The Virus Spreads

I see other folks are starting to expand their karaoke horizons as well... I hope they realize what they're getting into when the 'X' week comes around...

Look At Me! Look At Me!

Two more little clips of me apparently singing every song I know with the word 'girl' in the title:

I'm right near the top of this set, at about the 1:15 mark, doing Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend.

In this one I'm growling out Neil Diamond's Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon at about the 8:30 mark.

Team Bernie

It's time to face reality: the Democratic Party is populated by spoiled, whiny, petulant, 15-year-olds, at least based on the comments to Nate's NYT post from a couple days ago.

Twilight fans are more emotionally mature than that bunch. "Obama didn't give me my pony! Let's primary him!" "I don't think the country has suffered enough to accept my progressive wisdom, so I'm going to vote straight Republican in 2012!"

On the bright side, if that lot can get organized, watching the liberal equivalent to the Tea Party in action for the next two years will be a hoot. The pieces are mostly in place, after all: Jane Hamsher's already positioned herself to be their Pam Geller.

Greatest Hits Month

Oh, hello blog. How've you been?

I've been joking around that I was going to make December a "greatest hits" month, instead of the usual "try out new stuff and then discard it" approach I use. If I do decide to go through with it, the list of songs I'd consider among my best would look something like this:

Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)
Asia - Heat of the Moment
The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The Band - The Weight
Big Country - In a Big Country
Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays
David Bowie - Five Years
David Bowie - Young Americans
David Bowie - Rock 'n' Roll Suicide
Johnny Cash - Hurt
Chilliwack - Fly At Night
Clash - London Calling
Joe Cocker - With a Little Help From My Friends
Cream - White Room
Cure - Just Like Heaven
Damned - New Rose
Bobby Darin - Mack the Knife
Dave Matthews Band - Crash Into Me
Dead Or Alive - You Spin Me Round
Devo - Girl U Want
Neil Diamond - Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon
Doors - Roadhouse Blues
Duran Duran - Rio
Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone
Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue
Eagles - Peaceful Easy Feeling
Steve Earle - Copperhead Road
Faith No More - Midlife Crisis
Faith No More - A Small Victory
Foo Fighters - Everlong
Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out
Fratellis - Whistle For the Choir
Peter Gabriel - Solisbury Hill
Garbage - #1 Crush
George Baker Selection - Little Green Bag
Eddy Grant - Electric Avenue
Hall & Oates - Maneater
Billy Idol - White Wedding
Jam - Down In the Tube Station At Midnight
Jam - Going Underground
Billy Joel - My Life
King Floyd - Groove Me
Living Color - Cult of Personality
Paul McCartney & Wings - Band On the Run
Modern English - I Melt With You
Van Morrison - Brown Eyed Girl
Naked Eyes - Always Something There To Remind Me
Nirvana - All Apologies
Nirvana - Breed
Pearl Jam - Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town
Platters - Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Pogues w/Kirsty McColl - Fairytale of New York
Poison - Every Rose Has Its Thorn
Prince - Little red Corvette
Pulp - Common People
Queens of the Stone Age - Go With the Flow
Radiohead - The Bends
Radiohead - Karma Police
Radiohead - Creep
Radiohead - High and Dry
Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under the Bridge
Charlie Rich - Behind Closed Doors
Rolling Stones - Let's Spend the Night Together
Rolling Stones - Wild Horses
Rough Trade - High School Confidential
Jimmy Ruffin - What Becomes of the Broken Hearted
Social Distortion - I Was Wrong
Spandau Ballet - True
Split Enz - I Got You
Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road
Cat Stevens - Father and Son
Cat Stevens - Wild World
Rod Stewart - Maggie May
Stone Temple Pilots - Interstate Love Song
Stone Temple Pilots - Vaseline
Styx - Babe
Suede - Animal Nitrate
Sweet - Ballroom Blitz
Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend
Talking Heads - Life During Wartime
Tenacious D - Fuck Her Gently
Tenacious D - Tribute
Tool - Aenima
Tragically Hip - New Orleans Is Sinking
U2 - All I Want Is You
U2 - One
Rufus Wainwright - Hallelujah
Waterboys - Whole of the Moon
Weezer - Say It Ain't So
White Stripes - Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Steve Winwood - While You See a Chance
Bill Withers - Lean On Me
Gary Wright - Dream Weaver
XTC - Senses Working Overtime
Rob Zombie - Dragula

Obviously I won't get to sing anywhere near all of those before the month is out, and there are even some songs I can think of (like The Verve's The Drugs Don't Work) which would be on there if I'd sung them since I began keeping track.

November Travesties

Kind of a quiet month... only 31 songs. It's not only blogging that has been neglected.

New total: 434 different songs sung.

A Small Victory - Faith No More
All I Want Is You - U2
Angel From Montgomery - John Prine
Another Nail In My Heart - Squeeze
Boogie In Your Butt - Eddie Murphy
Breed - Nirvana
California Uber Alles - Dead Kennedys
Creepin' Up the Back Stairs - Fratellis
Cry - Godley & Creme
Cry Little Sister - Gerard McMann
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da - Police
Diamond Dogs - David Bowie
Electric Avenue - Eddy Grant
Fascination Street - Cure
Father and Son - Cat Stevens
Good Times Roll - Cars
I Love the Nightlife - Alicia Bridges
In My Life - Beatles
In The End - Linkin Park (duet/Johnny Priceless)
It's Only Make Believe - Conway Twitty
Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In - Kenny Rogers & First Edition
Laid - James
Last Night - Strokes
Masochism Tango - Tom Lehrer
Question of Time - Depeche Mode
Roadrunner - Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
Search & Destroy - Stooges
The Dead Heart - Midnight Oil
Whistle For the Choir - Fratellis
Whole Of The Moon - Waterboys
Y-Control - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Where Are the Populists?

The flip side to this DougJ post about those Bainbridge posts (don't worry, I popped a Gravol before writing something that wankerific and nausea-inducing) is that a big part of the Tea Party's success, among non-racists anyway, is the complete lack of a populist appeal from the Dems.

Sure, Obama has managed to get some things done which will directly benefit the lower and middle classes, but none of it was sold as populism. Which leaves a vacuum that the Tea Party has filled, even if they filled it with crap. Deficit reduction isn't populist, but a "get big government off my back" sentiment is -- just as health care reform is populist, but a "let's make sure the insurance companies have a soft landing" sentiment isn't. I don't know whether the Dems are afraid of populism or just forgotten how to use it, but either way what should be a natural argument for them has become a foreign one.

Granted, it's hard to sell your policies as populist when the corporate media has no interest in reporting it as such, but the Dems need to figure out a way to do it. I still think Obama's a lock for 2012 simply due to a lack of competition, but 2014 and 2016 will be on us damn quick, and if they don't pick up the populist banner someone else will.

Who Will Be Canada's Pam Geller?

Looks like the jihadist threat is now targeting Canada. O noes!

You'll notice, I hope, what's missing from the article (and maybe even the intelligence report it's based on): any sense of proportion. How successful have those advocating a Muslim "parallel society" actually been? How many people attended that Mississauga conference, and did any of them have any actual influence in the Muslim-Canadian community?

I suspect these questions didn't come up because answering them would be counter-productive to the Post's fear-mongering...

Tucker Carlson Admits He's Not a Journalist

...and instead unleashes his inner wannabe James O'Keefe.

I think from now on, I'm just going to openly mock anyone who calls Tucker, or Breitbart for that matter, a journalist. There are stricter requirements for me to get my film reviews on Rotten Tomatoes than there are for someone to "earn" the title 'journalist' in today's media environment.

(h/t LGF)

Look At Me Everyone!

More footage of me butchering songs.

Actually I don't sound bad in either clip - in fact, I wish more of California Uber Alles had made it into the reel. That seemed to go pretty damn well, and I would have been singing it just about when they would have been declaring Governor Jerry's win.

October Travesties

32 different songs this month.

'Lifetime' stats: 413 different songs sung, 634 total.

Aenima - Tool
Back On the Chain Gang - Pretenders
Ballroom Blitz - Sweet
Black - Pearl Jam
Borderline - Madonna
Cut Your Hair - Pavement
Every Rose Has Its Thorn - Poison
Footloose - Kenny Loggins
Go With the Flow - Queens of the Stone Age
Hungry Like the Wolf - Duran Duran
In a Big Country - Big Country
In The End - Linkin Park (duet w/Johnny Priceless)
Interstate Love Song - Stone Temple Pilots
(It's a Long Way To the Top) If You Want To Rock 'N' Roll - AC/DC
Let's Spend the Night Together - Rolling Stones
My Sacrifice - Creed
Nemesis - Shriekback
One Thing Leads To Another - Fixx
Piss Up a Rope - Ween
Raspberry Beret - Prince
Respect - Erasure
Rest In Peace - James Marsters
Right Now - Van Halen
Shake a Tail Feather - Ray Charles
She Came In Through the Bathroom Window - Beatles
Silly Love Songs - Paul McCartney & Wings
Something To Sing About - from Once More With Feeling (duet w/Leah)
Steal Away - Robbie Dupree
Superfly - Curtis Mayfield
True - Spandau Ballet
Wild Horses - Rolling Stones
Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie

Speaking Of Swift and Terrible Wrath

The anonymous douchefuckbagtard who sold his not-quite-a-hookup with Christine O'Donnell story to Gawker (which got posted this afternoon, and which I won't dignify with a link) has already been outed.

Just to be clear: I think O'Donnell has no place in the US Senate, and I think guys who sell hookup stories to gossip rags should be castrated. And not chemically. I'm talking with a meat tenderizer.

King For a Day Decree #623

All electrical towers will be re-designed so as to appear as giant roboty things, as they were in my imagination in my youth.

So decreed on this day of the Reign of Our Benevolent Overlord, Anton the Terrible, May His Wrath Come On Swift and Merciful Wings

Welcome to Quahog?

Rob Ford's election as mayor of Toronto tonight has the local Twitterati in a tizzy. He's apparently George Bush, William Harrison Hays and Eric Cartman all rolled into one, a bloated jackanape who will single-handedly destroy the arts community and public transit in the city.

From where I sit, he's more buffoon than bastard, and the structure of the municipal government (not to mention Ford's own ego) should prevent him from working with city council and actually accomplishing any of the stuff he campaigned on. But it does beg the question: which fat, comedic character should be attached to Ford to belittle him?

Peter Griffin and Cartman have already been floated, but I'm leaning more towards Tommy Boy right now. Johnny LaRue is also a possibility, and has the benefit of being distinctly Canadian.

I may need to ponder this one for a while.

Concert Season Is Upon Me

Wow, there are actually bands I want to see playing in town over the next couple of months.

The Flowers of Hell have the release party for their new album & DVD on November 13th, then Fang Island come back to town on the 16th.

And at the beginning of December, my favorite band from the early '90s Toronto indie scene, Lowest of the Low, stagger back out for a couple of shows at Lee's Palace (the only venue they should ever play, in the interest of moribund nostalgia).

UPDATE: Figures. The Flowers of Hell show is up against the roller derby finals, which I've already told a couple of people I was gonna attend.

People Who Should Lose Their Jobs

No, this has nothing to do with Juan Williams.

Today's PWSLTJ is Jim Pasco, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, who recently said the following about the explosion in private surveillance and recording of police officers:

The proliferation of cheap video equipment is presenting a whole new dynamic for law enforcement. It has had a chilling effect on some officers who are now afraid to act for fear of retribution by video. This has become a serious safety issue. I'm afraid something terrible will happen.

Now I realize that Pasco, as head of a police union, is supposed to have the backs of the cops. But "I'm afraid something terrible will happen"? Dipshit, terrible things have already happened. They happen basically every fucking day, because you and your kind let your profession be infected by a military mindset rather than a public service one.

Hell, if your union brethren weren't doing terrible things already, you wouldn't have to worry about being scrutinized so much.

Oh, and by the way? Fretting about civilian surveillance of the boys and girls in blue isn't even like worrying about the horse after its already escaped the barn, it's more like worrying about the horse after it's already been made obsolete by the automobile.

I suggest to the Fraternal Order of Police that they need someone running their union who isn't quite as ignorant of what's actually happening in the world, and might actually be able to help you figure out how to navigate the new environment you find yourselves in, rather than just pissing into a hurricane.

Idle Thought

I wonder how much extra cash Ginny Thomas' Liberty Central group was able to siphon up from donors after she managed to get the name 'Anita Hill' back into the news with her "olive branch" voice mail...


So I get home from Neutral karaoke at about 3:30 or so, long after the garbage trucks have gone by. My obliviously lazy-ass roommate has helpfully collected and bagged the garbage and tied the bag off... and then left it sitting in the kitchen rather than taking it out to the curb.

This is nothing new. She does it all the time. It doesn't seem to occur to her that a) it might be a good idea to actually throw it out, or b) if she wasn't going to throw it out, that I might have something to add to it and that she shouldn't tie it off.

But wait, it gets better. After I'm home for a few minutes, she comes out of her room and announces that she saw a mouse in the apartment earlier in the evening.

Just to be clear: she saw a mouse, and then left a bag of garbage sitting on the kitchen floor.

Wow. I mean, that's... wow. I had to ask. Her excuse? She was tired and forgot it was garbage day.

Forgot. Even though she'd bagged it up.


If you happened to be wandering the Danforth at four in the morning on Tuesday, that thumping noise you heard was not some house party with the bass cranked, but my forehead getting well acquainted with a wall.

Hobbit Casting Rumor Season Is a Go!

Martin Freeman appears to be set as Bilbo, which gets a big thumb's up from me. And I didn't even like the movie version of Hitchhiker's.

The other names also floating around as potential cast members, though, are a bit more interesting. In order of geeky magnitude:

- David Tennant (everyone but me's favorite new-school Dr Who). The only part he would make sense for, to me, is that of Elvenking Thrunduil, ruler of the wood elves of Mirkwood -- and Legolas' dad.

- Michael Fassbender (the British spy from Inglorious Basterds). I can see him best as Bard, but Beorn could also be a possibility...

- ...except that Jekyll star Jimmy Nesbitt is also on the list, and if he isn't born to play a werebear I dunno who is. I guess you could shrink him down to dwarf size too, but that seems a waste.

Fox News Admits They Aren't a News Organization, And Are Incompetent To Boot

So Robin Carnahan has submitted a motion to dismiss the Fox News suit against her for copyright violation, based on an attack ad she ran against her Senate opponent Roy Blunt that used clips from a Chris Wallace interview.

Carnahan's camp is presenting two really awesome arguments:

1) Fox didn't bother to copyright the footage until after they'd filed the lawsuit.

2) The Fox footage itself contains public domain footage from C-Span, and is thus uncopyrightable.

So Fox isn't just being blatantly partisan, they're being incompetently blatantly partisan. Fantastic.

Vive La Difference

In the US, libertarians constantly complain about the erosion of individual freedoms -- and with good reason, as police routinely violate those rights every chance they get. Despite a court that contributes to that erosion, though, the Constitution still provides a bedrock of freedom that is, historically and politically, the envy of people worldwide.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the Constitution is much less hearty when it comes to enshrining individual freedoms, and the court up here continues to hack away at what freedoms do exist:

“What now appears to be licensed is that a presumed innocent individual may be detained and isolated by the police for at least five or six hours without reasonable recourse to a lawyer – during which time the officers can brush aside assertions of the right to silence or demands to be returned to his or her cell in an endurance contest in which the police interrogators, taking turns with one another, hold all the important legal cards.”

Yet, the police do not have a reputation in Canada for rampant abuse. And if you polled people in both countries, I'd be shocked if the average Canadian didn't say they felt freer than the average American, despite the fact that from a legal standpoint the opposite is surely true.

Not really taking sides on which country is "better". Just find it interesting that the pinko commie soshulist stronghold of Canada does, on paper, have fewer freedoms than the US... and yet in reality, it's the freer, more permissive society.

Gillian Anderson Is Alive And Well And Living In England

I'm with Knappster - the reaction to the 'No Pressure' video from British AGW advocates is downright bizarre. At the Liberty Papers, words like 'revolting', 'amoral' and 'depraved' got thrown around and applauded. Other, less interesting libertarian blogs who I shan't link to went even further off the deep end.

Judge for yourself. It's written by Richard Curtis (of Blackadder, Mr. Bean and Four Weddings and a Funeral fame):

Personally I think the people calling it 'depraved' are just afraid of getting blown up, because they know in their hearts that's what they want to do to AGW advocates, and they're just projecting. But hey, I'm just a crazy guy who watched that video and didn't think it's actually advocated murdering children, so what do I know, right?

If Only Guy DeBord Were Here To Enjoy It

I'm now out to hit the streets for the annual Situationist wet dream that is Nuit Blanche.

My planned targets include:

- Lightbox, which is hosting a) the marathon movie sing-a-long, b) the Grindbox! stream of awesome cinematic filth, and c) a bunch of free DIY video games in old school standing arcade cabinets.

- Lower Bay Station, which features some sort of 'interactive' light-and-sound installation that is supposed to be reminiscent of Avatar's flora

- Bruce Springsteen songs re-done as Italian opera, just off Yonge & Dundas Square

- a bunch of other stuff I have no clue about yet, but will stumble upon in my travels


Minor Milestone

Just noticed that since I started keeping track of what songs I sing at karaoke, I have now hit 400 different titles sung.

Sinatra's That's Life was officially #400, if you're scoring at home. At the rate I'm adding new material, I may just be able to time it so that I tackle #500 sometime around my birthday in February...

September Travesties

Despite the film fest and all, still managed to squeeze in 29 songs last month. Breed and Waterfalls are both definite keepers.

24 Hours From Tulsa - Gene Pitney
Africa - Toto (duet w/Lisa Awesome)
Breed - Nirvana
Dancing In the Dark - Bruce Springsteen
Devil Went Down To Georgia - Charlie Daniels Band
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - Bob Dylan
Eve of Destruction - Barry McGuire
Everlong - Foo Fighters (w/live band)
Fire - Jimi Hendrix
Games Without Frontiers - Peter Gabriel
Greatest American Hero - Joey Scarbury
Heartbreaker - Pat Benatar (w/live band)
Hounds of Love - Futureheads
In Bloom - Nirvana (w/live band)
In The End - Linkin Park (duet w/Johnny Priceless)
Life During Wartime - Talking Heads
Red Right Hand - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Sister Christian - Night Ranger
Slow Hands - Interpol
Stand By Me - John Lennon
Starlight - Muse
That's Life - Frank Sinatra
Time Is On My Side - Rolling Stones
Under Pressure - Queen & David Bowie (duet w/Melany)
Walk Away - James Gang
Waterfalls - TLC
White Room - Cream
Wild Horses - Rolling Stones
You'll Never Find - Lou Rawls

Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2010, directed by Mark Romanek)

This may have been the most exceptionally brilliant failure of a movie I have ever seen.

There's no way to write this review without including massive spoilers, so let's just get them out of the way. Never Let Me Go envisions a world in which cloning was developed in the '50s, for the purpose of harvesting replacement organs. The film follows one clone, Kathy, and her two childhood friends Tommy and Ruth as they grow up in the '70s English countryside and then try to make their way in the world, while knowing all the while that their time is painfully short. It's a haunting, beautiful, melancholy film, filled with spectacular cinematography and some damn good performances from Andrew Garfield and Tommy and Carey Mulligan as Kathy...

...and it's all total bollocks.

True science fiction depends on one thing above all: plausibility. Whatever crazy ideas are getting thrown around in the plot, the world around that plot has to feel plausible for it to work. If you can capture that feeling, you can get away with almost anything. Look at the two best recent examples of cinema spec fic, Children of Men and District 9. Children of Men is built on a fairly implausible plot idea (mysterious mass incurable sterility), but the world it constructs around that idea is so devastatingly believable that you can't help but fall in line and go where it takes you. Ditto District 9. Say what you want about the likelihood of a damaged alien spacecraft parking itself above Johannesburg, but if it did is an internment ghetto for the aliens so far-fetched?

Never Let Me Go is in many ways the complete opposite of those films. The film is about the characters, not the world around them, but in not even concerning itself with the plausibility of that world the movie sabotages itself fatally.

Think about it for a second: clones are allowed to grow into adulthood, in order to be cut up for parts. That's just monstrous and evil, but the world they live in doesn't seem to have wrestled with the ethics of that plan in any meaningful way. For Goddess' sake, in our world aborting unborn fetuses, fetuses which lack names or faces or personalities, draws angry protests and even acts of terrorism. And yet there's no evidence in Never Let Me Go that there have been any real complaints at all over the clones, or what happens to them, beyond some academic disagreements. Fully formed adults get gutted so that 'real' people can live a little longer, and no one cares? No one protests their treatment? PETA will bathe someone in red paint for wearing fur, but no one will do the same to someone with a clone's liver? I call bullshit.

And what about the clones themselves? How can the rate of suicide and self-destructive behaviors among them not be through the roof, with nothing to live for except prolonging someone else's life? And yet they just seem to blithely go about their business, even knowing the truth. Again, I call bullshit.

And why are they even allowed to roam free? Is no one concerned that they might catch a disease or get hit by a car? If they are not "real" people, if they are merely valuable medical property, why give them a life at all? Why risk it?

By blinding itself to the ethics of the world it's creating, Never Let Me Go accidentally works even harder to undermine itself. We never meet any of the organ recipients. The other side of the equation -- what's being bought with the lives of these young people -- is never presented at all. So as a viewer, there are no hard choices to make about what's "right". Three kids you come to know are going to have their internal organs ripped out and given to random nameless other people, and the movie provides you with no outlet to express or live through your anger and disgust at that state of affairs. Those emotions simply don't get acknowledged in the movie at all.

None of it makes any sense, because no one thought about any of that before making the damn movie. I appreciate that it isn't supposed to be about those things, that it's focused exclusively on the three friends, but even if you don't directly address those issues in the movie you still have to know what the issues are to make the world work. You can't bury your head in the sand and pretend that they don't exist. Charlotte Rampling's headmistress character, towards the end of the film, inadvertently spills the beans to the audience. "We were looking for answers to questions no one wanted to ask", she says to Kathy and Tommy, but the brains behind Never Let Me Go didn't even seem to realize that there were questions to ask at all.

Really, I can't even in good conscience call the movie science fiction. It's science fantasy, only in this case the 'fantasy' part is wistful doomed romance instead of grand space opera. I suppose you could say I was just expecting a different movie than the one I got, but I don't see how you could possibly avoid expecting that different movie. The characters, the set-up... they all demand something that the movie refuses to provide.

In many ways this is the same basic complaint I have about Matt Reeves' Let Me In. Both Reeves and Romanek try to pretend that tough moral questions simply don't exist in their dojos, and in doing so both rob their movies of a power that their source materials possessed in abundance.

If Never Let Me Go weren't such a good, even great, film in almost every other respect (Keira Knightley's Ruth is a weak link acting-wise) I'd just chalk that cowardice (and yes, I can't think of any other way to describe it but cowardice) up to incompetence, and say it was a bad movie.

But it's not a bad movie. It's very nearly a great movie, just one that misses being great by as wide a gulf as is possible.

And the tragedy of that missed opportunity, moreso that the melancholy tone that hangs over the sad, short lives of Kathy and Tommy and Ruth, is what clung to me when I left the theater.

No Chance In Hell?

Ever since Linda McMahon won the Pub nom for the Connecticut Senate seat, I've been warning people in comments sections all over the innertubez not to underestimate her/gleefully speculating on what having a WWE-schooled personality in Congress would be like. And I continually got berated for those warnings, because McMahon was a "joke candidate" who had no chance in hell of winning.

Well, guess what? She's now polling within 3-6 points of Blumenthal. The joke candidate has to be taken seriously.

Much as I don't want the full-out crazy Tea Bag candidates like Miller or O'Donnell in Washington, having McMahon in there would be freaking epic, precisely because she's not really the Tea Party type. Honestly, if anyone could be the right-wing equivalent of Franken -- i.e. surprisingly competent -- it would be Linda McMahon. Plus, coming out of pro wrestling, no amount of silly Tea Party bullshit or cliquish DC nonsense is going to phase her in the slightest.

Seriously. If there are going to be a bunch new Pubs in the Senate, McMahon would be miles better, and infinitely more entertaining, than the alternatives.

Review: 13 Assassins

13 Assassins (2010, directed by Takashi Miike)

It has always been vaguely disappointing to be a Takashi Miike fan. No matter how many films he cranked out and how many different genres he tackled (or maybe because he cranked so many out and changed gears so often) the very best of his work seemed to just miss being truly great, and leave behind a feeling of an opportunity missed. Even Audition, the Miike movie considered to be the closest to perfection, has an ending that just seems deflating after the madness that precedes it. But Sukiyaki Western Django, Ichi the Killer, Happiness of the Katikuris, Dead Or Alive, One Missed Call, Great Yokai War... crazy fun as they are, each has some misstep or flaw that while certainly not fatal keep them from being a true masterpiece. Kind of like Megan Fox's thumbs.

Which brings us to 13 Assassins, Miike's kick at the historical samurai epic can and a remake of a 1963 film. It's a natural fit for Miike's style, prone as he is to violent excess, but still... as the lights went down I couldn't quite shake that tiny voice in the back of my head, wondering where and how this one would go slightly awry.

And when they came back up, you couldn't have wiped the smile from my face with Ichi's razor-heeled sneakers. Miike, that glorious son-of-a-bitch, had finally made a masterpiece.

In the 1800s, towards the end of the Tokugawa era, the power of the samurai class is waning. The age of constant battles between daimyos is long over, and for the most part the samurai are warriors in name only. Naritsugu, the Shogun's younger brother, isn't satisfied with that peaceful state of affairs though. Twisted by the absolute privilege afforded him by his family name and station, he rapes and murders on a whim, and considers using his growing influence at court to plunge Japan back into chaos and war, so that the samurai can (in his mind) reclaim their former glory.

Horrified by the lord's sadism and plans for country-wide bloodshed, a senior magistrate turns to the legendary Shinzaemon Shimada for help. Realizing that the only way to stop the young madman is to kill him, Shimada quietly assembles a team of 11 other samurai - all, in one way or another, unproven on the field of battle - to ambush the lord and his army of followers as he travels to the capitol to assume his place at his brother's right hand.

To me, what sets 13 Assassins apart from every other film Miike has ever made (at least, the ones I've seen... watching every single Miike film would be a full-time job) is the pacing. For its first hour-plus, 13 Assassins is deliberate but not dull, mixing Shimada's planning and recruitment with scenes of Nagitsugu's utter depravity (plus a ritual seppuku or two from those who can't deal with the conflict between their honor and their morals) to create a textbook example of a slow build. Miike's quiet, almost stage-y interiors and lighting serve him very well here, giving things an ominous, conspiratorial tone. And this being Miike, those scenes of depravity are truly sick, and give Shimada's suicide mission an urgent, desperate tension. Naritsugu's use of a family of commoners (even the wee ones) for archery practice is vile, but it's the reveal of the lone survivor of a group that tried to thwart Naritsugu's will that marks the true high/low water mark of 13 Assassins' opening section. Emaciated, naked, all four limbs reduced to stumps and tongue torn out, the pitiful freak answers the question of what happened to her clan by writing the words 'TOTAL MASSACRE' with a brush clenched between her teeth while everyone else in the room (and, frankly, out in the audience too) trembles in shock and impotent rage. And when Shimada holds that same scrawled 'TOTAL MASSACRE' message aloft at the beginning of his battle against Naritsugu's forces, you'd have to be a sociopath not to want to jump up and shout "That's right, you sick fuck! Time to fucking DIE!" at the screen.

Oh right, the battle. The 45 minute long, non-stop, insanely intense, heroes fighting against impossible odds, katana and bow and flaming bull (yes, you read that right, there are flaming bulls)-filled orgy of blood and death and mayhem that caps the film. Sweet Mother of God. When I say "45 minutes" and "non-stop" I'm not exaggerating. About the only recent film I can think of to compare 13 Assassins' epic battle to is the little-seen Thai bit of genius Bang Rajan, which is basically nothing but battle scenes with bits of character development thrown in the middle, but while Bang Rajan is a low-budget effort that gets by on tons of heart and creativity, 13 Assassins is as polished a film as Miike has ever made, with the same tons of heart and creativity (again, there are FLAMING BULLS). The battle is just an outstanding, exhausting, exhilarating thing of gory beauty, which is made all the more sublime by the slow build that precedes it, and the investment you have in the characters and the outcome.

I have been waiting... man, when was Fudoh: The New Generation at TIFF, '96? '97?... almost 15 years for this movie, for Miike to finally put it all together and deliver the masterpiece he kept hinting that he was capable of. And now it's finally here, and it's made me just a little bit giddy. To say it's the best thing Miike's ever done almost misses the point. It would be the best thing all but the greatest of directors have ever done. It's just an insanely wonderful, kick-ass piece of cinema.

And as samurai films go, 13 Assassins deserves a spot in the canon, right alongside the best work that Kurosawa and Mifune ever created. It's that damn good.

I Will Miss Those Crazy Titles

Harlan Ellison says he's on his last legs, in advance of an appearance at a Madison skiffy convention.

"The truth of what's going on here is that I'm dying," says Ellison, by phone. "I'm like the Wicked Witch of the West -- I'm melting. I began to sense it back in January."

His best days as a writer might be behind him, but he can still crank out of some good stuff, and his gift for awesomely crazy titles hasn't left him. Plus, Harlan has always been the cantankerous old man every other cantankerous old man wanted to grow up to be. How can you not love this?:

My wife has instructions that the instant I die, she has to burn all the unfinished stories. And there may be a hundred unfinished stories in this house, maybe more than that. There's three quarters of a novel. No, these things are not to be finished by other writers, no matter how good they are. It could be Paul Di Filippo, who is just about the best writer in America, as far as I'm concerned. Or God forbid, James Patterson or Judith Krantz should get a hold of The Man Who Looked for Sweetness, which is sitting up on my desk, and try to finish it, anticipating what Ellison was thinking -- no! Goddammit. If Fred Pohl wants to finish all of C.M. Kornbluth's stories, that's his business. If somebody wants to take the unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story, which has now gone into the public domain, and write an ending that is not as good as Poe would have written, let 'em do whatever they want! But not with my shit, Jack. When I'm gone, that's it. What's down on the paper, it says 'The End,' that's it. 'Cause right now I'm busy writing the end of the longest story I've ever written, which is me.

Keep on raging, Harlan. The world will be a less interesting place without you.

Ugh. Just Ugh

I haven't been reading Sully much the last few weeks, even above and beyond the film fest making me not read any blogs at all for a week and a half. He's just seemed to be on auto-pilot recently, even above and beyond his "I'd vote for Sharron Angle!" idiocy, and nothing illustrated that better than two posts he made back-to-back today.

In the first, he gives props to Gregg Easterbrook ("Easterbrook makes some very important points") for using median income to 'prove' that the middle class isn't taking a beating. The fucking median! Hey, Sully, here's two lists of numbers:

100 - 52 - 50 - 47 - 26
1,000,000 - 900,000 - 50 - 2 - 1

Guess what? They both have the same median. If those were incomes in thousands, would you say the 'middle class' was doing OK in the second one?

In the second, he lauds Glenn Reynolds for denying that a college degree is a pathway to the middle class ("there is much truth to this")-- as though every study ever done on the issue doesn't show the huge impact a college degree has on earnings.

If Sully were trying to parody the intellectual bankruptcy of the right-wing, he couldn't have done a better job. That's a level of stupidity so frustrating it makes me want to kick puppies.

Ugly puppies, but still.

All Your Health Care Are Belong To Us

If you are of the opinion that the health care bill was just phase one in a master plan to have the federal government take over the industry entirely, you should be very worried (or happy, depending on your perspective) about things like this:

The Denver Post reports, "at least six major companies — including Anthem, Aetna, Cigna, and Humana — have said they will stop writing new policies for individual children" in Colorado. The companies "blamed health reform mandates taking effect Thursday requiring companies that write such policies as of that date to also cover sick children up to age 19," the paper said.

The Washington Post reports that three big insurers — WellPoint, Cigna and CoventryOne — made their decisions because of "uncertainty in the health insurance market."

By dropping all new children-only coverage before the effective day of the new mandate, the companies effectively sidestep the new requirements.

The nefarious scheme clearly goes something like this:

1) Force private insurers to provide policies that make them less money
2) Private insurers then drop those plans entirely to avoid the mandates
3) Feds are then 'forced' to create a public option to cover the people now unable to buy insurance
4) Hyper-efficient, not-for-profit government plan forces private insurers out of business
5) ?????

Weeview: Client 9 - The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Client 9 - The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010, directed by Alex Gibney)

As with most docs like this, Client 9 succeeds or fails on the strength of the personalities of the folk interviewed, and Gibney manages to get some doozies even above and beyond the charismatic Spitzer himself. It also adds another nail in the coffin of modern political journalists, who come out of the doc looking gullible and lazy. While it doesn't come close to answering the question of what the hell the governor was thinking, it does make a strong case that despite the scandal, Spitzer may not be done with politics on the national stage just yet.

Reaping What You Sow

Boo has a point: while the GOP has benefitted as a party from their relatively lock-step Congressional opposition to Obama, individual incumbent members of the party aren't exactly enjoying the fruits of their labors in the party's primaries.

Which could introduce an interesting dynamic for the 2011-2012 session: If the Pubs don't re-take Congress and simply emerge from the midterms as a larger minority, are the 'old guard' members of the party who have any whiff of moderation about them going to be as enthusiastic about that knee-jerk opposition, if their only reward is to get booted in favor of a Tea Party candidate down the road?

Ranking My Festival

I'm trying to pare down my top 10 list. Right now, it's about 20 films long, although having now ranked everything I'd say there's a drop-off after the top 6:

1: Black Swan
2: Rabbit Hole
3: 13 Assassins
4: Armadillo
5: Stakeland
6: Tabloid

7: Pinoy Sunday
8: Cold Fish
10: Viva Riva!
11: Blame
12: Game of Death
13: The Illusionist
14: 127 Hours
15: Fubar II
16: Beginners
17: The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman
18: The Edge
19: I Saw the Devil
20: A Horrible Way To Die
21: Beautiful Boy

The mediocre middle (and even some of these are pretty damn enjoyable):

22: Let Me In
23: Legend of the Fist - The Return of Chen Zhen
24: Machete Maidens Unleashed!
25: The Promise - The Making of Darkness On the Edge of Town
26: Boxing Gym
27: 22nd of May
28: Client 9 - The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
29: Insidious
30: The Housemaid
31: John Carpenter's The Ward
32: Beginner's Guide To Endings

And then the dregs, of which there are very few:

33: Griff the Invisible
34: Fire of Conscience
35: !Women Art Revolution
36: I'm Still Here
37: Score - A Hockey Musical
38: Red Nights
39: Passion Play

Weeview: The Edge

The Edge (2010, directed by Alexey Uchitel)

Newly minted as Russia's Oscar entry for best foreign pic, The Edge is an odd but pretty piece of work that teases real depth without actually having any. At a post-WW II Siberian work camp so remote it doesn't even need guards, a new train engineer arrives and turns things upside down by being an obstinate prick. The whole thing plays a bit like High Plains Drifter, only with locomotives instead of guns, with a nice Fitzcarraldo-esque interlude as the engineer tries to repair a bridge and salvage a train marooned on a nearby island. The Edge has surprising energy and style, particularly in the flashbacks done up like propaganda newsreels, and is well worth a look.

Weeview: The Illusionist

The Illusionist (2010, directed by Sylvain Chomet)

The animation geniuses behind Triplets of Belleville turn an unproduced Jacques Tati script into a heartbreaking elegy to getting older and feeling that the world had left you behind. A past-his-prime vaudeville magician, struggling to find work in the late '50s as rock and roll sweeps Britain, takes a young girl under his wing as he tries to scratch out a living in Edinburgh. The signature moment of the film involves the main character, an animated version of Tati, stumbling into a screening of Mon Oncle, but the film is chock-full of bittersweet charm and humor.

Weeview: Fubar II

Fubar II (2010, directed by Michael Dowse)

It still nods to the mockumentary style of the original FUBAR, but the sequel plays more as a straight-ahead comedy about white trash Canadian metalheads with, like, actual cinematography and character arcs and stuff. At its best, the humor is as black as the long nights in northern Alberta, but towards the end the plot gets in the way of the funny a little bit. The payoff, in the form of Boston's More Than A Feeling, is epic though.

Review: John Carpenter's The Ward

John Carpenter's The Ward (2010, directed by some guy)

A pretty young girl runs through the woods in her nightie, dodging the police searching for her, until she finds an old farm house. She sets it on fire, then collapses to the ground and watches it burn. When she gets picked up, this time the authorities are taking no chances. This time, she's being driven straight to an asylum and put in... The Ward. Dum-dum-dah!!!

Over each of the last few years Midnight Madness has featured a film from a true horror legend. 2008 saw Dario Argento's third Mothers film (which, while not great, was at least not a total disaster and had a baby being tossed from a bridge); last year saw George Romero's Survival of the Dead (a film that broke my heart, frankly, it was so terrible); and this year we got John Carpenter's The Ward, a throwback horror film about a Gaggle of Starlets trapped in an insane asylum that may or may not be haunted.

As throwback horror films go, it was fine. Carpenter doesn't do anything particularly inventive or showy, but he also doesn't botch a script that contains some glimmers of intelligence. He's an old hand at this stuff, and it shows in both good ways (it doesn't give the game away too quickly) and bad (it lacks that manic energy all the best horror films share). Maybe Carpenter's most positive impact came in casting. Amber Heard is very good as Kristen, the strong and resourceful girl trying to keep the other inmates together and alive, while Kick-Ass' Lyndsy Fonseca also has a couple of good moments as the sensitive artist Iris.

I want to say more about it, but it's hard to muster a lot of enthusiasm for it. The Ward isn't bad, but it isn't great. The monster is decently well done enough, the asylum looks creepy enough, the scares and kills are OK, and Jared Harris is appropriately ominous as the possibly sinister Dr. Stringer. By Carpenter's standards The Ward is definitely one of his lesser films, but it's at least a step up from Ghosts of Mars. By the standards Romero set in 2009 though, it's a goddamn masterpiece. Sometimes, 'OK' and 'competent' aren't just damning with faint praise. They're actually a relief.

Review: Blame

Blame (2010, directed by Michael Henry)

A troubled young girl kills herself. A group of her friends head straight from her funeral to the home of her former piano teacher, and lover, looking for vengeance and justice. What they find instead is more than they bargained for...

One of the real joys of a festival as big as Toronto is stumbling across a new talent, someone who demands that you tuck their name away in the back of your head and wait for their next offering. Michael Henry was one of those people for me this year. I walked into Blame with zero expectations for a little Aussie revenge thriller from a first time writer/director, and came out with another name tucker away in the back of my head.

Don't get me wrong. Blame doesn't re-invent the wheel. This isn't a debut on the level of, say, Reservoir Dogs. You know basically what's going to happen pretty quickly: the plan falls apart, new information comes to light, relationships are strained. But Henry knows exactly what he wants to do and where he wants to go, and the film marches forward with an energy and confidence that belies it being a freshman effort. Partly this a product of the script, which finds plausible reasons for its characters not to ask the obvious questions (or at least not ask them quickly enough) and avoids too many convenient coincidences. But a lot of credit has to go to the cast, particularly Kestie Morassi as the dead girl's sister Cate. She's the emotional center of the film, putting the pieces together just a step or two behind the audience, and plays it all with amazing strength. She, moreso than Sophie Lowe in the showier role as best friend Natalie, came out looking like the next A-list Australian acting export to me.

Blame is just a tight, taut thriller, with no tricks or twists. If it reminded me of anything, it'd be the early work of John Dahl, back when he was coming off the nouveau noir one-two punch of Red Rock West and the Last Seduction. But Henry's very much got his own voice and style, and I'm dying to see where he goes next.

Review: Stakeland

Stakeland (2010, directed by Jim Mickle)

Given the rash of vampire movies and post-apocalyptic movies that have seen the light of day recently, it was probably inevitable that we'd get something like Stakeland. Throw enough Book of Elis and 30 Days of Nights and I Am Legends into the collective unconscious and eventually a post-apocalyptic vampire road movie was going to spring forth from somebody's brow.

Which is why it's incredible, not that Stakeland exists at all, but that it's so damn good.

The plot is beautifully stripped down. Vampirism has swept the globe and destroyed civilization; wherever humans gather in numbers the vamps will follow, forcing survivors to stay isolated. In the States, a battle-scarred hunter known only as Mister rescues a young boy, Martin, after the rest of his family gets eated, and together they start a journey north to the rumored safe haven of New Eden.

It's impossible to over-emphasize how perfectly that rescue scene sets the tone for what will follow. Nothing says that the usual rules of decorum have been tossed out the window better than watching a vampire squat up in the rafters, suck Martin's infant sister dry and toss her aside like she was a piece of fruit. It's not the most gruesome thing you'll see in a horror movie this year, but it might just be the bleakest, and finding the right level of bleakness is the single most important job any post-apocalyptic film has. Stakeland finds it inside the first five minutes of the movie, and never lets it go.

As Martin and Mister head north, they find that the bloodsuckers aren't the only predators they need to worry about. A Christian cult owns the highways, preaching that the vamps are God's curse upon unbelievers, and the Brotherhood and their deranged leader Jebediah prove to be far more dangerous than anything with fangs.

One of the big things that sets Stakeland apart is the care that's taken with the world around Mister and Martin. The cause of the vampiric outbreak is never explained, but its effects on civilization are spelled out in meticulous detail. A Marine they travel with for a while, when asked who won the war in the Middle East, snaps back "No one. There was nobody left to fight it." Basic pharmaceuticals become valuable currency. And while the vampires themselves are fairly standard-issue mindless, blood-crazed, tough as hell killing machines, the implications of that form of vampirism get fully explored, both by Mister in his efforts to trap them, and by the Brotherhood's use of them as weapons. I won't spoil the movie's brilliant, jaw-dropping set piece, but it's a thing of pure genius in its execution and its understanding of how evil and inventive humans can be.

Stakeland is inevitably going to get compared to two films in particular: Zombieland, due only to the similar titles and the fact that humans are an endangered species in each, and Hillcoat's The Road. The first is just unfortunate, as Stakeland is deadly serious in ways Zombieland couldn't be -- there's no Bill Murray cameo here (oops, spoiler!), no silly graphics displaying the rules to the audience. The two are different genres entirely, really. But when it comes to the latter, I'd say that not only does Stakeland hold its own against The Road, it's actually the superior film.

It all comes back to that right mix of bleakness and hope. Stakeland doesn't have what you could call a happy ending, but it does give you that real possibility that there may be a future after all. And in a world as dark as this one, just that little glimmer of light through the black is all you need to get you through.

Review: Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010, directed by Andrew Lau)

Although it mutates slightly with every re-telling, the story of Chen Zhen should be familiar to anyone who gives a damn about martial arts flicks. Bruce Lee played him in Fists of Fury. Jet Li played him in Fists of Legend. And now it's Donnie Yen's turn, picking up where he left off from his mid-90s TV show with Legend of the Fist.

The opening scene is hellacious, and maybe the best single sequence of Lau's career. Chinese conscripts, doing the shit jobs in the trenches for the Allies during WWI, get pinned down by a German machine gun nest after the French forces retreat (I know, totally unbelievable, right?). One of their number, Chen Zhen, vows to see them home safely, and then proceeds to tear through the Krauts like a hurricane using nothing but two bayonets and sheer awesome badassery. It's a ridiculous set piece that shows Yen at his intense, acrobatic best.

The movie quiets down considerably after that. Many years after the war, Chen Zhen turns up in occupied Shanghai under an assumed name, and begins working with the resistance to try and kick out the Japanese. From here Legend of the Fist either goes off the rails or becomes a total nuthouse of fun, depending on your perspective, as Lau seemingly tries to shoehorn every single genre he can think of into the movie. There's a Casablanca-esque nightclub run by Johnnie To regular Anthony Wong, a romance with the singer who turns out to be a Japanese spy, Yen running around in a Kato/Black Mask-esque costume to foil assassinations attempts (the movie's other great fight sequence, as Yen steals the costume right off a mannequin to beat up some Japs), rampant xenophobia against anyone non-Chinese, and probably a dozen other bits I'm forgetting.

The final battle in the dojo with the evil Japanese general who killed Chen Zhen's master, and his hordes of incompetent minions, is a letdown after the adrenaline rush of the opening and the street fight in the middle, but for the most part Legend of the Fist is a worthy successor to Jet's effort, even if it can't match Bruce's -- or for that matter, Yen's previous best offerings like SPL. But then, what can, really?

Fox News Admits They Aren't a News Organization

Stupid Twitter. I'm trying not to pay attention to anything outside my film fest bubble right now, but this got through. FoxNews is suing Missouri Senate candidate Robin Carnahan for using footage from a Chris Wallace interview with Roy Blunt, Carnahan's opponent, in a campaign ad.:

In the ad, Wallace addresses Blunt and says, "You just said a moment ago that you have to show that you’re the party of reform but some question whether you are the man to do that. In 2002, you tried to insert language into the Homeland Security Act to help Phillip Morris tobacco [company] while you were dating that company’s lobbyist. And your campaign committee’s paid $485,000 to a firm linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.”

Wallace then asks Blunt, "Are you the one to clean up the house?"

Sounds like a pretty routine campaign attack ad, doesn't it? Your opponent gets tossed a tough question from a journalist, and you take advantage.

The basis of the lawsuit, though, is that the interview was not an attempt to publicly disseminate information, but was instead proprietary programming no different than a clip from the Simpsons:

Fox News claims that the "verbatim reproduction" of the interview without consent "(1) allows Defendant to profit commercially without paying the traditional price; (2) causes substantial harm to the value of the FNS Interview, and (3) was based upon the unique expressive content of the FNS Interview."

Notice how none of that makes any sense at all in this context, if Fox is in fact a news organization. Winning a Senate seat is not a for-profit commercial enterprise; an interview by a news organization that gains a reputation as having been a tough one enhances, not damages, the value of that interview; and news is not "expressive content" in the legal sense.

However, if Fox is assumed not to be a news organization, the basis for the suit becomes clearer. The first point still makes no sense (unless, of course, Fox believes running for office is a commercial venture), but if Fox is just a right-wing propaganda arm then having a Democrat use one of their interviews to help their campaign would cause substantial harm to the value of the interview, and as a creative work (rather than a public transmission of fact) the "expressive content" argument would be much stronger.

So go ahead, Fox, pursue this lawsuit. Prove to the world that the aim of your organization is not to provide objective facts to the American public. It won't really be news.

Review: Super

Super (2010, directed by James Gunn)

Some people are born to be heroes, receiving the spark at birth that makes them one of the few among us capable of doing the extraordinary when necessary. And some have heroism thrust upon them, and find themselves in the right place at the right time in order to do the right thing.

Frank D'Arbo is none of those people.

James Gunn's Super is yet another film about an everyday Joe who feels a powerful need to don a costume and take a swing at evil. If it seems like the genre is played out, Super proves that it isn't. Its adherence to a DIY aesthetic, both in terms of plot and production values, gives it a realistic(-ish) grounding that makes the comedy work all the better. And moreso than most low-rent wannabe superhero movies, comedy is what Super does best. Rainn Wilson brings the perfect amount of brooding ineptitude to Frank's efforts to transform himself into the Crimson Bolt, scourge of criminals and theater line-butters alike. Nathan Fillion is at his deadpan best as the Holy Avenger, the star of a Christian kid's show and Frank's inspiration (well, he's also inspired by a hallucination in which he's attacked and his skull opened up by hentai tentacles and his brain is touched by the tiniest tip of God's finger). Even Kevin Bacon gets in some great lines as the drug dealer who steals away Frank's wife.

But when it comes to the comedy quotient of Super, nobody bring the pain quite like Ellen Page does. We're used to seeing her as a wisecracking, wise-beyond-her-years teen and occasionally as a two-dimensional projection in someone's dream world (based on the latest NASA tracking on Inception's plot, anyway). What we're not used to seeing is her as a total spaz. She plays Libby -- comic shop employee, wannabe sidekick to the Crimson Bolt (Boltie!) and sufferer from any number of possible mild personality disorders -- with a full-throated roar of stupid that has to be seen to be believed, and has me worried that her research for the role involved her following around a couple of my ex-girlfriends for a few days. She is unbelievably funny as the wildly enthusiastic Libby, and the cosplay sex between her and Wilson is probably the funniest single scene in any movie this year. Page's "It's all gushie" will be burned into your memory forever, and with any luck will be on t-shirts by next summer.

Of course, it's still a movie about an ordinary man trying to become a superhero, which means that just like Kickass, it forgets all about the inherently ludicrous nature of that quest when it comes time for the big finale. The Crimson Bolt goes from being a joke in a badly-made costume who flails away at people with a pipe wrench to transforming into a brightly-colored Punisher for the final assault on Bacon's ranch, blowing away perps with reckless abandon and uncannily good aim. At least when the movie decides to take the premise seriously it doesn't shy away from the consequences, but it's still a cliched way to take it home. One of these days, someone's going to come up with a better ending for this story.

Until then though, Super is the best of the bunch. Shut up, crime! The Crimson Bolt has his eye on you!

Review: Let Me In

Let Me In (2010, directed by Matt Reeves)

Here's the Let Me In Cliff notes for those of you who need it: A bullied young boy, Owen, isolated and trying to navigate through his parents' divorce, makes a new friend when Abby and her father move into the apartment next door. His new friend turns out to be a vampire though, forcing him to make some terrible choices along the path to adolescence.

At least, that's what it's supposed to be about.

Based on the novel and film Let the Right One In, Reeves' take on it makes for a good movie. I'm not going to slag the very idea of Hollywood remakes, and I'm certainly not going to rag on this particular remake; it's a solid film. It's a dark coming-of-age story, darker than American audiences are used to, and for that reason alone it deserves to be seen.

But it left me a little bit cold. The source material isn't just good, it's great, and Reeves wasn't able to push Let Me In to those heights. The problem wasn't in the performances either. Chloe Moretz was very good playing a very different role than Mindy Macready. Any worries anyone had that she might be a one-trick pony should be put to rest. And Kodi Smit-McPhee is just as good opposite her, better here than he was in The Road. The two of them trade vulnerability back and forth like (hmmm... what were those crazy kids big into collecting back in '83? Pogs? let's go with pogs) pogs, with Abby's soul-weariness and Owen's frustration at his own weakness driving the movie forward.

Really, the emotional disconnect is all on Reeves. His decision to use CGI for Abby's attacks on her victims is as distracting as it is unnecessary, and it doesn't help that the quality of the animation is about the level of Raimi's first Spider-Man. And he makes Owen's mother even more distant than she was in the Swedish version, not even giving the audience a clear view of what she looks like.

The near-removal of Owen's mom from the film is just a symptom of the biggest issue I had with Let Me In though. Owen's choices, in the end, are too easy. He's supposed to be conflicted about siding with the 'evil' Abby, and yet the film gives him no reason not to cast his lot with her. Coming-of-age stories have to put their characters through a crucible so that they can find out who they are and who they are capable of becoming.

Let The Right One In did that. Let Me In does not. And that, in the end, is the most crucial difference between them.

Review: Passion Play

Passion Play (2010, directed by Mitch Glazer)

Holy fuck is this thing bad.

Mickey Rourke plays a Chet Baker-esque, washed-up junkie trumpeter who gets dragged out into the desert to be killed by a hitman because he fucked the wife of a gangster. When he's miraculously saved, he staggers off and finds a sideshow in the desert, where he meets a freak played by Megan Fox, who amazingly enough is there because she has bird wings growing out of her back and not because of her thumbs. He springs her from her metaphorical cage with the intent to trade her to the gangster, but in a shocking twist falls in lobe with her instead. Things go downhill from there.

It's hard to pick out exactly what the worst thing about Passion Play is. Certainly Mitch Glazer's script and direction are neck and neck. The set-up goes for magic realism territory and winds up in Painful Clicheville instead (i.e. when the hitman, played by a mute Chuck Liddell of UFC fame, is about to shoot him, Mickey looks up at a hawk soaring in the sky. Seriously, a fucking hawk) while he delivers his clumsy script in the most stifling, stylized example of early '90s LA style I've seen since, well, every bad movie shot in the valley in the early '90s. It's all crappy smooth jazz covers of classic songs, and laconic camera moves, and no sense of urgency or danger or anything except that oblivious arrogance Steely Dan made a living out of skewering.

What might actually be worse than Glazer's efforts though is Rourke's performance. He phones it in to the point that he's almost engaged in self-parody, staggering through lines of dialogue so incoherently that he has to repeat himself two or three times just to wring some semblance of meaning out of them. He's not just bad. He actually gets out-acted by Fox, which is really a hell of a feat when you think about it.

About the only decent thing about the film is Bill Murray as the gangster, who as per usual manages to look just fine despite the cinematic atrocities taking place around him.

Let me put it to you this way: fully two-thirds of the audience at the screening I was at was gone by the time the house lights came up. And most of those who stayed only stuck around to settle a bet on what position would get used for Rourke and Fox's sex scene - would he be on his back, with her spreading her wings above him? Or would he be kneeling, so she could tenderly enfold him with her feathers?

I would have preferred some sort of elevated doggie style myself, with Fox flapping madly to keep herself aloft and at the right angle, but that kind of outside-the-box thinking wasn't going to happen in Passion Play.

Review: Griff the Invisible

Griff the Invisible (2010, directed by Leon Ford)

A little Aussie trifle starring True Blood's Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten), Griff the Invisible is about a timid oddball who deals with the misery of his lonely life by dressing up as a superhero and patrolling the streets. This is no Down Under Kickass riff though. While Griff does seem to occasionally scare off a mugger, for the most part he is completely wrapped up in his fantasy world, monitoring the city via satellite and computer network, getting calls from the commissioner on his red Batpho... err, Griffphone and battling shadowy figures dressed in Victorian finery.

His secret identity is threatened by outside forces though. Tony the office bully at work won't leave him alone, forcing him to use his homemade invisibility suit (a white painter's suit soaked in invisible ink, i.e. lemon juice) to sneak into the office at night to play practical jokes on Tony. More dangerous though, his straight-laced brother's new girlfriend Melody is a misfit like him, and seems far more interested in being part of his life than in his brother's. What's a delusional, socially maladjusted freak to do?

While Griff the Invisible ties hard to be Benny and Joon, only with Charlie Chaplin replaced by Bruce Wayne, it fails on a couple of fronts. While the film is admittedly low budget no effort is made at all to distinguish Griff's fantasy missions from reality, which makes it tough to tell exactly how out of touch Griff is. Worse, the conflicts keeping the couple apart are more on the level of Three's Company-esque misunderstandings than real issues to be resolved, sapping the story of any real urgency.

It's a cute idea for a movie, and everyone involved is game enough, but it just doesn't do anything to distinguish itself. Especially in a festival already containing James Gunn's Super, this one's as invisible as its title character wishes he could be.

Fun Day

Having dinner with John Turturro later, plus the Casino Jack party with George Hickenlooper and Kevin Spacey, and might get a chance to corner Guillermo for a chat about Mountains of Madness too.

Review Backlog

Fubar II / Legend of Beaver Dam
The Edge
Client 9
22nd of May
!Women Art Revolution
Boxing Gym
The Promise: The Making of Darkness On the Edge of Town
Game of Death
John Carpenter's The Ward
Horrible Way To Die
Rabbit Hole
13 Assassins
Red Nights

Review: Black Swan

Black Swan (2010, directed by Darren Aronofsky)

Every year at the Toronto film fest, there's one film I see at an industry screening that I come out of thinking I need to immediately see again, and with a real audience.

Black Swan - Aronofsky's beautiful, horrific, brilliant, devastating masterpiece - is that film this year.

On Twitter I pithily came up with a 'movie formula' description of it as Polanski's Repulsion + Powell Red Shoes, but while it stands shoulder to shoulder with those classics that description does not do Black Swan any sort of justice. It contains elements of them, as it does Argento's Suspiria as well, but Aronofsky's vision of a young ballerina's dreams becoming a nightmare is a thing of singular majesty. One of his greatest strengths as a filmmaker is his complete command of every one of an audience's sense that he can reach with the tools available to him. Black Swam looks gorgeous, and its visuals have a visceral, terrible impact that no puny slasher movie can possibly match, but the sound design is every bit a work of subtle, fearsome genius as well. It seems like I say this every time he makes a new movie, but this is Aronofsky's most accomplished work from a purely technical standpoint.

All that genius would have gone for naught if he didn't have a lead to match though, and Natalie Portman's Nina is just... I'm not sure I have the words. Jesus.

I have to admit, while I thought she was good, I've never thought of Portman as a truly elite actor. I didn't have that Star Wars-based pure geek love for her, and hadn't really seen her in anything that made me think she had untapped potential.

And now I know I was wrong.

Portman is insanely good, and I mean that in every conceivable positive way. At the beginning of the movie she's wound up so tight she vibrates, and as Black Swan progresses those vibrations become seismic. When the girl who's always in control of herself lets go of that control, she's got no experience in tempering what gets unleashed; the doors to her emotions are either locked shut, or flung wide open. The levels of nuance Portman brings to this role are incredible. Her face reflects every tic and tremor and thought in her increasingly fractured psyche, and given how much of the film is shot claustrophobically tight on that face, her vulnerability ends up being the best special effect Black Swan has going for it. Portman more than rises to the challenge Aronofsky gave her, and it echoes her character's own transformation and adds another layer to the metaphor. Just as Nina gets pushed beyond her limits, self-imposed and otherwise, to become worthy of the role of the Swan Queen, so too does Portman push past the limits of what she's accomplished before. I'm done with the Oscars, so I don't much care whether they bother to recognize her brilliance or not. What I do know is that this role will redefine how people see her as an actress, and will cement her spot next to the Kates (Winslet and Blanchett) as someone who I would now trust with any material, and who I would see in absolutely anything.

Portman and Aronofsky aren't the whole show, of course. Barbara Hershey is brittlely, brutally perfect as Portman's domineering mother, desperate for her daughter to have exactly the life she couldn't even as she resents that Nina gets the chances she didn't. Vincent Cassel is his usual effortlessly awesome self as the driven, slightly lecherous impressario. Mila Kunis gets a somewhat easier role as the wild girl in the company who helps open up those floodgates inside of Nina, but she knocks it out of the park and provides an absolutely necessary grounding of reality when the story calls for it. Even Winona Ryder flashes her old skills in a smaller role as the prima ballerina being shoved aside for the new blood.

But the thing most people will take away from Black Swan, aside from awe at the skill in which Aronofsky makes Nina's neuroses become flesh, is Portman's performance. She shatters herself into pieces for him and for us, then pulls herself back together and is reborn as someone new, someone stronger and scarier and more vital than ever before. And we are shattered and reborn right along with her, and the feeling is terrifying and glorious.

Terrifying, and glorious, and perfect.

Review: Score - A Hockey Musical

Score - A Hockey Musical (2010, directed by Michael McGowan)

We are a rare, lonely breed. Kitted for battle and weaving across frozen terrain, survival instincts cranked to 11, we might have a goal in mind but it's living in the moment and enjoying the dance that really matter as we dodge every skullcrushing danger hurtling our way.

No, I'm not talking about hockey players. I'm talking about connoisseurs of bad movies, a group of which I am proudly (?) a member. I still have fond memories of that golden period at the beginning of the decade when Britney's Crossroads, Mandy's A Walk To Remember (which wasn't actually that bad, disappointingly enough) and Lance Bass' jaw-dropping train wreck On The Line were all in theaters within months of each other, and nothing may ever top the almost Lovecraftian, sanity-blasting horror of trying to wrap my head around the "comedy" masterpiece that is the Love Guru. (But... but... he's wearing a cast iron chastity belt, and they even foley in a giant clang when Verne Troyer squares him, and yet Myers goes down as though he's taken a ball shot... how... why.... GAAAAAAAH)

As brain-meltingly horrible movies about hockey teams go, Score is no Love Guru, but it's at least competing in the same league. The characters are cardboard even by the standards of musicals - the clean-cut lead who looks like he just stepped out of a Brigham Young biopic; the brunette, oddly cute, spunky, quintessentially Canadian girlfriend; the hippie parents; the bitter crusty coach; the sensitive goon teammate; etc etc etc. The dialogue, both sung and unsung, is clumsy and awkward, and the tunes themselves are generic Canadian indie rock, which makes sense given the cameos by the likes of Hawksley Workman and the Rheostatics' Dave Bidini (non-Canadian readers are now free to exclaim, "Who?"), not to mention Nellie Furtado's recurring cameo in a bad wig as a rink rat, which was apparently the price the producers had to pay to get her to phone in a bland cover of a fairly obscure Rush song (Time Stands Still, if you're wondering) over the end credits.

Two things take it from merely bad to hilariously bad though. The first is the fact that the lead, Noah Reid, is actually damn good. In another movie, his naivete and dawning self-awareness would have played very well. In a film that otherwise tragically lacks any shred of self-awareness, though, he just seems to be bopping to a different beat than anyone else.

Which brings up the main thing that makes Score so awesomely awful. How, in the name of all that is holy, do you make a film like this completely in earnest and completely without irony? You've got a main character who doesn't know who Sidney Crosby is, but then recognizes Wayne Gretzky's dad Walter on sight. You've got a group of players who turn on the lead because he won't fight and thus isn't manly enough to be one of them, and express their displeasure in song and dance. Who in their right mind would think playing that kind of thing straight would be a good idea? It's mind-boggling.

From the opening credit montage of the history of hockey (with a wonky arrangement of the friggin' Canadian nation anthem, no less) through to the Slumdog Millionaire On Ice! ending, Score does its best to confuse everyone's exaggerated comedy stereotype of what it means to be Canadian with the real thing. And in doing so, they've made a film for my kind of people.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's been too long since I subjected a hapless victim to the deranged glory that is Dana Carvey's Master of Disguise...

Review: I'm Still Here

I'm Still Here (2010, directed by Casey Affleck)

Once upon a time, Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix were smoking a bowl together late at night, and bitching about all the asshole fans and journalists and hangers-on who thought they knew them:

"Man, they don't know shit. They think the guy they see on the red carpet or in that press conference is the real me, but, like, they don't know."

"Dude, like, totally. That's so... true, man."

"You know what would be awesome? We should make a movie where you pretend to be the guy they think you are!"

"Yeah. Yeah! It could be this, like, out there Andy Kaufman kind of thing."

"Yes! Oh man, that would be epic."

Now normally, when you bullshit about stuff at four in the morning while high, you wake up the next morning and either have forgotten all about it, or you have vague memories of what you were bullshitting and realize, in the cold light of day, how stupid it really was. But not Phoenix and Affleck, no sir. They actually went ahead and made the movie they thought was a good idea when they were high. And thus, I'm Still Here was born.

To answer the irrelevant question on everyone's lips, there's no doubt in my mind that the film is "fake", in the sense that this is a performance by Phoenix and not a meltdown. They named the production company They Are Going To **** You, for pity's sake. And there are too many situations and shots that would have required too much prep, too many blatantly staged moments, for it to be a true guerrilla-style doc.

But frankly, I don't really care whether it's "real" or not. I care whether it's entertaining. And on that front, I'm Still Here is a massive failure. I can forgive self-indulgence. I can't forgive boring self-indulgence, and that's what Phoenix's performance quickly becomes. It's the mockumentary equivalent of one of the those two minute SNL skits that gets stretched out to feature length without adding anything to the original idea. And one of the main criticisms I have of Phoenix's supposed self-destructive behavior here echoes one of my main problems with Phoenix's performance as Johnny Cash. It's too cliche, too by the book. He dresses weird, he does drugs, he goes on random tirades against his friends. Yawn. Phoenix was a fairly stereotypically tortured artist in Walk The Line, and he's a fairly stereotypically out-of-control rich brat here.

Beyond the flaws in the filmmaking and in the acting though, my biggest issue with the movie is how pointless it was. Instead of making a film spoofing other people's perceptions of him, Phoenix made a film spoofing his perception of other people's perceptions of him, and that house of cards collapses pretty quickly. Really, Phoenix's celebrity status was too bland heading into this role to work at either end of the satire spectrum. He wasn't Britney-level TMZ fodder (although the movie tries hard to sell him as such). No one paid much attention to who he dated or what his pet causes were. He was just another brooding actor staying mostly off the merry-go-round, so there really wasn't any public persona to target. On the flip side if he were, say, Kato Kaelin-level obscure, a mock doc about his career change and disintegration might have been a tragic commentary on the pursuit of celebrity.

Instead, he was stuck in the middle - that is, until he and Casey started this film. His Letterman appearance and other assorted public antics gave him cache he never had before. More people now care about Phoenix's next move than ever did before, when he was just another lower A-list serious actor who collects the occasional Oscar nom. The talk now is that he's destroyed his career, but that's absurd. If the likes of Tom Cruise can recover from their very real crackups, Phoenix will easily survive his fake one. As long as investors or studios make a bit of money from his projects he'll have a career, and there's no sign yet that he's box office poison.

The bottom line is that as a mockumentary, it flat doesn't work. It almost plays like Borat, if Borat were a drama.

As the culmination of a prolonged burst of self-promotion though, it's borderline genius.

A Shocking Change of Plans

So the first stage of my plan went swimmingly (as in, Score and I'm Still Here were both dreadful in their own ways), but I'll have to skip the Edge for now and try to catch it later in the fest.

On the other hand, I may end up partying with Darryl Sittler and Dion Phaneuf later tonight, which would be, umm, interesting.

Thursday's TIFF Pseudo-Schedule

This year, I'm trying a bit of an experiment. As it happens, both Score: A Hockey Musical and I'm Still Here are on the schedule, snugly one hour apart, as press screenings on the first day of the fest. So I'm going to see if watching the two worst movies I possibly can, right off the top, will guarantee that the rest of the festival is nothing but awesomeness. (Mind you, I'm a guy who voluntarily pays money to watch things like Lance Bass' epic attempt to come off as straight, On the Line, and Mike Myers' tragic deconstruction of self-help mythology, the Love Guru, in theaters so I could well end up laughing my ass off for three hours. But I suspect my heightened ability to turn train wrecks into ironic entertainment will be sorely tested.)

The great thing is, I'll get to put the theory to the test right away since the next film I'll be seeing is The Edge, one of my wild card picks. Could be a weird little gem, could be a total mess.

If that all goes to shit, I'm still ending things off with Legend of the Fist at the Elgin. Call it an ass-kicking safety net.

...As The Gates To Hell Swing Open Before Me...

Just RSVP'ed for my first film fest party - Casino Jack at the Brant House, which is at least a better venue than the last time I was at a party with Kevin Spacey.

Ah, so arrogant, so jaded. The real Anton Sirius is coming to the surface. If you were enough of a Whedonite to actually watch Dollhouse you've got an idea what it's like.

Shame! Shame!

Last night I tried to sing Stand By Me (the Ben E. King version) and... flubbed it. I mean completely, savagely destroyed it. I couldn't find the right key to save my life - I was stuck somewhere between the King version and Lennon's version, and actually had to bail on it and try the Lennon version instead, which I made it through OK despite being way more familiar with the lyrics and rhythm of King's.

It's been a long, long time since that's happened to me behind a mic. Bah. Fuck humility. Fuck it in its stupid ass.

Review: Armadillo

Armadillo (2010, directed by Janus Metz)

A group of new recruits, eager but apprehensive, wait to be taken away to a foreign land, their young heads filled with thoughts of heroism and adventure. Once they arrive though, their illusions quickly get ripped away, and they are never the same...

War films have their own conventions and cadence. From All Quiet On the Western Front through Apocalypse Now to the Hurt Locker, long periods of boredom get punctuated by madness and death. Same as it ever was. The thing is, those are all works of fiction. Great (well, merely good in Hurt Locker's case) as they are, they aren't reality. They are just stories we tell ourselves to help make sense of that madness.

Armadillo flips the script. It's a documentary, the story of a six-month stint in Afghanistan by Danish forces, but it adapts all those familiar conventions and cadences to the doc format, and by doing so completely transforms them. This is no longer a story we tell ourselves to make sense of the madness; it's the madness reaching out and infecting our stories, and making them hollow.

A lot of Armadillo's power comes from the footage that the filmmakers were able to get. Embedded directly with the unit, Metz and his team were not only able to observe how their experiences changed them first-hand, they were also able to dive right into actual combat thanks to helmet-mounted cameras. No Hollywood slo-mo explosions to be found here; this is just pure chaos, soldiers screaming at each other in an adrenaline haze as they discover the limits of superior technology and numbers against a foe on its home turf.

For all the gut-wrenching immediacy of the combat scenes though, or the surgical precision with which they are edited, it's the humanity of the film that makes it truly unique -- and not just the humanity of the soldiers we come to know. The Afghan villagers that they meet and interact with act no differently than any other people would under similar circumstances, trapped between two enemies. The elders stoically mourn their losses; the parents try to protect who and what they can; and the teenage boys act like arrogant, oblivious dicks, just like they do at your local mall.

Really, to call Armadillo a war story misses the point. It's every war story, but with the glossy, insulating veneer of fiction stripped away. And it's also the very personal, very specific story of a group of young men who left home seeking adventure, and came home sobered and shattered.

And while (oddly clumsy opening voice-over aside) Armadillo keeps its politics close to the vest, it's impossible not to wonder, at the end of the film, whether the price those young men paid was even remotely close to worth it.

Damn Canadian Commies

I hope RIM holds firm on their privacy stance for Blackberry users. I'm sure they won't, but it would be nice if they did.

Or, to put that in Foxnewsese, "High-tech firm Research In Motion, funded by a foreign socialist government, makes phones only a terrorist could love!"

Now There's a Scary Precedent

While I agree that Justice Jay Bybee is a scumspawned fucktard who I wouldn't piss on if he were being stung by flaming jellyfish, I don't think you can really impeach him for that.

August's Travesties

41 songs on the month, 15 (!) of which I hadn't sung since starting the blog, if ever. Breed was brilliant, and I'll be doing it again for sure. Don't Pay the Ferryman... eh, not so much.

#1 Crush - Garbage
All Apologies - Nirvana
(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes - Elvis Costello
Animal Nitrate - Suede
Babe - Styx
Band On the Run - Paul McCartney & Wings
Beds Are Burning - Midnight Oil
Boogie On Reggae Woman - Stevie Wonder
Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen (w/live band)
Breed - Nirvana
Cult of Personality - Living Color
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da - Police
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Animals
Don't Pay the Ferryman - Chris De Burgh
Freddy's Dead - Curtis Mayfield
Hey Ya - Outkast (duet w/Lisa Awesome)
High School Confidential - Rough Trade
How Deep Is Your Love - Bee Gees
In The End - Linkin Park (duet w/Johnny Priceless)
Interstate Love Song - Stone Temple Pilots
Let's Spend the Night Together - Rolling Stones
London Calling - Clash (w/live band)
Missing You - John Waite
Never-Ending Story - Limahl
Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello
Panama - Van Halen (w/live band)
Paranoid - Black Sabbath (w/live band)
Peace Train - Cat Stevens
Peaceful Easy Feeling - Eagles
Peg - Steely Dan
Piss Up a Rope - Ween (w/live band)
Rebellion (Lies) - Arcade Fire
Rock n Roll Suicide - David Bowie
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) - Bruce Springsteen
Shake the Disease - Depeche Mode
Song For Whoever - Beautiful South
Starlight - Muse
Street Fighting Man - Rolling Stones
Sunglasses At Night - Corey Hart
This Diamond Ring - Gary Lewis & the Playboys
You Got Another Thing Coming - Judas Priest

Oh, Right, That's Why

I stopped paying much attention to Daily Kos a while ago. I'll check something out if someone whose opinion I respect links to it -- it's not on my verboten list the way Politico is -- but for the most part I think they've lost their collective shit over there, and just don't have time to wade through the nonsense to find any gems.

I'm still on the mailing list though, which means I get regular emails pushing Markos' new book, called (unhyperbolically enough) American Taliban. The latest missive begins as follows:

Conservatives say a lot of ridiculous things.

Riiiight. You wrote a book explicitly comparing the far right to the Taliban, and conservatives are the only ones saying ridiculous things.

Yeah, can't imagine why I stopped reading your site, dude.

Of course, I say shitty things about right wingers all the time, so maybe that just makes me a hypocrite. But I at least try to condemn specific individuals for their own actions, not paint everyone out at the that end of the political spectrum as evil incarnate.

Markos has put himself on the same level as Mark Levin and Ann Coulter with his book. He's now just another monkey throwing handfuls of shit at a rival pack. It's just what the country needs.

TIFF Overload

So I slapped together a list of all the films that are 'on my radar' at TIFF this year... the final tally was 75 movies.

Yikes. Even if I work the system like a pro (which I am) and mesh the industry and public screening schedules perfectly, I'll still be lucky if I get to see half of them. Plus there will be the handful of stuff that isn't on my radar right now that I end up seeing due to positive word of mouth and such.

For what it's worth, I have a good feeling about this year's lineup. In previous years, me having a good feeling about the lineup has been relatively meaningless in terms of whether it was actually a good lineup or not.

America's Gift To the Taliban

Reading this Newsweek piece (yeah, yeah, I know) makes me want to punch Pam Geller in the ovaries:

Zabihullah also claims that the issue is such a propaganda windfall—so tailor-made to show how “anti-Islamic” America is—that it now heads the list of talking points in Taliban meetings with fighters, villagers, and potential recruits. “We talk about how America tortures with waterboarding, about the cruel confinement of Muslims in wire cages in Guantánamo, about the killing of innocent women and children in air attacks—and now America gives us another gift with its street protests to prevent a mosque from being built in New York,” Zabihullah says. “Showing reality always makes the best propaganda.”

Insert 'why does the right wing hate our troops' snark here. I'm too pissed off to come up with anything clever myself.

UPDATE: Adam Serwer takes a more moderate approach:

On some level you can't really worry about what terrorists are going to say, because no matter what the U.S. does they're going to find some way to twist it into extremist propaganda. But the U.S. doesn't need to convince terrorists, it needs to convince the people that reside within what Marc Lynch describes as " the vast middle ground, the Arab and Muslim mainstream which both the Bush and Obama administrations have recognized as crucial both for defeating al-Qaeda and for achieving broad American national interests."

In general yes, but I think the Park51 might actually be a more effective recruiting tool. The other things Zabihullah are all actions of the military; the Park51 protests can be used to represent the views of the American people in general. That's no longer framing the conflict as 'the US versus the Taliban'; that's now bin Laden's beloved 'Islam versus the West' territory.