Saturday, April 01, 2006

Actual Items

Some news stories I wanted to share, which despite the date today, I totally swear are genuinely for real...Really...

VICE-PRESIDENT CHENEY ACCIDENTALLY KILLS AND DEVOURS FAMILY OF FIVE

LAWRENCE, KANSAS -- Failing to alert the authorities about the incident for over 14 hours, the Vice-President allegedly murdered and ate the five members of the Clarke family in the den area of their ranch-style home 10 miles outside of Lawrence Thursday.

Citing "confusion" and stress due to his incredibly hectic work schedule, the Vice-President claims to have accidentally stumbled upon the Clarke home during a one-week trip to the Heartland to defend the administration's increasingly-troubled reputation. An intense schedule that day, coupled with the distraction of placating the chorus of negativity on the left blogosphere, rendered the Vice-President incapable of telling the difference from the Clarke home and a local Bob's Big Boy, where Cheney was set to meet with several advisors and staff members.

"The Vice-President simply didn't realize what he was doing when he bound and gagged the Clarkes and forced them to watch him slit their father's throat, dismember his still-vibrating corpse and suck the marrow out of his shin bone," said Lawrence sherriff's deputy C. Kurt Deutschwaller. "It's the sort of mistake that could happen to anybody."

Early reports that the Vice-President might have been high on angel dust during the incident have yet to be confirmed.

"I can say that the Vice-President might have snorted some angel dust earlier that morning," said a high-ranking Cheney advisor who wished to remain anonymous. "He had been complaining of a headache. But I don't think he would have been on anything during the unfortunate events in Kansas, for which he has repeatedly stated his sincere regret."

Right-wing talk radio and blogs have already rallied to the Vice-President's defense in the immediatel wake of the incident.

"I wish some of these morons on the left, the feminazis and America-hating professors, could understand that...I mean, this man works hard," Rush Limbaugh commented on his popular syndicated call-in show. "He's out there every day on the front lines, fighting this War on Terror, ridding the world of hatred and oppression. And if, occasionally, in the course of protecting America, he's forced to butcher and consume some random family in order to obtain their precious, mystical life energy...well...I say, so be it."

TERROR TO RULE THE 2006 BOX OFFICE

HOLLYWOOD, CA -- In the coming year, Hollywood will be all about Terror. The War on Terror, that is.

Many new films will show the world "the lighter side" of America's bloody international campaign to stamp out evil Islamo-fascism.

"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, people weren't really ready to hear from the artistic community," says Oliver Stone, director of the upcoming World Trade Center. "But now, I think people are ready to embrace large, faceless media conglomerations capitalizing on the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our history. It's just that time."

Paul Greengrass, whose film Flight 93 will recreate in as realistic a fashion as possible the deaths of the passengers of the doomed title airliner, concurs that America is ready for entertainment dealing with the September 11th attacks.

"Holy shit, wait until you see the box cutter fight we've put together for this bitch," says Greengrass. "It totally blows away the Daryl Hannah fight from Kill Bill 2."

Joining Stone and Greengrass' films on the 2006 slate are other prominent features about America's military expedition in the Middle East:

  • In Clerics, Kevin Smith's charming recurring characters Jay and Silent Bob find themselves appointed as mullahs to a large Riyadh religious school. Wackiness ensues as they pass a variety of outrageous fatwas and call for a jihad against DC Comics and Reese Witherspoon.
  • Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code Violation stars Tom Hanks as an innocent Afghan arrested for wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of the Mona Lisa. Branded "obscene" by the Afghan Constitution, Hanks' hapless prisoner (a role for which he practiced daily with a speech coach and lost 75 pounds) faces 20 years in jail and the severing of his pinkie toe.
  • The futuristic political thriller A for Ayatollah imagines a dystopia in which the Shah of Iran rules Britain under a cruel totalitarian regime. Only Hugh Jackman, as a tenacious rebel in the King mask from those Burger King commercials, can overthrow the government and restore balance.
  • The children of The Chronicles of Narnistan are shocked to discover that an old wardrobe in their uncle's country house leads directly into the wartorn streets of Fallujah. Unable to find a magical piece of furniture capable of returning them home, or at least to the Green Zone, the children have no choice but to convert to Islam and join the insurgency, eventually taking part in a seige on a shrine formerly controlled by the Iraqi police.
  • In an added scene short after principal photography completed, an additional sub-plot has been grafted on to the Samuel L. Jackson thriller Snakes on a Plane, in which the deadly assassin snakes are activated by the oddly soothing flute music of a Persian snake charmer.

GRAPE NUTS STILL DISGUSTING, PANEL DECIDES

TOLEDO, OH -- Despite the theory that Grape Nuts eventually start to seem delicious once you acquire a taste, a panel of experts declared that Grape Nuts are and will always be completely disgusting this week.

"I'm sorry, but they have the exact same consistency and texture as gravel," said panel member and certified flavorologist Pam Weatherby. "Who thought that sounded appetizing? Isn't there an old Saturday Night Live sketch about rock cereal? Did they not realize that was a joke?"

Among the complained cited by the group were (1) the rock-like texture of Grape Nuts, (2) the misleading title, considering that the cereal includes neither grapes nor nuts, (3) the fact that Grape Nuts have absolutely no flavor whatsoever and (4) a comparison of Grape Nuts to actually delicious cereals like Cheerios, Rice Krispies and Captain Crunch.

"When you have a taste of Captain Crunch, it becomes immediately obvious how lacking Grape Nuts are in just about every way," Weatherby replied. "Unfortunately, we just released a study in 2004 about how they cut the roof of your mouth when you eat them too fast. There are many factors to be considered, when dealing with cereal. That's why this is such a hard job."

GOOFY FAT GUY AT YOUR WORK DEEPLY SAD INSIDE

NEWPORT NEWS, RI -- Your jolly, overweight co-worker, the one who always shows up in Hawaiian shirts and enthusiastically relates anecdotes about last night's re-run of "Battlestar Galactica" secretly hates his life and dreams of the sweet release of suicide, according to a report released Monday.

"Everybody likes Gary, because he tries to make work a little bit more pleasant," said Bill Marsh, who works down the hall from you in Speciality Referral. "I'm surprised to find out that sometimes, when no one else is around, he practices knot-tying, in case he ever wants to hang himself from the rafters in his attic."

Deflecting the deep-seated depression he has struggled with since his late-teens, Gary does his best to maintain a positive, animated attitude. A huge fan of "The Simpsons," "Chapelle's Show" and "South Park," he'll often regale co-workers with verbatim performances of some of the series' most beloved bits.

"Once, Gary has us in stitches for a whole hour, by doing this whole Chappelle bit about a family with the unfortunate name of Ni--...Actually, maybe I shouldn't tell this story," said a co-worker who wishes to remain anonymous but who I might as well tell you was Dorothy Tidwell.

When asked about the source of his crippling ennui, Gary cited the divorce of his parents when he was 10, his chronic loneliness and the untimely cancellation of Joss Whedon's "Firefly" after only a single season on Fox, during which it wasn't even shown in proper chronological order.

Living With It

In the 10 years since I moved out of my parents house, I have shared rooms, dorms and apartments with a variety of interesting people. Most have been close friends, and though there are obviously ups and downs in every living situation, I can honestly say that living among close friends has been, for the most part, a joy.

But living with strangers and random acquantances...That can be a different story. Just tonight, a guy I barely know who moved in here two months ago after meeting my former roommate Nathan on Craig's List moved out of the apartment. Tomorrow, two new guys will move in.

So get a load of this...This dude, who we'll call Mr. E, because that letter's in his name, he finishes moving out while I'm at work. I get home, he's already gone. Whatever, that's fine. Like I said, it's not like I had a chance to get really close to the guy. He only lived here two months. (Plus, he was weird. Sometimes, I'd walk by his room at night and he'd be listening to 80's power ballads and singing in a really high falsetto over the track.)

Anyway, I get home, there's no note or anything. The only way I know he's gone for good is that he left his key buried under some envelopes. And he left the sink full of dirty dishes, almost all of which were covered in his cooking.

I'd like you to stop and consider this for a moment. It means the guy made sure to wash and pack up all the cookware that might have belonged to him, leaving everything else dirty in the sink despite the fact that he had been the last one to use it all.

What a dick. I mean, I know that we'll probably never see one another again or communicate in any way, so he can basically burn me consequence-free...but why be that guy? Why be the guy who screws over former roommates just because he can? It sucks to be that guy.

Not to mention the fact that, the other day, he clogged up the garbage disposal for the second time since he's lived here. He was always shoving inappropriate items into the garbage disposal. Once, we caught him sticking whole orange peels in there.

"Mr. E, why would you do that?"

"It's good for the garbage disposal," he replied. "Keeps it clean."

Yeah, he was an idiot. So, anyway, these guys are going to move in tomorrow to a place with a broken garbage disposal, which I realize is lame. But it's too late to back on now...We've got rent due in a few days.

And now that I'm reminiscing about my short-term roommate Mr. E, I'm reminded of the oddest dude with whom I've ever shared living quarters...

A. Butt

I don't want to give out his first name, because if this dude ever Googles himself, I don't want him to be able to track me down. But his first name started with A and his last name was really, actually "Butt," spelled like your ass.

Why would you keep this as your last name? It's probably the worst last name of all time. It doesn't matter what your first name is, if your last name is "Butt," you have a really funny name. Guaranteed. But having your first initial be "A" just makes it that much worse. Change your name to anything, dude. Oscar P. Worcester. Roderick Quincy Finklestein. Baron von Skelderbergingfitzenhughdouchebucket III. Anything but A. Butt.

And he was a total weirdo as well. I mean, just a strange, doofusy kind of guy. He used to write really bad rap songs where he'd make up all his own slang, which made no sense. So he'd rap for you, and half the time you'd be thinking about how funny it was that this unbelievably white-bread dork was rapping, and the other half of the time you'd be trying to puzzle out what he was saying because it was wall-to-wall nonsense.

Anyway, just a real wacko. I guess it was a good experience, right away at college, getting to know a crazy guy. Preparation for all the other crazy people you'll be forced to live around and on top of for the next several years.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why is the LA Times Running With This Racist Trash?

It's very difficult to kickstart a career in freelance journalism. I've tried. You send out tons of clips, everything you've ever written that has been published anywhere that's worth a damn. Usually, publications large and small will simply ignore your work. Out of desperation, about a year ago, I actually wrote personal letters to editors at a variety of publications that had ignored submissions by me over the years.

Rather than asking for work, I simply asked what these editors would recommend to a person with some limited experience in journalism who wanted to start working freelance. Across the board, I was greeted with negativity, pessimism and, in a few cases, extreme condescention.

An editor from the perfectly-awful Los Angeles local City Beat told me that, in order to get work as a freelance writer, I would need to "intern" somewhere for a good while. To paraphrase, I should go slave away in some newsroom doing menial work for a year for free in the hopes that some kindly editor would throw me some piece-of-shit assignment for peanuts that I could then send around to be ignored by editors at publications large and small. Gee, thanks!

I suppose at least she was honest...Her entire job at a small local paper is about finding talented writers who will turn in interesting, important stories, so she automatically turns away any and all newcomers who aren't personally recommended to her in as mean-spirited and hostile a manner as possible. But she didn't string me along...There were no illusions that my inquiry would get me anywhere.

So, that's a long lead-in for a relatively simple question. Considering that it's so hard for writers of any stripe to make a name for themselves and get something published in a paper the size of the Los Angeles Times, then why are they running ignorant racist commentaries by idiots like The Doughy Pantload a.k.a. Jonah Goldberg.

First thing you should know about Jonah as relates to this conversation - he only has a job as a writer because of his mother, Lucianne Goldberg, who was a friend of Linda Tripp. Yes, that's right, he nepotistically exploited being the son of an associate to a loathed historical footnote to start his writing career. That's it...That's why any of us know the name "Jonah Goldberg." He's nothing.

Second thing you should know about him. He's unspeakably vile. Where to even begin with this guy...

Okay, here's a spot...Jonah's recent Townhall column about the immigration protests this week in Los Angeles. See if you can get your mind around this twisted bit of logic:

Many pro-immigration advocates say that Mexicans are no different than other immigrants, and that what critics of Mexican immigration - legal and illegal - say about Latinos is what they said about Germans, Poles, Italians, the Irish and the Jews in the past.

Obviously, there's some truth to this. Many of the complaints do sound similar. But that doesn't mean the arguments have the same weight. The arguments against interracial marriage sound very similar to the arguments against gay marriage, but that doesn't mean a black woman marrying a white man is the same thing as a man marrying another man.

Wow...

So, there's truth to the notion that hatred of Mexican immigrants works in a similar fashion to organized hatred of other ethnic immigrants in years past. But it should still be allowed because...the complains against Mexicans have more weight? What does that even mean? Could he be more vague?

Here's a good place to start. Why do contemporary complaints about Mexican immigrants neccessarily have more weight than complaints about the evil, exploitative Irish and Italian masses coming over in the early 20th century? Because those people were white and these people are brown? Because you said so?

Also, you've got to love the senselessness of the analogy that follows. Actually, Jonah, there are a lot of comparisons to be made between the interracial marriage debate and the gay marriage debate. In both cases, you have an old and intolerant generation that realizes their children are a lot more accepting of a practice that they find offensive. So they rush to outlaw it for all time in advance, to protect their treasured "values." First, it was whites and blacks living together. Now, it's two men co-habitating. But it's the same intolerant venemous horseshit. Why can't he see that?

Finally from this Townhall column, Jonah includes an actual "fact," one that I found kind of surprising:

Today, roughly a third of all undocumented immigrants in America are Mexican, and they make up a disproportionate share of low-wage immigrants.

He thinks this is a shocking revelation that will cause white Americans to wake up and begin opposing Mexican immigration. But actually...I think it might have the opposite effect. Mexicans only constitute one third of undocumented immigrants. So why are we going after them and not anyone else? What about those other 2/3? Could it be, again, because some of them might be white people?

(As an interesting little bit of trivia, his bio on Townhall.com refers to Goldberg as "the Gen X answer to P.J. O'Rourke." This is oddly appropriate, as both Goldberg and Rourke were the victims of Ben Domenech's plagiarism over the last few years. Why anyone would think to steal the poisoned, mindless rhetoric of this guy is beyond me, but there you go...)

I could write a Jonah Goldberg rant all day. Seriously. There's so much of his goofy writing online to pick on, whole blogs are taken up by the task. Anyone else recall his excuse for being a young man who firmly believes in the Iraq War and its crucial importance for America's future, yet refusing to enlist?

Well, okay, lets backtrack. First, Jonah wrote this:

"In the weeks prior to the war to liberate Afghanistan, a good friend of mine would ask me almost every day, "Why aren't we killing people yet?" And I never had a good answer for him. Because one of the most important and vital things the United States could do after 9/11 was to kill people."

Then, a lot of people on the Internet started saying..."Well, if you're so keen on killing, why not join up, dude? Or are you only in favor of sending poor people out to do your killing for you, while you sit around in your house eating Ring-Dings and looking at Internet pr0n?" To which Jonah replied:

For the record, I did in fact mean it. I wrote it here. As for why my sorry a** isn't in the kill zone, lots of people think this is a searingly pertinent question. No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice.

Yeah, I mean, it's like...hello...Why do you think my mommy and her despicable, beastly friend go me this cool job writing bullshit on the Internet? So I could just cheer for war, safely, from my basement! A-duh!

Okay, so anyway, on to the LA Times, which added Jonah as a regular columnist back in December of 2005. Presumably, chasing the ridiculous notion of "balance," as if conservatives were going to suddenly stop saying mean things about the LA Times. It's idiotic. If the news constantly makes the president look bad, maybe he should change what he's doing instead of just whining like a petulant child about how reporters are unfriendly doodyheads.

Anyway, Jonah feels that the Congressional Black Caucus is getting uppity. And he can't have that.

The caucus lives in a fantasy in which it is the "conscience of the Congress." Immune to the sort of scrutiny that many other groups receive, it has benefited from the soft bigotry of low expectations for decades.

Again, it's so vague as to be meaningless. Is he actually quoting a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who said that he or she feels like "the conscience of the Congress." Or is it a term he's invented for the article? What does the group actually do to reflect the fact that they "live in a fantasy," which is kind of a serious charge. And most importantly, what other "groups" receive more intense scrutiny, and by whom? And who has "low expectations" of the Congressional Black Caucus. Democratic voters? Jonah Goldberg? I mean, seriously, what's he talking about?

Most African Americans favor school choice, but because the caucus is firmly ensconced in the
teacher-union racket, it bars the schoolhouse door to black kids who want a better education via vouchers.


So, I suppose Jonah's trying to make a point about how the members of the Congressional Black Congress don't vote in a way that African-Americans approve. But isn't the fact that they keep getting elected by their constituents in some small way a mark of approval? Maybe not for every position they take, but for their overall direction? In any case, I excerpted this quote because it's more vague, misleading pseudo-journalistic goo. I mean, "black kids who want a better education via vouchers" is such a melodramatic way of putting it, as if black kids are going up to Congressmen and asking, "Would you pwease give me a voucher so I can go to a good school," and the guy's going, "Get away from me, kid, I've got Teacher's Unions to protect!"

I've heard solid arguments for both sides of the voucher issue. (Personally, as the child of a public school teacher and someone who feels like educating the young is among the government's most basic and important functions, I'm pretty much against the idea of diverting funds from public schools to private companies). But Goldberg's not interested in really debating the issue...He wants to pervert it, to confuse people and make it seem like his side is the one favored by black children everywhere. It's not.

A majority of blacks oppose outright racial quotas, but don't tell that to the caucus.

Is this true? Do most black people think it's wrong for companies and universities to set minimum levels of minority hires or admissions? I'm not saying it couldn't be true, but I'd be surprised if it were. Why would a majority of blacks dislike proposals that would so clearly and directly benefit their community?

Why pick on the blacks in Congress? Because they represent black leadership in America, and it has been on their watch that black America has descended into such a mess.

And here's where the column shifts from poorly-thought-out piffle and into outright racism. Here is where Jonah starts to argue that blacks are themselves at fault for being poor and disenfranchised, as if all the black Democrats in Congress got together and agreed to keep their people impoverished and imprisoned, out of spite.

In a moving essay in the Washington Post, Joy Jones lamented how wedlock has become unfashionable in much of black America. A sixth-grader recently informed her that "marriage is for white people."

It takes a truly talented hack to come up with an entire social theory based on the observations of an unnamed sixth grader.

Sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University says blacks were more likely to be raised by both parents during slavery days than they are today.

Ah, yes, the good ol' days. When blacks raised their children, picked white people's crops and knew their place. Things were so much simpler then...

There's a lot of Marxist-infused nonsense about how economics are at the root of black America's problems. But this doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Of course poverty makes social pathologies worse, but it's the pathologies that cause poverty in the first place.

I'm pretty sure people had made a mental connection between poverty and crime even before Karl Marx, but no matter...Jonah here, quite remarkably, dismisses the vast vast vast majority of contemporary sociological thought with the wave of his hand. "It might seem obvious that the desperation caused by cyclical, endemic poverty drives an inordinate amount of people to crime, but...um...no. That doesn't hold up to, uh, scrutiny."

Also...if black people don't commit more crimes because so many of them are so poor, then why do they seem to be inordinately represented in crime rates? "Social pathology"? Doesn't that just mean "blacks are inherently more criminal"?

Racism alone cannot be blamed anymore for causing all black problems. By every measure, racism, particularly official racism, has declined even as these problems have worsened.

Oh, really? Gee, thanks for clearing that up. It seemed to me that a lot of people were still racist, and that the upper echelons of elite society are still largely off-limits to black Americans. But I guess I was wrong, because Lucianne's Boy said so! So, Jonah, please tell us...What is it, then? Why is The Black so much more criminal than The White?

Racism is surely still a problem, but it pales in comparison to family breakdown. Nothing more perpetuates the cycle of moral and financial poverty. If you are raised by two married parents today, black or white, it is unlikely that you will be poor, or poor for long.

Whaaaaaaaaaat? Where does he get this shit? As if having married parents has anything to do with living in poverty! It's ludicrous on its face.

Really, Jonah's made what could be a real observation, but he has come up with a completely backwards, tortured explanation. The observation: poverty seems statistically tied to single parenthood or broken families.

Is that accurate? Because it seems like rich people still get divorced and have messed up families all the time, and plenty of poor people remain married. In fact, every person I know who comes from what could be called a genuinely wealthy family likewise comes from a broken home. (Seriously, every single one.) So I kind of doubt even the validity of this information.

But even if true, wouldn't it seem more likely that cyclical poverty causes families to sever, as opposed to the other way around? Arguments about providing for the family and debt, the increase in alcoholism and drug abuse that comes with financial worries and poverty, living in dangerous or otherwise non-family-friendly inner-city neighborhoods...these things are what break up families.

But of course, a racist would see it from the opposite perspective. These crazy, out of control black men just can't settle down and look after their women, so everybody stays poor.

So, I repeat...Why is The Los Angeles Times running with this racist trash? I'm not saying they should have hired me, because I was never much of a journalist myself. But surely there's someone out there who's more qualified and less blatantly prejudiced against large segments of Americans. What's Ben Domenech doing these days? Haven't heard from him in a week or two...

Song Selection is the Key to Winning This Competition

Time for one of my randomly-spaced, unoriginal posts about new music. I love listening to lots of new songs for free (and who doesn't), which makes mp3 blogs a frequent online destination of mine. But I really don't feel like actually paying for space to host mp3's on this blog, nor am I terribly eager to begin worrying about what music can legally be posted vs. what music posting will cause me to be sued by the surprisingly-litigious RIAA. I'm probably safe, not being a little old lady, but you never know...Those guys are getting downright Nixonian in their paranoia.

So, anyway, what I like to do, as a nice alternative to sites on the bleeding edge of music news and reviewing, is just link you up to cool shit that I've downloaded in the past few weeks. Sound good?

The Office

First off is Chicago's The Office, which I originally heard about here on I Guess I'm Floating. There, you can download the song "Big Bang Jump!," which comes highly recommend for fans of highly catchy, somewhat 80's power pop of the New Pornographers/Shins/Magic Numbers fashion.



These guys played recently at SXSW. If there is any justice, they will soon take off and become just popular enough to make a decent living as musicians but not so popular that we're no longer permitted to enjoy them. There are three mp3's available for download at I Guess I'm Floating, and they are all terrific, but "Big Bang Jump!" is my favorite.

Jolie Holland

Music blog kingpin Gorilla vs. Bear turned me on to singer/songwriter Jolie Holland and her eerily beautiful song "Springtime Can Kill You." It's one of those songs that sounds like a relic from a bygone era (specifically a jazzy soul number from the 40's), but not in a gimmicky Jack White sort of way. It's just that idiosyncratic and dynamic songwriting like this has a timeless quality to it.

You can find "Springtime Can Kill You" and some older Holland songs on the ANTI-Media site here. The only other song I've heard is "Black Stars," which is pleasant enough but doesn't have the hallcuinatory feel I like so much about "Springtime."

The Lovely Feathers

I'm pretty sure these guys are the next Montreal band of the Moment, hot on the heels of Wolf Parade and Arcade Fire. Who knew Montreal would be the new Seattle? You've got to admit that it's kind of unlikely that French Canadians would rise as rock's savoirs for the new millenium, considering that French people from Europe can't seem to rock out for shit (unless you count half-British Stereolab).

I've read about them on more than one blog at this point, but I believe it was Muzzle of Bees where I read about them first. Even if not, they're getting the shoutout. Live with it.

This song, "In the Valley," it totally rules. An infectious, nonsensical oddity that grows on me each and every time I put it on. One of the most fun songs I've heard yet in 2006, and it does kind of remind me of Wolf Parade.

Centro-Matic

Another Muzzle of Bees recommendation. I can't get enough of a song off their latest LP, Fort Recovery, "Calling Thermatico." Very 70's, kind of rough, completely awesome song...It's in heavy heavy rotation here at Crushed by Inertia Central.



I have actually ordered this album based on "Thermatico" from the band's website, and this is not a thing I am normally inclined to do.

Bob Dylan and Friends

I've pretty much saved the best for last. Oddly-titled-yet-still-endearing blog The Perm and Skullet has an entire 2-disc Bob Dylan bootleg collection available for download. The first disc has recordings from a 1969 session in Nashville, done 3 days after the "Nashville Skyline" sessions but with different musicians. The line-up includes (get this) Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash!

Disc 2 is from New York in 1970, and features some guy named George Harrison on guitar.

The sound quality on these files is incredible. I can't really recommend checking this out enough if you're a Dylan fan of any kind, which you really should be.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Más Wankery Sobre Inmigrantes

Did you ever notice how, when things are looking really bleak for the President, all of the sudden some new, stupid outrage seems to come from out of nowhere and start making headlines? Missing Americans on tropical islands, "wars" on tree-themed holidays, maintaining the precious lives of the brain-dead and so forth? Could it be that the American press and the government both massage the news away from stories critical of the Chief Executive, in the same way that they both manufactured negative news stories during the Clinton years?

I mean, take our present situation. Everyone except those with less brain activity than the Unfortunate Ms. Schiavo accept that we are led by a semi-literate fascism-inclined bozo, the kind of man who, had he been alive during Caveman times, would have gotten himself immediately entangled in a tar pit for future generations to unearth while his fellow tribesmen were out hunting mammoth and inventing wheels.

And just when talk is becoming seriously dire (major newspapers, for example, start seriously talking about censure and even the Big I), Congress starts debating obscene, angry-white-guy legislation punishing...sigh...illegal immigrants.

Don't you people watch "The Simpsons"? A politician shifting blame from himself by focusing everyone on hating illegal immigrants is actually the single oldest trick in the book. Okay, maybe it's second after simply walking up behind your opponent and just shooting him in the head. But it's an extremely old trick.

Before I take on any of these drooling right-wing mouthbreathers getting all riled up about illegal Mexicans polluting their fair country, I'll give you my take on the entire issue in a nutshell.

Illegal Mexican immigrants don't do shit to you white people, particularly you rich white people, so you should all just calm down and stop being racist.

See, here's the thing. White Americans live either in BFE or in big cities. Those living in the middle of nowhere don't meet a lot of foreigners, and the ones they meet they tend to ignore, so they rely on the opinions of their racist parents and racist images in our racist American media. So they think Mexicans are lazy, sweaty guys with big hats and moustaches because that's what they have come to know.

When you live in a big city, there are lots and lots of people around. It gets very irritating to be in close quarters with so many different people from all over the world. So a lot of city dwellers, out of frustration at their living situations, develop racist attitudes towards those of different ethnicities who live around them. New York City has its reputation as a hotbed of angry racists for a reason.

Mix it all together, and you get a lot of white Americans who resent Mexican people, both those here illegally and those with every legal right to live and work in America. I include myself, though I try to keep these feelings in check. Sometimes, I am awoken early in the morning by Daddy Yankee or Mexican polka music, and this upsets me greatly. I just try not to let life's little frustrations color my overall perspective.

So, anyway, a lot of white Americans are unfortunately receptive to this idea that illegal Mexican immigrants are fucking up our country, even though it's not true. It's just a myth, I swear. Really. There are a lot of people coming to America from all over the world, and not all of them come here legally. They come here because our country has so much, and almost every other country on Earth has so little.

This is not their fault. It is our fault. They just want a little extra money to help out their families, you know? And they do all kinds of menial labor that big, greedy American companies rely upon to pay their rich executives.

What's the solution to the "problem" of illegal immigration? To not worry about it so much. Okay, there's a bit more to it than that. I'm all for border security, though I'm far far far far more concerned with, you know, people bringing in explosives and the Hanta virus than a couple of guys who just want gardening work. But once they're here, I see no reason why we shouldn't try to help them become productive citizens.

I mean, they're here, right? If you don't help them get jobs and learn the language and send their kids to school, you're going to have a society where there's this whole underclass of people who can't have normal, fucntional lives, leaving them angry and alienated and crippled by cyclical poverty. Think that sounds nice? Ask South Africa and Israel how well it's working out for them.

Which brings us to right-wing hate festival Captain's Quarters. Captain "Special" Ed is upset about the student protests throughout Los Angeles area schools as part of the massive outpouring of anger about Congress' latest proposals, to criminalize undocumented immigrants and anyone providing themn with aid. The first paragraph is like a How-To manual for writing with hate and ignorance:

It's hard to imagine that the schoolchildren who engaged in a pro-illegal immigration rally yesterday helped their cause much, except to harden the polarization already felt on both sides of the issue. While our politicians in Washington talked about how the illegals came to the US to enjoy the American dream, their actions speak much more towards the reconquista that, as Michelle Malkin has written, lies at the heart of the triumphalism that they now espouse. The Los Angeles area school districts allowed 22,000 students to protest border security and the enforcement of immigration law Monday...

Let's add up the Captain's infractions together, shall we?

(1) Note how he disingenuously pretends to offer the protestors a "critique" on how to further their cause, as if he's an impartial media expert. "Hmm...that won't help their cause much, and I should know because I hate them and everything they stand for." You know what will really hurt their cause, Cap'n? Ignorant pricks spewing venom on obscure blogs.

(2) Dehumanizing the protestors, immigrant and non-immigrant. He can't even call them "protestors." Only "illegals."

(3) Citing Michelle Malkin, a woman whose most recent book was edited by a 24 year old disgraced serial plagiarist, as an expert in immigration affairs! She thinks the government has a right to place immigrants in pens without charge and with no access to lawyers!

(4) Mischaracterizing the entire nature of the protest. I twas not "pro-illegal immigration." Nor was it protesting "border security" or any such nonsense. It was protesting a brand new law passed last week by the House that would criminalize living in the U.S. without documentation and criminalize helping anyone who lives in the U.S. without documentation. To call that law draconian is like calling the Iron Maiden slightly unpleasant. I've got another law that Captain Ed would probably love - "All Americans are equal but some Americans are more equal than others."

(5) Referring to this completely bogus "reconquista" myth, propogated often in insane conservative wank-off circles.

For those of you who don't often read the loopy screeds of the conspiracy-minded, the concept of the "reconquista" refers to a movement from the 60's known as "La Raza." La Raza was a radical group that supposedly wanted to re-annex large portions of the American Southwest back to Mexico, to retake what was stolen by Americans in the previous century. El Capitano Guano has more:

The rallies in Southern California only ripped the lid off of a well-known dynamic in the culture that mixes native guilt with radical illegal-immigrant activism to fuel the La Raza dream of Aztlan, the reconquest of the the Southwest and its return to Mexico or existence as a separate nation. This radical notion has been around since 1969 and plays a part in the fringe politics of the Southwest. However, the increasing sense of entitlement for illegals in the area has led this impulse out of the shadows and into the forefront of the amnesty movement by enabling people to argue that the illegals are returning to their own land and that the US lacks the sovereignty to declare otherwise.

Does Ed not realize this paragraph contradicts itself? He opens by saying that La Raza's dream of Aztlan is "a well-known dynamic." Then, two sentences later, he says that La Raza is a fringe group that is only now starting to achieve any sort of prominence in the debate. Which is it, Ed? Is this a well-known phenomenon, or a new trend you have just discovered? (By the way, I know it's confusing, but in this paragraph, white Americans living in California are called "natives." Um...sure...)

Anyway, the whole theory is ludicrous. Illegal Mexican immigrants (a group, I'd like to stress, that's impossible to tell apart in photos or media from the legal immigrants and illegal immigrants from other Latin American nations) are not organizing in order to topple the American government's control over California. This is incredibly retarded. They're not organizing at all, except to protest. They want incredibly simple things, like the right to work without being thrown in jail. That's not unreasonable. That's what we want people to want, isn't it? When people are productive and happy and not afraid that being their race constitutes a felony, everyone's better off.

Again, this whole "Aztlan" thing is just projection. Racists like the Cap'n actually want dominance and control over America, all of it, from California to New York, and part of that is that they don't want too many brown people around. Oh, sure, you can have a few to clean up after you. But they don't want to have to see them all the time, especially in their own neighborhoods. And forget about helping them if they get sick, or teaching their punk kids the multiplication tables!

So they make up this ridiculous nonsense about re-annexing the Southwest, as if such a thing were even theoretically possible. The whole line of argumentation is pathetic, really, and sad.

But what really really upsets the Captain is the protestors insistence on flying Mexican flags! How dare they!

I Fought the Law and the Law Won

Or rather, I was going to fight the law, but the line was too long so I gave up and plead guilty.

Our story begins way way way back in early 2001. I was driving around, late night, in Beverly Hills. I don't recall what I was doing there, but I'm certain that I had a good reason at the time. A few days later, I receive a ticket in the mail. Apparently, I had ran a light while driving, and had my picture taken by one of those red-light undercover police camera jobs.

The photo was clearly me. I was upset about getting the ticket, of course, but also felt a sense of relief that I wasn't doing something even more illegal than running a red light in the accompanying photograph. At least I wasn't actively smoking herb while driving the car on this occasion, always a possibility in my immediately post-collegiate years.

So I sent in a check to the courthouse for over $250, not a paltry sum for me back in those days. (Nor today). And after a few weeks, the City of Beverly Hills actually sent my check back. They said that some sort of legal injunction had been placed on all the red-light camera tickets, and so my case was closed and I got to keep my money. Yippee!

Oh, dear readers...I was so innocent then. I had no idea of the beurocratic nightmare that would hound me for the next five years. Periodically after this incident, ever few months or so, I would receive threatening letters from the Beverly Hills Courthouse, implying that I had been a very naughty boy and failed to pay a traffic violation, an infraction that brought with it a fine of up to $500 extra and a one-way fare to Siberia to have all my toenails plucked out for sport by a homosexual gulag lifer named Sergei.

I would call the courthouse and chat with a representative about the situation, who would invariably inform me that the case had indeed been closed and that I would receive no further notices. Finally, my parents took matters into their own hands and scheduled me a court date for this morning.

Which is why I found myself, at 8 a.m., pulling my car into the Beverly Hills Courthouse in the midst of a torrential downpour. I was shocked and appalled to realize that you have to pay $5 to park at the Beverly Hills Courthouse, and that there is no nearby available street parking. I ask you...how can this be classified as anything other than extorition?

(1) I have no choice, legally, but to appear in court
(2) There is no parking near the courthouse except that which is available for $5
(3) Parking at a distance of a few blocks from the courthouse is available, but would require frequent and impossible trips in and out of the courtroom itself to "feed the meter"

Therefore, I have no option by law but to pay $5 for no good reason. Extortion! This would be the least distressing of the morning's discoveries.

The most distressing discovery was that I'd have to wait an egregiously long time before actually seeing a judge to present my case. I don't know how many of you have been to morning "traffic court," but allow me to describe the scene briefly.

The courtroom is filled up with all manner of defendants. Some of these defendants have already entered a plea of guilty or not guilty, and are awaiting a bench trial to decide whether or not they should have to pay their ticket. The rest of us were there to be arraigned, to state whether we are guilty or not guilty and to schedule a trial date if neccessary.

Now, I ask you, knowing just this tiny amount of information...who would you think would get to go first? Those people who will have to present involved, lengthy arguments to the judge? Or those people who just have to state "guilty" or "not guilty" and be on their way?

You guessed it...the trials go first. WHY? These people, the ones who want to cross-examine the police officers who gave them tickets and otherwise waste everyone's time, should go at the very end of the proceedings. Their shit takes forever, mine takes less than two minutes. (Seriously.)

So I had to wait around through 5 different traffic court trials. The effect was, in a word, maddening. In two words, it was goddamn maddening.

Most of the defendants went about their business quickly. Most of them (like a girl who had been cited for the confusing charge of being a "pedestrian in a roadway") just wanted clarification. One of them, an older gentleman, just wanted to apologize for his mistake in improperly using the center lane, and was rewarded by having his charge dismissed.

But this one asshole in a trenchcoat...Oh holy shit...This guy thought he was Rumple of the fucking Bailey or something. He'd been given a hefty ticket for making an unprotected left turn in the middle of Wilshire Boulveard, cutting off a good deal of opposing traffic that just happened to include a cop on a motorcycle. And he thought...well, I don't know what he thought. He thought he could undermine the cop's credibility by repeatedly asking him the same three questions on cross-examination, and replacing everyday words like "car" with theoretically fancier, more official versions like "vehicle."

"Officer, how far away were you when you first spotted my vehicle?"

"I can't say for certain. Probably about 50 feet. But you were in motion the entire time."

"And what is the sequence of traffic signals at this intersection?"

"It goes red, yellow, then green."

"And do you know the relative lane length on Wilshire Boulevard? I measured them myself late one night, using my legs at 3 feet per stride."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Officer, just one more question...Where were you when you first spotted my vehicle, and what is the sequence of lights at the nearest intersection?"

It just went on and on and on like this. And the judge, I suppose by law, had to keep asking the guy, "Are you finished presenting your defense or do you want to continue?"

So of course the guy just took this as an excuse to continue, endlessly making the same stupid, meritless arguments over and over again. I think he felt like his repetition would eventually make the cop appear confused or dumb, forgetting that the judge probably hears testimony from this cop every single day and already knows that he isn't dumb.

So that guy, and every other idiot who insisted on their right to a traffic court trial today, was found guilty. They were all clearly guilty. Why even bother to put up a fight, when you know you're guilty? Why shamelessly waste everyone's valuable time over a matter of $50?

But here's the big question of the day: WHY IN THE HELL DO THE TRIALS GO FIRST? WHY IS THIS MORON WHO THINKS HE'S PERRY MASON PERMITTED TO RUIN MY ENTIRE MORNING?

The arraignments took, collectively, 10 minutes. The judge lined us all up, asked us about our cases and let us know exactly what to do on the spot. I was put in kind of a quandary...

If I plead guilty to the charge, I only have to pay the original fine and not any of the additional penalties. And, to be perfectly honest, I was guilty as sin. I totally ran that red light, and the cops had photographic evidence to prove it.

However, because the charges had truthfully been dropped years before, there was a decent chance I could win the case and not have to pay anything. But in order to prove this to the court, I'd have to set an appointment to come back and have a trial.

Again, this seems like extortion to me. If they had simply allowed me to present an argument on the spot, or set a time when I could come back to the courthouse to plead my case without waiting around senselessly for hours, I would have taken the opportunity. And I might have gotten away for nothing. But, no...If I wanted a fair shot at justice, I'd have to waste a whole other day sitting around in this courtroom, putting up with bullshit. They ensure that you won't want to pursue your Constitutional rights by making the process unbearable, slow and inefficient.

So I paid the fine (or, rather, my Daddy did) and went on my way into the cold, wet Los Angeles afternoon. We had lunch at Factor's Deli and discussed, among other things, my idea for a new screenplay. A guy has to go to traffic court, and so distressed is he at having to wait around an dlisten to other people's idiotic trials for hours, that he verbally assaults the other defendants and the judge. His punishment? He's held in contempt of court and sentenced to 30 days in Lompoc. Hopefully, hilarity ensues.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Top Ten Suggested New Jobs for Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card

10. Professional Harry Dean Stanton impersonator
9. Tutoring Special Needs kids
8. Host of Game Show Network's newest phenomenon "The All-New Card Sharks with Andrew Card"
7. Compile memoirs of his years in the Bush administration, to be published under the title The Ass Menagerie
6. Executive Assistant to the Vice-President of Waterboarding, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
5. Touring the country, playing the spoons, opening for The National and Mates of State
4. Take over Ben Domenech's blog for the Washington Post
3. Three-episode stint on "The Sopranos" as Johnny Sack's new consigliere, Joey "The Wop" Pescatelli
2. Go work for Nancy Pelosi's office, just to fuck with everyone's head
1. Falling back on his other regular gig, hitter for the yakuza

Monday, March 27, 2006

Hope You All Like the Mountains!

I'm going to Florida in a few weeks to visit my Uncle, who has been buying up beach-front property there as of late. He's always been a sound investor, and I don't mean to second-guess the guy...but he apparently hasn't been reading his science journals. Or, for that matter, Daily Kos.

Projecting forward in time, the implication is that our future will also see 4-6 m of sea level rise, and that -- given the recent evidence for accelerated flow of both Greenland and Antarctic glaciers -- this may occur much faster than we expect. In the model simulations, Greenland may already be warmer in 2100 than it was at the height of the ... Last InterGlacial (LIG) period, about 125,000 years ago.

See, the thing is, that's anywhere between 13 and 19 additional feet of water. Which, presumably, now-valuable Florida real estate would be beneath. I think actually having water on top of the homes might negatively impact property values. But then again, I am hardly a financial expert. The most crucial fiscal decision facing me on a day-to-day basis is whether or not I have 35 cents for the parking meter.

I'm fairly disappointed about this climate change actually becoming noticable in my lifetime. I think those of us who grew up post-Boomer, in the era of Earth Day and environmental awareness, knew this time would come but always just assumed it would be after we're long-dead. Environmentalism was about looking after the Earth so your children's children could still enjoy the wonders around us. It wasn't about making sure you don't starve to death on the veldt that was once Nebraska before you turn 40.

I'm just saying, the cause was never presented to me as quite so dire. I remember when being concerned about the environment meant worrying that a certain species of stink beetle may, by 2027, go completely extinct. Now it looks like super-freezing clouds may be giving Jake Gyllenhaal hypothermia within the next six months. (When I was a kid, the apocalyptic threats that seriously freaked people out were killer bees, Commies invading America Red Dawn-style, hypodermic needles washing up on the beach and HIV.)

Unfortunately, we're just now managing to get the message across about global warming and environmental protection, and it's pretty much too late. We know just enough about the subject to know how screwed we are, and not a thing more. Delightful.

So, anyway, Unk, if you're reading this...have you considered, perhaps, Colorado for your next move? Or Chile, perhaps? Nepal? The Yukon will probably be pretty nice in another decade or two.

I Challenge You, Alec Baldwin

Oh, man, absolutely glorious stuff from WABC Radio's "Brian Whitman Show." Alec Baldwin's on, apparently discussing the state of the world (the audio doesn't include this stuff), when right-wing radio hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin phone up.

Sean seems upset that Alec didn't go on his show before Brian's. He insists over and over again that there was some sort of deal in place with Alec's agent, that Alec agreed to go on Hannity's show before any other show on WABC. I have no way of knowing if this is true or not, but I can tell you that Baldwin takes Hannity's abuse like an absolute champ.

Listen to the encounter at Crooks and Liars here.

The good stuff begins immediately, with A. Baldwin responding to Hannity's charge by insisting "I would never do your show, Sean Hannity, because you are a no-talent hack." He proceeds to say that he does Bill O'Reilly's show, despite their divergence of political opinions, because at least O'Reilly has some ability as a broadcaster. Also, he makes fun of the fact that Hannity used to work construction and provides Levin with the nickname "Cabin Boy."

Levin tries to get in some insults into the background, and I don't even know who this guy is, really, but he probably comes off the most pathetic of anyone present. Straining for some insult to spew at this celebrity, any insult, he comes up with "butt boy" and "Brokeback Alec." Yikes, dude...You're on the radio for a living. Don't you even have a stock insult to throw at Right-Wing Asshole America's public enemy #1?

I'm just surprised at Hannity and Levin's lack of creativity is all. These guys insult Hollywood liberals for a living. It's all they do. And here they are, with a genuine Hollywood liberal right there on the phone with them, inviting them to insult him...and they come up totally empty. "Did you call Dick Cheney a terrorist?," Hannity asks. "Yes, I said that," Baldwin replies.

And that's it. That's all he's got. Because Dick Cheney is a terrorist, and Alec Baldwin knows it, so he's not ashamed to admit that he's said so in the past. (If I were Hannity, I would have asked Alec why he remains in America, despite his pledge to leave the country if Bush were re-elected. It doesn't prove he's wrong about his political outlook, but it does kind of make him look like a serial exaggerator and a phony.)

Cigarette Burns & Dreams in the Witch House

These are the first two episodes of Showtime's anthology series "Masters of Horror" to make it to DVD. The show tasked 13 well-known genre directors, from Takashi Miike to Dario Argento to Joe Dante, to make low-budget hour-long horror films.

I managed to see Joe Dante's terrific Homecoming during a free preview weekend. By keeping the actual gore and mayhem to a minimum, and focusing on a pretty smart, on-target satirical story about the Bush administration, Dante really made the TV format work for him rather than limit his vision.

Unfortunately, neither John Carpenter nor Stuart Gordon, the first directors to debut their work on DVD, rise to the task in similar fashion. Carpenter's Cigarette Burns at least features a clever, reference-laden script (co-written by Ain't It Cool News mainstay Moriarty!), though it's a far cry from the sardonic genius of the director's best work. I can't think of anything to recommend about Gordon's miserable pseudo-Lovecraft adaptation, Dreams in the Witch House. Anchor Bay's choice to release Gordon's film as the DVD audience's first impression of the series is surprising. Could any of the other entries possibly be more amateurish and lame?



As I said, I found the actual scripting of Cigarette Burns to be fairly clever. Sure, it's little more than a reinterpretation of the Roman Polanski bomb The Ninth Gate, replacing a rare book with a rare film...but this doesn't have to be The Exorcist or anything. It's just a TV show.

Screenwriters Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan have created, however, a fun little mythology here, concerning a mysterious film known as La Fin Absolue Du Monde. The film, according to legend, played only once in front of an audience, causing them to rip one another limb from limb in an orgy of outrageous violence. Now, a dying cineaste (Udo Keir) hires an expert at tracking down old films (Boondock Saints veteran Norman Reedus) to find a print of the movie for a private screening.

More than anything else, Cigarette Burns demonstrates a deep and nuanced understanding of the psychology of hardcore film nerds. The thrill of discovery, the knowledge that few others have taken in a particularly bizarre or visceral experience, is half of the fun of seeing disgusting, unexpected horror movies. The Holy Grail experience for the true genre fan would be watching something so insane, so horrifying, that no other audience had previously managed to take in the experience.

McWeeny, Swan and Carpenter do make a few crucial mistakes along the way. Mainly, they give away the "shocking" contents of La Fin Absolue Du Monde in the first 10 minutes of Cigarette Burns - we can guess, based on Keir's collection of memorabilia from the movie, what the shocking crime at the center of its madness will be, which kind of robs the movie of its climactic surprise.

One of the themes running through this entire series, based on what I've seen thus far, is a willingness to push the envelope in terms of gore but not in terms of the visuals or the storytelling. I understand that there are budget constraints when working in television, but Carpenter doesn't really do much to make the film his own. His son Cody provides a familiar, tinkly piano soundtrack and there are a few crazy zoom shots reminiscent of his work in, say, Halloween, but the direction on Cigarette Burns is pretty much completely anonymous, which kind of takes away the whole point of an anthology series featuring famous horror directors.

Even the clips we get of La Fin Absolue Du Monde are generic and expected. It looks...like a bad experimental student film. You could interchange shots from similar sequences in Videodrome, The Ring, even May, and no one would really notice.

That being said, at least Cigarette Burns has some funny, creative moments and some nice KNB gory make-up effects. That's more than I can say for Stuart Gordon's pedestrian entry.



Adapating stories by the King of vague, metaphysical horror, H.P. Lovecraft, would be a challenge for even an exceptionally talented filmmaker with a sizable budget. His stories tend to concern unseen horrors from alternate dimensions, terrors so unthinkably mysterious and ancient that they are impossible to even describe, let alone realize through special effects and camera trickery. Stuart Gordon, armed with a couple of thou, just isn't up to the task. At all. Not even close.

Not to be oudone by Cigarette Burns giving away its final twist in the first ten minutes, Dreams of the Witch House gives away its entire story in the title. A grad student (Ezra Godden, of the director's also-bad-but-not-this-bad Dagon) moves into a creepy haunted house occupied by an old, kill-crazy witch. See, he's a student of String Theory (oh sweet lord no!) and he comes to believe that the witch uses the intersection of various dimensional membranes, in his bedroom, to sneak around and give him nightmares.

Oh, yeah, and the witch has an associate, a rat with a human face. For real. The final effect, in terms of scariness, ranks just below a full-grown man in a Chuck E. Cheese suit with the head removed, taking a smoke break.

Gordon's just got nothin', nothin' at all. The sets are clunky and uninspired, failing to even capture the concept of "seedy slum" effectively. The actors are either dull or over-the-top. And though it seems for a few moments as if Gordon's script will connect the astrophysics theme along with some sort of Lovecraftian alternate-dimension theology, this notion is left behind almost immediately in favor of a really lame human sacrifice sub-plot.

Dreams of the Witch House is a glorified fan film, the sort of thing you'd expect to see on iFilm after 20 mnutes of Flash commercials for the iPod Ultra-Ultra-Mini or something. I'm actually surprised it was deemed significant enough to air late night on Showtime.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Sound of Thunder

In all fairness to director Peter Hyams, author Ray Bradbury and the various men credited with adapting Bradbury's short story into the new film A Sound of Thunder, something clearly went wrong during the film's production. IMDB says that the production company went bankrupt prior to the film's post-production, and that's certainly believable from the finished result, which looks like a hastily thrown-together concoction of science-fiction cliches designed to serve as just enough contractually-obligated finished product to keep everyone from getting sued.

I'm not saying that the script would ever have been a masterpiece, even if directed by James Cameron with a $200 million budget and a 2-year shooting schedule. But it would have helped some. As it is, this is the summer action blockbuster as middle school play, a collection of some of the clunkiest acting, stupidest misinterpretations of time travel and worst CG effects I personally have ever seen. Seriously. The computer-generated creatures and environments in A Sound of Thunder look like sub-Sci Fi Channel work. I'm not sure if the production was merely underfunded, or if they completely ran out of funds halfway through and just released to theaters, as is.

With a bigger budget, it would still be a dumb time travel movie. But we'd be spared abominations like this lizard-monkey-thing.



Bradbury's concept for the original short story is a solid one, albeit a hard one to adapt dramatically. In the future, once humans have mastered time travel, a company takes hunters back in time to the Late Cretaceous period to shoot at dinosaurs. But there's a catch - the travelers must leave everything exactly as it was, unchanged, to avoid messing up the chain of events that leads to our present-day. If one little thing changes - say, an insect dies that was meant to infect several dinosaurs with a virus - the entire ecosystem might be altered, which would fuck up the future we've all come to know and love.

It's kind of a head-scratcher, which is great for literary science-fiction and kind of weird for sci-fi movies. I mean...if one were to be logical...a slight change in the past would mess up the future instantaneously. When the time traveler returned to the "present," it would be different for him but normal for everyone else. And in all likelihood, you could never "set things right" again without imbalancing space-time in myriad other ways.

Like I said, not very cinematic. The makers of A Sound of Thunder, regrettably, try to cheat around this conundrum in the dumbest way possible. Instead of having the future change immediately, all at once, when there's been a slight alteration in the past, alterations in the past ecosystem now cause "time waves." Literally, "tidal waves" that look like incredibly bad computer-generated animation. Incredibly bad. It's supposed to look like a large, powerful, kinetic force bearing down on the City of the Future, throwing everything into disarray. Instead, it looks like clear Jell-O being dumped on top of a poorly-built model of Chicago.

The wave brings with it "evolutionary changes" - that is, the ripple effect of all the things from the past that have now been altered. In terms of the film itself, that signals a shift from a bad Twilight Zone riff and into a bad Outer Limits riff, from wacky science-fiction to low-budget monster movie. Basically, all kinds of new, freaky animals are created and start chasing around the human scientists (Ed Burns and Catherine McCormack). And Ben Kingsley's there, wearing a ridiculous wig, as the greedy CEO who started the dinosaur hunting company.

Did you just picture Ben Kingsley in a silly wig just now, when you read that last sentence? I guarantee the real wig is sillier. Check it out.



Lookin' good.

His character represents a pretty rare occurance in the movies - a villain with absolutely nothing to do. He hangs out, acts generally villainous, but the real enemy here is time itself. So he's just kind of ineffectually evil. Props to Mr. Kingsley for even trying a little bit to actually make this work.

I could go on all day about this film's overall level of schlock. It's pretty much without a doubt the most awesomely bad forgotten gem of 2005. In 20 years, no one will speak affectionately of Crash, the masses will have long since forgotten about the moderate charms of Capote or Cinderella Man. But college kids around the country will delight in getting stoned at 3 a.m. and watching A Sound of Thunder on their eye implants, or whatever the hell they're going to use to illegally download and watch old movies. This, I guarantee.

Hostel

An exceptionally well-made horror movie disguised as an exploitation film, Eli Roth's Hostel finally makes good on all the promises he made with his forgettable debut, Cabin Fever. When that film came out, I read interviews with Roth all over the Internet in which he claimed to rebirth 80's horror, to bring the tits and gore back out of the editing room and on to the movie screens where it belonged.

And though Cabin Fever did, in fact, have some tits and some gore (particularly in the memorable "shaving" scene), it wasn't much as a horror movie. In fact, the entire enterprise played as little more than a crib sheet of earlier, better entries into the genre, particularly the cheap-o early work of Sam Raimi.

Hostel, on the other hand, provides kind of a best-of-all-worlds buffet for the horror fan. It's funny, it's genuinely unsettling in spots, it features a bevy of attractive and semi-nude ingenues, it's just a bit ironic without being campy. Despite the hype, it's also really not all that disgusting. Roth wisely keeps most of the truly revolting bits off-screen, suggesting a lot more violence through sound effects and blood spray than he actually shows.



Like all the 80's horror that inspired him, Roth's story opens with a couple of horny guys. Tired of bouncing around the tourist traps of Amsterdam, American pals Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), and their Icelandic Friend Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson, alternatingly amusing and irritating) head for the promised land of Slovakia. There, they are told by a creepy guy named Alex with a large cold sore (Lubomir Bukovy), beautiful and busty women wait around for the chance to randomly fulfill the erotic fantasies of young Americans.

Naturally, all in Slovakia is not what it seems. Though the film's not really about any shocking twists, I'll refrain from spelling out exactly what fate awaits our heroes in Eastern Europe. Let me just say, it involves some torture, including but not limited to the use of power drills, chainsaws, hooks, scalpels, wire cutters, guns and one blowtorch.

This is not, however, some random pointless exercize in cruelty, a la Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects. That film served as an homage to the splatter films of the 70's, low-budget Z-grade entertainments that attracted audience through shock value. Hostel is much more traditional, even old-fashioned, horror movie fun. Sure, there's some blood, some torture, but like the classics of the genre - in particular, movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre - it's really about exploring the human survival mechanism. Regular folks, just like you or me, are thrown into crazy, out-of-control and violent situations, and then we watch them struggle for their lives. It's cathartic, in a way.

In addition to this clear inspiration (along with, like Cabin Fever, the B-grade early work of guys like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson), the movie also alludes to the recent run of gruesome Asian horror films. A cameo by Japanese cult director Takashi Miike works as a tip of the hat to his Audition, which clearly inspires some of the torture sequences, and also links Hostel up with a new and evolving direction for world horror cinema. It's nice to see someone making these sorts of films, finally, in America. Up until now, you've basically needed an all-region DVD player just to get a taste for what's going on in horror movies.

The cleverness of Roth's material this time out is how he manages to combine so many different types of fear in one tight, 90-minute package. These characters are far, far from home, totally dependant on locals for information and unreliable cell phones to keep in touch, unable to speak the language, drunk, disoriented and lost. Then, suddenly, they are set upon, attacked, kidnapped and tortured for apparently no reason. Really, the scenario's scary before the implements of torture even make their first appearance.

It's subtle, the shift from vacation-style adventure into nightmare. At one point, already sick from alcohol consumption, Paxton finds himself locked in a club after hours. For a moment, we expect that it's a trap, that he will now be led to the torture chamber to have his fingernails pulled out or some such horror. But, no...he's just locked in a club overnight. Hey, these things happen. Another scene at a "museum" dedicated to torture serves the same purpose, as does the strange encounter with the German guy on the train.

For a certain kind of person, traveling is about entering new, strange, unknown situations, to plunge into an unexpected corner of life. I suppose it's to be expected that, some of the time, this will not be an altogether pleasing corner of life. Hostel is the kind of movie that will make you think twice about going anywhere but Maui.