Thursday, January 31, 2008

Two Evils

Neither party represents me. Neither deserves my vote. Am I really supposed to vote for a guy who has no respect for the First Amendment because his opponent doesn't respect the Second?

Do I make a list of which one will erode which of my rights, and decide which ones I can live without more easily? Meanwhile, both candidates pick my pockets, and the pockets of my progeny, to the point where my rights exist only on paper anyway.

I don't see how it's "adult" to be complicit in your own enslavement.

(Posted in the Althouse thread on why McCain has a better chance of winning than Romney, which segued into a debate on why--and whether--"adults" should vote for the lesser of two evils.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Oil Milkshakes

There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis's latest Oscar-ticket item came to our local Laemmle this week.

If you're not a Paul Anderson fan (Boogie Nights, Magnolia--not Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil), this movie probably isn't going to be the one that wins you over. A lot of people (notably Kevin Smith) razz Anderson for his long films, but I personally wouldn't categorize them as vanity pictures. Though epic in length, his two San Fernando Valley-based movies paid off by building to satisfying dramatic conclusions.

This movie lacks the drive of those films. It's basically Daniel Plainview's life at four different periods in time. His character goes slowly mad (and murderous) over that time period but there's no coalescing of dramatic point in the end (say as compared to Magnolia's lyrical embrace of coincidence or Boogie Night's plucky Dirk Diggler's optimistic return to porn stardom).

And, of course, since it's Mr. Anderson, when a guy walks from point A to point B, you're gonna see him walk from point A to point B, no matter how long it takes. Long, languorous tracking shots somewhat reminiscent of Kubrick are a mainstay, and it's actually pretty refreshing compared to the constant jump-cutting that infests a lot of modern film. An interesting thing about this approach is that Anderson films characters approaching or going away from things--often the most challenging part of any encounter--where other directors just cut directly to people talking, then cut away when it's over. It's rather effective--but it's obviously not for the impatient, and there's a lot of it here.

Anderson doesn't fill up his film with chatter, either. At times, the film was evocative of a silent movie, a sense that was underscored when one of the characters goes deaf. (The music played into this as well, but more on that in a moment.) Of course, Anderson picked good actors, and he gets great performances from everyone (like Kevin O' Connor as Plainview's brother and Dillon Freasier as Plainview's son), but this is mostly The Daniel Day-Lewis Show.

And Day-Lewis delivers, as usual, and he's probably more effective than your average superstar, as he doesn't suffer from the sort of over-exposure most other successful film actors do. I saw Daniel Plainview, not Daniel Day-Lewis. And a lot of things that might've been hack--for instance, a leg injury in the first scene causes Plainview to limp through the rest of the movie--struck me as brilliant in Day-Lewis' hands. Instead of dragging his foot or turning it out lamely, Lewis walks with a sort of limp that suggests his hips and back are almost fused. It becomes part of his character, like the deformities of Shakespeare's Richard III.

No, one of the reasons Anderson could afford those long tracking shots of people walking is that Day-Lewis can walk and act at the same time. And probably chew gum. He certainly kicks ass. And spawned an internet meme: "I Drink Your Milkshake!"

Now, about the music. The music was very dissonant, very-silent-era-nobody's-talking-so-we'll-use-music-to-set-the-tone. I found it...overblown. In truth, the movie is about tough people, but the industry they're engaged in is not particularly sinister. (Nor, despite the title, does the movie have anything in particular to do with Upton Sinclair's Oil! or his socialist tendencies. Thank God.) But the very act of the initial digging is accompanied by music that might've fit in the opening to The Exorcist.

There's a certain irony in that we actually get little insight into Plainview's character. The music tells us something bad is going on, or lurking under the surface--something really, really bad--but Plainview actually seems to undergo a slow corrupting transformation, far subtler than the music. Then, curiously, in the final act, the music just plain stops.

Thing is, I thought about the music a lot, and that's usually not a good sign. Incidental music's effect is supposed to be more subliminal. At the same time, I'd be hard pressed to say I didn't like the music, and even with my composer's ears on, I'm not sure how I would've done it differently. But I think it might've been more effective to start with something sedate but traditionally harmonic and then build to the whole hell-bound thing.

At a whopping 2:38 running length, I was surprised that the boy liked it as well as he did, though the whole oil drilling stuff was quite interesting and--as mentioned--Day-Lewis can act. But then I'm probably more surprised that this film is sitting at #16 on the IMDB all-time list.

So, maybe I'm wrong: Maybe this is the Paul Thomas Anderson movie you're going to like. (It is just one story instead of many inter-connecting stories, but did people really have trouble following Boogie Nights?) But I'd be surprised.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Busier Than A Foley On "Sweeny Todd"

Really, really busy in other words.

And a little bit flamboyant, too.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sweeney Razorhands

Long before Robert Rodriguez cobbled up his comic-book look for Sin City and Kerry Conran set Law, Paltrow and Jolie against the green-screen to make Sky Captain and the World of tomorrow, this funky little arty guy achieved a much similar total-immersion effect using only sets, lighting and design. Really, really expensive sets, lighting and a really distinctive design.

And, of course, in Mars Attacks he beat them to the total immersion punch, too.

Nonetheless, Tim Burton's track record is uneven, and in pictures where the story permits latitude, he'll often inject himself in unfortunate ways, or ways that show how little he understands the milieu. For example, his Batman entries--especially Batman Returns--emphasize victimization, contrary to the spirit of comic book traditions. In a similar misstep, Willy Wonka becomes a vessel of Burton's own self-proclaimed daddy issues, utterly perverting Roald Dahl's hero.

Two of his best films (Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood) do a sort-of perverse judo on the theme of victimization, perhaps because Burton himself can identify more strongly with an artistic reaction than a violent/heroic action.

Sweeney Todd, then, could have gone either way, I think. Although the source material is great (my favorite opera of the past 30-odd years), hash has been made from masterpieces in the past. It's almost as if Burton was reminding us he doesn't have to make movies about his father.

On to the particulars: The set design is, naturally, wonderful, both evocative of a stage play and of an almost real era, and Burton forgoes his palette of grays mixed with red for one that is almost entirely shades of gray. Of course, the red comes, and in copious shocking quantities. Color is used for flashbacks to happier times and imagined future happy times, but even that color is (of course) odd and unreal looking.

I think there's more talking in the movie but I don't remember any in the play. The story is moved along briskly with a few numbers missed, but overall it was probably a wise choice to keep the length down.

The principles are all marvelous. Depp and Bonham Carter while clearly not stage-trained, have a pure tone to their voices which I actually prefer to the heavy vibrato used in opera, and when they sing together, the blending is positively beautiful. Alan Rickman's stuff is a little less melodic, but he doesn't sing much, and what he does sing doesn't require lyrical beauty, so it works. Plus, he embodies a sort of banal evil.

Timothy Spall (as Rickman's chief toadie) is both evil and trained for the stage, it seems by his voice. Spall is probably best known as the ratty Peter Pettigrew from the Harry Potter series. Sacha Baron Cohen plays the traveling snake oil salesmen with aplomb. Cohen, of course, is best known as Ali G and Borat.

Of course, none of them are George Hearn or Angela Lansbury, or whoever it is the Broadway freaks known as "bleeders" will prefer, so this will doubtless be the subject of considerable consternation amongst them.

Of course, Johnny Depp is actually too good looking to play Todd, made ugly and old by 15 years in Australia (waves to the Bit Maelstrom's one Down Under reader, "Hellooooo, Melbourne!"), but he pulls it off, emanating pure, unrelenting hate from start to finish. That must be exhausting.

Helena Bonham Carter used to complain that producers typecast her as a genteel English lady after her breakthrough performance in Room with a View, but I think we can safely say that with this role and her psycho turn in the latest Harry Potter movie, she's not only away from that type, she may have ended up typing herself in an entirely different way.

So, what else is there to say? Well, the foleys seem to have gotten a little enthusiastic, shall we say, when it came to adding sound-effects for the arterial spray and the two-story fall from Todd's barber chair into the basement. Really, guys, less is more in movie musicals: The music and the words are what we're here for.

It's hard to tell, of course, what's the mix and what is the theater's sound set-up, but it seemed to me that the score gave too much prominence to the instruments. It does sort of feel more like you're watching a live performance, but it definitely makes it harder to parse the lyrics. And Sondheim lyrics are half the fun at least.

There isn't really any gore or viscera in the film but there is a lot of blood. Of course, the movie is rife with black humor, so I didn't really process any of it as realistic. One of the show's loveliest songs has Todd singing while slashing throats with abandon. We laughed, but we were about the only ones.

We also laughed during the cannibalism, as the bodies are made into pies and then served. So, you know, it's that kind of show.

This is definitely one of Burton's better works, and of all the cast and crew. It's going to get re-watched a lot around here, I'm sure.

Oddly, the movie is only playing in two theaters this week, and only two shows for each theater. Well, odd, because the theater we saw it in was pretty packed. I Am Legend is still playing in more houses.

But I wouldn't be surprised to see this one win all three Oscars it's nominated for.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Saw Sweeney Todd at the Regal today.

The "medium" soda had to be close to 44 oz. while the large was 54oz. (And they didn't go heavy on the ice.) I've managed to keep pace with serving sizes till now, but Ye Gods.

Of course, the reason they do this is to justify hiking the concession prices, being that the studios gouge them so heavily on ticket returns that they end up making something like half their profit on popcorn and the like.

So what we have is a situation where movie exhibitors don't make money by exhibiting movies but by selling junk food. To put it another way, you're actually buying a $10 ticket for the privilege of paying $7 for popcorn burnt in trans-fats and topped with some sort of the bean-of-soy tortured into a pale imitation of butter. (Shout out to the Laemmle again here, for making decent popcorn and using real butter.)

Movie studios used to own their own theater chains until the government stepped in and stopped it. That might've been a good idea at the time, even, I don't know. Now, though, I can't imagine Hollywood wanting to bother with that mess while they can bleed out the poor saps who show their films.

Hard imagine this ending well, however.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

TCM Underground

When I was in high school, a theater opened a couple of blocks from my house, across the street from the school. A revival theater.

Movies are better in a theater, particularly in a theater full of movie lovers. All the things that make movies more convenient at home are also what detract from their total experience. Like a live performance, a showing in a movie theater happens in the now. You're there or you're not. No phone calls, traveling salesmen, unruly children, lighting or sound issues--at least not in the ideal, which is pretty close to met in revival showings.

I've always felt this way, so that when classics would be showing on TV, I wouldn't watch them. I wanted to see them in a theater. (I had little concept of a revival theater so I'm not sure how I could be so confident that I would ever have the opportunity.)

It was in this revival theater that I saw for the first time Gone With The Wind. What was sort of funny to me was that the theater was packed. Sold out. Just as when they showed and The General and Modern Times. Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Rebel without a Cause and East of Eden. (I don't get the James Dean thing, though, and as a Steinbeck fan, I walked out of East of Eden, seeing that it looked like a remake of Rebel.)

It wasn't uncommon for me in these years to go see a contemporary Hollywood movie on a weekend morning, a trashy (contemporary) horror flick at the theater my sister was working at sometime during the week, and then one (or even two) double-features at the Baronet.

They switched from showing a classic double-feature weekly to going to a more cult-movie format on a daily basis. That was okay, too, and I'd see things like Quadrophenia alongside The Kids Are Alright. Or Last Tango In Paris alongside The Story of O. Actually, I didn't go see that last pair. (I wasn't old enough.)

'course, it finally went out of business, although we suspected shenanigans, since the place was consistently packed. Occasionally the Laemmle will show a film series, which is also good, but they're sadly infrequent.

If I had enough money to live on with a little to burn, I'd open a revival theater

Anyway, a little over a year ago, TCM started a midnight (west coast, 3AM east coast) called "Underground", hosted by Rob Zombie and showing cult classics. Rob dropped out, probably to direct the Halloween remake, and it's still just TV (no matter how big).

But I did get a smile when I saw last night's showing of Quadrophenia and The Last Waltz.

I didn't watch it, though.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Indications That I'm This Blog's #1 Reader

Judging by various stats (browser, screen-resolution, location), I figure most of the hits this blog gets are me. Actually, I've just set it up to ignore me and anyone in my IP block, so I'll probably take a big hit in traffic tomorrow.

So, for those of you who aren't me, thanks for reading.

And for those of you who are me, get a freakin' life.

Blogging is hard!

Lotta work this weekend. I guess with Fred out of the race I can pretty much speed past any political news. So there's that.

Meanwhile, I've got to see Sweeney Todd before it leaves theaters, get the Ed Emberley interview up and prep the next articles I'm working on. I've also started work on a chat system. Don't ask me why, it's just something I've always wanted to do.

Anyway I don't wonder that a lot of bloggers end up in their own self-made echo chambers. I could see doing nothing but scouring the 'net for interesting items and commenting on them. But ultimately, where do you get the sort of perspective you need from, you know, having a "real life".

As a programmer, I know all about abstractions. It's easy enough to spec a program that reads someone's mind and does exactly what they want, regardless of what they actually say. Implementation remains elusive, however.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Art vs. Pseudo-Science

Speaking of Ace, guest-blogger Gabriel Malor has reprinted part of an L.A. Times article which lists, in table format, the number of violent acts in the latest Rambo movie.

The last time I saw one of these tables drawn up was over 20 years ago, by a group that was against violence on TV. Their "ah-ha!" moment came from counting the number of violent acts in a certain cop show, which averaged something like one a minute.

Well, that does sound like a lot, doesn't it? It had more violence-- lots more violence--than any other show. In fact, in its half-hour time slot (22 minutes of actual show), thirty to fifty people could die!


Did you get the tip-off there? A half-hour cop show? Half-hour shows are sitcoms! (At least that was the rule back in the early '80s.)

Indeed, the "cop show" in question was "Police Squad!" The comedy show from the makers of "Airplane!" In one show--the one I know these "anti-violence" dinks were using as their metric--the CSI guy is trying to figure out the angle of attack for a gunshot wound. So, he lines people up and shoots them at different angles. Seven or eight people killed in just a few seconds!

But of course it was a joke! The scene was violent like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Not even that violent, because cartoons can exaggerate things without having to increase their budget much.

Now, we could assume that these anti-violent people--who never mentioned that the show was a comedy (and it was low-rated in the short time it was on, sadly)--were simply cynically incorporating a show that they knew would boost their message.

But far worse, I suspect that, to their minds, violence is violence is violence. Not only are we putty in the hands of convincing, real world violence, but we can't even take a joke without being hideously transformed by a literal meaning that we inherently reject (as pat of the humor). Nobody watched "Police Squad!" (or "Airplane!") and thought anybody really died. It's like thinking rabbi, priests and ministers travel in packs, golfing, visiting bars and flying in airplanes.

It's been pointed out that radical environmentalists have one solution for every problem: State control of human population. Too many people? The state should regulate how many children people can have. Too hot? The state should regulate what people can do in their lives that produces carbon (everything, including how many children people can have). Too cold? The state should regulate, etc. (Before the greenhouse-gas theory, which suggests particulate matter created by humans traps heat in, the coming ice age was going to be caused by the same particulate matter blocking the sun's rays out!) And global cooling is coming again, as is over-population.

The science always fits the theory and the solution is always the same.

Not surprisingly, the anti-violence (and anti-sex) crowd work on the same premise. They know what they want: State control of what people may do, say and observe.

Of course, the state is all too happy to control everything, so you have this triangle of activist-government-science, and poor little science doesn't stand a chance. It usually sends in its retarded younger brother, "science", who will say anything to be popular.

I think--I hope--that we're a little bit smarter now as a group. The censors haven't been all that effective with video games (unlike their earlier attempts, which pulled the vicious Death Race from arcades in the '70s), and in the '80s, they only managed to stigmatize role-playing. (Er, beyond the nerd stigma it already carried.)

But there's always a "Well, that was different" attitude in older people. Carmageddon is different from Death Race, therefore it's a good thing to censor it. I mean, we could tell those stick figures weren't really human, but that collection of polygons and pixels might actually fool some impressionable youngster into thinking running over people with cars is fun!

Rap is different from punk is different from rock is different from rock-and-roll is different from big band is different from flapper music. Music is the best for this, because you can trace scolds back to the first monk who said, "Hey, let's sing two notes at the same time!". ("Now, now, Brother Josef, you know that's Satan talking!")

Fiction in its various written forms is also a good one, though nobody reads much any more and a good many modern comic books really are geared toward adults, but let's not forget the old EC comics (Tales from the Crypt), the Congressional hearings about superhero comic books like Superman and Batman, and pulp fiction from the likes of Burroughs and Lovecraft, which was said to be rotting the moral fiber of our youth.

And movies today are different from movies when I was a kid. Well, yeah, when I was a kid, every freaking movie had a sex scene. I'm pretty sure I saw Ken Berry and Karen Valentine bumping uglies in one of Disney's Herbie-The-Love-Bug movies. And we never got popcorn when I was a kid so I had to just sit there, bored and embarrassed, until it was over.

And, I guess, given the current generation of parents, "Sex and drugs were different when I was having them as a kid." No doubt. You trusted yourself, probably too much, and probably don't trust your kids enough.

Now, none of this should be construed as an endorsement of modern culture. Modern culture is going to have to pay me a hefty sum before it gets my stamp of approval. (I can be bought, but not cheaply.) I like opera and Victorian novels alongside regular viewings of "Ow! My Balls!"

But let's be honest as to what this is all about.

At the minimum, it's about taste. Too bad. The world doesn't share yours. Get over it. (You can apply this to a lot of environmentalism as well. Hummers are just in bad taste, right?)

At the maximum, and worst, it's about control. Once again, too bad. The world doesn't want to be controlled, much. Censorship has largely been used as a bludgeon against the unfortunate few who weren't big league enough to be on the right side of the club. So the best you can do is make a few people miserable (and for a lot of moral scolds, that's a satisfying goal).

In fact, the greater the (coerced) centralized control, the greater the misery.

If you want to change things--really change things, and not just be parent to the world, convince the world that you're right. There are plenty of groups that eschew popular culture, that promote better values, and so on. The beauty of this approach is, not only are you changing things, you're a rebel! You're bucking the system, going against the herd, swimming upstream!

And that's always fun, right?

Brokeback Mountain vs. Wuthering Heights

Deep in the comment section about Heath Ledger's death over at Althouse, the discussion has turned into a debate comparing Brokeback Mountain to Wuthering Heights. The "Brokeback" fans are claiming that it's exceptional in the way that it shows Ledger's character's complete confusion about his attraction to Gyllenhall's character. Althouse parried with the point that Cathy's attraction to Heathcliff (Merle Oberon and Lawrence Olivier) is as completely alien, that Heathcliff is like a different species to her.

Now, you could argue that her idea of Heathcliff is just fanciful, and that Wuthering Heights is just another cheating spouse story. But then, the same logic can apply to Brokeback Mountain.

When we relate to stories strongly, we want to feel like they're exceptional, and we rarely want to step back and realize that we relate to triteness. (That's how things become trite in the first place.)

I haven't been in the mood for Ang Lee--well, since The Hulk--and Brokeback struck me as pretty trite. As Ace pointed out, if the same dialog came from a traditional cheating-on-spouse movie, it would be roundly mocked. And the concept really didn't seem that shocking (or interesting) when Kate Jackson and Harry Hamlin did it in 1982.

I should point out that I didn't (and don't) get Wuthering Heights, either. I haven't read it since I was a kid but my fallback for a lot of the romantic angst stuff is that scene in Moonstruck when Nic Cage tells Cher he loves her, so she slaps him and yells "Snap out of it!"

Ed Emberly interview coming!

Hang tight for the Ed Emberley interview. I'm prepping it now!

The Bit Maelstrom on the Cinematic Titanic Newsletter

The Cinematic Titanic quoted (the most effusive) part of my review in their newsletter underneath BoingBoing and Quick Stop: There's something to be said for being effusive about a product, I guess.

But I regret nothing! "Oozing" is a blast. So if you've come here to read the review, feel free to browse around and partake of my other odd assortment of thoughts. Or click on the MST3K link to check out some other reviews and stuff I've linked to.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another Clue For The Portfolio Suggesting That Boys and Girls May Be Different In Ways Beyond Simple Outward Physical Configuration

Parent: "What are your plans?"
Seven Year Old Boy: "World domination."

Parent: "What are your plans?"
Seven Year Old Girl: "Making ponies happy."

Kicking The Bucket List

Actually, I'm not gonna kick The Bucket List at all. As the credits rolled last night, I was shocked: I just saw a good Rob Reiner movie! A new one!

I mean, the guy made seven good movies in a row in the '80s: This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing (cute fun, if not great), Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery and A Few Good Men. That's a hell of a string. The middle four are classics and each in a different genre: coming-of-age, family/fantasy, romantic comedy and horror. And, of course, Spinal Tap is the mother of all mockumentaries.

Damn. It looks even more impressive now.

Then came North, with Elijah Wood. But he rebounded, sorta, with The American President and Ghosts of Mississippi. Then some shorts, a documentary, a TV sitcom and three dogs in a row! The Story of Us, Alex & Emma and Rumor Has It.

Reiner has resisted doing a sequel to Spinal Tap, reportedly because he doesn't like to repeat himself. Maybe he's easily bored, and hence the genre switching. Dunno. But here we are in 2008 and he made himself a new sort-of Sure Thing. It has the most in common with that film, I would say than his earlier films.

It's a buddy picture. It's a road picture. It's an old-fart picture that doesn't use old-age humor as a crutch (as seen in Matthau and Lemmon's last movies, as well as the President movie where James Garner fills in for the late Matthau.) It's funny in parts, but not hilarious, and really not very wacky, which is how the commercials portray it.

It's also touching and sentimental, occasionally maudlin, loaded with clichés and has gratuitous Morgan Freeman narration.

But damn, you have to be trying--hard--not to be moved by Freeman and Nicholson who are absolute powerhouses without stage-grabbing or scenery chewing. It's not surprising to me that the critics panned it: Like Reiner's other great work, it's just classic movie-going fun. Not shallow, really, but completely unpretentious. Even when the movie goes to the top of the Himalaya's, you get the feeling that you've just seen a nice story, not an "important" one.

And unlike many of today's hot directors, Reiner doesn't make this movie into some indulgent vanity pic, clocking in at 97 minutes. He doesn't shout "Look at me! I'm so talented!" Maybe, at this point, he doesn't have that luxury, but he didn't do it in his prime either.

So, critics have bashed it and audiences aren't turning out to see it, particularly--though if I understand the numbers on IMDB, it only dropped 20% in its second week, and has made it's $40M budget back. It could become a sleeper hit.

It certainly works as a remedy for all the Oscar-nominated films. You can go to the movies and just have fun.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Great Big Scary

Disturbing. Right Wing Sparkle links to a Frontline story on the Great Big Scary Internet.

Of course it's disturbing. That's what Frontline (and all "news" shows) sells: disturbing, scary, ominous, whatever makes them seem relevant. Every now and again one of these shows will come up with something actually useful. (I think it was Dateline NBC that introduced us to the Charlie Foundation.)

But they can't--or don't think they can--survive on a diet of just useful information, so even when they have useful information, they dress it up in fear.

The abused analogy of ten years ago was "information superhighway". But if we were putting up superhighways now, these shows would sell stories on the basis of the fatal accidents that occur on them, and less on the value to commerce and even lifesaving value they can have.

Meanwhile, a modicum of common sense is all that's required with regard to the 'net, not too much more sophisticated then "look both ways when you cross the street". Most kids can and do benefit from the 'net, educationally and socially. Not just "most" but the vast number, to where the seriously harmed ones are statistical outliers.

Speaking of outliers, there are some kids who probably need to be kept far away from the 'net, just like there are some that need to be kept away from television, and others that need to be kept away from soy products.

The cyber-bullying thing is kind of interesting though.. I sort of wonder if the upshot of being exposed to Internet Trolls is that this next generation is going to be very hard to intimidate or even provoke. It's impossible to function online very long without learning to ignore them.

Maybe everything bad IS good for you!

Everyone has one. Or is one.

Just got through looking at this piece of Onion A.V. snark and reminding myself why I don't read stuff like this more often. Internet lists are the lowest form of life. The title is the sole setup ("Unbreakable: 18 film stars impervious to box-office flops") and the rest of the article goes on to name actors that one presumes one or more of the five writers feels isn't worthy of their ongoing successes.

It switches seamlessly between criticizing the actors for being in flops, to being in movies the article writers just didn't like, to not following career paths the writers feel they should, to never deserving success in the first place. This allows them to keep up an unrelenting stream of disdain without ever having to say anything of merit.

For example, it might be interesting to ask if any screen actor had an unbroken string of successes through their whole career. Certainly not Jimmy Stewart. (It's A Wonderful Life, his first post-War film, was a flop. Maybe he should have just crawled into a hole.) Cary Grant? He made some real stinkers in between Hitch films, and he retired twice. John Wayne? Inconceivable.

They also get to make unfounded suppositions. Like, the success of the film The Break-Up was due to Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's romance at the time. Apparently they had access to the moviegoers' exit polls where people admitted going to see the movie just because they'd read something in the tabloids about Aniston and Vaughn. (That must be why Gigli flopped: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were never in the tabloids when that movie came out.)

For sheer sloppiness, they throw around "bankable" and "big box-office attraction"--both of which refer to an ability to draw tickets--not what sort of salaries they command. And yet the whole premise of the article is that these people aren't bankable and are (presumably) overpaid.

Forbes did a similar article bang-for-the-buck stars which, while stupid for a number of reasons, at least backed up its premise with some solid facts. Not surprisingly, they came up with different and contradictory results. Brad Pitt movies return $24 for each dollar he is paid. Jennifer Aniston, $17. Angelina Jolie, $15. Sandra Bullock, $13. Nicole Kidman, $8 (before Golden Compass, ouch).

So about the only one they agree on is Nicole Kidman. And, frankly, an $8-to-$1 return would be considered pretty good in most businesses. Except of course there are all the other production costs, but that just reveals the stupidity of the whole premise: Popular actors can ignite good movies that might not otherwise be seen, or push so-so movies into profitability, and they can power home rentals/sales even for bad movies. They can't save a movie that no one wants to see (and that's independent of quality).

I've never seen Angelina Jolie in a good movie. She won me over as an actress with her portrayal of Lara Croft--I can't think of a modern (or maybe any) actress who could pull off the insouciant adventurer without seeming ditzy, plastic or otherwise as lifeless as the computer character is. (Well, okay, Helen Mirren or Judi Dench could do it, but I don't think they'd fit into the costume, and that's high company to be associated with anyway.)

Just because I'm not lining up to see The Good Shepherd doesn't mean that's her fault. I'd like to see her in a good movie, really! I'm sure if I did see Shepherd, I wouldn't think, "Man, Jolie is awful." But you know, if I did think that, I'd probably know how I felt going in, and would just avoid the movie in the first place.

Keanu Reeves, for example. People hate this guy, apparently. But he was perfect for The Matrix movies, and adequate in a lot of his other roles, and most people concede that while simultaneously arguing that it doesn't take much talent. Let's accept that premise; the follow-up has to be something like "So what?" Don't like it? Don't go see it. But don't go see him--don't give the guy your money, for crying out loud, while simultaneously bemoaning the taste of those who go see him.

For myself, I have a low tolerance of Nicholas Cage. I don't begrudge him his success, and I enjoyed him in Peggy Sue Got Married and Moonstruck. Odd films he was appropriately odd in. And, hell, Raising Arizona! Great! But somewhere in the early '90s, it wore thin. So I've seen only a few of his movies since, mostly on cable.

Actors do what they do. A great many have one character they use for all their roles, like John Wayne or Owen Wilson. Some have a little more range. Some have a lot of range. But except for the occasional star who's just phoning it in--something that doesn't happen all that often, and certainly not very frequently for any particular star, given how fast bankability declines--most of them acquit themselves in fairly predictable fashions.

If big-budget big-star movies are tanking today, it's really not the actors' fault. But just as most people are probably not all that aware of the the producer, director and writer's impact on a film, most internet articles on the subject are going to be predictably shallow.

Monday, January 21, 2008


We're watching Darren Aronofsky's The Foutain which takes place in three different time periods (ca. 1500, ca. 2000, and sometime far in the future), and which made the dubious choice of showing the 1500 era timeline out of sequence.

But I was reminded of the 1944 Michael Curtiz film Passage To Marseille with Humphrey Bogart as a (heh) Frenchman. (We viewed the French differently back then.) Passage to Marseille is told in a flashback. Then that leads to a flashback. Which itself leads to a flashback.

At one point, if I'm not mistaken, you're five flashbacks deep.

I can't remember now if all the flashbacks are even reliable.

The Fountain is freaky.

You Dirty Rat: The Informer

The Boy continues to amaze me. We watched John Ford's The Informer the other night and The Boy pronounced it "great". Although second tier John Ford, melodramatic and incredibly dated, this 1935 film is still remarkably effective. I don't think I could've recognized (or experienced) that at 12, though.

Big Irish thug Gypo informs on his pal for 20 pounds, and this results in his pal's death in a hail of gunfire. Gypo's not really a bad sort, despite being a criminal and rebel1, and he really doesn't have the constitution for it.

The movie is essentially his self-destructive binge. And you could have quite a binge on 20 pounds back in 1922. (It took 10 pounds to sail to America, and the tragedy is that he doesn't just set sail with his girlfriend.)

As is probably clear from previous reviews (say, of Atonement), I'm not much on films about losers. Especially unrepentant cowards. Yet somehow this movie works quite well. You pity poor Gypo from the start. No opportunity, no hope, and no brains, tempted by the English authority, and completely unable to hide his crime or his guilt.

He tries, of course. He blames an innocent man but he's not smart enough to pull it off, or even remember that he's framed the guy until he remembers in a rebel court.

This film uses a lot of silent movie techniques, and the acting is rather broad, but it still works, and I think the broadness and simplicity is a big part of the reason. Of course, one should never be surprised by a good John Ford movie.

1. I use the term "rebel" because they're portrayed as such, and it's not clear to me from history that these are the Irish terrorists that became the IRA.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Of Indian Burial Grounds and Killer Satellites

Ace makes this point in his review of Cloverfield:
Any explanation they could have provided would have been trite or stupid or both anyway, so what's the point?

You'd think Stephen King could figure this out after 35--no 45!--years.

The Overlook Hotel in The Shining? Indian burial ground. Pet Sematary? Indian burial ground. Tommyknockers? Haven't read it or seen the movie (did they make a movie out of it yet?) but I'm told it's that old Indian black magic yet again.

The ancient indian burial ground was such a cliché back in 1979 when Kubrick's movie version of The Shining came out, that grade schoolers were mocking it. King keeps trucking along, though, happily trotting that out as the "explanation" for whatever horror is being visited on his poor characters.

Speaking of trucking along: Maximum Overdrive? Army experiment gone wrong. The Mist? Army Experiment Gone Wrong. There are probably more but I haven't read much King since the early '80s.

And, of course, "the government" is the villain of other King novels, whether it be the army or a CIA type group or what-have-you. Who could forget Firestarter's evil "The Company"...or "The Business"...or maybe it was..."The Co-Op"..."The Shop"! That's what it was! ("The Shop" had a super-secret hideout with horse stables! That's right: The guys cleaning out the stalls had to be thoroughly vetted for mucking! But I digress.)

Explanations aren't always bad. In horror fiction, they can create atmosphere. Lovecraft formed a very suggestive background out of the snippets he put into his Cthulhu story. For horror movies (which are really quite separate from horror fiction in tradition and style) the explanation can serve as a plot hook.

In Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy's roots as a pedophile provide a satisfying base for the attacks, and a hook for the heroine to ultimately escape him. (Said hook thoroughly trashed by the tacked-on ending designed to facilitate sequels. But that's another subject for another day.)

The horror movie Unearthed tries for meaningful explanation, both to sort-of explain the why and provide a hook for the heroine to kill the monster. It's not well handled but it's not tacked on.

There's a reference to satellite-caused radiation in Night of the Living Dead but it's never verified and comes as part of what would be inevitable discussion about causes on TV or radio. By contrast, Maximum Overdrive, which used the exact same explanation (killer satellites), does so as a groan-inducing tacked on post-script to an already groan-worthy film.

Someone (presumably King) had to sit down and say that, "Yes, this post-script makes the movie better. This will make sense of the previous 90 minutes of abuse we've inflicted on the audience." The audience will say "Oh! That wasn't as bad as we thought while we were watching it!"

The rule should be very simple to follow: If the explanation wouldn't matter to your characters in the course of the story, it won't matter to the audience either. Just skip it.

Star Trek, Then and Now

Then (1979, when the first Star Trek: The Motion Picture was made after a 10 year hiatus):
"Oh, my God! They all look so old!"

Now (2008, viewing the same movie almost 30 years later):
"Oh, my God! They all look so young!"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Violence & Old Folks

Our favorite theater is the local Laemmle, which features an assortment of big budget H-wood flicks alongside of art-house and foreign fare.

If you don't restrict yourself to JUST blockbusters, you have a way better chance of seeing an actually good movie on any given outing.

Plus, you can buy a debit card and cut the price of tickets down to--I think it's as low as $4 if you go before dark on Mon-Thu. And the popcorn is Orville, the butter is real(!), and the staff are intelligent and alert (if, granted, not Disney-happy).

It's sort of the Trader Joe's of theater chains.

And like TJ's, the combination of quality, variety and price attracts seniors like an Early Bird Special at The Sizzler.

This has result in various moments of irritation and/or hilarity. Irritation because old people, like teenagers, tend to not know (or perhaps care) that there are other people in the world. Hilarity because they're not shy about broadcasting their misapprehensions to the world.

The French film Caché starts with a video playback, which is then rewound and replayed. Several old people complained loudly that they'd already seen that part.

One employee told me that she had been grilled after Children of Men by some old folks wanting to know when it had happened and why hadn't they heard. (Children of Men is a post-apocalyptic thriller.)

Recently, I asked if they were going to get Sweeney Todd, and I was told by the manager that she suspected not--that it would be too violent for the seniors. I had not realized--though it makes perfect sense when I reflect upon it--that they tailored their offerings around, essentially, seniors demands and complaints.

She then proceeded to tell me of all the complaints they had received over The Departed, because it was a gangster movie and the old folks hadn't realized it. OK, maybe you missed the part where it was directed by Martin Scorcese. But they ALSO got the SAME complaints over American Gangster. Now, wait a minute, that's hardly fair.

After putting off Todd because it would be too bloody, though, she said they were demanding There Will Be Blood.


I'm sure the title is meant metaphorically.

This reminds me of an elderly relative who insisted upon seeing The Astronaut's Wife, because of course it would be a lovely film about the space program, not, say, a movie about a face-sucking alien.

Watch the previews, people. And then, uh, remember them.

"Careful, Fred...

...we don't know who's going to win the war."

-- Fred Quimby to Fred "Tex" Avery, on one of his more pointed anti-Hitler cartoons.

Huntley Haverstock: Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent was Alfred Hitchcock's second American film, which was made in the same year as (and would lose the Oscar to) Rebecca, his first American film. (Note that 40 years ago, the snobs were saying that Hitch's best work was his English stuff, which serves as a good example that it doesn't matter much what art critics say, as long as they're talking.)

Astute as he is, The Boy has come to rely on Sir Alfred as a brand of quality, and so we settled down to watch this early masterpiece. I guess, like most folk these days, I regard his '50s work most highly, and so was surprised at how good this was. I expected it to be good, but at the point where the movie might have been expected to end, there's a whole segment with an airplane and an almost Lifeboat setup. This segment occurs close to the two hour mark, and yet you don't get the butt-fidget-itis you do in a lot of today's 2+ hour films.

The story concerns American reporter Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) sent to Europe with a fake name ("Huntley Havertstock") to (in part) interview the head of a peace advocacy organization. From there he gets involved in a complicated plot involving assassination and war, and a romance with a lovely girl (the late Laraine Day) whose father may or may not be involved in anti-English shenanigans.

(This was pretty bold, when you think about it. It wasn't certain what side of the war we were going to join. And while the bad guys are never identified, they do have thick german accents.)

Anyway, this film moves, and I'd probably put it ahead of the '35 39 Steps. Although I tend to think of it as an "early" Hitch, he'd been making films for 20 years, from the silent era and throughout the '30s. By the time America got him, he was a well-polished craftsman.

On The Housing Bubble

Sometimes, the fact that everyone seems to be doing something is reason enough not to do it yourself.

Clerks II: Happy Ending?


Clerks 2 is finally playing on cable and I just realized the happy ending has Dante and Randall re-opening the Quickie Mart and RST Video.

Seriously, what sort of loser opens a video store in 2005? How could you get a business loan? I guess they can turn it into an internet café or something when the market completely dries up.

The Kite Runner

I was actually not really amped to see this tale of Afghani woe called The Kite Runner. But, in my own defense, I didn't know that it was directed by Marc Forster, of Stranger Than Fiction and Finding Neverland fame.

This is the story of a rich boy who is best friends with his servant, a "Hazari" boy who is, in most ways, of a superior character than his master. Hassan is brave, loyal, fearless, and highly protective of Amir, even when being terrorized by the neighborhood thugs. Amir is cowardly, and upon witnessing Hassan's victimization and doing nothing, tries to drive Hassan and his father away.

This drama is interrupted by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Amir and his father flee to America, where Amir makes a life as a writer. 20 years later, he receives a call that summons him back.

(As a footnote, I'm not sure if it's the passage of time that makes it permissible, but the Soviets take it in the shorts in this movie, as they did in Charlie Wilson's War. Apparently, when they invaded a place, they were all about the raping and pillaging. I never saw this kind of negative PR when they were in business, nor in the '90s.)

Anyway, this film lands a few good punches, as when Amir's proud, intelligent, noble father ends up working at a convenience store, or when the family is at a swap meet and runs into a Afghan general. And mostly pretty tight for a running time of over an hour. (It does drag in the middle a bit, as The Boy pointed out.)

Also post-Taliban life in Afghanistan--when Amir goes back after the Soviets have been repelled and the Taliban is in control--is genuinely horrifying on a lot of different levels. It doesn't seem like we hear much about this, except in the context of how it's America's Fault. The Afghanis obviously don't feel that way (versus how they feel about the Russians, as is made clear several times in the movie).

Contra Atonement, the cowardly character is given a chance at redemption and takes it, even when it can mean his life, his dignity, his safety, his comfort, and for that it's a far more watchable movie.

Ultimately, I wasn't expecting something quite this brutal (the implicit violence is horrifying, there's little violence shown on screen), but there's no doubting this is one of the best movies of 2007.

As another footnote, the Hazara thing is reminiscient of the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", where the two characters are half-white and half-black but hate their racial differences. Seriously, the Afghans could all tell the difference between the Hazara and the Pashtun, but I sure couldn't. (The "Hazari" are a Star Trek race, even!)

Crazy humans and their prejudices.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Danny Kaye!

The pellet with the poison's
In the vessel with the pestle,
but the chalice from the palace
has the brew that is true!

As a kid, I would occasionally confuse Danny Thomas with Danny Kaye, and boy would I get disappointed.

Happy Birthday, Cary Grant!

Ol' Archie Leach would be 104 today, were he still alive.

And if he were? He'd still be suaver than your sorry ass.

Great Moments In Movie Humiliation: Apocalypto

The Mayans have destroyed your village, raped your daughter, and dragged you through the jungle to sell you at an auction.

Where you're too old to fetch a price.

So they let you go.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Raw Deal

Here's a story from Pajama Momma on raw milk that would be funny if it weren't such a blatant example of how the government protects established interests to not only the detriment of would-be competitors but to society as a whole.

We used to get raw milk delivered, but it periodically would be stopped due to, essentially, political reasons. As PJM outlines, those who try to compete are also dealt with through Congressional fiat. Of course, the justification is protecting our health.

In fact, raw milk was a problem (particularly in France) because the cows were so poorly cared for, and in such unhygienic conditions, that bacteria ran rampant, and people got sick. Pasteurization, in that context made sense. However, if you're willing to pay the extra bucks, and get your milk from well-cared-for bovines, raw milk is vastly more nutritious. And it's better tasting.

I'm pretty sure that none of this is in serious dispute. Pasteurized milk offers economy at the cost of nutrition. These days, the health risks are about the same.

Now, if you were to browse the Internet looking for information on vaccines, it would fall into three camps: the official story, the anti-vaccine crowd, and the aren't-the-anti-vaccine-crowd-stupid-crowd. That's not a quagmire I'm going to step in here, but I will point out this:

The more the authorities abuse their power to protect commercial interests with falsely inflated health issues, the more their credibility will be assailed on other fronts.

Of Oozing Skulls and other referents

On a lark, I looked through to see what people had been coming to this site looking for, and by far and away, you're here looking for the Oozing Skull review.

Honestly, people, form your own damn opinions. The Cinematic Titanic crew can't make more if you can't be bothered to buy the DVD.

Meanwhile, here were the other links:

thumb disk through washing machine
Ouch, sorry, dude.

ending to a foreword
Just a coincidence. My use of "foreword" and year end.

vincent d'onofrio
He was the bomb in Mystic Pizza

orphanarium the movie
Ha! Someone actually looked for an "orphanarium" review. For those who don't know, the word "orphanarium" was coined by the animated sci-fi comedy series Futurama.

died in a blogging accident
Wouldn't be the first.

banned words 2008
'cause you gotta know what NOT to say.

malestrom 2008
Coming in 2008: The Bit Femalestrom. I expect WAY higher hits.

dark apocalyptic films
I think these are going to be a bit-maelstrom meme.

duckling programming -ugly
Imprint with Smalltalk!

Also, someone came here through an image search on long, white, lace bloomers. Heh. Thanks, Trooper York!

Great Oozing Skull Review

A more detailed review of Oozing Skull than I gave is here by Andy Kaiser, who also apparently has a problem with managing his "digital bits".

A lot of good points here: Some character development would add greatly to the experience, just as it did with MST3K.


Althouse has a post on a malpractice suit that has stirred up some emotion. Real emotion, too, not the sort of faux-outrage that typically accompanies political stuff.

It's probably just an example of self-selection, but a lot of people in the commentary have suffered losses from medical malpractice. (I can count three losses in my own life so far, two of which have had a profound effect.) I've heard that iatrogenic (doctor-caused) causes of death are the #1 killer in this country, and I tend to believe it.

At the same time, I think it's clear that malpractice suits exacerbate the situation. One of my heroes is a midwife who delivers children naturally, with her only stipulation being that it has to be what's best for the child (and secondarily, the mom). She says "We don't do natural childbirth because it's fun or pleasant, but because it's what's best." And she insists that women go to the hospital when necessary, no matter how much they want to deliver naturally.

Legally, it's hard to imagine many more precarious situations to be in, because there are legal requirements as to what has to be done. This is sheer insanity, of course, and probably high among the things that will undo us. She's in particularly precarious situation because she's not even a doctor, and she can (and has) come under attack from over-zealous establishment types who feel she's cut into their bottom line.

But despite the many problems I've had with doctors, it's clear there are some great and heroic ones out there, risking their life and livelihoods every day.

One day I might even go to one of them.

Idiocracy and the Future

Religious followers of this blog (i.e., me) know my feelings on post-apocalyptic movies. I realize now I haven't deconstructed as many as I should have. But here's one: The Mike Judge comedy Idiocracy.

Judge came to my attention in the late '80s/early '90s as the creator of this little cartoon shown at Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted animation festival. The toon was reminiscent of This Is Spinal Tap, in that it parodied a group, and that group loved it. It was called "Frog Baseball" and featured the first appearance of Beavis and Butthead.

Judge went on to create the remarkably consistent "King of the Hill" and the cult classic Office Space. So I ran out to see Idiocracy when it had it's two-day run here in the big city.

The premise of Idiocracy is simple and not original: Since smart people reproduce selectively and dumb people reproduce indiscriminately, the population of the earth will get dumber and dumber as time passes. In this case, an average Joe (played by Owen Wilson) pulls a Rip Van Winkle and wakes up 500 years into the dumbed-down future.

Of course, this is a fairly preposterous premise: Society would collapse into barbarism in short order. This is shown in a jokey fashion, of course, because the truth is far too depressing, and it makes a far better (and funnier) commentary on contemporary society to have modern "dumb" aspects of society exaggerated.

Idiocracy doesn't have the dense humor and ubiquitous relevance that Office Space has, so I doubt it will reach the heights of cult appreciation the latter does. But it is pretty funny, and occasionally right on the mark (as social satire).

What surprises me a bit is that I've yet to read a discussion of the movie that looked at its premise from a historical basis. After all, this whole premise of "we're being out-bred by the masses" was a staple of early 20th century eugenics.

Modern birth control and the whole shift from "go forth and multiply" to "too many people" came down to an idea of "too many of the wrong kind of people". People of lesser intelligence, or as a shorthand, people of poorer scores on IQ tests, people of lower social stations and people of the wrong shade, were the wrong kind of people.

Intriguingly enough, most reports I hear indicate that the younger generations have increasingly higher IQs. We manage to offset that through poor education, to some degree, and of course the big factor is that we can afford to act stupider these days--so we do. (Seriously, you have to be pretty alert when the saber tooth tiger is roaring at the mouth of your cave.)

That's the "push" factor: People get smarter when they have to.

Idiocracy has a curious moral message tucked in among the humor. When you get down to it, the premise of Idiocracy doesn't allow for a "happy" resoloution: If you accept the initial premise, you can see it's pretty much an unalterable recipe for doom. But in the end, as with Office Space, the regular Joe, the slacker, finds a sort of peace by taking more responsibility than he was initially comfortable with.

But let's be honest: We watch it and laugh at the ass jokes and "Ow! My balls!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Not mine. Others.

Althouse has a post up suggesting she's going to abandon her tradition of live blogging AI which has sent Trooper York on a rampage. (And, seriously, the guy can rant: My quote of the day is "There are no atheists in funholes.")

As I noted there, I skimmed past the AI entries because I don't watch the show. I've come close, especially last season, between Althouse's posts and the constant buzz on Sanjaya. But a lot about the show's concept is off-putting.

And then I realize, I don't generally take recommendations. A one-off has a shot, like a book or a movie. But series? I consider watching a TV series to be a commitment, and it's one I easily neglect. The last regular network series I watched was "Law and Order". That ended when they moved it from Wednesday night. I now watch exactly zero Big Three shows. On Fox, I catch "The Simpsons" occasionally.

It doesn't help that I hate commercials, but a big factor is that the nets constantly move shows around. In this millennium I've watched the complete "Mind of the Married Man", "Carnivale", "Deadwood", "Dead Like Me", "!huff", "John from Cincinnati", "Rome" and "Dexter". (Well, "Dexter" isn't over yet but I imagine I'll watch the third season, too, even with Doakes gone.)

I steel myself against commercials enough to put up with "Monk" and "psych!" on USA. (I think "Monk" should probably wrap up soon, though. Mystery series have some unique issues that I think tends to limit their longevity.)

What these shows all have in common is that they were (or are) always on at the same time (and it's a convenient time for me). I'm willing to give any given TV series a try but I'm not really willing to chase it around. I used to love Vincent D'Onofrio's scene chewing antics on "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" but I haven't recovered from it being moved to USA. I was trying to watch the latest incarnation of "Dr. Who" but BBC America screwed that up.

With the exception of "Monk", which I'm less dedicated as a viewer, all the shows mentioned are also short. I'm good for about 1-2 seasons of shows I really like. I watched the first season of "Seinfeld" and "Friends". (Sitcoms have a very short shelf life for me.)

(The PVR may change all that, I dunno.)

I don't think I'm all that rare in terms of lack-of-doggedness in the pursuit of TV. There are so, so many other things to do. (Unlike TV series, I do take book recommendations, just about any and all, so I've got a huge stack to get through.)

Kelly's about the 40th person to recommend "Battlestar Galactica" to me. But will I watch it? Who knows?

The "re-imagining" I, of course, mean. I saw the original series (and the feature movie they made out of the pilot) several times over. But that was a long time ago.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On the front burner...

...launching the kid's shelf with (fingers crossed) an interview with the great Ed Emberley...

...a review of PrimalScript's latest offerings for DevSource... on the "Model-A" (tentative name for the PVR I'm building...

...another movie review...and another book review...

...and more!

Stay tuned! Or don't. I'm not the boss of you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Albums Meme

Got this from "da Goddess". Using random wiki, random quotations and random flickr, you make a fake album for a fake group.

The only problem I ran into is that a lot of the flickr images can't be copied. For some reason I kept getting waterfowl.

This first album is from an Australian group ("South east Queensland") that combines surfer music with goth. And, uh, porno.

The second album is a little bit trickier to place. I envision a Beck-like guy, maybe combined with Loudon Wainwright. And an obsession with waterfowl. I see this guy going around with his accordion singing his #1 hit: "And now, Klooster sings "The Hungry Pelican!"

Of course, before he was a solo artist, Klooster was in a Mormon Rock Band called "Turin". Their debut album, "To Me Through Books" was a moderate success in Utah, though no one could recall Joseph Smith talking so extensively about ducks.

The tragic thing? I could do this all day.

Experiments in Multimedia...complaints

I'm going to see if I can put up some "multi-media" items in the next few weeks. Some music and maybe some images. I don't have a scanner, though. I have a tablet but the resolution is too coarse. My nails have been splitting lately which makes guitar challenging. Top it off with being busier than a one-armed paper hanger and I'm somehow I'm reminded of this Dorothy Parker poem:

Razors pain you;

rivers are damp;

acids stain you;

and drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren't lawful;

nooses give;

gas smells awful;

you might as well live.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another Non-Story: Low Unemployment = Workers Demand More

Via Slashdot.

NetworkWorld is running an article on the challenges of retaining young workers. Seems Johnny Y doesn't want to work at Initech and expects to be well compensated for his skills and time.

So, the job market has equalized since the Tech Bubble burst, unemployment stays at historical lows (sub 5%), and, huh, tech people are demanding more out of work. Money, perks, decent working environment.

I'm gestating a theory that we are all Dory. Our capacity, as a group, to remember things farther back than just a few months seems to be severely limited.

For example, I bought a house in 1997. By the peak of the real estate frenzy, it had tripled in value. In the past year-and-a-half it has fallen 25% of its peak price. It's still overpriced. If it settles at double in the next year or two--well, I'll probably still think it's overpriced.

The whole time this was going on, any rational person could see that it couldn't possibly last. At least around here, we go through this cycle every, oh, 15-20 years? (I'm hoping to make a jump when the market crashes again: It's not the price of the house but the taxes that are the killer.)

Of course, bets are off if the government gets involved. It can screw things up in some remarkably persistent ways. Combine bloated government with an ossified industry (used to using the government as a crutch) and, well, you end up with this.

The tech industry is just a remarkable series of Leonard moments. Tech industry takes off in the mid-'90s and I get lured out of my starving writer lifestyle to make a ton of cash. Businesses start complaining about being able to hire workers--often using impossible job criteria--and push heavily on the H1B. People seem to be irritated that tech skills pay so well. A bunch of unqualified gold-rushers jump into the field and really screw things up.

Then the tech market crashes. Tech jobs start paying a lot less. (Businesses still moan about not being able to hire qualified workers.) Workers complain about the devaluation of their skills. A lot of gold-rushers (and good people, too) bail out. Those that remain hang on to their jobs while they can, hoping not be forced out by a market flooded with competition willing to work on the cheap.

But IT work is like plumbing, electrical work, road building--it has to be done. Businesses can't run without it and be competitive. (The remarkable inefficiencies I see every day--and the unwillingness of businesses to change to eliminate those inefficiencies--still surprises me.) As the economy recovers, tech workers get choosier--and businesses complain about being able to hire (or in this case, keep hired) qualified workers.

All this--all of it--is just detail level supply and demand. Unlike my grandfather's generation, I've never worked for anyone with the expectation that they keep employing me. (There was one exception, where I was repeatedly told otherwise, which should have set off my radar.) When I was younger, I would happily jump from contract to contract for more money (though I've always had a rule about not leaving work undone).

This is a good thing: I learned a lot about how companies work, about the value of a good, competent boss, and the dangers of incompetent ones, about the difference between liking someone and trusting them, about friendly work environments versus well-organized ones, where money fits into all this, and so on.

Those going out for the first time into the workforce today should realize that all things must pass, economies are elastic, and that gathering your rosebuds while ye may is not necessarily a bad plan. Try not to bitch about it, though, when your value drops. It's not personal.

And realize, no matter what, employers (as a group) are going to always bitch that you're not available enough, that you're not grateful enough, that you want too much money or too much influence.

It's as natural as forgetting what happened yesterday.

Died In A Blogging Accident

Slashdot reports that the geeky comic xkcd has changed the number of Google results for "Died in a blogging accident" from 2 to over seven thousand in just 24 hours. It's past 12,000 now.

The comic in question.

This strikes me as hilarious. Not that a webcomic had this effect, but that Slashdot would report on it with wonder. That's the way it's supposed to work, isn't it? Am I missing something?

The Green Mile

By the way, one of the best things about The Green Mile is Thomas Newman's score.

Thomas is the son of the great Alfred Newman (who scored Citizen Kane and Modern Times), and of course, cousin to Randy Newman.

He has a very distinctive style that just shines in this movie. "The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix" isn't exactly "easy listening" but the rest of it is just marvelous.

If that's a little to intense, there's always Finding Nemo,another great score of his.

Separated At Birth?

I am not good with faces at all. Seriously, you know the saying "they all look alike"? They all do look alike to me--and by "they", I mean everyone who isn't me. Well, not that bad, but it's my belief that "they all look alike" comes from the fact that we notice things that are extraordinary or unusual, and that's how we identify others.

So, to a person who knows few black/asian/white/whatever people, it's perfectly understandable that "they all look alike". All he sees is skin color.

Anyway, I've been working on improving my skills. I happen to live with someone who can identify an 80-year-old from a photo she's seen of the same person when they were five. So, it's a sort of self-defense thing. (By comparison, I can remember the name of the person, who they're married to, what movies they were in and who else was in those movies. A textual versus graphical memory, I guess.)

I am a big fan of the Frank Darbont movie The Green Mile and it's been on cable a lot. The sadistic turnkey, Percy Westmore (played by Doug Hutchison) looked so, so familiar to me but I couldn't place him.

It's a brilliant performance, with Percy being an unctuously evil, cowardly waste-of-space, separated from Sam Rockwell's brilliantly psychotic Wild Bill by accident of station and sheer brutality.

Where have I seen this guy before? Then I realized. He reminds me of "Kos", Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who runs the Daily Kos. Am I way off here?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cinematic Titanic Sinks The Oozing Skull

Well, it finally arrived. And...? And...?

Well, it's been 20 years about since the Satellite of Love launched. Our beloved crew is older, wiser, and technology has moved forward a lot in 20 years.

Can you go home again?

Well, Cinematic Titanic is like going home and finding things better than you remember them.

Don't get me wrong: Episode 1 is not perfect, and we all missed the campy set up and in-between sketches that were standard on MST3K. Also, it feels like a first episode in some ways, like the cast hasn't got their rhythms down perfectly yet.

But in terms of riffs-per-minute? Sheer comic gold. About as good as anything MST3K ever did.

So, how does it work? The five principals (Joel, Trace, Frank, Mary Jo and Josh) sit along the edges of the screen and riff. The resolution is such that you can actually make them out better than Tom and Crow from the original series (but we do miss the puppets). Sometimes Trace will use the Crow voice and it's sort of bittersweet.

With five people there is a different dynamic, and there's a lot to be explored there. This first episode, besides being funny in itself, promises greater things.

To spice things up a bit further, there are guest appearances (Stephen Hawkings in this episode), and they stop the movie from time-to-time. There's a scene in this one where a character has acid poured on his face, and Joel stops it to ask if it's really necessary. The gentleness of Joel's character made a great foil on MST3K and it still works here, as the others scold him for stopping the movie. (You don't really see anything as far as acid being poured on anyone's face, by the way. The whole show is pretty family friendly.)

At another point Trace stops the film on a close-up of Regina Carroll so he can fix her makeup, after which Frank quips something like "If that doesn't get us on Bravo, nothing will."

Oozing Skull itself is a fairly standard "let's transplant someone's brain so they'll live forever" plot. In this case "someone" is the beloved dictator of a middle (far?) eastern country ("Postcardia!" as Trace riffs when a picture of a Taj Mahal type building is shown). But it's a sort of no-holds barred '70s version of the story that includes a mad scientist, an evil dictator, a platinum blonde bimbette (the director's wife, no less), a disfigured giant, a dwarf, a dungeon, a lab, and graphic-ish brain surgery! There's also two romantic sub-plots, betrayals abound, and the mad scientist has a pain-ray-gun.

It's a myth that only the worst movies can be riffed on. (I have a dream of seeing the crew do Citizen Kane.) The movies must attempt a plot, have the right amount of dialog, and if they have no action at all, they can still be hard to watch, riffing or no. Skull is particularly rich in plot and action, just a little confused and more than a little hampered by a low budget.

This makes it a perfect movie for riffing, and riff they do. It's definitely a multiple-watcher.

If I had but one request, one dream come true, it would be this: Stay clear of the political humor guys. There are a couple of instances where Frank riffs on Bush and, really, it's not good. Yeah, I'm sure it gets applause when you do it live. But it's "clap humor", not real humor, and I'd rather have a dozen more references to Ray Stevens and Ginger Baker.

For $16 (including shipping and handling, with luck to be dropped to $13 for download-and-burn once they work out that out), you could do a lot worse for a night's entertainment.

Dopey The Dog

He was the lowest of low-bred dogs. It would have taken several commodious closets to accommodate his family skeletons. At first there had been some loose talk about his Airedale ancestry. There was nothing to it. At some time during the love life of his indefatigable mother things must have become terribly involved. The result was Dopey, a creature who could call almost any dog brother with a fair chance of being right nine times out of ten. He was a melting-pot of a dog, carrying in his veins so many different strains of canine blood that he was never able to decide what breed of dog he should try hardest to be, or to develop any consistent course of canine conduct. He had no philosophy, no traditions, no moral standards. Dopey was just dog. His mother might have seen an Airedale once or even made a tentative date with an Airedale, but after one good look at her son it was obvious that the date had never amounted to anything definite.
--Thorne Smith, Turnabout (Chapter 2)

Friday, January 11, 2008

R.I.P. Maila Nurmi (Vampira)

Fred Olen Ray reports on his board that the impossibly slim-waisted actress forever burned into pop consciousness as Vampira, has died at the age of 86.

Happy Birthday, Althouse

Pick a favorite post from recent memory? Easy.

Although I've had many inspirations for this blog, Althouse is probably the primary. Not stylistically, of course: I couldn't and wouldn't write anything as sublimely provocative as the above onion rings & carrot sticks.

But I have a fairly broad range of interests. I could write a technology blog, a movie blog, a blog on current events, historical events, whatever. Althouse is an excellent example of blogging about whatever the hell you feel like whenever the hell you feel like it. (Or so it seems; she might have some grander scheme.)

So, thanks, Ann!

The Shop Around The Corner/The Good Ole Summertime/You've Got Mail

Ernst Lubitsch directed James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in the 1940 classic The Shop Around The Corner, a charming story of two people who fall in love as pen pals but can't stand each other in real life. They sort of one-up each other, until Stewart realizes that Sullavan is the girl he loves (on paper), giving him the freedom to torment Sullavan on the one-hand, but the difficulty of making her not hate him on the other.

The Shop Around The Corner has an additional peculiar charm because it takes place in Budapest, though everything is in plain American English. Stewart is Alfred Kralik and Frank Morgan is Hugo Matuschek. They didn't feel any need to relocate the movie to Dubuque or Albuquerque, or change the character names.

Like a lot of the great romantic-comedies of the era, and particularly Lubitsch's stuff, there's a lightness of touch which is both funny, endearing and completely impossible to recreate in modern films. (I can't even conceive of a modern version of Heaven Can Wait with Don Ameche and Gene Tierney's flawed, sweet relationship.)

Lubitsch's women are strong without being shrewish, aware of their mate's flaws while being tolerant (to a point). The men adore their women without being submissive. His movies are still a joy to watch and, as I say, totally unreproducible.

Which isn't to say people don't try.

The first attempt to redo Shop was the oddly named In The Good Ole Summertime. Still charming, with Van Johnson channeling James Stewart, and Judy Garland at her--well, not best, but when was she ever bad?

Actually, as someone who fell in love with Judy Garland out of college (not having seen her n anything other than Wizard of Oz at that point), it's a little hard to watch her in this film and realize she's only 26 years old. She shows a lot more age. And she was pretty much at the end of her movie career.

Director Robert Z. Leonard had probably seen better times, too.

This movie is a late entry in those '40s films that looked nostalgically back at the Gilded Age, with little remarks like Van Johnson being thrilled that he has a job that pays...Oh, I forget now, $15/week? (We don't seem to make nostalgic movies much these days, probably because the demographic is too young to remember an earlier time.)

Although Judy sings a number of songs, it's not really a musical: The songs are all performances within the context of the movie, which takes place in a music store (versus the sort-of general wares type store of the original).

The whole thing is buoyed by some great physical comedy choreographed and sometimes performed by Buster Keaton, who had long realized he never should've sold his studio.

Even so, it's a shadow of the original.

Nora Ephron tried again to remake this, though I suppose you'd call it a "reimagining", as You've Got Mail. It was, indeed, a brilliant idea to transpose the film to modern technology, and the movie captures, at least, the originals' plot point of the man (Tom Hanks) using his knowledge of the situation to torment the woman (Meg Ryan). The ending is kind of nice, too, when she realizes the truth.

But otherwise, it doesn't really work because, I think, Meg Ryan's character is a basket case. You can't even imagine Sullavan or Garland's character being basket cases (and Garland was actually sort of a basket case at the time). And this is true of a lot of modern RomComs: Where the old ones were rough-and-tumble, and sexist in the sense of insisting on the differences between men and women, the new ones are fragile, with women both demanding homogeneity while falling apart at the drop of a hat

The new one has Meg Ryan's character running a bookstore that is destroyed by Tom Hanks' family's mega-book-mart. It's actually not bad metaphorically (the movie itself is an updating of an old classic, and some things have to be torn down, right?) but I think it messes with the dynamic. Where earlier versions of the female character go around the leading man to be successful (both Garland and Sullavan get their jobs over Johnson and Stewart's objections), this one has her inevitably destroyed by him.

I don't know. If we've come so far in the past 70 years, why do female characters seem so weak?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The World is a Ball and it Crushes Us All

"...smaller than the smallest thing,
that broke in half,
a second time."

--Dan Bern

I think! I saw him perform it live 15 years ago but it's not on his site.

He also wrote one called "I Wanna Be Your TV" but that's not there either.

Maybe it's not him....

From The Bishop's Jaegers

She kissed the man and forgot to stop.

--Thorne Smith, The Bishop's Jaegers

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Forgotten Gems: Turnabout

I run hot and cold on comedy legend Hal Roach. Well, not on him, per se. He seems like he was a helluva guy, working hard for the better part of four decades in showbiz, making the transition from silent to talkies, and from two-reel wonders to, well, almost to feature-length pix. (If TV had come along sooner, he'd probably have been the first Aaron Spelling or Sheldon Schwartz.)

Yes, if it weren't for his persistent Mussolini-love, why, he'd be near perfect.

But Harold Lloyd wasn't my favorite silent guy and Our Gang grated on me when I was a kid. (I can hardly imagine now.) I do, however, love me some Thorne Smith. Smith was very much about a rejection of Victorian morals on the one hand, and an embracing of those morals on the other. Which is to say, he had no use for the scold, the pious or the pompous. It's easy to see him joining a group like Joe Bob Briggs' Drunks Against Mad Mothers. At the same time, his characters found unhappiness discarding traditional morals and happiness coming back to them (or something like them) on their own terms.

Which is further to say, his stories involve sex. A lot of it. Not graphic, obviously, but copious.

His stories were really unfilmable at the time for that. And today they're unfilmable because they reflect a gentility that no longer exists, at least anywhere in the product that Hollywood churns out.

Hal Roach, though, tried and scored big hits by taking the late Smith's stories and substituting a healthy dose of "screwball". The result is much less sophisticated, but it keeps a guy out of trouble with the Hayes office.

The most famous of these movies are the Topper series. (Not the least of which for featuring a rising Cary Grant in the role of George Kirby.) But the lesser known Turnabout is also worth a watch or two.

In this story, bickering husband and wife John Hubbard and Carole Landis are switched by a mystical statue (played by perpetual extra Georges Renavent) , who then proceed to wreck each others' lives (which are, of course, more complex than each gives the other credit for).

Sure you've seen it before. As Freaky Friday three times, or one of those '80s movies with one of those '80s Coreys. I think it was a play in Ancient Greece, and they probably stole the idea from the Upanishads.

But surprising, to me, is how a lot of yuks hold up after 68 years. John Hubbard swishes around the Ad Agency he works for while the elegant Carole Landis (just 21 at the time!) squats and sits open legged like a mook. Adolphe Menjou was the headliner, and he's fine, but not really the star. The ending is an absurd twist on Thorne Smith's ending, which results in the husband remaining in his wife's body until their baby is delivered (as punishment for his infidelities).

All very broad, yes. And at times overplayed. Yet it still works. I've seen it twice in the past couple of years (on TCM On Demand) and I laugh every time.

The Boy laughed, which says something.

And the beauty of watching a Hal Roach movie is that, even if you don't like it, it's not going to last long.