Saturday, January 28, 2006

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

Tim Burton started his career in animation, first by making his own strange animated shorts, and later as an employee of Walt Disney Studios. His first full-length animated feature (devised by Burton but directed by stop-motion expert Henry Selick) was The Nightmare Before Christmas, an absurdly entertaining and eerily beautiful classic. I love everything about that film - the trippy designs, the bizarre cast of weird characters, Danny Elfman's original songs and musical performance as Jack Skellington. And the stop-motion itself is dazzling, not quite realistic but surprisingly fluid and smooth.

Corpse Bride, Burton's second attempt at a stop-motion feature, this time serving as a director, contains many of the same elements. Again, Burton has concocted an original, dark fairy tale and filled it with offbeat Elfman songs. Again, a large ensemble of peculiar characters populates a story obsessed with death and the macabre. And this time, the animation is even more beautifully rendered and ornately detailed than Nightmare Before Christmas, particularly in terms of sets. While the settings in the older film are bare-bones, and include few "moving parts" to allow animators more time to focus on character animation and facial expression, the entire world of Corpse Bride is baroque, lush and constantly in motion.

So how does the film go so wrong? Why is it suchan empty and lifeless exercize? How can a film uniting the talents of Johnny Depp, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman be such a bore?

Look at that shot! It's goregeous! This entire movie just pops off the screen. That entiresequence is taken up with two stop-motion characters playing a duet on a piano, and the entire thing is animated! Do you know how difficult and pain-staking that must have been to film? To recreate two sets of thin, dexterous fingers playing a melody together, with all the corresponding piano keys playing at the right speed in the proper order? Yikes.

But perhaps no 2005 film illustrates more clearly than Corpse Bride that engrossing visuals alone don't make for a satisfying time at the movies. Nightmare Before Christmas, though lovely in its own right, lacks the polish of this film, but the entire enterprise just feels more inspired.

I'm going to go ahead and place the lion's share of the blame on the shoulders of co-screenwriter John August. August has scripted the last several Burton films, as well as working on the Charlie's Angels movies. His scripts are perfunctory. They feel like outlines, even in their finished form. I enjoyed Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in spite of August's treacly script, one content mainly to recreate or reference the Dahl book and original film version, when it wasn't mucking everything up by adding a woefully stupid, pointless backstory about Willy Wonka's dad. The film worked because Burton managed to put so much energy and flair into the Chocolate Factory and the effects work, he succeeded in taking the focus off of the limp, bland writing.

I don't think Big Fish was salvagable at all, but the only things that work are Burton's visual innovations. The storytelling is awkward, the humor is forced and the dialogue is vapid and expository. I'm sorry, but this guy just isn't very good.

Here, credited alongside Pamela Pettler, he has concocted a confusing tale of the afterlife that doesn't really hold together particularly well. Interestingly, it reminded me of Monkeybone, the egregious Brendan Fraser live action/stop-motion hybrid directed by...Henry Selick. How strange.

In Monkeybone, Brendan Fraser goes into a coma and finds himself in Down Town, a sort of afterlife halfway house. While he's stuck in this odd universe where stop-motion characters drink and misbehave, a horny monkey voiced by John Leguizamo breaks out of Down Town and invades his human body back on Earth. Hilarity ensues.

In Corpse Bride, a nervous bridegroom named Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), through a variety of dumb contrivances, accidentally marries a dead girl named Ellen (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), much to the chagrin of his live betrothed Victoria (voiced by Emily Watson). Did you notice that Victor is set to marry a girl named Victoria? Yeah, that's the kind of joke you'll find all through Corpse Bride. Yessir, similar names...That's a humdinger.

Anyway, I think the biggest problem with this story is that the rules of The Undead are never really spelled out. You would think the guy who made Beetlejuice would have given this stuff a little bit of thought over the years...Apparently not. It seems like, once he's "married" Emily, Victor has to live underground, in the World of the Dead. Which is kind of weird, considering that he's alive. Later on, when the other dead people decide they'll have to kill Victor in order to keep him together with Emily, it only gets more confusing...If he's already down in the Underworld, why kill him?

You can't really get into a story that you don't understand, and August's script never once bothers to actually explain how marrying a corpse works. (At one point, Victoria goes to see the local priest, voiced by Christopher Lee, to ask him about marrying a corpse, but he refuses to give her an actual answer). Since we don't really get what's going on, aside from an inconvenience that involves a lot of singing, dancing skeletons, we can't emotionally invest in the action.

And...oh my gawd...those songs...Horrible.

Elfman did such great work for Burton earlier this year, rearranging all of Roald Dahl's Oompa-Loompa songs into those odd, groovy musical set pieces in the Chocolate Factory film. I suppose, to be fair, he doesn't have a lot to work with. Unlike Nightmare Before Christmas, which had a very clear, straight-forward and engaging plot for his songs to move along, most of the action of Corpse Bride is inert and internal.

The film opens with a song in which two pairs of evil, wealthy parents arrange a wedding for their children. The next song, sung by Elfman, relates the origin of the Corpse Bride, which sounds promising until you find out that the origin was that her betrothed abandoned her under a tree and she died. Not a whole lot to go on. (And the chorus of this song is irritating as hell.) There's even a duet sung by a spider and a maggot who looks and sounds like Peter Lorre. Actually, he doesn't, really...He looks and sounds like a maggot doing a bad impression of Peter Lorre. No thanks.

Believe me, it gives me no great pleasure to bash this film. I wanted to like it, really. I know the intense, long hours that went into producing a spectacle of this magnitude, and I'm sure everyone invovled went in with the best intentions, thought they were making some classic piece of family entertainment. Certainly, to be fair, young children may be captivated by the look of the film, the fast motion, the bouncy songs and the bright colors. Anyone over 8, however, will want to join the Corpse Bride and all her skeleton friends in the sweet release of death after about 15 minutes of this turkey.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Watch this video of "Inside the Actor's Studio" host James Lipton on Conan O'Brien last week, reciting the lyrics to Kevin Federline's hit single, "PopoZao." See if you can actually pinpoint the precise moment when making fun of James Lipton ceases to be funny.

Normally, I've a big fan of CO'B. I look forward to the days when he takes over control of "The Tonight Show," and that dumb bastard Jay Leno retires to a lifetime of polishing and repolishing his various motorcycles.

But surely he must have realized that goofing on James Lipton's ludicrous pomposity and barely-repressed femininity is only funny when he's not in on the joke. The joke is that he's a huge ham. So inviting him on your comedy show to do a funny bit just invites him to do his usual crappy hamminess. See, Conan, it's not that people actually think James Lipton is behaving in an intentionally entertaining, funny manner. He's just a self-serious douchebag who happens to be on television, providing him with ample time to make an ass of himself.

Honestly, I don't know if James Lipton will be funny to me any more. He's in on the joke...Now it's just...lame. (I'll probably still think that old Ali G. interview with James is hilarious, though...That guy's a genius!)

We Are Governed By Cackling Movie Villains

In the new film Firewall, criminals kidnap Harrison Ford's family in order to compel him to steal from his own bank. In last year's Bruce Willis actioner Hostage, hostage negotiator Bruno's wife and kids were hijacked so that he'll help the bad guys get away. It's just like the villain in Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible explains...Anyone can be gotten to. You find something important to them, and you squeeze.

It's nice to know that BushCo. feels roughly the same way. Courtesy of Reuters, by way of Andrew Sullivan.

Documents show US military in Iraq detain wives

U.S. forces in Iraq, in two instances described in military documents, took custody of the wives of men believed to be insurgents in an apparent attempt to pressure the suspects into giving themselves up.

Both incidents occurred in 2004. In one, members of a shadowy military task force seized a mother who had three young children, still nursing the youngest, "in order to leverage" her husband's surrender, according to an account by a civilian Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer.

In the other, an e-mail exchange includes a U.S. military officer asking "have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?"

Is this "fighting the war on terror?" Most people might call it something more like "kidnapping and blackmail." But George Bush isn't most people...

I just feel like, if Americans want to use movie villain tactics, we could probably do a whole lot better than that tired old "threaten to kill a guy's wife" thing, which is just played out...

Here are my suggestions of movies we could rip off. I think any of these schemes would have roughly the same chance of actually making America safer as kidnapping suspected terrorist's wives:

Raiders of the Lost Ark: We've already got a big army in the Middle East, right? Why not send some of those guys down to Egypt to find the Well of Souls? You're telling me an army of invincible supermen carrying behind them the Ark of the Covenant wouldn't freak out Osama? And just as pure historical allusion, you've got to admit it kind of works.

The Godfather: We wait until a powerful al-Qaeda leader is out somewhere shopping for fruit and then brutally gun him down. (Come to think of it, we've probably tried this one already.)

Pulp Fiction: If Osama goes to Indo-China, I want a nigga waiting in a bowl of rice to bust a cap in his ass.

Goodfellas: We convince the new Palestinian/Hamas government that we are going to meet with them for fair negotiations. Then, once they have arrived in the pre-assigned room, we sneak up behind them and shoot them all in the head.

Seven: Each day, an Iraqi will be killed according to one of the Four Pillars of Islam, until all the terrorists turn themselves in.

The Incredibles: We construct a massive, evil robot designed to level a good portion of the Middle East, a robot that only the United States Army knows how to disable. Once we have saved the day, Muslims everywhere will agree that America rules and will stop trying to fly planes into our shit.

The Fifth Element: We try to convince Gary Oldman to hire some guys to kill all the terrorists for us. He seems to know people.

True Lies: I like this one, because it turns radical Muslim movie villain tactics against real-world radical Muslims. The Crimson Eagle will detonate a nuclear bomb in one major Arab city each week until all the Iraqi insurgents turn themselves in!

Back to the Future II: Using technology, we go back in time to September 10th, 2001 and just arrest everybody. Then, once we arrive back in the New 2006, everything will be awesome. George Bush might even wind up owning his own casino!

And finally...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: If the original guy who played Leatherface for some reason objects to running around the Middle East sawing people up and making furniture from their bones, we can just hire some other plus-size, crazed hillbilly. Or just get Jeb Bush to do it...he's kind of portly.


Steven Soderbergh has two modes as a filmmaker. He seems to fancy himself an avant-garde intellectual artiste, and indulges in experimental, gimmicky one-offs with highly variable success. Though his wacky meta-farce Schizopolis, in which he stars as a mild-mannered dentist with a bizarre doppelganger, holds up 10 years later, I'm not sure the same can be said for Solaris or the nearly-unwatchable, self-obsessed Full Frontal.

Diametrically opposed to this Steven Soderbergh is Mainstream Crowd-Pleaser Steven Soderbergh, the guy behind the cheeky girl power of Erin Brockovich and the schmoozy celebrity travelogues Oceans 11 and Oceans 12.

Quite frankly, it's bizarre that all these movies are made by the same dude. You have to give him credit for diversity, even if a full 50% (if not more) of his films pretty much suck.

The most interesting Soderbergh films, the ones that amount to more than forgettable star vehicles or little-seen indie mindfucks, are the ones that allow him to combine his twin impulses. Stories that are enhanced by Steve's openness and willing to play around with narrative, but that aren't so directionless that they become navel-gazing or shallow.

That combination has allowed for the time-skipping crime saga Out of Sight, the post-modern nihilism of Sex, Lies and Videotape and the claustrophobic despair of Bubble, Soderbergh's latest problematic, partially successful experimental film.

Oh, yes, Bubble has its odd, Soderbergh-ian touches. First of all, the film has made headlines because the film opens in select theaters tomorrow and comes out on DVD this Tuesday. It's the first American film by a major director to premiere simultaneously in both formats like that.

This has nothing to do with the movie itself. I just thought I'd mention it up front because it's the only thing most people (myself included, before tonight) know about the film.

The major gimmick that is notable about the movie itself is the all-amateur cast. Screenwriter Coleman Hough (who previously wrote the far-sillier Full Frontal for Soderbergh) came up with a rough outline of a story, and had the cast of non-professional actors fill in the details from their own lives. So when Kyle (Dustin Ashley) discusses the anxiety and panic disorder that afflicted him throughout high school, that's not a pre-scripted quirk to give the character depth. He's talking about something he's really been through.

But this is no documentary. The plot is entirely fictional. Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) and Kyle slave away in a West Virginia doll factory (the film was entirely shot in real locations in an Ohio/West Virginia border town). Their uneventful lives of working and sleeping are interrupted when newcomer Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) starts at the factory. She and Kyle hit it off, which causes Martha some consternation. Eventually, the conflict will turn violent.

There are no surprises, really, in Hough's screenplay, and the actors aren't really up to big emotional payoffs, so the movie opts for a still monotone. It sounds boring, and it is at times, but Soderbergh and his actors keep finding ways to bring you back into the carefully-observed lives of these three lonely souls.

In one of the documentaries on the DVD, featuring discussions with the cast members about how they worked their actual selves into the film, Doebereiner explains why she thinks the film is called "Bubble." Her explanation is that Martha's life is like a bubble, tightly sealed to keep out anything disturbing or unpleasant. And then Rose comes along and pops the bubble.

I totally disagree. Which is interesting, because Debbie starred in the film, so you think she'd know what it's about, but there you go. I saw the film as a statement about being trapped, not just being trapped in your life, but physically trapped. Soderbergh (who shot the film under his usual pseudonym, Peter Andrews) constantly frames his actors in tight spaces, shoved into corners or behind shelves or lost amidst large, heavy machinery.

And, of course, there's the fact that much of the film occurs in a doll factory. Not only is it a cold, mechanical factory-type setting, but they create little people and neatly stack them, before shoving them into boxes. We get a lot (a lot!) of shots of dolls being made and packaged, just to really solidify the idea of human beings boxed and moved about.

The film really has an obsession about small, cramped locations, from the wood-paneled walls of Kyle's boxy room to the frequent shots of blocky, faceless buildings to the close-ups of Rose's daughter's miniature doll furniture. These people live and work in these pre-determined, small, confined spaces from which there is no escape. As if programmed, they move from one small box to another, driving around between them in a small car. Their entire world is a bubble, and Debbie might think the bubble pops, but from what I can see, her character's bubble just gets smaller and smaller throughout the film.

It's pretty obvious, to me, that the film is kind of, well, judging these people. Not in a "dirty sinful" kind of way...He's not saying they're bad people. Quite the opposite...Soderbergh and Hough definitely demonstrate empathy and understanding towards these people. But the movie they've created has an opinion about their lives, and the prognosis is pretty negative. Whether they meant for it to come across this way or not, it's pretty clear the filmmakers see these characters as trapped, as isolated, as sad, as despondent, as lonely, and as more than a little hopeless. They are used as examples of human beings who have become disconnected from reality, from the joy and pleasure of being alive. Now, granted, the movie tries to universalize these concepts, but it wouldn't be very flattering to hear that a filmmaker found you and your situation the perfect example of a life unfulfilled.

Did his actors know what they were getting into? I mean, considering that they put details from their actual, real lives into this film? I'm not sure...

As far as their performances, they all do pretty well, particularly Doebereiner, who has the hardest role. Actually, I take that back. K. Smith, who plays Rose's ex-boyfriend (and baby daddy) Jake isn't very good. Most of the actors choose to underplay their roles, to retreat inward, making for an entire film full of introverts. That's fine (and pretty accurate, as there are a lot more introverts in the general population anyway), but when everyone's playing their roles small and subtle, and one guy's going over the top and playing it big, there's a problem.

Even more problematic is Soderbergh's direction. Though he's taken on an odd subject and novice collaborators, his choices throughout Bubble are peculiar, muddled, sometimes overblown and surprisingly conventional. There are lots of unnecessarily long musical montages set to Robert Pollard (the man behind the awesome Guided by Voices) noodling around on guitar. As I indicated before, the frequent doll-making shots become excessive and tiresome. And a series of scenes in which Soderbergh isolates Doebereiner in white light while shadowing the surroundings in darkness are amateurish and silly. The first time it happened, about five minutes into the movie, I nearly gave up and turned the damned thing off.

So, once again, a mixed bag from the King of the Indie Mixed Bag. Bubble is an interesting film, a change of pace, and I'm glad I saw the thing, but it hardly represents the significance or artistry of which this guy is theoretically capable. Aren't there any more Elmore Leonard novels that need adapting or something?

Operation: Bruin Smear Hits a Snag

Just an update to this post from a few days ago, about this offensive attempt to smear UCLA professors by a group calling itself the "Bruin Alumni Association." Basically, a few rabidly right-wing former Bruins got together and offered students $100 to go to classes and report on any suspicious, liberal activity on the part of professors. They even put up some profiles of professors who were most guilty of...well, of having opinions contrary to those of the Bruin Alumni Association.

Which, like the Dead Rabbits, is outlawed in the Five Points.

But Gangs of New York references aside, this update comes courtesy of Words Have Power. After this disgraceful public display, California State Senator Bill Morrow has withdrawn from the Advisory Board of the group, and the $100 offer to students for information has been withdrawn. (Students are still encouraged to spy on Democratic professors on a voluntary basis).

The only question that remains is...Did Bill Morrow even know what the Bruin Alumni Association stood for when he agreed to join their Board of Advisors? There are only two options - the guy randomly agrees to sign on to any kind of hastily thrown-together right-wing organization without even being sure what they stand for OR he's a wuss who's afraid to admit what he really thinks publicly for fear of negative publicity. I mean, if he thinks liberal professors should be harrassed, spied on or even sanctioned for speaking their mind to their students, he ought to say so. And if he doesn't think that, what was he doing in this group in the first place?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Three Movies About Love and Death

Unbelievable though it may seem, I actually watch a lot more movies than I get around to reviewing on the blog. When I first started Crushed by Inertia, I thought it would be a useful way to keep track of everything I was watching - a sort of online, interactive journal of my ongoing cinematic education. I soon found that this wasn't really possible...I just watch too many movies. If I have to not only spend 2 hours watching a movie, but then at least 30 minutes per movie writing about them afterwards, it doesn't leave time for essential life activities like eating and working and, you know, leaving my bedroom.

So I sat down just now to play a little catch-up...Do a couple of quick reviews of some movies I watched and enjoyed this week. And then I realized...all three of the movies are oddly connected. Maybe you could take any three random-ass movies from Laser Blazer and come up with ways to draw through-lines, or maybe it's just a coincidence, but it was kind of interesting nonetheless.

Silver Streak

The passing of comic legend Richard Pryor recently has led a lot of customers at the Blazer to revisit his old films. One that comes up time and again is this 1976 comedy, one I'd seen as a child but only vaguely recalled. It was the first on-screen pairing of Gene Wilder and Pryor (they had worked on the script for Blazing Saddles together, but Pryor ended up not appearing in that film), a duo who would eventually make 4 films of diminishing quality together.

I rewatched it today and the thing holds up really well. It made me actually crack up laughing while watching it alone in my room this afternoon, which is a fairly significant feat. (The only other old comedy I recall watching recently to garner the same response was Midnight Run). It's a deceptively simple premise - converting a Hitchcockian suspense tale set on a train with a farcical comedy.

For the first hour, Wilder navigates the twists and turns of a familiar comic thriller. Riding the train from Los Angeles to Chicago, he meets a beautiful stranger (Jill Clayburgh, quite the looker when she wasn't hopped up on goofballs) and becomes accidentally involved in a plot to keep hidden some valuable letters, written by the painter Rembrandt. In the film's best running gag, he keeps being thrown off the train and having to find his way back on board.

Richard Pryor doesn't appear for the film's first hour, and once he does, the whole movie takes a huge right turn. Up until that point, it's funny and well-written, and Wilder is great as usual, but it's also kind of safe. Unsurprising. Even the ever-reliable Patrick McGoohan (best known to modern audiences as William the Longshanks from Braveheart) is reserved as the villainous Roger Deveraux.

Pryor just doesn't hold back at all. As thief Grover Muldoon, his character has zero motivation to involve himself in the story. His presence in the film violates all the logic and continuity of the movie, and yet his scenes with Wilder are the highlights of the movie. Maybe it's because he brings so much energy to the film, and manic energy is what farce is all about. (Not that Gene Wilder doesn't bring charisma and energy to know what I mean.)

Anyway, I'll probably rent Stir Crazy next, as I have never even seen it, and I hear it's a pretty good comedy. We'll see. This one is definitely worth picking up if you only hazily recall it from childhood.

Love and Death

Probably my favorite of Woody's early, silly films, Love and Death strikes me as kind of a turning point in the guy's whole career. It's a broad comedy built around one-liners and Marx Brothers-style comic set pieces, and yet the themes and influences that dominate his later, more serious all appear in some form or another.

As a Russian peasant reluctantly recruited to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, Allen delicately balances slapsticky humor with riffs on Russian literature, Swedish films and German philosophy. It's probably the only movie ever made which includes both a man being shot out of a cannon and a visual reference to Bergman's Persona.

I promised all three of these films would link up, right? Well, Silver Streak finds Gene Wilder risking life and limb to save a woman he just meet from a criminal conspiracy. Love and Death tells of Woody's ongoing romance with Sonya (Diane Keaton) set against the backdrop of horrific 18th Century warfare. And this next film, a French feature from 1981, depicts the odd romance between Rose, a bored and emotionally distant French woman living in West Africa, and a local sheriff in the grip of a homicidal madness.

Coup de Torchon

Ho-ly shit...Bertrand Tavernier's noir-y thriller is brilliant. I can't believe I had never heard of it until this week. It's kind of like Taxi Driver, but French and set in West Africa. Tavernier adapted a story by Jim Thompson - one of America's best pulpy writers of the 40's and 50's - turning the racist American South into the racist French-occupied Africa, and it works amazingly well.

Ineffectual local cop Lucien Cordier (Philippe Noiret) sympathizes with the disenfranchised, poverty-stricken blacks around him, probably because he's so disrespected in his own life. His shrewish wife (Stephane Audran) flagrantly cheats on him, his superior kicks him around and mocks him, and even the slimy local pimps use bribery as an excuse to ridicule him and push him around.

One day, he just snaps. And not in a crazed, mad-dog killer kind of way. It's much creepier than that. He becomes calculating, methodical and careful about his killing spree, taking revenge for perceived slights against himself and basic human decency. The film is endlessly cold, innovative and most of all, unpredictable. Lucien becomes a very dangerous man, and because we've had the film's opening half to get to know and like him, the final twists are particularly chilling.

In a lot of films, the love of a good woman is seen as purifying. But here, Rose's cold detachment, her obvious delight in Lucien's misdeeds, sinks him deeper and deeper into a moral quagmire from which he seems to know he can't escape. The first scene in the film finds Lucien observing local black children filling their bellies with sand, presumably in the hopes of easing their hunger pangs, and he lights a fire for the boys. In the last scene, he spies more desperate youths, and caressing a gun, contemplates killing them. Somewhere along the line, he lost his way...

[For anyone interested, I previously reviewed Tavernier's excellent 1995 thriller Fresh Bait here.]

I Lost on Jeopardy

Actually, I never even got the chance to go on "Jeopardy." I was on "Win Ben Stein's Money" once, as I believe I've mentioned before, and I've always wanted to go on "Jeopardy," because I have a feeling I could majorly kick ass. Not even because I know so much trivia (although I am pretty good at "Jeopardy"), but because, having the experience of being on "Ben Stein," I know that I don't get nervous being on TV and that I'm fast with a game show buzzer.

The other day, my Dad e-mailed me to say that "Jeopardy" was having an online trivia test. Those scoring the highest would be contacted to show up for a live in-person interview and a follow-up test for a chance to actually be a contestant on the show. I was sold. I told my roommate Nathan, a regular game show nut, about it and he wanted in as well. (Nathan, you may recall, is my roommate with the obsession with "Family Feud." I wish they had "Roommate Feud." Nathan, Eugene and I would be pretty much unstoppabo'.)

Anyway, Nathan and I both sat at our computers at 8 pm, when the test was supposed to start, and nothing happened. There was this blue line across the screen, and that's it. 8:00 passed. The test officially began at 8:03, but nothing happened on my computer. Then 8:05, and still nothing. The blue line started to fill up a little - indicating that a program was loading - but very slowly. (It wasn't the Internet connection, either...I checked).

By the time the line filled up and I got to enter my name and password (around 8:07), a picture of Alex Trebek came up informing me that the test had started already, and I had missed my chance. What?

I'm thinking one of a few things happened. Here they are in order of likelihood.

(1) "Jeopardy" totally underestimated how many people from the Greater Los Angeles area would want to try the online test, and their server couldn't handle the traffic.

(2) The test only admitted a certain number of people, and then purposefully failed to connect anyone else.

(3) Somehow, they figured out my roommate and I were logging on from the same apartment and thought we might cheat and help one another with the answers.

Either way, I'm kind of pissed off. How am I supposed to randomly make $15,000 based on my knowledge of film trivia and State Capitals now?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Put Me In, Coachella

And, for the first time in blog history, I hit the trifecta...Three music posts in one day. And I gotta tell feels pretty good.

After the KROQ Prison Yard-esque INLAND INVASION horrorscape of Summer '05, I swore off big, outdoor, festival-type rock shows. In fact, I kind of swore off large-venue concerts altogether. Also being around groups of beer-swilling people greater than 10 in number.

But I have to say...if this Coachella line-up posted at the Best Week Ever Blog is accurate...I may have to break my rule already, less than a year after it was established.

Holy fucking fuck.

BANDS I HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE WHO I WOULD LOVE TO SEE SUPPOSEDLY PLAYING THIS YEAR'S COACHELLA, DAY ONE: De La Soul, Sleater-Kinney, Dangerdoom, The Silver Jews, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Editors (whose song Fingers in the Factories has been on repeat in my mp3 player all week), Wolf Parade, The Magic Numbers


BANDS I WOULD BE CURIOUS TO SEE SUPPPOSEDLY PLAYING THIS YEAR'S COACHELLA, DAY ONE: Depeche Mode, Portishead, Massive Attack, The Clientele, The Arctic Monkeys

BANDS I HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE WHO I WOULD LOVE TO SEE SUPPOSEDLY PLAYING THIS YEAR'S COACHELLA, DAY TWO: The Gorillaz, Sigur Ros, The White Stripes, Ween (the band on this entire list I want to see live the most), Sufjan Stevens, Fatlip, Liars


BANDS I WOULD BE CURIOUS TO SEE SUPPOSEDLY PLAYING THIS YEAR'S COACHELLA, DAY TWO: Smashing Pumpkins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Avalanches, Andrew Bird, Explosions in the Sky, Mates of State, We Are Scientists

That's a ton of bands. Can this thing even be real? It seems to be accurate: there's about the right number of bands on the list, and many of them would make sense on the line-up, as they have new material out in the end of 2005 or beginning of 2006. Some of these acts, in fact, are almost predictable...Of course We Are Scientists and The Secret Machines and Wolf Parade are playing.

But Ween and the White Stripes and The Gorillaz and Sigur Ros and Sufjan Stevens and the Smashing Pumpkins at the same show? As this list has yet to be confirmed by anyone involved in the show, I'm considerably skeptical. Bear in mind, VH1's Best Week Ever Blog also included this potential line-up:

Oh, snap! R. Kelly, Nickelback and Weird Al? Now, you know that one's too good to be true.

Lou Reed Rules!

He just totally doesn't give a fuck at all any more. He doesn't care. He's got his money and had his fame, and he's basically past it now and just wants to do what he wants to do. And anyone who doesn't like it can screw off. Some of these aging celebrities, the guys who lived fast and hard and expected to die young but didn't, they just develop this no-bullshit attitude over time. Like George Carlin. Or Harrison Ford. Over a long enough timeline, that "eager-to-please" quality that famous people tend to radiate just drains away, and all that's left is a jaded old guy who has seen it all.

That's Lou Reed. And it's pretty awesome. Like his take on the upcoming film Factory Girl, in which Sienna Miller will portray Edie Sedgwick, Guy Pearce will play Andy Warhol and members of nerd-rock outfit Weezer will play Reed and his Velvet Underground bandmates.

Yeah...Weezer...Playing VU. Lou talks to the New York Post about his feelings on the project.

"I read that script," Reed said the other night at a party for his new photo shows at the Herm├Ęs boutique and the Steven Kasher Gallery. "It's one of the most disgusting, foul things I've seen — by any illiterate retard — in a long time. There's no limit to how low some people will go to write something to make money."

Reed was asked at one point to get involved with the project.

"I wouldn't be part of that," said the rocker. "Just like I wouldn't be part of 'I Shot Andy Warhol,' " Mary Harron's 1996 film about Valerie Solanas' assassination attempt on the artist.

"They tried to turn Valerie Solanas into a heroine. They're all a bunch of whores."

For the record, though I don't think it's any kind of GREAT film, I kind of enjoyed Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol. It doesn't so much make Valerie Solanas a heroine. She still comes off as pretty insane. It does lend a bit of credibility to her odd socio-political beliefs, but isn't that what filmmaking is about? Expressing complex ideas through creative storytelling techniques?

Anyway, Lou Reed likes to call people whores, and for some reason I find that kind of charming. And let's face it...he's right to be upset about Rivers and the Crew playing the Velvets. Can you think of a less appropriate match of bands?

Okay, I can think of a few...The Smiths. Animal Collective. Soul Asylum. But not too many...

Rattle and Gum

Found a couple of interesting items over at one of my favorite music blogs, Stereogum.

FIRST, links to Quicktime and ASX streaming versions of the latest Flaming Lips song, "The W.A.N.D.," from their upcoming At War With the Mystics album. As with the last few new Flaming Lips songs, their track from the Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack (yeah, I know...), their track from the Wedding Crashers soundtrack, "The W.A.N.D." blows.

I mean, seriously blows. It's awful. Annoying, chaotic, lacking in anything even approaching a hook, or even a chorus, really. It sounds like a really bad high schol garage band trying to reimagine Soft Bulletin. Man oh man, I hope the entire album isn't this sucky. There's already a pretty solid Flaming Lips backlash going, mainly because of their shameless self-promotion and overexposure in the wake of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. (I mean, the freaking Wedding Crashers soundtrack? Who do they think they are...Simple Plan?) If the next album doesn't deliver...Coyne & Co. will lose their last remaining shred of credibility. Do bands jump the shark?
SECOND, apparently, Axl Rose hasn't yet figured out that we've all stopped caring about him. He's come out of hiding to announce that the new GNR record, Chinese Democracy, will "drop" (as the kids say) some time in 2006. Unfortunately, Axl then saw his shadow, which means six more weeks of staying indoors and shooting heroin between his toes.

He's not really looking so good these days...Axl...Wanna see?

Oh, dude, the hair...cut that shit out...In fact, just go away...Please...I can't believe it has taken this stupid bastard so long to do another record. He's even missed the entire first wave of Guns n' Roses nostalgia (which hit when I was still in college, in the late 90's). I think he's gonna have to give it at least another 10 years or so until people look upon his silly band with hazy fondness again.

THIRD, a little post about all the indie rock popping up on TV shows and in commercials these days. This is the sort of thing that doesn't bother me all the time - I'm not disturbed every time I know a song that's in a commercial, like some people - but that does really irritate me in some, specific cases. I have trouble listening to "Gravity Rides Everything" from Modest Mouse's brilliant The Moon & Antarctica in the wake of that cheesy minivan commercial.

(I should note that, hypocritically, I used to like it when they'd use cool songs I knew in "Six Feet Under"...The first time I've ever heard a Built to Spill song on television, maybe ever, was when Claire bumped "You Were Wrong.")

In this particular instance, the article talks about Arcade Fire getting a mention in some sitcom I've never heard of called "Four Kings." This sort of thing isn't terribly surprising...a lot of nerdy LA writer types are going to listen to Arcade Fire, one of the year's most trendy indie bands, so when they need a band name for a line of dialogue, they'll throw on something from their own CD collection.

Anyway, I don't think there's anything wrong with bringing up a trendy but lesser-known band in a sitcom, if it's just to add a dash of naturalism or reality to the proceedings or what have you. It kind of highlights an odd facet of the entertainment industry - that the people making the mainstream entertainment themselves prefer the lesser-known commodities that don't ever make it to Total Request Live. (I recall seeing Elijah Wood on TRL once, and when asked his favorite bands by a young audience member, he had to admit that she wouldn't have heard of any of them, and proceeded to rattle off a list of DJ's and indie bands that would make any Pitchfork staffer proud. Hilarious!)

What bothers me is when a show's writers repeatedly fall back on "hip" pop culture references to grant them cred, to reflect indie cool on to their defiantly uncool products. Obviously, I've discussed this phenomenon in terms of Garden State before, but it permeates entertainment. Think of a show like "Gilmore Girls," which has managed to convince critics that it's "smart" by dropping references to XTC or Sugarplastic or the Arctic Monkeys, or whatever crap they're mentioning these days. (I've only seen the show's first season).

So, in summation, for those of you keeping score...

AIR songs on "Veronica Mars" = acceptable
Johnny Greenwood and Jarvis Cocker in Harry Potter 4 = cool
Death Cab for Cutie on "The O.C." = who gives a shit they suck anyway
Pavement's "Major Leagues" on that new sitcom with Doogie Howser = LAME

Signifying by Divine Providence That I, Santorum, Was to Carry Excalibur

Here's the question:

Did Rick Santorum at one time have a grip on reality, and has lost his grounding in the actual world in the moral vacuum of wealth and power that is Washington D.C.? Or has he always been a clueless phony weirdo with no sense of decorum or tact? Because, as lame as he's always been, he's just getting bizarre now that Campaign 2006 is really underway.

Take, for example, this excellent video provided by excellent Santorum resource Santorum Exposed. In it, you will see Rick mislead people about the troops serving in Iraq (whom he claims all intentionally stepped up to fight the war on terror, rather than being pressed into service after having enlisted during peacetime and then having their tours extended). You will see Rick actually state in clear terms that America is "a country guided by divine providence." And you will see Rick equating putting a Rick Santorum bumper sticker on your car with serving your country in the United States military.

"And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country. What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?"

Wow...Truly, Rick, you are the Worst Person Alive.

Support Our Tropes

Fairly idiotic editorial from the LA Times yesterday. Some of you from my neck of the woods probably read the thing in the paper.

This guy, Joel Stein, clearly fancies himself something of a whimsical humorist. (According to his bio, he taught a class in humor writing at Princeton! I wonder if his course dealt in introductory concepts, like whether "Walla Walla" is funnier than "Cucamonga," or more advanced, abstract theory, like whether a Hot Carl is funnier than a Cincinnatti Bowtie?)

And he has written an op-ed expressing his lack of support for our troops in Iraq. Tee-hee!

I don't support our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.

I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.

And I've got no problem with other people — the ones who were for the Iraq war — supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.

But I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.

Okay, see, the thing is..."Supporting" our troops is a meaningless concept. We're not, as a nation, being asked to "sacrifice" in order to make the task at hand easier for our fighting men and women overseas. There's no rationing going on...I don't recall anyone asking me to buy war bonds any time recently...Aluminum is plentiful.

So, it's meaningless, this supporting of these troops. Just a catch phrase, an "us vs. them" "in or aus" kind of deal. The best way to handle it is to not play into it, to refuse to use terms like "support our troops," and instead clearly express your beliefs, no matter how nuanced. I don't think it's that confusing to say, "I'm against the Iraq War, which America entered based on outright falsehoods and exaggerations, but I obviously don't wish any harm to come to other Americans." That's clear, right?

Also, I am anti-war, and I'll admit to being kind of a non-fighting wuss in my personal life, but I don't consider this political position "wussy." I consider remaining anxiety-ridden and desperate more than four years after a terrorist attack, willing to sacrifice all of your nation's bedrock principles out of fear of some hypothetical bombing, to be a "wussy" position.

Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there — and who might one day want to send them somewhere else. Trust me, a guy who thought 50.7% was a mandate isn't going to pick up on the subtleties of a parade for just service in an unjust war. He's going to be looking for funnel cake.

Wait, I'm lost...Does Joel want us to take him seriously all of the sudden? Is he trying to make a point? Okay, let's see...Supporting our troops doesn't mean anything, but if we do it "blindly," then the war will just last longer anyway? Why can't we just argue against the war here at home while hoping that no more Americans die in the Sunni Triangle? That doesn't work for ya, Joey Joe Joe?

Besides, those little yellow ribbons aren't really for the troops. They need body armor, shorter stays and a USO show by the cast of "Laguna Beach." The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day. Though there should be a ribbon for that. I understand the guilt. We know we're sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful.

Yawn...So, random, slack patriotism doesn't actually do any good? You don't say...I mean, no, come on, keep going. This is really hilarious. David Cross totally wasn't doing material exactly like this on CD two fucking years ago.

After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.

What's with all this "we" shit, Ho-el? I don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight, obviously. Does anyone? Those guys are paid to follow orders, and they didn't decide to go over there and just start killing Iraqis. Blaming the troops because you don't like a war is like blaming the Pixy Stix Corporation for childhood diabetes. It's just one small part of a far greater and more complex picture.

Also, no one can possibly blame me for the Iraq War, because I was against it from the very beginning. And also, I have no political power whatsoever. I can't even get more than a few hundred people to look at my blog.

But blaming the president is a little too easy.

Yeah, it's pretty easy...especially when he wears big, silly hats!

The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. An army of people ignoring their morality, by the way, is also Jack Abramoff's pet name for the House of Representatives.

Ba-da-bump...Try the veal...

Anyway, this is crap. The person who pulls the trigger is responsible for killing a guy, sure, in one sense. But what about the people who hired him to be a soldier, trained him to kill, gave him a gun, put him in Iraq and told him to shoot when threatened? Not at all responsible, those guys? Innocent bystanders, then? Did Joel even think about what he was writing, or do they teach you to purposefully ignore logic and common sense in Princeton humor-writing courses?

I do sympathize with people who joined up to protect our country, especially after 9/11, and were tricked into fighting in Iraq. I get mad when I'm tricked into clicking on a pop-up ad, so I can only imagine how they feel.

Ugh. He's doing observational humor. Why don't I have a column at the LA Times? I can do observational humor...Check it out...

More Iraqis died the other day when an exploding bus collided with a mosque during the middle of a wedding ceremony. How horrible...As if going to a wedding wasn't annoying enough. Already, you have to go buy a gift and rent a tuxedo. In Baghdad, add on top of that the imminant threat of flaming bus attack. I'd probably just make up some excuse on the RSVP..."Sorry, would love to come, but I'll be visiting family in Riyadh. All my best to your new bride and your 6 other wives..."

See? Call me, LA Times! I'm certain we can work something out!

But when you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you're not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you're willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism, for better or worse. Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo, but other times it's Vietnam.

And sometimes, for reasons I don't understand, you get to just hang out in Germany.

Joel, with the luxury of a Princeton education and a cushy writing job, naturally considers joining the army to be a fool's errand. He doesn't think, clearly, about the young kids with few opportunities or hopes for the future, counting on a few years of service enabling them to realize their distant ambitions. The kids who are lured by the marketing ploys of shady recruiters and focused PR campaigns. (Who hasn't seen those "Army of One" commercials? You think they budget for that shit because it's doesn't influence kids to enlist, with its video game imagery and empty, faux-inspirational rhetoric?)

Who the hell does he think he is anyway, to pass judgement on these people and their decisions?

I know this is all easy to say for a guy who grew up with money, did well in school and hasn't so much as served on jury duty for his country. But it's really not that easy to say because anyone remotely affiliated with the military could easily beat me up, and I'm listed in the phone book.

Nice try, but looking up "Joel Stein" in a city with 20 different regional phone books and millions of Jews is probably going to wind up inconclusive. Joel, despite what he may say, is confident his anonymity will allow him to mouth off without fear of reproach. (If you're with the LA Times and wish for me to take over Joel's spot with my unique brand of violence-themed observational comedy, though, you should know that I can be looked up in the Palms/Culver City phone book, or by leaving a comment right below this post on this very blog).

I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea. All I'm asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return.

But, please, no parades. Seriously, the traffic is insufferable.

I don't think the Iraq War was a good idea. I do think that soldiers doing what their leadership instructs them, fighting day in and day out to make the situation in Iraq a bit more workable, is a very good idea.

Imagine it this way...I don't think that M&M Mars should have introduced a Blue-Colored M&M to the packs of candy, because it throws off the color balance. (I really do think this.)

That doesn't mean I think individuals at the M&M Mars Factory should start peeing in the vats of chocolate or tinkering with the machinery. It's important they continue to do their jobs, even if I differ with the methods employed by their corporate masters. In this same way, I'm glad that the United States military and its chain-of-command have remained intact, despite my problems with their current mission as determined by the President and his Merry Band of Scoundrels. We need a military, you know, to live...

It also kind of feels like back-peddling to insist, at the very end of his article, that Joel really really totally super-hope that all the returning vets get access to hospitals and mental health care and pensions. He's just spent about 750 words shitting on them. I mean, Joel, you don't support the troops, right? That's the first sentence of your article? Then shut up about hospitals and pensions. Or is this entire piece about semantics?

R.I.P. Chris Penn

Brother of actor Sean Penn, son of actress Eileen Ryan (who starred with her sons in the extremely watchable 1986 James Foley crime thriller At Close Range), Chris Penn was found dead earlier today in Santa Monica. He was one of those character actors who popped up in all kinds of small parts in random, forgettable movies (like Rush Hour and Starsky and Hutch). Despite a long career in film acting, really kicking off in 1983 with a small role in Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish, Chris only got one true chance to shine...but shine he did, like the proverbial diamond in that Pink Floyd song that's actually about Syd Barrett.

As Nice Guy Eddie in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Penn made his permanent contribution to film history. It's a role that will be beloved, quoted and remembered long after the careers of more serious, well-reviewed ac-tors have been tossed aside for a new flavor of the month. Only a certain amount of actors will ever, in their lives, get a role like Nice Guy Eddie, and not even all of them will be able to make the most out of it like Chris Penn.

So, yeah, the guy's legacy is complete. It's still a goddamn tragedy. Dead at 43 due to unknown (but not entirely mysterious) circumstances. Sudden. Unexpected. And it's not like the guy had retreated from public life or anything...He had two movies coming out next year. Tragic. Obviously, your thoughts have to go out to the guy's family, even if his brother's performance in Mystic River was shockingly overrated.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Here's yet another case of loony idiot bloggers taking a news story and twisting it to suit their bizarre personal agenda.

The news story: a young girl previously thought to be in a persistent, irreversible coma is starting to show signs of improvement (like moving her hands). Though doctors were considering removing the girl's feeding tube and allowing her to die with dignity, now it seems, despite the overwhelming odds against it, that their plan might have been a bit hasty.

So, you can probably see how bloggers, still burning from all that negative Terri Schiavo blowback, might try to present this story. "See! We were right! Sometimes coma people get better! You killed Terri Schiavo!"

Here's Mickey Kaus on his often-unintentionally-hilarious blog on Slate:

Where's the fabled Republican message machine when it comes to publicizing this story in the MSM? It tends to put GOP activism over Terri Schiavo in a favorable light, no?

Here's (though I hate doing this...) the odious Michelle Malkin, who, with her trademark tact and subtlety, titled her post on the subject "Haleigh wants to live"

Everyone had given up on Haleigh--except Haleigh.

This is a huge story, a wake-up call to "right-to-die" ideologues who recklessly put such unlimited trust in the medical profession and Nanny State. The same government bureaucrats and doctors who had conclusively deemed the 11-year-old girl "hopeless" and her vegetative state "irreversible" now tell us she is responding to stimuli and breathing on her own.

They were wrong.

Okay, so aside from her embellishing the facts and attempting to make political capital out of a young girl's struggle to life (following a harsh beating by her adopted parents), Michelle is missing the point entirely.

If the opposition to government intervention in the Terri Schiavo case had argued that people in comas should be killed always, then Michelle would have a point. Sometimes, coma people wake up, so killing off anyone in a coma is wrong. But, of course, that wasn't the argument. The argument was that Terri Schiavo's spouse should be allowed to decide the fate of his wife, without fear of the U.S. Congress butting in and telling him what to do.

And, if Michelle had actually read the facts of the case, she would see that, in the case of young Haleigh, the system worked!

Allison Avrett, Haleigh's biological mother, said yesterday that she saw improvements in a hospital visit last week, but was convinced by doctors and DSS workers that hand movements that she had seen were involuntary.

When Avrett visited Haleigh yesterday morning, Avrett said she again observed movement that caused her to reconsider her previous view that Haleigh was better off if allowed to die.

The girl's biological mother, her family member legally entrusted to make decisions on her behalf, believed that there was a sincere chance for improvement, and dwanted to prolong Haleigh's life. Terri Schiavo's husband was allowed to make this same decision, and chose to let his wife die (after more than a decade in a coma!) The two cases are only somewhat similar, and they both, to my mind, confirm the obvious fact: the government should not be entrusted to make decisions about whether individuals get to live or die. That sort of decision should be left to a person's family.


Bill and George at the Movies

Some of you may recall that former President Bill Clinton was a huge movie fan. He always cites High Noon as his favorite movie, which always struck me as peculiar for a real movie fan (it's not even in my ten favorite Westerns), but the guy clearly knows his stuff. I mean, no matter how you feel about him politically or whatever, he's a smart dude.

You just don't get quite the same feeling from the new guy. As with nearly all things that don't somehow relate to baseball, torture or illegal wiretapping, Bush shows little to no interest in movies. (Although Christopher Meyer does report in his book DC Confidential that Bush laughed hysterically at the revelation in Meet the Parents that Ben Stiller's character is named Gaylord Focker.)

I bring this interesting divergence up today because Bush refused to provide an opinion on the film Brokeback Mountain to an audience at Kansas State University.

During a Q&A session at Kansas State University today, a student asked Bush: "I was just wanting to get your opinion on Brokeback Mountain if you'd seen it yet."

The crowd laughed softly before the student said loudly: "You would love it! You should check it out."

"I haven't seen it," Bush said flatly. "I'd be glad to talk about ranching, but I haven't seen the movie," he said to laughter. "I've heard about it."

The president waited a second or two, then said, according to a transcript: "I hope you go -- (laughter) -- you know -- (laughter) -- I hope you go back to the ranch and the farm, is what I was about to say. I haven't seen it. (Laughter, applause.)"

Well, this means this Borowitz Report story had it totally wrong. But it also means that a discussion between these two world leaders about the Films of 2005 might prove enlightening, don't you think?

I invited both George and Bill to join me here for a roundtable discussion, and wouldn't you know, they both agreed?

GWB: Thanks for having me on your program, Lons.

ME: Actually, it's a blog, Mr. President.

GWB: Thanks for having me in your bog, Lons.

ME: You're welcome.

BC: Oh, man, Lons...You were right. These guys from Soul Revival are, quite simply...amazing.

ME: Thanks for being here, Mr. Ex-President.

BC: Hey, no problem...So long as you're paying my usual $100,000 per speaking engagement fee, it's all good in the hood.

ME: Yeah...the thing about that is...I don't actually have any money.

BC: Oh. You got a cute sister?

ME: Afraid not.

BC: Dang. Well, what the hell, right? I've come all this way.

ME: Awful good of you, Bill. Okay, let's get this started. I figured, I'll throw out the 2005 movie, and you can both give me your thoughts.

BC: Let's do this thang.

GWB: What was that one with the fuzzy baby penguins? I liked that one!

ME: Let's start with Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds.

BC: Well, obviously, I enjoyed the special effects and the terrific direction from Steven Spielberg, surely one of America's favorite and best filmmakers. But, I don't know...I just felt that the film lacked the kind of simple, direct emotions Spielberg has shown us in his true classics, films like E.T., that touched an entire generation of children and their parents.

GWB: This movie was stupid.

BC: How so, George?

GWB: I mean, the Martians, their plan doesn't don't make good sense, you know? They send down a huge military force to blow up our whole planet, but then they only send a few soldiers to keep the peace and maintain stability. That's just poor planning. And then, the soldiers stationed here on Earth, they don't have proper equipment to protect them from the atmos...astomph...from the environment, they haven't been provided the basic armor they need just to do their job safely. I mean, that's not leadership!

BC: You know, George, it's almost like...

GWB: I mean, if you're going to occupy a hostile foreign territory, you need to have enough feet on the ground to actually get the job done. You don't just half-ass it because you're afraid of what all the other Martians back home are going to say about you, and you don't cut military expenditures to give rich Martians a tax break while the young, poor Martians fly down to Earth and fight off Tom Cruise, right? Am I right?

ME: Let's move on. Hustle and Flow, you guys both saw this Sundance favorite, right?

BC: You a former pimp myself, I was really impressed by this film's gritty immediacy. Even if, like me, you aren't a former pimp (and sometime jigolo) from Little Rock who dreamt of a future in politics, you can surely relate to the plight of DJay, a simple street entrepeneur who aspired to do something great and memorable. The feel-good film of 2005!

GWB: What are you talking about? I didn't see this mov...Oh, wait, hang on...I should say something nice about this one, or the darkies will keep saying I don't care about them...Umm...Hustle & Flow is a really good movie about African-Americans, a group of people I totally respect and care about. Yeah, that sounds good...But cut out that first part of what I said.

ME: You got it, Mr. President.

GWB: I really nailed that one. Karl's gonna be proud.

ME: Congrats.

GWB: Oh, and cut that last part out too, where I just said that Karl's gonna be proud.

ME: Sure thing.

GWB: In fact, maybe we ought to skip this whole movie, know what I mean.

BC: Yeah, actually, he might be right. I'm not sure I'd "gone public" with that Little Rock pimp stuff before.

ME: Okay, our next film is Stephen Gaghan's oil industry expose, Syriana.

GWB: Okay, see, I didn't like this movie. It said mean stuff about my friends.

BC: Everyone in the movie is a fictional character.

GWB: What? This thing ain't a docomen...a dormitor...isn't this one of those true-life, behind-the-scenes kinds of movies?

ME: A documentary?

GWB: Yeah! Like those Michael Moore movies about all the illegal stuff I'm always doing.

BC: No, it's a fictional film based loosely on real events.

GWB: Really?

ME: Yeah. You didn't notice it had George Clooney and Matt Damon in it?

GWB: Didn't you see the movie? George Clooney is an undercover agent. I just figured "actor George Clooney" had been a clever ruse designed to trick everybody.

BC: No, George, it' know what? Never mind.

GWB: Also, that torture scene is totally bogus. Anyone who knows their stuff would pull out your toenails before we'd go for the fingernails. That's standard procedure. Uh, someone didn't, you know, do all their research.

ME: Okay, last film for now. This was a request by the President, who wanted to discuss...Doom? Like, the video game?

BC: I didn't even see this turkey.

ME: Yeah, me neither.

GWB: OMFG! Are you guys kiddin'? This was totally the awesomest movie I saw all year. The Rock was already like amazing in Walking Tall and that one where he and the guy from American Pie were in the jungle with Christopher Walken, but this is his best movie yet (and maybe ever111!!11!) And in this one, he's got all these guns, and he's shooting demons...pchew-pchew-pchew-kabloom! I bet, in DVD, with 5.1, in the dark, you could turn up the volume real loud and it would be just like spending a night in Iraq. Good thing you could turn the DVD player off and go to bed, though, huh?

BC: Well, I'd love to hang out and chat with y'all, but Stacy Valentine and Jenna Haze are doing a live chat in about 5, and I've gotta go stop in and at least say hi.

GWB: Yeah, I should probably go make a speech somewhere about how the Iraq War is going fine and fags are dumb. Peace out...


I've seen some silly movies in my time...but the titular "plan" in Flightplan is one of the dumbest, most outrageous, least-plausible movie scenarios ever. Without giving too much away, allow me to simply say that the evil scheme driving the action in Flightplan makes Homer Simpsons grease-selling business seem like an sage investment opportunity in comparison. The screenplay by Peter Dowling and Billy Ray promises a dynamite twist to satisfy its tantalizing premise, and instead you get a grandiose flight of fancy, of the type generally reserved for the films of Mel Brooks and the Marx Brothers.

So, here's the tantalizing premise...Aeronautical engineer and recent widow Kyle (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (Marlene Lawston) board a jumbo jet in Berlin, bound for New York. They're starting life anew after Kyle's husband took a mysterious "fall" off the roof of an apartment building. Ouch.

Kyle, who helped design the plane in which she's flying, falls asleep for an hour or so, and when she awakens...her daughter is gone. Some frantic searching follows, during which a few things are made clear:

(1) the odd guy who seemed to be flirting with her (Peter Sarsgaard) is actually one o' them undercover Air Marshals you heard a lot about post-9/11

(2) the flight manifest and other documents make no mention of Kyle being accompanied by a little girl in the first place

(3) the captain is played by well known British actor Sean "Boromir" Bean and a flight attendant is played by Traffic veteran Erika Christensen despite the fact that these are small, thankless, shitty roles

So we're left with only a few possibilities. Kyle is insane, and imagined that she had a daughter, and when we in the audience saw her daughter during the film's opening half-hourk, we were just seeing her hallucinations


Her daughter is stashed somewhere and all these shady assholes are full of shit

That brings you to about 45 minutes in, and I won't spoil anything else. This first half of the film isn't poorly made or anything, although it isn't terribly memorable either. But the movie is a cheat. It sets up a situation that's seemingly impossible - how could a little girl go missing on a plane in mid-flight? - and promises an actual real-world solution. But then it can't deliver a real solution, so it cops out and comes up with some desperate explanation that makes absolutely no logical sense.

I'm reminded of that horrible Julianne Moore film The Forgotten from 2004. The movies have similar set-ups. In that film, Moore was a bereaved mother who was told, suddenly, that the son she was mourning had never existed in the first place. She had made up his memory to cover up for trauma in her past. The movie, like this one, presented a challenge in the first act. Can we come up with a solution to this riddle? How could there be such a vast conspiracy to convince someone that her child had never been born? To what end?

You watch the movie out of nothing more than curiosity. How will they solve this puzzle? And that's a pretty cheap form of entertainment to begin with, really. The Forgotten, like Flightplan, isn't entertaining in its own right...There's nothing compelling about the storytelling or the visuals, the performances are phoned in and forgettable (surprising considering the Jodester only appears in one movie every year or two), James Horner's score blends right into the background, director Robert Schwentke's camera tricks and fondness for glare grows old quickly...

You just keep watching to see how it will end. And then, like the last 10 pages of a Stephen King novel, the movie just limps to the finish line with a lame, bogus conclusion. The Forgotten actually had to fall back on a supernatural conspiracy to violate space-time as part of an alien experiment on Earth gone haywire to explain away its narrative leaps. And still, it holds together better and seems more probable than Flightplan.

Seriously, it's like Wile E. Coyote, Dr. Evil and Lucy Ricardo collaborated on a criminal enterprise, and the result was this movie. Avoid at all costs unless you're extraordinarily curious as to the depths of desperation and ineptitude to which hacky screenwriters and lazy development executives will stoop. (HINT: the lowest possible)

Oh, one more thing I should mention about the film. There's this odd, totally uneccessarily subplot in which Kyle accuses several Arab men on the plane of kidnapping her daughter. It's pretty clear that the angry Arab guys are a red herring, and later in the film, there seems to be a kind of tacit acknowledgment that Kyle was wrong to suspect the guys just because of their skin color. But, overall, the message of the movie seems to be that she's to be lauded for her efforts to find her daughter, rather than being reprimanded for her fairly egregious and open racism and hostility towards those of Middle-Eastern descent.

I'm not saying that it's not understandable a frenzied mother looking for her child might lash out at a stranger in a way that's inappropriate. I just don't see why you'd bring up this sort of situation in a movie if you have nothing to say about it, and the way the scenario is tied up in the film is pretty much completely racist. The Arab guy essentially concedes that he understands Kyle's racist reaction in light of the intensity of the situation...kind of a pat, self-congratulatory, forced Hollywood conclusion.