Friday, January 18, 2008

The Hunting Party (********/10)

There is a movie coming out this coming Tuesday courtesy of Alliance Atlantis that is a must-watch. I hate to call something a must-watch, because people send me emails, angry that I said Hot Fuzz is a must-watch, and they hate British people. Or that A History of Violence is a must-watch, but they hate violence! (I really did get both of these emails. I liked the violence one best.) But this is one. The Hunting Party is a movie that asks the question - how hard are the agencies of the world really looking for the Osama Bin Ladens of the world? Specifically, this movie deals with the CIA and their "efforts" to track down the war criminals of the conflict in Bosnia and Serbia. As it stands right now, most of the war criminals - murderers, genocidaires, rapists and worse - from the former Yugoslavia are still on the loose, (many believe some are sheltered in Russia) despite agencies like the CIA having vowed to track them down and find them half a decade ago.

The Hunting Party stars Richard Gere and Terrence Howard as a reporter and a cameraman who have been through many wars together. The film is inspired by the true story of a disgraced reporter, played by Gere, and his cameraman (Howard) and a wet-behind-the-ears young journalist who has to prove his merit because he is the big boss's son. The three of them take off into the former Yugoslavia, searching for the region's most notorious and dangerous war criminal, the butcher known as "The Fox". How much of what transpires after that is true and how much is fiction, I don't know. But I do know that the movie is enthralling. Three things make The Hunting Party tremendous. First, the social conscience and the real-world political questions raised by the film. Secondly, it's pacing. The first time you see Richard Gere's live, on-air meltdown on national TV, it's almost comical, in a way. Later, you learn the circumstances behind that meltdown, and when you look back on it, you can no longer remember why you found anything funny in it at all, it just looks tragic. There is enough subtle humour throughout the film, at just the right places, to break up what would otherwise be overwhelmingly tragic and bleak subject matter. And third, the realism. These characters behave the way three real people, in the real world, would behave. Yes, they are foolhardy, yes, they are reckless, and yes, they are probably very lucky to be alive at certain points in the movie, but they never seem anything less than human at any point.

The Hunting Party is both a fascinating character study of a man who does not know how to stop being a reporter, and an eye-opening look at the way the CIA, the UN and other world agencies pay lip service to war criminals and the architects of genocide without ever really doing anything about them. It is, indeed, a must-watch. So watch it!

Family Guy takes on Star Wars. With hilarious results! (********/10)

There is a video that hit stores on Tuesday - it is the first Family Guy episode of the year, the hour-long Star Wars episode, and it is great. Now, of course, an hour-long episode really means 48 minutes, but with the bonus features on the disc, it is well over an hour in total, most of it terrific. The bonus features include a conversation between Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and George Lucas, who is clearly one of his idols. Also, there is a featurette that plays every Family Guy Star Wars reference from the TV show up until this point. Also hilarious stuff. Clearly, the guys who do this TV show are bigger Star Wars nerds than anyone I know. Except for Dave Taylor, who has forty-one different copies of the trilogy, on DVD, VHS, Beta, reel-to-reel, slide show, and laser disc, among other formats. He also has eleven copies of the John Williams soundtrack, on CD, tape, 8-track, vinyl, and some formats I was not even aware had been invented yet.

But although I make fun of Dave every time I visit his place and sit among the shelves of Bob Fett action figures and Millenium Falcon commemorative cereal boxes, he is not alone. Not by a long shot. These people are out there. And they are otherwise normal in the rest of their lives, unlike the Star Trek geeks and the Lord of the Rings wackjobs and the Mr. Belvedere afficionados. This is because Star Wars holds a certain place in the hearts and minds (ooh, went all George W for a second there) of just about every single human being born after 1957. I, for one, was born about a year after the release of Star Wars. And yet it was still an integral part of my pop culture innundation throughout my life, so much so that even as a half-assed fan of the original series, I still know many lines, names, scenarios and moments from that original trilogy. In fact, the first movie has to be more familiar to the general population of the world than any other movie by far.

Which is why it's the perfect pop culture spoof for a show such as Family Guy. For the purposes of this review, I will go ahead and assume that everyone, by now, is at least aware of Family Guy. (If not, watch it. It is the best comedy show on TV.) And Family Guy Presents Blue Harvest is what they do at their best. It is basically the entire Star Wars movie, condensed (easily, I might add) to 48 minutes, and featuring the cast of Family Guy in place of the characters in the film. The lines are basically lifted straight from the dialogue of the original movie, which seems lazy at first, but when the dialogue spins off, it becomes brilliant. The scenes where they poke fun of holes in the Star Wars plot are dead-on. The best one comes when Darth Vader is advised that the Death Star is 99.99 percent impregnable, except for this one two-metre wide hole which, if you fire a torpedo into it, would blow up the entire space station. He suggests perhaps covering that hole with plywood or something, but is voted down on the grounds of aesthetics.

Not content to simply lampoon the Star Wars phenomenon itself, Seth MacFarlane manages to get numerous other fantastic pop culture references into the movie - Judd Nelson shows up to deliver one line from The Breakfast Club. Rush Limbaugh voices himself as a right-wing bigot on Tatooine talk radio. Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo show up to deliver two lines from National Lampoon's vacation. There are also references to Simply Red, Tupac Shakur, Redd Foxx, and dozens more, almost all of them fantastic. In the end, the familiarity we all have with Star Wars gives Family Guy license to do whatever they want within that framework, and that works beautifully. Blue Harvest is well worth purchasing, for the Family Guy fan, the Star Wars fan, or anyone who enjoys a 40-minute belly laugh.

Good Luck renting this piece of garbage. (*/10)

Often, you can tell a lot about a movie from the previews that are shown on the DVD before it begins. In the case of Good Luck Chuck, the distributors are saying "if you like Good Luck Chuck, you might also like Delta Farce, Waiting, Employee of the Month, and Andy Dick movies". In other words, if you like Good Luck Chuck, you might have the IQ of a pomegranate. If, after learning all this from the previews, you still go ahead and watch the movie, you might come out with an IQ at least twelve points lower. And descend on the intelligence scale from "pomegranate" to "bag of hammers". Please don't watch this movie. Please don't rent it for anyone. Please don't encourage people to make more movies like this one. And above all, stop encouraging Dane Cook! He seems to be the latest "it" comic. People all over the place tell me about Dane Cook and how great he is. My sister got me a couple of his CDs. My co-worker Amanda sings his praises every time we work at a leather sale together. I have tried. I have listened to the CDs, I have checked out his stand-up act on youtube. But I'm just not there.

And now I have seen four of his movies. One is Good Luck Chuck. Two others are Waiting and Employee of the Month, both advertised in the previews on this DVD. All three absolute wastes of time, but only one is a true disaster, and that is Good Luck Chuck. (The fourth, incidentally, is the average at best Mr. Brooks, where Dane Cook is fairly decent because no one asks him to be funny.) Good Luck Chuck stars Cook as a man who seems to be a good luck charm for women. You see, every woman who sleeps with him immediately marries the next man she dates. This assumes two things. That a man who has the golden ticket to sleep with any hot woman he wants, any time he wants, without any expectation, ever, of committment, can't possibly be satisfied and wants to find true love. And secondly, that every woman is so desperate for marriage that she will do anything just to meet a guy and have a wedding. I would like to have seen this movie done a bit differently. Like, women find out that if a certain guy runs over their foot with a certain lawnmower, they will instantly have a wedding. Then, we could see a bunch of women falling all over themselves to sneakily place their foot under the lawnmower blade. And then hilarity would ensue when ooops! Right guy, wrong lawnmower. No you have no love and no foot. Hilarious!

That is about the level of the comedy in Good Luck Chuck. Jessica Alba is another problem. She is on the cover of every magazine, and for some reason the world at large seems to think that it's between her and Jessica Simpson for the title of Hottest Entertainer In The World. (And Dane Cook has somehow managed to get his talentless ass into starring roles opposite both of them.) But Jessica Alba (with the exception of Sin City) has never been in a good movie. And she has never been a good actress. She has been a good-enough, really hot face and body for poor excuses for movies like this one. In this one, she is asked to do physical comedy, as her character is a complete klutz. This is the "comedy" portion of the "romantic comedy" tag line to the film. She slips on a bun, falls backwards ont her chair, which breaks, and she catches the edge of the tablecloth on the way down, which spills orange juice upon the ground, upon which she slips as she gets up, causing her to fall full body on the table, which breaks the table on one side, causing the other side to fly up in the air, causing the cake to catapult off into the air, which then hits someone in the face, and that person spins around, hitting a ... well, you get the idea. This scene may or may not have happened exactly like this, I stopped paying attention after six minutes.

I tuned back in when the physical comedy thing got old for them. Which was an hour after it got old for everyone else. At this point the director clearly thought "what else has worked in comedies lately?" And came up with gross-out humour! Of course, he is wrong. Gross-out humour has NOT worked in comedies lately. It has simply grossed people out. And it has not been funny. I am wracking my brain trying to figure out when, since There's Something About Mary, has gross-out humour actually been funny. I'm coming up empty. Again, putting a woman in a fat suit in a movie in indicative of the fact that no REAL fat woman would lower herself to take that role. Therefore, that role is too offensive and not funny enough to be in your movie. And this movie is too offensive and not funny enough to be on DVD, let alone in your house, on your TV. Don't encourage these people. Put a stop to it now.

Still don't get it.

Having now gone through the actual submissive-dominant demonstration, I still don't understand. I suppose I was not as submissive as the people who actually do this stuff on purpose. I probably complained more than your run-of-the-mill submissive. Mistress Kay certainly made me nervous when she busted out the tools. Whips of all kinds. Like forty of them. Some of them with handles as thick as my wrist, others with more lashes than I have ever seen. A kit that looked like it came out of a dentist's office, with needles and weird wheels and other bizarre implements that would not be out of place removing a tooth or jabbing one's gums. To start with, she tied up my hands securely, but not too tight. Like, I could move my wrists a little, but I certainly couldn't get free. For some reason I was dressed in a pink teddy. Perhaps to appear more photogenic for the video...which should be up on the website soon.

Or maybe it was just for further humiliation. Kinda barking up the wrong tree there, eh? If there's one thing I'm pretty used to with Doc and Woody, it is wearing lingerie and other women's clothes that look offensive on me. This was actually one of the better ones, since it actually fit me. At any rate, it definitely made my butt more accessible for the whip...Mistress Kay wanted to start out small, with stuff that was actually nice and pleasurable, but I thought it might be a better idea to go to the painful stuff first, since it would sound better on the radio - the crack of the whip, my pained yelp...that sort of stuff. I think I may have miscalculated. It was not a very good idea. It was unpleasant. I still do not understand how this can be fun for people. Some of the other stuff, I get, the electric stuff and the feathery whips and so forth. I suppose it can feel nice when you're concentrating on that stuff alone, but even then it would just feel neat, like a massage, and not necessarily be erotic, like an erotic massage.

In the end, I was forced to cry mercy. Doc had chosen my safety word, which is a fairly creepy thing to say, let alone to write. Somehow, he chose to ruin one of the greatest movies of all time for me by making the word "rosebud". When I finally caved, it was more out of fear for my nipples than out of an inability to handle the pain. My nipple phobia was "tweaked", I guess you could say, a little earlier, when Mistress Kay attempted to go after them with that wheely-thing that is electrified and hurts a little. At that time, I managed to somewhat slip out of my ropes and protect my most sensitive spot. When, later on, even the insinuation of nipple-related bondage freaked me right out, I called in the safety word and ended the whole thing. I could just imagine those freaky long sharp metal electrified finger-things touching my nipples, and ... I can't even think about that right now. I gotta go.

Cougar Club (*/10)

The cover of the DVD "Cougar Club" certainly seems to indicate toplessness. As does the banner splashed across the jacket, "topless menus!" And it delivers! There are indeed topless girls in the menus. Possibly cougars, but likely a little too young to truly be actual cougars. So...if you click around on the menus, you will see boobs. If you watch the film all the way to the end, you will see boobs there as well, in a monatage of boobs over the closing credits. In between, during the movie itself, there are not many boobs. But a few boobs. In short, the only thing this movie has going for it is boobs, but there are not enough boobs to make this boob of a movie any less of a boob. The dialogue in the film is just about as clever as my own in the first part of this paragraph. An altogether painful experience, Cougar Club.

I know what you are thinking. If you knew it was just going to be one of those stupid teenagers-have-sex-with-people movies, why did you rent it? Good question. The main reason was the cast. I saw the DVD case and moved on. But on a second pass, I saw the name Faye Dunaway! And I took a look at it. I then saw Carrie Fisher, Joe Mantegna, and Izabella Scorupco. I thought, there is no chance all these fairly significant actors (or, in the case of Dunaway, legendary actors) would all have made a terrible error at the same time, would they? But it appears that yes, they would. And there is a big problem with a movie that's only premise is the promise of boobs. The problem is that people will rent the movie based on their desire to see the boobs of the actresses whose names appear on the cover of the film. When neither Fisher, nor Dunaway, nor Scorupco, and not even the wrestler Chyna (who gets big billing as well) doff their tops, even though they all have gratuitous sex scenes, it clearly undermines the rest of the boobs, which belong to nameless girls and are so gratuitous as to be comical.

The basic premise of Cougar Club is that two young guys go to work for a law firm, and discover that they can easily have sex with their bosses' wives. So the wives recruit other cougars, the young guys recruit other young guys, membership fees are charged, and a brothel of inter-generation trysts is created. This all gets wrapped up nicely in one of the worst courtroom scenes in history, and definitely the most offensive back-of-a-courtroom scene of all time. I have spent a long time enjoying cougars myself, but...I have spent way too much time dissecting a movie that really shouldn't ever even be discussed. This ends now.

Trepidation.

It is with a certain amount of fear that I prepare myslef for today's show. Not fear of humiliation. When you do what I do, it becomes pretty difficult to become embarrassed. Nor is it fear of pain. I can take a lot of pain, and I have learned to do so over and over with my time on the Doc and Woody show. No, there is a different reason I am frightened. You see, it turns out that something called "Sexapalooza" is in town, and as a way to promote this event, there is a dominatrix who will be visiting me this morning in order to ply her trade. This whole "dominatrix" thing is something I don't really understand. I get being tied up, I get the whole ice-cubes-and-feathers-and-chocolate sauce thing. But I have never been able to fully grasp the appeal of the jumper-calbes-and-car-battery-and-six-foot-orange-pylon-and-duct-tape thing. Not that is seems weird - I mean there are people with balloon fetishes and dressing up like stuffed animals fetishes. Whips and chains aren't that weird in comparison. I guess.

No, it's the idea that people enjoy mixing pleasure and pain. I, for one, would much prefer to mix pleasure with pleasure. Like, eating nachos during sex. Or smoking while I pee. Or drinking scotch while watching Steven Seagal movies. Whatever. The idea of having pain inflicted upon you, and deriving pleasure from that, seems foreign to me. Unless it's like that feeling you get when your feet start to thaw after you've been out playing hockey at the local rink for six hours, and your feet have frozen in your skates, and you sit down and put them in front of the fire, and they thaw out quickly, and the pain is excruciating, but you sort of like it because at least it's a relief from having frozen feet, and you are still warm and fuzzy inside from the great memories that come with six hours of outdoor hockey. Maybe it's like that. Or maybe it's like that feeling you get after you work out really hard for a couple of hours, and all your muscles feel really stiff and even washing your hair becomes almost too painful to bear, but it still feels kinda good, because you know you're getting in shape, and even though it hurts, you still flex in front of the mirror because you just worked out and your muscles look bigger than normal, and so you stand in front of the mirror in a variety of bodybuilding poses and you kiss your biceps even though the pain is intense...maybe it's like that.

That's the reason I'm scared - maybe I will discover why people like this stuff. And I can't afford a shock collar.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Death Sentence. (******/10)

I have read many critics absolutely slamming Death Sentence, the new Kevin Bacon revenge movie. And they are not entirely wrong. Death Sentence is definitely too simplistic. I is definitely filled with cliches. It opens with a montage of Kevin Bacon raising his son from the time he was a young boy, so that we know how much he loves him, and we feel bad when his son gets murdered. There is bad-ass music playing while he shaves his head to go on a killing spree. He does things that don't really make sense, which lead to crazy action scenes. People conveniently end up near windows, so that they can be shot through said windows in a shower of glass. There are cheesy references to old western movies (Welcome To Hell is written on a clubhouse wall, either ripping off or paying homage to High Plains Drifter). The director was clearly attempting to create a sort of Death Wish - meets - Straw Dogs motif, but was unable to do so convincingly, and the whole movie smacks of effort.

Death Sentence is created from the same book as Death Wish, and in a lot of ways is a remake of the Charles Bronson classic. Kevin Bacon's son gets killed in a gangland initiation ritual, and he goes all vigilante on the gang members' asses. James Berardinelli says this: "Death Wish has taken its share of knocks over the years but at least it doesn't pretend it's something more important and meaningful than it is - a mistake made by Death Sentence to its detriment." From Richard Roeper: "It’s terrible and it’s so disappointing because I love Kevin Bacon and I love Aisha [Tyler] and you have good actors here who are trapped." Some halfhearted praise from Roger Ebert: "There is a courtroom scene of true surprise and suspense, and some other effective moments, but basically this is a movie about a lot of people shooting at each other, and during the parts I liked, the action audience will probably go out to get popcorn, or a tattoo or something."

But that's just it. There are actually parts I liked. And performances I liked. John Goodman as a crazy lunatic gun dealer, reminiscent of his roles in Coen Brothers films like The Big Lebowski or O Brother Where Art Thou, and Kevin Bacon, who broods and stews with the best (for a very good movie where Kevin Bacon broods and stews, check out The Woodsman). Although there is that cheesy I-love-my-kid buildup, the scene where his kid actually gets killed is nonetheless powerful. There is a solid courtroom scene that provides some surprises, and the scenes between John Goodman and the gang leader are well done. In the end, I sort of liked this movie. Of course, I will take Death Wish over Death Sentence any day, but that's just because I enjoy Charles Bronson and his inability to show any emotion whatsoever. Death Sentence is just unfortunate because the action movie afficionados will not enjoy the slow, character-intensive parts (which are quite good), and the people who want to see quality in a movie will be put off by the gratuitous and nonsensical action sequences. There is something for everyone, but not enough for anyone.

Fifteen awful movies of 2007.

I just wrote a blog about fourteen great movies. I have decided to include an extra bad movie here, because I want to make the point that Hollywood makes far more bad movies than good ones. I really wanted to write about twenty-eight bad movies, but I wasn't feeling nearly masochistic enough. Two things - much like the great movies I talked about, the bad movies list will not be complete. There are many bad movies I have yet to see. License to Wed, I assume, is awful. Likewise Good Luck Chuck. But I have not seen them, and so I will not comment. Also, films like Boa vs. Python and Mammoth do not count, since they are not movies that big studios attempt to force on the general public. In order to rent and watch these films, one has to be a specific kind of masochist. The following films are the kind that real people may well have watched, hoping for something good, but then they were insulted and assaulted with crap. In no particular order, here goes.

Norbit: Eddie Murphy plays three characters, which worked in The Nutty Professor. This time, every character is an offensive and racist stereotype, not one of the characters is funny, and the movie is painful. A hint to filmmakers. If you can't find a real fat lady to be in your movie, and you have to dress up one of your actors to be a fat lady, it is likely because the jokes about fat ladies are so offensive and in such poor taste that no real fat lady would ever subject herself to the movie. Neither should the audience.

I Know Who Killed Me: The worst performance of the year was turned in by Lindsay Lohan as a bad-girl stripper. The second-worst performance of the year was turned in by Lindsay Lohan as a goody-two-shoes high school girl. Both were in this movie.

The Number 23: Well...at least it made me laugh. This was one of the worst-thought-out, horribly done "thriller" movies of the year. The best thing about it is that it was so incredibly awful, but the people making it really didn't know how bad it was. That can make something cross over from just a disaster into crappy camp. Think Showgirls.

The Reaping: Hilary Swank either wins an Oscar or she is in a terrible movie. This is a terrible movie, and she got no Oscar. The biblical plagues should really have ended in the destruction of the print of this movie.

Because I Said So: Diane Keaton, what happened? Mandy Moore, I think someday you could be good, but what happened? Mandy Moore likely IS good. But she has never in her life appeared in a good movie. I know for a fact that Diane Keaton is good. I saw Annie Hall. Watching Because I Said So for me was like walking into a theatre hoping for Annie Hall. Then, before I got to my seat, someone kicked me in the nuts and stole my popcorn.

Wild Hogs: There is nothing remotely funny about Wild Hogs. But it made a lot of money at the box office this year, because the names bring people in. Travolta, Macy, Tim Allen. No, I'm serious. Tim Allen is a box-office draw. No, really. I mean it. People like watching him! This is a high-school after school special with big name actors and motorcycles. Insipid.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry: A long, running gay joke, that is never funny, and offensive, and then tries not to be offensive by preaching the gospel of love thy neighbour and don't be homophobic. Ridiculous, stupid, and boring as hell.

Rush Hour 3: Chris Tucker just opening his mouth is not funny. Jackie Chan punching him in the mouth to shut him up WOULD be funny. This does not happen in Rush Hour 3. Therefore, Rush Hour 3 is not funny.

Georgia Rule: Lindsay Lohan flashes her privates at some mean girls. She tries to run someone down with her truck. She sleeps with everyone. The makers of this movie read about all of this in the tabloids, and thought Lohan would be perfect for this role, since the girl she plays does ALL of that. But they were wrong. Lindsay Lohan is perfect for nothing. Except being in tabloids.

Epic Movie: The worst movie of the year. Maybe, just maybe, the worst of any year. Gross-out humour that finds the gross but forgets the humour. Just being disgusting isn't funny. It is disgusting. And just recreating a scene or character from a famous movie does not spoof that movie. You have to actually do something funny with it. Epic movie does nothing funny. With anything.

Spiderman 3: Peter Parker and Mary Jane Whatsherface spend the third consecutive movie carefully avoiding communication with each other, and making sure they did not say the one thing that would have solved all their problems. Like, "that Harry guy is trying to kill me". That would have made things easier, complicated the movie much less, and spared us all that cheesy and lame romantic intrigue garbage. Which would have left us with still one, possibly two, too many villains, and a boring story with great special effects.

Happily N'Ever After: There are (I hope) producers in Hollywood who don't think that kids are essentially stupid. Witness Ratatouille, which was smart and funny and charming. Happily N'Ever After proves that some producers really think kids will be entertained by absolutely anything. All the intelligence and charm of a third-rate grade-four class clown.

Pirates of the Carribean 3: Enough already! I believe this movie may have been eleven hours long. Any movie that has Chow Yun-Fat, Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and a cameo by Keith Richards, and yet can still put an audience to sleep, must really have had some bad writers with absolutely nothing to say. For eleven hours.

Premonition: Sandra Bullock lives her own, scary, Groundhog Day. This movie is so desperate to make sense that it cares more about that than about being entertaining. Therefore, we are so un-entertained, that we no longer care if it makes sense. The smarter folk among us might even turn off the film before the end, not even caring about the ending. I was not that smart.

Resident Evil: Extinction: The third, and probably not final, installment in what may someday be known as the worst trilogy in history. But probably not. It will have a fourth installment, and therefore not be a trilogy, and therefore have to settle for being the second-worst movie series of all time, behind Friday the 13th.

Honorable mention to Evan Almighty, The Hallowe'en remake, Underdog, and Mr. Woodcock. I have mercifully been spared watching such fare as Hostel II, Captivity, Delta Farce and Who's Your Caddy, at least thus far.

More monster movies!

I went into Rogers near my house yesterday to pick up this week's new releases, only to find out they were shutting down that store. Everything was off the shelves, and being sold off cheap. So I took advantage of the opportunity to beef up my terrible-monster-movie collection. I picked up Boa vs. Python, Frankenfish, and Attack of the Sabretooth (which is not to be confused with the "superior" movie, Sabretooth, released some years before). I then sat down to be entertained by ridiculous badness and aggressive mediocrity. I watched Frankenfish first, which hit all of the gnre buttons dead on. Topless female nudity, mostly gratuitous (and none involving the stars, of course). A pointless romance between the only two characters who could possibly get together, the bad-ass local guy who knows the swamp and can kill the evil fish by himself...it was all there. The awesome badness of the movie was sealed when the attractive black guy and the Chinese girl were clearly not going to get together, and they meet up with a very attractive black girl whose white boyfriend was an obnoxious sissy...these movies still think that only people of the same race can hook up properly. Otherwise, the audience has too much to think about.

Of course, this girl (and those around her) is unrealistically hot for someone who has been brought up on a houseboat deep in the swamp, and somehow has perfect hair and makeup the whole time. Of course, there are also the customary bad guys too - cowboy-type rich executives, the people who genetically created these mutant Frankenfish to begin with, who will swoop down to the swamp, attempt to capture it alive, and get their just deserts for being so evil. Of course, when the heroes finally finish the job, they laugh and kiss each other as though forty-three other people have not just died in the carnage. And, of course, there is one final SCARE at the end. This is the monster movie formula, and it is fantastic. The only thing they were missing was a group of sorority girls and fraternity boys who happen to get caught up in the chaos. Which brings me to the next movie...

Attack of the Sabretooth involves sorority girls and fraternity boys who have been thrown together and dumped on an island for the purposes of completing some sort of scavenger hunt. Why this island, why a scaveneger hunt, dropped off by whom, why only five of them, we will never know. Every ethnicity and stereotype is represented. The black girl who is good with guns. The oriental guy who is good with computers. The ditzy blonde big-chested cheerleader and the muscle-bound jock she secretly lusts after. (Despite her assertions that she hates him.) And, of course, the goth chick who so desperately insists on not being judged. At the same time, the evil bad guys who genetically created the monster sabretooth tigers and want to recapture them alive are hosting a meeting of investors on this same island to show them the sabretooth menaces. When people start dying, the evil bad guy in charge of course tries to keep that quiet, so it does not scare off the investors, while the tough-chick security guard who's been there and seen it all goes renegade to bring down the big cats herself.

There are a few variations on the cliches in Attack of the Sabretooth. There are TWO evil bad guys, scheming against each other, and...oh! They're brothers! Who hate each other! Even though one is clearly American and the other clearly British, they are brothers. There are three sabretooth tigers who get loose, a male a female, and, bizarrely, a genetic freak. In most monster movies, the freakish genetic abnormality is three times the size, three times the fury, and shows up only at the end...blah blah blah. In Attack of the Sabretooth, this weird cat does indeed show up at the end, but it's special freakish nature is such that it doesn't have back legs, only a pile of jelly coming out of it's butt. So it drags itself around with it's front legs, and kills no one. Oh, and no boobs at all. Another cliche of these movies remains intact, however. The one that says that there must be dozens of rooms in the building, each with generically labeled items like "flammable gas" canisters, which can all be used in clever ways to kill the predators. Then the movie ends, with one big FINAL SCARE, but this time, it is in what would appear to be the middle of the movie.

Attack of the Sabretooth is a Jurassic Park rip-off with hilariously bad animation and even worse acting. It is terrifically indicative of the genre. However, Boa vs. Python is something else entirely. Oh, sure, it has it's share of totally gratuitous boobs, it has unrealistic creatures attacking unrealistic humans, and various attractive young people who band together to fight the good fight against the bad beast. But this time, it takes place in a CITY! And the epic final battle is not between the beast and the two surviving characters who are meant to hook up, but between two of the monsters themselves! The boa and the python, of course. This time there are government agents involved, and the animation is slightly better than usual. Jamie Bergman shows up as a marine biologist. The least convincing scientist since Denise Richards played Christmas Jones in that Bond movie. And the boa apparently eats in a bird-like motion and growls like a...sabretooth tiger.

If you want a really good monster movie, rent Jaws, or The Host, or...ummm...something else. These are the bottom-of-the-barrel, worst-movies-ever type of monster flicks, the kind where they purposely insert breaks in the film where commercials could go, knowing it will likely appear only on late-night TV, and that way they don't have to re-edit the movie once for TV and once for video. They are staggeringly awful, and the only thing that could make me enjoy them more would be the inclusion of Steven Seagal.

Parking. Lots.

With the current uproar over the proposed hike in parking fees here in Ottawa, a lot of things seem to be missed. First of all, our parking rates are already too high. But that's not the real problem here. The city is trying to boost their revenue through raising the rates, and charging people that much more to park downtown. I have always hated parking downtown, because I have to go to a bank to make enough change that I can stay there long enough to do what I have to do. A couple of years ago, I had to show up to a "motion of discovery" for a court case in which I was involved. It ended up happening very late, and I was forced to run down to the parking metre three times while I was waiting. Not only that, but I had to go to a bank, get some change, and return to the parking metre twice.

Now I read in the paper that the city collects 27 million dollars a year in parking fees. 11 million of that comes from the metres themselves, and a full 16 million comes from tickets. When your ticketing program accounts for 60% of your revenue in parking something is wrong. Parking must be a problem, since people are more willing to take a ticket than they are to find an actual space. But instead of solving these problems, (45 cents is spent by the city to collect every parking dollar), the city has decided to just plain raise the fees. It's their problem that parking, especially downtown parking, sucks, but they don't really want to fix it. What they would rather do is gouge everyone who goes downtown, because it's easier. This is kind of like saying "I know you can't work at your construction job right now because I broke both your legs with my shovel. So what I am going to do is sue you for breaking my shovel, and the money you will owe me will be an incentive to get back to work that much faster, which will cause your legs to heal quicker." Well, it's kind of like that. I might need to work on my analogies some.

Whatever. What's nice is that for once, city council might actually be listening to complaints! From citizens! They are holding off on their plan after the public outcry that followed the announcement, and it looks like at the very least weekend and evening parking will not change for now. Finally, city council changes their mind...for the better. So far.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jonas: The behind-the-scenes look at Quebec's Nickelback. (*****/10)

There are a few telling scenes in the new documentary Jonas: The Quest. One is where a woman describes the effect Jonas has on an audience. She says it’s very telling when you see a guy perform on stage, and look at the crowd. If the women are excited and turned on, and the men are not pissed off, then you have a really special act. This is probably true. Then she cites some examples of rockers who have been able to pull this off, starting with Jon Bon Jovi. What?

Jonas: The Quest is a documentary from Quebec being released by Alliance Atlantis on January 15th. It’s about a Quebecois rock star named Jonas, who is searching desperately for his big break. A lot of it rings true. I have never heard of Jonas. The movie explains that it is much easier for many French Canadian artists to get their break in the U.S. than it is in Canada. I believe that. How many French Canadian musicians can most of English Canada name? Celine Dion and Roch Voisine? Mitsou? Yeah. Not exactly a proud heritage there. But there are definitely many artists labouring in Quebec that never get the mainstream recognition they deserve. But I’m not sure Jonas is one of them. There are constant comparisons to Nickelback. That’s kind of telling as well. His band is good, his voice is good, but his songs are not exactly world beaters.

Jonas: The Quest is an interesting movie, especially for those who want a real inside look at the Canadian music business. But for anyone else, there isn’t much here. None of the personalities are huge enough to be engaging, and the music itself is mediocre. Would you watch a documentary about the undiscovered Coldplay? Especially if there was no real conclusion, none of the characters were interesting, nothing really happens from beginning to end, and you have to watch a lot of Coldplay songs? I would guess no.

Rise: Blood Hunter. It is not Blade, but it does have nipples. (****/10)

Lucy Liu is kind of hot. Not hot enough to carry a movie on her own, but kinda hot in a dominatrix, angrily-sexy-chick kind of way. And she can not carry Rise: Blood Hunter on her own. The cover of this movie makes it look like Blade, or Underworld, or Van Helsing, or any one of these vampire-hunter movies that have begun to crop up everywhere. But it isn't. It's much worse. You see, Lucy Liu is kinda-dominatrix-hot, and that's it. She is not an excellent actress, she is just a passable actress in secondary roles. Remember Ecks vs. Sever? God knows I wish I didn't. Rise: Blood Hunter also stars Michael Chiklis, most recently seen in The Shield and Fantastic Four, but still best-loved by all for The Commish. His character keeps showing up, but is given absolutely nothing to do in the film. His involvement in the final scene is irritating, since we just don't care about him at all. But then, we don't care about anyone else either.

Lucy Liu plays a reporter who is working on a story about a cult. She gets attacked by a vampire, and becomes one. She then sets out to destroy all vampires. In the process, she undergoes an instantaneous transformation from a meek, sad little weakling into a tough-talking, bad-ass little weakling. The lines here are painful. "Have mercy". "Sorry, I'm fresh out just now." Not only are you ripping off the line, you're making it immeasureable worse. The movie is told in that disjointed narrative that Tarantino popularized with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but the director clearly has no idea why that style is effective. He just thinks people seem to like that.

And then the bizarre cameos. Marilyn Manson shows up as a bartender, which I understand. It's goth, it's vampires, it's Marilyn Manson. He can't act at all, but at least the pieces fit. Then...Nick Lachey shows up for two minutes as some thug in the hood. Nicke Lachey? What? And there is nudity. Tons of female nudity, all the way through, much of it courtesy of Lucy Liu herself. However, it is all that obnoxious kind of nudity where you never get a full-frontal boob shot (except for that hooker at the very beginning), and therefore the camera has to go to some pretty strange angles to avoid showing everything at once. Your actress agreed to appear nude. You are showing her nipples anyway. Do you get a better rating if you show them only one at a time and from a side view? Come on. Rise: Blood Hunter is kind of worth it for the nudity, but if you're that kind of pervert, Lucy Liu is also naked in City of Industry, full boobs, and the movie is much better.

Capital punishment...no, I don't mean all that snow in Ottawa.

Nor do I mean the punishment the Senators will inflict on Washington tonight. So we have a hard-line policy here in Canada. Or, we did. That policy says that when Canadian citizens are scheduled to be executed in less unlightened countries, our government steps in and puts a stop to it. Those felons are sent to Canada and kept in prison for life. But now, there is a Canadian on death row in the U.S. Stockwell Day says that our position on this is no longer so absolute. Ronald Smith has been on death row in Montana for more than 20 years. Says Day, "we will no longer pursue bringing back to Canada murderers who have been tried in a democratic country that supports the rule of law". Keep in mind he is talking about the United States here, a country that executes mentally handicapped people. And, on occasion, innocent ones.

This got me to wondering. Would we back off if the country with which we were dealing was France? Belgium? England? Germany? Russia? The Philippines? Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Slovenia? I looked into it. It turns out that question is moot. Those countries do not have the death penalty. No, in the fully developed world, only five countries still have capital punishment. Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and...the United States. The abolishment of the death penalty has been as universally approved as universal health care...oh right. But do you really think there would have been any hesitation to bring back a convicted murderer from Taiwan or Singapore? How much of this is just because it's the United States? And how incredibly callous and offensive is it to hear someone in an official position even mention saving taxpayer money by not attempting to bring this man back? How much will you save, exactly? Just enough to commission another study into the environment and carbon taxes? We could sure use another one of those.

Bilingualism...thank God we have something else we can complain about!

I read the stories in the paper today. A man was pulled over by a police officer. He spoke French to that police officer. The cop answered him in English. The man (who had run a red light) demanded (I assume in French) that he be served in French. The police officer said no. Finally, the man pulled out his cell phone and dialed 311, asking for a French officer to be sent to the scene. Forty minutes later, one was. This man, Michael Morin, was quoted in the papers today as saying "I think police services in the national capital should be able to offer bilingual services to the population of Canada". I thought, yes, they probably should. Then I thought...wait a minute! That quote appears to be in English! I went over it, word by word. And lo and behold, it did turn out to be English that he was speaking. And not just English, but eloquent, fluent English. And I thought...genius! That is a great way to get out of a ticket. Next time the cops pull me over, I, as a bilingual resident of Ottawa, will answer them in French. I will then insist that I be served in French, and eventually they will have to comply. Then, when it comes time for my case to reach trial, the cops who stopped me will not show up, because I am a big pain in the ass and it isn't worth their while, and I will get off scot-free!

Which is exactly what happened here. But wait. This was not simply a clever way to get out fo a ticket. There was a statement being made. And when the charges were dismissed, this man would not let up. You see, Morin is a federal beaurocrat working with the Official Languages Support Program. And so this was a political statement, a beef with the services offered in Ottawa by the police. Much like the gentleman who complained that bus stops were not announced in both languages. Randall's commentary yesterday was about the government regulating the signs in front of shops in the area, forcing shopkeepers to put up both English and French. His point was valid. Not that it's a bad idea to have bilingual signs, but that the government should not be regulating such things and imposing these conditions on store owners. It should be up to the individual shopkeeper. I agree.

In the same way, it should be up to the individual when language is the issue elsewhere. If you are fluently bilingual, why would you insist on being served in French? I have worked hundreds of jobs in Ottawa, and when a customer or client addressed me in French, I responded in French. On occasion, they would quickly conclude that their English was better than my French, and so they would switch languages to make things easier on me, the service provider. On the rare occasion where they were uni-lingual, the whole transaction would take place in French, only a little slower than normal. If you, the individual, have the capacity to speak both languages, what concern is it of yours whether the person serving you has the same ability? You have learned both languages so you can speak to both anglophones AND francophones, right? Why else would you have learned a second language? So now you are able to do so, and yet you insist that the people you deal with must be able to do the same. Why would this bother anyone? Well, unless you were cleverly trying to avoid a traffic ticket.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Fourteen great movies of 2007.

This is not a top-fourteen list. It is just fourteen movies that are well worth checking out. I have not seen all the best movies of 2008, because I tend to wait for DVD, and therefore I have yet to see No Country For Old Men, Sweeny Todd or There Will Be Blood. But I don't know of a single film critic who doesn't have a bunch of year-end lists, I have decided to do a couple myself, since I have been pretending to be a film critic for some time now. These are not in order, they are just fourteen movies well worth renting on DVD this year.

Ratatouille: A rat with an incredible palate and cooking ability becomes the top chef in Paris. The best animated movie in years, this one courtesy of Brad Bird, the genius behind such quality films as The Incredibles. The brilliance of Ratatouille comes from two things. First of all, the movie does not dumb itself down for the benefit for the children at whom it's aimed. The dialogue, while not "adult" dialogue, and not filled with those clever double entendres that fly over the head of children while adults snicker in the audience. It assumes children are capable of understanding multi-syllabic words and actual realistic sentences. The second thing it does extremely well is the animation itself. The rat is cute, like all main characters in animated movies, but it is also very rat-like. You always get the sense that people would indeed be freaked out to see this animal in their kitchen, and therefore everything else falls into place in ringing true. Well, as true as a rat-chef can be.

The City Of Violence: A Korean action movie by Seung-Wan Ryoo. A cop, Tae-Su, assigned to the organized crime unit returns to his hometown for the funeral of a high school friend. There, he reunites with some old friends, but something feels wrong about his friend's death. Tae-Su begins to investigate, which leads him through several bloody conflicts and, of course, to one final bloody battle. There is nothing new in City of Violence. Several themes are very central to Asian cinema, and one of them is the idea of childhood friends who went their separate ways but who are united by a certain bond. Another is one man against an entire gang fight scenes. The City of Violence is no exception, and it even tips it's hat to an older movie, The Warrior, during one of these epic fight scenes. What sets this film apart is it's acting and it's atmosphere. In American cinema for the most part, the best actors do dramas and serious movies, and leave the action films to the flavour-of-the-month actor. In Asian cinema, the best actors are the ones who do action flicks, because for the most part those are the best movies. This is one of them.

Eastern Promises: Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg are the best actor-director tandem working today. Mortensen is fantastic as usual, as is Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller-Stahl. This is the best movie I saw on DVD this year. Russian mob. Tattoos. Violence and terrific acting. What more do you need?

Knocked Up: A fat, lazy guy who resembles me in many many ways gets an unreasonably hot Katherine Heigl pregnant. Hilarity ensues. The best kind of chick flick in that it will make chicks who watch it irritated, while it will make guys split their sides with laughter.

Superbad: The same guys who made Knocked Up made the funniest high-school-loser-teenage-sex movie of the last fifteen years. Maybe ever. Some of the funniest performances and best dialogue in a movie this year. McLovin rules!

Rescue Dawn: Vietnam prisoner-of-war camp drama starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn, directed by Werner Herzog. Bale is one of the best actors working today, Herzog has made some seriously classic films, but Steve Zahn? Bandidas, Saving Silverman Steve Zahn? His performance is the surprise of the year.

The Bourne Ultimatum: Best of the Bourne series, and that's saying a lot. The most intense scene in a movie lately was the one where Matt Damon guides a reporter through a crowd via cell phone as the bad guys close in on him. Heart-racing, tremendously fun and exciting.

The Host: Coolest monster movie in a long time. Korean as well, this one is excellent, creepy, and yet still has time to wink at the audience and put in some terrible monster-movie bad moments, like the one where the monster appears for the first time at a beach and eats everyone. Hilarious. And awesome.

Away From Her: Sarah Polley has always been a great actress - yes, even in Road To Avonlea, which my mom watched religiously, but which made me angry as a child. Now she proves she is a very good director as well, with this film about Alzheimers. Julie Christie just won a Golden Globe for her role as the Alzheimers-stricken elderly lady, and deservedly so. Gordon Pinsent, for some reason, has not been mentioned in any critic's circles for his protrayal of her suffering husband, but he certainly deserves very high praise for his performance as well.

Hot Fuzz: The funniest movie of the year. Only people (the Shaun of the Dead people) who absolutely love all movies, especially brainless action flicks, could have made a movie that seems so familiar, yet so new at the same time. The scene at the end when Nick Frost fires his gun into the air and yells "aaaarrrrghhh!" made me laugh harder than any other movie moment this past year.

3:10 To Yuma: A fantastic adaptation of an old, forgotten western is bang on. Not a perfect movie, by any means, but terrifically entertaining. Christian Bale and especially Russell Crowe are electrifying, both deserve award consideration for this one.

Sicko: Michael Moore's look at the American health care system is funny, eye-opening, and devastatingly tragic. Say what you will about Michael Moore, this man knows how to make an audience laugh, knows how to tug at their heart strings, and the fact that he lobbies for change while doing so makes him all the more important as a filmmaker.

Grindhouse: This is actually two movies. Which adds up to fourteen overall. Death Proof is just more Quentin Tarantino being in love with making movies, and that is just blissful to watch. Kurt Russell is wonderful, and that stunt girl who rides the car is fantastic. The second movie, Planet Terror, is not as great, but is still an awfully fun ride through the world of zombie attacks and machine-gun legs. Bruce Willis makes an appearance. That makes it well worth while.

I am not a tool!

OK, that title sounded a lot better in my head when I said it with a Richard Nixon voice. I recently purchased a weight bench from Fitness Depot in Kanata. I got it home and built it. It really was very easy to put together, but you would never know that from looking at the instructions. There were three steps. Step one: Take everything out of the box. Step two: assemble it. Step three: you have a weight bench. After much consternation and pieces attached backwards, then re-attached sideways, then finally attached properly, I had reached the end of the capabilities of my brain and my fingers. Which was a bit of a problem. The nuts on the bolts were made in such a way that they locked themselves in, but that meant that you could in no way tighten them by hand. I had to get out my tools.

I have a strange set of tools. I have never given it much thought, since I have never built anything ever, but there are certain tools one would assume a normal house would have. A hammer, for instance. My tool set consists of eleven screwdrivers, (six of which are exactly the same), forty-one Allen keys from various Ikea-type installations, forty-four screws (those that were left over from failed Ikea-type installations), three multi-tools, and four ratchet sets. The reason I have four ratchet sets is that they are constantly being offered as one of those everyone-gets-a-prize prizes at golf tournaments, and I seem to get two each year. I opened all four, since a ratchet was exactly what I needed to build the rest of this bench. Well, I really needed two wrenches. But I own zero wrenches.

Each ratchet set came with like four hundred pieces. Fifty of these pieces were ratchets, the other 350 were screwdriver bits. Each ratchet was too small for the nuts I was using. If you have fifty ratchets, shouldn't you have one of every conceivable size? I don't know. And why would you need a screwdriver set with twenty flat-head screwdrivers, each of which is smaller than any I have ever used before. Why is a two-millimetre flathead necessary when you already have a 2.2 millimetre flathead? So, since I have so many of these, I have decided to branch out into watch repair. Once I have purchased my magnifying glass and microscope, I will be putting up flyers. Send me your watches, and I will open them and do stuff to them. Coming soon...finally I went back to Fitness Depot, where they were kind enough to spare me the expense of purchasing two wrenches by lending me their store-issue jobs. My weight bench is now built. It will make a great table for my watch-repair business.

The welcome wagon gets me again!

"I hope you're enjoying the use of your welcome wagon jar opener" said the voice on the phone. "My what? What's a jar opener?" said I. "Well, it could also be a coaster, or a ... thing ... it's shaped like a house" said the well-informed voice. I went to my drawer. After some brief searching, I discovered that she was right. There, in front of me, as though I was seeing it for the very first time, was a house-shaped piece of rubber, stamped with the insignia of a retirement residence, that could well be used to open a pickle jar, provided the lid of that jar was smaller than the size of the rubber house. "I DID receive your product", I said, "but I have yet to use it, so I can't yet comment on it's effectiveness in opening jars of salsa, mayonnaise and the like."

She responded, "well, that's not the reason I'm calling. I wanted to know if you thought you'd be needing a retirement residence any time soon." I answered that it seemed unlikely to me. After all, as she well knew, I had just bought a house, and as such I was hoping to stay in it at least a few years before I moved on to a life of luxury and feeding tubes. "Call back in fifty years", I said. She felt that was a fair assessment, but suggested that perhaps I knew someone, family for instance, that could use a retirement residence. Or maybe an elderly neighbour. I said I would take these ideas into consideration. After all, I had just moved, I had yet to meet my neighbours, and this would be a tremendous way to break the ice. Also, it would provide me with some good conversation with my parents.

I wasted no time recruiting old people. My dad came for dinner Friday night. Over pasta and a game of Guitar Hero, I asked him if he would like to move back to Ottawa from Saskatchewan so I could put him into a home. My grandparents are in homes, and I think it looks like a delightful lifestyle. He argued that he was not yet retired from his job, and he'd like to do one thing at a time. My argument was that he could get so much more work done if he didn't have to worry about things like indoor plumbing and septic tanks out in Saskatchewan. If all that stuff was taken care of FOR you, there would be that much more time to create reports on Canada's rural economy. And think of how much easier it would be to travel! No more packing the house up, getting your neighbours to grab your mail, just lock your apartment door and go! He felt that it was not yet time. "Get back to me in twenty years" he said.

I met my elderly neighbour out shoveling. I had not yet said hello, but this was a great opportunity to get to know him. "Good afternoon sir!" said I. "My name is Eric and I just moved in down the street." We shook hands, exchanged a little small talk, and I moved on to the more important things. "Listen, I couldn't help but notice that you're very old. No, no, I'm not offering to shovel your snow, but I have something even better. Imagine living somewhere where you never HAD to shovel. Or cook, or clean, or do anything! How would you like to move to a retirement home?" He looked at me, thinking deeply on the matter. He said "I'm forty-nine years old." I was not discouraged. I said, "there is no time like the present to start thinking about your golden years, which I understand start at fifty. Here, take this jar opener, and think about it." I handed him my jar opener, which was still in my pocket, and he said "get off my driveway."

But I have not stopped. I will not quit. I will find SOMEone, SOMEwhere who needs a retirement home. If there is anyone reading my blog who is over the age of 80, and lives in the Glencairn area of Kanata, and would like to have their meals served to them and their walkways shoveled for them and their beds made in the morning, please let me know. I don't get a commission from the place, but I certainly don't want their welcome wagon house-shaped jar opener to go to waste.

What a weekend! Of sports!

Having allegiance to just one team in football (Packers), and just one team in hockey (Senators), amd just one baseball team (Red Sox), I find myself changing my method of cheering accordingly. You see, after the Patriots won on Saturday, I was cheering for the Colts on Sunday. (Had the Jaguars won, I would have cheered for the Chargers.) But since New England did win, I thought only the Colts had a chance to knock them off, and I really didn't want New England to make it to the Super Bowl, because they can beat the Packers. So of course I was disappointed. And now New England will make it to the Super Bowl. Then, because the Packers won their game convincingly over Seattle, I was cheering for the Giants to knock off the Cowboys so that the NFC Championship game will be played in Green Bay, rather than in Dallas. And of course I was ecstatic. This all make sense? No, not to me either. It made sense at the time I began cheering. Then of course, the Senators won their big game against Detroit, virtually assuring them a place in the Stanley Cup finals this year. Start engraving the names now.

I had this theory earlier in the year - this is the year where all my teams will win championships. The Red Sox started things off right, with their World Series victory. Now, Green Bay will get to the Super Bowl against New England with their win over New York this coming Sunday. So here's what I think - if Green Bay wins the Super Bowl in February 2nd, we can go ahead and plan the Stanley Cup parade right now. However - if New England wins, then there is a different trend going on. The Boston trend. So if the Patriots wind up being Super Bowl champions, then the Bruins will somehow end up with the Stanley Cup. It all makes sense to me.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Death of A President - movie review! (******/10)

Death of a President is an interesting movie. It came out in 2006, and tells the (obviously ficticious) story of the assassination of George W. Bush through newsreel footage, manipulated computer images and faux-documentary style actors. Unfortunately, that's all it is, is interesting. There was a time where this was the most controversial movie in the world, but that controversy (as so often happens) existed only before anyone actually saw the film. The movie is very well done and very convincingly shot. Dick Cheney's press conferences have been expertly manipulated to show him delivering eulogies and talking about the death of Bush. The actors are all good. The story follows up on the assassination as Cheney adds more teeth to the Patriot Act ('cause that's what it needs), and a young man appears to be falsely convicted of the murder, and he is quickly executed.

The thing the movie fails to do, which I was hoping for, is have an opinion either way on Bush and Cheney and anti-Bush protesters and any other party that might be involved in a scenario such as this one. The reason it caused such controversy was that it imagined the assassination of a real man, the sitting president at the time of the movie's release. Much like the documentaries of Michael Moore, the right wing jumped all over this as blasphemous before they had even seen it, and in most cases they stated unequivocally that they would never watch it. They assumed it would be filled with anti-Bush, anti-neocon rhetoric, and come out wholly on the side of those who would muder the president. But it doesn't. And it doesn't attack them either. The movie doesn't seem to be squarely on any side, nor does it create any truly provacative ideas. And that is the problem. It ends up just being a bunch of stuff that happens.

While Death Of A President is very watchable, and certainly interesting, and resonably insighful, there is nothing new here, and when it's over the film had been unable to make me feel one way or another about this imagined assassination. If Gabriel Range had really wanted to make a controversial movie that would be remembered for years to come, he would have made sure that he took a stance on one side of Bush or the other. As it stands, the controversy came and went, as will this movie.

No Country For Old Men - a book report.

Randall just let me borrow the Cormac McCarthy book No Country For Old Men. The movie, by the Coen Brothers, is being touted as the best movie made in a long time, and I am eagerly anticipating it's release on DVD. (Alliance Atlantis is releasing the film on March 11th.) I have been so excited for the release of the film that I have seen every trailer and behind-the scenes featurette available online. I have yet to see a Coen Brothers film I did not like. I have watched The Big Lebowski like eleven times, Miller's Crossing is one of the most overlooked classics out there, and Fargo is one of the all-time great movies. When it comes to movies based on books, the standard thing people tend to say afterward is "the book was better than the movie". I have said this myself, many times. Jurassic Park, Great Expectations, American Psycho, The Amityville Horror, Sense and Sensibility...there are very few films that surpass the books - The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, Goodfellas, A Scanner Darkly...that's about it.

The main problem I had in reading the book was that it was difficult to be objective. I have long made a point of reading the book before I see the movie. Then when I watch the film, I can see how it matches up to the way I imagined it. If I do it the other way around, it becomes difficult to lose yourself in the book and go into it without some kind of preconceived notion of how it looks and who the main characters are. Now, I have yet to see No Country For Old Men, but I have seen enough trailers and promotional stuff that I had this problem anyway. Every time I read about Chiugurh, I pictured Javier Bardem. Wells is Woody Harrelson, Sherriff Bell is Tommy Lee Jones, Llewellyn Moss is Josh Brolin...it became pretty difficult to separate the small bits I'd seen from the book itself.

But at the same time, I couldn't put it down. I started reading, and three hours later I hadn't moved. I was still in the same chair, in the same posture, in the same bad light as when I began. I had started a Joe Cocker concert DVD at the same time as I began half-ass reading, and it had looped through three times by the time I finished my book, and although I had it loud, I hadn't paid attention to one word Mr. Cocker was singing. This book is unbelievable. I have heard people call Cormac McCarthy America's greatest living writer. I can't make a comment on that, since I have read but one of his books, but on the strength of No Country For Old Men, I find it hard to disagree. It starts off with a bang, with the murder of a sherriff's deputy by a handcuffed prisoner. From there, it moves with a lightning pace, zipping across the country from the perspective of dozens of characters, leading to the inevitable gruesome conclusion. Some deaths are bloody and graphic, others are simply seen in the light of the aftermath. This device allows McCarthy to put a different amount of emphasis on the importance of each murder. Or, so it would seem at first.

I don't want to say more. This book is best read with a completely fresh perspective. And a glass of cognac. Set aside some time (it won't take more than three or four hours to read) and sink yourself into one of the best books I have read in a long while. Since...Crime And Punishment, I suppose. I recently read an article in Rolling Stone magazine (the end-of-year recap issue) about Cormac McCarthy, and it made me like this man even more. He is considered a "recluse" in the book world, I guess because he doesn't publicize himself the way other authors do, but he certainly seems accessible in this article. He basically lives and spends his days at a place called the Santa Fe Institute, a bizarre building that houses and creates discussion forums for the smartest people in America. Physicists, economists, artists, authors, and dozens of people from the highest spheres of intelligence get together and discuss tons of stuff and learn from each other. Some kind of intellectual utopia that seems like it could come out of the movies. Or a book.

Speaking of the Santa Fe Institute, here is a link to a photo of Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist who is either the hottest smart person in the world or the smartest hot one:
http://www.aapt.org/Events/SM2006/images/Randall(web).jpg

Read No Country For Old Men now, hopefully before you watch the film. It's the best book I have read in a long time, and I have to read the rest of McCarthy's stuff now. Thanks Randall. You have forced me to seek out seven more books and thereby waste seven more weekends.