Saturday, June 10, 2006

16 Blocks

Before I can even go on with a proper review of this film, we need to talk about Mos Def's voice. I've heard the man speak and he actually has a very pleasant, level voice. I mean, he's an MC, right? He's got to be able to express himself fluidly and clearly, correct?

What this means is that, at some point during the pre-production process on 16 Blocks, Mos and director Richard Donner made the intentional decision for him to sound like a Muppet. And not even a featured Muppet player. Eddie Bunker, Mos Def's character, doesn't have the distinctive nasally whine of Gonzo or the raspy baritone of Rolph. He sounds like one of the members of the Muppet Show band who they only give two lines per season.

I thought that his character was supposed to be retarded for the first 15 minutes or so of the movie. That's how out of place and bizarre Mos Def's choices in this role. 16 Blocks isn't really all that awful as an overall effort, but this irritating, aggressively awful lead performance keeps distracting from the film's modest charms, making it seem worse than it really is. This is unfortunate, because I've enjoyed Mos Def in The Woodsman and The Italian Job, and otherwise Donner has turned in a passable, if generic, cop thriller.

Aside from MD, I would only take issue with Richard Wenk's script, which only makes sense occasionally if you apply a certain kind of cartoon logic. Tired, alcoholic NYPD officer Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is on his way home after a long night when his superior asks him to run one quick errand before clocking out. He must pick up some prisoner from the local jail and transport him 16 blocks away to the Court House to meet with a Grand Jury by 10.

Anyone who has ever seen a movie before can probably guess what happens. It turns out, prisoner Eddie Bunker (Mr. Mos) is planning to testify against a number of extremely crooked cops, including Jack's partner, Frank Nugent (David Morse). These police officers will, naturally, stop at nothing to keep Jack and Eddie from completing their appointed rounds. And so the chase, as they say, is on. (I don't know what Frank's so worried about...If he goes to prison, I'm sure his brother Ted can devise some survivalist scheme involving a crossbow and an extraordinarily loud guitar solo to break him out.)

Consider this...Bruce Willis previously played the hero to David Morse's supervillain. Can you name the movie?

It was 12 Monkeys, in which Morse memorably donned a red wig to play the lab assistant plotting the End Times. Mathematically, this means their next film must include the number 20 in the title. Unless I've forgotten to carry a zero or something.

Anyway, 16 Blocks offers no real surprises and no real excitement, but it's pretty well-shot and features some predictably solid work from Willis and Morse. There's a lot of ungainly dialogue to get through about honor and justice and duty, the kinds of scenes these guys have been doing in middle-of-the-road cop thrillers from something like 20 years now. But you never get the sense that these two guys are bored or that they're on auto-pilot. It's not award-worthy work, just professionalism.

The screenplay has some lapses, admittedly. It's doubtful that Willis' character would have been given this assignment in the first place considering what we learn by the final scenes. The film's understanding of the nature of court proceedings and grand juries seemed a bit shaky. Once the chase segues awkwardly into an armed stand-off, complete with a bus full of hostages, all common sense has been pitched out the window. If catching a middle-aged drunk and a strange guy loudly spouting gibberish in the middle of New York at midday is this difficult for these cops, can you imagine how much trouble they have with real crime? No wonder they have to cheat and plan evidence in order to put guys away.

The sad irony is that Eddie was almost assuredly the most interesting character on the page. An irascible former thief who dreams of making birthday cakes for a living, I'd wager the fast-talking, street-wise and anxiety-prone goofball brought a lot of color and New York atmosphere to a screenplay in need of some individuality. But instead of coming up with an organic, natural persona for Eddie, Mos Def does the gruff voice he used to do for laughs on "The Chappelle Show" and talks really fast. So you can't understand him at all, and when you can, he's babbling about sheet cake recipies at a fantastic clip. And no one wants to watch that, trust me.

I honestly can't believe Richard Donner let him do this for the entire movie. He's in just about every scene and he's virtually incomprehensible. Really, it goes beyond the mere fact that you can't hear or discern what he's saying. The entire character is a dumb caricature, the sort of thing that might be funny for a minute or two in a comedy sketch. If Eddie's going to be the comic relief for an entire film, shouldn't there be a little more going on with him?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Intelligent Re-design!

It's too bad the theories of evolution and global warming are fraudulent junk science, because they would really help to explain this:

Longer growing seasons have caused genetic changes in a wide range of animals in the past few decades, biologists announced today.

As the spring reproductive season arrives earlier and lasts longer in northern latitudes, a fact owing to climate change, animals that can adapt their schedules stand a better chance of seeing their genetic information passed on to later generations, leading to a change in gene frequencies within populations.

Wow, it's almost like nature is "selecting" certain species of animals to survive by allowing them to live longer and breed, based on their ability to adapt to their habitat and ecological system. I wonder if anybody's thought to concoct a theory around this remarkable observation...

Studies have shown that global warming is acting fastest at the most northern latitudes, resulting in longer growing seasons. The change is also alleviating winter cold stress without imposing summer heat stress.

"Spring is coming earlier and fall is coming later," said study co-author Christina Holzapfel, a biologist at the University of Oregon. "The conditions that you experience in the North are becoming way more like you'd expect them in the South."

Of course, this study, detailed in the June 9th issue of Science Magazine, is only giving you one perspective on this story. There are plenty of other perfectly reasonable explanations for these phenomenon coming from the Intelligent Design crowd.

For example, did you stop to consider that God wants us to enjoy more tropical fruits, so he's heating up vast zones of the Earth to grow more kiwis, pineapples and juicy mangoes and killing off animals who would raid these crops? Or perhaps that the widespread marrying of gayers has caused the entire planet to tip slightly Hell-ward over the past few decades, resulting in an overall increase in heat and forcing God to personally recalibrate the animal population? I'd like to hear one of those brainy egghead University of Bore-egon scientists poke a hole in that theory.

Many animals time their migrations and reproductive habits so they arrive in an area at the same time food is most abundant, but some food items sprout in response to warm temperatures and are becoming available earlier in the season. In some cases, animals are showing up as the food source is starting to fade, leading to a decrease in fitness and survival of offspring.

"Take great tits for example," explains study co-author William Bradshaw, also of the University of Oregon.

With pleasure!

These European birds...

Oh, yeah, the birds. Never mind.

These European birds rely on day length to decide when to lay eggs so plenty of caterpillars will be available to feed their hatchlings.

But the caterpillars respond to warming temperatures and are arriving earlier in the season. Since the birds are still following daylight cues, there are fewer caterpillars left to feed hungry chicks when the eggs hatch, leading to lower fitness and survival rates.

So, what you guys are saying is that...the early bird catches the worm. Aesop saw all this shit coming, man! That guy was like the Nostradamus of animal-themed morality tales.

While shrinking glaciers and animals struggling to adapt to a changing global climate might grab all the headlines, pathogens that require a longer growing season could emerge, Holzapfel said. The shift could also have large economic impact, particularly related to agriculture.

Are shrinking glaciers and animals struggling to adapt grabbing "all the headlines"? I guess you could say that Al Gore's movie recently grabbed some headlines, but most of those were obsessed with explaining to everyone why we still hate Al Gore. In fact, I haven't seen many headlines at all about global warming's effect on animals, unless you consider being slaughtered and packed into a RibWich a "struggle to adapt."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Casualties of War

Brian de Palma's 1989 film, based on an actual incident in which American soldiers raped and murdered a Vietnamese girl, could have been directed this year. It relates so well to the atrocity at Haditha and other horrific actions by American troops in Iraq, the only conclusion to be drawn is that some members of an occupying force will, by their very nature, eventually regress into a collective of monsters capable of any malicious act of cruelty.

Though it's always individuals who commit heinous acts such as those depicted in Casualties of War, it is not a case of unique, singular psychopaths managing to enter the Armed Forces undetected. As De Palma shrewdly depicts in the film, these war crimes are an expected and tolerated side-effect of long-term military actions, particularly those undertaken against a canny, guerilla army like the Viet Cong or the Iraqi Insurgents. Higher-ranking officials and civilian leadership have a set policy of looking the other way when it comes to these kinds of human rights violations.

James Wolcott discusses here some of the factors that play into this unfortunate scenario. In the simplest possible terms, a powerful occupying army will eventually be viewed as monstrous by the local population, and so their resulting behavior will increasingly play into this image. They will become the blood-thirsty butchers that they were always expected to be.

Rhetorically, it puts those of us on the homefront in a difficult position. It gives me no pleasure to come down on American soldiers, young men and women who, for the most part, did not enlist in our Armed Forces out of some great desire to murder foreigners or occupy sovereign nations. Yet there is no real excuse for murdering children en masse whilst one is representing America overseas. The only solution, I feel, is to punish all of those involved in such incidents. The soldiers who have actually done the raping and/or killing as well as the military leadership that permitted, encouraged and promoted such activities.

In De Palma's film, the disgraceful crimes undertaken by a small cadre of Vietnam soldiers occur for two reasons. The enemy has been sufficiently dehumanized for these troops that raping a Vietnamese woman doesn't strike them as cruel or inhuman. Additionally, a lack of accountability or moral leadership has led to a pack mentality, in which everyone defers at all times to the most aggressive member among them.

Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn), in other words, knows that he can act however he pleases in the field with complete impunity. He's much more valuable to his commanding officers than any number of Vietnamese whom he might abuse, so his cocky attitude and naked hostility are accepted as the cost of doing business. And because of his confidence, his attitude, and the fact that he's surrounded by yes men, no one wants to violate his orders or fall from his good graces.

Yet that's exactly what PFC Erickson (Michael J. Fox) must do when Meserve goes into a Vietnamese village and kidnaps a young girl (Thuy Thu Le). It's unfair, in a way, that Erickson's put in this position. Rarely does doing the right thing carry with it the immediate risk of being murdered by your comrades-in-arms. To me, this is the real message of De Palma's film - in a way, bad things happen so often because it's exceptionally difficult to do the right thing. That's why war is such an unfortunate state of affairs. It's horrible enough when carried out properly, but by its very nature, the conduct eventually degenerates into the worst mankind has to offer.

I'm writing this on a day when there has actually been a positive move forrward in the Iraq struggle. One of the early leaders of the insurgency, the rotten bastard Al-Zarqawi, was killed in a bombing raid. It's something of a hollow victory on many levels - al-Qaida isn't so much a top-down hierarchy kind of organization, where killing one leader will really matter, and Zarqawi was hardly an original member, having only joined the cause after the 9/11 attacks. But where it's due. (Although I should add that it's not very classy of us to trot the dead guy's picture around as if he was a prize-winning flounder or something.) I just hope this isn't a motivational kind of win, the sort of shallow uptick that will cause the country to re-enthuse about our chances of "winning."

In life, as in Casualties of War, the conflict, on an individual level, isn't so much about wins or losses as it is survival for its own sake. In a guerilla war, one side always tries to seduce the other into battles, generally with little luck. The soldiers wander about in the Vietnamese jungle only to be set upon by well-hidden snipers. They enter villages and are ambused. (One such incident early on, in which a beloved fellow soldier is gunned down and killed in a village, sparks the animosity of Meserve in the film). There aren't battles that can end triumphantly, but only a grinding, endless war of attrition.

So it's hard to get too excited about the news that we've taken down another "al-Qaida leader." It seems like we do that every week and the news itself never gets any better.

Anyway, as for De Palma's film, I can't recommend it highly enough. It's troubling to watch, not outrageous fun like most of the guy's movies. But instead a relaly insightful, deeply-felt story about not just the traditional "horrors of war" but also the evil that war brings out of otherwise normal men. Plus, it features great work from John C. Reilly (in his first big film performance) and Ving Rhames, a great score by Ennio Morricone and terrific jungle cinematography by Stephen Burum that looks incredibly rich and vibrant on the new Director's Cut DVD.

More Radiohead Blogging

I don't know if you're all as into Radiohead as me. It's quite possible. They have a lot of fans. That's why tickets to their shows sell out so quickly, sometimes before they're even available for sale.

If you're not, feel free to go read and then vote on the Braffy nominations. (Next round of noms coming soon! Including the vote for Worst Robot Artificially Alive!)

If you are, then it's an extremely busy and exciting time. Not only are the band touring presently, a tour I will actually get to go see later on this month, but there are not one but two albums coming from key band members in the coming months.

First up will be Thom Yorke's solo effort, The Eraser, which he, like, totally promises doesn't signal the impending break-up of the band as solo efforts by frontmen so often do. It's already available online in its entirety, either via illegal peer-to-peer downloading or semi-legit mp3 blog dissemination.

I've been listening to little else for the past few days, and it's really terrific, if somewhat unsurprising, stuff. Yorke doesn't really switch genres or tinker with his sound. He basically just simplifies and pares down what you'd get if Radiohead played these same songs. Having said that, the album does capture the woozy, acid-laced vibe of some of the better tracks of "Amnesiac" and really grew on me after a few listens. The spartan anthem "Black Swan" will provide back-up atmosphere to the closing credits of Richard LInklater's animated Phillip K. Dick adaptation, A Scanner Darkly. Just so you know...

After Yorke's album debuts this summer, the new Radiohead LP will hopefully hit in the fall. Most of those songs can be found in live versions around the Web as well. My favorite thus far is "Bodysnatchers," which you can find here, along with all the other new songs, via A Reminder. Apparently, their setlist this tour will be about 1/3 new songs. Hells yes. I can't freakin' wait.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Not a lot of actual voting in the last Braffy nomination post. A lot of comments, sure, but most people are replying to Steve's assertion that I be nominated in the category of Ugliest, Fattest Jew. I gave it some thought, and I can't help but agree that I should at least be considered in the category. So, as a little side category, I give you the nominations for the Braffy Award for the Ugliest, Fattest Jew:

Henry Kissinger

Yes, he's ugly and fat, but ask yourself this...Is Henry Kissinger Jewish? Oh, wait, he totally is. So, yeah, he should probably win.

Jon Lovitz

People used to tell me I looked like Jon Lovitz. It's the sort of observation you should probably keep to yourself. That's not complimentary. There's an easy test for whether the person you're about to tell they resemble a celebrity will appreciate the comparison. If you think that celebrity would be likely to appear on the cover of a fashion magazine, that's a nice thing to say. If you think the celebrity in question would be likely to appear in candid shots taken in the grotto of the Playboy Mansion, just don't bother following up on that particular thought. Why not use the previous weekend's box office totals as a conversational starter instead?

Ariel Sharon

What, just because he's in poor health means I can't pick on him for being fat and ugly? Nuts to that. Just take a look at that specimen and tell me he doesn't belong in this illustrious company.


Believe it or not, the beard is slimming. I keep meaning to lose some weight, but for some stupid reason, my body only seems to respond to exercize and proper diet. I would try the program that worked for Anna Nicole Smith, but I'm afraid that all that freebasing might hurt my ability to blog cogently.

Now that we've all had some fun with my chronic obesity, let's move on to the actual task at hand, shall we? As always, vote for both UFJ and Worst Writer Alive in the comments section below.

Ann Coulter

Really, Ann might not be eligible in this category. I'm not sure if constantly spewing senseless invective actually counts as "writing." I occasionally see her credited in print as an "author," which is kind of like calling Jason Voorhees a "surgeon." It's like, yes, she actually types up her columns, which are then read by people, but that's letting her by on a technicality.

Ann's composed too much hateful rhetoric to summarize in one single nomination post. I could write several books, if debunking a known crackpot were worth the effort. Also, if I didn't have to go work in a video store every day. Here are a few of her more recent post-nasal drips of wisdom:

Even proud American corporations find their names being turned into curse words by liberals, such as “Halliburton,” which is currently losing money in Iraq in order to supply food to our troops – you know, the same troops liberals pretend to love (but don’t lose money feeding).

Awww...Those poor guys...Maybe I'll send them a check to help tide them over.

Liberal doctrines are less scientifically provable than the story of Noah’s ark, but their belief system is taught as fact in government schools, while the Biblical belief system is banned from government schools by law.

I'll give you a moment to wrap your head around this one...How can something be less scientifically provable than a made-up story with no scientific evidence in support of a single one of its contentions? In essence, how can something be less provable than an outright fabrication? Or is she finally admitting that she just makes up ways to attempt to prove things that are blatantly untrue? (I mean, even Christians in the Dark Ages accepted that much of the Bible wasn't literally true! And they thought whipping themselves with Cat o' Nine Tails was a way to get closer to God!)

On behalf of red state America, let me be the first to say: "Screw you, Hollywood."

So all those people in Texas and Utah and Alabama who saw X-Men: The Last Stand just drove in for the day from Maine, huh? It must be, because Ann Coulter speaks for all of Red State America every time she opens her gaping maw.

If you want to find the cool, anti-establishment rebels who don't answer to "The Man" on college campuses today, you have to go to a meeting of the College Republicans.

Wooo! Maybe Bill Maher's right about her. Maybe she is really hilarious. Cause that's...

Oh, she's serious...Moving on...

Tom Clancy

It's not that I think Clancy's such a shitty writer, although I'll admit to not particularly getting off on long, loving, detailed descriptions of rockets and missiles and guns. I greatly dislike him for two reasons that have little to do with the actual quality of his writing.

(1) He puts his name on all kinds of crap that he doesn't write or really have anything to do with. Tom Clancy's Shadow-Ops Zone: The Glaciation Trilogy: Commanders-in-Chief for the XBox, or some such thing. Or even novels! There are all these books called Tom Clancy's Executive Order Files or whatever, and then you look under the title to find the name of some random schmo. If it was written by Jim NoName, then it isn't really "Tom Clancy's Executive Order Files." It's "Some Asshole's Executive Order Files." But they probably wouldn't carry a book with that title at Barnes & Noble.

(2) His largest contribution to pop culture has been the ongoing glorification and fetishization of war and the American war machine. How many men (and, let's face it, that's Clancy's prime audience) have been seduced into thinking of war as a desirable state of affairs because of Clancy's military-themed thrillers. They preach not only the notion that protecting America's vaguely-defined "national security" is worth any cost in human life, but the idea that war is not just neccessary but exciting. Even glamorous. Those video games bearing his name are little more than Military Indoctrination Programs. Play them for long enough, and you'll start to think sneaking up behind guys in hallways and slitting their throats with a razor-sharp hunting knife sounds doable.

It's just more of this us-or-them, might-makes-right propaganda that's needed by our leadership to convince everyone to back foreign conflicts.

"Hey, do you guys want to go risk your lives to kill brown people senselessly?"
"Um, not really."
"Didn't you read Patriot Games? Terrorists want to remove your daughter's spleen!"
"Wasn't that about Irish terrorists?"
"Sir, why do you hate America?"

Kate O'Beirne

Kate's the particularly virulent GOP mouthpiece who went on TV earlier this year and criticized the speakers at Coretta Scott King's funeral for insulting her beloved President. She also wrote a book earlier this year about how all feminists are horrible and ugly and mean, especially Hillary Clinton, who is probably one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but Kate can't decide which one.

Despite seeing her show up on TV all the time to comment on politics, I have never heard Kate utter a single original insight. Her punditry has a less contemporary spin on American politics than Alexander de Tocqueville's early work.

It's just all this "feminists never got a date to prom so now they hate all men" stuff. I just wish she could be honest and admit that social and sexual freedom are just too terrifying for her, openly stating that she needs a man areound to dictate proper behavior. Then we could finally get her the help she so desperately needs.

Dan Brown

Failed songwriter and self-help author Dan Brown made a killing off a dumb book you may have heard about called The Da Vinci Code. It's an egregiously poor piece of fiction with a great hook, so of course it has sold more copies than the Kinko's Corporation.

He kind of looks like an ugly Kirk Douglas. It must be the chin...

Plenty of novels are poorly written. The Left Behind series for example. And A Million Little Pieces. Not to mention Dianetics. But Da Vinci Code has set off this whole obnoxious trend now of pop Biblical historiography and faux art appreciation, where everything's about "unlocking the buried secrets of the past." As if World History is a Tomb Raider game.

Americans know so little about history, even their own history, and now that the subject's finally getting some mainstream attention, the central preoccupation is sexy Jesus-related gossip. You can't even watch The History Channel any more without seeing idiocy about symbols and codes buried deep within Botticellis and Caravaggios. Isn't it enough that the paintings are beautiful masterpieces? Do they have to be Sudoku now as well? I never thought I'd say this, but those guys should probably focus a bit more on the Third Reich.

You want to know a very closely-kept, conspiratorial secret about the New Testament? Lean in closer...IT'S ALL HORSESHIT WRITTEN LONG AFTER JESUS WAS ALREADY DEAD BY PEOPLE WHO DIDN'T HAVE ACCESS TO ANY AUTHENTIC INFORMATION OR PRIMARY SOURCES! Ditto the Old Testament! You can tell because it's full of ludicrous nonsense! Did I just blow your mind?

John Stossel

And now, my impression of everything John Stossel has ever written or said, ever:

I was wondering just what the deal was with this whole Halliburton Corporation. Are they really as evil as everyone says? I think anything a company does in order to earn the largest possible profits is inherently good, so I did a little research. And what I found out might shock you.

"Halliburton isn't really evil. We're all about helping people," said Halliburton Public Relations director Dave Orson. "Why would people assume that just because we're intimately and directly connected to a Vice-President who keeps starting expensive wars that provide us with expensive contracts, there must be something untoward going on?"

Could it be that Halliburton is really doing great things in Iraq and elsewhere? I went over to Iraq and took a look for myself, and what I found might startle you to the point that you defecate in your pants.

What I saw were big buildings with the name Halliburton on them and trucks bearing the Halliburton logo. I talked to several people who were working with large pieces of equipment, and they told me Halliburton had hired them to go to Iraq and do things. I even saw some Iraqis around who hadn't been shot or blown up yet. This doesn't sound like such an evil conglomerate to me.

But it doesn't stop there. I also discovered that, out of all the high-ranking executives from Halliburton, none had been arrested in the past six months for fraud, money-laundering or racketeering charges. What a collection of criminal war profiteers, huh?

"Halliburton is the best company in the world, and you are getting very sleepy," Orson explained to me while waving his pocketwatch in my face. "Your eyelids are getting heavy. When you awake, you will want to give Halliburton unfettered access to the U.S. Treasury and pass a Constitutional Amendment providing them with the right to declare war on a sovereign nation without Congressional approval. When I snap my fingers, you will complete the interview."

The answer is clear. Halliburton isn't a collective of thieves and greedy fatcats bilking the citizenry of the United States out of billions of dollars under the guise of the War on Terror. You're thinking of George Soros and Hillary Clinton. Now let's never speak of this company again and get back to attacking the real enemies of America - Islamofascinazis and liberals.

Rick Warren

One of America's most popular, influential and creepy preachers, Warren made a name for himself with the publication of The Purpose-Driven Life, a book that tells you how to live in a Rick Warren-approved fashion.

Here is how the book opens, with comma errors left in place:


It's not about you.

The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It's far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions.

Wow, that sucks. I'm not supposed to try and find fulfillment and happiness? Thomas Jefferson, you are a liar!

If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.


Contrary to what many popular books, movies, and seminars tell you, you won't discover your life's meaning by looking within yourself. You've probably tried that already.

Hey, yeah, just because I haven't yet figured out man's place within the infinite, I should just shrug and give up and leave it all to the invisible guy in the sky. Thanks, Rick Warren! You're fatalistic worldview doesn't at all conflict with the reality of the modern world in which I live!

If I handed you an invention you had never seen before, you woulnd't know its purpose and the invention itself wouldn't be able to tell you either.

This is just a bad analogy. There are plenty of inventions the use of which could be discerned from a superficial examination. What about a straw. You don't think, if you were presented with a straw, you could determine that its useful for sucking up things on your own? Do you read the instructions every time you get a new device or piece of equipment? Doesn't this argument ignore the entire concept of trial and error, upon which all human knowledge is actually based?

But Warren's philosophy is far more sinister than just dumb analogies and bad teleological arguments. It is dangerous for two reasons:

(1) It is a cult mentality

Warren argues that the only happiness is to be found through performing God's will.

You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God - and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny.

Okay, so once we decide that it's all about God's will, how do we know what God wants from us? Why, we listen to Rick Warren, of course! And this is how one goes about founding a global ministry with hundreds of thousands of members. By lying about "God's will" and then telling people how to behave in between hitting them up for money.

(2) It is a hopeless, anti-human philosophy

Think about it...To Rick Warren, you're a useless piece of shit. A slave. You have no purpose of your own. No meaning. You exist only to serve an invisible deity who created you because he was lonely and needed some other beings to boss around and dominate. Who wants to live in that kind of world, an eternal servant to a cold and uncaring master?

Listen to how this guy talks:

You were made for God, not vice versa, and life is about letting God use you for his purposes, not your using him for your own purposes.

Life is futile. Only God matters, and since we can't know anything about God, in a sense nothing matters. At least, nothing in the here and now on Earth matters. It's nihilism disguised as Christianity.

I'll take atheism any day over this bizarre form of self-loathing. Sure, a world without God can seem somewhat empty and futile, but I think atheists can come to understand that life has whatever meaning you invest in it. If you think helping others is a way to give your life some meaning, then you do that. If it's using your imagination and creativity that makes you useful and provides you with an outlet, hey, go for it. But, I mean, how are you supposed to wake up every day ready to once again submit to the will of a silent, possibly fictional Guy who lives in Outer Space? I wouldn't survive a week.

Okay, those are your nominees. Write-in suggestions are welcome.

[UPDATE: I don't want to unduly influence the voting, but I think you all should be aware of this quote from Ann Coulter's latest book, Godless, cited by Dave Neiwart at Orcinus, in the interest of fairness. She's discussing 9/11 widows:

These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process. These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's death so much.

Beat that, O'Beirne! Your move!]

Monday, June 05, 2006

Underworld: Evolution

Not having seen the first Underworld movie, I was highly confused throughout Underworld: Evolution. Confused my not be strong enough a word. Baffled. Perplexed. Flummoxed. Yes, I know, I'm coming in halfway through the story, but I thought these were films about a war between werewolves and vampires. I didn't think it would be like walking in to the last ten minutes of The Big Sleep and trying to reverse engineer all the double-crosses. It's like watching LA Confidential dubbed into Portuguese on a crappy bootleg while nursing a bad hangover and suffering from advanced glaucoma. You'd have better luck unraveling the JFK assassination than clearly explaining to me the myriad motivations behind the action of Underworld: Evolution.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't care at all that I couldn't figure anything out. Director Len Wiseman may not be asked to helm the next Curious George movie or anything, but he's one of the few contemporary Hollywood directors who knows how to shoot an action sequence, using computer-generated effects to enhance the on-screen action rather than dominate every frame.

Quite possibly the year's most aesthetically pleasing special effects extravaganza thus far, Underworld: Evolution on the whole gets a whole lot more right than wrong. I'll probably go back and rewatch the original film, just to gain some perspective, but I can't imagine I'd have enjoyed myself all that much more, even if I knew why Vampire A hated Werewolf B.

Some early exposition fills us in on just about all the reliable and easily understandable information we're going to get. Many years ago (I forget how long), a king had two sons, both of whom were mutated after encounters with deranged, monstrous wildlife. (What a coincidence!) Marcus (Tony Curran) turns into the proto-vampire after an unfortunate run-in with a bat while William (Brian Steele) becomes infected with lycanthropy after being bitten by a wolf. These two really ought to initiate the Buddy System when traveling at night.

Marcus turned most of the royal entourage into vampires, who quickly went about the business to locking William away. Werewolves, you see, are too out of control and dangerous, whereas vampires are far more respectable, cultivated blood-suckers.

Cut to the present day, when Marcus returns after a long hibernation and sets about attempting to free his crazed, homicidal, wolfen brother. The only ones who can stop him, apparently, are the former werewolf-hunter Seline (Kate Beckinsale, who is Mrs. Len Wiseman, by the by) and her companion, a half-vampire half-werewolf named Michael (Scott Speedman). I don't know why they're the only ones who can stop him. I also don't know why they're on the run from the rest of the Vampire Nation. Also, I don't understand what they're talking about...ever. The movie may as well have been a silent film, really.

Fortunately, the visuals more than make up for the fact that this universe has more backstory than "Eastenders." The make-up and design of the Marcus character, a humanoid bat with massive wings that he uses as weapons, struck me as particularly impressive. Generally, in a film like this, we'd get brief, dark glimpses of the monster during the climax, and that's it. In Underworld: Evolution, however, Marcus is a major character who seamlessly blends into the reality of the film. (When he's finally revealed, the William werewolf looks similarly detailed and menacing.)

When you consider that a human baddie is played by British legend Derek Jacobi, I think it's safe to say that the villains are far more interesting than the heroes. As George Carlin might phrase it, watching Scott Speedman act is like watching flies fuck. The guy's like Human Ambien. That we're supposed to find the Dude from "Felicity" physically imposing only makes the miscasting more painful. Now, I understand that it may not be fair to judge the casting of Speedman on this film, as he's held over from the first movie, but Wiseman never manages to convince us that this guy's capable of verbally assaulting a huge bat monster, let alone supplying a physical beatdown.

Beckinsale does what's required in this sort of role - looking very hot in skintight leather - and not much else. But she's supposed to be a vampire. They're kind of distant and cold and stoic, probably because they are technically dead. So I'll allow it.

That kind of sums up my feeling about the entire film. Sure, it's extremely silly and overblown. Yes, a lot of the visual style seems directly lifed from the Matrix and Blade movies. But it's a whole lot of fun, shot with a cool blue glaze that gives everything an otherworldly (underworldly?) property, and the whole thing's filled wall-to-wall with gory mayhem. To ask anything more from a movie about w ar between werewolves and vampires is to be a curmudgeon.

Some More YouTube Videos

These are too good not to post.

First up, a British filmed version of Alice in Wonderland from 1903. It's only about 8 minutes long, so there's really no excuse for not giving it a look. The film's only surviving negative is badly damaged, as you'd probably expect from such an early movie, but what's there to be seen is fascinating.

At this point, there weren't really a lot of narrative guildelines to follow when making a fictional film. (Most movies at this point were novelty items based solely around capturing movement, like images of trains going into tunnels or blossoming flowers). So the movie kind of jumps around the story heedlessly, not so much trying to tell the audience the tale of how Alice falls down a rabbit hole and enters Wonderland as it is trying to illustrate the story viewers already have in their heads. On this video, there's an audio commentary by film historian Simon Brown giving you some background on the production, which he says was the longest British film then produced.

Just an incredible piece of film history. The Internet is goddamn amazing.

I hesitate to put up this next one, because the Jeffrey Lyons commentary is so horrifyingly annoying. You're trying to watch rare footage and the guy's babbling on about Spanish ranch owners he has known.

In 1934, apparently, a young Orson Welles and an acquaintance named William Vance directed a brief, extremely surreal silent film called Hearts of Age. Astonishingly, the thing ahs sruvived and someone has put it up on YouTube. It stars Welles as Death and his first wife as an old lady. Some of his favored techniques are already visible in this footage, including his taste for extreme close-ups at odd angles.

Finally, here's an older, sadder, fatter Orson drunkenly screwing up a wine commercial shoot with regrettably hilarious results. Yes, it's tragic what became of the man, but I'd like to think he'd be able to look back on this period of his life with a sense of humor.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Here I'm Allowed Everything All the Time

It's possible to get very lost in the YouTube archives. I went over there to watch a few of these hilarious 80's videos but just starting doing random searches and poking around, and lost a few hours in the process.

In my excitement about getting to go see Radiohead in Berkeley in a few weeks, I checked out a few of YouTube's wide selection of the band's videos and live performances. Here are a few highlights:

A live performance, somewhere or another, of one of my favorite songs off of the "OK Computer" album, "Exit Music (For a Film)." I think of it as being one of the quieter song sfrom that record, but when they played it at Coachella, I was taken by the power of the song's conclusion. It's a very tight song, really builds in intensity over a relatively short period of time.

I didn't even know they made a video for "Idioteque." This is why MTV needs to show more videos and less shows focusing on the unfunny antics of one Nicholas Cannon. Thom Yorke looks downright creepy in this video, all gnashing, crooked teeth and uneven haircut. He looks kind of like an unfortunately hairy, starving infant.

This is a particularly kickass version of "Go To Sleep" from the 2003 Glastonbury Festival.

Okay, fine, so that last one is Men Without Hats and not Radiohead. Sue me.

I love how, at the beginning of the "Safety Dance" video, the man of normal height, presumably one of the Men Without Hats, and the midget are just walking around aimlessly in a field. Then he spots a village and points it out to his diminutive friend.

What were they going to do if they hadn't spotted thevillage? Are they just a wandering normal/midget team traveling across the land teaching people how to make a peculiar curving motion with their forearms?