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November 2010 Archives

November 30, 2010

Mark Ruffalo, our fracking hero

Mark Ruffalo, anti-fracker

Big thanks to Mark Ruffalo, swarthily irresistible actor and political agitator, for New York State's last-minute decision to ban the gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracture drilling, or fracking. He's a resident of Sullivan County, a rural area in the Catskills, and been fighting loudly against gas companies fracking up our state.

Last night at 1:00 AM, the state Assembly voted to ban fracking at least until May; the law had already passed in the Senate over the summer.

To celebrate our environmental victory and the handsomely rumpled political activism of Mark Ruffalo, let's have a brief, Ruffalicious photo retrospective. He's playing a cop in each of these, which might explain where his sense of justice comes from, or it could just mean that he looks great with guns and facial hair: Shutter Island, Zodiac, and In the Cut.

Mark Ruffalo in Shutter Island

Mark Ruffalo in Zodiac

Mark Ruffalo in In the Cut

Here's a video of Ruffalo with Pete Seeger at a protest in Albany this past summer. Seeger sings a new song about God and fracking.

Also, Ruffalo has been added to Pennsylvania's terror alert watch list for his anti-fracking activities. Probably because he causes a sex riot every time he shows up at rallies.

There's a great HBO documentary about why fracking is bad called "Gasland", and another one about fracking in the Rockies called "Split Estate".

November 29, 2010

Surely Leslie Nielsen was one of the great ones

Leslie Nielsen in Airplane!

Leslie Nielsen is the inventor of contemporary deadpan. Without Leslie Nielsen and his straight man shtick, we would have no Bill Murray or any of Jason Bateman's or Michael Cera's good lines in "Arrested Development". I might be over-stepping here, but without Leslie Nielsen, I'm not sure we would have William Shatner as we know him today.

Both Shatner and Nielsen are Canadians who transitioned from the sci-fi and disaster genre into the kind of parody/self-parody that is so perfectly transparent, it's hard to tell if they're actually doing anything at all. Nielsen is more of a minimalist, but so good at his particular style of straight-faced slapstick that he's basically done exactly the same thing in every movie post-Airplane! and it is always hilarious.

Like everyone, I saw Airplane! at age 10 or so, and it's still the funniest movie I've ever seen (apart from a brief period around 1990 when I decided The Naked Gun was funnier.) Only recently did I happen to catch the 1957 movie that Airplane! is based on, Zero Hour!, which is so close to Airplane! than a lot of the dialogue was lifted directly from the original, including the "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking" line.

There's also this one from Zero Hour!:

"The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner."

I have no idea how you make a line like that as funny as Leslie Nielsen did in Airplane!. It's not funny in the original. It's not even a joke. He's a genius.

Here's the Times obituary, and a collection of his movie clips.

November 23, 2010

Mark Wahlberg is still cool

Mark Wahlberg in The Happening

Yeah, Mark Wahlberg has been in some cruddy movies. His 90's heyday (Boogie Nights, Three Kings) is long gone, and it's been a hard decline from Rock Star to We Own the Night.

In fact, I'm not sure he's been in a good movie since The Departed in 2006 (though I still haven't seen The Other Guys, which was probably pretty funny.)

Then there was M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening from 2008, which was about killer trees. Manohla Dargis says Wahlberg has an "earnest, committed presence" in it, but it's been frequently cited as the worst movie of the year, or maybe ever, an opinion that has its own Facebook page.

As part of the publicity for his new movie, The Fighter, Mark Wahlberg did a press conference where he brought up The Happening seemingly without provocation. Here's what he said, in reference to his first meeting with co-star Amy Adams:

We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to ... I don't want to tell you what movie ... alright, The Happening. Fuck it. It is what it is. Fucking trees, man. The plants. Fuck it.

Which is I think pretty much what everyone who watched that movie said as the credits rolled.

This new movie, The Fighter, looks a little overwrought and very, very Oscars-y, but most of the actors should be good (Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo.) It's by David O. Russell, who's built a reputation as being an unstable, abusive horror of a director. One of Mark Wahlberg's first comedic roles was in Russell's last movie, I Heart Huckabees, and he was by far the best thing about it. Based on that video of Russell and Lily Tomlin screaming at each other, and his fist fight with George Clooney on the Three Kings set, I'm surprised any actor would agree to work with him three times, but I guess Wahlberg wants to take whatever good parts he can get these days.

Fucking trees, man.

November 21, 2010

The new Girl Talk album

All Day album cover

I've been trying to write this for several days, and might finally have figured out how to articulate a couple of unorganized, loosely-related things:

  • In a lot of ways, this album is more of the same. If you've heard the last two albums ("Feed the Animals", "Night Ripper") you pretty much know what to expect from this one. This isn't to suggest that it's dull or uninteresting: I had a huge smile on my face listening to this for the first time, starting at 0:05.
  • Starting this album with "War Pigs" is so incredibly wonderful and is exactly the kind of thing that makes me love listening to Girl Talk albums. It's also what makes me unable to listen to it without taking notes. This kind of album or music or art form, or whatever it is, is most rewarding if you know and love all different kinds of music. If you like Black Sabbath, New Order, Simon and Garfunkel, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Biggie, and "Tenderness" by the guy from English Beat, you're going to have a better time listening to this album than if you're into just one style of music.
  • Obviously, it's the experience of listening to this album and having moment after moment of delighted recognition that is the purpose of this kind of music, album, art form, whatever. The listener's experience is an integral part of all music, just like the viewer looking at a painting or watching a play is an integral part of those art forms.

    But with Girl Talk, without the listener hearing "Bust a Move" mixed with "Can't Get You Out of My Head" and laughing, this is just a bunch of snippets of other people's songs. What makes it art, or whatever you want to call it, is what happens in your brain when you listen to it, and that listener response is a more important part of what makes it good than it is for other kinds of music/art/whatever.

  • The experience of listening to pop music can actually be permanently changed by listening to Girl Talk albums. Since "Feed the Animals" came out two years ago, I've found myself hearing certain popular songs and thinking, "This is the kind of thing Girl Talk would use." I've heard that DJ's listen to music differently than the rest of us, constantly unconsciously looking for hooks, beats, or segments of two different songs that would go well together. I didn't even realize I had started listening to pop music in terms of Girl Talk using it on an album until I heard this one. Of course Lady Gaga is all over this album, and of course he used a big chunk of Rihanna's sassy "Rude Boy". I didn't even realize I was thinking like this until this album came out, and there these songs are.

I'm not sure if there are moments on this album that reach the transcendent heights of "Night Ripper"'s mix of "Tiny Dancer" and Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy", but there are a few contenders. I especially like "Sour Times" by Portishead with "Shutterbugg" by Big Boi, "Creep" by Radiohead with "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" by ODB, and "Lust for Life" with "Love Game" and "Hey Ladies".

My favorite moment so far is "Ante Up" by M.O.P., a song I've grown to love since seeing the totally genius Bert and Ernie rap video, mixed with Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA", which somehow captures the sincere, unifying, all-American patriotism of pop music.

You can see all the original tracks listed second-by-second on the album's Wikipedia page.

November 17, 2010

Airport scanners and civil rights

Airport Scanner at O'Hare

OK, I understand about the need to uphold civil liberties and the slippery slope that leads to sentencing people to labor camps because of a Twitter post. But can I just say that I am not really all that bothered by the naked full-body x-ray airport scanner. For some people this is a much bigger deal, I get it.

I don't want any NSA ghoul wiretapping my phone or reading my email or financial and medical records, but if someone in a room at an airport sees a hazy outline of my body for 1.5 seconds, big whoop. Much worse things are happening to us all the time, they just don't make us feel as icky and naked. Our government now has the right to invade your space in all kinds of nasty ways, for any reason, in the name of security. That kind of invasiveness just doesn't happen to involve walking through a giant machine and lifting your arms while it radiates you.

As for health concern for frequent flyers, that's another story. Roger Ebert's looking at the important issues on his Twitter page: "Does the government know the long-term effects of full body scans on frequent fliers, like airline crew or George Clooney?"

The TSA says the radiation you're exposed to by going through a full-body scanner is less than you experience by actually being on an airplane, and it's apparently also less than the radiation generated by cellphones, and we walk around all day pressing those against our skulls. But just because the TSA says they're safe doesn't make it so, as an American Airlines pilot said, "All they're telling the public is that it's fine. We're looking for some science."

Now it's going to be National Opt Out Day the day before Thanksgiving, and there will be delays and loud complaints if enough people really do start to push back on this one. While you're at it, opt-outers, could you please organize a national uprising against the Patriot Act?

November 16, 2010

Silent movies, Woody Allen


Crimes and Misdemeanors

Turner Classic Movies is doing a fantastic 7-part series on the early days of Hollywood and the American movie business called "Moguls and Movie Stars". It's on every Monday at 8:00, and Part 3 was on last night; it was all about the 1920's, and included the rise of huge movie stars like Clara Bow, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Greta Garbo, and the incredibly huge wealth created by the studio heads.

In this week's installation, we see east coast investors and government agencies slowly becoming aware of that crazy bunch of hedonist reprobates out in LA, drinking illegal booze, having orgies, and making money hand over fist. Hollywood attracted the attention of investors like Joseph Kennedy, who poured money into the movie industry and created RKO, and also had an affair with Gloria Swanson (the Kennedy men loved their movie stars.) Before the federal government could regulate the increasingly salacious output, the industry stepped in and created the self-censoring Hays Office, so that was the end of on-screen nudity and unpunished adultery for the next few decades.

We also learned about the created of the Academy and the first Oscar awards. The first Best Picture awards were given to two movies, Wings and Sunrise, both silent films. TCM aired Sunrise right after the series--a really incredibly good movie. It's the first Hollywood movie by F.W. Murnau, maybe better known for doing Nosferatu with alleged pretend vampire Max Schreck.

The storyline of 1927's Sunrise has been used over and over again in more recent movies -- I can think of at least 6 Woody Allen movies that use its ideas. Crimes and Misdemeanors (above), Husbands and Wives, Hannah and Her Sisters and a bunch of others all involve a bored married man who goes crazy for a sexy single woman, then things go wrong and he eventually comes to his senses and goes back to his wife. He might even try to kill someone along the way. If Sunrise were remade today, the husband would maybe be Adam Sandler or Paul Schneider (big-budget/low-budget), the wife would be Emily Mortimer or Drew Barrymore (the actress in the original looks just like her), the hot young temptress would be Kirsten Dunst or Mila Kunis.

I never realized it before, but this story we've seen a hundred times is taken straight from our silent classics. Just like in Sunrise, Woody allows his guys to run around with their young girlfriends, then come back home to their comely wives with basically no consequences--with the notable exception of Anthony Hopkins in his latest movie, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, maybe the only time it doesn't work out for him.

The Hays Code put a temporary end to scenes in Sunrise like the young single girl lounging in her filmy underwear and rolling around in a swamp with the married dude -- it's always a little bit of a surprise to see the stuff audiences were watching in pre-Code 1920's movie theaters. There's a reason we went from zero theaters to 21,000 theaters by 1916. To put that in context, there are 5,800 theaters and 39,000 screens today, and 3 times more people in the country.

November 10, 2010

The way NYC does business

Cathie Black, new NYC Chancellor

Yesterday when we heard that Joel Klein was resigning as Chancellor of New York City schools, I thought for one brief moment that maybe he was ousted so that controversial reformer superstar Michelle Rhee, who just resigned from the same job in DC, could come in. Michelle Rhee didn't make a lot of friends during her time in Washington, but she started the ball rolling in fixing one of the most horrifically mismanaged and unsuccessful public school systems in the country.

That didn't happen. Joel Klein is happily returning to the milky teat of corporate America at News Corp, which makes me totally re-evaluate everything I ever thought about that guy. Can I retract all the positive things I've said about him now? And Michelle Rhee is still floating around in the ether, writing about Klein's departure on her blog, and might one day wind up at some prominent rabble-rousing advocacy organization or become a full-time documentary film star.

We also found out about NYC's new Chancellor: Cathie "don't call me Cathy" Black. She just landed one of the hardest government jobs on the planet. Here's what we know about her:

  • She's a media executive who's never worked in education or for any kind of youth or public service organization.
  • She also has never attended a public school.
  • Her children go to private schools in Connecticut.
  • She's married to a major Republican donor.
  • And she gets pissed off when people misspell her name, although she herself changed it so that no one would spell it right.


But she's one fantastic corporate manager! I guess I should be used to this by now, but it's getting a little tiring seeing people who have been successful in the corporate world believe that they know how to solve the world's problems, and assume that running a company is the same as managing a gigantic public service system. Bloomberg believes that management is management, and has obvious biases favoring corporate experience over nonprofit or public sector experience.

He didn't have any governing experience when he ran for mayor, either, and he's had some pretty successful terms. But this overriding belief that the only people who know how to get things done are corporate executives, and that selling magazines is essentially the same as educating kids, really reeks of hubris.

In an interview in the Daily News about Black's new position, they asked her old boss at USA Today about her qualifications to be Chancellor: "Asked if not having a background in education might hinder her, Nueharth punted. 'I'm not qualified to make that judgment,' he said. 'I really don't know what the chancellor does.' "

I wonder if she does, either.

November 6, 2010

127 Hours

James Franco in 127 Hours

127 Hours -- it's a wilderness-action-thriller that's about as tense and exciting as a movie can be, considering you already know everything that's going to happen. As Danny Boyle described it, it's "an action movie with a guy who can't move."

Its success is mostly due to James Franco, who's incredibly compelling to watch even when all he's doing is brooding in a canyon. There are about 1,000 ways this movie could have gone wrong and been alternately tedious, ridiculous, and repellently maudlin, but it wasn't any of those. The emotional progression of the movie is so sincere and credible that by the time we get to the gruesome crescendo, it's a totally personal and believable moment. I wasn't even that grossed out. It felt sort of like watching Ralph Macchio deliver the winning Crane Kick. I felt like cheering. It's self-dismemberment as personal growth.

The themes of the movie--exaggerated self-confidence and alienation of everyone around you, leading to slowly dawning loneliness--reminded me of another really good movie that's out now. If you strip away all the circumstantial details, this movie has a lot in common with The Social Network. Both characters rush as fast as they can down their chosen path to success, leaving a lot of neglected relationships along the way, only to find themselves regretfully alone at the end. The difference is that at the end of The Social Network, Zuckerberg's still stuck down there in the canyon.

Danny Boyle is one of the very few directors out there that I've seen every one of his movies. His main characters are often filled with hubris, whether they're trying to take a lot money, explode a bomb inside the sun, find the perfect beach, or conquer a remote canyon without telling anyone where they're going. It almost always turns out OK for them in the end--he's big on happy endings. But he earned this happy ending a lot more than the endings of, say, Slumdog Millionaire or The Beach or even Trainspotting.

Boyle has said he wants his movies to be life-affirming, as dark as they usually are. It's an unabashedly feel-good movie, everyone already knows how it's going to end, and it's still great. I'm impressed.

November 3, 2010

What we can learn from the election

Maybe exit polling and statistical analysis has gotten a lot sharper in the last few years: yesterday's election went pretty much as everyone expected, i.e. Republicans took more House seats from Democrats than ever before, and probably the only reason we didn't lose the Senate as well is that only 1/3 of it was up for vote.

The American political system is designed to be in a constant state of rebalancing, allowing voters to move in one direction, then make incremental corrections to head back in the other direction. But in this graphic in today's Times, it looks like these incremental corrections have turned into an electroencephalogram of insane, reactionary panic:

NY Times graphic of the House majority party

We've gone nuts. Our country has decided that it doesn't trust anybody anymore, so rather than allowing our government to try new policies and create change over time, we're just blindly hurling ourselves to one extreme, freaking out, then hurling ourselves back the other way.

This is not the way to get anything done. Our system of allowing an infinite number of two-year terms for House members only encourages this kind of wild overcompensation that looks like a 16 year-old's car fishtailing out of control down an icy highway. Voters clearly aren't handling it well.

But here's what I've learned: voters are probably going to keep zig-zagging all over the place every two years, so a) nothing is forever, and b) whichever party is in power has to do whatever it takes to push their policies through, because they're going to be kicked out soon.

Here's another thing: The maniacal ad that played in West Virginia featuring a Senate candidate shooting a piece of paper labeled "Cap and Trade Bill" with a rifle was actually by a DEMOCRAT. Joe Manchin. He won. Guess I should have read the press about him more closely. Anyway, ads like this and people like Joe Manchin remind me that party affiliation isn't everything: this guy is a Democrat, and Olympia Snowe is a Republican.

One more thing: While watching the results scrolling along the bottom of the screen last night, I noticed the results of the Idaho governor's race, which was won by a man named Butch Otter. Who has just become my favorite governor in Idaho's history.

November 2, 2010

Vote with Matt Damon

Matt Damon Working Families Party video

You can tell this year's Election Day is going to be weird. Voter enthusiasm is a lot lower than it was two years ago. With the notable exception of old white guys, that is, who could end up dancing in the streets tonight while the rest of us sit there wistfully remembering where we were that magical far-away night in 2008, then suddenly feeling very tired.

But most important: hardly any celebrities have urged me to vote this election. Without Christina Aguilera and Jonah Hill telling me to make my voice heard, why should I give a shit about politics?

At least we've still got good old Matt Damon, who is such a incredibly politically engaged celebrity that not only will he do a Get Out the Vote video in a midterm year, but he made a video on behalf of one of New York State's third parties, the Working Families Party. You could almost forgive him for the turgid-looking Hereafter and his psychic glowing right eye in the trailer.

Actually, he made two videos: one where he explains how voting for candidates on the Working Families line shows that you support the kinds of things that Democrats have historically stood for, like living-wage jobs and education and health care, and not so much the things that a lot of Democrats stand for now, like starting wars and selling out.

And another video about how to actually fill out the paper ballot, telling us to only fill in the dots in Row E, the Working Families party line, and not to fill in both the Democrat dots and the WFP dots. Would someone actually do that? I guess we need to assume that voters are complete morons.

Clearly these videos were produced by a tiny underfunded third-party that only exists in one state, and not Rock the Vote or Funny or Die, because Matt Damon is really poorly lit and looks all puffy-faced and tired and possibly stoned (see above).

Is that a fleece vest he's wearing? Yeah! We're not about slick Washington lobbyists and marketing firms! We're the REAL America!

Keep hope alive, everyone.

November 1, 2010

Hey, look, it's Sars!

Tough Love in Time Out

I was reading the current issue of Time Out, which has a new weekly feature called "Tough Love" which offers smart, non-sugar-coated dating advice. And hey! It's by our old almost-friend Sars, aka Sarah D. Bunting!

If you've been reading the internet for a while, you may remember a time before Gawker, before Jezebel, and before every single style and culture magazine started doing clever commentary of TV episodes. Today, if you want some analysis of the latest episode of "Mad Men" or "Glee", you can read the Times' TV blog, NY Mag, Entertainment Weekly, even the Wall Street Journal culture blog, and many other sites that do TV recaps.

But there was a time when Television Without Pity was pretty much the only game in town, and it was hugely influential. I was a big fan back when it was called Mighty Big TV, and Sars' weekly "Dawson's Creek" recaps regularly forced me to clap my hands over my mouth and shake silently at my desk so that no one in the office would know I was reading something deeply hilarious and not remotely work-related.

Though they couldn't have known the havoc they would wreak on a generation of internet commenters, TWoP brought the word "snark" into common usage and taught us all how to be ironic and sophisticated when writing about pop culture. Though, judging from all those other recap writers, not necessarily how to be funny.

Anyway, TWoP was sold to Bravo in 2007, and Sars and co-founder Wing Chun left the year after. Since the sale to Bravo I have read the current site's recaps exactly zero times. Their related pop culture site Fametracker has been frozen in time since 2007, and, sadly, doesn't look like it will ever return. Which is too bad--Fametracker was one of my favorite media/culture/celebrity sites ever.

Sarah D. Bunting's personal site Tomato Nation looks better than ever, with a lot of stuff about candy, baseball, and, of course, what she's watching on TV. She's also done an advice column for many years, so it's pretty cool that a magazine finally noticed and offered her a regular gig.

So far, Tough Love is good: funny, sharp, and sympathetic, while not letting anyone off the hook. In her very first answer, she advises a young woman fed up with waiting for her boyfriend to propose to "grab a Ring Pop and propose to him. It’s 2010." Thank you, Sars! This should be the default advice given to anyone who has ever made this complaint. Hope she's as influential with this kind of stuff.

About November 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in November 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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