Saturday, January 19, 2008

Conan + Colbert = Comedy

Weitz and Darks

So it seems Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy will not make it intact to the movie screen any time soon. After the The Golden Compass' holiday season box office belly flop, New Line has no desire to invest in two more controversial atheist fantasy films that don't seem to interest Americans. (The movies did better overseas, where audiences are smarter and therefore more receptive to this kind of message. Wait, did I say that out loud or just think it?)

This is a shame. Not because The Golden Compass was terrific - it was stridently mediocre and rushed, rushed, rushed. (Here's my original review). It's a shame because these books get better as they go along, and because the one-half of the team o' doofuses responsible for American Pie, surely one of the most overrated comedies of our time, messed up the only adaptation we're likely to get in the near future.

Why was Chris Weitz put in control of this project? What in his filmography convinced the New Line execs that he was up to adapting a popular, controversial series of intricately-plotted fantasy novels, or any film series told on kind of massive scale? Before this, he directed American Pie with his brother, then the miserable Chris Rock disaster Down to Earth, then the slightly-above-average Hugh Grant comedy About a Boy, then an unsuccessful pilot.

Um...what? "Hey, he did that one where Chris Rock turns into a fat old white guy and dances silly! I'm sure he can handle armies of talking polar bears and witches battling hordes of heavily-armed troops." It'd be like getting Eli Roth to helm "Rainbow Brite: The Movie" Not appropriate...

I'm not really trying to say that it's Weitz's fault that the next two books in the series won't get made, or that American didn't go see Golden Compass en masse. (Though it is his fault that the first movie isn't better). As soon as Americans are told by their churches and media that something is anti-religion, and therefore offensive, they pretty much accept this judgment and even start repeating it themselves in everyday conversation. The message went out from a few prominent sources...The Golden Compass is against God. So Americans stayed home. It's really as simple as that.

That is happens to be true that the His Dark Materials trilogy preach against organized religion is immaterial. I have seen this same phenomenon happen this week with Cloverfield. As soon as newspapers and Fox News began telling the world that Cloverfield mocked 9/11, this verdict was pretty much accepted as holy writ. (A friend told me about a radio call-in show in which a woman who clearly had not seen Cloverfield argued that the only appropriate use of 9/11-style imagery would be to "let everyone know how evil Al-Qaeda is." This is the level of our cultural discourse.)

It was pretty optimistic of New Line to imagine that a few big stars and a nice trailer might make Americans ignore a film series' anti-religion bent. We're talking about a country that's considering electing mad Baptist Mike Huckabee, who wants to actually revert to a Bible-based legal system.

Fast and Loose Change

Fairly brilliant bit of YouTubery here, synching up all the candidates with David Bowie's "Changes." Enjoy:

[Link via Sadly, No!]

Friday, January 18, 2008


The hotly-anticipated Cloverfield is not the fun monster movie I expected after seeing that cryptic trailer before Transformers. The now-famous shot of the Statue of Liberty's severed head careening down a Manhattan street recalls the White House explosion from Independence Day, one of the most openly, even proudly, brainless popcorn films ever made. But Cloverfield is not a goofy one-off; its premise and style may encourage comparisons to Godzilla and Blair Witch, but it doesn't feel like watching either of those light entertainments.

Matt Reeves' and JJ Abrams' first-person disaster film is pretty plainly about the 9/11 attack on New York (among other things). I'd go so far as to say it's the best, most provocative mainstream film I've seen dealign with 9/11, repurposing the imagery of that day in a context abstract enough to feel appropriate, not cheap or exploitative. Movies like United 93, recreating actual incidents from 9/11 cinematically, can't ever explore terror as a topic and remain respectful to the fallen. Cloverfield, by removing all the historical and geopolitical context and just keeping the sensibility, can get away with actually making us think about how we experience tragedy, and how technology both immerses us in and shields us from our surroundings.

The film we're seeing is allegedly the property of the United States Government, a homemade chronicle of a monster attack on New York City found in "the area formerly known as Central Park." The attack has actually been taped over footage from an earlier date, in which Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (Odette Yustman) share a beautiful day together at Coney Island. Both joy and terror inspired someone to turn on the camera, and though the sad memories eventually overwhelm the happier ones, they're never completely erased.

On the night of the attack, Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) are throwing him a going-away party. He's headed for Japan to take a new, high-powered executive job. That is, he was headed for Japan, until a massive creature decides to wreck havoc on the streets of his home town.

The bulk of the film is "shot" by a different character, Rob's friend Hud (T.J. Miller) who was manning the video camera at the party. It's a testament to the strength of Drew Goddard's writing that Hud comes to feel like a relatable character with a clear, recognizable personality. He's represented entirely through brief scripted asides and Miller's voice acting - he's maybe on screen for a total of 2 minutes. There's not a whole lot of talking in Cloverfield at all, aside from the expected screaming and barking orders ("run!"), but what dialogue there is in the film is extremely crisp, realistic (as it would have to be for a film resembling a home movie) and occasionally even funny.

What follows, in terms of plot, is an entirely routine monster film. The heroes attempt to escape Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge, but can't make it across before it collapses. Rob becomes obsessed with rescuing Beth from her collapsing high-rise apartment building. The military tries to clear out civilians so it can wage an increasingly futile battle against the unknown menace. But because we're seeing all this (or hearing about it in some cases) from the perspective of a few scared individuals not directly involved with the main action, everything feels more real and disturbing than a movie this goofy has any right to feel.

From a filmmaking standpoint, director Matt Reeves' work here is significantly impressive. Cloverfield is a large-scale action-effects film composed of a lot of long takes shot on a single handheld camera. Some of them, such as the scene on the Brooklyn Bridge or a chase sequence in an abandoned New York subway tunnel, use the limited and intimate perspective of the handheld camera expertly to build suspense.

In many ways, the film is about the technology with which it was made, about the way Americans spend their entire lives interacting with media. Cloverfield constantly draws attention to its camera; the action, we're reminded repeatedly, is not unfolding in the present moment, but only exists for us in the audience because Hud kept that camera on. His life is being lived and recorded simultaneously. (He states outright at a few points that people in the future will need to see how this all went down.)

At times, the camera seems to make events more real and immediate for him - he uses the light to guide his way in the subway, and night vision to find enemies lurking in the shadows, and gets his first good look at the monster by rewinding his own tape. But at other times, he seems distanced from the horrors swirling all around him because he's viewing that world through a small lens. Would he be bold enough to rescue Beth without the camera? Could Hud bear to look the monster in the eye if he didn't need to point a camera there for posterity? And isn't what he's doing, watching a tragedy through the viewfinder, pretty similar to what we are doing in the audience, looking at a horrifying event via technology that makes it less present and scary?

It's worth noting that Reeves and Abrams remain 100% faithful to their elaborate concept the entire time: If they need to give you extra information or show an establishing shot, the characters will pass by a television set turned to the local news. I appreciated how nothing is ever explained; no one has time for expository monologues because they're too busy running for their lives.

Which, of course, brings me back to 9/11. Anyone who recalls seeing the footage streaming in from New York that day will recognize aspects of Cloverfield's visual palette. Collapsed buildings coat busy streets and hundreds of pedestrians in a fine, gray dust. Mobs of stunned New Yorkers trudge slowly across bridges, desperate to find any kind of safety and shelter. These images can't help but make any American feel vulnerable - we're threatened, in this scenario, not only by an external danger but by the very structures we've build up around us to make us feel safe and comfortable, like our cars and our planes and our apartment complexes.

Though it's not always pleasant to watch this movie and relive the shock and chaos of 9/11 (an opinion expressed thoughtfully by Stephanie Zacharek in Salon), it's cathartic to feel vulnerable safely, within the confines of a monster movie. Just as the original Godzilla reflected the Japanese people's suffering and lingering fear after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Cloverfield speaks to Americans who are still just starting to deal with the trauma of being attacked on our home soil. Perhaps this effort really does, as Zacharek opines, treat 9/11 carelessly and without respect, but I don't think so. Like all horror films, it must first access our phobias before it can exploit them, and Cloverfield very potently speaks to our collective fear of rampant, unstoppable urban decimation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I Drink Your Milkshake!

Yup, definitely the movie of 2007.

Check out the Mahalo page I made!

Southern Man...

This Lawrence O'Donnell post on HuffPo is strange and hostile. Now, I find John Edwards to be the most appealing of the three candidates for president based solely on their rhetoric, and so thus far I've felt like he'd probably get my primary vote, but I realize this has very little with how he'd actually do the job of president and would be okay with voting for any of the remaining three viable candidates.

Having said that, I feel no particular loyalty to John Edwards as a person, and have not felt the need to jump to his defense before. But this post just feels kind of out of line.

John Edwards is a loser. He has won exactly two elections in his life and lost 31. Only one of his wins and all of his losses were in presidential primaries and caucuses. He remains perfectly positioned to continue to lose with a Kucinich-like consistency. Nothing but egomania keeps Edwards in the race now.

By this logic, anyone who runs for President and does not actually become president is a loser. "What? Edwards didn't win every primary he entered? He's just like Kucinich!"

A loser like Edwards has no status or dignity to lose. Campaigning and losing is his life.

See? Am I crazy or is this just really, really extreme? I mean, say what you will about the guy and his soaring cheesy-poof working class hero routine...he has a lot more dignity than any of the yokels in the Republican race, eagerly raising their hands to proclaim their lack of belief in science and bickering about who loves waterboarding the mostest.

So, he will continue his simple-minded, losing campaign and deny Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton the one-on-one contest they deserve.

And here we come to the crux of the issue. O'Donnell wants Barack and Hillary to get to face one another individually because...well, because they deserve it. No, I'm not sure why either. I mean, HilRod won a primary and B.O. snagged a Caucus win, but that seems a bit arbitrary. "Well, you're in because of New Hampshire and you're in because of Iowa. Everyone else, screw off!" I've been to Iowa, and I'm not sure I'm ready to turn over the keys to the nation to any state that's economy is still barn-based. Where I come from...not a lot of barns. Not sure the barnfolk have my best interests at heart.

Actually, as O'Donnell reveals in a bit, there's a reason beyond the whims of Granite Staters that Hillary and Barack deserve to have a run-off for the nomination, and why that's more important than Democrats across the country, you know, getting to decide whom they'd like to nominate.

If John Edwards stays in the race, he might, in the end, become nothing other than the Southern white man who stood in the way of the black man. And for that, he would deserve a lifetime of liberal condemnation.


Believe me, folks, it's not that I wouldn't like to see a black guy become president. I'd really like to vote for a black guy or a white woman. Or a black woman. Or a transgendered Native American. As long as they're not a warmongering asshole or ranting about kicking out the immeygants and conforming the Constitution to the Bible, I'm good with it. I think it sends exactly the right message, both here at home and abroad, and that it would represent a genuine shift from the Bush years, the kind of major step that would confirm in all our minds that we're putting this bullshit behind us.

But you don't vote for someone just because of their race, as O'Donnell seems to suggest. He goes way further than that! Not only should you vote for Barack Obama because he's black (blackness apparently outweighing femaleness in the Presidential Desirability-o-Meter), but it would be a crime to liberalism to even consider standing between him and the presidency. O'Donnell at no point praises anything about Barack Obama. Just his color. I guess it's better than refusing to consider him for president based on his color...but it's not better enough.

Maybe Edwards is already not a factor in the campaign because Edwards voters would split evenly between Senators Obama and Clinton if Edwards dropped out. But we'll never know unless Edwards does the right thing and gets out of the way of the only two candidates who have a chance to get the nomination.

So here, O'Donnell basically concedes that he's not even sure Edwards dropping out would make any kind of real difference at all. But he should drop out on the slight chance that it might negatively impact history, or whatever. This is total Dick Cheney logic: always act based on the absolute worst case scenario, things that theoretically could, but almost assuredly will not, occur.

The white male monopoly on the Democratic nomination has finally come to an end. Someone has to tell John Edwards.

Look, I sympathize with this sort of thinking, even though I think O'Donnell comes off really poorly in this mini-column. But to vote for someone because of what their gender or their color represents is just as bad as voting for them because you'd like to get a beer with them. It has nothing to do with anything that matters.

I prefer John Edwards because I strongly agree with the central message of his campaign. Hillary says: "I have the experience in Washington to get things done whereas these guys are amateurs." Barack says: "I am able to bridge divides and bring people together in order to get things done, whereas these two are divisive figures." John says: "The problem isn't experience or partisanship, but large greedy corporations and wealthy individuals who stand in the way of rational, fair solutions. And these two have already been bought by these interests." That last one sounds about right to me.

As a way to choose a president, it's superficial, but that's about all we have to go on. They've all cast votes with which I disagree. They've all said and done stuff that makes me not want to vote for them at all. I really hate Edwards hedging on something as simple and obvious as gay marriage, find all the dewey-eyed "son of a mill worker" crap to be embarrassing and laughed out loud tonight when he said his greatest weakness is caring about the suffering of others too much! So knock him because of that. But not for having the temerity to run against a woman and a black person. It's called a fucking primary...That's what politicians do. Run against one another in them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Steve Jobs Keynote (Mahalo Remix)

The minds behind the Mahalo Daily bring you Steve Jobs' 90 minute keynote address from today's Macworld in easily-digestible 60-second form:

Let's take a look at some of the wonders compressed into a slight, watchable 60 seconds.

I've been wondering where to keep all that excess downloaded pornography that doesn't fit on my 160 GB hard drive. I guess now I have my answer...Seriously, unless you're editing Ratatouille 2 on your rig at home, what the hell do you need this much storage space for?

You mean, you're going to keep that $600 toy you sold me (well, not me...a hypothetical consumer) a few months ago working and up-to-date without charging me extra? Alert the media!

Oh, great, another way for me to watch The Simpsons Movie. Because a theatrical run, Pay-Per-View, DVD, Blu-Ray, UMD, illegal download, Amazon Unbox, HBO and an endless loop on every Plasma screen at Best Buy...all of them weren't really doing it for me. What I really want is to get it through iTunes. Truly, Apple is the greatest company of all time.

Mission: Impenetrable

Tom Cruise discusses Scientology for 10 full minutes in this video, and I'm not sure I understand a single thing he says clearly. It's really quite remarkable. If you tried to make up 10 solid minutes of constant gibberish, you'd eventually stumble on to some kind of rational statement purely by accident.

As best I can tell, Cruise's message is that one must decide whole-heartedly embrace Scientology and all of its principles and take up whatever intense, constant fight the Scientologists are waging. Cruise seems to pity those who do not understand Scientology (he calls membership in the religion a "privilege") but has only scorn for what he refers to as "Spectators," presumably those who belong to the Church of Scientology but don't take up the fight with the mania and fervor of Tom Cruise.

He really goes on and on, ranting, about Spectators. I guess this is a big problem for Scientology? Lots of people want the fun and glamor of practicing America's Third Most-Hilarious Religion (behind Mormonism and the all-time champion, Judaism), but without the hard work of...doing whatever it is Tom Cruise wants you to do.

He never comes out and says who, exactly, he's fighting against, but apparently it keeps poor Tom from taking any kind of break or vacation, and it requires a lot of time and effort (though not so much time that you can't run your own movie studio, raise several children and star in a feature film each year). Seriously, Tom's talking about how he never gets a break from fighting, but I guess these Scientology fights are metaphorical, because I can't remember the last time I heard about Jenna Elfman or Giovanni Ribisi kicking someone's ass. In fact, I'm not entirely sure Giovanni Ribisi is physically capable of doing any sort of ass-kicking at all. The guy looks like he has tuberculosis or something. He's more and more pale and sickly with each new film role. In Sky Captain, you sort of wish Jude Law would forget about the robots for a second and get his buddy a cold compress and a grilled cheese sandwich.

I guess I could, in the sort of cynical, pseudo-Freudian gesture you'll commonly find on this blog, explain Cruise's ridiculous Scientological fantasy away...And I will do so right now:

A lifetime of fame, wealth and adulation have given him a delusionally oversized ego and sense of self-importance. And yet, he lives a life of no particular consequence, making silly, typically forgettable films for an increasingly disinterested audience. Once a sex symbol and national obsession, he's now on the verge of becoming a national joke, and the adulation of his peers has turned into a kind of derision. We're talking a middle-aged, thrice-married guy still hounded by gay rumors.

Yet here's this religion that tells him he's a leader who has been given some extremely important, highly secret information, information capable of changing the world if only it were known. And he has to organize and execute a war against the forces of evil, literally holding the fate of the universe in his hands. That's the rhetoric of this video. "How can I know this and do nothing? I couldn't live with myself," Cruise intones, darkly. It's so dramatized. So fraudulent. If he didn't talk to people about L. Ron Hubbard, he couldn't live with himself...

When you think about it, it's not all that different from what all the other religions tell believers. Still, it's more explicit about all this stuff, and that's what makes it so creepy. I mean, Mike Huckabee talking about how we should redo the Constitution to be more like The Bible is kind of scary, but it's also kind of funny. I mean, how do we decide what parts of the Bible get into the Constitution? Cause the Bible's a lot longer than The Constitution, and it also recommends punishing disobedient children by stoning them to death.

So, Huckabee's brand of in-your-face, goofball Christianity would be cute if he weren't a possible contender for the presidency. There's nothing cute about Tom Cruise in this video; he seems like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, or possibly in the sustained aftermath of one.

More peculiar and abstract than Cruise's actual statements about Scientology, however, are his mannerisms. He's performing this monologue in the exact same manner he'd use in one of his films. It's as if Aaron Sorkin's Few Good Men script had been reinterpreted by...well, by a hacky science-fiction writer...It's just weird.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Today's Song Over Which I'm Obsessing Is...

Yeasayer's "2080." It just sucked me right in. And it's a good thing, because I've been listening to that Donovan song from Zodiac like non-stop for a week now.

It's Fundilarious!

God bless Gorilla Mask for posting this link. It's the Top 100 Quotes from Fundamentalist Christian online forums. So, I can just imagine...

Here's the very first quote on the page!

No, everyone is born Christian. Only later in life do people choose to stray from Jesus and worship satan instead. Atheists have the greatest "cover" of all, they insist they believe in no god yet most polls done and the latest research indicates that they are actually a different sect of Muslims.

Most polls? WTF polls are these? Cause I've been an atheist most of my life, and no pollster has ever come by my house asking if I belong to a "different sect of Muslims." Not that I'd know how to answer such a query anyway. ("No"? "Get off my lawn"?) I should think it would be quite difficult to be an atheist Muslim, regardless of sect, what with that whole Allah thing they've got going on.

So, yeah, this page is just pure gold. Hours of entertainment.

several million years for a monkey to turn into a man. oh wait thats right. monkeys dont live several million years.

Yeah, stupid scientists! Monkeys don't live millions of years! Theory of Natural Selection...disproved!

According to evolutionists, it's a fact that aliens ruled the planet before the dinosaurs because that can't be disproven.

It's a fact!

The plain truth is that both the GSA and Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network (GLSEN), the organization that registers GSAs, are part of a vast, interconnected network of Cultural Marxist front groups known collectively as the New Left.

Yes, that's the simple, plain truth. I mean, to lay it out in the most straight-forward manner possible...our problems are caused by a vast network of Cultural Marxists.

Convinced atheists adhere to no concepts of good and bad, but make them up as they go along. To me, they're no different from machines!

Because we all know that's what machines do. Make stuff up as they go along...Oh, no, wait, they do the total opposite of that, they adhere to programs, protocols and repeated patterns set in advance before they're ever used. But it's still a very good point...