Wednesday
Apr252012

Meatloaf: Bat Out of Hell

I was somewhere around my 38th Blatz one night last week, tooling around the Netflix queue, when I came upon the Classic Albums series that had dropped into the instant watch section. Staring me right in the face-- in all its sexually charged, prepubescent, operatic glory – was a short documentary on the making of Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell.

I cannot begin to tell you, dear readers, the importance that this album had on this author's sanity as an angst-ridden teen in the late '70s, suffice to say that without it I'd probably still be awaiting (with bated, nerdy breath) the latest technological musical noodlings of Robert Fripp or Rick Wakeman. Okay, maybe that's too harsh. I had always prided myself on staying atop the Euterpean food chain even back then and segued easily into the developing new wave and punk movements of the time. But it was a trying era in popular music.

Which leads me to another one of my crackpot theories. No, not the usual half-baked conjecture with holes wider than a crazy woman's quilt. A very real hypothesis that states, with unflinching assuredness, that the release of Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell singlehandedly saved rock and roll; or, at least, delayed its demise for approximately fifteen to twenty years.

It was long ago and it was far away

And it was so much better than it is today

In 1978, disco was still strong. Metal was making a vicious surge. The Grease soundtrack was being pawned off as real rock 'n roll. Prog rock had overtaken the concert arenas from the bands who had fused blues and rock in the earlier part of the decade (and the late '60s). And emasculating, gutless foam like Air Supply and Barry Manilow were dominating the airwaves. Something or someone needed to stand up in Howard Bealean protest and say "Enough!"

It was a man named Jim Steinman. And it was his encyclopedic music knowledge, adolescent preoccupation with teenage sexual frustration and fantasy, ability to turn a phrase, and love a big fat man with a decent set of pipes that became savior not only to music's most energetic genre, but to this poor, virginal, acne-ridden mess of a fourteen-year-old as well. Karla DeVito's nipples also helped.

As a matter of fact, maybe it was Karl DeVito's nipples that singlehandedly saved rock and roll.

Every Saturday Night

I felt the fever grow

Do you know what it's like

All revved up with no place to go

Having no car, no fake I.D., no girlfriends and no freedom, my friends and I used to hang out in our buddy's basement rec room every weekend. We'd play ping pong, pool, shoot the shit about who we just fucking hated at our school and, of course, rated our female classmates on "bangability". We did all these activities while the stereo was playing either our newly purchased albums, bootlegged cassettes, or the local AOR radio station ("Friday Night – Party Night!" it mocked). We lamented the current state of music, movies and television (Oh Lord! We couldn't know how worse it would get!), speaking often of turning 18, going to college and getting out from under the thumb of our domineering, hideous parents whom we were sure secretly hated us, yet would ultimately regret the unspeakable way they treated us throughout our youth before sending us off to university on their dime (Oh Lord! We couldn't know how worse it would get!).

Nothing ever grows in this rotten old hole

And everything is stunted and lost

And nothing really rocks

And nothing really rolls

And nothing's ever worth the cost

Then, sometime in the winter of 1978, the opening rockabilly boogie guitar chords of Paradise By the Dashboard Light twanged through the shitty, crackling speakers in the basement and we all knew, precisely and as one at that moment, that it was all going to be okay. We would get laid. We would drive a car. We would get to college. We would have girlfriends. And, when we saw Meatloaf perform the tune on Saturday Night Live later that year, we also got to see Karla DeVito's nipples.

It was the Phil Spector wall of sound, mixed with the sexual angst of a generation that didn't get to experience the free love or radical political thrill of the '60s. It was ball-busting musical theater for guys who hated fucking musical theater. It knocked the dicks of performance art rock dandies right into the dirt. It put a bulge in your pants and a riff in your heart. It was an anthem for the seeds of Gen-X, although those aging hipsters would deny it now. The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash, The Talking Heads and Elvis Costello were the newfound darlings, and rightfully so, but the revolt came with Steinman's operatic nostalgia which, like a cleansing rain, helped wash off the stink of Yes, Genesis, ELP, and the goddamn, fucking Eagles. At least, from this boy's playlist.

Most of this argument, while true on a personal level, is a bit disingenuous. The talents which brought you this phenomenal work of art have never achieved anything remotely close to it in the remainder of their careers. The two sequel albums are horrifically bad and Meatloaf's Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are is as silly as its title. His apparent follow up, Any Rebroadcast, Retransmission, or Account of this Game, without the Express Written Consent of Major League Baseball, is Strictly Prohibited was sadly never made.

Admittedly, Jim Steinman is a bit of a hack. Meatloaf lost weight and never did anything near as good. Producer Todd Rundgren, however, wondered how anyone could take the album seriously and said the humor of it was what got him through the drudgery of making it. This from the hermit of the pretentiously hollow who has never done anything near as interesting or listenable as this record. Put it this way; if they staged a revival concert of Bat Out of Hell at any venue in the United States of America, I would gouge someone's eyes out for a ticket. If Todd Rundgren and his band agreed to perform a free block party concert on an adjacent street where I live, I would call the cops and complain about the noise.

The question is not whether Bat Out of Hell saved rock and roll, but, without Bat Out of Hell, was rock and roll ever really worth saving?

Oh. And one more thing:

Would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?

Tuesday
Apr172012

Immortals

It has been quite a long time since I've thrown an Orville Redenbacher in the microwave, drained my brain pan of its excess oil, and cued up a disk of pure popcorn entertainment like Tarsem Singh's Immortals. Of course, there has been a very good reason for that. This type of mindless escapism, once aimed at a much broader audience, has become nothing more than a CGI-clogged, illiterate, visual masturbation frenzy for the gamer set.

It has no place in the cinema of epic adventure.

As a friend of Simone's so ably put it, "If you want that kind of spectacle, go to the fucking circus."

Or stay in your parent's basement and stream Thai martial arts movies and Korean amputee porn until your puny dick falls off.

For all of Singh's noteworthy visuals (and there's not even many of those in a film that looks like the cutting room floor of every Lord of the Rings movie combined), Immortals lacks any sort of cohesive storyline, strong characters, or the blatant homoeroticism that made 300 so pruriently fascinating. If you want a perfect example of how something as promising as the technological advancements in filmmaking made in the last thirty years can be turned into absolute reeking bullshit; look no further than Immortals. It's as if the cure for cancer had been discovered but the doctors will only use it to treat rickets.

This is certainly the biggest problem with these new epics -- the crutch-like reliance the filmmakers have on CGI effects at the cost of plot or decent dialogue. Hell, I'll even take campy dialogue at this point. We see the same scenes over and over again – waves upon waves of semi-human creatures in a motley array of menacing armor and helmets amassing in front of large stone fortresses built into the side of mountains getting slaughtered wholesale in stop-motion/slow-motion battle sequences where no one can tell who the fuck is who or what the fuck is what. In between, there is corny banter which establishes nothing but the traits of the characters one has already gleaned from the tiresome exposition in their introductory scenes. Pepper in a scene of the hero having to fight a particularly large member of the aforementioned horde (who'll have an even more menacing helmet!), a female love interest culled typically from the gene pool of a wary ally (often a she-warrior or enchantress), and a final confrontation with the leader of "Teh Evil" (drawn out to at least a ten minute fight scene) and you have yourself a contemporary CGI epic sure to please the twelve-year-olds who somehow snuck into the theater without a guardian.

Immortals rarely strays from this focus-group path.

I had read a good amount of Greek mythology in my youth, so the film's storyline (playing wildly with Zeus and the gang) was as confusing as Oedipus' bath time at Jocasta's place.

In brief:

The peasant Theseus (played by Henry Cavill – the ridiculously handsome motherfucker from The Tudors -- last seen indirectly staining the sofas of dissatisfied Showtime-subscribing housewives everywhere) has been chosen by the Gods to wage battle against King Hyperion (played by Mickey Rourke – the ridiculously freakish motherfucker -- last seen actually staining some people's sofas and doing some real acting in The Wrestler). The King wishes to attain the Epirus Bow (a magical weapon) and enslave all of humanity. He storms some holy castle and kidnaps the virgin oracle (played by some woman who looks a lot like a very young Padma Lakshmi). In the ensuing chaos, there are many people impaled on spears in slow motion and flung harshly to the ground or into walls.

Theseus is enslaved during the struggle and sent to work in the salt fields. He also meets Stephen Dorff there. I'm not sure which hardship is greater for Theseus. It does, however, prove a theory I've been working on lately. That Stephen Dorff is so incapable an actor that he can actually be an annoying douchebag in any historical era. His lack of talent transcends the boundaries of time. Despite this, they band together with a few other expendables, rescue Padma Lakshmi, and return to Top Chef in time for the final vote Theseus' village in time for him to see his mother's throat get cut by Hyperion. There are many people impaled on spears in slow motion and flung harshly to the ground or into walls.

So inept is this band of merry rebels that the Gods watching from above begin to tamper in their quest. Yet Zeus forbids it! Fuck it, they do it anyway and get the gang out of some tough scrapes. There are many people impaled on spears in slow motion and flung harshly to the ground or into walls.

Theseus finds the magical bow while burying his mother and soon loses it to a hyena. Yeah, a hyena. He then fucks Padma Lakshmi, causing her to lose her gift of portent for she is no longer a virgin. They struggle back to the fortress of their wary allies (built into a mountain) and await Hyperion, who now possesses the Epirus Bow and is hell bent on destroying the reign of the Gods by releasing the Titans. There are many people impaled on spears in slow motion and flung harshly to the ground or into walls.

After one of the more outlandish confrontations ever committed to celluloid, Theseus slays Hyperion and Zeus commits to helping the poor humans by destroying the strangely simian Titans (in menacing helmets!) and bringing down the adjacent mountain on top of Hyperion's swarming throng. There are many people not impaled on spears but, rather, crushed by falling rock. It had to be thus.

After all, what sort of world would it be without benevolent Gods overseeing our fate or our fellow humans coming to our aid in times of great peril?

We just may find out if the Republicans gain control of the government again and pass Paul Ryan's budget.

Anyway, it's all Greek to me.

Tuesday
Feb212012

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

The Rise of the Hillbillionaires

Sit right back and hear a tale

A tale of a fateful trip

That started in our penal colony

And sunk our American ship

If you want to understand how the Republican Party became the disfigured, careening Gorgon of spite you see before you today, one need only look back some forty years to Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and "Silent Majority" to figure it all out. And one only need look to a man named Lee Atwater to discover who was the lead driver in the clown car cavalcade of hate that has given the circus of horrors known as the modern day GOP its identity and direction.

Nixon realized two things. The first was that the Republicans could not solely rely on the votes of the millionaire class and the country club set if it was to gain and maintain any semblance of national power. By 1968, the Democrats had held the high office of the land for 28 of the previous 36 years. People liked the way the country was going economically (with large progressive tax rates on the wealthy) and many began turning their gaze toward America's shameful hypocrisy regarding all that shit about freedom and equality in our founding documents and the very real prejudice and lack of opportunity that faced the country's minority and female populations. Yet there were also many who liked the social status quo and feared that newfound rights and privileges granted to the disenfranchised would necessarily take away some of their own.

What Nixon also understood was that LBJ, in the minds of many, had overstepped his bounds with Civil Rights policy and anti-poverty initiatives. His "Great Society" could be used as a bludgeon against him and his party -- hell, against every liberal, commie, faggot, nigger-loving, secular surrender monkey out there. Nixon knew the South couldn't stay mad at the GOP forever just because Lincoln came down there and kicked their ass and freed their slaves. Democratic political rule in Dixie was strong and long. But those Dixie-crats had just been earmark grabbing, Jeebus-loving racists with a healthy distrust of the federal government all along -- namely, conservative, fear-mongering bigots with a "D" after their title. You just couldn't win elections in the South being a Republican. The "Southern Strategy" changed all that. It appealed to the racist values of the crackers and the childish lunacy of the evangelicals all while hiding under the guise of "state's rights". In other words, quid pro quo, if you give the GOP your vote, we'll make sure you get to decide how to keep the coloreds in line. We'll also prevent any godless liberals from coming down there and conjuring up Satan to roam your lands and tell you how to live your lives through federal law.

This is why the United States electoral map looks like it does for presidential campaigns. Typically there is a large swath of red running from Florida through the Bible Belt, up into the Midwest/flyover country and settling down comfortably in the militia ridden gun-nut states of Montana and Idaho. Add a few south westerners (Goldwater country!), with their own vulgar views on Mexicans, and the whole hillbilly/billionaire coalition of doom is laid out before you from sea to shining sea -- yet with surprisingly little coastline to speak of.

It was during the time of Nixon's two presidential wins that men like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove arose from the swamp gas of the new conservatism and became players in the Young Republican movement. And even though Nixon was one of the darkest and most twisted forms ever to cast a shadow over American politics, you couldn't create two more cynical, win-at-all-costs, country-be-damned, power mad reptiles than Rove and Atwater if you possessed samples of DNA from Genghis Khan and a T-Rex and had a reliable cloning apparatus. To push the point even further, the Republican Party of today has shifted so inexorably to the right that even Nixon would be drummed out of their primaries quicker than you can say, "tree-hugging, tax and spend socialist".

Which brings us to Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story -- a documentation of those days in the late '80s and early '90s when you thought the GOP was as disingenuous and horrible as it ever could get.

It was only the beginning of a long national nightmare that is still playing out, rendering the once mighty United States into a split camp of bickering factions -- the cabal of regressive, racist, Jesus freak, financial Darwinists of the right against those Americans who, you know, still hold a sense of common decency and humanity about them.

Stefan Forbes' film highlights Atwater's rise in the republican ranks from a guitar playing, neophyte politico in South Carolina in the 1970s to advisor in the Reagan administration and all the way to the chairmanship of the RNC in 1988, granted him shortly after rallying the presidential campaign of Bush The Elder to a win from a 17 point deficit against Dukakis. Unraveling almost like a Greek tragedy, the documentary also focuses on his fall from brain cancer in the early '90s where he became a discarded leper to most of those in the corridors of power who had recently championed him.

Atwater was the man who passed the playbook to Karl Rove. George H. W. Bush's 1988 campaign also included a young W. learning at the feet of the master political manipulator. It was there that the Republican strategy of turning your opponent's strengths into weaknesses was born. He began these tactics in a congressional race in his home state of South Carolina against Tom Turnipseed. He got Senator Strom Thurmond (a real piece of work in his own right) to send out letters stating Turnipseed would disarm Americans and turn it over to the communists. He planted a reporter to ask Turnipseed about his treatment for psychosis as a teenager – a remedied affliction that the former senator had already openly discussed with the public and used to bolster support for assistance for teenagers suffering from  depression a few years prior.

As an aide for Reagan, Atwater spoke of the GOP's "Southern Strategy" after Reagan's 1980 campaign kickoff appearance in Philadelphia, Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair, near where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964. Reagan used the platform to speak of "state's rights". Atwater reflected:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger'. By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this', is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger'."

The racial doublespeak reached fever pitch in the 1988 election with the infamous Willie Horton ad that essentially dog-whistled every racist in the nation that a vote for Michael Dukakis was tantamount to inviting a negro rapist into your living room to have his way with your precious wife and daughters. What was never pointed out was that Ronald Reagan had signed off on a similar prisoner release program while governor of California years earlier.

Rove would, of course, take these tactics and come up with some doozies of his own. Like attacking a war hero (John Kerry) as a fraud and a coward and a traitor when his candidate couldn't even be bothered to show up for duty at a reserve unit; or defending draconian prison sentences for drug offenders when his candidate was a former cocaine user; or claiming the democrats were "soft on terror" after they had granted Bush the Dumber every conceivable power to combat it – and after it was revealed he invaded a sovereign nation on manufactured intelligence; or shifting the negative connotation of the term "elite" from that of "aloof wealth" to being synonymous with "educated".

The list of these political atrocities is endless. The raw cynicism and manipulation at play is astounding. The only thing more remarkable is the willful ignorance of half of the American citizenry who continues to buy into it.

You. Have. Been. Played.

Atwater was an awful and petty man -- a backstabbing snake even to his friends and political allies. He was that classic shit-grinning, aw shucks, southern boy who'd approach you with a smile -- a sweet tea in one hand and a shiv for your kidney in the other. He had no true beliefs except the belief in winning and besting those he felt were enemies. He could just as easily been one of Stalin's henchmen as a shill for the GOP. He was devoid of a moral compass. It was the power that he coveted and the looks on his detractor's faces when they realized he had defeated them that motivated him. His rotting away from severe brain cancer, and the deformed and freakish looking man he became on the outside while nearing his death, was the purest bit of physical karmic vengeance that could ever befall such a pitiless, immoral man. He literally rotted from the inside out. His highly publicized death bed apologies were his only acts of atonement. And even they were written off (by his political admirers and co-conspirators no less) as one last great ruse and practical joke on the public he had grifted his whole life. 

Wednesday
Feb082012

Submarine

Indie films just ain't what they used to be. It was somewhere around the mid-1990s when the novelty began wearing off for me. This coincided with, although to no big surprise, the years that my drug intake started to wane considerably. Maybe every hipster of that age simultaneously got a little tired and bored of maintaining an edge when everything and everyone seemed to be coopted by the mainstream in order to break it all down into easily marketable chunks for the consumption of the pig people. Even the fringe dwellers' work was repeating itself and becoming stale and derivative. Shit, Reese Witherspoon began appearing in what many considered to be "offbeat" films. The dream had died. Sundance had been overtaken by the money changers and what once was a festival for aspiring filmmaking talent and its ragtag audience of Gen-Xers and cinephiles had devolved, like so much else of the society, into a huckster's cheap gimmick. The relentless machine-- pounding us 24/7 with crap we need to buy (or films we're supposed to like) in order to stave off their threat that we just plain suck, smell bad, drive the wrong car, and nobody wants to fuck us.

One of my favorite jokes of the period regarding this downswing of creativity went something like this:

Q: How many lesbians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: Six. One to screw in the bulb, three to sit around and discuss how phallic it is, and two more to make a documentary of it.

And watch many a lesbian film I did in those dark years, Dear Readers. And a host of other nonsense patched together by nearly anybody that could afford a video camera and had an "in" in Hollywood.

But let us not curse the demons of our past. Let us look upon a film that I recently viewed which gave a glimmer of hope for the future of smart, independent, non-rote cinema. Sadly, you have to look to Wales to find it, but it's worth your time. After all, they gave us Tom Jones, Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, and Roald Dahl, didn't they?

This specific little gem is called Submarine and it's not so much the coming-of-age story of a 15-year-old Welsh boy as it is a cynical (and slyly comical) glance at how much it sucks to be fifteen no matter where you grow up. Add that our hero, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), is a bit of an egotistical outsider and ever-so-slightly sociopathic and you have a delightful tale for the ages. I don't think I've ever seen a film that reminds me so much of Harold and Maude without it ever trying to be. Yes, it's about teen angst, death, confused sexuality, and parental detachment but, thematically, it lays claim to its own space. Think Rushmore meets The Young Poisoner's Handbook and you're getting close.

Oliver is prone to daydreaming. He's not quite a nerd or outcast at school, but his prospects for a girlfriend are limited. He begins to take notice of a similarly semi-popular girl named Jordana (Yasmin Page) and finagles his way into her sights through various calculating methods. Their infatuation blossoms disturbingly (she's a pyro, he's an undersexed enabler) and the romance is not of the candy/flowers ilk. She frowns upon any sort of sentimentality. He begins to enjoy this (he's a bit of an emotional ghost himself) as it makes his path to sex that much easier.

If the story was just about this twisted connection it would be enough. Yet director/screenwriter Richard Ayoade (from Joe Dunthorne's novel) also layers in two subplots about the kids' parents—one involving depression and infidelity (Oliver's family) and the other about cancer and loss (Jordana's folks). It never dips into mawkishness (the characters are too quirky for that) but does provide some weight to the otherwise glib proceedings. Ayoade's eye is so good and his camera work so imaginative and energetic, it would be difficult for the film to seem bogged down anyway. It's a very impressive debut from the first-time director.  

The performances by Roberts and Page are spot on. His delightful wryness is matched by her sly casualness. The key is in the many unlikable traits they both possess. They are not altogether good people. Neither is particularly attractive. They are physically awkward. There is cruelty, selfishness, betrayal, and insensitivity in their actions-- sometimes goaded on by the other. They behave stupidly. Act irrationally. In other words, they are falling in love and being teenagers.  

If there is one line that captures all the irreverence and deadpan satisfaction of this remarkable little film, it is this, spoken by Oliver to Jordana in his desperate plea to elicit sympathy and reconnect with her:

"My mother gave a handjob to a mystic."

Good stuff.

Wednesday
Feb012012

Contagion

The problem with being a fan of good films dealing with pandemics (thankfully, there are few) is that you find yourself in the next few weeks questioning every sneeze, every throat clearing, and every chill after viewing it. End of your days sort of stuff. The hypochondriac's wet dream.

This mindset is quite understandable given the horror you’ve just witnessed. But I am not usually one drawn to excessive paranoia, hand washing, vitamin popping, or counting how many times in the last fifteen minutes I’ve touched my face. As a man of rare beauty, in a braille/feature appreciation sense, the face touching is easily explained away, but, the other OCD tendencies become quite alarming.

Contagion is the film that has reduced me to this hollow shell of fear writing before you. The film is so ruthless in its plausibility, so exact in its measure, that an outbreak such as it proffers, in this nation, at this time, would be the end of all we hold dear.

Not to say we are without our own self-induced septicity. The Grover Norquist/Ayn Rand virus ("Norqrand" as I have dubbed it – and a great corporate name for the company distributing it!) has already infected 40+% of our population. Unfortunately, it is not lethal in the short term. But it is airborne and aggressively trying to destroy mankind (the original strain was taken from tissue off of Alan Greenspan's taint). The proven anti-toxins of logic, common sense, historical fact, and general decency seem powerless to combat it. People absorb it against their best interest-- willing hosts to their own demise.

But we were talking about the non-human type of virus, not Republicans.

Steven Soderbergh is a peculiar sort of director. His career has spanned more than 25 years and it remains difficult even now to know exactly what his motivations for making films are. You get the artistic Steven with Kafka, Solaris, and Sex, Lies and Videotape; the Indie hipster with Bubble, Gray's Anatomy and King of the Hill; the socially conscious with Che, The Good German, and Traffic; and the downright mainstream with Haywire, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, and the Oceans series. Yet his lack of distinct focus somewhat limits the seriousness of all his efforts and certainly his oeuvre.  Most of his pictures, although artfully crafted, come off as larks, cinematic joyrides-- a bright child's created plaything that holds his attention for a few days and then is discarded.

Contagion is rather different. It is a cold, analytical (one could say "antiseptic") gaze at how a freakishly likely pandemic might appear in the here and now. Soderbergh keeps the focus on the macrocosmic ramifications of such an outbreak (the workers of the CDC are highlighted often) and spares us, for the most part, the maudlin impact on the everyday individuals we would likely be forced to hold dear in a lesser, melodramatic effort. Most of the characters are particularly unlikable anyway (human beings as they are), so the film is never bogged down by outright sentimentality. A few glimpses here and there of the everyman's plight are enough to humanize the proceedings.

Soderbergh feeds our anxiety and sense of vulnerability from the outset with a rapid sequence of shots showing door handles, smudges on glass, touchscreens, a bowl of nuts at a bar, a mother hugging her child, transit ports, enclosed spaces, the busing of dishes at a busy restaurant, etc. You get a visceral sense of the germs around you. Hell, I saw this at a theater, and continually flicked hand sanitizer at those around me, accusatorily chanted "unclean, unclean", and simply stopped eating my popcorn out of the pure dread that the concession stand attendant had plunged his hands into the fecal matter of a downer cow immediately before serving me.

Contagion has a chronologically driven, globally intersected screenplay with politics, science, selfishness, survival, expediency, bureaucracy, classism, narcissism, and impending doom all wrapped in a moribund humanity bulging at the seams of this earth where our dependence on technology (travel spreads the virus exponentially and swiftly) and repudiation of science (lack of any proper adherence to birth control or hygiene) combines for the perfect storm. Our insatiable hunger for meat and callous disregard to the environment are no help either.

The film's only misfires are a threadbare effort to bring alternative media (blogging) and the evil of drug companies to the fore via Jude Law's character and a curious lack of any religious lunacy emerging amidst the terror. You know those proselytizing kooks would be looking for any angle to get a new toehold on righteousness as AIDs hysteria fades into the past. 

I'm not always a big fan of procedural drama (my naiveté toward the CSI franchise stands as proof) but Contagion got to me. People looking for a thrill ride will be greatly disappointed as it moves calculatingly slow. But for those of you who wipe their carts down in the grocery store, hold their breath while passing a coughing person in the street, or pop Zicams like candy at the first tickle in their nose, Contagion delivers a paranoid "what if?" jackpot.

And any piece of entertainment that kills off Gwyneth Paltrow in the first ten minutes always borders on genius to me.

Play a fun game while watching it. See how many times you actually touch your face during the screening—even after you've been alerted to how many times you do it. I'm touching mine right now. Mmmm. Germs.

Tuesday
Oct042011

Beaver, The

There was a time amidst the release of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (a great film), his infamous run-in with the law at a traffic stop and the ensuing phone misogyny he blathered at his ex-wife, when I thought about forgiving him (in the meaningless way a fan can exculpate) for his verbal transgressions. He is a celebrity and artist after all, blinded by a spotlight that none of us have to contend with on a daily basis (oh, the quotes the media would get from you if followed!) and, perhaps, deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Hell, I even liked most of Apocalypto despite my better nature.

Fuck him though, really. I drink to excess too, but I've never done anything as belligerently stupid as threaten my wife, badger a cop or practice Catholicism.

I have also voiced opinions derogatory to minorities and women in the past, but most of them stemmed from behavioral issues I felt were directly attributable to a horseshit stance or act caused by a misguided devotion to their ethnicity or gender which defied good taste, reasonableness or logic. Joe Lieberman, Rosie O'Donnell and Jesse Jackson come to mind per exemple. The LORDS OF FUCKITRY.

On the other side of the ideological aisle? You can actually witness it like a cattle auction. It is innate.

It should be mentioned, at this juncture, that I break white people's balls all the time, for behaving white. We have not the time nor energy to go into that cavalcade of wrong right now.

It also needs to be mentioned that I am a fucking bigot. Most of us, if not all, are. But, as Woody Allen so eloquently stereotyped Carol Kane in Annie Hall, fortunately, "For the left."

Gibson's outbursts had a feel of pure, fundamental hatred. Religion born. Deep-seated. Unwavering. There were too many instances. Too much publicity depicting it. A more careful bigot would have kept that shit in the vault. And Mel Gibson can afford a few vaults. And a driver, by the way. What millionaire drives their own fucking car? That's just asking for trouble. And a separate post.

Which is why it is very hard to see his movies nowadays without the poisoned feeling that you are watching a semi-repentant bigot try to make money off public apathy and forgetfulness, instead of a culture and fan base which believes he has atoned and changed.

The Beaver was very smart in starting to rebuild some cred-- small, personal, sympathetic, with a hint of Harvey built in. But they missed the nut. His character is delusional and crazy enough to talk to a puppet and saw off his own hand. He sleeps constantly, interacts with few, owns his own company and presides ignorantly over its failure. Yet, is without remorse.

Not a giant stretch.

That's probably where Mel Gibson is right now. Particularly if he felt his left hand was controlled, via Castor canadensis, by the ghost of Irving Thalberg or handcuffed by a fucking Kike cop.

More than a mediocre movie, The Beaver acts as director/star Jodie Foster's attempt at helping her once accepted friend find his audience footing again. I would argue that portraying him as a failing businessman, depressive figure and father who can only speak through a beaver puppet does little to alleviate the collective fear that he is, in real life, a floundering, deranged egoist of his own design.

But, I love Jodie. And by that I mean I am in love with Jodie, despite her predilection for the hand, fingers, fist, arm or tongue of women for her sexual satisfaction. Not Hinkley love, mind you. I just find her to be ethereal, talented and beautiful. With the exception of Nell and Flightplan, she has rarely disappointed me in her adult film life.

Her latest poses a bit of a problem for me, however. While The Beaver is certainly adult and high minded in its aspirations, it lacks the weirdness and scene-by-scene irony that a film like this should have. It pushes boundaries, but always pulls back into sentimentality or melodrama when the going gets strange. There is never humor where there should NOT be (a true sign of failed dark comedy) and it lulls into easy laughs and smarminess at the most obvious of times. The rest is a surprisingly pat telling of a family on the brink, with teen angst, troubled love, a cute child and a 1980s challenge/success montage firmly in place. It's American Beauty without the edge.

Jodie Foster as director/actor made a wonderful, small film in 1991 called Little Man Tate, which had many of these elements but stayed charmingly off-kilter throughout. I'm sure she was shooting for the same thing here, but the baggage was just too great and she unfortunately got lost in trying to save Mel's acting career along the way.

My nagging question was, amidst all of this suburban ennui, where was Ward Cleaver to soothe the Beaver's woes with his words of paternal wisdom? Or Wally, to punch him in the arm and call him a creep?

Interesting note: Gibson's voice for "The Beaver" puppet is a dead ringer for actor Ray Winstone. Also interesting is that his performance is very good. If done by anyone other than a recalcitrant, Catholic douchebag, it would have received more praise. Certainly from me.

I still don't like him. And, by that, I mean Australians. Dumb, criminal pig-fuckers, every last one of them.

Friday
Jul292011

Season of the Witch

Journey with me now, dear faithful, into history back. Before the dark hordes of Murdochian armies set siege upon this once fruitful paradise. Before the petulance, the strife, the hatred and the ignominy seized our characters and laid waste our beautiful, enlightened future. Return with me to the inception of the madness, during the years of the shadowy reign of St. Reagan the Incontinent. A time the ancients place somewhere in the decade of our lord, the 1980s.

There was a young man, a warrior/thespian, a forlorn hope against the blackness of cinematic and cultural despair.

The name Nicolas Cage was on the lips of every villager and liege not already given to misery and disheartenment.

And that name used to mean something in this land.

I will break with this silly, anachronistic parlance of medieval drivel (although the film I will now sort of review never offered that convenience) to state that I, dear god in his immutable heaven, watched the latest Nicolas Cage bubonic plague film, Season of the Witch.

The kid was good early. I would argue that no other young actor of the time (with the exception of Mickey Rourke or Crispin Glover) was stretching the boundaries of film acting quite like him. From Rumble Fish to Racing With the Moon to Birdy to Peggy Sue Got Married to Raising Arizona to Moonstruck to Vampire's Kiss and culminating with Wild at Heart in 1990, there was no single performer who showed a greater impetus to alter the landscape of American film in that desolate time of safe, no surprises cinema.  

I lost my appreciation for Nic Cage in the early '90s. Right around the time my pulmonary valve warned me to stop doing cocaine and the actor himself took a career turn so heinous and diabolical that it should have yellow crime tape cordoning it off.

It is truly difficult to conceive of a fall so sudden, so harsh and so against a promise of greatness and goodwill unless one turns to, oh, well, everyone knows the answer to that fucking analogy.

Yet, we'll be done with Barack Obama in another five years (perhaps one and a half if my candidacy takes flight), but there is seemingly no end in sight to the travesties and dashed hopes that Cage can still inflict upon us. Just imagine the elderly, saccharine pap that awaits as he ungracefully settles into old age. It's going to make On Golden Pond appear deep and edgy.

Now, before I start listing Cage's malfeasances, I would be remiss in not mentioning that I have sincerely liked him on few occasions in the past, oh, 18 years. Red Rock West, Leaving Las Vegas (in particular), Matchstick Men, Lord of War, and The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (his sole return to the manic nutcase which made him so palatable) have been ballsy performances that gave us a glimpse of his former magic.

For the prosecution, I offer into evidence exhibits 191 through 207:

Amos & Andrew (1993)

Guarding Tess (1994)

Trapped in Paradise (1994)

The Rock (1996)

Con Air (1997)

Face/Off (1997)

Snake Eyes (1998)

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

The Family Man (2000)

Captain Correlli's Mandolin (2001)

National Treasure (2004)

The Wicker Man (2006)

Ghost Rider (2007)

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

Knowing (2009)

Drive Angry (2011)

I will put that filmography up against the inhumanity of Pol Pot any day of the week.

So, why, with all this fame and money, selling out like a jailhouse snitch for some cigarettes, has Cage seldom produced, directed or starred in lower budgeted prestige projects? It would seem the absolute opportunity (and excuse) for this abysmal body of work. In 1999, even his old pal from Racing With the Moon, Sean Penn, claimed Nicolas was "no longer an actor".

I do not have the conceit to know why Cage does what he does. I am not in the world of international film stardom or tabloid personalities to have the mindset to understand what a whammy fame can put on a person's skull. But I am curious what it takes for a guy from a prestigious film family (the Coppolas) and a phenomenally daring approach to acting early on in one's career to turn it on its ass and start making what can only be described as absolute, appalling dreck; without a hint of irony, a knowing wink, or a clever, underlying plan.

Was I supposed to be reviewing Season of the Witch?

Okay. Here it is.

Very bad plague film. Filled with all the silly, melodramatic pauses you could imagine. Matched with endless sequences of swordplay and a CGI-crushing lack of imagination and context. Watch Black Death or Flesh + Blood instead and save yourself the unintended horror.

Friday
Jul152011

Public Speaking

"The Blind Art Collector and Other Stories"

As most males do in the formative years between the ages of 16 through 22, I began to concoct a mating theory in regard to the fairer sex that concerned itself primarily with the type of woman I imagined myself seeking for lifelong partnership. Being white, suburban, athletic of build, and devastatingly handsome, and that this was the late '70s and early '80s in America, I obviously gravitated to the nearest busty blond cheerleader type with long feathered hair whom I thought wouldn't prove herself to be a major pain in my ass (or an embarrassment at cocktail parties) for the duration of my charmed life. This was my ideal.

Heck, I masturbated to the Farrah Fawcett swimsuit poster so much I couldn't roll it into a tube any longer.

It was a sound wanting, storybook if you will, born of the idea at the time that while women's rights were indeed improving- a strong, testosterone-soaked American male still needed to essentially focus on aestheticism over practicality.

Trophy over depth.

Showiness over meaning.

Skin over soul.

The "blind art collector".

Then, as if ordained by forces beyond my control (TV and literature in this case), my amorous interests fell under the spell of two enchanting, ball-crushing Jewesses.

Raised as I was by a rather anti-Semitic father (hence my comfort with the term "Jewesses"), the idea that this little goy-boy could be so moved, so enrapt, with these cynical sirens of David became not only an antidote to my previously ill-formed worldview, but a nice dose of "fuck you" rebellion to the ethnic and cultural bubble in which I had been indoctrinated as a child.

The ladies of whom I speak were the comedian Sandra Bernhard and the author Fran Lebowitz.

My sexual interests turned to the secular Jewish women at university. As I spent those years in Florida, my search inevitably failed amidst the privileged JAPs from Miami and the remaining leftist, college cabal of insufferable neo-feminists and recalcitrant lesbians a la mode of the age. None of them were as urbane and biting as Fran and the rest had significantly more body hair than Sandra.  

Also, the romantic possibilities swirling in my gentile, well-endowed nether-regions dwindled when I found out that my two feminine idols both preferred the company of women in that regard.

My journey as a horny, intellectual male began to suck with a hitherto unseen suckiness.

But, true to my newfound predilections, my favorite women ever since have been mean-spirited, witty, elitist, ball-busting broads.

Most of my favorite men too, come to think of it.

Which is why I feel that asexuality and homosexuality are the only two choices if we are ever to improve this planet.

The breeders ruin everything.

I watched the recent Martin Scorsese documentary Public Speaking again the other evening and it solidified my position. The subject is author, wit, elitist raconteur Fran Lebowitz (my unrequited lover) who, through the film's 82 minutes, waxes on many subjects and cultural shifts over the past thirty years that have caused our society to plummet into the intellectual/societal/moral abyss that you now see before you. She refers to herself as the Willy Loman of literature, calling her infamous lack of output and extended writer's block as more of a "writer's blockade".

To review the film is silly. See it. It's a brilliant talking head handing out judgment, foresight, piercing reflections, repartee, and scathing critique to an audience either long dead (me!) or callously indifferent (me again!). The audience this film will never attain are the numbskulls who need it most. The people who still find the culture and society of contemporary 'Murca as A-OK.

Unlike the majority of my fellow citizens, I respect people who make me feel dumb. That is because I enjoy learning. And don't view people with more education than myself as threats to my tender existence.

A few highlights to whet the appetite.

Fran Lebowitz on:

Writers vs. other artists

"Writers have to know something."

Being correct

"I'm always right because I'm never fair."

Overuse of the term 'genius'

"You would be very lucky in your whole life if you saw the work of one genius."

Gay rights

"I'm stunned that the two greatest desires, apparently, of people involved in gay rights movements is marriage and gays in the military. Really?! I mean, to me it seems like these are the two most confining institutions on the planet- marriage and the military. Why would you be, like, beating down the doors to get in? Usually a fight for freedom is a fight for freedom. This is like the opposite. This is like a fight for slavery. I find it completely shocking. If it was on the ballot here I'd vote for it because I know people want it, but, personally, not me. Nor do I want to go in the army. I mean, people used to pretend to be gay to get out of going in the army."

James Baldwin

"I'm the only Jew in America whose first exposure to an intellectual was a black guy."

The gift of gab

"Talking, to me, is like having a trick thumb."

When asked if there was a difference between a female voice and a male voice in literature

"Even on the phone, there is a difference between a female voice and a male voice."

Contemporary literature

"There are too many books. The books are terrible. And this is because you have been taught to have self esteem."

When asked if she felt she was the modern day Dorothy Parker

"At this point in my life I'm happy to be considered the 'modern day' anything."

Creativity (re: slothfulness)

"It's very important, I think, for getting ideas or thinking of new things that comes from hanging around with other people. Talking, you know, that life. Sitting in the bars smoking cigarettes. That's the history of art."

Why Manhattan sucks now

"When a place is too expensive, only people with lots of money can live there. You cannot say an entire city of people with lots of money is fascinating."

New York City tourists

"Herds of hillbillies."

Being seen in Times Square

"Running into someone in Times Square is like, if you're a New Yorker, and you run into another New Yorker in Times Square, it's like running into someone at a gay bar in the '70s. I'm not really here... I'm doing research..."

Fame and Warhol's Superstars

"This is what happens when an inside joke gets into the water supply."

First visiting Warhol's 'Factory' (well after his shooting)

"I knocked. 'Who is it?', a voice asked. 'Valerie Solanas', I said. Andy opened the door."

The AIDS crisis

"They never talked about what audience was lost. They talked about what artists were lost. A very discerning audience, an audience with a high level of connoisseurship, is as important to the culture as artists."

Politics and culture

"Too much democracy in the culture. Not enough democracy in the society."

The difference between comedy and wit

"Niceness" 

The derogatory nature of the term 'elite' in America

"They don't mean 'rich'. Americans love rich people. They mean 'smart'."

Gender

"What a big piece of luck it is. Any white, gentile, straight man who is not President of the United States... failed."

Being foresighted

"Here's the problem with being ahead of your time. By the time everyone else gets around to it, you're bored."

Racism

"Racism is a fantasy of superiority."

Sexism

"Inequality of women will never end because it's biological."

Writing

"The history of writing is, the history of when people are actually writing, they do something bad to themselves at the same time. People used to drink. People smoked. While you're writing you're doing something bad to yourself. And that is to punish yourself for playing God."

My Darling, I'll hold your booth for you at the Waverly in hell.   

Monday
Jun202011

Battle: Los Angeles

It has been quite some time since I acquiesced to a severe cinematic beat down the likes of Battle: Los Angeles.

I usually prefer my masochism in the form of stiletto heels nearly piercing my scrotum. Then a sharp demand that I don a soiled diaper and crawl around on the floor. Followed by a steady stream of insulting profanity, so crude and demeaning, that it actually induces a minor stroke and puts into question whether or not I even possess testosterone in my bloodstream.

And, fuck, I willingly pay for that.

For Battle: Los Angeles is such a clumsy Hollywood attempt at ratcheting up xenophobia AND celebrating American militarism that I may be the only one left outside of the Pentagon to recognize (or care about) that fine line between shitty entertainment and propagandistic bellicosity. The rest of you seem morally fatigued- weary from the surging flow of new outrages, acts of murder and imperial hubris that are persistently being carried out in your name by your own government that you've simply put the sensory deprivation hood of creature comforts on and are making demands that people only speak to you in positive aphorisms or small talk. If only to avoid the reality that your country is behaving like a heavily armed frat boy, sloshed on Red Bull cocktails, out to prove his manhood at all costs.

The film (if it can actually be called that) meanders somewhere between "The few, the proud/army strong" recruitment spots and an FPS video game (with accompanying Call of Duty admonishments about the futility of war). Balanced with the dull hatchet dramatic nuance of every shitty John Wayne propaganda film from 1942's Flying Tigers to the shocking war pornography of The Green Berets in 1968.

The major coup here by the film's producers is that they (without a hint of irony) cast the American military in the role of defensive freedom fighters by having the enemy be nearly indestructible alien troops invading for purposes of... wait for it... resources. In this case water, not oil.

It takes exceedingly big balls, considering our warmongering efforts abroad over the past ten years, to make a vulgar indoctrination film that essentially portrays our forces as victimized underdogs in a home turf struggle for precious fluids against a mechanized invading army of drones and robotic warriors. It's as if the filmmakers simply passed on a metaphoric or alternate reality and decided on a thematic "opposite day". The ludicrousness was sort of like seeing Goebbels on Sean Hannity's Great American Panel segment as they discussed the essence of patriotism. Let us never speak of the linguistic twisting of "terrorist" vs. "freedom fighter" ever again. We are our worst enemy now.

Hell, maybe the Pentagon secretly financed this film all along.

But Battle: Los Angeles has a warm, human side as well. Anthropomorphized by Aaron Eckhart's chin and his back story of questionably leaving some fellow soldiers under his command to die on a battlefield in Iraq. He's requested his walking papers after a career in the service and is looking forward to his retirement when, all of sudden, the ghost of Danny Glover's Lethal Weapon character lunges out from behind a Humvee and warns him, "You're getting too old for this shit."

Then aliens rain down meteors off the coast of California and the rest, as they say, is history. Or, in this case, revisionist history for future generations of American youth to remember those awful, fateful years in the early 21st Century when Iraq, led by a monster named Saddam Hussein, cowardly attacked our shores with mighty air power and hordes of steel-plated, robot warriors and was miraculously beaten back into the sea. Which led to our reluctant crusades into darkest Arabia where we similarly defeated the industrialized mega-armies of the United Sultanates with our typical grit, determination and exceptionalism for freedom loving peoples everywhere.

And because it's what Israel wanted.

War porn.

Get it while it's hot.

Monday
May232011

Greatest Movie Ever Sold, The

I have always enjoyed the works of Morgan Spurlock. He seems to balance a lively social awareness with a goofy sense of humor that never falls into the trappings of the heavy-handed, holier-than-thou jeremiads of self-righteousness that plague the messages of many contemporary activists and oh-so-earnest do-gooders of the "save the planet" types. Those who miss the forest of monumentally looming global and cultural atrocities for the trees of pointing out such microcosmic injustices as the diminishing population of the Abbott Booby on Christmas Island or the difficulties of being a transgender in places like Kabul.

Yet, Spurlock has come under a lot of fire for the topics he chooses to highlight. The arguments invariably come down to the perceived obviousness of his targets. In his 2004 documentary Super Size Me, he went after the McDonalds Corporation and, vicariously, the entire fast food industry for essentially selling food products which, if eaten regularly, cause a myriad of health problems and societal ills. His detractors typically chastised his efforts by stating that, of course, if you eat McDonald's everyday you are going to get fat, sick or die- missing the point that this semi-poisonous garbage posing as food has been pushed onto the public (particularly the youth) like cheap crank to a speed freak. The ensuing obesity of the poor, the price influencing of certain commodities, the worker's rights abuses (both agriculturally and in the service industry), and the associated health care costs seem to pass right by these folk.

Nuance and the understanding of correlative issues have never been the strong suits of our nation.

Now, Spurlock is again taking shit for his latest project, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, for pointing out the nefarious ways that advertising engulfs our every waking moment- specifically when embedded within our filmed entertainments.

Even The Onion, that brilliant satirical skewer of everything hypocritical and base in our culture, took a potshot at Spurlock in "The Tolerability Index" two weeks ago stating, "So far, he's taught us that fast food makes us fat and that advertising is everywhere. What obviousness will he reveal to us next?".

Well, how about that "Tolerability Index" author Amelie Gillette has apparently acquiesced to that ad meme, spending far too much of her fucking time watching mindless loops of vapid pop culture in search of a zinger, rotting her brain to the point that she can no longer distinguish relevant social commentary from the importance of Lady Gaga's toenail hue.

The crux is that Super Size Me was no more about McDonalds' food making you fat than Michael Moore's Sicko was about what a great place Cuba would be to live because the health care is free. Everyone's missing the goddamn point.

I fear that if Upton Sinclair was muckraking in this day and age, he'd be called a whiny hack because everyone knows oil men are greedy misanthropes and slaughterhouses are gross and dangerous. What's your fucking point, Upton? Do you expect me to start taking public transit and stop eating meat? Get real.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is more clever and insightful than its derogators claim. So is Spurlock for that matter.

It is telling that when he is consulted by an ad agency in the film to define his "brand" (as a filmmaker, he is selling himself after all) that the firm labels him "mindful and playful". That is pretty much right on for Spurlock. While his message is one from a social conscience, he never gets too bogged down in moralizing at the expense of whimsy and irony.

The film's premise is that Spurlock will try to make a documentary on product placement ("branded entertainment" being the new nomenclature) by financing the entire project within those means. To the tune of around $1.5 million. This leads to a bevy of ethical choices. Will his message be overrun by the very commercialism it seeks to expose? Will the sponsors, needing assurances that their products and name will be shed in a good light, demand final cut approval? Can Spurlock hope to be funny and sly enough given these boundaries to even make this a viewable documentary? Does money intrinsically corrupt art? Have our viewing habits become so inured to advertising that it won't matter? Will Morgan lose his soul (and creative control) in the process?

Can I get a Diet Pepsi and some popcorn? That butter smell from the lobby is killing me and those soda ads before the feature made me so thirsty! And yes I am willing to take out a short term loan for some refreshments.

Spurlock soldiers on, filming the entire process. The movie being the making of the movie. He calls some 600 companies, eventually landing 22 who invest various amounts in the film. POM Wonderful was the big sugar daddy, laying out a cool million for above title marquee rights and the promise that every other beverage seen in the film would be blurred out. Spurlock (and many others in the action) are constantly seen sipping from or holding a POM. There is the uniquely shaped bottle sitting on almost every table, desk, and flat surface in the film. It becomes a beautiful running gag.

Interviews with notables such as Donald Trump, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Def Jam CEO Antonio Reid, and Rush Hour producer/director Brett Ratner give insight into our money obsessed culture and film industry. Spurlock also spends time with advertising execs and cutting edge industry insiders including a proponent of "neuromarketing" (a ringer for a Nazi two generations too late) who uses what I can only refer to as an ersatz "Ludovico technique" from A Clockwork Orange to measure brain responses to imagery using fear, craving, and sexual stimuli for variables during an MRI. Sort of a Mengele meets McLuhan on Madison Avenue creep out. At least the guy didn't hold a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger or wear an eye patch.

Another eye opener was a short diversion to São Paulo, Brazil, where the city government had placed a ban on all prominently displayed outdoor advertising in the city proper. Stangely enough, there was almost something ghostly about the results. Seeing an urban landscape stripped of vulgar advertising was vaguely similar to catching a glimpse of your hooker without makeup. The cover was always there and tacky, but you accepted it in lieu of the harsh reality of what you had done and the fear of what might lie underneath. If it's any consolation, a few of the people interviewed on the streets of São Paulo seemed to like the change and the selected vistas Spurlock chose to highlight looked pretty. I, for one, never want to see Times Square under the same experiment. Giuliani ridding it of the street preachers, homeless, and porn houses was bad enough. That gaudy shit-hole laid bare would be like a bucket of lye rubbed into your corneas.   

It was also quite fascinating that on the walls of nearly every promotional and advertising firm in Hollywood that Spurlock visited, the essential "face" of the industry gurus, there were posters of the worst movies and cinematic abominations that Hollywood has offered up in the past thirty years- displayed prominently like smiling, Down-Syndrome children at a Special Olympics rally. These assholes are proud of their crimes.   

The investors in this film, however, were wise. I actually wanted to try a bottle of POM after the show. I then discovered it was $5 for 16 ounces and decided on a pint of Harp instead.

That was actually the fun thing. The companies needn't have worried about image issues arising from the film. All the corporate principals were well represented (even likable) and showed above board negotiation practices and business ethics (I wonder what was cut?). It would have perhaps been more engaging to see those who turned Spurlock down or had him escorted from their buildings (he actually phoned McDonalds) but the sponsors- ranging from a shoe company to a chain of stop-n-shop gas stations to Ban deodorant to JetBlue to the Mane 'n Tail shampoo producers (a fun story)- were all along for the ride and, if not in on every joke or irony, seemed good sports and people worthy of my business.

Heck, Simone bought a bottle of Mane 'n Tail the very next day after brunch. I'll resist a bestiality gag here.

So, in the timeworn tradition of Hollywood deal making and its variant schemes to secure funding for a creative vision, Spurlock has shown us that dreams don't have to die as long as one is willing to concede a bit of them (or nearly all) to the almighty dollar. Hmm, maybe that is a little trite?

But to silence the critics, POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is not simply about the shallowness of Hollywood, we as a culture, or the suffocating prevalence of advertising in every aspect of our lives.

Or is it?

That story next, right after these brief words from our sponsor.

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