Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Brief Confessional

So here was the dilemma. Last night, I had some guests over, including a few friends who are in LA for a few days from out of town. At around midnight, after a few hours of catching up, people decided they wanted to hit one of the local bars. I declined for two reasons.

First, I had to wake up early this morning to open the video store, which is unpleasant enough without additional hangover-related discomfort. Secondly, alcohol has not been sitting well with me lately. Last weekend, I went to Orange County to have a meal with my family and wound up getting a headache from two mild whiskey and ginger ales. I've kind of made an informal decision to avoid the sauce for a few weeks, hoping the problem goes away on its own.

So anyway, I was not going to go. It turns out, one of my friends also didn't want to go to the bar. So it was suggested that he hang out in my apartment for a few hours while everyone else drank, then they could come pick him up post-revelry and go home. (This had the additional benefit of providing for a designated, though sleepy, driver).

The thing is...I kind of wanted to go to bed. And my roommates probably wanted to hang out in the front room, the location of the big television, without a passed-out guy splaid out in there. So I made this objection known, and plans were changed.

I have seriously been troubled by this experience all day today. In the cold light of the following morning, I came to realize that my actions inadvertedly made it appear that I didn't want to have my friend in my apartment for a few hours. I was, in a manner of speaking, actually kicking him out, without using those particular words. In the end, it was an awkward social encounter. Not a bad or unpleasant or hostile one, but just awkward or unforutnate, which I late came to regret.

It's a crappy feeling. I don't want to call the guys and apologize, because it's not really that big a deal. In fact, I think hashing it over and trying to belatedly explain myself would only make the entire affair seem more significant, thus making me look worse. So I'm just stuck with feeling like a dick for turning away out-of-town friends, which is something you really ought not to do if you just have to wake up early to open a video store. In retrospect, the big thing to do would be to stop being a baby and just go get a drink with everybody, because who knows when we'll all be together again. It's too bad I only feel this way the next day, when the social event in question is already over.

Really, it all relates back to my increasingly anti-social attitude over the past few years. I notice that, as I get older, I just become more and more of a loner. A creepy loner, you might even say, if you weren't feeling charitable.

There was a time when I hated to be in my apartment alone for extended periods of time. I really enjoyed living in my own apartment, by myself, but not because I wanted to be stuck in there all the time alone. Really, it gave me an excuse to get out more and do stuff, because there was never anything going on at home.

Now, I crave alone time. To paraphrase a classic "Simpsons" line, hanging out in my room with a couple of DVD's, a pot of coffee and some combustible vegetation sounds more fun than a weekend with Batman. My urge to randomly call up a friend to grab dinner somewhere, to take a walk down to the music store or the movie theater, to check out a local bar to which I've never been, has dropped violently over the last few years. As in, I never feel like doing these things as much as I feel like going home, grabbing a quick bite, watching something for an hour and passing the fuck out.

I'm way too young to be this much of a loser already. (Although I've always been something of a prodigy when it comes to loserdom.) So I have panicky episodes like last night and today, in which I turn down a prime opportunity to go out and be social and then spend the next day feeling like a lame dumbass.

Friday, August 11, 2006

It's Terrorism Fever...Catch It!

Anyone else think that this whole foiled terrorist plot may be just so much election year hype? Was some plot foiled by British intelligence? It certainly seems so. But would you put it past our media to trump up some relatively minor bust in order to make the War on Terra seem more effective?

Now, I'd like to stress that I don't think our government or Tony Blair's neccessarily concocted this whole terrorist story. Mainly because they're not that clever. Bush can't manage to discuss foreign policy and eat at the same time, let alone propagandizing a false tragedy for the purposes of electoral fraud.

No, I think if anyone planted this story, it's clearly Paramount Pictures and director Oliver Stone. Think about it...The very weekend they're opening the big World Trade Center movie with Nicholas Cage, the world is shocked by another bomb plot hatched by al-Qaida's finest Imagineers. The attack was thwarted yesterday and then World Trade Center opened today. Now that's marketing.

I'm not sure whether some of Stone/Paramount's representatives simply falsified information about a planned attack on U.S. soil or whether they actually attempted to carry out a terrorist action in support of the movie. In either case, I think it's clearly going to far just to sell a film, no matter how important the subject matter.

Still, it's like Lenin said..."I am the walrus." No, that other thing...The one about looking to the person who will benefit most...In this case, Oliver Stone. Not only will interest in this near-trauma probably add $5-$10 million to his opening weekend B.O., it's a surefire concept for the inevitable sequel.

World Trade Center 2: Heathrow

Look for it in theaters, oh, I'd say about Summer 2009. We should all be psychically healed by then, wouldn't you say?


Last night, I saw a double feature at the Egyptian Theater. Two British films, totally unavailable on DVD, that have been all but forgotten by modern audiences. In the case of 1969's Bond rip-off Some Girls Do, the second in a series of films about super-spy and Sean Connery lookalike Hugh Drummond, it's probably for the best. Notable mainly for its gimmick of attractive female servant-robots (parodied in the first Austin Powers film) and its highly ludicrous '60s fashions and designs, the movie rarely rises above the level of nostalgia cheese.

1972's Pulp, a flop upon its initial release, holds up much better. Star Michael Caine and director Mike Hodges, coming off of the cult hit Get Carter, reteamed for this wacky mystery-comedy that's equal parts clever postmodern riff and lowbrow farce. It doesn't always work, but Caine and Mickey Rooney are hilarious and enough of the little background jokes connect to make it worthwhile, particularly for fans of detective fiction.

I'd write a full-length review of these films and the experience of seeing them on the big screen at the Egyptian in Hollywood...but what do you guys care, right? The event's over, so you can't go see them. And they're not on DVD, and probably never will be. So I might as well review something you'll at least have a chance to watch.

Which brings me to Wolfgang Peterson's Poseidon, which you'll all get a chance to watch in a few weeks when it comes out on DVD. Not that you should bother...

An exclusive sneak peek at Warners' can't miss 2007 sequel, Tango's Son & Cash & Goldfarb

The Poseidon Adventure strikes me as a quality selection for a remake. It has a great premise and the original film isn't particularly good. It has a good title, sure, and it's memorable in a way, mainly because Shelly Winters continually makes fun of her own weight problem and Gene Hackman plays a priest having a crisis of faith, both of which are funny. But it's a stupid, pointless film, one of dozens of cheesy, perfunctory '70s disaster films with big ensemble casts yelling at one another inside burning or crumbling superstructures.

Unfortunately, Peterson's new version doesn't fix any of the problems with the original, and in fact adds in some fresh, new problems of its own. It has a few solid sequences of carnage and destruction, lame supporting characters and some of the weakest dialogue of any film I've seen all year. My friend Cory complained about some cheeseball dialogue in Miami Vice. That shit sounds like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead compared with some of the turds Kurt Russell is handed here. There's at least three exchanges that made me want to turn off the DVD player.

It's kind of a shame, because the movie clearly cost an awful lot and a ton of quality craftsmanship has gone into the production. The story of a futuristic ocean liner, capsized mid-ocean by a massive "rogue wave," practically cries out for the generally sure hand of Wolfgang Peterson, whose Das Boot and Perfect Storm occasionally tread similar...please forgive me...waters.

He handles a few bits with aplomb. The initial wave crash and the resulting destruction looks really terrific and sounds even better. Beams being throttled apart, huge windows shattering on impact, bodies flying around through flame-streaked passageways...It's like the final hour of Titanic smooshed together into one five-minute orgy of chaos.

A few other little set pieces come together nicely. The above photo, despite what the hilarious caption indicates, comes from a scene in which Richard Dreyfuss and Freddy Rodriguez hold on for dear life above flaming water. It's intense and wrenching, momentarily capturing some of the claustrophobic, mortal terror of being stuck in an upside-down ship in the mid-Atlantic. It's also shockingly violent for a PG-13 movie. I don't care how many f-bombs are dropped in Find Me Guilty. There's no way that tame courtroom comedy deserves an R rating while this Flaming-Corpse-a-thon squeaks by with a PG-13.

These enjoyable, thrilling momets of spectacle are few and far between. Actually, I have just named both of the scenes in Poseidon that worked for me. The rest is pretty much total garbage. The first 15 minutes consists of bland, poorly-conceived individuals introducing themselves to one another.

"Oh, hello, concerned single mother. I'm lonely gay man and this is my friend, heroic ex-mayor. If some horrifying disaster was to befall this ship, I'd like to think that we'd all try and band together for survival. Possibly finding an individual who knows something about the bowels of such an ocean liner, who might enable us to find a unique, impromptu escape route? Oh, by the way, I have commitment issues. That might come up later if, for any reason, I think I'm about to die. Just thought I'd mention it now so there's no confusion in that unlikely event."

Then, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas takes the stage to introduce us once again to her big fat humps. She's a national treasure.

Not only is their ship turned upside-down, but the passengers must also contend with the hideous ghoul Davy Jones, intent on imprisoning them all in a lifetime of servitude aboard the Flying Dutchman.

Then, Richard Dreyfuss is hanging out on deck and notices an enormous wave about the crush the vessel in twain. How come nobody noticed this thing before it was visible to the naked eye? Don't they have sonar on this thing? Maybe they used the sonar fund to book Fergie.

The rest of the movie finds Kurt Russell leading his daughter (Emmy Rossum), her boyfriend (um...some guy...), a determined Josh Lucas and a few other passengers through the ship to safety. Mainly, they stand around in small flooding rooms and debate the proper route. Every once in a while, someone dies in horrible pain, frequently on camera. It doesn't really make for a fun time at the movies.

It's mainly boring, what with all the arguing and standing around in knee-high water, so I kept thinking about how this must have been the worst experience in the actor's lives. For months at a time, they're holed up together having instructions barked at them in a thick German accent, standing around for hours in sopping wet clothes on upside-down sets, being periodically doused with cold water. That's pretty much worse than just being a passenger in an upside-down cruise ship. At least the doomed passengers will die of hypothermia after a few hours of exposure.

It's also oddly obsessed with Emmy Rossum's wet breasts. Now, don't get me wrong...They're very nice breasts, particularly when wet. But she bends down right in front of the camera a lot. An awful lot. You feel like nudging Wolfgang when no one else is looking and warning him that he's going to get caught. Considering that she's playing Kurt Russell's daughter, it's kind of an odd choice. I'm not complaining, mind you, but the whole thing strikes me as kind of unseemly. There hasn't been this much teasing PG-13 fripple since we all found out what Jennifer Love Hewitt did last summer.

The whole thing would just work better if there was one character who was funny or engaging. It's not only impossible to care about these random, underdeveloped strangers...It's impossible to even focus on their predicament for a few minutes at a time because they're so crushingly dull. Even actors with a lot of charisma and presence - like Kevin Dillon, who shows up and essentially plays his character from "Entourage" in a few scenes - aren't given anything interesting to say or do. They all just stand around until bits of the set start to fall apart, then they take off running. For an action film, it's entirely static.

The Safety Dance

Here's what George Bush had to say in the aftermath of this whole British liquid bomber fiasco:

President Bush said the foiled plot showed the nation was "at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."

"This country is safer than it was prior to 9/11," Bush said Thursday in Green Bay, Wis. "We've taken a lot of measures to protect the American people, but obviously we're not completely safe. ... It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America."

Okay, so there's a lot of just made-up idiotic stuff in this quote, just like every single sentence Bush has ever spoken aloud, ever. In particular, were the 24 men arrested in connection with this plot really "facsists"? Have they written some sort of manifesto I can peruse in order to ascertain the veracity of this claim? What is that based on? Did they have brown shirts on at the time of arrest, perhaps? Did they declare, out of nowhere, a fondness for a nice putsch?

Because I can think of a lot of solid pieces of evidence indicating George Bush's fascist tendencies...Not so much crazy bombing guys. They strike me more as religious zealot assholes than fascists. But, hey, that's me...Maybe they were purging the unfaithful in their own political party while simultaneously fomenting thuggish street violence and issuing propaganda in an attempt to consolidate and centralize their power, and it just hasn't come out yet.

Also, he did that same tired old "they hate us for our freedom" line that was already overused by 9/16. Yeah, sure, they hate us for our freedom. I'm just saying, our bombs and missiles and torture rooms aren't helping.

But let's forget about all the shit that spews out of our President's mouth for a few minutes and focus on one actual real topic of interest that he brought up. Are we safer now than we were before 9/11? Anyone think so?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Why Joe Lieberman Lost...

In two simple paragraphs:

"I'm worried that too many people, both in politics and out, don't appreciate the seriousness of the threat to American security and the evil of the enemy that faces us -- more evil or as evil as Nazism and probably more dangerous than the Soviet communists we fought during the long Cold War," Lieberman said.

"If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out [of Iraq] by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

I'm encouraged by Lamont's victory. Maybe Americans are starting to see through this insa,e hollow rhetoric. Maybe we really are turning a corner!

Inside Man & CSA: The Confederate States of America

I saw Inside Man in theaters while visiting Florida this Spring, so I didn't write up my thoughts at the time. Spike Lee's latest is pretty much what you'd expect from the trailers - a sleek, taut and well-directed heist thriller reminiscent of Dog Day Afternoon with some fun, outsized lead performances. His fourth collaboration with star Denzel Washington, this is probably the tightest and most accessible, but it's hardly the best (that would be Malcolm X) or most ambitious.

Having said that, most of the landmarks of the Spike Lee joint remain. We return to the notion of New York as a pressure cooker for social, racial and class tension. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, in his first collaboration with Lee, essentially creates a brighter version of Malik Hassan Sayeed's work in the director's Clockers - intrusive close-ups, garishly bright colors and, of course, the shot where the guy moves on a conveyor belt towards the camera. As in Clockers or He Got Game or The 25th Hour or Do the Right Thing, past injustices pollute the atmosphere of the present. About halfway through Inside Man, Clive Owen speaks a line that could fit snugly within just about any Spike Lee movie - "Murder will out."

The original twist here is all a matter of perspective. Lee gives us the scenario entirely from a cop's point of view. Generally, he seems to reject the notion of point-of-view entirely. His movies tend to drift between a variety of protagonists, giving the audience insight into everyone's perspective on the events of the story. Do the Right Thing is the most obvious example, zipping through the lives of an entire neighborhood full of angry, opinionated New Yorkers. But shifting attitudes and ambiguities run through all of the man's work.

Inside Man takes a story that's typically presented from one side - a bank robber - and turns it into a story about two cops solving a difficult case. The complexities behind the present crimes become illuminated only when Detectives Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) catch on to them. And it takes a while.

This is not entirely their fault, mind you. Several important factors are working against them. For one, there's the highly intelligent and surprisingly non-violent head of the gang of thieves (Clive Owen), who seems to have more on his mind than stealing away with a few hundred thousand dollars from vault. Then, there's the Chairman of the bank's Board of Directors (Christopher Plummer), a suspicious type who hires a mysterious "fixer" (Jodie Foster) to keep an eye on the escalating situation. Finally, there's the police captain (Willem Dafoe), who has apparently seen a movie like this before and knows it's his job to insist on bursting into the bank and killing everyone.

There are a few secrets revealed on the way to the conclusion which, of course, I will not ruin for you here. They are satisfying but not mind-blowing. In many ways, a movie like this is all about the last 10 minutes, and after two viewings, I kind of feel like Inside Man takes a bit too long to get to an ending that's merely satisfactory. It's a minor complaint overall. I have watched the movie twice and been thoroughly entertained both times. But still, with this sort of a thriller, it's better to save a bit more surprise for the very end. Leave the people wanting more.

Though it's unfortunate from a pacing standpoint, I can understand why Spike took his time wading through the murky backstory before simply wrapping up Inside Man. The "secrets" uncovered during the course of Frazier's investigation, in noirish fashion, relate to the most base kind of corruption. They are compelling enough to warrant a few more pre-credit scenes.

The crimes that have been hidden away in this Manhattan bank seem to run against the entire spirit of the place as presented in Lee's film. We see the diversity of New York. A tense, uneasy diversity, but a mainly peaceful one. What's unearthed is an evil that contradicts this version of reality, the kind of secret that's always hidden away behind vault doors, kept away from the average citizens who watch outside behind police tape.

Spike Lee's name is on the DVD box for CSA: The Confederate States of America, but it's one of those "Presented by..." deals where the filmmaker just let someone put their name on the box and doesn't actually have anything to do with the movie. I rented this independently-produced 2004 oddity not because of the association with Spike Lee, but because it sounded like a funny sort of concept...

What if the South had won the Civil War?

Writer/director Kevin Willmott's CSA approximates an alternate-universe British documentary, chronicling the history of the former United States of America from the immediate antebellum period to the present day. To enhance the effect of watching a real TV program, there are commercial interruptions and network identification spots.

Sounds funny, right? I expected some clever historical references, some redneck jokes and some clever Photoshop-style manipulation effects, like that imagined Iwo Jima above. But then, I didn't really understand Willmott's actual interests and intention. This movie is not at all funny. It is deathly serious and, in its own way, genuinely horrifying.

But perhaps I should explain. Willmott has imagined a world in which the South won the Civil War and therefore slavery remained legal. And remains legal to this day. Obviously, this changes everything about our national history, character, sense of ourselves...Well, everything.

But Willmott doesn't stop there! No, this is not just some takedown of slavery as an institution. He's poitning out how similar this imagined pro-slavery Southern nation would be to our history. Sure, the Emancipation Proclamation "freed the slaves," in other words, but it hardly put an end to prjeudice, hate or black suffering in America.

The film is very angry, very pointed and occasionally hard to take. It's blithe manner is, of course, part of the put-on. We're watching a universe in which slavery is not only legal but a beloved and sacred part of American culture. Of course they don't recoil from calling black men "bucks" or advertising Lo-Jack style collars intended to alert authorities to runaways. But that doesn't make it easier to watch if you happen to be from our version of reality.

What kept me watching was how deviously clever Willmott is at toying with the real history of America. Our encouraching interference in Latin and South American life and politics is mirrored by the (very real) plans for colonizing all of the Americas in the glorious name of the Confederacy. The infamous Watts riots of the 1960's are reconfigured as a modern slave rebellion. And real advertising icons - from Coon Chicken (immortalized in Ghost World) to Niggerhair cigarettes - are updated for contemporary tastes. (With a reminder that some of these characters, like Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima, have never left us.)

Furthermore, he postulates how our approach to issues of race would come to govern our outlook and behavior as a nation. In World War II, he theorizes, we would have remained officially neutral but friendly with the Nazis. (Fake footage shows Hitler touring Washington D.C.) The Chinese immigrants who flooded West to build the railroads would have been converted forcibly into slave labor. Japanese internment would take on a new and even uglier face.

My favorite touch was an inspired nod to D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, a hazily-recalled celebration of the Ku Klux Klan which obviously would never have come to pass if the South had won the war in the first place. With the South as victor, Griffith's film instead focuses on the plight of poor, sad, nigger-lovin' Abraham Lincoln, sneaking out of the country via Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad. It's a wonderful comic inversion, and shot just like a real Griffith silent. A great sequence.

In addition to the Spike Lee credit, the DVD box for CSA advertises the film as funny. "Like Jean-Luc Godard directing a script by Dave Chappelle," reads one. I kind of get this, sort of. It's postmodern and experimental, like Godard. And it features sketches poking fun at the idea of slavery, like "Chappelle's Show." But that description makes it sound funny, and I rarely laughed during CSA. Very very rarely. It's savvy and even witty, sure. But not funny. I'll be telling this to people in the video store for weeks, I mgiht as well stress it to you readers out there.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dr. Tran Visits a Mormon Child

Easily posted streaming videos + Blogger + Apathy - Anything Interesting Besides Joe Lieberman's hilarious defeat = Another YouTube post!

I heard about this from co-worker William down at the Blazer. It's a really funny cartoon that I believe played in one of those Spike + Mike's animation festivals. I give you...Dr. Tran!

In the best entry yet in Stephen Colbert's ongoing series, "Better Know a District," here's Stephen attempting to prove that Washington D.C. is not technically part of the United States. At first, I was skeptical about whether Stephen could turn his O'Reilly parody into an entire show. Now, with "The Daily Show" becoming more silly all the time and "South Park" growing more creepy and less consistent, he's probably got the best half-hour of satirical comedy on television. (Although "Wonder Showzen" continues to impress.)

Tonight, I'm going to see a double-feature at the Egyptian Theater, part of American Cinematheque's annual Mods & Rockers series. The first film, Pulp!, is a detective comedy with Michael Caine. (More about these when I get back tonight, if they're worth writing about, I suppose...)

Here's the trailer for Christopher Nolan's upcoming The Prestige, starring Michael Caine in addition to Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson and David freaking Bowie. Very excited about this one...

Here's LA band Silversun Pickups playing "Kissing Families." It's a great song from their debut EP last year. The new album, Carnavas, is great too. I picked these guys up from one of the music blogs a month or so ago, and it seems like I'm seeing them mentioned everywhere now. (Local rag CityBeat even gave them a shoutout this past week.)

The video itself is not that exciting, but it's actually easier to post a music video streaming on here than it is an mp3, so you get audio and video!

Finally, an awesome clip from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" in which they watch an old "Gumby" cartoon. I miss this show...

Guns Don't Kill People. People Kill People. And Monkeys Do Too if They Have a Gun.

Okay, let me get this straight...We shouldn't do research on stem cells because one day, if enough little children vigorously clap their hands to indicate that they truly believe in them, they might grow up to become snowflake babies, ut it's okay to shoot someone even if they pose no immediate physical threat to you? Merely because they're uncomfortably close to shit you own?

Take it away, NYT:

In the last year, 15 states have enacted laws that expand the right of self-defense, allowing crime victims to use deadly force in situations that might formerly have subjected them to prosecution for murder.

This must be the work of Democrats, because Ramesh Ponnaru informs me that they are the "Party of Death."

The first of the new laws took effect in Florida in October, and cases under it are now reaching prosecutors and juries there. The other laws, mostly in Southern and Midwestern states, were enacted this year, according to the National Rifle Association, which has enthusiastically promoted them.

Well, I'm sure it's all those Democrats in the NRA that are behind this.

Anyone else not surprised to see Florida leading the pack on this? Whether it's incidences of burning crosses found on the lawns of elderly black couples, number of Confederate flags per capita, election fraud or lenient gun legislation, you can always look to the Sunshine State to lead the way for the rest of us.

Florida does not keep comprehensive records on the impact of its new law, but prosecutors and defense lawyers there agree that fewer people who claim self-defense are being charged or convicted.

Let's get one thing clear right off the bat. I'm not anti-self defense laws. If someone wants to kill and/or rape you, it's probably a good idea to try to kill and/or rape them first. Okay, maybe don't rape them. Unless, you know...they're really asking for it. Then, rape them as a warning and figure they'll probably leave you alone from now, if for no other reson than shame.

This isn't about self-defense. You can already get away with killing someone who's trying to kill you in Florida. (And if it's just a black person, they might not even bother to send a cop to do any time-consuming paperwork!) This is about giving people the right to kill someone to protect their precious stuff.

The Florida law, which served as a model for the others, gives people the right to use deadly force against intruders entering their homes. They no longer need to prove that they feared for their safety, only that the person they killed had intruded unlawfully and forcefully. The law also extends this principle to vehicles.

So it seems that, as a society, we're establishing that it's okay to kill someone who tries to steal your car. We should probably set some boundaries right now for this entire principle, don't you think? What's the cheapest item of personal property that it's okay to murder over? What if someone wants to steal your new plasma TV? That'll run you a few thousand, the price of a used car. How about a nice cashmere sweater? An iPod?

To put it another way...In legal terms, what would you do for a Klondike bar. Would you shoot a man in cold blood?

In addition, the law does away with an earlier requirement that a person attacked in a public place must retreat if possible. Now, that same person, in the law’s words, “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” The law also forbids the arrest, detention or prosecution of the people covered by the law, and it prohibits civil suits against them.

The central innovation in the Florida law, said Anthony J. Sebok, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, is not its elimination of the duty to retreat, which has been eroding nationally through judicial decisions, but in expanding the right to shoot intruders who pose no threat to the occupant’s safety.

"In effect,” Professor Sebok said, “the law allows citizens to kill other citizens in defense of property.”

Yeah. The "Keep Away from My Stuff" Act of 2006. (Alternatively, the "Stop or My Mom Will Shoot" Act, I can't decide which I like better.)

So, the government is now telling us that, should we find ourselves in a situation where someone might possibly want to do us harm, the best solution would be to try an dinstigate a violent conflict? "Stand your ground" is good advice when a bully is picking on you, but that's assuming the bully does not have a razor-sharp hunting knife and undiagnosed schizophrenia. In that case, I'm tempted to suggest running away whilst screaming like a little girl as the best and most effective policy.

But that's me. Not everyone approaches interpersonal conflict this way. If threatened on a street corner, our President would probably decide to take a beating for several hours, hoping for a chance to get in a sucker punch before passing out in a pool of his own blood and teeth, then wake up and begin sneering at all the idiots who aren't man enough to get their asses kicked for no reason. It's up to each individual, really.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the N.R.A., said the Florida law had sent a needed message to law-abiding citizens.

“If they make a decision to save their lives in the split second they are being attacked, the law is on their side,” Mr. LaPierre said. “Good people make good decisions. That’s why they’re good people. If you’re going to empower someone, empower the crime victim.”

Truly, Wayne LaPierre is one of the great underappreciated social philosophers of our times. "Good people make good decisions." Brilliant. But, Wayne, what happens if one bad person breaks into the home of another bad person? Whose side would the law take in that unlikely situation? Did I just blow your mind?

I mean, "that's why they're good people"? What the hell is this idiot talking about? There's no "good people" and "bad people"! What does he think this is, a Stephen King novel? This ain't Castle Rock, motherfucker, we're all just a bunch of people. Now heavily armed and cavalier about murdering our fellow citizens, thanks to folks like you and the elected representatives of 15 states!

Many prosecutors oppose the laws, saying they are unnecessary at best and pernicious at worst. “They’re basically giving citizens more rights to use deadly force than we give police officers, and with less review,” said Paul A. Logli, president of the National District Attorneys Association.

But some legal experts doubt the laws will make a practical difference. “It’s inconceivable to me that one in a hundred Floridians could tell you how the law has changed,” said Gary Kleck, who teaches criminology at Florida State University.

Even before the new laws, Professor Kleck added, claims of self-defense were often accepted. “In the South,” he said, “they more or less give the benefit of the doubt to the alleged victim’s account.”

Yeah, that's the moral standard I always apply when considering new laws. "How do they deal with this issue in the Deep South?" You can always turn to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana if you want a fair-minded, well-considered approach to public policy. Except when it comes to literacy and economics and infant mortality and social services and civil rights and racial equality and disaster preparedness.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

You Stay Classy, Joe Lieberman

The self-aggrandizing wrong-headedness of this quote really startled me:

"Of course I am disappointed by the results, but I am not discouraged," Lieberman said. "For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."

The Democratic voters of Connecticut banded together today to get this guy out of office. They came out in record numbers. Thousands of voters registered as Democrats specifically so they could vote against Joe Lieberman in this primary. He's only the fourth incumbent Senator to lose a primary since 1980.

Sounds to me like Connecticut Democrats don't want to be represented by Joe Lieberman any more. But, you see...he knows better. He has to run as an independent candidate for the sake of his party.

As if we couldn't see through such a ridiculous rhetorical ruse. (I love unintentional alliteration). "It's not that I still care about being a Senator, mind you. I'm not mad with power or jockeying for a position with the Bush Administration or anything. I don't care about scoring valuable corporate contracts for my pharmaceutical lobbyist wife through my governmental access. I just care so goddamn deeply about the voters of Connecticut...So deeply that I can't allow them to elect the man who they actually would like supporting them in Washington."

That's commitment, people. You're a good man, Rape Gurney Joe.

As if that weren't enough - as if telling the Democrats of Connecticut to their face that they are too stupid to take part in the democratic process and threatening the party's chances in the fall with a selfish third-party bid - he has to make up stories about his opponent as well.

Lieberman's camp has repeatedly accused Lamont supporters of "hacking" the Senator's site in order to block...well, I'm not sure. In order to keep people from checking up on Joe Lieberman's lame website. They've admitted, however, that there's no evidence Lamont or supporters did any such thing. Additionally, it now appears that Joe was too cheap to spend any money on web hosting, so the site simply went down because of excessive traffic.

(Though it's a stretch to believe that Joe Lieberman's site could be inundated with too much traffic, no matter how small his server. Maybe he put up a video of that fat kid dancing to Romanian techno.)

Like every other blogger, I've been following this race closely, and even though it's only a primary and I don't live in Connecticut, it still feels like a victory. For the first time in a long while, I feel like the right person has won an important election. This sort of thing can't help but feel like a beginning...Joe Lieberman will be the first villainous warmonger to be tossed out on his ass by the American people. Hopefully, many many many many many many more of these greedy lunatics will follow and we can be governed with a modicum of sense again.

Monday, August 07, 2006


A guy I work with, a struggling wannabe screenwriter, he's all about the high-concept postmodern conceit. Every idea he comes up with for a film consists of a mash-up of two familiar styles. A hybrid horror/serial adventure. A comic take on the Japanese superhero cartoon. Zombies in outer space. This is his favorite movie thus far in 2006.

High concepts don't come much higher than Brick, a very clever take on the detective noir that's certain to be a favorite of video store nerds and film school undergrads the nation over. Rian Johnson's Sundance hit has a terrific set-up: a mystery set at a high school that unfolds with all the trappings and style of old-fashioned noir film. Sometimes, a clever premise like that makes for a great film. Most of the time, as with Brick, it just makes for a great pitch and a mediocre finished product.

There are two ways to approach a film noir set in a public school. You either make the noir movie, with the fact that it happens among suburban teens rather than inner-city hoods glossed over as an afterthought, or you make a mystery at a high school with some noir flourishes. Johnson's gone with the former route, steeping his film with so much detective movie attitude and swagger, the high school setting comes to seem rather ridiculous. I think I would have probably taken the latter approach and tried to make a movie that works simply as a story about some teenagers. As it stands, I doubt viewers unfamiliar with old '40s Hollywood thrillers would be interested in Brick at all. "Why is everyone talking like that?," they'd wonder. "And why should I give a shit who killed this guy's ex-girlfriend?"

Because, let's face it, it's not as if no one had thought of this particular postmodern conceit before Rian Johnson came along. "Veronica Mars" has been working the high school detective beat for two seasons already, and does a better job of placing familiar noir material in a modern and believable high school setting. I was reminded during Brick as well of the ill-fated Cruel Intentions, which featured high school students re-enacting Dangerous Liasons with similarly silly results.

Brick works better than that film mainly on the strength of its performances. Cruel Intentions felt like a high school production of Dangerous Liasons, with teens crudely approximating the mature personalities of the main characters. Brick at least has the semblance of actual noir's gritty insouciance. When one actor leers at another and delivers a colorful parting shot, there's genuine venom behind the eyes rather than the vapid emptiness of a Ryan Phillippe. The young actors must work mightily to translate this pulpy, exaggerated dialogue to the screen naturally, as they might as well be qutoing Psalms to one another for all the realism evident here. I know, I know, he's trying to make it all sound like a James Cain novel, but a high school student asking another why he "took a powder" just sounds goofy and wrong. I'm sorry.

Unlike a Cain or Chandler protagonist, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) isn't really an anti-hero. A loner who eats his lunch by himself behind the portables (get it?), he's never had much need for the rich kids' clique at his school until he receives a distressed call from ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin). She's babbling incoherently - something about a pin and a brick - and the next thing Brendan knows, she turns up dead. So he does what any teen might do - stashes the body and starts scanning the school for clues to her killer(s).

The movie starts out pretty well. Like I said, it's a clever premise. Early conversations between Brendan and his savvy friend, called The Brain (Matt O'Leary), introduce the viewer to the underworld of the high school. In these early passages, Johnson tries as best he can to tie the contemporary environment of the rundown public school to the urban streets of the '40s. In that world, in films like The Street With No Name, Murder My Sweet and Where the Sidewalk Ends, crime is sometimes a last resort for desperate men. It can even be a lifestyle, one adopted early on and by choice. But many times in these films, crime is the downfall of a good man lured by temptation and vice. Like some of the classic noirs, in the world of Brick, crime seems a refuge from inert boredom, a way to act out against a controlling, conformist society that seems to offer no other opportunities for financial success and personal freedom.

The trial of Emily's murderers eventually leads Brendan to investigate the organization of a local drug lord known as The Pin (Lukas Haas in the film's best and most deadpan performance).

Once again, Johnson plays up the similarities to the old films. We meet The Pin in a large, formally-decorated wood-paneled office. He wears a cape and carries with him an oversized cane. He surrounds himself with toughs and sycophantic followers. But unlike the mob bosses in the films of old - stone cold psychopathic killers like Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death - The Pin's still just a kid, in over his head. During one intense stand-off, his mother interrupts to fix the boys something to eat.

I suppose Johnson's overarching idea might be that, for teens in modern suburbia, the future's as bleak as it was for the criminals in the movies of Edward Dmytryk and Otto Preminger. Sure, the houses are more comfortable and the amenities nicer. No one has to turn to a life of crime to keep their sainted mother out of the poor house or get their children back from social services, like in the old movies.

But there's a desperation to the actions of these kids nonetheless. Why would Emily hook up with lowlifes like The Pin and Dode the junkie (Noah Segan)? What does the rich girl, Laura (Nora Zehetner), see in these losers, who can promise her nothing except some additional money to throw around? Exactly what could have happened to make the generally-unhinged but cherub-faced Tug (Noah Fleiss) so violent?

So I'm not trying to say that there's no point to Johnson's compilation of genres. Interesting ideas do surface throughout Brick, popping up from the cracks between the tectonic plates of film noir and adolescent hijinks. But it's not enough to sustain an entire film, and eventually Johnson comes to rely too heavily on the inside jokiness and the mainly uninteresting maneuvers of the plot, losing track of any kind of real point on his way to a pat conclusion.

The turning point comes in a scene where Brendan is called to the Vice Principal's office (or the Ass V.P., in Brick terminology). Richard Roundtree plays the principal, and he does a nice job with the difficult verbiage, but the scene just doesn't work at all. Johnson's unable to create a scene that feels realistic for both the film's worlds - it sounds a lot like a scene from a noir film in which a detective and a police officer battle it out for territory, but absolutely nothing like a student speaking to his vice-principal.

Regardless of whether or not a movie cares about realism, it has to feel authentic to itself and the rules it has established. Brick begins by having fun with its peculiar gimmick. Outlandish characters, like a drama student perenially changing costumes (Meagan Good), recall the eccentric supporting characters that filled out the ensemble casts of yore. But Johnson expects us to relate to them as people, to sympathize with their plights, and this is just not to be. His characters and the scenarios they enact are jokes, insightful references to old movies. They don't exist as autonomous people in their own right.

Who could believe in a cape-clad teenager running drugs through his mother's basement teamed with a squad of 20 goons in tank tops? The very concept is ludicrous. If Johnson were content to have ludicrous fun, you probably still wouldn't have a great movie, but you'd have one that's at least enjoyable to sit through.

In the last act, when the stakes are raised and the situation turns suddenly and inexplicably violent, Johnson really loses the thread. It's a sudden shift in tone, a sharp coda for what has been kind of a silly riff up until that point. (Yes, I know there's a dead girl in the beginning, but these stories always have to begin with someone dead. Those Charlie Chan movies begin with a corpse and they're anything but heavy).

There's just something about Brick overall that feels a little to easy. Everything holds together well and fits into the motif. Johnson even gets the little details right - how Brendan keeps getting beaten up and knocked unconscious during the film, getting a little bit bloodier and more bruised with each passing set piece; how partially overheard conversations come to drive the action in the second half; how the hero takes advantage of social custom and general inattentiveness; how Brendan's quiet reserve hides a deep and frightening core of anger and repressed violence. But he never stops making a throwback gimmicky noir and just makes an interesting, suspenseful mystery.

After watching the film, I'm positive Rian Johnson has watched a buttload of old noir movies. The question is, did he ever go to high school?