Friday, December 26, 2008

Revolutionary Road

Sam Mendes returns to the same subject matter as his Oscar-winning American Beauty in this adaptation of the 1961 Richard Yates novel: well-off white suburban angst. The genders are reversed, but otherwise, the situations in the two films are remarkably similar. One member of a couple living a superficially idyllic suburban life gets restless and can no longer stand the dull routine of conforming and consuming, leading the other member to seek a return to steady, quotidian equilibrium.

Kevin Spacey's vague ennui is a bit easier to tolerate in Beauty (a film, I admit, I loved at the time of its release, but which has lost some of its allure in the ensuing years) because the character and the film are funny (composed, as they were, by former sitcom writer Alan Ball). In Road, Kate Winslet's April Wheeler is so severe, so deadly serious at all times, it's sometimes hard to understand her desire to break free of the mundane at all.

It's not that Winslet gives a bad performance. Quite the contrary.

As scripted by Justin Haythe (I have not read Yates' novel), April could have been an extremely unsympathetic heroine. Her behavior is erratic, her moods shift wildly, and she makes some difficult choices. Winslet succeeds in bringing out April's essential decency, and this makes her plight far more deeply felt and meaningful. A character that could have come off as almost maniacal is instead pitiable, a woman who knows exactly the thing that could make her happy - escape - and who comes perilously close to getting it before seeing her dream strangled.

I think the problem, with both Road and, to some extent, American Beauty, is that both films fail to really capture exactly what it is about the suburbs that make their respective protagonists SO insane. Like, yes, these communities seem boring, and filled with phonies, and senselessly focused on "outdoing the neighbors" with impulsive purchasing. Like many Americans who live in rural or urban neighborhoods, many of these characters are trapped in increasingly bitter, sexually frustrating marriages.

But we're not talking garden variety disillusionment, or even depression, here. Revolutionary Road, in many ways, is a film about a woman driven to a nervous breakdown by the pressures of suburban life. Yet the film BEGINS with her already feeling intense distaste for her situation. We never get a chance to understand what has pushed her to this point. It makes Mendes' films on this subject, on some level, rather superficial. It's easy to just axiomatically insist that the suburbs are a certain way, but it's much more difficult, and satisfying dramatically, to actually render them this way.

As April's husband, Frank, Leonardo DiCaprio does his usual professional job, but this isn't one of those roles with which he really connects. DiCaprio's never bad, but he only really gets to disappear into a role every rare once in a while.

As with every Mendes film, Revolutionary Road looks great. (Naturally, as it's shot by Roger Deakins). The era of the early '60s is brought vibrantly to life, particularly in scenes depicting Frank's daily commute to work in the city. The movie turns imagery that's often fetishized, played as charming and desirable, in old films - seas of men in suits and hats pouring through city streets and rail cars - into a sinister landscape of existential terror. As we watch, Frank genuinely disappears into a faceless mob. I do think, as I've kind of made clear at this point, Mendes hews a bit too close to the style he already explored in American Beauty. Some moments in this new film, despite the difference in era, seem damn near interchangeable, particularly a series of sequences in which emotionally fragile husbands look out over their neighbor's property with a sense of quiet yearning while tinkling piano plays in the background.

[I should note here that one thing that likewise hurts Revolutionary Road is that it's very similar to the best show currently on television, "Mad Men," in both aesthetic and content. Frank and April's dilemma is still somewhat provocative and compelling to watch, but they're no Don and Betty Draper. A random episode of "Mad Men's" second season would likely be a more entertaining, complex depiction of a tense early '60s upwardly-mobile marital standoff than Revolutionary Road. The film would have felt a lot more essential, I suspect, if it had come first.]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas. Face.

I have a lovely singing voice. Suck it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Got Questions? We Can Help With That.

I'm very pleased to introduce the newest feature on Mahalo, Mahalo Answers. We've been working on this quietly for a while now and it's exciting to get to share it finally with the world.

The basic concept is superficially similar to a few other services around the Web. Users can show up and ask questions or answer questions posed by other users. Then, a "best" answer is chosen that most directly provides the sought-after information.

Mahalo's bringing a few new concepts to the table. Perhaps most significantly, what we're calling "tips." If you want your question to get featured prominently, or if you want to ask something that may take a bit of time or expertise to properly answer, you can offer "Mahalo Dollars" for an answer. Collect 40 Mahalo Dollars (which would really be a matter of providing 4-8 really compelling answers) and you can turn them into actual money!

Of course, there are lots of other benefits to the system, too. Mahalo Answers interact with regular Mahalo pages. So if you're looking up Michael Jackson, and someone has already asked
for a list of all his #1 singles on Answers, you'd see that information on the regular Mahalo page.

Perhaps my personal favorite upgrade that Mahalo Answers brings to these kinds of Q&A services are the embeddable videos. A thread like this one, about Steven Seagal's finest on-screen moments, just isn't possible on other Answers sites, and it's really compelling stuff, almost like a crowd-sourced blog list.

So I'd encourage everyone to get a Mahalo username and password (if they don't already have one) and check this system out. We're all pretty proud of it.

Oh, and of course I got the Best Answer on that Steven Seagal thread with this unimpeachable classic:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stalling Out

In honor of today, my 30th birthday, the media has give me the gift of Lois Feldman and Ross Walsh.

On November 22, 2008, Lois Feldman, a wife and mother of three, was caught having sex with Ross M. Walsh at the Metrodome in Minneapolis during a Minnesota vs. Iowa college football game. Feldman claimed she was so drunk on wine that she doesn't even remember the incident.

Oh, it gets better. Feldman and Walsh had never met one another before the game. And they were each there with other people...He with his girlfriend and she with her husband. Sweet.

Feldman said she’d never met Walsh.

“I don’t know who this man is,” she told the Register. “I just found out his name in the paper.”

I'm sorry, but...that's a whole lot of wine. I have maybe been drunk enough in my life to have sex with a stranger in a crowded stadium bathroom. (And I do mean maybe, because that's pretty drunk. I'd probably pass out before I could make that whole situation come to pass.) But from just wine? How much wine could this woman have had during this football game? Who is she, Friar Tuck? (And who drinks wine at a college football game anyway?) And while her husband is waiting for her back in their seats?

Finally, I'd point out that, as far as I know, the official definition of a "cougar" is a woman over 40. But Feldman is 38 and Walsh only 26...and I'd have to think something like this would qualify. Or we have to make an exception or something. If Lois Feldman isn't a cougar, the word has lost all meaning.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Great Moments in Conservative Humor

Seriously, Senator Jim've got to be f-ing kidding me.

"McCain, who is proponent of campaign finance reform that weakened party organizations and basically put George Soros in the driver's seat," DeMint said. "His proposal for amnesty for illegals. His support of global warming, cap-and-trade programs that will put another burden on our economy. And of course, his embrace of the bailout right before the election was probably the nail in our coffin this last election. And he has been an opponent of drilling in ANWR, at a time when energy is so important. It really didn't fit the label, but he was our package."

So John McCain lost because he wasn't an insane enough conservative? He didn't talk about fucking drilling enough? Drilling had its own goddamn chant during the McCain campaign. You can't possibly talk about something any more than when you're chanting about it. That's the whole definition of a "chant." You just say the same thing over and over again.

I mean, has Jim DeMint been holed up in Dick Cheney's Top Secret Underground Lair and Social Club for the past 2 years? It's pretty tough to make the case that Americans were voting on George Soros and amnesty for illegal immigrants (a point which McCain had essentially conceded before the election even started). There are ample exit polls that show people were worried about the economy and the Iraq War. I didn't see a whole lot of checked boxes for "I liked his warmongering policy, but I disagreed with his 'don't shoot Mexicans on sight' policy. Oh, and fuck George Soros."

But, you know, maybe I missed those polls. Or South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint just doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. One of those.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quite Possibly the Most Wrong Thing I Have Ever Heard

John Hinderaker has crafted perhaps the silliest blog post of all time. Seriously. It would be almost impossible to top this.

But first, some back story. John Hinderaker blogs, along with two other guys, at Power Line, one of the most respected and influential right-wing blogs. They were 2004's Time Blog of the Year.

John once wrote this of George W. Bush:

A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile. Hyperbolic? Well, maybe.

That used to have my vote for the craziest thing ever blogged. I remember when NBC had that "blog" online that was supposed to belong to Creed from "The Office," and that made way more sense than this Power Line post.

Anyway, Hinderaker has topped himself. I give you...The Importance of Being Careful:

[George W.] Bush never gets sloppy when he is speaking publicly. He chooses his words with care and precision, which is why his style sometimes seems halting. In the eight years he has been President, it is remarkable how few gaffes or verbal blunders he has committed. If Obama doesn't raise his standards, he will exceed Bush's total before he is inaugurated.

The mind...boggles.

This is so wrong, it's the exact polar opposite of true. Sadly No!, similarly baffled by Hinderaker's astoundingly incorrect conclusion, has offered, as rebuttal, voluminous video evidence of George W. Bush's gaffes, inanities, blunders, malapropisms and general buffoonery. It demonstrates beyond any doubt both Bush's contempt for his audience and for the English language.

But it's not even necessary to go that far. No one expects George W. Bush to speak with care and precision, or indeed, to speak in complete sentences, without food in his mouth. His incoherence was a national joke 7 years ago. Now, we're all numb to it. When he's on TV, speaking to America about important issues of the day, not even small children take him seriously any more. And Americans are easy to fool. They think fucking Shia LaBeouf has gravitas.

Vociferously advocating the proposition that George W. Bush is eloquent, indeed that he should be offering eloquence lessons to Barack Obama, a man rhetorically gifted enough to become the first black president, against a Clinton, 4 years after first entering the national spotlight, is laughably ridiculous. I feel like, up until now, Power Line has all been a prank, and this is the moment Hinderaker's chosen to give the game away.

Wait a're not even really conservative, are you! What a bunch of rapscallions.''re serious.

Power Line makes me want to start an angry blog that stridently and vehemently argues for completely nonsensical propositions. Just for fun.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Taking It To The Streets

I am not much of a protest guy, mainly because it seems to me that money, legislative maneuvering and compromise tends to be what gets stuff done in America. As opposed to a bunch of committed, earnest people getting together and marching and yelling.

Not that such things can't be at all effective. Certainly, in years past, the idea of public protest had a significant impact on how Americans thought about issues like foreign wars and civil rights. To me, most of these mass public efforts, like walking the streets it protest, represent symbolic rather than pragmatic action. They are designed to allow people to be heard, which provides some level of satisfaction, and can educate other Americans long-term. But it's not about actually initiating significant change.

Pragmatic action was a Get Out the Vote effort for "No on Prop 8" in the weeks leading up to the election. This was actually quite effective; an enthusiastic private citizen, Robot Bill Clinton and Robot Magic Johnson all called me in the days before Nov. 4 urging me to vote No, as of course I eventually did. Unfortunately, though the vote was dramatically close, it was not quite effective enough to overcome the homophobia and bigotry of California's voters.

Walking the streets angrily after it has passed is purely symbolic action. I'm not saying it shouldn't be done, or that people who care about civil rights should give up. Everyone has the right to protest. Furthermore, I am optimistic that, because of the actions of concerned citizens, Prop 8 will eventually be overturned by the US Supreme Court. It is nakedly, unabashedly unconstitutional, in direct violation of both the spirit and the letter of our 14th Amendment.

I'm just not the marching type.

I was thinking about going anyway (in that way where you probably won't go but allow yourself to entertain the notion, semi-fancifully) to the big protest tonight in Los Angeles. Then I was sort of taken aback by one sentence in CauseCast's "invitation" to the event:

The LGBT movement and its allies won same-sex marriage rights and only a militant movement will ultimately prevail.

I think perhaps the author meant "strident" when he or she wrote "militant." Surely CauseCast, a lovely and deeply committed group of people with whom I have the pleasure of sharing some office space, are not advocating any acts of violence in protest against Prop 8. This is exactly the sort of thing that would only hurt the movement they are trying to build. The Weathermen didn't exactly bring the Vietnam War to an end; they just made it that much easier for right-wing scumbags to portray the anti-war movement as a bunch of "crazy hippie terrorist" caricatures.

Pragmatism, people. To win this kind of battle, you need to get that big mushy middle of mainstream America on your side. It can obviously be done. (I don't know if you guys heard about this, but the new president is a black guy that wants to engage in actual diplomacy with our enemies and give kids health care.) A "militant" protest in the streets of Los Angeles is not exactly a phenomenal PR move at this juncture. Or pretty much any other juncture.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

That's Really Cool About America, Also

Americans surprised me today. I'll admit it...I didn't think the black guy would win. 8 years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney turned me into a cynic. It's not that I think most Americans are racists, exactly...There was just this nagging feeling that the whole thing seemed a bit too good to be true. Electing a rational, intelligent, well-meaning individual whose identity and name themselves would go a long way towards repairing some of the horrific damage of the post-9/11 era? Nah, not modern America. They'd go for the angry old warmonger and his goofy, Jesus-loving sidekick.

But instead, my surprisingly sensible countrymen got together and actually picked the best guy for the job for once. Solid. I have no idea what kind of president Obama will be of course. But he's certainly set some lofty, ambitious goals, and he's given me no reason to think he will not be at least capable, and that's a lot more than I can say for his predecessor or opponent.

I mean, come on...The Republicans were insulting the country merely be nominating and supporting this ticket. Now that it's all over, can we all come together and agree that Sarah Palin, beyond all the scandals and gaffes and controversies, is just a really stupid, irritating asshole?

Why can't she just tell us she's voting for herself? Is it because she just reflexively lies and conceals everything, even things that aren't inappropriate or wrong? Is it because she didn't actually understand the ballot, and so can't be totally sure for whom she actually did vote? Or is she just an irritating asshole?

THAT DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE, because she's done. For good. And no, I don't think we'll be seeing her again in 2012, because she's quite possibly most ludicrous, fringe candidate with the least ability to appeal to mainstream, moderate voters proposed by a major party in my lifetime. I mean, she makes scabies look popular. Walter Mondale won 13 TOTAL electoral college votes in 1984, and even he's got to be thinking, "Thank God I never shot at a wolf from a fucking helicopter. Things could have been much worse."

Pundits on CNN tonight were trying to pick the moment McCain really lost this election for himself, and they settled on the whole "quitting his campaign to focus on the bailout" debacle. I think that's way too late. It was choosing Sarah Palin and we all know it.

It's going to be very hard to even describe that moment in history to the next generation. "So, anyway, this insane idiot from some obscure, nigh unreachable outpost in the middle of BFE became Governor of BFE and pretended to do a few somewhat impressive things, like stop Americans form wasting money on a useless bridge. Only she didn't actually do any of those things. But she had done a lot of completely different, exceedingly ridiculous things, like using her position of power to settle family squabbles, taking a stipend from voters for nights that she spent at her own home, talking about witchcraft a lot, and maybe even giving keynote addresses to groups that want to break Alaska off from the United States. Oh, and she was always winking at you, a gesture that, combined with John McCain's compulsive repetition of the phrase 'my friends,' kind of made you feel like the Republican candidates for the presidency were trying to get into your pants."

It's exciting to elect Obama because of the person he is. We're making history in the best way possible, setting a new standard for what and who a president can be, and demonstrating to ourselves and the rest of the world that not everything about America is summed up by the George Bush Experience. This is also a pretty amazing place sometimes.

But maybe the best thing about the guy is what he's not. He's not some photogenic moron pretending to be smart, he's not some rich corporate asshole pretending to give a shit about everyday Americans, he's not an old man who has spent decades making connections, slowly calculating his rise to power. He hasn't arrived at his position through nepotism, groomed for higher office as part of some megalomaniacal aristocratic legacy. He didn't marry into wealth, success and, yes, politics. He's not a Clinton or a Bush.

He's an exceptionally bright man who succeeded on his wit and abilities, and has now done something that I and many other Americans thought impossible. He has become the next Democratic president, not to mention the first black president. It's about time, and I'm not even just talking about the race thing. It's about time we had another smart person in the White House, someone who's actually trying to make the country work, rather than implode.

I'm sure many of you vehemently disagree with his policies, and that's fine (though they're not more...) But it's pretty hard to deny that his proposals are made in good faith, at least compared to the horseshit we've been asked to swallow under Bush-Cheney. Yes, he's trying to give more Americans free health care. Maybe you think poor people getting things is bad, because, um, then Joe the Plumber can't get that DVD Player he's been wanting for his truck. (The screen's inside the headrests!) But I should expect an Obama Administration won't spend its time making up new euphamisms for torturing people or fucking inventing new branches of the federal government. These are real (if occasionally vague) suggestions for ways to solve some of the problems Republican governance created from 2000 onward. Now let's see if any of them come to fruition. Or work.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Follow the Election Live on Mahalo!

I've spent the better part of this week getting ready for the big night tonight on Mahalo. We've made pages for every state's election results and exit polls. You can check them out here:

I don't want to brag, but this has got to be some of the most complete, thorough election coverage available, I should think.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

D'oh Draper

"The Simpsons" may be a shell of its former self, but every once in a while, they can still nail it:

MTV Music is a Force For Good

MTV Music is Hulu for music videos. How can you go wrong? This is actually a BETTER concept than showing videos on TV, because you get to watch them in any order you want. Bravo, Corporate Overlords.

Not convinced?

Need more?

The more videos they add to this thing, the better it's going to get. Pure win.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Best Video You Will See Today

My brother Jonathan doing stand-up comedy at the Unurban Coffee Shop in Santa Monica. Face.


Ezra Klein theorizes that the Obama camp may have had the concept for this add sitting around for months, just waiting for McCain to say "I'm not George Bush!" in a debate. As impressed as I've largely been with the Obama campaign's strategic maneuvers these past few months, I'm still not sure about that. They could have just got lucky and thrown this together. Wouldn't be that hard. Still, this may be the most effective anti-McCain ad I've seen:

This ad succinctly makes the best case for voting Obama-Biden. Honestly, health care plans and tax plans are all well and good. Amazingly, if Democrats take control of 2 branches of the government - as it seems they might - some of them may actually come to fruition, at least in part. But all the American people have really needed to hear is, I think:

(1) You know John McCain. He's been the guy you've seen on TV for the past 8 years telling you everything is going awesome. Meanwhile, everything's fucked. You want to keep going?

(2) Barack Obama is not a shifty, unreliable, foreign, Muslim terrorist-sympathizing America-hater who subsists entirely on lattes and his own inflated sense of self importance. Republicans have been making that case for a while, and I think actually seeing Obama on TV day-in day-out kind of kills this message - he's almost stridently level. I think there's a reason the Obama camp has tagged McCain with the word "erratic." It's the exact opposite description of their guy.

I mean, say what you will about the "Gore is a lying dullard" thing...It IS possible to portray him that way. It's certainly not the whole truth about him; he's actually kind of witty, and he likes "Futurama." But it's one side of his persona (the "dullard" stuff...the "liar" part was manufactured) that kind of tended to come out when he was talking about things he takes very seriously. Obama's nothing like how McCain describes him, and it blunts the attacks.

Now that Americans have been convinced of these two things, the tide is starting to turn. I just hope it's enough to push him over the top.

One more, somewhat connected point I want to make, vis-a-vis Election 2008...

If you over 18 and you don't vote, or you vote for a 3rd Party Candidate, or you write in some other person's name, or you vote for McCain-Palin, you're a jerk. There, I said it.

I've made this argument before, but I think it bears repeating, because I constantly hear people talking about their personal politics in terms of ideological purity. "I don't like either candidate...No one speaks for my views..." Like, exist only to assure them that they are the most rational and fair-minded of Americans. I'm not a PARTISAN. I make well-reasoned decisions that aren't swayed by emotionality or wanting to belong to a team.

Bullshit. Presidential politics are not about your purity or your personal morality or even ideology. It's pure pragmatism. There are two options and you are morally bound to choose the one that will do the overall least amount of harm to your fellow Americans, and even the other peoples of the world. I don't usually think it's that hard to figure out which way to go, but bear in mind that thus far in my voting life, the Republicans have offered me George W. Bush twice and now John McCain. Um, well played.

Look, it's fine if you want to be politically active in any way you so choose. But when it comes to your November 2008 vote, it comes down to two options and that's it. Crazy McPalin Sr. or Barack Obama. One of these two men WILL BE PRESIDENT. Joe Biden or Sarah Palin WILL BE VICE-PRESIDENT. I know you may not like either of them. I'm not a huge fan. They both piss me off. But only one of them has shown even the remotes signs of being a decent president. I might be disappointed, sure. But I won't be disappointed by President McCain...I know exactly what to expect. And I won't have time to be disappointed by President Palin, because we'll all be vaporized within 20 minutes of her taking office. Don't ask me how...I'm sure she'll think of something.

Let me once again stress that this is not so much about Barack Obama being super-swell, or about you feeling good about doing your civic duty. This is about not letting a war-loving lunatic and an insane asshole who loves forcing rape victims to give birth to their attacker's kids become the President. Or has 8 years of Republican rule been going really well for you, Mr. Fuld?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

So, I've Been Lax About Blogging Again...

I guess, in some ways, I feel that my comic perspective is no longer needed when discussing the major events of the day. American life has surpassed my ability to parody it in this fashion. Better to focus my energies on making fun of YouTube, which is at this point a more dignified and grounded community than the American political scene.

However, that doesn't mean I can't tell you about music I've been listening to recently. So here we go:

The Walkmen, "Four Provinces"

I guess this song was called "Hey Leah" previously, but it's "Four Provinces" on the new Walkmen album, "You and I," which I am really enjoying presently. This video features the band playing the song acoustically while walking around San Francisco.

Kings of Leon, "Sex on Fire"

See, I know that writing and performing a song "Sex on Fire" that is entirely non-ironic is intensely cheesy. Here is a sample lyric:

Hot as a fever
Rattling bones
I can just taste it
Taste it

If it's not forever
If it's just tonight
Oh we're still the greatest
The greatest
The greatest

This sounds so much like Bob Seger, it's actually kind of disturbing, like a pantless Tom Cruise might slide into your bedroom and minute and strap you to an e-meter.

Cut Copy, "Lights and Music"

My friend Nathan urgently suggested I start listening to Cut Copy, and he's typically right about such things. (His past passionate recommendations have included Man Man and Spoon, a track record that can only be described as "strong to quite strong."

And sure enough, he's on target again. These guys are extremely '80s, which I understand is popular with the kids these days, but the act isn't a gimmick. These guys write fantastic songs.

Ben Folds, Way to Normal

Hey, you know what's unconscionably awful? The new Ben Folds album! I used to really like Ben Folds Five, but recently, I've come to find his entire act/persona rather unbearable. "Way to Normal" is also heavy on the creepy misogyny, which was always kind of a part of the band's repertoire, but it used to be less direct and unpleasant.

So here's the question: Was Ben Folds always this obnoxious, and I just used to like obnoxious music? (Believe me, there's other evidence for this theorem.) Or is his new music increasingly obnoxious, worse than it used to be? Comments welcome.

Land of Talk, "Some Are Lakes"

I'm pretty sure the lead singer from Land of Talk is in Broken Social Scene, but there's too many people in that band. I can't keep them all straight. Anyway, the song is good - very moody and strange. It took me a few listens to get into, but now I find myself returning to it a bunch.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

From the Desk of Mrs. Roberta McCain

Dear American Public -

Please excuse my son, John McCain, from the presidential campaign this week, including the scheduled debate against Barack Obama on Friday. John is not feeling well, and is terribly worried about his good friends the Lehman Brothers, and just will not be able to make it on to the campaign trail.

John knows that there are lots of important things for him to do, and that he is already a bit behind this week. We considered asking his good friend Sarah to bring him all of his assignments, but she's not really up to it herself. (The poor dear.) He promises to try to make it back next week, as long as he feels better, and his doctor says it's okay.

Thank you very much for understanding, and please do feel free to call me if you think this makes John look weak and frightened.

John McCain's Mom

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The President as CEO

Look, far be it from me to defend the McCain campaign, which I find personally disgusting on a number of levels. But people are making too much of McCain surrogate and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina's statement that Sarah Palin is unqualified to run Hewlett-Packard. In fact, she's totally right when she says that none of the four major candidates are qualified to run HP. That's why they're running for political office and not running a company.

We need to get over this President-as-Ubermensch thing. The President needs to be good at one job - managing the executive branch of the federal government. That's it. Though it's a complex, intensely important and significant job, it is still, after all, one job and not every job. Does the President need to know how to put up drywall? Or write complex mathematical proofs? There's a big difference between "being a highly skilled, intelligent, rational and responsible individual" and "knowing how to be a good CEO."

So why does a President need to know how to run a multinational corporation again? This "President as CEO" metaphor gets trotted out a lot, but they're entirely different jobs. Sure, they're both managerial in nature, but a lot of jobs are managerial in nature, adn I wouldn't turn over the Lakers to Joe Biden either. And the entire purpose in the position is vastly different: The presidency is about public service, Chief Executive Officers are about pleasing shareholders/investors.

Also, need I remind you, both our President and Vice-President at the moment are former CEO's, and frankly, they're not really up to this task. Cheney may have been a kickass businessman, and I'd definitely hire to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, but I'd never want him to be President. NO THANKS. I'm okay with a President who's good enough at politics to get some things done and who has similar goals for American policy as myself. That's it.

Plus, can we get over the "Sarah Palin is inexperienced" thing? SARAH PALIN IS FUCKING CRAZY. I mean, Amy Winehouse isn't experienced enough to be President either, but that's not the first thing you'd say if I nominated her for the job.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Unfrozen Cavewoman Governor


She used to be a hockey mom...
But now she's the Governor!
Unfrozen Cavewoman Governor

Ladies and gentlemen of the United States, I'm just a hockey mom...When I ran for mayor of my small town, I came to the attention of your Republican strategists due to my reasonably good looks, extreme right-wing ideology and compelling life story, so they unfroze me and made me the Governor.

Your world frightens and confuses me. When I hear that "Freddie Mac" and "Fannie Mae" are in trouble, I think, are these two hyperactive toddlers in need of a time out? I'm just a hockey mom.

But there is one thing I do know...America's fiscal stability is dependent on despoiling the natural beauty of my home state and repealing the death tax permanently. Thank you.

Unfrozen Cavewoman Governor!

[Tune in next week when Unfrozen Cavewoman Governor says...

Of course I worked for Pat Buchanan and have publicly quoted known anti-Semites. I'm a hockey mom!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

We Ought to Get Us Some of That There Reform...

I'm sorry, I know that polls demonstrate Americans are looking for "change" in their government...

But if, like John McCain, you're the most famous Senator from the party that has essentially run the show for the better part of a decade, you look silly running as a reform candidate. Like, very very silly. Like, you can't talk about reality at all, pretty much, because it would work against the case you're building. You have to start making things up, which means that, of course, you'll run into contradictions. The whole argument gets chaotic and confusing, exactly the opposite of what you want. (For more insight into this, one need only watch any given episode of "Mad Men." The best "pitches" are the most straight-forward. Jackie or Marilyn?)

I've watched a lot of GOP Convention coverage this week (hey, it's my job, kinda), and it has felt entirely surreal. Like watching footage of an old political convention in the library. How can Mitt Romney go on and on bashing the "liberal Washington establishment" in 2008? He might as well be railing against the fiscal policies of Josiah Bartlet. Even worse than that, the Republican critique, repeated over and over again at this convention, contradicts itself directly.

Here's a segment of McCain's speech tonight:

"Let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second crowd," McCain declared in his acceptance speech. "Change is coming."

So...the Democrats don't do anything. Okay, fair enough. I actually almost somewhat agree with this argument. The Congressional Democrats have not done a lot of things I would have liked them to do, and they are, in fact, largely about symbolic gestures.

(Bear in mind, I'm upset that they're not doing anything to fight the policies of Republicans like John McCain. But the point still stands.)

But how can you concede that things are bad in this country, requiring a "change," then argue that your opponents don't do anything? Doesn't that mean all the bad things are your party's fault? And, of course, they are. Nancy Pelosi didn't lie Americans into a pointless, unwinnable war while losing track of Osama bin Laden. Harry Reid didn't install clueless lackeys and yes-men in positions of great power, wrecking our ability to protect the public from unsafe products, get people out of harm's way during a massive storm or successfully prosecute federal criminals. And Barack Obama didn't decide we should start torturing people, or spying on their phone calls (though he does sort of seem okay with it after the fact, which sucks).

The Republicans, Romney and McCain in particular, are basically admitting these things are not their fault ("they don't do anything!") before essentially blaming them anyway. Sarah Palin seems to think US Weekly is at fault. And I'm not sure who Giuliani even hates any more - everyone not actually standing inside the Xcel Energy Center?

(Speaking of glaring contradictions, Giuliani mocking Obama for liking big cities? Giuliani was mayor of fucking New York. Obama's from Kansas. He thinks Obama's too cosmopolitan? WTF?)

I know Republicans essentially think their constituents are dumb. They think they can just lie to them over and over again, pretend to care about them and their issues long enough to get into power for a few more years, and then continue to give them the shaft like always. And it usually does work. I sort of disagree. I think that, certainly, a lot of American voters are gullible, and can be convinced through clever speeches and smart politicking to vote against their own interests much of the time.

But gullible people eventually do figure shit out, particularly if you make it kind of obvious that you're messing with them. And that's what tonight's acceptance speech from McCain felt like. The part of the crank call where you kind of can't hold on any more and start making up really ludicrous stuff, hoping the person on the other end catches on so you can just hang up.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

200 Episodes!

Mahalo Daily hits a milestone today with our 200th episode. (That's 180 more than "The Famous Teddy Z"!)

I'm so proud to be a part of this podcast and to have worked (and continue to work) with such a fantastic group of people. Congrats to Michael, John, Conrad, Buck, Leah, Veronica, Tyler, Jason, all the Mahalo Guides like my brother and Evan who helped us out along the way and, oh yeah, ME!

Monday, September 01, 2008

This Sarah Palin Post Will Not Mention the Pregnancy Thing...

Oh, wait...damn it...

Anyway, I'd just like to again point out that I think Democrats are focusing on the wrong arguments against the Palin selection here. The big issue is not that she's inexperienced, or that her daughter is pregnant. The big issue is that she's fucking crazy. And apparently not particularly well-versed in the history of our nation.

Blog The Stone of Tear has posted a questionnaire filled out by Palin when she was running for Alaska Governor in 2006. (Thanks to PZ for the link). Her answers are frightening:

2. Will you support the right of parents to opt out their children from curricula, books, classes, or surveys, which parents consider privacy-invading or offensive to their religion or conscience?

SP: Yes. Parents should have the ultimate control over what their children are taught.

But what if a child's parents are stupid? I mean, we can all allow for that, right? It's possible, at least theoretically, that two stupid people might breed. And as we all know, two stupid people are genetically capable of parenting an intelligent offspring. So why are we dooming each generation to be no brighter than the generation that passed before it?

An answer like this basically rejects the entire notion of public schooling. Why send kids to a communal institution like a school if you're going to restrict their education to what their parents already know and believe? Why take on the expense? Just let the kids figure shit out from Mom and Dad, and be done with it, cause an attitude like "parents should have the ultimate control over what their children are taught," rather than, oh, I don't know, "professionals with a fucking clue should have the ultimate control over what children are taught" isn't gonna make any kids any smarter.

Will you support funding for abstinence-until-marriage education instead of for explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics, and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?

SP: Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.

Even though it totally doesn't work? That's sound. This is Bushism in its rawest form, folks. Sticking to a failed policy after it has clearly failed because it's the one you like the best.

This next one's actually kind of funny and sad at the same time:

11. Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

SP: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.

Really? Really? REALLY? Who doesn't know that "Under God" was added in the 1950s? Who doesn't fucking know that? It's one of the most famous pieces of trivia, like, ever.

In fact, the Founding Fathers never said the Pledge of Allegiance, which was written in the late goddamn motherfucking 19th Century, you idiot! The Founding Fathers, a group of philosophers and radicals, many of whom were atheists, agnostics or Deists, would probably not have liked the idea of mandating that people say the phrase "Under God" nor saluting the flag while offering a loyalty oath. You may recall, they started a war to avoid having to pledge allegiance to King George III. Thomas Jefferson basically felt that you had a right to murder your leaders if they were cramping your style too much.

Now, I don't need Sarah Palin to have an intricate, nuanced understanding of the issues at play in the Second Continental Congress. But in addition to not offering an opinion about almost any of the major issues our next president will face, and responding to these kinds of policy questions with standard nonsensical evangelical boilerplate, she here demonstrates an outright ignorance of American history that's entirely off-putting from someone who wants to, you know, run America.

I say, before you can become vice-president, you should have to pass the same tests we give people who want to become U.S. citizens. Would Sarah Palin make the cut?


Oh, and this? I mean, come the fuck on:

When did our overlords become so dumb? Say what you will about Dick Nixon - the guy was crafty. I mean, I expect these people to be kind of evil. But I expect them to fiendishly evil, not completely idiotic and evil. Warmongering Republican political candidates should be master criminals, not hapless bungling small-time crooks. I want Heath Ledger's joker, not Cesar Romero's.


Okay, I know I said I wouldn't mention the pregnancy, but I think Mahalo may have the first page on the Internet about the likely father of Bristol's baby, Levi Krueger. That's noteworthy, right? Come on, I'm doing something with my life, right? Anyone? Anyone?

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I'm not one of these people who feels like the presidency should be all about "experience." I mean, sure, politicians who have been in Washington for decades probably have a clearer idea about the day-to-day realities of the president's job, but that's hardly any kind of solid guarantee that they would handle these realities well. To my mind, it's far more important to elect a president you feel is capable of doing the job and who agrees, more or less, with your worldview than simply someone who has been around long enough to know about the intricacies in advance.

So I don't really care that Barack Obama has only been a Senator for a few years, or for that matter, that Sarah Palin was a mayor of a small Alaska town and has only spent 2 years as the state's governor. (It is kind of weird, when you think about it, that McCain has been running for President longer than Palin has been running Alaska. But still, the essential point remains.) If we were on the same page ideologically, and I felt like she seemed capable of representing me and this shared ideology within the federal government, I'd support her candidacy.

Unfortunately, she appears to be a complete nutbar.

From Think Progress:

In an interview released today by Newsmax, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) — Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) newly minted running mate — was asked for her “take on global warming and how is it affecting our country.” “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location,” Palin said, adding, “I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.”

This would be the worst possible time to elect someone that hates science. The worst. We've endured 8 years of George W. Bush, a man who thinks The Scientific Method means having sex with a labcoat on. Nominating a global warming denier, someone who disagrees with pretty much every single actual trained knowledgeable expert in the world on one of the most significant issues facing our planet, is pretty much what you'd expect from today's Republican Party. But that doesn't mean it can't scare the shit out of me regardless.

Then there's this:

According to an October 2006 profile in the Anchorage Daily News, Palin opposes stem cell research, physician-assisted suicide, and state health benefits for same-sex partners.

Zing! Seriously, I know Republicans hate gay people and anyone with Parkinsons. Fine. But are we still even fucking debating physician-assisted suicide? What is wrong with you people? One of the two major political parties in America still consistently argues in 2008 that your grandma should have to live through every last insufferable moment of death via bowel cancer? Cause that's the way God wants it?

Earlier this year, she told the newspaper that schools should not fear teaching creationism alongside evolution. "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information...Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as a daughter of a science teacher."

Oh, well, she's the daughter of a science teacher...Never mind, then.

Is this election being held in 1508 and no one told me?

After reading these two articles, I would seriously rather vote for almost any other American citizen to be President. Mike Tyson. Heidi Montag. Mark David Chapman. (Hey, he has some interesting ideas...don't judge...)

And, let's not tiptoe around the issue, John McCain's second-in-command might have to take over at any moment. She's not a heartbeat away from the presidency; she's a stiff breeze away. I know she kind of looks like Tina Fey and is making the election itself more interesting, but this is serious stuff.




The hits just keep on coming. Palin's take on Iraq:

A reporter for the Anchorage daily, Gregg Erickson, even did an online chat with the Washington Post, in which he revealed that Palin's approval rating in the state was not the much-touted 80%, but 65% and sinking -- and that among journalists who followed her it might be in the "teens." He added: "I have a hard time seeing how her qualifications stack up against the duties and responsibilities of being president.... I expect her to stick with simple truths. When asked about continued American troop presence in Iraq, she said she knows only one thing about that (I paraphrase): no one has attacked the American homeland since George Bush took the war to Iraq."

Friday, August 29, 2008

60% of the Time, Mahalo Works Every Time

So, part of me not blogging for a while has included me not blogging about working at Mahalo for a while. And that's gonna change...right now...

A few little things we've done I want to point out.

First, I think we're the best resource on the Internet for information about the big election. In addition to blowing out a ton of cool pages on the recent Democratic Convention, including pages on speeches by the Obamas, Biden, the Clintons, etc., we've been all over the VP race.

(My take on Sarah Palin? She's a Creationist who wants both creationism and evolution taught side-by-side in science classrooms. No thanks!)

Second, and perhaps more importantly, we made this page today about the Best Fictional Cops. I wrote the section about Commissioner Gordon!

Monday, August 25, 2008

In Which I Return from the Wilderness

Hey there, Lon-atics...Sorry for the unannounced sabbatical. I'm sure all 8 of you regular readers have been obsessively hitting refresh every three minutes for, like, weeks now. Not much that could be done, I'm afraid - it has been a fairly ludicrous August here at CBI Central. Some of it was spent balled up in the corner in the fetal position...other parts, not as much. I'm sure, in six months, there'll be a good blog post in there somewhere.

But for now, let's just cover a few things about which I didn't get a chance to opine:

(1) Joe Biden has silly hair and a history of being kind of an asshat, but old people like him

Near as I can tell, what happened was, Obama noticed that a lot of old people, even Democrats, don't really want to vote for him. Now, I'm not going to go ahead and say that this is just because he's a black guy and a lot of old people are racists...I'm sure there are plenty of other possibilities. His repeated calls to criminalize pre-5 pm dinner times, for example. Or his constant efforts to get "NCIS" canceled.

Anyway, here's this guy who has run for president a bunch of times, so if there were anything REALLY BAD about him we'd know it already. And this guy's been around forever, so all the old people recognize him and forget that he's not some avuncular celebrity from a bygone era, such as George Peppard...Then, feeling comfortable again, they agree to vote for the black guy. At least, that was probably the what the Obama camp was thinking.

I personally think it's an adequate but uninspired choice, which is a shame, because a lot of Obama's other choices have been inspired. I would have preferred a few of the suggested VP's, but then again, I'd have really hated to pull a lever or punch a hole or whatever the fuck California's going to have us do for a Sam Nunn or an Evan Bayh, people who stand for 94% of what I loathe about America. (Beating McCain's tight 97%!)

(2) If you've ever expressed any solidarity with liberalism, progressivism or the Democratic Party, you're not allowed to not vote for Obama because you dislike one relatively unimportant thing about him

For real. I don't care what that one thing is. Don't like Joe Biden? Not good enough. Pissed off about his betrayal on the FISA issue? Too bad. Angry that he's backed by a certain industry or lobbying group? They all are. Upset that he once said something not-very-nice about illegal file-traders? No one cares.

This election is really important. Like, seriously really intensely important. Here are some things that matter that will be at least partially decided by the outcome of the vote this November:

- Multiple horrifyingly violent conflicts around the world
- The future direction of the US economy
- More than one Supreme Court Justice, who will make major decisions on a whole host of crucial issues relating to daily life in America

If you look at those considerations but then say, "Yeah, but his former pastor once said that God should do bad stuff to America! And he doesn't like to wear pieces of flair with the American flag on them!," this means you are stupid. Hey, I'm just trying to help you out. Maybe you didn't know you were stupid. Now you do! Congrats, buddy!

This goes quadruple for you Twitter people reading this post. I'm really tired of hearing "I can't vote for Obama...he wants to raise taxes on exceptionally rich guys!" I forgot that you hate health care, reproductive rights and wars that end eventually.

(3) Tropic Thunder was much more funny than Pineapple Express

Both movies had parts that made me laugh. But I was very underwhelmed by Pineapple Express, considering the collaborators. Like every Judd Apatow movie, it was way too long, but I was just generally disappointed by the action. The whole final 30 minutes felt pointless. The action itself isn't particularly compelling or intense, so it just feels obligatory, unsuccessfully tacked on to the end of what is otherwise an amiable-enough stoner comedy. James Franco, however, does a really nice job, and I thought Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Ed Begley Jr. were effective.

Tropic Thunder is actually pretty poorly assembled. It's really chaotic and frenzied, and I think that, had director Ben Stiller slowed down and let some of the situations/characters develop more, the whole enterprise would have worked much better. But even in its current form, Tropic Thunder is really funny and worth seeing. Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise are, of course, the standouts, but the whole cast works together really well, and it's just so far out there, willing to do absolutely anything to get a laugh, that I just kind of gave myself over to the spirit of the enterprise and enjoyed the hell out of it. Not sure if it would hold up on repeat viewings...but who cares? It worked well once, and that was enough.

(4) I really like the new Walkmen album

You & Me is a stupid title for an album (much in the same way that She & Him is a stupid name for a musical duo), but it sounds like kind of a return to form for me. (I didn't like A Hundred Miles Off or that Nilsson tribute nearly as much as Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone.) These guys are just interesting to listen to in a way most bands are not. Wish I could be more specific than that, but long-time readers will recall I suck at describing what I like about songs. Just a weird blind spot for me.

(5) I got into a car accident

It was really stupid and all my fault. One of things that happen and it just ruins your whole week, cause you keep playing your momentary stupidity over and over in your mind, and it's too late to do anything about it.

Right after I hit the back of this lady's car, I pulled over, as did she, and I walked up to her car to make sure everyone was okay. She said, really mean, "What were you thinking?"

I get why she'd be upset. But, I mean, obviously I was thinking something totally unrelated to crashing my car into someone. If I were thinking about crashing my car, that would mean I had foreseen the accident, which would probably cause me to hit the brakes before colliding with anything. Unless I run into other people's cars intentionally, like I'm in a Cronenberg movie. But if I'm the kind of dude who's ramming into other people's cars in the hopes of having eventually having sex, Spader-style, with the ensuing stump, I'm not necessarily going to admit that when questioned.

What I'm saying is, basically, I hit her car for absolutely no good reason...but she asked me a stupid question. So, in a very real sense, we're now even.

(6) Flight attendants will soon have the World's Most Embarrassing Job

According to Fox News, a reliable source for information and perspectives about world news if ever there was one, flight attendants will be expected to monitor customer use of the in-flight wireless Internet service. And you know what that means:

If the person sitting next to you or your child is viewing explicit porn and you're not happy about it, feel free to direct your complaint to the flight attendant.

"Um, yes, pardon me Mr., um, Thompson...I hate to disturb you. Some of the other customers have complained about your loud and repetitive viewing of what appears, from this distance, to be a video entitled 'Cake Farts.' If you wouldn't mind safely stowing your laptop and genitals in their proper, upright position, we won't have to go and get the Taser. Can I get you some tomato juice, perhaps? Or a second complimentary vacuum-sealed packet containing 2.7 peanuts?"

[NOTE: I'm not linking to Cake Farts, you sick bastard. Look it up yourself.]

Thursday, August 07, 2008

And Now, the Best Review of Anything, Ever

The OxyWeb blog has released its hotly-anticipated "Top 5 Tech News and Gadget Video Podcasts Worth Watching," and I'm proud to say that Mahalo Daily has made the list at #4. Just look at the praise they're heaping on our modest little show!

This one is more of a variety show than tech, but ignoring that fact, it’s a worthy addition to the list. It’s hosted by the lovely Leah D’malio and some fat dude. Mahalo Daily provides a look at anything and everything from Comic Con to graffiti removal in LA. It can be a bit hit and miss but the “This Week in The Youtube” are well worth watching, everything else is a bit “meh”.

Some fat dude! I have truly arrived...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Tonight Was Fun!

Just returned from the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget. Solid times were had by all. Here's some photographic evidence:

I also met Jeff Garlin, but that photo's just a Polaroid, and not immediately uploadable. Anyway, it was fun. Look for the episode to air some time soon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Dark Knight

One complaint about Dark Knight - I'm not crazy about the way they're manipulating Christian Bale's voice when he's playing Batman. It sounds very unnatural, less like a man disguising his own voice so as not to be recognized, and more like an overused production effect. There are a few scenes where his voice sounds so deep and gravelly, it's kind of distracting.

Other than that, the movie's basically perfect. I can't think of one single other flaw. Clearly, Christopher Nolan has made the finest superhero film of all time, and overall one of the best mainstream films in recent memory. The movie's a rather extraordinary achievement - intense, spectacular, nuanced, thoughtful and at times downright frightening. I already have my tickets to see it again in two days, and that feels like a much longer wait than I'd ideally like to endure. In short: yeah, it's that good...believe the hype...

Dark Knight is one of those sequels that improves on the original, but it's kind of a tough comparison. Though the films have a similar aesthetic and share most of the same cast, Batman Begins feels like an adventure movie, rocketing around the globe over the course of years in the life of Bruce Wayne. (Only about half the film concerns the exploits of Wayne as Batman in Gotham City.) Dark Knight is more of a crime thriller than anything else.

I read a review several weeks ago that compared the movie to Heat, and though they're very different in tone, it's a comparison that makes some degree of sense. Both films are about the relationship between a criminal and his pursuer, and the ways in which adversaries on opposite sides of the law can, over time, become morally indistinguishable.

In the intervening time since Nolan's first Batman film, the Caped Crusader has expanded his influence over Gotham City. Criminal organizations that once operated on the streets with impunity have been forced underground, funneling all of their ill-gotten money through a shady Chinese businessman, hiding from the tenacious Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman), aggressive District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and, of course, the freaky guy in the bat costume who keeps punching everybody (Christian Bale).

Dark Knight opens with a dazzling bank robbery sequence, orchestrated by the psychopathic criminal mastermind The Joker (Heath Ledger). He's a self-described "freak" with a scarred face who disguises himself behind clown make-up. And I do mean criminal mastermind. Ledger and Nolan have highlighted the character's sinister intelligence more in this film than any other representation of The Joker I have ever seen.

Typically, as in the portrayal by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's original Batman movie, The Joker is essentially a circus clown, only evil - an insane, greedy man with a cheesy sense of humor. My point is, the focus is always on The Joker's madness. He only does what he does because he's batshit insane, and maybe wants a little money.

Ledger's Joker is certainly insane, but he's also fiendishly, diabolically clever. Smarter and more careful, even, than Batman. Bruce Wayne's relative sanity, in fact, becomes his only weapon against his foe by the film's final act. The Joker's quick-witted enough to avoid any direct combat with Batman, and always seems to be one step ahead of all the other Gotham City authorities. Sporadic irrationality is his only weakness.

Enough praise cannot really be heaped upon Heath Ledger's performance in the film. His death was horribly tragic, both because of his young age and his massive talent, but you really feel this tragedy while watching Dark Knight. The guy is jaw-droppingly brilliant in the movie, a force of sheer menace and terror. He absolutely vanishes into the role.

The entire cast is solid, though most of the veterans of Batman Begins, except for Bale and Oldman, have diminished roles this time around. Eckhart's great as Dent, a part that jibes really well with his charming-but-cocky persona, and the script has a lot of fun with his general physical resemblance to Bale. Without venturing too much into Spoiler territory, let me say that he navigates a very over-the-top and complicated late plot twist swimmingly, and turns what could have been a very pulpy, even silly, conclusion into something much more heartfelt and tragic.

In a big surprise for me, Eric Roberts joins the cast as crime boss Salvatore Maroni and fits into the Gotham universe seamlessly.

As in Begins, the action in Dark Knight is massive in scale, presented at breakneck speed but nonetheless smooth, clear and viscerally satisfying. An extended chase sequence featuring several armored cars feels like something out of a post-apocalyptic war film. The remarkable way in which Nolan maneuvers around intricate, complex sequences of shouted dialgoue, shootouts, fistfights and cataclysmic explosions and back reminded me of Ridley Scott's masterful work in Black Hawk Down.

When I review Michael Bay movies, I'm always careful to point out that his movies suck not because they feature a lot of explosions, but because he's a hack who has no idea how to shoot or edit together explosions in a way that is compelling.

Dark Knight
is a perfect example of this principle. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Christopher Nolan is the exact, 180-degree, polar opposite of Michael Bay. He's Bizarro Bay. Much of his film is consumed with violence, action and explosions, but they are presented with clarity, vigor and confidence by a group of artists and professionals, people who know exactly where to place everything, how to time it properly and how to capture it on film. The final result will be you on the edge of your seat wondering how the hell Batman got his motorcycle to flip around like that.

And of course, all of this terrific acting and technical wizardry is in the service of another tremendous screenplay by Nolan and his brother, Jonathan. As they did in Batman Begins, the Nolans (who conceived of the story with David Goyer) weave together an engaging, emotionally resonant original story from all the familiar elements of Batman comics - familiar villains, gadgets and vehicles, gangsters, scientific investigations, police corruption, even discourses on the nature of morality and justice.

What they've added this time around is a healthy dose of social commentary, turning Batman's struggle against an unpredictable foe bent on sparking chaos into a pretty straight-forward terrorism allegory that's surprisingly effective. But I will withhold further comment for another time, so as to avoid spoilers. Also, I think the dialogue is just better here than Batman Begins, which was a great script but also had a bit of a stilted feel. Dark Knight is more unsettling, and even more bleak, but it also feels more human. Not having to span so many years in the life of Bruce Wayne or establish him for an audience frees Nolan up to explore his villain with more depth and give his protagonist more of a lived-in, emotional life, beyond the crime-fighting and rage.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough, and could keep going, believe me. Just see the film. I'd recommend checking out the IMAX version, if possible. Only the establishing shots and some of the action scenes were actually filmed in IMAX, so the movie switches back and forth between very, very large to EXTREMELY large, but it looks gorgeous either way, and the sound in the IMAX theaters is mind-blowing.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


It would be hard to argue that Hancock doesn't give you your money's worth. In a tight 90 minutes, you get at least 4 entirely different movies. And you only have to pay for one ticket!

This was one of those scripts that floated around Hollywood forever, constantly changing hands. Most of the directors who had once flirted with the notion of directing the film, including Michael Mann and Jonathan Mostow, are now credited as producers. The task finally fell to Peter Berg, who does a pretty capable job, particularly in terms of the action and spectacle.

But a funny thing happened to Hancock on the way to the cineplex. It's hard to believe the original script was this kind of loopy, schizophrenic hybrid of ideas. This feels like the product of an endless stream of writers, each of them contributing one or two ideas that have been crudely stitched together into a movie. What we have here is quite possibly the very first romantic spiritual summer superhero comedy-drama ever made.

Things start out pretty normal, as a genial summer comedy starring Will Smith. He's well-cast as Hancock, a supernatural being in the mold of Superman (super-strong, impervious to bullets, able to fly), but with the drunk, feckless demeanor of Billy Bob Thornton's memorable Bad Santa. Sure, he saves innocents and thwarts crime, but he does so while drunk, and with a general disregard for property damage and basic decorum.

I don't think Will Smith is a bad actor, necessarily, but when he's working with earnest, dramatic material, you can sometimes catch him straining for credibility. The opening third or so of Hancock just lets the guy fall into his old comfortable rhythm. You sense he's having a good time playing the part, and it's fun to watch Will Smith have fun.

Hancock saves a well-meaning PR executive (Jason Bateman, basically still playing Michael Bluth...not that you hear me complaining...), who devises a crafty plan to turn the louse from a loathed public menace into a beloved superhero. These sequences (still very early in the film!), featuring Hancock's withering, half-assed attempts at saving the city, are silly, cartoonish and frequently hilarious. (The effects are so overblown and unrealistic, they develop a charm all their own. I was reminded, in some ways, of Stephen Chow's use of larger-than-life, "fake" effects in Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.)

There's one particularly well-realized, exciting sequence in which Hancock foils a bank robbery that's quite possibly the best single scene that Berg has ever directed. Certainly more intense and impressive than anything in his dud from last year, The Kingdom.

Then we reach Act 2, the point when the movie must place some kind of complication or obstacle before its hero, blocking his or her path to success. And Hancock takes this concept to a completely unreasonable level. I mean, I know the hero is essentially invincible but man, these guys are not screwing around. I won't get into spoiler territory, but the entire second half of this movie just pulls you in fifteen different directions all at once until you have absolutely no footing on what the hell is going on or how you're meant to feel about it.

It's always a bad sign when people have to keep running into the frame to explain what the hell is going on throughout the conclusion of your action-comedy, for starters. And actually, by the end, this movie isn't even remotely funny. Like, if you laugh at anything towards the end of Hancock, you're kind of a sick bastard.

I'm all for genre-mashing experiments, but there has to be some kind of balance. When the beginning of a movie is as broad as Hancock, it's hard to force a viewer to settle in for something much more severe and even thoughtful, no matter how much care has been put into the actual narrative arc. There are many interesting ideas floating around in Hancock, but that's about all they're doing. This movie seriously needed to pick a direction and run with it rather than try to tackle so much.