Friday, May 12, 2006

Dot Gone at the 24th Street Theater

Los Angeles is such a movie town, and I'm such a movie fan, there's rarely an opportunity to take in some actual live theater. Going to an independent theater in LA can be very rewarding, when you find some small theater company filled with talented unknowns struggling to survive in a shrinking market. Most of the time, you wind up with painfully self-serious movie stars-in-training workshopping their favorite Chekov monologue on the hopes that they get that big "CSI:NY" callback. Or, you know, whatever atrocious touring musical is opening at the Ahmanson.

But I did get a chance to see the very funny new comedy "Dot Gone," opening THIS VERY NIGHT at the 24th Street Theater near USC. My friend Ray appears in the show, the story of the brief rise and free fall of upstart search engine, so I got a chance to see an early sneak preview.

The actors did a full run-through of the show, in costume, with all the lights and stagecraft and everything for the full show, but I feel like it was actually some kind of final dress rehearsal. Ray had said it would be a chance to "catch the show for free," and I assumed that it would be like a critics performance, or a show just for everyone's friends and family, or something. No, it was actually just a casual kind of run-through.

I got used to it quickly, but it was a little strange to see a play performed in an otherwise empty theater. At first, I feel like I laughed a bit louder than I normally would have, to compensate for the relatively quiet surroundings. I also contemplated, mainly during intermission, that being nearly the only one to watch the performance of a play is a fairly unique experience in terms of the arts. It would be like seeing someone paint something before immediately destroying the canvas. Even if other artists came along and painted the same thing nearly identically, you still enjoyed an exclusive look at a piece of art that no one else will ever see.


Anyway, as for the play itself, it's really quite good, very funny and spot-on about awkward workplace tension. Seen entirely from the setting of the office conference room, Dylan Bailey, Joni Efflandt, Keith Ferguson, Jon-Barrett Ingels, Chris Mock, Jeremy Schaeg , Raymond Manukay, Melody Mooney portray the first and last employees of Umm, a search engine that enters the game a bit too late to steal the business away from Yahoo and Google. I'd love to tell you who's who, but I don't know.

At first, unbridled enthusiasm and epic ambitions rule the day. But it's not long before increasing demands by the management, interpersional antagonism, anxiety about the future and the realities of the marketplace intrude on the dream that was Ummm. Though they have a lot of fun with the outsized personalities that make up the executive board, writer/director Max Cabot and his ensemble, to their credit, don't ever resort to scorn or mockery.

In a way, as a small company of actors and artists, they probably relate to the dauntless exuberance of Ummm's early days more than most. Attention is paid not only to how the business frays and falls apart, but to how the tenuous friendships dissolve amidst the fiduciary strain. Disappointment slips slowly into anger, co-worker's minor quirks become unbearable character flaws and the masks that people wear in the workplace to seem professional begin to slip away.

It's funny but it's also sympathetic, which is rare in stories about the dot coms and the Internet bubble. We tend to look back on these failed ventures as morality tales, stories about companies that deserved to go out of business because they were frivolous or greedy or poorly-managed. And, of course, is all of these things. The employees are more focused on giving one another silly titles and making margaritas than they are on work, the managers love to have meetings but never solve problems, and everyone seems concerned more about the upcoming IPO prospects than about becoming solvent or selling ad space.

But "Dot Gone" does suggest another side to the story. That, in a way, these companies represented something that is classically American - the Horatio Alger-esque notion that a great idea and pluck were all that was required to succeed. The barefoot CEO in pajama bottoms looks ridiciulous and represents an immediate contradiction in terms, but it's also relatable for a country full of people who want to have everything both ways - comfort and success, fierce ambition with a relaxed attitude, total freedom with a responsibility to one's stockholders. And it's, you know, funny. Kind of in an "Office" sort of way, even though Ray specifically told me they didn't want to be compared to "The Office." Sorry, man.

Why not go see for yourself? Check out the Ghost Light District website here for shows and ticket information and that photo that I totally stole for this blog post.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Producers

Though The Producers represents the first feature-length Mel Brooks film musical, he's been writing funny songs for years. Who could forget "The Inquisition" song from History of the World Part 1? His style of comedy lends itself to the form - he likes broad schtick, mugging, physical comedy, prop gags, outsized caricatures...all the trappings of the classic Broadway farces. So he's a more likely candidate than most to turn one of his classic films into a stage musical comedy.

I know the thing got great reviews when it premiered in New York. Even the version that came to LA, with Jason Alexander and Martin Short as Max and Leo, was well received on its debut here. So maybe on stage it all works better. Maybe the stagecraft was particularly impressive or the vibe and energy of the proceedings outweighed the worn-over vaudeville hijinks. Whatever made that version work, it hasn't translated to film, and what's left isn't pretty.

A word about offensive comedy. There's just about no topic so horrible and taboo that you can't, in the right context, make light of it. If you can come up with a concept so offensive that you think there couldn't possibly be any way to make it funny, you should write a sketch about it and send it to Lorne Michaels. Cause he'll probably hire you at this point.

But if the jokes aren't funny and creative, suddenly you're just being an offensive, intolerant jerk. I'm not saying that's's just the way these things work.

The Producers is painfully unfunny. It's that kind of awkward unfunny, where you can tell everyone's trying really hard and nothing connects and you start to feel bad for the performers even though they shot this thing far away in a studio months ago and don't give two shits what you think about their work.

So because it's not funny, it feels kind of wrong. Not in a "how dare you!" kind of way, but in a "why bother bringing up Nazis if this is all you're going to bother doing with them?" kind of way. It's depressing to see something so hackneyed, so juvenile and so pointless, and the fact that it's relentlessly homophobic, misogynist and mean-spirited doesn't help to make it more appealing.

For those of you not familiar with the old movie or the stage show or the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode in which Larry David stars in the stage show, a brief recap:

Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) was once the King of Broadway, but has now fallen into poverty after a string of flops. He's visited by an uptight, nervous accountant named Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) and together they devise a get rich quick scheme. Produce a massive flop on the cheap and then skip town with the investors money before anyone's the wiser. So, of course, they create a jolly Neo-Nazi musical called "Springtime For Hitler."

When Brooks released his original film of The Producers, starring the incomperable (seriously) Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, the notion of a Nazi musical comedy was still pretty transgressive. My grandmother to this day will not watch it, finding the very notion of laughing at Hitler or the Third Reich repulsive. After watching this latest incarnation of the project, I'm starting to see her point.

Nevertheless, the original film succeeded in part because it was a little bit offensive. Brooks turns on its head the outsized imagery of the Third Reich and the spectre of Nazism in our culture (it essentially stands in for everything evil and anti-American), and deflates the very notion of fascism. How can you rule a people through awe-inspiring propaganda when the very pageantry and ritual that makes this awe-inspiring propaganda possible also makes you look so ridiculous?

Mainly, though, I would say the original Producers succeeds on the backs of Mostel and Wilder, two of the most lively, energetic and committed comic performers of their day (and possibly in cinema history). When you see other, talented but less ingenious performers like Lane and Broderick take on the roles, that's when you truly realize how much Mostel and Wilder brought to the characters in their day.

Broderick in particular fails to rise to the occasion, turning in a surprisingly rigid, rehearsed performance as the nebbishy Leo Bloom. Between his many affectations and his overdone, clipped manner of speech, Broderick has rendered the character a screechy, irritating mess. Though he performs most of the dance moves technically well (at least, as far as I can tell), there's not really any grace in movement on display. Lane doesn't dance so much as sashay through the film, but at least he seems comfortable in his own skin.

For some reason, Brooks has altered Leo's story, making him a more active player in the scheme but also robbing him of the innocence that made the Wilder performance work in the first place. Again, people loved these guys in these parts on stage, so I can only think that the fault lies somewhere in the translation of the play to the screen.

Other changes don't fare much better. Whereas the director in the original Producers film was a feminine hippie caricature named LSD, delightfully played by Dick Shawn, the musical version features an extremely flamboyant gay director and his even more extremely flamboyant gay assistant (Gary Beach and Roger Bart). In what may be the low point of Brooks' career as a writer, we get a horrifying musical number called "Keep it Gay," in which the two fruits and all the other degrading Village People-inspired homosexual stereotypes they have hanging around their mansion dance around suggestively in goofy costumes.

I'd like to restate that I'm not saying you can't make fun of gay people. When Big Gay Al first appeared on "South Park," I found him hilarious. But you've got to have something in your arsenal aside from cliched observations like "homos have limp wrists" and "the gays dress up like ladies." I mean, are we 12? Mel Brooks looks like an old man, but now I'm not so sure.

(I'd also like to state, for the record, that the film musical made with the cooperation of the Village People, Can't Stop the Music, should really be seen by each and every patriotic American. Did I mention it also stars a young Steve Guttenberg?)

The credited director of this debacle is not, in fact, Mel Brooks but Susan Stroman, who directed the stage production. This is her first film and I'm not sure she should bother with another, having no discernable ability to frame action, pace a comedy sequence or devise a single memorable shot or cinematic moment. Why is her camera so static? This is supposed to be a lively, fun musical and half of the shots are straight ahead in front of the actors, as if Stroman's trying to simulate what it would be like to have front-row seats for the stage show.

I don't want to see what someone in the Orchestra Pit would see. If I wanted that, I'd become a goddamn cellist. I want to see a movie that feels like a movie, not like a show that someone caught on tape from a relatively-clean vantage point.

I mean, really, no attempt has been made at all to actually translate this work into a different medium. Some big film stars have been cast in supporting roles - like Will Ferrell as the playwright and Uma Thurman as Bialystock's bombshell Swedish secretary - but seem to play the parts safely without adding much of their own personalities. (Thurman in particular kind of buries all of her idiosyncratic charms to play a straight-up bimbo, and can't keep up the Swedish accent at all during the songs). Even the lighting changes are obviously cribbed from the show.

And about those songs...Brooks has never been a tremendously talented lyricist. With a few notable exceptions (the brilliant Marlene Dietrich riff "Tired" from Blazing Saddles), the songs are usually built around a central funny joke rather than overflowing with terrific one liners. The songs here are sometimes funny. Amusing lines absolutely find their way in, and Lane in particular squeezes them for every last possibly comic morsel. But everything is being played so broad, it's so impossible to follow this mess as a story, the songs become joke repositories. They don't move forward the action, they don't give you insight into any characters (what characters?). They're just there because it's a musical and you gotta have songs.

When Max and Leo go to visit Franz Liebkind (Ferrell) to buy the rights for "Springtime for Hitler," he makes them do a traditional German dance with him. Why? Because we need a funny German-style musical number. But this whole sequence is simply inert. Why does Franz assume they will know a traditional German dance? Wouldn't he just be glad that someone wants to buy his play and spread the word about Hitler's greatness? The scene has no point, lingering well past its welcome in the hopes that there will be some hilarious jokes. Then, when there's only a few meager funny moments, it's like 10 whole minutes of an overlong movie has been wasted and the momentum has screeched to a halt. (And a movie like this is all momentum.)

Word is that Brooks has plans to revisit Young Frankenstein as a musical. I think I should either go see this one when it premieres at the Pantages or just skip the movie altogether, because this is clearly no way to appreciate the project. Yikes.

Lady in the Water...Or Is She?

I distinctly recall hearing that this year's M. Night Shyamalan film, Lady in the Water, was a change of pace for the director. Well, this latest trailer doesn't seem anything like a change of pace to me. This seems like...pace.

Unlike a lot of people, I don't think the problem is that the movies are built around twist endings. You can have a good movie that's based around a twist ending. (Though it's probably best if people don't know there's going to be a twist ending going in, which makes his job a lot harder because people recognize his name). It's just that every film he's done, Signs-on, is built around a lame twist ending.

I know everyone who saw The Village is with me. Whoa, man...Whoa. Not only is the twist obvious and lame, but he actually tries to get away with revealing the twist, then reintroducing the mystery for a second time, as if we'd already forgotten that it's a twist! Come on, M.

Anyway, check out the trailer. And then you tell me. Are the dog-like monsters not real? Is the chick really a mermaid? Is this all a bedtime story Cleveland's reading his daughter? Is the entire film just an Indian guy pointing out at the audience and laughing while sitting on a big pile of money? (How awesome would that be? You'd probably have a significant drop in second-week box office, but still...face...)

Bushie, Don't Lose That Number

Are you there, George? It's me, Lons.

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

Oh, well, as long as they're not recording the calls. Now I feel much better.

Why is it that mad-with-power presidential types always want to spy on everybody? What is it they think we've got going on? Are they just afraid of missing a sweet kegger or something, so they want to keep tabs on everyone's phone records to find out if it's still being held at Josh's at 8 because his parents went to Carson City for the weekend to visit his mother's bronchial Aunt Florence?

Nixon was the same way. It's interesting that he's the past president everyone thinks of to compare to Bush any more, considering that his own father was president. He started out trying to improve his family's legacy and ended up "History's Greatest Monster."

(It's just a joke, folks, so don't go in the comments and bitch about how I said Bush was worse than Hitler or whatever. Bush isn't actually History's Greatest Monster. He's got a much cleaner and more powerful drive than Nero, he suffers from slightly less madness than that other King George and Hillary Clinton says he's "charming" in person! Then again, Hillary Clinton probably thinks James Carville and Susan Sarandon are "charming" in person, so her receptors might just be off).

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

Hey, that sounds neat! Anyone remember the Batman comics from a few years ago, where Batman had assembled the database of all the Gotham villains, and then the list was stolen by R'as al-Ghul and Batman had to get it back? This is kind of like that, only more ridiculous and with greater potential for fraud. A database of every call ever made within the nation's borders? Could this possibly be an effective tool in fighting terrorism? Or anything else?

Cause, I mean, a big Who's Who in Worldwide Terror database sounds cool. Could we send the terrorists letters telling them they've been chosen to represent their terror cell in the Who's Who of Worldwide Terror book, ask them to mail in a photo and then sell them copies? That way, we'd get pictures and information for our database plus earn a couple bucks on the side.

I, personally, would try to design something like they had in True Lies, where a futuristic computer brings up a full video dossier of any terrorist instantly by voice command. But, and this is important, the computer will only speak to Charlton Heston. I really can't stress that enough.

The problem is the NSA database won't just have terrorists in it like the True Lies computer. No, it will have regular assholes like me who've been blathering on to friends and loved ones on an AT&T cell phone. Not only is this unconstitutional and un-American, but it's completely stupid and pointless. I mean, the Arnold wasn't looking for some schmo talking to his step-brother in Northern Virginia. He's hunting the Crimson motherfucking Jihad, man. That's who we need in the database. (Come to think of it, what are those guys up to? They nearly flew a plane into a building in Miami way before Osama pulled it off).

You can tell we're not serious about fighting terrorism because we're still not checking everything that comes into our ports. Not to mention that our intelligence agencies are busy covering up the fact that some of their members might love manwhores, rather than worrying about when terrorists are going to attack us again and...oh yeah, we still insist on blowing up Arabs every day for no good reason. Do those three things...Start checking everything at the ports, get the intelligence community refocused on legally spying on actual terrorists and not teenagers calling one another to see if they'd like to go get some boba and stop blowing up Arabs. Am I forgetting anything? Oh yeah, impeach then prosecute these criminal lying assclowns.

But they won't do any of that stuff. Instead, Bush will get up on stage with beloved "That 70's Show" star Kurtwood Smith and insist that you trust him to do lots of secret stuff that makes you safer.

Oh, man, I can't believe I get to hang out with the bad guy from Robocop! This might even top the time I lied about the time I caught that fish!

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.

The sources would talk only under a guarantee of anonymity because the NSA program is secret.

Oh, well, if it's a secret...

This is a complicated case, Maude. Lot of ins, lot of outs. What we're seeing is a public battle for power within the American intelligence community. This stuff goes on all the time, I bet, but we just don't hear about it until it gets really out of control. I don't pretend to understand whose side everyone is on and all that. I kind of had trouble following The Bourne Supremacy, to tell you the truth.

What I know is this. Lots of Republicans are upset that there's a military guy (played above by character actor Kurtwood Smith) taking control of the CIA even though it has only recently become a civilian position and used to have generals in command all the time. So what's up with that? Also, there's a guy named "Dusty" Foggo and a guy named Porter Goss, which both totally do sound like spy names, and they both quit the CIA for mysterious reasons that definitely involves gambling and may or may not involve manwhores.

And I know that there's no good reason for them all to check up on me when I'm phoning Pakistan to discuss the plans for the upcoming "public works project" my controller in Havana the dude who's gonna take all this heroin off my hands my fellow eco-rights crusaders the Dixie Chicks my parents just to ask about their day!

And I know that something's up with the active military general who headed up the NSA when this surveillance program started now moving over to head up the CIA. I don't know what's up with it, maybe because I'm not a goddamn spy!

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated Monday by President Bush to become the director of the CIA, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency's domestic call-tracking program. Hayden declined to comment about the program.

Well, of course he decliend to comment. You don't comment on these sorts of things. When someone asks you a question about the possibly illegal domestic call-tracking program you initiated before switching high-ranking positions in secretive intelligence agencies, you memorize their face for future reference before you get into the back of a limo with tinted glass and tell the driver to take off at Warp 3.

The USA Today article goes on to detail in some detail Bush's obvious lies about the domestic spying. Yawn...Yes, we know. He's a lousy, stinkin' liar. What else you got?

It gets interesting again when writer Leslie Cauley discussed the unique situation for Qwest, the only telecommunications company to refuse to turn over its call lists to the NSA for fun and profit. (This is a long selection from the article, but hey, this is important.)

According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.

Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.

The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.

The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

This isn't a liberal vs. conservative thing. This isn't a cut taxes/raise taxes argument. Or a Clinton's a pervert/Bush is an idiot standoff. I think every American should be upset about this blatant invasion of privacy and subversion of the law. If it doesn't bother you that the President wants to spy on you and your neighbors, to me, it indicates devotion to an individual and a political party above your country. Which is about as wrong an interpretation of "patriotism" that you could have.

I mean, here's how this surveillance project has gone down.

NSA: Hey, all you phone companies, let us see all the calls people are making! On the double!
NSA: Stop asking questions, you lunkheads, and make with the call lists!
AT&T: Sure, boss!
VERIZON: Whatever you say, boss!
BELL SOUTH: Likety split, boss!
QWEST: Hey, I don't know about this...
NSA: I said make with the list before I throw you a beating.
QWEST: Ain't this against the law?
NSA: You want law, I'll give it to you. Law of the jungle, man's inhumanity to man. Law of nature, that's what you're gonna get. As in, it's in my nature to take of chumps don't know what's good for 'em. Square?

And so on. And no one even seems to care that much. I mean, hey, another Kennedy got drunk! Let's all obsess over that!

And as a final note...the article does say why the NSA wouldn't let Qwest speak to a FISA judge about the surveillance program.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.

"No, your honor, I object to having a trial on the grounds that you might think I did all this shit." Airtight logic, my friends. Air tight.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Art of Fencing

All in all, it's just another blockhead in the wall...

A civilian border-patrol group said Tuesday that it plans to build two short security fences on a ranch in southern Arizona, the busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Chris Simcox, a leader in the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said last month that the group would break ground on the fence unless the White House deployed U.S. troops to the border by May 25 and endorsed more secure fencing.

And when he says "short security fences," brother, you better believe it.

The group initially plans to erect two parallel 15-foot steel-mesh fences, which will be from 50 to 150 feet long. An unpaved road will run between the fences.

I guess the idea is that the Mexicans will be confounded by the sight of the fences, simply assume the jig is up, turn around and begin gainful employment in the Acapulco tourism industry. Because can't they just walk around the 150 foot fences?

Now, if you wanted to charge them a toll to pass through the fences safely rather than risking a run-in with crazed, liquored up Minutemen, then I could see the purpose of this venture. Only problem is you'd have a lot of Mexicans wanting to cross through the toll fence but without enough money for fare.

"Has anybody got a peso? We gotta turn around and get us a shithload of pesos!"

I mean, a 150 foot fence? That's not going to get the job done. I'd expect better out of fringe wackos, frankly. Now's your moment in the spotlight, Chris! Go nuts, man! Make it a huge fucking wall with built-in machine gun turrets and convince Rummy to give you that license to kill you've always wanted, man! Americans will get tired of this issue and move on to something else, so you've got a limited window here.

Hair declined to reveal the location of the fences out of concern the project could be a target for harassment or retaliation.

You're afraid of protesters? Are you guys kidding? You're a militia group. Isn't the whole idea here to make a point and attract attention to your issue? I mean, it's certainly not going to actually keep any Mexican immigrants out of the country.

On the south side facing Mexico, a 6-foot deep trench will keep vehicles from crashing through the fencing. Behind that, coiled and razor-edged barbed wire will be placed in front of a 15-foot steel mesh fence angled outward at the top to make climbing more difficult. The second fence will be built on the other side of the road.

Video cameras will be mounted between the fences and monitored from home computers.

Wow. I'm glad you brave patriots have your webcams at the ready to defend freedom and all...but it still won't work. At all. Oh, and you guys are retarded.

I still can't get over how small these Minutemen are thinking. Why just a fence? You guys should totally construct a Jim Henson-esque Labyrinth at the border! With confusing doors that tell you to go the wrong way and ogres and weird little towns filled with troll men. And when Mexicans try to get into the country, David Bowie shows up and steals their children and they have to navigate through an MC Escher painting to get the kids back. And by then, they're so tired cheesy 80's synth pop and bad sub-Abbott and Costello routines, they don't even want to stay in America any more, so they return to their previous jobs, selling kidneys stolen from drunken frat boys on the black market in Ensenada.

And then, maybe, just maybe, Michelle Malkin will be able to get a good night's sleep.

David Blaine's Massive Enchanted Snow Globe of Understanding

You guys made David Blaine cry. Seriously. Not cool.

A day after the televised stunt, Blaine, defying doctors' recommendations, checked himself out of Roosevelt Hospital. Friends took him out in a wheelchair then helped him walk to a waiting car.
At home, he took a hot shower, played cards and was able to eat.

But "he was crying," last night said Dr. Murat Gunel, the head of Blaine's medical team. "He still feels today that he let people down."

For those of you who ignore news about attention-starved idiots submerging themselves in oversized souveniers on the streets of New York for kicks, let me fill you in. David Blaine used to be a magician. Then he decided he wanted to date hip New York waifs-in-training, the kind of attractive yet skeletal wannabe models who don't exactly light up like a pinball machine when you drop the "I do card tricks for a living" bombshell.

For some reason I can't imagine, even though most people don't seem to mind actual magic, it turns out nobody really respects magicians. David Copperfield can't even return to his luxury home for a threesome without being mugged!

So Blaine, sensing a change was needed, started doing public endurance-themed stunts. He was buried alive in a glass coffin, stood on a very high pole in a New York park, and hovered above the Thames in a box. Some of you may recall that one because, unlike receptive American crowds, Brits tended to respond to an American dangling above a river for no good reason by yelling threats and chucking stuff at him.

For his latest trick, Blaine submerged himself in a sphere filled with water for a week. At the end of the week, he was going to hold his breath for a record-breaking 8 minutes. But he failed, going unconscious and requiring rescue with 58 seconds to go.

What a loser.

No, seriously, I'm kidding. I don't really understand the hatred the British seem to have for random, silly little stunts like this. There's just something in Americans that enjoys stories about dumbasses doing crazy crap just for the hell of it. You know about those kids who spent seven years making an exact shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark?

The lesson here is that you really shouldn't announce you're going to do something you probably can't do for no good reason. It just opens you up for ridicule. Blaine could have announced he was going to hold his breath for five minutes at the end, and I'd have been exactly as impressed as I was with eight minutes. I didn't know that was the record...because I didn't care enough to find out in the first place.

Also, it's clear David Blaine has kind of a Harry Houdini complex. He's even been called "Baby Houdini" in the press before. I'd remind Mr. Blaine that Houdini did a lot of crazy, impressive escapes in his day and became very famous without hanging out for eight days in a goldfish bowl. He would just show up somewhere and escape from some shit and people would clap. Maybe DB's just trying too hard.

He was rescued as he struggled to break a breath-holding record of 8 minutes, 58 seconds. Blaine, who had spent some 177 hours under water, went without air for 7:08 as a finale to his endurance stunt.

Blaine's liver and kidney functions had suffered while he was submerged, but now they are improving. His skin, which was peeling on Monday night, "looks much better today," said Gunel.

His team concluded that strenuous training and losing 50 pounds so his body would require less oxygen left Blaine too tired before he entered the tank. They said Blaine wants to try the breath-holding stunt again. Next time, he plans to be in better shape first, and do the stunt without being in a tank for a week beforehand.

Yeah, man....Skip the part where you hang out in a tank for a week. Geez.

Blaine always gives BS answers when asked the obvious: why he'd possibly want to do something so bizarre and possibly life-threatening. I mean, dropping 50 pounds? He was being observed by a neurosurgeon. His answers are always of the "because it was there" variety because he wants to be seen as an enigmatic explorer, a spiritual figure willing to endure physical pain in order to achieve ascetic purity or some such horseshit. He's not just hanging out in a goldfish boal as part of a TV special...He's inhabiting a massive enchanted snow globe of understanding.

I know the real reason. Because, as unpleasant as it would be to hang out in a snow globe for a week, subjected to the endless close-up scrutiny of slack-jawed gawkers, it beats a regular day job. This guy won't work again for months, and when he does it will be another wacky yet oddly profitable stunt. And in between, it's nothing but trendy, waify New York socialites. Beat that, The Amazing Randy! You know you can't!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road & Chocolate

Showtime's "Masters of Horror" series, based on what I've seen thus far, hasn't lived up to its potential. Hour-long, violent horror films from established low-budget genre directors should be a lot of fun, right?

I can't really speak on the 13-episode first season as a whole, because I've only seen five of the films. So far, out of the five, only Joe Dante's Homecoming (yet to arrive on DVD) was really worthwhile. Sure, it worked more as political satire than anything approaching actual horror, but at least it was entertaining and fast. The other entries have ranged from the mildly amusing (John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns) to the downright wretched (Stuart Gordon's inept Dreams in the Witch House).

I discussed those episodes, the first to appear on DVD, here. The latest two, Don Coscarelli's Incident On and Off a Mountain Road and series creator Mick Garris' Chocolate, hit shelves today.

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road

Coscarelli, best known to horror fans as the creator of the low-budget Phantasm films, adapts a grisly short story by Joe Lansdale. As in his previous film, Bubba Ho-Tep, also based on a Lansdale story, Coscarelli takes a thoroughly ridiculous, campy set-up and then plays the entire film dead serious.

Ellen (Bree Turner) darts down a stretch of, yes, mountain road and runs into a parked car. In a flash, she's set upon by a homicidal, ninja star-tossing albino (John De Santis). Fortunately, as we discover in flashbacks, Ellen learned how to evade capture in the forest from her demented survivalist husband Bruce (Vegas Vacation's very own Ethan Embry).

There are clearly too many flashbacks and Coscarelli awkwardly interrupts the main action for them at inappropriate times. The monster comes towards Ellen, she kicks him and falls over, he lunges at her while she's vulnerable...and then we cut to Bruce and Ellen sharing a tender moment on a hiking trail.

It doesn't help that the flashbacks are so ridiculous. Bruce berates Ellen for not firing her gun with deathly precision. He warns her about invisible menaces waiting in the shadows right before proposing marriage. He hands her a knife and tells her to have a go at him. The ways in which the "training scenes" fit into the albino chase are often clever, and as a new twist on this well-worn narrative, it's better than most. But a few brief flashbacks could have communicated this just as easily.

The silent killer has been nicknamed Moonface by the demented old man he keeps chained in the cellar (Phantasm vet Angus Scrimm), and he's a creepy looking but fairly conventional horror movie villain. Bald, scarred and utterly emotionless about his psychotic business, he remains an uninteresting enigma for the entire film, a device as opposed to a character. (And why would a mutant living in the woods be throwing around these circular dagger weapons? Where did he get them? Surely he didn't make them in his makeshift cabin?)

But it's just as well. With only an hour to tell the story, Coscarelli rightly spends most of his time fashioning set pieces and gore scenes. He's done a pretty decent job, above-average by "Masters of Horror" standards. I liked how Moonface's torture chamber has been made up to look like a middle school woodshop, as if, once he's done drilling out attractive teenager's eyeballs, he's going to make his mother a cutting board.


I can think of two things wrong with Chocolate being included in a show called "Masters of Horror." (1) Mick Garris, who has directed some mediocre made-for-TV Stephen King adaptations, is Master of Nothing and (2) this film is in no way part of the horror genre.

Garris' original screenplay very closely resembles a Stephen King short story. Even if the resemblance weren't so obvious, Garris includes a shot of the hero reading King's "Desperation" (the subject of Garris' next movie), just to make sure everyone gets that he's in on the joke. Basically, a "regular guy" going through some tough personal changes becomes involved in some mysterious supernatural phenomenon, and it all leads to a weak, disappointing conclusion.

In this case, our King-ean hero is Jamie (Elliott Henry Thomas), an artifical flavor researcher going through a painful divorce. In a tip to the hat, of sorts, to The Eyes of Laura Mars, Jamie begins having spells wherein he seems to enter the mind of a woman living somewhere far off. While his body remains in an unconscious daze, he can see, hear, touch and taste whatever this woman senses.

These scenes are unfathomably silly. I hope the scene where Jamie enters the mind of the woman mid-coitus and begins humping and gyrating the air was meant to be funny, because it's certainly not scary. Jamie begins to fall in love with the far off woman, in a tip of the hat, of sorts, to Being John Malkovich and does a little research based on his visions to try and find her. It all leads to a conclusion that fizzles out just when it begins to get interesting. Just like a Stephen King story!

There's an author who has figured out how to build up tension effectively, but who never leaves himself a way to wrap things up gracefully. Garris previously directed a miniseries of King's "The Stand," one of the most disappointing reads of my entire life. You spend literally 1,000 pages following dozens of characters around a carefully-sketched post-apocalyptic United States, only for King to resolve everything through the most half-assed, lazy device possible.

When adapting that book, I would think any director worth his salt would try to find a better way to wrap up the story. Because you already have a very promising set-up with some interesting, likable characters. At the very least, I would hope he (or she) would devise a way to express the conclusion visually that made up for King's lack of imagination. Instead, Garris just directs exactly what's written in the book, using bizarre, half-finished animation to give the audience only the vaguest sense of what's actually even happening.

A scene like that lets you know this guy is basically a hack riding the coattails of the extremely famous author whose work he clings to life the proverbial liferaft. Yes, I'll give the man some credit for creating this series, which I've enjoyed off and on for a few months now. But how embarrassing, to concoct your own anthology show and then direct one of the weakest entries!

Yes, But Do They Rock As Hard As "Treefingers"?

So, okay, I won't be able to go to the big Radiohead-Deerhoof shows at the Greek Theater next month. It's too expensive, and I can't justify spending that much to see a band I've already seen twice before in concert, no matter how earth-shatteringly awesome a live performance by Radiohead in an even semi-intimate venue promises to turn out. Also, tickets will be extremely hard to access for this particular event. It'd be easier to snag an invite to the next Opus Dei initiation ceremony than Radiohead at the Greek. Los Angeles area Radiohead concerts typically sell out before they are even announced. People just buy tickets to sit at local venues on random evenings on the off chance that Radiohead will show up and do an impromptu set.

Despite my disappointment at not being able to follow the band's tour around the nation like the obsessive, dirty hippie that I am, a new album by the band's still extremely exciting. There have been live versions of some of the new songs popping up around the Web, but the best recordings I've yet heard by fgar come from I Guess I'm Floating.

He's got three songs, each of which completely rules, but I think "Bodysnatchers" is my favorite. It's impossible to get a complete sense for how the songs will sound when they are finished on the album, but I can just hear this one is a great, hard-rocking track. Are these guys the best band in rock music right now? I'd say...yes, yes they are.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Dance! Dance!

Not a big fan of their music, but the guys from Fall Out Boy have earned points with me this week. According to Pandagon, by way of MTV News, a mother who brought her daughters to the band's show in Charlotte is infuriated by the band's radical homosexual agenda.

“The only thing I said in Charlotte was, ‘You can leave this show and say, “I think this guy is an arrogant jerk,” or think, “This band is better than this one,” because these are your opinions. The only thing we consider unacceptable is for you to engage in sexist, racist or homophobic behavior. If you do, we don’t want you as a fan. Return our merch and leave.’ “

So, that was what FOB's lead singer Pete Wentz actually said. Not so outrageous, I don't think. Unfortunately, he didn't know how offensive some people in the crowd would find his outrageous, radical tolerance. Here's an e-mail Pete received after the show:

“The ticket said ‘all ages,’ and your band was very foul-mouthed and anti-morals. Charlotte is not the demoralized city that liberal San Francisco and other cities across the North and West are…I had looked forward to this concert with my girls for months [and] I didn’t spend over $200 on gas, food and, unfortunately, shirts for you to give your own personal political testimony. … This was a concert, not some liberal homosexual rally.”

Not to nitpick, but I think she means "amoral city." As in, San Francisco is a city that lacks morals. A demoralized city would be one that feels very badly about the state of things today. "Man, I hate being San Francisco. It's always overcast and I'm full of used bookstores and many of my streets are oddly twisted and difficult-to-navigate. Why couldn't I be some nice Red State metropolis, like Oklahoma City or Cheyenne...Man, would that be sweet..."

I love that "don't be racist, sexist or homophobic" is considered a political viewpoint. Don't be irrationally afraid of random groups of people? That's a partisan statement? "That's the Democrats for you. Always telling you not to fear scapegaots and blame minorities for everything. I'll always vote Republican because they encourage me to fear all kinds of random, abstract stuff. Did you ever see that movie Dreamcatcher, with those aliens that crawl in your mouth and then kill you by exploding out your butthole? I think I'm going to start fearing shit weasels, just in case."

Anyway, the level of blatant misanthropy displayed by this woman is, quite simply, startling, and Fall Out Boy's measured, dignified response pretty much guarantees that they won't be nominated for a Braffy for Worst Musicians next month. (As if tehy could compete with the likes of My Chemical Romance anyway...Not likely...)

“I encourage fans of our band to grow up to become good people and to change the world. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that treating other people as inhuman is acceptable. If that is offensive to you, I apologize, but we don’t want you to be part of our fanbase. [Our show] is not a liberal homosexual rally, but at the same time, it will never be a Ku Klux Klan rally. We don’t need to sell tickets that badly.”

Hear hear. I'd also encourage fans of Fall Out Boy to stop listening to shitty bands and go buy Velvet Underground and Nico's self-titled collaborative album and then come back here and thank me in a few years.

The New World

A conflicted, intimate masterpiece on an epic scale, Terrence Malick's A New World retells the story of the 17th Century British settlement at Jamestown with a perfect marriage of sweeping melodrama and potent imagery. I was not one of the many dazzled by Malick's prior outing, The Thin Red Line, a tedious and self-important series of sketches about the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Caught up, perhaps, in the grand scale of the undertaking, Malick lost focus completely in The Thin Red Line, repeating similar, basic observations - "man's inhumanity to man," say - through a variety of vignettes about soldiers. The constant, droning monologues in voice-over, actors reciting ponderous lines of random dialogue over just about every sequence in the film, rendered Malick's film almost unwatchable.

Though he has regrettably not eliminated the unneccessary and trite voice-over narrative, just about all of the other obnoxious excesses of Thin Red Line have been streamlined with this new film. Rather than attempt to tell several stories to give the viewer a sense of the challenges faced by Jamestown settlers, Malick sets up a much more basic story in two halves.

Part One follows Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and his fellow English settlers as they land in present-day Virginia and establish the Jamestown colony. The film's striking, powerful and nearly-wordless beginning captures the mystery and wonder of this immensely significant event. The first meeting between the Native Americans and the colonists who would soon invade their lands and enslave their people.

Malick contrasts the brutality and avarice of the Englishmen with the simplicity and gentleness of the natives, but unlike in The Thin Red Line, he refuses to settle for easily-digestible binary oppositions. Rather than point out the divergence between peaceful Indians and sadistic Europeans, Malick studies the way in which the two groups interact and influence one another. Soon enough, the similarities between the two societies seem to outweigh the considerable differences.

Just as Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) is advised by Captain Wingfield (David Thewlis, clearly enjoying a brief but sinister role) to strike hard and fast against the natives as a demonstration of strength, Chief Powhatan (August Schellenberg) receives hawkish consul from Opechancanough (Wes Studi). Just as Captain Smith settles in the native village to escape the crude conditions and political duplicity of Jamestown, the native chief's daughter, Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), finds solace from exile with the white settlers. In one of the film's most warm scenes, a renamed and Westernized Pocahontas discusses regret with her English maid. The nature metaphor the maid relates, about trees that continue to grow even after losing branches, could have been taken directly from a Native American saying.

Malick additionally finds inspiration in the small misunderstandings that highlight where these two cultures differ most sharply. As he takes off on a voyage to the Old World, Opechancanough remarks that he looks forward to seeing the God of the Europeans of whom they speak. For a man who worships nature itself, God is a tangible entity that can be experienced in an immediate and physical way. When Smith demonstrates gunpowder for the natives, in the hopes that they will want to trade for some, he winds up terrifying everyone and possibly sparking a feud between the two peoples.

The film's second half finds Pocahontas (baptized and renamed Rebecca) marrying tobacco farmer John Rolfe and moving briefly to England. In this section, Malick explores with great success a kind of historical ripple effect. I expected the same old Thin Red Line thesis - that civilization corrupts the simple wonder of the natural world. But instead, Rebecca finds an odd kind of joy in England, a realization that both worlds in which she has lived offer great beauty and cruel sacrifice. London features bustling marketplaces, grandiose stone architecture and the glittery trappings of royalty, but can anything in the Old World match the serenity of the woodland utopia through which Pocahontas had raced as a girl?

1616 London been artfully and vividly brought to life, and sequences like one in which Opechancanough paces through a stately English garden really drive home all the film's melancholy insights without any dialgoue neccessary. The connection between this man and the natural world, and the correlation between the manicured shrubbery of a British manor and the forests of North America, doesn't need any disembodied spoken-word explanations.

I'm telling you, that voice-over is a real shame. It never enhances the meaning of a given scene. Most of the film is told in montage, individual shots that move the story forward and give a sense of the action, but that rarely congeal into dramatic scenes with a beginning, middle and end. That's fine, because a Malick film only adheres to a narrative in the loosest sense anyway. The films are about concepts, ideas and moods as opposed to air-tight plots. But rather than create a story out of the various, semi-connected shots and montages, all the New World voice over does is give you some generally-pointless and not particularly interesting inner monologue.

Colin Farrell will be walking through tall grass, watching Pocahontas dance around, and thinks to himself, "Who is this person? Who am I? What is this feeling inside my heart?" Meh. I don't need to hear that, Terry. The scene speaks for itself. All Malick accomplishes with this technique is stepping over the wonderful and largely non-verbal lead performances by Kilcher, Farrell and Bale, not to mention the gorgeous, sparkling cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki and the beautiful score by Howard Shore. (Shore's intense, brooding score easily ranks among 2005's best).

It's a rare misstep in a film that succeeds far more often than it fails. To see some thought-provoking, relatively-authentic American history realized on screen with this amount of artistry and detail is truly a gratifying experience. Plenty of films take on stories from history as their subjects, but how many bother to provide such a complete and satisfying picture of life on multiple continents while making poignant insights into Western society's relationship to the world and to itself?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Doofus

From Reuters:

U.S. President George W. Bush told a German newspaper his best moment in more than five years in office was catching a big perch in his own lake.

"You know, I've experienced many great moments and it's hard to name the best," Bush told weekly Bild am Sonntag when asked about his high point since becoming president in January 2001.

"I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5 pound (3.402 kilos) perch in my lake," he told the newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

It kind of makes you wonder why this man wanted to be President in the first place. He doesn't need the kind of unlimited power, access and authority granted only to those who climb to the highest levels of government to be happy. That's Dick Cheney, a man who won't lower himself to press a button, any button, unless it will trigger the massacre of at least 100,000 civilians.

But George Bush just needs some fishin' gear and a cooler full of PBR, and he's set. Can you imagine being that guy, a regular Jimmy Buffet stereotype, and being voted President. It would be hell on Earth. You're just hoping to organize your record collection, clear some brush and pass out watching a Bond film on TNT, and these people keep hassling you about trade negotiations with the Far East or news about which one of them is being investigated for fraud and/or manwhores.

Here's Tristero of Hullabaloo with his interpretation:

Quite possibly it's the pathetic whine of a deeply, perhaps clinically. depressed man who believes himself a total failure. Or maybe this is a man so uninterested in his job, let alone in serving his country, that he has no business whatsoever being president. Or perhaps this is simply an arrogant bastard who holds in utter contempt anyone who dares to ask him a question, so he responds with the stupidest thing he can say. (Obviously, nothing precludes all three or some combination of two.)

To be all pre-emptive about it, someone's bound to comment that maybe this just shows how much of a down-to-earth regular guy Bush is.

If you were going to posit that the quote was canned - that is, that some Bush advisor had thought they might ask him about his favorite Presidential memory, and coached him to give some folksy answer to please the NASCAR dads - I could see making the "regular guy" argument. He wants to seem like a regular guy, right? So he might answer something a regular guy might relate to, like catching a big fish, instead of something more elite and presidential, like meeting important Japanese officials and not vomiting on them like some other presidents I could mention.

But that's a pretty unlikely scenario. More likely, I think Bush is just a completely shallow idiot. Given this amazing opportunity - to represent America, to reach out to the people of the world, to change things for the better, to travel everywhere and experience life as it's being lived right now all around the world, to meet important people who are making a difference - he prefers to hang out and fish.

"Yeah, yeah, sure, freedom on the march, no child left behind...All that stuff...Just give me a second while I hook this worm. Dang things is squiggly."

Tristero points out a BBC article with more quotes from the German paper's Bush interview. This selection's a good deal more chilling:

In a more serious moment, he said he understood German opposition to the war in Iraq.

"The Germans today simply don't like war... And I can understand that.

"There is a generation of people whose lives were thrown into complete disarray by a horrible war."

The Germans today simply don't like war? What's implied in this statement. That the Americans don't mind war so much. Germans, oh, yeah, they hate it. War's just not for them. Beer, yes. Chocolate, hell yes. Meat? You better goddamn believe it. And they're significantly awesome filmmakers. But not so much about the war these days. Oh, sure, they're slipped up occasionally. Who hasn't accidentally started a few international conflicts/genocides?

But we Americans, we're just plain warlike. We dig it. It's what we're good at.

If you don't believe me, just check out this editorial from today's LA Times. Crime novelist Andrew Klavan thinks Hollywood should make more feel-good pro-military propaganda, like they did in the good old days of WWII! He's tired of thoughtful films that deal with America's place in the world in a nuanced, artistic manner. Klavan's hungry for a nice racist screed.

Check out the opening paragraph of his editorial, that made the front page of today's LA Times Calendar section.

THERE HAS NEVER been an age without war, not ever. Mass violence is a continual aspect of the human condition. Peace, like good weather, is always local and temporary — and what is peace anyway but the result of past victories in war and the effective threat of future war against would-be aggressors?

Hey, yeah! Take that, you dumbass anti-war protestors! There ain't even no such thing as peace anyway, hippies!

It's awful Orwellian, no? To see it spelled out plainly in a newspaper's Arts & Entertainment section like that. Peace is war. Klavan's all about that little taste of newspeak. Also, Ignorance is Knowledge.

We need some films celebrating the war against Islamo-fascism in Afghanistan and Iraq — and in Iran as well, if and when that becomes necessary. We need films like those that were made during World War II, films such as 1943's "Sahara" and "Action in the North Atlantic," or "The Fighting Seabees" and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," which were released in 1944.

How does Andrew establish a connection between Bush's Excellent Iraqi Adventure and WWII? Kind of totally different in every way, man. In WWII, propaganda was easy. We were fighting a small group of countries that could be named. You want to make a 40's war film? Just write that American soldiers and shooting at (1) greasy Eye-Talians, (2) crazy suicidal Japs or (3) villainous yet highly disciplined Krauts. Done!

Our present conflict doesn't really lend itself as easily to propaganda. It's a movie about American soldiers and they go and...torture a bunch of possibly innocent, half-naked guys! American troops bond on the high seas before...accidentally gunning down worshippers on their way to a mosque! G.I.'s train a bunch of eager young Iraqi Army recruits, who wind up using their newfound weapons and knowledge to...ritualistically slaughter some of their neighbors who practice the wrong kind of Islam!

But I sense Klavan thinks any time the President wants to declare war somewhere, anywhere, Hollywood should back him up by brainwashing the masses. I mean, didn't you read the opening paragraph? We have to fight lots and lots of wars! So why won't Hollywood get on the bandwagon already?

I don't really feel that I need to point out that audiences are more savvy now than they were in the 40's, and the kind of straight-ahead, unnuanced propaganda that passed for entertainment then pretty much stopped working on consumers raised with televisions in their homes. I mean, I love a lot of those old war movies, but the sermonizing vascillates between being overbearingly ridiculous and creepy.

Not all of these were great films, or even good ones, but their patriotic tributes to our fighting forces inspired the nation.

More than that, they reminded the country what exactly it was that those forces were fighting to defend. Though many of these pictures now seem almost hilariously free with racist tirades against "sauerkrauts," and "eyeties" and "Tojo and his bug-eyed monkeys," they were also carefully constructed to display American life at its open-minded and inclusive best.

Every roll call of Hollywood's U.S. troops seems to include a Ragazzi and a Donovan, a Hellenopolis, a Novasky, and a wisecracking Roth. "Sahara" even throws in the black "Mohammedan" Tabul, a Sudanese ally. This may have been corny, but it was also more or less realistic, and it depicted the war as a conflict between our lovably mongrel melting pot and the despicable Axis ideal of racial purity.

Yikes...I love how Andrew states that these old war movies were virulently racist and that they displayed American life at its most inclusive in the same sentence. How does that work? Yeah, sure, they show the enemy as a group of Satanic faceless killers and condescend horribly to all the minority soldiers...but at least they got to be in the movie! We could have just made the whole thing will all Anglos, you know!

Honestly, I had an idea for the very thing Andrew's talking about a few years ago. You make a movie called Destination: Tikrit. It's a WWII-style "guys on a mission movie." Think Destination: Tokyo. Anyway, it's set during the present Iraq War but it's all made in the exact style of a 40's war movie - even in black and white.

You present a group of guys just like Klavan describes...A square-jawed captain, his no-nonsense executive officer and all the goofy soldier caricatures from those old movies. There's a horny one, a guy who misses his girl back home, a black guy, a shaky medic, a sharpshooter. You get where I'm going with this.

And they have to go scout around Tikrit for Saddam's bunker in 2003, the initial days of the war.

Sounds awesome, right? Right?

For all their epithets and stereotypes, then, these pictures sent the distinctly American message that it's not bloodlines but national creeds that make a people, and that while even so great a creed as ours can't guarantee the decency of individuals, evil creeds surely sweep them up into destructive madness and therefore must be opposed.

Unless you're a Mexican, in which case you should probably just get the hell out of here. The rest of us native Amurcans are united by a creed, okay, beaner!

Today we face an enemy in the grip of a belief system just as evil, just as destructive in its intent, as the system we fought back then. We were attacked at home in this war as we were in World War II. The outcome of the struggle is just as much in doubt. Worse, because Islamic fundamentalism supersedes nationhood, the danger it poses is more protean and diffuse. It's easier to pretend it isn't there, more tempting for the war-weary and the fatally foolish to waver and sound retreat. Don't you get it?

Andrew...stop, stop...You are embarrassing yourself. Clearly, this guy's suffering from Greatest Generation Envy. He wants the "Islamo-fascists" (what an idiotic phrase) to be the Nazis so so very badly, because apparently being an American has no meaning for him unless we're actively sing our military to save the world. It's not enough for us to just be an example to others, to work peacefully through problems with diplomacy, and to stop trying to dominate every other nation on the planet that might potentially have something we want. No, we have to go around killing everyone to prove that we're in charge, and if you don't like it, you're fatally foolish.

They are not Nazis. Not that hardcore Islamic fundamentalism is not a cruel, senseless and hate-filled ideology. It is. So is hardcore Christian fundamentalism. (Did I just blow your mind?) But not wanting to bomb innocent Iraqis, who had nothing to do with any terrorist attack on America, or make movies glorifying the bombing of innocent Iraqis doesn't make you "war weary" or weak or any of this other nonsense. It makes you sensible and fucking human.

In short, we need war movies now even more than in the '40s.

In a weird, twisted way, he's right. In the 1940's, the government had propaganda, but it didn't really need it as a way to convince men to enlist. Because men back then trusted their leaders. If the President went on the radio and said, "We are in grave danger and we need your help," men went to recruitment offices by the tens of thousands. It's actually kind of unbelievable. Do you think young men trust the government like that now? I wouldn't ask Donald Rumsfeld for the time of day for fear he'd just make up some bullshit. If I were a taxi driver and Douglas Feith got into my cab, after he told me his destination, I'd wait about 10 seconds and say, "Okay, now where do you really want me to take you?" All these guys do is lie and people are on to them, so they could really use a massive media machine like Hollywood to start helping them bullshit the masses.

But that doesn't mean it's a goddamn good idea!

So why aren't we getting them? One reason surely is that, in the years since World War II, our self-assurance as a nation, the self-assurance necessary for the waging of war, has been shaken, and Hollywood reflects that.

Wow...An actual sentence that rings true! It's a goddamn miracle.

The Western ethos, with its Christian roots, demands that we look to our own sins before judging the sins of others.

Except Mexicans and gays and Arabs and women who wants abortions and transsexuals and smokers and drug users and prostitutes and fat people and single mothers and black people and atheists. Fuck those guys. But if you aren't any of those things, we don't like to judge people.

Since the '60s, we have had, it seems, an endless string of war movies, from "Dr. Strangelove" to "Syriana," in which the United States is depicted as wildly aggressive and endlessly corrupt — which, in fact, it's not; which, in fact, it never has been.

Not sure I agree with his entire thesis here, but he's definitely misrepresenting these two films. Dr. Strangelove is about the absurdity of war, and it therefore makes both warring factions - Americans and Soviets - look aggressive and ridiculous. (I should note, however, that Strangelove, as a comedy, also includes a deep and abiding sympathy for the men who lead these incompetant militaries into a war. They seem befuddled and confused by the task at hand, not violent or angry or overly aggressive as Klavan implies.)

And Syriana doesn't lay blame solely on the United States, but seeks to analyze the entire oil industry in a much broader context. Individuals from a variety of nations are implicated, but really the conflicts in the Middle East spiral increasingly out of control without any additional help throughout the chaotic film.

In taking our self-examining ethos to these extremes, we have lost a kind of wisdom, wisdom that acknowledges the complexity of human life but can move through it to find the simple truth again.

This guy writes kind of like Jeff Goldstein, trying to obscure his puerile thesis with flowery language and excessive conditions and rejoinders. Andy wants to argue that Americans are a bunch of pussies who blame themselves for everything rather than focusing exclusively on hating their enemy. But he knows if he says that, it comes off as arrogant and hawkish and ignorant. So he dresses it up in nice clothes.

"It's great that we have complex art." "Sure, I recognize some old war movies were a bit racist!" "We're all just good Christians who blame ourselves too much for stuff!"

But the hostile, pathetic call to arms is there right below the surface. "Hey, folks, let's get down to simple truths! Killing foreigners saves American lives! Us or them! It's just that simple!"

Not only have we lost this kind of wisdom, but I think that a handful of elites — really only a handful of academics, journalists and artists — has raised up a golden counterfeit in its stead.

I've said it before, I'll say it again...Why does the LA Times run with this horseshit! As if Jonah Goldberg columns weren't painful enough.