Saturday, November 10, 2007

What a Charmer...

We're really blessed this election cycle to have not one but TWO completely inept Republican candidates to mock.

First up, Mittens Romney. Let's see how many embarrassing inanities he can utter over the course of a single, brief ABC News article:

On Saturday, Romney met a former Marine along the route who said that "being informed military" he was "really concerned" about the troops overseas and he wants a change. Romney disagreed with him, saying, "I'm a little more encouraged than you are," and encouraged him to "take a close look."

Yes, please, Former Marine. Take a closer look at Iraq and you'll see that everything over there's tip-top.

Four civilians were killed when a roadside bomb struck their bus in the centre of the northern city of Mosul, police Brigadier General Abdel Karim al-Juburi said.

Another six people, including a woman and her daughter, were wounded in the morning attack in the city's Raas al-Jadha area, he said.

Two people were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, while a street vendor walking on a road in the city of Baquba was shot dead by unknown gunmen, security officials said.

Hey, that's super...

US military officials are putting huge pressure on interrogators who question Iraqi insurgents to find incriminating evidence pointing to Iran, it was claimed last night.
Brose, 30, who extracts information from detainees in Iraq, said: 'They push a lot for us to establish a link with Iran. They have pre-categories for us to go through, and by the sheer volume of categories there's clearly a lot more for Iran than there is for other stuff. Of all the recent requests I've had, I'd say 60 to 70 per cent are about Iran.

'It feels a lot like, if you get something and Iran's not involved, it's a let down.' He added: 'I've had people say to me, "They're really pushing the Iran thing. It's like, shit, you know." '


So, I think we can all agree with the Mittster. Things in Iraq are getting so much better all the time.

Let's continue.

Romney kept the mood lighter at times. Stopping by one young couple's house, he remarked at the large leaves on their tree, quipping, "Adam and Eve would not have looked as promiscuous if they had had leaves this big."

Honestly, ABC News' Matt Stuart, I'm not sure that can accurately be described as "quipping." Woody Allen quips. Oscar Wilde quipped. This kind of avuncular, folksy observation is "expelled," perhaps. "Bloviated" could work. "Upchucked", even. Let me take a crack at it.

"Romney kept the mood lighter at times. Stopping by one young couple's home, he remarked at the large leaves on their tree, expectorating, "INSERT mundane Biblical reference implying that somehow even a pre-sin Adam and Even were promiscuous wearing only leaves over their naughty, ugly, hideous, disgusting, foul genitals HERE."

Now THAT'S fair and balanced!

Along the way, he also met at least one unfriendly resident, McGuire, a Scottish Terrier who started barking as Romney knocked on the door. One reporter suggested he bring dog biscuits next time. Romney joked that he should "bring some of them out for you guys," referencing the crowd of media following him.

What does that even mean? How are journalists like dogs? Seriously, I don't understand a joke Mitt Romney made, and it's kind of freaking me out.

In any normal election cycle, Mitt Romney would be the most ridiculous idiot to throw his propeller beanie into the ring. But he's actually running a close second this time behind Fred "Foghorn" Thompson. Here's, I say, here's the latest ad from the star of "Law and Order." No, not that one. No, he's from "SVU." Think "old" and "ludicrous." The guy who was also in "Baby's Day Out." Yeah, that guy.

I'm Lon Harris, and I'm shocked anyone would televise this message.

"Our rights come from God, not from government"? I know his whole strategy is to convince the nutters to vote for him over Giuliani, but...that's just un-American, plain and simple. And NOT BECAUSE I think our rights come from government. Our rights don't come from anywhere. That's why they're "our rights." This is the founding principle of our Republic, folks, and Fred Thompson doesn't understand how it works.

We all have natural rights. We don't owe them to Fred Thompson's God or anyone else. This is not a semantic argument. Consider abortion. I think, as do most reasonable people, that a woman has a natural right to control her own body, and therefore abortion is a personal matter, not a civic manner upon which the government should render an opinion. Fred Thompson, who proudly boasts of his "100% pro-life record," believes the exact opposite. He thinks that a woman does not have a right to her own body. God has a right to her body, and he loans it out to her most of the time, but when there's a fetus in it, the rights revert back to the Big Man Upstairs. Therefore, though he'd like to avoid having to admit it, Fred Thompson does think, on occasion, that the government should be allowed to make person decisions fwomen, because the government is merely acting on behalf of He Who Owns All Rights to Everyone At All Times Forever.

(Even though Fred Thompson doesn't attend church regular, he apparently still thinks he knows God's will. Odd how that works out.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sherri Shepherd Continues Sapping My Will to Live

Sherri Shepherd is the newest host on "The View" and one of the most insane idiots on television. And I'm including animated characters here. She gives Jabberjaw a run for his money. (Jabberjaw, you young'uns won't recall, was an animated shark who talked like Curly from "The Three Stooges" but nonetheless frequently uttered Rodney Dangerfield's catchphrase, "I don't get no respect." Ripping off two comedians at once was considered a divine outpouring of imaginative brilliance at '70s Hanna-Barbera.)

Anyway, you may remember Shepherd's previous CBI appearance, in which she claimed to have no opinion on the pressing, urgent matter of the shape of the planet. Barbra Walters asked if the Earth was flat, Shepherd answered, and I quote, "I don't know. I never thought about it." Now, "Yes" is the incorrect answer to Walters' question.

"Is the world flat?"


Wrong. Cut and dry.

Shepherd somehow manages to go beyond the wrong answer, to come up with something even more incorrect. At least the person who thinks the world is flat has considered the nature of the world around them for a fleeting moment. Shepherd obviously has nothing going on whatsoever upstairs, to the point that she has never paused and actually had a thought about the universe and her place therein. Now that's pow'rful stupid.

I'm not sure if it's theoretically possible to top that abysmal episode for sheer dumbassery. But Shepard seems determined to try. Here she is destroying what miniscule shards remained of my faith in humanity, mangling a Christmas carol in a slavish act of devotion to her sponsors, the woefully misguided suckers at Dodge Caravan.

Now consider this - the scene you have just witnessed is meant to advertise the Dodge Caravan. They want you to see this woman swerve around their habitat-decimating vehicle like a disoriented panda, howling like a mental patient, and model your own behavior on hers. Best of luck with that, chief.

Monday, November 05, 2007

No Country For Old Men

Yes! Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes! Fuck yes! Awesome! Fucking finally! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

I'm pleased to report to you that, for the first time since 2001's terrific The Man Who Wasn't There, the Coen Brothers have actually directed a real movie again. (Don't even try to remember the two...items...they released in the interim. They're not worth it.) No Country for Old Men is a total return to form for the Coens. Literally. It takes them back to the form of their 1984 debut, Blood Simple - occasionally gruesome, darkly funny thriller.

Joel and Ethan demonstrate the same kind of impeccable timing and mastery of form here that's on display in classics like Blood Simple, Fargo and Miller's Crossing, but also a grim intensity that's pretty much entirely new to their filmography. No Country's expertly shot like their other films (by frequent collaborator Roger Deakins), it's often hilarious with a tremendous ear for quirkly dialect and slang like their other films, but it's also brutal and intense. Relentless, even.

What I found most refreshing about the film, and what makes it a total departure from their previous, lackluster outings, is that they no longer feel desperate to please. No Country is a difficult movie, a harsh movie, and it doesn't always make perfect sense. For about 2 hours, it's a shocking, violent chase movie, and then everything changes.

I sense that many will find the conclusion frustrating. But it's a rare thing to see filmmakers take a movie where it needs to go rather than where the audience might want it to go. The set-up is so crackerjack here, you'd have to be crazy not to want some direct, explosive and unambiguous conclusion. But the Coens (working from a novel by Cormac McCarthy) give you something even more satisfying. A mystery. A curiosity. As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell might say, signs and wonders.

The action begins in a series of stark, nearly silent desert sequences. A Texas hunter, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), stumbles across the remnants of a drug deal gone sour. The truckload of product and the dead Mexicans don't interest him much. But the briefcase containing $2 million strikes him as a bit more useful.

Before he can even discuss his newfound wealth with his wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald), Llewelyn becomes the target of some very very bad men. There's the remaining drug dealers who want their money back, of course, as well as shifty gun-for-hire Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson, as good as he's been in a movie in years). As if that wasn't enough, Llewelyn's also being sought by seen-it-all Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (a note-perfect Tommy Lee Jones), who doesn't seem terribly concerned about the massacre in his district but nonetheless wonders why Moss' truck was found near the scene.

Llewelyn's a resourceful guy, so he's not too afraid of these initial threats. His main worry comes in the form of unstoppable lunatic Anton Chigurh, who lurches around West Texas carrying a cumbersome air gun and isn't afraid to use it on the forehead of some innocent passer-by. Chigurh is played by Javier Bardem in one of the most idiosyncratic, peculiar and ingenious performances in any Coen Brothers film, EVER. And these are guys known for their idiosyncratic, peculiar characters.

Bardem's got the look of Chigurh down, the stilted manner of speaking, the body language, the whole deal, but what really sells this psychopath are the little tics and details. This guy is a complete monster - not just a willing murderer, but a man who feels totally justified in killing. It's unclear whether he's on a kill-crazy rampage to access the money or whether the money just provides his latest excuse for going on a kill-crazy rampage. Bardem makes him uncontrollably crazy but also recognizably human. He's vulnerable and invincible at the same time.

So well established is Chigurh's menace and Moss' sympathetic goodness, the plotting essentially takes care of itself for two hours. The Coens set up one slickly-designed, perfectly realized set piece after another. With 50 years of professional filmmaking experience between the two of them, these guys have developed finely honed instincts for playing around with an audience, and they get the most out of every jolt in McCarthy's breathlessly savage story. There's almost too many suspenseful sequences; I felt exhausted when it was all over.

(I don't want to blow anything, but there's one dazzling moment that just demands some attention. Moss, sitting in a darkened room with shotgun at the ready, hears Chigurh creeping up from outside, and sees his the shadows of his feet flash by under the door jamb. We think, "at any second, the door's going to come bursting open and there's going to be a crazy shootout." Instead, the Coens take this opportunity to raise the stakes and increase the tension, not letting you off the hook. People in the audience were split into three reactions - some yelped, others laughed and still others applauded. I did all three.)

The final act, as I said, shifts gears in some ways. A scene that doesn't feel entirely pivotal fades to black (the first time this has been used as a transition), and suddenly we're looking at things from a different perspective, taking all that has come before and combing through it for meaning. The story concludes, but in a most un-thriller-like fashion, leaving strands of narrative unresolved and far more questions than answers. (Just as Bell is nearing retirement from the Sheriff's Department, the Coens' film almost seems to enter retirement from toying with your emotions. "That's all the excitement I can handle. I'm going to let you all take it from here."

Though it's certainly ambiguous, No Country morphs into what feels like a contemplation of the meaning of Death. Specifically, the moment immediately before death, heavy with the knowledge of its impending arrival. (The storyline allows for a great many such moments throughout its 120-some minutes, although it could be argued that we spend every moment of our adult lives sick with the knowledge that soon we will day.)

The film opens with a Tommy Lee Jones monologue in which he makes plain his understanding that his job may eventually cause his demise. Moss, before making the first of several bold decisions that will place his life in danger, asks his wife to tell his mother he loves her, in case he doesn't return. (She reminds him his mother's already dead. ) Chigurh, the vicious murderer, may be the only one who isn't really at peace with the notion of his own mortality. Implicit in his constant drive to live and press on and pursue is the innate fear of ever having to stop. Perhaps his killing, the idea of the chase itself, not to mentio his fondness for watching others die, stems from a desire to conquer the one thing he can't overrun.

Should You Wash Your Hands After Going #1?

Oliver Willis says yes. Before going any further, I'd like to state for the record that, regardless of the argument I'm about to advance, I actually do wash my hands after I urinate. It's just force of habit at this point.

There's just a few things I'd like to point out.

(1) There is no reason my penis should be any more dirty than any other part of my body, and it certainly ought to be cleaner than my hands, provided I haven't been using it recently. My hands touch all kinds of dirty things all day - far far worse than my genitals - from pocket change to shoes to the floor to the exterior of my car. So why is it mandatory that I wash my hands every time I touch my penis? The thing's not radioactive.

(2) If you're getting pee on your hand when you go #1, you're doing it wrong.

In the course of making his point - that it's icky not to wash after you piss - Oliver links to this USA Today column. But they don't really make his case for him very well:

...the experts still recommend washing, for two reasons.

Reason one: You may pick up more germs than you think, from doors, flush handles and other surfaces, and from your own body. "Your gastrointestinal tract is close by," Daly says. "It all fits together, and you can't see where the microorganisms are."

Okay, see, but...that's just stupid. My gastrointestinal tract is close to my penis? I mean, speaking globally, yes, it is closer than, say, New York and The Hague. But the small of my back is also relatively close to my gastrointestinal tract, and I don't run to the washroom every time I reach back there to scratch an itch.

Let's add an addendum to the end of observation #2 above. If you're getting doody on your hand when you go #1, you're seriously doing it wrong. Like, holy shit, are you doing it wrong! Wow! If you ever find poo on your hand, for any reason, wash that fucker immediately, without hesitation.

Reason two: The restroom, stocked with sinks, soap and water, is a convenient place to wash off bacteria and viruses your hands accumulate elsewhere during the day. Studies do show groups of people who wash their hands regularly get fewer gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses.

But this has nothing to do with washing after you go #1. This is just stating, quite obviously, that it's a decent idea to wash your hands a few times a day. Because live is messy and germs are everywhere. I can get behind that message. And I'm not even saying you shouldn't wash your hands whenever you exit a bathroom. (The "germs on the door handle" argument is fairly compelling.) But let's not go nuts here. There's far more gross things that people do each day than rush out of the bathroom after a nice tinkle without washing.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Considerable Weekend

Did lots of stuff I had no chance to blog about this weekend. So here we go, in brief form:

American Gangster

Okay, so I watched this last But I didn't get a chance to review it. It's a pretty good flick, with some solid performances and a great soundtrack full of '70s soul. (I knew Jay-Z's latest album is a tie-in with the movie, but none of those songs actually appear in the film. It's weird from a marketing standpoint, but the decision not to go with anachronistic hip-hop in the background was a smart one.) I think the only thing that kept me from loving the movie was its familiarity.

There have been a lot of other movies about real-life drug dealers from this era, and all the stories are fairly similar. Resourceful criminal finds a way to obtain cheap narcotics from a foreign supplier, quickly rises to the top of his profession and eventually falls from grace, with the very ambition and aggressiveness that initially won him a fortune bringing about his downfall. There's nothing American Gangster really brings to that formula, and its one kind of unique element - the switching of perspectives between kingpin Frank Lucas (Washington) and the policeman chasing him (Russell Crowe) - kind of bogs the film down rather than adding anything new to the mix. It also could stand to be a bit more entertaining; the movie starts slow, and never really finds its rhythm, exactly.

Neil Young at the Nokia Theater

Caught Neil's show on Friday night with my brother and father. His wife Pegi opened with kind of a bland collection of throwback country songs. Granted, this isn't really my genre to begin with, but the set was, I hate to say it, kind of boring.

Neil then came on stage alone and played about a 45 minute acoustic set that was pretty stellar. The highlight? "A Man Needs a Maid." I never really imagined he'd pull that one out, and the performance kind of blew me away. There was this obnoxious hillbilly couple sitting directly behind me (they must have driven in from somewhere in Central California, because they had that drawl you just don't get from Los Angelinos) talking through the entire show (and always with ridiculously folksy, stupid comments), and even they shut up during "Man Needs a Maid." Although immediately afterwards, they had to comment. "I think he's got two keyboards on that stage. Sounded like two keyboards." "What was he talking about in that song? Gettin' a maid? That's hee-larious." Ugh.

Then, Neil returned for a 90 minute electric set, which includes about a half-hour's worth of jamming on "No Hidden Path," one of the songs off his new record, Chrome Dreams II. It may have gone on a bit too long, and my brother absolutely loathed this portion of the performance, but I enjoyed seeing the band get deep into spaced-out jam mode. I used to see a lot more jammy kind of bands (including, yes, Phish), and I guess I'm just not bothered it the way others seem to be. For me, the music isn't more or less boring because there's no vocals and it lacks traditional structure. If it sounds good, I'm fine with it. Not trying to put down people who don't see it that way, and there are certainly jams I've seen that have gone on way too long. (Built to Spill once played a version of "Randy Describes Eternity" that was so long, I had time to forget what song they were even playing, then remember, then forget again.)

Here's the full setlist:

From Hank To Hendrix / Ambulance Blues / Sad Movies / A Man Needs A Maid / No One Seems To Know / Harvest / Love In Mind / After The Gold Rush / Mellow My Mind / Love Art Blues / Love Is A Rose / Heart Of Gold // The Loner / Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Dirty Old Man / Spirit Road / Bad Fog Of Loneliness / Winterlong / Oh, Lonesome Me / The Believer / No Hidden Path // Cinnamon Girl / Cortez The Killer /Tonight's The Night

I mean, "After the Gold Rush"? "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere"? "Cortez the Killer"? No complaints here...

Here's playlist from some of the best Neil songs I could find on Seeqpod:

V Lounge

So, that was Friday night. I went to work Saturday for a few hours. Hey, somebody's got to cover the "Dog the Bounty Hunter is a Racist/Moron/Obnoxious Star of a Terrible Reality Show" case, am I right? Right? Am I right?

Then, Saturday night, I headed out with Adam from Mahalo to the birthday party of our co-worker, Jenny at V Lounge, which is a Hollywood-style nightclub in Santa Monica. Which, in case you're not from LA, is kind of strange. Anyway, we had to wait about 45 minutes outside V Lounge to get in, and during that time I actually saw one of my few close friends, randomly. (She, having boobs, naturally walked right in.) This was highly awesome, because nothing makes you look cooler in front of people you don't know that well than running into random friends outside of nightclubs. Like a Man About Town or something.

I know this may be hard for all of you to imagine, but nightclubs are actually not my scene at all. In a bar, I actually have a chance of possibly getting to know someone. That place encapsulates all the benefits of inebriation (like confidence and seeming a lot more witty) without the thunderously loud music or need to demonstrate some level of physical coordination you get in a nightclub. A club simultaneously robs my of the ability to converse (my only real asset in these kind of social situations) AND provides me with a primary activity - dancing - that's essentially an invitation to make a serious asshole out of myself. Bad news. (Also, I don't own any real club-appropriate clothing. There was a guy there wearing a half-opened shimmery black shirt with a dragon embroidered over the left shoulder. I couldn't live with myself if I paid money for something like that.)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Went and saw this today in Long Beach. This is the second movie in a row I've seen in a theater in Long Beach where the sound was fucked up. When I saw The Kingdom at the Marina Pacifica 12, there was a blown speaker that messed up all the low-end rumble (considerable in the film's action-heavy final act.) Today, during Elizabeth: The Golden Age at the UA Marketplace, one speaker would randomly cut in and out, totally screwing with the surround sound. It got really bad during the climactic battle versus the Spanish Armada. Seriously, am I just spoiled living in a film-conscious town like LA? Are most movie theaters around the country incapable of screening a film without these kinds of irritating technical glitches? No wonder people are just illegally downloading this shit and watching it on the computers. Relatively little chance that a quality DVD rip is going to have screwy sound issues.

As for the film, it's pretty entertaining and slickly made. I haven't seen the original Elizabeth in a while, but I recall being kind of bored during that film's midsection, so I'm tempted to say this one's better paced. Blanchett and Rush are great as always in surprisingly physical performances. (Blanchett performs a lot of the film in extreme close-up, which can't be easy to do, and Rush believably plays a weakened and frail old man). Samantha Morton was perfectly cast as Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and has a few terrifically imperious, almost frightening scenes in which to shine. (If she had just a bit more screen time, I'd think her a natural pick for a Supporting Actress nod.)

The conclusion of the film - the 1588 attack of the Spanish Armada on England - feels a lot like a throwback historical adventure-romance with Clive Owen (playing Sir Walter Raleigh) in the Errol Flynn role. These scenes are actually kind of fun, and rather inadvertently highlights the staid dryness of the film's earlier passages.

Golden Age is also teeming with historical inaccuracy. I'm not particularly well versed on this period of English history, but even I could tell they were straining to retell all the major events of the Anglo-Spanish War within 2 hours with a minimum of excess characters. This is a shame, because I sense that most Americans know very little about the events portrayed, and they will most likely fill in these gaps in their knowledge with the inaccuracies of the movie. (A guy sitting behind me at the theater talked a lot during the film, and seemed to have very little background on any of these figures. It took him a good long while to even get his bearings. I sense wouldn't have been able to identify the country in which the movie took place if it hadn't appeared on screen at the beginning.)

It didn't really hurt my enjoyment of the movie as a movie, and I understand why a little unrequited love may have been needed for the sake of drama.

But the story of the Tudor/Stuart showdown, of the Spanish fleet's attack on England's significantly weaker Navy, of the clash between Protestantism and Catholicism that essentially defined hundreds of years of European history, has some innate drama as well, right? Do we really need to change so much to make this story work?