Saturday, July 23, 2005

Interview with the Vampire...'s Fraud Victim

Hey, before you laugh at this Italian lady who believes in vampires, consider how many Americans believe in angels.

An Italian couple stole 50,000 euros (34,700 pounds) from a woman in the Sicilian city of Palermo after convincing her they were vampires who would impregnate her with the son of the Anti-Christ if she did not pay them.

I mean, yeah, that's reasonable. The odd part is, impregnating women with the anti-Christ's child isn't even part of vampire mythology. They're getting their horror movies mixed up. How can anyone impregnate you with the anti-Christ's child, by the way, if they're not the anti-Christ? Doesn't he have to do that himself, by definition?

What do vampires need with 50,000 euros anyway? Food? That's free, pumping through the veins of every passerby. And if anyone has anything you'd want to buy, can't you just kill them and take it? What's the point of being a vampire if you still have to live on a budget?

The man, a cabaret singer, and his girlfriend took the money from their victim over four years by selling her pills at 3,000 euros each that they said would abort the Anti-Christ's son.

Here's where the story gets confusing...

Why would she need pills to abort Satan's child, unless she thought she had already been impregnated by him? But how could you go about convincing some poor Italian lady that you have implanted demonseed in her womb. I mean, that's a tough story to sell.

"Hey, I know you didn't feel anything or anything, and you probably don't remember this, but last night, while you were sleeping, we came into your room, held a Satanic ritual, raised the Devil from the Underworld, and then you two had crazy Devil Sex, and now you're carrying around his baby. Seriously, I know how this sounds, but trust me. But if you take this 3000 euro pill, it'll totally abort the Devil's baby."

"Why would I be willing to abort my dark lord's only heir for a measly 3000 euros? Um...that's a good question...But I have to turn into a bat now, bye!"

The link, by the way, is courtesy of FARK.


Katsuhiro Otomo's first film, Akira, helped to introduce Americans to what was then regrettably called "Japanamation." Steamboy, the well-regarded latest film from Otomo (and his only other feature as a director), is not quite as good as Akira, and it suffers from some of the same problems that I have with almost all anime films.

It is far too long. It is hard to invest in as a story, as the characters are driven more by ideology than emotion. It adds in so much complex, unexplained backstory that the viewer becomes overwhelmed. It is talky and repetitive.

And yet, I found the movie absolutely gripping, a visual marvel with a brain and an eye for detail. This is one of those anime films that manages to overcome some of the inherent weaknesses of the genre through a combination of tremendous imagination and beautiful, expressive animation.

The first thing you notice about Steamboy, aside from its eye-popping combination of traditional 2D animation along with CG images, is that it's far more detailed and intelligent than any of its American animated counterparts. Even in clever, adult-friendly American toons like The Incredibles, you don't get this level of period detail, you don't get heady concepts involving alternate history and the interplay between huamnity and the technology it creates. This is an animated film that uses the technique not just to entertain kids and impress adults, but to truly create a fanciful scenario purely from scratch, to tell a story that wouldn't work in any other genre.

The film opens in the year 1866. Steamboy relates the story of the appropriately-named Steam family. Grandfather Lloyd Steam (Katsuo Nakmura, and Patrick Stewart in the English dub I didn't watch) has invented a device called a Steam Ball, capable of containing an unlimited amount of compressed energy in an extraordinarily small space.

Obviously, this opens up an entire world of possibilities. Because steam energy was so hard to create, and required tremendous boilers to process, its various uses were limited. It could power a locomotive, sure, but could you ever contain enough steam to run an airplane? Or to run every device in a modern office building?

Unfortunately, the charitable foundation that has funded Lloyd's work, The O'Hara Foundation, wants to use the steam ball to create massive armies, including locomotives that run on tank treads, flying machines, steam-powered robot soldiers and individual-seat submarines. Along with Lloyd's own son, Eddie (Masane Tsukayama), they plan to demonstrate the colossal power of their steam army during an upcoming Science Exhibition in London.

Eventually, the task of stopping the deranged Eddie and the greedy capitalists of O'Hara will fall to Lloyd's grandson, the plucky Ray Steam (Anne Suzuki in the original, Anna Paquin in the USA version). Once the film gets through this initial set-up, at around the 20 minute mark, all hell essentially breaks loose. The bulk of this film is a tremendous chase sequence, in which Ray and the steam ball are pursued over land, sea and air, from a wondrously-realized period Manchester, all smokestacks and grime, to a glorious, mythically oversized London. It works marvelously, and is fantasitcally innovative and exciting.

Otomo should really have been the one to adapt Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentleman" series. The film that was made was utterly tone-deaf, and had no indication of Moore's obsessive fondness for its setting. Steamboy on the other hand shares a fascination with the detailed inner-workings of Victorian London. Every contraption in the film, from Lloyd's steam ball to a jet pack to gear-based artificial limbs to an enormous Steam Tower capable of blasting off like a rocket, has been designed thoughtfully and carefully, with an eye for period detail.

Once the enormous battles are over, and the Steam Tower has blasted off, and the movie seems ready to wind down, it unfortunately gets a little too cerebral. At a full two hours, Otomo's movie clearly could lose 10-15 minutes, and I'd suggest that most of its allegorical meaning is pretty clear before the characters begin pontificating towards the end. Some of the speechifying gets tedious and repetitive, particularly when you consider that Lloyd and Eddie Steam have at least three "final confrontations."

And there is an undeniable coldness to the enterprise. Though his world has been realized with such impeccable craft and care, Ray Steam himself is something of a blank slate. He has no discernable personality that I could identify, short of a desire to do good and a fondness for his grandfather. The romantic subplot between Ray and the heiress to the O'Hara fortune (named, of course, Scarlett) could not be more ridiculous or unconvincing.

So, despite all its many successes, and my overall fondness for the film, Steamboy doesn't quite get up to the level of an Incredibles or the Toy Story films. Those movies are not only technical marvels, but are bursting with a humanity and a sense of humor Otomo's film lacks.

The Longest 10 Minute Drive in History

I've just arrived back from the Santa Monica Nissan dealership. I had to have my car towed there this morning, as it stopped functioning last night, while I was attempting to drive it around.

So this morning, my dad calls to wake me up, to inform me that I simply must get my car over to the dealership, post-haste. A few phone calls later, and I'm wiping the sleep out of my eyes in Santa Monica, while explaining to the guy that I not only need a new alternator, but also some spare keys, because I have broken the last 500 that have been provided of me. Through absolutely no fault of my own.

Seriously. I'm not abusing these keys. I'm not using them to shiv prison inmates, or to spoon out cocaine or to pry dried-up chewing gum out of the coin slots of pay phones or anything. Just to start my fucking car. But these things snap in two like nothing - they have about as much tensile strength as matzo.

[Do you gentiles get that joke? Matzo is the paper-thin, and might I add horribly disgusting, bread substitute Jews eat on Passover. Although some deeply disturbed Jews, like my friend Jeff, eat it year round.]

Fortunately, Santa Monica Nissan has a shuttle service to drop you off after you've left your car. This is very handy, as I currently have $2 in my pocket, which is only enough scratch to take an LA City Bus home. And I have kind of a rule about riding in LA City buses. And that rule is, "Don't ever ride LA City buses unless it's a dire emergency, such as uncontrollable bleeding from both eye sockets."

Ever wonder how I can be so sure there's no God? Cause I've been on an LA City bus!

If you read that last sentence aloud in a Lewis Black voice, it's about 25% funnier, just so you know.

So I get into the shuttle car and the driver takes off, and I suddenly notice that this car has the worst possible B.O. smell in the world. The. Worst. I had the window all the way open, with my neck craned as far outside as I could get it, and it was still all I could smell.

The odd part is, before we got into the car, I didn't notice the driver himself having a bad B.O. smell. And that's the sort of thing I'd notice, I think. So it could be that it's lingering in the car, like on that "Seinfeld" episode about the B.O. car.

Anyway, that was the longest 10 minute drive in history. I just arrived back home and couldn't resist relating to you all the story of my harrowing trek down the 10 Freeway, in a car that reeked like a Tikrit Bath House.

I Am Out of Clever Headlines Involving the Name "Valerie Plame"

On all the political websites I've checked out for the last few days, there's a standard theory about Bush nominating Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court. Everyone assumes that he timed his announcement to get his advisor Karl Rove and the CIA leak story off the front page.

It's a reasonable theory. After all, these are crafty guys, and they know that once a story has been out of the public eye for a few days, it's as good as dead.

Now usually, I don't endorse governmental conspiracy theories, because I think most politicians are far too stupid to pull off any clever sort of cover-up. Did any of you see the X-Files movie a few years ago? For that conspiracy to work, the government would have to keep so many secrets - black oily stuff, big greenhouses full of bees, alien spacecraft beneath the Arctic Ice. They can't even keep their mouths shut about who's working undercover at the CIA!

But on this one occasion, something occurs to me. Something sneaky. Could it be that the Valerie Plame case is actually drawing attention away from the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court?

Think about it this way...In 10 years, what will be more important. Whether or not Karl Rove was publicly embarrassed and fired from his White House post, or which conservative assholes sit on the Supreme Court? Even if Rove were allowed to keep his job, worst case scenario is that he advises GWB for another few years and then we have another election.

Sure, Rove could theoretically back another candidate, granted. But still, is the possibility of a Rove-involved election more terrifying than illegal abortion, prayer in school and massive corporate favoritism on an unprecedented scale?

I mean, the Supreme Court is important. Super really really important. Karl Rove, however rodent-like and unpleasant, is just one man. I can't help but think that, by giving up on Roberts and letting him slip through the confirmation process, Democrats are playing right into the Republican's hands.

Yeah, Bush would hate to lose Rove. But he'd really hate to lose the opportunity to stack the federal courts with the vicious moral crusaders of the religious right. That's what they elected him to do in the first place.

I'm also irritated by how effective some of the Republican spin strategy has been this week about Roberts. ABC's The Note is the only place I've seen someone confront this issue online thus far. What's going on is that some right-wing commentators are complaining that Roberts isn't conservative enough.

Ann Coulter, for example, called him a horrible pick the other day, accusing Bush of selling out his base to appeal to moderates and, ugh, liberals, if you can imagine anything so horrid. And the odious Charles Krauthammer calls Roberts "a blank slate," presenting him as an ultimately fair man who will rule as he sees fit, not from any political stance.

This is, clearly, bullshit. Roberts has been a corporate lawyer and a hardcore Republican ever since he exited Harvard Law School. We all know where he stands. So why would all these conservatives be publicly dissing him like this?

Maybe because it behooves Republicans in the Senate (and elsewhere) to convince Democrats that Roberts is an easy-going middle of the road kind of guy, to avoid this kind of escalation of conflict.

But is that really what's best for the Democrats, or the American people? Is it really so much more important to focus on Karl Rove's treasonous and underhanded dealings? I genuinely don't know...I'm kind of asking what you all think...

The Bald and the Beautiful

I read V for Vendetta a few years ago, during a time when I tried to read as many popular graphic novels as possible, and quite enjoyed it, but I'm very surprised they're making it into a movie all the same.

Particularly considering that the hero, the "V" of the title, is essentially a terrorist. Now, granted, he's bringing down a corrupt, totalitarian government, and he's pursuing his quest for selfish, personal reasons rather than on behalf of, say, Allah. But still, any film making any terrorist seem at all sympathetic is going to be a hard sell in 2005 America.

It helps that the film was written by the Wachowskis, the bizarre bearded brothers who brought you passable-to-good movies like Bound and The Matrix and miserable disgusting failures like The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. And that Matrix video game no one plays.

It also helps that it stars a bald-but-still-sexy Natalie Portman, Stephen Rea and Hugo Weaving. Oh, and the trailer kicks ass. It looks pretty stylish and cool, and not campy, which is your biggest fear when talking about a movie about a guy in a white mask throwing daggers at people. Here's hoping it works.

Friday, July 22, 2005


Have you ever been so angry, you were actually seeing red? I mean, not just pissed off, not even so mad you want to hit something or yell. I mean angry to the point where you start to see odd flashes of color before your eyes, and maybe even feel a bit light-headed.

Well, that was me about two hours ago. Frequent blog readers will recall that, over the past several weeks, I've been having car battery woes. First, my car died in the parking lot behind Laser Blazer, and a friendly crew member working on a Subway commerical gave me a jump start. I got the battery replaced the next day.

Then, about a week later, the damn thing died again. And it's not just that the car won't start - it makes this sad little noise, like it wants to start but just can't manage it, and then there's this high-pitched annoying click. Seriosuly, I thought I might have accidentally parked on an ancient Indian burial ground or something, because how else would be Nissan Altima contract a poltergiest?

This time with no friendly Subway Restaurant contractors around, so I had to have it towed to Pep Boys. They told me that first battery was faulty, and that they would put in a brand spanking new one that would work fine.

Cut to tonight. For no good reason, I decide to go to the video store to return some movies, even though I'm not even working today. Midway through the ride home, I'm cruising through Pico Blvd., when my car starts to vibrate violently before shutting itself off.

Oh great.

So I angle the car to the side of the road and manage to pull it into the parking lot of a local dry cleaners. And here is when I notice that, in a desperate attempt to restart the car by jiggling the key around, I have broke the key off in the ignition. There is no back-up key.

And that's when I totally lose it. I won't get into specifics, but certain portions of the car's interior were stabbed with a key, certain dashboard areas may have been punched or bludgeoned, and more than one booket containing burned CD's was sent aloft. In fact, I banged my wrist pretty hard, and it still kind of hurts when I type.

And then I called my parents and took out some of my frustration on them, and then I called AAA and waited on hold for about 20 hours. Okay, maybe not that long, but if I had started Gone With the Wind when the car first broke down, at least two people would have been kicked off of horses by the time the tow truck arrived.

And while on hold, I was still really angry. It was taking a long time, and they were playing really annoying 80's music. It was that weird old song where the guy's going "What did you think...I would do at this moment", but a musak version without the actual guy singing. And then a recorded woman's voice would come on and say "PLEASE REMAIN ON THE LINE FOR OUR NEXT AVAILABLE OPERATOR..." And every time I would hear that woman's voice, I would get pissed off all over again. So one time, when the woman's voice came on, I just started yelling profanity into the phone.

Can you tell where I'm going with this? Yeah, that last time, it wasn't actually a recorded woman's voice...but a woman. Who proceeded to hang up on me. Or at least I thought she hung up on me. She actually just transferred me to another helpful AAA named Dante who actually took the call. I can't say I blame the initial operator - I wouldn't want to help some stranded motorist who had just referred to me by a naughty word (rhyming with "runt"!) even if he did do it inadvertedly.

I even got into a fight with Dante the AAA guy on the phone. Now, this is not a recommended strategy, to argue with the guy who's about to send you a tow truck. My whole life at that point is dependant on this guy getting a truck out to my location, and I'm giving him shit over a $45 towing fee. What an asshole.

Anyway, the tow truck driver essentially refuses to drop my car off in front of the Nissan dealership where I need to take it. He argues that it's not in a good neighborhood, and the car could be stolen off the street, or stripped for parts. (I can't lock the doors, of course, because the key is broken!)

So we have to pull it into my driveway, which is hard because my driveway is constantly bustling with approximately 500,000 Mexican children, many of them suffering from some disorder resembling advanced ADHD. Trying to get them out of the way, clearing a route for the tow truck, was a task akin to securing the Sunni Triangle. Seriously, the Hell's Angels had an easier time controlling the crowd at Altamont than I had with the driveway kids tonight.

But it worked eventually, and right now my car is hanging out, broken, wide open, in the driveway beneath my apartment. Even if I get it fixed tomorrow, will my confidence in the car ever return? I think I'll probably drive around in it now constantly worried that it's about to die at any second. The Altima is now like that friend who once bailed out on going to the concert with you at the last second. Even years later, after they've apologized and made it up to you, and it's not even a big deal any more, you're still wary about inviting them to another concert...just cause you never know...

XXX2: State of the Union

I wouldn't have thought it possible. XXX2, the sequel to Rob Cohen's limp Vin Diesel spy vehicle, may be the most politically subversive movie of the year. It's also likely to be among the worst. I don't know that I've ever genuinely admired a movie that's so relentlessly loud, stupid, predictable and obnoxious.

Okay, let's start with why the movie sucks. It's a sequel to an intensely bad action film. The action scenes are witless, poorly shot and framed, unclear and notably brief. The soundtrack is filled with generic, stale hip-hop and nu-metal. The effects were clearly rushed, and have the fuzzy, indistinct look of television work.

Also, the dialogue is atrocious. It's clearly aiming for effortless, James Bond-ian cool, but most of the time it's totally incomprehensible.

Here's a quick example. In one sequence, Operative XXX (Ice Cube) has been framed, unsuspectingly left in a house with a dead body. An NSA agent (Scott Speedman) bursts in on him.

"There's a dead body in the other room," XXX says.

"Why did you do it?" asks Speedman.

"If I did it, you wouldn't know about it until I wanted you to," XXX replies, as if this makes any sense.

Of course, Speedman only does know about the body because XXX wanted him to. He just told him about it at that very moment. It's not as if Speedman walked in on XXX with the dead body - the body is in the other room, not at all visible.

Or the part where XXX asks an old girlfriend for help.

"What do I get out of it," she asks?

He offers her his car, which she accepts. Then, for real, he asks her if she can hook him up with a car. Something dirty.

"I can do dirty," she says.

But a car was all she was getting out of it in the first place! Why ask what you get out of it when it's obvious you'll do it for nothing!

Plus, there's a scene in which a geeky hacker manages to get into the computers at the Department of Defense and retrieve a specific document within five minutes, a sequence as unlikely as anything in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

So, yeah, you get the idea. The movie is aggressively dumb.

So why even bother discussing it?

Because there is a genuine streak of anger running underneath this film. Textually, it's just another brainless big-budget actioner with a mainstream movie star. But subtextually, it's a fierce attack on the current political administration and on American militarism in general.

For starters, the entire plot is ripped off directly from Seven Days in May. Seriously. Willem Dafoe takes the Burt Lancaster role, as a power-mad military leader who commands his own troops in an attempt to overthrow the American government. Ice Cube is Kirk Douglas, formerly a colleague and confidant of the rogue general, now hoping to prevent his nefarious schemes.

Seven Days in May was an attack on both the governmental hawks that wanted to push America into a direct, military conflict with Communists, as well as the general air of secrecy and suspicion that permeated Cold War Washington. XXX2: State of the Union uses the same story to attack an administration built on lies and deciet, intent on plunging America into a horrific and endless war overseas.

Seriously. For real. The President wants to push through a new, vague Military Bill, based as he says on "compassion," "understanding" and "compromise," while the crazed, bloodthristy Secretary of Defense (Dafoe, at his most reptilian) wants to take over the government to increase our military presence around the globe.

So already, you can see that the movie wants to make a point, however awkward the attempt. When I tell you that XXX breaks in on the President's State of the Union address with a few black friends while bumping a remix of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" in a pimped-out SUV, while the President pleads with the nation to win over our enemies with diplomacy, maybe you'll start to get an idea of what I'm getting at.

But it's not just in the mechanics of the plot that XXX tries to make a point. The evidence is all over the film. At one point, Dafoe argues with Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), an agent who served with him in Kosovo, that American lives must be sacrificed to defend democracy.

"How come it's never your life that must be sacrificed?" Gibbons asks.

It's a question that many liberals online have been asking of governmental leaders, including current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who is clearly an inspiration for the film.

And what about this backstory? Secretary of Defense Deckert, XXX and Gibbons all share a common history. They served as Navy Seals together in Kosovo, where Deckert ordered his troops to burn down a building with civilians inside. XXX led a group of soldiers in a revolt, which caused him to be thrown in jail for the next decade.

So, this is the hero of the movie. Not just the hero of the movie, the hero of an entire movie franchise. And he's not only an insubordinate soldier who refused to follow orders, but the orders he refused to follow instructed him to harm civilians. Does this sound familiar at all? A government official ordering a soldier to hurt a civilian during the occupation of a foreign city? Is the new Ice Cube action film really trying to take on the issue of torture at Gitmo and Abu Gharib?

Not to mention the entire notion of a soldier thinking for himself, opposing the immoral orders of a superior officer, cracking that officer in the jaw and returning to America resenting the spineless fools who sent him into battle in the first place.

To its credit, the movie never once attempts to balance the two perspectives - there's not a single scene in which Gibbons or XXX ever actually consider Dafoe's point of view. He makes the common pro-Iraq war point, that diplomacy and friendship don't work with terrorists, and that a massive show of force is the only way to communicate with forced of evil. And yet the movie brushes off this perspective as utter nonsense, insisting that common sense dictates a more peaceful, dovish approach.

One more bit of dialogue sticks out for me. When discussing Dafoe's plans for a seige on Washington D.C., XXX describes it as "the start of World War 4."

Now, of course, the cliche is "World War 3," not "4." Is the movie implying that the War on Terror is, in fact, World War 3? I would think it's just a tossed off line, but another character repeats it back to XXX a scene later. The filmmakers obviously had some reason to put it in there twice.

In truth, even though so much of the film is so unoriginal and witless, the way the film refuses to deal in specifics is actually really clever. By never mentioning the War on Terror by name, and never even implying that the "enemies" Deckert wishes to pursue are Middle-Eastern, the film gets away with a lot more controversial material than it would otherwise. It gets to appear as just another silly action movie.

So, okay, I'm not saying XXX2 is any good. As an action movie, it's sub-par, and as a piece of entertainment, it's not even passable. But as a significantly brave, interesting and daring political statement, separate from its worth as a piece of cinema, it does serve some worthwhile function. If only this kind of thinking didn't need to be buried under $80 million worth of pyrotechnic effects to reach the masses, things might actually improve in this country.

Daryl Hannah Has SARS

Well, okay, maybe not. But it's either that or the zombie disease from 28 Days Later. I mean, check out this photo:

Good sweet Lord, that's terrifying. She looks like Willy Wonka's feral sister Wilhemina.

Thankfully, Ms. Hannah has announced her retirement from show business, which will hopefully give her some time to consult a mirror and wipe that red shit out of her eyes.

You see, she's decided that her work on behalf of the environment must take precedence over her acting career. Here's her comments, as transposed on The Superficial.

I am more focused on trying to save the planet and other living creatures than on my career at the moment. I won't be doing anything for a while because I'm focused on environmental issues.

Awwww...ain't she sweet? She wants to save living creatures.

I can understand her need for some time off. After all, filming 2 or 3 movies over the past decade must have been tiring. I mean, come on, who works more frequently than Daryl Hannah?

There's just no way to make this sort of announcement without seeming completely self-involved. It seems to me, a classy person would just step out of the spotlight and do what needs to be done, without making a big thing about it or martyring themselves.

But it gets even worse.

I live in a solar-powered house built with eco-friendly materials and things salvaged from a 19th century barn. I also drive a 100 per cent bio-diesel car. I try to follow this ideal through all aspects of my life.

God, what an idiot. She brags about her lavish "eco-friendly" lifestyle as if everyone had millions of dollars to toss around arranging everything in their lives to meet their high ethical and moral standards. Like families trying to eke out a living have time to salvage furniture from a 19th Century Barn! They can barely find time to restock their stash of potpourri candles from the Pier One down the street.

When you're a semi-famous faded 80's celebrity who occasionally finds ironic supporting work in indie films, I guess sometimes it's important to risk your non-career for the issues you care about. Like, you know, living creatures and stuff.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My Life is Now Complete

Someone just linked to my site after doing a search on Yahoo for the following terms:

Ben Affleck
Fruit Basket

Crushed by Inertia is the #2 item that comes up when you do the search! Finally, my life has meaning. I have made a difference in this world.

The Ventriloquists: Live at RJ's

Los Angeles' sage-like Masters of Funk, the Ventriloquists, will be performing at RJ's in Beverly Hills on Saturday night, the 23rd. I highly recommend that you attend. And if you are unable to attend, I highly recommend that you go on Ebay starting Sunday morning to start bidding on bootleg recordings of specious quality.

A Ventriloquists show is not a mere rock show, with its preening hipsters, juvenile moshers and lethargic bartending staff who won't even give you a fucking Jack and Coke despite the fact that you've been hovering around the bar area for several minutes, clearly attempting through a series of eyebrow and arm gestures to express your desire for a beverage refill before The Bravery finish their 20 minute set featuring every song they've ever written plus two covers. Nay!

A Ventriloquists show is more like a communal gathering, a coming-together of like-minded people interesting in dancing to songs about unfortunate individuals who do a lot of gack. And last time, there were actual French Canadians in attendance, I shit you not.

Coincidentally Yours

Two odd, improbable turns at Laser Blazer today. Let's take them one at a time.

(1) Within 10 days of having my car's battery replaced, the new battery died. I had to call AAA and have the thing towed to the same Pep Boys garage as before, where they told me the problem was likely with the alternator. This was unfortunate, as that particular Pep Boys doesn't work on alternators. They have an alternative Culver City Pep Boys, to work on alternators.

Whatever the hell an alternator does. Here's my guess: I start with several hundred dollars, and then I get to experience the alternative - not having several hundred dollars. Thanks, Alternator!

As it turns out, my alternator works perfectly fine. Pep Boys just happened to accidentally install a defective battery in my car the last time out.

I figured as much, because one week is definitely not enough time for a battery to run itself out. It's not like I was removing it from the car and putting it to other uses. I wasn't playing a PSP or anything with it. I don't even drive that much, just up to Laser Blazer and back, and sometimes to procure sodas or, snacks.

Still, it sucked. And because I've already called AAA Emergency Roadside Assistance four times in the past year, the tow cost me $45! (Yes, I've already called them four times. I'm supposed to change my own tire? That requires phsyical effort.)

Now my Dad wants me to go back to Pep Boys tomorrow and try to bilk $45 out of the manager. He even had a complex strategy. First, I'm supposed to ask the guy nicely if there's any way I can get my money back, and if he refuses, I beat him on the head repeatedly with a ballpeen hammer and just take the cash out of the register.

No, seriously, I'm supposed to ask the guy nicely for the money back, and that's it. Papa seems to feel that, if approached with relative humility and kindness, the guy will clearly just give me $45, possibly from his own pocket, possibly along with his home address, a box of condoms and a list of candies his daughter likes. I mean, hey, as long as we're fantasizing.

Who knows? Maybe the Pep Boys manager will be feeling kind-hearted and he'll relent upon seeing how uncomfortable the whole situation makes me.

Okay, on to the second odd turn of events.

(2) This morning, my co-worker, a hopeful screenwriter, comes into work complaining. It seems a brilliant idea he's had for a remake is already in the works, with a certain Benicio del Toro slated to star.

Now, all of us at Laser Blazer have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the acting talents of Mr. Del Toro ( sarcasm intended...), but naturally we expressed frustration that this great idea for a movie was already happening without any of our participation.

So we discuss this for a while off and on. Until, around 4 in the afternoon, Benicio del Toro comes into the store.

Now, he has been there before. Just about anyone who cares about movies and lives in LA has an opportunity to browse Laser Blazer. But it ain't exactly like he hangs out there all the time, like the creepy little guy who mumbles all the time and thrusts DVD's in your face demanding to know their price, even though it's printed clearly on the back of the box. Or the dude who asks us to remove the notation on his receipts indicating he has purchased "adult DVD's" because he's hoping to claim them on his income tax as a write-off. Or the guy who came in the other day and checked out the bargain bin, where he proceeded to stack each and every used DVD neatly, one on top of the other, over the course of 2 hours.

You know, he's not a regular.

And yet, just as we're discussing his future projects, in he comes. Isn't that weird? It kind of freaked me out. I should add that he's a very friendly, nice and approachable guy who seems to know a lot about movies, and who wound up buying over $1000 worth of movies exclusively for charity, so it's hard to bear a grudge just because he wants to do a cool remake.

But consider the unlikihood of both of these things happening today. Consider the odds. Out of all the Energizer car batteries installed around the country in a single day, how many do you think are defective? 1? Is it even that many, 1 defective battery per day? And yet, out of all those batteries, that one defective one winds up not just in Culver City, not just at my local Pep Boys, but installed in my car. Almost like it was planned that way, even though it clearly wasn't. Unless this is all some kind of massive conspiracy to make me slightly late to work and irritable.

And I can't figure out what role Benicio del Toro could possibly play in such an obnoxious scheme.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I'm Scared

This blog just linked someone to me, according to my CQ Counter there in the corner of the page.


Everyone George Bush Nominates Sucks

Now, I don't want to say that George W. Bush only nominates fringe lunatics to important positions, but let's take a look at his latest golden boy, Supreme Court nominee and space-alien-looking-motherfucker John Roberts.

Please feel free to leave you own creepy captions for that picture in the comments section below. Here's my contribution:

"Curtailing your civil liberties makes me feel all tingly in my special place."

Bonus points if you can work in his Kirk Douglas-esque Chin Dimple of Power.

George, baby, I've got to ask, what's with nominating all these fucking saucer people? I mean, this guy right on the heels of John Bolton?

Oh God it's a monster! Make it going away!

Seriously, why is everybody involved with the Bush administration so hideously ugly anyway? Now, I don't want to get off on a tangent here - this article is supposed to be goofing on John Roberts - but I think I'm on to something here. It's like Bush can only count on someone being truly ugly on the inside if they're sufficiently ugly on the outside.

Let's take a look at some of this cast of characters.

Condi Rice?

Katherine Harris?

Dick Cheney's advisor Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

Presidential confidant Karl Rove?

Uggos all. It can't be a coincidence.

So, anyway, on to John Roberts. Seeing as so little is known about him, how can I possibly tell he's a vile disgusting wretch who will try to undo every progressive decision the Supreme Court has made in the last 30 years?

All you have to do is look at who's happy and who's upset. Happy? The Christian Coalition. The White House. Conservative asshole fuckstick commentators and sellouts.

Who's upset? The National Organization for Women, NARAL, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Need I go on?

Also, there's the fact that he was fucking nominated by George W. Bush, close personal friend of Satan and Dr. Doom and current Worst Person Alive, Ricky "Man on Dog" Santorum. If George Bush is nominating you for anything, whether it be a spot on the Supreme Court or eliminiation from the "Big Brother" house, you are automatically a scumbag.

Here's what Tricky Ricky S. had to say about the nominee:

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a leading conservative, called him "brilliant."
OMFG, Rick Santorum said he's brilliant? That's it, I can't even move to Canada, that's not far enough away. Who wants to join me in setting up a commune in space. There isn't an atmosphere, so that's a downside, but we will totally have legal weed.

Okay, I'm kidding (kinda). There's proof beyond his mere association with the Prez to suggest that John Roberts is wrong for the Supreme Court. Here's just a sample, from this handy Salon anthology of commentaries about Roberts' nomination.

Here's Republican asshat Brian Anderson of "City Journal":

I think he would be a justice in the mold of Clarence Thomas and will not read into the Constitution things that aren't there -- gay marriage, a right to partial-birth abortion, etc.

Yeah, screw them gay bastards! Ha ha! Right on!

Oh, wait, sorry, thought this was National Review Online or something. (No, I'm not going to link to NRO. Fuck those guys. If you don't get the reference, you're better off.)

What I meant to say was, that's not a good sign.

Here's Kim Gandy of the National Organization for Women.

I think it means women's rights to abortion and even our right to birth control in some states would be in imminent jeopardy -- he's an active opponent.

Neat! Because if there's one thing America needs, wtih our sagging economy, poor environmental record, overpopulation problems, faltering educational system and health care crisis, it's more unwanted babies!

Here's Barry Lynn of Americans United for a Separation of Church and State.

As a deputy solicitor general, Roberts argued for the federal government that school-organized prayer at graduation ceremonies was permissible. He has also indicated, on behalf of the federal government, that privacy rights, and in particular reproductive rights, should be curtailed.

Hope you all like Jesus a lot. Cause you're gonna be seeing a whole lot more of him!

Here's Roberta Combs, President of the, ugh, Christian Coalition of America.

I think that the president did tonight what he said what he was going to do when he was campaigning. I'm happy that the president kept his word. He said he was going to nominate someone who would faithfully interpret the Constitution.

Guess how Roberta Combs looks...Come on, just guess. Give up?


Here's Erwin Chemerinsky a professor of law at Duke University:

Imagine in the 1950s a nominee who had consistently written briefs urging the overruling or limiting of Brown v. Board of Education. The nominee should have been rejected by the Senate unless he or she could show that the written record was not an accurate reflection of the person's views. That is exactly how the Senate should treat John Roberts.

Oh, snap!

Anyway, you get the idea. Will the Senate Democrats have the spine to take this douchebag on and reveal him for the ideological whackjob I, your humble blogger, already know him to be? Only time will tell.

But, you know, probably not. Look for his nomination next year for Worst Person Alive, the field for which is already becoming quite competitive.

Borat in America

Some of you may recall an incident from several months ago, in which British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was escorted out of a rodeo after causing a riot. It was all part of a prank, of course, as Cohen is the genius responsible for "Da Ali G Show."

After telling the crowd he supported America’s war on terrorism, he said, “I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards ... And may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq.” He then sang a garbled version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The stunt was being filmed for Cohen's latest project, a feature-length film starring his Borat character, who's a Kazakhstani journalist with some very antiquated and misinformed notions about America.

Well, he's at it again:

"Ali G" star Sacha Baron Cohen is under fire for playing a trick on an aristocratic family in America's Deep South, after they failed to see the funny side of his latest race-inspired prank.The British comic, posing as his documentary-maker alter ego Borat Sagdiyev, descended on the impressive home of George Matthews Marshall IV, 75, who believed Cohen was making a film about life in America's southern states. But Marshall and his daughter Heather were horrified when Cohen started implying they were racists.

Honestly, I've read this entire IMDB news item, and I can't figure out why it's news. I'll refrain from posting more about what actually transpired, because it gives away some of the jokes I'm sure will be included in the finished film. (You can tell this is going to be a funny bit.)

The item doesn't even say where they got this bizarre notion that he's somehow "under fire." As far as I can tell, the only people upset with him are the family of George Matthews Marshall IV. And of course they're upset, because he was the victim of a prank that will be part of a movie.

Really, I just find this thing interesting because Cohen keeps such a low profile most of the time. When the show's on the air, he's everywhere, but as soon as it goes on a break, he disappears, filming new bits in secrecy. Can't wait to see the new Borat film! Please let it come out soon!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hurricane Emily is a Sexy Bitch

Check out this photo of a shelter, from Yahoo's ongoing coverage of Hurricane Emily:

What is up with that dude in the foreground? I guess one could be charitable and say that he's just been unfortunately caught scratching his balls in a simple case of bad timing. But considering the relative hotness of the girls on either side of him, and his peculiar facial expression, it seems more likely that he's actively engaging in touching himself-type activities.

How did Yahoo not notice the inappropriate nature of this photo before posting it? The eye is immediately drawn to the dude with his hand down his pants. (Or maybe that's just the first thing I noticed...hello!)

My most appreciate thanks go to Gorilla Mask for the link!

Guest Blogger: The Comic Book Store Guy

[Despite being a nerd, I don't really go to pre-planned organized nerd functions, like the San Diego Comic Book Convention. It sounds like the sort of thing I would have enjoyed, but I'm lazy and not big on crowds and broke, and though I realize I am a rather intense dork at heart, I find it hard to relate sometimes to the really hardcore fanboys. Like, I enjoy the occasional Godzilla movie, but I wouldn't consider the viewing of a Japanese monster laying waste to a large city to be necessarily a life-altering experience. In other words, though feature films containing Asian guys in rubber suits may entertain me, they've never actually brought me to the point of orgasm.

So I'm not the best guy to update you on the most recent events in geek culture. That's why I've invited a special guest, direct from the Android's Dungeon and Baseball Card Shop in Springfield, U.S.A, the Comic Book Store Guy...]

Uh, I begged the sculptor to deemphasize my man-breast. Begged him.

So, yes, because Lons could apparently not tell a Tribble from a Tellarite, he asked me to update his blog in his stead. Which I was only happy to do, because the other members of my "Battlestar Galactica" chatroom all have their clarinet lessons tonight, and I'm still waiting for my "Outer Limits" bit torrents to finish downloading. Curse you, Internet King, and your unreliable bandwidth!

I was assured he could provide me with faster nudity.

But I digress. On to the news:

Item the First

The San Diego Comic Convention saw the world premiere of footage from Bryan Singer's upcoming film Superman Returns. Now, even though Supes lacks the wit and sophistication of a true superhero, say a Radioactive Man, I'm still curious to see this eventual film adaptation. Will it ever top the immaculate Richard Pryor in Part III? I suggest not!

Item the Second

A panel of "Star Trek" fans has officially concluded that a lack of social commentary and an over-emphasis on abstract science-fiction is responsible for the death of the franchise.

I'd suggest it's their continued failure to adopt my "Star Trek" fan fiction short story, "How Captain Kirk Single-Handedly Killed the Crew of Every Other Star Trek Series, Reclaiming The Enterprise As His Own For All Time," into a feature-length film production, to be directed by James Cameron.

Trust me, it would have saved the franchise.

Item the Third

The Weinstein Company has announced that it will produce a CG animated "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie, scheduled for release in 2007. Unfortunately, the movie will aim for a PG rating. So it won't be cool and violent like the old comic books.

Sigh. Why bother making a movie about adolescent mutated reptiles if they aren't going to be able to slash each other up violently? What's the big deal if kids see violence all the time? I've done nothing for the past month but watch George Romero movies and play "Bonestorm," and I'd say I'm doing pretty well. Except for the three heart attacks and crippling loneliness.

Item the Fourth

According to this highly specious website, Drew Barrymore and Steven Spielberg may collaborate on a sequel to ET.

Worst. Idea. Ever.

As I said, I'm not certain this website is a reliable source for movie gossip and information, like the one ran by my slender friend Harry Knowles. For starters, they identify Drew's character in ET as Gertie Elliot, when even a Morlock would know that Elliot is her brother's name, not her last name. Haven't these people heard of the Wikipedia?

Item the Fifth

This website is lazy, sloppy and poorly designed. I doubt very much whether Lons has even bothered to alter the HTML code from his Blogger template. Lons, I know you just clicked on "Blueberry" and failed to make any future changes, so you needn't bother denying it. What a shameful lack of initiative. Please know, I will be registering my disgust with blog-trackers throughout the Internet within moments. I bid you good day, sir.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Start of Braffy Season, 2006

It won't be hard to get in touch with Rick Santorum, to let him know he has won a Braffy. Unfortunately, I'm not actually one of his constituents, so someone from his office may not return my phone calls, but I do intend to follow up with this thing. We have to let the guy know he won an award! I'm hoping to get some sort of official response from his office, but only time will tell. Then there's the matter of the prize...I figure I'll get him a gift certificate from Jamba Juice or something...just to let him know we're all thinking about him and voting for him as the Worst Person Alive.

Anyway, no sooner do I finish the 2005 Braffies than some jackass Republican Congressman says one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. And he said it live on the radio!

Congressman Frank LoBiondo apologized for suggesting that Guantanamo Bay detainees were worse than Adolf Hitler because the Nazi dictator "sort of had a political rationale about what he was doing."

The New Jersey Republican made the remark on a radio talk show this past week, describing his recent visit to the Naval Base in Cuba. Muslim terrorists, he said, were more evil than Hitler.

I mean, that's a bold statement. More evil than Hitler? He systematically killed somewhere between 8 and 12 million people (depending on which book you read). That's pretty evil. Saddam Hussein on his most bloodthirsty day would be cowed by those statistics. He'd have to have all his rape rooms operational 24 hours a day to start getting numbers like that.

Oh, is that last paragraph ghoulish? Let's just pretend I didn't type that and get back to the moronic Mr. LoBiondo.

"Hitler, in his philosophy, was, you know, he hated Jews, he was murdering Jews, and there were some people he liked. But he never went to the level that these people are going to," LoBiondo said.


LoBiondo actually apologized on the air a few moments later, realizing he had said something really offensive and retarded, but, hey, it's already out there. What was he even thinking...what sort of deranged mind could even come up with an argument like that?

Muslim terrorists are worse than Nazis, because Nazis only wanted to kill Jews whereas Muslims want to kill all non-Muslims?

I mean, that's not the sort of thing you just say and then apologize for, like, "Oh, I misspoke." Like if you had already heard someone's wife had died but then you forget and ask them how their wife is doing? "Oh, man, I'm sorry...I forgot for a second..."

That's, like, you've basically got to be a lunatic to think that Nazism is excusable. And this guy was thinking that. Sure, he realized it was wrong to say it out loud, but it's obviously a thought that has occured to him.

That's today's GOP for you...capable of sympathy for Nazis, just not Iraqis or gay dudes.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Summer 2005 has been the single most satisfying season for popular filmmaking in a good, long while. Possibly since the advent of the "summer movie-going season" in the mid-1970's. Seriously. The trend with summer films is that most of the major ones disappoint, but then a few sleepers that no one expected to do well wind up killing at the box office and winning a lot of fans.

Take 1999 for example. Hotly anticipated sumemr films that year included Stephen Sommer's forgettable throwback The Mummy, George Lucas' first prequel attempt, The Phantom Menace and the insanely horrible Will Smith vehicle Wild, Wild West.

But the films that wound up ruling the summer were smaller - South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Alexander Payne's breakthrough Election and, of course, the massive late-season juggernaut that was The Sixth Sense.

But 2005 is different. This year, all of the big summer event movies I've seen have actually lived up to the hype. (Bear in mind, I haven't seen Fantastic Four yet). We've had a long run of really strong mainstream entertainments thus far, from Lucas' third and only great prequel, Revenge of the Sith, to Christopher Nolan's epic reimagining of Batman in Batman Begins to Steven Spielberg's massive in scope sci-fi horrorshow War of the Worlds.

And now, we get Tim Burton's tremendously imaginative and expertly mounted retelling of Charlie and the Chcolate Factory, easily his best film since 1994's Ed Wood.

Burton isn't really the sort of director who can make something out of nothing. A guy like Spielberg is such a naturally storyteller, so crafty with a set-piece and savvy with actors and technicians, he rarely fails to churn all the entertainment value he can from any material. I said rarely because of Hook, Always and The Lost World. They are the counter-examples.

But Tim Burton has to start with a pretty promising script, and has to really connect with the material in order for it to work. Sometimes, as in Mars Attacks or Sleepy Hollow, you can see that he was doing really tremendous work on the aesthetic qualities of the films...but the screenplays and the concepts don't live up to the visual style. You get phenomenal wizardry placed in the service of pedestrian, middling blather.

But Roald Dahl's dark children's classic is a natural fit for Burton's turbulent, edgy and warped style. The story of five lucky children invited to tour the world's largest and most impressive candy factory provides him with ample opportunities to explore all of his favorite fetishes and themes - childhood cruelty and neglect, social alienation, hallucinatory fantasy and jet-black humor.

Much attention has been paid to Johnny Depp's take on the character of Willy Wonka, the mad inventor and chocolatier who has not left his factory for 15 years. It certainly clashes with Gene Wilder's performance in the 1971 musical version. Wilder saw Wonka as essentially a big kid, full of love, spirit and enthusiasm, but capable of petulance and even rash anger when frustrated or annoyed. His Wonka is a funny, charming guy who can be a bit prickly if you rub him the wrong way.

Depp goes far, far, far in the opposite direction. His Wonka is essentially a cold-hearted, even brutal man, who doesn't seem to like children (or anyone else for that matter). The character is the most odd thing in a spectacularly odd movie, an awkward and almost inhuman taskmaster who never seems quite as happy or amused as when a small, grubby little unappreciative child is whisked away by Oompa Loompas to be tortured.

He abhors physical contact, or even close proximity to other people, going so far as to wear tight gloves at all times. He loses himself in extended flashbacks during which he completely ignores his guests. He takes pride in being rude. He's silly and child-like and yet hates children, and denies every having been one himself. What's more, Burton and Depp have given Wonka some of the classic trademarks of delusional insanity, including frequent blackouts, anti-social tendencies and an inability to empathize with the feelings of others.

I can't imagine children are going to embrace the character. I don't know, maybe they'll relate to his disaffection, his disdain for the lesser mortals who haven't figured out how to invent their own magical chocolate factory...but it seems to me that his persona in the film is surprisingly distant, odd, strange and even frightening.

But I certainly enjoyed the performance, if only for its ticks and peculiarites. Screenwriter John August (whose work here, though problematic, far exceeds his treacly script for Big Fish, Burton's last film) has added a subplot about Wonka's strained relationship with his own father (Christopher Lee), a stern dentist, and it doesn't really fit together. We're meant to see Willy Wonka arc, from an ill-tempered and lonely weirdo into a loving and caring member of a real family, but Depp's gone way too far over the edge by that point to convincingly play a tender scene with his Dad. This stuff kind of drags the film down just as it should be building to a climax.

However, just about everything in the factory comes off swimmingly, better than I would have imagined. Burton and his designers and effects team truly outdid themselves, realizing a thoroughly impossible piece of architecture that nonetheless has real depth, weight and space. Rather than appearing like actors performing in front of sets or blue screens (as is often the case in CG-intensive marvels like Revenge of the Sith), the vast majority of Wonka's factory feels tactile and complete. (In particular, the nut-sorting room sequence, included in Dahl's book but left out of the 1971 version, is both haunting, hilarious and beautiful.)

To his credit, Burton also expertly navigates the film's opening exposition far better than the 1971 film. It's easy and convenient to forget that director Mel Stuart's version takes nearly 45 minutes to get to the factory at all, obsessed as it is with exploring the grimy details of the Bucket family's extreme poverty and making way for a few forgettable songs.

Part of the problem is that there are clearly too many characters to establish before arriving at the factory. We meet Charlie (Freddie Highmore, last seen with Depp in last year's also insufferable Finding Neverland), his parents (Helena Bonham-Carter and Noah Taylor) his four grandparents, and all the other children who will go on the factory tour, as well as their parents. Then there's the matter of explaining the Golden Tickets, hidden in candy bars and admitting access to the factory, and the background of Wonka and his miraculous candy factory.

Burton's film relates this stuff in record time, and the brilliant sets (the Bucket house stands, for no apparent reason, at an extreme slant) perfectly capture the fanciful, non-existant London of Dahl's imagination.

I'd say the major flaw with Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is kind of inherent to doing a remake of this story. I can't really see what he or August could have done about it...Basically, the entire story of Willy Wonka is built on wonder and surprise. He has constructed a magical factory where anything is possible - squirrels can be trained to sort nuts, tiny pygmy's from far-off countries spontaneously break into Busby Berekely-inspired musical numbers, candy bars can be transported through mid-air like television waves.

But the mere fact that this story has already been related in a popular children's novel and a famous, nay iconic film, means that there aren't really any surprises left. There's a distinct feeling throughout the movie of familiarity. Clearly Burton knows that we know what's coming next, and it hurts the spontaneity of the film dramatically.

Take, for example, a scene late in the film. The only two children remaining on Wonka's tour are the insufferable know-it-all Mike Teevee (Jordon Fry) and the pure and good-natured Charlie and they are in Wonka's Great Glass Elevator. Wonka encourages young Mike to choose the next room they will visit.

Now, we in the audience all know he wants to go to the Television Room, to see how Wonka bars can be transmitted from place to place. We know this because we have read the book or seen the old movie. And the movie makes kind of an in-joke about the whole thing - of course Mike wants to go to the TV room, of course Violet turns into a blueberry. Sometimes, August will even toss in an identical line from the old film (like "there is no earthly way of knowing which direction they are going.") I get the concept - they're acknowledging that this is familiar ground to trod - but isn't the whole idea that this is an insane factory of wonder, and you never know what's coming around every corner?

Making it feel rote kind of defeats the entire purpose.

One more concept to discuss...This is maybe the least politically correct mainstream film of 2005. Maybe of the decade thus far. I admire Burton's willingness to push the envelope in terms of making an old-fashioned comical kids' adventure movie, but I'm kind of surprised no one has called him on it yet (at least, in the reviews and interviews I have read).

For starters, the Oompa Loompas, rather than being played by midgets with orange pancake makeup and green wigs, are all played by one Indian actor named Deep Roy. This in and of itself wouldn't be so offensive if we didn't get a complete (and lovely) sequence in which Wonka navigages to the home of the Oompa Loompas, Loompa Land.

There, they jump around like "natives" in old 1930's movies, and eat disgusting insect-based food like the savages in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (another movie I really like that's correctly accused of Orientalism and subtle racism).

And take an early montage in which we see Wonka bars distributed to far-off locales around the globe. We see a shot of Morocco, and get a joke about how locals are trading chickens to get Wonka bars. It's kind of a cheap laugh, but it works.

I guess my point is that Dahl's books had a directness to them children can appreciate. They don't dance around difficult topics - if a kid is an orphan, Dahl doesn't take 10 pages setting up their situation, he starts the book with a matter-of-fact sentence like "James' parents had been killed by a rhinocerous." So Burton, rather than dancing around the satirical nature of Dahl's writing, tackles it head-on, makes the movie daring, weird and a little bit offensive.

So anyway, the movie's not a complete triumph, but it's pretty spectacular. One of the best looking films of the year by any measure, and delightfully entertaining on top. Plus, it features several terrifically strange, Oingo Boingo-reminiscent songs by Danny Elfman (who also provides the fun, goofy score), incorporating some of the original Oompa Loompa songs penned by Dahl himself.