Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Since The Democrats so bravely caved in to Our Beloved President over Iraq, here are a few things that have happened:

1) In Northern Iraq, violence between Kurds and Sunnis has intensified. This has nothing to do with the insurgency; this is an age-old grudge match, the kind of thing that should have been predicted by any occupying force. Needless to say, the U.S. didn't see this coming, and lacks any plan for dealing with it. Would we expect anything else? Even with a troop increase, they can't even keep things quiet in the Green Zone.

2) Cindy Sheehan announced she no longer wants to be considered the face of the anti-war movement. She came to this decision after realizing too many anti-war liberals were only fair-weather friends. Once she started criticizing the Democrats, her former allies turned on her, and she realized her own personal war, the war against the war, was already lost.

3) Ten soldiers died on Memorial Day.

All this, while Clinton, Obama, Edwards and the rest continue to crisscross the country, assuring us things will magically be better once they're in charge. People are dying, and they treat it as a PR opportunity.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Ordinarily, what with this being a Tuesday and all, I'd do a rundown on worthwhile new DVDs. But since there is virtually nothing of even the slightest interest being released today--the most notable is a Katherine Hepburn boxed set highlighted by Undercurrent, a Vincente Minnelli picture that not even the most hardcore cultist cares about--I'll find something else to talk about.

Specifically, Pirates Of the Caribbean: At World's End. Paul had been looking forward to this--a surprise, since he seemed mostly bored with the previous entry, Dead Man's Chest--so off we went, looking for the type of action and derring-do a seven-year-old craves.

Almost three hours later, we were still looking. For a movie boasting the Disney brand name, this is a long, grim haul. It opens with a mass hanging--we actually see a pile of bodies straight out of Abu Ghraib photos, and one of the hangees is a boy of ten or so--and plods on from there, with endless expository dialogue meant to explain character arcs and plot points no one could possibly care about. (At least it has the wit to acknowledge this; at one point, Geoffrey Rush's character greets a particularly mind-numbing development by growling, "Aye, strains credulity, I grant ye." On the other hand, if the screenwriters were this aware of their tortured plot, why didn't they just start over?)

As Paul pointed out afterwards, "They didn't even have a swordfight until the end." Exactly. The bare minimum you could expect from a pirate movie is swordplay and action (and okay, maybe a bit of romance), but this movie just grinds along, like it's trying to invent its own pop mythology in the Star Wars tradition, but forgetting to include any real elements of entertainment. The action scenes--what few we get--are so poorly staged by director Gore Verbinsky that you can't really tell what's going on; they're all noise and spectacle, but no coherence. (If nothing else, this made me appreciate Sam Raimi's overbusy but cleanly-structured Spider-man 3.)

Whatever entertainment value this actually has comes exclusively from the actors. Johnny Depp is funny, but oddly misused--he feels like a guest star in his own movie. Geoffrey Rush probably gets the most screen time, which is all to the good, as he's the only person who seems to be enjoying himself. Jonathan Pryce, Bill Nighy and Stellan Skarsgard attempt to find actual human moments amidst the bombast, and almost succeed.

Regardless, Paul claimed he enjoyed it. Of course, when you're seven and you've psyched yourself up to enjoy something, you'll tell yourself you liked it even if you're secretly disappointed. But he was squirming in his seat a lot, and mostly seemed bored.

After experiencing this noisy, joyless machine, I wanted to rent the great Burt Lancaster vehicle The Crimson Pirate, to show Paul what a real swashbuckler is like. But the video store we stopped by was showing Mel Brooks' Spaceballs on their in-house system, and he seemed very interested. So we came home and watched it, and though he thankfully didn't get all the gags ("Okay, Doctor, why don't you go back to the golf course and work on your putz?"), he laughed out loud at Brooks' endless assaults on movie marketing. After all, he'd just been a victim of it.

Monday, May 28, 2007


For Memorial Day, a toast to those who are gone.

In memory of my dad, I thought about posting a clip of Harry Caray singing Take Me Out To The Ballgame, but common sense prevailed. Dad's tastes--how to put this?--often didn't match up with my own (or anybody else's in the family, for that matter), but he did like Johnny Cash:

In memory of my brother Keith, who first exposed me to the work of Peter Sellers, and in so doing introduced me to one of my cultural heroes:

In memory of Mom--well, this one is almost too easy, but I know wherever she is, this clip is making her cry:

Of course, to remember Mom, one clip just isn't enough. So here we have the drum solo--three whole minutes of it!--from Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Two years ago this very weekend, Mom and I went to see an oldies knockoff band just because one member of it had been in one incarnation of Iron Butterfly. When we got to the drum solo, Mom stood up, leaning on her walker, pumping her fist in the air. The fact that, in this clip, original drummer Ron Bushy resembles Ted Neeley from another Mom favorite, Jesus Christ Superstar, only confirms for me that it's her world, and the rest of us just live here. Anyway, take it away, Ron:

And in memory of so many others, here is Phil Ochs, so earnest, so passionate, so convinced music could change the world. When he realized it couldn't, he hanged himself. But surely no songwriter ever wrote truer words:

Requiescat in pace, folks.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


More of this sort of thing later--I'm learning how to embed video, folks!--but for now, here's Tim Finn doing this site's theme song:

If any video existed of Lennon doing this himself, I'd have gone with that...but we're big Tim Finn fans around here. And of his brother, Neil, as well--expect plenty of Split Enz and Crowded House videos when I run out of things to say. Which, as it happens, is frequently. I'm babbling. Sorry...go listen to Tim again, won't you?


This is the greatest thing in the world:

However many times I see this, it always makes me laugh, and it always--always--makes me cry. I return to it as an old friend, to be reminded of how simple and profound great art can be. Chuck Jones was the first director's name I ever noticed, and his work taught me everything I would ever learn about comedy, and about the human condition.

The most important thing you can learn from this? Hugging kitties makes you happy.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


The local CW affiliate around here has a bizarre asortment of movies it plays at 2 AM. This morning they showed Foxy Brown, the 1974 Pam Grier vehicle, and despite Grier's awesome presence and a great bit by Sid Haig, the best thing about this movie is the effortlesly dynamic performance of Antonio Fargas.

Fargas was a stage-trained pro, which explained why his work in early seventies exploitation movies tended to stand out: he was a real actor. Unfortunately, due to his wiry physique and perpetually hangdog face, he tended to get cast in secondary parts, usually as pimps or drug dealers. His best-known part was as comic relef snitch Hugy Bear on Starsky And Hutch, not exactly the most dignified part a black actor could get.

Occasionally a good filmmaker would cast Fargas in a nonstereotyped part--Paul Mazursky gave him a great role in Next Stop, Greenwich Village, and Louis Malle put him in Pretty Baby. Maybe his best part came in the sloppy but entertaining Car Wash, in which he's hilarious and touching as the transvestite Lindy.

By the eighties, sadly, it was back to bit parts on TV, and occasional larger roles in projects that knowingly referenced Fargas' past roles, such as the pimp Flyguy in Keenen Ivory Wayans' I'm Gonna Get You Sucka. He still gets work--he's a regular on Everybody Hates Chris--but it's safe to say he's never going to get the great part he deserves.

It would be easy to blame Hollywood's institutional racism as an explanation for Fargas' stunted career, and that's no doubt part of it, but it may be simply that Fargas was a victim of his own talent: Never a leading man type, it was risky to cast him in a secondary role for fear that he'd steal the movie away from the hero.

Friday, May 25, 2007


The network TV season has officially ended, which mean NBC figures it's time to burn off the remaining episodes of their expensive bomb Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Dear God, this thing is worse than I remembered.

Where to start? First of all, top-billed stars Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet and Bradley Whitford were all absent from this episode, for reasons never explained. This meant the bulk of the show was carried by the charisma vacuum that is Timothy Busfield--Was this the best way to bring the show back from hiatus?

Scripted by series creator Aaron Sorkin, this episode seemed to exist only to promote the Sorkin Universe, as the show-within-the-show was guest hosted by Allison Janney, star of Sorkin's West Wing, which was referenced repeatedly. Sorkin would probably call this "Brechtian"; anyone else would call it undue self-adulation.

(And for the sake of verisimiltitude, it couldn't hurt to point out that Studio 60's SNL-like fictional program is repeatedly referred to as edgy, hip and popular. And the biggest name they can get as a guest host is Allison Janney?)

The show's usual problems were as apparent as ever--Sorkin clearly doesn't know anything about live TV production, and his attempts at comedy writing are absolutely, utterly painful to behold--but this episode managed to slip from irritating to deeply offensive.

At the end of the show, which has been a series of disasters (there's a backstory there, but frankly I don't feel like explaining), guest host Janney is hopping mad at the whole production team. Until, that is, Busfield reminds her how lucky she is to be working in show business, because "it sure beats digging a hole for a living."

In other words, show-biz people are just plain better than those stupid schlubs who actually work for a living. This must be the most arrogant, self-righteous, classist thing I've ever heard on TV. At that moment, every criticism ever uttered by right-wing gasbags denouncing the "liberal media elite" suddenly seemed...valid. Thank you, Aaron Sorkin, for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


The AP finds it newsworthy enough to report the dropping of a disorderly charge againt David Faustino in Florida, but a drug charge against him will stand. This is presented as a "news story" which appears under a "headline"--and in the course of the story Faustino is referred to as an "actor."

Hey, Clu Gullagher is an actor. David Faustino is a freak show. As I noted back when the AP took the time to inform us all of Faustino's divorce, this guy is essentially a nobody. Yeah, he was on Married With Children for ten years, but really, if I hadn't mentioned that, would you know who he is? We're not even talking celebrity on the Danny Bonaduce level here. If this guy gets divorced or arrested or is found drowned in a pool of his own vomit, who really gives a rat's ass?

Okay, I realize this is the second post in a row to reference a wire story on some minor celebrity. At least I'm not writing about Monica Goodling and Alberto Gonzales, or constructing elaborate Star Wars analogies. So, you know, there's that.

Maybe I should go to bed now...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Hey, here's a surprise: Tom Arnold is filing for divorce. No, seriously, I'm shocked. Not that Arnold is filing, but that this is only his third marriage, and it actually lasted five years. Somehow, I figured Tom was into his seventh or eighth by now, most of them lasting a month or so.

This is almost as surprising as learning the Democrats have dropped any sort of deadlines from withdrawal in their war spending bill, or that, after a winning streak of two whole games, the Yankees lost 7-3 against the much-hated Red Sox.

It's comforting, in a way, when the things you expect to turn out badly turn out even worse than expected.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


In honor of John Wayne's 100th birthday, it seems everything Wayne ever appeared in is hitting the shelves in upgraded editions--if you've ever felt the need to own a copy of Big Jim McCain, here's your chance--and to me, the best of the bunch is the new Special edition of 1969's True Grit.

This, of course, is the movie that won the Duke an Oscar, yet it's been consistently underrated by serious critics since its debut. Henry Hathaway's staid direction takes most of the blame, but to me, his straightforward approach to the sly, lightly self-mocking material (faithful to the fine Charles Portis novel) is what makes it work--a more stylized approach would have made the whole thing too precious. Plus, with a great cast (Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Strother Martin), beautiful photography by Lucien Ballard (the only cinematographer to have worked with Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick and The Three Stooges!) and a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein, this is classic Hollywood filmmaking at its best.

Speaking of classic filmmaking, Clint Eastwood's magnificent Letters From Iwo Jima is out today, either on its own or as part of a multi-disc set with its companion piece, Flags Of Our Fathers. Either way, you'll get not only an emotionally devastating look at the human cost of war, but a great example of a master director showing how it's done.

Sidney Lumet can't quite be called a master; his career is full of indefensible crap, from the stupefying The Wiz to the hilariously misconceived A Stranger Among Us (or, as my mom used to call it, Undercover Jew), from the unbearably precious Garbo Talks to the amazingly unnecessary remake of John Cassavetes' Gloria.

On the other hand, there's Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. More to the point, there's 1981's Prince Of The City, probably his best work, which finally arrives on DVD today. Treat Williams is great as a cop who slowly becomes aware of how pervasive is the corruption surrounding him, and who discovers his efforts to do right slowly strip him of everything he knows and loves. Lumet's direction is naturalistic, the script is full of moral complexities and the acting is superb down to the bit parts. If not a truly great film, it's close enough.

Also out today: the gritty character study Straight Time with a fine Dustin Hoffman performance; the essential documentary The Murder Of Fred Hampton; and a whole bunch of Howard hawks pictures including the original Scarface, the hilarious Gary Cooper-Barbara Stanwyck vehicle Ball Of Fire and a new upgrade of Rio Bravo, which auteurist critics consider a masterpiece--but if I want a lighthearted comedy western vehicle for a dumpy John Wayne, I'll stick with True Grit.

Monday, May 21, 2007


There's a McDonald's in the hospital where I work, and I must pass the thing a hundred times a day, so I see the posters cross-promoting the new Shrek movie a lot. And every time I do, I'm struck by how utterly ugly the character designs are.

Yeah, I realize shrek himself is an ogre, and supposed to be ugly, but all the characters look bad, especially the humans, with rubbery, disjointed limbs and creepy dead eyes. With the massive production team needed to produce this movie, wasn't there anybody on staff with a working knowledge of anatomy? Why were characters designed by people with no appreciation for aesthetics?

Of course, Shrek The Third is already claiming the largest opening ever for an animated film, as if a movie's worth is somehow determined by how much money it makes. (And that's why Happy Gilmore is a better movie than The Magnificent Ambersons.) All this proves is that people love fart jokes. Nobody's going to this because of its visuals.

Which is understandable--after all, your average Abbott and Costello movie looked cheap, but it would still make you laugh. But wouldn't it be nice if the people behind the Shrek series (or most other non-Pixar CGI efforts) actually tried anyway? If they gave as much thought to the visuals as they gave to the gags? Oh, I know every digital leaf in every digital tree is painstakingly rendered, but this is the work of techies, not artists. If the goal is merely to simulate reality, why not shoot reality?

Animation should open up a variety of possibilities, to stylize reality, to bend it to a filmmaker's will, to express what can't be otherwise shown. But Shrek, like Madagascar, like Open Season, like even many of Pixar's efforts (particularly the mostly dreadful Cars), is depressingly literal--grass looks like grass, wood looks like wood, skin looks like...well, they haven't quite perfected that one yet.

For crimes against art, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson should be shot for their announcement last week that they intend to make movie's based on Herge's comic strip character Tintin. Herge's work is justly celebrated for its clean, elegant line drawings, so naturally Spielberg and Jackson think the best way to interpret this is through the use of motion capture. Herge's work is deliberately stylized, deliberately flat, but the press release these two esteemed filmmakers issued stressed their determination to make the characters "real", to allow us to see every pore of their skin. That this is a blatant violation of everything Herge's work stands for seems simply to have not occurred to them.

It almost sounds like a joke, but they're serious. And like the fart gags in Shrek, it's not funny at all.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Still they tear through the cities and countryside of Iraq, 4000 members of the U.S. military, 2000 from the Iraqi forces, on a righteous crusade straight out of a seventies Charles Bronson picture: This time it's personal!

They will turn the country upside down, will do whatever it takes to find three comrades who came up missing. Are they alive or dead? Have they been captured? Have they gone AWOL? No one knows. But by Christ, we're going to find them.

I don't mean to suggest that the lives of these three soldiers are meaningless, but if you have a conscience and a soul, you can't help wondering why their lives are so much more important than the lives of those around them, why a military operation that can't be bothered counting the number of Iraqi dead places such a high priority on these three.

How many Iraqi citizens will have their lives disrupted or destroyed by this awesome display of overkill? How many more will turn against the U.S. occupation? The Bushinistas couldn't devise a more effective recruiting tool for the insurgency if they tried.

And still the losses will mount, and the dead will be mourned, and still it will go on.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


As I've said before, it's tough to be a Yankees fan in the midwest even under the best of circumstances. You get branded as some sort of effete east coast snob, or an idiot, or a traitor (This is Iowa, son...You have to be a Cubs fan. Or the Cardinals. Okay, maybe the Reds. But not the Royals, because who the hell would be dumb enough to care about the Royals?), or, most devastatingly, a right-winger. (George Steinbrenner is, of course, a major contributor to the Republicans.)

This, I stress, under the best of circumstances, when the Yankees are cruising to an easy spot in the World Series, as if by Divine Right--or, at least, are playing with some level of competence. This season, I know the pain felt by Indians fans.

It started with the usual bright promise, with Andy Pettitte's awsome pitching and A-Rod finally earning that outrageous salary with an amazing run of homers. True, Derek Jeter seemed to make a lot of unforgivable errors, but he'd correct that, right? And the team would come together and everything would be as God mandated.

Then Pettitte hit a slump, then Rodriguez, at which point it became obvious: The team lacked anybody to take over their jobs. Pettitte aside, their pitching roster is frankly embarrassing, and they've been losing what should have been easy wins. Their losses to the much-reviled Red Sox infuriated loyal fans, and their recent string of losses on the road has been pathetic.

Now they're in New York, and one game down to the Mets. The Mets, for God's sake! The Yankees are on the verge of being the number two team in New York! How can such a thing happen?

My first instinct is to blame Giuliani. No real reason, but everything I hate about New York these days can mostly be traced to his tenure, and as mayor, he was a notorious Yankees suck-up. Last week's New York Times seemed to pin at least partial blame on turmoil in upper management, as Steinbrenner finally ceded power to his two previously disinterested sons. The Times found this scenario worthy of an overwrought comparison to The Godfather, but missed out on the most obvious point: If the Yankees are the Corleones, the guy in charge, improbably, seems to be Fredo.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Quick update on my ever-expanding menagerie:

After initially introducing himself to the other two cats by incessant growling and hissing, Midnight has suddenly become very deferential to Monika. This happened literally overnight; evidently I missed something as I slept. Most likely Monika's patented James Coburn Zen Cool came into play.

(A clarifying note about the whole James Coburn thing: The Zen Cool specifically alludes to Coburn's deeply held personal beliefs, which he expressed in interviews, in a script he wrote with his good friend Bruce Lee, and most memorably, in a guest appearance on The Muppet Show. In Monika's case, we're referencing Coburn's role as the knife guy in The Magnificent Seven--leave him alone and you're okay, but if you push it, retribution will be swift and deserved. And this is as good a time as any to point out that even though The Magnificent Seven features Steve McQueen, James Coburn out-cools him without even trying.)

So whatever Monika did to Midnight, I'm sure it was fair--like Coburn, she'd never take it too far. And Midnight isn't off cowering in a corner, afraid to come out. He's just...respectful of his elder.

The other thing about Midnight is, he's taken to playing with some of Delmar's cat toys. Specifically these cloth, bean-baggy things, which he bats over to me, and I toss back to him, and he bats them back to me. He's not just playing, he's playing with me--clearly I've been accepted as a buddy.

This is the sort of thing the late, much-beloved Scotchie used to do, and there was a time when I would have turned into a weepy basket case, missing Scotchie and a life I used to know. Things have changed, though--now, I just play with Midnight and am happy he's here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


My new job finds me working in a hospital. I'm a runner, which means I do a little bit of everything, shlepping furniture in and out of rooms, doing bed counts, hauling stuff hither and yon. I've only worked there two days, and I've already been all over the place, on every floor, in every room. Even that room.

Two years ago, Mom embarked on her grand tour of Des Moines hospitals. She spent time in all but one, including Mercy, where I now work. So I've done set-ups in the room in which she stayed, one of the rooms in which they were suposed to figure out what was wrong, to cure her and send her home.

She didn't die during her stay at Mercy--in fact she had many good months ahead of her, but it was the beginning of the end. The tiny, cramped room, the spacious, sun-flooded hallways, the elevators functioning with quiet, almost ruthless efficiency--these are all reminders of a time I'd prefer to forget. And I see them every day.

So I shake it off, and try to ignore it. Mostly it's easy; I have plenty to do and very little time for sentimental reflection. Still, it can bust out anytime, when passing a waiting room full of silent, glassy-eyed family members, or when catching a glimpse of a doctor looming over a patient's bed like a white-coated angel of death, speaking quietly, while the patient's face crumples into numbness.

These are the times I miss Mom, but my sadness comingles with theirs, a universal loss, a sense of humanity enriching us all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Oh, there are DVDs you should be buying today. Pan's Labyrinth is out, last year's finest film, one of the greatest dark fantasies ever, though I suspect its spell will be diminished, if not broken, on TV screens. Tim Buckley:My Fleeting House showcases rare clips of the great singer/songwriter in al his heartbreaking glory. Buckley's voice could make stone weep, and since the full story of his brief life is told here--well,have plenty of tissues handy.

The big news is, or should be, the release of Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Cartoons, but this is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is, it's the first compilation DVD dedicated solely to the work of Tex Avery, one of the greatest directors in cartoon history, an authentic genius who almost single-handedly created the Looney Tunes house style, and influenced modern comedy in more ways than most people will ever know.

His gretest work was done at MGM. There he created the deadpan basset hound Droopy, the only successful running character he created during his time at the studio, but most of his best work came in his devastating one-shots.

Unfortunately, they're not included in this set. As the title of this collection suggests, this set is all Droopy, all the time. While Avery did some of his best work with this character--Dumb-Hounded, for instance, or Drag-a-long Droopy--as the years wore along, the shorts became increasingly formulaic, and while the gags in entries like The Chump Champ may be impeccably timed, they're not funny in the least.

Also, about a quarter of the cartoons here aren't even directed by Avery--they're Cinemascope efforts from Avery's ace animator Michael Lah, who took over once the great man left the studio. (There's also one from the somewhat underrated Dick Lundy, a fine animator whose work as a director deserves more attention.)

What is needed is a set devoted to ALL of Avery's work at MGM. Cartoon junkies like me will want the Droopy collection, of course, but will grumble about how great it should have been. Because, you know, that's what animation geeks do.

Monday, May 14, 2007


New job starts today, and I have that vaguely shaky feeling I remember as a kid when school started again after summer vacation. Things aren't helped by the fact that I've been offered only the vaguest job description, and been given no idea of where to report, how to dress or even who to report to. But hey, if someone wants to pay me for wandering around aimlessly, I guess i'm good with that.

Here at this site, some changes might be in store. This job starts an hour earlier than my previous gigs, and since I usually tap this stuff out before heading to the daily annoyance that is work, and since I already get up insanely early and don't want to get up even earlier just to write stuff few people read anyway, I suspect postings here will become a bit less frequent. Not that it's going to dry up and blow away, but my semi-daily postings are likely a thing of the past.

For both of you reading this, I'm sure you're devastated.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


That bastion of the left, that always-liberal beacon, that Commie rag The Washington Post gives editorial space to one of Our Beloved President's most loyal eunuchs, Paul Bremer, to justify his pathetic performance as The Decider's point man in Iraq.

I read the damn thing once, and to attempt to dismantle it would require me to study it closer, and frankly, until I get my blood pressure meds back in line, I'd better not. You can read it here if you dare.

Bremer's points seem to be 1) he was perfectly justified in patronizing the Baathists, 2) of course he had to dismantle the Iraqi army, and 3) if you haven't been to Iraq, you have no business criticizing him.

As the whiny tone of the piece makes clear, he takes the criticism personally. Why are they saying all these terrible things about him, Poor Widdle Paul? Don't they know they're hurting his delicate feelings?

There seems to be no realization on Bremer's part that he was a tool, a cog in an infernal machine, a bit player used to move the scenario forward. While he admits to be stymied by the difficulties the U.S. is facing in Iraq--"difficulties" apparently being the Bushinista's euphemism for "total, abject failure"--for the most part he spins the same old bullshit like it's 2002 all over again, and doesn't seem to realize nobody's buying it anymore. (He even compares Saddam to Hitler at one point. Say, Paul, that's original.)

And never for a second does it occur to Paul that the "democratically elected government" he boasts of is as hated and feared by many Iraqis as Saddam's gestapo, or that the American occupation was the very thing allowing al-Qaeda to gain a foothold, or that the outrages of Abu Ghraib and Hadditha have in any way eroded whatever credibility the U.S. had in the region.

No, none of that troubles Paul Bremer. He's too busy throwing a hissy fit over how that awful George Tenent called him names. And the rest of us are faced with the dreadful realization that the corridors of power are filled with kids playing in sandboxes.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Things happen, certainly: Tony Blair calls it quits, Dick Cheney threatens Iran from the safety of an aircraft carrier, more and more Republicans realize how toxic Bush's Iraq policy really is, Alberto Gonzales continues twisting in the wind.

There's things of less immediate import, too. A current retrospective in New York City dedicated to the films of Lee Marvin reminds me how much I've been wanting to write something about Marvin and the great tough guy actors of the fifties and sixties, like James Coburn and Sterling Hayden, some of the coolest guys who ever stepped in front of a camera.

But I don't feel like writing about any of that right now. I don't feel like writing, period. Not sure what's going on here, I feel as though I'm in a period of transition, but that's not the case, really. True, I'm between jobs right now, but I have something lined up, there's no need to be anxious. Two or three years ago, I would have been crazy anxious, but not now. Instead, I just feel...unmoored.

Might have something to do with Mother's Day, a horrible day if you have no mother, or my birthday following a couple days later. Or maybe it's nothing, just an emotional bug, a feeling that will pass in a day or two.

In any event, I can't seem to define how I'm feeling at the moment, and it's hard to write coherently from any perspective when that perspective keeps shifting. Hopefully, things will straighten out.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


So I've acquired yet another cat.

Tabbatha had to fob her cat Midnight off on others when she moved into her current residence, but Midnight was a bad fit with his new foster family, and since no one else would take him, and no one wanted him going to the Animal Rescue League, he wound up here. In a tiny apartment. Where two cats already live.

Delmar, the pscychokitty his own bad self, immediately went apeshit, growling and hissing and spinning in circles in much the same way Lynda Carter used to on the old Wonder Woman show.

This display sent Midnight off into a growling frenzy of his own. Not that these two are mixing it up, mind you--they're pointlessly growling from seperate corners. Midnight will hop up on my lap, purring, affectionate, look over, see Del and suddenly start growling, then turn around and slap me in the face.

Fortunately, he's declawed, so his blow just lands with an ineffectual fwap, so it's more comical than anything else. Still, another cat whose emotions turn on a dime--Great!

Monika, meanwhile, really doesn't care--she spent years as Mom's cat, and is used to new creatures arriving in her life. As long as it's understood that she is the prettiest one and receives the attention due her status, Monika is happy.

Presumably they'll all eventually learn to tolerate, if not actually love, each other, as families and nations do. If families and nations were fur-coated and adorable, that is.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


If you wait around long enough, apparently every last bit of cathode ray effluvia will eventually make its way to DVD, as evidenced by today's release of Jason Of Star Command: The Complete Series.

Yeah, I used to watch this thing. It originally aired in 1978 as a fifteen minute segment of the Tarzan And The Super Seven program, a grab bag of typically craptastic animated segments from the deservedly-reviled Filmation studio. (The highlight among the other segments was something called Manta And Moray, two superheros with the powers of--wait for it--a manta and a moray. Or some damn thing--I could never stand watching it for more than a minute or so.)

Anyway, Jason stood out among this crap because a) it was live action, and b) it was a total Star Wars rip. Our hero wore a Han Solo-styled white shirt and black vest, and ongoing villain Dragos wore a low-rent discofied Darth Vader ensemble. Plus, you know, there were spaceships and lasers and whatnot.

As these things go, it wasn't bad, and a better Star Wars knockoff than the same year's Batlestar Galactica (though I would never have admitted that at the time, because I was totally all about Galactica...Should I even admit any of this?), and it was much enlivened by the presence of Sid Haig as Dragos.

In fact, my mom made a point of watching simply because of Haig. He was a fairly busy character actor of the day, though he was (and is) best known for his work in the films of Jack Hill--women-in-prison epics like The Big Doll House, blaxploitation favorites like Coffy, and the unforgettable psychological spook show Spider Baby. Presumably Mom didn't know about any of that, but many years later, when Haig starred in Rob Zombie's House Of 1ooo Corpses, she thought it was the greatest thing in the world. So thank you, Jason Of Star Command, for letting me bond with Mom over a shared enthusiasm for Sid Haig.

Unfortunately, for its second season, the show expanded to a half hour and dropped the serialized format that had made it so involving in the first place, and it felt like a slightly more action-oriented version of Filmation's Space Academy series from a couple of years earlier, and even though Sid was still around, Mom and I both lost interest. (Although, in fairness, it should be noted the producers continued to show their appreciation for exploitation movie vets by introducing Tamara Dobson, of Cleopatra Jones fame, into the cast.)

By no rational standards could I tell anyone to run out and buy this collection, but for anyone with fond memories of seventies junk culture, it could be a lot of fun.

Monday, May 07, 2007


At least twenty people killed by bomb blasts in Iraq today.

Eight U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday.

I don't really have much to say about that, but then again, neither does our president.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


A new Pentagon study funds that only forty percent of marines and fifty-five percent of soldiers stationed in Iraq would report instances of abuse to higher-ups.

Let's invert those numbers, shall we? Sixty percent of marines and forty-five percent of soldiers would shrug and look the other way if they saw their buddies beating the shit out of an unarmed Iraqi. Let's throw in another number from the study, which says that in the combined number of marines and soldiers who took part in the survey, fully ten percent of them had personally abused Iraqi civilians, either through physical violence or deliberate destruction of property.

Assuming we did not send a Dirty Dozen-style assemblage of sociopaths over to Iraq, the most likely reason for these troubling numbers comes elsewhere in the same report: Stress and anxiety levels among troops are spiking in crazy numbers as they're forced to deal with deployments lengthened bit by bit, or a second or third tour of duty they had been promised wouldn't come, at least not so soon.

The U.S. government and military have shown depraved indifference, both to the troops overcome with demons from the dark side and the Iraqi civilians who get in their way. (Reports have emerged showing a deliberate attempt to cover-up the brazen murders of women and children in Haditha, for instance.) If they can allow their subconscious to run wild over there, what can we expect when they finally return home?

Nobody wants to talk about that; nobody wants to acknowledge these men and women are living in a state of mind that permits everything, where recriminations are unlikely, where fear and paranoia are constant. They're being pushed harder and harder every day, dealing with pressures poor Cho Seung-Hui couldn't even imagine.

And then--someday, maybe--we'll expect them to come home and deal with spouses and childrens and co-workers and bosses and neighbors and all the pressure and tedium of routine existence, and expect them to somehow fit in. But they've seen things--and in many cases, done horrors--the rest of us can't even imagine. And maybe they'll deal with it.

But if they don't, then what? When a dog has been bred to kill, the dog may be put down when it attacks, but it's the owner who gets sued. If the Bushinistas have created a race of ticking time bombs as an accidental by-product of their own arrogance, who gets the blame when the shit hits the fan?

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Saw Spider-man 3 last night, and much of what I predicted about it turned out to be true: It's basically an overstuffed thrill machine with a few lovely grace notes. Those fleeting bits are what break your heart about this enterprise, because they make you realize not only is this not the movie you want to watch, it's likely not the movie Sam Raimi would like to make.

Mostly it follows the standard blockbuster playbook, with some seriously lazy plotting and a typical reliance on CGI and hyperkinetic editing. In fairness, the CGI isn't convincing, exactly, but at least it's less cartoonish in appearance than the first two films. And despite the frantic cutting in the action scenes, Raimi at least knows how to stage the action--you can always tell what's going on.

Much time seems to be spent on character development, but the writing strands the poor actors with nothing to do, and Tobey Maguire gives the worst performance of his career. Thomas Haden Church brings some real poignance to his part as the main villain (Yes, main villain--this movie has way too many evildoers.), but he's not given enough screen time--it's as if they were afraid he'd hijack the movie and be more interesting than the hero. Other good actors, like Dylan Baker, James Cromwell and Teresa Russell, appear for a minute or two at most. It's good to see them, but why are they even there?

(Baker's part is particularly thankless--he's a science professor who appears only to explain the nature of the movie's dumbest plot device, an alien goo that brings out Spider-man/Peter Parker's "dark side". I was reminded of Glynn Turman's role in Gremlins, as a science teacher who appears to explain the nature of the title critters. Director Joe Dante hilariously sent up a ridiculous movie convention in Gremlins; Spider-man 3 plays this hoary trope straight.)

Those grace notes I mentioned earlier? Two brief, perfectly realized comedic scenes. One occurs in the offices of New York's slimiest newpaper, The Daily Bugle, and is sharply written and staged, and shows off brief, perfect turns by Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi and the peerless J.K. Simmons. The other is set in a high-toned French restaurant and showcases Raimi's old Evil Dead compadre Bruce campbell as a maitre'd with an outrageously phony accent. This scene, in which Peter Parker attempts (and fails) to propose to his long-suffering girlfriend, is initially played for laughs, and spirals into melodrama--and Raimi's touch is light as air, the farcical elements enhancing the poignant ones, making it richer, more fully realized than anything else in the film.

These scenes are reminders that Raimi is a sometime cohort of Joel and Ethan Coen, and one suspects he wishes he had a career somewhat like theirs. Somehow he became a creator of blockbusters, not the oddball comedies he would be ideally suited for. His next project will be telling--does he keep going for the easy green, or does he reclaim possession of his soul?

Friday, May 04, 2007


Perhaps you've heard Spider-man 3 opens today.

Of course you know this; Sony's marketers have made sure that there's not a man, woman, child, dog, cat, buffalo or single-celled organism unaware of this. The marketing budget for this little item is somewhere in the range of 150 million dollars. Combine that with a production budget estimated by some sources to be as high as 350 million, and you have half a billion dollars being spent on one movie.

Half a billion.

I used to read the comic books. When I heard this latest installment would finally throw Gwen Stacy into the mix, I had a total geek moment. When I heard the villain would be the Sandman, I thought, cool.

I'm a huge fan of director Sam Raimi as well. Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say i'm a huge fan of Raimi's Evil Dead movies, since much of what he's done since has been somewhat disappointing. (Not only did he direct a Costner crapfest, he made one of the worst--For The Love Of the Game.) While I enjoyed Raimi's handling of the first two movies in the Spider-man franchise, he's become more of a technician than an artist, instructing actors to move from Point A to Point B, because that's where the CGI will take over.

And I know Hollywood spends insane sums of money to keep us entertained. That's their job.

But half a billion dollars would go along way towards insuring every child in this nation. It could provide armour for troops in Iraq. It could be used to house the homeless or feed the starving. For that matter, Sam Raimi once could have made twenty or thirty Evil Dead movies with that kind of money.

Movie-making costs are escalating in insane ways. There is gossip claiming Tom Hanks might receive 50 million dollars to star in a sequel to The DaVinci Code. Does he need the money? Does anyone think that would be a good movie?

No, and that's the problem. If you spend a fortune and make a good movie, that's one thing. But nobody in Hollywood seems to understand how to do that anymore, pissing billions of dollars away on the likes of Poseidon or Superman Returns or The Holiday, movies that fail to fulfill even the most modest demands of entertainment...but nobody seems to learn.

I have no doubt Spider-man 3 will make a fortune, and on its own terms, it might be a good movie. But i doubt that anyone who sees it will actually love it. Movies used to be a shared experience, a dream we all experienced. Now we only share inertia.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I'll always be grateful to the wonderful comic actor Tom Poston, who has died at the age of 85.

His occasional appearances as Cliff Murdock, "The Peeper", Bob's goofy old pal from his college days, were a highlight of the old Bob Newhart Show.

When I read of Poston's death, I remembered my family gathered around the TV on Saturday nights, laughing together. My father wasn't such a fan of Newhart or his show, but he loved Poston, and if he was on, Dad laughed loudest of all.

So even just now, when I read Poston's obit, I heard my dad's laugh, and it made me happy, and for that, I am grateful.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


It's Tuesday, so ordinarily I'd recommend some new DVDs, but instead I've got to talk about one of my hereos, Warren Zevon.

Today sees the release of the book I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life And Times of Warren Zevon, an oral history of the singer/songwriter compiled by his ex-wife, Crystal. Zevon charged her with this project shortly before he died of lung cancer in 2003. He instructed his friends to tell her everything, to censor nothing. Certainly the book is full of shocking tales of drunken rampages and gun-wielding assaults, paranoiac self-loathing and casual abuse of those he loved most.

But it's also the story of an artist, one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived, and how his demons and his art came from the same place. There is absolutely no moral excuse for many of the things Zevon did in his life--and yet for the man who wrote Desperados Under the Eaves ("Don't the sun look angry through the trees? Don't the trees look like crucified thieves?") or Accidentally Like A Martyr ("The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder") or The French Inhaler or Poor, Poor Pitiful Me or Mohammed's Radio or Finishing Touches ("You can screw everybody I've ever known/But I still won't talk to you on the phone") or Keep Me In Your Heart, the achingly beautiful song he wrote about his own impending death ("Hold me in your toughts, take me to your dreams/Touch me as I fall into view"), for this man, anything is excused.

When he learned he was dying, he refused any kind of treatment, and instead started work on one final album--and started drinking again, after seventeen years of sobriety. Zevon hated turning to this particular medicine, and his friends were angry but not surprised--they knew the monster and the artist were as one.

I was driving to work very early on September 7th, 2003 when I heard on the radio of Zevon's death. Part of me wanted to turn around, go somewhere, anywhere, to get away from such mundane matters as jobs and paychecks, to get drunk or write poetry or just live life on my own terms.

Instead, I pulled the car over, cried for several minutes, then went on to work. Unlike Warren, I just didn't know how to say, "Fuck it."