Sunday, November 30, 2008

Peluquero Del Demonio

I watched the Spanish-dubbed film version of Sweeney Todd. Well, just long enough to see how they dealt with the music. Even if the voice talent could sing, was anyone going to translate Sondheim's lyrics into another language, still rhyming and scanning?

So here's the solution. Obvious, I guess, but I had to know. Once the songs--which make up most of the film--start, we hear the original voices on the soundtrack singing English, while there are Spanish subtitles on the screen. Almost defeats the purpose.


So predictably that I could have written this post before the election (in fact, I have, more than once), the losing party in the last election is claiming they lost because they didn't stick to their principles. Party activists are saying things like "the moderate wing of the Republican Party is dead” and “conservatives were silent when Republican Congressional leaders massively expanded government.”

Of course, there are others--generally not true conservatives--who say, with good reason, that Republicans need to move toward the center if they want to win.

Both are missing the point, or should I say points: 1) Americans are more practical than ideological (especially the large middle who determine elections). 2) Parties have to appeal both inward to excite the base and outward to pick off others. 3) While particular candidates can make a difference, there are overall trends that swamp everything else.

When Republicans did poorly in 2006, a lot of conservatives said it was because they'd been too free-spending. They were fooling themselves. It was because the public was unhappy about Iraq and a few other issues. Spending, if it mattered at all, was way down the list.

In 2008, the big issue was the economy. The public saw a crisis and when that happens, they vote against the party in the White House. (What about the party that runs Congress? I'd bet a good chunk of the voters don't even know who that is.) This issue alone probably accounted for a swing of up to 5% to the generic Democrat Presidential candidate. In fact, some have noted the best thing that ever happened to the Dems is losing in 2004, since we'd still have had the economic disaster but they'd have been blamed instead. (Not to mention we'd have pulled out of Iraq and everything bad the anti-war people claimed had happened actually would have happened.)

With this built-in advantage, Obama just had to make sure he appealed strongly enough to the middle, thus his vague, centrist campaign. (Some conservatives even called it a center-right campaign, since Obama said he'd fight the war on terror better and apparently convinced the public he was the tax cutter.)

Republicans can be as conservative as they want--as long as the economy is improving and the terrorists are kept at bay, the Dems will probably do fine in 2010 and 2012. I admit you never know if some issue, like tax hikes, immigration, crime, health care, gay marriage, etc., will flare up, but overall, there's only so much a party can do by sticking to its principles (or abandoning them) on any given election. If people are generally satisfied, it's hard to get them to vote for change.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

I once heard someone claim there was a poll that showed students supported affirmative action on campus. This intrigued me, since every poll I'd ever seen showed they didn't.

So he pulls out the poll, and what did it ask? Something about do you think it's a good thing to have a diverse student body. This is not the question you ask if you want to know if someone supports affirmative action. This is the question you ask if you want to avoid knowing if someone supports affirmative action. (If you really want to know, you ask "do you support affirmative action?")

It could be worse. Imagine a poll that asks what should we do with child molesters, and only offers two choices--torture them or set them free.

Here's the headline and sub for a recent LA Times poll: Majority Support Pullout Timeline--Results Suggest Bush, Who Has Rejected The Idea Of A Timetable, Is Out Of Step With Public Opinion On The Iraq War.

Here are the four choices given: 1) "Troops should be withdrawn on a fixed timetable," 2) "Troops should be kept in Iraq to secure the country," 3) "More troops should be sent" and 4) "Don't know."

Got it? The choice is between bringing the troops home on a timetable or never bringing them home. I would have thought many, perhaps most, Americans agree with me--let's bring them home, but only at the proper time based on the general situation; a fixed timetable allows the terrorists and others to wait us out.

This poll seems to be designed either by incompetents or people with contempt for the truth.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Buttered Bread

I've seen the poster for Will Smith's upcoming film Seven Pounds. It's a gigantic close-up of Will Smith. You can't really see anything else. Good work. When you've got the biggest star in the world, why confuse people?

JHE Reunion

Drummer Mitch Mitchell, last surviving member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, recently died. Hendrix may have gotten all the attention, but while they were together, they may have been the most powerful power trio of all.

When I heard about his passing, I immediately thought of "Fire."

Wasn't This Supposed To Be About Movies?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

For a few years now, Slate has offered a year-end colloquy of critics to discuss the year in film. Sounds like a good idea--critics rarely talk to each other directly, and it's good to see them challenged. Needless to say, the whole thing too often turns into a shouting match about politics (with all parties playing on the same side of the net). This year, I don't even think there was a feint toward film talk before host David Edelstein started in.

This is too bad, since this sort of mindless talk is already widely available on the net. Don't these people realize no one cares to hear their political opinions--that they're lucky enough to get paid to talk about film as it is?

I won't go over every little line--what's the point, you've heard it before. But Jonathan Rosenbaum (a critic I respect) really goes overboard in trying to explain the usefulness of politics in the movies:

...serious questions about the assassination of John F. Kennedy were allowed to become front-page news the moment Oliver Stone decided to make a movie about them, and not a moment before.

This is insane.

For decades Americans had been openly questioning the facts behind JFK's death--well after it ceased being news, in fact. In truth, the Warren Commission did an honest and fairly successful job, essentially getting it right. (If it weren't for Jack Ruby's intervention, most of the mystery would have disappeared as the overwhelming evidence against Oswald was released in court.) There were many well-meaning but misinformed people (including a later Congressional investigation--so much for some official news blackout), and a large complement of crackpots (one of whom Oliver Stone decided to make a film about) who kept trying to claim something else happened, and they did an excellent job of fooling the American public.

But let's forget that lying crackpots essentially won the day. No matter what you believe, the idea that the whole thing was hidden from the public until Oliver Stone decided to make his delirious JFK (1991) is a crazy notion no matter how blinkered your worldview is.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Speaking of Tanks, This One Sounds Awesome

Scuba diving with tropical fish in the desert.

Still In The Tank

I was listening to NPR yesterday and one of the "analysts" congratulated Obama for saying the economy is probably going to get worse before it gets better. She said this is the kind of honesty we need to hear.

Come now. First, it's not like it's a secret that the worst is ahead--that's what we're trying to avoid. Second, Obama's statement required no bravery. Quite the opposite. It's a classic CYA move. It's a way to blame others for future problems while lowering expectations for future solutions.

Vaudeville's Not Dead

I watched as much of the Rosie O'Donnell variety show as I could. Maybe Rosie figures you can do stuff that looks off the cuff, but what may charm in daytime feels amateurish in prime time. For some reason, the lighting on the stage was quite dark. Magicians use darkness when they don't want you to see something, and I guess Rosie understood she had something to hide.

I'd love to see the return of variety to prime time. But the show, as expected, tanked--and not simply because it was no good. That would mean it tanks in the second week. Beyond its genre, I think the problem was Rosie herself, a divisive and unpopular figure among many. So I ask the networks not to give up, just try it differently.

Smile When You Say Liberty

Monday, October 31, 2005

Stephen Breyer, the soft-spoken Justice, has made some waves with his book Active Liberty: Interpreting The Constitution.

The work expounds on his judicial philosophy. It's at least in part a response to Antonin Scalia's book, A Matter Of Interpretation. Scalia believes judges should strictly interpret legal text, following the original meaning of the words. Legislative intent should not be used--if the legislators intended something, they should have written it down.

I find Scalia's approach both insufficient and extremely difficult to do properly. (I note it's extremely difficult because many act as if strict interpretation is a piece of cake. In fact, the one time I spoke to Scalia he agreed his approach was not meant to be easy.) But I'm here to write about Breyer's methods, which I also find faulty. What is the right approach? I don't know--I hope some day I will.

Breyer believes we should use a document's underlying values to aid in our understanding. I generally agree. There will always be ambiguities and we need something to help us interpret the language. But there is also danger in this approach. It's easy enough to get the words wrong--it's easier still to get the values behind them wrong. This approach invites extremely wide variation, allowing one to go so far as use words against themselves if you believe the people who wrote them would agree with your outcome (and as long as you're reading their minds, why wouldn't they?).

Specifically, Breyer believes in "active liberty." He believes those who created the Constitution had an underlying belief in promiting citizens' participation in government. At least Breyer has laid his cards on the table. There are two obvious problems here: one, he's wrong (or at least may be) and two, even if he's right, what to do with text that seems to go against him--ignore it? interpret it away? grudgingly accept it?

When I read the Constitution, especially the Framer's version, what I see is as much a fear of public participation as an embrace. The Founding Father's put in plenty of buffers to prevent "the people" from having too much say. Of the three branches of government, only one-half of one is chosen by direct voting. Now one may claim the Constitution has changed since then (and I believe the Constitution evolves, whether you like it or not, but that's a separate argument), but it sure seems like Breyer's already on shaky ground.

Worse, though, is Breyer's application of his theory. In practice, it seems to make him favor programs liberals like and disfavor programs conservatives like. (Scalia, many would claim, has this problem in reverse.)

Some note that Breyer, showing he believes in active participation in government, defers to legislators more often than most of the others Justices. This sort of "judicial restraint" can be a fairly meaningless stat. Because the present-day Court leans to the right, it's more likely to question laws the left likes, hence we'd expect Breyer to leave things alone--when laws the right likes come before him, he has no trouble striking them down.

Let's look at Breyer's opinions. Remember, he's trying to "promote democracy."

When it came to campaign finance reform, Breyer upheld the McCain-Feingold law that regulates a system that creates a lot of political speech. Some might have thought the "no law" clause in the First Amendment meant "no law," but this doesn't faze Breyer. He believes that reducing the influence of money (or at least trying to ) in our politics will help build public confidence in the system overall, thus encouraging democratic participation. It's not that Breyer's wrong about the effects of the law--though he is, he is--it's that this is the sort of social engineering considerations a legislator should make, later to be judged against the constrictions of the First Amendment.

Then there's affirmative action. Once again, Breyer has a "just so" tale to make it agree with his thesis. It turns out allowing affirmative action promotes the public's belief in institutions. There are two obvious problems with this. It doesn't, and if it did, so what?

But at least one could claim these two examples show a Justice willing to defer to legislators in tough cases. Let's see how he performs on laws that liberals traditionally don't like.

He disallows school vouchers on religious grounds, on the basis they might create disagreement among sects, against the unifying intentions of the First Amendment. Once again, he's carefully selected his view of both our history and the present-day situation, this time to strike down what many legislatures want. Then there's abortion, which Breyer backs all the way, even when the vast majority of the public would like to pass laws that don't make abortion illegal, but merely create certain limitations. Is there a single issue in the history of the United States where public participation has been more notoriously denied, and with such little textual justification?

I have serious questions about Breyer's approach, but perhaps someone should actually try it before I reject it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

He's Still Got It

Nobody was better at explaining the excesses of the 80s investment banking community than Michael Lewis, in his book Liar's Poker. He's now written an article that does a better job of summarizing the Wall Street collapse than anything else I've come across. Read it now and you'll get to be the smartest person at Thanksgiving dinner, when the subject turns to what's going on with the markets. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Plenty To Be Thankful For

McDonald's is dropping the double cheeseburger from its dollar menu, raising the price to $1.19. I don't go to McDonald's that often, but when I do, I usually order from the dollar menu, so this is serious. Luckily, they're replacing it with the "McDouble," which has one less slice of cheese. Since I always order it without cheese anyway, looks like I'm safe. For now.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Diversity In The University

Monday, November 28, 2005

David Horowitz has a point when he complains about the pall of orthodoxy at the present-day university. Too many departments have been taken over by people who think alike on controversial political issues. For example, if professors of Middle Eastern studies believe that western colonialism, American imperialism and Israeli militarism are the root of all problems in that area, and only teach that point of view, then their students are being cheated by this impoverished, even false view of the world.

However, Horowitz's proposed solution, an "Academic Bill of Rights," is a bad idea. Either it has teeth or not. If it doesn't, who cares? If it does, it could force professors to teach what they don't believe, which is bad for academic freedom (even if the profs hide behind this very freedom), and could lead to all sorts of useless complaints from too-easily aggrieved parties.

Nevertheless, when academics are actually asked to defend their positions to a greater public, as usual, they make a hash of it. A good example is the intellectual dishonesty seen in Russell Jacoby's LA Times commentary. Instead of taking on the student's bill of rights honestly, and admitting it tries to address a serious problem, Jacoby caricatures the situation. The only examples Jacoby gives are forcing professors to teach nonsense like astrology, intelligent design and Holocaust denial.

Jacoby, a history professor at UCLA, ends with the reminder "Truth itself is partisan." Glad to hear he believes that. But scary, if I were a student, that my history prof seems to think he's the one in full possession of it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday Moanin'

Heroes is a bit better than it's been, but a lot of it is a dead cat bounce.

The latest episode had everyone losing their powers during an eclipse (does that also mean they have no powers in a galaxy with a red sun?), which may not make too much sense, but at least offers something different, and requires the characters to use a bit of ingenuity.

On the other hand, the show continues to suffer from the disease of having characters do whatever fits at the moment, without regard to any past or future events. Daphne either loves or hates Parkman, and seemed to be mostly stuck in hate mode this week. Sylar and Elle looked like they were becoming good guys, but they were suddenly bad guys again. Nathan and Peter used to love each other, but started squabbling again. Arthur Petrelli, who seemed completely in control the past few weeks, suddenly had no idea what to do. Suresh continues to be unreadable. Noah figured he could teach Claire what would normally take months or years of training by having her swing a two-by-four for a couple hours. Tracy, the latest Ali Larter character, has turned, and seems ready to be killed, since she has another life left. Hiro is now 10 years old, and it's hard to tell the difference.

How do things look for the future? Well, showrunner Tim Kring has taken over again, but, if you're heard his latest statements, that may not be a good thing.

Speaking of Monday night sci fi TV, it looks like The Sarah Connor Chronicles isn't long for the world. Its second season's got half as many viewers as its first. Some of this is scheduling, but it's also about weak new characters, bad new plotlines, and dull stories.

I'll be sorry to see the show disappear. It's always had two things going for it--female leads Lena Headey and Summer Glau. Perhaps concentrating more on them would have worked better.

Irving Brecher

Irving Brecher has died. He was one of the last of the major Hollywood writers of the pre-WWII era. He's best remembered for co-writing Meet Me In St. Louis and creating the radio and TV series The Life Of Riley, but I know him as the man who wrote, unassisted, two Marx Brothers films.

Alas, this is not a good thing. The Marxes needed not just the best comedy writer, but teams of them. Thus, their earlier films had scribes such as George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Arthur Sheekman, S.J. Perelman, Al Boasberg and many others. After the Brothers left Paramount to work for MGM, and their protector Irving Thalberg died, however, they were shunted off to less money and less talented hands. Thus, when they made At The Circus and Go West, Edward Buzzell directed and newcomer Irving Brecher was the sole screenwriter.

I'm sure Brecher would have been fine if he'd been part of a team, but no one man should have been entirely responsible. As they are, At The Circus and Go West are perfectly enjoyable. It's only compared to the Brothers' earlier work that they fall down.

Here's one of the better scenes from Go West, but really it's only a partly successful attempt to recapture the spirit of better scenes, such as the Contract scene in A Night At The Opera and the Tutsi Frutsi scene in A Day At The Races. Originally Groucho was going to cheat Harpo and Chico, but that wasn't playing well, so the con was reversed.


Bit of a deus ex machina for the final episode this season of Entourage, but not entirely unexpected. They've spent the whole season bringing Vinnie down, they had to give us a moment.

Actually, the only thing I find hard to believe is Jamie-Lynn Sigler dating Turtle. The funny thing is her IMDb profile lists Sigler as playing "herself." So I guess she's really dating him, then.

Film Year In Review--2007

Monday, January 14, 2008

Welcome to my annual film roundup. You can read it straight through or browse. I end with my top ten, but what's the rush?

2007 was a decent year. Perhaps not as great as what some of the critics are claiming, but better than the average. (Admittedly, while I see a fair amount of film, no one's paying me to do it, so I see a lot less than professional critics do.)

As always, let me note I will only discuss 2007 theatrical feature films. Not shorts, not TV movies (nor TV shows--no Sopranos here), not re-releases, not classics on TCM. The films had to first be released in 2007 (or perhaps released in 2006 and made widely available in 2007).

Here's the order: 1) Awards, 2) Rankings and 3) The Top Ten

One more thing. Occasionally I'll see a film written by, directed by or starring a friend. In such cases, it's hard to judge it objectively and I usually leave it out. But let me put in a plug for a film a friend directed, The Man From Earth. With a sci-fi script by the famous (and no longer with us) writer Jerome Bixby, though it's a small in scale, it's got a lot of power. Available on DVD.


Man Of The Year: Second runner-up, Josh Brolin, who gave two breakout performances in two major films, No Country For Old Men and American Gangster. First runner up, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who acquitted himself well in three films, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, The Savages and Charlie Wilson's War. Winner: Michael Cera. I wouldn't have guessed his soft-spoken act in Arrested Development would lead to anything, yet here he is, starring in two of the year's biggest comedies, Superbad and Juno. I still wonder if he can go much further, but he'll always have 2007.

Biggest Disappointment: Runner up, Hot Fuzz. I loved Shaun Of The Dead, which mixed horror and comedy so well. This follow-up tried to mix action and comedy and served neither. Winner: The Heartbreak Kid. The remake had a few moments, but this reunion of the Farrelly Brothers and Ben Stiller, who made one of my favorites, There's Something About Mary, just didn't work. Must be something about lightning striking.

Buy The Premise, Buy The Movie: Knocked Up was one of the biggest hits of the year, and helped make Judd Apatow king of comedy, but I didn't buy it. That a beautiful, accomplished, successful woman like Katherine Heigl would be with, and then stay with, a loser like Seth Rogen prevented me from enjoying much of the film.

Knock Me Over With A Feather Award: Across the Universe. Did I really want to see a whole film of Beatles covers? (It's been done before, and I'm still shuddering.) Okay, the first half was better than the second, and they could have cut a half hour, but I was surprised to find I enjoyed a lot of it.

Mickey Mouse Award: Last year, Flushed Away. This year, Ratatouille. Must we continue to feature animated vermin?

As Good As Three Episodes Strung Together: The Simpsons Movie

Borat Award for Creepiest Film: The Great World Of Sound. It's about two guys who fronted a scam where they'd audition bands in their hotel room and offer to sign each one, IF the band would put up some earnest money to help make a recording. Fine, except the film's selling point is many of the acts were real and thought this was a real audition. Watching the scam operate (though I'm sure the bands signed waivers after and were probably happy for the exposure) made me cringe.

Pity The Poor Showrunner Award: Two films satirized the process of getting a series on the air, The TV Set and The Nines. (What, you didn't see them? You never heard of them?) It showed what a miserable process it is, though most people I know who try to work in TV wish they were failing at this level.

Best 1/6 Of A Movie Award: Cate Blanchett as Dylan in I'm Not There. (The worst 1/6 is Richard Gere).

Just What We Need, Another Arty Western Award: The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. This Brad Pitt film flopped everywhere. Brad Pitt films do not flop everywhere.

Crazy People Are Funny: Lars And The Real Girl, King Of California

High People Are Funny: Smiley Face, Weirdsville

Dead People Are Funny: Wristcutters, Death At A Funeral

Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time Award: Grindhouse. Two moves from two hot directors for the price of one. How could it fail? It did.

Best Shot Of The Year: Dunkirk in Atonement. Showy, sure, but impressive. It lasts for several minutes as we cover a lot of ground, with plenty of action and dialogue.

House Of Sand And Fog Award For The Most Miserable People Doing The Most Miserable Things Until It All Ends In Misery: Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.

Worst Trend: Anti-war films. Not the idea of anti-war films, but the ones I saw. Okay, you don't like the war in Iraq, we get it. But even if you want to get out this message (because it's so hard to hear otherwise), try to wrap it up in a decent story.

Most Pro-American Military Film: 28 Weeks Later, and I'm surprised no one caught this. In fact, most saw it as a metaphor for Iraq, but watch the film closely. Note that the Americans are incrediby efficient at dealing with a crisis, and their tough rules are absolutely necessary. The one time someone breaks the rules, even for what seems like a noble motive, the entire world is doomed.

Most Paranoid Film: Shooter, with politics straight out of the mid-70s. The world is run by conspiracy. Near the end I swear there's a scene where rich guys smoke cigars, laugh diabolically and then raise their brandies in a toast to Evil.

Most Annoying Score: A tie--There Will Be Blood and Atonement. Both took me out of the film.

Most Storied City: Vegas, where Lucky You, Next and Smokin' Aces are set. (Or was the last one in Lake Tahoe--oh well, same difference.)

Worst Sequel: As always, plenty to choose from, Shrek 3, Ocean's 13, Spider-Man 3, etc. Guess I'll go with Pirates Of The Caribbean 3, which had me longing for the brilliance of 2.

Worst First Film In What Will Be A Series: Wild Hogs

Film That Will Not Be Part Of A Series: The Golden Compass (though I hear it's doing well overseas).

Farce Is Hard To Pull Off Award: Death At A Funeral

Whimsy Is Hard To Pull Off Award: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Jerks On The Road: The Darjeeling Limited and Margot At The Wedding. Why should I care about these people?

Most Dramatic Story After The Credits: It's New Year's Eve and cops are out in force looking for drunk drivers. I was pulled over for a rolling stop. The officer asked if I'd been drinking. I said no, I just came from Santa Monica where I saw a movie (true, by the way). He wanted to check out my story so he asked what movie. Atonement, I said. He asked what was the movie about. I said it's about someone who makes a mistake and asks for forgiveness. He let me go.

Bad Acts: The three films on the most top ten lists are No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Zodiac. While my reactions varied, they all seemed to me to have serious story problems. ("But this is art, there are no rules.") I hear No Country follows the novel quite faithfully, but you just can't have 90 minutes of cat and mouse and not show the payoff. There Will Be Blood already had a strange enough story, but I'm not sure what the point of the final act is. And Zodiac, like the actual case, starts with some dramatic murders and then simply peters out.

Where's The Arc? Award: In Rocket Science, we start with a confused, troubled teen, and we end with a confused, troubled, teen. In Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, we start with Natalie Portman believing in the magic of the emporium, and the plot turns out to be about how Mr. Magorium has to teach her to believe in the magic of the emporium.

Double Dose Of Stephen King: 1408 and The Mist

Biggest Waste Of Talent: The Bucket List.

Smart And Dumb: Michael Clayton is a smartly done film, and I salute it, which is why I'm disappointed that it relies so much on cliches--the evil corporation, the hidden microphone, the holy fool who's gone crazy because he speaks the truth. The whole plot turns on a secret incriminating memo--the sort of plot device that was old-fashioned in the 1800s. Is it impossible to make a smart film without falling into these traps? The film wants to show us the moral gray areas, but when it comes to the big bad company, suddenly everything is in black and white.

They Looked The Same To Me Award: I actually enjoyed two major motion capture films, 300 and Beowulf, about the same, so why was the former a much bigger hit?

Most Tired Example Of A Tired Genre: American Gangster


Better than Expected: 300, Next, Blades Of Glory, Breach, Live Free Or Die Hard, Transformers (Very low expectations--what surprised me is I liked the humans--it was the Transformers that bored me), King Of California, Michael Clayton, Across The Universe, Weirdsville, Dan In Real Life, Wristcutters: A Love Story, Beowulf (in 3D)

Worse Than Expected: Zodiac, The Lookout, Hot Fuzz, 28 Weeks Later, Shrek 3, Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 (not easy to be lower than my expectations), Shooter, Rocket Science (though Anna Kendrick is fine once again as the bad girl), I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With (I hoped for so much more), The Heartbreak Kid, Rush Hour 3, Margot At The Wedding, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Darjeeling Limited (Wes is less), Hitman, The Great Debaters, The Kite Runner, The Bucket List

About What I Expected: Smokin’ Aces, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Last Mimzy, The TV Set, Grindhouse, Fracture, Lucky You, Waitress (liked the pies), Reign Over Me, Death At A Funeral, Knocked Up, 1408, The Bourne Ultimatum, Delirious, Harry Potter And The Order Of the Phoenix, Hairspray, 3:10 To Yuma, The Great World Of Sound, Lars And The Real Girl, Gone Baby Gone, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Smiley Face, The Mist, The Golden Compass, August Rush, I Am Legend, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, There Will Be Blood, National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, The Savages, Atonement

Better, Worse And About What I Expected: I'm Not There

I Don't Care What the Critics Say, It Was Boring: Once, La Vie En Rose

Fun: The Hoax (though unrelated to reality, I've been told), Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie, Eastern Promises (fun in that I enjoyed the movie--plenty violent, of course), Enchanted, The Band’s Visit, Charlie Wilson’s War

No Fun: Epic Movie, Norbit, Wild Hogs, Spider-Man 3, Ocean’s 13, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, American Gangster, Control (but then, the point of a film about Joy Division is it's no fun), Alvin And The Chipmunks


Bubbling under the top ten:

Helvetica: A bit dry, even for a film about a typeface, but it makes you take a second look at something you hardly took a first look at.

The Life Of Reilly: A fairly straightforward taping of Charles Nelson Reilly's autobiographical one-man show.

Into The Wild: I haven't read the book, and I don't know how insane this guy was (I'm guessing the film is more sympathetic to him), but an intriguing story well told, shot and acted.

No Country For Old Men: The critics' favorite, and it is pretty good. It just has that missing third act, not to mention Tommy Lee Jones, who never really fits into the story. This stuff may work in a novel, but movies have different rules.

In The Shadow Of The Moon: Best to see all the space footage on the big screen, but that's probably not possible any more.

The Top Ten in alphabetical order:

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly: AKA My Left Eye. "Inspirational" films usually leave me cold, but Julian Schnabel (who's now three for three) does a good job getting inside the head of a stroke victim (because that's where all the action is).

4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days: Tough to take, but then, so was life under Ceausescu, whether or not you wanted an abortion. Some powerful acting, and, considering the low budget, fairly accomplished filmmaking.

Juno: Delightful. Such a surprise smash that the backlash is already in full swing. Smart, with sweet yet realistic characters, and a plot that isn't telegraphed.

The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters: Boy did I love this one. Obsession in general fascinates me, but when it's about something as seemingly trivial (yet fun) as video games, it hits kill screen level. And this documentary had probably the greatest characters in any movie of 2007 (even if they were tweaked a bit for public consumption, as I've read).

The Lives Of Others: Okay, it won an Oscar for 2006, but wasn't released wide in the U.S. until 2007. Another great film about life under communism, this time East Germany. (In case you think I just like these films because of their politics, note I didn't much go for The Kite Runner, even though it has a worthy message).

The Nines: By writer John August, this came and went so fast most never heard of it, but it really got to me. Not unlike Go, the film that got August noticed, The Nines features three intertwining stories, but each is a different genre and told in a different style. It's somewhat surrealist--imagine a David Lynch film where everything is explained at the end.

Persepolis: Based on the graphic novel, it's one girl's journey from pre- and post-revolution Iran to Europe and back. Ratatouille (a good film) was more technically accomplished, but this simple, mostly black and white animated feature showed that story still counts the most.

Show Business: The Road To Broadway: Maybe not a brilliantly shot documentary, but the behind-the-scenes development of a handful of Broadway musicals (even when I knew how they'd turn out) was compelling. (At least to me, who finds the subject of great interest.)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street: I heard a lot of people got angry when they paid to see Johnny Depp's latest and he started singing. Some were also shocked by all the blood. Where have they been? Anyway, it's fine source material and director Tim Burton doesn't screw it up. (It wouldn't be the first time that happened to Sondheim). They cut a fair amount, even some good stuff, but it was necessary. (Though the already threadbare romance between the juvenile and the ingenue became gossamer). Also on the negative side, the mix of melodrama and high-flown music seemed more at odds onscreen than onstage, and I thought Depp played the character a bit too depressed (though it paid off in one of my favorite songs--"By The Sea"). My main fear was the two leads couldn't sing, but they could, well enough anyway, and as Sondheim has noted, he doesn't write opera, where it's all about the voices--he writes for character and plot.

Superbad: Probably the funniest film of the year. Comedies don't have to be R-rated, except when they do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Happy 88th, Ricardo.

A Case Of Mistaken Identity

Our local "oldies" station has switched to an all-Christmas-song format for the holiday season. Not being energetic enough to switch the presets in my car, I wind up hearing 3 seconds of Christmas music as I surf the presets. This morning, though, I heard the unmistakeable sound of Professor Longhair -- my very favorite pianist. Yes, I could name those hands in 12 notes, I was proud to realize. These thoughts that then ran through my head, in order, over the course of about 10 seconds:
"'Fess made a Christmas album?"
"How come I never heard it before? I'd totally buy that!"
"Is this a live show and he's drunk? His playing is just a tiny bit, umm, sloppy and forced."
"Hey, that's not 'Fess, that's someone trying to sound like him, but whose hands aren't quite fast enough."
"Harry fucking Connick, Jr. Dammit. Bah humbug."

Happy Holiday

I'm off to Virginia to be with family for Thanksgiving and this is just a quick note to wish everyone a Happy Turkey Day in my absence. If you're traveling, I hope your journey is a safe one. If not, I hope you can kick back and enjoy a nice, relaxing weekend with lots of food, friends and family.

Despite the constant news of doom and gloom, there is much to be thankful for:

Who's Who

Reader Lawrence King informed me of this important message from William Shatner:

All Those Layers

Good, lengthy article on the workings of The Onion in the Washington Post. But, this being the Post, I thought the piece harped a bit much on the politics of the humorous paper. While it's true most of The Onion staff are on the left, and it occasionally shows in their comic assumptions, what works about their stuff is it's better than politics. Not that it's entirely neutral so much as it generally avoids the easy caricatures you see on late night TV to go into more interesting areas (and area men and women).

The insistence on using a political slant for the feature made for a few odd bits here and there. For instance:

The Onion trod on multitudes of toes with its coverage of Obama's presidential run, with headlines such as "Black Guy Asks Nation For Change."

How does that tread on anyone's toes? Like so much of their Obama coverage, the man gets off scot free.

Then there's this:

[After 9/11] the paper went to press, with lead stories ranging from "Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell," a piece some criticized as unimaginative pandering, to more elegiac and moving contemplations of the tragedy.

Wow! Is that true? Countless pieces, year after year, making fun of Americans high and low, and one piece that actually mocks people trying to kill us is considered selling out? I had no idea.

Infinitely More Layers

In Hilton Als review of Sondheim's latest (long story short--book problems), we get this:

Although Sondheim began in a similar vein—think of the sentimental, sometimes weak lyrics that he provided for “West Side Story” (1957) and “Gypsy” (1959)—he quickly found his own voice, which was infinitely more layered, more urbane, more marginalized, and more dramaturgically brilliant than that of his predecessors.

"Infinitely more layered." You see this use of "infinitely" all the time now, and I'm tired of it. (I'm ignoring the shot at his early lyrics. Sondheim might regret not writing for character, being a bit purple and occasionally creating a real mouthful, but those songs still hold up.) What Als means, presumably, is considerably more, or even incomparably more. But when did it happen that people started using infinitely to mean a whole lot more?

Outwitted By Bush Again

I don't think I'm the first blogger to note this, but here's The New York Times in a recent political analysis, discussing Hillary Clinton:

[She] defend[ed] her decision to vote in favor of the 2002 resolution that Mr. Bush later considered an authorization to use military force against Saddam Hussein.

Poor Hillary, voting for a simple resolution only to have the President use it in ways she never could have foreseen. And what was the name of the Resolution? AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE AGAINST IRAQ RESOLUTION OF 2002.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Two of the big new NBC shows will soon debut, and you may need some help to tell them apart.

I'm referring to 30 Rock and Studio 60. They're both backstage looks at Saturday-Night-Live-type shows. Even the titles sound the same. (One takes place in New York, the other in Los Angeles, so they're completely different.)

30 Rock is a one-camera, no laughtrack, half-hour sitcom created by Tina Fey. It stars Fey as the headwriter of the live comedy Girlie Show, with Alec Baldwin as the network suit and Tracy Morgan as the unstable star. I thought Fey did a good job writing the film Mean Girls, and she's been the headwriter of SNL itself, but neither are sitcoms. It's a tricky form that's defeated greater talents. (Mel Tolkin, a great TV writer, once said it's just as hard to create a bad show as a good one.) I'm most looking forward to Baldwin, who's shown his comedy chops in recent years.

Critics are more interested in Studio 60, created by Aaron Sorkin. It's an hourlong behind-the-scenes-at-a-live-comedy-show drama, sort of a West Wing meets Saturday Night Live. I'm looking forward to it, but I see two major potential problems.

First, the two lead men are Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. Both are talented actors, but with similar comic styles. They may not play well against each other.

Second, Sorkin's best work (West Wing, A Few Good Men) feature a symbiotic relation between his lively dialogue and his melodramatic plots. Backstage at a comedy show isn't exactly life and death. Studio 60 sounds more like Sports Night.

(I have to add the anonymous comment we got: "Prediction: Sorkin's show will be picked up, Fey show will bomb immediately.")

Monday, November 24, 2008

I should hope so

One of the counts against Barry Bonds has been dismissed because its "duplicitous"

This Might Seem More Persuasive To Me Because I Despise Her

This analysis is precisely correct. Clinton will be high profile, does not represent "change" in the eyes of foreign states or public, and is a constant threat to put her own interests ahead of her President's. But then again, see my title.

Welcome to the Jungle

you know you are a lucky performer when you get the Chinese Government giving great publicity like this. I'm no fan but I may actually have to buy the CD now.

Also here let me put in a plug for The Accolade, an underground all-girl band in Saudi Arabia and give a big shout-out to the power of rock and roll to, if not actually undermine, then seriously annoy those in authority.

It's Like the Twelve Days of Christmas...

...only better!

Of course, the wives might prefer five days of foreplay, one day of sex and then a day at the spa instead. After all, even God rested on the seventh day.

If You Got 'Em

Our President-Elect is a smoker. Okay, he's quit (he says), but he still probably has the longing.

So let me recommend he smoke, and smoke freely, once in office. I know it's bad for your health, but so is the Presidency, according to before-and-after photos. I say start smoking, and don't feel embarrassed about it. Unlike, say, drinking, smoking doesn't dull your judgment--probably makes it sharper. After he's out of office he can go on nicotine patches. Until then, the last thing we need is a President on edge.

(Besides, we've got a Governor out here who smokes cigars and he's the healthiest man on earth.)

How Stimulating

A number of people are impressed by Barack Obama's economic advisor Austan Goolsbee, but watching him on TV recently, all I saw was the same demagoguery I hoped we'd be getting rid of. Listen to this selection:

And so the thing is, we’ve had a period, under this administration, where they resisted the idea of economic recovery. The approach has been, let’s, sort of, look the other way and things will get better.

We’ve tried not having a stimulus. We’ve tried not having a housing plan. We’ve tried not giving tax cuts to ordinary Americans. And it hasn’t worked. I mean, look out the window. That’s where it is. And so that’s -- kind of, that era of dithering is going to end. Starting January 20, Obama’s coming in. We’re out with the dithering. We’re in with a bang. That’s what it’s got to be

"They resisted the idea of economic recovery"? Too silly to refute.

But the part about we tried not having a stimulus? Let's leave aside Yoda-like questions of how you can try not to do things. All the Bush administration has tried to do for the past couple months is have a stimulus (and it wasn't their first). As for tax cuts, Bush gave them to everyone who paid taxes, with the biggest cut going to the lowest bracket.

I was hoping for a reasonable discussion from Goolsbee, but all I'm hearing is "no one really knows what to do, but we're going to give the appearance of doing an awful lot, and hope we catch a break--and while we plan to do almost exactly what Bush is doing, nevertheless, since the one thing we know that works is saying Bush is at fault, we're going to claim we're doing the opposite."

PS. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if the best plan is to look the other way until things get better.


I saw Slumdog Millionaire over the weekend. I highly recommend it, but one thing bothered me. A major part of the plot deals with the protagonist appearing on India's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (or, considering the exchange rate for the Rupee, Who Wants To Be Worth Half A Million Bucks). He tries to go all the way, yet the questions, for the most part, are too easy. I know this is fiction, but people have seen this show and know how tough the richer questions can be.

Postal Service

As you can see, faithful reader (and thanks for sticking around--I hope we haven't lost too many others), I've started to blog a bit more after taking it easy the last few weeks. However, I doubt I'll rise to the level I was at in the weeks leading up to the election.

I'm glad to see some of the other Guys stepped up while I was away, but I still think they can do more. It's not that hard to do a post every day or so. I think the problem that stands in their way is they still think you need an idea to put up something.

Who Runs The World Again?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sometimes when I talk politics with my more conspiratorial friends, they'll say "you don't think the government really runs things, do you?" "Who does, then?" "Corporations."

I'd laugh except they seem to be serious. Now I'll admit corporations have some power, and can do wrong with it, and should be prosecuted when they commit crimes. I'll even admit I'm extremely concerned when the free market gets deformed by government and big business being in cahoots, but that's because it is the government that runs things.

Anyway, for the people who believe corporations are behind everything, I ask them if they've ever tried to run one? It's not just a bunch of rich people sitting around in boardrooms smoking cigars and determining the shape of our lives. Quite the opposite. Corporations are run by people who work endlessly, worried about losing market share and, eventually, their jobs. If you ran a huge business and someone told you were in charge of the world, you'd manage a few bitter laughs before getting back to work.

I remember when I was a kid in Detroit, Chrysler, Ford and GM were three of the five biggest corporations in the country (perhaps the world). If these guys were in charge of everything, they certainly did a lousy job protecting themselves, since Chrysler has been bought by a foreign company while Ford and GM seem to be basket cases these days.

Meanwhile, what are some of the biggest companies today? Well, there's Microsoft and Google. They didn't even exist when I was a kid--who let them in? And I'm not just talking about new technologies. Today's #1 corporation is Wal-Mart. How could this happen in a world where Sears and K-Mart were running things?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Interesting Civics Quiz

I'm not sure all the questions really count strictly as civics, but I suppose they would all be useful to know for background. I got numbers 7 and 11 wrong.

Compare And Contrast

In golf, each competitor is responsible for calling penalties on himself, if he breaks the rules. In basketball, there are referees tasked with the job. If you expect very little, you are likely to get it.

The Third Amendment Suffers None Of These Flaws

George Will recaps the argument that Heller is just as dangerous as Roe in the sense that it puts the court in the position of "writing rules that are detailed, debatable, inescapably arbitrary and irreducibly political." After acknowledging almost in passing that the Second Amendment provides "a right the Constitution actually mentions," Will bemoans the fact that "the court must slog through an utterly predictable torrent of litigation, writing, piecemeal, a federal gun code concerning the newfound [sic] individual right." How does this meaningfully differ from any of the other explicit constitutional rights? E.g. is there something unique here about the piecemeal nature of the resulting caselaw that will differ substantively from distinctions between commercial and political speech, or the nuances of when to give Miranda warnings or issue no-knock warrants? The case and controversy requirement will always make this all somewhat arbitrary and piecemeal by nature at the margins of all constitutional rights, and there's nothing new or different about this one.

Gender Neutral

According to the GenderAnalyzer, this blog is "written by a man (59%) however it's quite gender neutral." Hmmm. That makes us more girly than both The Perfessor (64%) and his wife (60%). Now, there's nothing wrong with being "gender neutral", but the Teahouse came in at 89% male so it's not me.

Just sayin'.

Little Brown Jug Winners

I don't know how to respond to the Michigan football season. I guess I'm glad it's over, but that's not the point. I've torn out my hair before when they screwed up, or didn't play as well as they should, but this season they were nothing. They broke just about every team record for futility. They might as well have been Northwestern. The offense was completely useless and the defense wasn't much better. And special teams, where coaching really counts, didn't seem to know what they were doing.

Coach Rod may be rebuilding, but no one thought the team would collapse like this--it hasn't in 40 years (or ever, really), even during rebuilding seasons. He gets another year, I guess, to turn things around. Maybe another two years. But if he couldn't go .500 with decent players and a weak schedule, what should give us hope for the future?

Lovely To Look At

After getting a comment from reader Irene Done about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I rewatched Roberta (1935). It was the team's third film, and it showed what they could truly do. For the first time, the dances were filmed as Astaire wanted, with full-on shots and little cutting.

The duo didn't have to carry the plot either (which is kind of nice, as they're allowed to know each other from the start and have a lot of fun)--Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott do.

The duet below is one of my favorites. It's "I'll Be Hard To Handle"--sorry you don't get to hear Ginger sing it first. Astaire and Rogers' dances explored many different aspects of love, but my favorites are often the numbers where they just show the joy of being together, and the joy of being alive.

Whenever I watch this I think about how incredibly hard they must have worked to give the appearance of making it up as they go along.

Note once they start the duet, it's all done in one shot. I believe the sound was done live, so you can actually hear the two laughing as they dance.

Mayer May Not Be The Guy

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

There's a new biography of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman. While Mayer's often struck me as the most boring of the studio era Hollywood potentates, I'm sure there's still an interesting story behind his rise (and fall).

The trouble with Mayer is that so many other moguls, such as Darryl Zanuck or David O. Selznick or MGM's own Irving Thalberg, were storytellers first. But Mayer? I always got the impression (from what little I know) that while Mayer knew how to run a studio, and how to build up stars, his type of movie featured cheap sentiment and stultifyingly good taste.

The New York Times has a review by Manohla Dargis. She writes:

When Mayer died, the Hollywood he helped build -- the Hollywood of A Night at the Opera, The Wizard of Oz, Singin' in the Rain and The Shop Around the Corner -- died alongside him.

But that's the trouble--these films, while put out by MGM, were not really classic MGM product, but creations of idiosyncratic entertainers. For example, Mayer didn't like the Marx Brothers, and it was Irving Thalberg who brought them to MGM (and, alas, tamed them) to make A Night at The Opera; Singin' in the Rain, from the Freed unit, owed a lot to the vision of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; The Shop Around The Corner is an example of the exquisite talents of Ernst Lubitsch and Samson Raphaelson, who had developed elsewhere, and owed little to the MGM house style.

The MGM of Mayer is something else. At its best, it's a respectable adaptation of a semi-classic like Captains Courageous, filled with solid production value and a handful of MGM names such as Freddie Bartholomew, Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Lionel Barrymore and Melvyn Douglas. But mostly it's hundreds of little-remembered films, with glamorous stars, nice sets and costumes, and a story with the edges smoothed off. The epitome of what Mayer believed in, I'd say, are not those films Dargis lists, but the Andy Hardy series--crowd-pleasing in their day, but enjoyable now mostly in an old-fashioned sense.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I like reading old magazine articles since the people writing them have no perspective. They don't know what's going to come, what will be learned, how their subject will be viewed. So, reading them, you get a better idea of what people originally thought, without the gloss.

I recently watched a DVD of old Dick Cavett shows and saw someone I hadn't heard of--Adelle Davis. She was a major food guru in the early 70s. Checking up on her via the internet, I was a bit surprised to learn she was still controversial. Anyway, it was fun to hear nutritional folk wisdom back then.

A lot of what she said made sense--for example, avoid processed and refined foods. Perhaps it's just common sense. Some of what she said is still questionable--she favored large doses of Vitamin C. (According to some websites, she also favored large doses of other supplements like Vitamins A and D, which is definitely bad.)

Sometimes she just seemed wrong. She was against chemical fertilizers, but they've made food cheap and plentiful for a world that Adelle's contemporaries were predicting would see shortages. And with what we know now, Adelle's enthusiasm for getting rid of DDT may have been deadly.

Worst of all, she claimed all those chemicals would soon destroy our topsoil. I remember hearing about this as a kid and worrying. I have to ask, what happened to all the disaster that was predicted--all the vast areas of farmland that would no longer produce?

Then there's things she said which are the reason I love to hear old stuff. You realize some things never change. The latest generation is always out of control. Popular entertainment is always too dirty and violent. Everything is always at crisis level.

According to Adelle, because of the evil "food industry," people are eating worse than ever. Perhaps it was true then--perhaps now--so I guess we're lucky that life expectancy keeps going up anyway. You'd think people would be dropping dead on the streets.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oldies Versus Classic Rock

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A recent post about a rock station top 350 countdown had a reader wondering what's the distinction between oldies and classic rock.

The concept of oldies in the rock era obviously couldn't start until the music had been around a few years. Still, teenagers have a high turnover rate, and Little Caesar & The Romans had a hit with ''Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me Of You)" in 1961.

By the end of the 60s, oldies compilations were being released. Even amid all those extended jams, there was a revival of 50s music; remember, Sha Na Na played Woodstock. By the early 70s, there was a huge nostalgic movement for early rock and roll (helped along by American Graffiti) and radio stations adopted the "oldies" format. At the time, oldies essentially meant rock music up to around 1964, when The Beatles conquered the world (and, to some, the music changed for the worse). Meanwhile, "classic rock," as we'd call it today, was still being created.

As the 70s wore on, oldies stretched out a few more years--Beatles, Beach Boys and Motown were heard more often, for example. But at a certain point, "classic rock" started. The most convenient line of demarcation would be 1967, when The Beatles changed music yet again (for the worse, yet again, according to some oldies fans) with the Sergeant Pepper album.

By the late 70s, the "classic rock" format--The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin--became prevalent. These stations didn't play much music from before 1967, and almost nothing past the mid-70s. Certainly no disco or punk. Furthermore, the playlists of oldies and classic rock station had little in common.

However, as time moves on, eras start to run together in people's minds. (I've written about this before regarding movies--I keep hearing about the great screwball comedies of the 1940s). By 1990, it wasn't unusual to hear stations advertise music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s--which would have seemed like three very different eras 15 years earlier.

So it's true, there's been plenty of leakage. What wouldn't be played by an oldies station in 1975--"Imagine"--can make the top ten list of all time today. In fact, oldies, which use to be almost all 50s stuff, has less and less music from that period. (Kids who grew up listening to Elvis are now retirees.) And those who program "classic rock" allow more and more recent stuff as well--though you're still unlikely to hear any doo-wop.

"Oldies" and "classic rock" are still terms that have meaning, but I wouldn't be surprised if someday, the top ten of both include "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

ColumbusGuy adds: Nice post. This is the thing LAGuy does very well. Still, I find myself unable to stop thinking of Phil Spectre's angus.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Study Hard...

...or else you too may end up offering blow jobs for money behind the Git N Go.

No, seriously.

Here's the story. Oh, and be sure and read the comments. It's half the fun.

Night Lyin'

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Now that the writers are on strike, the people at ABC's post-Koppel Nightline are suggesting you might check them out, since they're not in repeats.

One of the hosts is Terry Moran. He wrote something earlier this year that might be the dumbest thing I've ever read, and highly offensive at that. In essence, he sneered at the Duke students who were accused of rape, saying they're low morally, and since they're privileged, will turn out fine, while the Rutgers women's basketball team had it much tougher.

If you recall, Don Imus, a DJ, following his usual (unfunny) MO called them "nappy-headed hos." It was a stray, stupid comment that no one in the world took seriously. For some reason, it got blown up into a national scandal (Imus regularly says stupid things that no one cares about) and Imus was fired. The Rutgers team, not known to most of the country before then, enjoyed a few days of non-stop lionization.

Meanwhile, the Duke students were falsely accused of a felony; persecuted by a crazed and powerful prosecutor aided by crooked health professionals and cops going along for the railroading; presumed guilty by the powerful on campus; had their faces spread all over the media while millions thought they were guilty; had serious jail time and ruined lives hanging over their heads for a year (even though there was never any serious evidence against them--in fact, there was overwhelming evidence for their innocence); had to pay over a million in legal fees; and could regularly read and hear lies about themselves in the media.

So no thanks. I don't see any reason to watch a show hosted by Terry Moran.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Trailers

This one gives me a bad feeling...

And this one makes me realize that it's not just my imagination...

The Greatest Time of Year?

In Vermont, it's still the first week, but still...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Loyal Lapdog Opposition

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, commenting on the phone call he received from the President-Elect:

“We just talked about the desire to find something meaningful to work on,” Graham said. “He was very nice to me, said that he considered me a serious, reform-minded senator that he could do business with.”

He was very nice to me? Excuse me, but I think I just threw up in my mouth.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Finally, something important. In the midst of so much pointless debate these days, here's one that counts--Star Wars On Trial. In this book, they discuss eight issues:

1. The Politics of Star Wars Are Anti-Democratic and Elitist.

2. While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs.

3. Star Wars Novels Are Poor Substitutes for Real Science Fiction and Are Driving Real SF off the Shelves.

4. Science Fiction Filmmaking Has Been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas.

5. Star Wars Has Dumbed Down the Perception of Science Fiction in the Popular Imagination.

6. Star Wars Pretends to Be Science Fiction, but Is Really Fantasy.

7. Women in Star Wars Are Portrayed as Fundamentally Weak.

8. The Plot Holes and Logical Gaps in Star Wars Make It Ill-Suited for an Intelligent Viewer.

My peremptory conclusions:

1. True. Lucas makes feints toward democracy, but his heart isn't in it. And while we're at it, the Federation is a military operation.

2. False. The Force can be used for good and bad, and the good side (ignoring Lucas's cheap shot at Bush in Star Wars III) is pretty easy to spot, and generally aligns with what we'd call religious virtues.

3. Haven't read the novels, though I assume they're not great SF. On the other hand, I doubt they're what's responsible for other SF not selling well--if anything, they've opened up the market.

4. False. First, there's a lot more SF because of Star Wars, good and bad. Second, there'd be a bunch of FX extravaganzas no matter what--Star Wars moved them in the direction of SF. Third, most of the "thoughtful" SF before Star Wars isn't that great.

5. False. Star Wars took an ill-respected cubbyhole packed with nerds and turned it into a popular universe packed with nerds.

6. False. The division between fantasy and SF has always been a bit overblown anyway, but as far as I'm concerned, it's got the hardware, and no elves, so that's good enough.

7. False. Women in Star Wars, like women at Star Wars conventions, are lonely, not weak. Sure, they tend to be damsels in distress, and the Jedi seem to be a patriarchy (Leia's alleged powers notwithstanding), but the women are still pretty tough.

8. False. Sure, there are plot holes, and a lot of Star Wars was jury-rigged. But when you're creating an entire new world, you're gonna have some parts that stick out.

I hope that settles things. But if not, please let me hear what you have to say.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Concrete Ideas

QG is of the opinion that Presidential candidates need concrete ideas to power their campaigns. This was Obama's two years ago:

“I don’t have much time to reflect on what’s happening — to ask the ‘why’ questions — and Barack doesn’t, either,” Axelrod said. But then, pacing the carpet, he thought back on what he called the original why question, what got all this started, back in December 2006. Barack, Michelle and eight others were in Axelrod’s office in downtown Chicago. If Barack was going to run, he had to decide quickly, a point the group made by laying out primary schedules and game plans for fund-raising and building an organization. Insights were offered from around the room.

It was Michelle, Axelrod remembers, who stopped the show. “You need to ask yourself, Why do you want to do this?” she said directly. “What are hoping to uniquely accomplish, Barack?”

Obama sat quietly for a moment, and everyone waited. “This I know: When I raise my hand and take that oath of office, I think the world will look at us differently,” he said. “And millions of kids across this country will look at themselves differently.”

Sounds like Hope and Change to me. Something tells me that in 2010 - should she decide to run - Sarah Palin will have an idea at least equally concrete.

The Discursive Joys of Internet Research.

While looking up information about Daphne du Maurier's historical novel "Mary Anne" (a novel about an ancestor of hers who was mistress to the Duke of York [the grand old one who marched 10,000 men up and down the hill and later George IV] in the the early 19th century), I was mistakenly linked on the authoress's Wikipedia page to Dawn Wells, who legendarily played "Mary Ann" on Gilligan's Island. Dawn had some recent run-ins with Idaho sheriffs over some marijuana issues (she has a cute-as-a-button mugshot) which she is disputing and also apparently turned 70 last month, in fact I learned that she is only a few weeks younger than my mother.

Somewhat similar to William Saletan's reaction in Slate concerning the recent occurrences of gentlemen whose mother in laws are carrying their children (as a proxy for a medically-impaired wife), I never want to hear the "Ginger or Mary Ann?" question again.

[ will add links later]


Happy Birthday, Peter Cook. He would have been 71 today. In a poll of British humorists a few years ago, he was voted best comedian. John Cleese once said "I always thought he was the best of us," and who am I to disagree?

The Nice Party

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

David Brooks eviscerates the latest book that says Democrats don't win elections because they're too smart and too nice.

The funniest part is the outrageous things the author, Drew Westen, thinks Al Gore should have said to Bush in the debates. This shows for all his take-no-prisoners approach, the author is naive, while Gore's a professional. Gore knew how to deal with negative information like DUIs. You don't confront the opponent in person, where he'll look sympathetic, and respond immediately with tales of personal redemption. No, you wait till the Thursday before the election and release the information through operatives, so the final press cycle is all about the issue, cutting to the heart of fears about Bush ("we don't really know this guy") and pushing four of the five million undecideds in your direction, turning all the polls around.

No matter how many time I hear the partisan claim that "we've got facts and logic on our side, so the only reason the other side gets any votes is because they appeal to fear and ignorance," I'm still shocked. I understand by definition you believe in your side, so there's a tendency to think the other is mistaken or fooled or evil (yes, Westen even states some Republicans are just unredeemably evil), but still, try to give them some credit.

What bothers me extra is the authors, such as Westen, who came from academia and try to coat their arguments with a scientific veneer. Sure, right wing talk radio makes the same claims, but everyone understands (even those who agree) that these guys are entertainers who talk for a living. But a professor who goes to the trouble of writing a book, claiming his thesis is backed by scientific rigor--well, how does such a fool get tenure?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Classic Comedy

(h/t David Thompson)

We're Back

Monday, April 09, 2007

Well, I'm back to blogging (though I still may miss a few days this week). I'm glad to see while I was gone the rest of the crew has filled in, though I'm surprised to find they don't work weekends.

Another guy who's back, after a much longer break, is Roger Ebert. He's fought off a serious illness and is writing again.

I've noted Roger's deficiencies in the past, but it's always out of love, and this post is no different.

In Awake In the Dark, a collection of "reviews, essays, and interviews," I ran across a mistake so bizarre I still can't believe I'm reading it right. It's in a piece on Tom Hanks, written around the time of Forrest Gump. Ebert looks back at Hanks' work and has this to say about Big (which still might be his best peformance)--sorry, before I look at the mistake, I gotta discuss the previous paragraph about Splash, which is so wrongheaded.

Ebert says he thinks Hanks, whom I thought delightful in Splash, was miscast. He believes co-star John Candy would have made a better lead. This would have turned a fine romantic comedy into a one-joke stunt. Alas, both Ebert and Siskel, in addition to reviewing films, would regularly give bad advice on how to make the movies better. (Guess we can't all write scripts as well-wrought as Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.) Ebert continues "[Hanks] is never at his best in movies where he's the one who has the answers." Around the time Ebert wrote this, Hanks decided the problem with his careeer was he didn't play enough parts where he was the one who has the answers. He changed course and has had one of the most succcessful film careers ever.

Anyway, back to the mind-boggling mistake, regarding Big. Take it away, Roger:

Look at [Hanks] instead in Big, where in the early scenes he plays a pint-sized adolescent. (If you think this is easy, see how Martin Short handled it in Clifford.) He is at just that age when all of the girls in his class shoot up into Amazons, while the boys remain short and squeaky-voiced. At an amusement park, he is in line next to the girl of his dreams, and hopes to sit next to her on a thrill ride, but the ride operator won't let him on board because he's too short. Hank's face is a study in tragedy here; he portrays his humiliation so completely that it sets up the rest of the film, as his thirteen-year-old mind is magically transported into a thirty-year-old body...

I'm still rubbing my eyes. Does Ebert (even thinking back a few years) truly believe Hanks played a thirteen-year-old in a thirteen-year-old body in Big? As clearly stated in the credits, and even more obvious on screen, it was another actor. David Moscow, if you want the name.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How Many Lies Would You Tell

In a post about the passage of Prop 8 in California and how both sides attempted to use Barack Obama to champion their message, Ann Althouse makes the following statement:

...he himself is an opponent of same-sex marriage... except to the extent that he isn't, and I certainly think in his heart he's not, but that in his head he knew he had to say he was to get elected. I don't blame him for this dishonesty. I think it's like the dishonesty of professing a belief in God if you don't have it. You're not going to get elected without that dishonesty, so we can just forget about all the good people who don't lie about such things. They're not going to make it to the presidency. Not in the near future anyway...

Leaving aside her ability to know what's inside Obama's heart for the moment, I'm somewhat flabbergasted at her comfort level with dishonesty in a Presidential candidate. If I felt as she did - that he's really not an opponent of gay marriage despite what he's said - my reaction wouldn't be "well, that's okay, he just had to say that to get elected". My reaction would be: what else is he lying about?

Now I understand that politicians will often say just about anything to get elected and that it's hard to wade through the bullshit without a shovel and a good pair of hip boots, but isn't there supposed to be a point where the artifice falls away and we finally get a glimpse of the real candidate, warts and all? Or is it all about seeing what we want to see?

Maybe the problem is me. Maybe I'm just naive enough to expect my President to be straight with me. Maybe somewhere along the way I was taught to expect more from my President than what he had to say to get elected. Does anyone have any doubt about how George W. Bush or Sarah Palin feel about gay marriage? Or for that matter, about anything? Ask them a question and you'll get an answer. You may not like or agree with the answer but you won't doubt its sincerity. Maybe that's why I respond to them and not Obama.

The irony here is that I'm not, despite what anyone might think, a social conservative. I have no problem with gay marriage and it wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest if Prop 8 had failed. Obama, if he believes in gay marriage - which, at this point, is still just a supposition on Ann's part - would actually gain some props with me. But I don't know what Obama believes. About this and a great many other things. And in my head I understand that he - and Ann - might feel that this was just one of those things he has to say to get elected.

But in my heart I can't forget about all the good people who don't lie about such things. And I do blame him for his dishonesty.

It's official--your race determines who you are

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Years ago, Bill Clinton said he wanted a cabinet that looked like America. Rather than condemn him for not picking the best people available regardless of race or sex, many Americans seemed to think this was a good idea.

More recently, when asked to defend his racial policies, President Bush pointed to high-ranking African-Americans in his cabinet, as if this meant anything. (By the way, I don't mind people saying "some of my best friends are..." to defend against personal accusations--why this line is considered so ugly any longer is beyond me.)

Recently, I was reading a Washington Post article about Ralph Nader demanding a recount in New Hampshire (good luck, buddy). Beneath it was a piece called "A More Representative Hill." Since there are more African-Americans, Latinos and women in the 109th Congress, and their percentage is closer to what it is in the general population, this means, for some reason that escapes me, that this Congress is "more representative."

I would think, as long as people are free to vote, that Congress is always pretty representative. Apparently, though, it's now common wisdom--not even worth discussing--that having the right skin color or sexual organs makes you better at representing certain people. One of the great ironies of the civil rights movement is it's devolved into such essentialism. Luckily, other groups that were discriminated against (Jews, Irish, Italians, Catholics, etc.) solved their problems before the modern civil rights establishment was able to legally separate them from everyone else.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Now this just appears to be a waste of time- people creating scenes using actual cardboard album covers. But I have to admit, its fascinating, I clicked through all 18 slides- This Year's Model was my favorite.

(Warning- each slide comes with its own Netflix or some such pop-up ad)

The Best Song Not By...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Driving around town today, I heard "The Boys Are Back In Town" by Thin Lizzy. Not much of a chorus but a great verse. Anyway, I remember how some people thought it was a Springsteen song when it came out. To be honest, though I like Bruce, I'd probably rather blast this song in my car.

I wondered how many songs are thought to be by one artist but aren't. Here are a few that came to mind:

Above all, Fontella Bass doing "Rescue Me." To this day I hear people say it's Aretha Franklin.

Then there's "A Horse With No Name" by America, which sounds like bad Neil Young. (Sometimes Neil Young sounds like bad Neil Young.)

Back in 1966, "Lies" by the Knickberbockers sounded like The Beatles.

Everyone knew "Uptown Girl" wasn't by the Four Seasons because they weren't recording anymore when Billy Joel put it out. I think it's my favorite Billy Joel song because I prefer the Four Seasons, and this is the best Four Seasons song not by the Four Seasons.

Columbus Guy says: I dated a girl who hosted a college radio program, "not by the original artist." stuff like "Here, There and Everywhere" by Claudine Longet, Springsteen covering "Blinded by the Light," etc.

LAGuy notes: What that girl did is not quite the same thing as what I'm talking about here, of course.

By the way, Springsteen didn't cover "Blinded By The Light," he wrote it. I think the reason Manfred Mann had such a big hit with the tune is everyone thought they were singing about douche.

Columbus Guy says: Well, needless to say, the relationship did not proceed apace. (And BTWBAY, my guess is, if people generally didn't hear Springsteen as saying douche, it's because the Boss didn't speak clearly.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Next You'll Be Telling Me Pro Wrestling Is Fake

Read the whole thing to get a former producer's full take on right-wing-talk-radio where he used to work, but here's a few highlights:

To succeed, a talk show host must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims, and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners....

Hint: The more talk show hosts squawk about something – the louder their voice, the greater their emotion, the more effusive their arguments – the more they’re worried about the issue. For example, talk show hosts eagerly participated in the 2004 Swift Boating of John Kerry because they really feared he was going to win. This is a common talk show tactic: If you lack compelling arguments in favor of your candidate or point of view, attack the other side. These attacks often rely on two key rhetorical devices, which I call You Know What Would Happen If and The Preemptive Strike.

Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say, “You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the ‘liberal media.’ ” This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that “liberals” are the enemy.

The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the U.S. Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the “mainstream media” was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered....

But the key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons.


Drawing the Line

It's safe to say that we live in uncertain times. Take the financial bailout (take my bailout, please!), for example. Not only do we not know where the money is going, we now have companies that actually made a profit last quarter lining up at the trough. And now comes word that Barney Frank, the working man's friend from Massachusetts, will introduce legislation next week to change the terms of the bailout in order to allow the big 2.5 (no longer the big three) American automakers to stick their snouts in.

At this point, it's hard to imagine where this will all end. Or how, except badly.

Still, all of this is theoretical - like most of the President-Elect's policies - until it hits home. Last winter, it was a shortage of salt, now it's winter tires. Next thing you know, some damn fool will tax the shit out of the energy companies and make it impossible to stay warm. Well, enough is enough. It's hunkering down time. Everyone has to draw the line somewhere and here's mine:

You can have my snow tires when you pry them from the cold, rusted rims of my '93 Toyota Pickup. Lock and Load!

Would You Make This Movie?

At EW, Bruce Campbell pitches a movie:

If the crowd of film geeks chortled throughout Campbell's movie, they were rolling during his live wisecracking. At one point he encouraged the crowd to shout out which of his movies they most hated. "Man With a Screaming Brain!" hollered one fan. "Army of Darkness!" shouted another. "Spider-Man 2!" suggested more than a few people. "All right, you think you're all so smart?" said Campbell. Then he challenged them to play studio exec as he pitched one of his past projects. "I'm Frank Marshall," he began. "I've produced all of Steven Spielberg's movies. Interested? Okay, I've got a book written by Michael Crichton. I'm going to get John Patrick Shanley, the Academy Award-winning writer of Moonstruck, to adapt it. It'll be shot by Allen Daviau, who did E.T. Will you make this movie? Well, congratulations! You just made Congo."

Film Year In review--2005

Monday, January 30, 2006

Overall, 2005 wasn’t that bad. (Compare to last year.) Probably because the midrange Hollywood offering were less painful than usual. Maybe because there were fewer sequels. Maybe because I missed most of the worst stuff*.

On the downside, the best stuff seemed weaker than usual. I don’t think there’s a single film on my top ten list that I don’t have some significant reservation about. That’s never happened before.

Before I start, a few ground rules. No shorts or made-for-TV movies or mini-series. While this is for films released in 2005, I include films released earlier overseas, or knocking around for a while at festivals, if they were only available theatrically to me in 2005.

My Top Ten list is near the bottom. You could skip down now, but don’t you prefer the suspense?


WORST PLOT TWIST: Bewitched—essentially a compendium of bad plot twists—is about a remake of the Bewitched sitcom where, unknowingly, they hire a real witch to play Samantha. (See?) Shirley MacLaine is Iris, the actress hired to play Endora. Now there is no reason to suspect Iris is a witch—there are even jokes premised on her not being a witch. But for some reason known only to director-writer Nora Ephron, halfway through the film, it turns out Iris is a witch, too. This is where I went from being bored to bothered and bewildered. (It actually gets worse, but you’ll have to rent the film to find out how.)

BEST TREND: The return of the R-rated comedy.

WORST TREND: The continuing disappearance of the theatrical audience. Movies are still best when experienced with others.

BIGGEST FAKE TREND: Political films are back.

IF YOU THOUGHT HEATH LEDGER MUMBLED IN BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN:He’s almost incomprehensible as the surfer dude in Lords Of Dogtown. Of course, that does match the plot.

AS THE PLOT CHURNS: Kill The Bastards Already—In Capote, I got as tired as the title character waiting for the killers to die. Marry The Bitch Already—As much as I enjoyed the acting and the music, I found the endless years of footsie between John and June exasperating in Walk The Line. (By the way, I know both films are based on real life. That should be an excuse for a boring plot?)


WORST TITLE: By far and away, Cinderella Man. As if the film didn't have enough trouble (see below, THE AUDIENCE GOT IT RIGHT), the title suggested this was less about boxing and more about Brokeback Mountain. Bonus points for the worst tagline: "When America was on its knees, he brought us to our feet." Still sounds fishy.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM SYRIANA: Big oil calls the shots in our foreign policy (I thought it was the pharmaceuticals). The U.S. Government can kill anyone in the world it wants to, at any time. Poverty causes terrorism (which explains all the terror in South America and Africa). If we’d just leave the Middle East alone, it would become an oasis of democracy and human rights. Best of all, Milton Friedman supports corruption.

PLOT HOLE YOU CAN FLY A 747 THROUGH: (SPOILER) The plot of Flightplan requires some of a jet’s crew kidnap Jodie Foster’s daughter while Jodie sleeps. For some reason, they don’t explain how the hundreds of passengers still awake don’t notice it. Honorable mention: War Of The Worlds. Tom Cruise and his family race around like maniacs through the film, though I could never quite figure why they thought where they were going was any safer than where they were.

WORST SEQUEL OR REMAKE: Ring Two. It’s easy to win this award. Simply throw out everything that was interesting about the original and replace it with nonsense. Honorable Mention: George Romero’s Land Of The Dead. It’s become a case of beating a dead zombie. Dishonorable Mention: The Longest Yard. Nuff Said.

BEST SEQUEL OR REMAKE: Almost by default, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (sequel) and King Kong (remake).

MOST UNNECESSARY SEQUEL OR REMAKE: Tie: I didn’t mind Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, but the original Willy Wonka movie is still available and works just fine. Worse, the new Bad News Bears took a classic and turned it into nothing. Honorable mention: It made a fine radio series, book series and TV series, so I’m not sure if we needed a film of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.


FORBIDDEN FRUIT: I can’t read Brokeback Mountain as a gay film. It’s about infatuation, and a dream deferred. The relationship between Ennis and Jack has NO problem except they can’t get together enough. One assumes if they could finally escape from their harridan wives and live as they choose, after about three months of fishing and hunting and groping, some of the excitement would wear off.Still, the film was well shot and acted. Ang Lee is back in his element, making films about (relatively) contemporary people without superpowers. My favorite relationship was actually between Ennis and his daughter.

THE WOODY QUESTION ANSWERED: For years I’ve wondered would I think Woody Allen’s "serious" films are so bad if I didn’t know he made them. Match Point answers the question in the affirmative. Woody, forced out of his element, makes a movie that allows one to forget it’s his.The London settings are very nice, but what you’ve essentially got is a generic film. Very basic characters play out a story that feels more like an outline. There’s a nice twist at the end, but it’s not worth waiting two hours for. As for a message, alas, Woody still thinks showing real life doesn’t work out like the movies is deep.

DETROIT (MY HOMETOWN) IS AN ANGRY AND VIOLENT PLACE: The Upside Of Anger, Assault On Precinct 13 (which also shows us there’s a major forest somewhere downtown), Four Brothers. Of course, we already knew all this from 8 Mile.

IT’S THE MESSAGE, NOT THE MEDIUM: Pixar makes it look easy, but Madgascar, Robots and other movies reminds you that story is more important than quality of computer animation.

BEST OPENING SHOT: Cache starts with a dull establishing shot of an average street in Paris. It’s held throughout the credits, and then longer. Too long. Eventually, we realize we’re watching an anonymous videotape that has been delivered to the family that lives in the house in the shot. Suddenly, the most prosaic things seem ominous.

WORST CLOSING SHOT: Munich ends with a shot of the World Trade Center. It takes a lot of fancy explaining to interpret this as anything but dumb and forced.

THE AUDIENCE GOT IT RIGHT: Cinderella Man got great reviews, but really, while it was well done, it was a story we’ve seen before. A lot. The audience didn’t hate it, but they didn’t make it the major hit it was expected to be. King Kong was a hit, but not the super-blockbuster so many predicted. Once again, the audience recognized they’d seen this story before—in fact, if they had a good memory, they’d seen it done better and faster.

GOOD LUCK WITH ALL THAT: I was jazzed to see Good Night And Good Luck. I figured a taut, black and white Playhouse 90-type piece beating up on McCarthy would be fun. What’s more, Clooney has shown talent as a director. Instead, dullsville. Not only didn’t it move, it wasn’t relatable. For instance, when Robert Downey is talking about signing a loyalty oath, you don’t feel this is something rational (or otherwise rational) people could take seriously, like say, drug tests or sexual harassment classes today. Instead, it just seemed like an absurd artifact from a bygone era.Nevertheless, showing a time that’s so different did afford a few valuable lessons. It used to be that a handful of self-important middle-aged white guys sitting in their offices got to decide what the news would be. It’s not quite so easy for them to set the agenda these days. Also, really going after a politician used to be a big deal, but now it’s done so commonly, almost reflexively, that, if anything, it’s being overdone.




I DON’T CARE WHAT THE CRITICS SAY, I LIKED IT: The Producers, Mr. And Mrs. Smith (barely), Sahara



TOO CLEVER BY HALF: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Syriana (a simplistic story told in a complex way)

SEEN IT BEFORE: All the sequels and remakes mentioned above, plus Cinderella Man, Coach Carter, Fun With Dick And Jane (actually better than the original), Assault On Precinct 13, The Honeymooners (ugh!), War Of The Worlds, Bewitched, Saw II. Special mention to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith, by far the best of the first trilogy.

BAD HISTORY: Kingdom of Heaven


MORE FUN TO QUOTE THAN WATCH: Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic

NOT TOO SHABBY: Hitch, The Matador, Sky High, Batman Begins, Transamerica, Cache

NOT AS BAD AS I FEARED: The Island, Red Eye, Four Brothers, The Skeleton Key, Flightplan, Serenity, The Pacifier

PRETTY MUCH WHAT I EXPECTED: Bride And Prejudice, The Upside Of Anger, Hostage, The Aristocrats, Broken Flowers (Jarmusch often makes my top ten), In The Realm Of The Unreal, Capote, The Corpse Bride, Brokeback Mountain, Walk The Line

DISAPPOINTING: In Good Company, The Jacket, Sin City, Fever Pitch, Melinda And Melinda, Kung Fu Hustle (I love HK, but Stephen Chow has never done it for me), The Interpreter, Madagascar, Kicking And Screaming, Unleashed, Hustle & Flow, Just Like Heaven, Zathura, The Ice Harvest, Elektra, 2046 (ouch), Match Point, Munich, Good Night And Good Luck


Might have made it on a different day:

JUNEBUG: A quiet, sweet film. Amy Adams is getting all the attention for her showy supporting role, and she deserves it, but I remember better Embeth Davidtz as a dealer in outsider art, who’s an outsider herself when she’s with her new family in North Carolina.

GRIZZLY MAN: I don’t think I even liked it when I walked out, but it’s stuck with me. This collection of new and archival footage, put together by Werner Herzog, is the story of a jerk who gets himself killed. But he’s a fascinating jerk.

LAYER CAKE: Another complex, character-filled British caper film. As long as they’re entertaining, I’ll keep watching. I hope Daniel Craig’s Bond films will be as good.

ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW: A pretty cool work from Miranda July. Check it out and decide for yourself.

THE NOMI SONG: Ever since I saw the bizarre but talented Klaus Nomi steal Urgh! A Music War (1981), I’ve wanted to know more about him. The only other thing I knew was he was the first celebrity I’d heard of to die from AIDS. Well, this documentary scratched a 20-year-old itch. It’s a slight but well-done bio of Nomi, plus a picture of a creative era in New York City. Who would have guessed Nomi was an expert pastry chef? Best of all, his fans thought that striking performance in Urgh! was a sell-out.


CRASH: Not especially deep or realistic, but fun in its own way. In all my life as an effete white liberal, I’ve never heard people talk like this, but the slick dialogue and a lively story move it along. The biggest mistake was Matt Dillon saving Thandie Newton—it broke the streak of accidental meetings and seemed forced and didactic.

DOWNFALL: I always knew Hitler ended up in a bunker, I just didn’t know it was so busy. In some ways depressing and ugly (how could it not be), but really makes you feel you’re there. Even as he realized he was going down, he was still proudest of the most hateful, racist things he did.

THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN: No story here, and a lot of down time. Really it’s just a collection of sketches. But when it hits, it’s funny, which I’ll take over a dull film that follows Syd Fields any day.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: I’m not the biggest fan of Cronenberg, but I think he’s better here forced to keep things in the real world. It’s a pretty good concept, even if the story gets a bit silly as it goes along, especially in an almost farcical ending with William Hurt (which is off-point, if fun).

HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE: After Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, I expect classics from Miyazaki. Okay, Howl’s doesn’t reach those levels, but even decent Miyazaki is head and shoulders above everyone else.

THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS: This was such a big hit, there was a backlash. Hey, it’s beautifully shot and tells a great story. What more do you want? (And apparently it’s better in English than French.)

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE: Noah Baumbach films have never done much for me, but this one definitely cuts deeper. Perhaps because it’s based on his family (and I have to wonder how they feel about it). All the performances are good, but an especially memorable turn from Jeff Daniels, as a man who wants to feel superior to the world but has the world constantly reminding him how things really are. If the film has a problem, it doesn’t so much end as stop. (Also, I don’t buy no one recognizes the Pink Floyd tune.) I give it Daniels’ character’s highest accolade: dense.

WALLACE & GROMIT AND THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT: The delightful Wallace & Gromit are back. There’s one obvious problem—they’re best in short doses. A feature stretches them almost to the breaking point, but there’s still enough fun to recommend them.

WEDDING CRASHERS: Funniest movie of the year, and comes with an actual plot. Good first act, great second act. Admittedly, the third act goes on a bit long, but it rallies.

THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL: A lot more cheaply made than the penguin film, but it’s still the story that counts. The film is able to make characters of separate birds, and has a lead human who’s pretty memorable himself.

*These are among the more notable films of 2005 I didn’t see. I’d guess at least a few of them would have made my top ten: Chronicles Of Narnia, Fantastic Four, Chicken Little, Monster-In-Law, Are We There Yet?, The Dukes Of Hazzard, Cheaper By The Dozen 2, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, Guess Who, Herbie: Fully Loaded, The Amityville Horror, Yours Mine And Ours, Memoirs Of A Geisha, Hide And Seek, Diary Of A Mad Black Woman, Racing Stripes, Just Like Heaven, Boogeyman, The Legend Of Zorro, Must Love Dogs, Transporter 2, Rumor Has It, The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl in 3D, The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, Beauty Shop, Derailed, Hostage, The Ringer, Dreamer, Because Of Winn-Dixie, Just Friends, House Of Wax, Get Rich Or Die Tryin', The Fog, Hoodwinker, Rent, Doom, XXX: State Of The Union, Elizabethtown, Aeon Flux, Dark Water, Ice Princess, Two For The Money, Prime, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, A Lot Like Love, Man Of The House, Valiant, Cursed, Into The Blue, North Country, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Son Of The Mask, Rebound, The Perfect Man, Waiting..., The Gospel, The Greatest Game Ever Played, The Cave, Casanova, In The Mix, Domino, The Great Raid, Cry Wolf, An Unfinished Life, The Man, Mad Hot Ballroom, Ladies In Lavender, Kings and Queen, The World, Tropical Malady, The Holy Girl, Last Days, Cafe Lumiere, Nobody Knows, The Intruder, Head-On, Mysterious Skin, My Summer Of Love, Saraband, The Power Of Nightmares, Paradise Now, Pulse, Keane, Memories Of Murder, Darwin's Nightmare, Good Morning Night, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, The Best Of Youth, The Century Of The Self, Look At Me, Breakfast On Pluto, Innocence, Turtles Can Fly, Palindromes, Pride & Prejudice, Tony Takitani, The White Diamond, The Devil's Rejects, The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, 3-Iron, The Time We Killed, Funny Ha Ha, My Mother's Smile, A Tout De Suite, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Forty Shades Of Blue, Whisky, Wolf Creek, Mondovino, Yes, The Weeping Meadow, Gunner Palace, Chain, Land Of Plenty, Machuca, Shopgirl, Three Dancing Slaves, Oliver Twist, Dallas 362, Occupation Dreamland, The Oil Factor, Murderball, Dolls, Garcon Stupide, Heights, The Ballad Of Jack And Rose, The Far Side Of The Moon, Happy Here And Now, The Joy Of Life, Nine Lives, The President's Last Bang, Rize, The Dying Gaul, Proof, Travellers And Magicians, The Brothers Grimm, The Memory Of A Killer, Separate Lies, The Syrian Bride, Lord Of War, The Weather Man, Where The Truth Lies, The Baxter, Loggerheads, The Ninth Day, A Talking Picture, Tell Them Who You Are, Throw Down, The White Countess, Cronicas, Exorcist Prequel (either version), Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, Perfect Crime, The Prize Winner Of Defiance Ohio, She's One Of Us, The World's Fastest Indian,New York Doll, The 3 Rooms Of Melancholia, Another Road Home, Boys Of Baraka, In Satmar Custody, Terror, Rize, Wall, The Untold Story Of Emmett Louis.

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