Monday, April 30, 2007

Back at You on the Last Day of April

So I get home yesterday from my weekend-long house and dog and cat-sitting stint up in Oxford to find my bathroom and part of my bedroom flooded.

Sometime since I left the house on Friday, the toilet overflowed. As our bedroom was unlivable, we went up to the in-laws and spent last night there. Today, our apartment management called up their carpet cleaning people to clean the affected carpets, which has now been done. As of this moment, we await a big fan to help dry the bewetted area. Since we put in our 60-day notice of our "intent to vacate" a week ago, I think the management at J.S. is less inclined to be prompt in their dealings with us.

Anyway, saw a few movies over the weekend.

1.) "The Good Shepherd". Very good. Eric Roth wrote a complex and brilliantly-written script and De Niro, who directed it, turns it into some serious, must-see filmmaking.

2.) "Rocky Balboa". As cries for sympathy for a once-beloved character long past his prime go, this one's surprisingly easy to take. Stallone wrote and directed this unambitious final installment of the Rocky "saga", and it mostly succeeds in its modest, aw-shucks kind of way.

3.) "Deja Vu". From the scathing reviews of this film that accompanied its release last year, I was expecting a flashy but thoroughly awful movie. It's flashy all right (it is directed by Tony Scott), but it's not awful. Actually, I thought it was pretty good, at least as far as crazy Bruckheimer-produced action movies go. Maybe it just goes to show most movies live or die based on expectations. Had I been expecting greatness, I would have been disappointed. But since I was on the look-out for total crap, this movie came out very well. Once you accept the more fantastical elements of its sci-fi premise, which I did without too much difficulty, the plot flows forward logically and Denzel manages to hold the whole thing together. Time travel's hard, and screenwriters Rossio and Marsilii manage its complexities just fine. Good, goofy times.

Isn't "Spider Man 3" this weekend? I'm stoked in theory, but really I'm just glad there's something fun and almost assuredly good (did I just jinx it?) to see at the movies.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hot Fuzz Makes One's Aces Smokin'

Is it Monday again? I feel like every other day it's "24" night. Well, I hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was good. Saw "Hot Fuzz" on Friday, went up to Oxford to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday, watched "The Bourne Identity" in my folks' new, totally-awesome but still-in-progress home theater, then on Sunday I watched "Smokin' Aces" on DVD.

"Hot Fuzz" wasn't bad, but it wasn't nearly as fun as "Shaun of the Dead". "Hot Fuzz" is intended as a parody of over-the-top eighties action movies, specifically, the buddy cop movie, and it succeeds well enough at that, but setting such a parody in the English countryside sounds funnier on paper than it is in practice. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (who played Shaun in "Shaun of the Dead" and plays the hero, Nicholas Angel, in this one) wrote a smart screenplay that sends up the excesses of action directors like Bay and Scott (of the Tony variety), sometimes brilliantly. One instance, early on in the film, occurs when Angel hauls an assortment of small-town troublemaking kids into the police station. The mugshot montage that follows is a dead-on parody of Tony Scott's overblown, degraded, hyper-frenetic montages from "Man on Fire", right down to the ominous guitar strums. Very funny. There are a couple other really great moments in the movie, but "Hot Fuzz"'s high notes are usually drowned out by a kind of cheery ploddingness courtesy of a script that too often defers to formula. I'm sure some less-than-good elements of the film were intended as high-concept satire of the movies Wright and Co. clearly love, but come off simply as a tired retread of what's come before. By the end, I was so weary of all the frenetic cutting and satirical montages, all I wanted was an actual scene without a scrim of irony placed over it. All in all, though, "Fuzz" gets by on its good intentions and charm and a few good jokes, but works only as a forgettable diversion.

"Smokin' Aces", on the other hand, has got way bigger problems. "Smokin' Aces", director Joe Carnahan's long-awaited sophomore effort to "Narc", hardly proclaims the arrival of a new film visionary that "Narc" portended. It's a big misfire and it would deserve total dismissal if there weren't something there, beneath all the flash and meaningless style, that hints at how very close to worthwhile this movie could have been. I don't know if the "Aces" script needed a second or third draft to make it work, or if Carnahan needs another film or two to hit his stride and figure out what he's trying to say, but throughout the movie his potential as a filmmaker is there, clearly visible, and part of the reason "Aces" is such a disappointment is that his material never rises to the level of his talent.

The A-plot's simple enough. A federal witness, Buddy "Aces" Israel, has been targeted by the mob for assassination because of all the baddies he'll implicate. The mob puts out a one million dollar contract on Israel, which then attracts a motley assortment of hit men to kill Israel in his penthouse suite in Lake Tahoe. A.O. Scott said about Robert Rodriguez recently in his review of "Grindhouse", that Rodriguez's "energy . . . often outstrips his taste." I think the same can be said for Carnahan, much to the film's detriment. Here's a good example.

[Spoiler ahead.]

Ben Affleck, Peter Berg and Martin Henderson are bail bondsmen who want to bring Israel in. We meet them in a bar while Affleck rattles off some exposition. They are interesting characters. Their rich histories are briefly alluded to and I wanted to learn more about them. Another trio of characters, a group of inarticulate berserkers who get off on killing indiscriminately, are hired to kill Israel. After the 20 minutes of exposition has been dispensed with, we find Affleck, Berg and Henderson standing in a parking lot beside their car preparing to start their Israel-getting operation. The berserker characters drive past and out of frame, their percussive music booming. After a moment, they reverse back into frame and mow down the three bail bondsmen. It is audacious and, admittedly, counts as one of the best laughs in the movie. (There are few.) The berserkers linger for a while, and then move on. The fact that the flashy but ultimately uninteresting berserker characters survive, while the comparatively complex bail bondsmen characters are unceremoniously slaughtered, says a lot about Carnahan's aims with this film. He would rather see these three grunting thugs (who, owing to their implausibility as characters, have no stories to tell), emerge screaming from an elevator with chainsaws and shotguns, than he would like to follow three actual characters (and real actors) interact with the world he's created, speaks volumes about Carnahan's judgment as a screenwriter. After the cheap laughs derived from the senselessness of the bondsmens' demise fade away, a disappointed boredom sets in, and never really goes away.

[Spoilers finito.]

If his only sin were style over substance, that would be one thing, but Carnahan can't find a way to make "Smokin' Aces" make a lick of sense. Besides being wildly implausible, much of the story is incomprehensible, not to mention stupid. If "Aces" had been a big flashy dumbshit movie about a bunch of hitmen going after one guy in Lake Tahoe, cool. That was the movie I wanted to see. But then Carnahan adds in his own bullshit FBI/Mob subplot "twist, ostensibly to give the film some weight, and this subplot, along with his own countless missteps, help sink the movie. Particularly terrible, the end of the film purports to be a quiet counterpoint to all the bombast that's preceded it, but because of this ridiculous subplot, the operatics of the film's last moments are completely phony, the emotion Carnahan wants us to feel (the swelling score rising helpfully) entirely unearned. "Boondock Saints" is a good film to compare "Aces" to. Both films deal in cheap nihilism, are stylistically violent, are overblown, make no sense, eschew substance for the "cool shot", and both are terrible. What's different is that Carnhan's skills as a director are exponentially better than "Boondock" director Troy Duffy's. He's just poorly served by his skills as a screenwriter. Time to tell that agent to start looking for new material, Joe.

(Also, Andy Garcia's southern accent in this film is so mind-bogglingly awful, that it made me think back and reevaluate his entire career as a film actor, looking for a reason he's worked for so long. Not sure I get it. It is soooo bad. Keanu Reeves in "Dracula" or "Devil's Advocate" bad.)

In other Crane-related news, my brother had some automotive misfortune last week. His truck engine burned up. Click here for a couple photos he took with his cell phone camera.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Links O' Plenty

Just a bunch of links today, so I'll get right into it.

1.) The Funny. Will Ferrell made a short video with his pal Adam McKay that's been blowing up on the internet. Five millions views since it debuted on In it, a down on his luck Will Ferrell is visited by the landlord who is none too happy with Ferrell's failure to pay his rent. The landlord is played by McKay's 2-year old daughter, Pearl, and though her baby dialogue is subtitled, she isn't just blabbing nonsense. she's actually saying words like, "Pay me now, bitch!" and "I work too hard" and "I'm going to smack you". Anyway, it's funny. Take a look here. And click here for McKay talking about how the clip came to be. And here for some "Pearl the Landlord" attention from People Magazine.

2.) The Illuminating. For you fans of The Colbert Report, TalkingPointsMemo has some very cool backstage footage of Colbert explaining his schtick to Sen. John Kerry before they do the interview. As far as I know, this is the only video that exists of Stephen Colbert explaining his character, the premise of his show, and how guests should handle his character. Very cool. Most of it is a limo interview with Josh Marshall talking to Kerry about his new book on the environment, but if you want to go right to the Colbert part, click here, let the video load, and then adjust the cursor-thingie until the clock reads.0 2:05 or so.

3.) The Impressive. Dave Chappelle performed for about six hours at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood on Sunday night, breaking the record for longest performance at that establishment, breaking Dane Cook's recent nearly four hour performance. If that's the same place I went to see Eddie Griffin ramble through his set, then I'm not sure it's Dane Cook's record Chappelle broke but Griffin's. That performance felt like it had to have been 5 hours. At least.

4.) The Shameful. You remember that so-called Voter I.D. bill Georgia passed a couple years agi? I wrote about it here way back in September of 2005. Intended by racist whites in the Georgia legislature to suppress minority voting in the name of tamping down on voter fraud, the bill passed, but has since been rejected by court after court as unconstitutional. Jurists recognized the law for what it was: a modern day poll tax straight out of the Jim Crow era. Well, one of the revelations coming out of the US Attorney scandal is the degree to which the Bush administration has purged the Justice department of competent professionals and replaced them with Bible-thumping "loyal Bushies", including a lot of folks who graduated from Regent University, Pat Robertson's bottom-tiered Jesus Freak Factory. Monica Goodling, the #3 person at the Justice Department was one of these Regent grads. She also just resigned after pleading the Fifth to avoid testifying before Congress. (According to Regent's website, upwards of 150 Regent graduates work in the Justice Department.) Anyway, the purging of the Bush Justice Department hasn't been relegated to just US Attorneys, but also the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. Bush and Karl Rove, as obsessed with suppressing minority voting as the Georgia legislature, signed off on Georgia's Voter I.D. bill even though all but one of the career lawyers in the "voting section" of the Civil Rights division of Justice called it what it was and rejected it. Those people were pressured out and replaced.

But the choice quote from the TPM story is this:
"Here's one thing that the Bush political appointees insisted didn't raise any red flags. The sponsor of the bill, Georgia state Rep. Sue Burmeister, told voting section staff that "if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud," and that "when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls.""
Once again I'm reminded of how difficult it can be to be a proud Georgian while we're all saddled with labels like ignorant, redneck and racist. People like Sue Burmeister and all the folks who voted for and supported that bill, are doing their part to make sure Georgians have no chance of escaping those labels in my lifetime. Anyway, there's more background on this facet of the story here. TPM is really doing some fantastic journalism. We need more guys like Josh Marshall to more fully document this poisoning of our Federal government.

4.) The Very Cool. The Pulitzers were announced on Monday, and my man Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" won the Pulitzer for Best Fiction. Did you know that the trade paperback is only about $9 at your local chain bookstore? Now that it's won a major award, won't you buy it and read it? It's very good and reads very fast. Then we can talk about it. And then you can watch Oprah's interview with McCarthy on a day to be announced.

5.) The Head-Scratching. Edward Norton has been tapped to play Bruce Banner in the latest Hulk movie. This sounds like it could be a really good idea, but then again, I thought Ang Lee was going to make a great Hulk movie.

Okay. Enough links. Enjoy your day.

Virginia Tech and the Debate on Gun Control

There's a lot to talk about in regards to the Virginia Tech shooting that happened early yesterday, but I want to get into just one aspect of it, namely the political back and forth on gun control.

I caught a few minutes of Rosie O'Donnell on "The View" this morning. She was talking about the shooting, reiterating her support of a near-total ban on guns (though she did say she wasn't for taking guns away from hunters, but I'm not sure where she draws the line exactly). Tonight on Charlie Rose, I listened to Brian Williams reporting via satellite from Virginia Tech, relating a question he asked the President today about where we are on the gun control debate. In essence, he asked if the rights of gun-owners should supercede those of students to a safe and secure learning environment during what, as Williams kept saying, "should be the best years of their lives." Shortly thereafter a Washington Post reporter talked about a lawsuit the gun lobby brought against the Virginia University system not long ago targeting the University's prohibition of all weapons from campus, saying it violated the 2nd amendment rights of teachers and students. An unnamed gun lobbyist went on to say, in light of what happened yesterday, that the incident proved that their lawsuit was right. Had the teachers and students in those classrooms been armed, it never would have gone as far as it did. It seems both Rosie and the unnamed gun lobbyist are living in their own fantasy worlds.

When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold picked their way through the halls of Columbine High School with assault rifles, I thought that was a fairly clear-cut case for the banning of public ownership of automatic machine guns. The siege in North Hollywood not long after made the case more succinctly. What possible reason, after all, would a person need a street sweeper-style machine gun for? Or armor-piercing bullets? For the impending declaration of Martial Law and all of the so-called "jackbooted thugs" marching down Main Street demanding subservience to a New World Order? It seems that many of the most virulent gun-advocates on the right are possessed of a deep-seated paranoia that leads them to advocate really bad policy.

But yesterday's violence was done with two handguns, not assault rifles. Where then is the law-making impulse of government to direct itself? Should we then ban all public ownership of handguns? Maybe we'd do that as well as we've managed to ban all sale of heroin and coke, or alcohol during Prohibition. How long after that would some maniac kill another 33 people with a hunting rifle (didn't that happen once in Texas?). What would our governments decide to do then? Ban all rifles? Maybe I'm being simplistic here, and the only real advocates for wholesale banning of all guns are folks like Rosie O'Donnell and some others on the left, but I'm not quite sure where gun control arguments logically enter into the debate after this most recent violence. The killer bought both of his guns legally, waiting out the 30-day waiting period meant to weed out crime of passion shooters. He was of age and he had no flags on his background. These were clean buys. He was not a citizen, per se, but he was a legal resident, which, as far as I know, confers many of the same rights. Maybe the guv'mint could make a law making it illegal to sell to a non-citizen, but what would that do? Make it more difficult for a non-citizen to buy a gun and go on a rampage? That would do really great at making sure something EXACTLY like this never happened again.

What happened at Virginia Tech yesterday was senseless and isolated. It doesn't seem to be indicative of some larger trend, nor does it illuminate some fixable flaw in the system that can be addressed by our elected officials. Bad as it is, this incident seems like a horrific act of gun violence that defies fresh debate on the pros and cons of gun control. I think there's much more debate to be had about guns -- regulating gun shows, requiring child-proof trigger locks on handguns, etc. -- but yesterday's violence moves the debate forward only minimally.

Anyway. Blah blah blah. More tomorrow.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Happy Friday, ya'll.

As I procrastinate from writing a short summary of my novel, I stumbled over a trailer for Jamie Kennedy's new documentary called "Heckler". Click here for the trailer.

At first the documentary seems like a relatively enjoyable compilation of comedians taking down hecklers; you know, those assholes who shout things at people on-stage in an attempt to co-opt some of the attention the performer's getting. They're a fairly indefensible group. In one clip, Jamie Kennedy comes back at one heckler who's just told him he ought to die, with, "You see, the difference between me and you, is that I came here in a limousine. You came here behind twelve huskies." Not really that funny as I type it on the screen, but the crowd seemed to like it. Anyway.

Eventually the trailer for the documentary moves from hecklers, to critics of all stripes. Anyone who's got something not nice to say. Kennedy calls in bloggers and critics into his home for on-camera interviews and reads them back the things they've written and they have discussions, apparently. True, during these discussions he endures even more insults from these critics, this time live and in-person, but he also gets a chance to insult them back, and usually with more cutting precision. He asks one blogger to restate the name of his website. Kennedy responds, "Shouldn't that be frustrated filmmaker dot com?" To another: "Do you have any friends? And your computer doesn't count." Rob Zombie bitterly describes what must be his impression of most bloggers as people who "live at home with mom, never had a girlfriend, all writing in to say that Spielberg sucks."

I guess my question is: who is this movie supposed to appeal to? People who'll see anything and then like everything they see? "Heckler" looks like something Jamie Kennedy put together because he was angry, in part, over people who've heckled him during his stand-up shows, but mostly over how bad the critics, legit and amateur both, raked him over the coals for movies like "Malibu's Most Wanted" and "The Mask II". I know it must sucks to be in the public eye and have to deal with meanness from anonymous people writing on-line, but to ask the great unwashed to pay to see a withering indictment of themselves is just a little confusing. I know this is just the trailer. Perhaps the film is less a criticism of critics and more a denunciation of the incivility with which many on-line self-publishing folks use to criticize those in the spotlight, the folks putting out movies and TV shows and books and music and what have you. If so, then yeah. I still won't see it, but I won't condemn it.

But the trailer doesn't give that impression. It seems more like a screed from comedians and filmmakers telling us if we don't have anything nice to say about what they do, we shouldn't say anything at all. To some extent, isn't unfair criticism part of being an artist/performer in the public eye? It's a great job, but even great jobs are bound to have a downside or two, right? I can sympathize that famous folks don't like dealing with all those hustling paparazzi in their faces, or maybe even that they don't like people calling into Gawker with star-sightings, but now we can't weigh in with critical opinions of their creative products, the very products they expect us to consume?

I don't know. On the face of it, it seems like a vanity project where Kennedy and other maligned rich creatives get a rare chance to vent about the audiences who don't have the smarts to love them or their work. I think Jamie Kennedy's a funny, talented guy. His next movie, "Kickin' It Old School" looks like it could be pretty funny. But I think he'd be better served concentrating on the next thing rather than looking back in anger at all the vitriol that, if one Googles themselves enough (I'm talking to you, Charles McClennahan), is pretty easy to find on the internet.

Then again, maybe I got the wrong impression from this trailer. Take a look and see what you think Kennedy's trying to do here.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Comments Post! Imus: Redux

Mmm, controversy.

I did this once before that I can remember, back on the global warming post, but I'm a gonna do it again for Tuesday's Imus post. I'm going to post up some of those excellent, well-reasoned comments and then respond to them and thus, possibly, keep the discussion alive.

(Just as a news update, Imus lost his TV show today, though he's still on the radio, broadcasting away. Drudge had a transcript of today's Imus show that was pretty funny because throughout Imus whines about losing his MSNBC show but keeps saying he isn't whining and that he deserves all this. You sort of feel sorry for the guy, but then you read this Slate article, and then you actually listen to his radio program for a minute or two, and then it's much harder to feel sorry for him.)

Anyway, onto the comments:

Shawn posted:

Either way, here's my big beef with this thing: it's more sexist than racist. The statement is demeaning to women regardless of race, but that's not to say Imus isn't making the association that black woman = ho. I think he probably is and I think the notoriety attached to the idea of the pimp in our culture over the past decade or so has sort of made this the acceptable norm in a way. Pimps and hos is a black thing right? Well, it shouldn't matter - it's a gender and power thing first and foremost.

I think Shawn's right here -- the sexism in Imus's oft-repeated comment has definitely been overlooked during all this. I wonder if the less-discussed sexism may be what's adding fuel to the fire -- it's like a double whammy of offensiveness, racist and sexist, and that much harder to brush off. And historically Imus has enjoyed using the pimps and hos imagery to spice his descriptions of black people. He called the New York Knicks "chest-thumping pimps" (And just to keep on with the Knicks, he once called Patrick Ewing once a "knuckle-dragging moron". )

Heath wrote:

I don't even care to argue whether he should or shouldn't get fired (or resign) over this, because at the end of the day it has to do with how the communications conglomerate that owns his station views this incident in terms of profit gain and loss. It's business, really, that decides these issues, and most of the time to a huge fault.

This I agree with. It is up to GE-owned NBC-Universal (which did opt to boot him), as well as the Viacom-owned CBS (which so far has opted to keep him). And I also agree that, oftentimes, it is "to a huge fault" that corporate America has so much leverage over what can and cannot be broadcast over the airwaves. Back during the run-up to the Iraq war, Phil Donahue had a show on MSNBC. It was a decent show, its rating weren't stellar but during his critical and skeptical coverage of the seemingly inevitable rush to war, which at the time was fairly unique on TV, his ratings went much higher. In fact, according to one of his producers, it became the most-watched show on the channel. But his show got canceled anyway. A leaked internal NBC memo came out calling Donahue and his show, "a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war ... He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." So he got canned for expressing the entirely legitimate views shared by about half of the country. So even though his ratings were good, NBC decided, out of a sense of patriotism and for the good of their viewers, that he shouldn't be allowed to have a venue. Somewhat similarly (emphasis on the somewhat), Imus's ratings are way up, and still MSNBC has decided to fire him. But like Peggy wrote in her comment,

The fact is Imus is deteriorating the value of the brands he works for, not only for each station he airs on, but also MSNBC and CBS Radio, which is why they should let him go.

Though perhaps the facts that separate these two situations are more numerous than those that unite them. Imus said something ignorant and racist for a joke and lost his MSNBC job, and Donahue was airing legitimate political opinions unpopular with the NBC brass and lost his job on MSNBC. Pretty different.

Heath wrote:

Crane, your take on this is staggeringly myopic and dangerous. You need to stop watching the news for a couple months, so you'll stop with the left-leaning absolutism. Jesus. Gross. Gross Jesus. You say you're of two minds about this controversy, but are you? Really? I think not. You have a singular vision for a utopian society that's a bit naive, I think. Racism is a delicate subject, but to single out that it's exceptionally delicate for white people, is at it's core racism, too. But, it's the okay kind, right? You know the kind, the anti-white kind? That kind of racism is socially acceptable to you New York Times white apologists, and I can't side with that.

I agree with the second sentence. I do need to stop watching the news for a while -- it's been a real bore of late. But to the point, I don't think I am for a utopian society. In my post I didn't ask that offensive racial language be stricken from the public dialogue by force of law, I'm merely expressing my opinion that Imus ought to be fired for uttering it in this case. In fact, all the people calling for Imus to be fired are merely expressing their opinions about it. And though you may think these opinions wrong or "dangerous" even in the free-est society they'd be allowed and celebrated. And I'm not sure that pointing out that discussions on race are exceptionally delicate for whites is also racist, though it may be. Maybe it presupposes that inside the heart of every white person there's a hate-spitting racist trying to be heard, or maybe it presupposes that there's a tissue-skinned minority waiting to be offended at the slightest provocation, whether intentional or not. On any given day of the week, I believe neither, one or the other, or both. Also, I wonder what, specifically, you're referring to as "the anti-white kind [of racism that's] socially acceptable to you New York Times white apologists"?


Were Imus' comments offensive? Sure. To me? No. To someone or a group of people? Apparently. You think there should be consequences, and I wonder what consequences you feel would be appropriate. To me, this falls under free speech, but, because he was speaking as an employee of the station, it's up to the station to determine if this will affect their profits negatively. If decidedly yes, then they should have the right to let him go. And if the voice of the people say they don't like what he says, then they have the right to not listen to him. Those are the consequences I find fair. The law has no place in this matter. Not even a little bit.

I totally agree that the law has no place in this. I hope I didn't give the impression in my post that I did. He has a right to free speech, and so do all of us who condemn it. And yes, it's true as you imply, that one solution would be for those who didn't like his comments to simply not tune in (which would likely effect his ratings not in the slightest as the people most enraged by his comment are not Imus listeners). But as Peggy alluded to, it's more than just that, it's a "branding" issue. Imus falls under the "brand" of NBC-MSNBC, and if he's been deemed a racist by leading and respected opinion makers in the country and that label has now stuck, then NBC cannot reasonably keep an outed racist under the NBC brand.

I think it's a mistake to look at this Imus imbroglio through the prism of this one comment. If it had been that and only that, his shot at holding onto his job would be much better. But it isn't. He's got a history. Journalist and politician guests are Imus's bread and butter. I think it's telling that not a single black journalist, of which there are many, have ever gone on his show. Even before he insulted PBS's Gwen Ifill by calling her "the cleaning lady", she knew enough not to go on his show, which may have been why he singled her out for the racial insult. The exception, (so I've read though I can't find the article at the moment), was Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune. He went on, told Imus to cut it out with all the racial stuff, and was never asked back. Yes, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson want him gone, but so does Barack Obama. Even Al Roker, hardly a reactionary firebrand, thinks Imus ought to go. I think the unspoken boycott by respected African-Americans of Imus's show is very telling, and gives the subtext to this outrage that, to some, seems overblown. I think a lot of people have been waiting a long time for Imus to slip up like this. It was bound to happen.

But racism, systemic and government supported racism, is alive and well in 2007. Today on Josh Marshall's, he lays out clearly what may be underlying the entire US Attorney scandal, namely suppressing the minority vote, specifically African-Americans. Click here for the full post. Therein he lists a few cases featuring voters making innocent mistakes and being prosecuted harshly by the federal government. The gist of his piece is this: some of the fired attorneys were supposedly fired for not pursuing so-called "voter fraud" cases aggressively enough. But, as Marshall says, the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that voter fraud cases are, across the board, trumped up and phony attempts to keep black people out of the voting booths, or to throw out their votes after they've been cast. It's been a Republican strategy for decades, but never moreso than it has been under Karl Rove. Remember Florida in 2000? They stole the election by throwing out huge chunks of the black vote. Hell, not long after I started this blog, I wrote about this great state of Georgia passing a law, sponsored and passed by Republicans, requiring all voters to have a $20 ID in order to cast a ballot. This would disproportionately effect poor minority voters, which was, of course, the idea. But to hear a Georgia Republican tell it, the Voter ID bill was designed to protect against the anti-democratic (and non-existent as it turns out) scourge of voter fraud. Like so much of what Republican's hold near and dear, it's bullshit.

And finally, speaking of Republican bullshit, they're trotting out a shiny red wheelbarrow full of it for our discriminating palettes today. You know those White House emails Congressional Democrats requested in regards to the US Attorney purge? The ones White House officials wrote on the Republican National Committee's email system so as to circumvent the Hatch Law requiring all White House emails be saved for posterity? The ones that no doubt featured tons of damaging evidence of deliberate, widespread Rovian malfeasance? Yeah, well, they lost them.

Another day in the reign of George W. Bush.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


In other news, anyone have any thoughts on this whole Don Imus debacle?

For a brief refresher, Don Imus, nemesis of Howard Stern, cranky old skull-faced radio bastard in the 10-gallon hat, one of the first to be called a "shock jock", said on air Wednesday of last week that the Rutgers women's basketball team were "nappy-headed hos". An uproar ensued, and justifiably. Yesterday, Imus went on Al Sharpton's radio show, "Keeping it Real with Al Sharpton", to apologize and explain himself. While he was on that show, he referred to Al Sharpton and another guest as "you people". This may have been innocent, but may also have been that old semi-subtle racist expression that says more about how a particular person views people of another race than about the race that person is attempting to refer to.

I'm of two minds about this controversy. I do very much like the idea of a broadcaster having freedom to say what they want on the air, and I recognize that radio people have to talk extemporaneously, and for hours everyday, about whatever the topics of the day are. Race is a delicate subject, particularly for white people to discuss, and aspects of this controversy might lead one to believe that for people in the public eye, one poorly-phrased statement can change your life in a very negative, very public way. On the other hand, this is Don Imus. Imus is a dick. Even when he's not putting his foot in his mouth over racially offensive statements, he's trying to be funny by being an ass-hole. And this wasn't a poorly-phrased statement, this was calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos". There's not a good euphemism for that. It's just racist. And he's made racially insensitive comments in the past, like calling PBS political analyst Gwen Ifill a "cleaning lady" for example. Rush Limbaugh got fired from ESPN (or officially he resigned) for saying the media wanted to see Eagles QB Donovan McNabb do well because they wanted a black quarterback to succeed. Getting him off TV then was good and it sent a good message: racist statements are not acceptable in the mainstream of today's society.

Should Imus be fired for his comments? I don't know. The statements he made were clearly offensive and, in my humble layman's opinion, there should be consequences. If the women's basketball team, which today agreed to meet with Imus, decides to forgive Imus for what he said, maybe Imus's seemingly heartfelt apologies and the 2-week suspension NBC's already handed down might suffice. If they don't, then ultimately NBC will decide what they're willing to live with in the name of profit. I do like that Imus is getting called out for this; he's being forced to defend his statements. That doesn't always happen. Nationally-known Atlanta-based radio "personality" Neal Boortz called Cynthia McKinny a "welfare drag queen" and a "ghetto slut" shortly after her run-in with a Capitol policeman, and for his racist remarks he received not even a fraction of the condemnation Imus is getting. Though the difference here might be the targets of these racist comments: on one hand you've got the commendable Rutgers basketball players who'd recently lost the championship game, and on the other you've got Cynthia McKinny, whose missteps and impolitic behavior had made her a lot of enemies in her home state. Both Imus's and Boortz's statements are racist, clearly, but when men like Sharpton and Jackson are trying to fight their impossible war, namely to cleanse speech of racist content, they must recognize the need to pick their battles. If it's possible to be more in the wrong than Boortz was last year, then Imus has done it. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

In completely unrelated news, Jimmy Kimmel subbed for Larry King the other night. On his show he had Emily Gould, a editor from to defend a feature on their website called "Gawker Stalker" which allows people to call in to Gawker with celebrity sightings, at which time Gawker posts them after a short delay. Celebs hate this, in particular Jimmy Kimmel. Someone called to report that Kimmel looked "intoxicated" in public. Gawker ran with the piece without bothering to check first with Kimmel's publicist, and so now poor Jimmy's mad and decides to take it out on Ms. Gould on King's show. This is the clip. I never liked Jimmy Kimmel, and this clip only goes to reinforce my poor opinion of him. "I want you to think about your life," he tells her. He implies she's on her way to hell, all because she had the temerity to make Jimmy feel bad. How Bill O'Reilly-esque he is in this clip. How small. His continued success is astonishing to me.

And I know two posts in one day is unusual, so just in case you may have missed it, check out my "Grindhouse" post, located just below this one. And I'm out.


Howdy, y'all. Hope everyone had a good weekend.

Anyone else see "Grindhouse"? The wife and I saw it at the drive-in on Friday night. It was an unseasonably cold night and the lot was packed. Apparently not so the other theaters in the country showing "Grindhouse". This Tarantino/Rodriguez-directed "double feature" made a paltry $11.6 million on its opening weekend, coming in fourth place. "Blades of Glory" was first in its second week, the animated "Meet the Robinsons" came in second, and you know what was third? "Are We Done Yet?", the family-oriented Ice Cube-starrer fresh out of the box this weekend. Analysts pointed to "Grindhouse"'s 3-hour plus running time and its R-rating as checks in the minus column, but $11.6 million? Either I have to fault the Weinstein Company's advertising strategy, or I have to agree with the blog runner on, who said in response to "Grindhouse"'s anemic box office total: "Everyone sucks."

The film is a lot of fun. I'm guessing that Tarantino was the brainchild behind this project because the filmmakers seem to put as much emphasis on the filmgoing experience of seeing "a grindhouse-style movie" as they do on the actual films that comprise "Grindhouse". Tarantino's own movies are filled with nods to the schlock entertainment titles shown at so-called grindhouse back in the day, particularly his recent "Kill Bill" films. I'm a product of bland suburban multiplexes, myself, so whatever nostalgia high "Grindhouse" might have offered was lost on me. but I appreciated how dedicated to the idea of recreating the grindhouse experience these two guys were. There were a lot of ways they could have expressed their enduring admiration for these old exploitative films, and a lot of them much less risky, less potentially off-putting to casual filmgoers than this. "Grindhouse" is a true double-feature, for one. Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" runs first, than Tarantino's "Death Proof" making it 3 hours and 11 minutes long. They add film-deterioration effects to the film. There is an intermission (I don't know how long it was as I went to the concession stand for candy during it). The dialogue is sometimes purposely bad (I think purposely). In keeping with the customary practice of projectionists snipping out the "best parts" of the movie for their own private highlight reels, both films are missing reels. In "Planet Terror", the missing reel is hilariously pivotal to the plot. In "Death Proof", the missing reel is a hilarious (but malicious) tease. Rodriguez and Tarantino even invited current horror directors to create their own grindhouse-style trailers for nonexistent movies, which run before each movie. (They're all pretty hilarious, by the way.) Even if "Grindhouse" had been a bore (which it certainly wasn't), these guys, including the Weinsteins (though grudgingly) deserve a lot of respect for pulling this off. Though the embarrassingly low totals for its opening weekend box office suggest most of America was either not ready for this kind of project, or was not in the mood.

"Planet Terror" is pretty fun, but for me the weaker of the two movies. Schlocky zombie epidemic gorefest. Josh Brolin is very funny in it, and I liked seeing Jeff Fahey get a plum role in an A-list project, but there was a bit too much of Rodriguez's typical excesses and not enough stuff I hadn't seen a million times. Also, Rose McGowan's charms as an actress were completely lost on me here. "Death Proof" had a lot more going for it, I think. Kurt Russell's turn as the inscrutable and villainous Stuntman Mike was riveting. I'm still not quite sure if Tarantino was off his game in how he wrote Stuntman Mike because at first glance his writing seems uneven and weird; though the more I think about it the more persuaded I am that there are hidden depths to Stuntman Mike that are only glancingly alluded to. I also liked the first killing scene. One of the hallmarks of a good horror movie is a new and shocking way to kill people. Tarantino delivers here I think, but then abandons the idea of a one-by-one kind of killer and the first of the film's two acts abruptly ends with a strange but terrifying act of violence.

But then the second half of "Death Proof" begins and it feels a little like Tarantino hitting the reset button on his movie. A brand new gaggle of mouthy, leggy girls in a car? Check. Stuntman Mike lurking in the background? Check. This second half starts slow, and by the time this new group of ladies starts talking, I'm already getting weary of Tarantino's pop-culture laden dialogue, which has become increasingly esoteric. With each new Tarantino movie it's getting more difficult for me to separate the dialogue coming from the mouths of his actors from the image of Tarantino's grinning gargoyle face hunched over the keyboard typing it up. (Which is another reason I really like Russell's Stuntman Mike. When he spoke his lines, I didn't hear Tarantino nearly as much as with the others). The fact that Tarantino inserts himself into both films doesn't help. But anyway, he makes up for it with the extended car chase scene that comprises most of this half of "Death Proof". He casts Zoe Bell, (who was Uma Thurman's stunt double on "Kill Bill" as herself), and so when she's required to do some hellacious stunt work for the long car chase, that's her you see in mortal peril. Her terrified expression. It's a great idea and it makes the chase scene all the more visceral and real. The end of the film I won't give away, but I will say I had a good laugh when the "The End" title appeared on-screen.

All told, "Grindhouse" is some risky, inventive filmmaking and well worth seeing.

Because it tanked here in the states, Weinstein has said he wants to split the movie into two movies in a couple weeks, and add in the "missing" reels left out of the double feature version of "Grindhouse". Hope they manage to eke out some cash from this thing.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Alanis Cool Again?

Remember Alanis Morissette? This clip is Alanis Morissette's cover and parody video of "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas, sung by pop superstar du jour, Fergie. "My Humps" is a song that a Slate music critic called "proof that a song can be so bad as to veer toward evil." Brilliant line, and one I totally agree with. Wish I'd thought of it. This spoof video has got some funny moments but her version of the song itself has a cool Tori Amos vibe and gives this vapid, terrible, catchy song something almost like meaning. It also sounds pretty good. Anyway, enjoy.

Monday, April 02, 2007

"Glengarry Glen Ross", "Blades of Glory", and Oprah Liked "The Road" Almost as Much as I Did

Hey, it's been a lil' while. I hope that Caketown "300" parody was funny enough to keep you laughing all through that hiatus.

Last week was chock full o' doing stuff. Fixing cars, re-reading my own writing, drawing projects, seeing plays, moving sheds from one side of the in-laws' house to the other, etc. More stuff than I'm used to doing certainly. The play I speak of is "Glengarry Glen Ross". The Alliance Theater staged it at their little black-box Hertz Theater and we saw it Tuesday night. Good stuff. Though the actor's were age appropriate, I didn't like their "Glengarry" nearly as much as I did the NCSA production of Mamet's play I was lucky enough to see back in '98 or '99. That was some good stuff. "Glengarry Glen Ross" is kind of a weird play. At the same time I'm enthralled by it I'm also annoyed by Mamet's mannered and anti-naturalistic dialogue. It kind of rides that line the whole way through. But Mamet's treatment of the subject and what he has to say about working in America (not to mention some of those brilliant lines), trumps all of Mamet's hyper-macho staccato delivery bullshit.

One of the interesting choices the director made was casting an African-American to play the Ricky Roma part. The actor, Neal A. Ghant, was much more physical in the part than I'd seen in the NCSA production or in the film adaptation (in which Al Pacino played Roma). When Ghant first appeared he was standing behind one of those tall tables you often find in a bar. While Roma's speaking to his mark, Lingk, who was sitting beside him on one of those stool chairs, you could see the actor playing Roma channelling, faintly, a Gospel-style Baptist preacher. His cadence, his swagger, all of that. An interesting choice but I didn't like it. And when Roma and Williamson have their set-to at the end, Ghant's Roma actually lunges for Williamson and nearly decks him. Bad choice, I thought. These men do battle with words. That's kind of the point. The idea that Roma, the salesman with the sharpest tongue in the whole play, would resort to violence doesn't make sense. I know they were trying to do something new with the material, but I think they overreached . Blah. Whatever. Regional theater.

I also saw "Blades of Glory" over the weekend. I thought it was a lot of fun. I didn't think it was as funny as "Talladega Nights", but it was good wacky fun. Jon Heder has more to work with here than he did in the execrable "School for Scoundrels" but I have yet to see him prove himself beyond "Napoleon Dynamite". A lot of the comedic actors he's been working with lately had an opportunity to hone their chops in improv troupes or on shows like Saturday Night Live. The fact he's never had time to work on being funny limits him comedically, I think, and makes him somewhat timid on-screen. I hope he breaks out of that before the roles start drying up.

Finally, fairly big news in the lit world last week. Oprah chose Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" as her latest Book Club pick, and the privacy-valuing (some might say reclusive) Cormac has agreed to his first-ever television interview to discuss the book. I was pleasantly shocked by the news. The book is set in a post-apocalyptic future and follows a man and his son as they trek across the wasted American landscape without much real hope of survival. Not the standard Oprah Book Club fare. I'm sure the fact of the book's excellence overrode Oprah's concerns about the general bleakness of the story, how palatable her viewer/readers would find it. It's impressive then that Oprah would choose this book. Selecting "The Road" doesn't quite make up for the fact that she's championed the awful and dangerous book/DVD "The Secret" as a legitimate and worthwhile thing, or that she has on numerous occasions given a platform for Bill O'Reilly to spout his awful awful bullshit, but choosing "The Road" means she's got some sense left. Or at least her producers do.