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.