Saturday, May 21, 2005

Let Me Help You With That, Mr. President

Goofy-looking pictures of famous people are always popping up online. Most of the time, no matter how funny the picture, you can tell the subject was involved in some non-embarrassing activity at the time, and the photo merely came out looking strange or silly. But here's a hilarious picture of the President that I can't really explain satisfactorily. What was possibly going on when this picture was taken?



Okay, what is that guy working on down there? A microphone? Why would we need to amplify the sounds of Bush's crotch? Does his left testicle sometimes have information to add? Maybe that's where Scott McClellan's hiding, in case he needs to remind Bush about what exact form of bullshit they're spewing this week. ("Okay, W, you ready? If you get nervous, just scratch me down here and I'll feed you your lines...Activist judges bad, conservative judges good, gays still very bad, Iraq still going very well, Saddam in his undies bad, Newsweek bad, Koran good. Go for it!")

And why is that guy pushing up behind him like that? That's clearly an invasion of the President's personal space. And the guy clearly knows his picture's being taken...he's smiling for the camera!

Many many many thanks to Content Whore for the picture.

High On Star

Here's a tip...If you are trafficking in large amounts of marijuana, don't get OnStar security service for your car. Why? Let's consider the case of the unfortunate Mr. Alfredo Ibarra.

Ibarra's your typical Albaquerque family man, who just happens to have 1,700 pounds of marijuana stowed away in a new trailer on his property. And I mean, who among us hasn't been in that situation before? You've come across $50,000 worth of illegal narcotics, you've got to hang on to it for a few days, so you buy a triler and leave it sitting on your front lawn. Obvious, right? No problem.

But here's where the story turns really regrettable. Alfredo's young son managed to lock himself inside the family Escalade, parked outside the family home. While Alfredo's coaxing the small boy to open the door, the kid goes and hits the OnStar button.

Sherriff's deputies hear of the emergency, rush to the scene, free the young boy...and, hey, why not have a look at that oddly out-of-place new trailer? I mean, as long as we're here.

So, yeah, Alfredo and his friends are gonna do some jail time. And 1,700 pounds of marijuana's just going to go to waste, just sitting in some storage locker until the next Albaquerque Sherriff's Department Reggae Night and Wet T-Shirt Contest.

All because of OnStar! Oh, yes, and massive stupidity. That, too. But mostly OnStar!

1000 thank you's to FARK for the link.

Sports Fanboys

My colleague over at the frequently-hilarious The Letter D brings up a fascinating point today. Why is it that when someone obsesses about a new Star Wars movie, he's considered a nerdy fanboy, but if someone obsesses about the 1987 Cincinatti Reds is just a harmless jock, a typical everyday sports fan? Why should the cinegeeks of the world be ridiculed constantly about their fanaticism while the equally-pathetic and socially inept sports nuts of the world go about their hobby without being ostracized?

I mean, essentially, being a huge dork who's into movies and comic books is the same as being a huge dork who's into football and basketball. Both groups are largely male, largely dateless, capable of speaking at length about the insignificant minutae of their subject of choice and willing to make spectacles of themselves in support of their obsession. Not to mention spending obscene amounts of money on merchandise associated with either films or sports teams.

There's a sports nut equivalent for every egregious fanboy sin.

Waiting in line for Star Wars while dressed as a Jedi? How about wearing nothing but boxers in -10 degree weather and painting your corpulent form in the colors of the Chicago Bears?

Chatting online for up to 10 hours a day about the deep, metaphysical significance of Jean Grey's death in X2? Well, how about calling into Jim Rome's show every day to tell him how much the Lakers suck without Shaq?

Speaking Klingon or learning the names of everyone in the Houston Rockets front office? Which is dorkier?

I'm not saying it's improper to mock the nerds dressed as Darth Maul outside your local cineplex this weekend. It certainly worked for Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. ("So, what are a Jedis responsibilities? Using the Force and eating a lot of peanut M&M's?")

I'm just saying that, when a big sports event that a lot of testosterone-fueled macho assholes anticipate exictedly, we geeks should feel free to loudly mock those guys. "Oh, you guys are lining up for Final Four tickets? What a bunch of NERDS! Yeah, I'd like to go watch a bunch of guys I don't know play basketball, but I'll be too busy getting laid by my hot girlfriend! Ha ha!"

Flying Bearcat in the Eighth

I went to the racetrack for the first time tonight. Hollywood Park, to be precise. My friend Jeff is having his birthday party there, and my friend Chris informed that it was tonight. So a bunch of us headed down there. Jeff and his birthday party, however, were nowhere to be found. So we did the only logical thing...

We got drunk and bet on a bunch of horse races. I didn't win. Which is surprising considering I used the fool-proof first-timer-at-a-horse-race technique of betting on the horse with the most clever or interesting name. That would be Girlsintheoffice in the fourth race (who came in next to last), King of LA in the six race and, yes, Flying Bearcast in the eighth. I wound up not going with Flying Bearcat, thinking that I should abandon my betting philosophy after two straight losers. Of course, the horse came from behind to win the race. Sigh.

It was at this point that my roommate and friend Nathan pointed out to me that I am not a lucky person. I have often thought this very thing myself. I never win contests or games of chance or gambling or anything like that, really. But, though it has often occured to me that my luck is not so great, I have always sort of assumed that everyone feels this way.

Most people tend to focus on their failures, and I'm no different, so when we look back on our lives and how things have gone for us, it's only best remember the difficulties and setbacks. Thus, even if a lot of things have gone our way, it still feels at times as if we've been horribly unlucky.

But now that it has been pointed out to me by an independent third party observer, I guess it's safe to say that I'm actually unlucky, and it's not just a feeling. Which is strange. Because on a certain level, I don't really believe in luck.

Now, sure, I believe that if you're playing poker and you have a pocket pair of Aces and then an Ace comes up on the river, that's a "lucky" card. So luck exists in that sort of a sense. But the idea of a person being innately "lucky" on "unlucky" rings totally false to me. It's just more silly superstition, a way for people to make sense out of a senseless, chaotic world. We believe that our number comes up or not depending on a variable known as "luck," when really it's just how the dice are falling at this particular moment in time. Because a variable like luck can cahnge, but chaos is forever.

So I'm not sure if there is such a thing as being naturally "unlucky," but if there is, I'm pretty much completely screwed. But the evening wasn't all bad. I got pretty buzzed because of Hollywood Park's generous $1 beer on Fridays promotion, and I got to see an angry old man wearing a suit and a fedora pumping his fists excitedly at a horsetrack, which is just one of those things I you don't get to see very often outside of old movies.

On our way to Chris' car in the parking lot, I got a call on my cell phone from Jeff. His party isn't until June. See what I mean? Unlucky!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Face!

Here's a video of a Minnesota deputy being plowed into by a runaway truck. The guy survived with only minor injuries, so it's okay to watch this video and not be shocked, horrified and appalled. If I hadn't read this accompanying article, I would be 100% certain this guy died. Check it out.

Okay, that's it. Nothing clever to say about this story. This video is just so freaking amazing, I couldn't not post it on the blog here.

And thanks to Gorilla Mask for the link.

Who Will Take Home the Braffy?

I don't know if you've been following these Worst Person Alive Award nominations, but things are really starting to heat up. Our first nominee comes from the world of professional poker, Mr. Antonio Esfandiari. Take a look at his full nomination post here. It's not just amusing, it doesn't just inaugurate the Worst Person Alive Awards...it's also the most-viewed post in Crushed by Inertia history. So, check it out, won't you?

But now, our awards have both a second nomination and a name. The Braffy, in honor of the worst director alive. I'm referring, of course, auteur, sculptor, artist, poet, imagineer, wordsmith, bon vivant and gentleman's gentleman Mr. Zachary Braff. You know, the guy from "Scrubs."

Our second nomination also comes from the world of television. Just tonight, all of America watched her mind dissolve on live television in the season finale of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice." Of course, I'm talking about first runner-up Tana Goertz. Here's a recent unflattering photo:



When Tana first came on the show, I thought she was obnoxious. Little did I realize that her hokey, down-home mother of two act was all an elaborate cover for a soul as black as midnight. This lady is evil in its most pure, concentrated form, the kind of maniacal phony that only the American Midwest seems capable of producing. And unfortunately, they manage to produce in bulk, and have little trouble moving units all over the rest of the country.

So, okay, at first, she was obviously way too into the whole college student vs. uneducated slob premise for this season's "Apprentice." I didn't really think much of the idea at all, really...I mean, there are plenty of successful people without a college degree. I don't know that anyone really thinks such a thing is mandatory for success in the business world. It's highly recommended, of course, but not mandatory.

Yet to watch this season of Trump's masterful reality stalwart, you'd think attempting to negotiate captialism without a degree from Dartmouth was about the bravest, most reckless, insane challenge imaginable. The only thing braver than applying to The Trump Organization without four years at the Sorbonne would be touching the Owner and CEO on the top of the head and then eating without washing your hand.

But there was Tana, boasting boorishly about how much money she was worth, and about how she didn't need no college diploma to succeed in this world. She'd sold more Mary Kay Cosmetics than anyone else in her part of Iowa, goddamit.

You did know that, yes? That Tana was one of those Mary Kay saucer people? She's, like, a door-to-door saleswoman. A very good one, yes, but is that who Trump really wants in his organization? A bunch of modern-day Harold Hill's interrputing the morning meeting to hawk eyeliner and leak-proof casserole dishes?

Tana wound up pulling a total 180 on this perspective by the end, when she realized her lack of education made her a liability rather than an inspirational movie-of-the-week-esque heroine. By the season finale, she was boasting about how close she came to earning her college degree. (Only 16 credits away! She's a Super-Senior!) But Tana, uh, what happened to fortitude, pluck and self-reliance?

Hypocracy, though, is the least of this woman's problems. Honestly, I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone behave in such a grating, obviously insincere manner.

Does anyone but me recall the episode where Tana was asked to recruit the services of rapper Lil John as part of a televised charity event? She proceeded to make an ass of not just herself and her team, but of the white race. And hell, all of humankind. I've seen awkward middle-aged white folks attempt to bond with black men before, but in all my life, I have never seen such an embarrassing, shameless display. It would be like meeting someone from Mexico and treating them to 20 minutes of your best Speedy Gonzales impression.

But you see, Tana knew exactly what she was doing. She isn't really a massive clueless dolt. She's a shrewd, calculating bitch who genuinely thinks this whole bumpkin act is charming and endearing. It's all this bullshit "can-do" attitude, mixed with the tendency to cop out whenever a task becomes too cumbersome because, after all, I'm just a simple housewife from Iowa.

Argh, this woman made me crazy. I mean, I was no immense fan of Kendra Todd, the plucky Florida real estate specialist who will now be in the semi-fictional employ of The Donald. But at least Kendra had kind of an ounce of sincerity. She wanted to win, she was driven, she was occasionally a bit humorless, but she was human. Tana is like some alien who inhabited an Iowa woman's body and decided to use it to undermine society whenever possible.

Which brings us to tonight's season finale, and Tana's immaculate on-screen meltdown, an outburst of such staggering obliviousness as to earn her a spot on the select nominations list for the First Annual Crushed By Inertia Braffy Awards.

For those of you who don't watch "The Apprentice" (if there's any of you still reading), allow me to set the scene...

It's Tana v. Kendra for all the marbles. Trump compliments Kendra's work on a brochure for Pontiac, a task she won so overwhelmingly that General Motors actually has used her designs in some of their promotional materials.

Tana loudly makes it known, at this point, that the one element of the design the Pontiac executives actually liked was...wait for it...the shape. And she was the one who said it should be a circle!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is national live television, and this woman is claiming that she deserves to win this competition because...she suggested the brochure be round? Kendra actually did respond cogently that she designed every element of the brochure except for the shape, but she didn't really need to say anything, the argument was so ridiculous.

And if it had stopped there, with Tana attempting to assert some control over her fate, that would be one thing. But of course, it didn't. Tana proceeded to yell, flail her arms about and loudly insist that the shape was, in fact, the only element of the brochure appealing to GM. After making her argument known, she then proceeded to whoop, hoot and celebrate her victory from her seat, encouraging the audience to join in her gloating.

It was pretty gross. Here was Donald Trump's reaction:

"I thought it was a little much," Trump said of Goertz's self-acknowledgment. "I don't mind aggression in men or women, but I found it to be a little obnoxious. I didn't love it."

Here was my reaction:

Blllllaaaaaaaarrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhhhh

So, congratulations, Tana, you're the closest Apprentice contest to not being a loser who's still in fact a loser. Enjoy the flight back to Des Moines. And best of luck with the Braffy, although really, just so you know, it's an honor just to be nominated.

As for you readers, I'm providing you with a rare opportunity for genuine blog interaction. I mean, other than the Comments section. And the ability to e-mail me. If you'd like to nominate someone for a Braffy, please leave a Comment with their name and why you think they're the Worst Person Alive. And stay tuned to the site for more nominations.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It's wrong to criticize the Star Wars prequels, went the conventional wisdom, until the entire new trilogy is complete. The logic was that Lucas had set up an elaborate puzzle, and until all the pieces were in place and it could be viewed as a whole, the quality of the puzzle itself was impossible to tell.

It turns out, the opposite was true. Revenge of the Sith isn't so good that it raises the quality level of the other prequels up merely by association. It's so good that it puts those other two movies to shame. It's so good that it feels like a genuine addition to the Star Wars canon, as if there are now four official episodes and two extended, amateurish prologues. Revenge of the Sith is so good, it makes me wish Lucas could start over from the beginning again, having learned a few lessons and gained some much-needed experience. It's so good I'm seriously considering going back at 1:45 am tomorrow morning to see it again digitally projected.



Believe me, no one's more shocked by my enthusiasm than myself. In case you haven't kept up with my reconsiderations of the prior two episodes, you can read them here and here. But I'll save you the time - even after watching them simply as adventure movies, with a good deal of emotional distance between now and the first time I watched the prequels, I still found them disappointing and thin.

But Lucas has really delivered on this final episode. Some of the problems I had with the other prequels remain. There's still wooden dialogue, some of the relationships and problems are needlessly complicated, the chronology doesn't always perfectly link up with the Original Trilogy of films, and there's a marked tendency to play to the fans rather than remaining true to the spirit of the series.

But while these sorts of issues overwhelmed the other two prequels, made them feel disconnected, empty and lame, they're reduced in Revenge of the Sith to minor quibbles. This is, finally, a real epic adventure, well-paced, well-executed, gorgeously realized and full of enough surprise, horror and action to please any fan of the original Star Wars movies. For the first time since Return of the Jedi, Lucas has connected with the elements that made his original films such a hit: wit, personality, style, innovation and imagination.

The film can essentially be broken down into three segments. In the first, we see the Clone Wars brought to an end. Lucas wisely does away with the political intrigue and problematic plotting of this conflict held over from the previous films, and boils the entire war down to one singular event: the capture of the villainous General Greivous, commander of the Separatist Droid Army.

So the opening 45 minutes or so are composed of a breakneck, non-stop chase across the galaxy, with Anakin and Obi-Wan pursuing the half-alien/half-robot Greivous, hoping to kill him and bring the Clone Wars to an end. We get some real actual space battles to kick off the movie, and they are on an unbelievably massive scale. Huge, huge effects sequences, and they look really remarkable.

Greivous himself is a terrific character, far more engaging and larger-than-life than Darth Maul or Count Dooku from the previous films. He weilds four light sabers stolen from murdered Jedi, he speaks in a raspy growl and pauses frequently to indulge his wet hacking cough, and he uses his mechanized body to cover his naked, still-beating humanoid heart. Now this is a villain.

The action scenes involving him are among the best Lucas has ever devised. His undoing by Obi-Wan is brilliantly executed. I loved this section of this film tremendously. Overall, this movie reminds me of Return of the Jedi, with its sprawling, emotional narrative, its flair for the dramatic and its morose sense of weight and anguish. And this section reminds me of the opening of Jedi in Jabba's palace - kind of a self-contained and wonderfully realized action set piece, of a part with but somehow separate from the main storyline of the film.

By the time the Greivous segment was over, I had already enjoyed Sith more than either of the two previous films. But I discovered Lucas was only getting warmed up.

The second, and longest, segment of Sith deals directly with the already-infamous downfall of Anakin Skywalker. His relationship with Palpatine, hinted at in Clones but never explored, blossoms into a kind of dependency. Palpatine has become his friend, his support system, and his mentor. In one of the best-acted and most visually resplendant scenes in any Star Wars film, Palpatine relates to Anakin an old Sith legend, about a Sith lord who discovers the secret of immortality.

The dialogue contains some clues to Anakin's background that will fuel speculation in the fanboy world for years to come, I predict. But more importantly, this is a key link that has never been hinted at in any Star Wars film before. We've been told that the Jedi and the Sith are connected, that they both make use of The Force in different ways, but we've never been invited inside the perspective of evil in the Star Wars universe before this moment.

In the Original Trilogy, it's all pretty simple for Luke. He has many people around to guide him, to tell him what The Emperor and Darth Vader are all about, to warn him about their tricks and traps, about the deceit that's inherent in the Dark Side. But Anakin's never known true evil. The Sith aren't even supposed to exist in his time. They lurk in the shadows, obscured. He's not prepared for the deceptions of Palpatine, and when they come, they come quick and fierce.

But back to the sequence with Palpatine and Anakin. They're in some sort of ballroom on Couruscant, watching some sort of circus-type performance featuring large, gelatinous bubbles with ribbons floating in and out of them. The combination of this incredible background environment, the steely, understated performance by Hayden Christensen and the tremendous work of Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine (who has been the most consistantly positive presence in all three of these movies), some rare eloquence from Lucas' dialogue and a really kickass bit of score from John Williams really sold me on this entire sequence. You feel as if you have really gained some perspective on this fictional reality, that you have truly learned something about what it is to be a Sith and what it is to be a Jedi. Classic classic classic stuff.




Look at that shit-eating grin! Is this guy the true face of evil or what?

Anyway, the third bit of the movie is what pushes it over the top from fun, diverting film in the Star Wars vein to a full-fledged Star Wars movie worthy of mention with the original films. It's when everything just comes apart. It's the Foundation of the Empire.

When you watch these scenes, that morph sublimely into the action and design of the original films, you finally see Lucas' prequel idea come together. He has genuinely managed, with this chapter, to unlock some of that late 70's and early 80's magic and it's a glorious thing to behold.

It's more than just seeing Chewbacca meet Yoda or Obi-Wan holding Baby Luke or what the hell things actually look like on Alderaan, although all those things are part of the fun of that last half hour or so. Episode III actually manages, at key moments, to offer insights into the action of the original movies, to make them seem deeper than they otherwise might have.

I don't want to blow too much, but I'll give you a good example. We come to find out how Obi-Wan manages to re-appear to Luke in Empire Strikes Back, after he has died, and so seeing them connect beyond the grave in the fifth film takes on a greater significance. The mere fact that Lucas has considered Obi-Wan's many sad years in isolation on Tatooine, and how he will pass his lonely days waiting for Luke to mature, indicates the depth on display in this film. This isn't the lazy plotting of Phantom Menace or the chaotic confusion of Clones. Lucas has finally bothered to pick up his story where he left off, and seeing him tinker with his classic films successfully for a change was a tremendous feeling of excitement and relief.



Okay, so the story works a whole lot better. It finally feels like a Star Wars movie - fast-paced, funny, entertaining, intense. Now I'd like to talk about how much better the film looks than the other two prequels, and how some of the art direction and cinematography ranks among the year's very best.

The effects here are less cartoonish and more stylized than in the other two prequels, and benefit from Lucas' clear attempts to link them up with the designs of Episode IV: A New Hope. Obviously, this wasn't easy. With all the technologies of 2005 at his fingertips, Lucas has made these prequels state-of-the-art. A New Hope was state-of-the-art in 1977, but even with his ill-fated CG enhancements of the 90's, the old films still look kind of like old films.

Which, to me, is a large part of their charm. But still, combining the sleek computerized designs of the prequels with the clunky, mechanical, grimy designs of the 70's movie wasn't an easy challenge. I'm astounded at how well Lucas has managed to pull it off. I was delighted by the many small visual and audio references to the original films Lucas managed to fill in. There's Vader's beady, swollen, jaundiced yellow eyes as he suffers, which we'll see again in Return of the Jedi when Luke removes his helmet for the last time. There's the Emperor's puffy, swollen flesh, for which we come to discover the initial cause. Even the spacecraft have been made to resemble and sound more like TIE Fighters and X-Wings.

This isn't just fun, red meat for the fans (although it is!) It reinforces the diabolical nature of The Empire, as opposed to the poorly-structued beurocracy of The Republic. Any Star Wars fan has a kneejerk reaction to hearing a TIE Fighter whizz by in Surround Sound. That's bad news...it lets you know things are really gonna start coming down hard on the heroes.

As for the direction, it's strong. Really strong. Bold, even. Lucas took no chances with composition in the other two prequels, shooting everything in a simplified, direct kind of fashion, like a children's movie. Is there a cool, memorable shot in either Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones? And not a cool-looking special effect, but a memorable shot. There are tons in Revenge of the Sith.

In that opening space battle, we whirl around zero-gravity and top speed, losing our bearings as Anakin and Obi-Wan's ships veer past massive Star Destroyers. As the Emperor invokes the name Galactic Empre for the first time, we see him from an exceedingly low angle and from behind, thrusting his arms upwards into the Senate Chambers like Charles Foster Kane. Lucas aims frequently for these kind of iconic images during the film, giving its second half the feeling of a colorful graphic novel. The inevitable final showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan, perched at the side of an erupting volcano, times magma explosions to clashes of the lightsabers. In 10-15 years, that's going to be an exceptionally popular dorm room poster.

So, yeah, this is basically an unqualified rave. How did GL pull this off? I have no idea.

But here's an even more pertinant question - why did he even bother to make 3 movies? Now, don't get me wrong, Episode III is stuffed to overflowing with goodness. It's unrelentingly enjoyable, pausing for prequel-esque bullshit infrequenty. I could imagine Lucas taking some of the material here and inserting it into Episode II in order to make that movie more entertaining overall. Why not get General Greivous in there, for starters. I'd have preferred a scene with him to that idiotic arena battle with the Ray Harryhausen monsters.

But really, these prequels were one good movie stretched out into three, and that still drags the average way way down. I'm sure I'll be enjoying this final chapter for years to come, but it still doesn't make me want to ever sit through Phantom Menace again. I don't know if the goodwill engendered by one unmitigated success is enough to make up for two cinematic disasters in the big picture, but it's good enough for tonight.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Team America: World Police

In that piece I wrote for Flak Magazine about "South Park," I used Team America as a way to discuss the right-leaning tendencies of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. After watching the film again on the new DVD, I still feel pretty much the same about it as I did in the theater. It starts off well, but it works better as a parody of 80's action films than as any sort of commentary. It strikes me as a very conflicted film, a movie that obviously sees horrible flaws in America's foreign policy but that can't quite bring itself to condemn anything. It's satire with no bite, reserving its venom for its easiest targets.

Parker and Stone have made a career out of mercilessly skewering the famous, beautiful people, on their show "South Park," at awards galas (they once went to the Oscars dressed as J. Lo and Gwyneth Paltrow), and in their films. The humor usually comes from the extreme nature of the parody rather than its savage wit. One need think only of the Jennifer Lopez episode of "South Park," in which all of America prefers the stereotypical, offensive talking fist of Eric Cartman to the actual film and music star. It wasn't a clever take on J. Lo so much as it was so unneccessary, so venemous, so mean-spirited and hard to take that you sort of had to laugh. You're laughing both because the episode is incredibly hilarious, and because you know this sort of thing is beyond the pale.



Team America comes off with less success. I have a theory...the movie spreads itself a bit too thin. First off, Parker and Stone had to create not just marionettes that could be manipulated into a complex action film storyline, but an entire miniature world for these puppets to inhabit. And this sort of animation is arduous and phenomenally painstaking, as is highlighted in various special features on the DVD.

So then, after you deal with the technical challenges of making Team America, you have to make it work as a parody of 80's films. So Parker wrote an entire soundtrack and several hilarious songs (which are the highlight of the film), they studied Jerry Bruckheimer movies and littered the movie with references and genre parodies. So you already have a film just on that level - a puppet movie goofing on 80's action films.

But then, I'm asking for the movie to exist on this entire satirical/political level as well. I realize this is unfair. Two levels should really be enough for a comedy, and the fact that the movie is frequently really funny pushes this over the top into a positive review. Before we go any further, let's make that clear. Team America: World Police is an inventive, funny, well-designed and innovative comedy that's worth the time of any fan of animation, action films or "South Park."

Okay, that being said, I think Parker and Stone became so distracted by the demands of making this movie, they didn't bother to figure out what they really wanted to say. Normally, this would not be a big deal. You'd only go to the movie for the jokes and the puppets and the gimmicry, and that's what you'd get. But by choosing to deal with all of these really crucial, important political issues in their dirty puppet movie, Parker and Stone kind of take on this challenge.

And then they don't rise to the occasion. There's a really clever idea buried somewhere in this story, about a top-secret team of agents who foil international terrorist schemes against America, but the movie never quite gets there.

As I said, the songs really make the whole enterprise take off. We open in an incredibly-designed puppet Times Square, where brilliant actor Gary Johnston performs the lead in the hit HIV-themed musical "Lease." The big number? "Everyone Has AIDS." If that joke makes you laugh (it should be most of you), you're probably going to dig the vibe of a good deal of this movie.

In fact, nearly everything in the film's first hour works for me. As I said before, the 80's parodies are dynamite, particularly when it comes to the soundtrack. As well, Stone and Parker rather brilliantly draw attention to the shortcomings of the animation style. Puppets never point exactly where they're supposed to, martial arts combat looks exceptionally awkward, and characters make reference to their limp, lifeless legs and irregular gait.

Casting Kim Jong Il as the villain is similarly inspired. He's the best character in the movie, immensely evil but also kind of lovable, and even tragic. The real Kim Jong Il is famed for his love of movies (rumor has it his private collection includes over 25,000 films). I'm certain he'll eventually manage to get his hands on a copy of Team America. Though it would seem obvious that he'd be upset or offended by a comedy that turns him into such a cartoon, but I think it might play right into his massive ego as well. I mean, if America starts churning out cartoons in which he's the villain, that must mean they seem him as a threat, right? At least they're finally paying attention to him.

So, propping up foreign dictators aside, what are the problems with Team America? I feel like the movie loses focus. It never actually gets around to critiquing anything about the War on Terror, which is apparently its major theme. The concept of turning America's battle against terrorists into a macho, pumped-up 80's film is funny, but that's not nearly enough for an entire movie, and it's not enough to balance out the constant bashing of all sorts of major figures and themes of the American Left.

Where is the critique of the country's leaders? Of American policy? Of anything other than loudmouth American celebrities like Alec Baldwin who speak their minds politically? By basing the story around the fictional Team America, and then making them the symbol for everything American, Parker and Stone rob their film of any real targets other than the predictable: Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, Matt Damon, Janeane Garofalo.

By the film's end, I had long grown weary of Parker and Stone's snarky lack of concern for world events. The only real idea they offer in the entire movie is the following concept, which I will heretofore refer to as the Dick-Pussy-Asshole Doctrine.

There are three kinds of people: dicks, pussies and assholes. Dicks are people who favor going to war, people who think they are tough...you know, conservatives. Pussies are people who don't want to go to war, who are more concerned with what's fair than who's tough...you know, liberals. And assholes are people who want to kill us...you know, foreigners.

So, according to Parker and Stone, conservatives need liberals to remain human and reasonable, and liberals need conservatives to protect them from evil foreigners.

I mean, putting aside my clear disagreements with this view of the world, I don't think there's really enough to this idea for an entire movie. It's pretty thin, pretty empty, and not very insightful. This comes as a surprise to me, because even when I disagree with the views presented on something like "South Park," they always at least seem sane and logical.

So that's why I'm happy to attribute this problem to distraction, rather than ignorance or a lack of concern. I just think the size and scale of the production probably overwhelmed the nuance and the fine-tuning of the actual content. Which is fine. As I said, the final byproduct is certainly entertaining and worthwhile. I just can't shake the feeling this movie could have, should have, been so much more.

Junk Bond Trader

Since I arrived home from work, almost two hours ago, I've been listening to this one Elliott Smith song, "Junk Bond Trader." It's off of his phenomenal Figure 8 album that also boasts "Son of Sam" and "LA". I've liked the song since I first heard it, and I've listened to this album a pretty solid amount over the last few years, but for some reason, how great a song this is has just dawned on me.

This happens sometimes. I believe I've related once before on this blog how one night, under circumstances I need not describe in full here, I was nearly driven insane by need to listen to The Smiths' "London" on end for a few hours. I don't think I made the right decision that time.

This time, it's far less maniacal and more enjoyable, but no less obsessive. The weird thing is, I've never really thought about what the song was about before. I knew some of the words (particularly that Elliott repeats "better sell it while you can" a bunch at the end), but I've never even tried to put them together into a sensible whole before.

Now that I've read them through online, I'm still not sure I get what the song's about. I mean, I know it's about a duplicitous person, a liar, a "junk bond salesman" trying to get as much as he can for his useless wares.

And I kind of get the ending of the song, where Elliott says the following:

now i'm a policeman directing traffic
keeping everything moving, everything static
i'm the hitchhiker you'll recognize passing
on your way to some everlasting

He's just written this whole song condemning liars and cheats, and then cops to being human himself, and therefore inherently two-faced.

So, that's kind of cool. But what to make of passages like this?

happy holidays said sick savior
the leaving lover that i still favor
i won't take your medicine, i don't need a remedy
to be everything i'm supposed to be

It's almost a political critique, the Liar as not just a two-faced guy but as a corporate lie, an organized lie, a governmental lie. But maybe not? What the hell do I know?

I kind of think it's like trying to figure out old Bob Dylan songs. I mean, some of them are just batshit insane and beyond analysis, like that one about Judas Preist and the burning house on "John Wesley Harding." I mean, what the hell is going on in that song? I had an easier time following Primer.

But other Dylan songs kind of taunt you by almost making sense, and then not quite making sense by the end. A lot of "Blonde on Blonde" and "Blood on the Tracks" are kind of like this, where it starts out and he's remembering how he met this girl in some dive bar, but by the end he's hanging out with Shakespeare and Rumplestilsken on the Titanic or something.

So, to sum up...Elliott Smith, "Junk Bond Trader." The album is "Figure 8." Great song, somewhat obscure, though undeniably cool-sounding, lyrics.

Get Used to Disappointment

I occasionally post on another blog, called Cine Geeks. Now, don't get jealous, Inertia-keteers. I save all my really kickass insights for you. But sometimes, if I have something to say that's so nerdy, I can't even bring myself to discuss it with my friends, family and associates here on the personal blog, I'll post it on Cine Geeks instead.

So, today, one of the Cine Geeks, going by the blog name "Adam," has posted his thoughts after catching an early screening of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I'll be seeing it in a bit under 6 hours myself, actually, at the sold out 12:01 am show here in Culver City. But that's not important right now. What I found interesting was Adam's, an admitted massive Star Wars fan, reaction after seeing the film.

I'm 34 now, and something that's been a part of my life for 28 of those years is done. And I don't know how to feel.I should be happy. I saw a Star Wars movie and it was good. I saw something full of fantasy and wonder and I'm still saddened.

I'm in mourning now, I realize that. But I should be happy. It's complete. It's whole. The puzzle is now a full picture. But that still means it's over. And that's sad.

It doesn't really surprise me that someone who's a colossal Star Wars nut would feel this way. I mean, they've been anticipating Part 3 of the prequels since these movies were first announced, and that was almost a decade ago.

What I find intriguing is how genuinely surprised Adam seems in his feelings. He's disappointed, but also upset with himself for feeling disappointed. He should feel happy, because the movie was fantastic and good and he enjoyed it, but he doesn't. Instead, he feels this odd nagging disappointment.

I find that intriguing because I feel that kind of disappointment all the time. All the time. Daily.

To me, that kind of emotion is the stuff of life itself. You begin hopeful, finding something that you believe could turn out amazingly well for you. It doesn't matter what it is. A new career, a new apartment, a new friend, a new opportunity, a vacation, or even a science-fiction movie. For a moment, when your dream is first realized, when it actually comes together as verifiable reality, you feel a surge of excitement, euphoria, even joy. And then, once you realize that this single thing, this change you became so emotionally invested in, is just another facet of your life, you feel disappointed. It has happened now, and your life remains relatively unchanged.

Is everyone else walking around not feeling this way? Because just about every time I face something new or different in my life, this is how it winds up. I end up feeling like Adam after Episode III constantly.

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about, a semi-painful example from my current personal life. I wasn't going to share this story on the blog, because it's mildly embarrassing and, as I said, concerns my personal life, and my general feeling on that is that no one cares to read about that stuff. There are some blogs I like that are in a kind of diary format, and that are much more confessional than Inertia. Hell, Kevin Smith writes on his blog about whacking off and sexing up his old lady, and that guy's famous. People recognize him in public and stuff. I'm just some asshole working at a video store.

So, anyway, I know this girl. We've been spending some time together, nothing too terribly out of the ordinary. And when you first meet someone with whom you connect, there is this same kind of excited, nervous anticipation like when a huge nerd hears that George Lucas will be making a new set of Star Wars movies.

Think about it. You're curious as to where it will go. You're excited at the prospect of companionship or entertainment, depending on how far you want to stretch this metaphor. There is infinite hope for the future, because the movie/relationship doesn't exist yet.

And then, there is that single moment when it seems like everything will come together perfectly. In terms of me and this girl, the moment came two weeks ago, when we spent some time together and shared more about ourselves than the simple pleasantries that make up the standard getting-to-know-you small talk. It was one of those evenings where I felt I had really connected with someone new, as opposed to just passed the time with a friendly acquaintance or good buddy. And I gotta level with you...I don't have that feeling very often at all.

In terms of Star Wars, this moment arrives when the John Williams score kicks in and you see that yellow logo disappearing amidst a field of stars. That moment where you're thinking, "Finally, it's here." The film you've waited to see for years is unspooling before you, you're in the theater, it's happening. For a split second, it's ecstatic, you're directly involved in an activity that makes you feel more alive.

And then it's over. My lady friend goes home, the movie starts, and you see that, even though it seemed unique and special and magical, this is just more mundane reality. I'm once again left alone in my bedroom that's 10 degrees hotter than the geographical center of the Sun. All those hyped-up over-excited kids, teens and 20-somethings see that, after all their anticipation, Star Wars is still just a science fiction/fantasy movie.

For Adam, it seems like this has robbed the entire experience of some magic. The letdown of Star Wars not completing his life in some sort of meaningful way, his sudden and unpleasant transformation from thrilled film fan to jaded film reviewer, has left a bitter taste in his mouth. He consoles himself with the fact that he can see the movie again, and perhaps for another moment, relive that fleeting euphoric moment when the entire enterprise lay ahead of him, rather than behind.

I prefer to see it the other way. We get very few of those exciting, ecstatic moments. Moments in which we feel truly alive. So we should always try to savor them, and not bother with trying to "recapture" them once they are gone.

Which brings me to the sticky issue of my current situation. You see, after really forming a connection to this new female acquaintance, an intellectual bond of sorts, she has apparently cut me entirely out of her life. Oh, we've spoken a few times, and she's offered up a series of reasonable enough if not entirely convincing excuses for why I can't see her...but it's just one of those things where you can tell...She's just not into it any more. It's not gonna happen.

Which is fine, I guess. I've been rejected by a fairly decent cross-section of Los Angeles women, so it's not exactly a fresh and unfamiliar sensation. What I'm saying is, Don't Cry For Me, Crushed by Inertia. I'll be fine.

As I said, it's a pattern to which I feel I have become accustomed. But here's my point! Surely it's not just me! Surely every person feels this way. I mean, I'm kind of a sad bastard sometimes, but I'm not some completely atypical wretch or anything. I know life is rough on all of us.

I mean, honestly, don't you all feel this way a lot of the time? That life occasionally seems to promise them more than it delivers, that no real experience can ever equal the exquisite vision of that experience we have in our minds. So how to people like Adam keep those thoughts at bay? How is it that he approaches the letdown of a post-Sith screening with such innocence and naivete, when I have come to prepare myself far in advance for being disappointed by movies, to the point where my enjoyment of certain movies nearly always comes as a pleasant surprise? Am I expecting too much of life, or are other people expecting too little? Or am I expecting too little of life, and other people are expecting too much? Is there a difference?

[NOTE: I really did consider not running this post, in case the girl to whom I'm referring thinks to read it...But then I thought, this girl's ignoring my actual self in reality, why would she be reading my blog in cyberspace?...Is it possible there would be someone you don't want to talk to, but whose thoughts you still want to read?...So, taking that into consideration, if you are reading, Mystery Girl, what gives? Seriously.]

Welcome, Fans of Paul Phillips

So, that Antonio Esfandiari post I did yesterday (visible right below this article, or read it here) has gotten some attention. Most notably, my roommate posted a link on the blog of one Mr. Paul Phillips, the well-known poker champion often featured on one of the 500,000 poker shows currently in rotation. And it has led to the largest single-day hit total in Crushed by Inertia history.

Thus far today, while I have been at work and not posting, the site has received 339 hits. For Atrios, it would mean his server has suddenly failed and his blog has died. For me, it's a new record, nearly triple the next-highest total since I started the site.

So, just wanted to say welcome to all you poker fans who have stumbled in here to read my article trashing Antonio. And thanks for reading! And if you do happen to know Antonio Esfandiari, please don't tell him where I live!

The Worst Person Alive Awards

I like giving out awards and making lists. It's an easy way to squeeze out a blog post if you can't think of another, more efficient way to bring the funny. And it's an opportunity to find goofy pictures from around the web to throw up on your blog, to make it look like wacky shenanigans are always going down there, as opposed to film reviews of classic noirs of the 30's and 40's. Which is still interesting, but not sexy in a 1000 unique hits a day kind of way.

But this is going to be by far the biggest, grandest, most important endeavor in Crushed by Inertia history. I'm speaking, of course, about the upcoming Worst Person Alive Awards.

Here's how it will go down. Every rare once in a while, I will post an article like this one, profiling someone I'm going to nominate for Worst Person Alive. Please feel free to leave your own nominations in the Comment ssection on any of these articles.

After I've announced enough nominations to make it a good race (at least 5 or 6), I'll give all of you, my lovely readers, adequate time and web space to vote on your pick for the Worst Person Alive. I will then do everything in my power to see that this person receives at the very least a personal e-mail from me informing them of their award win and, if I can scrape a budget together, perhaps a nice ceremonial certificate of Horrible-tude.

Right now, you may be asking yourself, "What qualifies a person for the title Worst Person Alive"? Well, we're not doing how many people you've killed or anything. This isn't Worst Fascist Dictator. That's not funny. Or rather, it could theoretically be funny, but not in a wacky blog kind of way. In a Theater of the Absurd, high-minded satirical kind of way...maybe.

No, instead I'm going for a person who represents all that is regrettable about the world today. Someone whose every action and statement confirms their utter disdain for all that is good, correct, proper and noble.

I've got tons of nominations already in mind, but tonight we're starting with a man with whom I'm only vaguely familiar. I present to you professional poker player Antonio Esfandiari. You may recognize Antonio from all of those poker shows on Fox Sports and ESPN and the Travel Channel. There's "World Poker Tour," "The World Series of Poker," "The Battle of the Sexes," "The World Poker Championships," "The Championships of World Poker," "Celebrity Poker Showdown," "Celebrity Poker Challenge," "The World Celebrity Poker Challenge Tour" and "Late Night Celebrity Showdown Professional Battle Poker Challenge of the Sexes: Championship Edition." He's been on most of those.

But it's not his skills at the card table that makes Antonio a nominee. It's his insatiable need to brag, boast, preen and generally display himself to the world in a disgraceful bid for adoration and respect.

Let's take a look at Antonio's recent column for All In Magazine, the poker magazine unafraid to slap goateed Ben Affleck smack dab on the cover. In it, he reveals himself to be not simply a jackass, but perhaps the largest, most obnoxious jackass in publishing history.

Since opening last Memorial Day, Body has become the place to be seen for the primo stuff strutters of Las Vegas and talented amateurs who come from out of town long on attitude and short on clothes. If Body isn't wall to wall with beautiful betties tonight, we'll eat our hats.

Man, Antonio does not fuck around. This is the very opening of his article. Let's count the cliches:

1) "the place to be seen"
2) "stuff strutters" (ugh)
3) "long on attitude/short on clothes" (I'm not sure I get what he means...they didn't bring a lot of clothes? They've already lost their clothes? I can get that they don't have a lot of money, but why don't they have any clothes? Where are they coming from?)
4) "wall to wall"
5) "beautiful betties"
6) "eat our hats"

And that last one is pretty old-fashioned. No one even wears hats any more.

There's a long line of rockstars-in-their-minds at the door, waiting behind the proverbial velvet rope, hoping to get in, hoping that their Scarface Tony Montana (boys) or Paris Hilton (girls) look will get them the green light from Cory and his men at the door. We don't wait of course. We've booked a table with bottle service.

Are there really guys trying to get into hot Vegas nightclubs by dressing like Tony Montana? Is it the white suit with gold chain and red collared shirt ensemble? Because if you're bold enough to go out in something like that, you deserve to get into a hot nightclub.

I like how Antonio informs us that it's the boys who dress like Tony Montana and the girls who dress like Paris Hilton. You know...so's we don't get confused as to what kind of "club" he goes to. Cause he's all man.

Poor rubes, they'll waste their night on the rope line, hoping just to pay the $20 "official" cover, and turtle into the club if they get the chance. Don't they know that life's too short to wait in line? Guess not.

Antonio’s First Rule of Nightclubbing:

Always book a table in advance. The more you pay, the more it’s worth.

I bet you didn't know Antonio had written out rules for this shit. Most people, you know, get dressed up and go to a club. But Antonio has taken the time to inform you that the only proper way to go nightclubbing (one word) is to spend a lot of money. Also, you really ought to be a professional poker player, if you can manage it.

Oh, and yes, life's too short to wait in line. But it's plenty long enough to spend your days sucking in cigar fumes and cheap, poorly-mixed cocktails as you crouch over a dimly-lit green-felt table trying to sucker a drunken postal carrier from Scranton out of his bus fare home.

DJ AM is spinning the steel wheels. He's flown in from LA specially for this gig and right now he's chilling the crowd with some smooth dub house but later he'll have everyone bouncing to his beat like puppets on a string. Props to the man, when he gets workin', he's Pavlov and we're his dogs.

There's nothing specifically vile about this paragraph. I just, for some reason, always find people's descriptions of techno music irritating. And I'm not saying everyone who listens to techno is an idiot or anything...I'm just saying that there's no way to talk about that kind of music without kind of sounding like a spacey douchebag. I mean, "we were chilling to some dub house"...it just sounds lame. They need a whole new vocabulary. And also, someone really needs to kill Moby in his sleep, cause I think we've all had enough of that guy.

While we're in here winning the party, the wannabes are still be riding the rope line, waiting, going nowhere fast. If you're a hottie, you could shake your way into Body, but for Joe Schmo and his buddies from the boondocks, they may as well go sit in the parking lot and watch the neon signs – either that or slip Mr. Franklin into the right hand.

Antonio is obsessed with people being denied admission to the club. He doesn't even want to be in there unless he knows people are being turned away at the door. It's kind of sad, really, in a way. There's Antonio finally living the dream, he's inside the hot club with all the cool people chatting up some fine looking ladies. It's everything a nerdy kid dreams of achieving one day.

And yet, right there, in the midst of his greatest success, Antonio can't appreciate anything. His only joy is derived from the abstract thought that somewhere out there is a pathetic individual worse off than him. At least I, Antonio Esfandiari, am inside this club right now! Ha ha! You just try to get in here, Joe Schmo. It would cost at least $100! Which no one has but me!

Also, note the use of the phrase "winning the party." What kind of competitive piece of shit thinks of a party as something that can be "won"? Just have a fucking drink and relax, Prefontaine. It's a party, not a track meet.

Antonio’s Second Rule of Nightclubbing:

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Lons' Corrollary to Antonio's Second Rule of Nightclubbing:

There's no such thing as a free lunch, unless you're talking about going to a strip club in the afternoon that's having some kind of special promotion. Then, there might be a free lunch, but it's probably just cold cuts and warm soda.

Some petite betties from Canada drift over, shyly orbiting our booth, looking for a way to break the ice. Silly betties, just being them is all the icebreaking they need. But we know what they're thinking – have they seen us on TV or what? To help them out, I give them my trademark "Antonio wave," and they break out into squeals of laughter. "I knew it!" shrieks one. "I knew it was him!" Do we invite them to join us for a drink? Does a bear shit in the woods?

This was the point in the interview where I thought..."Just goofing on Antonio Esfandiari in one post isn't good enough...He needs to inaugurate my new contest for Worst Person Alive."

Has he actually trademarked the "Antonio wave"? Because if he has, his branding sucks. I mean, I watch poker on TV and I've never heard of the Antonio wave.

I have to say, I'm starting to think this whole anecdote may be completely fictional. First of all, even if they did recognize the guy from TV, would any woman hang out with a guy all night who insisted on calling them a "betty"? Clueless was released in, what, 1994? Can we update the argot a bit, Tony? What do you say?

I'm just not buying this "hot Canadian women recognized me in a club and then I tagged the shit out of them" story. I guess it could be true. I'm sure some people recognize Antonio Esfandiari in public. The whole thing just seems a little convenient.

One laughing betty fails Adam's patented sobriety test, where he holds up his hand, fingers spread, and asks, "How many hands am I holding up?" If they say one, they’re still sober...

If they say five, they're not. This one just falls out into hysterical giggling. Not fit to drive. Not fit to do much of anything but sit there and be beautiful, but baby that's enough.

He falls into kind of a Robert Evans vibe right here. Except, if Evans were relating this story, it would be both more implausible and disgusting. Plus it would involve a lot of famous talent of the 1970's. Allow me to demonstrate:

"I'm hanging out with this broad at the hottest nightclub in town, and oh man, she's getting wasted. I mean, this girl is out of her mind on the sauce. So I did the only thing I could think of. I gave her the sobriety test. I put my index finger into her butthole. And brother, did she ever pass. It was the first time I met Diane Keaton, but let me tell you something, baby, I promised her the part in Godfather that very same night."

Something like that. But don't worry, Antonio...you'll get there some day!

(By the way, no one even think of nominating Bob Evans for this award. Say what you will about the man's overall scumminess...he produced Chinatown. Automatic exemption!)

It always amazes me the way time goes away in a great nightclub. Once you're in that groove, the past and the future disappear, and all you have is the hot, perfect now. It's like an intense poker game, or even meditation.

Meditation's a damn sight cheaper, though, right? Yeah, I guess. If cheaper's what you want. But meditation won't get you a night like this, or a bevy of betties from Canada who jump in the limo with you when you go.

Is it supposed to be hotter somehow that they're from Canada? I don't mean to disparage Canadian women, many of whom I'm certain are quite strikingly beautiful. But Antonio brings it up constantly, as if it were a badge of honor. I mean, it's not really even that exotic to meet a Canadian woman. If they were from Guyana or something, I could see mentioning it more than once. But Vancouver?

Antonio also has his own website, talking all about his private top-secret members only exclusive society, known only as Get Rid Of Slimy girlS (or GROSS)...Oh, no, wait, it's the Rocks and Rings (named after a P. Diddy song!)

It's in the latter category that you'll find Rocks and Rings (or R&R as its shorthandedly known), a posse comprised of Antonio and his closest friends, guys who really know how to party -- and seem determined to teach the world this skill, one nightclub at a time.

Oh, Antonio, Antonio...is this contest going to be over before it even gets going? Are you the lamest guy I will ever find to nominate?

I will now republish Antonio's entire online Rocks and Rings "glossery" of slang terms. Brace yourself for the onslaught:

1.4. Homage to the $1.4 million that Antonio won at the 2004 LA Poker Classic, now an R&R seal of approval. "This party is a total 1.4."

BABY. An attractive young lady -- in homage to the classic movie Swingers, and in full respect to the lady in question.

BITE. An incoming cell phone call, especially from a baby. "I've got to step outside and take this bite."

BUDGET BOY. A term of disdain directed toward anyone who contemplate the price of a purchase. "If you have to ask, Budget Boy, you can't afford it."

DEEP DISH. Excellent house music.

HOTWIRE. To hook up. If you hotwire, you don't go home alone.

ON POINT. A) In charge of organizing the party. B) Locked in; in the zone. "Koosh was totally on point last night. No wonder he hotwired."

ROCKS AND RINGS. An all-purpose adjective to describe something of high quality or style. "How Rocks and Rings are these shoes?"

PLUCKWORTHY HONEY. A baby worthy of further attention.

TURBO SHOPPING. Buying clothing under the gun, where money is no object and second-guessing is not allowed.

I have to end the column now. Yeah, I can't follow that up. Words fail me. In the face of "pluckworthy honey," what can you do but close down your blog for the night, curl up in the fetal position and pray for the future of our nation?

So, anyway, that's Antonio's column, inaugurating this new feature. Post future nominations in the Comments Section! Or let me know if this is a dumb feature you don't feel like participating in, and I'll make up something else to occupy your feeble minds.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Laff and a Braff

Not much to see here. Just an embarrassing piece of gossip from the NY Daily News about my least favorite human being, Mr. Zachary de Braff.

Apparently "Scrubs" star Zach Braff is a breast man. During Sunday night's release party for the "Scrubs" DVD at nightspot Aer, the medically incorrect Braff told a waitress, "You have beautiful t-s." Yesterday the waitress, asking for anonymity, told Lowdown: "I was dressed as a nurse. ... He tried to give me a DVD and he said, 'Let me put it in your breasts.' I said no, and he was like, 'I'm just kidding.' I think it's gross. ... Mandy Moore was in the other room. He was drunk - he asked for, like, 100 shots. I've been there two months, and no customer has come on like that." Yesterday Braff's rep responded, "Zach's said some pretty inappropriate things in the past, but he always 'fesses up to them, and he said he didn't say that. But I wasn't there."

Zach Braff, a man of genuine class and distinction.

I love that his PR rep even admits that Braff's a juvenile chauvanistic asshole. "Oh, yeah, Zach's always asking to shove things between stranger's tits, but usually he confesses to it right afterwards. And as we all know, degrading people and getting away with it because of your B-level celebrity status is okay, as long as you cop to it later on to friends and business associates.

Do You Like Linkin Park?

Well, I don't! To me, they sound like the runner-up at the high school Battle of the Bands. They're not the band that wins the high school Battle of the Bands, as those are usually garage-y throwback bands where the lead singer writes faux-sensitive lyrics about his girlfriend of the past two months. Linkin Park is more of the sad bastard "industrial" band that's equally bad, but more navel-gazing and whiny, and they have a DJ with them. Because they're, you know, artists or something.

But if you like Linkin Park, be forewarned, we probably have opposite opinions about music. Actually, perhaps that will be a handy guide for you to use while purusing this website. If you like Linkin Park, just reverse the meaning of everything I write, and you'll probably agree with it. So, for example, the phrase "The guy from Linkin Park sounds like his entire sinus cavity is being invaded by those burrowing insects from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan" would, for you, translate as "The guy from Linkin Park has a beautiful singing voice, and sounds nothing like the victim of nefarious interstellar insect-themed torture."

Okay, having dispensed with that business, I just figured I'd throw up a column about the music I've been listening to and enjoying over the past couple of weeks. For the kids. Because there's nothing more irritating than hearing the same song repeat on you're iPod when you're in the middle of text-messaging.

Individual Songs

The White Strips - Blue Orchid

This song, the first leak from the new White Stripes album, is pretty cool. It sounds a lot like the White Stripes, and yet it's more contemporary and hard-edged than I typically think of with Jack White's kind of bluesy guitar style. Nowhere near as infectious as that "Seven Nation Army" riff that introduced "Elephant," but hey, what is?

The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

Man, I love the riff that opens this song. It's just electric. That one moment is already better than just about anything on the disappointing previous Pornographers album, "Electric Version." When these guys are really connecting, when the songs achieve the delirious euphoria of "Letter From an Occupant," they are the best power-pop band in the known universe.

Want to hear this song for yourself? Check it out here. WARNING: that link will take you right to the mp3, free for download off of the Matador Records site, so maybe you best just right-click that bastard and save it right to your desktop.

The Hold Steady - Your Little Hoodrat Friend

These guys are the new indie band of the moment, now that all the cool people already know about Bloc Party. I'm not sure the buzz on them is entirely deserved. Their songs are diverting and bouncy, and this one in particular is loose and funny, but it's not exactly the kind of thing I'd need to hear over and over again. I haven't listened to the whole album enough to make any final judgements, however, and this song is certainly agreeable enough.


The Boy Least Likely To - Fur Soft as Fur

Weird, twee 60's style psychedelia, just like I like it. This was recorded last year, but could have been pulled off of one of those Nuggets box sets Rhino put out forever ago. It's the perfect nonsensical pop tune for summer if you happen to be one of the five Americans who doesn't want to spend the warm months listening exclusively to songs in which 50 Cent discusses the contours and location of his lollypop.

Spoon - I Turn My Camera On

My favoritist song from the new Spoon album (which I'm still kind of digesting, along with several other albums to be named further down in this post). Is it wrong that it reminds me of Hall & Oates and I still really like it?

Radiohead - Arpeggi

Back in March, Pitchfork Media (who don't archive their news section back to March, so I can't get you a good link) noted that Radiohead had premiered this song live at some European concert that I can't attend, living as I do in Los Angeles, USA on $4 a day. But the song soon showed up online and it's awesome, not quite a fully fleshed-out Radiohead song, but clearly on its way to something epic, challenging and soulful in equal measure.

Full-Length Albums


Magnolia Electric Company - What Comes After the Blues

Jason Molina keeps up the same rich, solemn country rock style that marked his gob-smackingly terrific "Magnolia Electric Company" album, when he still performed as Songs: Ohia.

Oh, did I lose you? Okay, Molina used to be in a band called Songs: Ohia, who released a terrific album a few years ago called "Magnolia Electric Company." After that, Songs: Ohia disbanded (it was little more than Molina and a few back-up singers and musicians anyway...he did all the songwriting himself), and Molina performed solo shows under the moniker Pyramid Electric Company. Now, he has a new band, and he's released new material under the name Magnolia Electric Company.

Jason, you're a brilliant songwriter. Your albums recall the best of classic American roots-inflected rock (and Canadian, if you include Neil Young, as you obviously should). Just pick a name (a sensible one, hopefully) and run with it.

Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die

Man, this album is like some surreal mushroom trip smelted down and burned into a CD. These Australian multi-instrumentalists have released catchy, esoteric pop songs before. I liked their prior release, "Fingers Crossed," a good deal. But nothing can prepare you for this album's psychedelic pop freak-out. This and Fiona Apple's unreleased masterpiece "Extraordinary Machine" are thus far my favorite albums of 2005.

The Eels - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

I had kind of given up on Mr. E and his Eels. I still maintain that "Electro-Shock Blues" is one of the great unsung albums of our times. But ever since then, particularly with the woefully obnoxious "Souljacker," I have felt The Eels kind of slipping away into cutesy, mock ironic novelty-dom. I mean, "Souljacker" was everything self-aware and smug in The Eels personality, without any of the wit.

This album is kind of a mixed bag. Some songs I think are incredibly terrific, the most sincere and even, dare I say, sunny material in the band's entire catalog. But with 2 full discs worth of music, it's a bit overstuffed, and some of it feels like unnecessary filler. Even so, there are enough great moments here to belatedly reinspire my Eels fandom.

And, of course, I continue to listen obsessively to the following albums I have already discussed on the blog:

Bloc Party - Silent Alarm

British Sea Power - Open Season

Beck - Guero

The Decemberists - Picaresque

Louis XIV - The Best Little Secrets Are Kept

Arcade Fire - Funeral

Monday, May 16, 2005

Spam Nazis

I wrote my Master's Thesis on white supremacists. Specifically, I took a look at how Neo-Nazi groups used the Internet, whether it was a useful propaganda and mobilization tool for their army of the ill-informed.

Sounds interesting, right? That's what I thought. But then I realized, to accurately conduct said research, I would have to spend literally hours scanning the Internet for racist websites. It was a highly unpleasant way to spend an afternoon, let me tell you, if only because I half-expected the FBI to burst down my door demanding to know why I was investigating backwards, redneck, pseudo-Nazi literature with such zeal and apparently interest.

I will note here that, in my experience, nothing bad happens to you after you look at some of these websites. I don't think you go on any lists, and I've never received spam e-mail from them or anything (for more on SPAM, check back later on in this same article). But, just so you know, the websites I'm about to catalog include racism, bile and slander of a most regretful tone. The views expressed therein are not the views of Crushed by Inertia or any of its subsidiary corporations.

So, here's probably the biggest group of racist fucks on the Intarweb, the good men and women of Stormfront. Stated goal? Spreading hatred of Jews. But the best part of Stormfront isn't the standard, dreary, boring, typical white supremacist bullshit of the main site, but the delightfully slanderous "Kids' Page".

The Kids' Page is run by a fake 14 year old named Derek. How do I know he's fake? Well, because I first discovered this page over 5 years ago, and damned if he wasn't 14 way back when. So, Derek's not real, he's an imaginery 14 year old that some old racist guys made up. You know, to communicate the phat message about the joys of hatin' to a hip young crowd!

He's got a spot on the page where he's written a "book report" on Martin Luther King that he encourages kids to turn in! Here's a sample sentence:

[Dr. King was] just a sexual degenerate, an America-hating Communist, and a criminal betrayer of even the interests of his own people.

I smell an A+!

Okay, let's move on, because these websites start to give me the creeps pretty quickly.

My overall favorite type of racist website is the Southern Secessionist website. Here's a sample one for South Carolina. These are sites where actual Southerners attempt to recruit like-minded people to all move to a pre-determined spot in the South, and then politically push for, I swear to you, secession from the union.

See, they want to set up their own society, where they are free to make their own laws, like "NO ABORTIONS EVER" and "FUCK ALL DEM FAGGOTS" and "GET OFFA MY PROP'TY, JEW!" And, yes, their laws clearly will be written in all caps.

Here's another good one calling for a mass Christian Exodus to...you guessed it...South Carolina! Man, that place is like the New Jerusalem or something. You just know, if Jesus came back today, he'd totally want to settle in Raleigh-Durham. Here is, according to Christian Exodus dot com, the problem they want to solve:

-Abortion continues against the wishes of many States
-Sodomite and lesbian "marriage" is now legal in Massachusetts (and coming soon to a neighborhood near you)
-Children who pray in public schools are subject to prosecution
-Our schools continue to teach the discredited theory of Darwinian evolution
-The Bible is still not welcome in schools except under unconstitutional FEDERAL guidelines
-The 10 Commandments remain banned from public display
-Sodomy is now legal AND celebrated as "diversity" rather than condemned as perversion
-Preaching Christianity will soon be outlawed as "hate speech"

Paranoid much?

Let's go through them one by one. Okay, yes, abortion does continue. No, gay marriage...oh, excuse me, I misspoke...sodomite marriage is not legal right now in Massachusetts. Maybe some day. And couldn't that term be used for any marriage where one partner sticks his penis in the mouth or pooper of another partner? Isn't that a whole whole lot of American marriages? Like almost all? (Certainly all good ones.)

Okay, next, "children who pray at public schools are subject to prosecution." I guess they mean social prosecution, because obviously they don't mean criminal prosecution. You ever heard of a kid being thrown in jail for praying in school?

And they also don't mean "children who pray," they mean "children who organize groups to get together and pray." Because praying to one's self is certainly allowed in public schools. That shit's allowed ANYWHERE. Prison, the space shuttle, public school, underwater. There's no place I can think of right now where you can't pray quietly to yourself. John McCain in the Vietnamese prison camp was allowed to pray quietly to himself. He could theoretically be poked with pointed bamboo shoots at the same time, but still, he was praying.

Schools do teach evolution, but it has hardly been "discredited" just because a bunch of morons who don't understand basic biology have come up with that "lizard with feathers" argument.

As for the Bible not being welcome in schools...I actually read the Bible for a class at UCLA, a publicly funded university. So there goes that theory.

And the 10 Commandments being banned from public display? Not so. They just can't be displayed on federal or state-owned property in view of the public. Way different. If you own a store that is open to the public, you can hang any damn thing you want up in there. A Confederate flag, a deer carcass, a nude wall-sized photo of Kirstie Alley. It don't matter. Have a blast.

"Sodomy is now legal and celebrated as diversity..." Oh, if only that were true. "Diversity Week" in high school would been so much more fun.

And finally, preaching Christianity will be outlawed as hate speech.

I would love for that to happen, but it clearly will not happen. Hate speech is more like "You're not Christian! DIE, HEATHEN SCUM," than "Have I told you about my good pal JC?"

Okay, so that's why these people need to abandon the rest of the nation and all move to South Carolina. Believe me, I'll be sorry to see them go, but hey, no, if you guys need to just get out and live on your own, I won't try to stop you...

But what's the plan? How to actually sever ties with the rest of the US?

Rather than spend resources in continued efforts to redirect the entire nation, we will redeem States one at a time. Millions of Christian conservatives are geographically spread out and diluted at the national level. Therefore, we must concentrate our numbers in a geographical region with a sovereign government we can influence through the electoral process.

ChristianExodus.org is orchestrating the move of thousands of Christians to reacquire our Constitutional rights by electing State and local officials who will interpose on behalf of the people and refuse to enforce illegal federal acts.

Of course! The problem is that you're all so spread out! Some of you live in Pitstain, Tennessee while others live in Skidmark, Kentucky! This is a brilliant plan, demonstrating a keen knowledge of the inner workings of the American political system.

"We have too much support over too large an area! Let's concentrate it some place where our influence can have the greatest impact?"

"Some hillbilly town in South Carolina?"

"Brilliant!"

Okay, just one more kind of racist Internet whatnot I wanted to share with you, and then I'll get on to the article that started me on this whole kick a half-hour ago. There are a bunch of websites touting the white supremacist brand of punk rock known as "Hatecore." Hatecore songs are just like any other extremely loud and aggressive punk songs, except that the indiscernably screeched lyrics are about killing Jews instead of getting drunk, fucking your girlfriend and trashing your dad's Le Baron.

It's pretty funny, because racists think they can use the popularity of this kind of music to serve their cause, but I've listened to a bunch of these songs and you can't ever really hear what they are saying. Sometimes the choruses are even in German, which is pretty ambitious considering the typical audience member for this kind of music can't even speak English all that well.

After studying up on these sites for a few months, I I discovered that Neo-Nazis are too stupid to employ the Internet in their recruitment schemes, preferring to hang around the high school parking lot with six packs of Old Milwaukee, waiting for the young burnouts to creep by, having been intoxicated by the oddly-potent combination of cheap beer and simplified, hate-filled ideology. It was kind of a relief, actually. If they learned how to use it properly, could be a massive boon to their recruitment efforts and the marketing of their message. But instead, because they aren't really much for fancy book-learning, the spread of technology actually aids law enforcement's efforts against them, making it easier to keep tabs on dangerous propagandists and potentially violent offenders.

I'm not even saying that's a good thing, because I usually view intrusive law enforcement practices as more harmful than positive. But in the case of virulent racists preying on the young and easily manipulated, I'm willing to make an exception.

I brought all this up initially because I was intrigued by this Reuters article. A large virus that went out a few weeks ago over the 'Net contained racist messages, and is beleived to have spawned from a Neo-Nazi hacker.

Bearing German-language subject lines that translate to phrases like "Multicultural = multicriminal," the messages point to racist German Web sites and news articles that could be used to support anti-immigrant views.

The timing of the attack coincided with two events that might arouse right-wing feelings in Germany: an election in the state of Northrhine-Westfalia and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

The worm's author is likely a neo-Nazi sympathizer motivated by ideology, rather than a mercenary who would send out messages for any paying customer, experts said.

Uh-oh. Didn't this guy read my report? He doesn't sound like a delusional hillbilly at all.

I still don't think e-mail spam is ever going to be a good way to spread a message. People just delete spam right away; I don't think anyone actually reads all of it. And even if they glance at the contents, it would have to engage them pretty thoroughly for them to retain that information, or to be swayed into racism by it. Imagine...what could you possibly write into a spam e-mail that would make people suddenly decide to hate Jews?

"You need Viagra, because the Jews have secretly been causing your penis to go flaccid. There's an International Jewish Conspiracy against your dick getting hard! For a prescription, and ways to get back at the Jews, send us $10 via Paypal."

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Most Delightful Idiocy

The quite frequently hilarious blog Immoderation has inspired me. They've run a column on six celebrities who should have absolutely no place being famous. It's a star-studded affair, including Star Jones, Ashlee and Jessica Simpson and, coming in at number one, Mr. Demi Moore himself...Ashton Kutcher.

The list itself is very funny. This is the entire entry for #5, Leelee Sobieski:

Lee Lee has quite an established film career, starring in such blockbusters as Joy Ride and Here On Earth. In her spare time she enjoys talking like a man, going to events that celebrities seem to go to, and singing her own name. Leelee Sobieski ladies and gentlemen.

But while I agree with the spirit of the endeavor, I think Lindsey of Immoderation and I have very different views on what makes a celebrity worthwhile. I like my famous people, particulary if they are involved in reality television, to be as outrageously clueless and/or stupid as possible. That makes them more entertaining.

Oh, sure, there are smart celebrities whose work I genuinely value and enjoy. Guys like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, David Cross and Patton Oswalt, Jack Nicholson and Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Crispin Glover, and many many many many more. (Yeah, I threw Crispin Glover in there...what of it?)

But you need to have half-insane dimwits in there too, just to keep things interesting. Celebrities are fun because we elevate them to this level of immense importance and unthinkably high status, and then we expect them to behave just like everyone else.

So, with that in mind, I'm proud to present my list of the Top 6 Most Delightfully Insipid Celebrity Morons. Oh, man, this is going to be fun.

Now, remember, this is not "Biggest Celebrity Asshole." We all know who would win that contest on this blog, right? I don't even need to go there...Okay, his first name starts with a Z, and his last name rhymes with the sound my digestive tract makes whenever I even think about his hit sitcom or popular 2004 indie film.

This is Most Delightfully Insipid Celebrity Morons. It's, like, totally different.

6. Sir Charles Barkley



You've got to love this guy because he's on TV all the time, constantly, and he's unable to put together a coherent sentence. The guy's a paid television commentator and he communicates on the level of a 6 year old. And not even a clever 6 year old who reads ahead of the rest of his class. The kind of slightly-below-average 6 year old who walks around constantly with popsicle stains on his overalls.

My roommate Chris related a story about Sir Charles that I will share with you. He was at a celebrity golf tournament where Barkley was playing. Charles flirtatiously taunted a female competitor with the following remark:

"You better bring me some bunion, because my feet are tired from kicking your butt."

So, we learn two things from this quote. First, Charles Barkley does not know the meaning of the term "bunion." Two, even though he probably realizes on some level that he doesn't know the meaning of the term "bunion," he goes ahead and uses it in an insult anyway because, after all, he is Charles Barkley.

5. Jonathan Antin



This guy is a real treasure. I first saw him on a hilarious episode of "Da Ali G Show," in which Sasha Cohen's fashionista character Bruno bonded with Beverly Hills hairstylist Antin over the observation that evil guys tend to have moustaches. Seriously, cause like, Saddam Hussein and Hitler...think about it...

Then they gave him his own reality show on Bravo where he gets to torment his attentive hairdressing staff about inane, petty bullshit. Whatever producer made that call...you, sir, are a genius. Jonathan Antin with a camera crew around him and an inflated sense of authority makes those aforementioned dictators look like Jeff Lebowski.

4. Bono



Bono's done a few good things. He's always telling people that Africans are starving, which people apparently need to hear, even though I've known there are starving Africans since I was a child and nothing ever seems to actually happen to get them some food. Maybe, instead of constantly alerting heads of state to the deplorable conditions in Africa, Bono should just make a pizza run or something. I mean, it won't solve the whole problem, but you've got to start somewhere, right? (I am aware, as well, that he works a lot to raise money to help AIDS victims in Africa, but it's a lot harder to make light of Africans dying of AIDS than dying of starvation for some reason, in my desensitized, sick Western mind).

Basically, I just hate this guy because he's so into being an international celebrity. Starting with the "Achtung Baby" album (which is, I'll admit, a pretty great rock album), he just started buying into all of his own lame bullshit, and ever since he's this obnoxious rock god caricature, loping around in tight leather pants trying to get Boutros Boutros Ghali to take him seriously. What the hell? Just go back to writing songs. Actually, you know what, I've heard that "Vertigo" crap. Don't even bother with the songs. Just get out of my face, and get some of those starving kids some Lunchables, for fuck's sake.

I mean, look at that photo...what an ass. He'd do well to heed this advice from the helpful blogger over at Random Acts of Violence.

3. Tara Reid



If Tara Reid didn't exist, we'd surely have to invent her. At first, she was famous for being the hot girl in the American Pie movie. Then it was for dating noted automaton Carson Daly, who moved up from being a drive-time Los Angeles DJ to the leading personality on MTV, despite having all the charisma of...well, of a drive-time Los Angeles DJ. Now, she's famous for getting plastered and having her surgically decimated boobs fall out of her top.

I mean, those Immoderation girls can say whatever they want...That's an excellent reason to be famous. I mean, Meryl Streep, so what, you've made a few movies? You ever get shitfaced at Puff Daddy's New Year's Eve Party and wind up exposing yourself to the paparazzi? Actually, the best part about that whole incident was that, after her publicist came over and alerted her that her deformed breast was visible, she got angry at the photographers. As if they had revealed her bosom through a force of sheer will.

2. Donald Trump



Trump is such a ridiculous, preening bloward caricature, you almost think it can't be real. That it must be some sort of character, an act he puts on in public to get attention. If he hadn't been famous before "The Apprentice," and that show was America's first introduction to the man, no one would beleive he really existed. They'd think Trump was really brilliant character actor Gary Oldman in one of his patented chameleon-like disguises.

But no, this is really his personality. He genuinely thinks a penthouse constructed entirely of pink marble and gold fixtures is classy, as opposed to gauche enough to make Kevin Federline dismiss him as nouveau riche. He's keenly interested in the future of the beauty pageant industry. He's constantly depicted on his TV show tooling around in a private helicopter despite the fact that the entire series takes place on an island you can walk across in half an afternoon. And come on, people, he had Craig in the Final Four! What's wrong with this guy?

1. Ashlee Simpson



I want to have a million of Ashlee Simpson's babies. She is the most clueless and therefore adorable person alive. Friends of mine will know that I'm not embellishing my adoration for Ashlee in any way, shape or form for the entertainment or reading pleasure of my blog audience. This shit is for real.

Ashlee's MTV show was like a revelation. She is so shallow, her shallowness actually kind of transforms before your eyes into a great depth. She's so dumb, it's almost Zen.

What I love most about Ashlee is how she assumes that wealth and fame are owed to her, and gets genuinely agitated whenever anything threatens to take her fantastical success away. When the recording of her debut album didn't go well, she was heard to complain that she had given up a successful film career just to do this stupid major-label rock album, so why shouldn't they do it exactly the way she wanted? When her "Saturday Night Live" lip synching incident shocked and appalled the nation, she responded by getting snippy whenever reporters brought it up (after initially blaming her band). When European reporters insist on asking actual questions rather than just setting up her canned answers, she quickly turns hostile. Don't these guys realize that she really wants to be famous and popular? Can't they be good enough to respect that?

Again, I come here not to bag on Ashlee but to praise her. You might think she has it made, that her life is remarkably pleasant and easy, but it's got to be really grueling to be this vapid. There's always the danger that a stray thought might accidentally enter her head, maybe questioning the ultimate purpose of spewing nonsensical rhyming couplets to a delighted throng of 9 year old girls, and what would she do then, huh? Keep right on shopping for handbags with her equally inane girlfriends? Well, yeah, probably...