Saturday, May 20, 2006


A film like Bloodrayne defies review but I'm going to write one anyway.

Mediocre films are all the same, and are thus easy to describe and pan to an audience. But a shit symphony like Bloodrayne can't be summed up in a few generic phrases. Like a beautiful and unique snowflake that's been dipped in elephant feces and deep fried, a truly awful film like Bloodrayne exists in its own world. A failure, to be sure, but a failure unlike any other exact failure in film history. In this regard, it's quite a remarkable achievement, and certainly an enjoyable experience if one is inclined, as I am, to watch bad movies for entertainment.

Director Uwe Boll, responsible for Bloodrayne along with the equally awful but less amusing Alone in the Dark, tells the press that he tries to make good films, but all available evidence points to a filmmaking method that specifically undermines any hopes of actually producing a worthwhile final product. Quite possibly the most reviled figure among Internet fandom, his movies represent the antithesis of everything the geek community asks for from a genre film - Boll lacks reverence for his source material, he distracts from limp dialogue with snazzy camera tricks and bad special effects and he insists by neccessity on extremely low budgets an dfast production turn-around.

And yet...and yet...These same fans will sing the praises of genre directors whose material isn't significantly better. Oh, sure, Kurt Wimmer won't overplay his hand like Boll. Equilibrium didn't boast a cast of B-movie all-stars and shots of extras hacking at a dead monk's corpse with swords, but it does feature lame, poorly-conceived action sequences and crappy facades made on the quick to simulate the distant future. Why praise Wimmer for succeeding beyond expectations and harp on Boll for having some stupid fun with the materials available to him?

I'm not trying to defend Boll as a filmmaker. Bloodrayne certainly deosn't warrant any kind of spirited defense as a movie. But as a piece of crap, it's nothing short of remarkable, the kind of movie that really ought to have an optional commentary track by Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo on the DVD. I guys...Michael Madsen has a swordfight against Meat Loaf in this movie! What else do you need to know?

Based on a video game I have never heard of or played, Bloodrayne tells the story of vampire-human hybrid Rayne (Terminator 3 villainess Kristanna Loken), a young girl just trying to make her own way in this crazy mixed up pseudo-Medieval fantasy world full of the undead. Like Marlo Thomas, only with a thirst for blood and slightly better at kung fu.

The script by Guinevere Turner is among the most obvious and plodding imaginable. The story doesn't so much progress as it does lurch around aimlessly within the world of the video game. Nothing develops naturally. If Turner needs Bloodrayne to receive some vital background information, she simply has a stranger wander by and start telling her things. Likewise, when Boll requires a love scene to break up the expositional monotony, he just has his heroine walk up to the nearest male cast member and start necking.

Rayne meets up with a psychic (Geraldine Chaplin) who tells her she must hunt down and kill the vampire who raped her mother and sired her, the cruel Kagan (Ben Kingsley). Kinglsey's made the interesting choice to not act in the role of Kagan, but instead to hang out on the set, staring off into space, occasionally reciting a line in between carefully considering whether he prefers Sun Chips or Fritos. Kevin Costner gives a livelier, more passionate performance in The Big Chill than Kingsley in this movie.

So, after Rayne discovers a vital clue in Scene 24, which is a smashing scene with some lovely acting, she meets up with some helpful vampire hunters, played by Michael Madsen at his doughiest, Michelle Rodriguez doing the worst English accent ever and Bland Hunky Guy #1. Then they all go and kill Ben Kingsley, but not before Rayne lets Hunky Guy lick her boobs and drinks from several golden goblets full of bodily fluid. It may sound complicated, but essentially this is a really bad Buffy episode with gratuitous nudity and gore in place of witty banter.

Or, really, any kind of banter at all. Reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoon shows, Turner's writing style has all the originality of a classic "Scooby Doo" episode combined with the penetrating insight into the human condition of a Guns N' Roses lyric. (I swear to God, Madsen, more than once, is given straight-up Fred dialogue..."Hey, gang, why don't you go check out that spooky abandoned castle? Michelle Rodriguez and I are gonna go look for vampire clues over by that barn!")

Did I mention that Michael Madsen has a sword fight against Meat Loaf?

I did? Well, I'm mentioning it again because it's so remarkable. The Battle Royale with Cheese, the final Earth-shattering contest to determine who can truly be called The Paunchiest Man in Bloodrayne, might well stand one day as the singular highlight of Uwe Boll's long and storied career. The sight of two fat middle-aged pseudo-actors slumping around pretending to be Flynn and Rathbone is Uwe's gift to the world, and I expect some goddamn gratitude!

In one corner, Madsen, star of ESPN's "Tilt," the man responsible for the least convincing performance in Sin City, a movie I'll remind you also featured James King, Brittany Murphy and Jessica Alba. In the other corner, The Loaf, Old Bitch Tits, wearing the wig and make-up left over from the "I Would Do Anything for Love" video. (Has it been long enough? Will Meat finally tell us the thing he wouldn't do for love? Is it "shower"?)

I won't tell you who vanquishes whom in the actual duel itself, but I will say that neither of these guys should ever pick up a sword for a movie again because watching them battle is like watching a panda bear fuck a koala bear. It's over quickly, kind of cute, but also very very wrong.

A customer in the store today proffered the theory that movies in which Billy Zane wears a hairpiece rule while movies in which Billy Zane appears bald suck. Well, if that's the case, Bloodrayne fucking rocks the house, because Billy's been outfitted with this Oustanding Achievement in the Field of Toupery.

Why would you even dream of fucking with Squinty Zane? It's a rule...You don't fuck with Squinty Zane. Because he'll go all Phantom on your ass. And you don't want that, my friend.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that you should go out and rent Bloodrayne immediately. Well, okay, wait until it actually comes out on DVD on Tuesday. But then, go rent in immediately and laugh at it and generally feel good about the world of foreign-made low-budget fantasy-horror based on forgettable PlayStation 2 games.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Beach Blanket Wingo

One of the most accomplished, and least appreciated, contemporary American filmmakers is David Gordon Green, whose dreamy and ambiguous stories of the post-industrial New South walk a delicate balance between bittersweet nostalgia and Gothic mystery. George Washington, All the Real Girls and Undertow. Go watch.

Okay, you watched all three? Great, right. But did you know that all those films featured scores by Austin, Texas musician David Wingo? Furthermore, did you know that Wingo's band Ola Podrida has an album coming out and a MySpace page? Well...neither did I until I read about it on some blogs. But I know now, and am passing on that highly useful and actionable information to you, the Crushed by Inertia information consumer.

Over at An Aquarium Drunkard, you can download a really terrific, mellow Podrida song called Jordanna. It does kind of sound like a moody, slow-burn rock version of one of Wingo's scores - bluesy, subtle soundscapes that build in intensity over the course of the film (or, in this case, 5 minutes). Highly recommended (particularly if you're reading this, Jonathan...This song strikes me as hitting a bullseye in terms of your tastes.)

Oh, also, as long as I'm recommending songs, here are a pair of hip-hop mp3's not to be missed this week. I'm not a big fan of much popular hip-hop, because it's stupid and oddly obsessed with car and neck accessories. But every now and again, I'll hear a song that makes a persuasive case for listening to more of the stuff.

This new track from DangerDoom is really awesome, a continuation of the Adult Swim/MF Doom thematic pairing from last year's The Mouse and the Mask. This time, bizarre-yet-awesome Adult Swim cartoon "12 Oz. Mouse" is integrated into a typically food-obsessed Doom track. The song's easily as good as any track on the album.

Fluxblog features a hilarious, insightful track by Cam'rom about his struggles with food, weight and Irritable Bowel Syndrome called I.B.S. Seriously. It's a rap song about throwing up mucous and going to the hospital with stomach cramps. But the track isn't a gimmick - more like a confessional short story in song form. Easily the most interesting hip-hop song I've heard all year. And the eerie, piano-driven production rules. (Sorry about the vagueness of this description...I'm even worse at speaking about rap songs than I am at rock songs, so we're treading dangerous rhetorical ground here.)

The All-New Adventures of Speed Buggy!

SPEED BUGGY: Put-put-put-put See any Mexicans yet, put-put, Mr. Bush?

BUSH: Quiet, Speed Buggy...I'm Presidenting!

SPEED BUGGY: Put-put-put-put Sorry, sir. Put-put I just got put-put overexcited.

(NOTE: Hilarious photo courtesy of Uggabugga).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Winter Soldier

Less a documentary than a piece of living history, Winter Soldier records for posterity a gathering of 150 Vietnam veterans at a Howard Johnson's motel in 1971 Detroit. As the war continued to rage overseas, these ex-soldiers gathered to discuss their experiences in combat and in training publicly, many for the first time, in a press conference format. Their stories - full of harrowing firefights, shameful massacres, gruesome mutilations and countless other atrocities - leaves their audience shocked and the soldiers stricken and haunted. This is one of the single most difficult films I have ever had to watch and one that's staggeringly important now that America has involed itself in another bloody and extended overseas conflict.

John Kerry appears briefly, interviewing fellow soldiers about their experiences in Vietnam, but otherwise these men are anonymous voices from the past, recalling how the government gave them a uniform and a gun and taught them how to kill without consideration, without remorse, without compassion and without humanity.

Sporadic footage of Vietnam is interspersed with a variety of anecdotes. One soldier recalls seeing his drill instructor, on the final day before shipping out to Southeast Asia, skin and disembowel a live rabbit before flinging its organs over the grunts. Later on, in country, the soldier will see a colleague perform the same ritual on a Vietnamese woman.

Many others corroborate these kinds of stories, suggesting a pre-planned pattern of wanton cruelty and sadistic violence designed by the American military or its civilian leadership to wear down the Communist's resolve. Even if there was no agreed-upon campaign of terror executed on the Vietnamese people, there was certainly a decision made at some point to look the other way while individual soldiers and even officers violate every single tenet of the Geneva Convention, and even common decency.

Though the witnesses differ in race, age, background and even in their level of anger at their government and leadership, the same concepts and subtexts keep popping up in their anecdotes.

Their training has been designed to dehumanize their reactions and surpress their humanity. A Vietnamese person, civilian or soldier, is not a human. Just a gook, an animal you don't have to feel bad about torturing or raping or burning or tossing out of a helicopter mid-flight.

Perhaps most interesting to me, particularly in light of my recent blog post about the importance of Symoblic War over actual war to Americans, was the way in which soldiers were encouraged to fudge the facts in order to make their ugly work seem vital. Sgt. Scott Camil observes that any dead Vietnamese person, regardless of how they were killed or who they were, was counted as Viet Cong.

"How do you know he was VC?," Camil was asked. "Because he's dead," he would reply. And then they would share a laugh.

Similarly, because success in the war was gauged in terms of body counts rather than territory gained, casualty numbers were forged or fabricated. If 20 Americans died, they would report that 100 VC were killed, just to make it seem like a successful operation.

Obviously, over time, this would drive a man insane. Each day you are marched into the jungle and ordered to kill, but your actions seem to have no consequences. No new information is gained, because you're mainly torturing peasants and farmers. The Viet Cong army still shows up periodically and kills your friends because they know the territory and hide out in the trees. Each day it's just more and more senseless, meaningless horror, and it has left many of these men visibly shaken permanently.

Most of the veterans in the film share that far-off, distant, cold stare that only men who have served seem to develop. One soldier describes having completely forgotten about an incident in which he and some colleagues stoned a young boy to death for fun until years later, when the memory suddenly came to him and left him horrified. Another soldier holds up a photograph of himself grinning while pointing to the dead body of a Vietnamese man. (Sound familiar?)

Watching Winter Soldier in 2006 doesn't just invite comparisons to the present-day conflict. It demands comparison. Many facets of the stories of these soldiers link up with extraordinary presience to the stories you occasionally hear back (but not nearly enough) from the media about the Iraq War. The confused troops in the field, their hands tied by beurocrats and their mission unclear, stumble around and make mistakes and kill innocents. The use of torture as an interrogation technique turns the local population against Americans and severely harms the psyche of the torturers permanently. And of course, as soldiers wind up staying in the war zone for longer and longer periods, their mental states become more and more erratic, unpredictable and quite frankly frightening. What effect does a year or two of constant carnage have on a human being? Is there any hope of returning to the man (or woman) you once were before the killing started?

Winter Soldier would seem to suggest that, no, you can't ever really go back. Most of the men in this movie speak about war as if it was a dream from which they have awoken. Those men in the pictures, killing babies and burning down huts while they're still occupied and trading in detached ears for beers at the local bar, those aren't really them. Their actual identities went into hibernation, allowing the U.S. Government to use them as killing machines in the jungle for a few years.

One soldier makes a statement that essentially sums up the entire film. "This war," he says, "doesn't just ruin the lives of the people who died. It ruins an entire generation. An entire generation of Americans and Vietnamese, ruined, and that's the real tragedy here."

And he's right. Because it only takes a few bastards in high places to make the decisions that cause wars, but it takes an entire nation of people to carry those wars out. Soldiers and their families who never recover from the strain and trauma along with all the other people whose lives they touch. Of course, the people of Vietnam, who have spent the past 30 some odd years trying to recover from the psychic and environmental and generational horror of the 60's and 70's. And there's this notion that the entire world has been polluted by this kind of evil, as well. Not just from chemical weapons tossed into the skies, but from the villainy of a massive army determined to wipe out its perceived enemies at the cost of its own soul.

Of course, some people don't think raping women and then skinning them alive is a big deal.

From Powerline's Paul Mirengoff:

Tananto takes the analysis one step further when he points to the similarity of Murtha's "they were depraved because they were deployed" meme and the line that John Kerry peddled (based in large part on false allegations of war crimes) with respect to the war in Vietnam.

[U.S. Representative and Vietnam Vet John] Murtha is what Kerry once was -- a darling of the Democrats by virtue of his ability to attack our military efforts under cover of his credentials. But all of the credentials in the world don't help when you contradict yourself in a single sentence.

Paul doesn't think the government training you to kill and then dropping you in the jungle or the desert and ordering you to kill has any affect on your psyche. Naturally! It's like that old NRA slogan: Governments don't kill people, soldiers do!

Also, "false allegations of war crimes"? He's suggesting all the soldiers in Winter Soldier are making this stuff up? They're some pretty amazing actors. De Niro's got nothing on these guys in the "strangely intense, deeply sad Vietnam vet" competition.

After Paul's comments, John Hinderaker adds:

Murtha is a disgrace. If there is one Congressman who deserves to be defeated in November, it's him.

Yeah, so what if he was there and has a history of being pro-military? What does he know? Paul read somewhere that the soldiers were all making up those atrocities anyway! My Lai? More like one too many mai tais! BWAHAHAHA!

Winter Soldier comes to DVD on May 30th. It will mark the first time the film has ever actually been released for public consumption since it was filmed by various New York documentarians (including Harlan County USA director Barbara Kopple) and screened sporadically throughout 1972. Order the DVD or learn more about the film here. Or come buy it at Laser Blazer in two weeks!

The Kindest Cut of All

Have I talked already on here about Michel Gondry's planned film Be Kind, Rewind? I can't quite remember. As someone who's desperately trying to write a can't-miss high-concept summer comedy, I'm very intrigued and yet confused by this premise...

Jack Black will play a small-town video store clerk who accidentally erases all his rental tapes. (The explanation is that he has a magnetized metal plate in his head, which sounds a little unlikely and desperate an explanation to me...but what do I know?) Here's the weird part: to please the store's lone loyal customer, an apparently senile old woman, Black then stages and films remakes of all the rental movies.

Seriously. That's the set-up.

The main selling point here is Gondry's visuals coupled with Black re-enacting "The Lion King" "Rush Hour" "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Robocop" as the customers start to demand the remade movies. All the town gets involved and the film becomes a metaphor for the magic and importance of film-making.

Okay, obviously the hook is getting to film elaborate, silly remakes of big popular movies starring Jack Black. But why does he have to remake the films himself instead of buying new copies? Or why not just make his own films instead of remaking dumb Hollywood fare like Rush Hour, that probably wouldn't appeal to an old lady anyway?

I'm inclined to believe this would be the better movie. Maybe in the beginning, he thinks he's going to remake Hollywood movies, so you get a montage or a few scenes of him planning to redo Rush Hour or something, before deciding to get the townspeople to help him pull off a big, epic and original film. That feels more like a complete movie kind of story to me, even if it is a little less wacky and more formula.

But beyond that point, isn't this awfully thin? Gondry's an immensely talented director. His Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was my favorite movie of 2004 (due in part to the immense talents of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, of course). I just can't see making an entire film based around parodies starring Jack Black. It's a good bit for an Oscar host or a late night comic, but a whole 90 minute film?

I guess it's stupid to pick the film apart sight unseen, but I honestly can't see how this premise makes any sense and it's frustrating to me. I've been racking my brain for weeks now trying to come up with the perfect, easily writable and pitchable premise and this concept flies right in the face of everything I've been taught, essentially. For real.

Mainly in that it's nonsensical. Every time I come up with an idea that's surreal or even just a little weird, I'm told that it needs to make more sense and adhere to strict realism. I've been pitching people an idea I had about a romantic comedy set in an apocalyptic, post-WWIII dystopian future. Okay, that's not even that bizarre a concept. I could see the world "coming to an end" and giving way to a post-industrial wasteland any day now. But still, it's too fanciful, it's too out there. Apparently, suits want stories that are relatable and easy to film. You know, like The Chronicles of Riddick.

Naturally, because of the talent involved, I'm very curious about the movie. I don't mean to imply, at all, that I think it won't be any good. Gondry's made two films thus far - the mediocre Human Nature and the brilliant Eternal Sunshine - as well as some kickass music videos, but along with this year's Science of Sleep, this will be one of the first opportunities to see what he can do with a non-Kaufman feature. Has he just been an above-average stylist riding the coattails of one of our most exciting contemporary screenwriters? Or is he really the imaginative force to be reckoned with his early work implies?

The Ringer & When a Stranger Calls

Not many worthwhile new DVD's this week. Here are two pieces of crap you don't need to bother with, that I will trash for your amusement.

The Ringer

Tardsploitation: A film presenting a person or persons suffering from a mental or developmental disability as a spiritual figure, redeeming the "normals" through selfless, childlike acts of personal sacrifice and nobility of spirit. A condescending sub-genre of the tear-jerker in which the mentally retarded or simply slow-witted stand in for a natural humanity of innocence and pure goodness.

When I come down hard on tardsploitation (as I do fairly often), it's not to imply that Hollywood shouldn't make any films with disabled characters. I don't think the act of putting someone with Down Syndrome or some such thing in a movie is inherently cruel or wrong or exploitative. It just seems to me that no one has figured out how to make a film about such an individual without resorting to these tired, lazy cliches. Retarded guys (and gals) in film are always heroes or martyrs or examples of stoic grace and acceptance. They're never just, you know, people.

Take last year's Johnny Knoxville comedy The Ringer, about a sap who fakes retardation in order to fix the Special Olympics. Despite the fact that it was borrowed for a "South Park" episode last season, a situation that definitely robs the film of some of its shock value and immediacy, it's a solid high-concept premise. You hear that idea, you can pretty much figure out what the movie will be like.

Unfortunately, it becomes clear almost immediately that writer Ricky Blitt and director Barry Blaustein have no idea how to craft this concept into an entertaining film. So they fall back on all the most tired tardsploitation conventions. The Special Olympians in the film are just what you'd expect - awkward goons with bizarre social graces who are nonetheless saint-like, direct and almost completely without guile.

These movies all seem afflicted with the strange notion that intelligence makes a person evil. Now, sure, knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and education does allow people to question the world around them more. But if we all had the intelligence of an 8 year old, would the world really be a better place? Would our relationships all be more fulfilling? Would we actually be getting much more out of life? These movies seem to suggest, yes. I'd suggest that, below or above average intelligence, everyone's different and your life is what you make of it.

You may be thinking there's no way to win in this situation. If the movie goes all out, as offensive as possible towards those with learning disorders or autism, I'd accuse it of being insensitive and crass. But when it holds back and tries to go for a feel-good message of acceptance, I call it condescending and cloying. It's true...this is a delicate balance. I think the only solution, the only way to make a movie with retards that doesn't feel like a horrible tardsploitation film, would be to actually write characters and not Types.

And that's all there is in The Ringer. A stadium full of retarded guys and not an endearing or three-dimensional character in sight. I don't even remember anyone's name - there's scrunchy-faced, blathering retarded guy, fat awkward retarded guy, slow-talking creepy retarded guy, oddly hostile retarded guy and mousey, bow-legged retarded guy. And of course, when you get to know them, they're all really sweet and self-aware and likable.

I'm not trying to be offensive...That's the movie, not me. I wanted to actually get to know some of these guys. The Special Olympians make up the vast majority of the cast, but they're around only to be "inspiriational" and to turn everything we know about the retarded right on its head! Without actually saying or doing anything funny!

For this and many other reasons, mainly relating to a dumb, obvious script and a lazy lead performance by Johnny Knoxville, the story of Steve Barker and his rise to the top of the Special Olympics world couldn't be more lifeless or boring. Steve (Knoxville) needs a sudden influx of cash, to help repair the mangled fingers of his immigrant friend (don't ask) and to settle the outragoeous gambling debts of his sleazebag uncle (Brian Cox, as part of his Annual Tour of Shitty American Movies.) Naturally, he decided to infiltrate the Special Olympics.

I mean, after all...He's a normal, he'll win every event, right? Right? Oh, did you guys already see that "South Park"? Never mind, then.

Of course, there are stock complications. Steve falls for one of the counselors, Lynn (Katherine Heigl), but of course can't do anything about it because she thinks he's retarded! The other athletes figure out that Steve's faking it, but decide to help him anyway for no good reason! Lynn turns out to have a scummy womanizing boyfriend, but again, Steve's helpless to do anything. Oh, how will these situations all resolve themselves by the end of the Big Match?

Okay, it's formula, that would be fine if it was funny. But the jokes just misfire. I think a big problem is Knoxville. Most of the comedy revolves around a normal guy pretending to have a mental disability, but Knoxville's "Jeffy" persona isn't even close to amusing. He just kind of cocks his head to the side and talks in falsetto and refers to himself in the third person. "Jeffy likes you." "Jeffy wants apples." "Jeffy didn't mean to do that!" Ha ha!

So let's review...The main character is dull and unsympathetic, the supporting characters are cardboard cut-outs and stand-ins for common retarded guy cliches, the narrative is bland and has already been done well by "South Park," the jokes aren't funny and the whole enterprise is so terrified of causing offensive that it lacks any sort of edge. That's a recipie for one stupid, pointless comedy.

[And, yes, I know that The Ringer was made before the "South Park" episode. But still, almost everyone who will see the movie has seen that show, making the comparison inevitable. It's not my fault they sat on this bad boy since early 2004.]

When a Stranger Calls

There's low-budget horror and then there's last year's When a Stranger Calls, a film that appears to have been made on roughly the same budget as last night's episode of Chapulin Colorado. Running a robust 87 minutes with credits, meaning that if you see it at an AMC theater it will run just a few minutes shorter than the pre-show countdown, the entire film consists of a girl on the phone, running through a large house. In other words, it's MTV's Laguna Beach with less Maroon 5 on the soundtrack and slightly more dramatic lighting.

The girl is babysitter Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle, who was born when I was already 8 years old). She's trying to get some homework done, but this creepy guy (voiced by Lance Henrickson) keeps calling her. At first, it's relatively benign. After a while, it starts to get unsettling, and that's when he implies that he might like to consider removing Jill's insides before the evening is through.

One problem with basing your film not only on an older film but a popular urban legend is that everyoen knows the story. When a Stranger Calls responds to this dilemma by ignoring it, and plugging along as if we all didn't already know the phone calls were coming from inside the house. (That's not a spoiler, by the way, because it's revealed in the TV commercials for the DVD.)

I guess super-clever scripting or an excess of style might be able to distract an audience from the fact that this totally uneventful film leads up to a completely obvious twist, but director Simon West (of Con Air fame legend infamy...fuck it, Con Air just plain sucks...) doesn't even try.

He just points the camera at Camilla, has her walk or run around, turn lights on and off, and that's about it. There aren't even any cool kill scenes or big scares as you'd expect with what amounts to a slasher film. In fact, there's nothing that could possibly keep an audience's interest. Jill enters the house, walks around, meets the maid (Rosine Hatem), checks on the kids, gets a few scary phone calls, runs around for a bit and then the movie ends. You just keep waiting and waiting for it to pick up, for some death or mayhem or action or something, and it never arrives. It's like Samuel Beckett's Scream, a parallel absurd universe in which Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Michael Myers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Alternate History of Iraq or Stop the Crusade, I Want to Get Off or Baudrillard You Gonna Go My Way

I've always ridiculed the belief that violent movies and video games produce violent people. My reasoning was simple - no one enjoys a nice, gory movie or gleefully amoral video game experience more than I, yet I'm probably the least bloodthirsty person I know. I don't even like the sight of blood, really. Makes me light-headed. And the last time I was in a fight, I was in the 6th grade and some oddball whom the cool kids (read: not me) used to tease all the time came up and sucker-punched me in the face. Oddly, I cannot now for the life of me recall that guy's name. (UPDATE: JASON WALSH!)

This was the foundation for my reasoning on the subject. Obviously, movies don't make you violent. I'm not violent! Also, there's the usual generic counter-arguments: there was violence before movies and video games, even if they give you ideas on how to be violent they don't actually make you violent, desensitizing people to fictional on-screen violence isn't the same as desensitizing them to real world violence. And so on.

Lately, I'm starting to second-guess myself. Maybe all these years I've been wrong, desperately trying to cling to an ideology because it is convenient rather than true. I'd like to believe there's no harm caused by violent movies, because violent movies are totally awesome and I enjoy watching them. Ditto games like "Grand Theft Auto," which are amusing to me and don't fill me with the sudden urge to go kill lots of Haitians.

And I still essentially believe this. I don't think a person who is not ordinarily inclined towards violence will play "Grand Theft Auto" and then embark on a carjacking rampage involving the repeated and extraneous chainsawing of pedestrians. It's like being hypnotized - maybe the experience makes you more suggestible but it can't make you violate your own sense of self.

Here's what's troubling me...In our public discourse, I'm starting to notice a considerably more brutal, even homicidal impulse among Americans than I can recall ever hearing previously in my lifetime. That's not to say that there weren't always reprehensible, immoral people attempting to involve our nation in all manner of illicit and nefarious schemes around the world. There were. I just mean that the everyday conversations in America, some crucial part of the zeitgeist, seems to have turned more tribal, more angry and overall far more willing to endure (as a nation) grisly, endless war. People aren't turning more violent, per se, but they're bothered less by the violence in which they're implicated. Namely, the violence carried out by and on their fellow citizens in uniform.

Again, allow some clarification. Americans are obviously upset about the war and growing more so each day. Bush's poll numbers keep dropping for this very reason. (Also, it costs me just over $40 for a tank of gas.) But the fact is that the Democrats are considering putting up John Kerry or Hillary Clinton as nominee for President, two saps tricked into voting for the war initially despite the fact that millions of reasonably intelligent, non-government-employed Americans knew it was bullshit. Beyond politics, nothing actually seems to be happening to bring this war to an end. Americans seem outraged, sure, but only because they think there's too many Mexicans around.

Here's an AP article about a new video game that carefully and closely simulates the Columbine Massacre. Yeah, you play as either Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris, the disaffected pseudo-goth assholes who decided that the popular kids at their school were so unbearable, the only proper, fitting reaction was murder-suicide. Hey, could Heathers have turned these two into killers?

No, I'm just kidding. Clearly, they were too young to remember Heathers and preferred The Matrix.

The game, Super Columbine Massacre RPG, was posted on a Web site last year, but is becoming more popular now. It draws on investigative material, including images of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who killed 12 classmates and a teacher before committing suicide.

Players are told it is "ultimately up to you" how many people Harris and Klebold kill that day. Each time Harris and Klebold kill someone in the game, a dialogue box pops up that says: "Another victory for the Trench Coat Mafia."

They settled on that as a catch phrase after "Sorry, Dylan and Eric, but your princess is in another cafeteria" was deemed to insensitive.

Gross, right? Clearly in appropriate and tasteless, sure. Maybe the gameplay and graphics are totally sweet. But it's a bit ghoulish, no? Ironically, an Internet game like this is going to appeal to a lot of high schooler students, who you would think are the people most likely to feel a connection to the Columbine victims. But I guess they relate to the put-upon, bullied students as well. (Also, with a game like this, the curiosity factor has to play a big role. People check it out and give it a try to see what all the fuss is about, to gauge how offensive the game really is, and not just out of some sick desire to recreate Columbine.)

Allow me to clarify here. I'm not saying that playing a game like Super Columbine Massacre RPG will make you a murderer. (And what's with that title? Super Columbine Massacre RPG? Is this a Super Famicom game? Sounds like it was badly translated from Japanese. All your base are belong to the Trenchcoat Mafia.) I'm just starting to think that the cumulative effect of years and years of violent culture - movies, TV, video games - may be starting to dull Americans sensitivity to real world violence.

With the Iraq War increasingly out of control, you've got to start wondering about this 30% or so of Americans who still think the President's doing a great job. What would it take for these people to abandon the glorious notion of a grand American conquest in the Middle East? How much killing and death is required? Or will this point never come until they and their families, personally, are the ones dying? Could all of these video games glorifying past U.S. military conquests, these rah-rah jingoistic action films coupled with the weekly adventures of Hero Terrorist-Killer Jack Bauer be convincing Americans that war is always an appropriate answer for conflict resolution?

I sometimes read the larger right-wing blogs, both to find hilarious things to goof on here and to keep abreast with what the other side is talking about. Much as I enjoy lefty blogs like Firedoglake, it can begin to feel like an echo chamber over there...Hundreds of intelligent, interesting progressives all making and then repeating back cogent arguments to one another, but struggling to find new, like-minded and specifically young voters to join the cause. Like Fahrenheit 911 - an interesting, provocative film that just didn't win over many citizens who weren't already emotionally committed to the anti-war movement.

It's not surprisng, though, that right-wing blogs and die-hard Republicans continue to defend this horrific war. They're invested in Iraq. Personally. Emotionally. Not just because of their staunch party loyalty, but because of their own reputations and livelihoods. They, the American Right and the Fans of GWB, have taken on this war as their cause, arguing in favor of its continuation and expansion every day and rebuffing those who would cry out for peace with the maximum legally allowable level of scorn and venom. Now that the violence in Iraq has turned in on itself, away from isolated insurgent attacks and into full-blown Civil War, their hawkish calls for escalation seem more desperate but no less enthusiastic.

What's interesting, to me, is the way they couch their arguments. Jeff Goldstein over at Protein Wisdom treats the escalation of war as an academic exercize. (If you scroll down to the comments section of this post, you can see me try and fail to make this very case to the man himself). He phrases a call to arms in the most abstract manner he can muster. For example, check out this post, in which Goldstein discusses his fairly straight-forward argument that Americans are afraid to act aggressively because of guilt over perceived past white European "offenses":

And it is a fight for the soul of classical liberalism, which is being undercut (in my estimation) by nearly 40 years of a concerted effort by those whose goal is power and control to relativize meaning and deconstruct, through incoherent linguistic assertions that have unfortunately been widely adopted out of self-satisfied feel-goodism (specifically, an ostensible deference to the Other that allows us to convince ourselves we are “tolerant” and “diverse,” when in fact we have created the conditions to turn those ideas into something approximating their exact opposites).

A simple argument, couched in wordy, sub-graduate school jargon. He's saying "a lot of Americans feel bad about killing browns, but they shouldn't." I'd stress again, the man is arguing that we should increase our level of military aggression overseas because he feels like we're not seen as appropriately tough and strong-willed abroad.

Which is why there are times when we really should turn off the “smart” bombs and show our seriousness by putting the world on notice that, when we believe the situation calls for it, we are willing to ignore the inevitable bad press and the howls of protest from human rights groups, and exhibit a show of strength and military professionalism that is politically disinterested and tactically thorough and lethal.

Jeff wants us, as a nation, to stop caring as much about murdering civilians. As if we cared at all already! But you can't write a blog post saying, "I'm tired of Americans being such pussies about war. Let's kill a lot more people indiscriminately." (And what else is being implied when you suggest making bombs less smart?) Even doofuses can see through that. But to say that we are "showing our seriosuness," disengaging from our pre-9/11 feel-goodism and embracing a more pro-active, concerted effort at "military professionalism"...That's the kind of argument people whose sense of right and wrong has been dulled can get behind.

(I don't want to belabor this point, but another technique Jeff uses to dilute his arguments and make them more palatable is to add on an endless string of clarifications and conditions. Above, he throws in a "when the situation calls for it." At other times, he uses similar phrases - we should be more violent "when the time is right," "according to the situation on the ground," "as determined by generals and military officers" - not to make his point clearer but to muddy the water, to give him an easy out when people call him on being a bloodthirsty warmonger content to send other people into battle while he lounges comfortably at home.)

It's no surprise that weasels like Jeff try to make these arguments. There have always been sadists and creeps and weirdos and ineffectual, frustrated little men who relish the idea of foreign wars as a way to confer some kind of abstract glory on to themselves. That's nothing new. It just seems to me that Americans have become more receptive to these kinds of arguments, that they're less willing to engage in real discussions about foreign policy and more quick to make value judgements based on conventional wisdom. "Iran is obviously an evil country with crazy leaders set on world domination. We have to stop them at all costs, even if it costs thousands of American lives and even more Iranian lives." No one needs proof. Americans are ready and willing not only to believe the worst about other nations, but to act swiftly and harshly in response to even a whiff of assertiveness from foreigners. (Or "The Others," to use Lacanian-Goldsteinian terminology).

Which brings me around to my final point...The Iraq Conflict may be the first wholly Symbolic War. (Well, okay, maybe the Faukland Islands...) We're experiencing both figurative and literal world conflict, but the only one that seems to concern Americans is the War of Ideas and Images. The First Post-Modern Simulation War.

We don't see the coffins of dead American soldiers arrive back on these shores. We don't see images of the fighting or even hear reports about specific conflicts because the environment is too dangerous for journalists and photogs to get close. Casualty counts are always inaccurate, and on the Iraqi side practically nonexistent. We hear about prisoner abuse and torture, but you have to go hunt around online to see any of the available evidence, and even then we're told that far worse infractions are kept from the public. No one's actions in the region, from the President to the Secretary of Defense on down, seem to have any actual consequences, and the rhetoric never shifts or changes at all. No one, in or outside of the press, even talks about the vast amount of soldiers returning from Iraq with severe physical wounds or crippling emotional trauma or both.

What we're shown, instead, are symbolic signposts of progress. A Mission Accomplished banner. A Saddam statue toppled and the man himself hauled before a judge. The raised purpled fingers of recent Iraqi voters. Bush carving up a turkey for the troops.

This isn't the reality of life in Iraq. These are photo ops, public relations events. I'm not saying there isn't any value in a people getting to vote for the first time. But this is a side story, a footnote. "There was a mostly-meaningless vote in Iraq today for some partisan, radical short-term beurocrats who still won't be able to bring any kind of end to the chaos, and may in fact exacerbate the already-intense situation." Great! Terrific! Now tell me about all the important stuff that happened.

Not to mention the endless drone about good news. There's so much good news in Iraq that doesn't get reported! Schools opening and police units forming and infrastructure being built! A middle-aged shopowner in Basra ate an entire strawberry ice cream cone and it tasted really good and he didn't get any sand in it or anything!

I used to think this blather was a distraction, a way for fans of the war to change the subject and throw the "Iraq's a quagmire" meme into doubt. But that's thinking too small. This notion - that the war went well but the media only told one side - will likely end up our Alternate History of Iraq. It's going to be a substitute for reality. If Americans believe that things are going well in Iraq, well that's how things are going to go, actual events be damned!

Which is why bloggers like Jeff and Instapundit and all the others keep insisting that we stop complaining about Bush's war. It's not because negative words on the Internet or in the newspaper will increase American or Iraqi casualties. Obviously, that's impossible. Not to mention, they don't care about that stuff.

Here's Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit:

While every lost serviceman and servicewoman is certainly tragic and should be mourned, the actual statistics tell quite a different tale from the MSM and Democratic doom-and-gloom outlook. Comparing the numbers of lost US military personnel to past years, and past presidential terms, may even be a shock to supporters of the war.


In 2004, more soldiers died outside of Iraq and Afghanistan than died inside these two war zones (900 in these zones, 987 outside these zones). The reason is that there are usually a fair number that die every year in training accidents, as well as a small number of illness and suicide. Yet the MSM would make you think that US soldiers are dying at a high number in these zones, and at a significantly higher number than in past years or under past presidents. This is all simply outright lies and distortion.

Yeah, that ain't so bad! You gotta break a few eggs, am I right?

Check out blogger Tigerhawk in November of 2005:

The total Coalition casualties in all of Iraq in two and a half years of war barely exceed the Allied casualties on June 6, 1944, the single opening day of the Normandy invasion.

Yeah, I mean...only a few more dead Americans than the D-Day Invasion, you little whiners! You call that death?

Again, it's not that they think criticism is going to cause an actual increase in American deaths or terrorism. And it's certainly not that they think it will cause an increase in dead Iraqis. It's just symbolically bad, it makes them look bad, and the war only works if Americans think it works. How far removed have we all become? How insulated? Can we not realize that, because our politicians and leaders do nothing, our money is used to ensure that more and more people get tortured and killed in Iraq every day? It's not Swordfish, where John Travolta is going to use a bazooka to make the world safe for gay haircuts! This is not a video game! This is not a movie! Let's not have a probing and rational discussion about the benefits of war in the modern world marketplace! Let's stop killing people and getting ourselves killed in the process.

An odd quote to end this rambling piece on post-modernism. From Richard Castaldo, a survivor of the Columbine shooting, discussing that video game based on his tragic experience.

Richard Castaldo, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the attack, played the game after reading about it on a gaming Web site. He said it reminded him of the 2003 film "Elephant," which follows students and others on the day of a school massacre without assigning reasons or blame for the bloodshed.

"It didn't make me mad, just kind of confused me," he said. "Parts of it were difficult to play through, but overall, I get the feeling it might even be helpful in some ways. I don't think it's bad to discuss."

Fascinating. First, notice that playing a game based on a violent incident in which he was a participant reminds Richard of seeing a movie with a similar theme. It doesn't remind him of actually being at Columbine High School that day? It reminds him of the movie that vaguely recreates this experience?

Second, and here's the part I'd really love to ask Richard about...Why might this game be helpful? How would a game simulating digitally a school shooting enlighten or edify the game's players? I'm not trying to say I have an answer to these questions, or if there even is an answer, but it demonstrates on some level how our minds discern between fantasy and reality, between simulation and reality.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Rounding up a Posse...

Okay, someone explain this to me: What, exactly, are 6,000 National Guard members going to do once stationed at the imaginary line between the U.S. and Mexico? Yes, they'll stand around. Patrol and whatnot. But what if some wily Mexican nevertheless makes the proverbial "run for the border"? Will he or she be shot on sight? Arrested and housed at government expense awaiting trial? It's all very hazy.

The Guard troops would mostly serve two-week stints before rotating out of the assignment, so keeping the force level at 6,000 over the course of a year could require up to 156,000 troops.


Bush said the National Guard troops would fill in temporarily while the nation's Border Patrol force is expanded. He asked Congress to add 6,000 more Border Patrol agents by the end of his presidency and to add 6,700 more beds so illegal immigrants can be detained while waiting for hearings to determine that they can be sent home.

For many years, the government has not had enough detention space to hold illegal immigrants, so they were released into society and most did not return for their court date. "This practice, called catch and release, is unacceptable and we will end it," Bush said

Great! So now, instead of holding the huddled masses yearning to breathe free in some sort of government detention center, we'll...hold them in a costly new detention center.

Wait. Wasn't this supposed to be a new policy? Cause, to me, this looks like swapping out Border Patrol guys for National Guard guys, which will make for a cool-looking British-style Changing of the Guard ceremony, but doesn't seem to accomplish a whole lot.

Also, and I'm not a lawyer, but will someone please let me know why this doesn't violate U.S. Law? From Wikipedia:

The Posse Comitatus Act is a United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385) passed in 1878 after the end of Reconstruction. The Act was intended to prohibit Federal troops from supervising elections in former Confederate states. It generally prohibits Federal military personnel and units of the United States National Guard under Federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. The Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act substantially limit the powers of the Federal government to use the military for law enforcement.

I read the entire wiki, and nowhere did it include a loophole under which George Bush ordering the National Guard to the Mexican border to arrest illegal immigrants would be legally permisable. Unless, that is, he pursuades Congress to pass a law granting him special powers to deploy the National Guard to the Southern U.S. Border.

In theory, I don't have a huge problem with replacing the Border Patrol with the National Guard. Even though I'm essentially for an Open Border policy, I understand the need for some authority guarding our borders for security purposes. I mean, I don't really give two shits if Pablo and his business partners want to work on some Orange County lawns or schlep a few bricks of awful Mexican mota over here, but I'd rather not have any dirty bombs making the scene in Santa Monica.

In practice, well. that's a whole nother thing...These National Guard guys are busy. Some of them are in Iraq. Others may be needed if there's a really bad hurricane and the entire Southeast portion of our nation gets fucked up again. It's not really a unit designed to be a border police, and it's not really an organization that's desgined to be stretched out as it currently is under the Bush regime. On this particular instance, bizarrely, I agree with De Governator.

‘‘Going the direction of the National Guard, I think, is maybe not the right way to go,'' Schwarzenegger told reporters after a news conference on the state budget...

Schwarzenegger suggested that Guard troops returning from service in Iraq should be able to go back to their jobs, not head to the border.

‘‘We should let them go to work,'' he said.

Other than our shared love of bodybuilding, this may be the first time I've agreed with Arnold Schwarzenegger about something. I'm going to allow myself a few moments to enjoy the feeling...

Okay, I'm back.

But another Republican border state governor, Rick Perry of Texas, said he was glad the administration had decided the Guard had a role to play along the border. "We have the ability to multitask," Perry said.

Hey, that's great, Rick! Way to be! I'll just go tell that to all the people in Iraq we can't seem to keep safe. Sure, we could have sent in more troops in the initial stages of the war in order to provide for basic security, prevent looting and maintain some semblance of an infrastructure and civil order, but we were busy multitasking.

"Hey, Hina, I'm sorry that your face got asploded and your three children are dead...but we were multitasking! You see, in the Middle East, you guys can only hate one or two groups of people at once. You've used up so much venom on women and World Jewry, there's maybe only minor animosity left for all your many other enemies. In America, because of our Protestant work ethic and billions of dollars, we have the capacity to hate on three, four, even five or six large groups of people all at once. You've got your Arabs (of course), your Mexicans, your gays, your liberals, your Frenchies. I could go on and on! And we're not really that crazy about the Jews either! One day, when you've established a democracy of your own, maybe you'll be ready to multitask the hate, but for now it's probably best to stay focused."

Bush said the nation has more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol during his presidency and has sent home about 6 million people entering the United States illegally. Still, he said, that has not been enough.

"For decades, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders," the president said. "As a result, many who want to work in our economy have been able to sneak across our border, and millions have stayed."

Can that possibly be true? I'm not saying it's definitely false. I have no official figures with which to argue this claim. But could the U.S. Border Patrol really catch and process 6 million immigrants in four years? You just have to imagine the amount of paperwork, of human effort, or time it would take to catch and then release (to use Bush's charming fishing metaphor) 6 million boggles the mind. I'd say, if the U.S. Border Patrol is really doing that kind of job, preventing over 1 million illegal immigrants per year from entering the U.S., it's working about as efficiently as possible and we should leave them alone to continue doing their jobs.

Anyway, I don't see how this is really going to help Bush at all. I suspect that the Republicans raised this whole immigration issue, thinking that it would be a big win for them and distract the country from all that illegal shit they keep doing, and that the massive public response on both sides was unexpected and unwelcome. His base, the people who still call him a Great Leader when polled, are a bunch of racists. They want him to round up all the Mexicans and deport them, a la Holocaust-era Western Europe.

And no, I didn't just make that up as hyperbole. Some fanatical right-wing idiots are really suggesting this.

If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

These are Bush's hardcore voters, the people that will never vote Democrat no matter how corrupt and insane the Republicans get, and they demand a hard line. So he's got this whole "I'm-a put 6,000 armed guards at the Border!" plan. But he also can't actually go after the big businesses that depend on immigrant labor, and he seems to understand (somehow) that rounding up and deporting millions of Americans because their exotic, spicy cuisine and comically-oversized straw hats make us nervous doesn't make a whole lot of practical sense.

He's trying to split the difference - nonsensical guest-worker program that only helps companies hoping to exploit foreigners MIXED WITH symobolic militarized horseshit to quell virulent racists - and I don't really think it's going to work. He's going to wind up pleasing absolutely no one with these confused, silly policies.

Before I end this post, I'd like to note that, in addition to agreeing with Schwarzenegger, I actually agree with some of the stuff Bush said tonight. I know, I know...It must be all this black tar heroin I'm smoking...

"It is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States and send them across the border," he said.

Wait, that's...that almost seems to be...Could it be a well-reasoned, sensible position? Attributed to George W. Bush? Has he been secretly replaced with Kevin Kline or something?

The Proposition

British rock icon Nick Cave wrote the script for The Proposition and worked on the soundtrack, and both are heavily inspired by the Robert Altman film McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Like Altman's film, it studies men in a savage environment who nonetheless retain, or attempt to retain, some level of humanity. And like Leonard Cohen's chilling original songs from McCabe, Cave's songs and background music inThe Proposition saturate the film in weary, existential fatigue.

Most Westerns tell stories of heroism and adventure. Some share a nostalgia for an old and forgotten way of life or a code of honor that has lost its relevance in the modern world. Both McCabe and The Proposition look at a dying, crumbling civilization and the sad souls trapped inside with pity. "Can you imagine," they seem to ask, "that only 100 or so years ago, you might have had to live admist all this dirt and grime and hopeless alcohol-soaked despair? Thank God for running water!"

A sharp-featured, lean Guy Pearce stars as Charlie Burns, one third of a gang of outlaw brothers who have terrorized rural Australia near the dawn of the twentieth century. In the film's ripping opening set piece, a determined local lawman, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), captures Charlie and his brother Mike (Richard Wilson) in a seige on a brothel. Rather than arrest and try them straight out, Stanley offers Charlie the titular bargain: catch the vicious leader of their gang, brother Arthur (Danny Huston), or else his brother Mike will hang on Christmas Day.

Because that's really all there is to the film's formal narrative, the story resolves itself fairly easily. Charlie finds his brother, there are a few confrontations between brothers as well as Captain Stanley and evil is punished. Cave has pretty much painted himself into a corner here in terms of plotting. The opening scene sets Charlie, Arthur and Stanley on a collision course and we spend the rest of the film slowly working towards the inevitable, which is swift and unsurprising when it finally arrives.

But that doesn't mean there isn't some fun to be had along the way. Director John Hillcoat has really studied his spaghetti westerns. The costumes and set designs are all authentic to the real period in Australian history, but the action retains a strong pulp element and Hillcoat doesn't shy away from blood spray and gore. Little details that heighten the authenticity, from the loving close-ups on the manicured fingernails of Emily Watson (as Captain Stanley's proper British wife) to the shocking blood spray from a flogged prisoner, hearken back to the glory days of the great Sergios if Italian westerns - Leone and Corbucci.

As with those memorable films, The Proposition makes the most of a talented and diverse ensemble of actors. Winstone's really the stand-out here as a man fiercely devoted to justice for all the wrong reasons. So stressed is Captain Stanley, so torn between his love for his wife, his sense of duty and his grim knowledge of what's to come, he barely sleeps, drinks heavily and at times can barely stand. Winstone's tremendously physical in the role, flopping and hurling himself around, as if Captain Stanley were literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

John Hurt appears in an all-too-brief supporting role as a bounty hunter, and I'm just always happy to see that guy in a movie, and David "Faramir" Wenham provides a suitably loathsome villain with a killer catchphrase. ("What a little piece of filth!")

Unlike the classics of the spaghetti Western genre, The Proposition can get bogged down at times in convention. What initially appears to be a nihilistic takedown of the idea of altruism, with a strong anti-colonial streak, becomes a somewhat more perfunctory examination of good and evil. Cave presents us with some difficult dilemmas as an audience - characters who appear to be interesting and perceptive become psychopaths while others who appear shallow and cruel become sympathetic - but doesn't use this confusion towards any specific end. We're not moved or surprised by discovered misjudgements of character and purpose, just newly invested with altered perceptions.

I can't help but sense, on some level, that this project was approached as an exercize rather than a complete cinema experience. A contemplative, violent throwback Western for which Cave could compose some Leonard Cohen-esque songs. Approached in this manner, as a mainly entertaining oddity, The Proposition is a success. Some fun performances, some nice-looking shots, a whole lot of blood and guts and headless corpses...You know, just old-fashioned entertainment. But it's not exactly McCabe & Mrs. Miller.