Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thith Lookth Inthanely Awful!

Good Lord! I thought the License to Wed trailer portended the most foul cinematic crime against humanity of 2007, but this trailer for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium brings the horrible HARD. It's the film to beat for Worst of the Year, as of right now.

Dustin, Dustin, Dustin...I know you probably thought you were creating the next Willy Wonka, a beloved character to delight a new generation of children. Unfortunately, what you've got here is the latest incarnation of Robin Williams' obnoxious douchebag from Toys. Seriously, the next preview they make for this sure-fire abomination should just feature Dustin Hoffman, in a red bowler hat, standing in a wheat field, apologizing profusely.

(Thanks to Ain't It Cool News for pointing this out...I guess...)

The Walrus Was Paul

Paul McCartney took his show to Hollywood's Amoeba Records. I was not there, but I can enjoy it via the magic of YouTubery.

I see Ringo made it out. That's pretty neat but also really sad. These two hanging out together is as close to a Beatles reunion as the world will ever see.

Also, how can Sir Paul possibly be this much of a dork after all these years? He's been a world-famous entertainer for more than four decades. "We're gonna rock it up"? What does that even mean?

LAist points out that Paul appears to be reading from a teleprompter during "Hey Jude." Are you fucking kidding me? He doesn't remember the words to "Hey Jude"? It's not like it's all that complicated. I mean, half the song is "na na na na na na na na na...hey jude."

It's weird...I definitely knew this was happening and probably could have arranged to get over there, but the thought never even crossed my mind. I mean, I love The Beatles. Love love love The Beatles. And clearly, I'm not totally averse to waiting in long lines. So why not queue up for 1/4 of the greatest rock band of all time?

I think it's a general distaste for rock n' roll nostalgia. With a few exceptions (the Pixies reunion at Coachella kicked all kinds of ass), reunions are a huge letdown.

I was thinking yesterday about this incredible Soul Coughing show I saw at The Palace (now the Avalon) right before the release of their criminally underrated "El Oso" album. The band broke up not long after that and it turned out to be my one and only chance to catch them together, which is a shame, because their music translated surprisingly well to the stage. (I'd go on to see lead singer Mike Doughty in concert many times until his music got all bouncy and poppy be honest...completely ear-splittingly lame).

You can't recapture the experience of seeing an awesome band at its peak; that's the whole idea of going to the trouble of seeing a big concert, particularly a crowded and/or inconvenient one. It might be the only chance you get to see that group in that form playing those songs well.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Congratulations...You Have Been Selected to Receive a Free iPhone...

Mahalo's giving away five iPhones. Not to me. I just work there. No, five lucky members of the public will be gifted Jesusphones. For the low low price of...

Well, okay, we're not sure yet. If you have a brilliant idea for a contest we could hold, somehow involving and promoting Mahalo, why not suggest it over at CEO Jason's blog?

I personally like the Photoshop contest idea...but ace photoshoppers are already the rock stars of the Nerdosphere. Why not give my brothers and sisters out there with no hand-eye coordination a shot at the big time?

Considah Dis a Divorrs

So, I'm thinking, what happened was...the Lovecraftian Beast in this photograph (possibly Yog-Sothoth) attacked and murdered Sharon Stone, and is now wearing her skin as some sort of makeshift disguise.

Yeah, that's the most reasonable explanation...

Lessons Learned in the iPhone Line

Just returned from Third Street Promenade, where I waited for six hours to get an iPhone.

Well, I'm not personally buying an iPhone. It's a bit expensive for me, and I rarely go anywhere or do anything that would allow for portable Internet time. I bought my Video iPod months ago and tonight was one of my first chances to actually get some use out of it, and it still sat in my pocket for most of the night.

No, I was waiting on behalf of The phones don't actually go on sale until tomorrow afternoon at 6 p.m., so a bunch of us are working the line in shifts, three at a time.

It was interesting - a chance to experience what may turn out to be a significant cultural moment, but without all the massive downsides to waiting in a 28-hour line. (Like the not getting any sleep thing, the massive boredom thing and the sitting out on a public street like a goober for 28 hours thing).

Hanging out there on Third Street for six hours on a Thursday in a line outside of the Apple Store...I learned some things. And here they are:

- Some of the amateur musical acts that play on Third Street are surprisingly okay. Most are not.

- The Helio Ocean has GPS. The Apple iPhone does not.

- Camping chairs are far more comfortable and easy on the ass than regular folding chairs.

- Santa Monica has a tremendous amount of really beautiful women and the vast majority of them will studiously avoid making contact with yours truly.

- The Helio Ocean has a convenient keypad, useful for text messaging. The iPhone does not.

- In Los Angeles, brief lines, say for films or bathrooms, tend to be quite hostile. I've been at local bars where guys will shove you aside to get to the urinal first. But long queues, say for iPhones, tend to be extremely communal and friendly. No one said anything about people getting up, moving around, leaving their seats, inviting friends into the line or switching off turns with friends. People were making jokes and sharing observations with one another. An egregiously nerdy weirdo in a stupid green hat whose ability to raise the iPhone's asking price was in serious doubt shared a spontaneous hoedown with some young ladies to the strains of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Fostering this kind of convivial atmosphere in a long-term line makes sense, as you'll have to be around your neighbors for a while and you might as well get along and enjoy your time together, but it's interesting to see a crowd of strangers spontaneously behave in such a logical fashion.

- No question gets irritating faster than "What are you guys waiting in line for?" My technique to avoid getting extremely annoyed and rude is always to make up the most elaborate falsehood I could think of, and then stick to it religioiusly. "David Hasselhoff is going to be here signing albums in an hour!" "They're giving away free dialysis treatments!" "We're waiting for the bus to Burning Man!" My dream, the ultimate, would be for my victim to go around the next day and share this misinformation with friends, family and co-workers. "I was at Third Street last night? And this whole line of people? There were waiting to see David Hasselhoff sign albums. Ya rly!"

This is just an incredibly stupid question, regardless of how frequently it's asked. We're all in a line late at night in front of a computer store...If you know anything about computers or the tech industry, that alone should be enough for you to figure out what's going on. What could we be waiting for outside of an Apple Store? A free round of delicious apple martinis? Autographed photos of Apple Paltrow Martin? If the Apple Store line isn't enough evidence for you to piece together a theory, you don't know anything about computers or the tech why do you care what we're waiting for? It's clearly not going to affect you. What were they hoping we'd say? "One random person in this line is going to receive $10 million! Come on in, there's still room!"

- People love to feel superior to others, even if it's only for NOT waiting overnight in a line for a phone, as if that were difficult to do. Line passerby comments ranged from condescending ("Wow, you want an iPhone that badly? Well, more power to you...") to the obnoxious ("You're paying $600 for a phone? Didn't you read the New York Times review?") to the the outright hostile. A guy actually walked by the line and yelled "baaaaaa," implying that we were all soulless sheep-like consumer-bots, I guess. Which is just so easy, to judge someone in this way over something so superficial. "Hey, this person is expending energy on something I personally don't care about...What a loser. Thank God I'm such a super-cool individual, the kind of bold non-conformist who just wanders around malls late at night on a Thursday without buying anything. Man, I'm terrific."

- Jean Baudrillard was totally 100% correct. The iPhone line is a real media event. Earlier in the day, one of my co-workers who had an earlier line shift was interviewed by the CW, and two others were photographed by the Associated Press. All night, people were videotaping and photographing the line from different angles and perspectives, with the Apple Store logo in the background and without, individual faces and large crowd scenes. There's a sense that this is something significant that must be captured for posterity. But the whole thing is also a media creation. The iPhone doesn't exist in reality for anyone but Steve Jobs and Walt Mossberg.

Mossberg and Jobs at the Mahalo launch D: All Things Digital conference

A massive half-year-long saturation campaign has brought the hype over the iPhone to a fever pitch, essentially informing us that this was THE MUST HAVE device of 2007. Maybe of the decade. So we, the public, hearing the message loud and clear, have enacted that favorite ritual of hyped gadgetry, the pre-sale line-up. We're basically just doing what we're told. (In this context, the "baaaa" comment appears not so much off-base as arrogant, adolescent and unnecessarily direct. We're talking about pop culture phenomena here, not the behavior of any single individual, who could have a variety of potential reasons for sitting in an iPhone line. Such as, for example, not purchasing an iPhone but as a favor/assignment for work.)

Then, having heard and acted upon the media message - "Get excited for the iPhone!" - the media then shows up to report on us doing their bidding, but pretending the whole time that it was a spontaneous, unexpected outpouring of iPhone-related enthusiasm. As if the whole purpose of all the magazine covers, newspaper columns, blog posts, keynote speeches, press releases and commercials wasn't to convince people to line up outside of Apple Stores in a frenzied panic to obtain an iPhone.

- The iPhone is going to be enormous. Enthusiasm for it was palpable, for people in and out of the line. Some of the blogs are calling this thing the "Jesusphone" for a reason - it promises the world at your fingertips, a fully integrated experience that combines the best aspects of all of our favorite technologies in a tiny box you can keep with you all day. (Whether this is something the iPhone, nor any object aside from a nimble and well-educated mind, can actually deliver remains to be seen. But this is the promise.)

Just like the iPod, the iPhone simply replicates the experience of using other devices that already exist. Steve Jobs didn't invent the mp3 player, or online music downloads, and he certainly didn't invent phones that can play songs, take pictures and check e-mail. But he's somehow figured out how to package these things in a way that makes intuitive sense to Americans, aesthetically and practically, and gets them excited. E-mail and Google Maps, in 2007, could not be more mundane. It takes a special kind of genius to motivate people from around the country to line up for 28 hours for an overpriced cell phone integrated with these tools, and there's a lot more to it than senseless Consumer Whoredom.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Are You There, Zach? It's Me...Lons...

The comment thread on this 2005 Crushed by Inertia post, "Beat on the Braff," is definitely one of the greatest things in which I have ever participated.

The post itself is nothing special, though it is one of the better title puns I have yet to devise. The simplicity, the cool points for referencing a Ramones song that isn't "Blitzkrieg Bop," the post-Braffian hostility...That was a good one.

Otherwise, the post itself is mundane, just me bitching about "Scrubs" being awful and Zach being considered to play Fletch in the upcoming remake (which continues to be upcoming, now possibly with significantly-less-hated-by-me John Krasinski from "The Office").

But that simple post has thus far inspired 38 comments, only 8 of which were written by me! Only one post in CBI history has generated more commentary, my list of the Top Profane Movie Quotes that was linked on Gorilla Mask, thus generating an unbeatable 91 comments. I may never top that one.

Let's peruse them together...

Anonymous said...

you might want to consider hating the game, not the player...

This may have been a meatworld friend of mine, I'm not sure. It reminds me of something one of my actual friends would write.

After this, several real friends stopped by to let me know that they, too, approved of the title "Beat on the Braff." Thanks, guys.

Once a few of my friends have responded, then the magic begins.

Anonymous said...

I googled "hate Zach Braff" to find someone who agreed and am amazed you were the only one I found. Having some ideas for a few cool scenes does not make you a cinematic genius. Nat Portman's character has loads of descriptions given her (pathological liar, epileptic, skater, etc.) but is not developed within the plot in any meaningful way. I watched the Spirit Awards and almost wretched when Braff won.

From this point on, a full two years ago, whenever anyone typed "hate Zach Braff" into Google, they arrived at my blog. This glorious selection bias means that almost all the remaining responses to the post include bilious, seething Braff hate. I unintentionally but awesomely created an anti-Zach Braff club, a place where those of us driven to near-insanity by loathing for this guy can get together and discuss our secret little problem.

Banjo said...

I too googled 'I hate Zach Braff' hoping to be comforted.

Thankyou for giving me a moments rest. Never in my life has a film inspired in me more resentment for its creator. I am amazed that so few seem to be able to see how insulting this film is... and that so many would just lap it up with shit eating grins on their face. 'OMG Zach Braff is a genius, because like... hello... the shins!'

For the record... So not a genius. A smug, self obsessed prick who doesn't need anyone fueling that fire is, I think, a more apt description. Trust me... I have met the guy. ...Wish I'd karate chopped his face off.

Anonymous said...

also googled "I hate Zach Braff"

Ohmygawd scrubs is so bad and Graden State even worse.

Anonymous said...

I, too, googled "I hate Zach Braff," having just watched the movie he made. For the record, I hate Zach Braff. I hate his face. I hate his big nose, and his big lips. I hate the way he always wears a long sleeved shirt underneath short sleeved shirts. And I hate the condescending smirk that's always on his huge ugly face.

Of course, for most other people, I would be willing to forgive them for their superficial flaws in appearance, but I mostly hate Zach Braff for what he stands for. He's got an overrated name, he's on an overrated sitcom, and he made an overrated movie about a total asshole who gets Natalie Portman. What the hell. I hate Zach Braff.

- Stephen M Davis

Anonymous said...

He shits me aswell. He seemts to be a pretentious pseudo-bohemian fucktart with a thing for anorexic blondes. Filth.

Anonymous said...

Chiming in on the I searched for "I hate zach braff" train. I hate everything about him. I hate scrubs. I hate Zach Braff's god damn face. I freaking wretch everytime someone praises that show. It has one god damn gimmick, which is a substitute for understanding comedy; visualize everything!

I'm conflicted, though, as a movie is coming out in which he costars with Jason Bateman, of Arrested Development (which I absolutely loved). Why? WHY?

Rory said...

He's just so fucking right on, isn't he? With his carefully manicured hush-folk and twee pop record collection, his sardonic over-acting colleagues, his depiction of rain in America, fucking jesus christ makes you want to cut off his balls and shove them up his arse so that when he shits, he gets shitty balls. Regards, lovely post.

I'm a particular fan of that last one. Finding each and every one of these folks has been a source of genuine joy; I love when comments come in on this post. It brightens my day. The Internet is truly a remarkable place.

Of course, not ALL 30 comments on "Beat on the Braff" are there to inform me of my proper right-on-ness. My distaste for the Braffster was not well-received in some circles.

Anonymous said...

Great another celebrity hating blog. This just proves that some people just have to much time on their hands. And being the only zach braff hating site in google, i dont think that something to be proud of XP. Why dont you guyz just got some hobbies or something? And by the way how would you act if your brand new sports car gets ruined. most likly like how your acting now, like a complete and utter dumbass.

This post introduces perhaps the most persistent and baffling form of personal Internet attack. The "you obviously don't have a life" attack, in which the attacker uses the very blog post or column on which they are commenting as evidence that the author must have no social life or professional success.

The argument goes like this: the writing of a blog post takes time time, and this time could have been used to do something manly and worthy of approval such as dating eight supermodels at once. Therefore, any blogger/Internet writer must be a loser lacking the wherewithal to lead a hip, trendy, high-flying lifestyle.

I've never seen anyone really make this case convincingly. It's built on a few crucial and fallacious assumptions, most notably that writing, particularly frivolous writing designed to be amusing, is itself is a waste of time. It's also highly counter-intuitive. If you're accusing someone of spending their time on a blog post rather than living life, doesn't that imply that you feel the blog post must have taken a significant time to write? Which implies that it's well-written, or at least carefully written, no? I mean, if you read something that I wrote, and it sounds tossed-off and incomplete, you'd naturally assume that I spent very little time on it because I was rushing off to do something else. Like dating eight supermodels at the same time. So by accusing me of having "too much time on my heads," he's actually complimenting me in a roundabout way. "This blog post is so clear and astute, it sounds like you must have spent a really long time on it. Way to not have a life, no-life."

Finally, and most obviously, the critique is based on an essential hypocrisy. Anyone who's commenting on my blog probably took the time to read it first, so before they could come on there and accuse me of having no life because I wrote something frivolous, they have to concede that they also have no life, because they took the time to read something frivolous, which is an even less fruitful and engaged activity than the initial writing!

So even though this whole argument just makes the commenter sound petty and ignorant, many of them insist on making it anyway. Possibly because they are 12 years old.

There are other negative comments too, some of them very strange. Some people seem genuinely troubled by my dislike for Braff, as if strong emotions should be denied or rejected, as if a personal blog read by a few hundred people a day at most is somehow an inappropriate place to tell people how you really feel.

Anonymous said...

hey i'm a bit shocked by how you people can hate this person so much when he has never done something bad personally to you. I mean, has he killed your parents, raped you, stolen all of your money, killed little children or any of the other shit that would make a reasonable human being fill with rage? Dont get me wrong, i think his work is pretty crummy, and i pretty much despise scrubs, but why do you need to hate the person himself?

Well, if someone killed little children that weren't related to me, he wouldn't have done something bad personally, and I'd still be allowed to dislike him.

Anonymous said...

Its a bit sad you rant on like this. I mean if you dont like the show. Dont watch it. If you dont like a movie. Dont watch it. And if someone fucks with your car what would you do? "Oh sorry, please continue" I mean seriously you people suck major balls.

This one's just puzzling...How am I supposed to know I don't like a movie in advance? Obviously, I'm not currently watching Garden State, I watched it before I knew it was bad.

But the reason I'm writing this post tonight is because someone came to the "Beat on the Braff" page and left a series of hilarious comments I wanted to share, and I know no one goes back into the 2005 archives much any more. (I don't know least 3 of the posts from that year were pure gold.)

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you why you are so ridiculously stupid to be slandering and cursing out Zach Braff. Forget for once any flaws you hate in yourself that you may see in Zach or how anything you dont like you see in Zach. He's a fucking actor. He's a person.

Think about what you're saying. You're saying you hate this man because he's made a movie that you don't like. Or that he's on a show that you don't find amusing. Are you fucking kidding me? So don't fucking watch it!
They only way you could justify disliking him on Scrubs was if you loved the show and thought he ruined it which I think is ridiculous because he makes the show.
You're all waisting your fucking energy. strength, and respectability by saying these things about an artist. So what if he's doing something or being acknowledged for something that you don't feel for. You don't fucking hate a person for that. You don't hate people for doing their job.
You hate fucking world leaders or dictators who make the decisions for their people to make life a living hell.
You hate Zach Braff? You're putting him up there with fucking sadists, rapists, and the evil? Are you insane?
How immature can you be to hate a person who has done absolutely nothing wrong to you or anyone else. Unless of course you have some psychotic thing about New Jersey, portrayals of realistic relationships in the movies, hospitals, or a fucking sense of humor.
Live your own fucking life. Don't slander some guy who's learned how to get his in this world. Get yours.

Oh my GOD! Zach Braff's a person! And I've been making fun of him and saying that I hate him! Once I wished cancer on him, if you can imagine! The horror!

Of course, I'm being sarcastic. Yes, I know Zach Braff is a person. I know it's not nice to wish cancer on someone, particularly if their only crime is making bad films and TV shows and generally being obnoxious.

But...who gives a shit? It's a joke. Garden State sucked, "Scrubs" sucked, this guy parades around town like he's King Shit of Fuck Mountain (this phrase on loan from "Mr. Show"), I greatly dislike him and I wrote about it on me blog. It's kind of funny. People come to the post and laugh and leave little comments if they hate him too.

To be honest, I feel silly explaining this all to you. I'm sure 99% of my non-commenting audience understood the idea all along. A quick 10 year old would get it.

I'm just fascinated and amused by this person to no end. I mean, read some of this stuff!

"You're all waisting your fucking energy. strength, and respectability by saying these things about an artist. So what if he's doing something or being acknowledged for something that you don't feel for. You don't fucking hate a person for that. You don't hate people for doing their job."

Why is this person telling me what to do? Can't I hate anyone I want?

"They only way you could justify disliking him on Scrubs was if you loved the show and thought he ruined it which I think is ridiculous because he makes the show. "


Here's my favorite part of Comment #1:

"How immature can you be to hate a person who has done absolutely nothing wrong to you or anyone else. Unless of course you have some psychotic thing about New Jersey, portrayals of realistic relationships in the movies, hospitals, or a fucking sense of humor."

Yes, I have a psychotic thing about New Jersey and about portrayals of realistic relationships in the movies. That's my problem, identified. Thanks, Anonymous Braff-loving weirdo!

This story, if you can imagine, gets better.

So, I read the above comment and I can't help but respond. Here's what I wrote:

Lons said...

And you, Anonymous person, who came here and DISCUSSED my blog post at length? You are not wasting energy and strength? Somehow, discussing the merits of Zach Braff is a valuable use of your time, but for me, it equals wasting my life? Explain.

Also, this? "...portrayals of realistic relationships in the movies..." Yeah, that makes you sound like an idiot. I'd refrain from saying such things about Garden State in the future if you don't want people goofing on you.

Again, I like to point out to my audience when everything they say is based around an obvious contradiction. (In this case, reading and engaging with a blog post while simultaneously telling the author it was a pointless waste of time.)

And I couldn't resist taking a dig at that "realistic relationships" line. You don't read something like that every day. You have to savor it, like a fine wine.

Moments later, within 2 hours of the original blog post, I received this response.

bedjumper said...

At least he doesn't cry about the success...of...boys! Boo Hoo Zach Braff. I think you're just upset because you have not done anything in your life remotely good enough for losers to scorn about online. The guy (anonymous) is so right.

Okay, now, it's obvious to me that bedjumper is Anonymous. This post is two years old and I've had under 150 people visit my blog today. (I can also check what sites are linking to me, and today it's mostly searches for "albino porn" like it is every day, with no evidence of a lot of people getting here via "Zach Braff" inquiries).

So the chances to two individuals coming to that specific post within 2 hours of one another, agreeing with one another and mutually feeling the impulse to comment (significantly rare) is almost nil. Seriously. It's nearly impossible these are two different people. This person used a sock puppet on Crushed by Inertia. It may be the greatest day in the history of this blog. Plus, I think he implied that I'm gay, which always earns a commenter extra points in my book.


I responded again:

Lons said...

Bedjumper...sock puppet much?

Or is it just a coincidence that some Anonymous doofus came here to goof on me and then you showed up an hour later, in a two year old post's comments section mind you, to defend his or her honor... about 1,000 more films, stop being a bullying douchebag, don't pretend to be other people so you can defend yourself in random blog comment sections and you'll start to feel better. I promise.

Okay, I kind of come off like a condescending asshole in that one. It's not my finest hour.
But before I could even finish with this comment and post it, BEDJUMPER CAME BACK to magically transform into yet another fake commenter. Now I'm being asked to believe that THREE individuals have come to the blog within two hours, to this specific 2 year old post, felt similarly and were inspired to leave comments!

M.H. Segal said...

The guys just defending Braff dude. You attacked some guy, let him pick up a sword. Its not like hes making an entire blog for antiantiBraffs.

M. H. Segal. Perhaps this is the guy's real name and it's a reverse sock-puppet? He showed up to comment anonymously, then returned with a fake moniker, then came back AGAIN to use his real name? That'd be kind of trippy, sure to throw someone off your scent.

Seriously, I can't believe I'm being lectured by a person who feels the need to back up their own opinion by impersonating Internet characters. It's a new low of patheticism, and I'm just happy to be a small part of it.

But if this is a fake name...M.H. Segal...I'm thinking it might be Zach Braff himself.

Now, now, hear me out. Who else would be so concerned with defending Zach's honor at this point, when pretty much every other blogger spends at least 1/3 of his or her day mocking the guy? He's already become pretty much a national joke. When I wrote the first anti-Braff post, I felt all alone in the world. Now, hating him is already becoming passe; he's already due for a hipster revival at some point soon, when we'll all be required to loudly praise his genius and recognize Garden State as a lost classic, criminally underappreciated in its own time.

What I'm saying is that I'm no longer unique in hating Braff, and the only reason anyone could get this upset at the suggestion that someone doesn't like him, upset enough to return to the same old post THRICE to leave comments, would be that...they are him!

So, Zach, if it's you. Welcome. Try not to take it all too personally, I guess...And don't bother asking if we're doing the Braffies this year. I think it's off for good.

This Kid's Sharp

Check out this 16 year old super-badass making Bill O'Reilly look like an idiot on his own TV show.

I know it's not that hard to make Bill O'Reilly look like an idiot. He does it all the time by himself with no assistance from anyone. But this video is still a beautiful thing. The kid kind of hangs back, holds his own in the argument, relies solely on solid, documented evidence (he clearly did his homework) and then suddenly - WHAM! - moves in for the kill.

OMFG Sweet Lincoln-Douglas debate skillz FTW!!1!1!1!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ruben Bolling Explains It All For You

"Tom the Dancing Bug" is definitely my favorite running comic strip. Cartoonist Ruben Bolling is really working on a different level from any other person in the medium right now.

I particularly love these "Super-Fun-Pak" features he does once in a while, consisting of a few high-concept comic strips. This one features such highlights as "Cool White Guys Using 10 Year Old Black Slang" and "Science Facts for the Immature." Check out "Death of a Detective Who Dies" to get a taste for this guy's defiantly cynical, highly warped sense of humor. Then there's always God-Man's classic showdown with Dr. Moral-Relativism.

Anyway, I'm bringing up Mr. Bolling because a recent "Dancing Bug" strip perfectly encapsulates my feelings on this whole atheism/evils of religion debate. (Yes, I'm still going on about all that).

Atheists, as you'd expect, are a philosophically and intellectually diverse bunch, so it's impossible to encapsulate the fullness of the group's ideas into any kind of generality. Still, I think it's safe to say that a lot of the more militant atheists base their hostility towards religion on a belief that a world without religion would be far better than the one in which we live. As John Lennon sings in "Imagine," a very subversive song that vast numbers of religious Americans apparently enjoy without truly comprehending, a world with no religion is an idealistic dream that maybe, one day, we can all bring about in reality.

And I just think this is more utopian crap. Religion, near as I can tell, is an excuse for awful behavior, not a cause. People don't really do the things their religions command them to do; they just pretend to in order to hold on to some absurd notion of moral superiority. I don't actually believe in any of the mythology, but if more Americans actually behaved the way Jesus told them to, turning the other cheek and giving away all their money and respecting the least of God's creatures, it might be a more comfortable, friendly country in which to live. And we certainly wouldn't be pursuing any wrong-headed surges to needlessly prolong any failed wars of occupation...

Surely my fellow atheists have noticed that there's a lot of highly religious people who are also highly strange and/or crazy. (Not that I'm saying all religious people are crazy...just a whole lot of them...) Do we really think these people would stop being crazy if there were no more church services? They'd just channel the crazy into something else.

Who knows what more horrific pursuit might come along to take the place of goofy religious rituals? Better that the nutters spend their Sundays praying to Invisible Sky Man than taking on that second trailer-park meth lab.

Really, what I'm trying to say is that humans are, as a group, a bunch of despicable, greedy fucks, and that religion makes a convenient excuse for all sorts of self-serving behavior. When Muqtada al-Sadr rallies Iraqis to his cause, he's really saying, "Come do exactly what I tell you. know...Allah and stuff. Praise be to his name." That's it. And if there were no Allah, it'd be some other stupid thing, a cheap diversion used to seize greater and greater power and control. Because some people are just sick twisted fucks who need to divide and conquer in order to feel important.

Anyway, Bolling captures the argument perfectly (and far more succinctly) in the comic. Give it a read.

[UPDATE: Compliments of Andrew Sullivan comes this post by Norman Geras, making a similar and excellent point.]


1408 could probably best be described as a horror film of the "haunted house" variety, but it's only a few wisecracks away from being a out-and-out comedy. Based on a story by Stephen King and bearing more than a few similarities to his own novel "The Shining," 1408 features a protagonist so jaded on ghost stories, it takes him about half of the film to become convinced that he's in one. And even after the walls have started bleeding and the hammer-wielding spirits actually materialize around him, he's still trying to explain it all away. It's sort of like a more subtle version of Wes Craven's Scream, a goofy, largely predictable horror film that doubles as a critique of goofy, predictable horror films. It's a modest success, to be sure, but a success nonetheless.

Answer me this...why does Stephen King so compulsively feel the need to write stories about writers? I mean, yes, I understand that writing has been his career for most of his life, and therefore he has more experience and insight into the life of a writer than, say, a construction worker or dentist. But he's a creative guy, right? I mean, his ending's suck, but he's invented more than his fair share of memorable characters and scenarios. I was definitely into "The Stand" for the first 750 pages or so.

In this particular case, our heroic writer is Mike Enslin (John Cusack), who chronicles overnight stays in haunted hotels, inns and beds and breakfasts in a series of not-particularly-popular travel books. The film's actually somewhat confusing in this regard. At first, it seems like Mike's quite successful and respected; people are always commenting to him about his books and he's greeted enthusiastically by hotel owners hoping to cash in on a high-profile Enslin write-up.

But then we get a scene at a book signing and almost no one has shown up, and the one enthusiastic patron who is there asks Mike about the father-son novel he wrote before he became a ghosthunter. Also, Mike quite openly admits that he doesn't believe in ghosts, and always writes truthfully in his books about not seeing any ghosts in these haunted places, but people apparently find his books frightening. Wouldn't they be mundane if they always chronicled haunted houses that turned out not to be haunted? It doesn't really sound like a fun read to me.

Anyway, Mike's naturally at this point jaded on the whole concept of hauntings. The drill's always the same: the owners of the hotel, who have a financial interest in propagating supernatural mystery, build up the suspense with outlandish stories, legends and sightings, and then he stays the night and finds out it's just a boring hotel room.

He receives an odd postcard in the mail beckoning him to the Dolphin Hotel of New York, a city he hasn't returned to since a tragedy that befell his family one year before. Intrigued by the postcard, which reads only "Don't stay in 1408," Enslin arranges a trip. He's warned off by the hotel's manager (Samuel L. Jackson), who seems genuinely worried about Enslin's safety in 1408. No one has ever survived the room for more than an hour, he says. 56 people have died there; some violently, some by their own hand, some of natural causes. A maid who was cleaning the room for 10 minutes once gouged out her own eyeballs, while laughing hysterically, no less.

But, of course, such warnings are a regular part of Enslin's routine; he blows them off every time. What would be unsettling would be if no warning came before walking into a supposedly enchanted hotel room.

So, after some negotiating, the key to 1408 is turned over and Enslin ventures inside. For a few moments, everything seems fine. Then the clock radio starts going off uncontrollably and all hell breaks loose.

This premise is clever but also exceedingly straight-forward. How can director Mikael Håfström (whose previous film was the wretched Jen Aniston "thriller" Derailed) and screenwriters Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski possibly be expected to get a full movie out of one guy freaking out in a hotel room?

The answer is twofold. First off, they cheat, taking their time before getting Enslin into the room and then messing around with space-time a bit in the end. But it was really the casting of Cusack and the development of Enslin as a character that saves the film.

To be honest, it's not a very tight script, despite the considerable talents involved in its conception. (Alexander and Karaszewski penned such biopic classics as Ed Wood and The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Greenberg H20 and Reign of Fire. So I guess it evens out).

Once 1408 reveals itself to be an actual evil room and not just an old wives' tale, the film essentially runs out of story. Like in a lot of ghost stories, the spirit world seems capable of shifting our lived-in reality only temporarily. We look in the mirror and see a distorted, undead face, we scream, and then when we look again, our normal face is restored, right? 1408 plays by these same rules. Mike will look at the phone, that phone will start to melt and distorted otherworldly voices emanate, we get a reaction shot of Mike freaking out, and then back on the phone and it's a normal phone again.

Well, after that happens a few times, the audience gets clued in that none of the film's action has consequences, none of the risks or decisions have stakes. Normally, this would spell disaster for a horror film. How can we be scared by something that we know doesn't matter? Monsters are only frightening because of their potential to harm; neuter them, and they become sideshow attractions. But because of the Enslin character's initial apathy and then fascination with his predicament, we get to experience some of these tried-and-true "scare" scenes from a different perspective.

Take the sequence where Enslin has an imaginary argument with what appears to be Jackson's hotel manager, only shrunken down and living in the room's mini-fridge. The ghostly Jackson insists that Mike is getting what he deserves. People find the notion of ghosts comforting, a representation of the life that awaits of all after death. Mike writes books that dispell these myths and crushes their hopes, so it's only fitting that he be punished by the very phenomenon he has spent his life refuting. In essence, Mike's being haunted by a ghost who wants to discuss the nature and practice of haunting someone. The room is apparently possessed by a very postmodern poltergeist. Maybe it's a dead English professor...

It could be because I've just finished watching Season 2 of "Twin Peaks" on DVD, but I found the Enslin character vaguely reminiscent of Agent Dale Cooper from "Twin Peaks," particularly his ongoing chronicle of the entire ordeal on a pocket tape recorder. Addressing himself, though, not "Diane." But there's also a cool-headed emotional distance coupled with a giddy enthusiasm that McLachlan brought to Cooper and Cusack brings to Enslin.

He'll start to freak out, yelling at a dead relative who has just appeared before him or something, and then step outside of the experience and question its veracity. Frequently, this leads to (intentional) laughs, as when he frantically uses his laptop to video conference his ex-wife (Mary McCormack), telling her to send police to Room 1408 looking for him. Even the standard triple fake-out twist ending, that's part of the psychological horror film package each and every time these days, works as kind of a sidelong commentary on the whole notion of twisty endings. To throw you off the scent, Håfström sets up a few really cheesy fake endings before going for the real one, which is actually a bit more subtle and less gimmicky than I expected.