Saturday, January 07, 2006

Brokeback Weigh-In

Saw "Brokeback Mountain" this weekend, and I'm disinclined to give it a long review.

Essentially, I liked it. It's well-shot, well-acted, and well written. The music is spare and fitting. It's not great. It's kind of slow, actually. It's notable mostly for being one of the first "mainstream" movies to confront homosexuality head-on.

Ultimately, I don't have that much to say on ol' "Brokeback."

Except this: Gay sex looks horrible. Wow. You think you're a worldly, tolerant person and then Heath Ledger starts barebackin' on Jake Gyllenhooly and you suddenly realize that, while you firmly support the right of gay folk to be together, you never, EVER, want to see them go at it again.

Ever.

This epiphany somehow excludes lipstick lesbianism, which I will continue to enjoy in cinematic form. Sorry, Heath and Jake. Denise and Naomi are just...well...hotter than you.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Brought To You By Canned Ham

Call him cantankerous if you will. Call him only intermittently funny (as I'm inclined to).

But don't ever say that David Letterman doesn't have balls.

From A la Gauche:

Bill O'Reilly: "The soldiers and Marines are noble. They're not terrorists. And when people call them that, like Cindy Sheehan called the insurgents 'freedom fighters,' we don't like that. It is a vitally important time in American history. And we should all take it very seriously. Be very careful with what we say."

Letterman: Well, and you should be very careful with what you say also.

O'Reilly: Give me an example.

Letterman: How can you possibly take exception with the motivation and the position of someone like Cindy Sheehan?

O'Reilly: Because I think she's run by far-left elements in this country. I feel bad for the woman.

Letterman: Have you lost family members in armed conflict?

O'Reilly: No, I have not.

Letterman: Well, then you can hardly speak for her, can you?


You can practically hear Letterman bristling here, can't you? Click on the above link to read the whole enchilada. It's very...tense.

I know, I know..O'Reilly's an easy target, and Letterman's no political scientist. But I can't help a little malicious knife-twisting any more than...well...O'Reilly for that matter.



Pastor Pusillanimously Protests Purported Police Penis Provocation

From Channel Oklahoma:

OKLAHOMA CITY -- An executive committee member of the Southern Baptist Convention was arrested on a lewdness charge for propositioning a plainclothes policeman outside a hotel, police said...

...Latham, who has spoken out against homosexuality, asked the officer to join him in his hotel room for oral sex. Latham was arrested and his 2005 Mercedes automobile was impounded...

...He has also spoken out against same-sex marriage and in support of a Southern Baptist Convention directive urging its 42,000 churches to befriend gays and lesbians and try to convince them that they can become heterosexual "if they accept Jesus Christ as their savior and reject their 'sinful, destructive lifestyle."


...When he left jail, he said: "I was set up. I was in the area pastoring to police."


Oh, he was pastoring, alright.

Let me just say up front that I kinda feel bad for this fella. Kinda. Given that he's a Baptist, I'm assuming he's married, and this won't be easy on the wife n' chilluns. He can tell his wife he was "pastoring" all he likes, and she may publically appear to support him, but behind closed doors it's gonna get ugly.

On the other hand this guy is a raging hypocrite.

He's telling loving, monogamy-minded homosexual couples that they cannot marry, and that their lifestyle is sinful and destructive, and then going out to have illicit, adulterous gay sex with strange men while his (assumedly existent) wife and children sit at home, awaiting the wonderful diseases with which he will return.

I usually don't consider people's private lives fair game for public commentary, so perhaps there's a bit of the pot and kettle in this, but when a man's private life so thoroughly contradicts his public persona, and when his public persona involves judging others on the way they live their lives, then I think it's Rabbit Season. Or Duck Season.

FIRE!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

No-Fly For You! Come Back One Year!

The Revenge of Bush's Brain:

This week last year I was preparing for a trip to Ohio to conduct interviews and research for a new book I was writing. My airline tickets had been purchased on line and the morning of departure I went to the Internet to print out my boarding pass. I got a message that said, "Not Allowed."

"I'm sorry, sir," [an employee] said. "There seems to be a problem. You've been placed on the No Fly Watch List."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm afraid there isn't much more that I can tell you," she explained. "It's just the list that's maintained by TSA to check for people who might have terrorist connections."

I have been on the No Fly Watch List for a year. I will never be told the official reason. No one ever is. You cannot sue to get the information. Nothing I have done has moved me any closer to getting off the list. There were 35,000 Americans in that database last year. According to a European government that screens hundreds of thousands of American travelers every year, the list they have been given to work from has since grown to 80,000.


James Moore is the author of "Bush's Brain," a book that publicized Karl Rove's role in the Bush presidency. I assume, given the tone of his post, that said book was none-too-flattering,

Perhaps, due to the immense, inefficient beast that is the government, Mr. Moore's name was simply inadverdently placed on the list. Or, perhaps Mr. Moore has been interviewing and researching in areas that the government regards with suspicion.

Or perhaps he pissed the wrong people off.

I like his attitude, though. It's pretty sunny, considering. Flying is already such a mind-numbing, time-consuming hassle even without the added figurative-cherry-on-the-inconvenient-sundae of being on the No-Fly list. I'd be far more ornery.

Oh, Snap(per)!

I don't believe that Wal-Mart is the devil. It's a business, like any other. And businesses are amoral things.

But I do think that Wal-Mart's business model - profitable as it's been for ol' Wal-Mart - is exceedingly bad for America's continued economic strength, business in general, and ultimately, for the American customer. Wal-Mart's low prices (which, in reality, are not uniformly or even actually lower than competitors) may be attractive in the short run, but the generally recognized long-term effects seem much less desirable to me.

So it was nice to read about one company that told WalMart "no thank you.":

Wier is too judicious to describe it this way, but he looked into a future of supplying lawn mowers and snow blowers to Wal-Mart and saw a whirlpool of lower prices, collapsing profitability, offshore manufacturing, and the gradual but irresistible corrosion of the very qualities for which Snapper was known.


What's interesting is that Wier, despite deciding that partnering with Wal-Mart would, essentially, kill his company, still describes himself as "pro-Wal-Mart" or at least "not Anti-Wal-Mart."

(link courtesy of Dkos)

Thomas, Jefferson

Skipping Towards Armageddon, an interesting blog that's been kind enough to post links to Codemorse, pointed me toward "Jesus Without The Miracles: Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas."

I've been a fairly long-time advocate of Jesus as revolutionary moral philosopher, regardless of any belief in his personal divinity. The Gospel of Thomas (not Jefferson) reinforces the idea of Christ as someone with a radical, world-changing philosophy of self-improvement, charity, and tolerance. Jefferson's Bible, without awareness of the existence of Thomas's gospel, attempts an essentially similar feat, by removing the virgin birth and all miracles from the text to leave us with the documented proverbs and beliefs of Jesus himself.

It's this Jesus - He of the allegorical story and relentless, self-effacing humility - that I think I believe in the most. I've no real idea whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, but I'm pretty sure about "love thy neighbor as you love yourself" coming from his mouth. What is more important to the good of the world and to the improvement of the self? Adherence to the faith-driven belief in this man's divinity? Or following the teachings he left behind?

And if Jesus was not, in fact, the actual Son of God, does that make his teachings, so powerfully transformative after thousands of years - any less important to humanity? "Jesus Without the Miracles is a fine, thought-provoking read.

e.g.:

...to read Jefferson's version [of the gospels] is to face a relentless demand that we be much better people—inside and out—than most of us are. Which leads, as Jefferson must have suspected, to this unfortunate conclusion: the relevance of Christianity to most Americans—then and now—has far more to do with the promise of eternal salvation from this world than with any desire to practice the teachings of Jesus while we are here.

Scooting Toward Bethlehem

Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images For Newsweek

From Newsweek, yet again:

For a growing swath of people—in numbers, age and girth—scooting is the new walking. Once solely the domain of the barely mobile, scooters are becoming more lifestyle accessory than medical necessity as obesity rates skyrocket and life-expectancy rates creep up...

...With the number of obese adults over the age of 60 in the United States expected to reach nearly 21 million in 2010, a 43 percent jump from 2000, the appeal of the wheel is obvious. Add a generation of aging boomers used to doing what they want, when they want, and you just might have the next suburban status symbol.


43 percent.

In 2010, this country is going to be awash in obese people on sporty little scooters, raising fists and shouting "fat power!"*

Obesity is the new "oppressed minority." I don't hate fat people, but I'm inclined to point out that obesity is physically unhealthy - unlike, say, being black (although some black people might argue that being black is, in fact, unhealthy - if only because of all the lynchings n' stuff. And slavery. And "white power." And economic disenfranchisement. And "That's So Raven.").


*If you wish to keep your sanity and eye-sight do NOT click on the exclamation point at the bottom of this linked page.

Down the Rabbit Hole, Through the Looking Glass, Outside of Kansas

From Newsweek:

Doesn't the fact that newspapers need to be bribed in order to print factually correct stories that suggest something more positive than the "colossal failure" in Iraq Jonathan Alter describes confirm the liberal media bias?


Um, no.

...liberals have not come up with an answer for suicide bombers and the Islamic extremists who have no interest in Western values of tolerance, women's rights, democracy and freedom of expression.

-Neal Simpson (via internet)


I would suggest that the reason liberals haven't come up with an "answer" for suicide bombers is because there is no "answer." At least, not in the way Mr. Simpson seems to want.

You might as well ask why no one's come up with the "answer" to the problem of racism. Or poverty. Or elitism. Or reality television.

And, oh yes. Those marvelous values we Westerners possess.

Such as tolerance.

And women's rights.

And democracy.

And freedom of expression.

America is a wonderful country, but we're as human as anyone else, and just as prone to the trampling of our own values as we are to having those values trampled upon by others.

That said, here's some good news for Mr. Simpson:

Defying the state’s governor, the Rhode Island House of Representatives yesterday voted 59–13 to override the veto of a medical marijuana legalization measure approved earlier this year. In so doing, the nation’s smallest state joined ten others in bucking the federal government’s Supreme Court-backed prohibition against using the plant even for medicinal purposes.


And you know that no one paid to put that story in the news. The potheads are too lazy to be that proactive, anyway.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Cellular Betrayal

From Dailykos:

Magistrate Judge Gorenstein of the federal court for the Southern District of New York issued an opinion permitting the government to use cell site data to track a cell phone's physical location, without the government having to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause.

Essentially, since the government has not chosen to install a tracking device in our cells, and because we've "chosen" to purchase cells with this tracking device already installed, the Southern District has ruled that no warrant is required.

I'm going to end up living on a hill-top in Montana with a dial-up connection and reinforced firewalls.

Pan Pipes In From France


Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most amazing film directors working today.

He's the independently-minded fellow behind such great, deeply weird movies as "Cronos," "The Devil's Backbone," and "Hellboy," and his newest creation, "Pan's Labyrinth," emerges soon to terrorize and mesmerize your eyes.

The teaser trailer for the film is up at French film site, "Excessif.com," and it's remarkable. I don't read French, but it appears from the block of text hovering over the trailer links that Alphonso Cuaron, a pretty fantastic director in his own right, produced "Pan's Labyrinth."

If you've got an appetite for the fantastical, and a fascination with/tolerance for horror, then click HERE, scroll to the bottom, click "Haute Resolution," and enter "Pan's Labyrinth."

(link courtesy of chud.com)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Finally, A Kong Review

Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” is the bastard child of Ang Lee’s Hulk.

Both films feature misunderstood monsters being hunted by a swiftly-mobilized military that fears them. Both contain beautiful women weirdly attached to the great brutes who fruitlessly petition the army-folk not to go all Waco on their “boyfriends.”

Both films are overlong, play havoc with audience expectations, and feature unconventional-though-sometimes-brilliant casting.

Overly literal, meandering, occasionally incredibly exciting, and undeniably brilliant in places - that’s King Kong. Not much of a pull-quote, I know, but King Kong was a mixed experience for me.

So much of Kong’s problem lies in the editing, or the lack-thereof. There’s a thrilling, moving, powerful picture lurking within the bloated beast that is the theatrical release. Had Jackson cut about fourty-five minutes off “Kong,” we’d be looking at a modern-day adventure classic. As it is we’re looking at a wildly ambitious swing-at-the-fences that falls regrettably short.

Seeing Jackson’s WETA effects group recreate 1930’s Manhattan is neat, but not one-full-hour of the movie neat. You can argue that the film is taking its time in setting up the characters to make us care for them when they finally hit treacherous Skull Island, and it’s a legitimate argument, but Jackson wastes so much of that time with maudlin exposition (the old man who is some sort of surrogate father figure to Anne Darrow gives wholly-unnecessary speeches that serve as clunky descriptions of Darrow’s character) and long, wordless shots that he doesn’t accomplish much texturing, and we really don’t “care” about any of the various players any more than we would have after spending half the time with them.

Besides, I didn’t plunk down $10.75 for a movie on 1930’s depression-era New York. I came to see the big monkey. “Kong” shares “Hulk’s” difficulty in setting up its own narrative; taking far too much time to get across what could be simply and effectively conveyed in half the time.

Jackson also spends farrrr too much time on the crew of the “Venture.” The relationship between a young shipmate and an older, “wiser” crewmember is laborious and unrewarding. They’re also somewhat corny, and while part of this feeling may be based on the fact that Jackson pulled chunks of the original film’s dialogue for his remake, it’s more the way that these actors pop up for a while and then disappear completely, having contributed nothing of emotional or physical value for all their setting-up.

But all (or nearly all) is forgiven when the Venture washes up on Skull Island. Jackson hits his stride with the introduction of some truly freaky-ass natives, and like the darker moments in the Lord of the Rings films, the native scenes are suffused with a queasy, creeping horror that hearkens back to Jackson’s earlier filmmaking.
And from the moment that Kong himself emerges from the jungle the entire movie goes electric like Dylan. Kong is a show-stopping feat of acting and animation. His introduction, like Ang Lee’s depiction of the Hulk’s wanderings through the American desert, immediately elevates Jackson’s film to something approaching majesty.

From there, the film is mostly a blast. It’s kinetic, surprisingly moving, and thoroughly entertaining.

Performance-wise, Andy Serkis shows that he’s as much a powerhouse talent as any of the industry’s currently anointed acting elite. He pulls double duty on “Kong,” as the titular gorilla and the Venture’s cook, Lumpy, and he’s astonishing. Hollywood will, of course, totally misuse the man outside of his projects with Peter Jackson. I can easily see him cast as the rote villain in some hokey new Travolta thriller.

(Here’s a thought – team Serkis with Christopher Nolan in the Batman sequel and have him play the Joker. Everyone’s talking up Paul Bettany for the role (and I think he’d be fantastic), but Serkis could act the living fuck out of that part. The man believably portrayed insanity as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, and disappears entirely beneath digital “makeup” to play Kong. He could nail the clown prince of crime without batting an eyelash.)

Jack Black comes off surprisingly well, though he’s hampered by his essential Jack Blackiness. He’s entertaining and surprisingly poignant, so kudos to him. Adrian Brody, on the other hand, is kind of a wash. The pompous actor who runs off in the jungle only to return and help save the crew had a better, more dramatic character arc than Brody’s Jack Driscoll, and that shouldn’t be the case. I completely buy into the emotional relationship between Anne Darrow and Kong, but I don’t for one minute believe that Darrow and Driscoll have a spark between them. Since Naomi Watts pours her heart and soul into her performance I’m tempted to lay the blame for that fizzle at Brody’s feet.

There’s a lot to enjoy and recommend about King Kong, so why do I feel like I’m waffling on it? Maybe it’s because, despite numerous wonderful moments, the whole affair feels too overly-stuffed to be enjoyable. It’s like arriving in your kitchen to find all your favorite foods piled high and waiting to be eaten – only you have to eat every bite - and there’s a TON of it. It’s enjoyable, but it’s also work. There are, of course, more terrible curses for a film to labor under than an overabundance of riches, but too much of a good thing is wasted, and Kong’s essential storyline, unlike the monkey himself, isn’t large or strong enough to carry the excess padding without staggering around a bit.

Plus, despite having a vertigo-inducing biplane fight scene at film’s end, there is nothing to equal the acid trip finale of Lee’s Hulk. In the end, “Kong” is a movie about a big monkey and unlike Ang Lee’s Hulk - which justifies its near-willful obtuseness with some pretty big ideas and some pretty wacky shit - “Kong” never convinced me that it was anything more than a grandly entertaining monkey movie.

That said, there are far worse ways to burn your petty cash than watching a true artist play in the sandbox he’s built for himself. “Kong” is a solid, enjoyable, surprisingly tender film complete with flesh-eating insects and monkey-on-dinosaur wrasslin’ matches. It’s not a film I have any great urge to revisit, but that may change. After all, despite promising myself each year that I won’t gorge myself to the point of explosion on turkey and stuffing I return to the trough and dig in like the ziggy piggy I am.

On DVD, Kong may play tighter (with the added bonus of being able to skip past the slower parts), and the very padding that seems so unnecessary in the theater may seem less egregious on my couch, where bathroom breaks and seventh inning stretches are much more convenient.