« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

September 2009 Archives

September 29, 2009

Strange crime

National Science Foundation

Some interesting crime stories today:

  • The National Science Foundation, which gives out billions a year in public funding for scientific research grants, has spent a lot of time on employee misconduct cases lately, including one senior executive who last year spent 331 days watching online porn. When he was busted, he claimed he was chatting with naked ladies online "to help provide a living to the young women from poor countries." How progressive of him. Investigators estimate that his time spent on porn cost taxpayers $13,800 to $58,000.
  • An Alabama minister chopped off a deputy's hand with a bush ax when police confronted him about a domestic violence call at his home. Rev. Curtis Watts was shot after he cut off the cop's hand, leaving his neighbors surprised: "He was a good Christian man. Something happened to him, but I don't know what," said James Crawford, 76.
  • NYPD has identified the guy who allegedly stabbed another guy in front of the 34th St post office in broad daylight on Sunday, after the two men bumped shoulders on the sidewalk. A tourist took some cellphone pictures of him. His name is Sirmone McCaulla, and he served in Kuwait. Surveillance video shows him stabbing the guy and walking away, as the NYT reports:

    ...but then he appears to have forgotten something. He returns to the location "at a relatively slow pace" and retrieves what the police believe is his cellphone, before proceeding north, continuing in the same direction he had been taking before the fatal meeting just moments before.

September 28, 2009

Roman Polanski and how to screw up a case

Roman Polanski

Polanski extradition = total mess.

It's like everyone involved in the entire history of this case has massively screwed up. There were lapses in the prosecution process by the judge. Polanski got nervous after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, then skipped the country before sentencing. The US inexplicably decided last week that Justice Must Be Served on a warrant that's been outstanding since 1978 and arrested him on his way to accepting a lifetime achievement award. It's a sloppy disaster.

If Polanski had just seen the plea bargain process through back in 1978, he would have spent his 20 days in jail or something like that and gotten through probation, and now he'd be able to make movies wherever he wants and serve as a guest judge on American Idol.

Instead, he's in jail in Switzerland at age 76, where he could be for 60 days while the US gets its formal extradition request together, then when/if he ends up back in court in LA, he'll have to deal with the fallout of running out on his sentence for a 31 year-old crime.

Meanwhile, members of the European film industry are making some half-intelligent, half-boneheaded statements that more or less claim that, because Polanski is a famous movie maker, the criminal justice system should just let this one go. It's nice that the victim has long since moved on and forgiven him, but he still pleaded guilty to sex with a 13 year-old, and in the words of Walter Sobchak, this is not 'Nam, there are rules.

I'm only partially kidding, here. Yeah, his movies are good (except Bitter Moon, man, that's a stinker) but suck it up and just serve your sentence, already. In response to the arrest, the French Cultural Minister said, "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face." Well said, but America is a lot like Polanski himself: there's the filmmaker who did Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown that I like, there is also a scary child rapist that's been hiding behind his celebrity for 30 years.

How about this for a solution: issue the warrant, fly him to LA, sentence him to time served (which was already done once), and everyone's done with it. Polanski can buy a place in Malibu and direct Charlie Kaufman's next screenplay and everyone can get on with their lives.

Maybe Polanski is lucky that he's went through his plea deal back in the 70's instead of today: AP has a piece on homeless sex offenders in Georgia who have been instructed to live in a makeshift camp out in the woods because there are no shelters or halfway houses that meet Georgia's strict living restrictions. These rules are supposedly made for public safety, and we end up with a bunch of sex offenders living together in the woods. Great.

September 23, 2009

A Mamet/Anne Frank joke script that's funny

David Mamet and Anne Frank

Earlier this summer when it was announced that David Mamet was going to write and direct a film version of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, the smirky jokes flew fast. Some of the many fake script excerpts out there are OK, though a lot of them don't move very far beyond all the characters swearing a lot and being inexplicably aggressive. (NY Mag, The Independent, The Voice.)

One pretty good one incorporates this line for Anne: "You know what it takes to live in an attic for two years? It takes BRASS BALLS." The Onion's highlights from their imagined script uses the same the brass balls joke (taken from Alec Baldwin's big scene in Glengarry Glen Ross [video]). And (this is great) The Onion also predicts, "Rebecca Pidgeon is shoehorned into the plot, ruining movie at last minute."

Anyway, one of the best joke Mamet/Anne Frank scripts was performed and broadcast on last week's edition of Filmspotting, a good movie discussion podcast. The script was submitted by a listener and the podcast performance got posted on YouTube:

September 21, 2009

Hey, Jennifer's Body is actually good!

Jennifer's Body

Maybe this is some kind of delayed backlash to the Diablo Cody backlash, but I'm going to say it: Jennifer's Body is a better movie than Juno. It's also an unapologetic teen horror movie, so I probably like it in part because I love teen horror movies, and I'm ambivalent about twee little indie movies about meaningful teen issues with a hideously grating soundtrack.

There's a robust tradition of horror movies with gutsy heroines kicking ass (The Final Girl, etc) but this is the first one I've seen that is of, by, for, and about girls. With every boy she devours, Jennifer is really trying to provoke her best friend Needy's attention, jealousy, love, and loyalty--she's the twisted friend who shows her devotion to you by randomly making out with you, then hitting on your boyfriend.

You could read the movie as: a metaphor for combustible female teenage sexuality and sexual power; a revenge fantasy about killing men who exploit teenage girls and turn them into literal and figurative monsters; a story about how best friends navigate their friendships when they start getting into boys; a thoughtful analysis of our cultural obsession with Megan Fox; and a big middle finger to our cultural obsession with Megan Fox.

And while all these layers are going on, it's still a really fun horror movie about an occult ritual gone wrong, and the resulting demon-babe with an insatiable appetite for boy guts. With a decent soundtrack!

While I was watching the movie and thinking about how it's all about the Megan Fox media saturation we live in, I was reminded of Steven Soderbergh casting Sasha Grey to play an expensive prostitute in The Girlfriend Experience, which was about buying and selling the fantasies that we create about people. By casting Sasha Grey, he made an interesting statement about audiences wanting to believe in the characters we watch in movies, even though we know they're really actors playing roles. It was a great idea, but the downside was that Sasha Grey played her character with such flat affectlessness than it was impossible to care very much about her or anything she did. You could argue that Soderbergh isn't interested in audiences caring about his characters and just wants to make experimental movies about the roles people play in society or something like that, but a lead actor that failed to bring any life at all to her character made for an empty-feeling movie. That I still liked. I can't help myself, Soderbergh!

Megan Fox can act rings around Sasha Grey. Megan Fox knows how to play a man-eating sexpot, because she does it in every one of her movies, magazine interviews, TV appearances, and in the thousands of red carpet and publicity shots we've all seen of her. Casting Megan Fox as a sexy demon in a Diablo Cody horror movie is stunt-casting in the same way that casting Sasha Grey to play an expensive hooker is stunt-casting, but this time it worked. Our friend Emily once said that Megan Fox is the most unmediated celebrity in the world--she's famous for appearing sexy, dangerous, and unhinged in interviews. She's unpredictable, and maybe a little nuts. Her recent Rolling Stone interview about cutting herself and her own insecurity sounds like it was created specifically for Jennifer's Body marketing.

In the press, there's Megan Fox, the a gorgeous sexual dynamo who exists to fuel boys' fantasies about her so people will go see her movies. In the movie, there's Megan Fox, the gorgeous sexual devil who exists to fuel boys' fantasies about her so she can feed on their flesh. It's beautiful.

Vulture claims that critics are anti-Jennifer's Body, but I disagree. A.O. Scott wrote a glowing review, and especially likes the movie's treacherous world of female friendship, and Dana Stevens from Slate says whatever you expect of this movie based on what you think about Diablo Cody, you're wrong.

Also, she won't get enough attention for this movie, but I loved Amanda Seyfried as Needy, the best friend heroine. Jennifer's the hot one that all the boys want, but Needy has the world's sweetest boyfriend, a supportive mom (Amy Sedaris!), and a healthy dose of self-respect. I loved the image of Needy tearing across a field in her gigantic poofy hot pink princess prom dress and fluffy blonde hairdo to save her boyfriend and kill the demon. I was glad that director Karyn Kusama (who also did Girlfight) could make a formidable heroine who doesn't need boxing gloves to be tough.

September 17, 2009

Store Fronts

Phil's Stationery

Yesterday I was out looking to buy some airmail stationery, which if you're like me, is something you haven't thought about since the time in your life when friends were studying abroad in college and you hadn't quite started using email as the sole means of communication with everyone you know. These days it's not so easy to find.

So I went into Phil's Stationery on East 47th, right smack in the middle of midtown and standing between a Chinese noodle shop and a nail salon, offering office supplies and "Zerox copies", according to the sign. It looks like the kind of place that would have functional, cheap, non-wedding-invitation-oriented stationery that hardly anyone has been interested in buying for at least ten years.

They did! The employee who helped me walked past a small display of day planners and toner cartridges and randomly piled stacks of paper, dug around among the dusty boxes, then rummaged through a huge, falling-over pile of stuff on a back shelf. He pulled out a crumpled pad of airmail stationery with the price $1.89 printed right on the front sheet, and a package of airmail envelopes (the kind with a red and blue pattern along the edges) that had already been opened and half used and was yellowing with age. An unseen manager in the basement shouted back and forth with the employee through an old dumbwaiter shaft that opened onto the sales floor, and they decided on a price of $1.50. "Perfect!," I said, and bought both from a seriously elderly woman with an impressively thick (Polish?) accent.

The whole process reminded me of a great exhibit I saw the other day at the Clic Gallery on Centre Street in Soho. The exhibit is a collection of photographs by James and Karla Murray called "Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York", and features lots of oldtime store fronts from all over the city for bakeries, discount stores, record stores, diners, and barber shops, all from before the era of printed awnings that identify most street-level businesses today. There are lots of places I see all the time in there, like the Film Center Cafe, Smith's Bar & Restaurant, and Clover Delicatessen, and some that are dearly missed, like McHale's. The show is up through this weekend, and there's a book available.

The artists mention in the intro of the book that almost 1/3 of the stores have closed since they photographed them. I'd be surprised if Phil's is still hanging on this time next year.

Reviews of Herzog's Bad Lieutenant

Herzog's Bad Lieutenant

So I was wrong to make "don't call it a remake" jokes about Werner Herzog's non-remake of Bad Lieutenant, because the critics who are seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival say it really isn't any kind of remake at all. Karina from Spout says "Werner Herzog’s emphatic declarations that he’s never seen Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant finally seem credible", and the story has nothing in common with the very earnest original, except that it's about a lieutenant becoming unhinged, taking drugs, and doing a terrible job at being a cop.

Other than that, it's a totally new movie, and it sounds fantastic. Herzog doing crime-action! It's set in seamy post-Katrina New Orleans, and sounds like a deliriously chaotic freakout of crime/drugs/hookers and urban rot. It looks like one of those increasingly rare movies where Nicolas Cage is incredibly great, which seems to happen only ever 5-8 years, in less than 10% of the movies he stars in. Like Valley Girl, Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Wild at Heart (sort of), and Adaptation (sort of.)

Manohla Dargis loved it. She goes so far as to say that Nicolas Cage is as well-suited to Herzog as his old muse Klaus Kinski: "Mr. Herzog has again found a performer as committed to representing unspeakable human will." Spout says he's the perfect Herzog star because he's "an actor for whom hysteria is autopilot," which makes me think of those great scenes from Bringing Out the Dead, a not so special movie with some good moments of Cage screeching like a wild dog driving an ambulance around Hell's Kitchen.

The movie also features Xzibit (above with the double-barrel) who I like and a very puffy Val Kilmer who's seems to be headed for his bloated Jim Morrison look from the end of The Doors.

September 16, 2009

Drag, subtitles

Eddie Izzard

  • Comedian, performer, and eye makeup stylist extraordinaire Eddie Izzard just finished running 1,100 miles across the UK, the equivalent of 43 marathons, in 51 days. I guess if you just keep running, you can pretty much run forever. From the BBC article: "Izzard himself admits people no longer believe how many races he has run. 'I might as well say I've just eaten a car.' "
  • The director of last year's great Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson, is going to direct Nicole Kidman in The Danish Girl, the movie where she plays artist Einar Wegener who in 1931 was the first person to become a woman through a sex-change. This one's been kicking around for a while.
  • Tarantino talks about the success of Inglourious Basterds, suggesting that his movies are pretty much the only thing keeping the Weinstein Co. afloat, which is probably true.

    With Inglourious Basterds and District 9 both doing well, maybe 2009 is the year of the popular subtitle.

September 13, 2009

Remakes and non-resurrections

St Etienne's Fox Base Beta

Some bits of news from the last few days:

September 11, 2009

I'm over the 3D

Final Destination 3D

2009: the year everyone got into 3D, and the year everyone got sick of 3D. Back in January, someone put together a list of all the 3D releases scheduled for the year. It had 13 movies on it, like Coraline, Up, G-Force, and Monsters vs Aliens, and since then we've had a few more surprise 3D releases, including a few extra kids' movies and--this is when you know the 3D trend has peaked--a Jonas Brothers 3D concert movie. We're now up to 17 3D movies this year.

I've seen My Bloody Valentine, Coraline, and The Final Destination 3D, and let me tell you, I'm over it. 3D is worthwhile when it's used for horror movies, especially when a big spike, crossbeam, or pickaxe is thrust through a victim's head toward the screen, and its pointy end pops an eyeball out at you, or something gross (and obvious) like that. Frankly, I don't know why ALL the Final Destination movies weren't in 3D, because the only thing better than a spinning ceiling fan blade that breaks off and hurtles toward an unsuspecting doomed teen is one that flies out of the screen like it's going to decapitate you. Gross-out horror movies are probably always better in three dimensions, especially when characters get impaled by flying objects while watching a 3D movie (see above).

Coraline was pretty good, but by the end it felt like the 3D effects were primarily for the trippy scenes of evil gardens coming to life or the scene with the old acrobatic ladies doing their crazy routine, and those felt sort of like filler. I went out of my way to see Up in 2D, and the flat version was just fine.

Those 3D glasses are distracting even during the most engrossing movies, and I keep getting pulled out of the flow of the action by noticing all that insistent 3D imagery coming at me. "Wow, look at that cool 3D" is a good conscious thought to have over and over again only when the movie is basically nothing but cool effects and flashy shockers to begin with.

Plus it bugs me that you have to pay $5 extra for 3D movies even if you bring your own glasses from the last one you saw, then the theater asks you to recycle them after the show, presumably so the ushers can wipe them off on their pant leg, encase them in plastic, and resell them.

Toy Story 3 looks pretty good, but A Christmas Carol and, sorry, Avatar, both look like they use 3D as a crutch instead of as an enhancement of a movie that would be just as good in 2D. Those pores on Jim Carrey's Scrooge nose--do we want to see those in three dimensions? Ew.

September 10, 2009

Joe Wilson's got nothing on British MPs

You Lie!

Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) is getting raked over the coals for yelling "You lie" during Obama's address to the Joint Session of Congress. Maybe this was inappropriate and disrespectful, and lowered the level of discourse. Wilson has already apologized, and been scolded by Dems and Republicans alike.

In theory, I like respectful dialogue. In practice, high quality heckling is so very fun. This heckling was not high quality. If Joe Wilson wants to learn, he needs to look across the Atlantic. One of my favorites is Dennis Skinner. Skinner's known as the Beast of Bolsover (his constituency) and is famous for his beautiful, well-crafted put-downs. You can find some choice quotes online. I can't decide if calling someone "slimy" and a "wart" or calling someone a "pompous sod" during debates is more exciting. They're all pretty good. He also once said, in referring to the Conservative economic policy in the 80s: "The only thing that was growing then were the lines of coke in front of boy George and the rest of the Tories"

Dennis Skinner's not the only hilarious heckler. Here are some historical and contemporary insults, from parliamentary debates and elsewhere:

“He might as well have a corncob up his arse” Alan Clark on Douglas Hurd.

“She probably thinks Sinai is the plural of sinus” Jonathan Aitken on Margaret Thatcher.

“A sheep in sheep’s clothing” Winston Churchill on Clement Attlee.

Joe Wilson, I'm not sure whether you need to raise the level of discourse, but I'd like it if you raised the level of insults.

September 1, 2009

Eliot Spitzer's self-regard vs. the public's memory

Eliot Spitzer's fall

The Post announced today that they've heard Eliot Spitzer is considering running for public office as soon as next year, maybe for state comptroller or even Kristen Gillibrand's Senate seat. Other sources say it's not true, but one described his state of mind like this: "He loves to be in the limelight. But he knows it can't happen."

Assuming the story is true, I was surprised that Spitzer would be talking to anyone about running again after reading an interview with him that ran in Vanity Fair a couple of months ago (which the Post article references) in which he was pretty believably humble and realistic about the permanent damage to his public image.

Are a few highlights from that VF piece:

I asked him why so many politicians are caught in insane sex scandals. "What is it with you all?"

“I’m not going to make excuses,” he replied evenly. “Let me ask you a question: Is there a difference between politicians and anybody else? Or is it that the lives of politicians are so very public?”

“There is a difference, Mr. Spitzer. You were elected to a position of public trust.”

“That’s right,” he conceded. “It’s why I resigned without delay. Some said I could try to ride it out. But I didn’t see it that way. What I did was heinous and wrong.”

The word that gets thrown around to describe his apparent attitude to lying and breaking the law and his failure to treat people with common decency is "hubris." In the interview, he says that's not it: "It wasn’t hubris or a death wish—but frailty, temptation, and common miscalculation."

Then he says he wouldn't run for Mayor for at least 20 years, and probably wouldn't run for any public office ever, to save his family from the agony they would obviously be put through.

These answers were probably well rehearsed, but there's a certain acceptance of how badly he screwed up here that I doubt is totally manufactured. At the end of the interview, he's asked if the prostitution scandal will ever go away:

"No. My obituary's written," he replied with shocking finality. "And that is a very hard thing to live with." When he turned away, I could see he was in tears.

Aww, poor Eliot Spitzer. Assuming any of this is real, the Spitzer in this interview sure doesn't sound like he'd be stumping for votes any time soon. Maybe he's testing to waters to gauge the public reaction, which judging from the Post's "Say it ain't ho!" cover headline doesn't look so great. His little sex scandal wasn't the worst thing a politician has ever done, but it sure was sleazy, and people are never going to forget it.

Maybe he should just become a Republican--at this point his image isn't really that much worse than anyone else in our joke of a state government, and the GOP voter base seems a lot more forgiving of its embarrassing political leaders.

About September 2009

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

August 2009 is the previous archive.

October 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35