Saturday, December 17, 2005

Seven Men From Now

What a weird title. I mean, yes, this 1956 Budd Boetticher B-Western does nominally concern a hunt for seven men. So, hypothetically, if you were to ask the Randolph Scott character "just when will your blazing travails through the wilderness finally be through," he could reply "seven men from now." But's not exactly a sensible headline for the movie.

I thought maybe it was a play on words, like the men were all from the town of Now, Arizona, or something. But,'s just odd and unexpected.

Similarly odd and unexpected is the film's 75 minute running time. At around the hour mark, I noticed that the plot seemed to be winding up, which is usually a touch early. It's as if the movie senses that it's wearing out its welcome, and tries to wrap everything up in a neat little package, and get you back home in time for Ed Sullivan or "Lucy" or whatever.

But the thing is certainly entertaining enough for 75 minutes, mainly due to the participation of Lee Marvin in a supporting role. His Bill Masters is a conniving, lecherous, sweaty, oafish and mean-spirited lout, and is also by far the most likable character in the movie. That guy was like a factory dedicated entirely to the production of badass.

Randolphs Scott...less so.

And, no, I'm not talking about the long-standing rumors that Randolph Scott was, to use the old Hollywood terminology, a swish. (For years, in fact, Scott was thought to be cohabitating with a similarly closeted Cary Grant). He's perfectly believable as a heterosexual male in the part.

I just mean that, with his pressed neckerchief and ceaselessly good-hearted, noble nature...He's just not the most interesting character to follow around. Scott's Ben Stride suffers from a severe case of Dudley Do-Right-ism. Gary Cooper could pull off a deep-seated sense of honor and nobility, whereas Scott just gives a pinched performance, like he's constantly suffering from painful, incurable saddle sores.

And Seven Men from Now is essentially a revenge movie. Stride was once the Sheriff in Silver City, until a bank robbery turned the town against him, as well as causing the death of his wife in the crossfire. Now, he's hunting down the 7 men responsible for the robbery, while also escorting a naive couple from the city across the rugged frontier landscape.

The film hits most of the right notes for this kind of fun genre piece. There are the obligatory shootouts, stand-offs, repeated scenes of horses running quickly across the desert scenes of Lone Pine, California. The action, in particular, is really well-shot, conveying both the wide expanses of the landscape as well as the tight claustrophobia of being huddled against a rock, dodging bullets. And there's a smashing final face-off between Scott and Lee Marvin over a strongbox filled with Wells Fargo's gold.

It's just the Scott performance that doesn't work for me...and he's a legend in these kind of movies, so it's sort of strange. Maybe it's just that he didn't work for me as Stride...or maybe it's just that I'm used to Spaghetti Westerns, which have a different sort of idea about a cool leading man...or maybe it's just the bright blue shirts and white ascots that seem to belong in a musical about cowboys, not a cowboy movie...I can't tell.

But other than that, it's a fun movie.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Brothers Grimm

Terry Gilliam has yet to direct a bad film. Even when his movies are conceptually weak, employ dull characters or include uninspired stretches of generic storytelling, the director's good humor, passion and marvelous visual acuity make them at the very least entertaining.

This summer's expensive flop The Brothers Grimm probably stands as the director's "worst" film, in that it has the most numerous and obvious flaws. Ehren Krueger's woefully tepid script just keeps throwing in the bizarre set pieces and tired allusions, hoping that something will stick. Neither Matt Damon nor Heath Ledger seem terribly interested in supplying actual performances. Peter Stormare gives an obnoxious, nearly indescipherable turn as an Italian schemer. The CG effects look glossy and cartoonish. And for an alleged comedy, the jokes come infrequently and land with a defiant thud.

And yet...I still enjoyed the movie. Despite all the problems of Brothers Grimm, Terry Gilliam still has yet to direct a bad film.

And it's not just the marvelous sets and costumes that are the standard in every Gilliam production. The director has demonstrated his affinity for this sort of storybook/fairy tale/fantasy entertainment before, and really fills his movie with delightful little details and small touches. As well, he finds just the right balance here between childlike flights of fancy and the bloody, Grand Guginol theatrics of Grimm Fairy Tales. Brothers Grimm unfolds much like a children's movie, but just like the surprisingly grisly stories that provide the basis for most Disney cartoons, the action is driven by a subtle undercurrent of horror.

Krueger, responsible for the script to one of 2005's worst films, The Ring Two, as well as the original Ring and Scream 3, has written a script that's almost too high concept for its own good. It reimagines the historical Brothers Grimm (Ledger and Damon) as charlatans, bilking simple-minded German villagers out of their gold during the rule of the Napoleanic army. They find small towns in the grips of ancient folklore or superstition, and then "exorcize the town of evil."

After they are captured by an odious French General (Jonathan Pryce, a veteran of many Gilliam films), they are assigned to a village dealing with a genuine supernatural menace - a wicked Queen living in a tower (Monica Bellucci) who kidnaps children in a bid to remain forever young.

It's a one-joke kind of premise...These professional frauds now must deal with an actual enchanted forest, and of course, along the way, they constantly meet counterparts to beloved fairy tale characters. The problem is, Krueger (and, in his own way, Gilliam) seem to assume that merely referencing these old characters will be enough to entertain an audience. We get a scene with Hansel and Gretel traipsing towards a gingerbread house, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in their wake, but there's no pay-off...It's just a reference.

Some of these sequences are extremely well-shot and realized. A scene where Little Red Riding Hood evades a hungry wolf through the woods at sunset is vivid, colorful and gorgeously shot byNicola Pecorini or Thomas Newton Sigel (IMDB credits them both), but these scenes add up to very little. Other references include Snow White, Rumpelstilsken, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince and The Gingerbread Man. It all grows tiresome very quickly.

It's not terribly surprising that the script isn't up to snuff, I suppose. It feels rushed in the same way as a lot of Hollywood product. What is surprising is how little Gilliam managed to get out of his actors. Generally, even if the material isn't terrific (as in Baron Munchausen), Gilliam can still squeeze out a charming performance or two from his ensembles, and here he's got some talented people to work with. Ledger and Damon (whose characters are supplied with a thin, artificial backstory about growing up inpoverished and desperate) seem patently uninterested in the entire production. I know their lines aren't funny, but they don't even try.

And Peter Stormare tends to go over the top, but this is his worst performance to date as the ludicrous Cavaldi, a pompous, preening Italian coward in a bad toupee. He's trying for a silly accent, but most of his lines just come out as garbled nonsense. Unfortunately, I sense he was intended as comic relief, which might of worked if I could understand the words that he was speaking.

I'm also surprised that Gilliam doesn't have a better handle on Computer-Generated effects work. Granted, the only other film he's made to employ CG was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the work was fairly limited in that film. But Brothers Grimm features what I'd refer to as "UPN effects," meaning it looks like a bad science fiction TV show. In an early scene, Gretel's shawl blows off her shoulders and floats down by a river, seemingly on its own power. The CG wrap twisting in the wind is among the most cartoonish and patently false-looking effects I have seen since the alien at the end of Mission to Mars. How can a guy who is so brilliant with design and practical effects be so incapable of telling that a certain scene's CG was simply not working?

I know it sounds harsh, and I do consider Brothers Grimm to be Gilliam's weakest film, as I said. But I don't think it's without value. It's slight, no doubt, but it looks great, and it shares a spirit with the rest of his work. The relationship between the two brothers - Jake who lives in a world of his imagination and Will who insists on remaining a realist - mirrors the dichotomy present in all of Gilliam's films. His movies exist in the boundary between reality and fantasy, and Brothers Grimm is a silly and fairly dumb action-comedy that spends nearly two hours exploring this ripe material for slight entertainment. There are worse ways you could spend your time.

A Fascist Police State of Mind

I've been saying it for a while now...This nation has become, in only five years, a fascist police state. Hope you all like being spied on.

The effort, which began within days after the [9-11] attacks, has consisted partly of monitoring domestic telephone conversations, e-mail and even fax communications of individuals identified by the NSA as having some connection to al Qaeda events or figures, or to potential terrorism-related activities in the United States, the official said.

"Some connection to...potential terrorism-related activities." Everybody got that? There are four words in that phrase modifiying the word "terrorism." They're not saying, "We reserve the right to monitor the activities of people who are planning terrorism." It's, "We reserve the right to monitor anyone who might possibly have some connection to some other activity that is in any way even potentially related to a terrorist attack." That's everybody.

Seriously. Everybody in America. Think of it like six degrees of separation. In some way, you are involved with some person or event that could possibly be used in a terrorist attack against America, if you get abstract enough. I mean, buying fertilizer provides you with some connection to a potential terrorism-related activity. Ditto buying any sort of weapon, just to remind all you 2nd Amendment NRA types. I mean, is that really all the justification we need for people to be wire-tapped and monitored?

Oh, never mind...I forgot...Americans don't care about civil liberties. Just boys kissing, fetuses and protecting Christmas from secular humanism. Never mind...

Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies at George Washington University, said the secret order may amount to the president authorizing criminal activity.

Kate, it may amount to the president authorizing criminal activity? Haven't you ever seen a cop show? The authorities are not allowed to tap someone's phones without a court order. GWB did not have one. So it's illegal. Seriously, am I missing something? Are we entering into Nixonian, "I'm the president so everything I do must by definition be legal" territory?

The law governing clandestine surveillance in the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, prohibits conducting electronic surveillance not authorized by statute. A government agent can try to avoid prosecution if he can show he was "engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction," according to the law.

"This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration," said Martin, who has been sharply critical of the administration's surveillance and detention policies. "It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans."

There you go, Kate. That's more like it.

Can we finally start impeachment talk now? Has this 2nd term world of shit gone on long enough? There's no way this guy has the remaining authority to lead for three more years. He won't make it 3 more months, at this rate. The Senate won't pass The Patriot Act, the gay cowboy movie's got a bunch of Golden Globe nominations and for some reason, people keep on bringing up that whole leaving-Americans-to-die-in-a-flood thing from a few months back. And now we discover that George is randomly spying on some of us, though knowing our president, he may just be using this futuristic surveillance technology to peep on girls in the can.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the much-touted Iraq Election, a Bush success that has been overshadowed by all this other recent news. Yes, it's nice to see Iraqis voting, but it's interesting to note that they only opinion uniting the various factions within the country is a deep-seated desire to get us the hell out of there. The only ones who want us to stay are the Kurds, who make up about 10% of the total population. So, if we're so big into Iraqi democracy...Why don't we do what they all want and get the hell out of there as soon as humanly possible?

I mean, there was no violence in voting areas because the Islamic Army of Iraq agreed to lay off for the day. Here was their statement:

"We knew Sunnis would participate in this game (because) most were forced to through the oppression, torture and destruction and suffering they receive from the slaves of the Cross (the Americans) and the Shiites," said the statement, which could not be immediately verified.

Oh, great, then...You know, I've got a feeling things in Iraq are gonna be alright after all!

One last thing, while we're talking about the end of traditional American civil liberties...Today marked radio legend Howard Stern's final day on terrestrial radio. I've been watching some of the streaming feed of the New York festivities on Yahoo. I'm all set to sign up for Sirius - for my birthday, my parents gave me a gift card expressly for this purpose - but I haven't actually gone to Best Buy and signed up yet. Have to do that before January 7th, when the Stern Show begins.

It's more expensive than I'd initially imagined. I thought it would be like $5-10 a month, but it's more like $15, plus it's well over $100 to get all the technology set up. Most inconveniently, you have to buy the radio, and then a home and a car speaker set, all individually, which adds up to more than I would really expect to spend on a radio. It's quite a bit for the guy to ask of his audience, a luxury item in place of a product that once was, essentially, free of charge.

(Even more galling is Stern's inDemand TV show, which replaces guessed it...relatively gratis basic cable E! channel show. He wants $12 a month just to watch a TV version of his radio show, and you don't get a discount even if you've signed up for satellite radio. I'm a fan, and I liked the old E! show, but that's too far, Howie!)

The point is not that Howard Stern and Sirius want to make as much money as possible. Clearly, they do. The point is just that I doubt Stern would do this unless he felt he had to. He's talking big, trying to make the best of the situation, but the fact is I'm sure he'd rather be available for free all over the country, as he has been for the past 20 years. This is, in today's America, just no longer possible. So he's doing the next best thing - going to satellite, trading a smaller audience for freedom from the whims of the FCC and the religious right.

Favorite Albums of 2005

Plenty of great music blogs do terrific Year-End wrap up features that I always enjoy pouring over. It's a great way to find out about music from the year that I missed, because I don't really check in with music websites every day, so stuff is always getting past me.

For example, I had never heard the Sun Kil Moon album Tiny Cities, made up entirely of Modest Mouse covers. It's really terrific. Who knows? If I had heard it a few months earlier...might have made it on to the 2005 Best-of List.

So, anyway, before I let you know my favorite music of the year, allow me to heartily recommend a few great and far more informative mp3-oriented blogs. They have been invaluable all year as resources for new and overlooked music.

Gorilla Vs. Bear
My Old Kentucky Blog

Okay, on to the list.

10. Beck, Guero

While I really like Guero as a collection of songs, I'm not sure I like what it seems to indicate about Beck's career, or even his state of mind. For the first time in his career, he's back-sliding. Guero reteams Beck with his Odelay collaborators The Dust Brothers and together they produce an album that's clearly designed to recall that classic 90's album. This stuff still sounds great - I mean, Odelay is fondly remembered for a reason. But even some of the highlights - the bouncy-sounding but morbid "Girl" or "Go It Alone" - feel stagnant, like Beck fiddling around with his old sound instead of blazing new trails as he did in Sea Change or the criminally underrated Midnite Vultures.


9. Dangerdoom, The Mouse and the Mask

Last year, MF Doom's collaboration with producer Madlib, Madvillainy, claimed the #5 spot on my Best of the Year List. This year, ol' Metal Fingers is back, this time bringing Grey Album mastermind DJ Danger Mouse along for the ride. Once again, Doom's rhymes are nothing short of brilliant, easily among the most amusingly smart on any hip hop album I heard this year. Oh, and did I mention that the entire album has a cartoon-theme, features the voices of beloved Cartoon Newtork "Adult Swim" characters like Space Ghost, Master Shake, Brak and Harvey Birdman, AND features a sly reference to Homestar Runner?

BEST TRACK: "Space Ho's"

8. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

One of a crop of recent bands that sound a lot like The Talking Heads (along with Canadian mad geniuses The Arcade Fire), Brooklyn's Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (CYHSY for short) produced one of the year's most disarming, strange, funny and catchy albums. After an opening calliope jam (seriously...), the band gets right down to business, blazing through 10 guitar rock anthems. An assured, extremely consistant debut album.

BEST TRACK: "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth"

7. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm

But as all-around impressive a splash as CYHSY made in 2005, the year's real discovery was this Brit-rock outfit. Silent Alarm manages to cop a lot of 80's new wave British rock kind of sounds and yet produce an album that sounds exciting and fresh. And it doesn't just stand up to repeat listens - hooky wonders like "Like Eating Glass" and "Helicopter" (the album's first two tracks) demand multiple plays.

BEST TRACK: "Banquet"

6. The Eels, Blinking Lights and Other Phenomenon

Mr. E's latest is a beast - a 2 disc, nearly 2-hour opus with the type of extended motifs and character development generally reserved for novellas. It's also easily The Eels' most engaging, ambitious and earnest collection of songs to date. These are songs that range in style and tone from exuberant radio-friendly pop ("Sweet Lil' Thing") to Lennon-esque sour-tongued ballads ("I'm Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart") to straight-forward, head-bobbing indie rock ("Old Shit/New Shit"). Sure, there are some songs that sound like the old Eels, but gone is the tongue-in-cheek gallows humor of Electro-Shock Blues and the numbed pretension of Souljacker in favor of more direct emotion, more subtle lyricism and more buoyant, heartfelt music.

BEST TRACKS: "Suicide Life" from Disc 1, "Whatever Happened to Soy Bomb" from Disc 2

5. Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene

When I heard this album initially, I liked it. But it was only after seeing BSS live at the Henry Fonda Theater that I realized what phenomenal, lush and rewarding songs the Canadian supergroup had really come up with. I think there's just so much going on in the production - so many dynamic layers of sound - it's just hard to make out the songs when you first hear them. But after a few listens, everything becomes more organized, and The Scene's inspired follow-up to their breakout hit You Forgot It In People starts to make sense.

BEST TRACK: "Windsurfing Nation," which features a cameo from Feist, whose 2005 song "Mushaboom" has received a lot of play in my mp3 player this week.

4. Decemberists, Picaresque

The Decemberists remind me of the early Coen Brothers, back in the Blood Simple-Raising Arizona-Miller's Crossing days. Relative newcomers who work a lot, releasing a ton of quirky and innovative material of uniformly outstanding quality. And like the Coen Brothers, singer/songwriter Colin Meloy has a fondness for historical detail and baroque, theatrical flourishes. The Decemberists' third proper LP continues their trend of composing multi-instrumental historical rock narratives. Sea Chanties about vengeful privateers ("The Mariner's Revenge Song"), romantic ballads about spies ("The Bagman's Gambit"), indie pop about gay hustlers ("At the Bus Mall") and memories of humiliation on the ball field ("The Sporting Life"). There are, however, some movements towards making the band's sound more contemporary and personal. Meloy's vocals have never been more wrenching or honest than on "The Engine Driver," and the closing ballad "Of Angels and Angles" is as simple as it is haunting. Some find Meloy's nasally vocals irritating, but I think he's got one of the most expressive, eccentric voices in contemporary music, and one of the greatest gifts as a lyricist.

BEST TRACK: "The Engine Driver"

3. Spoon, Gimme Fiction

This Spoon album is so good, it forced me to re-evaluate my opinion on the entire band Spoon. My roommate Nathan has been a fervent supporter of theirs for a while now, and though I had enjoyed the album Kill the Moonlight to a certain extend (particularly the single "Jonathan Fisk"), it had never really grabbed me, nor had it inspired me to obtain more Spoon albums. But Gimme Fiction has an immediacy that I hadn't heard in Spoon's music before. I have since seen them live, and re-listened to Girls Can Tell, A Series of Sneaks and Kill the Moonlight extensively, and I have come to realize that Spoon is just an exceptionally talented band, the solid indie rock songwriting and fluid vocals of Britt Daniel backed by one of the tightest drummers in rock, Jim Eno. Having said all that, I still think Gimme Fiction is their best album. The first three songs on here are an unstoppable powerhouse of rockitude. My favorite section of any album all year. There are a few off moments here or there, but you barely even recall the off remember the highlights.

BEST TRACK: "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine"

2. New Pornographers, Twin Cinemas

A few years ago, The New Pornos released their gob-smackingly brilliant power-pop debut, Mass Romantic. It's an album that was so infectious, some have theorized the CIA released it into the white community to keep us docile and controllable. They followed it up with The Electric Version, a so-so collection of songs with a few stand-out tracks that sounded like a B-level retread of Mass Romantic. A sophomore slump, I hoped, that would be redeemed by album #3. And when I first heard Twin Cinemas...I thought The New Pornographers were over. I can admit it...My first impression was completely and totally idiotic and wrong.

It's just that this is the biggest, most ambitious music these guys have ever made by far. I was straining to hear fun little 3-minute pop songs, and was missing the expansive rock epic right in front of me. The new songs are still fun and catchy, but they're also occasionally dissonant, they're more resonant, they're a little louder and messier. These are the best songs primary Carl Newman has yet written, sometime songwriter Dan Bejar also contributes the best song he's ever written for the group ("Jackie Dressed in Cobras") and the whole band (particularly vocalist Neko Case) has never sounded better.

BEST TRACK: "Sing Me Spanish Techno"

1. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (Bootleg version)

It sucks that the Best Album of 2005 has to have a weird little notation like that. If you don't know the whole story, here's the short short short version...Fiona and producer Jon Brion turned in this version of the album, the one I'm calling Album of the Year, to the record company, which didn't feel like releasing it in that form. So they brought in a new producer who remade a lot of the tracks, accentuating the vocals, getting rid of some of Brion's more obvious flourishes and adding in some back-up vocals.

It's not that I think the final, released version of the album is bad. If it had been the only version I had heard, it surely would have still made the Top 10. Probably the Top 5. Because there aren't a lot of Fiona Apple albums (this is only the third one ever), and they are always good, because she's a talented singer and songwriter.

But the Jon Brion version was something more than just a good collection of sharp, powerful rock songs, well-sung. It was the most far-reaching, baroque, experimental pop masterpiece I have heard in a long time. Stacatto bursts of sound enhanced the rumble in Apple's voice and strings bounced around the edges of the tracks adding tension and energy. The finished, retouched version trades in a lot of this vitality and spontaneity in favor of Apple's more familiar style.

Both albums feature similar playlists of great new songs and are worthy of a listen. But the unreleased versions are, to my mind, far superior and just plain old more interesting, and if you have a favorite Peer-to-Peer file sharing program, it should not be terribly difficult to find there.

BEST TRACK: "Oh Sailor"

And Now, 10 Honorable Mentions

Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Garden
The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday
Louis XIV, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept
Broadcast, Tender Buttons
British Sea Power, Open Season
Gorillaz, Demon Days
Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better
Architecture in Helsinki, In Case We Die
Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
The Pernice Brothers, Discover a Lovelier You

And Now, The Best Band Name of the Year

Let's Get Out of This Terrible Sandwich Shop

Randal: Reality TV's Biggest Asshole Ever?

I mean, that's really saying something...There are a lot of assholes on reality shows. I mean, I don't even watch the majority of reality TV, and just on the shows I watch, there are an immense amount of assholes.

I mean, Johnny Fairplay on "Real World/Road Rules Challenge?" He defecates on girls in the house and then brags about it to magazines. Janice Dickenson from "America's Next Top Model," what about her. A woman so obnoxious that she makes Omarosa seem reasonable and even-tempered. And then there's Ryan Seacrest, host of "American Idol." He hasn't done anything particularly outrageous...I just think he's an asshole.

But I think Donald Trump's freshly-crowned apprentice Randal make take the taco. Biggest Reality TV Asshole of All Time.

In case you missed this week's season finale, Trump had whittled down the candidates to two potential employees...Rhodes Scholar and Business Consultant Randal vs. Financial Writer Rebecca. Randal, the older and more experienced of the two, and the one with the better track record as a project manager, had a distinct advantage going in. But after the final task was completed, it was essentially a toss-up between the two candidates. No one was a clear-cut winner, as in the previous season, when Worst Person Alive nominee Tana Goertz suffered a complete mental breakdown during the final "Apprentice" task.

What happened next, in tonight's final boardroom, was one of those TV moments so shocking and bizarre, so unexpected, that you actually make gutteral, alien noises from the back of your throat. Like, "Gu-bbbbbbbbuuuuuuuuhhhhhh?"

Here's how NBC's "Apprentice" website describes the last boardroom:

In the end, Trump made the tough call: "Rebecca, you're outstanding. Randal, you're hired." But he left the door open, asking Randal if he should also hire Rebecca. Randal, however, did not take the bait. He said there should be only one Apprentice, adding, "It's not the Apprenti." Trump heeded the advice of his newest employee, and Randal remained the sole Apprentice.

Interesting, that that's how NBC decided to play it...As if Trump were baiting Randal, trying to trick him, and he cleverly avoided falling for the ruse. That's not what it looked like on television. To me, it appeared for the entire episode that Trump was going to hire both of the candidates. Hints were dropped, obvious asides that indicated a surprise "twist" ending, in which Trump would be unable to make a choice between two such qualified and exemplary people.

And as he agonized during the exceptionally long final boardroom, it became increasingly obvious that the job would be offered to both candidates. Then, he actually hired Randal, there was a moment of celebration...and Trump asked his new Apprentice to sit back down.

"I trust your opinion," Trump said. "If you were me, would you also hire Rebecca?"

That doesn't sound like a trap. There was no chance Trump was going to suddenly un-hire Randal based on his answer. And, as I said, hints had been dropped the entire episode that Trump would pull this surprise move and hire both candidates. And still, Randal said no. What an awful thing to do...To request that someone be denied a cash prize and noteriety, even after these rewards had already been promised to you.

Rebecca must have wanted to murder him. I mean, he had already won. It was over. She had been defeated. And here it is, a second chance, and all that has to happen is this man who had made overtures of friendship to her for weeks during the competition had to give it the okay. It wouldn't affect him at all. His prize package was secure, he had been crowned The Apprentice. All that he would have to do is say "Yes, that's a good idea." Or, "She's very qualified and I'd be happy to work with her." And he says, "No, you said it's The Apprentice, singular, so it should just be me." Incredible, not only that his mind would think that way, but that he'd have the confidence to say so on national television.

My brother called me immediately after I had finished watching the show to talk about this incredible, inexplicable development. Truly, this is one of the great TV moments of 2005, if not the greatest. (Although I don't know...R. Kelly performing "Trapped in the Closet" live on the VMA's...) We talked about how it was fantastic television, really above and beyond the call for a reality show in its fourth season, reeling from lowered ratings and a failed spin-off.

Jon also made an interesting point...Even though he succeeded in hogging all the glory for himself and eliminating Rebecca from the Trump Organization, Randal has actually doomed himself to lifelong infamy. Now, instead of focusing attention on him and his success, all the press about Randal in the wake of his win will focus on his rejection of Rebecca. Long as his career in the public eye may last (and it may not last beyond tonight), this snap decision will haunt him.

If you're still one of these people rejecting reality TV on principle, you don't know what you're missing...As much as I love some scripted television shows (and if "Arrested Development" winds up in an unrated, longer version with better production values and swearing on Showtime, I may have to adjust my cable package)...You couldn't script a turnabout like this. This kind of depraved selfishness and narcissism can only truly blossom in reality.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Trailer Trash

Thanks to a heads-up from the good people at Aint It Cool News, that repository of King Kong hype and homebase for a nation of angry, venom-spewing 13 year old talkbackers, I bring to you tonight 2 brand new trailers, fresh off the ol' Informational Superhighway we got there.

First up, Ron Howard's big screen adaptation of The Da Vinci Code starring beloved Bollywood legend Otm Shank...Oh, no, wait, it's some guy named Tom Hanks...

Wait, is he a real guy? I thought he was just a creepy animated character from that Bob Zemeckis Christmas movie. You know, like Gollum or King Kong, or Kim Basinger from Cool World.

Anyway, on Aint It Cool, all the geeks are wetting themselves with glee over the trailer. I'm unimpressed. So I will now present to you...From the Home Office in Atlantic City, New Jersey, The Top Ten Reasons...Ron Howard's Big-Screen Adaptation of The Da Vinci Code Will Suck.

10. Hooded albino already featured in Bergman's Seventh Seal and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey...Not really that scary.

9. Penned by Akiva Goldsman, the man who gave Batman nipples.

8. Unlike the ultra-successful Passion of the Christ, does not include a single violent whipping session.

7. Gregorian chanting set against an image of light beaming in through a stained glass window. Woo-de-fucking-doo.

6. Girl from Amelie apparently strangled, but most likely won't die painfully on screen.

5. Difficult to enjoy film with complete 5.1 surround sound experience while on the can.

4. Fast-paced, intricately plotted historical/religious thriller from the doofuses that brought you Splash.

3. I mean, it's pretty similar in theme to those Left Behind movies, and there's no way you could ever top that kind of cinematic spectacle.

2. Book wasn't any good in the first place, assholes.

1. Four Words: From Director Ron Howard

Okay, so it doesn't really look all that bad. I just can't resist the chance to mock Ron Howard. Seriously, though, I didn't like the book "Da Vinci Code." It felt, to me, like a sub-par Grisham style mystery tied in with the same old Holy Grail-Jack the Ripper-Mary Magdalene Christian mythology bullshit.

To me, the whole "Jesus has blood relations" thing is like the historical version of an urban legend. It's a story that gets passed down through generations because it represents something archetypal...The notion that, behind the everyday workings of government and society, secretive, shadowy organizations obsessed with power go about the real business of running the world. Sure, it's based on the truth - that corporate and governmental powers make decisions that change all our lives behind closed doors - but we transpose it on to Jesus because...Well, I don't know why...Because it's more remote and romantic and enticing or something...

And I hate hate hate Ron Howard-Akiva Goldsman mash-ups, which include this year's reprehensibly juvenile Cinderella Man and the Oscar Winner for Best Picture a few year's back, the atrocious A Beautiful Mind, surely one of my least favorite films this decade. So, I'm not expecting great things...

But I'm not closed off to the idea that a solid thriller could be made from this material. I had trouble taking it seriously on the page, largely due to author Dan Brown's woefully pedestrian writing style. But as Hitchcock famously noted, mediocre novels make the best films, while great novels make mediocre films. If that's really the case, this film should be a goddamn masterpiece.

Okay, moving on...

This next film will open right alongside Da Vinci in May next year. It's Wolfgang Peterson's remake of the 70's disaster classic The Poseiden Adventure. As they often do with modern remakes for some reason, they've trimmed the title. So it's just Poseiden. Whatever. I don't see why you'd take the name "adventure" out of the title of your movie if it's already in there. Who doesn't want to see a movie that takes them on an adventure? I mean, take a title like Pee Wee's Big Adventure. That's a great title...It tells you exactly what you're getting...A guy named Pee Wee has a wild adventure, in which he retreives his bike from the Alamo. Or something like that.

Here's the trailer.

It might be cool. Peterson previously worked similar material with The Perfect Storm, with mixed results. I liked a lot of the disaster-at-sea stuff in the film's second half. But the opening hour is a horrifying slog. I mean, they're trying so hard to give that bar and all those "colorful" characters a sense of authenticity, but the entire enterprise from the accents on down is just so bogus. More brave death at sea, less blathering about the fight at home and the importance of family.

Thankfully, I think this movie takes place entirely within the ship The Poseiden, so unless he's got Irish immigrants flirting with rich ladies in there, Wolfgang will be able to focus on the action, which is what he does well to begin with. (Although I'll grant his German-language submarine masterpiece, Das Boot, contains memorable characters and genuine pathos).

And the trailer certainly makes it seem like a big movie, and a fairly horrifying one. Something about being inside a boat that's sinking like a stone to the bottom of the sea...Just kind of a deeply unsettling idea.

Plus, the movie stars Kurt Russell. That's one way to significantly up the liklihood I'll enjoy your film.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Break That Back Down

That header is a line from an old Mack 10 song, by the way. "Mosey Wosey," I believe was the name, some kind of odd slang term for a cheap motel that will rent out rooms by the hour. The whole song is about taking an incredibly cheap slut to a filthy motel and having degrading sex with her until you have to leave, to make room for the next dirtbag. The entire line goes like this...

"Break That Back Down/Stick Your Ass In the Air/And Lay Your Head Flat Down"

I recall that song from my freshman year at UCLA, when it was a favorite of my roommates. It's reprehensible, and kind of fascinating in its own way, but it is not at all the subject of this post. The subject of this post is Ang Lee's latest film, Brokeback Mountain, which I have not yet seen. I am curious to see it though. You might even say...a little bi-curious to see it.

I don't know why I even went into all that stuff about the Mack 10 song. Maybe I'm trying to say that heterosexuals and homosexuals are both equally depraved and perverse. Or perhaps I just think the idea of a man bragging in rhyme about banging some disease-ridden floozy in a fetid motel room is funny.

As you all, by now, probably know, Brokeback Mountain is the critically-acclaimed, award-nominated film from the director of The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Eat Drink Man Woman and, regrettably, Hulk. That last one, by his own admission, nearly ended his career.

This new film follows two gay cowboys (played by heartthrobs Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger), their decades-spanning friendship and forbidden, secret romance. They do not, to my knowledge, at any point in time, actually consume any pudding.

A few weeks back, I was discussing the subject of Brokeback Mountain with some friends online, all of us straight males. (Though, I'm proud to say, not all straight white males, so at least we had one mark on the Diversity Checklist). I think the opinions can be broken down into three categories:

On one extreme, you have the opinion that going a movie that includes non-explicit gayity is kind of gross and uncomfortable, and would just as soon go see Harry Potter 4 again than watch boys make out. In the middle, you had myself. While I don't particularly care to see boys kiss, it's also not the sort of thing that will ruin an otherwise good movie for me. If Brokeback Mountain is as good as they say, I will enjoy it, half-seen man-on-man thrusting be damned. And then, on the other extreme, you had the idea that refusing to enjoy Brokeback Mountain just because the subject is gayity is homophobic and arrogant and wrong.

Like I said, I'm kind of straddling the fence on this one. I sympathize with my friend who doesn't want to watch a 130 minute movie about dudes in love. As American males, we have been taught all our lives to respect one kind of romantic relationship. Even though I can say with some degree of certainty that none of my friends hates gay people or behaves inappropriately towards them, it's sometimes hard to automatically accept something you find gross, even if you know you should.

At the same time, it does seem silly to me, avoiding a movie that might be really good just because of a little homo stuff. It's a reality of the world in which we live, so it will absolutely become a part of our arts and culture, just like serial killer movies and disaster films and charming holiday comedies in which an extremely fecund woman with 20 offspring marries a similarly fertile man with 20 offspring and a pet pig. I became addicted to "Six Feet Under" early on in its run, coming on as it did right after "The Sopranos" back in those days. (Ah, memories...) It used to raise eyebrows amongst my roommates at the time. I just dont' really understand that attitude. I mean, they're not kissing you, man. Relax.

Perhaps it's this tolerant attitude when it comes to gay-themed films that has created my current situation at work. There's a woman who comes in all the time, a friendly local teacher who rents a lot of films and happens to be a lesbian. Anyway, the first time we ever spoke about movies, when I was first working at the store, we talked about Pedro Almoldovar's Bad Education, a rather brilliant mystery film from 2004. Like many of Almoldovar's films, it's steeped in gay culture, in this case featuring a man character who is a drag queen.

So I think she might have the idea that, because I like movies like Bad Education, I' know...a bender...

Don't get me wrong...She's never come out and said anything. We just talk about movies. But she just always asks me about whatever gay-themed film we've gotten in that week, as if I'll have seen them all. (Although, to be honest, sometimes I've seen them...) This week, she came in, returned her movie, leaned against the counter and asked me the following question...

"So, have you seen Brokeback yet?"

I'll call your attention to two red flags in this brief query.


Shortening the title of the film from Brokeback Mountain to Brokeback. She's assuming that I'm intimately familiar with the film already, one week into its theatrical run. As if it has been a major topic of conversation for me all week.


The use of the word "yet." I don't mean to get all High Fidelity on you, but by saying "yet," she's making the assumption that I will definitely see Brokeback Mountain at some point in the near future. I've never spoken of a particular affinity for Ang Lee films (probably because I don't have one), nor favor towards Mr. Ledger or Mr. Gyllenhaal (though I do like Donnie Darko a lot). So I can only assume that she thinks I'll definitely see the movie because she thinks I'm gay.

Don't get me wrong. It doesn't really matter that she thinks I'm gay. I don't want to get 100 comments down there insisting that I must be gay if I'm worried that the woman at work thinks I'm gay. That's a myth, okay? Just because a man is slightly self-conscious doesn't mean that, deep down, he has an intense craving for cock. Sometimes, a guy is just a little self-conscious.

The whole thing does make me think about what life must be like for gay guys in the closet. All day, every day, people are making this same mistake with them. We always just kind of assume someone is heterosexual unless they are extraordinarily effeminate. It must kind of suck.

I'll definitely try to see Brokeback, as the kids are calling it, some time this week and report back if it totally a-give me the jibblies. I suspect not, particularly because I hear that Anne Hathaway has a topless scene. I guess she figured, they made an appearance in Havoc already, so the cat's out of the bag. Bear in mind, though, that I also want to see in the coming week or two King Kong, Chronicles of Narnia, Munich, The New World, Syriana, The Producers, Breakfast on Pluto and Mrs Henderson Presents. So it's a full slate. We'll see what happens...

And while we're on the subject, check out this entire week of Boondocks strips about Brokeback Mountain. It's pretty funny stuff. McGruder really knows how to work the five-day comic strip story arc, and builds to a nice payoff. Be sure to read the full week, I'm starting you out at the first page.

The 10 Worst Films of 2005

Well, here it is, mid-December, so it's about time to start posting the Best of 2005 Lists. I'll be doing a Best Movies and Best Albums list, but I doubt I'll bother with a Best Concerts list this year. I think I only saw 3 or 4 actual concerts in all of 2005, mainly as a function of extreme poverty, but coupled with a growing apathy towards large-scale event attendance.

But before I get into all the actual lists of quality entertainment, let's dispense with perhaps the most fun year-end round-up of them all...The Worst Movies of 2005. This year, perhaps more than any other, I had the distinct opportunity to watch a shitload of awful films. Usually, you only rent movies with at least a 5% chance of providing you with some level of entertainment, because a movie rental will cost at least $2-3. But when you get free rentals, you will sometimes find yourself taking home a piece of surefire cinematic garbage. Maybe you just want to see how bad a movie can get, or you've been meaning to write a scathing blog review but haven't seen a truly atrocious film in a while. Sometimes, curiosity just gets the better of me, and I go home with a movie I know for a fact will suck. What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment.

Bear in mind, however, that even I have my limits. There aren't any atrocious romantic comedies, like A Lot Like Love or Monster-in-Law, on the list because out of all the genres in the movie rainbow, I can tolerate bad romantic comedies the least. Also, a number of the really awful movies I saw this year - titles like Fat Albert and Renny Harlin's Mindhunters were actually released officially in 2004, rendering them ineligible. Too bad...

10. Cursed

I'll be perfectly honest...I'm not really a huge fan of Wes Craven's 90's mega-hit Scream. Sure, the initial conceit is pretty clever - a self-aware horror movie with characters who know about all the genre's stale conventions. But the film itself is a horror-comedy that's neither scary or funny. There are no quotable lines, really, or funny characters, and the thing is far too goofy and lax to create any sort of genuine suspense.

So those were my problems with the original Scream film, that premiered nearly a decade ago in 1996. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who with Cursed attempts to meld his Scream concept with the werewolf genre, has only gotten far far worse with time. Yes, Kevin, we get it...It's really a whodunit disguised as a horror film. It purposefully includes all kinds of references to old horror movies. Its characters wisecrack about how movie characters might react to the situations in which they find themselves. I just have one question...

How on Earth am I supposed to give a shit about any of this stupid crap? It might not be the actual worst film of 2005, but Cursed absolutely ranks among the laziest. (Intriguingly, Wes Craven directed another, better-received 2005 film, Red Eye, that hints at a new direction for his entire career...Anything to keep him from lensing another pathetic Williamson retread ever again, I say...)

Here's what I said in my original review:

Anyway, Cursed blows. But I guess you already knew that...

But maybe you don't know how much it blows. Maybe you don't know that it's a werewolf movie in which you hardly get to see a werewolf, and when you do, it looks a lot like either a guy in a rented wolf suit thrashing about aimlessly or a CGI-enhanced wolfish blur. Maybe you don't know that it features a supporting performance by Scott Baio as himself. Maybe you don't know that it makes the exact same mistake as the Scream sequels by obviously casting an actor too famous to play a small supporting role, indicating that they will, in fact, be the killer at the end.

9. The Dukes of Hazzard

The promise of seeing Daisy Duke-clad Jessica Simpson was enough to get me to take this title home, and I was immediately sorry. Sure, Jess is a looker, but she's not even in that much of the film. The vast majority is taken up by a stale imitation of a TV show that wasn't any good in the first place. Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott are both guys who have made me laugh before, but neither of them can do a thing to elevate this insipid nonsense.

Honestly, they don't even try. No one does. This is a film that has moved beyond trying in any way, shape or form. There's no attempt to reinvent the Duke Boys, no attempt at humor that doesn't involve bad slapstick and no attempt to make this idiocy that was silly and dated in the 70's feel any more relevant. Director (and founding member of the bafflingly overrated Broken Lizard troupe) Jay Chandrasekhar contents himself to simply recreate an awful old sitcom on a sound stage with different actors. Way to aim high, everyone! I'd quote my original review, but this movie was so forgettable and lame, I didn't even bother writing one.

[Also, Chandrasekhar casts Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg, even though that character's defininig characteristic is his obesity. The guy's Boss...FUCKING HOGG YOU IDIOTS!]

8. The Amityville Horror

My friend Brooke called me about a year ago from a video store, to ask about the quality of the original 70's Amityville Horror. I responded that it's good, a classic of 70's horror, even, without actually informing her that I had not seen the film in many, many, many years. She called me the next day to let me know that it sucked, and going back to rewatch the film, I've reached the same conclusion. It's an overwrought and flat imitation of other, better 70's horror films, in particular the suburban nightmare classic The Exorcist.

For the new remake of Amityville Horror, it's clear the decision was made to no longer simply rip off The Exorcist. This time around...they're blatantly ripping off The Shining. And did I mention the Jack Nicholson character from Stanley Kubrick's visionary original is now interpreted by acting titan Ryan Reynolds?
It doesn't really matter which classic movie you decide to rip off if all the elements of the film are so generic and workmanlike anyway. This was just another studio rush job, attempt to cash in on a well-known property without worrying about actually amassing anyone talented to realize that property on screen. It's just worse than the average studio rush job because the original was so lame, the premise so tired and the budget so constrained. Oh, and because they cast Ryan Reynolds as the heavy, and he's about as horrifying as the guy in the bad werewolf suit in Cursed. To quote Adam Sandler..."Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?"

I could go on all day with the gaping plot holes and logical inconsistancies, but who cares? If the movie was scary or entertaining, I wouldn't have even bothered with them at all. But I was kind of bored, because everything in Amityville is so familiar and tired, that I started making mental notes about all the stuff that didn't make logical sense.

7. Mr. & Mrs. Smith

My good Lord, what a shitkicker. I had heard this movie was a disappointment, but I had no idea how utterly tone-deaf it would be, how bloodless and cold, how shrill and loud and chaotic and mean-spirited and pointless. It's hard to imagine, after watching them fail to spark any chemistry at all in 90 minutes, that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt would ever want to see each other again, let alone get married and raise a bunch of foreign-born infants together.

Audiences demand so little, really, out of a movie like this. They want to see two good-looking people looking good together. They want to see some violent mayhem and explosions. And they'd like a laugh or two along the way, just to keep things lively. That's it, really.

Director Doug Liman fails to deliver on a single one of these promises. Sure, Brangelina are an attractive pair, but the film rarely allows them to show it off. In the opening, they are bored with one another and frustrated. In the middle, they're too busy trying to maim one another to try and look sexy. And by the end, they are being shot at by approximately 100,000 unseen assailants. Dr. Jones, no time for love.

The fight and action scenes aren't exciting, either, because their outcome is so inevitable. Sure, you always know the hero will survive in the action movie, but there are usually some stakes involved during a large set piece. In other words, even if you know who will live and who will die, someone is actually trying to accomplish something in some way and there's some question about what will be accomplished and how. Mr. & Mrs. Smith contains a lot of Brad and Angie shooting at one another, but it's pretty clear they'll both be fine. And considering how they both repeatedly pass up opportunities to just axe one another, we kind of sense that their hearts aren't into the whole enterprise. This is a pretty major problem, considering that the entire first hour of the movie is consumed with these two trying to off one another.

So what we end up with are endless scenes of the two of them shooting guns at each other in a pointless display of firepower. There's more suspense in that "Girls With Guns" video Sam Jackson watches in Jackie Brown. The bullets never connect, and neither do the jokes for that matter.

Here was my review from a few weeks back:

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.

6. Silence Becomes You

I'm certain none of you have ever heard of this movie. It only has one user review on IMDB, even. And it only debuted on DVD this week, after having no real release in theaters. I'm bringing it up only because it is hilariously wrong-headed, pompous and awful. And because there is a hilarious website that explains why the movie is so completely numbingly bad.

Filmmaker Stephanie Sinclaire obviously thinks that she is hot shit. Not just your garden-variety hot shit either, but white-hot, nuclear, center-of-the-sun-esque shit. She's the founder and president of Dragonfly Films, a small indie company dedicated to...Well, why not do yourself a favor and check out her batshit insane, self-aggrandizing website for yourself? Here's a small taste of what's in store for you there:

The films we are developing are classically structured stories, equally plot and character driven, which tell compelling stories with magic and beauty and a challenging subtext. Films which show the workings of the mind and the imagination, push the boundaries of the spirit and through keyed colour grading and music, effect the emotions in non-trivial ways. Scratch the surface of the grey world and not black and white but all the colours of the rainbow are revealed.

I'll admit, reading that paragraph, I got curious. I got even more curious when I discovered that Steph's first film was a direct-to-DVD effort starring none other than Ms. Alicia Silverstone. That and this description were enough motivation to inspire a free rental:

Silence Becomes You tells the story of two women who live in a self-created Dionysian paradise, living by the creative theories of their deceased father, a research scientist who hot-housed them to an almost abusive degree in their youth. They decide to capture a man with whom to become impregnated.

On the surface it is a straight-forward thriller plot. One sister and the man fall in love, which is not part of ‘the plan’. The other sister becomes increasingly unbalanced as their co-dependency is threatened and we are plunged into a scary and ultimately fatal journey of sexual and emotional intrigue. Supported by a strong score the shadows of the past confound the growing revelations of the present. Nothing is quite as it seemed.

Now that you've read the director's take, let me tell you my take on Silence Becomes You. This is one of the most ludicrous pleas for attention and respect I have ever seen in my life. Stephanie's directorial style can be described thusly: fill every single moment of every scene of your movie with pseudo-philosophical wankery, obvious imagery, horrible acting and bad camera tricks.

Silverstone and co-star Sienna Guillory play the sisters as if they have some kind of severe neurological disorder. They're constantly twirling around, giggling to themselves and having violent mood swings for no reason. They are not given a single line of reasonable dialogue. In fact, Sinclaire is so desperate to fill every moment of her film with deeply resonant meaning, she forgets to pay any attention at all to things like character, motivation, pacing or entertainment value.

If the movie were intensely deep, maybe such lapses could be forgiven. But Sinclaire's notion of depth is showing a man in a bathtub while soft women's voices whisper about sirens and mermaids on the soundtrack. She thinks the image of a man actually picking a star out of the sky and handing it to Alicia Silverstone, through the use of bad special effects, is romantic and subtle and somehow impressive. Ugh.

I can't resist...One more quote from Dragonfly Films:

We follow in the footsteps of storytellers old and new whose desire was also to create new myths or recreate ancient ones for a modern palate but we are also designing our own in-house style of heightened realism, painterly execution and modern myth making to create fabulous, rich, majestic modern classics which hold a mirror to the experience and which are highly commercial. It is possible to provide the shock value necessary for a contemporary audience to feel stimulated and entertained by other methods than extreme roller-coaster rides of recycled bathos.


5. The Ring Two

This movie is bad beyond all comprehension. Hideo Nakata has now been making Ring-themed films for nearly 8 years. You're telling me Ring 2 is the best he can come up with? Even if the American version of The Ring doesn't directly lead into a sequel, the door is obviously left open for a follow-up. Though Rachel (Naomi Watts) manages to save her son from the evil Samara, the demonic spirit behind the cursed videotape, the tape itself has survived intact.

And yet, Nakata's follow-up immediately disposes of the video tape altogether, to pursue a lame "possession" narrative. Basically, Samara escapes the tape and decides she'd like to start invading the bodies of children. But how? She couldn't do this sort of thing in the first movie. And why? Wouldn't being an ultra-powerful ghost capable of manipulating time and space and the physical properties of the universe be better than living in the body of a sunkeneyed, sickly little boy?

Beyond these sort of logical flaws, Ring Two is just a sloppily-made, poorly-handled production. Whole sequences seem amateurish and awkward, like the ill-advised deer attack on Rachel's car. And the film is droning and repetitive. Here was my take after seeing the movie on DVD:

Ring Two is a film lacking style. By the half-hour point, the film has become so ridiculous that it never again gets close to being at all chilling. Almost all of the attempts at scare scenes, in fact, rely on poor computer effects, including an odd sequence in which bathtub water defies gravity to rest against the ceiling. The technology, regrettably, isn't quite up to the task, and the result is a garbled and ill-defined liquidy mass. Not scary.

4. Cinderella Man

Ron Howard may be the single most underwhelming filmmaker in Hollywood. Notice, I didn't say worse. There are directors out there with far more appalling resumes. Let's face it...The only reason Brett Ratner and Joel Schumacher aren't on this list is that neither of them released a movie in 2005. (Look for Ratner to make an appearance next year after the inevitable X3 crash and burn).

But Howard is underwhelming. He takes on projects of great scope and ambition, works with great actors and craftsmen, and then churns out the most predictable, saccharine and condescending entertainments imaginable. Cinderella Man not only lacks subtlety, nuance and artistry...It lacks any sort of intelligence or purpose whatsoever. I'd argue that the movie doesn't have a clear idea to express about boxing or the Great Depression, but Howard's movies aren't about ideas in the first place. They're about corralling popular actors together and playing dress-up.

If A Beautiful Mind was his attempt to reduce the horrors of schizophrenia into a high-school play about triumph over adversity, Cinderella Man is his attempt to reduce the horrors of the Great Depression into a Hallmark Card. "Darling, I love you the way Russell Crowe loves his malnourished, asthmatic offspring..."

Here's my immediate reaction:

And though the sets are large and impressive in their detail, the costumes period accurate and the cinematography appropriately honeyed and gauzy and bright, the world of Depression-Era Jersey and New York never really comes alive. Because it's a romanticized notion of poverty, and of the Depression. It's Ron Howard's Magical Poverty Simulator, capable of giving you a visual sense of being impoverished but without a clue as to evoking the true, gritty reality of being cold, hungry and hopeless.

3. Bewitched

I think Bewitched director Nora Ephron may, herself, be a witch. She has managed to repeatedly convince studio executives to greenlight terrible, ridiculous, unfunny films with no appeal to anyone. A string of movies as consistently painful as Michael, Mixed Nuts, Hanging Up (written and produced by Ms. Ephron and her equally unfunny sister Delia, but directed by Diane Keaton!), and Lucky Numbers is not simply evidence of a powerful, influential woman finding support for middling work. It's clear-cut evidence of powerful black magic.

Ephron, unlike Jay Chandrasekhar, actually does try to reinvent her sitcom's concept...Rather than just recreate the old show "Bewitched" with Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell in the main roles, she comes up with a convoluted, bizarre, confusing and unsatisfying post-modern mindfuck, in which witches are real, and offended by the show "Bewitched," except for one witch who is giving up her powers so she can star in a new version of the show. Huh?

Here is a brief list of essential summer comedy components that Ephron studiously avoids throughout Bewitched:

- Funny or likable characters
- Relatable comic situations
- Some narrative sense or logic
- Jokes

Bear in mind, this film is not at all funny, and it stars Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, Steve Carrell and Jason Schwartzman. That's no easy feat. Here's what I said initially:

Why even try to make a real movie about a stuck-up actor whose co-star is a witch, filled with all these generic, half-baked "behind-the-scenes" Hollywood industry parodies? I mean, why even ask a really funny, engaging actor like Jason Schwartzman to play a slick asshole talent agent? That part is so tired, those jokes are so ancient, having him play the character any other way would be better.

2. Serenity

What more can I say about Joss Whedon? Regular readers know how I feel about the man's work. He's a TV writer who has never really moved beyond sitcom format. His foray into science-fiction filmmaking, a spin-off of his failed sci-fi TV show "Firefly," is little more than a tired Star Wars retread crammed full of faux-witty banter.

I can't tell you how much I hated the dialogue in this movie. Every character speaks in the same jaded, sarcastic voice. They constantly (and badly) crack wise. It's just all so mannered, forced and unnatural. At one point, the villain is given a long-windeed speech about the nature of evil, the kind of self-aware "This I Believe" speech that characters often recite in bad movies but which no one would ever think to speak aloud in real life. Whedon-ites apparently mistake this for depth.

And, yes, Browncoats, it's all ripped directly from Star Wars. The evil, fascistic organization that claims to promote Galactic peace while stomping on individual liberty. (The Empire) The bloodthirsty savages who populate the galaxy's outlying, desert-like planets. (The Sand People) The mysterious, superhuman powers that include ESP and fierce fighting skills. (The Force) The smart-aleck smuggler who unknowingly becomes embroiled in the freedom-obsessed rebellion. (Han Solo) Rather than sleek, futuristic spacecraft, the heroes tool around in a beat-up, post-industrial wreck that's always on the verge of breaking down. (The Millennium...Should I keep going? Isn't that enough?)

Here's a paragraph from my scathing original review:

This is pathetic. Seriously. A pathetic excuse for science fiction. The generally-reliable Moriarty on Aint It Cool News stated in his review that "Firefly" was informed by "SF literature." I have no way of knowing if this is true. Perhaps "Firefly" was a more literate, astute, intelligent show. If so, I can't help but wonder why fans of the show have so embraced this new film version, which seemingly has no influences that extend beyond A New Hope and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. There's more Card, Gibson, Dick and Heinlein influence in a random episode of "Tiny Toon Adventures" than Serenity.

1. Crash

My least-favorite movies attack not only my aesthetic sensibilites but my entire worldview and perspective on life. 2004's Worst Film, Garden State, was a fraudulent, utterly incompetant and shallow take on one of my favorite genres - the coming of age story - and reflected a notion of the universe that's diametricalyl opposed to my own...A world where everyone's adorable and quirky and fun, where beautiful girls are just waiting to fall in love with hapless self-obsessed losers and where the answers to all of life's problems can be found in listening to The Shins and having a heart-to-heart talk with your Daddy.

I didn't hate 2005's worst film, Crash, quite so much, but it presents a view on race relations that's in even greater opposition to my own perspective than Garden State's take on modern romance. Paul Haggis' hackneyed, overwrought, inaccurate and haughty screed on race relations seems to imply that racism is an inherited, natural, human trait afflicting everyone of all races equally. This is utterly offensive bullshit, and the fact that Haggis argues for it so passionately indicates that's he's a poor source for insight into this particular problem.

Haggis continually ties racist behavior to the frustrations of living in a big, modern city like Los Angeles. Matt Dillon (who is unthinkably nominated for a Golden Globe for this piece of trash) plays, for example, a racist cop who is only racist because a blkack woman has refused medical assistance to his father. And the rest of the cast as well is rounded out with obvious "types" and cheap, generic placeholders. There's Ludacris as an angry, hypocritical black man. There's an angry Persian shop owner threatening an angry Latin locksmith. And then there's the film's most embarrassing character, Sandra Bullock as an egregiously offensive "trophy wife" character, who is racist against her Mexican maid until she declares, Driving Miss Daisy style, that the cleaning woman is her "best friend."

Haggis' unpleasant, clumsy and thoroughly unrealistic nightmare-movie quite simply has no idea what it's talking about. Whether it's daily life in Los Angeles, race relations in America or more simple observations about the way people communicate, his movie is utterly clueless, not to mention shameless. And it's not at all satisfying, purely on the level of cinema. The cinematography is bland and obvious and the use of filters derivative of better movies, particularly Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. Mark Isham's Middle-Eastern inflected score is ludicrous and overheated enough to elicit actual laughter. Even usually reliable performers like Don Cheadle seem hopelessly lost and adrift with this material, seemingly aware that there's no way to make these thin, faintly-sketched caricatures come to life in any meaningful way. And the entire film relies upon the most ridiculous and unlikely coincidences imaginable - vans crammed full of slaves waiting to be saved, repeated chance encounters on the streets of Los Angeles and, most egregiously, a conveniently-timed fall down a flight of stairs. Absolutely insulting.

I knew from about 20 minutes in that Crash would be my pick for Worst Film of 2005. I'm pretty sure, at this point, it's my pick for second-worst film of the decade thus far (behind that Braffsterpiece, Garden State). Here were my first thoughts after turning off the DVD player:

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

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

And that was the year that was. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more Year End Wrap Up 2005 Type Bullshit, right here on Crushed by Inertia!

The Big Fat Kill

It's still a difficult thing for me to wrap my mind around...A state-sponsored execution. The gathering of witnesses, journalists and family members into a small, white room to watch a state employee poison someone. And then, once it's over, we publish little bits of human interest data in the newspaper - he died at 12:35, his last meal was turkey but he wasn't hungry, he mouthed a message to his family before he died, the nurse had trouble finding a vein and wound up drawing blood by accident...

It's just wrong, people. And the fact that it's supported by greiving widows has nothing to do with anything. I'm just tired of reading these endless pro-death penalty diatribes that always come back to the same points...The families want justice. The guy was guilty, and his crimes were horrible. He never said "I'm sorry." Who gives a shit? I don't care if Stan "Tookie" Williams was guilty. It certainly seems like he was, but I can't be 100% sure. The LAPD has certainly framed innocent men before, and I"m certain they would have been particularly motivated to convict the head of the Crips.

I also don't care to hear about the gory details of his crimes. Yes, he shot a young woman in the face. Yes, he shot a convenience store employee, a young man named Alfred Owens, in the back when Alfred was lying on the ground, cowering in fear. And, to be perfectly honest, despite his much-publicized "redemption" (the name of the Jamie Foxx TV movie about him), he didn't seem terribly remorseful about killing these people. In fact, though he worked to bring peace to inner city Los Angeles by brokering a truce between gangs, his legacy will probably do just as much to romanticize "thug life" as it will to put it to an end.

But, again, so what?

Here's my biggest problem, and it's not just about the death penalty either. I fear that we no longer legislate rationally in this country. Laws don't seem, to me, to be beased on real-world practicality any more. Americans generally seem to believe that the law should reflect what feels right to them, rather than what actually works or makes sense as a universal blanket policy.

Abortion is another great example. We know perfectly well what happens when you outlaw abortion, because abortion has been outlawed in America before, and remains outlawed in many countries around the world. So we know, for a fact, empirically, then when you outlaw abortion, a number of negative consquences arise almost immediately - more abandoned children for an already-overwhelmed adoption and foster care system and risks to women's health who seek out unsafe illegal abortions. We know for a fact that this will happen. And yet, Americans continue to rail against legal abortion, because killing fetuses feels wrong.

Ditto the death penalty. We know it doesn't stop criminals from doing crime. We know it because crime rates, statistically, have nothing to do with the number of executions. Think about it...Is Texas the most safe state in the Union? Is it even in the Top 5? What about Virginia? Well, they have, by a large margin, the most executions. Why isn't it helping?

I've been watching a lot of old noir movies lately. These films always try to make the case for the possibility of execution as a strong deterrant to violent criminality. Again and again, killers and would-be killers discuss "The Chair" as their ultimate fear. In fact, in many of these films, the act of murder is directly connected to death by electrocution - if you kill someone and are caught, you will be executed.

This wasn't even true in the 1940's, and it's even less true now, when the vast vast majority of murderers live out their lives in jail, or even wind up paroled after decades behind bars. I understand why the Hollywood films of the 1940's backed up this myth about the death penalty, but why do we continue to delude ourselves to this day about its efficacy? It doesn't work...The threat of death doesn't stop people from killing one another. Period.

It doesn't stop a bereaved family member from feeling sad about their loss. It doesn't make us any safer, or even make us feel any safer, or provide the illusion of safety from violent crime. All it does is satisfy someone's bloodlust. Now, I can certainly understand the desire to kill a person who has killed your husband or brother or son. I get it. If someone killed a person close to me, I'd probably want that person dead. But that's a knee-jerk reaction. Hopefully, after some time had passed, and a person had come to terms with their loss, they would be able to heal without someone else having to die.

In the case of Stanley Williams, vengeance was ludicrously carried out 25 years after the initial crimes. Though I'm sure Alfred Owens and the Yang Family, Tookie's victims, are still missed by their families, isn't it just a bit absurd to kill someone in anger for revenge 25 years after their infraction against you? Isn't there a statute of limitations on wounded rage?

So, unless someone can provide me with a good, solid, practical reason that the State of California should be murdering people, I have no use for the death penalty. (And don't even bring up that crass "money-saving" angle. I don't consider state-sanctioned murder to be a budgetary option. And if we want to save money that's earmarked for prisons, let's let all the marijuana offenders go first.)

Oh, and one more point I almost forgot to make...

Clearly, Arnold Schwartenegger does believe that a man can be redeemed for his wicked past, regardless of whether or not he is completely honest about any previous transgressions. How do I know? Because of his ongoing support for family friend Kurt Waldheim.

Kurt Waldheim once ran the U.N. as Secretary General. In 1986, he was running for President of Austria, when it came to light that he had once been an active Nazi. Here's Tim Noah from Slate in 2003:

In 1944, Waldheim had reviewed and approved a packet of anti-Semitic propaganda leaflets to be dropped behind Russian lines, one of which ended, "enough of the Jewish war, kill the Jews, come over." After the war, Waldheim was wanted for war crimes by the War Crimes Commission of the United Nations, the very organization he would later head. None of these revelations prevented Waldheim from winning the Austrian election, but after he became president, the U.S. Justice Department put Waldheim on its watch list denying entry to "any foreign national who assisted or otherwise participated in activities amounting to persecution during World War II." The international community largely shunned Waldheim, and he didn't run for re-election.

Even after this fact came to light, and even after Waldheim falsely and publicly denied his involvement in any sort of Nazi atrocities (sound familiar?), Schwarzenegger continued their public friendship and professional association. For years now, he has refused to discuss Waldheim or his crimes in any sort of detail.

Is that the same Arnold Schwarzenegger who said that he couldn't commune Tookie's sentence because he wasn't sufficiently sorry for his crimes, and he didn't own up completely to what he had done? When has Kurt Waldheim publicly asked forgiveness for aiding in the extermination of 6 million Jews, Arnie?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Three Fox Noirs

2005 has been a great year for fans of film noir. Not that there have been any great noirs to see in movie theaters. Because there haven't been. Unless you classify Sin City as a noir, in which case there has been one great noir to see in movie theaters in 2005.

Instead, I'm referring to the bounty of amazing 40's and 50's noir films released on DVD this year by Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox. Warners put out a great box earlier this year, featuring classics like Born to Kill and Clash by Night, which isn't really a noir but is a terrific movie directed by Fritz Lang, so I'm not going to complain.

For my money, though, the best noir on DVD this year has come from Fox. They've been releasing, in groups of three, terrific titles on reasonably-priced DVD's boasting clear, pristine transfers, and even expert commentaries and other features. Past winners have included Samuel Fuller's House of Bamboo, Otto Preminger's incredible Laura, the Tyrone Power carnival-themed thriller Nightmare Alley and the trippy hyponsis mystery Whirlpool. But I think the latest batch, just released last week, may be the best collection yet. Let's take a look, shall we?

Kiss of Death

Lots of these old noirs feature a traditional, stodgy "leading man" in the main role while giving the juicy, interesting roles to character actors and fresh-faced up-and-comers the studio was hoping to introduce to a wider audience. Nowhere is this technique clearer than in Kiss of Death, where we follow around hapless, stiff-as-a-board Victor Mature, but marvel and the slimy unpredictability of Richard Widmark as psychotic hitman Tommy Udo.

The movie is HEAVY and BRUTAL for a 1947 film. In fact, a good deal of the film's more provocative or intense material was cut by censors before the film could be released. Mature plays a career criminal, Nick Bianco, who's arrested during a daring robbery. He refuses to name his accomplices, and winds up serving time alongside Udo, a giggling whackjob with a predilection towards pushing old wheelchair-bound ladies down flights of stairs.

While he's in prison, Bianco's wife commits suicide. Off screen, of course. Worse yet, she leaves behind his young children, who are sent immediately to an orphanage. So, in order to get out of jail and get to his children, Bianco agrees to go undercover in Udo's organization on behalf of the authorities.

It's a pretty clever little set-up that, for no good reason, was totally abandoned for Barbet Schroeder's repehensible 1995 remake. (A film that is only remembered for its shot of Nicholas Cage bench-pressing a stripper.) Schroeder's film took the world of Kiss of Death and made it a cartoon, giving all the characters over-the-top mannerisms and stylized dialogue. The brilliant thing about director Henry Hathaway's original is how everything and everyone is low-key except for Widmark, who plays Udo as a completely insane wildman. This clash of intensity makes him about 100 times more scary.

It's no surprise that Kiss of Death would make him a star. He would play a variety of characters over the years, some good and some evil, but I've never seen him inhabit such a vivid, outrageous character. It's a phenomenal, classic movie performance, full of tough-guy dialogue and enigmatic expressions like the one in that picture above. And that maniacal laugh really sticks with you after the movie's over...I think Ray Liotta might have stolen it for his Henry Hill character in Goodfellas.

The movie builds to a climax that wraps everything up rather elegantly. Like a lot of noirs, the conclusion feels a bit sudden, but unlike a lot of other noirs, it's satisfying without being too sunny or losing its dark, violent edge.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Another classic noir written by the legendary Ben Hecht, this one focuses on police officer Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) infamous for roughing up his suspects. When he visits a suspect at home and accidentally kills him, he'll have to cover his tracks fast to avoid the scrutiny of his fellow officers. It's a fiendishly clever story (ripped off a few years ago for the reprehensibly slow and stupid Out of Time, starring Denzel Washington) that director Otto Preminger realizes with near-flawless style and sophistication.

Hecht and Preminger (who also directed Andrews and co-star Gene Tierney in Laura, quite possibly the greatest of all noirs) are endlessly inventive in building up the complications to Dixon's situation. Other cops know he was en route to question the suspect, and everyone knows his reputation as a violent interrogator. As the other cops scramble to build a timeline of the night's events (particularly once a body is uncovered), Dixon must work twice as fast to construct an alibi and throw them off the trail.

In fact, the script is so twisty and clever, it's almost impossible to describe the intricate mechanics of the narrative. But I'll try anyway. In one marvelous suspense sequence, Dixon puts on the victim's clothes and his familiar bandage under the eye, to fool a downstairs neighbor. She'll think she sees the victim get into a cab with bags, skipping town, when really, she's just seeing Dixon posing as the dead man.

Later, the head detective on the case (Karl Malden) will ask Dixon to put on the disguise again as an experiment, to determine if the old lady really could make out the dead man's face through her kitchen window. So Dixon must repeat his same actions before, and pray that this woman doesn't recognize him and uncover his ruse.

There are many more scenes like that, where Hecht and Preminger demonstrate an internal and deep understanding of the mechanics of filmmaking and also a sly, mordant wit. Plus, I love how the film really pays attention to police work, how cops carefully gather evidence to build a timeline, trying to get inside the criminal's heads and understand their behavior from the inside out.

The Dark Corner

I mentioned briefly above the tendency of noirs to include what I called "stylized dialogue." By that, I meant that these characters don't speak so much like actual human beings (particularly actual hoods and criminals). They speak an elevated, self-aware and very cinematic language. In Dark Corner, there's barely one sentence of dialogue that isn't written in elaborate metaphor.

"I got a feeling I'm behind the 8 ball and I don't want you to end up in the corner pocket," a character might say.

Or, "I can be framed easier than 'Whistler's Mother.'"

And, in the line that gives the film its title, "I'm backed into a dark corner and I can't see who's hitting me."

All the characters speak like that all the time. A trick like that would normally grow tiresome, but Dark Corner has an ensemble of actors that just make the thing work by a force of sheer will. That cast includes Lucille Ball in her first noir film, made in 1946, before she became the first massive sitcom star and national icon.

Here, she plays a loyal and wisecracking secretary in the employ of a shady private detective named Bradford Galt (another generic leading man named Mark Stevens). Galt's been set up for murder - someone has killed his old business partner and left the body in his apartment. After conveniently hiding the body under the bed (the maid, apparently, never cleans up under there), he and his secretary set off to find the real killer responsible and bring him to justice.

It's not quite the dazzling, intricate narrative of something like Where the Sidewalk Ends, but Dark Corner is much more about the witty banter and the attitude that defined noir, rather than the crackerjack storytelling or double-crosses.

And the banter is suitably witty, and well-delivered by Ball, William Bendix as another private eye hired to tail Galt, and particularly the incomperable Clifton Webb (another Laura vet) as the wealthy art collector ultimately responsible for the killing. I should also mention that the film, all three of these films in fact, looks absolutely beautiful. Henry Hathaway (who likewise filmed Kiss of Death, as well as previous Fox Noir releases House on 92nd Street and Call Northside 777) doesn't call attention to himself very often, but he can really put together a tight, well-paced set piece.

An early scene in which Ball and Stevens observe Bendix tailing them at a carnival as wonderfully put together, cutting from the couple cavorting and goofing around to Bendix in a bright white suit following close behind and back and forth. Eventually, Ball notices him through a slot in some Vistascope machines. It's just an expertly paced sequence, building a lot of early tension and suspense.

(Remember Vistascope machines? The only place I've ever seen them is Main Street at Disneyland. They're the ones where you put in a penny or a nickel and then wind a little crank and watch a brief film clip. In Dark Corner, Lucille Ball watches a Vistascope machine called 'The Virgin of Baghdad,' which is pretty awesome. She then asks, "Don't they make one of these for girls?")

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Juice is Loose!

I think I'm finally over my on-going tooth pain crisis, after weeks and weeks of dental visits, ibuprofin overdoses and strenuous brushing/flossing. The other day, I had a wisdom tooth removed that had been rotting significantly deep in the far reaches of my mouth. Without going into too much grisly detail, this one massive cavity was making, essentially, my entire mouth hurt really really really bad. Really bad. You know that scene in Castaway, where Tom Hanks has to knock out his own tooth with a rusty pair of ice skates? I was giving that plan serious consideration.

Anyway, I finally had this thing taken care of, and feel about 100,000,000% better. The problem is, there's now a hole in the back of my mouth where a tooth once sat. And they sew it up and everything, but it's still back there. Is it just me, or is this post really gross? Feel free to stop reading, if you're not crazy about vivid descriptions of the inside of my mouth.

The dentist said that I couldn't eat solid foods for a few days. Maybe for most people, this sort of thing is do-able. To my ears, "don't eat solid foods" is code for "gorge yourself on ice cream tonight...and then start eating solid foods anyway because you're hungry goddammit!"

Oh, and my dad (who is also a dentist) advised me not to suck on anything through a straw for a couple of days. This seemed to me an odd instruction, but apparently, the pressure your mouth creates when you suck could rip up my stitches. Which means that Scott Stapp can't ever get his wisdom teeth removed, no matter how much pain they cause him.

But I was not keen on reviving any of my tooth pain any time soon, so I have thus far obeyed the dentist's orders. That meant, two nights ago, going on a trip to Jamba Juice. There's a Jamba right down the street from Laser Blazer, so I'll go there at lunch sometimes anyway, just because fruit smoothies are really really good, and I need an occasional break from Taco Bell, unless I'm hoping the government will declare my lower intestine a Superfund site.

(Wow, that's even more disgusting...I'm on some kind of a roll.)

Anyway, I went and got one of their citrus smoothies. I don't remember the exact name, because they give all their smoothies such cutesy, dumbass names at Jamba Juice. (I feel stupid even ordering there..."Yeah, I'll have a regular sized, um, Banana Fanna Blueberry Surftastic Splashdown..." Why can't I just say..."the one with OJ and strawberries"?)

Now, you may have already guessed Problem #1 with my plan...

You can't just drink a Jamba Juice smoothie. You have to suck on them through a straw. I tried just slurping it out of the cup, but it wasn't working at all. I was getting "essence of smoothie" in my mouth, but not any actual clumps of smoothie itself.

So I took the thing home and started eating it with a spoon. It was fairly unsatisfactory, but I did succeed in getting at least some actual smoothie in my mouth. After a few spoonfuls, I felt mainly sated and set the cup down on my desk and went to sleep.

I know, I know, I should have just gone into the kitchen right then and spilled out the rest of the smoothie and thrown away the cup. I'm a lazy idiot, which does make for good blogging, even if my life becomes occasionally less convenient as a result. But I didn't throw anything away. I just left the 3/4 full cup of citrus smoothie on my desk and went to sleep.

Cut to three hours later. I awake from a peaceful nap and rise to go to the bathroom. On the way, I bump into my desk a bit, both because I have kind of a big ass and my room isn't all that large. I don't notice anything amiss, and go use the restroom. I return to discover that my ass-bump has sent smoothie flying ALL OVER the desk. It's on my keyboard, speakers, monitor, printer, desktop, some papers, my wallet and all over the carpet below. And it's presently oozing down the side of the desk itself.

I don't know if you've ever tried to clean up smoothie, but it's impervious to conventional cleaning products of any kind. Paper towels? Bleeds right through them. Sponge? Won't actually absorb smoothie particles with any consistancy. Eventually, I have to use a bucket and ruin a washcloth to get the spill up. Even after containing the smoothie and cleaning it up, the room still smells like pineapple juice and blueberries. I figured this was just lingering residue of the spill, but it's now 2 full days later and it still smells fruity in here. (Not that kind of fruity...)

I don't really know what else I can do. The spill was contained, there's no real stain on the carpet to speak of and nothing left to clean up. So, am I just expected to live with this smell forever? Should I just go buy a shitload of Glade Plug-ins? Or get a dog or something? To be honest, it isn't really an offensive smell. I dare say, someone walking into my room for the first time might find that smell more pleasant than the usual dank, musty, BO-inflected aroma that usually rules the day around here. But it just reminds me that (1) I am a klutzy ass and (2) I don't know how to clean up anything.