Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Hostility of Our City...Of Our City...

Despite the fact that my apartment has three bedrooms, there are only two assigned parking spaces. It's one of the many inconvenient, outright silly features here on Midvale Ave. We also have washers and dryers that work only sporadically, a complete lack of hot water between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. and, as I've mentioned on here before, a Third World-esque crush of noisy, aimless children roaming about and creating all manner of havoc.

It ain't exactly the Shangri-La, but it's home.

Anyway, though there are only two official parking spaces here, the driveway does boast a back wall, against which stands a dumpster and not much else. My roommates and I have found that we can fit cars flush up against this wall without preventing any other parked cars from getting out. It is a solution that has served us well for several years now.

At one time, I recall that there were other tenants of the building who would vie for this parking space. It was essentially a free-for-all...If you got home and it was available, it was yours. The system worked fine. Soon enough, these other people left the building, and I kind of inherited the spot full-time. That was well over a year ago.

And everything has been fine ever since. Until last night. Last night, I got home from work (at around 9:30) to discover that some strange car was in my spot. Now, bear in mind, no one ever parks in that spot any more. It has been mine or my roommates exclusively for at least 14 months. So, I figured that some visitor to the building had left their car there (it being Friday night and all). I parked in an oblong manner, to accomodate anyone who might want to leave (I hoped) and went upstairs.

I figured they might have trouble getting cars out, but I was right upstairs, so any honking or yelling or commotion would have been audible to me. And sure enough, after an hour, someone came to my door and asked me to move my car. I complied happily.

While moving my car, I noticed a young woman standing in front of the car that was in my space. She was scowling at me with her arms across her chest. I don't know if I had ever seen her before in my life, but I didn't recognize or remember her.

After various other cars engaged in various maneuvers, I noticed that the car in my space was not going anywhere. Was I expected, after two years of parking in this place, to just turn around and give up? To walk 10 minutes back to my apartment in the middle of the night (it was around 11 p.m.)? Seemed kind of unreasonable, without any explanation.

Before I could even consider getting out of my car and addressing the situation, the angry girl came over to where I was sitting. She rapped on my window.

"Don't park there any more, because we may want to get out again."

"Okay," I responded. "Is that your car in my space?"

"It's not your space!"

This affirmation was followed, folks, by a torrent of hostility, anger and profanity the likes of which few have witnessed. Clearly, this woman had observed me parking in this spot for months and considered that I had no more legal right to the space than she did. This resentment must have brewed within her each and every time she trudged the 10 minutes home from her car on a cold night. And, after months of not saying anything, she just exploded on me. It was peculiar in the extreme.

I tried my best to be reasonable without simply giving up on my rights to park near my apartment. No dice. "But I've been parking here for years...Why didn't you just ask me to share instead of stealing into the spot in the middle of the night...Stop yelling at me, wacko..." These were some of the arguments I offered when I could get a word in.

Eventually, I realized this exchange wasn't going anywhere. I had no desire to have her car towed or to inspire any further aggression, so I said the following:

"Okay, get out of my face now. I'm done with you."

Then I rolled up the window and drove out, trying not to actually run over the girl. But not trying too hard.

And I actually found a pretty close parking space. Sure, it's not as good as being below my building, but it's better than getting into a violent endless battle for territory. And tonight, when I got back from work, I just parked on the street without even checking the building...Let's wait a few days, allow her to build up a sense of security...

And that's when I'll have my roommate Nathan, who hasn't moved his car since the Chinese Cultural Revolution, steal into the spot during the day while she's at work. Because in these matters, it's all about strategery.

One Question Remains: Is God a Pervert?

I once knew a man...a very disgusting man that I want to tell you all a little bit about. This man, he went by the name of William Piss Gums. Billy, for short. And, yes, he earned his nickname. He earned his nickname by drinking pee. And not his own pee, though I'd imagine he started initially by drinking his own pee and then worked his way up to that of total stranger's from there. For some reason, it just seems a bit less disgusting to drink your own pee than someone else's, even though I'm sure, from a health standpoint, it's pretty much identical.

Anyway, I bring up Billy (unfortunately, a very real person) for a good reason, not merely to force you all to imagine a grown man drinking the urine of other men in order to achieve some bizarre form of sexual gratification. That's just an added plus.

No, I bring up Billy because, once, I thought of him as my primary example of debased humanity. The proof that there is no God. For surely, if there was some sort of divine creator who formed the universe and devised its rules, he would not create a man who wanted to drink the pee of another man. Unless God's a pervert.

And now, I have a new primary example of debased humanity.

Central Ohio resident Alan Patton.

Alan Patton, 54, is in jail after allegedly telling Gahanna police that he enjoys drinking urine.

Detective Ron Fithen interviewed Patton after he was arrested while leaving a movie theater last weekend.

"Listening to his describe it, it's like listening to a crack or cocaine addict. He's addicted to children's urine," Fithen said.

Really, this is the only activity which can be disfavorably compared to being a crack addict. I mean, if you absolutely must be addicted to something, better crack cocaine than kid pee. You can go to any major urban center and locate crack cocaine. But kid pee has to be obtained delicately and with the utmost care and discretion.

The story continues. I can't believe I got this article from an NBC affiliate. This thing is truly disgusting. For those of you with at all sensitive stomachs or delicate sensibilities, please stop reading now, I beg of you.

Police said Patton goes to family restaurants and movie theaters and waits for boys in a bathroom stall. Investigators said he shuts off the water to the child-level urinal and puts a cup in the bottom.

Patton allegedly told police that he leaves the stall after the child leaves.

"He goes back and retrieves the cup and drinks the urine," Fithen said.

You're telling me you can have a story about a kid pee drinker on NBC, but a split-second shot of Janet Jackson's boob is going to cause a several year-long national uproar? This is some truly repugnant shit!

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Ice Harvest

What is it with Billy Bob Thornton and Christmas Eve robberies? This is the second film in which he plays a dirtbag plotting the Crime of a Lifetime on the night before Christmas, after Bad Santa. Now, that was a film that understood dark comedy. Terry Zwigoff's spectacularly crude Ode to Degeneracy had balls - it stared unafraid deep into the soul of a tortured, middle-aged hopeless alcoholic.

Harold Ramis' new pitch black semi-comedy, The Ice Harvest, doesn't have nearly the bite of Thornton's previous entry in the Noel Caper genre. Sure, its heroes commit all kinds of dastardly deeds - and on Christmas! - but they're basically nice people caught in a crazy, intense situation. Though they act bad, they themselves are mere ciphers...stand-ins for actual characters whom Ramis and screenwriters Richard Russo and Robert Benton shuffle about for yucks.

The film's not bad, per se. At least, not as bad as I had heard, or as that last paragraph might have you think. Stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton have a good rapport, even if their scenes together (or any other scenes, for that matter) aren't exactly funny. And the film does manage some last-minute surprises, both in terms of the story's conclusion and the graphic nature of the violence. It's just that, though Ramis seems to feel that he's reinventing the wheel with this rather simple "robbery gone wrong" story, it's only a passable slapstick crime film.

And, yes, slapstick will be the order of the day, despite the fact that neither of these two guys are particularly known for pratfalls. (Though I guess Thornton has, at this point, proven himself an able physical comedian). The movie doesn't really even try to snappy, funny dialogue for the most part, and most of the characters are completely stock and uninteresting. I mean, this is a movie about poirnographers and organized crime bosses in Wichita, Kansas. You're telling me, in real life, those aren't some interesting characters?

Cusack plays mob lawyer Charlie Arglist, who seeems like a genuinely nice guy despite his choice of profession. But don't let appearances fool you - he and local smut peddler Vic Cavanaugh have secretly stolen $2 million of mob boss Bill Guerrard's money. Guerrard, by the way, is played by Randy Quaid, who between this and Brokeback Mountain appears to be suddenly in movies again. Did he get a new agent or something?

Anyway, the entire film takes place on Christmas Eve, immediately following Charlie and Vic's heist but before they can get out of town, to the airport and off to some country where they don't allow rain, by law. Predictably, a variety of things go wrong. A long-time crush of Charlie's, lovely strip club owner Renata (Connie Neilsen) has caught on to their plan. Some hoodlum (Mike Starr) is showing up all over town asking about them. And Charlie somehow finds himself stuck caring for the drunken oaf (Oliver Platt) who married his lovely ex-wife.

The scenes with Platt are pretty awful. When he's first introduced about 10 minutes into the movie, he's already drunk, and since the movie takes place all on this one night, he only gets more drunk from there. It must be hard to get into the head of a character who's making a drunk ass of himself in the entire script, and Platt, to his credit I suppose, doesn't even try. Pete has no personality beyond being shitfaced, which makes spending an entire film with him fairly unpleasant.

The sequences with Charlie and Vic evading the mob and questioning one another's motives are the best in the film, but it can't keep up the pace for very long. Eventually, they manage to lock a nemesis in a large suitcase, only to find that he can still argue with them, and still has a handgun. It works okay for a while, but builds to a climax at about the hour mark that I didn't really like. It makes logical sense, in terms of the story, but takes everything in pretty much the least interesting or funny direction possible. The entire film then quickly runs out of steam, gunplay notwithstanding.

I'm not really sure what happened here, exactly. The set-up has worked before (in films like The Ref and Quick Change, which also feature frenzied robbers escaping the scene of the crime). And the actors are all good, even Oliver Platt, who is funny but never seems to appear in funny movies. The movie just never made me laugh. I think, with this sort of outrageous, farcical material, it either works or it doesn't. I also think, however, that more attention to character and less film noir-style double-crosses would have given the jokes more punch and made the entire enterprise more amusing. Also, less shots of people slipping on ice. Once is kind of funny. Twice is not funny. Three times is not funny. Four times is kind of funny again. Anything beyond that is not funny at all.

Pride and Prejudice

It's kind of difficult to review a literary adaptation like this if you haven't read the source material. Alas, my only experience with Jane Austen has been Northanger Abbey, and it's a rather atypical Austen novel at that. So don't look to this review for a critique of what was left out in the translation to cinema. Certainly, many crucial scenes were removed to make this 120 minute adaptation possible, as it's kind of a long book and previously inspired a 5-hour BBC miniseries.

However, I can say that, serving as my lone experience with this particular story, Pride and Prejudice serves as a well-made, wholly satisfying entertainment. A more realistic, lived-in take on English manor life than we are typically provided, Joe Wright's film delicately balances a modern perspective and attitude with the book's Late 17th Century setting.

Counter-intuitively, the facet of Wright's film I enjoyed the least has been its most touted feature - the lead performance of Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett. Attentive blog readers will note that I have not been Ms. Knightley's biggest fan in the past, attacking her performance as Domino Harvey in Tony Scott's latest nightmare-film only last week. She's not as painfully self-aware and dull here as in Domino, but she hardly radiates the sly intelligence we're told to associate with Miss Elizabeth. In fact, I found her bubbly, toothy performance rather at odds with the way other characters tended to describe and treat Elizabeth. Rather than headstrong and willful, she seems almost disintereted, even childish. That is, until the film's busy conclusion forces her to become more passionate and excitable.

For those as Austen-ignorant as myself, here's a brief and mostly painless plot synopsis, one that's woefully incomplete because the film's narrative takes so many twists and turns. The Bennetts have five daughters, each of whom has arrived or is approaching marrying age. While Mr. Bennett (a charmingly mangy Donald Sutherland) tries to avoid worrying about finances, his wife (Brenda Blethyn) has made it her life's work to find all her girls suitable men.

They all must find well-off husbands, because their father's estate will pass not to any of them, but to the mainly undesirable parson Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander). But there's even more pressure - to avoid unpleasant gossip, the girls should be married off in order by age, starting with the eldest, Jane (Rosamund Pike). And to make matters even more stressful for the Bennetts, the headstrong second-eldest Elizabeth (Knightley) can't be bothered with the affections of Mr. Collins nor the aloof Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) nor anyone else for that matter.

Of course, complications pile upon complications, and misunderstandings upon misunderstandings, until it seems that no one will find happiness or financial security. And, this being an Austen novel, everything mainly finds a way to work itself out. Despite all the chaos in the Bennett home, and the juggling of several story arcs, Wright ably keeps the film focused on Elizabeth and her conflicted desires for independence and the safety of commitment.

To do this, he clearly had to remove a lot of material. I didn't even know the story, but even I could tell that major events were glossed over, particularly as they concern the rakish Mr. Wickham (Rupert Friend), who briefly woos Elizabeth before setting his sights on her younger sister Lydia (American actress Jena Malone). Wright sometimes muddles the story's chronology; some of the time jumps aren't clearly indicated. In more than one scene, it would take a few moments before I'd realize the characters had been apart for months.

For the most part, though, Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach (with rumored help from Emma Thompson) and cinematographer Roman Osin navigate the complicated world of Austen's novel swimmingly. In one amazing, complex shot, reminiscent in some ways of Max Ophuls' work, Osin's camera swirls around a party, in and out of ballrooms and even doorways, taking in at least three or four conversations at a time.

Osin's photography likewise captures some of the gritty reality of the period that other costume dramas would be tempted to leave out. The Bennetts' modest lifestyle means messy, unwashed hair, boiled potatoes for dinner and muddy feet following walks in the rain. All of these little bits of detail are brought to vivid life in the film, which pretty much looks good enough overall to make me generally unconcerned about its flaws.

Austen's writing essentially created the mold from which all subsequent romantic comedy is formed, so the conclusion to Pride and Prejudice is essentially inevitable from Page One. To Wright's credit, his adaptation doesn't limp familiarly along towards this inevitability, but seems to stumble upon a happy ending by a lucky turn of fate. It's one of the most easy-to-watch, entertaining Austen films I can think of, and the liveliest Hollywood costume drama I've seen in a while.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

This Open Letter Was Written on Stationary Made of Gold and Pink Marble

How have I been missing this public Donald Trump/Martha Stewart feud? That's exactly the sort of celebrity story I need to follow closely, goddammit! Way to fall down on the job, Celebrity Gossip Sites I Visit Daily! It took Ace Cowboy and the good people at Slack LaLane to bring it to my attention.

Anyway, the World's Pettiest Billionaires have been blasting one another all week in the pages of Newsweek and on television.

First, the domestic diva took aim in an article in the current Newsweek; then The Donald blasted back in a letter to Martha delivered Tuesday; late Tuesday a stunned Stewart returned fire, and then later Tuesday Trump shot again in a TV interview.

I think the whole argument can be traced by to one comment by Martha, where she implies that the original concept for the show had her "firing" Trump and taking over the franchise, rather than running a spin-off of Trump's original.

Her show was supposed to be the only "Apprentice" and was meant to start out with her firing Trump on the air, she told Newsweek, reiterating comments she'd made before.

"Having two 'Apprentices' was as unfair to him as it was unfair to me," she told Newsweek. "But Donald really wanted to stay on."

Personally, I can't see that egomaniac Trump agreeing to let anyone fire him on his own show. Perhaps some low-level NBC suit made such an offer to Martha, but I don't think The Donald would ever in a million years let that go down.

So in response to that comment, and in a desperate bid to salvage his own TV show, Trump has taken to insulting Martha and her "Apprentice" spin-off publicly. It's not exactly classy. But beyond simply embarrassing her and trying to make her look like an idiot, he's getting pretty personal.

Trump's blunt response asks Stewart to take responsibility for her "failed show."

"Your performance was terrible in that the show lacked mood, temperament and just about everything a show needs for success," he wrote. "I knew it would fail as soon as I first saw it -- and your low ratings bore me out."

He actually keeps going...

"Between your daughter, with her one-word statements, your letter writing and, most importantly, your totally unconvincing demeanor, it never had a chance -- much as your daytime show is not exactly setting records," he wrote.

I'll admit that Martha wasn't exactly the most compelling presence on TV, but this isn't exactly fair. Her show was, conceptually, identical to The Donald's own program. I think it failed more because the public didn't have the patience for two simultaneous versions of "The Apprentice," and because they just don't much care for Martha Stewart in general. But Don should have known that going in.

Here's the meanest part of the letter.

"Essentially, you made this firing up just as you made up your sell order of ImClone," said Trump, who claimed NBC did not intend to fire him on Stewart's show.

That's right, he went there...

This is really juvenile stuff, which makes it hilarious. What's the most strange for me about this whole thing is that I thoroughly enjoyed Martha's take on "The Apprentice." She's not as fun a host as Donald Trump, of course, but these shows basically live or die by their contestants. And Martha's Apprentice had some really hilarious cast members, particularly overly-enthusiastic lunatic Jim.

Anyway, it wasn't a significantly worse show than Donald's "Apprentice," but because ti didn't have good ratings, he's decided that it's the worst show ever. Because that's how his mind works.

If You're South Da Kota...

It was bound to happen, once the pro-life crazies got Sam Alito on the Supreme Court. You knew they'd challenge Roe v. Wade right away...somewhere. I mean, that was the whole point, right? We weren't debating whether or not this guy would be a good, responsible caretaker of the Constitution. Cause that would have been a very short debate (no).

No, the whole thing was to make sure he thought raped women or the victims of incest who get pregnant should have no option but to give birth.

Setting up South Dakota to become the first state in 14 years to start a direct legal attack on Roe v. Wade, lawmakers voted on Wednesday to outlaw nearly all abortions.


After more than an hour of fierce and emotional debate, the senators rejected pleas to add exceptions for incest or rape or for the health of the pregnant woman and instead voted, 23 to 12, to outlaw all abortions, except those to save the woman's life.

I mean, really, when you think about it...fathers who impregnate their 13 year old daughters are only trying to spread their seed around and make more babies. They are concerned with spreading life, people. It's God's work!

They also rejected an effort to allow South Dakotans to decide the question in a referendum and an effort to prevent state tax dollars from financing what is certain to be a long and expensive court battle.

Wow...That's amazing. This is the State Government elected by the people of South Dakota. And now, these elected representatives, are basically saying, "Fuck you guys. You don't get to tell us if you don't like this law. Even though we're using your money to force it on the American people. Just shut up and stop having abortions, okay? Is that so hard?"

Your American Democracy at work.

Here are some conflicting opinions from some South Dakota State Senators.

"This state has a right and a duty to step up to the plate," Senator William M. Napoli, Republican of Rapid City, told his colleagues before he voted for the ban.

Hey, is William Napoli some kind of pseudonym employed by our very own Randy Jackson? "South Dakota really stepped up to the plate tonight. That abortion ban is hot!"

"What can we as a state possibly gain by passing a bill that is unconstitutional?" asked Senator Clarence Kooistra, Republican of Garretson, who added that he represented the "silent majority" of South Dakotans who would not approve outlawing abortion nearly entirely.

I couldn't agree with you more, Clarence. This will be a costly and time-consuming maneuver for the people of South Dakota, when they would be better served by focusing on the needs of people in their own communities and cities. But don't say..."silent majority." That's a Nixon thing. You don't want to sound like Nixon, right?

"It is a calculated risk, to be sure, but I believe it is a fight worth fighting," State Senator Brock L. Greenfield, a Clark Republican who is also director of the South Dakota Right to Life, told his colleagues in a hushed, packed chamber here.

I've discussed my views on abortion here before...So you don't need me to remind you that I think women have an absolute right over their own bodies, and it should not be the work of uptight, resentful, moralistic male beaurocrats to tell them where and when they can remove unwanted foeti.

I just can't understand the obsession of these people with outlawing this one procedure. I mean, thousands of Americans die every day from all kinds of stuff. And they are already alive. You can talk to them and discover their personalities, they have living relatives and stuff who care about them...No Republicans seem to care when those people die. Only the ones still coated in mucous membranes.

That's the motto of the New GOP for ya: If you aren't within 10 inches of a placenta, get bent.

Tbogg has more on South Dakota State Senator Brock L. Greenfield, the director of South Dakota Right to Life. He's only 3 years older than me, and check out his resume from his own website:

Professional Experience:

Baseball Coach, City of Clark & Clark American Legion, 2002-present
Substitute Teacher, Clark School & Doland School, 2002-present
Attendant, Greenfield's Short Stop, 1992-present

Wait, that guy's a Senator? Everyone, seriously everyone, who works at Laser Blazer has a more impressive resume than that. I've had homeless guys fill out job applications that were more impressive than Brock's. You're a 30 year old man, and you've worked as (1) a cashier at your family's convenience store, (2) a small-town substitute teacher and (3) a part-time baseball coach?

If that's all it takes to become a Senator in South Dakota, I'd like to officially throw my hat in the ring. You want qualifications? I've worked at a video store and a bookstore and I once spent an entire day researching astrophysics for The History Channel. Also, I used to temp at the Taco Bell Corporate Office! Eat that, Greenfield!

Kinetic Idiocy

A friend of mine, anonymously writing as "Cbabbitt" on Ain't It Cool, has posted a wonderfully angry screed against Russian vampire flick Night Watch. Now, this movie has been something of an international hit, and has already spawned, I believe, two sequels in its native land. It has only recently come to America in limited engagements.

And Mr. Babbitt didn't just dislike the film. He tears in apart viciously. In fact, I'm told that this was the second draft comissioned by the site, after the first was deemed overly cruel. Awesome. That's my kind of film review...teeming with unpublishable venom.

Here's an excerpt from the finished draft, to give you a flavor of the hate:

Night Watch is the newest foray into kinetic idiocy made by arguably the most obnoxious and useless director working in contemporary foreign film. Here’s a film so inept and unoriginal, the filmmakers decided the only possible way to tell a coherent, entertaining story is to mimic Tony Scott, but multiply his frenetic nonsense by ten. Which is to say, Night Watch is absolutely incoherent, reprehensible, and worthless.

Do yourself a favor and read the entire thing. Unsurprisingly, most of the Talkbackers agree that the movie is terrible.

While at AICN, you may also want to check out some photos from Guillermo del Toro's upcoming Pan's Labyrinth. Could any facet of Del Toro's film set in a labyrinth possibly top David Bowie's turn as the Goblin King in Jim Henson's version? Most likely, not...but you never know. These screen captures look tremendous.

Yikes. Can you imagine having to spend up to 12 hours a day with someone in that freaky make-up? That little girl must have Post-Traumatic Stress by now.

Santorum: Still the Worst Person Alive

There isn't another Braffy ceremony for a few months, so Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is still enjoying his reign as Worst Man on Earth.

And it's nice to see he's not just resting on his laurels. He's out there, every day, trying to cheat and steal and bloviate and generally make the worst a less pleasant place to live.

Now, we get the rather delightful revelation that Ricky has violated Senate Ethics rules by accepting a "generous" mortgage from an exclusive bank catering to the extremely rich.

CREW based its complaint on a story by Will Bunch that first appeared in [the American Prospect] and Philadelphia Daily News on February 21, 2006. According to the article, in 2002, Sen. Santorum and his wife received a $500,000 five-year mortgage for their Leesburg, VA home from Philadelphia Trust. The bank’s web site states that “banking services are available only to investment advisory clients whose portfolios we manage, oversee or administer.” The Daily News reporter called the bank, which confirmed that it offers mortgages only to investors and not to the general public.

Sen. Santorum’s financial disclosure forms for 2001 and 2002 show no investment portfolio with Philadelphia Trust. Moreover, in 2002, the year Sen. Santorum obtained the mortgage, his financial disclosure forms indicate that his investments did not exceed $145,000.

Rule 35 of the Senate Code of Official Conduct bans Senators from accepting gifts and specifically includes “loans” within the definition of “gifts.” The Gift Rule also provides that Senators can accept loans from banks and other financial institutions on terms “generally available to the public.”

Way to go, Rick!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

American Idol's Randy Jackson Reviews the Classics of Western Literature

What's up, y'all in the Dawg Pound! Randy Jackson here to give you the 411 on all the hottest novels in the Western canon. That's right, dude. Didn't know your boy Randy studied, right? Yeah yeah! Woof woof woof!

A-ight, let's get it going here with our first selection, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.

This was only a-ight for me, dawg. Only a-ight for me. You got Pip, he was doing his thang. It's all good. Miss Havisham is working it out. You know how she do. I don't know, dude, it was pretty good, you know what I'm saying? It was just a-ight for me.

Okay, next is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

I been a fan of Big Gabe's from the beginning. You know I got much love for magical realism. I think this might be Marquez's best book yet, dude. He really stepped up his game, left it all out there on the page, man. When that gypsy comes to town and shows them a magnet...I'm feelin' you, dawg. I feel you.

And now for our final selection, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

I don't know, dude...This wasn't really Hardy's best performance. Kind of pitchy in the middle there, kind of lost his way a bit. He might have just been nervous. The fictional region of "Wessex" is brought to life more fully in other Hardy novels, such as The Mayor of Castorbridge. Some of these other Victorian modernists, dawg, they are really bringing their A game, you dig what I'm saying? Gotta try to ramp it up if you want to stay in this competition.

A-ight, that's it for this time, y'all. Stay up. This is Randy Jackson, sending you much love. Join me next time, when I'll be looking at Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia and Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. Peace, I'm out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Separate Lies

Separate Lies presents us with a tantalizing thriller premise and then peaks way too soon, fading away slowly into a maudlin tear-jerker. Writer/director Julian Fellowes had this same problem with his previous screenplay, for the far-better, Robert Altman-helmed Gosford Park. That film opened as a social comedy, following all the romance and intrigue between the aristocratic guests and an English manor house as well as the servants and staff, and wound up contorting somewhat awkwardly into a whodunit.

Altman's mastery of storytelling and his cast of wonderful British actors allowed Gosford Park to overcome this unfortunate lapse and remain a memorable highlight of the director's later period. Separate Lies on the other hand ultimately disappoints, losing its way after a promising First Act.

Like a whole lot of romantic thrillers, Separate Lies focuses on the way smaller, incidental lies snowball into major, life-altering betrayals. Poor clueless James (Tom Wilkinson) thinks he's enjoying a happy, though childless, marriage to Anne (Emily Watson). In truth, she's restless, bored with James and involved in an increasingly passionate love affair with their caddish, bachelor neighbor William (Rupert Everett).

One night, while James works in the city, Anne hosts a small party at their country home. On the road, near the party, a man riding his bicycle is struck by a passing car. He dies. It turns out, he's the husband of Anne and James' maid.

The accident will come to not only reveal the truth about James and Anne's marriage, but will repeatedly test the strength of their marriage and their personal morality. For a while, it appears that the film will develop into a high-level cat-and-mouse type thriller, along the lines of a Chabrol film or Woody Allen's Match Point.

But, alas, no. After a few abortive scenes of suspense, the police investigation into the accident concludes and the movie shifts its attention to James and Anne's disintigrating marriage. It's not that Fellowes doesn't have any insights to share. In particular, he's interested in how James' devotion to Anne has caused her to reject him. They are locked in an endless cycle; the more she pushes him away, the more needy for her affection he becomes.

I think the major problem is just that, after an hour devoted to criminal procedure and shifting alibis and misdirections, Fellowes just can't make us care enough about his characters as people. In the best sections of the film, James and Anne and William work as pawns in an elaborate game. James has lied to the police, and finds himself trapped in that lie, and it's this situation that makes him compelling. Once he's no longer in danger of going to jail, he's just some lonely big city lawyer.

Monday, February 20, 2006

North Country

North Country had me going for a while. Yes, it's predictable and sticks close to the formula for all successful real-life-court-case dramas. (Think Erin Brockovich, in particular). But it has a terrific central location in a North Minnesota Iron Mine, which director Niki Caro films as a cesspool that's equally treacherous and grim. It features a bunch of great Bob Dylan songs on the soundtrack (fittingly, as it turns out, because the singer was born in a Northern Minnesota mining town). And, yes, it has a pretty great, steely performance from Charlize Theron as the determined, traumatized sexual harrassment victim who will turn the tables on her tormentors.

So, for a while, the film works as an acting showcase and a "social issue" piece. It's bleak but not too bleak, and it does have a hell of a cast, full of familiar faces like Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins and Sean Bean and Sissy Spacek and Woody Harrelson.

And then it just goes totally off the rails. The courtroom scenes that make up the film's climax are laughably ridiculous. A bogus romantic sub-plot is thrown in, seemingly at will, in addition to a random terminal illness. A union meeting populated entirely by enraged sexual predators becomes the setting for a sensitive monologue that could not be less true to life if it were performed by Jar Jar Binks. Revelation piles on top of revelation, until the film starts to seem less like a historical docu-drama about iron unions and more like the season premiere of "The O.C." A sincere, earnest story based on true events, in other words, turns into another overblown, ludicrous piece of mawkish Hollywood bullcrap. Which is always disappointing to see.

I don't want to to give too much away, but let me just say that, to all you wannabe screenwriters out there, you should never give one of a film's main characters Lou Gehrig's Disease unless you have a really really super good reason. Cause, I mean...Wow. That's just pushing the boundaries of sense and good taste right there.

So the filmmakers can get away with those kind of silly flights of fancy, all the names and specifics have been changed. But North Country is based on the real case of the first successful class action sexual harrassment lawsuit in the United States, Jenson v. Eveleth Mines. In the film's version, mother of two Josey Aimes (Theron) struggles to support her family amidst rampant harrassment and intolerance from her male co-workers at the Pierson Iron Mine.

At the film's opening, she's on the floor, left bruised and bloodied by her abusive husband. So Josey grabs her daughter Karen (Elle Peterson) and son Sammy (Thomas Curtis) and heads for her parents' house in the North Country of the title. Dad (Richard Jenkins) works in the mine already, but he doesn't think his daughter should go getting a job there. Like all the other men in town, he's threatened by the notion of women working at the plant, even though they have to hire 'em by law.

Once Josey starts working there anyway, encouraged by her tough-as-nails friend Glory (Frances McDormand) and the high salary that she can't make anywhere else in town, she finds the men difficult to deal with. Her old high school flame, Bobby (Jeremy Renner, who memorably played Jeffrey Dahmer in a film a few years ago), is now her boss, and takes every opportunity to grab her ass or make lewd comments. Bad innuendo abounds at the mine, actually, as do disgusting pranks that sometimes even involve key bodily fluids.

And in setting up the horrors that await Josey and her new friend Sherry (the ridiculously cute Michelle Monaghan, of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and this summer's Mission: Impossible 3), Caro and screenwriter Michael Seitzman do a pretty solid job. They actually manage to go further in depicting the harrassment than I expected. You know there will be grabbing of asses and references to fellatio, but some of this stuff is hard to even watch. You understand why Josey would be reduced to tears at the end of a shift at this place.

The movie just has a far better idea of how to handle the set-up to this particular story. Theron's convincingly wounded, and the scenes of her family being ripped apart by rumor, innuendo and intolerance are harrowing. But there's just no satisfying pay-off to this story. Caro and Seitzman bungle just about every important sequence in the film's second half, relying on lame movie devices like "surprise witnesses."

And the Lou Gehrig's Disease stuff...I'm sorry, but it's just way way too far. You can just tell when a movie's gone too far, and that's exactly what happens here. Again, I don't want to say which character will actually contract this fatal syndrome, wasting away before our eyes, but it's so cheap and manipulative that I got taken out of the movie.

The courtroom stuff, too, is straight "Law and Order." I've never been in a real courtroom during a trial, but I can tell you, for certain, that no court on Earth has ever really operated this way. A lawyer will be harrassing a witness, the other attorney will object, the judge will sustain the objection...and the original lawyer will just keep on talking and asking questions.

Um, no, excuse me, Bill S. Preston Esquire, but when an objection is sustained, that means you can't keep asking that question. Or did I miss that episode of Perry Mason where he gets around that rule?

And, while I'm on the subject, another thing I never want to see again in one of these movies: the bit where one person stands, to indicate that they are siding with the protagonist, and then all the other nay-sayers from the movie begin to stand up slowly, one by one, in a growing display of solidarity. It's such horseshit. Never happens that way. Either everyone would stand up or no one would...How would you know when it was your turn to stand otherwise? You'd always be half-standing, getting ready to stand, but then seeing that someone else was going to stand, so you'd kind of sit back down, but not all the way because then maybe you were going to stand up next. Because you wouldn't want to be left out, and wind up the only one not standing. So it would be this awkward bobbing and weaving session of everyone trying to stand up at once, once they had realized that was the way the crowd was turning. Anyway, these scenes are always stupid and unrealistic and should be dispensed with immediately.

It's just a shame, this movie. It ruins some nice performances and some great music and some nice shots of trucks driving down snowy highways towards ominous quarries with unneccessary last-minute theatrics.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Many could be blamed for the complete failure of Domino, the amateurish, unpleasant and thoroughly pointless 2005 film about the exploits of a real-life model turned bounty hunter. Donnie Darko writer/director Richard Kelly has produced a script that represents, I believe, the ultimate in nihilism. This is a 2 hour film about absolutely nothing, in which no one cares about anyone or anything, except looking tough.

Star Keira Knightly proves once again that, though classically beautiful, she has less on-screen appeal than a week-old, sun-dried mayonnaise sandwich.

Director Tony Scott, he of Top Gun and Crimson Tide fame, stumbles around this material like a nervous, clueless, possibly drunk first-timer. Actually, I take that back. Domino doesn't simply feel like the work of a novice director...It feels like the work of someone who had never seen a film before, so he had no clue of where to point the camera, or even that particular appratus' function.

I have no idea if the life of Domino Harvey, bounty hunter, would make a good movie. Based on the rough outline - the beautiful daughter of a long-dead Hollywood actor (Lawrence Harvey of Manchurian Candidate fame) finds a lucrative career rounding up bail-jumpers for a crooked bondsman - it sounds kind of outrageous and promising. Even though the real Domino Harvey died of a drug overdose just prior to the film's release, which kind of puts a damper on things.

But this version of the events does no justice to this real woman or her, apparently, interesting life story. This movie is a complete mess, one of the sloppiest, most senselessly loud, chaotic and obnoxious films I have seen in a long time. Tony Scott should probably retire, rather than immediately begin work on his next film in a water-logged New Orleans (Deja Vu, which will be out later this year).

Check the scowl. That's Keira's one mode for this entire film. At the beginning of the movie, she's explaining her life to an FBI agent (Lucy Liu), and it's this voice-over that will plunge us into the world of Los Angeles criminality. Actually, I don't know why the voice-over was needed at all. The movie's really confusing, but Domino never tells us in her narration what's going on, anyway. She mostly gives us information we've already heard, again, or introduces us to characters who won't matter because they zip through the film briefly as it hurtles forward at warp speed.

After her father died young, followed by her beloved goldfish (seriously...), young Domino decides that she doesn't care about any living thing, and devotes her life to violence. As this transformation forms the entire crux of the movie - a young person of privilege embracing a life of violent debauchery - you'd think Scott would spend a little time on it. At the very least, you'd think he would acknowledge that drug abuse might have played some small role in Domino's transformation from model to bounty hunter. But, no...Instead, we get shots of Keira looking sullen in the foreground, smoking cigarettes, while sorority sisters dance around behind her. Oooh, she's angsty. You are dark, Domino!

So, of course, because of her hatred of Hollywood and show business and preening femininity, Domino becomes...a model. But she's a bored model! We know she is bored because, next to her as she walks down the catwalk, appear the words "I am bored."

Yeah, Tony, we just heard her say that in the voice-over. Not to mention that you have Keira making a "bored model" face into the camera. Why actually inform us of the character's inner thoughts using text on the screen. Was is this, Pop Up Fucking Video? You're making feature films, let's get a little professionalism!

Also, you might be wondering why you'd tell these kinds of personal details of your life to an FBI interrogator who only wants to know about the crimes you've just committed? Or how, exactly, we're supposed to care about a beautiful rich young girl with absolutely no sense of humor or personality who turns to a life of violent criminality for kicks? For answers to these questions, as well as requests for your money back, please write to "Tony Scott, c/o Scott Free Productions, Hollywood, CA 90210."

All this covers only the first few minutes of the movie. There is so much plot going on, and Tony whizzes by everything so quickly, that there's really no time to absorb anything. Domino's hot, she's sad, she is a model, she stops being a model, she gets tattooes, she becomes a bounty hunter in the employ of another bounty hunter (Mickey Rourke) and a sleazy bail bondsman (Delroy Lindo). There's no conflict, so there's no drama. Things happen but don't link up to one another at all. It's a series of events that don't even try to congeal into a story until about the hour mark. Then, it becomes more story-like, but continues to make absolutely no logical sense.

Eventually, the film will include a severed arm, members of the cast of "Beverly Hills 90210," Chris Walken as a deranged reality TV producer, $10 million stolen from an armored car, a wacky Afghani driver/terrorist wannabe, a horrifying car crash followed by hot desert sex, and Tom Waits as a religious guru/potentially mescaline-induced hallucination. None of it will be nearly as amusing or interesting as that all sounds.

To compensate for his utter lack of narrative or, let's face it, intelligence, Scott refuses to hold the camera still for one goddamn minute and actually show us what's happening. Instead, every image in the film is shot from an angle, overexposed, artificially blurred, filtered through colored lenses and filters and then digitally distorted. It's not just really ugly, but needlessly confusing. It makes even simple scenes, with two or three characters discussing vital plot information, extremely difficult to follow. Some sequences where the humor might have actually had a shot at working (like some of the strange meta-comedy with Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green, for example) is ruined by Scott's overbearing, distracting technique.

I'm not one of these people that thinks movies are warping children's minds or causing violent behavior, and I'm pretty much never in favor of censorship of any kind. So I'm not telling you that Domino is actually a social evil, or something we as a society should band together and keep locked away from sight. But I do think it's pretty ugly, reprehensible stuff, a movie that doesn't just glorify in violence but seems to find senseless bloodshed rather deliciously amusing.

In many scenes, acts of violence themselves are the joke. Not once, but twice do men come up and hit on Domino, only for her to wait a moment and then punch them. You think, the second time, she's going to react to this leacherous chauvanism in some different way...because why would a movie include the same exact scene twice? But it's just that kind of movie.

Domino herself, as she narrates the movie to Lucy Liu, does so with a broken nose and blood spilling down her face. We keep expecting, as the story bounces around through time, to see her actually break the nose and bloody herself. It never happens. Keira doesn't have that make-up on because it links up somehow to the narrative...Tony must just think that's a sexy look, a girl wearing too much make-up who looks like she's had the shit kicked out of her. He and Luc Besson would probably get along.