Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Mess O' Links

Just a few links before I close my laptop for the night.

1.) I had a fun little geek moment earlier this evening when I watched the first "webisode" from the set of "The Mist". Frank Darabont has come back home to adapt and direct yet another Stephen King story, this time one of the leaner, meaner, straight-up scary stories King's written this side of Richard Bachman. Anyway, click here to watch Frank Darabont have a lot of fun shooting the "earthquake scene".

2.) Fun clip from, of all places, CBS's The Early Show. It's a good indicator of what happens when you throw good facts into the wood chipper that is the Bush White House spin machine. Harry Smith is trying to get White House Press Secretary Tony Snow (he of former Fox News glory) to speak about Democratic complaints regarding subpoenaed testimony from WH aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers. Bush has offered to let them talk to Congress so long as it's behind closed doors, no transcript is made, and no oaths are sworn to. If you listen to Tony Snow, however, you might be coaxed into thinking Bush is bending over backwards to be a nice guy to those mean ole Congressional Democrats. Of course, that's the opposite of the truth. Watching hacks spin is never fun, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, but it seems particularly soul-crushing in this clip. When Harry dejectedly says, "You bet," at the end of this clip, you can tell he's at the end of his rope. But Tony just keeps on smilin'.

3.) Yet another fun clip on a similar subject. This is Patrick Leahy explaining to faux-maverick Republican Arlen Specter what the Bush White House is really offering regarding the Rove and Miers testimony. In a word: "Nothing." Leahy's one of my favorite Senators. (Fun fact: it was Leahy who was at the receiving end of Cheney's legendary, "Go fuck yourself" comment. Anyone who pisses off Cheney has to be an okay guy.)

4.) Lily Tomlin has publicly responded to the recently published clips of her and David O. Russell's freakouts on the set of "I Heart Huckabees". You can read it here. She's good. After I saw those clips I was thinking Tomlin must be a really mean and selfish person. After reading this short item, however, I think Lily Tomlin's totally cool.

5.) Wanna see inside true "green living"? Check out this article from The New York Times. A couple of New Yorkers decided to live "green" for a whole year so the husband can write a book about the experience. The article's currently listed as the Times' most emailed article, and I'd say the fact that the couple have eschewed the use of toilet paper is the main reason why. What do they do, use their hands? Looks like the answer is yes. "Bowls of water and a lot of air-drying" is how the writer coyly alludes to the toilet-going process in the green apartment. (Shudder.) I guess I'll have to buy the book to find out more. Unlikely.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"300" : Reviewed

You know that song I mentioned on Monday? "Insect Eyes"? Couldn't be more tired of it now. I'm actually listening to it now but don't feel like skipping to the next track on my already done-to-death iTunes playlist entitled "Listenable Songs". It's a bad habit of mine -- I find a song I like and then listen it into the ground. I predict the next victim will be "Counterfeit Rules", a song by a group called Snowden. It's real good, I'd been trying to steal it for a long time and finally got it yesterday, but by this time tomorrow, I suspect I'll be shuddering at its first note.

Anyway, "300". As you may already know, I've been following this film with great interest. That first trailer Warner Bros. put out for this movie, replete with digitally-enhanced color palette, apocalyptic imagery, a shovel-bearded Gerard Butler screaming pithy, manly encouragement to his soldiers ("This is where we fight! This is where they die!") all set to a lyric-less Trent Reznor track, worked like gangbusters. And Zack Snyder's great work on the "Dawn of the Dead" remake all promised very good things for this film. Did he come through?

Mostly yes, but a little no.

I saw "300" on opening day. I'd been planning to see it on the IMAX screen up at the Mall of Georgia, but a quick check of Fandango the morning of revealed that all the shows were sold out. (That's how far I usually plan in advance) And all the next day's shows. And all but the midnight show on Sunday. Crushing disappointment. Once I'd stopped shaking and wiped my tears away, we (myself, my wife and my brother) decided to see it on one of the comparatively tiny screens I'm forced to see everything else on.

Overall, I liked "300" quite a bit. Predictably, I think "Sin City" is a good film to compare with "300". Not only are both films adapted from Frank Miller graphic novels, but both directors decided to be slavishly faithful to the source material, in effect bringing the comics to life panel by panel. I think that in this respect, both films succeed beyond expectations. But when bringing the comic to life is the director's primary aesthetic mission, particularly if the comic in question strives for a stripped-down, graphic look, realism falls necessarily by the wayside, and with it go authentic human emotion and the genuine cathartic experience most films are shooting for (even though most never get close). This movie was loud and beautiful and evocative, but I didn't really feel this movie as I'd expected to; I never got particularly wrapped up in the plot. I think Snyder was so deeply engaged with the process of making each shot perfect and trailer-ready that, along the way, the story arc may have been given shorter shrift.

Part of the problem might have been that because each shot in "300" is so finely-wrought and infused with the inherent emotion that comes with depictions of war, there was no room for emotional peaks that most films have at their disposal to really drive home a moment. When Leonidas's wife gives the evil politician a piece of her mind, I didn't feel like there was a lot of resonance in that moment, even though Snyder and his coterie of screenwriters set it up as best they could. The fact that the Spartans in this film are all members of a national death-cult and value their lives not at all weighed against their notions of honor might explain why I wasn't terribly concerned with which Spartans lived and which died. Hell, they didn't, why should I?

To continue with my quibbling, I thought that whenever the story veered away from the 300, (particularly Butler's King Leonidas), the movie was the worse for it. The Sparta sets and the Xerses throne room sets seemed more appropriate for a syndicated Saturday-afternoon action show than a $100 million studio release. Sets built for film are just shitty mock-ups, of course, (any stroll through a museum filled with film props illustrate this fact very clearly) but often the filmmakers help sell the sets as the genuine article through deft lighting. In both the hunchback seduction scene and the scene in Sparta where a bad thing happens to Leonidas's wife, I thought the lighting was slapdash and inappropriately bright and colorful, which made the not-so-great sets look all the worse.

But enough bitching. For the most part, this thing's glorious to watch and I'm looking forward to seeing it again on DVD. Gerard Butler as King Leonidas is fantastic in this. Though he seems like a fresh face, looking back at his filmography, I realized I've actually seen him work in both "Dracula 2000" (he played Dracula) and "Timeline" (he played the bad guy) both of which I'm embarrassed to admit I saw in theaters. But the thing is I still don't remember him in those films. I think he needed a good part in a good movie to demonstrate his star power (chances Orlando Bloom is given frequently and happily squanders), so I think he's here to stay. At least for a while. There's already talk that he wants to do a prequel to "Escape from New York" -- he would play Snake Plissken. I'll keep an open mind but it sounds like a misstep to me.

As for the hullabaloo over the political undertones in the film, I'd say they're blown a bit out of proportion. I don't think Zack Snyder has an axe to grind or a message to deliver with "300". (Though Frank Miller might have had one back when he wrote and drew the thing in the late 90's.) Apparently, Iranians are going gaga with rage over the movie back in the former Persia, just from hearing the descriptions of how they're portrayed in the film. (In this case, I think seeing the film would only make them more angry, and likely with cause).

Truth be told, seeing this film I got the distinct impression that "300" really was a pro-Bush, pro-"War on Terror" propagandist film. The warriors, led by their warrior-king, are the good and righteous ones who realize that war is the only answer, while the craven politicians are back at home in the Senate, debating and being devious, cynical ninnies, undercutting the "troops" with their nasty dissent. Throughout the film the nebulous concept of "freedom" is given a great deal of import by the steely Spartans who've been hung out to dry by their own myopic countrymen as well as Leonidas's stoic wife left behind to keep the homefires burning. Sean Hannity might as well have been the screenwriter. But my guess is that while that interpretation is valid, it exists outside of the film or the filmmakers intent. I don't believe anyone involved with this film was in anyway making a pro-"War on Terror" movie. It just happens to be one because that's how Miller wrote it back in 1998 (three years before September 11th, incidentally). Snyder's pled ignorance on the subject of political statements, and I'll take his word for it. But if some New Yorker article comes out in 5 years that reveals Zack Snyder is actually a big friend of all the Fox News personalities, "300" will make a lot more sense.

Anyway, this is already so long I suppose it doesn't matter if I want to drone on a little longer about the movie. Here's two things I thought were funny.

1.) One time Leonidas's wife actually says these words: "Freedom isn't free." I thought instantly of the song with the same title in Trey Parker and Matt Stone's brilliant "Team America". The next lyric in that song, by the way, is, "No, there's a hefty fuckin' fee." My wife turned to me when she heard it to whisper the song to me. (The true cost of freedom is a "buck oh five.") Very funny. I was kind of shocked that got all the way through into the finished film; didn't Snyder or any of them see that movie.

And 2.) the high angle wide shot looking down on the Spartans as they tromp en masse towards their deaths. Every single one of them is ripped and cut in exactly the same way. Fat pecs, sculpted abs, rippling arms. There was just something very gay about it that made me laugh. Were all those guys really that cut do you think, or was there some prosthetics and make-up involved? Had to be, right?

Anyway, despite the movie's flaws, I think Snyder's work with "300" bodes well for "Watchmen". Some reports say that Snyder's adaptation will be set in the 80's (perfect) and it will be a long film (as it should be) and that Gerard Butler will have a role in it (hopefully as the Comedian). So far, I haven't heard a single thing I don't like about what Snyder and his team are up to. I think because Alan Moore's graphic novel is more layered and nuanced and well-written than Miller's "300", we have a stronger foundation on which to build and the makings of something really great. Or the biggest letdown in a generation. We'll see.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lily Tomlin Snaps and David O. Russell Adolescentizes Before Your Very Eyes: VIDEO PROOF! (Also "Watchmen" Tease and Davendra's "Insect Eyes")

Hello all. I'm back from my sickness. Pretty sure it was strep throat. Probably the worst viral dustup I've had in my life - during the worst of it, when every swallow of water was an ordeal, I felt acutely every one of my 30 years. I've still got a lingering cough that makes getting to sleep slightly problematic, and eating takes a little effort because my throat's still kind of swollen, but the worst of it is over.

Anyway, over the hiatus my Nyquil-sloshed brain has been half-heartedly composing blog entries (mostly about "300" and "Zodiac"), but I'm going to save those for another day. Today, something appeared on-line that demanded the immediate attention of the Inanities. Indeed, it demands your attention.

A few years back (perhaps more) I was over at a fledgling cinematographer's apartment who lived in the same building as me. We'll call him David. While I was over there, David's roommate, a fledgling editor we'll call Mike, popped a DVD into the player. On it were two clips unlike anything I'd ever seen before. What they showed was an actress (Lily Tomlin) and a director (David O. Russell) screaming obscenities at one another on a movie set ("I Heart Huckabees"). The director even trashes the set and throws things, narrowly missing humans (but then hitting one accidentally). "Is this what goes on on Hollywood film sets?" I wondered. "Or is this kind of bullshit unique to these people and this movie?" I don't know but I suspect the former. Anyway, I looked for those clips later to watch them again and revel in the bad behavior, but they were nowhere to be found. Well, no more. Today they're up for all to enjoy, for all eternity. Click here for the clips.

It's hard to tell who's the bigger asshole from these. If you only saw the car one, you'd think Lily Tomlin deserved the prize. If you only saw the office clip, you'd think it was Russell. In a way, they kind of offer both sides of the story: they're both assholes and they each deserve the abuse they so liberally heap on each other. Though I haven't heard of Lily Tomlin being quite as awful as this on other film sets, I have heard of David O. Russell being a belligerent asshole on the set of "Three Kings". Such an asshole in fact that George Clooney had to physically pull Russell's big ass off of some Iraqi extras who weren't seeing the fullness of his vision. So perhaps the asshole edge goes to Russell.

And finally, I saw this a while back but never had a chance to put it up. Since "300" blew up two weekends ago, the heat on Zack Snyder's next project, "Watchmen", got turned way up so that even non-geeks are interested in it. Turns out Zack, Mel Gibson-like trickster that he is, inserted a conceptual, pre-production still from his work on his next project into a late trailer for "300". Here's the link to the Aintitcool story, but I thought it would be easier if I just posted it up. So here it is:

Frickin' cool huh?
Anyway, it's the first in a long sequence of cool, teasing imagery that will culminate in the first big trailer, which will be amazing, and then the sequence will end when the actual film's released, which won't be half as good as we'd all been led to believe. Perpetual build-up and letdown. The new Hollywood model.

And lastly, have you guys noticed the cool weird song in the "Hills Have Eyes 2" trailer? It starts up about halfway through and it's pretty much the only eerie thing about the trailer. The song's called "Insect Eyes" and it's by an artist called Devendra Banhart, in case you want to grab it up off the internet for the price of $On The House. It's kind of cool.

Okay. All done.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Update: Sick But Alive

Howdy ya'll. I came down with something pretty mean a few days ago and it's laid me up pretty good. I'll be back to blogging as soon as it clears up (which I'm hoping will be soon), and I'll return phone calls (you know who you are) when my voice isn't quite so froggy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Scooter Takes a Bullet for Darth Cheney, and Alberto Axes US Attorneys for Not Being Political Enough

Some interesting things going down in Washington these days.

First, there was the guilty verdict today for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on charges of lying to federal prosecutors and obstruction of justice. To some extent, I feel bad for the guy. Other than being a conservative in the awful Bushie Neocon mold, his biggest flaw, legally speaking, is that he worked for the Vice President -- that can't help but compromise a guy morally. Sure, he could have said "No" when Cheney asked him to be his Chief of Staff, but who could have known what Cheney would become once in power? He seemed so level-headed as SecDef back in Bush the Elder's days. Then again, you run with a bad crowd long enough, their bad behavior's bound to rub off eventually. Now he's going to jail.

Anyway, what the trial made clear was that orders came down from Cheney to squash Joe Wilson (the diplomat who investigated the since-debunked claims that Saddam was looking for "yellowcake" plutonium in Niger), and Scooter dutifully fell in line and started a'squashin'. It's since come out that Richard Armitage, the relatively dovish right-hand man to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, was actually the guy who gave Valerie Wilson's name to Richard Novak (as well as Bob Woodward). This inconvenient revelation dashed the neat storyline that the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame was a concerted effort by the White House hawks to stamp out any dissenting voices in the run up to the war. The trial seemed to bear out something a little more convoluted than that, but no less nefarious. Cheney's office DID run a campaign to discredit Joe Wilson by making his trip to Niger look like nepotism (his wife worked for the CIA and got him the gig, therefore Joe Wilson isn't credible -- still not sure how that works, but anyway), and even though Cheney had to out a covert CIA agent to discredit Wilson, he was prepared to do it. If nothing else, this administration is filled with end-justifies-the-means sort of people.

As Cheney didn't testify during the trial, today's guilty verdict puts pressure on Cheney to explain what he was doing, and what he knew during this period. Some pundits are making the prediction that this deep-vein thrombosis Cheney came down with after his recent trip around the world will give King Cheney a convenient reason to resign and avoid all those pesky inquiries from his subjects. But then again, this is Dick Cheney. One gets the sense he'll do whatever it takes to keep his white-knuckled stranglehold on the Presidency.

The other emerging story involves a group of eight US attorneys who were recently fired by Alberto Gonzales. Hearings on the subject started today on Capitol Hill. The evidence seems to suggest some political motivation behind the pink slips. In one case, two New Mexico elected representatives, one a Senator and one a Congresswoman, appear to have put pressure on at least one of the US attorneys to hurry up and indict some Democrats before the recent elections. When the US attorney(s) in question resisted, he (or they) got the axe a few short months later. Another fired lawyer was knee-deep in the middle of a massive corruption investigation (the largest in US history) that would have swept up a number of key Republicans when she got the boot. Another US attorney out of Arkansas was fired without cause and replaced with a deputy of Karl Rove who just happened to specialize in so-called "oppo research", or digging up dirt on political opponents. That the firing happened to be in Arkansas makes the political overtones politically obvious: Rove may well have sent his man to dig up dirt on Hillary to use in '08. The US attorneys were all given BS reasons for their dismissal, everything from "not aggressive enough prosecution of border-related crimes" (that from NM-R Senator DeMenici), to overly aggressive prosecution of alleged child- molesters.

The whole thing stinks like crazy, but luckily, we've got Dems in power who can investigate the hell out of these people. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who's shaping up to be even worse than former AG John Ashcroft (I know, hard to believe), looks to be right in the middle of this. Taken together, the major crime perpetrated here is this, as Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo writes:
"There is a clear and growing body of evidence that at least three of these firees were canned for not allowing politics to dictate their prosecution of political corruption cases. Or, to put it more bluntly, for not indicting enough Democrats or indicting too many Republicans. Which is to say they were fired for not perverting justice."
If this gets any bigger, Gonzales may not weather this storm. How great would that be? Cheney AND Gonzales resigning? And Bush fast on their heels when his term's up. What a beautiful dream.

Anyway, for some fantastic in-depth reporting on these issues, you ought to visit and its sister site TPMMuckraker. And Andrew Sullivan's usually got a good take on the overreaching of this administration.

Monday, March 05, 2007

See "Zodiac"

I saw David Fincher's "Zodiac" on Saturday afternoon. If proclaiming, in March, that a film is the best movie of the year so far wasn't a kind of backhanded compliment, I'd say that "Zodiac" is the best film of the year so far. It's actually a bit better than that. I'm guessing it'll make my top ten list when December 31st rolls around. I'm a little hesitant to talk about the movie because I haven't gotten that film critic's knack for talking about a film without giving anything away (then again, so haven't a lot of film critics), and the things I liked about this film aren't spoilers per se, but might dampen the enjoyment of the film for the uninitiated. So I'll just say, go and see it. It's 2 and half hours long but I wanted another 20 minutes. It's a detective story, but seeing it made me feel like I'd never actually seen a detective story on film before. "Zodiac" feels like something completely new and I think it deserves a look while it's still in theaters. Though its $11.3 million weekend gross as compared to "Wild Hogs"'s almost 40 million dollar take makes me think "Zodiac" won't be in theaters long. Take advantage while you can.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Kerry Confronts His Defamers, And "The Departed": Revisited

For anyone who felt that Kerry was grossly mistreated by the so-called "Swift Boat Vets for Truth", the group that sunk the Kerry campaign in '04, then you should take a look at this clip. It's long and it doesn't really start getting fun until a few minutes in, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Kerry's icy prosecutorial skills come out on someone who really deserves it.

The clip shows John Kerry questioning a Bush nominee for an ambassadorship on Tuesday the 27th of February. Turns out this nominee gave $50,000 to the Swift Boat group back in '04. As far as I can tell, it's the first (and likely only) opportunity Kerry has had to confront one of these guys. True, this dumb schmuck wasn't the one doing the slandering, but he helped finance it, which is pretty bad. What's best about the clip is that the guy is just as craven and mealy-mouthed as you'd expect a Bushie Republican hack financier to be. He calls Kerry a "hero" to his face, but when asked if he would condemn the Swift Boaters who called that heroism into question, he demures and says that kind of tactic was necessary, because "the other side was doing it, too." He also can't recall actually giving the Swifties the $50,000. "When asked for money," he says, "I usually just give." Seriously.


He cites the "Bush is Hitler" ad that a member created and which MoveOn posted up on its site as an example of the terrible negative stuff "the other side" was doing in the '04 election. That's really the best this guy can come up with. A stupid user-created ad that MoveOn pulled off their site within hours of it going up. I'm sure it put a lot of people firmly in the Kerry camp. Anyway. It's a wonder Kerry didn't so much as raise his voice at the guy.

On a slightly related note, Bill Kristol, oh he of odious Neocon fame, has been railing against HuffingtonPost recently. Not because of anything the site itself posted, but rather because of things the readers posted up in the comments section. When Vice-President Cheney was supposedly the target of a suicide bomber in Afghanistan the other day, some readers chimed in with their sincere and inarticulately-worded regret that the bomber hadn't been successful. (I didn't actually read the comments on political blogs. Who does? So many whackos.) So Kristol blasts Huffingtonpost based on these comments, in effect characterizing Arianna Huffington as a leader of the pro-assassination left. Does it get any more intellectually dishonest? I wonder what we'd find if we trolled some of the comments on the righty blogs? My guess is I'd find as much illiterate vitriol there as anywhere. Andrew Sullivan has a moderate conservative's take on it here. Ugh. I used to think Kristol was a conservative in the David Brooks mold, that is a fairly reasonable person, but Iraq and his unceasing warmongering ever since we went in have put him squarely into the dangerously delusional knee-jerk Coulterian whacko stratosphere.

Anyway. Watched "The Departed" again yesterday. [I'm going to talk about this movie as if everyone's seen it, so alert: SPOILERS AHEAD!]

Just amazing. Every scene is so smart and thought-out and inventive. I forgot how often Scorsese played with the score (or the "scorce" as David McHugh called it). Some Irish song would be going full blast and then Matt Damon starts dialing his cell phone and the song cuts out like Thelma hit the Stop button on the CD player. It's as if, every now and again, Scorsese wants to remind you that these people are actors and the story is made-up -- in other words, he wants to remind you you're watching a movie. One of the few guys making movies who'll take little risks like that, just to see how they'll go. One thing I appreciated more on the second go-round was how artfully Monahan and Scorsese set up Sheen's character as a kindly paternal anchoring presence in the film - they do it to a.) balance out Mark Wahlberg's abrasive character, but mostly to b.) make his death really sting. In a way Sheen's death echoes Gandalf's "death" in the first "Lord of the Rings" movie. In each case the death of the kindly, powerful, knowledgeable character that everyone really liked makes the audience feel acutely how solitary the path is the hero has to take for the duration of the film. An excellent device and a great script. Of the nominees I'd say Monahan absolutely deserved Best Screenplay and Scorsese deserved Best Director for that movie. Good stuff. (Though watching it again I see a little more clearly the things that irked me about Nicholson's performance. The rat-pantomiming thing he does in the last bar scene, for example. I wish Scorsese had done a few more takes here and there, or at least used less over-the-top, hammy takes in the finished film. Ah well. Nothing's perfect.)