Saturday, July 01, 2006


This post took a lot longer than expected to prepare, hence the significant delay in Braffy nominations. Hopefully, we'll get back on schedule this week, as there's a long way to go until we've got all our nominees set. (Ann Coulter seems, at this point, a shoo-in for the finals).

By request, I have combed through the Crushed by Inertia archives for the past 12 months, searching for stupidity left in the comments sections. It's a credit to my readers that this was no easy task. I found that sometimes whole months would go by without anyone leaving a comment stupid enough to warrant a nomination. After an intensive search, however, I did find some real winners, including some particularly biting and nonsensical barbs projected at me that I had mercifully forgotten about over time.

Here are your nominees for Worst Crushed by Inertia Commentator:

Here's a rather silly and anonymous post from my review of Ring Two on August 20th, 2005:


i personally think zombie/alien movies are worse... well alien ones are okay but zombies? no, there is really no decent zombie movie around... they're all the same... out to take over the world. some ghost movies are okay. yes, ring 2 was terrible, i agree, but there are some decent ones.

Um, yeah. What the hell are you talking about?

Here's a long-winded defense of our President from a guy with an exceptionally foreign name, written in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I had observed that Senor El Presidente was using the disaster as an opportunity to stage some self-serving press events with him standing in front of some helicopters.


What are all these helicopters and Coast Guard guys doing hanging out in a hangar with George?

If you had watched close enough on TV you shoulda seen some maintenance being done on the helicopters. Perhaps you should know helicopters need to be maintained, looked over, looked at very closely because they're not guaranteed to fly 90,000,000 miles without needing basic maintenance. All helicopters do. All aircraft needs maintenance. They don't take them into some mechanic's garage like you might with your car and then go back when it's done. No, they have their own mechanics to work on the aircraft themselves. And P.S. that was in Mississippi or Alabama. Not the same dudes working in New Orleans and there weren't the rooftop rescues in Mississippi or Alabama to occupy all their time in those two states. Two different situations for two different Coast Guard stations. They only work in their own areas even in this disaster. Gotta have working helicopters onhand at all times in case of other emergency in their own zone. Got it? Good :)

And by the fucking way, you're wrong about W. being a sociopath unable to symathize with other human beings for more than 5 minutes. Seriously, dude, where the fuck did you get that impression of him? You couldn't be more damn wrong.

Bush ain't to blame for people dying in the streets in New Orleans. The city and the state FAILED in having a proper plan together. Okay, even if they did have one this disaster is bigger than anyone expected. Still, the city and state are to blame for what's gone wrong. Idiot LA governor musta been sitting on her ass for a couple days before getting troops in from outside her state. Bush just can't send them in without first being asked. And getting them in doesn't just happen overnight on a large scale and no it ain't 'cause many are in Iraq. We have enough around this country to take care of New Orleans... but they aren't sitting around waiting all ready to go at a moments notice. They gotta assemble and pack and go and when they get to an area do they know their way around? Hmm, do you know your way around Madison, Wisconsin or Bangor, Maine? They gotta coordinate with people on the ground when they get there so they can be lead to the right places. And with lack of good working radios things weren't going so smoothly.

So you see, bub, it ain't as easy as calling for a pizza. There was no plan by the black democrat mayor to pre-evacuate citizens nor was there a plan by the city or the state to take care of people in the event of a flooded city. Bush's fault? No. If anyone else is to blame it's the head of FEMA who musta been twiddling his thumbs for a day or two, also. Lack of planning killed people and Bush had no part in that nor did he have any part in delaying aid efforts or in not speeding them up enough. People below him to the Mayor of N.O. shoulda been gettin' on the horse but they stumbled.

A good way to ensure yourself a nomination next year? Call me "bub" and get every single one of your facts wrong.

This next comment is probably the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me via the CyberWeb. I don't know who this guy is, as he doesn't have a link to his blog and leaves only the name "Jeffrey Welles." There is an online critic with that name, this guy, but he spells his last name with only one "e" and comes across as more even-tempered. And this dude has never come back and commented on the blog again since this unfortunate incident. I'd really like to smack him one.

Not because he's making fun of me or calling me a bad writer or any of that. People do that on here all the time. It's the implication that, because I work in a store instead of an office or something more "respectable," I'm somehow pathetic or sub-human. Because, of course, we are all defined by how much we're worth and what type of building we spend 8 hours a day inside. What a cobag.

The strangest part? This rant comes at the end of a blog post about the new Superman movie coming soon to theaters. What could have set him off like this? Test results come back positive? Some sort of post-traumatic stress?


One word to sum up your blog and life, as you speak your mind, to an invisible crowd, is Pathetic. Maybe working at a video store for the rest of your life is an acheivement, maybe it isnt so you think writing can earn you the respect you been needing, but after reading a couple of stuff you have written, I realize, you have nothing good or anything of calibre to even give what you write any sort of appreciation. I realize you have failed, and what you write is a beleif to signify that idea. Your a bad critic, but than again you dont even deserve the title of being a critic, after reading your reviews and your comments on movies, you are nothing but another moviegoer fanboy/girl who thinks for themselves, what you like is the best, if you dislike it, everybody who likes it is completely wrong. My best suggestion for you is to read highly qualified critics, maybe you can have more respect for movies. Just because you seen a certain old movie or a foreign movie doesnt mean you know movies. As you have stated, CRASH is horrible, but than again, it will indeed have nominations this oscar season, and I hate to let you know, but you have nothing going in your life, to come close to what Paul haggis or any writer director producer you dislike have acheived, when they ask you what you do, you say proudly to them that you work at a video store, and recommend them a movie you love, just to feel better about yourself, it helps you get through the day, change your name ,its horrible, find a new career, outside the internet, these things are bad for you.

This next one perfectly replicates the style of probably 90% of the contemporary American political conversation. In one sentence, an anonymous respondant implies that, because I am to the left of him or her on an issue, that I am (1) inconsequential, (2) stupid and (3) juvenile. And what horrible liberal policy was I defending that raised this anonymous person's ire? The notion that it's wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of their religion.


blah, blah, blah...typical liberal rant. Think for yourself instead of watching too much TV and grow up. Read some history books or something.

I've read a few history books. (It was my major in college.) How a few evenings curled up with some Howard Zinn is supposed to make me sympathetic to theocrats, however, lies beyond my capacity for deductive reasoning.

I love this next comment. This next comment tells you everything you need to know about nerd culture. Here's Eric complaining that, in my review of Veronica Mars, I unfairly labeled his favorite show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (hereafter BTVS) as a "cult hit."


I know everyone has a right to their own opinion, but don't label something that's fairly popular like BTVS into "cultish" territory. BTVS was popular for years and got solid ratings for years until the quality fell off. Then it fell into the area of a "cult" show where only the most hardcore viewers stayed. I was a huge fan of BTVS and I could barely get through the last season when I rented it. I get mad when people dismiss it as a "cult" show like Star Trek or Dark Angel when its so much more than that.

I bet you never really even watched it that much and if you did it was probably in the later years when it was a shell of its former self. Otherwise you wouldn't be slamming a show that's very similar in style and quality to VM, which is a show that you said that you liked. Rent the 1st and 3rd seasons and then come to me with a better excuse as to why you don't like the show. It has more layers of depth then just about anything that's ever been on tv. If anything VM is a show for "odd obsesive dorks" because almost no one watches it.

Did you hear that, everyone? Buffy has more layers of depth than just about anything that's ever been on TV! So sayeth Lord Erich von Fartlunch, Duke of Dorkery!

This next bit of Anonymous wankery attempts to prove the existance of God to yours truly. It might have worked too, if only they could have come up with some sort of divinely designed yet commonplace object to use as a visual aid...Perhaps something that's tapered at the end for easy insertion...


You bring some interesting points on the so-called non-existence of God. However, your ideas are truly "crushed by inertia." They are crushed by the weight of your inaccurate information and misinterpretation of that inaccurate information.

First you denounce God via the prototypical stereotypes of God and the various affiliatated constructs that have promoted the notion of God. This is not intelligent. Your statements are based on stereotyped assumptions, not facts. The facts clearly show that the interpretation of the word 'God' is as varied and numerous as there are people.

Second, you claim that supposedly devout scientists 'compartmentalize' 'God' and/or religion, just as they do their occuptions as scientists. This is again an unintelligent false assumption and, again, has absolutely no basis in fact. In fact, the opposite is true; most scientists see, within their various scientific discoveries, the wonderous nature of Creation, its perfection, and most of all; its order and direction to a single point of origen. But of course one would have to either be extremely up-to-date in the world of science, or actually be a scientist to really appreciate this fact (or just be intelligent).

Here are a few science quotes that you should ponder over:

"I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice."

"God is subtle but he is not malicious."

"God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically."

"Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."

"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods."

Of course, it was Albert Einstein who said those words.

The Gods are laughing hard at the shipwreck, crushed by its own mental inertia.

Please, do your homework, and open your mind. Your 'Gabbin' is potentially insulting.

Ah, yes, Einstein quotes. The last refuge of the scoundrel...after patriotism. Thomas Jefferson said that. See! I beat you at your own quotation game!

I love how she wants me to "do my homework" because I admitted to a lack of faith in God. I should do my God Belief homework? Does that involve whipping myself with a Cat o' Nine Tails a la the Da Vinci Code albino? Ten Hail Marys and four Our Fathers? Memorizing 1st Corinthians? Cause I already studied for my Bar Mitzvah, and I took a few Religious Studies classes as an undergrad, so I think I'm doing alright, Scripture-wise.

This commentor has a way of using too many words in a sentence, often making her phrasing less precise than it would be if he or she just left some excess qualifiers out. Take that last sentence..."Your Gabbin' is potentially insulting." (The post was called "Gabbin' Bout God," a reference to Reverend Lovejoy's radio show on "The Simpsons" that, of course, went over this person's head.)

Potentially insulting? Anything is potentially insulting. Imagine the following scenario:

ME: Hey, you want a popsicle.
YOU: No, I hate popsicles.
ME: My grandfather invented the popsicle, you asshole!

Okay, I realize that's a bad example. We all know the popsicle was invented in the late 17th Century by Sir Gerald Freezertreat, the Earl of Popsicle. But you get the idea...

Another post dissing some beloved genre title, in this case Kurt Wimmer's underwhelming Equilibrium, brought on another outburst by the Geek set. In this case, elementsunknown lets me have it for...I'm not sure, really...something about Christian Bale murdering puppies or almost murdering puppies and then not going through with it.


Christian Bale never killed any puppies in Equilibrium! His later defense of a puppy played a crucial role in his emotional evolution and subsequent rebellion against the government which he served. I find it hard to believe that you can "love" a movie and not be familiar with it's basic plot! Apparently you lot of "mental giants" like to throw around your much touted critiqus of films while lacking the basic memory of said films. By the way, what was the last film you wrote or directed? Your credibility and IQ is in serious question to say the least.

I don't know where he got the idea that I "love" that movie. I downright loathe it. And I don't know why the phrase "mental giants" appears inside quotation marks. I didn't use the phrase. Also, I don't get how anyone over the age of 14 can seriously enjoy Equilibrium. Seriously, that thing's fucktarded. I mean, think about it...If the government needs everyone to take this emotion-suppressing drug every day, why don't they make it addictive? Otherwise, people would choose to skip a dose all the time, just to see what happens.

This next post had two different nomination-worthy comments. One was by our resident Crushed by Inertia troll, my friend Steve C., who issued forth his typically vitriolic bile towards me and my choice of lifestyle:

Hi, I'm Lons, I'm thirty and work in a fancy video store. I like to put down others because it makes me feel better about myself. Later, I think I'll go rob a little old lady and then steal from the blind guy's collection plate.

I'm not nominating him, however, because in order to be eligible, comments must be sincere and non-ironic in nature. Sarcasm, as you all know, is always welcome here. So instead, the nomination for this post goes to hehs a few comments later:


wow.. dunno how everyone can have the stamina to read ur long posts.. *ok.. fine... delete this comment..*

Yes, Hehs, getting through those 500-700 words can be daunting. I'm like the Tour de France of Blogging...More an endurance challenge than a pleasant ride in the country, if you get my meaning. Be sure to plenty of fluids and get a good night's sleep beforehand.

So, yes, Hehs was feeling negative, but he only left one disparaging comment. Perhaps no reader has been more vocal about our political disagreements than RH. Most of his comments are, if a bit hostile, well-phrased and difficult to make fun of in a condenced format like this one. But his thoughts on the immigration issue certainly qualify:


Did you ever notice how, like, when things are bad for any country, anywhere, at any time in history, the news has deflected from the problem, like, since the concept of "news" first came into existence?

Also, have you noticed that none of the students involved in these protests can actually vote? And chances are pretty good that their parents (illegal or not) don't vote either. Maybe that's why politicians do not and will not care about their cause. Go back to school and stop blocking traffic, retards. (O wait, I guess they already did, because, um, it rained.)

What a sweetheart. "Thanks to age and race-based voting restrictions, I can continue treating Mexicans like second-class citizens! Hooray! Now, get out of the way, retards!"

Well, there you have it, folks. All the names in bold are your nominees for Worst Crushed By Inertia Commentator. Have at it.

Oh, yeah, and as a special bonus nomination, your reward for reading through this elongated and much delayed post, here are the six nominees for Worst Robot Alive, sans commentary for maximum convenience and efficiency.






THE T-1000

Make your voice heard on these, the most important questions of our time! Vote early and often!

Friday, June 30, 2006

See, right here, this is why grand military adventures overseas are never a good idea. You don't go into war for any other reason than absolute neccessity, as a last resort and with a plan for withdrawl if things don't turn out your way, because life in a war zone ruins people's minds. Your own people, not just the ones you're fighting. It destroys families. It turns rational men and women insane. It leads to situations where Americans are responsible for raping and murdering whole Iraqi families.

A group of American soldiers in an insurgent-riddled town allegedly noticed a young Iraqi woman when on patrol and later returned to rape her, according to U.S. officials Friday. In an apparent cover-up attempt, she and three members of her family then were killed and her body was set on fire.

Five U.S. troops are being investigated, a U.S. military official told The Associated Press.

It is the fifth pending case involving alleged slayings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops.

I'm sure some if not all of these soldiers were mentally stable, controlled and sane individuals when we sent them over there. Years of living in constant grinding fear, isolated from your loved ones, losing friends in battle and coping with an inordinate amount of stress does wacky things to people. Slowly, over time, they begin to forget who they are. They become senseless killing machines incapable of determining what sorts of homicidal activities are appropriate during wartime and what sorts of homicidal activities are heinous and criminal in nature.

These men are to blame for their actions. To my mind, there isn't much one can say to excuse raping and killing a woman, burning her corpse and then murdering her family so you don't get into trouble. You can't really plead ignorance to those charges.

But they are not ultimately responsible. They did not wake up one morning and say, "I feel like raping an Iraqi woman! TO BEIJI!" No, our government sent them over there, dehumanized their enemy, provided them with weapons and then set them loose. The fact that innocent Iraqis wound up suffering and dying by their hands is unfortunate but not entirely unexpected, considering the civilian leadership under which these soldiers operate.

When you have a government that doesn't bother to stop rampant looting in the days after the forcible occupation of their capital city, that doesn't properly equip its own troops, that permits the Commander in Chief to ignore the law, that doesn't bother to finish major reconstruction projects and that routinely covers up or ignores scandalous and illegal treatment of enemy combatants and detainees, a clear message is sent to our soldiers on the ground. We don't really care about Iraqis.

Our troops have been sent into this situation by greedy buffoons, none of whom have seen combat more intense than syndicated "American Gladiators" reruns, and expected to thrive and maintain a sense of propriety and decorum. Best of luck with that...

A Scanner Darkly

Richard Linklater's adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly employs the latest in computer animation technology to tell a story about the invasive and pernicious effects of technology. That's just the first contradiction in a film filled with many such connundrums. An exploration of control, both in the mind of an individual and of a society by a corporation, Linklater's film repeatedly and intentionally walks into such inconsistancies and ambiguities, as if attempting to study the nature of reality by breaking it down or ignoring its rules.

The rotoscoping animation effects, used previously in Linklater's experimental indie Waking Life, create an environment something like that in a lucid dream. First, digital cameras record the actors and the sets as in a regular film. These images are then fed into computers, where arists essentially illustrate over the filmed footage, creating a new kind of animation halfway between live action and a cartoon.

We recognize the faces of certain actors, the shape of familiar objects and even some of the primary locations, but they are blurred and other-worldly and the laws of physics binding them together can be violated without warning. Thus Linklater prepares us to question the very nature of the universe in which his story takes place, to wonder what mysteries are poking around the edges of our perception.

Like the protagonist of the story, played by Keanu Reeves and referenced by different names, the viewer's mind becomes divided between two hemispheres; what we see closely approximates The Real, yet it can not possibly represent The Real in any sort of complete way. There is a reality behind the one with which we're presented (in this case, another film that blandly presents what we're seeing as it would actually appear to a camera).

It's this same dilemma that confronts the Narcotics Detective known only as Fred (Reeves). Part of a squad known as "scanners" because of their favored method of surveillance, Fred has infiltrated a group of drug addicts to investigate the source of a killer drug called Substance D. Calling himself Bob Arctor, he hangs out in a suburban Anaheim house with fellow addict Donna (Winona Ryder), who may or may not be his girlfriend, and their junkie pals. Or maybe he was recruited after already befriending this ragtag bunch of weirdos and drop-outs. Maybe they're not even his friends at all. Fred/Bob doesn't seem to know a lot about what's happening to him, what he's doing or what effect all these little red pills might be having on his brain.

Linklater allows this material to play out slowly, deliberately, over the course of the film's first hour, grounding the audience in a surreal world of drug abuse that's at least somewhat recognizable before reality begins to collapse on the characters. We get to know chatty oddball Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), high-strung stoner Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Freck (Rory Cochrane, best known as Slater in Linklater's Dazed and Confused), over the course of some very funny and non-sequiteur scenes at home, including a dialogue about an 18-speed bicycle that's a match for any banter in Before Sunrise or Slacker in terms of sheer inventiveness, creativity and humor.

Likewise we see scenes where Fred views and analyzes these same meaningless conversations from behind a bank of monitors. Could he be imaginging this reality, in which he's a cop watching himself waste away from drug use? Or is the world of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, with its bizarre cloaks that mask your real appearance and its insistance on constant cognition tests for mental acuity, the only setting that can be considered objectively real? Perhaps most importantly to Linklater's purpose, is what he's watching altered by the fact that he's watching? As the movie might put it, "what does a scanner see?"

Okay, so I don't really know Linklater's "purpose." The film is vague enough to be taken in any number of ways. As a depiction of the hell of drug abuse and mental illness, never managing to get a hold on exactly who you are and what you're doing at any given time. As a statement about the media and how it has taken such a central place in all of our lives, governing our perceptions about one another and the outside world. As a rebellious piece of anti-government, subversive agit-prop on behalf of anyone tired of being monitored, probed, studied and then lied to about it.

Clearly, it's an indictment of the very idea of a "war on drugs," disturbed by the notion that the government should have a role in deciding what can occur within a person's mind. Just as the doctor's continuing observation of Fred's faculties begins to seem invasive over time, despite the fact that they don't ever touch him physically, so too the police choosing to intervene when someone takes Substance D feels like some sort of violation.

I'm not sure this interpretation goes quite far enough, however, as Linklater seems concerned with ideas about surveillance more far-reaching than the Drug War. Of course, the film points out the inherent flaws in a system encouraging junkies and drug abusers to rat out one another to law enforcement. But the greater focus seems to be the invasion of privacy in general, as aided by modern technology and enforced by the federal government.

I don't want to give too much away, as the film does develop some twists and turns in the final half hour despite its relatively loose narrative structure, but I think Linklater has crafted Dick's story into a stern warning about the nature of corporate and governmental power, how monied interests use various systems of control in order to pacify and regulate their citizenry. The slowly-revealed saga of New Path, a company that "cures" the victims of Substance D, comes to dominate the story, explaining some elements of Fred's fate while probing more complex and far-reaching questions about others.

I say systems of control purposefully, as there are no villains actually provided by the film. I think it's important that Fred and Bob play such dual functions in the story - both observed citizen and observing authority. It speaks to the way that these faceless corporate and governmental entities play individuals against one another. It's never a corporation or a division of the federal government that strips someone of their inalienable rights - it's always an individual soldier or police officer or prison guard or other figure of authority. A specific person hired to do a job.

That describes everyone in A Scanner Darkly. Mere pawns in large-scale dramas of which they aren't aware, these characters don't know who they really are or what they're doing because they don't need to in order to fulfill their roles and satisfy their masters.

So successful is the film as simply a visual marvel, I think there's a good chance it will be dismissed by some as "a drug movie" or a "head trip." Like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the movie expresses great and enduring Truths in between wild leaps of imagination and innovative visual artistry. That's a heady combination of sensory experience to come whizzing at you all bunched up together on a single strip of celluloid.

I found the suicide sequence depicted above, in which an alien invites Freck to Hell by reading him a list of every sin he committed during his lifetime, paritcularly fascinating. It would be easy to dismiss this scene as silly LSD-inspired lunacy without considering, say, the significance of a creature composed solely of eyeballs who has recorded every action you have ever undertaken for all of posterity on a massive scroll of parchment.

The high quality of the performances likewise might get obscured by the ravishing technological wonders on display. I wondered after the screening if Downey Jr. as the unpredictable

Barris would be eligible for a Supporting Actor nomination. The performance, technically, is a collaborative effort between Downey Jr. and the various animators who worked on his character, so it would seemingly be fair only to nominate them both. But is it then fair to nominate the work of two or more different artists when most film performances are crafted by a single individual without any assistance during post-production?

In addition to Downey, Reeves and Harrelson do particularly notable work in the film's opening half hour. The effect of A Scanner Darkly can be highly disorienting, and I suspect that without providing the film with a few engaging, funny and likable characters early on, Linklater would have been in danger of overwhelming an audience with psychobabble and trippy spectacle. Reeves' turn as Fred grounds the film, provides some measure of sanity, even when he's wearing the shapeshifting suit that makes him look like 100 people at once (one of the film's most strange and successful bits of imagery). He performs much of the film in close-up, and manages to project sincerity and occasionally even terror in a way that's visible even through the interference of the animator. Which can't be an easy thing to do. Along with The Gift, I'd say this is probably his best work to date.

And, yes, it's also by far the best film I've seen so far this year (though it hasn't had a ton of competition). This is the real deal - science-fiction that's cerebral and relevant and entertaining, a film that takes the genre's usual trappings and uses them in a way that's daring and provocative and new. It opens on July 7th across the country and is absolutely worth a few of your hard-earned dollars. Give it a try, won't you?

[NOTE: I saw the film tonight at the LA Film Festival screening at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, with Keanu and Woody Harrelson and Richard Linklater in attendance. It was a lot of fun to see the movie on a huge screen outside with a big, enthusiastic crowd who all seemed to enjoy the movie. Well, all except these two guys in the men's room who told me they found it boring and thought it would only be good if you were on a lot of drugs. I insisted that I was enjoying it stone cold sober, but that drugs certainly wouldn't make the film worse.]

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Find Me Guilty

In Find Me Guilty, based on a true story of the New Jersey mob, a racist and self-serving prosecutor spends the public's money on a two-year trial against several dozen gangland defendant's, one of whom chooses to defend himself. Though the movie was marketed as a wacky comedy and boasts a soundtrack that could have been lifted from My Cousin Vinny, what Lumet has really created is an uncertain and pessimistic meditation on the faults of the American Legal System. In particular, he probes how poorly designed our courtroom systems are for divining any sort of verifiable truth or settling any real-world disputes.

What's amazing is how Sidney Lumet's ideas have kept up with such rapidly-evolving times. 12 Angry Men was cutting edge in 1957, with its notion of neurotic jurors basing their verdict on their own prejudices rather than the facts of the case. Network was dead-on incisive about the pernicious effect of television on the public dialogue in 1976. Find Me Guilty once again challenges conventional wisdom about the grim machinery of our society - does a jury trial determine guilt or innocence or does it serve merely as a popularity contest, confirming one side of an argument as True andthe other as False for the purposes of closure?

Nothing in the film is straight-forward. There are no one-sided individuals, easily identified as Good or Evil. After years of failed attempts, District Attorney Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) finally succeeds in turning enough witnesses to put the Mob on trial. Though dependent on the testimony of ex-convicts and drug addicts, he has never lost a case and remains solely focused on victory.

Putting 50 or so individual mobsters on trial at once turns out to be a nearly-unmanageable fate. Each defendant tires his own lawyer, one of whom, Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage in a performance that should be remembered in awards season but won't be), quickly assumes control. Each defendant, that is, save for loudmouth Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel).

Already serving time on an unrelated charge, Jackie Dee has lost faith in lawyers. He figures that, representing himself, at least he can fall back on his the easygoing charm that has worked in his favor for years. Diesel's as good as he's ever been in a movie, by leaps and bounds, as Jackie Dee. An annoying goofball who loves puns and bad jokes (his constant refain during the trial is "I'm not a gangster, I'm a gagster!"), Jackie nevertheless hangs on to a bit of the menace that allowed him for function on the street and in prison for so many years.

Sometimes, even when he's trying to be funny or sweet, he comes off as demanding or territorial. There is definitely something possessive and unsettling about his frequently-dropped reminders that he "grew up with these guys" and they "all love each other." Is this merely an invocation of kindship, or does it also serve as an unspoken demand for loyalty?

Jackie finds himself at odds with not only Kierney's office but also a baffled judge (Ron Silver). Refusing to prolong an already long trial and not wanting to see his eventual verdict overturned, Judge Finestein allows the proceeding to degrade into something approaching a kangaroo court. One defendant must be wheeled into court in his hospital bed. Jackie engages witnesses with whimsical anecdotes and confesses to crimes (like cocaine use) for which he isn't on trial. When he screws up, he endangers the case of all the defendants, who are on trial for conspiracy and thus can't afford to have any guilty verdicts issued for anyone.

With all its various rules, asides and points of order, Lumet's vision of a trial more closely resembles the O.J. Simpson case than most actual legal proceedings. Still, it's clear that he sees the entire process as a form of political theater, presenting two diametrically-opposed versions of events, neither of which seem to completely reflect reality. Isn't the truth neccessarily in between both of these stories? Will a "Guilty" or "Innocent" verdict ever truly summarize exactly what happened and provide for truly fair punishment?

Lawyer Klondis, played by little person Peter Dinklage, has to have a podium pulled up to the jury box for him when he makes his opening and closing statements. This little act of stagecraft comes to represent the entire trial. Despite all the various forms of evidence presented, each of which can be spun any number of ways, the jury will ultimately decide the case based on their gut instinct, who they choose to believe. Lumet seems to insist that it can't be any other way. (In one brilliant sequence, he cuts back and forth between the prosecuting and defense attorneys, each of whom debate amongst themselves whether Jackie Dee's antics will curry favor with the jury or turn them against the occasionally mysogynist confessed criminal).

Towards the end of the film, Jackie is handcuffed and set to return to prison on his prior charge, and he watches his co-defendants go home at the end of the day, back to their wives and families and suburban homes. He's risking everything to stand up for them, to represent their community as one of love and respect and commitment, and they don't really seem too concerned with his ultimate fate. Nothing in this film is simple and straight-forward, even Jackie's dependable Code of Honor.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rushin' Around the World With Rush - A New Blog Series


The Dominican Republic on 20 Boner Pills a Day

Hello, friends. America's favorite broadcaster Rushford Tiberius Limbaugh here. You know, I so rarely get to delve into my many passions beyond the world of politics on my wildly popular radio show. Oh, sure, you all know how much I hate liberals, Ivy League intellectuals and the Clintons. But did you know about my passion for Chinese Checkers? My deep and abiding appreciation for the cinematic masterworks "Savage" Steve Holland? My love of anal play? The crippling physical and spiritual pain that forces me to injest a quite frankly inhuman amount of prescription medication each day?

I suspect not. So hopefully, this first in a series of travel columns will allow my loving audience to get to know me, the real Rush, just a bit better.

There have been some baseless accusations levelled at me in the past few days. A typical liberal smear job. Some have even intimated there may be untoward, dark purposes behind my perfectly innocent vacation in the country affectionately known as DR. Let me assure you all, nothing could be further from the truth! Sure, the Dominican Republic may be famed around the world as a haven for sex tourism. Yes, many men in the Western Hemisphere who feel that Thailand is too far to travel to fuck whores instead vacation in the Carribean. But I went because I love nothing more than to experience exotic foreign cultures. After all, you can't bomb people you don't understand.

I have a little pet theory about this entire incident, by the way. I think it was actually the dastardly work of a man who has been shadowing me for years. My doppelganger, you might even say. One Mr. Birch Barlow. Here's a recent file photo:

Ladies and gentlemen, I suggest to you that this man, Birchibald T. Barlow, is a menace. He forced my maid to obtain mass quantities of prescription pills for him because he's a pillhead. Also, he says a lot of very stupid things on television and on my radio show. Given our remarkably similar appearance and voice, I can understand some of the confusion. Still, constantly being blamed for the anti-social escapades of this cartoon character has eroded my patience.

Mr. Barlow may very well visit the Carribean with only illicit, raw carnality in mind, but some of us enjoy touring the many historic churches, open-air markets and brothels dungeons massage parlors donkey shows cockfights...okay, give me a second here...Um, jungles? They've got jungles, right?

Beyond just the usual tourist sites, when traveling around new places, I like to get a feel for the local culture by just hanging around the city center and seeing who I can meet and what stories they have to share. For example, I was talking to this surprisingly feminine 13 year old nude boy in Santa Domingo the other day, and he told me that he walks nearly 2 hours each way just to get to the dimly-lit room containing only a soiled cot where he works! Fascinating! I could have spent hours with that kid.

Which brings me to my first Rushin' Around with Rush Travel Tip!

TIP #1: Give Yourself Plenty of Time

There's nothing I hate more than having to hurry up and finish myself off quickly so I can move on to my next travel destination. I know I'm paying my tour guide to take me to all the finest, most disease-free locales, but sometimes I just feel like just staying where I am, maybe taking a break to watch something on Spectrovision or crushing up a few diet pills and snorting them so they'll kick in more quickly, before jetting off to my next pre-paid, hopefully sanitary adventure.

Even if you get to enjoy a few less of the "local attractions," it's all about getting in some real quality time, so you can really get down to business. Smart planning ahead can make all your dreams come true and still give you time to refresh and pop a few more Viagra.

Which brings me to my Second Travel Tip!

TIP #2: Always Plan Ahead

Let's say, just hypothetically, that you are an unattractive, overweight, deaf, largely reviled radio personality with a well-known history of chronic pill addiction and an unfortunate case of impotency. If you were going to go on a sex tour of the Dominican Republic, you'd want to have a lot of Viagra along for the trip. Likewise, it would be a good idea, hypothetically, to have your doctor put his name on the bottle. To spare you the embarrassment of getting a prescription filled for boner pills.

Also, you should probably not get caught bringing the prescription bottle back into the country if your name's not actually on that. Customs kind of has a problem with that. Particularly, and I'm just throwing this out there, if you're already on probation for an unrelated drug offense.

Which brings me to my final Travel Tip!

TIP #3: If You Go to the Cantina Sucia Caliente del Sexo in San Juan, Tell Them Rush Sent You For 20 Dominican Pesos Off

Wait, I mean Birch...Tell them Birch sent you. I was just there to enjoy the delicious local coffees and teas.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Greek Weekend

It's an odd thing to spend a day and a half out of town. Just as you're becoming accustomed to the feeling of staying on people's couches and traveling unfamiliar stretches of road, it's time to hop back into an airplane, whirl around the atmosphere for an hour and touch back down in familiar old surroundings.

I generally drive when traveling to Northern California, because it's only a 5-6 hour drive for most destinations. When I announced my intention to attend Radiohead's sold-out second night at Berkeley's Greek Theater, however, my parents insisted on flying me out instead. They were using a form of mathematics with which I was unfamiliar, possibly something non-Euclidian, to mysteriously calculate a $200 plane ticket as being cheaper than two $40 tanks of gasoline. How could such a thing be possible?

No matter. The flight was booked (even though I had no photo ID at the time, my wallet having been lost the week before) and associated airport drop-offs and pick-ups were planned. So on Friday evening, after working a mercifully brief video store shift, I embarked for SFO.

The trip was largely uneventful for most of Friday and Saturday. The flight up north is a breeze, particularly in comparison to the 6 Hour Festival of Suffering that is the flight to Florida I experienced a few months back. I had some coffee on the ride out, and I swear to you it was the strongest brew I have ever tasted. It was like four cups of espresso had been compressed into a single, small serving of Starbucks Coffee. I think they're maybe hoping to get non-coffee drinkers addicted to caffeine with just this one cup, creating an entire new generation of Starbucks Zombies to whom they can sell CD's, movies about spelling bee champions and $10 packages of Whole Bean Italian Roast.

Immediately upon my arrival in San Francisco, my friend Matt, his anxiety-prone dog Pepper and I drove on to Santa Cruz, where our other friends Dave and Aaron share a condo. I mean to say, they are mine and Matt's friends. Pepper seemed rather ambiguous on the subject.

The last time I navigatged this particularly stretch of road, it occured to me, was two New Year's Eves ago, racing from one Bay Area gathering to an entriely different Bay Area gathering with a hurried sense of anticipation that, looking back, I am utterly at a loss to explain. This time was much calmer, and we arrived without incident. (Except that Pepper whined in the backseat for the entire trip, and pretty much any other time someone was not giving her direct, engaged attention).

We did the Santa Cruz thing for the rest of the night (which means, nothing) and then watched the Mexico-Argentina World Cup game in the morning while Matt cooked eggs and sausages. (French-style eggs, as it turns out, which are just like the eggs I make at home, except with 5 extra sticks of butter, some green stuff and significantly less Tapatio sauce). Some guy named Maxi Rodriguez managed to bounce the ball of his chest and then kick it into the net to score the game-winning goal, which even I, an avowed anti-sports dissident, have to admit is fairly impressive.

The entire sport of futbol soccer requires so much athleticism and endurance, I always find myself feeling badly for the players by the end of the game. Those guys must be exhausted! Can't we take a five minute break? What, they're adding time to the clock? Surely Gariagga's going to pass out soon.

As impressive an athlete as Shaquille O'Neal is, you can't really picture him huffing it up and down one of those massive soccer fields repeatedly for 90 minutes at a go. Even his character in "NBA Live" needs to sit down and rest every now and again. And you don't want that guy getting fatigued mid-game. He falls over, the force of impact could take out 3 or 4 more players.

Once the game was over, we all disembarked for Matt's house in San Bruno, where I'd be spending that night. I didn't realize there was a town called San Bruno, but then again, I didn't realize there was a guy named Saint Bruno. Saint Bruno? Does he have a more Anglicized name that I might be more familiar with? It sounds like a decent name for Bruce Willis' sophomore album but not a name for a saint. Unless he's the patron saint of loan sharks and bookmakers. Then, okay, I'll give you that, even though it really should be Saint Bruno "The Nose" Carbinelli, if that's the case.

San Bruno's a fairly typical California suburb, by which I mean that it's a rapidly-deteriorating maze of strip malls and generic housing tracts that all look alike by design. A good place to live if you work somewhere else, don't have a lot of money and don't mind some peculiar, wannabe gangster 19 year old living in the sinkhole below yours.

Then, right away, we had to rush from The Bruno to get to Berkeley for the concert. I hadn't realized the Greek Theater was actually on the UC Berkeley campus, to which I haven't been since a high school trip to determine whether or not I wanted to matriculate therein. (Nope!) I didn't get to spend any time in the actual neighborhood as we were late and there was traffic, but it seemed alright to me. Lots of bakeries for some odd reason. I can't think of any bakeries near UCLA. Which, now that I have typed it out, I realize means very little. Is it possible to bring something up on a blog just to make conversation? Or am I just getting a little funny in the head?

So the theater's on campus, and you kind of just have to find a spot to park in one of the campus lots, which I'm sure is really fun for the students. Even more bizarre, the Greek Theater is general admission, which means you just sit wherever you can find available seating. I can't say I've ever been to a show in a place this large (it fits, I'd guess, between 4 and 5 thousand) without any assigned seating, but people kind of organized themselves, and it didn't seem overly chaotic or problematic.

I wondered whether a show in LA with similar arrangements would come off as smoothly. I suppose so, though it just seems to me that there's a generally more relaxed, laissez-faire attitude up north about such things. I felt like, in LA, there would be a lot of laid-back people who would just sit wherever, but there would also be self-important assholes who insisted on pushing their way through the crowd to get closer or reserving whole large sections for their 500 closest friends. No way for me to check on's just a theory.

I really dug this crowd. No ludicrous drunk dancing jackasses. No one talking through the music (they were even respectful to opening act Deerhoof!) Only one doofus rushed the stage, and that was during the second encore, when I suppose such shenanigans can be tolerated.

Even better was the Greek Theater itself. Sure, concrete benches aren't exactly comfortable for several hours, but there was no security check, no invasive searches, none of that crap you usually have to go through when entering a large-scale concert. There isn't that Police State vibe I've been encountering lately at shows, particularly at a certain KROQ show I don't feel that I have to mention here, both at the front gate and inside the venue as well. My friend Dave suggested that it's because the Greek is just run by the school, not some corporation, and I'm inclined to agree.

Deerhoof came on promptly at 7:30 and only played for a half-hour. I would have thought they'd go a little longer, as they only got to play five songs or so, and they are after all from San Francisco, but it was still cool to see them live. My one previous chance would have been All Tomorrows Parties in Long Beach a few years back, but we couldn't get over to the Second Stage area without missing Modest Mouse. And that wasn't going to happen.

They sound much more like a regular old indie rock band live than the wacky experimental freakout of the albums, though there is a lot more shouting of the word "bunny" than you'd hear at, say, a Death Cab for Cutie show. Lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki hops around the stage and makes inscrutable gestures at the audience, the songs tend to begin and end abruptly, but other than that, you could be watching any number of loud, occasionally melodic punk-inspired trios. I meant that as a compliment, but somehow they have turned out sounding "ordinary." Maybe this is because there were so few songs.

I tried to get a photo of Deerhoof on my camera phone. In person, we were fairly close to the stage. I mean, the entire Greek Theater isn't so large and there aren't many bad seats, but as an added bonus, some of Aaron's friends saved us a spot. But my phone's so crappy, you can't even tell it's Deerhoof. It just looks like three blobs in the distance.

Aaron went on and on about how his phone has a Zoom function, and was therefore clearly better than mine, and then sent me the following photo:

If you wanted Matisse's interpretation of what a future rock band might look like, yeah, that would work for you. But as a reproduction of the image of Deerhoof playing before enthusiastic fans, it's not entirely satisfying.

Then it was time for Radiohead. I have seen them three times before. Once at a KROQ Weenie Roast in the mid-90's, before I knew any of their songs beyond "Creep" and "Fake Plastic Trees." I enjoyed them, but was there to see...ugh...The Red Hot Chili Peppers and I don't really even remember who else I was really excited for, although I know Garbage and Lush were both there as well. I guess I could look up the complete line-up, but I'm not going to.

The second time was at the Hollywood Bowl. This was when I lived pretty near the Bowl, and we were taking a cab up there anyway, so we decided to get stinking drunk at my apartment and then head out to the concert. Anyway, we missed opening act Supergrass completely, arrived two songs into the Radiohead set, couldn't find seats and at a few points in the evening I think I forgot the details of my identity and what I was doing in this huge crowd. I'm sure a fun time was had by all, but it's not really the ideal concert-going experience.

Then I saw Radiohead at Coachella 2004. After The Pixies' set, I went to the bathrooms and then didn't feel like re-penetrating that massive swelling crowd. I still really dug Radiohead's post-Pixies performance (particularly "Exit Music" and "Karma Police"), and there's something kind of vague and indescribable and exciting about being in a crowd of 100,000 people all listening to the same song, but I didn't actually get to see anything.

Last night at the Greek Theater were ideal concert circumstances. I was pretty close, the band played an awesome and diverse setlist, the weather was perfect...All in all, a really amazing night. There was a time when I would struggle to remember what songs a band played in the days after the concert. I'd remember one or two and then blank because I was so distracted with enjoying the music (and, okay, high.) Now, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I can go to the Radiohead fan site and just pull up a complete and accurate setlist.

01 Airbag
02 2+2=5
03 Where I End And You Begin
04 15 Step

This was the first of the night's many new songs, and it's great. Of course, it's hard to tell just from the live versions, because so much work goes into a Radiohead album from the production side, but it sounds like the new album will be more up-tempo and pop oriented than anything in their catalog since...maybe ever. At least since "The Bends."

05 Kid A
06 Dollars And Cents

Having said that, a lot of the evening's highlights were slower, more intimate songs like "Kid A" or deep album cuts like "Dollars and Cents." Big venues like the Emprie Polo Grounds in Indio tend to force bands to go for their most grandiose big arena anthemtic songs, whereas a setting like the Greek allows for a more subtle, quiet and focused performance. These songs were both completely incredible.

07 Down Is The New Up [with long jam at the end]
08 Nude [Thom stops then starts at the beginning and says, "Don't go anywhere, stay where you are".]
09 Paranoid Android

Definitely one of the best Radiohead songs ever, and accordingly, they've played this every time I've seen them live. Of all the songs, this and "Fake Plastic Trees" got the biggest reaction of the night. They're both great songs, but it's surprising to me that even their fans don't seem ready to embrace the more experimental albums or even the more conventional (and terrific) "Hail to the Thief."

10 No Surprises
11 The Gloaming

It's better live than on the album, but this is still one of my least favorite Radiohead songs. I guess at least one of them like sit, though, cause they play it in concert all the time.

12 All I Need
13 Climbing Up The Walls

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. One of my favorite "OK Computer" songs and I have never seen them do it at a show before. After the concert, Aaron told me the following anecdote: "I once warned a guy not to listen to that song over and over again or he'll go insane. He did and he did." The guy says stuff like that all the time.

14 Go Slowly ["Then we'll do 'Burn The Witch." jokes Thom]

I don't get what this joke means, nor do I recall hearing Thom Yorke say that at the show. I still really love this song, another one from the new album.

15 Myxomatosis
16 Bangers 'N Mash

This one is really poppy and radio friendly. Possibly the first new single?

17 How To Disappear Completely

Off "Amnesiac," this is probably the spookiest, most haunting Radiohead song of all time, and therefore it's among my favorites. A grand, sweeping way to end the regular set.

Encore 1

18 Fake Plastic Trees

Radiohead had previously played a show the night before at the Greek, and driving in to Santa Cruz, Matt and I heard a couple of guys on the radio reviewing the performance. They had been underwhelmed, citing a weak setlist and the fact that the band was just having "an off night." I didn't notice anything of the sort at my show, which was definitely the best performance I've seen personally by the band.

One of the songs those guys complained about not hearing was "Fake Plastic Trees." It's a great old song, but there are plenty of other "Bends" songs I prefer that they play a lot less than this one. (I'm not sure I've ever heard them play the other big "Bends" single, "High and Dry.") Just think it's odd how people obsess about this particular track all these years later.

19 Arpeggi
20 Black Star

This is one of those "Bends" songs I'd rather hear than "Fake Plastic Trees." Hell yes, what an awesome track to dig out of the vault. Bravo, guys.

21 True Love Waits
22 Everything In Its Right Place

Encore 2

23 Bodysnatchers

Still my favorite of the new songs. Johnny Greenwood was absolutely shredding through this entire song. His solo, with one spotlight aimed on him at all times, was downright Gilmour-esque.

24 The Tourist

The closing track of "OK Computer." Sweet...totally sweet...

I wish I had tickets for when they breeze through LA, but I'm broke after all and scalpers are selling those things for hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

The sudden overwhelming swell of cars all aimed at the campus exit was mighty indeed. We all thought that Dave, our driver, should try to find an alternate route out of there. It was, after all, a big college campus. There must be more than one road leading out to the city, right?

Of course, none of us attended Cal or had even been there for any length of time. We drove around aimlessly in the dark for a good 20 minutes, praying we weren't accosted by campus police wondering what four guys were doing tooling around central campus in the middle of the night reeking of marijuana smoke and pulling improbable U-turns. Eventually, after driving around more barricades and dead-ends than I'd care to remember, we found our way back to the massive line of cars and waited an hour to get to the freeway. Yay.

This morning, I awoke to the sound of...Pepper whining, this time because Matt was trying to get her to actually eat food. I have never met a dog that whined and required encouragement when presented with food before. Usually, they'll grab and begin digesting anything within a 100 yard radius that even vaguely resembles food.

Later, Matt and I went and ate dim sum at the Dim Sum King. I don't know if you've had dim sum, but it's kind of a mix between a casual lunch out and an eating competition. You select a lot of peculiar dishes from a long list of options (choices include delicacies like Beef Stomach, squid, pork buns and beef tripe in brown sauce, the last two of which Matt actually ordered.)

BBQ pork buns are exactly what they sound like. Dinner rolls, topped with a sweet glaze, filled with barbequed pork. It's pretty good, actually...Like going to a restaurant and stuffing all the complimentary bread into your mouth while you enjoy your entree. Also, there was normal food, like spareribs and chicken and dumplings. I mainly stuck to that stuff.

And then the flight home, where I sat next to an extremely precocious little girl (I'd guess of around 10) who was flying alone, and did so all the time, and seemed not in the least put out by the experience. She spent the entire flight, including take-off and departure, reading the in-flight magazine. Weird...

Then I came home. Then I checked my e-mail and started writing a blog post...That's where you all came in. End of anecdote.