Leslie Nielsen Died Today

November 29, 2010

Here’s something sad enough to make me post on my blog. Leslie Nielsen, star of many movies that made me laugh no matter how many times I watched them, is dead at 84.

THIS IS TERRIBLE NEWS.

<i>Airplane. The Naked Gun. Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Spy Hard.</i> On and on and on.

At least he lived a pretty long life, I guess.

Nah, no silver lining. This sucks.

Eventually, Mel Brooks is gonna die, and then there will be no funny people left.

Please stay alive, Mel Brooks.

Witness:

LOST

May 23, 2010

In case you missed it… you know. Spoilers below.

So. Lost. The end.

What?

Here’s how I understood it: Jack died of his wounds from battling the Smoke Monster/Locke on the island after being spit out of the light-hole. Kate et al got off the island, lived, and died. The parallel universe… is purgatory, I guess. Where they worked all their shit out and then came together and went to heaven.

… I think they screwed it up. The last episode was so good… right up until the end. They would have been better off with a Sopranos-style cut to black.

What was the point? What was the light? What does it do? Why did moving a rock make it go out? How did moving the rock again make it come back? Who built that little chamber? Who engraved the rock? Where’s the light come from? What was with the parallel reality? Did they live out their entire lives in it, or or just the bit after the landing of Oceanic 815? Why did the parallel reality only come into existence after they exploded the nuke?

Was Walt really totally pointless?

Just like this show to, even in the last episode, give us more questions than answers.

MY LIFE HURTS.

And I’m really going to miss this show.

Today, the New York Times reports that President Obama is going to open up our coastlines to offshore drilling. That’s enough to make me, for the first time in quite some time, rush right over here and start writing something. I titled this post “Where’s your socialism now?” because, to a degree, it pleases me to see Obama doing things that make people like Glenn Beck look even more like idiots, as opening up multi-billion-dollar profit centers for private businesses in American waters is pretty much the opposite of socialism. (Of course, don’t tell Glenn Beck that; where there’s a will to label Obama Hitler and Stalin at the same time, there’s a way.)

But it’s really hard to lord offshore drilling over anyone because it’s wrong. Completely, unequivocally wrong. There’s no question that it’s going to be destructive to ocean wildlife, that it’s going to open up many of our coasts to potential damage from oil spills — nasty business indeed, as we’ve seen before — there will be more air pollution, erosion of wetlands, and in general all the ugliness that goes hand in hand with industry. That’s what you’re going to hear from many of my liberal compadres, I’m sure. Like any other reasonable person, I’m concerned about the environment, which we (that is, humanity) continue to annihilate with great abandon. But really, that’s not the issue here. No, the problem here is oil. We’re attempting to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by supplementing it — very temporarily — with more domestic oil.

The world, as a whole, is running out of oil. This is a fact that it seems our government is either unwilling or afraid to come to terms with. The Times article notes that “as a result of the Obama decision, the Interior Department will spend several years conducting geologic and environmental studies along the rest of the southern and central Atlantic Seaboard.” Several years worth of study? That’s got to cost a lot of money. Why aren’t we instead investing that money in funding research toward long-term energy solutions? Instead, we’re spending money so that oil companies can make even more money? How does that help anyone? This shortsighted perspective dominates the American political landscape, not only with respect to offshore drilling, but also with almost every major issue of today. As Obama plays to the middle on these issues, with an eye toward reelection in 2012, it just puts in perspective how broken our political system really is at this point.

The fact of the matter is, nothing he does will satisfy the Republicans. The concept of “I scratched your back, now you scratch mine” is entirely lost on them. Bipartisanship is a myth at this point. To the Republicans, there are two ways: theirs, and the highway. What the Democrats seem to be just beginning to understand is that they’ve been driving down a one-way street for years now. So many Democrats voted with Bush on things like the Patriot Act (which is, by the way, much closer to making the U.S. like Nazi Germany than Obama will ever get) and the Iraq war — why? He didn’t make any compromises for them. He didn’t give them anything. The Republicans have established a long and strong history, especially since Clinton came into office, of giving nothing and taking everything. Alternative energy is the future, and it ought to be the present, too. Opening up our coastlines isn’t going to win the president a single vote, nor will it address the massive energy issues the world will be facing in the near future. There is absolutely no reason for Obama to keep playing into Republican hands by giving them offshore drilling, a shortsighted “energy solution” in which the government spends money to open up areas for the already horrifically rich oil industry to make even more money.

And yet he is. And all I can hear in my head is Sarah Palin from the ’08 campaign — “Drill, baby, drill!”

[This is almost exactly, with minor changes, my actual email to Ms. Lopez, editor of the National Review. Although it makes me sad that people can write what she did, I'm almost glad I read that piece of idiocy, as it's been a long time since I've written here. Ah, inspiration, you fickle puppy.]

Ms. Lopez,

You wrote in a blog post today that “For Barack Obama, democracy appears to be a distraction. He really does seem to view himself as a Caesar.” And also: “Shortly after taking office, Obama held a meeting with governors. At the time, one person in the room relayed Obama’s request that critics and skeptics of the stimulus plan keep their concerns to themselves. Just let me do it, was his attitude. He got pushback and he wasn’t happy. He wanted democratically elected state governors to shut up so he could do as he pleased. He knows better and we should respect that, seems to be the attitude.”

Boy, Barack Obama sure sounds like a mean guy when you put it that way.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t many conservatives, among them your fellow NR columnist Bill Bennett, claim that after Bush was reelected in 2004, he had a mandate? (They did; he did.)

Do you know what a mandate is? I’m sure you do. But I’m going to quote Wikipedia on this anyway, just so you’re clear: “In politics, a mandate is the authority granted by an constituency to act as its representative. … Elections, especially ones with a large margin of victory, are often said to give the newly elected government or elected official a mandate to implement certain policies.

So I would say that if George Bush, who edged out a 50.7% to 48.3% win over John Kerry, had a mandate, then Barack Obama, who destroyed John McCain 52.9% to 45.7%, while collecting had almost 80 more electoral votes than Bush did, has what I can only term a “super-mandate.”

So when Obama says that he was elected to office by a large margin to implement his policies, I take that as him saying, hey, look, I’ve got a mandate from the American people and I think I know how to get us out of this rut, so either participate or get out of the way. You, somehow, take it as him essentially declaring himself dictator of America — even though I’m sure your protests were nonexistent when Bush claimed a mandate.

I hope you take greater care with the accusations you make from now on. Barack Obama is an honorable man and — need I remind you — the duly elected president of our United States. People like you need to stop getting in the way of him doing his job.

What if the Mets traded David Wright for Tampa Bay’s David Price? I can see the headline now: “The Price is Wright.” Suck it, New York Daily News! I came up with it first!

(This is in no way an endorsement of trading David Wright, ever, nor does it even really count as a post. But I saw “I Love You, Man” yesterday, so I should probably review that, and also “Watchmen” while it’s still fairly fresh in my mind.)

Carry on.

Ah,” Slumdog Millionaire.” Have you heard? It’s the best movie ever made. Ever. Ever ever ever. Bright colors and people with different skin tones? Oh my! Rags to riches? Alright! No, seriously. Best movie ever. EVER.

People are always talking about the great message of “Slumdog Millionaire,” what a beautiful story it is. The message is basically this: Millions of people are living in slums, leading perfectly horrific lives, but one of them got extraordinarily lucky and won 20 million rupees and a hot girl. And it was his destiny to have all this happen. Which means it’s the rest of your (that’s “your” plural, you other “slumdogs”) destiny to live in poverty and destitution for the rest of your lives.

Jamal doesn’t get the answers right because he’s a “whiz kid,” nor does he go “from rags to riches on the strength of his lively intelligence.” Both of these quotes are from Roger Ebert, who is to me the closest thing to god in cinema. Of course, even god can get things wrong. 

No, Jamal doesn’t succeed because he’s good at anything or because he’s done something very well. He only succeeds because each of the questions on a game show relates to some of the biggest events of his life. That’s why the people who own the game show are so angry; if he was some kind of genius kid, they’d say, oh, well, he’s some kind of genius kid, of course he’s winning. But he’s not a genius kid. He’s just a regular kid, though he is, for sure, a genuinely nice kid, just like the millions of other genuinely nice kids whose destiny it apparently isn’t to have a fortune and a hot girl tossed into their laps, followed by a dance number.

I’m not saying that “Slumdog Millionaire” is an awful movie. It benefited greatly from outstanding cinematography and the best child acting performances I’ve ever seen, even better than Natalie Portman’s turn in “The Professional.” But that doesn’t stop the story from exhibiting precisely the imperial mindset you’d expect from a British filmmaker making an Indian movie. How does the Indian kid from the slums make good? Does he invent something really great? Does he become a doctor and help the sick people living in slums without medical care? Does he change the world through grassroots political action? Does he make anyone’s life other than his own better? No. He just gets lucky. Really, really lucky. And maybe you can get lucky, too, real slumdogs of this world. But no, you probably won’t. Because for Jamal, “It is written.” For you? Well, no one’s ever heard of you.

And yes, before you comment, I do realize that destiny is a very important concept in Indian religion. And I did note how the film tried to draw the distinction between luck and destiny — or at least said that he didn’t win because he was lucky, but rather due to destiny. But what is destiny? If it’s my destiny from birth to get ridiculously rich, and it’s your destiny from birth to be horrifically poor, one of two things is at play here. Either I’m very lucky and you’re very unlucky, or we’re talking about reincarnation. That is, I (in a previous life) was a really great person, while you were a really mean and cruel person, so we were both reborn destitute and I rose up while you stayed down. Man, that’s even worse. Someone who you didn’t even know and whose actions you couldn’t affect because you weren’t alive at the time, but whose soul you apparently have, maybe lived the life of a rich plantation owner who hideously abused his slaves, lived a long and healthy life, died, and was reborn as you, a “slumdog.” And you’re screwed now, because this guy determined your destiny. But his slave who he put down for trying to escape and start a new life, he died and was reborn as me, and I’m gonna be rich!

Well, doesn’t considering the religious aspect just make this story that much more beautiful?

I don’t want to rant about this, because it’s a little off topic, so I’ll say only this: Karma-based reincarnation is a very convenient explanation for the rich being rich and the poor being poor. 

You can try to tell me that this screenplay — which, these minor complexities aside, amounts to boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and also gets rich from a game show — is the best one of the year, but all you’re doing is insulting all the other screenplays, many of which are far greater achievements than “Slumdog Millionaire.”

But apparently, it’s better to be topical than good. 

It is written.

In “Cadillac Records,” writer/director Darnell Martin simply tries to do too much. The film tells a lot of stories, all of which are immediately related, but several of which deserve their own feature-length films. As a result, none of them is told in sufficient depth for “Cadillac Records” to be a satisfying picture of the emerging black music scene of mid-20th century Chicago.

The film is, I suppose, mostly about Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), founder of Chess Records, a pioneering record label that mostly specialized in blues, R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s also about blues artist Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), R&B singer Etta James (Beyonce Knowles), rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry (Mos Def), virtuoso harmonica player (among other things) Little Walter (Columbus Short), blues singer/songwriter/bassist/producer Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer), bluesman Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker) … have I made my point yet?

Most of these people deserve their own biopics, but in “Cadillac Records” we find nearly 30 years worth of their life stories all jammed together into 109 minutes of film. This is the film’s greatest crime: In trying to tell so many peripheral stories in the pursuit of telling Leonard Chess’ story, the film mostly just succeeds in whetting the appetite for more about the stories of this litany of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members. There are simply so many interesting stories that the film that, because its scope is so broad and Martin has so much she wants to say, are only touched on rather than being properly explored.

Muddy Waters, Etta James, Chuck Berry, Little Walter — these are all people who could have an hour and 50 minutes dedicated to them alone. Interestingly, though the film is nominally about Leonard Chess, it succeeds more in telling the story of Waters’ journey from sharecropper to blues great to has-been to his comeback, complete with his relationship with his wife, Geneva (Gabrielle Union, doing a solid job in a limited role); his troubled relationship with his troubled friend and accompanying harmonica, Little Walter; his somewhat parasitic relationship with Leonard Chess, and so on.

Jeffrey Wright’s performance as Waters is one of the film’s greatest strengths; Wright brings depth and authenticity to his role, showing us a man who is surprised to see his station in life so suddenly elevated, but who then settles comfortably into living above his means until he starts running out of means to live above. Mostly, Muddy is a man who absorbs his setbacks with a certain stoicism; he never seems to get too worked up over rock ‘n’ roll rising up at the expense of artists like him.

Mos Def offers up a performance of note as Chuck Berry, a talented musician with the ability to unite blacks and whites to go along with a weakness for under-age girls. I recall hearing a lot of “oh no” with regard to that particular casting, and though Mos Def sure looks nothing like Chuck Berry, he does have a good enough voice to sing the songs.

I’d like to say that Knowles was a noteworthy Etta James, but her character was kind of dumped into the film in its second half, a muddled, half-explained fragment that does no justice to James’ much bigger, deeper story. Knowles’ acting is fine, though not exceptional, and if she’s a few stone lighter than the real Etta James, well, that’s open to artistic interpretation.

The section on James is emblematic of the failures of “Cadillac Records”; in too many instances, the film simply pays lip service to the artists it’s covering — James, Berry, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter get big, interesting sections of their lives cut out, and even the character of Leonard Chess is only superficially explored, though Adrien Brody — who looks just as out of place as his character actually is — puts on a fine portrayal.

It’s interesting to see this film labeled as a musical, since it lacks some basic elements of the musical — chiefly, the whole arbitrarily breaking into song aspect. The music in “Cadillac Records” is mostly reserved for those times when the artists are playing music for a reason, like when they’re playing a show or recording an album. This is good; launching into song for no reason would cheapen the experience.

It’s the experience that’s the most absorbing part; though the film tries to do too much, Martin is ultimately successful in setting the tone and carrying the story, jumbled though it may be, through its conclusion, such as it is. Solid acting and direction make “Cadillac Records” a very watchable film, but its lack of focus ensures that it’s more likely to make a splash at the BET Awards than the Oscars.

Yeah, I went there.
Note: Thank you to reader (I have readers?!) Elizabeth for pointing out that Darnell Martin is, despite her extremely male-sounding name, a woman. A humble mea culpa. This is what I get for not checking her Wikipedia page.

So, the NHL suspended Dallas Stars forward (and ex-Ranger) Sean Avery for noting how Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf is dating his ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert (most notably of “The Girl Next Door” and “24”). Avery had this to say to reporters:

“I’m just going to say one thing. I’m really happy to be back in Calgary; I love Canada. I just wanted to comment on how it’s become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don’t know what that’s about, but enjoy the game tonight.”

If you’ve been following this at all, you’ve probably heard the rumblings of support for this suspension, not only from Puritans all over, but also from Stars owner Tom Hicks, coach Dave Tippett and assist captain Mike Modano, among others. Avery apparently “crossed the line” with his remarks.

This is patently ridiculous.

What kind of world do we live in where you get suspended for calling your ex-girlfriend “sloppy seconds”? It’s not like he called her a slut. It’s not like he called her a whore, a bitch, a skank, whatever. Sloppy seconds. As in, I was here first, you are here second, and maybe it’s a little sloppy because I — okay, no elaboration necessary.

What Sean Avery said is true. For certain, his ex-girlfriends are in the habit of dating other NHL players — not just Cuthbert (who’s on her third), but also Rachel Hunter, who’s now engaged to Jarret Stoll of the LA Kings.

Moreover, what he said is, if not wholly inoffensive, such a minor transgression that anything but a quiet scolding in the privacy of the coach’s office is complete and utter overkill. Put it like this: If anyone but Sean Avery said what Sean Avery said, it wouldn’t have gotten blown up into this big ol’ hullabaloo.

(I’ll try to write some new stuff soon. I have really been bad about updating this thing.)

Bourne. James Bourne.

If I had to summarize the new James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” in three words or less, those are probably the three (two?) words I’d use.

With this film, director Marc Forster (better known for directing far superior films such as “Monster’s Ball” and “Finding Neverland”) has achieved the dubious distinction of creating essentially a clone of a Jason Bourne movie, but without the plot — a somewhat unsettling thing when one considers that the Bourne trilogy was fairly light on plot.

Here is a film that amounts to little more than an amalgam of chases (by car, but mostly by foot) and ass-kickings, with the kind of cut-cut-cut editing that we’ve come to expect from cheap thrillers and Michael Bay films.

Of course, there’s nothing cheap about “Quantum of Solace”; this is to be expected from a film with a budget of $230 million, much of which was apparently allocated for “things that go boom.” Everything looks beautiful, from the lovely scenery in what seems like every single country on Earth to the raging infernos that the lovely scenery is soon turned to. That’s wonderful. However, this movie is like a beautiful woman with nothing going on upstairs; she sure is stunning, yet you can’t help but wonder how great she’d be if there was some substance.

The storyline amounts to this: Bond (Daniel Craig, slick as a Bond ought to be, but darker than any other Bond has been), understandably upset over the betrayal and subsequent death of his girlfriend Vesper Lynd (you’re going to want to see 2006’s “Casino Royale,” if you can bear the mind-numbing final half-hour of it, before you watch “Quantum of Solace”), pursues the people responsible for forcing Vesper to betray him, which leads him to an organization called Quantum. Quantum is headed up by a fellow named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who is apparently a very bad man with a master plot to organize a coup in Bolivia so he can, um, take over the water supply and make a lot of money from selling the water to the new government.

Yes, the Bond villain is an environmentalist gone horribly wrong. Unsurprisingly, it’s hard to care. Let’s put it like this: most everyone is all for people having drinkable water, but this man organizing a military coup in Bolivia so he can turn a neat profit hardly feels as though it threatens the very fabric of our existence, and to call his connection to the man who conned Vesper into betraying Bond tenuous would be an understatement. Apparently, we are supposed to understand that this man worked for Quantum, even though he is in no way involved in this storyline.

Oh, yes. There is a girl. Her name is Camille, and she’s played by Olga Kurylenko, who you may know from her very similar role (but, oddly, with more sex) in 2007’s “Hitman.” Kurylenko is certainly pretty enough for the role, but more importantly, Camille actually has some emotional involvement with the front-and-center storyline, which almost makes this film hers more than it is Bond’s. It seems that when Camille was a child, the general who Greene wants to install as the Bolivian dictator personally killed her father and raped and murdered her mother and sister before burning her house down. Also, we learn in passing, she’s some kind of secret agent for the Bolivian government, but apparently that doesn’t sufficiently motivate her to prevent this coup.

So, as you might expect, the film is roughly 100 minutes of Bond, occasionally with help, running and shooting and punching and stabbing and exploding his way to the top of Quantum, all while M (Judy Dench) makes a lot of displeased noises at all the killing and the audience wonders what in the name of Roger Moore this all has to do with Vesper’s boyfriend.

And the answer is: something. But you pretty much have to read the plot description to understand what, and even when you do, you won’t understand why the last five minutes of the film needed to come after the first hundred.

But at least it looks pretty.

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