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March 2009 Archives

March 30, 2009

So that's why my friends in advertising are getting laid off

Empty billboards in Times Square

This austere, zen-like photo of empty billboards in the middle of Times Square is from Slate's Shoot the Recession series. This one is especially recognizable as I've been noticing the empty storefronts and dark signs around midtown lately. Could this signal the demise of the cleaned-up, corporate New Times Square? The last 42nd St peep show, Peep-O-Rama, closed in 2002; we could be due for a porny backslide.

The entire photostream is on Flickr, which includes some good shots of a boarded-up Bank of America window, a 50% Off sale at a liquor store (don't see that every day) and an Always Open store with both "Closed" and "For Lease" signs in the windows.

The Times now has a similar online photo submission thing called Picturing the Recession, so you can share your own financial desperation with the world.

March 26, 2009

Too many Charlies

Education of Charlie Banks

Tomorrow, Fred "Nookie" Durst's directorial debut (!!) comes out. It's called The Education of Charlie Banks.

Wait, wait. Isn't that the movie the came out last year, with Robert Downey, Jr. and the kid who starts offering counseling and anti-depressants out of the high school boys' bathroom? Oh right, that was Charlie Bartlett. [video]

Or what about that other one with Tom Hanks and the Soviets in Afghanistan and Julia Roberts as the fancy vampy lady with too much lipstick? Oh yeah, that's Charlie Wilson's War. [trailer]

Can we all stop naming our movies after the title character whose name is Charlie with an English last name? I can't keep all this straight and don't want to inadvertantly watch a movie by Fred Durst.

Education of Charlie Banks is about a kid growing up in New York in the 80's, then going off to college where he is surrounded by a bunch of rich jerky guys and learns important life lessons (which I learned from the trailer.)

It stars Jesse Eisenberg, the kid from The Squid and the Whale, who is also in about a million other interesting movies coming up:

  • Adventureland, the Greg Mottola movie coming out next week

  • Holy Rollers, about Hasidic Jews running an Ecstasy ring

  • Zombieland, which takes place in a world overrun with zombies

  • Something called Kill Your Darlings, about Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs coming together in New York in the 40's. Eisenberg plays Ginsberg, Chris Evans plays Kerouac, which sounds pretty good. Really--Chris Evans was good in Sunshine!

March 25, 2009

Bobb'e J. Thompson, R-rated child star

Bobb'e J. Thompson

This is Bobb'e J. Thompson, and he is the next huge American preteen superstar. He was in last summer's very funny Role Models , then he was the star of the most memorable scene of last week's episode of "30 Rock" [video--his scene is in Chapter 3]. On "30 Rock" he played Tracy Morgan's son Tracy, Jr., and delivered my favorite line, illustrating what home life is like with an unemployed Tracy: "You want to see what he packed me for lunch today? A jar of mayonnaise and a pack of cigarettes."

Bobb'e is really good at outrageous over-acting. Everything he does is huge. He gets all kinds of filthy jokes about sex and child molestation and his comic book "The Adventures of The Booby Watcher" in his movies and shows, and he's only 13. He doesn't play by the rules. Cartoon Network just announced that they're giving him his own show later this year, and it's not even going to be a cartoon.

Before he played Tracy Morgan's son on "30 Rock", Bobb'e played Tracy Morgan's son on "The Tracy Morgan Show" back in 2003. It got canceled, but Bobb'e at age 8 was already doing stuff that was probably inappropriate for kids. An article from back then about the show called attention to Bobb'e because he "gets some of the sharpest, funniest lines", which the writer thought might be "too sophisticated" for a young kid, which I am guessing is code for "dirty".

Tracy countered that accusation with "Real kids nowadays say even crazier stuff," so he was nuts back then too. Actually, yeah, nowadays the kids are saying crazy stuff, but those kids are still Bobb'e Thompson.

March 23, 2009

She sings, she dances, she gobbles Seconal!

Judy Garland and Anne Hathaway

It seems like the last year of Anne Hathaway's life has been perfectly constructed to prepare her to play Judy Garland, which today we found out is actually happening. The Weinsteins optioned the 2001 Judy Garland biography, Get Happy, which includes a lot of Garland's own writings.

Not only does Anne Hathaway look a lot like Garland, but think about what we've learned about her lately:

Does she sing and dance? Check! She briefly joined Hugh Jackman onstage during the opening number of this year's Oscars [video]. She's no Judy, but she hit some pretty big notes, and looked like she could handle herself in a biopic recreation of, say, "The Trolley Song".

Can she play a drug addict? Check! Rachel Getting Married was all about being a self-destructive addict who just wants to deaden the pain of her miserable life. Garland was on pills since she was a teenager, and died of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

Is she unlucky in love? Check! Anne had Raffaello Follieri. Judy had five husbands.

Anne Hathaway might have to transform that big, thousand-watt smile into Judy's dreamy, little-girl-lost expression, but I think she'll be great.

March 20, 2009

Sin Nombre

Sin Nombre

Manohla Dargis' review of the new movie about Central Americans trying to cross the border into the US, Sin Nombre, isn't super-positive. The teenage characters at the center of the story are maybe a little too adorable and all the horrible things that happen to them might get "assuaged by some final-act uplift," but it's got nice cinematography, and she says the writer/director has a sincerity that a lot of other movies about desperate people lack.

But then I read more about the writer/director, Cary Fukunaga, in an email to the members of the Landmark Theatres Film Club (it's a very exclusive club) about his travels with people that come up from Central America to cross the border, and now it sounds pretty incredible.

From the email:

While researching a short, I had learned that thousands of Central American immigrants were crossing Mexico atop freight trains, facing a maelstrom of dangers, including bandits, gangs, corrupt police, and the constant threat of deportation back to their home countries. The images conjured up a post-industrial version of our own iconic Wild West, but instead of covered wagons it was a freight train, and instead of the classic Hollywood version of "savages" it was marauding bandits and tattoo-covered gang members who seemed to have been pulled from central casting in Mad Max. And yet this wasn’t the Wild West; it was real and it was happening, is still happening, just south of our border. This was the story I wanted to tell.

I followed the first draft with two years of research in Mexico. I spent time with gang members in and out of prisons, interviewed immigrants from Nicaragua on up to the Texas border and, ultimately, traveled with hundreds of them from Tapachula in the south of Mexico to Orizaba, Veracruz. Together we experienced hunger, braved the weather and nights of hidden dangers, and grew to depend on one another. One particularly dark night in Chiapas our train was attacked by bandits; after several gunshots and screams of chaos, a Guatemalan immigrant lay dead—he did not want to give up the little money he had to make this journey.

Sounds a whole lot more exciting than El Norte from 10th grade Spanish class! And that's because more violent = more exciting. Getting across the border is a lot more dangerous now, especially with the rise of international gangs like Mara Salvatrucha, which started in LA and moved to other US cities, then back to El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. They're the guys who are really into getting tattoos on their faces and killing people, and they're all over Sin Nombre.

Actually, it might be a good idea to sneak into I Love You, Man after watching this one. Let the doughy-faced, Rush fan, man love help you recover.

March 18, 2009

Outside chance the new Seth Rogen mall cop movie is funny

Observe and Report

Have you seen the trailer for the new Seth Rogen mall cop sub-genre movie, Observe and Report? It doesn't look so great, and the timing of the release will automatically make people notice its unfortunate similarites to Paul Blart. Plus, wow, Seth Rogen sure is in a lot of movies these days.

But a few things suggest that it might be OK after all. Wired reports from South by Southwest that the screening was "transgressive and violently funny," and also points out that the director of the movie, Jody Hill, also created the new show on HBO, "Eastbound & Down", which stars Danny McBride as a washed-up ex-baseball player and by all accounts is pretty funny, especially if you like Talladega Nights.

Plus, the red-band trailer for Observe and Report that's up on the official site has lots of swearing, drug use, and brief nudity, which is a good sign. Another review on Cinematical says it's "a farce that deals in weirdness, darkness, and downright SHOCK." So I guess that means there's full frontal male nudity.

I still have faith in co-star Anna Faris even though The House Bunny was a big disappointment. In Smiley Face, she's a natural.

Here are some video clips of "Eastbound & Down". Pretty good, and special guest star Craig Robinson! Who I think is in even movies a year than Seth Rogen, but I never get sick of him.

March 17, 2009

Another holiday for non-New Yorkers

Leprechauns in Times Square

I experienced St. Patrick's Day a little more intimately than usual this year because my office is now located right in the eye of the parade storm. While walking around on 48th St and watching crowds of people celebrating the aspects of Irish culture that involve drinking in public before 10am, I realized that some of the most popular and well-known events that happen in New York City are attended almost exclusively by people who do not live in New York City.

There's New Year's Eve in Times Square, the tree lighting in Rockefeller Center, and the St. Patrick's Day parade down 5th Avenue. Today's parade is probably the least disruptive of the three--at least I can more or less continue my regular life while it's going on, and it has its charms, like the clusters of old guys standing around in kilts drinking beer and smoking cigars while sets of bagpipes are strapped to their torsos.

But mostly it's a bunch of drunk kids in "Who's Your Paddy?" t-shirts. Here are a few photos:

Girls on 5th Ave wearing said t-shirts

Girls at St Patrick's Day parade

Marching band in headdresses

Men in a marching band at St Patrick's Day parade

Dudes ignoring the parade to hang out near the port-a-potties instead

drinking on the street at St Patrick's Day parade

Hasidic man doing his best to ignore everything

Hasidic guy at St Patrick's Day parade

Deli that put a more direct message on its sidewalk sign than its usual list of breakfast specials

Beer sign at St Patrick's Day parade

After the parade was over, the crowds around Rockefeller Center thinned out. Because everyone had moved to the other part of New York that out-of-towners love, Times Square!

Irish pot leaf hat on 47th St

Green hat at St Patrick's Day parade

All 7 or 8 of the Irish bars I passed in Hell's Kitchen were packed, especially those with signs out front declaring they were "St. Patrick's Day Party Headquarters", sponsored by Heineken.

Which says everything you need to know about St. Patrick's Day in New York. Heineken: Yeah, it's Dutch, but it's close enough because the bottle is green.

March 16, 2009

I'll admit it, 24 is good again

Kiefer amidst the White House wreckage on 24

Every year I watch 24. Every year I complain about how contrived and moronic the storylines are, and wonder why the producers don't ditch the inevitable tedious family drama thread that almost sucks the life out of every season and stick to Kiefer saving the world.

This year I've held off passing judgment, though I was pretty excited about the themes at the center of this season that were introduced right at the start of the first episode: is this show an exploration of the moral murkiness around how to get information during a national security crisis, or an apology for the Bush administration's loosey-goosey approach to torture?

I watched the last three episodes back to back last night, and they were some of the best episodes of 24, ever. Starting with Episode 11 and Agent Walker pursuing General Juma and his soldiers and fearlessly jumping their boat as it cruised off into the Potomac, then the scuba-diving break-in into the White House, and the long siege, the standoff, and the final big explosion--this is the kind of creative and suspenseful action that the show is so good at. Great stuff.

For all its clumsy handling of the family drama story that drags through every season, the emotional aspects of the action sequences are almost always really good. I loved the little arc that started with Kiefer holding Bill Buchanan at gunpoint and knocking him out via sleeper hold, and ended with Bill setting off an explosion in a room Kiefer had filled with CH4 (which is methane--that must have been one stinky White House foyer) and dying in the process. Losing Bill Buchanan was the sad, sucker-punch death of the season, especially with those cherubic white ringlets he's been wearing this year.

I also love the Janice/Chloe socially-deficient computer girl showdowns that have been building over the past few episodes. When Chloe gets out of detention, there's going to be hell to pay for Janeane Garofalo.

A few other things: I'm getting sick of Kiefer getting taken into custody and then released back into service when a new emergency rises every single episode. We get that he's a more controversial figure than ever this season, but it's getting really silly.

Is the show ever going to make good on the creepy insinuations that have been lurking around the edges about the President's chief advisor Ethan Kanin? That guy has been sneaking around suspiciously all season, and I wonder if it's going to go anywhere or if the actor is just a natural conniver.

Also, FBI Agent Larry Moss is a big enough character that he should have personality traits beyond just doubting every single thing Kiefer does. The endless bickering between Agents Moss and Walker about Kiefer is especially unnecessary because the audience already knows the central tenet of the show: Kiefer is always right, making all their fights pointless because Moss is always wrong.

I guess the second half of the season will center on Kiefer getting closer to the evil businessman behind it all, Jon Voight, and eventually wasting him. Hope they can keep the momentum up that long.

You can watch the last 5 episodes on the Fox website.

March 13, 2009

Chinese bloggers too dirty for the NY Times

Grass-mud horse video

The Times reports on a new internet phenomenon in China -- cheeky bloggers are writing stories and making cartoons and videos about an animal called a "grass-mud horse" in fake nature documentaries and children's songs [video example--it's actually an alpaca].

The grass-mud horse is an "impish protest" against the Chinese government's censorship of the internet, says the Times, because the characters that form its name are a homonym for something dirty: "The mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity."

But this is the Times, a respectable family newspaper, so they won't tell you what that obscenity is -- sort of ironic for an article that's overtly critical of media censorship.

Slate, on the other hand, doesn't care about propriety, so they'll just come right and tell you that the Mandarin for "grass-mud horse", cao ni ma, is a homonym for "fuck your mother." (London's Times seems to be the first to report the actual phrase.)

The Slate article goes on to explore the "motherfucker" insult, which seems to exist globally as the worst insult anyone has been able to come up with. We get some funny and super-vulgar variations of the theme in African, Asian, Mediterranean, and Arabic cultures, with a little anecdote about the first written example in English, in a Texas court in 1889, where someone who was called that particular insult who then shot his insulter "could not be found guilty of a higher offense than manslaughter."

These subversive Chinese online writers seem to have thwarted government censors for now. Censorship has gotten a lot worse recently: in the last couple of months, the government has shut down about 2,000 websites for publishing material they don't like. The NY Times quotes Wang Xiaofeng, a blogger in Beijing, who wrote about the grass-mud horse phenomenon as a sign of censorship's inability to control free expression: "When people have emotions or feelings they want to express, they need a space or channel. It is like a water flow — if you block one direction, it flows to other directions, or overflows. There’s got to be an outlet."

Thanks to the London Times and Slate for providing an outlet for the mf'ing flow around the NY Times Manual of Style and Usage.

Here's an essay from the NY Times' Public Editor from last summer, around the time of the Jesse Jackson "I wanna cut his nuts off" incident, about when the paper decides to use crude language, which is just about never.

March 11, 2009

Manufacturing your bogus Wikipedia story on Wikipedia

Obama and Aaron Klein

Here's a beautiful example of the conservative media's protracted freakout over Obama: Aaron Klein, a writer for WorldNetDaily, wrote a story about Obama's Wikipedia page and how it lacks some of the controversial elements of his political career. Things like whether he was actually born in America or not, which as far as I can tell is not actually controversial except among people who also believe that Obama is secretly Muslim.

So Fox News picked up the story, noting Klein's discovery that a Wikipedia user called Jerusalem21 had been banned from Wikipedia after changing the Obama entry to reflect this supposed doubt over his birthplace.

From Wired's story about who this Jerusalem21 might be:

Of more interest is the identity of the mysterious Jerusalem21, whose courageous disregard of Wikipedia's ban on fringe material provided WND's Aaron Klein with his smoking gun in the first place, spawning what will soon be a national wiki-scandal.

Curiously, it turns out that Jerusalem21, whoever he or she might be, has only worked on one other Wikipedia entry since the account was created, notes ConWebWatch. That's Aaron Klein's entry, which Jerusalem21 created in 2006, and has edited 37 times.

Eventually Aaron Klein admitted that Jerusalem21 is his research assistant. Klein works in the Jerusalem bureau of WorldDailyNet, and I guess his assistant likes blackjack.

Wired also looked back at other edits to Obama's Wikipedia page, and one bit about his (minimal) association with William Ayers that got edited out was also originally submitted by Jerusalem21. When Wired asked Klein why he didn't disclose in his article that he was the one generating the Wikipedia edits that were the subject of his story, he said, "It just slipped my mind."

The discussion page on Wikipedia's entry on Aaron Klein, master of media manipulation, is a great read. On it, we find that 30 single-purpose accounts have been used to edit his entry, some "very obviously" used by Klein, his boss, and other people at WND. The entry at various times has exaggerated the importance of Klein's reporting on the 2008 election, and included details about his history of alleged plagiarism.

March 9, 2009

Watchmen and Jackie Earle Haley

Rorschach in Watchmen

I saw Watchmen this weekend, along with everybody else. I haven't read the book, and went in with expectations that hovered somewhere between the second Matrix movie and the third Spider-Man movie.

But it was better than both of those. The visuals were really cool and I liked the story's grim, Machiavellian attitude about fighting crime in a hopelessly self-destructive world, even if it didn't always make sense. And I loved the characters--they reminded me of the X-Men, if Xavier's and Magneto's respective posses had been fused into one morally ambiguous group of misunderstood outsiders.

But the best part was Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. This is the moment for Haley to get really, really famous. Before this movie, he was probably best known as the cool kid with the motorcycle in Bad News Bears (when he was 15) and for playing the released sex offender in 2006's Little Children. I also really love him as Moocher in one of my all-time favorites, Breaking Away.

This guy is a master of playing really intense, heartbreaking, compelling characters who are totally fucked in the head. I guarantee that, if you saw Little Children, his brief scene with Jane Adams freaked you out, and you might even remember it more clearly than the rest of the movie.

His whole performance in Watchmen was kind of like that. As the central narrator of the movie, and the only member of the original group who still seems to be living as a shadowy crime-fighter when all the rest have moved on to something else, he has to get the audience on board for the movie to work. Also, he's a paranoid sociopath with an especially perverse and gruesome sense of justice. But somehow he pulled it off-- I was right there with him through the whole movie, though more than once my jaw dropped open at the sick stuff he was doing. If his character had been any less interesting, the movie wouldn't have been anywhere near as good.

There were other good parts, too. The actors were mostly solid, except for the woman who played Silk Spectre II--flat as a flounder. Especially compared to the delightful Carla Gugino, who was awesome as Silk Spectre the First. What a tease! Couldn't she have just played both?

I haven't read the book, but I've heard from people who have that one of the few visual changes Zack Snyder made for the movie was to significantly expand Dr. Manhattan's weinus (of course he did!) which I strongly support.

Even at nearly three hours long, Watchmen pulled in $55 million opening weekend--pretty good, though still behind Zack Snyder's last movie, 300, which was the top March movie opening ever. If anything, I wish there had been more backstory and character development about Nite Owl and Ozymandias, though that would have pushed it to an insane original Kill Bill length, so maybe it's just as well.

During the 90's when his acting career was dead, Jackie Earle Haley was apparently a successful director of commercials. Here's a great, touching article about his big comeback in Little Children and All the King's Men. Next he's going to be an asylum inmate in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Can't wait.

Hell's Kitchen guy wants your kidney

Kidney ad

Amidst all the street flyers around Hell's Kitchen offering to paint your apartment, clip your dog's nails, teach you Russian, or fix your computer, one enterprising guy has printed up a series of small yellow flyers and posted them all over 9th Avenue. He wants a kidney. [see a larger image]

These optimistic flyers are absolutely everywhere in the neighborhood--outside every bodega, the bike shop, the liquor store, and the Mexican bakery. Only 3 or 4 days in the hospital, and you might even be compensated for your organ. Sweet! And completely illegal!

I sent the photo to the Post--I hope they follow up with this "very sick guy" to see if he gets any takers.

March 4, 2009

Someone who isn't Gary Condit arrested for killing Chandra Levy

Chandra Levy

DC police are about to arrest a man for killing Chandra Levy back in 2001. The guy in question, Ingmar Guandique, is already in prison, after making a habit of assaulting women in Rock Creek Park. He apparently talked to some other guys in prison and wrote letters and made phone calls that included gruesome details about the attack, and the case was built on their testimony.

Gary Condit might have been telling the truth all this time! The beleaguered former Congressman may be a cheating slimeball, and really unlucky in his selection of interns to have an affair with, but maybe he didn't have her killed.

After the murder, Condit looked like the prime suspect. Women's killers are almost always their male partners, and a successful, powerful, married politician looked like just the kind of guy who would have his young secret girlfriend killed. There are still a lot of arguments floating around out there about Condit's probable guilt, detailing his suspicious absences on the day Chandra Levy disappeared. He also tried to paint Levy as a slut, which made him look desperate and guilty, and also like a huge jerk.

Mostly famously, my own favorite celebrity, crime, and celebrity crime reporter Dominick Dunne's theories and gossip about the case in his Vanity Fair column added to the speculation that Condit did it. The weirdest stuff Dunne talked about was a rumor he had heard that Condit was hanging out with the leaders of a prostitution ring at Middle Eastern embassies in DC and told some guys that he had a girlfriend he needed to get rid of. A Times article from 2003 describes it better, but it's basically hearsay based on a rumor based on the report of an unnamed, unreliable horse whisperer.

Anyway, Condit sued Dominick Dunne for defamation and they settled, then sued him again and lost. Remember, Dunne's own daughter was murdered by an ex-boyfriend, who got off with a light sentence, so his own emotions probably played a role in his assumption that Gary Condit was a murderer.

Gary Condit was ruled out as a suspect in the police investigation, but it seems like the public still thinks he's guilty. Reader comments to a CBS story about the case from last week include a lot of things like "CONDIT=MURDERER=GUILTY". And an episode of "South Park" refers to Condit as a killer that got away with it, OJ-style (the one where Butters' parents try to kill him after he follows his dad into a gay bath house.)

Even with new evidence that Condit had nothing to do with the murder, his political career is long dead, and his post-Congress career hasn't gone so great. He was sued by Baskin-Robbins in 2007 for not paying franchise fees for his two Arizona ice cream stores.

The Washington Post has an exhaustive series on the Chandra Levy case from last year with details about Ingmar Guandique, who was a suspect back in the fall of 2001, but the investigation was sloppy and he was eliminated as a suspect. One of the guys who Guandique told about the killing says that Guandique originally claimed Gary Condit had paid him to kill Chandra Levy, so it might not be over yet.

About March 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in March 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2009 is the previous archive.

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