Saturday, February 11, 2006

Dakota Fanning's Eerie Floating Head

First up, Retrocrush has an awesome collection of Polish movie posters. Unlike American movie advertisements, which tend to feature the floating, disembodied heads of movie stars looking approvingly over the film's setting...

Yeah, just like that. In this one, there's the additional, creepy element of Dakota Fanning looking out approvingly over herself walking with a horse. "Wow, I am doing a great job of walking around with that horse," says disembodied Dakota Fanning Head. "I wonder, if I hocked a loogie on myself from up here, whether I'd feel it on the back of my disembodied, floating neck?"

In Poland, they just hire artists to draw interpretations of the movie for the poster. Many of the posters come out extremely cool. I've seen this image for Rosemary's Baby before, and it's awesome...way better than the bland, greenish cover of the regular American DVD.

Totally sweet...Not a whole lot like the movie, but it captures the spirit of the enterprise a lot more than a mist-encircled baby carriage or whatever.

Some of the posters are spectacularly odd, and would provide people with an extremely warped, not at all accurate concept of the movie. Like, say, this poster for Robert Zemeckis' light-hearted romantic comic adventure Romancing the Stone.

Why do I think this artist might have only received a vague plot description before beginning work on his design? I mean, I get how it ties in to the film's plot, but still...inappropriate...In fact, there has not been a Danny DeVito movie yet for which this is a viable marketing image. Unless he finally signs the deal and agrees to become the new Pinhead, which of course we all hope he will.

Similarly off-putting and unassociated with the actual film being advertised is this Polish take on Weekend and Bernies. Please note the fact that this poster is horrifying and would lead a consumer to believe he or she was about to view a movie about an evil hand that goes around plucking out people's eyeballs and wearing them in necklace form, a la Dolph Lundgren and ears in Universal Soldier.

Maybe this poster was a public service. Perhaps, in Poland, that hand sign indicates extreme danger, and added to the presence of eyeballs, the overall meaning of the poster might translate as "don't watch this stupid Andrew McCarthy movie, lest your brain ooze out your ears and on to the dirt floor of this Polish movie theater."


In other movie news, the trailer for Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's follow-up to the significantly funny Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is online. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (...sigh...I don't like the name repetition thing) is the story of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby, played by Ferrell, who has a rivalry with a French driver played by Ali G. star and CBI personal hero Sacha Baron Cohen.

This all sounds promising, but from my perspective, the trailer is a real disappointment. The last little bit - with Ricky Bobby praying to all the gods he can think of in a moment of crisis - made me laugh, but other than that it seems really...well...dumb and obvious. I mean, making fun of NASCAR fans to begin with is setting your sights pretty low, but I'm honestly surprised at how desperate a lot of this material seems based on the trailer.

Hopefully, I'm wrong. Maybe the best bits from the movie are so crazy and outrageous that they couldn't work into a trailer. Or maybe Ferrell and Cohen (and co-star John C. Reilly as Ferrell's pit crew manager, or something) rise above the material to make the final product funny. But I'm more concerned than I was 10 minutes ago...

Into the Woodland Hills

On Monday, I start a new job as a researcher in Woodland Hills.

It's only a temporary thing, a three-week gig helping a TV producer prepare to pitch a new documentary series. So, I'll still be working weekends and off hours at Le Blaizir. How else would I get free movie rentals? Over the past year, I've developed something of an addict's dependency on readily-available, no-cost DVD's. If I had to pay $2 a pop for these things, not to mention late fees, I'd be bankrupt inside a week. It would be cheaper for me to simply take up smack as a way to pass my leisure time, rather than to rent all these movies.

Anyway, I'm not really sure exactly what it is that a researcher does. Oh, I get the gist of it. Researching stuff. I can do that. I'm just having a hard time visualizing a typical day in the life, you know what I mean? Will I go to this office and look shit up on the Internet all day? Will I go to the library? Do I have to go report back to this Woodland Hills office all the time?

I guess I'll find out on Monday, when I report to the office at 10 a.m. like a regular working person. Although I'll still get to wear jeans and a T-shirt, mercifully. I wouldn't even take a job that requiring dressing up every day, at this point. At 27, I'm set in my ways...I've given up on living a proper, respectable life like an adult human.

So that means a morning weekday freeway commute, a prospect that's like a grim death sentence in Los Angeles. I'd be more anxious to wake up Monday morning and put on a Guiness-record-sized beard of bees than get on the 405 North. The good news is, the majority of the traffic at that time of day is heading in the opposite direction as me - from the (not really) affordable housing in the Valley to cramped, poorly-lit cubicles in Los Angeles Proper. The bad news is, it will still take goddamn forever for me to get the 11 miles north to Woodland Hills.

I wouldn't even take the job if it required going South on the 405 at 10 in the morning. I'd probably be offended if some potential employer even suggested such a thing, without backing up the suggestion with at least a 7 figure salary. It'd be easier for me to get to Jupiter than Torrance by 10 a.m.

Think I'm exaggerating?

By the Texas Transportation Institute's reckoning, the cities having the worst traffic problems are:

1. Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Calif.
2. San Francisco, Oakland, Calif.
3. Washington, D.C.
4. Atlanta
5. Houston
6. Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Tex.
7. Chicago.
8. Detroit
9. Riverside, San Bernardino, Calif.
9. Orlando, Fla.
11. San Jose, Calif.
12. San Diego

Can I just ask...why does anyone live in Riverside, California? Talk about the worst place on Earth. You have all of L.A.'s traffic problems, all the smog that sits over Los Angeles in the morning gets pushed over to your community by mid-afternoon and there's nothing to do in your city but go to one of the local strip clubs that wasn't classy enough for the San Fernando Valley. Do you know how not classy you have to be to not be welcome in Chatsworth or Van Nuys?

In Riverside's favor, I will say that their local UC campus' mascot is the Highlander, which is a pretty badass mascot. Unfortunately, it's just some dippy bear in a kilt, and not an immortal guy wielding a sword. Missed opportunity, if you asked me.

Everybody's a Critic

You all remember Bill Bennett, right? He's the charming former Secretary of Education, Drug Czar and current loopy right-wing talk show host who recently suggested that aborting all black babies would be a good way to reduce the crime rate.

You may also recall the revelation that Bennett, who publicly opposes legal gambling and even wrote a book on morality in which he decries gambling as sinful, in truth had lost millions of dollars in Las Vegas as a high-stakes gambler.

So, yeah, he's a racist fool and hypocrite. But did you also know he was an amateur film reviewer?

Has anyone seen, does anyone know of, a movie depicting the war we are in now, the fight against the barbarians? We've had movies about the first Gulf war, and a morally ambiguous fiction about something or somewhere called Syriana--but anything about our over-four- year- old fight for civilization against the Islamist barbarians, based on fact? Anything? Anyone?

Props to Alicublog for catching this hilarity. Check out their response, which imagines Bennett going into a video store and asking this question. Funny stuff.

Bennett, in his lame attempt to attack Hollywood for somehow "ignoring" the War on Terror, only demonstrates his total lack of knowledge about film production and cinema history. One need only look to the Vietnam era to see how big studio movies tend to deal with the issues of the day without depicting them, head-on, for fear of being seen as insensitive or inappropriate.

Audiences don't want to see the grim reality of a news broadcast when they go see a movie. That's why, during and immediately after the actual Vietnam war, movies tended to either substitute other wars in place of Vietnam (like the Korean war film M.A.S.H.) or go totally allegorical (like Walter Hill's 1981 Southern Comfort). You didn't start seeing a lot of mainstream movies set in Vietnam until after the war.

Likewise, today we're seeing a lot of movies about paranoia, corruption, terrorism and technology. Because that's where we're at as a society. Only morons need everything spelled out plainly for them. Can't Bill Bennett see that, though Jarhead may take place during the first Gulf War, and Munich is set in the 70's, and Syriana isn't the actual name of a real place, that all of these films are dealing with the current War on Terror?

You sense Bennett won't be happy until we have the Hollywood of the 1940's again, with big studios urging people with each new picture to buy war bonds, support the president unquestioningly and enlist to go overseas and fight the evil, faceless enemy. After you see Bruce Willis and Josh Hartnett in Operation: Tikrit, you can proceed immediately to the lobby where recruiters will serve you hot buttered popcorn while they describe to you the many different ways you can nobly die for your country. But don't forget to return to your seat in time to catch the serial and the newsreel!

Also, I hadn't realized we declared war on the barbarians. Are they still sacking our border villages, burning the straw huts and kidnapping the womenfolk and the livestock? Can't we just call their heathen leader to our capital city, ply him with the gift of 20 gold coins and his choice of maiden from the king's harem and send his dark armies along to seek plunder from the Phoenicians or the Visigoths?


Mirrormask is a marvelous-looking film that's exceptionally dull. The world McKean and his animators have created - a child's doodle-pad come to bizarre life - contains all manner of imaginative, otherworldly design features, but also has no rules nor sense of space nor personality, really. As a piece of animation, it's a wonder. But it's not very exciting to watch.

It kind of reminds me of the early days of computer animation, when it was called 3D Animation and consisted of trippy, alinear shorts shown on late-night cable TV and backed up with industrial music.

Fifteen-year old Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) hates working at the circus run by her parents. She spends her days working on her drawings and ignoring the fact that she lives in a trailer next to a Big Top. When her mother (Gina McKee) collapses during the show and is rushed to the hospital, Helena has a dream that she enters the world of her drawings, a land split between Light and Darkness.

It's kind of like The Neverending Story, except that film gave its hero (Bastian) a real quest, with a definite conclusion and a clear enemy. Helena just kind of wanders around this bizarre fantasyland, in kind of an aimless fashion.

She meets a peculiar man in a mask (everyone in this world covers their face except Helena) named Valentine (Jason Barry) who serves as a guide, and together they bumble around exploring polygonal wonders.

Mirrormask has been described as a family film, and it's reliance on shiny visuals instead of any kind of human drama might appeal to the younger set more than adults, but it's a bit too creepy for kids. There are dogs with human faces on them, that yell and sneer at Helena. And spiders with large, googly eyeballs that spy for a Wicked Queen (also played by McKee). Also, there's an extremely creepy group of robots that sing The Carpenters' "Close to You," in what is surely one of 2005's most unsettling film sequences.

Mirrormask's trippy designs are the work of illustrator Dave McKean, and he does a great job at giving the film a unique look. The live-action scenes, as well, are innovatively shot with some measure of success, particularly a long zoom out through Helena's bedroom early on.

And the script is by Neil Gaiman, whose Sandman comics I have not read, but whose novels American Gods and Good Omens (written with Terry Prachett) I have long admired. I'm afraid its his script that falls down on the job here. Mirrormask is really obvious - we understand from the outset that Helena is dreaming, and that this world is composed of her drawings, even if she doesn't.

So, because it's all a dream, there's no rules to this world. Add to that the fact that Gaiman doesn't really bother to give Helena and Valentine anything to do, and you get one aimless, leisurely movie. Their search for an item called a Mirrormask, which will unite the two worlds and save the Good Queen (also played by McKee), comes up occasionally in conversation but doesn't ever really drive the story forward.

I kind of gave up on it after a while. The movie looks cool, but it wasn't really even trying to entertain me. Just bedazzle me with crazy visuals. Meh.


To get a quick idea of the sensation of spending 2 hours with Elizabethtown, try to visualize the following scenario. You're at a very long memorial service for a stranger. Some obnoxious DJ keeps playing songs at high volumes at inappropriate intervals. There are a lot of treacly speeches about the meaning of life. At one point, Susan Sarandon gets up on a stage and does some ribald stand-up comedy followed by a tap dancing act. And the entire time, you're seated next to this chirpy blonde girl who won't shut the fuck up for two seconds.

This movie is an ugly, horrifying ordeal.

Cameron Crowe has lost his goddamn mind. He's never been my favorite director, though I enjoy Almost Famous. Mainly, I feel like his movies start well, but wind up fumbling on their way to overly-cheery endings. Like his characters pull him into the darkness, but he refuses to end a movie on anything other than an optimistic note, so the entire second and third acts are this futile, unsatisfying tug of war.

But Elizabethtown, a movie obsessed in its own right with failure, is surely Crowe's lamest outing yet. I can even say with some assurance that it will be his worst movie ever. It feels almost like something really gross he had to get out of his system before moving on, the culmination of every awful impulse and stupid idea he's ever had as a screenwriter/director.

In the tradition of films like Crowe's own Jerry Maguire and Zach Braff's 2004 assterpiece, Garden State, Elizabethtown is one of those quirky comedy-dramas urging audiences to take a fresh look at life, to get the most out of every day, to not sweat the small stuff, and a lot of other happy horseshit. In fact, the movie's a lot like Garden State, which careful readers of this blog will note is never ever never a good thing.

Like in Garden State, we open with a chronically depressed young man far from home. Shoe designer Drew Baylor (Orlando Blo.....zzzz....oh, sorry, I must have nodded off there...the movie stars Orlando Bl....zz......oh, excuse me again...) is an egregious, disgusting failure. His latest shoe is threatening to bankrupt the entire company, and the CEO, Phil DeVoss (Alec Baldwin, bad in a small role) wants him to go down with the ship.

Drew's about to kill himself (using a home-designed stationary bike/knife-wielding device!) when he gets a call from his frantic sister (Judy Greer) and frantic mother (Susan Sarandon, the not quite as frantic as Judy Greer). Drew's father has died. They want him to fly to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where Dad was visiting his family, have his body cremated and fly with it back home to Oregon.

On the otherwise-empty flight to Kentucky, an extremely annoying and chirpy flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst) flirts with him, sits next to him, and essentially forces herself into his life through any means neccessary. You sense, if he hadn't eventually come around and started to chat on his own, her next step would be to spike his drink.

So let's pause now to talk about why none of this stuff works in any way, shape or form. First, Drew. He's uninteresting in the extreme. I understand that the point is that he's a failure, and so the first thing we see is him failing big. But he doesn't fail in a way that's interesting. He has no panache, no style. He seems neither desperate nor overly sad. His is the most composed suicide scene in any movie ever.

(For example, before strapping himself to the death machine he's built, he packs up a lot of personal items and throws them into the dumpster outside. Why do this? Surely, after you're dead, others will come along and take care of throwing away your crap.)

Like every other character Legolas has ever played (except Legolas), he's incapable of expressing even the most basic of emotions. Dead. Weight.

And then there's Claire, the dumbest and most irritating movie character you're likely to see anywhere for a while.

(When I say dumb, I mean dumb. In the first conversation she has with Drew, she explains that you can tell a lot about someone's personality from their first name! I suppose Crowe thinks this is the kind of charming personal idiosyncracy that gives girls personality, but all I could think about was how you'd be biased based on the particular people you had met with that first name, and how the trick wouldn't work with people like me who had unusual names. Oh, and how this was a stupid conversation.)

Drew winds up staying in Kentucky for weeks because...well, for no good reason, really. Like everything that happens in Elizabethtown, events unfold because they are convenient for Cameron Crowe's filming schedule, not for any reason. Crowe needs to keep Drew in Kentucky long enough to fall in love with the dippy Claire, so he has memorial services and funerals that stretch on for days and days.

And it's not like there's so much great dialogue between the two lovebirds for Crowe to savor, either. The guy always uses a lot of recognizable songs on his soundtracks, but Elizabethtown is filled to bursting with music. The couple falls in love almost exclusively in montage, including a really embarrassing early sequence where they talk all night on the phone while music plays so we can't hear what they're saying.

Every once in a while, we'll get a little snippet of conversation. (Like, seriously, "men see the world as a box and women see the world as a round room." Ooooohhhh...Kirsten Dunst, you just blew my mind). Then, in the next scene, they're in love!

Aside from the fact that they have no chemistry, and that the Kirsten Dunst character is extremely annoying and just talks shit constantly, much of the rest of the film doesn't make any sense. How does Claire always know when Drew will be around where he will be, and how does she keep getting days off to do nothing but dick around with him? Who gives a shit about Drew's cousin (Paul Schneider) and his stupid son, who we spend time getting to know and are then totally dropped by the film? And why is this girl Claire, who is clearly attractive and, in the reality of the movie, irresistably charming to everyone she encounters, all alone in the world and obsessively trying to get this dull, suicidal shoe designer to fall in love with her?

But when I said Cameron Crowe has lost his mind, I didn't just mean he made a seriously bad film. I mean that the entire film is bursting to overflow with bad ideas, like Sarandon's funeral service "boner"-obsessed stand-up act, or the use of Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" on the soundtrack, or the scene where Drew twirls around by himself in the woods as an expression of his freedom or joie de vivre or some shit.

And that's just it...After watching 2 hours of this film, I have no idea what Crowe was going for. He sets up a lot of dramatic scenarios and a lot of potential themes - a young man with no real identity meeting his large colorful Southern family, a disconnected son getting to know his dead father and harried mother all over again, a sudden and strange new romance, coming to grips with failure, learning to accept responsibility, daring to experiment and take rists. It sets up all these ideas, but doesn't bother to do anything with them. They all just float around, and I guess when Crowe plays soft Elliott Smith songs and shows Kirsten Dunst looking around in slo-mo, we're supposed to reflect on all of them, quietly, to ourselves.

Also, the last 15 minutes or so of Elizabethtown classifies its author as certifiably insane.

SPOILERS - I will now talk about the end of the film Elizabethtown. Read no further if you watch romantic comedies in suspense as to how they will end.

Okay, so at the end, Claire gets Drew to agree to drive, by himself, back to Oregon from Kentucky. Oh, yeah, and he brings his dad's ashes with him, and scatters them wherever this crazy idiot tells him to.

She draws him up a personalized map with exact directions and CD's timed perfectly to accompany his journey. As if that's not obsessive-compulsive enough, she has also included photographs of herself at all of these various locales. Oh, and on the CD's that are timed to his experiences, she sometimes includes her own voice.

"This is the motel where Martin Luther King was shot...His death was just the beginning of his victory."

I swear, this is in the movie. This is insane. Anyone who would even think of this idea, and then think it was a really cute, sweet way to end a romantic comedy, is nutso. Can you imagine if someone really did that? Recorded themselves on a series of CD's to accompany you and your dead father's remains on a cross-country journey.

"Hey, Orlando Bloom. How are you and the ashes today? We're going to see a lot of exciting attractions..."


In one final note, near the end of Drew's road trip, Claire arranges to meet up with him and give him a choice about being with her romantically. This means she arranged to get herself from Kentucky to this random spot on the road to Oregon at the precise moment that Drew would pull up in his car, and that he would definitely find all this expended effort charming and delightfully romantic. Right.

It's just bizarre, like some sort of alternate-reality rom-com version of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Bloom crying and yelling at his Dad's ashes while listening to Kirsten Dunst DJ blues albums and recommend good spots to stop in Tennessee for chili. I think Cameron needs some lithium.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Twitching Powder

Ari turned me on to Twitch Film, a really cool movie website that focuses on Asian films, but not exclusively. The great thing about Twitch is that they update all the same movie news you'd get on the big websites, like Ain't It Cool or Dark Horizons, without all the endless fanboy blather. You don't have to hear the guys at Twitch go on and on and on about how they went white-water rafting with Stephen Sommers or played a really satisfying four-hour game of hackeysack with some of the Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl animators.

And now, a couple of cool recent updates...

First, and most importantly, news on a whole slew of upcoming projects from one of my favorite working directors, Terry Gilliam. Not a lot has worked out for Gilliam thus far this decade - in addition to last year's financially and artistically disappointing Brothers Grimm, Gilliam's long-awaited Don Quixote movie fell apart a few weeks into production, and he has since lost the rights.

But things are looking up! In addition to Tideland, due out some time in 2006, Gilliam has a bunch of other films planned that might actually make it to theaters eventually.

Up first is word that Gilliam has signed on to direct Anything For Billy, a western based on Larry McMurtry's Billy the Kid novel of the same title and scripted by McMurty himself.

Sounds pretty sweet. McMurtry, of course, is the favorite to win an Oscar this year for his work adapting the short story Brokeback Mountain. So another Western-themed script of his would easily find financing. Hopefully, Gilliam will be attached at that time, as I'd be fascinated to see what he'd do with a more traditional genre film like a Western.

And as exciting as new Gilliam is, Screendaily also updates the status of three Gilliam projects thought dead. They confirm the longstanding rumors that the man is in the process of reacquiring all rights to The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, so that will be coming somewhere down the line. Even bigger news is that Good Omens aint dead yet, and Gilliam has apparently even revived The Defective Detective, on which he'll apparently be collaborating with Dave McKean!

This is just awesome news. Gilliam's been trying to get Defective Detective going for years now. We talked about it briefly when I interviewed him for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, way back in the late 90's. Good Omens would also be a fun film, an adaptation of a very silly novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. (Pratchett is, of course, responsible for the "Discworld" books while comic book writer/novelist Gaiman wrote 2005's Mirrormask).

And anyone who has seen the documentary Lost in La Mancha, about the tragic, failed Gilliam production of Man Who Killed Don Quixote will be excited to see that film finally coming together. The few scenes that had been completed looked creepy and odd and visionary in that usual Gilliam way.

Next up, it seems that Laser Blazer customer and Devil's Backbone director Guillermo del Toro is planning to film a script called "Killing on Carnival Row," a serial killer mystery set in a fantasy world populated by fairies.

"Set in a mystical and dark city filled with humans, fairies and other creatures, the story centers on a police detective investigating a series of murders unleashed against the fairies. The detective becomes the prime suspect and must find the real killer to clear his name."

Don't get me wrong...It sounds kind of cool, and I'm sure GDT will make the thing look great. But I'd much rather see him work on Hellboy 2 or his long-discussed Lovecraft adaptation "In the Mountains of Madness" or even that "Wind in the Willows" project that was rumored forever ago. I'm glad the guy will move on to something else after the release of Pan's Labyrinth later this year, but this is the least exciting of all the prospects I've heard thus far.

Unless, you know, the script is awesome. I haven't read it, and know nothing about it other than that paragraph.

In our final item today, Twitch hosts the trailer for Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential, opening in April of this year and surely one of my most eagerly anticipated 2006 films. It's a reunion of writer Daniel Clowes, who wrote the graphic novel that became Ghost World, and that film's director, Zwigoff, who made a big splash in the intervening time with Bad Santa.

The new film features a large ensemble of unknown young actors, as well as John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Angelica Huston and Steve Buscemi. If you don't really want to see this film, I kind of don't want to know you.

The Secret History of the War on Terror

So, George gave a press conference yesterday where he told us all about a horrifying al-Qaida plot to blow up something called the Liberty Tower here in Los Angeles.

Except that there is no such thing as the Los Angeles Liberty Tower. The White House later informed everyone that George meant the Library Tower, which isn't actually called that any more but has been renamed the US Bank Tower. But...I know...he's on top of this whole War on Terror thing. He's the Commander-in-Chief and all. He just incorrectly provided the old name of the building that was under attack. Other than that, a flawless performance.

President Bush gave new details on Thursday about a purported 2002 terrorist plan to use shoe bombs to blow open the cockpit door of a commercial jetliner, take control of the plane and crash it into a building in Los Angeles.

Bush said the U.S.-led global war on terror has "weakened and fractured" al-Qaida and allied groups, outlining as proof new details about the multinational cooperation that foiled the purported terrorist plans.

"The terrorists are living under constant pressure and this adds to our security," Bush said. "When terrorists spend their days working to avoid death or capture, it's harder for them to plan and execute new attacks on our country. By striking the terrorists where they live, we're protecting the American homeland."

Atrios and a lone intelligent White House reporter have already pointed out that, of course, you can't actually hijack a plane with a shoe bomb. You can explode a plane, as well as your feet, but a shoe bomb is one of those things you either detonate or you don't.

But never mind!

I thought it was pretty cool that the government apparently has been secretly thwarting supervillains for years, and just not bothering to tell anyone. (Incluidng the mayor in charge of the city that was saved!) But, being the responsible journalist that I am, I wanted to know more about the wonderful work being done by the Bush Administration, under wraps, to keep us all safe.

So I did a little snooping around, using my insider Washington contacts, and have produced this list of all the various evil plots BushCo. has foiled since the Septmeber 11th attacks. Of course, because these were all prevented tragedies, none of you have heard anything about them. Because there's nothing the Bush Administration hates more than taking credit for things. Just a paragon of humility, each and every one of them.

Kill Phil

Back in early 2003, an Iranian-born Muslim named Abu Hazim living in Los Angeles was contracted by a terrorist organization and ordered to assassinate daytime television personality Dr. Phil.

"The terrorists are constantly trying to throw us off our guard," a senior White House official said under condition of anonymity. "That's why they want to get rid of a man who helps so many Americans heal their relationships with loved ones and lose unsightly pounds through a mixture of intense guilt, fear-mongering and pseudo-Freudian jargon. The loss of Dr. Phil would have been a crippling blow to needy, easily-influenced mouth-breathers everywhere."

Apparently, Hazim planned to go undercover as a guest on Dr. Phil's show, pretending to be involved in an ongoing argument with his adolescent daughter about dressing like Paris Hilton. He would then pull out a box-cutter from his pocket and gut the self-help guru on national television, possibly also setting an American flag on fire and yelling "death to the infidels," time permitting.

Fortunately, authorities who had tapped the Dr. Phil guest hotline number listened in on Hazim's call, and finding him Arab and therefore suspicious, they monitored his behavior. He's right now being held in a prison somewhere in Eastern Europe. Or something.

Al-Qaida/Acme Merger

In July of 2003, using a generic-sounding front company called Asian Export Co., a group of well-financed, al-Qaida-sympathetic businessmen in Qatar attempted to purchase famed American conglomerate Acme Inc., best known for outlandish weapons like the Do-It-Yourself Tornado Kit, The Bat-Man Flying Suit and magical paint that will make the side of a mountain resemble a desert road.

"Can you just imagine what might happen if terrorists could get their hands on an unlimited supply of Indestructo Steel Balls, Invisible Paint or Super Speed Vitamins?," posited a senior Pentagon official. "It would be an even worse hypothetical situation than if Saddam had theoretically had Weaopns of Mass Destruction!"

Some have suggested that, given Acme Product's propensity to fail at inopportune moments, that this may have been an intentional, covert CIA operation designed to sabotage al-Qaida's future plans. For whatever reason, the sale never went through.

Smithsonian Seige

Several al-Qaida operatives were arrested in Washington D.C. in April of 2004 in connection with a plot to steal Indiana Jones' hat and whip from the Smithsonian, along with other important pieces of national memorabilia.

2 members of the group were thought to be involved in a similar raid on a Davenport, Iowa Hard Rock Cafe the previous year.

"We had one of Liberace's powdered wigs, that's irreplacable," said Davenport Police Chief Russell Wurthington. "Not to mention a signed program from Cher's most recent Farewell Tour. And they're just taking it to be mean, cause you can't exactly move that stuff on the black market there...Collectors know it's a hot item, and don't wanna touch it."

Other items believed to be on al-Qaida's Smithsonian hitlist: Catherine Bach's Daisy Duke shorts from "The Dukes of Hazzard," Archie Bunker's easy chair from "All in the Family" and the Penguin's monocle and cigarette-holder. Also, one of the terrorists wanted to make his escape in the original Knight Rider car, but this plan was scrapped as it was too complicated, and none of the other terrorists knew the show "Knight Rider" that well.

Wrecking the Rock

This particularly devious scheme was first detected by Staff Pro at Albany, New York's Pepsi Arena. Al-Qaida operatives were secretly buying up a lot of seats in the first few rows of the loge section for major concerts, then standing up and dancing around and generally making a lot of noise. Performances including the White Stripes, the Rolling Stones, Josh Groban and more were ruined for upwards of 100 people by dumb, noisy, dancing al-Qaida affiliates.

"After the first two songs, most of us just wanted to sit down and listen to the music," said Barenaked Ladies fan Tom Cochran. "But those old, bearded guys just kept twirling around and making that sound with their tongues through the whole show. I mean, I get being excited and wanting to stand when they do 'If I Had a Million Dollars,' but 'Jane'? That's just unneccessary."

5 of the offending concert-going terrorists were arrested on their way in to local radio station WXOR's annual Wango Tango benefit concert. Among the artists who would have been rudely interrupted by flailing hippie-esque terrorists were Beyonce Knowles, Ryan Cabrera and Pink.


If you're afraid of to just skip ahead to the next post.

Take a look at this photo of Teri Hatcher from the Grammys last night. Compliments of The Superficial.


I was going to make some joke about The Joker still being uncast for the next Batman film, but The Superficial, of course, already got there before me. Curse those handsome devils!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mondo Video

A couple of funny videos from around the Net for your viewing pleasure...

Dane Cooked

I haven't yet commented on the whole Danish cartoon rioting story, because it's egregiously stupid. Just another one of those international incidents that reminds us 90% of the human race has the maturity level of an autistic middle school student.

Let me make this real clear for all of you. If you have a strong opinion, one way or another, about a Danish caricature of the prophet're a mouth-breather. That means, whether you're attacking embassies in Afghanistan and being shot at by police or using this as yet another excuse to attack the religion of Islam or making a map of nations that refuse to publish the cartoon, you're a fool who is too quick to join an angry, thoughtless mob mentality.

Shut the fuck up and let adults worry about it, please. It's just a goddamn cartoon.

Here's a pair of clips, from "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," that provide a bit of context to this entire debacle. Thanks to One Good Move for the clip.

Shit Getting Blowed Up Real Good

Alert reader Ofer sent me this video of a bunch of Oklahoma goobers shooting guns indiscriminately at a field full of abandoned vehicles. Wooo-eeee!

I'm not sure if he sent this to me as a goof ("hey, check out these Oklahoma goobers shooting guns indiscriminately!") or because he thought I'd find it cool ("hey, check out this gunfire and these explosions! Awesome!"). I'm going to go ahead and assume the former.

You can tell from the video that this event lasts from the morning until well into the night. What could possibly be the appeal of firing guns randomly into a field in tandem with several hundred other violence-enthusiasts? It's certainly not about accuracy, aim and skill with a weapon, because you can't even tell who is hitting what. I mean, at least if they tied up some gay guys and Hillary Clinton out there with targets around their necks, I'd understand the popularity of such an event in Oklahoma.

Is it just a desire to make shit blow up real good? If so, mission accomplished. Oh, and please note the guy teaching his young daughter to fire an automatic weapon. Sir, you're truly an inspiration.

Basically, It's Softcore

A mysterious "promo reel" for Basic Instinct 2 has magically appeared online. Check it out here (warning: the link leads directly to a Quicktime file), compliments of Aint It Cool News. It is essentially two minutes of softcore pornography, starring Sharon Stone, cut to crummy "intense" movie music.

This is probably the work of desperate producers, who need to convince Americans that this movie will be dangerous and sexy, despite the fact that Sharon Stone his been acting in films since roughly the silent era. We're talking about an actress for whom Total Recall was a comeback.

And Shar does look pretty good for her age. I'm not trying to bash her or anything. It's obviously pretty brave for any woman over 40 to star in an erotic thriller requiring full frontal nudity. This movie's just kind of a questionable decision all around. She's not exactly a genius or anything, but Sharon can act well enough that she probably doesn't need to go the Shannon Tweed route. (Although even Shannon Tweed uses body doubles, at this point.)

Modern Romance

This DVD was held off until May, so no one else will be able to see it until then, but I work at a video store and am therefore special.

Okay, Albert Brooks' low-key 1981 rom-com Modern Romance...This movie's often regarded, according to conventional wisdom, as a classic. The pinnacle of Brooks', um, craft or what have you. Back when he used to mine comedy out of the foibles of an everyday modern guy, rather than looking for comedy in the Muslim world, and apparently coming up short.

I'll tip you off right here at the top...Not much of an Albert Brooks fan. People always say that he's this alternate Woody Allen or something, but the similarities are superficial at best. Two neurotic Jews, from opposite coasts, made socially-observant, dryly funny films in the 70's and 80's that were kind of inwardly-focused. But Woody's a real filmmaker, a man who is just as capable of beautifully capturing a character (as in Annie Hall) or even a city (Manhattan) or an era (Zelig). Movies in which he appears, but where there is something else to be entertained by other than the rapier wit of Woody Allen.

Brooks is mainly good at making movies about himself and what a charmingly befuddled dude he can be. At his best, as in Lost in America, he manages to make his obsessions and anxieties universal. I mean, it's not just Albert Brooks who hates working for annoying bosses and being tied to a mortgage and responsibilities. Everyone dreams of breaking out from the ordinary and setting off on a grand adventure.

At his worst, Brooks is just some whiny little yutz who makes endless, dull films in which beautiful, nearly silent women redeem him for all his bizarre personality quirks. Modern Romance is one such film.

Clearly, the film is based on a failed relationship in Brooks' own life. I can't imagine you would bother to make up such a story. In the opening scene, film editor Robert Cole (the man himself) breaks up with his beautiful girlfriend Mary (Kathryn Harrold) in a Hamburger Hamlet. He says that they always fight, but implies that she has been sleeping around on him.

In the film's only consistantly funny sequence, Robert takes a bunch of qualuudes and stumbles around his apartment in a depressed daze. He puts on "A Fifth of Beethoven," that awful disco version of the Fifth Symphony, and dances around for a moment. He calls up a random number in his Rolodex and asks a stranger out on a romantic date. He calls his friend and assistant (Bruno Kirby) just to say "I love you." And he passes out in his car.

And there is some other amusing stuff in the movie. Passages featuring director/producer James L. Brooks (a non-actor who is no relation to Albert) as a wrong-headed director making a horrible sci-fi film starring George Kennedy work as comedy, but are pretty disconnected from the rest of the movie in terms of tone. One minute, you've got this kind of Cassavettes-lite, morbid take on the hopelessness of love in the modern world, and the next minute you've got fat old George Kennedy huffing it down a corridor in a Kubrickian space station.

To be honest, even though its cartoonishness is out of step with everything else in the film, I'd still rather see more of the George Kennedy movie-within-the-movie. Because the stuff with Brooks and his on-again off-again romance are pretty unbearable. Cole is about the least-sympathetic or charming character imaginable.

Here's Albert Brooks from the original press kit for Modern Romance, way back in 1981:

“There are no gags in the picture,” he says. “No zany comics. There are real people in real situations, carried to a logical – or illogical – extreme. If the outcome is funny, it’s because life itself is funny.”

What complete nonsense. Is this guy delusional? Not a single scene featuring protagonist Robert Cole is reasonable, logical or realistic. The guy is a lunatic. And not in a "crazy in love" kind of way, as Brooks likely intended. In an "Albert Brooks realizes the movie isn't funny so he throws in over-the-top schtick as a way to get cheap laughs."

Take an early scene in a Foot Locker-type store, featuring a cameo from Albert's brother Bob as an opportunistic shoe salesman (who would later become world-famous as Super Dave Osbourne). Cole has decided to "change his life" following the painful break-up with Mary by becoming a runner. So we get a gratuitous scene of him being suckered by the salesman, convinced to by all manner of unneccessary runner paraphanelia. Yawn. Brooks just keeps going and going with the gag, long after it has become painfully obvious. Again, the scene violates any sort of realism - Robert's a smart enough guy to know that you don't need all this expensive BS equipment, and he's not supposed to be wealthy and wouldn't be able to afford this crap. But Brooks needs a laugh, so in it goes.

It's only after Robert and Mary agree to get back together - at about the 45 minute mark - that Modern Romance goes from merely desperate to outright creepy. Robert turns out to be an extremely possessive, needy lover, and Mary responds by becoming distant and disinterested. The more we get a sense for the dynamic of their relationship, the more clear it becomes that this film applies to Brooks' own psychology and not to any kind of universal male response to romantic love.

I mean, sure, some men are possessive by nature, and everyone who's in love at times feels threatened and vulnerable. That's what it means to let someone into your life, to take a risk that they will betray your trust. But Robert's pretty much a maniac, and Mary seems nothing but sane and reasonable. I came to doubt not only that she would remain with such a tiring, nebbishy, pathetic man, but that she would have ever become interested in her in the first place.

In the film's final scene, a long-winded and very strange dialogue between Robert and Mary at an isolated cabin in the mountains, he implies that she's attracted to his jealousy. That she wants a man who will obsess over her and make her feel wanted. I suppose this is Brooks' notion of a happy ending - rather than pity the poor couple who can't work it out, we will rejoice that they have found someone who so perfectly compliments their personal quirks and idiosyncracies.

But, again, in some closing (and unfunny) titles, he has to ruin the entire point for a cheap laugh. Sigh.

Somehow, Modern Romance has garnered quite a reputation. I suppose the fact that it's so extremely self-indulgent and narrow is, in a way, groundbreaking. Few filmmakers would attempt to make a movie that's so clearly about nothing but their own inner life, the stray thoughts that whiz through their head while they're hanging out with their co-workers and girlfriends.

"Hey, you know what I did today? I cut a part of a film and I debated whether I should break up with my chick. I should make a movie about that! Those are some universal themes!"

Maybe it's the title. Modern Romance. You think you're going to see something about the nature of love, and instead you get a movie about how Albert Brooks always second-guesses himself, and sometimes lies to his mom about having plans to avoid talking to her for more than a minute or two.

Hey, Sorry About That, You Guys...

A new study reveals that...big surprise...raising children makes you depressed. Also broke and 87% more likely to injure your foot stepping on a discarded Transformer while going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Not only do parents have significantly higher levels of depression than adults who do not have children, the problem gets worse when the kids move out.

"Parents have more to worry about than other people do—that's the bottom line," said Florida State University professor Robin Simon. "And that worry does not diminish over time. Parents worry about their kids' emotional, social, physical and economic well-being. We worry about how they're getting along in the world."

I mean, yeah, duh. You don't need to be a highly esteemed FSU associate professor to know that parenting is hard, whereas living by yourself in a shitty apartment with two other guys is...well, not as easy as you might think, really. I don't even know how I make a go of it, sometimes. But it's a lot easier without some snotty little child running around expecting to be clothed and fed and driven around to various sports-themed afternoon activities.

The depressing results seem to be across the board in a study of 13,000 people. No type of parent reported less depression than non-parents, Simon said.

Some parents are more depressed than others, however. Parents of adult children, whether they live at home or not, and parents who do not have custody of their minor children have more symptoms of depression than those with young children all in the nest, regardless of whether they are biological children, step children or adopted.

Now, that's a strange statistic. I'm not sure this is true of my own parents. They seem, to me, overall jollier now than when I moved out 10-some-odd years ago. (With a year-long interval of living with them again squeezed in there.) My father in particular has a bit more bounce in his step now that I and my younger brother no longer occupy his actual house. And don't even ask about the several-year stint when my mother's parents lived with us.

Mind Your Manners With Kate O'Beirne

Don't know if any of you caught the Coretta Scott King funeral today on television. I, as always, had to work, so I missed it. But on the plus side, I met Robert Rodriguez and the new kid working down at the Blazer, both of whom are men with strong opinions about film! So that was a lot of fun.

Anyway, I missed Chris Matthews and Professional Shrew Kate O'Beirne discussing the funeral this afternoon on MSNBC's Hardball, but it seems there's a bit of controversy surrounding it on the ol' Blogo-Internets.

It seems that certain mourners (like Former President and History's Greatest Monster Jimmy Carter) and certain religious figures (like the Reverand Dr. Joseph Lowry) decided that the funeral for a revered civil rights leader would be an appropriate time to discuss the issue of civil rights. I mean, come on, guys...There's a time and a place for all that, and a large public ceremony attended by major heads of state and the entire national media is hardly the place to present your views.

In this helpful clip via Salon, Fox News informs us that conservatives are outraged tonight because speakers dared to challenge President Bush...with him actually in attendance! I mean, seriously...the man has been President for years now. Is he really so sensitive? He can't handle a little criticism? Isn't he supposed to be answerable to the American people? Or do his Article II powers extend to shutting up everyone who doesn't like him? Personally, I can't think of a better way to honor someone that consistantly, in life, spoke truth to power than be speaking truth to fucking power, you know?

I've talked about Kate "Snappy" O'Beirne before. She's the charming woman responsible for that book about how all feminists are ugly, evil, pathetic, anti-American dykes who make the world worse. Apparently, she's mortified by the very notion that anyone would discuss anything negative at a funeral, particularly one where her boyfriend, Georgie "Il Duce" Dubya, was present.

So, I just thought, what with her being a friend of the blog and all...that maybe she'd come by and offer us some more of her priceless etiquette tips. I mean, if she knows what will go over a black funeral so well, maybe she'll know how to behave properly at other major events. So, I'll turn the blog over to Katie.

Thanks, Lons. I'd like to begin with an apology. During this episode of Hardball on MSNBC, I said "liberals don't know how to hold a funeral." That's clearly an unfair generalization. What I actually meant to say was, "These coloreds are making me uncomfortable with all their back talk." I apologize for any inconvenience this mix-up may have caused.

Anyway, on to the etiquette column. I figured, since I had already instructed the black community on the best method for holding a respectful funeral for one of their iconic heroes, I thought I would let some other ethnic groups know that I'm here to harshly scold them for offending my delicate sensibilities as well.

The Quinceanera

Ah, yes, the traditional Latin American tradition of welcoming 15 year old girls into womanhood. Now, in our modern society, young girls tend to treat this as just another "Sweet Sixteen" party, encouraging their parents to spend way too much money on a DJ and party favors for all their friends.

Wouldn't it be better to let young girls know the wonders that await them in the years ahead, as they find husbands and start making lots and lots of babies? Instead of giving a girl something frivolous she might want, like a car or a cell phone or an Xbox 360, why not give her an apron? Or a vacuum cleaner? And instead of a big, elegant catered affair, why not just invite all the neighbors over for a large, fancy meal...prepared entirely by your daughter! Wouldn't that be the best way to mark her passage into adulthood while simultaneously showing the girl her place?

The Bris

This is the service in which Jews celebrate the birth of a baby son by slicing off a small, useless piece of, his manhood. Do I even need to say how the Jews could make this ceremony less distasteful?

Oh, and while I'm on the subject...I'd just like to let all my Jewish readers know that, when eating a Christian baby, the polite thing to do is to start with the face and head, in order to silence any unfortunate screaming or gurgling sounds, and then proceed southward towards the abdomen and, finally, the legs and feet. I really can't stress this sternly enough.

Muslim Prayer

I know you A-rabs have to pray five times every day, wherever you happen to be at the time, but you have to understand that the sight of a bunch of you people all together in public doing your Allah thing is frightening to us white people what has been traumatized by the events of September 11th.

So, I have prepared this statement I would like all Muslims to read every time they are about to begin praying in public. It should be relatively easy to memorize, and would put all of us good, white American folks at ease.

Attention, real Americans. I am a Muslim and I am about to pray. I am not going to try to explode you or to cut off your head. I will unfurl a prayer shawl, but it is not concealing some kind of plastic explosive, or even any box-cutters or other potentially hazardous yet everyday devices that some of my people have used to hijack your planes, buses and other forms of public transportation. During the course of my prayers, you may hear me speak words in Arabic. These are not satellite transmissions to a sleeper cell hidden deep within the desolate mountains of Pakistan, alerting them to the presence of white people and ordering the deployment of 50 dirty bombs to every major American city, but merely my mumbled prayers to Allah, my fake name for God. Thank you for your kind attention.

Doesn't seem so hard to me. At least promise you'll think about it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Johnny "Rebel" Derbyshire

One topic that seems to come up a lot here on CBI is open, unrepentant racism. Perhaps this is a matter of my own awareness and perception, but it seems to be in a general way that racists are beginning to feel more and more comfortable with airing their disgraceful personal views in public. I feel like (and again, this is obviously a subjective statement), back when I was coming up, in the 80's and 90's, there was a greater social stigma against publicly declaring your distaste for those of different nationalities, skin colors or religions.

Today, it seems almost like Americans view intolerance as a point of pride. They organize themselves around who they hate.

Please choose the group that you most revile. Remember, choose only one answer!

  • Poor black people
  • Gay guys who want to get married
  • Pregnant women
  • Scientists
  • Arabs
  • Hollywood executives
  • The ACLU
Earlier this week, I reported on blogger Dafydd and his revolting assertion that white Republicans are justified in hating uppity, angry blacks. Yikes.

Then there's the sudden fame last year for White Power kiddie pop duo Prussian Blue. And anyone else remember this story from 2005, when a Fox affiliate in South Carolina ran a favorable story on the skinhead homepage, Stormfront, one of the Web's premier sources for incomprehensible, vitriolic hate speech.

But this one...I mean...I'm just aghast. This is shocking, belligerant, open racism. John Derbyshire's post is ugly and foolish even by the standards of the National Review Online. I mean, it's hard to stand out on that website as particularly wrong-headed. The Muppet Babies had more thought-provoking, nuanced discussions than the gang at NRO.

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don't care about Egyptians.

Can you imagine. A website devoting some front-page real estate to the death of hundreds of worthless browns? I mean, surely, somewhere, a white girl has gone missing. Why wasn't she on the front page of Drudge, and every other news source on the Internets? It would take the death of at least 2,500 browns to equal the importance of one missing white girl, if my calculations are correct.

It's a scary time when editorialists for a well-known national magazine feels free to openly declare his disdain for whole nations of people. Not that he shouldn't be allowed to say whatever he wants about Egyptians or anyone else, of course. But that he doesn't fear a massive public outcry or for his future with the organization. In 2006 America, extreme xenophobia and racial intolerance is just another valid perspective, one that deserves equal and unchallenged time in print and on television. I'm disgusted.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Skeezy Gonzales

Our Attorney General, in addition to being a vile, Constitution-ignoring little worm, is also a complete and total idiot. Don't believe me? Check out his testimony before Congress today, via Crooks and Liars, in which he informs us about the history of illegal wiretapping. And I quote:

President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale.

Oh, really? Hmmm...fascinating. I know President Washington was a big fan of using electronic surveillance. And let me tell you...there is nothing that guy liked better than seeing the bright, shiny lights of Las Vegas, Nevada spread out over the desert at night, you know what I'm saying? Killing Hessians, electronic surveillance, hookers, roulette and blow: George Washington's five primary interests.

Can you believe this shit? I mean, I know we're kind of an anti-intellectual nation of self-important blowhard dumbasses...but the Attorney General is citing Abraham Lincoln's use of electronic surveillance? While testifying before Congress? Has Bush declared reading of any kind unlawful by Executive Order and no one bothered to tell me?


So, Bush's people have been complaining on and on about how the leak of information about the NSA surveillance program has hurt our intelligence-gathering abilities. Which is totally preposterous. How does al-Qaeda finding out that GWB has been spying on his own people hurt us in any way? Well, Senator Joe Biden (a scumbag in his own right, with whom I disagree on just about every major issue facing America) put that question directly to Your Attorney General. And the response actually evoked laughter from those present at the hearing.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

General, how has this revelation damaged the program?

I'm almost confused by it but, I mean, it seems to presuppose that these very sophisticated Al Qaida folks didn't think we were intercepting their phone calls.

I mean, I'm a little confused. How did it damage this?

GONZALES: Well, Senator, I would first refer to the experts in the Intel Committee who are making that statement, first of all. I'm just the lawyer.

And so, when the director of the CIA says this should really damage our intel capabilities, I would defer to that statement. I think, based on my experience, it is true -- you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance.

But if they're not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.

Oh, those wacky Al-Qaeda guys! Always forgetting that they're being spied upon. They're like the Keystone Kops, really, bumbling their way through world terrorism. Osama, will you ever learn...

Actually, that gives me a great idea for a sitcom! It's like Showtime's "Sleeper Cell," about a cluster of terrorists hidden within assumed identities in America - except all the terrorists are total idiots! It will be called "My Two Jihads."

AHMED: Abbas, where did all this pizza come from?
ABBAS: Silly Ahmed, I ordered it, of course.
AHMED: But this receipt says Abbas Muhammad Muhammad Ali on it. Did you order the pizza under your own name?
ABBAS: Of course. How else would they know who to bring it to?
AHMED: But have you forgotten, the Americans could be listening to our conversations! It was in the newspaper just last week! Now they will find us!
ABBAS: Well, I guess it's another suicide bombing mission for me!
AHMED: Abbas, you're the greatest!


Did you know, by the way, that Gonzales wasn't officially sworn in when he gave his testimony?

Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the committee, challenged Specter's decision and asked for the committee to vote on the issue. It did, and Specter's decision now stands on a party-line vote. Thus, while Gonzales said that he's willing to testify under oath -- and that his answers would be the same either way -- the Republicans on the committee have now ensured that he won't.

The decision may be largely symbolic: It's a crime to lie to Congress whether you're under oath or not, but no oath means no newspaper photographs of Gonzales' having raised his right hand.

Would this matter if he didn't plan on lying? He just wants to make sure, after he has lies to these Senators, there aren't any embarrassing pictures around of him promising not to lie. What a douche.


A compilation of three short films by three acclaimed international directors, Eros get worse and worse as it goes along. Though all three films deal in some way with aesthetic issues of love and sex, only the initial film - the one made by Chinese master Wong Kar Wai - actually succeeds in expressing a clear concept of sensuality, or any focused idea about the topic at hand. Steven Soderbergh's entry, while deftly entertaining for a half-hour or so, never fully adds up, and closes on a note of bemused apathy more than anything else.

And Italian legend Michelangelo Antonioni's film looks really amazing and features two lovely naked dancing ladies, but unfortunately makes no sense at all.

The Hand (d. Wong Kar-Wai)

I feel kind of like a middle school English teacher for saying this, but I think Wong Kar-Wai was the only kid in the class to understand the assignment. His 40 minute masterpiece The Hand says as much about repressed desire and smoldering lust as the other two guy's movies and the director's previous film 2046 combined. It's also perhaps the most dramatically satisfying and sophisticated film ever made about a handjob.

Zhang (Chen Chang) gets a job as an apprentice tailor, and his first assignment brings him to the apartment of high-class call girl Miss Hua (Gong Li). To ensure that he always remembers her, and values her as a customer, Miss Hua goes ahead and gives the young kid his first happy ending. The technique, however, works a bit too well, and Zhang winds up loving Miss Hua from afar over the course of years.

I won't spoil the end, but as he so often does, Kar-Wai manages to end the film on a note of extreme melancholy without seeming indulgent or manipulative. And, as in his last few films, particularly the brilliant In the Mood for Love, Kar-Wai's collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle produces goregous, vibrant results.

Conveniently, The Hand is the first segment on the Eros DVD, so you could theoretically just watch it and then return the entire film to the rental store (or, if you're one of those, to Netflix). For the more adventurous, however, Steven Soderbergh's mediocre effort comes next.

Equilibrium (d. Steven Soderbergh)

A Mulholland Drive-style mindfuck conveniently packed into a 30 minute short is pretty much all Soderbergh's entry has to offer. The dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream structure leads to a seriously perplexing final shot, but does offer some neat little meta-touches, impressive black-and-white cinematography by Soderbergh (under his standard alias, Peter Andrews) and two solid, funny performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Arkin.

Downey Jr. plays an exhausted ad man, circa 1955, sitting in for a therapy session with Arkin's psychoanalyst. For some odd, unexplained reason, as Downey Jr. closes his eyes and describes a sexy dream he had about watching a redhead bathe, Arkin folds up a paper airplane and throws it at a pre-determined target outside.

Like I said, the dialogue is kind of funny (particularly a bit in which Arkin and Downey Jr. kind of spontaneously invent the snooze alarm) and I liked the look of the film, but it doesn't really add up to much. And the last final shot bugged me. It seems to hint at a larger meaning, as if Soderbergh had intended to get at something beyond just a peculiar, open-ended skit with some nice repartee. But I don't get what he's trying to say at all.

And speaking of me not getting what a filmmaker is trying to say, we come to the final short film in this little Eros trilogy. Michelangelo Antonioni's I'm a Revered and Extremely Old Italian Artiste So Fuck You if You Don't Get My Film

Oh, wait, I mean...

Il Filo Pericoloso Delle Cose (d. Michelangelo Antonioni)

That still's in black-and-white, but the film itself features beautiful color photography. Antonioni continues to work in long takes and graceful tracking shots that glide over craggy, uninviting landscapes. There are images in this film that are just wonderfully realized from a visual standpoint, iconic moments that could have come out of one of Antonioni's classic studies in alienation and emotional distress.

But Red Desert this ain't. Il Filo Pericoloso Delle Cose doesn't just avoid clear narratives in the usual Antonioni method, but studiously avoids any opportunity to engage the viewer on any level. It isn't just that there's no story...I think it's reasonable for a 30 minute film to work on a metaphorical or non-narrative level, if it's trying to get at something or has a point. But Antonioni's film is just frustrating and pointless, a journey into sexual obsession and infidelity that turns silly and overblown right when it wants to get really deep.

We open with a couple, Chris and Cloe (Christopher Buchholz and Regina Nemni), arguing. He yells at her to "get going," and she obliges, but they don't seem headed anywhere important. They walk around, in small towns and natural environments, bickering always, and then angrily part ways. He then meets up with another, equally beautiful, equally naked woman (Luisa Ranieri), and they have sex in a tower. Then, the two naked woman dance around on the beach. The end.

Oooooh, doesn't that sound cerebral and tastefully erotic? I mean, I don't know if Michelangelo has just finally succumbed to age or his own hype or whatever, but this movie is just ridiculous. At one point, Chris and Cloe sit down at a restaurant, and Cloe drops a wine glass to the ground. The act is done and filmed with intense significance, as if this image of a wine glass falling silently to the floor was the most important, deeply resonant image Antonioni had ever shot. But it's just a wine glass! Right? What's going on?

Daltry Calhoun

If Evil Nazi Scientists had turned their attentions to comedy instead of internal medicine and the occult, they might have produced something like Daltry Calhoun. An overwhelmingly awful attempt to hybrid a bad redneck joke with a bad after-school special, writer/director Katrina Holden Bronson's film tries to garner sympathy for small-town yokels while simultaneously portraying everyone born south of the Mason-Dixon line as a drunk, impoverished rube. In that order.

What was Bronson's overall worst call in preparing to direct this film?

(1) Attempting to pass Johnny Knoxville as a serious, and sincere, leading man
(2) Employing constant voice-over narration by a sassy, precocious 14 year old girl with a thick Southern drawl
(3) Including the maximum number of cliched stock characters as humanly possible, including the beautiful dying girl, the estranged father making up for lost time, the hunky Aussie with a manic streak and the evil, shrewish stepmother
(4) Featuring a non-ironic subplot in which a retard learns to read "Charlotte's Web"
(5) Making a film out of her original screenplay, "Daltry Calhoun"
(6) All of the above

Seriously, this entire project was doomed from the get-go. It's just a bad idea for a movie, a bad idea that is then executed with a bare minimum of taste and sophistication. Somehow, Quentin Tarantino was talked into taking an executive producer credit on this shitkicker. My advice to him is to do what the Weinstein Brothers did when they split with Miramax - get yourself and your reputation as far away from Daltry Calhoun as possible.

As I said, the problems here are conceptual. The story just isn't captivating - Daltry (Johnny Knoxville), an unemployable freeloader, leaves his young wife (Elizabeth Banks) and baby girl behind with an ornery family relative (Beth Grant). 14 years later, he's become the wealthy owner and chief executive for Calhoun Industries, a large supplier of sod to the nation's golf courses. And that's when his ex-wife May and now-adolescent daughter June (the aforementioned sassy Sophie Traub) come to stay with him.

It's a touch familiar, and Bronson's writing style is a bit too cute and folksy for my tastes, but as a bare-bones description, I'll grant it doesn't sound that awful. But Bronson makes a few key errors early on. The story has little to no forward momentum. Once we're introduced to the grown-up May and June (har!), and they move in with Daltry, the movie essentially screeches to a halt. Bronson complicates the situation - we find out that Daltry's business is failing and that May has been diagnosed with Movie Wasting-Away and Dying Tragically Disease - but there's not really any conflict to propel the action.

Even though Daltry seemingly abandoned his family without word over a decade before, no one's really mad at him. And it's clear that he sincerely wants to repair his relationships with his wife and daughter. It's almost like Bronson's afraid of conflict, doesn't want her character's to do anything mean to one another, or even to argue. So everyone kind of floats along aimlessly for the film's initial hour.

Seriously. June keeps telling us in the narration that a story is somehow progressing, but all we see are characters bumping into one another and having shallow conversations or engaging in dumb redneck dialogue that's supposed to be funny but isn't. In one scene, she actually says in the voice-over, "Daltry kept working on getting Calhoun Industries back on track" without elaborating any further.

Really? How's he doing that? A new marketing campaign? Working on a new strain of grass? ANYTHING AT ALL? Isn't he supposed to be the main character in this movie?

There are a lot of these kinds of filler scenes, just bad joke after bad joke about how the people of Ducktown (yes, that's the name of the town in the movie) are pathetic or ignorant. Juliette Lewis, who seems to inspire directors to write demeaning roles, has an embarrassing role as a goofy sex bomb. (A scene in which she tries to seduce Daltry while wearing lingerie atop a motorcycle is among the most humiliating for any actress in any 2005 film.)

The movie just limps through these sorts of lame set-ups, that is when it's not lamely attempting to elicit tears via overheated melodrama. I wanted to spare his reputation, because I'm a fan, but I couldn't write a full review of Daltry Calhoun without mentioning its most egregious, insanely ill-conceived subplot. "Saturday Night Live" veteran, Anchorman co-star and partner to The Naked Trucker, Mr. David Koechner, completely degrades himself in a ridiculous supporting role as the illiterate, mentally disabled Doyle Earl. You think the movie is going to play Doyle Earl for laughs, which would be tasteless and crude but at least would make some sort of sense. But, no. Bronson actually wants to play up the scenes of June teaching Doyle to read for pathos. She thinks Koechner practicing his Phonics in his "dumb redneck" accent is dramatically satisfying.

Do I need to say anything more than that? This movie features a story about a precocious 14 year old girl from the South teaching a Tennessee village idiot to read "Charlotte's Web." Don't watch this movie. It's a horrible waste of time.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Weather Man

A well-known film critic came into the store the other day with a lot of unopened DVD's to trade in. He must get them for free through the studios or something. Anyway, he traded them in and we made a bunch of rentals, which is how I got to see this film and a few others that won't come out for a few more months early.

I got into kind of a disagreement with this critic (and, no, I won't say which one...) Not an argument, as I make it a policy not to argue with the customers, but simply a disagreement. He began by praising Steve Martin an d the new Pink Panther remake. He said that, while not the equal of Peter Sellers or the best entries in the series, that the new film was extremely funny and worthwhile. This, I found hard to believe. But most offensive was his movement directly from raving about Pink Panther into railing on Steven Spielberg and Munich. I mean, come on. This guy is a nationally-respected film critic. He reviews movies for a living. And he really thinks Steve Martin warrants generous press for ripping off old Blake Edwards movies while Spielberg deserves only contempt for trying to make a bold artistic statement?

basically, this critic, a man who is paid to interpret and analyze movies by a real publication, was content to just repeat the conventional wisdom about Munich while raving effusively about the latest vehicle of an overpaid, over-the-hill movie star.

I bring this incident up here at the front of this Weather Man review because the unnamed film critic and the titular forecaster of the film share the same dilemma. They work a job that is both extremely easy and lucrative. Now, the film critic who came into the store seemed fine with his situation, but the Weather Man in the movie has found that the endless reward for very little work has left him feeling empty inside. Gore Verbinski's exceptionally dark, dry comedy explores the midlife crisis of a man who slowly realizes he's living a shallow, meaningless existence and then seeks to remedy that situation.

The movies love characters like this. I'm reminded of Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, the money-and-power-hungry sports agent who discovers one day that, aw shucks, he really just wants to work with people and raise a family. Or consider Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, the suburban dad who has been walking around dead inside, numbed to the world, for years who starts looking closer at the little wonders all around him.

My contention is that these films are pure fantasy: you're either a shallow asshole who doesn't think about anything but your own immediate comfort and lustful desires, or you're someone a bit more introspective and thoughtful who is constantly questioning and yearning for something more. I don't know that circling 40 or having a parent die or developing a crush on your daughter's cheerleader best friend or whatever happens in these movies is ever enough to motivate a closed-off individual to suddenly open up to all that life has to offer.

But what do I know? Movies are about conflict and the changes that result from conflict, so the lead character can't exactly remain the same from beginning to end, even if he starts the film as a shallow asshole. And that basically sums up Dave Spritz (Nicholas Cage). A weather man for a Chicago TV station, Dave has managed to alienate his family through years of self-centered, emotionally distant behavior and good old fashioned neglect. His cancer-stricken novelist father (Michael Caine, affecting a tight, clipped American accent that doesn't really suit him) thinks he's a putz. His ex-wife (Hope Davis) wants less and less to do with him with every passing day. He's depressed 12 year old daughter (Gemmennee de la Pena) has taken up smoking and developed a weight problem. And his 15 year old son (Nicholas Hoult) apparently is undergoing counseling for a drug problem, despite seemingly like a pretty wholesome, well-adjusted kid throughout the film.

Cage gives a pretty terrific performance as Dave, a complete sad-sack who allowed relative wealth and low-level fame to distract him from the fact that he's a total loser who nobody likes. In fact, it's too good a performance for the rest of the film. Director Gore Verbinski clearly wants the audience to root for Dave, to cringe when obnoxious fans plaster him with fast food on the Chicago streets and to cheer when he gets an audition for a spot on a nationally-syndicated morning show doing the weather.

But Dave's a bit too awkward and peculiar a guy to really like. Often, his callow behavior makes little to no sense, as he explains at times in the mainly-unneccessary and frequent voice-over. In one scene, out of nowhere, Dave slaps a man who has become involved with his ex-wife, with a glove. It's a funny moment, and the voice-over that follows (in which Dave explains that slapping a man with a glove is not a good way to garner respect in the modern world) is amusing, but it's also pretty insane. In another scene, Dave aims a bow-and-arrow at his ex-wife and his father during a family get-together. Yikes.

Now lack of likability, that I can deal with. Plenty of movies have pulled off a prickly main character, from Ghost World to Sideways. The entire point of Steve Conrad's script is Dave's transformation from selfish, panicky idiot into a capable, grown-ass man, so I could tolerate a bit of adolescent behavior and self-pity in the opening hour. But it's Dave's ridiculous naivete that ultimately make him an unsympathetic hero.

Has it really taken him over a decade to discover that being a weather man is not really a noble calling? Dave's a college grad, he apparently dreams of a career as a novelist like his father. He never realized before that maybe being a weather man was going to become unfulfilling over time? The thought that he, Weatherman Dave Spritz, was kind of a joke to people is a shocking revelation?

As I mentioned, Dave's fans (and non-fans, I suppose) tend to pelt him with fast-food products in public (often while yelling "Hey Weather Man!") He offers several theories as to why they might throw things at him, but eventually settles on the obvious - he is a clown, there for people's amusement, and nothing more. Because being a Weather Man is a meaningless, silly job. There's no real way to predict the weather, anyway, so it's just a moderately good-looking man with a bad haircut who is comfortable on camera, pointing at a map and guessing as to what the winds will do.

So people react accordingly.

The movie tries to get metaphorical mileage, by the way, out of this whole concept of the weather being this mysterious, unknowable force. The future is out there, and no one knows how the winds will blow. Ooooohhh, it's deep!

Okay, that stuff is pretty clumsy, but I don't want to be too hard on the movie. It's entertaining enough, and it's fun to see Caine and Cage together. One scene, for reasons I'll leave unsaid here, finds Dave's elderly father explaining to him the concept of a "cameltoe." Now, that's comedy.

And, like all of Verbinksi's films, The Weather Man remarkably well-shot and polished. Phedon Papamichael's icy-blue cinematography really captures the bitter cold of a Chicago winter, particularly the opening shots of a frozen-over Lake Michigan. It's at times reminiscent of Verbinski's The Ring, if a bit less creepy and more bright.

To his immense credit, Verbinski insisted to the studio that the film shoot on location in Chicago as opposed to Canada, and the frenzied shots of Cage hauling ass across Madison Street with Chocolate Frostee on his jacket alone were worth the additional funds. Unthinkably, it's becoming rare to see a big American city depicted realistically in an American film. I understand, it's kind of expensive to shoot on location in places like Chicago, but come on! Just pay J.Lo a few million less, okay?