Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Exorcist: The Beginning

This is one messed-up movie. And I don't mean that in a good way. It's not Dead Alive messed-up, where you leave the theater laughing about how outrageous the gore gets. More like Renny Harlin got his hands on this material and really messed it up. He fills his movie with gruesome effects and loud, jarring musical cues, but can't come up with a single reasonable scare. Exorcist: The Beginning is really gross and often inappropriate, but never scary. Or even creepy. Just dumb and offensive, aesthetically and thematically. Probably one of the worst films of last year.

First of all, that's a dumb title. This isn't "the beginning" of anything. The story of The Exorcist begins exactly where the original film begins - with a girl named Regan being possessed by her imaginary friend Captain Howdy, who's probably Satan, or some other equally nasty demon. This is a silly story about one of the characters from that movie, set years earlier in another country, with nothing to do with anything else that's going on in the original film. It's got a possessed woman in it, but only for a few minutes, and even then, her possession and Regan's in William Friedkin's original Exorcist aren't particularly similar.

The story opens with Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow in the original, Stellan Skarsgaard here) taking a trip to Africa after receiving a very Indiana Jones-ish offer to explore a recently-discovered church. Merrin gave up the cloth after witnessing Nazi atrocities during WWII and now works as an archaeologist. He discovers upon arriving in Africa that the church was constructed to offset an ancient evil lurking within the land, capable of invading people's bodies and taking over their souls. Will he have to perform some sort of exorcism? Will he maybe redisocver his faith? Well, I don't want to blow the movie for you, but yes. Of course.

Harlin pretty much doesn't understand what made the original 70's Exorcist scary or popular. He seems to think it was the gross-out effects and the threat of harm being inflicted on a child. I guess it's possible some audiences got a kick out of Friedkin's willingness to subject his young protagonist to all manner of horror. But if you'll recall that film, Regan herself isn't really the target of any violence. Her body's invaded, she disappears from sight, and the demon taking her form inflicts pain and violence onto others (and, okay, occasionally itself). We see the demon attacking Regan's mother and the priests, but not Regan.

Now take Harlin's version. Almost all of the violence is committed against children. It's downright disturbing and not at all neccessary. In an early, startling sequence, a young child is devoured alive by wild hyenas, screaming for his life while the soundtrack bleats out flesh-ripping sound effects. Disgusting and pointless. Later, we see a stillborn baby arrive covered fetal head-to-toe with live squiggling maggots. In other sequences, children will develop seizures and vomit, will be threatened with all manner of knives and sharp implements, and will be shown in constantly repeated flashbacks being shot at point blank range in the head. Complete with blood spatter. What was Renny thinking?

This stuff's not scary and it's not good fodder for a Hollywood horror movie sequel. There are effective ways to use creepy children in a horror movie. See either version of The Ring, or The Sixth Sense or The Others. But constantly inflicting gruesome violence on them, violence without purpose or consequences, doesn't make me scared. It makes me sad. This is a film, like Event Horizon, that seems to lack a basic understanding of how horror films work - the threat of seeing something gross works far more successfully than the constant repetition of gross or stomach-churning imagery.

And about those Holocaust flashbacks. They're inappropriate. I don't mind using the Holocaust as a backstory for a character, or even briefly to highlight a particular message. For example, in the opening of X-Men, we see Magneto discover his powers as a child being led away by Nazis. It makes sense...he'll spend his adult life battling the forces of human intolerance through the use of his powers, which is nicely foreshadowed in that scene, enhancing the complexity of the film's central dilemma.

But here, the Nazism and Holocaust imagery is used without responsibility or purpose. It's just a random "evil" to explain away Merrin's loss of faith. And later sequences, in which a female doctor tells Merrin about her torture at the hands of Nazis in gruesome detail, actually managed to offend me. This movie's not mature enough to tackle something like Nazi torture, and it doesn't want to explore evil in that kind of philosophical manner anyway. Why not just come up with some other backstory? Why go that way? Just to seem edgy and controversial?

Again, let me reiterate, in the original Exorcist, the horror comes from the unnatural behavior of this young girl. She ceases to be a young girl and becomes an unholy demon, capable of impossible physical feats and atrociously evil verbiage. Harlin's version includes nothing like this at all. It's scares are based solely around disgusting imagery, bloody CGI effects and loud, jarring noises. That's it. It has no interest in exploring the nature of evil at all.

I don't want to waste too much more time on this crap, but I have one more point to make. The movie's so lazy, it can't even manage to maintain the same mythology from the original film. In the original film, everyone can tell that Regan has a demon inside of her because her behavior changes so greatly. In this film, the possessed individual remains silent and hidden until the climax. In the original film, the demon, once removed from Regan's body, must go somewhere else, and invades other people. In this film, the demon, once removed, simply disappears into thin air. In the original film, the demon manipulates the physical properties of the room around him/her in order to scare and distract the priests. In this film, the demon creates complete hallucinations that seem to swallow up characters whole.

Finally, the big turnaround at the end involving who's possessed contradicts everything that came before. I kind of wanted to turn this thing off after the first half hour, but I stuck with it. Too bad for me. I could have watched something else. Oh well...I saved all of you from having to rent this shitkicker.

Vera Drake

At one point, about halfway through Mike Leigh's Vera Drake, the lead character's being interrogated by a police detective. She's a saintly lower-class domestic caring for not only her husband and two children, but her ailing mother and neighbor. Oh, and unbeknownst to them all, she performs illegal abortions at no cost for "young girls in trouble." He asks her one question that changes the ramifications for the rest of the movie. This is a film about contradictions, the unexplainable ways in which two entirely divergent lifestyles can exist within one human life. And for a brief moment, while Vera responds to the detective's question, the contradictions seem explainable, the quiet mysteries of Vera's life understandable.

No, I'm not going to tell you what the question is. You'll know which one I'm talking about when you see the movie.

But, of course, just as quickly everything gets complicated again. Just as the abortion debate seems to have no satisfying solution - either restrict women's freedoms or permit the widespread destruction of premature human life - Vera Drake lacks any answers. It's not a work of social commentary, like Leigh's Naked, despite the hot-button controversy at its core. And it's not a period pastiche like Leigh's equally successful Topsy-Turvy. Instead, like this year's Million Dollar Baby, it's a film that deals with a social problem only as the backdrop for an intense observation of human character. It's a psychological exploration disguised as an "issue" movie.

Imelda Staunton's performance as Vera has rightly won her international acclaim, and an Oscar nomination. For the entire first half-hour of the film, all we see of Vera is a charming smile, a bright disposition and a fondness for hot cups of tea. Even during these opening sequences, what Vera lacks in nuance, she makes up for in sheer charm and likability. It's a testament to the film that, even before the central incidents making up its plot kickstart, I was won over by the strength of the charicterization.

Leigh gets these kind of natural performances through extended rehearsal before shooting. The actors are encouraged to improvise most of their lines, and develop their characters internally for weeks before the production even begins. By the time the cameras are rolling, these people have gotten to know their alter-egos, have lived with them for a while. So, there's a repartee, a level of comfort between the actors you don't get in other films.

So, it's kind of delightful just to spend time with Vera's well-realized family unit, including affable her mechanic husband Stan (Phil Davis), chatty son Sid (Daniel Mays), frumpy daughter Ethel (Alex Kelly) and Ethel's soft-spoken fiancee Reg (Eddie Marsan). Once the story kicks into gear, and we find out about Vera's side job as a back alley abortionist, we've become invested in her life.

By inviting us to care about Vera, it could be argued that Leigh's excusing her behavior. Certainly, as far as Vera's concerned, there's no harm in her behavior. She's breaking the law, yes, but she's not attempting to profit from it. She only wants to help out girls with nowhere to turn, in the same way that she always invites lonely single men with no families over to dinner. It's not an act of malfeasance or a disregard for authority. It's a kind gesture.

But at the same time, Leigh refuses to shy away from the grim reality of Vera's underground occupation. The actual procedure she uses is shown on-screen in detail (albeit without blood or gore), and the potentially dangerous consequences are likewise explored. Finally, the traumatic effect of Vera's actions on her extended family comes to haunt her by the film's end. Her attempts to be a good samaritan have ended up causing all of those around her a considerable amount of pain and heartbreak. Again, we're faced with a striking contradiction; by doing good, Vera winds up doing even more harm. Just as her son can't reconcile the warm loving person he knows as his mother with the cold surgical procedures she performs on strange women, the film can't seem to decide whether Vera's behavior all these years has been appropriate or not.

It's a long, dense story, but Leigh keeps Vera Drake riveting by getting all of the small details correct. During the long, nearly unbearable sequence in which Vera's arrested, interrogated and finally arraigned, there's no score or background noise at all. Leigh lets us see only Staunton's tortured face, and hear only her muffled sobs. It's a brave move, and there are times when the intimacy of the scenes becomes almost too much, veering on the melodramatic instead of the naturalistic. But for the most part, Leigh's technique works swimmingly. At a full two hours, Vera Drake remains engaging and bursting with carefully sketched humanity. The film's a triumphant success, among Leigh's finest work.

Stupidity on the Internet...How Novel

Lons' Top 2 List of Stupid Internet Writers

2. Stephen Jones
1. Kim Newman

Stephen and Kim are winning this prestigious award for the recent publication of their so-called "100 Best Horror Novels of All Time." I'm going to repeat that title, because it will become important in a moment. The 100. Best. Horror. NOVELS. Of All Time. With me so far? Good.

Here's their number 1 pick...

1. Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1592) Perhaps the best realization of the oft told story of selling out to the Devil and the consequences thereof. interesting pick. It's a great play, granted. "Is this the face that launched 1000 ships" and all that. Couple of problems. It's not terribly horrifying. And, oh yeah, it's totally not a novel. We're supposed to trust these people on what constitutes the best horror books ever written and they don't know the meaning of the term novel.

So, I will educate Kim 'n Stephie. See, a novel doesn't just mean a book. It means a lengthy work of prose. Prose. That means, not poetry. Like Marlowe's "Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." It's also a book meant to be read as a book, not performed. A novel is not a drama. Like, say, Marlowe's "Tragical History of Doctor Faustus."

So, okay, maybe they just got a bit mixed up. Let's take a look at Number 2.

2. William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth (1606) Crime, guilt, prophecy, witches, and madness in one of the essential works of the Western Canon.

Yikes, guys. That's also not a novel, but rather a play written in meter, mostly in metered rhyme, come to think of it. Here's a hint. A book from which the most famous line is, "By the pricking of my thumb/Something wicked this way comes" isn't a novel. Think more like "It is a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done."

The sad thing is, it otherwise seems like a pretty good list, mostly featuring books I've never read, or even neccessarily heard of. Here's some that I may want to check out:

6. E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Best Tales of Hoffmann (1816) Epoch collection of dark fantasy, featuring the pre-Frankenstein story, "The Sand-Man", exploring the horror of science and artificial life.

28. G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) A group of anarchists named after days of the week, led by the satanic Sunday.

That one sounds particularly awesome. Satanic anarchists named after days of the week? It's like turn of the century Tarantino!

82. Jonathan Carroll, The Land of Laughs (1980) Couple researching an author find his mometown may be the creation of his fantasies. One of the greatest modern fantasies.

There's no place like mome.

It's Life, Jim, But Not As We Know It

I don't know if you're a big enough dork to have even heard about this, but the only current Star Trek series, UPN's poorly-rated "Enterprise," will go off the air after this season, ending a four-year run. This will mark the first time since 1987, the debut of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," that TV has lacked a single "Star Trek" series.

"Enterprise" is tied for 150th place in ratings this season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Wow, the big 150. It can't feel good when "Tru Calling" totally kicks your ass every week. Jim Belushi's sub-moronic sitcom gets several million more viewers than this show. Ouch.

Personally, I don't care at all. While I find a good deal of camp value in original series "Star Trek," and consider myself something of a Bill Shatner fan, I've never really been into Trek. It's too preachy, wholesome, straight for my tastes. I like my science-fiction in three ways - ludicrously fun, thought-provoking and cerebral or violent and cold. Sometimes, a specific film or TV show will fit in more than one of these categories, granted. But Trek's not zany enough, a bit shallow and always, always, upbeat. It's, you know, for dorks.

But that being said, it seems odd to me that a franchise that's so iconic, so beloved in its own unique way, can't find any home at all on TV. There's so much crap on television, so much wasted time, and Trek is so cheap to produce. I mean, let's face it, Trekkies don't really require amazing special effects. "Star Trek: The Next Generation" looked like it was filmed in my childhood backyard. It has the same level of production values as the Paris Hilton sex video. Except it's more grainy.

Or, as the PR director for website Candice McCallie says:

"'Star Trek: Enterprise' ... is quality television, unlike a lot of the reality you see on TV today."

Yeah, who needs reality when you have Scott Bakula fighting The Borg? It's not even a fair fight.

Oh, of course I went to

So far, they claim that visitors have donated $51,865 towards resurrecting the show "Star Trek: Enterprise." Yeah! That's really what they say! From the site:

All money used for the cause - TrekUnited allows fans of Star Trek: Enterprise to contribute money to sponsor the production of a fifth season by Paramount/Viacom. The contributed money is transferred to a secure account set up at ORNL Federal Credit Union which only multiple trustees can access. All contributed money is used for the cause, minus the transactional fees charged to us by Paypal/the bank (5%; any excess of fees to be donated to American Tsunami relief).

These people are donating...their hard-earned a Credit Union account payable to Viacom to produce a fifth season of a television show in which they have no financial stake whatsoever.

Our mission: to boldly go where no fan campaign has gone before and actually raise the money to sponsor the continuation of Star Trek: Enterprise! We have the support of the cast and crew, and the executives of the production company, Paramount/Viacom, have expressed their willingness to talk- however, they want to see that we are capable of pulling this off.

This is completely insane. As weird as I used to think "Star Trek" fans were, this is by far the most egregious example of their collective neurological disorder.

And they're surprised they have the support of the cast, crew and Paramount executives.

"Wait, you want to raise the money to make a whole season of a TV show yourselves, and just give it to us? And all we have to do is make a few more episodes of this dumb show? Really? Um, well, okay...maybe we can think about it and get back to you."

Can't these people think of anything better to spend this money on? I mean, yes, they're donating 5% of the proceeds to tsunami relief, but does every kid in their neighborhood have new clothes, school books, a ride to school and a hot meal waiting for them when they get home? Does every elderly person have adequate living conditions? Aren't there homeless people and drug addicts and alcoholics and mentally ill people who really need help? And you're donating your money to UPN to get some more "Star Trek" on the air?

I mean, it's not like there aren't already dozens of DVD's with every episode of every "Star Trek" series on them. It's not like the shows aren't re-run in syndication, and there weren't a bunch of movies, and there won't be even more movies in the future. And let's not forget all the novels, the video games, the ride in Las Vegas, the fan fiction and the conventions that keep Star Trek fandom going. I mean, what more do these people really need? Klingon language education in the schools? Romulan Ale on tap at Dodger Stadium? Tribble insurance?

Nuts and Cults

Special thanks once again to my good friend Brooke, a Texan reporter/editor who has taken to sending me goofy links from all around the Internet. Today, she sent me not only the following humorous cult blog, but also a picture of one gorilla giving oral sex to another gorilla. No, I'm not going to post the picture. My grandmother reads this blog!

So, anyway, this cult blog. They just collect news stories and other ephemera associated with large cults and post it. They seem particularly interested in Scientology, L Ron Hubbard's wacko sci-fi religion. I'm not going to do a whole long post goofing on Scientologists, because most people already know that it's stupid. Plus, I've heard all the stories about people making fun of Scientologists on their websites and then being tracked down and harrassed, and I think I could do without pesky thetans or whatever those idiots call themselves.

But I couldn't resist this one item, an interview with noted Scientologist, actress and Danny Elfman niece Jenna Elfman. You may remember her as the uninhibited, free-spirited Dharma on long-running sitcom "Dharma and Greg." I don't, because I don't watch that network sitcom shit, but maybe you do...

Ms. Elfman's the cover girl for last month's issue of "Celebrity," the Scientology Magazine. Why, may I ask, is the Scientology magazine's name Celebrity? I mean, obviously their PR campaign's based largely around recruiting famous people like Elfman, John Travolta, Tom Cruise and that fat lady from the Pier One ads. But this is still a pretty silly name for a religion's magazine. I guess "Cracked" was already taken...

Before going on, I'll fill you guys in a bit on Scientology, in case you're running behind on your trendy, bullshit Hollywood religions. Tune in tomorrow for a crash course in Kaballah. So, Scientology is all about raising human potential through what they call "tech." The more knowledge of Scientology, or "tech," you amass, the higher state of consciousness you achieve. There are 8 levels of consciousness (called OT, or Operating Thetan, levels) that can be achieved. All of us sorry non-Scientologists are stuck down at one...but Dharma's already a Level 7! Plus, she gets +2 charisma.

Oh, no, wait, that's D&D. Basically, learning about "tech" consists of finding out more and more information about a specific historical event. Oh, I'll just let Cult News explain.

When Scientologists reach “OT 3” they are told “specific details” about an incident that allegedly occurred some 75 million years ago. Back then a galactic ruler named “Xenu” purportedly paralyzed people and sent them to earth in space ships. They were then arranged around a volcano and murdered with H-bombs, but their souls are still supposedly hanging around haunting humanity.

These pesky little ghosts are called “Body Thetans” or “BTs.”

Remember, this was a religion invented by a bad science fiction author.

So, Jenna's a Level 7, she says. And there's only 8 levels. Wouldn't that make her some sort of great sage? I mean, she's only one level away from total spiritual enlightenment. Doesn't that make her, like, a semi-diety. In most Asian countries, once you've reached 7 out of 8 levels of enlightenment, they start building statues of you. (Oh, I kid the Asian countries...)

And Scientologists believe that little ghosts called BT's follow you around and try to bring you down. Yeah, that sounds about right. You'd come to that conclusion just walking around any American city, really.

Before I go, here's one last little bit of crazy from the star of Keeping the Faith and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Ms. Jenna Elfman.

“If we want to clear this planet, we've got to know and apply this tech. It's just a rule. It just is…I can't even emphasize it enough. It's just truth. You can't go beyond truth, it just is…if you want to Keep Scientology Working, you need to do the PTS/SP Course. Either that or you could be dead. You pick.”

It's a rule, people. You can't go beyond truth. And the truth is, Body Thetans, descended from aliens destroyed by H-bombs while standing on a volcano, are haunting humanity. And only by giving millions of dollars to David Miscavige can you make them go away.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Surfing on a Hindrocket

This guy, Hindrocket, who blogs over at the conservative mouthpiece Powerline, has published one of the dumbest blog posts I've ever seen. Seriously. And I read some dumb blogs. Remember that guy who wrote only extraordinarily obvious things? Like, "I think there's a war going on in Iraq, and that's important."

But this is dumber.

Hindrocket...Okay, before I even go into why he's a moron, what's with that name? "Hindrocket"? Remember, this guy's a staunch right-winger. The concept of a rocket nearing one's hindquarters doesn't sound very conservative to me. Maybe the blog's published by the same people who hired Jeff Gannon or JD Guckert or Alan Smithee or whatever the hell that guy's name was.

Okay, on to the article. The Artist Currently Known as Hindrocket alerts us to the news that a biology professor at Texas Tech University refuses to write letters of recommendation for students who don't believe in evolution.

This sounds reasonable enough to me. I mean, the entire point of the letter of recommendation is that this professor thinks the student would one day make a good biologist. And the professor obviously thinks (for good reason!) that a student who rejects one of the most commonly understood scientific theories wouldn't make a terrific scientist.

Not to mention that a letter of recommendation is an optional portion of the professor's job. They're under no official obligation to write a letter to each student. I've had professors refuse to write me letters of recommendation without giving any satisfactory reason at all. That's the whole point! You have to impress the professor so they take time out of their busy schedule to help you.

But, of course, Hindrocket finds the very notion that a professor would refuse to embrace the holy science of Creationism tantamount to social terrorism. In his words:

I think that Darwin's theory of macroevolution is plainly wrong, on strictly scientific grounds. So to bar a student from progressing in his career because he refuses to sign on to what is, in my view, a rather obvious fraud, which cannot withstand the mildest scrutiny, is really an outrage. It is no different from the practice in Soviet Russia of promoting only biologists who believed (or pretended to believe) in the theories of Lamarck, who argued that acquired traits could be inherited. But Darwinism is the official religion of the biological (and more generally, the scientific) establishment, and as such is rigorously enforced.

You hear that, folks? A professor insisting that a student have a basic understanding of how human life began is communist. Education is ignorance! Up is down! We're not going to invade Iran, except that we probably are!

Welcome to Bushworld.

But the insanity continues!

Unfortunately for the left, religious people in this country, as in Latin America, Africa and Asia--everywhere but western Europe--aren't going away. And to a degree that frustrates and confounds the left, they frequently aren't stupid.

I have this talk of "The Left." There is no "The Left." There's people who make sense, and there's morons who make no sense. It just so happens that almost all of the people who make sense vote the same way, and it ain't for the same guys as Hindrocket. (In fact, shockingly enough, sometimes it ain't even guys!)

But even beyond that, Hindrocket assumes that those of us on "The Left" want religious people to be stupid. I don't! I want everyone to be as smart as me, so they make decisions based on some sort of logic. Believe me, I want everyone to understand evolution. Not because I need everyone to agree with me, but because it's true and it makes common sense. The world would be a much better place for all of us if hardcore religious nuts were able to table the religious stuff and think rationally about the world. But that's not really the way it's going down, now is it?

Of course we evolved from monkeys! Look at a fucking monkey, asshat! It looks just like us! We have less hair and weirder thumbs...that's fucking it! And you ever wonder why humans have a tailbone? We don't have tails, do we? Well, maybe Hindrocket does (although that would make it more difficult to get a rocket up his behind). Could it be that, over time, the tails got smaller but the bone structure never changed? Hmmmm?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

From the Mail Bag

We get lots of e-mail here at Crushed by Inertia. Well, okay, we get some e-mail. Most of it informs us that our penises are too small or that now is a great time for a second mortgage. But every once in a while, it's from actual people that we know who want to tell us something.

Since I began the blog, many of my friends have become sort of amateur newshounds. They'll e-mail me all kinds of articles and funny Internet whatnot. It's great, a very convenient way to keep up to date on who's getting their genitals severed this week.

Since you asked, that would be the unnamed boyfriend of Kim Tran, a 35 year old Alaska resident. After an argument leading to a break-up, Tran decided the only sane course of action was to cut off her boyfriend's penis and flush it down the toilet.

Best part of this Dallas Morning News article my friend Brooke sent me? This quote:

Kim Tran, 35, was arraigned on charges of assault, domestic violence and tampering with evidence. She remained jailed in Anchorage, with no bail set.

Tampering with evidence! I mean, that's one way of putting it. Another way would be "tampering with her boyfriend's genitals." And yet another way would be "violating every code of goodness and decency known to man."

Do the cops have a police code for something like this when it happens. "Um, yeah, we've got a 453, a perp flushed a man's penis down the toilet. Can you get a couple black-and-whites out here? And get me in touch with some water utility workers who don't gross out easy."

Water utility workers retrieved the penis, and police said surgery to reattach it was successful.

Wow, that's amazing. I'm sure it's totally good as new, and not at all freakish and monster-like. Way to go, modern science!

Our next item came to me from my good buddy Steve, who prowls the Bob Dylan websites by night looking for amusing comments by The Master. Well, he found one. Here's Bob Dylan writing in the program for his current tour about what he thinks of rock music today:

"I know there are groups at the top of the charts that are hailed as the saviours of rock'n'roll and all that, but they are amateurs. They don't know where the music comes from," he wrote, adding, “I wouldn't even think about playing music if I was born in these times... I'd probably turn to something like mathematics. That would interest me. Architecture would interest me. Something like that."

Bob Dylan, mathematician. It's got kind of a ring to it. And, much as I love Bob, he's guilty of the same offense of which I recently accused guys like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. He's blinded by his membership in a specific generation. He doesn't know about the good bands out there, he only knows what's on MTV and the radio, and of course he doesn't like that crap. But there are guys like M. Ward, Iron and Wine and Mike Doughty (among thousands of others) who Bob could probably get into. And even if he's unable to appreciate something like Radiohead, because it's just so different from the type of music he grew up listening to, it's silly to just come out and condemn everything that came after your time.

Don't these old guys realize how much they sound like old guys? Why is it that these smart, capable, intelligent people lose all perspective once they pass their 50's?

And finally, I'm going to a bachelor party for my high school friend David, who's tying the knot this summer in Pittsburgh. So a bunch of guys, one of whom I know from high school, and I are trying to work out arrangements for next month. Half want to go to Mexico and half (including me) want to go to Palm Springs or just stay in LA. So we've been brainstorming it out over the Internet.

And I have to say, this group of people is more on top of their shit than any other group of guys I've ever hung out with. When my close LA friends and I go on a trip, we make no plans whatsoever. We sit in the car and drive in the direction we're pointed in until we reach gambling and cheap booze.

True story. My friend, let's call him K, once went on a trip to Las Vegas with his girlfriend on Valentine's Day weekend. He made no plans at all before embarking on this trip, thinking that "Las Vegas is full of hotels, right? They'll be plenty of room." Long story short, he and his lady spent a romantic evening snuggling in his car in the parking lot at Caeser's Palace.

And yet these guys are working out where we can stay, how much it will cost per person, how long of a drive it will likely be (even adding up the total drive time from the airport to LA to our final destination). Is this how most people behave? Can I really be this lazy and out of it? I think we all know the answer to that question...

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sherlock Holmes ranks alongside Dracula and Frankenstein among the most filmed characters of all time. So it's only fitting that Britain's Hammer Films, after announcing itself to the world with international hits based on the well-known vampire and freakish monster, would turn its attention to Arthur Conan Doyle's detective. And, also fittingly, they tapped their two most popular players, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, to interpret the lead roles. The result deserves a high position on any list of the finest Holmes adaptations, and the best movies from the entire Hammer period, a fruitful era in horror and suspense films.

Basil Rathbone starred in fourteen films as the great detective and became an icon in the role. Additionally, there have been television series, children's cartoons and all manner of other media based on the character, whose name has become synonymous with complex problem-solving.

I'm constantly surprised that no modern producer has thought to revitalize the Holmes brand. There are dozens of mystery books featuring Holmes, Watson and their nemesis Moriarty out there waiting to be adapted for the screen, and any number of contemporary British actors could do wonders in the roles. (Picture, just as an example, Jeremy Irons as Holmes and Bob Hoskins as Watson. Or Alan Rickman as Holmes and Robbie Coltrane as Watson. I could keep going on like this, but you get the idea.)

This was the only film featuring Cushing in the role of Holmes, and he pulls it off swimmingly. He gets at Holmes' prickly, unlikable side without ever making the character obnoxious or irritating. At one point, after making a surprising escape from a collapsed mine shaft, Holmes essentially mocks his friends and associates as inferiors. Considering that Andre Morell portrays Watson with a quiet dignity not generally allowed the portly sidekick, the Holmes character seems all the more uncouth and pompous. He may have fantastical deductive skills, but his social graces leave much to be desired.

This sort of half-mad genius was a specialty of Cushing. His style of performance lends an air of gothic horror to the proceedings (which Hammer certainly played on in the marketing, selling the movie as straight-up horror). The story opens in London, where a doctor relates a strange legend to Holmes and Watson, about a curse on the Baskerville Family. Because of the actions of his ancestor Hugo Baskerville, wealthy aristocrat Sir Charles Baskerville has been attacked and killed by a vicious hound near his estate. Now, the only heir to the Baskerville fortune, Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) must return to his ancestral home. But will there be a curse waiting for him when he arrives?

There have been several filmed adaptations of Doyle's novel "Hound of the Baskervilles." Peter Cook and Dudley Moore even collaborated on an ill-fated comic adaptation in the late seventies. I like the Hammer version best, and not just because of how fully Cushing inhabits the role of Holmes. I also enjoy director Terence Fisher's gorgeous, fogged-in cinematography, the remarkable set design and mise-en-scene (some of it provided by Peter Cushing from his private collection) and the film's eerie, generally unsettled atmosphere.

Hammer Films didn't exactly have the immense budgets to pull of grand-scale horror filmmaking, so not all of the effects sequences come off perfectly. The Hell Hound at the end, in particular, leaves something to be desired. But the film looks so terrific otherwise, and is told with such assured, steady, tight precision, any complaints begin to feel like quibbling. At 86 lean minutes, Hound of the Baskervilles is ideal suspense entertainment, a near-perfect little movie that was great fun to revisit.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hating on Elimidate

Our DVR television system has advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages: never missing a television show. I went to the movies last Thursday and was unable to catch "The Apprentice," but I merely recorded it and watched it, commercial-free, at midnight when I got home. That's amazing. But the disadvantages are rather sizable. I have to share the damn thing with two roommates, and as we all now have the freedom to watch whatever we want, whenever we want, the amount of overall television consumption has skyrocketed. So I find myself watching TV shows I ordinarily might miss.

Like "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." I watched this show, like every other American, for about two weeks after it first premiered. Then a guy, named John Carpenter I believe, won the million dollar grand prize. The world lost interest and the show disappeared into the vast barren wasteland that is daytime network television.

But anyway, the Game Show Network reruns old episodes of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," and my roommate records them diligently. Well, okay, it's super-easy to record an entire series like this, but that doesn't mean you should. I see so much of Regis Philbin these days, you'd think I was promoting a cookbook for busy moms on the go or something.

Another show that gets a lot of play around our apartment, thanks to the miracle of recording technology, is Elimidate. Now, I have no problem with Elimidate per se. It's a somewhat entertaining show. But watching it all the time (and I mean a few episodes a day) has begun to warp my fragile little mind.

Elimidate, for those of you with a day job and no DVR at home, is a reality dating show where one guy goes on a date with four different ladies. At the end of each section of the date, or "round," the guy cuts one girl, until by the end, he's left with only one, his dream girl.

They do versions with one girl and four guys as well, but no one wants to see that crap. Because the guys just try to impress the girl, really, and it gets boring fast.

"I have a great job and make a ton of money."

"So what? I have an even greater job, and make even more money. Plus, check out these abs!"

The girls, on the other hand, get much more competitive with one another, setting out to destroy the other girls through ridicule and harrassment. It's pretty great. You get to see shallow, manipulative, evil little wenches trying their best to tear one another apart, but really only revealing how small and empty they are inside. And if that's not entertainment, well...okay, maybe it's not entertainment, but it amuses me and my roommates to no end.

I feel like what I'm about to say is going to be misinterpreted. I do not fancy myself a genius or a great thinker by any means, bear in mind. Just a personal of reasonable, normal intellect.

But what's special about Elimidate is how it gives me the opportunity to watch morons converse. See, any conversation that involves me is neccessarily a conversation involving at least one rational, sane individual of reasonable intelligence. I don' t walk around talking about Planck's Constant all day or anything...but you get what I mean.

On Elimidate, however, all the contestants are morons. They filter out anyone with even a hint of rationality at the start. What you're left with are the slowest, silliest, most misguided people alive. They have trouble putting their thoughts into any kind of spoken language. Even when the girls attempt to pick on one another, they usually wind up repeating the same basic observation a few times and then calling the other girl a slut, a ho, a slutty ho, or a total slutbag ho.

Here's how a typical conversation on Elimidate unfolds:

"Why you wearing that shirt?"
"I design my own clothes, and I look good."
"It makes your gut stick out. You got to work on your body."
"I look good, ho."
"That shirt gives you a gut, girl. You need work, is all I'm saying."
"I'm just saying I look all good and shit. Why don't you worry about you?"
"I am worried about me. I'm just saying you got a gut."
"You're a slut."
"I am not a slut, okay? Just trying to tell you you got your stomach all sticking out."
"I look good, slut."

And you can see that each girl is really trying hard to impress us all with their wit. They work and work at being the smartest, most clever, most cutting girl on the date, but they all fail miserably. Because they're so stupid, you see.

So, that's my two cents on why I find Elimidate so engrossing. It's like watching a nature documentary. I could never see lions frolicking in the wild, because if I was standing there, it'd be lions ripping apart a small Jewish guy's corpse, not frolicking. Likewise, if I was actually involved in one of these Elimidate conversations, it would cease to work. So the only way I can truly appreciate how morons interact when I'm not around is through reality dating television.

It's a public service, really.

Invasion of the Blood Farmers

The New Beverly remains quite possibly the only fully-functioning revivial theater in Los Angeles. How can a city with as many people involved in film as LA have only one theater dedicated to showing cheap double-features of movie classics?

I mean, the Egyptian has all kinds of screenings and special programs, but it's not really like a cheap revivial house. Plus, they show all kinds of new movies (such as the recent advance screening of Steamboy held there, reviewed by my co-worker and fellow blogger Ari).

But the New Bev just shows old movies, at $6 per double-feature. It's a pretty amazing deal, made all the better when you consider line-ups like Scarface with Carlito's Way, or Infernal Affairs with Chungking Express, or Brazil with Twelve Monkeys.

My favorite event at the New Beverly remains the monthy Grindhouse Night, hosted by Eric Caiden of Hollywood Book and Poster and, until recently, Johnny Legend, who has since retired to Florida. Check out a small online article about the event here, featuring some very appealing photos of local favorite Dukie Flyswatter.

Interesting trivia note about Johnny Legend: he directed the famed Andy Kaufman mock-umentary My Breakfast with Blassie as well as 70's grindhouse classic Young Hot 'N' Nasty Teenage Cruisers.

Second interesting trivia note about Johnny Legend: he's the brother of Lynn Margulies, ex-wife of Andy Kaufman, portrayed in the film Man on the Moon by Courtney Love.

I've met Ms. Margulies at a few LA film events, and she's very friendly and approachable, but have never gathered the courage to ask her a certain question...How does it make you feel when they cast Courtney Love to play you in a movie? Offended? Proud? It definitely says something about the way people see you, and it may not be entirely positive.

Anyway, I've gotten sidetracked. I was going to talk about the first film of tonight's double-feature, Ed Adlum's 1972 low-budget disaster Invasion of the Blood Farmers. Adlum appeared at the screening in person to introduce the film, and began by warning us that it isn't any good. He refrained from using the word "sucks," but only at the behest of his wife. He shared with us his opinion on camp - that no one can intentionally create camp, and it only happens when artists behave with the utmost sincerity.

Blood Farmers was made over the course of three weekends on a budget of $24,000. And you can tell. It's obscenely amateurish, a no-frills attempt to provide mild gore at minimal expense. The incredibly thin story of an ancient race in need of a human sacrifice in order to survive suffers from some of the most atrocious acting ever to grace the silver screen, particularly stage actor Norman Kelley.

As Adlum explained before the show, Kelley was a well-regarded theatrical actor with no film experience. This becomes painfully obvious every time he opens his mouth or attempts to emote. The guy constantly aims for the rafters on every line, regardless of the fact that he's in a movie and there are no rafters. So, a quick shot of him picking up the telephone to say, "Hello, dear" instead becomes an ungainly, exaggerated pantomime, capped off with an entirely overzealous reading of the line, rendering the simple sentiment into something more consequential than, say, the Apollo Moon Landing.

In typical low-budget exploitation style, as well, the movie drifts aimlessly from set piece to set piece. So, we get a brief, stacatto sequence of a newlywed couple being butchered and drained of their blood, followed by a long, labored take of a man standing in a laboratory swirling blood around with a beaker.

So, the movie's awful, right? Absolutely horrendous. One of the worst things I've ever seen. So why is it so much fun? Why do I keep going back month after month to see films like Invasion of the Blood Farmers, Night of the Bloody Apes, The Candy-Snatchers and Simon, King of the Witches (that last one was part of a double feature with a film called Calendar Girls, about a man methodically killing all the models appearing in a single Playboy Issue...this is a plot begging to be remade into a big, stylish Hollywood thriller...Turge, call me.)

The answer is in their innocence. These are films desperate to make an impression on you. They have no budget, they have limited marketing, and in most cases, the filmmakers have no experience. They're not going to compete with Polanski, Scorsese or Kubrick. These are guys who wanted to make cheap movies, get them out into a few small theaters on 42nd Street or some cheapo Hollywood Blvd. screening room and make some kind of a name for themselves.

So, they stoop. They stoop as low as they can go, filling the films with gratuitous violence, lame jokes and constant, unneccessary nudity. But in their desperation to undermine morality, to violate taboos, they usually wind up seeming rather mild.

For example, there's a film called Mantis in Lace, in which a stripper lures men back to a scummy alley, makes them think she's going to have sex with them, and then brutally stabs them to death. Half of the film consists of nude or partially nude belly dancing. In 1968, it's leering cinematography and psychedelic freak-out murder sequences might have seemed a bit daring or controversial, but I kind of doubt it. Now, the film is downright quaint. But it thinks it's being nervy, underground and titillating, and that's where a lot of the pleasure is derived.

When a mainstream Hollywood movie's bad, you know the filmmakers had every opportunity to get it right. Rob Cohen has no excuse for making XXX, a movie that's not just awful but hideously boring. Say what you will about the overall quality of something like Invasion of the Blood Farmers, but it was made by guys who were hungry. They may not have known what they were doing, but they were committed to doing something, to getting your attention in any way possible.

Now, there are truly vile grindhouse films that really do shock and disturb audiences. We saw a trailer tonight for an old film called Scum of the Earth, in which a family proclaimed to be "Poor White Trash" finds themselves stalked and murdered by an axe-wielding maniac. The film appears to be crammed wall-to-wall with racism, stereotypes, grisly death and mayhem, and I'm not suggesting it's neccessarily quaint. These are films that exist in a separate category - some of them can be fun as well, but in a different way. They're about how far the filmmakers are willing to push the envelope, how far outside of the bounds of good taste they're willing to go.

That's not Invasion of the Blood Farmers. It's disturbing, but only because it thinks it's disturbing. It's actually quite silly and delightful. It's nice that the filmmaker has enough confidence and panache to show up to the screening. He gets the joke, and that's really cool.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Great Gonzo

I already did my Hunter S. Thompson obit thing here on the blog, but I can't let this topic go that quickly. HST was among my favorite writers, not in terms of sheer amount of classic books, but in terms of style and outlook on life. I found his sour nihilism inspirational, his anxiety-fueled paranoid rants warmly funny.

He's one of those writers, like Phillip Roth or Dave Eggers, who can make you feel like a close personal friend. Thompson, of course, was a journalist, so theoretically all of his stories are based on fact. But it's the intimacy of the voice, not the recollection of details, that makes it more like hearing from a friend who's been on a long trip, rather than reading the observations of a stranger.

But enough of my railing on about his genius. Salon has a great collection of memories from people who actually did know Thompson first-hand, like Sonny Barger of the Hell's Angels.

But as time went by, Hunter turned out to be a real weenie and a stone fucking coward. You read about he walks around his house now with pistols, shooting them out of his windows to impress writers who show up to interview him. He’s all show and no go. When he tried to act tough with us, no matter what happened, Hunter Thompson got scared. I ended up not liking him at all, a tall skinny, typical hillbilly from Kentucky. He was a total fake.

Hmm...well, then. I guess that's what you'd expect from a Hell's Angel. Their entire reputation's based around not liking people.

This quote from Thompson's colleague, journalist Robert Sam Anson, seems to get at his particular brand of madness quite well:

[Thompson] drains his glass in a gulp and orders another drink. And then another. Buy the end of the evening, he will have had many drinks, and will still be sober. It is his special curse: to be able to fill his body with alcohol and drugs, and always have it function; never to be able to blot out what he has seen, what he knows.

Also, you should check out this item from the New York Post, in which Thompson's friend Warren Hinckle recalls his final moments.

"He's [Thompson] talking about a funeral, great funeral. Typical Hunter ranting, nothing out of the ordinary about that," Hinckle told The Post. "And then he walked into the next room . . . and pow."

Asked if Thompson — whose drug and booze consumption was as prodigious as his prose — was intoxicated at the time, Hinckle said he did not know, but added, "If he were, it would be nothing unusual. He was intoxicated all the time."

The article comes to the conclusion that Thompson killed himself rather than live any longer in physical pain, including spinal and hip problems. Seems reasonable enough to me.

Monday, February 21, 2005

I Heart Huckabees

I wish there was a heart icon you could put in the header of a blog entry. In fact, I'm sure there is a way I could make a Clip Art heart or some such thing appear in the above headline, but I'm not so good with the HTML. Thank God for cut and paste and blog templates, is all I'm saying. 'Cause the title of this movie makes little sense until you've seen it, unless you can get an image in there. And I basically have to explain it to you now, because otherwise you'll be reading this whole review thinking, "Why the hell is the movie called I Heart Huckabees?"

So, anyway, Huckabees is a department store in the film, a department store whose actions tie together a large group of characters all involved in some sort of metaphysical or existential crisis. And the department store sells buttons that say "I [Heart Icon] Huckabees." Hence the name, I Heart Huckabees.

This description makes the film sound labored and confusing, I know. In fact, any review you're likely to read summarizing the film probably makes it sound labored and confusing. By all rights, it should be. The movie exists as a rather loosely-connected series of sequences, held together by ideas rather than any sort of strict narrative. They say every film needs conflict, and Huckabees opens with a conflict between two characters - suburban environmentalist Albert (Jason Schwartzman) and slick PR executive Brad (Jude Law) - but it's really about a bunch of people dealing with inner conflicts who happen to be standing around one another.

So, anyway, Albert works for the Open Spaces Committee, a group of people committed to stopping suburban sprawl, particularly as it concerns one marsh. He's involved in a power struggle with Huckabees PR manager Brad for control of the committee. This conflict, and a series of coincidences involving a tall African man, spur Albert to seek the help of a pair of "existential detectives" (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman), New Age philosophers/counselors who guide clients on the gradual path to enlightenment. Among their other clients are Albert's nemesis Brad, his comely girlfriend and Huckabees spokeswoman Dawn (the comely Naomi Watts) and politically-aware firefighter Tom (Mark Wahlberg, in his best performance to date).

Still with me? Good.

If all this sounds chaotic and non-sequiter, well, it is to a certain extent. Director/writer David O. Russell warps the screwball comedy format, mining oddball characters and bizarre situations for not only laughs but also small observations about life, success and happiness.

For example, during one fantastic sequence, Hoffman and Tomlin's detectives reveal to Brad through surruptitious tape recordings that he tells the same silly anecdote about Shania Twain to nearly everyone he meets. Law's performance here is remarkable. He starts the scene with a cocksure grin, certain that these so-called detectives have no insights for him. By the end, when he comes to realize the grim reality, that he's a phony and a bore, his smile has become twisted to a sneer. When a colleague later calls upon him to relay the same Shania story at an important business meeting, he vomits.

On one level, what you've got here is farce. Brad sees the truth about his sad life at the worst possible time, ruining an important business meeting. But you also have real human tragedy underpinning all the action. Brad isn't some cartoon idly manipulated by Russell for laughs, like the Ben Stiller character in the director's likewise hilarious Flirting With Disaster. He's a man really looking within himself for the first time, and not liking what he sees.

There are too many terrific sequences like this to recount for you here on the blog. The generally stiff Mark Wahlberg gives a deliriously comic turn as Tom Corn, who rejects the optimism of Hoffman and Tomlin's detectives in favor of the sour, nihilistic philosophy of their greatest rival (Isabelle Huppert). Richard Jenkins and Jean Smart appear briefly as uptight conservatives who unwisely invite Albert and Tom over for dinner. And the wonderful visual effects and trippy, bouncy music by Jon Brion offset the loopy dialogue brilliantly.

Like Flirting With Disaster or Russell's other ingenius genre-bender, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees is a daring film where big risks really pay off. Though it's high-minded, thoughtful and filled with philosophical references and cerebral insight, it's never solipsistic or self-involved. It reminds me of early Jean-Luc Godard, the Godard of Breathless and Band of Outsiders, back when he was still dizzy with glee at getting to direct movies, and anxious to throw in every idea he'd ever had into a 90 minute film.

But, you know, before he became a navel-gazing, bitter old crank, lashing out in cynicism and disgust at a world he apparently feels has left him behind.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Hunter S. Thompson has died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 67 years old. His books and writings have profoundly influenced my writing, my attitudes on journalism, and indeed, my lfie. A brilliant mind, a chaotic life and, if not a great man, at least an honest one.

I had logged on to the blog to write up a Best Movies of the 90's List, which would surely include Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Thompson's greatest and most famous novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when I saw this news on Yahoo's front page.

It's not a massive surprise, I suppose. Thompson was an unpredictable, manic kind of guy, and a lifetime of drug, alcohol and overall abuse, really, left him with some health and even mental problems. He lived in an isolated cabin in the woods, with his wife Anita, son Juan and his large personal stash of firearms.

He was a paranoid man, but maybe you'd be, too, if you had lived Thompson's life. At the vanguard of a new, if not permanent, movement on journalism he dubbed "Gonzo," Thompson was on the front lines of a culture war. Many people interpreted his books as nihilistic or indecent, but really, he's not suggesting that everyone emulate his lifestyle. He's not saying that drugs are the perfect escape, so much as commenting on why people need an escape in the first place. He purposefully warps his vision to correspond to the warped world on which he reports.

It's all right there in the book "Fear and Loathing." A straight Thompson couldn't begin to report on the actual goings-on of the year 1971. Vietnam, political controversy, civil insurrection, race riots. He saw a world going mad around him, and decided that the only solution was to go mad himself.

Was this a wise decision for his health or reputation? Of course not. But that's what makes him a writer and not a politician. He concerned himself with seeing the truth and telling people about it in as entertaining and straight-forward a manner as possible, not with the consequences, foreseeable or not, of these actions.

And it's what makes his writing so alive. These are not experiences he observes and comments on. He's not like Today's Tom Wolfe, afraid to get any dirt on his pristine white suit, contenting himself to watch college students frolic in the distance before writing tawdry novels about their inner monologues. He's more like Yesterday's Tom Wolfe, hanging out in VW bugs with hippies asking them about the first time they dropped acid.

So, anyway, this is a long, rambling way of saying that I'll miss Hunter S. Thompson. The world's just a bit less interesting now that he's no longer in it.

A Taut Political Thriller

I have thought up a terrific idea for a movie. Okay, bear in mind when you read what I'm about to say...This is an idea for a movie, not a real thing...I don't mean that what I'm about to write should actually happen. I just think it's a good idea for a fictional movie. Everybody got that? We clear? Especially anyone who might be in the Secret Service or any other governmental/shadow government agency?

Okay, good. Here's an article that's running on the AP Wire right now:

Laura Bush told Newsweek she doesn't expect that any of the celebrity chefs with books or television shows will be interested in becoming head chef at the presidential home. But she's looking to fill the job with someone who "can really showcase American foods."

See, the White House needs a new chef, specifically one who can cook good barbecue.

"Mmmm, boy, I tell you what, Laura, we gots to get us one of them chefs can cook me up some hot links, I ain't a-much for these here classy fixins." [cue fiddle music]

But, seriously, folks, the last White House chef, Walter Scheib III, has left after a tenure of 11 years and two presidents. He had the Bushes and the Clintons...Think he got sick of mac and cheese? That's my personal theory.

So, anyway, here's my movie idea. In fact, it's such a good idea, you can do it either as a taut political thriller or as a wacky fish-out-of-water comedy.

Okay, first, here's the political thriller. Once again, I'd like to stress that this is a fully fictional scenario which I would never actually plan in reality in any way. So, please, don't send me to Abu Gharib. I'll be good:

A Secret Service is contacted by a brilliant, shadowy foreign assassin, relocated to US soil. Inside information seems to indicate that the mission it to kill the President. He pauses to note that Lons of the blog Crushed By Inertia merely means this as a movie idea, not a real plan. A full-scale investigation launches, people are interviewed, background checks are done on all staff and personnel, and so on. And all the while, the agent is taunted by the sneaky assassin.

Now, I know what you're thinking. This is In the Line of Fire. But I have a twist, goddammit!

A few nights before a big State Dinner, the White House chef is taken ill and goes to the hospital. A replacement is quickly found. The agent puts the pieces together, realizing that the replacement chef is actually the killer. He bursts into the State just as the President takes a fork up to his mouth, and knocks the food away, saving the day.

But the chef escapes. During the credits, we see a news clip about the recent death-by-poisoning of the President of Some Other Country, thereby setting up a sequel.

Okay, so that's a good idea, right. But this next one's even better, if you can believe it. It's the fish-out-of-water comedy version.

The White House has a PR problem...People think the President hates French people, and they need to work with the French towards an international peace accord. (Okay, it's unrealistic, but bear with me). So, Pierre, a cultured French man and the greatest chef in France, comes to America to work as the first international Head Chef of the White House. Unfortunately, the President of America at this time is a loutish, crude Texan with no pallatte and poor table manners. Sadly, he really does hate French people (or, as he calls them, dirty Frenchie toads).

Here's the twist. Pierre secretly works with a group of European radicals, a group that does not include Lons of the blog Crushed by Inertia, and he has really come to America to kill the President!

So, after a movie spent living with and getting to know the President, Pierre comes to love him, and is unable to follow through on his plans. In the end, he winds up having an affect on the President as well, and we end with them hugging after the Prez signs the International Peace Accord.

Come on! I'd watch that movie! I'd probably have to get really stoned first, but then I'd likely watch it, or at least flip back to it during the commercials on "Blind Date."

Palestinian Hanging

Okay, kids, the following description gets a bit rough...Those people who are sensitive to hearing a torture process described (and I do so delicately, I hope) should probably skip around and find one of the funny or movie-related articles instead. (Though not the review of The Isle...that's a good deal more troubling).

Alright, so, This Modern World, a thoroughly terrific blog from Tom Tomorrow, who draws a lefty comic strip of the same name, has posted a description of what's known as Palestinian Hanging. This is what the CIA calls the interrogation process where they take an Arab prisoner and tie him up with his wrists behind his back. It's been called the most painful position into which you can enter a human body.

Well, Tom makes the observation that he's seen this technique used for dealing with prisoners pictures of Dachau. Yeah, that would be the Nazi concentration camp. They used the same procedure for torturing Jews and other dissident prisoners during the Holocaust.

So, that's just terrific news. I love it when our government borrows ideas from one of the most vile, evil conglomeration of villains in modern world history. Just letting the rest of the world know that Freedom is on the March, I suppose.

Does it see clearly or darkly?

I've been following the news on Richard Linklater's new animated Philip K. Dick adaptation, A Scanner Darkly, very closely. I like Philip K. Dick a good deal, and have always felt that, though a lot of cool movies have spawned from his writing, like Blade Runner and Total Recall and Minority Report, that there hasn't ever been an adaptation that really feels like one of his stories. Directors tend to take Dick's interesting ideas and then reinterpret the story to fit their own needs.

And that's fine. But this Linklater film looks to be the first time a talented director has really merged his style with the author's, to produce something entirely different and new. Linklater's using the animated technique he developed for his 2002 head trip Waking Life to tell the story of a cop chasing a drug dealer that may be his own alter-ego. And it looks fantastic.

Don't believe me? Check out the trailer here at iFilm. You have to watch a creepy trailer for the Army first, in which they try to convince young men that the only way to make their daddy proud is to join the Army. Shameless. But once you get past that, it's all gravy. Enjoy.

And, as with all these trailers and movie-themed goodies, my thanks to Aint It Cool News for the link.