2006: A look back

Everyone else is making 2006 predictions, so why can’t I?

– Bill O’Reilly will lose his radio show after negotiating the on-air execution of ACLU head Anthony Romero. Ratings for his 8 pm FOX show edge up 15%.

– Peter Jackson will find donors shutting their wallets to him after the disappointing performance of “King Kong” casts doubt on the viability of his new project, a 6-hour biopic on New Zealand poppers Crowded House.

– Members of the Thomas More Law Center and Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania chain themselves to polling booths to prevent the defeat of Sen. Rick Santorum. They are ultimately unsuccessful.

– Scandal rocks the Senate when South Korean scientists reveal they had cloned Sen. Bill Frist and installed him as majority leader in an international plot to humiliate the Republican party. However, independent investigations expose the Korean claim as a hoax. They created George Pataki, not Bill Frist.

– After two months registering the network’s all-time highest ratings, Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC show is cancelled. Tucker Carlson’s “The Situation” expands to two hours.

– In a surprising upset, New York Republican Ed Cox polls third in the race against Sen. Hillary Clinton. Nation Magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, running as antiwar Green/Workers Family Party candidate, comes in second with 9% of the vote.

– In midterm elections Democrats win the House, the Senate, and for some reason the chairmanship of NASA. FOX News devotes the following month to a telethon aimed at getting Sen. Joe Lieberman to become a Republican already. He does, but Democrats retain control of the Senate when Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens immolates himself in front of the Sierra Club’s headquarters.

2005: Wasted at the movies

Forty-two movies this year. Around 10 less than I wanted to and 10 more than I needed. (I mean, “The Ring Two?”) I missed some big ones (Kong), and likely Oscar nominees (Munich) which I may catch next week, but I lost my mojo for going to the theatre in the last month. The high point, when I moved into my new apartment and did double-features every weekend, is responsible for the record-setting size of this list.

42. Hitch
Not a terrible movie, like last year’s bottom-dweller “Van Helsing.” Just a pedestrian, hammy, and low-IQ romantic comedy. The a-plot, involving Will Smith’s lunkish courting of Eva Mendes, was just stupid, but Kevin James’ b-plot was cute.

41. The Ring Two
Mostly unscary horror movie which failed to recapture almost anything that made the first film work.

40. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
There are far, far worse chick flicks for the *NSYNC set. “Now And Then,” for example. But the four plotlines here are as disparite in quality as the three bears’ porridge. America Ferrara’s story, wherein her father is marrying into a distaff, waspish family, is quite moving. Blake Lively’s plot (she’s recently lost her mother and is coping by pursuing a cute boy at soccer camp) is occasionally touching, occasionally just dumb. Alexis Bledel’s Greek romance is silly; Amber Tamblyn’s friendship with a cancer patient is mawkish.

39. Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Enjoyably unclassifiable. Star/writer Tyler Perry (who was inspired to write plays by an episode of Oprah) mashes a cursin’, sexin’, stereotypin’ Chitlin comedy with a glacial marital drama. I liked the comedy, and not the rest.

38. Margaret Cho: Assassin
Not as bad as its reputation. Cho doesn’t actually spend the whole show whining about George Bush and lecturing us on politics. She tells jokes. Unfortunately, most of them fall flat.

37. The Dukes of Hazzard
One of the stranger TV adaptations to come down the pike. Given a very marketable, red state-friendly property, producers recruited the Vermont comedy troupe Broken Lizard (makers of “Super Troopers” and “Club Dread”) to Yankify and yuppify the humor. Thus, we get jabs at the confederate flag and Jeb Bush (one joke: “Fix it? You couldn’t fix an election if your brother was the governor!”) mashed together with a plot about moonshine and drag racing. Some funny moments, though.

36. Fantastic Four
Not as bad as it could have been (see the unreleased 1990s Roger Corman treatment if you want “bad”), but a lot stupider than it needed to be. Jessica Alba is a genetics expert! Dr. Doom is made out of medal! Product placements fly faster than the Human Torch!

35. Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
An hour of 90%-bullseye standup lengthened by 50%-effective skits. I liked the musical segments, but what was with [SPOILER] the stagehand using Silverman’s tear as hand lubricant?

34. Four Brothers
A funny, fast-moving B-movie. I wasn’t bored, nor was I surprised by a single plot twist.

33. Thumbsucker
Strange, detached coming-of-age story notable for its spirited defense of Ritalin and marijuana.

32. Constantine
Visually and conceptually thrilling horror-actioner that contains two of the year’s most memorable performances: Tilda Swinton as the angel Gabriel and Peter Stormare as Satan. The plot’s no great shakes … but seriously, those two performances will haunt you. I am seriously looking forward to director Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of “I Am Legend” (the classic vampire storie mediocrely adapted for Charlton Heston as “Omega Man”.)

31. Crash
Pretentious but well-acted morality play set in Racial Powder Keg, USA (aka Los Angeles). Don Cheadle seems bored and Thandie Newton couldn’t act her way out of a wet paper bag, but the rest of the cast is fantastic, and the script has real moments of wit.

30. Cinderella Man
Workmanlike, heartwarming boxing story. Russell Crowe’s botched accent and Rene Zellweger’s general unpleasantness (Why did she lose her “Bridge Jones II” weight for this? Were all 1930s housewives size 0s?) are outmatched by a great story and Craig Bierko as Max Baer. Any producers wondering why the movie failed at the box office: It’s called Cinderella Man. Men don’t want to see a boxing movie with “Cinderella” in the title. Come on – “Brokeback Mountain” had a more hetero title.

29. Kung Fu Hustle (Gong Fu)
Amusingly crazy karate/comedy with some looong boring bits and some looonger tears-of-laughter bits.

28. Sin City
Three (well, 3.5) fun, cheesy noir stories filmed like a series of nightmarish paintings. I mean, it was very good, but I don’t find myself reminiscing about it.

27. Shopgirl
Beautiful, laconic anti-love story written and acted by Steve Martin. There are long stretches of minimal or no dialogue, which is too bad, because Martin can write great lines (see: any scene with Jason Schwartzman) and I got tired of seeing him grope Claire Danes in slow motion. But I must say, as someone who’s lamented Danes’ flirtation with anorexia (she’s a size 2 here, and you could cut glass with her cheekbones), she’s gripping, identifiable, subtle, and radiant. A stupid late scene with Schwartzman and a sleazy golddigger drags it down.

26. Wedding Crashers
Hilarious comedy dragged down by the longest third act ’til they went to the same goddamn cave twice in “Pirates of the Carribean.” But what’s funny is very, very funny. You could publish fat volumes of Vince Vaughn’s ad-libs.

25. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The best of a series I really can’t get into. For reasons I can elucidate in my “Narnia” entry, I simply don’t care about the Potter characters or the situations they find themselves in. Now, with that said, this is a thrilling little movie that amused me more than I expected going in.

24. The Brothers Grimm
Terry Gilliam’s worst movie since “Baron Munchausen” (suck it up, geeks) is still a witty and visually delicious mishmash of satire, low comedy, and comic book action. Peter Stormare, so good in “Constantine,” is unwatchable, but the rest of the cast manages to translate their fun into our fun.

23. Bad News Bears
Fitfully funny remake of the Walter Matthau classic. Entertaining in the way MTV’s “Jackass” is entertaining.

22. Good Night, and Good Luck
Lazily put-together dramatization of the Ed Murrow/Joe McCarthy wars. Still, I’d like to see this and “Munich” win all the Oscars to make John Podhoretz into a heap of bile and back hair.

21. Unleashed
Dumb-as-hell kung fu drama with the best fight scenes of the year. Bob Hoskins was born to play two roles: insane British mobster and Super Mario. Here he’s the former.

20. Lords of Dogtown
Long as hell dramatization of the birth of modern skateboarding in 1970s Los Angeles. Some of the drama is hamhanded, but the young cast is scarily good.

19. The Exorcism of Emily Rose
A Christian horror movie that doesn’t blow. I know – it’s amazing. Despite some clunky dialogue and predictable scenes of horror (most everything in an exorcism movie is predictable, thanks to William Friedkin’s pre-“Sorcerer” masterpiece), this is often very terrifying. Jennifer Carpenter, a bit of an ugly duckling teen movie actress, is perfect as the title victim.

18. Capote
Snail-paced but affecting dramatization of the writing of “In Cold Blood.”

17. War of the Worlds
Nine-tenths of a Great (capital G) movie, almost ruined by a corny action and stupid, stupid, mawkish ending. But the parts that work – Jesus, they really work. The first alien attack and the many scenes of fleeing humanity can haunt your dreams, if you often dream about aliens or, uh, fleeing.

16. Hustle and Flow
Terrifically lazy (as opposed to “Good Night and Good Luck,” which is ostentatiously lazy) Rocky story about a terrible pimp who wants to become a mediocre rapper. I don’t buy into hype too often, but seriously, Terrance Howard as the pimp (DJay) is just terrific. Anthony Anderson, as his unhappily settled-down producer, is almost as good.

15. Serenity
A fantastic sci-fi TV series becomes a very good sci-fi B-movie. Witty dialogue, lovable characters (except for the guy from “Barney Miller”), servicable plot.

14. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Goofy, half-assed adaptation of the unadaptable book. Enjoyable apart from the weird sequence on John Malkovich’s home planet, and I think Sam Rockwell’s performance as the president of the universe is going to date badly.

13. Walk the Line
Watchable drama about Johnny and June Carter Cash lifted by masterful performance by its stars, who look and sing better than their inspirations.

12. The Aristocrats
Messy but pants-shittingly funny (And the kids play around in the shit! And then the grandma pulls a violin out of the shit and plays it with her … I suppose you need to hear the joke) documentary about comedians. I’d be interested in seeing all the comedian’s segments on their own, instead of cut together the way they are here. Also, the final joke sucks.

11. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
Adorable, faithful, thrilling adaptation of the classic children’s novel. Seriously, everyone: Tilda Swinton is incredible. I know half of her perfomances depend on her looking like an elf from the ninth circle of hell, but the other half depends on her being a talented actress. Oscar her up already. I mean, you’re going to nominate Reese Witherspoon and … who else? That woman from “Transamerica”?

10. The Producers
Cryingly funny adaptation of the stage musical (which was inspired by the cryingly funny 1968 movie). Did Ethan Hawke really cheat on Uma Thurman? Really? What an incredible dumbass.

9. Murderball
I’ll recycle my summary from the night I saw this. “Finally, a movie where you can root against some real villians: Polio victims and Canadians.”

8. Jarhead
Bleak and bitter war movie, with one unbelievable scene (the barb wire training) and many more sadly believable ones.

7. Downfall (Der Untergang)
See Hitler kiss Eva Braun! See Goebbels kill his children! See this not win the Oscar for some reason! (Maybe because they didn’t superimpose “REMEMBER 6 MILLION” in red letters on the screen at all times?)

6. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Honestly not that good of a movie, but I grew up on Star Wars and can’t be objective about this.

5. Batman Begins
Dubbed “Batman Boringly Begins” by Rich Bunnell, but I loved it. And I honestly didn’t see the villainous plot twist coming.

4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The best adaptation ever filmed from the best childrens’ author of the 20th century, Roald Dahl. I’m frankly stunned that Tim Burton’s extra subplot about Wonka’s father meshes perfectly.

3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Ironically, the wonderful writer/producer Judd Apatow, who crafted such careful, tightrope pieces of comedy as “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” finally got a hit out of his delightful mess. Seemingly every other line is improv, the leading man is a 42-year old “Daily Show” castoff, and it’s pretty much a masterpiece.

2. Land of the Dead
Again, I can’t be objective about this. There are silly and stupid moments throughout the probably final George Romero zombine film. (The kid staking out zombies in the dark? With a walkman on? What?) I. Don’t. Care. Hideous violence, hilarious characters, and bludgeon-soft social commentary – I’m in heaven.

… and the number one movie of the year …


1. Grizzly Man
It’s hard to believe this is a true story. A Florida teen throws out his back, loses his college scholarship, and moves to LA to become an actor. He invents a fake Australian accent and a new name, he gets occasional work, he muddles through terrible restaurant jobs, he wrestles with drug addiction. At age 34, with no training in ecology or zoology, he goes to Alaska and decides he’ll become the “protector” of grizzly bears on a remote part of the peninsula. He spends twelve years at this, summers in Alaska and the rest of the year “educating” children and media about his work, until in his final expedition he stays too long and is mauled, along with his girlfriend, by a wild, unfamiliar bear.

Werner Herzog, the director of “Fitzcarraldo,” “Strozek,” and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” takes five years of Timothy Treadwell’s footage, complements it with his own interviews and research, and cuts it together with his own ominous narration and eye for the fraying of sanity. (Treadwell is technically sane, but he becomes increasingly meglomaniacal and erratic as he spends time in Alaska.) The result is unforgettable and, again, hard to take in. It’s hard to believe that on Treadwell’s final tape, he stands in front of his eventual murder site and discusses how dangerous his job is as flies crawl over the camera. It’s just as amazing that, in his very final shot, he looks scared and hesitant to leave the frame and turn off the camera. This is a phenomenal movie about a subject that looks small and quirky, but encompasses everything.

Christmas Day

Once again, I hope you all* are having a great holiday. I’m completely blessed this year: a flexible schedule, not-too-scary deadlines, and an unwrapped copy of The World At War. Some random thoughts …

– I really should have bet some money on King Kong not succeeding at the box office. I loved the LOTR movies, I’ve loved Jack Black since he was a bit player on “Mr. Show,” and I think Naomi Watts is adorable. Yet when I saw the pictures and trailers for this months ago, I … yawned. Apparently so did the rest of you.

– The learning curve for Civilization III is steep, huh? Just as Civ IV is being released, I’m starting to get the hang of its recent ancestor. My problem (besides having a slow PC and only being able to play the game when visiting my parents) is my affection for the easy battle system in CivII. I got so used to that, and the resultant split decisions to invade countries and grab whatever I wanted, that the more painful, realistic battle style of this game drove me away. This time around, I realized you have to 1)round up and mine resources to build better units and 2)spend lots of money on scientific research to keep your army advanced beyond the armies you want to conquer. It took me 240 years to conquer Egypt like this, mostly because I hadn’t secured iron ore before the war started and spent a century getting enough to build fierce legions.

– I’m a geek.

*people who read this blog

Zehn fur Freitag

From the depths of my iPod (population 7027 songs):

1) Donovan, “The Great Song of the Sky” – Retro-folksy anthem from the Sunshine Superman’s late 70s burnout. What do I mean by burnout? In the liner notes from the album (7-Tease), he writes of his desire for the Arabs to use the oil crisis to sieze power for themselves. Luckily, it’s catchy. (7/10)

2) Black Sabbath, “Children of the Sea” – Overpowering second track from Heaven and Hell, the band’s first album with Ronnie James Dio. Fruity acoustic noodling becomes steroidal riffing becomes … more riffing. I like this sort of thing, especially when it ends with Dio double-tracking his sea shanty vocal. (8/10)

3) Bob Marley, “Stir It Up” – Marley’s classic “I want to get all up in you” ballad. From Catch a Fire, and pretty much undeniable. (8/10)

4) The Cure, “Halo” – A b-side from their hitmaking period (late 80s early 90s) I grabbed off the Join the Dots box set. Excellent guitar and piano hooks throughout, if it doesn’t go anywhere special. (7/10)

5) Paul McCartney, “This One” – One of the hits from Flowers in the Dirt, the only one of his comeback albums to actually add up to a comeback. It has a great melody that he needlessly overproduces. But I like overproduction. (8/10)

6) Devo, “Mr. B’s Ballroom” – It’s from Freedom of Choice so it gets a 10. All the songs on Freedom of Choice get 10s. Go buy it. (10/10)

7) Nena, “99 Luftballoons” – I have this? Sorry. I’m incredibly tired of it now. (5/10)

8) The Shields, “You Cheated” – INTERFERENCE! This showed up a couple months back.

8a) The La De Das, “How the Air Up There?” – Dirty-ass mod rock from the second Nuggets box set. Pretty pedestrian apart from the smokin’ lead guitar riff, which sounds like “Psychotic Reaction” chewed up by piranas. (7/10)

9) Bad Brains, “Voyage Into Infinity” – One of the few great songs from Quickness, stoner riffing leading into insane H.R. poetry. Takes a while to get going, but oh my god that riffing. (8/10)

10) Peter Gabriel, “Family Snapshot” – The legendary assassination ballad from Gabriel’s third solo album, the one where his voice finally started to get hoarse (in a good way) and he got obsessed with politics. The minor chord piano antics presage a lot of the crap he’d get into later, but at this point he could do no wrong. (10/10)

Stop listening to Dick Morris

Sigh. Drudge excitedly hypes a new Dick Morris column about the spy story.

Politically, the left is making a big mistake in focusing on the issue. Bush is well-served by bringing the terrorism debate home. Isolationists — about 40 percent of the nation, divided between the two parties — will not back him on a war in Iraq but sure will support him against attempts to handcuff homeland security in the name of privacy or civil liberties.

In other news, hapless New York Senate candidate Jeanine Pirro is dropping out of the race against Hillary Clinton. But Morris saw that coming in August … uh, didn’t he?

At some point, Mrs. Clinton may feel Pirro gaining on them and wonder if it is worth the battle.

If Pirro posts some early gains, particularly upstate, where it is cheap to do early advertising, Hillary and Bill may read the handwriting on the wall and she may pull out of the race.

Well then. I herby predict that

– Democrats will use the NSA/Patriot act issues to propel themselves to huge wins in 2006

and

– The next great presidential race will be between Dennis Kucinich and Tom Tancredo.

Drumbeat

I think I’m in 100% agreement with Kevin Drum here.

The fact is, superhawks always claim their programs are vital to American security, and they almost always turn out to be wrong. We didn’t need to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II, we didn’t need Joe McCarthy’s theatrics during the Cold War, and we didn’t need COINTELPRO during the Vietnam War. And when the Church Committee outlawed the most egregious of our intelligence abuses in the 70s, guess what happened? The Soviet Union disintegrated a decade later. Turns out we didn’t need that stuff after all. America is a lot stronger than its supposed defenders give it credit for.

Of course, some of those supposed defenders are actually manuevering for short-term electoral gains against their enemies.