Abolitionize Colorado!

April 15, 2007

From TIME this week:

“Eagle Pass, Texas, adopts a zero-tolerance policy called Operation Streamline, in which border agents stop sending migrants home and send them to jail instead.  Colorado proposes paying prison inmates 60 cents a day to pick the peppers once harvested by undocumented workers.”


Top 5 Movies of 2006

April 11, 2007

So 2006 ended a while ago, but I never got around to doing this:

1. United 93 – far from being the exploitative, propagandistic garbage I was expecting, this is brutally emotional, informative, thought provoking stuff. Easily the best of the year.

2. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – while not as revealing about American character as the hype suggested, it’s still very, very funny, which is enough.

3. The Queen – It’s easy for a movie to titillate, harder to be emotionally involving, harder still to be worthy of argument once the lights come back up. Like Quiz Show, The Queen asks its audience to stop judging celebrities long enough to question what we’d do in their place, and indeed if conventional wisdom is as moral as it might seem.

4. Thank You For Smoking – the second funniest movie of the year. The cigarette industry seems too easy of a target, but Jason Reitman gets around this by making the movie more about the kind of person who would choose to be a lobbyist. It works.

5. The Departed – A big fun chaotic mess.

Other good ones: The Last King of Scotland, Pursuit of Happyness, Blood Diamond, Babel, Brick, Idiocracy

Things that weren’t as good as I wanted them to be: Little Miss Sunshine, Casino Royale, Pan’s Labyrinth, A Scanner Darkly

Never wash a bath mat

April 1, 2007

I may never understand the chemistry of it, but after six months of usage, I tried to wash the wretched thing — my understanding was that a washing machine wouldn’t hurt it — and it came out smelling exactly like dead waterfowl.

For peace of mind, I’m going to blame it on the leaky shower head that turned my bathroom into a literal sauna for one uncomfortable week two months back. But do yourself a favor: when your bath mat is all used up, mildewy and speckled with a year’s worth of cumulative ricocheted urine, throw the damn thing away.


March 25, 2007

My brother sent me a strange MP3 about a year ago of some cat named Yayahoni singing the old Ronettes song “Be My Baby” with just a plucked ukulele as accompaniment. The spare, awkward recording instantly irritated me. But then grew on me. And then continued to grow. I sought out more, and found Yayahoni is one of the guys from Herman Dune, an only-slightly-less-awkward Swedish band I’d heard a few times, and that the Ronettes cover was one of an EP’s worth of recordings called “Yayahoni Sings His Favorite Tunes in the Morning.” It’s available for free download on the Herman Dune website (click on “media”), and is really wonderful. Highly recommended for those who love anti-folk, ukuleles, or singers who waver out of tune but somehow never quite lose the melody.

“Oh and… kill the background.”

March 24, 2007

On set, I never make a peep when the cameras are rolling. But I just about killed a crucial dramatic scene last night.

The sounds before the actors start acting usually go something like this:

“Picture’s up.” (the picture from the camera is being transmitted to the monitors all over set)
“Sound speed.” (sound is recording)
“Rolling.” (recording picture)
“A marker.” (clapboard numbering the scene for editing purposes)
“B marker.” (used if there’s a second camera; C if there’s a third, and so on)
“Background.” (extras, commonly known as background, start to move)
“Action.” (and the principal actors start to act)

There are numerous variations, but that’s the basic structure. Last night, as I was sitting on the sidelines with three other extras who weren’t being used, the A.D. threw in a little something, almost off-hand, at the last moment.

“Picture’s up.”
“Rolling rolling.”
“A marker.”
“Oh, and… kill the background.”

Instantly, the four of us who weren’t being used in the scene looked around in wide-eyed mock fear, then stood to run away like a gaggle of panicky cartoon elk. It’s a visual gag, so I’m not sure how funny this comes off, but it’s gotta be impressive that four people thought of the exact same joke at the exact same time, no? Not a second’s hesitation from anyone. After sitting back down — the scene well under way — we were all stifling laughter. Which of course made it worse.

Quick, I thought, think of something not funny. Baseball. Baseball’s not funny. Baseball. Pitchers. Right field. Kirby Puckett. Hehe. Kirby Puckett.

Is there a funnier baseball name than Kirby Puckett? Maybe Rollie Fingers, which always reminds me of genitals floating in a jar of famaldahyde. But Kirby Puckett is funny too. At this point I wasn’t outright cackling, but my breathy attempts to cool off were certainly becoming audible. I was just far enough away from mics so that none of the crew noticed, but all four of us came dangerously close to exploding into belly laughs before silently seperating ourselves and staring at the floor.

Meanwhile, I think one of the characters was dying.

On the plus side, I guess I should be flattered that the A.D. used the human “kill,” rather than the inanimate “strike,” which I’ve heard before. “Strike the background,” like we’re props. (We are, but the reminder isn’t always appreciated).


March 20, 2007

On the set of House today, I heard one end of a phone conversation that just plain didn’t make any sense.

“You mean the ragin’ Cajun, James Carville.”
“Oh, you must mean Tucker Carlson?”
“I know who you’re thinking of: Gene Shalit.”
“Maybe Joel Siegel from Good Morning America?”

I tried my best to fill in the other end of the conversation.

-“Hey dude, help me out, I’m thinking of a guy on TV. You know, he’s on TV, sorta unusual looking. Talks about politics.”
-“You mean the ragin’ Cajun, James Carville.”
-“No, no, not him. Not so ugly. And not bald. And with a bowtie.”
-“Oh, you must mean Tucker Carlson?”
-“No, older than that. And with a fro. And maybe instead of being a political commentator like I said before, he reviews movies.”
-“I know who you’re thinking of: Gene Shalit.”
-“No. Forget the bowtie. I guess I made that up too. Sorta like Geraldo, but not Geraldo.”
-“Maybe Joel Siegel from Good Morning America?”
-“No, no, not him. You’re not very good at this are you?”

New Beverly’s Grindhouse series

March 12, 2007

The New Beverly Cinema (Beverly and La Brea) is giving Quentin Tarantino a chance to show off his influences for the next two months. He’s showcasing dozens of old grindhouse flicks from his personal collection: silly kung-fu, titty-flapping sex comedies, badasssss blaxploitation, and 70s revengers (sorry, no Joe Don Baker).

Went to my first tonight, a double bill of Rolling Thunder and The Town that Dreaded Sundown. The first is a fairly simple, slow-building revenge flick in which a POW (William Devane) returns home after 7 years in a Vietnamese prison and can’t quite get back into the swing of things, that is, until someone close to him is killed. Not the type of thing that usually excites me, but it was more interesting than Death Wish, and Tommy Lee Jones brought down the house.

The second film is a semi-competent crime thriller in which a tall guy with a sack over his head kills a bunch of teenagers while cops fail to catch him. It has similarities with Zodiac and Halloween, but isn’t nearly as good as either. A few moments of unintentional laughter, along with the party atmosphere in the theater, made it an enjoyable experience nonetheless.

Included with the show were dozens of old trailers, from Chinese Hercules to Straw Dogs. The cheesy, old style voiceovers and bizarre clip choices made them worth the price of admission alone.

It is a little awkward to have some of the filmmakers there at the screenings. Do they know that for each person who came with sincere enthusiasm, another came for the camp value? Do those in attendance even make a distinction? Where does homage end and mockery begin? I’m going to attend a few more of these things and see if I can figure it out.

Michael Rapaport

March 10, 2007

On the set of The War at Home yesterday, Michael Rapaport hit me with a door.  And didn’t apologize.  But I will say this for the man: he makes a mean Dagwood.