Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blades of Glory

Let's consider two popular comic actors - Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn. Both have made a career of being the best characters in mediocre movies (including Old School, that rare Frat Pack film with two "best characters").

Vaughn and producer Ben Stiller teamed up for Dodgeball a few years back, a nearly-unwatchable, painfully unfunny comedy about a bunch of idiots who play dodgeball against a bunch of other idiots to save a small gymnasium. The film has a good cast and a few jokes work (though many of these, such as Rip Torn chucking a wrench in a guy's face, appeared in the trailers), but it's a slack, uneventful affair that's pretty thin, reliant almost exclusively on poorly-executed physical comedy and cheap sub-"Mad TV" schtick.

Ferrell and producer Ben Stiller have teamed up now for Blades of Glory, about two cocky male figure skaters forced to compete in the Olymics as a couple. Formula-wise, it could be Dodgeball 2. Instead of Rip Torn, you now have Craig T. Nelson as the cantankerous, whacked-out coach who's got to whip these guys into shape. Instead of the high-stakes professional dodgeball circuit, this film takes place in the professional ice skating circuit. Cameos still abound, along with gross-out humor, slapstick and oversized, sketch-comedy-style characters. Stiller's flamboyant Dodgeball adversary has been replaced by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler as a creepy brother-sister skating team.

And yet...and yet...Blades of Glory couldn't really be less like Dodgeball. That film felt tired, bored with itself in a strange way. (Vaughn's visible boredom in his role was a big part of the problem). Ferrell and the rest of the new film's cast go through these sophomoric shenanigans with such fresh-faced enthusiasm, you'd think the antic sports-themed farce were invented last Tuesday instead of roughly 100 years ago. The scenes are sort of funny, the situation is kind of funny but the performances are frequently hilarious.

So, one more time, for the record...There is nothing original, sophisticated or culturally redeeming about Blades of Glory. It did, however, make me laugh my ass off at times, and kept me generally amused throughout. On the Frat Pack-o-meter, I'd rank it below Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Old School but above Dodgeball, Wedding Crashers, Zoolander and any other non-Wes Anderson films with Owen Wilson. I'm really starting to dislike that guy, in fact...

Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Napoleon Dynamite) earn exactly the same score in the Olym Wintergame finals. So, naturally, they get into a fistfight on the winner's podium and get simultaneously banned from competitive figure skating for life. Four years later, Chazz is the alcoholic star of "Grumbles on Ice" and Jimmy laces up little girl skates at the SportMart. Then, Jimmy's twisted stalker (Nick Swardson) discovers a wacky loophole in the Wintergame rules - Chazz and Jimmy can't compete in singles figure skating, but they could compete as a team!

Safe, obvious mainstream comedy fodder. A solid high-concept pitch. This style of comedy has become a formula because it works. Or, at least, it works sometimes. Fortunately, this is one of those times.

As Ferrell and writer Adam McKay do in their films (Anchorman and Talladega), screenwriters Jeff Cox, Craig Cox, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky refuse to let realism intrude on a good joke, giving Blades of Glory a loose, flight of fancy vibe that keeps the proceedings light and watchable. Ferrell doesn't just play a macho asshole, he plays the most deluded sex-addicted testosterone-fueled doofus in history. Napoleon Dynamite isn't just a fey blonde-locked priss, he's a ludicrous exaggeration of every stereotype about male figure skaters. There isn't just a footchase, but a footchase through a crowded mall on ice skates while the chaser's wearing a business suit adorned with glitter.

It can be a bit much at times, and obviously any film with this much physical comedy and silliness is going to have some jokes miss their mark. But there are a lot more funny scenes than not, and a few moments that, if not exactly "smart," at least demonstrated some level of wit in the midst of all the stupidity. The skating routines in particular are well shot and designed by first-time directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck, who previously worked on those surreal Emerald Nut commercials. To use a metaphor from a different sport, I wouldn't say they've knocked it out of the park on their first try, but Blades of Glory is a solid double.

Live From Baghdad

This is a great idea. Why hasn't anyone else thought of this?

The Gun Toting Liberal’s Alexander Paul Melonas is now pursuing the Iraq embed opportunity and has written the DOD to begin the vetting process.

Long story short. Lame right-wing blog Red State announced that they were sending a blogger to Iraq, making it sound as if they had been personally invited by the Department of Defense to do so. Of course, they had not. Instead, they had spent several months lobbying the government to permit them to go report from Iraq.

So, okay...typical scumbag rightard maneuever. But...having said that...I think we can all agree this was an excellent idea. Most Americans, and I definitely include myself here, lack even a basic understanding of all the various, complex factors at play in this Iraq mess we've created. This is one of the major reasons I was against Bush's venture in the first place. Americans, and especially their president, don't know shit about the rest of the world. At all. So we probably shouldn't invade it, because we'll just get lost and refuse to ask any of the locals for directions.

I'm not sure if there's a remedy for this. How do you reverse so many generations of willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism? Like it or not, asshattery is part of our national character, like deep-friend Oreos or Sanjaya Malakar. Without it, we are nothing.

But it's still a good idea for more bloggers to actually go see what's going on for themselves and then report back. Even if it has to be one of the guys from...ugh...Red State, which is currently running this post on its front page:

Back in September 2004, when John Kerry and his Magic Hat were on the campaign trail he floated the idea that George Bush would reinstitute a draft if reelected.

Answering a question about the draft that had been posed at a forum with voters, Kerry said: "If George Bush were to be re-elected, given the way he has gone about this war and given his avoidance of responsibility in North Korea and Iran and other places, is it possible? I can't tell you."

This, obviously, was meant to terrify the key collegiate pencil-necked pseudo-male demographic into submissive urination and voting for him.

Irony is a cruel mistress. Jack Murtha has come out in favor of a draft. Let the debate begin.

Yeah...John Kerry said that George Bush was a crazy warmonger whose excesses would eventually require a draft to carry out. And now Jack Murtha is arguing that the only fair way to conduct all of King George's wars would be to...have a draft. Do you think?

According to Red State, I guess, the point is that John Kerry threatened voters with a draft and another guy from his own party has now suggested a draft. This situation only appears ironic if you (1) ignore all context, (2) take Murtha's suggestion at face value and (3) hit yourself over the head with a ballpeen hammer until you forget the meaning of the word "irony."

But, heck, let's send 'em to Iraq anyway. Maybe it'll build some character. And I fully support the Gun Toting Liberal's sojourn as well. Obviously, we wish these brave citizen journalists all the best on their travels and a safe return, regardless of their political persuasion. In fact, I'd love to go myself, if I wasn't manacled to a Mystery Job in Santa Monica and a condemn-worthy apartment in beautiful downtown Palms.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Great Moments in Conservative Humor

I'm thinking about making this a regular feature.

Conservatives attempt to actually make humor from time to time and the results are always intriguing. I might even go so far as to call them "confounding." Just not "funny."

Our first item comes compliments of Think Progress. It's a video from last night's White House Correspondent's Dinner, the annual event where our press corps and our elected representatives get together to drink and act like co-workers, even though working together is nowhere in their job description. Seriously, I know I'm not the first person to point this out, but the very notion of a chummy annual dinner between the journalists and the politicians they're supposed to be covering is inappropriate. That would be like the dudes from Price Waterhouse having lunch with all the Oscar nominees the day before the show. It's not a guarantee of impropriety, but it sends the wrong impression.

George Bush, being a deeply unfunny man, has always had kind of a tact problem at these dinners. See, Presidents are expected to kind of lightly make fun of themselves for the pleasure and giggling schoolyard delight of the White House press corps. Bill Clinton memorably made a video about goofing off aimlessly at home when Hillary is out of town. Bush, on the other hand, did a slideshow in which he pretended to look around the White House for Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Get it? Because he started a war based on them and then didn't find any! Oh, his geopolitical recklessness sure is amusing!

And then, when Stephen Colbert showed up and attemptd to do the exact same thing - turn a frank observation about the state of Bush's presidency into a joke - rightards called him incivil and refused to laugh and rode him in the press for weeks.

Anyway, Bush only appears briefly in this clip. (He still does manage to be unfunny, however. A comedian asks him if he has any funny nicknames for Karl Rove. We all know he has one really famous one - turd blossom, which either refers to a flower that grows on lumps of cow dung or the lingering aroma of a fart, depending on who you ask - but he responds with a ripping "He's fired."

Is that a joke?

"Hey, what's your favorite nickname for your long-time co-worker?"

"He's fired!"

"Um...ha ha?"

[NOTE: This is actually a good joke if you happen to be Donald Trump, provided you don't use it too often.]

Misplaced aggression is like a language with this guy. It's his most basic emotional state, Bush at equilibrium.

Instead, this bit focuses on a really really really lame freestyle rap this comedian doofus whose name I have already forgotten does with Karl Rove. Seriously. Freestyle rapping with Karl Rove. Go watch the clip.

First, he asks Turd Blossom some questions about his hobbies, a delightful bit of business that seems to stretch on for approximately eleventy bajillion years.

"So, Karl, do ya have any fun hobbies?"

"Not really."

"Nothing? Nothing you like to do?"

"I don't drink alcohol."

This conversation makes Charlie Rose's show look rousing and lively. Huell Howser watched this clip and said, "Wow, this is fucking boring!"

Then, Karl Rove starts talking about how he likes to hunt quail and rip the heads off of small animals. It all pretty much goes downhill from there. Definitely a Great Moment in Conservative Humor.

Having said that, MC Rove has nothing on this Michelle Malkin column. Tbogg linked to this, but I had to click through to Jewish World Review and read the whole thing for myself to believe it. It reads like one of those weird, militant chain e-mails you get from time to time, vaguely hostile "open letters" addressed to large groups of people that just get handed back and forth ad infinitum across the Intert00bz. (Or maybe that's just my grandmother...)

This is the most hilarious thing I have read in a while.

Dear Muslim Terrorist Plotter/Planner/Funder/Enabler/Apologist,

You do not know me. But I am on the lookout for you. You are my enemy. And I am yours.

I am John Doe.

The killer from Se7en?

Oh, no, it's just Michelle Malkin...Then why isn't it Jane Doe? Did your hypothetical alter-ego representing individuals who feel similarly to yourself about terrorism undergo gender reassignment?

(I mean, yeah, I know, it's about all these "John Doe" legal cases, wherein public-spirited citizens like Michelle reported all these Muslim Imams to authorities, causing them to be detained and harrassed even though, you know, they hadn't actually done anything.

I actually don't think you should be able to be sued for reporting suspicious behavior, mind you. But I still think Michelle's attempt to express solidarity with these unnamed informers is amusing.)

I am traveling on your plane. I am riding on your train. I am at your bus stop. I am on your street. I am in your subway car. I am on your lift.

I am your neighbor. I am your customer. I am your classmate. I am your boss.

I am John Doe.

I gotta tell ya, John, you're kind of creeping me out more than the terrorist. They just want to blow me up to make a point. But you seem really into the whole thing, you know? I mean, you're on my train, okay, that's one thing. But then you're at my same bus stop? That's kind of weird. Then, later, I see you on my street? And in my subway car? And finally my lift, supposing that we went to England for some reason? Give a fucking terrorist apologist some space, J.D. Damn!

I will never forget the example of the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 who refused to sit back on 9/11 and let themselves be murdered in the name of Islam without a fight.

You know, like in that Paul Greengrass movie...

I will never forget the passengers and crew members who tackled al Qaeda shoe-bomber Richard Reid on American Airlines Flight 63 before he had a chance to blow up the plane over the Atlantic Ocean.

Yeah, the idiot who failed to light his shoe on fire. Wikipedia powers, activate!

Passengers on flight 63 complained of a smoke smell in the cabin shortly after a meal service. One flight attendant, Hermis Moutardier, walked the aisles of the plane, trying to assess the source. She found Reid, who was sitting alone near a window and attempting to light a match. Moutardier warned him that smoking was not allowed on the airplane; Reid promised to stop. A few minutes later, Moutardier found Reid leaned over in his seat; her attempts to get his attention failed. After asking "What are you doing?" Reid grabbed at her, revealing one shoe in his lap, a fuse which led into the shoe, and a lit match. She tried grabbing Reid twice, but he pushed her to the floor each time, and she screamed for help. When another flight attendant, Cristina Jones, arrived to try to subdue him, he fought her and bit her thumb. The 6 foot 4 inch (193 cm) Reid was eventually subdued by other passengers on the airliner, using plastic handcuffs, seatbelt extensions, and headphone cords.

Yes, let's never forget the sad tale of Richard Reid, the al-Qaida wannabe who somehow got his hands on an ACME catalogue. Back to Meesh-Meesh:

I will never forget the alertness of actor James Woods, who notified a stewardess that several Arab men sitting in his first-class cabin on an August 2001 flight were behaving strangely. The men turned out to be 9/11 hijackers on a test run.

And I will never forget the alertness of actor James Woods in all those movies where he's playing a cokehead, which is at least 80% of them.

I will act when homeland security officials ask me to "report suspicious activity."

I will embrace my local police department's admonition: "If you see something, say something."

I am John Doe.

She'll act...even when she doesn't see any suspicious activity. She'll do something suspicious and then report herself. That's Mich John's level of commitment to the vague concept of "homeland security."

I will protest your Jew-hating, America-bashing "scholars."

If there's one thing Michelle Malkin hates, it's fake scholars! Unfortunately, we don't get any names of actual Jew-haters. I think it was Professor Plum who expressed anti-Zionist sentiments in the conservatory...but I can't prove it yet. It could have been the lounge.

I will raise my voice against your subjugation of women and religious minorities.

But only in other countries. All you home-grown women-subjugators and atheist-haters are still cool.

I will challenge your attempts to indoctrinate my children in our schools.

"Sayin' we comes descended from monkeys...That's not my cultured heritage!"

I will oppose all attempts to undermine our borders and immigration laws.

I will resist the imposition of sharia principles and sharia law in my taxi cab, my restaurant, my community pool, the halls of Congress, our national monuments, the radio and television airwaves, and all public spaces.

This shit is really offensive. That first part implies that the major aim of immigration laws proposed by Michelle and other hard-line Republicans is terrorism prevention. The vast majority of people who are impacted by increasingly strict border and immigration policies are not terrorists, they are poor people. Trying to gloss over that fact with platitudes about being "John Doe" and standing guard against jihadis is cowardly in the extreme, an indication that Michelle knows deep-down her beliefs are motivated by racism and xenophobia, requiring her to disguise her true intentions beneath rhetoric.

And that second part...I mean, where to begin.

(1) Why start with taxi cabs? You couldn't at least pretend not to operate entirely based on stereotypes?

(2) Has anyone in America ever once reported an attempted imposition of sharia law at a national monument? I've gotta tell you, pretty much every American monument I've ever been to, there's a guy selling pork hot dogs somewhere right around there. So that's a violation of sharia law right there. Ever been to the Philadelphia Art Museum? There's probably eight, ten violations of sharia law going on on those front steps at any given moment of the day, and that's not even counting the bums loitering around the premises and whatever the hell they get up to. The only time I've ever been to Washington D.C., a guy came up to me right in front of the National Archives and tried to sell me a shirt featuring a huge pot leaf covering the White House and reading, "Washington: Keep Off the Grass." (Obviously I bought one.) If this doesn't represent a healthy respect for non-sharia American law, I don't know what does.

(3) As far as restaurants and radio stations go, if they want to run on sharia law...more power to them. It's not any of my business how you want to run your restaurant. I think it's probably a bad idea, at least for the restaurant, because a burqa will catch fire really quickly if you get hot peanut oil on it. (And in the case of the radio station, KLOS could start operating under sharia control tomorrow and you wouldn't notice a difference).

(4) Why go on? This is really really stupid.

I will not be censored in the name of tolerance.

No, apparently you won't be censored. You wrote it, I'm reading it. End of transaction.

I will not be cowed by your Beltway lobbying groups in moderates' clothing. I will not cringe when you shriek about "profiling" or "Islamophobia."

Well, no one's shrieking anything, and no one's expecting Michelle to cringe, I wouldn't think. But it is strange she can't fathom how this very piece she has just written could be viewed as "Islamophobic." A fear of Muslims is, in fact, the entire theme of the article. She writes of an imposition of Islamic law on our sacred national and social institutions, and cautions us all to be eternally vigilant against the Muslim menace. Then she turns around a few stanzas (verses? lines?) later and scoffs at the notion of Islamophobia. What else is there to call it? Islamo-concernia? "A Slight Case of the Arab Willies?"

I will put my family's safety above sensitivity. I will put my country above multiculturalism.

I will not submit to your will. I will not be intimidated.

I am John Doe.

Stunning. A stunning ability to miss the point. Michelle, you have already been intimidated. That's what this is all about! The John Does were intimidated! That is their defining characteristic! They saw suspicious looking Muslims, felt afraid and intimidated and reported them!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have a stroke.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

No Cure for Cancer

What the fuck is going on with Katie Couric? When did she become a total nutbar?

[John] Edwards, 53, admitted that he'd "been focused on Elizabeth and the family,'' since he and his wife found last week that the cancer that had been in remission since 2004 had now spread to her bones.

In an interview Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes,'' correspondent Katie Couric suggested to Edwards that people could view his decision to continue running for president in the face of his wife's illness as either callousness or "insatiable ambition.''

Those are tough questions, Edwards said, looking tired this morning in his conversation with Bay Area reporters, but Couric "asked the questions American people are asking themselves. The American people deserve answers from me and Elizabeth.''

That's John, gracious as usual. But this is some pretty ugly business. Going after a candidate for President because his wife has cancer?

And, yes, this is definitely Katie going after Edwards. She tries to pull a Hannity, to float the topic as a secondary source. "You know, Alan, some have said that Hillary Clinton met her husband Bill while working at a Tijuana donkey show. What are your thoughts on this development?"

The ol' "some have said" maneuver. Same move here. "Some may think about perceiving you as callous." I mean, Katie, either you're suggesting that he's callous or you're not. This "some people may interpret..." bullshit is just a diversionary tactic meant to throw off the incredibly stupid. They will, of course, eventually come to believe that this is their own idea formed rationally within their own heads.

"Hey, I just realized that I view John Edwards' decision to continue running for president in the face of his wife's illness as either callousness or 'insatiable ambition!' I am really insightful, isn't I?"

If anything, I think Katie should have to explain this concept that she pre-supposes some voters will eventually settle upon. How exactly does Elizabeth Edwards helping her husband campaign reflect any callousness on his part? Is there any reason to believe he is coercing her into helping him out?

I mean, okay, if she had a terrible case of the flu, and he was dragging her all around town kissing hands and shaking babies, fine, then I could understand the argument. "Hey, that asshole's making his wife run around town kissing hands and shaking babies, when she should be home in bed sipping delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice and watching The Price is Right."

Fair enough. But Elizabeth Edwards isn't ever going to get better. (I'm sorry to be blunt, and I feel terribly for them both, and find their actions of the past few weeks more than a little heroic, but that's the long and the short of her condition. It's terminal.) I think there's ever reason to believe she and her husband sat down and had a serious discussion about how they would spend the rest of her life. And they settled upon "campaign for the American presidency." Most terminal patients have to settle for much less excitement in their final months/years. It could be worse.

So, okay...What does that have to do with callousness? A "serious" couple would spend their final years together (and Elizabeth could potentially live for 5-7 years by most estimates) sitting in a darkened room waiting for the end to come? Curling up in the fetal position and quietly sobbing? Life goes on, even if your cells have gone rogue and turned on you. I mean, shit, this critique just doesn't make any sense at all.

And "insatiable ambition"? Is that anything like "unbridled enthusiasm"? Because, you know, that's what led to Billy Mumphry's downfall.

Seriously, though, anyone who is running for President is ambitious. Unambitious people don't run for President. Some of our best Presidents have been our most ambitious, starting with our first, who led a ragtag, half-equipped army against one of the greatest Colonial armies ever amassed! But he would have given it all up if Martha developed a nasty case of gout! Believe you me! To think otherwise would be exceptionally callous and even gauche by Katie Couric's genteel standards.

Oh, excuse me...By the standards of the hypothetical people Katie Couric has conjured for the purpose of humiliating John Edwards and kickstarting a nasty right-wing meme. Way to go, America's Sweetheart!

Also, I should add that the phrase "insatiable ambition" is pretty meaningless. If you achieve your goal, you would then cease to be ambitious. Therefore, all ambition is insatiable, by definition. If John Edwards wants to be President in any way, shape or form, this is an ambition that will be insatiable until such time as he becomes President, at which point he will no longer have ambition to be President. He will be President.

Now, if Katie means that campaigning along with his Cancer Wife reflects John's deep-down authoritarian Will to Power, an "insatiable" drive to conquer all that he surveys, then once again, I'm afraid I don't follow.

Mo' Taffy, Mo' Problems

When did P. Diddy become pregnant with quintuplets?

Don't get me wrong. I think it's sweet that he's decided to gain 100 pounds as a living tribute to his dead, obese friend. But this may be pushing it a bit far.

I suppose he did tell us that he won't stop. I thought he meant "making records," not "inhaling fudge," but he never did specify.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shocking Headline of the Day

About to head out to a delicious lunch at one of my favorite West LA eateries, Bread and Porridge, but before I go...had to share this ridiculousness from the front page at AlterNet.

And I quote...

Support Continues to Erode

Yeah, no shit...

The article is about support for Attorney General Abu Gonzales, but it could be about pretty much anything these days.

Our Power Doesn't Run On Nothing

I only got into the Thermals' The Body, The Blood, The Machine a short time ago, having totally missed it when it came out last year, but it otherwise would have made my Best of the Year list. It reminds me a lot of old-school Bad Religion. The brash intensity, the biting outspoken political commentary. It's very smart, very loud music that only sounds tossed off and silly. (For an album that's so clearly punk-inspired, it's also very slow and deliberate, inviting the listeners to consider the lyrics and concepts rather than just careening into one another semi-rhythmically.

Anyway, there's a track on the album called "Power Doesn't Run on Nothing" that doesn't an excellent job of summing up the American take on world diplomacy. To wit...

Our power doesn't run on nothing/
It runs on blood/
And blood is easy to obtain/
When you have no shame

The Republican Party under Bush, really our entire government with a few minor exceptions, is utterly and completely without shame. Perhaps more so than any other administration in American history, which is really saying something. Here's Dick Cheney speaking just today to the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Don't they sound like a fun and not at all humorless group?)

Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday accused the Democrat-led House of not supporting troops in Iraq and of sending a message to terrorists that America will retreat in the face danger.

"They're not supporting the troops. They're undermining them," Cheney told a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition at the oceanside Ritz-Carlton hotel in Manalapan, Fla., about 60 miles north of Miami.
Cheney called it a myth that "one can support the troops without giving them the tools and reinforcements they need to carry out their mission."

Do I really even need to follow up on this point? I'm sure astute, and even somewhat less than astute, readers are already making the connection in their head. The man whose administration left injured troops to rot in moldy, deteriorating hospitals...The same man whose pre-war "planning" consisted of rubbing a rabbit's foot and an overnight Civilization III session...The man who hired 24-year-old nitwits to run the Baghdad stock exchange...The man who was content to send troops into battle without proper armor or supplies...The man who backed Rumsfeld's "light, small, ineffectual and barely visible army" strategy in the early days of the occupation...He's now saying that you can't support the troops without giving them the proper tools and reinforcements.

That's beyond shameless, beyond hypocracy. There's no word for what that is. Shamelapocracy. Bullshitonomy. Assholicism. Anyway, it's completely infuriating.

There's no music video for "Power Doesn't Run on Nothing," but here's the YouTube for another song from the album, "Pillar of Salt." If you go to the actual page on YouTube, you can peep a hilarious argument in the comments about whether or not the song is "against God" and "anti-Christian," which are of course the same exact thing...