Food For Thought

I’m not the first one to imagine this, but I really do wonder what Edward Murrow would have to say today.

I deeply miss Edward Murrow, and I wasn’t even alive during his lifetime.


#1558: Bangkok Dangerous

This was not the best introduction to the Pang Brothers.

I really felt at a loss to describe Bangkok Dangerous.   The plot and ending are so loaded with cliches, it’s almost as though the screenwriters constructed a movie solely out of tired, over-used devices.   The directing is adequate, although the blue filter applied to some of the scenes gets old fast.   The primary problem with Bangkok Dangerous is Nicolas Cage.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have a bit of a soft-spot for Cage.   My theory is that Cage got his Academy Award and then set about purposefully destroying all critical acclaim he had.   I think Cage makes bad movies on purpose.   This, however, doesn’t explain the horrible performance he turns in.

Normally, Cage likes to overact.  I can appreciate this.  It’s broad, it’s bold and it takes guts to act like that, even if it turns out to be ridiculous.

This one, however, Cage doesn’t act like much of anything.   He stares at fixed points, his face unmoving and mask-like, while he monotonously narrates unnecessary voice-overs.   Since he plays an assassin, you’d think he’d want to blend into his surroundings, but his hair is so bad you wonder when Nic Cage stopped bathing and stopped cutting his hair.   Said frightening hairdo is the most interesting thing about his entire character.  Considering this is Nicolas Cage, he of the “why is it burned?  WHY IS IT BURNED?!” fame, I am not quite sure what was going on.  Did someone give Nic elephant tranquilizers?  Was he under constant hypnosis?   Did he forget he was filming a movie?

I don’t know.   It does feel depressing that Cage is so not there that creating facial expressions seems to cause him real pain.  What sort of crazy mixed up world is this?

I watched this movie twice.  It felt like an eternity.   I’d take a pleasant, friendly visit from some Cenobites over a rewatch.


The Hurt Locker opens with Specialist Eldridge, Sergeant Sanborn and Staff Sergeant Thompson out on a daily task.  As members of an EOD unit, they are assigned to defuse bombs in Iraq.    Thompson is the guy who puts on the suit and defuses the bomb.  Sanborn and Eldredge hang back and provide cover against any threat.   The assignment goes tragically wrong.  Thompson dies and Bravo Company is assigned a new leader, Sergeant James.

Sanborn is appalled by James’ behavior.   James seems reckless, refusing to stay in communication with the two guys covering his back, going against standard operating policy and putting the unit in what Sanborn feels is unnecessary danger.   Eldridge worries obsessively over his own fate and safety.   The constant thought of death occupies Eldridge’s mind, leading an Army psychiatrist to set up regular sessions with him.

The only other person has any emotional connection with is a young Iraqi boy who calls himself Beckham.   As Bravo Company’s time in Iraq dwindles to a close, what the three men want out of life and how they intend to live it is thrown into sharper focus.

The Hurt Locker moves fast and goes long.   Most of the shots are close and tight; Bigelow directs with a sense of urgency and tension that grows as the film progresses.   There are a few beautiful moments in the film that are atypical, to be sure.  When Thompson is killed by an IED, Bigelow shoots in slow-motion the ground rumbling and the dust moving off a rusty, bombed out car.

The message of the film is right in the title cards:  war is a drug.  Some like it, some don’t.   Eldridge desperately wants to go home alive and nothing more.  Sanborn comes to realize no one would care much if he died.   It eats at him.  He professes a deep hatred of Iraq.

It is James, the “reckless”, “unstable” guy who can’t get enough of war.   He enjoys his job, taking souvenirs of bombs not only as tokens of times he nearly got killed but out of genuine interest in how bombs are assembled.   He struggles to do what he believes is the right thing even if he forgets to weigh the cost in human lives at times.

The Hurt Locker is well executed and smartly crafted, but it also examines the stress of this war in particular.   Disarming bombs is dangerous enough, but the EOD unit must contend with snipers, remote bombers, and realizes everyone on the street may be against them.   And how do people react to war?   Some think it’s hell, some hate it and some really and truly appreciate their jobs no matter how dangerous.   It’s a frightening thought, but Jeremy Renner does a masterful job of portraying Sergeant James as a guy initially perhaps unable to cope with his need to do the job he does who manages to reconcile it in the end.  The tension and differences between Sanborn and James against the war-torn city they work in is part of The Hurt Locker‘s strength.   Bigelow’s sensitivity toward James is compelling, given that it’s easy to take that character and simplify him in such a crude fashion, but James is given depth.   Jeremy Renner creates a guy who can be unsympathetic and at times obnoxious, but you understand why he does what he does.

A fantastic film.   It earned its Best Picture nom.   I can’t say the award, since I haven’t seen all of the ’09 nominees, but damn, it’s a great film.

Just Like You Like It

Fabulous fantastical readers, I know Texas gets a bad rap.   There’s that whole Dubya thing.   Well, man, I don’t know what to tell you.   I’ll tell you what I tell everyone else:  no, I didn’t vote for him.  Ever.

We are the home of Chuck Norris; I used to leave my high school to see crews setting up to film Walker, Texas Ranger.   Norris thinks it’s a great idea to secede from the United States.  Texas’ governor thinks it’s a good idea too.  Perhaps Governor Goodhair and Mr. Norris, master of the roundhouse kick, both missed the U.S. History lesson that covered what exactly happened the last time this state attempted to secede from the Union.

Then there’s that embarrassing school book debacle.   In fact, I’m not sure ‘debacle’ is even the best word for it, but I know, I know, we look like a bunch of nuts.   It’s crazy-pants, I know.♦

So begins my entreaty to every person who is not a Texas resident:   we are not all like this.  I promise.   There are lots of good, sane people here and there’s lots of lovely things about my state.    Dr. Pepper!  Shiner Bock!   The television show Dallas, in a totally ironic way!   Austin’s full of damn hippie liberals, I tell you!   The Alamo’s not … lovely, but it’s historic!   Bluebonnets!  Longhorns!  Great food!   Awesome music!  Molly Ivins, Ann Richards, Tommy Lee Jones!  For the love of God, there’s good things about this place, I swears it.

Forgive us for Matthew McConaughey.   We love him, but it’s like Julia Sugarbaker said on Designing Women: In the South, we don’t hide our crazy people in the attic, we put ’em on display in the living room.   Sorry ’bout that one.

Yeah, I don’t know either.   He’s a kook.  A lovable kook, but had we known he’d keep making shit like Failure to Launch…

As a concession and a peace offering, I give you something that all Texans – liberal and conservative alike – can agree on and celebrate.   It is, truly, something we all love.

Roger Ebert has Steak n Shake.   Tommy has diners and burger places in Jersey.   I have Whataburger.

Forget McDonald’s; Californians, I’m sorry, but I have no interest in In ‘n’ Out.  Whatever to Wendy’s.   Arby’s, blech.   A few Texans will swear by Sonic, but really, Whataburger is where it’s at for most of us.  It is not the best burger ever, but it is really pretty good.   It’s comforting.   Whataburgers are everywhere here.   They’re not hard to spot; look for the A-frame building with orange and white stripes.  When you’ve been driving from, say, Austin to Dallas at 2:00 a.m. there is probably no better sight along a stretch of highway than Whataburger.

I am not sure what Whataburger does to the hamburger buns but whatever it is – cocaine, butter, something unknown to the common folks – it’s addictive.  All their buns are toasted.   The bacon is crispy.   The lettuce isn’t all wilty and gross.  The food’s made when you order it.

In all my time ordering food at Whataburger, I’ve never had an order screwed up.   Ever!  No kidding.   You’d think a plain and dry hamburger wouldn’t be a hard order to fill, but everyone else routinely screws it up.  Not Whataburger.

If you ever spend time here in this lovely state, I can guarantee you’ll probably see the following commercials:  Truck ads (bonus points if it’s “Texas Truck Month!” or some variation thereof), conservative attack ads and Whataburger ads.

I promise, the fries are good, too!

Whataburger’s spread out of Texas into most of the South, but if you’re ever here in Texas and the conservative, NRA type stuff overwhelms you, give peace a chance and stop in at  Whataburger, order a bacon cheeseburger meal with a Dr. Pepper (that’s another post).   After you’re done, go to a bar and have a Shiner Bock.  (That’s another post, too.)   It’ll zen you out, I promise.  Hell, us folks that pride ourselves on normalcy, civility and not being completely insane – well, that’s how we do it.


It should be noted that there are a lot of sane, normal conservatives that live in Texas.   My beef (pardon the pun) is usually with the extremely far-right conservatives that employ an eliminationist style rhetoric and fear-monger.   I would wager most Texas conservatives do not buy into these shenanigans (I can’t attest, since I’m an ultra-liberal hippie), but these guys do every conservative in this state a disservice when they’re profiled on television and in print.    Unfortunately, they get the most face-time it seems.  So Republicans and/or conservatives, I’m not hating on you – just acknowledging that the far-right, extremist points of view exist in the state, are tiresome and baffling to most people with common sense.  FYI.

JEAN LUC PICARD!   Make it so!

My mom’s birthday is in April, so to (partially) celebrate, I picked someone my mother and I can agree on.  My mother is a huge Star Trek fan (and you wonder where I get my geekiness from?) and when we were kids, my mother would tell us during reruns of Star Trek:  The Next Generation how fantastically sexy Patrick Stewart was.   My sisters and I generally went, “Ew, YUCK!”

The other day, though, I caught a rerun of TNG where Picard nearly dies and Q allows him to relive his whole life again without any risk.   And I thought to myself, “Damn, Mom was right!”

So, Happy Birthday, Mom.  Cheers.   And yes, Patrick Stewart really is fantastically sexy.   I was wrong, you were right.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been off of work and I desperately needed to do something that I haven’t had a chance to do in a while:  go see a movie.  And given my current situation (more on that later), I needed something light-hearted, something that didn’t take itself seriously or was going to leave me even more of an emotional wreck.  Clash of the Titans it was, then, so I hopped off to the theater yesterday in the afternoon to go see it.

Clash of the Titans‘ greatest asset is the insane cast Louis Leterrier and company got lined up.  Pete Postlethewaite opens the movie, gaunt and bearded, as Spyros.  Mads Mikkleson and Liam Cunningham play soldiers from Argos.   Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes play Zeus and Hades, respectively.   That’s a lot of good actors to squeeze into a movie.

Sam Worthington is Perseus, a boy rescued from a casket at sea by fisherman Spyros and his wife when Perseus was a mere baby.   Perseus is happy as a fisherman and Spyros tells the young orphan that someday, someone will have to stand up to the cruelty of the gods.   On a nice day, the family is fishing when a group of soldiers from Argos topple a statue of Zeus, declaring that humans no longer need to worship the gods.   Hades rises from the deep, striking the soldiers down for their insolence and destroys Perseus’ family for their insolence.

On Olympus, Zeus is furious.   In Zeus’ eyes, the humans are ungrateful for the great gift of life he has bestowed upon them; he asks in return their love and prayers to sustain his immortality.   His fury leads Hades to persuade Zeus to allow Hades free reign in punishing the humans’ uprising.   Zeus agrees and Hades schemes to overthrow his older brother that cursed him to the underworld.   After a mortal queen claims that her daughter Andromeda is more lovely than any goddess, Hades appears and punishes her by giving the city of Argos an ultimatum:  sacrifice Andromeda or sacrifice the city to Hades’ wrath.   Either way, the Kraken will be summoned.

Perseus begins a quest to find a way to save Andromeda, Argos and avenge his family’s death at the hands of Hades with a group of Argosian (?) soldiers.  They visit some witches, go slay Medusa and Perseus returns on a pegasus to defeat the Kraken.  (Spoiler!)   There are scorpion fights and djinns and all sorts of godly muckings about.

Leterrier is great at directing action; both here in and Transporter 2 he has always directed tense scenes that have necessary urgency while still being able to be clear about who is doing what and where and when, something other action directors often fail at doing.   The cast is mostly great, although Gemma Arterton as Io is so boring one is tempted to cheer when she finally exits the film.   I genuinely like Sam Worthington but not necessarily as Perseus.  Worthington has a sort of nice normalcy about him that seems to be rare in Hollywood, but Sam, darling, please, please work on losing that Australian accent or keep it altogether.  Seesawing between the two is distracting.

The whole story is very odd; the furious Zeus steps into help the humans he wishes to destroy, adopts the son he spurned previously as his own; the other gods are given the barest of mentions.  After Act I, Perseus only briefly mentions his adopted father Spyros; out of the trio of godly brothers of Poseidon, Hades and Zeus, Poseidon is given short shrift with a whopping two seconds of screen time and no involvement in the plot.   Andromeda is set up as a love interest for Perseus and then dropped in favor of the ageless Io.   It is odd and strange, but I guess I didn’t see Clash of the Titans for the story as much as the action – and Liam Neeson, natch.   (CHUD has a great article here on this.)

Which brings me to the weird of all this.

If I could ask anything, it would be what in the holy fuck the costume designer was smoking on this film, because never in my wildest nightmares did I think that it would be possible to make Liam Neeson look like someone genetically fused Waylon Jennings and Liberace together in one unholy body.   Observe:


And Fiennes doesn’t get the better treatment, either – for some reason, his hairline’s receded an inch and looks like he has a band of grit traveling down his forehead.  Why?  Who knows?!   Everyone else has long, braided locks but Sam Worthington for some inexplicable reason has a shaved head.  I don’t get it.

Clash of the Titans isn’t bad, it’s just messy in the story area and the CGI is distracting at times.   Titans is a fun movie; it was worth the $8.00 to hear Neeson order “Release the Kraken!”  and Liam Cunningham chewed some valuable scenery.   It was nice, fun, exciting and light-hearted, which was precisely what I needed at the moment.

I give it a B-, myself, but your mileage my vary.

Four Rooms is … an interesting experience.

Four Rooms is not for everyone.    Made up of four segments directed by four different directors, there’s no major story other than following a bellboy, Ted, as he works his first night at a rundown hotel.   Each segment has a different flavor, a different style but it also makes an uneven viewing experience.

The Missing Ingredient is the first and the weakest of the segments.   A coven of witches camps in the honeymoon suite and they are desperate to resurrect their goddess.   One of them has forgotten a much-needed ingredient that she can get from Ted.   You’d think a piece about a coven of witches would be interesting but The Missing Ingredient can’t even be awful, just boring.   It has a bit of inspired stunt casting in Madonna, but she’s not any good here either.

The Wrong Man centers on a man and a woman in one of the rooms who may be either playing at some sort of sexual role-playing game or…not, and Ted’s not really sure which is which and what is what.   All he can tell is that the man’s got a gun and is pointing it at him.   Most of this one relies on Tim Roth and Jennifer Beals using some precision timing and while it has a few laughs, the short wears out its welcome quickly.

Robert Rodriguez’s The Misbehavers is easily the best of all of them.   A husband and wife pay Ted $500 to watch their children while they’re gone for the night.  The kids turn out to be pint-sized, foul-mouthed tyrants who give Ted no end of grief.   By the time their parents return, they have managed to set the room on fire, discover a dead hooker in the bed, stab Ted with a syringe, smoke, drink and generally destroy all manner of property and drive Ted nearly to the brink of insanity.   It’s as though Rodriguez melded his Spy Kids sensibilities with the same sick humor in Planet Terror … just before all that.

The Man From Hollywood is directed by Tarantino and it’s got an awful lot of Tarantino trademarks in it.   What sinks The Man From Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino casting himself.   His character is Jimmie Dimmick from Pulp Fiction dialed up to eleven.   Tarantino’s fine in small doses (a la Desperado) but here it’s insufferable, obnoxious and asks way too much of the viewer to be patient as Tarantino manically bumbles along.   The Man From Hollywood is about a bet that really doesn’t end well and it feels longer than it actually is.

So what’s the guilty pleasure in Four Rooms?  Tim Roth, hands down.   Roth combines silly, well-timed comedy with slapstick and comes out with a neurotic bellboy who’s over the top but still believable.  This is a guy poorly equipped to handle the night at this hotel and reacts badly to most of the insane situations in which he ends up.

Roth is the connection between the four pieces, and even when Four Rooms is bad you hope you can still keep watching for Tim Roth and what he might do next.   I suspect The Missing Ingredient was placed first solely because it’s just not that good, and Roth’s performance is the one good thing about it.   Four Rooms would have been atrocious without him, primarily because it runs as a movie without any real sense of direction.  In fact, Four Rooms feels like four people got together on a lark to have some fun, not present stories and characters they had any investment in, so Roth has to bear a heavy weight in making things work.   He does, as best he can, and he’s the best part of it all.