Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Big Red One: The Reconstruction

In honor of the release of this film to DVD, we're having a big event down at Laser Blazer on Thursday. Tons of people from the cast and crew of Sam Fuller's classic 1980 WWII epic will be autographing the new 2-disc "reconstructed" version of The Big Red One from 7 to 9 pm, including the film's stars, Robert Carradine and Mark Hamill.

Yes, Mark Hamill. You know, from that big, popular movie with a prequel coming out in a few weeks. But that's not important right now.

What is important is that this new version of Big Red One, with 40 minutes of footage added in according to the late Mr. Fuller's own specifications, is an amazing movie. A deeply-felt, impeccably detailed and riveting portrait of war through the eyes of five survivors.

Fuller was a member of the Army's First Infantry Division (the Big Red One of the title), so this is not some academic film based on testimonials or secondary source material. He's telling it as he saw it, and the result brings to mind other classic war films like Platoon, another first-person account of war as directed by a combat veteran.

But unlike Platoon, which incorporates Oliver Stone's trademark impressionism to give the film the visceral impact of a feverish nightmare, Sam Fuller was a stone-cold realist. His movie insists on presenting the facts in an objective, straight-forward matter, and refuses to pull away when the proceedings get disturbing or violent. His frankness, and fondness for acerbic gallows humor, gives The Big Red One the kind of bleak, nihilistic vibe generally reserved for Vietnam films.

I'll confess up front, I'm not familiar with the trimmed-down, 2 hour cut of the film that premiered in theaters in 1980 and has been the offical version of The Big Red One up until the present. I had heard from several sources that the film, though engaging and featuring nice work from star Lee Marvin, was an inessential film, a minor TV-movie-style project from a beloved director. I can only assume this opinion was influenced by a poor edit of this material, or a bad print or transfer.

Because the film I have watched on this new DVD release looks absolutely terrific. Fuller's masterful direction and excellent cinematography by Adam Greenberg, particularly during the film's many combat sequences, give the movie the kind of bold, sure-handed and frequently crafty visual style for which Fuller had become famous.

One sequence in particular, in which the GI's hide in a tunnel in the foreground from Nazi troops on the march in the background is a master class in timing and composition. A German soldier stops in the cave to urinate, with the heroes crouched down just a few feet below, and Fuller has set the camera up to give us the perfect angle on both activities at once. (It reminded me, for some reason, of a similarly masterful shot in Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, in which the hobbits crouch beneath a tree, hiding from a Ringwraith on the prowl.)

I realize I've gotten quite a ways into this review without discussing the actual content of the film. Very unprofessional of me. The Big Red One doesn't really tell a single, cohesive story. It's more like an anthology of war stories, all of which feature the same five protagonists. These would be four riflemen of the Army's First Infantry and their Sergeant (Marvin). There's Griff (Hamill), who is prone to freezing up during heated combat, Johnson, a naive farm boy (Kelly Ward), Vinci, the sarcastic smart-aleck whose knowledge of basic Italian comes in handy (Bobby DiCicco) and Zab (Carradine), who narrates the movie and, with his trademark cigar on him at all times, clearly serves as a stand-in for Fuller himself. (Although Fuller does actually make a brief appearance in the film, as a war correspondant taking photographs of Italian soldiers).

We follow these men through firefights in North Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany and finally the Czech Republic. They take part in large campaigns, like the Normandy invasion at Omaha Beach, and run smaller operations, such as the destruction of an SP (self-propelled) gun on the Italian front.

The storytelling is similar to the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers." The war is broken down into individual segments, which give you some sense of the massive scope of the campaign, and the unbelievably stressful work of being a soldier. The extended length of the reconstructed version of the film enhances this notion - the war just seems to go on forever, and any time there's a break in the action, it's painfully brief.

Also like "Band of Brothers," The Big Red One explores the impact of replacement soldiers on the men in combat. The five protagonists are the film's only constant, and as the other soldiers around them are cut down with increasing rapidity, they become increasingly cold and anti-social. What's the point of getting to know the new guy when they'll just killed?

These five main actors all do terrific work here, with Lee Marvin turning in another of his trademark tough-but-fair taskmaster roles and Mark Hamill giving Griff kind of an odd, creepy streak. He had come a tremendous way as an actor since his somewhat unfairly maligned turn in That 1977 Film, and already had developed some gravitas as a performer by the time he made Big Red One.

There's also an interesting performance from Siegfried Rauch as a German sergeant named Schroeder with a demented, slavish devotion to his Fuhrer. We occasionally cut away from the action of the First Squad to look in on Schroeder and his parallel path from North Africa into Europe. Fuller's film is packed with these sort of ambiguous observations. At no point are we asked to sympathize with the Germans, whom Fuller sees as either foolish or mad.

But there is a notion that the job of being a soldier, whether it is for Hitler's Army or America's, is essentially the same. Marvin's Sergeant threatens his men constantly that if they attempt to desert, he will shoot them himself. The Nazi Sergeant makes this very same claim (and follows up on it in a harrowing sequence in the North African desert). Marvin struggles to motivate his men and maintain morale just as Schroeder does on the other side. And when they finally encounter one another, in a startling sequence at the film's conclusion, there is a sense of, if not respect, then at least understanding.

That's certainly more objectivity than you'd get from Oliver Stone, whose Vietcong tends towards the blurry, screechy kamikaze side of the scale.

I can't imagine seeing a condensed verison of this film. Sure, at 160 minutes, it's a lengthy undertaking. But it's such an intense, richly layered and entertaining experience that it's worth the investment of your time. Though there are some minor bumps in the road (particularly an overlong and somewhat confusing sequence set at a French mental hospital), this is one of Fuller's most fully-realized, personal and intriguing works, and one of the greatest modern war films.

And if this all sounds interesting, and you live in the Los Angeles area, why not check in on our event this Thursday at Laser Blazer? Come on by and get your Big Red One DVD signed by a significant number of people actually involved in the film. Just don't bring in any posters from That Other Film, You Know, The One With the Wookies. Cause, seriously, man, you're better than that...

National Treasure

So, I've started posting some of my reviews over on the Laser Blazer website. You can see how the prototype of the review page looks right here. And every week, the boss wants to throw up a review or two of the New Releases.

It's all very flattering, but it does mean that I have to write at least one positive review of a new DVD every week. I mean, posting reviews in which I rip apart new movies won't exactly move units, you understand?

But don't worry...I refuse to compromise my strict blog code of ethics by positively reviewing any film that I genuinely dislike. I may just have to watch, like, 10 new releases every week until I see something I like.

So, anyway, I predict this review won't be going on any other website any time soon. Because National Treasure is a joke, an adventure with no sense of adventure, a comedy without laughs, a thriller that's never exciting and an action vehicle that never once kicks into overdrive.

You can see uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer's fingerprints all over the film. It's directed by Jon Turteltaub, the man responsible for the lazy Phenomenon, the abysmal Instinct, the treacly Three Ninjas and the astoundingly not-so-bad Cool Runnings.

Those films are all anonymously directed; Turteltaub obviously don't care much for personalizing his films, and prefers to make a living a directorial journeyman. So this winds up feeling like a generic Bruckheimer-ian vehicle - it's cut very quickly, giving it a hyperkinectic feel; it's extremely formulaic; there's a glossy, professional shean to all the cinematography; it stars Nicholas Cage in his I've-just-taken-horse-tranquilizers laconic mode.

But the real bane of contemporary Bruckheimer, the problem that's evident in all of his films, really comes to fruition in National Treasure. Bruckheimer mistakes satisfying his audience with overloading them. Rather than make tightly-wound, taut and exciting 90 minute movies, he makes bloated, overdone, repetitive juggernauts like Armageddon, Con Air and Enemy of the State. Even Pirates of the Carribean, which I rather enjoyed, wears out its welcome at around the 110 minute point.

On one level, you do have to respect Bruckheimer's ambition. He's not some huckster, selling you on his movies by making false promises about enormous spectacle. He doesn't just say he's making the biggest movie of the year...he's really trying to do it, to out-spectacle everyone else in Hollywood.

It's just that these movies don't need to go on to such epic lengths. They're not epics at all! They are, at heart, simple, straightforward entertainments. We get the idea early on, and the fun is in how the filmmakers can realize these outrageous, high-concept visions. But in films like Bad Boys 2, we're asked to slog through an endless string of set-pieces, constantly encountering new foes that must be gunned down, or new puzzles that must be solved.

It's in the non-stop discovery of new riddles that National Treasure began to wear on my patience. The film is essentially a knock-off of the best selling novel "Da Vinci Code," replacing the book's art history angle with an American history motif. Obsessive treasure hunter Ben Gates (Cage) and his team have stumbled on an old pipe, a pipe that provides a vital clue to finding the largest treasure in the history of, like, forever.

The Freemasons, under the guidance of Ben Franklin and George Washington, you see, buried this treasure somewhere in America, because they felt it was too much money for any human being to handle. And Ben's family, from his grandfather on down, have been obsessed with finding the stash.

The only problem is, this pipe clue? It leads to a map that's located on the back of the Declaration of Independence. So now Ben, in competition with other treasure hunters led by the evil Ian (Sean Bean) have to steal the Declaration, follow the clues and find the treasure while evading the FBI (led by Harvey Keitel, playing his Wolf character from Pulp Fiction) and a beautiful National Archives employee (Diane Kruger, who played Helen of Troy in Troy)

Stopped caring yet? Well, that's just the first half hour! After the Declaration's stolen, they've got to spirit it all around Washington, decode it (using lemon juice!) with assistance from Ben's curmudgeonly father (Jon Voight), then follow another set of clues leading to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and then to Manhattan and...well, you get the idea.

The problem isn't the material, per se. I mean, it's bafflingly ridiculous, an insult to your intelligence that screenwriters Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley expect you to swallow some of the logical jumps here. But it could be pulled off. The problem is how long the film goes on, and how dry the proceedings get.

This is a movie that should be zippy, fun and quick. I mean, absolutely no more than 90 minutes. If this story were made during Hollywood's Golden Era, it might have starred Errol Flynn or Cary Grant, and it might have been just as silly, but it definitely wouldn't be longer than 2 and a half hours with a cartoon short, a newsreel and the latest episode of some serial adventure. And it would cost a nickel, dammit!

Why make it into an interminable slog? In the story, Ben's father, the Jon Voight character, has grown weary of the endless quest for the treasure, and has given up on the dream. He tells his son (repeatedly, of course) that there is no treasure, that the Masons invented the quest to occupy and distract treasure seekers, and that the riddles will go on forever. By the end of the film, I was ready to agree with him.

A Barely Adequate List of Bizarre Movies

I'm not really familiar with the site Blogcritics, but you get one guess as to what they're all about.
Yeah, it's a bunch of people talking about movies.

Anyway, they've posted a list of the Ten Bizarre Movies of All Time. Which is a terrific idea for a Top Ten movie list. I wish I'd thought of it. Really. Because if I had, I would have filled it with really trippy, crazy, off-kilter, unpredictable movies. Movies that don't mess with your head so much as unscrew it, use it as a cocktail shaker, and then awkwardly reattach it to your neck stump.

But that's not exactly how the blogcritics approached the last. Here's their list:

1. Mulholland Drive
2. City of Lost Children
3. Happiness of the Katakuris
4. A Clockwork Orange
5. Vanilla Sky
6. Suicide Club
7. Naked Lunch
8. Pi
9. Six-String Samurai
10. Songs from the Second Floor

Okay, to be fair, one of these I haven't yet seen. Songs from the Second Floor. I really want to see it, and we have it at the video store, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

But the rest of these movies aren't terribly bizarre. Well, okay, Naked Lunch. That has typewriters that look like cockroaches and speak through disembodied assholes that sound like William Burroughs. That's pretty goddamn bizarre. And Happiness of the Katakuris is definitely weird, but any Takashi Miike movie would probably qualify for this list.

But those other nine...I mean, the Blogcritics say this about Mulholland Drive, one of my favorite films thus far this decade:

One of the most unexplainable films (except for the hard to find Lost Highway) I have ever seen.

Okay, it's not even that hard to explain Mulholland Drive. See, the whole first half of the movie is a dream that Naomi Watts' character has. In reality, she's an actress who has fallen out of the spotlight, who has been left by her lesbian lover who herself is on the verge of bigtime successin Hollywood. In her dream world, she's a new, fresh young starlet solving a noir-ish movie mystery.

There. Done. That's the most bizarre, unexplainable film of all time? Man, that's not even the most unexplainable David Lynch film of all time. (Eraserhead?)

And, just for the record, Lost Highway isn't really hard to find (and is also somewhat more impenetrable than Mulholland). We have a copy at Laser Blazer, and I've seen them at Amoeba as well. Just be careful if you buy it, because the transfer sucks ass.

Also, including Vanilla Sky and not the original Spanish version, Abre los Ojos is kind of an insult. All the bizarre stuff was done first by Amenabar.

And Clockwork Orange is kind of odd and intense, but I wouldn't really go so far as to call it "bizarre." It's only the visual design that's weird - the story's quite straightforward and easy to follow. Maybe we just have different definitions of bizarrity.

Anyway, having a list like this and not including any Bunuel or Polanski or Alejandro Jodorowsky or Peter Greenaway or Chris Marker or Seijun Suzuki (I mean, Youth of the Beast?) or Pasolini or Tarkovsky or Herzog or any of our greatest, weirdest, most truly unhinged filmmakers is just kind of pointless.

So, I figured I'd encourage my fellow bloggers and online snarks to come up with their own suggestions for a Bizarre Movie List. Seriously. Cause I want to see more cool, bizarre movies. Here's a list I came up with just now, off the top of my head, in no particular order:

The Candy Snatchers (d. Trueblood)

This features perhaps the most bizarre performance I've ever seen from a child, and the kid was the director's son! A boy credited only as Christophe (seriously) plays a deranged/autistic/messed-up young boy who stumbles upon, and eventually foils, a kidnapping plot. The most bizarre scene: a fat bearded guy who doesn't appear for the rest of the movie mocks the child for being 8 years old and unable to speak.

Salo (d. Pasolini)

Definitely the most disgusting film I've ever seen, but it's also pretty bizarre. In a satire/condemnation of the idle Italian upper class (set during the Fascist years, but made in 1976), Pasolini retells the vile Marquis de Sade novel "120 Days of Sodom." So the whole movie is an artistically made, well-filmed series of scenes in which a bunch of old guys perform unspeakable, depraved acts on little children. How bizarre.

Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice (d. Misumi)

This Japanese take on the "Shaft" character finds maniacal samurai cop Hanzo the Razor fighting corruption by raping lots of women. See, his interrogation process for men involves horrible torture, but for women involves forcing himself on them until they submit, eventually telling him everything he wants to know. In the sort of needlessly bizarre twist that elevates this disturbing 1972 feature (that became a trilogy!) to Bizarre Classic status, Hanzo trains by thrusting his penis repeatedly into a bag of rice suspended from the ceiling.

The Devils (d. Russell)

I've just realized that all of these selections so far come from the 70's. What can I say, it was a weird decade? But I'll get off the topic after this one. All I need to do to express the weirdness of this 1971 Ken Russell freakout is post the IMDB description:

Cardinal Richelieu and his power-hungry entourage seek to take control of pre-rennaisance France, but need to destroy Father Grandier - the priest who runs the fortified town that prevents them from exerting total control. So they seek to destroy him by setting him up as a warlock in control of a devil-possessed nunnery, the mother superior of which is sexually obsessed by him. A mad witch-hunter is brought in to gather evidence against the priest, ready for the big trial.

Mr. Arkadin (d. Welles)

See? This wasn't made in the 70's...It's Welles' most flat-out strange movie, a twisting, nearly nonsensical noir filled with terrible acting, ridiculously unconvincing sets and make-up and sheer brilliance. Welles plays an amnesiac Slavic billionaire named Arkadin, who hires a common hood to find out the truth about his past.

The Apple (d. Golan)

A disco musical about a dystopian future in which an evil music conglomerate known as Bim (owned and operated by the devil) brainwashes the population through horrible funky disco music that I will never get out of my head, ever. This Israeli production is quite possibly the worst movie ever made, and it's absolutely the ugliest. Everyone's covered in sequins at all times. An amazingly bad film that should be seen by everyone.

That Obscure Object of Desire (d. Bunuel)

You have to get the greatest surreal filmmaker of all time on any list of Bizarre Films. This one, Bunuel's final film (gulp...from the 70's...), finds Fernando Rey obsessed with a woman who, while teasing him, refuses to submit to his advances. What makes it really bizarre (aside from a strange subplot about terrorism) is how Bunuel uses two actresses, who switch off during the film, to play the female lead role.

Forrest Gump (d. Zemeckis)

Okay, the movie itself isn't really weird. I just find it bizarre that so many people like it.

Marnie (d. Hitchcock)

This is my favorite late-era Hitchcock film, and it's also one of the most strange, creepy and personal films the guy ever made. Tippi Hedren plays an enigmatic, conniving, adrift and quite possibly insane woman named Marnie, who finds a mentor, husband, psychologist and parole officer all tied into one when she meets Sean Connery's Mark.

Monty Python and the Meaning of Life (d. Jones & Gilliam)

I've watched this film enough times to get kind of numbed to it's utter insanity. The movie is filled, absolutely packed full, of trippy absurdity. I mean, that "Find the Fish" segment is probably the most bizarre sequence from any film on this list.

Yellow Submarine (d. Dunning)

The Beatles travel under the sea in a yellow submarine to help the people of Pepperland fight off evil-loving monsters called Blue Meanies, using only the power of music and warm, radiating candy-colored laser beams of love.

How bizarre.

Enduring Love

I'd have preferred enduring just about any unpleasant activity over Enduring Love, an utterly joyless exercize that's as preposterous as it is dull. This is clearly a film that thinks it has something to say about the nature of love, but for the life of me I can't determine what that thing could possibly be.

This is the kind of movie where the character sit around sipping wine and discussing the film's major themes. And not in an interesting or enlightening way, either. In a repetitive and self-important way, as if screenwriter Joe Penhall couldn't think of a narrative to contain all of his philosophical musings (and possibly the musings of novelist Ian McEwan, upon whose novel the film is based). So the film just ignores forward momentum entirely to focus on unoriginal metaphysical insights.

We open in a park, where lovers Joe (Daniel Craig) and Claire (Samantha Morton) are enjoying a lovely picnic. They are interrupted when an out of control hot air balloon comes drifting by with a young boy trapped inside. Joe and several other strangers attempt to drag the balloon down, but it has too much momentum, and they are soon forced to give up. All except one man, a brave soul who clings to the balloon as it drifts up into the stratosphere. He eventually falls to his death.

Joe carries around guilt with him for several weeks, which he expresses by staring out of windows mournfully and scribbling page after page of hot air balloon doodles. Really. That's about all I need to say about this movie and subtlety - it expresses the main character's guilt by having him doodle, on screen, the thing he feels guilty about. Nice!

Things spiral way out of control for Joe when he's confronted by Jed (Rhys Ifans), a really creepy guy who was also present at the hot air balloon accident. He's developed something of a man-crush on Joe, and seems to believe that Joe shares feelings for him. When Joe spurns him, Jed becomes more and more obsessed, and eventually threatening.

This is, of course, a familiar theme of the psychological horror genre. There's something very real to audiences about this kind of problem - a persistant creepy person who doesn't neccessarily violate our rights or any laws, so much as they violate unspoken social taboos. I was reminded whilst enduring Enduring Love of a much better film, Chuck & Buck, that also focused on an aberrant relationship fueled by coincidental circumstances and long-buried homosexual lust.

But whereas Chuck & Buck has real conviction in its premise, and a genuine interest in exploring a fringe, stalking character, Enduring Love uses the thriller genre to expound on a variety of silly, obvious, undergraduate-level theories on the nature of love.

Joe's a professor and writer, you see, whose work deals mainly guessed it...the meaning of love. You see, Joe theorizes that love doesn't really exist as we think of it. It's merely a biological response, a trick of the brain to encourage procreation. Joe makes this point over and over again during the film - in classroom lecture scenes, during the aforementioned dinner-and-wine-sipping scenes, even in heated arguments with his newfound stalker, Jed. Joe goes on and on about love as a meaningless chemical reaction, like no one had ever made these kinds of observations before.

In fact, I don't know many people who have ever experienced love (or lust, for that matter) who haven't at least considered these sorts of questions. The fact is, Enduring Love has no insights about love or spirituality aside from this trite analysis. Would a man really rise to a position as a tenured professor and author merely by endlessly spouting sub-Neitzschean rejoinders along the lines of "What if morality is an illusion?"

This is the third film by Roger Michell I have seen, and none have impressed me. His films take two characters with thoroughly opposite perspectives and lifestyles, and then forces them together through intense and coincidence-heavy situations.

In Notting Hill, meek bookstore owner Hugh Grant and movie star Julia Roberts fall in love with slightly amusing results. In Changing Lanes, down-on-his-luck divorced dad Sam Jackson and ambitious junior executive Ben Affleck are forced into bitter negotiations during one hectic New York Day. And now, in Enduring Love, a man who survived a harrowing and tragic accident must avoid the romantic pursuit of another survivor.

I'm just not sure what we're supposed to get out of this story. At least Notting Hill was intended as comedy, and though it didn't really make me laugh very often (and featured a hideously annoying, unfunny turn by Ifans), at least its purpose was clear enough. Changing Lanes was something of a morality play, punishing Ben Affleck for his hubris and lack of concern for the feelings of others by forcing him to deal with a difficult underling. It tended to drift and didn't completely hold together, but it's still the best Michell film I've seen.

But here, the meaning is murky. The differences between these two men, Joe and Jed, are clearly spelled out. Joe is neurotic, genuinely guilt-stricken over the accident, straight, and a cynical atheist believing in only that which can be scientifically validated. Jed, however, is carefree, unconcerned with the memory of the balloon accident, gay and extremely religious. He's also deranged, deluding himself into seeing love messages from Joe that don't exist.

So clearly, Michell's tying together Jed's faith in love and God with his mental illness, but I'm not sure why. The film's not nearly so cynical as to suggest that to believe in love is crazy (and the happy ending seems to assure us that love does exist and that Joe has been wrong in his theories). And yet, Joe was clearly right all along - the affection and attention he'd received from Jed was inappropriate and creepy, and feelings of guilt over an innocent man's death would likely weigh heavy on the minds of most caring people.

When a movie has so much to say on a given topic, when it's filled with slow, dour sequences full of actors speaking about Important Themes (capitalized), I don't think some genuine insight or some acute observations is too much to ask. Enduring Love leaves you with way more questions than answers, and they aren't the interesting, conversation-starting kinds of questions either. More like clarifying questions, to make sure you just saw what you just saw?

Like "why is the ending so abrupt when the movie wastes so much time?" Or "what makes Claire want to take Joe back when he's such an insufferable bore?" Or "why make Jed sympathetic at all if he's just going to become a psycho when it suits the needs of the plot?" Or "why the hell am I watching this movie in the first place when I know this director pretty much sucks?"

Friday, April 29, 2005

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

Is there a secret "Star Trek"-pedophile connection? I mean, I guess it kind of makes sense. Trekkies are often single adult males with poor social skills, and this is also the common profile for an active child molester.

But according to an aside in a recent LA Times article about police operations to catch sex offenders, a vast majority of arrested child molesters are "Star Trek" fans. They spoke with members of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit:

On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie.

Det. Constable Warren Bulmer slips on a Klingon sash and shield they confiscated in a recent raid. "It has something to do with a fantasy world where mutants and monsters have power and where the usual rules don't apply," Bulmer reflects. "But beyond that, I can't really explain it."

All but one? Are they serious? That's a pretty heavy statistic to take in. That implies not just some demographic overlap, but a genuine pattern. Could there be something that attracts pedophiles to "Star Trek" fandom? There are hardly even any kids in the show or what could it be?

I'm not so sure about Det. Bulmer's theory. The mutants and monsters in "Star Trek" don't really have any power. The Federation has all the power, and those are mostly older human males (with the occasional Sulu or Avery Brooks thrown in for good measure).

And besides, when you watch the original series "Star Trek," you're not rooting for Klingons to win! You're siding with Captain Kirk, watching him seduce green women or outsmart really unintelligent aliens who want to make him duel to the death with Spock.

But before we go any further, let's consider the evidence presented by the blog Corante, where blogger Ernest Miller was similarly intrigued by the LA Times quote.

I called the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and spoke to Det. Ian Lamond, who was familiar with the LA Times article.

Detective Lamond does claim that a majority of those arrested show "at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest."

They've arrested well over one hundred people over the past four years and Det. Lamond claims they can gauge this interest in Star Trek by the arrestees' "paraphenalia, books, videotapes and DVDs." I asked if this wasn't simply a general interest in science fiction and fantasy, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or similar. Paraphrasing his answer, he said, while there was sometimes other science fiction and fantasy paraphenalia, Star Trek was the most consistent and when he referred to a majority of the arrestees being Star Trek fans, it was Star Trek specific.

So The Times was somewhat off in claiming that all but one people arrested for sex crimes involving a minor were hardcore "Star Trek" fans. There's no way to back that up. But still, this is an odd coincidence. I mean, if you were to tell me that the vast majority of pederasts own at least one "Star Trek" DVD, I'd consider that a newsworthy item.

I'm very curious about alternative theories for the Trekkie-pervert connection. Is it the silly, form-fitting costumes? The similarity between Romulan ale and Jesus juice?

It certainly can't be because "Star Trek" appeals to potential victims, as I suspect a child would be more entertained by the molestation itself than "Deep Space Nine" reruns.

Oh, was that too far? Maybe I just better stop...

The Buzz Bin

They don't have the Buzz Bin on MTV any more. Now, videos are known as "buzzworthy," and they appear on something called MTV2. But back when they did have the Buzz Bin, it was the indicator for which new songs were, like, OMG WTF, totally hot right now. "No Rain" hung out in there for about five years in the 90's if memory serves me. Ditto that "Mmmm Mmmm" Crash Test Dummies one.

But I'm just using the term to refer to this list of albums I've become addicted to lately. I've found myself very involved with a few new 2005 releases in the past couple of weeks, and I'm always meaning to write more about indie rock and less about old Richard Widmark movies. Because the only comments I get on the Widmark reviews are from other bloggers looking for spare traffic, as if leaving your blog's information on Crushed by Inertia were some guarantee of a mass audience. You'd reach more people by shouting your blog's address out your bedroom window for a minute or two.

Decemberists - Picaresque

I feel like I write about this band too much. But what the hell...It's my blog, I'll write about who I want. Anyway, this is another great Decemberists albums, full of literate, catchy, intricately constructed pop songs. My roommate doesn't like this band because he doesn't care for Colin Meloy's voice, but I think it's great - odd and occasionally shrill, but strangely appropriate to his sing-songy narratives. This one track on here, "Engine Driver," builds really beautifully to a classic chorus. That one has been on repeat in my car more than once.

British Sea Power - Open Season

Their first album was more of a hard rock affair, kind of bombastic with a post-punk sort of edge. But this one, I suppose in keeping with the 80's retro style of the times, is a laid-back new wave outing. It reminds me a lot of Echo and the Bunnymen, which is great, because not enough bands have that kind of ethereal dreamy quality. There aren't really any incredible stand-out trakcs like "Apologies to Insect Life" or "Fear of Drowning" on the last BSP outing, but this one holds together better as an album.

Louis XIV - The Best Little Secrets Are Kept

This is delightfully sleazy throwback-rock at its best. Based on this album, Louis XIV don't seem to aspire to change the face of rock and roll as much as they aspire to avoid throwing up on their shoes after getting fellatio in the alley behind the venue. Say what you will about the juvenile songwriting and cribbing from old Rolling Stones albums, but these are some catchy-ass songs.

Okkervil River - Down the River of Broken Dreams

I saw these guys play at the Henry Fonda a few months ago in support of their latest album. But this was their previous release, and it's filled with really charming, laconic country rock songs. It's tempting to bring up comparisons to Neil Young, but this isn't direct homage like Magnolia Electric Company so much as inspired and thematically similar countrified jam rock. Like Young's best stuff, the songs build from delicate acoustic melodies into an intense, cacophanous guitar crescendo.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Libraries Are Gay

At least, that what Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen thinks. He's written a new law that's sure to be a hit with the ignorant, backwoods, overall-clad, ultra-religious, possibly inbred hillbilles with cleft palattes that make up the vast majority of his constituency. He wants to bad all books from public schools featuring gay characters, or even written by gay people!

And that's the muted compromised version. The original bill would ban all "queer" books from all Alabama libraries, even university libraries.

Because, you know, kids pick up a book originally written by a gay guy, and it will obviously give them Homo's Disease. It's kind of like Crohn's Disease, only instead of feeling like you have to pee all the time, you feel like having sex with some dude.

"I don't look at it as censorship," says State Representative Gerald Allen. "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children."

Gerald needs to read some more books, methinks. Preferably a dictionary would find its way into his bedside reading. You know, right after "Chicken Soup for the Complete Douchebag's Soul" and whatever selection Satan's Book Club is plowing through this month. I think it' s the Necronomicon.

Well, it doesn't matter how you look at it Gerald, does it? It's clearly the textbook definition of censorship. You're making a rule about what books people can and can't read and attempting to enforce it as government policy.

And let's think about what literature would be denied to the youth of Alabama should Gerald's Rule now pass as law. No Tennessee Williams plays, he was a big fairy. So kiss "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Streetcar Named Desire" goodbye. Certainly no Truman ever heard that guy talk? There goes "In Cold Blood."

EM Forster? Queer as an $8 bill!
Gore Vidal? A swish!
Virginia Woolf? The books are filled with references to lesbianicism!
Marcel Proust? Well, he is French...and they probably don't read him in Alabama anyway

In fact, you know what would be fun? Let's take a look at some selections from a 1999 list gathered by the Triangle Publishing Group. They asked 250 gay and lesbian authors to comment on their favorite gay-themed books. Here are some of their responses, sure to be unavailable at a redneck library near you:

"Death in Venice," Thomas Mann
"Picture of Dorian Gray," Oscar Wilde
"Billy Budd," Herman Melville
"Brideshead Revisited," Evelyn Waugh
"The Bostonians," Henry James
"The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," Carson McCullers

Yeah, those all suck. Nothing will pervert young minds quite like reading Henry James.

And then there's that whole Shakespeare sonnet thing...You gonna kick old William out of the library? Will there be anything left? I sense Mr. Allen's ideal public reading center would include only old collections of Peanuts comics and the writings of TD James.

I spoke to a friend in Texas recently who has experienced this same kind of pig-headed ignorance. She reported that a local school district wanted to ban many worthwhile books because they included naughty words. Words like fuck, shit and cock-knocker, I can only imagine. (Who could forget James Joyce's immortal "Portrait of the Cock-Knocker as a Young Man"?)

This is just an impulse I will never understand. If you're a parent who's genuinely concerned about your kid reading a book with dirty words and then saying those dirty words, well, you need to stop worrying so much. Young people have read "Catcher in the Rye" and other books with naughty words in them for generations, and though they might pick up a nasty piece of slang here and there, it hasn't been warping fragile little minds.

And even if you don't want your kid to read that book...just don't let them read it! Create your own ignorant little offspring instead of forcing the rest of the world to keep their children ignorant. It's such a bizarre attitude - "Well, I'm not reading 'Naked Lunch' cause it's filled with gay stuff, so you can't read it either!"

We can pretend gaydom doesn't exist, like America has been for years and years. But understand this, people. It won't make gayness go away. If you ignored people with red hair, they might feel shunned and ostracized, they might keep out of public sight or cover their hair with a cap when they go outside, but they won't stop having red hair. You're just going to have to deal with it.

The gay stuff, I mean. Not the freaks with the red hair. Fuck those guys.

But seriously, people, this is the stupidest bill I've seen in a long time, and that includes that idiotic Florida measure allowing people to shoot each other in public for no good reason.

But in book after book, Allen reads what he calls the "homosexual agenda," and he's alarmed.

"It's not healthy for America, it doesn't fit what we stand for," says Allen. "And they will do whatever it takes to reach their goal."

Now we're getting somewhere. Allen reads books, and no matter what books he reads, he sees a "homosexual agenda" seeking to convert him into a gay lifestyle...It hasn't once occured to him that maybe this comes from his own mind rather than the books? That maybe his subconscious mind is obsessed with gay sex because...he's gay, and he represses these desires due to religious conviction or fear of public reaction?

I mean, I read novels fairly frequently, and I can't say that I've read many books espousing a gay agenda. As in, books that don't just deal with gay issues, but attempt to actually convert me into gayness.

You hear this all the time from Republicans. "The homosexual agenda," trying to "turn out kids to a hedonistic lifestyle" and all this crap...and it's a total fiction. There is no homosexual agenda, unless you count getting making new episodes of "The L Word." It would be like saying "the heterosexual agenda."

Although, now that I think about it, there is a heterosexual agenda - to get rid of all the gay people! So, like everything else the GOP says, this is classic double-speak. They want to remove gayness from society, so they act like it's attacking them rather than the other way around. "Our straight way of life is in danger from you queers! Get your books out of my library!"

When the reality of the situation is reversed. Gay people are increasingly under seige by a theocratic government that seeks to destroy their way of life, by forbidding their relationships through law. This is just the latest example of limits being placed on homosexual liberty, but I doubt it will be the last.

I mean, what would be the "homosexual agenda" spoken out in words? Total World Gay Takeover, where everyone is gay? Not really a long-term plan, if you think about it. Also not really all that feasible, seeing as even the most open-minded and gracious of heterosexual males find the practice of gay sex kind of, well, let's say off-putting.

Maybe it's the widespread acceptance of homosexuality as a practice worthy of acceptance and tolerance rather than scorn and hatred. Yeah, that must be it.

The Professionals

There's been an ongoing discussion for the past few weeks down at the video store about the best way to write a movie. Should a writer start with a story they passionately want to tell, and then add elements that will please a movie audience? Or should a writer first design a familiar, marketable concept and then add in idiosyncratic details later to make it more personal?

I tend towards the former. I can't imagine trying to write 100 or more pages of material that didn't personally matter to me, that was just a story I thought I could sell. But when you watch a movie like The Professionals, a story so old and generic but breathlessly and beautifully rendered, you begin to see the other side of the argument. By the time writer/director Richard Brooks' 1966 action film hit theaters, almost all of the elements of his film were cliched, but his cast is so iconic, his eye for action set pieces so finely tuned, and his enthusiasm for the genre and material so evident, it hardly matters at all.

So here it is in short: The beautiful wife of a cattle baron (Claudia Cardinale, pictued above) has been kidnapped by Mexican revolutionary Jesus Raza (Jack Palance).

I'm going to stop right there. It's semi-delusional to believe Jack Palance as a Mexican revolutionary. I mean, granted, they give the guy a crazy-looking bushy Mexican moustache, but come on...And now that I think of it, I just watched Louis Malle's South American revolution-comedy Viva Maria!, which featured an unlikely George Hamilton as a rebel general. Maybe I'll make this a whole themed section, and review Touch of Evil next.

Anyway, Palance is actually pretty good in the role (even his accent!), but I just couldn't let that pass without comment.

So, Raza has stolen Maria away from her American husband, Joe (Ralph Bellamy), holding her for a ransom of $100,000 in gold. So Joe makes the obvious next move, and rounds up four unlikely experts to sneak into Raza's Mexican compound and spirit his wife back to America.

This material is told with crisp efficiency. We meet each of the characters in an opening credit sequence. There's Lee Marvin as Rico, firing a machine gun...he'll be your weapons and tactical expert, and the team leader. Burt Lancaster's Dolworth rolls out of bed with a glamorous stranger...he's the flippant, womanizing and joyful explosives expert. Robert Ryan and Woody Strode fill out the team as a horse trainer and archer, respectively, though they mainly keep to the background of the story.

So, the team being assembled, they set across the Mexican landscape on horseback, getting into a variety of adventures along the way. A late twist in the film actually turns the story a bit more inward, exploring Dolworth and Rico's experiences as volunteers in the Mexican revolution of Pancho Villa.

It's actually kind of surprising to see a mainstream action film deal with complex historical issues from the turn of the 19th Century. I doubt very much any modern Western would dare tackle the Mexican Civil War and its ramifications for the people of the American West. And, of course, because it was 1966, the film has an incredibly lefty slant, eventually siding with the Mexican revolutionaries over the selfish and perverse American capitalists.

There's a fascinating overlap here of the cowboy ideal and the, for lack of a better term, hippie ideal in The Professionals. Marvin and Lancaster are given many opportunities to discuss their views on the need for revolution and social uprising, about the changing nature of the world and how the old ways are dying out. These are men who have been left behind by the world, who cling to ideals from long ago that have died out in Mexico and beyond. They fight the warlords now because of their bitter defeat side-by-side many years ago.

Predictably, the film features exceptional work from both Marvin and Lancaster. Like everything else in The Professionals, their characters are familiar, and closely linked to their usual personas. Marvin is tough and no-nonsense, with a clever mind for mayhem and a sharp tongue. Lancaster is laconic, charming, unrushed and boyish. But they manage to bring a deep-seated melancholy to their roles as well, a weight that indicates this particular adventure isn't so new for these men, but rather the culmination of a lifetime spent fighting battles and running for their lives.

The lush color photography by the Late Great Conrad Hall brings the harsh landscapes of the Nevada desert to life. (Though the film is set largely in Mexico, it was filmed in Nevada, outside Las Vegas.) Brooks clearly had a fondness for trains, and some of the locomotive montages reminded me of the work of Stan Brakhage in their quiet observation of shadow and movement. This is one sensational-looking DVD, and not just because Mrs. Cardinale does a few topless scenes.

So the only thing surprising about The Professionals, in the end, is how entertaining it is despite containing absolutely no surprises. Its familiarity doesn't make it wan or predictable, but comfortable. You feel right away that you are in the hands of a gifted storyteller, and I for one gave myself over to the narrative without worrying about knowing where the plot was headed.

Brooks would direct In Cold Blood the very next year, again with Conrad Hall as his director of photography, and in that film, they would break new ground.

Blade: Trinity

Blade: Trinity is pretty much a mess. It's overlong (particularly if you watch the 124-minute director's cut on the new 2-disc DVD, as I did), it's frustratingly slow at times, and its action is chopped-up and shot so awkwardly as to be completely incomprehensible. I assume Blade keeps winning fights, because he never seems to get hurt, but exactly how he's laying waste to entire armies of vampires remains a mystery.

Director David Goyer, who wrote the scripts to the first two Blade movies (along with 1998's phenomenal Dark City), only has one other film under his belt, and his amateur status definitely comes through here. The movie's just clunky, its pieces don't fit together well.

Wesley Snipes has portrayed Vampire Hunter B for 3 films now, and he hasn't really developed the role at all. The character's a blank slate, an emotionless fighting machine who doesn't even seem amused when he's cracking one-liners. The first film was kind of a dud, a nice-looking but thoroughly generic affair. The nicest thing I can say about the original Blade was that it provided mass audiences with a rare opportunity to check in on the human train wreck known as Stephen Dorff. This guy is a burnout by Hollywood standards, okay, people?

Anyway, with Blade 2, the producers and Snipes had the massive savvy to hire Guillermo del Toro, the rather brilliant genre director behind Cronos and The Devil's Backbone and a little movie you may have heard of called Hellboy. So, yeah, Blade 2 ruled. Not really because the universe was made deeper and more interesting, or because of anything in the Snipes performance. But because Del Toro recreated the world of Blade to really resemble a comic book panel, filled with pastel colors, dramatic lighting and crazy, disorienting angles. And because he infused the movie with a real sense of zany fun. He made a silly, gory, exciting, action-filled, occasionally hyperactive vampire movie, which is really all you can expect from a movie called Blade that stars Wesley Snipes as a half-breed vampire.

And now David Goyer takes over the series and makes it maudlin, confusing and dreary. He crams the film so full of stupid plot, there's barely any time for killing, and even less time for humor or, hell, any sign of personality. In addition to making Blade a fugitive from justice, he adds a group of Buffy-ish slayers called the Nightstalkers, a fugitive gang of vampires seeking to reanimate Count Dracula (yeah, I know...), a subplot about a virus capable of wiping out vampire-kind and a wacky twist that turns the whole franchise on its ear.

I mean, why make a Blade movie that unfolds in this way? It should be so simple...There's a bunch of evil vampires and Blade has to fucking kill them. The best thing about the second Blade was its simplicity...There's a new strain of vampire called a Reaper, that feeds on other vampires. So Blade teams up with vampires to go kill Reapers. DONE. By the end of the film, when the plot's become more complicated and a variety of twists are thrown in, it becomes a lot less interesting.

But this wealth of exposition could have been offset if the new characters fit better into the Blade universe. Unfortunately, they don't. As in Amityville Horror, Ryan Reynolds just sticks out here. I have no idea why they're trying to make him into a genre hero. This guy belongs in romantic comedies and maybe, MAYBE, dramatic roles in action or adventure films...but not as a psycho killer and certainly not as the heroic warrior slaying vampires and hunting Count Dracula. I mean, come on, I shouldn't even have to say this stuff...

Other members of the Nightstalkers are Whistler's daughter, played by the ever-fetching Jessica Biel, who continues her career plan of looking sexy in a long string of unspeakably awful movies. From Summer Catch to Rules of Attraction to the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Blade: Trinity, you have to admit that she's consistant. Her character here is the vehicle for perhaps the most egregious product placement I have ever seen in a mainstream film.


3) Heineken in the Austin Powers movies. I mean, that's really embarrassing. The whole first 10 minutes of Goldmember is like watching a Heineken ad. An unfunny Heineken ad that somehow features both Tom Cruise and Kevin Spacey.

2) The scene in the new Thomas Crown Affair where Rene Russo slugs an entire can of Pepsi One for no discernable reason. It was like Rene Russo had been paid to do a Pepsi spot and hadn't told anyone else on the set.

1) Jessica Biel's character being entirely defined by her iPod.

Yes, that's right, the only effort made at all to give Whistler's daughter a personality is that she owns an iPod. See, she likes to listen to mp3's while she kills vampires, Ryan Reynolds helpfully explains. And just to make sure we get the message, before every fight scene, there's a handy montage showing us Jessica uploading songs onto her little white mp3 player. If you look closely, you can even see that Whistler's daughter enjoys listening to trip-hop, which is, like, so hot right now.

So, let's see...what else pissed me off about Blade: Trinity...Oh, I got it.

This film, much like the first Blade, suffers from a massive case of Eurotrash Vampire Syndrome (or EVS). I blame Anne Rice.

See, before Anne Rice's popular vampire novels and the popular film based on them became the standard for American undead literature, vampires used to be actually scary. Sometimes they morphed into hideous monsters, lots of times they looked kind of like zombies or corpses, all that good stuff.

But then Interview With the Vampire came out, with its foppish vampire dandies trying to suck blood without soiling their embroidered garments, and everything got all pussified.

Now, I'm not saying there's no room anywhere for sophisticated, urbane vampires discussing the metaphysical ramifications of eternal life while ballroom dancing in a decaying Victorian castle. I'm just saying that it has become a bit tired as a concept. I'm sick of seeing the same kind of vampires in every movie.

Blade: Trinity is filled with scenes that give us a peek behind-the-scenes at the secret world of vampires, and it looks a lot like a lame Hollywood club appealing to goth kids. Everything's black, there's candles, people are in leather and have lots of piercings, and lots of people have Bavarian accents for some reason. In this film, the sleek, uber-cool vampire crew is headed by Parker Posey and pro-wrestler HHH, who try their best to inject some vitality into their characters but have no success. Their scenes are totally flat, which is depressing to see from Posey, who is capable of being so dynamic on screen and should be having much more fun playing a sinister ghoul.

So, there you have it. Nothing much to see here, folks. I think this series has just about run out of juice, unless there's another exciting, visionary director out there with some new take on this material. Or at least a new way to sell iPods.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Beat on the Braff

I hate Zach Braff, star of "Scrubs," creator of the abominable, unspeakable film that must never ever again be named on this blog...Seriously, even to utter the title of this wretched cinematic abortion would be too painful at this point...I just can't take the ongoing popularity of this movie and this guy any more.

This guy I know, he works on the set of "Scrubs." No, I won't give his name, cause I don't want him to get in trouble on the extremely remote chance that someone else from the show reads this blog. I couldn't even tell you what he does on the set of "Scrubs," as I don't know that he's ever mentioned it. Maybe he's not even an employee, and just hangs out on the set all day. Anything's possible.

So I proposed to him just now that he get Zach Braff himself to read the blog. I'm hoping The Braffster sees something he doesn't like on here and thinks to respond angrily (which, judging from his appearance on "Punk'd" a few weeks back, stands as a distinct possibility). Can you imagine if I got a ranting comment from an enraged Braff? Dare I to dream?

So I wanted to write this post, so that if my friend happens to get a chance to turn Braff on to the website, there will be something offensive to read. I'd hate to actually have my mortal enemy read my blog only to discover old reviews and articles about stupid criminals. What's the fun in that?

Did you know that he's being tapped to star in a film version of Fletch? Now, I've met Kevin Smith, the proposed director of Fletch, and he seems like a savvy guy. I mean, he went from clerking a video store to directing features, so he's no slouch creatively, you know? His original choice for the character, Jason Lee, was, I felt, an inspired choice. And his sensibilities do seem to match the part. All in all, I'm looking forward to a remake of Fletch. So, I can't imagine what could have possibly possessed Kev to even consider Braff for this part.

I mean, writing/directing aside, have you see "Scrubs"? It's a half-hour mugging session. The guy does more double-takes in an episode than Wile E. Coyote. That's acting? That's a performance? Bugging out your eyes or looking winsome? I mean, I guess it's not that hard to be the best sitcom actor around. You're competing in a field where Master Craftsmen are Jim Belushi, Kevin James and Ray Romano. It's slightly more competitive than winning a footrace against 3rd graders.

So, anyway, I'll finish off this screed with a quote from Zach's blog, which reminds you that a Film Which Must Not Be Named is available on DVD at a Hot Topic near you.

Since we last spoke I won a Grammy and an Independent Spirit award. Yes it's true, I am now "Grammy award winning actor Zach Braff." Pretty funny, huh? The spirit awards were very cool. I got to see so many actors and directors I look up to. This is all very new to me, so I'm very star struck by people like Robin Williams. (Who told me he was a big fan of the movie.) I tried sleeping next to the trophy, but it has sharp edges and the eagle's talons began to chafe my belly.

Is it just me, or do you have bile welling up in your throat too?

The World of Tomorrow!

Just like those guys in Primer, I have fashioned a time machine out of spare parts. I will now use it to go ahead in time to tomorrow night, and watch President Bush's press conference on Social Security...


Okay, I'm back. Whew, what a trip. It's not easy getting my car up to 88 miles an hour in LA during rush hour, mind you.

And now, I present the full transcript of Bush's speech tomorrow night, in which he will try to sell the American people on a Social Security plan that almost anyone paying attention realizes is unneccessary and wouldn't work even if it was neccessary.

"My fellow Americans, we are about to die. I mean, not right now, this second. I'm gonna have to give this whole speech. Then I think I'll have some dinner, and maybe play with Buster, but I'm not sure if I'll have that much time. I think I gotta meet with some foreigner first, and they sometimes talk a whole lot about really boring stuff I don't care about. It's like, wow, I'm so sorry I don't speak Frenchie.

"But, you know, we're gonna die soon. Cause of the terrorists who hate our freedom. And, you know, Jesus.

"But before we die, we owe something to this great nation. We owe our nation the gift of fiscal slovency...solvang...slav...solvency...Yeah, that's the one, slovency. Anyway, we owe it to ourselves to fix this dang Social Security problem.

"Because, did you know that, by the year 2028, our Social Security system will stop working completely? It's true! By 2030, the situation will have grown so bad, old people will be removed forcibly from their houses and fed to cannibal Democrats in the Senate. Because, I don't know if you knew this, but Democratic Senators eat babies. I'm not saying I know this for sure, but a guy told me that once, a good Christian guy, and I have no reason not to trust him. I mean, Al Gore said he invented the Internet...these guys are capable of anything.

"So, back to what I was talking about...the Texas Rangers...Here's why they're the most kickass team in the country. They've got pitching...

"Oh, wait, I mean, I was talking about Social Security. Because I care about people, um, in my heart. And we need to strengthen Social Security so that it can keep going strong. And the only way to do that is to decrease everyone's checks every month and give the savings to rich people.
"A child could figure it out, it's so obvious. Rich people are better than everyone else, so when you give them money, you reward them for being better. And then, because they're so much better, they create jobs for the non-better, other Americans, like you. Don't ask me how, folks, cause I don't know, but they just make 'em. Right outta thin air, I seen 'em do it.

"So it may seem unfair, but that's just because you're not smart enough to understand how it works. Social Security is easy to solve, just like the war in Iraq. I mean, I sure fixed that sucker right up, right! They're all votin' and listening to their rock music outside, man, it's great. I'm gonna go buy a ranch there or something, once they all take a break from burning me in effigy.

"I'm just gonna sum up here and get on my way. I really want to catch the 'CSI' rerun later on TNT, and then I've got about 100 George Strait songs to add to my iPod...You guys get one of those? Man, those things is neat...So real quick like, here's the GOP-approved appropriate thought rundown for this week:

"Social Security bad, my plan good, Iraq good, Saddam Hussein bad, French people bad, Wal-Mart good, Terri Schiavo good, Michael Schiavo bad, Pope John Paul II really really good, Pope Joe "Ratso" Ratzinger good, Ann Coulter good and super-hot, Michael Moore fat.

"Peace, I'm out."

I hope I didn't create any rifts in space-time. None of you have disappeared or turned into a robot or developed fins or anything, right? Okay, just making sure.

Oh, and before I go, while we're on the subject of villainous Republican blowhards (and when am I not on that subject?), here's a charmingly racist item from Michelle Malkin's blog, sent to me by a mysterious and shadowy e-mailer identifying himself only as Kaz.

It all starts with a photograph of an LA billboard:

I live in LA, and I haven't ever seen this billboard. Which is kind of the point. Being an English-speaking gringo, I'm not the target demographic for this advertisement. It's obviously meant to reflect something very simple...that for the many Spanish-speaking, Mexican people living in Los Angeles, Channel 62 offers a more personalized, familiar type of newscast. It's like taking a foreign land (LA) and making it more like home (Mexico).

But for the xenophobic and hate-filled Michelle Malkin, this billboard is in indication of everything wrong with America. Here's what she had to say:

I could write whole treatises on how American sovereignty is being undermined by our own open borders capitulationists and stability fetishists. But these photos say it all for me.

I should add, before I proceed to rip Michelle Malkin apart, that the other photo to which she's referring is one of Bush holding hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Azizof. So, I agree with her on one point - that our president coddling the government of Saudi Arabia makes no sense and works against the safety, security and well-being of his fellow Americans.

But on the other point...oh, man...What kind of crazy person do you have to be to see a foreign-language news broadcast as a threat to English-speaking hegemony in America? I mean, I know Malkin's a nutbag, a half-Japanese woman who defends Japanese internment during WWII. I know she fears foreigners and their influence on American culture. And I know she relies on ignorant fools buying her books because they like her thinly-veiled racist attitude.

But to see that picture and think "threat to American sovereignty"? They're not actually saying that Los Angeles is part of Mexico (although, if you want to get historically accurate about it...) They're saying that it's your city ("you" being "Mexican immigrant") so you deserve to hear about it in your language reported by people who look like you.

That's it.

And isn't that true? Doesn't it make sense that Mexicans living in LA would have their own news broadcast? And that they would think of LA as their home just like all the English-speaking, Malkin-approved whites do?

The Poor Man commented thusly on Malkin's nonsensical ravings, with his usual bravado:

Note the way “CA” is defiantly crossed out and “Mexico” is shamelessly graffiti’ed on in red, clearly symbolizing the blood of slaughtered Americans, or possibly salsa. Observe the sly smirk worn by the man on the left, which practically screams “I don’t need no stinking green card to seduce your daughter in my uninsured 1978 El Camino, señor.” Finally, wonder at the cojoñes it must take to come right out and say “Tu Ciudad. Tu Equipo,” which, if I remember my high school Spanish correctly, translates as “I wish Ozzy had taken a shit on the Alamo, you filthy land-grabbing gringos! Eric Estrada rulez!”

Ha ha!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Seacrest OUT!

According to the Drudge Report, ABC News has learned that Fox TV's massively popular show "American Idol" is a total sham. They've also learned that the new pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is Catholic and are reporting on an exciting study which concludes that bears will occasionally shit in the woods.

No, seriously, Drudge breaks the story that "American Idol" may not be entirely on the up-and-up as if it were Watergate and a Clintonian blowjob all wrapped up into one. It gets a whole page with the word "EXCLUSIVE" written on it repeatedly and a huge picture of Simon Cowell. And here's the "big scoop" the fedora-ed one came up with:

At the center of the questions, the IDOL source claims, are the actions of show judge Paula Abdul.

"[ABC] is trying to say Paula somehow cheats and picks favorite singers to nurture, in violation of some sort of network standards," the IDOL source, who demanded anonymity, explains.

That's it? Paula nurtures certain contestants? What the hell is wrong with that? That's part of the show! They have obvious favorites which they admit to on-air. How does that make the show rigged?

I'm sorry, but there's not a story here at all. And I'm really ready to believe that "American Idol" is faked. I mean, I doubt very much that the music industry wants to trust the American people's whim with this many millions of dollars at stake. Look how much cash Ruben Studdard, Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken have brought in. Clarkson was just on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. These kids come out after being on this wretched "Star Search" rip and sell millions of albums.

So, yeah, I don't doubt the producers pick a few candidates who have the requisite looks as abilities to work as a marketable pop star right from the start of the season. (This isn't really that hard when you think about it...we're talking about a career field in which both Nick Lachey and JC Chasez don't simply find work but thrive). I just kind of assume that all reality shows are set up in this way.

That's why you can't really fault reality TV for being uncreative. You can fault it for many things, primarily for seeking out the worst of humanity to scrutinize for up to an hour a week. But you can't fault it for not being made with a great deal of creativity, intelligence and savvy. These shows don't just produce themselves...Behind every "America's Next Top Model" is some very adroit scumbag.

But front page news, such behavior is not. I would imagine Drudge could do a little better than this for an exclusive at this stage of his career. Surely Arnold Schwartzengger's been groping somebody. Find them! There's your exclusive!

The Imbiber of Seville

An entire post just for one amusing sentence. It's from a local news report out of Seminole County, Florida, and here it is:

Mitchell Raulerson, 55, of Seville, was stopped in Sanford by an officer who was suspicious about his hand-drawn license plate.

This was Raulerson's 16th DUI, which has to place him in some sort of national sweepstakes for "Most DUI's Leading To Stupidest Arrest." I mean, your 16th DUI and you get arrested with a hand-drawn license plate...Did he think that would work?

Did he honestly sit down and doodle and license plate, and then stick it on his car, and step back and observe it and finally decide, "Yeah, some cop is totally gonna go for this. Time to get loaded!"

A Seminole sheriff's sergeant said Raulerson's speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot and he had empty beer cans in his van.

But how did they know he was drunk?

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Most Annoying Sentence in the English Language

It's a close competition. Definitely some slogans or catch-phrses would apply. "Don't go there." "Talk to the hand." "Git 'er done." And, of course, there's certain ignorant or poorly-worded socio-political sentiments, like "support our troops," "no blood for oil" or, sigh, "Go Bush!"

But those aren't the annoying sentences I'm talking about today. No. Today's topic is a sentence I hear pretty frequently, even here in media-saturated Los Angeles. Give up? Here ya go:

"I don't have a TV."

Now, please, before you click that comment box to let me know how much you loathe television and how much of a loser I am for defending it, allow me to explain.

I'm not of the opinion that watching a lot of television is a life-essential activity. I feel that the amount of television a person chooses to watch probably has to do with a number of personal factors that have very little to do with overall intelligence, or whether or not a person "has a life" for that matter, but we'll deal with that later.

No, my problem with the statement "I don't have a TV" generally arises from context. Because there are certain situations in which this would be a perfectly logical and reasonable thing to say. Here's just on example.

Two people are standing in a living room.

One of them, Trevor, says, "Hey, Jill, here I am, in your living room, and I would like to know the score of the football match. Could you please turn on the television."

"I don't have a television," Jill responds.

"Oh," responds Trevor. "Wanna make out?"

So, you see, this situation would be one in which the use of the sentence "I don't have a television" fails to offend. But that's not how most people say it. At least not to me. I'm never in a girl's living room.

Most people say it with a haughty, condescending attitude, implying that their refusal to purchase television is an obvious and thoroughly sensible decision that deserves accolades. Here's how our fictional conversation with Trevor and Jill might go.

Trevor and Jill are at a bar, talking.

"Hey, did you see last night's 'Lost'?" queries Trevor.

"I don't have a television," sneers Jill. "Cause I have something called a life."

"You're a bitch," says Trevor. "Wanna make out?"

You get what I'm saying. These people who don't own TV's are so proud of themselves, like they've done something really brave and progressive by ignoring technology.

Because really, that's all you're doing. You're making a blanket judgement about an entire medium based on popular stereotypes and pop psychology hokum about mind control and mental passivity. I'm not saying you're stupid or wrong to do it. There aren't a massive amount of television shows I enjoy, and my TV viewing probably comes in at below the national average.

I'm just saying that it doesn't make you cool or special or somehow more in touch with the world. Just like avoiding movies or the Internet or newspapers or magazines or talk radio doesn't make you smarter or more attractive as a person.

I bring this entire subject up because it's something dumb called TV Turnoff Week in the UK and America, and these anti-TV groups are organizing protests and activities. I reported previously on this blog about a device called TV-B-Gone that will turn off a television up to 50 feet away without anyone knowing who's controlling it. Well, activists are planning to go into bars and restaurants where TV's are playing to turn them off.

No word on how they plan to retaliate should the bar owner just walk over and turn the TV back on. Probably whale on them with a baseball bat until the cops arrive, I'd imagine. But maybe I've just seen too many violent shows on TV. Here's British paper The Guardian:

"For most people, TV has become a default activity. If you're not doing anything else you tend to watch TV. People become very defensive when you challenge them about it. If you sleep for eight hours and work for eight hours, people give half the rest to TV," said David Burke, the founder of the UK arm of White Dot which is organising the protest on this side of the Atlantic.

Ummm....I still don't get exactly why Burke thinks TV is so bad. I mean, granted, people watch too much of it. But any activity can be harmful when overindulged. You don't have "Stop Eating Chocolate" Week or "Stop Masturbating in the Men's Room of the 6th Floor of Your Office Building in the Afternoon" Week, yet these are also activities in which moderation is preferable.

"They're all minutes of our lives. You're devoting 10 to 12 years of your life to watching TV. What would you be doing with those 10 years otherwise? You would be talking to your kids or your partner. It's not a small thing," he says.

Really, Dave? Really? You believe that? That if TV didn't exist, we'd all be closer people, with better communication skills? I think, sure, you can make the case that television is a highly effective communication tool that we mainly use in America to hawk brand merchandise. It's simultaneously a horrible waste and a menace, creating an ignorant society of rabid consumers who can neither control their outrageous spending habits nor obtain a job to satisfy their material wants and needs. That's an argument I can understand.

But this whiny ridiculous "TV ruins family dinners!" line just doesn't work on me for a second. If Dad wants to unwind after a long day at the office, and there's no such thing as TV, he'll listen to the radio or read the paper or sit in the corner and drink scotch until his eyes gloss over. If he's the kind of Dad that wants to hang out with the kids, like my Dad was, it doesn't matter if there's TV or not, he's hanging out with those kids.

I mean, there was TV when I was growing up, and I watched a lot of it. A lot. Don't believe me? Here's the entire theme song from TV's "Perfect Strangers," from memory.

Sometimes the world looks perfect
Nothing to rearrange
Sometimes you just get a feeling
Like you need some kind of change

Standing tall
On the wings of my dream
Rise and fall
On the wings of my dream

The rain and thunder
The wind and haze
I'm bound for better days

It's my life, my dream
Nothing's gonna stop me now

[Here, there's a little harmonica solo while we see Cousin Larry and Balki do the Dance of Joy]

Okay, so, as you can see, I watched TV growing up, and remember some of it, even. And I'm a fairly intelligent, able-minded kind of guy. I've read some Dostoyevsky and some Immanuel Kant, and I think I've understood some parts of it.

And I spent plenty of time with my family, believe me. More than enough, really. They're probably sick to death of me. You should see these pictures my parents sent back from Hawaii. Their smiles grow 50% for every 100 miles of distance from me and my brother.

But according to D. Burke, I'm horribly depriving the rest of the world my company during those nights spent watching Donald Trump or Paris Hilton or Ashton Kutcher humiliate strangers. He and the other anti-TV-ites want me to go outside, join the world, do...well, do something. I'm not quite sure what they want me to do. They never say.

This is why it's not an intelligent protest, and why the people who say "I don't even have a TV" are off-base. Because it's not about "not watching TV." How bland, how boring. Anyone can not do something, it's all about doing something else that's more interesting. I mean, if the decision is between watching television or data entry, anyone in their right minds would choose TV. A lot of TV rules, particularly when Puff Daddy makes wannabe musicians walk to Brooklyn to retrieve snack foods. If the anti-TV crowd were sincere, and not just trying to act superior, they'd have a suggestion at the ready.

"Don't Watch TV. Take Up Backgammon." I think that sort of thing would go over better.

The Amityville Horror

No guy who starred in a sitcom called "Two Girls, A Girl and a Pizza Place" has any business starring in a riff on The Shining. I'm just going to come out and say that right up front. It's not that Ryan Reynolds is a horrible actor or anything, though he's yet to prove his chops in anything except lightweight material along the lines of Blade: Trinity (review forthcoming), the miserable romantic comedy Buying the Cow or this 70's remake. It's just that his presence in all wrong for this kind of a part. The stepdad in Amityville undergoes a transformation from kindly authority figure to demented kill-crazy psycho in under 90 minutes - you need an actor capable of real menace. I'd have loved to see a guy like Ed Norton take on this role.

But, for budgetary reasons, that wasn't in the cards. So you get Reynolds, who's fine in the film's opening, dreamy, idyllic suburban opening and pretty much completely dull and unconvincing once the fit hits the shan.

If only that were the Amity remake's only problem. I think the biggest failing of the film overall was the very basic decision of which classic horror film to rip off. The original Amityville Horror, the popular 1970's version, wasn't terrifically good, but it had the good sense to take a formula that works (the formula being the original Exorcist) and simply reapply it to the haunted house genre.

This new movie seems to take its cue more from The Shining. It's also a good film, but it's harder to simply plug that narrative into another movie. And not just because you'd be trying to rejigger an almost perfect film, a film boasting the combined talents of Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson. But because The Shining is such a nuanced, layered piece of art, and removing any one of its interlocking parts (like, say, a house instructing its owner to kill) makes the entire enterprise seem, well, silly. Kubrick was enough of a master stylist to gloss over a possibly humorous plot twist (like the ghost of a man dressed as a rodent hiding in a hotel room) without making it seem humorous. Amity's director, Andrew Douglas, frequently misses the target, hitting camp instead of horror.

What The Exorcist had that the original 70's Amityville captured with minimal success was a lived-in comfort with suburban settings. Exorcist wasn't some horrorshow set in a traditionally frightening setting, like an old castle or an insane asylum or remote woods. It was set in a middle-class all-American home, with some familiar, relatable, recognizable kind of characters. The devil doesn't possess some lustful concubine or hellspawn, but a young, fresh-faced girl. The Shining on the other hand introduces a psychological level to the horror that Exorcist avoids. No demon invades the Nicholson character forcing his hand to grab an axe - the evil comes from within him, from his own mind.

And this new Amityville horror tries to go there, to get us inside George's meltdown, to come to terms with his madness. But it's an empty exercize. The film's not really interested in any kind of psycho-sexual exploration. It just wants cheap scares, "safe" and conventional gory bits and a few whiz-bang effects that will make for a nice trailer.

We're introduced to the haunted house of Amityville via a violent and disturbing opening scene. A man, Ronald Defeo, murders his own family in their beds with a hunting rifle, and we're shown each grisly death in close up. We cut to a year later (the entire film takes place in the mid-70's, in an attempt to maintain some artificial sheen of "authenticity" even though the legend of the real Amityville horror house has since been completely discredited). Widow Kathy Lutz (a bland Melissa George), her three adorable children and her new hubby George (Reynolds) have just moved into a seemingly perfect house with a horrible (yawn) secret.

It seems Defeo wasn't just a lunatic with a grudge - the house "made him" kill his family. The house has powers, you see. It can make people see things that aren't there, it can move objects around on its own, it can turn the lights on and off, it can even talk if you listen very carefully. Although usually it just says the usual haunted house stuff like "get out" and "kill them all."

You'd think a house that has been around since the 1600's would have more things to say than "kill your family." Most old people won't shut the hell up, and they've only been around for 70 or 80 years. This house has been there for centuries, yet it hasn't learned any repartee at all.

So eventually the house starts to win George over, and he starts getting very short with his family, and they get increasingly freaked out by the fact that the walls sometimes bleed. And at around 45 minutes, you start wondering why Kathy doesn't just round up the kids and get the hell out of the house.

As I see it, there's only one thing you need to write a good haunted house movie. You don't need a great backstory about why the house is evil - just make up some shit with Indian burial grounds or mass murders in the conservatory or occult symbols built into the architecture or something and that will do. (In Amityville, it's a particularly bizarre mixture of religious paranoia and guilt over Native American relations which I'll get into later).

And I'm not going to give you the old "you need good characters" crap, cause you don't, really. I mean, Wendy in The Shining isn't a great, nuanced character. She's just eerie and reedy and knows how to scream a lot.

No, what you need for a great haunted house movie is a plausible reason why the people can't just leave the house. And, let's face it, The Shining has the best possible excuse to keep the family trapped inside. The whole reason they're there is that the hotel is inaccessible for the winter months. Brilliant! Kudos to Stephen King for that one...

But Amityville Horror doesn't even try to explain why a woman would force her three children to inhabit a place that's so obviously evil. I mean, from the first day they live there (conveniently labeled as "Day 1" by some extremely unnecessary and inconsistant title cards), weird badness starts going down. Her husband gets violently angry for no good reason, they all start seeing and hearing things, the babysitter freaks the kids out by revealing the house's (double yawn) horrible secret, the dog constantly barks at invisible enemies, the lights keep flickering on and off. I mean, yeah, they've got a mortgage, but it gets fairly inconceivable.

Late in the game, a priest played by veteran character actor Phillip Baker Hall appears (filling in for Rod Steiger from the original), and it takes him four scenes before he recommends to Kathy that she get her family out of the house.

Excuse me? Four scenes? Wouldn't that be the first thing any logical person would say? "Um, hi, Father...I think my house is implanting the deep-seated desire to kill in my new husband. Oh yeah, and the girl murdered in the house has befriended my youngest daughter...What should I do?"

I could go on all day with the gaping plot holes and logical inconsistancies, but who cares? If the movie was scary or entertaining, I wouldn't have even bothered with them at all. But I was kind of bored, because everything in Amityville is so familiar and tired, that I started making mental notes about all the stuff that didn't make logical sense.

And I started thinking about the really subversive ideology behind the movie. No, really.

We've seen this plot enacted hundreds of times, but never quite with this kind of spin. A family man, being influenced by evil spirits, turns against the family he loves and cares about. He starts to view them as a burden, as a "bad family" whose behavior he must "correct," thus perverting the Father's traditional role as disciplinarian and stern teacher.

Obviously, this plays on some deep-seated fears of wives, children, anyone who lives in a family unit with a powerful man at its center. Because young children are so dependant on their fathers, because wives are physically not capable of fighting off their spouses, this notion of a father going mad and overpowering his family into submission has some sort of archetypal significance.

Okay, fair enough. But in Amityville Horror, George's condition seemingly springs from nowhere. Generally, in films of this kind, the man at the center of the puzzle has some sort of problem before he even enters the arena of evil. Take The Shining. Before he goes to the Overlook Hotel, Jack Torrence has hurt his child before. He claims it was an accident, but his alcoholism and frustration over a failed career may have also played into the equation. His wife refuses to talk about it, even when pressed.

So when he gets to the Overlook, there's a sense that the hotel is bringing his evil side out rather than creating it. It plays on his weaknesses (alcohol, pride, rage) and wears down his resistance, until his worst impulses simply get the better of him. This, along with a healthy dose of fatalistic inevitability, makes The Shining feel like a great tragedy as well as a horror film. It's not just the story of a how a man tried to axe his wife and kid, but of a man fighting a losing battle against his own demons.

And now consider Amityville Horror. He has no real gripe here. At the opening of the film, before he's a homeowner, he's the perfect husband and stepfather. Caring, compassionate, funny, warm, open, responsible, stable. He refers to working as a contractor, and implies that there are financial concerns with buying a new home, but he doesn't seem overworked or strapped for cash. And then he moves into this house, and suddenly, without warning, he begins to morph into a kill-crazy maniac.

So, clearly, it's the house that makes him crazy. But consider this conversation from late in the film. Kathy expresses (finally!) a clear desire to leave. But George refuses. He claims that their whole life is tied up in this house, and that they can't run away from their problems.

So the implication is that, for American men (because it's always men that wind up turning evil in these movies), the burden of supporting a wife and family, of running a house, creates not only bitter resentment but homicidal rage. And that the only way to exorcize this rage is to leave the house behind, to get out.

I watched another film this week, 2002's similar haunted house fiasco Darkness, and am struck by how similar it is in theme. Another father is turned psychotic by a new house. The difference is (and here I will reveal the very silly twist in Darkness, so stop reading if you haven't seen the film) that the father in Darkness is "wanted" by the house, has a history with it that cannot be avoided, and so he must sacrifice himself for his family.

So there we get the opposite - that a father must accept his burden and give his life to provide for wife and child.

Either way, these movies don't exactly bode well for the psyche of the American male. Just because the ending of Amityville Horror is immensely silly (and it is) doesn't mean we can easily shrug off the implication made by this popular contemporary film. The idea that suburban family life can make a man insane, and that fleeing can instantly return that sanity, is certainly original for a mainstream American movie.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


There's a certain kind of evil maddog in the movies. It's hard to describe exactly what makes this kind of character work, but like pornography, you know him if you see him. In Undertow, Josh Lucas brings such a character to life, an antagonist full of seething hatred, overwhelmed with bloodlust until it threatens to eke the very last drop of his humanity away.

These killers can often be identified by a lack of willingness to die, even when faced with injury that would result in the certain demise of a conventional human being. Lucas in Undertow mainly evokes Robert Mitchum's crazed stepfather in Night of the Hunter, but also brings to mind Max Cady of Cape Fear fame or any number of slasher movie villains. He's relentless, he's evil and he'll stop at nothing to get what he wants.

In David Gordon Green's masterful new thriller, it's a bag of gold coins left as inheritance by his absent father. But the object of desire itself doesn't matter - what matters is Lucas' single-minded need for these coins as an end to themselves. They exist, they are his, and therefore he must have them.

Lucas played Deel, who moves in with his widower brother (Dermot Mulroney) and two nephews (Jamie Bell and Devon Alan) following a stint in prison for an unnamed crime. Deel harbors a deep-seated resentment towards his brother, for marrying his girlfriend, for keeping their father's stash of gold coins, and just for living freely while Deel suffers and toils. It all leads to a while chase through a surreal rural Georgian landscape.

Like his previous George Washington, Green has made a violent thriller that feels nothing like a violent thriller. Despite his choice of subject matter, his films drift by languidly, mirroring their sun-drenched Southern landscapes. You sense that he's far more interested in the personalities the boys will meet during their breathless journey, and in Deel's steely and tireless pursuit, than in following a straight-ahead narrative.

He's aided by a phenomenal score by Phillip Glass, which doesn't so much push the intensity of the action forward as slow the film down, adding a layer of reflection to the proceedings. We don't just see Deel murder, but see him after the murdering is over, watching his rage bleed away and the horrific realization of his own actions coming over his face.

In an early scene, Jamie Bell's older brother, Chris, evades capture by the enraged father of a girl he's attempted to woo. He races across one of Green's signature post-industrial Southern landscapes, at one point stepping right down on an upright nail sticking out of a board. With his bare feet. But instead of pulling the board off, he continues running, loping awkwardly from side to side, his face curled up in pain, desperately attempting to avoid punishment for his actions.

It's an invaluable character moment, for one, but also a visual metaphor for the action of the film. Characters have no choice to push forward, to put aside their personal pain and endure the worst in order to survive another day. Like Chris with a board nailed to his foot, the boys will face considerable barriers to their survival throughout the film, barely escaping certain capture again and again.

They're aided by a cast of supporting characters that lend an air of magical realism to the film. Though Green's films always exist in a dreamy, gothic universe not quite identical to our own, this is the first time he's made a movie with such a "fairy tale" motif. He's been quoted as citing The Grimm Brothers as inspiration, but there's also more than a little bit of a Mark Twain quality here as well. And like Night of the Hunter, the Southern "types" we meet, like the kindly and childless black couple who provide the boys with some rare kindness, or the city of "lost children" living in an abandoned and half-decayed building in the wildnerness, add an eerie forboding to the atmosphere.

The fantastic cinematography of Tim Orr adds to this ethereal, other-worldly spirit. Their frequent use of freeze-frames brings an additional stillness to the film; moments of quiet, assured calm in the midst of the storm. It's this mixture of fiery intensity and relaxed melancholy that, I suspect, contributes to Green's frequent comparisons to Terrence Malick in the media.

This is the third collaboration by Orr and Green (and Green's overall third film), and they are among the most exciting director/DP teams working in movies today. Each of their films has its own unique style, but they feel tied together, like three parts of the same series. The Southern Gothic Tragedy Trilogy.

So, all of that being said, I must concede that this is probably Green's least ambitious work, with the least amount of emotional heft. George Washington was such a stunning debut, told with such visual virtuosity and replete with some of the most realistic child acting I have ever seen, that it's hard to imagine Green will manage to top it. At least as long as he's working within the same cinematic vein. And All the Real Girls boasted such emotional maturity, along with some really lovely performances and the best screenplay of Green's career as a writer. So, though he really nails Undertow from a directorial standpoint, I can't help but be left a bit cold by its lack of depth.

Its thematic material, aside from the pain vs. consequence dichotomy mentioned above, focuses mainly on the kind of "sins of the father" storyline we've already seen many times before. We're asked to consider how the relationship of the older set of brothers impacts the younger set, and how the resentments of previous generations (not just Deel and his brother, but their father as well, who relates the entire story in voice-over) are carried on by future generations. And though the "cursed" gold is a nice visual touch, and the performers do the best they can with their material, it's just not terribly memorable or significant material.

Don't get me wrong...Green definitely elevates the material into something worth your time. I enjoyed Undertow immensely, both as a piece of riveting and exciting adventure entertainment and as a piece of cinematic craftsmanship. But this is not an emotional epic like Green's other works so much as a wholly successful and darkly effective spook story. Go in expecting as much and you shant be disappointed.