Saturday, August 27, 2005

Curse You, Ball!

I said in this other post about the finale of "Six Feet Under" that I was somewhat upset by them showing you the fates of all the Fishers in the last 10 minutes. You may recall, as well, that I linked to the Salon article in which the critic discussed her theory, that Claire merely imagined all of those deaths while she drove away from LA for her new life in New York City.

Well, not to rub it in, but I was right and Salon lady was wrong. Nyeh nyeh.

HBO has just posted "obituaries" for every member of the "Six Feet Under" ensemble.

Ruth Fisher was born in Pasadena in 1946 and died at Good Samaritan Hospital of Glendale on Wednesday. She graduated from Pasadena High School in 1963 and stayed home to raise three children before opening the Four Paws Pet Retreat in Topanga Canyon twenty years ago.

See? She said she wanted to open a pet-sitting service in the final episode! Get it? They all went on to lead rich, full lives in which all of their mid-show dreams came gloriously true!

It just kind of seems to violate the whole spirit of the show, to make the fates of these characters "known" to the viewers when the whole theme of the show was fear of the unknown, of the future, of death. Their lives were so unpredictable from 2001-2005; abortions, bouts of schizophrenia, sex addiction, marriage and divorce, changes in sexual orientation, murder mysteries, rare brain diseases...

But in the long-term, they all wind up doing exactly what they always thought - Brenda becomes an academic studying psychology, Claire a brilliant photographer, Ruth a pet-sitter surrounded by loving friends, David and Keith a real family. Even BILLY seems to finally be at peace, and that guy was batshit insane!

I don't know why this bothers me. Maybe just because I'm still upset about the show ending, and I'm not terribly encouraged by the commercials we've seen thus far for "Rome."

I think I'm worried mostly about "Rome" because I doubt they're going to really go all the way with it. I'm sick of the Roman Empire being presented as "Masterpiece Theater," with old-timey British actors in togas standing around ionic columns discussing the best way to deal with encroachment of the Visigoth enemy and the proper levels of taxation on exported olives.

I want to see "Rome" depicted in the way David Milch depicts the Old West "Deadwood" - the harsh, rugged, unseemly side of Roman reality, only dramatized and heightened for television. Let me put it this way - if the series premiere doesn't have at least one scene set in a vomitorium, I'll be highly disappointed.

This is why I hate Gladiator. For a big, R-rated, violent epic film about the evils lurking beneath the majesty of Ancient's so goddamn boring. I mean, big deal, the Emperor kind of has a thing for his sister. ("Rome" can't go there...They already did that on "Six Feet Under," and HBO doesn't want the reputation as The Incest Channel.)

This is the culture that brought us Caligula, people! This is the civilization that gave the world the orgy AND the bathhouse AND the concept of feeding Christians to lions. Now THERE'S an episode of "Rome" I'd watch!

It's not The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius, It's HBO.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Clive Cussler is what we, at Barnes & Noble, would refer to as an airline author - he's one of those guys you always see businessmen reading on trans-continental flights. Here's the list, as best I can recall:

(1) Tom Clancy
(2) Michael Crichton
(3) John Grisham
(4) Scott Turow
(5) Clive Cussler

I bet JK Rowling's on there by now...

I have never read any Cussler. I had always thought of him as kind of the B-grade Tom Clancy. The Dean Koontz to Clancy's Stephen King, if you will. But judging from the first big-screen Cussler adaptation, Sahara, his Dirk Pitt adventure novels aren't at all what I imagined. The film is essentially a buddy action movie cross-bred with an Indiana Jones riff.

I'd say it's probably the best of the recent Indiana Jones rip-offs. It's far less reliant on big, chaotic CG-enhanced set pieces than The Mummy. Matthew McConaughey proves a more likable adventure hero than Angelina Jolie's sexy-but-distant Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider films. And though Sahara clocks in at a slightly over-long 2 hours, it's far more breezy and entertaining than that National Treasure slog, with its endless travel montages and puzzle-solving.

This is a dumb film. The comedy is dumb, the premise is really dumb, even the musical choices are dumb. For example, why does "Sweet Home Alabama" play as adventurer Dirk Pitt's yacht takes off down the Niger River? Hasn't that song now appeared in enough films, to where it should only be used when perfectly complimenting the on-screen action?

But you know what? I don't really care how stupid a movie is when it's this much fun to watch. Sahara has a few great assets that basically salvage what could have been an overblown, ludicrous disaster.

First and foremost, the casting of Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn together. McConaughey's Dirk Pitt is just like all the rest of his characters (at least, his good characters). He's laconic, he's charming, he's goofy and he's fun to watch. Dirk Pitt in this film is basically Wooderson from Dazed and Confused, only with an extensive knowledge of survival skills and American history, and not just Aerosmith tunes.

Zahn, as Pitt's sidekick Al, doesn't get as many opportunities to show off his comic chops, but it's just nice to see him again in a film that doesn't cast him as a total buffoon.

Their scenes together are the best in the film, including a wonderful action sequence that finds them escaping from the back of a flat-bed, handcuffed, in the middle of the desert. "Now we're home-free," Zahn deadpans. This stuff almost reminded me of Hope and Crosby's Road pictures, in that it's essentially a plotless little stretch of film focused entirely on the charisma of its two stars. Plus they're riding camels.

Another great asset, utilized wonderfully by director Breck Eisner (son of Michael!), is the expressive desert cinematography by Seamus McGarvey (who also shot High Fidelity and The Hours, and is working next on Oliver Stone's 9/11 movie). This is one of the best-looking studio films of this year so far. Even the action scenes are smooth and clearly-realized, unlike most of the choppy, spastic montage crap you usually see.

So when it slows down to take in the scenery, or to focus on the likability of the characters, Sahara is something of a triumph. For most of the first hour, I was totally with the movie.

Unfortunately, when it's time to actually tell a story...well, it's pretty ludicrous. Two salvage experts (McConaughey and Zahn) sponsored by a wealthy American capitalist (William H. Macy, totally and utterly wasted in a thankless expositional role) venture to the war-torn African nation of Mali to search for a Civil War battleship they believe sailed there 150 years ago. (Why? How? Never explained...)

While in Mali, they encounter and befriend a World Health Organization doctor (Penelope Cruz) studying the effects of a horrible plague. Eventually, through a series of bizarre and unbelievable coincidences too complicated to enumerate, they discover that the secret to both of their quests lies together, in a polluting solar-powered factory run by an evil European businessman (the shitty French actor who played The Merovingian in Matrix 2, equally unconvincing here) and a local warlord.

It's not just that this story would be far-fetched for a cartoon (although it would). It's that the narrative constantly relies on insanely unlikely coincidences. To judge from the film, the Sahara Desert itself is about 10 miles wide. Characters constantly stumble into one another, find themselves right next to a downed plane or a well-concealed hideout. At one point, McConaughy actually manages to find a pay phone to call his boss.

A pay phone! In the middle of the Sahara Desert!

Also, you keep expecting some sort of satisfying solution to the ship-salvage storyline that never comes. Oh, they find the ship, and I won't get into all the details, but there's really no investment at all in the majesty and mystery of finding a Civil War ship, perfectly preserved, under the desert floor in Africa. That would be a pretty wild, far-out thing to see, yet everyone reacts more like tourists at Knott's Berry Farm's "Pan for Gold" attraction.

"Oh, hey, look at that. That kind of looks like gold. Neato. How long is the line long for Montezuma's Revenge?"

But there's no time for thematic closure when the entire last half hour of your film is gunplay. Sahara kind of turns from a genial action-comedy into a Bruckenheimer-ian exercize in violent excess towards the end. Chase scenes give way into one another, fistfights break out, there's even a shootout between the aforementioned battleship, a helicopter and a regiment of tanks.

But why end the film this way? I understand you want a big action climax with lots of explosions, but it seems silly to take a film with such an impressive and unconventional setting and then set the end inside a bland factory set, having Steve Zahn disarm a bomb while Wooderson kicks a guy's ass on the roof.

But still, with all these problems, this is still the best of the recent Indiana Jones rip-offs. It at least carries with it Spielberg's sense of wacky fun - these are big, exciting, over-the-top event movies that (mostly) have the feel of smaller, character-driven pieces, where the cast genuinely seems to be enjoying themselves.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


As of this moment, "Big Brother 6" is the best reality show on television. I've watched a few episodes of "Inked," the tattoo parlor reality show, and it's okay. And I've seen a couple episodes of "Kill Reality," the reality show that reunites cast members from other reality shows and casts them in a bad horror movie. But "Big Brother 6" has them all beat.

For those of you not astute enough to keep up with the goings-on in the Big Brother House, the roommates at this point have split into two teams. One team, led by Howie (more on him later), is composed entirely of idiots, but they are funny, well-intentioned idiots who are likable. The other team, known as The Friendship (ugh), represent all that is obnoxious, overbearing and evil.

Though I enjoy the occasional reality show, I rarely find myself overly concerned with who actually wins. I tend to just enjoy watching the morons on the show bicker amongst themselves. But I have become seriously emotionally involved in the outcome of "Big Brother." All of my roommates have. The girls of The Friendship (and it's all girls, except for a gay man named Beau) are horrible. You can't not wish for their destruction.

Not just their removal from the house. Actual destruction.

Especially Busto.

Busto is the nickname given to this girl, April, by roommate Howie. See, April's team voted off Howie's friend Kaysar in a wicked double-cross. So Howie was mad, and vented his anger at team member April for no apparent reason. First, he told her she had a fat husband and an ugly dog. She seemed equally upset about both of those insults, which does not speak well for her husband.

Then, he started referring to her as a busted blonde, which of course was quickly shortened to Busto.

I like Howie on the show - he seems like the kind of funny doofus who would work in your office and who you'd occasionally go to lunch with, not too often because he could kind of get obnoxious after a while. But he went really far with the Busto thing.

He'd get right in April's face and puff his chest out and yell "Busto!" right into her face. It was hilariously cruel (or cruelly hilarious, I can't decide).

It also means this poor (and evil) girl April will be hounded by this nickname for the rest of her life. Everyone watching this show, should they ever see April in public, will immediately think to yell the word "Busto!" at the top of their lungs. It will basically be an involuntary reflex.

Yet another good reason never to go on a reality show where you have to live in a house with roommates. It's always going to make you look bad and humiliate you. Always.

Also, avoid ones with angry British guys.

I turned against The Friendship almost immediately. They're the kind of snotty mean-spirited fools that are always starting shouting matches with people, and then run out of insults almost immediately. Like:

"Michael, you are so immature."

"Hey, at least I have a chance of winning this game. Unlike you."

"Oh, yeah, have a poop...face and I wanna like poop...right in your...poopy face you big...I'm voting you off!"

And this one girl, Ivette, has to filter everything through the fact that she is of Cuban heritage. Like, being Cuban is an excuse to do just about anything.

"Hey, y'all, I'm sorry I took the last slice of pizza, but I'm Cuban and we just be taking the last slice of pizza. And I didn't mean to start that fire that destroyed all of your worldy possessions, but we Latinas is just fiery, you know what I mean?"

It's like, you're just a contestant on a reality show, I don't really care where your family's from. Fine, you're Cuban. Babaloo. Now get on with the veto competition, goddammit.


[UPDATE: Justin over at Dude Man Phat apparently posted about this very incident a while back, including this awesome photo:

And I read that blog all time! It's probably just because he has so much funny content, I missed this item. Anyway, he's done a massive public service in making this picture more widely available.]

From the Back Page:

Sacha Baron Cohen aka Ali G was dunked in the sea by Pamela Anderson's bodyguards - after rugby-tackling the actress at her dogs' wedding.

The Ali G star was dressed as his other creation, Kazakhstani TV journalist Borat, when he pulled the stunt.

Next year's Borat movie will be the greatest film of all time. There, I've officially predicted it. Possibly, dare I say it, even better than Snakes on a Plane.

Cohen, 33, in trunks, leather jacket and Village People-style cap, emerged from the surf on an inflatable turtle.
His rugby tackle sent Pam, 38, hurtling to the sand on the beach at Malibu, California.

This is now the THIRD incident I've read about in newspapers of Cohen being roughed up while taking part in pranks for this movie. This guy starts more public fights than Russell Crowe and Sean Penn combined.

Pam was presiding over the nuptials of her Golden Retriever Star to Chihuahua Luca.

To bad he had to screw up such an important, emotional event. Way to uphold the sanctity of marriage, America! Golden Retreiver marriages a Chihuahua! That's gonna be one wild wedding night!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

They're Snakes! And They're On a Plane!

I was sure this movie was a joke. Like, a fake movie, a hoax being played by some Hollywood studio. Maybe as an advertising campaign for some future real movie. But, alas, no...I have been assured by a few different people whom I consider "in the know" that this movie is actually for really real.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Snakes on a Plane.

Yeah, it's about snakes on a plane. That's not a metaphor or anything.

The film stars...sigh...Samuel L. Jackson.

Is it just me, or is Samuel L. Jackson turning into Dave Chappelle's impression of him?

"That's right, I'm motherfucking FBI, motherfuckers! Look at my badge, bitch!"

Sammy's FBI. He's providing protective custody to a witness in a huge organized crime case. Also on the flight assassin, who tries to kill the witness by releasing a crate of deadly, venemous snakes.

Seems an unnecessarily difficult way to kill a guy. I guess you have deniability - "Oh, man, I totally don't know how all those snakes got loose" - but you also have to be on a plane filled with venemous snakes for a few hours. Which is kind of a drawback.

Oh, snap, Kenan, there's totally a snake right behind you! Look out!

Wow, even the photos from this movie are intense. Seriously, folks, this is good news. Some guy got paid half a million dollars to write a 2 hour feature about deadly snakes crawling all over airline passengers. So anything's possible!

Update: Don't Kill Chavez!

Or rather, it would be wrong for a man such as myself to advocate the Killing of Chavez!...but you should still Kill Chavez!

Pat Robertson's press release, explaining his comments on "The 700 Club," is absolutely priceless. I'm considering printing it out and having it handsomely framed.

Anyway, Pat says that he was just really super frustrated by Chavez, and in his intense frustration, he might have accidentally let it slip that America should totally go to this guy's country at night and murder him in cold blood.

I want to take this opportunity to clarify remarks made on the Monday, August 22nd edition of The 700 Club where I adlibbed a comment following a very brilliant analysis by Dale Hurd of the danger that the United States faces from the out-of-control dictator of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

Of course, Pat won't actually apologize for encouraging the US military on national television to murder to leader of a foreign country. He's just clarifying that he did, in fact, say such a horrible thing. But only because he was frustrated. And maybe a little bit stoned.

And ad-libbing! Totally off the top of his head. The "700 Club" is like the fucking Improv Olympic West, people! You think "Who's Line Is It Anyway" is intense? Try Christian broadcasting, bitch.

Pat then helpfully recounts his statements for us:

I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger, and this is in our sphere of influence, so we can’t let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, and we have other doctrines that we have announced, and without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.

Do I have to remind all of you that this guy is a religious leader? This is the least Christian shit I have ever heard in my life. If Pat Robertson went on TV and said that he wanted to fellate Satan while wiping his ass with the Shroud of Turin, that still would not be less Christian than saying that we should start killing people wholesale who block our access to cheap oil.

And he uses the Monroe Doctrine to back up his argument! That 200 year old imperialist non-legal horseshit in which America announced that, because there were no white people from there, we scould basically run everything in Central and South America. Way to cite AP US History for precedent there, Patrice. Any other evidence you'd like to present? The Dred Scott decision, perhaps? The Hawley-Smoot Tarriff?

Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him.

See if you can process the logic here. (I had to have a couple of beers first). Because Hugo Chavez has stated that he thinks the US may be trying to kill him, the US has the right to...kill him.

Okay, I'm gonna try again. Hugo Chavez has stated that agents of the US government have tried to assassinate him, and more assassination attempts may be coming. He feels that, as a critic of George Bush and US foreign policy, and as a major US oil supplier, he represents a distinct threat to American national security and the Bush Adminstration.

I'm not saying whether or not that's true. I have no way of knowing whether or not we have tried to kill Hugo Chavez, or will try to. (Probably). But the guy's allowed to say that if he wants, right?

Wrong, apparently. That's punishable by death. Hey, it seems wrong, but it's the Robertson Doctrine. What are you gonna do? You can't argue with a doctrine.

We are in the midst of a war that is draining vast amounts of our treasure and is costing the blood of our armed forces. I am a person who believes in peace, but not peace at any price.

This is such telling, telling stuff. If you have ever taken anything P.R. says seriously in your life, please, consider these two sentences.

First off, he uses the word treasure. Not even "treasury." Treasure. Here's a guy that's still about conquest. I guess it makes sense - he's an evangelist, and what is spreading your religion to non-believers but spiritual conquest. But he still thinks in these terms. We have treasure, and when we go to other countries and exploit them, it means more treasure! But when we get into long-term wars, we lose treasure! Boo!

Then that second sentence...Oy gevalt...What was Jesus about, at all, but peace at any price? Jesus wasn't saying stuff like "Love thy neighbor, unless he fucks around with your Escalade." Mainly because they didn't have Escalades back then. Only El Dorados.

This whole thing doesn't really matter. Everyone in America who's not a total droid at this point knows Pat Robertson is a completely sideways fuckstain. It's just a friendly reminder that, in George Bush's America, up is down, left is right, and ministers frequently call on their government to execute dissidents.

Kill Chavez!

So, Pat Robertson went on TV the other day and, well, he did kind of a silly thing. He called on the US military to assassinate a foreign leader, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. I'd like to stress that I have seen a video, available at this link, and that those are his exact words. It's not, like, "man, I wish the US would finally do something about that democratically-elected sovereign leader..." It's "the US should go kill the fuck out of this democratically elected national leader, and then defecate on his corpse, having remembered not to make a BM for at least 3 or 4 days prior."

Okay, really, this is what he said on Monday's 700 Club:

“We have the ability to take him (Chavez) out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.”

Pat Robertson wants the guy dead. I don't know, maybe Hugo Chavez fucked Pat Robertson's dog or something...It definitely seems personal, is all I'm saying. Maybe, instead of left-wing South American leader Hugo Chavez, Robertson was thinking of influential civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. He's got to hate that guy, and he is really stupid and might not know that he's been dead for a long time.

Anyway, the whole article is pretty funny and ridiculous. I mean, here you have a religious leader calling for America to go around murdering heads of state who disagree with the president. Isn't that bizarre? It's like a weird "Twilight Zone" episode, where a guy wakes up in a town where bikers are pious and friendly while priests are shotgunning beers and raping old ladies.

Of course, Pat was referencing the oft-overlooked passage Luke 43:12:

"And those that eat naught but beans and fried bananas, and that dance naught but sexy, forbidden erotica-type dances, shall be henceforth ugly in my site, and they shall be smoten by the mighty tribes of my people. Or smitten. No, smote, smote, I'm pretty sure it's smote."

So, there you go. Biblical proof! You can't refute that! It's Biblical!

My friend Kaz also helpfully pointed out to me this quote from Rumsfeld:

“Our department doesn’t do that kind of thing. It’s against the law. He’s a private citizen. Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time.”

Their department doesn't do that kind of thing...because it's against the law.

Why throw that in? Why not just keep it as a moral principle - don't kill the democratically-elected leaders of countries with whom we aren't actually at war. You need a law to tell you that? Should we be worried about you guys?

I think he's just taunting foreign heads of state, really. It's only a flimsy little law keeping him from sneaking up on them late at night and strangling them with piano wire. He wants them to think he might snap at any moment and just take one of them out. Perhaps even hunting them for sport.

"Oh, Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, you better hope my government don't ever repeal that Gerald Ford Executive Order barring the assassination of foreign leaders. Cause if they do, your ass is so mine. Lance Henricksen and I are gonna nail you to the wall, boy!"

And while we're on the subject of asshole right wing spunk monkeys, Chris Matthews replacement on "Hardball" is, if you can imagine such a thing, actually more vile than Chris Matthews.

MSNBC's senior White House correspondant Norah O'Donnell, in a conversation with Democratic Congressional candidate Coleen Rowley, repeatedly referred to anti-war protesters as "extremists."

Repeatedly. Even after Rowley corrected her.

Here's O'Donnell's actual question:

You're a Democrat running for Congress. It was reported that Republican leaders in your state were just thrilled that you had decided to align yourself with anti-war extremists. Do you think that this could affect your race for Congress?

First, please note her use of the same old stupid Fox News tactic of using "it was reported." They also like "some have said." This is a way for the interviewer to insert their viewpoint while pretending to be objective and fair. As in:

"Some have said that Norah O'Donnell pays vagrants to vomit in her mouth."

Who "reported" that Republican leaders were thrilled that Democrats were going with an anti-war platform? Some Republican asshole, who made it up, most likely. Or maybe they heard it from Karl Rove via Judy Miller.

And, of course, she refers to the protesters at Camp Casey, outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, as "extremists." Rowley corrects her:

Well, I will quickly correct the record that they are not anti-war extremists. The majority of the people I saw down in Crawford were actually veterans groups. There were military families and --

Then, O'Donnell interrupts her guest with the stupidest sentence I have heard all day today.

But, Coleen, they do oppose the war in Iraq, do they not?

Wait, what? So, if you oppose the war in Iraq, you are inherently an extremist? By definition, apparently.

Shall we go right into the damning statistics?

On one (question), 57 percent said the war has made the United States less safe from terrorism -- a number that has risen dramatically in just two months when 39 percent said the U.S. homeland was less safe.

On the other, 54 percent said they believe it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq; 44 percent said it was not a mistake.

So, 54% of Americans felt, as of August 5th, that becoming involved in the Iraq War was a mistake. 57% feel that the war has made America less safe.

That's really all Cindy Sheehan's saying. She is upset that her child had to die for Bush's mistake, and she's demanding an explanation. THAT'S IT. What's extreme about that? Nothing. The country is basically split down the middle on this issue.

I'd say, in order for a viewpoint to be considered "extreme," it would be held by less than 5% of all Americans. Like people who think neck tats on a girl are extremely sexy, they hold an extreme position. People who masturbate to nature videos. People who passionately love those direct-to-DVD movies starring rappers. People who don't get "The Simpsons," and think The Big Lebowski is overrated. People who like the taste of Mr. Pibb and the feel of burlap on their skin.

Those are extremists. People who think the Iraq War was a mistake are something else. Sensible.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

8 Days a Geek

I've helped to start up a film website with a co-worker and some of his online friends. It's called Cinegeeks. Most of my content for them so far has just been republished blog reviews and other stuff like that, but I'm now starting to write up some original content.

The site is not terribly different from other popular film websites like Aint It Cool News (my favorite), CHUD (my least favorite) or Dark Horizons (about which I have no overwhelmingly strong opinion). With the difference that we'd focus on film and DVD reviews along with the news and gossip, with a greater emphasis on foreign and classic titles.

I'm kind of proud of this article, the first original one I've written for Cinegeeks. If you're not horribly bored with my railing against Zach Braff and Garden State, you should probably check it out. If, however, you are totally bored with my railing against Zach Braff and Garden State, better to just go to the front page and read some other people's articles. Because the hatred gets pretty intense. Here's a sample sentence:

This is the kind of film that makes you appreciate the wit and power of Plan 9 From Outer Space. That movie is technically execrable. But at least it's about something. "Aliens invade dead bodies" sounds at least a bit more intriguing than "Guy from 'Scrubs' mugs and plays you a mix tape."

Man, I really hate that guy. Where does all this anger come from? And couldn't it be directed in some more productive way? Such as, working hard to earn a lot of money, so that I one day might be able to hire a professional killer to assassinate Zach Braff?

Anyway, my co-worker who runs the site along with his girlfriend expressed to me today that the rest of the Cinegeeks didn't much care for the article. It seems they all really like and admire Garden State. He didn't say this, but I'd wager they also found it rude and condescending. I get that all the time.

I'm really happy they decided to run it anyway (apprently, there was some debate). I think it's cool to have a site that's provocative, that encourages people to second-guess the information they get on the rest of the Web. That's why I hope they run my Layer Cake review as well, because that thing's a complete turd that's been getting nothing but good press. The people need to hear the truth!

Layer Cake

I see lots of bad movies. Most of them, you recognize they're bad, you either finish them out of curiosity or turn them off, and you move on with your day. But every once in a while, you see a movie that's so bad, so shallow, so completely devoid of import or value of any kind, it signals the death of not just a single creative enterprise, but of an entire genre.

With Layer Cake, director Matthew Vaughn officially declares the British ensemble gangster comedy a dead genre. That's it. Nothing more to see here, folks. Time to go home.

Vaughn produced Guy Ritchie's twin hits Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, that helped define the modern British crime film, and I guess he wanted a taste of his own. Regrettably, his adaptation of J. J. Connelly's novel about the inner workings of the drug trade, scripted by the author himself, has none of the spastic wit or vitality of Ritchie's films. In fact, it has nothing going for it at all really. A lot of flashy shots stolen from better movies, an abrasive electronica-heavy soundtrack and a dull, muted central performance from Daniel Craig add up to a dreary, uninteresting distraction of a film.

Honestly, this formula has just been played out. Until someone finds a way of reinventing the setting of London's interconnected underworld of criminals and scumbags, no one should bother making one of these movies.

Layer Cake piles silly convention on top of silly convention. There's the tough guy protagonist, a criminal mastermind looking to get out of the drug game and go straight. There's his no-nonsense partner, hardened by years in jail. There are the assorted spazzes, junkies and fuck-ups with goofy nicknames, there to provide comic relief and plot complications. And finally, there's the "big score," a cache of ecstacy tablets over which everyone is fighting.

Yawn. We've seen all this before. I think Vaughn senses that he's beating a horse that's been dead for months, because he's constantly trying to jazz up the movie with bizarre camera tricks. This would be fine, if all of his visual concepts weren't lifted directly from other recent crime films.

There's the guy being brutally beaten in first-person, taken from Gangster #1. Only in this case, rather than hearing the sound of bones cracking and flesh being torn apart, we get the ironic musical selection of Duran Duran's "Ordinary World." Har!

Then there's the blurry Steadicam foot chase, a la Narc. The conversation during which a camera swoops around a table repeatedly at jarring speeds, from Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. A close-up on a dilated pupil right after a character does drugs (as in Requiem for a Dream and 500 other films). Vaughn is even bold enough to directly borrow one of the trademark sequences in Fight Club, replacing Ed Norton's trip inside an IKEA catalog with Daniel Craig moseying around an effects-laden pharmacy.

Why bother making this film? The story is drab and uneventful, in that we're told Craig's character (whose name is never spoken) is a complete badass yet he's never called upon to do much of anything. The dialogue is standard gangster-speak without even an attempt at the snappy wordplay of Ritchie's films. And the double-cross at the film's heart isn't much of a double-cross. Characters here don't so much outwit one another so much as bring along guys with larger guns.

In the movie's most ludicrous segment, Craig's character dresses up like a ninja in order to sneak up on (and murder) an old man. It was as I watched this action unfold that I decided this genre is totally dead. Once you're relying on a gimmick that lame, there's just nowhere else to go.


[NOTE: I will be totally giving away what happened in this week's series finale of "Six Feet Under." If you haven't watched it yet, you probably aren't a fan of the show, and therefore don't care. If by some strange chance, you haven't watched the show and DO CARE what happens, I suggest you purchase a DVR system immediately for your home to avoid this unfortunate situation in the future.]

"Six Feet Under" was basically my favorite show. I had to watch it all the time at my previous job, providing subtitles for HBO DVD releases. I'd have to see each episode at least two or three times all the way through to do my job, and sometimes I'd have to spend a while going through an individual scene, so I'd be watching it even more. I got to know the show very well (also, "Sex and the City," "The Sopranos," Season 1 of "Carnivale" and, unfortunately for me, "Arliss.")

Now that it's over, I can say with confidence it was the best drama on television. Yes, I liked it more than "The Sopranos," although it's kind of close. I can also say that this final fifth season wasn't the best. I'd go with Season 2 as best overall, what with Brenda's sex addiction and Nate's brain illness and, no babies or kids.

So, yeah, from just that little description, it's obvious that "Six Feet Under" was basically a soap opera at heart. It introduced a bunch of likable characters and then proceeded to hurl shit at them in an endless stream for five years running, always allowing them to spiral out of control just enough to make the resolution cathartic, but not so much as to scar them permanently.

What sets it apart from other soap operas, and made me like it, was its sarcastic side. This is, after all, a creation from the man who wrote American Beauty. Alan Ball takes particular delight in dissecting the flaws and weaknesses hidden beneath the surface of suburbia, so a show about funeral directors in Los Angeles was basically a perfect fit.

"Six Feet Under" was a hugely moral show with no God. Every week, the Fisher family was confronted by the big issues of life and death, and had no religion or simple philosophy to turn to. Imagine if the Walton family were atheists. Or those bitches on "Touched by an Angel." Each week, desperate people turn to our heroes for help, and what do they have to offer? Not the comfortable homilies of the Psalms or a softly-spoken and quickly-answered prayer, but an eternal void of nothingness, a Superman-esque Forbidden Zone, that greets us all when we die.

Every "Six Feet Under" episode had conversations occuring for no Earthy reason. People in pain, in grief, they babble (or so Alan Ball would have us believe...honestly, I don't have enough experience with funeral settings to know for sure). And the Fishers would have to listen, because they're there. Because they don't have the luxury of dying and not having to press on, day after day, asking unanswerable questions.

And it was this cold reality that glided discreetly beneath the surface of every episode, popping up a few times per season to remind us of some hard truths. Most of the time, it seems like a soap opera; the creepy twin comes around drunk, waving a butcher knife, trying to lop off a piece of his sister's flesh. But then, some unknown guy from San Pedro takes a heart attack and his family who loved him comes around, and the Fishers are jolted back into reality.

"Death stalks you at every turn," as Abe Simpson once said.

So, with each episode staring down the inevitability of death, how do you actually kill off "Six Feet Under." For about an hour of this 75 minute season finale, they treat it just like a regular episode (albeit an eventful one). Claire gets a job in New York, David and Keith decide to buy out Federico and Brenda and move in to the funeral home with their adopted kids, Brenda and her family will raise Maya and her new baby, Ruth moves in with her sister, Nate is still dead.

Claire takes off en route to New York, the screen goes white and I thought the episode was over, and that additional 15 minutes would be behind-the-scenes stuff or interviews or whatever. If it had ended right there, it would have been a mediocre episode - a lot happened, but nothing terribly new, and I have to say the Claire-getting-a-New-York-job seems really out of nowhere and tacked on for the final episode. Clearly, she has to leave or something has to happen to her, but a random phone call leading to a cross-country move?

It would have been kind of a dull way to end, but it might make sense in a way. A show about the plain, everyday quality of death just kind of ends one week. And that's it, you never see it again.

But no...

We get a 10 minute montage set to a song I didn't recognize in which shots of Claire driving East are intercut with visions of the eventual fates of all the show's main characters.

Heather Havrilesky, the SFU fan and TV critic for Salon, seems to feel that we're seeing Claire's imagination of how her family will end up. I didn't really see it that way. Mainly, considering that Claire is setting off on her own with nowhere to stay and no job in New York waiting for her, she probably wouldn't be wondering about what will eventually become of Brenda and her brother Billy.

She's probably wondering where the hell she'll wind up sleeping that night, and how quickly she can find an apartment in New York and whether or not she should just turn around and go home for now and plan this thing out better.

So I interpreted it as the TRUTH, the actual real lives and deaths of all the show's main characters. And my first thought was, that's not really cool, to steal from us some level of mystery about how things will wind up.

I remember watching the series finale of "The Wonder Years," a show I enjoyed very much growing up and find incredibly stupid and cheesy now, and Daniel Stern announced in the voice-over that Kevin's dad died a year after the end of the series. That always seems really maudlin and unnecessary. Why tell us that? What does it have to do with anything, except making the show seem more dramatic?

That's kind of how this feels. It's MOMENTOUS, it's odd, it's unlike anything I've seen before in a series finale. It also has kind of an eerie quality. Some of the characters go in somewhat unpleasant ways, particularly Keith, who apparently is shot to death while working as a guard for an armored car service. But what felt kind of wrong about it for me was the very end.

A dying (and, apparently, 103-year-old) Claire looks to a wall full of family photographs. Everyone in them, we understand, is long dead. Some of them are from the time during which "Six Feet Under" took place, some before, and many after. (One, a photo of Claire's boyfriend in this fifth season, was taken earlier in the episode). We get the point - her family's lives were blown up and dramatized for us each week, so they seemed very large and important, but eventually, like every other person, they will all be a faded image on a piece of paper.

So, I suppose, in a way, it was the only way Ball could possibly end the show. A show about a family obsessed with and surrounded by death ends...with the whole family dying. I'm not sure if Ball meant for it to be quite so unsettling. I think inspirational was more the tone he was going for, but it didn't quite get there for me. I found it resolutely depressing, and as I said before, kind of creepy, like seeing someone's life summarized neatly in 30 seconds and realizing that they pretty much got to everything.

Nonetheless, it was the sort of ending I had hoped for from "Six Feet Under." Something odd, something unconventional, something a little too clever for its own good.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Cruel, Cruel Copy Editors

Here's an awesomely insensitive headline from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune:

Twin Cities turning deaf ear to political talk radio shows

So, of course, the first talk radio host they discuss is Rush Limbaugh. You know, the guy who has two deaf ears.

Locally, conservative-talk icon Rush Limbaugh's show has lost 43 percent of its audience among 25- to 54-year-olds in the past year. Sean Hannity's show is down a whopping 63 percent.

Man, this article rules! It has awesome statistics about how less morons are tuning in to these right-wing GOP-funded assholes, and as if that wasn't enough good news, it has the taste to mock the disability of one of the hosts. [I'd like to note that, even though this may read like sarcasm, it's totally not sarcasm. Fuck Rush Limbaugh. I wish he had gone deaf because something fiery exploded right next to his head, rather than natural causes, but I'll take what I can get.]

Now, I know what you may be thinking...Maybe the Star-Tribune didn't even consider Rush's hearing problems when they were writing the headline. Maybe it's an innocent mistake.

But I don't know..."turning deaf ears" isn't the most common expression nowadays. (Nor is "nowadays," for that matter.) And his deafness ranks among the first things I think about when I consider Rush Limbaugh. (The others? The fact that he's a pillhead and the fact that he's fat and Al Franken had the good taste to write a book about it.)

Imagine if Stevie Wonder held an impromptu concert in the middle of Minneapolis and only a few people actually showed up. Would the paper the next day run a headline like:

Twin Cities turn a blind eye to Stevie Wonder


No crowds visible at Stevie Wonder concert

Maybs...but probs not.

Anyway, I think that as long as our newspapers are worthless as information sources, they might as well provide some cheap laughs at the expense of newsmakers. Maybe the New York Times should just forego having a News Section at all. Just bring back the old-timey Society page and add a shitload more comic strips...people wouldn't even notice!

Oh, and someone over there, please, as a personal favor to me, fire Tom Friedman and rough him up a little. Don't actually kill the guy, but, you know, teach him a lesson. Show him who's boss.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Does it bother anyone else that all modern sex comedies share the same dull philosophy on human relationships? Every single movie about guys trying desperately to get laid has to end with the guys discovering that sex isn't important, and that only true love matters. Now, it hardly seems to me that the American majority opinion on sex is that it's only satisfying once you've settled into a committed long-term relationship. That's not how most people behave. So why is that what our movies are constantly telling us?

The 40-Year-Old Virgin hardly breaks new ground in this territory, but it's pretty sly in the way it proceeds towards its inevitable "true love" conclusion. Co-writer/director Judd Apatow (responsible for "Freaks and Geeks," among the best American TV shows ever) doesn't go the American Pie route, giving us a group of horny poonhounds who gradually learn to stop being juvenile and shallow and embrace their inner romantic.

Instead, he shows us a group of male friends, each with his own neurotic, confused take on sexuality. The fact that one of them is a 40-year-old virgin provides the film with many of its laughs, but the real message here is the sameness of their situation. These guys may have different levels of experience, but they're all as naive as the one who's never gotten laid.

It's an interesting set-up for a sex comedy, and Apatow and co-writer and star Steve Carell's script gets a lot of mileage out of a disarmingly simple premise. The film is far from flawless, and actually shares a lot of the same problems with this summer's other, less funny sex comedy, Wedding Crashers. Both films are overlong and both films become less funny and forced on their way to predictable conclusions. Also, both feature shrill, lame and stereotypical recurring jokes. (Here, it's a Pakistani co-worker with a filthy mouth, whose entire role is nothing more than an excuse to have an old guy with a foreign accent say things like "shitty balls.")

But Virgin has a lot more going for it than just a show-stoppingly manic Vince Vaughn performance. It's at heart a very sweet story about a really nice guy who, without really noticing, became a pathetic enigma. Carell's Andy is a nerdy loner (his co-workers think he might be a serial killer), but he's hardly the sort of bizarre creep who you'd think of as unable to find a willing female in 40 years on Earth. He's just painfully shy, and a bit too willing to let life pass him by, so he has wound up collecting action figures and playing HALO rather than pursuing women.

When his three friends from the electronic store where he works discover his virginal status during a poker game, they make it their mission to get Andy laid. Despite their best efforts to hook him up with a cheap floozy, he's drawn in to a more stable relationship with a single mom (Catherine Keener).

Each of these supporting performances is a small wonder, particularly "Freaks and Geeks" veteran Seth Rogen as Cal, a degenerate horndog stoner who nonetheless dispenses some of the movie's best advice. Paul Rudd, who had arguably the best role in last year's goofy Anchorman, here ably tackles the straight man role, while the unknown-to-me Romany Malco turns in a star-making performance as the womanizing Jay.

Keener has a rare, friendly character, Trish, the woman who may actually, if you can believe it, consider turning Andy into a man. It's nice to see her play something other than a savagely cruel, man-hating harpy, even though she plays that part just about better than anyone.

As I said, the only real problem here is the running time. Apatow and Carell have more than enough funny set-ups to go around for their premise - among the more amusing sequences finds Andy having his hairy chest and stomach painfully waxed in anticipation of a hot date - but 2 hours is just too damn long for a bawdy romantic comedy. Unless you're Woody Allen.

A few unneccessary, late-in-the-game plot twists don't really add anything substantial to the film except 15 minutes. There's even a really superfluous chase scene at the end, as if the film felt guilty about ending without an oversized, wacky set piece.

Other than that, the movie's entirely solid, a very funny comedy that's just dirty enough to be satisfying without feeling sleazy or like camp. Almost assuredly the best mainstream comedy of the summer. (NOTE: I don't consider Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a comedy, but if you do, then say 40-Year-Old Virgin is the best romantic comedy, or adult comedy.)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Google Bombs, Not...Um...Regular Ones

Google-bombing: it's a simple technique wherein you and hundreds of other bloggers purposefully feature certain links, in an attempt to influence Google's search mechanism.

You see, Google acts basically like a massive World Wide Web popularity contest. When I type in, say, "kumquat," Google will bring up the most popular recent articles containing the term "kumquat." What this means is, if you and everyone else you know link the same page using the same term, you can cause that link to skyrocket to the very top of Google.

So when I type in "intelligent design" and link it to, say, The National Center for Science Education, and hundreds of other bloggers (like Horsey and Sloth) do the same, then that link will come up early on in Google searches for intelligent design. Which is, you know, better than some of the sites that could come up, filled with misinformation and outright propaganda.