Friday, March 31, 2006

A Friday Evening in Oxford and a Simpsons Movie?

Well, it's Friday and I'm writing to you tonight from out-of-the-way Oxford. Hanging out with the 'rents. Ate some habachi grill and sushi tonight in neighboring Covington and the food was pretty good, suprisingly, though the gumball and bouncy ball dispenser in the lobby area had me worried at first. Our hibachi grill dude was okay, but he wasn't as good as the guy working the grill on the other side of the room. After our guy was finished with his penny-ante "show", I watched this other guy do his thing. He was hardcore. He did a crazy thing where he swung a metal bowl filled with whipped eggs into the air flinging a thin yellow column of eggs into the air where it appeared to hang for a split-second before he eased the eggs back into the bowl. Hadn't seen that before. And he was also good at flinging shrimp. He'd tell people to open their mouth, lean their head back, and that was it. They didn't have to try and catch it. He did the work. With a shrimp stuck to the spatula, he just popped it off the spatula and into the hungry diner's waiting maw. Guy was good. Now I'm full.

Anyway, I read a rumor on Aintitcool this morning about a teaser for a Simpson's Movie being run in front of Ice Age 2. Turns out it's true. July 27th, 2007. Mark your calenders. Also, visit the Literary Smackdown some time in the next couple days to see a.) who won the March Smackdown, and b.) what April's Smackdown challenge will be. All right. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Lady-Version of David Cross is Released by Her Captors, and a Right-Wing Justice Flips Off the Press: This Inanity Train Keeps On Rollin'

Is it just me or does Jill Carrol, the girl who was kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq and released the other day, look like a female version of David Cross in this photo? I don't know. She does to me. In any event, I'm glad she wasn't beheaded by those guys (who, she says, treated her well), and is now free to report for the Christian Science Monitor and be alive in general. (By the way - does anyone know of anyone else who's either read or knows anyone who's read the Christian Science Monitor? I've read they're fairly non-partisan, so I figure that eliminates more than half of Christian readers in this country, so who's reading this thing?)

Anyway. In other news, the press is jumping on Antonin Scalia because he did that Sicilian gesture where you turn your palm towards yourself and scrape your bunched fingers under your chin towards the person you're insulting. You know, like the picture! This is how it went down, according to Peter Smith, an associate professor at Boston College who took the photograph:
“The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ ” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.
The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”
I don't like Scalia's views on interpreting the Constitution, or much of anything, and I think he's a dangerous guy to have on the bench right now, but is this obscene gesture thing really worth an article? Does it really matter that he flipped off a photographer? Why is this being treated like Scalia shot a guy in the face? Maybe a slow news cycle, or maybe because Scalia got caught in a lie. Originally he was saying he hadn't made the "(expletive) you" gesture, but in the photo above, which came out later, he is, clearly, doing the gesture. I mean sure looks like an idiot, and it's not really dignified, but it's his right to gesture however he wants to, isn't it? Besides, I'm tired of dignified justices. They should all be able to say "(expletive) YOU!" whenever they feel like it. Why else have lifetime appointments?

Anyway, the March edition of the Literary Smackdown is in its final hours. Just one more day to go for judgin'. Kris Baucom joined the fray with a new entry just last night, (the 10th entry!) so check out his story and all the others and see what all the chatter's about. Or just comment on my blog. I'm out. Peace!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Short Post

The 2-year anniversary of getting my ass hit by a car passed last weekend. So, instead of a long, meandering blog, I'll just post this photo, taken a few days after. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Time for Truthiness: A Colbert Report Fan Offers Some Constructive Criticism

I've watched, I think, every episode of The Colbert Report. My mother-in-law, Pat, tapes them for me every week (thanks again!) and I consume each episode from the week prior eagerly with my hungry, TV-watchin' eyes. Even when the show's not going so well, I watch; I don't fast-forward. (I do fast-forward some Daily Show interviews, usually the actors, but not Stephen's. Stephen's interviews may sometimes be squirmy, but they are never boring.)

The show's kind of a high-wire act for Stephen Colbert, though he makes it appear easier than I suspect it is. Unlike his old boss on the Daily Show, Colbert plays a character on his show, and, at least on the surface, not a particularly appealing one either. The Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report is a self-involved ignoramus who's casually racist, casually misogynist, and hates bears with a blind, murderous passion. I know that makes him sound like an asshole, but he doesn't come off that way because he does this character as just a thin, ironic veneer over his real self, the Stephen Colbert we all we know and love from The Daily Show. The central conceit of the show is that the Colbert character is intended as a living parody of Bill O'Reilly, and so every time he comes off as an unselfconscious, non-thinking blowhard who's so oblivious he doesn't know enough to laugh at himself, it's a poke in the eye to O'Reilly. (O'Reilly, for the record, has said he's "flattered" by the show. I rest my case.) So, four nights a week, Colbert has set out this difficult task for himself: with a wink and a nod to the real Colbert, make the blowhard Colbert character palatable enough to watch for a half-hour stretch, and also make the whole thing funny.

That he's been successful at all is impressive. The camera is, as it is on The O'Reilly Factor, always trained on the star, and the star is required to entertain his fans (the "heroes" as Colbert calls his viewers) just by talking. Like I said: not easy to do. On occasion, the show kind of trips over itself, usually during the interviews. You can tell sometimes that Colbert wants to break out of his character and ask some actual questions, and other times you can tell when the guest is trying to figure out how to respond to Colbert's ridiculous questions. The interviews can get kind of weird, especially if the guest isn't as hip to the fact the show is satirical. Steve Kroft is a good example. He was on the show last week, and he didn't know how to handle Colbert's character. Colbert was asking him about a recent expose he did on 60 Minutes about businessmen and their companies getting rich off the Iraq War. He asked Kroft, ironically, why he had it out for these good people. This was Kroft's opportunity to sound like the hard-hitting reporter he is and get a little street cred with left-leaning young folks, but instead he got defensive and seemed to back away from his piece, saying it was really just a small group of people inside a particular company, and that nothing was wrong from profiting from war. Colbert did his best to coax the guy into saying what he actually thought without breaking character, but Kroft wasn't getting it. The whole thing was kind of weird.

But when folks do get the joke and know how to roll with it, the interviews are often hilarious, as was the case with CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer who killed when he joked about the Evening News's elderly demographic. I think the strongest parts of the show are the other segments he does about once a week. The "Better Know Your District" segments are uniformly brilliant (the one with the Congressman from the San Fernando valley was great), "The Threatdown" is good stuff, and I also like the bit where Colbert debates himself, though I haven't seen it much of late.

But the segment that I think either has to evolve quite a lot, or get axed altogether, is "The Word". This is the segment where Colbert and the guy running the title generator seem to be working at cross purposes. In "The Word" Stephen Colbert shares his color-commentary on whatever subject, and in the panel next to his talking head, smart-alecky comments appear that contradict or riff cleverly on what Colbert's saying. This is where the comedy happens. There have been some really good Words, but these days, more often than not, they're the weakest part of the show, and this is doubly bad because it's the one segment they do every night. I don't have any ideas on how to make it funnier, I don't really write the funny, but I think it should be fixed up or just jettisoned altogether. Overall, Colbert and his crew make doing the show look easy, but the only time the show ever seems like hard work is during this segment.

After I watched the first episode of The Colbert Report, I wondered, "How long can he keep this up?" The intensity of all of that screen-time and reading all of that freshly-written scripted material directly into the camera, and not only keeping audience interest up without cutting to correspondents or narrating video clips seemed, but keeping it funny seemed like a very tall order, especially four nights every week. Now that I see they are doing it, I wonder "How long will he want to keep this up?" How long will a parody of Bill O'Reilly feel culturally timely and fresh? How long will it still be funny to Colbert? Colbert's a talented guy, and I wonder how long he'll want to inhabit this character; it seems limiting over the long haul. He speaks directly about how hard it is to do the Colbert character here. (It's an awesome interview with Colbert the Onion's AV Club did back in January.)

I know the scratch is rolling in for him right now. I read recently that he just signed a seven-figure book deal for a Colbert Report book (which will probably be in the same vein as The Daily Show-produced book, America: The Book), so it's not anything he'll want to drop anytime soon, but however long the show lasts, it will be interesting to watch it evolve. Right now it's probably some of the smartest, most unpredictable comedy on television, and I hope it stays that way.

Anyway, I also saw this on the ole Onion site, and I thought it was funny in a mean-but-kinda-true way. We really are a dime a dozen. Take a read.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Illegal Immigration: Cool, or Not Cool?

At risk of getting into some sensitive territory, I wonder what some of you guys think about this immigration reform bill being pushed through the House. More than half a million people spilled into the streets of Los Angeles over the weekend to protest Rep. Sensenbrenner's bill that would have far-reaching implications for illegal immigrants in this country. The specifics of the bill sound kind of frightening, no matter which side of the issue you come down on. Illegal immigration would become a felony, mass deportations would ensue, the US would build a massive wall between our country and Mexico. This stuff doesn't seem tenable. A lot of Republicans are saying "enforce the laws on the books," but one of the laws on the books is if you are born in this country, whether your parents came here illegally or not, you are automatically a citizen. If coming to this country illegally became a felony punishable by deportation (I don't know if that's all the punishment is, probably not knowing what Sensenbrenner's capable of), then you're taking a citizen's parents and sending them to another country against their will. Do you not deport the child as well, or do you separate the parents from the child? How can you, if the child's a citizen?

A lot of smart people are against this massive influx of illegal immigrants. Lou Dobbs, for example, is on a one-man crusade against it, and uses his show to highlight the ill-effects illegal immigration has on this country. A lot of other smart people are all for it, and believe our economy wouldn't function without the services rendered by illegal immigrants. Arch-conservative George Will says it's all fine because they do the jobs that no one else wants to do, that our economy would tank without their services. I don't know who to believe. Are we, by importing third-world cultures, risking becoming a third world country ourselves? By importing what is, in essence, a non-citizen peasant class to do our labor for us, are we helping to depress wages for a majority of low-skilled citizen laborers? People on both sides tell us two different stories, each with statistics to back them up, each making persuasive arguments.

Editor of the liberal opinion magazine The Nation, Katrina Van Den Heuvel says there's an element of "white supremacist thinking" that fuels this anti-immigration furor. I think she's partly right in that there is a bit of that involved for some Americans, but then again I think of the influx of "Okies" that came out of the dust bowl during the depression. (I think of them not because I've read any historical data on them, but because I read the Grapes of Wrath and that made me feel sad for all of those poor bastards.) California did whatever they could to make sure those darn Okies knew they weren't welcome (unless they were exploiting them by working them from sunup to sundown and paying them criminally low-wages, (also from Grapes of Wrath)), and those people were all whiteys, too, so maybe it's less about fear of the swarthy Mexican with his sombrero and his bandoleers, and more of a fear, rational or not, of unemployment, of lower wages, a fear of the effect an influx of desperately poor people can have on a middle-class community. But, given that we're talking about humans here, maybe racism plays a larger role than I think.

I don't think the protestors that spilled out into the streets are doing themselves any favors with the White's watching at home by waving big Mexican flags all over the place. Makes me feel kind of queasy, rightly or wrongly. Some might be tempted to ask, "If you love Mexico so much you'll wave a giant Mexican flag on the streets of Los Angeles, why are you here and not there?" Then again, with their adopted country treating them so badly, they probably don't want to wave an American flag. On a practical level, illegal immigration from down south is never going to slow, the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country aren't going anywhere. So what to do? Should we build a wall and offer amnesty and citizenship to all the ones who made it here already? Should we go after the people who employ illegal immigrants? I don't see too many Republicans talking about that. Going after businessmen is anathema to Republicans. I know people in this state who flout the law by hiring and exploiting illegal immigrants, and if there's an unabsorbable influx of people coming into this country, I blame guys like that.

Anyway, it's a complicated issue and I don't know enough about it to speak intelligently on the right course to take. I admit that some aspects of the illegal immigration issue tweak the nerve centers of my primitive lizard brain (the aspects the Republicans are playing up to), but I doubt that speaking from my gut on what "feels" right is going to advance the debate much. In the end, I hope the Congress approaches this issue mindful of the fact these people are human beings, and deserve respectful treatment. On the plus side, if the Republicans get too zealous with their bill and make illegal immigration a felony and start forcibly deporting folks, then the Latin-American vote (which, like I said, isn't going anywhere) will go Democratic for generations. Any thoughts or opinions from you folks? Or is this issue too thorny to get into?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Film Adapation of Watchmen Update: Still in Limbo, But This Time With a Great Director

Some good news before the weekend for all of you comic-book geek readers. (Of my 13 readers I'd say at least half of you have some interest in comics.) Anyway, is reporting that Zack Snyder is in very early negotiations to direct Watchmen. Snyder's the guy that brought us the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake that, I thought, was one of the top ten films of that year. Right now he's working on the adapation of another graphic novel, Frank Miller's The 300, (slated for release in 2007) which relates the story of 300 Spartan soldiers who, outnumberd 100,000 to one, staved off an attack from the Persians. It's going to be good. I remember when I first saw Dawn of the Dead, I thought to myself, whimsically, of course, "If I ever wanted someone to direct a script or an adapation of mine, I think I'd want it to be this guy." Snyder's a solid storyteller with a great visual sense. He never made a misstep in that film. So, far from making me feel anxious as to the kind of job he'd do with hallowed material like Watchmen, (as I would be if Warner Bros. were talking to say, Brett Ratner or McG), I'm as excited to see what he'd do with the material as I would be if they were talking to Peter Jackson or Jim Cameron or Steven Spielberg. Anyway, here's hoping they make a deal soon so we can see this thing hit theaters before the end of the decade. All right, folks. Have an awesome weekend.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sam Jackson Will Do Any Movie You Offer Him. Is He the New Chistopher Walken?

Anyone been reading about Snakes on a Plane, the upcoming New Line film starring Samuel L. Jackson?'s running a pretty hilarious article about the whole internet phenomenon that's rising up around the movie, and all the hubbub is percolating without the kind of corporate marketing techniques the studios spend so much money on to promote their often middling product. One interesting paragraph in that article is about a fairly popular audio trailer a guy named Chris Rohan put together. On it, Rohan has a Sam Jackson sound-alike saying, "I want these motherf**king snakes off this mother f**king plane!" The growing fan base loved the line and now New Line is doing $5 million in reshoots to not just take the current cut, which is PG-13, to a hard R by adding more violence, more snakes, and nudity, but to add that line specifically. This is just one more bit of evidence that the things people say in the talkback sections of these movie sites are often taken very seriously by the movie studios. They will do whatever they can to get people excited enough about a movie to come out and see it on that opening weekend. Amazing. It's a pretty interesting article, and not too many typos, which is weird for

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pat Robertson, Unscripted

Pat Robertson is at it again. This time he's accusing the nation's college professors of being "killers" and of "beating people up". David Horowitz, who used to be, I'm guessing, a liberal but is now a right-wing crazy, wrote a book called The Professors. I'm guessing it's all about how the nation's universities are hotbeds of liberal dogma which the evil professors are inculcating into their soft-headed students. The link to the clip where you can actually see Robertson's blood pressure rise is here. It would be kind of funny, except he and the other fundamentalist, Rapture-believin' Christian millenialists wield so much influence in the country. As he says at one point in this clip, one day Robertson hopes to educate up to 250,000 young people at a place called Regents University. I'm sure that at this fine institution of higher learning, a whole raft of Christian kids will learn, once and for all, that God created the Earth in seven days, and that anyone who doesn't accept Jesus as their own personal savior is going to hell. "My Jesus-school professor said so, mom, so I know it's true!"

I know it's often the tendency on either side of the political spectrum to take the worst example from the other side, in this case Robertson, and then use that person to paint the other side with a broad, villainous brush. You could say I was guilty of that in this case, except that Robertson actually is the embodiment of, if not conservatives in general, than this administration in particular. Robertson says publicly the fire and brimstone stuff that Bush can only say privately. Things like one day soon, all of Jesus's disciples will be taken up to Heaven, and all of the unsaved will remain on earth during something called the Tribulation. Some writers have suggested that part of the reason Bush doesn't care about all of this debt we're accumulating is because, to them, debt doesn't matter because nothing at all will matter when Jesus returns to the mountain of Armageddon. Bush was asked during a recent question and answer session about his belief in the Apocalypse and he wouldn't (couldn't?) answer the question. See that exchange here. Scary stuff. These people are in charge. The history books will always say so. We're stuck with it.

Anyway, my awesome source for all of these illuminating clips come from a site called Crooks and Liars. Yeah, it skews pretty liberal, but it offers free video clips of pertinent stuff, usually culled from cable news, that I don't have access to. A great source for info and procrastinating. Hope this was uplifting. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

More Amazing Sidewalk Art, a Glut of New Entries at the Smackdown, and Some Items of Interest Regarding Our Next President

What up dudes and dudettes! I am still jamming out to Vitalic's Birds video (I linked to it yesterday at the end of my post) and the song can fool a guy into thinking life is pretty good. Good song. Anyway, lots of things happening over at the Literary Smackdown, though the comments have mysteriously dwindled to nothing in the past two days. Two new stories are up, one from an anonymous, mystery writer, and one story from none other than Paul Papadeas. And, what's more, I have in my email in-box yet ANOTHER entry that will be going up tomorrow. This time from a girl, which is awesome.

As for THIS blog, the inestimable Shawn Harwell sent me more of those awesome sidewalk chalk drawings for our perusal. I put my favorite of the bunch, the Batman and Robin drawing, as the first because it's the most ambitious, and most awe-inspiring of them all. The rest are all amazing, so take a gander and enjoy.

One other thing. Al Gore said today that he probably wouldn't run for 2008, but he didn't rule out the possibility. In fact, it sounds like he's giving it more serious thought than he ever has before. More and more folks are talking about Al Gore as a viable contender for the Democratic nomination in 2008. I think the talk will probably begin to crescendo on May 28th of this year when the documentary about his one-man crusade against global warming, called An Inconvenient Truth is released in theaters. If it's playing here in the ATL than I'll be seeing it. Here's a link to a great article from American Prospect magazine about Gore's evolution since his "loss" in 2000. I'm really enthused about the new, nothing-to-lose Gore (even more than I was against the Lockbox-talkin' Sighing Guy) and I hope he runs. Read the article if you have some time. Also, you can visit and read some of his brilliant speeches. The speeches are the key to Gore. If you want the electable opposite of Bush the Younger as your president, I think this is your guy. All right. Enjoy the sidewalk art. More tomorrow.

Monday, March 20, 2006

V for Vendetta: Great Movie or Greatest Movie?

I saw V for Vendetta on Saturday. If you haven't seen it, don't read beyond this paragraph because I'm going to deal in spoilers here. But I will say this and you can read it without fear: V for Vendetta is a great film. Pay no neverminds to the mainstream film reviewers who're being very cautious in their praise because of the "controversial" subject matter. I think their reaction to The Matrix was similarly tepid. For me, I thought not only was V for Vendetta better than the trailers let on, but the film is better in many respects than the graphic novel it's based on. Call me a blasphemer.

Spoilers below:

V for Vendetta is to left-leaning film audiences living under the reign of Bush the Younger what the graphic novel was for left-leaning comic readers under the reign of Thatcher and Reagan: a message of hope and solidarity in a time of political darkness. It's a great big happy billboard posted up for all to see that, even though it may seem differently, you are not alone. That even though the media tells you that the so-called silent majority is in support of those things you oppose, they are, in fact, with you. Not only are they with you, but if it gets bad enough, that silent majority will rise up with you and topple those who seek to tyrannize a free people.

The movie's a fantasy, sure, but even if it's just a palliative, it made me feel better for a couple hours, so it works. V for Vendetta is not, as some in the mainstream media have tried to suggest, a call to arms or a celebration of terrorists who blow up buildings (even though the hero of the film does say, "Blowing up a building can change the world." Roeper has a good opinion on this line here.) To me, this film was an opportunity to sit in a dark theater and have a mini political catharsis. Not that a film like this could make up for how depressed I felt in November of 2004 when I discovered I would be living under W's administration for a further 4 years, but it helped. It's that good. The ending of the film was, for me, one of the best moments I've seen in a film since the Kaiser Soze reveal in The Usual Suspects. And what's amazing, what's so impressive, is that you see it coming the whole time and it's shocking and exciting. Because of how awful and repressive the government in the film is, the explosions that end all of that are beautiful. Matrix was no fluke. These guys know how to tell a story.

V for Vendetta is a cautionary tale. Despite what some on the right are saying, the Wachowskis aren't asserting that the fascist England of the future where V for Vendetta is a mirror of our current reality, only that fascism, though the term sounds old and musty, is still possible in a so-called Western democracy, and that if we let it, our governments can and will sink to it. (For a little backstory, the story of V for Vendetta, as Moore conceived it, was to tell a story set in an alternate England where the Nazis won WWII). The film tells the story of Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), an average citizen of this poisoned country, who, with the help of the Morpheus-like, masked "terrorist" V (played by Hugo Weaving) "frees her mind" from the years of government propaganda she's been indoctrinated with. He takes extraordinary measures to allow her to live without fear; the fear the government has used as a tool to control the populace her entire life.

In addition to being a cautionary tale, V for Vendetta is a celebration of the amateur conspiracy theorist in all of us. Once the facts of a government conspiracy have been exposed to the public, the conspiracy theorist believes, the citizenry will rise up and make things right again. This film allows one to think, even if just for a few minutes, that given enough information, the people WILL rise up and make things right again, and it's a great feeling. McTeague and the Wachowskis have fashioned a film that builds to the climax so well, so forcefully, so brilliantly, that I came out of this movie beaming, and excited that others would see this film and be similarly affected. I came out of this film feeling the same way I did after seeing Fahrenheit 911, and JFK in the theater. I know both of those films were essentially propaganda films that played fast and loose with the facts, but that didn't make them any less effective or well-made. V for Vendetta, on the other hand, is fiction. There are no facts that require massaging. If critics believe this film is purposely critical of current governments, than it's because they see similarities.

It seems that every now and again we need to be reminded why we shouldn't trust our governments implicitly. Huxley reminded us with Brave New World, Orwell with 1984, Bradbury with Fahrenheit 451, and I think V for Vendetta is our first reminder of the 21st century, and I think it's about time. Late in the film, one of the characters, a lesbian who was rounded up by the government, experimented on, and finally murdered, tells the story of England's descent into fascism through her own experience. She talks about how they used God to give them moral superiority. How they took bloodless, unfamiliar words, and gave them terrible meanings. She mentions "rendition" as an example, which is, I believe, a direct and pointed criticism of the Bush administration. Rendition means only "to give", or "to relinquish". Pretty harmless. But in Bushworld, rendition now means to hand over prisoners to other countries for the express purpose of being tortured. The cunning use of euphemism to do awful things the citizenry might object to is one of the hallmarks of a fascist government. So while the totalitarian England of V for Vendetta has much more in common with Nazi Germany than with modern day America, there are chilling reminders that there are similarities, and they seem to get more numerous every day. Last week US News and World Report reported that the Bush administration could give no assurances they were not doing warrantless searches of people and property under the same "authority" they believe allows them to do warrantless domestic wiretaps. Scary stuff. As Keith Olberman said on his show, "If there were a prequel to 1984, might this be the first chapter?"

And though there are moments in V for Vendetta that seem naive or fanciful -- the entire populace coming out wearing V's Guy Fawkes masks to demand a change in their government, for example -- the fact is something very much like that really happened a couple of years ago, albeit without the awesome masks. In the Ukraine, a fairly Westernized country, a handsome reformer ran against the Russian stooge incumbent. When the reformer got too popular, the intelligence service poisoned him. When that didn't work, they rigged the election. That would have done it, except the people rose up as one, gathered in the square, and demanded the Russian stooge go out, and the reformer go in. They stayed and they stayed, and finally, the Ukrainian president stepped down. When faced with an attempted coup d'etat, the people staged their own, successful one. So while some may say it's naive to think the people could ever rise up and speak truth to power with one voice as it happens in the movie, and most days I'd be one of those saying this, what may be more naive, more dangerous, is to think abuses of power and shifts away from representative government and towards fascism couldn't happen here. Anyway, I know that I've probably set expectations impossibly high for this movie, and you may come out of this movie totally disagreeing with me, but I really loved this movie and wanted to let you all know about it. It may be that after Ultraviolet, I could have gone to see Maid in Manhattan and been equally blown away, but I don't think so.

For an interesting, alternative view, go to Mike Moran's blog, Moranadu. He has a totally different take on the movie.

Before I end this way-long post, I wanted to link ya'll to this awesome clip. It's a video for a musician named Vitalic. It's called Birds and it has a lot of dogs in it, a la House of Dogs, flying around in slow-motion. Equal parts hilarious and mesmerizing, the thing that makes me watch it again and again (or rather hear it again and again) is the music. Just frickin' good. Makes me want to write. All right. More tomorrow.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Right Up There With Mortal Kombat: Annhilation, Ultraviolet Isn't Just The Worst Movie of 2006. It's The Worst Movie of the 21st Century

I forgot to tell you. Last week, Speck, my brother Patrick and I went to see the new Kurt Wimmer movie, Ultraviolet. I'd seen Wimmer's freshman effort, Librium, which Wimmer wrote and directed. While it did have problems, it wasn't a bad movie. Christian Bale, Emily Watson, the dude who played Robert the Bruce in Braveheart: all good actors doing good work. Years back I'd read, courtesy of Heath, an original draft of the screenplay and liked it. Though, in the final product, more interesting elements from that first draft were either watered down or eliminated completely, I thought the ambition behind Wimmer's film was worthy, and if he ever had more say in his film product, the result might be surprising ... if not good, exactly, than at least watchable, mindless entertainment. Even if it turned out to be a bad movie, we thought it would be bad in an inoffensive, Blade 3 sort of way.

Not so.

Ultraviolet is the most badly-written, badly-acted, non-sensical, sci-fi film to have a theatrical release in, I don't know ... my lifetime? The CGI was stunningly bad. They looked like cut scenes from a PS1 video game. Mind-boggling. In one neverending sequence, Milla Jovovich, who plays Violet, touches what looks like a compass on her belt which then allows her to drive her motorcycle up the sides of buildings while dodging bullets shot from a squadron of government helicopters. Like The Matrix as written by an 11-year old, and then directed by the guy who couldn't get into film school (which you KNOW means a non-talent). Not since Pootie Tang have I walked out of a movie, but we walked out of this one a half hour in and got some movie passes. I would say stay away from this one, but I know nary a one of you was even contemplating checking this one out, so I won't insult your intelligence. This one stung pretty bad. It'll be a long time before I see another movie I wasn't dead-sold on before going. Thank God V for Vendetta's coming out tomorrow.

Also, please, check out Heath's story on Literary Smackdown. And also Hinesy's. And Abe's. And now, freshly posted today, Shawn's. It's all good stuff, and you should give it a read. All three of you who still check this thing. All right. Tomorrow I'm busy with family stuff, so no blog action. I'll return on Monday with more crap. I mean Inanities. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Thanks for Visiting! Now Go To This Other Blog.

Today, I'm merely going to direct your attention to Hinesy's blog, The Literary Smackdown. For the month of March I've been the MC over there, introducing the authors and posting up their entries. The writing challenge that got the Smackdown party started this month was an exercise from John Gardner's how-to book, The Art of Fiction. The assignment: "describe a lake as seen by a young man who's just killed someone. Do not mention the murder." So to read my entry, go here. I encourage you to read the other three entries also -- it's worth your time. Good times.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In an Attempt to Free Louis XIV From the Guillotine, Blinky Charges Through a Crowd of 18th Century Parisians

This is a big "painting" I did my senior year in high-school. It's much too large for my little scanner, so I took a digital photo of it which is what you're looking at now. As you may notice, the image is a little out of focus on the left side of the frame. Anyway, I use quotation marks around "painting" because drawing with watercolor pencils and then using a water-laden brush to spread that color around (which is what I did here), seems to be painting only in the most technical sense. This is really a drawing I colored in. Probably no one would ever say I painted this. Anyway, whatever it is, it was partly inspired by Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Guiding the People. It's a cool painting, and not just because Liberty's dress has fallen down. I tried to grab a little of that painting's energy and that sense of capturing a big, crowd moment in a still frame with this dopey thing. What you see here is an attempt at a mob scene featuring yours, mine, and everyone's favorite anti-hero, Mr. Blinky. But more than all of that serious-sounding So-and-So-Painting-Influenced-My-Art stuff, I was just drawing a scene from my still-percolating Mr. Blinky screenplay. I was still writing it at the time. The script features only the most original, thought-provoking stuff; the kind of material Hollywood literary agents step over one another to represent: time travel, Nazis, elaborate special effects, vast arenas filled with costumed extras, and glorious "catchy" lines like, "I've got to save time."

Anyway, I also wanted to link you guys to something I saw on Aintitcoolnews. This is Peter Jackson accepting the award for best movie of the year for King Kong at the Empire Magazine awards. During his acceptance speech, which was taped, he included a King Kong blooper reel showing all the film's stars flubbing their lines and then immediately saying "F*ck!" afterwards. Hilarious. The best thing about it is Andy Serkis doing a little impromptu dance number while in the Kong motion-capture costume. The result had me rolling. Literally. Floating in mid-air like Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters just doing barrel rolls above my desk. See if you don't.

All right. More tomorrow.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Two Hours I Spent With a One Half of Filliam H. Muffman

Went to see Transamerica today. We saw it at the giant 24-screen Regal Cinemas megaplex down in Chamblee. It's sort of new. Driving north on Interstate 85, we've passed by it a few times, on each occasion marvelling at how repugnant pink and purple neon is (which this theater has in spades), and how much I prefer AMC to Regal. Regal, after all, was the first theater corporation (as far as I know) to show a 20-30 minute reel of commercials masquerading as "behind the scenes" info-tainment before the previews even begin. Regal calls it "The Twenty" which is the theater version of televisions hanging in every corner of a restaurant: something to relieve us poor humans of the burden of conversation. So those casual discussions you used to have before the movie started with the people that brung you, are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. I know. I don't appreciate anything until it's gone, either. AMC used to be superior in this respect, kow-towing in a smaller way to their bottomline by showing a relatively unobtrusive slide show of ads and "trivia". Slightly annoying, but quiet at least. But now AMC has their own thing. I don't know what it's called, but it's as abhorrent as Regal's "The Twenty".

And another thing: though both AMC and Regal have cupholders built into their armrests, AMC's armrest-cupholders seem to jut further out, allowing at least part of the seated moviegoer's arm to actually rest on the armrest. At Regal, the cupholders are much closer to the seated moviegoer's arms, making it impossible to rest any part of the arm on the armrest. If you force the issue and use the armest as it was intended, then you start to lose feeling in your hand because your wrist is pressed uncomfortably by the force of its own weight into the thin plastic rim of the cupholder. I think that sucks. I had to tuck my elbows between the armrests and fold them awkwardly across my lap for most of the movie. I do concede that some part of my trouble with the armrests stems from my having giant monkey arms, but surely I'm not the only one.

But anyway, enough of that. Transamerica. While watching this movie I thought about how structurally boring and lazy road movies can be. I know it's possible to make good road movies (Dumb and Dumber, Grapes of Wrath, Easy Rider supposedly), but writing a road movie in the first place seems like a lazy undertaking from a screenwriting point of view. It's so easy to just inject a new character or a new place into the story to give it a little narrative juice, that by the time the credits roll, they almost always feel kind of cheap and weightless. In a lot of ways, Transamerica felt like one of these good-effort road movies, but even with the interesting characters and the issues of "transgendered" people interacting with the rest of the world, the movie seems by-the-numbers and without dramatic weight. I walked out of the theater feeling a little like I hadn't actually seen anything. The performances are mostly believable. Felicity Huffman manages to pull off playing a male character trying to pass as a woman. She wears a prosthetic penis for a couple of scenes, and though this seems admirable and "brave" for an actress who's not classically pretty to do, it kind of adds to the stunt-like quality of the performance. It's hard to forget while watching Transamerica (which was released by the original Oscar-whores, the Weinsteins) that Huffman, like Theron before her playing a rough-looking lesbian serial killer, or Hillary Swank before them both, playing a lesbian trying to pass as a boy, that these actresses are all hunting for Oscar. I wonder: if there was no such thing as the Academy Awards, which is itself a strange and arbitrary singling out of films and performances as "Best" every year, would we still see this peculiar sub-niche of indie movies that revolve around a bravura, appearance-altering performance from some comely actress? I kind of doubt it. But I also don't mean to suggest Transamerica is a bad movie. It's not boring, and it never shifts off-tone, but because not much was risked narratively, I don't think much was gained either.

Before I go, I wanted to direct your attentions to a blog freshly inaugurated by my good friend from Massachusettes, Mike Moran, (SOF class of '01). It's only got one post so far, but Mike's got a unique and interesting (some might say slightly cynical) viewpoint, so I'm looking forward to his posts. Here's the link to MORANADU! More tomorrow.

Friday, March 10, 2006

An Experiment in Sequential Art

It is Friday and I am tired. I ran up and down the street flying a kite today at my in-laws, and being as out of shape as I am, that much exercise can lay me out for a few weeks. It's a strain for me to even type, much less think of something to type. Here goes.

A while back, I asked Shawn Harwell to write a couple pages of a graphic novel idea (any idea) he had, so I could work on something that wasn't Blinky or that "Untitled Sarah Hill project" (a page of which I posted up here). Shawn obliged with a compelling opening to a graphic novel involving hitmen, ultra-violence, regret, and, I'm guessing, redemption. I don't know the end. Anyway, as a capper for the week, I'm posting up this bit of comic art I did for Shawn's graphic novel idea. This was mostly an experiment. I wanted to see how this story in particular might look drawn in white pencil on black paper. This section of the page worked out all right, but the rest of the page (not pictured) did not. Thus the omission. I think when I do get around to drawing up a finished page (I've got all 4 or 5 pages thumbnailed out), I'll just do it in standard black ink on white, though I think I'll be liberal with the ink. This style of white on black paper doesn't really allow for sketching first, and then laying the finished drawing down over the sketch, and I usually make lots o' mistakes.

Anyway, I'm through boring you people this week. I am up out of here. Er'rybody have a good weekend.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thursday's Inanity: A Risque Cover for a Nuts and Bolts How To Draw Manual, and the Birth of a Speck

If anyone's been looking for the 21st century version of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, I've got the book you've been looking for. Here it is: How to Draw: The Best of Wizard Basic Training. Back when I was a major comics geek (I've since been demoted to minor comics geek), I used to love the "How to Draw" sections in each month's Wizard magazine where they'd offer cool drawing tips to would-be comic artists. As with most how-to books, the results of the amateur are often shockingly unlike the work of the pro, but while you're reading and before you've set pencil to paper to produce the predictably depressing result, you're thinking, "Yeah, I can do this!" If people knew they couldn't do beforehand, how-to books would never be profitable. Anyway, they cover everything in this one. From the precise pencils, inks, and paper the pros use, to a quick clinic on perspective, great tips for inking, coloring, composition, everything. So if you're a'hankering for some draw'rin books, I'd suggest you take a gander at this one. If you click on the link, you can, as the image says, search inside of the book to see sample pages.

In Crane news, today was laid back but kinda fun. Went to Best Buy today so David Speck could return Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He bought it the other night and we tried to watch it but the transfer was so bad, it was almost hard in places to concentrate on the movie. It's been a long time since I've seen anything on DVD look that bad. Anyone else had an issue with the movie? Ran around to a couple of other places, than headed home and played Punisher and Halo multiplayer for hours. It's good times. And because it is Speck's 27th birthday today, we had some chicken enchilada ring and some ice cream cake. He heads out to do his shoot tomorrow. Anyway, back to Halo. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Story of the Dog Who Was Cooler Than Me

My good friend (and loyal Inanities reader) David Speck is out in Atlanta visiting me and Peggy for a few days before he begins a Yamaha corporate video shooting south of the city. We were headed out to my local AMC to see 16 Blocks when we stopped at a red light. In my peripheral vision I spotted a dog in an SUV to our left, a mutt by the looks of it, with its head sticking out the window, enjoying the temperate sunny weather. I looked back to the light: still red. Then I realized the dog was wrong somehow. I looked back at it and saw something I've never seen before.

The dog was wearing sunglasses.

It wasn't wearing sunglasses in the same way we're all used to: a regular pair of our own, made for humans, placed on the dog's face for a joke or a photo op, usually staying in place for 5 seconds tops before the dog manages to shake them off. This dog was wearing full-on Made For Dogs sunglasses. Much, if not exactly like the sunglasses pictured. They were strapped on tight, but not too tight, and the dog seemed content and unencumbered by them. If a dog could be said to wear sunglasses naturally, this dog was doing so. I watched with eyes a-goggled, mouth agape, not sure what to think. "What could the purpose of those possibly be?" I asked. Beside me, David was busily trying to cycle through menu options on his elaborate PDA-Phone thing to get to the camera option, but by then the car carrying the too-cool-for-school pooch was too far away for a decent camera phone picture. The trend-setting dog got away, his coolness escaping with him undocumented.

Does anyone know what the hell these things could be for? Are these doggy sunglasses what I think they are, being just another needless pet accessory inflicted on animals who'd be better than fine without them? Or is this the result of some obscure study that says dog's eyes need protection from the sun as much as human eyes? I don't know, but this was a first for me, and I thought I'd share that with you folks. Has anyone seen this strange phenomenon before?

Anyway, 16 Blocks was very good. Speck liked it too. Well-acted, well-directed (surprisingly), and it did a bunch of very creative, admirable things within the constraints of the genre that worked very well. Bruce Willis does a great turn as an old used-up dirty cop trying to do the right thing for once, David Morse is fantastic as usual playing the heavy, and Mos Def is, well, kind of annoying with the voice he affects for the role, but he's clearly not another rapper trying to be an actor. He can act. One of the best things the screenwriter accomplished was making what appears at first to be a fairly run-of-the-mill cop thriller into something unpredictable and surprising. 16 Blocks was a great couple of hours and well worth a weekend matinee. If box office receipts signified quality, 16 Blocks would have the number one film this past weekend.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Geto Boys WISH They Were as Hard as Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman hosted SNL this past Saturday. I missed it. As soon as I saw they were opening the show with yet another bit of criminally weak Bush-related "political satire" featuring more of Will Forte's tone deaf impression, and because I knew that Natalie Portman (not an actress previously known for her comedic ability) was hosting, I thought for sure this would be yet another forgettable (if not awful) episode of the show. But over the past couple days, this clip's been making the rounds on the internet. It's the pixie-looking Natalie Portman, still growing her hair out from V for Vendetta, doing the hardest kind of hardcore "gangsta" rap. In the same vein as the uber-hilarious gangsta raps Chris Parnell does sometimes on Weekend Update, this short features Portman cursing a blue streak, slapping cast members, pushing away an autograph-seeking child dressed as Amidala, smashing bottles over her own head, and looking "hard" and a little insane in general. Pretty funny. Take a gander.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Academy Awards 2006: BOOOOORRRRRING!

Hello all! Now that the quasi-hiatus is behind us, we can get back to current events. So, today, I'm going to get to the thing everyone's talking about (or at least talking about not talking about), the Oscars. The 2006 awards were all handed out last night, and there was some great choices (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and some not-so-great choices (Memoirs of a Geisha over The New World, or over Batman Begins for cinematography?). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences can be a hard group to take seriously. They passed up chances to anoint modern classics like Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, or LA Confidential, in order to give the Best Picture nod to, respectively, Dances with Wolves, Forrest Gump, and Titanic. All of the films in these cases were actually good movies, I thought, but they were also not the best film of their respective years. So in 2006, we were lucky that Munich, the best film released this past year, was nominated at all. It looked to be a close thing there at the end of the nominating process. A lot of folks in Hollywood would have been happy to see Munich drop off the face of the earth, but it gutted it out and managed to make the top five list after all. But because Munich was the best film of last year, of COURSE it wouldn't win. But Crash? Not even Brokeback, but Crash? Inexplicable.

I'm not sure what to make of Crash winning the big award. I'm still not even sure what I think of this movie. I guess the reason I don't know what to think about Crash is because I never thought much about it after I saw it in the theater. It isn't the kind of movie that stays with you, at least it didn't stay with me. Crash seems to be more about a message than about a particular story, (and is that ever good?) and the message in Crash seems to be "racism is bad, but not all racists are bad people." Or maybe it's "racists are bad people, but sometimes bad people do good things"? I don't know. Is it the best movie of last year? Not by a long shot.

As for the award show itself, it presented once more the eternal Academy Award show conundrum -- how do you make this crap interesting? From the looks of things, making the proceedings watchable seems to be really damn hard. How do you perform almost universally awful "Best" Song nominees without boring everyone? The producer of the show, Gill Cates, seems to think interpretive dance is sometimes the answer, which he did with the performance of the first ever rap song nominee. But isn't it never the answer?

Another difficulty: how to get the largely humorless audience of actors and producers and film execs that comprise the Oscars audience to laugh? Doesn't seem to matter which comedic genius you throw at them, they're going to greet the guy with dull grins and muted, polite laughter.

And maybe the biggest challenge: how to make the often mind-numbing acceptance speeches acceptable. This year, Cates decided to play soft orchestral music over the winners' entire speech, instead of just at the end to get them the hell off the stage. I guess he did this to make everyone feel like they had just 5 seconds to finish during the whole of their alloted 30 seconds, resulting in super-rushed sounding speeches. I don't particularly enjoy hearing the soulless, award-acceptor-bot Hillary Swank, for example, thanking her cadre of lawyers, (as she did last year), but I don't know if limiting everyone to 30 or 60 seconds is quite the answer either. I know it's not a major deal for Reese Witherspoon to have only a minute to thank everyone who needs thanking, but for a lot of the winners, especially some of the technical guys or the animated short guys, this is the culmination of their professional lives. It sucks that some of them don't even get the oppotunity to say a single thing.

I guess a good Oscar show is like a good World Series: it depends on who's up that year. If great movies people care about are nominated (and have the added value of actually being good), and the Academy hires a good host who can nimbly riff on whatever happens on-stage, then you got the makings of a good show, but not even that guarantees it. The law of averages dictates that most Oscar shows are going to be, in the words of Mel Gibson, "as boring as a dog's ass."

Friday, March 03, 2006

In the Appliance Mosh Pit, the Atari 2600 Strangles the S**t Out of One of Them New-Fangled PS2's. Like Vanessa Williams, I Saved the Best For Last

Is it Friday already? Wow. I can't believe the quasi-hiatus is over so soon. Seems like the hiatus began just, geez, 4 or 5 days ago. Well, it's been an amazing journey. We've made incredible dicoveries together, you and I, revelations about "art", pop culture, and deleted comments we'll always remember. Who could forget those Michelangelo-esque drawings of the Alien Ant Farmers, rocking out like it was 2003? And with household appliances no less! Lol. And what about the picture of everyone's favorite magician-in-training, 15-year old Emma Watson, throwing back a Corona like she was 17-and-a-half and enrolled at FSU? What times we've had! These are indelible images that will last all of us a lifetime, and I'm so grateful we've been together this week to share in the magic that was the Crane's Inanities Quasi-Hiatus of March 2006. Hope your weekends don't feel like pale, lifeless facsimiles of your former lives, now that all of you are, in a way, doomed to live forever in the shadow of these quasi-hiatus posts. Life may have peaked for us this week.

What? I don't know either.

Anyway. Oscars Sunday. More blog on Monday.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Thursday's Quasi-Hiatus Storyboards

The fridge gets jostled by a jammin' AAF band member and beer pours inexplicably from the freezer. Luckily, loyal dependable vacuum cleaner is on hand to clean up. The tiny insert shows an inebriated vacuum cleaner only moments after the spill clean-up. There you go. The quasi-hiatus continues!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hermione Granger's No Lush!

Because it's truly criminal that loyal Inanity-reader and A-#1 harrasshole Heath Michaels ever be bored at work, even on this blogger's quasi-hiatus, I'm posting up this picture of Emma Watson, AKA Hermione Granger, "tipping one back" at the tender age of 15. This picture comes straight off of Gawker, where they have a snippet of prose about the photo beneath the photo. In the comments on Gawker, someone suggests Emma's only faking taking a swig, and the more I look at it (and I've looked at it more than I care to admit), the more it does look like she's just kidding. Hermione would never engage in underage drinking.

Wednesday's Quasi-Hiatus Storyboard

This is Dryden singing to an electric mixer. Again, these are music videos. The bar is not, and never has been set very high. Enjoy your hump day er'rybody, and check out the Smackdown for the new March writing topic I posted. It's a short one, so everyone can try it! (he said, waaay more optimistic than he had any right to be).