2005 movie round-up: the preliminaries

As in 2004 and 2003, I plan on ranking all the 2005 movies I saw this year. Much to my surprise, I’ve only seen 22 movies so far. That’s 11 less than I saw in both previous years (although the 2004 total has probably bulked up to 40-something, with all the DVDs I’ve seen). I’ve got some catching up to do, and apart from the fall/winter movies that are supposed to be worth a damn, I’m vaguely interested in these:

War of the Worlds
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Ring Two
Sky High
Red Eye
Kingdom of Heaven
Bad News Bears
The Constant Gardener
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride
The Upside of Anger
Lord of War
The Devil’s Rejects
Broken Flowers
Lords of Dogtown
The Great Raid
Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
High Tension

Missed them all in theatres (although at least three are still playing). Right now, here’s how my 2005 ranking shakes out.

22. Hitch
21. Diary of a Mad Black Woman
20. The Dukes of Hazzard
19. Fantastic Four
18. Four Brothers
17. Constantine
16. Cinderella Man
15. Kung Fu Hustle (Gong Fu)
14. Sin City
13. Wedding Crashers
12. The Brothers Grimm
11. Unleashed
10. The Exorcism of Emily Rose
9. Hustle and Flow
8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
7. The Aristocrats
6. Downfall (Der Untergang)
5. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
4. Batman Begins
3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
2. Land of the Dead
1. Grizzly Man


I’ve seen a good number of DVDs lately, but got frustrated after a minor crash destroyed my first review. Third time’s a charm – here are some short reviews.

“Palindromes” (Todd Solondz, 2004)

This disastrous flop ($500,000 at the box office) probably signals the end of Solondz’s career, at least for a while. Good thing. I like Solondz’s movies (they include “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Happiness,” and “Storytelling,” two of which I saw on dates) but I honestly don’t know how much sicker he can get outside of collaborating with Alice Cooper.

The story is simple yet gimmicky. Aviva (ha ha, a palindrome, get it?) is a pubescent girl who wants to have a baby, so she goes on a series of twisted adventures in the hopes of getting knocked up. In each “chapter” (announced by title cards) she is played by a different actress, and at one point, a different actor. These actors vary by race and age (Jennifer Jason Leigh, for example), but all portray Aviva the same way, quiet yet naively flirtatious. But the real verve of the movie comes from the other performances, particularly Ellen Barkin as Aviva’s mother. There’s an absolutely chilling scene where she convinces Aviva to get an abortion by tenderly relating the story of how she aborted her second pregnancy, and how if she hadn’t, “I wouldn’t be able to buy all these nice things for you.” There’s also the fundamentalist Christian who has molded her deformed foster children into an N*Sync-type pop group, and the pedophile who accidentally shoots a little girl in the head while trying to assassinate an abortion doctor. (Don’t worry, he kills the doctor, too.)

Some successful black humor aside, there’s really not much to this movie – it disturbs you, but so does any given volume of “Faces of Death.”

“If Lucy Fell” (Eric Schaeffer, 1996)

I have previously discussed my powerful, soul-deep loathing of actor/writer/director Eric Schaeffer, the human colostomy behind the sitcom “Starved.” When I decided I hated him, all I knew was that he was a modestly unattractive, scary-eyed man who created a TV series about (in part) his romantic prowess. But I got into some deep background, and it turns out he’s been making movies AND TV series about his romantic prowess (and occasionally wittiness) for twelve years. “If Lucy Fell” is his second movie, the first to get a major release, and coincidentally the first to tank. (If you’re having trouble following my remarks on Schaeffer’s looks, he’s the dude in between Elle MacPherson and Sarah Jessica Parker on that poster. Yeah, I know.)

Schaeffer plays Joe, an artist and kindergarten teacher living in a spacious New York City loft with his platatonic college pal, Lucy (Sarah Jessica Parker), a psychiatrist. Every day Joe wakes up and peers out his window to the apartment next door, inhabited by a hardbodied woman named Jane (Elle MacPherson) who has frequent sexual visitations. One day Lucy reminds Joe that she’s turning 30 at the end of the month and years ago they had sworn that if neither of them could find love by age 30, they’d kill themselves. So they paint a giant calender on a spare wall to count down the month and swear to find mates.

It’s so depressing to watch this unfold. Thanks to his pact with Satan, Schaeffer manages to cast some funny, talented people in idiotic roles. A young Scarlett Johansson plays a precocious girl in Joe’s art class, and future Sopranos star Dominic Chianese plays a bitter old man who sits outside the local convenience store. Most uselessly, Ben Stiller plays a silly yet famous artist named Bwick Elias who is introduced with the single clumsiest bit of exposition in this movie or any movie ever. Joe and Lucy are walking and talking, and she reaches her destination and crosses the street. Joe looks down and he’s holding a copy of People magazine that he didn’t seem to have before. This cover of People – JFK Jr, Princess Diana, Laci Peterson, People – is dedicated to Bwick Elias, who is apparently so famous that he doesn’t even need a subheadline. Upon reading the cover, Joe says: “Bwick Elias. Whatever.”

In the end Joe dates Jane (his pick-up line is “I know you’re extremely attracted to me”) and Lucy dates Bwick, and then each of them realize they loved each other all along, and they make out on the Brooklyn Bridge. I hate this movie and want to run over Eric Schaeffer with my car.

Still a blogger

But tired. Woke up at 8:30 am today to move some friends (the town being Wilmington, DE) into a new house. Finished at 6 pm. And I was not the only one helping.

A related issue: Why do people own cats? I think I have enough dander in my lungs right now to mold my own kitten.

Not dead yet

I haven’t been blogging much – for the excuse, I’m going with “busy.” Just signing in to comment on my first experience with evite. I’m having an informal birthday party on Tuesday, so I used this service to craft an invitation and create a guest list and RSVP mechanism. The RSVP thing is going to be interesting to watch – I’d be surprised if more than half of the people I invited actually click an option, and more surprised still if I don’t monitor it every few hours. It seems like most people don’t actually fill out their evite forms even if they show up a party, but, still. Interesting to see this list in real time. The last time I threw a party, I emailed a list of 50+ friends to a sangria-soaked bash at my apartment in Evanston. Owing to a combination of rain and the finals week dateline, it was pretty much a bust. Coming so soon after a super-successful birthday party five months earlier, it really sucked. But I don’t think anyone actually RSVPed to either.

Simply divine

It’s nice to see that my departure from Northwestern robbed the school of columnists with anything interesting to say. This bit is only going to funny to one or two people, but sometimes those one or two people deserve a blog post.

I used to spend my time as the Co-director of College Feminists and I had a two-year long stint working on safety issues in ASG. Now I fill my afternoons with magnetic poetry, Diet Pepsi and divinity school applications. You read correctly; I want to be a minister. It’s not too often you run across a Unitarian/sorority girl/Canadian/Seattleite like myself, and I’m ready and willing to speak my mind.

I’m fairly certain it’s not too hard to find these people in Canada or Seattle, actually.

What’s German for “Meh?”

The aspirations of Instapundit-approved bloggers aside, it looks like German voters have swung neither to the right nor the left in today’s elections. In 2002, the vote broke down like this:

LEFT – 51.1%
Social Democrats – 38.5%
Greens – 8.6%
PDS – 4.0%

RIGHT – 45.9%
Christian Democrats – 38.5%
Free Democrats – 7.4%

In 2005, it’s breaking down like this:

LEFT – 50.8%%
Social Democrats – 34.2%
Left Party – 8.5%
Greens – 8.1%

RIGHT – 45.4%
Christian Democrats – 35.4%
Free Democrats – 10%

In other words, if the exit polls hold up, the three major parties of the Left – ranging from mainstream socialists to anarco-communists – can form a majority. And a grand 1% of Germans have changed their political sympathies.

UPDATE: Ah, apparently Schroder doesn’t want to work with the Left Party. Whatever. My point is that the left/right makeup of Germans has not budged in 3 years. Considering the impressive hype for CDU leader Angela Merkel, that’s pretty weak. In her first campaign as Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher increased her party’s vote from 35.8% to 43.9%, and Labour and the Liberals fell from 39.3% and 18.3% (a total 57.6%) to 36.9% and 13.8% (a total 50.7%). This is more impressive than it looks – the Liberals at the time were a centrist party having little in common with the diehard socialists of Labour. Liberals actually cast the deciding votes to throw out the Labour government and call the election that was won by Thatcher. For the next 18 years, the Conservatives held a rock-solid 42%+ of the vote, dominating most of the country outside Scotland, Wales, inner London, and the north. By comparison, Merkel has grown Germany’s conservative base from 39% to … uh, 35%.

Reading is fundamental

Andy Sullivan posts a shocked-sounding link to this story, and I imagine it’ll shock a bunch of other people who’ll link to it and gasp at the liberal perfidy.

Only days after the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a Duke professor is trying to explain the motivations of the tragedy’s organizer—jihadist Osama bin Laden.

Bruce Lawrence, professor of religion, edited and wrote the forward to the book Messages to the World—The Statements of Osama bin Laden. The text, which goes into print today and will arrive in bookstores in the fall, is the first to include the translations of the Arabic writings of bin Laden.

The book features a collection of 22 speeches and interviews given by the leader of the terrorist organization al Qaeda between 1994 and 2004.

So: What took him so long? This is a terrific idea and a necessary book.

A way to think about it – one of the key insights of Shirer’s “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” was that “Mein Kampf” could have prevented World War II. In it, Hitler explicitly lays out his goals if ever he were elected chancellor of Germany – conquer Europe, kill millions, enslave millions more. As Shirer repeatedly writes, in exasperated tones, if Chamberlain et al had just asked a German translator about the book in 1934 or 1935 (or even 1938), they would have known his actual designs and could have throttled the Wehrmacht in its crib.

I’m not sure if a book published by Verso is going to rip the lid off anything, but this is clearly the right direction to be taking in our analysis of bin Laden. And it only took four years!