Saturday, May 06, 2006

Rumor Has It

Now, everyone knows that The Graduate is a fictional movie based on a fictional novel. What this movie presupposes is...what if it wasn't?

Reviewing Rob Reiner comedies post-When Harry Met Sally can prove a delicate endeavor. It goes without saying that the movie is terrible and unfunny. Reiner apparently doesn't get offered quality material any more, because everything he's touched since the mid-90's has been a complete disaster. (And that's if you generously give the nod to the entirely mediocre An American President). To be fair, blame for the banality machine that is last year's Rumor Has It shouldn't be laid solely at Reiner's feet. He took over this troubled production for producer/star Kevin Costner after the screenwriter/director Ted Griffin was fired mid-shoot.

Anyway, the end result couldn't be less amusing. I can't think of a recent comedy that made less of an effort to garner laughs. There aren't really any actual jokes in the entire script. Just a bunch of familiar comic types interacting with straight men and women, discussing the intricacies of the plot and shallow "insights" about the nature of true love.

And what a plot! According to the film, the author of the novel on which the film The Graduate was based lived in Pasadena and based the book on a true story that happened in town. A few days before her planned nupitals, Sarah Huttinger (Jennifer Aniston) discovers that it's her family that formed the basis for the tale. Her grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) was Mrs. Robinson! Her mother, now dead, was played by Katherine Ross in the film! And a shifty young man named Beau Burroughs (Costner) was the model for young Benjamin Braddock. She decides to go see Mr. Burroughs, ostensibly for insight into her own mother's indecision about getting married.

Essentially, Rumor Has It reverses the audience's loyalty from Mike Nichols original film The Graduate. In that movie, we sympathize with Benjamin, whose restlessness relates directly to the common feelings of isolation and angst that in many ways define modern human life. In this movie, we're asked to sympathize with the daughter of Benjamin's old flame. She's Sarah, an attractive, wealthy woman who wants to get married to an nice, attractive man. While The Graduate served as a bold statement for individual identity and personal freedom, Rumor Has It suggests we all just want to seettle down into holy matrimony with someone snuggly in an upper-middle-class suburb.

I'll admit, it's a little bothersome to see such a dense, thoughtful film used as a springboard for such a lame comedy. Rumor Has It not only avoids any kind of artistry such as you would find in The Graduate, it seems to avoid anything that might provide entertainment value. Beau has grown up to be a high-powered, world-traveling, goofy New Age CEO type. I think Costner was trying to make him boyish but overshot and winds up making him a doofus. MacLaine plays the brassy old broad she's played in her last 200 film roles. Richard Jenkins demonstrated more exuberance and life playing a dead man in "Six Feet Under" than here as Sarah's father. (You know, the guy who Katherine Ross ditches at the altar in The Graduate? He's one of the heroes of this movie! Whatever you say!)

The lame Graduate connections wouldn't bother me as much if this film were funny, but as I said, there aren't any jokes to laugh at, even if the mood grabbed you. I'm officially bored with talking about this film now. Here's a related but different topic:

What would be some other good films to "update" in this way? To follow up with 20 or 30 or 40 years later? Here's some I came up with.

Back to Casablanca: Sophie Laszlo arrives in Casablanca on a quest to find out about her moth, who died when she was a little girl babbling about a man named Rick living in Morocco. She meets a local barkeep who seems like he's going to help her, but he refuses to stick his neck out for anyone in this cruel environment of North Africa during the Cold War.

Back to Back to the Future: In the Year 2015, Marty McFly is shocked to discover his younger self wandering around his home on the same day he gets fired via fax. He goes to visit Doc Brown, and the process of discussing this rip in the space-time continuum, they wind up accidentally transplanted into the Age of Explorers.

The Eighth Day in May: Studying attempted military coup carried out in the 60's by Gen. Scott, a similarly crazed general (Jean-Claude Van Damme) plans his own aggressive power grab in 2006. The difference? His coup will all happen on one day...The eighth day in May! And the only one who can stop him is the grandson of Martin "Jiggs" Casey, Captain Casey Ryback, memorably played by Steven Seagal in Under Siege 1 and 2!

The Other Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: We all know Senator Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) confessed to shooting notorious outlaw Liberty Valance. But who fired those other shots, from behind the cactus, back and to the left? That's what the grandson of journalist Ransom Stoddard aims to find out!

Let Me See YOUR I.D.!

I don't want to upset any of you...but I have to break some bad news to the world tonight via this channel, one that I usually reserve for radical screeds that upset some guy named RH. It seems that the end of the world is upon us.

"There is a prophecy in the Bible that foretells a time when every person will be required to have a mark or a number, without which he or she will not be able to participate in the economy," states the Christian website "The prophecy is 2,000 years old, but it has been impossible for it to come to pass until now. With the invention of the computer and the Internet, this prophecy of buying and selling, using a number, can now be implemented at any time. Has the time for the fulfillment of this prophecy arrived?"

My God...Of course! Government-issued identification cards will bring about The Rapture! How come I didn't think of this before? It won't be some crazy mutating virus that wipes us out, or melting Polar ice caps, or nuclear war with all the other countries that suddenly hate us with good cause! It will be ID cards!

But hang on...In trying to ascertain when this horrible annihilation-by-lamination will take place...I made a shocking discovery.

The data required to be included in each card are, among other things, the person's full legal name, date of birth, gender, driver's license number, a digital photo, the person's address and machine-readable technology so the information can be ready easily by government or banking personnel.

Wait a minute...Full name, date of birth, gender...Photo and address! Machine-readable technology! IT'S A DRIVER'S LICENSE! Mark of the beast! We're all doomed!

You guys don't understand. I've been walking around with a Satanic I.D. card in my wallet, right next to my ass, for like years now. By this point, my entire backside is probably condemned to hell. (Please feel free to come up with your own gay sex/vibrating anal thumb jokes at this point.)

Endtime Ministries' Irvin Baxter, a radio host, believes the national ID is a precursor to the forced embedding of radio-frequency chips under the skin.

Baxter told the Concord, N.H., Monitor: "That's where we are headed right now. The prophecy states that you will have to receive a mark on your hand or in your forehead."

Clearly, Mr. Baxter has not seen Minority Report or he would know that, in the future, identification is done by retinal scan and not imbedded microchip. And, after that, it won't matter anyway because everyone will be weird liquidy robots who experiment on Haley Joel Osment that can identify one another by serial number.

Don't get me wrong. I love Baxter's show...Listen every week. That retarded Chinese guy with the cleft pallatte who prank calls Pizza Hut is a genius. I just think he's jumping the gun a bit here with the predictions. He hasn't even mastered being an firebrand radio preacher, I'm not sure he's ready to move into the exciting field of futurism.

My point is, in a nutshell, that the end is nigh. I'm hoping everything happens quickly. Like, an asteroid from outer space just smashes the shit out of us and almost everyone dies on impact, leaving the others to starve to death or die of exposure or radiation or whatever in a matter of days. Cause who wants a prolonged, dystopian, Mad Max universe where you've got to wander around in deserts dressed like an extra from a biker film that had the crap kicked out of him?

I have to confess, though, I wouldn't really mind a Christian-style Rapture, like in those "Left Behind" books Kirk Cameron seems to enjoy so much. In that version, all the good Christians float up to Heaven and leave the rest of us down here to choose either the path of light (siding with JC) or darkness (according to the "Left Behind" books, a guy a lot like Randall Flagg in Stephen King's "The Stand," but I'm thinking they mean Satan).

That would be killer, cause we'd have at least a few weeks on Earth without any obnoxious Christians around trying to ruin all the fun. You knwo the world's going to end, there's no more bullshit moralizers around...It would be like Worldwide Vegas for a while! People walking around, shooting heroin while hitting a bong, pausing only to join an orgy and eat a sheet of Oreos coated in liquid LSD. And that would just be Pete Doherty's flat.

Of course, if the Christian wackos are right, I'll be enjoying one last fling on Earth before the eternal cruelty and torment of Hell. Which is, I won't lie to you, less than ideal. Unless I wind up with Pete Doherty as a roommate, in which case it will probably be pretty sweet, what with all the passed out models.

In all likelihood, we won't get a Jesus-themed Rapture at all, but a gradual slide into a dystopian post-urban nightmare world haunted by overpopulation, catastrophic environmental and ecological shifts and endless tribal warfare. And here are some tips for surviving the coming apocalypse, which as I said, can be blamed solely on government-issue ID cards:

  • Never leave your home without a shotgun, and always make sure to avoid areas where you know mutants congregate
  • Gasoline may be a valuable commodity in the future, so best to stock up now while it's still really cheap
  • Massive electrical failures at satellite towers may render your cellular phone useless as a communication device, but will probably still be capable of taking cute pictures of your girlfriends and playing Christina Milian mp3's
  • Most coastal cities will be partially or completely underwater, which can only improve conditions in Atlantic City, NJ
  • You'll want to try and repopulate the Earth with more humans, so try to avoid refugee settlements that are total sausage fests
  • Super-intelligent aliens bent on our destruction may have been biding their time for centuries now, waiting for our civilization to collapse. So, you out for that...
  • If you happen upon a dead mailman, whatever you do, don't put on his uniform and pretend that the United States government has been reassembled
  • If you must loot, please, loot Wal-Mart
  • If George W. Bush is still presdient, now might be a good time to begin discussing censure

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mission: Impossible III

"You got a wife? A girlfriend? A cat? I'll tell you what I'm gonna do next. I'm gonna find them, I'm gonna kill her and then I'm gonna kill you. Then I'm gonna revive her, and then I'm gonna kill the cat, right in front of her. Then, I'm gonna make a snack. Then I'm going to kill you again, just in case you weren't totally dead. Yeah, I'll kill you twice if I have to. Then, the cat and I will watch and review Mission: Impossible 3. Before I kill it, while your dead girlfriend watches."

By now, most everyone's seen the big interrogrtion scene from MI:3, J.J. Abrams addition to the little Tom Cruise franchise that could. It's the highlight of the trailers, a scene that promises to actually pump some life into what has, thus far, been a fairly uninteresting franchise. And I'll say this for Abrams, who made his name by reviving the hour-long action genre on TV with "Lost" and "Alias" - conceptually, he's made by far the most interesting Mission: Impossible movie yet.

Unlike De Palma's stylish but overly confusing first entry, that abandoned the "team effort" aspect of the narrative altogether in favor of paranoia thriller trappings, Abrams has made a film that's far more clearly inspired by the television show. It's about a team pulling a variety of bizarre or improbable heists and covert actions, and it has a real lively sense of good humor and fun. And unlike John Woo's shrill and overblown second chapter, it's not trying so hard to impress the audience with gadgetry and swooning slow-motion romance, and it remembers that the explosion-heavy action set pieces must always take a backseat to the sheer invention and ingenuity of the mission.

There's a lot that J.J. has done right. He's finally made Mission: Impossible an emotional, human story. The narrative doesn't feel like some thin excuse for Tom Cruise to show off his biceps and jump off of buildings (although, of course, there's still ample time for both), but actually tries to create characters who exist in a universe of real stakes and consequences. And though his movie's less cinematic or aesthetically pleasing than De Palma's or Woo's, Abrams has focused more on sheer entertainment value. It's chaotic and cartoonish, yes, but Mission: Impossible III doesn't get lost in pumped-up, navel-gazing star vehicle territory. It's about hiring a big cast of stars, flying them around the world, blowing lots of shit up and having a good time.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of J.J.'s version is its simplicity. Rather than allowing extensive exposition and convoluted spycraft to bog down what should be a light, enjoyable affair, J.J. has designed a neatly-interlocking structure with just enough plot to provide the adventures with a framework. The result is a spy film that's a lot more Michael Bay than John Le Carre, and that's probably more appropriate for an adaptation of "Mission: Impossible."

Everything revolves around a series of kidnappings. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and a newly-assembled team of IMF agents (Ving Rhames, returning from the first movie, along with newcomers Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Maggie Q) venture to Berlin to save an agent trained by Hunt (Keri Russell) from the hands of sadistic arms dealer Owen Davian (Hoffman).

When that goes awry, they are tasked by the head of IMF (an angry Laurence Fishburne) with capturing Davian himself. And when their quarry escapes and kidnaps Ethan's new wife (Michelle Monaghan, whom I first admired in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), it's time for yet another rescue mission. It's all well thought out and tightly paced, and this sort of loose strucutre allows Abrams to take the film all over the world, from Germany to Italy to China, without all the travel and exoticism feeling forced.

Unfortunately (and you knew this unfortunately was coming), Abrams ideas work a lot better conceptually than they actually do on screen. I'm sure a lot of M:I3's shortcomings are due to the fact that this is Abrams first feature film. Starting your career as a movie director by working on a big-budget summer sequel starring and produced by Tom Cruise has got to be nerve-wracking to say the least. The fact that the film has an idiosyncratic, personal vision in the first place is a testament to Abrams ability to organize and keep everything in balance.

But it's hard to excuse some of the lapses here, if only in terms of visual storytelling, style and cinematography.

To put it simply, Abrams isn't very good at directing action sequences. There are a number of problems with the big set pieces in the film, which include a helicopter chase through windmills, a shootout with helicopters and planes on a bridge and a raid on a Shanghai office building that really earns the title "Mission: Impossible." Abrams falls back on that most obnoxious of Hollywood action cliches, the jiggly spastic camera.

As soon as bullets start flying or cars speeding, throughout the entire movie, Abrams stops allowing the camera to sit still for a moment. I honestly have no idea how a Shaky-cam effect is supposed to improve these action scenes. It makes it harder to see what's going on, and though for a moment it may seem like things are moving faster than the really are, the final effect is highly disorienting. Which is the last thing you want for the entirety of an action sequence.

I mean, maybe you want things to be disorienting for a moment, to give the audience a feel for the main character's perspective. If you were really running away from missiles on a bridge, being thrown into cars and leaping over gaping, charred holes in the asphalt, everything probably would look chaotic and blurred and shaky. But if you employ this effect for the entire sequence, everything just comes out unclear and confusing, and you miss what otherwise would probably be an exciting sequence.

Beyond just the pointless, jittery cinematography, Abrams action sequences lack geographical sense or perspective. We're never quite sure where people are in relation to one another. Sometimes, it seems like Ethan Hunt is running right in front of a row of mercenaries firing machine guns at him, and yet he never gets hit. Other times, it seems like characters are right next to one another, and then we discover they are on opposite sides of the room. And during the helicopter chase near the film's beginning, it's unclear even which helicopter has the good guys and which has the bad guys. Because Abrams shots don't give you any sense of depth, you can't see who is chasing who.

That's a considerable problem. Abrams has set up these spectacular, creative set pieces only to fumble the execution.

His writing and character work faces a similar problem. A lot of the situations in the film have juicy set-ups that, if well-written, would have provided for the most intense drama of any of the Mission: Impossible films thus far. Take the interrogation scene between Hoffman and Cruise that I goofed on at the start of this review. It's the first thing we see in the movie, and it's a truly evil bastard rattling off to the film's hero all the horrible, nasty things he's planning to do. That's a terrific way to start an action movie, particularly one that follows up two other films in which the main character is essentially invincible.

For the first time, Ethan Hunt actually faces not just a death-defying stunt, but real human pain. He could lose his wife, not just his job or some top secret documents. And in Philip Seymour Hoffman, Abrams has chosen an actor who can exude real menace. The guy didn't win Best Actor for nothing - he's one of the finest character actors working in Hollywood today.

And though the scene works okay, it's never really takes off the way it should. Davian, overall, is a pretty disappointing, flat character when all is said and done. He's all bluster. He talks a lot about torturing and killing people, but we never really see him do anything all that villainous. And the end that Abrams has devised for him at the film's conclusion is extremely anti-climactic. Hoffman got a better send-off in Brett Ratner's Red Dragon, and if you can't top Brett Ratner, you officially got problems.

Cruise, likable though he may be, isn't really in the same class. Hoffman takes a barely-written character and turns in an interesting performance with a lot of nice little asides. Cruise is center-stage the entire film and his Ethan Hunt still barely registers as a character. At this point in his career, he's become as much a brand as an actor. Mission: Impossible 3 finds him falling back on msot of his predictable patterns. Anyone know why his movies always include scenes with him running down long corridors or hallways? I only ask because he has kind of a funny-looking run. He's not bad in the film, just predictable.

Ving Rhames, always a likable, charismatic presence in this kind of ensemble, tries his best to give tech expert Luther some spark, but Abrams and co-screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have saddled him with this really corny sub-plot about not wanting Ethan to get married. He's also stuck with the bulk of the film's unfunny one-liners.

I liked the dynamic that Abrams was giving Luther and Ethan - two friends who have worked together for years and seen some incredible and tragic things together - but, as written, the scenes just don't play. Luther's a dud, kind of a depressing wet blanket, despite Rhames' best efforts. Rhys-Meyers and Maggie Q barely register at all - it's nice that Abrams has bothered to give Hunt a team, and the sequences with them all coordinating crazy operations together are fun, but he clearly didn't put a lot of work into fashioning three-dimensional characters for these two terrific actors. The only scene with just these two characters, in which they discuss an old prayer Maggie Q's character used to say for her lost cat, is an embarrassingly obvious attempt to give them some added screen time.

So, yeah, I bet M:I3 was great on paper. A faster, leaner, more outrageous and original addition to a series of films that has never quite found its voice or identity. And I wouldn't count Abrams out completely as a feature director. There's promise and genuine enthusiasm riddled throughout this film, which is admirable for its ambition and epic size. Abrams, based only on this movie (I have never seen his TV shows) strikes me as the kind of guy with the raw materials to do great things, big but not mindless popcorn entertainments, but who was possibly overwhelmed by such a grandiose undertaking the first time out.

That, or he's just a better producer/idea man than he is a writer/director. I can't be sure.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Harry and Terry?

The last two Harry Potter films have been totally solid (though I still think Prisoner of Azkaban is the best). Clearly, this is because they have been directed by actual directors, as opposed to Chris Columbus, who made the first two.

Now, the Potter obsessives of The Leaky Couldron are reporting that Terry Gilliam may be directing the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which would come out in the Summer of 2008. (Next summer will bring Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). This, if true, completely rules.

"IMDB has updated their site to list Terry Gilliam as the director for 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'. Readers will remember that in the past Mr. Gilliam has expressed interest in directing a Harry Potter film. While this editor would be thrilled if this were indeed the case, please remember everyone, this is still very early in the going, and this should very much remain in the rumor category for now."

For a while there, it had been rumored Gilliam was going to direct the first film. I believe he was J.K. Rowling's original choice, or some such thing, before the studio opted to give the franchise over to the genius what brung you Bicentennial Man. (In all fairness to CC, he is a better writer than director, having penned not one but two bonafide 80's classics: The Goonies and Gremlins. And, you know...Chrismas with the Kranks.)

Anyway, it's totally obvious, because who has a better feel for creepy, strange, special effects-laden children's fantasies than the director of Time Bandits? No one. And as the later Potter adventures just keep getting darker and more sinister, Gilliam's really going to get to indulge his gothic visual imagination.

Let's just hope it turns out better than Brothers Grimm. And that the Hogwarts set isn't destroyed by falling debris from space or whatever 2 weeks into shooting, thus putting the project in permanent development hell along with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and The Defective Detective and all his other unfinished or never-produced projects.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Just Turn Right at Zzyzx Road

Your tax dollars at work!

Out here, 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles, units of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., are among the latest war-bound troops who have gone through three weeks of training that introduce them to the harsh episodes that characterize the American experience in Iraq.

In a 1,000-square-mile region on the edge of Death Valley, Arab-Americans, many of them from the Iraqi expatriate community in San Diego, populate a group of mock villages resembling their counterparts in Iraq. American soldiers at forward operating bases nearby face insurgent uprisings, suicide bombings and even staged beheadings in underground tunnels. Recently, the soldiers here, like their counterparts in Iraq, have been confronted with Sunni-Shiite riots. At one village, a secret guerrilla revolt is in the works.

I've often thought the Greater Los Angeles Area was a lot like modern Iraq. The city's essentially impregnable by car during the daytime and unsafe at night. There are many many delicious falafel stands all over the place. Not to mention that more and more unwanted Americans arrive in both places every day. (Seriously, during the summer the tourist traffic in and around Hollywood is maddening. I'd rather try to navigate around Karbala.)

With actors and stuntmen on loan from Hollywood, American generals have recast the training ground at Fort Irwin so effectively as a simulation of conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 20 months that some soldiers have left with battle fatigue and others have had their orders for deployment to the war zones canceled. In at least one case, a soldier's career was ended for unnecessarily "killing" civilians.

Wow, that does sound effective! Imagine that! We've found a way to traumatize young men without even having to send them into battle once! For efficiency like that, you need only to look to the Modern Army.

(Not to mock any of these poor guys who've been emotionally scarred by war or fake war, but if I were shipped out to the Mojave for three weeks to have simulated Arabs attack me, I'd probably fake shell shock as well. "I can't hack it, Sarge! Those extras by the catering cart are freaking me out, man!")

"We would rather you got killed here than in Iraq," said Maj. John Clearwater, a veteran of the Special Forces who works at the training center.

Can I just not get killed, Mr. Major, sir? No? Have to get killed?, I'd probably rather do it here than in Iraq. I'd prefer to avoid the whole getting killed thing but...yeah, well, I guess that's not happening. Alright, good do know. Thanks.

The troops who come here are at the heart of a vast shift in American war-fighting strategy, a multibillion-dollar effort to remodel the Army on the fly. Here, the Army is relearning how to fight, shifting from its historic emphasis on big army-to-army battles to the more subtle tactics of defeating a guerrilla insurgency.

[Lons spits coffee all over his computer monitor as part of an elaborate, Yosemite Sam-esque cartoon double-take.]


As a general principle, you should never do anything that costs more than $1 billion on the fly. I mean, I know our president wasn't exactly an awesome businessman, but come on! You don't have to be The Donald's next Apprentice to know that's too much to spend on a new army base along the road to Vegas.

How much do you figure they spend putting Burning Man together each year? Probably not anything near a billion dollars. And those guys are fucked up on peyote buttons and ecstasy the whole time! I'll tell you what...once every six months, invite a bunch of trendy bands to play at the base, charge LA fans $100 a head to come out and see them (with an extra $50 for the suckers who want to "go camping"), call it Coachella's Revenge and start earning some of this fucking money back.

(But don't actually invite She Wants Revenge, no matter how tempting the thematic tie-in. They suck.)

It gets even better:

Beneath the public veneer, some American officers say they believe that public support for the war will probably run out before the changes will begin to make a major difference. The more probable chain of events, they say, is a steady drawdown of American forces from Iraq, long before the insurgency is defeated.

Wait, what? It will probably wind up being useless anyway? I guess, if nothing else, they can use it as the primary location for Pauly Shore's upcoming In the Army Now 2. So we'll get something out of it.

At the Army's Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., officers are being required for the first time to complete a course in counterinsurgency. In Iraq, American officers entering the country are now required to spend their first week at the sprawling military base at Taji, on the northwestern edge of Baghdad, attending a crash course in counterinsurgency.

We just sent all these people into harm's way unprepared for what they were going to face. This is the end result of Rumsfeld's nonsensical light army/shock and awe theory. No one wants to send a lot more men into combat. But it's a neccessity to win armed conflicts, you rube. And also, if you're going to send in troops to forcibly keep a major metropolis running while a civil war is going on in the streets, you may want to make sure they already have had a counterinsurgency lesson in the past. So they don't have to have a "crash course" once they're in country. (Also, calling it a "crash course"...inappropriate...)

But, hey, no we shouldn't actually prepare to take control of this country. Let's just start blowing them up, send 100,000 armed dudes over there and hope everything works out. They'll probably be really super-excited to see us!

But back to the secret military training ground on I-15, near Baker, home of the World's Largest Thermometer.

Today, in a desert region nearly the size of Rhode Island, the network of 12 virtual Iraqi villages are eerie in their likeness to the real things. That is the idea, of course: that American soldiers will find the environment so real that they will make their mistakes here first, so they do not make them in Iraq.

One of the villages is Medina Jabal, a hamlet of wooden huts and gravel roads at the base of a ravine about 35 miles from Death Valley.

It is a marriage of military technology and Hollywood fakery; some 350 Arabic-speaking Iraqi-Americans and plainclothes Nevada National Guardsman live here almost year-round to offer American trainees what one officer described as "a vortex of chaos." The insurgents even get acting lessons, coached by Carl Weathers, best known for his portrayal of the boxer Apollo Creed in the "Rocky" films.

Holy shit, never mind! Our troops are being trained by Action Jackson! Forget everything I said...This is an awesome idea!

Oh, for the love of God, please, if you are a documentary filmmaker, get your ass out to the desert. I smell a new reality TV sensation! "The Insurgent!" Action movie hero Carl Weathers trains a group of American soldiers to behave like real Iraqi insurgents. Weekly challenges include bomb-making, issuing murderous fatwas against infidels and getting waterboarded.

16 will enter, but only one will be THE INSURGENT!

A single afternoon in Medina Jabal crystallizes all the confusions and ambiguities of fighting in Iraq. None of the villagers of Medina Jabal are allowed to speak English, and all encounters must be carried out with an interpreter.

Insurgents lurk inside the town, but as in Iraq, they are invisible. The guerrillas maintain a underground tunnel network, smuggle in weapons, and plot nearly continuous attacks on American forces.

The closest American base, where most of the trainees sleep, is only a few hundred yards away, and the insurgents shoot mortar shells at it every night — just as they do in places like Ramadi.

I guess it gives you a sense of what it's like to be in Iraq, but would this really prepare you to enter a violent war zone? I mean, it's hot and loud and irritating and nerve-wracking, sure. But you know you're not going to die. I mean, the guy from Happy Gilmore is there...What could happen? And I doubt it crystallizes all of the confusions of fighting in Iraq. I mean, the thing's located about 2 hours away from where I'm sitting right now. You could probably walk to Bun Boy.

Still, it would make an excellent movie:

To the amazement of American trainers, Sergeant Wilson has found that nearly every American unit entering the training course falls for his tricks — usually leading to catastrophic results. He figures he has "killed" hundreds of American servicemen in his time here. The trap works like this: When the American soldiers first enter Medina Jabal, they usually head straight for the Kamel Dogs stand for a snack. Chatting up the soldiers, "Mr. Hakim" asks if the Americans might let him sell his hot dogs inside the nearby American camp, called Forward Operating Base Denver, to make some extra money for his family. The soldiers inevitably agree, and before long, Mr. Hakim is ferrying huge loads of hot dogs and charcoal briquettes onto the American base.

In the first few days of the venture, everything proceeds safely; the American soldiers, suspicious of Mr. Hakim, search his truck thoroughly. But after four or five days, having decided that he is one of the "good Iraqis," the soldiers begin to wave him and his truck through their checkpoints.

And that is when he strikes. One day, he replaces the charcoal briquettes with Hollywood-grade pyrotechnics, drives the truck deep into the American base and blows it up.

Okay, nobody steal that idea...I'm writing this thing, goddammit.

[Hat tip to Brandoland for finding this article]

50 Million Websites and Nothing On

I'm bored with the news these days. We're still waiting for Karl Rove to finally be indicted, so this whole sorry little chimpeachment affair can finally start building up steam. Stephen Colbert completely got in the President's face and it's freaking out the squares. And this immigration thing is seriously a complete non-issue.

I'm telling you, it's crap. These people aren't here to threaten or steal or reclaim lands owned by their forefathers or suck of the public teat or any of the other bullshit they've been accused of recently by mouth-breathers. Don't people realize that you go years without really hearing much about illegal immigration, and then whenever rich, powerful people need to distract everyone we suddenly hear a ton about our dire need to seal up the borders. It's so predictable.

A guy bought a whole lot of merchandise, just over $600 worth, from the store on Monday. Apparently, a radio station was having a contest: you shop at a business that remained open during the May Day boycott and send in your receipt, and one lucky winner will be reimbursed up to $600.

For some reason, the guy chose to buy $600 worth of movies that were all released in 1971. Weird, right? I mean, the radio contest just sounds vaguely hostile to me, but why only '71 films? It did give me some good rental ideas for next week. (I've never seen Robert Aldrich's The Grissom Gang!)

What's the point of such a gesture? The boycott, lasting only one day, is all about making a symbolic point. "We're here, we matter, you would miss us if we were gone." And the racist, hateful Americans who unfortunately seem to make up the vast majority of us, responded to this symbolic effort, aimed at boosting activism and a sense of community, with scorn.

"We won't miss you dumb immy-gants at all! I'm gonna indulge my every shopping fantasy and eat a bucket full of Peanut M&M's like the consumer whore that I am in order to establish my superiority over you! See? I'm spending your monthy food budget on DVD's, just because I can, on the off chance that some jackass DJ will give me all my money back just for agreeing with his spiteful take on contemporary urban life. Take that, browns!"

A guy came in the store, a regular customer whom I chat with about movies all the time, and gave me the same attitude. His modest proposal for the immigrant problem was to massively fine and criminally prosecute any employer caught hiring illegals. I helpfully explained that this tactic has a few downsides, namely the sudden presence of many newly-unemployable Americans in most of our major cities. Not to mention the infalted cost of produce, landscaping and all the other sectors hiring the undocumented.

He seemed genuinely surprised when I suggested that the best solution may be no "solution" at all, but rather in recognizing that corporate greed, not population movement, lies at the root of this situation. Big companies (and some small companies too) don't feel like paying the lowest wage permitted by law. So they hire people off the books, generally people willing to work for next to nothing because they're not supposed to be around here.

You want to solve the "immigrant" problem? Force companies, under penalty of law, to pay all employees at least minimum wage and to subscribe to all labor laws regardless of the nationality and citizenship status of the employee. Done. I'm not one of these people who believes there are certain jobs that only immigrants will do, and if there's no longer a monetary benefit to hiring illegals, many employers will switch back to actually paying American citizens a living wage in exchange for work.

Notice that this doesn't solve for all the made-up immigrant criticisms, like that "we pay for their health care with tax dollars" crap. People aren't moving here from Mexico just make use of our clean, well-appointed emergency rooms and individual-stall showers at the YMCA. They're coming here to work.

Oh, and also, I think we should protect the border from people bringing in dirty bombs, but let in everyone who just wants to work. They're coming over here anyway, right? What's everyone so worried about? Los Angeles will suddenly be filled with Mexican people? Oh, the unimaginable horror! The fact is, the area we call the American Southwest has always had a lot of Mexican people living on it. And I don't just mean before it was a part of the Unitd States, when it actually still belonged to Mexico. I mean, since before white people first came here.

Ever see a Western? You notice all those darker-skinned guys with moustaches who get drunk and occasionally shoot at the good guys while walking around with a burro in an oversized hat? They represent the Mexicans who were here all along, as white guys were busy winning the West and scamming one another out of buried treasure or nuzzling in pup tents. You can usually spot these Mexican characters easily in spaghetti westerns because they are played by white guys like Rod Steiger sporting ludicrously fake tans.

Basically, my point is, you wouldn't build an igloo at the South Pole, move in for a few months and then start bitching about all the fucking penguins mating everywhere. Penguins live at the South's what they do. Well, that's like Latin people and Southern California. They're here, it's fine, we all get along pretty well together, and if you've never tried any, their spicy carnitas dishes are particularly delicious.

I think I probably got a little shrill with this guy at the store, because he pretty much backed off after I countered his original statement. I wondered whether to feel bad. On the one hand, I may have come off a big short with this guy, who has always been nice to me and is a good customer. But on the other hand, he was probably walking around spouting this drivel to people all day, and I find people spreading ignorance around that way very irksome.

Where Does He Come Up With This Stuff?

Here's Andrew Sullivan, accurately (to my mind) predicting that W will not regain his popularity with the American people or his footing in the Oval Office:

Both Gallup and CBS now have Bush at all-time lows in approval numbers; and the ratings for the GOP appear to be way below the water-line for November. Things can change. But I have a feeling that Bush has now become Carterized. It is very hard to see how he can regain his footing at this late stage. After six years or so, the public knows who you are; and they have come to a judgment. With the economy now booming, who can imagine where his polling might be headed if his reckless fiscal policies bring disaster sooner rather than later?

Okay, pretty reasonable conclusions so far. Bush's numbers are in the shitter, and everything's only going to get worse from here on in as gas prices keep climbing. But check out this insane follow-up sentence:

Ironically, his main hope might be Iraq. It's possible that things will improve - and any halfway decent outcome will seem like good news given the recent past.

Has Sully been sleeping for the past few years? It's possible that things will improve? Oh, sure, yeah, we've turned the goddamn corner, they're gonna break out the welcoming fruit baskets and folk dances any minute now. What part of the the term civil war does he not understand? Things are really really horrible in Iraq, and the only way they will improve for Americans any time soon is if we get them all the fuck out of Dodge.

How will things get better for Iraqis? thing I...Okay, fine, they won't.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cross of Iron

You can always feel Sam Peckinpah's bitter alcohol-fueled rage just underneath all the action in his best movies. They vibrate with a kind of energy that only comes from what Kramer might call "unbridled enthusiasm." Some films like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia come off as, if not actually autobiography, at least allusions to real events and situations.

Cross of Iron, the searing and shockingly violent anti-war film Peckinpah made on a shoestring in Europe in '77, is the director's only war film. That's kind of surprising when you consider how the grand themes of war - the exploitation of the lower class, a sense of duty clashing with a sense of utter defeatism, the way repeated exposure to violence eats away at people from inside - play into almost all of his movies.

It's also one of his angriest films, one of the most angry war films I've ever seen. Peckinpah hasn't made a "prayer for peace," Spielberg's description of his similarly-violent and bleak Munich. Nor has he made a film like Sam Fuller's Big Red One, in which extreme violence is meant to provide you-are-there realism and detail. Cross of Iron, in many ways, is less about the horrors of war than the evils of exploitation. Politicians and high-ranking military officers play games with the lives of thousands of soldiers. A man's honor is granted or stolen away on a whim. Long after the cause is lost, the troops continue to die, so that beurocrats can save face.

In Alfredo Garcia, anti-hero Benny comes to identify more with the poor man's corpse that he's transporting than the rich, alive man who hired him. Similarly, in Cross of Iron, a German NCO comes to sympathize more with the poor Russian soldiers at whom he shoots than the cruel Nazi Party officials and officers who send him into battle.

The fact that it's an American director working in Europe making a sympathetic movie about a Nazi soldier makes the concept even more transgressive. Sure, it speaks to larger themes, like the limited human capacity for grisly horror, forces of conformity destroying the irrepressible human spirit and the eventual futility of all prolonged military action. But really, this is a film about the class divide, suggesting thatwhat unites people is not country or custom or language, but socio-economic status.

It's not hard to see why Peckinpah might be obsessed with these sorts of themes, the disenfranchised rising up against their so-called "superiors." His reputation badly damaged by the twin box office flops Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Alfredo Garcia. He had all but been pushed out of Hollywood, fleeing to Europe to raise his own money for Cross of Iron. The film itself was frought with economic troubles from day one.

None of this really shows in the film itself. The action all seems credible, some of it on a surprisingly large scale. And it's not erratic or jumbled like Pat Garrett and a lot of other late-era Peckinpah. It maybe outstays its welcome for 10 or 15 minutes, leading to a powerful and nihilistic final sequence at a train yard, but the storytelling's fluid and smooth and the emotional highs and lows all effective.

As the film opens, Stranszky, a Prussian officer (Maximilian Schnell), arrives from France at the Eastern front and immediately begins to hear about a legendary Sergeant named Steiner (James Coburn). Credited with saving the lives of several of his fellow soldiers, Steiner's nonetheless disaffected, dour and pessimistic about the war. He and the vain, self-absorbed aristocrat Stranszky will come to represent the binary opposition of all modern social conflicts - the powerful who make decisions, and the unpowerful who will live with the consequences of these decisions.

Steiner and his superior officer, Brandt (James Mason), have essentially given up on their Fuhrer's dream of the 1000-Year Reich controlling all of Europe. They focus exclusively on keeping themselves and their men alive. Stranszky goes through the motions of a loyal Nazi enthusiast, but is himself only in Russia for personal glory. He says he cannot go home and face his family unless he earns the Iron Cross for bravery.

These personal conflicts play out against some impressive and very brutal action sequences, including a fight against Russian tanks that surely inspired the final battle scene in Saving Private Ryan. More so than usual, Peckinpah trains his camera on the gory aftermath of violence. The Getaway features a lot of slow-motion shots of men being shot, with stage blood spraying out all over the place. But that's nothing compared to the lingering shots of corpses cut apart by barbed wire, of limbs being blown asunder by mortar fire, of dessicated bodies being pushed into mud by tank treads in Cross of Iron.

One scene finds Stranszky walking through a medical ward, feigning deep concern for all the wounded soldiers. He goes to shake on man's hand before discovering that it's nothing but a stump. So he reaches for his other hand, only to find that it's a stump as well. So, he gives up and moves on. Hey, sorry about that, fella, but we've got a war to win.

Coburn's really fantastic here, giving Steiner the same weary, faraway demeanor as Pat Garrett in his previous collaboration with Peckinpah. The only problem is his horrible and inconsistant accent. If you can't do it really well, and keep it up for the whole film, just don't bother. (He has some of the same problems maintaining his Irish accent in Duck, You Sucker, but his German's even worse).

Still, the scenes with him, Mason and David Warner (as another German officer) form the backbone of the film and crackle with energy. "You think I hate you less than the other officers?" Steiner barks. "I hate you all. All officers. The entire German Army." He's grown tired of being a cog in a machine, but at this point, it's all he's fit to do. His entire life consists of the act of grinning and bearing it, and his smile's beginning to fade.

Fists in the Pocket

The only real brand name in DVD, Criterion releases at this point earn attention merely by association. If they're releasing a movie, in other words, it's bound to at least be interesting. The new Criterion release of Fists in the Pocket, the absolutely brilliant 1965 debut film from Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio, represents the company's work at its best - a great-looking disc with interesting features (including a brief afterword with Bernardo Bertolucci) that highlights an overlooked classic.

It's a nearly impossible film to classify. What begins as a troubling portrait of a dysfunctional family crippled by a host of unfortunate illnesses morphs into, at various times, a bittersweet coming-of-age saga, a satirical look at middle-class Catholic values and a gothic horror film. The film shocked Italian audiences in the 60's upon its initial release, probably as much for its sour, nihilistic tone as any actual content, and at times it resembles the Luis Bunuel films that outraged a previous generation of Europeans. Bellocchio seems to share with Bunuel a disgust with the complacent social mores of his countrymen, and similarly reacts with surreal visions of selfishness and depravity, intended to provoke, confuse and outrage the viewer.

During the opening passages of the film, Alessandro (Lou Castel) pontificates aloud, ad nauseum, about two topics: his love for his sister Giulia (Paola Pitagora) and his desire to kill his entire family. They are wealthy enough to live in a large villa just outside of town, but suffer from a variety of ailments and deformities that, along with an unseen but apparently troubled relationship to the townsfolk, have rendered them outcasts. So his lonely days are spent chatting idly with Giulia, caring for his blind mother (Liliana Gerace) and his slow-witted brother (Pier Luigi Troglio) and popping pills to avoid painful and dangerous epileptic fits.

The idea to kill everyone makes an odd kind of sense. His older brother Augusto (Marino Mase) fits in rather well to normal society, and would probably prosper if freed from the burden of such an odd bunch of misfits. If they all were to die, leaving Augusto with the inheritance money, he could live on as a real human being.

Though Alessandro remains death-obsessed throughout the film, Bellocchio's careful not to overplay his hand. The boy's unstable, dangerous even, but not a psychopath or a caricature. This is not Patrick Bateman gleefully taking a chainsaw to prostitutes, only in black and white. It's unclear whether our hero merely enjoys flirting with death (in much the same way as he flirts with incest), as a way of proving that he is truly alive, or whether he really intends to off everyone who cares about him.

And even in the film's more amusing passages (there are several scenes of dark comedy), the eerie score of Ennio Morricone and claustrophobic cinematography of Alberto Marrama keep things unsettling. This villa is not a pleasant place to live, and if remaining there with all these invalids wouldn't neccessarily turn you insane and homicidal, it might at least alter your perspective.

Of course, as this is an Italian film, Catholicism plays a role in Alessandro's encroaching madness. His desire to kill himself and his relatives for his brother's sake, obviously, has made him a Christ figure in his own mind, but there's also the sense of religion robbing him of some higher purpose. All he knows about the universe is God, and clearly God has rejected him and his family. So what else is there behind God? Why continue to live?

It's an unconventional kind of movie, and as I said, it can be confrontational at times. Certain shots are held too long, the music (terrific and creepy though it may be) occasionally overpowers the dialogue and performances. And, of course, because the protagonist is pretty much a crazy guy, he can occasionally be kind of shrill and annoying. Castel's spastic giggle, employed throughout the film, gets old fast. Perhaps this is because it's the work of a first-time director, but Bellocchio clearly didn't set out to make a pleasant diversion of a movie. It's a film designed to shock and unsettle, and it's still successful 40 years after it was first screened. Impressive.

The Top Ten Things You May Not Have Known About Rush Limbaugh

10. Legally changed his name to Rush Limbaugh because his birth name, Herschel Goldfarb, was difficult for radio listeners to remember

9. Perfected his smooth, clear disc jockey voice by hosting audiences for years at Disneyland's Submarine Voyage attraction

8. Isn't normally attracted to men, but can't take his eyes off of American Idol super-hunk Ace Young

7. Was briefly considered for the lead role in the upcoming live-action adaptation of "Charlotte's Web" before they decided to just go with CG animation

6. Loves Sean Hannity, still unsure about the enticing yet unknowable enigma that is Alan Colmes

5. Hired an assassin to kill Al Franken, but the guy wound up turning good after losing his memory

4. Addicted to not just OxyContin, but also Red Bull, 80's softcore videos, Hershey's Miniatures and miniature golf

3. Secretly voted for Al Gore and Hugo Chavez

2. Isn't worried about bird flu despite his dramatic resemblance to Batman villain The Penguin

1. Technically, isn't personally related to Satan at all, though they keep in near-constant e-mail contact

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day

I couldn't go to the protests in Downtown LA today, because I had to work at the video store. I wasn't actually sure of the rules for this whole boycott thing. I'm not an immigrant, but I agree with the cause, so was I supposed to be boycotting stuff all day? Because I bought lunch.

My roommate and another co-worker of ours, both of whom are immigrants (I'm guessing legal ones, but I've never requested any documentation so I can't be sure), went down there. I'm hoping they'll write up a little something for the blog here, and of course that they thought to take some pictures.

My first impression, upon reading some media reports about the event, is that the anti-immigrant racists are totally screwed. Not only because this massive groundswell of previously-ignored workers seem poised to become much more politically active and engaged. But because of the power of these ideas and images. These are families marching peacefully in the streets, asking only for respect and a chance for success in America. What kind of sicko curmudgeon do you have to be to see scores of people walking through their neighborhoods, wearing white to symbolize peace and unity, carrying young children, singing and dancing and cheering, and react with hatred?

Apparently, this kind:

But if illegal aliens all took the day off and were truly invisible for one day, there would be some plusses along with the mild inconveniences. Hospital emergency rooms across the southwest would have about 20-percent fewer patients, and there would be 183,000 fewer people in Colorado without health insurance.

That's Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo, the latest in a massively long line of Republicans hoping to rise to national prominance by appealing directly to racists. The protests and boycotts today were designed to show Americans how much all of these illegal immigrants would be missed if they weren't here.

Now, if you take a look around and decide that their presence didn't really have much of an impact either way. Fair enough. I would say that means your community doesn't have a large illegal immigrant community, and you probably should just ignore politicains when they make broad generalizations about the topic.

But Tancredo actually goes ahead and indulges in a fantasy of his own design...What if illegal immigrants really went away forever? What if, with the push of a button, he could disappear millions of his fellow Americans? Oh, the possibilities!

Also, you've got to love Tancredo faulting illegal immigrants for not having health insurance. Tom, I'd sure they'd love to have health insurance. Why don't you offer it to them, scumbag? You're in fucking Congress! The fact that all these thousands of sick people in Colorado can't get medical help is your fucking fault, not some guy who came up from Rosarito hoping to pick strawberries for $4.

Youth gangs would see their membership drop by 50 percent in many states, and in Phoenix, child-molestation cases would drop by 34 percent and auto theft by 40 percent.

This is such bullshit. How can he know any of these numbers? I'm sorry...did they start arresting every single car thief in Phoenix, and then running background checks to ensure they were all here legally? Has Tom been rapping with the kids in the street about how many gang members were born in El Salvador as opposed to one of our fine American ghettos? Or, as I'm going to officially theorize, does he just make this shit up?

Not to mention that, once again, he'd be blaming illegal immigrants for problems that existed long before they ever arrived here. It would be like delivering a pizza to Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown's house, and then having them accuse you of turning their bathroom into a crack den.

Now here's a particularly bizarre paragraph:

In Durango, Colorado, and the Four Corners area and the surrounding Indian reservations, the methamphetamine epidemic would slow for one day, as the 90 percent of that drug now being brought in from Mexico was held in Albuquerque and Farmington a few hours longer. According to the sheriff of La Plata County, Colorado, meth is now being brought in by ordinary illegal aliens as well as professional drug dealers.

Even the geography is confusing, and this is his state. So, in Durango, and the area around it, and the area around that, 90% of methamphetamines are brought in by "ordinary" illegal aliens. What makes them ordinary? If they are smuggling in meth, doesn't that make them extra-ordinary illegal aliens? I mean, is Tom suggested that every person who sneaks into America illegally brings with them a significant supply of crank? That someone traveling into America without crank would be an extraordinary circumstance?

Also, I'm not so sure I'm going to go ahead and take the Sheriff of La Plata County, Colorado, at his word. For all I know, that guy makes up shit, just like Tom Tancredo. Hell, maybe there isn't even a La Plata County, Colorado.

Tom goes on to recite a few anecdotes about specific illegal immigrants who have committed crimes, as if this kind of evidence proves anything ever. Two can play at that game:

I wish I had a button that could make all the old rich white men go away, because then we wouldn't have had an Enron scandal or an Iraq War.

Finally, check out this airtight logic:

If illegal aliens stayed home—in Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, and 100 other countries—the Border Patrol would have 3,500 fewer apprehensions (of the 12,000 who try each day).

But Tom, if illegal aliens stayed home, we wouldn't even need a Border Patrol, so actually there wouldn't even be anywhere for them not to go and...hang on...I think I just blew my own mind.

At the end of the article, Tom makes a sarcastic remark implying that he'd like the authorities to round up the illegal immigrants as they march and ship them out of the country. It's a really well thought out plan, I must admit. I'm always walking around wishing we'd start rounding people up more in America. If I know my 20th Century history, and I think that I do, that's always a positive sign about things to come!

And speaking of brilliant wingnut plans to clean up our streets of dirty, filthy illegals, I couldn't resist bringing to your attention this brilliant piece of immigration policy courtesy of the Associated Press:

Some of the rallies drew small numbers of counter-protesters, including one in Pensacola, Fla.
"You should send all of the 13 million aliens home, then you take all of the welfare recipients who are taking a free check and make them do those jobs," said Jack Culberson, a retired Army colonel who attended the Pensacola rally. "It's as simple as that."

Yeah, Jack! Simple! First, you gather together 13 million illegal immigrants. Hey, I'm not exactly sure how you'd find them all. Probably, first, you'd make everyone show up at some pre-designated public spot to prove their American citizenship. (My humble suggestion: kill two birds with one stone and make them prove they ain't Mooslims!) Those that can't prove they belong here (or anyone who might be Mooslim) has to wear a brown star on their shirt.

Okay, so then, once all the stars have been handed out, you send around motivated groups of young people, armed to the teeth of course, to go house to house and gather all the immigrants (and Mooslims and Jews and gays and any one else that gets your dander up). Then, we send them all to the labor camps for a while. I mean, as long as we're processing all of them and providing them travel back to their homeland for free, why not get some extra work out of them first? Am I right or am I right or am I right?

Then, when we're done with them, we send 'em on home. Easy! And then, Michelle Malkin can write a book about how well it all went!

That only leaves us with the problem of getting everyone on welfare into these newly-opened employment opportunities. A few small minor snags in your thinking here...

- Those jobs often pay less than a legally-mandated wage
- Those jobs might not be located within easy access of where welfare recipients live
- Those jobs might not be appropriate for single mothers, the elderly, starving young people just starting out in the world and others who receive welfare
- You are an idiot

So, yeah, shuffling around all the employed and underemployed people all around the country to take the newly-vacated immigrant jobs might be time-consuming, burdensome and expensive. But, obviously, it has to be done. I mean, we can't have people coming to this country, working and supporting themselves and their families, can we?

Sunday, April 30, 2006

English for Mexican Immigrants

Hola and bennivenito, estundiantils. I am be your perfesser of speaking American, President George W. Bush.

Now, some of you may be wondering, "Hey, shouldn't that guy be off somewhere making important decisions? Or clearing brush or something?" I just realized, though, you're probably wondering that in Spanish, so it would sound all messed up and funny. Actually, how can you say that in Spanish...How do you say "the big tough strong cowboy-like President clears a lot of brush on his ranch?" Uh huh...

What? "Vaquero"? Whassat mean? That can't be your Mexican word for cowboy! Vaqueero? But it sounds all gay! I an'tr no vaqueero, I'll tell you that much. Never mind.

Anyway, I thought I should show up here to teach y'all how to talk more good, cause if you want to be Amuricans like me and my pappy, you got to know how to talk English real good.

I had heard the other day that some of you all foreigners has been translating our national song, "O Say Can You See," into other languages. And I want you to know that I think that is really bad and super-duper-wrong, okay, mis amigos? It's like I said the other day...

"I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."

I know that might seem hyper-critical of me...Whassat, Juan? It's "hypocritical?" Um, excuse me, Juan, but I am a white man who was born in this country. I think I know the different of me being hyper-critical and me being hypocritical. I didn't say nothing about hippos, anyway, you dumb illegal!

Anyway, I know some people might say that, just cause I don't always speak English all that good myself, that it's silly for me to lecture others about their language skills. Also, unless they don't sell newspapers in front of the Home Depot where you wait for daily employment opportunities, you'll probably remember that I spoke alot of Meixcan myself when I was running for President and even walked around waving Mexican flags. (Also, I love burritos!)

To be fair, I didn't know that was a Meixcan flag. Check out all these flags I'm standing next to right now. I can't recognize a damn one of these things accept the Amurican one. Check out this stupid flag with the leaf on it. What kind of sissy country puts a leaf on their flag? How you gonna march your soldiers into an unneccessary foreign war under a leaf flag? I bet, whatever country that flag's from, they speak French and let dudes marry each other. Am I right?

What I'm trying to say is you should all try to be more like regular, real Americans and blindly accept everything I say and do without question. Just know that, now, I have decided you foreign-types ought to learn to read and write Amurcan, cause otherwise you can't understand nothing. And I'm the Decider, so it's up to me.

So let's get started with the lesson! Everybody, take out your silly buses.

Lesson #1: The Alphubet

This is pretty much the last thing I remember learning from school, so I should be able to walk you through it real quick.

More of our Amurcan alphubet is like your Mexican one, except we got a few less letters. Like, you know that n with the squiggly thing on top of it you guys use...What'd you say, Guillermo? It's called a "tilday"? That ain't a real word, it's two words. Like in this example:

"Hey, Dick Cheney, how long into my presidency do I have to pretend to give a shit about Mexican people?"

"Till Day 100, Mr. President."

See, that's what I'm talkin' bout, you guys got to start using only real words, like me and Dick Cheney.

Lesson #2: Vocabulary

Vocabinarial skills are important because it means you know a lot of long words. Like, it turns out, when you say "mission accomplished," it means you have finished the thing you set out to do and not just that you got to fly in an aeroplane. As you learn more about speaking proper American, you'll learn how important it is to be vocabual.

Sometimes I'll say words that don't exist like "misunderestimate" and "strategery," and people make fun of me because they think me English is bad because they don't know that the President has the legal authority to make up new words. Watch, I'll do it right now...Fudgitate. It means "to make more fudgy." Like, "these brownies I made taste good, but they are not chocolately enough so I will now have to fudgitate the whole mess of 'em."

That's a word now. I'd say you should look it up when you get home, but because you are all dirty poor people, I'll go ahead and assume you don't have any books, even for decoration like at my house.

Lesson #3: Grammers and Sin Tax

I don't really remember that much from high school, cause I was involved in a lot of, um, "extracurricular activities" that kind of messed with my short-term memory and ability to remain awake for more then 15 minutes at a time. But I know one thing my English teacher talked about all the time was grammers and sin tax.

I think this means where you put stuff in your sentence. Like, in the phrase "Jesus in just alright with me," which comes from one of my favorite pieces of classical music, it sounds good but it's actually not correct. If you had proper grammers, you would say "With me, Jesus is just alright," because that way you don't end the sentence with a precipitation.

Or, to give you another example, instead of saying "I'm going to request that the CIA go over to Stephen Colbert's house and murder him, making it look like an accidental death," I would say, "Request that the CIA go over to Stephen Colbert's house and make it look like an accidental death but actually murder him, I'm going to." See how easy it is to talk good?

I don't know what any of this has to do with taxing sin, but as a Christian, I'm anti-sin anyway, so I say go ahead and tax it if it's going to make immigrants speak English.

Final Lesson: Using English the Right Way

It's important you guys know that just speaking English ain't gonna be enough to succeed in the "Estates Unidos" of tomorrow. You've also got to be careful not to say the wrong thing or to say stuff to the wrong people.

There are just a couple of simple ground rules. Think of them like The Ten Commandments in that I'd like to put them in every classroom in America, but legally I'm not allowed to.

(1) Don't ever say anything I did was wrong

I'm the Decider. Not you. If you want to decide things, you should get elected President. Although you guys were born in Mexico, so you should probably try to marry someone who gets elected President.

Anyway, since I get to decide everything, there's no good reason to complain about it after it has already been decided. (And I don't really like changing my mind, either). So why bring everyone down? Just go with it, man. Buy the ticket, take the ride, that's what it's all about on the Bushmobile. And it's a one way trip.

(2) If someone else says something I did was wrong, yell at them

It don't really matter what you yell. So so long as you yell loud enough to distract everyone until they've shut up and gone home.

(3) Don't ever say what you mean

The secret to being a great communicator, like Ronald Reagan or me, is being able to blather on meaninglessly for a really long time. Like, let's say we're in a press conference, and someone has asked me about why the troops have been going into battle using old Chevy hubcaps as protective armor. I wouldn't just say, "because we totally screwed up and didn't send armor, and most of them refused to use the plastic cutting boards we had originally sent."

I would say: "Well, that's an interesting question, young lady. Let me think about that. You see, I don't just make all the decisions myself. I mean, I do, I make decisions. I make a lot of important decisions all by myself, and it's really hard work, and I'm usually so tired that I get back to my room, watch "Spongebob" for a little while and pass right out by 7, 7:30 pm. But a lot of the time, after I make the decisions, I turn the job over to other people who then have the responsibility to actually do all the things I told them. And then they become accountable for all the stuff that I had just thought of, before 'Spongebob.'

"So, what clearly happened here was that, I told Rumsfeld or one of those other old guys to buy some armor, and then they delegated the responsibility and the troops got plenty of armor and everything turned out fine. And that's the situation on the ground that the media doesn't report."

But, I'd only say that if a young lady asked the question. Otherwise, that would seem weird.

(4) Unless you work for me, don't ever talk to reporters

Talking to reporters is wrong, because unlike me, terrists sometimes read newspapers. So if you tell stuff to reporters, terrists might learn things indirectly-like. You don't want to teach terrists things, do you? Then you can't talk to reporters.

Unless you work for me. Then it's okay, because you know what things it's alright to tell terrists and what things it's not.

Well, I guess that's all I got for you. I've worked through all my notes from my time at Yale with you, so you pretty much have the equivalent of an Ivy League education. And you didn't even pick up a trendy coke habit! No hay de que, you know whut I'm sayin'?