Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ruffalo Says "Nuh-Uh" To Whining to the New York Times

Today I've got a follow up to this post regarding the New York Times article that was sort of about "Zodiac" but mostly about Fincher being a director actor's don't like working with.

In this follow-up interview Reeler did with "Zodiac" co-star Mark Ruffalo, Ruffalo offers a different take regarding Fincher's interactions with the actors on-set than the New York Times article did. In this brief item, Ruffalo says the following:
"Yeah, you hear stories about him being so hard and intense," Ruffalo said. "And then I met him, and I immediately just loved the guy and was thinking , 'Well, when is he going to change? When is this guy that you keep hearing about going to pop up?' And my relationship and friendship with him got deeper as we went along. I think Fincher, what he has no patience for is incompetence or just a casual attitude toward the work. If you come in and you don't know your lines and you're not prepared, Fincher's going to eat you for breakfast. You know? And so the actors who complain about Fincher are usually the ones who don't show up knowing their shit, kind of."
He goes on in the article to essentially call out Gyllenhaal and Downey Jr. for being unprepared on-set. Ruffalo seems credible here, but I'm not sure his perception on the matter totally reverses the impression left by the NYTimes article, though it definitely calls it into question. In any event, I'm hyped for "Zodiac" this Friday. Early word has been very good. I'd have been happy with "Panic Room" good, but some of the critics seems to be talking "Se7en" good. Can't wait.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Squid and the Whale", "Employee of the Month", and "Kramer vs. Kramer". Your Tuesday Passel of Movie Reviews

With this Blockbuster Total Access thing we've been doing, I've been seeing a lot of movies. We just took the two we got in the mail yesterday back to the store today and got "The Departed" and "The Prestige" in exchange (for free!). Yesterday the wifey and I watched both "The Squid and the Whale" and "Employee of the Month". One was much better than the other. I'll let you take a guess as to which one was which.

1.) "The Squid and the Whale". I'd been avoiding this one for a while, never interested enough in the premise to grab it off the shelf instead of some other movie. But when it came in the mail yesterday (as the wife put it on the queue -- even though "Black Sunday" has been at the top of the queue for quite some time, it's never come -- I'm beginning to think Blockbuster's banned it from our household), we watched it right away. The film was a pleasant surprise. Jeff Daniels plays English PhD and creative-writing professor Bernard Berkman, husband to Joan (Laura Linney) and father to Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline). Bernard is a once-famous writer tapped out of the Grady Tripp mold (Michael Douglas's character in "Wonder Boys") whose rage at the slow decline of his writing career has slowly destroyed his marriage and forced his sons to take sides between the parents. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the film is based on his own life growing up with two writers, the novelist Jonathan Baumbach and the Village Voice writer, Georgia Brown. The heart of this story is Walt's freeing himself from his father's burdensome expectations and unhealthy advice, but taken altogether "The Squid and the Whale" is also a 2-hour seminar on why it's never a good idea to get divorced. Particularly if you have children. Baumbach looks at the divorce of the two parents from everyone's viewpoint, and it's wrenching and sad and painful for everyone. Though the mother (Linney) comes off best, everyone has their moments of pettiness or extreme self-absorption. In other words, it's difficult at times to feel sorry for any of them (though the youngest boy is a true innocent through all of it, despite his icky behavior). At times it feels like perhaps Baumbach is, perhaps, too frank with the facts of his adolescence during this painful time in his life, but overall it's a strong film. Everyone's good in it, but Jeff Daniels was a real stand-out to me. Partly because the role was the most fleshed-out and best written (Noah seems to have the most to say about this character), but mostly because Daniels completely inhabits the role of a guy who's so wrapped up in himself and his own feelings he can barely spare a thought for his children, and even still manages to make him sympathetic. Though just barely. Anyway, a good film.

And right after that I took in...

2.) "Employee of the Month". Not good. The trailers succeeded, I thought, in making this thing look like a good-hearted, solidly funny dumb comedy from the Adam Sandler school of filmmaking (the tolerable Sandler movies, anyway). But honest-to-God there isn't a real laugh in this entire movie. I think that the middling, amateurish script (curiously devoid of jokes considering some of the funny people involved; I would have thought that Harland Williams or Andy Dick could have written up a laugh line or two, but no such luck) is a big part of the problem, but I have to say the star of the film, Dane Cook (for whom this is his first starring role), is really the weakest link for me. His performance is so shot through with a kind of phony "aw-shucks" sincerity that you can never see past Cook's look-at-me-and-love-me performance to the story (such as it is) beyond. It's as if he was told by his management team that to be successful as a Hollywood movie star, it's not about being funny or interesting on-screen, it's about playing characters that audiences like. There's some legitimate argument to be made there, but no matter how likeable Cook tries to make his characters, the fact that he is neither funny or interesting in this film, can't help but derail his nascent career if he keeps doing stuff like this. The fact that he's got another big role in the upcoming Kevin Costner/William Hurt movie "Mr. Brooks" says to me he's got a good agent, and a studio with a close eye on Cook's comedy tour grosses. Not to pile-on, but this movie just has so very little going for it. Dax Shepherd, the weird Zach Braff clone, is game with a dumb role but with this movie and "Let's All Go To Prison" under his belt, I wonder if he isn't getting the stink of Bad Movie on him. time will tell. Jessica Simpson is in way over her head here with the role of romantic interest. Her vacuity is on full display here, but the director, to his credit, must have noticed this, and tries at every opportunity to distract the viewer from her blank-faced performance by presenting her air-conditioned breasts in revealing tops. This tactic usually works. Anyway, a bad movie. I was kind of surprised. I thought Cook was funny on SNL, I think some of his jokes (stolen or no) are funny and well-told, and thought at least some of that would come through in this movie, but man does it ever not.

And then Saturday night on AMC, I caught all of ...

3.) "Kramer vs. Kramer". AMC was showing a bunch of Best Picture Oscar-winning films (without commercial interruptions -- how great is that?), and I started into this one and never once lost interest. "Kramer" won the Best Picture Oscar for 1979 (beating "Apocalypse Now") and though I don't think it's a better film than "Apocalypse" (they seem way too different to even compare), I thought it was memorable and very well-done. The movie starts with Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) walking out on Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) and their son, little Billy (Eight-year old Justin Henry, who got himself a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance -- he was the only nominated member of the cast to lose). So Ted, who's a big time ad executive, has to juggle raising his kid and a high-stress job with very little help. The scenes where he and his son adjust to a wifeless and motherless existence are effective and moving. Predictably, Ted has a hard time handling all of these responsibilities, and soon loses the support of his boss who doesn't like that Ted isn't working his usual 80-hour weeks, and then loses his job altogether. The sequence when Ted vows to get a new job in 24 hours (and then does!) is riveting. The film serves in some respects as an indictment of the judicial system's unquestioning preference for the mother over the father in custody cases. I guess director Robert Benton should be commended for not making Streep's character more unlikeable, or obviously less fit as a mother -- that would have been ham-fisted and preachy -- she gets fairly even treatment in the film and it's that balance that keeps the movie real and engrossing. The movie succeeds, I think, in making the point that a father's role in the upbringing of a child is in many ways just as important as the mother's. The film's ending was too happy, too pat, and not terribly believable -- the honest ending for the movie was obvious but the filmmakers (and perhaps even the author of the original novel) disappointingly opted for a more audience-friendly end, but aside from that, a great movie.

AND! And I now understand another of the "Family Guy" movie references. This scene comes directly from "Kramer vs Kramer". Funny stuff.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tepid Oscar Wrap-Up

I think last night was the first time (in a long time) that the best movie I saw in a given year won the Best Picture Oscar. I was very pleased to see Scorsese win Best Director and his movie get Best Picture, but what a giant slog to get there. At least I predicted that last night (even if I got Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture wrong). Since I'm having trouble forming coherent sentences right this minute, I'll just do a quick Liked and Disliked in a listish form.

LIKED: Ellen's hosting. The musical number with Will Farrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly. Very funny but a little wobbly in places. And Jack Black making eyes at Helen Mirren was pretty funny. The little factoid that appeared during the Cameron Diaz interview in the pre-show that her childhood nickname was Skeletor. I laughed and laughed at that. She DOES look like Skeletor! Children can be mean, but they can also be witty little bastards. The Al Gore/Leo DiCaprio presentation where Al ALMOST announces his run for the Presidency, Michael Mann's movie montage, Scorsese's win, "The Departed"s win. The part where Ellen asked Spielberg to take a second picture of her and Clint Eastwood. "Maybe center it a little more?" Funny. Maybe that's it.

DISLIKED: The speeches. God, the speeches. Didn't they do away with speeches one year in the seventies? They need to try that again. Or maybe require that everyone submit one and have a group of Academy members screen them for any mentions of anyone who works in the entertainment industry. I didn't even like Forrest Whitaker's speech. The song performances. Uniformly dreary. And Melissa Etheridge's song for "An Inconvenient Truth" was probably the worst Best Song winner since, well, last year's win for that "Hustle and Flow" rap song. Man, it's really bad just about every year. Pretty much all of the other film montages. Ennio Morricone's all-Italian acceptance speech. (Does Clint really know Italian?) The chorus of "foley" artists, who made the art of foleying sound pretty much like something anyone can do. All those damn "Pan's Labyrinth" wins. Scorsese's Oscar speech. I thought he was maybe going to say something he'd prepared, talk about film from a film historian's perspective, but it was just more of the same thanking bullshit. I guess everyone in Hollywood still gets jazzed at the idea of having their name mentioned in front of a live television audience, and hold it against you if you forget their names.

Anyway. This show just seemed more boring than in recent years. I don't know if it's because the movies were kind of lackluster this year (and that "Children of Men" didn't get more nominations), or if it was just a straight-up boring as hell show. Probably a bit of both.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pre-Show Predictions

Before the Oscar telecast starts up tonight, I thought I'd post up some predictions. I'll get right to them.

Best Picture
: I got a weird feeling it's going to be "Little Miss Sunshine". I think this movie benefits from being a smart, tightly-written, well-shot movie that people have been dismissing for awards since it came out. It might have enough underdog buzz to eke out the win. I think people thought "Babel" was too alienating, "Letters from Iwo Jima" too Clint-y (not to mention no one's seen it), "The Queen"not sweeping enough and too modern for a movie about the royals, but I think if it's not "Little Miss", then "The Departed" has got the best shot -- it's also helped by being the actual best film of all of the nominees.

Best Director
: I think Scorcese's DGA win makes him a lock. If he doesn't get it, we'll know once and for all the Academy loathes Marty.

Best Actor
: Forrest Whitaker, and he deserves it.

Best Actress
: Helen Mirren, and she deserves it.

Best Documentary Feature
: My man Al Gore with "An Inconvenient Truth".

As for Best Supporting, everything I'm reading says it'll be Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson. As for the show itself, I predict a real snorer. Good luck with this four-hour behemoth, Ellen!

Other than that, enjoy the show!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Just a Bunch of Time-Wasting Links

A couple interesting links I came across today.

1.) I like David Caruso. For some reason after he left "NYPD Blue" to star in a bunch of flops and essentially killed his career, I felt bad for him because I thought he was kind of an exciting actor, or at least he could be, and he'd made some bad decisions. Happens to the best of us. So when he rocketed back to fame by being cast in the lead in the first "CSI" spin-off, I was glad for him. This compilation of clips from his show, "CSI: Miami", however, makes me believe that he may have traded in any edge he might have once had as an actor, and has become instead more of a "presence", a kind of "gruff cop" archetype viewers can depend on seeing every week. His slide into a hammy cariacture of himself is actually pretty funny. He's laughing all the way to the bank. You can watch it here. (I have to say the writing has to bear some of the blame for this.)

2.) If you like fun ways to waste your life away, check out You draw a line, press play, and a little man on a sled rides that line wherever it goes. Good times. Also some fun movies that some users, possessed of a bit of ingenuity and a whole lot o'time, made using the program. The movies made using this program was one of a bunch Slate spotlighted in its feature on so-called "Machinima", or movies made using video games. You can check that out here.

3.) "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" opened with "Daily Show" style ratings on Sunday, so says Variety. Tom Shales's review of the show in the Washington Post is quoted in the article. He said the show "isn't terrible." So far, all evidence to the contrary, Tom. In case you doubt, here's another clip from the show. It's a riff on global warming alarmists and it's just as funny as it sounds. The thing that the "1/2 News Whatever" doesn't seem to get is that although "The Daily Show" does have a left-leaning bent, they don't not go after the Democrats or the excesses of the left. More often, it seems, Stewart and his crew go after TV news in a very scathing and effective way. But the "jokes" on Surnow's new show are aimed exclusively at "left" targets (just as the rest of the network does), so even if there were some moments of humor on the show (none in evidence so far as I can tell), they fall flat because it's a show that, openly, avowedly, has an agenda to push, in this case to "correct" the imbalance the "Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" created. I'm doubtful this show can work on any level. (Also: Heath, you'll love the dig on the ACLU at the end of the clip.)

All right. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yet Another Post about "Silence of the Lambs"

I've been watching some of the documentaries on the new 2-disk "Collector's Edition" of "Silence of the Lambs", and there are some fascinating tidbits in it.

* Sean Connery was the first actor Jonathan Demme sent the script to for Lecter. He had a "commercial" Lecter in mind (Connery) and a "perfect" Lecter (Hopkins). When Connery passed, Demme figured he'd done his due dilligence to make the film more obviously commercial and very happily went to Hopkins to see if he'd do it. "Are the lambsh shtill shcreaming, Clareesh?"

* Jodie Foster used to call the actress who played Catherine Martin (the girl in the well) "Patty Hearst" (jokingly) because she was always hanging out with Ted Levine, who played her captor, Jame Gumb.

* Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins never really spoke to each other until filming was nearly completed. Only rarely were they both physically present for a shot because of all the POVs and close-ups.

* Jonathan Demme rarely did more than two or three takes to get his shot, and his cast and crew were happy --Demme created a very collaborative, congenial atmosphere on his set. (I include that to contrast with the Fincher post of yesterday. Cheap shot, I know, and every director's different and all that, but it's definitely possible to make a brilliant film and create a positive working environment. Blah blah.)

*Thomas Harris (the novelist) and Ted Tally (the screenwriter) were acquainted with one another BEFORE the novel's publication through Tally's wife. Harris did business with the art gallery she worked with. Harris sent Tally a galley copy of the book prior to publication.

* Gene Hackman bought the rights first because he wanted to produce, direct and STAR in the film as Lecter. When Tally turned in his screenplay, he said it was too violent and sold the rights back to Orion. Orion gave it to Demme.

Lots of good stuff on that bonus disc. I'm also looking forward to the documentary they did with Howard Shore on scoring the film. It's one of the great scores, I think, particularly because it manages to tell a story that can get almost operatic at times, but the score itself never gets too showy.

Anyway, I'm very into "Silence of the Lambs" right now (as you can tell), and this 2-disc DVD edition is the perfect way to groove on this "Silence" phase I'm in. Just the same way that watching a really bad movie can be a depressing experience, watching a fantastic movie can be exhilarating. They make it look so easy that it gives the impression (false though it may be) that making a genius film is simply a matter of getting out there and doing it. But the truth is that films like "Silence" are an absolute rarity. Even though they assembled an extremely talented crew of people to make that film, none of them, in my opinion, have even come close to being involved in a film as good as "Silence" in the years since. Except maybe Jodie in "Nell".

Ttotally timeless.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fincher Joins an Elite Club, and The Chairman of New Line Cinema Nearly Dies. Your Tuesday Inanity

A couple of very interesting entertainment stories came down the pike yesterday. Both are from The New York Times.

1.) David Fincher's an ass-hole. I think we all knew that from the stories that filter out from his film-sets (like the professional beakup between Fincher and D.P. Darius Khondji on the set of "Panic Room"), but this is the first time I've seen it laid out in black and white. Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars in Fincher's upcoming film, "Zodiac", had this to say about working with Fincher:
What’s so wonderful about movies is, you get your shot,” he said. “They even call it a shot. The stakes are high. You get your chance to prove what you can do. You get a take, 5 takes, 10 takes. Some places, 90 takes. But there is a stopping point. There’s a point at which you go, ‘That’s what we have to work with.’ But we would reshoot things. So there came a point where I would say, well, what do I do? Where’s the risk?
And Robert Downey Jr. said:
Sometimes it’s really hard because it might not feel collaborative, but ultimately filmmaking is a director’s medium,” he said. “I just decided, aside from several times I wanted to garrote him, that I was going to give him what he wanted. I think I’m a perfect person to work for him, because I understand gulags.
Mark Ruffalo said:
The way I see it is, you enter into someone else’s world as an actor,” he said. “You can put your expectations aside and have an experience that’s new and pushes and changes you, or hold onto what you think it should be and have a stubborn, immovable journey that’s filled with disappointment and anger.”
It's not hard to see what they're all getting at. They all hated being on this movie. In the same article, Fincher is quoted saying, "Every once in a while there are actors you can defeat." And, about "Panic Room": "I was kind of impatiently waiting for everybody [he means the actors] to get where I’d already been a year and a half ago." With "Zodiac", he ditched the meticulously-storyboarded approach he brought to "Panic Room" and decided he would, instead, "be more attentive to watching the actors." Lucky actors.

All that being said, I think Fincher's one of the best directors working today. Kubrick was notorious for shooting crazy numbers of takes, and I wouldn't have wanted him to lessen those numbers by a single one to make the actors feel better, or like him better. And I think Fincher may not be too far out of Kubrick's league. I guess it's just a little depressing that at least three men renowned for making exceptional films -- Michael Mann, James Cameron, and now David Fincher -- are all unrepentant bastards while working. Does excelling in this medium require a myopic perfectionist hard-ass with a special talent for making others feel small? I would say probably not (I still haven't heard a bad word about Peter Jackson, for example), but it seems to help. I'm very happy to see their films ( "Zodiac" comes out March 2nd), I'm just glad I don't have to work with them.

2.) New Line Cinema Chairman Robert Shaye nearly died in 2005. He caught the streptococcus A bacteria, came down with a very serious from of pneumonia (the same kind that killed Jim Henson), and the doctors put him into a medically-induced coma for 6 weeks. Holy crap! Can you imagine? Giving the OK to the doctors to put you under for six weeks knowing the chances of dying while comatose were (and I'm assuming here) pretty damn good? Creepy.

Anyway, Shaye's recovery took a long time, but I'd say he was getting pretty close to fighting weight when he got all bastard-y with Peter Jackson about the audit Jackson requested for the "Fellowship" DVD sales. (Jim Cameron weighed in saying that, even with the most transparent studio, you still do an audit. This leads me to believe New Line's got something to hide here). Because of that lawsuit (which Shaye's fighting), Shaye doesn't want Jackson to direct "The Hobbit", and is trying to get Sam Raimi to do it. Ugh. I could MAYBE say no to a non-Peter Jackson-directed "Hobbit" if Shaye got some nobody to do it (or worse a somebody like Ratner or Story), but a Raimi-directed "Hobbit" would be hard to say no to.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Book Illustratin'

After two weeks of incessant posting, I thought I'd give you an illustration interlude. As the actual writing part of my book winds down (yes, I'm still entering in those changes -- got hung up on a problematic scene but I think I fixed it today), I've been thinking more and more about illustrating it. The idea of big, full-page pen and ink drawings isn't appealing to me (way too much work), but I like the idea of little drawings that could appear on the first page of each chapter, just above the big number. In addition to the painted, full-page illustrations in King's "The Gunslinger", the artist, Michael Whelan, also drew these great, ultra-detailed little drawings that kind of gave the story an added layer of richness. That's kind of my template.

The above is an unfinished sketch (the two trees that frame the scene ought to be black, for instance), but if I did a finished version of this, I'd put it at the beginning of Chapter One. The drawing shows the unfriendly emissary of the gated community, Richard Junger (in his black Mercedes) parked at the end of the paved road watching the hero drive up the dirt road. Anyway, it's a first draft.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Blazing Beacon of Truth That is the Inanities Has Shown "24" the Error of Its Ways. Also More "1/2 Hour News Hour" Badness For Your Amusement

Good news for "24" fans. After what was, for me, nearly a whole week of being conflicted about watching the show because of this afore-blogged about "New Yorker" article, Howard Gordon, one of the executive producers of the show, said yesterday that they'll be dialing back on the torture in the remaining shows. Go here for the story. Though Gordon says they're decreasing the amount of torture on the show because it was getting to be "trite" and NOT because of any human rights concerns, I'm just glad they got the message, even if it wasn't Surnow. I'm sure he's up in his office shaking his head at the "liberal media" and the "PC gestapo" everytime he thinks about what they've made him do, but I think the slight shift in the show's content is good for the culture and good for Fox's bottom-line because now liberals can watch the show guilt-free again. Of course the bad news is that they've already shot 16 of the 24 episodes -- all of them no doubt chock full of torture and thinly veiled Republican dogma -- so this new anti-torture directive will effect only the final eight. Good enough, says me.

Also, the new Surnow-produced Fox "comedy" show, "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" premieres tonight on Fox News. If that first clip wasn't enough to convince you that ultra right-wingers are incapable of writing and/or performing comedy, this clip ought to do the trick. No doubt, the two "stars" in this clip agreed to do it because they're close personal friends with Surnow. In a way, this clip makes the New Yorker article come alive by showing concretely the extent of Surnow's connections with these sort of people. In terms of comedy, this clip's even more cringe-worthy. The laugh track makes me depressed -- they don't even want to fool you into thinking actual people are in the studio laughing it up at this dreck. It's as if they know their audience won't know the difference. Yeesh.

Anyway, enjoy the awfulness, and enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

JJ Abrams Nabs "Dark Tower" to Direct? Also: TVM's Website and Rogan V. Mencia: Plagiarism Smackdown!

I read a depressing and widely-reported rumor the other day on (who was in turn reporting it from It's just a rumor at this stage, but it isn't exactly without credence. The rumor is that JJ Abrams of "Lost" and "Mission Impossible 3" fame, has been tapped to direct Stephen King's 7-volume epic "The Dark Tower". For anyone who has affection for Roland Deschain and this weird sci-fi/western amalgam and looked forward to one day seeing it on the big screen, this is bad news.

The background on this (which I think Aintitcool's Quint talks about in the item) is that King and the writers of "Lost" had a symposium of some kind recently where the empaneled JJ Abrams talked about how much they loved King, and the also empaneled King talked about how much he liked "Lost". Strangely, one of King's primary reasons for enjoying the show (which he talks about in his Entertainment Weekly column) is probably the main reason I think the show's lost a lot of steam: King likes that the "Lost" writers don't know where the show's headed. I imagine this is so because that's how he writes (with at least one exception) and thinks it's the best way to go with novel-writing. So anyway, on-stage and off, Abrams goes on and on to King about the "Dark Tower" and how much he'd love to adapt it and King offers it to him.

I hope it's not true, but if it is, this is why it's depressing: JJ Abrams.

King's a great writer, but he doesn't seem to have a clear idea of what is good and what is bad when when it comes to adaptations of his own work. How else can you explain how he keeps giving Mick Garris his novels to adapt even though Garris has screwed them up abysmally time and time again? How else can you explain why King believes the ABC mini-series version of "The Shining" is superior to Kubrick's? Granted, some of that has to be authorial myopia that comes from being so close to one's own work, but whatever the case, King isn't the best judge of who best to bring his stories to screen. So by choosing JJ Abrams, and this is what's galling, he's decided to reward mediocrity and buckets of flattery by giving JJ, the son of a well-connected TV producer, his magnum opus to adapt as he sees fit. Given both King's and Abrams's long-standing relationship with ABC, my guess is they'll go this route and ABC will be accommodating with millions of dollars to each. Abrams has just one feature under his belt, ("MI:3", a big-budget franchise movie that, despite a 100 million dollar budget, managed to feel like TV), and now he just gets this?

Anyway, I know this is all way geeky and I seem pissed all out of proportion to this story's actual importance, but I really like "The Dark Tower", a story a lot of talented filmmakers would all kill their grandmothers to make, but somehow Abrams gets to be the guy? I'm not saying that there is no possibility that Abrams could make this into a worthwhile film, but why take the chance as the odds are against him? There are a lot of A-1 directors out there sitting on the bench who'd make something worthwhile out of this stuff if they got a chance at the plate, but . . . all right. I'm done talking about it.

In other news, I stumbled over an old high-school classmate's website the other day. Trevor Van Meter was a year ahead of me at Sanderson, and back then he was (and is now) a really talented visual artist. My junior year, he painted a giant, muscly Spartan (he was our school's mascot) on the wall of the gymnasium that was about 20 feet high and ten across and looked not at all like a high-school student's effort at large-scale painting. Anyway, he's good and in the intervening 12 years, he's gotten into professional illustration. Here's a link to his site. Though I like his style of illustration and T-shirt design, I'd really like to see what he's been drawing in a more naturalistic, pencil on paper kind of style. Anyway, popular illustration-themed blog, "Drawn!" like his stuff, too, and has linked to Van Meter here, and here.

Finally, this: Joe Rogan (of "Fear Factor") and Carlos Mencia (of "Mind of Mencia") don't like each other. Rogan has taken it upon himself to end the practice of comics stealing material from other comics. He says, and I paraphrase, "If this kind of thing happens in the recording industry, it's all over the news. If it happens in comedy, no one cares." He cares. Carlos Mencia (along with Dane Cook) are notorious in the comic community as joke-stealers. At a recent show, Mencia called Rogan (who sounds like he was in the audience heckling) up on stage to put the matter to rest. This is what happened. (It's a 10-minute clip and features loads of cursing, in case you're at work). I'm not really a fan of either of these guys, but their on-stage fracas is fascinating.

I'm not sure what it is, but I think the sub-culture of comedians is characterized primarily by stunted emotional development. The conversation they have on-stage resembles more a back-of-the-classroom argument in a 10th-grade remedial English class than it does two ostensibly grown men trying to make their case in front of a worked-up audience. Anyway, it's interesting.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Maybe the Very Very Old Will Find it Funny?

Okay, yes, I'm flogging the Joel Surnow thing to death a little, but this was too good not to mention.

In Monday's post, I mentioned the new show that "24" executive producer Joel Surnow was producing for Fox News. Entitled "The 1/2 Hour News Hour", it's supposed to be the conservative answer to "The Daily Show". What I didn't know when I mentioned that was just how soon we'd get a taste of the show. A clip leaked onto YouTube today. To be completely honest, I was a little worried I'd think the show was funny. Like I'd have to eat crow and tip my hat that they'd done the impossible, that is make jokes with a conservative slant funny. But now that I've seen the clip, I can rest assured no such crow eating will ever take place. I'd say this qualifies as Exhibit 2,348B proving conservatives aren't funny.

Watch. Believe.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Hannibal Rising" to "Nashville"

So, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, I saw "Hannibal Rising" on Sunday night. Not too good as you might have guessed. I knew going in that the reviews had been nearly universal in their antipathy towards the film, but I went hoping to see if there was even a little flash of the Lectery goodness I love so much. No such luck. The guy who plays Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) has this terrible, Eurotrashy accent which, even if there'd been any good lines for him to deliver, would have mangled them. Worse, he's got this Crispin-Glovery joker-mask for a face. Not a trace of Hopkins in either appearance or demeanor, and not even an interesting new take on the character to make up for it. Some of the movie's difficulty lay in casting Noel but I think Harris's novel is central to the film's failure. True, the Lecter character never needed fleshing out -- I think he was just fine as Harris left him at the end of "Silence": enigmatic and unpredictable -- but much about the backstory Harris gives Hannibal is just disappointing. The reason he eats people is because starving opportunists ate his sister when he was a kid? And he's a Lithuanian whose father's named Count Lecter? You almost think Harris thought about the whole thing for a second, called it good and went ahead, thinking all the while to the 5 million dollar check he'd soon deposit. I wished he'd paused for a few minutes and thought a little harder. Would have made a better book and possibly a better movie and he would have gotten the same cash. Anyway, neither was good enough to devote more ink to than just that.

Also, I watched "Nashville" finally. I thought it was dull, overlong, and self-indulgently meandering. It feels like a movie that's so of that particular moment that if you weren't in any way present for that moment, the film has no impact. I totally concede that I may just be an uncultured goof but, so far, after having watched two of his "classic" films, "M.A.S.H." and now "Nashville", the critical glow that surrounds Altman still mystifies me. Maybe "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" will be the one that redeems him for me. I saw the first few minutes of that movie and it looked great. Here's hoping.

[Ed. note: The kid's name isn't Gaspar Noel as I originally wrote, but Gaspard Ulliel. Just lazy.]

Monday, February 12, 2007

Et Tu, "24"?

Hi, everybody! Hope everyone enjoyed their weekends. My 30th birthday weekend went just great, thanks to everyone who wrote or called to say Happy Birthday. I really appreciated it. Anyway my folks took me and whole gang out Saturday night to watch me gorge myself on sushi in a frigid Atlanta restaurant. We all had a good time so thanks to my muzzuh and fazzuh for that. The next day, Peggy's folks took the wife and I to a barbecue joint called Smokey Bones and presented me with, among other things, "Gears of War" as well as a customizable face plate for the 360. I got home and promptly printed out this drawing of Blinky and made it my new faceplate. Looks pretty cool, I think. Then we went to see "Hannibal Returns", but that's for another post.

Okay, onto the topic at hand, namely "24". This show, of which I am a fan, airs on Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox. The show, not surprisingly, skews right. Previously, in interviews with the press, the writers have been careful to assure viewers that the writing staff has its share of conservatives and liberals and no one ideology dominates the room, but it's still pretty obvious the right-wingers have more sway. I also know there's a fair amount of hypocrisy on my part for enjoying the many many scenes of torture depicted on the show, while at the same time deeply opposed to the practice in real life, but so far it hasn't swayed me from watching. I started watching this current season of "24" reasonably comfortable with these contradictions.

This article from The New Yorker, however, has got me thinking in a different way. Is it possible that "24" is normalizing the idea of an America that tortures where, just a few years ago (pre-Bush the Younger) it was a point of moral pride that Americans did not torture? Could my support of the show be perpetuating the myth that torture is effective and something that self-sacrificing patriots do to extract information? As the article reveals conclusively and horrifyingly, Joel Surnow (pictured), who is the executive producer of the show, is a self-described "right-wing whacko" who likes and agrees with Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Lynne Cheney (whose a "big fan"), the President, Karl Rove, the Vice President, Joe McCarthy, and a host of other Republican low-lights. They seem to like him back. After reading the article, my kneejerk reaction is that I want to scrub all the seasons of "24" from my brain and curse it from the rooftops so loathsome and antithetical to my belief system is Surnow and his ilk.

That being said, I am a little hesitant to embrace the implications of this article whole-heartedly because the argument is, at heart, "don't put this on TV because look what it's making people do". Which is one of my least favorite arguments. Don't let them make violent video games because look at all the people it made my little Timmy kill. Don't let them put those curse-word lyrics on that CD because look what it's making my little Timmy say. The links between consuming those media and then perpetrating crimes is, to my mind, essentially zero.

On the other hand, the link between six years of a popular show like "24" in which nearly every other episode features a scene depicting extreme torture, and six years of an administration working non-stop to legalize torture for use by the U.S. military, maybe isn't so tenuous. According to the article, U.S. military brass had a pow-wow with the show's writers asking them to tone down the torture and find ways to make it more realistic because it was giving the military interrogators the wrong idea about how torture really works. That's a big deal. (Surnow did not, by the way, attend that pow-wow. He had a "meeting", supposedly with Roger Ailes. Shudder.) When Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland was presented by this delegation evidence of the show's unintended consequences, he got worried because he's anti-torture himself. (As for Joe McCarthy-apologist Surnow? Not worried a bit.) (By the way, the writers agreed to change nothing.)

As the article references, many a rightist pundit has held up the popularity of "24" as a kind of unofficial referendum on where Americans are on torture, and in their eyes, the big numbers for the show mean America's pretty much for it. Now if it were just the radio fascists like Hannity, Limbaugh and Ingraham who were trying to equate "24"'s popularity with a silent majority concensus on torture, than I don't think it would be an issue. Ninety-five percent of what they say is bullshit anyway. But when the "Torture-is-AOK" crew at the Bush White House (like Cheney, Gonzales, Bush,) start using the show to push their pro-torture agendas, I start to get a little more than just queasy about tuning in myself every Monday night. It feels like if I watch "24", then the Bush White House wins.

Also, I don't want anything to do with enriching this Surnow character. In addition to the right-skewing "24", he's going to executive produce the new Fox News "comedy" show designed to be the answer to "The Daily Show", which sort of offends me on a visceral level. As if these Bush White House apologists could make something legitimately funny. This from the network that brought Dennis Miller onto "Hannity and Colmes" for a few minutes of stand-up every week. I caught a minute of that. Wow. Even the crickets withheld their chirping. (The fact is conservatism is inherently unfunny. It's something they have to learn to deal with. They get to be the unapologetic macho alpha-male assholes, and we get to be funny.)

Anyway, "24" airs tonight. "Two hours of Bauer" as they're saying. Ordinarily, I'd be hyped for this, but now all this Surnow stuff. . . I don't want to be led around by the nose by the New Yorker like a good liberal, either, but it gives me serious pause. I don't know.

Anyway, if you're a fan of the show like I am, I strongly reccomend this disquieting article. Let me know what you think.

Friday, February 09, 2007

This Post is Brought to You Today by Procrastination

And just like that it's Friday. My first week in I don't know how long of five posts in five days. Hope to keep it up.

In book news, I've got today and tomorrow (before Sunday and big 30) to take my paper edits of the "polished draft" (which I finished with a couple days ago so, in essence, the book is done), into the "Final" Word document. I'm on page 261 of 490, just came across a page covered with strike-throughs and add-ons, and I thought, "I'd rather put up a blog than get into this right now." This is classic procrastinator's thinking, but I'm a slave to it. Entering changes into a Word document is about as tedious as it gets, but book ain't really done 'till I do it.

Anyway, saw this on Drudge, got kinda T.O'd about it (you can imagine me saying that in the voice of Kip from "Napoleon Dynamite"), and I thought I'd share. The general manager of Cartoon Network was forced to resign over that bullshit Boston "terrorism" scare a week or so back. The one with the battery-operated Lite Brite boxes featuring the big Mooninite from Aqua Teen Hunger Force? Here's a link to his announcement letter. How terrible is that? You have a very cool job, you authorize a hip, viral kind of marketing campaign to get the word out about your product, and then some retards in Boston cause a panic over Lite Brites, and because the political climate is such that there's nothing funny about terrorism, even when there's none in sight, heads have to roll, but none of them can belong to Boston city officials. Ridiculous. I hope the guy lands on his feet. It's one thing to have to quit or resign because of an honest-to-God screw up, but to lose your job over something like this? Having to listen to SOBs lie about what happened, and call it a "hoax", when it was nothing of the sort? Kinda hard to take.

Anyway, blogger and nouveau-Kiwi Mike Moran has a good post up about the original incident from a diehard Beantown resident's point of view. He knows these people. You can check it out here.

All right, that's it for me. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith Died Today

Which was, to me, a shock. I think it's a sad story, but I'm also kind of relieved that this particular train wreck's been cleared off the tracks.


Yesterday I wrote up a passel of brief and inane movie reviews. Well, there's no reason books should escape my jaundiced eye. I read "Hannibal Rising" last week. It's not a complete failure -- it is well-written in places -- but overall the book's a wasted exercise that only further demystifies one of the great literary boogeymen of the modern era. Oh, well. When there's money to be made, considerations like that tend to fall by the wayside. Thomas Harris made a deal with his publisher to write two books for some eight-figure deal. He novelized, apparently, the screenplay he wrote for Dino DeLaurentiis and the result is "Hannibal Rising". Meh. Mostly I was reading for some pithy Lecterisms or to rubberneck as Hannibal dispatched some guys using novel and grotesque methods. Not much of either here. He's young and not quite so worldly in this book (which follows him from the age of 10 to 18), so his pithy factor is lessened considerably. At the end of WWII, bad Lithuanians eat his sister. He suppresses the memory and doesn't utter a word for years. Years later, he's adopted by his uncle, Robert Lecter (which strikes me as hilarious that Hannibal Lecter would have an uncle named Robert -- so very close to Bobby Lecter) and taken to Paris. Anyway, Hannibal falls in love with his stepmother, most of whose family died in Hiroshima. She takes Hannibal under her wing and slowly gets him to talk again by showing him the art of calligraphy and flower arranging. Slowly, he learns to live again! Yaaay! One day someone insults his stepmother and Hannibal goes batshit. The first inkling we have that the boy's not all right. By and by the memory of what was done to his sister returns to him. More importantly, the memory of who did it returns as well. The rest of the story concerns Hannibal's hunting these men down (most of whom are rich war profiteers living in Paris), and avoiding capture by a Parisian detective named Popil, who also happens to love Hannibal's stepmother. It's all very humdrum and disappointing.

One thing did bother me. At the end of the book (and presumably the film in case anyone's planning to see it SPOILER), Hannibal's case is championed by the Communist French. Because he killed war criminals who'd eaten his sister, most regular French who read about his story in the newspaper are inclined to wonder what the big deal is, and why not let him go? So essentially that happens and he's transferred under some kind of plea agreement to Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore. What bothered me is this: if Hannibal was the focus of a major story in France, under his own name no less, why did it require the unique brain of profiler genius Will Graham to figure out Lecter might be at it again when he was caught for his later crimes? A modicum of research would have revealed that part of Lecter's history. If he'd killed before in a serial kind of way, how big a stretch is it to think he might have started up again? Anyway, it's a major inconsistency, I think, and a stupid lapse on the part of an otherwise excellent writer.

This novel had an especially sour effect on me because I'd just reread "Silence of the Lambs" before digging into this one. If you haven't yet read "Silence", you ought to run out to the library or bookstore and pick it up. Take you a day or two to get through. In addition to being one of the best thrillers ever written, Harris throws these literary razor-sharp character observations into the mix almost off-handedly. Here's one I thought was perfectly done. This from the end of a scene in which Clarice has gone in to see Dr. Frederick Chilton (the head of the asylum) about another interview with Lecter. Chilton's making a fuss about not being more involved.
"I'm acting on my instructions, Dr. Chilton. I have the U.S. Attorney's right number here. Now please, either discuss it with him or let me do my job."
"I'm not a turnkey here, Miss Starling. I don't come running down here at night just to let people in and out. I had a ticket to Holiday on Ice."
He realized he'd said a ticket. In that instant Starling saw his life, and he knew it.
She saw his bleak refrigerator, the crumbs on the TV tray where he ate alone, the still piles his things stayed in for months until he moved them -- she felt the ache of his whole yellow-smiling Sen-Sen lonesome life -- and switchblade-quick she knew not to spare him, not to talk on or look away. She stared into his face, and with the smallest tilt of her head, she gave him her good looks and bored her knowledge in, speared him with it, knowing he couldn't stand for the conversation to go on.
He sent her with an orderly named Alonzo.

Isn't that frickin' good?

Anyway, back to work.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Penn and Teller's Bullshit!", "Soylent Green", "Last King of Scotland", "The Hunting of the President", and "Babel". Your Wednesday Motherlode

I'm trying to be good about blogging this week, so here's your Wednesday dose. Yes, I know. Lucky you. How's about some movie and DVD reviews? Yaaay! Opinions!

1.) Penn and Teller's Bullshit! I watched the first disc of the first season of this Showtime show (which I believe is in its fourth season these days), and I liked it. Starting out they don't really get into the more controversial Libertarian-oriented viewpoints that I'm told they delve into in later episodes, so thus far I'm with them. This round they lay into TV mediums (at the time they made the episodes John Edward's Crossing Over show was still a big deal on syndicated TV), UFO enthusiasts, products designed to make your babies smarter (a la Baby Genius), and quacky holistic medicine like healing therapies involving magnets and something to do with the feet called reflexology. Nothing too objectionable so far. These people are almost indisputably selling crap to gullible types. Straw men are easy to knock down, and they do so with great joy and it's not bad as TV. The only complaint I had was that Penn and Teller went out of their way to make fools out of regular folks, who seemed like hapless and entirely sympathetic targets. I hope they tone this down in future episodes. Discs two and three came in the mail today, so I'm hoping I'll see something I can call bullshit on Penn and Teller for. We'll see.

2.) Soylent Green. Why? I don't know. I just got a hankering to see this movie. I knew the punchline to the movie -- "Soylent Green is people!" -- but it didn't have any resonance for me because I'd never seen the movie. Well, now I have. Just as goofy as you'd want. Set in 2022 in New York City, whose population has ballooned to 40 million residents (overpopulation was a real fear back then), Charlton Heston's working on a case that will eventually lead him to the truth behind a popular foodstuff fed to the masses called Soylent Green. If you know the ending (and now you do), there is almost zero reason to see this thing. Though if you want to see Chuck Heston run around with an inexplicable and very fey bandanna tied around his neck (could Heston have been trying to disguise a developing wattle even back then?), check it out. Weird trivia: this was, I believe, Edward G. Robinson's last movie. Also: Joseph Cotten of "Citizen Kane" fame plays a brief role in this.

3.) Last King of Scotland. This was well done, and a pleasant surprise. Often with these high-minded movies that come out in the final months of the year, specifically the ones touting a very strong lead performance, you can be forgiven for expecting little more than one hammy actor acting it up for the Academy, often to the detriment of the film. This was a complete film, though, and though Forrest Whitaker's brilliant in it, the scenes that don't happen to feature him are never dull. Definitely worth seeing, particularly as Whitaker seems an early lock for Best Actor. Also: the penultimate scene in the duty-free shop will make you think back to the dinner scene in "Hannibal" as a model of taste and restraint. Good stuff.

4.) The Hunting of the President. As documentaries go, this one was not at all good. Though I agreed with its central premise, namely that the impeachment of Bill Clinton was the end result of a large-scale and well-financed Republican effort to bring him down, aided in part by a complicit media hungry for sex scandals, the filmmakers (which include Clinton friend and TV producer Harry Thomason) have no gift for linear non-fiction storytelling. What should have been a compelling and galling expose on a dark chapter in American history was just a tired rehashing and summarizing of stuff folks already knew. The absence of any dissenting voices, or any assenting voices from the other side of the aisle, was conspicuous and made the film less persuasive. Ken Starr comes off as a real honest-to-God sonofabitch though, (not that we didn't already know that), but what I didn't know was how Susan MacDougal was treated after she refused to testify for Starr. For the crime of failing to cooperate with the Independent Counsel's office, she was fitted with a red dress in prison. In her particular prison, inmates wearing red dresses were mothers who'd killed their children. The other inmates hated these prisoners, and Susan got the same treatment as the child killers. That'll teach you not to make up stuff for Ken Starr! In transfers from one prison to another, she was put into a cage in the center of the bus, women in the front half and men in the back half. While she was in that prison bus-cage, all manner of abuse was thrown her way. I won't say here what the worst of it was (in case some of you are eating), but I will say this: think Multiple Miggs. Yeah. Gross. Best part of the DVD was the half hour clip of Clinton himself speaking after the film's premiere. Remember smart presidents? Anyway.

5.) Babel. A real disappointment for me. I tried to write a post about this movie the night I saw it, but I couldn't figure out how to write about it and make any kind of sense. It seems almost to defy criticism because it's made so well. Technically, the movie's top notch. Even aesthetically it's hard to take issue with. I feel a little bit like I've been to Japan and Morocco now, so vibrantly were those locales presented. But something about the film seemed to me ... wait for it... disingenuous. As soon as I saw the famous freeway sign (or the sign was pointed out to me -- I missed it when it appeared) that shows a family running across the freeway in which the word above the pictogram was changed from "WARNING" to "WANTED", I felt the filmmakers were less interested in telling a serious and realistic story than they were in pushing a specific agenda. Agendas are certainly fine in movies, especially (for me) liberal agendas, but I think the immigration situation in this country is bad enough without the director going out of his way to make stuff up. I thought torturing the tow-headed white children by having them nearly die of exposure in the desert so as to give the gringitos a taste of what it's like for Mexicans coming across the border was over the top and obvious. I thought Cate Blanchett's ultimate fate and that of the children didn't at all jibe with the overall tone of the film, and where they ended up at the end of the film felt unearned to me. The movie was sad and bleak and angry but not much else. A real slog.

All right, er'rybody. Enjoy your Wednesday evenings.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Astronauts Can Be Crazy Too

How freaking bizarre is this? Up till now, I'd always thought of astronauts in the modern shuttle-era as Mathletes so crazily unflappable and cut off from their primal emotions (all the better to remain robotic in the event of a correctable in-flight crisis) that they only marginally resembled real human beings. A lady named Lisa Marie Nowak threw all that out the window.

As deeply in the thrall of jealousy as any guest on Jerry Springer, she drove 900 miles from Houston to Orlando, foregoing bathroom breaks by wearing an adult diaper, to confront another woman, Colleen Shipman, whom Nowak perceived to be a rival for the affections of another astronaut named William Oefelein. This from the MSNBC report:
Dressed in a wig and a trench coat, she waited for Shipman’s plane to land and then boarded the same airport shuttle bus Shipman took to get to her car, police said. Shipman told police she noticed someone following her, hurried inside the car and locked the doors, according to the arrest affidavit. Nowak rapped on the window, tried to open the car door and asked for a ride. Shipman refused but rolled down the car window a few inches when Nowak started crying, the statement said. Nowak then sprayed a chemical into Shipman’s car, the affidavit said. Shipman drove to the parking lot booth and police were called.
Orlando police are charging her with attempted murder, which does seem excessive. Though Nowak's claim that she didn't want to hurt Shipman is suspect -- she was carrying a steel-mallet, a knife and a bunch of plastic bags after all -- all she really did was pepper spray a woman in her car. I don't know much about the law, but it seems like you should only be able to prosecute for crimes someone actually committed, not ones they may or may not have wanted to commit. Otherwise it gets into weird "Minority Report" territory. Anyway, the fact that Nowak was so not crazy as of 6 months ago, my guess is she had some kind of psychotic break and she'll do just fine pleading Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.

Something funny: On ABC World News Tonight, Bill Weir, (who some of you Los Angelenos might remember as the guy who used to do sports for the ABC affiliate out there a few years back and who now subs as a co-host for Good Morning America and, I guess, some actual reporting on the nightly newscast) said in this evening's report about the Nowak case, "It appears unlikely that she'll be on-board for her scheduled space flight this June." Hmmm. You think?

Finally, I'm a gon' opine on the Super Bowl. I thought the first half was interesting, the second half was a showcase for the Bears massive choke (I put the bulk of the blame on QB Grossman). Prince and the producers of the Halftime Show deserve accolades as they set a new standard for all future halftime shows, and my favorite commercial was the Letterman promo co-starring Oprah, and my favorite straight commercial was the Emerald Nuts commerical starring Robert Goulet as a mischievious office vandal. The most unfunny commercial: the one featuring at the end a bunch of jungle-ized office types running off the edge of a cliff. Very realistic, very off-putting. That is all.

Monday, February 05, 2007

"Pan's Labyrinth": Bad? Really? But First, Andy Dick Self-Destructs

Okay. Got some video goodness for you. (The picture link doesn't actually work, by the way -- just click on this here hotlink coming up). It's a video of Andy Dick getting kicked off the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Wow. As you'll see, he's sitting on the couch with second guest Ivanka Trump. Kimmel asks her if she has a boyfriend. Dick, sauced, says, "You're looking at him." Then he says, his voice slurred, "I need a fucking sugarmama." Then a bit of glitter catches his eye and he starts to rub her leg. Kimmel reaches over Ivanka to take Andy's hand off. Everyone gets over that, but when he does it again, Kimmel and an old security dude come in and take Andy away. Andy looks up at them and says, laughingly, "Am I out?" He doesn't look altogether sure if he's really going out or not. He is. I saw Andy Dick on Letterman a while back and his theme of the night was "getting back to sobriety". Letterman, I thought, was very condescending in that dickish way of his that he doesn't indulge as often as he used to, but Andy was a sport and it looked like he was serious about cleaning up. As his Kimmel appearance makes clear, sobriety didn't work out. Anyway, fun video.

Well, I've been seeing a few movies during this mini-book-finishing hiatus. I am very nearly done with the revisions on el novelo and will very soon be entering the changes into the Word file. Done by Sunday. Done by Sunday. Done by Sunday. It will happen.

Anyway. I saw Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" over the weekend and, surprisingly, I was underwhelmed. Really disappointed actually. A whole cadre of respected genre artists like Stephen King, Frank Darabont, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman all saw "Pan's" together sometime last year and heralded the movie as a masterwork and a film of genius and all of that. One of those guys saying that stuff, sure, a grain of salt, but all of them? So when I ambled into the theater Friday night, I was not expecting anything but filmic goodness. There was not a whole lot of that.

"Pan's Labyrinth" is set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. A little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her mother settle into a garrison in the countryside run by Ofelia's new stepfather, Captain Vidal (played with gusto by Sergi Lopez). Vidal's hunting the Communist rebels who are hiding out in the hills near the garrison. Vidal's a mean vicious guy with no redeeming qualities. No human traits. He'd kick a puppy with as much fervor as he'd kick an elderly woman in a wheelchair. We get hints that it has to do with his dad. Whatever. We first get a taste of his sadism when he kills a guy by slamming the bottom edge of a whiskey bottle into his face over and over. Guillermo, who seems to love that stuff, shows it in loving detail. Oh, Guillermo. If it seems like I'm talking a lot about Capitan Vidal, it's because Guillermo does, too. Vidal's gruesome, Mengele-style hijinx occupy most of the film's attention, which kind of sucks all the air out of the rest of the movie, the rest of the movie concerning Ofelia's being visited by fairies who say she's the long lost princess of the Underworld, reincarted in another body. One night she descends a spiral staircase at the end of an old labyrinth near the garrison. Pan comes to her (or, just a faun as it's called in the original Spanish title, "The Labyrinth of the Faun") and tells her that if she completes three tasks then she may reclaim her rightful place on her Princess throne in the Underworld. This sort of thing is the meat and potatoes of children's stories. Harry Potter's not just an unloved adoptee, for example, but the greatest wizard of all time. Eragon's not just a peasant -- whatever. He rides dragons or something. Anyway, the point is that this movie looks like it's suitable for kids, but it is not for kids, which is part of the reason why the movie's frustrating for me.

The movie's built like a fable -- simple. A child could watch it and not miss much. That's not to say an adult can't enjoy a movie structured as a fable, but it's not the preferred storytelling mode for those in the 12 and up demographic. But when a guy who gets way off on gory horror gets a hold of a children's fable, and doesn't think to hold back on the gratuitous gore effects for this new audience, the question comes up pretty fast: who the hell is this movie for? As an adult, stories of children completing three tasks (one of which is to feed a big toad under a tree magic stones) is kind of boring for me. I'm starting to think, "Oh, that's why I'm nodding off. This really is for kids." Then comes the face smashing via the whiskey bottle. I'm not nodding off anymore. I'm looking for my cell phone so I can call my mommy. Fricking gross. Now I'm thinking, "Not only is this not for kids, I don't think it's for me either." It only gets worse from there. But strong storytelling can often overpower objections to artless tone shifts. If only we had any here.

"Pan's Labyrinth" is not a weak story exactly -- perhaps told a different way it'd make a fine film or young adult novel. But Guillermo (who also wrote it) gets lazy a few times, and the characters do stupid shit that make you throw your hands up and quit rooting for them. [SPOILER AHEAD.] For example, before Ofelia begins her second task, Pan tells her explicitly not to eat anything off of a big banquet table she'll encounter while doing the second task. Pan tells her doing so could kill her. Ofelia finds the table, sees the creepy eyeless monster at the head of the table who sits motionless, not seeing her. She does the task and then, you guessed it, eats something off the table. A grape, no less. No reason other than she was hungry. Lazy, Guillermo. Lazy. Again, if this is a kid's movie, you can get away with this kind of unjustified BS, but Guillermo's aiming for an arty prestige movie so this unmotivated character action doesn't cut the mustard. Maybe the cheese. [SPOILER DONE.]

At that point I essentially gave up on the movie. The ending did what good stories are supposed to do, namely tie up loose ends, and it does that, but -- well, I don't want to give that away at least. So, in the end, I don't know what all those writers and filmmakers were thinking. When "Pan's Labyrinth" comes out on DVD, check it out, see what you think. Maybe I'm way off.