Saturday, October 29, 2005

Behind the Orange Curtain

I spent my formative years in Irvine, deep in the heart of now-famous "O.C." We used to refer to Central Orange County as "The Bubble." Its the last stand of Southern California's "white flight," a prosperous suburban community located exactly midway between the Los Angeles and San Diego Metropolian Areas. If you go any further away from L.A. than Irvine, you start getting closer to San Diego.

It's all based around this fraudulent sense of security and control. Greenbelts are everywhere so kids don't have to cross busy intersections. Many streets have electronic gates that require passcodes for entrance. There's even bogus fake concrete walls bordering the freeways once you get to Irvine, warning all passersby that they are not welcome, to just keep moving on down the road until they get to some city that welcomes transients, losers and scum. Maybe San Clemente.

It's the Orange Curtain effect. But that's all it is; an effect. An illusion used to sell people expensive homes, to sell office space in corporate parks, and to sell movie tickets, haute cuisine and whatever shit they sell in Hot Topic at the Irvine Spectrum.

In fact, a surprising amount of shocking, bizarre and wacko crimes happen to go down in Orange County. More than you'd maybe expect.

When I was still in high school, the entire Country went bankrupt when the (all Republican) Board of Supervisors lost $1.7 billion in taxpayer money on the stock market.

Did you know that in 1999, Huntington Beach had to close down because of the massive level of fecal material found in the water there?

In 1992, also when I was in high school, an honor roll student at nearby Foothill High in Tustin, 17 year old Stuart Tay, was brutally murdered by his classmates for no good rason.

I think I've even blogged before about the remarkable story of Dr. Larry Ford, the Mormon Orange County pharmaceutical executive who killed himself after a botched attempt to murder his partner. It later came out that he had worked for the CIA, possibly in the development of biological weapons. Many hazardous materials were found on his property after his death.

In 2003, a schizophrenic named Joseph Parker showed up at the Albertson's at which he once worked and killed two people, wounding three others. He was shot and killed by police.

And today, we can add another horrifying story of insanity, rage and terror. A 19 year old, wearing a cape, went on a kill-crazy rampage in Aliso Viejo today, murdering a father and daughter before killing himself.

Now this is very strange. Events like the murders at Columbine High School are extremely tragic, but also isolated incidents. If we continually heard about teenagers in Littleton, Colorado going on murdering sprees, we'd start to wonder what was going on there. Moreover, if Littleton, Colorado were an area known for massive governmental corruption, if the local parks and recreation areas were coated with feces, and if people sometimes killed themselves and left their houses filled with botulism and toxic spores, we would probably declare some kind of government emergency.

But Orange County gets "The O.C.," a TV show glamorizing the beautiful, perfect lifestyle of all who dwell within, suffering only from bland interpersonal disagreements about who is really in love with who.

America's Funnyman

Went to Hollywood Blvd.'s semi-historical venue The Knitting Factory last night to check out one of my favorite working comedians, the legendary Neil Hamburger. For those of you unfamiliar with Hamburger's act, he's among the last of a dying breed. A gag man. A comedian who is as much about the strength of his material as he is any sort of on-stage "schtick" or "persona." I'll give you one example...Here's a classic Neil Hamburger one-liner:

-Why did Julia Roberts rub shit all over her vagina?
-Because she was horny.

Folks, it just goes on like that. For an hour. Absolutely amazing stuff. I thought my friend Steve was going to have an anyeurism, he was laughing so hard.

Okay, okay, one more classic Niel Hambuger joke...

-Why did Britney Spears have a caesarian section?
-Because, like her husband Kevin Federlane [sp], she wanted to avoid labor.


Hamburger's poised right on the brink of stardom. He's been on the Jimmy Kimmel show a few times, he recently returned from a Standing Room Only tour of Malaysia (memorialized in the new documentary, Left for Dead in Malaysia). I'd suggest heading out to see him before he starts playing sold-out stadiums. Or check out one of his albums, "50 States, 50 Laughs" or "America's Funnyman" or even "Raw Hamburger."

The opening act was soul-punk-swing combo The Abe Lincoln Story. At least, they call themselves soul-punk-swing. It's more like Orange County third-wave ska than anything else. They reminded me of bands like Reel Big Fish or The Aquabats, except they're all about 10-15 years older and even more ironic.

They opened with kind of a funny, goofy song called "Rock Paper Scissors," and I was kind of enjoying them. At the very least, they had a lot of energy, and a lot of musicians on stage playing everything from keyboards to saxophone to trumpet.

But once they kept playing, and it became clear that all the songs are the same kind of horn-inflected, self-aware silly observational ditties - one is called "I Don't Need a Bag," and spends 5 minutes railing against clerks at convenience stores who give you little things like gum and mints in a big plastic bag. You get the idea. A little of it goes a long way.

The show was in the Alter-Knit Lounge, a little room set off from the actual main venue. It's tiny, but it does have its own bar. Amazingly, Neil Hamburger didn't manage to sell out the closet-like room, but it was about half-full. I'm sure next time through town, Neil will manage to upgrade to, at the very least, The Wiltern.

You Can't Have Shame in Your Game

Rapper The Game has been arrested for, get this, causing a scene in a mall and refusing to remove a Halloween mask. Seriously.

How will he ever live this down? That's the most pussified charge against a rapper I've ever heard. Doesn't The Game have a reputation to defend? You can't rap about being arrested for, as The Game puts it, "signing an autograph for a little girl."

"I got arrested for signing autographs," the 25-year-old rapper told WFMY-TV after he was released on $500 bail. "Signing a little girl's autograph got me arrested."

I would think, at the last moment, he's pull a gun and shoot a mall cop, just so the resulting news story would read better. "Rapper The Game, after brandishing a firearm in a mall and refusing to remove a Halloween mask, shot six mall security guards and one little girl, in line for the entertainer's autograph."

Now that would make a kickass just-released-from-jail track.

But police said The Game, real name Jayceon Taylor, and a group of companions behaved disruptively and swearing Friday at Four Seasons Town Centre. He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. At one point, police said, his companions were sprayed with pepper spray when they surrounded officers in a threatening manner.

These are tough guys, man. They were sprayed with pepper spray and the incident kept right on going. They continued their threatening, disorderly behavior in a MALL AFTER being hit with pepper spray. WHAT? YOU GOT A PROBLEM WIT DAT?

The Game said officers overreacted.

"They thought I was Rodney King, man. It was a case of mistaken identity," he told WFMY. "It's unfair, man. Their behavior's unfair."

Oh, he sounds charming. I shall have to pick up his next album when it, um, drops.

And just in case you or your child would like to emulate The Game this Halloween, now you can with the Instant Rapper collection:

Extra special big thanks to my friends over at Random Aggression for the terrific photo.

It also comes with a loaded Glock, in case some trick-ass fool tries to steal your motherfuckin' candy and you have to bust a cap up in there.

Libby Fought the Law and the Law Won

Well, okay, the law actually hasn't won anything yet. An indictment is more an announcement - "Hey, guy, I intend to prosecute you" - than anything else. And so far the guy has only been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Serious crimes, particularly when they concern top government officials who are obstructing a federal prosectuor's investigation. Not quite as serious as Tom DeLay's Tony Soprano-esque racketeering charge. But, hey, you take what you can get.

I'm just delighted this weekend by all the denial and hand-wringing by conservative pundits. These guys have had it too good for too long...They have no idea how to deal with having their backs against the ropes, with having to actually explain themselves to a country that no longer quite fancies their exquisite blend of gay-bashing, Jesus-loving, Bush-worshipping, torture-celebrating and civil rights-hating balderdash.

Take Andrew Sullivan, a guy who was fiercely in favor of the war and of President Bush until it stopped going well, at which time he turned on the President but continued supporting the war. It seems fair enough to me. In 2003, he was gullible. In 2004, he figured shit out. No harm, no foul.

So why is he still defending the President and his bullshit cabal or cronies and whackjob advisors? He published this piffle TODAY:

Some context is important here.

NOTE: Any time you see a guy attempting to give Plamegate some "context," it means he's going to blow smoke up your ass about how it's no big deal. This is a lie. Ignore it.

I have yet to be even nearly convinced that Plamegate reveals some massive conspiracy to deceive the public in advance about the rationale for the Iraq war.

Okay, Andrew, then allow me to explain it to you...Valerie Plame's name was leaked in order to smear Joe Wilson, her husband. He had just stated to the national media that one of the main reasons our government went to war with Iraq, the notion they were buying uranium from Niger, was untrue. To make it look like his trip was nothing more than nepotism and to discredit his eventual findings. Also, I think it has the added intentional consequence of emasculating him, of presenting him as a weak man beholden to a more powerful wife. (It's the same game right-wingers used to play with Bil Clinton, portraying him as a wuss deferring constantly to some shrill harpy).

How is that not an attempt to deceive the public about the rationale for war? OF COURSE IT IS! A guy came back and made a true statement, that Iraq wasn't buying yellowcake uranium, that inf act Iraq didn't have any WMD's at all. We now know 100% that this is true. And these leakers decided to actively discredit the man, to defend their lie. That's textbook definition of deception.

Notice that Andrew says in advance. That's the crux of his whole argument.

It looks far more likely to me that in 2002, Cheney and Libby were intent on insuring that the CIA was not complacent, and that they weren't blindsided by Saddam's WMD program this time the way they were in 1990. I'm grateful for their aggressive attempt to make sure they didn't ignore threats to this country in the aftermath of 9/11. And they'd now be crucified if a Saddam-made bio weapon had gone off in the U.S. on their watch.

Try to wrap your mind around this one (I know it's hard)...Andrew's saying that he's thankful Dick Cheney and Libby put pressure on the CIA, to make sure they weren't "complacent." But that's not what they were doing. It's not like Cheney called the CIA every once in a while to check up on them, make sure they were doing a solid job. He set up his own intelligence office, he monitored their every activity, he used inside contacts to work against agents pursuing alternate theories on Iraq that didn't satisfy his lust for war. That's what the entire intelligence community has been saying for 2 years now! Why is Andrew going to continue to deny deny deny to protect this government? As a gay guy who claims to have voted for Kerry, what does he stand to gain?

Also, he does that thing where he pretends Saddam had access to some kind of weapon. "What if Saddam blew up Los Angeles? You'd all be really pissed if the president hadn't done anything!"

But Saddam had no big weapons! We know that's true! It would be like saying ,"George Bush had no choice but to strangle those third-graders with his bare hands...What if one of them had grown up and raped your wife? Wouldn't you be angry that the president hadn't killed that rapist when he was still a kid?"

What seems more likely to me is that in the aftermath of the war, when their claims largely evaporated, they found it hard to deal with the humiliation. So they over-reached in trying to smear their critics, in the Wilson case, almost certainly violating the law. That's serious, and it may be a sub-conspiracy.

Who cares when they lied? They didn't need to leak information about Joe Wilson before the war began...No one knew who the fuck he was. But what this story indicates is the MO of the White House, suppressing any intelligence information that didn't support their case for war, fighting anyone who disagreed with their aggressive, cowboy tactics and, finally, entering into a war on evidence they knew was questionable.

But regardless of any of that, it's still a crime to leak governmental information in order to smear someone who's telling the truth in the New York Times. Right? Does it matter if it happened in 2001, 2002 or 2003?

(I have to say I find it entirely credible - though we have no evidence as yet - that Cheney was fully aware of the illegal leak and encouraged it.) But criminality and conspiracy in reaction to post-invasion humiliation is not the same thing as criminality and conspiracy before the war. The anti-war left's attempt to conflate the two has, as yet, little substance. That's worth keeping in mind.

Are you fucking kidding me, Andrew? Surely you know better than this. Surely you know that the law is the law regardless of your motives in violating it. "Oh, they only leaked that CIA agent's name and then lied about it because they were embarrassed! Come on, you guys, it's kind of adorable, actually."

Even his last sentence is wrong. Nothing about his post is worth keeping in mind.

And that's not even getting into Bob Woodward on Larry King yesterday. I didn't watch the show myself, as Larry King's suspenders and voice kind of creep me out, but thankfully RJ Escow at Huffington Post has blogged it out for me.

First of all this began not as somebody launching a smear campaign ... I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started as a kind of gossip, as chatter and that somebody learned (Plame) had worked at the CIA and helped him get this job ...

So, let me run this one by you, Bobby...Do Washington politicos, journalists, CIA agents and high-ranking administrative officials tool around DC all day gossiping about people working undercover? Is that the make-up of typical DC chatter. Because, if so, that's a big story. You should probably write something about how compromised our entire intelligence system has been by gossip and chatter.

But I'm guessing it's just complete and utter bullshit. That's Woodward's reporting style these days - make strange statements that are so vague, it's impossible to even discuss them at length.

There's a lot of innocent actions in all of this but ... this is a junkyard dog prosecutor ...

Special Prosecuter Fitzgerald strikes me as a wholly upright, honest and professional kind of guy. Almost an Elliott Ness figure. The exact opposite of a right-wing scumbag like, say, Kenneth Starr (bearing in mind that Fitzgerald was a Republican appointee). I can't think of a less accurate way to describe him than as a "junkyard dog." I mean, he doesn't wear a big steel chain around his neck, and I've never once seen him hanging out with Hulk Hogan.

Some people kind of had convenient memories before the grand jury. “Technically” they might be able to be charged with perjury. But I don't see an underlying crime here.

Bob Woodward is one of the two reporters responsible for the Watergate investigation. He's fucking Robert Redford in All the President's Men for Christ's sake. Can you imagine Redford in that movie spouting this tripe? "I mean, yeah, perjury's technically against the law, but it's a small, unimportant crime. I mean, come on, people, the president and his crew seem like a bunch of nice guys, right? Let's just leave 'em alone."

(Wilson) came back (from Niger) and reported and Michael (Isikoff, a co-panelist) and others who have read the Senate Intelligence Committee on this know his report was very ambiguous.

If it was such an ambiguous report, if no one took it seriously and it didn't have an impact on our efforts in Iraq, why the elongated effort to smear the guy? Why did any of this happen? Oh, right, it didn't...There was no leak...Just some innocent gossip...I forgot, Bob, sorry.

Also, the fact that we now know that what Wilson claimed was true, and that Iraq was nowhere capable of constructing WMD's and had no direct interest in buying Niger's yellowcake uranium, how can he still argue the report was ambiguous? I believe the word you're searching for, Bob, is "true."

They did a damage assessment within the CIA, looking at what this did that Joe Wilson's wife was outed. And turned out it was quite minimal damage. They did not have to pull anyone out undercover abroad. They didn't have to resettle anyone. There was no physical danger of any kind and there was just some embarrassment.

And this, we know now via Eschaton, is a total lie. There was no damage assessment done at the CIA over how they'd be affected by the Valerie Plame unmasking. At least, according to today's Washington Post:

The CIA has not conducted a formal damage assessment, as is routinely done in cases of espionage and after any legal proceedings have been exhausted.

Oops, Bob, you did even worst than Scooter Libby. Your lie about a possible government leak of information was exposed less than 24 hours later. Try to work on that next time you're out bullshitting the American people on behalf of your buddies in high places.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Return of the Curse of the Creature's Ghost

Okay, it's almost Halloween, so that means it's time for long lists of cool scary movies to watch on Halloween night. Even though, near as I can tell, most people spend Halloween throwing together random, half-assed costumes and getting together in some poor fool's house for an extended night spent ingesting various types of alcohol and candy corn. But just in case you want to rent some movies, it's always nice to have suggestions.

Over at the quite frequently hilarious and far more aesthetically pleasing blog Dude Man Phat, Justin has collected the favorite scary movies of a variety of well-spoken bloggers from across the Net (including yours truly). Everyone's picks are pretty terrific, particularly The Changeling! I'd expect Netflix's copies are already reserved for Oct. 31st, but just in case...try to nab that one. Creepy, little-known haunted house flick with George C. Scott! I chose Texas Chainsaw Massacre, mainly because of that incredible final shot with Leatherface ferociously swinging the chainsaw around.

I'll write some more reviews of some cool horror stuff in the next few days, particularly as horror will make up the bulk of my viewing diet between now and All Hallow's Eve. But for now, here's an older post in which I recounted some of my favorite horror films. Any one of these films would make a fine Halloween rental.

The Mothers of Invention

Okay, new Crushed by Inertia poll for you all to ignore. What's the single worst invention of all time? I have some nominees of my own...


Anyone living in a Southern California suburb knows the horror of the leaf-blower. It's a machine that moves leaves and dirt from one area to another by blowing everything in sight in every random direction. And it does so with only the amount of noise pollution and fumes you'd get from operating any standard jet engine. Brilliant!

Did you know the leaf blower was invented in Japan in the 70's, but only took off in Southern California years later as an alternative to using a garden hose? Way to go, Japan! Behind tentacle porn and electronic pets, this is your finest work yet!


"Hey, I've got a great idea for slowing down traffic on residential streets! Let's just put random hills in the asphalt and send speeding cars recklessly flying into the air, only to then slam down with force on to the ground below. That'll show 'em!"

I suppose that if every driver on the road knew how to properly drive over a speed bump, it wouldn't be such a big deal. But I always get stuck behind some old fart who wants to actually bring the car to a complete stop before going over the slight obstacle. Driving down one street can take roughly as long as a Passover Seder.


What worthless, incompetant asshole designed these things? You know what I'm talking about? That little plastic leaky hole-filled worthless lid they put on top of your coffee at Starbucks and Coffee Bean? If you want to take it off to put sweetener or milk in your drink, it takes forever, and there's a 90% chance you're getting hot coffee dribbling somewhere on your person.

And the hole to sip the drink from is far too small. And the lids are always somewhat insecure, so coffee still manages to get through and drip all over you while you walk back to your car. You either get a few drops of coffee in your mouth at a time, or you expect a few drops of coffee and get a deluge, because the bottom part of the lid isn't firmly affixed to the cup. Worthless!

[See also "Fast Food Soft Drink Cup Lids"]


Is this bullshit cheaper or something? Someone please explain. Every office building in the world has these flourescent light tubes. They always go out, or start to flicker, or one bulb goes out but the rest remain on, so you get an eerie half-lit effect. Not to mention that they give everything a drab, washed-out look, and make everyone alive look extremely unflattering. Plus there's that ghastly hum. When you're working in an office 40-some hours a week, you start to get used to the hum, and then you stop working there and you realize that, for several years of your life, you lived with numbing white noise filling your brain at all times...


Are you one of those guys that walks around all day with a lit-up electronic cell phone ear piece on your head all day, even when you're not actually engaged in a conversation? Guess what...You look like an asshole. We're all making fun of you as soon as you leave the room. Unless you're an operator for Time-Life or 1-800-DENTIST, you have no business wearing a headset, okay, pal?


Worst. Department. Ever.


The single worst idea in television history. If you don't have a live audience, or if you have a live audience that isn't laughing, we don't want to hear some mechanical bullshit laughter. I know the thing kind of works - that the simple-minded can be convinced they're watching a program of quality if imaginary people seem to enjoy it - but that's no excuse to actually use it.

Eliminating canned laughter is a way for a show to instantly feel more fresh (like, say, "Arrested Development" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm.")


Normally, I'm not one to resent hackers. I figure, if you're smart enough to defraud a multi-national corporation using only your home computer, you probably deserve anything you can get. But I really hate this whole idea of invading my computer and fucking it up for no good reason. It just makes no sense.

If the idea was to put subtle advertising secretly on my computer that might actually get me to spend some money, hey, fine, I'm all for that. But to install advertising software that just shuts down my machine, making it unable to process even basic tasks, then that's a pointless act of sabotage. Maybe that's the whole point. Either way, it sucks balls.

And, yeah, I know sometimes they're stealing personal information from my computer. But there's nothing of value on my hard drive to 1337 h4x0rz that I can think of, unless they're really into Japanese tentacle porn.

Yeah, that's right, I brought tentacle porn all the way back around. Cause I have sweet blogging skills.

Leave your suggestions in the comments below. That is, if anyone actually reads this blog any more. I'm getting less hits a day than Nancy Reagan's bong. (Cause she hates drugs...remember with the "Just Say No"...oh, forget it...)

I Want This Bumper Sticker

Many thanks to Tom Tomorrow, from whom I've shamelessly lifted this image:

It's a Holiday for a Hanging

Forget Plamegate. Forget Katrina. Forget Iraq. The #1 news story of 2005 is this item from the Associated Press. The headline:

Suicide Mistaken for Halloween Decoration

This is among the saddest/most hilarious articles I have ever read in my entire life.

FREDERICA, Del. - The apparent suicide of a woman found hanging from a tree went unreported for hours because passers-by thought the body was a Halloween decoration, authorities said.

The 42-year-old woman used rope to hang herself across the street from some homes on a moderately busy road late Tuesday or early Wednesday, state police said.

Okay, first question...Could this possibly be deliberate? I mean, how often to people hang themselves from trees on a public street? She must have thought that someone might try to stop her if she hung herself in public...unless she did it right before Halloween when people hang fake corpses from trees!

If this is intentional, it's officially the coolest suicide ever. Not that I'm encouraging you impressionable young children out there to try suicide. But if you do feel that your life is worthless and want to end it all, please try to do so in a funny or ironic way that will provide those of us you leave behind with a chuckle or two at work.


The body, suspended about 15 feet above the ground, could be easily seen from passing vehicles.
State police spokesman Cpl. Jeff Oldham and neighbors said people noticed the body at breakfast time Wednesday but dismissed it as a holiday prank. Authorities were called to the scene more than three hours later.

Who eventually figured out it wasn't a decoration? That must have been some scene, huh?

"Hey, wait you guys...This dummy is amazing! It looks really real! And what's that smell? I think this stuffed dummy has crapped its pants...Oh, wait a minute..."

"They thought it was a Halloween decoration," Fay Glanden, wife of Mayor William Glanden, told The (Wilmington) News Journal.

"It looked like something somebody would have rigged up," she said.

Well, Fay, it was something somebody rigged up. Just not how you think...


Actor George Takei, best-known for playing Sulu on the original series of "Star Trek," came out of the closet to something called Frontiers Magazine. It was a bold move, announcing to the world what every person who knows who "George Takei" is already knew, that he is a homosexual.

Seriously, Takei wasn't out of the closet? He's a very feminine guy. I mean, frankly, I don't care if he's straight or gay or only gets aroused by chandeliers or whatever. I just always assumed the guy was gay, and that everyone knows he was gay.

And then I read this post in Pandagon, and it turns out Takei's been openly living with a man, Brad Altman, for 18 years.

The current social and political climate also motivated Takei's disclosure, he said...The 68-year-old actor said he considers himself as "having been out for quite some time." Takei and his partner, Brad Altman, have been together for 18 years.

So, how is this news, exactly?

"Gay Actor Remains Gay."


I can't really tell, but there seems to be something vaguely weird about a magazine writing an entire article about a gay guy, just for being gay, and then that article gets picked up by the Associated Press. There's a whole bunch of gay guys, including gay actors (probably disproportionately, as a matter of fact). Who cares that this particular one prefers men to women?

You ever hear that prank call with Takei they play on Howard Stern? Someone pretending to be Ricardo Montalban, Takei's co-star in the sci-fi classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, calls Takei basically to shoot the shit, and really has him going there for a minute. Finally, after he figures out that it's a prank, he says "I don't think you're Ricardo Montalban..." It's a classic moment in prank call-dom that has absolutely nothing to do with this article. I just think it's hilariously funny, and it makes me laugh every single time it's played.

[I should note that Takei himself strikes me as an intelligent, interesting kind of guy, despite being kind of a pop culture joke and speaking in a heightened, silly manner. He keeps up a pretty cool blog, as a matter of fact, here. And, just as a side-note, it's pretty amazing to me that he lived in an internment camp from ages 4 to 8. Weird that there are still so many living people who went through such a humiliating, unforgivable experience, and yet they have managed to put it behind them and succeed in the very country that imprisoned them.]

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Harakiri Is Totally In This Season

According to USA Today, there has been a sudden resurgence of interest in samurai movies. That's pretty cool, but hard to believe. If more people wanted to read about samurai films, wouldn't my blog get more than 50 hits a day? I review those fuckers all the time!

Also, I just have a hard time believing that most Americans would get into classic samurai movies. Maybe stuff like Kill Bill, movies that integrate aspects of samurai films into recognizable, modern contexts, will become even more popular. Swordplay in movies definitely seems to be making a comeback. I mean, cinematic legend Joss Whedon thought to include them in Serenity, so you know they're hot right now.

But the old-school samurai films I've been enjoyed a lot lately, thanks to the American Cinematheque's awesome Japanese Outlaw Masters series (not discussed in the article for no good reason) and Laser Blazer's impressive collection of Japanese films for rental, are probably too deliberately paced and tied to Japanese culture for mass audiences here in the States.

I don't want to sound like a snot or anything, and I'd love to be proven wrong on this point, but we are talking about a nation that collectively has embraced The Rock, Paul Walker and Zach Braff as film stars. We're talking about a crop of young people who consider Paris Hilton to be the voice for their generation. Asking them to open their minds to the subtle nuances of Inagaki's Samurai trilogy may be aiming a bit high. The average American lacks the attention span to enjoy the Back to the Future trilogy.

Really, the whole article is an excuse to plug Criterion's admittedly awesome quartet of 60's samurai films on DVD. I wanted to review some for you all this week, particularly Hideo Gosha's Sword of the Beast and the famed Samurai Rebellion, starring Toshiro Mifune. But I haven't gotten a chance to rent them yet. Look for a review in the coming weeks.

Is There a Penalty For Early Withdrawl?

This morning, CNN revealed that Bush will withdraw the nomination of Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court. It was a move that was pretty much inevitable. Many notable Senators on both sides of the aisle had openly opposed the nomination, she was clearly ill-prepared for the grueling confirmation process, conservatives hated her because she didn't love fetuses quite enough and might not be extremely hostile to gay people. I mean, they knew she didn't like gay people, but in the modern Republican Party, mere distaste is not enough. You have to really loathe the gays, with a hatred and disdain typically reserved for pederasts, necrophiliacs and liberals living on the coast who occasionally enjoy a nice latte.

Bush's presidency really does seem to be imploding all around him, doesn't it? You know what's weird? We've got a good long while left to go with this thing. Next President isn't elected until 2008, people. He's already starting to sound like he's on his way out the door.

"Alright, folks, good luck with the whole Iraq thing. Freedom on the march and all that. Sorry about that Harriett lady, and all them dang ol' storms. Man, that was weird, huh? Okay, my time's almost up here, please remember to tip your waiters and waitresses. Okay, you guys have been great, my name's W."

I'm genuinely becoming concerned for his mental stability. I mean, there were those tabloid reports about how he was back to drinking, all of his good buddies are either being indicted or rejected from the high offices in which he's placing them, he and his brother keep forgetting to help people following huge storms...Even the soccer moms and NASCAR dads are getting sick of his lame, recycled bullshit. That is, if those people even exist. Also, if recent poll numbers are to be believed, nearly every black person in America wants to kick his ass. It's not looking good.

Then there's this article by Sidney Blumenthal, casting Bush as a kind of Shakespearean tragic figure, albeit more of a Falstaffian nature than, say, Hamlet. Bush, who resents the father who has bailed him out over and over again during his life, will now once again rely on the Old Republican establishment to bail out his presidency.

But bringing in the elders, even if they could be summoned, would be psychologically devastating to Bush, a humiliating admission that his long history of recklessness and failure, from the Texas Air National Guard to Harken Energy, with rescue only through the intervention of his father and his father's friends, has reached its culmination.

Ouch. I hope Oliver Stone doesn't do too much drunk driving, because I want him healthy enough to make the George Bush movie in 20-some-odd years. Man, that's going to be good. "Matthew McConaughey is...Bush, coming Spring 2029 to a small LCD flip-up screen attached to an mp3 player/DVD/PS12/Blackberry/cell phone unit attached to you."

Think about it. Wooderson is going to be perfect to play Bush in 2029! Someone get him contractually obliged to do this right now!

The one annoying thing about this whole situation is how happy it makes conservatives. They're all jumping around and gloating and getting excited, as if this is some kind of victory. You guys like this President, remember? That's why you keep voting for him and calling those of us who hate him traitorous insolent dogs, right? Because if you don't like him, and we don't like him...why is he still president? Let's just get him out of there ASAP and move on with our lives, shall we? I mean, you guys all indicted Clinton for rubbing one out on the office intern. And yet we just have to live with 3 more years of this goon?

I mean, now that he's been exposed as a blundering rube who suggests his close friends every time a big important job opens up, how come you're still content? Why are you now confident he'll nominate someone you like? I think it's extremely likely that his old housekeeper is on deck. Or perhaps his tennis instructor.

"Tab is a really solid dude who totally improved my backhand. And I know tennis is kind of fruity, but he's also into baseball. And I like baseball. I mean, what's more American than baseball, am I right? That's why I'm appointing Tab (or Tabby Cat, as I like to call him) the new director of NASA. Wait...What's NASA do again?"

Don't believe me? Check out some of the bright, shiny optimism the National Review has become famous for:

You know what the relief is this morning? A return to the feeling that this president gets the big things right. There was a detour, but I’m confident we’re going to have good news shortly on SCOTUS, because this president tends to get the big things right. That’s the confidence so many of us have always had in him. And we may have been worried about our assessment for a few weeks there, but there's a renewed confidence this morning.

Awesome. Man, that is awesome. You have got to love the logic. The President clearly makes a lot of stupid mistakes. Conservative pundit Kathryn Jean Lopez can't actually deny that. So instead, she creates this bizarre fantasy of a man who makes mistakes, but then corrects them, and his corrected mistake is therefore even better than any original solution could have been! See, he fucks up constantly, but he gets the big things right.

What big things are those exactly? Ending the Iraq War? Boosting the stagnant economy? Solving the growing problem of outsourcing? Combating cyclical poverty? Disaster relief? The growing environmental crisis? The Department of Homeland Security? Stemming massive government corruption? Or wasteful pork? Investigating egregious corporate greed and abuse of the public trust? Fixing Social Security? Simplifying the tax code? A mission to Mars? Gas prices? Steroid abuse in professional sports?

Tell me, K. Lo, which exactly of these big things has the president "gotten right"? Give me one single big thing. I can't even believe we're even discussing this.

And the ridiculously misplaced faith of the conservatives doesn't end with the removal of Harriett Miers from public life. There's hope all around the right wing about the continued success of the entire embattled Bush presidency. Check out this unfathomable editorial from the Washington Post, praising Bush's fine work in the Middle East and urging all of us to get the hell off of his back.

This is from the very first paragraph:

The sacrifice of American lives, and the debilitating injuries suffered by thousands of others, have devastated families and wounded the nation. That the totals are relatively small compared with those of previous U.S. wars, or the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died, does not change that.

Yeah, it doesn't change the fact that the loss of these 2,000 lives have devastated families. But you bring it up anyway. They couldn't just say "We are saddened by the loss of 2,000 American lives in Iraq." That's not a political judgement at all. You're just acknowledging that many Americans, and many many more Iraqis, have died in this conflict. But, no, that would be too classy. Instead, it's, "Yeah, 2,000 lives is sad, but that's really no big deal, man. I mean, way more people died in some other wars, you know?"

Bastards. I can't believe I live in a world where people think this way. "What? Only 2,000 people died so far? So what? 23,000 Americans died in Antietam, pussy! You want to quit now?"

What does matter is what has come from those sacrifices. The most brutal and dangerous dictator in the modern history of the Middle East was deposed, and last week he was put on trial before an Iraqi court. Millions of Iraqis he oppressed continue to be grateful for their liberation; unlike most Americans, they still believe that the invasion was worth the cost.

I just have one question for the Washington Post editorial board...

Can I buy some pot from you?

Cause, seriously, they must be sparking some crazy blunts up in there. This statement has absolutely no connection with reality. Millions of Iraqis are grateful for the American presence in Iraq, believing the invasion is worth the cost? MILLIONS? I mean, yes, sure, there are certainly Iraqis who continue to support the American military occupation of their country. Many of them are invested in Westernizing Iraq for financial reasons, or theorize that, in the American-backed post-Saddam government, they will have some degree of influence or power.

But it seems to me, and anyone with a functioning brain, eyes and ears, that this occupation is not going well. We're several years on and the situation doesn't seem to be improving. In fact, it's getting worse. Iraq seems poised on the brink of all-out Civil War. (I'd say, more accurately, that they have been involved in a kind of Civil War since 2003).

Also, was Saddam really the most brutal and dangerous dictator in the modern history of the Middle East? I don't really know for sure...But I still, years and years later, have not seen solid evidence for this much-stated contention. He was a bad guy, for sure. A horrible man. An evil dictator. But there are a lot of those. Some of those kinds of men are our allies, friends of our government.

And don't we, as a nation, now subscribe to the idea that detaining people without due process of law, torturing them severely for information and even killing them in the process, is okay? What's to differentiate the cruel dictator who initially operated Abu Gharib prison and the administration in charge of that prison today? It's getting murkier and murkier all the time, I'm sorry to say.

But, no, it's easier to just say "He was an evil horrible man and George Bush stopped him!" I mean, they only have so much column space every day. You've got to simplify the message sometimes, in order to better catapult the propaganda.

That the war remains broadly unpopular among Americans, and is routinely and glibly described as a catastrophe by administration critics, shows that these achievements are cloaked by the continuing bloodshed.

Oh, I'm sorry, Washington Post. Was I being glib just now? Because I thought it was glib to say something like, "2,000 deaths is bad, but we've suffered worse before. Bring it on, Al Qaeda scum!" Maybe we just have different definitions of glib.

There are no easy solutions to these problems, nor is there a quick way to end American losses. In fact, one of the greatest dangers of Iraq is that domestic disenchantment with the mission will lead to a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops, a step that would greatly increase the carnage and hand a major victory to this country's foremost enemy, the Islamic extremist movement headed by al Qaeda. Mr. Bush could have avoided much of that disillusionment had he been more honest with the country from the beginning about the likely costs of the war.

See, they criticize the President here, but in a very measured way. They don't really say anything about the man's actions, his handling of the war. They just object to the manner with which he sold Americans on his plans. That's it. "He should have been more honest with teh country from the beginning." Otherwise, though, everything's good!

It kind of seems like they knew they couldn't write this entire piece without criticizing something about the President, lest they come off as completely removed from the real world. So they do the next best thing - pick apart the least important aspect of his planning for war, his marketing of the war, and continue backing his miserably failed effort 100%.

He did say on Tuesday that "this war will require more sacrifice, more time and more resolve." As U.S. servicemen continue to give their lives, the president must explain more clearly and more honestly why that is so -- and why it is necessary.

Oh, please, WaPo. This is insane and stupid. More explanations? That's what you think we need? We need him to get up there and blather some more at us about freedom and smoking them out of their holes? He gives the same goddamn idiot speech every fucking day, and it doesn't do one shred of good.

I appreciate the sentiment. In the past, Presidents were more honest with Americans about the need for sacrifice in the face of a crisis. They used to go on TV or the radio and tell people, in as straight-forward a manner as possible, what America was facing and what they could do to help. Bush refuses to ask anything from people, refuses to honestly evaluate the difficulty of a given policy. He's a coward. He wants to just do what he wants, and worry about the consequences later (if then). And he hates being criticized. So it's easier to just lie all the time and refuse to accept any feedback.

So, yeah, the point is well-taken. But it's such a meek point to make right now. We're facing numerous major crises in this country right now, some I've mentioned above and some I haven't gotten around to. There's so many more important things that need to be done at the highest levels than giving more speeches defending failed policies. Let's fucking problem-solve for once.

I'm just sick of this. At long last, has the right-wing no decency? Can we just admit that the last 5 years have been a total wash and move on? Why continue to stand up for this scumbag? Can anyone tell me? What's the deal?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

This Week on DVD

The one comment I hear most often from people in re: the blog here is that the reviews are too long. For some reason, people are surprisingly open when criticizing the blog. If I showed you my novel, you probably wouldn't give it back to me a few months later saying it was good, but way too long, and you stopped reading after the first 40 pages. But, you know, you totally got what I was going for.

But when it comes to blog posts, everyone from friends to co-workers to family members will give me extremely frank, forthright feedback. "I started reading that review you wrote of Lifeboat, but it was so long! I mean, couldn't you just sum it up in a paragraph or something?"

Also, people seem to want grades or star ratings after all movie reviews. Oh, yeah, and more stories about me running out of gas and pushing my car up La Brea Boulevard.

Well, I won't go quite that far, but let no one ever say I ignore constructive criticism. Suggestion noted. I'll be altering the way I do weekly movie reviews. Instead of trying to write a complete doctoral dissertation about every random movie I happen to rent, I'll write maybe one or two proper reviews and then sum up everything else I see in a post...a-just like a-this one.

This will give me a chance to write some more about random and diverse movies, and also give you all just a teeny bit more insight into the full scope of my anti-social loserdom. Ideally, I'll publish these every Tuesday, when new DVD's come out. But I'm lazy and my work schedule can be erratic, so I make no promises.

Le Samourai

Criterion has released a gorgeous new transfer of this French gangster classic. (The still above is in B&W, but the film is in color). This is one of the most technically perfect, fastidiously designed films ever made. It's a thriller of the Croupier style, a slow burn in which attitude and tone matter far more than the mechanics of the story. Alain Delon is perfect as a total blank slate, a cold and vacant assassin set up by a crime syndicate after taking out a rival crime boss. Director Jean-Pierre Melville (one of the main inspirations to the New Wave directors of the following generation) returns again and again to the notion of loneliness and alienation - he opens with a quote from the Bushido ("The Way of the Samurai") about the isolation of the samurai, and is fascinated by the idea that it is the assassin's very removed from society and community that allow him to commit and get away with his atrocious crimes. A truly inspired film.

House of Wax

House of Wax, the most recent and successful classic horror remake from Dark Castle (producers of Ghost Ship, 13 Ghosts, House on Haunted Hill and other stuff that sucks), is likely to rank among the year's best American horror films. Granted, that's not saying much. The only other American horror film I've enjoyed at all this year was Romero's Land of the Dead, and even that is far from a perfect movie. But, still, I will give House of Wax its due...It's very gory, it has the good sense to get its female leads wet and semi-undressed often and its wax-imitation small town setting is effectively creepy. That being said, there are problems: it takes way too long to actually get to the House of Wax, and the 40 minutes of lead-in are horrible. The film has a small cast of young actors, all of whom give unconvincing, stilted and wooden performances. Yes, even Paris Hilton, hard though it may be to believe that an activity exists at which Paris doesn't excel. She does, on the bright side, get a chance to poke fun at her infamous sex video a bit, and is provided with the film's most outrageously grisly death.

The Wizard of Oz

Warner Brothers released a 3-disc set of this film this week. It's probably the third or fourth Wizard of Oz collection on DVD. Anyway, I'm not one to say that a movie is terrific just because it's a beloved American classic. I hate Gone With the Wind, and Ben-Hur ain't much better. But Wizard of Oz, though not one of my personal favorite films, holds up exceedingly well 60-some-odd years on. I mean, the thing looks goddamn amazing, and not just by 1939 standards. By any standard. Look at that picture! It's also kind of cool, in that it's a uniquely American fairy tale. Almost all the famous fairy tales are from Germany and other European countries obsessed with little blonde girls wandering about in the woods under suspicious circumstances. But here's one full of imagery from the American Midwest, relevant to our 20th Century history, teeming with memorable popular music of its era. I mean, I don't really think I ever need to actually hear "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" again (and I'm positive I don't ever need to hear the fucking Lollipop Guild song ever again). But that's onyl because I've heard them 100,000 times already. Well, okay, that Lollipop song is immensely annoying, but it is performed by a team of singing, dancing midgets. You take the good with the bad.

Okay, I have already realized that this column is pointless, because I will just end up writing one massive post full of a bunch of long movie reviews, rather than a series of long posts with long movie reviews. Damn it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Selfridge Bastard

I'm not a huge fan of cliches. People who speak in cutesy little idioms all the time are some of my least favorite people. It's always an easy way to spot someone who isn't very bright - rather than even try to express themselves in an interesting or engaging manner, they just use any colloquial phrase that approximates how they genuinely feel.

But of all the cliches in the Trite Bullshit rainbow, there are only a few that really piss me off. One is "he knocked it out of the park." Movie fans say this all the time, far too often for a cheesy sports metaphor. "I'm not usually a huge fan of Uwe Boll, but he really knocked Alone in the Dark out of the park," for example. And then they describe the finished film as "a home run." Ugh.

Perhaps my least favorite idiomatic phrase, however, is "The Customer Is Always Right." What a load of crap. The customer is so not always right. I mean, think about it...we are all occasionally in need of goods and/or services. So, at some point, just about every day, we are all customers. But we all can't possibly be right all the time. Obviously, in any simple, practical disagreement, one party is "right" and one is "wrong."

"The Customer Is Always Right" is an extraordinarily antiquated notion that should be totally done away with. Around the turn of the century, when American entrepreneur H. Gordon Selfridge coined the phrase, I'm guessing that a sense of common decency and morality prevented people from blantantly attempting to rip off their local businesses.

I mean, think about it. In 1900, stores weren't all owned and operated by wealthy international faceless billion-dollar conglomerates. They were owned by people, members of the community. If you lived in the neighborhood, you likely went to the same few stores all the time. It wasn't some anonymous Alberstons-esque impersonal juggernaut where your $22 transaction (two frozen macaroni-and-cheese dinners, a six-pack of imported beer, Gummi bears and one can of Heinz vegetarian baked beans, if your diet is anything like mine) is a pittance in terms of daily gross. It was "Jeff's Grocery," and you knew Jeff because he was the friendly old guy behind the counter. You might even have a TAB there, which meant you could pay Jeff the next time you went in. Maybe he'd even tease you a little about your bill piling up, in good fun.

So, in that situation, yeah, maybe the customer was always right. Because it was worth it for a businessman to defer to his friendly neighborhood customers who did business with him all the time.

But today, people have different relationships with local businesses. We now shop exclusively at places owned by large corporations, and though I'm not exactly a proponent of shoplifting, it's clearly more tempting to steal from or defraud an entity like Best Buy or Target than Jeff, the kindly old guy at the grocery store who sometimes lets you take a bag of penny candies for nothing if you help him reach something on the high shelf.

I'm not saying more people are thieves. I'm saying that our attitudes about consumerism have changed. People don't really have hang-ups about being excessively needy, and even unfair, when dealing with businesses. And why not? Why shouldn't a franchise like Best Buy, making billions of dollars all around the world, have to go that extra mile to help out a customer.

But it puts those of us who still work at small, individually-owned businesses in a predicament. Because consumers carry this attitude with them wherever they go. Including my store, which is not owned by billionaires and technically housed in the Cayman Islands, but instead a regular guy who lives a few blocks away. So we get people in the store all the time trying to, in no uncertain terms, rip us off. Blatantly so. And they expect us to just give in immediately all the time, because "the customer is always right."

I'll give you one anonymous example. A guy comes in the other day...He purchased a single-disc copy of a new movie, when what he really had wanted to buy was the two-disc special edition. Okay, so he opened his single-disc copy and watched it before he realized the mistake. Then he brings it back to the store. He wants to just exchange the single-disc, opened copy for a sealed, brand-new two-disc version.

There are two unfair things about this transaction.

(1) We will be selling the man a two-disc copy of the movie for the price of a single-disc copy.
(2) We will wind up with an opened disc that we cannot resell.

After much huffing and puffing, we managed to work out a deal with this guy that isn't TOO terrible for us and that still allows him to get his hands on that second, all-important bonus-feature-laden disc.

But he had a horrible, horrible attitude. See, an old idiomatic phrase apparently informed him that he was always right, and when this clearly conflicted with the truth, it made him very upset. But he wasn't right, he was wrong. He wanted something for nothing, and he wanted us to eat the cost of his mistake.

Okay, now more on H. Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the Selfridge chain of stores in Britain. (I couldn't figure out exactly what they sell at Selfridges? It's not fridges, right? Because that would be too perfect.) Anyway, this guy Selfridge was a real asshole. Not only was he the one that started saying "the customer is always right," but he also started that obnoxious "BLANK shopping days left until Christmas!" horseshit that has already started popping up in shopping destinations nationwide.

Selfridge is kind of an interesting figure, because after years of hard-work culmianting the fabulous success of his own chain of stores throughout England, he went totally batshit insane. After his wife's tragic death in 1918, Selfridge travelled the nation doing a music hall act with a pair of Hungarian-born twins known as The Dolly Sisters. Eventually, he lost his controlling interest in Selfridge's and blew his entire fortune on gambling, eventually dying in poverty, living in a shithole apartment.

So, just remember, customers, your ass ain't always right. H. Gordon Selfridge didn't know what he was talking about.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

My 101 Favorite Directors, 1-10

This is it. The final list. My 10 favorite directors of all time. More or less. I'm sure, in a few years, it will change. British magazine Sight & Sound does a poll every 10 years of film critics and filmmakers, asking for the Ten Best Films of All Time. And every decade, the picks change, even though almost no post-70's films ever appear on there. People just keep changing their minds about what are the best old movies. My tastes are pretty fluid (Does that sound gay? I can't tell...), so I'm sure my list is no different.

I guess I don't have too much left to say on this subject after 10 of these lists. I know my friend Ari has been inspired to come up with his own list, so be sure to check in with his blog occasionally. Cause it's sure to be very very different from mine. Way more Asian guys, for starters. And more sci-fi. And I doubt John Hughes will find his way on there.

10. Sergio Leone

I guess it's odd that many of the most famous, iconic and beloved Westerns were made by an Italian guy. I mean, Westerns should totally be our genre. They take place on our land, intermingled with our history, in our language. And yet a bunch of Italian guys, working in Spain, managed to capture the spirit of our nation's history more vividly, with more personality and more gritty realism than almost any American filmmakers. Leone's films are generally remembered as outlandish, thrilling and fun action-adventure films. And, of course, they are. But they're also terrifically observant and fiercely intelligent. These are action-adventures with a real point of view and a strong message, movies that often take up stridently liberal causes with near-revolutionary fervor. But of course, more than the wit and thematic sensibilites of the films, it's the iconic imagery and grace that most will remember. Leone really knew how to use cinematography, not just for impressive backgrounds or beautiful pictures, but as a tool for immersing an audience into a story. It's easy to get completely lost in his grand desert scenery. So effective is Leone as a visual storyteller, the films can go for long stretches with no dialogue, and barely any sound, and remain comprehensible and absorbing.

MY FAVORITES: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, A Fistfull of Dynamite (a.k.a. Duck You Sucker), Once Upon a Time in America

9. Alfred Hitchcock

Critics and writers often invent words out of filmmaker names. I describe things as Cronenberg-ian in conversation surprisingly frequently, and I've even heard Tarantino-esque thrown around before. But no other filmmaker's name is truly synonymous with a genre like the name Alfred Hitchcock. How did he manage to repeatedly work within the same, rather narrow, type of filmmaking for so many decades, in two different countries, without constantly repeating himself? Without growing horribly stale. I mean, right there at the end, with lesser efforts like Family Plot, I suppose the Master of Suspense did eventually run out of steam, but still...There are so many superior thrillers with his name attached, it's near-impossible to even name them all without IMDB handy. There's so much to say about Hitch's genius, I could write 100 blog posts, but what I've always appreciated about his sensibility best is his playfulness. He was making movies about murder, spycraft, intrigue and betrayal, and yet all of his films find ways to work in humor and a sense of fun, letting you know that there was someone behind the scenes having a terrible amount of fun. Take the masterful Spellbound, in which Hitch, guest director Salvador Dali and stars Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck riff rather ludicrously on Freud. Near the end of the film, we get a first-person POV shot of a man aiming a gun at himself, an impressive camera trick that calls all manner of attention to itself. This is a serious moment, goddamn it! And he's still goofing around, showing off. It's that almost childlike sense of play that makes these movies live, even after you know what's going to happen because you've seen it 100 times.

MY FAVORITES: Vertigo, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Rope, Marnie

8. Steven Spielberg

There was some early speculation as to whether or not The Beard would make it to the Top 5. If I were ranking directors by how many times I had actually watched their films, Steve would probably be #1 (followed closely by...I'm not sure...Mel Brooks, Terry Gilliam and John Landis would all stand a decent chance...) But instead, I have to balance my early love of everything Steve touched with my recent, curmudgeonly rejection of some of his sentimental, and quite frankly half-assed, efforts from the 90's on. The man remains, to this day, the King of the Set Piece. Is there a more naturally talented, confident crafter of exciting, memorable and intense action sequences in American film history? I mean, when you even begin to add up the number of set pieces devised by Spielberg that have become an intrinsic part of the grammar of American filmmaking...Jaws eating a teenage girl alive. The Mother Ship touching down in front of Devil's Tower. Indy outrunning that boulder. The Mine Cart chase. The T-Rex bearing down on that van with those kids inside. E.T., hidden in a basket, flying those bicycles right over the cops, with the full moon in the background. His movies inspired an entire generation, and I am a part of that generation, so he's allowed 100,000 missteps as far as I'm concerned. As long as they're mainly better than Hook, I'll likely remain forgiving.

MY FAVORITES: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Minority Report

7. Jean-Luc Godard

Man, Godard would be so pissed to be on this list right next to Steven Spielberg. You see, Jean-Luc is kind of a snooty French jerk, the kind of guy who expects people to refer to him as "The Master." Here's some insight into the personality of Jean-Luc Godard. In one of his more recent films, the insufferably bitter anti-American, anti-common sense, anti-entertainment rant In Praise of Love, Jean-Luc has a character (obviously echoing his own sentiments) who decries Steven Spielberg for stealing European stories. (In particular, he's upset about Schindler's List, as he feels the Holocaust is not an appropriate subject for a film regardless of the director's nationality). What an obnoxious crank. The claim is even more hypocritical because Godard, in all his best and most famous films, borrows stories from American movies and repurposes them. His films are no more French in origin or inspiration than Paris Hilton. If he weren't such a genius, I might actually dislike him. But he actually has the talent to get away with this sort of arrogant, pompous behavior. Godard and his New Wave peers back in the late 50's and 60's did nothing less than reinvent the concept of cinema. We always hear about the "auteur" concept, that great films were not so much collaborative efforts as they were pieces of art authored by directors. But Godard films are also when movies turned inward for inspiration. His pastiches riffed on other movies, on the pop culture of the time, on French history, on current events, on the idea of film genre. But most of all, they riffed on themselves, on the fact that they were trying to look at the small details of how people lived rather than trying to tell elaborate and fictional stories. Today, they remain vibrant, lively, entertaining, frequently ingenious and funny, but it's hard to even get your mind around how innovative they must have seemed at the time, these wacky non-sequiteur metaphysical crime comedy-dramas.

MY FAVORITES: Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Pierrot le Fou, Contempt, Masculine-Feminine

6. Roman Polanski

Both Roman and the director at #4 are forever doomed to have their work constantly overshadowed by the bizarre details of their personal lives. It's a shame. I hate having to comment on whether or not I think Polanski is a pervert every time I bring up one of his films. His proclivities for underage women notwithstanding, the man has made some of the best psychological thrillers, mysteries and even comedies of any filmmaker alive. I can think of no one else whose films reflect such a deeply nuanced comprehension of paranoia and claustrophobia, whose work resonates with such an immediate understanding of the mechanics of human fear. His Repulsion ranks as one of the most viscerally unsettling movies I have ever seen, and it features almost no dialogue, only one central performance, and not even a whole lot of actual incident or action. It's one of the most perfectly-directed films ever made, a virtuoso example of tone, pacing, style, editing...the whole package. Unfortunately, his legal troubles and exile from Southern California have prevented him for some time from getting A-level material for some time, and it's impossible to say how many more great films he might have made if he could travel freely in the U.S. But even with this professional handicap, the guy is responsible for some of the highlights of the entire horror/suspense catalogue.

MY FAVORITES: Chinatown, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant, Knife in the Water, Frantic

5. John Huston

Interestingly, one of the key cast members in my #1 Polanski pick Chinatown. Purely a coincidence, I assure you. Huston is responsible for several of the greatest American films of all time. These aren't just movies that are well-made and entertaining, movies that you throw on in the midst of a lazy afternoon to pass a few hours before you take a nap. These are groundbreaking films of startling originality and impeccable craftsmanship. These are movies that birthed entire genres. In the 1940's and 50's, Huston went on a tear, churning out a series of so many classics, its depth might just be unequaled in American film history. On another list, I mentioned that Kinski-Herzog was among the great actor-director pairs in cinema history. I'll add another coupling to the list: Bogart-Huston. Together, they gave the world The Maltese Falcon, Across the Pacific, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, Beat the Devil and The African Queen. Wow.

MY FAVORITES: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, Key Largo, The Man Who Would Be King, Beat the Devil

4. Woody Allen

Twice in my life, I have enjoyed a piece of art that gave me the same, very immediate and sudden chill of recognition. A feeling that the author isn't just expressing an idea that has previously occured to me personally, but that they are expressing this idea in the very same way I would think to express it, were I personally a brilliant writer. Once, it was while reading Phillip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint." The other time, it was watching Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Many of the details of Woody's films - the upper-class elite Manhattan settings, the 20's jazz soundtracks, etc. - don't match up with my experience at all. But the sense of humor in his films, their point of view, their outlook, the subjects he chooses to address...I don't know if, since I grew up watching his films, I have simply adopted them, or if I've had them all along and we're just similar people. Allen's movies are so full of well-drawn characters and, of course, tremendously funny and snappy dialogue, it's easy to forget how haunting and beautiful they can be as well. He works with some of the best cinematographers and editors in the world, and though he's ridiculously prolific, he clearly strives to give each of his movies their own look and feel. When people say he's always playing the same character, or his movies are all alike, what they really mean is that they're not paying attention. Or that they've only seen one or two of his films and want to sound like they've seen more. In reality, the Woodman has one of the most impressive filmographies of any American director, ever. Comedies and dramas that have remained as hilarious, insightful and vital as they were upon their debut.

MY FAVORITES: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, Hannah and Her Sisters, Deconstructing Harry

3. Stanley Kubrick

As great as all the filmmakers on the Top 101 list have been, very very few of them have perfect filmographies. And most of the ones with perfect filmographies have only directed a few films. Kubrick worked off-and-on from the 1950's until his death in 1999, and though I haven't seen some of his earliest and least-known films, all the available films he made in that time are brilliant works of art. Every single last one. The guy, as you may have heard, was something of a stickler for perfection. His movies are bold, thoughtful, ambitious and even a bit coolly distant. He wasn't one for telling emotional human stories (although there is always emotion there if you know where to look), and he wasn't one for thrilling, Kubrickian set pieces (although several of his films include some). Instead, like a maddeningly insightful, compelling essayist or social philosopher, his work carefully dissects human weakness and frailty, as well as humanity's interconnection with technological innovation and the natural world. I find that, as I age, my favorite Kubrick film changes. As a teenager, I was all about his chilling, warped retelling of Stephen King's haunted house story The Shining, with its spazzy Jack Nicholson performance and gruesome, perverse atmosphere. In college, I delighted in the cynical, bleak, dryly comic masterwork A Clockwork Orange. (Also, the first hour of Full Metal Jacket, which isn't just dazzlingly photographed and outstandingly performed, but is also perhaps the most quotable hour of cinema ever filmed). And now, in my mid-20's, I find myself revisiting the elegant, densely-layered period piece Barry Lyndon most often.

MY FAVORITES: Barry Lyndon, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory

2. Martin Scorsese

Marty was probably the filmmaker who first showed me the full potential of what movies could accomplish. As a young person, he grabbed me, because he's maybe the most visceral, immediate and involving filmmaker of all time. You don't watch his desperately try to grab hold as they throttle past you. Maybe it's a function of the way he moves the camera combined with the energy of the performances and the booming rock-heavy soundtrack, but whatever it is, there's something about a Scorsese film that's vivacious, buzzy and alive. And though he's best-remembered for his remarkable, massively endearing gangster and crime films, Marty's among the most versatile directors working today. From period epics to biopics, comedies to musicals, documentaries to experimental films to chamber dramas, the guy has shown he's equally adept with a variety of material, styles and genres. For some reason, there's been a resistance to his recent films, particularly the somewhat messy but immensely compelling Gangs of New York. I frankly don't understand it at all. To my mind, the guy's talent hasn't faded a bit since his heyday in the 70's. He remains the definitive modern American filmmaker, a guy whose movies express who we are today and how we live better than anyone else's.

MY FAVORITES: Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Casino, Gangs of New York

1. Orson Welles

The great tragedy in film history is the sidelining of Orson Welles during what should have been his busiest and most productive years. The fact that he was only twice in his life allowed to release his preferred version of a film, and that both of those films are immaculate masterpieces that reinvent their respective genres. The fact that there are nearly a dozen projects he began and was unable to complete. The fact that his name is synonymous with perhaps his single greatest achievement, but that all his other tremendous work is overlooked by everyone except hardcore movie fans. The fact that, though revered by other filmmakers, in his later years he was reduced to supplying narration for children's cartoons and doing frozen pea commercials for radio. This stuff makes me angry to this day, and Welles died when I was six years old. His films represent precisely what I desire most out of cinema - they tell insightful and humane stories in a way that is innovative, imaginative, personal, thoughtful, provocative, fanciful and, perhaps most importantly, entertaining. And Welles' own playful, rakish sensibility comes through in every film he helmed, even after studios took them away and chopped them to pieces for release. In the trailer for Citizen Kane, Welles studiously avoids describing what the film is actually about. Perhaps his sensed that a film about the rise and fall of a newspaper magnate sounds dry. But how could he describe in a few minutes the wealth of ingenuity and good humor that permeate the entire film. How to get across just how entertaining the movie will be for an audience? Welles' solution was to fill the trailer with his own personality, to humorously narrate an introduction to the film and its cast. He's telling the audience, "you'll like this film because it will be like spending 2 hours with me, and I'm goddamn delightful." And you know what? The guy is pretty fucking delightful, as a storyteller and even occasionally an actor (in his own films and many others, including his memorable turn as Harry Lime in Carol Reed's classic The Third Man). I always enjoy spending a few hours with him.

MY FAVORITES: Citizen Kane, F for Fake, The Lady from Shanghai, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Trial, Touch of Evil, The Stranger, Mr. Arkadin

Top of the Pops

I've been listening to a lot of new music lately. Around this time every year, record companies and indie labels begin releasing a shitload of new product. I guess it's in anticipation of Christmas, but why not spread it out a little better? I mean, people buy CD's all year round, don't they? Frankly, I just can't illegally download it all that fast, and I'd appreciate some more time to play catch-up.

Anyway, here's the best of the new music to whcih I've been listening, unlawfully or otherwise.

Broadcast, "Tender Buttons"

This British electronica band can't help but remind me of Stereolab, and the new album is no different. It's just that their Broadcast vocalist Trish Keenan sounds kind of like The 'Lab's Laeticia Sadier (when Sadier's singing in English, that is) and that both bands have kind of a spacey, lounge-y take on modern pop music. This new Broadcast album is the most pared-down and straight-forward I've yet heard (the band recently downgraded from a trio to a duo), but the songs are still great and their laid-back, infectiously repetitive sound has remained intact. One of the best "chill-out" albums I've heard this year.

Broken Social Scene, "Broken Social Scene"

I thought there was no way for Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene to top their breakthrough album, "You Forgot It In People," and I'm not quite sure their new eponymously titled album actually does the job. But it comes pretty close. And even if the songs aren't quite as memorable as on their previous go-around, their new sound is even larger, fuller and denser. This is a BIG album, and there's so much to absorb, I'm still gaining my footing after 10 or more listens. Not really the sort of songs where you remember all the words after a few listens, but the sort of music that just envelops you while you listen.

Franz Ferdinand, "You Could Have It So Much Better"

In the UK, this LP is called "You Could Have It So Much Better...With Franz Ferdinand." That title's much better, more appropriate title than the abbreviated American version. I wonder why they changed it? Perhaps they don't think Americans appreciate cheeky humor. Anyway, I haven't listened to it enough to know whether I like it more than their self-titled debut, but I've heard enough to know the new album from FF is filled with more catchy, funny 3 minute garage rock songs. No sophomore slump visible here at all. Of particular note is the slower, more ballady "Eleanor Put Your Boots On," something of a departure for the band and among the best songs they've ever recorded.

The Pernice Brothers, "Discover a Lovelier You"

You ever discover a band you've never heard before, and find that they sound a lot like a lot of other music you already like? It's a weird feeling. Like, "Why haven't I heard this before? I've heard the other music in its category?" That's how I feel about The Pernice Brothers, a band with the exact dreamy pop kind of sound I like who I had just never heard prior to a week ago. They definitely share a style with groups like Grandaddy and American Analog Set, both of whom I've grown quite fond, but I had just never encountered them before. This is their latest CD, and thus far the only one I know, but I'll be listening to some more very soon. Track 1 on this album, "There Goes the Sun," is just the sort of tight, catchy, bouncy song that I can just tell will be floating around in my head for weeks now.

Spoon, "Gimme Fiction"

I've become totally obsessed by this album. I can't really elucidate exactly why, but it's by far my favorite Spoon album ever. I could listen to Track #2, "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine," over and over and over again. And I have been, for at least two weeks now. And that's just one of the great, simple, immensely fun and clever rock songs on this LP. I also love the Beatles-esque "Sister Jack," album-opener "The Beast and Dragon Adored" (which has probably my favorite chorus of the year), first single "I Turn My Camera On," and the last track, "Merchants of Soul."

Ween, "Shinola, V. 1"

This is a collection of some of Dean and Gene Ween's favorite unreleased tracks, dating back to 1992. (Get it? They've been able to tell shit from shinola!) I love Ween. These guys are just incredible, surprisingly prolific songwriters. These songs weren't even deemed worthy of B-side status, and yet the collection as a whole is far better than most band's official albums. You always know a truly truly genius-level band when their disposable unreleased tracks are this good (see also: Pavement, Radiohead). The delightful cock rock throwback "Gabrielle" may be the highlight here, but other tracks like "Big Fat Fuck," "Boy's Club" and "Did You See Me" are just as good any Ween album track.