Saturday, September 10, 2005

Dry Drunk Emperor

TV on the Radio, those most excellent indie rockers of Brooklyn, NY, have released a free downloadable new song on the Touch and Go website.

It's a pretty harsh Bush smakedown in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (Get it? He's a dry drunk!)

But unlike a lot of other Bush-bashing songs I have heard, it works on its own merits as a cool song. I mean, if you didn't listen to the lyrics, it would just sound like another weird, spacy TV on the Radio song.

But if you DO listen to the lyrics, it's a rather eloquent call to arms to unseat the current president:

did you believe the lie they told you,
that christ would lead the way
and in a matter of days
hand us victory?

all eyes upondry drunk emperor
gold cross cross jock skull and bones
mocking smile,
he's been
standing naked for a while!
get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!
and bring all the thieves to trial.

Ouch. I sure hope TV on the Radio never think to write a song about me. Although, you never know...they might...I am pretty interesting.

The Blame Game

Salon has put together a really terrific collection of clips, demonstrating how the White House disseminates "talking points" to the Fox News Network, which they then use to dictate their coverage of a given event.

Here, we see White House Spokesman Scott McClellan introduce the concept of the "blame game" to reporters. Basically, his idea is that any attempt to blame anyone for the federal government's insanely slow response to Hurricane Katrina is futile, pointless and offensive, and that discussion should be limited exclusively to how to help those who have been affected by the disaster.

Then, we see a full day's worth of Fox News coverage in which their anchors harp on this very same idea. They mock and ridicule Democrats who complain about the slow FEMA response time and lackadaisical White House response to arguably the greatest environmental and humanitarian catastrophe in US History. "How dare they blame anyone for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The President can't create a hurricane!"

And then, of course, they turn right around and start blaming other people. Mainly they blame the (black Democrat) mayor of New Orleans and the (Democrat) governor of Louisiana. Oh, and they helpfully include that clip of that guy telling "Tricky" Dick Cheney to go fuck himself.

But the real reason I had to blog this video is Bill O'Reilly's comments. If you read the blog frequently, you know I fucking hate Bill O'Reilly passionately. This is why. Listen to him in this clip. He first says he wants all American kids to have to watch footage of the citizens of New Orleans struggling to survive in the cruel aftermath of a horrific storm.

Okay, fine...That's a good thing, right? You want kids to be informed about the world around them, to see the world as it is and to understand how things like natural disasters and lax governmental responses can cause horrible losses of human life.

But, no. Bill wants them to watch it as a cautionary tale, to let them know that the only way to survive a natural disaster is to become a rich capitalist conformist consumer halfwit.

This is an actual quote that appears on screen while Bill is talking:


Yes, that's right, folks. Bill O'Reilly thinks that the New Orleans situation is a good example of righteous retribution for a life of laziness. Poor black people living in the poorest state in the union, deep in the heart of the overty-racist South, are naturally themselves to blame for the cyclical poverty that has devastated their communities since that time, not so long ago, when their grandparents and great-grandparents were owned by rich white landowners.

Bill, I know you're not that stupid. Are you?

Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spammity Spam Wonderful Spam

I've started getting these obnoxious spam "comments" here on the blog. It's just some random message followed by a link to some site that will try to sell you penis pills or cheap trips to Jamaica or some such crap. Personally, I'd take the trip to Jamaica, because then at least you have a chance of actually having a tropical-themed alcoholic beverage, whereas if you go with the pills, you're just going to wind up with the same old penis anyway.

I always delete these comments right away, so I can't link you to one, but here's a sample:

Now you've got me thinking. I really enjoy this blog, I'll definitely pop around more often, keep it up! Feel free to pay a visit to my Canada immigration site. It might not be your "cup of tea", but it covers Canada immigration related topics.

Now, in the actual spam comment, the words "Canada immigration" were highlighted, and if you clicked them it takes you to the penis pill site. I've taken that out for your convenience. Unless, you know, you need penis pills, in which case it's decidedly inconvenient.

What I think is really funny about the spam is that it so obviously plays to blogger vanity. They go with the cheap flattery approach. Tell me up front they think my blog is really great, and then hope I don't notice it's just an automatically-generated advertisement. Clever. I've almost fallen for a few of them.

The thing that's totally stupid about this whole spam comment system is that they haven't figured out a way to theme the comment to the post. I can always tell right away when a comment is spam because it has nothing to do with anything I've been talking about.

For example, on a post I wrote about the new Superman movie, this comment appeared:

Rod Stewart Ordered to Pay for Vegas ShowWorld travel and annual medical insurance plans from independent advisors Medibroker bag Terrific Gifts for Spring and Summer. Many Styles! Shop from our VAST COLLECTION of Handbags today! gucci bag

In THAT comment, the words "gucci bag" were highlighted, and if you clicked them, it took you to a site that was selling (for real) pet supplies.

Basic economic theory teaches us that this scheme would not exist unless there was profit to be made. So, somewhere out there, some fool is not only clicking these links, but actually making purchases based on them. How is such a thing possible? How can any of you really be that stupid?

Japanese Outlaw Masters

Each year, the American Cinematheque hosts the Japanese Outlaw Masters series at the Egyptian Theater. I always try to catch at least a few of the movies in this series each year, because Cinematheque programmer Chris D. does such an amazing job with film selection. Last year (or maybe two years ago), I had the privilege of seeing Seijun Suzuki's Underworld Beauty and Tattooed Life in a double feature at the Cinematheque, probably one of the best nights of film viewing I have enjoyed in Los Angeles.

Tonight, two classic samurai films from director Hideo Gosha screened, and though they weren't quite up to the level of quality exhibited by Suzuki's best work, it was still a pretty thrilling double feature.

First was the 1963 adventure Three Outlaw Samurai, the more light and entertaining of the two films. Amazingly, this was Gosha's very first film, although his confidence of storytelling, abilities at directing actors and phenomenal sense of movement and composition are already visible.

It's a very Western kind of samurai movie. With a lot of films of the genre, the story tends to kind of meander around, giving you a lot of insight into the inner workings of life in Feudal Japan, but not neccessarily telling a coherent, easy-to-follow story. A movie like Sword of Doom is all gloomy tone and barely-concealed menace, but the story is so hard to follow, critics seem to disagree even on what happens during the film, and whether or not the main character is insane.

But Three Outlaw Samurai tells a rather simple story in a straight-forward manner. Three simple peasants have kidnapped the daughter of the local magistrate, offering her return in exchange for the easing of their owed taxes. A passing samurai named Shiba (Tetsuro Tamba) takes pity on them and joins their cause. Eventually, he will recruit a wayward and, until recently, jailed samurai (Isamu Nagato) and a cynical opportunist samurai (Mikijiro Hira) to his cause, while simultaneously romancing the kidnapped girl (Miyuke Kuwano).

The film builds to an incredibly sweet action climax, but the true appeal of the movie lies in its terrific, fun characters. A lot of samurai movies deal in stock characters - the silent, contemplative and powerful swordfighting master, his cowardly and traitorous compatriot, his scowling, equally powerful rival, a greedy and cold-hearted aristocratic master. Three Outlaw Samurai uses these types, but playfully. Isamu Nagato in particular turns in a wonderfully warm performance as the pleasure-loving Sakura. He's the highlight of the film.

The second film was far more serious, more ambitious but ultimately less satisfying.

The title Goyokin refers to a stash of gold bars owned by the Shogun of Japan - the royal gold. Gosha's film, made in 1969 and set in 1813, tells the story of a samurai named Magobei (Japanese film legend Tatsuya Nakadai, star of Sword of Doom, Samurai Rebellion and Kagemusha). 3 years ago, Magobei was disgraced when his clan stole the goyokin from a boat and then murdered 30 villagers to cover up their crime.

Magobei defected from the clan and took off, but he has returned 3 years later to prevent them from repeating their horrible crime once again.

Like Three Outlaw Samurai, Goyokin concerns a samurai at a crossroads. He is torn between his loyalty to his clan and his loyalty to common decency. For his fellow samurai, there is no question about stealing the money - it is defensible because it will mean the continued life of the clan, which is the only priority. But for Magobei, the destruction of the village and the murder of the innocents that leave there forever taints the clan, making in unworthy of continued existance.

Gosha tells the story, once again, with a masterful eye for action set pieces. The swordfighting scenes in this movie rule; they're expressive, fast-moving, bloody and considerably long and intense. And the lush color cinematography (Goyokin was the first Japanese film made in Panavision) is absolutely astounding. The film is set during a harsh winter in a desolate, rugged area of Japanese coastline, and the bleak chill of the surroundings comes through wonderfully in the film's stark white and blue color scheme.

And Nakadai's performance is simply magnificent. He tends to play the protagonist in many of his films, and yet there's a distant intensity to all of his performances. His Magobei is a man torn apart by conflicting senses of duty, and yet absolutely certain of his own mastery of swordsmanship. It's an endlessly interesting, charismatic and badass kind of character.

And yet, I found a good portion of Goyokin somewhat tiresome. After a brilliant, mesmerizing opening sequence, in which a girl returns to her home village to find the town filled with nothing but crows and human remains, the movie comes to a screeching halt for about a half hour. Even once the action gets going, things develop slowly and gradually. There are pacing problems throughout the rest of the film.

As well, though Goyokin resembles an adventure film, it lacks the entertaining and free-wheeling character of Three Outlaw Samurai. There's a sense of self-importance that kind of bogs everything down, and except for Magobei, none of the other supporting characters are particularly endearing.

It's a movie with outstanding, breathtaking sequences of excitement and beauty that itself is only mediocre.

But the experience of watching these two films on a big screen in a state-of-the-art theater with a cool crowd of film loveres was a real treat. There are two more nights of the Japanese Outlaw Masters series, and they're showing some amazing films (including Suzuki's Branded to Kill, one of my favorite crime films of all time on Sunday!). I won't be able to go, because I have to work, but you all totally should if you live in LA.

The Egyptian is probably, at this point, my very favorite place to see films in all of Los Angeles.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Inappropriate Response Channel

Let's take a poll.

Which of the following is the least appropriate response by a public figure to the disaster in the Gulf Coast?

Here are my nominees:


While on the tour with top administration officials from Washington, including U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao and U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, DeLay stopped to chat with three young boys resting on cots.

The congressman likened their stay to being at camp and asked, "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?"

They nodded yes, but looked perplexed.


"I can't help but conclude that if the tragic natural disaster in New Orleans had occurred in a culture that had daily practiced the Golden Rule, rather than the Gangsta Rot, we would have seen more scenes of neighbors helping neighbors and far fewer scenes of neighbors preying upon neighbors."


On the refugees staying in the Houston Astrodome:

"What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."


On his orders, armed sheriffs held back refugees trying to escape the flooded city of New Orleans at gunpoint.

In an interview with UPI, Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson confirmed that his department shut down the bridge to pedestrians: "If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."


To FEMA head Michael Brown:

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

From the same speech:

The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)

To Nancy Pelosi, the Head House Democrat:

Pelosi, speaking at a news conference, said Brown had "absolutely no credentials" when Bush picked him to run FEMA.

She related that she urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Brown.

"He said, 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.'

And he said 'What didn't go right?'"


When asked about the Hurricane Katrina disaster this weekend on Pittsburgh's ABC affiliate WTAE-TV, Rick Santorum said, " have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."


"Katrina is a consequence of the destruction of [Gaza's] Gush Katif [slate of Jewish communities] with America's urging and encouragement," Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Lewin, executive director of the Rabbinic Congress for Peace, told WND. "The U.S. should have discouraged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from implementing the Gaza evacuation rather than pushing for it and pressuring Israel into concessions."


"You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals, as Jack Cafferty just pointed out, so tragically, so many of these people, almost all of them that we see, are so poor and they are so black, and this is going to raise lots of questions for people who are watching this story unfold."


It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said of federal assistance for hurricane-devastated New Orleans.

"It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed," the Illinois Republican said in an interview about New Orleans Wednesday with the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill.


Reporting from outside the New Orleans Convention Center:

"A number of possessions left behind suggest the mindset of some of the evacuees," Lane said. "They include this voodoo cup with the saying, 'May the curse be with you.' " A shot of a plastic souvenir cup from one of New Orleans's countless trinket shops appeared on the screen. "Also music CDs with the titles Guerrilla Warfare and Thugs 'R' Us," Lane stated, pointing out a pile of rap CDs strewn on the ground.


Kudos to alert reader (and AntiCentenarian blogger) JiggaVegas for pointing out this perfectly reprehensible piece of sludge from a Louisiana member of the House.

Rep. Baker of Baton Rouge is overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

Ewww....this man is so gross...


On Thursday's edition of CNN's Showbiz Tonight:

...they didn't have the necessary brains and common sense to get out of the way of a Cat 5 Hurricane and then when it hit them - stood on the side of the convention Center expiring while reporters were coming and going...

Up All Night

Tomorrow evening, I'm seeing a double feature of Hideo Gosha samurai films at the Egyptian Theater. It's part of the American Cinematheque's awesome yearly "Japanese Outlaw Masters" series of films...

I was hoping to get a good night's sleep tonight, so I'm not tired by the second movie tomorrow night, but it doesn't look like it's gonna happen. I had some coffee yesterday and a few Cokes, and I didn't wake up until the afternoon, so I guess that's why sleep's not really coming to me right now.

So far during this long dark night of the soul, I've watched Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish (review forthcoming), a few episodes off of the "Simpsons" Season 5 box set I just purchased and had signed by Matt Groening and Rudy on TV with my roommate Chris and his friend Stefan, who has been living on our couch. Now, I'm listening to the New York broadcast of "The Howard Stern Show," and he's praising himself for hiring Bubba the Love Sponge, a DJ fired by Clear Channel several months ago for obscenity.

I bet many of you like that movie, Rudy. It's consistently voted a favorite film among sports fans, and it certainly made an impression for being such a small and unassuming film. Anyway, it's really obvious and horrible. Chris and I were laughing a lot every time someone mocked Rudy's small stature or inability to attend Notre Dame.

"You're too damn small, Rudy, and stupid. You ain't never gonna play for no Notre Dame school..."

So lame. Maybe it would make a good topic for the Cinegeeks' Over/Under column...I'm already one week behind. Friday Night Lights would make a good underrated movie, I suppose, with a similar theme...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Dick Cheney and Officer Barbrady

Dick Cheney, who has been MIA for most of the Hurricane Katrina debacle, finally surfaced the other day to let us know everything was going A-OK! "No problems here!" Cheney insisted.

He was really reminding me of Officer Barbrady from "South Park." He's the cop that always shows up immediately after a tragedy and tells people there's nothing to see there, and to go home.

Yeah, there you go...

So that's basically what Dick Cheney's been doing, according to the Washington Post.

Speaking to reporters while touring a devastated neighborhood in Gulfport, Miss., Cheney struck an upbeat note about the response he has seen so far to Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast last week, leaving New Orleans inundated with polluted floodwaters and causing extensive damage along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama.

Hey, nice to hear he's upbeat...I was worried this disaster might ruin the veep's mood. He can be so cranky when several hundred thousand of his countrymen die due to a slow, inefficient reaction from local, state and the federal government. Thankfully, these countrymen were black, so he's been able to get over it pretty quickly and move on.

In the brief speech in Washington with Cabinet members looking on, Bush said the government is working to provide $2,000 in emergency relief to each household displaced by the hurricane. He told affected families that by registering for the $2,000 grant, "you will begin the process" of acquiring longer-term assistance for eligible households.

I mean, yeah, we left you to die...But now you'll get a check for 2 grand. Just think of what you can do with that money...You can buy some new clothes, maybe one of them new XBoxes. The possibilities are endless...

A Pew Research Center survey found that 67 percent of Americans think Bush could have done more to respond to the storm. The survey placed his overall job approval rating at 40 percent, down 10 points since January and an all-time low in that poll. A poll by Zogby America also recorded its lowest-ever approval rating for Bush.

Nice. No further comment just felt good to cut and paste that paragraph.

Cheney personally encountered some of the hostility directed at the administration. As he spoke with reporters on a street in Gulfport, Miss., a young man shouted at him. "Go [expletive] yourself, Mr. Cheney," the man yelled twice. Cheney smiled slightly but did not respond.

Young man, you get an A for effort. But you should know, your anger and hostility only makes Dick Cheney stronger. He feeds on hate like you and I feed on double cheeseburgers.

Okay, he probably feeds on those too.

In his first tour of the damage, Cheney offered an upbeat assessment of what he called the "very impressive" current response efforts. "I think the progress we're making is significant," he said. Cheney also endorsed the Republican inquiry plan instead of the independent commission proposed by Democrats.

When I was growing up, when I was first getting into journalism in high school, the Washington Post was the ultimate example of the craft. The pinnacle. Plucky journalists whose investigations into the heart of power and privilege regularly rescued our democracy from greed and corruption.

Now, they have become the ultimate example of an American newspaper utterly failing at the task of informing the citizenry. Well, The Post and the New York Times. Can you believe they are letting him get away with this obvious misdireciton.

He called the current response efforts "very impressive." Well, what about the intial response efforts, Your Cheneytude? What about the fact that it took you assholes 5 days to get into New Orleans and start rescueing people? Or the fact that 6,000 trained experts who could have helped their own communities were off on your little Iraqi pet project? Anything to comment?

Oh, I forgot, you're just here to distract us from those real issues, to let us know everything is looking very very good from where you stand! Thanks, Dick!

The paper also lets the GOP slide on its ridiculous "bipartisan" committee to investigation the governmental response to Katrina. See, I put bipartisan in quotes far, the committee doesn't include any Democrats! So, how can it be bipartisan, you may ask. Yeah, it can't. But that doesn't stop the Post from referring to it as a "joint investigation."

But even as Congress moved to meet the funding needs, Republicans and Democrats bickered over a GOP-proposed joint investigation of the government's preparation for and initial response to the catastrophe.

Democrats charged that the investigating committee would not be truly bipartisan and was intended instead to whitewash the Bush administration's handling of the disaster.

See how the Post characterizes the exchange? Here's what really happened: Republican Senators, including Dennis Hastert and Bill "Nuclear Option" Frist, came out and said they were going to have a bipartisan investigation into Katrina. Then Democrats came out and said that none of them had been contacted about any investigation - they first heard about it from Hastert and Frist on Television. (Read all about this nightmare here.)

According to the Post, annoying Democrats are "bickering" with Republicans about the committee. They're making "charges" that it would not be truly bipartisan. Charges? That's clearly the truth! Bipartisan means "including both parties," and right now it only includes one party. Washington Post scribe William Branigin, stop lying for the President. Please. Why would you do that? What's wrong with you?

Don't believe me? Think I'm mischaracterizing the article? Check out the VERY NEXT SENTENCE:

While the politicians wrangled, the National Weather Service upgraded another storm, Ophelia, to hurricane status in the Atlantic off Florida.

This is not some case of politicians "wrangling," you jackass! One group has been totally left out of the investigating committee. They are trying to do what journalists used to do - let the public know what's really happening!

Branigin, through this really obvious rhetorical trick, thus pins the beurocratic nightmare that led to the Katrina aftermath disaster on all "politicians," indeed on the political process itself, rather than the people who are really to blame - FEMA and Department of Homeland Security, who had committed themselves to leading the relief and recovery efforts on August 30th, when Katrina was declared a "state of emergency." Also, we should probably take a look at the guy who installed such a useless guy as the head of FEMA and created the Department of Homeland Security... who could that be?

Twin Cinemas

The new album from Canadian pop supergroup The New Pornographers, Twin Cinemas, came out last week. And it's exceptionally good. It hasn't quite been enough time for me to decide if I like it more than their 2000 debut, Mass Romantic, but it's clearly the most ambitious group of songs they've ever put together. And it's greatly improved from 2003's Electric Version.

I first heard the Pornographers around the time Mass Romantic came out. I believe, if I recall correctly, that they were a recommendation of my younger brother, whose musical tastes are similar, if a bit more sophisticated, than mine. Anyway, they're awesome, a really talented group of musicians, singers and songwriters whose music is the dictionary definition of "infectious."

You can listen to the entire new album streaming online at this site, set up by Matador Records, which amusingly is designed to copy an IMDB movie page. Also, check out their official site to see the video for the first single from Twin Cinemas, "Use It." It's a very odd music video, directed by the group's keyboard player Blaine Thurier, and it features a cameo by indie rock's favorite comedian, David Cross.

The album still has an undercurrent of the sugary, hook-laden pop of Mass Romantic, but it's far more complex, lengthy and dense. The songs have shifted from 2.5 minute pop gems into soaring 4 or 5 minute rock anthems. It's kind of a combination of the earlier Pornos albums and A.C. Newman's solo effort from last year, The Slow Wonder. I've been listening to nothing but this album and the new (and similarly terrific) new Broken Social Scene LP all week.

My favorite songs for the moment are the bouncy "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and the woozy "Falling Through Your Clothes," but it changes every few moments. This is a really great collection of indie pop songs; one of my favorite albums this year so far.

Nearer My God to Thee

We've got a live one here.

The raving lunatics at have really outdone themselves. Their bigotry, hatred and self-righteousness know absolutely no bounds. This insane column from certifiable nutjob Rebecca Hagelin is the absolute #1 without a doubt Most Disgusting Thing I have read about Hurricane Katrina. And I've read Barbara Bush's wildly insensitive put-downs.

Hagelin's thesis, essentially, is that the horrific chaos that erupted in New Orleans last week, following the near-destruction of the city by Hurricane Katrina, was the fault of hip "gangsta" culture. She uses the occasion of the deaths of 10,000 Americans to offer a tsk-tsk column about violent video games.

The whole thing is so clearly a thin veneer for hideous racism. Every time Rebecca refers to "gangsta" culture, who do you think she's talking people...but don't say it too loudly cause some of them actually have Internet access now...

In fact, the only reason this column appears less than a week after the deaths of thousands of Americans is that they were black Americans. And therefore not really important. You know, what Kanye said.

10,000 potential casualties. That's about 4 9/11's. Imagine if someone, a week after 9/11, said that the problems in the World Trade Center were largely caused by the capitalist culture of greed that blossommed within its walls. How do you think that would have gone over?

Hagelin uses a comparison to the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 to "prove" that gangsta rap has caused the downfall of civility in American society.

The harsh reality that dreadful day in 1912 is that most of the passengers would die, and they knew it. Yet, amid the panic and impending doom, the accounts of survivors remind us of a time when civility and honor were more important to many than survival itself.

So how is it that in fewer than 100 years we have digressed to a society where, when disaster strikes, the story is marked by a display of the worst side of human nature rather than the best?

Hagelin has been watching too many old movies. Because the only way the sinking of the Titanic could be considered a civil and honorable affair is if you think leaving scores of poor people to die is civil and honorable.

As Roger Ailes points out on his excellent blog, there was much violence on the sinking Titanic as rich and poor people alike fought for survival. Some of the violence was even later blamed on black passengers.

Even when Harold Bride in his testimony, told about the man that broke into the radio room and tried to steal his life jacket, some newspapers made the man "Negro" for better effect. (Just as a sidelight, there were no African-Americans on board the Titanic.)


So, really, Becky's analogy was more correct than she could ever know!

Could it be that in a pop culture where the gangsta style is "hip" and is reflected and perpetuated in everything from violent rap and hip-hop music, to the clothing styles, to the language and gestures used in "normal" communication, to the negative attitudes toward females and children, that the "style" isn't just a fashion trend but has actually become a way of life for some?

Style is always a way of life. That's the entire point of having a style.

The gangsta style was hip 10 years ago. Now everything is about having a shitload of money and/or loving Jesus and Ray Charles, near as I can tell. Anyway, you're an idiot. What the fuck does gangsta rap have to do with Hurricane Katrina and the fact that the government left thousands of black people there to die?

In other words, in a culture where many people dress like gangstas, talk like gangstas, and strut like gangstas, should we be shocked and horrified that they start engaging in gangsta crime when given the opportunity?

Um, yes. And I have yet to see proof that a sizable group of "people"...[black people]...actually acted like, excuse me, gangsters. Just some random accounts from some police officers and some repeated footage on TV of a few people senselessly grabbing for electronics.

I can't help but conclude that if the tragic natural disaster in New Orleans had occurred in a culture that had daily practiced the Golden Rule, rather than the Gangsta Rot, we would have seen more scenes of neighbors helping neighbors and far fewer scenes of neighbors preying upon neighbors.

The Golden Rule, of course, being "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." So, remember, if Rebecca Hagelin's property, family and livelihood is washed away by flood waters and the government leaves her in a sinking couldren of filth with no promise or hope of rescue, she wants you to write columns about how it's all her fault.

And, of course, there were thousands of stories of neighbors helping neighbors, whether or not the neighbors happened to dig Ludacris' last joint. Idiot.

It's time to ask ourselves a few obvious questions

Why does Rebecca Hagelin have a job, is one question. Oh, another...What the fuck are you talking about, you fool?

Why do we as a nation produce and embrace a pop culture that glorifies rap and hip-hop music, that teaches men to prey upon women and engage in senseless violence, and that is now, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's recent survey on media and youth, the number-one music choice of teenagers from all races and every socio-economic status?

The Kaiser Family Foundation of course being that wacko right-wing "everything black people do in pop culture is rotting your children's brain away" reactionary groups. But that's beside the point...Hip-hop music may not always have the most positive messages, I'm not defending that.

But trying to connect the negative aspects of popular black music with the situation in New Orleans, a situation caused by Mother Nature and governmental incompetance, is just "blame the victims" racism of the highest order. Black people aren't like us, they're animals, and so they deserve to all drown together? It's shameful in 2005 that this sort of thinking is taken seriously by anyone. Anyone.

Why is it that we produce, en masse, hedonistic movies, television programs, and Internet content? Why is it that we continue to make ever more graphic and violent video games for our children? Why have we allowed such selfish messages to have such a powerful voice in our culture?

How could anyone possibly take this argument seriously? What do video games have to do with the fact that people were stranded in a city the government knew full-well was capable of flooding? Isn't it obvious to everyone who reads this column that Hagelin is trying for an ambitious smoke screen. Distract people from the real issues - diversion of funds away from security, the inefficiency of emergency response in America, barely concealed race and classism - by focusing attention on, of all things, violent video games and rap music, for the hundred thousandth time.

Mind you, I'm not advocating government censorship, but rather pleading for social and parental rejection to replace the current proliferation and acceptance of such barbaric and destructive messages.

Again, it's all the "parents" fault. The parents whose kids listen to rap music...Those darn black...Oh, I mean those darn black people...

Why is it not only common knowledge but also accepted practice that organized crime and gangs hold much of the power and control much of the commerce in New Orleans? Will New Orleans return to business as usual? Or will you uplift the entire community by throwing out the thugs and their vile wares for which New Orleans is infamous? When you think about it, the values of the thugs involved in the post-Katrina crime wave really weren't all that different from those that have flooded sections of New Orleans with societal sewage for years.

So, the citizens of New Orleans, who are criminal scum, are no different from the toxins and pollutants that currently fill its streets...You are a real piece of work, Becky. A real piece of work.

Corpses are still being airlifted out of this city, and you're already gloating about how the organized crime has been washed away? Organized crime? That's your concern for New Orleans' future? How about pumping out all the shit water and dead babies? Isn't that Priority #1?

Did it just get too real in here?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Comedian Louis CK does a hilarious bit about the song that inspired this blog title. You know that one? 1971 anti-establishment classic "Signs" by Canadian one-hit wonders Five Man Electrical Band?

Louis CK just talks about how it's the dumbest song ever. A protest song against signs. As if the sign was a new or somehow particularly pernicious invention that could be blamed on the "establishment."

Particularly the part where the guy says "I saw a sign that said...long haired freaky people need not apply..." because it's so obviously a lie. He clearly never saw a real sign that said that, and so he's making up conservative straw men against whom he can rebel.

Anyway, this post has nothing at all to do with Five Man Electrical Band or "Signs" or M. Night's Signs or any of that bullshit. It's about in, autographs.

Though I wind up collecting lots of things, I've never really been a collector. Stuff just piles up because I'm too lazy to go through it and throw it away, more so than any desire to hang on to memorabilia or tokens from the past. I'm also not a big photo taker, probably because I don't really like looking at photos. I never know what to say when someone shows me a picture, particularly if they show me a picture of themselves.

"Do I throw out a compliment here? I guess I should, that's what they're waiting for. That's why you show someone a picture of yourself in the first place. Unless it's a passport photo or a driver's license photo. If you show that to someone, it's to point out how unappealing a likeness it is. Okay, I really need to say something...How about, 'it makes you look nice.' Nice? No one says nice any more. It's a meaningless word. If I say that, they'll know I can't think of anything actually complimentary to say, so I better think of something better. How about, 'it's really well lit'? That sucks more than 'nice.' God, I am an asshole..."

So, because I don't really appreciate looking at photos, I don't really take them very often.

But back to collecting autographs. I've started doing it recently, since working at the video store. (How pathetic!) We get a lot of celebs and semi-celebs and industry types in the store, and every now and again, I'm tempted to get one of them to sign a DVD for me.

I'm aware that this makes me something of an uber-nerd. I mean, not only do I own several hundred movies on DVD, but now I have a bunch of them autographed and/or doodled on by directors. All I need is a model of the Millennium Falcon and some 12-sided die and I'm ready for a lifetime of forced celibacy, late night World of Warcraft sessions and weekend trips to the Ren Fair.

So far, I have signed discs from Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro and Matt Groening. Rumor has it, Oliver Stone came in at one point, but I wasn't there that day! We've also had Roger Avary in (director of Killing Zoe and Rules of Attraction, and co-writer of Pulp Fiction), and I think my friend Ray had him sign something. But I feel kind of lame when I ask, so I reserve it only for guys whose work I really like.

It's just sort of a lame thing, in a way. I mean, it would be much cooler to just tell them that you like their work, or just to not say anything and treat them like a regular person. But what can I say? I'm not that cool. And the satisfaction of having a "Simpsons" box set with a little doodle of Bart drawn on there by the creator is worth being uncool for a few minutes, I guess.

Dog Patrol

Incomprehensible. That's the word righty blogger Andy Sullivan uses to describe this New York Times story. And for once, I totally agree with Sully.

Two Navy helicopter pilots and their crews returned from New Orleans on Aug. 30 expecting to be greeted as lifesavers after ferrying more than 100 hurricane victims to safety.

Instead, their superiors chided the pilots, Lt. David Shand and Lt. Matt Udkow, at a meeting the next morning for rescuing civilians when their assignment that day had been to deliver food and water to military installations along the Gulf Coast.

Okay, these two guys...are heroes.

It's not a word I toss around all the time. Every time someone survives something harrowing, everyone calls them a hero. If you're really good at sports, particularly if you've only got one ball or your mom has cancer or you have a painful hangnail or something, you're a hero. Some occupations automatically confer hero status on a guy. Like being a firefighter.

Now I'm not going to bash fire fighters. You've certainly got to be kind of brave to want to run into towering infernos for a living. But you're only a hero firefighter if you actually save some people from a burning building or something. Just riding on the back of the truck...well, I'll say you're halfway there. (Obviously, all the FDNY guys who died in the WTC...heroes. Duh.)

But anyway, these two Navy pilots. Holy shit. Here were their orders on August 30th, during the worst of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, and before FEMA managed to get in there and start helping people out:

The two lieutenants were each piloting a Navy H-3 helicopter - a type often used in rescue operations as well as transport and other missions - on that Tuesday afternoon, delivering emergency food, water and other supplies to Stennis Space Center, a federal facility near the Mississippi coast. The storm had cut off electricity and water to the center, and the two helicopters were supposed to drop their loads and return to Pensacola, their home base, said Cmdr. Michael Holdener, Pensacola's air operations chief.

"Their orders were to go and deliver water and parts and to come back," Commander Holdener said.

On their way back, after their "mission" was complete, they couldn't help but notice that no one was helping anyone in New Orleans. They report being "shocked" at the conditions on the ground in Louisiana. So, unable to contact their base, they went ahead and started saving lives.

Hovering over power lines, his crew dropped a basket to pick up two residents at a time. He took them to Lakefront Airport, where local emergency medical teams had established a makeshift medical center.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Shand landed his helicopter on the roof of an apartment building, where more than a dozen people were marooned. Women and children were loaded first aboard the helicopter and ferried to the airport, he said.

Returning to pick up the rest, the crew learned that two blind residents had not been able to climb up through the attic to the roof and were still in the building. Two crew members entered the darkened building to find the men, and led them to the roof and into the helicopter, Lieutenant Shand said.

Can you imagine? Running around inside a dark building looking for two blind guys you don't even know, while outside, toxic sludge rises up slowly from the ground and armed chaotic anarchy seems close at hand?

So, when they got back to the base, flower petals and red carpets, right?

The next morning, though, the two crews were called to a meeting with Commander Holdener, who said he told them that while helping civilians was laudable, the lengthy rescue effort was an unacceptable diversion from their main mission of delivering supplies. With only two helicopters available at Pensacola to deliver supplies, the base did not have enough to allow pilots to go on prolonged search and rescue operations.

Juh? The two guys, who went out of their way to airlift dozens of helpless strangers to safety, got a lecture from their boss? It was more important for them to return to base than to save innocent lives?

"We all want to be the guys who rescue people," Commander Holdener said. "But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority."

Rescuing people is not the priority? Well, Commandante, why don't you goddamn well make it the fucking priority! Right now! I'm pretty sure if you ask the American people, they would say that saving New Orleans' citizenry is more important than making sure the Stennis Space Center is fully stocked.

The order to halt civilian relief efforts angered some helicopter crews. Lieutenant Udkow, who associates say was especially vocal about voicing his disagreement to superiors, was taken out of the squadron's flying rotation temporarily and assigned to oversee a temporary kennel established at Pensacola to hold pets of service members evacuated from the hurricane-damaged areas, two members of the unit said. Lieutenant Udkow denied that he had complained and said he did not view the kennel assignment as punishment.

So, Uncle Sam thought the guy who had rescued people off the roof of a building was better and more efficiently assigned patrol. Dog patrol, folks. Your US government was assigning guys on August 31st to dog patrol while New Orleans sank into a pit of goo.

Everyone with a hand in this debacle should lose their jobs, from the local politicians right on up to FEMA head Michael "Brownie" Brown on up to the Chimp in Chief. [Well, okay, Rummy can stay...but only because he's so adorable...]

He Makes a Lot of Good Points

A while back, discussing reality TV, I mentioned a major part of the reason I enjoyed shows like "Big Brother." They allow me to experience the magic of morons conversing, without having to go to the trouble of finding morons with whom to converse.

Well, I have discovered a pretty solid substitute. A certified Grade A, Prime Cut, #1 Super-Deluxe All-American Moron named Jeffrey Welles just posted a bizarre, idiotic, senseless diatribe on my blog. It's a seething indictment of's too stupid to fully comprehend. I think it's an indictment of the fact that I judge movies too harshly and work in a video store, but I'm not sure. Reading it is like experiencing half of an argument I'm having in an alternate dimension where I have severe Down Syndrome.

What follows will be excerpts of the very ludicrous yet nasty comment Jeff left about me on this article (oddly, a positive article about my excitement over the upcoming Superman movie), followed by my own analysis of why it's stupid, and what could have possibly made Jeffrey Welles such a horrible human being.

One word to sum up your blog and life, as you speak your mind, to an invisible crowd, is Pathetic.

Two things on this first sentence. Firstly, portraying my readership as an invisible crowd is complimentary, which is the opposite of what I feel Mr. Welles intended.

He wanted to say that no one reads my blog. (Clearly untrue...a quick check to the CQ Counter indicates that 111 people have read my blog so far today). But if a "crowd" of people were reading my blog, that would be a good thing, right? The fact that they are invisible only means they can't be seen, not that they don't exist.

So, in a way, this is entirely accurate. My blog is read by an invisible crowd - a group of around 100 people a day, only 2 or 3 of whom decide to actually comment and make their presence known.

Secondly, I just like that he capitalizes the word "Pathetic," like Dr. Johnson used to do. "He is, Mr. Boswell, a most Pathetic and Irrational Creature, a moste unpleasant kinde of Man of whom no positive appraisal could be Maede."

Makes it more formal.

Maybe working at a video store for the rest of your life is an acheivement, maybe it isnt so you think writing can earn you the respect you been needing, but after reading a couple of stuff you have written, I realize, you have nothing good or anything of calibre to even give what you write any sort of appreciation.

Okay, so right here is where you may have noticed Mr. Welles is a complete buffoon. I mean, what sort of idiot goes on to someone else's blog and rants wildly about their poor level of writing, despite themselves composing language at a second grade level?

He does have my number, though. I do intend to work at a video store for the rest of my life. I do see this as an acheivement [sp]. I do been needing respect. And I don't have nothing good or of calibre [sp, unless Jeff's a limey] to say.

Welles actually, for the entirety of his commentary, seems to have a problem with the fact that I work in a video store. I fear he may be one of the growing number of Americans, especially here in Los Angeles, who confuse one's income with one's value as a person. Just for the record: lots of great people are poor and lots of horrible people are rich. Did I just blow your mind?

The fact that I work in a video store, a position that doesn't pay very well, therefore itself becomes an insult.

Oh, please, Mr. Welles, don't remind me what it is I do all day for a living. Anything but that.

I realize you have failed, and what you write is a beleif to signify that idea.

See, this is really frustrating! Why can't I be insulted by someone who can clearly elucidate a single fully formed idea? I'd really love to have an online war with someone well-spoken who could really put me in my place, but this guy is such an unbelievable simpleton, it's not even possible.

Seriously. This sentence is so dumb, when I first read it, I thought it must be a joke. "Surely my friend Vineet has just typed this to make me laugh! What a kidder!"

But, sadly, no, I think it's real. Jeffrey Welles is really out there, the sad product of our woefully inefficient public school system.

Your a bad critic, but than again you dont even deserve the title of being a critic, after reading your reviews and your comments on movies, you are nothing but another moviegoer fanboy/girl who thinks for themselves, what you like is the best, if you dislike it, everybody who likes it is completely wrong.

AH! We finally get to the point! Mr. Welles clearly likes a film that I have dissed on the website. Now it all makes sense.

I have a theory as to which movie that might be...Garden State...and let me just say, Mr. Welles, that, if that is the movie about which you disagree, I am most definitely right and you are wrong.

I run into this criticism a lot, both in reality and on the computer. The fact is, I have strong opinions, and I like voicing them strongly. Aside from the small group of people who make up my family and circle of close friends, film is the thing in this world I care about the most. It's certainly the thing I spend the most time actively thinking about. So, to my mind, it's only natural I should have strong opinions about movies.

This is true of anyone with a hobby or passion that takes up much of their time. Baseball fans love their favorite team and hate their rivals. Why shouldn't I feel the same way about movies?

So, yeah, I can be forceful in my opinion, and even a bit caustic at times. Often, I'm going for a laugh, so I state something in the most outrageous way possible. Sometimes, the goal is merely to provoke - when I say something like "Magnolia sucks," it's both because I really do feel that Magnolia sucks and just to get people's attention, to alert them that my perspective on that and other similar films may be different from the mainstream opinion.

(Although Magnolia totally does suck).

And, yes, Mr. Welles, I "think for myself." I know that's not a popular concept in Bush's America, but it's a habit I just kind of picked up years ago with which I'm presently stuck. Sorry to disappoint you and the other drones, who think every movie is good as long it's admired by someone.

My best suggestion for you is to read highly qualified critics, maybe you can have more respect for movies.

Like Dick Roeper, perhaps? Or, I know, Rex Reed!

Just because you seen a certain old movie or a foreign movie doesnt mean you know movies.

Actually, that's exactly what it means. If I see a lot of movies, I then know a lot about movies. I know it's a leap, and you clearly don't employ those critical thinking faculties too often. Probably for fear of strain. But, please, at least try.

As you have stated, CRASH is horrible, but than again, it will indeed have nominations this oscar season, and I hate to let you know, but you have nothing going in your life, to come close to what Paul haggis or any writer director producer you dislike have acheived, when they ask you what you do, you say proudly to them that you work at a video store, and recommend them a movie you love, just to feel better about yourself, it helps you get through the day, change your name ,its horrible, find a new career, outside the internet, these things are bad for you.

Unfortunately, all of Jeff's periods were washed away in the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina. If you have some spare punctuation marks you can send Jeff, please e-mail them to me at

Maybe I'm wrong, and he's not an idiot, but rather he's going for a William Burroughs, stream-of-consciousness thing with his prose style. It's like Beat Poetry, Jeffrey Welles' insults:

I saw the best minds of my generation
Washed away by CRASH
A bad movie but if you meet
Paul Haggis tell him you work in a video store

Change your name, it's horrible
And get a new career
Because you work in a video store

And when they ask you what you do
You say proudly to them
You work in a video store

It's horrible
You work in a video store
These things are bad for you

It would work better if I had a dude on bass backing me up. Trust me.

So that's the mean-tempered Jeffrey Welles and his insensitive comments here at CBI. I suppose most bloggers would just delete such nastiness, as it really doesn't serve any purpose other than providing Jeff with the attention he so clearly craves.

But then I went ahead and wrote this whole response post, which now won't make sense if I delete the offending comment that provided the inspiration. So, the troll stays!

He's Super, Thanks For Asking

Some photos have started popping up online from the new Bryan Singer Superman movie, Superman Returns. I liked hearing that Singer wanted to continue with the franchise of the classic 70's Donner/Lester films, rather than starting all over and "modernizing" the character.

And these images, found on Latino Review by way of Ain't It Cool News, seem to confirm that the movie will have a cool kind of retro style.

This is, apparently, the Fortress of Solitude. Pretty spiffy. I aso dig the leathery look of the cape. Is this post particularly nerdy all of the sudden, or is it just me?


Kevin Spacey finally looks back to his old crazy bastard self, instead of the award-grubbing weenie we've been saddled with ever since Pay It Forward. It looks like he's genuinely going for an evil Lex Luthor, as opposed to Gene Hackman's "Moe from Three Stooges" take on the character.

Seriously, I love the Donner films, and I love the cartooniness of the Hackman and Ned Beatty performances, but that's the one element of the old movies I think could stand an update. Lex Luthor never really feels like a credible threat. He's in the second movie entirely as comic relief, leaving the actual villain duties to Terrence Stamp.


So, yeah, a truly badass Lex Luthor, like an egomaniacal capitalist nutjob who's truly bent on world domination, that's really what this country needs.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fear and Trembling

Before I worked in a video store, I worked in a West Hollywood office for a post-production company. I edited subtitle tracks to go along with DVD's - normally, we'd get a timed subtitle file in from HBO, then I'd go along with a computer program and make sure the subtitles and the spoken language lined up properly, and then we'd send it along to different companies to actually author the finished DVD's.

I got along with almost everyone at the office, with the decided exception of one manager. Leslie. Well, she wasn't really a manager. She had been with the company forever, and had a higher-up position than me, but she wasn't really my personal supervisor or anything. Her work had nothing at all to do with mine.

But still, she had a real hard-on for me. She just didn't like me. I never knew why, but thinking back on it, I believe I can trace the whole ugliness back to a single day when I was still relatively new to the company. She had asked (in front of the entire office, mind you) whether or not I was willing to work a lot of overtime, if neccessary.

Thinking it an odd question, mainly because it was out of nowhere and totally hypothetical, I responded to it as a friendly, personal query, rather than a professional one. "I guess, Leslie, if you need me to," was something like what I said.

"How much overtime could you work, if we needed you to?," she responded.

"I don't know...4 hours a week?"

I now realize this was the wrong answer. I shouldn't have given her a specific amount of time at all. It wasn't the promise of specific overtime hours she wanted...she wanted allegiance. She wanted me to answer that I would work as long as she wanted me to, if I was needed. So, by making it a personal question, and answering the question truthfully like I did, I kind of ruined my professional relationship with this woman. She undermined me in the office from that day until the day I quit, 3 years later.

It's a similar predicament in some ways to the one Amelie faces in the delightful French-Japanese 2003 co-production Fear and Trembling. The title refers to how one should traditionally greet a Japanese Emperor - with fear and trembling. Amelie, a Belgian woman who spent the first five years of her life in Japan, has yearned ever since to return.

She does so, finding a job in Tokyo for a large catalogue company called Yakamoto Corporation. At first, she's hired as a translator, but over time she will serve as an office assistant, an accountant, a researcher and, eventually, a toilet scrubber.

Amelie's descent down the Japanese corporate ladder is clearly meant as an analogy for the cultural differences between East and West, how these two groups always meet up with confusion when interrelating because they make so little attempt to understand one another.

But it also works as simply a knowing, humorous movie about office life. The film is based on an autobiographical memoir by a real woman named Amelie who worked in Japan, and it's clearly the work of someone who has experienced the frustration and boredom of a corporate job first-hand.

Amelie's main problem is that she expects to be treated as a human being, as is the Western custom when working in an office, whereas the management tends to view her as a mindless drone. When she brings coffee in to an important meeting, she greets everyone in Japanese, showing off her abilities with the language. She is later reprimanded harshly by her sharp-tongued, overweight boss Mr. Omochi (Bison Katayama, in the film's funniest performance); now that the other company knows there is a foreigner who speaks Japanese at Yakamoto, they might be hesitant to do business with the company.

A large point is made about the lack of basic politeness in the Japanese work force. Amelie at first recoils at being screamed at by her superiors, and even gets emotional on occasion. But eventually, she comes to value the system. Fear of reprisal motivates her to work harder, and at least in the Japanese system, you know where you stand at all times. In America, bosses are equally as likely to get upset with employees who mess up...but, like my old boss Leslie, often they will keep these feelings under the surface, and subtly work against employees without ever actually saying anything to them.

I think this, more than anything else, gets at the heart of Fear and Trembling's observations. It's not so much about how different Japan's offices are from Europe's or America's - it's more about how everywhere people are the same, but they choose to express themselves differently. If you don't take the time to learn how people in a certain part of the world express themselves, you will enter more and more uncomfortable and awkward situations.

At one point, Amelie's hateful, backstabbing co-worker Fubuki (Kaori Tsuji) runs out of the office, visibly upset after a particularly harsh verbal lashing from Omochi. Amelie, who sees herself as essentially a kind, decent person, runs after her into the ladies' room. Like any other friendly, outgoing Westerner, Amelie thinks Fubuki might want a comforting shoulder to cry on.

But Amelie doesn't realize Fubuki has run out of the room specifically to be alone, that the greatest humiliation for a Japanese professional is to have someone see them cry. So Amelie's unwanted intrusion, though well-intentioned, only makes matters worse.

Eventually, she discovers that she may not want to work in a Japanese corporation after all, but that it is possible for her to learn a proper way to interact. It's a subtle change, and Fear and Trembling is a subtle movie. It takes place almost entirely within a single office, with a small cast of characters. Its substance is the mundane everyday life of an office professional - meetings, coffee breaks, spats with co-workers, arbitrary busy work.

Sylvie Testud is a wonder as Amelie, at once jaded and naive, ambitious and world-weary. During a sequence in which Amelie spends 3 long nights in the office, forced to complete an arduous, difficult accounting task, Testud is called upon to essentially lose her mind on-screen. She strips down naked, tosses garbage on to herself, and hugs her co-workers computer. Silly though the sequence is, we never for once doubt the veracity of the situation - if the real Amelie is anything like Testud's interpretation, I fully believe, late one night, she rubbed her nude body over her colleagues personal computers out of panic, glee and frustration.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Korean films continue Pwning j00

The popular favorite at this year's Venice Film Festival (regrettably located in Venice, Italy, rather than down the street from here in Venice, CA)? Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, his follow-up to last year's magnificent, awesome and spellbing Oldboy. It's probably the best movie I've seen all year.

Frustratingly, because of their often-provocative and/or violent content, many excellent Korean and Japanese films are unavailable to mass American audiences. Oldboy contains a scene where many people are wailed on with a hammer, and another scene where a hammer is used to remove a few teeth, and another scene where a guy eats a live squid.

The imagery is disturbing, but hardly unwatchable. A French film, Irreversible, came out in America in wider release than Oldboy in 2003, which features a 9-minute long, unbroken shot of a rape. It's one of the most disturbing sequences I've ever seen in a movie theater.

I'll admit, some of these films are so extreme, American audiences simply would not be willing to withstand the cruelty long enough to appreciate the filmmaking. Takashi Miike, for example, the maverick Japanese director of Gozu, Visitor Q and Audition, is never going to hit it big stateside. His Ichi the Killer is a rather brilliant movie, based on a hardcore Japanese manga (adult comic book), about a brainwashed serial killer who clashes with a sadomasochistic gang leader, who's searching for the ultimate ass-kicking.

So, okay, those movies are too violent for most Americans. But what of something like 2000's absolutely wonderful Battle Royale, possibly the best action movie of the decade thus far? The film, also based on a manga and directed by legendary Japanese master Kinji Fukasaku, dealt with a fictionalized future world in which, once a year, a class full of middle school students are set against each other on a remote island. For the entertainment and edification of Japanese citizens, the children must fight to the death using weapons randomly provided to them. If they fail, monitoring collars they wear will slice their heads off.

It's an extremely violent film. And all the violence concerns 13-16 year old kids, mainly played by teenage actors. This meant the film was essentially barred from American theaters. (I had to see it first on a bootlegged copy owned by my friend and fellow Asian film fan Aaron, and later on an official NTSC DVD purchased from Amoeba Records).

But it is not a casually violent film. All the killing has meaning to these kids, and the film works as kind of a violent sci-fi satire, like something Paul Verhoeven might make if he were Japanese and less focused on supple breasts.

I suspect it's still more than American audiences could handle. The very idea of a film in which children mete out violent death to one another would cause a sort of hysteria in Middle America. The fact is, kids re-enact grim homicide scenarios on computers and Playstations every day, and seem no worse for wear. Battle Royale doesn't make killing look like fun, anyway. The scenario is a kind of horrific punishment, vengeance aimed at this kids for being too privileged and ungrateful.

Anyway, it's nice that at least film nerds around the world seem to agree that Korean movies are where it's at for the moment. I can't wait to check out Sympathy for Lady Vengeance when it finally hits America. If it finally hits America...

Mommie Dearest

The other day, I called George Bush a sociopath, and a Presidential apologist defended his honor in the comments section. This man didn't so much offer a defense of Bush's behavior, in which The Prez joked about Trent Lott's new beach house while New Orleans sank deeper and deeper into a humanitarian crisis, as insist that his behavior is always above criticism. "He's not a sociopath," the man assured me, even though the evidence seems to indicate that this psychological profile is, in fact, accurate.

See, a sociopath is defined as someone who is affected with an anti-social disorder. They are unable to relate to other people, most often because they are unable to assume the perspective of anyone but ourselves.

When you are a young child, this is the way your mind works. Nothing exists for you outside of your own experience. That's why a baby doesn't understand that you shouldn't scream and cry in a restaurant. They want to cry, and at that age, the entire world revolves around them. That's only natural - it's instinct. If you were constantly sympathizing with other people as a infant, instead of watching your own doughy, diaper-clad ass, you'd be dead inside a week.

But some people - we call them sociopaths - never really get past this stage. They learn proper public behavior - like don't cry loudly in a restaurant or don't poop in your pants when company comes over - but they don't really ever understand the thought processes or situations of those around them. They remain tightly ensconsed in the bubble of their own experience, unable to truly emotionally connect to the world around them.

George Bush is clearly one such person. He's the kind of guy that thinks joking about Trent Lott's house (or about his old party days in Houston) while visiting the scene of the most horrifying natural disaster in American history is entirely appropriate.

And this isn't the first time. Cindy Sheehan speaks of him calling her "Mom" and behaving in a callous manner when they met following her son's death. In Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911, he's seen soberly discussing the need for a war against a sovereign nation with millions of citizens, thousands of whom will be killed, in between strokes of golf. And now we can add his expressed sentiment to a bereaved child who had lost much of her family in the New Orleans Flood - "hang in there."

Not to mention all the horrible things that George Bush's policies do to people every day. Clearly, he doesn't sympathize with the troops in the field, as he won't attend their funerals, unfairly extends their tours of duty months after they were told they could go home, cuts their retirement wages and then ill-equips them for dangerous missions. He doesn't sympathize with the nation's poor, whether or not they're dying in the toxic waters of NOLA. He's perfectly happy to hamper them with harsher and harsher bankruptcy bills, to waste their tax dollars on bridges in Alaska to nowhere while their public schools wither away and die, to give money earmarked to revitalize their communities away in corporate handouts or upper class tax cuts. He can't sympathize with the citizens of any other country, or with a good number of the citizens of his own country (those that live on the coasts, or didn't want to go to war, or like legal abortion, or worship someone other than Jesus).

So, okay, the President definitely demonstrates some strongly anti-social behavior. I'm here to say...maybe it's not his fault...maybe he learned this behavior from someone...Like say, his mother.


Oh, no, wait, that's just the First Mother. Yikes.

The kindly, sweet old lady above had this to say upon touring the Houston Astrodome today with her husband. The 'Dome, of course, along with many other large locations in Houston and all over Texas, is being used to house thousands of hurricane refugees.

"Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston. What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Holy...I mean...holy shit...That's REAL. That's A REAL QUOTE from the mother of THE FUCKING PRESIDENT and the wife of ANOTHER GODDAMN PRESIDENT. She thinks that the hurricane is working out well for the refugees. Because, you know, they were poor anyway.

I I even have to write the rest of this post? These people are so rich and powerful, they have been so cushioned from interacting with other people for so many years, they no longer have any conception of proper behavior, conduct, manners, social mores or any notion of reality.

As I see it, there are 4 racist or inappropriate remarks in that one three-sentence statement. Which has got to be some kind of record.

(1) I mean, she thinks the idea of refugees (read: black people) moving en masse to Houston is scary. Scary. I mean, what if Texas suddenly fills up with even more black people. George will just have to sell the ranch and get out, I suppose...

(2) She considers the aid provided by the State of Texas and the federal government to refugees to be "hospitality." No, ma'am, you see, the government has a responsibility to take care of its citizenry in times of crisis. That's the entire fucking point of having a government. It's not supposed to be just old, out-of-touch cranky douchebags sitting around getting angry about violent video games, joint-smoking and dudes having butt sex. It's for our mutual protection and security. For example, federal officers really should be removing that photo of you from the Internet, because I will probably have erectile dysfunction problems for the rest of my life now that I have seen it.

If I go to the ER with half my arm chainsawed off and a doctor sews me up, I don't thank him afterwards for his gracious hospitality. I thank him for doing his fucking job. And if he didn't sew my arm up, or if he did it crooked so I could only use 3 fingers and my elbow jutted out to the side, I have the right to sue his ass.

(3) She thinks that the hurricane refugee situation is "working out well" for these people. As if being poor and being homeless, stranded in a strange city, grieving for your dead family, friends and worldly possessions were the same thing. As if poor people should be happy to have any table scraps the United States government is willing to dole out to them. As if being treated like penned animals were some sort of privilege for which these people ought to be thankful.

What a bitch.

(4) She laughs. This isn't really any more serious to her than any other PR event she and her hubby the ex President Georgie would attend. Go out, air out her gills, say something nice about whatever site they have to visit, pose for some photos. Pretend not to be disgusted by minorities, the impoverished and the infirm. You know, the old meet-and-greet.

Bear in min the immense weight of this situation, of this place. She's a dignitary visiting a stop-gap site set up to house trauma victims. These people have dead and missing family members. Their entire lives were wrapped up in a city that no longer exists. It has been less than a week since everything in the world was taken away from them in a moment. They are barely gathering together the loose ends of their lives and looking for any way to move on.

And this bitch comes around and makes pithy comments about how, well, it sure is better than where they were living before, har-de-har-har. She's a monster. And I'm not just saying that because, in the above photo, she looks exactly like something out of a Lovecraft story.

I always sensed that Barbara Bush was something of a mean-spirited, frigid shrew, but I never had any idea she was such a complete and total nutball. This is the woman who raised our president, who taught him everything about life, about morality and about respect. Is it any wonder he's a greedy self-righteous lunatic?


Crash is, without a doubt, the worst film I have seen thus far in 2005. What an egregious oversimplification of the race issue in America. What a ridiculous over-ripe bit of hand-wringing posing as nuanced drama. I'm seriously embarrassed for writer-director Paul Haggis right now. Embarrassed.

After years of writing for TV, Haggis earned acclaim for his adapted screenplay for Million Dollar Baby. That was a well-constructed, if overwrought, genre script with an unfortunately melodramatic ending, one that didn't logically or tonally match up to the rest of the film.

Crash is a different beast entirely. Meant as a social message picture, examining the racial tensions that linger beneath the surface of Los Angeles, Crash is a silly collection of vignettes which have nothing to say about racism except (1) there's a lot of it, (2) it sucks and (3) it's not just the fault of white people like Paul Haggis, but everybody.

What Haggis seems to miss entirely is that Racism (capital R) exists in America as a social construct. Racism is not defined merely as white people clutching their purses tightly when they see groups of black men. That is an individual example of racist behavior. Shameful, yes, but organizational in nature, no. Racism is the cultural and systematic oppression of certain social groups by others. In America, typically monied whites oppressing everyone else.

Nowhere is this more clear than this week in Louisiana. What we have seen is the federal, state and local government purposefully ignoring the impoverished black citizens of New Orleans, allowing them to die needlessly over the course of 4 days. That's Racism. Mexican people getting into arguments with Persian shop owners...that's an unfortunate reality, but it's a pretty narrow definition for a whole film.

Okay, so maybe I'll give Paul Haggis the benefit of the doubt. Maybe his movie isn't even supposed to deal in the large issues of Racism in America. Maybe he just wanted to make a movie about why we can't all just get along, here, in 2005.

His movie's still a piece of shit. Because, like Million Dollar Baby, like most movies dealing with difficult, sensitive issues like racism, Crash can't resist the oversimplification. It can't resist. It's a movie decrying racist behavior in which every single character is a crude racist stereotype and everyone encounter is meant to relate simplistic, generic "racist" attitudes in a negative light. (Helping others of different skin color, good! Using power to reinforce negative concepts, bad!)

The film is presented as a series of interlocking stories, occuring within a 24 hour period. Various characters of different races are thrust together by circumstance, often because of a car crash, and their encounters come to change their attitudes about themselves and their place in the world.

Let's take a look at some of the characters we follow around:

-Detective Waters (Don Cheadle), a black cop with a junkie mother and a junkie brother on the run from the law. He's being asked by the LAPD to lie about an investigation so that a racist white cop can be locked up for a crime he may not have committed against a black cop.

-Sgt. Ryan (Matt Dillon), a racist white cop and bully who, after being annoyed by a black customer service representative named Shaniqua (Loretta Devine), takes it out on a professional black couple (Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton) he pulls over for a traffic violation.

Better yet, the husband, played by hot actor Terrence Howard, directs a racist TV show starring Tony Danza! The cop fingers the wife's genitals and then makes the husband supplicate to him, all in front of his rookie partner (Ryan Phillipe), in one of the film's many scenes that cries out for some measure of subtlety and restraint.

I hate to say it, but this scene (as well as another one where Dillon gropes Newton for another reason) goes on so long, you question whether Haggis finds it maybe titilating, maybe in an inappropriate way. We get the message - this white cop expresses his power over Newton by groping her - about 1/3 of the way through the scene.

-Angry, paranoid Persian shop owner Farhad (Shaun Toub), who buys a gun without knowing how to use it, yells at his tattooed Latino locksmith (Michael Pena) and ignores everyone's advice. He repeatedly insists "this shop is all we have!"

-Obnoxious, self-absorbed trophy wife Jean Cabot (Sandra Bullock), who is married to the district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and harps incessantly at her friendly, overweight Mexican housekeeper, whom she will later refer to as her "best friend," in a direct dialogue rip from Driving Miss Daisy, another awkward, embarrassing racist polemic about race.

-Two black thugs (Ludacris and Larenz Tate) who carjack white folks and then argue about why everyone hates black people. They also argue about whether or not country music is racist.

Do I need to keep going?

Let's talk more about those black thugs. Haggis thinks that, by giving Ludacris dialogue about how everyone thinks of black men as criminals, and about how hip hop passes on negative messages to black youth about criminality, that he somehow undoes the stereotype of casting a rapper as a criminal. It doesn't work. It's still racist. It just lets the audience know you're smart enough to know better.

Maybe if Haggis was a more inventive, thoughtful writer, some of this stuff would be more acceptable. But this script is obvious, clunky and above all gob-smackingly silly. SILLY! Now, I know LA has a reputation as a dangerous city full of criminals, high-speed pursuits, horrific car accidents, street crime and vandalism. But come on! Rarely to 4 or more of these things happen to the same people in a single night!

The movie relies on constant coincidences, some that absolutely stretch the limits of the film's reality. For example, Dillon and Phillipe are partners one night, when they pull over the black couple, and then they next day they are reassigned. Even so, Phillipe the next day runs into the husband (Howard) and Dillon runs into the wife (Newton) at almost exactly the same time in different parts of the city.

And I haven't even talked about the random explosions, fires, shootings, vans full of smuggled-in Asian slaves, dead siblings, murder investigations, Internal Affairs investigations, a goofy slip and fall down the stairs and repeated verbal attacks on HMOs and the insurance industry. This would be enough material for an entire season of "Dragnet," yet Haggis crams it all into one 24 hour period.

After about a half hour, I thought the movie was stupid. After an hour, I thought it was retarded. Once it was over, I thought it was definitely the dumbest movie I'll see this year.

Haggis utterly fails to understand that the most pernicious racism, and almost all contemporary urban racism, is under the surface. Repressed. Comes out among people when they are alone, or at least safely within the confines of their own communities, away from the actual people they are insulting. When it comes out, it happens quickly, in a flash, as in the LA riots.

People don't usually walk around saying racist things loudly to one another in public. If they do, repeatedly, people soon assume they are crazy and stop taking them seriously. Every character in this film repeatedly insults other people in terms of race, or says blatantly offensive things to their face. Is this how Haggis really feels? Does he think constantly in terms of racial epithets?

"You black people...You must be upset about how these stupid trigger-happy negroes give you all a bad reputation!"

"Why do they always think I'm Arab! I am Persian!"

"Mom, I can't talk to you now. I'm having sex with a white girl."

"You're telling me there's a Chinaman trapped under the car?"

I think his concept was to show each character being both the perpetrator and victim of racism. Cheadle offends his Latin girlfriend by calling her Mexican when she's a mixture of Puerto Rican and El Salvadoran, but he is then offended when references are made to his wayward, junkie brother. Dillon is a bully, a racist white cop, but we find out his father lost his business because of loans made to black businesses.

Phillippe does the right thing and reports his racist partner, but later comes to commit violence against a black man due to a misunderstanding. Ludacris steals from whites, but comes to, I swear, free a van full of imported Asian slaves, and then smiles to himself...Cause he did a good thing...Awwww.....

But that's not depth. That's insulting. It implies that racism is everyone's fault, that it's a facet of all of our lives and of the society in which we live, and that until we all purge it from our own souls it will live on infinitely. What bullshit. As if the infrastructure of our society has nothing to do with it. As if racism is solely a psychological problem.

And even so, the movie's final half hour seems to conclude that, when people are helped by those of other races, when they cut down the barriers between one another, the racism just ends. Bullock realizes Mexicans are A-OK when one helps her after a nasty spill. Newton appreciates whiteness again when her life is saved by a white guy. Phillippe saves a black man, making up for his inability to save the black man at the traffic stop.

What rubbish. That's not life, people. You don't get to right the wrongs you do through good manners, and not every act of racism is repaid in kind. It's bullshit. Racism is very real, and good feelings won't make it go away. It is a function of the way we live, and an interesting movie might try to get at the heart of why we have these feelings, where they come from, how this anger gets channeled and re-channeled, and how the power structure and daily operations of the city of Los Angeles and the nation of America feed the racism expressed interpersonally.

But Crash sure isn't that movie. It's a horribly unpleasant, pedestrian and preachy piece of trash, a woefully juvenile take on racism from a guy who, it seems to me, hasn't really even done that much thought on the subject.

I realize I have written for quite some time, and haven't really talked about it in terms of the movie. I've just kind of harped on Haggis' script. Well, the direction sucks too. It's obvious he's going for kind of a Soderbergh-Traffic effect here. Telling a story about a complex modern issue by showing facets of the issue and how they affect a variety of interlocked characters.

He even rips of Soderbergh's use of various filters and lenses at different locations, to constantly shift the film's look. Haggis takes it one step further and shifts lenses and filters sometimes halfway through a scene, to give you multiple impressions of the same sequence. Why? I don't know. It's jarring and obnoxious, like if he put in subtitles announcing "Hey, check it out, I'm directing here! Isn't that awesome direction, how I changed the colors like that?"

The music by Mark Isham is similarly proud of itself. This is one of those "serious" scores, where there's no recognizable theme or even real music, just stray notes of different tones, struck occasionally to remind you you're watching a film that's terribly, terribly serious.

Man, I hated this movie. What an immense waste of time. Haggis, you better come with something very strong next, or I'm writing you off entirely.