Sunday, June 27, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

Though I've always been interested in politics on some level, I believe the event that really galvanized my passion for the subject was the debacle of the 2000 Presidential election. I remember watching in stunned horror through November and December as the very electoral process was destroyed, the body cut open and displayed on national television. I'm sure you remember it just as well as I do: the confusing (intentionally so, some think) "butterfly ballots" that resulted in thousands accidentally voting for Pat Buchanan rather than Al Gore. The people hired to recount the votes in Florida prevented from doing so, for no adequately explained reason. Katherine Harris, the woman in charge of both the election and Bush's campaign, repeatedly blocking recounts. And the final stroke, the Supreme Court decision that took the vote away from the people and coronated George W. Bush the 43rd President. None of it made sense to me -- how could someone argue against counting every vote? What logical human being could rationally say anything other than "count all the votes"? I didn't get it. I still don't get it. And later, as evidence began to surface of Republican tampering with the electoral system in Florida (thousands of black voters "accidentally" wiped off the voter rolls days before the election, to name just one instance), it became clear that the vote in Florida was, at best, suspect, if not downright rigged. If Bush and his supporters in the Republican party were willing to lie and cheat their way into office, why would they stop once they got there?

As Michael Moore's brilliant Fahrenheit 9/11 states loudly and with authority: they didn't. And they used the most horrific tragedy in the history of our nation to enhance their positions. And they did it for nothing more than money.

I think I know why Sean Hannity doesn't like it.

Unlike the good-but-unfocused Bowling for Columbine, this film is basically split into two parts. The first concerns the 9/11 attack, and both Bush's failure to prevent it and his inability to capture those responsible. The CIA and FBI sent report after report concerning possible terrorist strikes on US soil, but it's hard to read all those reports when you spend 42% of your first eight months in office on vacation playing with your dogs (or, as Moore says, "Maybe he was just confused by the vague title of the report: bin Laden intent on attacking US.") And after the attacks, getting the bin Laden family out of the country on chartered planes (while the rest of the country was completely grounded) seemed far more important to Bush than actually capturing the perpertrators. Even Joe Friday (as we see in clips from Dragnet) knows, when a murder's committed, you talk to the suspect's family, not high-tail them out of the country -- even if that family has "cut all ties" with Osama, which a witness for Moore hints they haven't, it still seems pretty simplistic. So why let them leave? Why, in fact, move them out of the country yourself without so much as a "Seen 'em lately?" There's no good answer, but the bad one seems to point to the monetary influence the Saudi Arabians have on the US economy in general and the Bush family in particular. Perhaps it doesn't seem likely, this conspiracy with the Saudis, but it doesn't help when Moore's attempt to film some interview footage in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington is interrupted by nervous Secret Service agents...who, of course, guard none of the other foreign embassies.

It's no secret that defense contractors have made millions from 9/11 and the subsequent war in Iraq. And it's no secret that John Ashcroft (shown to me to be, finally and truly, certifiably insane by a short shot in this film) and others in the administration saw the post-9/11 environment as a chance to make some the changes they'd wanted since taking office, like the repugnant USA PATRIOT Act. (Why would intelligent, thinking congressmen and women pass the Patriot Act, Moore asks? The answer: they didn't read it.) None of what Moore comes with is really new information, at least to me. And his attempt to paint a conspiracy is not perfect -- one can poke holes in each individual piece of evidence, and nothing can be considering irrefutably damning. But as more and more evidence stacks up, doesn't there come a point where the sheer volume of facts speaks for itself?

Actually, Moore does find one piece of irrefutably damning evidence, speaking to Bush's incompetence and inability to properly lead the country after 9/11: the video footage, undeniably accurate, of Bush's reaction to news of the attacks -- he does nothing. While the President reads to schoolchildren in Florida, an aid enters the room and informs Bush that the United States is under attack. Bush responds by...sitting there. For seven minutes, while thousands were dying in New York, the leader of the nation, with no one there to tell him what to do or what to say or how to act, sat stock-still. For seven minutes. Until another aid finally entered the room and nervously suggested he should leave. That's pretty damning, I'd say. And the fact that this footage has never been seen before (at least by me, and I'd bet the overwhelming majority of the country) speaks to the falsehood of the "liberal media" that Hannity and his ilk blare about constantly. If Fahrenheit is Michael Moore's attempt to destory the Bush Presidency, this one piece of footage might be the most devastating shot, if only because there's no possible conservative response -- nothing can gloss over the look of sheer, confused terror that fills the frame here. With the enormous (for a documentary) box office the film has pulled in its first week, it's possible that this one shot may swing the election.

So with Moore having torn apart the "ficticious" President's 9/11 behavior in the first half, the second turns to his "ficticious" war in Iraq, and the bogus search for weapons of mass destruction. Interview clips of Rumsfeld and others speaking on the incredible accuracy of their "Shock and Awe" bombing raids are countered with horrifying footage of the cities of Iraq decimated and destroyed, the civilians who live there weeping over their ruined lives. One fragment is especially devastating, as an Iraqi woman screams into a news camera about the evil of the American people for killing her uncle in the bombings. "Where are you, God?!" she screams. "God avenge us! God avenge us!" Maybe not the majority opinion in Iraq, but it's certainly different than the "Welcoming us with flowers and smiles" reaction Rumsfeld told us to expect.

Some footage of the soldiers doesn't make us feel better. Many of them lament their jobs, openly questioning just what the hell they're doing there in the first place, especially after Bush's ridiculous "Mission Accomplished" speech that "ended" the war over a year ago. But some of the soldiers have no problem being at war for no reason -- it's a "rush," as they listen to loud music to pump them up as they rush into battle. After an encounter with Iraqis, we get some heartwarming camcorder footage with some soldiers posing for photographs with a captured Iraqi and then joking about a dead Iraqi's erection. The message: reprehensible behavior in the leaders of the military leads to reprehensible behavior by the soldiers.

But the focus of the second half of the film takes Moore back to his hometown of Flint, as he often does in his films. He meets a local woman from a military family with two children in the Marines. But when her son is killed in a helicopter crash, she questions why her son needed to go to Iraq in the first place. The most painful moment of the film comes in her trip to Washington to visit the White House -- outside, she meets an Iraqi mother who also lost her son during the war, and now sits with posters and signs protesting the war. Her attempt to communicate with the protestor becomes even more difficult to watch when some obnoxious woman comes from nowhere and inserts herself into the situation, insisting that it's "all staged," and that "If your son's really dead, you should blame al-Qaeda." It's difficult for me to believe that something as personal as this woman's loss would be used by Michael Moore for his own gain, and the very fact that the whole incident is still in the film, complete with unwanted intrusion, leads me to believe in the event's accuracy. And it's almost unbearably painful to watch.

While Bowling relied heavily on humor, this is a far more somber affair. That doesn't mean there aren't laughs to be had, like the hilarious montage on the Coalition of the Willing ("Morocco...Iceland...Afghanistan...Wait: Afghanistan? Well, they have a military: OUR military!"). Does it help that I'm already as anti-Bush as a human could be without picking a rifle? Sure. But Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't aimed for people like me. It's a message those undecided voters, and even those who side with Bush. It's a message that says, "This is who our leader and those around are. This is what they're capable of. And unless you stop them in November, they'll do it for another four years."

Nothing scares me more.

Rating: *****

Author's note: Though I talk with my friends about virtually every movie before I review it, this review happened largely because of the intriguing conversation I had concerning Bush with Brandon Funderburg and Rene Alvarado. Their viewpoints were interesting, if often opposed to my own. Thank you. Oh, and Robert was there, too. Yeah.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Yeah, here comes the water...

Fun time at local stores: I picked a hardcover original print of Stephen King's It at Half-Price Books on Saturday...for A DOLLAR. That's right: 100 cents. I swear. Perfect condition and everything, except missing the dust jacket.

I also bought the Velvet Revolver CD, Contraband. I'll give it ****. Not all of the songs are fantastic (and none can match "Slither," the single that's all over the radio right now), but Scott Weiland can still bring it vocally, and the GN'R boys can still play, especially Slash. (This album blows away Axl's stuff easily, because it, you know, EXISTS. Axl's still "working a new album" in the same sense one would say "Ernest Hemingway's working on a new novel.")

Astros update: we beat the Angels, now it's four with the only team below us in the Central, the Pirates. May the Baseball Gods be with Tim Redding tonight. Please.

And we have acquired the new baseball game for this year: ESPN Major League Baseball, for PS2. Great game. Currently, the Astros are 26-5. Much better than reality.

Yeah, here comes the water
It comes to wash away the sins of you and I
This time you'll see
Like holy water
It only burns you faster than you'll ever dry
This time with me

Friday, June 18, 2004

The problem with constant updates

I will say this: the Astros website is one of the most constantly updated sites I've ever seen. If you log on in the middle of a game, you'll find, right there on top of the page, a complete story with pictures and video of the first four innings of the game you're still watching.

But the constant chatter can sometimes be taken to ridiculous lengths -- do we really need five different stories on the Richard Hidalgo trade? I mean, I can tell you everything right here:
  • Hidalgo has been traded to the Mets in exchange for relief pitcher David Weathers (5-3, 4.28 ERA) and some other minor league pitcher whose name escapes me.
  • Jason Lane will take Hidalgo's job in right field.
  • The Astros regret seeing Hidalgo leave, but wish him the best and are glad that Lane will get regular playing time now.
...And that's it. I didn't need five sentences to get through all that, let alone five stories. Those MLB writers need a hobby.

33-32, five and a half out. Four game losing streak. Lost six of our last seven, 21 of our last 33. That optimism I reserve solely for major league baseball is getting harder and harder to stick with.

But then, it's only June 18. There are still 97 games left to play. I think we're still in it.

For now, anyway.

got a bullet, but it ain't mine

Thursday, June 17, 2004

I get bad ideas, too

The other day, I was driving around and listening to White Zombie. The music reminded me that I never did write a review for Rob Zombie's film House of 1000 Corpses. So I decided to do one...but, of course, I had to actually watch the movie again to do so. So I hope it's worth it. Talk about suffering for my art.

Did some maintenence on this place. Changed my e-mail address (it's now), and added a fancy-schmancy screening log, keeping track of all the movies I see this year, even the ones I don't get around to reviewing...which, frankly, is most of them. The list is partially for you, the reader, but mostly for me, so when it gets to January and I'm trying make a top ten, I can remember everything I've seen.

Speaking of a top ten: someone mentioned to me a few days ago I never got around to making one. So:

The 10 Best of 2003
  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  2. Kill Bill, Vol. 1
  3. Lost in Translation
  4. Mystic River
  5. Intolerable Cruelty
  6. Phone Booth
  7. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  8. Matchstick Men
  9. X2: X-Men United
  10. Big Fish
And no, I never did see The Last Samurai. Or Master and Commander. Sue me.

And, since we're on the subject...

The Worst 5 of 2003
  1. House of 1000 Corpses
  2. Underworld
  3. The Matrix Revolutions
  4. Jeepers Creepers 2
  5. Freddy vs. Jason

Oh, and the Astros....

...I don't want to talk about it.

it didn't turn out the way you wanted it to
it didn't turn out the way you wanted it, did it?

Friday, June 11, 2004

If there is a weblog on the net, and no one reads it, does it really exist?


I stopped updating because I lost internet access at my house. But since I come to the library and get online pretty much every day, no reason for me not to update anymore. So consider this my grand return to the stage of my weblog. The weblog no one reads. The Phantom Menace?

Let's see, let's see...what to talk about...

Here's what I've seen so far this year. Not a lot, I know. In order of quality.

Kill Bill, Vol. 2 -- Better than the first one, though it took me two viewings to confirm that. Tarantino is some kind of scary genius. *****

Secret Window -- One of the few times when alterations made in the film adaptation of a book actually enhance the story rather than the other way around. And Depp is great. ***1/2

Shrek 2 -- Yes, I liked it, and no one was more surprised than me. Antonio Banderas is my new hero. And see what happens when you make a kid's movie without fart jokes? Do you? ***1/2

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban -- At times, a thing of beauty. At others, the movie has to grind to a halt for rote exposition in order to get through the plot, which is somewhat complicated, especially for something aimed at such a young audience. But to say that this is a step above the first two is a vast understatement. As my favorite critic, MaryAnn Johanson, put it best, I liked the other two because they were Harry Potter. I like this one because it great. ***1/2

The Butterfly Effect -- It makes no fucking sense whatsoever, but it's a blast in its own goofy kinda way. Gets a few points from me for not being as horrible as I feared. **

The Day After Tomorrow -- Ooooh...look at the pretty CGI....huh? Story? What story? *1/2

The Chronicles of Riddick -- See previous. And the one before it, actually. *1/2

The Passion of the Christ -- I have said all I want to say about this movie. May we all just pretend it never existed. *

...and that's it. Yeah, I'm slacking.

The Astros are going to give me a heart attack, I swear.

Currently: 32-26, third place, game and a half back. Kent is on fire, The Killer B's are doing great, and Roger Clemens (9-0, 2.08 ERA?!) is simply inhuman. Everyone else? Ensberg, without a homerun in June? Oswalt and Miller pitching like drunken impostors of themselves? Pettite's arm falling off? Hidalgo playing like he's on smack?

My blood pressure rises just thinking about it.

...I got nuthin'.

That's it, I guess. For now. The updates shalt commence from here on, I suppose. Can't say how often.

so close, not matter how far

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

House of 1000 Corpses

Jesus lived his life in a cheap motel
On the edge of Route 66, yeah
He lived a dark and a twisted life
And he came right back just to do it again

Those are the opening lyrics of "Super-Charger Heaven," easily the best track recorded by White Zombie, Rob Zombie's former band. The song rides its churning guitar riffs like an out-of-control semi, while the bass rumbles and the drummer flails away at top speed. The song hits its high mark in the chorus, when Zombie bellows "DEVILMAN! DEVILMAN!" in his best death-metal growl and various moans and screams are heard beneath the music. It's so much fun, actually, that's it easy to forget that the lyrics don't seem to mean anything -- Zombie just kinda piles up a bunch of random couplets about sex, death, and Jesus, throws a few f-bombs in there for good measure, and screams away.

As a songwriter, that's pretty much Zombie's range. Astro-Creep: 2000 -- the album that features "Super-Charger Heaven" and the band's biggest hit, "More Human Than Human" -- features some recurring themes and phrases (Zombie keeps mentioning "Astro creep" and "Electric head," names that refer alternately to himself and another Satan-like figure), but none that ever converge to say anything. It's a concept album without a concept, a soundtrack to a horror film without point or plot. Fortunately, Zombie recognizes this, and seems to, in fact, revel in his music's pointlessness. The album art (drawn by Zombie himself) features various dark images and topless nurses wearing upside-down crosses on their hats next to the lyrics to songs with titles like "Greasepaint and Monkey Brains" or (what has to be my favorite song title ever) "El Phantasmo and the Chicken Run Blast-O-Rama." Unlike his contemporaries, such as the far-less-entertaining Marilyn Manson, Zombie doesn't take himself too seriously -- doesn't take himself seriously at all, really. This is only reinforced by his behavior after disbanding White Zombie: he's taken on the appearance of an actual zombie, with dead, sunken eyes, and now drives around in the car used by the Munsters. He's so death-metal and satanic that he comes all the way around again and becomes totally harmless. He's become as cartoonish as his artwork, and so has his music -- he's embraced a lot more techno in his songs nowadays, but he still hasn't come close to making a point.

The most interesting aspect of Zombie's music is his approach to sound effects. While I'd heard samples and sound bites in the music of other artists before buying Astro-Creep, I'd never experienced a rock band who used so much of them. Each song is filled with clips from various sources -- horror flicks, usually, since it fits the music so well (or maybe it's the other way around). Often the quotes fill in the spaces where another band would put guitar solos, which says something of Zombie's priorities, I think: the atmosphere is more important than the musicianship. He pulls off the atmosphere so well, in fact, that one can find a song of his on the soundtrack to just about every horror/thriller/supernatural-whatever film of the last six years. Every one of his tracks is like a horror film in minature, complete with dialogue.

With a catalogue of music so cinematic in nature, one might consider it redundant for Rob Zombie to actually make a horror film. Or maybe it makes him the perfect choice to make one. Either way, someone decided it was a good idea, and allowed Zombie to write his own script and sit in the director's chair. The result is House of 1000 Corpses, an ungodly mess that displays all the darkness and meaninglessness of Zombie's music with none of the fun.

The plot (and I use that term very loosely) centers on four hapless teenagers from the suburbs who get stuck in the boonies the night before Halloween. They stop at a gas station/fried chicken stand that just happens to have a museum of oddities and a "murder ride" -- a Pirates of the Caribbean-style tour of various serial killers, including the local nutjob "Dr. Satan." A search for more information on Dr. Satan leads them directly into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a series of increasingly gruesome deaths.

I guess that would be a spoiler, but trust me -- you won't care. The four teenagers are so annoying and clueless that chances are you'll be rooting for them to die (especially the two girls, stuck with personalities and appearances so alike I'd be shocked if you could tell them apart). The house they get stuck in for the night (a dark, rainy night, naturally) is home to a suitably bizarre and demented family, each member more strange than the last. There's Mother Firefly (Karen Black), the porn-star-looking den mother who can't seem to decide whether she'd prefer to fuck or kill the kids who've wandered into her midst. Her daughter, Baby (Sherri Moon), has no such dilemma -- she's fond of wielding her knife, and cuts into more than one victim before the film's over. Grandpa is the typical Crazy Old Man, and Otis (Bill Moseley) is the Charles Manson of the family, ranting about breaking through his consciousness and things like that while carving his victims into creative sculptures. And there's Tiny, the token deformed guy. None of them are interesting, none of them are funny, and (worst of all) none of them are scary.

Oh, and I forgot about Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), the clown who runs the murder tour at the beginning. His role in the film is far too large, his grating annoyance matched only by his irrelevance.

I'm sure there's an audience for his stuff (judging by the "enormous positive reaction" that the actors talk about on the DVD special features), but I can't figure out the appeal. If I wanted to watch endless scenes of death and torture surrounded by bad acting, worse writing, and nauseating editing and camera tricks, I'd...well, I'd watch The Passion of the Christ. And that wasn't a good movie, either.

As Zombie likes to spice up his music with out-of-nowhere soundbites, so he does with his film, littering the movie with short bursts of blurry, distorted images that seem to have nothing to do with anything. Sometimes, the clips are solarized in an eye-gouging negative color scheme for double fun. Instead of adding to the atmosphere, they simply make one yearn for Tylenol. Especially odious are the "interview" segments, featuring characters talking (or, more often, screaming) into the camera about death, or sex, or whatever. None of them last more than ten seconds or so, but they completely disrupt the flow of the story -- which is on a thin enough thread as it is. The last thing this film needed was something else to hate.

The biggest disappointment here is that this movie shouldn't be that bad. Zombie is clearly a man with an expansive imagination, bursting with about a billion ideas, but trying to cram all of them into this script spells disaster. Each scene, though, is crammed with detail, little bits and pieces just filling every inch of the frame. The set dressing can't hold the audience's attention, though, when the camera is centered on such lame and uninteresting characters. It's clear that Zombie cares about and loves this movie, but it feels a lot like a huge inside joke that only he finds funny. At its worst, House is comparable to watching someone masturbate.

Maybe a paragraph like that is hypocritical coming from someone who enjoyed Kill Bill as much as I did, and perhaps the difference between the two films is simply one of personal taste. But Tarantino managed to sweep me up with his infections love for a genre I generally don't care for (kung fu movies); Zombie can't do the same for gory splatter pictures, and House is a sickening dirge that never seems to end. (The DVD case indicates the running time is only 88 minutes, but I have my doubts.)

And perhaps I wouldn't feel as venomous toward House of 1000 Corpses were it not coming from someone I respect as much as Rob Zombie. But the almost goofy darkness of his music doesn't translate at all to the screen. The subject matter may be the same, but the end result couldn't be more different.

I've heard rumors of a sequel, but I'm hoping they will stay rumors, and Zombie will stick to putting horror films in his songs rather than making them himself. And let's hope Trent Reznor isn't working on a screenplay as we speak.

Rating: DUD