Saturday, February 04, 2006

Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

I like Britain's Aardman Entertainment, the company responsible for the Oscar-winning "Wallace and Gromit" short films and Chicken Run. Don't get me wrong. The create funny, original stop-motion animation with a dry sense of humor and an eye for kinetic Rube Goldberg-style action sequences.

But they're not exactly PIXAR or anything. This is only their second feature production, and already they've returned to their two classic, popular characters after the disappointing Great Escape parody Chicken Run. Man, what a disappointment. That was a movie with a great premise and elastic, fluid animation that didn't include a single memorable character or set piece.
This new adventure re-teams daffy inventor Wallace and his silent, dutiful dog Gromit from shorts like A Grand Day Out and improves significantly on Chicken Run, not to mention 2005's other big stop-motion animated film, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Though the animation is not as detailed nor the backgrounds as lush as Bride, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is about 10 times more engaging and fun. It drags in places, and is only sporadically funny, but Were-Rabbit is remains a consistantly imaginitive and occasionally daring comic adventure story. I sense, however, that Aardman and co-director Nick Park can't keep this thing up forever. Eventually, they're going to have to open up their universe and show us what else they can do. (And with so much of the artwork from this film destroyed in a tragic recent fire, what better time to start fresh than the present?)

Much like in the Wallace and Gromit shorts, the action of Were-Rabbit starts with a new invention gone haywire. Things are going pretty good for the boys and their latest money-making venture, Anti-Pesto Humane Pest Control. They're making money rescuing gardens from pesky rabbits, until Wallace (Peter Sallis) starts tinkering around with a mind-control device, to prevent the bunnies from eating vegetable gardens in the first place. Simple, right?

Well, one thing leads to another, and now they must stop a massive killer rabbit from consuming every vegetable within 100 miles. In typical Aardman fashion, everything culminates in a huge, whirlwind chase sequence. As you can probably tell from the still above, in this instance the final chase includes coin-operated mini-prop airplanes and an homage to King Kong.

The movie is always amusing, but not really as funny as the shorts. One scene, in which Gromit operates a massive rabbit doll in a futile attempt to "attract" the Were-Rabbit, is very funny, and the terrific animation on Gromit really sells the joke by giving him real personality and expressiveness. It's a pretty remarkable moment. And every once in a while, a good line sneaks in there.

Some of the sound effects actually made me laugh. In one scene, an angry mob asks Wallace how he intends to catch such a big rabbit. "With a big trap!," he responds. The line is typical of the film's approach to verbal wit. But when Wallace gives his simpleton answer, Gromit smacks his hand to his forehead, to express his disappointment with his master's stupidity. And for whatever reason, the sound of the dog smacking his forehead struck me as hilarious.

The film adds exactly two worthwhile new characters to Wallace and Gromit's world - dim-witted Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter) and her finacee, the odious hunting enthusiast Victor Quartermaine (extremely well-voiced by Ralph Fiennes, who had quite a year in 2005). Both performances are very funny without going too far or becoming too cartoonish. Some of the film struggles to toe the line between animation anyone can enjoy and kind of a "kiddie movie" vibe, and Fiennes' emotional investment in Victor helps keep the film on track in the second half.

Also off-setting that kid's movie feeling, I feel I must comment on the surprising amount of little sexual innuendos thrown in throughout the film. This is the sort of thing you have to admire about the Brits. Even though this is clearly meant to be a film for families, if not directly for children, they still throw in a couple suggestive scenes for the parents/teens in the crowd. In one scene, for example, Wallace is accidentally caught in the nude by Lady Tottington (Totty for short, by the way), so he grabs a nearby cardboard box to cover himself. The box has a label reading, "Inside: Nuts." (This reminds me of the other big British animated film last year, the CG Valiant, which had Ricky Gervais in the voice cast only to appeal to "Office" and "Extras" fans.)

With all that being said, I'm still not sure I would ever want to actually watch this film again. It lacks the feeling of a real animated classic, like Tim Burton's previous stop-motion wonder, The Nightmare Before Christmas or The Iron Giant or any of PIXAR's recent films like Toy Story 2 or The Incredibles.

Park and co-director Steve Box took five years to make this movie, because stop-motion is such a pain-staking process, and there's a small, mean-spirited little part of me that wants to question whether it was worth the effort. I mean, yeah, it's entertaining, it's well-done, I liked the movie...but it's not really better than a Wallace and Gromit short. In fact, it's decidedly not better. I prefer Wrong Trousers, and because of its abbreviated running time, they can compress all the best gags and most exciting moments into one neat little package.

I understand that people who love Wallace and Gromit would just want to see more, more, more, but I think short subject is kind of appropriate for this kind of goofy, outrageous and (most of all) difficult-to-realize material. It's a nice little story, but a full-length animated feature? Might it not work better for Park & Co. to continue making short subjects for a while? I mean, if they're only going to release one movie every few years anyway, why not just make Wallace and Gromit shorts along with other kinds of shorts, and then bring them to The States every few years as a package show? (I think kids would love going to the movies and seeing four or five different little animated movies put together. It would appeal to their already-short attention spans).

Sewer Rats

Renew America, for those of you who don't bother learning the names of every wacky conservative political organization, is Nutball Alan Keyes' group. He uses their website to advertise his political campaigns and fire off random, obsessive hatred at liberals, gays, Hollywood, the media and anyone else whom God and/or Alan Keyes finds distasteful.

Normally, this is not the sort of site I would tend to puruse during my Internet time. It lacks one of the four basic ingredients I look for in a "bookmarkable" website. Those being (1) hilarious cartoons or parodies (2) snark (3) movie news/entertainment gossip or (4) boobs.

Granted, Alan Keyes kind of has fat-man boobs and is idiotic enough to be sporadically entertaining, but that's not quite enough to qualify.

But thanks to World O' Crap, I can now enjoy the lunacy of Renew America columnists without actually having to visit the site and look around.

Which is good, because I think if I had to spend more than 10 minutes looking at this idiocy, my head might explode. Keyes' essays would need about 3/4 more cock to seem half-cocked. Seriously, the average Alan Keyes column reads like "The Turner Diaries" after they've been translated from Japanese and dictated to a hearing-impaired retarded guy.

And this guy Christian Hartsock...he ain't doing much better. His whole column of February 3rd is devoted to praising Ronald Reagan in a surprising and unconventional manner.

Quickly, here's his thesis:

Liberals always deny that valid threats to national security exist, probably because they hate America and secretly wish for its destruction. This is why FDR refused to believe that the Soviet Union presented a threat to America, why no one believed poor Joseph McCarthy and why we call him mean names to this day, and why Bill Clinton didn't do anything to Osama bin Laden after the 1993 World Trade Center attack.

Of course, Hartsock then ties this in to the present day - only brave, stalwart George W. Bush is man enough to stand up to the threat of the "Islamic subhumans" (to quote Christian's charming phrase). And liberal pussies of course continue to oppose the President's attempts to protect his beloved country.

That year, when President George W. Bush was pushing for an invasion of Iraq in light of the mounting evidence that Saddam Hussein had been in cahoots with al-Qaeda and had weapons of mass destruction, topped off by his violation of seventeen U.N. resolutions regarding weapons inspections, liberals began acting like caged monkeys on crystal meth, screaming and ranting against the invasion and insisting that Saddam Hussein was gentle little lamb. Iraqi citizens are now free from tyranny, Saddam is in prison, and it is still quite possible, if not probable that he had weapons of mass destruction as well as ties to al-Qaeda, yet liberals are treasonously demanding that we surrender to the terrorist insurgents and wishing Saddam was still in power.

Christian then goes on to praise Ronald Reagan for standing up to the Communists. Here's a telling little bit about Reagan's early clashes with Commies during his movie star days:

During his years in Hollywood, Reagan faced head-on the presence of the Communist Party which had been active there since 1935. As early as the 1940s, Reagan was denouncing Communism and actively fighting against it. Judging from what happened before and after the release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, if a patriotic non-conformist in Hollywood dared utter a word against Communism today, liberals would waste no time in spreading rumors that he is an anti-Semite or something stupid like that.

The Passion of the Christ is anti-Semetic in a number of ways. Mainly, its presentation of Jewish leaders fits right into the long-standing European anti-Semetic tradition: hook-nosed old blood-thirsty creeps who wear lots of gold. But also, the film is clearly an attempt to resurrect the age-old view of Jews as Christ-Killers, a viewpoint that has mainly gone out of fashion in Modern Christianity. Anyway, whether or not you are well-versed in historical anti-Semetism or not to recognize the familiar tropes in Passion of the Christ, these accusations are clearly not baseless or "stupid," and to call them that without any more detail or nuance demonstrates the flagrant lack of accuracy and honesty throughout the article.

I also love this bizarre conservative view of Ronald Reagan as the Man Who Single-Handedly Killed the Communists. As if an old guy going to Berlin and saying "Tear down this wall!" was really all it took to destroy the Soviet Union. Come on, think about it...The old-fashioned Communist system didn't slowly rot away from within, a combination of an angry, impoverished, oppressed populace demanding more effective leadership and long-standing, cyclical economic woes. It was cause that old guy from the chimp movies went over there and demanded they tear the Berlin Wall down.

The Soviets were, like, "You don't like the wall? Why didn't you say so? You don't like it...It's gone, man. We just thought it kind of looked cool. The kids had graffittied it a bit, tourists came to check it out. Really gave Berlin some personality to be split in two. But, hey, if it bugs you out, man, gone. Cause that's just how much you guys mean to me."

Anyway, fine, whatever, Christian has a poor understanding of 20th Century history. Or maybe he knows this is complete horseshit he's spewing, but the money's good. Whatever. What's fascinating about his column is the opening paragraph. This was the section highlighted (and with good cause!) from that World O' Crap post. Here's the article's lede paragraph in its entirety.

Let's say you find yourself fortunate enough to be stuck with a liberal roommate. Then one day your apartment becomes infested with sewer rats. You try to tell your roommate but he laughs it off and calls you a fascist. When the infestation becomes particularly prominent, however, your roommate insists on befriending the rats and begins providing them with generous servings of Swiss cheese. One day you come home and find your roommate lying on the floor and being assaulted by the vicious rats. Immediately, you manage to grab each rat by your hand and throw it into the oven. When the oven is inundated with every single rat that invaded your apartment, you turn it on and they begin slowly suffocating in excruciating heat. Instead of thanking you for your heroic bravery in saving him from the rats, your roommate snobbily remarks that you were just in the right place at the right time.

Hmmm...Interesting choice of metaphor. Particularly in light of Christian's assertation that Passion of the Christ is not anti-Semetic. Really, he's making no secret of hating Jews. He's not even trying to cover it up very much. I mean, throwing rats in the oven? Is there any more obvious metaphor he could have chosen? That's exactly how the Nazis referred to Jews and then it's exactly their preferred choice for killing them and disposing of their earthly remains. Seriously, I have tried to think of a more obvious metaphor for Christian's desire to murder Jews...and I can't come up with one. Disgraceful.

If you want to read the whole thing, you can get there from World O' Crap's page. I'm not even linking to this tripe.

What's the Story, Lee Tamahori?

First, there was Hugh Grant and Divine Brown. That was a shock: British pretty-boy, known best for dating gorgeous actress and model Elizabeth Hurley, arrested receiving fellatio from a $5-sucky-sucky Hollywood prostitute. Then came Eddie Murphy. An internationally known celebrity millionaire pulled over in Los Angeles was a transvestite hooker in his car. (And to make matters even more hilarious, he said he was just being a good samaritan and driving her home, which is exactly the sort of giving, generous activity that big-time Hollywood celebrities perform every day for the local prostituting community.)

But I think New Zealand director Lee Tamahori has basically staked his claim on the Most Humiliating Celebrity Revelation title for the forseeable future. I can't imagine anyone else, famous wealthy Hollywood director or no, being caught in this kind of an embarrassing predicament.

Former James Bond movie-maker Lee Tamahori was arraigned in Los Angeles yesterday after allegedly soliciting an undercover cop, while dressed as a woman. The Die Another Day director, 55, was arrested in Hollywood last month, after he approached an undercover police officer who was in his car, entered the vehicle and offered to perform a sex act for money, according to entertainment news site Tamahori was arrested, booked and charged with prostitution and unlawfully loitering with the intent to commit prostitution. The director is being represented in court by Michael Jackson's former defence lawyer Mark Geragos.


There are only a few possible explanations for this behavior.

(1) Lee Tamahori is brutally insane

Granted, this seems unlikely, as the guy has managed to keep his shit together for long enough to direct a series of films, including the beloved 90's classic Once Were Warriors. More recently, he did Die Another Day and XXX: State of the Union, which aren't exactly classics. But they are professionally made - it doesn't look like MGM just gave a camera to some random lunatic and set him to work filming Vin Diesel.

Bear in mind, however, that though his films may seem to be the work of an aware, cognizant individual, this man was arrested the other his home town of Los Angeles...dressed up as a woman...trying to convince an undercover cop to give him money, possibly in exchange for a reach-around. Bear in mind also that, as a well-known somewhat successful Hollywood director, this guy is worth millions of dollars and has a significant amount of influence and power. If he wanted to dress as a woman and blow dudes, he could have 100 willing gay men in his mansion within the hour. This is Los Angeles. There are more young, attractive men willing to suck off a famous director than there are public telephones.

(2) Lee Tamahori is cursed with bizarre sexual proclivities

Maybe the guy can only get off when there's the ever-present fear he may be caught performing sexual acts in public while dressed as a woman. This would have to be among the Most Inconvenient Fetishes Ever.

I'd say the most inconvenient fetish ever would be the Dressing up as a Baby thing, or possibly the Dressing up as a Fuzzy Plush Toy thing. These are sexual fetishes that require a good deal of time, preparation and planning. You have to go out and invest in costumes, you have to join odd little communities dedicated to these lifestyles just to meet other people into the bizarre thing you're into.

But, I mean...a grown man who wants to dress up like a woman and fuck strangers for money. And he has to have the theoretical possibility of getting caught in the act? It's almost like you couldn't act out this fantasy legally without being a rich and famous film director, and even then it would be tough to get exactly right. (Obviously.)

(3) Lee Tamahori really, really wants to helm Pretty Woman 2

I mean, at this point...he'd have a pretty convincing pitch.

"Look, I know whores, alright? I've done my research. No one in this whole town knows Los Angeles from a whore's perspective better than me...What's that?...The film's about Julia Roberts and Richard Gere after she's no longer a whore? But it's...Well, someone could have told me that before I started streetwalking professionally! What am I supposed to...I have a pimp now, I can't just...You're going with Brett Ratner? Well, that's just fucking great..."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Little Afternoon Helping of Insanity

[Thanks to World O' Crap for finding this item, and basically doing all the work for me.]

If you had to take a guess...just a random guess...Which group would you imagine contains more racists? Those who defiantly support George W. Bush, or those who oppose him? Come on, just a random guess.

Well, a study cited by the Washington Post seems to back up what any reasonable person would have already hypothesized...Racism and Bush votes seem geographically associated in some interesting ways.

For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.

Obviously, this study doesn't prove anything. Neither its authors nor the Washington Post claim it does. You can support George Bush, I suppose, without being a racist, although you'd have to be somewhat unaware of what's going on around you (which isn't all that rare). But it does seem to confirm a concept that is already observable. For a variety of reasons, The Republican Party and George W. Bush appeal to white American racists far more than John Kerry and Democrats.

Surely, conservatives would want to argue against this contention, and provide counter-arguments for this survey. I would think the most compelling would be the argument I just made...All the study does is provide a demographic correlation - areas carried by the President also tended to include more racists - without any verification of causation. We don't even know if the racists overwhelmingly voted for Bush (although that's what I'd guess). All we know from this study is that places where they lived reflected a high level of Bush support.

Unfortunately, thiskind of rational, straight-forward counter-argument isn't quite enough of a "debunking" to satisfy Dafydd over at Big Lizards. No, he goes a few steps further, bizarrely arguing that virulent reverse-racism has actually turned innocent, non-racist whites into hate-mongers against their will!

The fallacy here is, naturally, the error of predetermined causality: is the correlation between Bush voters and people who find it "more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces" due to innate racism? And if so, do racists just naturally tend to gravitate towards Bush?

Notice how Dafydd has already missed the point of the study. Even if it proved beyond a doubt that more racists voted for Bush (it doesn't), that still wouldn't mean racists naturally tend to gravitate towards Bush. It would indicate how successfully Bush has marketed his brand to American racists. You don't assume a certain group supports a politician just because...The entire field of polling and market research is based around the idea that the public's ideas about politicians are shaped by media representations and advertising.

Or could it be that when blacks learn that a Caucasian is a Republican, they direct such a torrent of hate and racial bigotry towards him that they virtually guarantee that he won't be able to associate his tormenters with "positive concepts?"

No, Dafy, that could not be. It's ridiculous on its face. How many White Republicans walk around all day being personally berated and accosted by blacks? Wouldn't it take at least one or two bad personal experiences with black hostility to magically turn into a racist who automatically associated black vaces with negative images?

How do these hypothetical angry blacks who have turned all the whites against them even know which white people are Republicans and which are Democrats, and accordingly not appropriate targets for harrassment? Do they just seek out "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers and goofy cowboy hats?

If black leaders -- such as Harry Belafonte, Cynthia McKinney, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barak Obama -- to the enthusisatic applause and cheering of ordinary, middle-class blacks, routinely show rampant and hysterical intolerance of anyone to their right; if they prattle incessantly about racial preferences and "reparations" for slavery; if bad employees who happen to be black constantly threaten an EEOC lawsuit whenever a company tries to let them go -- is it really a racist reaction for someone to have a hard time associating various "positive concepts" with blacks, given the recent history?

Oh, I see, mean ol' Al Sharpton turned white people against th eblacks. Right, right...Because black people file lawsuits against racist employers or push back against Republican programs that dismantle their communities bit by bit or occasionally note publicly that the American government or corporate sector has made no attempt to repay them for the hundreds of years of free labor provided by their ancestors...racism is okay.

To answer your question without sarcasm, Dafy, YES, IT IS RACIST TO JUDGE ALL BLACK PEOPLE BECAUSE YOU DO NOT LIKE THE BEHAVIOR OF A FEW OF THEM. That is the very definition of a "racist reaction."

It's like showing pictures of Arab faces to Israeli Jews and concluding that the latter must be racially prejudiced, because they have a hard time associating "positive concepts" with Achmed, Ramzi, and Mohammed.

Actually, Dafy, I know you mean for this example to highlight the correctness of your argument, but it in fact does the exact opposite. That would be racist, if a Jew saw an Arab man and immediately said "That looks like an evil terrorist killer!"

Dafy could not provide any deeper insight into his worldview if he tried. Arabs are, by definition, not to be trusted. The notion that someone could see a photo of an Arab and see him as anything other than a stereotypical jihad-minded assassin is actually ridiculous to Dafy, a laughable concept.

Yikes. Believe it or not, this next paragraph gets even more deluded and insane. If such a thing were possible. Seriously. He has already argued that, because of outspoken black celebrities like Harry Belafonte (whom Dafy oddly calls a "black leader" despite the fact that he's just the guy who sung "Banana Boat"), white people are justified in their racism. And yet, the post is about to become even more dubious and morally questionable.

But if such wariness is a rational response, then this study shows only that districts that produce more Bush voters are likewise more rational; while districts that produce more Democratic voters are more likely to be living in a fantasy of cultural relativism, where every culture is equally good, and we cannot in fact even judge them except by their own terms.

Wow...I mean...Wow...

Okay, so Dafy thinks that his stellar Harry Belafonte example actually proves that the only reasonable reaction to American blacks is prejudice, such that viewing a photo of a black man would stir negative feelings bordering on intolerance.

Therefore, the places with the most smart, reasonable people are also the places with the most racists. Sure, under this metric, you'd expect places like Mississippi and Arkansas to be the cultural and academic centers of American life, when in fact California morgues have a higher literacy rate than both of them put together...But we're not going to let a thing like evidence stand in the way of a surrealist masterpiece like this Dafydd post!

For this to say anything about latent racism, we must first assume that Republicans have no more reason to be wary of blacks than do Democrats... which is of course patent nonsense: of course we do, because blacks are so much more likely to hate Republicans than Democrats (many blacks do not hate Democrats... they despise them, which is an altogether different emotional response, albeit no less ugly).

Okay, I don't understand the distinction he's making between hating someone and despising them...But I also think he's just barking up the wrong tree here. There have got to be better ways to justify your racism than claiming it's a reaction to prejudice from black people against your Republicanism. How do all these theoretical blacks even know your party affiliation? Is Dafydd arguing that when black people on television decry Republicanism in general (like Kanye West claiming that George Bush doesn't care about black people), it personally affects him and makes him hate blacks?

Why not just come out and admit that you don't like black people, and they make you afraid or whatever? You'll probably feel better, and we won't have to wade through these contorted arguments just to figure out the obvious.

I would bet that if the authors of this study were to ask the same questions of blacks, they would find an even larger percent of black Republicans who have a hard time associating those "positive concepts" with black faces. It would not, however, be "self-hatred" or prejudice, but rather post-judice: black Republicans have an enormous load of history to back up their angry reaction to most "brothers." How do you love someone who nakedly hates you?

I'd be very interested to see a response to Dafy's post from a Black Republican. Just as he's waging that they'd back him up, arguing that angry blacks turn people off to their cause, I'm thinking he's exactly the kind of Republican they're trying to distance themselves from or silence. He's clearly a racist...Here's a tip. If you ever see anyone trying to justify clearly racist behavior - like automatically reacting negatively to a photo of a black person - that person is racist.

It's just like Andrew Sullivan when he goes on and on about how the Bell Curve guys were right all along. He wants to demonstrate that it's "okay" to think that black people are inferior. That there is scientific evidence to support this claim. That's all Dafy's doing here. He's trying to use tortured logic to make it seem like there's a good, solid, empirical reason to dislike blacks. There isn't.

Natasha Fatale

Sometimes, American pop culture feels like a John Waters movie. Like the cast of Pink Flamingos, our celebrities are in a race to the bottom. Who can have the most depraved "fall from grace" of all time.

First, Michael Jackson is accused of molesting kids. Then, Paula Poundstone is accused of adopting kids and then beating the crap out of them. Then, R. Kelly is videotaped urinating on a kid and causing a midget to defoul himself.

And now, Slums of Beverly Hills star and noted crack addict Natasha Lyonne is wanted by the police for threatening to sexually abuse her neighbor's dog. Do we have a winner?

Lyonne is facing a number of charges, including her alleged threat to sexually molest her former neighbor's dog during a 2004 altercation. She is also charged with criminal mischief, harassment and trespassing.

The Superficial rightly questions what kind of mind could think up this sort of threat. "What's the best way to communicate my anger in this situation? I know! I'll threaten to stick something up their beloved pet's anus!"

I'd add to this query another, related one. What kind of person calls the police after their neighbor threatens to touch their dog inappropriately? If someone said to me, "Hey, shut the hell up or I'll suck off your dog," my reaction wouldn't be to alert the authorities. After about 12 hours, once I finally stopped laughing, I'd probably write about it on the blog and that would be that.

I'm not going to take that sort of threat seriously. I'd suspect the actual dog-molesters don't go around declaring their intention to molest dogs. They just go for it when no one's looking.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

One of Those Rare Cases In Which I Hope I'm Wrong

I really hope I was too hasty in judging Sam Alito. Hopefully, every analysis I read that explained how his staunch conservatism would pervade his decisions was inaccurate, had mischaracterized a responsible, fair judge as a mindless ideologue. Seriously, if I'm wrong on this one, I'll happily admit it and rethink my whole take on the Supreme Court and the nominating and confirmation process.

Alito made his first decision as a Justice today, and it seems he went against his supposedly like-minded colleagues to...get this...provide a death-row inmate with a stay of execution!

Alito, handling his first case, sided with inmate Michael Taylor, who had won a stay from an appeals court earlier in the evening. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported lifting the stay, but Alito joined the remaining five members in turning down Missouri's last-minute request to allow a midnight execution.

Way to go, Alito! Hard to tell from just a brief news snippet, but in choosing not to kill this guy, he seems to me to be on the right side of this one. (And honestly, if Clarence Thomas thinks it's a terrible idea, it's more than likely the right thing to do.)

If You've Got a Fish On Your Car and You Don't Clean Aquariums for a Living...You Might be a Fundie Idiot

Before I read this post by Amanda at Pandagon, I assumed the wacky religious nutjobs had 2 major concerns about the content of American school textbooks:

(1) They want only abstinance taught in Health Classes, as opposed to any practical sex education.

(2) They want Creationism presented as a reasonable alternative to Evolution, even though it posits that an invisible bearded man fashioned the world out of clay.

Now, regrettably, I see that there are many, many planks to the Radical Christian Campaign Agin' Fancy Book Learnin'. It's actually a rather insidious attempt to indoctrinate new members into the Vast Evangelical Circle-Jerk that now passes for an American Culture, to brainwash children from an early age.

Here's my question...If you know that, in order to sustain your beliefs through the next generation, that you have to manipulate the information you give children...Isn't that basically like admitting to yourself that you believe a bunch of unprovable nonsense?

For example, what if you were to say "Children should be taught that only those raised in a stable, two-parent household can grow up to be normal, healthy, complete and successful people." Everyone knows that this isn't the case...That, despite the disadvantages of not having a spouse around, sometimes single parents do a marvelous job and raise brilliant, amazing young people. So, if you feel that you have to lie to kids in order to get them to agree with you...well, what's the point? Why bother filling the next generation's head with lies? Just for your own personal comfort, so you'll know that, after your dead, everyone will still go on hating Teh Gheys?

Anyway, Amanda links to this site and...I I had no idea this kind of ludicrocity was out there. This couple, Mel and Norma Gabler, have been fighting for 45 years to change the way Texas textbooks teach children. And if any of you are in the field of education, you'll know that because of Texas' size and population, and according importance to the publishing industry, the standards used for Texas textbooks are often applied nation-wide. (Mel died last year at the age of 90, but Norma keeps his spirit alive by continuing to spread a message of intolerance and sexual repression to children everywhere!)

Among their great successes are forcing Texas schools to include a definition of marriage as exclusively "between a man and a woman." Because, you know, Texans weren't quite hateful enough towards gay people in the Gabler's estimation. They looked around and saw occasional homophobia and subtle discrimination and said...I think Texas can do better!

So, yeah, evil old hateful assholes. Texas has 10 million of them. Blah blah blah.

What's interesting to me is how far they want the State textbooks to go in advancing their bizarre, ultra-right wing social agenda. This is not some "add in a sentence against gay people and we'll be quiet." They want to completely brainwash the youth of America, using state-sponsored education as a way to drill into the brains of children ideas both factually inaccurate and downright anti-American. It's disgusting.

Let's take a look at the Gabler's suggested High School World History curriculum. It doesn't so much suggest specific items for study (probably because no one involved with the Gabler's "Education Resource Analysts" company knows what would comprise a high school World History class syllabus) as suggest ways to make History Class more racist.

This is the sum total of their suggestions for World History textbooks.

Prevent stereotypes of whites-as-oppressors and people-of-color-as-victims from slanting discussions of Western imperialism by noting that:

  • Some sub-Saharan African peoples practiced human sacrifice (e.g., Ashanti, Dahomey). The Aztecs and some other New World Indians engaged in cannibalism as well as human sacrifice.
  • In the Columbian exchange, infection was a two-way street. A very lethal strain of syphilis, probably from America, killed many Europeans in the early 1500s.
  • Only the Christian West realized slavery was wrong and took the lead in abolishing it.
    Manchu China was as culturally arrogant as the West. Chinese emperors viewed all foreign traders as barbarian bearers of tribute to whom they wished only to sell, not to buy, demanding payment in silver.
  • The West demanded “extraterritoriality” because Chinese justice assumed guilt until proven innocent, used torture to extract confessions, and held whole groups responsible for acts of single members.
  • British rule brought peace and a common language (English) to deeply divided India, ended or opposed suttee, infanticide, and child marriage there, improved Indian health, education, and transportation systems, and merely added another caste to the existing system.

Grossed out yet? You should be. In fact, if reading those bullet points doesn't make you physically ill, You Might Be a Fundie Idiot.

If you're in a World History class, and you start to view white people as cruel oppressors and people of color as victims, it doesn't mean your a Politically Correct stereotyper. It means you can fucking read. If a 16 year old handed in his final essay, and the only text in the paper read "White Europeans went all over the world and fucked everything up for everyone forever," he should get, bare minimum, a B.

That's not stereotyping. That's not reverse-racism. That's "history." Your class is named that for a reason. If you want, instead, to focus on White People as the savoirs of the dirty, uncivilized foreigners, there's already a class for that. We call it "creative writing."

Also, this paragraph is too hilarious for words:

The West demanded “extraterritoriality” because Chinese justice assumed guilt until proven innocent, used torture to extract confessions, and held whole groups responsible for acts of single members.

I mean, can you imagine? Judging an individual based on the acts of others of his same race? Arresting people and detaining them without charges or the promise of a fair trial? Using torture to extract confessions and obtain information? WHEN WILL THESE CRAZY ASIANS LEARN?

Okay, okay, one more...Here are the Gabler Guidelines for high school American Literature courses.

Story content should present:
  • A universe that rewards virtue and punishes vice, where good and evil are not moral equivalents, and where problems have solutions
  • Behavioral role models that demonstrate civility, sensitivity, humaneness, and non-destructiveness
  • Generally positive attitudes toward, and relations among, children, parents, and others
  • Sensitive treatment of benefits to children of strong, stable, two-parent families
  • Equal stress on Europe’s literary, religious, and cultural heritage compared to other regions
  • Equal criticism of white and non-white cultures, and of Christian and non-Christian civilizations
  • As much note of intra-group conflict as of inter-group strife
  • Proportional representative selections from pre-1900 eras and genres, for a sense of literary history
  • Diverse views on current controversial issues, when raised (e.g., "global warming," feminism, naturalistic origins myths like evolution)
  • Standard spelling, correct grammar, and grade-level appropriate English vocabulary
  • No sensational violence, offensive language or illustrations, occultism, or deviant lifestyles (e.g., homosexuality)
  • No pattern of pejoratives stigmatizing one group and superlatives idealizing another
  • No politically-correct stereotypes of oppressors and/or victims by race, class, or gender

These are some crazy, deviant people. I mean, who is supposed to be judging this stuff? "Pattern of pejoratives stigmatizing one group and superlatives idealizing another"? You mean...any two groups? What if you're reading The Diary of Anne Frank?

"No sensational violence"? Well, in Where the Red Fern Grows, a beloved novel read by several generations, at this point, of young Americans, includes a scene where a boy falls on an axe and bleeds to death. I read that book as a young adult, and that scene had an impact on me (obviously, as I still remember it today). But I'd say it was a positive impact. Because, you know, random violent things do happen.

Also, occultism is a very odd word to insert there. I'm guessing it means no Harry Potter, because the wacko Christians hate Harry Potter, because they think it teaches kids about black magic and witchcraft. Seriously! If you've ever seen that documentary, Hell House, there's a hilarious scene where a teacher tries to explain to an assistant why Harry Potter and Magic: The Gathering are evil. He has to keep rewording his argument because you sense even this incredibly stupid man has started to realize how silly he sounds. It's awesome.

But, aside from attempts like this to (no pun intended) whitewash American history and clean up literature being generally disgusting and inappropriate, they're also going to be wholly ineffective. Because this view of the world is just false. It's based on lies, and kids are going to realize that, so they're just going to stop listening to anything anyone at school tells them. If that's what you want, go ahead...keep bullshitting kids.

Oh, and before I give up on this sorry subject, here's a few more of the titular Jeff Foxworthy-inspired "Fundie Idiot" jokes...

If you've ever quoted Jerry Falwell in the course of everyday might be a Fundie Idiot

If you refer to viewing "The 700 Club" as "watching my stories" might be a Fundie Idiot

If you spent more last year on "WWJD"-themed merchandise than you did on car might be a Fundie Idiot

If a Jars of Clay CD found its way on to the stereo at the last party you might be a Fundie Idiot

If you reject the Left Behind books as too soft on the might be a Fundie Idiot

If your first thought upon reading this post was, "I bet he's one of them hook-nosed Christ Killers" might be a Fundie Idiot

If your house contains more than 3 pictures of Jesus that weren't painted during the might be a Fundie Idiot

If you consider Mel Gibson and Scott Stapp to be the Leading Voices of their might be a Fundie Idiot

Slightly More Reliable Music News

Last week, I ran with this totally bogus fake Photoshopped Coachella Line-up, and spent a few hundred works talking about how great the theoretical concert would be, while simultaneously getting all of my indie-rock-aware friends and family members excited for a fictional show.

Hey, give me a break, it's the blogsophere. Hoaxes happen. This blog is still more accurate than any of Deborah Howell's columns, and she's a freaking ombudsman!

Anyway, that line-up was totally fake, but now Consumption Junction has posted a real line-up, and it seems significantly more accurate. If only because, while still really cool, the line-up is not as cosmically awesome as the Photoshopped version. Which is, I suppose, inevitable.

Saturday, April 29th

Depeche Mode, Franz Ferdinand, Sigur Ros, Common, Damian Marley, Atmosphere, Carl Cox, My Morning Jacket, Ladytron , Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Tosca, Cat Power, Animal Collective, HARD-fi, Derrick Carter, Devendra Banhart, She Wants Revenge, The Walkmen, The Juan Maclean, Audio Bullys, Imogen Heap, Lady Sovereign, Deerhoof, The Duke Spirit, Editors, stellastarr*, Lyrics Born, Matt Costa, The New Amsterdams, The Zutons, Platinum Piped Pipers, White Rose Movement, Chris Liberator, Colette, Joey Beltram, Hybrid, Wolfmother, The Like, Living Things, Nine Black Alps, The Section Quartet, Infadels, Youth Group, Shy FX & T Power, Infusion.Sunday,

April 30th

Tool, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bloc Party, Paul Oakenfold, Scissor Sisters, Matisyahu, James Blunt, TV on the Radio, Sleater-Kinney , Mogwai, Coheed and Cambria, Gnarls Barkley, Coldcut, Phoenix, Digable Planets, Amadou & Mariam, Little Louie Vega, Mylo (DJ Set), Seu Jorge, Wolf Parade, The Go! Team, Kaskade, Metric, Art Brut, Dungen, The Dears, Jamie Lidell, The Magic Numbers, Los Amigos Invisibles, Jazzanova, Michael Mayer, Mates of State, Gilles Peterson, Gabriel & Dresden, The Subways, Minus the Bear, Be Your Own Pet, Giant Drag, Kristina Sky, The Octopus Project.

I knew the Ween inclusion was too good to be true! And no Strokes or Okkervil River or Portishead or White Stripes or Secret Machines or New Pornographers or Sufjan, either. Though I'm not a huge fan of headliner Tool, there are still enough other bands playing that I want to see on Day 2 (Magic Numbers, Bloc Party, Sleater-Kinney, Wolf Parade) that I'll at least have to go to that one.

Interestingly, there are some great choices that didn't even make the Photoshopped version, like TV on the Radio and Gnarls Barkley. And...does that say "Digable Planets"? Sweet!

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

Thanks to Tbogg for pointing me towards this list of the 100 Best Opening Lines From Novels. Predictably, #1 is "Call me Ishmael," from Moby Dick, but there's lots of unexpected surprises. One of my favorite novels, and the inspiration for the title of this blog, Notes from Underground clocks in at #31:

31. I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. —Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (1864; trans. Michael R. Katz)

Here are some of my other favorites that showed up on the list:

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

My friend Dave has the first several passages to this novel memorized, and will recite them for you while intoxicated.

17. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

This line horrified me as a high school student. "Oh Lord," I thought, "is this entire book going to be gobbledegook like this?"

30. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. —William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

38. All this happened, more or less. —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

59. It was love at first sight. —Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

64. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

If they were doing all time best Closing Lines from Novels, Gatsby would be #1. Or possibly Tale of Two Cities. But more likely, Gatsby. If I was better-read, I might try to make up that list myself.

Reading this sort of thing always makes me feel like a dunce. I've read barely any of the books on the list's second half. I suppose it would be a good way to find out recommendations of classic novels that maybe aren't the most famous books. If, unlike me, you had time for novels amidst all the film-viewing and blogging.

I Turn My Camera On

I've had this cell phone with the camera for a few weeks now. Initially, I imagined I'd be taking photos for the blog all the time. Finally, I could really add an authentic visual element to the blog! Lacking a copy of Photoshop, it's the least I can do to take some photos, right?

Unfortunately, it's hard to get pictures. Not that I don't see amusing things from time to time. But to have to reach for a camera, aim and make sure the lighting is right...It's difficult. Plus, even though I found out how to turn off the loud "shutter sound" that my phone made, it's hard to be inconspicuous when taking a photo of, say, a silly video store customer. People can usually tell when you're aiming a phone at them, particularly if they're presently involved in an activity that will make them look stupid, like showing their buttcrack to everyone while bending over to reach for a low-lying $4.98 copy of Taking Lives out of the Bargain Bin.

Suffice it to say, I don't have any great photos yet. Nothing classic. Nothing that will set all the other blogs afire with its pure concentrated hilarity. I'm trying to get some midget strippers to light themselves on fire, cause midgets + pyromania = web traffic, but it hasn't quite come together yet. Stay tuned.

But that's no reason not to share the mundane photos I've taken these past few weeks, right? I mean, I have to blog about something, right? RIGHT?

This first picture kind of breaks the bloggy fourth-wall a bit. You're all going to actually get a good, clear look at my plump, balding, unshorn visage. That's right...I know there's some rumors circulating around town that this blog is secretly penned by Zach Braff as kind of a delicious inside joke/writerly exercize, but I think this picture, taken in the flourescent lighting of a public restroom, will finally reveal the whole truth.

Why was I taking a photo of myself in a public restroom? Well, I had this new phone...

I actually kind of think it's a cool photo. Like if I was starring in a European music video.

And, yes, my hair always looks like that. I wash it every day, and yet by around noon, I begin to look like a transient who hasn't had access to a shower since the Reagan Administration. Just another one of nature's cruel jokes.

Here we see a customer, blurry enough that I can show them without fear of violating anyone's anonymity. In case any of you were worried.

That's basically what I see all day. Just imagine that, but add in some box-packing and data-entry, and you've basically got an idea about 40 hours of my week.

Here's the odd mural behind the veterinarian's office down the street.

I mean, okay, I get it...Role-reversal...A dog brings their human in to the cat doctor for a check-up. It's just kind of...I don't know...strange. Creepy. I think it's the expression on the dude. It kind of gives me the creeps. Also, it totally sucks that the little dog says I'm not allowed to park there, because I keep getting tickets for parking on the street.

In my estimation, this last photo is the best I've yet taken with the cell phone camera. It's just Pico Boulevard at night.

Kind of simulates the feeling of being drunk on Pico Blvd. Maybe not the most pleasurable of all possible scenarios to recreate...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Crash This!

So, the Oscar nominations have been announced, and they are pretty strange. Though, as usual, some movies pop up in all sorts of categories (Brokeback leads the way with 8 nominations), it's actually surprisingly diverse. Major nominations went out to smaller films that wouldn't normally score a lot of end-of-the-year rememberances, like Transamerica and Crash and Junebug and Mrs. Henderson Presents.

Here's a rundown of the major categories:


Good Night and Good Luck
Brokeback Mountain

I'm surprised to see Capote in here. It's a good film, it got a lot of attention during the year, PSH does a great job of not only embodying Capote but showing us a side of his personality behind his famously squeaky voice...But the movie's no Best Picture. It's a remake of In Cold Blood that adds in some new insights, but doesn't begin to translate the quiet power of that earlier film.

And, of course, I'm excited to see Munich, my favorite film of 2005, nominated and distressed to see Paul Haggis' Crash in there. When was the last time my least-favorite film of the year was nominated for an Oscar? 2002, when Beautiful Mind was not only nominated, but took home the prize!

My prediction: Brokeback will win this and many other awards at the Oscars, as it seems the only movie all of Hollywood can get together and agree upon this year. I think it's because choosing the movie is a political statement (I dislike George Bush and conservatives) without saying anything specific that you can be called out on later (the movie, after all, is just about two guys in love).

Who should win: Munich is the best movie of this year, but I would be fine with seeing Brokeback or Good Night and Good Luck take the prize. All three were significant achievements.


George Clooney, Good Night and Good Luck
Bennett Miller, Capote
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Steven Spielberg, Munich
Paul Haggis, Crash

Haggis? Are you fucking people kidding me?

Again, this crop is a mixed bag. I'm thrilled to see Steve-o in there, but Bennett Miller for Capote? This is also where we first begin to realize that Match Point is going to be the official Overlooked Movie for 2005. Bennett Miller scores a nomination for Capote, and Woody doesn't get one?

Also, legendary director David Cronenberg's A History of Violence won noms in a lot of other categories, and he received the National Society of Film Critics Award and the Online Film Critics Award for the film, and even though he's never won an Oscar before, he didn't score a nomination. No, hey, but Paul Haggis...That creepy Canadian Scientologist and his bogus shrill sermonizing...He's more worthy, right!

My prediction: Ang Lee will take the award as part of a run by Brokeback Mountain, making up for 2001, when he won the DGA Award for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but then lost out on the Oscar to Steven Soderbergh.

Who should win: Spielberg. Or, since he's already won a few times, I'll say the unnominated Woody Allen, David Cronenberg, George Lucas, Jim Jarmusch or Christopher Nolan.


Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
David Strathairn, Good Night, And Good Luck
Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow

This is a great crop of nominations. I really enjoyed all five of these performances. I'm particularly glad to see that Terrence Howard, who we all knew would get a nomination, is up for his far superior work in the far superior Hustle & Flow instead of Crash. And no Russell Crowe for Cinderella Man, a film that with the exception of Paul Giamatti's Supporting Actor nod, is blissfully out of the running for major awards! Huzzah!

My prediction: Before today, I would have said Joaquin Phoenix for his take on Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. But now...with Capote getting all these's obvious that a lot of Academy members liked the film more than I anticipated. Plus, PSH won the SAG Award and the Golden Globe...and he hasn't won before...Okay, I'm convinced. Hoffman will get it for playing Truman Capote.

Who should win: As I said, I would be happy to see any of these guys win. Great performances all around.


Charlize Theron, North Country
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents
Keira Knightley, Pride and Prejudice

Oddly, though I have busted my ass to see as many 2005 movies as possible, I have seen only one film out of these five nominations. Big surprise: No Maria Bello for A History of Violence. Bigger surprise: Friggin' Keira Knightley? I haven't seen Pride & Prejudice, but really? She's usually so wooden!

My prediction: Reese for Walk the Line, the only one of these films I, or the majority of Oscar voters, have seen.

Who should win: Kind of hard for me to say...


William Hurt, A History of Violence
George Clooney, Syriana
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
Matt Dillon, Crash
Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain

It is exceptionally cool that Academy members remembered and singled out William Hurt for A History of Violence. Ed Harris would have been the more obvious pick from the film, but Hurt comes in late in the film and really just DOMINATES the Third Act. It's an incredibly powerful, funny turn that represents the best, most lively and interesting work he's done in a long time. (Interesting, too, that George Clooney is nominated for his work in Syriana, playing a character who mainly interacts in the film with...William Hurt.)

Why is Jake Gyllenhaal considered a "supporting actor" and Heath Ledger just an "actor." I understand that the film, particularly towards the end, is told from Ennis' point of view, but arguably Jack and Ennis are both the film's protagonists and share the bulk of the screentime equally. Seems unfair, like a way to nominate them both without them cancelling one another out.

My prediction: This is a tough category. Except for Hurt, who has little chance in my estimation of winning, everyone has a compelling argument. Clooney won the Golden Globe. Giamatti won the SAG Award and has been great in movies for years now without winning. Dillon just won a SAG Award along with the rest of the Crash ensemble, and has never won a big award despite a long career in filmmaking. They love stories like this at the Oscars, guys who bummed around in a variety of films for years and then finally got the one part that shows everyone what they can do and blah blah blah. Finally, Gyllenhaal could totally get in there as part of a broader Brokeback sweep.

But I'm going to go ahead and guess Clooney, who won the Golden Globe and who hurt his back filming Syriana and who probably won't win anything big for Good Night and Good Luck, meaning this would be a good way to get him up on stage and give him an award.


Frances McDormand, North Country
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Amy Adams, Junebug
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Catherine Keener, Capote

No Scarlett Johnasson for Match Point? That's it...I call shenanigans on this entire awards season.

Also, I thought Anne Hathaway was just as effective as Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain, and it's odd to me that Williams so clearly had more champions heading into Oscar season.

And finally, I just don't understand this Rachel Weisz in Constant Gardener thing. Putting aside the fact that, though incredibly beautiful, I've never thought Weisz was very interesting on-screen, she's not really in very much of the film and makes an impression more because of the startling, busy technique Mereilles uses for his "flashback sequences." The one scene that's really calm and focused on the acting - the opening sequence where she and Fiennes meet and flirt after a lecture - is pretty awkward, actually.

Also, though she's pretty good in her few scenes, Keener's not enough of a major presence in Capote to warrant this nomination. This is just one of those cases where it's clear a lot of voters really liked that movie and wanted to give it awards for stuff.

My prediction: Out of these nominees, Weisz strikes me as the heavy favorite.

Who should win: With Scarlett Jo out of the running, I'll have to go with Michelle Williams for Brokeback or Amy Adams in Junebug. No real preference between the two.


Josh Olson, A History of Violence
Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain
Dan Futterman, Capote
Jeffrey Caine, The Constant Gardener
Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Munich

More solid picks. This is a pretty strong field. I continue to be befuddled by the success of Capote. Was it really so memorable and smart and thought-provoking? I'll definitely have to revisit the film on DVD when it comes out in March, because I must have missed something.

Also, Jeffrey Caine's Constant Gardener script was pretty flat. Even if you liked the film, I would think it's the revved-up intensity of the direction and theexcellent Ralph Fiennes perfrmance that would have won you over, rather than the often-pedestrian writing.

My prediction: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, as part of a larger Brokeback sweep, garnering Best Picture, Director and Screenplay.

Who should win: Tony Kushner and Eric Roth for their powerful, authentic, subtle and dizzyingly detailed Munich script. And it's not easy for me to suggest Eric Roth receive an Oscar, because he's the man responsible for the Forrest Gump screenplay, okay? Also, it's awesome that Laser Blazer customer Josh Olson scored a nom for his terrific A History of Violence screenplay. I'd be perfectly contented seeing him win.


Stephen Gaghan, Syriana
Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco, Crash
George Clooney and Grant Heslov, Good Night, And Good Luck.
Woody Allen, Match Point
Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale

So, really, it's Concellation Prize. Hey, your film won't be otherwise recognized tonight, but we're giving you this Oscar to let you know we think you're really special. So the only question is, which film will everyone feel bad about not otherwise honoring?

My prediction: I can't believe it has come to this...I believe, in March of this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will award Paul Haggis an Oscar for his screenplay for Crash. The film probably won't win anything else, and it's a big popular favorite, so they'll want to give it something. And the Best Original Screenplay will probably be that something. (Bearing in mind...There's a chance that Crash will pull a massive upset and get Best Picture, but even if this happens, it will still probably get Best Original Screenplay.)

Who should win: Woody's script for Match Point was the year's best, hands down.


Mike Hill and Dan Hanley, Cinderella Man
Claire Simpson, The Constant Gardener
Hughes Winborne, Crash
Michael Kahn, Munich
Michael McCusker, Walk the Line

My prediction: Michael Kahn, who has been cutting Steven's films since the 70's, will win for Munich.

Who should win: Michael Kahn for Munich.


March of the Penguins
Darwin's Nightmare
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Street Fight

Those fucking penguins got a nomination and Grizzly Man didn't even make the shortlist of finalists. I'm therefore boycotting even giving you my picks for this category.


Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
Howl's Moving Castle

I've only seen Corpse Bride out of the contenders, and Best Animated Film it ain't. So I'll reserve judgement until I get to check out the other two in the coming months on DVD. I'll only ask this: considering that the bulk of the film Sin City was, in fact, animated, is it eligible for Best Animated Film? It was only live actors inserted into animation. Wouldn't saying Sin City is live action because it has real actors be like saying that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a cartoon, because it has animated characters?


Dean Wright, Bill Westenhofer, Jim Berney and Scott Farrar - The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Joe Letteri, Brian Van't Hul, Christian Rivers and Richard Taylor - King Kong
Dennis Muren, Pablo Helman, Randy Dutra and Daniel Sudick - War of the Worlds

I knew this would happen. No nomination for Star Wars: Episode III. I mean, did any of these films have so many effects shots? Every single shot in Star Wars was an effects shot. And General Greivous was an incredibly-realized character. Now, I agree that King Kong had a lot of amazing visuals, and that War of the Worlds was incredibly sleek and well-designed and cool. But to not even nominate Lucas' masterpiece in this category is pretty egregious.

My prediction: I think Narnia will win this category, in recognition of its huge box office and popularity during the holiday season.
Who should win: Out of these nominees, I'd give it to War of the Worlds. But I think it should be Star Wars.


Paradise Now (Palestine)
Joyeux Noel (France)
Tsotsi (South Africa)
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Germany)
Don't Tell (Italy)

I haven't seen any of these, but word on the street is that Tsotsi rules. They may give it to the Palestinian film as a gesture, or deny it to the Palestinian film for the same reason. So it's kind of hard to call.


'In the Deep' - Music by Kathleen 'Bird' York and Michael Becker; Lyrics by Kathleen 'Bird' York, Crash
'Hard Out Here for a Pimp' - Music & Lyrics by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard, Hustle & Flow
'Travelin' Thru' - Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton, Transamerica

Hustle & Flow pulled the nomination. Awesome. I figured "Whoop That Trick" would get it, but this might be the overall better song ayway. Who will perform it on Oscar night? Ludacris? Terrence Howard as DJay? Anythony Anderson and DJ Qualls? There would be something almost surreally awesome about him going on stage in a wifebeater and rapping "Hard Out Here for a Pimp," and then later going on stage to collect his Best Actor trophy, no? Beat that, Jamie Foxx!

My prediction: I'm sure they'd love to give an award to crusty old Dolly Parton. But I honestly have no idea.

Who should win: Hustle & Flow all the way.


John Williams, Memoirs of a Geisha
John Williams, Munich
Gustavo Santaolalla, Brokeback Mountain
Alberto Iglesias, The Constant Gardener
Dario Marianelli, Pride and Prejudice

No nomination for James Newton Howard/Hans Zimmer for Batman Begins? That was my favorite score of the year. At least Mark Isham's awful, pseudo-Middle Eastern Crash BS didn't make the cut. That and Marco Beltrami's ridiculously over-the-top Red Eye music were my least-favorite of the year's scores.

My prediction: Gustavo Santaolalla, Brokeback Mountain

Who should win: Yeah, I'll go with Gustavo. The Brokeback music is really serene and melancholy and graceful. I liked it a lot.


Wally Pfister, Batman Begins
Rodrigo Prieto, Brokeback Mountain
Robert Elswit, Good Night, And Good Luck.
Dion Beebe, Memoirs of a Geisha
Emmanuel Lubezki, The New World

Holy shit, Batman Begins got nominated! That's awesome! Way to go, Wally! But...wait...No Munich? What in the...If Munich was only going to get one nomination, I would have thought "cinematography." Are you kidding? That thing was goddamn amazing! How it evoked the 70's, and how the violence was so grisly and unsparing, and the contrasts between different cities and countries...Kaminski, you was robbed!

My prediction: I think Prieto takes it as part of the Brokeback juggernaut. But Lubezki wouldn't be a bad bet, if they feel like throwing something at Malick and The New World. I also think Elswit's beautiful black-and-white work for Good Night has a shot.

Who should win: Much as I'd love to see a major award for my favorite Batman movie ever...I think Good Night and Good Luck was the best-looking black and white film in a long time, at least since the Coen Brother's Man Who Wasn't There, and maybe before.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Defeat-o Alito

Yikes. I have a very bad feeling about our chances against this Judge Alito character. It's not looking good. Even some of the Democrats who are supporting the fillibuster are saying that it's essentially a lost cause. All over the blogsophere, people are arguing with clarity and force that the Senate should reject the nomination of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court.

The problem is, this one's not up for an open vote. 100 Senators will make the call. And, as you've probably heard, 55 of them have sworn allegiance to El Chimpancé Presidente-Por-Vida, George W. Bush. So, they'll do whatever he says. If Dick Cheney went on Meet the Press next week and suggested that it might behoove Republican Senators to light their genitals on fire, every burn unit in Washington would start stocking extra gauze.

Even so, Republicans would need 60 votes to override a fillibuster and force a vote. That means that the Democrats could actually defeat veto if they were all on the same page. They're not. Some of these rat bastards are siding with the enemy. Can you believe Ken Salazar from Colorado is voting for Alito? The guy just got elected! Doesn't the White House have enough cabana boys at this point?

Come on, this guy's obviously just trying to suck up to the President. First he's refusing to support a fillibuster of Altio, and now he's dressing like Randolph Scott for photos. Seriously, dude, a bolo tie? Even Hank Hill would find that outfit gauche.

[Thanks to my personal favorite political blog, Firedoglake, for the picture of Salazar there.]

Here's what it comes down to...Under normal circumstances, I would probably agree with the centrist Democrats who don't want to make a big, pointless show of fillibustering Alito when he's just going to be confirmed anyway. You pick your battles, you don't want to seem like obstructionists who play politics, yada yada yada. It seems to make pragmatic sense to just let this one slide and focus on getting more Democrats in Congress later this year.

But this thinking is incorrect in the case of Alito for two reasons:

(1) As Sen. Barack Obama rightly pointed out on ABC's This Week, Alito's views differ sharply from the views of the majority of Americans when it comes to basic issues that will face the Supreme Court. Issues like abortion rights, the right to privacy and the authority of the Executive in times of war. This isn't just some legal issue about technicalities of Senate procedure or "up and down votes." This is a guy Bill Frist has called "the liberal Democrat's worst nightmare." Unfortunately for most Americans, they mainly agree with liberal Democrats on this stuff, whether they know it or not.

(2) Geoffrey Stone writes about this second point more eloquently than I can on the Huffington post. You should check out his comments about Alito. Basically, he says, and I concur, that Alito is a particularly bad justice for the present time, because he is beholden to a president who has demonstrated time and again a desire to amass executive power while increasing secrecy, as well as a pointed refusal to respect the rule of law.

Just one of these situations would be bad enough. I wouldn't want a justice who tends to defer to the president in all cases, and I wouldn't want a president determined to override precedent in a variety of bizarre, outlandish power grabs of questionable legality. But the combination of these two circumstances, what we'll have for the next 3 years if Alito is confirmed, is extraordinarily dangerous. I'd go so far as to call it toxic.

While you're over there at HuffPo, why not check out John Kerry's comments on the Alito matter. He's much easier to read than listen to, because you don't have to focus on how he creepily doesn't move his face while he talks.

Hot Steamy Widow Action

Here's how I'd break down the video store customer demographics:

60%: normals

These are the typical, everyday people who just want to rent or buy movies. Many of the "normals" work shitty jobs for big, important Hollywood types, and could give a shit less about renting movies in the first place. This category also includes families, which while annoying, don't fit into any of the other categories.

20%: the retarded and criminally insane

Though many pass for normal in the outside world, we retail employees are thankfully provided complete and full access to the deeply disturbing inner worlds of some of Los Angeles' leading lunatics. Today, we had a man call and say that he had purchased some movies from us weeks ago, opened all of them, not watched any of them, and now he'd like to return them all for a full refund. A few minutes later, a regular customer called to ask us directions to CostCo. Earlier, a diminutive man with massive eyebrows and a speech impediment lectured me for 20 minutes about his dislike for Tim Burton, and a confrontation he once had with Tim Allen.

5%: confused foreigners

We get a lot of odd Europeans in the store who wander about aimlessly before asking us about movies that either have not been released in America, or do not exist in any form, in any country, ever. When we don't have these films, they often get indignant.

"You don't have Le Chateau de Les Aus Reivers du Tout la Vie en Magnifique? But they had plenty of copies the last time I was in Mozambique!"

Also, contrary to popular American stereotypes, these European people do not stink of B.O. They stink of bad cologne. It's totally different.


Sad old men

It's a weird thing to be a relatively-young man and to work all day in a place filled with sad old men. It's like looking into a massively depressing time portal, like being the reverse-Wicked Queen from Snow White. "Who's the most egregiously overweight and unkempt of them all?"

We had one guy today...He's a regular, and he typifies this kind of customer, really. He's what I like to call a "Baskin-Robbins," which means he comes up to the counter and "orders" his rental movie, as if I'm just going to reach below the counter and magically produce the item he's been dreaming about. Instead, I'm just going to haul my ass down the aisle to find the box for whatever old movie he wants to see, because he's too lazy to do it for himself.

Anyway, today we were going through the usual routine, and the printer fucked up while releasing his receipt. This is not terribly shocking. The printers at the store fail more frequently than the control panel in Apollo 13. Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations have a considerably high success rate when compared to our printing operations.

But I digress. The printer messed up, and I said, "Oh, I'm sorry...I've got to reprint your receipt, it will be a second." This was a lie, really. It was going to take a bit more than a second. And I really wasn't sorry. Despite what the owner might say, it's not my fault the printers feed improperly on occasion.

"Don't worry about it," the guy said. "I've got nowhere to go."

I thought he was kidding, so I kind of chuckled. To be honest with you all, I kind of hate my "work" persona, the guy I become when I'm helping customers. I'm not "friendly," exactly. Oh, I can be, with people I don't mind helping, just as I would be if you encountered me in normal, day-to-day living. But with customers I don't like, I just get really passive. I defer. And that's what I did in this case...Normally, I'd be like, "What the hell are you talking about? You want to spend all day standing around here watiing for this idiot piece of paper?" But, I was working, and one wants to be professional. So, I chuckled.

This was the wrong response, because he kept going.

"I'm serious, I have nothing to do with myself all day. I watch movies. I listen to beautiful music."

"Hey, that's something," I replied. And that's not an actual lie. It is something. And that thing is "pathetic."

But what else am I to say in this situation? "Hey, come on, dude...You've got lots to look forward to. I mean...there's the funeral for your last remaining friend. That's gonna be good. And, um, hmmm...Eventually, they'll probably stick you in some kind of Home or something, which means Beef-a-roni on Thursdays, hot steamy widow action and all the Basic Cable you can watch. So, that shit ain't bad, right? Plus, prescription drug coverage! Let's go get us some Vicodin!"

I should have said, "Don't tell me your problems, jackass!" or something, because I'd rather have not even heard this next sentence. This next sentence is the one that's going to keep me up nights.

WARNING: If you are a younger person who does not have an extensive plan for the rest of your life that would prevent extreme sadness and loneliness in your later years, I'd highly recommend not reading this next sentence and going on to some happier, more optimistic post. Like something about the Avian flu or Jeb Bush's Presidential prospects.

"Some days," this customer said, "I just walk around department stores all day to pass the time."


Once, a few years ago, I was going to a wedding reception. Not an actual wedding, because this couple had eloped, but a party to celebrate their elope-itation, after the fact. I had some time to kill, so I went to a department store in Beverly Hills to get the my gift (martini and margarita glasses!) wrapped up all nice.

While I waited for the gift-wrappers, I had about 20 minutes to blow, so I moseyed around the store. I have never been more goddamn bored in my entire life. I ended up having to walk down one of the side streets off of Wilshire to find a coffee place (finding instead an overpriced French bakery) just to knock off the last 5 minutes or so. That's how boring it was in there.

So, before you go feeling all sorry for this guy, remember that walking around a department store is perhaps the lamest, most pathetic way to pass your time imaginable. This guy has two functioning feet, he manages to get into the video store under his own power. Go get a job, or volunteer somewhere. Something! The very existence of a sadsack like this guy makes me depressed!

So, for the benefit of Sad Little Larry Shoes and any other lonely, pear-shaped men with time to kill, I proudly present CRUSHED BY INERTIA'S TOP TEN BETTER WAYS TO SPEND YOUR RETIREMENT YEARS THAN WANDERING AROUND DEPARTMENT STORES

10. Write an insightful memoir, except instead of talking about sitting on your ass watching movies, write about how you kicked drugs all on your own while doing hard time and bleeding out of every orifice.

9. Start a new career in the adult film industry. Not as on-screen talent, obviously. Just some boring behind-the-scenes job. Then, the next time you're randomly in a conversation with some stranger in line at the bank, and they ask what you do for a living, you can say, "I'm the Executive Vice-President in Charge of Communication Services and Outreach Programs for Pump My Asshole Raw Entertainment." I'm going to go ahead and assume that's extremely satisfying.

8. Become a coke mule. You think DEA agents are going to suspect some fat old guy?

7. Go to Wyoming, apply for summer work herding sheep, see what develops.

6. Visit every Starbucks on Earth. (Oh, shit, some other idiot thought of that one already.)

5. Enlist. They probably wouldn't put your doughy ass on the front lines, but we're in the middle of a recruitment crisis. They'd find a place for you somewhere.

4. Join the liberal conspiracy. Each day, work to undermine traditional morality by punching pregnant women in the stomach, marrying gay people without a license and beating the shit out of any child who attempts to pray in public.

3. Continue to wander around department stores, but do it wearing nothing but a cock sock!

2. Start huffing gasoline. You know, just to see what all the fuss is about.

1. Donate your body to science. Then fucking kill yourself.