Friday, June 29, 2007

Mitt Romney's Dog Problem, Evil Ann Coulter, and a Summer Movie Gem

I haven't been following politics for all that long, but this is the wierdest little story I've ever seen masquerade as political news:

The reporter intended the anecdote that opened part four of the Boston Globe's profile of Mitt Romney to illustrate, as the story said, "emotion-free crisis management": Father deals with minor -- but gross -- incident during a 1983 family vacation, and saves the day. But the details of the event are more than unseemly -- they may, in fact, be illegal.

The incident: dog excrement found on the roof and windows of the Romney station wagon. How it got there: Romney strapped a dog carrier -- with the family dog Seamus, an Irish Setter, in it -- to the roof of the family station wagon for a twelve hour drive from Boston to Ontario, which the family apparently completed, despite Seamus's rather visceral protest.

Yep, they strapped the dog to the roof and he crapped himself. Anyone who has been reading this knows Mitt Romney annoys the hell out of me, but I will feel genuine sympathy (amidst my own howling laughter) if the poor sap winds up having to answer a question about this during a debate because of all this coverage.

What really cracks me up about this, though, is that picture, which I saw on the Huffington Post. The split-photo gimmick usually implies an adverserial relationship. It's used for things like Harry Reid vs. President Bush, Tom Cruise vs. Brooke Shields, Rosie O'Donnell vs. Other Obnoxious Blonde Chick with Squeaky Voice on "The View."

Here it's Mitt Romney vs. The Dog. Not his actual dog, of course, which makes it funnier. You can type in "Irish Settle" in Google Images and find that same photo. Probably only took 10 seconds in photoshop to produce that...but the laughs are priceless.

Now to switch gears into something that is decidedly not funny. Ann Coulter is making the rounds again....and again I'm perplexed that she can get away with breathtakingly bigoted and hateful comments; comments far worse than the ones that destroyed Don Imus, for example.

She was on Fox News talking about a speech by Barack Obama in Hartford last weekend. At that event (which I attended), Obama said that the right-wing had "hijacked" religion...specifically Christianity. This was the rare instance where I would have preferred to listen to someone like Pat Robertson. He probably would have at least tried to aruge Obama's actual point. Here's Coulter's thoughtful response:

"I do think anyone named B. Hussein Obama should avoid using ‘hijack’ and ‘religion’ in the same sentence.”

Get it? Cause Obama's actually a Islamist terrorist cause his middle name is Hussein? Remember King Hussein of Jordan? Everyone loved him...but that's beside the point. Is this the insightful analysis we're going to see on the news these days?

What's really obnoxious about Coulter, and why I use the word "evil" to describe her, is that I'm not even sure she means this crap. O'Reilly does...and though he's an idiot, he can be ironically charismatic in a cartoon supervillain sort of way. Even Sean Hannity seems to at least believe his own bullshit, which strikes me as a little more respectable than just saying whatever bilge will sell books to those who need their prejudices reaffirmed in print.

I mean, why else would you call John Edwards a "faggot?" Or say that the death of his son is "a bumper sticker?" Now she's on Fox responding to Obama's comments on religion? You expect me to believe she's actually a representative from the Christian Right? If she supports them, it's only because it meets expectations of the "typical" right-winger. She's the kind of person who will rail against depictions of drug use in the media and then go home and snort some cocaine.

I'm usually reluctant to use the word "evil" to describe someone. When talking about bloggers in my book about the CT Senate Race, I take a moment to criticize those who referred to Joe Lieberman as evil. Obnoxious? Sure. Totally self-centered? You better believe it. But not evil. Ann Coulter believes in nothing but herself, and has made a fortune by exploiting the worst ignorance in American society. That is evil.

To try and end this mish-mash on a positive note, I'll say that anyone looking for a randomly terrific movie in the middle of an uneven summer should check out 1408. To say too much about the plot would spoil a lot of the fun, but anyone who has seen commercials knows it's about a haunted hotel room. I'll just say quickly that the movie has a tremendous build-up to the fateful night in the haunted room, and it meets those high expectations. Really awesome horror film that's actually scary at points. More movies like this might get us out of the already played out torture movement dominating the genre right now.

Coming Soon: Reviews of Michael Moore's Sicko and Pixar's Ratatouille

Thursday, June 21, 2007

No Place is Safe

So I'm pumping gas this morning and I see a strange little speaker mounted onto the front of the pump station I'm at. As I pull on the lever to start the flow of gas, a loud voice suddenly comes over it. It didn't take me long to realize that this was an advertisement. I got annoyed and looked at the speaker to see if there was a way I could turn it off. I saw a Mute button and thought to myself, "That's a nice courtesy at least." I pressed didn't work.

At this point, I got really mad. I began to repeatedly shout "Shut up!" at the speaker, unwittingly sounding like Bill O'Reilly whenever he's losing an argument. As other drivers gave me strange looks, I finally opted to press my hand over the speaker itself, effectively drowning out all the sound. When my hand stopped vibrating, I knew I had won. The ad was over, and I had not retained any of it.

I stopped to wonder why this had pissed me off so much. There's a simple reason and a broader reason. The simple reason is that normally pumping gas is a quiet experience. If you're alone, it allows for a few minutes of relaxed thought. When you're already dropping 40 frickin' dollars to fill up the gas tank of a little Cavalier that once only required 20-25, the last thing you want is for a loud annoyance invading what little personal space we have left in our lives.

And that leads into my larger point: Throughout my twenty-three and a half years of life, I've seen advertising becoming more and more invasive. It used to be that commericals were the price you paid for watching TV or listening to the radio. These sponsors paid for the programming, and so you have to hear their two cents. That's at least fair. Now it's almost the reverse: ads are shoving their way into entertainment that we pay for. A $10 movie ticket now means you have to sit through fifteen minutes of commericals. The internet service you pay for every month is now constantly interrupted by insipid ads popping up in your face....and apparently, you can't even pump gas without having something pitched at you.

Several months ago, Matt and I put on a DVD of Full Metal Alchemist episodes during a lazy afternoon at my house. There were previews at the beginning of the DVD, so my finger went for the "Menu" button. Didn't work this time. Neither did the button that skips to the next scene. Not even the damn fast-forward button was working. The same "This operation is not currently permitted by disc" or whatever that message is kept popping up. We were essentially being forced to watch this commerical.

I wouldn't stand for it. I muted the TV and stared at the ceiling for several minutes until I knew it was over. I won't have my arm twisted into watching/hearing more corporate bullshit when I paid for entertainment....and the next time that speaker starts going while I'm pumping gas, I won't shout at it, but I will again firmly place my hand over it.

I hope others do the same.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Knocked Up

Welcome to Rob's House of Delayed Movie Reviews. If you're still wondering if a movie is any good two weeks after it comes out, this is the place for you.

Knocked Up has hundreds of curse words, numerous scenes featuring drug use, and even a shot of a baby's head coming out of its mother. Definitely an adult comedy, and yet it's still careful not to offend anyone when discussing the possibility of terminating a pregnancy.

Everyone knows the premise by now: Up and coming TV personality Allison (Katharine Heigl) unexpectedly becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with goofy slacker Ben (Seth Rogen). We all know she will choose to have the baby; the movie would be about 20 minutes if she didn't. Yet there's still something amiss in the way the script avoids ever actually saying the word "abortion." Some of Ben's stoner friends make jokes about "the big A" or "rhymes with shashsmorshion." Allison's mother advises her to "take care of it."

It reeks of focus group-induced cowardice, so Knocked Up is lucky to be funny and charming enough that it didn't bother me until a few hours after I had seen it. The film is written and directed by Judd Apatow, who hit box-office paydirt and made Steve Carell a star with The 40 Year Old Virgin. Knocked Up has the same combination of crude humor and romance that gives this director's work such a wide appeal.

Apatow's dialogue is solid: it's full of ingenious and hilarious pop-culture references and rarely feels contrived. A lot of credit also has to go to the two leads. Heigl's character displays a full spectrum of emotion throughout the movie, and she doesn't miss a beat. Rogen, who played one of Carell's rambunctious friends in Virgin, is suberb as well. In several scenes, Ben acts like a complete idiot, but Rogen is always able to keep him likeable and show the character's inner decency.

There's also an excellent subplot about the marriage between Allison's neurotic sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her caustic husband Pete (Paul Rudd). Their marital woes are so detailed and interesting that you could almost write a whole movie about them.

Like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up , which runs over two hours, is much longer than it has to be. Apatow's pacing has improved, (Virgin didn't really have much of a story until the second half) but it does begin to drag as it goes on. But if Pirates III can go on for three hours and still not have much actual substance, I think we can give this genial, timely, and yes romantic, comedy some extra time.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This and That

A little behind on the movies lately. Knocked Up and Ocean's Thirteen are still in the pipeline....meaning I haven't seen them yet basically. I do plan to, though, I've just been pretty busy with work and such. And during the time I'm home, I usually just want to relax. The new job is a lot to take in. Some of the stuff I do is the same basic stuff I've always events, library programs, etc. But keeping track of endless Town Council/Planning & Zoning/Conservation Commission meetings is proving to be a new challenge. Especially when they don't get out until 11:30 pm on some nights. People have a lot to say about proposed condominium developments when you ask them, as it turns out.

There's some comfort in knowing that on days after meetings like that, I tend to only spend about four hours in the office...and that's not my idea either. I'm often told to go home by the editor...because if I didn't I might rack up overtime hours. It's incredible the lengths the company will go to to make sure I don't go over my forty hours. It's like they would rather die than have to pay the extra $15 or whatever it would be if I went a little over. But hey, whatever. I'm not exactly looking for less free time at this point.

Plenty of side projects grab my attention while I'm home as well. The biggest is, of course, Master of the Wind. Closing in on Arc IV now....and I'll have more to say when it's complete. However, I did see today that Mark uploaded the trailer we made to Arc III on YouTube. When I decided to post it here, it suddenly occurred to me that with the song selected...this would technically qualify as a Power Metal Music Video. Two birds with one stone, I guess. Enjoy this homemade PMMV.

Friday, June 8, 2007

If I Found the Hidden Fountain

Continuing with Sonata, and this is a surprisingly good pairing. I've got some clips from the animated film Balto to go along with this song. I remember the commercials used to say it was "Based on a true story," which I guess it was, since there was a dog named Balto who led a team of sled-dogs through Alaskan wilderness to transport some diptheria vaccine....but I doubt he talked much or fought a bear. Oh well. I'll have a more substantial entry very soon.

Sonata Arctica - Graven Image