characters and goofy dialogue, but there's more going on in this underrated indie than meets the gouged-out eye.

Angela Bettis' May is a one-of-a-kind film creation. She's a cute, likable freak, the sort of girl you'd meet and flirt with for a few minutes before discovering that she's hopelessly insane. All May wants is a little companionship, but her innate weirdness keeps freaking people out, causing them to leave her and occasionally treat her very cruelly. What else is she to do but butcher them and pack them in her cooler?

McKee has a sense of humor that's darker than most. Dark comedy usually plays on the absurd morbidity of a situation. A good example would be Peter Berg's somewhat underrated Very Bad Things. A group of friends freak out about having accidentally murdered a prostitute, and argue about what to do with the body. It's funny because these are neurotic middle-aged family men suddenly thrust in a violent, horrific situation with which they can't cope. Most movie characters know what to do when there's a dead body, but not these suburban office jockeys.

May doesn't go down this road for a moment. It has a character who's exceptionally comfortable around blood, gore and horror. Who craves it in a way. It's funny because no one else in the movie realizes that they're dealing with a psychopath, and not just some weird goth chick. McKee is one of the very few filmmakers who could get a laugh out of a roomfull of blind kids crawling over glass, but God bless him, he does.

Don't Look Now (1973)

I've mentioned this film a few times before on the blog. It's not a horror movie in the traditional things-coming-out-and-shocking-you mold. It's much more about mood, along the lines of Amenabar's The Others or Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone. Parents Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie lost their daughter in a tragic drowning accident, and now, months later, they're haunted by her memory during a trip to Venice.

Christie's character meets an elderly pair of sisters, one of whom claims to have psychic contact with the dead girl. Sutherland wants to hear nothing about it, insisting to his wife that their daughter is dead and gone forever. But then he begins seeing her dashing about between canals in her bright red raincoat.

Director Nicholas Roeg kind of borrows these elements from traditional horror films, without really embracing them as his own. His film concerns itself much more with the marriage at its center, and how the pain of their shared loss has driven Christie and Sutherland apart. The sudden re-entrance of their daughter into their lives could either renew their bond and bring them closer together or finally pull them apart forever. I'll leave you to discover which.

Videodrome (1983)

The first of two twisted, ingenius David Cronenberg masterworks on this list. James Woods stars in the role he was born to play, pervy creep Max Renn. Renn programs a small UHF station, mainly with smutty content illegally pulled off of international satellite broadcasts. He comes across a program, sent out from a location he can't identify, called "Videodrome," that appears to be a snuff film.

It turns out, "Videodrome" is a mind-control tool, created by a whacked out inventor to produce "video hallucinations," but then hijacked by a villainous corporation for use as a weapon. Now that Max has seen "Videodrome," he's become something of a programmed assassin, at the mercy of his unknown masters.

The film was notable in its time (1983) for its groundbreaking make-up and special effects, done in part by Rick Baker (who has also worked on Star Wars, American Werewolf in London, Men in Black, The Ring, The Frighteners and Hellboy, among others). Max's "video hallucinations" involve all manner of horrific images. He sees a videotape made of breathing, flesh-like material. He sees a cavity open up in his own chest, into which videotapes can be inserted. And he sees all manner of violent sex fantasies acted out before him, sometimes involving him and his fantasy woman (played by Deborah Harry of Blondie).

These effects are squishy, gooey, and gross, and they have an added visceral effect on the viewer because they're real, not CG. As sophisticated as digital imaging technology has become, there's something about practical special effects created by the human hand that's simply more disgusting than anything created on a machine has yet become.

Like all Cronenberg films, the horror of the situation comes from within Max, from watching him deteriorate over time. He loses control over both his physical form and his mental state, and as he's manipulated by strange forces from afar, we begin to feel confused, almost dizzy from the gruesome visuals and the stacatto, underexplained narrative. This is an intensely disturbing, dense and difficult film, but it's worth the effort.

The Fly (1986)

The second Cronenberg film on this list has been his biggest box office success to date, so it's fairly well-known. Seth Brundle's accident, mixing up his genetics with that of a common housefly, has become something of a pop culture touchstone, making it into, among other things, an episode of The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween special.

Which is all the more surprising when you consider the troubling, dark nature of the original film. Soon after Brundle's accident, he starts adding new deformities and mutations by the second, and though his girlfriend (Geena Davis) wants to stand by his side, eventually she's as disgusted by this freak as the audience, and must leave him.

I've read people theorizing that the film works as a metaphor for AIDS. Brundle contracts his "problem," begins to physically fall apart, and eventually his lover leaves him because she can't stand to see him in weakened form. It holds together, for the most part, but the film, to me, says more about Brundle's single-minded devotion to his craft. We've all heard the phrase "giving his body for science," but here's a man actually willing to go for it on a literal level.

And, of course, the movie plays with Cronenberg's ongoing obsession with technology and biology's strange interrelation. Brundle gets into this situation in the first place attempting to teach his computer about the strange properties of human flesh. Just as "Long Live the New Flesh" becomes a refrain in Videodrome, so do all of Brundle's innovations depend on instructing technology to understand the intricate, strange nature of human life.

Dead Alive (1992)

Okay, so that's enough serious, thought-provoking horror for the moment. Let's move on to some fun stuff. Peter Jackson's zombie comedy Dead Alive is about as close as anyone has ever come to making live-action Looney Tunes. This film is a pure assualt of comic carnage, with spectacular effects work by the WETA company that would later gain worldwide acclaim for its work on Lord of the Rings.

But here, it's less about larger-than-life monsters (although there is one), and more about dizzying amounts of airborne viscera. When the nebbishly Lionel discovers that his mother has become a zombie, his first reaction is not to exterminate her, but go on serving her in death as he did in life. Even after she goes on a rampage creating more zombies, he can't bear to even tell anyone, preferring to lock her up in his basement.

Soon enough, half the town has become an army of the undead, and Lionel's only escape is to, well, churn them up with his lawn mower. Or force their limbs into a blender. Or rip their heads off with a fork. Or even have a kung fu fight with them in a graveyard. Like Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 or Jackson's later The Frighteners, there's so much gore on display, it becomes humorous rather than disgusting after about 2 minutes. This is maybe the least disgusting disgusting movie ever made.

Evil Dead 2 (1987)

And, of course, I had to mention this standard-bearer of the comedy/horror genre. Bruce Campbell remains a geek god to this very day because of Sam Raimi's low-budget romp. As Ash, Bruce opens up the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, and then faces off against some sort of ancient evil, hiding deep in the woods.

The first Evil Dead movie told this story essentially straight (though Campbell's always one to add a dash of sly humor). But the sequel keeps getting bigger and zanier until the entire enterprise becomes a slapstick farce, kind of like Bringing Up Baby if it involved an army of zombies and a power capable of slamming into trees.

Plus, the soundtrack kicks ass. And Bruce Campbell has to chainsaw his own hand off. You can't beat that.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

I said The Shining was probably my favorite horror movie of all time. This one might get my vote for "The Scariest." Tobe Hooper's film is so unflinching, so gritty and so immediate, it puts most traditional Hollywood scare machines to shame. Has any horror filmmaker in history put a low budget to better use? Hooper's film would look all wrong with slick cinematography and professional actors (as Marcus Nispel's failed remake proved last year).

We follow around a nondescript group of hippies traveling through Texas in a van who run afoul of a family of cannibalistic redneck whackjobs, headed up by a guy in a mask made of human flesh named Leatherface. In one sequence, featuring some of the most unforgettable mise-en-scene in horror film history, Marilyn Burns stumbles into a room where all the furniture has been fashioned from human bones and body parts. This is what horror films are all about - giving you a glimpse, an image, of insanity, and then letting you mull it over for a while.

There's very little resolution to the film, which left it open to inferior sequels but also adds to the film's overall mystique. Leatherface, according to the mythology, is still out there in Travis County, swinging his chainsaw around and looking for attractive teens to gut. So, try to stay on the main roads.

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter made a whole pile of films in the 1970's and 80's that I greatly admire and enjoy. Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live. But this entry tops them all. It features outstanding special effects from Rob Bottin, the single greatest Kurt Russell performance of all time, and a remarkably adept supporting cast including Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart and the always-entertaining Keith David. You know Keith David, people. He's the guy in Something About Mary who asks Ben Stiller if it's "the franks or the beans?"

Anyway, The Thing is a remake of an old horror film I haven't ever bothered to see but really should. In involves an alien who has crashed to Earth in Antarctica, and who possesses the unique ability to meld with any living thing it comes in contact with and steal its form. When a team of researchers and sub-military guys from a nearby station discover the creature, it turns them against one another. After all, if this Thing can look like anything it wants, what's to stop it from impersonating one of the crew members.

The Thing slowly winnows the team down, and even when it leaves some people alive, they can't be sure who's real and who's an alien. So the whole film works constantly on multiple levels; most horror movies just give you a monster running around that everyone has to avoid, but this one takes the monster and puts him in the hideout along with all the characters. They're running from everything, both outside and in, and Carpenter really works overtime to bleed all the tension he can from the situation.

Plus, Bottin's effects are just jaw-dropping. Russell is constantly interrupting the alien halfway through its assimilation process, creating all sorts of freakish biological material, most memorably a head with spindly legs spiking out of it. He also worked on Total Recall, which used oozing detritus with somewhat less success.

The Creeping Flesh (1973)

The Hammer Company in England made tons of terrific horror films all through the 50's and 60's, right through the 70's. The most memorable of these films combine the talents of legendary actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, both best-known in this country for their work in George Lucas' Star Wars series (and, for Lee, anyway, for his contribution to the Lord of the Rings series as Saruman).

I'd recommend all of the Cushing-Lee Hammer team-ups, especially 1958's The Horror of Dracula and 1959's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Several of the films in which they appeared independently are terrific as well, like The Evil of Frankenstein, which stars Cushing or Taste the Blood of Dracula, which only stars Lee.

This is among my favorite of the team-ups, made by the two actors in the immediate post-Hammer era, and it's little-seen so I thought I'd feature it above one of the more famous entries.

The film stars Cushing as a Victorian-era researcher who made a bizarre find during a trip to Papua New Guinea. It appears to be a bone, but when water is spilled on top, flesh begins to grow out from the bone and create some sort of life-form. Lee plays Cushing's confidant, who heads up an aslyum and has begun work on a volume about the origin of insanity.

And the whole thing unravels from there. Soon, the bone has become a voracious monster roaming the countryside, making Cushing afraid for his well-being and that of his comely daughter. The film uses the trappings of a horror film to really explore the sexual repression and mysogeny of the Victorian era. Cushing goes mad in an attempt to "save" his daughter from "the creeping flesh," clearly meant to be hysteria about her reaching sexual maturity, even going so far as to inject her with an "anti-evil vaccine." Well, the allegorical ramifications of all this activity, I leave to you to decide.

Suffice it to say, this is a wonderfully made film with a lot on its mind, and of course, terrific, Grand Guginol performances from Lee and Cushing. Director Freddie Francis was a cinematographer initially, and helmed some of the best-looking of the Hammer and post-Hammer films, including the aforementioned The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, and Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Every movie dork worth his salt knows George Romero's zombie satire Dawn of the Dead backwards and forwards. It's the greatest zombie film ever made. Romero didn't invent zombies, exactly, but he defined what they are, how they work, why they're here and what we can do about them for an entire generation of filmmakers and zombie fans.

This was his follow-up to the more straight-ahead scares of Night of the Living Dead. That film contains its share of social commentary, no doubt, but it's also made up of fairly elemental horror film stuff - an isolated cabin, a few lone survivors, a menace terrorizing everything just outside the door. Dawn of the Dead really opens up the universe. We open with zombies taking over the world, not just a cemetary or farm. A few survivors manage to escape in a helicopter, headed for parts unknown, and they stop on the roof of a shopping mall to gather supplies.

As the heroes attempt to outlast the zombies in the mall, they are foiled by a reckless gang of bikers (headed by Tom Savini, who headed the film's make-up and effects team) who themselves seek refuge inside the walls of the shopping center. The set-up allows Romero to explore not just the nature of zombie-dom, but get in some real sharp digs at modern America's consumerist society. During an early scene, when someone wonders aloud why zombies would gravitate towards a mall, it's suggested that they work on instinct. "This was a place that was important in their daily lives." And the shots of zombies awkwardly lurching about to the strains of muzak speak for themselves.

Savini famously said he wanted the gore in Dawn of the Dead to resemble the corpses he had seen during his service in the Vietnam War, and while I can't say the effects ever look realistic, they are incredibly vivid and memorable. Early on in the film, a zombie takes a bite out of a man's arm, and Savini gets the consistancy of the flesh just right.

Carrie (1976)

The second Stephen King adaptation on the list, this is another film that rises far above the rather pedestrian nature of its source material. (Hey, that's not a was, after all, King's first published book).

Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie both have the roles of their careers in Brian De Palma's hyper-sexual, over-the-top take on King's novel about a shy young girl with telepathic powers. Carrie's meekness is tied instantly to her blossoming womanhood, and her "powers" express all the passion she's forced to bottle up around her unstable, overzealously religious mother. When she's really set off by a prank concocted by the popular crowd (portrayed by newcomer John Travolta and De Palma mainstay Nancy Allen), the result is fiery death for just about everyone at the prom.

The fantasy of every misunderstood, unpopular high school girl writ large, Carrie is a film that sticks with you, both because of De Palma's technical mastery and Spacek's otherworldly, sensitive performance.

Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning made Freaks with a bunch of real sideshow performers in 1932, with few effects, only one year after directing the classic Dracula, and it's among the creepiest, most successful horror movies I've ever seen. The story of a beautiful trapeze artist transformed into the hideous Feathered Hen by a group of nefarious midgets and weirdos shocked audiences in its day, and it's still a shocking as ever.

Part of the effect of the film, it must be said, is exploitative. Browning cast real "freaks" in the film to shock his audience, and a lot of the reaction to the film comes from seeing these deformities projected on the big screen. There are Siamese Twins, a girl with no arms who does everything with her feet, and Johnny Eck, known to the world as Half-Boy. Many of the freaks give sensitive, nuanced performances, but it's difficult to see them as real people in a film that casts them as sinister mutants.

Much about Freaks has become the stuff of legend, particularly the unsettling "one of us" chant the freaks give to Cleopatra after accepting her into their fold. And the message isn't all bad - she is punished in the end because of her inability to accept the freaks as fellow people. There's at least some level of understanding here, a level of maturity not present in most other horror filmmaking of the time.

The Ring (2002)

My father reminded me this evening that I forgot to include Gore Verbinski's entirely successful American adaptation of The Ring to this list. I enjoyed this version a good deal more than the Japanese version, Ringu, whose director will helm the upcoming American sequel. How confusing...

Anyway, Verbinski kept what I enjoyed about the Japanese film - the eerie mystery that permeates everything about the videotape, and the unsettling effect of a barely-seen girl with hair covering her eyes - and made the entire enterprise bigger and more atmospheric. Plus he added the extraordinarily easy on the eyes Naomi Watts to the mix, and some of the most crisp, dark, sleek cinematography of any recent American film.

A journalist investigates a strange videotape that kills anyone who watches it within the span of seven days. This extremely basic story evolves simply, directly over the course of around 90 minutes, leading to a conclusion that feels creepy, yes, but also rote. And just when you think it's all over, the movie takes a shocking, unexpected left turn, and ends with a genuine surprise. And the final "scare" scene, in which a member of the undead propels itself through a TV screen in dramatic fashion, surely ranks among the best such sequences in any horror film this decade.

Rear Window (1954)

I initially thought to exclude Hitch from this list. Not Alfred Hitchcock...Will Smith's character from the delightful new romantic comedy of the same name.

No, I'm kidding. Alfred Hitchcock.

Anyway, I was going to leave him out because I don't really consider his movies to be "horror films" in any traditional sense. They're marvelous movies of which I'm quite fond, but most of them seem to balance the suspense, thriller and comedy genres, without ever making a movie into territory that could be considered scary or horrifying. And most of my favorite Hitchcock movies don't really deal with horror material at all, they're psychological portraits like Vertigo, Marnie, Rope or Notorious.

But Rear Window would certainly qualify as a horror film. It includes a somewhat shocking murder, a lot of suspicion and nerve-rattling near-misses, and a finale that could be considered "scary," particularly if you're under 10 years of age.

Anyway, I don't need to waste a lot of space on why Rear Window is a complete classic. You can check any number of fine movie sites for this information. I've always enjoyed it because of the Jimmy Stewart performance, and his easy interplay with Grace Kelly. These two are so natural together on screen, and share such comraderie (more than, say, Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo), you instantly begin to root for them. So, when Hitch rattles up the tension in the final act, it's all the more dramatic and exciting. Plus, this has some of the most crafty, ingenius framing and cinematography in film history. Almost all the shots look out at the apartment complex through Stewart's window, putting you in his isolated, cramped living quarters to the point of claustrophobia.

A Very Long Engagement

I love Amelie. Love it. And I don't usually go in for adorable movies. Generally, when I can identify that a film has its sights set on cuteness, I zone out. This is why most Hollywood romantic comedies don't work for me; they're always about plucky, overly-cute types whom I begin to loathe within the first 10 minutes or so of the film.

But Amelie is different. Clearly, direction Jean-Pierre Jeunet aims to make the film adorable, taking his, well, plucky heroine on a journey of self-discovery. She realizes that her passion for helping others shouldn't prevent her from making herself happy. If there's a more cute storyline for a romantic film set in a dreamy fantasy version of Paris, I haven't thought it up.

With A Very Long Engagement, Jeunet switches gears, from France as a romantic idyll full of chance coincidences and bustling life to France as a war-torn field of fire, with the city walls of Paris providing a melancholy and impermanent solace from the hell outside. But though the time period and urgency of the situation has changed, Jeunet's new film keeps what makes his previous fantasies so light and entertaining. He has crafted an exceptional war film, balancing the unspeakable horrors of battle with the optimistic hopes nestled in the heart of every soldier - that he will go home again, that things will return to normal, that he will be reunited with his one true love.

Jeunet's film is admirable for its scope and magnitude. In just over two hours, we meet dozens of soldiers, soldier's wives, Parisians, detectives, carpenters, whores and on and on and on. This is in addition to a couple outrageously gruesome battle scenes, a storyline about a serial killer taking out prominent French officers, and an incredible set-piece in which a hydrogen-filled zeppelin collides with a bomb, setting an entire warehouse ablaze.

Everything ties together through the odyssey of one woman, a cripple named Mathilde (played by Amelie star Audrey Tautou). Her soft-spoken, "simple" lover Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) has been arrested at the French front for intentionally injuring his own hand (he holds it up over the trench for a German sniper to see). In 1917, he was sentenced to death and thrown out of the French trench, to fend for himself in the battle-torn field between the French and German forces known as no-man's-land.

Now, it is 1920, and Mathlide has no real reason to hope that her lover is alive. As her parents died in an accident during her youth, he lives with her aunt and uncle, an amusing pair who provide the film with much-needed comic relief. But she's a superstitous girl, and believes that somehow, she'd know that her lover had died. So she sets out to use all of her inheritance money to find Manech, or at least find out what happened to him after being sent out of the trench.

And this provides the format of the movie, just as it does with Citizen Kane. The truth is slowly uncovered, but only after hearing the personal accounts of a variety of witnesses, from the French soldier who brought Manech hot chocolate before his sentence to the prostitute who loved another one of the condemned men to a German woman whose lover told her of the sweet Frenchman carving his names onto a burned-out tree in the middle of a war zone.

And these accounts often take us far away from the simple story of Mathlide and Manech. This is really the power of Jeunet's film. He's unafraid to digress, to distract the audience with a variety of stories rather than focusing on his main narrative. In this way, he's made a film about the whole of France in the aftermath of WWI, and the horrible toll the war took on the lives of every single citizen.

In Amelie, there's a memorable sequence in which Tautou's character wonders aloud how many people are having an orgasm right at that moment. We then cut to a lightning-fast montage of a variety of unknown couples engaging in the sex act, after which Amelie reveals to the camera that the answer is 15 (or 14...I haven't seen the movie in a while). A Very Long Engagement seems to ask us the question, "How many people in France have lost someone important in battle?" And the answer is "all of them."

But, as I said, despite the violence of the battle scenes and the pessimism which Mathlide repeatedly encounters, this is a charming, hopeful film. All the scenes of Paris are shot with a soft golden glow, in contrast to the dark blues and greys of the front lines. And though the viewer is given no greater indication of Manech's fate than Mathilde, we come to share her optimism despite all the evidence. Each new clue brings Mathlide closer to Manech, and us closer to Mathlide.

Part of the film's success of course comes from its amazing visual effects, lovely cinematography and absolutely fantastic art direction (nominated this year for a much-deserved Academy Award). This competes with Sky Captain for the title of Best Looking Film of the Year. But the amazing effects work (just look at that shot above with Mathlide at the lighthouse! Amazing!) never overpowers the real human sentiment on screen.

Jeunet has made a film overflowing with intelligence, creativity and stunning designs. Just as the major plot point becomes a puzzle - how could a French soldier survive standing up in front of enemy lines - the movie itself is filled with little tricks, riddles and "games." At one point, a man is shot by a gun tied to a woman's belt, triggered by the chain on her glasses. In another scene, an off-key music box hides a secret message. And I've already mentioned that incredible sequence where a zeppelin slowly drifts upwards, nearly colliding with a bomb. The craftsmanship required to pull these sequences off, to not tire the audience with an endless string of overdone set pieces, amazed me to no end.

Because of his love for humanity and above all his clever, quirky style, Jeunet has made a war film with more impact and hope than any other in recent memory. Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan opens with a grandiose display of technical and filmmaking ability of the highest order, but fell apart when it tried to explore the changes war brings about in those who fight. Terrance Malick's The Thin Red Line gives us a few great battle scenes, but the sequences with the soldiers are bloated, silly and self-important. But here is a film that unflinchingly shows us brutality in the same sequence with true love, that dares to connect the numbing destruction of one of the 20th Century's most brutal conflicts with the romantic character of the French people.

This is an incredible film. I sense another update will be necessary in my Top Ten of the year list.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I Cross the Line, Pt. 2

Oh, man...I know I keep promising to class things up around here, but the fact is, once you get into checking FARK every day, the temptation is to take it as far as it can go.

I've mentioned FARK to you before. It's basically a depository of funny websites, updated several million times a day for the amusement of dorks, nerds, spazzes and anyone else stuck behind a computer terminal at work all day. It's where I found the charming anecdote about the man who severed his own testicles following a football (that's soccer to us Yanks) victory the other day, and it's where I found the scintillating tidibt below.

A New York man has fallen down a large hill in a portable toilet.

Looking to either buy or sell dirt, plaintiff Joseph A. Fascenelli stopped by a construction site in Katonah where defendant Eric Asher Co., Inc., was constructing three homes, according to Fascenelli v. Eric Asher Co., Inc., 1503/02.

Mr. Fascenelli spoke with a laborer then asked to use the portable toilet. After entering, he felt the toilet tip outward. It fell down a hill, causing unspecified injuries. In addition, "[e]verything was exhausted from the pot on top of me," Mr. Fascenelli testified.

If there's ever a news article written about me that gets national attention, I hope it doesn't open with the phrase "looking to either buy or sell dirt." I guess if the end of that sentence is, "...a Los Angeles man discovered a cave filled with millions of dollars and thankful porn stars." But that wouldn't make the newspaper, because I'd never tell anybody. That'd be my little secret.

But I digress. Wait, before I go back to the topic at hand, "looking to buy or sell dirt"? Which is it? Either he has dirt to sell or he fucking needs dirt. What is this guy, trading in dirt commodities? He's increasing his supply, hoping the price of dirt is going to go up? Retard.

But that's not even the funny part of the article. The guy wants to buy or sell dirt, takes a breather in a Port-a-Potty and then that mobile restroom actually takes a plunge down a hill. And then he says, "everything was exhausted from the pot on top of me," which is a very genteel way of saying, "I was covered in construction worker doody."

Which, by the way, is another sentence I'd rather not see in a news article about myself.

And now he's suing the construction company. He better make some money out of it, because in order to sue, he's had to tell the entire world about what's got to be the most disgusting, embarrassing thing that's ever happened to him. Imagine this happened to you. You go to this construction site, you use their john, you get their feces all over you...they're probably laughing, you're humiliated, you've got to scrub yourself down for hours to get that smell out. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not telling a soul about this. I'm taking this shit to my grave. Literally.

This guy sees a potential jackpot, though, so he goes off and gets a lawyer. Makes sense, though it's got to be a weird consultation. That's one of many reasons I could never be a lawyer - a potential client comes in and tells me he wants to sue the construction company that bought a faulty Port-a-Potty that spilled its contents onto my head following a traumatic fall, I'm gonna laugh. Or at least chuckle. And that's money right out the window. No, I better stick to video store clerking.

Romanian Techno Sweeping the Nation

This is genuinely weird, folks. I'm creeped out.

There's a video circulating on the Internet of a fat guy dancing on his webcam to a Romanian techno song. See it here.

Okay, so far, nothing weird. Hysterically funny, yes. But weird, no. What's weird is that I know this Romanian techno song. My friend John has been bumping it for months now, ever since his (I believe) Polish friends introduced it to him. He plays it in his car, in his apartment while he's playing Monkey Ball on the Gamecube, everywhere. He even e-mailed me this very video last week.

Of course, since it's the song he plays all the time, I assumed it was someone he knows dancing to the song. But apparently, it's not. It's just a coincidence. And now even Andrew Sullivan, noted gay conservative semi-retired blogger, has a link to it on his site. It's a strange day when e-mails from my friend John scoop one of the biggest blogs in the country.

And while we're talking about major news media being scooped by Crushed by Inertia, anyone else notice that the Jeff Gannon story I told you about yesterday made the front page of Yahoo today?

The Isle

So, after enjoying Kim Ki-Duk's majestic Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall...and Spring from earlier this year, I had to check out the guy's other films. And the only other one available at Laser Blazer is this 2000 thriller, an allegorical horror story also set on an isolated Korean lake.

Ex-cop Hyun-Shik has come to the lake to escape some sort of violent trouble back in civilization. He has violent dreams and lives in constant fear of being seen, but beyond that, there's no information provided about his background. Attractive mute girl Hee-Jin runs something of a flophouse atop the lake, renting out floating candy-colored cabins to fisherman and dropouts. If the money's right, she'll even provide them with sexual favors, or at the very least, call on local prostitutes to get the job done.

Immediately, it's clear that she's fallen for Hyun-Shik, and this is where the problems begin. He's aloof, she's practically a stalker, and they seem unable to connect despite sharing a strong mutual attraction.

And beyond these loose narrative threads, that's all The Isle offers in the way of narrative. It's clearly an allegorical film, meant to be taken more as a parable about male-female relationships and human sexuality than as a story with a beginning, middle and end. But the performances are so good, and the storytelling so acute, you almost wish Ki-Duk would abandon his Big Message. The more peculiar and subjective the story becomes, the less focused his direction becomes. By the film's "twist" ending, I found myself at first bewildered by the apparent lack of meaning, but finally unconcerned.

This is not to say The Isle isn't worth a viewing. Like Spring, Summer, Ki-Duk's masterpiece from this past year, the film boasts stupendous cinematography, bringing its bucolic setting to detailed, beautiful life. The gentle rocking of the waves offsets the tumultuous aggression within the cabins, and the sight of a row of pink, purple and yellow houses resting lightly atop a mist-capped lagoon is one I'm not likely to forget any time soon. Part of the magic of international cinema is its ability to transport a scruffy, non-worldy American like myself to this sort of hidden vista, a place and time that, only 100 short years ago, it would have been impossible for me to ever gaze upon. It's easy to forget about the simple beauty of film imagery in this era of quick cuts and CGI, but seeing a film like The Isle, so taken with the meaning and significance of the visual world, serves as a pleasant reminder.

And not all of Ki-Duk's ideas are completely obscured, either, though I wish he could have found some more resolution to bring all his various metaphors together. The film works on several levels, tying together a love story with fishing metaphors, social commentary and a loose thriller plot involving Hee-Jin's occasionally homicidal nature. Two scenes in particular come to overpower every other idea in the film, and without giving away the specific nature of these sequences, let me just say they are (1) disgusting and (2) exceptionally well-realized. Taking a violent, gruesome concept like Ki-Duk does and finding ways to make it emotional and cinematic can't be easy. Tarantino does it in the Kill Bill films, Miike does it in Ichi the Killer, and Ki-Duk does it in The Isle, using a potent visual image of gore so extreme it would normally turn any reasonable audience against a film, in a way that enhances the artistry of the film.

Up until the first gruesome scene, concerning Hyun-Shik's highly inadvisable plan for avoiding capture by the police, I was right with the film. For the first hour, it's an insightful look at humanity freed from the bonds of civilization. Hyun-Shik comes to this "island" to escape from reality, but what he finds is a world where none of the traditional rules of life apply. Hee-Jin doesn't just run the island as a business, she seems to embody it, to have blended with it spiritually over time.

There's a strange sequence when a prostitute, after visiting with Hyun-Shik in his cabin, calls to Hee-Jin for a boatride back to the shore. When Hee-Jin doesn't respond, the girl realizes there is no way for her to leave this cabin. She can't go see her other clients, she can't report back to her pimp, she can't even use the bathroom (without resorting to urinating through a hole in the floor of the float). Her entire existance is dependant suddenly on this odd woman who doesn't speak, who can (and does) decide on a whim to murder a tenant and dump their body into the lake. Hee-Jin can see everything going on in the lake, and in a funny way seems to desire complete control over all its inhabitants. It's a creepy turn by the lovely Korean actress Jung Suh.

To be fair, only the final few sequences of The Isle didn't play for me. Up until then, the film was a bit fuzzy and difficult to get a handle on, but also satisfying, engaging and wonderfully paced. But by the final few scenes, Ki-Duk leaps completely out of the bounds of narrative and into full-on experimental mode, and I'm not sure I was ready to follow him there. My co-worker Ivan commented that the ending reminded him of Tartovsky's Solaris, and I can certainly see the connection. But that film works entirely on the level of abstraction, whereas The Isle seems to have more to say about its characters and their specific situation.

It's a terrific film, really, filled with memorable imagery. And its lack of dialogue and openness to interpretation make it a film I can imagine revisiting, gleaning a greater appreciation for its peculiar charms (and possibly a greater understanding of its intent) over time. Not as good as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring, but few films are.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

And Now The Least Boring Blog Of the Day

I thought it only appropriate to follow up Bob "Sleepy-Time" Aagard with this fascinating blog, wonderfully entitled Raised Like A Veal By Maniacs. Good one.

Here's how the main blogger, Whitey, describes his site:

A migraine-inducing glimpse at the life and times of Whitey, a bipolar punk with a history of contradictions. In a world full of temptations, Whitey accepts that it's best for all concerned if he takes his meds.

Sounds good so far. In only a few minutes of scanning the site, I have discovered that Whitey is a reformed heroin addict, the owner of a variety of guns and other weapons, and has bi-polar disorder. Now, that makes for some interesting blogging!

I often wish my life was more interesting so I could give you guys some more bang for your proverbial buck. (I say proverbial only because no one has yet taken me up on my generous subscription offer.) But what can I say? I see a lot of movies and comedy, and work in a video store.

I suppose I could flash a gun for a visiting neighbor before threatning them with a lawsuit, as Whitey seems fond of doing, but that's just not me, folks. Not my style. I'm more the go-through-your-belongings-when-you're-not-around-and-then-tell-all-the-visitors-to-your-website-about-it kind of creep.

Blogging the Obvious

Welcome to Blogging the Obvious, the feature where we here at Crushed By Inertia bring you the most boring blogs from all over the Internet.

This week's exciting edition of Blogging the Obvious focuses on the blog of Bob Aagard of Holladay, Utah. Bob's the founder and president of Mormons for Dean and a frequent contributor to forums over at Daily Kos.

In the first of many, many obvious, generic choices, Bob has gone with "The World, According to Me" as his blog's title. The web address?

Let's start at the first of the year, Jan. 1 2005, and this blog entry, entitled "New Years Resolutions" (no apostrophe on the phrase 'New Years', grammar police).

1) A little less talk, alot more action. Actually, this is my theme for 2005.
2) More scripture study; Less Playstation.
3) Date more
4) Keep my car clean.
5) Save money.
6) Lose weight (obvious)
7) Start working on defeating Orrin Hatch in 2006.

Yes, the man even has generic New Years' Resolutions. My favorite? #2. Because, if you're already studying Scripture (capitalized!), what makes you decide you need to start doing it more.

"Well, I've already read this book 8 times through, but I could be re-reading it faster. I feel godly, but not quite holy. Maybe I should start taking notes. Fuck Crash Bandicoot, this shit is for real!"

Now, let's jump ahead to Jan. 24 2005, when Bob posted some movie reviews.

Oops! I've been to two movies without reporting on either of them! eeek!

Finding Neverland

Loved it! OK, so it was far, far away from the real story people thought they were getting, but it was one of my favorite movies of the year. I didn't notice anything offencive, or that would embarass me on a date. says it has 2 "S" words as the only swearing, and only a little clevage for sex/nudity. Go see it, before it's too late!


This was annother good movie. However, it has one scene of a married couple having sex. Niether has on less than boxers for him and panties/bra for her. However, it was fairly unneccessary. lists 31 swear words, including 1 use of the mother of all swear words.

Yes, Bob's incapable of making a single analytical judgement about movies, just like everything else. His movie reviews consist of "loved it" or "it's offencive." Screenit is a pretty funny site, by the way. Why not check it out? It's the sort of site where sentences like

Just how scary is Boogeyman and is it too intense for younger teens?

appear right on the front page. For people like Bob, it deserves to be studied with all the scrutiny you'd normally give PlayStation.

Finally, we move on to Jan. 30 2005, when Bob waxes philosophical about Hotel Rwanda and the genocide in Africa as a whole. This entry isn't simply dumb like the earlier ones, but horribly horribly trite to boot. It's the double-double of obvious blogging.

Over 1,000,000 people were killed in the massacre. It lasted 100 days. That's 10,000 people a day. At yet, a force the size of the NYPD could have stopped it. Yet, we were too concerned about other, more trivial things.What's even sadder is that this type of thing still goes on unnoticed in Africa, namely in the Sudan and the Congo.-Bob

No insight whatsoever! Just a bunch of facts with some guy's name plugged on the end of it! Way to go, Bob! We at Crushed By Inertia salute your shallow take on the world! We're endlessly fascinated by your accounting of the number of swear words in PG rated films. And your non-posts on African genocides brighten our day. You are this week's entry in Blogging the Obvious!

Comedy at The M Bar

I'd have a link to the website for Hollywood's The M Bar right here at the top of this item, but their website isn't working. This makes sense, as the entire attitude of The M seems to say, "Hey, you've found the place! Cool! Now kindly fuck off!"

It's a tiny little club in an unassuming corner of a strip mall on Vine. With no sign. I lived right down the street from this place (seriously!) for over a year and had no idea where it was. I knew there was some cool bar and club called The M Bar that people went to, and I knew it was in Hollywood, but I couldn't have found it for you with a detailed map, a compass and a team of sherpas.

And inside, there are so many tables in such a small place, traditional walking becomes impossible. You're forced to contort your body like a goddman member of Cirque de Soleil just to get to a table, and once there, you need the jaws of life and some sort of a crane just to get you back out and on your feet.

My friend Cory and I made it down there last night for their weekly comedy showcase, and of course, our names weren't on the list. So they did us the distinct honor of actually seating us, albeit in the corner of the room actually behind the stage. So, while the audience was delighting to the antics of the various musicians and comedians that night, they were also treated to the sight of me, eating a pizza, just to the left and back of the performer.

But none of this mattered once the show began. It was an entirely solid line-up of performers, from host Jonah Raye, who integrated video skits and musical numbers into his act, on down the line. Brendon Small did a truly bizarre skit in which he played Bruce Vilanch giving birth to a demon baby. Musical act Parliament Farm, a so-so throwback to 70's garage rock, were subjected to all manner of teasing from the various comics about their silly name. And the four main comics on the bill - Jimmy Pardo, Andy Kindler, Todd Barry and David Cross - all had, to my mind, very funny, loose sets.

I love going to small comedy clubs like M or The Largo. When you see a comic on television or at a touristy, Sunset Blvd. trap like The Laugh Factory, they're doing the old reliable material that always works. It's funny, sure, particularly if the comic has terrific material like David Cross. But I've seen that stuff a million times. I like seeing these guys with a crowd full of other comics and jaded LA types. They're just trying stuff out, and it doesn't matter whether it bombs or not, cause the audience already knows these guys are funny.

So you get more improvisational stuff, like Jimmy Pardo mocking a bald guy in the audience for not laughing, and complaining about masturbating with icy hot accidentally. And you get experimental routines, like David Cross taking the stage as presto-currencitationist Hoyle Appleshaker, the fourth in a long line of historical Appleshakers.

When I lived in that nieghborhood of Hollywood, I would often go to the Improv Olympic West on Hollywood Blvd. with friends as well. They used to have a Sunday night show hosted by Jeff Garlin called the combo platter, in which very funny comics (like Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman and Bob Odenkirk) would riff on subjects suggested by audience members. I remember Garlin having to do a 5 minute set on Corn Nuts and just knocking it out of the park. And if you've never heard Sarah Silverman describe a disasterous bikini wax, you just haven't heard stand-up comedy.

So, definitely check out Tuesday night's at The M Bar, if you can get a reservation. I understand it fills up pretty quickly. And you might want to bring a shoehorn, a machete and a miner's helmet, just in case you need to head to the bathroom during the show.

The Dark Lord Gannon

The blogosphere has truly arrived. This week, due to the diligent research of bloggers at sites like Atrios, World O' Crap, DailyKos and Americablog, a voice of hatred and irrationality has gone silent. If you don't follow the goings-on at left-wing blogs, here's the story, as briefly as I can render it:

There's a guy named Jeff Gannon. He's a White House correspondant who writes for some news service called Talon News. (Get it? Eagles have talons! Duh!) He's one of those guys who always asks really softball questions of the president, setting him up for easy answers that espouse whatever bullet points Karl Rove has designed that week.

"So, Mr. President, don't you think it's about time we invaded Iran already? I mean, come on." That sort of thing.

He's also one of those assholes who relentlessly sucks up to the Christian right by publishing anti-gay diatribes, such as the column defending Rick Santorum's comparison of gay people to dogfuckers. Cause he's all about family values, people! Deal with it!

Anyway, some bloggers came across an AOL Profile of a man named JD Guckert who looks an awful lot like Jeff Gannon. Here's the catch: JD Guckert is a male escort who works for a service called And, even more damning, JD Guckert lives at a home in Wilmington, Delaware that is owned by a company called The Bedrock Corporation.

And guess what else is owned by BedrockCorp? Oh, no, it's!

So, yeah, that's basically the story. Americablog has a whole page now devoted to the ins and outs of this case, and after reading their dossier, it's clear that Gannon is simply a professional pseudonym devised by Guckert. It's just amazing that he didn't bother to do a better job of concealing his real identity. He's posting photos of himself online as both Guckert and Gannon! He's using both names to transact business with a single company.

This is a guy who has an inside track to the White House. He's one of the elite reporters G.W. and Co. are using to disseminate their wacky brand of fascist propaganda to the masses. They can't do a better job of covering up this reporter's bizarre nightlife, dressing up in fatigues and dogtags and giving it to other guys for money?

It reminds me of what John Dean said about his corrupt colleagues in the Nixon administration. They were sinister and obsessed with power, but not very smart, and that's how Woodward and Bernstein were able to catch them lying relatively easily. I think we've got us a similar crop in charge right now.

Jeff Gannon has officially retired, according to his website:

Jeff Gannon
A Voice of the New Media

The voice goes silent.

Because of the attention being paid to me I find it is no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News. In consideration of the welfare of me and my family I have decided to return to private life.

Thank you to all those who supported me.

Can you believe this guy? The hubris! He had to quit because everyone found out that he's a gay man who makes a living bashing homosexuals and advancing the agenda of anti-gay politicos. And all he has to say is "the voice goes silent" and a thank you to his supporters? It's also great that he's a reporter who has to quit because people are paying attention to him. Isn't that what reporters want? The public's attention?

James, You Can't Walk...You're Fired

A paraplegic has claimed that producers of "The Apprentice" are biased against the handicapped, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Get this...He's suing to be assured that he's fairly evaluated as a potential contestant.

James Schottel does not claim to have been turned away yet, but his suit seeks a court order guaranteeing he will be permitted "to apply and be considered for 'The Apprentice"' in time for a casting call slated for St. Louis on Friday.

Schottel insists he is capable of taking part in the show so long as "reasonable accommodation" is made for his disability.

This is weird. First off, why would he assume they wouldn't cast him before he's even given them a chance? I can imagine that the producers might like to have a guy like Schottel on the show, provided he was suitably upbeat and "inspiring" for viewers. A sour guy who's bitter about his handicap, while more realistic, might not play in Peoria, as they say.

To me, here's the meat of the story:

Specifically, he claims that rules posted on the show's Web site violate the law because they require applicants to be in "excellent physical ... health," to submit to a physical exam and be certified by doctors as meeting "all physical ... requirements."

The law in question defines discrimination as including "qualification standards," "employment tests" or other criteria that "screen out or tend to screen out" job applicants whose physical disability is not job-related, Schottel's suit says.

I'm no lawyer, so maybe I'm not understanding the actual issue here perfectly. But it seems to me that the key to the whole thing is the phrase "job applicants whose physical disability is not job-related." Well, isn't being in good physical health, including having control over all limbs, a neccessity for being on a television show like "The Apprentice"? What if you have to make it quickly across town on foot to complete a task? What if your prize one week is a trip in a helicopter? What if you need to wash a dog in a park, as contestants had to during Season 2?

I'm not saying that having Schottel on would ruin the show, or that he shouldn't have the right to apply like everyone else. But it's clear that the job, as described right now, wouldn't really work out for a man like James Schottel.

This is one of those issues where I tend to clash with other liberals. I sympathize with Schottel's plight, certainly, but I don't feel like regulating things like who gets on a television show really provides any tangible benefit for anyone. This is the sort of lawsuit that gives real, important lawsuits a bad name. It's a guy trying to use the system to make a point, rather than to air a genuine grievance. And it's kind of annoying.

There was no immediate comment from either production firm. But a spokesman for NBC, which was not named in the suit, said three applicants in wheelchairs were interviewed in New York City last week for the upcoming fourth edition of the show, one of them by Trump himself.

I'm basically satisfied by this. It doesn't sound like they're discriminating against people with disabilities. More like James Schottel's afraid they won't like him enough to put him on TV.

The Laserdisc Incident

I debated whether or not to tell you fine people this story. It's a funny story, and no doubt blogworthy, but it's a humorous incident that happened to me at work. This is about as close as a video store clerk ever comes to facing a crisis of professional ethics. Do I tell you about the amusing thing that a customer did, as there's an extremely slim chance anything I write on here will ever get back to him?

You're reading this article, so you can already guess my answer.

A guy comes into the store to sell us several boxes full of used Laserdiscs. The owner of our store will buy just about any Laserdisc for a quarter. Most aren't worth much more than that, but he operates on the principle that every rare once in a while, he'll end up only paying a quarter for a disc that winds up netting him $20 or more. It has happened a few times. Just the other day, I shipped out a Laserdisc of a filmed kabuki performance to a professor in Washington State that ran him over $15.

So, anyway, this guy comes in with two massive boxes filled with Laserdiscs. And not neatly stacked and organized discs either. They're haphazardly filed, some discs put away in the wrong sleeves, others missing sleeves or discs altogether.

We start to notice that there are random bits of mail and other papers scattered throughout the box. We find an application to carry a concealed weapon (denied). We find several pieces of mail from the Police Department of Culver City. But most humorously, we find a pamphlet on premature ejaculation.

Yes, that's right. This guy brought in Laserdiscs to trade in with a packet of information about cumming too soon, right into a video store, and then milled about looking at DVDs while we went through it. Not only this, but the pamphlet had attached to it a receipt, indicating the man had spent about $20 on the pamphlet and a further, undisclosed amount on some sort of product designed to prevent premature ejaculation from occuring in the future.

Is this the most embarrassing thing that could possibly happen? I mean, I don't think we let on to the guy that we saw anything funny, so unless he randomly comes across this blog, he'll probably go the rest of his life never knowing a group of snarky video store clerks are laughing and posting on the Internet about his penile dysfunction. Unless he left it in there intentionally for us to find, because he gets off on revealing his humiliating medical condition to complete strangers and then watching their reaction. I'll grant this last option isn't terribly likely.

I Cross the Line

This is it. I've finally gone past the point of good taste and into full-on gross-out mode. I can't help myself. This will be my second off-color post of the night, and man, is this ever off-color. I'm, quite frankly, disgusted.

A Welsh man, in response to Wales' first home soccer victory against England in 12 years, has severed his own testicles.

Well, that just makes it sound silly. What happened was, Geoff Huish told his friends "if Wales wins, I'll cut my balls off." And then Wales won. And, really, you have to hold to agreements like this, or your drunken bar bets will mean nothing at all.

Huish was taken to hospital where he remained in a seriously ill condition, the paper said.

I'll say.

Police told the paper he had a history of mental problems.

This reporter boasts a keen grasp on the obvious.

The worst part of the whole thing? After the guy went home and performed a little light surgury, he walked back to the bar to show his friends what he had done. This has got to be an odd moment. I mean, I'm sure the guy's friends knew he was a little off, but who among us doesn't have a drinking buddy whose possible lack of sanity gives us pause? I know a guy who likes to get drunk and head-butt people as hard as he can, who threw his shoulder out a few weeks back attempting to tackle his friend in the middle of the street. And let's not even get into my college roommate who's obsessed with the 4th Dimension and Cartoon Network.

So, your friend comes back to the bar after a day of drunken revelry, following an unexpected victory for the home team. And he's holding his severed balls in his hand. What reaction could he even be expecting? Shock? Laughter? Respect? And you don't want to say the wrong thing, because suddenly your wacky friend is revealed as a knife-wielding maniac capable of untold acts of gruesome aggression.

So, my guess is, they faked it.

"Hey, Geoff, you cut off your own testicles. Just like you said you would. Um, good one! Well, boy, it's late, I've got to be getting home. You might want to have that looked at, but it's none of my business. See you around..."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Greed is Good

I feel like a shit. I have plans tonight to attend a stand-up comedy performance with my friend Cory. The evening's entertainment may run me as much as $15 or $20. Normally, this would not be a prohibitive amount to spend on a night out that will likely include stage entertainment, cocktails and a reasonably-priced entree, but I have just hit my father up for money today. And when you're 26 and hitting your father up for money, you have a problem that no amount of stand-up comedy will resolve.

I feel bad enough about having to mooch off my parents. I have a job at this point, but it doesn't really pay quite what you'd hope, and a sudden onslaught of bills has caught me off-guard. Plus, I'm fond of mooching. Very fond. And good at it, too. I can mooch so successfully, people actually begin to believe it was their idea to give me money. Can you believe it? If only I could go career.

But, alas, I know the gravy train will be running out soon. Which is why I feel bad about squandering vital fiduciary resources on professional comics, even if it is The Great David Cross. (It is.) So, what I'm saying is, membership to Crushed By Inertia will now run you $30 a month. But don't worry! I'll post some naked pictures up here or something, to make it worth your while. And I'll only sell your e-mail address to reputable sources, or failing that, companies whose ad ware is mild and unnoticable.

Crushed By Deez Nuts In Yo Mouth

My friend Matt stops by the blog for the first time ever and leaves me with a funny link. That's fucking classy. Nicely done.

Anyway, he turned me on to Gizoogle. Now, now, I know what you're thinking. Because I can read minds...through the Internet! Anyway, you're thinking, "Oh, this is some lameass website that plays on the incredibly tired 'fo shizzle' routine Snoop's been peddling around UPN for the better part of the last decade." And you would be right. Also, you're thinking "I would like a sandwich." Or maybe that's just me.

So, yeah, Gizoogle just spits out Google searches, but instead of the usual "pulled quote from the website," Gizoogle shoots back a translation of the site's test into Snoop Dogg Speak.

So, a search for, say, the phrase "Napoleon Dynamite" brings this up:

Napoleon Dynamite - Cizzay Crizzay Reviews, Plizzot Summary, Comments, Discussion, Taglines, Traila, Gangsta Photos, Showtimes, Link ta Official Site, Fan Sites

Ha ha. And a search for "Crushed By Inertia" brings up stuff that reads like this:

Crushed by Inertia . I started yo shit and i'll end yo' shit. thursday, january 20, 2005 fo' rizeal. if you already president, why d-ya need ta get inaugurated again?

Which isn't that different from how I normally write. Except perhaps that the grammar is slightly improved and there aren't as many commas.

I'm just hoping that this goofy website finally gives us an opportunity to stop using this dumb mock-ghetto slang and go back to our normal way of talking, with far fewer zzzz's. Can I now officially request that we never make another movie where an old white guy dresses up like a gangsta and starts saying he's the shiznit? Please? I beg of you?

Monday, February 07, 2005

State of the Blog

Hey, gang. I wasn't sure I'd ever get a single hit when I first started this thing with nothing but a Blogger account, a dream and 14 hours of free time to fill a day. Actually, I figured I'd probably get a few hits from my mom, but I didn't even know about how one goes about counting hits yet. That's how green I was. And this was only November.

But now, The Inertia has blossomed all around me. As many as 0 to 1 of you comment on the blog every day. And nearly everyone I know checks out the blog occasionally, and sometimes even mentions having enjoyed some item or another to me during the course of the day.

Just last night, I met up with an old UCLA friend whom I don't see much, and it turns out she's been reading up on the blog for a while now. It's kind of odd, actually. People now can follow the ins and outs of my life without ever talking me, which is really the best way to do it.

So, really, I just wanted to write a small thank-you to all my readers out there, particularly friends and writers from other blogs who have come over here, checked out the site and stuck around to comment and participate. Guys like mynym and Boyd and pajamo and Michael Flately, Lord of the Dance and berns and JAM and PSoTD and the Brothers Lau...your contributions are, like, seriously, massively appreciated. Oh, yeah, and my mom, without whose watchful eye, I might post nothing but humorous items about dry vaginas.

And just a small favor...if you read something on the blog you like, that makes you laugh or think or wonder if my hatred of Zach Braff is possibly borne of intense jealousy or buried homosexual lust, why not e-mail it to some friends and let them know about the site? The only way this thing will grow is if people tell other people about it, and I've already told everyone I know. All four of them.

And how am I supposed to make millions of dollars off of this thing if nobody visits it, huh? Riddle me that, smart guy.


My friend Steve sent me an e-mail today containing very little text (which I will not include here, because it makes fun of someone we both know) and the following picture:

Funny, yes, but this would be a very useful contraption. Sort of a perfect gift for the busy executive who has everything. The computer and fax machine, at least. The idea of speaking to someone on the telephone while doing your business strikes me as singularly unpleasant. I recall on one occasion speaking to a friend on long distance when I suddenly got the distinct impression that they were speaking to me whilst having a BM. Suffice it to say, the conversation was ruined.

The other potential downside of the office toilet scheme would be the threat of electrocution. However unlikely, the mere possibility that a plug could come out of something and fry your delicate underparts strikes me as a good enough reason to avoid this sort of set-up altogether.

Imagine your friends and family having to explain how you died to people:

"Well, you know George, he was always so busy. So, well, he was using his fax machine, on the toilet, as he always did on burrito night, and, well, something short-circuited and he was electrocuted. We still can't get the smell out of the shower curtain."

But otherwise, this is a very good idea. Now if only they could invent some way to keep the toilet seat from being cold when you sit down first thing in the morn...what? They have toilet seat mufflers for that? Well, never mind. They've thought of everything.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Less Than Super Sunday

I have thrown my neck out again. It is worse than before. I have wormed out of the Super Bowl party I intended to go to so I can lay on my couch in the one oblong position which does not cause my neck and shoulder excessive strain.

So I'm here in my apartment alone facing a quandary. As I don't actually like or care about football, is it even worth watching this game? Am I that much of a sheep, that I would view a 3 hour sporting event about which I couldn't care less, just because it's become a traditional American activity?

The answer is, of course. If I didn't watch, I'd feel that I was missing out on some shared experience, particularly if something salient (like last year's nipple slip) were to happen mid-game. (Come to think of it, for entirely different reasons, I watched last year's Super Bowl alone in my apartment as well...and I never went to my High School that's non-conformist enough, I suppose.)

I may flip the game off soon after it begins, though, if nothing really interesting happens. I rented Troy from the store and haven't ever seen it, and now that I have ultra-super-working 5.1 surround finally working with my receiver, I may be tempted to throw that on.

Ignorance-Only Education

Thanks to the frightfully well-written Noblessoblog for pointing out this story to me. The results of a study done at Texas A&M University reveals that abstinance-only education is a total crock of shit that doesn't work.

Well, that's not exactly what the study said. More like:

Despite taking courses emphasizing abstinence-only themes, teenagers in 29 high schools became increasingly sexually active, mirroring the overall state trends, according to the study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University.

"We didn't see any strong indications that these programs were having an impact in the direction desired," said Dr. Buzz Pruitt, who directed the study.

Thanks, Dr. Buzz, for proving what most sensible people already know. Teenagers are small bundles of highly concentrated horndog juice, and telling them not to have sex with each other works about as well as asking Godzilla really nicely not to stomp you into mush. It's what they're designed by nature to do. But here's the weird part.

"The jury is still out, but most of what we've discovered shows there's no evidence the large amount of money spent is having an effect," [Pruitt] said.

The jury is still out? Check out these figures:

The study showed about 23 percent of ninth-grade girls, typically 13 to 14 years old, had sex before receiving abstinence education. After taking the course, 29 percent of the girls in the same group said they had had sex.

Boys in the tenth grade, about 14 to 15 years old, showed a more marked increase, from 24 percent to 39 percent, after receiving abstinence education.

First off, allow me to express my extreme shock that 23% of polled Texas 13 year old girls had sex before taking abstinance-only education. That's about a quarter of all Texas 13 year old girls. Wow. In ninth grade, I was about as sexually active as Abelard and Heloise.

But also, as Noblessoblog pointed out already, that's a huge disasterous failure. "The jury is still out" would indicate that the results are inconclusive. But you don't have to be a professor to draw some conclusion from the fact that, following abstinance education, the number of teens having sex went up 15%. You apparently just have to not live in Texas.


The unimaginable has happened. Sam Raimi has announced that there will be an Evil Dead 4, directed by himself and starring The Man, The Legend Himself, Bruce Campbell. It's true! In an interview with horror site Bloody Disgusting, he confirms that there will in fact be another Evil Dead movie for dorky fanboys like myself to obsess over.

Perhaps you are one of the sad bastards who has not seen and enjoyed Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. If you are, please, do yourself a favor and get your ass to a video store. (Might I recommend Laser Blazer, rated Los Angeles' #1 DVD store by some reputable news source, probably). They're terrific films, seamlessly blending horror, action, violence and comedy. I'm convinced that some of the physical comedy in Evil Dead 2 is the closest we'll ever get to seeing a live-action Chuck Jones cartoon.

And, as fans of the series know, Army of Darkness ends in a cliffhanger. Ash remains trapped in time, surrounded by evil and low on gas. What's happened is, after being catapulted into the distant past by the evil powers hidden within the Necronomicon (or Book of the Dead), Ash has managed to get himself flung forward in time. But he has gone to far, jumping past his own time (the present) and into a distant, apocalyptic future. And that's where, I assume, Evil Dead 4 will begin.

Raimi also indicates that he'll produce a remake of the original 2 Evil Dead films, to be directed by someone else. This, I'm not so sure about. If it was someone who wanted to take the idea in a completely different direction and just use the Evil Dead name for marketing, that'd be fine with me. But why bother redoing a movie that was made so well the first time? And any other actor playing Ash will just feel kind of wrong to me.

Aint It Cool News hints that Raimi may be tapping Chan Wook-Park, of the very well received but unseen by me Oldboy, to direct and that certainly sounds promising. I'm all for giving cool, little-known Asian directors a shot at a known property. But I'll need to be convinced that Evil Dead 2 requires remaking. We'll see.