scorn

O Hairy Day

Everyone and her bouncing baby is coming out with funny, lyrical, beautiful and otherwise excellent recaps of our weekend at the Blogher09 Conference in Chicago. I too will be releasing one of those stink bombs fragrant flowers of prose either today or tomorrow, but first let me say this:

The worst place to be in the Chicago O'Hare Airport is wherever you're standing.

I mean it. Arrivals, departures, check-in, security, the bend in the hallway that passes for a Quizno's, wherever. That place was built with a ferocious but inhuman disregard for the convenience and enjoyment of people, as if the Airport Authority had outsourced the design to a team of ravenous wolves and gas giant aliens. You could flood the departure concourse and I'd at least eke some distraction out of drowning.

Coincidentally, the worst airline to fly in the US, as far as I can tell, is United. Combine an international United Flight with the slaughterhouse chic of O'Hare, and you have a monstrous shitball of a time, a dark globe of pure experiential feces whose circumference is nowhere and whose centre is right up against your nose. I now know United's real slogan: You'll Fly With Us Because That's Where You Need to Go, Sucker.

Thanks for the check-in machine that shut down in mid-process. Thanks for charging me for every piece of our checked baggage. Thanks for not telling me beforehand that you're too cheap to haul our bags. Thanks for the one poor woman trying to answer a million questions at once as each machine winked in and out of service at random. Thanks for the lack of proper instructions. Thanks for the expressions on the faces of staff who know that they're next in line to be replaced by a chunk of crap technology. Thanks for having departure times that are more like best guesses. Thanks for the confused lines, the ancient plane with seats covered in almost brittle vinyl, the three-hour flight with no food. Which reminds me, the flight was delayed because the galley was being stocked. Stocked with what? Packets of non-dairy creamer? That stuff sucked. Thanks.

unborn for Obama (undead for McCain?)

I don't usually talk about politics on this site, but this snippet from Salon.com caught my eye. In a piece about the Newsweek article "Secrets of 2008 campaign" and the process that resulted in McCain's pick o' Palin as a running mate, Kate Harding writes:

"Secrets" confirms what we already knew: That McCain himself wanted Joe Lieberman to be his running mate, and if not Lieberman, then Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Problem was, aides advised that "a pro-choice pick would deeply antagonize the religious right, maybe even provoke a floor fight at the convention."


I think we can agree that McCain lost for several reasons. He was unprepared to handle the economic crisis, he tilted his campaign towards an increasingly select base of abysmally stupid people, and in any case, John McCain was a man on the wrong side of history. But the choice of Palin as a running mate damaged his campaign to such an extent that there was no way of recovering from that one. Every time undecided voters considered McCain, that grinning, winking, pan-smacked face rose up in their minds. Palin embodied a little too completely the face of American ignorance: blandly pretty, unjustifiably confident, insulated from and wholly unsuited to the real world. She turned a vote for McCain into a vote for the worst tendencies in American culture, and too many Americans were heartily sick of her kind of attitude.

Anyway, if the above snippet is true, the chief criterion for Palin's selection was her position on abortion. Could it be that this was the first American election that fetuses had a hand in deciding? Maybe we should be upgrading their status.

Mes for Palin

I’m not an American. But if I were, I’d support Sarah Palin. In fact, I’m starting up an organization called Mes for Palin. Why? Because she’s just like me. She’s a hockey mom. I’m a hockey mom, sometimes. She shot a moose. I shot a tall guy. She actually hunts moose in nature. I hunt tall guys on my private human game reserve. She shoots wolves from a helicopter. I pee standing up. She runs Alaska. I run my refrigerator (frost-free, biznatches!). She’s protected by the Lord from witchcraft. I keep a wrench on me in case Stevie Nicks shows up.

Are you catching the similarities yet? She sees Russia. I see England, France and Sasha Grey’s underpants. She gets tongue-tied in front of Katie Couric. I too feel the white-hot heat of Couric’s raw sexuality, even through the television screen. She loves America. I love a small subset of paranoid ultra-right conservatives who lost their dignity and their marbles years ago. She has close ties to a secessionist party. I moved out my parent’s house last week so I can understand the need for independence, so STOP READING THIS MOM. She is kept from speaking to the press. I am kept from entering the YWCA again. She probably has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Everyone probably loves me too. If I were me, I’d be just like me too, and I’d be part of Mes for Palin. Because she’s me.

god's will for the US election revealed

Normally Thanksgiving (Canadian version) is a time to spend with family, friends and a dead bird, but I've got the inside track on getting the most out of my holidays: sit around in my underwear and watch YouTube. This is my favourite so far, in which The Modest Agnostic outlines The Lord's divine plan for the upcoming (non-Canadian) election and how you can help. Not safe for work, unless you have headphones:

(this entry's just) 312 words long

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not wanted

Nobody seems willing to admit that the movie Wanted is a complete piece of shit, a stupid, headache-inducing, senseless piece of shit. For two seconds of Angelina Jolie's lithe back and backside, it is not worth sitting through the other 88 minutes of adolescent male entitlement wankfest.

Before I saw the movie, I read the Mark Millar comic on which the film is really, really loosely based. The comic is fantastic. Its premise? That we live in a degraded world run by a cabal of supervillains who have literally reshaped the universe to make sure that we all lead pathetic pointless lives. The main character is plucked out of cubicle hell to take his place in the ranks of the entitled and amoral. Millar shows that comics aren't about goodness and nobility; those are veneers designed to make the fantasies of license and power acceptable.

The movie version promptly misunderstands the entire point of the original by taking the premise and overlaying it with a veneer of acceptability. The villains are instead a group of noble assassins who take their marching orders from a loom. That's right, a loom. This is some weak soup that the filmmakers are sipping on. Anyway, because there's a loom that tells people what to do, it's okay to kill random folks. I won't give away any twists, which include corruption and the usual Oedipal folderol about father-and-son relationships, without which no Hollywood movie could possibly get made. And there are moments of humour that produce a chuckle or two.

But all of these criticisms pale next to the fact that Angelina Jolie has gone on a backpacking trip into the uncanny valley. Through whatever combination of exercise, surgery and aging, she no longer looks quite human. At first I assumed that she was cultivating a sphinxlike immobility for the movie, but after a while it just started to creep me out. I get the feeling that Brad Pitt has to put her carefully in a carrying case every night.

I should have shaken the dust from my feet at the theatre door, but when I walked out of Wanted, I didn't dislike the film so much as feel a numbed apathy – I thought, “It was what it was”. The next night I had a nightmare, a death-driven adventure in a lawless wasteland. I woke up sweating, nauseated, as if I'd suffered a heart attack in my sleep. I realized that Wanted had soaked into my dreams, and I woke, knowing it for what it was (see opening paragraph).

absolute #1 worst line of The Happening, even allowing for the fact that some of the dialogue is spoken by children, which this line is not

[spoilers below]

"Whatever it is,* it's not happening** ninety miles from here".***

*It's plants. Plants, because they're not our friends, are emitting a neurotoxin that causes people to babble mindlessly, freeze, then commit mass suicide. The plant angle is obvious within the first thirty minutes, but the movie treats it like a tasty but fattening tub of ice cream, to be doled one stingy spoonful at a time, until your face is covered in Haagen Dasz and your stomach aches, and then you're supposed to go, "Hey! This is ice cream! Thanks for the sweet suspense, M. Night!"

Of course, it's not just enough to have people die. The victims have to off themselves in the most grotesque and cinematic style possible. Plants don't just want to stage our extinction. They have production values. Are plants auditioning for Hollywood? They can't do any worse at filmmaking than us humans.

On the other hand, this could be nature's revenge on us for flash mobs.

**For reasons that likely have to do with M. Night Shyamalan's attempt to inject meaning into a B-movie, the vaporously vague term "happening" is used again and again with all the intensity of a dripping tap: "What's happening?" "There appears to be an event happening" "Can this really be happening?" "The event must have stopped happening already". This pretty much kills whatever tension that Shyamalan is trying to generate with his comically stunned and inadequate characters. Imagine Titanic if people just stood around on deck and said "There appears to be a submersion taking place somewhere" or "By the time the submersion reaches this area, drowning will have occurred to persons who are us, or other persons currently occupying this area, either at present or in the near future".

The first 'happening' occurs in New York City, then in increasingly smaller centres around the Northeast United States. As the puny humans flee, they find that no place is safe. A group of stranded travelers crowd into a diner and watch a television reveal plot points the scope and range of the attacks with a helpful graphic. Someone says something like "We're right in the middle of it". Then, after a pregnant pause, an anonymous guy peels off the #1 absolute worst line of the whole movie.

***I'm not sure if that's the line verbatim. I found a copy of the script online and checked it out, but it was an early (and much, much better) draft, and the diner scene has changed. So I can't be certain that what I'm giving you here is completely accurate. But there is no fucking way I am sitting through that crippled zombie of a film again.

Some Nice Film Chit-Chat To Pass The Time

Remember that post where I said I’d be creative? I’ll do that too, but what say we make fun of stupid movies as well? I mean, can’t we do both?

Lars and the Real Girl – To sum up: pudgy mustachioed loser, who appears to be a high-functioning autistic, orders a riotously expensive sex doll and pretends that she’s a real live human being. Everyone in small town plays along and gets drawn in to Lars’ bizarre psychodrama. It’s oh so cute. Then he starts fighting with her and it’s still meant to be cute. Hot damn is it ever not cute.

Wait – it’s supposed to be a psychological exploration of a damaged man and his outré strategy for avoiding life, love and all that good stuff. Hot damn is it ever also not that.

If LatRG took place in something resembling the real world, the movie would play out like this:

LARS: This is my girlfriend Bianca.

EVERYONE: She’s a creepy sex toy.

LARS: No she isn’t.

EVERYONE: (tackles Lars and sends him to a mental hospital, where he spends the rest of his days doing the Halidol shuffle up and down the halls.)

EVERYONE: (Burns sex doll as a witch.)

The other thing that would happen in the real world is that creepy folk like Lars would hole up with the sex doll in his garage and emerge once a fortnight for groceries and baby wipes. Not Lars, though; he claims that his toy is ‘religious’ and puts her up a room in his brother’s house. That’s how far you can take your commitment to the imaginary, I guess – sexual contact is the threshold for acceptability. As false as that felt, I had some pity for the filmmakers, who realized that viewers’ sympathy for Lars would evaporate quickly if we were forced to picture an overweight, greasy haired Ryan Gosling grappling with 150 pounds of articulated silicon.

10,000 B.C. – Twelve thousand years from now, humanity will return to the poisoned husk of planet Earth and start sifting through the remains. Maybe our descendants won’t even realize at first that they’re launching an archaeological expedition on their ancestral homeworld, but as they assemble the ancient artifacts, understanding will gradually dawn on them that this toxic ball of junk is the Terra of myth.

As they examine historical records, it will become clear that they have descended from a race of primitive and violent freaks who bore no more sense of their limits than a colony of e. coli in agar understands the boundaries of the Petri dish. They will shake their heads (metaphorically of course – future humans are consciousness-carrying electromagnetic waves latticing the universe) and reflect on their primitive origins.

Then, one of their remote robots will uncover a landfill composed of nothing but DVDs of 10,000 B.C. The humans will watch the movie, have a conference lasting several picoseconds, and extinguish themselves en masse in expiation for their sins.

flight of the manatee

Patrick Smith of "Ask A Pilot" has nothing nice to say about the Airbus A-380:

As it prepares to enter scheduled service, the Airbus A380 has been busy with so-called proving runs and public relations junkets, flying around in the colors of Singapore Airlines and Emirates, its first two operators. There are hundreds of new photos posted over at Airliners.net, all of them confirming what we already knew: that the plane is grotesquely ugly. There are no flattering views of an A380. It is without question the most hideous airliner ever conceived.

So I looked around and Ah, Sweet Time-Traveling Jesus, he's right.

Look at that sad-ass lumbering beast. It's like a crying manatee coming at you.

photo by Sergy on Airliners.net

Or try this one out. I'd never seen a plane that looked like it was going to vomit before, until I found this photo.

photo by Ian Heald on Airliner.net

Did they get a blue whale drunk, paint it up and stick on some wings? People: if you die on this plane, you will die in the ugliest, most ungainly kerosene-spewing hulk that ever dropped from the sky.

fish derby trio

Hey out there. Have you ever dreamed of a career in the promising field of journalism? Are you halted in your tracks by a grade four education, a stake through your skull and a recurring case of Bell's palsey? It turns out that may not be the stumbling block you imagined! I received this in my inbox from a company that sells ad space in newspapers (redacted a bit for anonymity):

Got an event comming [sic] up ?

Advertise across the province for just $25.00

Sports Day -- Rodeo -- Home Comming [again, sic] -- Church Reunion

Annual Picnic -- Family Gathering – Aniversery [a bit more sic] -- Ball Tourament [oh come on, people - tourament? This is an advertisement?]

Fish Derby -- Canoe Races -- Water Sports Day

Dog Show -- Agriculture Fair

These are some of the communities that ____ go into each week with our network of weekly papers: [here should be a list of all the local podunks that money can buy; it’s a shame that I can’t really include them, because some of the names of towns, villages, and reserves are excellent to behold]

Also we have footprints into many smaller communities around these listed. More information is at our web site _______ or e-mail us at _______________


I don’t know about you, but these are the guys I want advertising my fish derby. But what exactly is a fish derby? Is a hat worn by fish? A hat made out of fish? A smart fishskin derby worn by the discrimating gent or au courant young lady looking to make a dent in the impervious surface of jaded journalism? If you wear a fish derby to your home comming, or maybe accesorize it with a ball tourament (a small metal axle designed for rotating balls and keeping them fresh), the small-town print media will come a' stampeding.

unlikely advice from dr. phil

I want you to go on and vomit up that frittata into this cup. You shouldn’t be eating that Eurotrash food anyhow.

Don’t look at me. I’m not going to help you now. Only your feet can help you. Mumble your excuses to your feet. Or maybe that helpful spot way over in the back you keep staring at.

Do you know why you’re here today? Do you know why you’re here? ‘Cause I’m going to tell you. You’re here because, because you think I’m not a hologram. But when have I ever touched you? Think about it.

Go ahead and leave your children. Do it now. Put them in a shopping cart and leave them in the front yard if necessary. Throw in some of those little yoghurts with them, they’ll be fine. Just do what you gotta do. Do what feels right.

I want you to come over here right now and chew on my moustache. It’s full of nutrients and antidepressants.

I know you’ve been having troubles with your husband, right? Your family? And I promised last week that I would get you some help. Well you know what? Fuck you.

Show’s over, but I’m just going to sit here. I need you to take my wife’s hand and walk out with her. Take her back to the house. Pick up some tequila on the way. I’ll catch up later.

On second thought, let’s not do this.

unfortunate sequels

Solyaris 2 – Years after Chris Kelvin lands, another group of astronauts arrives at the watery planet that gives dreams a human shape. This time they set up shop and dream of a tourist paradise with great sport fishing and a raw bar right on the beach. One morning Jimmy Buffet shows up. And then another. And another. They try to weed out the Jimmy Buffet population by drowning, shooting, burning, whatever they can manage, but they can’t stop the Buffet onslaught. Eventually a tribunal is convened to find out just who has been dreaming constantly of Jimmy Buffet and unwittingly calling him forth. The rule of law breaks down utterly when one of the tribunal members turns out to be Jimmy Buffet. Late night abductions and rumors of torture haunt the long sunlit afternoons. The tourism industry crumbles. Eventually the astronauts desert the planet, leaving behind thousands of Jimmy Buffets. They immediately found the nation of Margaritaville and walk into the sea.

Mulholland Drive 2: Erotic HüskerDü – A surreal dream sequence in which Laura Elena Harring and Naomi Watts have sex for two straight hours. One camera setup, a couple of curtains and some slinky faux Egyptian outfits that look like old costumes from a Burton-Taylor epic. Occasionally you can hear David Lynch saying “Move your hair out of the way” and “Oh yeah, that’s really hot”. At the very end, Naomi Watts wakes up, turns to Harring and says, “Let’s have even more sex in the waking world”. Then they throw pies at each other naked.

King Kong 2: Even Konger - A group of Depression-era filmmakers travel to an uncharted island where they find Peter Jackson, naked and blistered with sunburn, rolling around in mud and filth. He implores the ingenue to “scratch my back, it’s soooo itchy,” whereupon she screams and runs off into the jungle. The crew finds her shattered body at the bottom of a ravine a few days later.

Weekend at Bernie’s X: Bernie Beyond - Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman reprise their roles for this whacked-out comedy in deep orbit! Two astronauts (McCarthy and Silverman) find their crewmate Bernie (Terry Kiser) dead in his seat after liftoff. Unfortunately, a film crew has accompanied them on the voyage for an interactive live broadcast for President’s Day celebrations. The hapless astronauts are forced to wire up their dead crewmate’s suit and make him go about the business of life in space for the ever-present cameras. Tensions mount when a crisis occurs and Bernie is the only one qualified to fix the problem! The spacewalk sequence where they make Bernie dance to “Space Cowboy” on the hull exterior is just, oh, it’s fucking hilarious.

The Ptarmigan - This is not a sequel. It’s a ptarmigan.

Mission Impossible 4: The Decruisifier - The opening sequence starts with Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt being fed into a gigantic machine of cast iron and terrible blades, a Victorian nightmare of limb-devouring ferocity. As Cruise talks on his cell phone, a conveyor belt moves him smoothly into the spiky teeth of a rotating drum. Cruise is flattened, punched, pulped, pasteurized and poured into a sealed drum. The drum of Cruise-pulp is then strapped to the entire supply of the world’s nuclear armaments and shot into space, where it detonates with a blast so ferocious that the unlucky masses who witness the event are rendered colour-blind. Ving Rhames turns to the camera and declares “He’s never, never, never coming back. We will now find somebody else to keep this franchise going”. High fives all round.

Grumpy Old Babies - A prequel to the Grumpy Old Men series, this movie features two infants in the Matthau-Lemmon roles. Witty voice-overs from Bruce Willis and Roseanne Barr supply endless moments of cutesy hilarity, although the breast feeding jokes wear thin after a while. And it’s never explained how a movie about a brother and sister relates to a franchise about two old men with a lifelong love-hate relationship. John Travolta and Kirstie Alley star as the troubled but loving parents. Most surprising is the sight of Kirstie Alley, who looks 100 pounds lighter and fourteen years younger.

St. Elmo’s Fire 2 - Oh my God. Is that Ally Sheedy? What the – has she been homeless and shooting up for the last twenty years? What is this movie about? These people are old. There better not be any David Foster music this time around. Ah crap, there it is. Who wants to see a bunch of broken-down actors who used to be popular? Except for Rob Lowe, who I think was laminated around 1990. When that plastic coating splits he’s just going to flop out all over the place.

The Senate Subcommittee Hearing Proceedings of the Dead - George A. Romero continues to hone his skills as a political commentator in this installment of the popular and always topical “Dead” movies. In this thinking man’s gorefest, the General Accounting Office (GAO) notes troubling irregularities in certain subcontractor charges related to the zombie internment camps. A preliminary investigation leads nowhere in particular for three years, until a hearing is called in which leading members of the zombie community call the living to account for their systematic mistreatment. Members of the panel praise the main spokeszombie for being “articulate”. A surprisingly in-depth report comes out condemning the entire system of zombie containment, calling it “nothing more than a pork barrel scheme to enrich the friends and associates of Washington insiders at the expense of the walking dead,” but attention is diverted by the sudden announcement of the We’re Going To Go Live In Space And Leave This Shit Hole To The Zombies And The Rest Of You Act of 2012.

the honour and the gory

I am a reasonable, reasonable man. I may have come into this world with high expectations, but the last three decades have tempered my optimism. I do not expect great coffee from a Chinese lunch kiosk at the food court. I do not expect to find love in Dick Cheney’s heart, and I do not expect to get away with draping myself in the corpse of Don Knotts and dancing down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, screaming “Where’s my star?” I really don’t.

When I pay ten dollars and more to see a movie, though, I expect in exchange at least one memorable image, one watchable scene, one line of dialogue that doesn’t make me want to plunge a sharp Spartan spear through my eye and ravel out the neuronal string that carries the memory of having sat in an inexplicably crowded theatre and watched Zack Snyder’s lame muscle epic 300.

What can I say about 300, a film that could have been made by Leni Riefenstahl, if Leni Riefenstahl had never heard of depth of field? If Zack Snyder had been the mind behind Triumph of the Will, the Nazi empire would have folded like a lily at dusk. Only the over-the-top solemnity and relentless pomposity of the story saves it from being truly offensive. The rhetoric is pitched so high, the fight scenes so monotonous, the betrayals and tragedies telegraphed so achingly early, that any engagement with the film is damped down in favour of dull amazement that this soggy homoerotic thrustfest ever got made. No gladiator flick has ever assembled so many near-naked over-buff meatheads, just to have them march around in boots and capes and leather Speedos.

A brief run-down of the story (there are spoilers here, I suppose, but since this is a butchering of a 2,500 year old story, I don’t feel like I’m spilling any fresh beans): King Leonidas grows up in the harsh world of Sparta, a place where grown men beat up five year olds for fun. He earns his crown through the venerated tradition of kicking everyone’s ass all the time. One day a godless ambassador from Persia and his pyjama’d entourage come to visit with a message: give us Sparta’s natural resources and we promised not to murder you all. Leonidas takes the diplomatic route and has the Persians thrown in a conveniently placed well. Despite this provocation, the politicians hem and haw, being the spineless debate-paralyzed toads that the movie needs them to be. Leonidas, Mr. Action himself, climbs a phallic-looking mountain to consult the Oracle in what is THE STUPIDEST SCENE in movie history. I won’t describe it, but it will make you long for the pleasures of Mel Gibson’s filmcraft.

The Oracle delivers a message to Leonidas: don’t go to war with the Olympics approaching (if only that admonition were observed today). The wicked, inbred, corrupt priests and the wicked, inbred, corrupt politicians urge noble, free, buff Leonidas to heed the Oracle’s words, but Mr. Action brooks no tradition and, after a night of scronking with the fierce, noble, tigressy Queen Gorgo, picks three hundred WWE rejects to march off to Thermopylae, a narrow corridor where a small band of soldiers can slice and dice the invading hordes.

And hordes they are. If you thought that Asia was made of ordinary folk such as yours and my own self, 300 is here to set you straight. Pantalooned, festooned and a little too fancy for the red-blooded male comfort zone, the Persians and their vassals from the far corners of Xerxes’ empire trudge straight off the checklist of Orientalist clichés: slavish, silent masses of disposable meat so interchangeable that they can be whipped and killed with impunity by their own commanders. Behind their masks, the elite shock troops of Persia are bloodless monsters. Imposing Africans with faces draped in gold ride angry rhinos and elephants over the helpless bodies of infantry. The Spartans slaughter them all in a slo-mo whirlwind o’ gore.

Even though the Spartans are ‘free men’ who will not be ‘enslaved’ by ‘mysticism and tyranny’, they eventually fall due to treachery at home and on the battlefield. O treacherous traitors, with their treachery! How they traduce! A hunchback named Ephialtes, rejected by Leonidas, leads the Persians through a narrow pass to flank the doughty band of buffsters on both sides. Thwarted in his desire to join the Spartans, Ephialtes’ deformity makes him morally weak (in the graphic novel, he redeems himself somewhat) and naturally ignoble. Welcome to Anatomy as Destiny 101. Back in Sparta, Theron, the oilest politician ever to rape Queen Gorgo and throw the charge of adultery in her face before the assembled council, is a kept man of the Persian Empire, who seeks through delay and inaction to leave Sparta and the rest of the Greek city-states open to the rampaging drag show of Xerxes’ armies.

Then they all die. Deserted by their Thespian allies, Stabbed in the back and surrounded by sodomites, all three hundred of the 300 are thrashed thoroughly. No density of pec or ab may block the scorpion-headed arrows of Xerxes, who appears to be an eight foot tall drag queen so powerful that he brings his own runway with him, borne on the backs of hundreds of slaves. Leonidas goes out fighting, launching his spear at RuPaul Xerxes and shaving off some of the emperor’s precious facial jewellery. Predictably, this results in a whole lot of screaming followed by a general overarrowing of Leonidas. We go out on a note of hope, as 10,000 Spartans in their ridiculous outfits run screaming towards the camera. According to Dilios, the lone survivor, this is supposed to herald in a new age of freedom and reason. Sure, why not.

Oh yeah, and the dialogue sucks. Most painful is the voice-over narration, which helpfully tells you precisely what you’re looking at. Since the images of 300 are depthless and blocked out like a sidewalk theatre show, this is hardly necessary. Here’s an example: early on in the movie we witness a wolf circling a boy. The narrator provides context: “The wolf circled the boy. Sniffing the night air. Hungry for its next meal”. No shit. I never would have guessed from all the circling and the sniffing. Or how about the scene where they’re marching, and the narrator says: “We march”? Dude, it’s like you’re sitting right behind me, telling your blind friend what’s going on. I can almost feel the bits of popcorn and drops of Mountain Dew being sprayed on my neck.

trailer trashing

Last night, when I went to see the enormously excellent Pan’s Labyrinth, I had the fun of sitting through some of the lamest trailers I’ve ever seen in my young life. Trailers are a constant source of irritation for me, but I get so excited when I see a decent preview for a worthwhile-looking movie that I forgive all the boring trailers, the ones that go for the same tired tricks, the ones that give the whole movie away, the ones that cull the best jokes, such that the movie itself turns out to be even less than the sum of its parts. These trailers tested my devotion. First the Diane Keaton bonfire o’ snores Because I Said So, which can’t hide how crappy the movie actually is; then Adam Sandler’s attempt at Dramatic Actorhood in Reign Over Me, and lastly the exquisite agony of Joel Schumacher directing Jim Carrey in the freaky numerological what-reality-are-we-in-now horror film, The Number 23.

The trailer for 23 starts off relatively coherently and then dissolves into frenetic but swampy overediting, which I’m guessing mirrors the film’s structure. Carrey’s character discovers a typeset red-bound book called “The Number 23” in a bookstore and starts finding the number woven throughout his life in increasingly unsettling ways. The paranoia mounts and then explodes into gibbering insanity. As far as I could tell from the trailer, he may be living two lives, or he may be crazy, or who knows. And who cares. My favourite part comes when Danny Huston, in one of those Well-Dressed Expositor roles, says, “… and 2 divided by 3 is 0.666, the number of the beast”.

Actually, I think that’s the number of Talking Out Your Ass. Two over three isn’t 0.666, and anyway, the number of the beast is actually 666, which beats outs 0.666 by 665.334. To be fair to Schumacher & Friends, I can see how that would lack dramatic punch: “Bad news, sucker – two over three is oh point bar six, the world’s most evil repeating decimal!”. Maybe 2/3 is the fraction of the beast, and the root of negative 666 is the imaginary number of the beast. I’m glad I paid attention to my high school math lessons. It’s given me the power to mock a Joel Schumacher film.

My other favourite bit features shots with Carrey in black jeans and dyed black hair, topless and greasy-gaunt, a Goth of Great Depravity. Just as 8mm made up a ridiculous world of underground porn connoisseurs – a kind of pornographic fantasy of porn – 23 seems to be prey to the usual misunderstandings about Hard-Boiled people. I don’t if Carrey’s alter ego is supposed to be evil or just bad-ass, but pretending to be an East Village hustler circa 1970 doesn’t convince me. Sat-e-llite of Looove!

friday ledger

The ASS truck - On my way to work today, a van pulled up next to me with the logo “Affordable Sewer Service” on its flank. I thought I’d misread it, but no, I looked them up in the yellow pages and discovered that Affordable Sewer Service is all too real. Has no one ever pointed out that their company has ASS for an acronym?

I really want to phone them up and ask about it.

"Hello, Affordable Sewer Services? Yes... no, it's not an emergency. It's just... yes, I know it's two in the morning... I just thought you should know you've got ASS. That's right. ASS. See ya".

The food court – Today the food court was full of children, middle schoolers and up. I have no idea what they were doing there or why they wanted to ruin my lunch, with their braying chit-chat, their downy moustaches, their misshapen faces, but they weren’t successful. They tried to block my way no matter where I went, loose little knots of them tangling up traffic and putting out that goaty subsmell. Most of the kids had just hit that age when their bodies were shooting upward and outward in all directions, all uncoordinated growth that made them look like animated specimens from the Mutter museum. A few of the older children had cleared that Elephant Man hurdle and looked like normal human beings, but already you could see that they were calcifying into adult forms. There were the plain girls trying too hard for a style who would eventually give up altogether and collapse into dowdiness; jocko homos with artfully mussed hair who would end up running a Hyundai dealership or getting a business admin degree; and here and there, a young boy or girl who looked just a little bit stupefied or thoughtful, signifying the off-chance that they would grow up and do something interesting. It was to them that I raised my glass of green tea and took some muscle relaxants.

The locked door on American Idol – Cruelty has never been tempered to such a fine tone. On the opening episode of American Idol, the entrance to the audition is a set of double doors – one of which is bolted in place. Nothing gives you that blast of Schadenfreude like watching a humiliated contestant (who has already made it through two filters to stand before the celebrity judges) stumble out of the room, lost in a private agony of dashed dreams, only to propel themselves into a locked door. “Other door, honey,” Simon drawls. If the game weren’t already given away by the camera’s lingering takes of hapless wannabees finally figuring out that they’ve been strung along, that unmoving door tells you everything you need to know about the desperate need for fame. As yet, nobody has screamed (as far as I know) “Why’d you lock the door, you fucking sadists?” Instead, they back up, thoroughly beaten, and shuffle shoulder-first out of the room.

As always, it’s best to bear in mind that reality shows are edited carefully to portray everyone and everything to conform with the show’s creative mandate. Maybe the locked door provoked an outburst or two. But I’m always astounded at the losing contestants’ inability to perceive the joke - they’re the punch line, after all. I’ve noticed the same tendency on almost all reality shows: the strange willingness of participants to accept the rules of the highly artificial universe into which they’ve been plunged. Cover yourself in ground beef, say the producers, and jump into that hornet-filled tank. Okay, says the participant. And how do they express their misgivings to the camera? That’s the rules of the game, they say. No matter what the scenario, them’s the rules. So that’s the way we do it.

In most reality shows, the game is played for money and a brief bit of television exposure, a way for non-celebrities to get a little taste of the televised life, but in American Idol, celebrity is the prize. What boggles the mind is that so many kids, lining up in malls across the country, being herded into groups by weary production assistants brandishing megaphones and clipboards, seem to think that the Idol franchise is their best road to fame. Never mind building up your talent, courting other musicians, recording demos, or even getting on Myspace and selling your homebrew CD on Lulu – these kids seem to think that it only takes discovery. As if their own personality and (maybe) talent were reason enough to make them adored of millions.

Even in this age of manufactured singing stars (although what were the Monkees, the Sex Pistols and a thousand other bands if not manufactured?), there’s often a bit of history behind the act. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera had been plugging away since childhood; Jennifer Lopez started out as a dancer. But the masses of Idol contestants, the brace-faced girls and mirror-trained boys, in the hormonal fug of desire, hope that all that grunt work is unnecessary. Some people even claim that Idol is their only chance, their last chance at fame. How is that eighteen year olds from Sudbury or Fort Wayne or Tallahassee have run out of chances so tragically early?

The truth is that these people have even less of a chance than they think. Over the last few seasons, Idol finalists have displayed a professionalism and a maturity that the hopeful masses can only grow into over the years. Taylor Hicks has grey hair and a Joe Cocker shtick that seems decades out of date. Far from a democratic free-for-all, a dramatization of American mobility, Idol seems increasingly like an alternate route to fame for people who were likely going to get there anyway. Those people know instinctively which door to choose on their way out of the room.

My one-act play – I’ve had something approaching a breakthrough with my play. At first I feared that I hadn’t developed the characters thoroughly enough to give them enough dialogue to get through 30 minutes of stage time. But I don’t need to develop their characters – I just need to give the characters something to react to, an object that will frustrate or fulfill their goals. Their reactions will give me the nuances of character.

The object is a time machine that can get the doctors and their daughter Charlton back to civilization. Dr. Wilder wants to get back, but Dr. Savage has grown accustomed to the place. He enjoys living out the twilight years of humanity in their jungle lab as he pursues his projects as a gentleman scientist. Dr. Wilder, on the other hand, wants desperately to return. He particularly wants to get Charlton back to civilization, as he is a) a sort of scientific breakthrough himself, the product of same-sex reproduction; and b) like any parent, Wilder wants something better for Charleton. Better than composing horrible poetry and cavorting with the genetically degraded valley dwellers. And on this point, even Dr. Savage is willing to concede, although he’s more interested in Charlton’s happiness than having him accomplish something by the standards of civilizations past. Living at humanity’s end has given Savage a certain disdain for the notion of civilization, since he can see its ultimate product unraveling before him every day. Wilder entertains a notion that he can prevent this horrible fate by going back in time and taking steps to keep humanity on track.

The issue is that the time machine is not a passive instrument that will whisk them back to the past; it’s a thermodynamic propulsion device that bends the continuum to achieve its ends. If used, it will destroy everything within a sizeable radius. Which means, of course, that humanity will certainly cease to exist, and that the two scientists will definitely be responsible for the ultimate genocide. Wilder maintains that a trip to the past will ensure that humanity never has to suffer such a horrible fate. Savage isn’t sure that he’s right, and anyway, he’s not sure that humanity’s worth saving. It’s certainly not worth destroying utterly on the chance that it can be saved.

To Charlton, the notion of using the time machine is frightful and repulsive. He’s stuffed absolutely full of notions about the primeval innocence of humanity (which is odd, since primeval humanity is a thing of the distant past) and celebrates the lives of the valley dwellers in really, really bad blank verse. He’s also in love with Beckham, a young woman from the valley who speaks a crabbed English, bites the heads off fish and treats Charlton like an indentured servant.

Beckham functions more or less as the audience stand-in, the one who perceives the characters far better than they perceive themselves. She also takes full advantage of the others to achieve her own ends - which, in the interests of keeping some interest in the play alive, I'm not going to reveal.

freeze-dried fred, or worse

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself. And then I realize that some people have it way, way worse.


You can't hear them, but Barney's saying either 'Kill us now' or 'Suck your big dick for a glass of water'. Hard to tell, really. I honestly don't think I've ever seen anything as sad as that wasted, dessicated Barney, his tunic draped over his 90 pound frame, the whole terminating in those crazy feet-shoes. If you can have feet-shoes, why can't you have leg-pants to complete the illusion? Was there nothing in the budget for leg-pants? Or maybe some kind of labour problem had closed the leg-pant factory down. You'll note that Fred gets arm-sleeves, even if they're wrinkly as one of those horrible hairless dogs. Clearly he's the alpha male.

God, they look like they've been wandering in the desert for weeks. I bet they took a wrong turn on the way home from the theme park and somehow ended up in the Mojave. Unless, after the Flintstones was canceled in 1966, Fred and Barney ended up as homeless guys wandering the bright empty streets of Burbank, offering to degrade themselves for bit parts in low-rent cartoons. Only the New Fred & Barney show from 1979 (the one with the teenage Pebbles and Bam Bam) revived their careers, and that took a lot of casting couch action, if you know what I mean.

Why am I suddenly so fixated on the notion of Fred and Barney whoring themselves out? Does this say something about me or the ugly underside of the cartoon industry?

Am I onto something here - something explosive and true? Given my track record for ferreting out the truth, I'd have to say yes.

if you meet this barista on the road, kill him


After the indignity to my coffee, I sat down and sketched while he took his diseased hands and scooped coffee beans into a bag for some soon-to-be-ill customer. This was the point where I "whipped out my notepad," just like all the exciting artists and intrepid journalists do.

I've been wanting to sketch this guy for a while because of his extraordinary face. He has a forehead that borders on the hydrocephalic, set off by eyebrows that belong to a fashion model twice his size, all narrowing down to a ridiculously pointed little chin. I haven't done justice to the eyes, which are large, clouded grey-green affairs that bulge out over the most hollow cheeks I've ever seen. The black ink has made him look a bit more affable and attractive than he really is, with a fuller goatee and thicker hair. In truth his hair is a light mousy brown, almost feathery.

And you see where the text in the picture trails past the margin? That's the flaw that sets off the perfection of the whole. That's what makes it art, sucka.

Sucka.

Here's something I drew one night at the bar. A table of RCMP cadets shaking off their aggression with Guinness. Yeah, that'll work. And don't draw drunk.

cartooning the news

Here's a little something I thought up this morning where I take some cartoon characters I've drawn in my notebook and have them say things that apply to today's most up-to-the-minute breakingest headlines. I'm hoping that the illustration will point out, in a humorous way, some of the foibles of the men and women in power. I can't figure out what to call it yet, so if you hear of anything similar, just let me know.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that people in the US are no longer hungry. Instead, they are experiencing "very low food security". I don't quite get that phrase - are people allowing liquids and gels into their stomachs? At any rate, it appears that the number of people experiencing low food security has been rising for the last five years, now totalling around 35 million, or 12% of the population. Is there a Department of Food Security in the offing? Maybe that's going to be the new name for the USDA.

That fish is a real hater.

ask palinode goes me straight to movie's house


Sometimes people ask me, "Hey Palinode, how's your old English?" And I say, "Hwaet!" and then they run away. And sometimes they ask me things like this:

Ok, so here's my question.

Its been 26 years since Raging Bull and 16 years since Goodfellas. Why in the hell do I keep getting my hopes up with Scorsese? Has he completely overstayed his welcome, veering much to close to Brian de Palma territory? Or is it me? "The Departed" got 92% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. I fail to see why. I didn't get "A History of Violence" either. Are films actually getting more brilliant, but I'm getting soft-headed? Okay, that's sorta two questions.

losing my patience with movies
Grand Tuma

Mr. G. Tuma, I hear you. Like the fabled beavers of yore, Martin Scorsese and all his ilk are beginning to gnaw away at my faith in films. Gangs of New York was a whole lot of so-so. The Aviator was a triumph of some cool shots and a little cupful of entertaining scenes poured into a big bowl of blah. Like you, I'm pretty much in agreement that the last unbroken pleasure from Martin Scorsese was Goodfellas. Not that this is unique to Scorsese; what has Brian de Palma done in the last fifteen years that's worth watching? The answer to that question isn't Snake Eyes, which pretty much made my eyes bug out with its awfulness, and it isn't Femme Fatale either.

As for those other young turks of filmdom: Francis Coppola went from Apocalypse Now to Jack; George Lucas retreated behind a bank of computers and started looking more and more like Jabba the Hutt, or maybe a Guild Navigator; Hal Ashby, who directed Harold and Maude, ended up with stuff like "Beverly Hills Buntz" before he died of cancer in the late eighties. And there was a time when Stephen Spielberg had some kind of handle on his sentimentality.

Clearly, something bad has happened to these people in the late arc of their careers. The only one who seems to inspire perpetual hope, the one who's able to shrug off the string of second-raters and say "This time for sure!" is Martin Scorsese. Somewhere in all the hype leading up to The Departed, with all the reviews and blurbs claiming that the movie marked a "return to form," I became half-convinced that this was the movie we movie nudniks had been waiting for - a redemptive last-minute turn against the boring, the mediocre and the unconvincing. Once again, brutal men with foul mouths and a taste for the pleasures of life, the boot in the rib and the plate of osso bucco, would rescue filmgoing for male audiences in the coveted 18-34 deomographic. I felt not just excited - hell, I got excited over Slither- but hopeful.

Okay, let me interject here to confess something - I'm finding The Departed really difficult to write about. I want to reach into the movie and grab something solid, find a handhold to swing into a discussion on the damn thing - but it's so squishy. It's like putting my hand in a bowl of tapioca. After a couple of experimental swirls, you realize that you're looking for something solid in tapioca, and that's one thing you definitely don't want. So I'm going to pull my hand out of The Departed and grab onto Scorsese himself. A hank or hair, or maybe that nose. Or I'll just ram my index fingers right into his eyes and then crook them in a coy c'mere Martin gesture.

Don't worry. I'm not threatening to kill Scorsese with my bare hands. As far as I can tell, he's already dead. If Martin Scorsese made Goodfellas and Raging Bull and the truly awesome After Hours, then his autistic double is the force behind The Departed. This film is like a memory of Scorsese, a babble of fragments from the mouth of a man rocking back and forth in the corner, tossing up a snatch of patter from Mean Streets, a plume of manhole steam from Taxi Driver, a sudden Goodfellas spray of blood. Someone wrote it all down, slapped on a plot from a Hong Kong flick, set it in Boston - et voila. A Scorsese flick.

There's a good rule of thumb in major studio films that says: the more producers, the lousier the film. Actually, I don't know if that's a rule of thumb, but I know enough about making films to know that there's an ideal number of people to have on a film - just enough to get it made, but not enough to fuck it all up. Too many producers bring too many ideas, pull a film in all sorts of directions, introduce pet obsessions or set unworkable conditions. The Departed has a whopping thirteen producers: four full, five executive, three co- and one associate. That's not a credits list, that's a trail of blood (although to be fair, it looks as if there were extra hands involved because it was an adaptation from the film Infernal Affairs).

Thanks in no small part to Scorsese's longtime editing companion Thelma Schoonmaker, the first fifteen minutes of the film is a kinetic delight (yup - a kinetic delight) as the characters are introduced and the premise is laid out: two young men, one a criminal who infiltrates the police (Matt Damon), the other a cop who infiltrates the Irish mob (Leo DiCaprio). Both are sent undercover so deeply that none but a few people on either side know their true identities. Nothing's entirely believable yet, but the 'I fucked your mother' jokes fly fast and furious and the plot points land with admirable precision. By the time the title card comes up, we're set for two and a half hours of epic gangland action, with cops bleeding into criminals, and criminals finding themselves unwittingly on the side of the law. The premise is cartoony and schematic, but moral grey areas and identity vertigo abound, right?

No! Not at all! Not even a bit. For a film that attempts to ground itself in gritty front-stoop and back-room realism, with criminal behaviour tied into cultural identity and sense of place, The Departed fails completely to understand what makes human beings commit crime, what makes them take a stand against it, and ultimately, the nature of corruption in a country so sold on hucksterism that violence becomes another legitimate way of getting ahead. Goodfellas knew it intimately; the movie spelled out exactly what the Italian mob was, and what it became as ever-greater amounts of money and drugs flowed through it. Cops bent the rules because they rubbed up every day against the attractions of criminal life; criminals ratted out their colleagues to save their own lives. The Departed chucks all that and gives us a metaphysic of good and evil, with principled warriors in place of ordinary folk.

For all his violent behaviour, Leo DiCaprio's character never displays any real liking for it, nor does he ever lose sight of his crime-fighting mission. The easy power and entitlement of being a gangster never affect his resolve, and his only real conflict stems from what amounts to job stress. In a suspiciously parallel development, Matt Damon disappears entirely into his role as a crackerjack detective rising in the ranks, with even less convincing results. Damon's character is unswervingly dedicated to Crime, even though he doesn't derive much benefit from it. He spends his time being impotent with his girlfriend, arguing with Jack Nicholson on the phone, and earning the hatred of his peers when he's assigned to track down a suspected mole within the ranks (oh dah irony).

You can practically see the script notes piling up as the movie pushes on, keeping these two characters on course, making sure they never do anything interesting or start exhibiting a hint of complexity. By contrast, the characters in Goodfellas were not people to root for: greedy, venal, violent and selfish, crudely judgmental but blind to their own faults, and above all, abidingly ordinary. The story of Henry Hill, if you take out the drugs and violence and jail time, resembles the tales of nouveau riche Americans in the post-war age, the wasteful children of hardworking immigrant families. That hidden normality, the sense that these gangsters were no different from the rest of us, was the heart of Goodfellas.

Damon and DiCaprio's characters are given a dash of backstory and a Manichean psychology to start with, but after that they are left alone to wage their wars on behalf of their secret masters. As the plot pushes them along, the snappy dialogue and the flying teeth begin to feel like more air pumped into an ever-expanding balloon. Finally there's a big showdown that looks like it was made for a film with half the budget, and then there's another, smaller showdown, and then there's another one. Then you can go home.

It's like Scorsese forgot what makes crime films interesting. And then he forgot what makes people interesting. And then he peed his pants and started storing his dentures in the production assistant's latté, but they just kept on shooting.

Bonus alternate script

Here's how I envision the movie going:

JACK NICHOLSON, CRIME BOSS: I sure do enjoy flailing my arms around and making fun of priests. Now to business. Boys, we got a rat.
THUG: Sure and begorrah, I bet it's the new guy, the young one what used to be a cop,* who before he showed up we never had a problem, and now we do.
LEO DICAPRIO, SUPER RAT-COP: What?
JACK: Kill him.
[They kill him]

THE FUCKING END

*Yes, they knew he'd gone to cop school before he joined the gang, and still they spent two hours wondering just who the rat could be. Plus Jack Nicholson is supposed to be this seasoned crime boss, but he keeps on showing up for big incriminating transactions like Captain Kirk on his way to the next backlot planet.

Hey, you folks are good folks, with the good questions - and you want the good answers. Ask me in innocence and get besmirched: askpalinode @ gmail . com.

dictionary fixes

Although it's well known that I know every word worth knowing in the English language, it occurred to me that I may not know the words not worth knowing. That is, the worthless words. The following words are unnecessary and should be removed from the dictionary as soon as possible.

dictionary. How often do you use this word? How versatile is it? The only time you ever have call to say 'dictionary' is when you have to go use the dictionary. It's absolutely true - I can guarantee that you will never say the following phrases:

Hey baby, I've got an attractive antique dictionary.*
Don't bother with Wikipedia, we'll look it up in the dictionary.
Are you bleeding? Don't worry, we'll apply the dictionary.
Reese Witherspoon recently separated from her dictionary that ridiculous ponce.

From now on, when you need to use that book (see? It's a book. That's a nice short word.), just say, "I need to look that word up in this book. This... wordbook".

gouache. Why don't you know the meaning of this word? In the Oxford Wordbook, the entry reads as follows:

gouache(goo-osh). [Fr., ad. It. guazzo] Hah. Oh man. You actually looked this up, hey? We're caught. Hands down. We just made this up in like, 1550 or something. This book's full of made-up words. Like 'hobbit'. Please don't say anything.

elf. Not so much a word as a category that should be abolished and expunged from memory. Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, Halfling, Orc, Ent, Uruk-buttfuck-hai. These words are heavy stones, hewn from the living rock of Balrogistan or whatever, that weigh down the souls of pre-teen boys.

matrix. In 1999, moviegoers wondered - What Is The Matrix? In 2003, The Matrix turned out to be a cruel joke on moviegoers. Not only did the Wachowskis introduce cheap post-structuralist philosophy and wire-fu to mainstream movies, they also polluted a serviceable word. Remember the good old days when The Matrix was a virtual world being fed to us by a race of machines using our slumbering bodies as a power source (somehow)? Those were good times. Simple times. Then it was a place where sentient software hid from The Source? And then it was - something else? And the whole thing ends with that smart-talking Colonel Sanders on a park bench? Why did I pay for that shit?

foodie. If we all hold hands, close our eyes and pray really hard, we can kick the hell out of anyone who self-describes with this word. We really can.

grille. So some people want to look like cars. So they have their mouths fitted with a crusty rack of metal. So they look like low-rent villains from your average post-apocalyptic eighties flick. Let them do what makes them happy. Just don't ever mention it.

*Actually, I have a kick-ass Compact OED with the magnifying glass in its sliding cardboard compartment, and I think I've impressed a few women with it. A few.