Saturday, November 19, 2005

Is This Racist?

Here's a poem I found posted on the blog "Swanky Conservative." For the record, the name of their blog is half correct. I'll leave it to you to determine which half.

So, my question to all of you is...Is This Racist?

‘Twas the Night Before Katrina (Cajun style)

Please note that the title indicates the poem is told in a "Cajun" accent. This will become important later...

‘Twas de night before Katrina, when all tru da state
Not a gas pump was pumpin’,
Not a store open late
All da plywood was hung, on de windows wit care,
Knowing dat a hurricane, Soon would be dere.

Yes, it's a humorous poem about a storm that killed many many citizenes of New Orleans. So the poem is insensitive. But that's not why I've asked you all here...The title of this post isn't "Are Conservative Blogs Insensitive?" It's "Is This Racist?"

Let's go a bit further:

Da chilren were ready wit deir flashlight in hand
While rain bands from da hurricane covered over our lan'
And Mom wit her Mag-lite, and me wit my cap
Has jus filled da battub for flushing our crap.

Rhyming cap with crap! You devilishly clever anonymous satirist!

Anyway, do you see where I'm going with this? Sure, there's such thing as a "Cajun" accent. You may recall it being used by Gambit in that old "X-Men" cartoon, or Jean-Claude Van Damme in Hard Target. ("I weel halp you find your daddee.")

But all this "dat dere" stuff sounds more like, well, like a minstrel accent. And the overall tone of the poem, about panicky, bewildered Louisiana citizens fleeing the massive storm on foot...And the fact that the overwhelming number of Katrina refugees were black...

De wind how it howled, de storm very scary,
Myself and my family were all too unwary.
Da dangers of hurricanes are serious ya know,
Dey are taken for granted as Betsy did show.

Seriously, maybe I'm being oversensitive or something...You tell me. Is This Racist?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic

I've seen a lot of short movies lately. Anything under 90 minutes...In some ways, it kind of feels like a small failure. I mean, an hour and a half is basically industry standard; if you can't even get that far, maybe there are some basic structural flaws in the concept. Whenever you see a mainstream film, particularly a comedy, that comes in at 75 or 80 minutes, that's kind of a red flag.

But sometimes, a shorter movie has advantages. In just over an hour, there isn't really time for a movie to wear out its welcome. Sure, if it's bad anyway, it will still be bad, but it will never have that oppressive "long bad movie that feels like it will never end" kind of feeling. Like Meet Joe Black, a movie so bad and so long, I thought while watching it that director Martin Brest had actually invented some sort of wormhole or rip in the cosmic continuum allowing him to produce a film outside of the physical reality of time and space. Like a perpetual motion machine of Suck.

And, believe me, Sarah Silverman's swift 75 minute stand-up film, Jesus is Magic benefits from a brief running time. I know that sounds like a back-handed compliment, but it's not meant as one. It's a perfectly, um, forward-handed compliment.

The film Jesus is Magic mostly records Silverman's very funny one-woman Off-Broadway show of last year. It's mainly her intentionally offensive, frequently crude stand-up act, interspersed with brief skits and a few musical numbers.

When the film is just stand-up, it's terrific. Silverman's jokes are all pretty similar - she says something really offensive, but with a wide-eyed, innocent delivery, as if she doesn't know it's offensive. Then, she acts like she's going to reverse her offensive statement, when really she goes even further, making it more offensive.

The whole thing is built almost entirely around ironic distance. Silverman constantly threatens to remove the pretense from her set, to reveal that, though she says a lot of racist things, she's doing it to mock racism, and not to express it. But she never quite does. As I said, every time it looks like she's going to come clean, to admit her mutual respect for everyone equally, she pulls a reversal and tells another offensive joke.

At the end of the set, she says:

"I don't think it would be right to do an entire show built on stereotypes. I don't do that. I build my material off of facts. Women make 70% as much as men. Fact. Every 30 seconds, in America, a minority jumps up and down waving his arms behind a local news reporter. Fact."

That about sums up her material right there. It's all very funny, and there's just something intangibly great about seeing a very attractive female comedian who's so funny and open and crude.

But a little of it does kind of go a long way. I found myself noticing the format of Silverman's jokes, when it would probably have been better if I was too busy laughing. I bet I could make the same statement about Chris Rock jokes from "Bring the Pain" if I paid enough attention, but I never have a chance to focus on the minutae like that.

And the sketches and songs aren't really up to the level of the stand-up. An opening segment in which comics Laura Silverman (Sarah's sister) and Brian Posehn (from "Mr. Show" and, most recently, Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects) brag to Sarah about their careers, prompting her to invent Jesus is Magic on the spot, drags on and on and on to a predictable finish.

And a lot of the songs, though semi-catchy and well-sung by Silverman, aren't terribly funny. Worse, many of them just repeat jokes from her stand-up act. After we've seen her do a very amusing 5 minutes on Jewish people buying German cars, we see a song in which Silverman, dressed like a 60's go-go dancer, walks through a parking lot goofing on...a Jewish guy in a German car.

I think 20 more minutes of this or so would have been too much.

Oh, before I forget, one other small thing that bothered me, though it's not Silverman's fault. I know that she's involved romantically with Jimmy Kimmel. It's been in newspapers, I've seen them talk about it, it's out there...So when I see her doing very graphic jokes about sex with "her boyfriend," I unfortunately have to picture James Kimmel in there. It's weird. There's one joke in particular, about performing fellatio with the aid of fruit preserves, that's really disturbing when you know it's the former host of "The Man Show."

I like Sarah Silverman. I like her comedy. And, like most other male fans of stand-up comedy, I kind of have a crush on her. I'm just saying, Jesus Is Magic, though entertaining and sporadically hilarious, probably would have been better just as 75-80 minutes of stand-up. Or even an hour-long HBO special.

Three Foreign Films


Robert Bresson's Pickpocket, a really haunting portrait of self-loathing and criminality from 1959, actually came out on DVD a few weeks ago. But for whatever reason (most likely forgetfulness), I never got around to actually writing up a review. But I couldn't let the occasion of the film's release on a pristine Criterion DVD just pass without saying anything.

That's amateur Martin LaSalle as Michel, the titular pickpocket, who steals out of financial desperation as well as an egomaniacal sense of entitlement. French director Bresson always made use of non-professional actors, and would famously force his actors to perform a scene repeatedly, until all emotion and meaning was drained out of the performances. He wanted blank slates, canvases onto which an audience could project their own fears, dreams, desires and neuroses.

Michel initially picks pockets for the rush, and as a personal challenge - he wants to see if he can get away with something illegal and immoral. When he does, and suffers no consequences, he soon becomes a professional, learning a great deal from veteran pickpocket Jacques (Pierre Leymarie).

In terms of narrative, the film is pretty similar to Dostoyevsky's novel "Crime and Punishment", only without the axe murder stuff. Michel makes what he sees as a rational argument for his pickpocketing (as a great intellectual and thinker, he shouldn't be forced to work for a living in some pointless job), and is eventually won over to the side of right not by reason but by the love of a good woman. In this case, it's Jeanne (Marika Green), the sensitive nieghbor of Michel's sick mother who loves him without question.

It sounds heavy, but it's not at all. The film is fast, brief and even exciting. The sequences in which teams of pickpockets descend on crowds in the subway, where Bresson's camera follows just their fast-moving hands pulling wallets and flitting them around, are like a masterclass in cinematography. Bresson captures the devious, deceptive nature of the pickpocket's movements, constantly shifting your attention away from the actual moment of theft.

And it all wraps up in one of the most beautiful, haunting final scenes in motion picture history. The last line has become a classic for international film fans, and it's only in the movie's last moment that you can truly appreciate Bresson's vision and humanity.

As a bonus, the disc includes an interview with writer/director Paul Schrader, in which he discusses Bresson's technique and influence, and a really cool clip from French TV by Pierre Leymarie (a real-life magician and pickpocket who acted in and consulted on the Bresson film).

Forbidden Games

Another brief 50's French film that packs a big emotional wallop. (Pickpocket is 75 minutes long, Forbidden Games a slightly longer 85 minutes). Rene Clement's wartime drama features two of the best child performances I have ever seen, from 5 year old Brigitte Fossey and 12 year old Georges Poujouly.

As the film opens, Paulette's parents and beloved pet dog, Jock, die after a German bombing. She finds her way to the Dolle farm, where young son Michel (Poujouly) finds her and bonds with her immediately. She comes to live with the family, passing time playing with Michel and obsessing about giving her dog a proper burial.

This is a strange film. For the most part, it's carefully observant about the way not just children but all people deal with death. They become obsessed with little details, with the notion of greiving, and with the idea that proper treatment and care, a dead person's soul can be brought to a place of peace and serenity. For Paulette, she insists that Michel build her a pet cemetary in an old mill, not just for Jock but for all animals in the area who have died. A plan to steal crosses from the actual cemetary to mark these graves is the incident that triggers the film's narrative.

But on another level, Clement sees the war as the ultimate disruption to French society and life. The opening scenes, of planes dive-bombing while families run for dear life below, reflect the tone of the entire film - a world gone mad, in which everyone is a constant target for violence, and death lurks around each corner. There isn't a scene of this film without some sort of death imagery, whether it's an owl hiding a dead mole in its nest or a family member receiving a fatal kick from an escaped war horse.

Nothing is stable, everyone is affected, and the only meaning any of this chaos has is what meaning people choose to give it. Just like Paulette and Michel's "play cemetary," there's a notion that the adults, building decorated hearses and reciting the Lord's Prayer, are merely engaging in their own form of make-believe.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

From France in the 50's, we turn to Korea...a few years ago. This film is the first in Chan Wook-Park's Revenge Trilogy. (It's only a thematic trilogy...The movie's have nothing aside from subject matter in common.) Volume Two was the mesmerizing Oldboy, which I reviewed here with breathless enthusiasm. Volume Three, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, comes to America (hopefully) in 2006.

Both Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy feature parallel revenge stories; multiple characters, each motivated by a desire to repay a perceived gross injustice. In Oldboy, a man is imprisoned for 15 years in a motel room, and then sets out to find and kill the man responsible. In an increasingly disorienting odyssey of discovery, he learns that his imprisonment was itself revenge for an earlier crime against his jailer.

In Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a deaf mute named Ryu (Ha-Kyun Shin) makes a deal for a black-market kidney. In exchange for an organ to match his ailing sister's blood type, he hands over not only money, but one of his own kidneys. Upon waking from the operation, he discovers the organ dealers are gone, with his money and kidney. Now, when a real donor kidney appears, he's forced to kidnap the child of a wealthy businessman (Kang-ho Song) in order to get back the money, to pay for the operation.

Naturally, the kidnapping goes awry. There are several deaths, and the businessman and mute are set on parallel revenge stories, each after the person they see as ultimately responsible for all the destruction and tragedy.

So both films deal with the inevitably unsatisfying nature of vengeance. What begins as a quest to punish others for past wrongs always turns obsessive and ultimately pointless. To kill a man is not curative; violence begets violence.

But this is where the similarities end. Oldboy is like a jolt to the system, a 2 hour theme park ride full of turnabouts, stylistic leaps, brilliant effects sequences, rapid-fire editing and action sequences. Though it's built around a "twist ending," the entire film is really one big mindfuck. Your perspective on events is continually skewed, your understanding of motivations upended.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, though equally violent in spurts, is altogether more meditative, quiet and reflective. Having a main character who's unable to speak gives Park the opportunity to focus more on visual storytelling, and even the "action" sequences move more languidly than Oldboy. If that film makes revenge appear as a chaotic nightmare of unexpected consequences, here it's a harrowing, grim march to inevitable tragedy.

Park as well infuses his twin revenge films with very different subtexts. In Oldboy, the revenge cycles around deviant sexuality. Oh Dae-Su's imprisonment, his ironic punishment and everything in between are circumstances fueled by shame. His foe doesn't want to hurt him for anything like money, or in fact, any rational reasons at all. It's a matter of personal pride, the last attempt for an unbalanced man to "set the world right."

But in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, all of the exchanges are monetary. Ryu needs money for his sister's operation, and he chooses a target based on his wealth. In both cases, the revenge follows a broken contractual agreement. The organ donors promise a kidney and don't deliver. Ryu promises a child in exchange for a ransom, and doesn't deliver. When these negotiations break down, the parties involved turn primal, seeking their retribution through any means neccessary.

By the end, when the two men finally have their face-off, neither of them even seem angry. It's more out of a sense of ritual, or duty, that the final act of violence takes place. "You know why I have to kill you," the businessman says, with a look of utter defeat. He doesn't relsih sweet revenge, but undertakes a dirty chore out of loyalty to his dead offspring, on behalf of wronged parents the world over.

Spoon at the Wiltern LG Theater

Nathan had purchased a bunch of extra tickets to the Spoon concert at the Wiltern Theater tonight, hoping to make a healthy profit on E-Bay sales after the show sold out. Well, for reasons unknown, the show never actually did sell out. Tickets were still available when he arrived in front of the theater at 7:45 to scalp his extras.

I wasn't with him, of course. Doors didn't even open until 8, and there were two opening acts, and I'll be damned if I'm going to hang around inside the Wiltern Theater drinking $6 beers for 2.5 hours waiting for Spoon to play. So he went early to sell the tickets, and I arranged to meet him at around 10, which was my guesstimate for the time Spoon would actually take the stage.

I was almost on the money. In fact, in a surprise move, the opening acts hustled on and off the stage, and Spoon went on at around 9:45. I was just arriving as they broke into their first song, "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" from their latest album, "Gimme Fiction." I made it in time to find a pretty kickass spot, off to the side but surprisingly close to the stage.

I did not have time, however, to locate Nathan. We found one another about 3 songs into Spoon's terrific 80 minute set. He was (in retrospect, predictably) hanging back by the bar. A word about Nathan: He is 12 feet tall.

Okay, maybe not 12. But well over 6. Sometimes in bars, he tells people he's 7 feet tall. On rare occasions, they believe him. I bring up his egregious height here because, at concerts, hanging out next to him can be something of a liability. I can't really forge forward through the crowd like I usually would in pursuit of a clear vantage point. You can't really cut in front of regular-sized people if you're traveling with a Giant...they get kind of irritated.

So it took a little cajoling to find a spot where I, at 5'9", could see and where Nathan, at 6'5"-ish, wasn't blocking the view of several Lollypop Guild members.

Fortunately, we were rewarded for our labors. The show was terrific. I had never seen Spoon before, and I didn't really expect them to rock out quite like they did. If you listen to their albums, they're always really clean and polished. Meticulously arranged hooky indie rock songs that are pared down, minimalist, and held together by the exceptionally tight drumming of band co-founder Jim Eno.

Spoon tore through a ton of great songs, mainly tracks from their two most recent albums, this year's "Fiction" and 2002's "Kill the Moonlight." They ended the main set with my favorite song off of "Moonlight," "Jonathan Fisk," and that album's "Small Stakes" and "The Way We Get By" were some of the most enjoyable, infectious songs of the entire set. As I said, I was impressed with the energy and intensity of the band's live performance, because the albums are so tasteful and restrained. I wouldn't go so far as to categorize the show as "loose" or "messy," but it kind of felt like seeing a really talented garage band with a killer catalog of songs. More reminiscent, in other words, of seeing The Strokes than The Decemberists.

In addition to playing almost the entire new album, Spoon did make room for a few older numbers, and some of them were the highlights of the entire set. "Car Radio" off of their underrated 1998 LP "Series of Sneaks" provided a showcase for lead singer Britt Daniel's emotive, McCartney-esque wail, and a memorable rendition of "Fitted Shirt" from 2001's "Girls Can Tell" was another high point.

All in all, a pretty terrific time. I can generally gauge the quality of an indie rock show fairly easily...If I'm tired of being at a concert and want to go home by the encore, it's a mediocre show. If the house lights come up and I find myself thinking that the band didn't play for very long, the show kicked ass. Thus far in 2005, almost all of the shows I've seen have been in this second category. Really, besides the KROQ 2005 Grim Inland Death March, I've had an exceptional year for concert-going.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mourning Wood

I've got two things to say about this new development in the Plamegate government leak story. As anyone who reads any blogs besides this one and The Superficial knows by now, it has been revealed that a senior Bush administration official leaked the name of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post several months before Scooter Libby leaked the name to Judith Miller or Matt Cooper.

(1) As a journalism student back in high school, I idolized Woodward and Bernstein's groundbreaking work investigating the Watergate scandal. It's probably the most famous achievement in journalism of our time, due in part to the excellent film All the President's Men, in which Woodward was portrayed by Robert Redford. At that time, of course, I had little appreciation for nuance. Woodward was a hero journalist, period.

In the intervening years, I've learned enough about the guy to know that he wasn't QUITE the selfless, iconic hero of so many worshipful young reporter's fantasies. He was and always has been an establishment kind of guy. We know now that his most famous secret source, Deep Throat, was really the deputy director of the FBI, a guy more interested in centralizing power in his agency than ending corruption or government secrecy.

But it's still disheartening to see a guy like Bob Woodward become a puppet for the most shamelessly corrupt administration in American history. This sort of trade - in which a journalist basically agrees to become a PR director for a political cause in exchange for exclusive access to the leaders of that cause - is complete and total horseshit, the example opposite of the job journalists are hired to perform.

This revelation means that Woodward has known information all along, through this entire 2-year plus process, of vital importance to the public, and has kept his mouth shut. He claims reporter-source confidentiality, which is the biggest load of bull I've ever heard. Confidentiality means that you don't reveal who told you about a story if that information would compromise your source. It doesn't mean a journalist should never have to testify in a trial, or that a journalist has a right to disclose or withhold whatever information they want from the public, or certainly that a journalist can run a story they know to be biased and misleading, hiding behind a confidential insider source. Woodward, at one time or another, has implied all of these things.

And it goes beyond simply hiding important facts from the public he had promised to inform. He actively has been going around trying to downplay the entire leak investigation of Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald. Without revealing to anyone that he had any personal connection to the story whatsoever, including his own editors at the Washington Post! What a scumbag, pretending to be an impartial observer in order to cover the asses of his criminal crony friends.

(2) Just because Woodward has admitted someone leaked to him before Libby leaked to anyone else doesn't mean Libby is off the hook. My God, has everyone lost their minds?

Here's how the propaganda has been sold...If someone (possibly National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley or the Big Man himself, Vice President Dark Helmet) told a reporter about Valerie Plame before Scooter Libby, than Libby's not the real leaker and should be cleared of all charges.

Excuse me? This is the best the White House can do? One of our resident fuck-ups had already sold out that undercover agent before the resident fuck-up you've indicted. Nyah nyah nyah.

Firstly, Libby's under indictment for lying about what he knew and when he knew it, not for leaking anything, so he's still guilty as hell. Secondly, Fitzgerald had clearly indicated at Libby's indictment that he was presenting the case as he presently understood it, and that all facts might not be available to him because everyone involved in still lying. The Republicans are seriously trying to convince us that, because so many other people are still lying, we shouldn't do anything bad to the liars we've already caught. Yeah, it's a really stupid argument.

And yet, according to reliable sites like Media Matters, the press is going for it. Sigh...At least Bush's poll numbers are still in the crapper.

What's It Worth To Ya?

I don't have blogads on the site here. They're distracting, for one, and it's not like I'd make any money off of them. You need actual traffic in order to make money from having ads on your blog, and this blog has had about as much traffic this week as the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. (Too soon?)

So, basically, I've always assumed the blog here is, for all intents and purposes, worthless as a commodity. Fun to maintain, and useful for keeping contact with friends on the Intar-Web and spewing out the occasional rant, but hardly a wise business undertaking.

That was until I saw this Technocrati service, called "How Much Is Your Blog Worth?" Using some advanced, space-age formula (possibly involving algorithms or even...dare I say...logarithms?), they can determine exactly how much any blog is worth in real dollars! My result was $16,371.66.

Holy shit, can that possibly be right? That's seriously more than I will earn this year at the video store. Just for sitting here in my bedroom typing mean things about Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin? And exactly who is ever going to give me, forget 16 large, $5 for Crushed By Inertia exactly?

Now there's another device for calculating blog worth, and it's somewhat more...realistic.

Using even more exciting mathematical computations, such as cosines, blogger Nic Duquette declares that my blog is worth more like $540 annually. To be honest, it still sounds a bit high. Maybe if every 50th post came with some free hardcore XXX streaming video...But I don't really have the technology for that sort of set-up. Or the capital to invest in any hardcore XXX videos. Maybe if someone would give me the $540 up front, I could go buy some pornography and finally attract some viewership.

Cause I seriously have to quit this day job. Waking up early to stand around renting people movies for 8 hours is totally five minutes ago.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oliver Stone's W

Oh, please, Oliver Stone...Stop being such a drug-addled drunk-driving lunatic or you won't survive long enough to make a scorching biopic about our current president. Oliver Stone's W is going to kick so much ass.

You know what's fun? Think of who, in 20 or 25 years, will be old enough to play all the major roles. Gabrielle Union as Condi Rice! Kevin Spacey as Dick Cheney! Matthew McConaughey as W! Tim Roth as Scooter Libby!

I'm thinking that you've already got Nixon as a perfect template, because that situation is a lot like our current one. You've got a massively corrupt administration looking, above all, to localize power within the White House, undone by a small relatively insignificant public scandal. You've got an administration full of individuals who, at one time, were considered the Best and the Brightest, an elite group of thinkers and leaders eventually revealed to be nothing more than self-absorbed liars and cheats ready to turn on their respective offices and one another at the first sign of trouble.

And, unfortunately, it looks more and more like Bush will personally go down the Nixon route, coming mentally unglued during the collapse of his political fortunes. I'm pleased to say that I was right on top of this story way back on September 21st, when it broke in the National Enquirer, but it's now become bonafide "chatter" around Washington - George may be secretly hitting the sauce.

The Washington Times, that GOP mouthpiece owned by everyone's favorite insane Korean cult leader, Reverend Sun "Sonny" Myung Moon, is reporting that Bush is losing his shit with startling rapidity. Here's AMERICAblog with the latest (because I can't in good conscience link you to the Washington Times, a paper so foul that I would refrain from lining a cockatiel's cage with it lest it offend their delicate sensibilities):

President Bush feels betrayed by several of his most senior aides and advisors and has severely restricted access to the Oval Office, administration sources say. The president's reclusiveness in the face of relentless public scrutiny of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and White House leaks regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame has become so extreme that Mr. Bush has also reduced contact with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, administration sources said on the condition of anonymity.

Yikes. Let's not also forget that Bush turned to Jesus in order to quit drinking and drugging, and never went through any kind of professional counseling or treatment. Now, plenty of people solve their addiction problems without professional treatment (I guess), but it does mean that Bush may not have anyone knowledgable to turn to in a time of emotional crisis. Cause, I mean, you can ask yourself what Jesus would do if everyone in America found out he had been full of shit about reasons to go to war...but Jesus would probably never have encountered that situation in the first place. He's the go-to guy if you have questions about anointing people's feet with oil or lending money inside the Temple, but political maneuvering obviously wans't his forte. Cause, you know, he was executed by the state in his early mid-30's.

Seriosuly, think about this. I mean, would you want to cry on Barbara Bush's shoulder? I'd rather snuggle up with a wolverine infected with that 28 Days Later Rage disease. She exudes compassion like my asshole exhudes Chanel No. 5. In Nixon, Tricky Dick at least has Joan Allen for moral support. Who's George got? Condi Rice? Karen fucking Hughes? That idiot librarian he knocked up a couple times? Shit, Julius Caeser had a more reliable inner circle.

I kid around, but this is some seriously frightening information. What if Bush really is losing it, Nixon style. The guy is still nominally in charge of the nation. He's got 3 more years left to royally screw everything up like you wouldn't believe? I mean, I'm sure we've had a functional alcoholic as president some time in the past 200-some years. Coolidge always looked a little questionable to me...But can you imagine having a drunk, disaffected, paranoid guy running the country right now? With so much shit going on?

As I say so often here on the blog, there has never been a better time to consider the lovely Greater Vancouver Metropolitan Area. Sure, it's a little cold, and people put mayonnaise on inappropriate items. But there's relatively little chance some rummy with start a war with a random sovereign nation based on false evidence.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Films for Grown-Ups

I'm really getting annoyed by this endless stream of "trend articles" we're seeing based on this bogus Hollywood Box Office Slump narrative. You know what I'm talking about? Every week in some publication, there's another barely sensible piece of blather about how movie studios are going bankrupt and no one is seeing movies any more. Apparently, and I don't know if you've heard this, but the ability to watch a music video on a tiny screen attached to your iPod has hereby rendered the cinematic experience obsolete. Didn't you get the memo?

Here are a few of my opinions that are constantly contradicted by these silly "think pieces."

(1) Just because there are fewer huge blockbusters, or a certain weekend produces less profits than that same weekend produced the year before, does not mean that movie studios are going to go broke soon or that no one wants to see any movies any more. At this point, movie studios make more money selling DVD's and plugging cheap products in their movies than they do on box office receipts.

(2) The ones hurting the most because of a box office slump are movie theaters, which is why they have to run 500,000,000,000 commercials before every goddamn movie. But even if these big, bloated, corporate-run megaplexes start going out of business because less people go to theatrically-run films, there will still be movies and movie theaters. Maybe they will just start producing smaller, more intimate theaters with fewer screens. Or maybe the theaters will fill their extra screening rooms with older films, or smaller films, or cheaper films that enhance the theater's profit margin. (Often, 75-80% of first-weekend box office revenues go to the studios and distributors, but for a revival of an old film or an independantly-release movie, you could cut that number way way down.)

(3) Handheld video devices and file-sharing and DVD's are all totally neat, but they are never ever ever going to replace going to a theater to watch a movie. You can't get to second base by inviting a girl to watch a movie on your iPod. Movies have a community value that has nothing to do with actually watching movies, in addition to the enhance aesthetic and social value of watching a movie projected on a large screen along with a live audience.

(4) A given movie's box office take has nothing to do with the quality of the movie. There, I said it. So many of these articles conclude that "no one is seeing movies any more because all the movies are really bad." This is horseshit. Look at any year's Top Grossing Films. Are they the best movies that came out that year? Absolutely not. People don't know if a movie's good before they see it, and even if someone pays to see a bad movie, they don't then stop going to movies. They just be sure not to see another film by that director or with that actor or whatever.

Okay, so keeping those four principles in mind, let's look at this article from It's written by a guy named Edward Jay Epstein who wrote a book called "The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood." He makes a lot of crucial points that aren't often made in the media, but I still feel like his argument kind of falls apart.

From January 2005 to September 2005, the movies of the six Hollywood studios earned $4.7 billion compared to $4.5 billion in the same period in 2004. Their share of the American box office rose from 68 percent in 2004 to 75 percent in 2005. (Click here for all the studio numbers for the past nine months.) The big losers were independent studios who specialize in more adult movies, such as Lions Gate and Newmarket Films, and the so-called "studioless" studios, DreamWorks and MGM, which suffered 40 percent box-office declines.

What he's pointing out here is that, as you would expect from a business that's suffering from setbacks, the smaller fish are the ones getting picked off first. The larger companies have enough capital and leverage to weather the storm, essentially, unfettered.

Moreover, the reason that some studios did not do as well in 2005 is that they had too few, not too many, amusement-park films for juveniles. Sony, for example, had no Spider-Man 3 to match the $373 million U.S. box-office gross it had from Spider-Man 2 in 2004 (Spider-Man 3 is scheduled for 2007). DreamWorks had no Shrek 3 in 2005 to match the $476 million U.S. box-office gross it garnered from Shrek 2. On the other hand, the studios that scored the biggest box-office gains in 2005, Fox and Warner Bros., generated them through amusement-park movies such as Star Wars—Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Fox) and Batman Begins (Warner Bros.).

And this really brings me to my central point. These articles always complain that there are "no more good films for grown-ups!" But the evidence clearly shows that grown-ups and kids alike enjoy immature, teenage-boy-oriented films. Because it's not like there isn't alternative fare out there. People simply reject non-traditional filmmaking. Movies like Waking Life and I Heart Huckabees and Grizzly Man and Good Night and Good Luck hit American theaters each and every week, including some smaller markets, and no one cares. If there's no Spider-Man 3 movie in theaters, they don't go see something else, something maybe a bit more daring. They just stay home or rent Spider-Man 2.

I see this every day at the video store. We put out a tremendous variety of films each Tuesday, when the new release DVD's come out. Today, even though it was kind of a thin release day, new rental selections included a political documentary, a human-interest documentary, a French thriller, a French romance, a couple of 80's wacky comedies (including one directed by Robert Altman), a 70's Italian cop thriller, an indie comedy from the director of The Opposite of Sex and exploitation classic Bikini Chain Gang.

And what was the day's biggest renter? Stealth.

Second place? Madagascar.

And these are full-grown adults. I didn't have any 15 year old dudes lining up to buy DVD's in the middle of the day. I guess they were all at home uploading bit-torrent-retrieved versions of Get Rich or Die Tryin' into their Sony PSP's.

With the overall audience for movies in decline, the lesson of 2005 is that the studios need youth-oriented franchises supported by massive advertising budgets to fill theaters. As a top Sony executive explained, "Franchises are the name of the game." He added that one reason Sony bought MGM was to get its James Bond franchise. Once established, a franchise that appeals to youth enables studios to acquire merchandising tie-ins from fast-food chains and licensing commitments from toy and game manufacturers—all of which help promote the film.

So, Epstein has all his facts correct, he just misidentifies these so-called "amusement park movies" as solely appealing to teenagers. The fact is, everyone in America seems to prefer this sort of event filmmaking. And I would actually take issue with identifying films like Star Wars and Batman Begins as exclusively "youth-oriented." That's an indication, to me, that Epstein is somewhat out of touch with today's generation of 30-something adults. These people grew up with Star Wars, grew up with comic books, and don't think of them as childish in any way, myself included. I would wager that I and my colleagues at the video store got far more enjoyment out of Revenge of the Sith than any 10 year old possibly could, because of our enhanced emotional attachment to the Star Wars universe.

And then he really goes and fucks it all up in the last paragraph:

The studios, recognizing that most of the former habitual moviegoing audience is at home watching television—and soon their iPods—create audiences for each of their movies through advertising on television, an enormously expensive—and risky—enterprise. To make it work, the studios look for a group of people that both regularly tune into TV programs on which the studios can afford to buy commercials and who can be motivated by a 30-second ad to leave the comfort of their houses to go to the multiplexes. And for better or worse, that means teenagers.

Wrong on several counts. People will never watch movies primarily on a device like an iPod. It's impractical and not nearly as engrossing as watching a movie on a big TV screen. Those are useful for travel and as a new and exciting fad, not a real venue for movie-viewing. Also, "people that regularly tune into TV programs" are all teenagers? Huh? Am I crazy, or doesn't almost everyone watch at least some television? When a old fart show like "Law and Order" spawns 200 spin-offs and a show beloved by teenagers like "Arrested Development' can't survive for 2 full seasons, doesn't that indicate that, while teens may watch more TV than their elders, they are not as reliable as viewers? And, finally, advertising on TV isn't exactly a risky venture. Moviemaking is a risky venture. TV advertising is a way to essentially guarantee awareness of your product. The film won't always make money, but a commercial will always attract eyeballs.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Robert Greenwald might make political documentaries with a staunchly progressive point of view, but he's no Michael Moore. That's both a good and bad thing. Good because too many documentarians today think of themselves as little Michael Moore's (that's not a fat joke, I swear), trotting around the nation with their camera crews challenging people who don't think like they do, and pausing occasionally to crack wise to their imagined one-day audience.

It works for Moore, because he's a geniunely funny and likable guy, and because he has created a persona that works well as a narrator for his films. They're about all kinds of things, but you know what you're going to see because it "stars" Michael Moore. It doesn't work as well for Moore's legion of imitators, particularly those on the Right trying fruitlessly to turn his tactics against him in a series of increasingly shrill, pathetic wannabe non-fiction films. (Michael Moore Hates America was a particularly sad example).

But back to Greenwald. As I said, it's good that he's freed himself from the Moore formula, and makes documentaries that, while similarly political and opinionated, are more straight-forward, informative and anecdotal in nature. But he could take a cue from Moore in terms of entertainment value. While Moore manages to turn even a harsh polemic like Fahrenheit 9/11 into a fairly satisfying, moving cinematic experience, Greenwald can't get past the documentary-as-Power Point presentation. His films are fascinating, important, smart, crafty and above all passionate. The person putting together this footage, making these arguments, is doing so not as a means to gain fame, attention or donations. He wants you to understand this information that's vital to the future of our nation.

What they are not is gripping, fun or cinematic. In fact, at times they are shockingly amateurish. As well, Greenwald occasionally turns shamelessly manipulative. He doesn't need to, as he's just about always on the logical side of an argument and brings significant evidence and data with him to prove his points. He could make films that were highly persuasive without resorting to cheap political-ad tactics so frequently.

His latest film, taking on retail mega-ultra-giant Wal-Mart, stands as a fine example of my point. Wal-Mart is clearly a villainous, evil corporation. A destroyer of local businesses on a massive scale that succeeds not by winning out in a fair competition for consumer dollars, but by cheating in every imaginable way. Greenwald doesn't need to over-emphasize his point through grainy, black and white footage, deep ominous music or bold-faced type zooming towards the screen. Just tell us the truth, Rob, and let it set us free!

That being said, there is much to recommend this film. I thought I knew why Wal-Mart was a villainous, evil corporation, but honeslty, I didn't know about at least half of the information in this film. Some of it will absolutely turn your stomach.

For example, though I had heard about the immensely low wages and unfair labor practices at Wal-Mart (particularly in terms of their intolerance of even discussions about unionizing), I was not aware that Wal-Mart managers actively encourage their full-time employees to go on public assistance (welfare, food stamps, etc.)

We're talking about the largest retailer in America, a company worth literally billions of dollars. The family that owns Wal-Mart, the Waltons, are among the richest people in the world. 5 Waltons (the widow of the store's founder and her four children) are on the list of America's 10 richest people. They can't afford to pay their help a subsistance wage? They can't provide reasonable insurance coverage?

So when you're paying those low, low prices at Wal-Mart, you're making up the difference when you pay your taxes. That money goes to programs that supplement Wal-Mart's payroll, so it doesn't have to pay its employees enough to survive and support their families.

And that's not the only way that Wal-Mart leeches off of the public dole. Wal-Mart receives grants from community leaders to build stores in their area. Cities have turned over as much as $1.7 million to build a new Wal-Mart, an eyesore that will rout the area's small businesses. I'll have to ask Ron tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure the city of Los Angeles hasn't kicked him any money to make sure Laser Blazer's operating smoothly. But like I said, I'll ask...

The movie is 90 minutes long, and it is chock full of unbelievably aggravating factoids such as these. I'd recount more of them for you, but Greenwald does a better job of exposing this corporation and its owners for the greasy slimebags that they are. You can click on that icon above to learn more about the film and how to obtain a copy on DVD (or you could just come pick up a copy at The Blazer...)

I would also recommend, if you're interested in the subject of how much Wal-Mart sucks, that you watch the classic "South Park" episode in which a Wall-Mart is built in town. Hilarious stuff.

Greenwald, regrettably, offers little in terms of real solutions. Of all the recent fiery political rant type films I've seen, only The Corporation painted a bleaker picture. In a final montage, Greenwald shows us a list of all the communities that have successfully kept Wal-Mart out (along with a bunch of cheesy WordArt reading "Victory!"), and it's a long list, but that's sort of a pyrrhic victory. It would take every community in America simultaneously rising up and saying no to extremely low prices on popular items...Not a very likely scenario. Everyone likes a bargain.

He Wants to Make Romance Inside You

Can you sue a comedian for playing a character? I'm tempted to say no, that such a thing would be impossible. Yet, here is the nation of Kazakhstan, threatening to sue British comic Sacha Baron Cohen (better known as Ali G) for his portrayal of the hilarious "Borat," a clueless Kazakh TV show host.

For the 8 people on the Internet who don't yet know about Ali G, here's the short version: Jewish British guy Cohen dresses up as one of three different characters (wannabe hip hop doofus Ali G, gregarious yet repugnantly intolerant Borat or gay Austrain fashionista Bruno) and interviews people who don't any better. It works on the "Punk'd," "Tom Green" level of making people look like assholes on TV, but it also serves as perhaps the best satire on television. The genius of Cohen is how he uses these characters, who are stupid and out-of-their-element enough to make even the loopiest fool feel morally and intellectually superior, to bring out the flaws in his guests. If you're a racist, well, so is Borat, so you two might be able to find some common ground.

Really, it's amazingly funny, and also why the jokes aren't really very offensive. I mean, the Ali G character is incredibly stupid, but the way the character is used to make pseudo-intellectuals like Andy Rooney look ridiculous is actually very smart. In that same way, just because Borat himself may be an offensive stereotype doesn't mean that the humor itself is offensive. In fact, Borat is used most often to reveal the less obvious, buried racism that lurks under society's phony facade of tolerance.

One brief example before I get back to the article...In perhaps the greatest Cohen routine of all time, Borat goes to an Arizona redneck bar to play a country-music song for the crowd. At first, of course, the laugh, because he's a swarthy Middle-Eastern guy in a smelly ill-fitting suit with a heavy accent wearing a cowboy hat and playing a guitar.

But the song is catchy. By the time he gets to the lyrics about throwing Jews into wells, the crowd is clapping and even singing along. (Borat, being a Muslim from Central Asia, hates Jews passionately, and finds similarly-minded Americans with surprising frequency). It's a hilarious bit, both because the song itself is a funny interpretation of ignorant anti-Semetic nonsense and because these people, who probably know well enough to be guarded about their distaste for Jews, loosen up in Borat's presence and reveal their true colors. Brilliant television.

But back to this article...

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry threatened legal action on Monday against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who wins laughs by portraying the central Asian state as a country populated by drunks who enjoy cow-punching as a sport.

Baron Cohen, who portrays a spoof Kazakh television presenter Borat in his "Da Ali G Show", has won fame ridiculing Kazakhstan, the world's ninth largest country yet still little known to many in the West.

Whoa, the world's ninth largest country? I mean, I knew the Soviet Union used to be huge, but think about that...That's pretty goddamn huge! (I'm assuming the article means "largest" in terms of area, not in terms of population, because I'm thinking I could name 9 more populous nations. I mean, have you ever met anyone from Kazakhstan?)

Baron Cohen appears to have drawn official Kazakh ire after he hosted the annual MTV Europe Music Awards show in Lisbon earlier this month as Borat, who arrived in an Air Kazakh propeller plane controlled by a one-eyed pilot clutching a vodka bottle.

"We do not rule out that Mr. Cohen is serving someone's political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way," Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev told a news briefing.

"We reserve the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks of the kind." He declined to elaborate.

I think MTV in America is going to replay the Europe Music Awards. I'll have to try and see it if they do, cause just that intro sounds hilarious.

And I'm not sure what's being implied by the Foreign Ministry with that quote. Is there some British-Kazakh tension being alluded to that I'm simply unaware of, or is it just unbridled paranoia. I'm certain that Mr. Ashykbayev isn't intimately familiar with the Borat routine, or he'd realize that the humor comes from Borat making his guests look stupid. Everyone knows that Borat isn't really supposed to represent the people of Kasakhstan. That's why it's amusing that such a silly character can dupe so many people!

But here's my question, on the off-chance there's a lawyer in the house. Can you sue someone for defaming an entire race of people through a character? If that were possible, couldn't just about every comedian ever be sued? I mean, what about Eddie Murphy's infamous "Jewish guy" character, that he played in about 10 movies back in the 80's? Or Mike Myers' Scottish Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies (or Shrek or So I Married An Axe Murderer or half of his sketches on "Saturday Night Live")?

Isn't that total horseshit? So why bother contacting all these news organizations and making a public statement? What's the use of threatening a comic with legal action?

Cohen's earlier jokes about the Central Asian state include claims that the people would shoot a dog and then have a party, and that local wine was made from fermented horse urine.

"We view Mr. Cohen's behaviour at the MTV Europe Music Awards as utterly unacceptable, being a concoction of bad taste and ill manners which is completely incompatible with ethics and civilised behaviour," Ashykbayev said.

I'm interested in the exact statements by Borat that offended the Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry. What is really his insistance that dog-shooting is the national pastime? Or his declaration that the best Kazakh wine is derived from horse urine? Because Borat has said way worse stuff than that. In particular, his constant sexism and racism would, I assume, be an issue for the Kazakhs. Borat has claimed to keep his wife in a cage, that in his country horses and dogs rank as more important than women, that prostitution is the greatest profession to which women should aspire. He's also made it known that he and his wife are afraid of those with a "chocolate face," and don't object to slavery in any way. Finally, if you watch the special features on the Ali G Second Season DVD, you can hear Borat suggest hunting Jews for sport.

But that stuff's all apparently fine with the Kazakhs...They just want you to know that none of them drink horse pee.

More on Bill O'Reilly's Tireless Crusade Against Taste and Decency

Maybe the best thing about Bill O'Reilly is his complete and utter lack of self-awareness. Because he doesn't listen to anyone else's side of a conversation ever, because he in fact purposefully avoids having to hear anything negative about himself, his views or his program, his mind exists in a total vacuum. The only ideas bouncing around in there are his own, and he's oblivious when they are idiotic and making him look like a complete asshat.

Take his recent comments about San Francisco, which I discussed briefly here. Here's the short version: Terrorists are encouraged by O'Reilly to blow up San Francisco, in particular the Coit Tower, because the citizens of the Bay Area recently voted to ban military recruitment on public school campuses.

I know...Those unAmerican bastards! How could they refuse a policy that would encourage unscrupulous recruiters desperate to meet their quota to solicit impressionable teenagers to join the military during mandatory sessions set aside for learning? Didn't they hear about freedom being on the march?

Anyway, a few wacky left-wing "moonbats" (to borrow noted bug-faced creature Michelle Malkin's phrase) think that it's wrong for a TV news anchor to encourage organized violent actions against a large American city.

So, after a few days of taking a beating on the blogosphere for his unique blend of intolerance and outright stupidity, Bill went on a conservative SF radio show and voiced his response:

What I said isn’t controversial. What I said needed to be said. I’m sitting here and I’m looking at a city that has absolutely no clue about what the world is. None. You know, if you had been hit on 9/11 instead of New York, believe me, you would not have voted against military recruting. Yet the left-wing, selfish, Land of Oz philosophy that the media and the city politicians have embraced out there is an absolute intellectual disgrace.

What he said isn't controversial? He suggested that al-Qaeda should blow up San Francisco. I don't know what's American openly wishing terrorism against a major American city, or an American claiming that it's not controversial to do so.

Clearly, the "it's not controversial" argument wasn't going to be enough to satisfy everyone. And this is really where Bill O'Reilly rises above the rest of his mindless pundit fellows and into the realm of Super Genius. Most pundits, upon realizing they had made a gaffe and said something inappropriate, would just pretend they hadn't said it and move on. When pressed about the incident publicly, maybe they'd intimate that their words were taken out of context, or twisted to suit some other purpose, or something.

But not Bill. Bill, constitutionally, cannot admit error or back down from a point. He physically can't. He's so pompous, he seriously believes that everything he's ever said is correct and sensible and right and proper. More than that, he says things that need to be said.

So, all that was needed was a back-up secondary explanation for his ludicrous, hateful commentary. No longer was it "not controversial." Now, asking terrorists to please kill all those librul latte-slurping freaks in San Francisco was merely a "satirical riff."

Oh, well, if it's just a wicked bit of mockery, how can anyone be upset about that? I mean, after all, Bill O'Reilly is one of the greatest and most infamous wits of the modern age, is he not? A regular Oscar Wilde, but you know...slightly less gay.

Unfortunately, it seems this secondary, back-up explanation is still not enough to silence Bill's left-wing critics. So he has trotted out the extremely rare (and might I add, wily) tertiary emergency explanation for his lack of decorum...

Ready for it? I warn you...if you're enjoying a delicious beverage while reading the blog here, you may wish to fully swallow before reading the next paragraph, as its sheer idiocy may cause you to spew Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper all over your monitor.

Some far left internet smear sites have launched a campaign to get me fired over my point of view. I believe they do this on a daily basis. This time the theme is O’Reilly is encouraging terrorist attacks. Unbelievably stupid. Not unusual with these guttersnipes.

You see, this whole thing is the work of left-wing smear sites trying to get Bill fired over his point of view. He's just a guy with a point of view! Why can't we let him live!

Because I am a lefty, and because I bash O'Reilly regularly on my Internet site, I am going to go ahead and assume Bill thinks of me as a "guttersnipe," which is pretty awesome. If I only had better graphical designing abilities, I might make a little logo or something to stick on the masthead. But, I don't...

And, finally, Bill resorts to a form of neo-McCarthyism...posting an enemies list of all sites who have unfairly maligned him for wishing the sweet release of death on everyone from Northern California.

I’m glad the smear sites made a big deal out of it. Now we can all know who was with the anti-military internet crowd. We’ll post the names of all who support the smear merchants on So check with us.

Yeah, Bill, very believable. I'm sure you're totally glad that major, popular sites on the Internet continually posts transcripts of all the dumb crap you say, so that others can mock it incessantly. I bet you're also super-excited that your Fox News cohort made that loofa-themed phone sex call public.

We Need Food!

I'm feeling better today, but I'm still not exactly 100%. I'm in that phase of immediate post-sickness where you kind of still feel icky, but you're not quite sick any more, so people actually expect you to go about your normal routine. It sucks.

Aside from the occasional coughing fits and headaches, the worst part is that I haven't gotten my appetite back yet. So I get hungry, but I don't feel like eating any actual food. Tonight, I thought I'd make myself some eggs and toast, as I have the past few nights.

First, I discover that there are only two eggs left. It's not much of a MEAL. I figured I could compensate by making four pieces of toast instead of two, or maybe finding some sort of food-like substance to put BETWEEN some of the pieces of toast, thus constituting a sandwich. (I know there is always the possibility of making an egg sandwich, but for some reason those never come out rigth when I try to make them, even though you can go into a lot of breakfasty-dinery-deli kind of restaurants and they'll make them and it will taste delicious. I think cheese and bacon are kind of prerequisites.

As it turns out, one of the two eggs is completely stuck to the carton. This is odd, because I didn't notice any cracked eggs when I purchased the dozen, so there wouldn't really be leaky egg goo to make everything cling together. Just this one egg was fused to the cardboard somehow. I'm trying to pry it off when, of course, it cracks in my hand, getting sticky egg goo all over the carton, the countertop and, naturally, my person.


My friend Aaron won't even eat eggs. The very thought of eggs kind of makes him sick. It's something about the fact that eggs are clumps of genetic material, or unfertilized baby chickens, or just their oozy consistancy that grosses him out. I like eating eggs a lot, but at that moment, with egg drippings all over my fingers and all around me on every tiled surface, I kind of got where he was coming from.

So, that only left one egg, which isn't nearly enough for any kind of satisfying meal. Even those weird-looking little dinosaurs that used to live exclusively off of primitive bird eggs needed more than one egg to satisfy their appetites. And I'm a full-grown mammal who worked a 6 hour shift at a video store!

So I didn't even bother making the one egg. Instead, I shifted to Plan B, sandwiches. This plan had the benefit of requiring only ingredients I might also have in the house, and not having to leave the house remained top priority.

Bread, check. Raspberry jelly accidentally purchased the other day in an illness fog when mistaken from Strawberry jelly, check.

And then there was the peanut butter. There was some leftover peanut butter in the fridge. But how long had it been in there? At least, bare minimum, 3 months. But peanut butter keeps up, right? Especially if it had been refrigerated. I will now present to you the entire actual real conversation I had with my rommate Nathan about the eatability of the old peanut butter from our fridge.

ME: How long is peanut butter good for?
NATHAN: It lasts a long time.
ME: Yeah, but, like, six months?
NATHAN: Check the date on the top of the container.
ME: But that's the sell-by date...Doesn't that mean it's good as long as it hasn't already been opened?
NATHAN: Oh, yeah. I've eaten peanut butter that was
ME: And it was fine.
NATHAN: It tasted kind of funky.
ME: Yeah, but you didn't get sick later or anything.
NATHAN: I don't think anything can grow in peanut butter. Because of the viscosity.
ME: That sounds right. I tasted a little bit of it already, and it tastes fine.
NATHAN: Yeah, if it tastes fine, you're good.

So, I made a raspberry jelly and significantly old peanut butter sandwich. Not the best meal I've ever had...but not the worst either. Back in college, on nights we'd get really lazy and really stoned, my roommate Dustin and I would make fried baloney sandwiches. Now that, my friends, is a solid taste creation. I still occasionally consider buying baloney when I go shopping, if for no other purpose than the occasional late night friend baloney sandwich. But I never actually go for it. What a shame.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Thank You Ameri-CAH

I had thought that Braffy nominee Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" was about as disgusting as a jingoistic pro-American country song could get. But that's only because I hadn't yet heard Luca Zanna's "Thank You America," courtesy of (motto: the web radio for those who love the United States of America).

Of course, it's a country song. But not just any country song. One in which the singer tries for an exaggerated twang and falls really short, resulting in a vocal sound somewhat approximating Neil Diamond after slugging 10 bottles of Robitussin.

Here are the lyrics to "Thank You America":

If today I don't have to speak German
and live under the third reich...
Hey... Thank you America

If today I don't have to speak Russian
and live under that red flag...
Hey... Thank you America

Thank You for everything
Thank you for all my dreams
Thank You yes I am free...
Thank You America

If today my wife doesn't have to hide her face
and she can live like a woman...
Thank you, Thank you America

If today I can drink a beer
and celebrate life with no fear...
Thank you America

Thank You for everything
Thank you for all my dreams
Thank You yes I am free...
Thank You America

If today I can choose my own God...
If today I can say what I think without looking behind my back...
If today I can be the owner of my present and dream about my future...
If today I am a free man in a free Country...
I want to say one more time...

Thank You for everything
Thank you for all my dreams
Thank You yes I am free...
Thank You America

Oh, so much arrogant, pseudo-patriotic trash to mock, so little time.

If I didn't have to run out to work in about a half hour, I'd give you guys a more complete vivisecting of the song, but as it stands, let me just point out one massive inconsistancy.

One line thanks America for allowing him to choose his own God. But only a few lines prior, the narrator rebukes Muslims for hiding their women behind veils. So, which is it, hayseed? Are we big time into religious freedom, or do we seek to prevent others from expressing their religious beliefs in ways we find distasteful?

If you'd like to see a video montage that does a pretty good job of pointing out the inherent flaws and hypocracies in "Thank You America," why not check out this fine blog spot at Sadly, No! [NOTE: Because the video depicts America's actual foreign policy, and not some Fantasyland nonsense about freedom on the march, it's very graphic and disturbing and violent.]

If You Don't Already Get HBO...

Here's another good reason. They have hired David Cronenberg to adapt his bizarre, awesome 1988 thriller Dead Ringers into a series. Think "Nip/Tuck," only with identical twins, and they're gynecologists instead of plastic surgeons. Otherwise, I'd say the tone will probably be fairly similar.

HBO is really kicking ass and taking names in terms of show development these days. I mean, yeah, I understand that they have higher budgets and more creative freedom, but they manage to attract just about every interesting creator of appointment television out there. I haven't seen "Rome" yet, which I understand is great, but come on...David Chase of "The Sopranos," Alan Ball of "Six Feet Under" and another upcoming comedy/drama show, David Milch of the riveting "Deadwood," Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"...and now David freaking Cronenberg? Damn...

I can't wait to see this show. How can they turn such a bizarre, twisted and fatalistic story into a TV series? Will it take the characters from the film and just change their eventual fates, or will it be a new set of twin gynecologists? Only time will tell...