Saturday, April 08, 2006

Whoopee! We're All Gonna Die!

Back in 2000, when King George of Dumbfuckistania was first elected appointed to the US Presidency, I knew it would be a bad thing.

"It doesn't really matter who's President," one cynical friend said. "All politicians are beholden to the same special interests, and therefore will act in the same predictable ways."

"He's not actually stupid or evil or any of those things," I heard from a right-leaning associate. "You can't possibly believe that. It's just liberal media spin."

"It's not the end of the world," a roommate advised. "One President can only do so much damage. It's the way the American system has been set up."

Well, I hate to say I told you so. Actually, I take that back. I love to say "I told you so," and this current situation with G.W.B. provides the perfect opportunity. I fucking told you so, America. I've been telling you so right here since 2004, and I was telling people so in my personal life well before that. This President and his cabal of freaky perverts, kleptomaniacs and sundry bloodthirsty creeps will not be happy until the Middle East is a perma-charred graveyard drained of all its natural resources and America is a totalitarian Christianist dystopia wholly owned by Wal-Mart, Sprint and Pfizer.

Or haven't you heard the news yet? Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter for the New Yorker who has been instrumental in breaking a number of anti-administration news stories ignored by almost everyone, has now announced that Bush is determined to strike at Iran with nuclear weapons. Or, as he would pronounce it, noo-kyoo-lar weapons.

The administration of President George W. Bush is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran including use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a key Iranian suspected nuclear weapons facility, The New Yorker magazine has reported in its April 17 issue.

Neato! Can I cower under my desk with my arms covering the fleshy part of my neck yet?

The article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that Bush and others in the White House have come to view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a potential Adolf Hitler.

"That's the name they're using," the report quoted a former senior intelligence official as saying.

The intelligence official then added, "Not because they're equally evil or bent on world domination or anything. George has trouble remembering foreign-sounding names, so we just let him call all the good foreign leaders 'Blair' and all the evil ones 'Hitler.' It's best to keep things simple and direct for the President. Cause, you know...he's an idiot."

I'm just wondering if the President uses 'Blair' in reference to Tony or his favorite character on TV's classic "Facts of Life."

A senior unnamed Pentagon adviser is quoted in the article as saying that "this White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war."

When asked which military theorists have most influenced his worldview, Bush responded "that Chinese dude,,, yeah, I remember. John Woo's 'The Art of War.' That one's purty good. Well, the introduction is anyway. Oh, also, Daffy Duck cartoons."

The former intelligence officials depicts planning as "enormous," "hectic" and "operational," Hersh writes.

Because, as everybody knows, the best way to change the fundamental power structure of a Middle Eastern nation is to just send the Army in there and start kicking ass! And we don't even have to plan for a post-invasion of Iran because, as soon as we start dropping them nukes on the major cities, the people are certain to rally to our cause! They'll probably greet us with flowers and candy and maybe even 72 virgins per American soldier!

I know it sounds like my usual hyperbolic sarcasm in that above paragraph, but I'm totally serious. These idiots are really trying to sell us that old lie again, even while Iraq tears itself apart in Civil War.

One former defense official said the military planning was premised on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government," The New Yorker pointed out.

Humiliate the religious leadership? I'm not quire sure that would actually be the effect of a sustained bombing campaign that included nuclear weapons. Maybe we'd liquify the religious leadership. But even though I'm sure advanced radiation sickness could have the potential for public embarrassment, I think the aftermath of a nuclear strike is typically defined by stronger terms than "humiliation." Devastation might be a nice place to start, for whatever country we bomb and the entire rest of the world that will then have to deal with the consequences of a second American pre-emptive nuclear attack. I mean, you think other countries are upset with us now? Even Mexicans won't want to hang out here if we start nuking civilian populations.

The end of the article makes the case that cooler heads may yet prevail. But I have to think that this officially marks an end to the "both political parties are really the same underneath all the rhetoric" argument. Yes, both parties shill for corporations on a regular basis. But only one seems determined to bring about some kind of Biblical Armageddon by repeatedly and violently antagonizing a large sector of the worldwide population.

The Top 101 Screenplays in English, Except for "Grand Illusion" and "8 1/2"

That's the first thing I don't get about the Writers Guild of America's list of the Top 101 Screenplays. Do they simply mean American screenplays? Then why do they include Jean Renoir's Le Grand Illusion at #85 and Fellini's 8 1/2 at 87? Grand Illusion is partially in English, sure, along with German and French. But it's clearly a French movie. Just look at that title. Don't have a lot of American film titles starting with Le unless it's followed up with gally Blonde.

If foreign films are eligible, this list is an embarrassment in the extreme, because it's almost entirely made up of American films except the rogue British title (like Third Man), 8 1/2 and Grand Illusion. I'm assuming the WGA meant English-language titles only, and made an exception for the Renoir film because some of the characters speak English, and then some stupid intern snuck the Fellini movie on there, not knowing any better.

Because any other explanation makes no sense. I'd string off a list of worthy international movies for such a list, but it would be unfathomably long.

The other thing I don't get about the list is why it sucks so much ass. The Writers Guild is full of professional movie writers, correct? Don't they watch movies before writing them? Where else do they find old ideas to steal repurpose?

Anyway, the full list can be found on the WGAw page here. It's not so mcuh that the list is total tripe. There are a whole lot of good, deserving movies on there. I dislike the thing more because it's so predictable and safe. I mean...yes...Wizard of Oz is a great movie. But when I think about what made it great, I think of the songs and the performances and the dazzling Technicolor. I don't really think of the classic writing neccessarily. Not that it's a poorly-written film by any means but...I mean...Come on. The 25th best-written film ever?

Here are the movies on the list I would remove entirely:

Tootsie: A funny movie with a great lead performance by Dustin Hoffman. Absolutely not among the best-written films ever. Did Larry Gelbart's mom get, like, 200 votes or something? Please, people. With Some Like it Hot at #9 and this at #17, I'm starting to think some people at the WGA just like seeing men dress as ladies.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind: Zzzzzz....snort....zzzzzz.....Oh, we were talking about movies? Right. "Hey, Gone With the Wind, what are you doing here? You're really sappy and overlong and occasionally really pointless. And besides, all your memorable dialogue is taken directly out of a best-selling novel anyway! That goes double for you, To Kill a Mockingbird. Why don't you two go play in an endless look on Turner Classic Movies. I'd like to talk about some actually interesting movies that maybe everyone hasn't seen 100,000 times already."

Shakespeare in Love: That pop you just heard was a blood vessel in my frontol lobe exploding from trying to process the sheer stupidity of putting this lightly amusing comedy at #28. I've got to head on over to the ER, so why don't you folks take a moment to consider that this trifle (which also, I might add, features some heavy cross-dressing) thus outranks Sullivan's Travels, His Girl Friday, The Third Man, The Sweet Smell of Success, The Sting, Goodfellas, The Maltese Falcon, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Raging Bull and Being There. Yeah...let that sink in...

American Beauty: Hey, I like American Beauty, but the fact is that it loses a lot of its luster on repeat viewings. Part of what gives Alan Ball's writing its zing is the thrill of the new - he writes unique, idiosyncratic characters who see the world in interesting ways. But when you really start to think about the film, it starts to seem affected, heightened and precious. (That's what makes stuff like the bag flying in the wind video so ripe for parody). Anyway, it's a good film and a good script. But #38, above Goodfellas and Cuckoo's Nest and The Lady Eve is ludicrous.

Jerry Maguire: Fuck you, Writers Guild. Even though I hope to join you some day soon, I totally hate you right now. Jerry Maguire is a bunch of lame sitcom one-liners and adorable kid jokes and catch phrases posing as a real movie for adults. We're supposed to think JM has depth because he sings Tom Petty to himself in the car, but really he's a place-holder - the well meaning but confused guy - just like all the other stock characters. (Hey, look everyone, it's Shy and Mousy but Deeply Passionate Girl, Outrageous Football-Tossing Black and Cutthroat Ball-Busting Businesswoman! The whole gang's here!) Still think Jerry Maguire is a force for good in the world? Six words for you, pal: Academy Award Winner Cuba Gooding Jr.

Memento: Now, I like this movie, and I don't want to knock it. But essentially, it's all based around a gimmick, and once you really figure out that gimmick the movie's not really a classic any more. It's clever, and I think Christopher Nolan's a pretty major talent, but this list has almost no great film noir classics, which remain to this day some of the best-written mvoies of all time, so I just don't think there's really room for a solid 90's indie thriller.

Here are some movies to take their place that were left off (not including foreign-language films, to give them the benefit of the doubt):

The Untouchables: David Mamet's script for this movie includes not only an insane amount of memorable dialgoue, but also provides a blueprint for one of the most organic action films imaginable. The big set pieces, the memorable sequences like the trian station shootout, build slowly and always subvert your expectations. Plus, Al Capone makes one hell of a cool, hatable villain.

Out of the Past: The script's credited to Daniel Mainwaring, and it's based on his novel, but it's the retouch by pulp-meister James M. Cain that really gives the dialogue in Out of the Past its zing. Nothing less than one of the most fluid, graceful mysteries ever written, and the script provided for some of the best work in either Robert Mitchum's or Kirk Douglas' career (that I've seen, anyway).

Blade Runner: I'm genuinely surprised this film was left off the list. It's usually included in generic "Best Films" lists, and one of the most striking and impressive aspects of the movie is its successful interpretation of a Phillip K. Dick headscratcher. Usually, when writers take on Dick for the big screen, they turn his thoughtful science-fiction into mindless chase movies. (I include Total Recall in this category, even though I love every moment of it). But Hampton Fancher and David Peoples manage to keep some of the writer's eccentric genius and heady philosophy intact while still giving Ridley Scott enough incident and atmosphere to make the finished film entertaining.

Dirty Harry: Ridiculous. Redefined the cop movie, gave the word "do I feel lucky," created one of the single most iconic characters in cinema history, but these bozos find Field of Dreams more worthy of praise.

I'll be thinking of more missing titles and muttering angrily to myself all night, most likely. But there's no need to bring you peopel down to my level. You get the gist of it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Encyclopedia Bush is on the Case!

Okay, explain something to me...

About two and a half years ago, back in September 2003, when all this Valerie Plame leak stuff was first going on, the Washington Post ran this story. In it, Bush's spokesman Scott McClellan and other high-level sources claim that the White House will fire any employee found to be responsible for the leak. (The White House adds that, because it has no reason to suspect any administration wrong-doing in the case, it doesn't plan to begin an official investigation into the matter.)

"There's been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the vice president's office, as well," said Scott McClellan, Bush's press secretary. He said that "if anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."

Okay, so clearly, this was crap. It has since come out that Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney definitely had a role in the leak of Plame's identity to Judy Miller, Matt Cooper and other reporters. (It has also been suggested strongly that Bush's closest advisor Karl Rove may have had a hand in the leak).

But now, it appears that Bush himself was in on the leak from the beginning. Here's the Associated Press from just today:

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney authorized Cheney's top aide to launch a counterattack of leaks against administration critics on Iraq by feeding intelligence information to reporters, according to court papers citing the aide's testimony in the CIA leak case.


In 2003, when the public furor erupted over the disclosure of a CIA operative's status, Bush said he wanted to get to the bottom of the affair. "I want to know the truth," he said at the time.

Libby's testimony puts the president and the vice president in the awkward position of authorizing leaks. Both men have long said they abhor such practices, so much so that the administration has put in motion criminal investigations at their behest to hunt down leakers.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure Bush was being entirely 100% dishonest. Perhaps he really has spent the last 2.5 years searching for himself. You're gonna tell me he's not that stupid?

I suppose, now that the Plame leaker has been revealed, George can go back to his previous investigation, teaming with OJ to find the real killers of Nicole Brown Simpson. No need to fear, America! Justice in on the way! Encylcopedia Bush is on the case!

Thursday Cat Blogging

You've seen it on other blogs, now it finally comes to Crushed by Inertia. Cat Blogging.

This is my latest in a string of new roommates, Sasha the Cat.

He strikes me as a pretty nice, well-behaved and social cat based on the few moments I've had to get to know him. Unlike a lot of other cats I've known, he's not stand-offish...He'll actually walk up to you as opposed to darting behind furniture or into cabinets as soon as an unfamiliar human comes around.

Sasha's the third new roommate moving in this week, on account of my previous two roommates having to get out of this apartment for the sake of their sanity. Former roommate Eugene has moved to a similar place just down Venice Blvd., although I doubt we'll be seeing one another again any time soon. And former roommate Nathan is currently driving across the nation en route to his home state of Ohio.

Which leaves me and my Laser Blazer co-worker Sig, his friend Joe and Sasha the Cat to occupy the old stomping grounds here in lovely, scenic Palms, CA. It's going pretty well thus far. The guys hired a cleaning crew togive the place a much-needed once over before Move-In Day. The ladies who showed up to do the cleaning were clearly disgusted. We don't speak the same language, so I couldn't actually understand what they were saying to one another regarding my housekeeping skills and basic hygiene, but I'm sure at some point it included the Spanish word for "biohazard."

At one point, they moved the refrigerator and other major kitchen appliances in order to sweep behind them. I wish I had a picture of the debris hidden beneath the fridge, but I didn't have my phone on me. Just picture a Hieronymous Bosch painting covered in beer, mold and bong resin and you'll get a decent idea.

So now the place is all clean and full of comic books and cats. Plus, I have complete and total control over the DVR, a welcome change from the days when I had to wade through 55 episodes of "Family Feud" just to find my recording of last night's "Seinfeld" (if it hadn't already been erased to make room for more "Family Feud.")

Still, I'll miss the old roommate situation. Even the filth. In some ways, having a foul and cluttered apartment makes you feel young. It's like a continuation of college life in some ways, when everyone has a blatant disregard for keeping house and obeying the proper rules of etiquette and grooming.

Times have officially changed. With Nathan moving out, this is the first time since moving out of my parents house that I don't live alone or with college friends. Kind of sad. The end of an era. But on the plus side, it's also the first time in probably a decade that I can look at the floor of my shower and not feel somewhat nauseated. So you take the good with the bad.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ann Coulter's Confidential Report

So, while browsing around looking for columns to mock, I came across the following banner advertisement:

Oh, joy, some new screed by Ann Coulter. I can't wait.

I found the actual copy within the ad kind of intriguing, I must say. Let's try to read between the lines.

"Completely Original"

So, unlike some of her colleagues on the right, Ann promises that she didn't just cut and paste P.J. O'Rourke and Jonah Golberg columns and pass them off as her own writing. Good to know.

"Thoroughly Controversial"

Still chock full of racism and factual errors.

"Entirely Confidential"

See, this one's hard to get a handle on...How can a book be "entirely confidential"? She's publishing it, right? Anyone with a penchant for poorly-written virulently xenophobic rhetoric is free to pick up a copy and read the entire contents and his or her leisure. So it's not "entirely confidential." Quite the opposite, it's "available for public scrutiny."

Perhaps the ad means that Coulter won't announce a title or topic for her new book until it is released, kind of like when they don't let criticis review a new movie until it opens. She probably knows that everyone in the media who doesn't work for Fox or the Washington Times can't wait to pick apart every inaccuracy and outright flasehood that will surely permeate her new work, so releasing even its broadly-stated subject months before release would be a poor marketing strategy.

(Just look what happened to Ramesh Ponarru when he announced simply the title of his new book. I mean, granted, it's an incredibly dumb title, but I can understand why someone might be nervous about announcing their eliminationist manifesto's topic too soon).

What could the new Ann Coulter book cover that's so shocking? She's already called for the forced conversion to Christianity of millions of Arabs, insulted and slandered the Clintons and John Kerry and Howard Dean in every conceivable fashion and called for the execution of those on the opposite end of the political spectrum. We're talking about a woman so debased and ignominious, even Bill Maher pretty much keeps his distance these days. Bill Maher. A guy who hangs out at the Playboy Mansion so frequently, he's got his own locker in the Grotto.

Here are some possible titles:

Frisson: Ranting Against Traiterous Democrats Publicly Gives Me Intense Sexual Release

Sabotage: Why Diebold Will Have to Keep Stealing Elections Until You All Start Voting Correctly

Reason: Treacherous Liberals Using Rational Thought to Screw With Real Americans

Decapitation: A Guidebook for Secretly Lopping Off Harry Reid's Head Late at Night Without Anyone Being the Wiser

There IS Nothing Worse Than a Woman Know-It-All

Ugh...Sickening footage here, dug up from somewhere by Harry Shearer on HuffPo, of Chris Matthews and Tom DeLay bantering before going on the air on "Hardball" this week. Quite a bunch of specimens we've got here.

The clip begins with Matthews fawning over DeLay, thanking him profusely for coming on his program. It's an attitude that's somewhat different from the one I had come to expect from a journalist. He doesn't sound like a guy who's about the press this elected official for the truth. He sounds like an underling, a serf, a guy supplicating to a more powerful man. At best, they sound like old pals.

MATTHEWS: Hey thank you for calling me. It was a good thing for me, mostly.

DELAY: Oh really.

MATTHEWS: Oh of course it was. We got on the air as fast as we could....

Can you imagine Redford and Hoffman in All the President's Men treating politicians this way? "Oh, geez, Chuck Colson, thank you so much for talking with us. The guys back in the newsroom won't believe it. So, all your political opponents, are they bottom-feeding degenerate commie fag scumbags or what?"

It's also kind of amusing to picture Chris Matthews waiting by the phone like an impatient 14 year old for super-cute Tom DeLay to call and ask him to Sadie Hawkins.

Anyway, after the ritualistic humbling of the Host before the Former Exterminator Turned Jesus-Themed Opportunist, we proceed to the two men discussing a poll of Democratic presidential hopefuls.

CM: ...and Hillary did not do well. Kerry did well.

DELAY: You're kidding.

MATTHEWS: I am NOT kidding. They didn't like Edwards -- they thought he was a rich lawyer, pretending to care about poor people...

DELAY: Too slick. Too slick.

MATTHEWS: ...and Hillary was a know-it-all.

DELAY: Nothing worse than a woman know-it-all.

You said it, Tom. Women should not try to be president. They should be content to hang out in their cage, occasionally clean up after you and get sodomized when there aren't any attractive goats around. Why do all these women want to learn things and achieve and move up in the world? It's so tiresome.

And after the questionable political analysis and rampant mysogeny portion of the pre-show countdown in completed, Matthews goes back to groveling and bowing before the altar of soon-to-be-convicted-felon Tom DeLay. Seriously, this guy sounds more like Grima Wormtongue than a host on MSNBC.

MATTHEWS: Thanks. I owe you one. I owe you two -- today and last night.

DELAY: No you don't.


DELAY: I appreciate it.

I owe you? I fucking owe you? And how does Matthews propose he will pay back this debt? Through positive coverage of DeLay? A briefcase full of money? A reach-around? What are we talking about here? DeLay quits politics in shame, appears on "Hardball" to cover his own ass, and Chris Matthews acts like he's being visited by the Virgin Mary!

"Oh, Tom DeLay has appeared before me! Great is the wonder and glory of the Universe! And now we shall have a feast, the grandest feast ever to be assembled in the halls of man, with ambrosia and turducken and maybe even those little cocktail weenies served on the toothpicks! Truly this is the most blessed and awesome day in my entire life! To have an icon, nay, a God like Tom DeLay in my very own studio! I AM NOT WORTHY! TELL ME THY BIDDING, O GREAT ONE, AND SURELY IT WILL BE DONE THIS VERY NIGHT! I AM YOUR FAITHFUL SERVANT, CHRISTOPHER MATTHEWS! COMMAND ME, LORD!"

Seth MacFarlane: No-Talent Assclown?

Tonight's new episode of "South Park" apparently will go after "Family Guy" and its creator, Seth MacFarlane. From South Park Studios:

"Cartman and Kyle are at war over the popular cartoon, 'Family Guy.' Kyle loves 'Family Guy' and hates Cartman. The two boys embark upon a mad chase across the country and the fate of 'Family Guy' lies with the first boy to reach Hollywood."

Yikes. I'm sure this entire episode will be very mean.

Most likely, Matt and Trey will indict the popular cartoon show for a lack of originality. It's a pretty familiar argument against the Chronicles of Peter Griffin, probably because some of MacFarlane's rip-offs are blatantly obvious.

The entire structure of his show practically reeks of "The Simpsons." A stupid Dad and his endlessly patient and tirelessly devoted wife raise three children - a boy, a girl and a precocious baby. Also, and I hadn't been aware of this until just today, when WWTDD brought it to my attention, the character of Stewie appears to be entirely lifted from a comic by Chris Ware, dating back to three years BEFORE the initial debut of "Family Guy" on Fox. Check out this panel from Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.

Wow, that is pretty damning stuff! I mean, it seems from this excerpt that Jimmy genuinely loves his mother, while Stewie wants only to murder his mother and get away with it, but otherwise the characters are identical.

In fact, there's a whole blog devoted to picking out all the stolen jokes and references from "Family Guy." (Not all of Family Guy Steals blogger Randy's citations strike me as particularly convincing that Seth MacFarlane is a dirty thief, though...At one point, he claims family dog Brian is a direct rip-off of Snoopy, which would be a really hard character to rip off considering his massive international fame and popularity.)

I'm kind of split on this issue, personally. I have no doubt that Seth MacFarlane takes ideas from other TV shows, movies and stand-up comics. I'd go so far as to say that he's particularly poor with inventing funny characters or scenarios, actually, and probably needs to borrow high-concepts and funny set-ups pretty frequently to create an entire TV show.

I like a lot of "Family Guy" episodes, but it's a show that lives and dies with the jokes. When the show hits the mark, makes a great pop culture references or throws in a surprising bit of raunch, it can be absolutely hilarious. An early episode featured a courtroom scene, and the camera darts around capturing everyone's reaction to the verdict. Three or four characters shout "Oh NO!" and then the Kool-Aid pitcher guy bursts through the wall and yells his trademark "OH YEAH!" Seeing that he's come at an inappropriate juncture in the story, he then backs slowly out of the room. Brilliant.

Viewers don't come back because of the great characters and funny stories. It's just the jokes. But I kind of find this entire "talentless rip-off artist" argument less than compelling for a few other reasons, too.

(1) Everybody rips off everybody

Matt and Trey have admitted this very thing on "South Park." Remember the episode about how "The Simpsons" has already come up with every good plotline? A fact that drives Butters, obsessed with devising an evil plan to destory South Park, utterly insane? The entire show explained how originality derives from the spirit of the enterprise and the individual ideas and jokes, not from some gimmicky plot that has been used by movies, TV shows and books for decades.

I don't know...Maybe "South Park" tonight will focus on different "Family Guy" flaws (like how the latest batch of episodes haven't really been as good as the early days of the series, or even the few shows right after its return). But it will be a bit hypocritical of them to state that they're allowed to borrow from "Simpsons" stories while MacFarlane has to be totally original.

(2) Family Guy can be really really funny

I'm sorry, the show is just really clever at times and there have been some really classic moments. Not to mention that, for a show on Fox, it really does push the envelope in terms of language, adult references and sexuality. I mean, there's a recurring pedophile character who's attempting to seduce Chris Griffin. You won't find that on most TV shows. (Even "South Park" limits its pedophile jokes to individual episodes, like the classic NAMBLA episode).

(3) There's no way to tell if similar jokes are stolen or merely coincidental

Last year saw the release of that Johnny Knoxville film, The Ringer, which shared a plotline with a "South Park" episode. Knoxville played a regular guy who posed as retarded in order to compete in The Special Olympics, which as you'll all recall, Cartman had done the previous season to regrettable results.

There was much talk about the Knoxville movie ripping off "South Park," until it came out that the Knoxville movie had a script and had been in pre-production several years before that "South Park" episode ever aired or was even conceived.

Now, did Matt and Trey read the script for The Ringer that was floating around town, and then rip it off before the movie had a chance to debut? Or was it merely a coincidence, two epople in the same town thinking of the same idea within a few years of one another. I'm inclined to go with the latter.

These past few weeks, as I have been attempting to conjure up a brilliant comedy script idea, I have stumbled accidentally upon other people's work several times. I thought I had devised the most incredibly awesome high-concept comedy ever...Someone like Jack Black would star in the story of the American competitive eating champion (you of those guys who competes in eating contests). After winning the title easily for years, he is suddenly and shockingly bested by a tiny Japanese man with an inhuman stomach capacity. His reputation shattered, his confidence lost, the American eater decides there's only one way to restore him to glory - to venture to Japan and take the Japanese title away from his opponent!

I was so excited when I had this idea, I could barely contain myself. Unfortunately, I was soon to be informed that a script with a similar story is already out there making the Hollywood rounds. (I don't know if they have the Japanese angle or not, which is really my favorite part of the idea, but there is definitely already a competitive eating movie out there).

Now, I didn't rip off this other script. We just had similar thoughts. Because there's only so many possible funny stories out there, and everyone in this town is so desperate for the Next Big Concept, they're bound to come up with the same stuff. That's just life. There's too many goddamn people around.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Two With Carole Lombard

On Tuesday, Universal releases 3 collections of 30's films from Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and Carole Lombard. But while the Dietrich discs include established classics Blonde Venus and Golden Earrings and West's set includes My Little Chickadee, the Lombard films are all small, forgotten little romantic comedies of varying quality.

I watched two of the films on the set, both featuring Fred MacMurray (best known to modern audiences from "My Three Sons" or maybe The Absent-Minded Professor) as her comic foil. One was really terrific, an overlooked screwball gem, and the other was ridiculously awful. I have no way of knowing how this bodes for the four other movies on the set I didn't get to check out. (Those, by the way, would be Love Before Breakfast, Man of the World, The Princess Comes Across and We're Not Dressing.)

Hands Across the Table

A film of considerable charms, Hands Across the Table lacks only the maniacally sharp wit of Preston Sturges, the Master of the Screwball genre. In just about every other way, this is as good as screwball gets, a wry and even insightful farce about the relative merits of marrying for money vs. marrying for love.

Lombard plays impoverished manicurist Regi Allen, determined to meet a wealthy husband via working on nails. It seems, to me, a poor choice for a girl looking to meet lots of men. I mean, manicurist? Aren't you going to meet 50 times more women than men at that job, even in the late 30's? I suppose, on the bright set, it's a fairly exclusive group of men who stay in fancy hotels and then call downstairs for manicures, so at least you're filtering out all the broke slobs.

So does manage to impress the rich but differently-abled Allen Macklyn (Ralph Bellamy), but doesn't really consider him a genuine marriage prospect. (As played by Bellamy, he's kind of creepy. I can imagine an alternate version of this film, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in which eh secretly plots to murder Regi and hide her body in the false bottom of his wheelchair.)

Unfortunately for her financial prospects, Regi quickly blows off the goofball Theodore Drew (MacMurray), finding him dreadfully unserious, before realizing he's the heir to a massive family fortune.

Due to circumstances it's not at all neccessary to elaborate on, Drew will come to stay in Regi's modest apartment, Macklyn will come to propose marriage, and everything will find a way of working out. Lombard and MacMurray have so much genuine chemistry here, however, that the movements of the story matter very little. The bulk of the film is taken up with the friendship between Regi and Ted, how their manic energy and self-absorption compliment each other perfectly.

As I said, the writing (by Norman Krasna, Vincent Lawrence and Herbert Fields) doesn't reach the sublime heights of The Lady Eve or My Man Godfrey, but perhaps this isn't a fair standard. It's far wittier than the average Hollywood comedy, and Lombard and MacMurray deliver the dialogue with exuberance and relish. One memorable exchange:

TED: My grandfather was a pirate, you know.
REGI: Honest?
TED: No...He was a pirate.

Okay, maybe you had to be there.

Anyway, these two are a real treat to watch together, not just a cute, charming couple, but an intelligent and fiery one. Which is why it's so surprising that their team-up in True Confession, only a few years later, was such a dud.

True Confession

Universal has dubbed these three sets of movies The Glamour Collection. It makes sense for Dietrich, certainly, and Carole Lombard was certainly a beautiful woman. But she's not exactly "glamorous" in these films. Instead, she brings a combination of girl-next-door relatability with a surprisingly rough edge sharpened over years of living in the Depression-era Big City. In Hands Across the Table, she has become hard and bitter, determined to enter a loveless marriage to avoid having to work on nails forever.

In True Confession, she's a housewife who's sick on living on her husband's meager salary, and in the course of trying to find work, she's lured into the apartment for a sex offender, who is then murdered after she flees to safety.

I mean, hey, it was the 30's. Times were tough. But, still, it's not exactly glamorous.

And though the movie's a waste of time - a comedy that's never funny, featuring some really over-the-top vaudeville-style schtick in place of actual humor - Lombard nonetheless does nice work as Helen Bartlett. A pathological liar, married to an uptight defense attorney who only represents the innocent (MacMurray again), Bartlett's as desperate as she is unpredictable. The performance is essentially note-perfect. We root for Helen even though she's pretty much a complete idiot who's married to an even larger idiot.

The story gets increasingly convoluted without ever building up any momentum as farce. Helen, suspected of the murder of her sleazy near-employer even though she had already fled the scene when he was killed, pleads guilty hoping for mercy from the court. And, of course, she can't reverse her testimony to tell everyone the truth, because her husband hates a liar! a set-up, it's kind of thin.

But what really makes True Confession excruciating is John Barrymore, hamming it up as an egomaniacal drunk who watches Helen's trial unfold. For those not up on your 30's Hollywood trivia, Barrymore had been the biggest stage star of his generation, known as The Great Profile because of his striking good looks. But years of alcohol abuse (Barrymore hung out with Errol Flynn, the most notorious drunk in Hollywood history!) left him, by the late 30's, pretty much a physical wreck. He looks twice his age in True Confession, and would die five years later. And he's playing a ridiculously stereotypical "wacky drunk." It's just...grim.

I know that the makers of True Confession couldn't have known Barrymore would actually die from drink in five years. But they surely must have known that the character cut a bit close to home. I mean, Charley wouldn't be funny even if played by a man who never touched the stuff. It's just a dumb character with no purpose in the larger story. He stumbles around, makes an ass out of himself, repeats his unfunny prediction that Helen will fry, and then wanders off-camera. Why even bother?

So, okay, if you happen upon the Carole Lombard collection, might want to skip True Confession and go for Hands Across the Table. That is all.

Wolf Creek

A psycho killer movie reduced to its simple essentials, Wolf Creek hardly sets out on an ambitious path. We've seen this exact story re-enacted so many times at this point, changing only the specific nature of the murders and the location, audiences have internalized the narrative. For some reason, people enjoy seeing this scenario play out repeatedly...Relatable innocents, stranded in some unfortunate predicament in an isolated location, surrounded by locals of questionable motive and hygiene standards, find themselves the victim of a kill-crazy maniac.

For children of the 80's like myself, it's perhaps the single most iconic cultural cautionary tale. Don't behave in a cavalier, horny or dopey fashion while on a road trip, or you'll be eviscerated by homicidal rednecks or some such thing. Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the granddaddy of the genre, remains the king of the Road Trip Gone Horribly Awry genre, but new entires continue to delight based largely on the creativity of the gore the physical attributes of the young stars.

Wolf Creek brings just enough innovation to the table to succeed, and not a bit more. The story of three unfortunate hikers who find themselves the subjects of all manner of brutality during an ill-fated trip into the Australian Outback brings exactly two original elements to the genre: a killer who dresses and sounds like Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, and the remote and menacing Outback setting.

If there have been previous Australian films to use the Outback as a horror film setting, I have not seen them. It's such a good idea, I'm kind of amazed no one has thought of it before. Desolate fields that stretch endlessly into the horizon, complete isolation save for toothless "bushman" locals and the occasional emu and mysterious "ghost towns" dotting the landscape add up to the ideal environment for the ritualistic kindapping and torture of good-looking youngsters.

Peter Weir observes in films like Picnic at Hanging Rock how the rugged Australian landscape makes a poor fit for the dress and customs brought over from Europe, and with Wolf Creek, writer/director Greg McLean expands on this idea: The Outback is a poor fit for any civilized person, European or otherwise. And considering that his harrowing film is based on a real series of murders in Australia in the late 1990's, perhaps he's right.

Liz, Kristy and Ben venture into the enormous expanse that fills the center of their continent in the course of a road trip to Sidney. (The trip will take three weeks). Along the way, they goof around, drink heavily, occasionally sleep with one another and stop to take in day-hikes at various National Parks.

Brits Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) exhibit exactly the kind of free-spirited, open behavior that gets you into trouble in these kinds of movies. When their companion, Oz native Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips), suggests a 3-hour hike to Wolf Creek Crater, it's pretty obvious to anyone save the three characters what's coming around the bend. I suppose in some ways the inevitability of the narrative in these movies is part of the joy. We know, as we get to know Liz and Kristy's personalities, that they will soon be brutalized before us, but that at least one of them will most likely survive, giving us a kind of power trip over everyone in the film.

But still, I think Wolf Creek takes a bit too long to get to the hack-and-slash stuff. Clocking in at a full hour, the goofy road trip comedy segment gets a bit grating as it goes on. After about 20 minutes, we have about as much insight as we're ever going to get. Much of the film's mid-section feels like an excuse to shoot the admittedly impressive Wolf Creek Crater. Not to mention that the film's most interesting character, professional hunter and all-around kook Mick Taylor, only winds up with about 35 minutes of screen time as a result.

As Taylor, John Jarratt really plays up the silliness. His ridiculous chortle becomes a kind of trademark by the film's end, along with his brutally frank, cold-blooded sense of humor. It sounds terrible, but in the context of the film, it really works, if only for the entertainment value of seeing a Down Under stereotype turned on its ear. Jarratt doesn't go for camp, but something approaching satire. He gets away with his nefarious crimes because people trust him - what tourist doesn't want to take an adventure with Crocodile Dundee? (Look out for a classic Paul Hogan catch-phrase to make a late appearance).

The deaths themselves don't really compare with the outrageous gore-for-gore's-sake of a film like Hostel, a movie that's superior in just about every way. But they're suitably disgusting to please the standard horror fan, particularly a crucifixion, a mode of killing that's making a big comeback in horror movies of late. Thanks for that one, Mr. Gibson!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Jim Broadbent rules. What a fantastic actor. He's in approximately two scenes of The Chronicles of Narnia, and they are the only ones that actually make sense, the only ones with real humanity and the only occasion in which the movie ceases to feel like a bad special effects promo reel designed for young children.

Now, I should say that I completely and totally disagree with the sentiment expressed in Broadbent's scenes. As the wise but eccentric professor who takes in four children displaced by the horrors of WWII, Broadbent makes an open and outright case for the nobility of faith. Young Lucy Pevensie (Georgia Henley) claims to have found a passageway to the enchanted realm of Narnia in the back of a wardrobe, and of course her siblings don't believe her.

"But why wouldn't you believe her? Is she a liar?" asks Professor Kirke. "She is your sister!"

The analogy shouldn't be too difficult, even for the kids in the audience. Faith is about letting go of your narrow skepticism and embracing an ideology because it feels right, and because you are part of a community of believers. As an atheist, I find this kind of groupthink fairly repugnant. The other Pevensie children are absolutely correct in thinking that Lucy is crazy. She says she's found a trail in the back of a goddamn closet that leads to a magical forest inhabated by goat men! If the other children had said, "Oh, Lucy, sounds like you 'ad a merry old time! Let's all go have a look!," that wouldn't bode well for the Pevensie gene pool.

But my point (I do have one) is that the scene works because it has something to say, and because Broadbent brings a mysterious but warm affability to his scenes with the children. The rest of the film feels rote in comparison. Andrew Adamson, like Chris Columbus in his Harry Potter adaptations, seems excruciatingly terrified of upsetting fans of his source material, so he lumbers along, content to "recreate" memorable scenes from the first book of C.S. Lewis' Narnia series rather than turn the series into anything engaging, provocative or cinematic.

I've heard conservative religious types claim the film as their own, as the ideological and social follow-up to Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. But, honestly, the film's far too dispassionate to make this case. You have to be about something in order to represent a political or ideological viewpoint, and the only thing Chronicles of Narnia seems to express is a desire to have a big opening weekend so that the suits at Disney will greenlight some sequels. Lewis' stories work not only as rather clunky religious metaphors, but as entertaining (if sometimes rambling) fantasy/adventure novels in their own right. You'd never know that from the movie, which consists of three equally-obnoxious modes: shrill kiddie fare, poorly-shot spectacle and creepy Christian allegory.

Back to the story...

Lucy goes through the wardrobe and meets a faun named Tumnus (James McAvoy, mostly forgettable) who is very friendly and invites her for tea. He's terrified of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton in an embarrassing, self-conscious turn), who has kept Narnia locked in Winter for 10 years. When Lucy's siblings stumble through the closet themselves, Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) meet up with their rogue sister and a friendly beaver (voiced by Ray Winstone), while Edmund (Skandar Keyes) comes under the spell of the White Witch. The stage is set for a showdown.

These sequences (well, everything up to the CG talking beaver) start things off sufficiently, even if it takes a bit too long to explore any of Narnia beyond Tumnus' modest cottage. The actual enchanted woods set looks terrific, blanketed by powdery snow, but also kind of plain for a big Hollywood fantasy film.

Coming off of the craggy New Zealand landscapes and epic proportions of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, the Land of Narnia feels like a letdown. Pretty woodland scenes and rolling green hills are no match for the mines of Moria or Minas Tirith, and we never even get to see a real Narnian city. In fact, Narnia doesn't really seem very big in the film, and it's not big on elaborate natural wonders or bustling urban centers. We're told the land extends from a random lamppost in the woods to the Witch's castle in the mountains, but what lies beyond the limits of Narnia? And shouldn't there be more citizens of Narnia around? Pretty much every character we meet along the way already knows one another and lives alone and isolated in a small, modesty-appointed home.

Once the story kicks into high gear, with the introduction of titular feline King Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the Christ allegory, Narnia pretty much collapses under its own weight. Adamson has the unenviable task of opening with very childish sort of material - games of hide and seek and tea with Mr. Tumnus - and closing with, seriously, an exact recreation of the story of Christ's crucifiction and resurrection featuring talking animals. It doesn't even come remotely close to gelling together as a film. Not by a long shot. I've come closer to sinking a shot from half court at the Staples Center than Adamson comes to hitting the Narnia mark.

I haven't read Lewis' original books since I was maybe 10 years old, so it's hard for me to pin down whether the whole Narnia thing is silly in and of itself or whether Adamson's adaptation has made it seem silly. Most likely, the books hold together because Lewis had a vision and a conception of this place that comes through in his prose. He understood not only the mechanics of Narnia, but its native spirit. And he should know why a place like Narnia needed to exist! He invented it!

Director Adamson fails to demonstrate any sort of real vision for the material. His Narnia has no personality or life of its own (in addition to its apparent underpopulation problem). Not only isn't it a place I'd like to go, but it's a place that I still don't really have a feel for one way or the other. I can't imagine what life might really be like there at all, as events seem to merely unfold in front of our heroes.

I think part of the problem is that Lewis' story relies so heavily on the animal kingdom and by-now cliched mythological beasts for characters to fill up his world. Reading about centaurs and lions and minotaurs and badgers and unicorns fighting a huge battle for the fate of the world is one thing. Seeing that concept rendered using computer-generated effects and shot as an action sequence is something else entirely. And that thing is ridiculous

A word about those special effects. They're terrible. I noticed the crappy effects technology early on, when Swinton's White Witch magics up some delicious Turkish Delights to seduce young Edmund into evil. She takes out a vial of liquid and gingerly sprinkles it on the ground, where magically Turkish Delights then appear! Using the same technique used to animate the Fairy Godmother's magic in the ABC-Family Channel original production of Cinderella. I mean, the snow whips around into some kind of blurry swirl and then suddenly there's a platter of Turkish Delights? That's the best an entire squad of effects artists could produce in 2006? Didn't some of the WETA Lord of the Rings team work on this bitch?

I mean, at the end of the movie, we're talking about large-scale action scenes featuring warrior Minotaurs. That should look kind of cool, right? Instead, the minotaurs look like College Basketball mascots. The entire final battle sequence, which by the way has no real repercussions for either side and thus makes no logical sense, lacks for clairty and intensity, for substance and consequence. It's just storybook characters running into one another at high speed, like an explosion at Scholastic headquarters.

Once all this noise and flash was finally over, I realized I'd have been much happier overall watching a film about Professor Kirke and his several months spent as acting guardian of the Pevensie children. Broadbent's performance, the ominously large mansion, the sassy head servant would be an exploration of the meaning of faith and family, and a cool WWII-era period film to boot. Sounds alright. Instead, we get Tilda Swinton dressed as an Ugg boot, horse-men with axes and bad facial hair, and a martyred fox that sounds like Rupert Everett. If it's all the same to you guys, I think I'll skip Prince Caspian.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Your Batshit Insane Quote of the Day

Referring to a wave of demonstrations in recent weeks, Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia said, "I say if you are here illegally and want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico and wave the American flag."

But...wait...Rep. Goode...I want to fly the Mexican flag. Why would I go to Mexico and wave the American flag? First off, I don't want to "wave" a flag at all. That's totally homo unless you're actually in the process of fighting a war during the flag-waving, and it's being used as part of an important semaphore communication to headquarters. I want to fly a flag, which is far more patriotic, manly and socially acceptable.

But more importantly, I don't see the sense in someone wanting to fly a Mexican flag who goes to Mexico and flies an American flag. Please explain.