modern-day cavemen

Do you want to know what modern-day cavemen look like? Look no further:


film review: indiana jones and the bag of mixed results

How weird is it to be thrilled AND disappointed at the same time? So Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn't a great Indiana Jones movie, or even, necessarily, a great movie. It's like the Fantastic Four of Jones; totally insubstantial, but goofy and fun nonetheless.

Indiana Jones and the Bag of Mixed Results




a scarf is just a scarf

No, Michelle Malkin isn't a racist. Not at all. Nope. Just because she objects to Rachael Ray wearing a scarf in a now-pulled Dunkin' Donuts commercial that is, apparently, a keffiyeh. And what is a keffiyeh? According to Malkin, it

is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not so ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities and left-wing icons.
(Oh, those rascally left-wing icons. They just gotta have that "hate couture," eh?)

How noble of Malkin to complain about "anti-American political correctness" while simultaneously enforcing her own kind of political correctness, such as the implied anti-Palestinian biasthat the Palestinians are just terrorists and not also victims. But Rachael Ray looks like an Arab terrorist and thus appears to be a Palestinian sympathizer - and so is Dunkin' Donuts, by extension. And she has a point when she says that people since would be upset if a commercial spokesperson wore a KKK hood, people are right to be offended by a symbol of "murderous jihad." But that's all a dodge. The real issue underlying Malkin's own political correctness is the denial of Palestinian victimhood, that the Palestinian people are suffering. Under the prevailing narrative, Israel must not be criticized, and any expression of sympathy with the Palestinians is tantamount to criticizing Israel. As Chris Hedges wrote in describing the effects of Israel's security wall:

But this branding of these militants as something less than human, as something that reasonable people cannot hope to understand, is possible only because we have ignored and disregarded the decades of repression, the crushing weight of occupation, the abject humiliation and violence, unleashed on Lebanese and Palestinians by Israel because of our silence and indifference.

Yet this branding is precisely what Malkin and like-minded folk aim to achieve. To those of us not prone to seeing demons everywhere, this whole hoopla is rather silly. Look at the picture for yourself. But the reason pundits like Malkin are so successful in getting their warped message across is because they don't waste any opportunity, big or small, serious or silly, in getting it out there.

On an unrelated note, Bob Cesca's blog really is goddamn awesome. Go!


torture in the US: where's the outrage?

Robert Sheer wonders where the outrage is. He asks:
Are we Americans truly savages or merely tone-deaf in matters of morality, and therefore more guilty of terminal indifference than venality? It’s a question demanding an answer in response to the publication of the detailed 370-page report on U.S. complicity in torture, issued last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

For lack of time, I only read the executive summary. But it's enough to be chilled by how cavalier the government and military has become towards the use of "harsh" interrogation techniques. Sleep deprivation, stress positions, snarling dogs, and so on - when the FBI has a policy in which agents are not permitted to participate in interrogations by other agencies when those interrogations include harsh techniques, it's clear there's more than a problem.

So what is the answer to Sheer's question? It's fairly simple. People are too worried about the economy to pay attention to bigger picture issues. Ironically, any number of issues - from the Iraq war to the Bush Administration-sanctioned use of torture or, as they call it, "enhanced" interrogation techniques - should bring down the government, the Republican party, and Democrat enablers. Yet in this election year, it is the fact that the economy is enmeshed in a vortex of suckiness that is provoking voter outrage. Follow the money, they say. Same goes for voters: unless it hurts the pocketbook, it doesn't register. Or, maybe,it's simply that, good capitalist consumers that we are, we need fat bellies and fat wallets before we our moral compasses kick in.

There's a column in here somewhere, related to what has been referred to as "inverted totalitarianism." Stay tuned.


capsule review: lust, caution

The only description I had in my mind about Lust, Caution involved the words "espionage thriller" and the flashing red lights of the dreaded NC-17 rating. As it turns out, the film is a quiet, sensitive, and downbeat character piece that slowly unwinds deception laced with the sinister machinations of espionage and assassination set amidst the World War II occupation of China by Japanese forces. It's the tragedy of the spider becoming entangled in its own web. If the movie fails, it is for the same reason it succeeds: the characters act in a fragile, easily disturbed emotional limbo. With the line between truth and deception almost impossible blurred, it's difficult to get past overly low-key characterizations, whose subtlety may mask an absence of dimension, to really dissect the characters. But the film is moving, with the characters' disorientation lingering long after Ang Lee's odd, but appropriate, choice of final shot.

film review: the forbidden kingdom

Oh yes, everybody IS kung fu fighting, especially when Jackie Chan and Jet Li mix it up. My review of The Forbidden Kingdom - I know, I know, it's giving way to the next batch of blockbusters in theatres - has posted:

The Forbidden Kingdom: One Heck of a Popcorn Popper




pre-review: indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull

When The Last Crusade was released waaaaaay back in 1989, Indiana Jones left behind a rather big hat to fill. Plenty of films tried to put on that ever-familiar fedora, but even the most successful old-school adventures hasn’t quite achieved the iconic status of Jones. No, not even Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft. And now comes The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Plot details were kept under wraps, critics were kept at arm’s length…the secrecy has been seen as a bad sign - only studios with something to hide keep screenings to a minimum. The biggest worry: the fourth film would be to the previous three was the Star Wars prequels are to the original trilogy.

There have been early reviews. “Mixed!” cries a headline on Yahoo! News. A few pubs like IGN ranked the film as third best in the series. And so the hype is deflated. Or is it? The tomato meter stands at 78%, hardly a number to scoff at.

As I look forward to the film, however, I can’t say I’m either beside myself with hype or beating myself up with skepticism. My guess is that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull won’t achieve the impossible, namely, to rouse us the way Raiders of the Lost Ark roused audiences back in 1981. But I fully expect it to continue where The Last Crusade left off and deliver a solid crack of the whip. In other words, it should be fun, which is really all I’m looking for in an Indiana Jones film.


theatre review: two unrelated plays by mamet

-It’s posted.
-Yes. My review posted.
-What review?
-Of David Mamet’s Two Unrelated Plays
-Your review…
-Has posted. Yes.
-That’s right. At the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
-Two plays at the Douglas…
-The Duck Variations and Keep Your Pantheon.
-Keep my pants on?
-Yes, your…
-Pantheon. I get it. Duck!
-Duck? (gets hit in the head)
-You poor bastard.

A Double-Dram of David


new column: gay marriage - huzzah for checks and balances!

The California Supreme Court recently reversed a bone-headed move on the part of California voters - Proposition 22, which asserts that marriage is between a man and a woman only. It's a victory, but not the final word.

Gay Marriage: Huzzah for Checks and Balances


capsule review: the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford

Cinematographer Roger Deakins, hand in hand with director Andrew Dominick (in an amazing sophomore effort) outdoes his work in No Country for Old Men with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Artistic without the artiness that comes with overreaching or the contrivance of using style as a sales pitch, the film is gorgeously rich with the quality of fine art.

And the story, perfectly paced to with the natural rhythms of dialogue - the words themselves and those telling silences filled with expressive facial and body language - is riveting. Far from indulging the romance surrounding the legend of Jesse James, the story offers a genersouly multifaceted character study where media spin collides with the morality and the politics of the personal. James, solidly portrayed by Pitt with a curious mixture of cruelty, melancholy, ruthlessness, tenderness, and a streak of instability, remains enigmatic to the end. But it is Ford who is the real subject of study. Casey Affleck certainly deserved an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a character who, though branded a coward, possessed considerable complexity. One might very well ask whether the dreaded yellow word was as deserved by Ford as James deserved to be spun as the Robin Hood. With Jesse's psychological terror at the center of a violent web, Ford's conflicting motivations - fame, fortune, fear, revenge - are magnetically rendered.

It's amazing to think that this Andrew Dominick's second film, after Chopper starring Eric Bana. (Never heard of it until looking up Dominick's IMDB entry.) Not only does the film show him capable of playing in the same league as the Coen Brother and P.T. Anderson, I'd go so far to say that The Assassination of etc, etc. was a worthier opponent to There Will Be Blood than No Country for Old Men. Better characters, a better story, equally great performances and direction...I regret having missed it while it played in theatres.


all I can say is: yes


film review: crap shoot

My review of Crap Shoot, a funny quasi-documentary distributed by Echelon Studios, posted today at the Front Page Online and my website:

Better Than Even Odds in "Crap Shoot"




book review: 20th century ghosts

My review of Joe Hill's short story anthology, 20th Century Ghosts, has posted at Morbid Outlook. I'm almost tempted to seek out Heart-Shaped Box...but I think I'm happy to stick with the short stories. The ol' book stack is piled high enough as it is.

You should also check out some of those tasty drink recipes; the link is on the home page.

Mmmm. Alcohol.


capsule review: severance

Severance is a 2007 British horror-comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. Black, often gruesome comedy coexists with slasher-style survival horror in a surprisingly effective way, all the while taking the opportunity to satirize clichéd genre tactics like getting girls naked and firing guns.

It’s a slasher film, all right, although much of the really gory violence is kept off-screen. When a female protagonist fights off a rapist, her revenge consists of knocking him out and dropping a very heavy stone on his head. Can we say watermelon? We sure can, but a wet, squishy, vaguely crunchy sound effect is all director Christopher Smith gives us. Other kills are a bit more graphic, but it’s refreshing to watch a film that doesn’t feel compelled to linger lovingly on the anatomical details…which isn’t to say that the deaths aren’t horrific. They are, proving that implication can be even more effective and insinuating when not blotted out by nausea.

The film’s pretense of pitting the employees of a weapons manufacturer out on a team-building exercise against war criminals somehow associated with the misuse of the manufacture’s weapons is, of course, one-note irony. Oh look! Minions of Evil, Inc. are harvesting the bitter fruit their own company sowed. Beyond the moral of the story, never go looking for lodges or hostels in the creepy corners of Eastern Europe, the aspiration to delivering a profound allegory is more an excuse to bring together a bunch of characters and kill them off rather than a serious essay on war corporatism. But Smith and Loman’s script, hand-in-hand with a cracking good cast, actually succeeds in creating characters with more dimension. Severance is by no means a character study, but there are some good character moments, some noble deaths, some good gags, that pump enough blood to the film’s heart. Is it Shaun of the Dead? No. It’s not Office Space either. But it is a sharp little dagger with an ending that doesn’t cop out, and that’s enough for a good time.


column: questioning that old ultra-violence

The release of Grand Theft Auto IV and the accompanying controversy over its violence led me to thinking about how violence entertains us. While I don't think there's a correlation between watching violent movies or playing violent video games, and committing acts of violence, I can't help but wonder what it means to be entertained by violence. That's the topic of this week's column over at The Front Page Online:

Questioning That Old Ultra-Violence


Iron Man review

My review of Iron Man, or "Irony Man" as I've come to think of it given the film's strange propagandistic context and its undeniable cool-factor, has posted:

Iron Man: Cool, Exciting...and Ironic (The Front Page Online)




a trend of anti-intellectualism

I was watching MSNBC during my lunch break yesterday when – and I wish I could find a transcript instead of paraphrasing from memory – a discussion on the silly gas tax holiday plan got my attention. The host, whoever she was, asked her visiting talking head (Fiona, Fiora…something?) about the letter signed by 230 economists declaring the gas tax holiday plan proposed by McCain and crypto-Republican Clinton to be a bad idea. In essence, the tax is such a small portion of gas prices that suspending it wouldn’t yield great sums, the savings wouldn’t be passed on to consumers, and it does nothing to support conservation. Talking Head’s response was along the lines of “Who are these economists anyway? They don’t have to go to work, or drive miles and miles everyday to get to work, or get their hands dirty.” In other words, economists are out-of-touch academics who can’t relate to the plight of the “working class.” In yet other words, economists are elitist eminence grises whose oracular pronouncements are as easily disposed of as Armageddon-warnings on a street preacher’s sign.

Then there’s Hillary Clinton, who won’t “put [her] lot in with economists.”

I’m a bit outraged, frankly. These economists – four of which are Nobel prize winners – who have made it their vocation to study economics. Why is their experience dismissed so cavalierly? Why doesn’t a consensus of 230 economists carry any weight?

The answer ties into what I’ve been reading on the topic of Intelligent Design/Creationism in magazines like Skeptic, namely, how science education is severely lacking. The consequence is that creationist attacks on evolution gain traction in part because people don’t know enough about science and evolution to understand what’s wrong with creationist arguments. But this scientific ignorance also stems from a similar kind of suspicion towards education. Academia? Bad. Education? Bad. Reason and intelligence? Bad. There’s something scary about them booksmart people and all that edookashun.

I guess this fear and suspicion explains why intellectual-seeming Democrats get trashed as elitist and Republican simpletons with folksy charm (read: nausea for the rest of us) get credible presidential campaigns.


new column: a solution to high gas prices

I couldn't quite use the precise turn of phrase I wanted in proposing my solution to oil companies making obscene profits while us working stiffs pay through the nose (and other orifices) at the pump. The Front Page Online is an all-ages paper after all, and I completely respect that. But here in my blog, I'm under no limitations. Hence, my three-word solution to oil company exploitation: tax the motherfuckers. Read the full rant, include a detour into that bitter wasteland we call the primaries, here:

Gas Price Salvation, Or How to Play in the Little Leagues.