Thursday, December 22, 2005

Yes, Your Evening News is Slanted. You Don't Want to Inconvenience Journalists, They Will Own You -- Lazy Trumps Balance Everytime. Read on.

A couple interesting items from today. 1) I was watching the CBS Evening News tonight and was a little taken aback by an obviously slanted news story. Now, any right-wing conservative will tell you that the network newscasts are hives of liberalism and that journalists use their positions to promote their overarching socialist agenda. Just ask one. Tonight, the lead story was about the NYC Transit strike that's made commuting impossible for lots of New Yorkers. This strike has gotten huge coverage all over the media map. Guess how much coverage it would have gotten if this strike had happened in Los Angeles? In Boston? In D.C.? Yeah, not too much. The media's made this out to be the major story of the week and the reason is because all these newspeople WORK in the city and have to COMMUTE into it. Because they are inconvenienced by the strike, it immediately becomes national news. But what's worse, and the reason I'm bothering to talk about this, is the slant the national media's using to cover the strike.

I was helping my folks pack some books this morning and I was listening to Air America, the liberal radio network. A woman from New York called in and immediately informed the host that she had no affiliation with any union, which of course made me think she was probably the Transit Union's PR person. Anyway, she was complaining about the coverage of the strike -- she said it was one-sided and the TV journos were only showing people who were against the strike on the news. I wrote the caller's worries off thinking of course some union flunkie isn't happy with the news coverage of a strike -- she probably wouldn't have been happy unless every citizen of New York staged a sit-in at their places of work in a show of solidarity with the Transit Union. Sense of contentment restored. I packed books blissfully; all was right in the world.

Then I watched the CBS Evening News. The report was heavily skewed towards an anti-strike bias. They showed five of the "man on the street" interviews they conducted that day, and each person interviewed expressed their discontent with the strike and wanted them to get back to work. 5 out of 5. The story they covered was not WHY the transit workers were striking (they didn't even mention it), but rather how it was killing the city during the holiday season. Restaurants empty -- stores with items unbought. The subtext was, "How dare these bastards do this to us?!" Does CBS really expect me to believe that not a single person they talked to in the city of New York expressed any support for the striking workers? In one of the most liberal cities in the country, they couldn't find one union-sympathizer in the whole city? Ridiculous. The news people are pissed about the inconvenience so they're going to do their part to end the inconvenience and restore their usual routine, nevermind what those striking workers were blathering about, walking off the job and all of that. I felt ill-served by my national media tonight, but I guess by now I should be used to that.

2) The other item I wanted to mention, more briefly, is more awesome news about Wal-Mart. They got hit with another stiff jury verdict, this time for $172 million dollars. They're required to pay this fine as back-pay for denying Wal-Mart employees in Alameda County, CA their state-mandated 1/2 hour unpaid lunch after six hours of work. Of course Wal-Mart is appealing the decision -- they've got lawyers and they know how to use them. In the article Wal-Mart's defense boils down to the fact that the employees didn't request their penalty wages (they're supposed to get a full hour's pay for every missed lunch) in timely fashion, and THAT's why they didn't get their money. It's not Wal-Mart's fault, you see. It's the employees' fault. Can you get more crass than this? So when people go to Wal-Mart to get that low low price, this is the sort of thing they're subsidizing.

Anyway. I write all of that just to get you all in the holiday spirit. Well, I'm taking tomorrow off from el bloggo (I know, I know -- I think I deserve a break from my demanding schedule, too. Thank you for your sympathy), and I will blog again sometime after Christmas. I may take the 26th to the 2nd of January off as well, but then again, I might not. I still have some movie reviews to post up, and I know you all are dying for those.

In any case, thanks everyone for reading this dumb thing I've been typing away at since the end of August. I'm still up on the whole blogging thing and I'm glad I haven't lost all of you along the way. I'm curious to see how much longer I can keep at this thing before I wise up and do something productive with my time. Maybe never. Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Has Mel Lost his Mind? It Would Appear So From This Freeze Frame. But Not In A Bad Way

Ok, this is hilarious. If you frequent, than you've probably already seen this: the teaser for Mel Gibson's new movie Apocalypto went up today and it doesn't make much sense. My guess is that it will eventually, but that it sure doesn't now. Just a bunch of so-so images that are supposed to get me tweaked to see the movie, but, sadly, don't. For my money the teaser's not that good -- there's a Lord of the Rings-wannabe shot at the end that's designed to put it over the top and make people want to see it, but it just looks weak and, to my eye, poorly imagined. But we'll see. Anyway, the funny thing is this: Mel Gibson puts in a single frame of himself into the trailer. And not Mel in Mayan (or Aztec, I dunno) costume, just him hanging out in his grungy director's togs. It's about 3/4 of the way through the trailer. After the stuff with the pregnant woman and right after the three guys with torches, start single-frame advancing through until you hit Gibson's crazy, Riggs-wild picture and you, too, can laugh as I did.

Ok. Off to the Chronic!(WHAT?) Cles of Narnia!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Probably One of The Laziest Blogs I'll Ever Post -- Read it And Rejoice

Not much for blogging today. Been busy (or busy for me) with writing, eating, writing a little more, then going to Ted's Montana Grill with Peggy and my in-laws, and now blogging on my father-in-law's laptop. Right now we're arguing the fate of the stray cat my in-laws took in. We're trying to figure out how to housebreak a cat who's been used to being outdoors 24/7 for most of its life. Cats. Anyway, I'm going to see The Chronicles of Narnia tomorrow and hopefully the movie will bring me to the Lord. At the very least, I hope it's entertaining. I'll prolly let you know how it was tomorrey. Peace out, Inanities-ers.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Brokeback Mountain: Not As Gay As You'd Think

Hola party people! Hope everyone had a good weekend.

Peggy and I went to the Midtown Art Cinemas in Atlanta yesterday in hopes of taking in a screening of Brokeback Mountain. They were showing it on two screens. As it turned out, every gay man in the city of Atlanta had the same hopes, so the 1:50PM show we'd been shooting for was sold out, as was every other screening until 4:40PM. We decided we'd come back today for the 1:15PM show and discovered a long line of gay men out in front of the box office. We'd assumed that on a Monday afternoon six days before Christmas we could see this movie without any lines or worries about sold-out shows, but we were wrong. While we were in line, an older man behind us muttered bitchily, "Don't people work?" A rangy blow-dried guy with perfect salt and pepper hair came up to the trio of gay men in front of us and expressed the same surprise about the length of the line on a Monday afternoon. He said, "Now I know these people aren't all hairdressers."

Anyway, we did get in (though we had to sit in the third row from the front and all the way to the right) and we saw the damn movie, finally. Firstly, Brokeback's good. I was surprised at how staid and reserved the movie was, considering all of the advance press from critics about the film's "frank" depiction of homosexual sex. This is a movie middle America can go to and not get the heebie-jeebies too bad. Aside from a couple of asses seen in profile, there is no male nudity. There is one sex scene which is more implicit than explicit, and a couple of scenes of Jake and Heath kissing. And then Anne Hathaway flashes her boobies, so there's something for men of all sexual orientations.

Afterwards, I resolved for the umpteenth time never to read a review or an interview with the filmmakers again before I see the damn movie. Critics said Heath Ledger acted his way to a sure Oscar for Best Actor. Prouxl herself called his performance "beyond description", and this is from someone who describes things for a living. And then it got all of these end of the year accolades. Going in I was expecting a lot, and I got some of it, but I didn't come away as moved by their doomed love as I was coming out of the other much-heralded year-end Oscar contender, King Kong. Kong put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

I guess I don't want to write up a big review here, I'll just say that it's not as gay as you've heard -- this is no Jeffrey. After a while, you just accept that these two cowboys are in love, and you really start pulling for them to stay together, or as together as they can in Wyoming in the 70's. It's a well-made, well-directed, well-acted movie, and worth seeing. My audience loved it -- lots of manly snuffling as the lights came up. My main problem with the movie, the reason I never got that into it, was because instead of Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar I could only see Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. I thought of Ang Lee behind the camera directing the scenes, I imagined what Lee said to them before sayin "Action!", I thought of what filming up in the mountains must have been like -- I just never got that wrapped up in the story. But that's me. I think this film would have been better served by two unknowns, but the studios hate hate hate unknowns, so I guess that was never an option.

I do have one lingering question after seeing Brokeback: has Heath Ledger always sounded like Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, or does he just pull out the creepy voice for certain movies? If you know, let me know. All right. That does her for Monday.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Stephen King's Christmas Wish

Stephen King has a very cool Christmas decoration up on his famous house in Maine. Right on, Steve. Right on.

Kong, 1857-1934. John Spencer, 1946-2005.

I saw King Kong this afternoon. It put me in a bad mood. Not because it wasn't as good as I thought it would be, but because Kong dies at the end. I knew that going in, of course, but watching it happen Jackson-style kills you. And no, I didn't cry. I'm a MAN. A MAN doesn't cry when a giant CG ape is machine-gunned by heartless soldiers in bi-planes. Though I kinda felt like it. What injustice! They take him to New York, what did they THINK he was going to do? Unbelievable. Like Dances with Wolves makes you hate the US Army, this movie makes you hate humans in general. We're kinda like ass-holes. Anyway, I'd post a full on review up here, but no one reads these things until they see the movie themselves so I'll give it a couple of weeks. Or maybe just 'till the end of this weekend. Did you know Kong is in danger of bombing? It made a little less than ten million on Wednesday and only 6 yesterday. This is well below expectations -- they're saying it's the 21st highest Wednesday tally, which is not awesome. I mean, it's long, sure, and it could benefit from some really obvious cutting (you can tell while watching it which stuff you should have seen on the DVD as deleted scenes), but the stuff with Kong is fantastic (Andy Serkiss is amazing as Kong) and well-worth the 3 hours and the $7 matinee ticket price. So go see it this weekend; help Jackson keep his clout in Hollywood. (By the way, Frank Darabont himself plays one of the heartless bi-plane machine gunners at the end.)

So after Kong's tragic demise got me feeling down, I get home and read on CNN that John Spencer died today. Spencer plays Leo McGarry on The West Wing, and he was an actor I never really thought about too much because he wasn't the kind of guy who really stole the spotlight, but he was really excellent in the role. He played the FBI heavy in The Rock (and cursed up a storm -- he spat profanity better than anybody), and Harrison Ford's unethical but loyal friend in Presumed Innocent. Great character actor. He was only 58 and he died of a heart attack.

Anyway. Have a great weekend er'rybody.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Thursday Hodgepodge Inanity

Peggy took her last exam of her first semester of business school (the most demanding of the semesters, they tell us), and she's done done done with classes until January 30th. She is now officially a quarter of the way through business school. She's wicked smart. She's being tested on material (accounting, economics, decision analysis, etc.) that I would need a mega infusion of new brain cells just to look at, much less comprehend. I'm going to have her finish my novel for me. It might start to read like a Jennifer Weiner book, but that's ok. People seem to like her stuff.

In other news, I've been slightly preoccupied in the comments section today with the hornet's nest I kicked up in yesterday's blog (a hornet's nest with two well-informed film-nerd hornets in it) when I said that Ron Howard has never, and may never in the future, make a great film. Good movies, sure, but classics? Not yet. I hope he does one day, I just don't think he has it in him. He has his millions to console him. But I am one man and, for the readers of the Inanities anyway, I am a man with a misguided opinion. Make that opinionS. I toil ever on. Anyway, check out the comments from yesterday's blog; they're read-worthy.

One last thing from today's news. CNN's reporting that Iraqi security forces had Zarqawi (the head Al-Qaeda sumbitch in Iraq) in custody last year, but let him go because they didn't know who he was. Does the news come any more infuriating than this? How do we even have a chance over there if after we capture the general, we then release him because they can't tell them apart? One possibility is that he may have been let go on purpose. A lot of the Iraqis really identify with the guy. Anyway. I just hope the Iraqi security forces don't get a hold of Osama. Even they would have a hard time trying to sell the "I Didn't Know Who He Was" excuse with him. Osama's mug is as notorious worldwide as Bush's is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Two Trailers and a List: What A Beautiful Gift For a Cloudy Wednesday Morning

I got a few links for you folks today. New trailers for some big-budget 2006 releases came out last night. One of these I'm really looking forward to because I read the screenplay-- I mean novel, a couple years back and I'd like to see how it plays on a movie screen. I'm talking about The Da Vinci Code. Trailer's pretty good though I wish they could have pulled off getting Jim Carrey to play the Albino assassin. My guess is his agent talked him out of it, saying doing a big supporting role in a big movie would take however many millions off his asking price for leading roles. Agents. Pfff.

The other trailer that came out was for Poseidon. This is the studio's massive remake of the 1972 Poseidon Adventure which, in my view, never much needed updating. Anyway, it's directed by Wolfgang Petersen, he of Troy and Air Force One fame. Petersen's weird to me. He's like a poor man's Ron Howard (or a rich man's Renny Harlin). Howard, unless he pulls something crazy off (which I don't think will happen with Da Vinci Code), will never make a great movie (though Apollo 13 came pretty close). Though Petersen (and I'm talking about Petersen post-Das Boot), makes plenty of watchable, entertaining movies, I don't think he'll ever make a very good movie. Poseidon might be fun, but I doubt it'll be very good. But that big wave looks cool.

And finally, I saw this top ten list and I thought I'd post it for my four or so comic-book nerd readers. This is a fun list because it essentially runs the gamut of every, well, villainous moment in comic history. From Joker shooting and paralyzing Barbara Gordon (which I still think is pretty shocking) to Ozymandius's alien drop in Watchmen. Most of these comics came out before I got into them, but I caught up on them all since then. Some of the "Moments" listed provided some fun, clueless debates back in the day ("How did Wolverine get his admantium back after Magneto ripped out out of him?" -- IGN's list provides the first official, though unsatisfying, answer to that question I've heard), and others seemed more like publicity stunts to reinvigorate flagging sales. One of these stunts, the so-called "Death of Superman" produced a great comic book filled with violent splash pages of superhuman brawling in the streets of Metropolis. Anyway, fun times. Watch the trailers, read the list, enjoy your day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

If Mister Wizard Had Access To NASA's DC-9, AKA The Vomit Comet, This Is Something He Might Do

Thought I'd throw this up on-line quickly. Pictured to the left is the aftermath of a water-balloon explosion in zero gravity. Here's the link to the page with the mpegs. Scroll down a little to get to the movies. Pretty frickin' crazy. For whatever reason, I expected the water balloon to leak water when popped in zero gravity. It does not leak when popped. The movie files download in a jiff so take a gander.

Finally This Blogger Gets Why People Oppose Venezuelan President Jugo Chavez

Ok. I get it now. Though he purports to be "for the people" Jugo Chavez is actually for himself. Good for him. Thanks, Jugo, for doing your small part to renew my faith in humankind.

This from the article: "According to the current Venezuelan constitution, approved six years ago in a referendum, only one presidential re-election is allowed and a full presidential term is six years."

So Chavez was elected president for the first time in '98, and then re-elected in 2000. In 2000, Chavez and the Parliament ratified a new constitution that said the above, limiting Venezuela's presidents to two terms only. So he'll be up for the one re-election campaign permitted by the new constitution next year and, if he is elected, it would be his last term as president. Two-term presidencies. A good idea for countries that purport to have democratic governments. So far so good.

Then there's this: Parliamentary elections took place last week on Monday, Dec. 5th. Only 25% of the electorate participated because 5 opposition political parties boycotted the elections. Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement Party (MVR) win ALL 167 seats in the country's single-chamber congress. Two days after this illegitimate outcome, the President of the National Assembly says they will get rid of that pesky term-limits thing, and enact legislation that will keep Chavez in office until 2030. If that happens, that means democracy in Venezuela, the 5th largest exporter of the world's crude oil, is officially dead.

Suddenly, the idea of America becoming militarily involved in Venezuela sometime in the next ten years seems not so crazy. As the Bushes have been totally unembarassed about showing us, the United States goes where the oil is.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bodybuilders Take Care of Their Own

Something else to consider: is Arnold denying clemency to Tookie because, back in the day, Tookie's physique rivaled his own? Is this some weird bodybuilding beef? Maybe Arnold believes so strongly in the purity of the bodybuilding ethos, that any bodybuilder who taints that purity by committing murder must then be sacrificed? Maybe Arnold became governor for this express purpose -- to make sure when Tookie's case came up, he'd be in a position to put a bad bodybuilder down. They take care of their own. Creepy. Just kidding, but seriously: creepy.

Slightly creepier, this guy's supposed to die tonight, at midnight Pacific time.

No Clemency From Arnold

Officially, Arnold Schwarzenegger has condemned a human being to death in real life, as opposed to just pretending to do it in movies. Tookie sounds like a bad dude, and in addition to the murders he was convicted of perpetrating, the legacy of founding the Crips, a gang responsible for hundreds of deaths over the years, is probably unforgivable. But if ever there were a convict who was rehabilitated, who had tried to atone for his crimes with positive action, it's this guy, Tookie Williams. By executing him, I think the US is sending a message to its citizens and to the world that the US Prison System isn't going to feed the public a line of BS anymore. There is no intention, nor was there ever any, in "rehabilitating" convicts. The purpose of prisons in this country is, exclusively, to punish individuals for crimes they've committed (or been convicted of committing) and to render them useless as people once they've finished serving their "debt to society". This convict in particular, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was rehabilitated, and for his efforts, he will be murdered himself. I think the death penalty is on its way out in this country -- I hate to see Arnold kowtowing to his conservative base and allowing one of the last state-sanctioned murders in the US to take place in his state.

I don't believe for a second that it wasn't a hard choice for Arnold to make. I just wish he'd opted for mercy instead of vengeance. I know he'd be sleeping better tonight if he had.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Captain Obvious Says: Pat Robertson is Way Nutty

I was watching The 700 Club today and a little bit yesterday, too. We happen to get that channel on our cable-less, antennae-less tv set in the kitchen, and sometimes crazy self-righteous Christians who have their own tv show are more entertaining than than whatever soap opera is showing on CBS. No wait -- I mean all the time. Those CBS soaps are Terrible. (I was baking and needed something to watch). Anyway, the format of The 700 Club is kind of great, especially if most of the viewers kind of half-worship the host, in this case, Pat Robertson, and want to hear any little thing he has to say. The format works like this: the very credible-looking "anchor", a guy named Lee who sits behind the desk and looks at the camera with a very concerned expression, reads a news item and when he's done, he looks to his left and says, "Pat?" And then Pat Robertson appears in all of his cozy, avuncular insanity, and tells the anchor and the viewers at home what he thinks of it. If you ever want a daily dose of the televised crazy, The 700 Club's your one-stop viewing source. This was the same guy who, appropo of nothing, called for the assassination of Jugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela.

Yesterday, one of the news items was about Yale Law School working to block military recruiters from operating on campus. After the "anchor" was finished with the news, Pat Robertson offered his take on it. In a jaw-dropping display of wild unpredictability, Pat said he actually didn't agree with Yale Law's efforts to bar recruiting. He called the Yale students who were protesting "little snits" (and he said this like the only reason he didn't say "shits" is because Jesus would be angry) and the recruiters "heroes". How dare Yale bar these soldiers from having a meal in the cafeteria? Pat asked. When he was finished, he looked to his right and said, "Lee?" And then Lee had the next item. Something about obesity and prostate cancer. Amazingly, Pat had something to say about this, too. They didn't have a doctor on-hand to talk about the linkage between obesity and prostate cancer, you know, to be helpful to viewers, but good thing they had Pat to weigh in.

Today, Pat's son Gordon was on. He's not as accustomed to being on-camera as his dad is, and he frequently flubbed his lines. He called Michael Medved, who was a guest on today's show, a film "cricket" instead of a film "critic", and them made the same flub at the end of the segment, though stuttering this time. He seemed ill-at-ease and he made me feel embarassed. Their segments included a long advertisement for The Chronicles of Narnia (they're all hot to see it, as you might imagine), and a Jewish woman who, as a young woman, was ostracized by her Holocaust-survivor parents when she converted to Christianity (what Jewish parent wouldn't?); and the last segment was about how the IRS is targeting a liberal church in Pasadena, CA where the pastor was accused of directing his flock how to vote. West Wing's Bradley Whitford goes to the church in question and was on-hand to denounce the IRS for attacking his place of worship. Brad's a liberal guy. He blogged about the church situation on the Huffington Post a week or so ago. But I'd think that if The 700 Club came to interview me about my views on a controversial issue, and they were being nice and agreeing with my position, that I would, right that second take the opportunity to completely rethink, and very likely reverse my position.

Anyway, I just think these guys suck. They put on a show that LOOKS like a regular tv show, but then, unlike regular TV, every now and again, the hosts join hands, close their eyes (really tight so everyone can see how much they really mean it) and pray their hearts out. It's like they know they're selling snake oil, so they have to dress the presentation up so the first-time viewer might believe they're watching an actual news show. Pat and his crew hope that maybe they can slither past people's bullshit-detectors and fool some casual viewers into thinking their opinions are mainstream opinions. Of course, they are not. What's worse is that this crap is coming over the public airwaves on free tv. Anyway. Thought I'd share a little useless info and follow it up with a mini-rant.

Well, it is Friday night and the weekend is upon us. I hope everyone has a good one. See Syriana and tell me how it is. Likewise Narnia. I'm out.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Call to Arms -- A Humble Request for the Countries of the World to Annihilate All Giant Jellyfish

Well, goddamn if this isn't something that needs to be wiped out completely and I mean quick. Why haven't I ever heard of these things before?! 6 feet across? Poisonous tentacles? A propensity to multiply at alarming rates? Screw the giant squid! We've got giant jellyfish and we've got them in huge numbers! Pictured to the left is the giant jellyfish, also called Noruma's jellyfish. According to this article, these dumb ropes of poison wrapped up in a sac of cheesecloth are doing what they can to kill the Japanese fishing industry. Generally, I'm all about protecting the food chain and the marine ecosystem's delicate balance -- everything in the ocean has its place and shouldn't be fiddled with and all of that -- but this is totally different. Jellyfish are gross, disgusting, inchoate organisms that exist solely to sting the hell out of hapless beachgoers and eat food otherwise meant for fish. (Not to mention creeping the hell out of people in general -- I mean, look at this thing.) Jellyfish deserve to be wiped out. Obviously we're not going to be able to go into the oceans and kill every one of them -- it would be impossible to get the world behind killing all the regular jellyfish. Per capita, they haven't hurt or offended enough humans. But what about giant jellyfish? These things are offensive on a primal level. I see this thing and I feel threatened. When something we humans only barely tolerate, like jellyfish for example, get this frickin' big, it's like they're asking to be wiped out. Jellyfish growing to this size seems deliberate -- sentient. Like they've decided to compete with the master species for primacy. They've obviously fired the first shot over homo sapiens' figurative bow -- I say we call their bluff.

Seriously though, those things are nightmarish. I hope the Japanese stop killing whales and start killing some giant jellyfish.

Also: check out the new trailer for the new X-Men 3 movie. They say it's a teaser but it's got a lot of footage, I thought. What's most interesting in this one to me, is Kelsey Grammar playing the Beast. You have to salute the guy for putting on this crazy blue animal-man getup and doing this role. He's perfect casting to most folks who've read the comics, but you know when he was sitting in the chair and saw himself as Beast for the first time, he thought to himself, "Well, that was a fun career." I hope the movie turns out well and Ratner doesn't embarrass Kelsey or any of the rest of them.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

An Evening of Blogging Mishaps Makes for One Truly Inane Inanity

(Deep sigh) Blogger's not letting me post photos, so I had to scrap my first post which was centered around one interesting image of a jellyfish. I'll probably post it tomorrow if I still think it's funny -- I may not, so don't get your hopes up. ( I know all of your hopes were going way up before I told you to keep them down.) Then I wrote about going to Party City this evening with Peggy, but she doesn't want me to blog about that until after tomorrow night -- long, not super-interesting story. So now I'm down to this: blogging about blogging difficulties. If there were an apathy combustion engine, surely posts like this one would make it run and power the whole world. Anyway. I've already spent too much time coming up with a marginally interesting post to spend more time trying to make this one seem interesting. So I'm out. Hopefully I'll have better luck tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I Don't Know How The Movie Will Be, But The Short Story May Have Some of You Batting for The Other Team in No Time

I read a short story today by E. Annie Proulx called "Brokeback Mountain". The film adaptation is coming out this month and it's getting positive reviews ahead of its release. The short story's up on the New Yorker website -- here's the link. It's not often you have to stop your reading of a story or a novel to look at a particular sentence to figure out how the hell they did what they did (a turn of phrase, some unexpected imagery, etc.), but reading her stuff I was doing it all the time. She's able to evoke time and place perfectly with what seems like no effort at all. I remember someone at NCSA told me once that what they thought most interesting and admirable about E. Annie Proulx was her ability to change voices altogether depending on the story she was writing. It's hard enough for a writer to find a voice that works well enough to get one through a whole life of writing, much less a brand new one each time out, which is what she does. She adopts a kind of rural, rough-hewn but eloquent voice to tell this story. She lives in Wyoming and the story takes place in the same state. She seems to have their cadence and vernacular down pat -- the dialogue never once rings false, or inspired fits of cringing. It's less like she's telling a story she came up with than it is her transcribing what really happened somewhere. And yet the voice in this story is totally different than the voice she used in writing The Shipping News, but they are both equally strong and persuasive, and entirely suited for the story being told. Kind of a genius. I'm inclined now to grab up everything she's ever written and read it all.

Anyway. Positive blather is never as fun as negative blather, so I'll cut short the adulation. I recommend you check out the story. I don't really gravitate to short stories, but this one's worthwhile. Read it (or some of it) and post up something on the comments. I shore love comments.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Unsatisfied with the Mediocrity of His First Effort, Tim Story Aims to Out-Mediocre his Original Mediocrity in a Blow-out Cinematic Tour-de-Mediocrity

I have some bad news for fans of movies adapted from Marvel comic books. No, it's not that Brett Ratner's directing X-Men 3 -- that's old bad news. This is freshly announced.

Tim Story is returning for the sequel to Fantastic Four.

I don't know who among you actually saw Fantastic Four this summer, but I was one of those guys who braved it in the theaters and thought the end result wasn't a total disaster, just a partial one. A mediocrity, if you will. It had some moments in it where one could conceivably be reminded of how fun the comic books are, but these seemed almost accidental. I think the main problem with the movie was its director: Tim Story. He's sub-adequate as a big-budget, summer tent-pole movie helmer -- he's a journeyman director, and a franchise like The Fantastic Four needs someone with an artistic vision. A Raimi, a Nolan, a Singer, an Aronofsky, a Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead 2004) kind of director. I don't know how he did it, but Story managed to make a 100 million dollar movie look like a 30 million dollar movie and you really can't blame that low-end production value on anyone else.

The screenplay was goofy in a way that suggested the screenwriter and director didn't actually "get" the material, or even try to -- like they thought their job wasn't to do what they thought was impossible -- namely make a comic book about four white people who get irradiated in space, come back and decide to wear spandex with little 4's on their chests, and regularly save the entire world every few comic books from the likes of villains named Mole Man, Dr. Doom, and Galacticus -- but rather to "have some fun" with the source material. In some aspects, they seemed to think they had to sexy it up, modern it up, to have a chance at the box office. Look no further than the miscasting of Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, or making Dr. Doom into a suave New York billionaire instead of the crazed, castle-living King of Latveria. They needed look only as far as Pixar's brilliant The Incredibles to see how something thrilling and stunning can be done with essentially the same story. Brad Bird knew the Fantastic Four was good stuff -- he stole all the Four's powers and gave them to his Incredibles family and made a great movie.

Here's the point: If the script isn't working, it often falls to the director to either rewrite the thing himself, or guide the screewriter(s) into writing a good movie. My guess is the reason Tim Story left the script as is, is because he doesn't actually care about the Fantastic Four. Not to say this is a character flaw by any means -- maybe he's rightfully more concerned with world hunger or the Iraq war than he is in a silly comic book. But there are lots of people out there just as capable as Story, and moreso, who actually do love these stories, and would have made a much better movie. (I do concede I may be wrong on this -- Story may love the comic books, it's just that it didn't show up anywhere on-screen). I think a genuine affection and knowledge of the source material is absolutely REQUIRED these days when making big-budget adaptations, whether they be novels or comic books. Peter Jackson adapting The Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of bringing in someone who has a reverence for the source material and the end result is pitch perfect. Ang Lee's The Hulk is a perfect example of bringing in someone who's merely fascinated by the subject matter, but otherwise couldn't care less. We know how that one turned out. I'm sure there are some exceptions that prove the rule, but I think, by and large, adherence to the source material really helps make an adaptation work.

When I saw The Fantastic Four in theaters this summer, I walked out with the idea that, yeah, the movie mostly sucked, but the studio was officially finished with the obligatory origin story, enough people who actually liked the FF had seen the movie to justify another big-budget installment, and now they were free to make a really great sequel, provided, of course, they jettisoned Tim Story. Everything was set for something great to happen. The fact that Fox was swayed by Story's "awesome" vision for the sequel and decided to keep him on as the director means the FF movies are always going to be the weak sister Marvel Comics movie franchise, when they deserve to be one of the best. Oh well.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Oprah and Dave: Reunited and It Feels So Good

I watched Oprah Winfrey's return to Dave Letterman's show last night, and it was a strange, and I'll go ahead and say it, exhilarating experience. (I know, I need to get out more.) Far from the genial and boring celebrity chat it could have been, there was palpable tension throughout the interview, and it was a long one. The tension, in this case, derived from a guest expecting at any moment to be mocked, and a host trying desperately to assure his guest that she was in safe territory.

Usually on the Late Show, before the first guest comes out, Dave does a dopey and not terribly funny gag of some kind, varying between dropping something in water to see if it will float (a kind of Mr. Wizard-style homage to bored, dumb-guy "science"), to having pre-selected audience members answer surrealistic trivia questions about cuts of meat. Then the top-ten list, and then the first guest. Last night, they ran through all of that as quickly as they could, and all of it was Oprah-related. No matter who the guest has been, politicians, heads of state, movie superstars, I've never seen the show roll out the red carpet like that. Dave Letterman's been hounding Oprah to come on the show for a long time. It seems every time I tuned in during the past year or so (which was infrequently) there's been some reference to Dave asking Oprah if she'd come on the show, and being rejected. Their doomed-to-failure quest was kind of funny and a good gag for them. And so, in the strange, rarified world of the Late Show, an actual appearance by Oprah would be akin to, say, George W. Bush himself appearing on the Daily Show. A huge deal. You could tell he and Paul Shaffer were both a little nervous before she came on. I was getting nervous vicariously. And then he calls her out.

It was very strange to see her in that setting. I've seen Oprah a bunch of times in the 20-some odd years she's had her own show, and it was weird to see her a) outside her studio, and b)in a place where she felt she wasn't safe. It was clear from the onset of the interview she was expecting sly, mean-spirited mockery from Dave, and she seemed ill-at-ease. But Dave was very solicitous and very complimentary, saying a number of times how "great" she looked, setting his hand on the arm of her chair to show her how sincere and engaged he was. He kissed her hand like five times before and after the interview. She wasn't shy about calling Dave out on one of his antics over the years. She said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Just to show you that it's over, whatever there was is now over, I brought you a present." He opened a box and before the viewers could see it, he laughed. "Are you sure it's over?" he asked. Then he took it out and held it so the cameras could see. It was a signed photo of herself and Uma Thurman, referencing his Academy Awards gag where he made fun of their names. By the end of it he was asking her to describe at length the charitable work she's doing in Africa. As she talked about it (a school for girls in South Africa, among other things) she kept asking, "You sure you want to hear about this?", thinking that their interview was supposed to be light and frothy. And at other times she'd break in with, "I can't believe you're being so nice to me." Judging by the frequency of this declaration, one might suspect Oprah was expecting Dave to pull out a gun and shoot her in the knees. He did not -- he made no jokes at her expense (though one small one at Dr. Phil's) and directed his mockery solely at himself. When it was over, he led her to the theater where her production of 'The Color Purple' is playing on Broadway. They held hands the whole way (pictured above), with flash bulbs going off non-stop-- kinda weird, but it made for soem good photos to show, with a single image, that the "feud" was now officially over. Anyway. It wasn't a funny interview, but it did prove that either Dave has put away forever his "Mean Dave" persona, or, more likely, that he's just put it away for Oprah.

All right, that's it for this week. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Thursday's Inanity: Here's Some Cat for You

This is my cat, Venkman. This post would have gone up earlier, but Venkman stretched his big cat-ass out on my desk, and knocked my pencil sharpener onto the CPU, which caused my computer to freeze, and pencil shavings to go hither and yon. Awesome. So I had a thing written up already, about Venkman coincidentally, but now it is gone. You know how it is, having to rewrite something after it's been inadvertantly erased. Just isn't the same. But, I'll summarize what I'd written: I said that Venkman, like most cats, is not only out of his mind, but completely preoccupied with the idea of forts; places he can sit inside and feel both hidden, and capable of launching a surprise attack, a Catz-krieg, if you will, against unsuspecting humans, namely Peggy and I. Today, while I was loading bottles of water into our fridge, before I'd taken the last bottle out of the thick plastic wrapping, the cat was inside it (pictured top), testing it out for fort-worthiness. He found it suitable for about 5 minutes before abandoning it. What he does enjoy climbing into for fort purposes are these "Fridge Packs" the soda companies are packaging cans in these days. You can see him testing out two of them simultaneously in this photo here. These aren't really so good for cat-forts, but I think there's something alluring about the tunnel-effect he appears to be enjoying here -- maybe he hopes it's a tunnel leading to his ideal fort. Anyway, good luck figuring out which end is in which box. Well, before the Inanities becomes one of those cat-centric blogs written by the lady with 87 cats in her house, I'll leave you with a link. To the funniest cat video of all time. It's awesome.