Tuesday, January 30, 2007


The flu continues, slightly better but still miserable. Sounds are distorted, vision is wobbly, disorientation is business as usual. I haven't felt this horrible since 1985--the first time I saw Gymkata.

Wow. It's hard to believe it's taken so long for this thing to arrive on DVD. There have been some profoundly bad ideas for movies--casting Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees as ersatz Beatles in Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, for instance, or Chesty Morgan as Double Agent 73--but there's never been anything as stupefying as this. I remember when my Mom first saw a trailer for this thing--"The thrill of gymnastics! The kill of karate!"--she insisted we had to see it. Mom was up for any bad movie challenge, and this was no ordinary challenge. This was...Gymkata.

Whisper thin Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas plays an athlete inexplicably picked by the government to infiltrate a mysterious contest in the mythical Eurotrash nation of Parmistan. But first, his natural abilities for flipping and tumbling must be enhanced by training from a Yoda-like master, who will instruct him in the ways of Eastern martial arts ("The kill of karate!") and spout bad aphorisms by the truckload. Training complete, Thomas still pretty much just flips and tumbles, what with Parmistan having parallel bars and hobbyhorses conveniently located whenever an action scene is necessary.

With a premise like that, you'd be forgiven for thinking Gymkata must have been intended as a joke, or at least was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Sadly, no--it's annoyingly earnest, from its right-wing Reagan-era politics (the U.S. is interested in Parmistan as a site on which to build a Star Wars missile defense system) to its out of nowhere romantic clinches. Director Robert Clouse cut his teeth on seventies martial arts films like Enter The Dragon and Black Belt Jones, which were themselves remarkably stupid, but which at least had kick-ass action scenes. Here, you just get a tiny guy with goofy hair doing backflips.

And what was Mom's verdict when she saw Gymkata? "It wasn't as good as I'd hoped for. It wasn't even entertaining. It was just stupid."

Monday, January 29, 2007


I've been--and still am--violently sick, skin crawling, head pounding, so dizzy I can barely stand. This is why, faithful readers, I haven't posted anything for awhile. Even the tap, tap tap of the keyboard sounds like a bass drum inside my head. (A heavily miked bass drum.)

Mostly these last few days and nights I've spent sleeping, but I finally crawled my way to the doctor today. He prescribed some meds which he said might cut down the number of days I suffer through this, but he wrote me a note excusing me from work through Thursday! In other words, this isn't going anywhere soon.

Despite all that, the most upsetting part of the whole visit to the doctor's office was the artwork on the walls of the exam room. Prints of works by Rothko and Kandinsky, used as visual Muzak, the works of these great artists reduced to nothing more than wallpaper, soothing colors to comfort the ill.

Kind of bummed me out, and ordinarily I'd go on and on about it, but all I want to do right now is sleep some more...

Friday, January 26, 2007


I caught part of the movie The Hot Rock the other day on AMC, as much as I could stand before the incessant commercials drove me away. It's a virtually forgotten jewel heist caper from 1972, directed by the underrated Peter Yates and with a fine cast including Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Liebman and Zero Mostel. The plot seemed involving enough, but the main attraction was the lineup of weirdo characters spouting great, quotable dialogue.

The Hot Rock was scripted by William Goldman, a hotshot screenwriter in the seventies, and as the author of The Princess Bride, no stranger to quotable dialogue himself. But this had a funkier feel than what one would expect from Goldman, and I assumed much of the dialogue was taken from the source novel by Donald Westlake. But how to find out?

I've never read any Westlake--well, correction; I've read several of the novels he writes under the name Richard Stark, which are tougher and meaner than what he writes under his own name. Generally, Westlake's books are lighthearted capers--like The Hot Rock--and Stark's are pulpier and noirish. Anyway, the Stark books are great, and it seemed stupid that I'd never read any Westlake, and I knew most of his books (including The Hot Rock) are still in print, so I decided a trip to a local book store was in order.

A stop at Borders revealed only one Westlake book. (No Richard Stark at all.) No better luck at Barnes & Noble or Half Price Books. I checked to see if they had anything by two other favorites, George V. Higgins or Ross Macdonald. Borders and Barnes & Noble had nothing by either, though Half Price Books at least had a lot of Macdonald, including and Sleeping Beauty and The Chill, two of his best.

This situation is just pathetic. Bazillions of copies of crap by the likes of David Baldacci and Mary Higgins Clark, but nothing by the guys who are the architects of the modern crime thriller. Macdonald especially was a writer of serious intent, who used the mystery genre as a prism through which to view a society in decline. He needs to be read now more than ever, but if you shop at a chain book store, you'd never even know he existed.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


I was--well, not happy, exactly, but grateful that John Kerry oficially decided not to enter the 2008 presidential race. One less obvious loser for the democrats.

Then , while randomly flipping channels this morning, I saw Chuck Schumer interviwed on Today, whoring his new book (in which he promises Democrats can magically reduce cancer deaths, and will "never rule out" pre-emptive war), and swearing that Hilary Clinton will somehow win over the vast majority of Americans.

In other words, the Democratic machine is determined to throw its weight behind her, even though she's guaranteed to lose.

So we might as well submit all free will to the Republican overlords right now.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Ah, no, I didn't watch the State Of The Union speech. But having taken my blood pressure meds, and after a good night's sleep, I think I'm ready to read the text and all the coverage in a calm, rational manner.


The usual, so why am I frothing at the mouth? The bullshit plea to continue the war despite all common sense, the attempt to suggest that failure in Iraq will lead to another 9/11, the refusal to acknowledge that failure is what's happening, the halfhearted plea to reduce use of fossil fuels--feh, we've heard all this before.

The truly vile aspect of Bush's new agenda is his proposal to provide health insurance to the poor. Instead of doing something bold--or, to use an archaic term, responsible--like slashing military spending to find money in the budget to pay for universal healthcare, or better yet, overhauling the insurance industry, Bush is proposing tax incentives.

For the poor, that is, ostensibly to help pay for insurance. But the poor don't need tax incentives--they need coverage now, not more forms to fill out. And these initiatives amount to chump change anyway, and to pay for them, the White House proposes to raise taxes on people with decent insurance coverage.

And everyone knows there's no way in hell anybody's going to actually raise taxes. In other words, the proposal is pure, uncut bullshit--words in the air that suggest a concern over a very real problem, but in reality an unworkable non-solution, designed to fail.

Kanye West may have been wrong when he said Bush doesn't care about black people--there's no evidence the man's a racist. But he sure doesn't care about poor people. In fact, Our Beloved President appears to be doing everything he can to make sure they vanish from the earth.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Lots of great stuff on DVD today, including The Films Of Kenneth Anger, Volume One. (The first film in this volume, Fireworks, essentially invented Queer Cinema, way back in 1947!) and the fascinating (if barely watchable) double feature combo of Rock Around The Clock and Don't Knock The Rock, unbelievable examples of how Hollywood (in the form of schlockmeister producer Sam Katzman) sold rock and roll to thrill-hungry fifties kids, mostly showcasing the white bread stylings of Bill Haley. (Though Don't Knock The Rock does have Dion, looking like he wants to beat the shit out of somebody, and while he's lip synching The Wanderer and Runaround Sue, all is right with the world.)

For me, the most interesting release today is Warner Home Video's Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection, because well, it's Mitchum, a definite contender for Coolest Guy Who Ever Lived. This box set is typical of what Warner and other big studios offer when they collect a set devoted to a single star, one or two essential titles and a lot of lesser-known, frankly inferior stuff, not always of interest even if you're a big fan.

With Mitchum, though, there's always something to watch, regardless of the quality of the film. And despite the grab-bag nature of the collected titles, even the lesser titles here are enjoyable.

The biggest title here, for me, is the long-awaited DVD release of Vincente Minnelli's splendidly lurid, garishly candy-colored melodrama Home From The Hill. With a pulpy script and a supporting cast that includes George Hamilton (though he's actually pretty good here), you can't quite take it seriously, yet Minnelli's delirious direction and Mitchum's commited performance as the hyper-macho patriarch of a severely dysfunctional Texas clan manage to transform the soapy aspects of the story into something more primal. Great stuff, and it's available seperately from this set.

Other highlights include Otto Preminger's oddball noir Angel Face, with Mitchum in full hepster mode, Fred Zinnemann's well-regarded The Sundowners, a Down Under family saga with one of Mitchum's best performances ever (which is really saying something!) and Sydney Pollack's near-miss The Yakuza, which shows how by the seventies younger directors had already started casting Mitchum as a walking icon.

The set is rounded out by two disposable but entertaining items, Macao, a weird relic from Howard Hughes' days as head of RKO, mostly directed by a slumming Josef von Sternberg, and last and probably least, The Good Guys And The Bad Guys, a comedy western I remember enjoying as a kid, with a fun cast including George Kennedy and David Carradine. Director Burt Kennedy, six years before Pollack's worshipful use of Mitchum in The Yakuza, treats him as just another aging actor in need of work, and he responds by walking through this like a guy who wants his paycheck. But it's not bad, an entertaing way to kill a lazy afternoon.

And that's what makes this set so much more than the usual thrown together actor collection: It showcases everything Robert Mitchum was: working actor, dedicated artist, icon. And always, always cool.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Forgive me if this sounds hokey, but I've just seen Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, and frankly, words fail.

It's going to take some time to process this. Time, and the repeated viewings this work simply demands. And time to piece this together with its companion film, Flags Of Our Fathers, which this echoes, repeats and takes off from. They are two seperate films, with similar yet distinct tones, and yet together they form a whole, a canvas on which Eastwood has unquestionably painted his masterpiece.

And yet they are not radical departures for this filmmaker, whose work I've admired literally since I was a kid; before I even knew what a director did, I knew High Plains Drifter, Eastwood's second film as a director, was not like any western I'd ever seen before, even the Sergio Leone westerns it somewhat resembled, the films that made Eastwood a star. Those were baroque, self-consciously stylish affairs. Eastwood, though always underrated as a visual stylist, preferred to depict things--violent things, tragic things, funny things--straightforwardly, to show you and move on, never dwelling for effect, never showboating.

He's still working that way, a master craftsman who only through an astonishing accumulated body of work is now being called an artist. There's nothing self-conscious about Letters from Iwo Jima, no camera set-ups that call attention to themselves, no flashy editing patterns that take you out of the moment. There is only a slow, steady build-up of tiny details, an accumulating sense of dread, and finally there is violence and despair.

But above all there is life, humanity, a sense that all of us everywhere matter, a belief that is embedded in every frame of film.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Okay, as near as I can tell from random scans around The Google, everyone everywhere hates that creepy new Orville Redenbacher ad. The CGI resurrection of the dead is wrong on so many levels, but the most astonishing thing about this spot is its technical incompetence: the clumsy lip synch, the dead eyes, the odd little hopping movement Orville does at the end of the spot, which more than one person has compared to Weekend At Bernie's.

The reason I even bring this thing up is because it was directed by David Fincher, who I think has now officially joined the Ridley Scott No Need To Take Him Seriously Hall Of Fame.

Ridley Scott came to a career in filmmaking from the ultraslick world of commercials, but his debut film, The Duellists, promised a new director of skill and vision. Alien and Blade Runner suggested the promise was being fulfilled, but ever since then--ugh. Legend, anyone? Black Rain? GI Jane? It starts to hurt after awhile, and even seemingly promising material like Thelma And Louise and Gladiator devolved into pretty pictures for their own sake, with no directorial voice tying them together.

Which is how I suspect it will go with Fincher's filmmaking career. It's already uneven--nobody really cares about The Game or Panic Room, and though there is still much to admire about Se7en, its jagged stylistics and nihilistic tone have been ripped off by so many subsequent serial killer thrillers, its impact has been lessened.

Still, there's Fight Club, which remains one of the best films of recent years. True, Fincher had great material and an ace cast, but anyone studying the supplemental material on the DVD will quickly realize just how much of the film's impact comes from the choices Fincher made, on the set, in the editing room, even in the lab. This is a stunning, provacative work, possibly even a great one. But is it destined to be a one-off from a director who became more interested in tools than content?

Zombie Redenbacher says yes. Or would, if Fincher got the lip synch right.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Inevitable, I suppose: I've been asked to babysit.

Well, Paul's seven, so I don't think of him as a baby. And he and I have had plenty of alone time together, so it's not like this is brand new.

But it will be the first time he's just been dropped on me while Tabbatha's off doing something else. (A "girl's night out," whatever that is--and I probably don't want to know.) She and I have talked about this--if the relationship proceeds to the point of cohabitation (an increasing likelihood), I've made it clear to her that by my nature, I'll still do things alone.

Many of the things I most love in life are solitary experiences, like lingering in book stores or relaxing over breakfast with the Sunday New York Times. That's so much a part of my life, and I don't want to be selfish, but to give it up would seem like killing a part of me.

Oh, you can still do that, Tabbatha said. But. If one of us gets to take off for most of the day and leave the other watching the kid, it should work both ways. If she has stuff she wants to do, I get to hang out with Paul. Okay. Seems fair.

So for now, this should be easy. The kid's never seen Raiders Of The Lost Ark! So we'll watch that, then I'll try to get him into Jonny Quest--what with all the gadgets, jazzy music and volcano-dwelling master criminals, it's like a gateway to James Bond fandom.

Of course, Tabbatha swears Paul is too young for James Bond. But there's time...

Friday, January 19, 2007


Here's an emotion I don't understand: Actor/comedian Ron Carey has died at the age of 71, and it makes me sad.

No reason for this. His obit in The New York Times mentions his most prominent roles, as Levitt on Barney Miller and as a comic foil in several Mel Brooks films. His entry in the IMDb is alarmingly short, indicating he wasn't as much of a constant presence on TV as he seemed.

Neither of these sources, however, mention the credit some of us most remember him by: His stint as the Better Cheddars guy on a string of particularly annoying TV commercials from the early eighties.

And that's it, the sum total of things I know about the guy. So why should I care that this showbiz footnote has shuffled off this mortal coil?

Maybe it's because Carey, who was short and stocky, with a large nose and a lopsided smile, came off as a regular guy, someone who just happened to have wandered in front of the camera and wouldn't leave. I didn't watch Barney Miller when I was a kid, but it was always on, and at the height of its popularity, Carey would pop up on game shows and chatfests, and though I can't remember him saying or doing anything particularly funny, he was always endearing. More to the point, he was there, always around, somehow comforting. A part of the household, in a way. A part of my childhood.

A small, mostly forgotten part of my life, but a part just the same.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Three stories staring out from the front page of The New York Times today:

1) According to an estimate from the United Nations, the number of Iraqis killed in 2006 is 34,452. The Iraqi government, ever eager to put a happy face on the American occupation, disputes those figures, but according to the UN, the numbers come from official sources. Unreported deaths aren't factored in, and not all deaths from all provinces in December had been reported when these numbers were compiled. So the actual number would, inevitably, be higher.

2) The Decider--oh, I'm sorry, now he's The Educator; he's so multi-faceted!--is working overtime to distance himself from the hangings of Saddam Hussein and his two co-defendents. (Finally, an Iraq-based PR disaster he can actually blame on someone else!) Never mind that the executions wouldn't have happened without the U.S. intervention, that the hanged men were in American custody right up to the moment that they walked to the gallows, or that the Iraqi government doesn't make a move without the approval of its Yankee masters. The point is, according to Bush, the whole thing is their fault.

It's certainly understandable why Our Beloved President wants to distance himself from this mess, since the fallout from the hangings continues. They've managed to inflame Sunni-Shia tensions all across the Middle East, not just in Iraq. Uneasy truces have been shattered in the wake of these killings, and--here's a surprise--violence is threatening to erupt.

3) But that's how it is over there, right? That's just the way those people are. This has nothing to do with us. Tell that to Charlene Lovett. Her daughter, Cheryl Green, was shot dead last month. Green had the misfortune of being black, and a Latino gang was out for blood, looking for a black person to kill.

In Los Angeles in 2005, the last year for which statistics were available, the increase in crimes fueled by racial, religious or anti-gay hatred had grown by 34 percent.

Sure, much of that violence is predictable. It's gang-related, it's nothing new, it's the Jets and the Sharks. We've seen Colors, we've seen Boys N The Hood, we know all this.

But look at that list: racial, religious or anti-gay. These aren't crimes just being commited by gang-bangers. Anti-muslim violence, discrimination against Hispanics, gay-bashing--there's enough of this to go around in every neighborhood.

Why not? It's acceptable. Here in Iowa, we have Steve King, our representative in Washington, spouting openly racist rhetoric regarding Hispanic immigrants. He doesn't bother coding it; why bother? He can say all the hateful words he want, knowing he'll be reelected.

Consider how many comedy shows get laughs by having characters call each other gay. None of these characters are gay, of course, but the implication of calling them that is...what? Shame? Humiliation? Why? Unless the assumption is that the audience is homophobic.

And as for the depiction of people of Middle Easter descent in the mass media--where to begin?

This is calling attention to diversity in order to condemn it. The underlying implication is, stick to your own kind. If those people just knew their place, and would stay there, everything would be fine. If only we didn't have to deal with them, look at them, think about them.

But somehow, in America we cling to the belief that we are nothing like those other people. They're just crazy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


You had to be there, but even if you were, it wasn't much. If you were a twelve year old kid in 1977 who'd been totally knocked for a loop by Star Wars, you were so desperate for any form of outer space-based entertainment , you'd settle for anything. Which is why I watched Space Academy every single week.

It was produced by Filmation, the cheapest supplier of Saturday morning product. They'd started out making incredibly ugly cartoons, but they eventually branched into live action, such as the Larry Storch-Forrest Tucker vehicle Ghost Busters, a program noted for settings and camera work so seedy that you expected Johnny Wadd to appear at any moment, and Uncle Croc's Block, a kiddie show parody showcasing duelling queens Charles Nelson Reilly and Jonathan Harris.

Production values never really improved, but the content of Filmation's live action offerings improved slightly by the mid seventies with the appearances of Shazam and Isis, message heavy superhero outings, and the studio's first venture into science fiction, Ark II. Occasionally, these shows rose to the level of competence.

Space Academy was basically more of the same, and at twelve, I was probably too old to fit nto its target audience. But Star Wars had made me a special effects junkie, and the visuals in Space Academy were lavish by TV standards. One episode even featured a cool stop-motion critter animated by James Aupperle...

...Actually, that flash of stop-motion is one of the few things I even remember about the damn thing. It had a standard multi-culti cast, including seventies mainstay Pamelyn Ferdin, presided over by the ubiquitous preening ham Jonathan Harris, and, um...there was a robot, Peepo, who was at least less annoying than Twikki from Buck Rogers, and...they had adventures...I guess, although again, it's not like I can actually remember any of them. Like so many TV shows of the era, if you saw one episode, you pretty much saw every episode.

Space Academy falls into a dead spot of childhood, something remembered with neither affection nor horror. It was there, I made a point of watching it every week, but it in no way fueled my imagination or enhanced my life in any way. The complete run of the series is out today on DVD, and I suspect if I watched it now, it would have the exact same effect.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Even The Decider's friends agree he's in bunker mode now, and the guy interviwed on last night's 6o Minutes was clearly a man suffering from terrifying delusions.

"I think the Iraqis owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude." I"'ve made the decision, and we're going forward." "The minute we found out there were no weapons of mass destruction, I was the first to say so." "Sometimes you're the educator in chief."

The Sith Lord Cheney was all over the Sunday chatfests, displaying his Joe Goebbels-like charm as he made it clear that the administration is as willing as ever to smear the reputations of all who dare oppose it.

And the Democrats continue to dither like a bunch of Red Hat ladies on their first outing at an Indian restaurant. "Oh, maybe we should try this." "No, that would be unfamiliar to us, let's try something we're comfortable with." "Should we?" "I don't know." Right now they're unified--more or less--in their opposition to Bush's surge, but as to any plans they have to stop him, well, it's pretty much a lot of self-congratulatory huffing and puffing. Never mind that they were elected by the American people to actually, you know, do something.

Despite the midterm elections, despite the president's--sorry, the educator's--plunging poll numbers, despite a growing anger and a sense, even among the most uneducated, that the American Empire is entering its final phase, despite everything, nothing seems to be changing in Washington. The president's not the only one in bunker mode.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


This is why playing around on the internet is a dangerous thing: You learn things you never wanted to know, and the knowledge of these things diminishes the quality of your life in tiny but measurable degrees.

For instance, someone, somewhere, for reasons sane people can only imagine, is making an anime-styled direct to video sequel to Highlander. Discovering this, I followed the link to discover that Russel Mulcahy, who not only foisted the original Highlander on us but also such exemplars of suckiness as Duran Duran videos, has been signed on as director of the third (!) Resident Evil movie.

All this is horrible news, but not as horrifying as knowing that I was doing something in the first place that led me to links on Highlander...and God help me, I felt the urge to know more.

This is how we discover the darkness that dwells within us, I guess. There's probably some appropriate quote from Highlander itself, but mercifully, I couldn't say for sure.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


I'm probably going to be away from this site for a day or two--heartbreaking, I know, for both of you who actually read this thing--but if, by the time I get back, Bush has already sent troops into Iran, don't be surprised. I'm beginning to think all the nutjobs who thought the turning of the new millenium signified the beginning of endtimes might have had a point.

And on that upbeat note...

Thursday, January 11, 2007


We own half of the world, oh say can you see
The name for our profits is democracy
So like it or not, you will have to be free
--Phil Ochs

Not only has the American public grown tired of The Decider's Big Adventure, so has the government he installed.

A story in today's New York Times reports that aides to Iraqi Prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki are privately grumbling that they really don't want any additional American troops. They're afraid the continued U.S. presence will get in their way as they try to run the government their way.

In Iraq's Sunni community, running the government Maliki's way is seen as a threat. The Shiite government's handling of Saddam Hussein's execution has scared the Sunnis shitless, leading them to believe that Maliki is more interested in settling old scores against the Sunnis than running a democracy. Which means the Sunnis step up the violence against the government, the Shiites retaliate...you know the drill.

So whether the U.S. sends 20,00 new troops or gets everyone the hell out of there, it really won't make a difference. Whether by accident or design, Bush's invasion brought ancient blood feuds to the surface, and now, like a badly-staged action sequence in a Michael Bay movie, they will continue to play out forever. We didn't create this monster, but we brought it to life, and no matter what Our Beloved president says, it has nothing to do with the War On Terror.

So why are we there? Well, a story in the British newspaper The Independent last Sunday revealed the Iraqi government is about to vote on a new law giving seventy-five percent of that nation's oil profits to Western corporations like Shell and Exxon. This law--surprise!--was drawn up with the active participation of the U.S. government. Knowledge that such a law is even being considered makes everything Bush says about his dirty little war a lie, and yet I can't find a single mention of it in any mainstream American paper.

Not that I find that suspicious or anything...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Forgive me. I'm trying something new here, writing this as I watch The Decider's Iraq speech, trying to react to it as it happens.

It's not going well. For Bush, that is, not for me. His sound keeps cutting out--this is The White House's own feed; if they can't figure out video technology, why should we trust them to run a war?--and he looks...well, I think he's going for contrite and thoughtful, but he looks scared and disoriented.

And the speech...shit. We must win, blah, blah...Fuck, no! He just tied Iraq to 9/11! By innuendo, of course, but still, put it out there. If we lose here, those people died in vain, et cetera. Um, George? Nobody's buying this shit anymore.

It's not Al Queda and "radical Islams" who are stirring up shit in the Middle East, it's us. Even Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public are figuring that out. We're hated because we're there, we keep bumbling along, killing locals in huge numbers while mumbling insincere apologies. It's this little excursion that not only cracked the hornet's nest open, but blew ill winds to scatter the deadly creatures in all directions. (Okay, that was a clumsy turn of phrase, but hey, this is an experiment, remember?)

The proposals are what we expected--"more than" 20,000 troops (don't dare call it an escalation) and shitloads of money to help them rebuild the country. That would be the country we keep bombing, the one that we have been powerless to help rebuild after several years and billions of dollars.

Okay, now he's talking about victory. "It will be a different victory. There'll be no signing of surrender papers." No kidding. In previous wars, there were clearly stated goals. There is no real reason to be in Iraq.

Oh, I'm sorry, yes there is--it's Ground Zero in The War On Terror. Funny how I keep forgetting that, what with Iraq being a country that wasn't threatening us and all, that we just decided to invade for...oh, I almost said oil, but there's no way that could be true. What was I thinking?

Summing up his new policy, Bush is making it clear there are no other options. He didn't use the term "cut and run" but the point was the same--you're either with me, or you're a traitor. Guess the American people, who disagree with him in huge numbers, should just go fuck themselves.

Thanks, Mr. President--you've lived up to my expectations.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Kind of a slow day for new releases today (I assume Mike Judge's Idiocracy is well worth seeing, but since Fox never gave it a decent release, it's an unknown entity to me, and masochists and camp addicts can revel in a wonderfully stupid nudist camp double feature from maladroit auteur Dorish Wishman, Nude On The Moon and Blaze Starr Goes Nudist), so it seems like a good day to pine for one of the movies I'd most like to own on DVD, Vincente Minnelli's peerless The Pirate.

Notorious among devotees of MGM musicals for the bad luck involved in its production, The Pirate might actually have benefitted from the odd circumstances of its creation. MGM bought the rights to a straight farce, went through about a zillion drafts before deciding to turn the whole thing into a musical, and luckily turned the whole thing over to producer Arthur freed and director Minnelli.

This must have seemed like heaven to Minnelli, a chance to create a Carribean purely of the imagination, an opportunity to let his amazing visual sense run wild. But first he had two obstacles to deal with: The studio's choice to write the score was Cole Porter, and the female lead would be his wife, Judy Garland.

Porter was in a down period at that time, and his final contribution to the film consists of only four songs, an awfully small number for a musical. The general opinion over the years has been that the songs aren't up to Porter's usual standards, but Mack The Black (in which Porter, a closeted gay, includes a line about "flaming trails of masculinty") and Be A Clown are terrific, and all the songs fit the movie.

A much bigger problem was Garland, who was just entering her drama queen diva stage. She was dropping pills and boozing like nobody's business, frequently didn't bother showing up for work, and oh, not incidentally, her marriage to Minnelli was starting to unravel. (At one point, she accused her decidedly hetero co-star, Gene Kelly, of having an affair with Minnelli!) The movie had to be shot around her a lot, and even when she was there, she wasn't always there.

Surprisingly, both of these things ultimately work in the movie's favor. Without the obligation to cram a bunch of song numbers in, Minnelli works slowly and creates a dreamy, languid atmosphere. And Garland's neurotic performance contributes a great deal to these early scenes, as her longing for a more exciting, more dramatic life, played out against a riot of Technicolor stylings, becomes genuinely touching. Later, she snaps to life when she plays opposite Kelly, and the film turns into a door-slamming farce, which both actors carry off beautifully. Add in Kelly's splendid choreography, so perfectly aided by Minnelli's expertly judged camera and cutting, and you have a shining example of all that was good about studio filmmaking in the forties.

But you won't find it on DVD. Much of Minnelli's most interesting work (Yolanda And the Thief, Some Came Running) remains unavailable and little known to the general public. Yet special edition discs exist of everything Michael Bay has ever done. Go figure.

Monday, January 08, 2007


This past Christmas, my boss told us we had a few options for a Christmas party. We could have a party in the office, a catered affair, we could rent a limo and hit various hot spots around town, we could reserve a spot at the local casino...

As soon as he said that, most everyone agreed. They wanted to go play the slots.

Well, he said, if we do that, there's a certain amount in the budget we could allow you all to have, although of course the company doesn't advocate gambling. (Wink, wink.) Then we have to choose, do we want to bring spouses or significant others along? Because if we bring them, the expenses of providing enough food for all will cut into the funds available for gambling money...

Again, everyone (well, except for me and one other person) agreed: No guests.

As the day of the party approached, people were notifying the boss that they probably wouldn't be coming. The reason? They were disappointed that they couldn't bring a guest!

I'm only forty-one, so i don't want to seem like a cranky old guy, but I've never seen a time when people were as childishly selfish as they are now. We'll give up our civil liberties at the drop of a hat, but ask us to stop talking on cellphones while we're driving, or contribute an extra penny of every purchase to help pay for desperately needed services? Forget it.

Which brings us to Iraq.

The Decider wants to send 20,000 more troops over, and is requesting an additional one billion dollars on top of the money already being spent, for some kind of program to make Iraqis feel good about themselves.

Where will these additional troops come from? Where will we find this extra money?

Simple! The troops will come from the ranks of the poor, via heavy recruiting and duplicitous promises in economically blighted neighborhoods, and the money will come from the future. Like all good Americans, we'll charge it, and worry about paying for it some day in the far-off future.

What we most certainly won't do is ask anyone to sacrifice. During any previous full-scale war--and keep in mind, America has been at war in Iraq longer than we were actively involved in Worl War II--there was at least some level of sacrifice for most Americans. Even during Vietnam, the previous benchmark for unpopular wars, the draft was in effect. Yeah, children of privelege didn't have to worry about it--kids like Dubya Bush--but most young men of a certain age, and their families, felt the impact. Being from the upper middle class wouldn't necessarily save you.

Now, no matter how many Support The Troops magnets you see on cars, the war's an abstraction to most people. Yeah, we can say we support the troops, but would any of us sacrifice anything for their benefit?

Don't ask me now, I'm playing the slots.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Oh, how could I have gotten so far into the new year--six whole days!--without writing a Best Of 2006 post? This sort of thing is mandatory for people who write, even nominally, about what most libraries term "performing arts."

Trouble is, I've been busy doing other things this year, so the amount of time spent seeing movies, listening to music, or, to paraphrase Criswell, even watching television--it's all been pretty limited. Life is messy, and tends to get in the way. So I really can't tell you what the best things of 2006 were, only the things that I crossed paths with and loved.

Favorite album: Three choices here. First, Rabbit Fur Coat by Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins. There's been grumbling in some circles that the countrified sound of this album is a mere affectation, the dabblings of a hipster dilletante. But the sound matches the content here, a warm cushion for Lewis' ironic tales of heartache and despair. Plus, boy she has a purty voice.

Speaking of ironists, as one of the founding geniuses of Steely Dan, Donald Fagen has always struck me as pop music's equivalent to a Coen Brothers film--technically dazzling, brilliantly written, but always a bit cold around the heart, coming close to the precipice of real emotion, then backing off with an ironic aside. But on his third solo album, Morph The Cat, Fagen finally admits to real human emotions, in great songs like Brite Nightgown, The Night Belongs To Mona, and especially Mary Shut The Garden Door, a brilliant evocation of creeping conservatism, both cultural and political. Fagen hasn't lost his sense of humor (Security Joan), and the musicianship is, of course, beyond reproach. The closest thing imaginable to a sentimental Steely Dan album.

And finally, one of my all-time favorite bands, Sparks, had a new album, Hello Young Lovers, and anything new from these guys is always a treat. In a perfect world, Dick Around would have been a smash hit single, but obviously, this isn't a perfect world.

Best TV show: Easy. The final run of Arrested Development. No contest.

Best movie: There were so many movies I didn't see this year, I'm almost embarrassed. L'Enfant played for a week here, and I totally missed it, which is made worse by some of the movies I actually did see this year. Yes, kids, I paid money to see The DaVinci Code. All I can say is, I'm sorry.

There were a lot of movies I enjoyed--Talladega Nights, The Proposition, The Prestige--but only three really stood out. First, Casino Royale, which got mostly good reviews, but I'm convinced would have been better received if it hadn't carried the baggage of being a "Bond film." Then again, for us fans, the last scene plays beautifully precisely because it is a Bond film. A matter of expectations, I guess.

Second, A Prarie Home Companion. Robert Altman's meditation on mortality broke my heart when I saw it in its initial release this summer. I haven't rewatched it since Altman's death--I'm sure it would be emotionally overwhelming. In any event, a perfect final statement from one of America's finest artists, and a long-time hero of mine. Too bad he's gone, but thank God he was here.

And finally, Clint Eastwood's Flags Of Our Fathers is simply the best film ever made about the effect of war, never questioning its necessity, but simply, profoundly showing how its very existence ruins lives, of the living and the dead, of the survivors and their families. Here in the hinterlands, I haven't had the chance to see Eastwood's companion piece, Letters From Iwo Jima, but it would have a long way to go to top this.

As for the worst in all these categories, they are, of course, legion. Make your own list.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Random thoughts:

1) I was reading a mostly unrelated article in The New York Times, which mentioned in passing a list of likely Democratic presidential nominees for '08. They included Barak Obama, Hilary Clinton, Joseph Biden and John Kerry.

Wait, wait...I couldn't have read that right.

Yep, John Kerry.

Okay, Democrats, if Kerry even talks about the presidency, if he even acts as though he's thinking about forming a committee to comission a study to blah blah blah, get rid of him. I don't care how you do it, but get rid of him. In fact, do it now, just to be safe.

2) Here in Des Moines, there's a dispute between our local cable company, Mediacom, and Sinclair Broadcasting, a media mini-empire that owns the local Fox station, KDSM. It's a finacnial thing, naturally, and if they can't come to terms by the end of today, Mediacom will drop KDSM's programming.

In protest, KDSM runs crawls during its shows to remind you to call Mediacom, to let them know you can't live without the swell programming they provide. But when this crawl appears during 5 AM reruns of Becker, you have to think, wouldn't we be better off without this?

3) The last time we got a new episode of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip was early in December. It's supposed to return sometime this month. I watched it every week, yet I haven't missed it a bit. Not a good sign.

4) The movie Freedom Writers opens today. It's another charismatic-teacher-inspires-a-group-of-troubled-youth movie, and I have to say, it's way past time to retire this genre. I'd rather sit through a wacky comedy of mistaken identity (Antonio Banderas IS...Two Much) or a Hal Needham redneck extravaganza (Burt Reynolds IS Stroker Ace) or, hell, even a rerun of Becker at 5 AM than sit through another one of these. Music Of The Heart made me want to kill myself, and don't even get me started on Dangerous Minds. (Also, don't ask why I've even seen these things.) Nobody wants to see these things. Nobody. Not even teachers.

5) And of course, I have to mention the cats. Delmar has taken to curling up on my lap. That wouldn't be a big deal with most cats, but this is Delmar. Monika has lately started using the sink as a bed. Dampness must be soothing.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


The Iraqi government has now arrested a guard and is looking at other persons of interest in the taunting of Saddam Hussein at his execution, an incident that has been roundly condemned by pretty much every civilized human being on the planet.

But not, of course, by anyone in the Bush administration. The attitude there is pretty much summed up by Tony Snow, press secretary and colossal dick: "There seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein's life, and less about the first sixty-nine years, in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people."

In other words, he got what he deserved, eh, Tony?

Snow's response is typical of official Washington opinion. The State Department and the U.S. military agree, and the press seems all too willing to accept, that whatever you think of the manner in which Saddam was killed, it was all the Iraqi's doing. It's not like we had anything to do with this.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's besieged head of national security agrees. Yes, Rubaie was there when Saddam was hanged, and yeah, he saw people with cameras, and yeah, he heard the taunts, and yes--koffkoff--as head of national security, it could be argued that it was his job to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but, you know, Saddam was there to be executed and all, and things were happening so fast, and...and...and...Look, it's unfortunate, but these things happen.

Rumsfeld has taught you well, my son.

Back to the guy actually arrested in this matter: He was on guard duty that night. By most accounts, the taunting was coming from the witnesses, not the guards, a circus atmosphere Rubaie witnessed and allowed. If anyone should be held responsible, he'd be a good place to start, but then he might talk, and who knows where this could lead?

Rubaie is, after all, a tool, like Prime Minister Maliki, a puppet who stays in power only because the U.S. protects him. It seems incomprehensible that the Bushinistas, who had made Saddam their excuse for the whole misbegotten war, would just walk away in the moment of triumph, when the man Bush himself proclaimed Public Enemy Number One paid the ultimate penalty. Incomprehensible? I meant to say unbelievable.

If the United States had nothing to do with how this execution was carried out, if they couldn't have intervened at any time, they're even more incompetent than I thought. That the Iraqi government is so willing to take the fall for this is just further proof of how clueless they are, a delusional bunch of Renfields all too willing to serve their master.

(Incidentally, please note my Dracula metaphor there. I was going to say the Iraqi government is kind of like the Old Republic, foolishly granting unlimited powers to Palpatine, not realizing until too late that he is Sith Lord Darth Sidious...but for once, I decided not to go with a Star Wars reference. You're welcome.)

In any event, outrage over the execution, around the world and particularly in Islamic nations, seems directed more at the U.S. than Iraq. Unlike the American press, most people don't buy the official story for a minute, and with good reason. Not one of Bush's official stories has been remotely true, and this one is utterly transparent.

Not that it matters. Bush is looking to send more troops into the sinkhole, and top Democrat Carl Levin has said he "won't prejudge" Bush's plans. In other words, the president will get his way, thousands more will die and none of it will make a difference. The shiny promise of a new year has already faded. God help us all.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


A bit of turmoil in my girlfriend's life. Continued anger about Saddam's hanging. The Decider is likely to send more and more troops to Iraq.

Things to fuel my anxiety, or anger, or some other negative emotion. Things to analyze, to rationally take apart, to attempt to understand.

Only for now my emotions are muted, for now my mind is calm. I have no idea why, but I seem to be experiencing a sense of stillness I haven't felt for a long time. My mind isn't racing ahead to imagine a thousand potential terrible things, isn't puzzling over some event I can't control, isn't distracted by things that don't involve me, isn't angry or mournful, isn't worrying or wandering or wondering.

I'm going to try to ride this wave of nothingness, to enjoy the quiet for as long as it lasts.

Probably only until morning, but hey, at least I'll have a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


The post-holiday DVD release schedule is so slow, the only remotely interesting thing coming out today is Million Dollar Mystery.

If you're like most people, you have no memory of this thing whatsoever. When a theatrical release from the eighties toplines the likes of Tom Bosley, it isn't likely to pack theaters, and Million Dollar Mystery certainly didn't. This uninspired Mad, Mad World knockoff is notable only as one of the final credits for veteran director Richard Fleischer, and for the lame gimmick that accompanied its release: some lucky audience member could win a million dollars if they figured out the hidden clues in the movie itself.

Actually, the only reason to even mention this thing is because it was an all-too-typical release from the short-lived production and distribution entity DeLaurentis Entertainment Group. DEG was an effort by Italian megaproducer/shameless hustler Dino DeLaurentis to start a mini-studio of his own. Mostly, it ground out competently-made but utterly pointless drivel like the Judd Nelson vehicle From The Hip, or the Schwarzenegger potboiler Raw Deal, or the stupefying James Clavell adaptation Tai Pan, a movie absolutely no one had been clammoring for.

Yet DEG also produced and released David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Michael Mann's Manhunter, easily two of the best American films of the eighties, and movies that no major studio at the time would have touched. DeLaurentis basically went with his gut, not market research, when he decided which movies to greenlight.

In that sense, DeLaurentis had a lot in common with Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, the heads of Cannon Films, which cranked out so much product in the eighties you could possibly keep track of it all. Between the endless, increasingly desperate Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson vehicles, Cannon occasionally made half-hearted stabs at "quality" product, like Norman Mailer's hapless Tough Guys Don't Dance. Every week would bring some new effort from Golan and Globus, and the only possible rection to most of it was, "What were they thinking?"

American filmmaking now is probably at its lowest ebb ever. Major studios, all divisions of soulless corporations uninterested in risks, control almost everything--most so-called indie distributors are divisions of the majors, and up-and-coming independent filmmakers tend to tailor their efforts to what they think diastributors want. There's a dearth of true visionaries.

True, DeLaurentis and Golan-Globus weren't visionaries. They were hucksters, and most of what they churned out was crap. But a lot of it was fun crap, and you got the feeling they made movies because they loved them. We could use them now.