Saturday, August 06, 2005


I try not to talk about Michael Jackson too much on here, because so many blogs are already goofing on Wacko Jacko and I feel like it's a bit overdone. But I just had to comment on the latest news that Michael may be moving to Bahrain.

I just can't imagine what it must feel like to be so humiliated and shamed in one's home country that you'd ahve to actually move to an entirely separate continent. I mean, imagine that...No matter where you go in all of North America (or, really, the Western Hemisphere), you're an outcast and a laughingstock. The only solution is to buy 14 acres in BFE and hang out with your sheik friend.

Then there's this CBS News story about the possibility of Jackson's move.

The New York Post quotes sources as saying Jackson has bought 14 acres of land in Bahrain, near the palace home of a sheik who's a good pal of his. The paper says its sources say Jackson has enjoyed his vacation in Bahrain because he can dress in the same way as the local residents and go out without being noticed.

Okay, who can find the two ridiculous statements in that excerpt?

(1) "he can dress in the same way as the local residents"

For real? The average citizens of Bahrain walk around in red sequined military coats, black leather jackets covered in zippers, 1940's style fedoras and PJ bottoms? Was their nation originally settled by glam rockers or gay mobsters or something?

(2) "he can go without being noticed"

So, contrary to what we all learned in high school, Bahrain is apparently located on Venus. Because there's nowhere on Earth that Michael Jackson can blend into the local population.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Denise Show

Denise Richards makes me feel old.

Allow me to clarify. I don't actually know Denise Richards. Well, I met her once, which is why she makes me feel old, but I don't know her. In the Biblical sense.

I don't think I've mentioned this to my vast blog audience before, but once upon a time, way back in the late 90's when I attended UCLA as an undergrad, I worked as an entertainment reporter for the Daily Bruin. Because the Daily Bruin went out to the entire UCLA Campus, an audience of around 35,000 people a day, we got invited to all the film junkets and press events for upcoming Hollywood movies.

It was a pretty exciting time. I was 18 years old and extraordinarily unseasoned as a reporter. I had worked on my high school paper, but most of that job consisted of trying to slice straight lines with an Exacto knife against a huge whiteboard so as not to create a crooked Arts & Entertainment Page. Very little time was spent actively engaged in the process of writing.

The very first big Hollywood event I attended was the press screening and interview roundtables for Starship Troopers, a delightful Paul Verhoeven ultra-violent sci-fi satire. I loved the movie, just about every other critic at the event loathed it. Anyway, in addition to Verhoeven, Michael Ironside (awesome!) and the luminous Capser van Diem, we interviewed Denise Richards.

Here's a photo from Troopers set, just to give you your bearings:

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll also admit that I went to that Starship Troopers screening with my obnoxious neighbor girl Wendy, who complained vocally about the film and its high volume for much of the time. I had gone next door to ask the neighbor girls if one of them would come with me, in the hopes that one in particular, Heather, on whom I had a massive and hopeless crush, would agree. She didn't, but Wendy jumped at the chance.

My romantic life has essentailly followed this pattern ever since.

But I digress.

Anyway, back then, Denise Richards was a complete unknown. Paul Verhoeven admitted to us at the roundtable interview that he had cast the young girls in the movie based largely on attractiveness and breast size, as opposed to, say, on-screen charisma or acting ability. (Hey, he's Dutch!)

After that movie, and the B-movie smash hit Wild Things, Denise had a moment of fame. She even became a Bond girl, admittedly in the worst James Bond movie of all time. (Seriously...worse than Moonraker...and Moonraker sucks).

Yes, that's her, as nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones. Personally, I don't have a problem with a Bond movie casting a random hot chick as a science expert, myself. That's what Bond movies do. I mean, Pussy Galore was one of the finest stunt pilots in the world.

Anyway, around this point in her career, something horrible must have happened to Ms. Richards, because she married Charlie Sheen. I mean, what else could have explained such a course of action, but some kind of severe blow to the head or post-traumatic stress?

Don't get me wrong...I like Charlie Sheen. He's in some good movies, and his self-effacing appearance in Being John Malkovich is hilarious. But come on...marrying the guy? This is a dude who orders prsotitutes for his prostitutes. He's spent so much on whores over the years, Heidi Fleiss could buy her own island.

And this sent her career into an unfortunate tailspin from which it has never recovered. She just kind of didn't age well, as you can even seen in that above picture (shamefully stolen right off of Immoderation, without even so much as a credit or a link).

So, inevitably, she took Hef up on his offer, the way so many other aging ex-ingenues have done in the past, and posed for Playboy.

Man, this had to be the most uncomfortable, unpleasant Playboy shoot ever. Usually they have models reclining on satin beds eating chocolates from a heart-shaped box, but she's naked, on the beach, lolling around in wet sand, having other sand blasted all over her body (and on to her face!), with seaweed draped around her. For what must have been several hours.

As of 2005, Denise has wound up in the ghetto of direct-to-DVD thrillers and...shudder...Lifetime Original movies. Such as I Do But I Don't, a wacky romantic comedy in which Denise stars with Dean Cain.

Denise plays a wedding planner who, ironically, works so hard at planning other people's romances...she has no time for a romance of her own. But then she meets Random Hunk #1 (Cain) and realizes that, hey, maybe there is enough time for my happiness too.

Wait a minute...Isn't that the exact same story as that J.Lo abomination nobody saw? Nah, I'm sure they're totally different.

So why does Denise Richards make me feel old? Because all this has happened to her in the time since I turned 18. She's had a huge career arc, from promising young model/actress to movie star to fading movie star to depressing permanent B-level status all in the time since I've been living on my own, like an adult. Yikes! I'm not old enough to have witnessed an entire career trajectory, am I?

The Boston Herald, In The Study, With the Candlestick

This study, conducted by Forrester Research and reported by the Boston Herald, seems to indicate that very few Americans read blogs. In fact, out of the over 68,000 households responding to a questionnaire, fewer than 2% claimed to read blogs more than once a week.

Even more surprising, if you only include households with up-to-date computing technology, homes with Wireless Internet, for example, or where several people own laptops, the number only jumps to 4% who read blogs.

This could explain why I get around 100 hits a day, despite my obvious genius and readability. Or it could be a silly statistic that means nothing. My bet's on the latter.

Because, you see, most people who read "blogs" don't make a conscious decision to sit down at the computer and browse a few blogs. I mean, I browse other blogs, particularly those listed right there on the side of your screen, but I run a blog so that should be obvious.

Lots of people, though, they just do a Yahoo or a Google search about whatever topic interests them, and then they read the one or two or three most compelling results. And sometimes those results are major corporate websites and sometimes they are established "Old Media" sites like MSNBC or something, but sometimes they are blogs.

And these people may not considering that time "reading blogs." They might not even know those sites they are visiting are blogs. So when surveyed, they might respond "oh, no, I never sit around and read a bunch of blogs." Yet they nonetheless do read blogs on occasion.

For example, just today, people have come to my blog after completing the following Google searches:

"Garden State really sucked" (NOTE: I'm the only result of this search!)

Colin McCoy Decemberists (NOTE: The name is actually Colin Meloy)

How did Kate Bosworth feel about kissing Kevin Spacey (NOTE: This person obviously doesn't have a good handle on using search engines...Still, I'm proud that this query will send a person to my blog)

Those people probably didn't intend to sit down and read "blogs." In fact, I bet if you asked all three of them, 2/3 probably couldn't define the word "blog" for you. But they read blogs! I know for a fact, because they just came to mine!

Once again, we see that the old established methods of measuring Internet usage utterly fail to grasp the day-to-day reality of the Internet. Nice job, useless Forrester Research survey!

Actually, I don't understand the point of measuring overall blog readership anyway. If you're curious about how many people read a particular site, you can just ask or check yourself - nearly every blog has traffic counters, and most of them are accessible just by clicking on the little "counter" symbol - you don't even need to be the blogger responsible for the site.

Beyond that, what's the point of making grand statements about the number of overall Americans who "read blogs"? It could only be used to try and strip blogs of legitimacy, which clearly would be in the interest of the publishing industry and the party in power.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Jossy Weeds

Check out this interview with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" mastermind Joss Whedon. What a no-talent ass clown.

Do any of you really like this show? Now, I'm not going to go so far as to say that liking this show proves you have poor taste in television, but I will say that it proves you have poor taste in vampire slaying. Of all the venues in which I have seen the undead slain, nowhere has it been as silly, campy or cheaply-designed as in Joss Whedon's cultish but ultimately failed TV drama.

And don't give me that "it's-all-a-deep-metaphor-for-adolescent-life-in-America" horseshit. An episode of "Buffy" has as much to say about contemporary American life as an episode of "Iron Chef." I mean, yeah, we get it...their high school is literally hell. Joss, please stop, your penetrating insights are too much for my feeble brain...

Okay, fine, so I hated his show, and his lame spin-off show, and his other show that went off the air right away. Big whoop. I hate lots of shows that other people like. (CSI? What the hell is that crap?)

But then Joss has to go and give this bullshit, self-aggrandizing interview to In Focus Magazine. My Cinegeek colleague Ari used the adjective "gross" to describe it, and I'd say that's the most fitting.

Here's Joss dictating how he would have directed Return of the Jedi:

The Millennium Falcon would not be piloted in the climactic scene by Lando Calrissian and a frog. It would have been Han, getting it done. The “other” to whom Yoda referred would of course have been a young, female, badass Jedi, because where else would I go with that? It would have not been revealed in the first five minutes that Darth Vader was going to be redeemed. And, yeah, there would have been a little less incest.

No talent. Ass clown.

Can you imagine Joss Whedon directing a Star Wars movie starring a young female badass Jedi? Seriously. Try it.

Okay, now stop projectile vomiting. Good.

I have to say, part of the fault lies with this interviewer. They're obviously (1) tremendously impressed with Joss Whedon and (2) a total doofus.

Check out this question about Joss' failed-TV-show-turned-failed-middling-sci-fi-movie Serenity:

There are fewer horses and heads of cattle in “Serenity” than in the “Firefly” TV series. Do you suspect perhaps the series was somehow hobbled in the early going by its more overtly “Western” visual elements?

What? The interviewer is asking the guy who made the show, a guy who has nothing to do with measuring or analyzing ratings, if he thinks the inclusion of horses and heads of cattle affected the overall viewership?

How the fuck is Joss Whedon supposed to know that? He just writes the goddamn thing.

But let's not let him totally off the hook. Rather than call the questioner stupid to his face, Joss tries his best to give a cogent answer:

No. I wasn’t looking to go less “Western.” In fact, I was thinking, “Can’t I find a place for a horse in this?” But the answer was no.

Folks, that is my new screenwriting mantra: Can't I find a place for a horse in this?

Can you just imagine if Orson Welles had that thought moments before lensing the climactic sequence in Citizen Kane? "Okay, so Charles Foster Kane dies and he drops the snowglobe he's been holding, says 'Rosebud,' and we see the nurse enter the room...ON THE BACK OF A MASSIVE STALLION!"

Oh my god, this is totally the stupidest interview ever. Seriously, this may be stupider than that time Brett Ratner kept talking about himself in the third person.

Overall, this thing would be way better with a better interviewer. This guy is practically begging J. Weeds to give him a fruit basket. Check out this question...

I thought your original screenplay for “Alien: Resurrection” was brilliant – with its epic final battle on Earth, for Earth – and vastly more engrossing than what ultimately made its way to the screen. I have to assume there were budgetary issues, because I can’t imagine another reason anyone would tinker with it.

Wow, what a fair and impartial journalist this guy turned out to be! We're sure to get a hard-hitting interview now!

Oh, man, there is so much annoying shit in here, I could go on and on for days, but I'll just pull a few more quotes. Here's Joss discussing his ideas about a Batman movie.

Look, I’m going to have trouble watching “Batman Begins” because I pitched a Batman movie to them that I fell so in love with that I couldn’t get it out of my head. And, no matter what, I’m just going to be going, “Oh, that one scene. Oh, I just wish … Oh!” Even if I love every frame, you just don’t get over stuff like that.

What a dick. Like Chris Nolan's version couldn't possibly be better than Joss Whedon's imagined concept. Who falls in love with their own material in that way, that they can't possibly accept anyon else's interpretation? Oh, that's right, someone extraordinarily self-involved who loves celebrating his own ideas more than any movie!

Here's Whedon on why he'd never direct an "Avengers" movie:

Y’know, the thing about the X-Men is they have a coherent core. The Avengers to me is tough. I wouldn’t approach The Avengers, I wouldn’t approach the Fantastic Four. The X-Men are all born of pain, and pain is where I hang my hat.

"Pain is where I hang my hat"? GROSS!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Not Very Intelligent Design

I'll admit, George Bush's presence on our planet kind of disproves the theory of evolution. After all, if nature selects the smartest and most capable life to survive, and that life then propagates itself, how was George Bush even born? Shouldn't his simpleton ass have been natural selected out millennia ago?

In other words, the fact that Barbara and George HW Bush survived long enough to have not just George but his entire jackass family kind of makes Darwin look like a schmuck. I mean, come on, Rob Zombie wishes the family in Devil's Rejects was as primordial and maniacal as this squad.

This guy is the President of the United States, a nation that once was respected around the globe for its scientific and technological advances, and he's arguing we should teach kids Creationism in schools.

During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life. But he said students should learn about both theories, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported.

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

Again, proving his deep and nuanced understanding of the importance of education in America, George Bush spoke using poor diction. He only said two fucking sentences, and one of them is clearly not grammatically correct.

"[IF] you're asking me whether [REMOVE 'OR NOT'] people ought to be exposed to different ideas, THEN MY] answer is yes" would be more correct. Although I'd still prefer the he went with the much more clear and concise "People ought to be exposed to different ideas."

And those are just phoenetic corrections. Of course, the substance of his comments are stupid as well.

George makes the unbelievably inane mistake of thinking that any opinion has a right to be taught in schools. I mean, we're teaching some opinions of some people, right? Like Descartes opinion that he thought, therefore he was...we're teaching that, right? And Euclid thought up a system of geometry that we teach, but it's not the only way of doing geometry, right?

Of course, anyone who passed through the fourth grade understands that the substance of a public school education is not the opinions of a wide variety of people, but a collection of established knowledge understood to be accurate by experts in that field of knowledge.

So, in history class, you don't learn every historians theory about the reasoning behind every major event. You learn that in 1492, Columbus got a bunch of ships together and sailed to an already-settled continent, where he proceeded to rape women, pillage whole cities and torture and murder innocents for sport.

Okay, so you don't learn the whole truth in public school history class either, but you know what I mean...You learn stuff that's at least loosely based on facts.

By Bush's line of reasoning, children should be informed of every available opinion in school. We'd have to teach kids about Holocaust deniers, about eugenic science, about Roswell and Area 51 and other conspiracy theories and about Scientology. We'd have to teach them about ESP and psychic phenomenon, about ghosts and ghost-hunters, about the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, Bigfoot the Chupacabbara and the Prophet Elijah.

These are not mainstream beliefs, but they are famous and notable opinions. They also all have the benefit of being entirely inaccurate.

But accuracy doesn't matter in Bush's America. What we think is what we think, and if we have to shape reality to fit our thought process, then that's what we'll do. So if Bush's grammar is poor, well, we'll just have to change the rules of grammar to suit him.

You're asking me whether or not the President is remarkably stupid, the answer is yes.


At work today, I got a phone call informing me that I had won the American Accolades Screenwriting Contest. Yeah, won it outright. Grand prize winner. It's pretty exciting.

And it's not just about the money. Sure, I win $2500, which will basically quadruple my take-home for the month of August. I can finally try some of that "lunch" I've heard so much about...

But it's more than that. I get to have some meetings with actual agents and managers and producers, to try and convince some poor schlub out there to give me even more money just for writing stuff. I mean, are they fools? I'm already doing that on here for free, baby!

But please don't tell them that...I'm hoping some of these people are willing to pay through the nose, because I have expensive tastes.

More than anything else, this feels a little bit like validation. I've been writing scripts since the age of 17, and writing other, brief plays, stories and comedy bits well before that. Once, right after I graduated college, a family friend paid me to adapt a novel he had purchased the rights to, which never went up going anywhere.

But other than that lovely bit of recompense, I have never really found a warm reception for my screenwriting. I find people tend to praise my work in a certain way, letting me know that they liked it but they don't think I'll ever be able to sell it.

That's fair enough. The type of movies that tend to get made in Hollywood aren't particularly well-written most of the time, so I don't really see the fact that my scripts don't read like traditional popular films to be a negative. But winning this Hollywood screenwriting contest, even if it's not a guarantee of any future success in "the business," does kind of let me know that I'm on the right track, that there are people out there who read what I do and appreciate it on some level.

So, just couldn't really contain my excitement and had to let everyone in Bloggerland know about my recent success. Don't worry...later on tonight, we'll get back to arguing about whether Wedding Crashers is racist and insulting Rick Santorum.

[Oh, and in case my parents or grandparents are reading this, I'm just kidding...I always have enough money for lunch. Now, dinner on the other hand...]

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Downfall is significant in the history of German film. It's the first German-language movie to deal with Hitler as a central character, portraying him in a human fashion.

In Downfall, he's a sad, faded ideolgoue, a man with what he saw as a beautiful and unrealized dream, lashing out at those around him for his failures. In a magnificent performance, Bruno Ganz is careful to give Der Fuhrer humanity but never nobility. We see him beyond the pomp and the legend, and we see that he is not some monster, but we're never really tempted to empathize with his plight.

The rest of the film is as measured and thoughtful as its central performance. It's not exactly what I would call gripping - the pacing is slack, it is terrifically dense and talky and because the central characters are Adolf Hitler and his naive secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), there isn't really any person to actively engage throughout this 2.5 hour experience.

What you do get is a thoroughly researched and impeccably crafted recreation of the last few days of Hitler's life. Because the film is based on the memoirs of Junge, Hitler's personal assistant, we see the action through her eyes. After a brief opening, in which we see Junge's job interview in 1942, we jump to 1945, when the Bolshevik army has reached the outskirts of Berlin.

Hitler, a bevy of his advisors, his secretarial staff and soldiers descend to his massive underground bunker to hopefully outwait the invading forces and plan the reascension of The Reich.

Desperation hangs in the air. By the time the film's action begins, most everyone in the bunker knows the end is nigh. Himmler (Ulrich Noethen), Albert Speer (Heino Furch) and others urge Hitler to leave Berlin, so that he may live and plan and lead the German people for another day, but he is resigned to remain in Berlin, in his bunker, and to accept his fate.

Much is made in the film of Hitler's decision, and several theories are seemingly offered. Most compelling to me was the implicated that Hitler's insanity had slowly taken over his inner life. At times, Ganz plays Hitler as delusional. Even after the cause is lost and most of his armies have deserted their posts, Hitler still plots his victories behind a massive map of Germania. He continually speaks of how he has is undermined by the Jews, even though by this point he has imprisoned or murdered nearly every Jew in Germany. And whenever his idyllic dreamy plans for the future are questioned, he rants and raves like an injured infant.

There's something deeply strange about seeing an enfeebled, mentally weak Hitler. Part of seeing him as the ultimate representation of cruelty and malice is seeing him as a vision of unquestioned power. The imagery we have of Hitler, in Triumph of the Will, giving speeches before thousands, with all the pageantry of the Third Reich at its apex...well, it doesn't really get more powerful than that. George Bush isn't greeted that way anywhere, not even Oral Roberts University or the office of the Chevron CEO.

In Downfall, he's like a child. He loves his dog, he dotes on his wife, he has a crush on his secretary. In fact, there's something decidedly childlike about a lot of the Nazis in the film, and this, I think, is where it runs into some conceptual problems.

The largest is writer Bernd Eichinger and director Oliver Hirschbiegel's decision to take Traudl Junge at her word. Anyone who has seen Blind Spot, the documentary made about Ms. Junge before her death in 2002, will recall that she claims no knowledge of any of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the camps against Jews, the handicapped, homosexuals, political prisoners or anyone else. She always presented herself as a totally naive bystander, someone who felt guilty because of her association with evil who was not herself evil.

I'm not sure whether or not this is true. Hey, I wasn't there. But as naive as Junge sounds by her own accounts, she's presented in Downfall ten times so. It's pretty ridiculous. There are a few scenes in the film where she listens, shocked, as Hitler rails on and on about the evils of international Jewry, and of Jewish conspiracies.

I mean, does that sound accurate? That Hitler's secretary would be shocked to hear him lambast Jewish people? Even if she didn't know he was shipping them off to Auschwitz, certainly she suspected he might be prejudiced against them. Let's be perfectly honest...a young 20-something girl who idolized and worked for Hitler, who saw herself as his employee and friend, would probably have herself greatly disliked Jews. I mean, come on, for real...

So I'm not sure Downfall really pulls off the Junge character. I suppose if you accept her as the audience substitute, the person that needs to be present to provide us with a viewpoint on the action of the film, then it's not very bothersome, but in a film that's otherwise so painstakingly realisitc and authentic, it's a rare piece of imaginitive abstraction.

Isn't That a Bit Racialist?

The other day, I wrote a response to a Salon editorial about Wedding Crashers. A black woman wrote that she felt slighted by the film's failure to send its two heroes to a black wedding, despite the fact that they went to several other multicultural weddings. Starting with this point, she built a case that black women are consistantly slighted in our society and made to feel less attractive, that they are "invisible" to white men who are constantly paying attention to women of other races.

Now, I felt her article was, essentially, bunk. Not because I enjoy discounting personal accounts of racism. I get no pleasure out of denying the hurt feelings of others. I felt her article was bunk because she was accusing a movie of racism, quite a serious charge, that I felt was not racist at all. And she then went on to essentially accuse white maledom as a group, and Hollywood as a small subset of that group, of an even greater racism that made the filmed racism possible.

As to whether or not black women really are slighted day in and day out by white men...Well, I have no idea. I'm not a black woman. I am a white man, and I can confess that I have never approached a random black girl on the street or in a bar and started hitting on her. But I don't do this with any women. Ever. In fact, I dare say that, in my entire life, I have never approached a strange woman I didn't know and started small talk with her in an attempt to convince her to have sex with me.

If I'm going to make a pass at a woman, I have usually already gotten to know her, so that I'm comfortable talking with her. This usually takes between about 5 years and infinity.

So I'm not a good person to discuss whether or not guys are prejudiced against hitting on black women. If they are, well, it sucks, but I'm not sure there's a lot anyone can actually do about it. I mean, I'm an overweight guy, and I'm depressed that beautiful, leggy Australian swimsuit models don't hit on me all the time. And in fact, I can't think of a single movie in which a beautiful leggy Australian swimsuit model hits on an overweight Jew...

Man, why are movies so anti-Semetic?

Anyway, that was my only point...Not that the woman doesn't have a fair complaint, but that it's misapplied when discussing Wedding Crashers. And that, even if it is a function of racism, and I don't doubt that it is, Hollywood is not to blame for white guys not finding black girls sexy enough. Hollywood, near as I can tell, is all about sexy black girls.

So imagine my surprise today when an alert reader named Nichelle came on to the blog today and really let me have it. This is perhaps the angriest comment I have yet received on the blog, and the other day Horsey called Mark Cuban dry and boring to his face.

I'm going to reprint her response here in its entirety, because she really lets me have it and I respect that:

Don’t worry. We (Black women) are used to having our concerns and, God forbid, complaints dismissed as “odd” “silly” whining. No sweat.

Every 10 Seconds, do you see an ad for a major Hollywood film “reveling in Negro Culture?” Absolutely! Usually male oriented films like “Hustle & Flow.”

And, it was very uh, “enlightened” of you to note, but Owen and Vince could have gone to a black wedding without “pretending to be down.” They could have made a few balloons for the kids and danced to the Electric Slide (as Dickerson mentioned in the article) without “wigging” out.

There is a stigma in Hollywood (perpetuated by whites and blacks) that black women can't be sexy. Even you conceded that black women are often “depicted in our culture frequently as cruel, loveless matriarchs”, but yet the idea that racism is connected to that is “ridiculous” to you.

And by the way, the women you named, with the exception of Halle Berry, do not make lots of films. When they do, they are generally portrayed as sexy if they are already famous (Hollywood likes to hedge its bets with black faces) like singers Christina Milian and Beyonce Knowles. Or, if it is a black-themed film, such as any film where Vivica A. Fox gets top billing.

Apparently even “enlightened” white people refuse to go see a romantic comedy with a black man and a black woman (Gasp! That would make it a black film!) Thus, a black woman could not be cast as the lead in “Hitch” opposite a black superstar like Will Smith. And there are loads of articles about the lack of black people in positions of power and the poor material and tiny budgets talented black actors get in Hollywood.

Are you kidding or what? People, Entertainment Weekly, Black Enterprise, Essence and a ton of other magazines have done articles on the topic. And you ask, “why can’t we get an article about that?”

A lot of what she says is dead-on. White people often won't go to see films where the majority of the cast is black. Black women really are seen as cruel taskmasters, folksy minstrel-ish Southern stereotypes or asexual harpys in many mainstream films. And most films with "urban" characteristics are male-oriented films.

Also, Hitch sucks and has no good reason for not providing Will Smith with a black female co-star.

But I disagree with a lot of the ideas here as well.

First off, I really resent the idea that any time a black woman has a complaint, we should all treat it as sacred and unassailable. I think you should listen to thoughtfully-expressed complaints, but that part of having a dialogue is accepting that sometimes people are oversensitive, or are seeing intentional slights where they do not appear.

So though I agree that racism in a general sense is a problem, and in Hollywood is a large problem, I don't agree that Wedding Crashers is racist or that Hollywood fails to promote the notion that black women have sex appeal.

Also, the implication that black actresses with the exception of Halle Berry don't make lots of films is wrong on its face. Christina Milian was already in two major release films this year, neither of which is a so-called "black film" - Be Cool and Man of the House. Beyonce will be seen next year in both the new Pink Panther movie and the new Bill Condon film Dreamgirls. Kerry Washington has recently been seen in Spike Lee's She Hate Me, Oscar-nominee Ray, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Fantastic Four.

Again, to Ms. Dickerson, Nichelle and all the other black women worried about how they are represented in film and television...I submit the problem is not sexiness. The problem is quality. Most films with mainly black casts are rushed into release, written and directed by whites who are unable to communicate anything meaningful about the black experience and hampered by low budgets and poor marketing.

Plus, like most big studio movies, the vast majority of them are stupid.

You want to see more diverse, uplifting and truthful stories about black women? You need to get more black women making movies. It's as simple as that.

Which got me thinking...When was the last time I actually watched a film that had been directed by a black woman?

Now, I see a lot of films, so you'd think it would be within the relatively recent past...

The most recent one I can think of (and there is a slight chance I'm forgetting a film) was 2000's Love and Basketball, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Before that, it would probably be 1997's Eve's Bayou, directed by Kasi Lemmons.

That's inexcusable. In the time since I watched Love and Basketball, I have seen many many films by white women, gay men, black men, and men of a surprising variety of nationalities. I have even seen a film co-written by a 13 year old white girl , and a staunchly anti-American polemic made by a guy who has never been to America. I have seen documentary films made by teenagers about themselves, reality shows that recreate actual reality through scripted sequences, and a blockbuster documentary about a corrupt sitting president who was then re-elected for another four years.

But since 2000, I have not seen a single film directed by a black woman. That's a much much much larger problem than the lack of black weddings in a dumb summer comedy.

Yoshi's Island

We went to the Monday comedy show at Westwood Brewing Company last night. Predictably, as with any collection of amatuer stand-up comedians, most were terrible. There was one girl in particular - she was heavy and all her jokes were about being a fat girl - whose set was actually the exact opposite of funny. You felt bad listening to her and afterwards, the whole scene was decidedly depressing.

That's when you know you have no future in stand-up comedy.

I mean, all her material was bad one-liners, which isn't a good start, but I do think that women have to be more careful with self-depreciating humor than men. A fat guy can make fat jokes at his own expense all day, but I think we as a society have more sympathy for the fat girls (probably because we all know it's harder on the self-esteem to be a fat girl than a fat guy).

I'm not saying a fat girl can't make fat jokes. Many do. I'm just saying it helps, for a girl, to have a steely, no-bullshit, confidant attitude to pull it off. (Like, oh I don't know...Roseanne). This girl seemed sensitive about her weight, like comedy was a good way for her to work out these personal issues, and it kind of wasn't really keeping with the mood.

But one comic was pure unadulterated genius. Seriously. You won't be seeing him on television any time soon, because not a single one of his jokes is reproducable in any advertising-supporting medium. He is the single filthiest comic I have ever heard.

His name is Yoshi and he's an unassuming Japanese guy. But his jokes are all deplorable, every last single one. They are highly misogynistic, including riffs on binding women's feet and constant references to beating, raping or killing women. (For example, after a joke about having sex with a handicapped women, Yoshi motions that he would, following intercourse, "kick the bitch down the stairs.")

Granted, these descriptions do not sound funny. They sound horrifying. I know...I agree...When my roommates first saw Yoshi several months ago and told me about him, I doubted their story. Either (1) he was not as crude as they intimated or (2) he wasn't funny.

But he's far more crude than they intimated and he's still funny.

Why is this? I don't think everything crude or deplorable is funny inherently. If you said, "I like having sex with crippled girls and then kicking them down staircases," I wouldn't laugh. But when Yoshi said it, I feared I might have a stroke from laughing so hard.

Delivery and having a good, charismatic persona are so important is stand-up. So much more important than material. Yoshi's oddball style makes the set work, and his genuine enthusiasm for stories about mothers dropping Down Syndrome-afflicted babies off of bridges comes through with every joke.

I mean, good material is important, trust me. We saw a guy do like five jokes in a row where the set-up of the joke was inaccurate. Like, "did you guys ever notice that all Mexicans ride thsoe oversized, old-timey bicycles?" Or, "You know what's weird? France invading Switzerland."

There was a guy in the crowd correcting him every time, too. Like, "I just went down to Santa Monica Pier. It never gets crowded there."

"Yes, it DOES" the heckler would respond.

"I get a lot of parking tickets..."

"No way!"

Monday, August 01, 2005

Who Are the Ad Wizards Who Came Up With This One?

Why do people always feel the need to point out the "brilliance" of the advertising industry? Every time a cool or funny commercial comes on, someone has to comment on how amazingly strategic the marketing strategy is, and how savvy the executives are who greenlit the project. As if advertising were at all difficult.

Guess's not. And I took graduate classes in marketing, so I know what I'm saying here. Advertising is incredibly, massively fucking easy. There are only a few simple rules:

(1) People are incredibly stupid and they don't remember shit, so if you want them to buy your crap, you have to repeat your message at them over and over and over again before they get it.

(2) People are incredibly stupid and they love celebrities, so always have someone famous in your ads to hawk your crap. It doesn't even matter if the person is exceptional or talented or even particularly famous. As long as they have some level of fame, they will be able to sell stuff.

(3) People are incredibly stupid and horny and they only like good-looking people. So always have hot pieces of ass holding your product, and never have any uggos around, and people will think the stuff is better.

Okay, everybody got that? You now officially don't need to take a marketing class. And don't ever read masturbatory articles like this one, about the "brilliant" "amazing" new Dove ads. Get this - they're using pictures of half-naked attractive chicks to try to sell things. I innovative. What a concept.

We're supposed to be awed by their brilliance because the attractive chicks aren't professional models, but "real girls," as you might see on the street. I mean...they're still hot. They're just not starving themselves-pill popping-Lindsay Hohan-coke fiend hot.

Here's one of the ads.

Dove, you shrewd bastards! It's a girl, she's in her undies, she's showing me her ass...BUT IT'S NOT A PERFECTLY SCULPTED ASS! WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS, YOU MAD GENIUSES?

I mean, yeah, cute girl, your product, small black type. This is like every other fucking ad in the world. Did any of you watch "Blow Out" this season, with Jonathan Antin designing his new shampoo bottles with the care and concern of a mother bird building a nest for her newly-birthed young. The product (charmingly called "Dirt," a sly reference to the substance of its creator's soul) wound up in little plastic bottles that look exactly like shampoo bottles. That's what this ad is like.

It's like when you go to Vegas with your friends, and someone's always spouting off about the devious strategies casinos employ to encourage gambling.

"They don't have any clocks in the casinos, you notice that?" they'll say, as if they're the first person to make such an insipid observation. "And no windows either. That's so ya can't see outside!"

Well, you've got it all figured out, don't you, Sparky?

Here's a little secret - casinos don't need a strategy to get your money. Getting money out of tourists visiting Las Vegas isn't at all challenging. It's like getting multi-colored candy out of a Pez Dispenser. Giving you multi-colored candy is what Pez Dispensers do, man, and converting yokel dollars into casino dollars is what Vegas does.

I've been to casinos that are employing absolutely no marketing or business strategy of any kind. They are grim, smoke-filled rooms full of cheap alcohol and 90 year olds wearing gold chains playing pai gow, and they will take in more cash in 2005 than fucking Pfizer. Because people love to gamble, particularly gambling addicts, and they will do so in spite of any strategies you may or may not bother devising.

Ditto advertising. There are enough mindless sheep out there to turn any bullshit product or needless service into a billion dollars. And figuring out a way to trick them is no problem. Now, reaching them...that's another story...But Dove hardly deserves credit for that! They've got enough for a massive international ad campaign.

Survive Style 5+

This film is 120 minutes of sheer madcap lunacy. It's like going to a bar and having a long, involved conversation with a really entertaining coke fiend. You're having some drinks and listneing to his wild stories, and it's only after an hour or two that you realize nothing he's said has made any sense, or links up in any way. You'd be hard-pressed to recall the exact substance of the talk later, but you're pretty sure you enjoyed yourself.

That's the experience of watching Gen Sekiguchi's ensemble comedy. It's befuddling, and hard to summarize thoughtfully, but so imaginitive, daring and enthralling, I'm pretty sure I liked it at the time.

Like the British films of Guy Ritchie (from whom Sekiguchi borrows footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones), Survive Style 5+ bounces around between several different stories that intersect in unexpected ways. Everything revolves in some way around one murder - an unnamed man (Tadanobu Asano) kills his wife and buries her in the forest.

When he arrives home, the man is surprised to discover his wife waiting for him at the dining room table. She wordlessly prepares him a huge meal, before kicking his ass using supernatural powers. After killing her a few more times, only to have her reappear even more violent and powerful than before, the man turns to a foreign hitman (Jones) and his strange interpreter.

This hitman, meanwhile, has also been hired by a quirky advertising executive (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa) to kill her cruel hypnotist boyfriend. Regrettably, the hypnotist is murdered only moments after convincing a straight-laced family man (Ittoku Kishibe) that he is a bird.

I realize, in describing the film, that it sounds really stupid. In a way, it is really stupid. In tone, the film kind of reminds me of David O. Russell's brilliant I Heart Huckabees. Serious issues of identity, memory and fate creep around the edges of a loony slapstick farce. And though Huckabees has more depth and gets more out of its ensemble cast, I dare say Survive Style has an even grander visual sense and a more fanciful, playful sensibility.

Dream logic abounds. I think part of the idea Sekiguchi means to get at (though there's really no telling the specific intent of a movie as outlandish as this one) is the notion of change, and how quickly humans can adapt to new circumstances. All the bizarre goings-on in this film (and the situations get increasingly bizarre and impossible) are treated casually, like everyday events. Everyone in the film is nonplussed, even when their husbands turn into birds or their dead wives continually return from the grave, detaching their forearms and using them as projectiles.

And this loose sort of mutability is reflected in every aspect of the film's style. The colors are bright and jarring, and environments frequently clash with the action going on before them. Sekiguchi abandons sequence midway through to leap to the next topic, and often interrupts the main action for a fantasy sequence or an odd musical cue. And the soundtrack is an eclectic mix of Japanese and American techno, rock and hip-hop.

As I said, I'm not sure if the film really adds up to much. For around 90 minutes, it seems content to serve as a hallucinatory screwball comedy, but the final sequences make me think Sekiguchi may have much more in mind. I'd have to watch the film a few more times to be sure exactly what he's getting at, if that is, he's after anything more than making a gleeful, spastic mindfuck of a movie.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Top Ten Things People Do In Movies But Rarely Do In Real Life

10. Hit the top of someone's car right before that person drives away

Have you ever actually done this? Been standing by someone's car before they go somewhere, and tap the top of it, as if to indicate that everything has been safely stowed away and they can depart without difficulty?

You'd never do that in Los Angeles, because everyone's car is covered in thick, black grimy smog air after they've driven 10 feet. Who knows what you'd get on your hand tapping the top of my car...

9. Interrupt people who are drunkenly embarrassing themselves

In movies, whenever anyone starts making a scene, particularly a drunken scene, a helpful friend will always intervene immediately and prevent the conflict from escalating too far.

In my experience, this doesn't happen often in life, except when it comes to fistfights. As soon as two guys are going to fistfight, a mob of other guy friends jumps into the middle and pulls the guys apart.

But otherwise, drunk people tend to make public asses of themselves without friend intervention. Take this drunk dude who always comes into Laser Blazer. He's drunk, he wants to rent movies, he wants to talk loudly on his cell phone about whatever business he was doing that day before he got so drunk. And there's no one stepping into the store, telling him to just rent the videos and stop making such a spectacle of himself. He just goes freely about his douchebaggery until we kick him out of the store at 10 pm.

8. Take off their glasses for emphasis

Particularly science guys in the movies do this. Like, you'll say, "How big of a storm is it that's headed for Downtown Hoboken."

And then the camera will zoom in on them real close, they'll pull off their glasses and say, "The biggest storm I've ever seen."

If you saw a real scientist do this, you'd think he was the biggest goober in the known universe. Say you're in a hospital, having a final consultation with a surgeon. "How big of a tumor is it that you have to remove." Then he takes off his glasses and says, "The biggest tumor I've ever seen." You'd immediately ask to have a different doctor work on you, cause this guy is a weirdo. Like, Alec Baldwin in Malice or something.

7. Pay with exact change

Movies never want to bother with characters waiting around for change, so everyone always pays for everything in exact change. I don't think I'd mind so much, if everything in movies always cost even money, but the dialogue will always have the cashier say something like, "That'll be $7.89" and then the character just hands them a few bills and walks away.

That's just inconsistent, man...Way to kill the reality of the scene.

6. Hide their car keys above the visor

I don't know...maybe some total idiots do this. I mean, if I were going to try and steal your car, this would be the place I'd look for your keys, because that's where it always is in movies. Also, I'd probably look in the glove compartment, to see if you had any cool sunglasses in there.

5. Hit their alarm clock with their arm when waking, without lifting their head from the pillow

The physics of my room wouldn't even allow me to do this, but I also have the type of alarm clock where it's a little switch you have to flip as opposed to a button. If I hit the button, it means SNOOZE and the thing will just go off in another 5 minutes.

Anyway, this is always how lazy people wake up in movies. Being lazy myself, I'd love to be able to model my behavior this way, but I just can't manage it.

4. Eat take-out Chinese Food Straight From the Containers

Whenever movie characters are burning the midnight oil at some task, they order take-out Chinese and then eat it right out of the containers while they work.

But even on occasions when I've been working late and ordering Chinese food, people usually take the extra two minutes to get a plate, if only to mix their rice and meats properly. Plus, when a large group of people orders Chinese food, it's customarily shared between them, so a person rooting out all the individual pieces of orange chicken with a used food would be simply unsanitary.

3. Have sex with their bras on

Wouldn't this be weird, if you were having sex with a girl and she never bothered to take her bra off? You'd think there must be something wrong with her boobs, that she was embarrassed to show them to you or something.

It's like, hey, I'm inside you, relax. Get comfortable. Take a load off.

2. Shoot at people using two guns

It's a lot harder to aim two guns at the same time as opposed to one. Not to mention the fact that, if you're shooting at someone with two guns, you don't have an arm free to do anything else, like motion to a member of your crew that you need assistance, or brace yourself for a fall, or open the door to your getaway car.

Also, how do you reload a gun when you've got another gun in your hand? You probably have to put one gun down and pull out some bullets from your pocket. But then you better remember to pick up the other gun. All in all, one carefully-fired gun will probably handle all your gun-toting needs, so the additional gun is clearly superfluous.

1. Awkwardly work in product information into otherwise unrelated dialogue

This is becoming a larger and larger phenomenon in films. Like, "Hey, Lincoln, what are you doing?" "Oh, nothing, Jordan, just loading some new songs onto my iPod using iTunes!" "That sounds neato! Now let's try to get off this wacky island." "I told you! There is no island! And what are we going to do about this crazy stealth bomber?"

I guess really really shallow people do this in real life. You're just talking to them about whatever you did the other day, and they bring up how yesterday they bought this awesome Prada backpack which has a special little compartment for your PSP's memory stick, and then you have to excuse yourself to the restroom for 15 minutes of dry heaves.

White Wedding Crashers

Ridiculous piece in Salon today, wherein a black woman bemoans the lack of black weddings in The Wedding Crashers.

The woman's speaking about the long montage near the film's opening, where Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn crash a variety of multicultural weddings. There's a Jewish wedding, an Irish wedding and an Indian wedding, to the best of my recollections, but there are possibly one or two more in there I've forgotten.

But they don't go to a black wedding. I didn't really notice the absence at the time, though I can see why a filmmaker would reasonably leave it out. Jokes about white guys pretending to be "down" with black culture have gotten entirely tired (Vaughn already played that character earlier this year, in the reprehensibly stupid Be Cool). Would we really want to see another scene with Vaughn and Wilson trying to do some cool black guy dance but looking dorky, or trying to give a toast in street slang? No thanks.

But author Debra Dickerson doesn't consider any options but racism. She boldly declares that the lack of black brides in the opening of Wedding Crashers results from the filmmakers "inability to comprehend Negro culture."

Is she insane? Every 10 seconds, I see an ad for a major Hollywood film reveling in Negro culture. It's everywhere. In fact, Hollywood has ripped off black culture to such an extreme, it's almost a relief to see a mainstream comedy free of dumb jokes based on white vs. black racial differences. If she really wanted to go after a racist movie, how about one in which Cedric the Entertainer does his offensive "black preacher" routine, wherein he jumps around and hoots like a mental patient. Or what about one of the films in which Marlon Wayans plays a spastic, incomprehensible psychopath who loves guns just a bit more than he loves casual sex without condoms?

But Dickerson doesn't want to talk about those genuinely racist movies. He has an entirely separate agenda, you see. Not only is Wedding Crashers insensitive for not depicting a black wedding, but the film reflects Hollywood's (and white male's everywhere) acknowledgement that black women can't be sexy.

Owen, Vince: We long for those things. It's a misery to black woman why our strength, the strength that kept our people from extinction and which holds the community together yet, makes us seem manly somehow, as if no white woman has ever roughened her pink hands or survived rape for her family's sake. Or been a bitch.

Okay, I'm not saying that the issues this woman brings up aren't accurate about society at large. There is a stigma about black women, and they are depicted in our culture frequently as cruel, loveless matriarchs. But that is so only part of the story, and it has nothing to do with Wedding Crashers. Putting blame on Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, as this woman does, is random enough to be delusional.

I mean, she's upset that the montage in Wedding Crashers doesn't include any black women, which already is kind of an odd, silly complaint, and then she extrapolates that into a lament that the history of slave rape makes black women unsexy? What?

This is when feature-y cultural commentary goes totally haywire. It's fair to analyze a film for subtext and try to get at what societal truths lie buried in pop culture. But to take one scene in a mainstream comedy, a scene that isn't about the interrelation of races so much as the sparkling personalities of its two leads, and twist it to suit an argument you've had in mind for months that only tangentially relates to the movie...that's just irresponsible and pointless.

And, besides, I don't think Hollywood's problem is that it doesn't find black women sexy. Sanaa Lathan, Christina Milian, Beyonce Knowles, Vivica Fox, Halle Berry...are these not sexy black women who make films? Lots of films? I think Hollywood's problem is that there aren't enough black people in positions of power or black filmmakers, so all too often talented black performers and creative artists are saddled with poor material and tiny budgets. Why can't we get an article about that?

Could it be Debra Dickerson wanted to write a piece about how it's hard for a middle-aged black woman to feel sexy in 2005, and had to link it to Wedding Crashers to get it published or something? Because I'm out of other explanations here.