Friday, November 25, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

It's impossible to talk about Mr. and Mrs. Smith without discussing one's feelings on Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. They are the entire movie. No attempt has been made to provide any level of entertainment or creativity beyond the casting of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and the occasional dressing of the duo in sleepwear.

So, before we go any further, allow me to state the following for the record: I like Brad Pitt in certain films; he's not a terrible performer in the right role, and he tends to work with directors I find at least vaguely interesting (like Terry Gilliam or David Fincher or Steven Soderbergh). I think Angelina Jolie's a pretty terrible actress who also happens to be incredibly, stunningly attractive.

Brad looks befuddled. I, too, am befuddled by the vapid mess that is Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The ingredients are all there for, if not a good movie, at least a passably entertaining popcorn movie. Director Doug Liman helmed Swingers and the surprisingly watchable The Bourne Identity. Pitt and Jolie are beautiful people, dressed scantily and firing weapons at one another. As an added bonus, they got together in real life while making this movie. I don't know if you heard about that, but it was briefly in the newspapers this year.

And the premise is as promising as it is unoriginal:

A couple discovers after six years of marriage that they are both professional assassins, and that they are now tasked with killing one another.

That's what they call, in The Industry, a high-concept premise. It sounds like a mix between True Lies and The War of the Roses, and that's exactly what it is.

It's so high-concept, in fact, such a straightforward formula action-comedy set-up, that screenwriter Simon Kinberg didn't bother to actually write much of anything. Mr. and Mrs. Smith hits all of the beats you'd expect, it sets up scenarios and jokes and pays them off, but it's staggeringly stilted and dull. Honestly, despite starring the face that launched 1,000 copies of Vogue Magazine, the thing isn't even that sexy. One can only hope these two are hotter in real life than they are on screen in this shitkicker. Maybe they just have a mutual interest in starving orphans...

I will admit, to be fair, that the thing does pick up after a sluggish initial opening act. Liman has a fairly steady eye for action sequences, and he mercifully avoids that quick-cut blurry Ridley Scott crap that's ruining the Hollywood action film. Even though this thing ends in a bloated, explosives-heavy sequence that can be accurately described as "Bruckheimer-esque," Mr. and Mrs. Smith definitely works better as an action film than a comedy.

Occasionally, Vince Vaughn pops up as Pitt's co-assassin partner, and actually says a couple of funny lines. But otherwise, the movie just doesn't connect. I think the main characters, John and Jane Smith (Pitt and Jolie) are the main problem. Okay, fine, they are assassins. They are cold and cruel and nihilistic. That's one thing. But on top of that, they don't even care about each other until the very end of the film. Their marriage has grown stale at the opening, they're bored with one another, and so, of course, so are we. Even once the reveal has been made - they're professional killers! - their personalities don't get any more interesting.

They just don't care about anything but murder. That they eventually stop trying to kill one another and focus their bloodlust outward doesn't really make this problem any better.

Stuff About Stuffing

I went home to Irvine today, as I always do on Thanksgiving. By the time I get home, items are already being shoved into and pulled out of the oven, snacks have already been prepared, and my father is openly questioning how long he has to wait before commencing with cocktail hour. (Final verdict? 4 p.m.)

My mother refers to the hosting of the Thanksgiving meal as "entertaining," as if the neighbors, the police chief and my dad's old army buddy are dropping by at any time. In fact, it will be a tightly-knit group this year, consisting of my parents, myself, my brother Jon, his girlfriend Paula, my grandparents Sally and Bill, and my uncle's girlfriend's son, Kyle.

We spend the majority of the night watching and discussing "Curb Your Enthusiasm." I don't know if any of you saw this week's "Curb," in which Larry must pretend to be an Orthodox Jew in order to convince the head of the Kidney Consortium to move his friend Richard Lewis up the donor list. It was a hilarious episode that thankfully was this evening at 6, giving us all a chance to watch.

Also, it's my birthday on Saturday, so we did the family version of the birthday celebration. I got a cool book from my brother on the history of scientific inquiry into the origin of life on Earth. Other than that, I got money. Some of the money was earmarked for me to sign up for Sirius Satellite Radio, so I can hear Howard Stern's broadcasts starting January 9th.

A few observations:

  • Money is the ultimate birthday gift. You can't return it. It's easy to wrap. And it's not something you'll never use and then feel guiltty about never using, because someone took the time to pick it out and buy it for you.
  • The new $50 bill, with the off-purple trim, is realy gay. Gayer than European money, even.
  • Every time my family members give me money on a special occasion, they make a big thing about putting it in my wallet immediately rather than my pocket. I keep valuables in my pocket all the time. In fact, my wallet itself is just going into a pocket anyway. So what's the big deal?

After a delicious turkey dinner, replete with two kinds of sweet potatoes, my grandfather's trademark savory stuffing and homemade pumpkin pie, I said my goodbyes, packed up my leftovers and headed out to Cypress.

My friends Dave and Matt are in town for the holiday from Santa Cruz and Brooklyn, respectively, so I wanted to swing by their house for a visit. To get there, you exit the 405 at Seal Beach Boulevard and turn right. Unfortunately, Dave tells me on the phone to turn left. I pass Leisure World, the old-folks community, which I have never passed before to my knowledge. This was my first clue that something was wrong.

My second clue came when I entered a strange residential neighborhood I'd never been to before, and all signs of Seal Beach Boulevard disappeared into the foggy night. I was lost. And not that, "Oh dang I'm lost" kind of lost, where you know as soon as you make one crucial turn you'll be back on a familiar straightaway. The kind of lost where you just know, without some outside assistance, you will be driving around in circles for the next two sessions of Congress. I'd have had an easier time finding the Well of Souls than the way back towards Dave's house.

I swallow my pride and call for help, and Dave over the phone gets me back on track. Only after driving for a few moments do I realize just how far off the proper route I had gone. I was practically back in Irvine, for crissakes. I really need one of them GPS systems, preferably one that sounds like Mr. T.

I finally arrive at Dave and Matt's just as everyone is getting ready to leave for a bar. Apparently, near Cal State Long Beach, a number of dive-y kind of bars remain open on Thanksgiving. So we head out to a place called, I believe, 3636, with a number of Dave and Matt's high school friends in tow.

The first thing I notice about 3636 is its horrible jukebox. The thing claims to be connected live to the Internet, and able to download songs upon request. The only problem is, most good songs from any listed artist aren't available on the jukebox at all, and the ones that are available cost $2. It's the first jukebox I've ever used that actively begged for money once you're trying to select songs.


Neil Young


Look up other songs




Okay, I guess...

[Lons inserts $3]


Neil Young


Download: "Cowgirl in the Sand"


It went on and on like that.

The second thing I noticed about 3636...There's nowhere to stand without blocking the people playing pool. There are these two pool tables, but they back up right into the only area available for standing around drinking beer, kind of a crucial area in a crowded dive bar. So every time someone wants to hit the cue ball from that side of the room, everyone has to shift around where they're standing to accomodate. It becomes like a tavern-sized game of Musical Chairs, almost like that orgy scene from Eyes Wide Shut but without the costumes or sex.

That was about all I noticed about 3636, because I became involved with the jukebox, as well as drinking and a pinball game based on "The Sopranos." Not neccessarily in that order. Dave's girlfriend Sandra and I, after giving up on finding quality music on the jukebox, tried to get into a game of pool, but wound up at the tail end of a long line that included a lot of colorful local types. So, after a lot of shifting my wait to avoid fast-moving pool cues, I made my way back to the Lau's house and then home.

During my drive home, an incredibly thick fog settled into the Greater Los Angeles Area. I don't know that I've ever seen fog this heavy in all my years living in LA. Visibility was singificantly low on the 405, and the effect was only worsened by the lack of other cars and the lack of excess light coming from the darkened buildings along the road. (It was, after all, Thanksgiving Eve, and everyone was presumably home sleeping off their tryptophan.)

At around Torrance, I half debated pulling my car to the shoulder and waiting for the fog to clear. It genuinely seemed unsafe to drive in those conditions. But it was late, and I was tired, and I have leftover stuffing in the trunk of my car defrosting by the moment, so I simply forged ahead. By Culver City, the fog lifted and I was able to see again. But it was precarious there for a moment...I nearly didn't survive to see my actual birthday (which, did I mention, is this upcoming Saturday)?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Gratuitous Annual Thanksgiving Post

Some guy came in the video store the other day, and as he was leaving with his rentals, he said, "Have a happy Turkey Holocaust Day, you guys." We get morons like that in there all the damn time. It's getting to the point where I don't go 30 minutes without hearing some sort of dumbassery. Also, no one knows the alphabet. You just assume everyone knows the alphabet, but then you work at a store that requires knowledge of standard letter sequence, and you realize that this thing we call "literacy" is not so much a concrete idea as a vague categorization.

I don't really buy into the whole "it's wrong to eat turkey" idea. Or "it's wrong to eat animals." Or, "it's wrong to eat animals all the time, particularly if they have been fried and slathered in some kind of tomato-based sauce and coated with cheese made from their own vital bodily juices." I don't believe in God, but if I did believe in God, the fact that there are all these animals around that are dumber than we are, and that their flesh when cooked is delicious and provides essential proteins and nutrients, that would be pretty sound evidence to back up my case. I mean, there has to be some kind of Intelligent Designer, right? Bacon is goddamn delicious.

The folks at PETA, particularly pseudo-celebrity spokesperson Moby, respectfully disagree. They think that, and I quote, "there is no proper way to kill and cook these birds."

Really? No proper way? None at all? I mean, if I allow a turkey to live a long, healthy, contented turkey life of about 4 or 5 years, then painlessly kill it with a rifle from afar, and then serve it to my family, you're telling me that's not a proper way to kill that bird? It's a fucking bird! It doesn't know it's going to die. You know small a bird's brain is? It's so small, we actually use the concept as a term to describe being really stupid!

I agree that the conditions in which many animals live are fairly appalling. I've seen footage of slaughter-houses that has, in fact, made me briefly consider giving up meat, before ordering a double pepperoni and sausage pizza with a side of bacon cheddar potato wedges an hour later. Hey, I'm sorry. I like animals, they're cute and all, but they are incredibly tasty, and many of them go great with beer.

I will say that I am conflicted about the idea. I mean, anyone who has owned a dog will tell you that an animal doesn't need to be smart to deserve a happy life. I mean, dogs are stupid. Really stupid. But incredibly lovable. And, whatever it is that we consider to be a person's "soul," well, dogs have those too. There's life behind their eyes, they have personalities, they have memories, they feel pain...I mean, it's an animal, but you wouldn't squish it like a disgusting bug that you happened to find in your kitchen, in the exact spot you like to prepare your grilled cheese sandwiches.

Fortunately, this is not Southwest America not Southeast Asia, so in all likelihood I'll never be called on to actually squish and then consume a dog. ( shot...) But pigs and cows aren't really all that different. Chickens and turkeys and ducks and, if you're a snooty blueblood New Englander or British aristocracy, quails and pheasants, I think, ought to be a gimme. Come on! Look at a chicken! It's a fucking ignoramus! You don't feel bad about eating string beans, and they have about as much personality and sense of self as a duck. Except Daffy and Donald Duck and, to a lesser extent, Huey Dewey and Louie. And Uncle Scrooge in those old Carl Banks comics.

Did you know there was once a chicken named Mike the Headless Wonder Chicken who, starting in 1945, lived for 18 months without a head? That's the kind of animal I think everyone should be able to eat guilt-free.

Vegans like quasi-celebrity Moby won't even eat fish. I mean...Please. Broccolli, fish, same shit as far as I'm concerned. Technically alive, but about as responsible to external stimuli as Hef's penis during a Viagra shortage. (Ewww...Did I really just make a Viagra joke? I think I'm gonna shut down the whole blog for a while. I've clearly run entirely out of steam.)




A viagra joke. I swore when I started this blog that I would never make a Viagra joke.


Okay, this post has derailed. I'm gonna just put an end to it. Suffice it to say, I can go either way on the whole animal rights issue. I'm glad PETA is out there throwing shit at Anna Wintour. Because, let's face it, someone has to. Can we get a shot of that?

Yeah, that's the good stuff. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Polar Express

Unfortunately, because of the ongoing American War on Christmas, popularized in print and television by several noted Fox News assholes, the animated film Polar Express has been banned from any public screenings. This is sad because...

Wait, what? Polar Express is readily available on DVD, and will be returning to theaters this Christmas Season for a theatrical run in IMAX 3-D? But, if that were the case, it would indicate that...there isn't really a War on Christmas at all! In fact, it would indicate the exact opposite, that Christmas is openly being celebrated this year just like any other! Well, I'll never trust Fox News again!

Anyway, rather than returning The Polar Express to movie theaters where there's a chance some poor unsuspecting fool will accidentally watch it, Warner Brothers really ought to do the fair, public-minded thing and destroy the original negative and any other survivng prints. Because this isn't just an unpleasant, shrill, mindless distraction for young children. This is some sort of bizarre, unholy abomination. I know the film says it was directed by Robert Zemeckis, but just think about this...If Satan had actually directed a film, do you think he'd indicate this on the packaging? "Directed by Satan, Lord of the Underworld." Of course not. He's the goddamn King of Lies! He'd put a beloved, respected name on there, a name that was sure to secure some viewers for his mad carnival of horrors.

A name like...80's phenom Robert Zemeckis, director of beloved American classics like Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Curse your bottomless ingenuity, Lucifer!

Polar Express was created via a process called Motion Capture. This was the same technique used to animate Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films. The difference is, of course, that Gollum was just one character within a live-action film, whereas Polar Express is an animated film. So, the backgrounds are computer-generated, and live actors actually gave performances, which were then inserted into a computer and animated digitally.

The resulting effect is strange. It's clearly "not ready from prime time," in that it looks oddly artificial. The word "uncanny" gets misused all the time, so I'm loathe to ever include it in a post, but Polar Express is "uncanny" in the proper sense. The movements of the characters, in particular, are more life-like than in, say, a PIXAR film, in which the characters have the exaggerated movements of a cartoon. But the eyes...the faces...these characters, quite simply, have no souls.

Even a film like Shrek, which isn't cutting edge in 2005, manages to give its animated characters a semblance of a life, and to give their face personality. Everyone in Polar Express looks like a robot. It's fucking freaky. They have these faraway, dead eyes. Like The Night of the Living Dead Before Christmas.

So the whole film has this cold, distant tone to it. You never for a minute give yourself over to the story, or get sucked in by any sort of drama, because you can't stop looking at these eerie zombies on screen. Oh, and also because there is no drama to get sucked into. Polar Express is based on a 10 page children's book, and the book still has more depth.

Here's the story. A young boy (referred to in the credits as Hero Boy, which sounds like a good name for the First Retarded Superhero, which is easily a better idea for a movie) doesn't believe in Santa. He then gets invited on to a weird train to the North Pole, where he meets Santa. So he now believes in him. Then he takes the train home.

Oh, and they serve hot chocolate along the way. And there's a creepy bum. And everyone (everyone!) sounds like Tom Hanks.

In addition to playing The Conductor, the old guy who invites the boy on the train in the first place, Hanks plays Santa, the bum and the narrator. And considering that the narrator is telling the story of what happened to himself as a little boy, that means it's a story about a guy who invites himself on a train to the North Pole, so he can see a grim vision of himself as a bum and then meet a vision of himself dressed as Santa Claus. Christmas was never so creepy or Freudian.

I haven't even mentioned any of the worst shit about Polar Express. Here are some of the film's weakest spots, in convenient bullet form:

  • Ghastly songs, many of which repeat the same few phrases over and over and over again. The first big number, called "Hot Chocolate," contains exactly one phrase - "hot chocolate" - and filled me with the urge to repeatedly give Tom Hanks second-degree burns by breaking a vat of boiling cocoa over his head. Did I mention that the film's closing-credit song is called "Believe" and is sung by Josh Groban? This is music to slit your wrists on Christmas Eve to.
  • Animated Tom Hanks, dressed as a train conductor, doing a Bob Fosse dance atop a caterer's cart.
  • The weird "romance" scene between the two children on the train. Bobby Z...inappropriate.
  • The fetishized "elf dance" that precedes Santa's appearance. Are these elves or fucking fascists? What is Robert Zemeckis trying to say by showing these slavishly worshipful elves groveling at the feet of Tom Hanks dressed as Santa Claus? Is Santa some sort of cult leader? Does he demand this kind of supplication from his underlings? What are the penalties if an elf chooses not to participate? And finally, what's the purpose of hiring a Conductor to ship children to the North Pole in order to watch the glorification of Santa in some sort of strange photo-op? Indoctrination? Fear-mongering? Or just propaganda?
  • Why are there only American children on the train? Does Santa secretly hate foreigners?
  • The film's horrible, horrible message. Like many Christmas films, the movie's theme boils down to "you have to have faith in order to find the Christmas Spirit." Okay, fine, whatever...It's all puppy dogs and ice cream this time of the year, I can accept that. But unlike most Christmas films, Polar Express actively opposes curiosity and reasoning. It's the most ignorant children's movie that I have seen in a long time. In the opening scene, Hero Boy looks up "The North Pole" in the encyclopedia and discovers that the definition - a harsh, cold, desolate environment - conflicts with the mythology of Santa Claus. He reasons, then, that Santa Claus must not be real, and goes on a journey of discovery to find that Santa is real after all. Why go to such pains to discourage kids from reading and looking up information? Can't you lie to kids about Santa without slandering encyclopedias? Does it really have to be this choice between rational thought and getting presents? Really? Is that responsible, Robert Zemeckis? "It's good to be smart, but don't be too smart, or you won't get what you want for Christmas! Santa demands not just your devotion, but your blind, slack, mindless devotion, you little fucking bastard!"

Okay, so I added that last part, but still...I hate kid's movies that go out of their way to poison kids against rationality and intellectual honesty. Faith, imagination, those are important things, for sure. I'm not saying kids movies should be like "The Fountainhead" or anything, preparing them for the grim realities of life. That's what grown-up movies are for. But I do think that the message of a movie should try to avoid "hey kids, don't read books, you won't learn nothing." We've got enough ignorant assholes around here as it is, without creating another generation of them.

Just look at that...thing. The effect is not exactly what you'd call warm and inviting. Max Headroom had more human features. In fact, it looks kind of like Max Headroom, if you put a conductor's hat on him and gave him a cop moustache. Why the hell you'd do that, I don't know. But I also don't know why the hell Robert Zemeckis wants to muck about with this imperfect, half-developed animation process when all his best movies were made with regular old outdated celluloid film. So what the hell do I know?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Crushed by Inertia: Year One

It's my blogiversary. Yes, hard to believe, but true...My very first post appeared here on Crushed by Inertia one year ago today, November 21st 2004. Here's what I had to say.

Awwww...wasn't I adorable back then? Just an innocent, wide-eyed 25 year old unemployed guy from Palms. So much has changed...I'm 26 now. I work at a video store. Um...Okay, nothing else has changed. But still, it's been quite a year. I thought I'd walk you through some of my favorite moments and highlights from the first year of CBI, because I'm egomaniacal and self-aggrandizing like that.

Republican Scumbags

One thing that has remained constant here on the blog has been my distaste for the Iraq War, Fox News Channel, Republican Party in general, and President Chimpface McGee in particular.

Here was my very first political rant. Looking back, I must say, it's fairly prescient. Here's one thing I had to say at the time:

All I can do is hope he does such a foul job, without totally ruining America, that the people Bill O'Reilly so charmingly refers to as "the folks," see the folly of their ways and vote for whomever my side puts up in '08.

I was being sarcastic, but in a weird, twisted way, I got my wish. (All except for the "without totally ruining America" part). Not in my most outlandish dreams did I imagine the actual harm Bush would do to the American way of life one year ago. Hurricane Katrina alone far exceeded my expectations in terms of beurocratic ineptitude, institutional racism and callous disregard for American lives. (By the way, here's a post from the blog's second week about seeing Michael Moore speaking with John Dean at the Wadsworth Theater in Westwood).

This isn't really one of those blogs that's active in making the news. I'm far too lazy for any actual research or analysis. I see this blog as more a record of my anger and frustration with the way things in America operate. And no one frustrates me more than Billy "Falafel" O'Reilly. He's been a constant point of discussion.

Here's my reaction to his on-air fantasy about LA Times reporter Michael Kinsley being stabbed to death. Here's Bill comparing the immigration of his Irish ancestors to America with the African slave trade. Here's a post I've always liked that wonders how Billy O gets his bullshit ideas out to the average American so quickly and successfully. Here's a recent post in which I mock Bill's apparent ability to read the minds of historical figures. And, finally, here's a nice little post summarizing O'Reilly's yearly "They're Killing Christmas" bullshit.

O'Reilly's dumbass fellow Fox anchor John Gibson has even written a book on this secular "war on Christmas" nonsense. For a while, the blog featured a regular column on Gibson and the retarded things he frequently puts under his own name, in print and on the airwaves. But I would get so fired up and angry over his blatant lack of logic or reason or critical thinking skills, I had to stop writing about him. Here's Part One of the John Gibson Idiocy Watch, and here's Part Two.

Finally, while we're on the subject of Republican scumbags, I'd be remiss not to mention the sitting Scumbag-in-Chief of the U.S. Senate, Senator "Little" Ricky Santorum. Ricky was, of course, the winner of the 1st Annual Braffy Award, presented to the Worst Person Alive. (Look for this year's nominations to get going in March...I've been taking diligent notes all year, and am confident we're going to have an excellent 2006 Braffy Season).

Here is the original post nominating Santorum, the official nominations post and of course, the post in which I blogged live from the actual awards event. Finally, here's the nomination of Antonio Esfandiari, a horrible horrible man in his own right, whose idiotic column kick-started the entire Braffy Award phenomenon.

Teh R0x0rs

I haven't done nearly as many posts about music as I had initially imagined I would. I find it kind of hard to write about music on a regular basis. I just don't know enough about how music is made, and the theory behind it, to speak about it intelligently. Most of my observatiosn wind up sounding astoundingly similar. Like, "I like the drums" or "it's catchy" or "it's upbeat" or "I'd rather listen to a bone saw rip through a small child's rib cage for 12 hours on end than a single song by Sum 41."

But there have been a few notable indie rock-themed posts here on the ol' blizzog. This little piece about some great songs dealing with life in Los Angeles still ranks among my most frequently-viewed posts. Another popular post was my live-blog while watching this year's MTV Video Music Awards. Also, here I catalogued my Favorite Albums of 2004.

As for live concert reviews, I don't see as many shows as I once did, mainly out of pecuniary concerns. Here's my list of the Best Concerts I Saw in 2004. Here's my long-winded review of KROQ's Inland Invasion concert from this past summer, generously linked by the very funny and perceptive music critic Tony Pierce. Arguably the best show I've seen since starting this blog was The Decemberists at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood.

Photo Shop

I don't have Photoshop on my computer, and I'm not really very good at it anyway. So I have to rely on real-life amusing pictures to give the blog any kind of multimedia effect. Fortunately, our president does a lot of goofy shit, so it's really not all that challenging. Here are a few of my favorite images from the past year:

Something about that photo just makes me laugh. Bill + Nuns = Funny!

They've changed the name of this upcoming film from Snakes on a Plane to the much more boring Flight 121. That stupid title is all the thing really had going for it, if you ask me.

That's Sacha Cohen as Kazakh reporter Borat, interrupting Pamela Anderson's pet wedding. You are good!

Everybody seemed to like this map of America, Post Election 2004. I'd like to reiterate that I had nothing to do whatsoever with its creation. I just post the shit, I don't MS Paint it together, people.

Oh, man, I seriously hate the Braffster. Seriously. A lot. So much so, that I even write anti-Braff articles for other websites.

I love this photo of "Office" star Ricky Gervais from the 80's. He looks so different, and yet so similar. It's kind of amazing.

The next two photos are responsible for an egregious amount of my blog traffic. They must pop up early on Google Image Search or something. One is late, great comic Mitch Hedberg and the other is an animated representation of Anakin Skywalker. (See if you can tell which is which!)

But more than any other subject, this blog has featured silly photos of our President making a fool of himself, his third favorite activity, after starting land wars in Asia and brush-clearing. This is the very first photo ever posted on Crushed by Inertia:

And, just to round things out, here's Bush looking like an idiot from just this past week's whirlwind tour of Asian Outbeak Steakhouses:

But That's My Life!

My Uncle always says that his favorite blog posts deal with my personal life. I'm not certain that's true for everyone. It's certainly not true for me, personally. Maybe my life sounds interesting or amusing from afar, but up close, I've got to say, it feels kind of monotonous and vaguely unsatisfying.

I've written a lot about my various dental problems over the last year, mainly caused by my addiction to caffeinated sodas. Apparently, this is worse for your teeth than holding a tuning fork against them mid-vibrate.

Other favorite subjects have included cleaning up my apartment, daily life here in Palms, some of the odd customers who come into the video store (like the infamous Porn Man, a local crazy man named Dunning and the Rudest Lady I Have Ever Met Personally), car trouble, even more car trouble, running out of gas on La Brea Boulevard, brief brushes with celebrity and placing my wallet in a washing machine. I even related, for some bizarre reason, the embarrassing tale of how I got totally drunk at an office Christmas party and tried to drive my own drunken ass home.

At the Movies

You can already check out almost all the movie articles I've written on the sidebar over there. All the reviews, my list of Favorite Directors and so on.

In fact, the single post that has brought the most eyeballs to Crushed by Inertia deals with movies. It's my Top 70 Profane, Rude or Inappropriate Movie Quotes. Thanks to mega-site Gorilla Mask picking up the article, over 10,000 people came to check out the blog in less than a week. That's about 1/6th of the total blog traffic for the entire first year! As you can see, the post has a ridiculous 91 comments. It's strange to think about, but more people have read that single blog post than anything I have written since my UCLA Daily Bruin movie reviews (and even those didn't have that much more readership.)

I also like this post about Laserdisc films that aren't available on DVD, my reconsiderations of the two Star Wars prequels (here and here) and my Favorite Films of 2004 list.

A Final Word

It's been a pretty great year, and I couldn't have done it alone.

Well, okay, I take that back. I pretty much did it alone. But I am grateful to the other members of the CBI Community, who have tipped me off to good stories and ideas for posts, commented hilariously and often and just generally supported me this past year in my effort to gain an audience for this here writing o' mine. In particular, I'd like to thank all the blogs over there on my Blogroll (Ari, Horsey, Justin, Team Random Aggression, Lindsey and Konrad and the good people of PSoTD in particular, who have been with me since just about the beginning). And my brother Jonathan, always willing to correct an oversight or provide his own thoughtful counter-opinion. And all my non-virtual friends as well, who read the blog enthusiastically and often and then mess me up by knowing all kinds of weird, intimate stuff about my life. Cory, Vineet, Nathan, Brian, John, Kaz, Jason, Matt, Tim, guys know who you are.

Oh, and of course, my parents and grandparents, who try not to get too angry with me when I humiliate them publicly. Everyone is always shocked when I tell them my parents and even gradnparents read my blog. What can I say? They're cool like that.

King Kong (1933)

On the fascinating documentary that comes on the new King Kong DVD, someone (I forget who) makes a comment that sums up some of the film's importance and enduring appeal. Kong isn't based on a book, or a play. It's not an adaptation of some outside story. It's an idea created purely for the screen, that could only be realized in a movie. You couldn't do it on stage, and it would be frustrting to just read about a massive gorilla destroying New York City.

That's about right. There's a purity of essence to a movie like King Kong. It's not some postmodern ironic headtrip that you have to consider carefully after four viewings whether you enjoyed it or not. It's a movie that promises to show you a lifelike giant ape, and it delivers. Years later, it's amazing to go back and watch the film and realize just how much it delivers, the impressive quality and quantity of its visuals, and the expressive, emotive "character" of Kong himself.

Most special effects movies, even big-budget Hollywood ones, tend to skimp on the actual effects. Remember that movie Reign of Fire a few years back? There's a film that promised dragons. It promised large-scale military-style aerial battles against fire-breathing monstrous dragons. And then you see the movie, and there's nothing but a few scenes of smoke-and-fog-obscured lizard-like creatures, and a whole shitload of bad acting by Matthew McConaughey. There's a ratio of maybe one cool shot of a dragon to every 100 shots of McConaughey shamelessly mugging and chewing the scenery. And that ain't a good average.

Kong, on the other hand, is a relentless adventure epic from about minute 30 on. It takes a little bit to get going, particularly if you've seen the film before and know the set-up. Daredevil filmmaker Carl Denham (played by Robert Armstrong, based on the film's co-director Merian Cooper) recruits a crew of seamen and a beautiful homeless girl (Fay Wray) to journey to the mysterious Skull Island. It's a bunch of mainly humorless exposition, but it's over relatively quickly. And around the time you get to Skull Island, and Kong enters the picture, things pick up.

Kong is probably the single greatest special effect of all time. Created by Willis O'Brien, the father of stop-motion animation. The technique he pioneered way been in the 1910's, while working for Thomas Edison, remained the favorite way to realize movie monsters until, essentially, the 1980's. It wasn't until Spielberg and Phil Tippett and the team at ILM found a way to make dinosaurs on computers that stop-motion went out of style.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the King Kong special effects are the interaction between the animated Kong and the real objects on the set and the human actors. In one of the film's most famous scenes, Kong shakes a bunch of desperate men off of a log. It reminded me of seeing Robert Zemeckis' breakthrough blend of cel animation and live action, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Both films manage to combine an animated character and human actors into a single shot realistically, in which they genuinely seem to interact. But the Zemeckis film came out in 1988, and Kong hit theaters way back in 1933.

The amazing thing isn't just that it's a giant ape who rather seamlessly interacts with his environment. It's that the ape is so damned human. He gives a real performance in the film. In fact, he gives a more human, emotional, charismatic performance than many of the film's human actors, particularly Bruce Cabot as John Driscoll. (He'll thankfully be played by a much better actor, Adrien Brody, in Peter Jackson's upcoming remake). O'Brien, like animation pioneer Walt Disney, had an intuitive understanding of movement and how body language and subtle gestures can translate into a lifelike personality.

(I hear from the, again, great documentary on Disc 2, that no interviews exist with O'Brien, only a few photos. At the time, studios were afraid to let out the secrets of how special effects were made, so they refused any press access to animators or the animation room at the studio, and essentially kept their special effects wizards out of the public eye).

Kong is a groundbreaking film in just about every way. I will say that, taken purely as a story, it is rather silly. I've never understood, from childhood on, why Denham would choose, of all things, to put Kong on Broadway in a theatrical performance. Surely making a movie starring the ape would be a way to expose the 8th Wonder of the World to the largest possible audience. I mean, how many people can you squeeze into a concert hall each night?

Not to mention the logistical nightmare of keeping a live audience safe from a giant caged animal. And of housing Kong somewhere in Manhattan so he could make nightly theatrical performances. Why not make a movie with Kong once, then sell access to that footage around the world for years? You could even drop him back on Skull Island once you were done with him (provided he wasn't signed by RKO Pictures to a three-picture deal, which might have resulted in a better sequel than Son of Kong).

But these are piddling little silly thoughts that merely occured to me during the movie. Overall, the thing is an unqualified triumph, a masterpiece. One of the essential films, and pretty much the greatest single special effects movie ever made. Hopefully, Peter Jackson finds some new, exciting spin on this material next month...