Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Island

The Island, at least the first half of The Island, represents the most assured, steady, professional direction of Michael Bay's career. Finally, finally, he has learned to take his time in setting up a story, to bother paying attention to character detail beyond broad types. Finally, he has directed a film that isn't just a rough assemblage of images chopped together too quickly to even be discernable, but instead has a smooth, clean and clear visual sense. Finally, he's at least tried to make a movie with some ideas, even if those ideas are fumbled and of questionable merit.

It's too bad that, as soon as the action climax kicks in, Bay reverts back to his old grab bag of tricks so quickly. Following his standard M.O., he tries to move between genres, but really just makes different variations on the same bloated, overly-long action movie. In Armageddon, he gave us a disaster film that devolved immediately into a series of chase scenes and explosions. In Pearl Harbor, he rather offensively took a historical war epic and transformed it into a cheesy action spectacle with an obligatory love triangle at its core. With The Island, he takes a sub-Logan's Run 70's sci-fi thriller and transforms it, magically, into an action movie with lots of car chases. At least he's consistantly dopey, I'll give him that.

What's amazing is how close it all comes to working before collapsing under the weight of Bay's own internal suckitude.

The premise is supposedly one of those Matrix/Dark City subverted expectations/nature of reality mindfucks. But there's an interesting twist. We follow Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) through their daily routines inside some kind of futuristic ocmpound, and even if they can't tell, we know something is wrong about this place immediately. Due to some unseen exterior "contamination," citizens of the compound lead dull lives of routine, awaiting the opportunity to one day visit the last uncontaminated realm on Earth...The Island.

Of course, as the advertising alerted everyone, THERE IS NO ISLAND! Minor spoilers follow...Really, the compound is just a housing development for high priced clones. See, in the future, rich people will be able to pay Sean Bean to clone them as an insurance policy, just in case they ever need spare organs or a surrogate mother or something. The clones are born as adults, educated to the level of a slow 15 year old and of course, are told nothing of their actual fates.

So what's interesting about that first hour of the film is that, though Lincoln and Jordan have no idea what's happening to them or why they're sealed in this compound, it's all fairly obvious to the audience. If not the specifics of why they're being held, at least the broad strokes - they're used as resources, they're sub-human, The Island is a fiction designed to keep them contented and to give them a goal. Bay uses his characters dim naivete in an almost...dare I say it...clever fashion, giving his viewers big hints and funny asides while keeping everyone on screen in the dark.

For poorly-explained reasons, Lincoln has a greater capacity for learning than his fellow clones and figures out that "going to the Island" really means "giving your life for science." So he and his buddy Jordan (they're asexual inside the compound...more on this later...) escape for the real world and a life of free will and limitless possibilities.

And that's when the film becomes more standard Michael Bay explosion-heavy wankery. We're introduced to Steve Buscemi doing his typical skeezy nerd routine, and he leads Jordan and Lincoln to freedom. Their creator (Sean Bean) naturally can't let his secret out - that there are very human-like clones dying each day to provide people with organs - so he hires a mercenary (Djimon Hounsou) to track down the clones...NO MATTER THE COST.

So the movie becomes a very by-the-numbers, non-creative chase movie. Bay doesn't have any fun at all with his future setting, really. Aside from some flying cars and improved public transportation in LA, it doesn't look very different from today. In Minority Report, Steven Spielberg spent months speaking with futurists and designers, trying to create a near-future world that resembled ours, but also represented the likely social and architectural development that may change cityscapes in the coming decades. Bay does nothing of the sort, and that's really a shame, because so few films even have the opportunity to create visionary worlds of the future. And here's this big-budget tentpole summer movie director who has a chance, and doesn't even try.

The science-fiction story completely unravels in the fim's second half. Here's a good question...Why don't Jordan and Linocln discover the magic of sexuality until after they're out of the compound? At one point, Bean hints that the clones are denied sex because it makes them more difficult to control. So are we to asssume that the are genetically altered to lack a sex drive? Or are they drugged in some way to suppress libido? If so, shouldn't Lincoln and Jordan be incapable of enjoying sex even on in the outside world?

Because the implication couldn't be that merely denying information about sex would prevent people from having sex, right? I mean, you don't really have to tell people all the salient recent data for them to develop a keen interest in one another's sex organs.

That's just one example of how Bay and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Caspian Tredwell-Owen abandon all narrative and thematic development once they get out of the compound. It's like they threw upt heir hands in relief, "Whew...made it through that expository crap...Now we can just write ceaseless car collisions and shootouts!"

With one exception...Towards the end of the film, Lincoln Six Echo meets his original counterpart, Tom Lincoln, (also, of course played by Ewan McGregor). Not only does the film earn some much-needed laughs from the disparity between Tom (and Ewan's) Scottish accent vs. Lincoln's American version, but it provides McGregor with a chance to really pull of a neat little trick. He actually plays Tom Lincoln and Lincoln Six Echo pretty similarly - it's as if they're the same man, but one has had the freedom to become a bastard while the other has been forced to become a nice guy. In fact, it's almost as if the same personality quirks that make Tom Lincoln a womanizing self-centered asshole make Lincoln Six Echo a charming and inquisitive hero.

In addition that nice little collection of scenes, the action that dominates the film's second half does work a bit better than the last few Bay features. Unlike Bad Boys II, things aren't so chaotic and unstructured. There are long chases, but you're always sure of where people are going and why they are chasing one another. The action sequences go on for so long in Bad Boys II, and involve so many barely-glimpsed characters, it's nearly impossible to follow the action in any sort of organized or reasonable manner. Not so in The Island. And though he's used it as a device before, the "throwing heavy metal objects out of speeding cars" sequence is pretty much guaranteed to look kind of cool on DVD.

And putting Scarlett Johansson in anything is always a plus. Bay was apparently down on her after the film flopped in theaters, blaming the fact that she wasn't a big star and that she "looked like a porn star" in the advertising. To be honest, she kind of looiks like a porn star in the entire movie. Or, if not a porn star, at least a demi-pornstar like Tara Reid.

But I wouldn't say that's a bad thing. In fact, I'd say it was more like the highlight of the movie.

Out of all Michael Bay films, I'd say The Island is probably his second-best effort to date. The Rock still stands as his definitive work, and by far the most entertaining movie he has directed, even though I still think it's way too long. Then, The Island, which has some decent action scenes and a pretty intriguing opening 45 minutes or so. Then the original Bad Boys, which is immensely stupid but tolerable and features somewhat amusing work from Martin Lawrence. Then, Armageddon, a loud a pulverizing piece of debris that stands as probably the worst single film to be offered on a Critierion DVD. Then, Bad Boys II, that odious, obnoxious and grim slog alternating between bad racist humor and bad gallows humor. Finally, bringing up the rear, Pearl Harbor. You wanna know how bad Pearl Harbor is? It's both Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett's worst film. BEAT THAT!

R.I.P. Richard Pryor

Every dumb comic doing routines about how white and black people differ in myriad minor, idiosyncratic ways owes a massive debt to Richard Pryor. All that "we have fun with our differences" stuff, it all descends from, to my mind, two guys...Pryor and Lenny Bruce.

The difference is, Lenny Bruce was important. Richard Pryor was funny, and oh, by the way, this stuff is also kind of historically important. That's a key difference.

It wasn't until college, really, that I was introduced to Pryor's comedy, despite a life-long love of stand-up. In high school, my taste in stand-up comedy was pretty safe. I idolized guys like Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Letterman and Bill Cosby. Those guys are all hilarious guys (Cosby's routines, in particular, influenced my sense of humor greatly as a lad). But they don't do the one thing that all truly great comedy tries to do, which is to provoke. My favorite comedians mine the great unspoken truths of human life for laughs, not just the silly little pecadillos of everyday existence. Guys like Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Chris Rock...

and Richard Pryor.

You don't need to have seen Pryor's autobiographical film (in which he stars, as well as taking on writing and directing duties) Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling to know the intimate details of his life. They're present in all of his best material. His shady, criminal background (most notably, young Richard was raised in a brothel) and fondness for drugs, his anger and frustration over perpetual systematic racism in America and, later in life, the battle with multiple sclerosis that ended today.

Brilliant though his stand-up may be, Pryor leaves behind a much more distinguished resume than just Live on the Sunset Strip. He co-wrote Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks and appeared in a number of solid films as an actor, including Paul Schrader's Blue Collar, The Mack, The Muppet Movie, Uptown Saturday Night, Lady Sings the Blues (though granted this one hinges on your definition of "solid") and a whole bunch of funny movies with Gene Wilder (most memorably, the classic Silver Streak). Also, did you know that he conceived of the sitcom "Sanford and Son," and wrote a number of episodes? It's true!

Pryor, of course, significantly fell from grace in these past few decades. I grew up thinking of him as a punchline - that old-school comedian who freaked out and lit himself on fire. (I rembmer thinking that joke at his expense in Richard Donner's Scrooged - when Bill Murray sees the guy on fire and mistakes him for Richard Pryor - was out of line, until I saw some of Pryor's comedy on the subject and realized it's an homage.) I think in recent years, he's managed to overshadow that unfortunate legacy, and people naturally continue to discover his great body of work. His specials are probably the most-requested comedy DVD's at the video store.

I'll just leave you with my favorite Pryor moment. It's probably a lot of people's. That old "Saturday Night Live" sketch where Chevy Chase is giving Richard a word association test. Chevy starts saying racist terms and Richard keeps responding with variations on the word "honky." Inevitably, Chevy eventually gets around to "nigger," to which Richard replies, in perfect deadpan, "dead honky." Hilarious! I see that E! rated it the 37th best "Saturday Night Live" moment ever, but it'd put it a bit higher than that. Man, that show used to be good...

Letters Home from the War on Christmas

2005 will mark the third grim year in the ongoing and cataclysmic War on Christmas. But too often in the media reports, the personal stories of the soldiers fighting on the front lines are overlooked in favor of grim casualty tallies. So, as a public service, Crushed by Inertia will be presenting a series of personal letters sent home to the families of those serving in the struggle to save Christmas from the aggression of the Secular Progressives.

On November 29th, 2003, secular progressives laid seige to a manger scene outside of a public school in West New Northgatebridgewood, Connecticut. The noble men (and two women) of Bravo Company, U.S. Army were on-hand to defend Baby Jesus, the Three Wise Men and even a stuffed lamb and camel shipped in especially for the occasion.

After four days of bloody, chaotic battle, the secular progressives were driven back to a Winchell's parking lot two blocks away. The manger had been saved. Pvt. Corporal Christian Goodhearte wrote the following letter to his steady girlfriend, Emma Mae Sue Reba Downing.

Dearest Emma Mae Sue,

It has been a horrific week. We were victorious in salvaging most of the manger scene from the secularists, who only succeeded in burning most of the hay, stealing the robe off of Joseph (revealing his anatomically-incorrect pelvis region) and removing the better part of the thatched roof. But the Baby Jesus himself remains untouched.

In the battle, I lost some dear friends. Toby - I mentioned him...the one with the five kids who lived in that van behind the Pick N' Save - died of 63 puncture wounds when a secular progressive stabbed him with a shiv made from an oversized novelty dreidel.

Sarge says the Grinches are just people like us, and if we capture any we're to turn them over as Prisoners of War. But when I'm out there, fighting them off, and I see the lack of Christmas Spirit in their eyes...They look to me more like monsters than men.

I miss you dearly and can't wait for the day I can return to your loving arms. But there's still much work to be done if we're going to save Christmas.

Happy Holidays,

One of the most vicious and gruesome conflicts of the war occured early on, during the Battle of Rockefeller Center. An estimated 20,000 Secular Progressive troops descended on the skating rink and set fire to the Christmas Tree just days after the official lighting ceremony.

Lt. Paul Peter Pastor of the Merchant Marine witnessed the blitzkreig and wrote to his brother, Matthew, about the chaotic scene. Here is a brief excerpt from his stirring account:

I never thought I would see such a sight...Whole balls of tinsel set alight, sending a plume of blue-black smoke into the night sky. Steaming vats of eggnog dropping out into the crowd from crop dusters, causing third-degree burns in soldiers and innocent bystanders alike...

A man wearing novelty plastic antlers and mistletoe over his groin, shot four times in the belly, cries out for his mother as he bleeds to death in the street. With his last breath, he mouths the chorus to "Jingle Bell Rock."

Several progressives and rioters band together at the base of the tree, shaking it from its foundations. It topples to the ground, an dthey dance around it like madmen. The sound of 100,000 porcelain ornaments shattering in unison drives me to the brink of madness. I have seen the Death of Christmas, Matthew...Wassail will never taste as sweet again...

Finally, we present a perspective from the other side. Tobias Horowitz-Zanziger, noted theoretician, atheist and ketchup-packet collector writes to his occasional gay lover, Dirk Winchester, about the secular progressive plans for a post-Christmas America on the eve of the infamous O'Reilly Offensive. Two days later, Horowitz-Zanziger and an elite team of activists and mercenaries would be arrested after assassinating pro-Christmas propaganda minister Bill O'Reilly.

To My Sporadically Homosexual Lover Dirk -

My excitement is so great, I can hardly contain it. In just a few days, we shall exterminate Bill O'Reilly and finally bring Christmas to an end. I don't know exactly how we'd manage to actually eliminate Christmas, considering that it's celebrated by individuals and families outside of the control or view of the federal or local government...but killing O'Reilly's bound to do us some good, am I right?

And once it is done, then the real work can begin...The work of reorganizing the entire month of December, to reflect the goals of the secular progressive movement. Here are some thoughts I have had on the subject...

(1) Rename Christmas Day to Gay and Lesbian and Transgender Diversity Pride Day, a holiday where everyone can publicly celebrate who they are without fear of being judged by narrow-minded religious types. Specifically, gay people are encouraged to engage in sex acts with one another in churches, or on the lawns in front of suburban homes. And transexuals should go door to door explaining exactly how surgical procedures transformed their genders, using visual aides when neccessary.

(2) Rather than Christmas carols, everyone should be encouraged to learn and recite traditional Muslim, Buddhist or African chants, which don't have such an antiquated imperial colonialist background.

(3) As with Columbus several years ago, American children should be educated about how the mythological notion of "Jesus" clashes with the unfortunate historical reality. For example, by simply creating fish out of nowhere for people to eat, Jesus could have thrown off the fragile ecosystem of Nazareth's streams and wetlands. And physically attacking the money lenders inside of the temple? Is that the message to send children - that violence solves problems? Why not just give the money lenders a five minute Time Out until they learn their lesson?

(4) From now on, Hannukah is 16 nights instead of 8, and includes 3 3-day weekends to make up for lost time. But only Jews get these days off. Oh, and they don't have to go to temple or anything. Just relax.

(5) Fruit cakes, figgy pudding and gay apparel are outlawed. Gingerbread lattes can stay, though, because they are awesome.

That's all I can think of right now. I'll write when I have some more ideas.


Your Part-Time Same-Sex Co-Fornicator,

Tobias Beaumarche Horowitz-Zanziger

Friday, December 09, 2005

Veronica Mars: Season 1

This box set hit DVD a while back, but I've been taking my time plowing through all the episodes. (Hey, I had to fit them in between a lot of film-viewing...I feel guilty limiting myself to just TV shows...)

What on earth even compelled me to start watching Season One of "Veronica Mars," I have no idea. Rob Thomas' girl detective show bears all the trademarks of Must-Miss TV, as far as I'm concerned. To wit:

- It's on UPN, a channel that prides itself as the home of Mo'Nique sitcoms, pro-wrestling and bad "Star Trek" spin-offs.

- It stars a plucky but sarcastic heroine who's heavy on the sass, attitude and "girl power."

- It features a guest appearance in an early episode by Paris Hilton.

But it had received some good reviews, and I had to admit that the idea of a detective show combined with a teen soap opera "90210" kind of show held some appeal for me. So, I figured...what the hell? Laser Blazer rentals are free. I so rarely get the chance to really get involved in an hour-long serial TV drama...Why not rent disc 1 and see how it goes?

And what can I say? I got hooked almost immediately.

"Veronica Mars" works for two reasons: the delicate skill of creator Rob Thomas and his writing staff, and the charisma of star Kristin Bell. Specifically, Thomas manages to combine a realistic, well-observed high school setting with some rather outlandish crime/mystery stories without ever losing his footing. Though some of the individual scenarios, episode to episode, are kind of far-fetched, Veronica, her classmates and her hometown of Neptune, CA never slip entirely into the realm of goofy fictional camp.

This sets "Mars" apart from, oh, say, I don't know...a show like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon goes for a similar effect - mixing relatable high school dramatics with a fanciful action-horror premise. It went okay for about a season, I suppose, but then the thing just became too ridiculous. Somewhere amidst the preening vampires, tortured tragic romance plotlines, musical episodes and bad kung fu fighting, Whedon forgot that mass audiences care more about likable characters in recognizable scenarios than complicated, goofy genre theatrics. That's why he has a hardcore fanbase of odd obsessive dorks while mainstream audiences basically ignore him.

On "Veronica Mars," no matter how twisty and unpredictable her cases get, Bell and the cast keep the show grounded. It may not be plausible or realistic, but it's believably real for Veronica, and that's what keeps the viewer involved.

Well, that and the fact that Thomas has devised a rather ingenious over-arching mystery to tie everything together. At season's opening, Veronica has become a pariah at Neptune High School. Her father was the sheriff of this oddly-segregated Southern California beach town, where wealthy families (called 909-ers after their area code) live side-by-side with the working class families in their employ. When Veronica's best friend, billionaire software heiress Lily Kane, is murdered at her lavish home, her dad fingers Lily's powerful father. So Dad is run out of his job, another man is arrested and convicted of the crime, and Veronica's mother runs off, leaving the family.

Yeah, that first episode is pretty much a downer. In fact, Thomas is never tempted for a moment to go easy on Veronica. Part of the charm of the character is her resilience, and this "pluck," I suppose you could call it, allows Thomas to get away with tormenting his main character in a way most show creators wouldn't dare. During this season, she will be ostracized by each and every member of the school, she will be harassed repeatedly by the school's administration, the identity of her biological father will be called into question, she will be drugged and raped at a house party, she will be spied upon, investigated, threatened, tailed, accused of all manner of perversion and deviant behavior, and will be locked in a refrigerator. And I'm sure I'm forgetting some stuff as well.

But, like I said, Thomas avoids making this material feel oppressive or overwrought by moving the show at a speedy clip and injecting just enough humor and entertaining sub-plots into the proceedings. Now that he's no longer the sheriff, Veronica's father Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoli) opens a private detective business, and together they crack all manner of cases. (Veronica also tends to take on work privately for classmates, investigating things like kidnapped pets and sexual liasons captured on cell phone video).

I'll admit that some of the cases, week to week, are a bit silly. One in particular, concerning the whereabouts of a video store clerk's father, is far too preposterous to be believed. It is, to be fair, an early episode, when the show was just finding its footing, and there are more clever or amusing cases than otherwise. But still, not every case works as well as the next.

What it really comes down to is the solution to the big mystery - who killed Lily Kane - and when it comes, it's satisfying, but not exactly a revelation. Considering he had an entire season to develop a mystery, Thomas could have made his solution a bit more complex. It hinges on one character basically burying a psychotic personality for an entire season worth of shows. There are clues scattered throughout, of course, but the killer becomes something of a mad dog at season's end, which is after all a bit unlikely.

But it's a small gripe. Overall, the mysteries are fun and well-handled, frequently unpredictable without being too goofy.

The show, however, would probably not remain as bouyant and entertaining without Kristin Bell as Veronica. First of all, she's a really cute, attractive girl, which never hurts when you're committing to watching 22 episodes of a show.

But I don't want this to sound like I'm saying nice things about the woman just because she's cute. Bell does really nice work here as Veronica. Mainly, she actually brings some authority to the role. Veronica's a petite blonde 17 year old who has to have a commanding presence, and Bell is self-assured enough to carry this off without question. in the premiere episode, in the opening scene, she's called upon to mouth off to an entire motorcycle gang (more on them in a moment), and she does so believably. This is the first image you get of Veronica, and there's never any doubt that she really is the sort of person who could fend for herself against some heavy obstacles.

As for the supporting cast, I'd say it goes about 50/50. Some actors really shine in their roles, like Colantoli as Veronica's dad. You may remember him from his role as the horny photographer on "Just Shoot Me," but just try to put that entire experience out of your mind. I also enjoyed Percy Daggs III as Veronica's buddy Wallace and Harry Hamlin (!) as movie star and Neptune resident Aaron Echolls.

Others don't fare quite as well. The leader of that aforementioned "biker gang" is Weevil (Francis Capra), a patently ludicrous character who is meant to be threatening, but who is obviously just a huge softy. No amount of tattoos or friends in wifebeaters could make this guy or his biker buddies seem menacing, and every time they are called upon to kick some ass or threaten violence, it always seem forced. I understand that they have to fit into Veronica's world, and therefore can't be too terrifying or dangerous. But they are, after all, supposed to be a gang of hoodlums. They should at least give good loom.

And the two male leads, Veronica's former boyfriend (and the murdered girl's brother) Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn) and the dead girl's boyfriend (and Veronica's new squeeze) Logan Echolls (Jason Doring).

Granted, they don't have easy roles. Despite being an all-around wholesome nice guy, Duncan is also a prime suspect in his sister's murder for the entire season. A series of clues indicate that he might have an uncontrollable violent streak. Another subplot hints around the idea that Veronica and Duncan may, in addition to being former lovers, may also be closely related, an incestuous idea that ties the show neatly in with the private detective/film noir tradition. So, by nature, the part is kind of conflicted and scattered. But Dunn just fails to make much of an impression at all.

Doring as well has a challenge with the part. He begins the show as the villain - Lily's flame who can't get over Veronica's father's botching of the case - and winds up ostensibly as a hero. But, again, it's just kind of a dull performance. Logan tends to fall back on sarcastic quipping, and it grows tiresome pretty quickly.

I suppose Thomas wants to keep Veronica at the center of the show, but it would be nice if there was a single character who was actually her equal on any level. Perhaps she meets such an individual in Season #2, currently airing on UPN but unseen by me. I'll have to wait until it comes to DVD to check it out. Hopefully, I'll still be working at The Blazer and able to rent them for free, because though I enjoy the show, I'm not sure if I'm willing to pay $50 for another season of episodes.

Pretty Persuasion

A grand example of what happens when filmmakers become overly delighted with their own ideas, Sundance hit comedy Pretty Persuasion tries desperately for the sort of incisive, cynical social satire evident in indie favorites like Election or the work of Todd Solondz (particularly Happiness). The film means well, I suppose, with it's frank presentation of teenage sexuality and dark sense of humor. Screenwriter Skander Halim and director Marcos Siega simply don't go far enough in their grim vision of lonely rich kids fighting back against the deceitful, perverse adult world around them. They pick the biggest, easiest targets available - from disingenuous TV anchors to nerdy, sexually frustrated teenagers to pious, restrained Muslim women - and then score a series of cheap shots against them.

The big shock moments - a teenage girl's description of losing her anal virginity, James Woods' delivering a blisteringly anti-Semetic monologue - don't register like they would in the days before "South Park" and Welcome to the Dollhouse. Halim's dialogue constantly calls attention to itself - each character seems to take delight in their own rapier wit - and many of the performances are, accordingly, far too broad. But the biggest problem here is that Pretty Persuasion just isn't funny. Even when Halim manages to set up an amusing scenario - like the protagonist getting caught yelling a virulently anti-Semetic comment in front of the entrie student body - Siega fumbles the execution, causing the scene to fall flat.

Here's, to my mind, the reason a movie like Happiness - equally as snide, cynical, frank and unwholesome - is really funny, while Pretty Persuasion lands with such a defiant thud. Writer/director Todd Solondz takes his characters and their motivations very seriously. Take Dylan Baker's pedophilic suburban dad...It's not some oversized caricature, a sweaty, horny greaseball whose predilection for 10 year old boys occupies his every waking thought. Baker inhabits the character with disarming realism - he's haunted by his addiction, it's a source of constant torment. This makes him, if not completely sympathetic to an audience, at least an object of pity and digust rather than merely disgust.

So, when he's involved in comic situations, it's more funny, because in an odd way, it's more relatable. We have been allowed inside his perspective, no matter how repellant we may personally find his actions.

Pretty Persuasion never bothers to allow us inside the character's heads, because they're not fully realized personalities in the first place. Most of them are written as very stupid, so that Halim and Siega can score cheap jokes off of them. Schoolgirl Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachael Wood) is nominally the protagonist of the story, but we're rarely granted any sort of insight into her behavior or motives. We know she dreams of stardom and that she is duplicitous and two-faced, but beyond that...she remains an enigma.

But not a particularly fascinating or original one. She reminds me a lot of Reese Witherspoon's young go-getter in Election, from her eloquent diction and extensive vocabulary to her dalliances with bookish school teachers. Kimberly is determined to become an actress, mainly as a pathway to fame and recognition. When it becomes obvious this won't happen merely by going on cattle-call style auditions, she comes up with a backup plan - accuse a teacher at her exclusive Beverly Hills private school (Ron Livingston, miscast as a slimeball) of sexual misconduct. He may or may not be guilty...we see contradictory or confusing flashbacks concerning his odd relationships with female students.

The entire second half of the film is taken up with a tedious courtroom proceeding, narrated by perky lesbian reporter Emily Klein (Jane Krakowski, way over the top). This segment features a lot of flashbacks and flash-forwards, surprises and twists, but none of it feels genuinely surprising. Even though the story doubles-back on itself, the tone remains dispiritingly constant. A major problem is the lack of dynamic or funny characters.

The other two girls Kimberly recruits for her plan are both extraordinarily obvious, thin caricatures. There's the dim bulb blonde (Elisabeth Harnois) who's there merely to accept the brunt of Kimberly's abuse and deliver Phoebe-on-"Friends" style ditzy punchlines. Then there's the new transfer student, a strict Arab Muslim named Randa (Adi Schnall). And here's where the movie moves from being a provocative dark comedy into being an offensive comedy. Randa is not just strict in her religion - she's a completely naive idiot. The notion that in 2005, an American comedy would traffic in such an ignorant stereotype - an Arab woman who constantly asks child-like sexual questions, or who readily accepts bulemia as a reasonable dietary system without question, or who fails to recognize a disgracefully racist anti-Arab joke as offensive is not a funny character. It's a racist joke.

The racism is probably what garnered Pretty Persuasion most of its intial buzz and attention. The racism comes on early and often...As Kimberly's father, James Woods' character launches into repeated, paranoid racist diatribes, mainly aimed at the Jews. (In a sample joke, a cell phone rings at the family dinner table, and all three Joyce family members answer their phones in sync. When it turns out to be Kimberly who received the call, Woods slams down the phone and says, "See? The Jews! That's what they do! Call you and then hang up!" Ha ha! What a hilariously charming Jew-hater!")

Then there's the constant anti-Arab sentiment (characters constantly mock Randa's headress, accent, skin color, smell and a truly vile racist joke is repeated several times). But many random little bits of other racism and intolerance are peppered throughout the film - in one scene, a rabidly angry Jewish man berates Randa about the semi-existance of a "State of Palestine," in a scene with no connection to any other scene in the film.

Obviously, Halim and Siega did not intend to make a racist film. Clearly, they want to poke fun at racism, to show how people can see themselves as tolerant, open-minded people while still operating off of a deviant, racist personal agenda. But the joke doesn't come off, because the film is too simplistic, too desperate for a nervous laugh and not ambitious enough to really make any sort of insightful point about American society. Everything is thin, thin, thin. Why is Kimberly so cold and distant? Because her parents don't pay attention to her. Waaaaaaahhhhh.....

One final scene I'll mention...In what could have been a direct homage to Todd Solondz, one scene finds Livingston's scummy teacher and his young wife (Selma Blair) at home. He has purchased her a gift for her birthday - a grey skirt just like ones worn by his schoolgirl students, which he then asks her to model seductively. That right there would be enough to sell the moment - in fact, it's probably a bit more direct and obvious than a scene in a Solondz movie, but you get the idea...

Unfortuantely, Siega can't resist the temptation to keep going. He has Blair read a student's paper about why they need to be disciplined. He has her skamper around and strip out of the skirt. He lingers on the moment, presumably for a laugh, but it just doesn't ever come. It's like the entire film Pretty Persuasion - a rather generic idea in search of a movie.

Hey, We Should Really Get Him and Mel Gibson Together!

Not a long post here...Just wanted to let you all know that the president of Iran doesn't think there was a Holocaust. Or, to phrase it like an open-mic comedian I once saw whose name I forget, the Holocaust happened...but not how you think!

Here's what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had to say:

"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

"Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.

"If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it."

It's an interesting argument...He's saying that Hitler didn't kill 6 million Jews, but if he had, then the Jewish homeland should be set up in Europe. In high school Team Debate, they'd tell you never to make an either/or argument like that, because it unneccessarily muddles the issue. You either think there was or was not a Holocaust. If Hitler didn't kill 6 million Jews, then there wouldn't need to be a Jewish homeland anywhere. But if he did kill 6 million Jews, then maybe there is some sense in the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

Mahmoud's trying to have it both ways. Really...he probably doesn't believe a word of this. He probably knows very well that the Holocaust happened, but knows that in order to maintain his power, he must continue propagating anti-Semetic sentiment amongst his people. Just like our president and the gheys!

Kaye Grogan is a Genius

She wins for the best "War on Christmas" post to date. This entire article is unbelievably awesome and I'm going to have to insist you all stop whatever else you are doing and give it your full and complete attention.

Try as they might — the Christmas foes cannot suppress the true meaning or spirit of Christmas. It can't be seen, but it sure can be felt. Wait a minute . . . it can be seen too! Just look into the eyes of a child, and a homeless man who has just been fed a warm dinner, and a family who expected a dismal Christmas that just opened their door to donated boxes of Christmas goodies and gifts.

Okay, maybe I should explain before we keep going. This is from Renew America, some bullshit right-wing wankfest. The author is a woman from Virginia named Kaye Grogan, who has not sipped the Kool-Aid, but has taken a bath in a lagoon full of it, Augustus Gloop-style. Guys like Bill O'Reilly are just cynical self-serving pricks using this War on Christmas fiasco to sell books and get attention. But Grogan's clearly insane. She actually believes forces beyond her control - "Christmas foes" - are trying to outlaw Christianity and ban the holiday of Christmas.

I would also like to add that, at Laser Blazer, I get an opportunity to look in the eyes of many children. Here are some of the feelings expressed:

- I have to go number one/two
- Can we go home?
- Oooohhh, look at that thing. I want to cram it in my mouth for no reason.

Two things I have not seen: a fervent desire of peace on earth, good will toward men.

While Christmas is much more than wrapped presents, gift giving when it is given in the true spirit is symbolic of the gifts the three Wise Men brought to Baby Jesus.

That's why, when I'm buying presents for young children, I always turn to myrrh. Nothing says "fuck you, kid, XBox 360's cost $400 and have nothing to do with the Christ child" like the gift of myrrh.

Why would anyone want to interfere with a celebration in a negative way that brings so much joy and hope to all mankind?

Okay, see, Kaye, here's your first massive, idiotic error. Christmas does not bring joy and hope to all mankind. It brings joy and hope to a section of mankind that happens to swallow your favored line of bullshit. Namely, that 2000-some-odd years ago, a baby was born in the desert and this is somehow relevant to the way we live now.

In Baghdad, there will not be much hope or joy this December 25th. Maybe among the American Marines stationed therein, but it will probably be a particularly sore day for them...A day of missing their families and regretting having to spend a cherished holiday in the desert fighting a pointless war.

I believe the anti-Christmas enemies have over stepped their boundary, and they are starting to feel the ire from Christmas lovers. But more important, the Christmas haters will soon realize that they are no-match for the Christmas spirit.

I demand to know where Kaye sees the evidence of this war. How is it that a journalist, even a "freelance journalist," can write an entire column without providing any factual basis for any arguments. This thing might as well be a novel. It's all based on other accounts she's read of other fictional rememberances of a supposed war on Christians that doesn't exist in the first place.

I'm telling you, honestly, right now...I hate Christmas. If there were going to be a war on Christmas, I would be among the first to be recruited. But, alas, I'm a soldier without an army. There is no force attacking Christmas, obviously. It's all in your head, Kaye. All in your head!

As stories of Christian persecution in other countries make it to the airways, right here in the United States efforts are underway to make quoting Bible scripture a hate crime and the ACLU Grinches are in the process of trying to steal Christmas. So, what gives this "godless" group and liberal judges the right to demand that Nativity Scenes be banned from public display, and children can't sing traditional Christmas Carols in school?

Man, there is just so much wrong with this perspective. So much...I'm overwhelmed. What to talk about first?

I guess my main point would be that it's absolutely pathetic Americans spend their time arguing about this pointless crap. Who cares what songs kids sing in school? Frankly, I don't care if they have to sing Christmas carols. I was a Jewish kid and I sang Christmas carols in school. Not only that, I actually performed in multiple productions of "A Christmas Carol," including a stint at the South Coast Reperatory Theater production, where I played the kid that Scrooge instructs to buy a fat goose on Christmas morning. These experiences did not warp me or brainwash me, although I do know all the words to "Deck the Halls," including those later verses that don't make a lot of sense and have an odd obsession with "figgy pudding."

BUT WHO GIVES A SHIT? This shit doesn't matter! If some parents don't want their kids to have to sing about Good King Wencelas, then their kids shouldn't have to! Why even take all this time teaching kids dumb seasonal songs? Have you seen some of these test scores? Teach them some fucking math, motherfucker! Try some U.S. History. I talk to grown people in the video store who can't identify what decade included America's association with the Vietnam War! Americans are getting dumber by the year, and you're all worried about whether the songs in their goddamn pageant concerns dreidels or mistletoe or...I don't know, some symbol of Kwanzaa...An African fucking...pattern. Or one of those masks, maybe.

Well, you can thank your "spineless" government for peering off into space, while the inalienable religious rights of the American people are going up in smoke — faster than Groucho Marx's cigar.

Here's what strikes me as odd. Kaye is clearly gonna be on good ol' G. Dubs side of the table, right? She doesn't read, to me, like much of a lefty. Yet here she is, criticizing the government. Um...what branch of the gov'mint? Don't you guys control it all at this point? Is there, like, one Democrat hiding out in some office building somewhere in D.C., still writing these laws, and you just haven't found a way to silence him yet? Why don't you send that turncoat Lieberman after him?

Also...Kaye...please, in the future, try for a pop culture reference from the last half-century, what do you say? I mean, I get your Groucho remark, but to a contemporary audience, that's about as vital and current as the Defenestration of Prague.

It would be to the best interest of Christians to take a broader look at the war on Christmas and what it is leading up to. While you are content and think you are doing your part in Christianity by warming church pews on Sunday mornings, Christianity is being criminalized right under your "clueless" noses. The overall picture is much more dangerous than just attacks on Christmas symbolism.

Wow...I'd like to state again, I believe that Kaye is sincere and genuine in her fear of anti-Christian forces working all around her. I think she's probably been traveling in exclusively cult-like Republican circles for long enough to completely eliminate the need for logical reasoning and awareness from her mind. But you'd have to be extremely paranoid to see in contemporary America a strong movement against Christianity. In my 15-20 years of aware, cognizant life in this country, I don't recall fervent Christian faith ever being more publicly visible, frequently discussed or politically influencial as it is right now.

The President. Of the United States. Is a Born. Again. Christian.

Expressing strong religious faith is a pre-requisite to getting elected to any major office.

How could this possibly be considered an anti-Christian nation?

But, okay, here's the best part of the article. The part that really makes me heart sing with joy. Kaye has written a little poem/rap thing at the end here, expressing her strong feelings on the subject of the War on Christmas. This woman should immediately be given her own reality show. Someone at A&E or Bravo or something...get to work on this right now.

I will reprint Kaye's dope rhymes in its entirety because it's so unbelievably fantastic:

Christmas is under attack and we must fight back.
Without Christ there wouldn't be a world adorned with lights.
Without Christ there wouldn't be Christmas days or nights.
Who are you to tell us that we can't say Merry Christmas or display the Nativity scene?
And banning children from singing Christmas Carols in school is downright mean.

No matter how you try you can't destroy the Christmas spirit from within.
And as we begin to unite against you — we will eventually win.
You might want Holiday trees, but we will continue to decorate our CHRISTMAS trees.
And no longer are we going to stand idly by, while the minority who hate Christmas are appeased.
You might convince retailers to replace Christ with a big X
But we'll be ready to fight for our Christmas traditions no matter how much you might object.

So MERRY CHRISTMAS to all . . . and to all a good night.

And God Bless Us...Everyone...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Massively Overrated Movies: A New Blog Series

Tonight, I'm introducing a new feature...Lons' Guide to Massively Overrated Movies.

These will be films from any point throughout history that I feel garner inordinate amounts of noteriety, respect and attention. Sometimes, they will be mediocre movies that are simply overhyped. Sometimes, they will be films I actually think are quite bad, that for some reason or another have managed to stand the test of time.

I think I spent the first 15 years or so of my life watching exclusively overrated movies. In part, I blame my parents. But not in a horrible, neglect or child-abuse type way. They're just not huge movie people. Well, let me rephrase that. My father likes Bond films, Bruce Willis movies and The Big Lebowski. My mother likes British films, small indie movies and The Big Lebowski. So, when they observed my youthful passion for film, they did what they could for me - they took me to lots of movies and enrolled me in local UCI extension classes about film and bought my videos for every birthday - but they couldn't really sit me down and discuss the finer points of Tarkovsky's oeuvre, if you get my meaning.

(Oddly, my brother developed the same interest in movies as I did, despite growing up with the same parents. So, either we have some older relative with a tremendous passion for cinema - at this point, it would have to be from the early silent era or something - or we just influenced one another as kids. Probably that second one, because I haven't heard anything about any great-great-great uncle Dexter Harris, the great silent movie clown.)

So, anyway, this isn't to bash my parents. They're good people. I'm just saying that, until the age of 15 or 16 or so, I had absolutely no idea about film history, and no one around to guide me towards good movies. So I watched whatever titles you heard about commonly as "Great Movies" - stuff like Gone With the Wind, Ben-Hur and The Grapes of Wrath. And, for the most part, I got bored out of my goddamn skull.

(I'm not saying Grapes of Wrath is boring. In retrospect, as a fan of Henry Fonda's, I now see why it's so highly regarded. But at 16, it made me want to sign a petition to outlaw filmmaking, lest I ever have to watch something so dull ever again).

The point is, I can now recognize that a lot of these films, long-since held up as the pinnacle of cinematic achievement, are largely not terribly good. Or at least far more bland and mainstream and less interesting than some of the other movies being made about similar subjects at the same time.

For this debut column, I was going to go after It's a Wonderful Life, that sappy piece of life-affirming nonsense that network TV used to cram down our collective throats every day of December in the 80's, before Ted Turner bought up the rights and mercifully stopped them. But I figured, everyone basically knows that movie's dumb by now, right? There aren't a lot of people who swear by It's a Wonderful Life as great filmmaking. I hope.

No, I figured, to start things off, I better go after a movie people actually love and revere. I mean, I have to provoke a response, right? If I go after a movie and no one gets upset, that movie probably isn't actually being "overrated."

So, who's this week's target? West Side Story. Face.

I think people remember and embrace the spirit of this movie more than anything about the movie itself. I have watched this within the past year-and-a-half or so, and let me assure you - it's a long slog through some lamentably obnoxious songs, bizarrely flamboyant dance routines, sub-high school play performances and leaden, stilted exposition.

Check this...West Side Story won 10 Oscars, and was nominated for 4 more. That includes, remarkably, a Best Director trophy for Robert Wise, a Best Picture Oscar and both the Best Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor awards. (That being said, Rita Moreno, who won for Supporting Actress, clearly gives the movie's only standout performance...George Chakiris, who won for Supporting Actor, is wholly forgettable, which is why no one remembers the name George Chakiris.)

I can imagine being a movie fan in 1961, when West Side Story made its debut, and watching the Oscar ceremony. It was a solid year in film, a year that included The Hustler, Judgement at Nuremberg, Guns of Navarone (I think this probably would have been my favorite of that year), La Dolce Vita, Yojimbo (another possibility for my personal favorite of the year), Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum, Ray Harryhausen's classic Mysterious Island, B-movie classic The Beast of Yucca Flats and John Huston's The Misfits (the last film for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable). I would not have been rooting for the 3 hour epic about dancing 50's gangsters.

And, yes, yes, I know, everyone who's a dancer loves Jerome Robbins' choreography, and the songs have become classics despite being horrifically irritating and repetitive. (Daa-daa-daa-daa-daa AMERICA! Daa-daa-daa-daa-daa AMERICA!) And in 1961, the idea that a white could actually love a brown was still groundbreaking. But, I mean, come on...When a movie becomes this silly and dated, that's probably an indication that something is wrong on some level, right?

And I'm not here to knock musicals in general. There are many musicals I enjoy. Even some as ludicrous as West Side Story. Brigadoon, for example, strikes me as a patently ridiculous story which features an array of songs, only a few of which are classics. But I could see through all that to the energy and enthusiasm and craft of the production, to enjoy the movie.

But this 60's and 70's movement in musicals, these long, belabored, self-important musicals like West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and (shudder) The Music Man just drive me batshit insane with their bogus wannabe "big numbers" and their 180-minute plus running times. And let's not even get into Jesus Christ, Superstar, a movie so obnoxious that it stands out even amidst the disasterous resume of Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Norman Jewison. (More on Jewison, I guarantee, in a later Overrated Movies column.)

I should note here, as well, that there's a 60's musical about which I'm on the fence. See, My Fair Lady is a really dazzling production that looks great, and Audrey Hepburn is ceaselessly charming in just about every film she made, so it has some big pluses. But a lot of the songs are similarly annoying ("Warm face/warm hands/warm feet/oh wouldn't it be...loverly?") What the hell is loverly?

West Side Story, to my mind, stands as the pinnacle of this downward spiral. These are the movies that killed the movie musical. They were trying desperately for importance and social relevance, when the place for movies where happy, lively characters burst into song without warning is clearly as escapist entertainment. No one's going to learn valuable life lessons from a movie about enthusiastic, merry street thugs threatening to kill one another in between working on their spirit fingers. (NOTE: This is not always the case...I'll grant that, on rare occasions, a musical has been able to make a social statement successfully. Wizard of Oz, for example, speaks to political and social issues in American life that may not be immediately apparent just through its fantastical story and the flying monkeys. And Brecht, after all, wrote some musicals. I'm just speaking in terms of mainstream movie musicals with obvious, rather non-artistic thematic statements. Like, you know, "racism is bad and occasionally gets in the way of unconvincingly-acted young love").

For those of you who haven't had the distinct opportunity to watch this extremely long film, let me give you the basics: Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is remodeled into a story about a white gang member, Tony, and a Puerto Rican girl, Maria, who fall in love. But, see, Tony's gang (the Sharks) is constantly clashing with Maria's brother's gang (the Jets) in a series of goofy-looking dance-offs interrupted by spurts of violence. The story's point-of-view on racism is best described as simplistic. At worst, it could be considered offensive. It reduces the complex problem of racial relations into such a simplistic formula..."Well, the cliquishness between these races and the intolerance has prevented these two sweet kids from getting together...Racism must be wrong, then!"

But, really, the racial message isn't the center of the film, it's just the backdrop. The movie itself is really an attempt to combine a romantic teenage drama along the lines of Rebel Without a Cause with an oversized, old-fashioned, toe-tappin' musical. It's a failure, to my mind. Unconvincing, shallow drama teamed with dance numbers that, while impressively-shot and grand in scale, just plain look silly and go on and on and on without end.

I'll grant you, I don't know a lot about dance or choreography. But with so many musicals, that doesn't matter. The fact that I might have to know about why Robbins' work is so impressive (and, again, I grant you that the scope is impressive) speaks to why the film, in an overall way, just doesn't hold up 40-some years after its release.

A final thought: West Side Story could use much, much, much, much less finger-snapping. We get it...They're playing it cool, boy...Real cool...

I Made It To IMDB!

Not as talent, mind you. I still don't have an entry of my own on the Internet Movie Database, as they tend to reserve those for people involved in any stage of the creation of an actual movie. One day...One day, I'll make it there.

Because I'll finally let them know about my work as a key grip in the early 90's Van Nuys porno scene.

But seriously, folks...A few weeks ago, on a lark, I sent IMDB's editors a few links to some of my film reviews from the site, just to see if they would make it to the actual "external reviews" page. Well, so far, I have one confirmed CBI sighting...My review for Nicolas Roeg's awesome Bad Timing has made it to IMDB. And check it out! It's only the third link down!

John McCain: A Friend to the Douchebag

I don't ever want to hear anything again about John McCain being the good, reasonable voice of sanity in the Republican Party. Sure, he has done a few things right. That whole "fighting in Vietnam and then being tortured" thing for one. And the anti-torture bill he's introduced recently into Congress, that was very useful in shaming this President and revealing his lies on this issue to the rest of the country.

But, I mean, come on! Look at this picture! McCain's as big a dirtbag as the rest of them:

What's with that face Santorum's making? It looks like McCain's giving him the ol' UFIA. If you know what I mean. (Click on UFIA if you don't...)

And while we're already on the subject of the photo, come on, let's be honest...No honorable, forthright individual has jowls looking like McCain's. He's developing a clear case of TKJ (or Ted Kennedy Jowls), and I think immediate surgery may be required. I mean, just look at the guy...It looks like he's holding enough acorns to last him the winter in there...

And as if those jowls weren't enough to mistrust the guy, he's endorsing Ricky "Doggy Style" Santorum, one of the most backwards-ass, villainous, ridiculous caricatures in all of the U.S. Senate, and the winner of Crushed by Inertia's First-Ever Worst Person Alive Awards.

An Award that wasn't at all ripped off by Keith Olbermann when he awarded Braffy personality and all-around CBI target John Gibson the "Worst Person of the Day" Award recently!

(No, I'm just kidding. I like Olbermann's show a lot, and he's been doing Worst Person of the Day since August...And John Gibson's response to Olbermann is Classic Gibson - trying desperately to be funny despite having no sense of humor, nearly begging the reader for sympathy, failing to make even a minor, unconvincing argument.)

Another guy on television somewhere called me the worst person in the world. I tried to imagine how that could be possible, like maybe the guy is seeing my hair on the real worst people. You never know. Maybe this explains why he could say such a thing.

What is he talking about? This is from his column, not on the air. He had time to proofread this.

Anyway, back to McCain. This is exactly the problem I was complaining about months ago, when my friend Cory accused me of calling all Republicans scumbags. If these guys continue to insist on supporting this president, his staff and cohorts and his failed war in Iraq, then they are all scumbags. It's not my fault every single member of the Grand Old Party, down to a man, is full of shit.

It goes both ways - I think Democrats who support this war and this president are also scumbags. Mr. Joementum has been done such a wonderful job of backing Bush that the voters in his homestate are busy prepping some other guy - any other guy - to take over his job. Even HilRod, the woman I was 100% sure would be the Democratic candidate in '08, has totally lost me with her continually pro-war attitude. If I had ever considered voting for her in the past, I know I wouldn't now. (Unless, of course, it was her vs. some other, even more loathsome conservative scumbag).

So, I'm just saying, no matter what rah-rah McCain is great fluff you read in the next few years...just remember...He fought hard to keep Ricky Santorum, among the least tolerant and most ignorant of all Senators, in his job. Let's not conveniently forget that fact.

My 10 Favorite John Lennon Songs

John Lennon died 25 years ago today. On December 8th, 1980, I was 2 years old, and thus incapable of understanding the importance of the occasion. Or the importance of anything beyond pooping, eating and sleeping, for that matter.

Now, of course, I love The Beatles and (some of) Lennon's solo albums. I contend that he has the strongest post-Beatles catalogue, followed by George, then Paul...with, obviously, Ringo bringing up the rear, as he does in all Beatles-members lists aside from "Who was the one that got the ring stuck on his finger in Help!?" "Plastic Ono Band" in particular strikes me as a powerful statement, among the most personal and introspective rock albums ever produced.

Just for the record, I have and always will prefer him to Jesus.

And now, to honor this solemn occasion, here are my personal 10 favorite John Lennon songs, in no particular order.

I Am the Walrus

Lennon's homage to Lewis Carroll and nursery rhymes, this has always been one of my favorite Beatles songs. It's just so twisted and bizarre, lyrically and musically, and that little mid-song breakdown - you know, with the "sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun..." - is one of those really sweet little theatrical flourishes that help set Beatles albums apart.

Dig a Pony

The single most underrated Beatles song ever. This song is so goddamn infectious, it gets in my head for days at a time and I have to listen to it over and over again before it finally becomes dislodged. As an added bonus, to this day, I have no goddamn idea what the song is about.

Jealous Guy

This is off of the "Imagine" album, which is kind of a cheesy album when you actually go back and give it an honest listen. Overall, I'd say that, while they both have a tremendous amount of great songs, "Plastic Ono Band" holds up better. But I still think this is a pretty amazing song, which isn't nearly as shallow as most lilting love ballads.

Look at Me

It's hard to pick a favorite song from "Plastic Ono Band" because they're all kind of similar sonically, and a whole lot of them are just plain iconic. (He's got that song where he says he doesn't believe in The Beatles, and he's got a song that ends with him screaming at the top of his lungs for his mother). But I think my favorite is this comparatively soft-spoken, heartbreakingly honest ballad.

Strawberry Fields Forever

"Living is easy with eyes closed..."

Absolutely incredible songwriting and production on this one. The song just envelops you in psychedelia. Listening to it on repeat is like taking a shitload of shrooms and wrapping yourself in a bunch of electric blankets.

Yer Blues

John wrote a bunch of songs in this era (most of which wound up on the White Album) while depressed and living with severe insomnia in India. That song, "I'm So Tired"...That's not just a song. But anyway, this really brings out the sardonic, sour side of Lennon's personality, which I always enjoy. It's a jab at generic British blues bands, but jokiness aside, it's just such a bleak, angry little song. Just the perfect thing to counterbalance McCartney's "Honey Pie" schtick. It has the added benefit of referencing Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man."

A Day in the Life

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was always seen as Paul's grand project, but John wound up sneaking the best song in there right at the end. This odd, trippy, sectional and experimental song defines a lot of what makes The Beatles the greatest rock band of all time. I mean, ending a theme album with an extended narrative/sound collage/social commentary track? Talk about being ahead of your time.

Instant Karma

One of the all-time great hooks in rock history. It's basically impossible to listen to that one part - "Well, we all shine on..." - and not want to sing along. I don't care where you are or what you're doing, you want to sing along to that "we all shine on" part. At least, I do. This song was in a Nike commercial years ago, and it's the first time I personally recall being repulsed by the corporatization of classic rock songs. I have since been outraged by this sad phenomenon so many times, I have become almost completely numb to the sensation.

A Hard Day's Night

About as compact and perfect as rock and roll songs get. Just that opening strum right before the song begins...It's completely ideal. We have the trailer for the movie on repeat at the store - I hear "A Hard Day's Night" at least 3 or 4 times a day. It's the only thing on that entire tape that continues to evade my intense disgust.

Come Together

Are we all in agreement that this is a perverse sexually suggestive song? I'm kind of amazed this has become so accepted in our Puritanical culture. The chorus of this popular hit classic rock song, a song that parents will sing along to when it comes on the radio in front of their children, is "Come together/right now/over me." What did everyone think they were talking about?

The only other massive hit song that I can think of which is equally suggestive is that Frankie Goes to Hollywood hit "Relax," which of course includes the refrain "Relax/Don't do it/When you want to come."

Anyway, aside from suggesting bukkake about 40 years before that became the norm in mainstrema popular music, "Come Together" is also a terrific, funky song that kicks off arguably the greatest album in the history of popular music, "Abbey Road." (Yes, I know that I said "Dark Side of the Moon" is the greatest rock album of all time, but I go back and forth on this one...)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Special Guest Blogger: Mel Gibson

[I wrote a long post the other day about Mel Gibson's plans to make a new TV miniseries about The Holocaust, but Blogger seems to have completely deleted the entire thing. Drag. I hate when that happens.

Anyway, rather than retype the whole long silly thing, which really wasn't as amusing as it should have been in the first place, I figured I'd just call up MG and see if he'd be willing to rap at you all about his plans and so forth. Thankfully, we're old friends, although if he asks, just tell him I'm Episcopalian or something...I fear the truth would break his heart.

For reference, here's a file photo of Mel discussing the Passion of the Christ screenplay with two of the film's other producers:

So now, direct from the set of his Mayan epic Apocalypto, I give you Mad Max...I mean, Mel Gibson.]

First of all, I'd like to address these rumors that I'm a Holocauset denier. As Atrios helpfully points out today, it's possible to believe the Holocaust happened without believing it was actually all that bad. I mean, lots of people died in World War II, right? Not all of them were Jews! So why won't these dumb Heebs just stop whining all the time and get back to controlling the media and all the world's banks?

What I'm saying is really pretty mainstream. I'm saying that, though the Holocaust did happen, it wasn't nearly as bad as you've heard, and most of the Jews didn't die, but instead moved to Jew York City or Jewneau, Alaska to open bagel shops and jewelry stores. I mean, what's so controversial about that?

So, yeah, as you probably heard in that New York Times article, I will possibly be producing a four-hour ABC miniseries about a Dutch Holocaust survivor.

Mr. Gibson's television production company is developing a four-hour miniseries for ABC based on the self-published memoir of Flory A. Van Beek, a Dutch Jew whose gentile neighbors hid her from the Nazis but who lost several relatives in concentration camps.

It is not expected that Mr. Gibson will act in the miniseries, nor is it certain yet that his name, rather than his company's, will be publicly attached to the final product, according to several people involved in developing it. Nor is it guaranteed yet that the project will be completed and broadcast.

Actually, I am thinking about taking a small part in the miniseries, as the brave Christian hero who shields the Jew girl from the Nazis, only to be captured and gruesomely tortured on screen. For some reason, the part speaks to me.

Anyway, it turns out that ABC was already doing a Holocaust miniseries, but went for mine instead because of me, of course, and also because my version is sexier.

The network chose Mr. Gibson's company when it learned of Ms. Van Beek's tale shortly after ABC had rejected a separate pitch by Con Artists' president, Nancy Cotton, for another Holocaust-related subject, Mr. Taylor said.

"This has the middle, the love story, that the other one didn't have," he explained.

Mr. Sladek said ABC's calculation in engaging Mr. Gibson was to win the largest possible audience. "I think that what ABC wants out of this is to build the biggest billboard imaginable in order to get everyone logically interested to tune in and watch this," he said.

I know that some East Coast intellectuals like the suspicious anti-American character who usually blogs here might think it's wrong somehow to turn what should be a serious consideration of one of the most tragic and dramatic events of the 20th Century into a snazzy marketing campaign. Just as they thought Disney turning the Battle of Pearl Harbor into a 2.5 hour Titanic rip-off was in poor taste. But they are totally wrong. It's not that we don't take the (possibly fictional) Holocaust seriosuly. It's that we can take it seriously and sell iPods at the same time. We're just skilled like that.

But what the article doesn't say, and what I'm going to share with you people before anyone else, is the ending to my miniseries. What I'm not telling the newspapers is that I've hired my old buddy and Signs director M. Night Shyamalan to come in and direct, and we've got an amazing mind-bending twist prepared.

Okay, so for most of M. Night Shyamalan's The Holocaust, wide-eyed, willowy and oddly-attractive Flory Van Beek hides out from the Nazis in the homes of compassionate Christians. Get this...We never actually see Nazis, because we always follow Flory, and she's hiding in the attic or some crap. But we hear them yelling in German and whatever, and it's totally creepy.

And, finally, at the end, some strange men burst into the attic and grab Flory, and we totally think it's the Nazis come to take her away to the death camps. But instead, it's a bunch of Old Jews from the village that she thought had been executed at Auschwitz! You see, the whole Holocaust thing was just a ploy to make the kind-hearted Nazis look bad, and to make sure the world had to let them have Israel after the war! They just couldn't tell Flory because she had a big mouth and would spoil the whole thing!

So, Flory and her family are reunited and they all move to America where they open the Van Beek Savings and Loan and Kosher Deli! Isn't that great? I have no idea where he comes up with this stuff. That little brown guy is one clever bastard!

So, okay, you gotta promise not to tell anybody, because we all know how much his movie's suck when he doesn't get the endings just right. (I mean, "swing away?" What the hell was that crap?) I personally think it's going to kick major ass.

And while I'm producing that, I've even got another project in the pipeline, as we Hollywood types say. I'll be helming The War on Christmas, from Fox Studios, set for a Christmas 2006 release. Bill O'Reilly plays himself, nobly battling the villainous "secular progressives" in an all-out grudge match in order to save the holiday of Christmas. You should see the fucking battle scenes we've designed for this thing - it's unbelievable. At one point, the entire city of San Francisco is engulfed in flames as Bill, John Gibson, Brit Hume and Sean Hannity order an emergency carpet bombing from atop the backs of a team of mighty reindeer, leading an army of young children dressed in suits of armor, swinging battleaxes whilst singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as loud as humanly possible. And that's just the end of the first hour, baby!

Gabbin' 'Bout God

There is no God.

But, you knew that, right? I mean, it's silly, okay?

Well, in case you didn't, Penn Jillette makes the case here. Basically, he's outlining advantages to not believing in God. I'd say he's right on all counts, but he's starting from the wrong perspective.

Penn's basically saying that not believing in God frees you up to really get the most out of life.

I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

I mean, that's a nice sentiment and all, and it has the virtue of being accurate. But being an atheist isn't just this kind of humanist "live every day to the fullest" platitudes. For me, anyway.

It's refusing to believe in religion because it makes no sense and is stupid. Penn's not one to avoid confrontation, so I guess he just went a different way with the essay, but I don't believe in God mainly because the case for him is so completely non-compelling.

I mean, I feel like I'd be fairly ready to believe in some kind of intangible something guiding the universe. I don't know...Certainly nothing personified or omnipotent or intelligent, at least not as we think of intelligence. But some kind of something, because the human circulatory system is just so goddamn complex it boggles the mind.

But no one on Earth has ever made the case in a compelling way. I don't find any religious book I have ever read interesting on any level aside from folklore/mythology. Ever. I know a lot of Americans like Buddhism because the Dalia Lama is this cute giggly old guy and Richard Gere certainly seems serene, but it's just as big a load of steaming crap as every other religion.

Embrace the suffering of life? Yeah, okay, that ain't so bad. Meditate frequently? Well, it is supposed to be quite calming, so that's nice. Bow down in front of this golden statue of a fat guy all the time? Umm...that's a bit silly, innit? But, well, if you say so. You'll be reincarnated when you die? But, hang on, that doesn't make a lot of sense. The Buddha as been reincarnated a whole bunch of times, including as that giggly weird old guy? Oh, come on...You guys are messing around with me...

In fact, the only people whom I find at all compelling on the subject of the creation of the Earth and man and life and all that wacky shit are scientists. Down to a man. So you have to ask yourself...If all the religions are, clearly, such complete crap, and all the scientists are learning more accurate and true information each day, completely without God being involved, who is on the right track?

And that's not to say that religion and science can't co-exist. Most of the great scientists of history have also been very devout in their religion. I think, like Einstein, they're able to compartmentalize. To understand where religion begins and ends and where science begins and ends. Fair enough, I guess. I don't know how a guy like Einstein was able to understand physics with such relative ease (zing!) while still believing in Judaism. The Old Testament makes about as much sense as "Naked Lunch," although it does contain somewhat more gay sex.

I'm reading this book right now called Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origin by Robert Hazen. It's pretty great...He's discussing all the different, conflicting theories going on right now about the beginnings of life on Earth. Clearly, Hazen's favorite is the theory first offered by Jack Corliss in the 70's - that life may have began not on the Earth's surface, but deep in pressurized, super-hot ocean vents.

Just that one tiny bit of information - that life might have started deep inside the Earth rather than on top - kind of renders Judeo-Christian genesis beliefs obsolete, doesn't it? I mean, what kind of fucked up weirdo God would create little single-celled life forms deep inside highly pressurized ocean vents? Wouldn't he just make dudes and put them on the top of the ground if he was setting out to make dudes?

My thoughts on the whole thing are simple. We've only ever learned about God from other people, people who were alive before us. And we know people want to believe in God, because it renders life ordinary and sensible. "This is happening for a reason or else it wouldn't happen." So we're just using dead civilizations to tell us what we want to hear. Yeah...That's sound reasoning...

I also wanted to draw your attention, while we're on the subject of my hostility towards religious faith of all kinds, to this new film, The God Who Wasn't There. (Great title).

It's the film that is, finally, declaring an Official War on Christmas.

“Christian conservatives complain nonstop about the ‘War on Christmas,’ but there really isn’t any such war,” said Beyond Belief Media president Brian Flemming , a former fundamentalist Christian who is now an atheist activist. “So we have decided to wage one, to demonstrate what it would look like if Jesus’ birthday were truly attacked.”


THE GOD WHO WASN'T THERE is a taboo-shattering documentary that Newsweek says “irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed.” The film includes interviews with some of the top religion experts in the world. Directed by Flemming, the movie is also highly critical of the modern Christian right and explores the dangers that religious belief poses to society. The movie has been praised by critics but condemned by pro-theocracy groups such as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

This sounds pretty cool. I'm intrigued by their claim that Jesus never existed. I had always heard that, amongst the various teachers and speakers claiming to be prophets or even relations of the Almighty, one of them was probably a guy named Jesus from a place close to Nazareth. In fact, I took more than one UCLA History class that, in part, traced a lifeline for the historical Jesus.

I'm, of course, open to the idea that Jesus may have been a combination of several thinkers of the time, or even a complete fabrication designed to help spread the ideology of a few reformers. I just wasn't really aware there was a lot of contention on the topic.

It probably won't be hard to make contemporary Christianty look stupid, though. I've found that most professed Christians don't really know very much about their own religion. The days of true believers citing Scripture for their beliefs has long long since past. Now, American faith is all about what they call having a "personal relationship with God," which means believing in God and asking him for stuff that you want and thanking him if you score a touchdown or win a Vibe Award, but not doing any of the reading or church-attending or the other bullshit activities that go along with being religious.

I don't blame people for not wanting to attend church. I have attended 2 church services in my lifetime, and in each instance I immediately wished I had somehow gotten out of it. (One time, I was forced to go to a Catholic Mass at UCLA for a class...It was creepy, and I was particularly struck by all the signs everywhere reading "He Is Risen." Is that proper English?) I do blame people for being ignorant of their own professed religion.


Now, you don't have to agree with Jesus. I'd say that most people don't, really, if you get to the heart of the matter. I certainly don't. I think turning the other cheek if someone hits you is a good way to get a shattered jaw or broken collarbone. I say that the meek will never ever ever inherit the Earth because the rich will fucking destory it before that could ever happen. Plus, I'm not a huge "fish and wine" guy. Although I am basically with him on sandals. Those things are comfy.

But if you don't agree with Jesus, just stop blindly saying you love him and everything, okay? It's really not as straight-forward as Believe in Jesus -> Go to Heaven. At least, the Bible says it isn't. And that's the book you guys are always going on and on about, right? The Bible? Or was that Sean Hannity's latest? I get them confused...

Site Seeing

Okay, two sites I want to mention to you all before I totally forget. Which I'm doing a lot these days, because being on codeine is like having one of those Total Recall memory wipes that get cut off halfway through, so you can't figure out if you're working at your job or having a dream in which you are surrounded by evil aliens who want to kill you. (HINT: Most of the evil aliens wanted DVD's, and not whatever the aliens want in Total Recall...I think it's oxygen if I remember correctly.)

Anyway, my brain's on the fritz, I might forget to bring this up later, so I'm posting it now despite not having a larger, amusing topic in which to cleverly work in these two links.

The first is my friend and co-worker Ray's new blog, Ray's Lucky 13, which as it turns out is great. I mean, I'd be linking it regardless, because he's a buddy of mine and very supportive of this here blog...But by freakish coincidence, he's just a great blogger and the site is really funny. Like this post about naming his currently-gestating infant son. Personally, I'm a little sorry he didn't go with his first instinct - Qui-Gonn Manukay. Seriously, everyone in that guy's freshman dorm is going to want to meet him. He might have made it to the front page with a stunt like that.

The second is a guy who already gets way more hits than me, and doesn't need the link, but he totally agrees with me on Crash. So I can't goddamn help myself.

Moriarty from Aint It Cool News absolutely decimates Crash in this fantastic post on his blog, the DVD Shelf. Right on, brutha. I've been shouting about the awfulness of this movie for months now, and just when I felt like everyone in America had been taken in by its shallow platitudes and oversimplified stereotyping, someone else writes a post that's even more venemous and incisive. Sometimes it feels good to be so incredibly right all the time.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Tuesdays With Dummy

As you may know, if you happen to be a huge nerd, Tuesdays are the day when that week's new release DVD's hit shelves. Generally, each week will have 2 or 3 big, recent, mainstream movies released, along with a bevy of classic titles, TV shows, direct-to-DVD selections and other assorted weird crap.

For example, this week saw the release to DVD of Dukes of Hazzard, Fantastic Four and Cinderella Man, along with new transfers of Fox classic noir titles like The Dark Corner, Kiss of Death and Where the Sidewalk Ends and two new features from the Criterion Collection, Shoot the Piano Player and Forbidden Games. Also, there was a new season of "The West Wing," season 4 of the most innovative comedy series on TV right now, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," a new season of "24," "MASH," "Garfield and Friends," "Law and Order," "MacGyver," "Land of the Lost," "Murder She Wrote," "Roseanne" and "Batman: The Animated Series." Oh, also, a very special box set of Disney's beloved series "That's So Raven." Not to mention the second batch of Cartoon Network "Clone Wars" cartoons, a bunch of collectable tins from Disney Animation and a box set of all four secret agent movies starring Dean Martin as Matt Helm.

Most people - or rather, most sane, normal, well-adjusted people - aren't even aware that Tuesday in New DVD Day. They'll wander into a Tower or a Laser Blazer once in a great while, look around and see all the stuff that has come out since they were there last, maybe pick up a few things and be on their way.

But our die-hard customers, they study the list of new releases with the seriousness of a rabbinical student taking in the Talmud. They obsess for weeks in advance about what titles they will want to buy, which ones are in anamorphic widescreen, what the packaging will be like and so on. And they are filled with questions...

"How much will this box set cost? Does it come with any other promotional materials? Is this a new transfer of The Dirty Dozen, or the old one, because that one had some artifacting and pixellation in spots. Will the films come together or separately? Do you think they'll ever come all together? Should I wait to get them? Have you guys seen that movie? Is it worth buying? What if I already have an older version somewhere? Have they added any new material? Is there a commentary? Which company is releasing it? Is it in 'Scope? Will there be French subtitles? What about German? What took them so long to release it? Were there rights issues? Are all the original songs still in the film? Will it be in 5.1 or the original mono? Is the documentary on there any good? Is it the same documentary from the Laserdisc? Do you guys still have this on Laserdisc? Do you still sell Laserdiscs at all? Who still buys them? Can you still get a Laserdisc player? Do you know anyone who sells them? Where can I get my old one fixed? Are you about to close? Should I leave? Am I annoying you? Why are you advancing on me? Would you remove that sharp, blunt object from my rectum if I agree to leave the store quietly without asking any more questions?"

I'm kidding...sort of. Actually, most of the Tuesday regulars are nice, friendly poeple, whom I have gotten to know week after week for the past year. To be perfectly honest, I myself was once a Tuesday DVD-buying regular. At my old job, we'd often walk to the Tower on Sunset during our lunch break to buy that week's new DVD's (and, of course, I always knew what was coming out that week beforehand). So that's why I'm allowed to make fun of these guys...because I am one of them.

I always wind up working on Tuesday nights with Ari, and we have a few favorite Tuesday customers. Without going into too much detail, because my boss hates that, here are a few brief sketches of some of the ultimate DVD-buying weirdos and fanatics.

- Mail Order Bride Guy

So called because he came in today with a tall, attractive blonde woman with a heavy Russian accent who, by virtue of hanging out with this oddball with visibly bad plastic surgery, must either be (1) a high-class prostitute or (2) a mail-order bride. If this were a pornographic film, I would add to that list (3) struggling, extremely naive college student with a peculiar fondness for massive, uncircumcized penises. But it's not a porno. It's life.

They marched right up to the counter as soon as they came in, as if he was anxious to show off his attractive lady friend to us poor schlubs at the video store, and asked for the Guy Ritche film Revolver, yet to be released theatrically in this country. (Look for it to highly resemble Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and to hit American shores in Spring '06). When I told the girl that this movie she wanted wasn't even out in America, this was her reply:

"[Giggling] Spring in 2006? In Russia, it was out last year!"

I was very tempted to switch into Yakov mode for a moment and reply, "In Soviet Russia, movie watches you!" But I managed, somehow, to restrain myself. My boss later told me the guy used to be a regular, before he had the plastic surgery. Now he looks like Mickey Rourke standing in a powerful wind tunnel.

- Pot Belly

I do a pretty solid impression of this guy. It's probably my best Laser Blazer customer impression. He's this funny little man who waddles around the store each and every Tuesday, looking for the week's latest softcore pornographic releases. Seriously, the guy is exclusively into softcore porn. Like Playboy and Penthouse videos, and also those weird European direct-to-DVD movies with titles like Sultry Obsession or 100 Girls in Chains or European Hot Sensual Massage Ladies of the Night, Part 8.

We call him pot belly for reasons that would be totally obvious if I had a picture. He's a pretty pudgy guy overall, but the size of his gut is completely disproportionate to the rest of his body. I mean, he looks like he's carrying around two fetuses, an Alien and a pony keg in there. The other weird thing about this guy, and his odd tic that led to my doing an impression of him, is that he won't ever give us his name despite coming in each and every week.

We ask people's names to save in the computer in case they want to do a return or something...It makes it way easier to look up all their transactions. But he'll never give us his name.

"Oh, I'm not in your computer," he'll say every time. Now that I think about it, I might not want my name associated in some random computer with all those softcore titles, either. What if he wants to run for president some day?

- Team Late-Night

The same two weirdos come in together at 9:45 each and every Tuesday night. (The store closes at 10). They rarely buy anything; they just wander around and look at all the boxes together and pretend to shop. And they always want to hang around until the absolute last minute; I always wind up following them around at 9:59 telling them to finish dicking around and buy something or leave.

So tonight, when they came in, I started goofing on them with Ari, and that's how this entire article came to be. We were saying that they probably had a date..."I'll see you Tuesdays at Laser Blazer, my love..." Get it? "Tuesdays With Dummy." I hope you've enjoyed this rare glimpse into how my brain works.

- Mr. Happy

A guy came in today and told Ari that he doesn't smile enough. It's true...Ari's not really a sunshine-and-smiles type of guy. I can't say that I blame him. I kind of fake cheer, when possible, for the customers, but that's only because I have found people are less likely to be rude to someone who's grinning like an idiot at them. Sometimes, I'm way over the top sunny and enthusiastic to people in an obviously sarcastic fashion and they totally can't even tell.

But can you imagine being the kind of person who walks around saying stuff like that? "Hey, you should smile more when you speak to me!" Hey, you should shut the hell up more, not just when you're speaking to me...but all the time. Jackass. Maybe Ari was just having a bad day and didn't feel like smiling. Is that what you get for the cost of a $12 DVD? A movie for your collection and emotional control over all those around you?

- The Whining Complainer

I genuinely can't tell if this guy is trying to be affable or if he's genuinely a massive pain in the ass. All my co-workers assume it's the latter - that his constant complaining about all sorts of inconsequential nonsense over which we have no control is a function of his being a jerkoff. But I kind of feel like he thinks we find it amusing. Or, at least, that he feels he's doing some sort of public service, helping us out by letting us know what we're doing wrong.

Regardless of his motivation, he's obnoxious. Every week, it's..."Why don't you guys have my movie? You never have enough rentals of the good titles. I'm trying to get through a whoel season of this show and I can't get all the discs at once."

And he's never asking for good titles. Like, he's not upset that we didn't make rentals out of that new Lina Wertmuller collection yet. It's that he can't ever get his hands on the new Steven Seagal movie that just came out, or that direct-to-video thing with Michael Dudikoff. Seriously, the guy pulled me aside the other day to recommend that we open at least 5 copies of every direct-to-DVD action movie. That's what people want to watch, he assured me, not this weird experimental foreign stuff we like to open.

Ugh. I felt dirty afterwards.