Saturday, December 13, 2003

A large collection of vintage 19th century automata have just gone on sale. These are complicated works of clockwork that perform various tasks. Created purely as amusements for the extremely wealthy, these were amazing works of engineering. You can see some pictures of various dolls on this site, though you might be more interested in a doll that can draw pictures and write poetry in calligraphy. These were true early robots--it's a shame that they were so delicate and that the technology never really developed fully.

When I was in high school, I saw a demonstration of an automaton on TV. The doll featured was an acrobat, maybe two feet tall. A set of miniature uneven bars were set up, and the automaton performed a three-minute long routine of flips and acrobatics. It was flawless and amazing. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to see one of these things in motion, don't pass up the opportunity. The fact that they can still impress audiences in the 21st century speaks volumes about their craftsmanship.
Biblioblogging? Libroblogging? Buchblogging? Screw it... The titles on these posts are sometimes categories, sometimes actual titles. I know a lot of people get irritated at the use of the word blog in all of its associated noun, verb, and adjective forms, but I don't know that there's any better alternative. And what else are neologisms for?

Anyway, I finished reading Janet Evanovich's 2003 novel To The Nines, the ninth Stephanie Plum book. These are mysteries--more straight genre mysteries than Carl Hiaasen. I had read many recommendations of this series, with everyone saying how hilarious they were, but I was sorely disappointed. It wasn't a bad story, and I went through it pretty quickly (320 pages in two days), but I really didn't enjoy it that much.

The series centers around a self-described New Jersey airhead named Stephanie Plum who works in her cousin's bail bonds business. Her partner is a large black woman who happens to be a former prostitute. The men in her life are a cop and a mysterious former Special Forces guy who bail her out of various problems. For some reason, the charms of life in New Jersey don't appeal to me fiction-wise as much as the hilarity of Florida. Also, I admire smart or well-written female characters; these seemed stereotyped and stupid. More importantly, I didn't laugh a single time, nor did I give a crap about the story.

I know it's difficult to enter a long-running series with its current iteration rather than the book that started it all, but in he past I've entered series at all possible points, and I've developed a decent eye for those that I feel like following. This one goes in the dustbin, though I feel bad that I find some vindication for generally avoiding female authors. It's not a conscious choice, but I find myself constantly disappointed in books written by women.
I just finished watching Pirates of the Caribbean with The Roommate. She was far more enthusiastic about it than I, which is unfortunate. It features some of my favorite actors! Just look at the top billing:
  1. Johnny Depp, star of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and many other great films
  2. Geoffrey Rush, star of Shine and many other classics
  3. Orlando Bloom, who plays Legolas in The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  4. Keira Knightley, who was radiant in Bend It Like Beckham
  5. Jack Davenport, who plays Steve on the British comedy series Coupling, which is a cross between Friends, Sex and the City, and Seinfeld, but with British accents, so it's infinitely cooler
  6. Jonathan Pryce, and if you don't know how phenomenally awesome he is, you don't deserve to read this blog
Unfortunately, most of them weren't well utilized. Rush and Pryce were wasted--they did a good job, but didn't have a script that would utilize their full potential. Davenport was great in his role, but I think any Brit can play a stoic British soldier/sailor/officer/etc. when the movie is intended for American audiences. Knightley looked beautiful, but that's all she had to do. Bloom just didn't seem quite right in his role.

Johnny Depp did a great job in playing a weird role. The marketing would lead you to believe that he's the bad guy, but he's actually a sort of chaotic neutral character. (If you understand that description, you deserve to read this blog.) He was hilarious, but just weird enough to be out of place.

The special effects were incredible, particularly since the bad guys only showed as skeletons when in moonlight. This presented a lot of obvious logistical problems that the SFX crew accepted with relish. I've got a lot of respect for a crew that says, "Let's make this as difficult as possible, and do a damned good job making it look good."

Belatedly, I point out that it's #242 on the IMDB Top 250, but I don't think it will stay there for long. Nothing against the movie, but it's not an enduring classic. If it had featured a much-deserved cameo by Maureen O'Hara, then I would have overlooked all of its flaws.

P.S. In checking to make sure Maureen O'Hara is still alive, I discovered that she was the first female owner of a scheduled airline in the USA, Antilles Airboats, because she was married to a pilot and owner of the airline who died in 1978.
Filling in gaps... This afternoon's entertainment represents one of the more glaring omissions in my viewing history, 1989's Civil War epic Glory. I don't know why I've never seen this, as it stars some of my favorite actors: Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman (who starred as God in Bruce Almighty, Cary Elwes,, and Denzel Washington. I never consciously avoided seeing it, and there's no good reason to have waited this long. And for those keeping track, it's #115 on the IMDB Top 250.

The Civil War is a complicated issue here in the South, and if you're a Yankee reading this, keep your pants on. When I say complicated, I mean complicated. The political/economic/social system in place in the South was essentially a form of feudalism. There was a very small aristocracy that owned all the land and ran everything, then there were a lot of slaves and a lot more poor whites who did all of the work and got trod on. The poor whites did most of the dying in the Civil War, and had the least to fight for. They didn't own slaves; in fact, the existence of slavery messed up the labor market and meant that jobs were hard to get and wages were very low. (The American South in the 1850s had a lot in common with China or Russia at that time. I think that had the South won the war, it would have later been a prime candidate for a communist revolution, but that's another rant.) Because of this, there a lot of areas--entire cities and counties--in the South that came to be known as "Northern Sympathizers", because they surrendered early on and provided lodging and assistance for Union troops. You don't hear a lot about it, and many residents of these places aren't even aware of it, but the practice was more common than you'd think.

Despite that, I remember hearing the war referred to as "The War of Northern Aggression" and "The War Between the States" when I was young, though those terms aren't used in polite company anymore. A lot of people have a romanticized notion about the war without realizing how utterly messed up the region would be had the South won. I think a lot of the resentment comes not from having lost, but from the Reconstruction period afterwards that was especially harsh on the South, much like the way Germany was treated after WWI.

A quick word on Civil War reenactments, which are popular here in the South. These are not populated by racists, Klan members, and assorted idiots, as many in the North are led to believe. It's more of an obsessive attention to a specific period in history. A great deal of research and work goes into these groups, with the really hardcore members only eating period food and only carrying period items. That means they'll spend a week camped out eating nothing but hardtack and beef jerky and using their bayonet rather than a modern pocketknife. (The joke goes that the truly dedicated show up with fleas and lice.) These guys spend thousands of dollars on uniforms and equipment. I knew a cannon specialist a few years back, and wore the uniform once or twice. Nothing fits quite right, the material is thick scratchy wool, and if you're a Confederate soldier, your gear probably includes bits of superior Union equipment scavenged from the dead like belts, boots, and buckles.

Back to the movie, it's everything I'd heard. Complex, well acted, beautifully filmed, spectacularly written.

P.S. Another word on the IMDB Top 250... As I've stated before, it's not perfect, and its shifting nature makes it difficult to use as a systematic "must see list", but I think it's the best out of many flawed options. There's the AFI Top 100, but that's only American films from the 20th century. The IMDB list manages to include foreign films, short films, and new films, and because of its dynamic nature, I think it's probably the most accurate over time.
Site Update
I ditched all of my 2002 posts from that November and December. Since I only posted six things (none of which were that great) and then didn't touch the blog for a year, I figure that it was best to clean house. They were messing up the archives as well, though of course I downloaded and saved the posts on my home computer before deleting them from the blog. I think I've settled into a groove of how I like the site. Some of the early posts from this November don't look quite right as I was settling on a style, but I'll leave them as is for now.
Another short silent film from 1914, here we have Charlie Chaplin's third film, Tango Tangles, though the copy I've got is titled Charlie's Recreation (and it was also distributed under the name Music Hall--a lot of silent films had multiple titles). Fatty Arbuckle is in this as well. (Supposedly Chris Farley was researching the life of Arbuckle for a potential movie before he OD'd.)

The plot centers around the pursuit of a young lady's affections at a dance hall, such places being quite popular entertainment back in those days. The filmmakers were able to use all of the regular folks who were actually dancing at the hall as free extras. All they had to do was keep dancing in the background while Chaplin and Arbuckle fought and chased after the girl. The girl, by the way, keeps looking at the camera and smiling. If you've ever tried to videotape a group of people and you keep telling them to "act natural, like I'm not even here", some of them will always just turn and stare at the camera with a smile. I have a feeling that the makers of the Girls Gone Wild videos have capitalized on this human reaction to its fullest, basest extent.

Other interesting stuff... About half of the patrons are in costume, which is a little confusing since the rest are wearing their best Victorian evening wear. Among the costumed are a couple dancing as a Keystone Cop and a prisoner in classic black and white stripes. Going back and freezing the frame, it does appear that it's two men dancing. I'm assuming that it's just a little visual joke and not a reflection of the times, although there is a long tradition of purely heterosexual dances that require two men. Many of these were developed by sailors (quit giggling!) and spread in popularity through port cities. Others are ritualized fights between two men, typically over a woman, so knives or other props may be involved.

Friday, December 12, 2003

This one barely qualifies as a movie, as it's only 15 minutes long, but it is an early silent film (1914), and more importantly, Making A Living was the screen debut of Charlie Chaplin.

The story really isn't that important, but this one is interesting for many reasons. For instance, it's a pure silent film--there are no title cards shown, just acting. Filmed in Los Angeles, you get a few glimpses as to what the city looked like back then, complete with an odd final scene involving streetcars. It also features the famous (for the first half of the 20th century, anyway) Keystone Cops. I remember playing a game for the Atari 2600 back in the early 80s called Keystone Kapers, but I think the concept has pretty much disappeared from the national mindset.

Chaplin's performance is fascinating in this film. He plays the villain, but he's a comic villain, and acting in big broad strokes, so he comes across like Daffy Duck. It's fun to watch.

Besides the IMDB, a good source for silent movie information is Silent Era.
I'm spending this lovely Friday evening at home. I rented 2003's comedy blockbuster Bruce Almighty. I had no desire to see it in the theater, as for some reason I don't like Jim Carrey movies until they're four or five years old. But then a bunch of Muslim countries banned it for blasphemy, so I figured it must be fun.

I'm very happy to see The Daily Show's Steve Carell getting work, and I think he could be a great character actor for years to come, provided that he gets roles other than as newscasters. This is also the second movie that I've seen recently starring Nora Dunn, from Saturday Night Live back in the 80s (the first being The Hebrew Hammer). After she left the show because of Andrew Dice Clay hosting, I thought she had dropped off the face of the earth, but it looks like she's been working steadily in some good movies.

I'm sure that deep and thoughtful religious treatises have been written about this movie, but I can't help but think that this particular incarnation of God is more like that of a trickster god, such as Loki, Coyote, or the Scottish concept of Satan. I'm obviously not offended by this, but I would have found the trickster angle much more enjoyable.

The special effects are really quite good. My first laugh-out-loud moment was when he parted his tomato soup in the diner. Funniest Red Sea joke since Gary Larson drew Moses parting his hair.

The catch phrase "B-E-A-uuutiful" sucks even among the previous crappy Jim Carrey catch phrases, and it obviously hasn't caught on in the popular discourse. Looking for comparisions to other Carrey movies, this one is sort of a cross between Liar Liar and The Mask.

I've had a few weeks like what this character goes through... Except for the godlike powers and redemption stuff. And a wife that looks like Jennifer Aniston. For what it's worth, if I were in this position, I think my Old Testament period would last a LOT longer. Aside from a brief yet funny revenge scene against a Latino gang, he really doesn't choose to throw down some old school justice. I think there's enough dictators, Communists, child molesters, murderers, and affiliated filth to keep me busy for a few years. I wouldn't waste time slaughtering the infidels or crap like that, no, I'd be going after the real bastards in a very public way. I might even do stuff like resurrecting Hitler in order to put him in chains in the center of Jerusalem for about a hundred years just for the sheer joy of it. After about a millenia of LAW AND ORDER, I think I'd be satisfied enough to leave the Earth for a while and start meddling with planets, solar systems, and galaxies. The universe's best game of Civilization.
What better way to spend a quiet Friday afternoon that curled up with the dogs and a viewing of 1925's silent masterpiece from Sergei Eisenstein, Броненосец Потёмкин, otherwise known as The Battleship Potemkin. Yet another of those grand classics that I really need to see but only know by reputation. This one hits #159 on the IMDB Top 250.

Silent foreign films are a pure joy to watch, because the experience is nearly identical to what native audiences would see. And since you just have to substitute title screens (or subtitle them), the job is a lot easier. I prefer to watch foreign language films in their original language with English subtitles, but it's difficult to take in the full picture when your eyes are constantly darting to the bottom of the screen. This one preserves the Russian title cards, with English subtitles. Oddly, I can read the Cyrillic alphabet yet only know a few words of Russian, a skill that appeals to my love of trivial knowledge, language and typography, but has never really been useful to me.

The story is of a 1905 mutiny aboard the Potemkin, a true historical event but this is a heavily fictionalized version meant as propaganda for the Soviet regime (the sailors are the oppressed workers, the officers are the evil aristocracy). It's a big movie for a silent film, if that makes sense. It takes place on a battleship at sea, and while the quarters are cramped, you still get a sense of space and the size of the ship. Most silent films are shot on tiny sets, with a few tightly framed outdoor scenes. This has some beautiful wide angle shots of the ship and the sea, and you find yourself thinking of movies like The Hunt for Red October.

1905 was a rough year for Russia, as they lost the Russo-Japanese War and then had a brief but explosive revolution, a foreshadowing of 1917. I hate Communism with every bone in my body, but life under the czars was pretty bad, and that regime was going to end sooner or later. It's unfortunate that the cure was worse than the disease.

The massacre on the steps is pretty gruesome, but the final scene with all of the steam-powered ships at sea is incredible--there's even a few shots from an airplane. You get a lot of great close up looks at the internal operation of the ships as well as wide shots of them belching smoke. Really amazing.
I finished Carl Hiaasen's 1992 book Native Tongue. (This was one of the many things distracting me from Mona Lisa Overdrive. I often read two or three books concurrently.) It was the first Hiaasen book I've ever read, though I came to it in a roundabout way. Probably his best known work is Striptease, which was turned into that so-so movie with Demi Moore. I read a lot of mysteries in high school, but they were almost exclusively by male British authors (Colin Dexter, Jonathan Gash, etc.), but that had more to do with a hungry Anglophilia than with a love of mysteries. Hiaasen's books are found in the mystery section of the bookstore/library, though the cover text tends to refer to them as "thrillers". I don't know that either is appropriate, but "Florida crime fiction" sums it up nicely. There's also a healthy stream of humor throughout his books (from what I've heard, and this one was really funny in parts).

I loved Dave Barry's two novels, the recent Tricky Business and Big Trouble from a few years back, with the latter having been made into a surprisingly accurate and enjoyable movie last year. He has this sort of love/hate relationship with South Florida, a region that appears to have all of the corruption and strangeness of southern Italy, but without the dignified history to look back on. Every thing I read about these two books kept mentioning Hiaasen, and the two authors know each other well (both work as columnists at The Miami Herald). So last week I grabbed a cheap used copy of Native Tongue at the library.

(Interesting side note: A few chapters in, I started noticing weird typos and formatting errors. Taking that opportunity to actually look at the cover, I found out it was an "Advance Reader's Edition", and didn't have a UPC, a blurb, or any other standard features. There's one or two chapters that are badly screwed up, as in the story shifts in such a way that you know it wasn't put together properly. I hate to pass it on to anyone else, but I can't throw it away...)

The plot is odd and convoluted, but it's definitely a good "summer" book, in that it's not a complicated or difficult read (like that damned Quicksilver). Sex, violence, humor, and a cast of rogues--all good stuff. That's part of why I hesitate to call these Florida crime fiction novels mysteries, because the "good guys" typically have a lot of criminals on their side and the police are either incidental to the plot or are corrupt and part of the "bad guys". Rather than solving a particular crime, it's more a case of trying to stay alive in an area that does everything in its power to kill the protagonists. And it's not just the bad guys--the powerful forces of Florida's wildlife and erratic weather often play prominent roles.

In a nutshell, the book centers around a Disneyworld-style theme park and the death of the world's last two surviving blue-tongued mango voles. But that doesn't really help you much. Our hero is a disgraced journalist working as a PR flack for the park, his girlfriend is a phone sex operator (so it costs him $4 every time he calls her), there's an old lady leading a group of environmental activists, one very horny dolphin, and... That's just the tip of the iceberg. There's a huge cast (typically broken down into groups of two or three associates) that all get intertwined over the course of the novel.

It ain't Shakespeare, but I'm looking forward to reading more of Hiaasen's books in the future.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I finally finished Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson this morning. It was a short book, but I kept losing interest. Thus, it wandered around the house, forgotten for days on end until I came across it, read a chapter, then tossed it somewhere else. It's not a bad book--there's a lot of great stuff in it, and it's a joy to return to the world of Neuromancer. But I just wasn't quite in the mood for it.

Timing is everything. Had I read it in 1988, I probably would have lugged it around like a bible, yelling at anyone who'd listen about the brilliance in the book. It's a little different to be wanting to tell your younger self, "Hey, the internet will be great, but it's mainly going to be used for things like your grandmother e-mailing you chain letters and providing a global forum for every idiot with an opinion about anything. And VR never really took off like we wanted it to, but we have other cool things like mp3s and Strong Bad..."
Hey, it's half past midnight and I'm watching a David Lynch film. This would be cool if I were 19, but at the age of 27, it's slightly sad. Regardless, tonight's feature on Insomniac Theater is 2001's Mulholland Drive. I had no desire to see this in the theater, no desire to rent it, and an active dislike of watching it now, but I've got some other computer stuff to attend to, and I figure I might as well watch one of the sainted IMDB Top 250 (#162, w00t!).

I really don't know anything about this movie, other than the fact that a lesbian love affair between the two lead actresses is key and that Lynch demanded that the DVD release have no chapter breaks so that viewers would have to watch the film from beginning to end. (Evidently Lynch is not familiar with the modern fast-forwarding options, and the occasional necessity of chapter breaks when the power goes out, something critical pulls you away from the movie, or when the disc is smudged or scratched and you have to pop it out and clean it before resuming the film.

It does star Dan Hedaya, who is always enjoyable. You don't see many Syrian Jews in Hollywood. You don't see many Syrian Jews anywhere, but he's probably the most famous in any field. However, this is probably canceled out in a karmic sense by the casting of Billy Ray Cyrus (of "Achey Breaky Heart" fame). It also stars classic movie star Ann Miller, who hadn't starred in a movie for almost 40 years before this one.

Yeah, it's supposed to be full of hidden clues, much of it's supposed to be a dream, yadda yadda yadda... Perhaps if I had more free time to kill, and were younger, I'd watch this a half dozen times in a row and discover all the hidden genius. As it is, I just feel bored and annoyed. This was supposed to be a TV series, but ABC declined. Maybe it would have been brilliant, but I never watched or got into Twin Peaks, and I don't know that this would have appealed to the same crowd. That series was weird, but it had a defined, simple hook to it (the murder of Laura Palmer), a familiar road for the viewers to travel while soaking in all of the associated Lynch weirdness. Mulholland Falls has no similar hook, so it's just weird and disconnected and plotless.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

40 Days and 40 Nights. I'm really curious as to how many people on this planet can really consider a dry spell like that as some sort of monumental achievement. The fact that this was a French-produced English language movie set in San Francisco amongst an idealized setting of the dot-com boom should be considered when viewing this movie.

It's fun as a period piece for an era that's already being looked at with some whimsy, but the movie does have its enjoyable moments. The acting is fairly good, the cast is decent, and the story line (once you suspend the necessary disbelief) is engaging. I"ve also got to give it credit for featuring Michael Maronna, better known as the older brother on The Adventures of Pete & Pete, possibly the smartest live-action kids' TV show ever made. Here he stars as the enigmatic "Bagel Guy". Our hero's sidekick in this film is played by Paulo Costanzo, who played the pot-smoking genius in One Of The Greatest Movies Of All Time, Road Trip.

The movie didn't do that well in the theaters (I first saw it on DVD a year after its release), and I can understand why. It was marketed as a stupid dumb guy comedy, but it's not quite that. It's more of a sensitive romatic comedy, though there's enough gross-out humor involved to turn off women. There are also just enough arsty French elements to scare off mainstream audiences.
Unfavorable Review of Qantas Flight
The Australian bloggers are always entertaining... This one had a particularly bad Perth to Singapore flight on Qantas. By the following paragraph, I was hooked and had to read the whole hilarious thing:
The first thing QANTAS did with the TV system was take out all the cool retro Super Nintendo games, and replace them with their own "in-house" games, which were apparently coded by a flight engineer in FORTRAN from the centrefold of a 1978 issue of "Australian Personal Computer". Titles available on QANTAS include the Christmas blockbuster "Find the matching picture memory game" and the always popular "We tried to copy Tetris but failed where Indonesian street merchants regularly succeed".

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

This is just too weird. Having gotten off work early, I'm watching the "DVD Exclusive Awards" on the FX Network, Fox's entertainment-themed cable channel. An awards show for special edition DVDs. For some reason, I feel that I'm watching the endpoint of Western Civilization here.

Don't get me wrong, I begin salivating at the mere mention of a "Special Edition" of one of my favorite movies, but this entire show is a sort of unfortunate Hollywood circle jerk realized in a 90-minute long commercial. (And since all of the commercials promote various DVDs, it's a solid 90-minute long commercial.) The presenters and recipients are all kind of going through the paces--nobody seems really, genuinely happy to be involved. Jenny McCarthy is the hostess for the show, having decided to appear in a slinkly, low-cut dress, notably sans bra. However, at the age of 31 after having had a kid, after having the implants removed... Wear a nice dress, but for the love of God, wear a bra. I'm not trying to be a jerk here, honest. But if you're going to market yourself as a Queen of Glamour, then dress the part.

Sweet Jesus, why am I still watching this? Oh yeah, nothing else is on until my beloved Gilmore Girls at 10:00. The fun never stops here at the Rum Smuggler Estate.

P.S. Obviously I could entertain myself in any number of creative ways for the next hour, nay, the next 24 hours, but a big storm is passing through the Mid-South and I don't really feel like going out. Better to sit at home, nurse a bottle of 80-proof elixir from St. Croix, and blog, blog, blog...
The Onion Still Has It
A great update from The Onion's resident slacker, Jim Anchower. I don't know why, but I love reading these little stories. I don't think I'd really enjoy it in any other format--a book would get really tiresome, a movie wouldn't necessarily capture the spirit... I think perhaps the only place it would be tolerable would be as 15 minute animated bits on Adult Swim or some equally odd place.

This week's issue also includes this year's Least Essential Albums. The only one I've heard is the Russell Crowe album, and it wasn't horrible, just nothing I'd listen to on its own merits.
From 1990, an excerpt of the lyrics to "The Power" by Snap!:
Quality I possess something I'm fresh
When my voice goes through the rest
Of the microphone that I am holdin'
Copywritten lyrics so they can't be stolen
If they are--snap
Don't need the police to try to save them
Your voice will sink so please stay off my back
Or I will attack and you don't want that
By chance, is he saying that he would prefer to settle copyright infringement through song rather than criminal proceedings? Out of the hundred times I've heard that song, I never noticed that before. I might be way off base, but it looks interesting.

A side note: the lyricist makes a common but significant error with the use of the word copywritten--the proper term is copyrighted, which is the transitive verb form of the word copyright. Copywritten isn't a word at all, but derives from a mistaken use of the noun copywriter (as in someone who writes copy for advertisements) and the past particple form of the verb to write, written.

But it sounds better the way he sings it, so what do I know...

P.S. Obviously my blogging efforts here aren't flawless when it comes to spelling, vocabulary or grammar, but I do try to make a good basic effort at all three. I think it's valuable to pay attention to examples like the above, since the English language is rapidly going to Hell in a handbasket in terms of confused words and misleading spelling. Until quite recently, the majority of the printed word read by people had at some point passed through an editor who fixed basic mistakes (newspapers, magazines, books, etc.), whereas now, the majority of the "printed" word read by people is in the form of e-mail, text messaging, and hastily constructed websites, all of which are notorious for bad spelling, vocabulary, and grammar.
One last movie for tonight... To go along with some of the other recent weird ones, we have 1929's silent short film Un chien andalou, the other collaboration between Luis Bu�uel and Salvador Dal�. It's another surrealistic piece, a bunch of disconnected scenes. This one is especially strange for 1929: the opening scene involves an eyeball being sliced open with a straight razor, there's a good bit of crossdressing, a surprising number of death scenes for a 20 minute movie, closeup shots of armpit hair, hands crawling with ants, and gratuitous nudity that's more disturbing than anything else.

The movie was intentionally made to have no meaning, and even the title is irrelevant, as it means "The Andalusian Dog", and there are no dogs in the film, Andalusian or otherwise. Did I enjoy it? No. Am I a better educated person because of it? Yes. Do Cronenberg and Lynch seem not as weird anymore? Definitely.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Here's one that I've been meaning to watch in its entirety for ages... 2000's spoof of 60s beach movies and slasher flicks, Psycho Beach Party, though to add to the confusion it's based on a cult classic stage play from the 80s.

In the starring role is Lauren Ambrose, who is a great actress, best known for her roles in Six Feet Under and Can't Hardly Wait. Less notable is the role of Buddy Quaid, the less well-known half brother of Randy and Dennis Quaid. And it's one of the only movies I've seen that casts a drag queen in a major female role.

It's weird, it's quirky, it's campy, and you get the impression that the whole affair is somehow the degenerate bastard offspring of Annette Funicello and John Waters. (Shudder)
After a hellacious day at work, I'm really not in the mood for anything deep. Thankfully, Comedy Central chose to air one of its original films, The Hebrew Hammer tonight. It's a spoof of Shaft but replacing black culture of the 70s with Jewish culture of... every time period. It's odd that after being held in the protective nest of New York City, the Catskills, and the associated "Borscht Belt" region, that Comedy Central has become the primary source of Jewish humor in America. Just look at South Park, meshuggah. What's that? You're not up on your Yiddish? Stop your kvetching. It's fun, bubeleh.

This movie is better than it may appear--it has a lot of great actors in it, not the least of which is Adam Goldberg in the starring role, and his character is named "Mordechai", which is my favorite Hebrew name. (My real name is Hebrew, even though I'm born and bred harsh Scottish-Calvinist Presbyterian. But I have an affinity for the Hebrew language as well as the Yiddish synthesized language.) Goldberg is a great actor, and is a joy to watch in any film in which he stars. Just look at Dazed and Confused and compare it to the early efforts of other famous actors, and you'll be amazed.

Other notables include Andy Dick, Mario Van Peebles, Peter Coyote, Nora Dunn... the list goes on. It's really quite good for a made-for-basic-cable-TV movie, though I think it could have stood well enough on its own. (I assume it will be out on DVD in a few months in an unedited, widescreen version.)

The general plot is that a Jewish urban hero goes to war against an evil incarnation of Santa Claus, played by Andy Dick, who contracts one of the reindeer to assassinate his Santa father, played by Richard Riehle (probably best known as the angry old fart who gets put into a body cast in Office Space). This produces one of the best lines in recent cinema, "Et tu, Blitzen?" Mainly it's a vehicle for two things, parodies of blaxploitation movies and Jewish humor. It's an oddly natural fit, and there's only one Sammy Davis, Jr. joke.
Saudi Money Machine
I don't remember where I saw this yesterday, but it's been noted that the Saudis are spending more money spreading their brand of Wahhabism than the Soviets spent spreading Communism--and they're doing a much better job of it. U.S. News & World Report has a rather lengthy article detailing the funding.
Zimbabwe Withdraws from the Commonwealth
Robert Mugabe, in the face of pressure to reform from other members of the Commonwealth, decided that it was easier to just leave the organization. Which is really going to hurt the country, as it's not going to have the same access to aid, loans, and diplomatic support that have been helping a bit. I think it also would cut them off from Commonwealth soccer and cricket tournaments. This may seem like a minor issue, but their participation in these games help keep focus on Zimbabwe, as well as allowing their athletes to travel the world and hopefully get the word out about the situation back home.

The BBC has more coverage of the story, as well as a wealth of background stories. Also, The Atlantic Monthly has an interview with an author of an upcoming story on Mugabe and Zimbabwe called "How to Kill a Country", which among other things, details how Zimbabwe moved so quickly from being the breadbasket of Africa to a nation on the verge of famine.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Angry Young Men of the World, Unite!
If you're a single male between the ages of 18-35, you should be familiar with The Marriage Strike. It's not so much that we fear marriage, but divorce has become such a crippling factor that many young men have no desire to get married.

Which brings me to an odd point... I'm a strong supporter of gay marriage. Not because I'm personally participating in the notion, but because from a logical standpoint, I have no sane reason to oppose it. I don't feel like going into a long argument here, but here's three short ones, all borrowed from other sources:
  1. If we forbid gay marriage based on a minor passage in Leviticus, then we must forbid marriage involving Hindus, as they violate several of the Ten Commandments. Hell, we allow convicted murderers in prison to get married.
  2. As Alan Dershowitz has pointed out, if marriage is such a sacred religious institution, then the government has no business being involved in it at all.
  3. From the religious traditional angle, we allow the following groups to intermarry without government harassment: Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, upper class, lower class, white, black, handicapped, even the dreaded potential marriage of a Southerner to a Yankee. All violate tradition in some way--for millennia in a few cases. So what difference does it make if two guys or two girls get married?
Look, it's not a case of selling out to any special interests to support gay marriage. If anything, it's in the best interests of libertarianism, freedom, and the Constitution.

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