Saturday, November 15, 2003

Here's a weird one... Auto Focus. It's about Bob Crane, who played Col. Hogan on the old sitcom Hogan's Heroes. Most of the movie focuses on his sordid second life that involved kinky sex, drugs, booze, and early videocameras. This one has a lot of fine actors. Even though I was a fan of the original "Talk Soup", I would have never pegged Greg Kinnear as a good actor. But I've enjoyed every film I've seen with him in it. His creepy gadget friend who facilitates his entry into that freaky underworld is played by Willem Dafoe.

Now, I never watched Hogan's Heroes, though I'm familiar with it. I imagine this film would be much more shocking for fans of the show, even though the details of his life (and death) are well known at this point. I'd heard that the movie was incredibly dark and disturbing, but it's really not that bad. Rita Wilson (Mrs. Tom Hanks) is in it, for Pete's sake. The set design, costumes, and music are perfect--there's been enough good films made about the 50s and 60s that designers have a good idea how to make a convincing setting without glaring "Hey, look at this wacky collar!" moments.

Maria Bello's in it, and though she's not been in a lot of films, she's radiant on screen. She's probably best well known from her role as the female lead in Mel Gibson's Payback.

And for some insightful punditry, there's a lot of correlations between the early days of videotape presented in this movie and the current state of things with the internet.
One of the nice things about the two dozen HBO/Cinemax channels is the opportunity to watch movies that you certainly wouldn't have piad for to see in the theater, or even rent from the video store. For instance, tonight's selection, I Spy. It was a big blockbuster hopeful from last year, but it didn't do too well at the box office. For one thing, it's only marginally related to the original TV series. More significant is the fact that it's like a combination of Spies Like Us, 48 Hours, and about a dozen other buddy-cop movies that people liked more the first time around. However, I was still slightly interested in seeing it.

Although I like all of the actors attached to this--Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, Malcolm McDowell, Gary Cole (the boss from Office Space)--they don't really work all that well together. Eddie Murphy in particular doesn't seem to enjoy being in the movie that much. There's even a point where he draws back on his old Stevie Wonder impersonation. Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights were much better buddy flicks starring Owen Wilson, and most of Eddie Murphy's work in the 80s consisted of better buddy flicks. Though many have been quick to criticize pretty much every movie Murphy's done since Coming to America, I've liked most of them, and I really enjoyed The Adventures of Pluto Nash, a movie that everyone else seems to hate.

Since I'm always looking for something to enjoy even in movies I dislike, Gary Cole's suave Latino character was quite funny, and Famke Janssen's always nice to look at.

Postscript: I don't rate these movies when posted on Rum Smuggler, because there's already much better rating data available through the likes of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. I don't have any internal metric that I use, and my DVD collection reflects a pretty broad range of titles and genres. There are some bad movies that I love to watch over and over again (Dude, Where's My Car?), and some wonderful movies that I'm content with a single viewing (Schindler's List).
Something I probably ought to explain is that I avoid the news and blogs on the weekends, which for me consists of Fridays and Saturdays. I do scan the headlines in the morning, and if something big is happening, I'll keep track of it, but otherwise, I enjoy taking some time off from the usual massive flow of information.

This weekend has been a little hectic, but I'm taking advantage of some downtime this afternoon to relax. So the first movie today was Private Parts, the Howard Stern movie. I wasn't a fan of his before the movie and wasn't after, though I did enjoy the movie when I saw it in the theater. This afternoon's viewing was the first in a long time, and while there aren't really any big insights, it made for good stupid fun. There were a few dozen cameos, but all were of really famous people and everbody's seen the movie, so there's little need to point them out. Stretching for something, I was surprised to see that Howard's mom was played by Kelly Bishop, who plays the grandmother on "Gilmore Girls".

Next movie... Valley Girl. This movie is mainly remembered today as being the breakout performance for Nicholas Cage. He's got the lead role, but looks about half asleep in much of the movie (an impression aided by his odd hairstyle, which looks like he slept with wet hair). The costumes are weird, and that's not just me laughing at the early 80s fashions. Any time a movie--made in any era--decides to dress everyone in "fashionable" clothing, rather than what people really wear, it really stands out. I think I saw the movie for the first time around 89 or so, and even then it looked horribly dated and fake.

There are elements of Cage's character that remind me of John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, though that movie accomplished the story much better. On a more positive note, the soundtrack kicks ass--lots of great early 80s music from several genres, and not just the stuff we hear on VH1's "I Love 1983". It also takes advantage of many of the best 80s movie cliches, which are always fun to watch. For instance, the bad guy--typically the one who's currently dating the girl that our hero wants--is almost always blond. If skiing is involved, the probability approaches 100%.

For fun trivia, Michelle Meyrink has a role in the movie. She played the female nerd/love interest in Real Genius. One of the only actors beside Cage who has appeared to keep working is E.G. Daily, who has a very busy career doing voice work for cartoons, including the voice of Buttercup in "The Powerpuff Girls" and Tommy in "Rugrats".

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Dean Fundraising
You might notice the link to the Dean 2004 blog over there in the left column. I'm not a dean supporter, but he's getting a lot of support from left-leaning bloggers, and many of them participate in the abovementioned blog. More importantly, I've been intrigued by his smart use of the internet thus far.

An example is explained in this post, in which donors can become a Dean Rider or Dean Minuteman by contributing $20 or $50 per month, respectively. It's a great public radio style of fundraising in which you can attract a lot of lower-income donors (including college students!) that collectively are able to accomplish a lot.

I don't think I could vote for him, but I'd certainly prefer to see him run (much as I wanted McCain to run in the 2000 election). The Democratic establishment doesn't want to have anything to do with him, though none of the establishment choices are matching his level of popularity or fundraising. Mainly I read the blog to keep an eye on him, because I'm fairly certain he'll be running against Bush in 2004, and I like to know everything about the boxers before the fight. :)
I've been meaning to post a link from Slate this week, but no articlees have really jumped out at me. It's an odd magazine; I've only been reading it for a couple of weeks now, due in part to reading Kausfiles during the California recall fiasco. I've enjoyed it so far, but it doesn't have a solid bent to it, and the news opinion pieces come from all over the political spectrum. It's not as angry or one-sided as Salon, but the writing generally isn't as good either (except for Christopher Hitchens, but that man just has an incredible way with words).

There's one thing that bugs the hell out of me, and despite some recent tweaking to their layout, I don't think it's going away--they'll frequently link the same article under multiple headlines or taglines on the front page of the site. I don't have any good examples at hand, but read the site long enough and you'll find this to be the case. Whereas with the New York Times or most other news sites, if you see several headlines that appear to be about a similar topic, then you're getting different articles. With Slate, you end up with four copies of the same piece.
New P.J. O'Rourke Article
It should be in next month's issue of The Atlantic Monthly, though it won't be on the website until the following month (if at all--some of the bigger pieces aren't reproduced for free on the site). However, the website has an interesting feature in which the authors of these big articles are interviewed prior to the publication. There's a new one about P.J. O'Rourke's upcoming article about Iraq and Kuwait. If you love O'Rourke, you'll love the interview, and I'm looking forward to the actual article.

O'Rourke has an interesting way of looking at a nation... Here's some others from The Atlantic Monthly, though he's done similar work for Rolling Stone as well as in a few of his books: Israel and Egypt
This American Life
I'm a big fan of the public radio show This American Life, though I'm almost never near a radio when the show is aired around here. Adding to the problem is that during the day, our NPR affiliate splits their programming into two feeds, one a all classical format that's run on the main, poweful station in town, and all of the news/talk shows are run on the low power station about sixty miles south of the city. Reception is unreliable on the second station.

I've been getting my fix recently via the Real Audio streams from the website. Today I listened to one about pen pals. The majority of the show was taken up with the story of an eleven year old girl named Sarah York from Michigan who became pen pals with Manuel Noriega shortly before his arrest and capture, and even went to Panama to visit him. The piece is very friendly and apologetic toward Noriega, but the story is so weird and compelling that it's definitely worth a listen.

As a kid, I always liked the idea of a pen pal, but it never really materialized. In the 8th grade foreign language club, we were required to sign up with some sort of international pen pal service as a way to practice our foreign language of choice. My first letter I received via the service was a dud, coming from a kid in England. The second was from a girl in Paris who's obsessions were disco music and collecting cigarette wrappers (not kidding). I wrote one letter back to each, but nothing ever developed from either. It was enough to get credit in the class, though.

I think e-mail has made this kind of thing obsolete, though I know there's still a ton of correspondence carried out via snail mail. My grandmother and all of her brothers communicate almost exclusively via e-mail these days, though I still have to send handwritten letters to my grandfather and a few other relatives.

Back to This American Life, I'm slowly working my way through the archives of the past eight years. I'll post links and summaries of any that are particularly interesting.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Dirty Needles
According to the World Health Organization via New Scientist, "Forty percent of all the health injections given globally in 2000 were performed with reused needles."

While the article focuses mainly on Africa, anecdotal evidence I've heard suggests that the practice of reusing needles is common in China, Russia, and in the rest of the former Soviet Union, mainly in the form of doctors who visit outlying villages and inject the entire populations with only a couple of needles. Such a simple disease vector to avoid...
Terrorists Rig Korans as Bombs
Via Reuters, we learn that Islamic terrorists were planning more attacks in Mecca. Tactics included hiding bombs in copies of the Koran and water bottles, as well as disguising themselves as women to avoid detection. So you're walking into the holiest city of Islam, in the holiest month of Ramadan, engaged in the crime of cross-dressing (in Saudi Arabia, punishable by flogging), and not only are you only going to kill Muslims, but you're going to do it by using the holiest book as the delivery device.

I'm curious if Saudi Arabia is just the last place they feel they can operate, or if they're really that mad at the House of Saud. Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the reaction to this and the recent successful attacks that have left many dead.

Update: Arab News responds.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Tonight's odd movie is Max, the 2002 film that told a fictionalized story of Hitler's early days as an artist, and a friendship with a fictional Jewish art dealer named Max Rothman, played by John Cusack.

Most of the action takes place immediately after WWI, and Hitler is presented as sort of that whiny/creepy goth dude in high school that complained about everything. Indeed, the movie was quite controversial when it came out, because it was seen as trying to put a human face on Hitler. This is a pet peeve of mine, the idea that it's verboten to contemplate the idea that Hitler wasn't Satan or a demon released from hell. Hitler's capacity for evil was just human, albeit the far end of the bell curve. It's rather like when people suggest that aliens built the pyramids, which is insulting in that denies that humans are capable of such majesty. When looking at the human condition, it's important to recognize the potential for horrible brutality as well as benevolent compassion.

The movie certainly doesn't portray Hitler in a good light, though since it's all fictional the impact or probable future value of the work is limited. I do have to say that this movie contains what might be one of the strangest lines ever uttered in a film, especially when taken out of context: "Hitler, come on, I'll buy you a glass of lemonade."

Max does follow one of the old cliches about any movie dealing with Nazi-era Germany: the good guys mostly have American or English accents, the bad guys all have German accents, even though all of the characters are German (or Austrian, in at least one case). It's not a hard rule, but it works more often than not. Anyway, the acting is magnificent in this, and obviously if you're interested in German Expressionism, you'll find it fascinating. Though if I had to pick my favorite modern art movement of the day, I'd go with De Stijl. :)
Every Blogger's Nightmare...
Via The Onion, Mom Finds Out About Blog.

One of the true joys of Tuesday is another painful-yet-funny installment of Pathetic Geek Stories. The Onion has been one of the few websites that I've been reading continuously since the late 90s. Many of the others died quiet deaths, changed into something else, or my own tastes changed. The Onion has maintained a consistent level of quality like few other sites I've seen.

And since this week's theme seems to be "One Degree of Separation with Judy Davis", there's a photo of her in this week's Onion Infograph. I don't particularly like or dislike Judy Davis, but I am fond of pattern recognition, and she keeps popping up in my daily reading.
Hitchens on Eleventh Hour Proposal
Slate has a good one from Christopher Hitchens on the recent story about a possible last-minute deal to avert the recent Iraq war. Supposedly the Saddam government was going to bend over backwards to avoid the war, but there's really no evidence of this based on their actions at the time and during the years after the Gulf War.
Minor Fact Checking
I read an article over at Reason Online today about the brouhaha surrounding The Reagans and CBS's decision not to air it. While I enjoyed the article and agreed with its balanced view of the situation, I did note one tiny error:

Judy Davis, the British actress who plays Nancy Reagan...

Judy Davis is Australian, and has appeared in many movies in Australia, England, and the U.S. Hey, so it was a good idea to watch Naked Lunch last night. :)

In Australia, she starred in a movie called Children of the Revolution, in which she played an Aussie communist sympathizer who bore a child by Stalin. The movie was a comedy, believe it or not (and was genuinely funny in parts, but it's hard to imagine a similar comedy made about Hitler who slaughtered far fewer people). Aside from the general weirdness, unless you're a fan of Australian films I can't say I'd recommend it. Though if you're flipping through the channels and the prison hunger strike scene is on, stop for a quick view.

Note: I sent a modified version of this post to the author. I'll post an update if I hear back from her.

Monday, November 10, 2003

One more for tonight... A last minute choice while installing some system updates and performing some routine computer maintenance. What better to watch at midnight after a long hard day at work than Naked Lunch? Quoth Nelson Muntz, "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title." ;)

It's been ages since I've seen this, though I'm quite familiar with the work of William S. Burroughs, and have seen enough David Cronenberg films to know his tricks. I've got to give him credit, Cronenberg does great with low-light filming, and that's hard to do. My favorite Cronenberg film by far is eXistenZ, and I really wish more people could see it.

Naked Lunch wasn't as shocking or disturbing as I'm sure it was for most who saw it in the theater. The writing of Burroughs is far more outrageous, and I've also listened to several hours worth of the author reading his work. (Incidentally, the bug voice used in the film sounds a lot like Burroughs did in real life.) The details in the literature are far more detailed and grotesque, so the movie seems quite tame by comparison. Anyway, I'm quite fond of insects and enjoy close-up photography of them, so the whole "ewww! bugs!" thing doesn't work on me. And I've butchered large parts of deer and learned to type on manual/electric typewriters, so none of the imagery really bothers me. Hell, dissect 30 fetal pigs in a single day working as a high school biology aide and you'll gain a lifelong tolerance for just about anything.

While it's not really based on the book of the same title (but instead an amalgam of Burroughs' real life and writings), I've still got to say that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a far more successful translation of this genre of literature to the silver screen. But as the quote at the top of the page may indicate, I might be slightly biased in this regard. :)

As for looking for something blogworthy, I can note that female lead Judy Davis played Nancy Reagan in the recently cancelled made-for-TV movie The Reagans. (For the record, I think the movie should have aired, warts and all, and then been attacked later.)
Tonight's first selection is The New Guy. One of my favorite movies of recent times. It's definitely a B-grade flick, but has so much going for it--great cameos (including Henry Rollins), great music, and a bunch of actors that we love in other films--Eliza Dushku, DJ Qualls, and Zooey Deschanel. Deschanel is a great actress, and it's wonderful that most people's first exposure to her was in the utterly incredible Almost Famous, what I consider to be one of the few perfect movies ever made. Stupid trivia, her father Caleb is a famous cinematographer who worked on films like The Right Stuff and The Natural.

The second selection is Cheats, a mostly forgettable movie. It didn't quite fire on all cylinders, and didn't have any stars attached to it that were going to bring in the audiences. Aside from a couple of fun cameos, one notable main star is Elden Henson, who played the big kid in the truly wonderful The Mighty. Mainly this movie wasn't quite raunchy enough to appeal to adults, and just a little too serious/complicated to appeal to children. I've got to admit that I've seen far worse, and this is my second viewing of the movie, so take from that what you will.

Taking a cue from Joe Bob Briggs, when watching bad movies, I try to look for other things to appreciate--good actors that have minor roles, crew members that did better movies later, or interesting filming/set design/etc. Typically even the worst movie can have a few redeeming qualities, though I've got to say that the worst of the worst I've seen thus far is The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Absolutely no redeeming qualities, nothing to appreciate, nothing to enjoy, and I felt vaguely soiled by the end of the movie. I felt violated. ;)
Evil BLT

Made with Beggin' Strips fake bacon dog treats:

Link from The Sneeze.
Joe Bob Briggs Film History
Great article over at Reason Magazine by Joe Bob Briggs on a notorious and long-running sex-ed movie. Though it's been a while since I read much of his stuff, he's got an enormous archive of articles over at his main site. He also writes more non-film, non-pop culture articles under his real name, John Bloom. Unfortunately, his site isn't updated that often, so it doesn't really make it into the daily or weekly rotation.

Note: I know there's a lot of posts today, but I'm catching up a bit on things I read this weekend. I'm also trying to get a feel for what kind of formatting is going to work best for these posts. Thanks!
A nice review over at The Atlantic Monthly about life in France during the Nazi occupation. The title "Neither Heroes nor Villains" sums it up nicely, and demonstrates that the situation was more complex than often thought.

I think that the recent France-bashing and spread of the "France Surrenders" joke has largely obliterated the memory of the French Resistance fighters. Of course, to what degree are they celebrated in France? I'll post something in the future if I find out.
Editor's Note

I've massively changed the layout of the site... After a full year of letting the blog lie fallow, I think I've finally hit upon a good use for the blog that will actually be useful to me. I've often wanted to maintain a clippings file of various things I find interesting or amusing, or that might be useful in the future. Why not just use the blog as my own personal scratch pad? So even if nobody reads this, I'll have the information readily available anywhere, without having to try and reconstruct the various websites that led me to the particular story.

Let's see if I can keep this thing going for a while...
This morning's review of the news brings a new blog to my daily reads, and the following interesting post from the American-living-in-Ireland blog Atlantic Blog. A proposed smoking ban in nearly all public places in Ireland would exempt prison cells.

Theoretically, if you got arrested for smoking in public you could then smoke lawfully in prison. :)

Sunday, November 09, 2003

It's been a long time since I've blogged, but I felt compelled to do so tonight... Here's a list of all the movies I've seen this weekend (I'm off Fridays and Saturdays, and have nearly 30 movie channels on my cable system). Some of these were on cable, some were on DVD, but all were seen uncut. I've got a pretty wide range of interests when it comes to movies, as well as a high tolerance for really bad flicks. Recently I've been paying attention to little-known movies of the 80s and 90s. This might turn into a regular feature, or not...

November 7, 2003

The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag
This is one of those titles that you always hear about, but almost no one has actually seen. Not that great of a flick, and I really couldn't recommend it to anyone. There's an early cameo by Stanley Tucci, as well as the first post-A Stranger Among Us performance by Eric Thal sans beard and hat, but the movie still sucks. Weak plot, bad writing, etc.

Meet Wally Sparks
Worse than Back to School, if you're looking at the genre of Rodney Dangerfield movies. At least that one had Sam Kinison. This one has a lot of actors and actresses that you really like in other movies/TV shows--Debi Mazar, David Ogden Stiers, Burt Reynolds, etc. But this movie just fails on many levels. It's heavily geared towards the trash talk show trend of the mid 90s, and doesn't hold up lo these many years later, much like a hypothetical movie made about the reality TV trend of the early 00s would seem insipid five or ten years from now. Plus, the little kid who played the son of the governor had a really bad, really fake, really annoying southern accent.

Batman Forever
This was the first time I'd seen this since it came out in the theaters. I seemed to recall liking it, a move which seems based on residiual fancy with Nicole Kidman and love of a few daylight shots of Gotham that looked classy and showed great Art Deco design without being dark or depressing. However, I'd also confused much of it with Batman and Robin, which just sucked. For instance, I'd forgotten that Chris O'Donnell was in BF, and thought that Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy was in it. Just to tie it into the above, Debi Mazar had a small role as Two Face's dark side girlfriend. It was much more cartoonish and childish than I had remembered, so I apologize for the times when I defeneded it in recent discussions. The first two movies were fantastic, and the fourth sucked, but for some reason I had looked back on the third through rose tinted glasses.

Bend It Like Beckham
The only fantastic movie out of the bunch, though I did see this in the theater and I haven't met a single person who didn't like it. Richly deserved accolades all around. I'm anxious to see what else the director comes up with in the next few years...

Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde
Take your insulin before watching this one... Lots of hot pink, lots of happy girl stuff, lots of annoying backlit actresses, lots of damned annoying female empowerment stuff, as long as you don't actually have to work for a living and can depend on the benevolence of a wealthy boyfriend, husband, or father. Arrrrghghghhhh... Nice roles from Bruce McGill and Bob Newhart, though.

November 8, 2003

Double Whammy
This was a weird one... I never recall seeing it in the theater listings, but did see it at Blockbuster. Still didn't seem compelling enough to rent, and I think I was right. Not bad, but not good enough to fork out money for, though I think I'll probably watch it again given the chance. Ostensibly a Denis Leary/Elizabeth Hurley vehicle, it tries to be a comedy/drama in the tradition of Get Shorty. Lots of seemingly separate plot lines that all converge at the end. The subplot with the screenwriters was pretty interesting, but much of the rest was just boring.

Taking Care of Business
Again, I don't remember ever hearing of this one, but it was an early 90s movie starring Jim Belushi and Charles Grodin. Ostensibly a ripoff of Trading Places, it doesn't succeed. No really good parts, though a curious billing of Gates McFadden and John de Lancie right next to each other in the credits, as they would later co-star in Star Trek: The Next Generation. All of the various actors did a great job, but the script just wasn't very good, though I do have a great deal of respect for director Arthur Hiller for directing The Lonely Guy, also starring Grodin, a few years earlier. That movie was great for any bitter depresed guy. :)

And just so you don't think I'm a complete philistine, I'm currently reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson and Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson. I'll post reviews when I finish them and if I feel like it at the time.

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