Saturday, June 18, 2005

Happy Father's Day

I went home to Orange County for Father's Day today...Went with my father as he got a car wash, hung out with my mom for a brief time, enjoyed some barbecue with my parents and grandparents.

My grandfather, upon receiving the gift of some underwear, made the following joke:

"These look like dancing shorts. Plenty of ball room!"

It's kind of comforting, in a way, that a man over the age of 80 still finds jokes about his balls to be funny. I guess that once men reach a certain age, their sense of humor essentially stops maturing. That age is 8.

I got the new Casino DVD for my father, which isn't a very extravagant gift. But then again, I'm not a very extravagant guy. I'd make a joke here about my bleak financial situation, but every time I do that, my grandmother reads it and gets upset, and calls my parents to tell them to give me more money. Which, in a way, kind of works out for me, but still I recognize it's unfair. So let me just say, it was the most enjoyable present that I could afford. Well, I guess I could have bought my dad a bacon-wrapped hot dog or something, and that would have been even cheaper, but the opportunity for that kind of gift really didn't present itself, and I happen to work in a DVD store.

We were originally planning to see Batman Begins this afternoon, but it took me several hours to reach Orange County via the freeway, which was more backed up than The Hamburgler's colon. (Too graphic?) Seriously, I could have walked home in about the same amount of time. Flightless birds on qualuudes wearing leg irons move faster than Saturday traffic on the I-5. By the time I reached home, there was no longer any time for an afternoon movie. In fact, I had missed Father's Day and half of the following work week.

But it was nice to see my family and catch up with everyone. My mother sent me home with enough food to feed the cast and crew of Lawrence of Arabia, with enough leftovers for the cast and crew of Bridge on the River Kwai, my grandfather will get to see Ray Romano live at the OC Performing Arts Center as a Father's Day gift from my folks and my grandparents even slipped me $50! Which makes me feel crummy, because they're on a fixed income, and I'll just blow it on something stupid like an all-region DVD player. (I mean, how can I not already have an all-region DVD player? It boggles the mind!) But, you know, they mean well...

It's...I think...WTF...


Romanian priest unrepentant after crucifixion of nun

TANACU, Romania (AFP) - A Romanian Orthodox priest, facing charges for ordering the crucifixion of a young nun because she was "possessed by the devil," was unrepentant as he celebrated a funeral ceremony for his alleged victim.

"God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil," Father Daniel, 29, the superior of the Holy Trinity monastery in north-eastern Romania, told an AFP reporter before celebrating a short liturgy "for the soul of the deceased", in the presence of 13 nuns who showed no visible emotion.

He insisted that from the religious point of view the crucifixion of Maricica Irina Cornici, 23, was "entirely justified," but admitted he faced excommunication as well as prosecution, and was seeking a "good lawyer."

Cornici was found dead on Wednesday, gagged and chained to a cross, after fellow nuns called an ambulance, according to police.

I's like....what the....Hang on a second, I'll.....

Mihaela Straub, spokeswoman for the police in the province of Vaslui, said Daniel and four other nuns had claimed Cornici was possessed and should be exorcised.

Before being crucified she had been kept shut up for several days, her hands and feet tied and without food or drink, he said.

Cornici had entered the monastery just three months before, after visiting a friend who was a nun there, police said.

But didn't about.......One thing I.....

As her coffin entered the church of the monastery Saturday no church bells were sounded while nuns cast distrustful glances at the strangers, including two AFP reporters, present at the ceremony.

Claps of thunder from an approaching storm were sometimes the only sounds to break the silence.

"This storm is proof that the will of God has been done," Daniel said.

"You see it?" said the priest, gesturing at the body, lying in an annex and still showing the marks of the gag.

Daniel has lived for the past four years in the isolated monastery located in the hills of one of the poorest regions of Romania, without running water or electricity.

"Over there, in your world, the people must know that the devil exists. Personally I can find his work in the gestures and speech of possessed people, because man is often weak and lets himself be easily manipulated by the forces of evil," said the bearded young priest.

Okay, so.......But isn't that.....

"I don't understand why journalists are making such a fuss about this. Exorcism is a common practise in the heart of the Romanian Orthodox church and my methods are not at all unknown to other priests," he said.

Vitalie Danciu, the superior of a nearby monastery at Golia, called the crucifixion "inexcusable," but a spokesman for the Orthodox patriarchate in Bucharest refused to condemn it.

"I don't know what this young woman did," Bogdan Teleanu said.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Guest Blogger: Robert Evans

[Lons here...I really loved having Cedric the Entertainer come and do his "thang" here on the blog. I think it went really well. I was going to have him back, but he's having a really busy week, as you can probably imagine, what with the massive success of his latest opus, The Honeymooners. I mean, I haven't checked the newspapers to see the actual box office results, but I'm just assuming that a remake of an ancient sitcom no one under the age of 50 remembers starring a failed sketch comedy star and the sidekick from the Friday sequels predictably outgrossed Star Wars and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, combined, right?

Anyway, I've been watching movies all week, so I'm burned out, but I wanted to post a few updates at least. So I thought to myself...who could I get to guest host the blog for me? I know! Legendary film producer Bob Evans! Here's what he had to say!]

Lons, you're the best. Seriously, and I'm being honest here, you're one of the five or six best kikes I've ever met. I know you're trying to get some writing work going, and you're probably hoping to use me for all of my unbelievable insider connections, but I hate to tell you, it's not gonna work, baby. I haven't landed a meeting in this town since I stopped dealing blow. Even that Comedy Central cartoon, negotiated 100% over the phone. I think they were scared to let me on the backlot, cause I know all kinds of secret hiding places and they'd never find me again.

You may have read some of my blog posts on the Huffington Blog, so you all know I'm no stranger to this kind of thing. One thing I'll say about Bob Evans, he's on the cutting edge of everything at all times. For example, right now, as I'm typing this, I'm also enjoying the lush melodies of the Lovin' Spoonful on my iPod. A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell, but several members of this band and I once tag-teamed Julie Christie in the grotto of the Playboy Mansion.

Anyway, I asked Lons what his readers would want to know, and he suggested I talk about the making of some of my greatest films, The Godfather or Rosemary's Baby or Chinatown...But that's stuff's the past, man, you gotta live for the future. Like I said to Jimmy Caan after we beat that tranny prostitute to death the night of the '76 Golden Globes...the secret to life is to forgive yourself and move on.

So let's talk about the news. I'm a man with my finger on the pulse, man, so let me get right to it. I know a guy who doesn't just talk about the news, he makes the news happen. No, I'm not talking about your president, George Bush. I'm not even talking about the President of the World, Kofi Annan. I mean, The Big Guy, The Man In Charge. Of Course, I mean, Osama bin Laden.

That's right, folks, Bob Evans has OBL in his Rolodex. Right between Peter Billingsley and Jackie Bisset. I'm going to conduct the first Western interview with Osama, or as I call him, Binny Baby, right here on Crushed by Inertia. Lons, you owe me big. You know what I mean, man, don't make that face...We'll talk later...

ME: Binny Baby, you old motherfucker, how the hell are you? It's Evans!

HIM: Robert, please, I have asked you on many occasions not to refer to me as Binny Baby. I find it highly degrading.

ME: Binny, that is you all over! Let me tell you, you are being real with me, and I respect you for it.

HIM: You know, it is very very late here. Can I possibly call you...

ME: Binny, shut the hell up for a second, I'm trying to do an interview here.

HIM: Interview? I did not...

ME: You keep talking, I can't get a word in here. I'm writing for this blog, and the people, they want to know what's going on with you.

HIM: Well, not a lot, really. Much of the same. I'm still on the run, living in these caves, you know, hoping to uplift my people by extending the war with America and turning Arabs against one another. SSDD, am I right?

ME: You sure said something there.

HIM: It's ironic, you know, cause America is still so pissed at me, and I'm like so totally over the whole thing, man. It's like, that's what I was doing years ago! It's not even like me any more.

ME: You've changed.

HIM: Well, I guess so. I'd like to think I'm growing as a person. I've gotten really into hip-hop, and I've been thinking about going abroad, maybe checking out Azerbeijan or something.

ME: You gotta get out there and see the world. Once, Ali McGraw and I toured a German sausage factory and snuck off to fornicate in the linking room.

HIM: Oh, yeah, I've fucked in a sausage factory. I am a wealthy heir, you know.

ME: Yeah, but how many people have you been with at once? I bet I got you beat.

HIM: Probably not.

ME: Seriously, man. I'm Bob Evans. Let's not go there.

HIM: You know how we promise 72 virgins upon a martyr's arrival in Heaven?

ME: Yeah.

HIM: Let's just say, heaven is a place on Earth.

ME: Binny, you're a dirty son of a bitch, and that's why I love you like a brother.

HIM: Come on, though, don't call me Binny.

ME: I call them as I see them.

HIM: Actually, there is something I would like to say to your readers, if I may.

ME: Binny, say whatever you like.

HIM: People of America, now you see what your aggression has wrought. Each day, the Mighty Soldiers of Allah stomp your puny army into the ground and...

ME: Binny, Binny, slow down, I'm gonna have to type this out later.

HIM: I was just getting to the...

ME: I don't want to hear that stuff anyway. It's yesterday, man, it's played out. The people want something new. Does Bob Evans think you should mix it up, start supporting America? You bet he does.

HIM: Oh, you're an idiot.

So, there you have it folks, my exclusive talk with my dear, dear, close friend, Osama bin Laden. Now, I know, many of you may dislike him because of that whole World Trade Center thing or whatever, but you don't know the real guy, the man underneath, the Binny I first met when I hosted that fundraiser to end women's suffrage. Those were good times.

Well, it's after midnight, time to soak in a hot tub filled with equal parts KY Jelly and homemade apple butter. You folks have a pleasant evening.

Submitted by: BOB EVANS

Don't Think Twice, It's Arclight

I did a silly thing this week, dear readers. First, I went to see Batman Begins at midnight on Tuesday, before waking up early to open the video store on Wednesday. Then, on Wednesday, right after work, I went to see the full 4 hour version of Lawrence of Arabia. So, on very little sleep, and after a full day on my feet helping confused, belligerant assholes conduct the seemingly straight-forward task of renting a DVD, I embarked on a journey across Los Angeles to screen a 4 hour film I had already seen in a crowded movie theater. I managed to stay awake for the entire movie, but by the end I'll admit to a state of near-delirium. I felt how Brittany Murphy must feel all day every day.

I hate Hollywood's Arclight Theater. Hate it. I like to see movies at the Cinerama Dome, now regrettably located within the Arclight Theater Complex, but I still hate the theater as a whole. My hatred of it was formerly based solely on its parking structure, which features the absolute worst design imaginable. It's impossible to get out of the Arclight Theater in a timely fashion. It actually makes the freeway you'll take home seem clear and expedient by comparison.

The reason why is that several lanes of traffic on several different levels of the structure all must merge down to a single lane, before breaking off again to pay the exhorbitant fees at the exit. So, let's say you have 20 people who parked in the same general area, and all went to go see the same movie. (Let's say, hypothetically, they went to see Madagascar, because they are, hypothetically, idiots.) Now, they must drive down the ramp one at a time, slowly, being sure to pause frequently to merge with other traffic from other levels, before splitting up again into several lanes right at the bottom.

Who designed this system? I think it must be the same guy who designed the queue areas at Disneyland, where you double back so many times, you occasionally pass by an alternate-dimension form of yourself waiting in line. I've explained to one of their various friendly costumed employees that this could interrupt the space-time continuum, creating a paradox that could destroy the entire universe...but do they listen? No. They're too busy instilling a magical sense of childlike wonder and charging $20 a pop for stale churros.

So, long story long, I went to the Arclight last night to watch Lawrence of Arabia on a big screen, as part of the AFI Festival, and was disappointed on a number of levels. Here are my complaints:

(1) The print of Lawrence shown was 35 mm, whereas the film was initially shot in 70 mm. I theorized that, out of all the screens at the Arclight, possibly only the Cinerama Dome screen is large enough to accomodate a 70 mm sized reel (which is, of course, double the size of a normal film...try to keep up...) Unfortunately, AFI could only get access to a side theater, so we had to watch a condensed version of Lawrence, which kind of defeats the purpose of paying $10 to watch it on a big screen. I mean, I do, after all, work in a video store, where I am free to rent Lawrence of Arabia and watch a resized version any time I choose.

(2) Because theaters tend to show 70 mm prints when they bother to revive Lawrence of Arabia, the 35 mm print that was available was old and full of defects. The audio had so many snaps, crackles and pops, you'd think the concession stand had replaced all the Goobers with Rice Krispies.

[Is that an incredibly cheesy joke, or is it working for any of you? I wrote that, and then deleted it, and then wrote it again, and repeated that process a few times over...Now that I'm re-reading it, it's almost embarrassingly stupid and I want to erase it again, but I guess I'll leave it now that I've bothered to write this entire little meta-blog conceptual post-modern bracket paragraph questioning its amusement level of effectiveness.]

(3) The woman introducing the film said that TE Lawrence ranked on AFI's 100 Heroes list at #10. Is AFI going to have a bullshit list about every single facet of moviedom now? The Top 100 Nude Scenes would be one I'd like to see them cobble together...I want to know if whoever at AFI writes these insipid Top 100's thinks Demi Moore's topless work in Blame It On Rio outshines Annette O'Toole's infamous locker room sequence in Cat People. I say, no.

What about the Top 100 Movies Where Liam Neeson Plays an Older Guy Mentoring a Younger Guy? You could even go 200 on that one. Or the Top 100 Squintiest Actors? (Clint Eastwood or Steven Seagal...who will take home the prize?)

Or the Top 100 Movies Where a Character Makes a Verbal Wish to Become a Bird So They Can "Just Fly Away From Here"? Or the Top 100 Vomit Scenes! That would be a great one. I nominate Benicio del Toro for his work in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Gary the Puppet from Team America: World Police, for starters. Also, that guy at the end of In the Company of Men, and fat suit-clad Terry Jones in Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.

(4) The fat lady next to me in the theater used this really strong-scented hand lotion. I think it smelled like berries, but it could have been some vanilla extract thing. Or, you know, maybe she was smearing fruit-filled yogurt all over her arms, in case she wanted a snack later and didn't feel like reaching into her bag again. Anyway, it stunk, and almost made me light-headed at one point. And she kept putting more on! It's like, "Lady, your arm still freakin' smells like potpurri ice cream from the last go-round...what say you give me 10 minutes or so to clear out my sinuses before globbing half the yearly output of Crabtree & Evelyn on your puerile, moisture-rich flesh, hmmm?"

I realize there's nothing the Arclight Theater could specifically do about that, save enacting some harsh anti-lotion policy, but this seemed as appropriate a place as any to vent about it.

(5) When you validate your parking ticket at the Arclight, you get 4 hours for free. Which normally would be fine, unless you happen to see a desert-set epic with a total running time of 3 hours and 42 minutes. Now, when you include an overture and intermission, as well as time to get to the theater, get your ticket, get concessions and wait for the movie to start, that busts the 4 hour time limit. When you add in 20 minutes of extra "wait time" in your car because the Arclight Theater parking lot was designed by B.F. Skinner's evil twin M.F., it means paying $4 for the privilege of parking at a movie theater.


I'd review Lawrence of Arabia...but you know the deal, right? Long, large-scale, in the desert, camel noises, Peter O'Toole in one of the greatest screen performances ever, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness as an Arab guy, moustaches...I figure my readers have either seen it, or already skipped past this review due to total lack of interest. They're probably already checking out this guy's blog. He is so cool...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Batman Begins

Batman isn't really like other comic book characters. The heroes of comics are recognizable by their strengths. Think of the X-Men - those are characters defined by their special abilities. Even their names - Pyro, Wolverine, Storm - reflect their talents. Even characters with downfalls or shortcomings, characters like The Incredible Hulk, who comes to see his superpower as a curse, are still uniquely strong, powerful creatures.

But Batman is just a man. What's more, he's a man defined by his weaknesses. He's still emotionally damaged by the loss of his mother, he's alienated from the very people he has sworn to protect, and in Christopher Nolan's brilliant reimagining of the character, Batman Begins, he occupies the extremely thin line between vigiliante lunatic and protector of the common man.

It's not an easy balance to pull off. In the past, some filmmakers, like Joel Schumacher, have tried to highlight the campy side to the story, in order to get past the essentially cold, aloof and unrelatable nature of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Others, like Tim Burton, have set the stories in a cartoonish, imaginative fantasy world, to downplay the silliness of a man in a bat suit fighting villains dressed as penguins and cats.

Nolan, on the other hand, chooses to take the movie deathly seriously, and to allow Bruce Wayne's inner conflict to take center stage in a film that reinvents not just the character of Batman, but the entire world he inhabits. It's a complete triumph, the first film ever to realize the Batman character and his environment properly on screen. It's not just the best Batman movie ever made, but probably the best comic book movie ever made.

This is the origin of Batman played as the Bruce Wayne coming-of-age story. As we open, he's an angry, cynical, bitter young man who has allowed the murder of his parents at a young age to excuse a lifetime of wasted potential. He wanders around the world, living as a criminal, hoping to gain some insight into the criminal mind but not having any clue how to apply it. Bale is a marvel in the role, from a standpoint of physicality but also how he allows Wayne to seethe. Michael Keaton always played Bruce Wayne (and Batman, really) as essentially even-tempered, a man who fought crime out of a promise made to his dead parents long, long ago. Val Kilmer and George Clooney seemed to put no real thought into understanding the character whatsoever.

But Bale's Bruce Wayne isn't really such a nice guy - he genuinely hates criminals and criminality, he resents his family's massive wealth and how he's defined by the name "Wayne," and we finally get to see some of that "billionaire playboy" side of his personality the other films delicately left out. It's a terrific performance, and he really does inhabit the role. Hopefully he'll be portraying this character for some time to come.

He's just one member of a truly phenomenal ensemble. I'll get more into some of these performances later, but this is a film that boasts entertaining, lively and fun performances from Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Rutger Hauer, Gary Oldman and, in a memorable turn as Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow, 28 Days Later star Cillian Murphy. This movie's gonna make that guy a star.

What's most amazing to me, apart from the fact that Nolan was able to convince all those actors to appear in a Batman movie, is how much of the mythology of the character they managed to fit into a 140 minute movie. We get to see Batman's origin and training with Henri Ducard (Neeson), his introduction to the League of Shadows and initial partnership with the mysterious R'as al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), the murder of Wayne's parents and the aftermath, including its economic impact on Wayne Enterprises, Bruce's return to Gotham City, his first adventure as Batman, his development of the Batcave along with butler Alfred (Caine), the design and creation of the Bat suit at the Batmobile by Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox (Freeman), Wayne's budding relationship with Police Sargeant Jim Gordon (Oldman), Wayne's budding relationship with the fetching young District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), the creation of Bruce Wayne the billionaire playboy as an alter-ego, the inside of Arkham Asylum, the activities of Gotham's biggest mob boss (Tom Wilkinson) and the origin of one of Gotham's most feared villains, The Scarecrow.

Has any comic book movie managed to translate so much of the detail while still telling a coherent storyline? I mean, sure, the X-Men films bring a lot of characters and backstory with them, but they haven't gone nearly as far in exploring the world of the mutants as this film goes in its initial half-hour. And they've had a whole extra film! As well, a movie like Daredevil couldn't manage to tell one straight-forward story based around its central character. In Batman Begins, we have material that's both more familiar and more complex, and yet its streamlined into a near-perfect adventure film easily enjoyed by both comic fans and the completely uninitiated.

And the action! Some of the set pieces in this film top even Raimi's remarkable work in Spider-Man 2. There is an extended police chase of the Batmobile through the downtown area of Gotham that easily tops any action scene from any other Batman movie, and that's not even the film's conclusion (which I won't spoil for you). My one complaint in this arena would be that, in the close-up fight scenes, Nolan uses a quick-cut technique that obscures the action. It's too jumpy and it's hard to follow. My friend Ari explained that he felt the usage was appropriate, as Batman's movements are so fast, they are inherently hard to follow exactly. This makes some sense, but I still would rather see Batman giving a guy a karate chop rather than a Bat-shaped blur colliding with another blur.

But this is a minor complaint. Most of the action is quite clear and fluid. Additionally, the technique used to demonstrate the effects of the Scarecrow's hallucinatory "fear toxin," that drives much of the third act of the story, is remarkably effective. It's like something out of a feverish horror film, a trippy and even terrifying blend of CG animation and deep, gutteral sound effects. Like the rest of the effects work in the film, it's expressive without being overwhelming, giving the film a slickly realistic look that's occasionally punctuated by vivid visual trickery.

I could keep going on and on, but I think the biggest point I'm going to make is that Nolan and his co-writer David Goyer quite simply get this character. They know Batman, they have a clear idea of how they want to depict him and Gotham City on screen, and they present their vision in a visually stunning, technically superior and emotionally charged adventure epic. At times, this feels less like a comic book movie than a more old-fashioned adventure film, in which larger-than-life heroes battle to the death over grand ideas.

I liked Burton's films, particularly the defiantly strange Batman Returns, but it always felt as if the raw materials of Batman's world bored him. He didn't care about setting up big action scenes, or choreographing fights, or exploring the various uses of Batman's remarkable equipment. The Joker asked in the first Batman where he got those wonderful toys, but you never felt like Burton cared that much about them at all. He just liked Batman's German Expressionist cityscape and the ability to explore the freakhood of Jack Napier, Oswald Cobblepott and Selena Kyle. Nolan and Goyer, on the other hand, are energized by the association with these classic characters, and they use the iconic status of images like the Bat Signal to enhance the emotion and intensity of the film.

Batman Begins shares in common with this summer's other great triumph, George Lucas' frequently remarkable Revenge of the Sith, a grandiose yet nuanced conception of action filmmaking. These are not films that aim for minor pleasures, but carefully calibrated thrill machines. They are BIG FILMS, and they work because of their bigness, not in spite of it.

At the end of this film, Nolan pretty clearly sets up a sequel, and I have every confidence this will turn into a series of terrific entertainments. No other film in this recent renaissance of comic-inspired films has come close to capturing its chosen character as potently or faithfully as The Dark Knight in Batman Begins.

[UPDATE: I forgot to mention the first time around the lovely score, oddly credited to both James Newton Howard AND Hans Zimmer. There's no singular, iconic little theme tied to the character as in Danny Elfman's 1989 score, but it's elegant and subtly unsettling background music that really sells the films big moments.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Wacky Weekend Weather With David Lynch!

This just in...David Lynch is a strange cat.

Prime Cut

Sometimes, you see a movie from the 70's that's so strange, so unbelievable, you almost can't believe it's a real movie. If you describe it to someone else, they think you're insane or you're making it up, like when you describe a really weird dream or something. Prime Cut is like a bizarre dream with Gene Hackman in it, and you wake up thinking, "I can't have possibly seen a movie like that...I must have been watching The Package and fell asleep with the TV on, and had a weird dream with Gene Hackman in it." And then this DVD comes out, and you realize that...that was no dream!

It's a ridiculous story that's often funny, but it's not a comedy. It includes a number of exciting big-time set pieces, but it's far too quirky and languid to work as an action film. It stars Lee Marvin, Sissy Spacek and Gene Hackman, but it plays like an odd underground film that opened and closed in a few days. It's pretty offensive, when you get right down to it, but also kind of sweet.

When I say offensive, that's only because the movie frequently makes a direct comparison between women and cattle. Hackman plays Mary Ann, a cattle baron who also works a drug and prostitution ring on the side. This continues the peculiar 70's tradition of giving tough guy villains in the movies girl names. For another example, see Charley Varrick, in which Joe Don Baker's heavy is named "Molly."

Mary Ann's set up is particularly vile and, of course, shown in extensive, almost fetishistic detail. He corrals naked farm girls and orphans, dazed beyond consciousness by heroin, inside a barn to be inspected by potential consumers just like...cattle! And that's not all! When he's angry with someone, a business contact, say, he's been known to murder them, butcher them and turn them into sausages (as we see during the opening credits).

It's this murder of a bagman for the Chicago Mafia that brings Mary Ann to the attention of Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin). Devlin's an assassin, but also a nice guy living by a pretty strict moral code. He comes to town to threaten Mary Ann and try to collect $500,000 owed to the boys in Chicago, but ends up saving a prostitute named Poppy (Sissy Spacek, in her debut, nude throughout almost the entire film) while he's there.

After all that story's out of the way, in the first 15 minutes or so, the film turns into a chase movie, with Mary Ann's goons confronting Nick and Poppy at every turn. Perhaps the most climactic and well-executed action scene involves a wheat field, and a reaper chasing down Nick and Poppy, in yet another attempt to chop them up into little bits (a major theme throughout the film).

It's undeniable that Prime Cut gets some kind of sick thrill out of the very idea of chopping people up into meats, and also the idea of drugging farm girls and parading them around like livestock. I suppose you could look at the film as a vicious satire of consumerism - when Nick challenges Mary Ann about selling these young girl's bodies, he responds that he's merely responding to the demands of the market, that "what they're buying, I'm selling." But really, I think director Michael Ritchie and writer Robert Dillon found the subject matter tittilating and amusing enough to support a tongue-in-cheek, snarky action film.

And it works quite well. The actors are clearly having a lot of fun (even Spacek!), though the final showdown between Hackman and Marvin isn't quite the stunner I was hoping for. The movie really builds up steam in its final act, and I was waiting for some epic, climactic kind of confrontation, and the movie kind of just ends with a whimper. It's fine - and there's a great final gag involving Mary Ann's demented brother Weenie - but not quite the classic capper I had imagined.

Otherwise, Prime Cut is hugely satisfying, just like a good steak, or a night with a junkie farm girl prostitute. You need to see a nice, immoral, whacked-out 70's exploitation film every now and again amongst the classic film noirs and European po-mo experiments. Just to cleanse the palatte.


Possessed is among the Joan Crawford films included in the tribute box set Warner Bros' has released today. The others are The Women, Humoresque (which I have not seen), The Damned Don't Cry (ditto) and Mildred Pierce. There really isn't a modern equivalent to these sorts of movies. They are impressionistic, heated melodramatic noirs, soap opera stories elevated by what could be considered overheated acting and dynamic photographic effects into a kind of nightmare-world women's picture smorgasboard of suffering. It's pretty amazing stuff.

Possessed actually has some similarities to A Beautiful Mind. It's a romance as told from the perspective of a schizophrenic. But whereas Possessed fully gets into the concept of exploring the world through the eyes of a psycho, and presenting a subjective, emotional viewpoint, A Beautiful Mind attempts to have it both ways, splitting its time between "reality" and the goofy fantasy world of Russell Crowe's imagination.

Also, this movie is really really good and A Beautiful Mind sucks balls.

Joan Crawford plays Louise, a freaky mystery woman picked up by the police after wandering the city ranting and raving about a man named David. We see her story unfold in flashbacks as she's evaluated by a psychiatrist in the mental ward.

It turns out, this David character is a man named David Sutton (Van Heflin) who romanced her and then dumped her to take an engineering job in Canada. Louise loved David just a bit too intensely - in a strange initial scene, we see their awkward, painful break-up, and get some insight into Louise's capability for delusion.

It turns out, Louise is a ticking time bomb of nuttiness just waiting to go off. But it isn't David's abandonment that sets her off in the end - it's his return to her life, as the fiancee of her boss' beautiful young daughter (Geraldine Brooks).

Crawford is Joan Crawford in all her delirious, madcap glory. Modern audiences have a tough time with these sorts of performances, probably because they're so "big" and we're used to more contemporary, restrained, "realistic" performances in movies. We praise Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind because he depicts insanity as we believe it really exists - as a syndrome affecting an otherwise normal individual, causing him bouts of confusion intermingled with a desire for a stable, real life. (And I'm not knocking Crowe at all...he's good in that otherwise miserable, thin, obvious, cloying movie).

But Possessed isn't about realistically taking on the subject of a woman driven to the edge by unrequited love. It's an impressionistic, subjective view of madness. We see the world through Crawford's eyes as it slips away, and her performance communicates the concept of losing ones mind, if not the objective, simple reality of an everyday person mentally losing touch with the world. I sense this explanation would still not prevent modern audiences from laughing when Crawford starts screeching, pulling out her hair and bugging out her eyes, but what can you do? Old movies aren't for everyone.

Aside from the acting department, the film is dated by some of its attitudes towards women. Sutton himself is a horrible cad, breaking Louise's heart without ever seeming to regret it for a moment. He knows she loves him far more than he loves her (and tells her so upon their break-up), and he uses this information to manipulate her and make her feel worthless.

Bear in mind, he's hardly the villain in this story. Louise's inner demons are what really haunts this particular narrative - she's eventually driven to violence not by David's cruelty or animosity towards her, but by her own uncontrolled and delusional mind. David's cruelty is seen as unfortunate, for sure, but not really as amoral or wrong. It's only the impetus for Louise's insanity, which would probably have shown itself eventually anyway. (There is some indication that Louise was already unstable earlier in her life, and that's why she had never had a serious relationship before meeting David).

The entire concept of a woman losing her grip on reality after being dumped by a womanizer is kind of anti-feminist merely as an idea, but the movie's vision of women as fawning over a man, and as incomplete without a good man's affections, really seals the deal.

Changes in our social outlook aside, Possessed is hugely effective if seen as the personal story of Louise and her mental illness, and dazzling from a cinematic standpoint.

The direction from Curtis Barnhardt is ceaselessly stylish and full of cool little film noir touches. The opening sequence in particular, with Crawford wandering around the streets of LA and being admitted to the mental hospital, is some really knockout visual filmmaking - no dialogue (except the occasionally muttered "David!"), Crawford's really looking spaced out and creepy (she's wearing no make-up at all in the scene!), and the angles Barnhardt chooses are perfect. As she's being wheeled down a long corridor in the hospital, there's a shot from her perspective of the ceiling rushing back.

And the use of a piece of Schumann music, which had sentimental value for Louise and David, is particularly delightful. It's the kind of small touch, a brief musical interlude to tip the audience off to Louise's mindset, that really propels a movie like this forward, really drives home the emotion. Terrific, classy stuff.

I was hoping to check out a lot more of these Crawford films (and some of the Bette Davis movies that came out this week as well), but I ran out of time. Oh well...

Come On, Camon

So, the Michael Jackson acquittal came down only a few hours ago, and already film producer Alessandro Camon has published a piece of insipid, pseudo-sociological wankery on the subject over here at Salon.

This article is brutally pointless. I guess the idea is to extrapolate from the Jackson trial, and other celebrity trials from OJ to Robert Blake, a new conceptualization of "American tragedy."

Okay, obviously, the real idea is to get a byline in Salon for whatever reason. Maybe producing isn't really getting Alessandro excited any more, and he wants to move into journalism. Maybe he's had a burning desire to produce fluff, featurey think pieces for liberal online publications for years, and producing American Psycho and Owning Mahoney and Undertow was just a stepping stone. (NOTE: Though I'm goofing on Alessandro, I love all of those movies.)

For whatever reason, Alessandro in his article presents an analysis of the Michael Jackson case that ignores whole large volumes of factual information, glosses over important issues and basically arrives straight from his own personal private thoughts with no consideration for actual validity or logic. He doesn't so much build a case about the significance of the Michael Jackson trial as attempt to invoke one through a force of sheer will.

Here's how the pain begins...

The Michael Jackson trial was part of an epic cycle of celebrity trials that started with O.J. Simpson, passing through Kobe Bryant, Robert Blake and Phil Spector (Tyson and the Menendez brothers also bear mention). These trials -- sometimes televised, other times reenacted, always dissected and second-guessed with obsessive attention -- have undoubtedly become a new genre of entertainment. They are American tragedies for our age -- big, crass, bizarre and, most crucially, morally empty.

So right there, you can tell this guy is trying to make something out of nothing. Why else would you tie Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Robert Blake, Phil Spector, Mike Tyson and the Menendez boys together? Jackson is a faded wealthy superstar accused of feeling up young boys. Bryant is a current pro athlete accused of having adulterous sex with a stranger whom he may have physically assaulted. Blake is an ex-TV star accused of shooting his wife outside an Italian restaurant. Spector is an old-time record producer accused of shooting a strange woman in his house (when there was no one else home!) Tyson is a boxer who was not only accused of, but did jail time for, raping a woman in the 80's. And the Menendez Brothers were unfamous siblings who killed their parents and went to jail for it.

These cases have no bearing on one another. They are not part of some societal movement or social phenomenon. They are separate incidents, some concerning people who were previously well-known, others not. And though they all involve tragic circumstances, they are not neccessarily "tragedies." Because the word "tragedy" actually means something. But Alessandro is just getting to that.

The crimes or alleged crimes involved are as serious as they could be: murders, rape, pedophilia. The suffering, or alleged suffering, is profound. The scope and impact of the trials -- from the investigations to the legal strategies, the media spin, the social repercussions -- are huge. Yet it's impossible to wrestle from them the moral or even the psychological lessons that classic tragedy provides.

Well, of course, Alessandro. Why would you be able to wrestle important life lessons from murder cases? What kind of sick fuck are you? This is real suffering happening to real people. There's no moral at the end of the story, jackass!

Celebrity trials offer a potent cocktail of fame, sex and violence; they allow us to look behind the veil that usually protects the private lives of stars; they tap in to collective feelings and fantasies about the very nature of celebrity. What they don't do is provide solutions, or even serviceable frameworks, for questions of right and wrong. Ultimately, they are just not about right and wrong. They are about wrong and wrong, and though they are tragedies inasmuch as they deal with terrible deeds and their retribution, they suggest a new definition of tragedy.

Why does this guy keep talking about these celebrity trials as if they were an entertainment property designed for his analysis? Doesn't he understand that trials in a movie are about teaching a lesson or providing solutions, whereas trials in real life are supposed to decide whether someone brutally murdered someone else, or tried to touch Corey Feldman's underage cock? I mean, I know the guy is a film producer, so being in touch with reality may not be his strong suit...But trials aren't about defining tragedy. They are about proving or disproving guilt.

But classic tragedy is more complex; it has been defined as the deadly clash of "right and right." In "Antigone," the protagonist dies in the name of a simple principle: a sister must give her brother a decent burial. King Creon had forbidden the burial in the interest of the kingdom and must now -- despite himself -- carry out the consequences of his order, which is law, being disobeyed. Fraternal love clashes with the law: Both are right in their own way, but the two rights are irreconcilable. We watch the characters pay the price of their acts, and so fulfill their destiny, in a clean, inexorable, hopeless drama. The truths we learn are certainly bleak and sobering, but they also illuminate the supreme value of courage, coherence, compassion and knowledge itself.

Is he really comparing Michael Jackson to "Antigone"? First of all, it's so lame to use "Antigone" as your example of a classic tragedy, because that's the one everybody has to read in high school. Plus, it's not even a good example of what he's talking about. King Creon and Antigone don't have equal positions in the play. She's fighting for what is right, for what would please the gods, whereas Creon maintains his position out of hubris. What just happens to be his tragic fucking flaw, which is the whole point of the play.

So, it's not right vs. right. It's right vs. wrong. And wrong happens to win, but only after realizing that it is wrong, so it's a tragedy. Get it? Evil wins, but then evil is punished. Catharsis. Check into it some time. And read at least one other Greek tragedy before writing any more essays about them.

American tragedy, as embodied in this cycle of celebrity trials, seems to present something different: the clash of two people -- or two "forces" -- who are both in their own way wrong. O.J. and the LAPD. Robert Blake and his wedded grifter. Kobe and his testimony-shifting accuser. Michael Jackson and his alleged victim's mother-pimp. (The exception here is Phil Spector, who allegedly took the life of a waitress-actress whose only mistake was to accept his invitation.)

Now, wait, wait, wait, wait, hold on...He's acting like he, Alessandro Camon, film producer, actually knows what happened in any of these cases. How does he know OJ and the LAPD were both wrong? I mean, I think OJ killed his wife, so I think OJ was wrong and the LAPD was right. Now, I also think there's a lot of racist obnoxious jackass LAPD officers, but that doesn't mean the organization as a whole is somehow objectively "wrong." At least, not as concerns the OJ Simpson case. They are objectively right - they accused him of being a murderer, and let's face it, folks. That guy's a murderer.

I mean, I don't know about you. No one has ever found my blood at the scene of the grisly murder of someone I know really well. That has never happened to me. And don't give me this "garbage in garbage out" nonsense. You can't taint blood and make it look like someone else's DNA. Duh.

Sorry, kind of got off topic there. Camon also insists that he knows both Robert Blake and his dead wife were "wrong," further implying that she was a "grifter," which is certainly not a nice thing to say about a dead lady. I'm not sure what to think about that case...the guy went free when his alibi was that he went into the restaurant to retrieve his gun? There must be more to it than that, right?

But I'm also not writing essays for Salon analyzing the case. And I don't think Camon has any additional insight than I do. It's unfair with so few facts to say that both Blake and his wife are tragically "wrong."

Also, he proceeds to exempt one of his main examples from analysis, admitting that it doesn't fit into his already meager framework. And there's two more pages of this crap! I can't get my articles published in Flak Magazine, which doesn't even freaking pay, and this guy's getting three-page spreads of bullshit in one of the Internet's most popular liberal publications! God dammit!

The outcomes, therefore, cannot be "resolutions." There is no "moral of the story" -- if not a twisted, ambiguous, ironic one. O.J. gets off as a slap in the face of the LAPD; he becomes persona non grata in his former L.A. hangouts and has to relocate to Miami. Kobe gets off but has to admit infidelity and make it up with gifts of oversize jewelry, tattoos honoring his "queen," and renewed commitment to his fans (as ultimate proof of his new faithfulness, he re-signs with the Lakers). Michael Jackson gets off but may soon have to sell the Beatles catalog back to Sony.

Okay, so he says there are no resolutions, and then, in the same paragraph, describes all the resolutions. My question would be, "what trial has ever provided a satisfying resolution to anything?"

I mean, cause we all know the Scopes Monkey Trial ended that whole evolution vs. creationism debate, and Roe v. Wade decided abortion once and for all. And how, when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were found guilty of treason and executed, all discussion of their possible innocence ceased. And thank god for those Nuremburg Trials, or Jews would probably still be upset about the Holocaust to this day.

And, MAN, what would we ever have done without Jim Garrison's trial of Clay Shaw, dramatized in Oliver Stone's JFK? It would be almost like we never found out as a nation what happened to the President in Dealey Plaza!

But you see where I'm going with this...Alessandro acts surprised that the Michael Jackson trial didn't settle the case of whether or not he's a creepy pederast for good. I submit that this indicates he has not been paying a lot of attention to current events until recently.

Much as classic tragedy is exact and rigorous, this American tragedy is messy and arbitrary.

This is retarded. Read "King Lear" some time. That's a tragedy and it's fucking messy as hell. The guy's insane wearing a crown of leaves talking to a guy who's named THE FOOL while wandering around in the woods. How rigorous!

I guess what he means (and this is just a guess) is that punishment is meted out fairly in classical tragedy, whereas these celebrities all get away with their crimes. But, I mean, those are plays based on mythology, and this is real life in the 21st Century, so I don't know what the guy really expected. Debbie Rowe admits she's Michael's mother, and Michael blinds himself in front of the jury box? OJ steals fire from the Brown Family, and they tie him to a mountaintop to have his liver eaten out by birds of prey, perhaps? Martha Stewart is sentenced to wander a labyrinth containing a fearsome minotaur?

It is tragedy crossed with melodrama in its most degraded expression (the soap opera). It is tragedy for people who crave the frisson of morbidity much more than any catharsis. Classic tragedy is hopeless because the tragedy is preannounced and inevitable. American tragedy is hopeless because it assumes that we all are. One type of tragedy is moral; the other is cynical.

I would type a response to this paragraph, but I'm choking on my own bile at the moment, so just fill in your own mental reaction to Camon's pompous wankery...I suggest goofing on him for trying so hard to work in the phrase "frisson of morbidity."

But then, why do we need it? Why do we turn these trials into such compelling spectacle?

Yes? Yes? Do tell?

The answer, I think, has two levels.

Alessandro, you son of a bitch...

First, the trials reveal that our relationship with celebrity has become perverse.

What? Perverse? I mean, we're just watching the Michael Jackson trial results. He's the one bedding the actual pre-teens.

This appetite, which has always been the inseparable underside of the adoration for stars, seems now to be out of control.

Oh, get over yourself. People have always been obsessed by celebrities, and have always enjoyed watching them fall from grace. It's part of life. There's nothing out of control about it, any more than there was in the 50's or the 30's or any other era. Remember, Fatty Arbuckle had a scandalous celebrity trial just the same. And let's not forget those glamorous McCarthy inquests, when many members of Hollywood elite were exposed as the dirty pinko commie reds they were.

We are now likely to feel stronger about the celebrities we don't like than the ones we like: a "reverse fandom" that can be a form of satire but easily spills into meanness.

Okay, well, this does kind of account for my feelings towards Zach Braff. But in true Alessandro Camon style, I will acknowledge this flaw in my argument before skipping immediately past it and never bringing it up again.

We obsess on the weight they gain or abruptly shed, the fashion blunders, the mating patterns, the abrupt weddings and divorces. The union of two celebrities seems to create grotesque two-headed monsters such as "Bennifer" or "Brangelina."

I have not heard anyone use the term "Brangelina," and I hope not to, for I may become physically ill. I like how he indicts himself in this sentence, as if he's spending his days obsessing about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, as opposed to obsessing about how many points he's getting on the international DVD sales on The Cooler. (Which I like not as much as American Psycho or Owning Mahoney or Undertow.)

He goes on to mock tabloid gossip newspapers (gasp!) and keeps on wanking for a whole other page. There's only one part I need to draw your attention to:

My friend Larry Gross (a veteran screenwriter and one of Hollywood's sharpest minds) has convinced me that there is a new and profound cultural problem to contend with: as a society, we no longer understand power. The power of kings and dictators was always visible, tangible, understandable. The power of elected officers is by definition (if not always in reality) an expression of popular power. But the power of mega-corporations is as faceless and nebulous as it is pervasive. It hides in plain sight and communicates in code.

Bull fucking shit. Only someone powerful, or at least powerful within their limited domain (West Los Angeles, perhaps?), would ever think to make a statement like this. Corporate power is faceless and nebulous? Then you deal with Cingular customer service for two hours, jerkoff. The power of elected officials expresses popular power? When over 50% of Americans disapprove of George Bush, and 100,000 Americans are off fighting an unpopular war?

I mean, what does that mean, understand power. I think most Americans understand that they have none, and don't know what to do about it. And I think that only a person resting comfortably on an unearned power trip would think of writing a puff piece for Salon theorizing idly about the ramifications of the Michael Jackson trial for navel-gazing executives with too much time on their hands the world over.

Celebrity trials provide people the sense of witnessing a form of history up close and personal. But the cultural dynamics represented in the trials always point to the fact that celebrities are ultimately "weird," and that mere mortals getting too close to them are (intentionally or not) inviting trouble -- which means they must also be weird. What we understand about celebrities is ultimately that we do not, cannot, understand them.

He ends (essentially) with this thought, even though it has nothing to do with what has come before.

Do you think he spent a lot of time on this essay? That he had a strong feeling of accomplishment upon turning it in? Also, think about this...It was published only a few hours after the verdict was read, so he must have written it in advance. Did he write two versions, one for a guilty verdict and one for not guilty? Did he only write one and hope to god MJ was innocent so his piece would run? Or maybe he's wish he was guilty, and he could avoid the embarrassment.

In either case, Alessandro definitely has a good eye for film projects, and I'd encourage him to spend his time looking for the next American Psycho, rather than dithering around with the word processor and trying to reinvent cultural studies. Levi-Strauss will take it from here, buddy...thanks for playing...

Monday, June 13, 2005

He Had a Quiet Way About Him

A man has escaped from prison in the course of 1 hour all Shawshank Redemption style - by cutting a hole in the wall and crawling down a fire escape.

Police said he appeared to have cut or torn a hole in the cell's drywall and ripped up a metal security mesh sandwiched inside the wall before crawling out and leaving through a fire exit.

He had been searched before being put in the cell, but when police checked on him an hour later he had vanished.

That's pretty amazing. This is like some sort of a super-homeless guy. Why is this guy homeless at all? He can cut through drywall like cellophane, and he's clever enough to pull off a prison escape with guards around in under an hour? He can't handle a gig at Starbucks? Hell, we'd take him down at the Laser Blazer! We could use some ingenuity.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Wedding Crashers

Every director must want to work with Vince Vaughn. The guy makes everything else about the job so effortless. Take a movie like the upcoming Wedding Crashers. It's functionally brain-dead. It opens with a semi-clever idea: two guys regularly crash weddings in order to eat for free and meet attractive, available women in a romantic mood. And then the guys go to a high-class wedding, and one of them winds up meeting a girl he genuinely likes.

Once you hear that premise, you know where the rest of the film will go, and Wedding Crashers never once goes anywhere surprising. On top of that, the script by Steve Faber and Bob Fisher doesn't bother to include a single innovation. All the characters are broad caricatures based on familiar sitcom "types" - there's the misunderstood gay artist son, the tough but loving father, the foul-mouthed granny, the disaffected alcoholic trophy wife and the macho, chauvanist blueblood boyfriend. Sigh.

So, basically, Vince Vaughn and (to a lesser extent) Owen Wilson come in and entirely save the day. This is a movie that has no business working, but work it does because of the tremendous improvisational skill and likability of its two leads. I have very little respect for Wedding Crashers as a film, but I can't deny that the thing is pretty damn funny.

Vaughn and Wilson play a pair of lawyer best friends who spend their weekend attending wedding reception after wedding reception. They have based their life on the teachings of the mysterious Chaz, a legend in the wedding crash industry who we meet in a late-in-the-film cameo I won't spoil.

As a final challenge, they crash the wedding of the Secretary of the Treasury (Christopher Walken, horribly and shamefully wasted, in the films dullest role). It's there that things get predictably complicated - Wilson flirts and becomes obsessed with Walken's older daughter Claire (recent MTV Award recipient Rachel McAdams) while Vaughn quickly beds Walken's virginal youngest daughter Christina (Jennifer Alden). And the foursome winds up after the wedding spending the weekend at Walken's seaside estate as his guests.

And that's about it as far as plot goes. This isn't a movie about anything so much as churning as many laughs as possible out of its Meet the Parents meets Old School scenario. With another pair of actors, it would be deathly dull. With Wilson and Vaugh, it's still mighty creaky at parts. An extended football scene feels particularly Meet the Parents derivative, while other jokes - such as Wilson's flirtation with Walken's boozy wife, played by Jane Seymour - fall completely flat.

But when the material merely provides a background for Vaughn's spastic, improvisational style, the whole movie takes flight. This is a tremendously physical performance from Vaughn, probably his most slapsticky to date, and he handles it beautifully. The guy is just funny to watch - one scene in which Christina fondles his package under the table during a family dinner got a particularly large laugh, but there's a lot of great, smaller moments as well.

That scene highlights the best feature of Wedding Crashers - its raunch. This is an adult comedy, which makes sense, as the entire concept is based around two perverts trying to hook up with as many girls as possible. Typically, even sex comedies have to be rated PG-13 these days (one need only look at Meet the Fockers for an example of a raunchy sex comedy awkwardly shoehorned into a PG-13 family romp). Here is a movie that's unabashedly bawdy. Not dirty, neccessarily - there's nothing I think a mature 15 year old couldn't handle. It's just nice to see an R rated comedy with some gratuitous nudity, swear words and dick jokes for a change.

If the filmmakers had been as daring with the narrative as they were with the sexually frank material, maybe the entire enterprise would work better. As is, the film runs out of steam towards the end, limping towards its inevitable happy conclusion. After the film has played so fast and loose with character development (and rightfully so in such a silly comedy), why even try for a half-hour of pathos at the end? One or two scenes would translate the film's thematic "message" much better than the endless dialogues about the nature of true love that fill the movie's final act.

The Wedding Crashers is by no means a good movie. But it's a funny one that's far above-average in terms of entertainment value. Which really, from a summer comedy, is about all you can expect.