June 19th, 2005

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He's just in it for the Paycheck

So I'm watching Paycheck from my TiVo because despite having the 140 hour model I am running out of space (this should give you an idea about how much TV I record vs how much I watch.) It's one of those movies I sort of wanted to see based on the premise and trailer, but I suspected it would suck so I didn't.

I was half right.

Paycheck is a potentially great sci-fi thriller that falls flat because of the people involved. It's sad too, because it had potential. Paul Giamatti's in it and he's good, he brings a certain level of fun and entertainment to every scene he's in, as he always seems to. Uma Thurman is...Uma Thurman. Neither a detriment nor much of an asset. Aaron Eckhart, whom fakingsincerity would gleefully fuck, is decent as the heavy, and his henchman is fine.

The problem is with Affleck. Affleck and Woo.

Now I am not the Affleck hater that many of the young hip set seem to be. He's done some crap, but I thought he was fine in Daredevil, decent in Changing Lanes, and he made fun of himself in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The thing about Affleck is he always comes off as a little smug, and frequently a little dim. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just a thing. It's dead wrong for this movie though. He is playing a brilliant desperate engineer on the run from a violent conspiracy. During his calm scenes he's fine, but when the action hits he just can't seem to kick it into the next gear. He doesn't look frightened and desperate. He doesn't look sharp and confident (Which can work in that kind of situation, see Die Hard ) He has a look, and especially body language, that says "Oh well, this kinda sucks, but I'll muddle through. Craft Service right after I hit this guy with my big stick." You don't want your hero to muddle through the action sequences.

Speaking of muddling through the action sequences, it seems like Woo has lost his touch. Maybe it's the language barrier, or maybe it's the budget, or maybe it's age, but the visual ballet he managed in his Hong Kong stuff just isn't translating. In fact the action sequences are the least interesting parts of the film. They're not just sort of stock action, they're dull and at times too hastily cut. Now I know he's working with Affleck who is not the most physical of stars, but it's possible to be tense and exciting without requiring your actor to do flips or wire-fu. One sequence has Affleck running away from a train that seems to be going literally 12 miles per hour. Now that might be fast enough to run a person down, but it never comes close enough that you think he's in danger, and even still being run down at 12 miles an hour is not so much tragic as hilarious. "Shoulda eaten fewer twinkies, huh?"

It's not that the special effects are bad, it's that they're used in the wrong places. In some ways that's more damning. To make a car chase in a junkyard exciting it has to be new, gritty, and tense. In Paycheck It's not and you don't even expect it to be. Is it competent and professional? Yes. Does that matter? Not really.

There are other problems too. The Philip K. Dick story, which was probably lean and exciting, has been padded by hackey screenwriting. At one point Affleck sits in a train station with Giamatti and explains to him the plot of the movie so far, for stupid viewers who weren't paying attention or are watching stoned. That may be a commercial thing to do, in case people come in late or flip on the TV mid-movie, but it's terrible film making. Thank you for kicking suspension of disbelief in the balls. Thanks a lot. Later they feel compelled to explain how the big fancy machine works, and it's such obvious bullshit that you're like "Why did you explain that? We don't need to know how it works, just that it works." It's an eye-rolling scene and totally extraneous to the action of the film.

In opposition to Paycheck is this Clash song I'm listening to over and over. Its premise isn't nearly as good, but it gets all the small things right. The bridge lyrics, "Nebutol numbs it all but I prefer Alcohol" is not only iconoclast's favorite lyric of all time, it also gives an edge to the previous lyrics that weren't there. This is why obsessive editing and careful arrangement is so essential in artistic endeavors. It's like chaos theory, a single well-placed detail can bring a whole song together, and a bad one can take a movie apart.

On the Baldwin rating scale Paycheck is a



Billy.
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Strifeless gonads (http://www.threebrain.com/weeeeee.shtml)

You can't call women ballsy because they have no testicles. I learned this the hard way. It turns out that not only do women have entirely distinct reproductive systems with nary a testicle in sight, but they do not have hidden testicles either. They can be pretty insistent about this. While this most clearly represents a public health crisis, it represents another problem too. A linguistic problem. For a long time personal bravery and strength of character has been talked about with reference to testicles. It turns out that this is sexist. Women can have personal bravery and strength of character but they cannot have testicles. In fact by definition there are only three things a woman cannot have. A penis, testicles, and above average driving ability.

So we need new words. Either androgynous words for bravery, or a set of separate but equal phrases that can metaphorically match the unique and inferior reproductive system of the female to that of the male. Naturally, since I am the man who rediscovered the word winsome as a replacement for lovely, this task falls upon my broad shoulders.

Initially I had high hopes for a direct one to one comparison. After doing some scientific research research I learned that there were womenparts that were directly comparable to balls. They are known as ovaries. I attempted to put my discovery into immediate action, coming up with a few exemplary phrases, such as "Gee that Condoleeza Rice reminds me a lot of Hitler. She must have cast iron ovaries." Or "Condoleeza Rice is destroying our credibility in the world. Ovaries like grapefruits." This did not go over well with my professional focus group (Okay it's my mom) so I went back to the drawing board. The problem ovaries, besides the whole weird bimonthly egg production thing, is that they're internal organs. While a man with big brass balls can just drop his pants to let everyone see them, a woman with brass ovaries would have to be weighed, X-rayed, or perhaps poked really hard before anyone would know. That's not a sign of strength and virtue, it's a medical condition.

The thing is that women have very little in the way of exposed genitals. They've got part of the vagina, the labia, the clitoral hood, and that's pretty much it. Well you can't go with cast iron labia, you just can't, and claiming a woman was swinging clitoral pipe would be kind of confusing. Clearly this wasn't working. It was time for me to think...

outside the box.

What's the essential nature of the "Brass balls" metaphor? Is it size? Hardness? No. Those are just ways in which we express the important message, which is that people who have a particular kind of strength and virtue, posses magical genitals. By sheer force of strength and testosterone the sponge like material that fills with blood to create the hardened penis is transformed into metal. The sperm producing organs inside the scrotum become brass. It is not the nature transformation that really matters, but merely the fact of it. Being brave changes the very nature of your reproductive systems. Women can be brave. Women have reproductive systems. We don't need a tungsten womb or carbon composite fallopian tubes. Metal metaphors can be the domain of males, whose reproductive systems are essentially semen delivery platforms. Women's are designed for receiving semen and delivering babies (the necessary added mass arrives through osmosis.) They are closer to digestive systems than missiles. And then it hit me like a moneyshot. What the woman metaphor needs, my friends, are teeth.

For the vagina to be strong and powerful it needs a way to cause some damage, like a big steel dick would. What better way for a vagina to assert its might than through teeth? Think about it. "That Condoleeza Rice is destroying the fabric of our very society. She's got a pussy like a pit bull." Or "Jesus Christ I hope someone assassinates Condoleeza Rice before she makes things even worse for us. She's got a tiger 'twixt her legs." "Her pussy could strip the flesh off your bones and still have room for dinner." These metaphors indicate strength and power, but are uniquely female and, I'd like to think, a little bit...feminine. True it might turn off some men to think of a vagina filled with row upon row of glistening razor sharp teeth, like a shark's maw, but do you think that women the idea of spheres of brass being rammed against their genitals over and over, or being violated with the big piece of PVC that some dude might be said to be swinging?

So the next time a woman does something brave or outrageous don't call her ballsy. Her testicles are as undeveloped as her ability to get ready for dinner in under 90 minutes. Instead say she's got a vulpine vulva, or a pussy like a steel trap. She'll appreciate your recognizing and respecting her gender. Trust me.
I'm creepy

The future plu? Perfect.

I was in a really good mood this morning. Just woke up feeling alive and strong and...happy. It's a good feeling, and I've missed it for awhile. I wrote that balls vs women piece that had been kicking around in my head for a few days, and went out for a nice 4.5 mile session in the park. The weather was awesome, cool and breezy like I like it, and there weren't many people about. I really wish conditions were like that more frequently, because it makes the whole experience joyful rather than a massive pain in the ass. Then I came home, took a nap (only got 5 hours last night) and was awakened by my orthodox cousin asking me whether I was going to come to his son's Bar Mitzvah in Baltimore, which I awkwardly tried to avoid. I just can't handle that level of religiosity, not with my irreverent attitude and dirty mouth, and there's an unhealed rift between us. He used to be an atheist like the rest of the family but converted in his 30's, and that was a huge blow to my father who had been like...well...an uncle to him. Then after my father died my cousin came and asked if I was going to say Kaddish, which I certainly wasn't. He said he would say it instead then, and refused to be dissuaded no matter what I said. I found this very offensive, since my father was one of the most atheistic people you could ever meet. As the chairman of biology at Columbia he was, in fact, a go-to guy in defending evolution and I have old VHS tapes of him debating creationists on national PBS shows. He felt culturally tied to Judaism, and he loved Yiddish, but religion made him angry. My cousin has never apologized and I have never felt comfortable around him since.

So that brought my mood down some, but still I couldn't help thinking how much the writer lifestyle agrees with me. Putting in 8 hour days of creativity isn't work, it's joy. It's too bad I'm not good enough to make my living this way yet, but I vow that some day I will. I've never really had such a clear concept of "The Good Life" before and it's comforting to know it's out there.

I'm feeling pretty confident in my talents right now, which is good. I have a lot in my head that I'm not sure how to get out yet, or at least not confident enough to write, but when I do. Watch out. I think it's because of a good session I had with my shrink on Thursday. Confession isn't just good for the soul, it's great for the mind. Sometimes when you verbalize mental blocks you're having it helps you eliminate them. Once they are no longer lodged in your head but instead are stated aloud in clear language they seem to dissolve in the light of rationality. The monsters don't seem so big when they're out from under the bed. Writing here has helped hone the craft part of what I want to do, but good sessions with a psychologist can unlock the latent creativity by removing psychological blocks. If I had the money I'd probably start going twice a week, and if I find a job that pays well I actually will do that, since I think that it'd speed up the process of getting the images in my head out on to the paper with minimal interference.

I know a lot of people have had bad experiences with psychologists and psychiatrists and write them off. I don't doubt that the experiences were bad, since I've had those myself. Psychologists are people and they're flawed and those who don't admit that to themselves or their patients often come off as pompous assholes who know nothing. The thing is if you think all psychology is bunk it's because you've never had a really good shrink. A really good shrink knows that he's just as messed up as anyone else and he admits it. He tells you some of his flaws and blind spots, and then he proceeds to help you despite them and in spite of them. It's a really interesting and beneficial process and I feel sorry for people who've only had the bad kind, because you're missing out on a level pure self-examination that I haven't encountered elsewhere. I know that in the last 9 years or so I've gone from miserable and suicidal to relatively well adjusted and excited about the future and the world. Might I have made that journey alone? Perhaps. Or perhaps I would have actually jumped of one of those windows at 1:30 AM had I not had anybody to call.

Anyway things are going relatively well. I have a lot of writing to do and I'll try to get some done later. For now I'm going to go watch a movie and maybe have some lunch since I had very little breakfast. Today is a good day, and when you've had few enough of those in the past you know just how precious they can be.
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Laws of suck

Like most men I am not a big fan of the romantic comedy. Usually they are imbalanced either towards the romantic or the comedic, with the other element serving as not much more than dead weight dragging the film down. Most of them aspire to, and achieve, not much more than mediocrity. There are the occasional exceptions, like Defending Your Life , where the two elements mesh almost perfectly and the movie manages to be both hilarious and heart-warming. Every genre has its great films though, and if I'm not going to be watching a masterpiece I'd rather be watching a true comedy or a sci-fi flick than a RomCom. At least much of Sci-Fi aspires to be great, even if it so frequently fails.

On the other hand there are those exceptional films, and I'm pleased to say that Laws of Attraction is such a film. It is exceptionally awful. Incredibly terrible. Dreck beyond your wildest imagination.

It really really sucks.

Now perhaps you think that the idea of putting Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan together in a romantic comedy would be a good one. I don't necessarily agree; I like both actors (Moore more than Brosnan) but they don't lend themselves to the same sorts of projects. This film's problems have nothing to do with casting, though. They're almost entirely found in the script. The script is crap. Crappy crap crap crap crapenstein crapworth III. It's just awful. Every joke is a clunker. Every romantic moment forced and irrational. I'd list every misstep here but I'd have to type up the entire script. It's like someone took a bad sitcom pilot, gave it a high B-list cast and a huge budget, and then shat on the film before running it through the projector.

Of course the cast has no idea what to do with this material, because it should be in the hands of Tom Papa not Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan just looks bored and slightly irritated, like he's thinking about the nice things the paycheck will buy and hoping that nobody actually sees this thing. Moore seems to be trying to elevate the material but it's like lifting dead weight and she comes off as forced, shrill, and confused. It's sad because Moore is a good comic actress even in not so great projects, and there is no reason for her to be in this movie.

In fact there are only two rational reasons for this movie to exist. One is that it was the brainchild of some executive who hired a writer without checking references and is now washing cars on Sunset Boulevard rather than running a movie studio. The other is that Hollywood was trying to destroy the independent movie scene. While Pierce Brosnan is a Hollywood guy (Jimmy Bond doesn't do Indie) Moore has done a lot of good Indie work and is probably one of the bigger stars in the scene. She is so dreadful in this that it makes you not only not want to go out and see good movies like The Hours or The Big Lebowski but it kind of makes you wish those movies didn't exist just so that this one wouldn't have been made. They also throw in Indie queen Parker Posey as an irritating designer who Moore's character tells "You're young, you still have choices" in a motherly tone. Moore and Posey are 8 years apart in age.

On the plus side the lighting is very competent and the photography is only sub-average.

On the Baldwin Rating Scale:



DANIEL
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It's not about the gayonomy STUPID

The New York Times has an interesting Magazine article about the anti-marriage folks this week. That's what I think I'm going to start calling people who are against gay marriage. Since they know that denying the right of marriage to homosexuals will not make them straight clearly what they want is for gays to continue dating, being promiscuous, or co-habitating. They are anti-marriage as surely as those who oppose it on "Women shouldn't be chattel" terms.

One of the examples they give is of an anti-marriage advocate who was content in her role as mother and housekeeper until she heard that the Massachusetts courts were legalizing gay marriage. She lives in Maryland. One wouldn't think that the legalization of gay marriage in a non-adjoining state would cause one to spring into action, but for her it did. It's been a long time since Paul Revere's cry of "The British are coming, the British are coming" and maybe Americans are starving for a new call to action, but I don't see as "The gays will be allowed to marry in a state several hundred miles to the north, the gays will be allowed to marry in a state several hundred miles to the north" as quite so urgent, even if it was delivered by a guy on horseback.

She did.

She didn't exactly go get her musket and look for redcoats (or queers) to shoot. Instead she got into her car and drove to Annapolis where she proceeded to testify against a bill before the Legislature that would allow domestic partners in Maryland the right to make medical decisions for one another. She claimed that she was worried this would open the door to gay marriage.

Now I don't know about you, but I think someone who drives a few hours to try and make sure that the terminally ill and critically injured won't have their decisions made by the people they love the most has something seriously wrong with her. On the way back did she stop by a home for the blind and re-arrange the furniture? Does she have a closet full of sugary snacks confiscated from infants? What would possibly possess somebody to expend that much time and energy to deny someone else from having what they want?

Some answer homophobia and leave it at that. There's definitely something to that. Back in what southerners still consider the good old days of segregation whites and blacks weren't allowed to marry on the grounds of other people didn't want them to. That was pure racism. I think there's other things at play. Two things, to be specific.

One is just plain boredom and loneliness. If you haven't noticed most of the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage people aren't exactly the cream of the crop. Oh sure they have some educated attractive spokespeople, but if you look at a protest you'll see an awful lot of mullets and very few class rings. I think a lot of them get into it for the same reasons that people get into liberal causes, minus the opportunities to take home loose women. They want a group of like minded people to spend time with, who will respect and value them and their opinions, and who will fulfill their social needs. We used to have bowling leagues and rotary clubs. Now we have mega churches and anti-gay organizations. Maybe we should bring back bowling.

The other reason is that a lot of people feel disconnected from the current political process. They feel like their votes don't count, their voices aren't being heard, and they're just little drone ants in a great big anthill. They're right. Since they can't get the things that would really help them enacted, things like health coverage or wage reform*, they look for some cause to glom on to that has a chance of passing. Anti-marriage amendments can get passed because they're largely symbolic. Most states aren't in any danger of enacting civil rights for gays any more than most Southern states were in danger of enacting civil rights for blacks back in the '50s.

Getting these regressive symbolic laws passed makes these people feel important. They may not be able to make themselves economically or politically relevant, but they can kick the damn gays around, yessiree. It's the typical pattern, boss yells at man, man yells at wife, wife yells at brother, brother yells at sister, sister kicks dog, dog bites cat. Pass the pain and humiliation on down the line from strongest to weakest. The rich squeeze the middle class, the middle class squeeze the poor, and the poor and uneducated lash out against the homosexuals. That's the basic line. Homosexuals are inviting targets. In the media they are portrayed as the wave of the future, educated men with sterling hygiene, good careers, and nice things. In a world where women earn more college degrees than men and manual labor has less and less value the straight man feels threatened and wants to lash out. He goes after those he feels threatened by, the women who will eventually out pace him in the job market (He can get them by forcing them to have children, thus impeding their careers. Hello anti-abortion federation. How you doing?) The gays who seem more fit for a modern society. The elite liberals like me who out pace even the women in academic performance.

The women who work alongside the men who run these movements are their daughters and wives, wrapped up in the same social classes and lifestyles. They're bludgeoned by religion and tension at home. They're the wives the husband yells at who then channel their anger out against the weak and powerless.

So what's the solution? We need to figure out a way to integrate these people back into society. Make them a little less alienated and alone. They may be the majority now and wield the power, but they know that won't last. They can see the writing on the wall, that the next millennium belongs to thinkers and talkers, not brute force. This may also be why they like war. East Coast pussies can't fight as well as they can.

I don't know what the solution to this is, but as a culture we need to understand that just because you're frustrated doesn't mean that you get to pick on those who are weaker or less numerous than you. We need to stand up to these bullies and tell them that they don't get to take out their frustrations by impeding the progress of civil rights. We need more outrage and we need to pass laws in the relevant states granting benefits to our fellow citizens not on the color of their skin or who they choose to love, but based on the fact that they are human and deserve the same rights we do.

Anti-marriage amendments aren't really about fear of man on man loving so hot that it will set honeymoon suites on fire and expedite global warming. iconoclast and his giant pocket rocket aren't even engaged. They're about power, and the anger of the powerless. We need to figure out how to channel that rage into progressive social goods that will fight back against those who seek to increase inequity and consolidate capital ownership in an economic aristocracy. We need to teach people that just because George Bush pays lip service to Jesus doesn't mean he's on your side. George Bush has two constituencies he cares about. The rich, and the richer. We have a lot of work ahead of us to turn this hate into something productive.

Let's not waste anymore time.

*I know that most marriage opponents say they don't support those things. That's because of the way the debate is phrased and the American propaganda movement. In polls phrased with more neutral language (eschewing party platforms and the dirty word liberal) many more people admit that they would like to be able to afford to eat somewhere besides McDonald's on occasion, and hey it wouldn't hurt if they could have that back surgery they've needed for four years now.
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SWEET GOD. I think I may retire from satire.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Anti-gay quotes from the anti-marriage people.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/19/magazine/19ANTIGAY.html

"It shows that when we try to change the natural course of things, what comes out of that is not joy or gayness.''

Later, Racer was working for a greenhouse and got to know a lot of florists. ''You'd be amazed how many people in the floral industry are
homosexuals,'' he said.

Robert Knight, the director of the Culture and Family Institute of Concerned Women for America, conceded as much. ''People feel liberated,'' he said. ''They feel like we don't have to go along with this stuff anymore, the idea that we're repressed backwater religious zealots just for wanting a decent society in which our children can thrive. It's O.K. today to say that marriage is between a man and a woman. Saying so does not make you a hater or bigot.''

''There are those extremists who say that if a gay person were on fire you would burn in hell if you spit on them to put out the fire,'' he told me. ''But we're not like that. We love the human being. It's the lifestyle we disagree with.''

''My concern is the health issue,'' said Evalena Gray, an activist in southern Maryland. ''I want to get these people away from AIDS, out of that unhealthy lifestyle.''

''The ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story.'' Racer spelled it out clearly as well. ''I've had quite a few opportunities to counsel people who were in a homosexual lifestyle,'' he said. ''They have generally found themselves in a desperate place. They know that Christ promises an abundant life, but that promise was made with some restrictions. These people have tried to find fulfillment in ways that are against God's principles. So you don't want to further the error by allowing gay marriage.

'The threat to traditional marriage will affect our society more than any other issue that's come up,'' Evalena said. ''We're just fighting with everything we have.''

''Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh'' -- and then goes on to add, ''With those 22 words, God announced the ordination of the family, long before He established the two other great human institutions, the church and the government.''

'To put it succinctly, the institution of marriage represents the very foundation of human social order. Everything of value sits on that base. Institutions, governments, religious fervor and the welfare of children are all dependent on its stability.'' Every activist on the ground I spoke with said something similar. ''Marriage was defined thousands of years ago and has served us well,'' said Rebecca Denning, a retired secretary in southern Maryland who volunteers alongside Evalena Gray. ''I think marriage is about procreation and families. And I think we're getting into something that we don't truly understand what the ramifications will be.''

''The homosexual community would have us believe that marriage is simply about loving one another,'' said Rick Bowers of Defend Maryland Marriage. ''I say it's about two human beings who are wired completely differently, one with estrogen and one with testosterone, living together in love but with the purpose of procreation. It's a lot deeper than love. So I can't see how someone could look on a same-sex marriage as marriage at all.''

Cindy Moles, a grandmother and homemaker in San Diego who is a Southern California area director for Concerned Women for America, gave me her analysis of the data from those countries: ''Look at the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage is legal. Those marriages last an average of 1.5 years, and during that time there are an average of eight outside partners. That's not a solid foundation for our country.''.......a Web site that is sponsored by Focus on the Family, cites these same figures in a Q.-and-A. section on gay marriage, but it glosses over the fact that the study on which they were based looked not at gay marriages but at gay relationships and had nothing to do with the legalization of gay marriage.

''You know the family has disappeared in those Scandinavian countries,'' Evalena Gray, the southern Maryland activist, told me.

It is the conviction of the grass-roots activists that gay marriage will open the door to other novel unions. ''I bet a dollar against a doughnut that if they get gay marriage, one day a bisexual is going to show up who says, 'I want to marry a man and a woman,''' Jim Gray, Evalena's husband, said. ''It's going to open the door to polygamy.''

Once the definition of marriage is altered, in this view, you will have this group of people declaring they want to marry that group; middle-aged men will exchange vows with children or with Doberman pinschers. As the landscape of fear fills in, the picture comes into view. It is Hieronymus Bosch's ''Garden of Earthly Delights,'' a phantasmagoria of sin and a complete breakdown of the social order. As Bryan Simonaire, Laura Clark's friend, put it: ''Once you start this, you could have a 45-year-old man wanting to marry a 9-year-old boy. That could be O.K. in 20 years. That's what you get with relative moral truth. Whereas with absolute moral truth, what was O.K. 50 years ago will still be O.K. 20 years from now.''

A few days later, the Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, vetoed the medical-decision-making bill on the grounds that it created a new term -- ''life partner'' -- that ''could lead to the erosion of the sanctity of traditional marriage.''
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