Friday, June 30, 2006

This just in: Garry Trudeau pisses someone else off!

Obviously, I realize this is the most redundant headline imaginable, as Trudeau has pissed somebody off about twice a week since Doonesbury started in 1970. This one is noteworthy - or at least amusing - because of the particular complaint. Editor & Publisher reports that the Polish American Congress is in an uproar over the innocuous May 14th strip in which a character named Justin Kaminski graduates with a degree in "Remedial Studies". I think this is a one-off or very very minor character, since I don't recognize him and he's not on the cast list. The PAC is annoyed that Kaminski is a Polish name - though as Trudeau points out, the name is carried by Ukrainians and Jews as well - and the character is remarkably stupid, thus a typical Polish stereotype.

The thing that cracks me up about this is that the late, longtime president of the PAC, Edward Moskal, was fond of throwing out anti-Semitic remarks. Case in point: in Rep. Rahm Emanuel's 2002 race for the US House, Moskal supported his opponent, Nancy Kaszak, and accused Emanuel (who is Jewish and was born in Chicago) of divided loyalties, dual citizenship with Israel, and of fighting in the Israeli army "shooting Palestinians". None of the charges were true - Emanuel is not an Israeli citizen and did not serve in the army, though he did volunteer as a civilian rust-proofing brakes - and were widely denounced by nearly everyone, including Kaszak, as anti-Semitic.

Now what the former president of the PAC said while shooting his mouth off doesn't justify any racism on Trudeau's part or in his work, though I think any sane observer wouldn't think the strip is racist. Seriously, do they really think that anyone who depicts a dumb character with a vaguely Polish name is a bigot? Would it have been better if the character had been named Jefferson or Gonzalez? Because after all, Lord knows the only ethnic group that has been stereotyped as stupid is the Poles.

Personally, I think it would have been funny if Trudeau responded to this stupid complaint with a joke about screwing in a light bulb, but I understand that it would be "poor public relations" and "horribly racist".

It's all true!

'What will your obituary say?' at

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Boy I hate that John Hodgman guy

Okay, now this is the last straw. I just read a thoughtful essay about some new comics written by Hodgman for The New York Times, in which he shows not only a sensitivity to the merits and flaws of each individual work, but an awareness of the field of alternative comics, both historically and current. And I'm really sick of this crap. Is there anything this guy can't do?

He's a former professional literary agent for, among others, actor
Bruce Campbell and penned the column "Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent" for McSweeney's. He's been in The Paris Review and on This American Life. He's started The Little Grey Book Lectures with musician Jonathan Coulton. He's the author of a brilliantly funny book, The Areas of My Expertise: An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by Me, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in the Areas of My Expertise, which Include Matters Historical; Matters Literary; Matters Cryptozoological; Hobo Matters; Food, Drink, & Cheese (a Kind of Food); Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels; Haircuts; Utopia; What Will Happen in the Future; and Most Other Subjects; Illustrated with a Reasonable Number of Tables and Figures, and Featuring the Best of "Were You Aware of It?", John Hodgman's Long-Running Newspaper Novelty Column of Strange Facts and Oddities of the Bizarre. It includes, among many other things, the hilarious "700 Hobo Names", which is exactly what it sounds and now appears in visual and audio form. (That's Coulton playing "Big Rock Candy Mountain" in the background.)

And then there's television. He's begun appearing as The Daily Show's "Resident Expert", declaring that he conducts himself "with the irrepressible brio of the pimp" and namedrops Lobot when talking about the Bush administration's Iraq policy. And he's appeared as a stuffy PC in Apple's new Get a Mac ads. But he's so witty and charming in these ads that, as plenty of observers have noted, they are self defeating. Hodgman wins you over, while Justin Long plays the part of the annoying pretentious urban hipster Mac cultist so unwittingly well that you want to strangle him with his own hoodie. (And this from someone who once thought of himself as an annoying pretentious urban hipster Mac cultist!)

Did I mention he also has a blog? You'd probably rather be reading that, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I'm a little behind the curve here, because I didn't even know Moby released a new album last year, much less know about this bizarre video. If you don't know what a key party is, go rent The Ice Storm, though this may be a lot more disturbing. And there are furries. Furries are always disturbing.

Some random thoughts

* I've visited UTC over a dozen times, I'm sure, and never ventured into the cemetery across the street. So I finally decided to do so this weekend, and promptly got soaked to the bone by a sudden rainstorm. It's as if the heavens opened up to tell me "you shall not enter hallowed ground".

* On impulse, leaving work on Friday I checked out Père Goriot. While I haven't finished it yet, I may have a new favorite novelist. I was struck by Balzac's talent at cataloging mundane details in a compelling way and his Dickensian gift for character - an insight into the mundane and a gift for highlighting the grotesque within - with bit more viciousness than Dickens, which of course I immediately took to. If I decide to adopt this as a hobby, I'll have plenty to do: there are a whopping ninety five novels in La Comédie humaine. And with 95 of them that will significantly increase the odds of proving Lucy Liu wrong and serendipitously meeting my soulmate lurking in that section of the bookstore or library. You know, you'd think that spending forty hours a week in a library would also increase the odds of meeting a Balzac-reading, or at least functionally literate, woman, but you'd be wrong.

* For some reason I keep hearing Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died in Your Arms". Not by choice, mind you. I used to think that song was so deep. I'd drive along at night with the window down, the song blaring on the radio, my hair blowing ludicrously in the wind, and think about how deep it was. But you know, I have no idea what the hell that song is about. "Loving by proxy"? What the hell does that even mean?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Steve Benson

The blogosphere is outraged - outraged I tell you! - about this June 5th editorial cartoon by Steve Benson of the Arizona Republic. This isn't the first time the Pulitzer winner has pissed people off. His classic 1997 anti-death penalty cartoon parodied a famous photo of a firefighter carrying a dying one-year old out of the wreckage of the Oklahoma City bombing to point out the irony in executing Timothy McVeigh. Whatever your opinion regarding that execution, this was powerful, provocative stuff, editorial cartooning at its best. And of course, in the ensuing controversy, almost everyone missed the point entirely. Even firefighters complained that they were portrayed as "advocates of death", which any idiot can see that's not what's going on here. Benson rightfully stood his ground and refused to apologize: "I don't apologize to people who don't understand cartooning."

The usual suspects on the right like Michelle are trying to manufacture some outrage and get everyone worked up into a lather. The Republic has already received some 1350 letters on the cartoon. If you look past the righteous outrage in the letters and the blogs, occasionally you'll find a legitimate point. Benson has been accused of rushing to judgment and making accusations before all the facts are in. But I doubt anyone would be so outraged about Benson's supposed pre-judgment if he had not made his point in such a provocative manner.

Editorial cartooning is in danger of becoming a lost art, with too many cartoonists parroting conventional wisdom with tame, inoffensive, obvious "humor". ("Those clowns in Congress did it again. What a bunch of clowns.") Too many editors fear the controversy that a good cartoonist can bring and too many publishers are getting rid of cartoonists because of cost cutting or because they don't like their politics. So it's good to see a cartoonist who isn't afraid to be provocative or to piss people off, and we should encourage people like Benson to keep at it. I don't usually care for Benson's work. To me he's a guy with a relatively low batting average, but when he does score a hit, it goes out of the park.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

This just in....Bush hates gays

A lot of interesting things in the new issue of Rolling Stone. The political story is "The Politics of Fear", about Bush's shameless gay bashing in an attempt to boost his poll numbers and rouse his base of conservative fundies. Now this is nothing new, and everything in the article has been reported piecemeal elsewhere, but it's often instructive to see everything in one place, if only to get a handle on how bad things really are.

It's obvious to everyone that Bush's touting of the anti-gay marriage amendment - a sudden emergency in year six of his presidency - is transparent ploy.
"He's some kind of demagogue without any core values whatsoever...His only dominant value is expediency. He's only doing this because he's losing what core support he had, and anyone with half a brain can see it. He's shameless."

Were those Democratic talking points? A raging Hollywood liberal? No, that was Fred Phelps, right-wing America's prophet of hate, the guy who pickets funerals of people, including straight people, because he hates gays so much. If there's going to be gay bashing, he's got his own bat, and he'll bring an extra one for you. Now if you can't get this guy to show up to your gay bashing party, you're doing something very very wrong. Nobody's falling for this one.
A friend of the family told Newsweek that the president's decision was "purely political. I don't think he gives a shit about it."

Even Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of the Vice President, is pissed off. Welcome aboard. Finally.
"I think one of the reasons you're seeing so much sturm und drang from the conservatives is that they know that they're losing the debate," says Dan Savage, a national political columnist who chronicled his experience as a gay father in The Kid. "The polls on gay people, gay marriage and gay adoption track more and more favorably with every passing year. Republicans want to lock in their bigotry now, while they have what they perceive to be a majority. But you can't have Rosie on The View and Elton John packing Mom and Pop in at Caesars Palace and gay people all over television, and then have these politicians run out there with a straight face and say that 'gay and lesbian relationships are a threat to the family.' We are winning in the culture -- which is why we'll ultimately win the political war."

While I think Savage is essentially correct, I worry about putting too much faith in eventual historic vindication. Most people think history is nothing but progress, technological, cultural, social, a one way arrow pointing towards the future. But things can backslide; battles and rights can be lost. The sad failure of Reconstruction led to a hundred years of Jim Crow. While things eventually improved, I don't think we should wait a hundred years again.

The issue also contains a fascinating portrait of James Brown by Jonathan Lethem, novelist of The Fortress of Solitude. Lethem portrays him as a Greek god, striding through life in a way that seems beyond life, a figure equally capable of casual acts of genius and causal acts of astonishing pettiness. He seems utterly in control of everything while at the same time completely unaware of his surroundings, like an Alzheimer's patient.
For my part as a witness, if I could convey only one thing about James Brown it would be this: James Brown is, like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, a man unstuck in time. He's a time traveler, but unlike the HG Wells-ian variety, he lacks any control over his migrations in time, which also seem to be circumscribed to the period of his own allotted lifespan. Indeed, it may be the case that James Brown is often confused as to what moment in time he occupies at any given moment...James Brown began browsing through the decades ahead -- Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and perhaps even into the Nineties -- and saw, or, more correctly, heard, the future of music. This, if my theory is correct, explains the stubbornly revolutionary cast of his musical efforts from that time on, the way he single-handedly seemed to be trying to impart an epiphany to which only he had easy access, an epiphany to do with rhythm, and with the kinetic possibilities inherent but to that point barely noticed in the R&B and soul music around him...This time-traveler theory would best explain what is hardest to explain about James Brown, especially to younger listeners who live so entirely in a sonic world of James Brown's creation: that he made it all sound this way. That it sounded different before him...We all dwell in the world James Brown saw so completely before we came along into it; James Brown, in turn, hasn't totally joined us here in the future he made...that may be because for him it was essentially occurring to him for the first time, or, rather, that there is no first time: All his moments are one. James Brown, in this view, is always conceiving the idea of being James Brown, as if nobody, including himself, had thought of it until just now. At any given moment James Brown is presently reinventing funk.

He also paints a vivid portrait of the world around Brown, of his hangers on and his band, musicians of astonishing talent who have to show other, lesser bands like the Black Eyed Peas how to play. Yet their talents are frustrated by Brown, afraid to put their full talent on display in case they incur the wrath of Brown's pettiness. They've taken to cutting tracks in the off hours behind Brown's back, which they eagerly play for Lethem, like he's a downed fighter pilot learning the secret workings of the French resistance. At first I thought that the band would suffer repercussions for having their secret sessions become public knowledge, but in the odd, self-centered world of James Brown, he's probably already forgotten he was interviewed by some guy from Rolling Stone, or if he remembers, he'll probably have his valet give him the highlights.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Hot for teacher

Tamara Hoover, an art teacher at Austin High School in Texas, is fighting her dismissal after topless photos taken by her girlfriend were found in a Flickr account. School officials want to revoke her teaching certification, which would prevent her from teaching anywhere in Texas. Hoover is unrepentant, saying (rightfully so) that "I'm an artist and I'm going to participate in the arts". Whatever you think of the wisdom of posting nude pics of yourself on the internet or whether or not such boudoir photography is art, the fact is the human form is a pivotal artistic subject. Sure, nude photography is probably best kept out of a high school classroom, but you can't expect an artist to eschew that subject matter in the rest of her work and life. No doubt some (most?) parents and administrators would prefer a teacher limit themselves to drawing cute kittens. Take a look at the appalling "quick poll" accompanying the CNN news story on Hoover: "Can nude photos be art?" The fact that this is even a matter for debate shows that we have a long way to go before our culture grows up.

Such controversies usually have their root in something petty. Here it started with a dispute over ceramics equipment with another art teacher. Students told this rival teacher about the pictures and she brought them to the attention of administrators. Apparently everyone's time and money is being wasted because some people can't figure out how to share a kiln. Instead of using some dirt to screw over another teacher, this art teacher should have thought about who is going to stand up for her when someone finds some of her work objectionable.

He's not dead, he's sixty-four

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Must Love Jaws

Another find in my ongoing obsession with movie trailer parodies:

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tolerate Insanity

I have no idea what to make of a new commercial from Folgers called "Happy Mornings", the product of a no-doubt disturbed ad man named Steve Ayson. It's apparently part of a campaign called "Tolerate Mornings" which features a "Morning Tolerator" (i.e., a coffee maker) and odd downloads like a "Boss Tracker", a program which claims it can keep track of the location of your boss so you can tolerate your morning even more. If the embedded video doesn't work, try here.

Wake up you sleepy head!
You can sleep when you are dead!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Jack Jackson (1941-2006)

Jack Jackson, who went by the nom de comix of Jaxon, was generally credited with being the first underground comix artist. This is due to the publication of his one-shot God Nose in 1964 after he and other staffers were kicked off the college magazine Texas Ranger for what he called "a petty censorship violation". Eventually he ended up in San Francisco - the heart of the underground comix movement - and he and some other Texas transplants founded Rip Off Press. Despite this, most of his work in those days was published by another seminal comix outfit, Last Gasp. One of the two Jaxon books I own, Optimism of Youth, chronicles this early work. Most of the stories are pastiches of classic EC Comics stuff with the addition of plenty of explicit sex (these are the undergrounds we're talking about, after all). There are some interesting stories here, a couple of Lovecraft and Twilight Zone type things that are entertaining, and the art is excellent but a bit raw. The overall sense is of an artist still trying to find his voice. The most interesting (but not the best) story is "White Man's Burden", an exploration of racial stereotypes in a post-apocalyptic world which prefigures Robert Crumb's infamous satirical "When the Goddamn Jews Take Over America". Whitey meets his downfall when all the races band together to fight the man, but when the white man is defeated, each race starts thinking they are the "master race", and the cycle continues. This story got him some death threats from some white people who didn't quite get the point and thought Jaxon was racist, a misunderstanding that unfortunately would happen again in his career.

The second book of his I have is Los Tejanos, which is one of the early examples of the kind of work he's best known for, exquisite historical narratives of the early history of Texas and the southwest. While Art Spiegleman and Marjane Satrapi may be making it (relatively) big, there still isn't much of a market for detailed, painstakingly researched comics which take years to complete. Still, Jaxon turned out plenty of them in the twenty five years: Comanche Moon, Recuerden el Alamo, The Secret of San Saba, Indian Lover: Sam Houston & the Cherokees, Lost Cause: The True Story of Famed Gunslinger John Wesley Hardin, The Alamo: An Epic Told From Both Sides, and probably some more that I've missed. Los Tejanos is the story of Texas' independence from Mexico. The traditional story centers the Alamo and mostly mentions whites, but this book follows Juan Seguin, a "Tejano" - Texans of Mexican descent - who was one of many who fought for Texas and the Constitution of 1824. The Alamo is mentioned briefly: Seguin was there and snuck out past Santa Anna's lines to bring reinforcements and supplies, but could not return before the fort fell. But this book covers the whole conflict, and what happened afterwards. White Americans are notoriously unable to determine who their allies are and who their enemies are when it comes to other races and ethnic groups, and Texans who fought against Mexico began to resent the Mexicans still living in their midst. Those who rushed to Texas to fight the good fight found the conflict over and decided to fight against whoever was handy. Bands of guerilla forces sprang up on each side. In the midst of these conflicts, Seguin is forced to flee to Mexico. After Texas statehood and the Mexican-American war, Seguin is able to return.

Racial misunderstanding seems to be an inadvertent theme in Jaxon's work and career. Back in 1998, the a hatchet job in the Austin Chronicle essentially called Jaxon's book Lost Cause racist. To make matters worse, the Chronicle refused to print any sort of rebuttal from Jaxon. Thanks to the internet, fans inundated the newspaper with letters filled with indignation and The Comics Journal interviewed him about the mess. To their credit, the Chronicle seems to have given Jaxon a lot of favorable coverage in later years.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Love in the time of MySpace

There is a meme floating around LiveJournal and presumably elsewhere in the blogosphere that goes something like this:

There's at least 1 person on your LiveJournal that wants to date you or sleep with you.

so lets play...FRIENDS w/BENEFITS

The rules are simple...

If you want to date the person who posts this send them a msg saying "I'm yours"

If you just want to sleep with the person and stay friends, send them a message that says "I'd hit it"


Now I'm all for anything that gives people a push into a relationship, or casual sex, or abject misery, or whatever their lifestyle choice is. As much of a starry-eyed romantic as I am, one has to be proactive about such things. After all, as Lucy Liu told Calista Flockheart on an episode of Ally McBeal, you aren't going to find your soulmate while you are both reaching for the same copy of Balzac in the bookstore. While I am usually loath to take advice from the oeuvre of David E. Kelley, one takes ones life lessons where one can find them. It's good advice too; you can't spend all day sitting around Borders waiting for someone of the opposite sex to snatch up the only copy of Le Père Goriot, assuming they even have one in stock. Most of my hobbies are solitary and/or geeky, and so if I had to rely on serendipity the odds would be a lot worse than they already are.

So in theory this seems like a harmless, reasonable idea. In execution, not so much. No offense to the people on my friends list who have passed this on, but what the hell? Is our culture become so debased that "I'd hit that" is our new mating call? Are people checking their inbox waiting for some hottie to email them with those timeless words? Nothing wrong with encouraging people to write to their internet crush. (Though, speaking from experience, writing your internet crush doesn't work. Either that, or I write a really crappy letter.) So don't hesitate to send that email, but please, whatever you do, don't use the phrase "I'd hit that". Not even in an ironic way. Just don't.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

From the what the heck were they thinking dept.:

This charming ad appeared in the new June 2006 issue of Previews. For those who don't know, Previews is the catalog of Diamond Comic Distributors, the United States' largest (and essentially only) distributor of comics and assorted crap to our nation’s dwindling number comic book shops. It is the Sears Wishbook of Dork, but instead of coming out just once a year, it arrives every month, providing thousands of individual opportunities for separating a fanboy from his money. Sure, a lot of fanboys just have a "pull list" of their regular purchases and the store puts aside their copy of, say, Superman every month. But that's strictly amateur hour. The real fanboys pore over the inch-thick catalog and fill out an order form that spans dozens of pages. Some of us used the catalog to seek out more experimental and challenging books that we might otherwise miss. The rest of the fanboys used it to wallow in geek as much as they could afford to. (Okay, I admit it, I did some of the latter too.) Every month, Previews featurs hundreds of comics, graphic novels, posters, dolls – I mean action figures, and even statuary. And, of course, T-shirts.

There's nothing new about T-shirts featuring variations on the Superman logo. I even bought one at Target. So there's nothing particularly exciting or special about this one, but in the breathless world of fanboy advertising, everything is an occasion for bombast.

The world of comics is an insular one and even in the professional ranks is populated largely by dateless suburban white males. But even that can't begin to explain the mind-boggling cluelessness of this advertisement. Some theorize that it was a purposeful effort to create controversy and raise sales with the resulting attention. But that seems at once both far too canny and far too stupid. Though populated with fanboys, the companies involved are hardly the equivalent of a strip mall comic book shop, the leading companies in their respective fields, and two of them are large, multi-million dollar corporations. Graphitti Designs is the leading maker of T-shirts, statuary, and other ancillary crap, Diamond distributes most of the comics in America and is run by a canny businessman and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles, and DC Comics is of course the first or second (I haven’t checked lately) largest comic book company in the US and is part of the Time Warner Hegemony. Of course, in big companies things get lost in the shuffle, and somebody wasn't paying attention – or somebody was and thought it would be really funny to lose his job next week.

What makes this screw up extra fun is that Superman is a direct descendant of the Nietzschian Übermensch, his concept of a superior being that was perverted and idealized in Nazi ideology. Superman, of course, has nothing to do with Nazis. He predates Nazi Germany and was created by a couple of Jews from Cleveland. But they come from the same source, and in fact Superman is an English translation of Übermensch, though Overman seems to be in favor these days, probably because philosophy professors don't want people to think they’re reading comics. The association of superheroes and fascism is one that's been explored a great deal over the last two decades by writers deconstructing the genre, with varying degrees of cleverness. Obviously, there's a lot of troubling overtones to a mistake like the one in the T-shirt ad, and someone either thinks they are far more clever than they actually are, or someone thinks they are far less stupid than they actually are. Whatever the case, look forward to some peons getting fired.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Republicans at sea

The latest remake of The Poseidon Adventure is this year's Poseidon. The original is perhaps the best disaster movie of all time, a dubious distinction to be sure, but I've always been fond of the grand silliness of the genre. But Hollywood has a habit of taking a middling film and remaking it in an even worse way (e.g. The Fog), so I'm not sure what I was thinking when I went to see this.

This one was directed by Wolfgang Petersen, who for some reason I keep confusing with Paul "It's a satire because I say so" Verhoeven, the great auteur behind Showgirls and Starship Troopers. Peterson actually directed the submarine film Das Boot, which I hear is a classic, and crap like Air Force One and In the Line of Fire. This film, however, is not a classic, and movie critics have already dubbed it "Das Bomb", a line which I think is stupid only because I'm jealous I didn't think of it first. How about In the Line of Water? Air Force Wave?

However, in the tradition of Verhoeven’s critical defenders, I will now recast Poseidon as a trenchant satire of modern society. Or a triumphant celebration of modern society. Like Starship Troopers, no one knows for sure.

Spoilers ahoy!

In the original film, Gene Hackman plays Frank Scott, a priest engaged in some sort of Nietzschian tussle with God. Scott is earnest, messianic, fiery, flamboyant, and one of the oddest and most challenging characters ever to appear in genre entertainment. To me, more than Popeye Doyle or anyone else, this is Hackman's most interesting character and he seems to encapsulate everything that was so gloriously oddball about the 1970s. Rev . Scott must play personal Jesus to a little flock including Roddy McDowall, Shelly Winters, and Ernest Borgnine and try to lead them to dry salvation.

In this year's film, a smaller group of superrich WASPs apparently cast by the Heritage Foundation makes their way through the ship. They are led by a Republican Action Hero, a former firefighter turned mayor of New York City (you know which mayor we’re talking about here, and it's not the black one or the Jewish one) played by Kurt Russell, accompanied by his daughter (Emmy Rossum) and her incredibly bland fiancée (Mike Vogel). Though his daughter plays at being rebellious, they are good little Republicans and are waiting until they get married. Seriously. Now if I was on a cruise ship on New Year's Eve engaged to Emmy Rossum, a lot more would be unbuttoned than that one little button on her dress that Kurt Russell complains about.

Top billing goes to the almost as bland Josh Lucas, who plays a former US Navy diver turned professional poker player. (He lives by his wits, see?) With the best straight face he can muster, he actually utters the line "I work better alone." Along for the ride is an architect played by Richard Dreyfuss. Okay, so he's gay, but he’s probably a Log Cabin Republican. Also along are, according to the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, a hot, rich single mother (Jacinda Barrett) and her kid (some child actor).

The most disturbing aspect of the original was not the carnage, relatively subdued in the original, but cranked up substantially by Petersen. It was Rev. Scott's heartbreaking attempts to get other passengers to accompany them in their journey to safety. Jeered in the ballroom after they climb a Christmas tree (not exactly a subtle symbol but it's a fantastic visual) and ignored as a group of survivors shuffle past them in the bowels of the ship, you can see the anguish in Scott's face and hear it in his voice as he pleads with them to come with him.

But in the new movie, these products of Reaganomics don't even try to get anyone to come with them. In fact, their actions escaping, namely filling the ballast tanks, actually hastens the (admittedly inevitable) demise of the passengers they left behind! They shed the occasional tear over a person here or there, but more characteristic is their cheerful running through a hallway full of dead ship employees – literally working stiffs. The only actual working class people and the only non-WASPs who accompany them are quickly killed off: an illegal immigrant stowaway (Mía Maestro) and a waiter (Freddy Rodriguez) who is literally purchased by Republican Action Hero to guide them through the galley is soon kicked to his death when he outlives his usefulness, with little expression of regret afterwards.

Of course, a brave sacrifice must be made (i.e., than of an important, non-expendable cast member), and Republican Action Hero is up to the task. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is not. What should have been the emotional climax of the film looks like a drama class performing Scenes from Armageddon. Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck may not be great actors, but Rossum and Vogel remind you how good Tyler and Affleck actually are. The only way to salvage this seen is if you could see Kurt Russell rolling his eyes in the background before he dives into the water.

There's little pleasant to be said about the rest of the film, either. Stacy Ferguson of the Black Eyed Peas does her best Charo impression. (Someone should have told her that this wasn’t a remake of The Love Boat, though I wish that ship had sunk too.) Say what you want about "The Morning After", it sure beats whatever that song was Fergie sung in this film, and it can be used to get rid of a pesky succubus if you sing it backwards. The always underutilized Andre Braugher plays the ship’s captain, but he should probably turn the gravitas down just a little. (The reviewer from the New York Post wrote he "seems to think he's doing Lear".)

And Kevin Dillon plays Lucky Larry, a walking Freshman English lesson in irony. He is so astonishingly obnoxious and ridiculous, with his mustache and ruffled tuxedo shirt (This just in: it's 2006) and drunken ranting and swigging of the flask, that you think there must be something else going on here. When he helps save Bland Fiancée, accompanied by plenty of self-congratulatory ranting, you think there might be more dimension to this character, but there isn't. And when he dies in an obvious and cheaply satisfying sort of way, you realize there isn't any more dimension to this movie either.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

The Kings of Hollywood

Slim Aarons (1916-2006) was a chronicler of old school Hollywood, the days of tuxedos and martinis, photographing it all for people who stayed home and watched it from afar through big glossy photos in magazines like Life, Holiday and Town & Country. His most famous single image was called “The Kings of Hollywood”. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but from left to right are Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart. It is, as one fanboy writing for Smithsonian breathlessly put it, a Mount Rushmore of stardom. With the possible exception of Van Heflin, they still largely retain their iconic power. I try not to be nostalgic for the mythical good old days, but it invokes an era of bright lights and larger than life people. I know these guys (and by that I mean the people who traveled in these circles, not necessarily the four particular actors in the photo) probably pounded down a half dozen martinis and then pounded on their wives, but if you have to idolize somebody (and it seems a requirement of society that we put someone up on a pedestal), I’d rather have a tux-clad Gary Cooper-type on the cover of People instead of some couch-jumping, placenta-eating, Xenu-worshiping freak.